2002 Calera “Mount Harlan” Viognier, Central Coast, California

It’s worth noting, if only to give more weight to this review, that I’m really not much of a fan of Viognier wines from the US. Most of them are a little too one dimensional – pleasant, but not really interesting expressions of fruit in the same way that their Australian or European cousins can be.

Something special, in my opinion is going on in the hills to the east of Salinas. Calera Vineyards sits atop Mount Harlan on the east side of Highway 101 about halfway between Salinas and Soledad in the Central Coast appellation of California. Formerly the site of an ancient limestone quarry (hence the name Calera, which means “lime kiln” in Spanish) the winery was established in 1974 by Josh Jensen with the intent to make primarily Pinot Noir in the classic Burgundian style. Having worked a few harvests for producers like Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Domain Dujac, Josh both cemented his love for Pinot Noir at the same time developing his knowledge of the conditions and methods required for making great Burgundy.

Josh’s (and the winery’s) primary focus are making single vineyard designate Pinot Noirs from the 63 acres of plantings in the Mount Harlan AVA, in which Calera has the distinction of being the only established winery.

The winery’s first vintage was 1975, made with Zinfandel grapes purchased on the open market. Now they produce nearly 30,000 cases of Single Vineyard Pinot, Chardonnay, and this Viognier from both estate grown fruit as well as fruit from other vineyards in the Central Coast appellation

This particular wine is made entirely from the 6.1 acres of Viognier fruit on the Mount Harlan estate. It is picked very ripe and pressed in whole clusters, and after settling, is fermented in neutral oak with native yeasts. It is bottled with some fining and filtering, unfortunately, but they seem to not have stripped out much character from the wine, which is simply the best Viognier from California I have ever had. 1200 cases produced, half with screwtops. While this wine is more expensive than just about any other Viognier in California, it may just be worth it.

Tasting Notes:
Light gold in the glass, this wine has a heady perfume of honeysuckle, gardenia and white peaches that is quite extraordinary. In the mouth it has exceptional balance for a Viognier, with enough acidity to complement the striking flavors of sultanas, melon, and jasmine that follow through to a clean and elegant finish.

Food Pairing:
This wine is crying out for rich buttery seafood. It went perfectly with a lobster bisque.

Overall Score: 9/9.5

How Much?: $36

This wine is available in limited quantities from certain online retailers as well as through the winery’s own site.