Okay, summer’s over, and just as you trade shorts for a fleece jacket, it’s time to drain the dregs of those light, thirst-quenching summer wines—that frisky vinho verde, the swimming-pool rose—and uncork the sturdier stuff of autumn. While it’s fun to experiment with those catchy $10 labels to serve with an impromptu pasta or burger off the grill, when it comes to a Big Deal dinner—the upcoming holidays or a guest list flush with People to Impress—it’s also time for a Big Deal wine. A wine of fuller body; longer, more aromatic finish; and mouthfeel that lingers in your dreams. But—um—which? Read on. Here are notes from a recent tasting of several premier California winemakers’ flagship pours.
The 2011 Overlook Chardonnay from Landmark Vineyards, in Sonoma County, doesn’t boast of single-vineyard status. Instead, it opts for the best of the best: grapes selected from over 20 vineyards, all barreled separately in French oak, then blended to achieve the winemaker’s nirvana—consistently, year after year. The nose is like an old-fashioned flower garden—honeysuckle and honey—which follows through with a full, creamy mouthfeel, wafting hints of nectarine, sweet apple, and toast ($25).
The 2011 Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena in Napa Valley was born of that year’s cool growing season, resulting in lower sugar that allows the voluptuous, fruity flavors of peach and nectarine to shine. An aroma of even sweeter tropical fruit bonds with a lighter hint of pear on the palate. That pear follows through to the finish, underscored by a hint of nuttiness from its oak aging ($50).
If you’re looking for a luscious, deep-deep ruby Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon, look to Justin and its 2010 Paso Robles vintage. Justin hand-picks and hand-sorts its grapes, then, after the crush, rests the juice in small oak barrels for over a year. 2010’s long, cool growing season provided balance and crispness to the underlying flavors of black current and cherry, underscored wit aromas of—yes—licorice and cedar, along with the vanilla gleaned from barreling in American oak. It’s oh-so-smooth to sip and savor ($26).
Even more lush, if that’s possible: Concannon Vineyard’s 2009 Captain Joe’s Reserve Petite Sirah, grown on the winery’s Livermore Valley estate. Breathe in, and you’ll inhale spices like nutmeg and cloves that introduce a soft and creamy palate feel with flavors of blueberry and blackberry. It’s been aged in oak 17 months, and you can continue to age it in your cellar for six years, if you can resist that corkscrew. Serve it with everything from burgers to Gorgonzola to a rich but not-so-sweet chocolate dessert ($36).
Speaking of dessert: Time to break out the Port—Graham’s Six Grapes Port, to be exact (and thrilled. And economical; called “the everyday Port for Vintage Port drinkers, it’s only $22). It’s rich, dark, and fruity—think plums and cherries—and robust. Perfect for the fireside, with its long, lingering finish.