Showing posts with label Santa Ynez Valley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Santa Ynez Valley. Show all posts

Monday, May 20, 2024

Vermentino From The Heart Of Santa Barbara County

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

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

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

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

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. 

Friday, June 12, 2020

Blood Of The Vines - I Want Your Blood!

Pairing wine with movies!  See the trailers and hear the fascinating commentary for these movies and many more at Trailers From Hell.  It seems we are still safer at home.

As we do every so often with the Trailers From Hell gang, we take a look at vampires.  It's right that someone should, since they can't do it themselves.  Have you ever seen a vampire in a mirror?  Well, there ya go.  Besides, a fang dripping blood is a great way to introduce a red wine pairing.

One of the films with which we are pairing wine this week is the first Iranian vampire western - I'll let that sink in for a moment.  The 2014 classic A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was made by an Iranian-American woman and shot in the Kern County town of Taft, California.  Taft has a history all its own, which includes a string of previous names including Moron and Siding Number Two.  The town has also provided the backdrop for other films, like Five Easy Pieces, Thelma and Louise and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.  There were no vampires in those films, though.

Comparisons to Spaghetti Westerns and vampire classics like Nosferatu come easily.  The Girl With No Name wears a chador, basically a Persian cape.  She's a bit of a loner - you get that way when you kill anyone who comes home with you.  She takes no shit from anybody but does not chomp down on a cigar stub, a la Eastwood.  She skateboards.  She has a soft spot for a certain Middle Eastern lug.  She's the vampire with a heart of gold.  What will she drink?  Besides blood?

The lady will have a Shiraz, of course.  Syrah, if you like, but the city of Shiraz may have been the center of Iranian winemaking when there still was such a thing.  Booze was made illegal in Iran in 1979, so their Prohibition has lasted a lot longer than ours did.  Australia's Mollydooker makes a Shiraz called The Boxer, which is also the base wine for their Miss Molly Sparkling Shiraz, if you want some bubbles with your blood.

In 1997's Habit, parallels are drawn between the lives of vampires and drug addicts.  You could laugh it off by calling it The Girl Can't Help It, or She's Gotta Have It, or So I'm Dating a Vampire.  Hot sex isn't so much fun when it's paired with a blood donation.  Speaking of pairing...

The Habit wine company is run by Jeff Fischer out of Santa Barbara County.  He drains the blood from grapes grown in the Santa Ynez Valley and Happy Canyon.  We'll excuse him for the insensitivity of calling his wine club The Fix.  Like the gal in the movie, he just can't help himself.

And now, it's Hammer Time!  1970's Taste the Blood of Dracula was Hammer Films' fifth Drac flick and the fourth to star Christopher Lee as the count himself.  Mixed into the swirling broth of blood-sucking, death and reanimation is some good, old-fashioned revenge animus.  If you could pick on whose bad side to land, it should not be Dracula's.

Pairing a wine with Dracula is fairly simple.  Look to the east, where daylight breaks and drives vampires back into their coffins.  Eastern Europe, specifically Romania and Moldova, has a grape for the ghastly.  Feteasca Neagra is a red grape which Transylvania Wine - you read that right - turns into a blood-red sip branded as Castellum Dracula, unoaked of course.  They also offer spirits along the same lines.

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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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Thursday, November 21, 2019

SBC Dessert Wine, From Santa Ynez Valley

This bottle of dessert wine had been lying about for a couple of years, since Denise and our friend Guido landed at the Casa Dumetz tasting room in Los Alamos.  I had tried it back then, liked it, but never got around to popping the cork on the one we brought home.

Sonja Magdevski is a self-described journalist-turned-winemaker, although that journey has spanned her years.  She told me in 2017 that she started with a small patch of grapevines, before having a revelation.  While trying to put some blends together a couple of years ago, Magdevski says she discovered that she was trying to do something the fruit "didn't want to do."  She then realized that "you can't control nature."  She decided to concentrate on varietal wines, often single-vineyard efforts that showcase the diversity of Santa Barbara County's various climates and terroirs.

Magdevski says she sources such a small amount of grapes that "the fruit has to be great."  As for working in an area which sports at least 50 different grape varieties, she said "I can't even name 50 grapes."  She produces a very limited amount of wine – most of which is sold through their tasting room in Los Alamos.

