Graced with the elegant energy of three top Santa Cruz Mountains vineyards, Nicole Walsh’s debut Pinot Noir under her own Ser label, has got my attention. A seasoned winemaker for Bonny Doon Vineyard, and vineyard manager for Randall Grahm’s San Juan Bautista estate vines, Walsh has put her signature spin on the 2012 harvest from Lester Family Vineyard in Corralitos, Byington and Lilo Vineyards. By many accounts, the 2012 harvest was one of the best in memory for our appellation, and Walsh’s 2012 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir underscores that opinion. From its opening nose of mint, licorice, and earth, to a central core of red fruit, this lovely Pinot Noir is completely loaded. The wine blends raciness with a balance of tannins and fruit, and the finish unfolds into cherries, orange peel and something like dark strawberries. From start to finish, the wine reflects Walsh’s belief that wine “has an ability to move us, to create an emotional reaction,” she says.

This wine has already put the rock-star winemaker (my friend Laura Ness’ apt description) on a prestigious map, taking a Double Gold at the recent Pinot Noir Shootout in San Francisco. Walsh is dedicated to preserving the true varietal character of the wines she’s begun making under her own label—ser means “to be” in Spanish.

The appellation’s unique terroir, the essence of the grape-growing region, guides Walsh’s intent “to allow the wine to express where it comes from,” she says.

Walsh has also recently released a 2014 Coastview Vineyard Chardonnay, a 2013 Coastview Syrah and a 2013 Lilo Vineyard Pinot Noir. We found her memorable 2012 Ser Pinot Noir at New Leaf Market ($29), but I urge you to look at your favorite market or wine store. This exciting vintage from the hand of Walsh is well worth sampling. serwinery.com

Ch-ch-ch-changes

You will need to get your hot chocolate fix elsewhere (may I suggest Chocolate?) now that the highly niched Mutari Chocolate Bar has closed. Same for the longtime Chinese culinary favorite Little Shanghai on Cedar Street (now home of Mandarin Gourmet) and Taqueria Vallarta at the lower end of Pacific Avenue.

But there are also new tasting opportunities, including a new sister cafe to be opened by the Westside favorite Cafe Ivéta on the UCSC campus, in the Quarry Plaza location that once housed Joe’s Pizza and Subs. “The space is under construction now, and we plan to open in early February,” Ivéta owner John Bilanko told me last week. Bilanko says that the new shop will offer a breakfast and lunch “similar to what we do here at the Westside Ivéta, but we will also be open in the evening.” Good news for students whose appetites don’t stop at 4 p.m. “We’ll do a limited lunch menu of fresh items, hot entrees and burgers, too. They wanted burgers. So, it’s a little different,” Bilanko says.

The new UCSC Ivéta will also serve beer and wine in addition to a full espresso bar. The former Chicagoans, John and Yvette (Ivéta) Bilanko brought their successful pastry recipes to Santa Cruz 16 years ago and opened the Delaware Avenue cafe in 2010. (Thank you, thank you.) Now, their popular blend of irresistible breakfasts and pastries, plus signature salads and outrageously delicious sandwiches will add texture and flavor diversity to the UCSC campus.

West Cliff Wines

Run out and grab a bottle of the 2012 Syrah from the hand of Andre Beauregard, now available at Shopper’s Corner for $21. This is one stand-up Syrah, loaded with spice, tannic attitude, and just a joy to drink with bold-flavored foods.

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