Monday, December 12, 2016

Martin Ray Still Kicking in Sonoma

Martin Ray was a pioneer of the California wine industry in the 1940's who established a winery called Mount Eden in the Santa Cruz Mountains to produce fine wines when much of the California wine industry was making cheap jug wine. Ray had previously worked for Paul Masson. By 1976 Martin Ray had lost his money, the winery and even his own Martin Ray brand.

Courtney Benham, a very successful wine executive, acquired the brand about twenty years ago and moved operations to the old Martini and Prati winery near Santa Rosa in Sonoma County. Today, Martin Ray Winery produces a pretty wide range of wines from Sonoma, Napa, and some limited bottlings of wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains. The wines are very fresh in style, made with a light touch, and are never over-concentrated, sappy, or sweet despite the sunny California fruit. The entry level wines are great values (the 2014 Sonoma Cabernet is killer for $20, btw), and some of the more limited reserve wines are dynamite, but they are mostly sold through the tasting room in Sonoma County.

The tasting room, by the way, is laid back and well worth a visit if you're in the area. There are shaded tables if you feel like enjoying a pizza from the mobile wood-fired pizza oven parked in the gravel driveway.

Martin Ray 2015 Bald Mountain Vineyard Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains ($35) I love that Martin Ray still makes these Santa Cruz Mountains wines as a tribute to the founder and namesake of the brand and the place where it all started. The Chardonnay is racy, with good acid and a firm backbone of stony minerality running through it. It shows aromas of green papaya and peach and light toast notes, and it has alluring, zesty stone fruit and tropical fruit notes on the palate. It's also finished with a screw cap, so it's easy to open and won't be corked. (90 Points)

Martin Ray 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains ($40) The Santa Cruz Mountains are extremely rugged, but those rocky soils can produce some pretty remarkable wines when they find the right balance. Ridge's Montebello from the tippy-top ridge vineyard overlooking Silicon Valley is the obvious benchmark, and there aren't a ton of wines from the area that really hold a candle to that one, but I like this one very much. It has the brambly, mildly green madrone scrub kind of notes that distinguish mountain wines. Behind that there's some real structure and minerality, bold, fresh berry and currant fruit and bright cherry notes and violet-ish crushed, dried flower highlights and a mildly chocolatey finish. All that adds up to a lot going on, age-worthiness, and big-league quality. (94 Points)

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