Monday, May 31, 2010


The 100-point rating system used by wine critics such as Robert Parker is either embraced or reviled.  I include myself in the latter group.

I think of winemaking as an artistic process.  Is it really possible to accurately describe a wine's value with a numerical representation?  I think not.  But there are many who would disagree with that viewpoint.

What if other art forms - music, for instance - were rated on a 100-point scale the way wine is?

Utilizing Robert Parker's scoring system, an assessment of the Rolling Stones' "Exile On Main Street" might go, as they say in the Poconos, a little something like this:

“I am giving this CD, as I do all CDs, a base of 50 points.

“The general color and appearance of the CD merit up to 5 points. With most CD artwork being produced by professional artists, most CDs receive 4 or even 5 points.

“In the case of "Exile...," however, I must insist that the cover artwork seems put together in what I will generously refer to as a haphazard way.  It actually appears to be the work of a rather disturbed child who discovered some old photos in the attic and made a collage from them.  I will award only 2 points for the disappointing appearance of this CD.

“The words and music merit up to 15 points, depending on the intensity level and dimension of the words and music as well as the cleanliness.

“First of all, I can only understand about half the words.  Those I can understand seem directed from the gutter.  While the lyrics seem delivered with a certain amount of fervor, especially in some of the faster songs, I feel some understandability is required.  The cleanliness level leaves much to be desired.  The music is written and performed in a professional style, in keeping with other rock CD of the Classic Rock variety, so I'll award 7 points.

“The sound and emotional impact merit up to 20 points.  I may not understand it, but it kicks ass. 17 points.

“Finally, the overall quality level or potential for further evolution and improvement merits up to 10 points.  The overall quality seems only moderately high, even given the recording techniques of the day.  Moreover, owing to the advancing age of the principals of this unit, I can't reasonable expect much improvement through aging.  3 points.

“Total score for 'Exile On Main Street': 79 points.”

Is "Exile..." really a 79-point CD?  If the critic isn't inclined to like the Rolling Stones, maybe it is.  But for those who do like them, and consider "Exile..." to be a classic of the rock era, what are we to make of the 79-point score?

The same questions can be asked about a wine's critical rating.  Is the critic simply not a fan of the winery or the vineyard from which the grapes are taken?  Does he or she simply not care for Grenache, Merlot or White Zinfandel?  Did the critic simply not wake up on the wine-appreciating side of the bed that day?

I would prefer to see wine criticism stated in words, not numbers.  I enjoy reading about what a taster thinks of different wines, but I have a hard time relating to a number score which leaves so much unsaid and open to interpretation.

Please leave a comment on how this topic hits you.  If you'd prefer to email me, you can do so  Twitter users can message me: Twitter .  You can also tip in onFacebook .  I look forward to hearing what you have to say.


Core Wine Company - Dave Corey entered the wine industry in the mid 1990s in successive positions with Cambria Winery and Kendall-Jackson Vineyards. He started his own company in 1999, consulting vineyards on technical issues. Now, he is a full-time winemaker. Dave and his wife Becky head up Core Wine Company, and they share hosting duties in the tasting room in Old Orcutt. The old section of Orcutt may not be a killer destination, but it is a nice little place with a ton of small-town charm right off the freeway. Addamo Estate Vieyards' tasting room is right across the street from Core Wine, so it's a great little stop for some wine tasting.

The Fruit

Core Wine's main fruit source is the Alta Mesa Vineyard in eastern Santa Barbara County. They get additional grapes from Laetitia, Camp 4, Rodney's and French Camp vineyards, so their wines are all Santa Barbara County.

The People

When I dropped in to Core Wine, it was Becky behind the counter, pouring and talking about their wines. She and Dave share wine duties as well as home duties, so I would imagine you'll rarely find both of them in the tasting room together. Their operation is so small, their website explains, that Becky is "Employee Of The Month" - every month.

The Wine

Core Wine has four different brands. The Core label focuses on Rhone blends, Kuyam on Bordeaux blends, C3 features Tempranillo-based wines and Turchi specializes in single-varietal wines. On my visit, Becky poured comparisons of two vintages from the "hard core" and "elevation sensation" wines.

The 2006 "elevation sensation" is a lean blend of 61% Grenache and 39% Mourvèdre from the Alta Mesa vineyard.  The nose is mellow and the wine is medium weight and very smooth.  Cherry and earth on the palate made me think instantly of Pinot Noir.  The 2007 vintage struck me favorably, too, with the main difference being a brighter nose.

The "hard core" wine also has Mourvèdre and Grenache from Alta Mesa, with the addition of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon in this Santa Barbara County blend.  The 2006 vintage has a brilliant nose with a fair amount of wood influence.  I get a lot more wood in this wine than I did in the "elevation sensation," probably due to the presence of the Cab and Syrah.  Sour cherry on the palate is abetted by firm tannins.  The 2007 vintage boosts the Mourvèdre and Cab percentages while backing off the Grenache.  This results in a wine that is a little darker in attitude than the '06, but just as lip-smackingly juicy.

Core Wine also features a pair of white Rhone blends - Grenache Blanc/Roussanne/Marsanne and Roussanne/Marsanne - as well as a rosé that sports ten different grape varieties and a late harvest Grenache called Candy Core.  Bordeaux fans will want to investigate the Kuyam label while the C3 sticker provides several Tempranillo wines, both in single-varietal and blended form. 

