Five Rivers Central Coast Wines
“Whimsical wines” have always raised red flags with me. I appreciate fine design on a wine
label; if the label is done with taste and effort, so probably also is the wine. I have never
liked “cute,” gimmicky labels, however, and certainly not “critters.” The Five Rivers people
need not worry. They have produced an excellent line of Central Coast California wines using
what should be award-winning artwork and profiting from the important number five, which I
remember from kindergarten.
The five rivers—the San Benito, Salinas, Santa Maria, Sisquoc, and Santa Ynez—bring their character to the Central Coast, a relatively large area that includes Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. The five goddesses tied by label graphics and stories to the individual wines relate to the elements that make the Central Coast so special as a wine producing region: the coastal fog, the long ripening periods, the sun, the wind and so forth.
The wines are targeted to female drinkers, but don't think I had to hide these bottles in a paper bag to enjoy them; I like goddesses as much as the next guy. The wines should speak for themselves, but let me sum up the workup by calling the theme just plain fun, with some excellent aesthetic backup. It's also a lot of fun to pick up these wines for a quite reasonable $11 a bottle ($13 for the Pinot Noir, and that is comforting since cheap Pinot is almost a biological impossibility).
The Pinot Noir is the Goddess of the Earth, the Cabernet Sauvignon the Goddess of the Air, the Merlot the Goddess of Fire, the Chardonnay the Goddess of Water and, because it came last and we had to wait for it, the Pinot Grigio has become the Goddess of Time. The earth, air, fire (the sun) and water analogies clearly relate to the wonder of wine; time, it seems to me, knits all these other elements together.
I will start with the Five Rivers 2005 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, by far the most exciting of this line: 91% Cabernet, with Merlot, Malbec and Petite Verdot. A clear, deep ruby in color, the nose is dark fruit, cassis, blackberry jam, and cream. The wine is dry, and on the palate I tasted blueberry, more cassis, bitter chocolate, vanilla and mocha, the result of aging in a variety of oaks The finish has concentrated berry jam with a chocolate/mocha edge. Truly tasty stuff.
The Five Rivers 2005 Central Coast Merlot benefits from 15 months aging in small American oak barrels, again with a variety of toast levels and ages. The nose is a basket of plum and plum derivatives—red plum, black plum, prunes—with raspberry, cedar, and vanilla. The palate is dry, with good acid, black fruit and soft fine-grained tannins. The finish is warm, ripe and sweet.
Five Rivers 2006 Monterey County Chardonnay is clear, medium lemon in color with dairy cream hitting the nose first, followed by green apple, mango and pineapple, a slight grassy element, toast and bread. The palate is dry, with forward acidity, concentrated kiwi and mango fruit, cream, a nice mineral bitterness, some vanilla and oak. The finish is ripe and concentrated with good acid shepherding the flavors.
The 2007 Five Rivers Monterey County Pinot Grigio has an interesting color, a medium intensity pinkish yellow. The nose is largely floral, with orange blossom. The wine is dry on the palate, not too acidic, with some surprising powdery minerality, notes of peach, mandarin orange, and orange peel to lend a slight bitterness. On the finish I enjoyed some friendly competition between that minerality and some forward fruit. Surprisingly stimulating.
The 2006 Five Rivers Central Coast Pinot Noir 2006 is a clear deep scarlet, with cherry, dried cherry and cranberry on the nose, the same with some sweet oak and vanilla on the palate, dry, with medium acid, very polite tannins, a bright texture and a tangy finish. These notes could of course describe many California Pinots, though I feel you would have to add a few dollars to this wine's $13 to match this quality.
I enjoyed all of these wines, and shared them with others—all women by the way—who found them both accessible and stimulating. My only questions is what Five Rivers is going to do if they add another varietal to the mix (Central Coast Syrah would seem a natural line extension). They cannot invent a sixth river, of course, but I suppose an additional goddess would be possible. The “goddess of yeast” might work.
All those rivers, natural elements and goddesses can be confusing, but these are great wines.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman
Five Rivers wines feature distinctive artwork and label language.