If you consider yourself a wine lover but haven’t strayed far from the wines of Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, you don’t know what you’re missing. The former may get more press, but the Monterey AVA produces beautiful cool-climate wines that rival offerings from Napa and Sonoma. One of Monterey’s best wineries is Carmel Road. This estate’s wines never disappoint, and their winemaker, Kris Kato, consistently delivers refined, cool-climate reds and whites that offer quality as well as value.
Monterey’s Unique Terroir
Just 22 miles northeast of Carmel by the Sea, the Salinas Valley is famously known as “America’s salad bowl,” because it produces millions of tons of fruits and vegetables for our nation’s tables. But the Salinas Valley also straddles two important sub-regions of the Monterey AVA: Carmel Valley and Arroyo Seco. It also abuts another premium area, the Santa Lucia Highlands, or, as the locals refer to it, SLH.
The Salinas Valley’s terroir and climate conditions are not only unique; they also make it possible, despite arid conditions, to produce world class pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling, Rhône varietals, and other grapes.
Rather than offer a quiver of wines of varying quality, Carmel Road focuses on making five great wines that offer consistently high marks year in and year out. Each one is packed with personality and the potential to become your new favorite wine to pair with food, give as a gift, or just enjoy at the end of the day.
Barrymore Pinot Grigio Monterey California 2013 ($12.99)
A collaboration between movie star Drew Barrymore and Kris Kato, this mouthwatering wine is the latest addition to the winery’s offerings. I recently had the pleasure of tasting the wine during an interview with Drew Barrymore, and it has as much charm and personality as Barrymore herself.
A fruity blend of 90 percent pinot grigio, five percent chardonnay, and five percent riesling, the Barrymore Pinot Grigio is made for easy entertaining and is just as fun to drink on its own as it is with a range of dishes and cuisines. Crisp, dry, and yet still fruity, the wine is ripe with citrus, apple, and melon with a bold minerality that keeps it on track. This is Monterey in a glass, and with its controlled ABV, it’s the perfect wine for summer sipping.
Carmel Road Unoaked Chardonnay Monterey California 2013 ($14)
If you love crisp, bright, Burgundy-style chardonnay, you will love this darling, terroir-driven example. Sourced from the cold-climate benchlands of Arroyo Seco, Carmel Road’s chardonnay has the minerality and acidity of a Chablis, but the soft, creamy texture of a Côtes de Beaune chardonnay. Kris Kato has a steady hand when it comes to clean-as-a-whistle white wines, and this one is like a fresh breeze as it blows through a lime orchard. It has hints of tangerine, Granny Smith apple, and poached pear.
Carmel Road Unoaked Riesling Monterey California 2013 ($16)
Like a finely tuned Mosel riesling, Carmel Road’s riesling is lush and ripe, with lip-smacking acidity and fruit extraction. There are classic notes of raisin and undulating waves of white peach, apricot, and a hint of honey and honeysuckle. Aromatic and tantalizing, this wine will make converts of riesling skeptics and instill devotion in “acid hounds” with a penchant for rieslings with a German accent.
Carmel Road Pinot Noir Monterey California 2013 ($15)
This is one of my favorite bluff wines (wines that taste like a more expensive wine and can fool even the most obnoxious wine snob). It is delicious, insanely inexpensive for the quality, and just a touch richer than a Burgundian pinot noir. About 78 percent of the grapes for this wine are sourced from the spectacular Panorama Vineyard in the Arroyo Seco AVA, 13 percent come from the Mission Peak Vineyard in Monterey, and about five percent are sourced from the Clark Vineyard in Arroyo Seco. Eight months aging in French barrels give Carmel Road’s Pinot Noir structure, balanced by classic notes of dark cherry, plum, and plenty of acidity. Unlike the leaner, more complex pinot noirs of Burgundy, this is a buxom, Rubenesque version with lots of curves and an inviting smile.
Carmel Road Pinot Noir Panorama Vineyard Arroyo Seco Monterey California 2011 ($30)
Few wines are capable of balancing ripe fruit, steely acidity, and silken texture in equal measure, but this is one of them. Kris Kato has really left his mark with Carmel Road’s Panorama Vineyard Pinot Noir. Dark cherry, bright fraise de bois, hints of earth and smoke, and classic minerality and acidity make this wine a definitive example of cool-climate pinot noir from Monterey. This wine does not wear its heart on its sleeve, so it will take time for unfold before you. Aromatic, nuanced, and visceral as it opens in the glass, you will want to share this with friends.