The Georis tasting room in downtown Carmel Valley Village has the most picturesque peaceful garden setting that can even make a rainy day enjoyable. Inside, a warm cozy fireplace warms your soul on windy cold afternoon or winter evening while the patio is welcoming on just about any day.
Their wines appeal to a wide audience. An educated palate will appreciate their European craftsmanship and a novice or anyone new to wine gets a great education from simply tasting these hand crafted wines that showcase the grape’s potential.
Their Sauvignon Blanc starts the tasting with the true grit grapefruit that is typical for this grape. But the flavor goes on and on with a big body and long finish rarely found in a crisp refreshing white. Their rose of Cabernet Franc is one you don’t see very often and you will most likely remember tasting. This grape’s thin skins ensure softer tannins, allowing the fruit flavor to shine.
Cabernet Franc may be a tough grape for some but Georis’ winemaker is a bit of an expert in its deep characteristics. Picked too soon it can taste too much like bell pepper and picked too late it doesn’t have the crisp acidity to round out its juicy body. Their 100% Cabernet Franc has a dense texture yet soft tannins and a hint of bell pepper without being overwhelming. A Meritage of the 5 Bordeaux varietals has delightful tart cherry and brazen berry flavors with a smoky burning fire pit of eucalyptus and a supple leather texture with licorice and anise on the long finish. Their Merlot has great cherry fabulousness with an elegant yet robust body. All are nicely done, pleasing a European wine lover’s palate.
One of the newest tasting rooms in Carmel Valley Village is one you shouldn’t miss, especially if you are a fan of Talbott’s wines. Their wines are made out of some of the same grapes.
Chock Rock pours a Pinot Blanc has nice plush apricot and tart peach with brilliant acidity that make it great with food or simply sipping porch side. A Chardonnay will surprise you with lots of lemon curd and tart green apple acidity yet a creamy body. Their Pinot Noir has black fruit of plum and dark cherry picked on the ripe side but plenty of acidity and structure that shows all that this estate vineyard can do. Then, a Pinot Noir reserve has plenty of that dark cherry with vanilla and a little earth. But its velvety smooth and rich texture is what makes this one stand out. The last one to surprise and not the least is their Syrah. It has such deep purple color it could turn your teeth blue. A little Pinot Noir blended in softens the tannins of this otherwise blueberry cupa coffee. Visit on a warm sunny day so that you can make use of the cool patio in front on the tasting room right on Carmel Valley Road.
To support the loving SPCA while you drink wine, check out the Howlin’ Good Red from Cima Collina in Carmel Valley. For only 25 bucks a bottle, you could be sipping the velvety rich plum, blackberry, and violet flavors that emerge from this Syrah blended with a bunch of other Bordeaux varietals while you pat yourself on the back for being so charitable.
If you’re going to encounter wine for the millionth time, let them be artisanal wines hand crafted by James Joyce’s family. Russell Joyce is a direct descendant of the poet, pouring Monterey County and Central Coast wines from the Joyce Vineyards tasting room in Carmel Valley Village that are more tasty than works of art.
Starting the flight with a dry Riesling, they confidently do things a little differently and your taste buds enjoy the change. It has plenty of fruit flavor that feels like sweetness yet very little sugar aftertaste and crisp acidity holding it all together. Two Chardonnays follow, highlighting the difference between stainless steel and oak influence on flavor. The first has plenty of tropical fruit, green banana, and lemon meringue while the second also has plenty of lemon meringue with a slight creamy texture, minerality, and eucalyptus. Comparing these two is such a lively indulgence for your taste buds, you’ll have to treat yourself to the experience. A rose of Grenache has nice crisp acidity but a tiny bit of cream rounds out the watermelon and orange blossoms.
Another treat is a side by side tasting they offer showcasing the differences between two well-crafted Pinot Noirs from different regions: Santa Rita Hills and Monterey County. Not to ruin any surprises but the Santa Rita Hills is closer to wines from Burgundy with lean but mean fruit and earth without the dirt. Fruit and body is far more voluptuous in the Pinot from Monterey County with sexy layers of heady spice, eucalyptus, and earth. Their Syrah is not like any other, probably because of the unique soil and climate in Carmel Valley. It has so many layers of smoke, pepper, plum, blueberry, toasted vanilla and everyone’s favorite, mocha. Finally, the Cabernet Sauvignon is one of a kind. Its luscious dark black cherry, plush plum, and blackberry encourage slight pine and eucalyptus to emerge with many layers of mocha, soft silky tannins, and balanced acidity representing just how much this grape loves San Benito. But you don’t have to go to San Benito or even know where that is for this to be your new fave region for Cabs. Their tasting room is in the lovely Carmel Valley Village walkable to fine good eats and hiking trails.
Any coastal wine village is naturally going to be over saturated with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wine tasting rooms. Once you’ve had your fill, seek out the tasting room that’s doing things a little differently, bringing a bigger variety of varietals to the area.
Marilyn Remark is serving Rhone wines from their tasting room in Carmel Valley Village. The strong and sensuous white Rhone grapes make a wonderfully refreshing alternative to Chardonnay. Their Marsanne has a very melon flavor and texture with the supple body of butter and cream. A Viognier has its hallmark floral fragrance and melon fruit with a surprisingly acidic lemon curd layer that balances its richness. But the rose of Grenache is really a star for any food pairing. Its crisp strawberry and red cherry fruit flavors are balanced by a nice layer of acidity with a little brambly and vanilla finish. It will play well with any picnic.
