"California Vintners show their best in L.A. tastings"
by The Editor's Vineyard

Opportunities to taste some of California's best vintages from two of the state's premium appellations took place recently in the Southland.

At Spago in Beverly Hills Napa's smallest appellation in size, but one large in stature, Stags Leap, produced a memorable tasting of some outstanding cabernet sauvignons.

Stags Leap is unique in several ways. It lies along the Silverado Trail in the Napa Valley and is three miles by one mile in total area. Its fame comes from one varietal, Cabernet Sauvignon. Also the thirteen wineries that make up the appellation enjoy a very close bond with their Stags Leap District Winegrowers Association.

So much so that they offer a unique 2001 Appellation Collection to the public which includes one bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from each of the 13 member wineries. The offering is limited to 300 cases. Interested consumers should contact Executive Director Nancy Bialek at 707 255-1720 for further details on prices and shipping. On the web at www.stagsleapdistrict.com.

But about the wines. At Spago we tasted most of the vintages offered and our first impression was that our palate would be spoiled for sometime after. Stags Leap cabernet sauvignons offer a distinct velvet-like character and textured smoothness that lasts and lasts.

Every one we tasted, from the newest winery Baldacci Family Vineyards where the 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon is their first release, to Shafer Vineyards which is one of the oldest in the district with its 2000 Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon, were remarkable for the strength of the varietal in the bottle, with complex flavors but that distinct texture that seems a hallmark of the region.

Then we fortunate to attend the tasting and luncheon presented by the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association held at the new Disney Hall in downtown Los Angeles. This group composed of 72 growers and wineries that are located in the seven appellations of the County.

In those seven appellations certain varietals do stand out producing award winning wines on a regular basis. Our tasting notes show we particularly liked Ventana Vineyards Due Amici which is a blend of 50 per cent Sangiovese and 50 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon. Monterey rieslings have always been among our favorites for this varietal and again as we tasted Wente's Arroyo Seco 2002 bottling and Jekel Vineyards 2002 Riesling we remembered why.

Among the chardonnays we tasted, another varietal that shows its best in Monterey County, there was the 2002 J. Lohr Estates Riverstone Chardonnay and Pessagno Winery 2001 Sleepy Hollow Vineyard chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands.

Our only restraints on discussing the wines of both Stags Leap and Monterey county in more detail is lack of space.

Sutter Home Family Vineyards is showing a new label for its three blush and 13 varietal wines. The new label has two tiers with the lower label showing the Sutter Home Victorian, a landmark since the late 1800's. The White Zinfandel, an American favorite since Bob Trinchero released the first vintage in 1973 bears the title, "The Original White Zinfandel".

Sutter Home has added to its blush wines with a newly released 2003 White Cabernet Sauvignon. Graced with the same new label as the White Zinfandel and White Merlot, the new addition shows the characteristics for the blush wines, lower alcohol, lightness in flavors and texture and a hint of sweetness. All three of the blush wines sell for $4.99.

One does not see very many $10 pinot noirs in the marketplace. However Napa Ridge has a 2001 Central Coast Pinot Noir in that price category. Winemaker Bob Stashak has a winner here for the wine shows all the characteristics of this varietal, aroma and flavors of fruit and a long soft finish. A slightly lower alcohol content adds to the enjoyment of this vintage.

Also from Napa Ridge a 2002 Merlot. Besides the fruit flavors this vintage has that hint of vanilla which we associate with American oak aging. Also priced at $10.

Winemaker Dan Karlsen calls his 2002 Chalone Vineyard chardonnay one of the finest ever produced by Chalone. The Chalone vineyards are unique by geography being located in the Gavilan Mountains l,800 feet above the Salinas Valley. It is an unusual terroir with small grape yields but intense fruit. It certainly shows in this rich chardonnay which enjoyed 10 months on the lees in small French oak barrels. Priced at $25 for those who truly enjoy a premium vintage of this varietal.

The unique Chalone estate terrior works equally well for that other native of Burgundy, Pinot Noir. This 2002 Chalone Pinot Noir is a big wine, big in alcohol at 14.4 per cent but also in its immense flavors and an aroma that announces the fact. Delightful now but a wine that will continue to improve with a few years lying peacefully in some cellar. Also priced at $25.

Winemaker Bob Stashak's aim is to produce flavorful wines that go with a variety of foods and are priced for everyday use. Certainly he has met his goal with Coastal Ridge 2002 Chardonnay and 2001 Shiraz. Clean, soft and fruitful describes the Chardonnay bottling. The Shiraz offers the true varietal flavors of this wine which continues to capture favor with consumers. Both are priced at $7.

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Last Update:9/1/04

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