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.
Monterey County Weekly
By: Dave Faries
Nature lets us know when spring arrives. The rains – such as they were – trickle to a stop. Meadows bloom. A new vintage of Albariño arrives at tasting rooms.
Actually, that may not be an official sign of the season, but perhaps it should be. Several wineries, including Morgan, I.Brand’s La Marea label, and Twisted Roots, released their new editions of the varietal over the past few weeks. It’s reason enough for a little spring Albariño fling.
Morgan’s 2020 version is distinctly genteel on the nose – floral, with whispers of whole mango and apple peelings. A sip lulls you at first, with soft blossoms and hints of buttered toast. But that is just a ruse, as brash lemon and tart apple burst onto the palate. The wine becomes brisk and playful before residing on the finish.
Albariño has sprung.
Edible Monterey Bay
By: Laura Ness
March 8, 2022 – The SLH is rich with storied wine brands, but only a few command consistent and significant presence on grocery store shelves. Morgan is one of them. Started by winegrower Dan Lee and his wife Donna in 1982, Morgan Winery has also been the incubator and training ground for two talented winemakers who have gone on to other great labels. David Coventry, who was instrumental in the development of Metallico, the very spirited unoaked Chardonnay from Morgan, is now at Talbott, after many years of consulting for various brands including Mesa del Sol and De Tierra. Following Dave Coventry at Morgan was Gianni Abate, who was lured away from Morgan to Chalone and subsequently on to other opportunities.
Abate’s departure left the door open for Sam Smith, a UC Santa Barbara alum who spent a semester abroad in Bordeaux, where his fascination with wine soon plotted his life’s path. On the way to his current home base in Salinas, he made Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley of Oregon and Syrah in the Northern Rhone: two places that solidified his love for cool weather grapes. As assistant winemaker at Margerum, he further explored coastal sites with chill and altitude, giving him the impetus to form his own label that would focus on cool, mountain sites. In 2016, Smith joined Morgan for his first harvest with Morgan Winery, the SLH lodestar.
We caught up with Smith, who also makes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah under his own label, Samuel Louis Smith, from a variety of local vineyard gems like Albatross Ridge, Bald Mountain, Coastview and Zayante. He’ll be pouring some of his wines sourced from the Pelio Vineyard, sited near the crest of Laureles Grade, at Soif this Thursday, from 5 to 7pm. Further details at the end of this piece.
EMB: What attracted you to the position at Morgan? How long have you been there now?
SLS: I was attracted to Morgan because it was a great opportunity to work for a historic brand and family-run winery. Morgan is a pioneer in organic viticulture in the SLH, which is really cool. I’ve been at Morgan for six years, so 2022 will be my seventh vintage.
EMB: How well does your winemaking approach mesh with that of your predecessor Gianni Abate? How would you describe your approach?
SLS: There are certainly some similarities, but also quite a few differences. These days, we’re doing less to enhance the already present richness and opulent fruit that we naturally get in the SLH, and utilizing a bit more native yeast and picking a little earlier when possible. Taking all of this into account, I think the wines we’re making now have a bit more lift and charm, and are a bit lighter across the board. That being said, the wines are still indistinguishably SLH.
EMB: Did Dan Lee describe a house style to you that he wanted to preserve? How involved is he in winemaking and blending decisions?
SLS: Yes, there is certainly a house style that we would like to preserve. However, as with everything, there’s always evolution. That evolution is being realized by the approach above. Dan’s not so involved in the winemaking these days, as he trusts me well. In most circumstances, we have a similar vision. Blending, however, is always a team effort.
EMB: How many of the varieties that you are making at Morgan had you made before and which were new to you?
SLS: I had made all varieties apart from Albariño. (Note: This grape is sourced from Cedar Lane Vineyard in Arroyo Seco and was a Silver medalist at the SF Chronicle Competition.)
EMB: Which varieties are the most challenging to make and why?
SLS: All varieties have their own personalities in the vineyard and winery that make them challenging, but Pinot Noir is probably a little more challenging, and Grenache probably a little less challenging than the rest of the pack.
EMB: Have you altered the use of cooperages since coming aboard?
SLS: Not much. Cooperage selection is one very big way to impact a house style, so it’s no surprise that the oak regimen remains steady as she goes.
You can taste Samuel Louis Smith at Soif on Thursday. Alexis and Dede are thrilled to welcome Samuel Louis Smith Wines and Pelio Estate Winery for a fun tasting on the Soif patio, Thursday, March 10, from 5 until 7pm. Tasting is $25 for the general public, and $10 for Soif wine club members.
Pelio Estate Vineyard is one of Smith’s Monterey sources for his personal portfolio. Planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir by the late Peter Figge, it is owned by the Pelio family, who are working on opening a tasting room in Carmel Valley Village. After Figge’s tragic passing, the Pelio Family turned to Greg and Chris Vida to make their wines. As part of his commitment to cool, mountainous sites, Smith makes both a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from this vineyard under his eponymous label.
The vines at Pelio Vineyard grow in what was an ancient seabed approximately 12 million years ago. Sitting just 6 miles from the Pacific Smith describes this site as truly on the edge of viticulture.
