You know how I am always exhorting you to get over to a well-organized and diverse wine-tasting to further the education of your palate, to break out of the rut of always having a Kendall-Jackson chardonnay — simply, to try something new?
Well, we just came from such an event. Forty-two wineries, 60 grape varieties and more than 200 wines. And not a one of them cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot, syrah or zinfandel (white or otherwise).
Nope, the stars of the 7% solution (referring to the fact that the above listed varieties, along with sauvignon blanc and petite sirah, account for 93% of all planted wine grapes) were tasty offerings of chenin blanc, aglianico, viognier, vermentino and ribolla gialla, among many others.
Also, understand that what the wineries poured were not necessarily what they are known for. They could only pour varieties that came from the 7% — no pinot noir or syrah.
And the kings and queens of the wineries were: Arnot-Roberts, Villa Creek Cellars, L.A. Lepiane Wines, Leo Steen Wines and Thacher Winery. Not exactly names that come immediately to mind when you begin listing top wineries.
But don’t dismiss them too quickly simply because their marketing budget falls below $1 million. Knowledgeable folks have selected some of these to highlight.
For instance, Michelin recently announced its 2019 list of California restaurants with ratings ranging from The Plate — something like a Special Mention — to Three Stars — a stratospheric status reserved for the very finest dining establishments in the world. Out of the thousands of California restaurants, only seven got the elite Three Stars.
Arnot-Roberts has 17 bottles at The French Laundry, 16 at Single Thread, 11 at Quince, five at Manresa and one at Meadowood, hitting five of the seven.
We really enjoyed the whites from Arnot-Roberts, particularly the 2018 falanghina. It was outstanding, with an enchanting nose and salt and shale on the palate. Well-balanced with a tempting acidic finish — excellent with shellfish. And who’s heard of falanghina?
Always a highlight at a wine-tasting is meeting the winemaker. Alison Thomson, a graduate of such prestigious establishments as Sine Qua Non and Samsara, is delightful. Her winery, L.A. Lepiane, named after her great-grandfather, poured mainly Italian varieties, barbera and nebbiolo. Our favorite reds at the event included the 2016 La Gaviota, a blend of barbera and nebbiolo. Quite drinkable now, you get the freshness and deep berry of the barbera joining the meatiness of the nebbiolo.
Posted adjacent to Thomson was the dane, Leo Steen, with his eponymous winery. Chenin blanc too often is nondescript, something with alcohol in it to drink. But Steen nailed it, pouring two amazing examples. The Steen, a 2016 wine from Santa Ynez, is potent, featuring slate and citrus with a great balance. We also enjoyed the 2018 peaberry from Mendocino, very refreshing with slate and grass tastes.
Thacher Winery offered the finest rosé, 2018 cinsault rosé, tart and tasty, with much more body and flavor than most rosés. Sherman Thacher also provided tastings of his 2017 viognier, with good fruit on the nose and a fine, long finish.
We sampled three delicious whites from Villa Creek and its partner winery, MAHA Estate. The 2016 MAHA bone white — a blend of clairette and fiano — offered an intoxicating tropical bouquet with tastes of stone fruit and steel. It’s odd to say that a wine tastes like steel, but sometimes that is the closest descriptor available because it is so dry, rocky and literal that it reminds me of steel. Whatever. It’s great wine.
My conclusion: those 7% can certainly stand on their own against the big boys in the wine world.
Carl Kanowsky is an attorney, a fledgling baker, an enthusiastic cook and an expert wine drinker.