It's a tall order trying to find thoughtfully-made California wines that don't break the bank. There's a whole host of Cali producers we absolutely love, but most are priced just out of the "weeknight dinner wine" category. Monte Rio Cellars, though, is here to change that. Here's a lineup of delicious, well made California bottles that are refreshing enough to drink many bottles of, and affordable enough that you won't feel guilty doing it.
Admittedly, we were a bit skeptical going into our first tasting of these bottles. Monte Rio is, after all, a wine project from a well-known sommelier. There's plenty of these projects around, but they rarely come across as more than exercises in vanity. Not so here: Patrick Cappiello, the owner of Monte Rio and longtime fixture of the NYC wine scene, has moved full-time to Sonoma to focus on winemaking. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Monte Rio is a partnership with Pax Mahle. Pax is perhaps the most celebrated of the new wave of Cali winemakers, focusing on brighter, more refreshing interpretations of California terroir.
With Monte Rio, Patrick and Pax aim to bring back a style of California wine that seems to have been forgotten. Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Barbara may get all the attention, but the truth is these three regions combined account for less than 20% of the wine produced in California. The vast majority of wine grapes grown in California come from Lodi, a much hotter region far inland from the coastal AVAs that garner so much praise. Once upon a time, Lodi wine was a fixture on the California dinner table, and it was made in a hands-off, refreshing style meant for everyday drinking. This is the side of California wine Patrick and Pax aim to bring back with Monte Rio.
Monte Rio is a wonderful demonstration of what California is capable of in the right hands. All the fruit Pax and Patrick work with is family-farmed and organic, fermentations are all spontaneous, aging is exclusively in neutral vessels, and sulfur is the only addition any wine sees. The resulting wines hit all of the California pleasure centers without any of the fuss: just fruit-driven, highly drinkable, and honest bottles that you'll never hesitate to pop and pour. As the season of cookouts and get-togethers is upon us, this is the kind of wine we turn to, the perfect party wine. Load up!