Those of us who live in the Bay Area lead a charmed life. Good weather, plenty to do, great food—and for the oenophile—great wine. We live within shouting distance to one of the best wine regions in the world: Napa Valley. While I love a good Howell Mountain Cab as much as the next person, there is a region that I prefer to Napa that’s even closer. To me, some of the best wines are made with grapes grown in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I’m not just talking about Ridge’s Montebello either. There are plenty of lesser known wineries making awesome wines that are often more affordable than their Napa counterparts. Here are a few favorites that I recently tasted.
Located in the heart of Santa Cruz, Storrs Winery has been producing top quality wines for years. The owners (Stephen and Pamela Storrs) are both UC Davis trained. The 2012 Storrs Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay ($19.99) is a fantastic offering. I’m not a huge fan of the really oaky/buttery Chardonnays that you see from Napa and Sonoma, so this wine was a very pleasant surprise. It had a fresh nose with hints of minerals, pineapple, and a lovely smokiness that glued everything together. The minerality carried through on the palate along with fresh cut citrus, which was punctuated with some nice acidity. This wine had a crisp and clean finish that lasted a long time. It’s a perfect wine for backyard grilling on a warm evening. Try this with your favorite grilled fish.
Sometimes there are people who you just root for to succeed. Waxwing Wine Cellars owner/winemaker Scott Sisemore is just such a person. In 2006 he left his commercial winemaking job to stay at home with his newborn son. But the wine bug was just too deeply imbedded, and he started his own winery that he uses to focus on lovingly crafted, ultra small lot wines. The 2012 Waxwing Lester Family Vineyard Pinot Noir ($35.99) is a perfect example of what a great winemaker can do with great grapes. The nose had an amazing contrast of dried black fruit, clove spice, juniper, and gaminess that intrigued my brain as well as my senses. This wine had a bright acidity and a long finish. The clove spice carried through onto the palate and was complimented with notes of black licorice and dried blueberry. This Pinot would be amazing with a nice pork loin infused with spices.
I have to admit that I’m a sucker for Syrah. I’m always looking for the next new and exciting offering. So I was pleasantly surprised when I tried the 2010 Martin Ranch Therese Vineyards Lester Family Vineyard Syrah ($26.99 - available in-store only). The winemakers are husband/wife team Dan and Therese Martin. In 1993 they decided to fulfill their dream of making wine and realized that their 17 acre property was the ideal microclimate to do so. After developing the site for years they’ve grown into a moderate-sized winery. In my opinion this Syrah is their best of a remarkably strong field. It’s a throwback to the wonderful Syrahs of the Northern Rhone Valley. The nose was a highlight reel of pepper, savory spice, minerality and meatiness. Notes of rich black fruit, pepper, and fresh cherries compliment silky tannin. There was a nice touch of acid that carried through a finish that lasted for hours. Did someone say rack of lamb?
Let’s be honest, the movie “Sideways” has had way too much influence on our perception of Merlot. It didn’t help that the film came out at a time when the quality of California Merlot was not up to normal standards. Things are slowly changing and this next wine is a prime example of that. The 2009 Rexford Santa Cruz Mountains Merlot ($23.99) is exactly what Merlot is supposed to taste like. Joe and Sam Miller are the father/son winemaking team who have crafted amazing wines for quite some time. This Merlot had a dusty nose that was highlighted by notes of mocha, leather, and forest floor. The tannins are beginning to soften and are complimented by a touch of acidity. This wine is fresh with hints of tobacco and a nice finish. If you’re looking to try Merlot again I highly recommend this one.
Finally, what blog post on the Santa Cruz Mountains would be complete without a mention of the undisputed king: Ridge? I make it no secret of my appreciation and respect for what the winemaking team is doing up there on Montebello Road. When I got to try the Spring releases last March I was practically giddy. And once again the best winery in California exceeded expectations. The 2011 Ridge Montebello Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($44.99) is a knock-out of a wine. You would think that with a vintage as challenging as 2011 that the quality of the wines would slip a little. Well, you would be wrong then. This wine is a blend of 82% Cab, 14% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Franc. The nose was delicate with notes of black plum and leather. But the flavors on the palate were anything but shy. Notes of cassis and forest floor were the stars of this wine. The finish was smooth and dry and lingered for days. I can’t wait to dig in to a nice steak with a glass of this Cab.
Those of us who live on the Peninsula need not spend hours fighting traffic to taste fantastic wines. The wineries of the Santa Cruz Mountains offer some of the best wines made in California. Why shell out hundreds of dollars for a weekend getaway when you can drive along the mountain roads and taste wine that‘s often better at far lower prices. I invite you to come into Beltramo’s, and we’ll be happy to show you these wines and others right from our own backyard. Happy Times and Happy Drinking! Cheers!
Rob R., Beltramo’s Wine Consultant