April 2, 2019 – At the Monterey Trade tasting event recently held at the Sunset Center, two things were abundantly obvious: everyone was ecstatic to see the sun (except for the people whose tables were set up in front of the wall of gleaming glass on the west side of the building) and the wines from 2016 are showing really well, except for the ones that have smoke taint. The 2017, and even 2018, whites and rosés, are in general, terrific. It bodes well for fine spring drinking, whenever spring decides to show up.
The knock your socks off rosé of the day goes to the sassy fresh and spicy 2018 Sangiovese rosé from Folktale: David Baird has a true winner there. He should also get an award for giving the most polished impromptu elevator-pitch-on-demand when an attendee literally shoved his cellphone at Baird and asked him to give a 30-second overview of the brand. Runner up goes to the floral and quince-dominant 2018 Scratch rosé of Pinot Noir, made by Sabrine Rodems.
There were lots of contenders for the fresh, clean white award, but Russell Joyce wins this in my book for the 2018 Joyce Albariño from Cedar Lane Vineyard in Arroyo Seco. Juicy nectarine and lime make merry in this pure thirst quencher. Runner up is the 2017 Lepe Cellars Riesling from Zabala Vineyard, also Arroyo Seco and I’d give third place to the 2017 Wrath EX Sauvignon Blanc, from the San Saba vineyard, which, by the way, is now 44 years old.
It’s no wonder that Monterey is prized for Chardonnay: I tasted at least half a dozen that were worthy contenders. If you haven’t been to the Rexford Winery tasting room in Carmel Valley, go there for the 2016 Escolle Vineyard Chardonnay, just a stellar barrel-fermented beauty with an astonishing balance of citrus and delicate pear. A pure streak of mouthwatering acid ties it together like a string of twinkling lights. It can run circles around wines costing twice as much. Runner up goes to Miguel Lepe for his brilliant 2016 Arroyo Seco Chardonnay, barrel-fermented in mostly neutral oak. Just lovely, inviting and flawless. I’d give third place to the 2015 Wrath “Fermenta” Chard, with its juicy peach cobbler core.
As for Pinots, seriously, where does one even start? It’s a flood. The standout of all those I tried was the 2016 Wrath Tondre Pinot Noir, with its immense depth and kickass mouthfeel. There is something about that vineyard that just effortlessly delivers gobs of horsepower, like mashing the throttle on a Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye. Runner up goes to the 2015 Albatross Ridge 2015 Cuvee Vivienne Pinot, fresh, lively and ravishing with a flood of cool red fruit. Another intriguing Pinot is the 2016 Big Sur Vineyards Antle Vineyard Pinot, with its assertive, brushy aromas, core of red raspberry and cranberry and lithe, sandy texture. It captures the spirit of Chalone.
Most memorable other red of the day goes to the 2015 Mesa del Sol Grenache, a new release, a stunning, completely mouthfilling and pleasing wine, that reins in the hot bloodedness of the varietal and focuses on the purity of spicy strawberry fruit. Runner up goes to the 2014 Rexford Merlot from Regan Vineyard, which will make any naysayer about Merlot reconsider forthwith. Another fun red was the 2015 Silvestri Barbera from Carmel Valley.
Thoroughly impressive lineup was the entire line of Mesa del Sol wines from Arroyo Seco being poured by owner Ann Hougham at the Trio Table, with Trio Carmel owner, Tammie Ward. Every single wine is a true gem, thanks to the brilliant winemaking of Ian Brand, who has been making Mesa del Sol wines since 2011. What’s not to love about the spicy, cherry pie 2014 Sangiovese and the svelte 2012 Syrah, showing a high degree of integration as it slowly matures.
Wrath’s lineup continues to be strong, with big props going to the EX Sauv Blanc and EX Chardonnay for their unoaked feistiness. These wines do exuberant somersaults across your palate. Loved the 2016 Swan and 828 Pinot Noir for its depth, earthy groundedness and suave texture, while the 2016 Boekenoogen Pinot was a veritable rock concert of sleek dark fruit. Sabrine loves the 113 clone so much from the Boekenoogen site, they are planting some at the Wrath estate vineyard.
Bill Brosseau of Testarossa was pouring the 2016 Fogstone Chardonnay, a vineyard in the SLH of which he is particularly proud. “The grower has been great to work with. We eventually took over all 60 acres. It has six clones of Chardonnay and Pinot. I’m really happy with it.” Everyone wanted to taste the Garys’ Pinot Noir, naturally, but if they skipped the Cuvée Los Gatos Pinot, they missed out on a really great value wine. Mostly from the SLH, although it says Monterey on the label, this has verve and brightness, and it’s in a screwcap.
Also in screwcaps, bless them, are the Talbott wines, as they have been for nearly 10 years now. The 2014 Talbott Sleepy Hollow Pinot is a full-blown riot of cherry, raspberry, strawberry and chocolate ganache, and the 2016 Kali Hart tastes fresher than ever. Arkansas native, Alex Gessner, Talbott’s new sales rep, says that winemaker Dave Coventry, uses as little oak as possible, mostly neutral, so as not to mask the amazing fruit. He recently moved here from Seattle after stints on the east coast, including Florida: perhaps he’s finally found his tribe. Sadly, Alex told me, Talbott lost the lionshare of Diamond T production for 2016 due to the wildfires in Big Sur. What a shame.
Winemaker Gianni Abate of Chalone was a welcome sight, as was Michael Michaud, who was pouring a 2002 Chardonnay that was on everyone’s lips. The 2016 Chalone Chardonnay is a beautiful thing that doesn’t waste much of its time doing barrel duty. It’s fresh and lush. Abate couldn’t be more ecstatic about the harvest of 2018 at Chalone. “It was the easiest, most organized harvest in all my years! We started with Pinot Noir at the end of August, and finished the rest by the end of September!” Literally, he was done before most people had even started: ponder that. Yet another unique and incomparable selling point for the Chalone AVA. It literally exists in its own time and space.
Back to the land of green and lush. Matt Shea of Bernardus admitted that the long, wet winter had him stalling on pruning, until a neighbor asked when he was planning to do so. “I raced over to Ingrid’s Vineyard and saw the buds pushing! Uh-oh! I called in a crew and we had it done by the end of the weekend. Whew! Labor is not an issue in the winter, thankfully!” That vineyard gets a lot of mildew pressure, so he’s hoping the spring will not bring too much gloom.
At least we have an abundance of great wine to accompany any season, dreary or otherwise. Here’s a toast to Monterey!
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.