Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | 1 Comment

murphy-goode-alexander-valley-cabernetLast week, my friend Annette and I went to happy hour at a chain restaurant called McCormick and Schmick's. Well. We tried to go to happy hour. We arrived at 6:27 and were told that we could no longer ord

er from the special menu – which is supposedly available until 6:30. Hmmm.

Being the peppy little camper that I am, I was able to rise above this near-crippling culinary setback, consoling myself with a delicious glass of vino (Annette ordered a dirty martini).

I chose a glass of 2007 Murphy-Goode cabernet. This Sonoma red was delicious from the moment it arrived at the table, although a bit tannic at the first sip. The acidity quickly dissipated into a beautifully smooth, full-bodied fruitiness, with a medium finish.

This has me pretty excited to try other Murphy-Goode reds.

I’m much less excited to go back to McCormick and Schmick's.

Bodega Nights

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Notes | Comments Off on Bodega Nights

wine-tastingApparently I was the only one on earth who hadn't been to Bodega Wine Bar in Santa Monica. OK, maybe not the only one ON EARTH. The only one in the Western Hemisphere, anyway.

Feeling the need to remedy this immediately, Jess suggested we meet there last week. Yay for Jess.

For those in the Eastern Hemisphere who have not gotten a chance to visit Bodega, it’s a darkly lit, fairly small restaurant/wine bar, with a slightly know-it-all atmosphere but still cultivates kind of a laid-back vibe. Like that guy from college who was smarter than everyone else you knew, but still managed to be totally cool about it. That was my impression of Bodega. Or at least the impression I felt they were trying to impart.



When I got there, Jess had already ordered two Argentinean malbecs for comparison: A Felipe Rutini an and a Finca el Portillo. The Felipe Rutini is listed as a “premium” wine at $12 a glass. The Finca el Portillo is not. Although I did a blind taste test of both malbecs, I could instantly tell which was the better wine. I thought the Felipe Rutini, while it had that “young,” strong alcohol taste, was more full-bodied and richer than the Finca el Portillo – which I found to be utterly undrinkable. It had the unfortunate combination of being both boring and aggressively tannic. Jess wasn’t as offended by it as I was, but she described both wines as “bland.”

I loved Jess’ idea of having a “taste off,” so I also ordered two glasses. I chose blends, because there were two on the menu that seemed interesting: Santa Barbara Winery’s ZCS (zinfandel, carignane, sangiovese), and Turnbull’s Old Bull a (merlot, tempranillo, sangiovese). Unlike Jess’ malbecs, I found that the “premium” wine – in this case, the Turnbull – was far less drinkable than the $8 ZCS. The Turnbull was highly tannic, although it became more palatable the longer it breathed. The ZCS was fuller, more interesting and less tannic – but still not great.

In general, I’m not a big fan of merlot. I wonder if the merlot in the Old Bull might have been partly why it wasn’t to my taste. I think I’m going to sample some merlot blends to test the theory. And also because I like finding excuses to drink more wine.

Pourtal, Santa Monica

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Trips | Comments Off on Pourtal, Santa Monica

pourtalLast night my friend Adra and I tried the new wine bar in Santa Monica called Pourtal (104 Santa Monica Boulevard, 310.393.7693, Pourtal is one of those hip new wine bars that looks like a set piece from Star Trek. It's all chrome-and-glass push-button decanters, laminated wood and flat-screen TVs displaying cutesy variations of varietal names. I was skeptical…but never too skeptical to turn down wine tasting.

After what I'm pretty sure was a good solid minute of staring blankly while turning around in circles, trying to decide how to adapt to the environment, Adra and I were gently shown a menu, given two glasses and asked if we would like to purchase a wine card. This credit-card type device is stocked with the dollar amount of one's choosing, and is inserted into the chrome-and-glass machines to cover the cost of whatever one wishes to taste. Tastings seemed to be priced between $1.50 to around $7. All pours are exactly the same size.

We loaded the card with $40 between us, ordered a proscuitto, arugula and mascarpone flatbread to share, and began the adventure.