Sunday, May 30, 2010


With the unofficial beginning of summer already here, and the official start only about three weeks away, I thought I'd share a nice day trip Denise and I took to Santa Barbara County wine country.  From Los Angeles, you can reach a number of great wine country spots in just a couple of hours driving time.  This particular trip was front-loaded with lots of stops for fresh produce, and it stretched up to Santa Maria, so our trip there took about four hours.  Your mileage may vary.

The Day Trip Begins

We leave the house at 7:30 and reach the Ventura Freeway in about 15 minutes.  A day in wine country is beginning to unfold before us.  After what seems like no time at all - but is actually about 45 minutes - we are in Camarillo.  We like to stop at theOld New York Deli and Bakery Co. for breakfast.  Today we share a corned beef burrito.  It's pretty tasty.  Hardly anything ever happens up to this point in the trip, and today has been just as uneventful.  As a matter of fact, the drive remains this way right through Santa Barbara, with the exception of a little slowing due to the freeway construction going on there.  We're off to a fast start.

We love the view of the ocean as we drive between Ventura and Santa Barbara.  The Channel Islands in the distance are marred only by the occasional oil rig.

Turning Northward

A few years back, we escaped Southern California during a time when several wildfires were burning in different locations.  We headed west on the Ventura Freeway with the smoke and yellow sky as our constant companion.  It wasn't until we turned northward on the freeway in Gaviota that we found relief, and it was instantaneous.  We now refer to the rest area there as the "clean air place."  It's the moment when we know we're in wine country.

The countryside is beautiful, looking like a piece of camouflage cloth.  The olive drab hills dotted with varying shades of green grass, shrubs and trees are among my favorite landscapes.

The Produce Stands

We always like to make a few stops for fresh produce while we're in wine country.  The first one occurs at Nojoqui Park.  The place officially named Classic Organic is known as "peace barn" due to the huge peace sign installed on the side of the barn.  It's a self-serve vegetable stand that works on the honor system.  The prices are marked.  You take what you want and leave the appropriate amount in the barrel.  You may have to nudge "Shadow" the black cat out of the way to reach the slot in the barrelhead.  The cat is always there, always asleep.  The produce is routinely beautiful at the peace barn.  On this trip, the butter lettuce nearly made Denise cry.  The chives were not quite so moving, but we bought them anyway.  Remember to bring enough small bills.  they don't make change.

Blueberries are just up the road.  Back on the northbound 101 for only a minute or so, and quickly off at the sign for blueberries.  We get three packages of berries and a blueberry lemon bread which looks completely, insanely delicious.

North on the 101 again, this time passing Santa Rosa Road.  We have often turned there to visit some wonderful wineries - Mosby, Lafond, Alma Rosa - and turn instead on Highway 246 to Solvang.  It seems like the traffic is nearly always slow through that little village of Scandanavian kitsch now.  If you're here at lunchtime, try Root 246, a wonderful restaurant in the Hotel Corque on Alisal Road.  We are not enjoying that stop today.  We turn north on Alamo Pintado, headed for strawberries.

The strawberry stand across from Buttonwood Winery always seems to have the biggest, sweetest strawbs we've ever seen.  We buy a whole flat of them, knowing we'll never eat them all.  We'll give some away back at home. 

Wine Ahoy!

After loading up on various fruits at the strawberry stand, we press onward.  North through Los Olivos - without stopping to taste wine! gasp! - we hit the 154, then the 101 again for another half hour or so of northbound to Santa Maria.  We exit the 101 at Clark and turn left to go to Old Orcutt.  I have in mind that I'll stop in and visit Dave Corey of Core Wine Company .  We have only met through Twitter, and I'd like a face-to-face.  I'll spare you the wrong turns and u-turns I made and simply say you're there before you know it. 

A fully functional plan might have been nice here, as the Core Wine tasting room had not Dave, but wife Becky in charge.  Dave was on his way there - maybe - but he did not arrive before I had to press on.  I hope we'll meet soon.

Volk Winery Tasting RoomWe retrace our route to the other side of the 101 and wind our way toKenneth Volk Vineyards.   Here's the part of the trip for which you'll want to fire up that GPS app.  Once you leave the 101 here at the northern end of the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, landmarks become few and uncertain.

At the Volk tasting room, two busloads of inexplicably weirdly-dressed people are just leaving.  Ken Volk, however, is in Paso Robles at his other tasting room.  Had he been there, I was told, he would surely have poured for me some of the Touriga National and the Alicante which are oh-so-close to being released.  I settle for the truly fantastic wines Volk has already released, and I'm not disappointed.  I would love to taste that Touriga National, though!

It's getting to be almost time to head back already.  We bail on the notion to backtrack south on Foxen Canyon Road for dates at Rancho Sisquoc and Tres Hermanas.  Deciding to head back to the highway, we see Riverbench Vineyard and Winery along the way.  Oh alright, just one more stop.  If you insist.

RiverbenchRiverbench has mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to offer, and they are quite good.  Lots of folks are outside enjoying a nice summer day, too.

