STEELE Wines have been a part of my mental wine cellar for decades. Jed Steele was one of the early guys in the modern-day wine renaissance in California. He makes a zillion kinds of wine from all the main French varietals to Italian and Spanish — but not a lot of cases. The best wine shops will always carry something he makes. And the prices, considering the vineyards and the quality and small production, are amazing. I would say he is best known for Zinfandels. They carry his personal signature: lots of flavor and style, but not heavy or too jammy, or overloaded with alcohol. Jed Steele has made wine in California for 50 years, and his own brand for 25. He started out in the cellar at Napa Valley’s venerable Stony Hill in 1968, and was winemaker for the launching of Edmeades in the Anderson Valley and then Kendall-Jackson. He left K-J when the winery surpassed production of more than 1 million cases a year to start his own winery, Steele Wines, in 1991. As Easter approaches and you look for rock-solid, impressive wines to pour at reasonable prices — all things considered — you might look to Steele Wines.
Steele Zinfandel Pacini Vineyard Mendocino County 2013, $19: This delightful red is earthy, spicy and fruit-forward but not jammy — I like that. It has a sturdy backbone of acidity to add contrast to the flavors: juicy dark berries, cocoa, chocolate, vanilla. Aromas are intense. The tannins are supple and coat the palate. It’s a delicious, thought-provoking wine. Jed Steele tells the story on the back label — this vineyard was planted in 1940; he has made a Zin from it since 1979; and he bought the vineyard in 1998. Pair with leg of lamb.
Steele Zinfandel Catfish Vineyard Zinfandel Lake County, Calif. 2013, $25: Intense fruit, lush soft tannins, vertical acidity (sturdy, firm), lovely integration of oak. It has bright red fruit, with notes of coffee and eucalyptus. This single-vineyard wine is produced off vines planted in 1901 that still are on their own rootstock. It’s a field blend that includes other red varieties and is uniquely aged in hybrid barrels of alternating French and American oak staves for added flavor complexity. Pair with leg of lamb.
Steele Cuvee Chardonnay California 2015, $21: Cuvee means blend — and this one is a mix of fruit from exceptional vineyards in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley, Sonoma’s Carneros district and Mendocino County. The grapes are fermented mostly in neutral barrels. The fruit is tropical in style: pineapple, mango, papaya, crisp apple and cinnamon. It’s full-bodied and fruit-forward with complexity and depth. Pair with roast pork or chicken dishes.
Steele Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard 2013, $36: Bien Nacido Vineyard in California’s Santa Barbara County is a famous place for first-class Pinot Noir. These grapes are from the “N Block,” a favorite spot of Jed Steele. It’s rich and velvety, a deep purple color with tons of cherry, strawberry, clove and spice. It’s aged in heavily toasted French oak, which does not overwhelm the powerful fruit. Pair with lamb chops or kielbasa-based entrees.
Steele Cabernet Franc Rosé Lake County 2016, $15: I love Cabernet Franc, and I love this rosé of Cab Franc. It’s a rare one. Rosé wines can be so austere, almost stripped of fruit. But this one is the giving sort: so much flavor — strawberry, basil, citrus zest. It’s a seasonal wine and sells out quickly. You might have to order it from the winery. The grapes are from the manicured Silva Vineyard in Lake County near the winery. Pair with vegetarian entrees or serve as an aperitif.
You can reach Sandra Silfven at firstname.lastname@example.org.