I started with a taste of Eugene “La Pierre de Sons” Pinot Noir from Languedoc, France. I was intrigued by the fact that it's a bio-dynamic wine, which means – according to

“The wine is 100% organic, plus the grower has gone beyond to try to bring the farming process more closely in tune with nature. For instance, wine growers may make their own compost and/or watch the stars and planets to time what they do. The concept of biodynamic farming originated from the early 20th-century Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner.”

Nifty, right?

Not really.

In fact, we both found it nearly undrinkable due to the overpowering sourness. I know there has to be a better way to describe it in fancy wine parlance. How do you translate “like drinking turpentine” into oenophile?

Adra's choice was a 2005 Tissot Poulsard “Sans Souffre.” Also a bio-dynamic Pinot, the description read: “Medium body, lively, mineral, smoky and thoroughly charming.” Adra loved it and described it as being “very drinkable.” I thought it was just okay, but certainly not worth the retail price of $30 – although I do like that it's made without sulfur.

For my next pour, I chose a Pinot Noir from Russian River, California: A 2003 Davis Bynum from Allen Vineyards. With a hefty retail price of $67.50, this wine requires commitment, and frankly – if I had the pocket change – I would be more than willing to take the plunge. Described as:

“Dried black cherry, cola, and sassafras rooty flavors together with a supple balanced, alcohol-rich, warm finish is now displaying at 5 years of age the secondary aromas of tea leaf, licorice and all-spice.”

I would also describe this wine as:

“Delicious. Tasty. Awesome. Scrumptious. Very well-balanced with lots of body.”

It was rich and flavorful. Big win.

Adra's next pour was a 2007 Chesebro/F&G Vineyards Pinot Noir from Arroyo Secco, California. Honest to God, our first impression was that this wine tasted like vanilla yogurt. Which is terrific – if you like that sort of thing…

It was very, very rich – almost overpowering. Described as having “earth flavors with a long finish,” I think it was a little closer to a rich-yet-sour taste than “earth flavor.” But it was fascinating to drink, especially as different flavors emerged in that aforementioned long finish.

It was about this time that our flatbread arrived, which was terrific timing. Loaded with fresh argula and striped with strips of proscuitto, our “pizzette” had a thin layer of marscapone and was drizzled with a lemony-olive oil dressing, giving it a summery and crisp – yet also savory – taste, and also served as an excellent palate cleanser. It was also perfect as a light snack for two people.

The tastes we chose next were a 2006 Donkey & Goat “3/13,” if for no other reason than the name; and a 2006 Four Vines Syrah/Carignan/Zinfandel mix they call “The Maverick.” Adra described her Donkey & Goat Syrah/Mourvedre/Grenache combo as “interesting,” with a “sweet aftertaste,” and “not what [she] was expecting.” I found it to be rich, full-bodied and incredibly sweet.

The Four Vines pour was excellent, if very young. Despite letting it sit for several minutes, the initial taste was overpowered by alcohol. However, by the bottom of the glass (snide comments about my tolerance aside), it was incredible. Four Vines wines come from old world vines (they claim to be over 100 years old). I'd heard a thing or two about this particular vineyard before trying, and the word on the street is that – old as these vines may be – a collector's best bet is to buy a few bottles now and hang onto them for 5 to 10 years. When this wine has matured a little longer, it will apparently be one of the best in the region. All I can say is that letting my tasting “mature” for about 15 minutes transformed it into my favorite wine of the evening.

As for Pourtal – it was…fun. Although I'm not entirely certain I will go back for seconds.

Director’s Cut Wines from Coppola

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Great Wines Under $20 | Comments Off on Director’s Cut Wines from Coppola
Fun wine label makes for a great gift

Fun wine label makes for a great gift

The Daily Sip, the email newsletter from Bottlenotes, did a piece on Director's Cut wines today. It reminded me that I like these wines, too and haven't had one a while. I found them to be a good value under $20, especially the Cabernet Sauvignon (which is an Alexander Valley Cab and probably explains why I like it). I also like giving this wine as a gift because of the fun and unique label.

I'm excited to see they've come out with some new varietals, including Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay, all of which will be on my “must try” list.

If you can't wait for me to drink it and review it, here are some stores selling it online. I believe I purchased it at Cost Plus World Market, so if you've got one near you, might be worth taking a look.

