Sunday, June 26, 2011

STARS OF CALIFORNIA RECAP


back patio at the Wilshire Restaurant

California has a bounty of culinary delights to offer.  The STARS of California wine event, presented by Ian Blackburn’s Learn About Wine on Thursday June 23, 2011, showed off the wealth of California food and wine in a controlled environment - only 200 tickets were made available to the public event at the Broad Stage venue in Santa Monica, so a "no crowds" atmosphere was expected.  I attended the trade session during the afternoon, which was held in the garden setting of Santa Monica's Wilshire Restaurant.

The Golden State also has a bounty of traffic snarls.  I wonder how the road construction crews always seem to know where I'll be going, so they can block a lane or two on my route.  The 10 mile trek from mid-Wilshire to the Wilshire Restaurant took an hour, and about the same for the return trip.  It was Carmageddon!  Even with the aggravation of traffic, the event made it worthwhile.

The wines were presented as "future stars" of the California wine scene - and many of the wineries in attendance do fly a little under the radar - but the "future star" status is definitely deserved for the likes of Flying Goat Cellars, Palmina, Presqu'ile and Inception Wines.  There was plenty more to rave about, too.

Norm Yost, Flying Goast CellarsNorm Yost's Flying Goat Cellars of Santa Barbara always draws a crowd at Southern California tasting events.  Norm (pictured at right) tasted me through a trio of his Pinot Noirs, each of which shows earthy minerality and wonderful acidity.  My favorite is the 2008 Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot from the Santa Rita Hills.  This 667 clone has a smokey nose and great black cherry flavor, with a mocha note that comes through into the finish.

Randy Hazard of wine broker Vin 17 poured some delightful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Arroyo Grande's Center Of Effort.  I was really taken with another wine he poured, the '09 Fossil Point Edna Valley Chardonnay.  Nice tropical fruit and banana on the nose with great acidity and a zesty streak citrus on the palate bowled me over.

Palmina Wines features Italian varieties grown in Santa Barbara County.  Honea Vineyard is the only vineyard in California planted exclusively to Italian grapes, and Steve Clifton buys their entire crop every year.  I love the earthy minerality of their Arneis, the briny herbal palate of their Tocai Friulano and the wonderfully dry Rosato di Palmina.  Palmina's '07 Nebbiolo of Santa Barbara County is a three-vineyard mix with earth, smoke and spices bursting forth.

Ryan Skinner, of Skinner Vineyards in the Sierra Foothills region, loves to pour his 2009Grenache, which winemaker Chris Pittenger produced like a Pinot.  It's 100% Grenache, very dry, with a brilliant cherry nose and rich palate.  I really liked their very dark and moody '07 Estate Syrah, too.

Santa Maria Valley winery Presqu'ile has been making some noise recently.  Or, more accurately, those who try their wines have been making some noise; a lot of tweeting, especially.  South African Winemaker Dieter Cronje has crafted some wonderful wines.  Presqu'ile's 2009Chardonnay is clean and crisp.  I'm told Cronje utilized 10% new oak in this wine out of necessity - just so he could have some neutral oak next year.  The real stunner is the '09 Pinot Noirfashioned from a half-and-half mix of Solomon Hills and estate fruit.  Delicious, flirty raspberry and a long finish.

George PitsironisBased in Los Angeles, making Central Coast wines, is Inception.  Owner George Pitsironis (left) says they are on the wine lists at a majority of fine dining places in Southern California.  Their '09 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay is lush and creamy, but limited use of new French oak leaves the minerals in the front seat.  Inception'sPinot Noirs had the best aromas I found at this event.  A Central Coast effort and a Santa Barbara County Pinot both followed up with rich flavor.  It was a soon-to-be-released '09 Santa Rita Hills Pinot from La Encantada Vineyard that really wowed.  It should be available in mid-July 2011.

It was with great expectations that I stopped at the table of Lang and Reed, from the Napa Valley town of St. Helena.  They do all Cabernet Franc, all the time.  All their wines are based on Cab Franc, and John Skupny can do an impromptu dissertation on the grape and its clones anytime you like.  With a shrug, he said "Somebody's gotta do it," when I admired his obsession.  Lang and Reed's Two-Fourteen is made from the CF clone 214, which originated in the Loire Valley.  It's a single-vineyard work with a beautiful vegetal edge and notes of coffee in its complex palate.

Arman Pahlavan's Starlite Vineyards poured an exceptional Viognier and Zinfandel.  Winemaker Julia Iantosca - who took over from Merry Edwards in 2007 - worked wonders with the '09Viognier, a weighty, barrel-fermented white with great acidity and a floral honey nose that's irresistable.  The '06 Zinfandel was crafted for the person "who doesn't like Zinfandel."  I can't imagine who that could be, but this Alexander Valley beauty shows bright cherry, coffee, chocolate and spice, with plenty of acidity.  It's made from a Primitivo clone.  Starlite's Cabernet Sauvignon sports 15% Napa Valley Tempranillo and shows intense red fruit.  I'm told many tasters mistake it for Bordeaux.

Mauritson Wines of Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County scored with their Petite Sirah, indigo with concentrated fruit and great grip.  I finished the session - appropriately enough - with Mauritson's Port-style dessert wine.  Five Portuguese grape varieties are used for this blend.  The sweetness bears an earthy counterpoint which makes me think it's not just for dessert.


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