Homeward Bound

There's something nice about heading home from a day trip, but there's also something sad about it.  On the one hand, you've had a manageable amount of fun and you'll soon be home in the comfort of your pleasant little domicile.  On the other, it would be nice to just keep on having fun, and continue the little mini-vacation a while longer.  Other obligations call, and so we do what level-headed people do.  We head home.  Doing what level-headed people do does not always come naturally to us.  Today, we're about ready to head back.

It's a pretty good trip on the southbound 101 out of the Santa Maria Valley going towards Santa Barbara.  Flying southbound through Montecito, Summerland and Carpenteria, we look at those poor folks sitting still on the northbound side.  We both spend the whole week talking about those situations as traffic reporters, so we don't kick it around too much in the car.  We breathe a sigh of relief it's not us in that backup.

A pleasant ride home found us stopping in Camarillo again at the Old New York Deli & Bakery Co.  They must imagine we have no life at all.  They probably think, "Those old weirdos ate here twice in one day."  Let 'em think what they want.  We're not that old.  Or that weird.

Feel free to comment here.  Maybe you have a story about wine country travel you'd like to share.  We'd love to hear it.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


St Lucas Torrontes

Fridays were made for treats.  After a full week of doing what we do to try and stay two steps ahead of the bill collectors, we deserve a treat now and then.  I like wine treats - a glass of good wine in a spot that's perfect for the experience.

My most recent Friday wine was enjoyed at a relatively new addition to the stretch of Culver City's Washington Boulevard, just a bit west of La Cienega.  Sublime Food Lounge hasn't been open too long, but what a nice little spot!  The walls are actually sliding doors which open all the way, so the beautiful day spills right inside.  There are a couple of tables right on the sidewalk, too, but sitting indoors is very much like being on the sidewalk.  When traffic is heavy, sidewalking it isn't all that great, but during the afternoon, the great outdoors is a great place for lunch or a well-deserved Friday wine treat.  Even if it is the great urban outdoors.

Sublime's wine list is interesting. It's got whites on one side and reds on the flipside, with subdivisions to make it easy to choose a wine for the mood in which you find yourself.  On this day, I felt "crisp."  The list features plenty of boutique wines from all over the world.  On the white side of the page, I had a tough time finding a wine from California.  So I went with Argentina

St. Lucas wines come from the Barrancas region of Argentina's Mendoza Valley.  They appear to be imported by a company in the southern California town of Santa Fe Springs.

Their Torrontes is a 100% varietal wine fermented in stainless steel and registering 13% abv.

On the nose I get a floral component I like to call "honeysuckle," with a fairly intense pear juice aroma.  I'm tasting pears, too, with a nice zesty citrus component.  There are minerals and a very nice acidity in this wine, but it's not zesty enough to alter the full, round mouthfeel.

Friday, May 28, 2010


Enjoying the fruits of your labor, as the saying goes, is alright.  But it's not as good as enjoying the fruits of someone else's labor.  Especially when that someone has a 40-year track record of turning out some exceedingly good fruit for his effort.

Alma Rosa Winery is owned and run by Richard and Thekla Sanford.  Richard Sanford planted grapes in the Santa Rita Hills in 1970, according to the winery's website.  That made him a true pioneer, and it may have made him a lonely guy, too.  He was one of the only grape growers in the SRH back then.

Sanford's estate vineyards were the first ones in Santa Barbara County to receive organic certification from the California Certified Organic Farmers.  His wines are said to be known for their high acid and great structure.

Alma Rosa's Santa Rita Hills Pinot Blanc shows a soft golden hue in the glass.  It sees brief oak in used barrels, so the oak influence is somewhat restrained.   

I get honeysuckle on the nose.  Nectarines are there, too, with a bit of wet rock, but just a touch. Some vanilla and spice notes dance around in the background.

This Pinot Blanc has a very creamy mouthfeel, and buttery, too.  Quite full and mellow it is, and yet the acidity is bracing at the same time.  Flavors of pears and a hint of citrus are in the taste, with a trace of cantaloupe.

There is no malolactic fermentation used in the production of this wine, which is usually used to produce a full feel in the mouth.  This wine certainly fills the mouth nicely on its own.  On the palate, the texture of the wood is noticeable, but not bothersome at all.  It's at 14.3% abv and sells for $18 at the winery, where I bought mine.

By the way, serve it next to a bowl of nuts.  It's great with peanuts.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Don't rely on supermarkets for your summer rosés. 

My grocery (Ralph's) actually has a fairly decent wine section, but only a handful of pink offerings.  On the shelf there I found La Vieille Ferme, Red Bicyclette, Mouton Cadet, a Spanish rosado which has slipped from my memory and the lone California entry, Ironstone Xpression.

There is also the usual assortment of White Zinfandel.

It doesn't take too much effort to locate some really wonderful rosés that will make your warm-weather entertaining an instant hit.

I like to buy local for most of my wine, and it's not a bad drive from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara County.

Clos Pepe in Lompoc, with vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills, has a rosé of Pinot Noir that is fantastic.

Fiddlehead Cellars in Lompoc produces a rosé of Pinot Noir they call "Pink Fiddle" that is full-bodied and quite refreshing.

Fontes and Phillips' "Panky" is made from Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah from Camp 4 Vineyard in Santa Ynez.  It's bone dry and complex.

Shoestring Winery in Solvang does a rosé that's mainly Syrah with some Grenache and "a splash of Sangiovese for color."

