Tag Archives: Chardonnay

Six wine reasons to visit Santa Maria Valley


Santa Maria Valley is nestled between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. Part of the Central Coast of California, within Santa Barabara County. The Santa Maria AVA (American Viticultural Area), runs east to west. Delimited by the San Rafael Mountains/Los Padres National Forest to the east, and by the Solomon Hills and the city of Santa Maria to the west. The Opening to the Pacific ocean allows for the fog and coastal breezes to pass through the valley, providing for a longer growing season. It is the northernmost appellation in Santa Barbara County, and the region’s first officially approved AVA.

The Santa Maria Valley has recognition for high-quality grape growing and winemaking. With just over 30 established wineries, their vineyards, owners, and winemakers gained respect statewide. Due to their cold climate, a high percentage of the 7,500 acres planted to vine are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with a lesser amount of Syrah. They also grow Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Grenache, Merlot, Roussanne and Cabernet Sauvignon. The three more famous vineyards in the region are, Tepusquet, Sierra Madre, and Bien Nacido. There are three predominant soil types in the area, well-drained sandy loam, clay loam soils and alluvial soils. The terrain has slopes with elevation variations from 200 to 800 feet.

The three more famous vineyards in the region are, Tepusquet, Sierra Madre, and Bien Nacido. There are three predominant soil types in the area, well-drained sandy loam, clay loam soils and alluvial soils. The terrain has slopes with elevation variations from 200 to 800 feet.

Over our four-day visit to Santa Maria Valley, we had the fantastic opportunity to visit small family own wineries and bigger corporate operations. All of them have something in common, flavorful well made quality wines that represent the soil and climate that surrounds their vines.

Picture by Edgar Solis Photo

Great Quality Wines

What a delight to share quality wines with Dave Corey “Mister Moreved,” owner and winemaker for Core Wine. Dave poured many of his well-crafted wines at his beautiful tasting salon at Oldtown Orcutt. Dave does not grow any grape vines, but source grapes from several grape growers. He maintains solid relationships with local grape farmers and produced outstanding wines. Among the well-crated wines we tasted with Dave, we enjoyed 2007 Cuvée Fletcher and 2008 Mister Moreved, both made with fruit from Alta Mesa Vineyard. Core wines are well balanced, showing intense fruit flavors, pleasant acidity and restrained oak nuances.

Photos by Edgar Solis Photo

It was a real pleasure to chat with Dave, it was like talking to an old friend. He is very knowledgeable about wine and willing to share his vast knowledge with us.

2. Also located in Oldtown Orcutt is Nagy Wines tasting room. Winemaker and owner Clarissa Nagy greeted us in her eclectic and charming space. Clarissa shared with us her passion for wine and how she started in the wine industry.

Photos by Julie Santiago

“It was never my plan to make wine. My original plan was to work with food. Fortunately, food and wine go together. Through that means, wine found me. I met my husband while working at Byron Vineyard. We made a barrel of 2002 Viognier as a wedding favor.  I do not grow grape vines but work with several vineyards, mainly in the Santa Maria Valley AVA, to get the best fruit expression. In the course of my career, I have been blessed to work with some amazing people and vineyards in Santa Barbara County. Our region and specifically Santa Maria Valley has captured my heart and my palate. I balance my time between family and winemaking.”

Clarissa Nagy, Photo by Edgar Solis Photo

Clarissa poured a delicate and flavorful 2013 Nagy Pinot Blanc, made with grapes from Bien Nacido Vineyard. Lemongrass and honeysuckle aromas, with crisp acidity and flavors of tangerine, ripe Anjou pear, and notes of tamarind. We followed with an elegant and crisp Viognier, two distinctive vintages of Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir (2011 and 2012) and an oak restrained yummy Syrah.

The white and red wines at Nagy wines showed intense fruit flavors, pleasant acidity, and judicious use of oak contact on the red wines. Clarissa believes in minimal  intervention during the winemaking process, allowing the grapes to express the character of their place of origin.

Photos by Edgar Solis Photo

3. Cambria Estate Vineyards and Winery its own and run by the Jackson family. Tasting Room Manager, Nate Axline shared with us the history of the property. For the last 30 years, the Jackson family has farmed the property with sustainable practices, respecting the land and allowing the grapes express the crushed seashells in the alluvial soils and climate conditions around the vineyards.

