Showing posts with label winery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label winery. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Two Tastes of Paso Robles

One of California's best and biggest wine regions is ready to do business again.  Paso Robles put their best feet forward in a webinar, held in celebration of the state's impending reopening, after the lengthy pandemic restrictions.  

Stacie Jacob of Travel Paso said a road trip is just what everyone needs right now, especially a road trip to Paso Robles.  She assured those on the Zoom meeting that when they are ready to travel, Paso Robles is ready to welcome them.  She pointed out that Paso Robles gets things most communities of 30,000 people don't get - world class wine, world class beer, world class restaurants and world class accommodations among them.

Mike Dawson, also of Travel Paso, promoted "girlfriend getaways" and the fun of a summer trip to the wine region that lies about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.  He called Paso the "wine country with beach access."

Jason Haas, of Tablas Creek Vineyard, said he likes the small town feel in Paso Robles.  He recalled that when he moved to Paso, the big news on the police blotter was a swarm of bees on Spring Street.  Haas, whose father was a co-founder of Tablas Creek, talked about the difficulty of maintaining social distance during wine tastings in the time of COVID.  They are renovating the tasting room with bar seating inside or an outside table available for guests.  He said the new use of outdoor areas was one of the silver linings of the COVID era.

Matt Brynildson, of Firestone Walker Brewing Company, made it clear that there is nowhere he would rather be than in Paso Robles.  A music fan, he commented that there is no shortage of live music in Paso.  My box of goodies for the webinar included Firestone Walker's Anniversary Ale, but he said they also have a hazy IPA, Mind Haze, among many other brews.

Eva Peck, of Stables Inn, spoke of her boutique accommodations, which are the smaller sister project of the more established Hotel Cheval.  Peck said Cheval's owners are avid equestrians who refurbished an old building, turning it into a funky hotel with beautifully appointed rooms.  Stable Inn was recently named one of the best new hotels in the world.  Cheval is now preparing to expand across the street, and Peck is looking forward to a more relaxed time when visitors can enjoy the travel experience much more than they have over the past year and a half.

There were comments made during the online event that it would hopefully be "the last Zoom meeting" for Travel Paso, but I hope it won't.  The folks in Paso Robles have done several webinars designed to keep people in the loop, and they've done a fantastic job with them.  They are quite informative - so much more than a simple sales pitch - and I would like to see their online presence continue.

Firestone Anniversary Ale XXIII

The slogan for Firestone Walker Brewing Company is "Beer Before Glory," which sounds so much better than citing the famous last words, "hold my beer."  During the decades they have been in operation, Firestone Walker has grown into a major player in the beer industry.  Brynildson indicated that his crew loves beer and loves making beer.  Their Anniversary Ale XXIII is very dark, like a porter, and carries an alcohol level of 11.5% abv.  The nose is extremely nutty, with a mountain of malt.  The palate is chocolatey, but savory instead of sweet.  Notes of vanilla, caramel and brown sugar also appear.  Several dark beers were aged in liquor barrels for a year, and a dozen winemakers participated in the blending process, what Brynildson called "organized chaos."  He feels the beer fits in well in the artisan community that is Paso.

Tablas Creek Vineyard Côtes de Tablas 2019

Tablas Creek Vineyard was founded "in the limestone hills of western Paso Robles" by the Perrin Family of Château de Beaucastel and the late Robert Haas of Vineyard Brands.  The winery is dedicated to sustainably farmed grape varieties of the Rhône Valley.

The 2019 Côtes de Tablas features 44% Grenache grapes, 30% Syrah, 17% Counoise and 9% Mourvèdre.  Each variety was harvested and vinified separately, then blended together in the spring before being aged in neutral oak for a year.  Alcohol tips 14% abv.

The 2019 Côtes de Tablas is medium dark in the glass, ruby red with a nice violet tinge.  The nose delivers lots of fruit - strawberry, cherry, red currant - and delivers it in such a fresh manner.  The fruit of Grenache, the power of Syrah, the structure of Mourvèdre and the wildness of Counoise work together splendidly.  The flavors are fresh and bright, almost as if there had been no oak involved.  It is almost surprising, considering the muscular grapes in the blend, that the wine has a light and elegant feel.  The tannins are firm but not a bother, so pairing is easy without losing the sipping factor.

