A few months ago I stood looking at four big cardboard boxes full of wine, all delivered on the same day. Here it was, the entire Testarossa Winery 2016 vintage, a bottle of every single wine they made. Three and a half cases. Forty-two bottles. A daunting tasting challenge if there ever was one.
How do you get a snapshot of a vintage? That was the question on my mind when Silicon Valley’s Testarossa Winery asked me if I’d be interested in tasting through their entire 2016 lineup. And now I was looking at all the samples in my house. The best way to get through it? Bring in reinforcements. Invite friends, wine lovers and experts, to help. So I did.
Testarossa, founded by husband and wife team, and former techies Rob and Diana Jensen in their garage in 1993, is known for great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, sourced from top vineyards mostly in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Think Pisoni, Rosella’s, Garys’, Sierra Mar, Tondre Grapefield, Doctor’s. This Monterey County wine AVA is known for fog and wind, a terroir that results in crisp acidic, complex, mineral driven and age-worthy wines.
Longtime winemaker Bill Brosseau has the task of coaxing the best expression of each vineyard out of the grapes, with a careful eye on farming, and once the grapes are harvested, making fermentation and barrel aging decisions based on the vintage. I’ve sat in on many winery blending trials, where the Testarossa staff, from Rob, Diana and Bill, to folks from production and marketing, taste variations on blends from each vineyard, be it the amount of oak or clonal selections.
So with that experience in mind, I approached the 2016s. I broke them down into several sections. The first tasting was all the Santa Lucia Highlands (SLH) wines. Then there were the wines in other AVAs – Chalone, Russian River Valley, Santa Maria Valley, Sta. Rita Hills and Arroyo Grande Valley. Finally, some Cabernet-based wines and the winery’s top tier proprietary blends.
My overall verdict? Buy them now, and drink some now. The ’16s are approachable, ready for popping the cork, with lush fruit, balanced floral and spice, and loads of minerality. The Pinots show an additional etherial note, with underlying earthiness. But thanks to the backbone of acidity running through all the wines, you’ll want to stash some bottles away and try them in five, 10 and even 15 years later. Yes, even the Chards.
Here are highlights from my tastings.
Santa Lucia Highlands wines
The majority of the wines in Testarossa’s portfolio are made with grapes from the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County.
• Doctor’s Vineyard Pinot Noir ($70) We love the clones in this vineyard – Swan, Calera and 777 – on their own. But blended together they make a complex, earthy wine, with roasted strawberry, tart plum and cherry, with sweet baking spices and black pepper to boot.
Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir ($70): Taking top ratings in our tasting, this wine, sourced from a vineyard that’s a partnership between Gary Francione and Gary Pisoni, is extremely aromatic. A beautiful ruby color hints at the rosy scent, with tart blood orange and Santa Rosa plum fruit. This wine is a wow, with a velvety mouthfeel.
• Rosella’s Vineyard Chardonnay ($51): Tropical fruit, peach and white pepper aromas waft from the glass. As the wine develops, this crisp yet feminine wine displays caramel notes on the finish.
• Pisoni ($70 – currently sold out): Looking for a big, full, rich Pinot? Pisoni is your go-to, and one of our top wines. Fresh and floral, with pomegranate, plum and dried rose petal notes, the wine has plenty of acid to balance the lush mouthfeel. Minerality comes out in the long, supple finish.
• Sobranes Vineyard Chardonnay ($51): A crowd pleasing Pinot Noir, full of tea rose and juicy plum aromas and flavors. This pleasant, elegant wine has a nice, lingering finish.
•Tondre Grapefield Chardonnay ($51): Another crowd favorite, this creamy white features lemon curd, apricot and nectarine fruit, and is soft on the palate with gravely mineral notes.
• Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir ($66): Sipping this like drinking silk. It has a smooth yet powerful elegance, with bright red fruit, fresh acidity and cardamom spice. With a lingering finish it is finesse in a glass.
Wines from other AVAs
• Brosseau Vineyard Chardonnay, Chalone ($51): Wow! My first time tasting wines from Bill Brosseau’s family vineyard in the Chalone AVA. This wine has chalky minerality, crisp and bright apple with lemon zesty. The zippy wine is just kissed with oak, and has a long, elegant finish.
• Brosseau Vineyard Pinot Noir, Chalone ($70?): This is silky smooth, with red cherry, raspberry and cranberry fruit and subtle earthiness.
• La Rinconada Vineyards Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills ($51): A mineral-forward wine, with zesty grapefruit and crisp pear and apple. As you sip, complex notes of caramel and cream come out, along with a silky finish.
• Niclaire ($92 ): This proprietary Pinot Noir blend named for Diana and Rob Jensen’s children, Nick and Claire, is made from a selection of the best barrels across multiple AVAs. It is very Burgundian in style, with bright and tart cherry, pomegranate and rhubarb notes, lively acid and an elegant, forever finish.
• Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills ($68): Violets mix with tart cherry, thyme and anise for a floral and herbal, savory wine.
Visit Testarossa Winery
In Silicon Valley – the winery and tasting room
300 College Ave, Los Gatos CA
In Carmel Valley – tasting room
1 East Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley CA