Santa Clara Valley Produces Nearly Naked Wines
Sarah’s Vineyard is one of the sweetest spots in the Santa Clara Valley, situated in that perfect location to afford sweeping views. Plus, it’s right next to a tree farm with lots of gorgeous color to accent the green or blonde hills, depending on the time of year you visit.
Proprietor, Tim Slater, grows much of his own fruit on the estate vineyard, but has great sources throughout the Santa Clara Valley, Santa Cruz Mountains and the Santa Lucia Highlands for extending his portfolio that focuses on Burgundian and Rhone varietals.
What’s remarkable about the current offerings is their relative lack of oak: in most cases, they see less than 10% new French.
Let’s start out with the 2014 Sarah’s Vineyard Chardonnay, from the Estate property. This is 100% barrel fermented Chardonnay, primarily done in neutral French oak, with 11 months of sur lie aging. The fruit is whole cluster pressed, to deliver all its natural complexity. Aromas of apple blossoms, guava and fruit cocktail greet you cheerily, and flavors of baked apples, summer peaches and orchards filled with fresh pear, flood the palate with a generous spoonful of spun honey butter on the finish.
With a finished alcohol that clocks in just under 14%, it’s got sufficient richness and acid to handle a wide variety of cheeses and appetizers like jalapeno artichoke dip, and can move to the main table to accompany cauliflower with browned buttercrumb topping, glazed yams, cheesey garlic mashed potatoes, buttered carrots or even a creamy lobster bisque.
The 2014 Sarah’s Vineyard Madonne Blanc is a big-boned Rhone blend, with 70% Roussanne, 14% Grenache Blanc, 10% Viognier and 6% Picpoul Blanc. Sourced from the Estate vineyard, it shows off its warm southern Rhone hospitality with aromas of honeysuckle and brioche French toast soaked in rum with roasted hazelnuts lurking at the edges. Flavors are rich, with apple turnovers, marmalade and cream cheese pastry and pineapple upside down cake. Pair with honey-baked ham and polenta, chicken marsala and seared scallops on fragrant jasmine rice cakes with pineapple mango salsa.
The 2014 Sarah’s Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Clara Valley, sourced from the estate vineyard, is your typical boy’s choir of Dijon clones (115, 667, 777) along with an adult voice in the form of what Slater calls “DRC,” short for Domaine Romanee Conti. This wine is done with native and inoculated yeast, and aged for 11 months in about 10% new oak, from a variety of coopers who source from the Vosges and Allier forests.
This red-fruited wine with a savory streak that runs rampant through fields of ripe strawberry and raspberry turnovers, would pair well with roasted pork loin or cranberry mustard coated pork chops, or a savory cherry chutney crusted rack of lamb.
WINE PAIRING: For those who enjoy heartier lamb dishes, like a slow roasted leg or braised lamb shanks, or meatballs and sauce, the 2013 Sarah’s Vineyard Madonne is just the perfect foil. Here, Grenache is the star, at 70%, backed up by 12% Syrah, 8% Mourvedre, 6% Carignane and 4% Counoise. The Grenache is vibrant, and takes the main stage, with full notes of strawberry and cherry, while the Syrah and Mourvedre add pepper, basil and smoked meat elements. Carignane chimes in with earthy pomegranate and roasted eggplant while the Counoise just lifts the entire wine to keep it fresh and fun. With such minimal new oak, all these wines have a chance to shine in all their nearly naked beauty.
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.