As I look back over the past year reviewing those wines and appellations I have discovered, one area truly stands out and that is Monterey County. Last September I had an extensive tour through the nine appellations that make up Monterey County. I was quite impressed with what I found.
The diversity of climates throughout Monterey County enables the regions to produce a wide variety of styles and varietals. The area is surrounded by what is known as the Blue Grand Canyon. The canyon expands the depths of the Pacific Ocean into the Monterey Bay. Its proximity to the coastline influences everything in Monterey County thus bringing the climatic weather that you see along the coast, marine fog and wind to the grape growing regions.
My tour began with bubblies at Carraccioli Cellars a tasting room in Carmel by the Sea. The goal of the Carraccioli’s was to be original and create a sophisticated sparkling wine specific to the Santa Lucia Highlands. I was most impressed with the Brut Rosé, a very soft palatable sparkling wine. Of course I could not just have the Carraccioli sparkling wine, I insisted on trying their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Both the Chardonnays I sample were excellent but it was the 2009 that I liked most, as it was very fruity with a Chablis likeness. The 2009 Pinot Noir was a Burgundian style lighter bodied Pinot.
Moving to the Carmel Valley AVA, I was most taken with the wines from Silvestri Vineyards. The wines are created in the classic French wine tradition, a classical style of wine I prefer. As winery owner Alan Silvestri is a well-known composer, his wines like classical music, compose their own melody. In essence Silvestri goes back to the classical upbringing wine to create a modern up to date wine composition. This was quite apparent in the Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc I sampled. The 2010 Pinot Blanc had a nice body with hints of pears and peaches. The 2009 “Bella Sandra” Chardonnay had a perfect balance of minerality and acidity.
In the Arroyo Seco AVA, Ventana Vineyards was my favorite winery. Ventana uses sustainable farming. The vineyard is 35 years old. The 2011 Dry Rosado, a Rosé from the Grenache grape with 10% Syrah added for color is a perfect crisp summery wine with hints of strawberry. I also enjoyed the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, a fruity wine, hinting grapefruit and displaying a grassy nose. Lastly I was quite thrilled with the 2008 Le Mistral, a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Allcante, Bouschet and Petite Syrah. This is a bold deep ruby red colored wine is spicy and complex that should be purchased to hold for several years.
Located in the Hames Valley, Scheid Vineyards produces Vintage Port wine with a befitting name called Closing Bell. You definitely want to close your meal with this perfect wine. The 2008 Closing Bell combines two traditional grapes of Portugal, Tinto Cão and Touriga with two from Spain, Tempranillo and Grenache giving the wine a rich texture and flavor that hints of mocha, raspberry and fig.
In southern Monterey County, more specifically San Antonio Valley AVA, Pierce Ranch Winery caught my eye with their entire portfolio of wines. The majority of their wines are Iberian styled but Pierce created a smooth well balanced 2009 Petite Syrah that was one of my number one picks during my Monterey visit. To discover more about the Pierce Ranch wines please read my article entitled Pierce Ranch Vineyards: A taste of Iberia in Monterey County.
The Chalone AVA is probably one of the oldest AVAs in Monterey County and the second AVA in California. Located at the base of Pinnacles National Monument making the Terrior quite different from the rest of the Monterey County. In this mountainous region with a combination of limestone and granite, the grapes ripen later. Some of the oldest vines, Chenin Blanc, in the Monterey County are from Chalone Vineyard dating back to 1919. I can remember tasting Chalone’s Chenin Blanc in the 1970s and I have to say Chalone’s Chenin Blanc today is just as good. What fascinated me about the whites at Chalone is how well they age. You don’t typically think of white wines aging well but the wines of Chalone are known to last 20 years for Chardonnay and 30 years for the Chenin Blanc.
Michael Michaud was one of the several winemakers who made their start at Chalone. Michael now has his own winery, Michaud Vineyard. Meeting Michael Michaud you definitely sense his knowledge of growing grapes and the winemaking process as well as his passion for his craft and creativity. The 2010 Chardonnay is exceptional. Besides being sustainably farmed, Michaud is unique because the grapes were harvested in 2006, fermented in native yeast in the barrel, aged 11 months in French Oak that are 3-year air-dried wood with tight grain. After bottling, the wine is held for almost 4 years. Equally impressive are the 2010 Marsanne and the 2006 Pinot Noir, a light smoothly balanced wine, which is bottle aged for almost 3 years after barrel aging of 20 months.
