Great wines have great stories
If you’ve read my articles before, you’ve probably noticed there is always a great story about every bottle of wine.
Learning about wines means learning about culture and people, about geography, history, traditions, food and much more. And it is one of the biggest reasons I do love wine and I do love talking about it.
As you might or might not remember, we started with Italy with its thousands of years’ winemaking traditions and nowadays technologies. We’ve been to Argentina and Chile, South Africa and Australia, Spain and New Zealand. Now it’s time to go to United States.
I am going start with one of the most fascinating stories when, a decade ago, three very successful businessmen brought out one of France’s most innovative wine experts to start new winery on a sandy patch of land in the middle of the Santa Yenz Valley in California.
And, it should be mentioned, it was a more than risky project planting the grapes in such an infertile landscape. They were advised to start planting asparagus, and not grapes, but they went ahead and planted about 80 acres with 10 different grape types to see what would work.
Plantings ranged from traditional Bordeaux varietals of cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, cabernet franc, Semillon, petit verdot, and merlot, to the Rhône Valley’s Syrah, viognier, and Grenache to Italy’s famed sangiovese. Apparently it was a very grand, very expensive experiment, and the plan was to take out the grapes that failed to grow properly.
But none did. None failed.
This vinery is known now as Jonata, after the first pioneers who borrowed the term from the local Chumash Indian tribe, and which means “tall oak.”
In 2004 Matt Dees was hired as the full time winemaker for this ambitious wine project.
“Every grape worked out there. It was a good problem to have,” Matt says.
Winery manager Ruben Solorzano inspects the vineyard twice a day, while Matt Dees puts 150 or so different lots from distinct parts of the vineyard in separate oak barrels and steel tanks before mixing them together into a balanced blend.
Then French wine expert Michel Rolland — who is arguably the best Bordeaux consultant money can buy — is called in to gauge aging potential before the final bottling decisions are made. Even after all that, if a particular vintage of a particular grape makes for wine that is anything less than perfect, they may opt to skip that bottling, as they did for the merlot and petit verdot in 2009, as well as the cabernet franc in 2010.
That means Jonata typically demands the highest price in Santa Barbara County, with $125 the average for 2009 cab or Syrah, consider that their sister winery with its Screaming Eagle, gets kudos from expert Robert Parker, calling it the prefect Cabernet Sauvignon. The price? Around $2,500 a bottle retail.
The good news is that “The Pairing” wine was developed as an exception.
At a competitive, and much lower price, it quickly became the one of the bestselling Meritages (Bordeaux-style). The blend shows the sanguine, focused fruit and shapely tannins we’ve come to expect from the sandy soils and slightly cooler macroclimate of these outstanding vineyard sites.
With 53 percent Cabernet and 24 percent Merlot, (the rest are Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot) – who doesn’t like a good blend? The taste is smoky black fruit, while dusty and herbal notes emerge with air. With more time in the glass, attractive notes of baking spice arise. Remarkably powerful fruit on the attack followed closely by massive structure.
The next day this wine becomes luxurious and hints at the epic future ahead. An enormous, yet ultimately refined wine for the classic California cabernet lover, the tannin fanatic, the steak aficionado and the patient cellar tender.
The classic pairings for this style of wine are red meats such as lamb and beef. And the “beef” pairing means this wine goes exceptionally well with even the hamburger, especially flavorful Wagyu burgers at Marco Prime.
This is because the tannins react with the protein in such meats to complement the flavor of both wine and meat alike. Try dark-meat fowl such as duck or even goose. Venison also works very well. And then, believe it or not, comes dessert ... as long as dessert is based upon a rich, dark chocolate, like chocolate soufflé or chocolate mousse.
Boun appetito and salute.
Adamo Serravalle is co-owner of DaVinci’s and Marco Prime, and is a wine connoisseur. Along with Laura Owen of CJ’s on the Bay and Marco Porto of chop239, he is a regular contributor to this column.