Tasting Event: Stars of Santa Barbara

February 4, 2010
Stars of Santa Barbara

Wine Tasting at the Peninsula

Ian Blackburn’s wineshow company, Learn About Wine, produced another wonderful and well-attended tasting event at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.  On February 3rd, 2010 the spotlight fell on around 40 notable Santa Barbara County wine producers as Stars of Santa Barbara had its seventh annual affair.

I have great fondness for wines from California’s Central Coast, in particular from Santa Barbara County, so I anticipated this event like a kid does Christmas.  I was not disappointed.  The wineries represented hailed from the Santa Barbara area, from the city’s Urban Wine Trail northward as far as the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail.

If you have done much traveling on the backroads of the Santa Ynez Valley and the Santa Rita Hills, a number of the following names will be familiar.  This is a short list of what I think are highlights of the event.

Buttonwood presented a couple of wines I found to be curious.  Their Cabernet Franc seemed positively bright, unusual in a variety which is noted for its darkness and density.  The Syrah Rose shocked me.  Blind, I would have sworn it was Sauvignon Blanc.  That profile came through rather prominently in the taste, too.  Winemaker Karen Steinwachs told me I wasn’t the first person to tell her that.  She offered an explanation that “the Syrah grows next to the Sauvignon Blanc.”  I wondered if maybe they had been harvested on a windy day. 

Coquelicot poured a blend called “Monamour” which has a pencil-point graphite aspect that’s very appealing.  I love their Sangiovese, wonderfully dense and dark with a very full mouthfeel.

Fontes and Phillips offered a number of wines which, unfortunately, were kept a little too cold.  This kept the aromas and tastes rather hidden, and was most problematic in the whites.  The rose “Panky” was affected as well, and that was a shame.  I know it to be an exceptionally good wine.  Their Pinot Noir, “La Encantada,” had lovely cherry notes.

Foxen had a number of wines to pour, but I only tried the 7200 “Volpino,” a Sangiovese/Merlot blend.  It was spicy, bright and fruity, a complete joy.

Jonata winemaker Matt Dees has crafted some wines that deserve attention.  I tried these first at the tasting, but they were so good I wished I had saved them for last.  A Cabernet Franc with stunning density, a Cabernet Sauvignon with the grace of a ballet dancer and the heft of a sumo wrestler, a luscious Syrah and Todos, a great kitchen-sink blend that brings the best of about 7 different grapes to the table and makes a feast of them. 

Lucas & Lewellen brought a Chenin Blanc with a great, nutty nose and a Petite Sirah that smelled almost like a chocolate bar. 

Qupe shared a table with AuBon Climat, so there was a fairly large crowd around them most of the time.  I did get in close enough to sample the Marsanne/Roussanne blend, which opened with a citrusy tartness and finished smooth and almost creamy.  The “Bien Nacido Hillside Estate” Roussanne smelled nutty and beautifully pungent.  It, too, finished quite nicely.

Tantara poured a Chardonnay with a full mouthfeel and a strong wood profile and a Piont Noir with a flinty nose.

Proceeds of a silent auction benefitted the TJ Martell Foundation and Cancer Research at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.


Loyola Marymount Wine Classic 2010

January 31, 2010
Loyola Wine Classic

Wine tasters in the gym at Loyola Wine Classic

The field house at Loyola Marymount University was the setting for the 2010 Loyola Wine Classic.  The crowd that pushed its way into the cavernous gymnasium couldn’t have been more excited if it were the Final Four being held there.  A gigantic crowd surged around the perimeter of the structure, tasting some of the finest wines available in California and exchanging notes with friends about what should be tried next.

So great was the throng that it was difficult for me to push toward the tables and have a taste myself.  Once there, it was difficult to maintain position for more than a couple of hurried samples.  I did manage to let myself be carried along with the crowd often enough to sample quite a few wines, most of which were exemplary.  It was impossible to use the crowd as a barometer of what was most popular – every table seemed to have a waiting line snaking away from it.

For what it’s worth, William Cole Vineyards appeared to be the first winery to run out of their supply.  The pourer chirped, “I usually am.”  Is it because so many people lined up to sample, because he poured large tastes or because he simply didn’t bring as much as everyone else?  I don’t know.  Neither did the student who was working the floor.  We had a bit of a laugh over it, though.

