The elevation in the Santa Lucia Highlands produces powerful pinot noir grapes.
Photo Courtesy thinkstockphotos.com
An average of 140,000 tons of wine grapes are produced annually in the Monterey County appellation. With nearly 50 winetasting rooms open for your enjoyment, pours are fluid and dynamic. Sip at will.
By Peter Fish
Maybe you are tasting a passionate pinot noir in a shady Carmel courtyard. Or a dreamy cabernet while gazing out at sparkling Monterey Bay. Perhaps a robust chardonnay in Carmel Valley, while watching the afternoon sun paint the Santa Lucia Mountains the same hue as the liquid gold you're imbibing. This is wine tasting around Monterey County: gorgeous, surprising, and memorable.
WINEMAKING THROUGH THE AGES
Winemaking has a long history in Monterey. Mission fathers planted the first wine grapes in the region in the 1700s, but it wasn't until the 1960s that the area began putting itself on the wine maps of California and the world. Today, Monterey County is a powerful force in the winemaking industry, with some 150 vineyards producing an average of 140,000 tons of wine grapes each year, and nearly 50 tasting rooms have captured the interest of locals and visitors year-round.
Several things make Monterey wine tasting special. First, there's the tremendous range of wines you can actually experience. With nine AVAs — that's short for American Viticultural Areas, the wine industry's designation for wine regions of particular importance — stretching from near the coast to inland valleys and mountains, the region produces an astonishingly diverse array of wines. In the Monterey AVA, cool ocean breezes nurture refreshing rieslings and irresistible chardonnays; cabernet sauvignons and merlots shine in the warmer Carmel Valley AVA; and higher elevation Santa Lucia Highlands has won acclaim for its pinot noirs and syrahs. All of these regions are represented in Monterey area tasting rooms.
The second thing that elevates wine tasting here is that it's just really easy.
Many tasting rooms aren't located in the vineyards, partly because vineyards here tend to be remote and hard to reach. Instead, they cluster conveniently in downtown Carmel, along Monterey's Cannery Row, and in Carmel Valley along Carmel Valley Road. That means it's easy to stroll (or at most, make a very short drive) from one great wine experience to the next. Tasting rooms are seldom crowded and always welcoming.
PLANNING YOUR WINE-TOURING DAY?
Choose Carmel if you want to combine wine tasting with world-class shopping and dining. Among the wineries found here are Silvestri, owned by famed film composer Alan Silvestri; Cima Collina, popular for its artisan chardonnays and pinot noirs; and Wrath, known for the pinot noirs and chardonnays produced from its vineyards in Santa Lucia Highlands. You can hit many of the town wineries by following Carmel's self-guided Wine Walk by-the-Sea; if you're looking to taste a wide variety of wine in one day or over a weekend, you can buy a $100 Wine Tasting Passport that entitles the buyer to one flight at 10 of the 14 participating tasting rooms.
The Cannery Row wineries make it easy to combine tasting with a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and other bayside attractions. Stops here include Pierce Ranch, Carmel Ridge, and a Taste of Monterey (which features 95 area wineries).
In Carmel Valley, you'll find nearly a dozen wineries along Carmel Valley Road. Two long-time attractions are Parsonage and Talbott. Another standout is Boekenoogen, which regularly wins accolades for its red wines. Elegant newcomer Folktale occupies a lavish French château; here you can enjoy sparkling wine, rosés, and chardonnays paired with cheese and charcuterie plates. The winery also hosts frequent concerts.
If Carmel Valley wineries sound appealing but you want to leave the driving to somebody else, that's easy. You can join one of the wine trolley tours that leave from Monterey for Carmel Valley wine tasting plus lunch. Whichever Monterey wine-tasting destination you choose, and however you decide to explore it — by foot, by car, by trolley — you'll end the day toasting your good fortune at being in such a beautiful place, surrounded by such good wines.
Relais & Châteaux GourmetFest, March 15–18, 2018
The delectable four-day foodie bonanza features a powerful roster of Relais & Châteaux chefs and wine estates. Plus: cooking demos, wine tastings, and off-site tours mix with inspiring lunches, world-class wine dinners, and more.
11th Annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine, April 5–8, 2018
Roughly 250 wineries and 100 celebrity chefs create wonders in a four-day event on the West's most picturesque coastline.
PEBBLE BEACH, pbfw.com
Monterey Wine Festival, June 9–10, 2018
Oenophiles near and far unite at this passionate festival that does not lack for variety. Plus: luxurious cuisine by way of lobster, lamb racks, wild caught salmon, and more.
Carmel Valley Art & Wine Celebration, June 16, 2018
One big block party featuring the area's most popular wines and finest art.
CARMEL VALLEY, carmelvalleychamber.com
GOLD MEDAL SIPPING
Care to sample prize-winning wines? The following offerings from Monterey County wineries have earned gold or silver medals in competitions, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Awards and the California State Fair wine contest.
An NV (nonvintage) sparkling brut, the 2013 chardonnay, and the 2015 pinot noir each nabbed top honors.
Scheid Vineyards Tasting Room
Hello, 2015 sauvignon blanc/fume. Relish it.
A remarkable 2014 chardonnay leaves an imprint.
CARMEL VALLEY, talbottvineyards.com
WINE TROLLEY TIME
Two historic trolleys, dubbed "Glory" and "Mona Lisa," take visitors on impressive wine-tasting excursions through bucolic Carmel Valley. Along the way, chardonnays, pinot noirs, cabernets, viogniers, and more sweet, dry, whites and reds than you can imagine are offered. A terrific plus: Guests receive an insider's perspective to a posse of well-known wine producers as well as an introduction to lesser-known gems.