Buying Wine by Region and Year

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Notes | 2 Comments

About a year ago I decided to try an experiment. It was this: use the Wine Spectator region/year rating system to pick out wines even when I've never heard of the vineyard or winemaker (which constitutes at least 90% of wines I encounter). I can honestly say I've never been disappointed with this wine-buying method.


The Vintage Ratings Chart at Wine Spectator (subscription required to view the chart)

Here are some example region-vintage combinations that I like, and the full list of winners as decided by Wine Spectator (who I trust for their wine reviews explicitly… better than Parker in my opinion).

  • Australia: Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale 2003-2005
  • Spain: Ribera del Duero 2004-2005
  • California Pinot Noir: Anderson Valley 2003-2005, Sonoma 2004, Santa Barbara 2004
  • California Cabernet Sauvignon: Napa 2004-2005 and (in my experience) you can never go wrong with a Cabernet from Alexander Valley in Sonoma
  • California Syrah: Napa 1999-2006, Paso Robles 2004 and 2006, Sonoma 2002-2006
  • Washington: 2005 and 2006

I keep this short list in mind as I peruse wine lists in restaurants and when I go to wine stores. This helps me pick out the best bargains. It's led me to some of my favorites including:

  • 2004 Vina Santurnia, Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero, Spain
  • 2004 and 2005 Peter Lehmann Shiraz, from McLaren Vale, Australia (ok in all fairness, a friend brought a bottle of this over for dinner, bit I've continued to test the vintage/region combination and am pleased with it)
  • 2005 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon, from Washington

Last week I was out for happy hour with a friend at my favorite wine bar in town (Bodega Wine Bar in Santa Monica) and I ordered a bottle I'd never heard of, but it was a 2005 Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero and since I love that Vina Santurnia I figured it was worth a shot. We both enjoyed the wine!

Try this! If you don't have a Wine Spectator online subscription and you don't want to purchase one just to get your hands on this list, I found pre-printed copies of it at my favorite local wine store… yours might have them, too. It's called the Vintage Ratings chart.

The Other Mother’s Little Helper…

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wines from the Grocery Store | Comments Off on The Other Mother’s Little Helper…

Editor's note: This post was written on Mother's Day

target winesThis morning I received the greatest gift a mother could get: My preschooler slept in. This bit of amazingness allowed me the opportunity to wash dishes and scrub the toilet. It's Mother's Day not Miracle Day – these things aren't gonna clean themselves.

And so it went until I found myself at Target.

Let me be clear: Normally, I do not buy wine from household discount retailers! But I was there anyway, my son was in tow and I wasn't about to drag him to another store, so I made the best of it.

And, actually, “making the best of it” was surprisingly easy.

As one would expect, Target has an incredibly small selection. The store where I was shopping carried fewer brands than my local grocery store. But, that being said, there was actually an okay selection of decent wineries, with prices starting at around $6 for a Barefoot Merlot and going all the way to $32 for a  2006 Stags Leap Merlot. Also on the shelves was a 2007  Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio  for $10, a 2007 Hess Chardonay for $11, a 2007 J Lohr Cab Sav for $14, and Moet & Chandon White Star Champagne for $37. Honestly, I was really just expecting a box of good ol' Ernest and Julio Gallo.

I decided on a 2006 Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel. I happen to be a huge fan of Ravenswood Zin, and this one ravens_wood_vintners_zinfandel_2006was even on sale! $6.99 marked down from $9.99.

I'm used to seeing these wines start at around $12 and go up from there. But lately I've noticed a preponderance of 2006 Ravenswood Zins on the market between $6 and $10, and I've wondered if 2006 was a bad year for them.

I think so. Probably.

The normally rich, mellow body seemed sharp and sour in this bottle – it tasted very, very “young.” Perhaps it would've been improved by more time to breathe, although the bottle was open for almost an hour before I could settle down and enjoy my first glass. It was still a delicious wine, but this one – the bottle of wine I bought on sale at Target, let me remind you – didn't possess the depth and deliciousness I've come to expect from a winery that's widely known to produce some of the best Zins on the market in the under $25 range.