Photo by Edgar Solis Photo

The cold weather, temperature fluctuation and the fog that lurks in from the ocean at night; creates the perfect conditions at Cambria’s estate vineyards to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. A highlight of the visit was trying four clones of Pinot Noir side by side. We tried Clones 2A, 4, 23 and 115. We enjoyed the experience of identifying the difference between the various clones; more or fewer fruit flavors, earthy notes, mineral properties, texture differences and more.

Edgar Solis Photo

4. Riverbench Vineyard located on the southeastern edge of the Santa Maria Valley specialized in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They started planting Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines in 1973. Riverbench Estate vineyards consist of 107 acres planted to Pinot Noir and 77 acres of Chardonnay grapes. After decades of selling grapes, they produced their first wine in 2004. At the Riverbench tasting room, your furry four-legged family member is welcome, and you can even buy a sparkling squeaky toy bottle. We enjoyed four delightful Pinot Noir wines and a Blanc de Blancs and Brut Rosé sparkling wines. Their winemaker Clarissa Nagy achieved well balanced elegant wines that entice you for more.

Photos by Edgar Solis Photo

At the Riverbench tasting room, your furry four-legged family member is welcome, and you can even buy a sparkling squeaky toy bottle. We enjoyed four delightful Pinot Noir wines and a Blanc de Blancs and Brut Rosé sparkling wines. Their winemaker Clarissa Nagy achieved well balanced elegant wines that entice you for more.

Riverbench Vineyard and WineryPet Friendly Winery – Edgar Solis Photo

5. Built into a hillside, Presqu’ile Vineyard sits in a privileged location with ocean and vineyard views all around. Estate Manager Cameron Porter walked us trough the state of the art production facility, caves and welcoming tasting salon. Cameron shared with us:

“The Murphy family, from Louisiana, bought the property in 2007. 200 acres, sixteen miles from the Pacific Ocean with 11 acres planted to Pinot Noir grapes. They called the estate Presqu’ ile (the Creole word for “almost an island”), honoring a dear Gulf Coast family gathering place lost to Hurricane Katrina, and because they envisioned the property as an island-like haven among the vines.”

The Murphy’s planted sixty more acres of vines. With the help of a Santa Maria Valley vineyard expert, they designed the new vineyard as a mosaic of various blocks ranging in elevation between 700 and 1,000 feet. The vineyard estate features 32 acres of several clones of Pinot Noir, 17 acres of Chardonnay, 16 acres of Sauvignon Blanc and small blocks of Syrah and Nebbiolo.

Cameron offered us several wines while walking trough the multi-level modern style building. We tried a refreshing Sauvignon Blanc, well-balanced Chardonnay, several expressive Pinot Noirs and elegant Syrah. We also tasted older vintages of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, confirming our opinion about how well crafted these wines are. Presqu’ ile produce 85% of their wines with their estate vineyards but also make a small production from some of the premium vineyards in the area, including Rim Rock, Steiner Creek, and the famous Bien Nacido Vineyard.

6. Under heavy rain, we arrived at Foxen Winery and Vineyard. We started our visit on their newest solar-powered tasting room and winery estate. In this property, you can taste their Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Rhône-style wines. Great hospitality at arrival, we stood at the bar. Our host was a local woman with family history back to the early 1800’s. She shared with us the winery history, “Bill Wathen and Dick Doré started the winery back in 1985 at the historic Rancho Tinaquaic. The winery is named in memory of William Benjamin Foxen, and English sea captain and Dick’s great-great grandfather. Captain Foxen adopted the distinctive anchor as his ranch cattle brand, which became the trademark of the Foxen Vineyard & Winery.”

Foxen Vineyard
Edgar Solis Photo

Our first wine, an elegant 2014 Chenin Blanc from old vines, Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley. Elegant wine with ripe yellow fruit flavors, bright acidity, and pleasantly dry finish. We tried several delicious Pinot Noirs and Syrahs, all of them had a particular intense fruit character. Some of the Pinot’s a bit more earthy, spicy, little more acidic; all of them truly representing the nuances of the soil where they grow and the pleasant cool climate of this blessed Santa Maria Valley.

