The Central Coast of California

The Central Coast American Viticultural Area (AVA) is a large wine growing region that spreads from San Francisco Bay south to northern Santa Barbara County. Within the Central Coast AVA there are more than 25 sub-appellations that all share the same cooling influences from the Pacific Ocean. This week we are taking a closer look at Monterey County, which contains seven sub-appellations, most notably the AVA’s of Monterey and Santa Lucia Highlands.

In the Monterey AVA, which is the largest appellation within the northern part of the Central Coast AVA, there are 40,000 acres planted to vineyards. Due to the nearby Pacific Ocean, the growing season tends to be long and cool, with daytime summer temperatures rarely exceeding 75̊ F. Encompassing the Camel Valley and parts of the Salinas Valley, the wind-whipped soils here are typically sandy and dry, with drip irrigation and trellised vines required in most vineyards. The cool climate and dry conditions are very accommodating to producing Burgundy style Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, as well as lush Rieslings.

Overlooking the Salinas Valley, The Santa Lucia Highlands AVA shares similar climate conditions to that of the Monterey AVA, with cool daytime temperatures and a typically long growing season. The soil here tends to be more gravel and limestone, and yields for vineyards located here are often as low as 1 ton per acre. The challenging conditions of the area contribute to producing some world-class Pinot Noir’s and 50 percent of the 2,300 acres under cultivation are planted with that varietal.

One winery that stands out as distinctly representative of both the Monterey and Santa Lucia Highlands AVA’s is Talbott Winery, located south of Salinas, Ca. along the El Camino Real. The Talbott Winery produces world-class Estate Grown Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from two of America’s most acclaimed vineyards, Sleepy Hollow Vineyard and Diamond T Vineyard. In the early 1980s, Robb Talbott started his original vineyard (Diamond T) on a cold, windswept mountaintop in Carmel Valley. Later he developed the Sleepy Hollow Vineyard a mere 18 miles away in the Santa Lucia Highlands.

While only a short distance apart, the two areas are of some contrast. The Diamond T Vineyard has soil free, chalky shale that produces miniscule yields that are quite intense in flavors. The Sleepy Hollow Vineyard has a more gravely loam soil that creates deep, voluptuous wines. The Diamond T Vineyard has a southern exposure that benefits from cool ocean fog in the early morning as well as the evenings. This moderate marine influence provides an extended growing season and thus produces intensely flavored and concentrated grapes.

The Sleepy Hollow Vineyard vines are planted in sparse, well-drained soils and have predominately east and northeast exposures. This contributes to a cool growing site with moderate temperatures resulting in a long growing season as well. The grapes here tend to have a longer hangtime, providing greater varietal characteristics.

Talbott Kali Hart Chardonnay Monterey 2009
Appearance: light straw with a youthful green hue
Aroma: toasty oak nose with a hint of creamy butterscotch
Flavors: butterscotch continues with vanilla and baking spice notes and a hint of red apple
Finishing Notes: very well balanced, with the lush flavors continuing through to a long palate with a fair amount of acidity on the lush finish

Talbott Kali Hart Pinot Noir Monterey 2009
Appearance: cloudy, brownish red hue
Aroma: cherry, blueberry and plum aromas with a hint of cinnamon
Flavors: the fruit flavors sweeten up on the palate with a touch of vanilla and cinnamon coming through
Finishing Notes: finishes bright and soft in a Burgundian style with the fruit flavors driving the core and baking spices along with a touch of earth and herbal on the end

Food Pairing:
– Chardonnay: Pair with rich dishes and flavors, such as butter or cream sauce based dishes and rich cheese dishes. Also pair with most mild shellfish like lobster, prawns, shrimp and steamer clams.
– Pinot Noir: Is greatly flexible with most foods. Pair with spices such as coriander, cumin, cinnamon, ginger and other baking spices. Also pair with smoked, grilled and charred meats as well as earthier flavors like mushrooms.

Perfect Pairing:
– Chardonnay: Roast lobster with a tarragon-lemon butter seasoned with a hint of sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.
– Pinot Noir: Lamb Shish Kababs marinated in olive oil infused with garlic, thyme, cinnamon and cumin with red onions, bell peppers and roma tomatoes

Weekly Wine Trivia

Name the Santa Lucia Highlands wine named after the sun and sea influences of the area.

Email your answer to Karl & Jody at [email protected]. The first correct answer in their inbox will receive a complimentary bottle of wine from them. Cheers!

Last week’s trivia: Originated in Venice, Italy, what is the name of the famous cocktail that combines prosecco with the juice of fresh white peaches?
Answer: The Bellini!
Congratulations to our winner for last week’s wine trivia, thanks for all the responses! Good luck this week.