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A Wine Classic That Lives Up To Its Name

by Monty and Sara Preiser


Preisers’ Reserve: We are among those who almost instinctively balk when we hear a retail price for a Chardonnay is $85. And until recently we had not found many Australian wines that we felt were complex or structured enough to add to our cellar. Well, scratch all that. We recently tasted nine bottles from the Margaret River area, and were impressed. Our favorite (oh, were it only the least expensive of the lot) was the 2002 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay ($85). It has huge fruit that is well integrated with the 100% new French Oak in which it sat for 14 months before spending 2 years in bottle. The 05 is the present vintage, but some 02 remains. A real treat and perhaps the best 02 we have ever tasted.

A WINE CLASSIC THAT LIVES UP TO ITS NAME

Napa Valley. High Museum. Sun Valley. South Beach. Aspen. Naples. Winesong. Sonoma. Vinitaly. These are places and names that immediately conjure up one image to the enophile – Wine Festival. And not just any wine festival, but an event of great prestige.

Well, we vote to add one more to this “A” list – The Central Coast Wine Classic. Held in July on the central California coast, here is an event that not only puts it all together, bu talso is ABLE to put it all together better than most. By that we mean that most of the wine and food events, great as they might be, are sponsored by one particular wine distributor, a trade magazine, or require wineries to be members of an association to participate. Obviously this places limitations on what can be offered.

None of those narrow parameters exists at The Classic, where chair Archie McLaren, a legitimate story in his own right, encourages all vintners in the area to participate, and is free to expand the program in any way he feels will be beneficial to the wine loving public. If there is a more knowledgeable and connected personality in the wine industry, we have yet to meet him or her, and when one adds the lovely, tall, and talented Carissa Chappellet (she and Archie being long time SOs) to the team, it is an unbeatable combination. Here is an event where the host has free rein to include what is best and interesting, and we love creativity unbridled by unnecessary rules.

Our long time friend Drew Gaines, he of impeccable palate and taste, has been trying to talk us into attending The Classic for more than a few years. We wish we had paid attention sooner. The Classic is like a great wine that subtly draws you in at the start, offers significant structure and style in the middle, and leaves you with a lingering memory of what came before. Seamless. No flaws. Consistency. We are lovers of consistency.

Each component of an event does not have to be the country’s best for the event as a whole to rank near the top. The Central Coast Wine Classic proves that point. While it may not be able to offer the incredible educational sessions one finds being presented by The Wine Spectator at South Beach, those at the Classic are well crafted, use excellent panelists, and cost about 1/3 as much. While the auction at the Classic does not boast walk on cameos or automobiles as they do at Napa, the life style (trips, art, wine, etc.) offerings are significant, and the bidding is enjoyed by a broader segment of the crowd than only the super rich. While no one can match the depth of the wines poured at Napa, Naples, and Aspen, the Central Coast has “come a long way baby,” and offers a great number of serious wines with gentler price points than found in many competing wine regions. And, finally, while it is hard to beat Aspen weather in the summer, the Classic is centered on the ocean at Pismo Beach, where the dry weather, sun, and cooling Pacific breezes combine to make every day perfect. And we love picture perfect days.

The long weekend began uniquely. Participating wineries came with either barrel samples or unreleased wines. In that the Classic limits registration to numbers that are small enough so that you can interact with the vintners and winemakers (a desirable limitation), this tasting served to introduce us to new wines, new wineries, and new people. The final day was the “grand tasting”, where scores of wineries showed off their wares. To us it was almost like a coming out party. Even though we periodically taste in the area, never had we been exposed to so many central coast wines of quality. In between the two tastings were a host of educational sessions, vintner dinners, specialty dinners, demonstration lunch, and the aforementioned five hour, 85 lot live auction, which raised a hefty chunk of change for the charities of the area. Monty likes a good auction – Sara loves them.

Before closing, let us comment a bit further on the location. Pismo Beach is about three hours north of Los Angeles, and sits on the ocean, as do the two primary hotels used by the Classic. Both the Cliffs and the Dolphin Bay will satisfy the pickiest of travelers. While Pismo itself has only one or two restaurants of note, San Luis Obispo is only ten minutes away. Here you will find excellent dining (we chose Park and Koberl at Blue and were quite impressed), charming shopping, and a friendly atmosphere. Go early or stay late to the Classic and you can spend time privately tasting in Paso Robles, Los Olivos, Cambria, and other nearby wine areas. The point is, there is something for everyone. So check the Website and your schedule soon. We would love to see you there.

Recommended Wines:

From the Central Coast Region

-2006 Bonny Doon Le Cigar Blanc ($22): 75% Grenache Blanc and 25% Roussane, this bright wine with a rich back palate is a perfect alternative to accompany shellfish and light meats.

-2006 Margerum Granache ($38): We love a good Grenache. This one hits the whole palate with lots of spice.

-2005 Red Zeppelin “Black Zeppelin” ($40): One of the best wines you might not have heard of. This smooth Syrah with lush cherries and a long finish has touches of Cabernet and Alicante Bouchet.

-2006 Eponymous Grenache ($40): Dark purple and concentrated, with florals throughout.

-2006 Villa Creek Cellars Grenache ($35): 100% Grenache, dark garnet in color, good acidity, savory spices, and a mouth-coater to boot.

-2005 Vina Roble Syree (32): Big and chewy, another Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cab blend from this region. Great combination.

-2005 Vina Robles Signature ($35): We are always looking for wines made from lots of Petit Verdot. This is in inky and deep, yet maintains fruit and vivaciousness from the Syrah. You couldn’t touch this for twice the price in Napa.

-2006 Ortman Family Fiddlestix Pinot Noir ($56): Strawberry, black cherries, and clove come through and give this wine a beautiful front and mid palate. It does have a bit of a tart finish at first, but it blows off if you give it time.

-2005 Calcareous “Twisted Sisters” Bordeaux Blend ($34): Another wine that would cost twice the price in more northern wine regions, this is a dark wine – dark fruit and dark, creamy chocolate.

-2005 Tolosa “1772” Syrah ($46): Something is “going on” all the while this wine is in your mouth. The tar and spices are both prominent, and one sip lasts a long time.

-2005 Treana Red ($50): The stated goal of this winery is to produce one of the region’s premier Cabernet Sauvignon based wines – they blend with some Syrah. We think Treana has been reaching its goal for years.

From Australia (all Margaret River):

-2002 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay ($85): See Preisers’ Reserve above.

-2006 Leeuwin Estate Siblings ($20): 2/3 Sauvignon Blanc and 1/3 Semillion, it is bright and citrusy with a “sherbet burst in the back.” The Semillion adds excellent structure.

-2007 Cullen Ephraim Clarke Sauvignon Blanc/Semillion ($35): Lots of citrus and herbs, with great body and roundness due to the use of 35% new French oak.

-2007 Fraser Gallop Chardonnay ($20): This wine, at its incredibly low price, shows what the Margaret River area can do for Chardonnays. It features lots of fruit on the nose, and flavors of butterscotch and cream.

-2006 Edwards Cabernet Sauvignon ($30): A lush spruce and tobacco finish follows cranberries and currants on the palate. Another great buy.

-2002 Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot ($75): In California this could be called a Cab since it has 80% of the varietal. But in Australia, there must be 85%. Nevertheless, this beauty displays graphite and dirt with pleasantly chewy tannins ending with bright, spearminty, refreshing finish.


Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.



Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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