When my older son started thinking about college and considering schools from across the country, I told him that I only had one “demand.” I insisted that, even during the pandemic, he could not go to a school that he had not visited; he had to have at least stepped foot on the campus before enrolling.
I did not consider this an outrageous request and it was rooted in my own experience, of course. Back when I was his age, I thought I knew which college I wanted to attend but once I visited the school, I knew that it was not right for me and I ended up at a much different school, one that just “felt” right.
Similarly, when I highlight a winery in this space, my only real criterion is that I have a sense of the place, preferably by setting foot on the property. During this pandemic, of course, that has proven to be difficult, if not impossible. And while I will never agree that a Zoom meeting is “the next best thing” it is, of course, better than nothing.
Unless you can’t attend the Zoom.
No, instead of attending the Zoom meeting with Saracina winemaker Alex MacGregor a few months ago, I had to take a rather hastily planned college visit with my son. Something about his father’s bull-headed insistence that he at least visit any college he considered attending.
So, no, I have never been to Saracina Vineyards in Mendocino County, nor have I met with the owner, Marc Taub, or the aforementioned winemaker, Alex MacGregor. but based on the wines I tasted below, that will need to change and soon.
2019 Saracina Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino County, CA: Retail $24. Under cork. From a vineyard in Mendocino County originally planted in 1943 and recognized as the oldest Sauvignon Blanc vineyard in the U.S. Whoa. I have written countless times that SB is far from my jawn, but this one approaches the best American iteration of the variety that I have tried. It helps that I have very fond memories of Mendocino County, riding in redwood forests and along the gorgeous rocky coastline. Goosebump kind of stuff. The wine? Oh yeah. Light straw in the glass with plenty of citrus (more lime than lemon), freshly cut grass (just after a rain, I know, geeky, but it’s true), and tons of minerality here. I know: yawn. Like every other decent SB on the planet. But. The palate. Yowza. Tart, yes (and that is decidedly driving the bus), but there is a richness, a weight, a gravitas that you just don’t find in many SB, particularly outside of Alto Adige. No doubt this is from the regular bâtonnage. Regardless, I am a fan. Big fan. And a whoa. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2019 Saracina Unoaked Chardonnay, Mendocino County, CA: Retail $20. Under cork. Mendocino County. I had just tasted the Saracina Sauvignon Blanc and I was excited to taste this Chardonnay. And then I saw it was unoaked. Meh. Don’t get me wrong, there are some fine iterations of the genre out there but I may be one of three people on the planet that thinks the world’s most popular white variety benefits from some time in wood. Again, not to be misunderstood, I am not a fan of the over-oaked, butter bombs for which California had become (in?)famous. But oak is not a binary choice, it is a continuum and oak used modestly (even “neutrally”) adds to a Chard, in my opinion. Having said all of that, I really like this pale straw wine with its ripe peach and Bosc pear notes. The palate is fresh and clean, with plenty of fruit and tartness. Really a fantastic representation of the style. (But just a few months in a neutral barrel? Please?) Excellent. 91 Points.
2018 Saracina Winter’s Edge, Mendocino County, CA: Retail $30. Field blend of old vine Carignan, Grenache, and French Colombard. As I mentioned in other notes, I have been to Mendocino on several occasions, but I’m not familiar with Saracina, and I have certainly never visited the winery. That will need to change. This field blend, which includes a white variety (French Colombard), is quite dark, floral, and fruity in the glass. There is also considerable spice, and a perfumed/floral aspect that is quite compelling. The palate is fresh and approachable with plenty of fruit, depth, and tartness. Yowza, this is close to a whoa. Excellent. 91 Points.
2018 Saracina Old Soul Red, Mendocino County, CA: Retail $25. 43% Zinfandel, 31% Malbec, 26% Petite Sirah. Under cork. Slightly B.A.B. What can I say? This winery is quickly becoming a personal favorite from Mendocino and I have yet to step foot anywhere near the winery (as far as I know). I have tasted a handful of offerings from the winery thus far and while this is the furthest afield from my wheelhouse (both in varietal composition and style), I can honestly say that this is fantastic. Sure, it is more in the crowd-pleaser mold with an emphasis on fruit (ripe black cherry), a touch of anise, and a savory aspect that just screams out for food, but this is such a joy to drink. Yes, it would be great with some fresh-out-of-the-smoker Texas brisket, but it would also slay by the pool, watching a late-night movie, or writing up some long-overdue tasting notes. Yeah. Excellent. 92 Points.
2018 Saracina Malbec Skid Row Vineyard, Mendocino County, CA: Retail $30. Under cork. 100% Malbec. I don’t drink a ton of Malbec, particularly from Mendocino County, but I love the region, and this is a pretty darned good bottle of wine. Dark in the glass with really dark, brambly fruit: boysenberry, plum, blackberry. The palate is surprisingly not as fruity as I would have thought based on the nose. Don’t get me wrong, that is a good thing, a really good thing. Bright, juicy (but certainly not overly so), balanced, lovely. Excellent. 91 Points.
“Oak is not a binary choice”: very adeptly put!