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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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Sunday, March 4, 2012


Bristol's Hard Apple Cider

The Southern California thermometer nudged up over the 80 degree mark in early March, and the contacts on my Facebook page were all gassed about getting out and grilling a steak.  It always amazes me when that first 80-degree day rolls around.  The roads to the beaches are clogged, outdoor restaurants can’t get enough tables on the sidewalk and the grills are a-blazin’.
It amazes me because, generally speaking, Southern California weather is not too far off the 80-degree mark all winter.  Why people in Los Angeles feel they need to be “spared from old man winter” is confounding to me.  
Sure, Southern California has its share of days when the high temperature doesn’t get out of the 50s.  You should hear the complaining then.  Folks in Michigan and Vermont and Ohio consider a high in the 50s to be the harbinger of spring.   
The SoCal beaches are crowded all year, sidewalk tables are always an option and we can pretty much grill anytime we like. Why wait?
Even so, after a long winter of fighting off that 60-degree chill with a 65-degree red wine, I have my own little springtime celebration.  When that 80-degree mark hits SoCal - while other parts of the country are still having to shovel snow - I like to break out a summer beverage.  
I purchased Bristol’s Hard Apple Cider at the Lone Madrone tasting room in Paso Robles for $12.50 in the summer of 2011, and I understand the cider is sold out now.  
Credited on the label as being produced and bottled by the Traditional Company of Colfax, California,  I couldn't find any info about that organization.  The apples come from See Canyon in San Luis Obispo and the cider carries a 6.6% abv number.
The Lone Madrone website says this about the Bristol’s Hard Apple Cider:

“This Zummerzet style cider was fermented in retired oak wine barrels and stainless steel tank. The cider is finished in bottle with champagne yeast a practice which yield's tiny yet vigorous bubbles. Made with See Canyon apples, it is dry, dry, dry with with crisp apple on the palate.”
The bouquet is all apple, all the time.  I was a little surprised, since I expected the influence from the oak barrels to be more significant.  It’s a very nice aroma, quite fresh and intense.  The palate offers more apples, and a generous amount of bubbling action in the mouthfeel.  As advertised, it’s dry, not sweet, and it went quite well on a warm afternoon with a fresh tomato salad.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Pomar Junction Brooster

The Merrill family can boast of an eight-generation lineage in the California farming industry, stretching back to the Mission era.  The almond and fruit orchards eventually became the Pomar Junction vineyard.  They also have a heritage in the railroad business, which is why you’ll find a boxcar and caboose on the grounds of the winery.  They stand as a tribute to Marsha Merrill’s grandfather, the railroad engineer.

Dana and Marsha Merrill handle the farming and business end with son Matthew, while winemaker Jim Shumate turns the sustainably-raised grapes into their small-lot wines.  Pomar Junction estate fruit - along with choice lots from other vineyards managed by their Mesa Vineyard Management company - are grown in what the Merrills say is the most environmentally conscious way possible.

Dana Merrill was ahead of the curve on the sustainability issue, helping found the Central Coast Vineyard Team.  That organization’s mission statement says they “identify and promote the most environmentally safe, viticulturally and economically sustainable farming methods, while maintaining or improving quality and flavor of wine grapes.”

Pomar Junction Vineyard was one of the first to be certified by the SIP program - Sustainability in Practice - an honor which “recognizes a vineyard’s commitment to environmental stewardship, equitable treatment of employees, and economic stability.”  It took the Merrills six years to bring the vineyard up to their standards - and those of the CCVT.

Fittingly, Pomar Junction will be the site of the 2012 Earth Day Food & Wine Festival on April 21, an event which showcases sustainably produced wine and food products.

Pomar Junction kindly provided Now And Zin with a sample of their Brooster Red Wine Pomar Junction Vineyard, Paso Robles 2010.

This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel also utilizes estate fruit and has a moderate - for Paso - 14.3% alcohol level.  It’s aged in neutral French oak, retails for $18 and has a Stelvin screw cap closure.  

