Chateau Montelena Riesling 2017, Potter Valley
Cost: $26-28
R iesling is one of the best wine grapes in the world, yet many people don’t even try it because they think they won’t like it. Some people think they don’t like sweet wines and they think all rieslings are sweet.
In reality, rieslings are made in a range of styles from dry to sweet. Even if you think you don’t like sweet wines, you should try a sweet riesling.
The first case of wine I ever bought was a Joseph Phelps late harvest riesling, and I can still remember the smiles my friends and I had when we drank that wine with dessert. And my favorite Thanksgiving wine is a bone-dry, mineral-rich riesling from Alsace.
The Chateau Montelena Riesling ($26-28) is neither of those extremes; it has only a touch of sweetness. But it is an outstanding wine that can turn an ordinary meal into an elegant event.
It opens with delicate tropical and floral aromas with some apple and ginger. Over the course of dinner other aromas emerged, primarily peach and pineapple. On the palate there were rich tastes of lemon, honey and spices with a hearty, viscous mouthfeel. I could feel this delightful wine coating my entire mouth as I took each swallow. The creamy finish isn’t cloying and it is balanced by a crisp acidic burst and some minerality. This is an elegant wine.
I would characterize this wine as off-dry, with just a touch of sweetness. It is not anywhere near as sweet as a dessert wine.
After fermentation the wine is aged for six months in a combination of French oak and stainless steel. It was bottled in March and released just weeks ago.
Riesling is not the first grape that comes to mind when you mention Chateau Montelena because they make such good chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. But winery founder the late Jim Barrett lived by this mantra: “Growing the right grape in the right place.”
He found the perfect place for riesling in the Potter Valley AVA, with a certified organic vineyard. Riesling needs warm days and cool nights to ripen properly and develop flavor characteristics. The vineyards for this riesling are high enough up the mountains to enjoy the cool night air, and the days get plenty of hot sun.
Potter Valley is at the northern end of Mendocino County, north of Napa and Sonoma.
Winery: Chateau Montelena has been around for a long time, but it really burst onto the world stage when it won the Judgment of Paris in 1976, beating an all-star lineup of French chardonnays from Burgundy.
Back then it was unthinkable that an American wine could be better than a French wine. That blind tasting upset forced wine drinkers around the world to give American wines another look.
Alfred L. Tubbs, a San Francisco businessman, started the Napa Valley winery in 1882 after he heard that was the best place in California to grow grapes. He bought 254 acres of land in the northern end of the valley, two miles north of Calistoga and planted grapevines. By 1898 his A.L. Tubbs winery was the seventh largest in the valley.
He built a stone winery, in the style of an English Gothic castle with walls 12 feet thick. That building is still in use today, as a tasting room, occasional residence and for special events.
After Prohibition Tubbs’ grandson, Chapin Tubbs, restarted the winery in 1933. He made some wine and sold grapes to other wineries. In 1940, Chapin renamed it Chateau Montelena Winery, a contraction of Mount Saint Helena, which towers over the property.
After Tubbs’ death in 1947 the property did not operate as a winery for nearly two decades. The family sold the property in 1958 to Yort and Jeanie Frank, who wanted a pleasant place to retire.
The Franks excavated a lake and landscaped the grounds to look like gardens in Yort’s Chinese homeland. Jade Lake still exists today and is considered one of Napa’s most beautiful spots.
The modern history of the winery began in the early 1970s when Jim Barrett cleared and replanted the vineyard. He also brought in modern winemaking equipment and assembled a team to make top-quality wine. The first wine in decades was made in 1972, and by 1976 Chateau Montelena was known throughout the world. Jim’s son Bo now runs the family-owned winery, making many world class wines.
The tasting room is open daily and offers several tastings and tours. You can sip wine in the castle overlooking the Chinese garden and Jade Lake. From there the vineyards stretch out to the base of Mount Saint Helena.
Michael enjoyed the fine dining in front of the television.
Goes with: My son Michael and I had this elegant wine with my homemade chicken noodle soup. The soup is so full of meat and noodles you could eat it with a fork. You might call it chunky, but I think someone else is using that.
The soup is flavorful, full of chicken concentrate, thyme and parsley, along with celery, carrots, salt and pepper. I let it cook for hours and then try to wait until the next day to eat it. That gives the flavors a chance to come together properly.
This hearty soup would overpower a wimpy wine, but the Montelena riesling was a perfect match. The spicy, creamy, balanced flavors of the wine blended well with the savory soup.
Teri wasn’t home so we enjoyed the meal on TV trays in front of the television while watching “Lost In Space.” It’s a guilty pleasure to eat dinner while watching television, especially when we have a spectacular wine like this Montelena riesling. It feels rebellious.
The wine also would pair well with oysters, rich fish dishes, turkey, fried chicken, salsa and bold cheeses.
Dinner and a movie: watching “Lost in Space” with chicken soup and Chateau Montelena.

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