Ghost Pines Winemaker's Blend Wines
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Ghost Pines Winemaker's Blend Wines Tasting Notes

Louis M. Martini has created an interesting line of $23 wines under the sensible yet evocative rubric of “Ghost Pines.” This is the type of product name that fits in with one of my rules—honed during my years in the perfume industry—that a product merits an enhancing name when it presents such a high level of quality that it earns the right to call itself special. The product meshes with the name and creates a synergy. When this occurs (as it does rarely in hype-filled California), the marketers earn the right to have their primary blurb quoted in full, so I'll do it:

“Like the unharnessed, free-forming ghost-like tree with which it shares a name, Ghost Pines represents the long, rich, winemaking heritage of both Napa and Sonoma Counties. By departing from traditional single appellation grape sourcing, the Ghost Pines winemaker is able to craft superior “Winemakers Blend” wines which showcase the concentrated yet elegant characters of both Napa and Sonoma.”

The Ghost Pines Winemaker's Blend 2005 Merlot (with 7% Syrah and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon) is an interesting wine, and an immediately likeable wine at that (providing you like offerings that are inherently complex). For one thing, I have never ascribed the note “chocolate ice cream” to a wine's finish before, nor do I find this descriptor on any of the standard tasting curricula. You can guess that this is a rich wine, thick in the mouth, playful yet stimulating on both nose and palate. Try as I might to be concise, this is a wine that demands words. “Yummy” would suffice for those of you who dislike verbiage. Jammy black cherry and blackberry lead the fruit, but there is toast, cream, mocha, and even a touch of smoky dried rosemary. Do not for a moment be tempted to view this wine as a disjointed sum of less than its parts; it holds together beautifully, and finishes nicely with that chocolate ice cream, mixed with succulent berry bits, as an aftertaste, with plenty of super-ripe fruit to balance the chocolate and dairy. Though nicely dry, you can nevertheless savor this wine as a confection. I love it.

The Ghost Pines 2006 Chardonnay brings a friendly warmth as it exudes confidence; this is a Chardonnay that knows it doesn't need any tricks to bring its magic across. The straw-colored wine undergoes some sur lie aging and some oak contact, with the stress on the “some.” On the nose I wrote citrus, then orange, then pie crust, then cream; it is more that you are savoring the aroma of these ingredients doing their magic in your oven than contemplating them in any deconstructed state. The mouth combines definite dryness with good acid, but with Chardonnay roundness; it caresses rather than punches you. You get a fresh tropical fruit salad: fragrant honeydew melon nicely mixed with tangy mango, nothing as cloying as banana, but perhaps a few drops of fresh pineapple juice. I like this wine. While the initial attack and mid-palate of the wine shows some minerality, the dry finish, reasonably long, is all mainstream fruit. Almost entirely (98%) Chardonnay, the wine is sourced in Sonoma (81%), Napa (16%) and Monterrey (3%) counties. I raise my glass to California counties.

You'd expect a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon offering in this grouping; the Ghost Pines is 80% Cabernet rounded out with Syrah, Petite Verdot, Malbec and Merlot. One of the best aspects of this wine is its tannin structure. The tannins are fine grained and well rounded, bringing just the level of astringency I enjoy in a Cabernet. On the nose I enjoyed black cherry, dried herb, cocoa and vanilla, on the palate a good mixture of both red and black fruits, a bit jammy, with peppery spice and chocolate on the finish. You don't get the impression that the distinctive punch of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape is screaming for attention, perhaps because it is sourced in both counties: 61% Napa, and 39% Sonoma. The result is quite a drinkable package, ready to open and pour in the here and now. A good wine, the Cabernet did not seduce me at the same level as did the Chardonnay and especially the Merlot. It stands on its own, however.

Verdict: Great Concept
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Both Napa and Sonoma persist in connoting excellence.

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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