Brooster's nose offers quite a whiff of alcohol at first, so breathing or decanting is a must.  The fruit aromas are dark and tarry, with a hint of bramble.  On the palate, that dark fruit leads the way with the tar close behind.  There are notes of coffee and tea adding complexity and the tannins are rather forceful in this very dry wine.  I liked it more with each sip.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Cru Vin Dogs - The Loyal Companion

For some folks, the wine business has gone to the dogs, and they like it that way.  Cru Vin Dogs in a winery based in Denver, Colorado, which "tracks down exceptional vineyards and small lots of wine throughout the world to craft masterful blends of exceptional quality and value."

Every Cru Vin Dogs release features a pencil drawing of a dog - a different breed each time - by gifted artist Jay P. Snellgrove.  Prints of these drawings are available to wine club members, with the remainder offered to the public.

The winery also has a philanthropic side showing on their line called “The Loyal Companion.”  Proceeds from the sale of these wines helps local animal shelters and rescue groups find homes for some of man’s best friends who are doing without faithful companions of their own.

Cru Vin Dogs’ winemaker Tony Wasowicz makes the Loyal Companion blends with small lots of grapes sourced from vineyards in Sonoma County.  I was provided with a couple of samples to try, and here are my notes.

Cru Vin Dogs - The Loyal Companion RedThe Loyal Companion Sonoma County Red Wine hits 14.8% abv on the alcohol scale and the $13 price tag means you can enjoy it even if your finances aren’t running with the big dogs.  It’s a mixed breed: 60% Syrah, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec and 5% Zinfandel.

The wine is extremely dark in the glass with a nose of dark fruit - blackberry and black plums - with an earthy overlay of minerals, tobacco and cedar.  There’s earthy fruit on the palate too, and plenty of it.  Wood spice also figures in on the palate, but not to distraction.  Lip smacking acidity and good tannins lead to a nice, dry and rather lengthy finish.

Cru Vin Dogs - Loyal Companion ChardonnayThe Loyal Companion Chardonnay also utilizes grapes from cool climate locations in Sonoma County.  It wags its retail at $13 and is barely slimmer in alcohol than the red - 14.5% abv.

This 100% Chardonnay is a pretty golden color.  The nose offers tropical fruit that is almost pungent in its intensity.  Oak spices are also present in the aromas.  Flavors of pineapple and mango are laced with those oaky spices.  The flavor of oak is somewhat heavier than the light touch promised in the winery's notes, so be prepared for some good ol' California Chardonnay.  There is a great acidity level, which means pairing with food shouldn't be a problem.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Four Brix Winery

Ventura, California is welcoming its first winery.  Four Brix Winery has actually been around a while, but they are moving into a new facility located at 2290 Eastman Avenue.  This will make Four Brix the only winery operating within the Ventura city limits.
After two years at the Wine Yard in Thousand Oaks, Four Brix Winery is celebrating the Grand Opening of its new winemaking and tasting facility the weekend of September 17-18, 2011.  This affair offers Ventura County wine lovers a great opportunity to celebrate California Wine Month right in their own backyard.
One of 12 wineries along the Ventura County Wine TrailFour Brix Winery produces wines inspired by cuvees from the Rhone Valley, Tuscany, Bordeaux and other renowned regions.
The winery is co-owned and operated by three couples – the Stewarts, the Simonsgaards, and the Noonans, who were prompted by their mutual love of food, wine, and people to found Four Brix Winery with the goal of sharing their passion with others.
The Four Brix Grand Opening festivities run Saturday and Sunday, September 17th and 18th, from noon until 5:00 p.m. both days.  Wine tastings are $10 and guests can join the Four Brix wine club at the "Founders Club" level, which affords members the ability to self-select each wine for their wine club shipment.  This special "Founders Club" membership will only be available through Grand Opening Weekend.
Local art will be displayed throughout the weekend, with light hors d'oeuvres, cheese plates, and charcuterie are available for purchase.  No reservations are required.  Get more information at Four Brix Wine.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Sculpterra Winery

There is a long list of winery tasting rooms in Paso Robles which are fun to visit, but there's one you really have to see.  Sculpterra Winery pours some good wine, but they also show off some dandy visual arts to go with it.

