Posts Tagged ‘Sauvignon Blanc’

A Sunday in the Santa Ynez Valley

September 27, 2009

Living in Los Angeles has its good points.  One of them is that when it’s time to get out of Dodge for a few hours, there are some pretty wonderful places to go.  Beaches, mountains, desert, forest – take your pick of pleasures.  When it’s time for me to get away, one of my favorite locales is wine country.

I like the Central Coast.  There’s something to be said for geographical desirability.  A scant two and a half hours from L.A. lies the Santa Ynez Valley.  I have really come to love the wines from this beautiful countryside, despite the pun in the title of my blog.  I have one colleague in the Santa Barbara area who always needles me that it should be “Now and Pinot.”  Not a fan of wine puns, apparently.  But whatever the varietal, I so look forward to my tasting trips to that magical area.

One recent Wednesday came and it was time to get away.  But as is often the case, the occasion would not present itself until Sunday. When it did, though, we put Los Angeles in the rear-view mirror until the 101 turned right and all that was around us was wine country.

I’ll limit myself to the four winery stops we made, although there were many other visits that added a lot of pleasure to the day. For one thing, you should stop at every single farm stand you see. There’s still corn available, but the strawberries and blueberries are about done. Apples and pears are coming up, though.

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syvFoleyFoley Estate Vineyards and Winery – Bill Foley is the envy of many in the wine business. His vineyards in the limestone-rich Santa Rita Hills are perfectly situated for growing wonderful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The beautiful wine country that surrounds his tasting room off Highway 246 provides the perfect locale for sampling those wines. The tasting room itself is pretty nice, too.

Tasting notes:
Chardonnay, Steel 2008 ($28) – There’s a tropical nose – star fruit? – and also lime aromas. Clean and crisp on the tongue, well balanced with a very nice finish.
Chardonnay, Rancho Santa Rosa 2007 ($30) – 12 months in oak for this one. Apples and pears are on the nose with a great little hint of butterscotch on top of the crisp fruit flavors. It seems more crisp that lush. A buttery finish.
Foley & Johnson Dry Rose 2008 ($18) – Rhone blend (Syrah, Grenache, Grenache Gris and Cinsault) is a very pale salmon color. It smells just like a rose! Melon flavors, good acidity, very dry. Medium mouthfeel and finish. A tasting room exclusive.
Pinot Noir, Rancho Santa Rosa 2007 ($40) – A medium-deep red color, very pretty. Nose of blackberries and cherries. It’s a very full bodied Pinot. Traces of tea on the palate. Good tannins, but very smooth.
Pinot Noir, Barrel Select 2007 ($50) – An earthy nose with black cherry aromas. Quite interesting on the tongue, with mushroom flavors and coffee, tea. Great finish. A tasting room exclusive.

syvDSLDierberg and Star Lane Vineyards – Jim and Mary Dierberg planted their first grapes in 1997. The idea was to buy some land either in Napa or Bordeaux. Those areas seemed a little crowded, though, and they fell in love with Santa Barbara County at first sight. Between the Dierberg and Star Lane vineyards, the microclimates are well-covered, from coolest to warmest. That gives Dierberg and Star Lane the flexibility to produce a number of wines from fruit sourced on their own property. The big, green barn is a head-turner and the tasting room occupies about a quarter of it.

Tasting notes:
Star Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2007 ($20) – Very New Zealand. A steel/wood combination, the nose offers floral notes and grapefruit dominates the palate. Good acidity.
Dierberg Chardonnay 2006 ($32) – A funky little nose. There’s a nutty flavor I really like. Rather heavily influenced by wood. Not a bad thing.
Dierberg Pinot Noir 2006 ($42) – Mushroomy minerals on the nose. Earthy taste with nice tannins. Maybe a little rough for some.
Star Lane Merlot 2006 ($36) – Coffee and chocolate on the nose. Very nice flavor. 9% Cab Franc, 3% Cab Sauvignon.
Dierberg Syrah 2006 ($34) – Very dark in color with a smokey, leathery nose. Tastes of chalky minerals, and blackberry. Yum.
Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 ($42) – The floral, perfumy nose gives way to a taste of the Old West: dusty sage predominant. Very smooth. 80% Cab S, 15% Cab Franc, 5% Petit Verdot.
Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon “Astral” 2005 ($80) – This reserve cab was a surprise taste. 100%, from the highest part of the Star Lane property. Very chocolatey, rich nose. Smooth, complex taste with earth and coffee notes, lucsious blackberry.
Three Saints Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 ($22) – Another surprise taste, not on the menu. Tastes of raspberry, cherry, blueberry. Good structure.

