Wines for a Winter’s Day

HEAVENLY WINES: Thomas Fogarty Winery poured excellent Cabernets, Chardonnays and Pinots at recent wine events.

HEAVENLY WINES: Thomas Fogarty Winery poured excellent Cabernets, Chardonnays and Pinots at recent wine events.

Big, Bold Bordeaux

Tasting Bordeaux from France side-by-side with examples from Napa and the Santa Cruz Mountains, all from a single vintage, is always illuminating. Attendees of Premier Cruz, held Nov. 6 at The Mountain Winery, were treated to a rare presentation of nine excellent Cabernets, along with an even more rare appearance by surprise guest Warren Winiarski, founder and former owner of one of Napa’s most iconic wine brands of all time, Stag’s Leap. Winiarski’s comment regarding judicious blending—“Bring together opposites to create a sense of completeness”—struck a chord as I sipped my way down the line.

Premier Cruz showcases the stingy wealth of tiny vineyards perched on rugged tree-trimmed mountaintops throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains. Drippy November skies provided perfect Bordeaux weather, as one cannot enjoy the heady black-fruited frenzy, leather-wrapped and cigar-infused men’s club aromatics and the voluptuous tannins of Cabernet any other way. Some of the most notable local Cabernets were:

2005 Woodside Cellars La Questa Cabernet, SCM
Great aromas of dusty earth, rose petals, old sachet and potpourri highlight warm, softly-aged flavors of soy, tobacco, leather, sage and roasting chestnuts. Lovely and eminently capable of another 10–15 years.

2005 Heitz Cellars Martha’s Vineyard, Napa
Classic balsam and menthol aromas make this a classic, with red-fruited zestiness and persistent pine forest finish. Probably good for another 20.

2005 Mount Eden Estate, SCM
Probably the youngest lad in the lot, still skipping rope in short pants. With its heady aromatics of pine and tobacco, brisk red flavors of currant, cranberries and red cherries, and its inherently fresh, sandy tannins, this has the stuffing to go 40-plus.

2005 Kathryn Kennedy Estate, SCM
Earthy, mineral-laden and animalistic in every way, this wine quickly grows on you with its peppery tobacco and red cherry pie spice. The layers are many, the stories complete and the impact unforgettable. Drinking great right now and for 10 to 15 years to come.

2005 Thomas Fogarty Lexington, SCM
With equal parts of Cabernet and Merlot, this was the ringer in the bunch, tempting with lovely aromatics of dark red and black fruit. With its pretty, satiny texture, lovely plump middle and gorgeous finish, it showed beautifully why Merlot is like the Watson to Cabernet’s Sherlock: it simply does everything sooner and a great deal more tidily. Drink up, baby. This one wants to be your best friend.

2005 Ridge Monte Bello, SCM
Powerful American oak aromas meld with wet adobe, black licorice, cassis and cigar in this blend of 70 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 22 percent Merlot, 6 percent Petit Verdot and 2 percent Cabernet Franc. Angular and intense on the palate, with flavors of tiny huckleberries, the wood is still in charge. This could definitely benefit from decanting. Age another 10–15.

It was interesting to compare findings and favorites with attendees. Several things were apparent. The wines that make the biggest, loudest noises are the ones most people remember, and are therefore the ones you will hear people talking about. These were the Ridge, with its massive American oak, and the Heitz Cellars Martha’s Vineyard with its rip-snorting juniper and menthol notes from the eucalyptus trees that dominate that vineyard.
Like heavy metal rock, those wines are not for everyone, but they do rather persistently demand your attention, like someone playing Led Zeppelin on Sunday morning at high volume.

Like those who prefer the nuanced, practiced skill required to play flamenco guitar, cello or piano, I am firmly in the camp of wines #1, #3 and #5, as they politely request your attention, then proceed to rivet it with their masterful composition.

It is to such wines Warren Winiarski was referring when he said, “The finest wines are the ones that satisfy. The Latin root of satisfy is ‘enough:’ all you need is just enough. Anything more detracts from purity.”

Varietal Party at Taste of the Mountains
Another recent wine event, Taste of the Mountains in Menlo Park, shared some local wines not often seen in public. Thomas Fogarty poured a crisp and satisfying 2011 Chardonnay, along with a high-altitude 2012 Pinot that offered up the most lovely nose of all the Pinots tasted throughout the day. Fittingly, Fogarty sits atop the land of Pinots. The raspberry, cherry and milk chocolate aromas were alluring, and the flavors of cranberry, red raspberry and chestnut raced along the palate like a speed skater visualizing a world record. The acidity was marvelous.

San Carlos-based Russian Ridge was pouring a 2012 Pinot from Kent Berry Vineyard on Summit Road (next door to Burrell School), a very dark-fruited example of ripe Summit style. Winemaker Scott Townsend does Cooper-Garrod Syrah proud, showcasing its dark, salty Aussie licorice side with great finesse. The biggest hit was the 2011 Concerto, named shamelessly for Duane Cronin’s original Bordeaux blend that Townsend was privileged to have helped make before Cronin succumbed to cancer. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec is enticing, with celery seed, menthol and pine tar indicating it’s still nascent and poised for a long growth trajectory.

