A perfect day in a breathtaking place to enjoy the SLH Gala 2015. At Mer Soleil Vineyard celebrating the IX edition of the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans Gala tasting event. The vineyards on the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA are planted on the terraces of the Santa Lucia mountain range, verging on the Salinas River Valley; between 50 and 2,000 feet in altitude. The fog and breeze off nearby Monterey Bay flow southeast, between the Santa Lucia and Gabilan ranges, creating a unique cool climate. This distinguished wine grape growing district enjoys a great variation between morning and afternoon temperatures. This variance in temperature allows for a prolong even ripening of the grapes. The grapes developed fully, lush in phenolic compounds, ripeness and flavors.
The event started with a VIP “Beyond Pinot… Discussion and Tasting”. A distinguished group of winemaker panelists: David Coventry/Manzoni Vineyards, Chris Weidemann/Pelerin Wines and Sabrine Rodems/Wrath Vineyards, shared their passion with us. This remarkable winemaking region, distinguished by making Chardonnay and Pinot Noir also grows seventeen other grape varieties. A unique take on the panel tasting, to show wines made with other grapes besides Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
At the Seminar we enjoyed:
- Manzoni 2013 Pinot Gris, “North Highlands’ Cuvée”: Floral aromas with pear and green apple on the palate. A crisp and balanced wine that enticed you with intense aromas, velvety mouthfeel, and bright acidity. Spicy lingering notes on the finish. This wine doesn’t go trough malolactic fermentation, use of Batonnage (stirring of the lees). Half of the fruit fermented in new French oak and half in stainless steel tanks. Suggested retail price, $23.
- Pelerin 2011 “Les Tournesols” (72% Roussanne and 28% Viognier): Bouquet of sandalwood, lavender, fresh cut grass, and perfume. Fresh yellow fruit flavors with a punch of spice and subtle mineral notes that finish long. The wine, aged in neutral oak barrels also went trough malolactic fermentation. Suggested retail price, $30.
- Wrath 2013 Syrah, KW Ranch: Attractive aromas of Brown spices, juniper, violets, ripe plum and cardamom. On the palate, you enjoy flavors of ripe dark fruit, smoked meats with notes of black pepper. This wine with offers pleasant tannins, nice acidity and balanced palate. The winemaker decided to leave a certain percentage of stems on the grapes to promote acid binding. Suggested retail price, $39.
After the wine tasting seminar, we enjoyed a cheese seminar sponsored by local store Star Market in Salinas and Schoch Family Farmstead also located in the Salinas Valley. Mr. Michael Burke, Specialty Cheese Department Manager from Star Market, shared his cheese and wine pairing skills. Michael talked about Star Market amazing cheese selections and recommended to try various cheeses paired with Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay and Belle Glos Pinot Noir. Cheesemaker Beau Schoch shared the history on Schoch Family Farmstead and two of his delectable cheese creations, Mt. Toro Tomme: Semi-hard, mild and buttery with a lactic finish. Monterey Jack: hardy and robust with a sharp finish. Exquisite cheeses paired with some of Wrath wines.
The Mer Soleil Barrel Room was the perfect backdrop for the forty plus wineries from the Highlands pouring their wines alongside delicious bites of gastronomic creations from local chefs and restaurants. Kosta Browne shared two outstanding Pinot Noirs, their single vineyard 2012 Gary’s Vineyard and the 2013 Santa Lucia Highlands. Both wines show intense aromatics of fruit and earth and powerful dark and red fruit flavors, nice acidity, and gentle tannins. The Gary’s vineyard has more of the earthy aromas and mineral notes. Enjoyable wines by themselves, but great with many food preparations, like roasted pork, smoked salmon and seared lamb chops.
From Testa Rosa Vineyards well crafted 2013 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, both from Dos Rubios Vineyard. The Chardonnay has enticing aromas of ripe banana, green apples and hints of spice. On the palate this elegant Chardonnay has a silky texture with flavors of pear, apples, sweet vanilla and hints of citrus with a refrained amount of oak. The Pinot Noir full of red fruit, red currants hints of spice and elegant, earthy notes. Testa Rosa wines paired perfectly with the two sushi offerings from Ocean Sushi, thanks to Chef Shiho Fukishima for the exquisite culinary creations.
The Mer Soleil 2013 Reserve Chardonnay seduce you with citrus and stone fruit aromas and hints of honeysuckle and Brioche. On the palate, this Chardonnay feels medium-body refreshing and creamy with flavors of golden apple, tangerine, passion fruit and hints of caramel. In contrast with its counterpart. The 2013 Mer Soleil Silver (non-oaked Chardonnay) shows citrus and ripe kiwi aromas. In the mouth, you feel bright acidity with flavors of granny apple, mandarin, apricots, and guava. The finish is dry and crisp; this is a wine that will pair great with a diverse range of cuisines.
From Morgan Winery we savored the 2013 Double L Pinot Noir, this Pinot Noir lures you with vivid aromas of coffee bean, dark berries, and fresh mushrooms, with notes of dried meat and toast. On the palate, you can rejoice in intense flavors of blueberry tart, ripe plum and baking spices with a touch of butterscotch and smoke. This well crafted Pinot Noir paired very well with a delightful bite to eat from Chef Todd Fisher (Tarpy’s Roadhouse). Chef Fisher delighted us with a charred octopus tapenade, green olives, red cabbage, chickpeas, capers, parsley, lemon juice and pearl onions with a pesto aioli. Served on the side with a slice of baguette and Romesco sauce on top. The wine brought out the smokiness of the charred octopus and complimented nicely with the rest of the ingredients. The subtle pesto aioli was the magic touch that merge all the ingredients together.
The SHL Gala tasting event captivated us with a collection of impressive wines and delicious food to pair with them. The exceptional characteristics of the terroir of the SLH-AVA showed on the complexity that unified all these remarkable wines. The Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans Organization is doing an exceptional job in getting the word out about this superb wine-growing region.