Showing posts with label Santa Barbara. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Santa Barbara. Show all posts

Monday, November 27, 2023

Stolpman L'Avion Roussanne - So Good

On visits to Santa Barbara County wine country, I always like to come home with a bottle of something special. The most recent excursion took me to Stolpman Vineyards' tasting room in Los Olivos, a little bit northwest of Santa Barbara. There was a special bottle there that I could not resist.

The 2020 L'Avion Roussanne comes from Stolpman Vineyards, Ballard Canyon, Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County. The wine is made from 93% Roussanne grapes and 7% Chardonnay. The Chardonnay was harvested in August, while the Roussanne wasn't taken until October. The Stolpman crew says the Roussanne grapes like to get a good tan, turning a rust color, which is where the name Roussanne comes from.

If you are wondering where the name "L'Avion" came from for this wine, here is how the folks at Stolpman explain it:

"In the late 1930s, teenage cattle rancher Anchor Johnson and his buddies landed their rickety plane down the straight chute where Roussanne is now planted.  The young men would park the plane under the oak tree at the end of the dirt strip.  Roussanne rows now run lengthwise along the old runway, creating the inspiration for the lanes on the L’Avion label."

The Roussanne was vinified in new French oak while the Chardonnay saw neutral French oak. The blend was aged in French oak, half new, half used, for a total of 19 months barrel aging. This wine has 13% alcohol, which is pretty low by California standards, and it cost about $40 at the winery's Los Olivos tasting room. 

This wine has a rich, golden color. The nose offers a bounty of nice things. Lemons, apricots, almonds and vanilla, are all wrapped up in buttery goodness. The palate is earthy, nutty and fruity all at once. If there were such a thing as an "old-line California Roussanne," this would be it. The acidity is fresh and the finish long, with a good streak of salinity staying after the sip. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Jaffurs Wine Cellars In Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara wine country stretches county-wide, and it is a big county. The vineyards north of the city are a great place to hang out, but there is plenty of wine tasting to be done in town. 

Jaffurs Wine Cellars is located in downtown Santa Barbara, an easy walk from the beach and from Stearn's Wharf, close to Trader Joe's and reasonably near to La Super-Rica Taqueria, a great stop for lunch.

They have been making great wines at their facility on Montecito Street for more than two decades, specializing in Rhône varieties grown at some of Santa Barbara County's most notable vineyards. Bien Nacido, Thompson, Larner, Stolpman and Kimsey vineyards regularly contribute fruit to the Jaffurs cause.

I paid a visit to Jaffurs on an October trip to Santa Barbara, one which yielded some bakery stops for the wife and wine tasting for me. It was a great day, in large part because the winery was buzzing when I arrived at 11:00 a.m. Winemaker Stephen Searle explained, while hustling from sorters to destemmers to huge bins, that they had just received a load of Petite Sirah grapes from Thompson Vineyard. The tasting table was set up for me right in the middle of the action. It was all I could do to stay out of the way so the crew could work. I was even offered a taste of the raw fruit, a first for me in all my many tasting sessions.

Here are the wines that were poured for me:

Jaffurs Viognier 2022

Sourced from Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley AVA, this wine was vinified half in oak and half in steel.  The floral nose is beautiful and the marvelous salinity on the palate is breathtaking. There is a very nice acidity level here, too.

Jaffurs Roussanne 2021 

Grapes from Stolpman Vineyard in Ballard Canyon make up this wine. It has a wonderful, nutty salinity to go with the prettier fruit and floral descriptors. It was aged in French oak, 17% of which was new. I am told that the next vintage will come from their concrete tank.

Jaffurs Grenache 2020

This wine got ten months in neutral French oak. The fruit was taken from Ballard Canyon. The graceful nose shows roses and the palate is full of cherry flavor.

Jaffurs Santa Barbara County Syrah 2021

Half the grapes came from Bien Nacido Vineyard, along with half from several other vineyards. Aromas of flowers and cherry lead to flavors of cherry and raspberry.

Jaffurs Kimsey Vineyard Syrah 2019

Done up in new French oak, this Syrah has violets, black fruit and that awesome salinity.

Jaffurs Bien Nacido Syrah 2019

This one is made Côte-Rôtie style, with a little Viognier in the blend. It has a sweet floral and fruit nose and a savory taste.

Jaffurs Petite Sirah Thompson Vineyard 2021

A bold nose here, due to the new American oak in which it was aged. The wine has a beautiful sweetness and gorgeous black fruit. It was presented last in the tasting lineup, as a “dessert,” although it is certainly not a dessert wine.

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, September 9, 2015

Margerum Wine, Whole Foods Market Go To Dogs... And Cats

An event is coming to Santa Barbara that animal lovers will want to put on the calendar.

Pet Adopt-a-Thon & Barbeque at Whole Foods Market, Santa Barbara

Saturday, September 26th 11-2pm

Volunteers from Cold Nose Warm Heart of Goleta and ASAP Cats of Santa Barbara will be on hand with pups and kittens hoping to find humans to rescue, while Margerum Wine Company's David Moorman will be grilling up hot dawgs to benefit cool cats and dogs!