If those are too hard to find, stop in for a visit with your neighborhood wine dealer and get some professional help.  We could all use some of that every now and then.  With summer just around the corner, any wine store should already have a great supply of pinks in stock.

Here are some rosés which should be widely available at wine stores in many areas:
Domaine Begude Pinot Noir Vin de Pays d'Oc Rosé 2009 - A salmon-colored effort from Languedoc with a crisp minerality.
Domaine de la Fouquette "Rosée d'Aurore" Côtes de Provence Rosé 2009 - Made of Grenache, Cinsault and Rolle (you may know it in Italian as Vermentino).
La Gatte Rosé, Bordeaux 2008 - Yes, Bordeaux!  It's Merlot.
Cep "Nobles Ranch" Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Rosé 2008 - Cep is a second label of the noted Peay Vineyards.
Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec Mendoza 2009 - Argentine.  Any wine with Balbo's name on it is worth a try.
Beckmen Purisima Mountain Vineyard Grenache Rosé 2009 - Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre are the grapes in this one.
Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Rosé 2009 - It's a rich, pink color and dry. 
Chateau Ste Michelle Dry Rosé 2007 - A crisp and fruity Washington State pink.
Ironstone Xpression 2008 - It won a Gold Medal at the California State Fair last year.

Please feel free to leave a comment if I failed to mention your favorite rosé.


The Edna Valley wine country near San Luis Obispo has been on my mind a lot recently.  It's a favorite spot of mine in California's Central Coast.  There's plenty of beautiful rolling countryside full of vineyards which produce grapes that are made into some pretty incredible wines.

I don't know if this one is even available anymore.  I had a bottle of it several years ago, when the place was known as Domaine Alfred.  The winery has since reverted to their original name of Chamisal VineyardsVineyards.  Even though this wine was produced in the Alfred days, the grapes came from Chamisal's namesake vineyard.  Here are my notes on this memorable Syrah:
"A nose of very dark fruit promises only a bit of what ends up on the palate.  A very earthy, pungent taste made up of dark fruit, leather and spices - and a lot of each.  It comes at you leading with the earthiness, but a powerful spiciness joins in on the taste buds.  There's quite a lengthy finish, too - one that you wish would never end."

The Now And Zin Wine Blog

Please click over to the Now And Zin Wine Blog for more articles on wine.  It's part of the Now And Zin website.

This blog serves as an archive of older articles.  Feel free to browse either site to your heart's content.

Randy Fuller

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


It was dark, drizzly and cold in Los Angeles at lunchtime.  Ahh, perfect weather for the middle of May!  I tend to shy away from white wine in colder weather, but we were at Itacho for Japanese food, so I thought I'd give the wine list a quick look-see.

Two wines down I saw "Tangent," so I stopped and ordered.  Tangent is a favorite of mine from the Central Coast's Edna Valley.  The winery specializes in "alternative white wines." Their list includes such offbeat varietal wines as Grenache Blanc, Albarino, Pinot Blanc and Ecclestone, their white blend.

In that context Sauvignon Blanc may seem positively ordinary, but Tangent's Sauvignon Blanc is not ordinary.

Tangent uses no oak or malolactic fermentation in any of their wines in order to let the fruit stand on its own.  Winemaker Christian Roguenant harvests the fruit in three stages and then employs a number of different lots throught production.  His aim is to bring the styles of France and New Zealand together in one wine.

The grapes for Tangent's Sauvignon Blanc come from Edna Valley's Paragon Vineyard.  The vines have been there since 1973,  which makes them among the oldest Sauvignon Blanc vines in the Central Coast.

The wine carries an alcohol number of 13.5% abv.  It has a metal screwcap - as do all of Tangent's wines - and lists for $13.

The wine was served ice cold, which I do not prefer because it inhibits the bouquet and flavors.  Also, the weather wasn't exactly reminding me of summertime, so a lightly chilled wine would have been nice on this day.

Its color is lightly tinted, and the nose not all that grassy.  Minerals are apparent in the aromas, the scent of wet rocks making a big play.  The taste - which I expect to be full of grapefruit - is more heavy with green apples and tropical notes.  There is a bit of citrus in the profile, but it's not in the forefront.  the acidity is good and the wine provides a nice middle-weight mouthfeel.

I had it with Japanese food and found that it went very well with the spicy tuna roll, a sweet eggplant dish and mushrooms with broccoli.  I wasn't too wild about the way it paired with the freshwater eel sushi, however.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Casa Pacifica Angels Wine and Food Festival

Wine festivals are so much fun all on their own.  But it’s great when the tasting and sampling is done for a good cause.  The 17th edition of the Casa Pacifica Angels Wine and Food Festival is coming up Sunday June 6, 2010 from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.

This charitable wine and food event was voted the number one cultural event in Ventura County for two years running.  The wine of California and the cuisine of an area stretching from Santa Barbara to the Conejo Valley will be spotlighted.  Over 100 wineries and breweries will be on hand, as will a host of restaurants, caterers and bakeries.

Here are the particulars:

The Casa Pacifica Angels Wine and Food Festival
17th Annual
Sunday June 6, 2010
1:00 – 5:00 p.m.
California State University Channel Islands
1 University Drive
Camarillo, California 93012
Cost:   Tickets are available online at $90 each until June 5th and $100 at the door. VIP tickets are available for $200 each and include perks like valet parking and a special lounge.