My favorite region was Santa Lucia Highlands as its cool temperatures at nights juxtaposed to the warm days is the ideal setting to develop Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This is not to say that other wines are not grown in the area.
Boekenoogen Vineyard and Winery is family run. Originally a family cattle ranch, dating back to the late 1800s and situated at the foothills of the Santa Lucia Highlands, John Boekenoogen began planted grapes in 1998. Today 65% of the vineyard is planted in Pinot Noir while the balance is Chardonnay with a small portion designated for cool climate Syrah. Boekenoogen is one of the few wineries in Santa Lucia Highlands that is completely estate grown and bottled on the property. I have to say every wine I sampled at Boekenoogen was superb. The wines were all consistent, very balanced and consumer friendly, which means the wines are very drinkable. The 2008 Stainless Chardonnay has sweet hints of ripe pineapple. The 2010 Chardonnay is completely barrel aged with no stainless steal. The wine has a fresh and crisp fruit character. The 2010 Santa Lucia Highland Pinot Noir was very fragrant made up of 60% clone 113 Dijon and 40% Pommard Clone. The 2008 Santa Lucia Highland Pinot Noir was smooth and silky to the palate and composed of 50% Pommard and 50% Dijon. My tasting ended with the 2009 Santa Lucia Highland Syrah with its subtle peppery finish.
Hahn Family Wines is another excellent winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands and their Lucienne Estate Label specifically the 2010 Lone Oak Vineyard was my preference. Since there is so much to tell about my adventures at Hahn, I will be expounding on the Hahn escapade in a separate article so stay tuned.
A trip to the Santa Lucia Highland must include a stop at Paraiso Vineyards. The views from this winery are spectacular and the tasting room is charming. I recommend the 2010 Riesling a very dry with a hint of spiciness and the elegant and smoothly balanced 2007 Wedding Hill Syrah. While visiting Paraiso one must also try Jason Murphy’s 2009 Irie Zinfandel, a deep full bodied jammy wine.
There are two more wineries that are worth mentioning at this time. One is McIntyre Vineyards whose 2010 Chardonnay Reserve displays the purest flavors as there is no yeast, no malilactic fermentation. McIntyre’s 2010 Estate Merlot, a very expressive and drinkable Merlot at a reasonable value. The other vintner is Tudor Wines. Both the 2006 barrel select Pinot Noir and the 2007 Pinot Noir “Tondre Vinyard” are excellent but if you have not tried ice wine, the 2011 Riesling “Maestral Wein der Eisbox is a must. This is a sweet dessert wine produced from grapes that are frozen while still on the vine making the grape more concentrated.
From the various regions there are emerging winemakers that not only create wine for other wineries but also in many cases have their own boutique wineries. Figge is one of those wineries. The 2010 La Reina Chardonnay and the smooth velvety 2009 Pelio Pinot Noir were two memorable wines from emerging winemaker, Peter Figge.
Pelerin Wines, which means pilgrim in French, is another winery in the emerging winemaker category. Chris Weidemann is owner and winemaker. Like a pilgrim on the quest to journey into new lands, Chris is making his journey into the Santa Lucia Highlands. Pelerin is Certified Sustainable. The wines that were most notable to me were the 2010 Les Tournesols, French means Sunflower, is a blend Viognier and Rousanne, the 2008 Le Violettes Syrah and the 2009 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir.
Wrath Wines' Sarbine Rodem proves herself as one of the top emerging winemakers. My favorites wines from Wrath are the 2010 Boekenooken Vineyard Pinot Noir and the Fairview Syrah.
As I write this article, reviewing my notes, I have discovered a common thread weaving through many marvelous wines of the Monterey County appellations. The winemakers in many instances is the same person. These winemakers talents are shining through many of the best wines in Monterey County.
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