Sculpterra's property is adorned with beautiful iron work from master blacksmith Bob Bentley and the tasting room features contemporary art by Aleah Koury.  The grounds around the tasting room are a real treat, with sculptures in bronze and granite by John Jagger.

Sculpterra WineryPictures don't really do justice, so plan a visit to Sculpterra for your next trip to Paso Robles.  You'll be glad you did.  Just don't get so mesmerized outside that you forget to go inside to taste the wine.

The Frankel family started out growing pistachios and a few grapes.  The grapes won, as they now dominate their 260 acre estate vineyard.  They're still nuts about their pistachios, though.  Have some from the tasting bar.

Paul Frankel, winemaker Sculpterra WineryYoung winemaker Paul Frankel is a 2009 grad of Cal Poly SLO.  He has already shown his stuff in the winemaking game, sculpting some very nice wines to rival the sculptures outside the doors.

Sculpterra's 2010 Chardonnay is a steely white, while the 2009 Viognier has a big, floral nose with flavors of pears and honey.

The 2007 Merlot shows beautiful, smokey, red fruit, while their '07 Zinfandel is actually Primitivo.  Great spices abound in the '07 Syrah from O'Neal Vineyard.

Sculpterra WineryThe Sculpterra Cabs are wonderful.  The '07 has a zin-like nose and evidence of the American and Hungarian oak.  The '05 Cabernet Sauvigon - a library wine - is silky smooth with gentle tannins and a pencil point edge.  The '06 Cab is much fruitier than the '05, and gives some nice minty, herbal notes.

The 2007 Figurine is Paul's initial stab at winemaking, and he really nailed it.  Equal parts Cab and Zin with a bit of Merlot, this wine lets the different varieties really shine.  The '07 Maquette shows a lot of graphite.  It's 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 12% Petite Sirah.

They also poured the dense '08 Petite Sirah and a non-vintage Zinfandel dessert wine.  The late-harvest Zin is a Port-style wine with brilliant flavors that cry out for some blue cheese.

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Monday, May 30, 2011


Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon

One of the nice things about being someone who is visibly interested in wine is the fact that friends and family never have to think too hard about what to give me on gift-giving occasions.  Hint: it's a one-word answer.

My birthday triggered a very nice influx of bottles, so the wine rack at chez Now And Zin is full and happy.  The first cork to pop from the birthday bounty was a very nice California Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendocino County.

Bonterra Winery is in Hopland, California.  They farm organically, and have done so since 1987.  All the fruit used in making this wine is organic; 81% of it comes from Mendocino County with 19% contributed by Lake County.

Winemaker Robert Blue states on the label his affinity for organic farming and his belief that it produces the highest quality grapes.  Bonterra Winery and their grapes are certified by the California Certified Organic Farmers.  That label on the bottle is even made from 100% post-consumer recycled product.

The Bonterra Cab carries a 13.5% abv number.

The Cabernet Sauvignon is blended with Merlot, Syrah and what Bonterra calls "other complementary varietals."  I don’t know why they are so secretive about it, though.  The wine is a medium-dark ruby color in the glass, and it offers a huge fruit expression on the nose.  Cherries make the big play, with plenty of spiciness.  I pick up the scent of white pepper and a layer of vanilla and cedar.

The alcohol shows too much in the first sip, about 15 minutes after the bottle was opened.  Cherries, cherry cola and a raspberry note struggle to come forward through the haze.

Give it some time, and it settles down nicely.  Eventually it becomes as smooth as silk.  Over time, brambly notes and some graphite show up to augment the plum and blackberry flavors.  Firm tannins are present even on the third night the bottle is open, and the black cherry cola finish stays a long time.

Bonterra has crafted a delicious wine that's downright affordable to buy - or to give as a gift.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Lone Madrone

Several years ago at the Ojai Wine Festival I tasted a white blend by Paso Robles producer Lone Madrone that I fell in love with.  It's called La Mezcla.  The notes of bananas and tropical fruit on the nose, the citrus and minerals on the palate and the zesty acidity made this mix of Grenache Blanc and Albariño an instant favorite of mine.

