November 2002 Newsletter
Wines evaluated last month: 200
Rejected: 180 Approved: 20 Selected: 2
BETTER AND BETTER
No matter where you live, you've probably been reading about the incredible grape glut in California. People are planting grapes with no idea how to sell them, or the resulting wine. The Wine of the Month Club has been a beneficiary of this situation, but never like now.
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have seen their prices go up like a rocket. We couldn't get near these wines a year ago and now we're shipping them! The Zaca Mesa Chardonnay is about as superb a wine as you'll find from California. It has all the nuance and exotic flavors of the others, but at half the price. We're not sure how long this will last. We've built our reputation on value for 30 years, but we have to admit that this is the best we've ever seen.
As if the Zaca Mesa wasn't enough, along comes the Charing Cross Pinot Noir that just took our breath away. We haven't been able to feature a Pinot like this for four years. Most Pinot Noirs in this price range don't taste anything like Pinot Noir. Now you can get the real sensation of cool climate Pinot at a price unheard of just a few years ago. Don't wait too long on these beauties. They are destined for extinction very soon.
Charing Cross Pinot Noir is made from 100% Pinot Noir Grapes grown exclusively in the Monterey appellation of Northern Monterey County. It is produced by the historical Maddalena Vineyards in Los Angeles.
2001 was a very good year for Pinot Noir here. The grapes ripened evenly with a high concentration of natural sugars. In the past 10 years, Maddalena has been replanting their Monterey vineyards to Pinot Noir. The Northern Monterey climate is ideal for Pinot Noir. It has become one of the few suitable appellations for this variety joining the ranks of Carneros, Russian River, Santa Maria Valley and Edna Valley in California.
The vineyards are located in the Arroyo Seco and Santa Lucia Highlands appellations. Grapes are harvested by hand then placed into open top, small fermenters. Pneumatic presses gently punch down the grapes three times daily to extract maximum color and flavor.
Fermentation temperatures are maintained between 85-89° F to extract added color. The wine is then aged in a combination of new and used French oak, which adds the spicy and creamy components we look for in great Pinot Noir.
There is probably no grape in the world that elicits the response of Pinot Noir. Most winemakers consider it to be the greatest red grape, if not the greatest grape of all produced in the world. With that comes a temperament that makes it one of the most difficult grapes to grow and wines to make. Yet, few will give up on it. This is because if you ask most winemakers for their greatest wine experience they'll tell you that it was with a bottle of Pinot Noir.
This is a first class offering at an incredible price. It will get you started looking at the higher-priced offerings. Charing Cross is quite limited. It makes a great addition to holiday fare so reorder soon.
Imposing sweet/tart cherry and earth scents. Deep and rich in the mouth with an engaging vanilla and plum finish. Terrific with the lamb pistou recipe on page 6.
complex over the
next 2-3 years. Serve
cool, about 30 min. in the fridge.
Domestic Selection 2
At over 1,500 foot elevation, the Zaca Mesa vineyards are among the highest in Santa Barbara County. Warm sunny days and cool, breezy afternoons produce temperature conditions ideal for our Chardonnay selection this month.
Zaca Mesa was founded in 1978, when there were less than a handful of wineries here, by a former vice-president of Arco, Marshall Rheam. Marshall was one of the most recognizable figures in Santa Barbara County because of his innovation in this as yet to be proven area. He was easily one of classiest and most charming people to ever own a winery. Marshall sadly passed away a few years ago, leaving a legacy that is carried on today with Zaca Mesa's new owner, Jeff Maiken.
Being a vineyard based winery, Zaca Mesa's wines reflect the soil on which the grapes are grown. Besides using different soils, they also blend three distinctly different clones of Chardonnay. Each clone adds its own notes to the aroma, texture and complexity of this wine.
The grapes are fermented as whole clusters instead of thrashing them in a crusher. This expensive technique helps preserve the refined fruit flavors. They are then fermented in French oak barrels. They only use a small percentage of new oak to underscore the textural advantages of barrel ageing while holding the oak flavors and aromas down to just soft accents.
Santa Barbara is making a name for itself in the fine wine arena. Many of their wineries have topped famous Napa and Sonoma wineries in judgings and tastings. Zaca Mesa's Chardonnay has always stood out because they add a dollop of Roussanne, the majestic grape of the Northern Rhone, as a profile enhancer. This area is regarded by many as the best area to grow these two grapes. In other words, we're getting the best of both worlds.
Flecks of tropical fruit and Asian Pear fill the room with their scents. The flavor is soft, but full and finishes with a zing. Mesmerizing with the mussel recipe on page 6.
Best now. Serve
about 2 hours in
Adventures in Good Food
2 lbs. mussels, cleaned
1/2 cup Zaca Mesa Chardonnay
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil, plus extra to garnish
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 lb. ripe plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 1 l4-oz can chopped tomatoes
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, add the onions, celery, garlic, basil and bouquet garni, and cook over low heat for 5 minutes or until softened but not browned.
Mix in the tomato paste and tomatoes, salt, pepper, and sugar, and simmer gently for 30 minutes.
Put the mussels in a casserole dish with the wine, over high heat, and bring to a boil. Cook for a few minutes only, until the mussels have opened, stirring frequently to ensure they are evenly cooked.
Pour off the cooking liquid, discard any mussels that have not opened, and return the opened mussels, in their shells, to the casserole dish.
Pour the hot tomato sauce over the mussels and heat through. Sprinkle with chopped basil and serve at once.
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