Wine: What it means to miss N.O.
Taste of the vine sparks memories of another time
Iíve been thinking about
New Orleans lately, specifically the Hotel Monteleone. Itís a place Iíve
never been in, but its huge iron and neon sign casts a 1920s shadow over
the French Quarter. Iíve been thinking about it because Iíve revisited
an old favorite wine, Chateau Montelena. These two instances, 2,200
miles apart, are forever linked in my mind.
Shortly after my last visit to New Orleans I opened the wine list in a
restaurant and discovered Chateau Montelena. Even though these two
arenít spelled the same thereís some quirky connection in my brain that
triggers memories of the other whenever one appears. A travel ad or news
of the hurricane brings a thought of the beef tournedos and the
Montelena Cabernet. Conversely, a trip to the wine store and a glimpse
of the black-and-white label ushers in the remembrance of the great view
of the French Quarter from my 19th-floor hotel room, and the heavy hotel
sign that in the Louisiana night stood illuminated by red neon light.
Chateau Montelena makes premium wines, but not cult wines. This is good
news for most of us little wine people because we can actually get a
chance to taste it, rather than read about it. And itís not that
expensive, compared to say Grace Family Vineyards, wines which are sold
only to about 500 people on an ultra exclusive mailing list. You can buy
a bottle online too ó if youíre willing to spend $300. Which makes the
price of some of Chateau Montelenaís newest releases and absolute
bargain at $35.99.
Chateau was started in 1882 (it says so on the label) and has been in
production continuously. In 1976 their chardonnay was judged in Paris,
and actually beat some of the top Burgundy Grand Crus. This event put
California at the top of the wine map overnight.
2003 the winery pushed to have the Calistoga area of Napa Valley named
as a separate American Viticultural Area. AVAís are geographical areas
where 85 percent of the grapes in the labeled bottle are grown. For
instance, if I grow grapes in Terre Haute, Ind., and I make a wine with
50 percent of the grapes from Chicago, then I canít say itís a Terre
Haute AVA. This is to prevent some wineries from using a more
prestigious and marketable AVA name when less than 85 percent of the
wine grapes are grown in that territory.
Calistoga AVA is still pending approval from the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms.
Chateau Montelena makes chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and a
riesling which is sold at the vineyard. Their premium-tier wines are the
Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel.
Chateau Montelena 2003 Chardonnay is a smooth finished wine with a touch
of oak which counterbalances the slight pineapple and lemon notes and
adds the perfect amount of acidity to the finish. It retails for $30-$35
dollars a bottle, and while not cheap, it has little in the way of
artificial taste that some Californians seem to thrive on. It pairs well
with anything really, but try it with penne in a vodka cream sauce if
you want to get rough with it.
2002 Estate Zinfandel has a bit of a kick to it, but it seems to soften
at the finish. Why do zinfandels seem to be getting more monstrous all
the time? Iíd like to be able to not use the word ďjammyĒ to describe
them sometime. This wine begs for a plate of antipasto under a grape
arbor. Rustic, yet fresh with minimal laboratory tastes. $28.49.
Chateau Montelenaís 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon has just the right amount of
merlot blended in to make it perfect. It wouldnít win in a blind tasting
with a Ch‚teau Lťoville-Poyferrť from the Saint-Julien appellation, but
itís half the price. Elderberry, cassis and that elegant layered finish
make this one thoroughbred bottle.
havenít tasted the 2001 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon,
(because itís $122.99 a bottle) but this is a serious Californian wine.
If you can afford it, this is their signature product.
Unfortunately, none of these wines appear on the Hotel Monteleone wine