Paul Kitagaki Jr. / Bee file

Ryan Taylor of Mt. Vernon Winery, shown at a 2009 tasting, also consults with other wineries on the development of Rhône-style blends.

Dunne on Wine: Uplifting and expressive describes a blended white wine from the land of hearty reds

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 3D

Jim Taylor is the father. Ryan Taylor is the son. Together, they form the grape-growing and winemaking team at Mt. Vernon Winery just outside Auburn.

They're big, strapping guys with the confident air of frontiersmen for whom no mountain is too high, no river too wide. They're manly men, building this, repairing that. You wouldn't be surprised or even skeptical if they told you they alone dug their wine cave with pick and shovel, plastic ones.

Yet these guys also are in touch with their softer side. Not long after Jim and Lynda Taylor established Mt. Vernon Winery in 1996 – Ryan was still in high school – the family teamed up with Dr. Ernie Bodai of Sacramento to make a wine whose label features the Breast Cancer Research Stamp for which Bodai successfully lobbied Congress and the U.S. Postal Service.

Mt. Vernon is the only winery in the country sanctioned to use the stamp on wine labels. The Taylors continue to donate to breast-cancer research, 12.5 percent from the sale of each of their two Global Journey wines with the stamp.

Then, during the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Taylors began to release a series of Girly Man wines whose cartoon label art features a caveman in high heels and bearskin sheath.

But at heart, the Taylors like their wines as big and robust as they are. Even the Girly Man wines, like others in their lineup, conform to traditional masculine descriptors – muscular petite sirahs, brawny zinfandels, brooding syrahs, dense barberas. Other than a chardonnay, the Taylors haven't much gone in for white wines.

So it came as a surprise this fall when we stopped by the winery and discovered that the most refreshing and charming wine of the day was a white wine, a blend of 50 percent viognier and 50 percent roussanne marketed under the name Cuvée Blanc.

In buoyancy and amplitude, the Mt. Vernon Winery 2010 Sierra Foothills Cuvée Blanc is an uncommonly uplifting and expressive white wine. It shows with unusual brightness and spiciness that white wines can indeed be nearly as complex and enduring as reds.

The wine also reaffirms that blended as opposed to varietal wines could be the future in California for traditionally French grape varieties such as viognier and roussanne. In addition to the customary suggestions of flowers and stone fruits in the two varieties, the Cuvée Blanc carries a note of intriguing nutmeg. Viognier can be somewhat heavy and viscous on the palate, but in this instance, the acidity and spine of roussanne gives it surprising silkiness.

The grapes that went into the wine come from two widely separated vineyards. The viognier was from the Dick Cooper Ranch in Amador County's Shenandoah Valley. The roussanne came from a vineyard in the Foresthill area of Placer County.

For Ryan Taylor, Cuvée Blanc is an outgrowth of his evolution as a winemaker. As he assumed more winemaking responsibilities at Mt. Vernon, he also consulted for other wineries in the Sierra foothills. In that role he's overseen the development of popular blended wines based on Rhône Valley grape varieties.

The success of those blends prompted him last year to put together at Mt. Vernon the viognier and roussanne, which he previously had been releasing as stand-alone varietals.

"I've always loved viognier and roussanne, and in 2008 and 2009, I made 100 cases of each. For 2010, I said, 'Let's just condense this. Let's bring them together and make a combo,' " he recalled.

Cuvée Blanc has been such a success for Mt. Vernon that the owners of three other wineries in the foothills have asked him to come up with similar blends for them.

That could be a problem in the near future. A spring frost and fall rains hurt Rhône Valley green grapes in the foothills, reducing the amount of fruit that the Taylors have been growing and buying.

"I haven't been able to find one berry of viognier in El Dorado, Amador or Placer," said Taylor as the harvest wound down.

Still, he's tickled with the quality of the 2010 Cuvée Blanc and expects the style to remain in Mt. Vernon's lineup whenever he can get the grapes he needs.

"I was a red-wine drinker until we started to get these Rhône white wines from the foothills. There's nothing like them. They are super-awesome. I'm now drinking as much white as red, as long as I can find white Rhônes from the foothills," said Taylor.

Mt. Vernon Winery

2010 Sierra Foothills Cuvée Blanc

By the numbers: 13.9 percent alcohol, 218 cases, $25

Context: "It's a super-versatile wine, but you don't have to have food with it. It's a great patio sipper. I have three bottles in the refrigerator at all times," said Ryan Taylor. When he pours the wine at the table, he's likely to serve it with fresh fruit, cheese and crackers, or a salad with a white-wine vinaigrette, especially if it includes another Placer County staple, mandarins, which help bring out the tropical fruit and citric components of Cuvée Blanc, he's found.

Availability: The wine is available only at Mt. Vernon Winery, though it can be ordered online through the winery's website, www.mtvernonwinery.com.

More information: The tasting room at Mt. Vernon Winery, 10850 Mt. Vernon Road, Auburn, is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Mike Dunne



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