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Enjoying Wine and Beer in the Augusta GA area

Central Coast Produces Great Wild Horse Viognier

Wild Horse Viognier 2015, Central Coast

Cost: $16-18

For diversity and quality of wines, it is difficult to beat California’s Central Coast region. The winemakers there have made great wines for years, and the region is getting a lot of recognition.

I often point to Paso Robles as a wonderful place to visit or to find a good wine, but the whole Central Coast from Monterrey to Santa Barbara produces spectacular wines.

The Wild Horse viognier is a good example of the kinds of wines you find there. It also is a great wine to drink during Arts in the Heart of Augusta this week because it matches so many different kinds of foods, especially those with a little bit of spice.

Wild Horse Viognier

The fragrant, flavorful wine is delightful as an aperitif, or accompanying a nice meal. In the glass it is a beautiful pale straw color with aromas of stone fruit and citrus. On the palate it has flavors of peach and lemon with a refreshing mineral zest. The finish is smooth and long.

The Central Coast often is called the Rhone Zone because it has an ideal climate to grow Rhone varietals such as syrah, viognier and roussanne. After decades of popularity for grapes grown in Bordeaux and Burgundy, the Rhone wines are finally getting their due. They are some of the best wines to serve with dinner, full of flavor but not overpowering the food.

Most of the grapes for this wine come from two Paso Robles vineyards owned by Wild Horse, their estate and wild rose vineyards. Some grapes also come from the Boekenoogen vineyard in Carmel Valley. The blend is 85 percent viognier and 15 percent grenache blanc. The grenache blanc adds bright acidity and mineral notes to the wine.

Each lot was delivered to the winery and went direct to press. The free run and press juices were separated and fermented in stainless steel tanks. The wine was transferred to all neutral French oak barrels to complete primary fermentation. It was aged sur lie in neutral French oak for five months before blending and bottling.

Viognier is staging a comeback around the world. After nearly disappearing from its traditional home in the northern Rhone valley in the 1960s, it started gaining popularity. Then it was planted in California, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and wine drinkers discovered it again.

The grape is difficult to grow, but it is drought resistant, which makes it well suited for Paso Robles.

Winery: Wild Horse wines are easy to spot at your favorite wine shop because they feature a wild mustang running freely on the label.

The name comes from the wild mustangs that once roamed the hills east of the estate vineyards in Templeton, just south of Paso Robles. The mustang on the label also happens to be the mascot of Cal Poly, alma mater of founder and owner Ken Volk.

He bought his first vineyard in 1981 and produced some pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon two years later.

Wild Horse Winery and Vineyards has been exploring California’s Central Coast ever since, experimenting with new growing and winemaking methods. The winery is best known for pinot noir, chardonnay, viognier, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and zinfandel. 

It also produces many other wines, both single varietals, single vineyards and blends. The winery’s small lot experimentation has led to production of some rare varieties such as malvasia bianca, verdelho, negrette and blaufrankisch. Most of those small production wines are available only at the winery.

The grapes come from more than 50 vineyards throughout California’s Central Coast. Often individual lots from different areas are fermented separately and then blended into a complex wine with many layers of flavor. 

The diversity of soils and climates along the Central Coast also allows the winemakers to work with virtually any grape variety they wish. In 1999, for instance, Wild Horse crushed 30 different varieties.

The winery’s motto is “Live Naturally, Enjoy Wildly.” The winery lives up to that motto by practicing sustainable farming and letting the diversity of the region show through in its wines. The winery calls its approach “attentive neglect.” That means staying out of the way whenever possible and letting the climate, soil and grape variety call the shots.

One example is the weed abatement program that includes llamas named Floyd, Dolly, and Salvador Dali, who protect the weed-eating sheep herd. A combination of grape skins, stems and seeds left after pressing wine from the grapes is mixed with manure to produce a high-quality compost material. Spread among the vine rows, this compost adds beneficial soil material while smothering weed growth.

Spanish rice and enchiladas.

Goes with: We had this beautiful wine with chicken enchiladas with Spanish rice. I made sure to have a big batch so I would have some leftovers.

I put an extra amount of chicken in the enchiladas, so this was a big meal. I also made a box of Spanish rice from Zatarain’s and added a salad to make a great meal.

This is a fairly easy meal to make. The hardest part is rolling the filled tortillas into enchiladas. I like to make a big enough batch to have a second meal as leftovers. They taste even better a couple of days after making them.

The lively fruit flavors and the crisp acidity of the Wild Horse Viognier cut through the heat of the spices and made for a lively combination.

This wine also would pair well with fresh seafood, stone crab, butter poached lobster, seared scallops, pad thai, or aged cheeses. Serve it well chilled.

Here is the recipe for chicken enchiladas:

2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast

3 Tbs cumin

2 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp Mexican spice blend

1 red onion chopped

1 cup frozen corn, or 1 can niblet corn

5 cans whole green chiles, chopped

4 whole jalapenos, seeded and diced

1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes

1/2 tsp flour

16 corn tortillas

1 large can enchilada sauce

2 cups shredded cheddar and jack cheeses

1 cup chopped scallions

Add 3 tablespoons cooking oil to saute pan and heat to medium. Season chicken with salt, pepper and Morton’s Nature Seasons. Brown chicken in pan, about 7 minutes each side until cooked through. Before turning sprinkle chicken with cumin, garlic powder and Mexican spices. Remove chicken and allow it to cool.

Saute onion and garlic in chicken drippings until tender. Add corn and chiles, stir well. Add tomatoes and cook for another minute.

Shred chicken breasts with two forks or by hand. Add shredded chicken to saute pan, combine with vegetables. Stir in the flour to help mixture thicken.

Microwave tortillas on high for 30 seconds to make them easier to roll. Coat the bottom of two 13 x 9-inch pans with enchilada sauce. Lightly coat each enchilada with sauce before rolling.

Spoon 1/3 cup chicken mixture into each tortilla. Fold over filling and place 8 enchiladas in each pan with seam side down. Top with remaining enchilada sauce and cheese. If there is more chicken mixture place it in open spaces in pan.

Bake for 15-17 minutes in a preheated 350-degree oven until cheese melts. Garnish with scallions. You may also add sour cream and cilantro.

Serve with Spanish rice or beans.

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