Edgar Solis Photo

Still, under torrential rain, we stop by The Shack Built in the 1860’s as a blacksmith shop. In 1987 it became Foxen Vineyards first tasting room. Today you can taste Bordeaux and Italian-style wines. We tasted robust Sangiovese, Sangiovese blend, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Edgar Solis Photo

Santa Maria Valley offers an excellent selection of places to stay, from B&B’s to chain hotels. We enjoyed our stay at the historic Santa Maria Inn Hotel, located in the middle of town in Santa Maria. The hotel is close to many great restaurants and over 50 wineries and vineyards. The hotel itself has a highly rated restaurant that serves contemporary California cuisine, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you happen to visit in Christmas time, take advantage of their famous Christmas day brunch buffet.

Edgar Solis Photo

Santa Maria Valley BBQ

Santa Maria Valley is known for their traditional style of BBQ. Their particular flavor profile comes from a dry rub that includes salt, granulated garlic, black pepper, and herbs. According to local barbecue historian R.H. Tesene, “The Santa Maria Barbecue grew out of this tradition and achieved its ‘style’ when residents began to string cuts of beef on skewers or rods and cook the meat over the hot coals of a red oak fire.” The origins go back to the mid-1800’s when cowboys from the local ranches met to have a meat feast over open fire pits. The tradition is to serve the meat with sides of pinquito beans, fresh salsa, vegetables, tossed salad and fresh grilled bread.

Courtesy of Santa Maria Valley.com

On the early days, the favorite cut of meat for BBQ was the Top Sirloin. Back in the 1950s, a local butcher named Bob Schutz accomplished mastery in cooking the tri-tip cut, rapidly becoming a staple of Santa Maria Style Barbecue. The grilling method is an open pit, fired with red oak wood. The grill, usually made of iron, has a hand crank device that allows for lifting or lowering the grilling grid to the desired distance from the coals. We enjoyed dinner at three BBQ staple restaurants.

Our Introduction To Santa Maria Valley BBQ happened at Shaw’s Steakhouse, established in 1953. This restaurant located in downtown Santa Maria was at walking distance from our hotel. The first thing they served us was a small dish of raw vegetables, with a side of homemade salsa, something new and unexpected for us but very common here. We decided to go with pork instead of the traditional beef cuts. Both the baby back ribs and the pork chop were cooked properly and full with flavors.

Edgar Solis Photo

Our second exposure to Santa Maria Valley BBQ was at The Hitching Post, featured in Forbes Magazine as one of the 10 Great BBQ Joints in the USA. Located at Casmalia, just a ten minutes drive from downtown Santa Maria. This restaurant feels welcoming with a lot of old western town character. What about the delicious grilled artichokes, everyone should start with this appetizer.

Edgar Solis Photo

We are not red meat eaters, but we venture to try the fillet mignon and quail and the prime rib. Both dishes cooked to perfection with excellent seasoning and a pleasant note of red oak smoke. The red meat cuts showed a nice crust and very juicy inside. The quail was tender, juicy and full of flavor. We enjoyed dinner with a bottle of a local Bubbly. 2010 Blanc de Blancs Goat Bubbles-Sierra Madre Vineyard. A clean, refreshing sparkling wine with Brioche, green apple, and hints of citrus.

Our last dinner on this memorable trip to Santa Maria Valley Wine Country was at Far Western Tavern. Located in Oldtown Orcutt, this restaurant looks beautiful, classy and welcoming. Excellent service from start to finish. We felt welcomed from the moment we entered until the hostess greeted us on our way out. Exquisite food,  we started with sweetbreads and grilled artichokes as appetizers. For entree, we order from the classics. Bulls Eye, a 14 oz. Signature boneless rib eye and the 12 oz. fillet mignon with the Pinot Filet Option (Pinot Noir Mushroom Reduction Sauce, Tobacco Onions). We also had their classic salsa with a side of beans and an order of grilled vegetables.

Photos by Julie Santiago

The fillets, cooked as we order, medium. The seasoning was just right, nice texture on the meat and very juicy. The vegetables were tender and tasty. To complement dinner, we ordered a bottle of 2014 Rancho Sisquoc Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine showed intense dark fruit flavors, mild spiciness, moderate oak and firm tannins. A great wine selection for steak dinner. We finished the Rancho Sisquoc Cab Sav with dessert, a delicious dark chocolate brownie topped with vanilla bean ice cream.

