The wines of Monterey

Monterey steps into the Spotlight


Just to the south of San Francisco lies one of California’s great undiscovered wine regions: Monterey County. From the Carmel Valley and Monterey which border the blue waters of Monterey Bay to the hills of the Santa Lucia Highlands and beyond, Monterey offers a varied and complex landscape that provides ideal growing conditions for a wide variety of wines.

The earlier years of the modern era for Monterey wine, the early 1960’s for those keeping track, saw planting by intrepid producers that varied from the boutique, Chalone on Chalone Mountain, to the family farms of Mirassou, J. Lohr and Wente to the famous Paul Masson.

Much of the acreage originally planted was destined for the production of the jug wines that were popular at the time though today premium grapes dominate the landscape.

In the cooler northern portion of Monterey county, Chardonnay is queen.

The long cool growing season, a dry climate and well drained soils of northern Monterey County and the Santa Lucia Highlands in particular, create the ideal conditions for grapes to ripen perfectly while still preserving a freshness and elegance in the finished wines.

2008 Kali Hart Chardonnay

This is medium bodied and toes a fine line between a maintaining a lighter, fresher, fruity character while delivering more typical flavors such as the medium length finish with it’s touch of butterscotch

When it comes to red grapes, Pinot Noir is King in Monterey.

The climate and geological conditions found in Monterey, along with the current market craze for Pinot Noir, have propelled Pinot into the lead with the most acreage planted for a red variety in Monterey County, supplanting Merlot, of all grapes!

2007 Chalone Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir
A lighter bodied Pinot with nice definition and cut that keeps this zesty and fresh. The flavors of wild cherry fruits have nice floral and mineral shadings and the soft tannins and nice acid backbone draw out the earthy finish.

The Chalone AVA is Renowned for great Pinot Noir

The Brosseau Vineyard, which sits some 1600 feet above sea level, has soils rich in limestone, granite and basalt. It's famed for the minerality that soil gives the wines and the fine structural elements the grapes retain due to the cool nightime temperatures at such high elevations.

2006 Roessler Cellars Brosseau Vineyard Pinot Noir
With notes of flowers, sweet tobacco and red licorice on the nose, this promises a level of complexity that the earthy core of black fruit is just beginning to reveal. Mineral and mint tones add cut and focus, though this is still a touch young and will benefit from a year or two in the cellar.

These are exciting times for Monterey’s wine industry. With such a wide variety of meso-climates, house styles and varieties (over 40 at least count) it easy to find something to entice every palate. Some of the most exciting developments are with Italian and Spanish grapes. White wines such as Muscat Giallo and Treixadura, as well as reds like Tempranillo and Nebbiolo are setting Monterey up as one of the next great wines to explore.

So take a look towards Monterey and be rewarded with great views, wonderful weather and, above all, exciting wines.

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 6,197

    Good call on the Monterey focus, Greg. I've been drinking Chalone pinot noirs, chardonnays and their other offerings from the Pinnacles (used to climb them, too) since the early '70s vintages. A great group of wines that has gone through a number of transitions over the years. Personally I think that the current owners, Diageo, and management have their work cut out to get back to the earlier glories of those hilltops vineyards.

    Sep 24, 2009 at 12:59 PM

  • I'm almost sorry to see your info on Monterey; it means more people will be turned on to this magnificent place to visit and the outstanding wines it produces.; Chalone, yes, but I also recommend Talbot and Galante.

    Sep 24, 2009 at 3:26 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Agreed regarding Diageo. They have an uphill climb.

    Hey Majastic, the producers there can probably use a little help. I will have to say that I really enjoyed the Galante I recently tried. The review for their Cab is on the site version of the article. It was very ripe but very well put together. A really interesting wine.

    Thanks for the tips!

    Sep 24, 2009 at 4:19 PM

  • Here comes a question from a sincerely seeking wine novice:

    I love Pinot Noirs, particularly the heavenly nose on most of them. HOWEVER, as my wallet is light these days, I've been avoiding them because I was told you have to spend a little more to get a good one.

    I got turned off somewhat by the 'cherry cough syrup' finish on some of the less expensive bottles I've tried in the past year or two (wish I could remember where they were from, but I was even more of a novice back then). I've been told this is the signature of American Pinots, but I know I've tasted PNs that did not have this cloyingly sweet finish. Any thoughts?

    Oct 06, 2009 at 2:11 PM

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