The 2013 Casa Dumetz Late Harvest Viognier is from her ground, grapes, grit line.  It was made from grapes grown in the Estelle Vineyard in Santa Barbara County's Santa Ynez Valley.  Put simply, the wine rocks.  It is sweet, but not cloying, with earthy apricot and floral elements.  Its nose shows a full blast of stone fruit, draped in a cloak of sweet oak spice.  The palate is rich and honeyed, the mouthfeel smooth and viscous, the acidity lively and ready for pairing with sweet or savory foods.  Alcohol tips at 14.3% abv and, if memory serves, the small bottle cost about $30, but it is almost certainly no longer available.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

SBC Tasting Room: Rideau Vineyards

A trip to Santa Barbara County's Santa Ynez Valley is always set off with a Rideau Vineyard visit.  Recently, we left L.A. early enough to get in our traditional stops at the bagel place in Camarillo and the Milpas Trader Joe's with the marine layer still making a cool morning of it.  Soon there will be an extra diversion when the blueberry farm starts selling those beautiful berries.  The sun broke through as we pulled into the grounds of Rideau Vineyard.

It's a Cajun French name, so I have always pronounced it as REE doh, as it would be in my native southeast Texas. At the tasting room they pronounce it rih DOH. Maybe they’re just trying to be fancy, but I'll go with what they say. They oughta know.

Iris Rideau owned the place for 20 years before selling it to some folks from Montreal in 2016.  They operate the winery with the same family-run feel as did Iris.

Here are the wines I tasted:

Rideau "Coquelicot" Sauvignon Blanc 2016 - Really fresh nose, more floral than grassy.  Easy-drinking acidity with a mineral-laden palate that is clean almost to a fault.  $26

Rideau "Sierra Madre" Stainless Steel Chardonnay 2016 - Great nose.  Such a bright, full mouth I would swear there’s oak in there, but no.  $28

Rideau Lagniappe White 2014 - Rhone-style blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Viognier with an earthy, nutty nose.  Bright minerals, anise on the palate.  Extra years of aging have made a difference.  $33

Rideau "Camp 4" Sangiovese 2015 - Earthy, cherry nose; light mouthfeel with red fruit, then vanilla.  91 Points Wine Enthusiast.  $34

Rideau Lagniappe Red 2013 - Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre.  Very earthy palate (a Rideau hallmark) with red berry flavors.  $33

Rideau "Thompson" Syrah 2014 - Very nice, fruity nose, although somewhat subdued.  Dried stem inclusion offers a green, savory quality.  $39

Rideau Estate Syrah 2014 - Big earth on the nose, fantastic red fruit and oak notes on the luscious palate.  $44

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Lacing Up For Shoestring Winery

On a recent day trip to the Santa Ynez Valley, we stopped in at Shoestring Winery. It's on Highway 246 in Solvang, close to Ostrichland USA, that weird big bird farm you may remember from "Sideways." The Shoestring tasting room is a homey barn where nice people pour samples and show off other wares, like home-flavored salt and homemade chocolates. Shoestring is a small winery, producing less than 3,000 cases per year. Twelve of their 60 acres are under vines.

Michelle poured for us on this blistering 105-degree day with the memory of times past wafting from the back. She said horse trainers founded the place and named it after their budget. There were once horses quartered in the barn, and she told us that the wooden discs on which the ponies walked are still back there, giving off a pungent creosote smell. The aroma was amplified by the heat and the fan blowing air from the back area, and reduced my ability to pick up the nuances of the nose. On other trips to the place it was not nearly so hot and the smell was hardly noticeable.

2012 Shoestring Pinot Grigio  $24 - It's the only white wine they make. Crisp and fruity, the last of an older vintage vintage.

2009 Shoestring Sangiovese $37 - This exceptional wine spent four years in “used French oak.” Cherry on the nose and palate with earthy, herbal notes.

2009 Shoestring Vino Blend $37 - A new release that blends 50% Cab, 25% Merlot and 25% Syrah. Usually, the lead grape in this wine is Sangiovese, but they got a good deal on Happy Canyon Cab grapes that year. It's earthy and rustic with great tannic structure.

2009 Shoestring Merlot $37 - Another wonderful wine, with a nose  showing vanilla, spice, and a tiny bit of smoke. The palate is marked by earthy cherry.

