But that didn’t stop us! 80 wine fanatics braved the season’s biggest storm and gathered at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay to celebrate Château Montelena’s wines with Bo and Heidi Barrett. True to form, each and every wine was stellar! We started the evening with the brilliant heir to the winner of the 1976 Paris Chardonnay challenge (showing the world that California’s Chardonnay can stand up with the best). The 2003 Ch. Montelena Napa Chardonnay ($29.99) was brilliant with character, avoiding the crutch of over oaking and malo. This bright and structured wine has deep density and richness offering ripe pear, green apple , hints of spice and white flowers. The wonderful acidity and beautiful structure bode well for ageing or drinking now (the 1999 was also showing wonderfully. Paired with a wild mushroom salad, it was gorgeous). This may be the best Chardonnay in California. The 2002 Ch. Montelena Napa Cabernet ($34.99) was also showing its brilliance with Rutherford-like dustiness to the explosive nose and an intense concentration of black cherry highlighted by wonderful sous-bois and anise. At an incredibly good price, this is a mini Estate that you can buy and drink today! This wine will age well for 5-10 years, if you can keep your hands off it, but I bet most of us will not be able to wait. The 1999 was showing just how well these wines do age. It was beginning to soften its core just a bit, and drank like liquid velvet. And ahhhh… the Estate, a wine I always collect. The Montelena Estate is my favorite California Cab because it gives everything, every time. Every wine since 1978 is still drinking beautifully. The evening’s ’94 and ’97 were showing the vintages’ softer supple and luxurious sides, and the ’95, ’96 and ’01 were showing a serious and unbeatably solid side. Bo seems to pull the best out of each vintage and bottle it as the Estate, but you have to be fast. These are always offered as pre-arrivals, and you must get them quickly, since I’m not the only unbridled fan. Lastly, don’t forget the 2002 Ch. MontelenaZinfandel ($24.99). Lush and heady have been used to describe this wine, I think it is just pleasure in a bottle. Lifted with a touch of viognier. Don’t deprive yourself of this experience. Hope to see you at the next dinner! —Shaun Green
This year, I resolve to drink more white wine! I’m not kidding. Non-Chard whites are seriously underrated in this country and have been an afterthought for yours truly for essentially most of my wine-drinking life. This is almost like a confession, but in truth, I feel like it’s a revelation. The true virtues of classy whites weren’t obvious to me for a long time and are admittedly hard to believe, yet there’s no denying anymore—white wine is more versatile than red, more refreshing than red, and the right ones can be as complex and age-worthy as most reds. My, oh my, it shocks me, an avowed “Big Cab” drinker for so long that I’m actually writing this now! Perhaps some are thinking, “Nope, not me, I’m still an eat-it-with-a-spoon, rocket fuel-strength red lover.” Fine. But if you’re looking for a unique and rewarding resolution this year, come join me in this one. Let’s look at a couple of special baby steps: 2004 Long Shadows Poet’s Leap Riesling Columbia Valley ($21.99) Riesling in many ways is the anti-Merlot. Everyone jokes how the masses love Merlot, but the connoisseurs turn their nose up, right? Well Riesling is the exact opposite. Ask any wine shop and they’ll tell you. Serious Riesling is a breath-taking experience. It produces some of the most dazzling, poetic and gracefully wines the world has to offer, plus its natural acidity make it a stunning food-pairing machine. But guess how many noses wrinkle when I suggest it for a meal? I know, I know, I was a nose-wrinkler too! Now take a step forward with me and try this one with fresh cracked crab and garlic butter, and see what happens! 2003 Spring Mountain Napa Sauvignon Blanc ($24.99) Don’t let the words “sauvignon blanc” mislead you. There is nothing light, tart or simple about this impressive wine. I don’t usually write a laundry list of fruit descriptors, but this one shot out of the gate and didn’t let up. Guava, fig, pineapple, grapefruit, meyer lemon and peach, all caressed with a touch of embracing yet refined Bordeaux-like creaminess. This is one of the all-around greatest and most glorious Sauvignon Blancs this state has to offer, period. Enjoy! —Martin Reyes
The first thing I should do is apologize for writing up the 2002 Phelps Insignia last month. I did not know the Wine Spectator was going to give it wine of the year. And boom, we had no wine to sell. The way Pinot Noir is selling lately I might have the same problem this month. I will try to buy enough to last us till the end of January, but who knows these days. The 2002 Willakenzie Pierre Leon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($31.99) is one of the staff’s favorite Pinots in the store. Pierre Lion is a selection of different estate grown Pinot Noir clones, including several Dijon clones. The ’02 Pierre Leon is balanced, fresh and lively in the mouth. The fruit is integrated and juicy. This wine is delicious now and will be excellent to enjoy over the next five years. 91 points from the Wine Spectator doesn’t hurt either. Probably one of the best values in the store, in any category, is the 2000 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir ($14.99). Originally planted in 1969 by David Bruce, the vineyard is entirely Estate owned and operated. For those of you who are looking for a Pinot Noir that is delicate and fresh, this is your wine. It is filled with bright, ripe cherry flavors, and hints of spice and strawberries that linger on the finish. This is a classic example of a wine that is not over-manipulated or extracted. Enjoy it over the next few years. Perfect with your delicate dishes such as salmon or chicken! The last wine I will write up this month is the 2003 Domaine Serene “Yamhill Cuvée” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($29.99). This is the wine I am worried about. The wholesaler is almost out, but I just had to write it up. 2003 in Oregon was a year of record heat. This warm weather can be tasted in most of the 2003s. The 2003 Yamhill Cuvée is loaded with ripe and spicy aromas of dark cherry plum, candied strawberry, sandalwood, beetroot, cola, anise, candle wax and allspice. The Yamhill is a blend of different estate vineyards. This is a wine to enjoy over the next 5 years! —Trey Beffa
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