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

Monday, May 29, 2023

Scouting Around For A Good Rosé

Every now and then, the wine world reveals a surprise to us. The bottle of rosé I opened boasted nothing more than a "California" appellation on the front label. That is usually a red flag indicating that the grapes were grown in subpar regions. On the back label, though, was a note that it was bottled in Santa Maria, CA. That happens to be one of my favorite growing regions in the state. I let my hopes get up. 

Scout Wild Rosé was founded by former lawyer Sarah Shadonix out of North Texas. Scout Wild Wines is located in Santa Maria. The wine tastes so good that I just knew there were Santa Maria grapes in there - I just knew it.

A bit of research revealed that the grapes were - as the label touts - sustainably grown, vegan friendly and gluten free. They were harvested from a place called L&P Ranch - which I could not locate - and Joe Soghomonion Farms, of Fresno. 

It was a downer to find that this wine was made from Central Valley grapes, only because I like to think I can make deductions about wines like the big sommeliers do. At least I pinpointed one of the grapes - the wine is 48% Grenache. The 48% portion of Merlot escaped me completely and the 4% splash of Valdiguié - which they call Napa Gamay - never entered my mind. Alcohol rests at 13.9% abv and it sells for $19.

This wine is a pretty light pink in the glass and has a nose which shows ripe red strawberries and cherries. A slight savory note floats in and out on the sniff. The palate is delicious - full of bright fruit - and has a bit of heft to it, along with a good slap of minerality.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Central Coast Syrah - Qupé

Qupé specializes in growing and making Rhône-style wines from the Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Maria, the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard in the Edna Valley and the Ibarra-Young Vineyard in Los Olivos.  The former is farmed sustainably while the other two are farmed organically.  They have been at it since 1982.

If you have never heard of them, Qupé is pronounced "kyoo-pay" and is the Chumash Indian word for California poppy.  The winery explains that the Chumash are native to California's Central Coast and Channel Islands.  The California poppy is the state flower.

Founder Bob Lindquist sold the Qupé brand in late 2018 to Vintage Wine Estates, although the deal reportedly allowed him to hang on to his library wines and sell them.  After he was unexpectedly shown the door as consultant and winemaker by Vintage, he formed Lindquist Family Wines as his new label.  The company also includes Verdad, the winery run by his wife Louisa Sawyer Lindquist as well as their collaborative Sawyer Lindquist Wines.

For the 2018 Central Coast Syrah, 10% of the grape clusters were fermented while still on the stems.  This adds a bit of "greenness" or a savory aspect to the wine.  Aging took place over 16 months in French oak barrels, 15% of which were new.  The grapes were sourced from various vineyards located in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties as well as Paso Robles.  Alcohol comes in at 13.5% abv and it retails for $20.  I got mine on sale for $17 at the Whole Foods Market in Malibu.

The wine is dark, and smells that way.  The nose is dominated by blackberry and plum aromas, with a dash of violets thrown in for good measure.  There is also a certain set of fragrances that comes from the oak - spices, tobacco, cedar and the like.  The palate is rich and delightful, if maybe a bit too boisterous.  What do you want from Syrah, though?  The tannins are firm and paired quite well with a glazed pork chop, duck rice and mashed potatoes.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

New Signature Wine At Musso And Frank Grill

In the heart of Hollywood, there is a restaurant which has remained a constant for more than 100 years.  Musso and Frank Grill hit the century mark in September 2019, while collecting an "Award of Excellence for a Hollywood Restaurant" from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. 

The celebration continues in 2020 with the unveiling of a new signature red wine now being served to diners, the 2018 Peake Ranch Syrah.  The new vintage was blended by Musso and Frank General Manager and Wine Director Andrea Scuto.

The press release states that the wine overflows with "the very same blend of warmth, sophistication, tradition, variety, and delectable flavour that have made Musso & Frank Grill such an iconic Hollywood destination for the past 100 years."

The restaurant reports that Musso's 2018 Peake Ranch vintage was marked by the Santa Ynez Valley's "cool temperatures in the late summer and early fall, which provided ideal weather to allow the fruit to have great concentration, with healthy acidity and a good depth of flavor."  The wine was vinified by star winemaker Kevin Law out of Challen Vineyard in Santa Maria.

