Martin Ray Vineyards & Winery highlights two California regions

Martin Ray Winery’s history dates back to the 1940s in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Their second life started in 1990 when Courtney Benham bought the winery and moved it to the Russian River Valley. While they’re now deeply ensconced in Sonoma County, Martin Ray Winery continues to produce wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains too. Both of these areas are well suited for a variety of grapes to thrive. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are among those that do the best. I recently tasted a number of selections from them. Here are four that I really enjoyed and highly recommend.

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Martin Ray 2014 Mill Station Chardonnay ($35)

This is entirely Chardonnay from a single vineyard located on Dutton Ranch in The Russian River Valley. Aging took place over 12 months in 40% new French oak. After aging, select barrels are chosen for the final blend. The spice-driven nose also features a bevy of other attractive aromas such as subtle toast, crème fraiche and yellow apple. Lemon curd, Anjou pear and more are on display throughout the layered and complex palate. Continued spices, hints of lemon merengue pie crust and more emerge on the long luscious finish.

Martin Ray 2014 Bald Mountain Vineyard Chardonnay ($35)

All of the fruit for this wine (entirely Chardonnay) was sourced at the namesake vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Barrel aging took place over a year in 40% New French oak. Pineapple and spice aromas dominate the lovely nose. Asian pear, citrus zest and hints of stone fruit are all apparent on the engaging palate. Wet limestone and gentle hints of brown sugar appear on the above average finish.

Martin Ray 2014 Coast Grade Vineyard Pinot Noir ($40)

This wine is entirely Pinot Noir from the Coast Grade Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Aging took place over 14 months in 55% new French oak. There’s an enticing floral element that leads the nose here alongside red fruit. The palate is stuffed with oodles of ripe wild strawberry, red raspberry and cherry. Savory herb notes are at play and provide an excellent counterpoint to all the sweet red fruit. Black pepper and a gentle dusting of dusty baker’s chocolate are evident on the impressive finish. Zippy acid and soft tannins lend to the silky mouthfeel here.

Martin Ray 2014 Dark Star Vineyard Pinot Noir ($55)

The fruit for this wine (100% Pinot Noir) was sourced within the Green Valley AVA within Russian River Valley. Barrel aging took place over 12 months in 50% new French oak. Black cherry, hints of plum and subtle violet aromas are all in play here. The palate is deeper, darker and a bit more intense than the Coast Grade selection. Blackberry, black raspberry and more are all in evidence. Earth, chicory and bits of wild mushroom are present on the long, lingering finish. It’s a bit bolder and bigger than the Coast Grade Pinot but delicious, generous, and most importantly, still proportionate.

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are both ubiquitous in the marketplace, so much so that it’s particularly easy to become overwhelmed when looking for well-made examples of each that don’t break the bank. The wines above, while not everyday drinking prices for most, are well worth the extra spend for a nice weeknight dinner or Friday date night.

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