Two California Favorites:
Let's stick with a California theme this week, following up on Monday's discussion of the Golden State's wines in general with tasting reports on a couple of items from two of the state's smaller producers whose wines I consistently enjoy.
Mosby Winery and Vineyards is located toward the southern end of the state, near the village of Buellton in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County. Wine maker Bill Mosby purchased the historic Rancho de la Vega and planted vineyards there more than 30 years ago, first producing wines under the "Vega" label, switching to his own name on the label in the middle 1980s.
Never one to follow the more traveled road, Mosby generally shuns the popular grapes (although he does make a bit of Chardonnay), instead staking his claim on Italian varieties. There's Pinot Grigio and Sangiovese, of course, but Mosby goes beyond the obvious to a roster of Italian regional grapes that you'll rarely see growing in California vineyards: Lagrein, Cortese, even the oddball Teroldego of Alto Adige ... not to mention a handful of fiery Italian-style distillates including a Traminer grappa and a wild-plum brandy. I reported on Mosby's 2000 Teroldego in Monday's extensive reports from the "MoCool" gathering in Michigan. Featured below is an earlier tasting of his one Rhone-style bottling, "Roc Michel."
Up in Calistoga in the Napa Valley, an attractive winery almost small enough to miss on a casual drive-through is Madrigal Vineyards, another small producer with a long family heritage in its region.
Owner-winemaker Chris Madrigal - using a musical-stave label logo that plays a visual pun on his family name - makes Zinfandel, Merlot, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon of very high quality indeed, selling them at a price point a few bucks beyond trivial but well below "cult" level. I reported on his 2000 Petite Sirah from MoCool. Today we taste his 2000 Zinfandel, a worthy effort that demonstrates what a good wine maker can do to salvage a less-than-successful vintage.
LOCATING THESE WINES: Some of the most interesting wines from California, and just about every other world wine region, come from producers too small to have wide national and international distribution. Sometimes the best way to get wines from these artisanal producers may be during visits to the winery. But things are changing gradually, despite significant opposition from entrenched economic forces, in the age of the Internet. Check both winery Websites listed in the tasting reports below for where-to-buy-it and contact information.
Madrigal 2000 Napa Valley Zinfandel ($25)
The conventional wisdom holds that 2000 was a poor vintage for Zinfandel in Napa and Sonoma, an unseasonably cool autumn yielding underripe grapes that made unappealing "green" and "herbal" Zinfandel. But give credit to Madrigral: They played the cards that nature dealt and laid down a winning hand in this complex and relatively subtle expression of a grape usually better known for its exuberance. Clear dark reddish-purple in color, it breathes characteristic but relatively subtle Zin blackberries and raspberries enhanced with distinctly spicy overtones. Full and bright berry and spice flavors follow the nose, adding pleasant leafy and herbal notes that accent but don't dominate the fruit. It's idiosyncratic by the usual Zinfandel standard, but I find it more multi-dimensional than many Zins, and that's worth applause. (Aug. 26, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Grilled rare steak is the classic accompaniment for Zin, but this one worked well with a vegetarian alternative: Fried slices of Italian eggplant topped with fresh whole-milk mozzarella and set on a bed of chopped garden tomatoes drizzled with olive oil.
VALUE: I'm not ecstatic about top-tier Zinfandels in general rising into the middle $20s or higher, but Madrigal's offering certainly meets the competition at this price point.
WHEN TO DRINK: Fine for drinking over the next year or two, but I wouldn't cellar it.
WEB LINK: Madrigal's simple Website indicates that a more comprehensive edition is coming soon. Meanwhile, you can get basic information about its wines, and join the winery E-mail list, at
Mosby 2000 "Roc Michel" Monterey County Red Table Wine ($18)
Mosby specializes in Italian-style wines from grapes of Italian ancestry, with this single exception: Roc Michel ("Michael's Rock," named after Bill Mosby's son Michael, who owns the Fremir Vineyards in Monterey County where these Syrah and Mourvedre grapes are grown) is the producer's single Rhone-style wine. Clear, dark ruby in color, it shows reddish-orange highlights in the glass. Its complex, spicy aroma offers brown spices and floral perfume, a distinct note of cola and a whiff of raspberry. Juicy and bright fruit takes over on the palate, cherry-berry with spicy nuances that mirror the nose. Full and fresh, with plenty of acidity for balance; clean if not overly long in the finish. (July 24, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: The wine's floral and spicy perfume demands a flavorful food match; it was a treat with a Filipino pork adobo accented with the aromatics of soy sauce, garlic and star anise.
VALUE: It's not cheap, but the winery price is competitive for a wine of this quality and flavor interest.
WHEN TO DRINK: Although ready to drink and likely meant for early consumption, the Syrah-Mourvedre blend ought to be cellarworthy for at least a few years.
WEB LINK: Mosby does a particularly good job of keeping its Website informative and up-to-date, with wine specifications and online sales to buyers in locations where the law permits:
In our forums:
Did you ever want to own a wine shop?
You'll rarely find a serious wine enthusiast who doesn't occasionally daydream about finding a day job in the world of wine, whether it be wine maker, wine importer, wine merchant or even wine critic.
In our interactive Wine Lovers' Discussion Group Forum, visitor Larry M. got some straight answers, and a lot of in-depth advice, the other day when he asked, "What does it cost to start up a wine shop?" If you would like to read the discussion - or better yet, chime in with your own advice, click to:
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Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2003