Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wine Tasting On A Foggy Summer Day at Chateau Julien Wine Estate and Talbott Vineyards in Carmel Valley

Monterey is about 2 hours south of where I live, a straight drive down Highway 101 and then a cut over to the coast on Highway 156 to the Pacific Coast Highway 1. As I approached the bay a thick marine layer of fog loomed in. Then as I drove east on Carmel Valley Road the sun peered through revealing wineries, golf courses and a winding road out to the Carmel Valley Village, the home of many wine tasting rooms and fine restaurants.

The town of Monterey was first established in 1770 by Father Junípero Serra and Gaspar de Portolà (governor of Baja and Alta California (1767–1770), explorer and founder of San Diego and Monterey. About 200 Years Ago Franciscan friars, in the Spanish mission of Soledad California, planted the first crop of wine grapes over two hundred years ago. But then the area died out and was revived in the 1960's.

In 1960 Professor A.J. Winkler, a viticultural authority from the University of California at Davis, published a report classifying grape growing districts by climate. So, in the early 1960's, the first plantings of vineyards began by such wine making pioneers as Wente, Mirassou, Paul Masson, J. Lohr and Chalone. Since then Monterey Wine Country has grown to more than 45,000 acres planted in vineyards varying in size from sixty to several thousands acres, making it one of the largest premium wine grape growing regions in California.

The area has superb soils and an ideal combination of warm sunshine and cool ocean breezes which allows for slow ripening of up to 60 days longer than other wine growing regions. It is particularly well suited for Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot Noir and other varietals that are grown here as well such as Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah.

The Monterey Wine Country includes nine American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) that are identified as unique, having unique characteristics that are particularly well suited for specific varieties of grapes. These AVAs include Monterey, Santa Lucia Highlands, Arroyo Seco, San Lucas, Hames Valley, Chalone, Carmel Valley, San Antonio Valley and San Bernabe.

If you are exploring the wine countries of the California coastline, Monterey is definitely a “must see” and “must taste” for wine lovers and I especially recommend Talbott Vineyards.

Chateau Julien Wine Estate

My first stop on Carmel Valley Road Chateau Julien Wine Estate which was founded in 1982 by Bob and Patty Brower and it sits on 16 acres at the foot of the Carmel Valley Mountains. The winery's first release was the 1982 vintage Chardonnay and Merlot in 1985. Currently, this is the only winery in Carmel Valley that is surrounded by vineyards as most of the tasting rooms reside in the village and their wineries and vineyards reside elsewhere. Across from the Chateau, surrounded by six acres of Sangiovese grapes, is the “Chai” barrel room which is built into the ground. Like a wine cave, with 12"-15" thick walls, it has a naturally cool temperature and humidity perfect for aging wines.

My first tasting of the day was the 2008 Barrel Aged Pinot Grigio (86.3% Pinot Grigio, 13.7% Muscat). This wine is fruit forward and has a somewhat floral bouquet along with plenty of tropical fruit character such as pineapple, citrus, apple, melon and a hint of oak.
It is medium bodied with a nice sugar to acid balance which accentuates the full forward fruit and mildly creamy texture through the finish. It retails at $25 a bottle.

My second wine was the 2008 Sur Lie Chardonnay which is made in the traditional French “Sur Lie” style which means it stays in contact with the inactive yeast cells throughout 100% barrel fermentation and aging. The result is a rich, creamy Chardonnay with a round, full texture and yet it also maintains nice acidity. On the nose and palate I picked up pear, butterscotch and apple with a little butter on the back end. It is well balanced with a velvety mouth-feel and crisp acidity. While I enjoyed the wine, at $32 it is a little steep and isn’t too hard to find this style of California Chardonnay for under $20 at your local grocery store.

My first red wine of the day was the 2004 Estate Syrah ($28). The grapes are grown on their Estate Vineyard in South Monterey County's Lockwood Valley on the western Santa Lucia Mountain Range which the vineyard sits at a 980 foot elevation about 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean. This is a full-bodied wine with moderate tannins. On the nose and palate I picked up blackberries, pepper plumbs with a bit of oak and vanilla. Over the past few weeks in Amador and Paso Robles I have tasted a number of Syrahs which I preferred over this one at around the same price of $28.

