Both the melancholy music and the wistful, mysterious lyrics of “Auld Lang Syne,” that iconic New Year’s Eve song, predetermine the answer to its opening question. “Should old acquaintance be forgot?”
No. Of course not.
And the more glasses of bubbly we consume, the more determined we become to keep in mind the significant people, places and events of the past. Until New Year’s Day. Then we make resolutions to start over, clean up, eat less, exercise more, get more work done — and suddenly the previous evening’s nostalgia for old friends fades with the practicalities of beginning another year. Too bad.
The wines that I’ve enjoyed and then forgotten aren’t, of course, as important as old friends, but given that people and places play such an important role in that enjoyment, perhaps thinking of wine as an “auld” friend that needs remembering isn’t so far-fetched. I do try — and I’m sure you do, too — not to forget old friends.
When I’m lucky, they pop up and remind me.
Which is just what happened over the holidays. Daughter Allegra and two friends had recently spent a day in the Anderson Valley to do some winery visiting. As soon as they tried the line-up at Navarro, they joined the club. The result: Several Navarro wines, which I haven’t drunk since I mentioned them in an early 2012 column, appeared on the table at Christmas Eve dinner.
Daughter Julian and spouse joined us on Christmas Day with a whole case of wine they had ordered after tasting some particularly wonderful stuff on a bicycle tour of the Anderson Valley. The winery? Navarro. And a couple of days later, friends came over for a holiday toast and brought (what else?) a bottle of Navarro.
I tend to forget about Navarro because I never see their wines at my wine store haunts. A small, family-owned operation, Navarro distributes their wines almost exclusively at the winery itself, to the club members and at a few restaurants. And though I often think a little Anderson Valley jaunt is in order, getting as far as Navarro (nearly coastal on winding Highway 128) takes a bit of planning and commitment, so the resolution to visit, like so many resolutions, falls by the wayside. Maybe next year. (Oh, is it next year already?)
A shame, because Navarro is just the sort of winery I like to support. They’re careful farmers. They don’t use synthetic pesticides or herbicides; they plant flowering cover crops in the vineyard to attract beneficial insects and prevent erosion; they let their sheep, geese, chickens and llamas “mow” the cover crops and make fertilizer for the vines; they compost all the skins, stems and seeds to add to the animal waste; they’re certified as a fish-friendly farm.
They are also thoughtful and adventuresome winemakers. One year, for example, they tried making a gewürztraminer without adding sulfur dioxide before fermentation. It was a risky experiment that worked extremely well: now all of their gewürz — and, more recently, their other whites — are fermented without SO2.
And the taste? I certainly enjoyed all the Navarro wines that I tried this season, but the gewürz is at the top of my list. It’s what I sometimes call a “winter white” — plenty of body and full-mouth sensation. And it smells and tastes of unusual things like lychee nuts and rose petals. If you think you respond badly to sulfur dioxide, you should definitely seek this out. Its final SO2 numbers (all wine has traces of it) are well below the strict EU standards for organic and biodynamic wines.
Growing and making gewürz is itself a bit of a risky proposition. It scares people, in part because they assume it’s unpleasantly sweet. While those tropical fruits and flowers smell sweet, this gewürz is dry — as are many wines made with this grape in its native habitats. A frequent gold medal winner, this wine is as lovely as it is delicious. Resolve to try some in 2014.
Vying for my top honors are two other Navarro beauties — both made of pinot noir grapes, one a sparkler. I tried the two Navarro still pinot noirs and both were good, but the 2010 Pinot Noir Méthode à l’Ancienne is, to my mind, more elegant and sophisticated than the 2011 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. It also tastes less of oak. Though it was my definite preference, others at the table liked them equally.
Alas, it costs $10 more. But still, at $29 it’s an excellent pinot noir value. Aged 11 months in French oak barrels (and these folks are extremely picky about their oak barrels, careful to choose wood that will complement rather than dominate), this food-friendly wine tastes deliciously of the bright red fruit that makes pinot so appealing. And, as I think a pinot should be, it’s low in alcohol — just 13.3 percent. Another gold-medal winner.
I feel lucky to have had a bottle of the sparkler because a) they don’t make it every year and b) when they do it sells out quickly. This vintage has, alas, sold out. If they make one next year, I’ll try to remember to alert you. And if you happen to find one on a restaurant list — or in a friend’s Navarro wine club shipment — snag it.
Made of 100 percent pinot noir grapes, it is, like Champagne, fermented in the bottle and, also like Champagne, stored on its side to keep it in contact with its yeast while it ferments. What this yields — done right, as this one so obviously is — is a complex and elegant wine with tiny, firm, delightful bubbles. It’s a “brut” but has more fruit than most Champagne.
And, finally, these folks also make wonderful French-style raw goat and sheep milk cheese under the name Pennyroyal Farmstead. Several wedges made their appearance on the holiday appetizer table, and I liked them all. So, though I haven’t actually met the Barnett-Cahn family at Navarro I tend to think of them as old acquaintances. This year, for sure, I’m going to make them new acquaintances, too.
* Mark your calendar: From 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19, I (along with some UCD enology students) will be pouring wine at Monticello Seasonal Cuisine to raise money for the Davis High School Baroque Ensemble. They’ve been invited to participate in the 2014 American Celebration of Music in Italy concert series and need help getting there. The evening promises to be great fun: the Baroque ensemble will perform, Monticello Chef Tony will prepare seasonal appetizers, the wine will flow. Tickets ($30) can be purchased at Watermelon Music or Monticello.
— Reach Susan Leonardi at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com