When thinking in a new California wine region to explore, take advantage of all Santa Maria Valley has to offer:

      1. Excellent quality wines
      2. Beautiful scenery wine country
      3. Their proprietary BBQ style and superb restaurant selections
      4. Wide variety of accommodations
      5. Hospitality wherever you go


Grgich Hills Estate Winery Story

Enjoying Wente Vineyards wines

Courtesy of Wente Vineyards
Courtesy of Wente Vineyards

Wente Vineyards has a couple of firsts over its shoulders; the first winery established in Livermore Valley in 1883, by Carl H. Wente and first winery to bottle a varietally-labeled Chardonnay. Mr. James Concannon also founded Concannon Vineyard in Livermore in 1883. Currently, the Wente family keeps its tradition of wine-growing and winemaking celebrating its 5th generation in the wine industry. “Wente Vineyards is the oldest, continuously operated, family-owned winery in America”. The family continues to work hard and maintains its legacy as a leader in the wine industry including its excellence in hospitality wine experiences.

Other than Chardonnay, Wente produces Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, sparkling, rose and Cabernet Sauvignon; among others. Recently we were able to taste several current vintages of various Wente Vineyards wines.
  • 2013 Louis Mel Sauvignon Blanc: This refreshing stainless steel fermented and aged 100% Sauvignon Blanc, shows tropical fruit aromas, passion fruit and guava. On the palate, this wine feels fresh with pleasant acidity and flavors of pineapple and lemon grass. An excellent wine to enjoy with shellfish, white fish, crustaceans, and your favorite salad. Suggested retail price, $15.
  • 2014 Morning Fog Chardonnay: (98% Chardonnay, 2% Gewürztraminer) This Chardonnay was Fermented in 25% new French oak barrels, 25% used American oak barrels and 50% in stainless steel tanks. Complex well structured Chardonnay that offers aromas of apple caramel, fresh baked brioche, pear, vanilla and notes of oak. On the palate, this Chardonnay feels slightly creamy with flavors of ripe apple, caramel, pineapple and hints of baking spices. This Chardonnay will be an amazing companion for chicken on a mushroom sauce, pork loin with roasted vegetables and popcorn. Suggested retail price, $15.
  • 2012 Riva Ranch Single Vineyard Pinot Noir: The fruit for this wine comes from a Wente family vineyard in Arroyo Seco, Monterey. The vines benefit from gravelly-loam soils, abundant in shale and limestone; responsible for the earthy and mineral notes on the wine. This Pinot Noir offers powerful aromas of strawberry, raspberry and bing cherry with a trace of earth and oak. On the palate, this wine gives you pleasant acidity and silky texture from the gentle tannins, with flavors of ripe cherry pomegranate, vanilla, and toast. An excellent wine to have with your favorite pork dish roasted chicken or turkey and fresh pasta with a meat sauce. Suggested retail price, $30.
  • 2013 Charles Wetmore Cabernet Sauvignon: (77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petite Sirah, 7% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot) This Cabernet blend exhibits aromas of violet, red currants and a touch of leather and cocoa bean. Pleasing palate of ripe plum, figs and ripe cherry and a hint of brown spices. Vigorous tannins up front, finishing smooth and fruit forward. Enjoy a glass of this wine with your favorite cut of red meat, roasted duck or a dark/salty piece of chocolate. Suggested retail price, $30.

Wente Vineyards offers high-quality wines made with the combined experience of five generations of winemaking traditions. An exceptional quality/price ratio on these well-crafted wines.

Wine tasting with Pepe Galante

Señor Pepe Galante
Señor Pepe Galante, Courtesy of Bodegas Salentein

A fun learning experience, to share some wonderful wines and delightful food with Señor Pepe Galante from Bodegas Salentein. A privilege to have such an intimate experience with a humble man that is considered the father of winemaking in Argentina. We had the opportunity to chat over dinner with Pepe and Matías Bauza, Senior Brand & PR Manager for Bodegas Salentein. We met at Torc Restaurant in downtown Napa after their three-day visit to San Francisco and Napa.

Pepe is celebrating his fortieth year making wine in Argentina. Before joining Bodegas Salentein as Leading Winemaker in 2010, Galante was in charge of winemaking for Catena Zapata Group for over 30 years while working close with various international wine consultants. Pepe’s wine origins have roots in Mendoza “Both my father and grandfather grew grapes and made wine. I remember sharing conversations and sipping wine with both of them and enjoying my grandma’s cooking over Sunday dinner from early age.”

