The year 2014 marks Jed Steele’s forty-sixth year of being involved in winemaking in California. From his start as a cellar worker at Stony Hill in Napa Valley in 1968, to UC Davis for a Master’s Degree in Enology, to starting Edmeades in the Anderson Valley and being there for ten years, to then starting Kendall-Jackson and working there for the first nine vintages of that wildly successful winery (he left the year they broke the million cases per year production mark), to the start of his own STEELE Wines in 1991. Well, as you can see, it has been an incredible ride.
During this time Jed has been able to produce wines from just about every top quality wine region in the state, from Santa Barbara to Mendocino. The line-up of vineyards which Steele either owns or from which they purchase grapes has evolved slowly over the years to where they consistently draw on some of the finest vineyards in California.
The truly superior fruit is separated off for Single Vineyard Selection wines, and the lighter lots are designated for Shooting Star. They represent classic winemaking techniques applied to classic varieties. Always looking for new and interesting wines, Jed has expanded into Washington, sourcing grapes from the Newhouse family vineyards south of Sunnyside.
2012 Shooting Star Aligote, $13.99
Aligoté is a variety, which is little known but widely planted. It is popular in Eastern Europe with vineyards in the Ukraine and Moldavia. In France, it is the other white grape of Burgundy, but has always played second fiddle to the noble Chardonnay grape. Generally, Aligoté is planted in either hilltop or cooler valley locations because it is more cold-tolerant. It has never been planted in any commercial quantity in California, but in Washington State, where cool winters are a fact of life, Aligoté has found a happy home.
2011 Shooting Star Blue Franc, $13.99
In 1975 Jed Steele had the opportunity to travel to Austria and visit their wine-growing region on the banks of the Danube River. This country produces many great wines, but until recently they were mainly for local consumption. One wine that impressed him was a red made from the Lemberger grape. This is an odd name and some growers did refer to it by its ancient moniker: Blau Frankisch, literally “blue grape from France.” The wine is clean, crisp, and unpretentious with tons of fruit, including warm berry pie, complementing the traces of pepper, almond, cherry and cinnamon. Steele’s Shooting Star Blue Franc has soft tannins, medium body and great color. It is excellent with appetizers, cheeses, BBQ and picnics. Try it with a toasted sandwich of smoked chicken, grilled onion and avocado—quintessentially quaffable!
2013 Steele Cuveé Chardonnay, $17.99
California Cuveé Chardonnay, really shows off Jed Steele’s wizardry in blending. As with all great wines, the process begins with the selection of the right vineyards. Steele has worked with most of the great Chardonnay growers in California and has chosen six prestigious properties to obtain the grapes for this wine. The Cuveé consistently exhibits excellent depth of flavor, wonderful acidity and complex aromas. The Santa Maria vineyards add a tropical fruit character to the wine, flavors and aromas of mango, pineapple, and papaya. The Sonoma vineyards contribute citrus character and acid to the cuvee. The Mendocino vineyard flavor profile leans toward citrus fruit, baked apples and cinnamon. Halibut with a white wine burre blanc sauce would complement the complex flavors of the Cuveé Chardonnay any day.
2012 Steele Pinot Blanc, $16.99
The Pinot Blanc grape is a colorless expression of the red Pinot Noir grape. The Pinot family have very unstable genetics and the result are the many clones including the dusky pink colored white grape called Pinot Gris and this grape, the Pinot Blanc. Santa Barbara, with its maritime desert climate, provides just the right combination of characters, while preserving a crisp acidity that makes it a refreshing food wine. The grapes from this area tend to have tropical fruit aromas and flavors, as well as peach and melon characteristics. You’ll also find the hallmark green apple component common in Pinot Blanc, with a soft and creamy mid-palate. Scallops sautéed in lemon butter with zest of citrus and lime are always a great pairing, but this versatile wine goes well with just about any seafood.
2010 & 2011 Steele Cabernet Franc, $16.99
Though Steele is not known for Bordeaux varieties, their location in Lake County allows them to produce some of these in styles that can make neighbors to the south jealous. One of these is Cabernet Franc. Quite often used as a blending grape, this single varietal bottling is a mouthful of pleasure. Lots of fruit, medium tannins and a long lingering finish, this wine should pair perfectly with braised lamb or an assortment of hearty cheeses.
2012 Steele Pinot Noir Carneros, $21.00
Grapes for this wine were sourced from the Durell and Sangiacomo Vineyards, both situated in the Sonoma Carneros. Considered by many to be the home of the best American Pinot Noir, the region’s masking fog and cool breezes throughout most of the growing season allow for the hang time needed to develop the flavors of exceptional Pinot Noir. This coastal influence produces a wine with bright strawberry and cherry flavors, balanced with hints of jasmine tea and cola. This is a Pinot lover’s Pinot with moderate oak, high-tone fruit flavors, a rich nose, juicy palate and long finish. The quintessential pairing would be a wild mushroom risotto.
2011 Steele Out Kaste Red, $25.00
The blend for The Out Kaste changes from year to year dependent on the creative flow of the winemaker. While the 2010 version was predominantly Syrah based, the 2011 offering leads with almost 53 percent Zinfandel, with smaller amounts of Syrah, Tempranillo, Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot. This wine’s brooding nose gives hints of black pepper, raspberry, and cobbler with turbinado. The first sip brings on a bramble patch of blackberry, cassis and spices. A swirl and second sip yields toasty oak notes and a keen edge of cocoa. A hint of rhubarb pie surfaces in the plummy finish. Exciting and delicious now, this puppy will age for years to come. Serve with comfort foods such as barbecue ribs, Yankee pot roast, roasted tomato bisque, or go wild with elk or bison. For a sweet aside, try a chocolate truffle.