Sunday, January 18, 2009

Going Sideways

Updated from our latest trip!

Since SG and I rave about Santa Barbara wines, we frequently get asked where to go. Here's a list of Santa Barbara County wineries that we are familiar with:

Los Olivos Tasting Rooms
Last Visit: Jan 09
Usually our first stop in Santa Barbara county; this time around it was our last stop. We liked their Syrahs. They vary from year to year. This last time around, none of there Syrah's were worthy of a purchase; but their Syrah-Mourvedre-Grenache blend was. I was also miffed that this time around they charged for the tasting even though I made a purchase. That, as far as I'm concerned is rude. The visit in 06 yielded a Santa Barbara Syrah that was great, but 07's release of the same wine was mediocre; whereas their Santa Ynez Syrah from the 06 visit was mediocre and 07's was good). They source all their grapes.

Last visited in 06
co-located with Carina, Tensley is the private label of the guy that is the wine maker at Carina. SG is not fond of his wine, and he is a bit pompous.

Santa Ynez Valley Tasting rooms
Last visit in 06
Great atmosphere friendly staff. Oddly they do mostly Bordeaux varietals.

Last visit in 06
Rude staff. They would not let us in with kids. Did not drink their wine. They are in the "Sideways movie"

Last visit in 07
Great Atmosphere. Poor Wine. All estate grapes, and they do not know what type of wine they want to make. (They make a little bit of every style therefore never get any good at anything) They are a Gallo property.

Solvang tasting rooms
Wandering Dog
Good Pinot. (Our HR person is the daughter of the owner) Never visited as they don't allow kids; but Allison (the aforementioned) did personally pour for me at a different event.

Buellton Tasting Rooms
Hartley Ostini
Last visit 08
This is the Hitching Post restaurant. Good steaks. Good Pinots even better Syrah. Screw cap bottles. Worth having dinner here.

Ballard Canyon Tasting rooms
Last visit 08.
This last visit te staff was not nearly as friendly. That was sad. They also will not give complementary tastings when you buy wine. This limited the amount of wine I bought from them.
Truly outstanding Pinot. The Santa Rita Hills Pinot is their best. Fantastic atmosphere. Bring a picnic. Owner is a scion of the Wriggly family (as in double-mint gum)

Foxen Canyon Tasting Rooms
Zaca Mesa
Last visited 08
The current release of the 3 barrel Syrah is truly epic. So much so that we joined the club (this wine is only available to club members)
Great Rhone style blends. Z-3 is a favorite

Last visit 07
Great atmosphere. OK Super-Tuscan blends. SGK liked their Bordeaux Varietals.

Tres Hermanas
Last visit 07
Very friendly owners. So-so Rhône and Burgundy varietals, but they do have an Interesting Cal-Ital (the Refosco). The owners are predominately horse people, but their daughter's beau is a wine guy from Paso Robles and convinced them that in their location they should have a winery. Worth the visit, just for the coin-operated pony ride alone.

Santa Rita Hills Tasting Rooms
Last Visit 09
They do not allow kids, so they lost out on our purchases.

Last Visit 09
Melville shares a driveway with Babcock, and benefited from Babcocks refusal to allow our kids inside. They have a pretentious tasting room, and will not refund the tasting fee when you buy wine. Their packaging is great. Big, Heavy bottles sealed with wax. We would have bought more, but wanted to make our displeasure at the non-refundable tasting fee known.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Clarksburg AVA

This last weekend, being a 3 day weekend, my wife and I decided to take the kids to a water slide park in Sacramento. We drove to Sacramento through the delta rather than the standard I80 route because my wife was helping her mom out at her home in Rio Vista, and I had to stop there and pick her up.

SGK (my wife's initials) had a copy of some magazine that talked about wine tasting in Sacramento. She was all hip to try it out. Now, when they say Sacramento, they really mean Clarksburg which is a town in the delta just outside of Sacramento proper. The most well known winery in the region is Bogle, who like to tout their Petite Sirah. There are other wineries in the AVA, most of which co-locate their tasting rooms at a place called The Old Sugar Mill. The sugar mill is a great place for a tasting room - full of history, architecturally interesting, and planted in the middle of a vineyard. It's also the location of a custom crush facility, which makes it easier on the wineries.

Our first stop was not at the sugar mill, but rather at a small family owned winery Scribner Bend. It was an enjoyable visit, and we got to chat with the owner for quite a while. I had to ask him about the local grapes though, as the Delta has way too rich a soil to make stressed out wine grapes. He admitted that most of the growers sell their wine to Bronco.

Scribners wines were OK. I've had better Petite Sirah but their Tempranillo was good enough that I bought 2 bottles. Tempranillo? In the Delta? It turns out that lots of Clarksburg vineyards are growing this grape that is IMHO better suited for the more desert like conditions of Rioja, La Mancha, and Baja than the wet, rich california delta.

