2019 Martha Stoumen, Carignan, Venturi Vineyard, Mendocino County.
On a day when I was looking for normality and comfort, I reached for one of my new favorite California wines that recently has made my must have list, the Stoumen Carignan, which is absolutely enticing with a bright, but dark fruit freshness, low alcohol quaffability, spicy and crunchy personality. For my own personal drinking, without over thinking it or having to get too deep into wine geek mode I love wines like this, easy and full of natural purity with a lighter medium bodied palate, great to sip on and have with a casual meal, it is a wine that brings out smiles, laughter and eases the tension of the times we live in. Martha’s wines all show a raw sense of honesty and transparency with this latest 2019 Carignan delivering vibrant layers of crushed blackberry, tree picked plums, tart currant and Morello cherry fruits along with snappy briar notes, earth, dusty stones, cinnamon, sage (sort of like a California garrique) and dried lilac flowers. This red is distinctly weightless in feel, but still with a sense of structure and is soulfully rustic that reminds me of Corbieres, a region known for old vine Carignan in France’s Languedoc region, though Martha says she was more inspired to make a California wine that had the delight of a Cru Beaujolais, which I can also see clearly here. In the last few years we have seen some great examples of Carignan and or Carignan based reds, like this one, as well as those by Sandlands, Broc, Liocco, Sheldon, Ridge, Desire Lines Wine Co. and Pax, to name a few I highly recommend chasing down. Carignan, originally from the greater Mediterranean area and found in the mentioned Languedoc as well as in the Rhone Valley, eastern Spain, Sardinia and in the new world from Chile to Australia is a black grape that has long been here in California, where it is commonly found in old vine field blends, usually inter-planted with Zinfandel. The Stoumen Carignan is extremely flexible with food and provides endless charm to enjoy with almost any foods, but especially delicious with Spanish or Italian (hard) sheep cheeses, Pasta dishes as well as simple country fare and lightly spicy stuff.

Martha, herself maybe describing it best says of her old vine Carignan, that it has aromas of dried earth, chaparral, raspberry jam smeared on a stone and left to dry in the sun. Going on Martha adds that her Carignan maintains Venturi Vineyard’s distinct dusty tannin structure, but in a featherweight and savory way, in a style she adores. This wine comes from the Venturi Vineyard, which was originally planted just after WWII in 1948 on a particularly stony plot of land that is ancient River bed with gnarly head trained vines that are all organic and dry farmed with Stoumen herself helping hand tend her select parcels. This site, uniquely set inland and in Mendocino’s remote forested area gives warm ripeness and concentration, but the cool nights retain refreshing acidity, which Martha carefully nurtures to make a balanced, vivacious and vinous wine. With this wine Martha used all whole cluster in an open-top stainless steel tank, noting that she used a few bins of grapes were foot treaded to encourage the yeasts to get going and explains that to not extract to much harsh tannin a very gentle series of light punch downs. Stoumen employed 100% native yeast, as mentioned with mostly whole bunches for a long and cool fermentation with an extended maceration on the stems and skins to achieve her goals here, before it gets racked from a sealed tank (semi-carbonic) to neutral wood with the Carignan seeing an elevage of nine months in used French oak barrels. This wine, from these 70 year old vines, comes in at just 12% natural alcohol and saw extremely low sulphite, was bottled unfined and unfiltered, shows Stoumen’s attention to detail, her experience in old world winemaking, with stints in Sicily at COS and small estate vineyards in France that influenced her style and passion for wine, is part of a tidy collection of new releases from this small exciting winery that are drinking extremely well, I suggest checking them all out. Of these, I am fond of the Nero d’Avola, maybe Martha’s signature wine, the cool toned and re-imagined Zinfandel, the extended lees aged Negroamaro Rosato (Rosé) and this vivid Carignan, look for them.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

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