Horizontal Tasting: Mariah Vineyards Pinot Noir from Cartograph and Waits Mast

Cartograph & Waits Mast Mariah PinotI love it when a plan comes together!  One of my favorite things about wine, is tasting the expression of the winemaker in the bottle.  Every touch, every decision, every nuance in his or her mind ends up in your glass.  Pinot Noir particularly responds to a gentle hand, and there is no better way to taste that than by tasting wine crafted by two winemakers, with fruit from the same vineyard.

In this case, I am lucky enough to know two fabulous wine makers who are using Pinot Noir fruit from Mendocino County’s Mariah Vineyard.  As a long time fan of the delicacy and brightness of Pinots from Mendocino County, I fell in love with these two wines at first sip – but each on it’s own merits.  Now, having the opportunity to taste them side by side, I can key in on the specific attributes of each wine that make my taste buds smile.

The Mariah Vineyard is located in the extreme reaches of Mendocino, and is part of the Mendocino Ridge AVA.  This is one of the most fascinating AVAs for wine, as it’s a non-contiguous region that is specifically drafted from “Islands in the Sky” – all vineyards that fit in the Mendocino Ridge AVA must be above 1,200 feet in elevation, and exist entirely within the coastal zone of Mendocino County.  The vineyards in this magical plane are blanketed in a thick layer of morning fog, helping maintain the zingy acids, and sit in small patches of usable space on the ridgeline that is often covered in heavy Douglass Fir forest.  Here in the Islands in the Sky, some of the state’s best Pinot Noir is grown.

First, the 2012 Cartograph Mariah Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48). Rich strawberry and cherry mingle with wild mint and wood smoke.  Fresh cream is present, with a slight cola note on the background.  Bright cranberry acidity plays with an herbal finish of forest floor and pine needles, with Bing cherries threading through the entire palate.  The finish is coated in ground baking spices, reminding me of a gingerbread house and Thanksgiving’s cranberry sauce.

In contrast, the 2012 Waits Mast Cellars Mariah VIneyards Pinot Noir ($42) is slightly wilder, with more black cherry and bramble berry pie.  The cedar woods are more pronounced, and the mint is hiding in the background.  A slightly richer wine, brown sugar dances on my palate.  The Waits Mast is Little Red Riding Hood, meandering the forest, darting in and out of black raspberry bushes, hinting at black cherry and voluptuous bramble berries, while enjoying a softer, more velvety mouth feel.  The finish is dusted with a pleasant pinch of white pepper.

The primary difference in these wines comes from the clonal selection of the specific blocks in the vineyard.   While the Cartograph block uses clone 115 and 777, the Waits Mast is block is 667 and Pommard.  Pommard is known to be a richer style Pinot Noir, with dark fruit and depth of flavor, while the 777 has that eartly, forest floor and herbal character that I found in the Cartograph.  The 667 in the Waits Mast brings out that dark cherry and plush tannin.   Another key difference is the use of commercial yeast (Cartograph) vs native yeast (Waits Mast).  Does yeast make a huge impact?  Sometimes.  Ocassionally.  Maybe.  These subtle but clear differences can showcase the stylistic features that each winemaker wants,  while still representing the fruit in a clear and present way.

In the end, these wines are so similar, that the primary different is so subtle, it can be hard to pick up.  Stylistically, they are on the same page; flavor wise, there are ever so subtle differences, that make them both sisters, and yet, unique.  So, vivre le difference!  Now, go forth and make your own vertical.  See what is different, and what is the same.  You won’t be sorry!


Hopping up to Hopland

Hopland PassportIt’s that time of year again!  The Easter Bunny is coming, hams will be baked and wines will be opened.  After the celebrations of food, wine, and family, why not spend a weekend away from the hustle and bustle in Mendocino’s hopping wine town of Hopland.

On Saturday and Sunday, May 3-4, 17 wineries in Hopland will open their doors to celebrate spring.  Hopland, about 90 minutes north of San Francisco, is the gateway to Mendocino County and offers both the atmosphere of a small town, but the fun and elegance of any wine destination.

