Lunch with Winemaker Gary Wooton of Croze / Smith Wooton
“It’s my mother’s fault,” winemaker Gary Wooton replies when asked why his wine is made under two labels — Croze and Smith Wooton — both in the Napa Valley. Already operating under the name Croze, for his mother’s 82nd birthday, he bottled some Cabernet Franc and labeled it Smith (her maiden name) Wooton (her married name). After giving her the gift, Wooton says she asked, ‘Honey, I get my wine next year too, don’t I?'” A few years later, his mother inquired as to why she can only get Cabernet Franc in her label; the Smith Wooton Syrah was subsequently born.
Regardless of labels, Gary Wooton’s wines are balanced and smooth, making them wonderful wines for food pairing. He says he strives to make wines like they did in the old days: “Wines that are beautiful to enjoy now and will be beautiful to enjoy in 20 years.”
The Heavy Table accepted the invitation to taste Wooton’s wines over lunch at Cat and Fiddle Beverage in Arden Hills. The small group gathered in the company’s wine warehouse where a make-shift dining table was set. The menu, designed to complement the wine offerings, consisted of cheese, Caesar salad, shrimp, tomatoes, roasted corn, and a spicy grilled meat.
First, a bit of mystery:
Before diving into Wooton’s wines, we were subjects of a blind taste test. Corey Lahm, owner of Cat and Fiddle Beverage, poured us each a sample of two Chardonnays and asked our impression of each, including which wine we preferred.
The first was an oaky Chardonnay with a strong finish and the second had less oak, more floral qualities and a more balanced finish — the vast majority of attendees preferred the second. The wine of choice was Solitude Chardonnay, sold for about $30 retail. The other bottle retailed for $50.
The take away? Well, there are actually two take aways. The first is that price does not always drive wine tastes. There are many bottles out there, like the Solitude Chardonnay, that are both high quality and reasonably priced. The second take away is to try several bottles from different winemakers of the same wine varietal. Like the Chardonnay, which “has the range of possibility like no other grape,” according to Wooten, it may surprise you how different the wines can taste.
A couple observations stood out as we sampled the Croze and Smith Wooton wines with the meal. First, the Croze Sauvignon Blanc and a good, stinky brie are simply meant for each other.
“Think of it as a white bordeaux without the oak. That’s what I was after,” says Wooten of his sauvignon blanc.
Sauvignon Blanc is typically a lighter-bodied wine that hints on grassy and floral and is typically not paired with hearty foods. The Croze sauvignon blanc, however, is a fuller-flavored wine. Wooton attributes this to the 24 hours of skin time that he allows his wine, which produces a bolder flavor. Like true complements, both the wine and brie are mellowed when they are enjoyed together; the finish is lingering and earthy.
The second pairing observation concerns the smooth quality of both the Croze Cabernet Sauvignon and the Smith Wooton Cabernet Franc. Both varieties of wine traditionally pair well with bold flavors, but not with spice because of the tannins. The Croze and Smith Wooton wines, however, were developed with balance in mind and decidedly reject the prior assumption, making a wonderful pairing with our spicy, grilled meat.
Rosé, it’s not just for summer anymore:
There is no doubt that rosé wines have made a comeback. Finally free from their stereotyped assumptions created by the white zinfandel, ice-cold rosés are enjoyed by many during the hot, summer months. So now that fall is upon us, should we pass up these beautifully tinted wines in favor of heavier reds?
Wooton answers with an emphatic “no.” The Croze Vin d’Une Nuit (wine of the night) is a rosé made from 100% cabernet sauvignon. He likens this deeply tinted wine to a French claret and calls it a “year round rosé” due to its robust mouthfeel and creaminess. It stands up to bolder flavors better than many rosés, including the garlicky homemade Caesar salad with which we tasted it.
2007 Croze Sauvignon Blanc ($22)
2005 Croze Vin D’Une Nuit (rosé) ($18)
2004 Croze Cabernet Sauvignon ($37)
2006 Smith Wooton Cabernet Franc ($37)
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