First, it was the Muppets. Now, it’s California wines.
Once again, September was proclaimed as California Wine Month, with a trade tasting as well as a consumer tasting, presented by the Wine Institute at Astor Center on September 16th.
As I took this “California Wines Road Trip,” I concentrated on the road (i.e. regions) less traveled. Skipping Sonoma and Napa, I, instead, headed straight to the Central Coast. Of course, Napa and Sonoma produce wonderful wines, but as the nation’s largest wine producer, there’s so much more to the state’s wine bounty.
Nestled within the Central Coast, lay the counties of Monterey, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo (home to Hearst Castle and cattle farms), among others. With their proximity to the cold Pacific Ocean currents, the coastal areas of these counties generally offer cooler climates and ideal conditions for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as other aromatic varieties. Meanwhile, the more interior valleys of these counties have warmer climatic conditions and the ability to ripen grapes such as Syrah.
Located even further inland is Lodi, which, while known for its rich Zinfandels, is also home to 100 different varieties. Thanks to a gap in the mountains, a coastal influence is able to penetrate the area despite its distance from the sea, resulting in a 40˚F temperature difference from day to night, preserving fresh acidity in the grapes and, ultimately, in the wine.
The result of this exploration was the discovery of a wealth of wines from a diversity of grape varieties, particularly among the whites and differing styles among the Pinot Noirs.
Dragonette Cellars, Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, CA, $28.00
This wine offers beautiful, rich and concentrated fruit with aromas and flavors of grapefruit, tropical fruit, and slight almond/marzipan, along with medium+ acidity, medium+ body and long length.
Laetitia Winery, Estate Chardonnay 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, CA, $25.00
Produced from 100% Chardonnay, but from a variety of different clones, this wine was aged in 25% new François Frères and Rousseau barrels for nine months, displaying a dry palate with full body and flavors of slight oak, nuts, citrus and apple.
LangeTwins Winery & Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Lodi, CA, $14.00
Made from the Musqué clone of Sauvignon Blanc, this wine displays intense herbal (especially cilantro) notes coupled with citrus aromas and flavors.
Palmina, Malvasia Bianca 2011, Santa Barbara County, CA, $26.00
Produced from an Italian variety, this wine displays intense floral aromas and is dry, with high acidity and notes of bitter almond, citrus, pith and pear on the palate.
Peltier Station Hybrid Vermentino 2011, Lodi, CA, $10.00
Produced under the winery’s Hybrid collection, grapes for this wine are sourced from sustainable vineyards planted in honor of the family’s Italian heritage. The wine is nicely fruity, yet balanced, redolent of citrus and pear.
Tangent Albariño 2012, Edna Valley, CA, $17.00
More commonly associated with the Spain’s Rías Baixas region, Albariño was first planted in California in 1996. With an pronounced citrus nose, this wine is dry with high acidity, citrus and pith flavors and long length.
Zocker Paragon Vineyard Grüner Veltliner 2012, Edna Valley, CA, $20.00
From the Austrian word for gambler, Zocker Winery was founded by Jack Niven, who was a tireless pioneer on behalf of the Austrian Grüner Veltliner variety. With slight herbal and pear aromas, this wine has vibrant acidity joined with mineral and herbs on the palate.
Ancient Peaks Winery, Zinfandel 2011, Paso Robles, CA, $17.00
This wine is composed of fruit from three separate blocks at Margarita Vineyard, the southernmost vineyard in the Paso Robles region. Lighter in style than many Zinfandels, it was nicely balanced with fresh blueberry and spice notes.
Fiddlehead Cellars, Fiddlestix “728” Pinot Noir 2009, Sta. Rita Hills, CA, $42.00
Named for mile marker 7.28, which runs through the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, this cool climate Pinot is light in style, with aromas of herbs and earth, culminating in flavors of cherries and earth on the palate.
Hahn SLH Estate Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands, CA, $35.00
This wine spends 12 months in French oak, of which 40% is new oak barrels. It is fresh and balanced with a nice blend of spice and fruit character.
Laetitia Winery, Estate Pinot Noir 2012, Arroyo Grande Valley, CA, $25.00
Aged for 11 months in a combination of François Frères and Rousseau French oak barrels, 30% of which were new, this wine displays slight herbs and earth on the nose with luscious cherry fruit and herbs on the palate.
J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, Highlands Bench Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Lucia Highlands,, CA, $35.00
Named the 2013 Tasting Panel Magazine Winery of the Year, J. Lohr continues to be a pioneer in the region. This wine hails from the Escolle Road Vineyard and displays an intense nose of cherry and floral aromas with a dry palate with rich and concentrated fruit and slight herbal flavors.
Tolosa Winery, Pinot Noir 2010, Edna Valley, CA, $30.00
A 2013 Sweepstake Winners in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, this wine was fruitier in style than the Laetitia, with an earthy undercurrent that lingered throughout the finish.