What We Say 2008 Napa Valley Chardonnay
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Mission Codename: The infinite highway
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Return to Highway 12 Vineyards & Winery and retrieve their best white wine, in time for our Operatives Summertime enjoyment
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Highway 12 Vineyards & Winery
Wine Subject: 2008 Napa Valley Chardonnay
Winemaker: Michael Sebastiani
Backgrounder: Chardonnay is arguably the greatest of all white grape varietals, showing its influence in the legendary sparkling wines of Champagne, the great whites of Burgundy and of course its expression as ‘the’ white wine of California. Chardonnay represents over 50% of the planted white grapes in California with nearly 100,000 acres planted. With such a great number of wines made from this grape, it stands to reason that finding wines of immense quality would be hard, but look no further. Today’s approachable selection from the Napa Valley is a delicious wine with a tender mouthfeel and plenty of flavor.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Gorgeous light golden-yellow, maintaining evenly concentrated color out to the edge of the glass, where the edges catch the light. Legs start high on the glass, where they are slow to emerge. After a few moments, they move slowly and steadily down the glass.
Smell – Sweet lemon curd, zesty citrus peel lead to tropical notes of pineapple, passionfruit and green mango. As the wine warms slightly, aromas of white cherry blossom, slate, vanilla and freshly-sawn redwood lumber add intrigue and complexity to the nose.
Feel – Just out of the chiller, the wine has a light and slightly round feel. Allow the wine to warm slightly and it takes on a much more voluptuous and velvet-smooth feel, filling the palate and making it a far more interesting wine.
Taste – Sweet citrus, pineapple, green melon and passionfruit take the lead. These are followed by soft honeysuckle, kiwi berry and zest. Again, allow the wine to warm slightly, and be rewarded with flavors that are more free-flowing and authentic.
Finish – This wine finishes long and clean with lingering flavors of zesty citrus, sweet white flowers, vanilla, pineapple and soft slate.
Conclusion – A lovely Chardonnay, and the perfect choice for the Chardonnay drinker that likes a balanced and approachable white wine. Be sure to decant, allowing the wine to warm slightly in the glass, before drinking. The wine is wonderful, right out of the chiller, but it really shines as it warms just slightly; the feel becomes far softer and the flavors become more, well, flavorful. For those Chardonnay drinkers that fear big oak or an overly buttery feel and taste, be assured – this wine has neither. We paired our sample bottles with barbecued burgers and a summer salad. The non-traditional combination was divine.
WINEMAKER INTEL BRIEFING DOSSIER
SUBJECT: Michael Sebastiani
WINE EDUCATION: B.S. Fermentation Science, UC Davis
CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: I started working in the vineyards at Sebastiani Vineyards at a very young age….in 1982. I worked through my teens in various jobs throughout the winery, from the carpenter shop to the maintenance shop, and then in the back room of the tasting room until 1986. I then worked construction while building Viansa winery from 1988-1990, when I left for college. I did cellar work for Viansa off and on from 1991-1993 and then began full time cellar work in 1993. I took the title Winemaker at Viansa in 1995, and in 1996 designed and built a 75,000-case winery production facility to bring all Viansa wine production in-house. I left Viansa in 2002 with aspirations of venturing out on my own. In 2003, with fellow co-founder Paul Giusto, we launched Generations of Sonoma, LLC which provided the backdrop to our flagship brand, Highway 12 Vineyards and Winery in 2004. In 2010, we designed a new 25,000-case production facility to produce the wines for Highway 12 Vineyards and Winery; we crushed about 20,000-cases in 2010.
WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: After 2 decades in the professional wine industry, my philosophy continues to evolve, just as the wines do. The core, and purity of winemaking hasn’t changed in centuries….only the technology. I continue to learn new aspects in the particulars of vineyards and wine each year, and I need to remain open to it. Vineyards act like people do…they get hungry, they get tired, they get moody and they live in cycles……and a lot of time they like to be left alone. And maybe one of the most understated mentioned in the process of winemaking is the consumer – they are the audience I make wine for, not for me; we are on stage and perform for them. I make wine for our friends, families and others; it is my job to use my expertise and choose the appropriate vineyards and wine styles to meet their desires. I do not tell them what they should appreciate and not appreciate.
WINEMAKER QUOTE: “Growing up surrounded by food and wine, I’ve found that winemaking is just like cooking – start with your best ingredients, and try not to mess it up!”
FIRST COMMERCIAL WINE RELEASE: 1995
AGENT RED: Greetings, Michael. We are thrilled to be showing your 2008 Napa Valley Chardonnay today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.
MICHAEL SEBASTIANI: Thank you for having me – wine is meant to be shared, so I am glad to be here and share our wines.
RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?
MICHAEL: I could say there could be one specific experience, but it’s more like a long history of many…..as one example that inspired me, yet not exactly for the love of it….was working at a very young age in the vineyards – “suckering” vines as a kid, in the hot summer, getting dirty and not thinking it’s the best thing in life! Yet I didn’t realize that it was my way to literally start from the ground up. That said, I was also told my most inspirational quote as teenager that stayed with me: “….in the morning you work the vineyards and you are a farmer; at lunch you bring samples into the lab and you are a scientist; and after lunch you are on the road promoting/selling your wine and you are a businessman.” All 3 professions in 1 day – I knew I could do anything I wanted to within the wine industry.
RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?
MICHAEL: As I usually draw most of my analogies from cooking…..I am one of those chefs that has learned from many different styles; and my personal style is to respond to our customers at the table….so I’m always evolving my style. As a concept, back in the early 90s, the invention of the “Cal-Ital” concept, and the popular “Mediterranean-diet” pyramid, really helped me find a style path I wanted. A clean, welcoming, and healthy flavor profile….I tend to focus a lot on feel, texture, and aromas….then each vineyard terroir takes care of providing the flavor.
RED: Who do you make wine for?
MICHAEL: That’s easy….the final consumer who enjoys drinking the wine….they are the ultimate boss.
RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.
MICHAEL: This delicious wine is 100% Chardonnay. North end of Napa Carneros – a touch warmer, welcoming a marvelous balance
of maritime and Valley heat which gives the wine some true Valley character lending to the lush, ripe style then Carneros comes in to offer the citrus accents.
RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
MICHAEL: There’s no question we’re going with fish tacos or ceviche – now that the sun is coming out!
RED: In your opinion, what makes the Napa Valley so special?
MICHAEL: The warmth, the ripeness, but yet enough cool nights and mornings to provide a breather for the grapes. There are so many ways you can go with Napa Valley Chardonnay. And in this case, we split the difference since it’s from the northern edge of Napa Carneros. Dare we say best of both worlds?
RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?
MICHAEL: One might call it ‘road work’…ha! Really though, we love to take care of folks when they visit Sonoma and our downtown tasting room. On the winemaking side, lots of bottlings lined up to make room for the impending harvest…assuming we have one? And the development and launch of a brand new proprietary release.
RED: How would you recommend people approach your wines and wine in general?
MICHAEL: Completely without caution….our wines have a “one with the people” attitude. It’s like Italian food….everybody loves Italian food, right? My goal is not to make big wine bombs that you scrape off your teeth….I learned early on that no wine will age unless there is much of the fruit flavors up front….because in all wines, once the tannins soften there has to still be some fruit there. Our wines age extremely well, but I focus on the fruit which makes them drinkable at a younger age. Also, I’m used to making many different wines, so we have about 14 in our arsenal….I realize that I like to have a wine all types of preferences….just like how we cook!
RED: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
MICHAEL: To get an easy and clear sense of Highway 12 Winery, we use our Wine Corridor map – if you imagine the Sonoma Valley running north/south, and then the Carneros Region running east/west at the base of the Valley, that “L” shaped area is our self-proclaimed wine region; our own estate, or appellation in other words. I have worked with our growers for 2 decades now, and even planted many of the vineyards we work with. Our goal is showcase our corridor and wine region, and that is why we look to blending quite often and understand vineyards merry together best – that is how we bring forth the flavors of this California Wine Corridor.
RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!
MICHAEL: Thanks for this opportunity to share my wine with your Operatives!
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
The approximate location of the Highway 12 Winery tasting room can be seen in this satellite photo.
What the Winery Says
Highway 12 Winery
About This Wine:
Rich lemon meringue and pineapple custard aromas with round, supple dry-yet-fruity medium-to-full body and a juicy, toasty praline and baked apple pie, melon and kiwi soufflé finish. Deliciously flavorful with everything in its proper place.
About The Winery:
Founded in 2003, Highway 12 Winery was inspired by the vision and pioneering spirit of so many before us. Our Highway 12 wines are rooted in their legacy and we offer them proudly in recognition of the heritage and responsibilities we’ve assumed.
Winemaker, Michael Sebastiani has spent his life in these vineyards and his adult life making wine. His is a labor of love and tradition and the medals and critical recognition our wines receive attest to his skills and dedication.
At our winery and barrel cellar on Eighth Street East, future releases of these wines are aging and evolving in more than a thousand oak barrels, all carefully monitored as they progress. Visits to our cellar are by appointment and tastings at the cellar are usually in groups of eight or more.
The Highway 12 corridor is home to dozens of world class vineyards and from the best of those come the grapes for our Highway 12 wines.
We’re proud to list among our growers the near legendary Serres Ranch. John Serres, owner and patriarch, is one of the few remaining real Sonoma cowboys. John best evaluates his vineyards on horseback where he can be close to the vines and better assess the health and quality of the grapes.
Sangiacomo Family Vineyards, four generations of grape growing since 1927 and one of California’s most prestigious and respected grower families. It’s not by chance that the Sonoma/Carneros region is home to growers of this caliber. With several varieties of Sangiacomo fruit currently aging in our barrel cellar, we look to those future releases with great anticipation.
We’re fortunate to also number among our Southern Sonoma growers, Ned Hill and La Prenda Vineyards. Raised in a grape growing family, Ned grew up working in the vineyards and knows first hand the necessary skills and the unique agriculture of our area.
Appellation: Napa Valley
Varietal: 100% Chardonnay
Fermentation Regimen: 50% Barrel Fermented, 50% Tank, 100% Malo-lactic
Brix at harvest: 23.7 degrees.