Showing posts with label tasting room. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tasting room. Show all posts

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.

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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Friday, July 17, 2015

SBC Tasting Room: Mosby Wines

We made a trip out of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara County wine country recently. My wife and I, along with our good and dear friend Guido love this two-hour trip. The stop in Camarillo to have a bagel and coffee is mandatory and the Trader Joe’s on Milpas provides our picnic lunch. Usually it’s a loaf of bread, some cheese, avocados and olives. This short series describes some of the wines we sampled in the various tasting rooms we visited.

Mosby Wines

Bill Mosby is an eccentric, at least if you believe the blurb on the website. His eccentricity is also apparent when you look at his vineyards, full of grapes better known in Italy. If you are looking for an intro to Italian grapes in Santa Barbara County, head to Buellton and check out Mosby's wines.

The Mosby Artist Series of wines are decorated by beautiful visuals, provided by renowned artist Robert Scherer of Appiano, Italy. In the tasting room, I was told that Mosby and Scherer met by chance, seated at the same restaurant table with a big language barrier. The found communication in food and wine, which led to Scherer doing the label art.

2012 Cortese $18
A nice, earthy nose is presented by this Gavi grape. Crisp and delicious, with a great lemon flavor and a zing of acidity.

2012 Passerina $18
From Marche, this grape's California expression has big minerals and earth, with a very gentle acidity. Peach and apricot flavors join earthy notes for a delightful palate.  A great sipper.

2013 Pinot Grigio $18
This one has the same earthy note on nose as the Passerina. I found the palate a little boring, but decent acidity lifts it.

2013 Rosato di Cannonau $18
Steel fermentation gives this Grenache - Cannonau in Italy - a crisp acidity. A dash Mourvèdre beefs it up nicely. Cherries and oranges on the nose leads to a beautiful palate showing a great cherry flavor.

2009 Dolcetto  $28
The big, cherry nose has a high note of sweetness to it. The acidity refreshes, while the big tannic structure provides a great backdrop for a pairing with a bolognese sauce. Cherry and raspberry flavors leave a lingering tartness.

2008 Sangiovese $30
The nose shows cherry aromas a little bigger and a little darker than the Dolcetto.  Huge cherry flavors on the palate are sweetened by the oak spice.

2008 La Seduzione Lagrein $30
A nose of cherry and raspberry make this northern Italian grape show its Cali terroir. The palate has a giant cherry and black cherry expression. Great tannins make me feel it would be fantastic with a beef stew.

2008 Sagrantino $32
The nose shows alcohol first, then cherry and blackberry. In the mouth, it is the vibrant acidity and firm tannins that grab my attention. Floral notes lay upon black cherry and raspberry flavors on the palate.

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Friday, July 10, 2015

SBC Tasting Room: Lafond Winery And Vineyards

We made a trip out of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara County wine country recently. My wife and I, along with our good and dear friend Guido love this trip. We pass the roughly two hours in the car with small talk and jokes. The stop in Camarillo to have a bagel and coffee is mandatory and the Trader Joe’s on Milpas provides our picnic lunch. Usually it’s a loaf of bread, some cheese, avocados and olives.

This short series describes some of the wines we sampled in the various tasting rooms visited.

Lafond Winery and Vineyards

The Lafond Sta. Rita Hills tasting room is a one-stop shop for wine accessories, exhibiting a “no chotski left behind” approach to stocking the tables with coasters, openers, funny wine signs and food products. The room is decorated with some lovely artwork by local artist Karin Shelton.

I tasted a range of whites and reds on my visit, and was impressed by them to different degrees. The whites seemed a little bit full and oaky, while the reds showed their stuff very well. Three were from Lafond's SRH line of Sta. Rita Hills wines and three were vineyard designates from the Lafond estate vineyard.

SRH Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay 2013  $23 About three quarters of the grapes in this wine are from Lafond Vineyard, while a quarter come from their neighbor, Hilltop Ranch. Aromas of tropical fruit and oak meet the nose, and the palate is also marked by oak. It's buttery and has a good weight, but there is really a lot of oak here.

