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Move over, Napa: Monterey is California's wine hot spot

Monterey County is already renowned for great golf (Pebble Beach), books (John Steinbeck) and cars (Concours d'Elegance). Now you can add incredible wine to the list of premium draws the region boasts.

Wine Enthusiast magazine recently named Monterey County as one of the world's top 10 wine destinations — ahead of the Napa Valley and on par with legendary wine regions like Rioja in Spain, Australia's Hunter Valley and the Stellenbosch region of South Africa. 

With a heritage of growing grapes and making wine dating back to 18th-century Franciscan friars who established missions in the region, Monterey County certainly has the pedigree. 

It's got the numbers, too — 175 vineyards within a two-hour drive of historic Cannery Row in Monterey. These growing regions produce 42 different varietals, an incredible array of wine given the size of the area.

But it's not just about numbers. Monterey also produces high-quality wines, especially when it comes to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Morgan Twelve Clones Pinot Noir and Morgan Metallico Un-Oaked Chardonnay are two of the locals that have made Wine Spectator magazine's list of the world's top 100 wines in recent years.

Monterey County is able to create such a wide variety of outstanding wines because of its unique geography. Offshore lies a huge undersea chasm that locals call the “Blue Grand Canyon.” The deep, cold water generates much of the region's microclimate: moderate temperatures coupled with an arid growing season that together facilitate slow, ripening of the grapes.

This creates a "thermal rainbow" along the 90-mile Salinas River Valley, where most of the vineyards are located. During any given day, the north and south end of the Monterey wine country can vary in temperature by as much as 40 degrees. Toss in differences in soil, wind and moisture, and you get conditions suitable to grow a wide variety of wine grapes.

And not only are the region's wines great on the palate, but reaching the vineyards is a breeze compared to the long slog to Napa and Sonoma.

A five-hour drive north of Los Angeles, the Monterey wine region makes for an ideal weekend getaway from the Southland, the perfect place to sip wine and sup on fine, locally sourced cuisine. So much so, that you just might find yourself calling in “sick” on Monday morning. 

Steve Heimoff, once West Coast editor at Wine Enthusiast, wrote that superior food, drink and activities, along with drop-dead gorgeous scenery like Big Sur, the 17-Mile Drive and Carmel-by-the-Sea, make the area an incredible place to visit. "Monterey has diverse draws for wine-oriented visitors. Glamorous resorts dot the county, featuring world-class cuisine, stellar local wines and full spas that pamper with style."

Start your journey at A Taste of Monterey, a regional wine bar, wine shop and bistro in Monterey’s Cannery Row. Located in a vintage 1918 sardine cannery that's straight out of a Steinbeck novel, the tasting room features wines from 95 local vineyards. Not only that, but the new bistro boasts tables overlooking Monterey Bay and features local dishes like Monterey crab dip and Salinas Valley greens salad.

After that it's time to hit the road. The closest wine region to Monterey is the lush Carmel Valley, about 30 minutes inland and tucked into the north end of the Santa Lucia Mountains. Nestled in the valley are eight wineries including praiseworthy Galante and Talbott. The latter features a tasting room that doubles as vintage motorcycle museum. The valley is also home to the posh Bernardus Lodge and its hot new dining venue, Lucia Restaurant.

The River Road Wine Trail starts just south of Salinas, meandering along the western side of the Salinas River Valley. It features wineries from three distinct growing regions: Monterey, Arroyo Seco and the Santa Lucia Highlands. Don’t miss Odonata Wines in the north, Scheid Vineyards in the south, and the highly regarded Pessagno Winery.

Looking for a breezy way to experience a wine tasting without ever getting in a car? Carmel’s Wine Walk by-the-Sea is an easy way to get the most of what the region offers. As you stroll down Ocean Avenue, you’ll find nine distinctive tasting rooms, each featuring flights of flagship varietals and their best vintages. Feeling peckish after all those tastes? Ask anyone pouring for a recommendation or even to make a reservation at the best nearby restaurants.

—Joe Yogerst, Tribune Content Solutions

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
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