Dave Moulton of Burrell School poured a Petite Sirah and a Syrah-Zin blend called “High School Sweethearts,” both perfectly apropos for a cold winter’s day.

Portola Vineyards, a boutique producer in the Los Altos Hills (open by appointment for groups of 5 to 15), had a splendid 2012 Pinot Noir. Aromas of crabapple, pie cherries and baking spice tickle your nostrils, and the wine, made with native yeast, slaloms across your palate with tart, savory flavors of blackberries, sage, salami and prosciutto. The 2012 Portola Cabernet, from Cooper-Garrod grapes, was a baked blackberry and blueberry pie, solidly structured and immediately enjoyable.

House Family always has something fabulous from their estate to share, and this time it was the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, a new release that packs in everything we love about Cabs, from cherry tobacco to fine leather and cracked pepper.

Mindego Ridge poured a lovely 2013 Chardonnay and Pinot from their lofty acreage in the Los Altos Hills. Winemaker Ehren Jordan of Failla’s deft touch was evident in both varietals. The Chardonnay pleases with its clean flavors of pear and apple cream custard, while the classy 2013 Pinot was a deft weaving of pomegranate, cherry ganache, mushroom and earth.

Big Basin Vineyards was pouring the 2013 Lester Family Pinot, which, at 12.5 percent, might toss you over its antlers with its bracing acidity and outrageously tart spiciness. It would be a great match for anything with chile peppers. We do love the 2012 Grizzly (65 percent Grenache, 35 percent Syrah), with its powerful dark plum, sassafras and balsamic core, not to mention its deep velvet couch finish.

The 2011 Big Basin Coastview Syrah, though, gets my vote as the ultimate winter’s day wine for its intensity, varietal character, purity of expression and sinewy potential to age and become even more statuesque. Filled with potent pepper, sage, basil, wild plum, tamari and grilled radicchio-wrapped figs, this is a standup match for wild game. It’s also the perfect wine for those who prefer wines that leap from the glass and lead one on an unforgettable journey of discovery.

More Wine Events

Big Sur Forager’s Festival Hike for mushrooms, taste fabulous wines and beers, enjoy gourmet dinners at Big Sur area restaurants, including Ventana Inn. Fundraiser for the Big Sur Health Center. Jan. 15–17

Santa Cruz Mountains Winter Passport Day At participating wineries.
Jan. 16, 11–5pm

Sangria Sunday featuring Santos Perdidos with Latin cuisine by Chef David Sidoti, at The Mountain Winery.
Jan. 17, 11–3pm

Loma Prieta Winery Open Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Jan. 18, noon–5pm

Blends from Around the World
Testarossa University. Jan. 20, 6–7:30pm

Wine Stroll at Santana Row To benefit the Silicon Valley Education Foundation. Jan. 21, 6–9pm

Havana Night With Cuban band Los Boleros at The Mountain Winery.
Jan. 22, 6:30–10:30pm

Blending Seminar Testarossa University. Jan. 27, 6–7:30pm

Fernwood Cellars Winemaker Dinner At Hults. Wine Club members only. Jan. 28, 7-9pm

SOS Seafood Festival Sustaining Our Seas, featuring Santa Cruz Mountains Wineries. Princeton-By-The-Sea.
Jan. 30, 10am-5pm

Santa Clara Community Celebration, University of Santa Clara campus. Santa Cruz Mountains Experience Tent.
Feb. 6

Fat Tuesday Beer Class Testarossa University. Feb. 9, 6–7:30

River Road Wine Trail Valentines’ Passport Day. Feb. 13, 11–4pm

Summit Wineries Valentine Celebration Wrights Station has oysters both days. Feb. 13 & 14

Valentine’s Dinner for Two In the Caves at Byington Winery.
Feb. 14, 5–8pm

President’s Day Holiday Loma Prieta and Burrell School open. Feb. 15

Santa Lucia Highlands Virtual Tour Testarossa University. Feb. 17, 6–7:30pm

Alsace Festival in Anderson Valley Taste Alsace style white wines from around the world. Seminars, tasting, winery open houses. Feb. 20

Bottle Jack Monthly wine tasting, cabernet release and wine club pick-up party. Feb. 20, noon–4pm

Vintage Retrospective: Doctor’s Vineyard, Testarossa University.
Feb. 24, 6–7:30pm

25th Zinfandel Experience San Francisco. tribute party, supper club, flights seminar, winemakers auction & dinner and grand tasting. Feb. 25–27

Fernwood Cellars Winemaker Dinner at Le Papillon in San Jose.
Feb. 27, 6-9pm

Ongoing Events

Live Music Every Sunday at Byington Vineyard and Winery. 2–4pm

Live Music in Wine Bar 107 at Testarossa. Thursdays 5:30pm, Fridays 5:30pm & Saturdays 2:30pm

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