Earlier this year, we visited the San Benito area and our group had the wonderful opportunity to visit four of their wineries. We were immediately entranced by both the area’s lush rolling hills and the luscious wines we tasted. This is a beautiful and somewhat undiscovered area of California about 2.5 hours south of Napa. Several years ago, we also enjoyed visiting the Mendocino area, where we loved its rugged coastal beauty and redwoods. So we were excited that wineries from both areas had offered to share some of their special wines with our Wine Review Council.
Our council’s goal was to review eight wines from these areas and devise appropriate pairings based on tasting notes. Here is my report on each of these wines:
Paul Dolan 2013 Sauvignon Blanc: With hints of lavender on the nose and peachy, lemony tastes, this wine went well with so much, including a balsamic, cheesy, mushroom quiche and a delicious Elote, a tangy roasted corn and cotija salsa, with tortilla chips. At $18, this is an excellent buy.
We next compared Pinot Noirs: a Paul Dolan 2012 Pinot Noir from Mendocino, and a Pietra Santa 2013 Pinot Noir from the San Benito area. The Mendocino wine was a classic Pinot with rich berry tastes and hints of leather and chocolate. We loved it with chocolates from Marich Premium Chocolates in Hollister, San Benito’s county seat, and it also went well with the corn dip. Price is $30. Since we had visited the Marich plant in the San Benito area, we were especially happy to find that their delectable chocolates paired so well with these red wines.
I first tasted Pietra Santa’s 2013 Pinot Noir when we visited this lovely winery earlier in the year. So I was excited to taste it again with our food pairings. I recall the winery’s inviting second floor, mission-style tasting room as full of warm wood and character. It overlooked a picturesque expanse of vineyards, some of which are more than 150 years old. The name Pietra Santa means “Sacred Stone” because of the estate’s rich granite and limestone soil. As I recalled from my previous tasting, the bright crimson Pinot Noir was earthy, berry-forward, and flavorful. It’s another nicely priced wine for $18.
Both Pinots went very well with their intended pairing, the Elote dip, but also with chocolate candy and brownies, and with caramelized burgers that had some spicy sweetness in them.
The Pietra Santa 2010 Sangiovese was “true to typicity” for this varietal, meaning it met traditional expectations for this grape. It had intense bing cherry and blackberry tastes and also hinted of cranberry with a touch of white pepper. It paired nicely with an antipasto platter of salami, olives, and various cheeses, suggesting that it might also be a nice match with Italian dishes. Again, at only $18, this wine is a wonderful buy for its excellent quality.
The DeRose Winey’s 2011 Cabernet Pfeffer (pronounced FEH-fir) was the surprise dark horse of our tasting and the favorite wine of the evening. This is a very special wine that is not readily available in this country, although DeRose Winery in San Benito is very proud to be producing this unique wine. Since the word “pfeffer” is German for “pepper,” we were looking for and found both a nose and tastes of white pepper. We also loved the floral hints in the aroma and the cherry and vanilla tastes followed by subtle tannins. For its uniqueness and high quality, the price of $27 seems reasonable. This wine matched nicely with an antipasto platter of salty cured meats and a variety of imported cheeses served with garlic flatbread. Because of its spiciness, it was also a great match with the spicy burgers. By the way, DeRose Winery is described on its website as the oldest existing winery in California.
We also enjoyed two more DeRose wines: the DeRose 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon ($27) and the DeRose 2012 Dry Farmed Cinega Valley Zinfnadel ($26). The Cab Sauv was big with nice ripe cherry flavors and hints of oaky toast. We paired it with savory porcini mushroom and truffle ravioli, which worked well since both had woodsy tastes. The Zin had all the classic Zin flavors with lots of currant jam, raspberry, chocolate, and even coffee on the palate. It went nicely with the cheeses, the chocolates, and the sweet quiche.
We also tried another Zin—Paul Dolan 2012 Zinfandel ($26) from Mendocino. We liked the blackberry and orange flavors but felt it was a bit mild for a Zin; however, it was definitely enhanced by food and was especially nice with the spicy burgers.
This was one of our most pleasing tastings. There wasn’t a loser in the bunch. All the wines were excellent and nicely priced. We left this Wine Review Council convinced that both the Mendocino and San Benito areas should be on are radar since they are producing some outstanding wines.