2007 Shoestring Syrah $37 - My favorite of the bunch, this warm climate Syrah shows blueberry and pepper on the nose, and offers a palate of good dark fruit with oak  spice notes. I had it with one of those homemade chocolates, and it was great.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Los Alamos: Casa Dumetz Tasting Room

Casa Dumetz Wines is a boutique producer of wines featuring Rhone grape varieties sourced from Santa Barbara County locations.  The tasting room on Bell Street in Los Alamos is situated right next door to their Babi's Beer Emporium, where ciders are also on tap.  Sonya Magdevski is admittedly in love with Grenache, an often misunderstood grape that is sometimes bashed for not being elegant enough. While trying to put some blends together a couple of years ago, Magdevski discovered that she was trying to do something the fruit "didn't want to do." She then realized that "you can't control nature." She decided to concentrate on varietal wines, often single-vineyard efforts that showcase the diversity of Santa Barbara County's various climates and terroirs. 
Magdevski says she sources "such small amounts that the fruit has to be great." As for working in an area that sports at least 50 different grape varieties, she says "I can't even name 50 grapes."
Casa Dumetz Rosé is all Grenache, from the Tierra Alta Vineyard in Ballard Canyon. The wine now wears the Clementine Carter label. Sonja says it's "almost dangerously good." The nose shows rose petals, strawberry and citrus. On the palate, cherry, citrus and a slightly savory tomato. Great acidity. 
Casa Dumetz Grenache Blanc was made in a mix of neutral oak and stainless steel containers. It has a nutty aroma and a savory palate that also reminds me of nuts.
Casa Dumetz Roussane hails from the La Presa Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley. I smell lilac and anise, and I taste nuts, lemon citrus. It's zippy, but has a full mouth. Neutral oak, 
Casa Dumetz White uses grapes from the Santa Ynez Valley: Roussane, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, all cofermented. The nose has a nutty, citrusy aroma and the palate is a dry, refreshing, lemon delight.
Casa Dumetz 2015 Grenache was grown in the Flower and Vine vineyard in Los Alamos, a single vineyard Grenache. Medium tint, beautiful cherry nose, earthy and elegant. The fresh and vibrant palate shows youthful cherry in a "soil-heavy" manner.
Casa Dumetz Late Harvest Viognier rocks. Sweet, not cloying, with earthy apricot and floral elements.
Casa Dumetz Pinot Noir 2014 is from Mormann Vineyard in the Sta Rita Hills. It's as elegant as California Pinot gets.
This Casa Dumetz Grenache comes from five different vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley. Medium-dark with a cherry and strawberry nose, great acidity and a mouthful of cherry and earth. Delightful.
Cider was a surprise. Grenache rosé and apples pressed together. What a lovely mix. There's a slight fizz and it's very pink and quite refreshing .

Monday, April 17, 2017

Relaxing In Santa Ynez With A Glass Of Verdelho

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.

Kalyra's Australian-born owner/winemaker Mike Brown uses grapes from California and Australia for his line. They offer quite a few dessert wines which are outstanding, but they also feature dry wines of the red, white and pink styles. I skipped the tasting menu and simply enjoyed a glass on the porch at the winery in Santa Ynez, although they also operate a tasting room in nearby Buellton.

A glass of wine on the porch can lead to all sorts of interesting talk. This time, I discovered that a joke I had heard Orson Bean tell on the "Tonight Show" in the 1970s was the same one Johnny Carson had told decades earlier on "Who Do You Trust." The joke took forever to tell, and "I can't believe it's Thursday" was the punchline.

Kalyra's 2014 Verdelho - a Portuguese variety - is light and crisp with a nose of flowers, spices and minerals. The palate is soft and easy, showing earth, pepper and stone fruit. It sells for $22.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Santa Barbara County Riesling - Why Not?

Pierre Lafond started the first winery in Santa Barbara County since Prohibition. He did that in 1962, and the second one wouldn't come for another decade. So, Lafond is a big name in Santa Barbara County wine. It's always worth a visit when the car is anywhere near Buellton.

The 2013 Lafond SRH is a lively Riesling, from a land known more for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This Sta. Rita Hills Riesling comes from the cool part of Santa Barbara County, so Riesling should figure bigger here than it does, I've always thought.

The grapes were grown in the western end of the Santa Ynez Valley, in the transverse valley that sucks in the cool Pacific air and shuttles it inland. The winery says the Sta. Rita Hills region is the southernmost cool-climate region in the northern hemisphere

If this one is any indication, a lot of winemakers are missing the boat.