I have yet to try it, but Mr. Scuto describes the new wine as deep red with purple reflections, shiny in the glass, with a powerful nose showing a burst of black fruit and purple flowers accented by cardamom and baking spices imparted by the French oak barrels used to elevate the wine.  Scuto says, "The attack on the mouth of our new Peake Ranch Syrah is supple, and confirms the deep core of black fruit, releasing on the mid-palate floral notes and the precious spice accents perceived at the nose. Tannins are sweet and smooth, working together with the natural acidity of the Syrah, to give great structure to the wine in order to pair it with our famous steaks."

The new 2018 Musso & Frank Syrah Peake Ranch is available only at the restaurant, by the bottle ($70) or by the glass ($15) - as long as limited supplies last.  It's perfectly okay to have a glass of it in addition to their world-famous martinis.

Musso and Frank will expand their commitment to fine wine with a new, temperature-controlled wine display, to be featured within one of three new private rooms currently under construction next to Musso's and slated to open to the public April 2020.  The new private rooms will be the first additions to the restaurant since 1955.

A bit of history:  Founded in 1919 by Joseph Musso and Frank Toulet, the Musso & Frank Grill was sold in 1927 to a duo of Italian immigrants named Joseph Carissimi and John Mosso (a coincidentally similar name).  Today, Musso's is owned and operated by the families of Mr. Mosso's three granddaughters: John and Cathy Echeverria, their son Mark Echeverria and his wife Tina, Steve and Anne Jones, and Richard and Kristen Kohlmeyer.  There's also a new coffee table book entitled "The Musso & Frank Grill," chronicling the landmark venue's history.  The book is now available here or on site at Musso & Frank.
The restaurant has been a favorite watering hole for thousands of Hollywood stars, writers, directors, and studio executives, starting with the one and only Charlie Chaplin.  On a less stellar scale, they also see my wife and I from time to time. 

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Monday, February 16, 2015

For Syrah, X Marks The Spot

"It smells like dirt."  My wife took in the wine's aroma again.  "I know," I replied.   She insisted, "No, really, it smells like soil."  "That's the idea."

Denise was amazed by the aromas wafting from the bottle after I had opened the wine.  She took the bottle and had a swig.  Oh, it was a ladylike swig, but there she was, my dainty little flower, knocking back a gulp of great wine right from the bottle.  I always think that when a wine has a great nose, I could just sit and only smell it.  But maybe a wine with a great nose should make us grab the bottle and have a blast, unable to wait for niceties like glassware.  It should compel us to have a taste, right then and there.

The Santa Maria soil of Bien Nacido Vineyard is amazing.  It darkens everything that comes from it.  Pinot Noir is roughened, Chardonnay is toughened and Syrah is marked with the X.

The darkness of a wine made from grapes grown in Bien Nacido Vineyard can be overwhelming.  The grapes for Bonny Doon's 2011 Bien Nacido Syrah come from Block X, an older portion of the vineyard planted with the Estrella River Syrah clone.  The wine retails for $50 and only 463 cases were produced.  A year and a half (or so) in French oak left its mark like a line in the dirt; a tic-tac-toe criss-cross map pointing the way to buried treasure.

It's a deep, dark wine with a nose that is nothing if not intense.  Savory meets fruit as tar, tobacco and spice add complexity to plum, blackberry and currant.  The palate carries that interplay further, with that dark fruit colored a little brighter by baking spices, pepper and meat.  And the dirt of Santa Maria.

In a brief (for him) synopsis of his career with grapes, winemaker Randall Grahm writes, "Having tried my hand at Grenache in 1982, it seemed that the following year it was time to further my Rhône education with Syrah.  (I didn’t quite have the financial resources to purchase them both. There weren’t many Syrah options, so I went with Cliff Giacobine’s fruit at the Estrella River Vyd in 1983. We continued to purchase from him until the Bien Nacido Syrah came into production and became our default source for Syrah. Not a lot was understood about Syrah in the day; these vines were terribly over-irrigated, and over-cropped; the blistering hot climate of the east side of Paso tended to really efface varietal character and led to grape musts the acidity and pHs levels of which were totally out of whack."