Here are the notable wines I tried, which is to say, every wine I tried.  Everything was good.  My favorites are noted as such and are in italics.

Loyola Wine Classic

There was music with the wine

Arns Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 – big, bold nose – slightly medicinal notes

Cafaro Cellars Merlot 2006 – nice, toasty nose – great fruit

Falcone Family Vineyards Annate NV – Syrah/Cab Sauvignon/Petite Sirah blend  46/34/20% – big Paso Robles nose and flavor

Foxen Vineyards Range 30 West 2006 –  Merlot/Cab Sauvignon – tons of earth, very smooth – a fave

Foxen Chardonnay Bien Nacido 2008 – big nose, sort of grassy – rish taste

Miner Family Winery The Oracle 2005 – Bordeaux blend of 5 grapes – v intense, smooth as silk – a fave

Ortman Family Vineyards Paso Robles Sangiovese 2007 – bright cherry nose, cherry coke palate – a fave

Ortman Edna Valley Chardonnay – big, rich nose – outdoorsy taste

Paradigm Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 – great nose – lushly earthy – a fave

Red Cap Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 and 2007 – both with tons of graphite and both delicious

Saddleback Cellars Viognier 2008 – huge floral nose, tropical palate – a fave

Lane Tanner Haka by Labrynth Tempranillo 2008 – very smooth and fruity

Lane Tanner Haka by Labrynth Petite Sirah 2008 – dark and spicy nose and taste – a fave

Lane Tanner Haka by Labrynth Free Bird 2008 – Merlot/Tempranillo blend with traces of Petit Verdot and Cab S – great fruit

Vinoce Vineyard – Cabernet Franc/Cab Suvignon and Merlot 2006 – fab nose, wonderfully dense – a fave

WesMar Winery Pinot Noir Balletto Vineyard 2007 – mellow, tea-like flavor

White Rock Vineyards Claret 2005 – wonderful graphite and penetrating dryness – a fave

ZD Wines Chardonnay 2008 – grapes from 4 regions – nose like a campfire

Pasadena PinotFest 2010, 2nd Annual

January 31, 2010
Pasadena PinotFest

Pasadena PinotFest draws a crowd

I made a sort of “wine resolution” at the beginning of the year to drink more Pinot Noir.  To that end, this month I have attended not one but two big tasting events featuring Pinot Noir.  The most recent, the Pasadena PinotFest, was held at the University Club of Pasadena on January 30.  I had not been to the venerable facility since my friends Jerry and Robin had their wedding reception there.  It was a jumpin’ joint that night, but the wine crowd got the room rockin’, too.

Pasadena PinotFest

Pinot lovers and Pinot pourers

A full house made their way from winery table to winery table, stopping to refresh their palates at a major cheese station, a carving table for assorted meats and a wonderful island where succulent braised short ribs were served atop a pile of cheesy grits.  Pleasure abounded from wall to wall.

Nearly 50 wineries were represented, and not all of them felt obliged to restrict their pours to Pinot Noir.  Quite a few brought Chardonnays and Syrahs with them, while I did see one Pinot Gris and a rose.  It was a Pinot Noir rose, however.

Pasadena PinotFest

I parked behind Clos Pepe

Although the room was crowded, I was able to make it in good fashion up and down the aisles.  At no time was it difficult to get close enough to the pourers to hear what they had to say about the wines.  In fact, at an event earlier in the month, I had some difficulty getting close to the Clos Pepe table.  This time around, winemaker Wes Hagen was able to devote his entire attention to my questions for several minutes.  That’s probably not the way he would have preferred it, but it worked very well for me.

Pasadena PinotFest

Ribs and grits

Hagen poured some of his prized rose to start.  He explained that for this pink wine, his grapes are taken a full six weeks before other Pinot growers begin harvesting.  He feels he can get full fruit flavor without letting the grapes possibly get overripe.  I agree.  The Clos Pepe rose has one of the best fruit presences I can remember tasting in a pink wine.  Moreover, his Pinot Noir seems almost like an extension of the rose rather than a different wine entirely.

