Cabs From Coombsville

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Tournesol wines from the Coombsville appellation.

This guest post comes to us from Mira Advani Honeycutt, author of California’s Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles. She frequently contributes wine and travel pieces to the Good Food Blog.

Tournesol wines from the Coombsville appellation.

“The more interesting the food, the less you want the wine to be imposing,” commented Christopher Howell, who crafts elegant wines at NapaValley’s Cain Vineyard & Winery.

Cain and some forty other elegant wines were showcased at the Peninsula Hotel as “Stars of Cabernet” at a fundraiser for the T.J. Martell Foundation.

Although billed as a Cabernet tasting, there were Pinots, Syrahs, Zinfandel and some Sauvignon Blancs (a refreshing taste on the palate after the big Cabs). The majority of them were from NapaValley – impressive names like Grgich Hills, Silverado, Chappelet, Rombauer, Hall, Joseph Phelps, ZD and Round Pond. Those are all wines I am familiar with.

So I wanted to seek out names I’d never heard before and, interestingly enough, I came upon some excellent wines from Coombsville, NapaValley’s 16th and newest sub-appellation established in 2011.

House of Mandela wines represented by Carole Solomon of Heritage Link Brands.
House of Mandela wines represented by Carole Solomon of Heritage Link Brands.

Tucked against the foothills of Vaca Range, Coombsville is in the valley’s southeastern edge and a ten-minute drive from downtown Napa. The region’s proximity to the San FranciscoBay creates a cool marine layer and a temperate climate. That helps make Cabernets and their blends approachable, with softer tannins. The focus is on Bordelaise varieties, but growers are also successfully producing Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay.

“There are about forty winemakers and growers in Coombsville and most wineries are small and family-owned,” said Allison Arns of Tournesol, a winery that produces 1,200 cases annually. Her parents, Bob and Ann, purchased the property in 1998. The vineyard was designed and laid out by Mary Hall, who later became the viticulturist for Napa’s famed Harlan Estate.

Rosenthal wines from Southern California's Malibu region.
Rosenthal wines from Southern California’s Malibu region.

We tasted Tournesol’s 2009 Proprietor’s Blend, a bold combination of Cabernet, Malbec and Petit Verdot that showed notes of red currant and blackberry layered with allspice. The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc blended with a touch of Semillon was aromatic with bright acidity. Then there was the 2012 Rosé of Pinot Noir, a refreshing and delicately hued wine that would be perfect as an aperitif during holiday entertaining.

“We are a vegan wine” announced Bob Ackerman. With wife Lauren, he produces a mere 250-400 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon annually for their Ackerman Family Vineyards. Bob explained that what makes their wines vegan is the lack of egg whites, which are used by several wineries during the fining process. They also practice organic farming.

Bob poured some library Cabs dating back to 2005. The wine was lush with black plums and chocolate, and it had well-integrated tannins.

Rob Dafoe of Tanner Dafoe gives a barrel taste of 2012 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon from Santa Ynez's Happy Canyon appellation.
Rob Dafoe of Tanner Dafoe gives a barrel taste of 2012 vintage Cabernet Sauvignon from Santa Ynez.

In addition to Coombsville and other Napa Valley appellation wines, there were Cabs from Lake County’s Horse and Hawk Vineyards, Livermore Valley’s Wente Vineyards, Rosenthal from Malibu and Tanner DaFoe from Santa Ynez Valley.

Sonoma was represented by Pinot Noir and Cabs. Anakota’s intense reds come from hillside vineyards perched on the rugged flanks of the Mayacamas Mountain Range. We tasted two 100% Cabs: the 2004 HelenaMontana exuded smoky tannins and the 2004 Helena Dakota showed lush tannins and an elegant finish.

We were also delighted to come upon House of Mandela wines from South Africa’s Stellenbosch region. Founded by Nelson Mandela’s family, the winery produces several labels, both whites and reds, including a bold 2008 Royal Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, which is blended with Shiraz and Mourvèdre.