Young white grapes at Beauregard Vineyard in Bonny Doon. Photo by Chip Scheuer.
We fed Christina Waters a truth serum so she'd name her top 10 Santa Cruz Mountains wines. Here's what we got, from the summeriest whites to the most profound pinots.
1. Birichino 2011 Vin Gris Everything I love about pink wines in an elegantly-labeled bottle, made by local oeno-shamans Alex Krause and John Locke. A sprightly rosé, this lovely creation of grenache, cinsault, mourvèdre and a splash of vermentino was fermented in stainless steel for a crisp, dry finish. Rhônesque to the bones, it offers hints of nectarine and strawberry within its attenuated, Giacomettiesque length. At 13 percent alcohol it refreshes the palate and invites that second glass. And at around $13 a bottle, it suggests frequent trysts with summer barbecues. (Read more about John Locke here.html.)
2. Windy Oaks Terra Narro 2009 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir Utterly elegant, yet loaded with complex flavors and aromas, this disarming wine drinks like its more expensive cousins from the Corralitos winery. At 13.9 percent, it is just about a perfect pinot, delivering dark cherries, sassafras, iron, bay and even the suspicion of warm linen. Yet throughout there is a sturdy tannin backbone and endless mineral finish. Very lightly oaked, it hints at the forest as well as wind-swept open meadows. A perfectly nuanced showcase for Jim Schultze's distinctive touch. We adore this with wild salmon. $27.
3. Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Grenache 2010 Santa Cruz Mountain Winemaker Jeff Emery just always nails grenache, and this beauty is now my go-to exemplar of the endlessly likable grape. At 14 percent it is a medium-weight, versatile creation loaded with spice and a core of ripe raspberries. It offers geraniums in its tangy center and a long, long finish whispering of salt and cinnamon. Not many $16 bottles can do as much.
4. Ghostwriter Woodruff Family Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 Wunderkind winemaker Kenny Likitprakong.html works sorcery with the grapes from his sources in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Aptos. And this particular example is a liquid journey through remarkable flavor and aroma landscapes, running a medium-light 13.2 percent alcohol and worth every bit of its $45 price tag. Likitprakong teases focused coils of oregano and cinnamon into moments somehow both delicate and striking. This Ghostwriter creation is admittedly more an experience than a food partner, but it definitely romances everything we've matched it with.
5./6. Two of Randall Grahm's wines compete for my favorite white wine this season—the ethereal and citrus-kissed Bonny Doon Vineyard Albariño 2011 and the appealingly complex Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Blanc 2010. The newly released Albariño is hugely versatile in terms of being able to sit down with entrees, salty snacks and pungent cheeses. It’s loaded with briny freshness, probably thanks to its 13.2 percent alcohol. Inside it holds the secrets of nectarine and kumquat and many other crisp, elemental mysteries. Yet it remains satiny, rounded and effortless to drink. $18.
The Cigare Blanc 2010 is a sumptuous creation, as much a poem to the Rhône as its creator can conjure. Quince, pears, un peu delilac and a barely perceptible top-note of wild fennel are here captured. Mineral-driven, this wine adores roast chicken and seafoods of every stripe. The white cigar is the wine I almost always reach for when dining at Le Cigare Volant—the remarkable alchemistry between the 55 percent roussanne and the 45 percent grenache blanc give it the signature gravitas of its Châteauneuf-du-Pape cousins. It is a big league white for a mere $26, and we have loved every iteration of it since the dawn of Doon. (Read more about Bonny Doon Vineyard here; read Christina Waters' award-winning article about BDV winemaker Randall Grahm here.)
7. Beauregard Lost Weekend 2010 Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blend Winemaker Ryan Beauregard has made gonzo blending make palate sense with this marriage of oenological cousins that cries out for consumption. Named for the original Bonny Doon roadhouse that has become Beauregard Vineyards' tasting room, The Lost Weekend is filled with steely apricots, flinty melon, even apples and strawberries. It’s finished in stainless steel for a clean sail through lovely flavor notes. Those who, like me, are not fans of the big oaky finale, will find this thewhite wine of summer. $18. (Read more about Beauregard Vineyard here.html.)
8. Vine Hill Chardonnays Even though I know that Vine Hill is famed for its pinot noirs, nonetheless the chardonnays made by winemaker Sal Godinez always win me over. And for my chardonnay aficionado fans, I always try to keep a few bottles on hand like the 2008 Vine Hill Chardonnay, big and luscious at 14.4 percent alcohol and front-loaded with grapefruit and hints of grassy hilltops, yet shaped into a rounded mouthful at the end. This is a superbly restrained California-style chard: supple, voluptuous and highly likeable. Especially for $24. (Read more about Vine Hill Winery here.html.)
9. Ridge Three Valleys Zinfandel 2009 The always-reliable Ridge Vineyards,at the northern boundary of the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, creates vintage after vintage of inventive zinfandel blends bearing the Three Valleys label. The darling of restaurateurs, this is a go-to wine for any dinner involving big carnivore and pasta flavors. We like the 2009 version, in which zinfandel is joined with mataro, carignane and petite sirah and crafted into an orgy of black fruit, cassis and a backhand of oak. For $24, this is a wine I use to impress out-of-town guests.
10. Mount Eden Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir For super-special occasions, I have been known to treat myself and my favorite other with an Estate Pinot Noir from Mount Eden Vineyards, above Saratoga. The specialty of this highly renowned house is silky, elegant, quintessential pinots, and the 2009 is archetypal. If it's good enough for Robert Parker's 93 points, it's good enough for me. A refined 13.5 percent alcohol drives an impressive core of blueberries, spices and a hint of earth, anise and leaves. So balanced you want to just sit there and kneel before it, this is one of the top wines of its generation. Go ahead and shell out the $52—live a little!