The pale wine gives a beautiful apricot and peach aroma on the nose, with just a touch of gasoline coming on. I love that part of Riesling with a few years under its belt. The palate has stone fruit, too, and some truly edgy earth from the Lafond estate.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Santa Barbara's L.A. Road Trip: Rhône Varieties

Living in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is "our" wine region. A mere two hours north of L.A., Santa Barbara wine country offers nearly 200 wineries producing truly world class wines. We take a lot of road trips up there to visit Santa Barbara Vintners, so it was nice of them to return the favor and come down here.

Santa Barbara County is home to the only transverse mountain range in North America, where the wind from the Pacific Ocean is channeled right across the Santa Barbara County Appellation.  The sub-appellations - Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Maria Valley, Sta. Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara and Los Olivos District are distinct and varied. The region is also home to an unrivaled growing season with the aforementioned coastal influences giving great grapes a place to thrive.  Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Grenache, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and more are found in Santa Barbara County.

Santa Barbara Vintners brought their best to Los Angeles for four days in May. Instead of overwhelming us with close to 50 different varieties at one tasting, each day was broken down into a specific wine theme for more focus. Monday was given to Chardonnay, Tuesday Pinot Noir, Wednesday featured Rhone varieties and Thursday gave us the Bordeaux grapes.

Wednesday, May 18 - RHONE VARIETALS

Doug Margerum stole the show this time. His 2015 Margerum Riviera Rosé, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara county, are a Grenache blend, bone dry and beautiful with big cherry notes. The 2014 Margerum M5 Santa Barbara County shows ripe red fruit with an herbal quality running underneath. Margerum served it chilled and showed how great this wine would be for summer BBQs.

At the Core table, Becky Corey poured for me. She poured when I visited the tasting room, too. I don’t know if husband Dave is avoiding me, or what. Their wines are riddled with lovely floral, lavender and clove notes. The 2008 Core Mister Moreved is 94% Mourvèdre and 6% Grenache from Santa Barbara County.  It’s smooth, dark and musky.

The Fess Parker table is always a great stop. The 2013 Fess Parker Viognier, Santa Barbara County shows some fantastic earthy tones. The 2012 Fess Parker Rodney’s Vineyard Syrah, Santa Barbara County is smokey, earthy.

Ross Rankin's Imagine Wines have a non-vintage Melange that is awesome, full of spice and red fruit. The 2007 Imagine Winged Paradise Mountain Syrah, Santa Barbara County got a one-word explanation in my notes: "Silky!"

Jaffurs Wine Cellars' Craig Jaffurs poured his 2015 Viognier Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley, displaying grapefruit and flowers. The 2013 Jaffurs Syrah Santa Barbara County is elegant.

The Central Coast Group Project is headed up by Scott Sampler and he has produced a very pretty 2012 Santa Barbara County GSM and a 2012 Names Syrah from White Hawk Vineyard. He produces his wine at a collective in Buellton, the Buellton Bodegas.

Andrew Murray again has scored with his Esperance GSM. It is extremely elegant.

The 2013 Foxen Syrah shows a funky nose, and a palate that is excellent and very smooth.

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Santa Barbara's L.A. Road Trip: Chardonnay

Living in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is "our" wine region. A mere two hours north of L.A., Santa Barbara wine country offers nearly 200 wineries producing truly world class wines. We take a lot of road trips up there to visit Santa Barbara Vintners, so it was nice of them to return the favor and come down here.

Santa Barbara County is home to the only transverse mountain range in North America, where the wind from the Pacific Ocean is channeled right across the Santa Barbara County Appellation.  The sub-appellations - Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Maria Valley, Sta. Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara and Los Olivos District are distinct and varied. The region is also home to an unrivaled growing season with the aforementioned coastal influences giving great grapes a place to thrive.  Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Grenache, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and more are found in Santa Barbara County.

Santa Barbara Vintners brought their best to Los Angeles for four days in May. Instead of overwhelming us with close to 50 different varieties at one tasting, each day was broken down into a specific wine theme for more focus. Monday was given to Chardonnay, Tuesday Pinot Noir, Wednesday featured Rhone varieties and Thursday gave us the Bordeaux grapes.

Monday, May 16 - CHARDONNAY
Tuesday, May 17 - PINOT NOIR
Wednesday, May 18 - RHONE VARIETALS

Here's what I found at the Chardonnay tasting.

Jim Clendenen’s Au Bon Climat Chardonnay stole the show.  I don't remember what Clendenen's quote was about, but he said, "Only cuz I can," which is a great winemaker quote, even taken out of context. His 2013 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Nuits-Blanches Au Bouge, Santa Maria Valley has a full mouth and great flavor. The Los Alamos and Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnays are sublime.