"The ultra-consistent older Block X, planted with the "Estrella River" clone of Syrah (I suspect without any foundational evidence that it may actually be "Serine"), produces an extremely peppery, bacon-fat version of Syrah, far more consistently than modern clones."  Grahm notes, "This clone of Syrah has largely fallen out of favor in recent years, supplanted by modern clones that are beefier, darker in color, but lack the distinctive peppery spice of the proper Syrah we love from the Northern Rhône."  Hooray for dirt.  Hooray for Santa Maria.  Hooray for Block X.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Grenache And Syrah From Bonny Doon

Randall Grahm is credited with being the original Rhone Ranger, a pioneer in making wine from the grapes of the Rhone Valley, as expressed through California terroir.  His affinity for Grenache is a credit to his sensibilities, and a gift to those of us who love the variety.  His various efforts in the field of Syrah are, arguably, unmatched in California.

I don’t quote from press releases often, but in this case I will.

“Asked about this first vintage, Grahm commented, 'It was a different day in California, Rhône varieties weren’t exactly easy to come by and no one really knew what they were all about.'  He joked, 'Could Grenache actually produce a red wine?  Syrah was grown in someplace called “Côte-Rôtie.  That had to be blazing hot.' 

Grahm is set to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhone Rangers on March 22, 2013.  No one in California is more deserving of that honor.

These samples were provided by Bonny Doon for review.

Bonny Doon Clos de Gilroy 2011

The fruit used for this wine does not come from Gilroy- the California town known as garlic capital of the world - and that results in my favorite of Grahm’s many puns: “Clos, but no Cigare.”   It’s an homage to that tiny town that one can smell from the freeway.

The fruit - 83% Grenache, 7% Cinsault, 6% Syrah and 4% Mourvèdre - actually comes from nine Central Coast vineyards, largely the estate vineyard in Soledad and the Alta Loma Vineyard in Greenfield.  The fruit is destemmed and cold soaked to improve color and flavor.  Grahm calls it a cool climate Grenache with bright fruit and a hint of black pepper.

The nose is certainly bright enough, with cherry galore and a hint of tart raspberry.  The savory aspect - a hallmark of Grahm's wines - comes in the form of an almost smoky mineral shading.  On the palate, the cherry flavors are draped a little more heavily in that funky earthiness.  A minty aspect also appears in mid palate and remains on the finish.  I’m an easy touch for Bonny Doon wines anyway, but I particularly like the way this one drinks.

The winemaker notes - in Grahm's own humorous way - advise pairing with “grilled meat or vegetables, roasted poultry or the aioli platter (naturellement).”  It’s also a big hit with garlic naan from my nearby Indian restaurant.  The wine carries a 13.3% abv number, and 767 cases were produced - for wine club members.  It is bottled under a screwcap - get over it.  $18

Bonny Doon Syrah Bien Nacido X-Block, Santa Maria Valley 2009

This big, bold, 100% Syrah comes from Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, possibly the best source for grapes in the huge Central Coast AVA.  Grahm believes the Syrah clone planted in Bien Nacido’s X-Block is identical to the strain from France’s Côte Rôtie region.  The cool climate of that part of the Santa Maria Valley  allows full aromatic expression of that clone.
Even for a cool climate site, this is a cool vintage.

If Clos de Gilroy offers bright colors, this Syrah turns and runs from that.  It's dark.  Dark in color, dark on the nose - savory meat notes rival the trod-upon blackberry - and dark on the palate, with the standard Bonny Doon savory streak taken to an extreme.  There is a rather refreshing acidity, and a hint of green - possibly a result of some whole cluster inclusion in this wine.

Grahm says if you pair this wine with roasted lamb, you won’t be sorry.  Please decant, or at least let the glass sit for half an hour or so for full enjoyment.  Under the screwcap is a 13.3% abv wine, of which 843 cases were produced.  It was made for DEWN wine club members.  $42

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Another Wine Surprise From Trader Joe's Bargain Rack

I keep tasting Trader Joe’s wines that are made in Santa Maria, and I keep finding them to be excellent wines for the price point.  Comique Révolution 2010 is another that exceeded my expectations.

