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

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Wine Education: "Spencer" For Hire

Two young sisters are promoting their wine tasting business from New York City and Arizona.  The travel is all virtual now, of course, due to the pandemic.  Tours are conducted on Zoom, a firm which has grown exponentially in recognition since we've all been shut in.  Their company, Wine Spencer, is named for their father, grandfather and great-grandfather, all wine lovers, all named Spencer.

The tale of the two sisters is a fairly straightforward one, even ordinary, until you look a little closer.  Shaunna and Shayla Smith are black.  In the wine world, that makes them even more of a minority than in their real lives. 

Hardly a week goes by that I don't find an article on race in wine, from discrimination in the tasting room to the dearth of Black-owned wineries to well-intentioned suppositions on what kind of wines are enjoyed most by people of color.  Black people are noticeably absent from most published pictures of wine tasting groups, even in California.

The Smiths are changing that attitude with an array of virtual wine tours, including one of Black-owned wineries.  Shayla, Wine Spencer's co-founder and Chief Wine-Pairing Officer, says, "Our Black-owned wineries tasting experience is just one way we are trying to offer a new perspective while honoring our own heritage."  She adds that she and Shaunna "wanted to offer something new while staying relevant and addressing what is happening in our society right now."  Shaunna, by the way, is Wine Spencer's co-founder and Chief Wine Taster.  The pair also offer tasting experiences on Wine 101, rosés, bubbles and South African wine.

While trying to make wine tasting less intimidating, the sisters redefine what wine means and give it a contemporary significance, especially among minority communities, diverse ethnicities, and cultures that have not traditionally been catered to within the wine industry.

Shaunna says, "While nothing can replace an in-person face to face experience, we are pivoting during this time to provide fun and inclusive programs for wine lovers of all levels, and backgrounds."  Wine Spencer will also be giving back to their communities by donating a portion of the proceeds from each tasting to causes close to them, like BET and the United Way organizations.

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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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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, April 11, 2014

Bordeaux Wine: Grand Cercle Des Vins De Bordeaux

The subtitle of this tasting event was "from barrel to bottle," and it described the focus on young Bordeaux wines - actually barrel samples - of the 2013 vintage.  Most of the 2013s won't be released until 2015, so this was an opportunity to try these wines in their formative stages.  Most tables also had samples of previous vintages to pour.

The Grand Cercle des Vins de Bordeaux is founder Alain Raynaud's effort to bring together the wines of the  Left and Right Banks of Bordeaux.  What is meant by Left and Right Banks?  Bordeaux is divided into two main areas by the Gironde Estuary, which is formed by the convergence of the Dordogne (Right Bank) and Garonne (Left Bank.)  The area in between those rivers is called Entre-Deux-Mers, "between two seas."  Left Bank wines are predominately Cabernet Sauvignon-based, while the Right Bank wines are typically centered around the Merlot grape.

This traveling road show shows the high quality of Bordeaux wines in general.  Courtesy of Ian Blackburn's Learn About Wine, I attended the trade and media tasting event this week, held in Santa Monica's Casa del Mar hotel.  It was an awfully hot day in L.A., so the chance to get about 15 degrees cooler at the beach was welcome.  And, since I don't generally drink a lot of Bordeaux, it was a great opportunity for me to expand my palate a bit.  Here are some highlights of my trip around the ballroom.

Château Dalem, AOC Fronsac - The 2013 vintage shows the deep, rich texture of Merlot while the 10% splash of Cabernet Franc gives a spicy tartness to the finish.  The 2010 vintage is an 85/15 split of those grapes, with an alcohol content of 15%, quite high.  Blackberry, anise and plum adorns this wine, which displays terrific tannic structure.

Château Croix Cardinale, AOC Saint-Emilion  Grand Cru - The 2011 Croix Cardinale - 80% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon - is floral and fresh on the nose with big, dark fruit flavors, great acidity and a long finish.  The 2011 Château Fleur Cardinale has 70% Merlot, 15% Cab Franc and 15% Cab Sauvignon.  It has a more savory appeal.

Château Godeau, AOC Saint-Emilion Grand Cru - The nose of the 2013 is very dark, and there is a nice, tart edge to the fruit on the palate.  This wine is nearly all Merlot, with just a five percent dollop of Cabernet Franc.

Château Pindefleurs, AOC Saint-Emilion Grand Cru - Merlot-heavy with ten percent Cabernet Franc, this wine has a surprisingly funky nose, both in the 2013 and 2010 vintages.  The '10 is a little smokier, with wonderful acidity and big tannins.  A standout.

Château Faizeau, AOC Montagne Saint-Emilion - Also leaning heavily on Merlot, the savory tartness of the 2013 is lovely, while the 2010 shows coffee and blackberry.  Delicious.

Château Ramafort, AOC Medoc - This wine is only half Merlot with the other half Cabernet Sauvignon.  Minerals lead the way here in the 2010, with big fruit and tannins to match.  The 2013 is youthful and vibrant with a bit of smoke on the finish.

Château Malescasse, AOC Haut-Medoc - The 2011 has slight smoke and coffee on the nose, with beautiful cherry flavors and acidity.  It's made from 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and a five percent splash each of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.  The 2012 has no Cab Franc and a bit more Petit Verdot, showing an even more savory angle.  The Château has no 2013 vintage, as they elected to sell the grapes instead.

Château Haut-Bacalan, AOC Pessac-Leognan - 55% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and five percent Petit Verdot, this 2013 is still fresh, beautiful, fruity fun.  The 2010 is silky smooth and well integrated.  The aging is showing extremely well in this standout wine.

Château de Myrat, Sauternes - This white dessert wine is just unbelievable.  The 2013 is fresh and herbal, with a slight grassiness on the nose that belies the sweet, floral palate.  The 2011 vintage is displaying its oak influence, with a smokey nose and a caramel sweetness on the palate. 88% Sémillon, eight percent Sauvignon and four percent Muscadelle.  Another standout.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Virtual Tasting Of Italian Wine With Whole Foods Market

Whole Foods Market are celebrating wines from Italy this month and in April.  Eight delicious and seductive wines from some of Italy’s notable winemakers are offered at great prices - all under $16.  From light, crisp Pinot Grigio from Veneto to earthy, fruit forward Sangiovese from Tuscany, you can taste your way through Italy with recipes and cheese pairings from Whole Foods Market.

There are two great opportunities for you to participate in virtual tasting events for these eight wines on Twitter.  Below is the list of Whole Foods
Market’s featured Italian wines as well as the dates and wines for the two Twitter Tastings - access them at hashtag #WFMWine.  The comments below are from Whole Foods.  I'll be writing about these wines, in my own words, separately over the next couple of weeks.

Get your descriptors warmed up, and get your wines at Whole Foods Market so you'll be ready to join me and share your thoughts on them via Twitter on both dates.

Twitter Tastings

Thursday March 13, 7:00-8:00 p.m. CT:
Banfi Principessa Gavia Gavi
Ruffino Orvieto Classico
Gran Passione Rosso
Donnafugata Sedàra

Thursday April 10, 7:00-8:00 p.m. CT:
Presto Prosecco
Caposaldo Pinot Grigio
Monrosso Chianti
Verrazzano Rosso

Banfi Principessa Gavia Gavi $15.99
"On the nose are vivid aromas of pineapple and tangy green apple.  There is a lovely balancing act between juicy ripe pear notes and bright acidity with a clean, delicate finish."

Ruffino Orvieto Classico $10.99
"Fresh flowers and citrus on the nose followed by ripe green apple up front, sassy acidity and a characteristic touch of mineral.  The finish is long and fragrant with almond notes."

Gran Passione Rosso $14.99
"Ripe blackberry and chocolate-covered cherries distinguish this delicious aroma.  This rich red is juicy with notes of black fruit and a satisfyingly long, dense finish."

Donnafugata Sedàra $14.99
"Fresh cherry and strawberry aromas give way to cascading notes of sun-dried cranberries, then black olive then peppercorn.  The finish is rich, deep, and rustic."

Presto Prosecco $10.99
"This sparkler has orange blossom aromas and honey notes.  Frisky flavors of apple and citrus bubble to the front and then make room for the light fresh finish."

Caposaldo Pinot Grigio $11.99
"White fruit, cut flowers and intriguing mineral aromas are on the nose followed by kiwi tartness balanced by mellow honeydew notes.  The finish is dry crisp and crowd-pleasing."

Monrosso Chianti $13.99
"Lavender and cranberry aromas blend in this soft, rich ruby red wine.  Gentle tannins, abundant fruit, and a well-balanced finish characterize this textbook Chianti."

Verrazzano Rosso $15.99
"This red has complex aromas of fresh fruits and violets followed by Tuscan herbs, black currant and pomegranate flavors that move to a smooth finish."

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

SLO Wine Event Seeks Beneficiary

Wine events are fun to attend - in vino festivus - but they usually have a serious side, too.  The serious side of wine realizes there are many good causes that can be helped along with a little cash now and then.  When you take in cash from a wine event - pardon my socialism - why not share the wealth?

San Luis Obispo area non-profit organizations can apply to share the charity money raised at the 23rd annual SLO Wine Country Association’s Rockin’ Harvest Celebration and Auction,  November 1-3, 2013.

The live auction portion of the event features a “fund a need” live auction lot.  All proceeds from this lot go directly to the nonprofit.  The nonprofit is invited to have a spokesperson say a few words to the crowd about their cause prior to the auctioning of the lot.  They also receive recognition in the auction brochure and in all marketing efforts prior to the event.  The charity has the option of placing items in the day’s silent auction event and benefiting from money raised there as well.

Heather Muran is the executive director of  the association, and she says, “SLO Wine Country has been honored to help support various nonprofits through the years.  It’s a fantastic way to raise awareness of local organizations with programs focused on health and human services, education and the arts.”

In years past, the Harvest Celebration has supported such nonprofits as CASA of San Luis Obispo County, Hospice of San Luis Obispo and Cal Poly.

Applications for this year’s event will be accepted through August 23, 2013.  The applicant or applicants will then be chosen as the beneficiary of this year’s “fund a need” program.  Applications may be found at

About the 23rd Rockin’ Harvest Celebration and Auction

Saturday November 2, 2013 - “Grand Tasting and Auction,” noon to 3 p.m. at the Avila Beach Golf Resort.  Attendees enjoy cuisine by some of the finest local chefs paired with wines by the artisan winemakers of SLO Wine Country.  Along with food and wine from more than 60 establishments comes an “over the top” wine and lifestyle auction, hosted by the winemakers.  Those who book rooms in Avila Beach receive $20 off Grand Tasting tickets and may use a special trolley arranged for the weekend.  Info/tickets:

Friday, November 1, 2013 - “Rockin’ Road Trip,” 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Guests become “roadies” for an afternoon and enjoy a “backstage” look at three SLO Wine Country wineries.  From vine to wine, attendees learn the art of winemaking.  Luncheon and tasting included.

Friday evening, November 1, 2013 - “Collaborative Winemaker Dinner,” TBA.

Sunday, November 3, 2013 - “SLO Wine on Tour.”  Attendees to Saturday’s Grand Tasting are invited to explore SLO Wine Country all day on Sunday with complimentary tastings.  Tasting rooms will offer food, wine and live entertainment along with wine discounts and special offers.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wines From Spain: Castilla-La Mancha

The land of Don Quixote has a lot more than windmills to tilt.  Wine glasses, for instance.  The Castilla-La Mancha region is located just below the central portion of Spain.  It's a big wine region - the biggest in Europe.  The specialties of the casa are wines made from Tempranillo and Airen grapes.  However, there are 23 white grapes and 23 red grapes permitted, so choosing a favorite may be difficult.

In early June, the La Mancha region brought its wine to Los Angeles for a tasting event - appropriately - at The Bazaar by José Andrés, in the SLS Hotel Beverly Hills.  I didn't get to taste from every table, and each stop I made offered more delights than the one before.  Here are some highlights:

Vinos & Bodegas - The company was founded in 1997, but the Cantareto family's wine roots go back five generations.  Their Imperium Vini Sauvignon Blanc 2010 is produced without the use of oak, so it has a fresh flavor that is all fruit and herbs with a dash of citrus zip.  The Barón de Larrainz Red Semisweet 2011 is just slightly earthy Tempranillo with a nice touch of sweetness.