Prizes include dinner at the Wine Cask, Whole Foods Market gift cards and gift baskets, winery and brewery hats, Tshirts and other goodies!

Tickets can be obtained in several ways: 

 $5 CASH ONLY per ticket, 100% of ticket sales will be donated. Tickets will go on sale Saturday, September 12th at the Buzz Hive, inside Whole Foods, Santa Barbara.

 Buy a Dawg to Save a Dog - Purchase one of David’s Dawgs and receive a raffle ticket, too!

 Feed The Homeless - Purchase a large bag of Whole Paws dry dog or cat food ($18.99) or a case of wet cat or dog canned food ($24), receive FIVE raffle tickets. All Whole Paws food will be donated to ASAP & CNWH.

 Drink Up For the Kits & Pups! Attend the beer & wine tasting events, $6 CASH ONLY, raffle ticket included with flight. $5 will be donated to ASAP/CNWH.

Flight times: Friday, 5:30-7:30pm, Saturday 11-2pm

100% of proceeds donated, winners need NOT be present to win!

Brooks Van Wingerden, General Manager at Margerum Wine Company, writes that Doug Margerum and Gina Cook (the wine specialist for Whole Foods) were tasting together a few months ago, not long after Doug had lost his beloved dog, Patches

Margerum and Cook are doing a series of private label wines for Whole Foods. As they were "patching together" a Pinot Noir blended with fruit from some of the best sites in Sta. Rita Hills AVA ( La Encantada Vineyards, Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, and Radian Vineyard ), a Merlot blend from the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA and others they bantered about their pets, past and present and thought, "what can we do to help more cats and dogs find furever homes?"

Just like that, the idea to give a donation for each bottle sold from two of these new wines was formed. 

One dollar from every bottle sold of Rapporte (French for "fetch") Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills (retail $34.99) will be donated by Doug Margerum to Cold Noses, Warm Hearts.

Fifty cents from every bottle of Chaton Heureux Cuvee (French for "Cat, Happy Blend") Merlot blend (retail $19.99) will be donated to ASAP Cats. 

Both are volunteer-run rescue groups that work to save cats and dogs destined for euthanasia at the Santa Barbara county shelter.

The labels were designed with pets in mind and both the labels and the wines are stunning.

The wines will be available exclusively at select Whole Foods Markets from SLO to San Diego and at Doug Margerum's tasting rooms in El Paseo – downtown Santa Barbara.

For more information, please call 805-686-8500 or email

Friday, April 10, 2015

Martellotto La Bomba Cabernet Sauvignon

There is a warm spot in Santa Barbara County's Santa Ynez Valley known as Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County. It is in the east end of the transverse valley, kept mainly cool by Pacific breezes that blow in and across the land between mountains. The winds do not produce a big cooling effect this far east, though, like they do in the Sta. Rita Hills to the west. Over there, it's Pinot Noir country. In Happy Canyon, Bordeaux grapes rule.

Martellotto Wines is an importer, but they also find some pretty terrific grapes in the warm spot of Santa Barbara County. The website explains that "Greg Martellotto’s family has been making wine for generations, and his grandfather brought traditional winemaking practices to the U.S. when he immigrated to Ellis Island in 1909 A vineyard-first philosophy focuses efforts on farming (including biodynamic and sustainable agriculture) with gentle handling in the winery and minimal intervention. Martellotto wines are allocated, vineyard designated wines that are our pleasure to share."

A sample of the Martellotto La Bomba Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 was shared with me as a sample for review.  The red is 25% Merlot, 75% Cabernet Sauvignon. Previous vintages came from Paso Robles, but the '13 hails from the SBC. 200 cases were made.

The wine has a deep ruby color, very dark, with a nose sporting blackberry, clove, vanilla and light cedar notes. The palate shows more blackberry and oak spice with a smattering of cassis and a nice acidity. There are great tannins and a good grip, the better for pairing with any kind of meat you like.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Whole Foods Market Debuts A New Vintage For One Wine

The local wine concept is alive and well at Whole Foods Markets in Southern California.  The One Wine label - available at Southern California Whole Foods stores - is a unique collaboration between Whole Foods Market and local winemakers.  It started with WFM’s commitment to providing their customers with products that celebrate the places and stories from which they are created.

The One Wine label started in 2011 as a partnership with two wineries in Santa Barbara County, and has since blossomed into a mutually beneficial, creative and delectable partnership between Whole Foods Market and over ten of Southern California’s best winemakers.  All of the One Wine releases are small lot wines, typifying the movement of boutique wineries in Santa Barbara County.  They are all in limited supply, and only available in Southern California Whole Foods Market stores.  They have a habit of disappearing from the shelves quickly, so don't delay in picking up the ones that interest you.

