Showing posts with label Los Olivos. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Los Olivos. Show all posts

Monday, May 20, 2024

Vermentino From The Heart Of Santa Barbara County

Rancho de Vega was established in 1853 in Santa Barbara County's Santa Ynez Valley. The estate now has a vineyard and a winery, and the Vega folks have hired Steve Clifton to head up their winemaking program. The wines he made under the Palmina brand are being absorbed under the Vega Vineyard and Farm banner.

The estate is on the property that used to be known as Mosby Winery, and Vega Vineyard is operating out of the little tasting room on the grounds. They are also serving lunch every day, dinner and brunch on the weekends. 

I have enjoyed Clifton's wines for years, and probably not often enough. I recently ran across the Palmina Vermentino 2021 at one of my local wine stores. It was made with grapes grown in the Los Olivos District in the Santa Ynez AVA of Santa Barbara County. Alcohol sits at 13.5% abv and it cost $17 at the cheese shop in Larchmont Village.

This wine has a light yellow-gold tint. The nose is a bit muted, but showy enough to offer some nice lemon, apricot and salinity notes. The salinity comes across clearly on the palate, and so does the lemon. Most noteworthy is the very fresh acidity. The ocean influence is strong here, and you should pair this wine with crustaceans. The citrus minerality hangs around for quite awhile after the sip.  

Friday, April 14, 2017

Los Olivos Tasting Room: Carina Cellars

A great day trip out of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara wine country should always involve bagels in Camarillo, the Santa Barbara Farmers Market, lunch at Sides and a final glass at a pastoral setting. Take care of those incidentals and the wine will take care of itself.

At the Carina Cellars tasting room in Los Olivos - the one they share with Tensley Wines - I chatted through the tasting menu with Sandy. She is very knowledgeable on wine in general and in particular the wines made by Joey Tensley. We had an enjoyable volley of comments about dirt versus earth. It’s just a matter of PR preferences, I think.  The word earth looks better on a label than plain old dirt.

Rhone varieties rule at Carina, but they also produce some Zinfandel. Even a Tannat, which is unusual in this part of the world. Grapes are sourced in Santa Barbara County and at their Paso Robles estate

I tasted through a half-dozen or so wines that were quite impressive, and after a bit of deliberation I called the 2012 Clairvoyant as my favorite. It’s a GSM - Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre - but it’s heavier on the Syrah. It retails for $28.

The wine is very approachable, with dark fruit, mostly currant. There’s a hint of savory, but the crowd-pleasing fruit is the star of the show.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Tercero Wines Of Santa Barbara County

It had been a while since I stopped in on Larry Schaffer at his Los Olivos tasting room for Tercero Wines, so it was a great and pleasant surprise to see him in Los Angeles recently for a tasting event.

Schaffer uses grapes from some top-notch vineyard sites in Santa Barbara County to make his mostly-Rhônish wines. His reds seem to be what people really want to experience, but his whites are the show-stoppers, in my opinion. I love a good white wine, and the Tercero whites are much better than that.

Tercero 2013 Grenache Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley - This is possibly my favorite. It has a beautiful, savory nose and palate, with a slight funk and great acidity.  $25

Tercero 2014 Albarino, Santa Ynez Valley -  Funky and floral, the salinity comes through on the sip.  $25

Tercero 2014 Outlier Gewurztraminer - Floral to spare, but minerals make it more complex and less sweet than this grape usually turns out.  $25

2015 Mourvedre Rosé - Grapes from Vogelzang Vineyard, in the Happy Canyon AVA are footstomped and fermented, with some oak involved. The light cherry and strawberry flavors show wonderfully right now, and this rosé gets even better with age.  $25
Tercero 2011 Mourvedre Santa Barbara County - Schaffer likes the mix of warm and cool areas in a cool vintage, Larner and Camp Four vineyards being the draw here.  There is a great use of oak (nearly three years.)  He says it’s his best-selling red and he didn’t get to make an awful lot of the 2012 to be released soon.  $35

Tercero 2011 Grenache, Larner Vineyard, Ballard Canyon - This wine is muscular and savory. Shaffer calls it, "my favorite grenache," and you just may as well.  $35

Tercero 2015 Abberation - 40% Cinsault, 40% Grenache and 20% Mourvedre, all from the Camp 4 Vineyard in the newly created Los Olivos District. It’s a steel-aged red, and it takes a chill very well and still shows the dark earthiness of the soil.  $35

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Santa Ynez Valley Wine: Vincent Vineyards

Homespun and genuine often travel together. Vincent Vineyards displays the best of both qualities. Located in Santa Ynez, just off Highway 154 near Los Olivos, the Vincent tasting room offers a very real and homey experience. I never felt that I was being “sold” on anything.

