What better theme for the new year than novelties—wines I've learned about only during the last moments of 2007? The first involves an entire growing area, that of Monterey County. I've tasted with pleasure the odd bottle of Jekel and Lockwood vineyards before, but I have never tasted a flight of small production reds from intimate individualist producers.
When I think of Monterey, visions of Cannery Row, John Steinbeck's immortal novel of life in the underbelly of society, comes to mind. His merry band of unforgettable misfits and their elaborate efforts to plan a party already places Monterey on the memory map. But those Depression-era times of a dying canning business are now replaced by tony shops and heaps of tourists mingling on Cannery Row and its never-changing panorama of the sea.
Further inland, ranches and farmland now give way to vineyards and the big, friendly wines they produce, in many a valley and hillside. Monterey is the sixth leading California county for grape production, and many higher profile wineries to the north buy Monterey grapes for use in blending. But the locals make their own wines that reflect the specific soil and climate of the region—wines to be savored in their own right and light.
The wines I tasted were all generous reds. Even the less rich among them was not shy in body or texture. Those readers who like the styling of southern French wine would do well to explore hereabouts.
2005 Marilyn Remark, Road's End Vineyard, Petite Sirah $28
Subtle, understated fig and black fruits. Reticent, quiet intensity. Very tart and acidulous to drink. Hard to get past the mouth puckering quality. Perhaps good accompanying a fiery Tex-Mex dish.
2005 Lineshack, Central Coast, Cabernet Sauvignon $15
Grapy, streamlined with light berry and cherry scents. Fresh, fruity drink. Tastes like youth. Simple but pleasant and easygoing. (nice value)
2004 Escafeld, San Antonio Valley, Petit Verdot $20
Very ripe and richly endowed with a somewhat weedy nose and celery overtones. Sounds odd, but remarkably pleasant. Overflowing with soft, earthy fruit. Calm, flavorful, almost a fruit compote. Fascinating but a bit dull overall.
2002 Marinus, Bernardus Winery $35
A Bordeaux style, four-grape blend. Rounded nose of crushed roses and lightly oaked cherry and wildflower. A supple mouth feel with lovely, lingering fruit. The acidity is a tad too high. Gentle and persistent.
2003 Galante Vineyards, Blackjack Pasture, Carmel Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon $60
Strappingly deep impressions. Somehow reminiscent of a Chateauneuf du Pape. Earthy, with chocolate, sage and charred oak. Mouth-filling layered fruit. A big, strapping wine.
2004 Line Shack, Limited, Monterey, Petite Sirah $15
Elegant yet rich undertones. Blackberry and herbal scents. Ripe, middle-weight, beautiful fruit. Complete. Silky mouth feel, engaging. Long and laser-like linear flavors. Fine balance and perfect weight. (remarkable value)
Six Sigma Ranch
This new development out of Lake County is exciting and has a novelty attached. They make a wine from Tempranillo, the great grape of Spain's Rioja district. Formed from parts of Napa and Mendocino counties, Lake is named after beautiful Clear Lake, the central feature of this area. Like its neighbor Anderson Valley, Lake has been surprising wine lovers with its versatility in producing fresh, clean, brilliant wines from its cooler regional climate.
2006 Rooster Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc $20
Intense lemon, passion fruit and a veritable tropical smorgasbord. Drinks cleanly, with a flinty edge. Tart and just a bit short on the palate. Pair it with shrimp.
2006 Michael's Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc $28
Oak-tinged overlay of intense and generous tropical fruit. Altogether deeper than the Rooster Vineyard. Just enough lemony tartness amid a smooth palate feel. A drink highly suited for creamy seafood or poultry.
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon $42
Subtle clove, cedar and leafy mint emerge on the bouquet. Substantial fruit yet lean styling. Good acids and a claret-like frame.
2005 Tempranillo $42
Dark, intense, brambly roasted cherry, licorice and leather impressions. A rich entry that evens out to a medium body with elegance and snap. A lithe drink. Still tannic but will soften. Delicious. ()
Summers Estate Wines
This is a small Napa Valley winery featuring a number of releases made from its own estate grapes as well as from other localities in Calistoga, Knights Valley and Alexander Valley. But what really drew me toward it was its 2000 case production of Charbono. This rare grape of indeterminate origin is planted on fewer than 100 acres in California. Inglenook Winery, in times long past, used to bottle from this very same vineyard a Charbono that was rustic and smooth—the ideal wine to accompany food cooked out on the barbecue grill. With its rather obvious bouquet of Pepsi-Cola (minus the fizz), I always looked forward to drinking this great oddity. I was intrigued to find out what the Summers' offering is like. I also had a chance to taste their superb blended version of Cabernet Sauvignon.
2006 Andriana's Vineyard, Calistoga, Charbono $28
Inky blue-black color. Slightly dull nose yet a full-fruited softness that fills the sinuses. Sweet cherry cola-like, fruity and easy to understand. Dark rich flavors that melt in your mouth. Soft tannins, lingering fruit. I am convinced that more bottle age will bring out the bouquet. But try it now with ribs or sausages.
2005 Napa Valley, Andriana's Cuvee, Cabernet Sauvignon $25
Silky cassis, perfectly ripe berry scents—essence of cabernet fruit. Excellent balance and integrity. Flavors just a touch shortened by tannin but will soften with bottle age. Lovely, expressive wine. Deliciously blended from three vineyard sites. () (terrific value)
New Year's Eve may be over, but Valentine's Day approaches and, really, any "occasion" is one that can call for Champagne. Over the holidays, one domestic sparkler, made by the same process as French Champagne, really titillated my taste buds. It's the new release of Chandon Brut Classic. It boasts a bouquet bursting with lemon freshness and that minerally nose so often missing from non-French bubbly. The flavors continue with pinpoint clarity, bracingly elegant flavors and an intense bubble that spelled excellent refreshment. For about $18 or less, keep this fine new release in mind for toasting a promotion, a sweetheart, Groundhog's Day or ... you get the picture.
Questions, comments or inquiries? Contact Arturo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I now use the five-star system that dates back generations and has had a special appeal to me as suggested in The Great Vintage Wine Book by English writer Michael Broadbent. My take on the system works as follows:
Not very good
Fair to moderately good
A star (or stars) in parentheses means what the wine promises to achieve with further aging. For example:
() = Fair now but should become extremely good with bottle age