Produced by Santa Maria’s Central Coast Wine Warehouse - an outfit now known as Central Coast Wine Services which produces other wines available at Trader Joe’s - I gave it a try based solely on the attraction of the name “Santa Maria.”  It’s one of my favorite wine locales in California’s Central Coast.  I don’t know that the grapes are sourced there, but it does bear the mark of the Central Coast AVA.

There is very little of value on the label - just some prose and tasting notes.  The wine carries an alcohol content of 14.2% and sells at Trader Joe’s for five dollars.

The label has no information on the grape varieties used, but the Trader Joe website tells me this is a southern Rhône blend of Roussanne, Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Marsanne - grapes I don’t expect in a wine that sells at this price.  the website also mentions in a roundabout way that the Central Coast Wine Warehouse is a collective of grape growers turned winemakers.  Steve, Nicholas and Marshall Miller are the owners, while Chris Brown is the director of winemaking.

The wine’s color is a pale yellow, and the bouquet is quite inviting.  Aromas of white flowers, peaches and tropical fruit are pleasant, if not terribly forceful.  On the palate, the wine shows medium weight and bright, fresh acidity.  There are flavors of stone fruit, but the taste is centered around a vibrant minerality.  Earthy, nutty tones are at the forefront, while spices and citrus peel dart in and out during the sip.  I guess the spice is a result of oak treatment, although I could not find any technical sheet to confirm that.

As I have said before about wines of this type, it’s not knocking anybody off their feet.  But spending half a sawbuck for wine that delivers what this one does is what I call a good deal.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Winnefred Chardonnay Central Coast 2009

Winnefred Chardonnay is produced and bottled by Central Coast Wine Warehouse of Santa Maria, California. You had me at "Santa Maria," although it is not clear from which part of the Central Coast the grapes come.  I suspect not from Santa Maria.  This wine is said to retail for $13, and I bought it at Trader Joe's for $3.  It is sold at the chain's California stores.

The label is full of hokey-jokey content disguising their tasting notes in the framework of a pizza eating contest.  They even recommend the wine be paired with pizza.  The Trader Joe sales page continues the "fun" theme and recommends pairing with salad or goat cheese.

It has an extremely golden hue in the glass, but the nose isn't very forthcoming - not even the essence of oak, which one might expect in a cheap Chardonnay.  The palate displays an oaky character, but not overdone.  The acidity is bracing and the flavors of pears, pineapple and baking spice meet head on with a forceful minerality.  The mid-palate doesn't make a lot of noise, and the finish is a little weak, but for the price, it's hard to complain too much.  The acidity alone makes it worth a try.  This wine isn't going to knock you out, but it won't prompt a Danny Thomas spit-take, either.

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Monday, October 24, 2011


Row Eleven Vinas 3 Pinot Noir

Another movie, another wine at The Wine Bar.  The bar next to the AMC theater in the Westside Pavilion in Los Angeles makes it desirable to show up a bit early for the film.

In the image, that blur of light in the upper left corner is the display which shows how long until the next movies start.  That's a good idea, because the wine list at The Wine Bar is not what you'd expect at a mall.

This time, waiting for "Senna," the documentary about the Brazilian Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna, I had the Row Eleven Pinot Noir, Vinas 3.  I had sampled this wine at a tasting event a couple of years ago, and was impressed then.  I'm still impressed.

Row Eleven makes three Pinots, one from the Russian River Valley, one from Santa Maria and the Vinas 3, which is a blend from vineyards in Sonoma, Santa Barbara and Monterey Counties.

The '08 Vinas 3 blends not only different vineyards, but different Pinot Noir clones - Pommard, Dijon and Martini, for the wine geeks among us.  I had the '09 this time, and I am making the assumption that it is blended in the same configuration.

It's $11 by the glass and turns in a 13.9% abv number, which is fairly old world for California Pinot.  The nose shows cranberry and smoke, with a very lovely expression of earth.  Smooth, full and rich in the mouth, flavors of red fruit are abetted by mocha and a nice minerality.  The tannins are nice and round, so there are no jagged edges on the palate.  It may not be indicative of any one terroir, but it's a great way to pass twenty minutes or so until the movie starts.