Brewer Clifton's wines all had great acidity. Their 2012 Brewer-Clifton 3D Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills is a standout, with tropical fruit and lemon showing prominently.

Foxen's Jenny Williamson Doré was kind enough to pour for me her 2013 Foxen Chardonnay Tinaquaic Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley. A dry farmed, Wente clone with amazing salinity and minerality.

Cambria Winery's 2014 Cambria Benchbreak Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley had its lees stirred and shows some pretty funky, savory minerals.

The Cambria table also tasted me on the ‘93 Byron, still very nice with a Sherry-like taste coming out, and the ‘87 Talbot, also tasting quite nice

The 2014 Pence Sebastiano Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley shows some great, savory fruit.

Qupé’s Bob Lindquist wowed the crowd with his 2013 Qupé Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard Reserve, Block Eleven, Santa Maria Valley. It's very savory, has a lovely salinity.

The 2013 Sanger Family Chardonnay, Santa Ynez Valley is perhaps a little unusual coming from the warmest part of Santa Barbara County. Aged 16 months, the wine has a really nice, savory edge.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Tercero Wines Of Santa Barbara County

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Santa Ynez Valley Wine: Gainey Vineyard

Dan Gainey runs the wine business that was started by his father, grown grapes on land first farmed by his grandfather.  The Gainey Vineyard operation is located at their Home Ranch Vineyard in the eastern part of the Santa Ynez Valley.  They also farm the Evans Ranch and Rancho Esperanza vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills.

The Gainey land is farmed sustainably, using cover crops, compost, natural soil conditioning while eschewing pesticides and herbicides to protect their workers and the ground water.  Gainey winemaker Jeff Lebard and director of winemaking John Falcone together have four decades of experience in Napa Valley and the Central Coast.

Looking around the tasting room, it’s pretty and well stocked with wine and other related items. My wife commented on the great restroom, "literally nicest I've seen," she said. They say you can tell everything about a restaurant by the way the restroom looks. Maybe it holds true for tasting rooms, too. One of the more intriguing purchase options I noticed was the Zinfandel garlic salsa. It smells great. There’s plenty of garlic in there.

Once in the cave tasting room, we got down to the good stuff. Eric the pourer told me they are in the process of replacing the vineyards on the estate property. The Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling vines are being replanted.

The Wines

2014 Limited Selection Sauvignon Blanc  $19 - About a 30/70 split on steel and barrel fermentation, with seven month of French oak aging. Alcohol is at 14.1% abv. The flavors are clean and fruity and the grapefruit note is soft while the mouth is full.

2013 Limited Selection Chardonnay $38 - This wine uses fruit from Rancho Esperanza and Evan’s Ranch Vineyard, the Santa Ynez winery’s Sta. Rita Hills property. It is nearly fully barrel fermented - only 2% in steel - and aged in French oak for nine months, 25% of which is new oak.  Alcohol hits 14.1% abv, and full malolactic and sur lie fermentation offer this wine a full and creamy feel in the mouth. It’s a big, fat chardonnay with lots of oak. coconut and tropical flavors.

2013 Limited Selection Pinot Noir  $55 - for wine club members only. It is 100% Pinot Noir from the Home Ranch Vineyard. Aged 17 months in 27% new French oak, the alcohol is a lofty 14.1% abv.  Pepper comes across very strongly on the nose, with a palate that is full of rich raspberry and cherry, not too tart. Very fruity, but the tea notes show well and the acidity is very fine.

2013 Limited Selection Syrah  $32 - 72% Home Ranch fruit and 28% Evan's Ranch. 14.1% abv with 16 months in 45% new oak (54% French, 23% American & 23% Hungarian.)  The nose on this one shows the funk for which the Rhône variety is known, stridently.  The palate is full of dark fruit in a savory mineral setting.

2012 Patrick’s Vineyard Selection $60 - 86 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 12 % Petit Verdot and 2 % Merlot, aged 22 months in 66% New French oak. At 14.5% abv, it’s a powerhouse. The wine is  named for the owner’s son, no doubt destined to take over the winery at some point.  Muted nose, sweet/tart red fruit.

2014 Limited Selection Riesling $15 - This wine sees no oak. It comes in at a moderate 13% abv and is off-dry, with less than 1% residual sugar. The grapes were taken in an early harvest from the Home Ranch vineyard.  The nose shows a nice petrol note while a slightly sweet sensation comes on the palate. The acidity is good, but not overpowering. It’s a great sipper, and would hit it off nicely with a salad.

