Carol Shelton is known as California’s “Queen of Zinfandel”, the creator of lush, savory single-vineyard cult reds with whimsical names like Wild Thing, Rockpile Reserve, Karma, Munga and Pizazz that usually sell out upon release. And yet the Paso Robles winemaker, who launched her own winery 19 years ago in an industrial park, has crafted one of the most exciting white wines of the year, Carol Shelton Coquille Blanc 2017.
Wine Spectator magazine, in its December issue, named Coquille (pronounced “ko-keel”) Blanc to its prestigious Top 100 Wine List of 2019, placing it at No. 41 with 93 points.
It’s the second time a Carol Shelton wine has earned the annual honor. Her 2011 Wild Thing Zinfandel placed No. 89 on the 2014 Top 100 Wine List.
Shelton’s also a five-time Winemaker of the Year honoree and in 2005 was selected by The Women’s History Project as one of eight Pioneer Women Winemakers of Sonoma County.
A 1974 UCAL-Davis grad, Shelton said she honed a great sense of smell as a young girl by rummaging through her mom’s kitchen cabinet full of spices and herbs. She’d commit the smells to memory, and later identify each one when her mother playfully tested her.
The gift of aromatics helped get her on a path toward making wine. But it wasn’t easy for women in the 1970s, so Shelton took jobs picking grapes, hosing down production plants and learning. In 1981, she landed the winemaker’s job at Rodney Strong and Windsor Vineyards, where she stayed for 19 years and crafted up to 45 wines annually. In 2000, on the recommendation of her husband Mitch, she opened Carol Shelton Wines.
While Zin is her Zen, Shelton’s versatility, experience and creativeness know no bounds when it comes to creating a flavorful wine. That’s what is seen in Coquille Blanc, a Rhone-style blend of Grenache Blanc (46%), Roussanne (24%), Viognier (24%) and Marsanne (6%). The comparison to a French wine stops there however. Shelton’s expression is clearly New World, with California’s sunny disposition and Paso Roble’s terroir – old vines, sandy loam, mineral-laced soils – captured in the bottle. All the grapes originate from the Nevarez Vineyard, located near the Salinas River.
I found Coquille Blanc, which has a deep yellow gold color, to be supremely mysterious, magical and aromatic. It fits in wonderfully with the season’s fresh scents of forest herbs, baked spices and candied fruit. It would make a perfect surprise to welcome festive dinner party guests expecting a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc with appetizer starters. The best part, however, is that Coquille Blanc can go the distance, from first course to last, especially with lobster and scallops (coquille means “scallops” in French), chicken and pork dishes both smeared in buttery sauces or not. It’s full-bodied, blissfully crisp and yet creamy (French oak barrel fermentation, stirred every Wednesday for eight months, with 50 percent of the blend undergoing malolactic fermentation) – a textural coup de grace that pleasures the palate endlessly beyond the finish.
Coquille Blanc’s exuberant, spicy taste is the attention grabber and yet it’s difficult to describe. Expert reviewers can attach common flavors – pear, peach, honeyed almonds, creamy praline – but in my view Shelton’s wine is other worldly and majestically complex. It’s best to sip it and ponder the sensations on your own.
Shelton describes Coquille Blanc (13.5% alcohol) as “a red wine drinker’s white” for its “exotic complexity.”.
Only 1,203 cases of Coquille Blanc 2017 exist and the New Hampshire State Wine Outlets recently obtained a modest shipment. The wine regularly sells for $24.99 and is on sale for $21.99. Shelton’s Wild Thing Zin is also available at $21.99.
Read more about wine on Jim Campanini’s blog at www.grapefullyyours.live.