If you’ve ever read an article about Mendocino wine, it probably falls into one of two standard formats: “Anderson Valley Pinot is Really Good” or “Apparently They Grow Something Other Than Weed in Mendocino — Who’da Thunk It?”
Yes, Anderson Valley winemakers are producing some amazing Pinot Noir, not to mention Chardonnay, Syrah, sparkling wine and more. Yes, Mendocino County is home to some sublime marijuana. But the land itself is too massive and varied to be pigeonholed.
Mendocino County is a place that demands awe and thought — same goes for the wine. It’s more remote, more rugged, more untamed. The redwoods are bigger and the turns more vertigo-inducing. We’re talking further north, past the exits most tourists take into Napa or Sonoma. But to miss out on Mendocino is to miss out on some exciting wines and some stunning country.
On one of several Mendocino trips, I spent some time with my brother and his in-laws in Potter Valley, a relatively remote appellation that is home to a bunch of unique Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. One day I got up well before dawn and drove through the redwoods and mountains toward the ocean. I explored some of the many pristine, empty and frigid surf breaks on the Mendocino coast and surfed until I couldn’t move my lips. On the way inland, I stopped to warm up at a few wineries, including Yorkville Cellars, located in the rocky hills of the Yorkville Highlands appellation.
Rennie Vineyard. Used with permission: Yorkville Cellars
Here, just north of the Sonoma County line, Yorkville specializes in Bordeaux varietal wines and blends, producing a diverse array of bottles for a total of some 1,000 cases each year. I enjoyed the wines thoroughly and have fond memories of the visit.
Several years and Mendocino trips later, I was excited to receive four sample bottles from Yorkville Cellars: all Malbecs, all from the same vineyard, all completely different styles. These four Malbecs all hail from the Rennie Vineyard, located at 1,000 feet above sea level, which is planted to all the main Bordeaux varieties, plus Carmenere. Despite my love for Mendocino wine, I’d never tasted a Malbec before, but I was pleasantly surprised by these. And I think producing four takes on single-vineyard Malbec speaks to the unique and adventurous spirit of many Mendocino winemakers.
These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.
2013 Yorkville Cellars Malbec Brut Rosé Rennie Vineyard
Bright cherry-copper colored. Nose of white cherries, roses, chalk and sea breeze. On the palate this is fresh and bright and tangy yet it shows a rounded texture. Flavors of cherries and wild strawberries play off of chalky, floral and oceanic elements, with hints of toasted biscuits. A very pretty bubbly, and a great pairing with sushi. One of the more distinctive interesting domestic sparklers I’ve tasted in a while.
2013 Yorkville Cellars Malbec Vin d’Une Nuit Rennie Vineyard
A bright strawberry color with a slight fizz. Nose: white cherries, wild strawberries, a bright sea breeze and seashell note as well, some roses. Bright and tangy on the palate, a clean feel but also bursting with fruit (strawberry, white cherry, McIntosh apple). Crisp, clean, would cut through all sorts of food, provides a lot of refreshment, but also some ripe fruit. Herbal, oceanic and mineral elements add complexity. You don’t see many of them, but I’m thinking this Malbec rosé idea is working. This one gets about 20 hours of skin contact.
2012 Yorkville Cellars Malbec Rennie Vineyard
Deep ruby color. Nose is bold and inviting, blackberries, dark plums, boysenberry, some light roast coffee. On the palate this is bright but fleshy, with fine lightweight tannins and brisk acid. The blackberry, dark plum and blueberry fruit is tart and fresh, giving the wine a light presence, but there’s depth in here as well. Pure fruit, laced with notes of cocoa dust, dried rose petals, rose hips and balsamic glaze. Fresh and juicy and open for business. 17 months in seasoned French oak. As deep and loamy as a Mendoza Malbec, but with more bright, high-toned floral notes.
2013 Yorkville Cellars Malbec Sweet Malbec Rennie Vineyard
A very light red color, like strawberries and cherry juice. On the nose, I get candied apple, sweet roses, cherry cola and raspberry jam. Full-bodied with a chewy mouthfeel, slight acid. Flavors of Thanksgiving spiced cranberry sauce, caramel apple, roses and clover honey, also some underlying dusty-earthy notes. A juicy and rich presence but the flavors show nuance. Still cool and refreshing, but perhaps this style doesn’t lend itself to those more complex elements in the Rennie Malbec. A Malbec rosé with 10% alcohol and 7% residual sugar, cool fermented with no oak. I could see this being a huge hit at holiday parties.
There’s much more to love about Mendocino wine country, which I hope to explore in future posts.