Cakebread Cellars is one of the most respected wineries in California’s Napa Valley and I was honored to be a guest at a tasting of their wines hosted at Bijoux, Scott and Gina Gottlich’s restaurant, in Dallas this week. Located in the exclusive Rutherford area of the valley, Cakebread epitomizes wines that represent their place: valley floor fruit from central Napa Valley and cool climate fruit from Carneros at the southern end of the valley which is, in archetypal California contrarian fashion, also the coolest part of the valley on account of its proximity to cool air funneling north from San Francisco Bay.
Beat Kotoun, area representative for Kobrand Corporation (who represent Cakebread wines worldwide), presented the wines. Beat’s passion, experience, and deep product knowledge shone through as he talked about these wines, and it was only later that I realized that he is the only 61-year-old with a ponytail that I have met this week. Rock on.
We started with 2010 Cakebread Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is something of a reference for Napa Sauvignon Blanc given its forward fruit, its undeniable, but not ferocious, acid and its considerable body in the mouth. If you have oysters, or Scott Gottlich’s divine goat cheese with honey gastrigue as an amuse bouche, this wine is spot-on.
One would think of a restaurant named Bijoux as transfixed by French influences. In which case, the next course would have thrown you off. A panzanella salad (campari tomatoes, pan fried bread and buffalo mozzarella) was by-the-book, even down to the use of stale bread to soak up the liquid. It was an insightful choice, as it contained very little vinegar in the dressing, so it paired dutifully with the 2009 Cakebread Napa Chardonnay. Cakebread ages this wine for eight months in French oak, of which only 35% is new. That amounts to a fairly short time in a fairly neutral oak environment, so the wine takes on some benefits of aging and a little oakiness. To the palate, this means a little vanilla in the mouth but mainly Chardonnay fruit and lemon. This will prove to be a popular wine because it is so broadly enjoyable: one can quaff it on the patio or pair it with salad, poultry, or seafood.
I felt I needed a military band to announce the arrival of the next wine, such was the step up in seriousness with the 2009 Chardonnay “Reserve” from the Napa part of Carneros. The cool climate, where fog predominates almost until noon in the height of summer, means grapes can sustain a long growing season and long, steady ripening. This wine was more oaky than the previous Chardonnay on account of having been fermented in French oak barrels (about a third new) and then aged for 15 months in French oak. The taste was made up of tropical fruits, oak and melon flavors. Given its greater power, it was well-paired with sweet corn soup topped with crème fraiche and dotted with tiny tasty nuggets of apple-smoked bacon. The soup had been puréed as smooth as velvet and reduced only to a light cream consistency that belied the intensity of the corn flavors.
Now about those reds. A robust and youthful 2008 Napa Merlot will keep for at least a decade. This is undoubtedly a product of the New World with its forward fruit and tannic backbone typical of Napa valley floor grapes. We had it with roasted quail and sides of soft Texas carrot purée and contrasting munchy fava beans.
Dessert was a refreshing guava sorbet.
Finally, the wine that Cakebread is perhaps best known for is their Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. We had the 2009 which, surprisingly, was softer and more mature than the preceding Merlot. The slow braised veal cheeks that Bijoux served with it matched the softness of the wine. The meat could be cut with a fork. It also benefited from Cabernet Sauvignon in the demi-glace.
Overall, the family-run Cakebread winery continues to produce quality wine from some of the best parts of Napa Valley and remains a solid choice for wine lovers. Cakebread wines are in wide distribution at wine stores in the Dallas area. Bijoux holds wine diners on a monthly basis. Check their web site to join the mailing list to hear of future events.