Tasting wine. It is important to do. Last weekend, I ventured south to taste wines in Sonoma County with a friend from the Sonoma Valley. I tasted more Cabernet Sauvignon wines than I do in a month of tasting in Mendocino County, which, if only for the novelty was a treat. I also reconfirmed that, by and large, the wines grown, made, poured in Mendocino County are just as good as I find anywhere else. It is also entirely possible that by tasting the wines of Mendocino County so frequently, so overwhelmingly, that I am developing a county-wide house palate.
A house palate is what you get when you work for, taste, and drink the wines of one winery. I completely admit to having developed a house palate for the wines made by Carol Shelton when I worked at Windsor Vineyards in the 90s and now I have the same thing going on for the completely different wines grown by Guinness McFadden.
I came to love Carol’s wines for their sexy, feminine, soft, lush, rich fruit forwardness. Now, I look for the food-friendly balance that Guinness’ cool, climate grown, high acid fruit yields in the wines I pour every day. That said, I am just as pleased by wines that are different.
Even though I tend to lean toward the wines I pour daily, I am beyond open, I’m excited to taste new wines. I love finding delicious wines made by wineries I might have dismissed after less than stellar tasting experiences years earlier. The only way to find out what great wines are out is to taste wines.
I’ve been tasting wines for 30 years and can describe the differences that the place a grape is grown can have on flavors, how varietally correct wines from one area differ greatly from varietally correct wines of another area, and how with these differences they can both be varietally correct. I remember when I first fell in love with Pinot Noir, exploring the mineral complexities of a genuine French Burgundy, the candied cherry and rose petal of a Russian River William Selyem, the meatiness of a Monterey Chalone, the Carneros gravel, the way different areas flavored the same grape.
Wine isn’t Kool-Aid or soda, wine is different depending on where it is grown. Of course, vintage and winemaker also play a huge role in how wines taste, but today we’ll stick to place.
Compare Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and the same wine made from grapes grown in the Dry Creek Valley, Napa Valley, Paso Robles, and inland Mendocino County. Heck, compare the wines made by Rosati Family Vineyards using Ridge estate budstock and the same wine made by Ridge using grapes from the same budstock. Paul Draper and Zelma Long are both great winemakers, the wines of both are great, and for all their similarities the Cabernet Sauvignon of Rosati grown in Mendocino County will taste different than the Ridge grown Cabernet Sauvignon grown on the mountain ridges above Santa Clara.
Look, I know that not everyone is wine geeky enough to appreciate subtle differences between wines made from grapes grown in two different northern California wine regions, but try this: imagine tasting Chardonnay made from grapes grown in the dry desolation of baking hot Texas or the wet fetid swampiness of Louisiana. You don’t have to be a Master Sommelier or your crowd’s own Frasier Crane to know that grapes grown in many places outside of California’s wine regions could be horrible.
If you can accept that there are places that grapes shouldn’t be grown, then accepting that we live in a pretty magical area for grape growing should not be too hard a leap of faith. Just look around, there are grapes grown everywhere. Right out in the open, legal, not in hiding, no nasty cartels. Grapes are the real heart of a healthy Mendocino County agricultural scene. We are home to the greatest concentration of green growers. Our grape growers are family farmers, organic, bio diverse, biodynamic, fish friendly, carbon neutral. Seventy-five percent of the county’s grapes end up in the more famous and more expensive wines made in Sonoma and Napa Counties.
We are a farm county and our grapes are highly sought after, offering buyers incredible quality and ridiculously low prices. The wines we make in our county, from the grapes we keep are the bomb. I go on about inland Mendocino County almost every week, heaping deserved praise on wines made by wineries along the Highway 101 upper Russian River corridor, but the Pinot Noir from Toulouse and the Rose of Pinot Noir from Navarro in the Anderson Valley, or Yorkville Cellars’ Late Harvest Semillon grown in the Yorkville Highlands, are wines as good as you are likely to taste anywhere. How do I know? Because I try to taste wines from everywhere.
A Taste of Redwood Valley, the group who would love you to come taste wines in Redwood Valley, just north of Ukiah, with greater frequency, will be holding their Holiday Wine Sale and Juried Art Faire on Saturday, Nov. 23 and Sunday, Nov. 24 from 11 a.m. 5 p.m., which will provide you a great opportunity to pick up wines for Thanksgiving at savings of up to 40 percent off. Different wineries will have different hours and offers, and some will be open just one of the two days. For more information, visit ATasteOfRedwoodValley.com, and to find me visit Germain-Robin where I will be stocking up on Crispin Cain’s Rose Liqueur and his Absinthe.