Monday, August 9, 2010

Food Night Field Trip - Calera

If you missed part1 or part2 of Food Night Field Trip, please consider checking out part1 here and part2 here. And understand that what follows here is a VERY special post for Food Night. Kind of like in the 80’s when you’d hear TV promos for “very special episodes” of your favorite sitcoms. Like this; “On a very special episode of ‘Silver Spoons’, Ricky gets caught lying… “, or this; “On a very special episode of ‘Diff’rent Strokes’, Arnold asks Kimberly what she is talkin’ ‘bout”. You get the idea. Anyway, let’s get the ball rolling from…

11300 CIENEGA ROAD, HOLLISTER, CACalera. We made it. We awoke Friday morning and thought “Holy Shizzle Sticks, we are actually going to go to Calera today”. How can I even begin to convey the anticipation? The sense of “This is actually going to happen. We are actually going to go to Calera."

Allow me to attempt an analogy, to try and lend some perspective. Imagine you are a hopelessly devoted Red Sox fan… but you live in Nebraska. You DVR all their games. You collect memorabilia. You wear Sox gear, are rote on the rich history of the franchise, and generally spend an irrational amount of your free time obsessing ABOUT, thinking OF, and spending your cash ON all things Red Sox. But you’ve never been to Fenway Park. And then, an opportunity presents itself to go to Boston... so, you go. You get on a plane, and the anticipation begins. You land in Boston. You get off the plane, trying to keep calm, trying to retain some sense of composure. After all, you are thirty-sizjheuhhhh years old, come now! It’s just a baseball game, a baseball park, bricks, mortar, grass… but no, there is history there. There is depth. Tradition. Excellence. It’s more than just a physical space, or an address. The "contents", if you will, of that building have made your life better, have given you untold hours and enjoyment.

So you climb in a cab, and as you ride, your mind races as you realize your previously held perspectives and visions and assumptions are going to get a massive dose of REALITY. From now on, you won't have to imagine what Fenway is like anymore. You'll have actual, tangible experience to draw from. It’s really happening, and you don’t know what to expect. Have you built the experience up in your mind to a point where your fantasy and reality cannot possibly intersect? Will you be underwhelmed? Overwhelmed? Plain-old-whelmed? Who knows. You just know, you literally can barely sit still as you anticipate that first glimpse of the Green Monster…

So yeah, going to Calera is a pretty big deal to Food Night. We’ve smelled and tasted and ranted and raved and hooted and hollered and recommended and re-recommended and sought out and pondered and reminisced about dozens of different bottles of Calera’s wines. It is hard to capture exactly how excited three grown men* were as we pulled into the gravel parking lot next to the warehouse. Calera is our Fenway Park, so to speak. It has history. Depth. Tradition. Excellence. Calera is, in our opinion, the pinnacle of what can be achieved in wine in this country.

* "Grown men"... as in, men that are all grows up. Yeah, like that.

To visit Calera, one needs to make a point of doing so. That is to say, you aren’t going to happen upon Calera on your way to… pretty much anything else. Unless perhaps you are trying to get lost. Because it seemed to me we were about a stone's throw away from downtown "Lost" before we pulled up Calera's driveway. Check out the view out the front door at Calera

Looks like something out of an old Clint Eastwood Western, right?!? Calera is indeed a destination, and one absolutely worth seeking out. Before we dive into the tasting deets

… we should briefly go back to the start, where this fascination with Calera began. It was one bottle… the 2001 Calera Selleck Pinot Noir. I believe it was Alex, Tyler and Tom that opened it one night. So utterly profound was this one bottle of wine, that in subsequent weeks we began buying up and opening others. Without fail, each new bottle we tried was absolutely astonishing in its own way. But all of them, every one (of the pinot noirs, that is), had that “Calera perfume”. I would say without exaggeration that any of the Food Night fellas could pick out a Calera pinot noir via smell alone. Recently, I had the 2004 Calera Central Coast Pinot Noir out of a lowball glass in a hotel room, and even THEN I could easily pick out that unmistakable aroma.*

* I'm not even going to attempt to describe the Calera smell, as it defies my powers of description. Just buy some Calera, and see for yourself.

Calera. Even out of a hotel lowball glass. Josh Jensen, if you are reading, feel free to us that little beauty in future marketing campaigns.

