Apparently you get some delicious and surprisingly elegant chardonnays and pinot noirs that are undoubtedly California, but not what you might expect.
Chris Donatiello was that marketing and sales executive for the Charmer Sunbelt group before teaming up with venture capitalist Bill Hambrecht. Together they purchased Belvedere Winery in Healdsburg, CA — a winery that had been making 125,000 cases a year and converted it into C. Donatiello Winery a boutique operation with a state-of-the-art gravity-driven winery that makes around 6,600 cases annually. Winemakers Troy McEnery, a Queens native, and Webster Marquez round out the team.
I visited C. Donatiello Winery the day after the Wine Bloggers Conference concluded in Santa Rosa along with my blogger friends John from AnythingWine, Joe from 1WineDude, Becky from Smells Like Grape, Nick from Wine Scholarship, Thea from Luscious Lushes, Megan from Wannabe Wino and Patrick from Oenophilia.
After two and a half days of tasting a lot (and I mean a lot) of Sonoma County wines, my palate was a bit fatigued and I was, quite frankly, planning to hit the local craft brewery to unwind before the trip home. I just didn't want to taste anymore big, inelegant wines.
Lucky for me, McEnery and Marquez don't make wines like that.
C. Donatiello's 2007 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($24) was fermented in neutral oak and while ripe and fruity — as most California sauvignons seem to be — has just enough acidity for balance. A tropical nose gives way to bright apple flavors on the palate with lemons, minerals and hints of pineapple and mango. This is a broad, mouth-filling wine, but just the right acid brings balance. Not my favorite style of sauvignon blanc, but well made nonetheless.
A 2007 Christie Vineyard Chardonnay ($38) was aged entirely in neutral oak. It's nutty with roasted apple and subtle spice. On the finish, there is a distinct apple skin note that I really like. Though perhaps not priced for everyday drinking, it would be great to have on a warm summer evening watching the sunset.
The winery's 2006 Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($28) was probably the wine I enjoyed the least — and the most similar to that stereotypical "California Chardonnay" we all have in our minds. Aged for nine months in 50% new French oak, there is some roasted apple fruit character here, but flavors of vanilla, spicy oak and brown spice are a bit heavy for my liking.
The 2006 Orsi Vineyard Chardonnay ($38) was my favorite and probably the most unique of the whites. The nose was tight at first but bright apple, citrus zest and mineral flavors were nicely paired with light toasty notes, faint butter and just a little spice. The finish was extremely long as well.
Moving onto the reds, we started with the 2006 Maddie's Vineyard Pinot Noir ($61) which spent 10 months in 50% new French oak. A beautiful and even delicate wine at 13.8% ABV, the flavors ranged from dried cranberries to strawberries and briar with wisps of vanilla, herbs and toasted oak. Fruit forward but not over the top, this is a beautiful wine. It was the best pinot I tasted all weekend.
C. Donatiello's 2006 Russian River Pinot Noir ($48) offers a burst of Christmas and baking spice on the nose with dark, ripe cherries, raspberries and vanilla. The most widely distributed of the winery's pinots, it's available at several restaurants on Long Island and in Manhattan, including Bobby Van's, Hearth, Le Cirque, Sparks Steakhouse and Veritas.
Last, but certainly not least, we tasted C. Donatiello's 2006 Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir ($57), one that I think needs at least another year to 18 months in bottle. Made with fruit from 36-year old vines, it plusher and fruitier than the others — and yet still taut. With vigorous swirling and an hour or so in my glass, sweet red cherry and cola flavors emerged with vanilla, cedar and lots of structure. I hope to taste this one again in a few years.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the winery's aroma garden, which is gorgeous and planted with flora with aromas and flavors that mimic those of chardonnay and pinot noir. It's a very cool idea and one that I'd love to see some Long Island wineries do for merlot.