Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Up Next for the Capital Wine Festival: Clos Pegase

The Capital Wine Festival is now in full swing. The weekly wine and dinner pairings have already featured winemakers from the Russian River Valley and Tuscany. Tomorrow, the wine will hail from Napa Valley and the winemaker will be Clos Pegase’s Richard Sowalsky. Richard has a unique background for a winemaker. He began medical school only to realize that he didn’t want to practice medicine. He then went through culinary school and realized that while he liked to cook, he didn’t like working the line at a restaurant. He finally discovered winemaking and has been making a name for himself – as well as really good wines – ever since.

Richard has worked for some of the biggest names in the American wine industry, like Robert Mondavi, and now oversees winemaking for Clos Pegase, a 450-acre estate vineyard in Napa Valley. We discussed his approach to winemaking, issues facing the industry, and of course, tried some of his wine during our meeting. It was a fascinating conversation, and Richard will no doubt leave the attendees at the Winemaker Dinner impressed with his knowledge, his enthusiasm and the wines that he makes. On a side note, he is of the opinion that Syrah is the most under-utilized grape in California and raved about the Syrah that Clos Pegase makes. It is, however, only available at their tasting room and to wine club members.

The two wines Richard brought with him were the 2009 Mitsuko’s Vineyard Chardonnay and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. The Chardonnay was more yellow than clear in color with hints of citrus, melon and vanilla on the nose. The thing that impressed me the most about this wine was that it didn’t finish in an overly oaky way. Instead, the 2009 Mitsuko Chardonnay left a hint of something more akin to toasted pecans lingering on the pallatte. It was a nice – and surprising - finish to a well-balanced Chardonnay. If you have any friends who have been turned off to Chardonnay because they have had so many overly oaked, overly buttery ones, this wine would be the perfect antidote.

As for the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, it reminded me why I became such a fan of Napa Valley Cabernets in the first place. There is a rich, fruity and mellow smell to Napa cabs that distinguish them from other wines, and this one is no exception. With a medium to full body, this wine is gives off flavors of dark cherries and dark chocolate, blackberries and a mix of herbs and spices on the finish. It is a smooth wine that is dry, but not too dry, on the finish.

We discussed everything from the role of a winemaker – Richard sees himself more as a caretaker ensuring that the grapes reach their full potential – to issues facing the wine industry - both in Napa and globally – to his thoughts on the Virginia wine industry. His prediction is that as the locavore movement continues to gain in popularity, locally sourced wines will become more and more popular, too. Napa is starting to pay attention to Virginia wines insofar as their reputation is growing, though it is difficult to find Virginia wines in California. Still, the state’s potential is luring talented people from California back East. Clos Pegase’s former cellar manager is now at Hillsborough Vineyards in Loudoun County.

1 comment:

  1. It less like being back in the same saddle so much as a saddle adjustment. It's always a good idea to write about what you know and what's closest to your heart. With the move to WA, it would seem that the wine industry there is now the new obvious regional topic to focus on.