Spotlight on Unusual California White Wine: Arnot Roberts Vare Vineyard Ribolla Gialla 2012
Napa Valley. It’s not the first place you would go looking in California for an obscure Italian/Slovenian white grape. Neither is George Vare’s employment background the first you might choose for a pioneer of white wine in California. But so it is with stereotypes and their exceptions – they make for beautiful counterfactuals. What if the style and character of this Ribolla were the norm in Napa? What if intellectual pursuits rather than commerce and status were the soul blood of California? What if…
Innovation in the California Vineyard
George Vare has a long history in California wine in mostly quite large operations including Beringer. But it was his passion for innovation that found him with John Kongsgaard, of the famous eponymous Napa winery, in Friuli and Slovenia in 1997, discovering for the first time the wines of Gravner and Radikon, two of the most radical white wine makers in the world and probably the originators of the new fad for ‘orange’ wine. It was Kongsgaard and Vare’s collaboration at Luna that led them to Friuli in search of the best example of Pinot Grigio in the world in order to learn from it for Luna.
A few amazing wines and a suitcase later, and Ribolla had found itself in California. Today, the Vare vineyard apparently remains the state’s only source of the grape (though Randall Grahm may have planted some in his experimental vineyard). If you want to read the full story of California Ribolla, I highly recommend the extensive series by Elaine Brown at her website. The vineyard is a mere 2.5 acres
The Anti-Napa White
Arnot Roberts are ground-breakers in California for the very reason that they seek out these rare sites such as the Vare vineyard and help to ‘popularize’ them, or at least make them available to serious wine lovers looking for something new from California. Some wines work out better than others, but they are guaranteed to be interesting and enjoyable.
This Ribolla is nothing like Napa Valley white wine as you know it. It is very bright, and highly acidic. Apple, quince, caramel – this is fascinating and more lifted than any other Napa white I’ve had. It’s not an extremely aromatic wine, but there is also a clear focus on texture here, something that most California white wine makers ignore or fail to master. Texture is, rather, one of the great pleasures of well-made white. The palate also offers a flinty finish and I think the oak needs a little time to integrate, but adds a nice touch of richness to the wine. The 11.5% makes this eminently drinkable.
As for the counterfactual? I could use more wines like this from Napa Valley. Diversity and acidity are not the enemies.
Very Good to Very Good+
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