I spoke with owner Tony Vincent just before the tasting room’s closing time. Actually, it was just after closing, and the staff quietly held their car keys in hand while the boss talked to some dude from L.A. One of them plied my wife with chocolates while we talked. Boy, did they find her weak spot.

Vincent told me excitedly about his exploration of social media. "A bunch of people from Philadelphia were in here earlier today," he said. "You know how they found out about us?" No, how? "Yelp!" He was astounded. Better get with it, Tony. Social media is how I ended up there.

The Vincent winemaker Raxie Ward produces all estate wines, although they do offer some sparklers produced in northern California. They are doing wine and chocolate pairings for Valentine’s month, so you might want take your sweetie there. If your sweetie doesn’t like wine or chocolate, I can't help you. Better luck next Valentine’s Day.

The eastern Santa Ynez valley terroir often shows a distinctive earthy quality, lacing the bright red fruit. That trend holds true at Vincent.

2013 Sauvignon Blanc  $35 - Very fresh, slightly herbal, nice acidity.

2012 Sauvignon Blanc  $31 - 30% New oak lends a nice soft mouthfeel to this one. Grapefruit and melon join tropical fruit for a soft and creamy sip.

2010 Sauvignon Blanc  $24  Very similar to the 2012.

2012 Cabernet Franc  $55 - 100% Cabernet Franc, this wine is a nice light purple color. A perfumed, floral nose leads to spice and red fruit on palate. The mouthfeel is soft, so it’s great for sipping. An uncomplicated quaff, and a little light on the finish, it's a good entry-level wine.

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon  $65 - 3% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot are in the blend. It’s soft, sweet and approachable, also a great entry level offering.

2010 Syrah  $48  - 100% Syrah, with the funky, dark fruit palate I look for in that grape.

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon - The wine’s first vintage.  62% cab, 25% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. An earthy angle to the bright red fruit and a moderate finish.

2010 Cuvee V  $90 - The same percentages as the Cab, with more tannins and bright red fruit.
2010 Petit Verdot  $39 - this wine is extremely dry and quite complex, certainly the biggest wine on the list. It’s brawny, so get a steak ready for it. You don't want it to get angry.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Day Trip To Santa Barbara County Wine Country

Road trips to wine country are the best road trips.  For us, they are practically the only road trips. The beauty of the land up north of Santa Barbara is captivating, the fruit and vegetable stands offer some really great tastes to bring home and - lastly, but not leastly - there is wine when you get there. Denise and I recently took her brother, his girlfriend and a buddy of ours from Los Angeles up to the Santa Barbara County wine country around Los Olivos for the day. It’s been several months now, but here are the notes from that trip.

After the two-hour-plus drive - which included the customary stop for a bagel in Camarillo - our first stop in wine country was off the 101 Freeway west of Buellton.  We hit a couple of wineries there which have nice tasting rooms. Then, after lunch, we finished on “tasting room row” in Los Olivos. It’s the standard structure for our Santa Barbara County road trips, and it offers plenty of flexibility so we can keep our itinerary as fresh as we like.


The vines at Sanford Winery and Vineyards were planted at a time when that was considered a bit of a weird thing to do in Santa Barbara County. It doesn’t seem so strange now, with the Sta. Rita Hills claiming a rightful place in the handful of great Pinot Noir regions.

The tasting room is housed in a big, beautiful hacienda with a walk-around porch that offers several serene views of the grounds. The crew is fantastic: just as helpful and knowledgeable as you want a tasting room crew to be. I’ve been to other tasting rooms where questions about the wines went unanswered - or worse, unrecognized. That is never the case with the attentive pourers at Sanford.

Winemaker Steve Fennell works for the Terlato family and has created some memorable wines at Sanford for nearly a decade.