Lafond Vineyard Chardonnay 2011  $40 - Fruit and spice dominate, with less oak influence than the SRH. Peach and lemon on the palate.

SRH Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2013  $27 - Seven Clones of Pinot Noir were used, from 6 blocks in the Lafond and Burning Creek Vineyards. A beautiful nose of roses and lavender leads to a palate of pomegranate and raspberry. Slightly tart and very elegant.

Lafond Vineyard Pinot Noir Martin Ray Clone 2010  $50 - This wine comes from vines planted in 1982. It was the first varietal that Lafond requested be planted there. The vines were cut from the Sanford+Benedict Vineyard, and the Lafond website reveals that Michael Benedict refers to the clone as Martin Ray, while Richard Sanford calls it Mount Eden. Who's right? Who cares? It tastes great. There is a lot of fruit in the nose, with a strong raspberry slant to the flavor. Nice tannins, but still pretty and elegant - just a little sturdier andmore peppery than the SRH.

SRH Sta.Rita Hills Syrah 2010  $23 - The nose shows big fruit and a slightly funky, earthy edge. Black pepper, blackberries and cassis on the palate.

Lafond Vineyard Syrah/Grenache  2011  $38 - This is a gorgeous 60/40 blend of cool-climate Syrah and Grenache. Big dark fruit on the nose leads to black and white pepper notes on the palate with black and blue berries.

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Friday, July 3, 2015

SBC Tasting Room: Fess Parker Winery

We made a trip out of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara County wine country recently. My wife and I, along with our good and dear friend Guido love this two-hour trip. The stop in Camarillo to have a bagel and coffee is mandatory and the Trader Joe’s on Milpas provides our picnic lunch. Usually it’s a loaf of bread, some cheese, avocados and olives. This short series will describe some of the wines we sampled in the various tasting rooms we visited.

Fess Parker Winery and Vineyard

Fess Parker was not only an accomplished actor, singer and vintner - he was one of only a few men who could wear a coonskin cap and get away with it. The Fess Parker empire in Santa Barbara County includes a beautiful hotel in the city, a quaint inn and spa in Los Olivos and a showcase of a winery and tasting room along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. There always seems to be a picnic - or five  - happening on the grounds and there’s always a crowd at the tasting bar.

Ashley's Vineyard Chardonnay 2013  $37 - Most of the grapes for this beautiful wine come from the Sta. Rita Hills vineyard named for Parker’s daughter. The remainder are from  Rancho Esperanza and Hayes Ranch, also in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation. Spice oak stone fruit decorate the nose, with white nectarines and apples on the palate. There is just a little oak spice from the 8 months in French oak, half of it new. A touch of cinnamon rounds things out with a great acidity..

Rodney’s Vineyard Viognier 2012  $36 - This vineyard was named for Parker’s late son-in-law. The nose is floral, with a pungent citrus note. Big-time acidity means food is welcome. The palate shows beautiful peach and pear flavors. Oak notes stick around on the finish, a result of 8 months in neutral French oak barrels.

Marcella’s White Wine 2014  $19 - An SBC Rhône blend, it sports 86% Viognier, 8% Roussanne, 3% Marsanne and 3% Grenache Blanc from Rodney’s Vineyard and Camp Four, another great Santa Ynez Valley site. Pungent minerality provides an awesome nose, while honeyed pears and nice acidity are pleasing on the palate.

SBC Melange Blanc 2012  $25 - Same vineyards as Marcella’s, with a little more accent on the Grenache Blanc and Marsanne in this blend. Big salinity and savory notes mark the nose and palate. The full mouthfeel makes for an easy sip.

Rodney’s Dry Riesling 2013  $24 - 100% Riesling grapes from Rodney’s Vineyard, this wine puts forth a savory nose with notes of green apple. Flavors of apples and pears are studded with minerality. Only 12% alcohol.