Scribners als had a rare white Italian varietal called "Fiano" that is common in the area of Avellino that my Paternal grandmother's family came from. We bought a bottle of that too to share with my dad.

After Scribners, we were off to the sugar mill. I won't mention any of the wineries in the sugar mill by name as whilst the venue was wonderful, none of the wines we tasted were memorable. It is clear from talking to several of the winery owners that most of them consider themselves farmers rather than wine makers. There is nothing wrong with that; it just does not make for memorable wine.

Some of them could use a bit of an education as well, as one of the winery owners was arguing that a late harvest Petite Sirah was really a Port and she was angry that the ATF would net let her call it a port.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Franklin Square Wine Bar

SaraGrace and I have been experimenting with wine bars lately; for her birthday we went to Zza's Enoteca in Oakland, and then 3 days later for mine we went to Franklin Square
The first thing to say about Franklin Square is that we liked the atmosphere. They had outdoor seating (a big plus) and a cute, narrow main dining area with a bar. When we got there, the outdoor seating was quite noisy from the traffic of downtown Oakland, but by the time we left it was quite pleasant.

The food was quite pleasant, if a bit mis-served.
We had the chicken pâté which was simply divine. It was unfortunately served with thickly sliced bread rather than crackers or toast, so we had to separate the crust from the bread before eating so that the bread did not overwhelm the delicate flavours of the pâté.
We also had the pecorino, which, whilst a good accompaniment to the reds we ordered, was overpriced for the miniscule portion that we received.

The Wine selection was decent. Like expected, about 1/2 the menu was devoted to whites and of the reds about 1/2 were Bordeaux varietals, leaving only a 1/4 of the menu for our preferred styles.

The major disappointment came in in the serving of the wines. I ordered 2 1/2 glasses of wine; a Contra Costa Zin and a Sierra foothills Syrah. SaraGrace ordered a flight of Santa Cruz Pinot's.
The Syrah and Zin came in ridiculous heavy glasses with a thick bead around the mouth of the glass. Great water glasses, but completely inappropriate to taste wine in. The wine was also very warm. Probably 70f+. The Pinot's also did not come until the food was almost gone.

I inquired from the waitress about the glasses and the warm wine; she responded that the glasses came from the distributor and that the wine was warm because their ac unit was on the fritz.
If they are counting on their aC to keep the wine cool, then apparently they have no proper wine storage. This is actually not so big a deal as they probably go through their wine fast enough that the few days of room temp rather than cellar temp that the bottles experience are not likely to ruin the wine. The bigger sin is the shitty glassware. They are a wine bar for gods sake - they should invest in glassware likely to sell more wine.

The Verdict:

No hurry to return

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

2005 Rosenblum Monterosso Reserve Zinfandel

This was from one of our wine club shipments. It's marked as a "Reserve" which at Rosenblum means that one would normally have a tasting fee associated with this wine.

The presentation is OK. It comes in a Bordeaux bottle, with a foil capsule and a fake cork.

It was a beautiful ruby colour. Before i could even sniff my glass, My mother-in-law had taken a sip and pronounced it sweet. Now, Helen is not a big wine drinker, and what she interprets as sweet is the fruit forward nature of this wine. It tastes like Jam, and Jam (in a jar) is sweet, therefore to Helen this wine is sweet.
The fruitful nose confirms this to be the case.

A swirl gives a thin sheen on the interior of my glass that devolves into legs down the near side of the glass. It also dirtied up the colour somewhat, and added some rubber to the nose.

The taste starts with cherries and ends up with cranberries. I anticipate that more dirt flavours would emerge as the wine oxidized; but it was so good right now that it never got a chance to.

The Verdict:

Appellation/Terrior:Monte Rosso Vineyard, Sonoma Valley, California
Alcohol:15.2% by Volume

Monday, February 11, 2008

Battle of the Rhône's

So I wanted to see how close one of the prominent "Rhône Rangers" of California could come to an honest-to-god French Rhône wine, so I hopped on down to Nob Hill and bought a Rosenblum Château La Paws Côte Du Bone Roan and the only Appellation Côtes du Rhône Contrôlée that they stocked - a Cellier des Dauphins Prestige Côtes du Rhône.



Dauphins: The plastic capsule encased a synthetic cork that left no tattoo.
Rosenblum: The foil capsule enclosed a synthetic cork that also left no tattoo.


Dauphins: Squat, lightweight, puntless pale green bottle. Not in the Rhône shape, but with an embossment that is typical of Rhône bottles.
Rosenblum: Traditional y shaped Rhône bottle in a heavy, dark green glass and a deep punt.


