By: April Louis
May 16, 2022
Tasting Highlights' wine reviews are fresh out of the tasting room, offering a sneak peek of our editors' most recent scores and notes to WineSpectator.com members.
Stretching from Santa Barbara County to the San Francisco Bay area, California's Central Coast AVA is one of the most diverse wine regions in the country. Featuring Monterey Chardonnay, Santa Barbara Pinot Noir, Paso Robles Zinfandel and more, this week's selection displays the sheer range of Central Coast wines available. Even better, all ten wines here have earned 90 points or more on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale, offering some of the best examples from this expansive region.
Santa Barbara is known for its lively and brigh-fruited wines. Take Margerum’s Sybarite Sauvignon Blanc for example; it delivers fresh pomelo, citrus zest and lime leaf flavors on a sleek yet juicy frame. But Santa Barbara is perhaps best-known for its Pinot Noir. Optik’s Bien Nacido Vineyard bottling is a light and piercing version with cherry, blood orange, pomegranate and tarragon notes.
While the warm Paso Robles region is known for Rhône-style wines and Zinfandels, Adelaida has succeeded here with Chardonnay. Vineyards in the Adelaida District AVA benefit from chalk-limestone soils and the Pacific's influence, which causes significant diurnal swings during the summer, allowing Chardonnay to thrive. As a result, Adelaida’s HMR white bursts with stone fruit flavors and butterscotch, ginger and orange sherbet notes.
Moving up Route 101, the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation lies near the coastal town Monterey. Morgan has been making wine in the area since the 1980s, including the zesty G17 Syrah below, a great value at $25. Farther north, Contra Costa County may not be the Central Coast's best-known subregion, but it's notably home to century-old vines. The region's Evangelho vineyard, for instance, was planted more than 130 years ago by Portuguese immigrants. It's the source of the Zinfandel, Mataro and Carignan grapes used by Bedrock winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson to craft the unique field blend below, which displays rich cherry and orange peel notes supported by lively tannins.
By: Nathan and Courtney Marton
Lofty blackberry, roasted pine nut, juicy blood orange. Ethereal bing cherry, forest floor, rhubarb pie. Gorgeously expansive and elegant bursts of pomegranate preserves, ripe cranberry, and blueberry lead a deep yet delightfully delicate attack magnificently complicated by captivating organic tones of forest floor, sautéed mushroom, and peat moss. Notes of cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, and thyme contribute intriguing waves of lifted spices that dance alongside perfumed floral tones of rose, lavender, and violet. Hints of nori and sea breeze gently impart beautifully fresh saline character that collides with gravely earthiness in a brilliant display of terroir. Hauntingly high toned and expressive on the nose while remaining thoroughly generous and ripe yet nicely restrained on the palate; exhibiting a bold yet perfectly balanced presentation that frames seductive fruit against an incredible backdrop of complex non-fruit flavors. Medium-plus bodied with moderate tannin backed by bright acidity. This 2018 Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir by Morgan Winery is a pure and pedigreed red from the Santa Lucia Highlands.
Located in Monterey County along the eastern-facing foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range, the Santa Lucia Highlands is one of California's most well known and iconic regions for the production of Pinot Noir thanks to the influence of cold wind and fog that blows in daily from the nearby Monterey Bay. This bottling, crafted by Morgan Winery using Pinot Noir sourced from their estate Double L Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands, is an irresistible example of the unique combination of concentration and balance that wines from this region can express. This effortlessly leaps from the glass with pronounced aromatics of dark and red fruits intertwined with pleasant forest tones, intricate spices, perfumed florals, and deliciously salty earthiness. While drinking wonderfully today this should also continue to age and improve in bottle for at least 5-10 years, where its plump fruit will eventually subside to reveal greater tertiary complexity. Excellent.
By: Laura Ness
There’s a trend in the competitions I’ve judged so far this year: Albariño keeps showing up in a big way. At the 2022 San Francisco Chronicle Competition, an Albariño from Wood Family in Livermore topped a field of 41 entries—a record number—to earn Best of Class. At the just held 2022 East Meets West Wine Competition, a 2021 Albariño from Las Positas, another Livermore winery, won Best of Show, beating out 1,100 total entries for the top prize. Let’s hear it for this Iberian white popular in Spain (30K acres) and Northwest Portugal (14K acres), whose acreage has doubled in CA since 2012. Yep, we’re up to a whopping 560 acres now.
