Monday, January 22, 2024

The clear, oceanic white wines of California's Cormorant Cellars

Much of the U.S. has been hit with some bitterly cold weather in recent weeks. And Winter will have more for us on the way. Many folks take a break from wine for a while around this time of year, or pull the cork on a warm red wine. But once of my favorite things about the dead of winter, is cooking up a vibrant salad, maybe a lemon-butter fish dish, and a crisp, mineral-driven white wine. I like Winter and spend a lot of time outdoors in the cold, but this helps brighten things up during the shorter months as we look forward to Spring.

One California producer that rocks the white wine category is Cormorant Cellars. Based in Sonoma’s Healdsburg, this producer is relatively new, having kicked off in 2018. Founder Charlie Gilmore, however, has been into winemaking for two decades. With this project, he sources organic grapes from Sonoma, Monterey, and the Santa Cruz Mountains, and makes wines in a unfined, unfiltered, but crystal-clear style. They have an old-school, unassuming appeal, but the depth and flavor are packed in there well. 

Sauvignon Blanc vines in the Montorana Vineyard. Credit: Allison Handbury

When I first tasted their Sauvignon Blanc, it hit differently. Vibrant, natural but focused, complex, delicious – and this coming from someone who doesn’t generally turn to California Sauv Blanc that often. To follow that up, their Chardonnay is bright and crystalline, and they also have a new Grenache Blanc-Marsanne blend that brings out the best of both grapes. 

Charlie grew up spending time on the Monterey coast, where he fell spent time with his dad watching and photographing cormorants – long-necked, fish-eating, colony-nesting birds of the coast. (Can you tell I’m a birdwatcher, too?). I grew up on the opposite coast, and my mother, who taught me to surf, also drew my attention to these oceanic birds. (Did you know they can dive for up to two minutes?) Perhaps it’s a coincidence that the wines in this post have such an oceanic essence and would go great with fish. Perhaps. But if you’re feeling a bit stale about California white wines, Cormorant is seriously worth checking out. 

Oh, and they also produce a new red bend of Merlot, Cab, and Petit Verdot, which I didn’t taste here. 

These wines were received as samples and tasted sighted. 

2021 Cormorant Cellars Chardonnay Zabala Vineyard - USA, California, Central Coast, Arroyo Seco
SRP: $27
Medium yellow color. The aromas pop with lemon and quince, green lemon, along with plenty of white and yellow flowers, and a pleasantly natty vibe, some saline and oyster shells – lovely. The palate sports a zesty and bracing appeal with salty, rocky shoreline appeal. The green apple, kiwi, and orange peel flavors are accented with a crazy mix of dried honey, almond skin, chalk dust, sea salt. It’s intense in a lot of ways, but I think it’s incredibly well done. (92 points)

Credit: Allison Handbury

2021 Cormorant Cellars Sauvignon Blanc - USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $24
Pale lemon color. The nose is a bright and aromatic mix of lemon peels, orange zest, grapefruit, along with slate, crunchy sea salt, white flowers, oyster shell, and hints of almond. The palate is racy and taut with an energetic appeal but some nice textural depth. Crunchy green apples, lemons, orange peel, the fruit is infused with saline, ocean spray, honeysuckle, some mint. Such a focused wine with a mineral kick on the finish. Racy, vibrant, complex, and this should age well, too. A beautiful Dry Creek Sauv Blanc. (92 points)

2021 Cormorant Cellars Preston Vineyard - USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $27
Light yellow color. Peachy keen on the nose with a great mix of green melon, peach nectar, papaya, lime zest, along with yellow and white flowers, potpourri, some pineapple candies and honey. The palate sports a rich texture but a classic Grenache Blanc salty-zesty appeal, with flavors of peaches, papaya, kiwi, and oranges. I love the intricacies and detail within the floral and spice tones, and lots of chalk and minerals. Rich but vibrant, pure and racy, this is a wonderful blend of these two varieties (Grenache Blanc with 36% Marsanne). (91 points) 

A cormorant with a fish lunch off the Jersey Shore. 

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