Their GSP is an unusual blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Petite Sirah has an amazing balance of the best of each grape. The Grenache is the first character you taste because of its bright red cherry and earth. Then, Syrah’s tart cherry and smoke hit you with Petite Sirah’s big bold body and blueberry lengthening the finish without overwhelming the wine with tannins thanks to the other two grapes. Plenty of vanilla and toasted hazelnuts make this the wine to try here or even the reason to stop at Marilyn Remark.
If you think you’re too cool to stay at a Holiday Inn or Hilton Garden, Bernardus Lodge is the place for you in Carmel Valley Village. Lux dining on site and a relaxing spa may make you never want to leave. But head to their tasting room in the village a few blocks away for a sampling of their estate wines and others grown in the Santa Lucia Highlands.
In Carmel and even Carmel Valley, Bernardus is like the old school high-end leader in wine. They are to Carmel Valley what a staple like Sterling is to Napa. But they actually have good wine. Their Sauvignon Blanc was blended with Semillon for body but it also mellows out the harsh grapefruit and minerality leaving a slight grassy aroma. Their Chardonnay has red apple and pear flavors with nice crisp acidity and an aftertaste of buttered popcorn. Their Pinot Noir from the famed Pisoni vineyard is full of earth and dirty berry with tart strawberry that is nicely balanced with a bit of spice on the finish. But their Marinus from the warmer and less coastal Cachagua Valley blends Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc to make a winning Bordeaux. Lovely cherry, oak, and cedar with spice dance in your mouth as you sip your first taste. Then, the long finish brings out eucalyptus, a hint of bell pepper, and tart plum, making you wish you had a big steak to go with this wine. Well done!
Like I was, you might be drawn in to a place called the Cowgirl Winery knowing full well it’s probably just a flashy name. But this cowgirl ain’t foolin’ around. The tasting room is a converted barn building that’s not just selling cowboy boots and metallic belt buckles. They’ve got true grit glass servers that look like branding metals. They also raise chickens that squawk about the grounds as though it’s their home and it is. But they’re very friendly and don’t mind people who spill or accidentally drop picnic food.
The wines may not be what you end up remembering but their Cabernet Sauvignon starts with a thick heavy vanilla aroma and a bit of eucalyptus . Then, it continues with a big body of stewed purple fruit like plum and berry. It finishes with tart red fruit like raspberry and cherry that bring you back for another sip.
The Boekenoogen name might sound foreign because of its Dutch heritage. But the Boekenoogen family came to California on covered wagons in search of gold during the gold rush in the mid 1800s. They made their living for many years as cattle ranchers until they saw the great potential for growing grape vines in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Now, they are one of the few wineries that produces wines on the same property where they grow their grapes. A wine’s geographical origin as printed on the bottle does not have to represent where the grapes were grown or even where the wine was made; it simply means that’s where the wine was bottled. So, this gives new meaning to the term “Estate Wines” and Boekenoogen wines are grown, made, and bottled on their property.
Their Viognier has nice crisp acidity with the token floral fragrance and tropical banana thickness. But a hint of smoke rounds out this wine with more layers than most whites. A Chardonnay has bright balanced acidity and fruit flavors of melon and banana with stone fruit. Compare this with another Chardonnay and you’ll see how its creamy texture mellows out the fruit’s acidity and balances it.
Their Pinot Noir starts out juicy with lots of eucalyptus and earth. The bigger darker fruit emerges like blackberry and Bing cherry which appears to mellow out the earthiness. Their Zinfandel has plenty of that berry flavor without overwhelming jammy body found in some zins from the valley. Nice crisp acidity and a bit of earth balance it out for the trifecta of flavors and slight pepper on the long finish make it delightful for heavy or rich foods. This is a great place to see what everyone means when they talk about a “cool climate Syrah” because you can taste both of theirs side by side and feel how the first one’s tart cranberry acidity balanced by berry smoke and earth compares with one that has more plum and berry with mellow acidity and more cocoa and smokey layers.
If you’ve wised up about the effects of pesticides, make sure you stop at Heller Estate on a trip through Carmel Valley. They are not only the oldest but the first certified organic vineyards in this valley. They don’t even use herbicides. Vines are fed water from the sky alone so they toughen up quickly, giving more complex flavors to their grapes.
They also have one of the last few Chenin Blancs and it is a delightfully light crisp white wine. A refreshing change from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, this wine has succulent green apple and guava flavors with an aroma of honeysuckle blossom. Pair it with just about anything including a warm sunny day. Their Pinot Noir has many layers of spice on top of its hallmark cherry and berry flavors. Their Merlot is also a warm soothing black cherry packed libation with ageworthiness even though it does not have added sulfites.
You may think this winery is synonymous with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and they do serve a tasting flight that includes 3 of each. So, if you’re not a Chardonnay or Pinot fan, you’d naturally skip this one. Well, you would not only be missing some highly well crafted wines you’d also be missing a surprise museum. Their first Chardonnay has such bright pineapple that enhances the soft tropical flavors in a crisp refreshing wine elegant enough for summer sipping or picnics. Their second is all green apple with a hint of popcorn and even caramel next to a toasted croissant. The third brings a little creamy texture with the flavor and richness of lemon curd or a tart apple crisp. The Pinot Noirs start with tart bright earthy cherry yet get a bit more brambly and purple. Their last Pinot has more plum and spice than bright red fruit. So they may only have two varietals but their styles cover the map.
But this tasting room is really a destination on your next motorcycle tour. It is like a motorcycle museum. Owner, Robb Talbott showcases a collection of motorized cycles that amaze even the most classically trained wino. An extra collection on display you’ve probably never seen before is a series of old fashioned pedal cars. You really have to see it to be brought back to a time in your life when this was your primary mode of transportation.