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Thursday, June 2, 2011


The Chardonnay Symposium

If you feel like a trip to California's Central Coast wine region, and you like Chardonnay -  here's an event you should try to attend.  The Chardonnay Symposium, July 23rd in bucolic Santa Maria, California.

The Chardonnay Symposium is a full day devoted to the Chardonnay grape and the wines made from it.

Two educational panels kick off the festivities - one at the famous Bien Nacido Vineyard and the other atTantara Winery.  They're followed by a luncheon at Au Bon Climat Winery and then a Chardonnay Grand Tasting event at Byron Vineyard and Winery, where you'll taste delightful examples of Chardonnay from Oregon, Sonoma and the California Central Coast.

Guest speakers include Wine Enthusiast writer Steve Heimoff and wine expert Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible.

For Chardonnay lovers, this a "can't miss" event.  Tickets cost $125 for the full day and $65 for the Grand Tasting event only.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Deep Sea "Sea Flower" Dry Rosé

A nice, balmy evening - somewhat the rarity in the Los Angeles neighborhood called Laurel Canyon - lured the Now And Zin family out onto the deck for an after-work wine.  We knocked off the remainder of a white blend, then cracked open the Deep Sea "Sea Flower" Dry Rosé.
This Central Coast pink is produced by Conway Vineyards of Santa Maria, CA.  The Rancho Arroyo grapes - 67% Syrah, 33% Grenache - yield a deep pink color and a nose of strawbery gummy bears and roses.  On the palate are tons of strawberry and raspberry in a very jammy concentration.  There's a mouthful of acidity, too. That means you can expect good results when serving this wine with food.  There were only 372 cases produced.  If you can't find it there is a new vintage just released.  I tasted the 2009 Sea Flower recently and found it to be just as tasty and mouth-watering as the '08.
Ed.- I didn’t get a bottle shot while we were enjoying it, and the image shown is all I found the next day.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Pancake Cellars Big Day White

If you are a fan of wine labels depicting funny cartoon images, cuddly pets or goofy lettering, then you and I do not share that particular sensibility.  The marketing ploy of labeling a wine with strong, identifiable imagery is understandable – it's a big wine world out there.  It's hard to make one product stand out in a crowded marketplace.  An eye-catching label is one way wine marketers hope to make their wines jump off the shelves and into your shopping basket.

I've never liked the feeling of being “worked,” and it makes me feel that way when I see a wine label decorated with a big cartoon grape stomping his way down a city street like a smiling, waving Godzilla.  The thread that ties this image to the concept described on the back label is so thin I can't even remember it now so that I can relate it to you.

Pancake Cellars Big Day White offers this ridiculous-looking label art as their way of being noticed.  The “pancake” reference goes unexplained, and for that I am grateful.

This wine is produced by Central Coast Wines Warehouse in Santa Maria, and is a blend of five different grapes: 27% Chardonnay, 24% Sauvignon Blanc, 24% Viognier, 21% Muscat Canelli and 4% Pinot Blanc.  Previous vintages have included a much heavier reliance on Sauvignon Blanc that in the 2009.  It's sold in Trader Joe's markets for a scant five dollars per bottle and holds a moderate 13.9% abv level.

Pancake Cellars is designated as being located in Santa Maria, and the wine is branded as being produced from Paso Robles fruit, so aside from the tacky labeling, things are looking good before I even crack open the bottle.

Once the bottle is open, the nose of the very pale golden wine easily gives up aromas of flowers and peach syrup.  The back label states that apples, cantaloupes, honeysuckle and lemongrass are also present, although I would only allow for the honeysuckle.

The taste is succulent and deceptively smooth at first sip.  The acidity comes along fairly late, but it does come.  There's not the sort of mineral quality I expected from a Paso Robles white wine, but a slight orange peel flavor peeks out in its place.  I'd call this wine “off-dry” and recommend it for fans of “summer sippers,” although to be honest it would probably pair fairly well with light salads and seafood.  I did try it with Denise's delicious lentil and roasted vegetable salad.  Sadly, the flavors were mostly buried by the robust nature of the food.  What did come through, though, was quite a nice match.