From 11am to 5pm, these wineries will have their best wines open for tasting, including library wines, as well as live music, food pairings, and other fun things.  Even better, a shuttle service will take you from one end of of Hopland to the other, so you don’t have to worry about driving!

Some of my favorite stops on the list for this event are:

  • Campovida, with a stunning Rose that always sells out.  The Rhone style wines, located in the old Fetzer property are simply stunning.  Don’t miss this stop!
  • McFadden Vienyard, right in town, has budget friendly yet stunning wines from Pinot Gris and Riesling to Zinfandel.  Don’t miss the bubbly here!
  •  Saracina, a beautiful property north of town with fantastic Sauvignon Blanc
  • Seebass Family WInes, a new kid on the Passport trail, with delicious syrah

And more!

Tickets are $45 including the free shuttle service, and designated drivers are always free.  Collect all the stamps in your passport and enter to win a passport for next year!

Thank you to Destination Hopland for letting me attend, and saving me some yummy wines for Sunday!



I'm Hopping along…


To Hopland!  I’ve never actually been to Hopland, and while I”ve had some of the wnies that are produced there, next weekend will be the first time I’e been able to spend time focusing on the area.  The 20th Annual Hopland Passport kicks off Saturday, and runs through Sunday, showcasing 16 wineries, as well as food pairings and live music.

Hopland has gone to great lenghts to make this festival enjyable, including a shuttle that will whisk you from winery to wienry in air conditioned (err heated?) comfort.  I’m going to be pretty spoiled since they will even pick me up at my hotel!  Shuttle tickets are $20, but tha’ts a small price to pay to be able to drink in relaxed ease all day.

Tickets for the Passport are $45 for both days, and can be purchased in advance online or at any of the wineries listed below.  They include all wine tastings and activities, as well as a keepsake logo glass.  The 16 participating wineries are:

  • Jeriko Estate – serving roasted pig and tri tip paired with Estate wines
  • Saracina Vineyards – Truffled Cannellini bean puree and grilled flank steak (YUM!
  • Weibel Family Winery – Shitake mushroom bruschetta
  • Cesar Toxqui Cellars – Garden fresh pumpkin soup paired with new release 2010 Chardonnay.
  • My hosts at McFadden Vineyard are serving organic steak, and new releases.
  • Parducci Wine Cellars will be serving fresh oysters at their new tasting room
  • Campovida is pouring sustainable, organic and biodynamic wines paired with Mexican street food
  • Milano Family Winery will be releasing their ’09 Sangiovese and ’06 Lolonis Zinfandel!  Now I know this zin, and it’s not like any zin you might be expecting.  A great wine!
  • Jaxon Keys Winery has live music by the Felt Tips and artisan pizza
  • McNab Ridge Winery is pouring pinotage
  • Nelson Family Vineyards is also serving pizza, this time int he redwood grove.  Ahh relaxing!


Wait, did I just see PORK AND PINOT?  I might never leave Jeriko!  But then again, there are oysters are Parducci!

Hopeland is approixmately 2 hours north of San Francisco, just past Ukiah, in Mendocino County.  THe cooler climate products some great wines!  Hope to see you there!


Hopland is the center of a thriving wine community and gateway to beautiful Mendocino County – America’s Greenest Wine Region. Explore the pages in our site for information on wine tasting, arts & culinary events, health & wellness and other fun activities offered in our area, then get on the road  and make the trip to visit us here in the beautiful upper Russian River Valley.


Thank you to McFadden Vineyard and the Hopland Passport for inviting mne to this wondeful event!


Oh those Fetzer boys!


Yep, the pioneering family of the Sonoma Coast is at it again, this time with Masut Winery & Vineyards.  Ben & Jake Fetzer grew up on the vineyard, amongst the vines of Mendocino County.  After the family winery was sold in 1992, their father Bobby bought a new property in Redwood Valley and started over.  Here, Bobby, Ben & Jake focused on high quality organically grown Pinot Noir, naming it Masut – after the local Pomo Indian name for rich dark earth.

Sadly, Bobby left this world too early.  Frankly, I would want to go out like he did – living large, rafting the whitewater.  Ben & Jake were determined to carry on the family name, and started the Masut winery label in 2009, using only estate grown grapes.

