Tag Archives: Central Coast

Smith & Hook red blend

AG Pick: Smith & Hook 2013 Proprietary Red Blend

It’s chilly, gray and drizzling where I am. It’s the kind of weather that makes me want to close my laptop, light a fire, and get cozy on the couch with a good book and glass of red wine.

The wine I’d want to be sipping is the Smith & Hook 2013 Proprietary Red Blend from California’s Central Coast. Rich with intense dark fruit and smoke notes, it’s the wine equivalent of a warm blanket on a cold winter day.

Smith & Hook Proprietary Red BlendThe wine is a blend of 47% Merlot, 35% Malbec, 10% Petite Sirah and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon from vineyards in Paso Robles, Arroyo Seco, San Antonio Valley and Santa Lucia Highlands. It was aged for 26 months in French oak, 60% of which was new.

2013 is the first vintage of the Proprietary Red Blend. Smith & Hook, part of Hahn Family Wines, also produces a Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Proprietary Red Blend opens with aromas of dark red berries, smoked meat and toasted oak. The taste is full, lush and layered with dark red cherry, blackberry, plum, vanilla, baking spice, tobacco and leather. It’s velvety smooth in the mouth with well-integrated tannins. The finish is long and satisfying with lingering berry pie.

The wine is a great pairing for hearty winter dishes. Enjoy the Smith & Hook Proprietary Red Blend with beef tenderloin or stew, a savory risotto or braised lamb shank.

A bottle of the Smith & Hook 2013 Proprietary Red Blend costs $25.

14.5% alcohol

Vinogram: Bottle Jack Winery

For more information on Bottle Jack Wines from Santa Cruz, California visit bottlejackwines.com.

Vinogram: Loma Prieta Winery

Loma Prieta Winery not only has gorgeous views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay, it is also the largest producer of Pinotage in North America.

For more information visit lomaprietawinery.com.

AG Pick: La Crema Monterey Pinot Gris

La Crema, the California winery that produces consistently good Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, has just released a new white wine: the La Crema 2012 Monterey Pinot Gris.

La Crema Pinot GrisWhat made La Crema interested in Pinot Gris after decades of focusing on two grapes? “We were intrigued with this varietal because it gave us the chance to create a white wine in a different style, yet with the nuance, delicacy and texture for which we’re known,” writes winemaker Elizabeth Grant-Douglas.

The grapes come from the cool coastal vineyards of Monterey in Central California, about 200 miles south of La Crema’s home in the Russian River Valley. The fruit was hand harvested during cool morning and evening hours and cold fermented in 100% stainless steel to preserve the fresh fruit character.

Delicate citrus and floral aromas introduce a palate of crisp fruit flavors. Pear, white peach, white grapefruit, lime zest and lemon mix with star fruit and a hint of white pepper. Good minerality and refreshing acidity add structure, and the finish is clean with lingering lemon peel.

The La Crema 2012 Monterey Pinot Gris costs approximately $20 a bottle.

13.5% alcohol by volume

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It’s Time for Wine: Chardonnays are Diverse and Affordable

By Monty and Sara Preiser

It has been fashionable in some circles for quite a while to opine that Chardonnays are boring, or simply don’t stack up to white French Burgundies (mostly made from Chard). In fact, an entire silly sub-culture grew up around the initials “ABC,” which, in the wine world fringes, meant, “Anything But Chardonnay.” Don’t believe it.

As proud Chardonnay lovers who taste hundreds each year, we can tell you that to lump all U.S. Chardonnays into one category is uninitiated at best, and foolish at worst. If any grape lends itself to multiple processes of production, and thus a myriad of taste profiles, it is Chardonnay.

Even a short list of some of the factors that influence a Chardonnay’s ultimate taste should well illustrate our point. Consider the soils in which the vines grow; how long the grapes were left on the vine, thus affecting ripeness and sugar levels; whether the wine was fermented in barrels or steel tanks; whether the wine was aged in barrels or tanks; if aged in barrel, for how long, and in what types (or combination of) barrels; whether the wine went through secondary fermentation (which would turn the malic acid properties into the smoother lactic acid); and whether it aged on “the lees” (dead yeast cells naturally occurring from fermentation) to facilitate creaminess.

With so many decisions facing the winemaker, Chardonnays can easily display every type of nose, body, palate, and finish one can imagine, and these sensory aspects can be interchanged into enough variations that it would take months to experience them all. Therefore, there is a Chardonnay for everyone, and anyone who searches out what is available can really never become bored with this grape, because it is almost never the same. Add to that our belief that one should have a goal for a wine (pairing crisper unoaked Chards with shellfish and light sauces, perhaps, or maybe oaked Chards with fowl and heavier sauces), and there is enough about this varietal to make it exciting and challenging.