I had the extraordinary opportunity to visit the Whole Foods Market in Venice, CA as they celebrated the five-year anniversary of that store.  The new One Wine releases were poured, with winemakers and representatives of the wineries that made them present to chat about the wines.  It was a three-hour drive down to L.A. for them, so their presence was much appreciated.

Roger Fawcett
The event was headed up by Hilary Maler, the Southern Pacific Region Associate Marketing Coordinator for Whole Foods.  Joining her was Roger Fawcett, wine and spirits buyer for the region.  Fawcett was excited about the chain's involvement with the One Wine project.  “We are thrilled to partner with our neighboring vineyards to create regional, locally produced blends for our customers,” he said.  “Our One Wine label wines showcase the world-class winemaking taking place in the foothills and valleys that surround our community, and allow our shoppers the opportunity to uncork a range of Southern California’s best wines.”

In case you are unfamiliar with the One Wine line, participating wineries include Ampelos Cellars, Au Bon Climat Winery, Cimarone Wines, Clendenen Family Winery, Fallbrook Winery, Happy Canyon Vineyards, Hearst Ranch Winery, Hitching Post Winery, Ken Brown Wines, Margerum Wineries, Sextant Wines, South Coast Winery and Stolpman Vineyard.  With names like those, you can expect high quality - and they are priced nicely, between $15 and $20 per bottle.

You can get a taste of One Wine by viewing this mini-documentary.

Jim Saunders
One Wine Hearst Ranch Paso Robles Red Blend 2011, $20

Jim Saunders, of Hearst Ranch Winery, conducted a blind blending session to determine the mix for his One Wine Red Blend.  It turned out that the Whole Foods Market team, led by Priscilla Vazquez, made a more popular blend than that of the winery staff.  Saunders took it in stride and signed off on it, saying, “We get to showcase a lot of different wines in one bottle.”

Priscilla Vazquez
He certainly does.  The blend is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Petite Sirah.  The expressive nose shows big fruit - black cherry and raspberry - with a touch of mocha.  Blackberry and currant flavors dominate a palate which is both elegant and powerful.  The tannins make themselves known in this muscular wine, and the alcohol stands at 14.1% abv.  Saunders says, “We use different shades of oak for the different varieties in the blend.  We love it.  We made less than 500 cases, so it probably won’t last too long on the shelves.”

Gray Hartley
One Wine Hitching Post Red Blend 2010, $15

Gray Hartley is one half of the winemaking team at Hitching Post Winery.  He and Frank Ostini make some fairly legendary Pinot Noir, and are also doing some nice things with a grape Hartley calls a “Pinot Noir wannabe.”

The Valdiguié grape - VAL dee gee ay - was once known as Napa Gamay, due to its similarity to the grape of Beaujolais.  What it really bears a resemblance to is Pinot Noir.  The One Wine Hitching Post Red Blend is 51% Valdiguié, 42% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Franc, so the grape’s presence is easily noticed.  Hartley leans in and softens his already soft voice to explain how Valdiguié “acts as a conductor, tapping the baton and bringing the other elements of the wine together in symphony.  It brings out the best the other grapes have to offer.”

The wine is fermented and aged in neutral oak barrels and comes to an easy-drinking 13.8% abv.  The smoky, raspberry/floral nose and slightly tart palate immediately makes me think of a really bold Pinot Noir.
When Hartley told me how the One Wine experience has spurred sales of other Hitching Post wines, WFM’s Roger Fawcett jumped in.  "The One Wine project is a great way to showcase the region's winemakers, and the extra visibility helps move other wines in the wineries' own lines."  Hartley responded with an overly sincere, "You're in good hands with Whole Foods Market,” then the kicker: “Oh, that's an Allstate commercial!  Seriously, the friendships we've built with Whole Foods are close."

One Wine Hitching Post Rosé 2012, $15

The pink side of Valdiguié is about as pink as it gets.  It’s deeply tinted - like the salmon Hartley caught in his earlier career as a fisherman.  The mix this time is 48% Valdiguié , 47% Grenache and 5% Pinot Noir.  Hartley says there’s isn’t a lot of Valdiguié available in California.  “I dare you to try and find some!  Ours comes from French Camp Vineyard in Paso Robles.”  It has a very modest 13.1% abv number and is released to Whole Foods for One Wine before they do their own Hitching Post version.

Showing the mark of a good rosé, the wine has great acidity.  Again, the presence of the Valdiguié comes through in the flavors that are as dark as the color.  Again, Hartley lifts his imaginary baton in explaining how the grape inspires the other fruit.  “All the grapes are co-fermented, half in steel and half in neutral oak.  The fermentation of Valdiguié is quite something to see.  It really roils in the barrel.  Puts on a show."

Doug Margerum
One Wine Happy Canyon Merlot 2010, $18

Doug Margerum was one of the original winemakers involved in the One Wine series, back when it was called A Collaboration.  He showed up on his birthday with no candles awaiting him, but he lit up like one when he started talking about his wines.