2011 La Rinconada Vineyard Chardonnay - $40
Even though sparkling wine is often made with Chardonnay grapes, Chardonnay wine almost never reminds me of sparkling wine. This one does. A lovely pear and vanilla nose opens to a toasty palate that shows the nine months in oak (40% new) beautifully. The great acidity is a hallmark of Sanford wines.

2010 La Entrada  Chardonnay - $55
A little more oak influence in this one, with 50% new oak for nine months.  It’s slightly toastier with a really delightful showing of oak on the nose and palate. Only nine barrels were made.

2012 La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir - $64
The 15 months aging in oak, fully half of which is new, does not seem the least bit overdone. The nice cranberry and raspberry nose  announces the flavors of the palate aptly.  There is a slightly toasty note in there and the acidity is superb.

2012 Sanford and Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir - $64
This, we were told, was the first Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara County. It was made by Richard Sanford and Michael Benedict in 1971 and is still going strong today. Oak is again a 15-month process, and it shows a bit more here. Red berries and chocolate aromas lead to a fruity palate that offers a little toasty mocha on the finish.

LaFond Winery and Vineyards

Pierre Lafond pioneered the modern era of winemaking in Santa Barbara County. He started the region’s first winery after prohibition, back in 1962. He spent a lonely decade as the county’s only winemaker before planting 65 acres of vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills in 1971. It is on this property where the Lafond wines are poured in the wine country tasting room. The Lafond production facility is in downtown Santa Barbara, with another tasting room attached.

2012 Chardonnay Stainless Steel - $32
This one of those Chardonnays that straddles fence and offers a taste of both sides. The wine has a great, crisp acidity, yet it's very full, even though no oak is used. At least they tell me no oak is used. From where, I wonder, does that oak spice on the nose and palate arise? It would come from the nine months aging sur lie - meaning "on the lees." Lees are the old yeast cells that gave their lives turning the fruit’s sugar into alcohol. Leaving the wine in contact with them during aging lends weight and texture to the wine. It fooled me into thinking it surely must have been oak-aged for at least a bit. Those yeast cells worked overtime in this wine, leaving an alcohol content of 14.6% abv. 169 cases were made.

2012 Sta. Rita Hills Riesling - $20
You don’t see a lot of Riesling grown in the SBC, but this is estate fruit from 40 year-old vines that are growing in a meadow in the sun.  The nose give a beautiful note of white flowers and white nectarines, with peach and nectarine flavors following on the palate. More great acidity in this one.

2012 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir - $27
70% estate fruit, 30% from a nearby vineyard. It’s a fresh, bright Pinot with a nose of lavender and mocha and flavors of cranberry in a toasty setting.

2010 Arita Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir - $48
The grapes for this wine come from a plot just a half mile east of the estate vineyard. This is a real treat, with an unusual, distinctive nose of orange tea. The palate boasts orange tea, raspberry and a brilliant acidity.

2011 Sta. Rita Hills Syrah - $23
70% estate fruit here, 30% from a hilltop vineyard. Pepper and blackberry grace the nose, with dark fruit flavors embedded in very firm tannins.

2011 Lafond Vineyard Syrah - $40
older vines, more new oak than the SRH Syrah, at 37.5%. Aromas of bright coffee and mocha mocha lead to a huge baker’s chocolate note layered over the cherry flavor.


Cimarone's vineyards are in the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County AVA, while their tasting room is on the main drag in Los Olivos. They produce 2,500 cases of wine each year and specialize in grape varieties of the Bordeaux region.

2012 Sauvignon Blanc - $16
This is the one and only white wine Cimarone makes. It spent 17 months in French oak twice-used. You'll get a nose full of nice floral notes while the palate brings green herbs, big fruit and zippy acidity.

2012 Cilla’s Blend - $18
The blend belongs to Priscilla, and it mixes Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It is bright and cheery, as its name suggests it should be.

2009 Syrah - $30
Only 111 cases of this interloper were made - a Rhône grape amidst the Bordeaux. It is a warm-climate example of the great grape, with a floral nose, great acidity and sweet cherry on the palate.

2009 Gran Premio - $30
This Italian grape earns its place with the others. The Happy Canyon Sangiovese is bright and fruity, and demands one more sip. It goes great with pasta or pizza, by the way.