SBC Riesling 2014  $15 - Using fruit largely from Camp Four Vineyard, this Riesling gives a nice note of petrol in a very persistent minerality. There is a bit of residual sugar, but it’s still quite dry. Stone fruit and apple flavors leave this wine as a great sipper.

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Monday, June 29, 2015

SBC Tasting Room: Dierberg/Star Lane

We made a trip out of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara County wine country recently. My wife and I, along with our good and dear friend Guido love this two-hour trip. The stop in Camarillo to have a bagel and coffee is mandatory and the Trader Joe’s on Milpas provides our picnic lunch. Usually it’s a loaf of bread, some cheese, avocados and olives. This short series will describe some of the wines we sampled in the various tasting rooms we visited.

Mary and Jim Dierberg came west from Missouri, where they had made wine for decades. They landed in Santa Barbara County in 1996 and grow some fine grapes in the Dierberg and Drum Canyon vineyards as well as the warmer Star Lane Vineyard.

Their tasting room is contained in a big, green barn on the Santa Rita Hills property, Drum Canyon Vineyard, on Drum Canyon Road. They pour  a flight of six wines featuring both the Dierberg and Star Lane wines for $15. Let them know if your group is eight or more. The amazing staff can handle numerous tastings at once, indoors and out.

Star Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2014: Fresh green apple on the nose with a trace of herbal and flowers. Great acid. Beautiful apple and citrus fruit with a good minerality. $22

Dierberg Chardonnay Drum Canyon 2013: Buttery oak, creamy quality from 3/4 malolactic fermentation. Great acidity and green apple notes. Available through the tasting room and wine club only. $45

Dierberg Pinot Noir Drum Canyon 2012 : Aged in neutral French oak. Just an absolutely lovely nose. Roses, cherries. Delicate and elegant. The palate shows raspberry, cherry and rhubarb. $44

Dierberg Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 2012: This is from the dark side. Great earthy texture, nice nose of black cherry and raspberry. The palate shows the wonderful SMV terroir. Finishes slightly tart. $37

Dierberg Santa Maria Valley Syrah 2012: Explosive nose, big jammy berries with notes of orange peel and smoke.  Earth minerals with a touch of orange zest on the palate. Nice tannic structure. Tasting room only. $65

Star Lane Cabernet Franc 2011: Influence of 35% new French oak shows in the nose of bright fruit and pepper. Red fruit flavor shows pizzazz with a streak of white pepper. Tannins don't weigh down the sip but provide plenty of bite for a steak. $52

Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Red and ripe fruit, pepper and pencil lead on the nose. Great acidity and bright red cherry flavors. $46

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Monday, April 20, 2015

A Day Trip To Santa Barbara County Wine Country

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LaFond Winery and Vineyards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Malibu Wine: Cornell Winery And The Old Place

A bit west of Los Angeles, in the hills north of Malibu, there is a wonderful wine destination hidden away.  Cornell Winery, and The Old Place restaurant next door, are a destination, because most people aren’t likely to drive past them on their way to some other place.  They are both well worth the trip.

Officially located in the hills of Agoura, the winery takes its name from the area’s old-time moniker of Cornell.  It’s not that far from the teeming metropolis, but it really feels like the country.  We stopped first at the restaurant for lunch, with a visit to the tasting room in mind for afterward.

The Old Place was owned and operated by Tom Runyon and his wife for over 40 years.  For the past few years, Tim and Denise Skogstrom have kept the restaurant - and the winery - in business on the dusty stretch of Mulholland Highway.  It was once a bit of a celebrity hangout, as stars like Steve McQueen, Jason Robards, Burgess Merideth and Sam Peckinpaw could often be found there.  Steaks cooked over a red oak fire are the signature dish, but even grilled veggies carry the mark of the wood-fired grill.

