California wine dreamin’ as autumn arrives

September 3, 2022

Happy Labor Day to all our hardworking winos. Although “the season” will continue a bit longer, for some reason there is a palpable sigh of relief about now, and most are showing a happier demeanor while awaiting the piping-out. Miss you, Sammy Ferro!

Although spring is my favorite season, when the weather holds up, September and October are very close runners-up. I had a request on Fort Ross Vineyard Chardonnay 2019. Selling for about $52, it rates 91 McD. I advise those who are getting those ads they would do better buying the $65 Mother of Pearl Chard 2018, 93 McD. Both are rich and buttery, but the color here tells the tale. Lovely dark golden-colored with pear, barrel-driven pie spice, candied lemon aromas, with hints of toast and vanilla on the rich, creamy palate. Aromas continue supported by seaside salinity and palate-balancing acidity cleaning up the finish. Lies stirring and bottling without filtering makes these appear a bit cloudy, but this process adds wonderful depth to the palate. Fort Ross Vineyards produces a wide range of Pinot Noirs. The Sea Slopes label 2019 is a fine value, 92 McD, under $35; it may need a few months in storage but is a lovely wine just starting to open. Ruby with garnet highlights, opens to raspberry, cherry and rose aromas. Bright acidity and firm tannic frame support more raspberry, some pomegranate, tea, and forest floor subnotes. I particularly enjoy the rose notes, which continued through a lovely, long, clean finish. Could rival quality Red Burgundy except for its slightly elevated tannin and the lack of brett (an “off” nose often referred to as barnyard – or worse). Brett is caused by stray yeast cells named Brettanomyces. The aromatics arise from: 4-Ethylphenol and 4-Ethylguaiacol, commonly shortened to 4-EP and 4-EG. Generally, 4-EP is responsible for scents ranging from Band-Aids to manure, while 4-EG produces the pleasing aromas of clove and spice. Those wishing more on the science may go here: After reading the entire paper of course.

Another Sonoma Coast producer is Charles Heintz Vineyard SENS3S. Heintz Vineyard has been producing top-quality groups of PNs and Chards for close to 100 years. Since I have been wining in print, I can’t recall them ever breaching 90 points on the downside, even in awful years. The winemaker here is Thomas Rivers Brown, a noted celebrity, and his production run speaks for itself. A great example is the 2020 10th Stop Chard. In a very difficult year, it showed up with 93 McD for $80. Ready to start drinking 2023. Most are fairly priced between $60 and $100. Don’t let the pricing chase you away.

How about Chenin Blanc, also called Pineau de la Loire and Pineau d'Anjou. Dry Creek Vineyard, Clarksburg was the first winery Barbara and I visited on our first Cali trip as a couple. The family owners took great pride in making a European-style Chenin and it paid off. Competitors were producing sweet Chenin; most of them gave up. Lack of sales, said they. Poorly made, too-sweet wine, says I. Anyhow, I strongly support Dry Creek Chenin Blanc, fermented in 100% stainless. Look for honeydew, watermelon and mango with jasmine and orange blossom nuance. On the palate, a complex palette of peach, lemon and cucumber with tea and white pepper hints, and minerally acidity; 89 McD under $15. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, take a look at Pine Ridge 75% Chenin Blanc-Viognier 2021, $13, 89 McD. Floral, white peach, pineapple aromas. Banana, pineapple on its palate with steely acidity support. It finishes cleanly with bitter lemon nuance. 

It's been four years since we visited Chenin Blancs. After sampling for the previous paragraph, I’ve decided to review an entire column’s worth of those available locally. I had forgotten how wonderful these can be. When well chosen, we have an added bonus of aging for 10-20 years, while still approachable in their youth.

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