syvShoestringShoestring Winery – I have probably passed Shoestring Winery two dozen times, always on the way to a restaurant or another winery. I made it a point to stop in and visit on this trip. I’m glad I did. The people were nice, the tasting room and the surrounding grounds were comfortable and the wines were tasty. Picnic tables around the corner from the front door were in bright sun when I stopped by in mid-afternoon, but a couple of large chairs in front were shaded by some spreading trees. It was nice and cool inside, of course, since the tasting room is actually in the barrel room.

Tasting notes:
Rose 2008 ($22) – Light orange in the glass. Not much acidity, but a lovely flavor is very attractive.
Pinot Grigio 2008 ($22) – Flowery with good acidity. Should be a hit with seafood.
Sangiovese 2008 ($35) – Outrageous nose! 26 months in oak. Tastes and smells of cherries and smoke. 10% Cab Franc. My favorite.
Merlot 2005 ($35) – Cola time! Same oak as Sangio (26 months) but seems a little excessive here. Cab Franc blend. Very soft tannins, quite smooth.
Syrah 2005 ($35) – Fruit-forward and oaky (28 months). Very full mouthfeel. They serve it with a square of chocolate, and it’s a great idea. Very rich wine.

syvLincourtLincourt Wines – I ended the day the same way I began it, at a Foley property. Lincourt is the little sister winery to Foley Estates. Founded in 1996 by Bill Foley at a former dairy farm, the grounds are beautiful and interesting. The winery and barrel room were once barns, and look it. The tasting room is a Sears Craftsman kit home of the 1920s. I’m sure it was a fine farmhouse then. I know it’s a fine a tasting room now. The place is charming.

Tasting notes:

Pinot Blanc, Courtney’s Vineyard 2008 ($20) – Melon on the nose, nutty at the end, minerals all over. My favorite, although there’s a lot of competition here.

Sauvignon Blanc, Alamo Pintado Vineyard 2008 ($18) – One of Kris Curran’s first vintages for Lincourt. My pourer pointed out that Curran is known for Pinot Noir, but she’s also good with white wines. No kidding!

Foley and Johnson Rosé 2008 ($18) – The same as the pink from the Foley tasting room: Rhone blend (Syrah, Grenache, Grenache Gris and Cinsault) is a very pale salmon color. It smells just like a rose! Melon flavors, good acidity, very dry. Medium mouthfeel and finish.

Chardonnay, Rancho Santa Rosa 2007 ($26) – Plenty of citrus, but nice and creamy, too.

Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County 2007 ($28) – Dark fruit and spices on the nose. Big clove action. Medium mouthfeel, with a creaminess and smooth tannins. 12 months in French oak.

Merlot, La Cuesta Vineyard 2005 ($35) – Menthol on the nose? Normally Lincourt blends their Merlot with Cabernet. This one they felt was good enough to stand on its own. I agree.

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Geyserville Wine Scene

September 11, 2009

geyservilleSignChange is coming in Geyserville, California.  You may not see it yet, but you can feel it.  The town’s excitement – and anxiety – about the very near future is tangible.  The tiny community of about 1,600 wine-loving souls is on the verge of significant changes.  Geyserville’s burgeoning wine industry has produced star-quality product for decades.  Now, at a time when wine has taken a much higher profile in our society, Geyserville is on the precipice of cashing in.