Local favorite Morgan, won a lot of hearts and big smiles with the 2020 Morgan Albariño (13%, $24) from Arroyo Seco. Gorgeous floral aromatics just charm your nose, and the pleasing flavors of melon, white peach and a hint of salty prosciutto make this wine a keeper. Soft and delicate, but with definitive presence from start to finish. A most engaging composition.
Morgan winemaker Sam Smith tells us this wine is from the Mission Vineyard in the northern reaches of Arroyo Seco, very close to the SLH, and that Morgan has been sourcing from there for seven years. He used Cross Evolution yeast to enhance both aromatics and mouthfeel, which is also bolstered by barrel aging for six months in 11% new French and Hungarian barrels, with the balance being neutral. He picked the fruit at 21.5 brix. Asked what he’s aiming for with this wine, Smith says, “We are trying to achieve a wine that is relatively lean and very fresh, with effusive aromatics and enough mid palate richness to be paired with oysters and lunchtime fare alike.”
The full article can be viewed by clicking here.
By: Nathan and Courtney Marton
Delicate strawberry, gravely earth, white raspberry. Rainier cherry, wildflowers, tart grapefruit. Beautifully tense and nervy bursts of citrus zest, nectarine, and watermelon highlight a bright and impressively balanced fruit core that is decidedly dainty, energetic, and crisp. Hints of dandelions, baby's-breath, and lavender gently provide soft floral overtones that are pleasantly complicated by suggestions of pine needle and clean garden herbs. Notes of crushed granite, stony minerality, and mild salinity reveal wonderfully textured earthiness to round out the lively and tremendously youthful attack. Delightfully clean, focused, and precise on the palate with outstanding intensity and freshness; exhibiting tremendous primary refreshment while remaining notably elegant and restrained. Light bodied and carried by delicious high acidity. This 2020 Double L Vineyard Rosé of Pinot Noir by Morgan Winery is a serious and invigorating rosé from the Santa Lucia Highlands.
Though best know as one of California's premier regions for expressive and fruit-driven Pinot Noir, the Santa Lucia Highlands is also capable of putting out some of Golden State's very best Pinot Noir-based rosé. This bottling, crafted by Morgan Winery using 100% Pinot Noir sourced from their estate Double L Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands, is an excellent example of the tension and drive this cool coastal region can create. Crafted in a tart and linear style, this wine boasts a citrus and red berry led fruit profile complicated by delicate floral tones, light herbal qualities, and fantastic minerality. It is perfectly structured to pair well with a range of food and cheeses, yet is also absolutely delicious to sip and enjoy on its own. Excellent.
Good Times Santa Cruz
By Josie Cowden
Morgan is one of the better-known wineries in the Monterey Bay area. Consistently making great wines for nearly four decades, they have earned a well-deserved reputation.
Owner and winemaker Dan Morgan Lee found his path into the wine business when he was studying to be a veterinarian at UC Davis, but switched courses when he discovered enology satisfied his interest in both science and agriculture.
Some of his more special Pinot Noirs come from his Double L Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands. The 2017 Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir ($65) is a luscious treat. Rich with aromas of strawberry preserves, cinnamon, peppercorn, and a hint of herbs, it is augmented by flavors of tart cherry and savory spices. Dan Morgan calls it “an exquisite match for duck confit, lamb shank, and prime rib.” Wine Enthusiast awarded it 96 points.
Located in the northern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, this special area is widely regarded as “one of the best spots for growing top-flight Pinot Noir.”
With Easter just around the corner, the Double L Pinot would be a marvelous addition to your festive celebration.
Los Gatos Magazine
By Laura Ness
Chilly is the watchword on the Central Coast. When you head to the beach, no matter how warm it is inland, you always take a sweatshirt. As sunny as California is, the coast is often not warmly welcoming. Vineyards planted within 10 miles of the Pacific Ocean are guaranteed to feel its omnipresence, and, occasionally, its omnipotence.
