2021 Caraccioli Cellars, Gamay/Pinot Noir “Passtoutgrain” Escolle Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
I finally got a chance to try the beautiful and intriguing Caraccioli Passetoutgrain, a new star in their lineup, it is, as Scott Caraccioli tells me, a co-fermentation of his Escolle estate Pinot Noir and Gamay Noir. The grapes are all harvested on the same night and produced in a small batch, with this 2021 bottling being a very limited offering. The vibrant ruby color in the glass invites you in and the racy and floral Gamay fruit leads the way on the medium bodied palate, though once open the Passtoutgrain gains complexity with smooth layers of tangy black cherry, strawberry, plum and cranberry fruits along with snappy herbs, Asian spices, black tea, cola and mineral tones. Scott suggests that the depth and elegance of the Pinot Noir is contrasted very nicely with the bright complexity of the Gamay Noir here, and I can find no reason not to agree and overall the wine really impresses, I think I might prefer it to the 100% Gamay version, which I absolutely loved. The perfectly ripened fruit is less candied and the faint earthiness here is compelling, elevating it in my opinion, making it a wonderful wine with more serious food choices. I got my chance to try this wine at the Sun, Windy & Wine Santa Lucia Highlands event, May 13th and it was a rare treat, I had been almost begging to sample the Passtoutgrain ever since I tasted Caraccioli’s 100% Gamay. Caraccioli also told me he is grafting over more Escolle blocks to Gamay and a new Fleurie clone, rumored to be same as what Dutraive has, to join the four acres they already have of Gamay Noir clone 358, so the future of Gamay here looks very exciting. I highly recommend all of the Caraccioli wines, in particular their Pinots, Gamay based wines and their awesome Brut Rosé, definitely one of the best in the state.
Scott Caraccioli says, all of the Caraccioli Cellars wines are now 100% estate grown and produced from our Escolle Vineyard and have been since the 2015 harvest. He explains that they are made utilizing light-handed techniques and processed in small lots, like his Passtoutgrain, with each wine showcasing the unique expression of Escolle site. Continuing he adds that all of the production is done at the winery in Gonzales, a mere five miles from the vineyard itself and is set up to process the grapes in the freshest possible way, which you can see in the bright fruit intensity, energy and purity in these wines. True Passtoutgrain wines, from Burgundy, are typically between 50% and 60% Pinot Noir and 40% to 50% Gamay and remain just a curiosity to the wine world and fly under the radar, but have seen a huge jump in quality in the last 15 to 20 years and are now made from some of the top Cote d’Or domaines, like Domaine Robert Chevillon, which I reviewed here recently. Coming from the Santa Lucia Highland’s cool Ocean influenced and breezy zone and set on decomposed granite, which Gamay loves, sandy loams and with veins of quartz. The true Gamay Noir (Cru Beaujolais 358 clone) was fully de-stemmed in the this vintage and the Pinot Noir (all 777 clone) was mostly de-stemmed with 20% remaining whole cluster with some stems, which adds a subtle savory element. Caraccioli co-fermented this 50/50 blend in a small stainless steel tank and punched it down daily. Once dry, the wine was racked to a neutral French oak puncheon and aged for six months before bottling, all to preserve vibrancy and clarity. Caraccioli, who makes, as noted above, some of California’s greatest grower producer Methode Champenoise sparkling wines, also does a fine collection of still wines, including this one, as well as three exceptional micro bottlings of Pinot Noir, with their El Bec and Elevated versions being my favorites.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive