Everything from this tasting came from Bell Wine Cellars, which owns a couple of vineyards throughout California. Joining us for the tasting was founder and winemaker Anthony Bell, a soft spoken man with a deep love of wine. Originally from South Africa, he's been working in California for nearly three decades. Given his background, I asked him if he's ever experimented with Pinotage in California, but while some have been able to grow the grape there, the ripening schedule really doesn't work with the climate.
Broadly speaking, these are all classic, mature, well-crafted wines. I'd recommend any of them if you're looking for a serious California wine, as opposed to the strange oddballs I write about here. The prices are high, but I think they're worth it. All of the more detailed wine information is available on one page.
Wine 1: 2004 Bell Viognier. Santa Cruz County, California. Slight aroma of honey, with earthy and mild fruit flavors. The first "serious" Viognier I've ever had. $38.
Wine 2: 2004 Bell Chardonnay. Napa Valley, California. There's a light and clean nose, mildly oaked and cream flavors. I had difficulty picking out individual elements in this wine, but it was very balanced and well rounded. $30
Wine 3: 2000 Bell Merlot. Napa Valley, California. By far my favorite out of the tasting. Lots of black cherry, very mellow and delicious. A hint of spice on the finish, and almost no discernable tannins. Probably one of the best Merlots I've ever had. $30.
Wine 4: 2003 Bell Syrah. Sierra Foothills, California. Slight roast lamb scent, with plum jam flavors, but not jammy. Very subtle and restrained for a Syrah. $30.
Wine 5: 2002 Bell Cabernet Sauvignon. Napa Valley, California. Dark fruit, black pepper, and solid tannins. I'd love to revisit this one in a year or two, but it's a solid California Cabernet Sauvignon. $43.
Wine 6: 1999 Bell Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon (375mL). Baritelle Vineyard, California. This is the star of the show. There's a lot more information on the website about this particular wine, but it's really spectacular. I would have needed a full glass to really study this wine, but just imagine all elements being in perfect, harmonious balance. I had a smile on my face for an hour afterwards. $35.