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Annual Highlands Fling Kicks It Up a Notch

by Laura Ness - HerVineNess on May 24, 2011

slhboekhillsThis one kicked the kilts high in the air and turned up the ambient temperature of the entire affair, even if the weather had a bit of a scowl lurking behind those fleecy clouds that greeted a sold-out crowd May 14 for the fifth annual Highlands Fling.

The celebration of Santa Lucia Highlands vintages took place at the Boekenoogen tasting room near Soledad, where the Boekenoogen family demonstrated flawless hospitality, throwing a party that was overflowing with excellent food, provided by their crack team and Paradise Catering.

The seamless service, attention to detail and excellent top-of-the-line restroom facilities (always worth the rental), made for a warm welcome in every respect. Wineries participating for the first time had to appreciate the level of organization this event conveys. In the future, it would be great to have an option for guests to purchase wine.

Once again, the overall quality of the wines keeps escalating, and the choice of delightful chardonnays and pinots from punchy to powerful to polished, made for a long list of favorites. Having a vast selection of exceptional edibles, including mini sirloin as well as pork loin sandwiches, lamb sliders, grilled reubens on rye and grilled cheddar with onion jam, all served up hot and toasty, plus a groaning sideboard of cheeses, dips and veggies, made this a culinary deep dive.

In Steinbeck land, one would expect nothing less than the finest veggies, and grilled asparagus delivered the goods. It wasn’t hard to find wines that complemented the spears. The deliciously fresh 2010 Wrath unoaked pinot was a perfect pairing, because it had a wee bit of smokiness on the finish, like when you burn a marshmallow while making s’mores.

sabrine&chrisWrathWrath’s winemaker, Sabrine Rodems, had an interesting story to share about this wine. Joe Allarid had given her a ton of Pisoni clone fruit from his vineyard that he couldn’t use, and she stainless fermented it and threw it into neutral barrels. It turned out so well, she went back to him and asked him for the weight tag so she could pay him. Only 40 cases were made, and she’s saving some for her wedding. Allarid’s comment on the wine was simple, honest: “She’s an awesome winemaker! That wine turned out amazing.” His 2008 Tondre Grapefield pinot is no slouch, either, with fabulous spices that make all your tastebuds sit up and go to work. The custardy texture rewards their every effort.

Many new discoveries

Boekenoogen’s chardonnay never ceases to please, and Pisoni’s 2008 chardonnay was as crisp and clean as an all-the-windows-open spring morning, while Chris Weideman’s 2009 Pelerin Sierra Mar chardonnay oozed with a depth of stone fruits and substantial minerality that made it a lovely pair with the indulgently buttery-garlic grilled shrimp, served up by the platterful by Yvette Palmer of The Mountain Oyster out of Coalinga. Palmer says never skimp on the fresh garlic. Or the butter. Or the wine. Thankfully, she did not skimp on the shrimp, either.

McIntyre was on the lips of many: Besides its own 2009 Estate K1 Block chardonnay and 2009 Estate Block 3 pinot (my second-favorite wine of the day), the 2008 Wrath Chardonnay was a torrent of ripe apples and peaches, swept along on rich waves of minerality. In contrast, La Rochelle’s 2010 rosé of pinot from McIntyre was the veil between twilight and evening, pure intrigue.stevemcintyreSLH

Discoveries are the hallmark of a successful tasting, and the Fling was rife with them. Especially gratifying was a taste of the Mooney Reserve pinot from Vigna Monte Nero, made by Michael Mooney of Chateau Margene fame in Paso Robles. He’s been buying fruit from Ray Franscioni for a while, and it was rewarding to taste what this fruit could do in the hands of a pro. A very big, plummy stalwart stallion of a pinot, this one went 16 months in 50 percent new Francois Frere MT barrels. It was so good, I drank some. At $64 per bottle, it was hard to spit, especially in front of the grower, who is not given to spitting.

My No. 1 pinot hope&graceSLHof the day had to be the 2008 Hope & Grace from Doctor’s Vineyard, a decidedly huge but elegantly structured wine, with a great mouth-feel and a continuity on the palate that was hard to match. That Pommard clone is just unstoppable, and can take a lot of oak: This one went 16 months in 60 percent new French, with no racking. Scheid hitched the same horse to their wagon with the 2008 Reserve Doctor’s pinot, which was stellar and also richly cloaked, but in no way overpowered, by the massive new oak. An engaging wine, again featuring the Pommard and Calera clones, plus some 777 and 828.

Among my perennial favorites, Sequana’s 2009 Sarmento vineyard pinot is a consistent charmer, with cedar and cinnamon spice, a tantalizing hint of brown sugar and caramelized sweet onion, pulled smoothly together by a nylon zipper of acidity.

For those who like ‘em bigger, the 2009 Lucia — Garys’ pinot, the second label from Pisoni, was a big, dense cherry chocolate bomb of gooey goodness.

garyraylauraWhen I thought I couldn’t take any more, the Caraccioli Brut Rose bolstered me through another helping of shrimp, followed by a photo with Gary Caraccioli and Ray Franscioni, who chided me not to confuse the two of them, who are indeed twisted twins.

Not tasted at the Fling was the Scheid Vineyards 2008 Estate pinot noir, which was awarded “Best of Show” at the West Coast Wine Competition. Congratulations!