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Sep 14, 2010 07:49 PM

Navarro's 3-bottle Wildfire Sampler, $29.50 + 1¢ shipping

Just ordered mine. Three-bottle red wine sampler of the smoke-y 2008 vintage: Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Reserve Pinot Noir for $29.50 and discounted shipping is only 1¢ to 33 states where it's legal to ship wine directly. I haven't tasted these specific wines but I've long considered Navarro one of the most consistent producers and a value leader. As the website describes, they're different than usual due to the wildfires the summer before harvest. I'm sure they'll be interesting to taste and i want to support this winery during this hardship.

The offer and larger Wildfire samples here -

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  1. I'll be curious about your impressions of this, Melanie. I opened the regular (non-Reserve) last night. At first I couldn't find any smoke in it, but amid the typical kaleidescope of pinot nuances it came up: the smell of a doused campfire. It kept fading in and out of perceptibility. Not really unpleasant, and I'll enjoy the remaining bottles, but I won't get more of this one. Tonight, on to the Reserve.

    7 Replies
    1. re: ernie in berkeley

      Following up: the Reserve shows no smoke at all and is delightful.

      1. re: ernie in berkeley

        If that "doused campfire" were associated with a Syrah wine, we'd be praising it as a dead ringer for Hermitage. :-)

        Thanks for posting, Ernie. I haven't had a chance to pick up my shipment yet, hopefully this weekend.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Heh. I was thinking about northern Rhone when I drank the pinot, but I find the smokiness in syrahs to be a lot subtler than what I was tasting. I wonder whether age will help smooth it out.

          But a bottle of the non-reserve that I opened last night was very clean, no smoke that I could detect. I think there's some bottle variation going on.

          I ended up getting another half-case of the reserve, by the way. You won't find a better $12 pinot anywhere.

          1. re: ernie in berkeley

            I remember tasting the wines from vineyards that had been through the 1996 Cavedale wildfire on Moon Mountain that wiped out more than half of Carmenet's and others plantings. (And up till then the conventional wisdom was that a vineyard wouldn't burn.) The wines were referred to as CaBURNet and CHARREDonay. This fire was in August when the grape clusters were fully formed and the vines were in the center of the fire area. From barrel they had a very pronounced smokey aroma and flavor, like standing next to a bbq pit. I have a vague memory of tasting a Cab Franc, one of the few that went into bottle, after about 5 years and the smoke was still perceptible but not nearly like the other wines tasted young. Maybe this one was bottled because the initial smoke taste was not as strong, I don't know.

            Here's a link to an article at the time of the 2008 harvest raising some concerns about smoke taint.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Here's a discussion of these wines. More people are noticing the taint than not, it looks like.


              1. re: ernie in berkeley

                You a fellow berserker?

                Smoke taint in 08 really depends on the exact location of the vineyard, and what, if anything, did the winemaker do to mitigate smoke taint.

                The pinots that I've sampled that do exhibit smoke taint have strongly reminded me of Lagavulin 16yr scotch. Also on the finish, there would be an odd bitterness that is not due to ethanol.

                While I am all for all "natural" wine with no enzymes, bleeding, adding water, adding "X", and no fining or filtering.... I have tasted 08 pinots that went through filtration that came out very well.

                I might jump on this offer. $10/btl is worth trying out a local winery.

                1. re: Cary

                  Thanks for the tip, just ordered the 3 bottle sampler!

      2. Thanks for posting this offer. After doing some research it sounds like those wines have been pretty well received so I figured you can't go wrong for such a low price and only a penny shipping. The box just arrived at my office a few minutes ago so I'm curious to try them out! (Well, not at the office, of course.. I should wait until I get them at home - depending on what sort of day it is over here)

        1 Reply
        1. re: monkuboy

          Please do let us know.

          Yep, that's how I felt about it. When asked the common question, "What's the best wine for $10?", one of my wine geek friends will usually answer, "A $20 dollar wine that's been marked down to $10." Can't argue with that logic and I think it applies to this case. Anyway, I think it will be an educational experience to taste them.

