On the outskirts of Silicon Valley in Northern California you’ll find a town called Saratoga, where about a dozen sleepy wineries make their home. Not a lot of wine is actually made here, but you will find tasting rooms and wine bars a-plenty should you come to town for a visit.
Recently, before a visit to Mountain Winery (Paul Masson’s original home is no longer a real winery but is now a concert venue; bring a blanket and eat before you come!) we visited a pair of Saratoga’s most visible operations, Cinnabar (ubiquitous on many a budget wine list) and Big Basin (a superstar of California Rhone-style wines).
Thoughts on all wines tasted follow.
Wines of Big Basin
2013 Big Basin Vineyards Bald Mountain Chardonnay – A Santa Cruz bottling, well rounded with a nice body; slight tart edge of lemons and apples. A- / $55
2012 Big Basin Vineyards Coastview Pinot Noir – Vanilla overtures lead to ripe raspberry and a chocolate finish. A- / $44
2013 Big Basin Vineyards Homestead Blend – GSM plus carignane and a touch of cab. Chewy, fruit-forward, chocolate and cherries; an easy-drinker. B+ / $36
2013 Big Basin Vineyards Lester Pinot Noir – Santa Cruz fruit. Very nice, young with some tightness showing. A- / $NA
2012 Big Basin Vineyards Paderewski Vineyard GSM – Paso Robles grapes; balanced with some blue cheese notes; licorice, vanilla, dark and brooding. A- / $55
2011 Big Basin Vineyards Odeon – 50/50 syrah and cabernet. Curious, drying and tannic. A big food wine, with herbal notes. A- / $48
2012 Big Basin Vineyards Grizzly – 65% grenache, 35% syrah. Beautiful but brooding on the nose; dense body, lots of earth and mushroom notes. B+ / $NA
Wines of Cinnabar
2012 Cinnabar Mourvedre – Heavy, grilled meat notes, dark fruits and cocoa powder. B / $42
2012 Cinnabar Cruver – A blend of tinta cao, touriga nacional, tempranillo, and souzao. A very unusual California wine; but it’s light on its feet with with black pepper, perfume, and some mint. Very unusual but worthwhile. A- / $42
2012 Cinnabar Zhu Sha – Lodi blend of barbera, petite sirah, petit verdot, and teroldego. (Yeah.) Quite jammy, with some underlying tanning. Strawberry notes are punchy. B / $34
2012 Cinnabar Syrah – Silky with lovely fruit, balanced raspberry, vanilla, and tannin. Light on the body but loaded with flavor. A- / $42
2012 Cinnabar Petite Sirah – Dusty with tobacco notes, balsamic flavors. Powerful and pushy. Some greenness. B+ / $42
2013 Cinnabar Mercury Rising – A cabernet blend from everywhere; layered tannins, herbal edge, and some jam. Pleasant, but unchallenging. B / $22
2014 Cinnabar Incantation – Viognier and orange muscat. Very aromatic, citrusy with a light and fresh finish. B+ / $NA
2013 Cinnabar Chardonnay Monterey – Steel barrel fermented, more buttery than I expected since it doesn’t see oak — think buttered popcorn — but pleasant enough. B / $NA