I had to try The Cornell Winery Enchanto white blend with my sandwich.  It costs $8 by the glass.  Oak notes on a nice floral aspect are give an apple-flavored, savory background.  I guessed it to be a blend of Viognier and Roussanne, and was delighted when my server confirmed it.  This wine would be fantastic with some Edam cheese.  It really hit the spot with my grilled vegetable sandwich, and was a good pairing with the potato salad, which has generous amounts of cranberry and blue cheese in it.

Next door, at the Cornell Winery tasting room, I was disappointed to find that they were not pouring any of their own wines on that day.  The tasting room carries a lot of other Malibu wines for sale, as well as some offerings from the Central Coast.  Denise told me they rotate the tasting menu so that all the wines are featured.  Here's what I tasted:

Toccata Malvasia Bianca - Sweet, generous fruit.  A Lucas and Lewellen label.
Epiphany Gypsy - Great Grenache nose, perfumed cherries.  From the Fess Parker stable of wines.
Niner Cabernet Sauvignon - Big paso Robles fruit and a nice graphite edge.
Consilience Syrah - Dark Santa Barbara County fruit and black pepper.

The tasting room is open Thursdays through Sundays.  Private parties can take the back room and its enormous, heavy wooden table.  Denise says, in the near future, they plan to bring in cheese and meat plates prepared in The Old Place.

An exploration of this winning combo is recommended.  Cornell Winery and The Old Place make for a wonderful Southern California jaunt that doesn't take up the whole day - unless you want it to.

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Monday, January 2, 2012


You may not be aware you've had wine made by the Wagner family.  If you've had Conundrum or Caymus, Mer Soleil, Meiomi or Belle Glos, you've had a Wagner wine.

The Wagners - Charlie, Lorna and son Chuck - carved out their place in Northern California's Monterey County in the early 1970s.  Charlie passed a few years ago, Lorna is in her nineties and enjoying the Pinot Noir named after her, and that 19 year-old who
helped his folks get things started is now running the show.  He's the same Chuck Wagner, just not 19 anymore.

The tasting package provided by the Wagners allowed me to sample their wines - most of which were already familiar to me - and also try out the mail-order samplers bottled by TastingRoom, Inc of Santa Rosa.  The package contained six small screwcap bottles, each holding 50ml of wine - just enough for a taste - and the label bears a “Best Enjoyed By” date.  TastingRoom makes quite a few tasting packages, most of which sell for somewhere between $20 and $30.  The entire package and contents are 100% recyclable.  Here's what was in the Wagner Family Selection:

Conundrum 2009 - Labeled as “A Proprietary Blend of California White Wine,” Conundrum is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Semillion and Viognier with a 13.5% abv number.  Jon Bolta has been heading up the white wine side of the
Wagner Family's repertoire since 1988, and Conundrum was his pet project.  The first vintage was released in '89.  The "conundrum" is figuring out which grape varieties make up the blend.  It's not too much of a puzzle to figure out that it pairs well with Asian food. 

The pale golden wine is fairly complex, showing aromas of white flowers, tropical fruit, a few drops of honey and a bit of honeydew melon.  It's nice and full in the mouth, with oak present.  Pear juice and a trace of pineapple are the main flavors, while a good acidity level makes it a great choice for pairing with seafood.  Conundrum is lush, with full malolactic fermentation adding softness.  I like it with lobster, while Chuck Wagner likes it with crabcakes.

Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay 2009 - This beautiful white from Monterey's Santa Lucia Highlands is fermented in small cement tanks imported from France.  No French oak here, just French cement.  Chuck's son, Charlie Wagner II, handles the production for Mer Soleil.  He's a 5th generation winemaker.  The Mer Soleil Vineyard lies in the Santa Lucia Highlands, in the cool, dry part of Monterey County.  This Chardonnay carries a hefty 14.8% abv level.

A pale golden color in the glass, Silver has very fresh aromas of peaches and nectarines.  The stately palate is not all tricked up.  It has a very clean and fruity taste, with peaches, melons with a trace of the rind, tropical fruit and citrus joined by some nice
minerals.  There's a very food-friendly acidity here as well.