The citizens of Geyserville have a palpable attitude of hope – hope that change is coming, and hope that the change will be good.  They are a small town – downtown is not much more than a wide spot in the road.  But the change these people are hoping for is a change that will widen that road, and populate it with more and more businesses to serve the tourism that the change will bring.  It would be easy to read a little desperation into all that hope, but that’s not how it comes across.  These people know what they have – a collection of extremely good wineries and vineyards which are responsible for wines of a very high quality.  But they know that is not enough.  What they need now is for people to notice.  And people are noticing.

Coppola tasting roomThe former Chateau Souverain was purchased by the Francis Ford Coppola wine empire, and the change has already started there.  Coppola is moving his public profile in the wine biz from his Rutherford property to the Geyserville facility, which makes a huge statement all on its own.  His Oscars are already there, and his expansion – more on that in a bit – is set for completion by the summer of 2010.  Nearby River Rock Casino has expansion plans of its own.  Although their hotel plans have been put on the back burner due to the economy, they are at least still on the stove.  Just a small economic upturn could be the spark that relights the fire.  This sort of change will bring more people to the area, and a higher profile to a wine region that richly deserves a little more notice.

Geyserville has the good fortune to sit in one of the most amazing grape-growing regions in the world.  The Alexander Valley of northeastern Sonoma County is blessed with great soil and several diverse microclimates that rival the most prominent wine locales in France and Italy.  The wineries in Geyserville produce wines of a consistently high quality, easily able to stand alongside the bottlings of any other California appellation.  The grape growers and winemakers of Geyserville and the surrounding area are just as smart and just as passionate as their brethern from other locales, and probably a lot more down to earth.  Aside from a few big names situated here, most of the wine producers in Geyserville are small boutique wineries with limited production.  Big name or small, some pretty fantastic wines are being produced around Geyserville.

As I wandered about the community I couldn’t help but notice how friendly and open everyone was.  Each winery I visited seemed to be one of the nicest places in the state in which to hang out.  I could ask anybody any question and get an answer that was thoughtful and insightful.  Everywhere I went, “laid-back” was the prevailing attitude.  There wasn’t an Italian sportscar in sight the whole time I was there.  In fact, it would have been no surprise at all to see a horse tied to a hitchin’ post.

Wineries To Watch

 

 Geyserville is home to several of the bigger names in winemaking.  The old Chateau Souverain now bears the impressive name of Francis Ford Coppola Presents Rosso & Bianco.  It sounds like it should be spoken with a fanfare accompanying it.  Coppola is known as an idea man.  His ideas are being made into reality at Rosso & Bianco, and when he’s done, he will have changed the face of Geyserville dramatically.  His plans – which are frequently emended as the work progresses – call for the winery to be made into a wine resort, with dining, swimming, lounging and even activities and a play area for the kids.  Coppola’s changes will attract more people to Geyserville and, with a hotel not included in his plans, will push eager tourism dollars out into the community.

One of the many boutique wineries that populate Geyserville, Trione Vineyards and Winery, has developed such a reputation with the wine alone that they can place a tasting menu on the counter which features nothing but award-winning wines.  Only one of them was produced in a quantity greater than 600 cases, and two of them were made in lots of less than 500 cases.  The tropical Sauvignon Blanc, the apple pie Chardonnay, the earthy Pinot Noir and the Cabernet Sauvignon which spent 24 months in French oak barrels are big highlights on a roster that has only winners.

J Rickards jimJim Rickards of J Rickards Winery would probably bristle at the mention of the word “boutique” in connection with his operation, but that’s the cattleman in him talking.  His interests turned from bovine to old vine when he bought his vineyard in the 1970s and began selling grapes to other area winemakers – Silver Oak, Geyser Peak and Dry Creek Vineyards to name a few.  His plants date back to 1908 and he has augmented the originals with newly planted clones of old vines.  He and his wife Eliza began producing extremely small batches of handmade wines in the early ’90s for friends. The reception was enthusiastic enough that they finally decided to start bottling on their own with the 2004 vintage.  That move made them a lot more friends.