One final (I promise) quick point before we get to the bottles we tasted. Without oversimplifying things too much, Calera’s wines can be divided into wines produced from grapes grown on their vineyard sites on Mt. Harlan, and wines produced from grapes purchased from other growers in the Central Coast Region of California. The Mt. Harlan wines are Calera’s top shelf offerings, while the Central Coast wines are a more cost effective (and still fabulously delicious) alternative to the singular Mt. Harlan offerings.

So, the tasting. Let’s begin before we run out of bandwidth. You’ll notice right away from the roster above that the world’s greatest Rosé was in play. I have to stress to you… it is soooooo faaaaaaar superior to any other Rosé any of us have ever had. The level of richness, the perfect balance of subtle sweetness, crisp acidity, bright fresh fruit flavors, and lush, creamy mouth-feel are simply unheard of in other Rosés. It is a wine that is at home by itself, and with virtually any cuisine you could think of.

Before writing this, I had no idea why Calera called their Rose “Vin Gris”. For you non-link-clickers… here is the most interesting nugget from that link; “Producing a small volume of Vin gris (or rosé) can also be used as a technique to improve Pinot noir. Removing some clear juice increases the concentration of colour and flavour compounds from the skins in the remaining juice intended for making red wine.” Makes total sense, right? We’ve all had Pinot Noir that tastes… to be blunt… watered down. Well, what if after crushing pinot noir grapes, some of the clear juice is removed from contact with the skins. Strike the right balance, and I would assume you have not only improved the richness and concentration of your red wine juice, but you also have a killer Rosé to boot. Obviously I’m oversimplifying here a bit, and generally have no idea what I'm talking about since I'm not, you know, a winemaker. But I think you get the idea.

Moving on, also tasted were two Central Coast white wines; the 2008 Chardonnay and the 2009 Viognier. At the risk of sounding repetitive, Calera’s Mt. Harlan versions of these two wines are easily and securely among the top chardonnays and viogniers we’ve ever had. I would say the Mt. Harlan Viognier is EASILY the best viognier we’ve ever had, and the chardonnay is definitely in the running in that race as well. And get this… they both retail for under $30!!! That’s INSANE for wines of this quality. Yet another reason to love Calera, the extraordinary price the value ratio.

The Central Coast whites we tried were “baby” versions of their Mt. Harlan parental units. Pleasures to drink, and at roughly $16/bottle, absolutely incredible values.

And now, the Pinot Noirs. First up was the 2008 Central Coast Pinot Noir, which was delicious, but perhaps not as “Calera-like” as the 2004 I had in that hotel room. Who knows why it was not as Calera-like, and frankly who cares, it was still fabulous. Then we moved into the Mt. Harlan single vineyard pinot noirs, beginning with the newest vineyard site, the de Villiers. This 2007 is the very first bottling of the de Villiers, and I believe we were told the grapes from this vineyard had previously been used in the Central Coast cuvee. What a treat it was to be able to taste the first edition of what will surely be another classic label.

Next was the 2007 Ryan, which was more restrained, subtle and softer than some of the blockbuster Mills and Selleck Pinot Noirs your Food Night Fellas have come to admire so much. This Ryan is certainly a great wine, and adds diversity to the Mt. Harlan offerings.

Finally, we got a splash of the 2002 Mills. Ho. Lee. Cow. This wine had absolutely incredible funky, earthy, organic notes exploding out of the glass (in addition to that special Calera perfume), to go along with lush pinot noir sophistication on the palate. All kinds of non-fruit things happening in that bottle – we could have lingered all day and still not gotten to the bottom of every inch of intricacy this wine had to offer. One of the best pinot noirs I have had, no question.

Finally, there was the 2006 Dessert Viognier, a wine I didn’t even know Calera made. And of course, it was all you’d expect… a near perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. You know how some dessert wines you have leave you practically licking a film of sugary residue off your lips? Not this one. Lots of concentrated viognier flavors like melon and citrus, without the sticky sweet finish, yet retaining the fuller texture that perhaps you would expect in an “after dinner” libation. Brilliant.

There was one more wine we tried, but that will have to wait for the second part* of this Calera posting. The mere EXISTENCE of this wine at Calera blew us out of the water. What was it? The answer, and glimpses “Behind the Scenes” at Calera are coming up next.

* You didn't really think I could pack a two hour visit to Calera into one post, did you?

So don't wander off. From the looks of the landscape out here, you might get lost and run into these fellas. And that wouldn't be good, but rather bad... or even ugly.

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