Pasadena PinotFest

A fave

Another big favorite for me was Row 11 Russian River Valley 2007.  The spices were so delicious this one really did make my eyes open wide.  According to the pourer, winemaker Richard de los Reyes makes New World Pinot Noir by selecting the “best vineyards, in the best appellations and taking the best rows.”  She explained that’s where the name, Row 11, comes from.  Reyes can walk any vineyard in California and select any row he likes.  He apparently likes Row 11.

Pasadena PinotFest

Another fave

I was also taken with the Windstream 2008 Pinot.  It’s a big, floral, rich wine which is, I’m told, “the winemaker’s baby.”  Winemaker Anthony Riboli, of the Los Angeles winemaking Riboli Family, really impressed me with this wine.

Pasadena PinotFest

Anthony Riboli, Windstream

The Pasadena PinotFest served as a fundraiser for Hillsides, a Pasadena-based nonprofit organization doing good work for Southern California’s children.  If you weren’t able to help by attending, please click on their name and explore other opportunities to help.

Here are some of the wines I sampled (all are Pinot Noir):

Ampelos Lambda 2006 – very good

Ampelos Rho 2006 Barrel Select – excellent, bright and earthy on nose and palate

Ampelos Fiddlestix Vineyard 2007 – subdued fruit, somewhat green

Alma Rosa  Santa Rita Hills 2007 – nice and earthy

Alma Rosa La Encantada Vineyard 2005 – wild nose, got a lot of attention from other tasters while I was there

Badge 2006 – complex nose, spicy taste

Baileyana Grand Fire Peak Cuvee 2007 – earthy and full

Cargasacchi Point Concepcion Salsipuedes 2008 – barnyard nose, nice mineral profile

Cargasacchi Estate, Cargasacchi-Jalama Vineyard 2007 – brighter and more vibrant than Concepcion

Clos Pepe Rose 2009 – strawberry, 11.5% abv, great fruit presence, very “real”

Clos Pepe 2006 – like and “extension” of the rose, darker and fuller

Clos Pepe 2007 – even fruitier and fuller than ’06

Derby 2006 – very good nose

Ken Brown Santa Maria Valley 2007 – violets

Ken Brown Sta. Rita Hills 2007 – great sense of earth

Ken Brown Clos Pepe Vineyard 2007 – dark and brooding

Loring 2008 – like candy on the nose

Loring Gary’s Vineyard 2008 – herbaceous, bright and delicious

Marimar Don Miguel Vineyard 2006 – lovely and dark

Marimar Dona Margarita Vineyard 2006 – big nose, subdued fruit

Row 11 Russian River 2007 – OMG! great spices

Stephen Ross Chorro Creek 2007 – nice minerals

Tin House 2005 – very nice earth, big, sourced in Edna Valley

Windstream 2008 – very big taste, floral and rich, “winemaker’s baby”

Off The Beaten Path: SoCal Wine Tasting

January 30, 2010

Southern California has a wealth of wine tasting opportunities.  No matter where you are in Southern California, you probably have a nice tasting event coming up in the next few days in or near your neighborhood.  Let’s fire up the GPS and get off the well-traveled trail to explore a few hidden gems of Southern California wine tasting.

Rosso Wine ShopGlendaleRosso Wine Shop
3459 1/2 North Verdugo Road
Glendale, CA 91208
Rosso is a small but interesting wine store which carries not only the expected Italian, but also French, Spanish and California wines that are hand picked by the owner.  “Everyday wines that won’t break the bank” is how it’s summed up on the website.  Rosso’s website is a worthy read, because it contains links to corkage fees for a number of Southern California restaurants, a list of Farmers Markets and a slew of wine region maps.  Rosso’s tastings are held on Fridays and Saturdays under expert guidance.  Any questions you may have will be answered in knowledgeable fashion.  The tastings generally only cost $10.  By the way, if you’re hungry when you stop in, La Cabanita Mexican Restaurant is just two doors down.  Bag two birds and only park the car once.

