Indeed, Pacific Star wines are striking for their concentration and luxuriant textures. My favorite in a recent tasting was the '96 Charbono, which has just been released after four years in barrel. It has the kind of deep richness and intensity of flavor one finds in a slow-simmered sauce, balanced by lively acidity.
Charbono is Pacific Star's specialty, and Ottoson's pride and joy. "I want to be the Queen of Charbono," she declares.
Charbono is a curious grape. Like Zinfandel, it has obscure European origins. It was mistakenly imported and planted as Barbera by Inglenook in the Napa Valley during the late 19th century. Not until the 1940s did UC Davis geneticist Harold Olmo determine that what was thought to be a rather distinctive clone of Barbera was not Barbera at all, but rather the obscure Charbonneau (also called Douce Noire, and possibly the same as Italy's Dolcetto) of France's mountainous Jura region. In its homeland, it was known for producing rather stolid and undistinguished wine but, like many other no-account European grape varieties, it sang in the fine volcanic soil of Napa Valley.
Inglenook identified the Charbonneau vines interplanted with the Barbera and began bottling a separate wine as Charbono--with immediate and lasting success. Inglenook Charbono was one of California's first cult wines. It still has a passionate following among California collectors, including many Napa Valley winemakers who still have bottles from the 1940s and '50s.