Pepe educated us about the origins of winemaking in Argentina. The first widely grown grapes were the “Uva Criolla”, Mission Grape and Italian Varietals. Later on The Malbec grape from France came trough Chile, becoming the iconic grape from Argentina. Pepe shared with us, “I made my first wine at 24 years old, I attended the Enology School at the Universidad Juan Agustin Maza (UJAM). Here I had the fortune to meet a great professor, Francisco Oreglia.”

Professor Oreglia was a great mentor for Pepe and many others in Argentina wine country. Oreglia is the author of the first books to focus specifically on winemaking in Argentina. Pepe said: “Professor Francisco Oreglia was the inspiration for many young winemakers in Argentina. He produced the first manual of Argentinian enology in the 1970s and is still in use today. “Pepe considers him an innovator that introduced the new techniques in wine making to Argentina.

“Before the 1990s, no one in Argentina was investing in new oak barrels, wineries kept using 40 years old barrels over and over, resulting in poor quality wines with limited longevity and maderized and oxidized flavors. 90% of the wines In Argentina were consumed locally with no much interest in exportation. In the early 1990s, the wine industry in Argentina adopted new grape growing and wine making techniques. Thanks to the new drip irrigation techniques from Israel now vines were growing in areas impossible before.” Pepe shared with us. After modernization, Argentinas wine industry caught the attention of European markets. French and Dutch companies took notice on the great potential for quality Argentinian wines and invested  in the rapidly growing wine industry.

Pepe Galante learned from the new studies on barrel aging that compared French vs. American oak and barrel charring techniques; conducted by pioneer  Robert Mondavi . “Today is hard to differentiate between quality American and French oak, French is rich in tannins and impart silky texture to the wine. American oak gives more of the light coconut, and caramel aromas and flavors, contrary to French oak you can cut the staves with the help of a mechanic saw .”

At Bodegas Salentein Pepe Galante keeps with his Philosophy, “You can make the wine on the vine, you can imagine the wine by tasting the grapes as you go. You need to allow the fruit to shine; the oak is a gentle compliment to the wine without overpowering the fruit. I like the Burgundian Cooperages and use the same barrel toast in my Malbec that is as delicate fruit as Pinot Noir.” Since Pepe allowed for a longer aging in the barrel, the toast can’t be too intense. He gets pleasant acidity, great structure, and complex character. “The micro-oxygenation gets the maximum fruit expression.”

Bodegas Salentein located in Valle del Uco, part of the world known Mendoza region. The Property consists of 5,000 acres with 1,700 acres planted to vines, divided into three different estates. The estates “fincas” range in elevations from 3,445 to 5,577 feet. These vineyards grow at a range of elevations among the highest in the world. They benefit from pristine water, snowcaps run-off, which translates to lower pH grapes, higher acidity, high pigment in the wine and longevity. The region’s thermal variation from day to night is 29 degrees F. The Estate encompassed five different microclimates that allow for the cultivation of Malbec, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.

While enjoying Pepe and Matías conversation we tried four Salentein wine selections with the exquisite dishes from Torc restaurant.

  • 2014 Killka Collection Torrontes: Intense floral aroma with Meyer lemon, ripe pear.  Pleasant acidity, and very refreshing palate of tangerine, pear and hints of minerality. Suggested retail price, $15.
  • 2012 Salentein Single Vineyard Plot No.2 Chardonnay: Well structured Chardonnay, it goes trough malolactic fermentation. Aromas of Brioche, Crème fraîche, green apples and citric. On the palate, it feels very creamy with flavors of ripe pear, caramel and lemon tart with hints of oak. Suggested retail price, $50.
  • 2013 Kilka Collection Malbec: Aromas of ripe dark berries, black cherries, and violets. On the palate, this wine feels balanced between fruit, wood, and acidity. Pleasant tannins with flavors of ripe plums, figs and dark blackberries and hints of cola. Easy to drink and food friendly Malbec. Suggested retail price, $15.
  • 2012 Salentein Single Vineyard Plot no.21 Malbec: Well crafted 100% Malbec with deep aromas of dark currants, blackberry, vanilla and hints of cedar and coffee bean. On the palate, it feels velvety and smooth with flavors of rich dark fruit, cinnamon and ripe figs with notes of dark chocolate and fresh ground black pepper. Delicious dark fruit flavor lingers on the finish. Suggested retail price, $55.

