I’d never heard of Hearthstone Estate until I was approached to taste their wines. Imagine my surprise when, upon opening the package, a bottle of Montepulciano was staring right up at me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen, let a lone tasted, a California Montepulciano. I discovered — and fell in love with — the varietal when eating my way through Italy on my honeymoon. I know to those more versed in Italian wines, Montepulciano may seem like an everyday “bulk-buy” type wine, but to me it bottles the beauty I think of when I think of Italian culture — forza, forte, y la bella vita. What I’m saying is that this wine had a lot to live up to…
Chateau Montelena is probably most noted for their Chardonnay, which won the Judgment of Paris in 1976. The winery itself has changed hands several times since then, but the great Chateau still stands (though it’s become a bit of a tourist trap) in the great grape-land that is Napa Valley. And they still, of course. produce exquisite Chardonnay.
Mmmm I do love a good Syrah. The thing about it, though, is that it’s an absolute chameleon grape, absorbing the most minute details of its surrounding soils. Northern Cali kid that I am, I’m most familiar with the more savory, and all-around tighter Syrah of the gravely-turfed, cool climate Sonoma Coast. Though I’ve ventured as far as Paso Robles in my Syrah sips (a region that seems to be a French-Cali hybrid), the 2013 Nagy Wines Syrah is my first from Santa Barbara County. It seems that this chameleon grape has absorbed the sweet summer sun of SoCal.
It may seem trite to some big name bloggers to feature a “celebrity” winemaker. And, indeed, there are those celebrities with so much cash to spend that they’ll simply slap their name on a label of pretty much any product. So, it would stand to reason that a celebrity-named wine would taste as artificial as Hollywood looks. Well, Yao Ming isn’t from Hollywood and if you know anything about him, you know that he’s actually a gentle-spoken, if not shy, individual. The Yao Family Wines 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon speaks, not of Yao’s social status — but of a young wine-personality on the brink of great ideas.
I’m not hep with the latest Hollywood gossip. My celebrities, on most days, wear hiking boots, flannel shirts, and rarely any jewelry, lest a string of pearls gets hooked on a crooked vine. When Clarissa Nagy, owner and winemaker of Nagy Wines, contacted me about tasting and reviewing her current releases, I was star-struck. In my eyes, Clarissa is an inspiration — for women, for winemakers, for anyone who, like her, has found a passion and made it a life’s work.
It’s interesting that my first taste of Nagy would be a Viognier, a varietal that, to me, can be much too delicate — what some would call feminine. Often watery on the palate, diluting the over-pronounced tropical fruit juice flavors, and with an abundance of that funky floral nose, Viognier can be quite, well, pretty. Pretty but not (always) tasty. But what Clarissa has done here is crafted a Viognier with backbone and substance. A feminine wine? No, a feminist wine — a wine with strength, purpose, and beauty.