San Dimas Wine Shop and Tasting RoomSan DimasSan Dimas Wine Shop and Tasting Room
225 W Bonita Avenue
San Dimas, CA 91773-3008
Wine tasting is not so much an event here as it is a natural occurance.  As long as the store is open, so are the wine bottles.  There’s a different menu each week which changes on Tuesdays and usually costs in the neighborhood of $12 to $15.  Each Sunday they offer a different bubbly by the glass.  Fine wines, micro-brewed beer and artisan cheeses are revered at this full-service wine store.  It’s a good place to know about the next time you’re in beautiful downtown San Dimas.

Off The VineSan PedroOff The Vine
491 6th Street
Suite 103
San Pedro, CA  90731
Michael and Alison Koth started from scratch with this little dream of theirs, and they have made it blossom into an integral part of their community.  Tastings are held Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and most are themed.  Relax in The Map Room, get a cheese plate if you like, and take a tour of a wine region, variety or style.  There’s no hurry, by the way.  The tastings last for hours.  Off The Vine also offers occasional dinners, tours and cruises tailored for wine lovers.  They have partnered with local restaurants that charge no corkage on wines purchased at Off The Vine, and even have a “Wine Tasting and a Show” promotion with an area theater!

All Corked UpSanta ClaritaAll Corked Up
26340 Diamond Place
Santa Clarita, CA  91350
866.4ACU.WINE (9463)
It’s a wine bar.  No, it’s a wine store.  Well, it’s both.  Depends on which door you use to enter.  It’s actually more – it’s also a restaurant with some really fabulous food, and a wine storage facility, too.  All Corked Up is hidden away, even by Santa Clarita standards.  They’re in a business park and hidden from the view of the main road – you should definitely call for directions if you don’t know your way around.  Once you find them, you’ll most likely be glad you went to the trouble.  The bar area – up front – is upscale and comfortable.  A long bar and a room full of tables offer plenty of space to relax, swirl, sniff and taste.  In the back area is the store, where you can find bottles of the great wines you just tasted.  There’s live music on a regular basis and special tasting events are never too far away. Be sure to write down the directions or throw down bread crumbs on your way there – you’ll want to return.

The Wine CountrySignal HillThe Wine Country
2301 Redondo Avenue
Signal Hill, CA 90755
No mistaking this place.  It’s a full-bore wine store.  They do pour a taste or two from time to time, though.  Regular tastings occur on Thursday and Saturday afternoons, with more in-depth classes on most Friday and some Wednesday nights.  The Wine Country’s website provides a clutch of information and even a Philosophy of Wine.  In that lengthy treatise, the notion of wine made for the marketplace is rejected and a more terroir-driven product is embraced.  It is this type of wine they strive to present in the store.

6724 Bright Avenue
Whittier, CA 90601
In historic Uptown Whittier, Phlight is a wine and tapas bar near the intersection of Philadelphia and Bright.  They serve daily flights of 3 wines for $12,  4 for $16.  Their wines are excellent, with a list that looks to be about half Californian and half Spanish, Argentine and Australian.  An occasional wine from Italy, Germany and New Zealand may show up on the menu, too.  Visit their website and you’ll find that Phlight is the dream of an enterprising young couple who want to give something back to their hometown.  It appears they are giving a lot, as Phlight has become quite the hotspot in Uptown Whittier.

