San Benito County Wines are Worth a Second Taste

Linda Kissam Ed2go Instructor_250Article by head Wine Chix  Linda Kissam
Linda Has have over 15  years in the wine business, both as a writer and a wine publicist. Informative, engaging, swirly and fun…aptly describes her. She travel both domestically and internationally to immerse herself in wine, food and destination experiences. She is the president of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association

San Benito County Wines are Worth a Second Taste

Wine Trail signI was able to taste through some wines from the San Benito County area a short while ago. Some of the wines I tried in person at the tasting room, others at a food and wine tasting closer to my home in Seal Beach, CA. It is in a pleasure to share my thoughts and introduce you to the rich fruit forward wines of Hollister located in San Benito County in California.

Can’t recall where Hollister or San Benito County are? It’s about 16 miles away from Gilroy and 25 miles from Monterey Bay, yet cooler than much of Napa County. According to local agriculture experts, San Benito ranges from Region I to Region III. The San Juan Valley is like Carneros, Hollister like Yountville and Paicines like Calistoga. The county is ringed and crisscrossed by mountains including the Gabilán range, immortalized by Salinas’ John Steinbeck in “East of Eden.” Valleys through these ranges channel cold air from the cold Pacific Ocean only 20 or 30 miles away.

Hollister winesUC Davis temperature records indicate that Hollister is measurably cooler than St. Helena in daytime highs and nighttime lows. What that means to you is that area vineyards can successfully grow a wide variety of grapes, from cool-climate Pinot Noir and zesty Gewürztraminers to chewy Zinfandel and fruit forward Cabernets. Some of the wines are earthy, others elegant. They are all food friendly. The ones I tasted were all surprisingly good and are definitely worth your time to check out.

The San Benito wine country is certainly worth a trip to. Fit it in when you are going to or from Napa, Monterey, Sonoma or Gilroy. When the other areas mentioned are blazing hot, you’ll experience much cooler temps here. It’s truly an undiscovered area showcasing memorable tastes, beautiful landscapes, milder temperatures and activities guaranteed to leave you wanting more.
Temecula Group tastingFrom the wines I tasted at the Wine Review Council meeting, here are some favorite picks and some food pairings.

1. Pietra Santa 2013 Pinot Noir, $18, San Benito Wines: Located in the Gabilan Mountains 25 miles east of Monterey Bay, Pietra Santa benefits from a maritime climate and unique soils. This is an earthy Pinot Noir from the Cienega Valley AVA, just 25 miles east of the Monterey Bay. This wine has just enough fruit and elegance to be memorable. Pair with a roasted corn and cotija salsa like the one found here.

2. Pietra Santa SangiovesePietra Santa 2010 Sangiovese, $18: San Benito Wines: The depth and complexity of this wine has made it an annual best seller and the ultimate companion to great Italian cuisine. Typical of this varietal, Sangiovese vines are rich and fruit forward, think intense bing cherry, blackberry, and a whisper of white pepper.. Pair this wine with chocolate anything. Especially good with the Marich line of chocolates, brownies and yogurt covered apricots. Cellar for 4+ years.

3.DeRose Pfeffer DeRose 2011 Cabernet Pfeffer $27: This might be the “find” of the year and certainly the king of the San Benito offerings. Pronounced FEH-fir, this Pfeffer adds floral notes and red fruit, plus lots of pepper spice, hence the name. Pfeffer is the German word for pepper. Pfeffer doesn’t have the big tannins of Cabernet Sauvignon, it is a truly unique stand alone offering. Do not pigeon hole it. It is a unique wine standing on its on merits. Aromas of white peppercorns, bright red fruit and vanilla complement this uniquely spicy wine. It drinks well on the pallet with soft tannins, pepper, cherries and a hint of pomegranate. It is best enjoyed with cured meats, fowl and pork.

4. DeRose 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, $26.99: At 15 % alcohol this is a big bright wine with notes of ripe cherry and black pepper. If you like wines with big structure, try this one. Pair with Porcini Mushroom and Truffle Ravioli.

5. DeRose 2012 Dry Farmed, Cinega Valley Zinfandel $26, San Benito Wines. Lots and lots of current jam, and then chocolate, and then raspberries, and then coffee. Pair with Baby Burgers with angry onions. Find the recipe here http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/baby-burgers-with-angry-onions. Superb.

From my visit to San Benito County Wine Country, here are three top wineries for you to visit.

Guerra Cellars tasting roomGuerra Cellars: The Guerra Family purchased the 600 acre Pepper Tree Ranch;” a working cattle ranch on the edge of Hollister in the mid 80’s. They became part of the winery industry in 2006 partnering with neighboring Leal Vineyards to plant twenty acres of vineyard bordered by several acres of olive groves for oil. The road in and the tasting room are rustic fun with sweeping views and outdoor seating. Time your visit to enjoy their lively outdoor concerts (July – September). Ask to sample their Viognier, Petit Sirah and Malbec. Bottles of wine range from about $24 and up. This place is not likely to stay small and intimate. See it now before it turns big, rockstar’ish and expensive.

Calera Wine Co WinemakerCalera Wine Company: Owner Josh Jensen became a pioneer in search of the perfect spot on the globe to grow grapes. He took his cues from Burgundy looking for limestone soil. His site selection is considered a bit, “off the grid” planting on the site of an old limekiln in the Gavilan Mountains. He certainly did something right as Calera are revered the world over. Even convincing Robert Parker, “Calera is one of the most compelling Pinot Noir specialists of not only the New World, but of Planet Earth.” Your bonus to exceptional wines is the views. Unbelievable. Just sayin’. You’ll enjoy the Chardonnay and Viognier, but it is truly the Pinots that will knock your socks off. DEFINITELY splurge and taste the Jensen Vineyard Pinot Noir. It’s a prima ballerina in a glass, in the best possible way. (About $80).

DeRoseTastingRoomDeRose Winery: Rich fertile soil, warm sunny days, and cool maritime breezes allow for an elongated growing season producing premium grapes that are plush and fruit forward. Lovely grounds and tasting room. Make sure you taste the Cabernet Pfeffer ($27/Bottle). With its perky red fruit and vanilla notes this is a uniquely spicy wine. Expect soft tannins, pepper, cherries and a hint of pomegranate on the palate. I see this as their signature wine, something different, but made so well you just have to fall in love with it. If you like a chewy Zin, ask to taste their Dry Farmed, Cinega Valley Zin ($26).*

DeRose Photo Courtesy of DeRose Winery
All other Photos by Allan Kissam