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Experience with Charbono

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Brian K Miller

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Experience with Charbono

by Brian K Miller » Tue Sep 05, 2006 12:49 pm

Had a very interesting red wine last night at a tasting room-Smith Family (ON the Edge) Charbono. From far northern Napa County (Calistoga). Very earthy, dark, mushroomy red wine-I liked it a lot.

My only previous experience with Charbono was a much lighter, fruitier wine which didn't catch my palette, frankly. THIS wine was much more to my liking. What's interesting is that the House Style in general (Cab, Cab Franc, Bordeaux Blend) seemed to be to the lighter, fruitier style of Napa Red. This one, which he made sure was the last wine tasted, was different and blew me away.

The lable claims that there are only 100 acres of charbono grapes in North America. Has anyone tried any French Charbono-based/dominated wines? Or, as I suspect and have read, is the grape primarily used as a minor blending varietal?
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TomHill

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French Charbono??

by TomHill » Tue Sep 05, 2006 1:10 pm

In France, the variety is known as Charbonneaux or Douce Noir. To my knowledge, that's not made as a varietal over there. Think it mostly up in the Jura or Savoie.
There's a lot of Charbono grown down in Argentina, where it's (incorrectly) called Bonarda or Bonarda-Barbera. Not had one I really cared for.
Of the Calif ones; I like the Turley and the Toffonelli ones. Sally Otteson makes one at Pacific Star that's pretty good as well.
It's a variety that, to me, is a lot like Petite Sirah. Not a lot of fragrance and tends towards clunky/rustic/earthy and a bit tannic.
I've not heard of Smith Family. I'll have to track one down.
Tom
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Andrew Shults

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Re: French Charbono??

by Andrew Shults » Tue Sep 05, 2006 2:43 pm

TomHill wrote:There's a lot of Charbono grown down in Argentina, where it's (incorrectly) called Bonarda or Bonarda-Barbera.


Has this been conclusively established? I usually rely on Oz Clarke's Encyclopedia of Grapes which says they may be the same, but that could be out of date since it was published five years ago. Are we at the primitivo=zinfandel level of certainty yet?
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Re: Experience with Charbono

by Mike Filigenzi » Tue Sep 05, 2006 2:54 pm

I'll echo Tom's comment on the Tofanelli. Very nice stuff, and the winemaker is a really interesting guy. If you're ever in Calistoga, it's well worth the time to get an appointment with Vince Tofanelli.


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Re: French Charbono??

by Robin Garr » Tue Sep 05, 2006 2:56 pm

TomHill wrote:It's a variety that, to me, is a lot like Petite Sirah. Not a lot of fragrance and tends towards clunky/rustic/earthy and a bit tannic.


Bang on target, I'd say. I thought I was the only person who said this. :) 'tis true of its aging potential as well, it seems to me: Both wines remain unchanged for the first 15 or 20 years, then open up a little bit. (And yes, I like them both.)
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My Understanding...

by TomHill » Tue Sep 05, 2006 3:18 pm

Andrew,
When I was organizing the OltrepoPavese tasting, I did a bit of research on Bonarda and I recall that one site claimed that Argentine Bobarda-Barbera=Calif Charbono by DNA testing. But like all things out on the 'Net, just because it says so doesn't make it true. And, since Bobarda has been in Argentina a long time, it may very well be like PetiteSirah and there are a number of different varieties out there going under the name of Bonarda in Argentina.
Tom
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Re: Experience with Charbono

by Peter May » Tue Sep 05, 2006 4:13 pm

I too like Charbono -- it is something interestingly different and I agree with your tasting description.

I've only seen Charbono in California, I haven't had many and the only example I have in my cellar is from Summers Winery, co-incidentally also located in Calistoga, next to the geyser.

It is 2000 vintage. Keep or drink-up???
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Re: Experience with Charbono

by Thomas » Tue Sep 05, 2006 5:41 pm

The first Charbono I ever tasted was in 1979 (yeah, I'm as old as Robin). The wine was produced by Inglenook or Beringer, can't remember which. But I do remember turning to my wife and saying that it reminded me an awful lot of Dolcetto--which of course a lot of people say Bonarda tastes like, and if Bonarda is Charbono or Charbono is Dolcetto or Bonarda is Dolcetto or pigs fly even without having to grow wings, the wine still was earthy, tannic and probably very near what Tom and Robin have claimed for the variety.