Lone Madrone's owner and winemaker Neil Collins may be known to you as the Tablas Creek winemaker.  Lone Madrone is his personal label.

As long as I was in Paso, I figured I'd better stop in to the tasting room and see what else Collins had to offer.

Lone Madrone's Points West White 2008 has a funky nose and fabulous acidity.  A full-feeling wine, it's a blend of Roussanne, Viognier and Picpoul Blanc which displays pears, peaches and a sense of wet rocks on the palate.  The '07 Sweet Cheeks is an amazing wine. the grapes are handled in Vin de Paille style, where they are set out on straw in the biodynamic vineyard for a few days after harvest.  It has a beautiful, full mouthfeel bursting with apricot nectar.

A dry rosé, the 2010 Zin Blanco is all Zinfandel, showing earthy strawberries for summer.  The'09 La Mexcla Roja is great for warm weather, too.  It's a bright red wine with a slight effervescence and plenty of earthy minerals.  Serve this blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Counoise, Nebbiolo and Zinfandel chilled.

Points West Red 2007 is made of Syrah and Mourvèdre.  It has a briar-laced strawberry nose and big red fruit on the palate with a touch of vanilla spice.  Barfandel is not a new grape - or a stomach disorder - it's Lone Madrone's blend of Barbera and Zinfandel.  White pepper in the bouquet is joined by spicy, brambly red fruit on tha palate.

Thursday, May 12, 2011


The Now And Zin Wine Country series continues with the wine of Massachusetts.  The wine industry in The Bay State is still in its infancy by modern standards, although wine has been produced in Massachusetts since the 1600s.  The Pilgrims had barely gotten off the Mayflower when they started making wine from indigenous grapes.

Massachusetts now has over 30 wineries producing over 160,000 gallons of wine per year.  Most of the wineries are in the southern portion of the state.

Cape Cod Winery was founded in 1994 by the Lazzari family.  The winery is located in the Southeasten New England AVA.  In the sandy, gravelly soil of their gently sloping vineyards in East Falmouth, Massachusetts, the Lazzaris grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Pinot Grigio grapes.  They also grow Seyval and Vidal, and the wine I tasted is a blend of those two white grapes.

Cape Cod Winery Nobska WhiteCape Cod Winery's Nobska White blends Seyval Blanc and Vidal Blanc to produce a semi-sweet white wine with only 12% alcohol content.  Both are hybrid grapes, with Seyval ripening early and well suited to cold weather and Vidal noted for its elevated sugar content and high acidity.

Nobska White has a beautiful golden color in the glass and is quite aromatic, with a candy-like aroma of guava-meets-cognac.  A honey component joins a green pepper scent on the nose as well.  The flavor is strongly tropical and finishes like a lemon-lime Sweet Tart.  The wine is well suited for pairing with seafood with an acidity level that, while not razor sharp, is crisp and refreshing.  The mouthfeel is rather full - it feels almost creamy in the mouth - and should be served chilled for best effect.

I would imagine Cape Cod Winery's Nobska White would be a perfect wine to sip on the deck during warm summertime weather.

Cape Cod Winery also makes two red blends - one of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and the other a Merlot/Cabernet Franc mix.  The winery's blush is created using their Seyval grapes and organic Cape Cod cranberries.

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Monday, May 9, 2011


Bridlewood Blend 175

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Film director and wine baron Francis Ford Coppola has undertaken the huge project of trying to breathe life back into the downtrodden Inglenook brand.

San Francisco Chronicle article in the business section reported that Coppola has acquired the Inglenook name from the Livermore, California-based company The Wine Group.  Coppola's Rubicon Estate in Napa Valley is on the actual property which used to be Inglenook.  According to the article, he intends to transform the property into America's premier wine estate.

Inglenook enjoyed a three-decade run as one of America's top quality wine producers.  That period ended in the mid-1960s when the brand was sold to United Vintners.  That started a decline which resulted in the Inglenook label landing in wine's bargain basement alongside Paul Masson, Almaden and Franzia.

Inglenook's current product is looked upon by many as plonk, but Coppola points out that bottles from the company's heyday are still regarded as some of the best Cabernets in the world.  His intention is to bring back that kind of quality to the Inglenook name.

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.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Rainbow at Niner Wine Estates

The wine industry boasts many people and companies who would like to make the world a better place.  Making great wine for our enjoyment certainly helps in that effort, but there is much more to improving our situation on the planet than knowing how to create a good time in a bottle.

Niner Wine Estates in Paso Robles has gone above and beyond the call of wine, at least according to the U.S. Green Building Council.  Niner's state-of-the-art facility has been honored with the organization's LEED Silver Certification.  This makes Niner one of only four wineries in California - and the first in the Central Coast AVA - to be recognized in this manner for designing and operating their facility with extreme greenness in mind.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.  It's a building rating program, a nationally accepted benchmark for evaluating the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings.  Buildings are certified based on superior performance in energy efficiency, sustainable site development, water efficiency, selection of materials and indoor environmental quality.

Niner Wine Estates exteriorNiner was awarded the LEED Silver Certification for its Paso Robles complex, which includes a Hospitality Center, Demonstration Winery and Production Winery totalling about 75,000 square feet on 140 acres of Westside real estate.

Niner's owners Richard and Pam Niner were over the moon about the certification.  According to Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO and Founding Chair of the U.S. Green Building Council, so was the council.  "The work of innovative building projects such as Niner Wine Estates is a fundamental driving force in (the green building) movement," said Fedrizzi.

In the Niner Wine Estates Production WineryA tour of the facility showed the different facets which allowed Niner to achieve the honor.  Niner's enologist, Lorna Kreutz, guided me through the entire Production Winery.  She took it all in stride, but I was agog at the pristine conditions I found in the tank room.  I guessed that since the place is fairly new, it just hadn't had time to take on a "lived-in" look.  "No," said Lorna, "we work pretty hard to keep it looking nice."  I spied what looked like a couple of scraps of paper on the floor, but I was wrong again.  "Those are actually pieces of tape placed there for measurement purposes," she said.  "When the crew is done working, they'll take those up."

The building, of course, is not only clean - it's green.  It's built into a cut in the hillside to help keep it cool naturally.  Insulated concrete walls help with that, too.  The cellar has a system which brings in night air, and that also helps reduce cooling needs.

Lorna explained that wastewater is treated and recycled for use as vineyard irrigation, and rainwater is also collected for that purpose.

The building materials are either recycled or locally manufactured, the multi-level design allows gravity to do the work of pumps and even the paint and flooring uses materials which enhance not only the indoor environment, but the one outside as well.

Niner Wine Estates has proven that a technologically advanced facility can also be one that fits well into its surroundings and one that keeps the environment at the forefront.  All this comes at some cost.  As I poked around various places in Paso Robles, I heard the facility and its "$50 million pricetag" talked about with some pride and, I suspect, some jealousy.  I'm sure any winemaker would love to have this kind of winery as a workplace.  Niner's winemaker Amanda Cramer should get some of the credit for this design, as she had a hand in creating the Niner winery as a functional wonder of the wine world.

Richard Niner is the visionary here, and he's the guy who put his money where his dreams are.  His belief that world class wines are the sum total of great people, great vineyards, great tools and great ideas is the driving force behind Niner Wine Estates.

Monday, May 2, 2011


Ancient Peaks Winery

A trip to Paso Robles, California promised a high level of exposure to people who live and breathe wine.  Before my destination arrived, I took the Santa Margarita exit from US Highway 101 and found myself immersed inAncient Peaks Winery.

The Vineyard Tour

It wasn't just a tasting room visit, either.  I hopped up into Karl Wittstrom's huge pickup truck and headed for the vineyard, stopping just up the road for a bag of sandwiches to bring along.  That's how they do the tour at Ancient Peaks.  They get you out of the cozy tasting room and take you where the wine business really happens.

Ancient Peaks is owned as a partnership by three winegrowing families.  Karl Wittstrom is one third of that partnership.  A towering rancher who knows the vineyards like he knows low gear in that pickup, Wittstrom is a fountain of knowledge about the grapes, the vines, the dirt, the rocks, the mountains, the flora and fauna, the bugs - he knows about everything you can see from any point in his vineyard, and that's a lot.  I didn't ask, but I'm sure he could identify every grain of dirt on his dusty floorboard mats.

Karl WittstromThe thing is, you don't have to ask.  Karl Wittstrom has all this information ready to spill forth anytime someone looks interested, which I suppose I did.

His urge to share is so great and his energy so boundless he's the natural choice to guide the tour.  At one point he stopped the truck and had me get out to look at a compost station.  He turned the mulch with a shovel and stuck his hand in to grab some, so I could see the worms.  With boyish enthusiasm he motioned with his head back to the pickup, where my wife was chatting with our companion on the tour.  With a complete lack of irony, he asked, "D'ya think she wants to see the worms?"  I offered that she could probably skip this lesson, and he continued undaunted, poking the compost with the shovel and explaining how the worms figure into the winegrowing process.

I knew before the tour that there was a lot I didn't know about growing grapes.  During the tour, it became increasingly apparent just how much I didn't know.

The People of Ancient Peaks

Wittstrom owns his own family vineyard as well as the partnership vineyards with Ancient Peaks.  Doug Filliponi - a longtime local winegrower - oversees all vineyard operations for the winery and Rob Rossi - Ancient Peaks' planning and development guy - is connected in the business side of things.

Mike Sinor - Director of Winemaking - has15 years Central Coast winemaking experience.  2006 was his first full vintage at Ancient Peaks.  Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins is the winery's VP of sales and marketing.  She's a fifth-generation Paso Robles native.

Growing Grapes

All fruit used by Ancient Peaks comes from their sustainable estate vineyards - SIP certified (Sustainability In Practice) - which allows them to "express the personality of the vineyard."
The different varieties of grapes are allowed to ripen at their own pace.

Vineyard pests are controlled naturally, with a program utilizing boxes as habitats for bats, bluebirds, owls and other predatory birds.  No oak trees were removed during the planting of Margarita Vineyard, and wetlands requirements were exceeded.

Margarita Vineyard - sustainably farmed - is the southernmost vineyard in the Paso Robles appellation.  It's surrounded by the Santa Lucia mountain range which are the ancient peaks from which the name was taken.  It is the only vineyard in the area, and its location in the Santa Margarita Ranch is where grapes were first planted by Franciscan missionaries in 1780.

Oyster shell fossils at Margarita VineyardThe vineyard features five distinct soil types: ancient sea bed, sedimentary, shale, volcanic and granitic.  The folks at Ancient Peaks feel these different soil types bring added dimension and complexity to their wines.  Wittstrom delighted in showing off the ancient oyster shells which are imbedded in outcroppings and even scattered about the hillsides of the vineyard.

Wittstrom concluded the tour by taking us through the rest of the historic Santa Margarita Ranch property dotted with old barns, old things in storage and even an old train built by Walt Disney in 1955.  There's history everywhere you look.  The train still functions, and they crank it up now and then for special events.

The Wines

Back in the cozy confines of the Ancient Peaks tasting room, we were poured through the wine list.  The Ancient Peaks wines are exceptional, each one of them.  Most of their wines are in the $14 to $17 price range, with the exception of the Malbec and the Petit Verdot, which sell for $35.

Interior of old barn at Santa Margarita RanchSauvignon Blanc 2010 - Grapes from the cool-climate Margarita Vineyard are augmented by a bit of fruit from San Juan Vineyard, in the eastern portion of the Paso Robles AVA.  Grass and minerals dominate the expressive nose and the steel-fermented wine is crisp and refreshing with a very nice acidity.

Rosé 2010 - Great floral and cherry notes highlight this stainless steel pink made of Pinot Noir from Margarita Vineyard.

Blanco 2010 - Ancient Peaks shows off three of Margarita Vineyard's five soil types in this one.
The Pinot Gris comes from ancient sea bed, the Chardonnay from granitic soil and the Sauvignon Blanc from a sedimentary block.  The PG comes on stronger than the Chardonnay, and there's a nice touch of Sauvignon Blanc; minerals galore.

Zinfandel 2008 - Lavendar notes on the nose and a hint of chocolate on the palate make for a delicious experience.  The Zin is joined by a splash of Syrah.

Merlot 2009 - This is the variety upon which the brand was founded.  Superb minerals play off a cherry/blackberry theme.  A bit of help from the Cabs, Sauvignon and Franc.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 - Very smooth, and very complex, this Cab has 8% Petit Verdot and 8% Malbec.  Cassis and graphite come forward.

Malbec 2008 - One of my favorites here, this wine features a fantastic nose showing traces of violets and chocolate.  8% Syrah.

Petit Verdot 2008 - This 100% varietal wine utilizes grapes from Margarita Vineyard and the warmer climate Wittstrom Vineyard northwest of Paso Robles.  It's dark and complicated, with cassis aromas paving the way for a smooth and juicy palate.

Petite Sirah 2008 - The 85% Petite Sirah comes from Karl's personal Wittstrom Vineyard, while 15% is Margarita Vineyard Syrah.  A brambly bouquet leads to a dark palate with firm tannins and a caramel finish.  This wine carries a 15.7% alcohol number.

Oyster Ridge 2007 - Much of the fruit for this beauty comes from the section of Margarita Vineyard known as Oyster Ridge, the ancient sea bed.  Cabernet Sauvignon takes its cues from Petite Sirah, Merlot and Petit Verdot.  The nose is big, fruity and floral while the palate shows plenty of minerals.  One taste brings the sight of all those oyster fossils into clear focus.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Vibrant Rioja

It was a Spanish wine tasting event that really got me started exploring wine years ago, and I am repeatedly drawn back to events which feature Spanish wines.  The Vibrant Rioja tasting event of April 11, 2011 jumped onto my calendar instantly.  It was held at Hatfield's Restaurant in Los Angeles.

The room was perhaps a little small for the gathering of 20 or so importers, all pouring a number of wines at their tables.  Space was extremely limited and enthusiastic wine dealers, sommeliers and writers jammed the dining area for the afternoon event.

Great wines abounded, and I'll cover some of them in another post.  Today I want to concentrate on my favorite table of the event, the one that was so crowded the whole afternoon I could hardly edge myself in for a few tastes.  That would be the table where the wines of Lopez de Heredia were poured.

Lopez de Heredia was founded in 1877 and is a Rioja institution, still owned and operated by the same family.  They are particularly proud of their Tondonia Vineyard on the right bank of Ebro River, around which the Rioja region is drawn.  Heredia also has three other vineyards, also in Rioja Alta - Cubillo, Bosconia and Zaconia.

The winery is known as much for white wines as for red, maybe more so.  They age their whites and rosés in much the same manner the reds are aged, and they stand as a testament to age-worthy whites.  White, pink or red, this is what old-world wine is all about.

Heredia's Viña Gravonia 2000 Crianza is a white wine made from 100% Viura grapes.  This golden treat is tasting great, with a smokey and nutty taste.  It's nice and dry with great acidity.

Viña Tondonia Rosado Gran Reserva 2000 - This brownish peach-colored rosé is a blend of 60% Garnacha, 30% Tempranillo and 10% Viura.  The unusual, smokey nose leads to a palate decorated with a nutty strawberry flavor.

Viña Cubillo Crianza 2005 - A red blend of 65% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha and some Graciano and Mazuelo filling out the rest, this wine offers a hint of anise on the nose and rustic, earthy cherry flavors.

Viña Bosconia Reserva 2002 - Smooth, dusty cherry aromas and flavors dominate this blend of 80% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha and Graciano and Mazuelo.  It's aged in French oak for five years.

Viña Tondonia Tinto Gran Reserva 1991 - Heredia says 1991 was one of the best vintages in the history of the Tondonia Vineyard, and this wine bears out that claim.  Toasted vanilla notes and a full mouthfeel are featured in this very dry Tempranillo/Garnacha blend filled out with Graciano and Mazuelo grapes.  Aged in barrels for nine years, this wine is old-world elegance defined.

Viña Ijalba Graciano 2007 - Amanda Linn of WineWise was also pouring this new-world style, almost as an afterthought.  Its extreme fruitiness was delicious and served as an excellent counterpoint to the Heredia old-world style.