Holly and Tom Cooper fell in love with the Rhône Valley and Rhône wines over their first bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape as a married couple during their honeymoon in France. Many years later, Holly had the romantic notion to live on a hill in the country, and the couple moved to the Sierra Foothills, taking up residency on Tom’s family’s cattle ranch. Here, in the Pleasant Valley region of the El Dorado AVA, where the Mediterranean climate mimics that of their beloved Rhône Valley, Tom was able to fulfill his romantic notion of owning a vineyard. In 1998 the couple planted their first 15 acres of Syrah, celebrating their first harvest in 2000. Since that time, the family-owned vineyard and winery has expanded to include Counoise, Grenache Blanc, Petite Sirah, Cinsaut, Picpoul, Mourvedre, Roussanne,Viognier, and Carignane. The 2015 Carignane is the winery’s first single-varietal bottling of this somewhat “obscure” varietal.
About the Wine: Carignane is a red wine grape most widely planted in France’s Rhône Valley region. It’s a late budding, but high-yielding vine that benefits from warmer climates — like those found in the elevated areas of the Sierra Foothills. Holly’s Hill estate vineyards sit at about 2700 feet, where the vines have the benefit of constant sunlight, meaning these traditionally bushy vines will be able to produce fully-ripened fruit. Read more about the El Dorado AVA.
Holly and Tom’s daughter Carrie and son-in-law Josh are the co-winemakers at Holly’s Hill. They maintain Holly and Tom’s initial “Rhône romanticism” by implementing Old World techniques in their winemaking. The duo uses only neutral French oak for aging, often opting for larger volume casks to reduce oak influence even further. Racking and any other “intervention” is done only as needed.
The Holly’s Hill 2015 Estate Carignane is made from 100% Carignane grapes harvested from the family’s estate vineyard.
Flavor Profile: Pop the cork and there’s a faint aroma of withered black grapes on the verge of becoming raisins. On the pour, Holly’s Hill Carignane is a dusty fuchsia — there’s a bit of pink to the light-violet color. But the moment it settles into the glass, the wine becomes more serious with its faded maroon visual. Initial aromas are a mix between bright and dried fruits along with some dusty dirt and a thin line of acidity lingering in the back. Swirl, and the wine releases a floral aroma of deep red roses, milk chocolate, and, at the top of the glass, some greenery.
The wine has a solid grip on the palate, and though the acidity is bright, it’s that grip that stays with you. The primary flavors are of that rose bush sensed on the nose — almost as if you’re crunching on the flower petals while popping cranberries in your mouth. Let the wine linger, and that mix of fruit and floral create a dense candy-like taste and texture, reminiscent of black licorice. The finish, again, gets darker bringing to light bitter herbs (like arugula), roasted nut skins, and leaving your mouth coated with that solid grip of tannin.
It’s a funky wine to say the least that can be enjoyed for the mish-mash of a journey it takes you on. I venture to say that this wine will be even better with age — just 5 to 10 years — to truly meld those flavors together and soften the tannins just a bit.
Food Pairing: I paired the Holly’s Hill 2015 Carignane with a fillet mignon and a blueberry-herb salad. If drinking this now, I would highly recommend pairing the Carignane with a red meat served medium-rare to rare, allowing the natural juices to accompany this dry red wine. I’d also recommend a lighter side, like the blueberry-herb salad, something that will assist the wine to open up those hidden fruit aromas. Meanwhile, anything herbaceous will highlight the beautiful rose garden crunch in the wine.
More Info: I received the Holly’s Hill 2015 Carignane as a sample for review. (Cheers Tom and Holly!) Retail: $25 For more information about Holly’s Hill and to purchase wines directly, please visit the Holly’s Hill website.
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