        2. Gee, this was easy. I just signed up and ordered the 6 bottle sampler.

          1. We opened all three with dinner last night (multitude of tomato dishes + cedar-planked salmon) at friends' home in Healdsburg (A/C, yay!). The bottle of non-reserve PN was very smoky. More like high toast oak to me, and if I had been unaware of the wildfires might have chalked up to overuse of oak chips. I tend toward the oak-averse end of the spectrum but I feel that this one could be quite appealing to those who like a lot of toast and smoke on their wine. The tip off that this was from something other than high-char American oak is that the fruit feels a little lean, rather than open-knit from aging in that type of wood. Also, wines that get a brash oak signature like that tend to be fruit forward styles, and this wine is not.

            The Reserve Pinot Noir was quite pleasant with lovely underlying fruit. Again, it tasted overoaked. But because the fruit quality of this cuvee is more deep and concentrated, the smoke didn't seem as noticeable. We all agreed that it's a good buy at $12. We also wondered if our familiarity with Navarro's Methode Ancienne PN over many years was keeping us from liking the wildfire version more. We're all fans of the purity found in Navarro's style. Maybe if we could stop ourselves from making the mental comparison, we'd find more to like in this wine.

            The bottle of Zin showed the least smoke. The wine seemed a bit less ripe than typical for Navarro and not as expressive.

            One of the friends at the table mentioned that there's a huge body of winemaking references out of Australia on removing smoke taint from wine. The Aussie wine producers have had to deal with this many times.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Melanie Wong

              The difference from heavy-toast oak, I think, is that lots of plant species burned in the wildfires, not just oak (and not just trees, lots of grass as well). I remember some concern during the fires because poison oak was a component, in fact, but the amount in the smoke residue must be minimal.

              1. re: ernie in berkeley

                That's a good point.

                On Sunday I visited Carol Shelton, who makes a wild ferment zin from Mendocino County. I asked her how she handled this vintage. She said the odd thing is that the juice didn't taste unusually smoky, so she wasn't concerned at that point. The smoky/ashy character didn't show up until after fermentation and time in wood. Batch has already been de-smoked (ultra filtration and charcoal) but she says she still tastes campfire ashes in the finish. She hasn't made a final decision what to do with the wine. She won't be bottling a 08 Wild Thing zin, maybe blend with something else or sell it off in bulk. Heartbreaking.

              2. re: Melanie Wong

                Melanie - your comments about the Ancienne reflect my initial reluctance to try this offering. In the end, I elected to take a shot simply due to the price. Mine has not yet arrived and I am hoping to not be disappointed. I've always felt the Ancienne was a far underappreciated wine and dumbfoundingly so given its historically very fair pricing.

              3. I'm drinking the regular Pinot Noir bottling right now. To me, the smoke is not objectionable. What I get is the aroma of smoked meats (sort of like those pepperoni or meat sticks, such as Slim Jims) that initially brings Syrah to mind, but underneath it, it smells like a Pinot Noir trying to escape. On the palate it's the same thing - the smoked meat character but the texture is like a Pinot Noir and you can taste the PN character underneath. Some have likened the smoke to that of an ash tray but to me it smells more like meat smoke, not ashes. I've been slowly sipping this from the glass for nearly two hours and it's probably best not to leave it sitting there for more than an hour as I can tell it begins to fade out after that. However, even after 2 hours it isn't bad. It's an interesting wine. I ordered a mixed 1/2 case of the regular and reserve PN before tasting either one; I haven't tried the reserve yet but I don't regret ordering the regular. It's good for the price.

                2 Replies
                1. re: monkuboy

                  Cool, and thanks, monkuboy. My mixed half case arrived on Thursday, I have not yet opened the box.

                  1. re: monkuboy

                    Jon Bonne' at the SF Chronicle just tweeted, "Ruh-roh. Just entered into tasting notes: "liquified Slim Jim." The 08 Pinots are a tough bunch."
                    Using your same descriptor, I suspect he's tasting some Mendocino wildfire pinots.

                    For you and others, please do let us know how these wines show with more time and how the smoke character changes. At my tasting, one of the friends there had also tasted the Cavedale fire wines with me a decade ago. We agreed that Navarro's wines have far less smoke on them than those.