Dauphins: Typical French labeling; no indication of what varietals are in the wine, only what varietals might be in the wine, and then only if you memorized the AOC rule list.
Rosenblum: Rear label gives varietals, but not ratios. Some tasting notes provided.


Dauphins:Their English language version of the site for this wine is targeted at the UK market, and it's not clear if the wine is the same in both markets. The UK info is good - even giving pounds of fruit used in fermentation.
Rosenblum: Detailed PDF that expands upon what is on the rear label

The Tasting

Initially, both wines smell very similar, after a swirl the Dauphins came out on top with more earthy smells in the aroma. The Rosenblum had a richer colour. The Rosenblum had a classic syrah burnt rubber on the tongue, but over all the Dauphins was better balanced (this is supposed to be a blend, not a Syrah dominated wine), and improved over the hours sitting in my glass. After leaving both wines overnight, the Dauphins was still better than the Rosenblum which got a little sour.

The Verdict:

While neither is great; The French wine wins.
Vintner:Cellier des Dauphins
Varietals:Grenache, Syrah, Cinsaut, Carignane, Counoise, Mourvèdre
Appellation/Terrior:Appellation Côtes du Rhône Contrôlée, France
Alcohol:13% by Volume

Varietals:Carignane, Syrah, Zinfandel, Mourvèdre
Alcohol:14.9% by Volume

Sunday, February 10, 2008

2001 Jessie's Grove Carignane

This wine was one of the ones that I bought at The Grocery Outlet. It is the only one that i bought that day where I had any previous knowledge the winery - I had Jessie's Grove's "Earth, Zin, and Fire" before.

The presentation was OK. It's a Rhône varietal, yet they chose to package it in a Bordeaux bottle. The labeling gives some good history. Good history is important in selecting a wine that you know nothing about, because if they have been making wine long enough to have a history, then presumably they are not screwing it up too badly. The bottle is encased in sediment around the shoulder, which is god, given the age of this wine - the sediment is in the correct place making it reasonable to believe that it has been stored properly.

The real cork was enclosed in foil and on one side, it had about 5/8 inch of penetration. Doug bought the same wine and had much more penetration on his. Oddly enough given the amount of sediment on the shoulder and the penetrated cork, it did not leave a prominent tattoo.

It had a deep, old colour and raisons on the nose. I usually associate the raison smell with Botrytis, but if that were the case here I am positive that the label would have mentioned it.
After the swirl, red fruit emerged on the nose, along with caramelized onions. Yumm. For all of that, it was light and airy, with a hint of salt and pepper.
Searching Jerssie's Grove's website for Carignane (it isn't all that common a varietal after all) shows only an old vine Lodi Carignane being bottled today. I wonder if this is the same wine, just re-labled now that Old Vine is in vogue?

The Verdict:

Good value. If The Grocery Outlet still has it in stock, I'll be sure to acquire some more.
Appellation/Terrior:Lodi, California
Vintner:Jessie's Grove
Alcohol:13.0% by Volume
Price:$3.99 from a liquidator

Saturday, February 9, 2008

2003 Coyoteville Howling Red

This wine was one of the ones that I bought at The Grocery Outlet. I did not know anything about this winery when I bought it; selecting it based soley upon the (albeit limited) data available from the label. It turns out that Coyoteville is the label that Burch Hall uses for blends. I selected it because I'm a bit of a Rhône junkie and the classic Châteauneuf-du-Pape blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre makes me salivate.

The presentation was OK. It comes in a Rhône shaped bottle of a sick light green colour. The artwork on the front label is appealing.

The foil capsule enclosed a real cork that had some classy embossing upon it. SG thoght the cork was fake because of it's glossiness from the embossing. It left the faintest tattoo.

SGK swilled her taste immediately and declared it a "Table Wine". I examined it more closely. It had the colour of the Buffalo Grove Syrah that we opened earlier in the evening. As I contemplated the slight oily film on the surface of the wine, SGK declared "It smells like Ass" I look up and she's holding the bottle up to her nose. I stick my nose in my glass and determine that ass must smell like burnt rubber because that's what I'm getting. Despite her likening it to the odour of an equine beast of burden, SGK declares "It's nice" I say fine.

I put some through the Vinturi and get more fruit on the nose. SG felt it was more smooth after the Vinturi, but that she had more pepper beforehand. She said she would get more. She asked me to go buy a case.

It went well with the Mexican Heirloom tomatoes and lavender smoked beef loin that we had for dinner. The Buffalo Syrah that we started the evening with was bigger.

The Verdict:

Easy drinking. SG wants another case
Varietals:Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache,
Vintner:Burch Hall
Alcohol:14.3% by Volume
Price:$3.99 from a liquidator