NOTE: All wines tasted at this event were provided by the sponsoring wineries. Please see my page ' Submissions, Reviews, Invitations & Disclaimers'.
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.
Wine lover, educator and writer.