This, of course, did not stop me from drinking the whole bottle. Happy Mother's Day to me!

My take-away from all of this? 1) If a solid wine suddenly sells for far below its average retail price, there is probably a reason. Go for something known to be scrumptious on the less expensive side (stay tuned for that piece). Just because the winery is well-known for higher-end varietals, doesn't mean their budget-priced products will be worth their salt 2) Target never stops proving its usefulness, and 3) It's really hard to explain a cheap wine hangover to a four year-old.

Local Wine Events – Just like it sounds

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Cool Wine Sites | Comments Off on Local Wine Events – Just like it sounds

Thanks to Facebook's targeted advertising, I discovered a great new site today: Local Wine

They caught me with their newsletter called “Juice.” Their newsletter is basically a notification service of events in your area (or up 10 additional areas you're interested in). I signed up for Los Angeles, San Diego, Central Coast, Sonoma, Napa, and a few others. I'm excited to start receiving them because I never remember to look for wine events, and now they'll come right to me!

They also have wine, food, spirits, and beer events around the world. You can post your events, too. Ah, to host my own wine event some day.

Tales from the grocery store…

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wines from the Grocery Store | 1 Comment

This is a new feature I'm starting to show everyone how easy it is to buy great wine at fantastic prices. The only times I ever spend more than $20 on a bottle of wine are as follows:

  1. When I'm out wine tasting in wine country somewhere.
    I'm usually caught up in the moment (buzzed if it's the end of the day) and willing to pay full retail under these circumstances.
  2. When I'm buying someone a gift (I'll often spend $20-50 on a bottle for a friend)

Otherwise, there's no reason to spend more than $20 on a bottle of wine. Ever.

It's actually quite easy and here's my recipe:

  1. Find a store near you with great prices (there must be one) and visit it often (I like Safeway stores, best prices around, plus you get a 10% discount if you buy any six bottles)
  2. Find a store near you that gets special deals (they buy large quantities of small-production wines) and get on their mailing list (I like the Wine House, best prices at a wine-specific store on this side of town)
  3. Only buy on sale! (This is my all-time money-saving tip for everything… it stretches your dollars by however much you've saved)

My latest trip was especially triumphant… here's the tally:

  1. 2008 Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc (made from Organic grapes)
    Regular price: $14.99, Sale price: $11.90, Six-pack price: $10.71
  2. 2006 Sanford Chardonnay (Flower label)
    Regular price: $21.99, Sale price: $15.39, Six-pack price: $13.85
  3. 2006 Steelhead Sauvignon Blanc
    Regular price: $18.99, Sale price: $9.98, Six-pack price: $8.98
  4. Promisquous Red
    Regular price: $16.99, Sale price: $9.98, Six-pack price: $8.98
    So-so. For $9 it's okay.
  5. 2006 Coppola Malbec
    Regular price: $18.49, Sale price: $13.98, Six-pack price: $12.58
  6. 2005 Keltie Brook Merlot
    Regular price: $18.99, Sale price: $6.99, Six-pack price: $6.29

Grand total Regular price: $110.44
Grand total Sale price: $68.22
Price I paid: $61.39 (plus tax)

TOTAL SAVINGS: $49.05 (44%)
Price per Bottle: $10.23

Caveats: I've not had most of these, so I can't yet vouch for their quality… I know the Sanford Chardonnay is good.  I don't normally drink Merlot but that was too good a price to pass up just to see if it's any good.


The 2008 Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc was great. It was light, not too acidic, and (as is my usual test for success) makes me want

to drink/buy more of it. The Promisquous Red and the 2005 Keltie Brook Merlot were undrinkable. The Coppola Malbec was  much like the other Coppola wines (Director's Cut excluded from this description)… decent but nothing to write home about for a fair price. The Steelhead went down smoothly, very fruity and tart, though not overly tart. I'd say the Steelhead is a classic-style reasonably well-balanced Sauvignon Blanc. It's regular price feels steep, but the sale price was a “steel.” The Sanford Chardonnay was good as usual… That's my go-to white wine.

