COST: $37-$39, $27-$29
WHAT: Great chardonnay and pinot noir often come from neighboring blocks in vineyards because both grapes thrive in the same cool environment. It’s not unusual to see one winemaker produce great examples of both varietals, especially in California.
The FEL wines are perfect examples of that. They’re also perfect wines for Mother’s Day because owner Cliff Lede (lay-dee) named the winery in honor of his mother, Florence Elsie Lede. The label also has a tulip, Florence’s favorite flower.
Lede says he remembers the emergence of tulips signifying the end of winter where he grew up in Alberta, Canada, bringing with it excited anticipation of warmer days ahead. The tulip is a tribute to Florence Lede’s passion for gardening.
Winemaker Ryan Hodgins has done a nice job with both wines. They are well-rounded, easy to approach and full of flavor. I like the pinot noir a little better, but either one would add a lot to dinner with mom.
The chardonnay starts with aromas of Granny Smith apple and lemon zest, leading to grapefruit and lemon flavors. It is a complex wine, with a restrained flavor profile. When I tasted it I thought this was a stainless steel chardonnay, but it was fermented in neutral French oak barrels with limited malolactic fermentation. It was aged sur lie in 60-gallon neutral oak barrels for nine months.
It is a blend of several heritage clones and Dijon clones from vineyards in the Anderson Valley AVA, the northernmost wine growing region in California.
The pinot noir is a beautiful bright red color in the glass with aromas of black cherry and hints of cinnamon and herbs. The first sip reveals rich flavors of black cherry and blackberries with some spice.
The flavors continue to evolve in the glass, revealing a luscious, complex, velvety wine. The wine also has a pleasant, lingering aftertaste.
The wine blends select pinot noir clones, including Pommard, Mount Eden, Martini and Dijon from Donnelly Creek, Savoy, Wiley and Ferrington vineyards in the Anderson Valley AVA. After a five- to seven-day cold soak, a nine-day primary fermentation and a three- to seven-day extended maceration, the wine was aged 16 months in 60-gallon French oak barrels, 42 percent of which were new.
Hodgins said the 2014 harvest was ideal, resulting in wines that show a finesse and balance found only in the greatest vintages. The pinot noir should age well for at least another five years.
WINERY: The FEL winery in Anderson Valley is owned by Lede Family Wines, which was founded by Cliff Lede in 2002. After succeeding in the family construction business, he moved into wine when he bought 60 acres in the famous Stags Leap District of Napa Valley.
Cliff Lede wines concentrate on estate vineyards, including the flagship Poetry cabernet sauvignon, made from hillside vineyards.
Lede bought Breggo Cellars in Anderson Valley in 2009 and renamed it FEL wines in honor of his mother, a home winemaker who inspired his early interest in wine.
Later, he bought the Savoy vineyard from which the winery makes vineyard-specific chardonnay and pinot noir.
When he replanted the vineyards in the Stags Leap District he named each of about four dozen vineyard blocks after his favorite rock albums and songs. So, one day the crews might be picking from “Pinball Wizard,” another from “Touch of Grey,” and another from “Purple Haze.”
I visited the sleek, modern reserve tasting room off the Silverado Trail a few years ago and loved the feel of it. Lede also collects art, and part of his collection was exhibited in the tasting room they call Backstage. The show included images from Stanley Mouse, who was most famous for producing concert posters and album covers for the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane. The winery is filled with huge windows and wooden beams, making for a spectacular setting to taste wine.
Lede has been a Bordeaux enthusiast for years, and with his estate wines he creates wines with Old World values of linking the wine to the place where the grapes are grown.
“I love to build and create things,” Lede says. “After 25 years of wearing a suit every day, constructing plant sites, buildings and pipelines, it’s far more fun and rewarding to create something that offers people such pleasure, like wine.”
In 2005, the winery also opened the luxurious Poetry Inn, perched on a steep hillside on the eastern side of the property. Each of the five rooms has a breath-taking view of the valley. The rooms feature wood-burning fireplaces, private balconies and indoor and outdoor showers.
GOES WITH: We had each of these wines with an easy to fix, yet special meal. The pinot noir paired well with meatball subs, and the chardonnay was perfect with paella.
For the meatball subs I got frozen meatball parmesan from New York Butcher Shop. Just heat the meatballs and sauce, serve over a hunk of split, toasted baguette and sprinkle shredded Italian cheese on top. Yum.
The mellow fruit of the pinot stood up to the spicy tomato sauce and the meatballs. To keep the meal simple we just added potato chips. It was a quick and hearty midweek meal. The pinot noir also would pair well with coq au vin, lamb chops, duck or creamy cheeses.
For the chardonnay, I cooked paella, a traditional Spanish dish I love. I usually don’t take the time to cook it, but I found a packaged mix at Kroger. All you have to do is add water to the rice and spice mix and boil, instead of spending hours cooking it from scratch.
I improvised, which I think made it much better. I tossed in shrimp, scallops, bell peppers, celery and green onions, which added flavors and crunch. I don’t have a large, shallow paella pan, but my wok worked just fine.
The package is supposed to feed four, but by adding the extras we had more than enough for five of us: my wife, Teri, my son, Michael, and Teri’s daughter Erin and her husband Gary, and me. We had a feast and everyone seemed to love it. The crisp acidity in the wine nicely cut through the seafood and spice flavors. Erin and Gary called the wine “throaty.”
The chardonnay would pair well with oysters, shrimp and other fresh seafood, plus fried chicken, beer can chicken and creamy cheeses.
Serve it well chilled.