The 2009 Estate Pinot Noir was aged in 55% new French oak.  It is a dark ruby, and tons of earthy goodness on the palate.  This is the opposite of a huge meaty Pinot Noir, and is a great example of how the cool climate of Redwood Valley produces subtle, different pinot noirs.  Dark berries and forest floor with a bit of coffee and bacon fat show through the medium body.  It has a touch more wood than I usually like but the earthiness is a welcome change from a puddle of pinot fruit bombs.  There is a sprinkling of nutmeg on top of the black cherry pie that really interested me.  After opening up a bit, I liked it more; there is something I just don’t like about Mendocino Pinot Noir though.  While there are many examples from Mendocino Ridge’s “Islands in the Sky” AVA that I adore, Redwood Valley is just not pinot country to me.  I’ve had some mind blowing cabs from that way, but this is just not my fave.

I think it’s a touch over priced at $40 but if you can find it for $25 I’d definitely try it just to get an example of what the cool, damn climate in California can yield.  I was lucky enough to get two bottles, so I think I’ll lay the other one day and see how it develops over the next few months.

Thanks for sending me this great example of Mendocino fruit!

Que Syrah Syrah!

This is a tale of two syrahs.  No, not a sirah and a syrah but two syrahs!  When I first heart about David Cole’s wine, he was working on another project called Redline, which I bought through my friends at WineQ.  I knew then they this guy had talent, and I was very excited when I found out that he had started another project, James David Cellars.

Now, I’ve already reviewed the Muscat Blanc here,  and you probably already know that I adore syrah.  But let me tell you WHY I adore syrah.  The vast differences in growing regions here in California, produce some unique and interesting syrahs that differ as much as Hetch Hetchy tap water differs from sulfuric spring water from the spa at Bath.

Syrah, which is certain southern hemisphere countries, or maybe even in Canada is referred to as Shiraz is a dark-skinned beauty which produces powerful red wines and luscious rose wines.  It has a long and illustrious history as one of the primary Rhone varietals of southern France, but it’s origins are dubious at best.  As near as we can tell, Syrah is the child of some grapes that I’ve never heard of, which are native to a small area in southeastern France, making Syrah one of the original Rhône grapes.

Syrah here in the US is typically one of two types, warm climate, or cool climate.  Now these are very different types of wine, and it’s fun to compare the two side by side to see the difference.  In warmer regions, like Paso Robles, it can often be blended with other Rhône varieties.  One example, and a personal favorite, is a GSM or Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre blend.  The cooler coast and mountain growing regions tend to produce more single varietal syrah.


Here, we start with the 2005 Eaglepoint Ranch Syarh from Mendocino.  Eaglepoint Ranch is a vineyard that is a partnership between John Scharffenberger, of both chocolate and sparkling wine fame, and viticulturist Casey Hartlip.  Eaglepoint produces Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Grenache.  James David’s syrah from this vineyard gave me aromas of coffee, chocolate, and cedar.  It was dark and brooding, just what I love on a cold fall night.  On the palate I tasted espresso, bright red fruit, smoke, juniper and burnt toast, and the hint of prunes followed by caramel.  With a layer of black pepper, the black fruit of this wine was perfect in front of the fireplace on the rainy night I pened it.  This is a classic cool climate syrah, with firm and chewy textures followed by smoked meat flavors.  The wine that drinks like a meal!  Priced at $24, this wine tastes a lot more expensive and is worth it.  STRONG BUY

Next, I tried the 2005 James David Cellars Central Coast Syrah.  This wine is a blend of two vineyards from the Central Coast region, one in Paso Robles, and one in Monterey. It’s what I imagine when I think of warm climate syrah, with tons of fruit and juicy flavors.  On the nose, I smelled a lot of plum and red fruit, which was followed by blue fruit, and juicy dark raspberries on the palate.  This is a great pizza wine, and is easy drinking and more simple than the Eaglepoint Ranch above.  At $21, it’s also worth trying to see a classic Paso syrah in action.  BUY


I’m excited that David is coming out with a Pinot and Cab in the near future, so please go out, try the syrahs and stay tuned for more!  Tell em The Wine Brat sent you 🙂