Stretching from Los Angeles to San Francisco, “the Central Coast is too diverse to be categorized as one singular wine-production region,” says Arthur Hon, wine director at Sepia restaurant in Chicago.
For instance, “You can find delicate varietals that are planted in the colder parts of the Central Coast, and more-hardy grapes—especially the reds—that are grown in the warmer parts of the regions,” Hon notes. Sepia carries about 15 wines from the region, priced from $50 to $150 a bottle.
The area has such a wide range of grapes, soil types and microclimates that it can successfully produce everything from chardonnay and pinot noir to Italian grapes and Bordeaux blends and Rhône varietals, Hon says.
In fact, the area boasts many unusual Italian grape varietals, such as sangiovese, vermentino, aglianico, arneis and nebbiolo. And the “Rhône Ranger” movement of the early 1980s, which introduced syrah, viognier and other grapes from France to California, started in the Central Coast.
The region is home to nearly 700 wineries, according to data from the 2013 Central Coast Wine and Viticulture Symposium, which was held in Paso Robles, CA, in March. The counties of Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz have seen a 16% increase in growth from 2009 to 2012 in winery numbers, with the majority of brands tracked producing less than 5,000 cases, according to the Central Coast Symposium. Diversity, value and what is perceived to be a more down-to-earth approach shown by the region’s producers have all served the Central Coast well, according to operators. The “Sideways” effect of the 2004 movie hasn’t hurt the region’s appeal either.
“Guests that do prefer the Central Coast wines prefer them for the great prices and the broad range of varietals and winemaking styles,” Jason Sherman, the “wine guy” from Brennan’s in Houston. The Texas Creole restaurant carries 33 wines from the Central Coast. It’s also a region where winemakers can experiment and make a new start, Sherman adds.
The Central Coast is known not only for the great diversity of grape types that grow well there, but as a region that has also been successful in producing single-varietal wines as well as blends.
Some of the region’s top varietals on-premise include many of the Rhône whites, such as marsanne, roussane and viognier, according to Sherman. Central Coast chardonnays and syrahs are also attracting a lot of attention.
“I love the way that they pair with food, and they have a style that is uniquely their own,” notes John Wright, sommelier at 550-room InterContinental hotel in San Francisco. “They are obviously California [wines], but have a nuance that is often lost in other AVAs.”
Wright carries 20 to 30 wines from the region on his hotel’s wine list, which is home to Italian restaurant Luce. The bulk of the Central Coast wines are hand-sells, he notes. “They have an acidity that is often lacking [in other wines], a vibrancy of fruit that is refreshing.”
VALUE AND PRESTIGE
The expansive Central Coast has been both a great source of value wines for operators as well as home to a handful of emerging expensive, cult brands. “The most expensive are wines from vineyards like Bien Nacido, Sanford, Pisoni, Cargasacchi, Sea Smoke, etc.,” says Jeff Gregory, general manager of seasonal- cuisine inspired restaurant FT33 in Dallas.
In general, he says, “the quality is excellent for the price if you know who and what to look for.” Some of the cool-climate wines are outstanding, as well as many of the appellation’s Rhône and Bordeaux blends, Gregory notes.
Wines from the region also offer a great variety of by-the-glass options. FT33 carries four wines from the Central Coast, primarily the single-varietal wines, Gregory says.
Most operators tend to list the wines these appellations produce by varietal, as they find few consumers are shopping their lists by region, other than Napa and perhaps some sub-regions of Sonoma, like the Russian River.
“In most cases, they are very well priced,” Sherman says of the Central Coast wines. But Syrah from Paso Robles “has reached some staggering prices as of late,” he notes.
As the prices of wines from other California regions increase, “customers are finding and searching out wines from alternative areas like the Central Coast,” says David Jabour, president of the 75-location, Austin, TX-based chain Twin Liquors. The chain carries about 175 Central Coast wines, priced from $7 to $85. The top varietals are chardonnay, pinot noir, zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon, Jabour says.
San Francisco-based, three-location K&L wine merchant currently carries 44 wines from the region, price from $13.99 to $60. “The Central Coast will continue to improve over the near and long term and offer our customers fantastic wines,” says domestic wine buyer Mike Jordan.
The Central Coast offering brings a uniquely diverse perspective to the California winemaking scene, according to Sepia’s Hon. Other operators agree.
“A continued focus on great farming, varietal correctness and wines that are honest representations of their site will continue to push things forward for the region,” says Gregory. “I see more and more wine drinking turning to the Central Coast wines each year, and I can’t see that changing any time soon.”
The independent character of many of the producers has also helped to set the region apart. “It is a vibrant area with cutting-edge winemakers that are willing to make the best wine possible, not make the best wine that critics tell them they need to make,” says Wright. In another 20 years, he notes, the Central Coast “could easily rival or surpass Napa.” ·
Central Coast Fast Facts
Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz.
Highly diverse given the large area of the region, with a wide range of soil types and microclimates.
Chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, zinfandel, as well as many Italian and Rhône varietals.
Major vineyards and wineries:
Au Bon Climat, Laetitia Vineyard Winery, Qupe Wine Cellars, Kendall Jackson.