Mer Soleil Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2008 - This one is also from the Santa Lucia Highlands.  The alcohol level is 14.5%.  This "oaked" Chardonnay is a little more golden than the unoaked version.  There are peaches and nectarines on the nose, joined by
some wood spice.  It's a full-bodied, California-style Chardonnay.  On the palate, the oak is in the forefront, and a sense of movie theater popcorn butter lingers on the finish.  The acidity is even better than in the other two whites.

Belle Glos Pinot Noir 2009 - One of three single-vineyard Pinots by this arm of the Wagner Family of wines, the fruit was sourced from the Clark and Telephone Vineyards in Santa Barbara County's Santa Maria Valley.  Joseph Wagner - another 5th generation
winemaker - produces Belle Glos wines, which are named Lorna Belle Glos Wagner, wife of founder Charlie and Chuck's mother.  This 100% Pinot Noir is her favorite wine.

This dark wine brings an alcohol level of 14.4% abv to the glass.  The nose presents dark and burly fruit - black and blue berries - a familiar profile in red wines from the Santa Maria Valley.  The palate boasts black cherry cola - slightly sour - with a hint of minerality.  It's full in the mouth and sports great acidity.

Meiomi Pinot Noir 2009 - Joseph Wagner is also the winemaker for Meiomi, which means "coast" in ancient Indian languages.  Meiomi's vineyards are located in some nice coastal regions, Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara Counties.  This Pinot has a lighter complexion than the Belle Glos with a  lighter alcohol content, too - 13.9% abv.

The nose is much brighter than the Belle Glos, with cherry and anise aromas in a very fruit forwrd manner.  A huge cherry expression dominates the palate and there's a nice tannnic structure with a great finish that darkens a bit, showing some coffee notes.  I'd have this with a steak.

Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 - The Caymus Vineyards are where it all began back in '72 for the Wagner Family.  Chuck Wagner is the winemaker for Caymus.  The famous Caymus Cab is produced using Napa Valley grapes - about one-fourth hillside fruit and three quarters from the valley.

Medium dark ruby in the glass, this wine has a fabulous nose with aromas of cassis and coffee - even an almost candy-like caramel component that wafts in and out while sniffing.  The currant comes through on the palate as well, and the wine is rich and full.  The tannins are forceful and beg to paired with a great steak.  The alcohol content is a big 15.2% abv.  The Caymus Cab lists for $68.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


3CV Viognier

I sneaked away from my neighborhood recently for a glass of wine at the Colorado Wine Company in Eagle Rock, California, between Glendale and Pasadena.  After a little browsing of the racks in the front of the store, the small back room beckoned.  With a soundtrack of world music, the dark little space offered a rather tasty, if short, by-the-glass menu.

My choice for this Saturday afternoon quaff was the 3CV Viognier from Cimarone.  Doug Margerum takes the grapes from the Vogelzang Vineyard in the Happy Canyon AVA of Santa Barbara County.

The wine is produced by stainless steel fermentation with 25% of the juice moved to neutral French oak for barrel aging and malolactic fermentation.

Very light in color, the wine offers a huge floral nose with a nutty, almond aroma and a drapery of honey that's irresistible.

The taste is very clean, with crisp pears and great acidity.  The nutty finish hangs around forever, or at least until the next glass arrives.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011


Edgar Poureshagh

I'm always on the lookout for another nice spot to pop into and taste some wine.  Barely open a month at this writing is 3Twenty Wine Lounge, located appropriately enough at 320 South La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles.

I stopped in recently and had the pleasure of chatting with proprietor Edgar Poureshagh, a certified sommelier and card-carrying wine geek.  Poureshagh has spun his experience and connections as a distributor into a Miracle Mile wine bar, with a kitchen that produces a small plate menu.

He says the idea is to "have some small portions that can be paired with tastes of wine.  People can gain experience in pairing wine with food this way, and it's a great way to broaden your palate."

