Monterey Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Shine

The 2010 vintage  in the Santa Lucia Highlands produced some high-quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, starting with a pair of Double L Vineyard bottlings from Morgan Winery.

The work that made that vintage come to life, however, began back in 1996 when winemaker and co-owner Dan Lee bought the 65 acre site with an eye toward developing an organic and sustainable grape-growing operation.

Dan Lee, Morgan Winery

The Morgan vines are planted on the northern end of the SLH viticultural area, which rises from the edge of the Salinas Valley to nearly 2,000 feet above sea level on the slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains.

Grapes have been cultivated in Monterey County since vines were introduced by Spanish clergymen in the late 1700s. Modern wine-growing was introduced int the 1970s. By 1991,  the region became an official American Viticultural Area.

Lee began his career in wine with an apprenticeship at Jekel Winery, one of Monterey County’s pioneering wineries. He started Morgan in 1982 in Salinas and began to immediately make award-winning red and white wines.

The Double L Vineyard, named to honor Lee’s twin daughters (double luck), is roughly one-third Chardonnay and two-thirds Pinot Noir. The vines are planted along a north-south axis, giving the grapes equal exposure to sunlight.

Morgan Chardonnay Delivers

I think the 2010 Chardonnay ($36) is outstanding.

At an SLH Wine Artisans Group tasting this week in San Francisco, the wine showed bracing citrus highlights and a creaminess that comes from aging in French oak (40 percent new).

The juice is a brilliant gold color and the nose echoed some of that citrusy goodness along with a pleasant whiff of oak.

The 2010 Mer Soleil “Silver” Chardonnay ($24) appealed to me on a different level. The wine is made in concrete tanks with absolutely no exposure to oak. The wine has overtones of sweet lemons and other citrus.

I also liked the La Rochelle 2010 Chardonnay from Rosella’s Vineyard ($65), grown at a similar elevation only a few miles south of the Double L.

I got the same type of citrusy overtones (grapefruit?) from this taut, tight, balanced wine.

Paraiso Vineyards produced one of the best bargains of the tasting with its $20 2010 Estate Chardonnay.

There’s a fine line of citrus flavors here, too, but it’s not overdone. I liked the faint spritz that this little wine offered, too.

Pinot Pleasures

One of the red wines I enjoyed a lot also came from Paraiso.

The Paraiso 2008 Faite bottling of Pinot Noir ($65) showed a bit of eucalyptus in the nose, followed by red fruits with just a touch of fine oak tannins.

The grapes were selected from the estate vineyard’s best block. Only 148 cases were produced.

The Morgan Double L 2010 Pinot Noir is a balanced wine with beautiful texture. There’s a classic Pinot nose, medium body and delicate tannins. The wine is very approachable, even in its youth.

The 2008 Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48) from Pelerin Wines also caught my attention.

It showed a bit more fruit (red cherries with cranberry) than the Double L, alongside good acids providing excellent balance.

One of the last wines I tried at the tasting, Wrath’s 2009 Tondre Grapefield Vineyard Pinot Noir ($49)  provided a lot of pleasure.

This rich, ripe wine (like tasting a mixed berry compote) is just what I wanted to take home for dinner.

Have you tried any Monterey County wines that you’d like to recommend? I’d love to get your comments.

You can try the best of the best from the Santa Lucia Highlands on May19 when the SLV group hosts its fourth annual gala tasting at Mer Soleil. Tickets are $85. Click here for details.

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