Domaine Carneros: A Touch of France in the Napa Valley

Zak Miller, Domaine Carneros Winemaker

Last year I was invited to a wine pairing dinner at Avra Estiatorio in Beverly Hills featuring the wines of Domaine Carneros. Joining us for dinner was no other than winemaker, Zak Miller. I have only ever tried the widely distributed opening pricepoint sparkling from Domaine Carneros, so I jumped at the chance to taste other selections from their portfolio.

Zak has been at Domaine Carneros for 11 years. Fun fact: His wife is also a winemaker and they met in college while both studying forestry. What are the odds of that?!? Before landing in Carneros, Zak made wine in both Chile and New Zealand to hone his craft.

How do I know Zak is a good fit for Domaine Carneros? Well, at dinner Zak proclaimed “bubbles go with everything except toothpaste and coffee”. That, my friends, is a good fit.

Domaine Carneros was founded in 1987 by the prestigious family behind Champagne Taittinger. Their founding winemaker Eileen Crane created a classic California expression of the Taittinger style that they describe as “noble French heritage with pure Carnero’s verve”. Domaine Carneros is a “grower-producer” or what we’d call Récoltant-Manipulant (RM) in Champagne.  This means that the wine is made from a grower who produces wine made from their own estate grapes.

At Domaine Carneros, all wines are from the Carneros AVA with 95% classified as estate fruit. But there is a movement towards all estate fruit starting this year, 2020. Their estate vineyards total 400 acres across six sites. In fact, only the wines in distribution use bought fruit and that is because they’re fulfilling on long-term contracts.

With a Champagne house as your parent, does Domaine Carneros have to follow the direction of said parent?  Nope, Taittinger gives no influence on winemaking to Domaine Carneros. They can do as they please. With that said, let’s taste!

Wines Tasted

Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs 2012 ($120)

100% estate-grown Chardonnay. This is the “tête de cuvee”, their finest sparkling wine, and is frequently named “America’s best sparkling”. 3000 cases made a year. I get beautiful leesy notes and grilled pineapple 4sho on the nose and palate, as outlined in their tasting notes below.

Winery Notes: Lovely notes of white flowers, Meyer lemon, poached pear, and a hint of grilled pineapple. The palate opens up to honeysuckle and crème brûlée. The full mouth feel leads to a very round and long finish.

Brut Cuvée 2015 ($36)

51% Chardonnay, 47% Pinot Noir, and 2% Pinot Gris

Creamy and less leesy than the La Rêve. Smooth and very easy to drink.

Winery Notes: This very focused and elegant wine displays lovely notes of key lime, honeycomb, and lemon curd. This round wine displays a palate with hints of lime blossom, baked pear, and lemon meringue, resulting in a creamy texture and a long finish.

Estate Pinot Noir 2016 ($44)

100% Pinot Noir

Raspberry and cherry notes. Duh. Plus, what Zak called “Carneros baking spice”.

Winery Notes: Packs a full range of red and darker berry flavors. Beginning with the nose, one encounters bright raspberry and cooked cherry notes along with hints of sassafras and freshly turned earth. 10 months of barrel age lends a sweetness that balances the supple tannin. Of particular note is the juicy and sweet-fruited entry upon the palate, backed up by delicate spice notes that lead to a lengthy, warming finish. The hallmark of Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir is the texture, and this wine delivers with a supple and silky mouth-feel.

Cuvée de la Pompadour ($40)

59% Pinot Noir and 41% Chardonnay

Beautiful rosé notes of rose petal, peach, and strawberry. Quite a nice for it being non-vintage (NV). And for the nerds, 9.5g/L of residual sugar, so a true Brut.

Winery Notes: This wine’s aroma, delivered on a delicate mousse, hints at raspberry, apricot, and rose petal. The palate displays peach, raspberry jam, tangerine, and orange for a soft, delicate mouthfeel and a smooth long finish.

This was a lovely rosé color, but the bottle went quick!