arizona wine blog

Central Coast Chardonnay roundup #1 | Mer Soleil | Layer Cake | Chalone

Wines reviewed in this article:  Mer Soleil Silver 2008|Layer Cake 2009 Virgin Chardonnay|Chalone 2009 Monterey

Photo courtesy of Ben Ladouceur

While many parts of North America are still in the grip of winter I have been preparing for spring and summer by tasting Chardonnay.  That way, when everyone else finally thaws out ( I live in Phoenix ) they will already have some Chardonnay “inception” on the brain.  Let’s get started!

The vast Central Coast region of California  stretches 250 miles from Santa Barbara County all the way up to San Francisco .  The massive region encompasses 6 Counties and 26 different sub A.V.A’s (American Viticultural Area).  There are more than 90,000 acres of vines planted in the Central Coast and about half those acres are Chardonnay.  One of those sub AVA’s is The Santa Lucia Highlands which is located  about 30 miles east of Monterey, California overlooking  the Salinas valley, the same Salinas valley made famous in many of John Steinbeck’s novels.

2008 Mer Soleil Silver

Mer Soleil Vineyard is located on the southern end of the AVA and is named after the influences of the Ocean (Mer) and the Sun (Soleil). The Mer Soleil vineyard is actually part of the Wagner family of wines.  The Wagner family has a very long history of wine making in California, and just in case you still don’t know who they are…have you heard of Caymus? Now we’re talking!

Mer Soleil makes two styles of Chardonnay, oaked, and unoaked (Silver).  Mer Soleil Silver is fermented in cement and stainless steel tanks and does not undergo Malolactic fermentation.  The vineyard subscribes to the agricultural practice of crop rotation and according to the vineyard  nearby lemon orchards is impart their flavor profile of the wines.

Mer Soleil’s website has little to offer in terms of technicals on their wine, so I have no information on total production, brix ect.  But it does let us know a little about the style.  A mix of Chablis like minerality and tropical fruit.   I found the wine to be rich, with solid acidity, and slightly riper than I expected, which was pleasant.  Think lemon and grapefruit.  The wine is dry and has a  nice big mouthfeel.  The alcohol weighs in at a hefty 14.8% but don’t let that scare you, its really well balanced with the fruit and I didn’t detect any off putting “heat” from it.  Mer Soleil Silver retails for around $20 a bottle.

Virgin Chardonnay label Layer Cake

Are you tempted by the cake??

You might have seen Layer Cake’s eye catching label, a nice big slice of layer cake, and you might have been tempted to buy the wine purely on that association and I forgive you for that because I bought their wines for the same reason!  Laker Cake’s 2009 Central Coast “Virgin” Chardonnay’s fruit is sourced from two vineyards within the Central Coast AVA; Monterey and Santa Barbara.

Layer Cake’s  Chardonnay is quite different than Mer Soleil’s Silver even though both are unoaked.  The first thing you will notice is the difference in alcohol content, with the Virgin Chardonnay coming in at a refreshingly light 13.5%.  The wine is lighter on the palate, with less minerality though it still retains enough to make it interesting.  The fruit is more lime and pineapple than grapefruit.  This wine retails for $13.99 and was provided to me as a sample for review

Chalone Chardonnay bottleChalone Vineyard 2009 Monterey Chardonnay.  Chalone Vineyard Estate is the oldest winery in Monterey County, and is the only winery in the Chalone AVA.  Chalone received international critical acclaim in the Judgment of Paris, 1976 earning 3rd spot out of 10.   As different as Layer Cake was to Mer Soleil, Chalone is to both of those wines.  Chalone makes wine very much in the French, Burgundian style.  The grapes are sourced from the northern portion of the Salinas Valley, in the Arroyo Seco AVA.  The soil consists largely of limestone which gives us a clue to the Burgundian connection.  By “Burgundian” I mean terroir or specific place driven wine as apposed to producer driven wine such as Bordeaux.  Chalone’s Monterey Chardonnay is also relatively light when compared to the typical Chardonnays of Napa Valley, the alcohol comes in at 13.5%   This wine, in contrast to the other two, saw 6 months in a combination of French, American and European oak.  Light on the oak, but enough to soften the crispness of the mountain fruit a little, as well as add another layer of complexity not found in the other two wines.  This wine retails for around $10 which is actually an amazing deal.

These three wines should keep you busy with variety for at least a weekend.  Next week I will have 3 more Chardonnays for your consideration


New President of the Arizona Wine Grower’s Association | Peggy Fiandaca

Here is a quick 5 minute video with Peggy Fiandaca, the new President of the Arizona Wine Grower’s Association (2011).  Peggy brings many unique and valuable skill sets to the table and in this interview she explains a few of them.