Proceeds from the festival benefit Casa Pacifica , the Camarillo-based crisis-care and residential treatment center for children.  Casa Pacifica has been serving their community since 1994, and some 430 children and their families are helped every day by this organization’s programs.  Please visit Casa Pacifica to find out more about them and the good work they do.


Tolosa Chardonnay

Meandering through some old tasting notes a while back, I came across a wine from Edna Valley near San Luis Obispo.  Normally, I like the minerality of the whites from Edna Valley.  This trip I came home with Tolosa Winery's Chardonnay.  They make a "no oak" version, too, but this one was their Estate brand.  Here are the notes I made at the time:
"The label shows the name is Tolosa Chardonnay, Estate, Edna Ranch, Edna Valley.  It's amazing there's room left for anything else!  The brown and gold label also shows abv at 14.3%.  From the coastal hills of San Luis Obispo, their estate vineyards are sustainably farmed.  The blurb on the back label explains that we can expect to find floral, white peach and creme brulee aromas and a rich palate framed by crisp acidity and minerality.  I'm sold.  The bottle cost about $18 at the winery a few weeks ago.

"A wonderfully oaky presence is there, very rich but not over the top.  I can smell those minerals they advertised.  The other notes are somewhat hindered, I suppose by the chill.  There's a little hint of the grassy kind of aroma you expect in Sauvignon Blanc - not strong, very faint, and quite unexpected.  I'm intrigued.  The wine is a pale, golden color in the glass.

"I've got the wood on the palate, but in a very reserved way.  It's fairly rich-tasting, but not too creamy.  The fruit is there, peaches and lemons.  I get a very clean, citrusy sort of feel from it.  More than anything I get the minerals.  Really crisp and quite appealing, this may not be a Chardonnay for Chardonnay haters, but it's awfully close.  I liked it with grilled chicken, and liked it even more with Kalamata olives."

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Domaine Alfred Chamisal Vineyard Syrah Edna Valley 2004

The Edna Valley wine country near San Luis Obispo has been on my mind a lot recently.  It's a favorite spot of mine in California's Central Coast.  There's plenty of beautiful rolling countryside full of vineyards which produce grapes that are made into some pretty incredible wines.

I don't know if this one is even available anymore.  I had a bottle of it several years ago, when the place was known as Domaine Alfred.  The winery has since reverted to their original name of Chamisal Vineyards.  Even though this wine was produced in the Alfred days, the grapes came from Chamisal's namesake vineyard.  Here are my notes on this memorable Syrah:
"A nose of very dark fruit promises only a bit of what ends up on the palate.  A very earthy, pungent taste made up of dark fruit, leather and spices - and a lot of each.  It comes at you like a Grenache, leading with the earthiness, but a powerful spiciness joins in on the taste buds.  There's quite a lengthy finish, too - one that you wish would never end."

Friday, May 21, 2010

La Clarine Farms Viognier "Orange" (2009)

Natural Wine Week in Los Angeles prompted me to finally go to Susan Feniger's STREET on Highland.  We have said for months we were going to go there, but, one thing then another.  Well, you know.

The impetus that finally put us in that room was a wine being offered for Natural Wine Week, a wine with the word "orange" in its name.

La Clarine Farm Viognier "Orange" came about this way, as described on their website:
 "Last Fall I found myself with the sudden offer of some viognier (from the Sumu Kaw vineyard, where we get that fantastic syrah we make).  I knew immediately that the grapes would be of top quality, and the idea struck me that to make wine from this difficult grape, I should just stop fighting it and let the grape completely be itself.  That meant (for me, in this instance anyway) fermenting this white grape like a red wine.  Like we ferment all of our reds - whole clusters (stems and all), foot stomping, natural yeasts. Let's extract all that great aroma from the skins, all those tannins, and let's see what happens.  Let's press it at dryness and age it in a neutral vessel.  Let's bottle it without filtration and with just a pinch of sulfites." 
The result of all that whole-cluster, foot-stomping, aroma-extracting treatment is a wine that, while not quite what I would call orange, is the color of beer.  I think it looks like hefeweizen, but more because of the cloudy quality it has in the glass.  The nose is honey-sweet, but with a beery edge.  On the palate I get the sense of a late-harvest wine, believe it or not.  It's a sort of apricot brandy feel.

I wondered how this wine would pair with our food, and was very pleased to note that it, in fact, made the food taste even better.  That says quite a lot, because Susan Feniger's food is pretty darned good to start with.  It paired very well with the unique opening dish, which was a small plate of popcorn ball made from currants and cumin, to the best of my discernment.

An appetizer of winter squash and popcorn - completely delightful in its own right - was pushed over the top in the pairing.  My lamb taquitos with refried white beans is where the wine really shone, adding even more depth to a dish that already sported a yogurt tzatziki and a chile paste on the side.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Chateau de Fountgraves Pic Saint Loup Coteaux du Languedoc Rosé 2007

Here is one of those wines that sat in the rack a long time for no good reason.  I seem to remember my wife picked it out, no doubt based on the way it looked or the romantic nature of the French name. 

I must admit I've been swayed by marketing aspects before.  I bought a wine called "Pinot Evil" once.  "Purple Haze," "Red Zeppelin" and "7 Deadly Zins" appealed to me for non-wine related reasons.  I try not to fall prey to the marketer's tricks, but I'm only human.  Often, the wine is good enough to stand on its own, anyway.

