Many of us are ‘seasonal’ wine drinkers; in other words, we tend to drink cozy reds in the winter and lighter, more refreshing wines in the warmer months. Not only do these choices fit our mood but also the food selections we make.
With this in mind, the Wine Review Council met on a classic Southern California July evening to sample a selection of wines perfectly paired to our relaxing poolside setting.
All the samples hailed from California, from producers large and small, both established and new and the evening brought a few surprises.
Both the first and last wines were versions of Viognier from one of the newer wineries in Southern California, Estate d’Iacobelli (pronounced “de Yack-oh-belly). This small establishment opened the doors of their tasting room this past May, located in the town of Fallbrook, located between San Diego and Temecula. The owners, Ronei and Lisa Iacobelli, are originally from Michigan, but their love of wine and Italian heritage brought them to the Temecula Valley in 1998 where they bought 20 acres and planted vines and olive trees. They decided, however, to build their tasting room on a beautiful hillside overlooking the Pala Mesa Golf course.
The 2011 Estate d’Iacobelli Viognier is refreshingly fragrant with crunchy green pear, orange blossom and peach leading to a somewhat creamy palate with nectarine and lime zest on the finish. Not your typical Viognier, but delicious just the same. Retail $32.00.
The companion wine, 2010 Estate d’Iacobelli “Sticky Fingers” LH Viognier was a terrific finish to the evening. Baked pear and nutty cashew mingled with lemon drop! The finish was not syrupy or overly sweet. It would make a perfect ‘little something’ after dinner. Retail $26.00. Both wines are available at the tasting room or through their website.
Moving further north to Mendocino, we sampled three offerings from Moniker Wine Estates. A creation of three generations of the Thornhill family, the name and logo honor the multiple generations working together to create this premium line of wines.
First up was the 2012 Moniker Chardonnay. The majority of the fruit was sourced from the Ribera vineyard located on the banks of the Russian River. The wine was barrel fermented for four months in American oak and, prior to bottling, blended with a bit of Viognier and more Chardonnay that was aged in French Oak.
The result is a subdued and somewhat elegant Chardonnay, with soft apple, spicy cinnamon and notes of baked pear. The sur lie aging lends a soft mouth feel and good acidity keeps the finish fresh. Retail $23.00
Pinot Noir is always a great choice for summertime cuisine and the first one we sampled was also from Moniker.
The 2012 Monkier Pinot Noir is a blend of grapes harvested from three Mendocino vineyards located in Anderson, Redwood and Potter Valleys, aged in American oak for seven months.
The wine is all red fruits – rhubarb, cherry and red plum, highlighted with notes of fresh tobacco and tealeaf. Retail $30.00
Our last selection from this producer was the 2011 Moniker Cabernet Sauvignon. Although I wouldn’t normally consider this variety as a ‘summer sipper’, one can never say no to a California Cab!
This bottling received Double Gold at the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Awards. Aged for fourteen months in three year old French oak barrels, the wine lets the fruit do the talking. Black cherry, spicy plum and vanilla notes on the nose and palate linger on to the finish. This wine would definitely benefit from some more time in the bottle to fully show itself. Retail $30.00
From newer wineries on to a familiar name in the pages of California wine history: Wente Vineyards.
Founded in 1883, Wente is the oldest continuously family owned winery in the United Sates. They began with 47 acres, planted by founder C.H. Wente and have now grown to 3000 acres, still in the Livermore Valley AVA.
The Wente family have always contributed to the growth of the wine industry: first to put the grape variety name on the label, founders of the California Wine Institute and of course, the development of the now prolific Wente Clone of Chardonnay.
They were honored as the American Winery of the Year in 2011 by Wine Enthusiast Magazine and in 2010 became a Certified Sustainable Vineyard, part of their “Family for the Future” campaign.
To be honest, I had not tasted any of their wines for a very long time. Call me a snob, but I just hadn’t. I was in for a pleasant revelation.
We first sampled the 2012 Wente Riva Ranch Chardonnay. This is part of the “Heritage Block” Series utilizing grapes from vineyards named after some of the pioneers of Wente winemaking. They are located in the Arroyo Seco region –considered one of the prime Chardonnay areas since the 1960s.
The grapes were fermented in a combination of French, American and Eastern European barrels and stainless steel.
The result is a tasty, New World Chardonnay. Vanilla beans, soft toast, baked apples with nutmeg and hints of tropical pineapple. Retail $22.00
The second sample from this historic producer was the 2012 Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay. Named after the cooling mist that flows from San Francisco Bay over the vineyards of the Livermore Valley, the wine is aged half in stainless steel and half in new French, American and European oak barrels. All the wine is aged sur lie for seven months.
Elegant and enticing soft apple, lemon curd and spicy ginger show on the nose and palate with soft toasty, brioche, peach and applesauce lingering on the finish. Part of the ‘Vineyard Selection’ Series. Retail: $12.00
Our third and last taste of Wente was red - the 2012 Wente Reliz Creek Pinot Noir. The fruit once again is sourced from the vineyards of Arroyo Seco in Monterey. The soil here is gravelly loam with shale and limestone, lending structure and minerality to the wine. The wine spends twenty months in a blend of French and European neutral oak.
The lovely cherry red hue matches the perfumy nose filled with cherry, black raspberry, and toast. The palate is deeper with notes of raspberry preserve, dark strawberry and earthy note of kirsch. The finish is clean with touches of white pepper. All in all, a feminine, Old World influenced Pinot. “Heritage Block Series” Retail: $28.00
At the end of each Wine Review Council tasting, we all rank the wines according to our personal preferences. For once, the votes were all swayed in one direction: the Wente Way!
