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California Wine Finds
Preisers’ Reserve: There is little doubt the finest winery in Monterey County is the Robert Talbott Vineyards. We have been stopping there for years. But, surprise, this year we noticed Georis right next door and decided to stop in. As they say, we are glad we did, as it may be Monterey’s runner up. Many nice wines were available for tasting in this charming room, but the 2003 Le Sanglier Georis "Estate" Merlot ($28), with a deep garnet color, elegant nose, firm tannins, and lingering finish stood out. The winery also operates the café adjacent thereto, and the chili relleno, which we tried and savored, is, we later learned, legendary.
Are more people than ever traveling to California wine country, or is it just more people we know? Either way, hardly a day goes by when we don’t receive a call or email asking for recommendations and advice. As we approach summer, many of you are no doubt planning that trip west. So, our next columns will often be devoted to wine country “finds” that are not in the usual books and magazines.
Eagle Eye: You will see and hear a great deal about this winery in the near future. “See” because the labels, drawn by owner Roxanne Wolf, are simply stunning in design. Her use of bright colors and her trademark of eagle heads on human bodies led to the development of the Eagle Eye wine brand, where a different one of her paintings is used for each varietal made. “Hear” because the juice inside the gorgeous bottle is some of the best we have tasted.
After tasting a good but unremarkable 2005 Pinot Gris ($18), we were enthralled by the 2005 Sauvignon Blanc ($18) with a perfect addition of Roussanne that allowed a rounded grapefruit taste to co-exist with guava and lime. We also loved the Voluptuous ($22), an intense, yet soft and silky, blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Sangiovese. Finally, the 2004 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon ($26) offers wood, chocolate, and, deep cherries. Excellent. We suppose we do not have to point twice to the incredibly low cost for this quality.
Markham Vineyards: We didn’t say that we will only be writing about unknowns – we said we would refer to “finds” – meaning, to us, something interesting and not on the so called beaten track.
Though Markham is certainly a venerable old winery, its new wines are making a splash. We were impressed with the fruit and finish of the 2004 Oak Knoll Pinot Noir ($26), which is readily available. Harder to find wines of smaller production (you may try them at the winery if they have not sold out) were all worth the trip to the northern part of the Valley. These include the 2003 Syrah ($25), the 2003 Cabernet Franc ($27), the 2002 Chiles Valley Zinfandel ($19.75), and the particularly structured and excellent 2002 Petite Sirah ($35).
Esser Vineyards: Opened only five years ago by Manfred Esser, this may be the only 50,000 case winery of which you have not yet heard. If so, that will probably change in the not so distant future, as Esser and consulting winemaker Paul Moser do their best to pace well crafted AND well priced wines into the marketplace.
We did not find any wines (all were of the 2005 vintage) to which we could attach superlatives, but the Lodi/Amador Zinfandel, with its spice and leather, and the Santa Barbara/Napa/Monterey/Mendocino Pinot Noir with some jammy cherry fruit and terroir, were both imminently drinkable. Oh, at $12 and $14 respectively, how much better could one do?
Jocelyn Lonen Winery: Located on 44 acres on Atlas Peak, and now managed by young Brandi Jocelyn Pack since the death of her father in 2004, we predict this winery to be only a few years away from stardom. We were enamored by the style being adopted by Brandi and winemaker Jamie Whetstone, he formerly of Turley and Jordan. The winery boasts six wines – two Chardonnays, two Cabernet Sauvignons, a blend, and a port. We tasted all except the 2005 Carneros Chard ($26), which was sold out, and the port.
It was immediately apparent that we had found a new winery to place into our list of favorites. The 2005 Russian River Valley Reserve Chard ($45) was chock full of fruit and body, and tasted of apples laced with hazelnut. The 2004 Napa Cab ($35) possesses Stagecoach vineyard fruit, and is well served by the blending of 8% Cab Franc and 3% Malbec. Black cherry and strawberry over chocolate make this a terrific buy. The 15% Cabernet Franc stands out in the 2004 Reserve Cab ($60), which is as delicious as the Estate Cab, but perhaps does not support the $25/bottle difference. Not so for the 2004 Founder’s Blend ($85), which is a seamless, yet powerful, yet elegant blend of 56% Cab Franc and a hint of Malbec to go along with the almost 43% Cabernet Sauvignon. The impossibly long finish of currants and chocolate make it a wine that can command the price.
We have identified over 650 wine labels in Napa alone. Is it any wonder that so many people founder when they get into the Valley without a plan? Be sure you look for columns of those whose palates you trust so you can enjoy wines that are not on everyone’s radar. That is really the way to enjoy California wine country.
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.