Wine Events Coming up in 2010

January 27, 2010

Wine Tasting CaliforniaPasadena PinotFest, 2nd Annual
Jan 24-30
Noir Food & Wine
40 North Mentor Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91106
Jan 24 7:00 p.m. – Brian Loring Winemaker Dinner – $129
Jan 29 5:00 p.m. – Wes Hagen, Clos Pepe Tasting – $20
Jan 30 3:00 p.m. – Public Grand Tasting – $75 advance, $89 at door.
Attendance is limited to 350.
Each night during PinotFest Noir Food & Wine will feature flights of the Pinots from some of the participating wineries. $20-$30
All three events available for $200
Loyola Marymount University Wine Classic
Jan 31  2:00-5:00 p.m.
Loyola Marymount University
1 LMU Drive
LA CA 90045
More than 150 California boutiuque wineries will be featured.  A silent auction of specialty wines and products will be featured.  Proceeds benefit LMU student scholarships.
$90, $80 if purchased by January 15
Stars of Santa Barbara, 7th Annual
Wednesday, February 3
7:00-9:30 p.m.
The Peninsula Hotel, Beverly Hills
9882 S. Santa Monica Blvd
Beverly Hills, Ca 90212
Attendance is limited to 125.
Cost: $120.  Limited number of discount tickets are available at Goldstar for $69 while they last.  http://www.goldstar.com/events/beverly-hills-ca/stars-of-santa-barbara-at-the-peninsula-beverly-hills.html
The wine education group Learn About Wine will stage this event spotlighting 116 wines from the Santa Barbara area.  Participating wineries are set to include such luminaries as Ampelos, Carr, Dierberg, La Fenetre, Lucas & Lewellen, Riverbench, Sanford, Tantara and Zaca Mesa.
Valentine’N Wine Passport Weekend
Feb 12 – 15  Noon-5:00 p.m.
Participating Wineries of Ventura County
Seven wineries in Ventura County are hosting this tasting tour.  Bella Victorian Vineyard, Cantara Cellars, Herzog Wine Cellars, Rancho Ventavo Cellars, Old Creek Ranch Winery, Casa Barranca and Camarillo Custom Crush are the stops along the way, all within shouting distance of the 101 Freeway between Highway 23 and Highway 33.
$35 advance, $40 during event
Top 100 Cabs of the Napa Valley
Feb 13 3:00-6:00 p.m.
Bayleaf Restaurant
2025 Monticello Road
Napa, CA 94558
A judged blind tasting of the Top 100 Cabs of the Napa Valley is the highlight, but you’ll enjoy tasting the top Cabs in the land that’s known for them.  Hors d’ouevres will be served.  Judges will taste and score over 400 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wines several days prior to the event.  They will be ranked from 1 to 100 for you to taste them.
Attendance is limited to 300.
$95 $135 at door
Madera Wine Trail’s Wine and Chocolate Weekend
Feb 13 – 14 Noon-5:00 p.m.
Wineries of the Madera Wine Trail
9400 Road 36
Madera, CA 93636
Wine and cocolate delights for those in the Central Valley over Valentine’s weekend.
Edge of L.A. 1st Ever International Wine Festival
Apr 10 2:00-6:00 p.m.
Michael’s of Tuscany
470 W. 7th
San Pedro, CA
Over 40 wineries will be represented, hailing from all over the world.  Favorites from California will be featured alongside French, Eastern European, Aussie and more.  There’s a Winemaker Dinner following the event and a silent auction.  Proceeds benefit charities.
Cost: $50 – $500.  Limited number of tickets available.

On a smaller scale – but just as enjoyable -my friends at Pourtal in Santa Monica, The Wine House in West L.A., Wally’s in Westwood, Rosso and 55 Degree Wine in Glendale, K&L in Hollywood, Off The Vine in San Pedro and All Corked Up in Santa Clarita all sponsor regular tastings and special events.  Check the website of your favorite wine hang and pay them a visit!  Always remember to drink responsibly.  That includes tastings, too.  If you don’t have a designated driver, that’s why they have spit buckets.

Zinology At Pourtal

January 21, 2010

Zinology at PourtalFans of Zinfandel – and similar grapes Primitivo and Plavac Mali – will want to get to Pourtal in Santa Monica for their Tasting Tour of some favorites from California, Italy and Croatia.  Eight of the taps in Pourtal’s Enomatic system have been converted over to these big, flavorful wines and will be ready for tasting through the middle of February.  You can swing by anytime it’s convenient for you.  Pourtal has the Tasting Tour itinerary in PDF form.

Pourtal’s Sommelier Rachel Bryan put together an interesting mix.  It’s heavy on the Zinfandel with five California Zins included.  Dashe, Ridge, Quivira, Four Vines and Turley are the representatives from the Golden State.  Two Italian Primitivos – from Guttarolo and Vigneti Reale – and a Croation Plavac Mali from Dingac Peljesac round out the world tour.  Bryan explains why Zin’s roots are mysterious: “Some say California Zinfandel came from the Croatian grape, Plavac Mali, stopping by Italy, where they call it Primitivo. All wine grapes have roots from Western Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, however their exact origins are sometimes unknown, disputed, or have been genetically proven. Zinfandel’s origins have been the subject of dispute since the 1800’s.”

