January 26, 2016 – Carmel must have a contract with Mother Nature that guarantees shell pink and turquoise sunsets every January evening. Last night at the La Playa Hotel, setting for a Monterey Winegrowers trade tasting, was no different. Thirty wineries poured their latest releases, primarily from vast Monterey county, currently home to 44k acres of grapes—about as many as Napa, by the way.
The colors of the clouds bordered on tropical, providing the perfect backdrop for Nicole Walsh’s (Ser Wines) truly mind-bending Rose of Nebbiolo, a tropical hula dancer of a wine, festooned with leis of orchids and sporting gardenias in her hair. This charming medley of mango, passionfruit, coconut and lime has a zesty edge of acidity accentuated by the wild yeast, which gives it razor like finish. Nicole will release a sparkling version of this wine later this year: can’t wait.
Folktale Winery offered a handsome lineup, including two interesting sparklers – a sassy Blanc de Blanc ($40) made from Chardonnay, Sauv Blanc and Gewurztraminer, and a sparkling rose of Pinot, Merlot and Cab ($42), made by the winemaking team of David Baird and Jamie Wetstone. Owner Gregory Ahn is very excited to be hosting events at the former Chateau Julien and recently acquired the 2011 Le Mistral inventory from Ventana to offer as well. Consulting Winemaker Sabrine Rodems was tapped to craft the 2015 Le Mistral: that’s exciting news. They are producing about 2k cases total.
Although there were so many familiar names in the room, there were a few relative newcomers: Jarman under the Holman Ranch umbrella, an homage to the woman who inspired the entire winemaking venture, and Lepe Cellars, pouring at the Figge Cellars table, where winemaker Miguel Lepe is assistant winemaker. Lenora Carey of Big Sur Vineyards was pouring her beautifully labeled lineup, and crossing her fingers to have news of a new tasting room.
I’d not tried the Alexander Smith by Paraiso wines before: this is the flagship wine from the Smith family, in honor of Claudia’s maiden name, offered at the Carmel tasting room. They are seriously well-oaked and somewhat hefty in alcohol: the 2014 Chardonnay ($65) will be released in March and has a tempting nose of ginger, almond brioche and biscotti, and reveals flavors of baked peach bars with a very toasty finish of almond brickle. The just-released 2014 Pinot ($65) is reminiscent of raspberry rum truffles. The Paraiso 2014 Chardonnay and Pinot, all in screwtop, represent excellent values in the $20 – $22 price range. Rich Smith would be
Other standout wines were Russell Joyce’s 2015 (not a typo) Riesling from the Tondre Grapefields, and a 2015 Rosé of Grenache and Gamay Noir from Arroyo Seco, both priced at $24, so as not to leave money on the table. Joyce is not revealing his sources for the Gamay, but the Grenache is from Mark Chesebro’s fine efforts at Cedar Lane, and the result is a crisply dry, totally French style rosé, oozing juicy rubired grapefruit that will be a resounding hit with somms and drinkers of the pink everywhere. That Riesling is probably the best one I’ve ever had from Joyce, and they’ve all been good. Get some fast – the gorgeous oily lush mouthfeel is packed with crazy apricot and ginger and the finish is pure electricity. Russell described it as a lightening bolt. The 2014 Joyce Albatross Ridge Pinot done in Ramon barrels has a transfixing nose of red fruit and forest and enormous mouthfeel and structure, boding well for a happily long cellar life. Another such is the 2104 Chalone Pinot which is so intense and concentrated, you practically need a knife. Says Joyce of his current strategy, “I’d rather make a smaller amount of a larger number of wines and sell out and be out, rather than be backed up with older vintages.”
Ah, but age can be a good thing, as Scott Caraccioli of Methode Champagnoise sparkling house, Caraccioli Cellars, was proving with aplomb as he walked around the room pouring tastes of his stunning 2009 Blanc de Blanc, probably the best one they’ve made to date. Scott explains they added a half a gram more per liter of dosage which makes all the difference in taming the raging acidity that comes with picking Chardonnay at 18 Brix. This stuff is pure lemon meringue pie in a glass. Get some for your Valentine: it’s worth the $52.
Better yet, get a magnum. Says Scott, “These wines have so much power. We get to see how they age in 750mls vs. magnums. We make at least 25 cases of magnums for each wine. The magnums age much more slowly: they run 9 to 14 months behind the 750s. As sparkling wines age, they definitely become more graceful and pronouncedly more integrated: so much more happens during that secondary fermentation, compared to red wine in magnums. Bubbles are the key to complexity.”
Some of the news/rumors floating around the event included the rumor that master “Pacman” Bill Foley of Epic Wines & Spirits had just acquired Chalone Vineyards. Chalone’s Robert Cooke was looking pretty happy. Does this mean Chalone will end up in the coveted “Black Knight” Division of Epic? That would be fitting for such a storied property.
Confirmed news is that Dan Karlsen’s personal brand, Chock Rock, had already moved out of their tasting room in Carmel Valley and will be holding tastings by appointment out at the winery on Arroyo Seco Road. Another episode of musical chairs ensues.
Laura Ness is a longtime wine journalist, columnist and judge who contributes regularly to Edible Monterey Bay, Spirited, WineOh.Tv, Los Gatos Magazine and Wine Industry Network, and a variety of consumer publications. Her passion is telling stories about the intriguing characters who inhabit the fascinating world of wine and food.