Chalone Vineyard

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


Not the same old Holiday wine pairings

I am tired of the same old wine pairings for the traditional Christmas Dinner.  So this year I am looking to try something different.

Shiraz before dinner, Cabernet Sauvignon with Turkey Dinner and Muscat after dinner (which is probably not that unusual).  And for Christmas morning, at the suggestion of Tony from Yalumba, I will enjoy Viognier for breakfast!

The details:

Before I leave for work in the morning (around 7:30am) I will put a bottle of 2006 Marquis Phillips, Shiraz 9 in the decanter.  I’ve had it before, and it weighs in at 16% alcohol.  It is MASSIVE.  It’s not a fruit bomb either.  I brought it over to a friends for a dinner party and the quote of the evening from my friend who generally likes Pinot Noir: “This wine is hurting my mouth!” I laughed mercilessly at him.  I’m interested to see what 12 months has done to the wine.

I’ll probably get home from work around 3 in the afternoon, and by then that Shiraz 9 will be ready for conspicuous consumption.  I might have to share a little bit of it with the other Christmas dinner guests when they arrive at around 6pm.  I am choosing this wine because of its sheer intensity, but also, from what I remember last year, it tasted really good.  Sorry, I’m also a bit tired of the same old wine descriptions so I’m not going to elaborate on the taste in this post

At around 4pm I will open up the remaining two bottles of Chalone Vineyard Cabernet that I bought recently.  If you read my review of it, you’ll know that I recommended about 3 hours in the decanter for this wine to truly open up.

Christmas Dinner will consist of Turkey, ham, stuffing, scalloped potatoes, green bean casserole, salad, and probably something else.  It’s always a potluck dinner so I never know exactly what to expect. I will gorge myself on Christmas dinner and wine, and then for dessert I will open up a little bottle of Yalumba Museum Reserve Muscat.  I pour myself a tiny glass and also drizzle this on Hagen Daz vanilla bean ice cream.  This wine tastes like strong black tea and sweet dried apricots.  It’s enough to leave you twitching in a diabetic coma by the end of the night. Yum!

Christmas morning I might be feeling a little rough, and so that’s when I will pop and pour some Yalumba Viognier, and have it with a toasted bagel and plain cream cheese.



Yalumba Museum Reserve

Chalone Vineyards Cabernet Review

4 Awesome Wines under $20

The down-turn in the economy has provided me with some amazing opportunities to try high-end wines.  The metro-Phoenix area has been hit very hard by the recession.  A lot of grocery stores and warehouse stores have reduced their high-end wine inventories, slashed prices, and replaced the floor space with things that people might buy more of in a recession.  Things like bread and vegetables, instead of second-growth Bordeaux.

As a result I have been able to pick up some of these $50-$100 wines for about half price, and I have been reviewing and enjoying them.  It occurred to me last week that not everyone can get their hands on these mark-downs. I decided to balance out my reviewing with some great under $20 bargains.

So, just in time for the Christmas season, here are some awesome wines under $20


Cameron Hughes, Lot 140, 2007, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chalk Hill, Sonoma County.  $13.99 at select Costco’s.

On the nose: Raspberry,  Bing cherry and Anise.

On the Palate: Cocoa and a hint of mint

See my review of it full review of it here .




Next up is d’Arenberg’s “Laughing Magpie”

one the nose: floral notes with cranberry and cherries

on the palate:  Ripe and juicy, velvety mouth-feel

full review here

$18.99 at Costco


And thirdly, just to switch things up a little bit (I have been reviewing mostly reds)  it’s a Sauvignon Blanc from Titus Vineyards:

Deliciously smooth with ripe fruit and well balanced acidity, more on this wine here.

It’s $20 on their website and most wineries websites are a little higher than the average retail, so you could probably find it cheaper than $20 at a retail outlet.  But you’ll have to be quick about it, there were only 380 cases made!


And last but not least:  Chalone Vineyard Monterey Cabernet, 2007

$16.99 retail, although with coupons and discounts I ended up paying about $7.56 a bottle

13.5% alcohol, vanilla oak, well balanced oak and fruit, see full review here

Chalone Vineyard, 2007 Monterey Cabernet Sauvignon

I was in the grocery store earlier this week picking up items to make “Tim’s $5.75 Spaghetti” when all of a sudden I had a hankering for some Tri-Tip.  So I picked up a little 2.5lb steak for 10 bucks and carried on with the shopping.  I ended up in the wine department, as always, and did a quick scan for new items and mark-downs.  I came across a coupon hanging on a bottle of wine, it read:

Buy 3 bottles of Chalone, get $7 off meat purchase.  The Chalone Monterey Cabernet was $16.99 a bottle, but with my VIP club card it was down to $9.99 a bottle. So I bought 3.  One way to look at it is I paid $7.56 for each bottle of wine.

So, was it worth it?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer:

I let the wine breath for 30 minutes while I searched the internet for some information on the wine.  I couldn’t find any reviews or anything!  I found their website but it didnt seem to be working properly.  Wiki provided me with the history of Chalone Vineyard which is quite interesting.

13.5% Alcohol.

First sniff, not much going on.  Really almost nothing.  First taste and swirl, also nothing going on.  I read  the back of the bottle while I pondered whether I had made a wise choice in buying 3 bottles of this wine.  It mentioned vanilla oak.  So just as a test, I decided to add a few drops of pure vanilla extract to the wine!

It gave the wine a definite vanilla aroma, and made the tannins far more chewy.  but it didn’t taste particularly good, so I poured out the glass and rinsed it out and went back to blogging for an hour while I baked my Tri-Tip.

Eventually after close to 4 hours in the decanter this wine revealed itself.  The full force of the vanilla oak was present, the tannins were alive, the fruit and oak were in harmony, and it was actually an amazing wine even I had paid the full price.  It’s definitely not a “pop and pour” wine.  It requires a significant amount of patience if you want to enjoy it right now. Buy and hold.  Who buys $10 wine and holds on to it??  I do that’s who!