All in all, it's not a bad wine, but it doesn't strike me as a very serious wine.  It doesn't look like one on the shelf, either.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Riverbench Tasting Room

The Santa Maria wine country can look a little under-populated as you drive through all the vineyard land.  It's a rarity to see signs of people, in fact, and a pleasure when hospitality suddenly appears.  Located in a pretty little house on the estate, theRiverbench Vineyard and Winery tasting room sits at the northern end of the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail which winds from Los Olivos to Santa Maria.  It is one of those welcome oases of hospitality.

The Room

The tasting room was quite busy for my Saturday afternoon visit, and the staff seemed a bit harried.  There were plenty of them to go around, however, and they were very helpful and forthcoming with information about the wines they were pouring.  The pouring was handled by whoever was close-by at the time my glass was empty.  That is expedient, but I prefer to have the same person pouring all my samples.  I find it more streamlined that way and I get a better feel for the information I am given.  That said, I do understand the pourers were trying to accommodate a big crowd in the best way possible.  I do appreciate being served so quickly for each taste, even if it was by a different person each time.

The Pink

The Riverbench '09 Pinot Noir Rosé was the leadoff hitter.  This is a new release, a pink produced in the saignée method, in which the juice is bled off from the skins.  It's all stainless steel and features fun flavors of strawberry, raspberry and citrus.  It is rather full-bodied for a rosé and finishes dry, the way it should.

The Whites

The Bedrock Chardonnay 2008 was a medal winner in a couple of Southern California wine competitions.   It is an unoaked Chardonnay, but the mouthfeel is so full and round and there are so many luscious spicy notes the vats must have been made from "I Can't Believe It's Not Wood."  The tropical aspects are somewhat subdued in this Chablis-style wine and there's a guava profile that I mistook for vanilla at first.  It's a really lovely wine.  The Chapel View Chardonnay 2008 is entirely Clone 4 Chardonnay.  It has a full complement of soft, buttery wood notes and tastes tropical with a nutty edge.  The 2007 Estate Chardonnay has a light tropical flavor with a bit of toast and the best acidity of the three Chards I tasted.  You'll want to linger on the interesting finish where the guava shines.

The Reds

I really liked the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir.  The nose reminds me of Christmas, full of clove and cinnamon.  The palate features dark berries and spices.  It has a good, smokey finish, too.  TheMesa Pinot Noir 2007 brings lavender and clove to the nose and has a really soft mouthfeel.  It's a special wine.  I was given a taste of a Pinot not on their tasting menu, the One Palm Pinot Noir 2008.  This had a much earthier texture than the other two and would normally jump to the top of my list, but I honestly would have a hard time choosing one favorite from these three.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


The barrell room at Volk

When I dropped in at the Kenneth Volk Vineyards tasting room, I was met by two busloads of people who looked like escapees from a school for rodeo clowns.  Their manner of dress appeared to be specifically designed to get attention, and it worked.  The buses they arrived in were whitewashed school buses, so there was no indication as to their point of origin.  I was relieved to find the noisy bunch was egressing as I arrived, and their visit appeared to have left the tasting room crew wide-eyed and breathless.  I think they were glad the attention could now be focused on the nice, quiet wine writer.  I'm sure I looked a lot more manageable than they did.


Ken Volk founded Paso Robles' Wild Horse Winery and jumped at the chance to open his namesake winery in the Santa Maria Valley.  The winery and tasting room are located among the vineyards at the northern end of the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, which runs from Los Olivos to Santa Maria.  Volk produces wines utilizing Burgundy and Bordeaux grape varieties, and he also has a penchant for the odd, forgotten or under-appreciated grape.  So do I, so I was particularly interested in finding out about what Volk calls his "heirloom" wines.

Missed Connections

There were two disappointments on my visit to the Volk Santa Maria tasting room this day.  First, the winemaker was at his other tasting room, in Paso Robles.  Second, two of his heirloom wines - which are to be released soon - are "not quite ready," as the tasting room crew told me.  They also told me that had Volk been present, he would most surely have poured me a sample of both the Touriga National and Alicante that are in the works.  I will patiently await my opportunity to try them.

