Jekel Does Monterey Proud
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Jekel Does Monterey Proud Tasting Notes

Monterey County promises much and varied wines, now that growers and winemakers have finally learned to match varietals to the region's many soils and climates. Jekel, a long-time Monterey mover, has carved out a cool-climate presence in the northern reaches of the county, much of which benefits from daily visits from the cooling winds off Monterey Bay. An exceptionally long growing season is the rule in Monterey. Climate and topography are not enough in themselves to guarantee successful wine, but Jekel has been hitting the charts with some intelligent combinations for some time, and at prices we all can afford.

The $15 Jekel 2006 Monterey County Pinot Noir (100% Pinot) is a deep ruby with a tangerine tinge. Along with as little cedar and ice cream stick wood, the nose brought cranberry, pomegranate, dried cherry, and cherry vanilla coke. The wine is dry, light, not overly tannic, with similar palate notes to the nose, yet a deeper more concentrated red cherry and more integrated wood. This is medium-bodied wine, and there is actually a great deal going on, all shepherded by excellent acidity. Clean and direct at all stages, the wine finishes with a concentrated black cherry. As I've explained recently to several colleagues, Pinot Noir and I are still dating, but this wine may indeed turn out to be one of the cornerstones of a more lasting relationship. Place and grape match particularly well in this wine.

The $15 Jekel 2005 Arroyo Seco Cabernet Sauvignon is a medium ruby with a nose of cassis, dark plum jam, sweet oak, vanilla, chocolate, and baking spice. The wine is dry on the palate with moderate acidity, blueberry, blackcurrant, bitter chocolate, vanilla, baking spice, tobacco and toast, all welded together by delightfully chewy tannins. The finish has an earthy old-world touch. The mix is 91% Cabernet, with Petite Verdot, Malbec and Merlot, aged in a combination of new and old American and Hungarian oak. A lot of wine at this excellent price.

The $15 Jekel 2005 Arroyo Seco Monterey Merlot is a solid ruby in color. The nose is quite aromatic, characterized first by a general note of sweet ripeness that reminded me of dark dried fruit: good sweet prunes, figs, those thick juicy slabs of reddish dried apricots. The nose also has jammy red berry, vanilla, sweet cream and black pepper. This Merlot is quite dry, with soft tannins and medium-level acidity. The fruit on the palate is of wide range, both red and black, but ripe black cherry stands once the mouth sorts things out. Some dark chocolate shares the background with oak notes and spice in chaperoning the concentrated fruit finish. A year or two of cellaring might optimize this wine, but who wants to wait?

The $11 Jekel 2007 Monterey Riesling, sourced in the Northern Salinas Valley, is an unqualified success. For all the ink (or computer blips) of Riesling opinion out there, this wine deserves to start its analysis with a conclusion: very well made. A medium clear lemon in color, the nose brings straightforward notes of pear, white peach, slate, honeysuckle, and rose. On the palate the wine is off dry; the one percent level of sugar is expertly offset by the very Riesling-like acidity. Stone, peach, apricot, mango and a warm ripe lime flesh out the flavors. The long finish is all acidity and fruit, but you always have the next sip to enjoy that minerality.

The Jekel 2005 Monterey Gewürztraminer, $13, represents one of the winery's smaller runs at 6,000 cases, 100% Gewürztraminer, none of which sees oak. The wine is a lovely deep lemon. The nose is pronounced in intensity and yet rather gentle in character; my particular nose enjoyed ripe lemon, mango, peach and a light floral accent. The wine is off dry. As is the case with the Riesling (both wines appear in the traditional tall flutes of Alsace), the sugar, here 1.3%, is effectively balanced (and justified) by the wine's forceful acidity. If these two aspects do compete, the acidity rather than the sweetness wins on the finish. The palate is spicier than the nose, with notes of nutmeg, cinnamon and clove, none of which are in your face. The finish is spicy fruit, more compote than fruit cake. While not a dessert wine by any stretch, you could have this wine for desert, or for that matter, as an aperitif. An effective aperitif for $13 is certainly an economy. I used this wine to stun someone who “only likes reds,” and it is indeed my favorite among these six.

The Jekel 2006 Monterey Gravelstone Chardonnay, an $11 wine, brings a realm of important specifications. The grapes were hand picked in whole clusters, fermented half in stainless steel and half in barrel. Only 10% of the finished wine underwent malolactic fermentation, with the aim of preserving fruit and acidity. A small portion saw seven month aging in new oak, the remainder aging in more neutral barrels. The result is a greenish-gold in color, with a pronounced nose that begins with clear minerality, a pleasant grassiness, white floral and fresh apricot. In the mouth the wine is dry, again with a nice mineral lead-in, peach and citrus, refreshing acidity and layers of floral stimulation. The finish is stony and satisfyingly cool. This wine's minuses are perhaps more telling (and commendable) than its plusses: you won't find unnecessary oak, gratuitous sweetness, or excessive butter and cream. No tricks, just a quality, mouth-filling Chardonnay at an accessible price.


Verdict: Direct and Well Made Values
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Monterey will keep pushing into the limelight; you can't tell this region to wait in the wings.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award

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