All three grapes in this Tasting Tour are said to be related.  Whether or not they are, the similarities are undeniable and worth experiencing.

Pourtal Wine Tasting Bar
104 Santa Monica Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Pinot Days Southern California, Grand Tasting

January 17, 2010

In the film Sideways Miles delivers a wonderful monologue about why he likes Pinot Noir.  He talks at length about the “thin-skinned, temperamental” grape which “needs constant care and attention” in order to thrive.  Miles calls Pinot Noir’s flavors “the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and ancient on the planet.”  It’s obvious Miles has a deep and abiding respect not only for the grape, but for those growers who have what it takes to “coax it into its fullest expression.”

Sunday January 17th, 2010 there was a celebration of the Pinot Noir grape, those who do the coaxing and those who take the raw ingredients in hand and make the magic happpen.  In Santa Monica Airport’s Barker Hangar, nearly a hundred wine producers gathered to pour their Pinots and talk about them to interested individuals during the Pinot Days Grand Tasting.

The picture at left shows the crowd of “trade tasters” who began filing in at 11:00 a.m.  When the general admittance started two hours later, space became considerably harder to find.  The Pinot Noir kept flowing, though.  Wide open and in plentiful supply at some tables, hidden behind a mass of humanity at others, the wine was the star at each.  Most producers brought out their 2006 and 2007 vintages, while some featured a fresh-faced 2008.  There was even one 2009 I spotted.  It was a rose.  From Pinot Noir, of course.

At this type of event, I judge the most popular wines by counting how many times I have to make my way around the facility before I can muscle in to those oh-so-desirable tables.  There were five notable wineries at Pinot Days which required me to make several laps around Barker Hangar before the crowd subsided enough to allow a bit of access.

The crowd at Flying Goat practically went away by the second time I passed.  Their loss.  Flying Goat’s ’07 Dierberg Vineyard was a fabulous wine with hints of spearmint.

I was able to taste at Merry Edwards the third time around.  I liked the Sonoma Coast Pinot better than the Klopp Ranch, but both were fine efforts, lush and dark.

Clos Pepe's Wes Hagen

It was my fifth pass before I could sample the wares from Hitching Post.  They served a nice array, including their Cork Dancer with its lovely nose and vanilla candy scents.  St. Rita’s Earth features just that, a healthy dose of Santa Rita Hills terroir.  Highliner has sweet aromas, firm tannins and layer after layer of flavors.  It seemed to be a real crowd pleaser.

Just across the aisle was J Vineyards. I made it through on the fifth time around here, too.  Their Nicole’s Vineyard Pinot was perhaps the fullest mouthfeel I experienced all day.  It’s a very smooth and deep wine.

Clos Pepe's Wes Hagen

By my admittedly unscientific method, Clos Pepe Vineyards was by far the busiest for the longest.  It was my sixth time around the hangar before I finally gave in and stood in line to taste Wes Hagen’s Pinot Noir.  It was worth the wait.  The 2006 showed a lot of depth.  Hagen even brought along a Pinot Noir Rose, 2009, which was not too sweet and not too tart.  Each time I had passed, Hagen was literally holding court.  Pouring his wine while firing off fast-paced repartee with the faithful, listing the wines he had available for tasting, which included “one for the true believers.”  Hagen was obviously enjoying his time pouring for the public.  At one point when he was hidden by the throng of people surging towards him I heard him remark, to no one in particular, “I learned everything I know about table tasting at La Super Rica!  Talk to everybody!”  And that he did.  Hagen is a good follow on Twitter, by the way.  When not referencing Santa Barbara’s most popular taqueria, he sometimes waxes poetic.  The man has a gift for haiku.