At a very fancy wine bar in Half Moon Bay, a sommelier asked Denise what kind of rosés she liked.  "Pretty ones" was her reply.  The sommelier was amused, but he understood the logic.  Who wants to drink an ugly wine?

Anyway, the Chateau de Fountgraves Pic Saint Loup rosé is very pretty.  Its rich, salmon pink color looks wonderful in the glass.  Some very fine bubbles cling to the glass, too.

The label promises that this rosé is made from grapes taken from very old vines grown on shale soil in the south of France.  It's amazing - not that the grapes were taken from old vines - but that a French wine label would bother to tell you such a thing.  The label also tosses around words like rich, full, fruity, dry and aromatic.

The nose is rich with a smell that reminds of mayhaw berries we used to pick when I was a kid, or more precisely the smell of said berries being cooked as my mom made mayhaw jelly from them.  The somewhat offbeat berries begin to show a fruity brightness in mid-sniff.

A blend of Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah, it's the Mourvedre which speaks to me on the palate.  The chalky limestone is typical of Coteaux du Languedoc.  The terrior of this region really hits home with me.  The flinty edge which shrouds the gentle fruit in this wine is a real treat for anyone who wants to not only know where a wine is from, but taste where it's from, too.

The alcohol clocks in at 13.5% abv, and I think it cost about $10, but it has been in the rack a while and my memory is a little hazy.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Edna Valley Wine Country


Like many coastal valleys in California, Edna Valley runs east-west in San Luis Obispo County between Islay Hill to the north and Lake Lopez to the south.  This situation allows the cooling ocean breeze to flow over the vineyards, where a blanket of morning fog is quite common.  This turns the valley and its clay-rich, mineral-laden soil into a fantastic cool-climate region that rivals California's best.

The wineries of Edna Valley are known for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but they also produce some very nice Syrah and excellent whites that feature a bracing minerality.  In fact, just about any grape planted seems to do well here, and you'll find plenty of Rhone-styled wines alongside the varietals of Burgundy.

If you are planning a trip to Edna Valley, here are some stops you should include in your itinerary:

Chamisal Vineyards - Known as Domaine Alfred for years, the winery has re-adopted its original name from the early 1970s.  New Zealand native Fintan du Fresne is the winemaker, and he oversees the grapes with a careful hand.  A number of different Pinot Noir clones are planted, along with Chardonnay, Syrah and Grenache.

Baileyana Winery - Established in the 1980s by Catharine and Jack Niven, Baileyana is now run by their sons John and Jim and grandsons Michael and John - now that's a family act.  The winery has always been known for innovative techniques and experimentation which has influenced other area producers. In addition to their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, you'll also find some very interesting blends utilizing Syrah, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Don't miss their Sauvignon Blanc.

Tangent Winery - If you're a fan of white wines, but go with an ABC policy - Anything But Chardonnay - this is the place for you.  A full menu of "alternative whites" like Albarino, Viognier, Riesling and Pinot Blanc will please any white wine palate.  They share a tasting room with Baileyana.  While you're there, sample one of my personal favorite whites, Ecclestone, a blend of all their varietals.

Tolosa Winery - This place not only has Chardonnay to die for, but a spectacular view as well.  A beautiful tasting room - cork floor, overlooking the tanks - is only the beginning.  Try to get there when you can attend a special event in the Heritage Room.  You won't want to leave.

Claiborne and Churchill Vintners - Specializing in Alsatian varietals, C and C features Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris wines which are dry and delicious.

Chamisal Vineyards - 7525 Orcutt Road, San Luis Obispo

Baileyana/Tangent - 5828 Orcutt Road, San Luis Obispo

Tolosa Winery - 4910 Edna Road

Claiborne and Churchill Vintners - 2649 Carpenter Canyon Road, San Luis Obispo

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Avelino Vegas Arco de la Vega Verdejo Viura 2008

A wrought iron loveseat has been moved to a higher position in the backyard and stripped of its filthy, brick-colored cushions.  The frame actually looks great, and even better the flowers that now sit in their pots upon the iron structure, committing their riot of color.

In the foreground, an interesting, old, weathered table sits with a couple of cafe chairs bookending it.  When the eyes drift to the background, the two unopened bags of soil supplements make a statement about the gardening work yet to be done.  The yard is so much lovelier now than when we started, and yet so much lies ahead.  I can't wait to see the corn planted off to the left side of the property, twelve stalks bursting with yellow ears.

And when the work is done for the day, and when the deck and its comfy chairs beckon, there will be wine.

I always seem to wax poetic - at least that's what I call it - when a Spanish wine is opened.  I think that may be because it was actually a tasting of Spanish wines that made a wine geek out of me.  An importer had brought some Spanish wines and some pictures of Spanish vineyards.  Looking at the scrub-brush grapevines growing in the Spanish desert, and juxtaposing those images against the magnificent wines made from them, I was hooked.  I felt I had some true insight into what it is that makes a winemaker keep on working. 

Bodegas Avelino Vegas  has a wine called Arco de la Vega, which is a 50/50 blend of Verdejo and Viura from Castilla y Leon.  The alcohol level is at 12% abv, so it wears very well as a hot weather refresher.  A twelve-dollar price tag puts it in the "affordable" column.  So far all systems are "go" for a delightful summer sipper, if it's good.  Let's find out.