After the wine tasting, we crossed Highway 246 for a stop at the Vineyard House for lunch, in the cute and rustic downtown area of Santa Ynez. It had come highly recommended by a friend, so we had to try. They have a great outdoor seating area, but plenty of room indoors if the weather’s not nice. My chicken and brie sandwich was fabulous. The venison chile verde was a little soupier than I had hoped it would be, but the tomato soup is delicious, even if it was served a little less than piping hot.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Santa Ynez Valley Wine: Vincent Vineyards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2010 Sauvignon Blanc  $24  Very similar to the 2012.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wine As An Art Form - CrossHatch Wines

The back label of CrossHatch Wines gives a description of crosshatching - an artistic technique that utilizes closely spaced, intersecting lines to add shading or depth to a drawing. Santa Barbara's Carr Winery has named their new line of blends after this technique. Winemaker Ryan Carr thinks of their blending process as the winemaking version of crosshatching. The different grape varieties are harvested on the same day and fermented together, adding shape and depth, bringing out aromas and flavors not there before.

2014 CrossHatch White Blend, Santa Ynez Valley

This is a really great white wine consisting of 70% Viognier and 30% Marsanne, the alcohol is quite restrained at only 14% abv and 154 cases were made. Retail is just $17, a steal for a wine showing this kind of quality.

Viognier grapes grown at Quail Valley Vineyard come from "the heart of Santa Ynez," while the Marsanne grapes were picked in the warm east end of the Santa Ynez Valley, in Camp Four Vineyard. The grapes were co-fermented and aged six months in stainless steel tanks.

The straw colored wine has a gorgeous nose of tropical fruit and melon rind. There a suggestion of the sea in it, too. The salinity hinted at by the nose is realized on the palate - the savory aspect works with the fruitiness, not against it. Great, razor sharp acidity and a finish of lime zest make for an invigorating mouthfeel. Bring on some crab legs. Oysters. Scallops.

2012 CrossHatch Rhône Blend, Santa Ynez Valley

Sixty percent Grenache is a good start in my book and 40% Syrah is an even better second chapter. Carr only made 225 cases of this Rhône blend and it sells for $25. The grapes - both varieties - were grown in the Santa Ynez Valley's Quail Ridge Vineyard. The grapes were co-fermented with 15% whole clusters, then aged in French oak for 18 months. Twenty percent of that oak was new. Alcohol hits 14% abv.

This Rhône blend shows a medium dark hue in the glass and emits perfumed black cherry alongside earthy notes. There is a bit of funk to it, with an extreme minerality. Dark shadings on the cherry fruit mark the palate, with a rough-hewn oak spice. Nice acidity gives it a refreshing mouthfeel and the finish carries a bit of tartness, for quite a while.

2012 CrossHatch Bordeaux Blend, Santa Ynez Valley

Call this one a Bordeaux blend because there is not enough Merlot - 60% - to name it varietally. The remainder is Cabernet Franc, which plays almost as big a role in the aromas and flavors as the Merlot. 250 cases of this $28 wine were produced, with a 14% abv number. Camp Four Vineyard is where both varieties were grown, and whole cluster pressing again accounts for 15% of the grapes. Repeated also is the co-fermentation and 18 month French oak aging.

The inky wine lets no light through and smells equally dense. Black fruit, earth and a whiff of smoke play over an undercurrent of cinnamon spice. It is a very pleasantly fragrant wine. Things go just as well on the sip, with massive dark berries and plums  backed up by minerality, acidity and great tannic structure. Pair it with a juicy steak, pair it with potatoes roasted just short of burnt or pair it with leg of lamb. You can also just sip it and get along just fine.

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Cimarone Cabernet Franc Refreshes The Grape Rut

There are - as the t-shirts and bumper stickers say - so many grapes and so little time.  For this reason, I always try to avoid getting stuck in a grape rut - having the same variety over and over again.  How some people can routinely drink the same grape all the time is beyond me.  “Have you no curiosity, sir?”

Me, I tend to have a lot of Syrah and Zinfandel among the reds and a fair number of Rieslings and Sauvignon Blancs among the whites.  But I’m always ready for a change of pace.  Cabernet Franc is one grape that sometimes gets short shrift for a while.  That is not as it should be.  In fact, if I were to become a one-grape type of person, Cabernet Franc would have a great shot at becoming that grape.

