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Food & Wine

Quality estate wines from Michaud Vineyard

I recently put together a wine dinner featuring wines from Michaud Vineyard. The name may be relatively new, but the many familiar with Chalone Vineyard will remember Michael Michaud was at Chalone for almost 20 years, most of that time as the winemaker and general manager.

Michaud began buying land near Chalone in the early 1980s and has continued to add acreage ever since. This remote area chosen by the late Richard Graff (the founder of Chalone) is between Salinas and Gonzales and close to the Pinnacles National Monument Park. It is a unique appellation because of its combination of decomposed limestone and granite. It is as close to the Cote d'Or in Burgundy that you will find this side of the Atlantic. The soil and the cooling breezes that arrive daily from Monterey Bay provide ideal conditions to grow grapes possessing a mineral character that typifies great white burgundies.

Michaud and his wife, Carol, started the winery in 1998, and their first wine was a 1997 chardonnay. They have added pinot blanc (a personal favorite), pinot noir, Syrah, Sangiovese and a little bit of Marsanne (Rhone white varietal). All the wine is 100 percent estate grown, farmed and vinified by Michaud. Each distinct varietal label is the color of a shade of lichen found on the property.

The evening began with hors d'ouevres and a 2001 chardonnay with great fruit and an elegant, lasting finish. This wine is just being released as Michaud often keeps his wines an extra year to ensure proper development. The 1998 chardonnay accompanied a scallop, pear and chanterelle dish. The earthiness of the '98 was perfect with the mushroom flavors. It is always fun and interesting to compare wines from the same vineyard but different vintages to see how they evolve. You knew they were related, but the '98 was showing its terroir.

The 2001 pinot noir and Asian-spiced squab with pomegranate sauce was a good pairing. Those who keep this pinot noir a few more years before drinking will benefit as it is a big wine that needs some time.

Dry-aged prime rib and 2002 Syrah were made for each other. This Syrah is dark in color but does not overwhelm you with tannins as young Syrahs so often do. It is well balanced and has loads of flavorful fruit.

All these wines are in the $30 to $45 range and can be purchased through the Web site Michaudvineyard.com or selectively at Draeger's.

It is gift time again, and quality glasses always are appreciated. I have always been a fan of Spiegelau glasses because they look like Riedel but are less expensive, and you don't feel so badly when you break one! Riedel must have figured this out, as they bought Spiegelau this year.

A unique gift could be a membership to Vinfolio. I received a classy little book from them touting the benefits of their program. The services are meant for collectors. They will store, catalog, inventory, sell, buy, deliver and manage your cellar. They will perform these services in your cellar or theirs. Membership is $20 per month with an additional charge per case. Vinfolio.com will get you there.

A useful favorite is the "Wine Spectator's Ultimate Guide to Buying Wine," the eighth edition of which was released in October. I find it to be a valuable guide for tasting results.

When all else fails, buy a big bottle! Magnums, double magnums and all those biblical bottle names are show stoppers and always enjoyed.

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