Of fires and whites
After a long, cool Spring marked by record frosts, Summer has arrived in California with a vengeance. Now they’re saying there’s more than 1,000 fires raging across the state. A few days ago, it was “only” 800. The weather has cooled off, but it’s supposed to heat up again, and the weatherman said there’s a strong possibility of more lightning this weekend. Lightning is what caused most of the existing fires.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that the heat’s on and it’s T-shirt time: backyard barbecues, picnics and the beach. Which means white wines. I find it harder to appreciate a red wine, even a very good one, when it’s hot. The body craves wines that are lighter, crisper and cleaner — and colder.
Fortunately California abounds with great whites (sharks as well as wines), and many are usually cheaper than reds (not always). Here are some of the best summer sippers I’ve tasted recently.
Ehren Jordan made a fantastic 2006 Chardonnay ($42) from his Failla estate vineyard. It’s way up and way out in the wild, remote Sonoma Coast mountains, and you can taste a tang of the sea in it.
An equally stunning, but different, 2006 Chardonnay was crafted by John Falcone at Rusack ($32). It’s from the Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County, a sometimes overlooked source of great Chard and Pinot Noir. (Santa Maria is where the Bien Nacido Vineyard is.)
Up in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino, Ted Bennett made the best Muscat Blanc I’ve ever had, the 2006 Navarro ($19). It performs the magical act of tasting honey-sweet but finishing bone dry. Too bad more white wines aren’t this good, and this affordable.
Signorello’s 2006 Seta ($25) is a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. It has the weight and density of a fine Chardonnay, but the flavor profile is rich in citrus fruits and melons. I’ve always wondered why there aren’t more of these white Bordeaux- or Graves-style blends made in California.
For pure Sauvignon Blanc, you can’t beat Matanzas Creek’s 2006 ($24). It was partially barrel-fermented, which adds some creamy, yeasty notes, but it’s the acidity and grassy, lemony taste that really stars. The addition of a little of the Musqué clone adds complexity.
Made along similar lines is Chateau St. Jean’s rich, savory 2006 La Petite Etoile Fumé Blanc. This variety is the same as Sauvignon Blanc; the late, great Robert Mondavi dubbed it Fumé Blanc back in the Sixties. When people call a Sauvignon Blanc Fumé Blanc, it usually means the wine was barrel fermented.
Then there’s Handley’s 2006 Gewurztraminer ($18). Anderson Valley is making a name for itself with Alsatian varieties, and Milla Handley shows a deft touch with this spicy, just off-dry wine. Perfect with veggies with guacamole or cold cuts, especially ham.
Twisted Oak is a bunch of guys up in the rugged Sierra Foothills of Calaveras County. They made a wine whose name is unpronounceable and I won’t even try. It’s their 2006 %@#$! ($24) and it’s a Rhône blend of Marsanne, Roussanne, Rolle and Viognier. A truly interesting and different kind of white wine.
Finally, there’s Casa Nuestra’s 2007 Home Vineyard Old Vines Dry Chenin Blanc ($24). I am decidedly not a Chenin Blanc fan, but Casa Nuestra makes a dependably dry, appley one from their vineyard in St. Helena. There’s no legal definition of “old vines” although there should be (but who wants more government intervention in the wine biz?). In this case, the vineyard dates to the 1960s.
Enjoy your weekend, and if you’re in a fire zone, be safe.