I’ve been a fan of the good value found in third label wines of Wild Horse Winery & Vineyards for some time now. Their baseline Wild Horse line of wines are always a good bet for high QPR every vintage, particularly the widely available Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I had yet to ever try their two high end labels however, so when I was invited to have dinner with their Director of Winemaking and taste through their top wines at the tasty Local Kitchen in San Francisco, I jumped on BART and headed over.
Wild Horse actually started out in 1981 as a senior project by original founder Kenneth Volk (now manning his own eponymous winery). It was named for the wild mustangs that lived in the hills east of the winery and over the years has grown substantially. It now encompasses three different sub-labels and many a wine within each, including rare varietals such as Blaufrankisch, Negrette and Malvasia Bianca, though only as winery exclusive releases. Wild Horse also has a 50 variety heirloom tomato garden on site, one of the many areas of the estate that are fiercely guarded by Floyd the Lllama. Wild Horse embraces the creative challenge that the multitudes of soil, climate and overall terroir give to winemaking across the large and diverse Central Coast appellation.
I arrived at Local Kitchen with the expectation of another great wine and food event. I’d attended previously for the great TasteLive Elderton Estate tasting a few months back, put on by JJ Buckley. Their multitude of small plates and super-fresh ingredients make for some outstanding wine pairings, perfect for their own substantial wine list and unique wine merchant. I turned left into the grand private room that doubles as a daily wine cellar for Local and greeted Tia Butts (Twitter) from Benson Marketing and Alicia Laury from Constellation Brands. Next to them was my good friend, the unsuppressable Thea Dwelle (Twitter) of Luscious Lushes. Once we said our hellos, the guest of honor for the evening, Clay Brock, stepped back into the room. Clay is of medium height and with short-cropped hair. His quiet demeanor and welcoming face belied his jovial personae, but hid the quick wit that I was to happily discover later in the evening.
Once our last guest arrived, Katie Sweeney (Twitter) from YumSugar, we sat down to go through the wines once before having them with the tasty small plates found on Local’s delish menu. Previous to this dinner, I was already well-versed in Wild Horse’s value line of wines. Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, they have always been a solid goto for me when I needed a good value wine to recommend to family and friends. I was quite excited to try their Unbridled cadre of vino, which is a higher quality, sometimes single vineyard-level tier of wines. Despite this significant bump in quality, I still found these wines contain quite a nice level of QPR, continuing the trend that I find with their base level of wines. Standing on top of the Unbridled wines are what Clay and Wild Horse consider their finest wine, the Cheval Sauvage, a much more new world, full-bodied style of Pinot that shows a good appreciation of depth and complexity.
Clay already had a successful wine-making career prior to arriving at Wild Horse in 2008. He grew up in Napa Valley and worked summers at Christian Brothers. Clay then continued his career after college, marriage and dalliances in other industries with a stint at Corbett Canyon Winery. Further stops at renown wineries of Ken Brown and Byron Winery led him to the winemaker position at Edna Valley Vineyards and further work at the famed Zaca Mesa Winery. Despite such a successful career, he’s most excited about his position at Wild Horse. As Director, he can do “whatever [he] wants.” If he feels he needs to check one of his many vineyards…he can; or he can take a long day in the lab at the winery. He loves the Central Coast for it’s multitude of climates and terroirs, allowing him to make virtually any wine that he chooses, from their varied fruit sources. If he had his druthers though, he’d love to make a boutique, high end Grenache in Napa, where he feels that varietal might really excel.
Even with the price point jumps that you get in the Unbridled and the peak at Cheval Sauvage, I can’t help but still feel that these wines deliver at every price point. We were quite taken with by the 2008 Wild Horse Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyard Unbridled Chardonnay and the 2007 Wild Horse Santa Barbara County Unbridled Pinot Noir 2007. Both featured the great balance and mouthfeel that I look for in a wine (I’m not sure how many times I can type that!) and also have a great depth of fruit. The ’06 Cheval Sauvage, while bigger than I usually like in my Pinot, still kept some cooler flavors of rhubarb, spice and good acidity and earthiness. It was a fun evening of exploration through these Wild Horse wines and the tasty Local Kitchen fare. A big thank you to Clay, Tia and Alicia for an interesting look at the wines of the Central Coast.
All of the Wild Horse wines that we tasted with Clay that night are listed below using our awesome new WineLog WordPress Plugin and tagged with “WildHorse2010Dinner“. Go out and try these wines for yourself and then come back and tell me what you think!
[winelist query=”WildHorse2010Dinner” num=”100″]