In all, I tasted 47 wines at Pinot Days.  By the end of my session my palate had gone into a Pinot Daze, so I had to call it quits.  I did manage to taste from all the wineries I had set out to taste from, and a few I hadn’t.  Here are some that captured my attention:

C. Donatiello Maddie’s Vineyard – a minty note I liked a lot

Carr Vineyards & Winery Three Vineyards Pinot and Turner Vineyard Pinot – both show excellent minerals and a flowery component, the latter a bit more delicate

Demetria Estate – ’07 has a lively nose and a bit of tartness on the palate; ’06 has lots of depth

Derby Wine Estates – nice nose, earthy palate

Dutton-Goldfield Winery – ’07 McDougall Vineyard has peppery notes; ’07 Sanchietti Vineyard was one of my favorites

Fess Parker’s ’08 Santa Barbara County – a great nose and a dark quality; ’07 Bien Nacido really fills the mouth well; ’07 Pommard Clone was no slouch

Ketcham Estate ’07 Ketcham Vineyard – a wonderfully expressive Pinot

La Fenetre – two great wines and an amusing good cop/good cop show from Josh Klapper and Adam Leeman

MacMurray Ranch Sonoma Coast – a very full mouthfeel and a smooth drinker

McIntyre Vineyards ’07 Estate – violets and a more rustic feel than ’06 Estate, which I found very appealing

Wine Pairings With Santa Maria Barbecue

January 12, 2010

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

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

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

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

ADDAMO VINEYARDS – 2005 Syrah or 2005 Pinot Noir

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

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

BYRON WINERY – 2006 Tepusquet Syrah or Clone 667 Pinot Noir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RANCHO SISQUOC WINERY – 2007 Sisquoc Barbecue Red or 2008 Sylvaner

Wines For Rockers: Red Zeppelin

January 11, 2010

Red Zeppelin WineI ran across another rock’n’roll winery for your rocking and drinking pleasure. Red Zeppelin Winery is located in Cayucos, CA, just up Highway One from Morro Bay. It’s an interesting part of California, and the Red Zeppelin wines are made of grapes taken from several nice areas near there. The fruit comes from Paso Robles, Monterey County and San Luis Obispo County.

Unlike other wines with rock’n’roll labels, Red Zeppelin seems to be a wine first and a marketing ploy second. I make this statement without the benefit of an actual tasting.  With what seems to be a good track record by the winemaker, a raft of awards and the fact that they’ve been doing it for a while now – since 1991 – I feel justified in biting on the hype.

One corner of Red Zeppelin’s website describes a rather bizarre link between the dirigible on the label and Randall Grahm’s Le Cigare Volant. It’s worth reading. There, you’ll also find that Red Zeppelin wines have won several awards and been praised by no less than the San Francisco Chronicle and Rachel Ray.

Their flagship wine is the Black Zeppelin 2005. This is a Paso Robles Syrah with a healthy dose of Alicante Bouschet and Cabernet Sauvignon blended with it. The Red Zeppelin Syrah 2005 hails from Bear Valley Vineyard in Monterey County. 99% Syrah, with 1% “white varietal.” The Red Zeppelin Vinidiction is a non-vintage blend from Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties, with 55% Cab and 45% Syrah. Red Zeppelin also makes a line called White Zeppelin, featuring a Riesling, a Chardonnay and a Viognier.

These wines are a little hard to find. Other than the winery’s website, only a handful of retailers carry the line. There does not appear to be a tasting room associated with the winery, and tours are not given.  On January 11th, 2009, Wine Woot was offering a three pack of reds – one of each – for just under $50.

Winemaker Stillman Brown seems to be a fun-loving winemaker, indeed. Click on Swillyidle to find out what else he’s been up to.

“Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology” (review)

January 7, 2010

Been Doon So LongWhen a person takes his  passionate interests very seriously, he runs the risk of becoming a geek.  Ask anyone who has seen all the Star Trek movies more than once.  Ask anyone who has built a computer from scratch, for fun.  Ask Randall Grahm.

He takes wine as he takes his other passions – very seriously, but in a not-so-serious sort of way.  That which he holds dear he treats with a razor-sharp wit.  The results are smartly funny and comically smart.

Literature is obviously something very close to his soul, yet he can throw down parodies of great works like a morning-show deejay throws down parodies of Michael Jackson songs.  He’s the Weird Al Yankovic of the Dewey Decimal System.  His love and knowledge of wine is beyond question, yet he named his flagship wine after a French flying-saucer-in-the-vineyard story.  And a very serious wine it is.

