Awards, awards, awards. Nearly every wine I pick up announces itself as award-winning.
Nugget has a yearly display of California State Fair winners; shelf-tags tout the San Francisco Chronicle medals; so many smaller competitions exist that I can’t keep track. I’m always suspicious. I want to know how many times the judges tasted each wine, where in the tasting order it was, what sort of food accompanied it (not much you can tell about a wine from crackers), and so on.
I’m often disappointed when I actually drink a bottle I’ve purchased on the strength of its Double Gold.
So when Bob Simas told me that his Marsanne got a bronze medal at the 2012 California State Fair, I congratulated him, of course, but, since Marsanne is one of my favorite grapes, I immediately wanted to try it for myself. I liked the Simas ’08 Marsanne. By the time I tasted it, though, it had lost a bit of its vibrancy. A 2011 sounded exciting, award or not.
We drank the bottle with a “things” dinner, always a good test since it involves a loaf a sourdough bread, a couple of cheeses, a salad of various lettuces and seasonal fruit, and a plate of garlic sautéed greens or white beans with sage or a bit of fish (one of my favorite dinners, by the way) — a real challenge to a wine’s versatility. The 2011 Simas Family Marsanne more than met it.
Like all the Simas Family varietals, Marsanne is primarily a Rhone grape. Often blended with Rousanne and/or viognier, it’s a bit tricky to work with but at its best makes an interesting, minerally, stone-fruity wine with notes of nuts and honey (though entirely dry). This Simas bottling is no exception. I love its food-friendliness. And it has enough body to tempt me even as the days get shorter and cooler, times when I usually crave red. I haven’t seen the 2011 in any stores yet, but I’m sure Bob would be happy to bring some to you. Email him at [email protected].
I’m also excited about another local white I tasted recently — the 2011 Clarksburg Chenin Blanc.
Like Marsanne, the chenin blanc grape hails from France (the Loire Valley) and, one of the most versatile grapes in the world, it was (and probably still is) used extensively in cheap California bottlings either alone (I can still see that bottle of sweet chenin I drank in my college dorm) or blended with Chardonnay. Tasting a good South African chenin blanc 15 years ago in England was a revelation. And then I discovered that Vouvray is 100 percent chenin blanc.
This Clarksburg wine smells of fruit and flowers, tastes rich and full with pear and pineapple notes and has good crisp acidity. I tried it with a grilled fig and cheese flatbread and with a dish of sautéed rapini and enjoyed every last sip. Also like the Marsanne, it has (relative to California wines) a low alcohol content (12.5 percent), so I didn’t hesitate to sip away.
Clarksburg makes three chenin blancs, by the way — this one, a “Vouvray style” chenin, and a blend with viognier. All are excellent — I’ll be writing about the Chenin Blanc VS in another column. You can try — and buy — them all at Sugar Mill tasting room.
While I’m on the subject of interesting local whites, I have to tell you about the Kitson 2011 pinot gris. Brad Kitson is a Davisite who, after a career in high tech, moved here to learn wine-making and then stayed “because it’s a nice place for kids.” By day, he makes cab and chard for a boutique (a descriptor that always signals “expensive”) winery in Napa. But he also makes two wines under his own label (Kitson). The grapes for this lovely wine are from Donnelly Creek Vineyard in Anderson Valley. Brad’s a “big, big fan of cool weather white wines” from this area.
Brad describes his pinot gris as “a bit softer than an Italian pinot grigio with no detectable sweetness while showing a wide range of flavors that include floral and tropical notes, apples, pears, grapefruit and some of the unique nutty character traditionally found in this varietal.” Like the other two wines, it’s not easy to find, but Valley Wine Company does have a few bottles. (Although Brad’s retail price for this wine is $20, VWC is selling it for $13.99!)
I like Brad’s phrase “cool weather white,” because that’s certainly the way I think about these three wines. They would go beautifully with holiday fare; I’d like to have a bottle of each with the family turkey this year, in part because they would enhance but not overwhelm the wide range of flavors — from a tart cranberry sauce to garlic-y mashed potatoes to baked herbed butternut squash. I say, give them all golds.
If you’re already thinking about the holidays (already!), any of these three bottles would make a perfect holiday gift, especially for someone who lives elsewhere. For well under $20, you can give something really impressive that’s made locally and made on a very small scale. Your Los Angeles or Colorado or New Jersey friends and relatives won’t ever see these wines on their local shelves. The pinot gris’ label alone might inspire you to give it to someone special — it has a charming picture of Brad’s grandfather (who came to Napa to build its first car dealership) driving a car from 1916.
Three more reasons to “buy local.” I say give them all golds.
And speaking of local award-winning wines, Capay Valley Vineyards has a whole collection, and I’ll be pouring four of them on Tuesday, Nov. 13, at Monticello, 630 G St. So come join me for good wine and good conversation — anytime between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. ($5 plus tax/tip).
— Reach Susan Leonardi at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com