More and more wine consumers are reading "Central Coast" on wine labels as the source of grapes in the bottle. Our impression is that most consumers are unsure of where the Central Coast is located in California. For that matter, where is the North Coast of California? These regions are so broad, they often mean so little.
Do not to confuse the Central Coast with the huge 450-mile-long fertile Central Valley, which dominates the landscape of central California, and lies west and inland of the Central Coast. The Central Valley produces more than 50 percent of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables in the U.S.
But the Central Coast is the region hugging the Pacific coast, stretching south of San Francisco roughly 350 miles to Santa Barbara. It encompasses a wide range of growing conditions from the cooler climate Monterey region to the much warmer region in Paso Robles. Most often, the cooler climate areas are open to the frigid air that migrates inland off of the cool Pacific Ocean waters every evening, and ebb as the morning fog burns off during the day.
Chardonnay is the most commonly planted grape, which reflects the abundance of cooler climate terroirs in the region. Philip Hahn of Hahn Vineyards praises the opportunities in the region to grow grapes in different climactic areas for blending within the Central Coast region. For example, cooler climate grapes can be blended with the same or other varietal from warmer regions to result in more interest and complexity in the finished wine.
So what’s a consumer to expect from wines labeled Central Coast? At a minimum Central Coast appellations, even the warmer ones, such as Paso Robles, will reflect the maritime influence of the cool Pacific Ocean with significant diurnal temperature swings, warm or hot days, and cool evenings. Areas like Monterey will have lower overall daytime temperatures, as well as cool evenings, and grapes will take longer to mature on the vine. Overall consumers can expect Central Coast grapes to produce wines that reflect ripe fruit flavors and appropriate alcohol levels due to warm daytime temperatures that promote sugar production in grapes. At the same time, cool nighttime temperatures promote acid preservation in the ripened grapes to preserve freshness and palate-cleansing qualities in the finished wine.
One widely available Central Coast winery to look for is Fess Parker in Los Olivos. Look for its pinot noir and chardonnay. Yes, this is the same Fess Parker who played Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone in the 1960s and 70s .
Another Central Coast wine we like is J. Lohr Winery in Paso Robles, which produces notable cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay
Cambria Winery in Santa Maria creates world-class pinot noir and chardonnay. Justin Winery in Paso Robles is noted for their outstanding cabernet sauvignon, and Hahn Vineyards in Monterey crafts well priced pinot noir and chardonnay.
These are but a few of the hundreds of wineries in the Central Coast, many of which merit consideration for their table wines.
Just in case you're wondering, the North Coast wine growing region mentioned at the beginning of this column is defined as the region north of San Francisco encompassing Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Mendocino County, Lake County, Solano County, and Los Carneros. It is home to half of California’s wineries, and some of its most prestigious properties.
Kendall Jackson Avant Chardonnay 2015 ($17). Very expensive chardonnay with a brush of oak and vibrant tropical fruit flavors. Delicious and balanced.
Matanzas Creek Winery Sonoma County Chardonnay 2015 ($26). Lush with apple and peach notes and a hint of lemon. The wine is treated to full malolatic fermentation and nine months of French oak aging, which adds a bit of vanilla and butterscotch and caramel.
Cambria Benchbreak Chardonnay 2015 ($22). The estates vineyards for this Jackson Family Wines gem are certified sustainable by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. It is a beautiful, oaky chardonnay with grapefruit, peach, and apple flavors, with a hint of mineral and spice.
St. Supery Dollarhide Estate Ranch Merlot 2013 ($50). We loved the texture of this smooth, complex merlot from the Napa Valley. Loads of ripe plum and blackberry flavors with a big dose of vanilla and mocha. Long finish makes it a merlot to savor.
Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay 2015 ($25). Now in its 25th year, the Overlook chardonnay is reliable from year to year. Using grapes from Russian River Valley and throughout Sonoma County, this chardonnay has ripe apple fruit flavors, a dollop of lemon cream, and a lot of toasty oak.
Ladera Nappa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($60). Using grapes high up Howell and Diamond mountains, winemaker Jade Barrett has crafted an impressive, rich cabernet sauvignon. Loads of forward black cherry and cassis fruit with hints of cocoa. Lush mouthfeel makes it so enjoyable.
Bouchaine Estate Pinot Noir 2014 ($35). Using grapes from Carneros, the medium-bodied pinot noir has juicy cherry and strawberry fruit with a hint of cola and baking spice.
Clos du Val Hirondelle Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($52). This solid and unblended cabernet from the Stag's Leap District is the proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove. Blueberry aromas, strawberry and cherry flavors, with a hint of mint and toasted oak.
Frank Family Vineyards Carneros Pinot Noir 2015 ($35). We've always been fans of this producer's hedonistic zinfandels, but the pinot noir continues to impress us year after year. It has ripe varietal black cherry and plum flavors with hints of clove and vanilla.