The One Wine Happy Canyon Merlot blends 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Malbec, 2% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot.  Margerum says he used Bordelaise punchdowns to keep the grape skins in contact with the juice and sent the wine into small oak barriques for eleven months.  The Merlot was fermented in steel.  The wine offers a dusty, floral nose and is fresh in a way that is Margerum’s calling card.  Bright cherry flavor and great acidity are your reward for working the corkscrew.   This wine - as with all the One Wine selections - was subject to a blending panel.  Margerum admits that he cheated the process a bit to get the blend he wanted, but all’s well that ends this well.

One Wine Margerum White Blend 2012, $16

Margerum’s white wine entry to the One Wine line is an inventive blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Riesling.  "I wouldn't do it, but they can," Margerum says, with a nod toward the WFM crew.  "For them, all bets are off the table."  He likes more traditional blends, so something this riotous would not appear in his portfolio.  "I'd be more inclined to mix Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon."  The wine is very mineral driven, with pears and apples aplenty, but the minerals are really the story.  It's a delicious and interesting wine.  Quite refreshing, too.

Marissa Beverly
One Wine Clendenen Family Winery Italian Red Blend, $15

Representing Clendenen Family Winery was Marissa Beverly.  She tasted me through the One Wine Italian Red Blend, made of 60% Nebbiolo and 40% Barbera grapes at only 13.5% abv.  The grapes come from Bien Nacido Vineyard, a very special plot of Santa Maria Valley land, in blocks planted especially for winemaker Jim Clendenen.  It's a non-vintage mix of mainly '05 and '06 wine.  The nose shows cherries and dark berries and hits the palate with great acidity and tart raspberry flavors.

One Wine Au Bon Climat Winery Pinot Gris 2012, $18

Clendenen's Pinot Gris is a 100% varietal wine made from grapes grown in the Sierra Madre Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley.  The alcohol is quite restrained - just 12.3% abv - and the wine sees full malolactic fermentation, which converts the malic acid into lactic acid and gives a fuller mouthfeel.

Whole cluster pressed, the wine is fermented and aged six months in neutral oak.  The bouquet is full of fruit with a great mineral profile.  Soft, smoky fruit decorates the palate and there is just a touch of creamy oak on the finish.  Pair it with salmon, lobster or crabs and you'll be happy.

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Friday, January 4, 2013

Taste The Great Wine Of Santa Barbara

For those of us who like to attend wine tasting events in Southern California, January can be an action-packed month.  There’s a lot of sniffing, swirling and sipping going on around Los Angeles.  The year can’t get off to a much better start than with the one provided by the STARS of Santa Barbara wine tasting.

The STARS series is staged by Ian Blackburn’s wine education outfit, Learn About Wine.  Blackburn is a wine educator who offers a Nebuchadnezzar full of palate-expanding classes and wine tasting events in Southern California all year.  His events are typically dressy affairs held in elegant surroundings and offering a huge array of top-quality wines for sampling.  He puts a lot into each of his events, so it's likely you'll get a lot out of them.

The 10th Annual STARS of Santa Barbara event is set for Wednesday, January 23, 2013 from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m.  The event is once again slated for the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.  Tickets start at $59 for general admission, $95 VIP ticket that includes early admission.  Those prices may rise as the event fills up to its capacity of 150 attendees.

If you are familiar with the Santa Barbara County wine scene, you’ll no doubt recognize many of the names on the list of participants:

STARS of Santa Barbara 2013 Participating Wineries:

Alma Rosa
Andrew Murray
Clos Pepe
Flying Goat
Grassini Family
Hillard Bruce
Jaffurs Wine
La Fenetre
Liquid Farm
Refugio Ranch
Reeves Ranch
Sanford Winery
Santa Barbara Winery
Silver Wines
Star Lane Estate
Zaca Mesa

Monday, October 8, 2012

Provenza Tenuta Maiolo Lugana Bianco, Lombardia 2010

Santa Barbara’s Olio e Limone restaurant is a favorite place to hit when I’m anywhere near the downtown area.  The Italian food is great, the service is top-notch, the setting is quiet and the wine list is loaded with some fantastic choices.

It was just a short stop on a trip home from Los Olivos when I tried an Italian wine from Lugana.

Lugana is a white wine area in Italy’s Lombardy region.  In the northwest part of the country, Lombardy is landlocked, but has the benefit of a number of lakes to offer a cooling effect in the vineyards.  Lugana, in fact, is located at the south end of Lake Garda, where the clay soil is loaded with minerals.

All the wine made in Lugana is white, and 90% of it must be made from the Trebbiano di Lugana grape.  This may be a variant of Trebbiano, or a completely different grape - there seems to be some confusion on the topic.  It makes a fairly full-bodied wine which is said to age quite well in the cellar.

The Lugana I had was a 2010 wine from Tenuta Maiolo, an $11 offering by the glass.  It shows color beautifully, has a nose dominated by salinity and minerals and tastes of lemon curd and rind.  That lemon peel flavor lasts into the finish.  The acidity is fantastic.  It should pair well with any types of seafood, but I had mine with bread, oil and olives and it was a winner in that simple setting.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Rhone Rangers Los Angeles 2012

"From out of the west with the speed of light and a hearty ‘hi-yo Cinsault’..."

