Where Paso Robles shines with warmer weather varieties, Monterey County AVA showcases the best of cool-climate varieties, like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is also a place you can find solid quality at an affordable price.
For instance, Hess Family Estates Monterey Chardonnay ($16) enjoys the maritime influence of the Pacific Coast, with warm, sunshine-filled days, shifting to breezy, cool nights, locking in acidity after the warm days ripen the fruit. Harvest for Chardonnay in Monetrey often occurs after the red varieties are harvested, with fruit enjoying an extra extensive time on the vine, ripening slowly, gradually, and calmly. The resulting wine from this fruit shines with balance and enjoyability, revealing tropical fruit notes of mango and pineapple, melding with lemon zest and ripe apple.
From organically grown fruit in Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County, Morgan Highland Chardonnay ($18) captures and Old World style, with a New World backbone. Creamy, lush, and textured, undergoing partial malolactic fermentation, the wine melds a lean, racy, mineral intense profile, with a textured, round palate of ripe orchard fruit, tangerine, and mango.
From within Monterey’s Arroyo Seco AVA, a region known for stellar Chardonnay, J. Lohr October Night Chardonnay ($25) reveals the aromatic elegance of the Musque Clone of Chardonnay (a.ka. Dijon Clone 809). Grown in J. Lohr’s estate vineyard near the mouth of the Arroyo Seco River, protected from the strong winds off the Pacific, allowing the fruit to ripen with richness. Aromas of gardenia and honeysuckle open in the wine, followed by lush layers of mandarin, lemon curd, white peach, and gorgeous white flowers.
Rich, luxurious, and expressive, Miner Gary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir ($60) from the twenty-five-year-old, 50-acre Gary’s Vineyard within Monterey’s Santa Lucia Highlands nestled along the SLH terraces, overlooking the Salinas River Valley. The vineyard began as a collaboration between local wine-making royalty, friends, and growers Gary Franscioni and Gary Pisoni, who collaborate together to grow some of the finest fruit in not only the region but the state. Aromatic and silky, with ripe black plum, blackberry, and blueberry, seamlessly harmonizing with layers of nutmeg, allspice, and cedar. Bold yet balanced, with textured, firm tannin.
Calera’s Mt. Harlan Estate is nestled in the limestone soil-filled Gavilan Mountains east of Monterey Bay, sitting at roughly 2200 feet above sea level. The idyllic location is one of the coolest, and highest vineyards in the state, creating fruit with lively freshness and complexity. Calera Jensen Vineyard Pinot Noir ($105) showcases this complexity with a concentrated, rich wine with character. Black and blue fruits meld with floral notes of violet and lilac on the open, followed by layers of black cherry, black plum, and raspberry, finishing with a touch of spice and toasted cedar. Refined and noble, a perfect wine to enjoy with grilled salmon or roasted chicken, but can also easily pair with a roasted beef tenderloin with portobello mushrooms.