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Wines of the Week: Mandolin 2012 Pinot Noir Monterey $12Mandolin 2012 Chardonnay Monterey $10

Dwight Casimere | 2/17/2014, 8:34 p.m.
MONTEREY – There is an oft heard criticism that good quality California wines are difficult to find below the $20 ...

MONTEREY – There is an oft heard criticism that good quality California wines are difficult to find below the $20 mark. Mandolin wines from Monterey County explode that myth by delivering a superb 2012 Pinot Noir and a luscious 2012 Chardonnay for $12 and $10, respectively.

Mandolin 2012 Pinot Noir Monterey ($12) is made from grapes sources from vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey County. This is no shrinking violet Pinot Noir, but one brimming with lush fruit flavors of ripe raspberries, cherries and a hint of nutmeg and allspice. Cedar shavings and a hint of saddle leather round out the experience as the wine slides down the back of the throat. Aged in French oak for eight months before bottling, this wine, at $12, delivers a taste experience you would have to pay many times more for from other vintners.

A terrific food wine, I tried it with steak tartare; freshly ground Sirloin with capers, Worcestershire, dry mustard, finely diced shallots or red onions with a fresh quail egg dolloped on top. Serve with toast points or dark rye and you've got the perfect flavor pairing.

Mandolin 2012 Chardonnay Monterey ($10) is also sourced from vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands. The area, with its high winds, dry days and cool, foggy nights and mornings, makes for a long growing season and produces grapes dripping with honeyed fruit flavor. The grapes were harvested under ideal conditions, with the resulting juice having a perfect balance of acid and sugar. After undergoing malo-lactic fermentation, the wine was aged in 1-2 year old French oak barrels to reveal a wine bursting with tropical fruit flavors of pineapple and mango and hints of Meyer lemon and nicely integrated hints of oak, in the flavor of Tahitian vanilla and a hint of nutmeg.

This is a terrific wine with salads, mild, soft cheese, such as goat cheese or Feta and seafood. I had it with a cold shrimp appetizer with avocado and lime dressing and a lunch entree of Skate wing, sauteed in brown butter and olive oil with capers, lemon juice a dash of tarragon and finished with a splash of the wine for a dramatic flambe' finish. It was exquisite!