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…

About the Wine: The Hearthstone Estate is located in the Adelaida region of Paso Robles where owner Hoy Buell and winemaker Paul Ayers farm Zinfandel, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Brunello, Viognier, and Roussanne. Yeah, that’s a lot of stuff — a lot of varied stuff. But this is a small lot winery, so attention to detail with every grape’s harvest is absolutely crucial. Hearthstone Estate is certified sustainable.

The 2013 Hearthstone Estate Montepulciano was whole berry crushed and fermented, skin in tact, for 2 to 3 weeks with punch down performed twice daily. The wine was then aged in French oak barrels (predominantly neutral) for about 2 1/2 years.

14.8% ABV

Flavor Profile: In the glass the 2013 Hearthstone Estate Montepulciano is a solid maroon color in the center, fading to that dusty rouge toward the perimeter. The initial smell is quite earthy, like damp soil trekked in from the bottom of your hiking boots. Secondary aromas include a bit of black fruit, but quickly condenses into the smell of dried currants.

The palate is a collage of funky flavors and textures. First is black cherry cola complete with a bit of fizziness on the tongue. That fizziness paves the way to the spicy mid-palate of white pepper and — you may think I’m crazy — a bit of curry. The tannins start out quite spread out, but as the wine sits on the tongue it’s as if those little molecules get closer and closer together and by the end they’re clapped to your tastebuds for a completely dry finish. Dry, but hot.

Not the most balanced Montepulciano I’ve had in my life — I’m missing a lot of the actual fruit here, the typical boysenberries or blackberries that ride along with the dried fruit. And I can’t say for certain how much new oak was used, but I am missing a bit of those flavors as well — that hint of vanilla and that fun woodsy aroma. These are all things I’m accustomed to with this varietal. My best guess is that this is a young wine that could benefit from a bit more age to help round out those flavors. Or it could just be a case of California Montepulciano…

Food Pairing: I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy my 2013 Hearthstone Estate Montepulciano. Paired with the right food, this wine actual comes out of its shell. What the wine needs are some seriously juicy roasted vegetables — think portobella mushrooms, eggplant, beefsteak tomato, caramelized onion. And what the wine loves is cheesy — oooey, gooey, melty, stinky cheese. The perfect pairing? Fire up that panini grill and make yourself a vegetarian panini complete with the roasted veggies listed and topped with truffled gouda. The juiciness of the veggies, the melty (amazingness) of the cheese pumps up the volume on the wine giving it some voluptuousness lacking in the wine itself. Meanwhile choosing vegetables that grow in the ground and a cheese with a little natural schtank to it brings out an earthy depth to the Montepulciano as well.

If you’re going to drink the 2013 Hearthstone Estate Montepulciano, if you’re going to drink it now, have it with food. Have it with that food.

More Info: I received the 2013 Hearthstone Estate Montepulciano as a sample for review. (Cheers, Raul!) For more information about Hearthstone Estate and their wines, please visit the Hearthstone Estate website.

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