Sunday, August 4, 2013

Mendocino Dreaming: Surfing and Sipping Parducci Wines

Cold, remote and rugged, the Mendocino Coast is full of empty (and sharky) surf spots.
Wine and waves are two of my favorite things in life. On a recent trip to Mendocino County, California, I got to enjoy both in the same day.

I was visiting with friends and family in Potter Valley, a small inland enclave that’s home to an increasing amount of vineyards. My mother, father, brother, sister and I all got up well before dawn and loaded up the car. My brother drove us up steep mountain roads lined with redwoods until we reached the coast. I’ve spent a lot of time in Mendocino — it’s one of my favorite places on the planet so far — but each time I catch a glimpse of the rugged, rocky coast, my stomach knots up with excitement.

The remote beach we chose was populated only by a handful of sleeping hippies. My brother and I suited up and paddled out into 50-degree waves. We surfed some frigid five-to-six foot beauties as the sun rose over the mountains to the west. After a few hours, I couldn’t feel my feet or move my lips, but I was in a state of complete bliss. Later that morning we hit up at a beach break at the mouth of the Big River and caught another hour’s worth of solid waves. When we couldn’t surf any more, we packed up the car and head inland.

A hillside Sauvignon Blanc vineyard in Potter Valley, Medoncino.
The next stop was Ukiah, home to one of my favorite Mendocino County winemakers, Parducci. I’ve spent many hours in the Parducci tasting room, sipping from their wide array of wines, touring the vineyards and winery. Still, Parducci is one of those places I’ll always come back to. Even though Parducci is a large producer, their tasting room is totally Mendocino: laid back, rustic, calm. I wore sandy flip-flops and a death metal T-shirt while others wore dusty boots and tank tops, and no one gave a damn. My tasting crew had grown to ten, including a baby in tow, and we all crowded around the bar to taste through Parducci’s portfolio. The tasting room attendant took care of our group like a pro, serving up decent-sized pours, answering questions, telling stories.

We started off with a few wines from Parducci’s Paul Dolan label, which is focused on organic and biodynamic fruit. Generally, the winery strives for organic grapes in most of their wines, but Paul Dolan wines fully embrace organic viticulture and winemaking. Paul Dolan also embraces the Potter Valley appellation on some of their labels. Much of the fruit from Potter goes into blends that sport a simple Mendocino County label, so it’s nice to see a producer trying to get the name of this appellation out there. I may be biased because I’ve spent a lot of time in Potter Valley and loved every minute of it, but I really think this is a special winegrowing region. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir do very well here in the dry climate and long growing season. It gets hot during the summer, which allows the fruit to grow plenty ripe, but during my July trip the temperature dropped 45 degrees at night, which helps the wines maintain crisp acidity.

Here are my thoughts on the Parducci wines I tasted…

N.V. Paul Dolan Vineyards Brut - Mendocino County ($27)
Paul Dolan’s done a great job making a Mendocino Brut at a very reasonable price. This blend of 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay smells of lemon, lime and freshly baked biscuits, a hint of butter. The palate is loaded with minerals and acid, backed up by crisp lime and green apple fruit. Very focused with delicate brioche and lemon butter undertones. Brisk, long finish. I’m impressed. (90 points)

2011 Paul Dolan Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc - Mendocino County, Potter Valley ($18)
It’s nice to see Paul Dolan embracing the Potter Valley label. This Sauvignon Blanc is a good example of what Potter can do with this grape. The wine smells of guava, honey, some flowers and just a whiff of chive. Juicy guava on the palate but the grapefruit and lemon flavors are zesty. I really appreciate the zippy acid and high minerality in this wine. Just a hint of grass, but this isn’t your average lawnmower New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. (88 points)

2011 Paul Dolan Vineyards Chardonnay - Mendocino County ($18)
Aromas of white flowers, brisk lemon and honey. Creamy on the palate with notes of whipped honey and nougat, but the citrus fruit keeps it tangy and balanced. A nice mineral tinge to the finish. Aged for five months in 15% new French oak and 85% stainless steel, giving the final wine a combination of richness and crispness. Well-done stuff. (88 points)