A visit to the Ortman Family Vineyards tasting room

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Trips | 1 Comment

At least a year ago, Mitch and I had dinner at a great restaurant in one of my favorite local hotels. It's a seafood restaurant called Catch and it's located in the Hotel Casa del Mar in Santa Monica (beachfront, of course). Sometimes when we go to nice restaurants we like to ask the waiter for a suggestion on the wine, since they usually know better than we do what the wines are like. Our fantastic waiter (who had an equally fantastic assistant waiter) chose an Ortman Pinot Noir for us and we loved it. We loved it so much that it went on my list of wineries to visit when we get up to Paso Robles… and so we did.

Ortman Family Vineyards

Ortman Family Vineyards

The lovely tasting room is located in the middle of downtown Paso Robles (1317 Park Street, Paso Robles, CA 93446), a few doors down from Artisan (the restaurant we brunched at right before starting our tasting adventure for the day). The woman pouring the tasting was friendly and knowledgeable and was proud to be working for this winery. That's a great start to any tasting!

From one of their brochures

The Ortman Family: Chuck, Matt, and Lisa

The Ortman Family: Chuck, Matt, and Lisa

“We specialize in artisan wines crafted in the acclaimed “Ortman style,” which is founded on four decades and two generations of family winemaking experience.

The Ortman style emphasizes richness, elegance, and food friendliness, as guided by the father-and-son winemaking team of Chuck Ortman and Matt Ortman.

In order to achieve their winemaking vision, Chuck and Matt focus on varietals that excel in remarkable vineyards on California's Central Coast, including Pinot Noir from Santa Rita Hills, Chardonnay from Edna Valley, and Rhone-style wines from Paso Robles.”

The standard tasting fee was $6 (not charged if you purchase wine) and I think they offered souvenir glasses but they were the stemless variety of which neither Mitch nor I are fans (plus we don't have room in our tiny kitchen for more wine glasses, we already have at least 20 hanging around) so we left them behind. They also had a Reserve Tasting with a tasting fee of $10 which does include the Ortman logo Riedel glass, but does not get refunded if you purchase (at least that's the formal policy, we didn't pay for either tasting). Naturally we chose one of each so we could both sample the full selection and not be too blotto to move onto our next victim, er winery.

2007 Ortman Syrah Rose – Paso Robles, $16 per bottle, 150 cases produced

Wine bottle: Ortman Syrah Rose

Wine bottle: Ortman Syrah Rose

What they say: This wine is crafted in the tradition of the dry roses that are favored in the warmer climates of Europe for their refreshing, food-friendly qualities. A round, supple texture bursts with fresh flavors of white peach, strawberry, and cinammon. Are you tough enough to drink pink?

What Jess said: Thumbs up! It's a whole-tongue experience. A mix of sweet and dry. Playful. (I like dry roses from the Central Coast. I'm also a big fan of the Beckman Grenache Rose which should have been released by now and will soon be coming home with me.)

What Mitch said: Thumbs up! Bright clean bouquet with a fruity pucker.

2007 Ortman Chardonnay – Edna Valley, $24 per bottle, 1100 cases produced

Wine bottle: Ortman Chardonnay

Wine bottle: Ortman Chardonnay

What they say: They don't call Chuck Ortman “Mr. Chardonnay” for nothing! From Firepeak Vineyard in Edna Valley, this Chardonnay exhibits the classic Ortman style—rich yet clean and impeccably balanced. Flavors of pear, apple, guava and caramel with mineral accents and refreshing acidity.

What Jess said: Thumbs up! Grapefruit/apple/pear (green fruit, light citrus) on the nose. Caramel, milky, a little oak and vanilla in the mouth.

What Mitch said: Mild velvety slide through the mouth. Subtle fruitiness.

2006 Ortman Pinot Noir – Santa Rita Hills, $36 per bottle, 750 cases produced

Wine bottle: Ortman Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills

Wine bottle: Ortman Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills

What they say: From the famed Fiddlestix Vineyard. Aged for 11 months in French oak barrels (40% new). Bright and broad, with high-toned flavors of cherry, plum, spice, and creamy cola. This classically elegant Pinot Noir is made for enjoying with food. Take it for a walk on the wild side of the dinner table.

What Jess said: Smells like the ocean. Smooth at first with a long finish, but I didn't like the finish.