Wine is available by the bottle, glass or taste, dispensed in 1.7-ounce servings from several automatic machines.  The price for each taste varies depending on the price of the wine.  Most are in the three to five-dollar range, with the top end being $15 for a sample of the '87 Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.

In this family operation - Poureshagh is joined by his wife and parents in the venture - the wines center on family-run wineries.  "I'm trying to stay away from corporate wines and serve smaller-production wines with a lot more character.  I love wines with a story," he says.  He also knows plenty of those wine stories and loves to share them when he has the chance.  One of his favorite family-run wineries is R.H. Coutier.  They've been making wine for 500 years in France's Champagne region.

He points out that most of the wines at 3Twenty are sold below typical restaurant prices, and he works an array of sources to secure the wines he wants to carry.  "We buy our wine direct from about 10 wineries and use over two dozen brokers and distributors to find the right wines."  Eight beers are also on the list, in case you're not in the mood for wine.  That's a situation that's hard to imagine once you are inside 3Twenty.

Poureshagh is proud of his new place, and of his staff.  During conversation with him, it's easy to feel his passion for wine and his pleasure at having this wine bar open for business.  He says they are doing the same thing other wine bars are doing, just differently.  "We're not reinventing the wheel, just making a really shiny wheel."

Here are the wines I sampled from the automatic wine dispenser system at 3Twenty:

Seghesio Zinfandel 2009 - spice and chocolate

Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha 2009 - dark and dusty

Masi Costasera Amarone 2006 - cassis, blackberry and raisins, laced with minerality

Mayacamas Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 - astounding minerality, perfect tannins

Lioco Sonoma Chardonnay 2009 - big and creamy

Francois Chidaine Montlouis Les Tuffeaux 2008 - Loire Chenin Blanc, lovely, nutty accents

Karthauserhof Riesling Spatlese 2007 - great slate

Bert Simon Riesling Auslese 2002 Serrig Herrenberg - petrol and just enough sweetness

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Monday, August 8, 2011


Bettinelli Cabernet Sauvignon 1998

When I stopped in to the Left Coast Wine Bar and Gallery in Glendale - across the street from the Americana at Brand shopping mall - I only intended to take a look around.  Sure enough, a bar and some artwork downstairs and a jazz loft upstairs with piano and amp and some room for lounging.  Nice enough place.  Then I glanced over their by-the-glass menu and spied a '98 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  I sat down.

It was a Saturday afternoon, and happy hour was underway with this 13 year-old Cab going for a mere four dollars per glass.  How could I not?

The '98 Bettinelli Cab was aged 16 months in American oak and recorded a 13.8% abv number.  The Oakville wine is sudsy and beginning to show a little brown on the edges.  It's tannic and somewhat thin upon pouring,

The wine did open up a bit and the bite became less bothersome.  It was relatively smooth after 20 minutes or so.

A chestnut honey aroma on the nose was identified by my wife, and I was able to spot the raspberries on palate all by myself.  Unfortunately, it's not very complex and has a rather tart finish.

Larry Bettinelli co-founded the vineyard in 1990 with Mike Browning.  Browning now appears to serve as the distributor of Bettinelli's wine under the Barclay & Browning name.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Vampire Vineyards Tasting Room

According to the Tom Petty song, "Free Fallin'," the vampires in the San Fernando Valley "move west down Ventura Boulevard."  I don't know where they go from there, but if any vampires venture into Beverly Hills, I know a place where they can taste some wine.

The Vampire Lounge and Tasting Room isn't just a hangout for those with extended canine teeth.  It's the retail embodiment of Vampire Vineyards, a winemaking outfit which draws grapes from Paso Robles, Santa Maria, Napa Valley and France's Loire Valley.

The business started in 1988 with the release of an Algerian Syrah, bottled in France.  The first 500 bottles went to rock star Alice Cooper, and the rest is a history that's afraid of the daylight.  The company's travels have gone through Italy and Transylvania itself.  Now, the winemaking effort is based in Creston, California - a little bit southeast of Paso Robles.

