I walked into the Selby tasting room in downtown Healdsburg not really knowing anything about it. I’d heard great things, and I’d walked by the tasting room on more than one occasion — and kept on walking simply because it was packed. And now I know why.
Selby Winery was founded in 1994 by Susie Selby and her father David. For most of those first years the winery was a bit of a “side project:” David lived predominantly in Dallas with his wife; Susie worked as an assistant winemaker for a larger company. It wasn’t until David’s death in 1997 that Susie went full-force into Selby, making what was once her father’s pipe dream into a real wine country reality. Today Selby Winery makes sixteen different varietal and Susie is still at the head of the helm — taking on no partners or investors.
“Enjoy wine; enjoy life” is Susie’s motto and, indeed, it shows in her wines. Go to the tasting room and pick any varietal you like — they all just taste like they’re handcrafted with passion. I wanted to leave Selby with a bottle of everything. But I showed restraint and picked just one — this 2014 Dry Creek Grenache.
The Withers Winery crafts some bodacious (yes, I just used that word) Chardonnays and some elegant Pinot Noirs. But their passion — if not their claim to fame — are Rhone-inspired wines from the self-proclaimed “Rhone Zone” of El Dorado County. They craft some excellent single varietals including the somewhat obscure Counoise, but I just love how they play with the classic GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blend. In fact, when I received my shipment of The Withers wines, I was delighted to see three different takes — each one highlighting a different grape. So while the previously reviewed Bel Canto was more of a GMS, this 2014 Ruben is more of a MSG (but the good kind) — highlighting my favorite of the three ingredients, Mourvedre.
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.