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Red, White and Rosé

The wine industry is a funny place sometimes. Preconceived notions occur all of the time when it comes to talking about certain growing regions or wineries themselves. It happens constantly; most of us are guilty of it as well. (I know I’ve spoken about a very familiar, overly oaked Chardonnay in certain ways.) I remember, while I was studying for my Certified Sommelier exam, we were going over California’s earliest history of wine making and my colleague mentioned Wente Winery in Livermore and “how could anything grow in Livermore it’s so dry and hot!” I was in agreement at the time. I mean, I was an expert. I’d lived in Concord for a couple of years and that’s pretty much the same thing right? Dried grass covered hills, as hot as Sacramento, Livermore is somewhere you drive through to get to another freeway isn’t it? Boy was I wrong.

Nottingham Cellars in Livermore, California falls under the Central Coast AVA as far as wine designations go. Owned by the Cranor Family and established in 2009, Nottingham is still a baby, but I’d consider them a Boss Baby! (ok, maybe I need to stop watching shows with my kids). I’ve been fortunate enough to taste their wines throughout the years, thanks to fellow Sommelier Jeremy Troupe-Masi, and watch them grow from a more Bordeaux varietal driven winery into a Micro-Lot focused winery seeking out the best grapes from the best farmers in the area and always maintaining one clear vision throughout: Bring the best out of each grape.

Nottingham Cellars Casa de Viñas, Micro-Lot Reserve 2019 Rosé is as refreshing as a frozen lemonade at the California State Fair during a Sacramento summer. Located in the Southeast corner of the Livermore Valley, The Casa de Viñas vineyard is renowned for growing it’s Bordeaux varietals. With the wine being 60% Carmenere and 40% Merlot, I expected a touch of green under ripe notes to the wine, almost a green bell pepper flavor that Carmenere is famous for. That is definitely not what I received. Upon tasting the wine, the acid comes through and makes your mouth water instantly. Notes of lime zest and strawberry lemonade jump out of the glass. Drink this well chilled on its own, with a cheese board of firm cheeses, or with some fresh strawberries from the weekly farmers market.

Nottingham Cellars Fraser Howard Vineyard, Micro-Lot Reserve 2018 Chardonnay is the “tightrope walker” of the white wines offered from Nottingham, it’s very well-balanced. The weight of the wine on your palate and the acid cutting perfectly through is what makes this wine shine. Fraser Howard Vineyard is a gravelly soil based vineyard which allows for ideal drainage and also early ripening of the fruit. This is by no means a big, buttery Chardonnay, rather it has a baking spice characteristic to it. Notes of vanilla, cinnamon, stone fruit and a spectacular golden shimmer are what stand out upon the first pour. 100% Chardonnay, all grown in the Livermore Valley on this 1 acre vineyard, gives way to precision in a glass. Pair this with some baked puff pastry wrapped Brie, a light white fish with a beurre blanc sauce, or even butter poached lobster.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Nick, I can see the label, that doesn’t say Livermore on the bottle of Pinot.” Well that’s true. This is Typicité Tondre Grapefield, Santa Lucia Highlands 2018 Pinot Noir. It is Collin Cranor and Craig Ploof’s (Director of Winemaking at Nottingham) newest project where they are focused on sourcing the best farmed vineyards grapes from throughout California. Typicité, as defined by Cranor and Ploof, is a French word often used to describe a wine that is true to its origins, reflective of the vineyard and the vintage from which it was grown. The fruit from this vineyard, less than a football field away from the historic Gary’s Vineyard, is driven in cold to Livermore where Ploof is allowed to work his winemaking magic and extract exactly what was meant of the fruit, pure elegance. The nose on this wine is full of a bouquet of dark fruits consisting of blackberries and cherries. The wine would pair excellent with some duck tacos or even a warm mushroom tart. These guys really knocked it out of the park with this wine.

After all of these years in the industry, I’m still amazed stumbling upon new regions or wines that I may have previously written off or never known at all. The argument between Napa and Livermore is never ending, but the truth of the matter is they are 2 different places. Livermore is actually technically cooler than Napa benefiting from the East-West orientation of the valley that’s influenced by the cool breezes of San Francisco which allow for the grapes to cool earlier in the day and retain that great acidity.

Next time you feel like going wine tasting, picture rolling hills of vineyards, laid back tastings, easy going people and total relaxation. Oh and did I mention you’ll probably get a hell of a deal compared to what you may have spent in Napa Valley? Get out there and discover for yourself! But for now, I’m happy to help bring the Livermore Valley to you!

Nick Mallon, Certified Sommelier