From Torc’s Chef, we started with Ed George’s tomato salad, burrata cheese, basil, melba toast, tomato vinaigrette. Peekytoe crab cocktail, horseradish pannacotta, spicy tomato syrup, Meyer lemon and Hudson Ranch fig salad, panache, osborne prolific, black mission, sylvetta, pecorino Toscano. The 2014 Kilka Torrontes paired well with the tomato burrata and fig salad. The 2012 Chardonnay was delicious with the crab cocktail.

We followed with wild herb ravioli, chanterelle mushroom, curry leaves, brown butter, pecorino Toscano, and house made strozzapreti, blue beauty tomato, piccolo fino basil, fresh summer truffle. We enjoyed these dishes equally great with the 2012 Chardonnay and the 2013 Kilka Collection Malbec.

For entree we savored, Alaskan halibut, saffron potato, doux des landes pepper, verbena, piperade sauce. Heritage porchetta, squash blossom, huitlacoche corn ragoût, pearl drop onion and Schmitz Ranch beef short rib, white grits, summer beans, fennel-tomato relish Silverado strawberries. The Halibut was the perfect dish for the 2012 Chardonnay while the porchetta and the short rib were delightful with the 2012 Salentein Malbec.

The wines of Salentein are imported to the U.S. by Palm Bay International, www.palmbay.com.

Chardonnay Day with Wente Vineyards

2013 Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay

National Chardonnay Day is May 21st. What a better way to celebrate the day than with a  bottle  of Wente Chardonnay, from  California’s First Family of Chardonnay.

This time we celebrated with a Chardonnay coming from the American Viticultural Area (AVA) petitioned by the Wente Family itself, the San Francisco Bay AVA. 

The AVA was created in 1999. It encompasses the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Contra Costa and Alameda, part as of San Benito and Santa Cruz counties and the San Francisco Bay and the City of San Francisco. Having the City of San Francisco as part of the AVA serves as a valuable marketing tool for wineries within the AVA helping gaining name recognition in other markets. However, not many wines use this appellation in their label.

The 2013 Morning Fog Estate Grown Chardonnay is named for the morning coastal fog pushed by Pacific wind streams into the San Francisco Bay and lured inland by Livermore’s unique East-West orientation. The daily fog moderates the climate to help produce excellent and balanced Chardonnay.

The wine was produced from various Wente clones; all vinified separately.  Fifty percent of Morning Fog was fermented in neutral oak barrels. The rest was fermented in Stainless Steel tanks. The barrel fermented portion was aged “sur-lie” for seven months, performing “bâtonnage” (French barrel stirring technique) every month. The Stainless Steel portion was half aged on lees for seven months and the other half racked clean to preserve the fruit character.

This elaborated process brings you a complex straw-color Chardonnay with apple, pineapple, oak and vanilla aromas that it is crisp and creamy on the palate. It has a smooth texture that reaches all your taste buds with a balanced acidity. An incredible wine for an even incredible estimated retail price of $15.

Celebrating Chardonnay Day 2015


Photo, Edgar Solis

Is there a more talk about white wine in America than Chardonnay?

Chardonnay is the number one selling varietal wine in the U.S. This wine gets controversial due to its many incarnations. Truly, Chardonnay can be anything, from a fruit forward stainless steel fermented wine to a more robust buttery and full of wood flavor oak fermented wine. Everyone has its favorite in the wide spectrum of styles of Chardonnay. Since the late 1990’s American winemakers moved to a more restrain oak regiment in the production of Chardonnay in United States.

Many winemakers want show the diverse aromas and fruit flavors on Chardonnay while introducing different levels of complexity by a balanced oak regiment. Oak tank fermenters and a combination of new and used oak barrels for aging versus 100% stainless steel fermentation and aging. Non-malolactic, partial malolactic or zero malolactic fermentation. It is all great in good USA, we do not follow rules in our winemaking process. Experimentation creates diversity that finally please many palates with their favorite Chardonnay.

New World Chardonnay is a wine that you will like to drink no more than five years from vintage. In honor of Chardonnay, we are sharing three wines from the 2011 vintage from different wine regions that are doing great.