There was no clatter of hooves beating upon the dusty pavement of downtown Los Angeles, no fiery steed, no faithful Indian companion.  There were SUVs revving at the traffic light, parking lot attendants and a pretty good Indian restaurant around the corner.

The Rhone Rangers did, however, ride into Los Angeles to pour their wines on June 2, 2012 at Vibiana, a former cathedral in downtown Los Angeles which has been converted into an event venue.  It’s a sunny and open space with beautiful architectural lines.

In case you are uninitiated, there is an organization of winemakers who are wild about the grapes of the Rhone Valley.  These Rhone Rangers - mostly of the U.S. West Coast - meet every so often to pay tribute to those French grapes.  It’s a tasting event like no other, where the expression of the Rhone grape varieties in other terroir is explored.

Leading Rhone Ranger Randall Grahm, of Bonny Doon Vineyards, referred to the event space, Vibiana, as a “decommissioned church” in a tweet before the event began.  It still shows up on Google Maps as “Cathedral of St. Vibiana.”  Like many of us, Mr. Grahm worships at the altar of the vine.

Grahm’s Bonny Doon VIneyards was present, with Grahm himself behind the table.  I had never run into him at a Southern California tasting event before, so it was a real treat to get a face-to-face meet with the witty, erudite, social-media-addicted, original Rhone Ranger of the California wine world.  Since he is noted for his minute-by-minute presence on Twitter, I wasn’t too surprised to catch him in what looks like mid-tweet.  I apologize that I didn't think to get another, more suitable, image in the crush of people around the Bonny Doon table.  I did get the chance to speak with him, briefly, while tasting.  His comments will be featured in an upcoming podcast on the Now And Zin Wine Report.

The Bonny Doon wines are represented by the iconic Le Cigare Volant, described by Grahm as “A blend of grenache, syrah, and mourvèdre with just a soupçon of cinsault.”   I sampled a different kind of red, the Clos de Gilroy, a Grenache/Syrah/Cinsault blend taken from various Monterey County vineyards.  It’s a fresh and vibrant red that’s perfect for summer use.  Speaking of warm weather, the 2010 Le Cigare Blanc, Beeswax Vineyard, is an exciting white blend in which Grahm tips his beret to Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Roussanne and Grenache Blanc mix it up with gorgeous expressions of fruit, minerals and acidity.  Bonny Doon‘s 2011 Vin Gris de Cigare rosé shows light cherry and strawberry flavors and aromas in a nice, dry framework.

Winemaker’s daughter Maggie Tillman poured the fruit of her father’s labor.  Bob Tillman is the grower and winemaker for the Paso Robles family outfit of Alta Colina.  Big, attention-getting wines are the rule here, like their 2010 Estate Marsanne.  It spends 18 months in oak and is not a bit shy about it.  This one would be a great choice for the holidays, with its bounty of flavor.  Their refreshing 2011 Grenache Blanc is the first varietal release they’ve done with that grape.  Big bold reds - Grenache, Mourvedre, GSM - round out the menu.

Acquiesce Vineyards, near Lodi, brought some of the more beautiful bottlings I found at the event.  Their wines are packaged in imported French bottles.  Owner and winemaker Susan Tipton says Acquiesce is Lodi’s only all-white wine winery.  There are some interesting facets to their wines.  The herbaceousness and salinity of the Grenache Blanc, the nuttiness of the Roussanne and the memory of snap peas in the Belle Blanc blend of those two grapes are delightful.  The rosé is made from Grenache, and produced like a white wine, not from a juice bleed-off.

Cornerstone Cellars of Napa Valley has a rosé that was a big hit on this warm afternoon.  Their 2011 Stepping Stone Corallina comes from their millennially-priced line. Green elements indicate the whole cluster press that was used and this pinkie is also not of the saignée method.  In fact the fruit comes from their dedicated Syrah vineyard intended only for use in the rosé

Ridge Vineyards has been doing great things with grapes since before Apple put the “i” in Cupertino.  They are probably best known for their extensive line of Zinfandels, but for this show they stayed true to the Rhone varieties.  Tart Carignan, brooding Petite Sirah and spicy Syrah all bear the mark of Rhone specialist John Olney, who took charge of the Lytton Springs winery in 1999.

Rhone specialists Curtis Winery of Santa Barbara County brought cool-climate Syrah and Grenache which display a tartness I like a lot. Their Heritage Blanc, a 60/40 mix of Viognier and Roussanne, has a lovely floral aspect and a nice acidity.

