Posts Tagged ‘Syrah’

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.

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.

*****

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.

Restaurant Wine: Le Saint Amour, Culver City

August 30, 2009


Friday night was one of those wonderful nights full of old and new friends, good food and good wine. Le Saint Amour in Culver City was our destination. Our party of seven was seated as we arrived. Our waiter – friendly and polite at first – practically became our eighth as the night progressed, and he was welcome to do so.

The starters were delicious. Escargots, an endive salad with Roquefort cheese and walnuts and herring served with little potatoes on the side seemed to be the favorites.

After the waiter asked if we preferred bottled or tap water, one of us in a particularly jaunty mood piped up with, “I have no interest in water.” Which brings us to the wine.

We opened with a Rhone red, from Vacqueyras, Cristia Selection 2005. It was very smooth despite the tannins that seemed to heighten on the finish. A Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre blend that promises plenty of fruit on the nose, it delivers with tastes of dark fruit and some licorice. It was an interesting, medium bodied wine that started the evening in fine fashion.

Next up was our dinner wine, Savigny les Beaune Les Gollardes 2006 from Jacques Girardin. Rather light in color and loaded with a cherry flavor that melted into a smokey finish. It paired quite well with my whitefish, and I heard no complaints from those having mussels, duck or chicken.

Third on our wine journey of France was a Faugeres 2000 Mas Gabinele. I believe this is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan. I was struck by dark chocolate and minerals in a very smooth setting. It was definitely the most interesting wine of the evening. With seven people at the table – some already old friends, some getting to be new friends – it didn’t come as too much a shock that a fourth bottle was ordered.

On the advice of our waiter, we returned to California and selected a Santa Ynez Valley Grenache, Sorellina 2006. He promised this would be a good “non-food” wine, and the wine was good to his word. It’s a medium-bodied, dry red wine that showed off its oak first. A very oaky wine to the nose and the tongue, its spicy nose led to an earthy taste full of dark fruit and minerals.

After we paid – the bill came to about $65 each – we repaired to the sidewalk where our conversation continued longer into the warm night. Good friends having good conversation can make even a subpar restaurant experience seem not so bad. But when the restaurant complements the social setting the way Le Saint Amour did for our group, it really makes for an enjoyable evening.

Tasting Room Notes: Curtis Winery

July 11, 2009

A visit by my family recently took us to the beautiful Foxen Canyon Wine Trail.  If you haven’t treated yourself to the beauty of those hills, you really should.  Just up the road from Los Olivos, the views along Foxen Canyon Road are sometimes breathtaking and the wines that are produced in the wineries along that road are sometimes spectacular.  Here’s what they were pouring at Curtis Winery on our visit.

The tastings were being poured in the big barrel room in the rear of the shop.  Large, cool and dark, the barrel room is a great place to taste.  Five huge kegs and several of a more moderate size gave a real “winery” feel to the tasting that you just don’t get in the retail shop that occupies the front of the store.

The Viognier 2006 had a very floral nose with honeysuckle predominant.  The taste offered clean and crisp flavors of lime and pineapple.  It was a really nice wine that begged for seafood or just a sunny porch.  They were giving a nice deal on this wine during the first weekend in May, a free bottle with the purchase of two.  It was $22.

For pink lovers, the Heritage Rose 2007 was bright and fresh, but it gave a little too much grapefruit for my taste, and the nose was highlighted by lemongrass.  I didn’t care for it too much, but you may like those qualities more than I do.  

We crossed over to the dark side with the Crossroad Grenache 2005.  It was quite earthy and dark, right in my wheelhouse.  The Grenache was joined by Syrah and Cinsault and the combination produced a very complex flavor range.  There was a blackberry profile adorned with a smokiness and a nutty angle.  It was quite interesting.

The Heritage Cuvee 2005 was also dark and musky but with a spiciness to the fruit-forward taste.  A gorgeous nose made me delay enjoying that taste while I sniffed…and sniffed.  This Rhone-style blend contained Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache and Cinsault.  It was my favorite of the day.

Another fine effort came with the Ambassador’s Vineyard Syrah 2005, which had a most intriguing nose which combined fresh, flowery notes with a darker side.  I detected black cherries with a long and enjoyable finish.

Lastly was the Rock Hollow Vineyard Syrah 2005, with a big fruit taste up front with nice tannins and chocolate at the end.  This was also a pleasure to smell as well as taste.

Tasting Room Notes: Locals Tasting Room

July 6, 2009

The Sonoma County town of Geyserville has more good wine being produced in and near it than most folks would think possible. There are so many wineries in the Alexander Valley that it works out to about one winery for every ten people who live in Geyserville. Visiting a winery’s tasting room is great, if the winery has one. Many of the wine producers in the Geyserville area are such small boutiques that they don’t have tasting rooms. That’s where Locals comes in.

Locals Tasting Room represents a collective of eleven Geyserville area wineries, and offers tastes of 75 different wines produced by them. Most of the wines on the tasting menu are sourced from Alexander Valley grapes.

The room is nice and large, with plenty of elbow room at the tasting bar. The staff is quite friendly and they know their stuff, too. Any questions I had about the wines or the wineries were answered right away.

Choosing a reasonable number of wines to taste is the hard part. To guide you in the right direction, Locals likes to pour varietal flights. When you line up six or seven Zinfandels, or a handful of Chardonnays, you can get a good idea of how each wine differs from the others. Or just jump around the menu and find specific wines that appeal to you. That’s what I did. With so many reds on the menu, I went with seven of the most likely looking candidates for my taste.

