Recently I had the great pleasure to meet and host Matt Garretson of Garretson Wine Company. Never heard of it? Well, check out their Web site. The first thing you'll see is Matt's response to that: "Well, we never heard of you, either. …" Talk about a great guy and some fantastic wines. Garretson provides a much-needed diversion from the norm of what the current market has to offer. He makes no Cabernet, no Chardonnay, and in Matt's words, no cry babies.
His winery is situated in Paso Robles in California's Central Coast region. The climate is quite warm due to a lack of marine fogs and winds rolling through the area. Such a climate is ideal for big reds, especially Rhone varietals, which are exactly the wines Garretson makes.
Another great thing about Matt Garretson is that he is a southerner, from Atlanta. Even though he now lives in California he takes great pride in his southern heritage. He makes both a white and a red blend that he calls "Magnolia Cuvee," (both around $20) as an homage to his roots. The white cuvee is a blend of Viognier and Roussane. This one is not a timid, chilly little thing created for the average Chardonnay drinker. The wine is round and rich with lots of interesting mineral, apricot and ginger notes. The red cuvee is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. It is not unlike a Cotes-du-Rhone in character: fruity, yet woody and earthy and maybe a little gamey. If you plan to eat lamb soon, this wine is the perfect compliment.
The Viognier "The Saothar" (about $30) is another adventure for the palate. Upon first sniff, I went back … I was a little kid visiting my grandparents in Columbia, Miss. My grandfather always took me to Mr. Buck's candy store, where he bought me those freaky orange marshmallow things called Circus Peanuts. This wine smells just like that candy. On the palate, it's rich, full-bodied, and reminiscent of the great wines of Condrieu, France.
I was especially impressed with the Syrah he calls "The Craic" (about $35). On its own, the Syrah is big and burly, with lots of smoke and spices. It can sometimes need a little time in the bottle to smooth out. The beauty of this wine is that Matt has added a touch of Viognier (yes, a red with some white added) to soften this baby up … but not too much. This Syrah is still a bit of a bully, but very approachable, ripe and downright easy to drink. Fantastic.
Both the Grenache "The Spainneach" and the Mourvedre "The Graosta" (about $30) are amazing, bold reds. If you like leathery, slightly earthy reds with lively fresh fruit, you will like both of these. The Grenache is a bit like a Spanish red, with very long, firm tannins and bittersweet fruit. The Mourvedre is probably best described as rustic with a surprisingly smooth fruit character.
Upon examining these wines at your favorite retailer, you may notice that all of the current releases are sealed with Stelvin closures (aka screwcaps). When I asked Matt why he chose to switch, he simply said, "Corks have their place, just not in my wines." Matt is among the rapidly growing number of winemakers who are tired of being "burned" by tainted corks. You'll certainly notice the bold, almost neon-colored labels used on these wines, each varietal with its own electrifying hue. Everything from the eye-catching packaging to the strange Gaelic names given to each wine lead straight back to Matt Garretson's great personality and contagious sense of humor. This is clearly a guy who does and says whatever he wants—and is wildly successful at it. I wonder if that could work for me?