Monday, February 20, 2012

The “Study” of Fine Wine at Etude Wines– Los Carneros, California


Etude Wines was founded in 1982 by Tony Soter. An étude literally means “to study,” from the Latin studium, more recently from 12th century Old French estudie, and the word was popularized in English by the etudes of Chopin (1810–1849).
To experience Etude Wines then is a “study” of the terroir of the vineyard from which their winemaker, Jon Priest, derives their fruit to make fine Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which is sourced from a number of fine growers, and their Pinot Noir comes from their estate vineyards in Los Carneros. In these estate vineyards they have about two dozen Pinot Noir clones including 10 special low yield heirloom varieties.
While Etude Wines is mostly known for their Pinot Noir and Cabernets they also produce Pinot Gris, a Carneros Chardonnay, and a rosé of Pinot Noir. They also offer two brandies (a Pinot Noir and an XO) from the original Alambic pot stills that were once on the property. Today these rare brandies are over two decades old but unfortunately they are not available to sample in the tasting room.
Etude Wines has two flights, one which includes their Pinot Blanc and a line-up of Cabernets and another which includes their Estate Chardonnay and the Pinot Noirs. While visiting the tasting room I chose the latter and sampled the following wines:

My first pour was the 2009 Estate Chardonnay – Carneros. This wine is a blend of wines made in two different ways. First a portion of the juice is transferred to small stainless steel barrels and the remaining juice is transferred to neutral French oak barrels for fermentation and sur lie aging. The wine is allowed to mature undisturbed for ten months before bottling. The result is a wine that is neither an austere Chard that lacks expressiveness as many all-stainless Chards tend to be nor a hyper oaky-buttery Chard that are commonly found in California. If there is one word that describes this wine’s character it is “balance.” On the nose I picked up peaches, pears and melon followed by a hint of lemon meringue and a hint of white flowers. On the palate the wine is crisp and yet also has a full mouth feel with a hint of minerality and a medium length finish. A really nice wine for $32 a bottle.

My first red wine was the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir – Carneros. I actually tasted this wine twice with very different impressions. The first pour seemed very Burgundian – very earthy, dark fruit (raspberries, blackberries), a little clove and a touch of oak on the finish. The wine server thought the bottle might be “off” so he opened a second bottle and it was much more expressive in the fruit profile (fresh black cherries) and a hint of spice without having any earthy notes. I actually liked the earthier version but it was probably an oddity. This wine sells for $42 a bottle.

My second red wine was the 2008 Etude Deer Camp Pinot Noir. This wine exudes boysenberries, dried cherries, root beer and cinnamon. On the palate it also has bright acidity and a long finish.  This is a really nice wine but a bit steep at $60 a bottle.

My third red was the 2008 Etude Heirloom Pinot Noir. A radically different wine than the previous two, this one is similar in its fruit and spice profile as well as a hint of pantone loaf and yet it is jammier with a smoky finish. This was my favorite in the line-up but at $90 a bottle there are many on the market that are comparable at half the price so I’d have to say “pass.”

My final wine was the 2007 Etude GBR Estate, which is a blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Malbec. The two wines were aged separately for approximately 12 months, then blended and returned to barrels for 7 months of aging before bottling. The wine was then aged an additional 6 months in bottle prior to release. This is a big, black fruity wine with loads of blackberries, licorice and a very strong black olive component on the finish. I have never had a wine in which black olives were this pronounced. On the palate it has a full mouth feel, firm gripping tannins and some nice minerality. A very unique wine that might put some people off by the strong olive content but I really liked it though the $60 is a bit steep.

To visit or for more information:

Etude Wines
1250 Cuttings Wharf Road
Carneros, CA 94559
Phone:  1-707-257-5300