Cabernet Franc is one of the more beautiful red wine grapes - imho, anyway - and I got the opportunity to sample one that was produced right in my own Southern California backyard.  The Cimarone Cabernet Franc is from the AVA named Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County.  That’s very specific, to be sure, and quite a mouthful as well.  It’s located in the eastern end of the Santa Ynez Valley, where the maritime influence is somewhat diluted by warm, sunny skies.  Happy Canyon is Santa Barbara County’s locale for the grapes of Bordeaux.

Cimarone winemaker Andrew Murray didn't get a whole lot of 2012 Cabernet Franc grapes from Three Creek Vineyard with which to work.  The warm-climate plot has always rewarded Cimarone with plenty of great Bordeaux varieties.  Even when the count may be less than spectacular, the quality is still top-notch.

the '12 vintage is Cimarone's third with the lovely Cabernet Franc grape.  The wine is aged over 27 months in French oak barrels.  80% of that wood is neutral oak.  Alcohol hits 13.8% abv and the bottle retails for $30.

Medium ruby, this wine has an absolutely fabulous nose - dense, with an almost grapey black cherry aspect leading the way. There is a bit of sage, a bit of black pepper and a bit of bell pepper, but the fruit aroma is simply lush.  Its flavors are a little more complex, with blackberry jam and cassis carrying along pepper, nutmeg, allspice and anise.  The wine is fantastic for sipping, but also deserving of a spot at the dinner table.  The tannins and acidity are both at a level that make this Cabernet Franc an inviting wine to pair with food, which is as it should be.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Twin Syrahs From Different Barrels

A tale of two Syrahs, one of which - the Zaca Mesa Syrah 2010 - I gushed about in a previous post.  Now I turn to the Zaca Mesa 2010 Mesa Reserve Syrah. 

This 100% Syrah is made from Santa Ynez Valley grapes, estate grown in Zaca Mesa Vineyard's Mesa Block, planted in 2004.  Two different clones of Syrah were used - 174 and 383, if you are an inveterate grape nerd.  I would love to be knowledgeable enough to be able to say with a straight face, "I'd like a little more of the 174 and a little less of the 383," but I usually feel fortunate to be able say with conviction that it's either a red or white wine.

I can say that I would like a little more terroir and a little less oak, though.  This baby spent 17 months in French oak, 62% of which was new.  The other ZM 2010 Syrah spent almost as much time -16 months - in French oak, but the new oak was limited to 19% in that one.  It goes to show that a little matters a lot.

2010 being a cool vintage in the SYV, there is a good bit of spice and acidity.  Despite that, the wine is fruity enough to masquerade as a warm-climate Syrah.  It hits only 13.7% abv on the alcohol meter, 878 cases were produced and it retails for $48 per bottle.

The dark wine has aroma to burn.  Blackberry fruit plays large, while a hefty whiff of alcohol gets out right behind it.  Fans of the funk will love a tar note that grows each night the bottle is open.  As for flavors, what you smell is what you get.  Big, blackberry fruit dominates the palate, but a savory sensation does creep in a bit over time.  Every one of those 17 months in oak is present here, so be prepared for plenty of wood.  The tannins provide plenty to chew on, while the acidity is juicy.  Grab a steak and throw it near fire for a few minutes.  You are now prepared to pair.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Celebrity Wine: Fergie And Dad Make Wine

Ferguson Crest is a six-acre estate winery in the quaint town of Solvang, California.  That’s in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Ynez Valley, where a lot of good wine is made.  Vintner Pat Ferguson and his daughter, Fergie Duhamel, founded the winery in 2006.  Pardon me if I divert from standard journalistic style and refer to Duhamel using the name by which she is more well-known: Fergie.

She has had quite a life so far.  The girl from Hacienda Heights was, according to Wikipedia, a cheerleader, straight-A student, spelling bee champion, and a Girl Scout.  She acted and did voiceover, then took to the stage as a singer, achieving huge fame with the Black Eyed Peas and as a solo artist.  She even has a line of perfume.  And now, with her dad, she’s in the wine business.

Besides having a strong affection for Fergie’s work, I love her for exempting me from sniffing at her “celebrity wine.”  She seems to have a genuine interest in wine, no doubt through her father’s love of it.  The publicity sheet tells me that Ferguson always had a keen interest in learning about different grape varieties and how terroir and climate affected the resulting wine.  He would hold blind wine tasting competitions at his dinner parties for family and friends, the perfect litmus test for determining one’s grape nerd status.  Anyway, I think it’s great when a rich, young celebrity helps dad realize a dream.

