6 Central Coast Wine Steals to Drink Up!
The word is out and cannot be recalled: wines with a “Central Coast” appellation should mean superb value wines – not just wines under $25, but wines largely in the $10 to $20 range that pack a punch of flavor and delight you cannot get from wines with a “California” designate. Now, that is not writ in stone, but by and large, you should feel pretty darned good about choosing wines that proclaim “Central Coast.” This can mean anything from the Santa Cruz Mountains down through Santa Maria, with a preponderance of the fruit originating in Monterey county, where grapes, particularly Chardonnay and Pinot, abound.
Here are three brands you can’t go wrong with: the price is right on all, and the flavors, befitting the name of the centrally located region, right in the center point of acceptability. Drink on!
Hard to beat this combination of aromas: baked lemon tartlets, fresh-peeled mandarins, key lime zest and apple crisp with lots of butter. The palate is no less exciting, with perky grapefruit, naval oranges, Shaker lemon pie, apricot marmalade and key lime pie with graham cracker crust.
This wine, sourced from Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and Monterey, was 70% barrel-fermented in 20% new French, with the remainder done in tank.
Seriously, for $15, this is awesome stuff! Winemaker Chrissy Wittmann nails another one with a dead-on bullseye. Highly recommended.
2013 Wild Horse Pinot Noir, Central Coast, 13.5%, $17.99
Nailing Pinot Noir at this price point is a far more difficult task, but this fine effort from Chrissy Wittmann combines riper, darker-toned fruit from Edna Valley and Santa Maria with the more acid-laden, red-fruited sources of Monterey. She chooses vineyards for their different climates and soils, creating the ultimate spice rack for aromas and flavors.
This is solidly loveable Central Coast Pinot with wonderful aromatics that range from nutmeg-scented strawberry jam to full on ripe cherries, earth and hints of sweet butterscotch. In the mouth, it’s bright and sassy, combining ribald cranberry with black cherry truffle and strawberry turnovers. Great acid and good finish.
This Pinot Noir was processed in small fermenters with punchdowns twice daily, after which the wine was pressed off into 100% French oak barrels, with 20% new, for nine months. We’re talking nice oak here, including Francois Freres, Remond, Siruge and Treuil.
2013 Sarah’s Vineyard, Sarah’s Estate Vineyard, Central Coast, 14.3%, $16
Aromas of spring flowers, honeysuckle bushes, orange blossoms, fresh pineapple and warm custard, are just the beginning to this barrel-fermented wine that is cloaked in sweet oak. It’s light in fruit and creamy with oak, and the ripe apple and baked pear notes wrap like melted butter around a finish of oven-fresh snickerdoodles. For lovers of rich, but not overblown Chardonnay.
Hand-harvested from Sarah’s estate vineyard in the Santa Clara Valley, this Chardonnay is whole cluster pressed and barrel-fermented in French oak, mostly neutral. There is no malolactic to preserve the freshness. 8 months sur lie ageing contributes to the depth.
2013 Sarah’s Vineyard Pinot Noir, Central Coast, 14.1%, $20
While it’s hard to grasp the concept of a Pinot Noir grown in Gilroy, in the very same vineyard where Rhones thrive, it works, some years better than others. This year, in 2013, is a handsome effort, with winsome blackfruited flavors that toy between Mission fig and ripe dusty blackberries, weaving in some distinctive earthy and savory notes. The finish is generously dolloped with with damson plum preserve and silky chocolate ganache. Overall, the texture is very satisfying, the acid moderate and the tannins quite pleasingly soft. It goes to show that the Santa Clara Valley is not called “Valley of the Heart’s Delight” for naught. Sarah’s Vineyard is growing Pinot right next door to a winery that has been growing Italian varieties for decades. It’s all about managing the canopy and giving vines enough water when those baking days of summer come to visit.
Tim Slater produced 2200 cases of this hand-harvested estate Pinot from Sarah’s Vineyard. It was aged in 10% new oak, mostly Mercier, Francois Freres and Billon barrels, from the Vosges and Allier forests for 11 months. Thankfully, this wine has just the right amount of oak so you don’t have to wait for it to come together. It’s drinking very nicely now.
Part of the Sebastiani Family’s portfolio, this wine is bottled in Greenfield, and is made from Monterey fruit. The label gives you all the goods on the wine, including its genesis and its properties. Referred to as “whimsically elegant…deliciously seductive,” it is true to the description which refers to aromas of key lime and lemon oil, along with a slightly saline quality and butterscotch from the oak. On the palate, you’ll find lots of ripe melon, Gala apple turnovers, and loads of lime on the finish, along with a touch of honey and butterscotch. This is solidly quaffable stuff, well-made, harmoniously balanced and in a good-looking package. The cows on the label add a certain levity, and it’s a screwtop to boot.
2013 Moobuzz Pinot Noir, Monterey, 14%, $14.99 (on sale)
Finally, a breezy, red-fruited Pinot that highlights the lovely pas de deux of mushroom and ripe raspberry, along with aromas of violets and wet sand. Take the first sip, and you’ll be hooked by its vivid redness of flavors, mostly spring strawberries and perky rhubarb pie. This is a Pinot you can enjoy with food, from a simple ham and cheese sandwich to a nice lamb sausage or grilled pork chop seasoned with white truffle salt. Kudos to the Sebastiani family for getting their Central Coast on with a whimsical brand and label that actually delivers a serious value.
Goes to show that Monterey really delivers the goods when it comes to acid-focused, food friendly wines that perform way above their price point and never get flabby or fall apart at the seams.
BY: LAURA NESS, WINE JUDGE & WINE WRITER
Laura Ness, aka “Her VineNess,” is an accomplished wine journalist and wine critic whose passion for wine was ignited by a visit to France, where she had the unmatched pleasure of tasting Sancerre in the medieval town of Sancerre – splendid!— and then a Saumur, after visiting the Chateau de Saumur in Chinon. The concept of terroir came alive in those incandescent moments. She regularly judges wine competitions and serves on the tasting panels of the Pinot, Cabernet and Chardonnay Shootouts. She was instrumental in helping define the unique sub-regions of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA in concert with Appellation America. You can usually find her sipping and smiling in Mendocino, Livermore, the Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Cruz Mountains and Paso Robles. Laura writes extensively for many industry and consumer publications, and has weekly wine columns in several Bay Area newspapers. She blogs, irreverently and sporadically, at myvinespace.com.