Michael Machat is the founder and CEO of the company, and he plays a big part in the corporate backstory featured on the website.  The Vampire Vineyards sommelier, Igor Fedenkov - really, it's on his business card - poured me through a sampling of the wines.

Dracula Syrah, Chateau du VampireThe Dracula Pinot Noir 2007 is made from Santa Maria grapes - picked before sunrise, of course.  The wine spent 18 months in French oak.  It has a big, rich nose and big, rich flavors to match.  Cherry and raspberry notes dominate in properly dark fashion.

Chateau du Vampire Midnight Rendevous 2007 is a blend of Paso Robles Syrah, Grenache, Counoise and Mouvedre.  There are bright cherry flavors in abundance and some great chocolate notes.

Trueblood Napa Valley Syrah 2004 is inky-dark enough to please any vampire who likes his wine smokey and spicy.

It's no surprise that red wines dominate the list, but Vampire Vineyards does offer a modest selection of whites - notably the Chateau du Vampire Roussanne of Paso Robles heritage - along with a White Zinfandel and the Je T'Aime Brut Rosé.  Even vampires like to do a little light sipping now and then.

All sorts of vampire-related wine gadgets are offered in the tasting room, as well as apparel, glassware, chocolate coffins and a vampire energy drink - perfect for those times when the sun's rays threaten to bring the night to an end.

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Thursday, May 5, 2011


Cass Winery shoe tree bird condos

Cass Vineyard and Winery in on the eastside of Paso Robles, in California's Central Coast AVA.  They are due east of Templeton Gap, which brings the cool breezes in from the ocean.  They do get hot, though, during the day.  That's what helps ripen the Rhone grape varieties they grow.

Cass utilizes only estate-grown fruit.  The vineyards are all around the tasting room, which I had a chance to visit recently.  I didn't go out and literally touch the grapes, but they say you can.

The tasting room is spartan, with a visible, metallic kitchen area where picnic lunches are prepared if you wish to take your meal down a path to an oak-shaded picnic area.  There is also seating in the shady front area, near the door of the tasting room.  Also just outside the tasting room door is the most unusual birdhouse in the Central Coast (pictured).

When Cass says they grow Rhone varietals, they really mean it.  From their website:
"A unique feature of our wine making is that all of the Rhone grapes we grow are ENTAV certified.  ENTAV (Establissement National Technique pour l’Amelioration de la Viticulture) is the national agency of France responsible for the quality of wine grape varieities.  Over 90% of all French Vineyards are started with ENTAV certified plants and are only recently available in California.  Consequently, these are among the very first wines made from ENTAV grapes grown here."

It was busy in the tasting room for my visit, with everyone wearing several different hats to accomplish different jobs at once.  Here are the wines of Cass winemaker Lood Kotze which were poured for me that day:

Viognier 2009 - All stainless steel, the Viognier is produced using a South African yeast.  A somewhat tart nose makes the creaminess in the mouth a bit of a surprise.  Nice acidity is doubled on the citrus finish.  They tell me the 2010 vintage should have an even rounder mouthfeel.

Roussanne 2009 - Fermented in stainless, this wine is mineral-driven on the nose and palate.  Pears and citrus finish with a nutty aftertaste.

Oasis Rosé 2009 - Grenache and Syrah make up most of this blend, but nine varieties in all are used.  A touch off-dry, it's got beautiful red fruit from front to finish.

Rockin' One Red 2008 - Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Petite Sirah make up this heritage wine for Cass - "the one that started it all!"  It has a great nose full of red fruit and herbs with a touch of eucalyptus in the flavor profile.  It's my favorite from their menu.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 - Rich and ripe, this Cab shows silky smooth cassis flavors with a bit of graphite.

A couple of new additions were poured: the '09 Mourvèdre has a nose of chocolate-covered cherry - it's a customer favorite - and the '09 Grenache has a bright cherry nose, wonderful acidity and stirring minerality.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Tasting Room: Consilience, Los Olivos

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

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

Here are my notes on the wines I sampled:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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