2011 Cabernet Franc - $30
This bright, peppery Cab Franc is a delight, with wild cherry flavors and a nice, red finish.

2012 Cabernet Franc - $30
A bit brighter than the '11 due to the warmer vintage.  A spicy nose and palate shows good acidity and a fabulous finish.

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon - $35
This is an unusual cab, very bright, with not too much typical Cab-like flavor showing. It is cheery, red and ripe.

2010 Le Clos Secret - $40
It's no secret that this wine sports all five Bordeaux grapes. It was the first wine produced by Cimarone, and it still offers plenty of ripe, red fruit and savory cherry.

At the Cimarone tasting bar, I overheard a conversation between the pourer and a couple who were tasting next. To us. The gentleman was asked, "You do reviews for her and she does reviews for her?" He responded, "Yes, and she tells me I don’t know what I’m talking about” Don't let her dissuade you, fella. Your palate is your own. Trust it.

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Friday, May 23, 2014

California Grenache: Zaca Mesa Z Cuvée 2009

California winemakers who are looking for the Next Big Thing in California wine are asking, "Why not Grenache?:

Wine writer Jon Bonné called Grenache "the Jan Brady of grapes," often not pretty enough when standing on its own.  He did, however, follow that line by citing examples of California Grenaches that are pretty - even beautiful and complex.

Grenache does have plenty of what the wine-buying public likes - fruit, tannins, acidity - and it is often available at great price points, Grenache is poised to make some noise.

Over the course of the next few weeks in this series, we will sample some California Grenache wines from different parts of the state.  Most of the wines featured will be varietal wines, all or mostly Grenache.  We start the tasting today, though, with a blend from Zaca Mesa Winery and Vineyards.  The Zaca Mesa Z Cuvée was provided as a sample by the winery.

The grapes - 53% Grenache, 39% Mourvèdre and an 8% splash of Syrah - are sustainably farmed on the Zaca Mesa estate north of the Santa Barbara County wine town of Los Olivos.  The wine hits 14.5% abv and sells for $20.  6,269 cases were produced.

Zaca Mesa has a way with vintage description: "It was another cold and dry winter in the Santa Ynez Valley.  Spring was mild and long with plenty of cool sunshine to awake the vines.  Summer was surprisingly cool, but we welcomed the usual heat spikes around early September.  A threatening storm quickened our pace in mid-October, as we raced Mother Nature. The mild year provided great flavor development without excessive sugar for wines of great balance."  It reads like a Hollywood movie plot line, complete with the happy ending.

After the grapes were fermented, the wine was placed separately into French oak barrels for seven months of aging.  Once the blend was decided, the cuvée went back into oak for another nine months.  Winemaker Eric Mohseni can be justifiably proud of this GSM blend.

The wine is inky dark and smells of the fruits the three Rhône grapes bring to the glass - raspberry from the Grenache, blueberry from the Mourvèdre and blackberry from the Syrah.  Hints of cinnamon and meat aromas drift in, too.  The palate is full and robust - dense, even - with the acidity expected from a cool vintage.  Great savory notes mix with the fruit and result in a gorgeous, complex wine.  The tannins are up to a pairing with any sort of beef while not getting in the way of a great sipping experience.  

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Friday, June 28, 2013

Tasting Santa Barbara County: Firestone Vineyards

A Sunday drive from Los Angeles to the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail brought us to Firestone Vineyard's winery and tasting room.  Just a few minutes from Grand Avenue in Los Olivos - jammed with tasting rooms - the visit to Firestone offered a nice wine country experience with a picnic lunch in the front yard.

It was the kind of wine country trip I like - one with minimal planning.  We had planned a stop at the Trader Joe's Milpas Street location while coming through Santa Barbara, but that was about it.  A few cheeses, some avocados and a baguette later, we were fully equipped for a wine country snack.  A group consensus put us on the road to Foxen Canyon, and we ended up at Firestone.

The day was beautiful, the picnic was enjoyable and we were chillin' - some of us more than others.  Hey, it was a tough week!

All the wines on the tasting flight - $10 - are estate wines.  Firestone also offer a reserve flight for $15.