Now Grahm has written a book in which he lets his geek flag fly.  Been Doon So Long starts with a pun utilizing his winery’s name and continues with unabated geekness throughout.

Grahm’s writing is rich and complex with layer upon layer peeling away to reveal nuances guaranteed to make the wine geek in you come out and party.

The founder of Bonny Doon Vineyard fills each page with his extensive oenological knowledge and expansive literary and historical references.  This is quite entertaining to a reader with some background knowledge about wine in general and Grahm specifically.  Anyone attempting to pierce this tome without at least a cursory exposure to his wry and sometimes tangled wit is treading ground which may prove to be too hard for tilling.

Grahm has written this book for those “in the know,” and it will take either a vast bank of knowledge or constant Wikipedia usage to keep up with him.  Most of the humor – besides being unrelentingly oblique – is rooted nearly completely in wine lore.  In his Ten Ways You Know You’ve Met a Real Wine Geek, my favorite is number nine: “He has intimated that he would like to ‘date’ Jancis.”  If you aren’t aware that Jancis Robinson is a world-renowned wine authority the joke is clearly lost, and that is probably the most accessible item on the ten-item list which contains 16 footnotes.

Randall Grahm reads his bookThat said, the market for this book is most likely people who like Bonny Doon and Randall Grahm.  It may not be for everyone, but Grahm certainly knows his audience.

One chapter details the evolution of the labels of the Bonny Doon family, from the rather plain-looking early ones for the Bonny Doon Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, through “Old Telegram,” “Le Cigare Volant,” “Clos de Gilroy and “Ca del Solo” to “Cardinal Zin” and the beautifully understated label for “Ca del Solo Albarino.”

A great portion of Been Doon So Long consists of parodies of great art.  Many of his literary parodies were created as promotional support for his wines.  In newsletters that were eagerly awaited by his fans, he hawked his wares in the various voices of Thomas Pynchon, Franz Kafka and James Joyce.  He even utilizes the hedonistic descriptive style of one Robert Parker.  My favorite is Don Quijones, the Man for Garnacha, or A Confederacy of Doonces.  A companion chapter has Grahm delving into the world of verse, taking poetic license with everything from The Inferno to Howl. Having these parodies collected in one volume is no doubt the best Christmas gift many of his fans received.

Writing about some of his recurring themes Grahm cites, “the banality of Chardonnay, the pretentiousness of Napa Valley, the banal pretentiousness of Napa Valley Chardonnay…lead to a heartfelt cry for tolerance of diverse wine styles and the oddball grape varieties.”  As a wine drinker who is relentlessly drawn to to wines made from grapes little known to me, I relate well to his footnoted feelings of ABC, “Anything But Cabernet (or Chardonnay.)”  Nowadays, there are plenty of California winemakers dabbling in the Rhone varieties; any one of them might be referred to as a Rhone Ranger.  Grahm, in the mid 1980s, was, more or less, THE Rhone Ranger.  Just as the California wine pioneers before him did, Grahm’s Bonny Doon helped pave the way for other dreamers who kicked clods of dirt in between their rows of Roussanne.

From a literary standpoint, Grahm seems pathologically obsessed with notation, footnotes appearing in his writing almost as frequently as adjectives.  This allows him to cram in triple the information that the normal structure of a sentence would allow.  I don’t remember seeing it, but I’m sure somewhere within the pages there is a footnote within a footnote.  His full commitment to the obscure reference at least partially explains his dependence upon footnotes.

If that sounds a tad negative, please note – or footnote, if you will – that I really enjoy interesting reading, even when there is a dangerously long tangential offshoot waiting around every preposition.  Grahm’s writing is indeed interesting.  I also admire a good obscure reference from time to time, as long as it is fully explained in the footnotes.

Anyone who has ever enjoyed a Bonny Doon wine could find something to like about Been Doon So Long.  Grahm relates wine to the worlds of song, story, stage and screen in a most entertaining fashion.  In a way, this book exhibits Grahm’s roots and influences in the same way wine exhibits the roots and influences of the grapes.  It’s his terroir on display here.  If you are in on the jokes, the book will have you convulsing in laughter.  If you are on the outside of his references looking in, better pay close attention to those footnotes.