Napa Valley - Carneros
Suggested Retail: $50
“This is a newcomer among California sparkling wines, but what provenance! Paula Kornell is the daughter of Hanns Kornell, a German immigrant who brought his winemaking skills to the Napa Valley, where he created Hanns Kornell Champagne Cellars in 1958. Paula first learned about wines from her father, and subsequently went on to develop her own career in representing many California wineries.
“She’s now producing two California wines for her own label. Both are made in the classic Methode Champenoise (method of Champagne), though it’s no longer fashionable to refer to such wines as “Champagne,” that designation being reserved for wines actually made in that specific part of France. The non-vintage Brut from Paula Kornell is 80% Chardonnay grapes, the balance from Pinot Noir. It retails for $22 and is perfectly acceptable. However, that’s not the wine we salute today.
“The Paula Kornell 2017 Blanc de Noir is sourced from grapes grown in the cooler Carneros District of the Napa Valley. Nearly all Pinot Noir (98%), there is also a bit of Chardonnay (2%) in the blend. Retailing for $50, it isn’t cheap, nor should it be. This latest entry in the field of premium California sparkling wines is one of the best.
“In attempting to describe a wine’s qualities, writers often evoke attributes of fruits other than grapes. Of course, no apples, pears and lemons are actually crushed for juice to add to most wines these days, but these comparisons may describe more familiar aromas and tastes that are helpful to consumers. That said, we found this Blanc de Noir to exhibit aromas of peaches and green apples with some presence of lemon zest in there, too. These continued in the flavor, along with what reminded us of D’Anjou pears (another taster might liken this to Boscs or even exotic Asian pears).
“To delve too deeply into treating this wine as a mélange of juices from various fruits night do it a disservice, but it’s even harder to accurately describe the ethereal aspects that we found so appealing. As with really fine Champagnes and sparkling wines from other climes, we think complexity and balance are the key. For that matter, it’s much the same for all wines. Complexity might be experienced in discovering slightly different parts of a wine’s personality with each sip. Yes, the wine itself may change a bit while it sits in the glass, but the really good ones tend to reveal their personalities in layers. Such is the case with the 2017 Blanc de Noir. And balance? That may be even harder to describe than complexity. The concept doesn’t lend itself to a precise calibration, but we’ve found that it’s an ‘all’s right with the world’ feeling and that multiple parts of a wine’s character are in harmony, with the whole being more than the sum of its parts.
“Winemaker Robin Akhurst began his wine career as a sommelier in Edinburgh, but took a degree in Viticulture and Enology in New Zealand. Subsequently he has worked in many parts of the wine world. He and Paula Kornell have created something quite special with the debut of the 2017 Blanc de Noir. The wine exhibits complex fruit aspects that include a lot of personality in a light and sprightly package. There’s a bit of that bread dough/biscuity element evident in wines from Champagne, but with plenty of California fruit, too. There’s crisp acidity and a long and lingering finish. It all comes together in an elegant and sophisticated sense that kept us smiling with each sip. Highly recommended.”
Food Affinity: “While something as humble as buttered and salty popcorn could be elevated by such elegance, we’d say more upmarket choices are appropriate. Caviar and smoked salmon would continue the salty theme, albeit with more style. An oyster bisque or a preparation including some Dungeness crab might also be intriguing.”