Sauvignon Blanc SYV 2011
Tropical fruit - pineapple, mainly - great acidity and a citrus finish made this a great choice for the lunch pairing.  The Santa Ynez Valley grapes are stainless steel fermented.  We bought a bottle and took it outside.  $14

Chardonnay SYV 2011
This one is aged 83% in stainless steel and 17% in French oak.  Apples and tropical flavors are touched with oak spice, a nice toasty vanilla.  It's not a big, buttery Chardonnay, but not steely either.  $18

Gewürztraminer SYV 2010
Aromatic is the word here, with floral and herbal notes on the nose and bright fruit on the palate.  It's off-dry and as fresh as can be.  $15

Riesling SYV 2011
One of several extras our pourer splashed, this Riesling has notes of petrol and sweet flowers on the nose and sweet apples on the palate.  2.25% residual sugar.

Dry Rosé SYV 2011
Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache combine with a dollop of Gewürztraminer.  There's a slight funk on the dark cherry nose and savory fruit on the palate.

Merlot SYV 2009
A bright red, spicy nose leads to cherries on the palate and a cinnamon finish.  $20

Cabernet Sauvignon SYV 2010
The nose is very light and perfumed with fruit, while palate shows a spicy angle as does the Merlot.  It's very tasty, but probably a little lightweight for me if I'm in the mood for a Cab.  $22

Syrah SYV 2010
Mostly Syrah, there is a three percent touch of Grenache in the blend.  The nose is wonderful, full of smoked meat and dark fruit.  The spicy palate is bright, not moody.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Longoria Syrah Santa Barbara County, Alisos Vineyard 2008

Rick Longoria bailed on law school to spend his time in a wine cellar.  When his first winemaking gig didn’t allow him to produce Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, he struck out on his own to scratch that itch.  Longoria was the first winemaker to base his operation in the industrial park which has become fondly known as the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  He goes for balance in his wines, and designs them to accompany food, to be a part of a meal.

The Longoria Alisos Vineyard Syrah was purchased at the Longoria tasting room in Los Olivos.  It goes for $34 retail.  At 15.2% abv, this Syrah packs some power.  It aged in French oak - one-third of it new - for 22 months.  The winery produced only 98 cases.

On his website, Longoria reveals the source of his grapes.  He writes, "I first began working with Rhone varietals in 1998. Since then I have narrowed down our vineyard sources to just two local vineyards, Alisos in the Los Alamos Valley and Clover Creek in the Santa Ynez Valley.  Each is bottled separately and each provides us with a different interpretation of the Syrah grape, due to the unique qualities of the two sites."

The wine is very dark, an inky, purple color.  The bouquet is readily available long before my nose gets into the glass.  Dark aromas of blackberry and tar waft up, smelling very much like the northern Rhône.  The flavors come from that area, too, with back fruit leading the way for savory notes of bacon and anise.  Cola and tea notes remind me of Pinot Noir - a pretty stout Pinot, to be sure.  What really grabs me is the acidity, that mouthwatering tingle that means the wine is destined to go with food.  It's a fairly amazing quality in this juicy Syrah, so much so that it competes with the flavors.  That’s a competition in which there are no losers.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Summer Wine: Tercero Rosé 2008

Larry Schaffer of Tercero Wines does a great job making rosés, a fact that gets overshadowed by the fine work he does on his red wines.  Every year, I look forward to tasting his most recent pink wine - they are always interesting.

I managed to pick up a couple of bottles of the Tercero Rosé from the 2008 vintage this summer.  They may have been the last two bottles in the house at the Tercero tasting room in Los Olivos.  If you have a bottle that you forgot to drink, it’s showing very well right now.

A blend of 90% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre, this Santa Barbara County registers an alcohol number of 13.5% abv.  I believe it sold for around $15.  Schaffer’s present vintage rosé offers much more Mourvèdre.

The ‘08 is medium pink in the glass, with a nose of melon, strawberry, cherry and hint of funky earth lurking in the shadows.  There are plenty of shadows here, as the palate is quite complex.  There’s fruit laced with black tea, and an especially nice zing of acidity.  The tea flavor is something I don't get very often in rosés, particularly young ones.  Just a few years of aging has given the wine quite a bit of complexity.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Summer Wine: Andrew Murray Viognier 2011

Viognier is a great choice for a summertime beverage.  I had the pleasure of finally getting around to opening a bottle of Viognier that I purchased on my most recent visit to Los Olivos.  Andrew Murray’s Viognier is great as a summer sipper, but it also carves out a place at the dining table.