2010 Paul Dolan Vineyards Zinfandel - Mendocino County ($25)
Lots of stuff going on aromatically: a burst of wild strawberry and blackberry, mocha, pepper and an aroma that reminds me of dried hay or a briar patch or something. Anyway, it smells good. Loads of plums on the palate, a bit raisined perhaps, but not too much. Creamy tannins and medium acid come together to make this easy to sip and enjoy. Big, but not too overbearing. (87 points)

2010 Paul Dolan Vineyards Pinot Noir - Mendocino County, Potter Valley ($38)
Hey, this looks like Pinot! Light ruby color. A cranberry focus on the nose, along with spicy pepper notes, earth and sweet lavender. Beautifully aromatic and deserving of more than a tasting room sniff. On the palate, the acid is wonderfully brisk. Fine, creamy tannins support the fresh cranberry and cherry fruit. This shows some really interesting savory and earthy tones, and a bacon note lingers on the long finish. Elegant and light (with a moderate 13.5% alcohol content) but not simple in any way. I know Anderson Valley gets all the love, but I’m really digging Potter Pinot Noir. This wine is aged 19 months in 23% new oak barrels. (91 points)

I appreciate the way Parducci produces a range of wines at all sorts of price points. Their cheaper labels like the Small Lot Blends and Sketchbook are frequently good buys. I was also happy that the True Grit Petite Sirah made a showing at this tasting, as I’ve enjoyed previous vintages. In fact, it’s high up there on my list of best California Petite Sirahs.

2011 Parducci Pinot Noir Small Lot – California ($14)
I rarely recommend $14 Pinot Noirs. Well, here’s one. Light cranberry color is the first good sign. On the nose, strawberry jam mixes with rhubarb and subtle pepper. Fine tannins, crisp acid, a light and tangy approach. Strawberry and raspberry fruit with notes of vanilla and caramel. It’s not the most complex Pinot, but it does what it does very well. Harmonious and crowd-pleasing, it seems everyone at the tasting enjoyed this wine. (87 points)

2010 Parducci Cabernet Sauvignon Small Lot - Mendocino County ($14)
A combination of black and green pepper kicks off the nose, but there are also some saucy black cherry and currant aromas. Very creamy and silky on the palate with soft tannins for a Cabernet and medium acid. Currant and plum fruit is dusted with loam, bell pepper and toasty notes. Easy-drinking and a good Cab for $14. A blend of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petite Verdot. (85 points)

2010 Parducci Grenache Reserve - Mendocino County ($27)
A cranberry-plum color with thick legs in the glass. Dense on the nose, rather closed at first. I let it sit, swirled it around, and started getting raspberries, caramel and spice notes. Rich but juicy on the palate. Nice mix of blueberry and cranberry fruit, along with hazelnut, tobacco and loam. This wine tasted riper and more forward than the other wines in this tasting, but it holds its ripeness well. Huge flavor packed in here. This is a really young wine that could benefit from a long decant or some cellar time. Aged 20 months in seasoned French and American oak. (88 points)

2010 Parducci Petite Sirah True Grit - Mendocino County ($29)
This is the best True Grit Petite Sirah I’ve tasted so far. Inky black-purple color with thunder thighs in the glass. Huge nose of blackberry puree and boysenberry but there are also some potpourri and lavender aromas that rock. Dense and lush on the palate with firm, grippy tannins. The plum and boysenberry fruit is rich and pure, and accented by notes of grilled steak, earth and charcoal. Long, dusty finish. This is a really young wine that would benefit from a decant, but it’s beautiful stuff. One of the best Petite Sirahs I’ve had in a long time. (91 points)

2010 Parducci Port Reserve - Mendocino County ($30)
Big and sweet on the nose, with prunes, plum cake, vanilla wafers and rich mocha. Actually quite silky on the palate, with medium tannins. Fig paste, prunes and brandied plums on the palate, with notes of caramel and nuts. A little heat from the alcohol, but it’s not too bad. Everyone at the tasting enjoyed this wine. Bring on the bleu cheese. A unique blend of 50% Souzao, 20% Tinta Cao, 17.5% fortified brandy and 12.5% Touriga Nacional. (88 points)

See you in Mendocino!

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