Clearly the pendulum as to what people prefer is in constant motion. One might drink gin for years, tire of it, go to scotch, and then return to gin. We personally enjoyed Zinfandels for a long time, moved to big Bordeaux style Reds for a while, but are returning to Zins (which are, not inconsequently, achieving their best balance and profiles in many a year). So it is not surprising that for many consumers Chardonnay would be caught up in the same type cycle.

Over a long span of years, the majority of the American public clearly preferred highly oaked Chardonnay that had been put through malolactic (secondary, and often abbreviated to m/l) fermentation which brought on the illusion of butter in the mouth. About a decade ago, however, marketers and some producers started trumpeting the virtues of “clean,” “minerally,” wine, and thus that pendulum’s arc went far afield and overly austere (and less expensive) Chardonnays were in vogue – no oak, no m/l etc. Just the steel fermented grapes showing their origin.

There certainly is nothing wrong with the concept of “unaoaked” and “non m/l” Chardonnay. We like many of them. However (and here is the most important thought of the day), as with everything else a Chardonnay needs to have balance. Whether it be political orientation, religion, or winemaking, balance is most often the key. As that relates to Chardonnay, winemakers worldwide are now concentrating on how to best combine all the tools available to make a wine that will please the palate of the consumer when sipped alone or savored with food. Now we commonly see Chards aged in new barrels and old barrels, or in both barrels and stainless steel. We find Chards where malolactic fermentation has been artificially stopped after a certain percentage of completion to tone down the butter. And in greater numbers all the time, grapes are being harvested earlier to allow for a final product with less alcohol. All of this is fine – it permits the consumer scores and scores of choices, but also tons of fodder for confusion.

Today we feature 11 Chardonnays that are not only excellent in their own right, but can usually be purchased for the surprisingly low price of $32 and under. Those not aged in oak are often a bit less expensive for the obvious reason that there were no barrels used. So if that is your style of Chard, it is your day when you find some good ones. Yet, it would be difficult to drink only unoaked Chardonnays. They might pair better than oaked (of varying degrees) wines with some dishes, but a big Chardonnay with great balance of oak, acid, and ripeness, can well accompany a great many proteins, including meats so traditionally thought of as red wine dishes.


  • 2010 Benziger Signaterra “West Rows” ($32): The winery’s best selling wine – it is full bodied due to oak aging, and has crispy minerality and stone fruit notes due to lower alcohol levels than most at pick time. Complex and fresh – a hard duo to get right – but here it is.
  • 2011 Peju Estate ($28): Though favorite descriptives for stainless steel Chards, vibrant and bright can also refer to a well made barrel fermented wine. Witness this one, which sat on the lees for six months and aged completely in 25% new French oak. A big wine full of spices.
  • 2010 Raymond Reserve ($20): Amazingly long finish and big body for a wine of this modest price. There are flavors of peaches with a hint of nuts (perhaps hazel) that follow a particularly elegant nose of jasmine. The wine is aged in 100% French oak for two months.
  • 2010 Rombauer Carneros ($32): No Chardonnay is better known than this mega award winning beauty. It is unapologetically creamy, smooth, melon and citrus influenced, and possessive of a huge body. Oak aging and m/l provide color and lots of buttery components.
  • 2009 Russian Hill Gail Ann’s Vineyard ($32): Melons are all over the nose of this rich, layered wine where half was aged in oak (giving it color, depth, and body), and half in stainless steel (providing liveliness and minerality). The balance allows many pairing opportunities.
  • 2009 Simi Russian River Reserve ($28): Wonderful balance – 100% Chard aged for 14 months in French oak (50% new and 50% 1 year old) with outstanding fruit throughout. You will get hints of citrus, nuts, and even a little pineapple. The first whiff is honey-like, which foretells the wine’s luscious body.


  • 2011 Chamisal Stainless ($18): Fermented in stainless steel and seeing no oak whatsoever, it is made from fruit grown in a number of Central Coast regions, and thus is very diverse in flavors. Enjoy apples and pears seemingly washed by fresh stream water. An amazing buy.
  • 2011 Foley Estate Steel ($30): A terrific wine that was aged in stainless steel tanks for ten months, and went through no m/l. Its freshness is apparent from the lemon-lime nose, its crispness is obvious, and the minerality on the finish reminds us of fresh well water.
  • 2010 Hess Collection Napa Valley ($22): Made from 100% Chardonnay, this lovely wine is smooth with a nose of honeysuckle and pear, a mid-palate of Granny Smith apples, and a finish of apricot. Only about a fifth of the wine is aged in new French oak barrels.
  • 2010 Marimar Estate Acero ($29): If you know Spanish, you know this wine has not seen oak. “Acero” means “steel.” We get pears on the nose, and perhaps because the wine went through m/l, some creamy banana and vanilla in the otherwise crisp, minerally middle.
  • 2011 Mer Soleil Silver ($24): Fermented in stainless steel and cement tanks (the latter being in vogue), and there was no m/l. Scents of a rocky river bed first hit the nose, followed by hints of bananas and grapefruit. The winemaker recommends consuming chilled.

