Red, White, & Rose: 12 Mendocino Wines that say Hooray to the USA!
The word “flight” took on a whole new meaning at the “Taste of Mendocino” event this weekend at Fort Mason’s Gallery 108, when two lucky winners, Randy Borcherding and Beverly Riehn, scored round trip tickets to any Surf Air destination, including Las Vegas, Santa Barbara and Palm Springs, courtesy of Surf Air. Surf Air, a private, membership airline based out of Burbank, flies to over a dozen destinations within California and Nevada, was a sponsor of the event.
Attendees Jim and Kristina Woodward were thrilled to have won the overnight package at the Little River Inn that includes a two-night stay in a Queen fireplace room overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Lucky them!
Everyone who attended the event came away a winner in some manner: tasters were discovering wonderful new wineries and buying their favorites on the spot to take home and enjoy. Representative from Winesong and Visit Mendocino were on hand to offer maps and advice on visiting this treasured county known for its wines, waves and festivals featuring mushrooms and crab. Kudos to Executive Director of the Mendocino Winegrowers Inc. (MWI), Bernadette Byrne, for a job well done!
Especially popular seemed to be the rafter of rosés (so many excellent ones to choose from!) and plethora of Pinots, along with the most excellent 2014 Symphony from Theopolis, made by winemaker Tom Rodrigues of Maple Hill, this longtime favorite varietal (not a blend) is a gush of summer stonefruit wrapped up in a floral bouquet.
Equally noteworthy was the 2015 Phillips Hill Gewurztraminer from Valley Foothills Vineyard, with quite a sturdy backbone of steely grapefruit and a texture that was somewhere between corduroy and gravel.
The most impressive overall lineups were those of Navarro, Panthea, Pennyroyal Wines, Phillips Hill, Tahto and Waits-Mast, with darn near every wine a solid performer. Extra points to Pennyroyal for having both excellent wine and cheeses under the same brand.
Newcomers deserving of attention included Murder Ridge, Tahto, Theopolis and Waits-Mast, although there were many more. Mendocino continues to expand its impressive wines, not to mention its bounty of restaurants and hospitality venues.
It was nice to see Chef Richard Whipple from Heritage House cooking up a wonderful mushroom pasta dish, accompanied by a great display of shrooms that made me want Pinot!) Stella Cadente was sampling their olive oils, while Gowan’s offered refreshing hard ciders. Mendocino Gold Honey, Thanksgiving Coffee, Starchild Chocolates and Bee Bold Mendocino, rounded out the food offerings.
THE RED: PINOT NOIR
2013 Phillips Hill Valenti Vineyard Pinot Noir – It was really tough to choose favorite Pinots from amongst such a talent-packed field, but for my number one pick, my mind kept going back to this highly taut, almost austere wine, that belies its rocky origin with every whiff and sip. Delightfully delicate yet intense flavors of orange peel, coriander and fennel makes this exotic and engaging.
2014 Waits-Mast Nash Mill Vineyard Pinot – Managed by Zac Robinson of Husch, this vineyard delivers beautiful Pinot fruit that lends itself to silky, baking spice-packed wines, overflowing with cinnamon and nutmeg, yet underpinned by redwood forest floor and hints of porcini from the Pommard clone. A brilliant, youthful, ambitious wine made by a delightful couple (Brian Mast and Jennifer Waits) who make their wine at Roar’s facility.
2012 Panthea Estate Pinot – Once the location of Raye’s Hill Vineyard, this Deep End vineyard in Anderson Valley produces wines of complexity and grace. Winemaker Kelly Boss has a masterful touch with every vineyard he sources from (he won Best of Show at the 2015 Mendocino Wine Competition with the 2012 Klindt Vineyard Pinot), and the estate is no different. This is a fun, yet intense amalgam of red raspberry, dark cherry, cocoa, mint, basil and wild thyme that constantly reveals another layer of complexity, elevated by wild yeast fermentation.