Lawrence Dunham Vineyards WEBSITE

Partners for Strategic Action WEBSITE

Interview | Curt Dunham | Lawrence Dunham Vineyards

I took a little tour of Curt Dunham’s personal wine cellar at his home in Fountain Hills, Arizona.

Lawrence Dunham Vineyards WEBSITE

Arizona Wine Week declared!

Governor Jan Brewer was unable to attend

Wine glasses cheers


and read the proclamation in person, so Rhonni Moffitt – executive director of the Arizona Wine Grower’s Association read it as it was written.  The press conference ( which The Weekly Wine Journal ACTUALLY attended!) was held at the Phoenix Public Market in downtown Phoenix.  In attendance were some distinguished guests and prominent Arizona wine-makers including  Todd and Kelly Bostock , Robert Carlson,  Sam Pillsbury, Curt Dunham, Kari Zemper and Pavle Milic.  Here is a quick video of Rhonni Moffitt reading the Governor’s declaration:

For more information on Arizona Wine Week click HERE

See more photos of this event on the Weekly Wine Journal’s Facebook Page!

Arizona Wine Week 2010 | Events

Arizona Wine Week 2010 kicks off on October 30th with a 5k run in downtown Phoenix called the Great Arizona Grape Stomp.  On Monday, November 1st governor Jan Brewer is scheduled to officially proclaim Arizona Wine Week with a press conference.  On Friday November 5th the Celebration of the Arizona Wine Growers Reception will take place at Quiessence Restaurant at the Farm at South Mountain.  This event will provide guests with a chance to mingle with award-winning wine makers in a casual setting.  Hors d’ouevres will be severed along with the award-winning wines.

During the week there will be events and specials going on across the state, here is a quick list of scheduled events.  If you are hosting an event and it is not listed here please email me and I will add it!

FnB Restaurant: Arizona Wine Growers Association members can purchase all Arizona wines AT COST for all 5pm reservations

Downtown Phoenix Market: October 26th – November 3rd: Shoppers receive 1 raffle ticket for every bottle of wine they buy. They will raffle off two tickets to the Festival at the Farm.                                                                                      Tuesday, Nov 2nd: $1 off glass of wine when shoppers bring in their own glass from an AZ winery.                                                                                                           Wednesday, Nov 3rd: 10% off all bottles of wine (Raffle drawing that night) Thursday, Nov 4th: $2 off flights of wine.                                                                  Friday, Nov 5th: $7 for glass of AZ homemade Sangria made by Mario, our Fresca King and a cheese bite.

Studio Vino Winery: For just $2, visitors to Studio Vino, during AZ Wine Week, will have an opportunity to sample a flight of three Arizona Made wines.

Quiessence Restaurant: Is offering half price bottles of Arizona wines

The Tasting Room: Is offering Arizona wines by the glass

Rancho Pinot Grill: Is offering Arizona wines by the glass at a discount

Cheuvront Restaurant and Wine Bar: Is offering 50% off all bottles of Arizona Stronghold Nachise and Mangus.

Arizona wine week concludes with the main event, the “Festival on the Farm”  on Saturday November 6th.  This event is open to the public ($65) and will feature wine education and seminars, meet and greet the wine makers and of course LOTS of food and wine sampling! Don’t miss it! Get your tickets quick before they sell out.

Get tickets HERE

A conversation with Sommelier Dave Johnson Oakville Grocery, North Scottsdale

Dave Johnson takes care of the wine department at Oakville Grocery in North Scottsdale, Arizona.

Dave Johnson

The Store is located directly across the street from P.F. Chang’s restaurant at the Kierland Shopping Center.  Dave is a warm and friendly fellow, he is well-traveled in addition to being a Level III Sommelier.  He has worked with and trained with some of the worlds most famous wineries, wine makers, he’s been there and done that, so to speak.  He now calls Arizona home, and has lived here for the past 10 years.

This is a video of my visit.  In it Dave tells us about a wine he had a hand in creating, he has actually made 6 vintages of wine.

Page Springs Vineyards and Cellars at the Tempe Wine Festival

I met Justin and John from Page Springs Vineyards and Cellars at the Tempe Festival of the Arts Wine Tasting Event.  The event was sponsored by the Arizona Wine Grower’s Association.  I liked their sense of humor, it was quite sharp for 10:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning!

Check out the photos from this event on The Weekly Wine Journal’s Facebook page

Page Springs Vineyards and Cellars Website

A tour of the Arizona Wine Festival, Tempe Festival of the Arts

Rhonni Boss-Moffit the Executive Director of the Arizona Wine Grower’s Association took me on a tour of the wine tasting event held at the Tempe Festival of the arts.  She  talked  about each vineyard, winery and what the Arizona Wine Grower’s Association is all about.

Check out the Arizona Wine Grower’s Association website HERE