This article appeared in the September issue of Coastal Carolina Life. To view the article in the magazine, which also includes pictures of the bottles mentioned, visit www.coastalcarolinalife.com.


It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that is featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.

Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for Sallys-Place.com.  Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley, the most comprehensive guide to wineries and restaurants in the Napa Valley, published every March, July, and November. In fall 2011 the Preisers released the first issue of The Preiser Key to Sonoma. Click here to read more columns by the Preisers.

AG Pick: Aqua Pumpkin Pinot Noir 2009

Pumpkin season is officially underway. And with all the spiced lattes, beers and beyond, your favorite pumpkin-inspired treat could very well be a wine: the 2009 Aqua Pumpkin Pinot Noir.

Before you start imagining just how well pumpkin goes with red wine, you should know that there is no pumpkin (or pumpkin flavor) in Aqua Pumpkin. The name of this Kenneth Volk wine comes from crayons. During the 1986 crush a sleep-deprived employee woke up from a nap in the break room and saw two crayons – aqua and pumpkin – next to each other. He thought the two were an amusing combination for a wine label.

The Aqua Pumpkin Pinot Noir comes from Santa Barbara County in California’s Central Coast. It is a medium to full-bodied Pinot Noir that will please fans of spicy wines like Malbec, Syrah and Zinfandel.

Ripe berry aromas and a hint of freshly ground black pepper introduce flavors of cherry, boysenberry, raspberry and plum. The fruit is enhanced with subtle layers of cinnamon and clove. Silky tannins give the wine a pleasant mouthfeel, and the finish is long and satisfying.

Pair this Pinot Noir with game birds, chicken, turkey, veal, pork or dishes with mushrooms.

A sure crowd-pleaser and a great value, Aqua Pumpkin should be on your dinner table this fall.

A bottle of the 2009 Aqua Pumpkin Pinot Noir costs approximately $22.

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AG Pick: Zocker Gruner Veltliner 2011

Grüner Veltliner is the kind of wine you crave on a hot day. It’s an ideal summer white, going well with a variety of foods including seafood, sandwiches and salads, hard to pair vegetables like artichokes and asparagus, or Asian or spicy cuisine. You can enjoy it with a backyard barbecue or simply on its own while relaxing on the patio.

One Grüner Veltliner to search out this summer is the Zocker Grüner Veltliner 2011.

It is rare to find Grüner Veltliner grown outside of Austria – a reason why the Zocker Grüner Veltliner is special. But what makes this California wine outstanding is its taste.

Zocker grows Grüner Veltliner and Riesling in the Edna Valley, located in California’s Central Coast AVA. The terroir of the Niven family’s Paragon Vineyard is similar to northern Austria and perfectly suited for the high acidity grapes.

With a name that means “gambler” in German, Zocker took a bit of a risk growing a variety that is uncommon in the United States. But it is clear that their gamble paid off.

Veteran French winemaker Christian Roguenant has produced a wine that is the ultimate expression of Grüner Veltliner. Fruit, mineral and spice blend together harmoniously for a crisp and elegant sip.

Enticing aromas of citrus and melon lure you in. Meyer lemon, honeydew and white peach flavors are enhanced with a touch of white pepper and crushed shell minerality.

The Zocker Grüner Veltliner has a lovely roundness to its taste and texture, with a pleasant, slightly oily feel that coats the mouth. Racy acidity tickles the tongue, and the finish is clean and satisfying.

A bottle of the Zocker Grüner Veltliner 2011 costs approximately $20.

13.5% alcohol by volume

In Georgia Zocker is distributed by Prime Wine & Spirits. Visit their website to find restaurants and retailers where Zocker is available.

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AG Pick: Mandolin Syrah 2009

Easy to drink and easy on the wallet, the 2009 Mandolin Syrah is the kind of wine you can enjoy any day of the week.

This wine comes from the Monterey region in California’s Central Coast, an AVA that is influenced by its proximity to the ocean. Vineyards in this part of the Central Coast are exposed to cooler temperatures, high winds and fog, which combine for a longer growing season and slower ripening of the grapes.

The 2009 Syrah was made from 100% Syrah grapes. After fermentation in stainless steel the wine was aged for 14 months in 20% new French oak barrels.

Deep purple red in color, the Mandolin Syrah has aromas of black fruit and spice. It is medium plus in body, with flavors of blackberry, plum and blueberry that mingle with black pepper, nutmeg and vanilla. Good acidity and soft tannins combine for a supple mouthfeel.  The finish is clean and smooth.

This Syrah makes a nice pairing with grilled chicken, burgers, stews and hearty pasta dishes.

A bottle of the 2009 Mandolin Syrah costs $10.

alcohol 14.5% by volume

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