It’s a product of the Santa Maria Valley.  The grapes come from a block of Viognier planted especially for Murray.  The cool days and foggy nights which are common at the vineyard help get the grapes ripe without going crazy with the alcohol.

The grapes are whole-cluster pressed and the vinification takes place in stainless steel. The lightly tinted Viognier shows a fruit basket on the nose, with pineapple, mango, apricot and citrus fighting for attention.  Minerals are certainly present, as expected in a wine from the Santa Maria Valley.  The palate really shows the minerals, as well as the wonderful herbal edge attained through the whole - cluster press.  The sweetness of the fruit is tempered by lime zest.  There’s good acidity and a tart, pleasing finish.

I’d suggest that you run out and pick up a bottle, but that’s not possible.  The 2011 yield was limited and only 50 cases were produced - those are now sold out, according to the Andrew Murray website.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Los Olivos Wine Tasting Day Trip

A wine country day trip is something I’d like to have once a week - every day, if I can manage it - but lately, it seems they have been few and unbelievably far between.  Denise, our friend Guido and I fixed that with a drive up the 101 Freeway from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara County.

Denise and I have a certain rhythm for these trips, from which we do not feel the need to stray.  The first stop comes in Camarillo, off at Santa Rosa Road for breakfast at the New York Bagel Company.  My pizza bagel recommendation was a hit with Guido.  A secondary stop occurs in Santa Barbara at the Trader Joe store just off the freeway, if needed.

We blew through Gaviota Pass like the cool breeze on the outside of the car and before we knew it, Buellton appeared.  Amazingly, we took a pass on Pea Soup Andersen's and turned left to head out into the Sta. Rita Hills.  We stopped at Foley Estates Winery and sampled the Chardonnay.  Regular readers may remember something about that yesterday in this space.  We tasted the Chardonnay, we bought the Chardonnay.  Then we headed back east and up to Los Olivos.


There aren’t very many places for lunch in the tiny downtown area, but what’s there, as Spencer Tracy said, is cherce.  Downtown Los Olivos really isn’t much more than a block filled with wine tasting rooms.  That’s my kind of block.  My favorite place to grab lunch is the new location of the Brothers restaurant, Sides Hardware and Shoes.  It’s the name the building bore back in the day when it was, well, a hardware and shoe store.  There’s a great bacon burger there, and a chilled pea soup with a dollop of sorbet that is great on a hot day.


Fully fed and getting down to the business of tasting wine, we went to a place Guido had visited before, the Tensely Wines tasting room

Their Detente is a very plainly labeled red wine which is half French, half American.  The American half of the blend is 2009 Tensley Colson Canyon Syrah.  The French half is 2009 Domaine de Montavac Gigondas - 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah and 5% Mourvédre.  The wine demonstrates the American winemaking talents of Joey Tensley and the French ability of Cecile Dusserre.  It has a rich, dense nose and a juicy blackberry palate, although it runs a bit hot at 14.9% abv.


Just around the corner is Tercero Wines, 2445 Alamo Pintado Drive.  This is the main side street in Los Olivos, and Tercero is about a block off the beaten path of Grand Avenue, right next to Dragonette Cellars’ tasting room.  It was nice to see Larry Schaffer (right) in a more comfortable environment than a wine tasting event, but he always seems a little wound up when he’s pouring his wines for people.  Here’s what he poured for us:

2010 The Outlier Gewürztraminer - “Nobody in California should call it Gewürz,” says Schaffer, who apparently likes tongue twisters.  The wine is spicy and flowery.

2010 Viognier from White Hawk Vineyard sports a lovely floral nose with fantastic acidity and fruit.

2010 Grenache Blanc is a new release for Larry. Nutty, saline minerality on the nose meets peaches, flowers and rocks on the palate.  It’s zippy.

2008 Cuvée Christie has a pretty, floral nose and an earthy edge to the rich, fruity flavors.

2007 Larner Vineyard Syrah shows a dense, dark nose and lovely rich fruit flavors.

2007 Thompson Vineyard Syrah has an extremely dark and delicious bouquet with a rich, black cherry flavor.

2007 The Climb is a half and half mix of Syrah and Petite Sirah.  It puts me in mind of old world Cabernet Franc souped up to Cali specs.