Winemaker and Syrah specialist Joey Tensley was brought on board in 2009 and gives his award-winning touch to the estate Syrah, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, and “Fergalicious,” a red blend of Syrah, Grenache, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The boutique winery turns out limited-production wines - their 2012 Viognier amounted to only 210 cases.  It’s a 100% varietal wine that hits 14.5% abv on the alcohol scale and rings up at $27.50 on the cash register.  No new oak was used in aging and the grapes were whole cluster pressed.

My first impression: "Damn, this is good Viognier."  I know a little Viognier "never killed nobody," but this is "Beautiful Dangerous."  Tinted gold in the glass, it's a great looking wine.  The nose gives forth some nice pear, apple and honeysuckle scents, with a little herbal essence sneaking up, late in the sniff.  But wait, as they say on the two-minute-long commercials.  There's more.  The taste is truly amazing, and I don't often say that - or even think that - about Viognier.  Super-ripe peaches, nectarines and pears are offset by a wonderful green note.  It's "Glamorous," not "Clumsy."  It's a big wine, and not just due to a substantial alcohol content.  It feels big in the mouth and drinks big going down, with plenty of acidity.  If you are "not a white wine person," you should try this one.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Confessions Of A Syrah Lover: Zaca Mesa Syrah 2010

I love Syrah.  As much as I like Zinfandel, Grenache or a good, smokey Merlot, I always open a bottle of Syrah just a little faster, in anticipation of what's inside.  I get that people may be confused by the difference between cool-climate and warm-climate Syrah, the same way they are confused by the difference between sweet and dry Riesling.  "That other one I had doesn't taste anything like this one!"

Cool-climate Syrah is what I go for, and the darker and funkier the better.   Since Riesling often utilizes a meter on the label to show the wine's relative sweetness, maybe Syrah producers should stop bitching about how nobody buys the stuff and band together to create a Syrah scale that would make it easier for the average wine shopper to tell what's in the bottle.  A Hawaiian shirt could signify the warm-climate side, and a parka the cool-climate side.  Just talking off the top of my head here - a wine think tank could probably come up with more suitable designations.

When I was offered the chance to sample a couple of Syrah wines by Zaca Mesa Winery and Vineyards, I tried to play it cool by simply replying, "Sure.  Love to,"  but the "Warmest Regards" close at the bottom of my email exposed me as a wine writer who will try a Syrah of any clime, anytime.

The Zaca Mesa Syrah 2010 is made from estate-grown grapes from five of the winery's vineyards: Chapel F, Cushman A and B and Mesa A and B.  The wines a Rhône-lover's delight, blending 94% Syrah and 6% Viognier.  The red and white grapes are fermented together in small barrels and aged for 16 months in French oak, 19% of which was new.  The alcohol level quite restrained, only 13.6% abv.  12,400 cases were produced and the bottles retail for $25.

The grapes are sustainably farmed by Zaca Mesa, which pioneered Rhône varieties in Santa Barbara County.  Their "40 years of terroir-driven wine" claim is not just idle talk.  They were the first to plant Syrah in the SBC in 1978.  Over half the vines have been replanted since then with new rootstock and clones. The high elevation of the vineyards - 1500 feet - means cooler nights, which means better natural acidity, which means gimme some now.

The winery's website notes that 2010 was a cool vintage and offered a long growing season, for the Santa Ynez Valley.  The usual heat took the summer off and the grapes ripened in slow and steady fashion.

The 2010 Zaca Mesa Syrah carries a medium-dark ruby hue and a burly nose of blackberries, carried along by dusty sage and black pepper.  The cool vintage shows itself in a note of coffee grounds.  The taste is just as complex, with the dark berries joined by spices and herbs.  The wine really does have an amazing flavor.  When I drink Syrah, this is what I want it to taste like.  The acidity is remarkable - lip-smacking good - and the tannins stay busy but don't get in the way of a smooth sip.  It's balanced.  Winemaker Eric Mohseni and the cellar and vineyard team can be proud of this one.

The folks at Zaca Mesa like it with rack of lamb, marinated in rosemary and garlic.  I won't quibble with that.  I'll also have it with beef ribs, pork chops, roast duck and all by itself if we don't feel like cooking.

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