Saturday, June 11, 2005

A taste of the Santa Cruz Mountains

Last Thursday, we tasted several wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains as we needed to assemble a selection of wines from this region for a tasting event.

We started with the 2002 Mount Eden Estate Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains. Mount Eden Vineyards is a small winery, focusing on small lots of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The estate Chardonnay comes from a low-yielding vineyard located in the Santa Cruz Mountain Range, above the fog level at 2,000 feet and about 15 miles from the ocean. The proximity of the ocean keeps the daytime temperature low and allows dry-farming. This wine is considered by many connoisseurs to be one of the longest-lived white wines produced in California.

The wine had a bright golden color, the nose was very aromatic with tropical fruits and notes of honey. The palate was medium to full-bodied with additional butterscotch flavors. On the finish, it was fresh and not too oaky at all. This was indeed one of the best wine of the evening.

After the Chardonnay, we tasted the 2002 Varner Pinot Noir Hidden Block Santa Cruz Mountains. Varner is a garage-sized winery owned by two brothers, Bob and Jim Varner. They believe that the best wine comes from winemakers who grow their own grapes and they are entirely devoted to handmade, Santa Cruz appellation Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

The wine had a medium garnet color. The nose had some light cassis and raspberry aromas, followed by more earthy flavors on the palate. Interestingly, it got sweeter and fruitier by the end of the evening. Overall, the wine was very pleasant with some attractive complexity.

Our next wine was the 2000 Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains. The Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet is sometimes considered as a poor man's Monte bello, Ridge's flagship wine. It is partly made from lower elevation vineyards whereas most of the highest vineyard fruit goes into the Monte Bello. There are also vinification differences between the two wines: the Santa Cruz Mountain goes into second- and third-year American oak, typically for 16 to 18 months. Monte Bello goes into 100% new American oak for somewhat longer.

The wine had an intense purple color. At first, we found some turpentine-like aromas on the nose that evolved into bell pepper and berry flavors. On the palate, it was medium-bodied with a disappointing hollow midpalate and some astringency on the finish. Overall, we gave the wine a low mark.

We finished the tasting with the 2001 Storrs Zinfandel Rusty Ridge Santa Clara Valley . Storrs is a small winery located in Santa Cruz, dedicated to Santa Cruz Mountains wines, mostly Chardonnay and Zinfandel. The grapes for this cool climate Zinfandel were grown in two very old, gnarly vined vineyards on the foothills of the Santa Clara Valley.

The wine had a deep garnet color. The nose exhibited strawberry and vanillin aromas. On the palate, it was medium-bodied with spices and fruits flavors. Tannins were still present on the finish. A truly pleasurable wine to end the evening with.

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