The nose is all about the grapefruit. The taste, too, for that matter.  Not any of that Rio Grande Ruby Red fruit with the sweetness that tries to rub out the tartness.  I'm talking about the grapefruit that puckers the mouth to such an extent it seems there might not be any relief from it.  This wine is as fresh and vigorous an expression of Verdejo and Viura as I can remember.  There is some of that "wet stone minerality" to be had, but honestly, its like trying to focus on a dime in the roadway when there's a big rig barreling down upon you.  Peeking out from around the sides of that huge grapefruit explosion is a bit of lemon zest and a nice acidity.  This wine will serve well with light menu fare and stand on it own, too.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Lafond Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2007

Driving is something which lost its charm for me a long time ago.  I don't know about where you live, but in Los Angeles driving the surface streets generally means going slowly from one red light to the next.  It's not a whole lot better on the freeways, but at least the freeways can take you to a place that's special.  I know US Highway 101 can.  That's how we get to the Santa Barbara County wine country.

On my most recent trip there, one of my stops was Lafond Winery.  I enjoyed my short visit there so much, I had to bring some of it back home with me for a time when I really needed a little reminder of wine country.  With so much driving this week, it's time.

Lafond's Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir comes from those beautiful rolling hills dotted with vineyards.  Its purple  hue is so dark I can barely see through it.  There's currant on the nose, some spices and a fine earthiness, too.  But the big feature is a floral component that is gorgeous.  On the palate I find big dark fruit, tons of earth and a little tobacco.

The wine runs a little hot upon opening, and for half an hour after that, too.  Decant, or at least give it some time to breathe.  Its alcohol number is 14.5% abv.  2,800 cases of this wine were produced.  I bought it myself at the tasting room discount of $24.  It was worth the drive.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tasting Event: Great Match 2010 Los Angeles

I went expecting nothing more than a smorgasbord of Spanish wines.  I came away with a greater understanding of some grape varieties that had been a mystery to me, and a lesson on terroir, or in this case, terruño that surprised and informed me.

Great Match 2010 - Vivacious Varietals, Tantalizing Tastes - was held on May 12 in Los Angeles at The Bazaar/SLS by José Andrés.  It's a big room for a big event.  Just off to the left after entering the restaurant, the large space is elegant, with huge mirrors on both ends of the room.  Twenty-three tables were arranged throughout to accommodate all the wineries and importers who were pouring.  There were so many wines represented there, I didn't get a chance to sample at every table.  Nevertheless, I stayed busy.

While I am a fan of Spanish wines - it was a Spanish wine tasting that initially piqued my interest in learning more about wine - I do not have an encyclopedic knowledge base on the subject.  I was looking forward to a tasty learning experience, and that's what I got.  I was able to experience wines from the Priorat region, grape varieties like Maturana, Bobal and Monastrell, an unbelievably intense dessert wine along with a Viognier that could have - and did - pass for a Sauvignon Blanc.  It was a great afternoon.

Things I took away from this tasting:
1. The reds have lots of tannins.
2. The whites have a lot of grapefruit.
3. Albariño actually starts to get old after tasting about 20 of them.

Seriously, if you have never delved into the wines of Spain, you owe it to yourself to do so.  The indigenous grapes of Spain are a wonder to taste, and even grapes you thought you knew can deliver a terruño-driven surprise.  

I strolled up to one table where a gentleman was already tasting a white wine.  "Smell this," he said, holding the glass right under my nose.  I did, and unflinchingly said, "Sauvignon Blanc."  I know my face must have registered shock when he replied, "Viognier."  That Vallegarcía Viognier from Castilla was the wine of the day for me.  But picking one for second place would be nearly impossible.

I should point out that the printed program for the event was not laid out well for note-takers.  The font in the four-page foldout was tiny, the lines were single-spaced and there was not enough margin for proper note taking.  I had to cobble together my information as best I could on the program while grabbing a brochure here, a business card there and a shelf talker wherever they were offered so I'd remember details.  Mine was not the only complaint, either.  Other tasters had similar gripes and the wine representatives didn't like it too much because it resulted in tasters scrunching down in their limited table space to scribble tiny little notes in between samples.  I was told the show used to offer a more standard-sized book, and in my opinion they should go back to that format.

The following are my notes from Great Match 2010 Los Angeles.  The wines in bold type were particular favorites of mine.

Bodegas Ramón Bilbao
Volteo Tempranillo 2007, VT de Castilla - luscious berries, very dry $10
Volteo Viura 2009, VT de Castilla - blend of Viura, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc; subdued grapefruit with almond paste $10
Ramón Bilbao Tempranillo Crianza 2005, Rioja - juicy, fruity, young $13
Cruz de Alba Tempranillo 2006, Ribera del Duero - bright yet deep; intriguing minty characteristic $25

Classical Wines
Martinsancho Verdejo 2008, Rueda - huge grapefruit $20
Dehasa La Granja 2003, Castilla y León - cedar notes and an almost citrusy edge
*Casta Diva Cosecha Miel 2008, Alicante - powerful dessert wine; deep, rich, golden color; intense honey and apricots give way to 'flowers meet nuts' finish $19 half bottle

Collección Internacional del Vino
Antaño Tempranillo 2008, Rioja - very tannic $6
*Inspiracion Collección Varietales 2005, Rioja - vanilla on the nose, bright fruit on palate; muscular; 100% Maturana $50 (?)