Arrayan - This winery in the northwestern part of the region has an unoaked Syrah/Merlot blend - La Verdosa First Wine 2011 - that is dark and fresh tasting.  The Arrayan Rosado 2012 uses the same grapes to their pink advantage.  Very fruity with a nice acidity.  The Arrayan Syrah 2009 is very savory and earthy, while their Petit Verdot 2007, with a year in oak, is savory and dark.

Bodegas Santa Cruz poured a pair of Verdejo wines - produced in different styles - that provided a great side-by-side comparison.  Santa Cruz de Alpera White 2012 shows great minerality and salinity, while its sibling - Santa Cruz de Alpera Partially Fermented Must White - is on the sweet side, with a bigger acidity.  I'm told that must wines need not carry a vintage, but this one is 2012.

Encomienda de Cervera not only makes wine, but olive oil and Manchego cheese, too.  Their 19th-century winery has been restored to modern standards.  The Soto de Zemtinar White 2011 is a surprisingly earthy Chardonnay loaded with minerality.  Vulcanus Syrah Rosé 2010 is deeply pink with a huge nose, great acidity and a mouthful of plums.  They saved their best for last, the 1758 Selección Cencibel 2010.  This vibrant red is Tempranillo under its La Mancha name, Cencibel.  The 50-year old vines contribute an amazing spice character which is even more interesting when you note that it is unoaked.  It's an incredible wine.

Domino de Punctum Organic and Biodynamic Wines' Viento Aliseo Graciano/Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 has an enormous nose and a palate of red fruit, graphite and oak spice.  It has a great backbone, too.

Bodegas Romero de Ávila Salcedo wins awards all over the world, which may explain why their export department speaks several languages.  Their Portento Tempranillo 2011 is a no-oak wonder, with bright and fresh red berry flavors.

Altolandon's altitude - 3,600 feet - makes for a cool-climate area.  Altolandon White 2010 mixes Chardonnay with Petit Manseng for minerals, herbs and fruit on the nose and palate.  The L'Ame Malbec 2010 is a perfumed, bold, spicy red.  Rayeulo 2009 is made from the locally popular Bobal grape.  It should be popular in more places.  This rather brawny wine sports a juicy, red nose with a slightly sour touch and plum flavors galore.  Great tannic structure, too.

Finca Los Alijares is a relative newcomer in a land with as much history as La Mancha - founded in 2005.  The Finca Los Alijares Viognier 2012 is pure fruit - a floral nose and lemon zest in the mouth make for a great sip.  Finca Los Alijares Graciano 2010 is earthy, plummy, clean and pure in the mouth.  There is a touch of roses on the cherry flavors.

Bodegas Cristo de la Vega produces the Marques de Castilla line.  Their White Airen 2012 puts a savory angle on the white peach flavor and offers stirring acidity.  Their Rosé of Tempranillo and Garnacha 2012 made me wish the tasting had been held out in the warm sun.  The Reserva Tempranillo/Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 shows caramel notes on the nose and is fruity and elegant on the palate, with a touch of smoke.

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure Wine Event

It was a perfect mid-February, Southern California Saturday for a trip out of Los Angeles.  We enjoyed sunny, warm weather as we headed north on the 101 Freeway toward Santa Barbara wine country.  We didn’t have to do much work - our car knows the way very well.  We were bound for the Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure, amidst the windmills and wine bars of Solvang.

The Garagiste Festival began in Paso Robles, an effort to spotlight some of the many small-production winemakers in that region.  The festival’s name comes from the French word that describes small, maverick wine producers operating in garages instead of chateaux.  Most of the producers who pour at the Garagiste events have no “winery” - they buy grapes directly from choice vineyards and turn them into wine in unheralded, low-overhead locations.