My final wine in the line up was the 1999 Reserve Merlot. The wine is beginning to show its age as it has a slight brick-red tint to it. It is a full bodied wine with moderate tannins with subtle notes of cola, black cherry, cedar with a smooth and short finish. At $42 a bottle I would have to say “pass.”

Talbott Vineyards

Very rarely do I visit a winery at which I am impressed with every wine. When I visit a winery I might like one or two in a line up of six or so wines. So when I find a tasting room in which I love every wine – it makes the entire trip worthwhile and I just have to tell all my friends about it. Talbott Vineyards is one of the wineries, especially if you are a Chardonnay or Pinot Noir fan! All of their wines absolutely blew my mind!

My first wine was the 2005 Diamond T Chardonnay. This wine is HUGE! Luscious pineapples, sweet honey, refreshing pears, intense peaches, fresh apricots and nectarines, well crisp acidity followed by a prolonged toasted oak finish. Unfortunately, it is a little out of my price range at $63 a bottle. But, it is without a doubt one of the best Chards I have had in the last 10 years!

Just when I think I’ve had the best Chardonnay in my entire life, they pour me the 2005 Cuvee Audrey Chardonnay. This wine is absolutely hedonistic! It is so big that I can’t imagine any light dishes, such as fish or poultry, being able to pair well with it. Yet, it such an absolutely delicious and complex wine that I it works well by itself as a cocktail. It provides a mouth full caramel, pineapple, guava, crème brûlée, dried peaches, honey, French vanilla, cinnamon, honey, buttered toast and just a hint toasted oak on the finish. This is another budget buster at $75 a bottle.

The third mind-blowing wine from Talbott was the 2005 Cuvee Carlotta Chardonnay. It is both elegant and opulent with a mouth full of intense pineapple, apricot , ripe peaches, butterscotch, hazelnut, cinnamon toast, vanilla cream and cotton candy. It is well balanced, has refreshing acidity with a clean lingering finish. This gem sells for $63 a bottle.

Having been overwhelmed with the high quality of their Chardonnays, as my server changed glasses I was eager to taste the line up of pinot Noirs. This is THE first winery that I have ever been to that actually serves Pinot Noir in an appropriate glass!

Good Pinot Noir absolutely must be served in properly designed glasses if it is to adequately show off its best attributes. I have on many occasions been disappointed by what were probably good Pinots but were not as impressive as they should have been simply because they were not displayed well in an aromatically correct stemware.

My first red wine from Talbott Vineyards was the 2007 Kali Hart Pinot Noir. It is the lightest wine in the line. On the nose and palate I picked up a hint of sarsaparilla, red berries, sweet bing cherry flavors, tart plums, a hint of cinnamon followed with a silky texture and finish. For only $21 this is a very impressive wine.

My next wine was 2005 Logan Pinot noir. Harvested from the Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, this is a medium bodied wine with very soft, velvety tannins and yet it has a bounty of cherry and black berry, plum, root beer, with a whiff of smoke, cinnamon, vanilla and touch of pepper. This is a well pleasing Pinot for $30.

My final red wine was the 2006 Talbot Pinot Noir. This is one of the best California Pinot Noirs I have tasted in the last ten years. It is a rich ruby in color with seductive aromas of fresh cherry, plum, blueberry, root beer, with a slight mushroomy character followed by notes sweet oak and cinnamon. On the palate, velvety smooth Pinot has amazing fruit vibrancy with layers of potpourri, cola, cinnamon and just a hint of freshly cracked pepper. It ahs a prolonged finish with lively acidity and moral floral and fruit notes on the return. This wine retails for $40, and I took two home to add to my cellar!

If you love Pinot Noir like I do and you are in the area, YOU MUST visit the Talbott Vineyards tasting room – and tell them Erik Wait sent you!

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