It’s always interesting when you discover a winery in your own backyard. It wasn’t until I was doing research about San Francisco South Bay Rhone producers for a recent article that I came across Jeff Fadness of La Vie Dansante. What’s even more remarkable is that in tasting through his wines (and I must admit tasting through neighboring winery and exclusively white Rhone producer Lion Ranch as well), he put my fear and stereotype of Rhone white blends to rest.
Yes, I know there are some iconic California Rhone producers who craft, what many call, beautiful and balanced white blends. In fact, Fadness credits the expression of his white blend to the Esprit de Tablas Creek by Tablas Creek. Even so, I have to credit Fadness himself for creating a blend of white varietals in which the sum of those varietals expresses even better than the separate components.
I’m not going to lie — I’ve heard mixed reviews about Justin Winery. It seems my fellow wine enthusiasts either absolutely love or will have nothing to do with this big name winery. But when I decided to do this week-long series dedicated to Rhone, I couldn’t ignore this Paso Robles icon.
When Justin Baldwin first purchased his piece of Paso in 1981 he — like so many others back then — orginally intended to work exclusively with the classic Bordeaux varieties and craft Bordeaux-style blends. Of course, as we all know, Paso Robles is kind of California’s mini-slice of the Rhone Valley and vintners there can’t help but at least have one or two Rhone-inspired wines in their portfolio.
Interesting enough, when I was studying for my recent Rhone article (Read Where We Rhone), I found out that, as odd as it sounds, blending Syrah with Cabernet Sauvignon is not that uncommon — in the New World or the Old. And so it is that I decided to include Justin’s Savant red blend in this series.
I was introduced to MacLaren by winemaker and good friend Cindy Cosco of Passaggio. After visiting her tasting room in the Sonoma Square, she literally took me by the hand and walked me just a few doors down. Who could escape a recommendation like that? Needless to say — though I’ll say it anyway — I wasn’t disappointed. Their focus is single-vineyard expressions of single varietals. And while their Pinot Noir was memorable, their Sauvignon Blanc as dry as I like it, it was their Syrah that was the real standout. If you’ve never experienced a Syrah tasting where the only difference is the specific vineyard source, I highly recommend it. You’ll be amazed at the different ways the grape can express itself even within the same
AVA. And with four Syrahs on their current release list, MacLaren is the perfect place to conduct this wine-nerdy experiment. I did, and I couldn’t walk away without this 2012 Stagecoach Vineyard Syrah.
Pinot Gris is one of the new kids on the New Zealand wine block, making its first appearance just 30 years ago in 1990. Though it’s only responsible for 6% of the country’s total wine production, it is the third most popular white varietal. In the southern region, the Pinot Gris grapes are higher in acid, resulting in crisper wines. But winemaker Sam Weaver of Mt. Beautiful has a few interesting techniques that give this stereotypically lean white wine a bit of depth and multiple levels of flavor…
When I showed this bottle to my friends, the response I got was, “New Zealand Chardonnay? Really?” Yes, really. Though the country is well-defined by its Sauvignon Blanc, it’s by no means the only white wine grape. In fact, in the Canterbury region, where the Mt. Beautiful winery and estate vineyards call home, Chardonnay is the third most-planted grape variety just behind Pinot Noir and, yes, Sauvignon Blanc. So let’s take a taste, shall we, and see what the southern portion of New Zealand has to offer the Chardonnay style spectrum.