Every winery seemed to have a great, floral, aromatic Viognier on hand.  Clayhouse Wines, Adelaida Cellars and Ecluse Wines - all of Paso Robles - are standouts.  Ecluse does theirs in ⅓ steel, ⅔ oak for a full and creamy treat.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Palmina Wines of Santa Barbara County

It has always struck me that Palmina wines are made specifically to pair with food - so much so that they might seem a little less than impressive at first sniff or taste.  Their wines are made to pair with food, meaning they are made to complement the food, not show it up.  The full expression of their wines really doesn’t occur until they have been matched with food.  Steve Clifton states on the website, “Palmina is a Californian celebration of the rich, wonderful lifestyle and attitude toward food, wine, friends and family that exists in Italy

Clifton is one of the more focused of the “Cal-Italia” winemakers in the Golden State.  He and his wife, Chrystal, specialize in making wine from Italian grape varieties grown in Santa Barbara County.  They do not, he admits, try to emulate the Italian versions of those grapes.  They do try to allow their sense of place in the Central Coast to shine through.  All the while, they keep in mind the Italian perspective that wine isn’t merely a beverage, but one of the things which helps give life its meaning.  Wine is “an extension of the plate” at Palmina.

The wines of Palmina are notable for their acidity, a must when pairing wine with food.  Their flavors are delicious without overwhelming the palate.  The food is the star in Clifton’s philosophy, wine is the supporting actor.

I had the pleasure of experiencing quite a full tasting of Palmina wines at the Wine Warehouse tasting event on April 24, 2012 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles.  I don’t usually have food at large wine tasting events, but this time I found myself drifting over to an appetizer station between samples.

The Palmina whites are great sippers on their own, but the minerality and acidity found in their Pinot Grigio, Tocai Friulano, Arneis and Malvasia Bianca almost make a food pairing mandatory.  The Malvasia Bianca, from the Santa Ynez Valley’s Larner Vineyard, is the one Palmina white that displays a nose and palate that might compete with food.  The floral element in this one is enormous and beautiful.

The Botasea Rosato di Palmina is a beautiful pink blend of Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo.  It is not produced in the saignée method, where juice is bled off in the process of making a red wine.  All the fruit for this rosé was picked especially to make this wine.  It’s nice and dry, with a light cherry flavor that could beckon spring on its own.

As for the reds, Palmina’s Dolcetto is light and breezy, the Barbera offers a light touch of smoke and the Nebbiolo is lightweight yet tannic.  Alisos is a blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Merlot.  It was the first wine made by Palmina, in 1997.  The wine is produced by allowing some of the Sangiovese grapes to dry and become raisins.  They are then vinified and blended with the previously vinified wine.

If you find you really need a wine that packs its own punch, Palmina’s Undici has a big nose of smoke and chocolate-covered cherries.  The Sangiovese fruit comes from the Honea Vineyard, and there are traces of Malvasia Bianca in the mix.  The Nebbiolo from the Sisquoc Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley offers a huge expression of fresh cherries and an array of spices that would fill a spice rack.  TheStolpman Vineyard Nebbiolo has great grip and a palate based in cherry and layered with a host of other delicacies.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Bridlewood Blend 175

The Bridlewood winery is on the east side of the Santa Ynez Valley, about 30 miles north of Santa Barbara.  It’s a white, Mission-style structure with a red tile roof - the kind so popular back down Highway 154 in the Mission city.  Bridlewood's winemaker, David Hopkins, has 20 vintages behind him and he works for E & J Gallo, who own Bridlewood  The label of Blend 175 states that the wine was bottled at their winery in Healdsburg.

Blend 175 sets a modest alcohol number - just 13% - and I bought it at a grocery store in Los Angeles for $15.

Blend 175 is made up of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel.  The winemaking crew tasted through blend after blend after blend, and the 175th blend was the winner.  Whether that’s true or apocryphal, I don’t know.  It makes a nice paragraph on the label, though.

The wine’s color is medium-dark ruby with some purpling around the edge.  Hopkins likes to "follow the fruit," and he certainly does so here.  The nose shows a truckload of fruit - blackberry and blueberry - in a straightforward attack on the olfactory.  There’s a bit of alcohol upon opening the bottle, and that shows up on the palate as well.  I thought that was a bit odd considering the wine carries a reasonable alcohol number.

After it opens up the alcohol burns away and the fruit is gorgeous, dark and lip-smacking with the Syrah showing its spice and the Cabernet letting its graphite speak.  Not too much here from the Zin except a very slight hint of brambles coming through. the wine's texture becomes darker on the second and third nights after the bottle was opened.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Pomegranate Chardonnay

A company in Santa Barbara, California is offering a tour that involves two tasty and popular treats mashed up into one. is promoting a wine and cupcakes tour.

The stops at wineries in Santa Barbara wine country would be enough to get most people on the shuttle van, but when you throw in a cupcake tasting, there aren't too many who could resist.

The day-long tour includes lunch at a Santa Ynez Valley winery, wine tastings and cupcake tastings.  The cupcakes are actually billed as the star of this show, and are produced by a wine country company called Enjoy Cupcakes, which serves the sweet treats out of a restored vintage travel trailer.

The company's wine-infused cupcakes include favorites like Pomegranate Mango Chardonnay, Citrus Sauvignon Blanc and Chocolate Blackberry Syrah.