Thread is an effort in which Schaffer was one of five winemakers who contributed a wine to the blend, his Larner Vineyard Grenache.  This one has a really smoky nose and a big spicy taste.

Andrew Murray

We walked the short distance back to Grand Avenue for the Andrew Murray tasting room.

2011 Viognier shows a nice, floral nose and flavors of spiced peaches with a rocking acidity.  Santa Maria Valley fruit does a star turn, but only 50 cases were produced due to low yields.

2010 Eleven Unplugged is Murray’s attempt at being a rock god.  He explains that the blend is like three guitarists playing together.  “The lead is the Chenin Blanc...Sauvignon Blanc trying to steal the show...balanced by the oldest player, Chardonnay.”  It’s unoaked, spicy and zesty.

2011 Sanglier is a rosé of Grenache, Mourvédre and Syrah inspired by a wild boar who used to steal the fruit when it was ripe.  Murray decided to pick early to foil the animal, and the grapes turned out to be better for rosé than red wine.

2009 This Is Eleven Red is another rock music-themed effort, a five man electrical band of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Grenache from the Santa Ynez Valley.  A nice rich nose leads to black and blue fruit on the palate.  The Cabernet Franc really shines in this one.

2009 Syrah, McGinley Vineyard has dense smoke on the nose and lush blackberry on the palate.

2010 Syrah, Watch Hill Vineyard is beautiful to smell, lovely lush and dark to taste.

2009 Syrah, Terra Bella Vineyard has great dark fruit with minerality from the limestone hillsides of Paso Robles coming through strongly.

2010 Grenache, Terra Bella Vineyard offers a whiff of earthy cherry and sails into a lovely sour cherry candy finish.

Dinner & a show

It was quite a long day for us, as we saw a screening of “Snow White and the Huntsman” back in Los Angeles - a valley in a day full of peaks - and finally wrapped up with a late snack at Salt’s Cure, one of those hip, locavore restaurants in L.A.  I must say I was impressed with my squid and sausage alongside a glass of Mourvédre rosé from Sonoma County producer Bedrock.  Morgan Twain-Peterson is the winemaker, and he is Zin-master Joel Peterson’s son.  One of the bullet points in Bedrock’s mission statement is “To reclaim rose’ from the excesses of saignee and focus on precision, delicacy, aromatics, and food friendliness.”  He does a fine job with this delicate, pale, dry effort produced from vines planted 120 years ago.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Beckmen Cuvee Le Bec

If you're looking for a big, heavy-hitting Central Coast Rhone varietal blend - and that's one thing I'm always on the lookout for - Beckmen Vineyards' Cuvée Le Bec easily fills those shoes.  This wine, like all of Beckmen’s wines, is estate grown, produced and bottled.  The Los Olivos-based winery offers this blend as one of its flagship wines.

I bought the Cuvée Le Bec in a wine store for $16.  It's a mixture of 51% Grenache, 27% Syrah, 16% Mourvédre and 6% Counoise.  The alcohol level is in the 14-plus range, and it's not shy about showing its teeth.

The nose carries quite a bit of heat even after an hour in the glass.  It took about two and a half hours to lose most of the alcohol overlay, but even then it was still a noticeable trait.  Luscious cherry liqueur candy aromas do come through the haze.

The taste is vibrantly fruity, with candied cherry and blueberry mixed together.  The fruit makes quite a strong play, but so does the alcohol.  The heat is still a dominant factor after nearly three hours in the glass.  There is an earthy streak of minerals which is particularly apparent on the finish.

Three hours after pouring - yes, I waited it out - the alcohol buzz is almost all gone and you’re left with a very brambly and dark fruit bomb.  Not an entirely unpleasant situation to be in, it’s just too bad it took three hours the get there.  Decant, wait and enjoy.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Coquelicot Slowhand

Coquelicot – pronounced "ko-klee-ko" - is the name of a brilliant red poppy found in the French countryside.  It is also the name Bernard Rosenson gave to his estate vineyard of organically-grown grapes, and the corresponding winery.  Rosenson became acquainted with the beautiful flower while growing up in France.  On the wine's label, he even asks, "Who's your poppy?"