Fans of earthier, more elusive Pinots will dig the cedar-scented, strawberry-cranberry 2012 Filigreen Vineyard Pinot from Panthea, made from certified organic Pommard on 75-year old St. George rootstock.
2014 Phillips Hill “Boontling” Pinot – Winemaker Toby Hill’s wife, Natasha, calls this their “Villages” wine: meant as an eazy-breezy, light and lively Pinot to enjoy with friends, fun and food. I call it simply delicious for a hot summer night.
2014 Murder Ridge Perli Vineyard Pinot – Farmed by Steve Alden and made by winemaker and co-owner, Leslie Sisneros (formerly with KJ, Arista, Rodney Strong), this ruby red, cinnamon-scented marvel from an extremely remote (truly out in the middle of nowhere, says Leslie), is profoundly fleshy, like biting into ripe plums that still have plenty of acid-endowed perk. A raspberry mocha streak adds interest.
2013 Waits-Mast Mariah Vineyard Pinot Noir – If you are looking for something enormous, bold and impressive in a Pinot, look no further than this crazy-intense dark-hearted beast with a distinctive hit of white pepper from the Dooling’s 2400 ft Mariah vineyard. Clone 667 and Pommard on Syrah rootstock contribute to the wild berry cobbler, dark licorice and pumpernickel rye flavors of this massive, pleasingly earthy mountain-born wine, fittingly made with wild yeast.
THE WHITE: SAUVIGNON BLANC
2015 Tahto Sauvignon Blanc – Totally done in stainless from whole cluster fruit, this has a smoky-minerally edge that is reminiscent of Pouilly-Fumé. It would be the cat’s meow with Humboldt Fog goat cheese.
2014 Mariah Sauvignon Blanc – Winegrower Dan Dooling says he got the recipe for this estate-grown wine from a South African friend who told him to blend in 2% Semillon. It’s vibrant, citrusy and intense, with a body magnified by both the Semillon and 2% Musquée clone of SB. Dan’s wife, Vicki, makes the wine at their isolated vineyard home high atop windy Mendocino Ridge, where they have looked down on a fog-capped ocean since the mid 1970s.
2014 Pennyroyal Sauvignon Blanc – Made by winemaker Sarah Cahn Bennett (daughter of Ted Bennett and Debra Cahn of Navarro fame), her first release under this brand, this satiny Sauvy was aged sur lies for 8 months. Amply textured, it still flies under its own power with substantial gooseberry, lime and white fig flavors. The Pennyroyal wine and cheese tasting room is now open in Boonville.
2015 Handley Rosé of Pinot Noir – Lively, generous and flirty, this strawberry-rhubarb and lime-tinged pink-hued charmer is hard to pass up, and finishes wonderfully clean.
2015 Navarro Rosé of Pinot Noir – Oozing juicy fruitiness and ample color from several hours of skin contact, this skates over your palate like Apollo Ono on a Gold medal run.
2015 Lula Rosato of Pinot Noir – One of the deeper pigmented of the rose offerings, this is super-zippy and head-turning, with flavors of a cherry pie laced with just a hint of well-aged balsamic. Intriguingly forthright and anything but simple.
BY: LAURA NESS, WINE JUDGE & WINE WRITER
Laura Ness, aka “Her VineNess,” is an accomplished wine journalist and wine critic whose passion for wine was ignited by a visit to France, where she had the unmatched pleasure of tasting Sancerre in the medieval town of Sancerre – splendid!— and then a Saumur, after visiting the Chateau de Saumur in Chinon. The concept of terroir came alive in those incandescent moments. She regularly judges wine competitions and serves on the tasting panels of the Pinot, Cabernet and Chardonnay Shootouts. She was instrumental in helping define the unique sub-regions of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA in concert with Appellation America. You can usually find her sipping and smiling in Mendocino, Livermore, the Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Cruz Mountains and Paso Robles. Laura writes extensively for many industry and consumer publications, and has weekly wine columns in several Bay Area newspapers. She blogs, irreverently and sporadically, at myvinespace.com.