What Mitch said: Surprisingly dry with a very fruity punch at the finish.

2006 Ortman Pinot Noir – Willamette Valley, $36 per bottle, 350 cases produced

Wine bottle: Ortman Pinot Noir Willamette Valley

Wine bottle: Ortman Pinot Noir Willamette Valley

What they say: Our passion for the Pinot Noir grape extends northward to Oregon's Willamette Valley, where we seek an inspiring contrast to our Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir. The 2006 vintage comes from Temperance Hill and Parish Hill vineyards, which combine to yield a Pinot Noir with delicate complexity and firm natural structure.

What Jess said: Lighter on the nose. Tingly, nutty tannins. Reminds me of French wine (of which I have extraordinarily little experience drinking).

What Mitch said: Dry again. Puckery and acidic, but mild flavor.

2006 Ortman Sangiovese – Paso Robles, $22 per bottle, 500 cases produced

Wine bottle: Ortman Sangiovese

Wine bottle: Ortman Sangiovese

What they say: A taste of Italy from Algunas Dias Vineyard. Inspired by Matt Ortman's winemaking travels in Italy. Lively integrated flavors of raspberry, cherry, and blackberry unfold along a smooth texture. Great with pizza and pastas. Buon appetito!

What Jess said: Thumbs up! Sweet, floral, and cinammon on the nose. Fruity and smooth, probably good with poultry.

What Mitch said: Thumbs up! Bright nose. Starts with a berry explosion and fades slowly to a nice dry finish.

2005 Ortman Syrah – Paso Robles, $22 per bottle, 350 cases produced

Wine bottle: Ortman Syrah

Wine bottle: Ortman Syrah

What they say: From Brave Oak Vineyard. Toasty aromas of blueberry, violets, and raspberry jam. Round and supple, with juicy flavors of black cherry, plum, smoked bacon, and oak spice. While it's no sin to savor this yummy wine on its own, this Syrah will sing with skirt steak and lamb chops.

What Jess said: Very typical Syrah from the Paso Robles area. Delightful, light-touch, with a familiar terroir. A spicy finish.

What Mitch said: Nose goes all the way up. Minor tannins detectable, but it had a pleasant finish.

2007 Ortman Cuvee Eddy – Paso Robles, $24 per bottle, 1600 cases produced

Wine bottle: Ortman Cuvee Eddy

Wine bottle: Ortman Cuvee Eddy

What they say: Contrary to rumor, this Rhone-style blend is not named after the Iron Maiden band mascot, but rather for the swirls on our label that represent two winemaking generations coming full circle. Still, this wine does rock with big, juicy flavors of blackberry, blueberry and raspberry, mocha and vanilla bean.

What Jess said: Thumbs up! Smoky on the nose. Dusty, sweet cherry and tobacco. Reasonably smooth.

What Mitch said: Mildly abrasive nose, dry! Largely smooth with a medium-level of berry intensity.

From the Reserve Tasting…

2006 Ortman Pinot Noir – Fiddlestix Vineyard, $50 per bottle, 140 cases produced

Wine bottle: Ortman Pinot Noir Fiddlestix

Wine bottle: Ortman Pinot Noir Fiddlestix

What they say: Five barrels were selected to exemplify the quality and character of Fiddlestix Vineyard. Flavors of black cherry, wild berry, cola and spice finish with soft, juicy acidity. This Pinot Noir will age gracefully over the next several years. In the meantime, the genie in this bottle will benefit from brief decanting.

What Jess said: Smells like Fiddlehead Pinot Noirs (in addition to Fiddlehead Pinot Noirs coming from the Fiddlestix vineyard, they also make Pinot Noirs from Willamette Valley, so due to my relatively small experience with Oregon Pinot Noirs and relatively large experience with Fiddlehead wines, it shouldn't be surprising that I would make this connection). Very dry berry flavors are prominent.

What Mitch said: Berry, bright, not too dry, but sadly flat.

