By Laura Ness
Cheeky and engaging Tasting Room Manager, James Pickworth, presides over the new domain of Marilyn Remark in Carmel Valley Village, along with his glistening black flat-coated retriever, Sammy. The latter is very friendly, loves leather purses and shoes, and unlike his owner, despises cameras. Sammy, whose breed is designed to flush and fetch downed birds in thickets and marshes, bolts at the sound of a shutter. Fair enough: we did not come here to shoot dogs, we came here to taste wine and see how Marilyn Remark likes being part of “The Village People.”
The small 1,200 case production operation, overseen by owner and winemaker, Joel Burnstein, and named for his longtime girlfriend, now wife, Marilyn Remark, is currently operating in two locations: the original winery location on River Road in the Santa Lucia Highlands, open weekends only, and the former Silvestri tasting room in the East End of Carmel Valley Village, Thursday thru Monday.
It’s going extremely well at both locations according to Pickworth, who describes his longtime friend as “a great winemaker and a terrible salesperson.” It’s important to know your strengths.
For Bernstein, Rhones are clearly his strength, and it takes very little convincing for one who knows anything about Rhone whites to realize these are among the best executions of these finicky grapes, called The Three Sisters.
The fairest of all is decidedly Viognier, the Cinderella of the group, all fair-haired and redolent of perfume and bright promise. Her elder sisters, Marsanne and Roussanne, though, are a bit heavier on their feet, broader of beam, and their charms more veiled and subtle. Sometimes, in fact, they have no charm at all, but in the hands of someone like Burnstein, they are liberated to strut their oft-hidden winsome stuff.
The Marilyn Remark tasting begins with the 2011 Marsanne from the Loma Pacific Vineyard, in the southern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands. Done in neutral oak, this wine has the unmistakable signature of Marsanne, with honey, beeswax, lime and a hint of bitter almond, both on the nose and the palate. There’s attractive dried apricot here, too. James suggests pairing this with warm brie and almonds. I’d say add dried apricot chutney.
Next up is the 2010 Viognier from Monterey county, oozing pretty spring flowers like daffodils and honeysuckle, and possessed of a creamy texture with lush flavors of apple-peach tart in a buttercream pastry brushed with egg. James suggests this with seafood linguine in a white wine and butter sauce. My husband wholeheartedly agreed, as this is one of his favorite meals.
Then it was on to the other big sister, the 2011 Roussanne from the Lockwood Valley Vineyard, with an intriguing combination of flint, lemon and lanolin aromas, that sweep like a turgid stream onto the palate with lemongrass, lime oil, rosemary and capers. Roussanne is not a varietal known for its fruit, but rather its weight and texture. It’s the al dente pasta that gives the other stuff — the cheese, the meat or veggies, and the sauce — the platform they need to shine
James suggests pairing this with roasted rosemary stuffed chicken.
There’s also a “VMR” blend of the three sisters that was not open when we tasted, but we can well imagine there’s a pretty interesting dialogue going on between the three of them.
Then comes the “gateway drug” wine, the 2012 Rosé de Saignée, essentially a free run Grenache that is totally dry, with aromas and flavors of rhubarb, tea and cherries, along with hints of cured ham. This is James’ favorite wine to have with eggs benedict for breakfast or brunch.
Next up is the 2010 Grenache from Los Ositos Vineyard, a racy, energetic wine that oozes apricot marmalade, orange peel and puréed chestnuts, delivering flavors of strawberry rhubarb jam and candied apples. It’s Pickworth’s favorite with grilled salmon salad or perhaps a cheeseburger with Jack or even Gruyere.
The 2009 Grenache from Wildhorse Road Vineyards is rich with plums and smoke, in both the aromatics and the flavors, kicking in roasted meats and cherry liqueur for density and complexity. This is a smoky attention-getting wine from Le Mistral vineyard, originally planted by Joseph Phelps and then sold to Douglas Meador of Ventana. Its ample tannins and persistent smokiness make it an ideal pair with lamb shanks.
But we’re not done yet: there’s the 2011 Syrah from Tondré Grapefield, echoing the coolness of the vintage with its lavender perfume, sasafrass and white pepper nose, followed by delightful currents of plum, cherry and red currants, finishing with a big peppery kick. It would be fabulous with lamb rib chops and parsnip-rutabaga mash, topped with a rich winter fruit reduction.
We finished off with the 2010 Petite Sirah from Roads End Vineyard, and this is not your Central Valley PS whatsoever. Instead, it’s a joyfully aromatic song of white and black pepper, grooving to the lively beat of blueberry, dark chocolate and fennel roasted with balsamic. The long smoky finish makes it an ideal pair with London broil grilled with fig or blackberry balsamic and lots of cracked pepper.
The entire time, no matter how hard we tried, we could not get within earshot of Sammy without him evading the camera. Deep in his genetic training, he must know better than to be on the wrong end of a gun.
The Carmel Valley tasting room is located at 19E Carmel Valley Road in a strip called the East End Wine Row. The Santa Lucia Highlands location is located at 645 River Road in Salinas. For more information on Marilyn Remark, the operating hours of their tasting rooms, and to purchase their wines online, visit their website at www.remarkwines.com.