  • 2011 Ceja Vineyards Napa Valley-Carneros Chardonnay: An Intense bouquet of green apple, fresh pears, vanilla and hints of citrus blossom. On the palate, you feel a creamy texture with pleasant acidity. Enjoy flavors of Granny Smith apples, ripe pears and pineapple; followed by caramel and hints of fresh mint. A delicious well balanced Chardonnay with complex aromas and flavors. Enjoy this wine with popcorn, pan seared halibut over creamy mash potatoes and pork chops with roasted apples. Current vintage price, $36.
  • 2011 La Rochelle, Dutton Ranch-Morelli Lane, Russian River, Sonoma County Chardonnay: Well structured white wine. Soft aromas of golden delicious apple, pineapple with hints of Meyer lemon and cinnamon stick. On the palate, this Chardonnay feels crisp with nice acidity and creme brûlée texture. Savor flavors or ripe pear, green apple, vanilla and a hint of creme fresh. A wine with lush aromas and flavors that will pair well with creamy cheeses, pasta with a creamy sauce and fried plantains and ground bison pie. Suggested retail price, $65.
  • 2011 Harry & David Vineyards Rogue Valley, Oregon Chardonnay: Gentle aromas of honeydew, green apple and notes of pineapple and vanilla. On the palate, this wine has a creamy texture with low acidity and flavors of ripe green apple, kiwi and hints of citrus and vanilla. Enjoy this wine with seafood, chicken pasta with white sauce and pork loin with mushroom sauce. Suggested retail price, $16.

9th Santa Lucia Highlands Gala tasting

 SLH2Photo by Edgar Solís

On May 16 Santa Lucia Highlands Artisans will be celebrating their 9th Gala tasting event at Mer Soleil Winery. Come and taste wines from forty premium wineries, they will be sharing heavenly Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah. For many of the boutique wineries participating, this is the only public tasting of the year. The event will take place in the scenic Mer Soleil Winery located on the eastern end of this coastal appellation of Monterey County.

In 1991, the Federal government designated the Santa Lucia Highlands (SHL) as an official American Viticultural Area (AVA). The grape growing history of this region goes back to the 1790s, with the arrival of the first Spanish missionaries. First commercial plantings started in 1973, with a second round of vineyard plantings in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, about fifty vineyard estates encompassed 6,100 acres of vines.

The vineyards of the SLH are planted on the terraces of the Santa Lucia mountain range, verging on the Salinas River Valley. The fog and breeze off nearby Monterey Bay channel southeast, between the Santa Lucia and Gabilan ranges, creating a unique cool climate. The high altitude vineyard sites take full advantage of the morning sunshine before the chilled, afternoon maritime winds slow down the sugar production on the grapes, allowing a prolong, even ripening. The growing season is long, starting with early bud break and lack of fall rains. The grapes developed fully, lush in phenolic compounds, ripeness and flavors.

SLH member wineries expected to pour at this year’s Gala include: August West, Belle Glos, Bernardus, Black Kite, Boekenoogen, Cattleya, Estancia, Hahn Family Wines, Hawks View, Hope & Grace, J. Lohr Highlands Bench, Joyce, Kori, Kosta Browne, La Rochelle, Loring, Mansfield – Dunne, Manzoni, McFarland, McIntyre, Mer Soleil, Miner, Miura, Mooney, Morgan, Novy, Paraiso, Pelerin, Pessagno, Pisoni/ Lucia, Poppy, Prim, Puma Road, Roar, Sarah’s Vineyard, Saxon Brown, Scheid, Siduri, Tantara, Testarossa, Tondre, Tudor, and Wrath.

Alongside quality wines, enjoy local gastronomy with sensual bites from various of the region’s best chefs. Including Dyon Foster from Hahn, Todd Fisher from Tarpy’s, Tim Wood from Carmel Valley Ranch, Cal Stamenov from Bernardus Lodge, James Waller from the Monterey Plaza Hotel, and many more. Bid on the big format wine bottle silent auction, benefiting Rancho Cielo Youth Campus. Harmonizing the event, live music from the Mario Flores Sontet.

A “VIP SLH Experience” ticket is available. The ticket includes two pre-Gala seminars: “Artisan Cheese Summit” a discussion and tasting with local cheese craftsmen, and “Beyond Pinot” seminar with SLH winemakers presenting interesting varietals other than Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. VIPs also get early admission to the main Gala tasting and auction. Get your tickets at Santa Lucia Highlands Gala.