A New Friend

Happily, there were plenty of wines I could taste.  The red wines were being poured in the barrel room, but I began with the whites, which were being poured outside in the "backyard."  Jerrett, my pourer, was quite affable.  Denise was with me, and we encountered Jarrett separately.  When we were leaving, she asked me, "So how long have you known Jerrett?"  Perplexed, I told her I had just met him.  She explained that he had so many good things to say about me, she just assumed we were friends.  Well, now I guess we are.

As Jerrett introduced me to the Volk whites - all the while regaling me with the story of his involvement with Ken's company - I imagined that he must have gotten along nicely with the busloads of rodeo clowns that had just departed.  He probably gets along well with everyone.  He's that kind of guy.

Wine Tasting, The Whites

It was a perfect, sunny day for sampling some chilled white wines in the great outdoors.  I started with one of Volk's heirloom wines, the Malvasia Bianca 2008.  The fruit is from the San Bernabe vineyard in Monterey County.  It's an off-dry wine with a lot of character, smelling and tasting of lychee and flowers.  The '08 Verdelho was next.  Verdelho is a grape from the Portuguese island of Madeira.  The fruit for this wine comes from the El Pomar Junction vineyard in the Paso Robles AVA.  The wine is big in the mouth, displaying a tropical feel both on the nose and palate.  The citrus flavors turned into guava at mid-palate in a very interesting transformation.  The '07 Viognier also sports a guava profile, as well an interesting green apple flavor that is right up front.  Santa Maria Valley grapes are used for the Sierra Madre Vineyard Chardonnay 2006.  This wine has a very pungent nose that shows the influence of the wood dramatically and layers spicy notes - notably nutmeg - on top of the tropical flavors.

Wine Tasting, The Reds

Gary was pouring the red wines in Volk's big, cool barrel room.  I saw four wines on the list which immediately grabbed my interest.  The tiny grapes used in the '08 Negrette come from the Caleri vineyard near Hollister in San Benito County.  Brambly blackberry on the nose shows plenty of complexity on the palate, as the fruit joins up with leather, anise and earth in what the winemaker describes as "Syrah meets Pinot."  Volk's '05 Cabernet Franc is produced from Paso Robles fruit and shows a perfumy lavender nose along with a very nice earthiness.  It's a big, full mouthfull of plums.  The '05 Tempranillo from Starr Ranch vineyard in Paso Robles has a bright nose with a taste that makes me think of the old west, full of licorice and sagebrush.  The '04 Claret is a blend of 39% Cabernet Franc, 33% Merlot and 28% Cabernet Sauvignon.  At once it is juicy, plummy, dry and grippy with a bit of medicine bottle on the nose.

A Lot Left On The Table

There were about ten wines I didn't taste including three Pinot Noirs, a Zinfandel, a Syrah and a Petite Sirah which got compliments from several others while I was tasting.  By the way, the grounds at Kenneth Volk are perfectly suited for a picnic.  There are a couple of tables in a beautiful garden setting in front and some picnic tables in the backyard that would be suitable for a group.  Just call and make sure the rodeo clowns aren't scheduled there, too.

Monday, May 31, 2010


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

The Fruit

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

The People

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

The Wine

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Wine Pairings With Santa Maria Barbecue

Santa Maria Barbecue BrochureCalifornia's Santa Maria Valley is home to what has been called, by some, the best barbecue in the world.  The Valley's Visitor Information site has produced a booklet featuring all you need to know about the Santa Maria Valley barbecue scene.

In addition to showcasing the rich history of Santa Maria Style Barbecue, the 14-page booklet features a list of restaurants and caterers specializing in the regional culinary tradition.  The booklet also contains recipes for Santa Maria Style Pinquito Beans and Santa Maria Style Barbecue Salsa, as well as pairing suggestions from 12 local wineries.

You can send off for it and wait for the mailman to bring it, or you can download the PDF file and get that immediate gratification for which the internet age is famous.

If you'd just like to see which Central Coast wines are recommended to pair with SMV BBQ, here is that excerpt directly from the brochure.