Atrea Old Soul Red 2005 – A Rhone-style blend of 46% Zinfandel, 34% Syrah, 11% Petite Sirah and 9% Malbec, this rocks. A complex wine, there’s plenty of juicy fruit but there’s also pepper, and some sort of sweet notes that peek from around the corner.

Eris Ross Carignane 2006 – An old vine red from Lodi, this was medium-bodied and quite smooth.

Ramazotti Raffinto 2005 – A Super Tuscan style of 60% Sangiovese, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 7% Syrah and 5% Cabernet Franc – whew! – which shows lavender on the nose and plum on the palate. They say it has won a number of awards.

Laurel Glen ZaZin 2007 – Old Vine Lodi with currant and blackberry on the nose, currant and plums on the taste buds.

Dark Horse Treborce 2007 – This Zinfandel had an odd nose, with nice texture and flavors of plums and leather, a very earthy taste.

Peterson Sangiovese 2006 – This Dry Creek Valley entry is 100% Sangiovese. I found the nose and taste to be a bit lightweight, but it’s pleasant nonetheless. Should make for a nice pasta wine.

RH Wines Rowdy Red – This is a non-vintge blend that’s got a really nice toasty vanilla nose and spicy notes on the palate. It’s from Windsor, a little south of Geyservlle. A lively red that will pair well with a lot.

Tasting Notes: Artisan Cheese Gallery

July 5, 2009

We were out for a Sunday morning adventure. Well, actually it was a trip to the Studio City Farmers’ Market. We don’t like difficult adventures.

The trip did turn out to be more than we bargained for, though. We strolled through the fruit stands – unfortunately, most of the fruit wasn’t quite sweet and delicious just yet – and saw the various bead salespeople, the countless baby strollers and the gourmet corn tamale stand I can smell and identify without looking. There were a couple of guys singing folk music and another guy playing a steel drum, probably the happiest sounding instrument in all the musical world. Nobody’s playing the blues on a steel drum.

Just about to call it a morning, we remembered the Artisan Cheese Gallery, just steps away from the Farmers’ Market. It was an adventure after all. We went for the cheese and stayed for the flight of wines.

The aroma of their cheeses is magnificent. It’s not overpowering, because all their cheese is put away and refrigerated overnight. It is a very pleasant aroma for a cheese lover to encounter.

Here’s a rule of thumb: if there’s cheese, there’s wine. Artisan Cheese Gallery is no exception. Two walls are covered with racks of wine for sale and there are several displays in the floor space. A chalkboard on the counter shows which three wines are on the $8 flight. The flight is served in 3 stemless glasses on a wooden tray. The glasses have a dark spot on them in which the names of the wines are written, but it’s no substitute for getting up and examining the labels yourself. A printed sheet containing information on the wine should be provided with your flight. I hope they’ll do that in the future.

The worldly flight took me to Lodi, Sicily and the Medoc region of France. Here are the wines:

Peirano Estate Vineyard “The Other” 2007 – This blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Syrah has plenty of the earthy characteristics Lodi wine usually brings. This is the most distictive nose of the three, and it has a currant and plum flavor profile. Very nice indeed.

Chateau Poitevin 2005 – Described by a staff member as a Bordeaux blend of 55% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot, this Medoc offering was quite dark in the nose and on the palate. The complexity was not surprising. I am always struck by the complex subtlety in wines from Bordeaux and the surrounding areas.

Planeta La Segreta 2007 – This is an interesting blend of the wonderful Italian varietal Nero d’Avola with Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. The nose was rather difficult for me to ferret out, but plums, raspberries and chocolate were detected by my wife. There may be a bit of coffee in there, too. It tasted like a Sicilian version of Pinot Noir, with plenty of spicy, dark notes.

Artisan Cheese Gallery
12023 Ventura Boulevard
Studio City, CA 91604
818.505.0207

Tasting Room Notes: Bennett Lane Winery

July 5, 2009


On the way from Napa Valley to Geyserville via Highway 128, there’s a driveway I’m glad I drove. That was the one which led to Calistoga’s Bennett Lane Winery. A pretty arbor in front of a smallish building provides a fitting entry into the tasting room. Small inside, too, there isn’t a lot of room available at the tasting bar. Find a way to elbow in, though. Some very good wine awaits you.

White Maximus 2007 – A floral nose – honeysuckle – is enhanced with citrus aromas. The palate is clean and crisp. Good minerals, good acidity.

Reserve Chardonnay 2007 – This was billed as a new release, but I think the tasting sheet was printed late last year. The blurb promises Fuji apple, baked pear and toasted hazelnut, but it was all tropical to my nose. A little unexpected, but quite pleasant. This is a full-figure Chardonnay, heavily oaked with the buttery, creamy notes you would expect.

Maximus 2005 – Plenty of oak in this big red. I get lots of cedar, vanilla and spices both in the nose and on the tongue. 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 11% Syrah, the fruit is lush and lasts a good long while. It was my favorite.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 – This 100% Cabernet is a blend of Bennett Lane’s estate Cab and that sourced from other Napa Valley growers. A big cherry nose greets you and the taste is driven by flavors of dark plums and leather.

Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 – The Cab is augmented by 4% Petit Verdot. It’s a very rich wine that, to me, is chocolatey enough to be dessert. But no, they have that covered even better.

Dessert Wine – This beauty is a non-vintage port-style wine of which less than a hundred cases were produced. I don’t know the percentages, but it’s made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Carignane. Beautiful, rich flavors abound. Figs, cherries and some spicy notes put me in mind of Christmas, even though I had been off the hot, dusty trail for only a few minutes.