When La Crema winery invited me to taste their wines and meet winemaker Elizabeth Grant-Douglas on her recent tour through Dallas, it didn’t take a second thought to take them up on their offer. In the wine-friendly environment of Del Frisco’s Grille in Southlake, we tasted our way through four wines accompanied by a five-course meal prepared by executive chef Aaron Henschen.
La Crema was founded in 1979 in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, before that area became synonymous with a world-class expression of pinot noir. La Crema was an innovator in growing the grape there and established a solid reputation. In 1993, Kendall-Jackson purchased the property and invested in additional vineyard sites for the winery in the Russian River Valley , Sonoma Coast, Fort Ross-Seaview, Mendocino, Carneros, and Monterey. In 2012, the company, by then known as Jackson Family Wines, extended to that other world class center of American pinot noir, Oregon, and its Willamette Valley. The range of grapes La Crema uses is actually broader than just pinot noir, including chardonnay, pinot gris, and viognier.
Grant-Douglas describes her winemaking with pinot noir as classical, characterized by hand-sorted fruit, basket-pressing of the grapes, open-top fermenters, and an extended cold soak to extract color, flavor, and astringency from the skins of the grapes. (The traditional basket press is experiencing something of a resurgence, even being made as a modern tool from modern materials, as I found out at the Texas Hill Country winery Pedernales Cellars on a recent visit; its advantage versus other grape-pressing technologies is the inherent gentleness it brings to the process.) Punch-downs of the fermentation cap also extract color, flavor, and astringency. Grapes from different lots are vinified separately and extensive use is made of oak barrels for aging.
Our tasting of the 2013 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($40) and the 2013 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($50) bore out the attention to quality in the winemaking. The Russian River was something of an exemplar of the style that has made that region famous: gushing and effusive ripe fruit, soft chewy ripe tannins, and sweet French oak. In this wine there is also subtle black pepper on the nose, and there are thyme notes on the palate. The Anderson Valley wine reflects the cooler climate of that area, so there is more tannic backbone, more restraint in the fruit, and a lower level of overall ripeness. New oak usage is similar in the two — 33 percent in the Russian River and 38 percent in the Anderson Valley.
The 2013 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($30) echoed the common differences between California and Oregon wine growing. The cooler climate meant a less intense, less extracted fruitiness; there were earthier, almost Burgundian tones in the mouth and a less jammy nose. Two thirds of the grapes came from estate vineyards Gran Moraine in Yamhill-Carlton and Zena Crown in Eola-Amity Hills.
La Crema's chardonnay production makes use of whole cluster pressing, batonnage (stirring of the lees), separate vinification by vineyard lot, and French oak aging. The 2013 Monterey Chardonnay ($20) was an unmistakably New World chardonnay with its ripeness and oak-forward style, but maintained good acid to make it a good pairing with chef Henschen's sea scallop salad.
Overall, this was a selection of well-made wines. They are widely available at retail or via the company’s website.