Raj Parr is one of the most well-known sommeliers in the world. In fact, he’s the sommelier’s sommelier. In his time as the wine director of the San Francisco-based Michael Mina restaurant group, he was mentor to dozens of aspiring sommeliers and other high-profile members of the wine trade. He’s more recently known for the wine organization In Pursuit of Balance (now disbanded), dedicated to balanced (naturally!) wines, generally under 14 percent alcohol, that embodied a sense of place where the grapes came from.
He is the author (along with Jordan Mackay) of the now classic “Secrets of the Sommeliers: How to Think and Drink Like the World’s Top Wine Professionals,” which was a James Beard Award winner and my choice for wine book of the year in 2010. Last year, he released “The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste: A Field Guide to the Great Wines of Europe,” which I also highly recommend.
But can a great sommelier translate his vision and taste into making great wine? Judging from Mr. Parr’s 2016 vintage from his and Sashi Moorman’s label, Sandhi, the answer is unequivocally yes. Mr. Parr and Mr. Moorman are involved in Domaine de la Cote and Evening Land Vineyards in addition to Sandhi. The latter involves grapes that are exclusively sourced from the cool Santa Rita Hills appellation. Mr. Parr’s extensive tasting knowledge of the wines of the world coupled with Mr. Moorman’s background as a chef, baker and stellar winemaker (ex Stolpman Vineyards) has allowed them to successfully focus on producing Old World-style wines (the kind they like to drink) from New World grapes. See for yourself:
? Sandhi Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills 2016 ($30): A blend from four impeccably farmed cool-climate vineyards, the wine shows lemon cream, custard and almond with crushed oyster shells and minerality on the nose. Rich and abundant on the palate but quite elegant at the same time. Very focused with flavors of lemon custard, lemon peel, chalk and minerality with pleasant hints of tropical fruit. Plenty of substance with a finely honed texture on midpalate and great racy acidity on the finish. Amazingly taut and vibrant in the mouth, I could drink this chardonnay every day.
Sandhi Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills, Sanford and Benedict Vineyard 2016 ($45): This chard has apple, peach and lemon verbena on the nose with a sprinkling of white florals, nutmeg and clove. Even though it sees some oak, it’s made in larger containers so the wood just becomes a beguiling spice element and the focus is on the vineyard. Ripe apple, pear and a hint of apricot fruit on the palate and a touch of warm brown baking spices. I have tasted Sanford and Benedict chardonnays going back to the early days, from Richard Sanford and Jim Clendenen, and I can truthfully say that everything in this bottling is in alignment.
Sandhi Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills, Bentrock Vineyard 2016 ($45): Bentrock is Sandhi’s westernmost vineyard, closest to the ocean, tattered by the afternoon winds and densely planted. The soil is very poor and the grapes really struggle to get ripe. Sounds like bad country and western song? No. Grapevines planted on the edge of ripeness that struggle tend to make concentrated wines true to the character of the site. Mineral and chalk on the nose plus lemony citrus, ginger and Wheat Thins (saline). Full-bodied and richly endowed on the palate with lemon and lemon drops. Also hints of roasted nuts. A great spine of acidity really makes it pop.
Sandhi Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills 2016 ($30): Red berry fruit on the nose with hints of sage and lavender. Red cherry, raspberry, red currant and spice flavors are open and accessible. At 13 percent alcohol, it’s easy to drink, gulpable. Lithe, transparent and ethereal, this seems like what supple and tasty entry-level pinot (like village Burgundy) should be. The grapes are sourced primarily from the Domaine de la Cote vineyard (which bottles a pricier pinot), so what you have here is a premier pinot from well-sited grapes that are given the same attention and care as any wine in the portfolio. Expertise at a great price! A no-brainer for spring and summer.