There seems to be a bit more going on underneath the surface of Laura Díaz Muñoz than you might at first suspect from her somewhat reserved demeanor. And if winemaking has any potential of being a window into the personality of a winemaker, her Galerie wines have enough intriguing tension under the surface to suggest Muñoz has more complexity than she at first reveals.
Currently, she’s one of the winemakers with Jackson Family Wines, working with Chris Carpenter on brands such as Cardinale, Lokoya, and Mt. Brave since she arrived in the U.S. from Spain about seven years ago. Befitting our little theme here, that last statement is a deceptively simple version of a circuitous wine career than Muñoz began in Madrid, continued in La Mancha, then extended with stints in Marlborough and Chile before settling down – sort of – in the States.
“I wanted to go to Argentina,” she told me while driving to one of the Knights Valley vineyard sources for Galerie, “but Chris convinced me to stay.” [ editor’s note: I’ve met Chris a few times; at well over six feet tall, he looks every bit like he’s just magically stepped off the artwork on the Brawny Towel packaging; I probably wouldn’t challenge him, either… ]
Of course, you’d expect a Spaniard to be crafting wines from Bordeaux varieties in the greater Napa Valley area, right? Or not…
As we’ll see in a moment (or three), Muñoz’s focus is primarily on the perpetually underrated Knights Valley, but this Sauvignon hails from St. Helena, and sees time in both stainless steel and neutral oak. Things start tropical here, as you might expect from NV SB, but it’s a far cry from the overripe melon-soda version the Valley can churn out: passion fruit, topped with herbs and an aroma of crushed stones. Under that surface, there’s lovely textural tension (you knew that was coming, right?), with ripe depth of fruit teeter-totting playfully with grapefruit pith that extends into a long finish with citric verve.
I’ll freely admit that this was my personal fave of Muñoz’s lineup, primarily because it kept offering more elegant layers than I would have expected even at the $30 price tag. The grapes come from the Kellogg West Vineyard, where the soils are fertile enough that they need to be countered with a fair amount of extra canopy and trellising management. The result, though, is a sense of fresh green herbs and a piquant, mineral texture (“I like the green” is how Muñoz explained it to me). On top, there are citrus fruits, apples, peaches, pears, and juuuuuust the right amount of round richness, courtesy of sur lie aging. Yeah, I am kind of a sucker for good sur lie; get over it.
There’s pleasing tension and texture all of the joint when this wine gets opened. Sourced from a mix of fruit from the Red Hen, Van Z, Spring Mountain, and Stagecoach vineyards (the latter described my Muñoz as being from a block that’s “complicated”), the sum is greater than the whole of its parts. Jam, tobacco, black licorice, graphite, currants, dried herbs… all delivered in a package that pits tangy against elegant, silky against chewy, and the winner is… your mouth.
2012 Galerie Wines Latro Cabernet Sauvignon (Knights Valley, $50)
While tannins are more prominent in this little gem from the Kellog Estate Vineyard, they’re not without a sense of elegance. To go with that extra bit of structure are more bramble and dried herbs than the Pleinar, and redder berry fruits. The palate is young, tight, and dark, all of which is pitted against a tangier, inviting nose. This one will take more time to develop, and to appreciate, but like many complicated things, the extra effort will be worth it in the end.