2003 Ortman Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley, $45 per bottle, 350 cases produced

Wine bottle: Cabernet Sauvingon

Wine bottle: Cabernet Sauvingon

What they say: Our connection to Napa Valley's premier varietal dates back to Chuck Ortman's earliest winemaking days, when he was a winemaking consultant to some of the valley's top Cabernet producers. The 2003 vintage comes from White Cottage Ranch Vineyard on Howell Mountain. It offers juicy layered flavors of black cherry, plum, and vanilla.

What Jess said: Thumbs up! Dream-inducing nose. Tastes of salty (salami!), cloves, and blueberry with a spicy-hot finish (in a good way).

What Mitch said: Thumbs up! Dancing berries on the nose. Dry, with a burnt-like finish.

2006 Ortman Petite Sirah – Wittstrom Vineyard, $38 per bottle, 68 cases produced
What they say:The 2006 Petite Sirah marks our inaugural vintage for the varietal, which joins our small family of red wines from Paso Robles. Winemaker Matt Ortman has long been a fan of Petite Sirah, and he jumped at the chance to make it when fruit from Wittstrom Vineyard became available. This vineyard occupies and idea site for Petite Sirah, yielding a wine that is big yet elegant with lusciously intense flavors.

What Jess said: Makes me want to drink it with steak. Chalky.

What Mitch said: Heavy nose, bitter berry. Heavy but smooth.

Are you an Ortman fan?
Experience the Ortman Wine Lounge
The Ortman Wine Lounge is a virtual gathering place for friends of the Ortman Family Vineyards—and that means you!
This online social community features harvest videos, winemaker blogs, upcoming events, wine specials and other news, as well as opportunities to interact with us and other fellow wine enthusiasts.
Please join the fun at

Join the Ortman Generation Wine Club
As an artisan family winery, we craft our wines in small lots, many of which can be difficult to find. As a member of the Ortman Generation, however, you will enjoy access to all of our wines, conveniently delivered to your home or business.
Your complimentary membership entitles you to many exclusive benefits, including:

  • Quarterly shipments of our new releases and limited-edition wines
  • 20% savings on all wine purchases
  • Invitation to our annual Ortman Generation BBQ & Bike Ride with Matt Ortman
  • Tasting fees waived for members and up to three guests
  • To join, please visit or call us at (805) 237-9009

    A visit to the Ancient Peaks tasting room

    Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Trips | Comments Off on A visit to the Ancient Peaks tasting room

    On a recent trip to Paso Robles, and nearby Santa Margarita, Mitch and I stopped into the Ancient Peaks Winery tasting room.  The stop made our schedule because I've been curious about Zinfandel lately (I don't like most of what I've tried) but the Paso Robles area is known for their Zinfandel and Ancient Peaks is, too. I suppose the biggest disappointment of the visit was that the 2006 Zinfandel was sold-out. This is most likely because the annual Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival was the weekend before we arrived. Oh well, better luck next time.


    The tasting fee was $5 which was a fair price for the amount of wine we tasted. No souvenir glasses here but that's okay because we're running out of room. We chose to do one of each of their available tastings, so that means one Estate Wines tasting and one Limited White Label Collection tasting. In a rather unusual turn of events, the more expensive the wine got the less we liked it. The Estate Wines seem fairly priced and would make nice table wines. The Limited White Label Collection left much to be desired considering the $35+ price-point. Here's what we tasted and what we thought about it:

    2007 Ancient Peaks Sauvignon Blanc, $12 per bottle

    ancient-peaks-2007-sb-smallWhat they say: Vivid aromas of pear, gooseberry, and lemon zest. The pear impression continues on the palate, accompanied by integrated flavors of melon, pineapple, and green apple. The texture is bright and fresh, finishing with a crisp acidity.

    What Jess said: Nice. Light on the nose. A hint of apple. Kinda zippy… nice. Actually, it was nice enough I bought two bottles of it because at $12 a pop, it's a very nice white to have kicking around the house for salad-night.

    What Mitch said: Slightly bitter, not unpleasant, light, easy nose.

    2006 Ancient Peaks Merlot, $16 per bottle

    ancient-peaks-2006-merlot-sWhat they say: High-toned aromas of black cherry and blueberry with hints of cola. A smooth, silky texture brings flavors of black currant, blueberry, mocha, and vanilla cream. The finish is cool and velvety, with hints of blackberry and clove spice.

