A little while ago, the kind folks at Parducci Wine Cellars asked if I would like to sample a few of their current releases. Not thinking much about it, I responded in the affirmative–anyone who has spent even a few minutes perusing their local wine shop has no doubt seen one or more of the wines on the shelf.
Once I started doing a little research for this piece, I quickly discovered why I had never been to the venerable winery that was founded in 1935: it’s in Ukiah, in Mendocino County, about a hundred miles or so north of San Francisco.
It has nothing to do with the distance as I have been to Mendocino County several times now. No, it has everything to do with Ukiah. Now, don’t get me wrong, Ukiah is a quaint little Northern California town replete with country stores and “down-to-earth” people.
My problem with Ukiah is simple: I used to coach a high school girls basketball team in Marin County (just north of San Francisco) and every winter, just after New Year’s, we would travel to Ukiah for a holiday basketball tournament. And every year, we would open the tournament against Ukiah High School, the host of the tournament.
For those of you not familiar with holiday basketball tournaments, if your team opens up against the host, it is for one reason: so that they can kick your teeth in. No one wants to lose the first game of their own tournament, so the weakest team available is that first opponent. Now, we did fine in our own conference, but going up against a huge school like Ukiah (they have around 1,600 students while we had about 250) was ugly.
Every year we fulfilled our role admirably, losing by at least twenty points, but that alone would have been fine. No, the real problem I have with Ukiah is the memories of trying to corral a dozen high school girls in a hotel for two successive nights and making sure that they got to bed at a decent hour.
Ukiah has scarred me for life.
As for the wines? There is a reason that Parducci is considered a leader in the County as the wines are well-made, tasty, and affordable. I am just not sure if I am ready for a visit just yet.
2015 Parducci Small Lot Chardonnay Mendocino County: Retail $15. Pale yellow in the glass with vanilla, lemon, pear, and oak wafting over the rim. Past the lips , there is plenty of oak (20% new French oak), and a fair amount of butter, but balanced by the fruit. This is decidedly (if slightly) on the “big” side of Chardonnay, but there is plenty of room for it in my daily repertoire–big Chards need love, too. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2014 Parducci Pinot Noir Small Lot Mendocino County: Retail $15. The Pinot in Mendocino County is no joke. Along with a couple areas in Sonoma, the Central Coast, San Luis Obispo, California is challenging the notion that the only “good” Pinot in the U.S. comes from Oregon. Black cherry and eucalyptus, with the requisite acidity, this is a fantastic wine. Not a powerhouse that many associate with the state’s Pinots, but rather demure and reserved, requesting (rather than demanding) a place on the table. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
2014 Parducci Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County: Retail $18. When it comes to tasting samples, I rarely deviate from my approach: I open the wine, taste it. Maybe have a second glass, take a few notes, and then I cram a rubber “cork” in it, leaving the rest for the next day. I then repeat the procedure, editing a final note, and then save it. It is not until I am about to publish the article that I research the wine for price, blend, and any other peculiarities that might be interesting (often, the P.R. firms or wineries that send me the wine will include a press release or a write-up of the wine, and while I read them, I usually have very little interest in what others have written about a wine). For whatever reason, after tasting this wine and writing the note (read on), I decided to immediately do some research. I was surprised to find that this wine is a mere $18 retail. Why? Well, it has very nice dark berry fruit, plenty of black pepper and spice, and a touch of clove. While I doubt that many would confuse this with a Cabernet that runs 10-20 times the aforementioned tariff, I also doubt that few would not find this delightful for the price. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
2015 Parducci True Grit Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Mendocino: Retail $30. I always approach “reserve” bottles with skepticism as there is no legal definition of “reserve.” Still, usually (but not always) it indicates that the wine is somehow better than the “regular” bottling. This wine starts off well with red berry fruit and just a hint of bell pepper (which I like). Past the lips, this is certainly fruity, but also versatile–it could handle burgers to ribeye, and even most pasta dishes. A slight improvement over the small lot, and solid in every way. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2013 Parducci True Grit Reserve Red Mendocino County: Retail $30. A true “kitchen sink” kind of blend: Carignan, Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah, Petit Sirah, Souzao, Tinta Cao, and Touriga Nacional. Dark, but far from brooding, with plenty of red and dark fruit. This is nothing short than a joyful wine: great fruit, a bit of intrigue, and a crowd pleaser. Fantastic. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2015 Parducci True Grit Chardonnay Reserve Mendocino County: Retail $30. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are perhaps the only two main wine grapes that are rarely blended. Why is that? I am not really sure. I have asked many a winemaker that very question, but I have rarely heard the same response. Whatever the reason(s), that most popular of white grapes can not rely on another variety to “complete” the wine—to add acidity, aromatics, body, fruit, depth. Instead, the winemaker uses other processes at his or her disposal to achieve the desired results. There are many, but perhaps the most scrutinized when it comes to Chardonnay is the amount of oak barrels used during fermentation, aging, or both. The key is how much influence the wood has on both the nose and palate: too much oak (or the wrong kind of oak) and drinking the wine is akin to chewing on some bark. Not enough and the wine can be a harsh acid bomb, resembling Sauvignon Blanc more than Chard. Even though this wine is 93% new French Oak (and 7% stainless steel), it seems to hit that sweet spot fairly squarely: Good fruit, balance, and even a little verve. Sure, it is more on the side of a bigger, California style Chard, but like I said above, those wines need loving, too. And I am loving this one. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
Parducci 85th Anniversary Wine “Limited Edition”: Retail $45. Cabernet Sauvignon (69%), Merlot (18%), Petite Verdot (8%) and Cabernet Franc (5%). Only 241 cases of this wine, which celebrates the 85th anniversary of the winery with this 2015 blend made with some of the best fruit available to winemaker John Swain (who was celebrating his 20th year at the helm). Coffee, blackberry, and black pepper, this is certainly a fruity wine, but far from being overblown. Nice fruit flavors balanced by a tart red berry goodness, this is a wine to be enjoyed now. And I am. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.