There is often a hangover, so to speak, after huge sporting
events and seasons end.
There is no more
of the sport to watch on television, so the sports networks takeover, rehashing
again and again the entire season of the sport and then looking forward to the
next year already.
I am similar to the
ESPN sports caster that just can’t get enough of the NCAA men’s basketball
season as I keep commenting on great wineries.
However, instead of breaking down each questionable referee call or talking
about the professional prospects of the players, I am going to hold on to the
last vestige of my eight elite wineries by showing one final set of California producers,
one final bracket for all to see.
final word goes to my fellow International Wine (and Spirits) Guild alumni
Oscar Montes Iga.
Oscar has been involved with travel, tourism, and events his
entire adult life.
He started first with
degrees in Nutrition, Diet, and Health Science; Travel, Tourism, Meeting, and
Event Planning; and Food, Beverage, and Hospitality Management.
This formal education came after he worked in
family-run restaurants throughout his childhood. Then in 2005 while working in
a prime steakhouse in Texas, he visited a local winery and was in love…with
His lust for wine knowledge
started, and he has hunted for this knowledge in almost every avenue
In addition to the already
mentioned International Wine and Spirits Guild where Oscar is an Executive Chef
of Wine Arts and Guild Wine Master Candidate, he is a Certified Sommelier
through the Court of Master Sommeliers and a Certified Specialist of Wine
through the Society of Wine Educators.
He has worked tirelessly in the state of Texas to promote the state’s
wines through groups such as The Wine and Food Foundation of Texas, the Texas
Hill Country Wineries Association, the Texas Wine Consortium, the Texas Wine
Journal, and Texas Wine and Trail Magazine.
|Sommelier Oscar Montes Iga|
What this very impressive list of accolades means is that
Oscar knows good wine.
He makes it his
mission to know good wine.
In fact, he
admits to being a “grape hunter and oenophile, foodie and avid ambassador for
I think it only fitting
that I give him the final say on our honored wineries.
Oscar’s criteria is a bit different than both mine and Eric
Gardner’s (check out Eric’s elite eight here
Having been full-time in the industry for a decade, he has tasted
multitudes of wines from all over the world, so choosing eight greats from
California isn’t about what is his favorite wine.
His choices are based on wines of
extraordinary quality that impacted his sensory perception and captured his
emotions in the instant of the taste.
has yet to travel to California, but these producers represent ones he will
surely visit to get closer to the experiences he has already had with the wines
One—Cain Vineyards and Winery:
A Napa Valley producer specializing in
cabernet sauvignon (the king of grapes), Cain has 90 acres under vine and makes
about 20,000 cases of wine a year.
2005 while working his steakhouse shift, a customer shared with the staff the
bottle of unfinished Cain.
clueless about what Meritage or Bordeaux meant, but he knew instantly when he
sipped that this was a special wine.
professes, “It was as if the wine spoke the truth about the tender journey it
had taken to be able to express itself in such manner upon consumption.”
This winery now has a deep spot in his wine
|Cain Vineyards and Winery|
In 1999, Rick Quinn and Dave Nichols teamed together to make Paso Robles
zinfandels under their own label instead of just selling fruit to other
At a Zinfandel Advocates and
Producers event, Oscar tasted Opolo Vineyards wines.
Though there are many quality zins from
Opolo, the Mountain Zinfandel is the one that grabbed Oscar’s attention.
“It was really robust with a full body, yet
very well balanced, rich, showcased a ton of jammy fruit with some spice
qualities, and sufficient alcohol, nothing overpowering, but certainly overwhelming.”
It is the most memorable zinfandel experience
Oscar has had.
This Santa Cruz producer also made my elite list (see my list here
and Oscar loves the producer for the same reasons.
The history of Ridge dates back to 1885 when
it was the Monte Bello Winery.
the 1940s, Ridge made one of the best cabernets.
In the 1960s, zinfandel was planted there.
Although Ridge is famous for Monte Bello, its
cabernet blend, it was the Geyserville Zin that made Oscar sin.
“It’s a dark and plump wine, with eloquent
fruit and restrained alcohol, but certainly a wine that shows minimal
manipulation, letting the fruit ‘do all the talking.’”
Four—Jordan Vineyard and Winery:
Founded in 1972, Jordan created one of the
truly original cult wines of California.
The story goes that winemaker Rob Davis was unhappy with his first
vintage in 1975, so he decided to dump all of the wine and wait for the next year.
The move created an incredibly sought-after
product, even today.
Oscar respects this
producer saying, “The passion and dedication of the grape growing and wine
making teams shows in the glass when you pour yourself some Jordan, a
commitment of over four decades is reason enough to pay them a visit.”
|Jordan Vineyard and Winery|
Five—Robert Mondavi Winery:
Such an iconic winery and wine personality, California and the United
States both owe a lot to Robert Mondavi.
He was instrumental in advocating for strict labeling laws aligned with
growing regions, much like the European concept of terroir upon which our American
Viticultural Areas (AVAs) are based.
When Mondavi was forced to leave his family-owned winery, he built his
own facility, showing the future of California’s industry.
“Mondavi’s wine[s] continue to appear the
world over, and it is with extreme dedication and care that we are able to
taste in our glass the essence of the fruit and the winemaking techniques used
to elevate each of his created [wines].”
|Robert Mondavi Winery|
Six—Heitz Wine Cellars:
Though a traditional California winery dating back to 1964, Heitz has worked
to find modern and new outlets to get traditional CA varieties to the
This blend of old and new can be
seen in the fact that Heitz grows the traditional wine grapes of cabernet
sauvignon, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and zinfandel, yet produces a zinfandel
rose, the Grignolino rose.
This is Oscar’s favorite:
“A dry, medium dark
cranberry hue, with fresh and ripe flavors of strawberry, cherry, and raspberry
with good acidity and a pleasant floral bouquet enticing you to have a
‘pique-nicque’ at every city park or country outing.”
|Heitz Wine Cellars|
In the business for over twenty years, some of Stolpman’s best wines
come from the recently approved Ballard Canyon AVA.
Although some Mediterranean grapes like garnacha, viognier, roussane, and
sangiovese are grown, the producer’s syrahs are world class—especially the ones
from Ballard Canyon.
“Fresh and bright,
with ripe fruit, pleasant perfume, dirty earth and spice components that are
balanced and complex, ensuring you have an evolving glass of wine throughout
Oscar says this is a must see!
Eight—Chateau Montelena Winery:
In a way, this is Oscar’s honorable mention
winery, merely because he has yet to have a personal experience with these
However, the historic significance
Chateau Montelena has in not only California but all of the United States makes
it a significant producer.
gets its fame from the celebrated Judgement of Paris tasting when British wine
shop proprietor Steven Spurrier pitted American wines against French wines in a
The Chateau Montelena
Chardonnay triumphed against the French wines, gaining respect for Napa Valley
Oscar feels, “Visiting this chateau
will give me an opportunity not only to taste the fruit of their labor, which
they certainly take great pride in, but also to visit a historical site that
has put American wine on par with elegant and ancient European estates.”
|Chateau Montelena Winery|
Yes, well-educated and passionate sommelier Oscar Montes Iga
definitely deserves the last word in our brackets of eight elite California
He is the final commentator dissecting
the play-by-play of our wine game.
he lives in Texas, he knows good wine from all over the world.
His education and experience have helped to
show that so many different options abound in choosing “teams”—the wineries
which we love or would love to visit—for our elite brackets.
Luckily, unlike the actual brackets for the
NCAA tourney, we can all be winners in our pool.
Just look for all of these wineries’
Judge for yourself who your
favorites might be.