Cuatro Rayas-El Verdejo de Rueda
Cuatro Rayas Viñedos Centenarios 2009, Rueda - 100+ year-old vines; concentrated grapefruit; very smooth and delicious $20
Cuatro Rayas Verdejo 2009, Rueda - refreshing and not too heavy on the grapefruit $18
Palacio de Vivero 2009, Ruea - Verdejo/Viura blend $12
*Vacceos Tempranillo Roble 2008, Rueda - nose really jumps out; bright and brambly taste with cedar notes $11
Dama del lago 2009, Rueda - deep, rich Tempranillo; brambly $10

Faustino/Campillo/Condesa de Leganza
Faustino V Blanco 2007, Rioja - a Verdejo with a delightfully funky nose and a nutty taste $12
*Campillo Gran Reserva 1994, Rioja - A very elegant Tempranillo; smooth yet forceful $50
Condesa de Leganza Crianza 2005, La Mancha - A rosado with wood spices $10
Condesa de Leganza Rosado 2008, La Mancha - a funky, dry Tempranillo rosado $9

Fine Estates From Spain
Botani 2009, Sierras de Málaga - a dry Muscatel with a very floral nose $19
Shaya 2009 Rueda - Verdejo with very slight grapefruit and other cutrus notes $15
La Cana 2009, Rias Baixas - floral/tropical Albariño $16
Volver 2008, La Mancha - Tempranillo with big blackberry flavor with a wonderfully smokey nose $16
*Tritón 2008, Castilla y León - a dark, powerful, brambly Tempranillo $20
Sierra Cantabria Crianza 2006, Rioja - Tempranillo with a slight nose and lush berries $19
Emilio Moro 2006, Ribera del Duero - amazing Tempranillo; loaded with spice notes; great grip $25

Folio Fine Wine Partners
Embruix 2006, Priorat - Garnacha/Cariñena with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot; full-bodied, dark berries, coffee $25
Más de Leda 2007, Castilla y León - nice Tempranillo with a slightly minty aspect $20
*Sirsell 2006,  Priorat - Garnacha, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Mazuelo and Syrah; very robust, earthy $30

Freixenet USA
Freixenet Cordón Negro Brut, Cava - toasty, yeasty, nutty $12

Marqués de Riscal/Vallegarcía
Marqués de Riscal Gran Reserva 2001, Rioja - Tempranillo with a spicy, sherry-like flavor $35
*Vallegarcía Viognier 2006, Castilla - quite a tangy nose, like Sauvignon Blanc, very nutty taste $40
Vallegarcía Syrah 2005,  Castilla - very unusual spiciness $40

Martin Códax
Martin Códax Albariño 2008, Rias Baixas - beautiful, tropical nose with a soft, nutty taste $17
Martin Códax Tempranillo 2008, Rioja - some Garnacha; cedar notes on the nose; medium-full mouthfeel with lush berries $12

Pacific Estates
Mont Ferrant Gran Cuvée 2005 Brut, Cava - refreshing with yeasty, nutty flavors  $16
Mont Ferrant Rosé Brut , Cava - 60/40 blend of Monastrell and Garnacha; nice strawberry flavors - $17
*Mont Ferrant Blanes Nature 2004 Brut Extra, Cava - huge nose; very yeasty and rich  $19
Montal Collection Red Garnacha 2007, Castilla - very soft and delicious $13
*Montal Collection Red Monastrell 2008, Castilla - funky nose; dark and husky on the palate $13 
Abadía de Acón Red Tempranillo Joven 2008, Ribera del Duero - stainless steel; bright nose, lean mouthfeel and taste $17

Pernod Ricard USA
Campo Viejo Crianza 2005, Rioja - very lovely nose; slight mintiness on the palate $10
Campo Viejo Gran Reserva 2005, Rioja - beautiful nose and a mouthful of rich, dark berries $20

Rias Baixas Albariño
Mar de Frades Albariño 2009, Rias Baixas - extremely aromatic; huge floral nose, pears on palate $25
Laxas Albariño 2009, Rias Baixas - floral notes with a nutty finish $18
*Brandal Barrica Albariño 2006, Rias Braixas - 6 months in oak really makes a huge difference; very nutty; a substantial wine $17

Secret Sherry Society
Barbadillo Solear Manzanilla, Manzanilla Sanlúcar de Barrameda - very dry; salty flavor; I can taste the ocean $10
González Byass Tio Pepe Fino Sherry, DO Jerez-Xéres-Sherry - slightly less dry; yeastier $17

Castelnoble Shiraz 2009, Castilla - 100% steel; very bright and full of berries $8
Castelnoble Bobal Rosado 2009, Castilla - 100% Bobal; all steel 18 months; an offbeat strawberry taste $8
Castelnoble Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Castilla - all steel, tropical notes $8
Castelnoble Tinto Roble 2009, Castilla - fermented in steel, then 6 months French and America oak; tangy edge to a palate of currants and blackberries $10
Castelnoble Realce Crianza 2005, Manchuela - Tempranillo with spicy licorice tones $13
*Castelnoble Reserva 2003, Manchuela - 100% Bobal; bone dry and muscular; a fave; $15