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© 1998 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved


by Jerry D. Mead

It was eleven years ago that I first reviewed the first two white wines from a winery no one had heard of, Ferrari-Carano. That first 2500 cases of Chardonnay was a sellout even before the wine was officially released, and the Fume Blanc sold out too.

From those humble beginnings, the dream winery of Don and Rhonda Carano has become a world class property, encompassing vineyards spread out over a 50-mile range from mountain tops in Alexander Valley, to plantings around the winery in Dry Creek Valley, to the cool Carneros region just north of San Francisco Bay.

Red wines have successfully entered the line, both whites are among the favorite restaurant wines in America, and winemaker George Bursick and vineyard manager Barney Fernandez continue to coordinate experiments based on additional varieties and growing techniques.

Those experiments include Italian varieties, French varieties, the ignoble Black Muscat (capable of making delicious dessert wine) and we hear a rumor that even classic Port varieties may be going in. And look for a Rhone variety-based pink wine (dry, of course) to come out of the 1998 harvest.

The Caranos come from the hotel business (they own the Eldorado Hotel & Casino in Reno and are partners in the Silver Legacy), but are not your usual absentee owners.

Both have Italian ethnic roots so were always close to wine as an everyday beverage, but it was a buying trip to Sonoma County that first endeared them to the area. A summer home they purchased there came with a small vineyard. To learn to deal with their vines, the Caranos took U.C. Davis short courses on viticulture and enology.

Owning one vineyard led to another, which led to home winemaking in a barn, which led to the idea to build a winery. And what a winery!

Bursick works in an absolute state-of-the-art winemaking facility, the underground barrel cellar holds some of the world's finest cooperage and the Villa Fiore hospitality center has to be one of the most elegant tasting rooms in the world of wine. The manicured, European style formal gardens are also worth a visit.

I recently had the opportunity to taste the entire F-C line, including an exclusive preview of several wines scheduled for September release. I can't remember tasting such a broad field of wines from a single producer with no quality score going below 90. It's an amazing collection.

Ferrari-Carano wines have broad national distribution, though a few limited production wines will be very hard to find. To arrange visits or inquire about retail availability: Ferrari-Carano Winery, 8761 Dry Creek Rd., P.O. Box 1549, Healdsburg, CA 95448 (707) 433-6700.

Ferrari-Carano 1996 "TreMonte" Sangiovese ($35) First ever release of this 100 percent mountain-grown variety that makes Italian Brunello famous. Alas! Only 400 cases for the world. Use all the clout you have with your favorite wine merchant to get a bottle or three of this spectacular red wine...California Sangiovese will never be called "wimpy" again. May be the best Sangiovese ever made here. Black raspberry and very ripe plum flavors; fruit is very intense, almost concentrated. Earthy and very complex in the finish, which is extremely long. Rating: 100/84

Ferrari-Carano 1996 "Alexander Valley" Chardonnay ($21) The Chardonnay that knocks their sox off every year. Tremendous bouquet of tropical fruit salad, vanillin and a hint of spice. All of that and more in the mouth. In a word...dee-licious! Rating: 95/88

Ferrari-Carano 1997 "Sonoma" Fume Blanc Reserve ($16) This 100 percent varietal, 100 percent barrel-fermented white is a Fume for Chardonnay lovers. It has that kind of richness. Honeysuckle nose; tropical fruit; lots of oak. Fermented dry, but a heavy dose of sweet oak gives it a sweet perception. Try it with lobster. Rating: 90/85

Ferrari-Carano 1995 Chardonnay Reserve ($34) A blend dominated by fruit from Napa Carneros with a small portion of Alexander Valley fruit to add a note of lushness. My favorite F-C Chardonnay for it's leaner, more elegant and much more versatile with food style. Flavors lean more to the ripe pineapple side. Rating: 97/84

Ferrari-Carano 1996 Siena ($28) F-C's answer to the Italian wines known as super-Tuscans, that is, blends of Sangiovese with Bordeaux varieties. This one is 80 percent the former, plus 15 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and tiny amounts of Merlot and Malbec. Dusty blackberry nose, with blackberry and cassis flavors. Aged in older cooperage, but wood notes still manage to show through. Rating: 96/86

F-C 1995 "Sonoma" Merlot ($24) F-C's best Merlot ever. Voluptuous! Very ripe black cherry aromas and flavors, round, supple, soft, velvety and sexy. Rating: 97/87

F-C 1994 "Sonoma" Cabernet Sauvignon ($28) All the black fruits, blackberry, black cherry, black currant, dark plum; very intense; earthy complexity in the after-flavors. Rating: 95/86

Ferrari-Carano 1993 Tresor Reserve ($55) A "Best Buy" at this price? You betcha, when compared to the prices being commanded by competitors like Opus One, Dominus, Insignia and "First Growth" Bordeaux. Super extraction; totally mouthfilling; very great red wine. Cassis flavors dominate, but there is also black cherry and bittersweet chocolate notes as well. Aged for more than two years in heavy toast French oak barrels, the smoky complexities of that wood comes on strong. After-flavors include cedar and black truffle. Only 1200 cases. Rating: 98/90


Ferrari-Carano 1997 "Sonoma" Fume Blanc ($11.50) One of America's most popular wines made from Sauvignon Blanc (Fume is a synonym), and mine too. Bursick tastes melon, fig and honeysuckle. I get very ripe white Texas grapefruit. We agree on the lush mouthfeel and delicate oak flavorings. Try it with swordfish or halibut in lemon or caper-based sauces. Rating: 94/90


Ferrari-Carano 1996 "TreMonte" Chardonnay ($42) The latest addition to the F-C collection of Chardonnays. It is 100% barrel-fermented, from 100% Chardonnay, grown entirely on the mountain vineyard. Roasty, toasty, coffee bean bouquet on top of tropical fruit. Big, ripe tropical fruit flavors, with mango, papaya, pineapple and all that stuff, plus heavier toast oak flavors than on the other Chardonnays. Earthy, mineral notes too and a weightier mouthfeel. Very close to being over the top. Lovers of the "big ones" are going to love it. Rating: 94/80

Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value.

© 1998 JDM Enterprises. All Rights Reserved
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