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I always wanted to have a cool last name, but I don’t. As far as I have been able to tell, my last name means “Rabbit” which is not cool. I have also been told it means “Rabbit hunter for the king” which is slightly cooler, but not by much. As a kid, it was also subject to much derision by other kids, which always caused me a bit of angst. Now, it does not bother me much other than I need to spell it all the time. Who knew that a mere six letters could cause such strife?
There were times when I would sit in my room and ponder all the names that would be better. My mother’s maiden name is Wilson—straightforward, easy to spell, no confusion, but rather boring. There was a kid on my block when I was growing up, Todd Blake. No there was a cool last name: Blake. Although it was fraught with its own issue: I have this issue with having two first names.
Yeah, I have a lot of issues.
Recently, I was sent a host of samples from Steele Wines in Lake County, California. The owner and winemaker, Jed Steele, has been making wine for over 40 years and quite frankly has one of the coolest last names I could ever hope to have. Sure, he likely has to spell it on occasion, but just about any name would sound cool with “Steele” as the last name.
Even Ebenezer, or Herman, or even Bozo: “Bozo Steele.”
OK, Maybe not Bozo.
I have never visited the winery, nor have I met Jed Steele (that is a great name, you have to admit), but he must be one busy guy. The winery produces about 70,000 cases a year, and there are currently 43 different wines from 22 different varieties under four different brands available for purchase on their website. Forty-three! (Insert “Man of Steele” bad pun here—I am sure Jed has never heard that before).
Here are the wines they sent me to sample….
2013 Shooting Star Blue Franc Washington: Retail $14. 100% Blaufrankish. Dark, but nearly translucent in the glass emitting aromas of plum, blueberry and a touch of cinnamon, this wine might be the perfect choice for a barbecue on a warm steamy night. As suggested on the website, I served this slightly chilled at about 55-60° (cellar temperature), which seemed perfect. This is the most famous red from Austria, but it is relatively unknown in the States, but its light, fruity, and festive nature should be more widely experienced. No, it probably won’t change the trajectory of your life, but who wants to contemplate existence when it’s in the 90’s outside? Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
2014 Shooting Star Cabernet Sauvignon Lake County: Retail $15. Another solid effort for Shooting Star as this has all the elements: rich red fruit nose (albeit a bit hot [14.5%]), nice balance of fruit and earth on the palate, lengthy finish. In fact, this wine punches far above its weight–while that might be a fairly coy account of this wine, it really is quite nice. Fruit (perhaps slightly too much), earth, and verve (on the cusp of being exemplary), this is quite the wine. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2015 Shooting Star Chardonnay Mendocino County: Retail $14. Next to Pinot, I would say that Chardonnay is the most difficult variety to make well inexpensively. Sure, there are exceptions, but in general I would say that “good” or “great” Chard starts north of about $25. I might have to re-evaluate that stance. While this is not perhaps the wine to serve to your spouse for your 50th wedding anniversary, it certainly has a place on the mid-week dinner table. Fermented in Stainless Steel, with “minimal oak aging” the wine is light on its feet without noticeable oak (although it seems to have gone through at least some malolactic fermentation). A nice quaff. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2016 Shooting Star Sauvignon Blanc, Lake County: Retail $14. All kinds of fruit up front: pineapple, banana, lemon, white peach. On the palate the yummy fruit salad continues, but the acidity falls a bit short. Still, an agreeable wine and a patio pleaser. Good to Very Good. 86-88 Points.
2015 Steele Cabernet Franc Rosé: Retail $15. So I realize that I have painted myself into a bit of a corner with my stance on saignées (I have repeatedly stressed that I prefer “True Rosés”—wines that were intended to be pink), but I still have plenty of love for all (OK most) wines pink. This wine has a lot of the elements of a fine rosé: fairly dark cotton candy pink (or fairly light scarlet) and great fruit flavors of cranberry, watermelon and strawberry. Like many saignées, however, it lacks the finesse and precision that one finds in a pressed rosé. Still, saignées need loving too, and at $15, this is a good option (apparently others think the same—it is already sold out!). Very Good. 86-88 Points.
2015 Steele Cuvée Chardonnay California: Retail $21. A blend of seven different Chardonnay vineyards in California, this goes through 100% malolactic fermentation, which lends its buttery component. Just 20% of the wine is fermented in oak, and the wine is loaded with lemon meringue pie. The wine is round and luscious, and the buttery (but not overly oaky) Chardonnay crowd will love this. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2015 Steele Chardonnay Parmalee Vineyard Sonoma County: Retail $30. While this wine was fermented in French oak (30% of which was new) and then kept in barrel for 10-12 months, the oak effect is slight, particularly on the palate. This allows the fruit to shine: mostly tropical in nature with both a tartness and a slight smoky nature. While this certainly leans toward the “traditional” California Chardonnay, it has a decided “modern” bent as the fruit is clearly the star. Delightful. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2013 Steele Pinot Noir Block N Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Barbara County: Retail $36. I have a bit of experience with Bien Nacido (although I have yet to visit). It is a huge vineyard, but it is also one of the most widely revered vineyards on the Central Coast. The fruit there (from what I have been able to ascertain) is some of the most luscious in all of California. Thus, dependent upon the desired style, it can produce a wide range of wines. This Steele interpretation tends toward the more lush and fruity end of the spectrum with red and black berry fruit predominant. This is certainly a crowd pleaser with wonderful fruit and weight, with a touch of earth on the mid-palate. While not my “style” of Pinot, it is particularly scrumptious and at its best sipping on the couch watching House of Cards (which I just started binge-watching). Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points. Interestingly, this was even better on the second day, and remarkably better on the third.
2013 Steele Old Vine Zinfandel Pacini Vineyard Mendocino County: $19. Despite popular opinion, there are several types of Zinfandel (excluding “white” naturally). There are the big, fruity, full-octane versions, the more restrained, yet fruity styles, and the cool-climate interpretations that approach Pinot Noir in style, and plenty of room in between. I would place this more in the latter group even though it still has plenty of fruit. Nice depth, though, and a fantastic wine for the price. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
2013 Steele Zinfandel Catfish Vineyard Lake County: Retail $25. As I mentioned above, there are different styles of Zin and while the Pacini was a bit more restrained, this Catfish is clearly more bold. Dark berry fruit and black pepper on the nose lead to a wave of fruit initially on the palate—far from a fruit bomb, this settles down nicely on the mid-palate, leading to a lingering finish. I normally shy away from the bigger style Zin (I am a rather shy and subtle guy), but this wine really works (and it really is not all that big). Outstanding. 91-93 Points.