Experiencing the Wines of Stewart Cellars

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 06-05-2018

stewartMost wine reviews consist of two things: a series of sensory descriptions (which are increasingly imaginative, to say the least) and a number between 85 and 100. There are exceptions, to be sure. But in most publications—this one included—the wine review now fits a standard template.

For those who taste and review thousands of wines annually, I would imagine that the process can get quite clinical. I picture a clean, controlled environment, like a science lab, complete with white coats, laboratory flasks, and perfectly polished glasses.

Sure, that might be hyperbole. And don’t get me wrong; I love the reviews on Terroirist from Isaac Baker. But I can’t help but think about how most reviews don’t convey enough about how we actually experience wine.

For me, the most exciting thing about a bottle of wine is the potential it holds for fostering community, intimacy, and relationship. With the right person or people, in the right setting, and with the right food, that which a winemaker has passionately and painstakingly crafted to be good, can become very good. Those are the stories I want to hear!

Stories are what captivate us, what draw us in. So, what if wine assessment took the form of a vignette, that documents and entertains, interlaced with the qualitative notes we’ve come to recognize and value?

A month or so ago I received three new releases from Stewart Cellars as samples. This (below the fold) is how my wife and I experienced them.

2015 Stewart Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (SRP $50)

It has become something of a habit that when my wife and I drink good Pinot, we make quinoa pork meatballs (here’s the recipe). We made them once, with spaghetti and a generic bottle of sauce, and opened a 2015 Williams Selyem Eastside Road Neighbors—that pretty much sealed the deal.

The pairing with Stewart Sonoma Coast Pinot didn’t disappoint, as it played well off the ample black pepper and nutmeg of the meatballs. Our first impression of this dense ruby wine was of tart cherries—cherry Lemonheads, actually. The acidity didn’t overwhelm, but washed over our tongues, complemented by some slight chalkiness, and sent us quickly back for another gulp; the hallmarks of a great summer wine. It’s well built too. Two days in the fridge under Vacu Vin and it was still solid.

My wife hates cherry-flavored things, but oddly she loved this wine.

2016 Stewart Sonoma Coast Chardonnay (SRP $37)

I didn’t believe my wife when she said she couldn’t handle thrillers. Or maybe I just thought Arlington Road wasn’t too potent a thriller. But where Jeff Bridges failed me, this wine really came through.

The movie rolled while the Stewart Sonoma Coast Chardonnay sat golden- and straw-hued in our glasses. Our pairing of sharp cheddar, crackers, and trail mix was questionable, but that’s all we had on hand for a weeknight on the couch. I made note of lemon and some creaminess as Tim Robbins, the conspicuously suspicious neighbor, played mind games with Bridges, the paranoid widower professor. It wasn’t distinctly buttery, the wine; there was still a nice crisp front end.

With nose firmly in glass I was digging some wonderful pear and honeysuckle notes when it became clear that things might not work out so well for Bridges. In the end, despite my wife’s protestations, the bad guy won, and she contemplated breaking the DVD. Instead, she opted for a final pour of the Stewart, and I swiftly returned the disk to its case.

2017 Stewart Sonoma Mountain Rosé (SRP $28)

On Wednesday evenings in the summertime, the town we live in shuts down the main street and all the restaurants put their tables out. Hundreds of people gather to dine under the stars. It’s a wonderful scene, one that reminds me of Paris.

One such evening, with the unabated sun low in the sky and ice-cold Sonoma Mountain Rose in hand, we grabbed a two top outside this Mediterranean place. I uncorked the bottle—with my own corkscrew, lest they try to charge us some kind of fee—and poured two glasses. The first whiff didn’t pop, nor did the first sip. I was expecting a wine picked, pressed, and bottled mere months ago to burst.

As it warmed, it revealed a bit more, but was still too subtle for either of us to fully appreciate. But our glasses stayed full, as we clamored for more of this light pink rosé’s just-right acidity to quench our thirst under the hot sun.

The best compliment I can pay the Stewart Sonoma Mountain Rosé is how well it paired with my dish of ground lamb with Greek spices and candied lemon peel. Its lower alcohol content also meant my wife and I could drink the whole bottle in one sitting without feeling overly tipsy or tired, allowing us to move on to other important evening activities—like a waffle cone full of Cookie Monster ice cream.

Comments (2)

  1. Great article, Eric! Loved the story of your dinners with wine & your easy, conversational style.

  2. Thank you, Mickey!