The Pedroncelli family runs the oldest winery in the Alexander Valley, and is one of a handful of Italian-American families in the wine business there.  The Pedroncellis were around when the Dry Creek Valley floor was all prune trees.  They’ve done quite well with the grapevines, though.

TV legend Raymond Burr didn’t really want his vineyards to bear his name.  But when Burr passed away his longtime partner Robert Benevides decided it was only right.  Today, a very limited amount of top-notch wine is still made with care.  One look at the view from the tasting room door and you’ll know why Burr didn’t mind that long drive up the hill.

Stryker Sonoma‘s showcase tasting room literally puts the vineyard on display, with ceiling-to-floor glass for walls. Murphy-Goode Winery is in Geyserville, although their tasting room is located in Healdsburg.  Clos du Bois and Geyser Peak both have names that are familiar to California supermarket shoppers.

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Now, Geyserville is presently about as big as a street corner – at least the downtown business district is.  But it’s nice to know that you can get plenty of tastes without wandering too far from your accommodations.

Locals tasting room was one of my favorite spots.  There you can sample from 75 different wines by 11 local producers like Dark Horse, Eric Ross, Atrea and Hawley, just to name a few.  They like to pour a “varietal comparison flight,” several tastes of one kind of grape from different producers.  It’s a great way to experience the differences and similarities of various wineries side-by-side.  Of course, they also pour what ever you’d like to try, so skip around the extensive two-page tasting menu all you like.  Everything you taste is for sale by the bottle in the store.  The shop is funded by a collective of the wineries, and the staff knows what they’re pouring, so any questions you may have about what you’re tasting will be answered.

Terroirs Artisan Wines handles only four local wines, Godwin Family Wines, Hughes Family Vineyards, Palmeri and Pena Ridge.  I tasted both the Godwin and the Hughes while I was there, and they both impressed me.

You should also try and get into Route 128 Vineyards and Winery tasting room.  Pete and Lorna Opatz opened a tasting room in what was once the parts department of one of the first Ford dealerships in the country.  Their 60 combined years of experience with grapes pays off well in their boutique wines.  They produce less than 500 cases per year, the standouts being a crisp and lovely Viognier, a lively Zinfandel and an award-winning Syrah which mixes chocolate and blueberry flavors in a delightful way.  In the tiny room, you may find art from local Twyla Gettert or even a pairing event with nephew and culinary artist Rian Rinn.  Route 128 is a definite “must taste” in Geyserville.

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Some people consider “wine futures” to be a good investment.  I think the time is ripe for some enterprising entrepreneurs to buy futures in Geyserville.  Services are needed now, and the need will grow exponentially when the Coppola project and the casino hotel are reality.  The town lacks a true grocery market and needs a bakery and a coffee shop that open early.  Although Diavalo and the Hoffman House are hard to beat, a couple of extra dining choices would be nice and more lodging will be needed, too.  Oh, and that little downtown area could use some sprucing up.  Geyserville has great wine.  Now it just needs to get dressed up a bit before the company comes over.  Keep an eye on the Alexander Valley, and Geyserville in particular.  You’ll be seeing a lot more of them in the future.

Tasting Room Notes: Vendome Wine & Spirits

August 1, 2009

Southern California drinkers know Vendome as a great place to find what you are looking for. If you’re not looking for anything in particular, you can browse until you find something that strikes your fancy. Their many locations make for a convenient stop, but I do not believe that all Vendome locations schedule wine tastings.

Vendome of Studio City, 11555 Ventura Boulevard, does have regular tastings, on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The tasting I’ll write about here was on Saturday, July 25th, 2009. For $15 I tasted 6 wines of the Loire Valley.

