Wine Time: Cupcake Chardonnay 2014, Monterey

COST: $10-$12

 

WHAT: With great wine grapes being grown all over the world, a winery doesn’t have to own its vineyards to produce fine wine. Cupcake Vineyards is a great example of that.

Founded in 2008, it was selling 3 million cases of wine a year by 2012, making it the fastest-growing premium wine brand in the country. A winery doesn’t grow that big that quickly unless it offers value to its customers.

The value in Cupcake is premium taste at an affordable price. Each of their wines is representative of the varietal on the label. There are no gimmicks, no tricks. Just very good wine.

The grapes for the chardonnay did come from Cupcake’s backyard, Monterey County, and they produce a wonderful wine. Previous vintages have come from throughout the Central Coast region, but for 2014 winemaker Jessica Tomei found the grapes she wanted in Monterey.

The coastal influence of warm days and cool, breezy nights help the grapes ripen slowly, allowing them to develop maximum flavor and complexity.

In the glass, the wine is a beautiful pale straw color with aromas of vanilla, spice and toasted oak. The palate is rich and creamy, with flavors of peach, apricot, honey crisp apple, lemon and hazelnut. A crisp acidity nicely balances the buttery, creamy taste.

Monterey County is known for producing outstanding chardonnay because morning fog protects the grapes from too much sun. Cupcake’s chardonnay is barrel fermented and aged for nine months in American oak barrels, not something you would expect in a wine at this price point. Extended time on the lees, and a partial malolactic fermentation add to the buttery flavor and toasted oak that make this wine so exceptional.

I would serve it well chilled and allow it warm up slightly in the glass.

WINERY: Cupcake Vineyards started with a few fruit-forward, creamy wines in 2008. It has now grown to offer a wide variety of red, white and sparkling wines.

Winemaker Tomei sources grapes from all over the world to produce the balanced wines Cupcake is known for. With headquarters in Livermore, Calif., the winery also has access to grapes grown in the Central Coast region, which is where the chardonnay grapes are grown.

The Cupcake name is supposed to evoke an indulgent treat that produces joy and anticipation, much like the wines behind the label.

Tomei received a bachelor’s degree in viticulture and enology from the University of California, Davis, one of the world’s most respected universities for the study of winemaking. Since then, she has completed nearly 20 harvests around the world, working at vineyards in Tuscany, Italy; Napa; and Chile. After settling in California, Tomei created original wine for her family label and consulted for a boutique winery in Napa.

Cupcake is part of The Wine Group that includes such brands as Big House, Concannon, Fisheye, Franzia and Corbett Canyon. The parent company started out as part of Coca-Cola Bottling of New York before it was spun off in 1981. It is now a privately held company, the world’s third-largest wine producer by volume.

Cupcake offers Moscato d’Asti from Italy; Black Forest, a blend of five reds; Prosecco from Italy; Red Velvet blend; shiraz from Australia; pinot noir; petite sirah; merlot; malbec from Argentina; cabernet sauvignon; sauvignon blanc from New Zealand; riesling from Germany; pinot grigio from Italy, and Angel Food white blend.

This is a wonderful winery that has found a successful formula and stuck with it. You can take a trip around the world of wine with their reasonably priced offerings. I only wish they would change their label. It doesn’t look Old World, and it doesn’t look modern. The type is too small, and swirling lines are supposed to represent grapevines, but they look more like weeds. That should tell you that if they can sell so much wine without catchy labels to attract consumers, the wine inside must be awfully good.

GOES WITH: My wife, Teri, and I had this wine on a recent trip to Edisto Beach with a group of friends. After taking a trip to Napa Valley with three couples five years ago, I have stayed closed to them. We especially look forward to our yearly trips to Edisto.

We cook seafood most nights, although one night we grilled terrific elk steaks. Every night we drink a little good wine, stare at the ocean waves, play cards or read, and think about how fortunate we are to be at one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

The night we had the Cupcake we had fried shrimp, red beans and rice and salad. What a feast!

This creamy chardonnay really paired well with the shrimp, as the fruit flavors of the wine balanced the tangy shrimp and homemade cocktail sauce that is laced with plenty of horseradish. I could tell we all were pleased with the wine as I looked up and saw smiles all around the table.

We drink wine with a wide array of prices, and this bargain was one of the favorites among the whites.

You also could serve this wine with a cheese and fruit platter, pan-seared trout, crab cakes, oysters on the half shell or roasted chicken.

 WINE EVENTS

FRIDAY, MARCH 11

Wine tasting, 5-7 p.m., Whole Foods, 2907 Washington Road; five wines with snacks, $5; (762) 333-0260

Wine and beer tasting, 4:30-6:30 p.m., Vineyard Wine Market, 4414 Evans to Locks Road, Evans; (706) 922-9463

SATURDAY, MARCH 12

Beer tasting, 5-7 p.m., Whole Foods; five beers with snacks, $5; (762) 333-0260

Wine and beer tasting, 2-6 p.m., Vineyard Wine Market; (706) 922-9463

THURSDAY, MARCH 17

Wine tasting, 5-8 p.m., Wine World, 133 Georgia Ave., North Augusta; three whites, three reds and cheeses, $5; (803) 279-9522

SATURDAY, MARCH 19

Augusta Food & Wine Festival, 4-8 p.m., James Brown Arena, 601 Seventh St.; more than 30 wines paired with bites from area restaurants; acoustic performance by Nashville artist Craig Morgan; $40; georgialinatix.com, (877) 428-4849

 

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