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Sipping and pairing summer wines

Recently our Wine Review Council met to taste and review some excellent wines from Estate d'Iacobelli, Wente Vinyards, and Moniker Estates.
Todd Montgomery

Our Wine Review Council met recently in the Temecula Valley Wine Country to taste a variety of California wines. We had a heavy emphasis on whites because of the warm weather and, after all, we were sipping and snacking around a lovely pool in the midst of vineyards that were bursting with luscious grapes almost ready for harvest.

Our Wine Review Council meets regularly to taste a variety of wines, some of which have been sent to us by wineries for us to taste and review. We are very serious about this endeavor. Wines are assigned to us before the gathering and each participant prepares a dish to accompany the assigned wine. We have found, however, that the dishes we bring frequently go just as well (or even better) with some of the other wines being tasted. Our wine reviewing process is a fascinating exercise in matching food and wine and seeing how they enhance (or occasionally detract from) each other.

Two major California wineries contributed some wonderful wines for our evening’s tasting: Moniker Estates and Wente Vineyards.

We also tasted two whites from the new Estate d'Iacobelli which has beautiful views of the valley from its perch atop a hill looking over the Pala Resort in Fallbrook, California. The fruity, citrusy 2011 Viognier ($32) was lighter than most Viogniers but refreshing, and tasted almost like a Sauvignon Blanc. With our special dessert of baked pears, we found a nice match in the 2010 Sticky Fingers ($26), a late harvest Viognier that was silky and only slightly sweet.

We tasted three wines from Moniker Estates, a winery with a family legacy of grape growing in Mendocino County. Three generations of the Thornhill family have nurtured these vines and they continue to produce some wonderful wines.

We enjoyed their 2012 Chardonnay ($23) with its subtle oak, rich fruit and crisp mineral flavors. The 2012 Pinot Noir ($30) features grapes from three Mendocino vineyards: earthy flavors from Anderson Valley; bold berry tastes from Redwood Valley, and distinct rhubarb and herbal flavors from Potter Valley. The winery’s 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon ($30) was light for its varietal but also elegant and complex with nice tannins and even hints of tobacco. We felt this Cab went especially well with snacks from a meat and cheese board and we speculated that it would probably pair nicely with Italian dishes.

Our group was especially enamored with wines from historic Wente Vineyards, which at 130 years old is the country’s oldest continually operating, family-owned winery. The 4th and 5th generations are now tending to the winery’s 3000 acres of grapes just east of San Francisco in Livermore Valley.

The winery’s 2010 Chardonnay ($22) was a nice, medium-bodied summer white with tastes of tropical fruit, herbs, oak, and honey. We loved the 2010 Reliz Creek Pinot Noir ($28). We first savored the beautiful bouquet of cherry, strawberry and vanilla and these flavors were also strong on the palate, along with toasted oak and deep, rich, earthy overtones and a smooth, fruity finish. This lovely wine enhanced bruschetta topped with roasted mushrooms and bleu cheese.

The best buy of the evening was Wente’s 2012 Morning Fog Chardonnay, which at only $12 for its high quality made me want to run out and buy a case. It was well balanced and creamy with both aromas and flavors of green apple, pineapple, cinnamon and vanilla. This wine paired really well with chicken, pasta salad, ginger cookies, and even unique little hot dogs with a pineapple salsa.

As we finished our tasting, the sunset was gorgeous above the vineyards and we were all happy wine reviewers. There is not one wine that we tasted during the evening that I wouldn’t serve to guests or recommend to friends.