ADDAMO VINEYARDS - 2005 Syrah or 2005 Pinot Noir

RIVERBENCH VINEYARD AND WINERY - Estate Pinot Noir or Mesa Pinot Noir

BIEN NACIDO VINEYARDS - 2007 Bien Nacido Vineyards Syrah or 2007 Bien Nacido Vineyards Pinot Noir (coming in Spring of 2010)

BYRON WINERY - 2006 Tepusquet Syrah or Clone 667 Pinot Noir

CAMBRIA VINEYARD - 2006 Tepusquet Syrah or 2007 Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir

COSTA DE ORO - 2008 Costa de Oro Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County or 2008 Costa de Oro Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County

COTTONWOOD CANYON WINERY - 2005 Bistro Syrah or 2002 Syroir (Syrah/Pinot Noir blend)

FOXEN VINEYARD - 2006 Syrah Williamson-Dore Vineyard or 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Vogelzang Vineyard

LUCAS AND LEWELLEN VINEYARDS - 2005 Lucas and Lewellen Merlot or 2004 Lucas and Lewellen Valley View Cabernet Sauvignon

TRES HERMANAS WINERY - Rosé of Syrah 2006 or Rosé of Syrah 2007

KENNETH VOLK VINEYARDS - 2006 Syrah, Nielson Vineyard or 2007 Negrette

RANCHO SISQUOC WINERY - 2007 Sisquoc Barbecue Red or 2008 Sylvaner

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Infinity Central Coast White Blend 2008

As I may have mentioned before, I'm a sucker for blends.  I love finding out what winemakers can do with a couple of beakers and a graduated cylinder.  I was in K&L in Hollywood and could not remember having ever tasted a Grenache Blanc/Viognier blend.  I like both varietals a lot, and was immediately curious to find out what would happen when the grapes met.

My curiosity was further piqued to find that Infinity is a Central Coast wine. I thoroughly believe in exploring wines produced near me.  This takes me back time and time again to the Central Coast, to enjoy its wines and beauty.

Infinity is a blend of 60% Grenache Blanc and 40% Viognier.  It pours up a very pale golden color in the glass, with just a hint of color.  It looks very pure.  The nose is alive with wet driveway and grapefruit peel, even when fully chilled.  Tropical notes on the palate get a knife-edge assist from an assertive mineral streak and that citrus that stays in play.  The acidity seems nice enough at first but it drops off rather quickly; I'd like to see a little more acidity before speculating on the food pairing possibilities.  It's a great sipper, and may serve well in non-demanding food situations.  The finish sports a medium-long, last taste of the stones and citrus that dominate the wine's flavor profile.  My only quibble is the acidity, but with aromas and tastes like the ones offered here, I'd feel ashamed to complain too loudly. 

Winemaker:  La Fenetre

Varietal:  Grenache Blanc, Viognier

Appelation:  California > Central Coast > Santa Maria

Vintage:  2008

Alcohol Level:  13.5%

Price:  $10

Acquisition disclaimer:  I bought this wine myself.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Tasting Notes: Red Car Wines

It's been about ten days since I went to the tasting of Red Car Wines at the Wine House in West Los Angeles. I suppose I've been a little bit busy, but I want to post my thoughts on these very nice wines before the memory becomes any more distant.

Carrol Kemp and Richard Crowell, co-owners of Red Car, were pouring their wines for a rather sizable number of tasters. Kemp, by the way, is owner/winemaker. The winery is located in Santa Maria, while they do business out of Culver City. Five wines were featured. From what I picked up by eavesdropping on tasters, it appeared the wines received a mostly favorable review.

Trolley Pinot Noir 2007 - Deep purple with a lavender nose; black pepper and leather come through very nicely. Good acidity and a full mouthfeel.

The Aphorist Pinot Noir 2007 - A fruitier nose than the first wine; very mellow taste full of berries and earth. Sonoma Coast grapes.

Heaven & Earth Pinot Noir 2007 - Sonoma Coast fruit again. The nose seemed very obscured to me. The palate featured soft leather and violets.

Tomorrowland Syrah 2007 - Sourced from Sonoma County, this one had a pleasantly odd nose; really earthy and musky flavors and aromas.

The Fight Syrah 2006 - Central Coast grapes; inky color and a blasting fruit sensation on the nose. The flavors are dark and a bit acidic, but it works very well. Coffee and leather, dark flavors.