I liked it.
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TomHill

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IInglenook...

by TomHill » Tue Sep 05, 2006 5:48 pm

Tom,
Undoubtedly it was the Inglenook. Don't think Beringer ever made one that I recall.
Back in the '70's, it was mostly only Chateau Souverain and Inglenook that made Charbono and the Inglenooks were particularly good. Some Charbono also went into, as I recall, the Beaulieu Special Burgundy that was so terrific.
Tom
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Re: IInglenook...

by Robin Garr » Tue Sep 05, 2006 6:04 pm

TomHill wrote:Back in the '70's ... the Inglenooks were particularly good.


I had occasion to attend a huge vertical of Inglenook Reserve Cask Cab at the Four Seasons in the early '90s, where they opened about 25 of them back to 1942. It was intriguing to see how obvious a shift occurred when Heublein came in, and not for the better. I was surprised in a way that they were willing to put the product on the line that way, but as it turned out, most of the coverage was, er, uncritical.

Anyway, they had a morning tasting followed by lunch, at which point they poured a '72 Charbono, then about 20 years old. It was excellent, really at that point better than most of the Reserve Casks were. :)
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Re: IInglenook...

by Thomas » Tue Sep 05, 2006 10:02 pm

Well, maybe Robin is older than I...

OK, it must have been Inglenook--it was a good wine.

Funny thing, Heublein had Beaulieu at the time too, but apparently the then president of Beaulieu, Leigh Knowles, managed to keep the company from sliding alongside Inglenook. In fact, I was out there in '79 to update the Beaulieu visitor center audio visual piece. Knowles was among my favorite people. It was one of the best wine trips I had ever taken, but it was well before Napa had become the circus that it is today. I remember meeting Sattui in front of the trailer which was the tasting and sales room, and the green pepper Cabernet Sauvignon on display. Them were the days.
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Brian K Miller

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Re: French Charbono??

by Brian K Miller » Tue Sep 05, 2006 11:17 pm

TomHill wrote:.
It's a variety that, to me, is a lot like Petite Sirah. Not a lot of fragrance and tends towards clunky/rustic/earthy and a bit tannic.
I've not heard of Smith Family. I'll have to track one down.
Tom


I guess I like the more rustic side, quite often. It was definitely very earthy. You might look up On The Edge Winery, their official name.
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Re: Experience with Charbono

by Brian K Miller » Tue Sep 05, 2006 11:21 pm

2003-and the tasing room guy didn't really recommend long aging.


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Re: My Understanding...

by Andrew Shults » Wed Sep 06, 2006 4:28 am

TomHill wrote:Andrew,
I recall that one site claimed that Argentine Bobarda-Barbera=Calif Charbono by DNA testing. But like all things out on the 'Net, just because it says so doesn't make it true.


Thanks for the clarification. I think I'll keep my one Argentine Bonarda filed as "Bonarda (Argentina)" in my records until I get something more definitive. I'll check the entry in the new Oxford Companion (3rd ed.) when it arrives in November.
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Re: My Understanding...

by Robin Garr » Wed Sep 06, 2006 9:08 am

Andrew Shults wrote:Thanks for the clarification. I think I'll keep my one Argentine Bonarda filed as "Bonarda (Argentina)" in my records until I get something more definitive. I'll check the entry in the new Oxford Companion (3rd ed.) when it arrives in November.


For what it's worth, Andrew, I've also read the purported Bonarda/Charbono connection. Jancis Robinson mentions it, attributing the hypothesis to "The Argentine authority Acalde." She notes that there are (at least) three grapes called Bonarda - in Oltrepo Pavese, it's a synonym for Uva Rara; in Novara it's a synonym for Croatina, and in Piemonte it was Bonarda Piemontese, an "almost extinct pre-phylloxera variety." She doesn't make clear whether the grape called Bonarda in Brazil and Argentina is the same as any of these.

Under Charbono, she mentions Alcalde again but also points out that the ampelographer Galet declares it the same grape as Dolcetto, although its Petite Sirah-like longevity makes me doubt that - Dolcetto is no ager.

Anyway, to make a long story short, from a tasting standpoint I've had a fair number of Argentina Bonardas, and I don't find it anything like Charbono.

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