My first Kent Rasmussen Carneros Pinot Noir was a 1996 that I bought in 1999. I was immediately impressed by a well integrated tasty wine with everything in the right place. Having picked up a bottle or two of a few following vintages I decided it was time to check them out…
In distance Carneros is very close to Napa, but as far as the climate is concerned they are very, very different. Carneros has no protection from the cool winds coming from the San-Francisco bay, this coupled with frequent fogs that also block the sunlight means the average temperatures are significantly lower.
Celia Ramsay, Kent’s wife, is the inspiration behind the label of a number of single varietal wines that Kent Rasmussen releases each year – since 1989 all called Ramsay. I well remember my introduction to Kent’s wines with the 1996 Ramsey Pinot Noir – all chunky and fun. I found a Ramsey Petite Syrah a bit too spicy, but loved the 1996 Ramsey Reserve Napa Valley Syrah. To this day, Kent still bottles a few barrels of ‘something interesting’ under the Ramsey label.
We probably have a high school foreign exchange program (that landed Kent in Germany with a winemaking family) to thank for these bottles. Though he returned to UC Berkeley to complete his degree, the die was cast, he even found time and cash to plant six acres of pinot noir in 1979 in the Carneros region – almost unheard of at the time. As soon as he finished at Berkley he moved to UC Davis to do a BSc in Enology.
Other experience came in the form of vintages in the US, South Africa and the Barossa Valley before finally starting out for himself in 1986 – I guess his vines were now becoming productive. Kent had also planted another two acres of pinot in 1981 and then again in 1986.
Having outgrown the modest early premises (a tractor shed) the current facility in St Helena was opened in 1995.
1999 Kent Rasmussen, Carneros Pinot Noir Medium-plus ruby red, shows little obvious sign of age. The sweet nose shows a non-Burgundian profile with coffee, plum, and a little black cherry. The palate is round and fat with nice, sweet fruit. The tannin is well disguised but personally I would have liked just a little more acidity. There’s subtle oak on the palate still, but it’s very well managed. A very tasty wine with lovely pinot texture.
1998 Kent Rasmussen, Carneros Pinot Noir Medium ruby moving through blood red to amber at the rim. The nose has almost effervescent plum fruit – really very forward – slowly becoming more high toned with cooked, creamy raspberry tart. The palate is sweet with even a trace of blackberry, good acidity that makes this quite succulent together with still slightly furry tannin. The fruit has good concentration but turns a little bitter on the long finish – I think this is still from oak. Some of the parts are better, but the overall package doen’t quite match the 1999.
1997 Kent Rasmussen, Carneros Pinot Noir Medium plus ruby red core, showing a browner rim. The nose starts with forward sweet plum, develops some sweet chocolatey coffee notes and eventually a little red cherry. I remember that on release this had higher acidity than the 96 and I thought just a little more ‘burgundian’. Today the acidity is just a little prickly and volatile but after an initial bitter phase to the finish the wine rounds out quite well despite the volatility.
1996 Kent Rasmussen, Carneros Pinot Noir Medium ruby with a definite aged look about the rim. The nose starts with plum, dried fruits; raisins and cherries – after an hour, more subdued, alcoholic, and powdery. The palate has some fat and very good acidity that makes for quite a fresh wine with a reasonably succulent face. The tannin is still there, but in the background. Whilst not as volatile as the ’97 the acidity does seem to stick out slightly – but it didn’t distract from my enjoyment – a very nice finish too.