At the Soif tasting, guests will be able to try two Pelio Vineyard sourced Pinot Noirs side-by-side, made by different winemakers. The opportunity to do this is always enlightening, both for the audience and the presenters alike. How does fruit from the same dirt taste in two different glasses? Only one way to find out. Uncork and taste truth.
Both producers will also be pouring two other wines from their portfolios as well.
Smith told us he calls his 2019 Pelio Vineyard Pinot Noir, “Carmelita.” It is 100% from Pelio. He will also pour his 2020 Chardonnay from the Spear Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills and his 2020 Syrah from Coastview Vineyard in the Gabilan Mountains.
EMB: Why did you choose to source from Pelio Vineyard?
SLS: I chose Pinot Noir from Pelio because the terroir is very interesting and great for growing mineral- and structure-driven Burgundian varietal wines. While retaining good acidity, they also ripen at relatively low potential alcohol. My Samuel Louis Smith brand is focused on organically farmed, mountain sites, and Pelio qualifies.
Pelio Vineyards is located in the hills above Carmel Valley
EMB: How does Pelio differ from the Double L site?
SLS: While both are organically farmed and cool-climate sites, they are very different. The soil at Double L is granitic sandy and clay loams, and while the air temperature is generally a little warmer than at Pelio, it is much windier, so that is a cooling affect that lowers the canopy microclimate and dramatically affects ripening and acid retention. Elevation at Double L is around 500 ft. On the other hand, the soil at Pelio is a very shaley clay loam with some diatomaceous material, resulting from uplifted seabed. The air temperature is generally a bit cooler, but wind plays less of a role. Pelio is at around 1000 ft elevation. Depending on the day, one site may be more affected by marine layer than the other.
EMB: Do you use different coopers or fermentation treatments for the Pelio Vineyard wines?
SLS: There are some overlaps and differences. I use some of the same coopers, but generally select barrels from those coopers that are little more subtle, as that’s what the site requires. I generally pick earlier and use much more whole cluster, in the 50-80% range.
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.
Monterey County Weekly
By Dave Faries
It’s the time of year when treasured family recipes are consulted, when there are siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles around to help with the tedious masa process, when you just give up and order tamales from a convenient location, in this case Mariscos Puerto Nuevo in Seaside.
Pairing wine with Christmas tamales is not so far-fetched, at least until salsa enters the fray.
“You want something with lots of fruit and mild tannins,” says Kerry Winslow, a wine educator working with Windy Oaks in Carmel Valley.
A heaping of fruit on the palate helps prevent the wine from capturing any bitterness from the tamale, in this case filled with shreds of pork. His options include Zinfandel and Carignan. Rosé is a more common choice.
But Winslow pivots away from red or a versatile Rosé.
“If you’re looking for a good local wine and want to do white, the off-dry Riesling from Morgan,” he adds with an expression of “Eureka!” on his face. “That would be fabulous.”
Now, a little etymological aside is in order here. You see, the word serendipity has had a hard life. For starters, a clever linguist derived it from a fairy tale. Just the sound of it is exceedingly precious.
To make matters worse, business consultants pounced on the concept, seeing in it a “principle of chance” that could be dangled before management for $650 an hour. One pundit held it up as a major Generation Y consumer trend for 2014.
Sorry times, indeed. But when I visited the Morgan Winery tasting room in Carmel to pick up a bottle, staff member Rafael Perez smiled broadly behind his mask.
His mother had done a tamale practice run the previous weekend. And guess which wine Perez had on hand? The 2020 Morgan Riesling, an organic, single vineyard bottling.
The wine is fruity and floral on the nose, flaunting tart apple, but with a soft undertone of lemon and honey. A sip provides richer fruits—fresh cut peaches, skin peeled from a pear, honeysuckle and a trace of bitter zest. It’s elegant throughout, with a dry finish that subsides into must.
“It has a little natural sugar and good acidity,” Perez notes of the Kabinett-style Riesling. “It will cut through fat.”
Tamales from Mariscos Puerto Nuevo carry a rustic, natural sweetness in the masa. The pork is equally humble, with an earthy heft. Against this, the wine takes on a velvety feel—more opulent fruits, as if peaches had been baked down. Hints of whole orange and sliced apple emerge, along with a spicy tingle. The tamale benefits from the pairing, as well, gaining a soft, malty tone.
It’s a remarkable pairing that continues when the sauce is added. The Riesling flares momentarily, pricking the palate with cracks of black pepper that lends a rumble to the pork. When salsa is dabbed on, the wine responds nicely to the heat, raising its temperature a few notches before homing in on green pepper.
The Zoe Report
By Nicole Kliest
With a title like Autumn in New York and an all-star cast like Winona Ryder and Richard Gere, what's left to do than dim the lights and enjoy 103 minutes of fall foliage and a slightly depressing but all the same romantic storyline? For this film, eschew red and opt for a white with a full-body mouthfeel, like Chardonnay. It's fantastic with food and is an excellent white wine for the colder months of the year.
Pair It With: 2018 Double L Chardonnay
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.