After taking the PATH in from Jersey City in the FREEZING cold, I arrived at Three Sixty, an event space in downtown Manhattan. I arrived towards the beginning of the tasting so it wasn’t too crowded yet, but the first couple tables were busy, so I went to the end and began there. Except for a brief detour at Soliste, that meant starting with Wind Gap Wines since the tables were arranged alphabetically. Both of these were solid starts, but nothing to blow my socks off. The next two are worth talking about, though. First were the chardonnays from Varner. I’ve long been recommending the Foxglove chardonnay to people for its incredibly drinkable value and lack of oak. This is Varner’s entry-level wine and so I was glad to be able to taste their flagship wines. They make three single block chardonnays from the Santa Cruz Mountains. All of them are from the same vineyard, just different parts. My favorite was the “Bee Block” 2011. I thought it had the best balance, per the IPOB definition, juggling acidity, oak and structure beautifully.
The very next table also had a standout wine. This was a new winery to me and I was glad to meet owner/winemaker of Tyler Winery, Justin Willett. Tyler Winery is in Santa Barbara County and produces only pinot noir and chardonnay. Their Bien Nacido vineyard is located in the Santa Maria Valley AVA near the San Rafael mountain range. It’s a cool climate area and this coupled with the old vines makes for a beautiful expression of pinot noir. I thought that this was one of the more elegant, yet powerful pinot noirs of the afternoon.
The next winery on my list is Red Car Wine. This was another new face to me, but I was glad to make their acquaintance. I met Carroll Kemp, winemaker at Red Car who was a joy to talk to. I was thrilled to taste their 2013 rosé of pinot noir which was lively and refreshing but the hit of the table was definitely the “Zephyr Farms Vineyard” 2011 pinot noir which was full of blue and black fruits, dark and luscious.
Next I was able to taste through the wines from Andy Peay, who was there to lead us through his wines. Despite being their entry-level chard (and by entry-level I mean $45 a bottle and primarily available only on their mailing list), this wine was one of the most “balanced” wines of the tasting. It was a beautiful expression of the grape, showing delicious green apple and melon with a bit of honeysuckle and mandarin orange to round things out.
There were a number of other very good wineries I tasted--too many to call out all of them to be sure--but others of note were: Matthiasson, Littorai Wines, Lioco Wines, Hirsch Vineyards, Hanzell (a personal favorite of mine and a vineyard I visited back in February 2013), and Anthill Farms. Two more that I’d like to pay more tribute to, however, are Liquid Farm and LaRue Wines.
All in all the tasting was quite enlightening. Despite my tendency towards Burgundy and Oregon pinot and chard, this tasting definitely showed there are a number of excellent expressions from California. I think Jasmine Hirsch and Rajat Parr are onto something by promoting balanced wine from there. There are far too many producers making high alcohol, over oaked wines way out of balance. It is encouraging that there are some who are trying to swing the pendulum back to the center. I hope others will sign onto their manifesto so they, too, can be in pursuit of balance.