First place went to the Wente Reliz Creek Pinot Noir, with the Morning Fog and Riva Ranch Chardonnay’s sliding into second and third. Varietal character, value for money and food compatibility lead to most of our conclusions,
So, until next time, happy sipping, whatever the season.
Disclosure: Wine tasting is a highly individual experience and, scientifically, none of us perceive wine in exactly the same way. The opinions expressed in this post are mine and mine alone and although the wines sampled were supplied by the designated wineries for review I describe them as I see them.
When you are a wine educator it’s natural that people ask you a lot of wine related questions. One of the most frequent queries has to do with price. Why, people ask, does one Chardonnay/Merlot (insert variety name here) cost more than another? Is it really worth paying more?
A while back, the Temecula Wine Council tasted a selection of wines that had one thing in common: they were all over $40 retail. Considering that the average price paid for a bottle of wine is around $6.30 1 to many imbibers out there, these prices are a splurge.
So let’s have a look at the wines we sampled and see if we can answer this burning question!
First up was a non-vintage white wine from Paso Robles, “Le Cuvier XLB Chardonnay Reserve”. (retail $55). The grapes were fermented with their skins, somewhat unusual for a white wine, and then barrel aged for 5 years. The end result is a big, bold interpretation of Chardonnay, orangey gold in color and meant for food pairing rather than leisurely sipping. It would be a good match for hard cheeses or spicy hummus.
Másut Vineyard & Winery in Mendocino California is owned by the third generation of the well-known Fetzer family – Ben and Jake. Their 2012 Pinot Noir (retail $40) is produced from organically farmed estate vineyards. The yield is low, about 3 tons per acre and grapes are all hand sorted. This attention to craft continues through the winemaking stage and the wines are aged in 33% new French oak barrels for 10 months.
The result is a New World style Pinot with dark silky berry notes showing a hint of clove, cigar box and kirsch.
This wine was paired with Mushroom Risotto, which was terrific, as were some spicy lamb meatballs.
Another Pinot Noir followed, this time from the Sonoma Coast. Sojourn Cellars Sangiacomo Vineyard 2012. (retail $54) This is the flagship vineyard for Sojourn with low yields and high quality fruit. Berries are sorted in the vineyard and again after harvest leading to small lot fermentation and barrel aging.
This Pinot shows ‘Old World’ flair – soft strawberry, cherry and dried raspberry fruit, with rose petal and earthy, forest tones. In classic, Burgundian style it proved to be a great sipper and was equally at home with savory ‘gourgere’ cheese puffs, as well as the risotto.
Staying in California, we moved on to Tudal Family Winery ‘Cliff Vineyard’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. (retail $65) This small, two acre, vineyard, lies just north of Napa in the Oak Knoll district and yields a small 200 cases.
Aged for 12 to 18 months in 80% French and 20% new American oak barrels, this wine has a gorgeous deep garnet color. Aromas of ripe forest fruits and vanilla lead to walnut, humidor and roasted green pepper on the palate with medium tannin.
Bolognese stuffed Bell Peppers were a terrific compliment to the wine.
Another Cabernet followed, also from Napa, Ca’ Momi 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (retail $65). This winery was started in 2006 by three Italian winemakers who fell in love with Napa. After consulting and working with many of the finest growers in the area, they decided to produce their own wines and knew the best fruit to source.
The 2011 Cabernet has lots too offer – jammy berries and dark currents, with tones of tobacco and dried sweet grass. It paired well with the food offerings at hand but I think it would be a terrific choice with the wonderful offerings at Ca’ Momi’s ‘Enoteca’ in Napa!
Provenance Vineyard’s Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Oakville Beckstoffer to Kalon Vineyards’ 2010 (retail $89) was our last red of the evening. With fruit hailing from one of the most historic vineyard sites in the Oakville region of Napa, the wine is a true American Cab. Deep ruby hues meet rich blueberry and black fruit, laced with fresh sweet baking spices, toasty oak and licorice. The tannins are supple and refined making this a fantastic, versatile choice for food or to savor on its own.
Our last selection was a complete departure both in style and geography – a Czech ‘Straw wine’. Slámové Vino, Ryzlink Rynsky from Mercincak Winery. (retail $63 for 375ml) This rich and refreshing dessert wine is created with Riesling grapes that are harvested late in the season so the berries are high in sugar and low in water. The clusters spend four to six months resting on straw mats. During this stage sugar levels increase before the grapes are crushed. The fermented wine is then aged in barrel. The result is a wine moderate in alcohol, around 11% and very high in residual sugar!
This winery is the largest Biodynamic grower in the Czech republic and has been specializing in traditional grape varieties and styles since 2008. This incredible attention to detail shows in the beautiful balance of the wine. The fresh acidity ensures that the sweetness doesn’t overpower, so you have a silky nectar filled with aromas and flavors of tropical fruits, rich citrus and fragrant honey. A tropical fruit trifle proved a tasty companion.
So, what was it about these wines that merit the price? A combination of elements can contribute – extended barrel aging and the continuous attention of the winemaker, new (and pricey) oak, hand sorting of the grapes both in the vineyard and at the crushpad, small lots and sought after vineyards.
All these wines shared a common denominator: dedication to quality. That’s something you probably won’t find in a $4 bottle!
1 “Consumer Wine Trends” Erin Guenther, winebusiness.com Jan. 21/2013
Wine lover, educator and writer.