Rosenson's partner-in-wine is Louis Van Tonder, who oversees the vineyard and the winemaking process for Coquelicot.  The winery's tasting room in Los Olivos is French countryside charming.  That's where I purchased the half-bottle of Slow Hand for around $25 about a year and a half ago.  It took a while to get around to opening it, and it was worth the wait.

Slow Hand is a half-and-half blend of late harvest Chardonnay and late harvest Riesling.  Its 12.5% abv leaves plenty of room for the sweetness expected in such a marriage.

On the nose, the smell of over ripe fruit is overwhelming.  If you ever spent any time as a child playing in the summertime around a fruit tree, you know what to expect.  The taste is that of baked apples, apple custard, and raisins.  It's a very viscous drink that really fills the mouth well.  If the acidity were a little higher, it would be perfect.  However, it's hard to complain about a wine as good as Slow Hand.

Friday, July 2, 2010


Brander Cuvée Natalie

Here's another in a semi-regular series of Friday Wine Treats.  In case you want to take a little extra time at lunch today and give your Los Angeles work week a great sendoff, I have a suggestion.  Akasha  in Culver City is a restaurant/bakery located where Culver Boulevard turns onto Washington Boulevard.  It has a heavy-duty, distressed rock bar that leads you into and around the dining area.  Take a seat at the bar and look up at the wine list.  It's on a chalkboard that looms over the bar area.
Akasha is a great spot for a week-ending glass of wine from anywhere, but Central Coast fans will be happy to note they have a number of good choices from Paso Robles, Edna Valley, Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley.  You can even get a summery glass of rosé from the region.  I was delighted to see Fiddlehead's "Pink Fiddle" and Fontes and Phillips' "Panky" - two of my favorite pinks - on the board.Akasha chalkboard
My choice, though, was a white wine from a Los Olivos winery, the Brander Cuvée Natalie, an Alsace-style white blend.  Named after owner and winemaker Fred Brander's daughter, Natalie, this blend includes Sauvignon Blanc from the Brander Vineyard with Riesling and Pinot Gris from Kick On Ranch.  It's made completely in stainless steel and has the crisp, fresh edge to prove it.
Cuvée Natalie pours into the glass as a pale yellow with a greenish hue.  The nose is floral with a peachy aspect and it's not a surprise to find a little fresh-mown grass in the aroma profile.  The taste is laden with minerality.  Crunchy pears and a hint of melon are joined by a slight petrol note.  Big acidity should help make this wine as food-friendly as you want.  The finish is long and bright, with a zesty sense of lemon lingering long afterward.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Tasting Room: Consilience, Los Olivos

I paid my first-ever visit to the Consilience tasting room in Los Olivos recently, and I came away wishing I hadn't waited so long.

It's nice, but not ornate; casual, but not too loose.  The pourers on duty were very friendly and helpful, with answers to all my questions.  Consilience has no vineyards, so they source all their fruit.  They rely mainly on grapes from Santa Barbara County.

Here are my notes on the wines I sampled:

Grenache Blanc Santa Barbara County 2006 - 94% Grenache Blanc from Camp Four Vineyard, 6% Viognier from the Daniels Vineyard - floral nose with lots of minerals to taste - nice acidity - taste is rather floral, too.  Oddly, it's not sweet

Roussanne Santa Barbara County 2006 - floral, nutty nose, very, nutty creamy taste - love it!

Cuvée Mambo White Santa Barbara County 2006 - a little tight on the nose - nutty and apricot - really creamy yet crisp -  made up of Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne

Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County 2006 -  very aromatic, from 4 vineyards - smoky earth, raspberry and lavender nose - taste is very earthy cherry

Pinot Noir Solomon Hills Vineyard 2006 - palate not as aromatic as previous - again a very earhty palate, smoky cherry

Syrah Falcone Vineyard 2005 - 100% syrah - peppery nose - earth and spice dominate palate

Syrah Camp 4 Vineyard 2005 - smoky leathery fruit on the nose and palate- really earthy and dark, yet with a ray or two of brightness shining through

Petite Sirah Santa Barbara County 2006 - 85%/15% PS/Syrah - $24 - the nose owes a lot to the syrah - really earthy taste - I mean really earthy - I love this one too