The wine and cupcake tour is $125 per person, with a discount for groups of six or more.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Avalon California Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Avalon Winery makes two Cabs - and that has been it until recently.  They say they have now released a new Merlot.  There is already a Napa Valley Cab and this one, the California blend.

The notes from winemaker Alex Cose indicate that Avalon mixes 81% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Merlot grapes from different vineyards in Mendocino, Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Alexander Valley, and Lodi.  The wine shows a restrained 13.8% abv.  Aging occurs during 18 months in French and American oak with malolactic fermentation occurring there.

The color of this Cab is medium dark, with light showing through even at the core.  On the nose - after a swirl - the dark cherry aromas immediately give way to a cherry cola aspect.  There is a slight smokiness and some spicy notes come through as well.  I guessed there was Merlot involved from the moment I smelled the wine.

The taste is juicy and fairly tannic.  It’s nice and dry without too much puckering of the mouth.  The wine is dark and earthy on the palate, with a touch of graphite accenting the dark cherry and plum fruit flavors.  After a little time in the glass, flavors of cassis become the dominating profile.  This is particularly true two and three nights after opening.  The finish is a little shorter than I would like.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Oreana Verdelho

That calamari and scungilli salad at Fabrocini Beverly Glenenticed me again.  I won’t bore you with more raving on that subject, (see here, and here) but I will tell you about the wine I had with it.
Oreana Winery is in Santa Barbara - not the wine country around Santa Barbara, but right downtown.  It’s one of the stops on the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail.  Housed in a converted garage, Oreana’s cement floor tasting room may not land them in House Beautiful, but it really fits in with the slightly funky vibe of downtown Santa Barbara.

Verdelho is a Portuguese grape, not to be confused with the Spanish Verdejo.  There’s a rich, floral nose here and a palate that’s full and tropical.  Guava and pineapple emerge from the mix.  The winery recommends pairing it with spicy Asian cuisine and sushi.  I’ll throw my two cents in and say it was great with the seafood salad, too.

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. - 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 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.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


California Wine Festival

What is billed as California's most popular wine festival occurs July 15 - 17, 2010 by the beautiful Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara.  The California Wine Festival will show off hundreds of the state's best reds, whites, pinks and sparklers along with food served by local chefs, artisan breads and cheeses, grilled meats, fruit and more.  Here's how the festivities line up:

Thursday, July 15
A tapas and wine tasting event from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. at De La Guerra Adobe Courtyard.  $49 advance, $55 gate

Friday, July 16th
Sunset rare and reserved wine tasting from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m.  $99 advance, $125 gate

Saturday, July 17th
The main event - the beachside wine festival from 1:00 - 4:00 p.m.  There's an 11:30 a.m. entrance for VIP/press/trade.  Every wine region in the state will be represented by hundreds of wineries pouring their wines.  There will be plenty to nosh on and live entertainment will keep the day interesting.  $65 advance, $75 gate

A VIP All Event Gold Pass offers the whole three-day experience at a discount, only $179.

The festival has been well-received by those who have attended in the past, and the event schedule certainly promises to be a lot of fun for those able to attend the full three-day schedule.  Even if you can only make it to Santa Barbara for the Saturday tasting, it sounds like a lot of fun for wine lovers.

Last Year
Last year's California Wine Festival was a great time for all concerned.  Exhibitors, vendors and guests all seemed to revel in the various pleasures laid out before them, not least among them being the fantastic Santa Barbara day.  When people all over the country think of what their "perfect summer day" would be, this day could be used as the example - clear blue sky, sunshine galore and just on the warm side of mild.  It could not have been better.

We took Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner from Burbank to Santa Barbara, avoiding all the hassle of the drive, the freeways, the parking and the necessity of a designated non-imbiber.  Neither of us had felt so free and unencumbered in ages.  We heartily recommend it.

The train station in Santa Barbara is right in the middle of the downtown area, and just a short trolley ride down Cabrillo Boulevard from the site of the festival.  The peaked white tents beckoned from afar and we entered without delay with our VIP tickets.  Later we could see that many people were in quite a line outside waiting to get in.

Denise threw herself into the condiments and gourmet items that were in wild abundance.  She busied herself with little tastes of fruit, cheese, olive oil and Balsamic vinegar while I strolled the grounds sampling the wonderful wines that were available about every ten feet or so.

Here are some of my favorites from last year's event:

Rosa D'Oro Vineyards, Lake County
Their dry Muscat Canelli was very aromatic and crisp.  The Rosato had a wild nose and a fabulous palate.  It was wine, Italian style, at 70% Sangiovese and 30% Barbera.

Michael-David, Lodi
Petite Petit was 100% Petite Sirah with a big, luscious nose full of dark fruit and oaky notes.

Ortman Family Vineyards, Paso Robles
The Sangiovese had a very fruity nose and rested very gently on the palate.

Oreana Winery, Santa Barbara
Oreana's Verdelho is the Portuguese version of the Spanish verdejo.  The nose was obscured by the barbecue stand nearby, but it was nice and easy to drink with a citrus profile.  Crisp.