Let me apologize for the lack of an image to accompany the piece. I ran a bit short on time (always a negative in the tasting experience) and forgot to get a picture before leaving. I’ll try to grab a shot the next time I’m in there. It’s doubly unfortunate that I have no image, because their tasting bar is actually a small shack-like structure in the west end of the store. Unique and interesting, the bar seats a half-dozen or so with a couple of tables nearby.

Yves Breussin Vouvray 2006 – Only one grape is used for making wine in the Vouvray appellation. That’s the Pineau de la Loire, which we call Chenin Blanc. This wine is a pale yellow in the glass, with a strong and somewhat funky scent. Minerals and a nutty quality are present on the nose and palate. Good acidity, and it finishes well.

Domaine de Chatenoy Menetou-Salon 2007 – The vineyards of Menetou-Salon are sloping, mineral-laden fields which border those of Sancerre. This wine is a Sauvignon Blanc with another funky nose. Nice aromas of citrus and wet rocks dominate. The taste is quite smooth, a little lacking in acidity but a pleasure to drink nonetheless.

Jean Tatin Quincy 2006 – Funky noses were the order of the day. This wine had the strongest yet, the kind referred to as “cat pee.” It’s a Sauvignon Blanc with a ton of minerals on the nose and palate. Well balanced with a good finish.

Joseph Mellot Sancerre 2007 – This Sauvignon Blanc had the strongest nose of the day. It also had the most character. The minerals were right up front, the balance was great and the finish terrific.

Domaine Taille aux Loups Montlouis 2007 – A dry Chenin Blanc, this wine was full of minerals and an unusual quality I couldn’t put my finger on. Maybe I was beginning to feel the pressure of my time limitations. Anyway, it was my favorite wine of the day.

Nicolas Reverdy Sancerre 2007 – A red wine from an appellation known for its whites, this Pinot Noir is very full of flavor. Medium-red in color, it features very strong strawberry notes with some clove and cinnamon.

Tasting Room Notes: Summerland Winery

July 1, 2009


Why had we never gotten off the 101 freeway in Summerland before? Maybe it’s because when we pass that way we’re usually headed for either Santa Barbara or the Santa Ynez Valley, and it seems we should just press on and get where we’re going. Maybe it’s because we never knew there was a really great little highway grocery there. Maybe it’s because we never knew about the Summerland Winery.

Well, this time we were headed for Pismo Beach, so it was actually perfectly positioned as a stopping place. We needed to pick up a few things at a market of some sort. The Summerland Winery just happened to be there, in the right place at the right time.

The tasting room is in a tidy little building in the seaside community of Summerland, between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. There’s a bay window upstairs and a flag adorns the front, flapping in the cool ocean breeze. I had imagined it would look more like a boutique and less like a tasting room inside, but I was wrong. Ample bar space beckoned, so I picked up a tasting menu and got started.

I had just sampled Summerland’s wares at the Ojai Wine Festival a week earlier – my pourer recognized me – so I knew there were good wines here. The tasting fee is $8, $12 to keep the glass.

Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Barbara County, 2007 – A pungent aroma leads to tropical flavors and grapefruit. The acidity is quite nice, so I would guess it’s a good wine to have with food. It’s very crisp and refreshing, so you could just sip it if you like.

Pinot Gris, Santa Barbara County, 2008 – More tropical flavors, and a nice clean finish.

Chardonnay, Rancho Santa Rosa, 2007 – 10 months in oak left its mark on this one. It’s very oaky, although with a clean taste and finish.

Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, 2007 – Brilliant aromas and flavors in this one – black cherry and clove all over the place. This is not subdued – it’s a very lively Pinot Noir.

Grenache, Paso Robles, 2006 – This medium-bodied Grenache surprised me. It tasted a lot spicier than I expected. Fairly nice, but I can think of several other Grenaches I like better.

Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, 2006 – The black currant profile is very strong here. French oak for 14 months gives a nice effect, but the wood is rather restrained.

Orange Muscat, Santa Barbara County 2008 – This dessert wine isn’t sappy, it’s nice and crisp in fact. The sweetness is there, it simply isn’t overdone.