    What Jess said: Buttery popcorn on the nose, buttery in the mouth. Cherry. Also nice. We tried it a second time and I found it less exciting the second time around.

    What Mitch said: Tarry finish at the back of the mouth, but light. More sour than bright.

    2006 Ancient Peaks Syrah, $16 per bottle

    ancient-peaks-2006-syrah-smWhat they say: Warm plum and spice aromas with smoky-earthy nuances. The palate bursts forth with bright rounded flavors of black cherry, plum, cola, and mocha. The finish lingers with long fruit and supple tannins.

    What Jess said: Bacon on the nose. Big up front with a diminishing finish. I'm not crazy about this wine, and I found it a little boring (and I generally like Syrah, especially from this region).

    What Mitch said: Uvula firecracker. First it's smooth, then it burns and finishes flat.

    2006 Ancient Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon, $16 per bottle

    ancient-peaks-2006-cs-smallWhat they say: Intense aromas of black fruits and leathery spice. The palate is deep and juicy, unfolding with ripe flavors of plum, cassis, black cherry, and mocha. Supple tannins are interwoven into a long, chewy finish.

    What Jess said: Not much on the nose, but gentle and pleasant in the mouth. I thought it might be a little chocolatey. It had a long but delicate finish. Definitely tasted the Central Coast terroir in this Cab. We tasted this one a second time too, and it was notably sweet the second go-around.

    What Mitch said: Pungent nose, flavorific but not heavy.

    I found this on Bizrate for $12.95 if you'd like to give it a try.

    2006 Ancient Peaks Malbec, $35 per bottle

    ancient-peaks-2006-malbec-sWhat they say: Aromas of raspberry plum, rhubarb, and forest floor. Deep jammy flavors of boysenberry and blackberry anticipate accents of cedar, tobacco, and Asian spice. Juicy tannins embrace a supple, smoky finish.

    What Jess said: Gentle on the nose, longer finish than the others, easy on the tannins, nice but not awesome. Maybe at $20 a bottle I'd feel differently.

    What Mitch said: Medicinal nose, bright, crisp flavor, smooth.

    2006 Ancient Peaks Petit Verdot, $35 per bottle

    ancient-peaks-2006-pv-smallWhat they say: The 2006 Petit Verdot offers warm black fruit aromas with accents of lavender and pencil shavings. The palate bursts with fresh flavors of wild cherry, black currant, cola, and coffee with hints of peppercorn. Firm tannins are balanced with bright acidity for a clean, focused finish.

    What Jess said: It's kind of like sour cranberry juice. A little acidic to my nose, maybe it just needs to be aged?

    What Mitch said: Burnt berry nose. Smoky flavor all around.

    2006 Ancient Peaks Petite Sirah, $35 per bottle

    ancient-peaks-2006-ps-smallWhat they say: The 2006 Petite Sirah is loaded with exotic aromas of blueberry, cigar box, anise, white pepper and pomgegranate. Luscious flavors of blackberry, black cherry, vanilla bean, and cinnamon spice unfold along a big, chewy texture. Dusty tannins add structure to a long, juicy finish.

    What Jess said: Blueberry and sesame on the nose. Chalky and sweet in the mouth. Another wine showing the strong Central Coast terroir.

    What Mitch said: Pedestrian nose, like a dry Vina Santurnia

    2006 Ancient Peaks Oyster Ridge, $50 per bottle

    ancient-peaks-2006-or-small What they say: The 2006 Oyster Ridge is an artful blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Zinfandel, and was crafted to exemplify our finest winemaking efforts. The bouquet brims with accents of black fruit, rose petal, toasty oak and graphite. A complex tapestry of flavors includes blueberry, blackberry, vanilla, mocha, and anise. Firm tannins and exquisite balance ensure that this wine will reward careful cellaring.

    What Jess said: Smoky, like barbecue sauce. Smooth finish. We liked this one but without a cellar (or even proper wine refrigerator), we don't invest in wines this expensive. And we're not sure it was worth the $50 price tag.

    What Mitch said: Mild nose, spicy finish. Hits at the back of mouth but is light on the tongue.