I’m sure you’ve had the experience of hearing a new word or hearing about a writer or a band or a restaurant and suddenly it comes at you from everywhere.
My most recent instance: Mary and John, regulars at Monticello’s Tuesday wine-tastings, had been raving about Holly’s Hill Vineyards outside of Placerville. They liked Holly’s Hill wines so much that they started volunteering to pour for events. “You’ve got to taste them yourself,” they kept saying.
Other people started casually mentioning Holly’s Hill to me, too. And then I noticed a couple bottles of Holly’s Hill at Valley Vine Company. “We really like their wine,” the brothers said. And if John and Richard like a wine, I usually do as well.
Then I read Mike Dunne’s Sacramento Bee article in which he writes that in spite of his general avoidance of Syrahs, he knows when he drives up to Holly’s Hill, “the wines I’m about to taste will possess all the traits that prompt me to pull out the credit card by the time I work my way through the tasting form: interest, balance, tension, fidelity, individuality.”
High praise from a discerning wine critic.
I later read that Holly’s Hill was among the wineries featured at a June sustainable seafood symposium at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. — my old stomping grounds. Add to this the discovery that Holly’s son-in-law (HH’s marketing director and co-winemaker), Josh Bendrik, is now president of the Rhone Rangers, a group of vintners who promote Rhone varietals and whom I’ve mentioned several times in this column.
The connections continue: Wwners Holly and Tom Cooper are former Davisites; their daughter Carrie, the winemaker, grew up in Davis. Both Carrie and Josh, you won’t be surprised to learn, have taken viticulture and enology classes at UC Davis.
Carrie, who has also studied wine-making in the Rhone region, oversees every step of the process beginning with the growing of the fruit. She uses traditional wine-making techniques and believes in minimal manipulation of her carefully tended grapes.
Holly and Tom planted their first vineyard, 15 acres of Syrah, in 1998. Since then they’ve added Counoise (one of my new favorite varietals), Grenache Blanc, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Rousanne and Viognier. In fact, they grow Rhone varietals exclusively. (Imagine not growing The Usual Suspects in a California vineyard. What, no Cab? No Chard?)
Why Rhone? Holly and Tom say that their Rhone love affair began with a bottle of Chateuneuf du Pape they drank on their honeymoon — the very wine that converted me to serious wine-drinking.
“OK, OK, I do have to taste these wines,” I said to Mary and John. They made it happen.
I haven’t yet tried all the many Holly’s Hill bottles. I most wanted a taste or two of the unblended Counoise, highly recommended by Mary, but, alas, it sold out several months ago. And I didn’t try the Syrahs that Mike Dunne raves about (I’m saving those for cooler weather), but you can read all about them in his excellent column (April 20).
The wines I did taste were all very good, well made and fairly priced, but I have room to write about only a couple of them, my two favorites.
First the Rousanne. Roussanne probably gets its name from the russet color (“roux”) of the ripe grape’s skin — the resulting wine is a warm pale gold. Often blended with Marsanne, it ages well and makes on its own a wine with lovely fruit and minerals, like this Holly’s Hill ’09.
Think melon, lemon and a touch of apricot and orange with a good, clean finish. A bit of oak gives it a nice elegance — a terrific food-friendly alternative to Chardonnay. And a good wine to add to your summer repertoire.
The ’09 Mourvedre, a lovely almost purple color, has the earthy, slightly funky qualities of its French counterparts (in Spain, the grape is known as Monastrell) but has a bit more fruit. It’s medium-bodied and beautifully smooth with herb and mushroom notes. If you chill it for just about 20 minutes before you drink, it won’t scream “try me again in December.”
(By the way, most reds do benefit by this 20 minutes chilling, especially in the summer when “room temperature” tends to be in the 70s rather than red wine’s preferred 60s.)
You can buy several Holly’s Hill bottles at Valley Wine Company. Or you can drink this Mourvedre in Davis at both Monticello and The Mustard Seed. The latter also carries Holly’s Hill Patriarch blend and the sold-out Wylie-Fenaughty blend, both enthusiastically recommended by Mike Dunne. Monticello has the Rousanne as well.
Speaking of Monticello, they’ve added a Thursday happy hour from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. that features several selections of house wines at $5 a glass and draft beers at $4, in addition to appetizer specials. Live music, too, including “house musician” Bob Wren, whom some may remember from Blue Mango days. This is in addition to the continuing Tuesday wine-tasting from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
And I’m happy to announce that for the eighth year in a row, Seasons will be offering all its bottles at half-price for the entire month of August, which means amazing bargains — like the Claiborne & Churchill Gewurztraminer I mentioned in the last column for only $15.50.
Or, since we’re Rhoning, try the wonderful Tablas Creek Rhone Varietal blend, usually $56, but $28 during August.
— Reach Susan Leonardi at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com