Stewart McLennan and Doug Minnick are co-founders of the Garagiste Festival, Lisa Dinsmore is the Event Director and Melanie Webber handles the public relations.  Billing their new festival as “the first and only event dedicated to celebrating and promoting the artisan winemakers of the Santa Ynez Valley,” the team has set their sights on further expansion.  They envision Garagiste events held all year long in various parts of California.  I can’t wait to hear where the next new entry will be.  They should all be as well-received as the first two.

The winemakers and wine tasters aren’t the only ones to benefit from the California Garagistes.  In January, Cal Poly’s wine and viticulture program got a check for $10,000 from the Garagiste Festival’s Paso Robles event, and the Southern Exposure version promises more to help pave the way for future winemakers.

The Artisans and Their Wines

Winemaker Ron Hill’s (right) 2009 Babcock Vineyard Pinot Noir ($44) shows black tea and cola notes, while his 2009 Grenache ($30) and 2009 Syrah ($35), both from Alisos Vineyard, are dark, funky and loaded with acidity.  His new Syrah rosé (barrel sample) has a nose exploding with candy and flowers.  It’s due for release in March or April.

Altman Winery
Winemaker Andres Ibarra crafted a 2008 Chardonnay ($16) with gorgeous, smoky fruit from La Presa Vineyard and acidity to burn.

Paul Wilkins makes wine for Alta Maria Vineyards and Native9, but he can’t get enough of it.  Autonom is his solo project, focusing on very limited-release Rhone varieties.  His 2009 “Law of Return” Grenache ($44) sports a 5% splash of Syrah and shows cherry and a hint of funk on the nose.  Nielson Vineyard fruit is lovely.  The 2009 Rhone Cuvée ($32) allows the Laetitia Vineyard Syrah to drive, with 30% Grenache riding shotgun.  Earth and bacon await.

C. Nagy
When Riverbench winemaker Clarissa Nagy (left) has some alone time with winemaker husband Jonathan, they make more wine.  The 2011 Bien Nacido Pinot Blanc ($25) is a pure joy, the 2010 Garey Ranch Pinot Noir ($48) is huge and dark and the 2010 White Hawk Vineyard Syrah ($30) shows some Southern Rhone funk.  Look for the 2012 Viognier in May, with tangy White Hawk fruit.

Center Of Effort
Named for a sailing term describing the most efficient point on a sail, COE gets winemaking direction for its Burgundian wines from Mike Sinor when he’s not busy at Ancient Peaks.  The 2010 Pinot Noir ($40) is extremely aromatic and bold on the palate.

Cordon Wines
Winemaker Etienne Terlinden (also of Summerland) says of his 2011 French Camp Zinfandel ($23), “I do this Italian style, picking the grapes earlier for a higher acidity level.”  It shows spice and vanilla on the nose and a slight bramble on the palate.  His 2010 White Hawk Syrah ($26) gives a lovely herbal scent with very dark blackberry flavor.

La Fenêtre
Winemaker Joshua Klapper (right, pouring in lower left) always seems to have the busiest table at every wine event where I see him.  I took the photo from the stage above him, in case I couldn’t get any closer.  Happily, I did squeeze my way through for a taste of his 2010 Bien Nacido Chardonnay ($39).  Eighteen months in French oak - 20% of which is new - imparts a butterscotch essence to the already smoky fruit.

Soft-spoken winemaker Kevin Law is not exactly a “born promoter,” preferring to let his wines speak for themselves.  A pair of Pinot Noir - 2011 Arroyo Grande ($28) and 2010 Presqu'ile Vineyard ($44) - are impressive for dark aromas and fruit.  Smoky on the former, fruity on the latter.  His 2010 Santa Barbara Syrah ($26) is dark as well, with a beautiful layer of acidity.

James Ontiveros worked hard to reclaim a portion of the land that came to his family as a Mexican land grant nine generations ago.  It’s mainly a cattle ranch now, but he has his dream of an eight-acre vineyard.  His 2009 Pinot Noir ($64) is very dark and laced with smoke.  The 2010 Pinot ($64) seems better integrated.

Refugio Ranch
Ryan Deovlet makes the wine for the Gleason family, and the 2010 “Tiradora” Sauvignon Blanc ($28) shines with just a hint of grass and great acidity.  The 2009 Barbareno ($42) is two-thirds Syrah, one-third Petite Sirah - extremely aromatic and loaded with blackberry.