Cambria, Paso Robles
The Katherine's vineyard Chardonnay was understated and crisp, the lighter of the two Chards they were pouring.

Municipal Winemakers, Santa Barbara County -
It was really nice seeing Dave Potter. Always nice to taste his wine, too!
His dry riesling is nearly as sweet as his sweet Riesling.  Both are noteworthy.  His bright red Grenache/Cinsaut/Syrah blend is a wine I like better every time I taste it, if that's possible.

Lone Madrone, Paso Robles
Here's one you don't see everyday: Picpoul Blanc.  It was full of minerals and a bit sour, like lemon.  Unusual but nice.  I'm a big fan of their La Mezcla, a blend of Grenache Blanc and Albarino.  Quite acidic and very unusual, the minerals really stand out and help shape a wonderful crispness.

Laetitia Vineyards, Arroyo Grande
Wow.  I had not ever tried their Tempranillo.  It was possibly the biggest taste from a Tempranillo in my experience.

Bridlewood Estate Winery, Santa Ynez
A really great syrah.

Santa Barbara wine retailer Winehound had a boothwhere they were pouring Qupe Dark Ride Syrah.  It was dark and earthy.

That was a lot of tasting for one afternoon!  I thoroughly enjoyed it and can't wait until the 2010 event.

After getting back near the Amtrak station, we found ourselves with quite a bit of time to kill before our train was due.  We made the mistake of stopping into Eladio's for a quick bite and a little resting.  It was some of the worst food we have ever been served.  The skewered shrimp were cold, as were the nachos.  Nachos!  They couldn't get nachos right!  The cheese was not completely melted and the sliced chiles that were sprinkled about on top tasted just awful.  What a disappointing meal.

Fortunately, dinner on Stearn's Wharf was at the other end of the spectrum.  The Harbor is as upscale as the Wharf gets, and they do a good job of maintaining their fine dining image despite the beachy surroundings.  I had the ahi tuna steak on a bed of wasabi mashed potatoes with the Sanford Chardonnay.  The wine paired with the dish perfectly.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Celebration of Harvest

COH2005mediumThe Celebration of Harvest in Santa Barbara County is an October tradition - a time when the vintners in this amazing winemaking region take a little break from harvesting their fruit and roll out some of their wares for tasting in a centralized location.  Rancho Sisquoc Winery will serve as the scenic locale again this year.  Celebration of Harvest occurs Saturday October 10, 2009 from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.  The entire four-day weekend, though, features special events and tastings at many of the individual wineries.  Tickets to the Celebration cost $65, $25 for designated drivers, and there is a "Vintners' Visa" ticket for $35 that includes events at a selection of other wineries over the four-day weekend.

Beyond these events there are tons of other activities at nearly all the wineries.  Check out the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association for all the juicy details.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tasting Room Notes: Summerland Winery

Why had we never gotten off the 101 freeway in Summerland before? Maybe it's because when we pass that way we're usually headed for either Santa Barbara or the Santa Ynez Valley, and it seems we should just press on and get where we're going. Maybe it's because we never knew there was a really great little highway grocery there. Maybe it's because we never knew about the Summerland Winery.

Well, this time we were headed for Pismo Beach, so it was actually perfectly positioned as a stopping place. We needed to pick up a few things at a market of some sort. The Summerland Winery just happened to be there, in the right place at the right time.

The tasting room is in a tidy little building in the seaside community of Summerland, between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. There's a bay window upstairs and a flag adorns the front, flapping in the cool ocean breeze. I had imagined it would look more like a boutique and less like a tasting room inside, but I was wrong. Ample bar space beckoned, so I picked up a tasting menu and got started.

I had just sampled Summerland's wares at the Ojai Wine Festival a week earlier - my pourer recognized me - so I knew there were good wines here. The tasting fee is $8, $12 to keep the glass.

Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Barbara County, 2007 - A pungent aroma leads to tropical flavors and grapefruit. The acidity is quite nice, so I would guess it's a good wine to have with food. It's very crisp and refreshing, so you could just sip it if you like.

Pinot Gris, Santa Barbara County, 2008 - More tropical flavors, and a nice clean finish.

Chardonnay, Rancho Santa Rosa, 2007 - 10 months in oak left its mark on this one. It's very oaky, although with a clean taste and finish.

Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, 2007 - Brilliant aromas and flavors in this one - black cherry and clove all over the place. This is not subdued - it's a very lively Pinot Noir.

Grenache, Paso Robles, 2006 - This medium-bodied Grenache surprised me. It tasted a lot spicier than I expected. Fairly nice, but I can think of several other Grenaches I like better.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, 2006 - The black currant profile is very strong here. French oak for 14 months gives a nice effect, but the wood is rather restrained.

Orange Muscat, Santa Barbara County 2008 - This dessert wine isn't sappy, it's nice and crisp in fact. The sweetness is there, it simply isn't overdone.