When winegrower and owner Dan Lee and his wife Donna planted the 48-acre Double L Vineyard at the northern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands bench in 1997, they named it "Double L" (luck) for their twin daughters. In 2001, it became the first and only certified organic property in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Aromas of lemon curd, honey butter, cardamom, flint and cashew toffee are joined by layers of bright Meyer lemon, clementines, salted caramel and lemon bars, Generous acid, complexity from the five clones that comprise it (4, 15, 17, 76 and 95), along with a persistent clean finish, make this a versatile food wine. Enjoy with anything from seared garlic scallops to sautéed wild mushrooms with creamed corn and fennel. Or a ribeye topped with cowboy butter.
Review By @wineryreflections
Juicy red cherry, finely-ground black pepper, crunchy boysenberry. Fresh-picked strawberry, overgrown bramble, red licorice. A delightfully clean and expressive procession of wild blackberry, raspberry, and cranberry compote booms with pure and pretty exuberance as notes of undergrowth, leather, and cigar smoke beautifully complicate the charmingly aromatic display. Wafts of rose petal, carnations, and blooming flowers gracefully emerge in a layer of high-toned florals while hints of olive tapenade, bougainvillea, and summer sausage reveal subtle yet interesting savory and natural tones. Complex impressions of Hungarian paprika and exotic spices provide an intriguing edge while flecks of gravelly soil expose delicate underlying earthiness. Enticingly weightless, fragrant, and multidimensional on the nose while remaining fresh and playful on the palate; exhibiting outstanding balance and finesse in a package that effortlessly marries depth and drinkability. Medium in body with moderate tannin backed by nicely elevated acidity. This 2018 "Cotes du Crow's" by Morgan Winery is an elegant and exciting Rhone red from Monterey County.
Though primarily known as one of California's greatest regions for the production of cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Monterey County contains a wide range of mesoclimates capable of ripening a diverse selection of grape varieties. This bottling, crafted by Morgan Winery using a blend of 66% Grenache/31% Syrah/3% Tempranillo sourced from within Monterey County, magnificently showcases the immense potential Rhone varieties have in the region. Made in a flavor-packed yet delicate style similar to the region's Pinots, this wine generously wafts from the glass with attractive aromas of plump red and black fruit, bright florals, wonderful brambliness, and intriguing layers of peppery spice. It is expressive and forward while remaining perfectly balanced and restrained, and is undoubtedly one of the most impressive values we've experienced in quite some time. Excellent.
Have you tried a Rhone red blend from Monterey County?
Are we all ready for Thanksgiving feasting? Whether you plan to dine alone or with your family pod, cooking at home or ordering out or finding a cozy parklet, Laura Ness has lots of ideas on where to find the best fixins. When it comes to picking the best wines to pair with that turkey dinner, Laura chooses Morgan.
“Morgan has you covered if you’re craving a zesty and grapefruit-driven Sauvignon Blanc to cut the dust. Few producers can consistently turn out Pinot Noir the way proprietor Dan Morgan Lee and winemaker, Sam Smith, craft the Double L Pinot. It’s always just big enough, ripe enough and delicious. The Double L Syrah delivers meaty, savory, bacony, fennel-studded goodness to pair with a bacon wrapped turkey, duck or pheasant breast, if you’re thinking of skipping the whole bird. Love the new 2018 Highland Chardonnay, with its core of lemon vanilla custard.” - Laura Ness
We are all excited for the soon to be released 2018 Morgan Double L Syrah. This limited production, organically grown estate wine is tasting fabulous. Don’t take our word for it, wine writer Fredric Koeppel recently scored this wine as Excellent.
“Deep dark ruby hue; black cherries, currants and plums, opening to exotic touches of sandalwood and cloves, lavender and violets; a depth of tar and loam; then a high note of blueberry; the power of acidity like an electrical current and slightly dusty, graphite-tinged tannins; the essential hint of garrigue — a hillside of wild thyme, rosemary and sage. Now through 2023 to ’25. Excellent.” – Fredric Koeppel, November 2020
With so many Pinot Noir options out there it's nice to have a list of recommendations from a well-known pinot noir reviewer. Rusty Gaffney (aka the Prince of Pinot) recently reviewed the 2018 Morgan Twelve Clones Pinot Noir and it made his list for excellent value pinot noirs.
“Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Enticing aromas of earthkissed black cherry and spice. Plentiful ripe black cherry and blackberry fruit flavors in a mid-weight plus, exuberant, fruit-driven style with a good supportive acid vibe. An underlying earthiness adds interest.” – PinotFile, November 2020