Roark Wine Co.
If there’s anything to be said for being different, you can say it about Ryan Roark (left).  He makes Chenin Blanc, Malbec and Cabernet Franc.  Oh, and something called Pinot Noir.  I love the savory edge on his 2012 Chenin Blanc (barrel sample) but his 2011 Malbec ($28) is all perfume and spice - lovely.  Roark told me his 2011 Cabernet Franc ($28) had no sulfur added to it.  When I asked if he was making a “natural wine,” he shot me a look that said he’d rather not open that 750ml bottle of worms.  He left it at, “I didn’t put anything in that wine.”  It is kinda dirty, kinda rustic, kinda spicy and kinda delicious.

Ryan Cochrane Wines
I like a guy who hits you with his clones while pouring the Pinot Noir.  Ryan Chachrane’s 2011 Pinot Noir sports clones 113, 116 and 667 from Fiddlestix Vineyard.  There's mocha on the nose and black tea on the palate.  Cochrane worried that the twelve barrels he made last year wouldn’t be enough even for garagiste status - but it was.

Seagrape Wine Co.
After Karen Steinwachs (right) turned around the wine program at Buttonwood Farms, they let her make a little something for herself.  Her 2011 Zotovich Vineyard Chardonnay ($25) has smoky tropical fruit defining it, while her “Jump Up” Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($32) has an almost bracing acidity.  “That’s the Sta. Rita Hills,” she says.  “Natural acidity.”

Shai Cellars
Shawn Shai Halahmy poured an outstanding 2009 Grenache ($24) which has a big bouquet mixing cherry candy and coffee, with a nice tart edge on the palate.

Storm Wines
The 2011 Santa Ynez Sauvignon Blanc ($22) produced by Ernst Storm is a four-vineyard blend with lovely fruit and a slightly grassy note.  The 2012 Presqu’ile Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (barrel sample) shows a little more green.  Storm’s 2009 Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir ($40) carries the familiar smokiness of that area along with a floral element, while the 2010 John Sebastiano Vineyard Pinot Noir ($50) is fruitier.

Tercero Wines
Every year about this time, Larry Schaffer is eager to share his newest rosé with me.  True to form, the 2012 barrel sample is a funkfest on the nose.  “That’s the McGinley Vineyard Mourvèdre talkin’,” says Schaffer.  Dry and delicious, it will be bottled in March.  The Tercero 2011 White Hawk Vineyard Viognier ($20) is loaded with floral aromatics and the acidity hangs in there despite the lushness of the mouthfeel.  His 2009 Larner Vineyard Syrah (barrel sample) has logged 40 months in oak and has an enormous nose to prove it.  Schaffer saw my reaction and smiled, “Yeah, I’m an aromatics kinda guy.”

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Santa Clarita Wine Fest Is Coming

The folks who put on the LA Wine Fest every year will be tuning up once again just a bit to the north.  The Santa Clarita Wine Fest is scheduled to spill the wine at Bridgeport Marketplace on March 2, 2013, from 2:00 to 6:00 p.m.  Bridgeport Marketplace is located at 24045 Newhall Ranch Road in Valencia, CA.  This will be the third annual event for wine lovers in the 661.

The event promises to be enough of a pleasure with all the wine, beer and spirits poured, not to mention the food, cigars and other of life’s little delights.  But a good cause will be served as well - the Michael Hoefflin Foundation for Children’s Cancer will benefit as a direct result of your attendance.

The participants list for the 2013 SCWF is Southern California-heavy, with only a handful of wineries from Paso Robles or Napa Valley.  There’s a particularly strong showing from Ventura County and Malibu, though, so this will be a good chance to sample wines from those areas.  They may be a little hard to find at the wine shop, but they’ll be at this party.

Single adult tickets are $75, and for an extra $15 you can get in an hour early as a VIP.  There are deals for couples as well as designated drivers - just check the website.

The best deal is for Now And Zin readers - go to the website, tickets, then enter the code NOWandZIN to get your ticket for only $45.

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