Tuesday, July 20, 2010


California Wine Festival Tasting

The 2010 version of the California Wine Festival in Santa Barbara once again enjoyed a gorgeous July day as the framework for the ocean side wine tasting event which tops off the three-day affair.

Many of the top wineries in California poured their wares to old friends and new disciples.  The comments I overheard as I made my rounds were positive concerning the wines people were tasting, and the faces I saw were obviously having a great day in the sunshine and salty breeze.

With a limited time available for my tasting, I had to pass on many wineries I knew and loved, in favor of finding out about other producers with which I wasn’t so familiar.  Fortunately, staying away from some familiar names in favor of learning about some new ones was a good strategy.  I did make some wonderful new friends at this event and talked to some winemakers who clearly had a lot of passion about what they do with grapes.

I’ll briefly summarize what I tasted at the California Wine Festival here.  In the coming days on this blog, there will be more in depth articles about some specific wineries which I thought were special.

Abundance Vineyards - This Lodi winery run by the Mencarini family poured some of my favorite wines of the day.  I’ll write about them in greater detail soon.  For now, know that their white blend of Symphony and Sauvignon Blanc is luscious and nearly all their reds are mouth-puckeringly bone-dry.  Their ‘08 Bacio Dolce Carignane Dessert Wine is a show-stopper.

Bodegas Paso Robles - As their name suggests, Bodegas Paso Robles produces only Spanish and Portuguese varietal wines.  Their ‘09 Dona Blanca is a Grenache Blanc/Malvasia Blanca blend.  A pretty nose from the Malvasia is abetted by a lively, nutty lemon flavor which feels like the Grenache speaking.  The 2006 Graciano is produced using fruit from California’s San Benito County.  There may be only 10 acres or so of this grape planted in the US, so it’s a real rarity.  The wine is in neutral oak for two years and has a lovely raspberry taste.  The ‘03 Iberia is a field blend featuring Tempranillo, Graciano, Tinta Cao and Touriga Nacional.  The 2009 Rosado is 100% Tempranillo and has a strawberry flavor profile with some wonderful acidity.  More on this adventurous winery will be coming soon on Now And Zin.

Bridlewood - From Santa Ynez, Bridlewood poured their Central Coast Syrah.  Smoke and cedar on the nose join with a big fruity taste.  It’s dark and spicy, with 94% Syrah, 3% Petite Sirah, 1% Viognier and 2% other grape varieties.  The Chardonnay also has a bit of Viognier in it.  It’s fermented in stainless steel and a portion of it does not undergo malolactic.  As a result, there’s a fruity nose with crisp, refreshing green apples on the palate.  The minerals and acidity are wonderful.

Cambria -  This Santa Maria producer poured a delightful ‘08 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir.  Ten minutes on the skins - snicker, if you will, but that’s not really far off the mark - leave a pale pink that's earthy and light.  The Pinot Noir for which they are known has a light strawberry taste with earthy notes.  The Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay 2007 is buttery but not out of control.  Pear and vanilla make a delightful pair on the palate.

Cass Winery - From Paso Robles’ Templeton Gap, Cass brought some interesting Rhone styles to the table.  Their 2009 Roussanne is unoaked and floral on the nose with a tart nuttiness on the palate.  The ‘09 Oasis Rosé is off-dry, with under 2% residual sugar.  It’s a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache and shows a good strawberry flavor profile.  A nice warm-weather sipper.  The Cass 2008 Grenache is a 100% varietal wine, very light in color with a bright nose which shows the effect of the year it spends in oak.  The ‘07 Syrah, again 100%, stays in new French oak almost a year and a half.  It shows a lot of smokey fruit flavors.  Their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon has a touch of Petit Verdot in it.  There’s a strong graphite edge with some pretty chewy tannins.

EOS Estate Winery - This Paso entry has a White Cabernet Sauvignon, an interesting semi-sweet offering.  Their ‘08 Zinfandel is nice and earthy, showing tons of minerals.  The 2006 Petite Syrah has a delicious nose with chocolate and port aromas and a bright taste.  They advise pairing it with pork.

Gloria Ferrer Winery - The Va de Vi Ultra Cuveé had a beautiful nutty flavor and tiny bubbles with a long finish.

Harmony Cellars - The 2008 White Riesling offers a sweet jasmine nose and some slightly less sweet tropical notes on the palate.

Island Brewing Company - After all the dry wines the day kept bringing my way, it was nice to have a refreshing taste of beer now and again.  Island Brewing had a delightful English-style porter.  Its nose of burnt nuts leads me to expect a dark taste.  Instead, this ale has a surprisingly light and refreshing palate, and slightly hoppy.  It would be great while slaving over a hot barbecue pit.

Lone Madrone - An old favorite I couldn’t pass up, Lone Madrone was the last table I visited, and I really didn’t have time to linger.  That’s unfortunate, because their wines are wonderful.  I only had time to grab a taste of their 2005 Tannat.  The grapes for this wine come from the Glen Rose Vineyard on the west side of Paso Robles.  The almost unknown grape yields here a really big and dark wine.  It’s very dry and grippy; chewy as hell.

TastingRoom.com - Not a winery, obviously, but an interesting idea.  They bottle sample-sized servings from different wineries and package them in a neat little box which can be mail-ordered.  It looks like a great way for people who are not located near a winery to be able to have the tasting room experience in their own home.  They are now serving California, with more states to be added soon.  I’ll be writing more about TastingRoom.com in the near future.

Toad Hollow Vineyards - A Healdsburg winery, Toad Hollow poured the 2008 Chardonnay produced with Mendocino fruit.  This wine undergoes 100% malolactic fermentation and is 100% stainless steel, so the fruit takes center stage.  The citrus nose leads to guava and lemon peel on the palate, with a big mouthfeel.  Their ‘09 Dry Pinot Noir Rosé stays on the skins for six hours.  It’s bone dry and features 100% Pinot Noir aromas of rose petals and an earthy strawberry taste.  The 2006 Merlot is 100% Russian River Valley fruit.  It spends a year in American oak and has a huge nose to show for it, full of spicy berry aromas.  The palate shows chewy raspberry in a fruit-forward display.  Toad Hollow’s non-vintage Erik’s The Red Proprietary Red Wine comes from Paso Robles grapes, the majority of which are Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Syrah.  Red fruit and leather dominate the nose, while the taste is very earthy.  There is a nice brightness coming through on the palate, too.

Union Ale Brewing Company - One of two brewers I tried, Union’s delicious stout is full of chocolate and coffee and incredibly smooth.  Their West Coast I.P.A. is peachy on the nose with a hoppy taste and a tart lemon peel flavor on the finish.

Wilson Creek Winery and Vineyards - This was the only Temecula winery I tasted.  Their Golden Jubilee White Table Wine is a blend of Colombard, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.  It has tons of minerals on the earthy nose and a sweetish taste, with a rather short finish.  Temecula Red, a blend centering on Mourvedre, wasn’t brooding at all, but showed a very bright smell and taste.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t too impressed with Wilson Creek’s almond-flavored sparkling wine or their Decadencia chocolate dessert wine.  The sparkler has a huge candy-like nose and is very sweet and extremely bubbly, with a finish that simply runs away.  The Decadencia smells like cough syrup and tastes like chocolate Schnapps.

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