Gourmet Monthly Wine Club Review

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

WineClubReviews is not a name we chose by accident. It is our mission to personally sample and review each club, in order to bring you real reviews. This way we can provide you with the best information for making a personal, informed decision about the best wine club to meet your imbibing interests!

Wine Club Shipment Review

Gourmet Monthly Wine Club

Gourmet Monthly Wine Club

We received a Gourmet Monthly Wine Club Premier Series shipment, at a cost of around $29.95 (plus shipping and handling). Inside were both a white and a red; for the price, Jessyca and I both felt they were both worth every penny. You can also catch our Gourmet Monthly Wine Club Review (Premier Series) at WineClubReviews.net.

I wrote about the white wine in my recent post, Orvieto, Vinho Verde and Pinot Blanc – Oh Dear… The wine in the Gourmet Monthly Wine Club shipment was the Orvieto part of that piece. Specifically, 2008 Palazzone Umbria Dubini Bianco , which is an Orvieto from Orvieto DOC, located near Umbria and Lazio, in Italy.

Palazzone Dubini Bianco - definitely delicious

Palazzone Dubini Bianco – definitely delicious

When Jess first poured our glasses, the wine was right out of the refrigerator. Yes, refrigerator. At least for now, we’re still regular, everyday folk, and don’t have special cellars kept at specific wine-friendly temperatures. But the reason for special cellars kept at specific wine-friendly temperatures is that wine really does work better when it’s served the way it wants to be. Refrigerators are too cold. As a result, our first impression of the Palazzone Umbria Dubini Bianco was that it was rather bland; the taste had been chilled right out of it.

As the wine warmed a little, it really opened up. The bouquet unfolded with ripe peach and pineapple and a touch of hay. Flavors of apple and stone fruit and honey revealed themselves as if waking up from hibernation. Another interesting thing that happened was the sweetness that hit me over the head on my first sip was soon rounded out with more acid and a satisfying structure that took all but the tiniest hint of sweet away.

The red part of this program was a 2007 Emilio Moro Finca Resalso Ribera del Duero. From Australia. Ha!

Tinto Fino fine for the price

Tinto Fino, fine for the price

OK, obviously from Spain (That was just a little bit of wine humor. OK, sorry. I’ll just get back to my review now…).

In fact, the family-run winery of Bodegas Emilio Moro is located in the Rioja region of Spain, and – typical to the area – their Tinto Fino is a special clone of Tempranillo grapes (for more Tempranillo goodness, you might want to also check out my review of Campo Viejo Crianza).

Tempranillo is sometimes described as juicy raspberry, perfume-y, dry earthy…and…leather. This Tempranillo I found to have a nose of oak and mineral, a bit of heavy-handed alcohol and a lovely smell and taste of black cherry. It bowled me over with tannins at first, but the more it breathed, unsurprisingly, the better it got. I also thought that this wine would be well served by decanting. It will certainly stand up to cellaring for 3 – 5 years.

As reviewed by Wine & Spirits Magazine on 10/09: Rating: 88/100 – Made from young tempranillo vines (from five to 15 years old), this wine offers simple, refreshing red flavors on a large scale. Serve it with chorizo.

I didn’t love this wine, but I did love the Palazzone Umbria Dubini Bianco. And there is something I should add about the price: For awhile Jess and I thought this shipment was priced at $45.95, and at that cost we were both deeply unsatisfied. However, once we learned that the shipment was closer to $30, everything changed. In fact, these wines seemed perfectly priced at around $15 each. Despite not being a huge fan of the Emilio Moro Finca Resalso Ribera del Duero, I feel I still got my money’s worth.

Even better about the Gourmet Monthly Wine Club: Each shipment can be mixed and matched to include wine or beer, cheese, chocolate, premium cigars or fresh cut flowers. That, alone, is worth the price of admission.

Win $2010 in OXO Products!

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Cool Wine Sites | Leave a comment

Join TastingTable.com

Here at GrapeSmart we’re BIG fans of the email newsletter Tasting Table. Always up to date and interesting, we get the latest food & wine news both for Los Angeles and at a national level. They have lots of other cities/metro areas, too.

We frequently ask you to sign up because we KNOW you’ll love it, too. Now they’re incentivizing you further! Sign up for their FREE newsletter and you’ll be entered to win $2010 worth of OXO products! (By the way, we’re also huge fans of OXO products.)

Don’t know what OXO is? They’re ergnomically designed kitchen tools like spatulas, garlic presses, measuring cups, etc. You name it, they make it, and they almost always make it better than everyone else.

Now, how much more incentive could you possibly need? GO! SIGN UP NOW!

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Learn About Wine – Les Chateaux des Bordeaux

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes, Cool Wine Sites | 4 Comments

Wine bars are all the rage right now. In fact, here in Los Angeles it almost seems like we’ve got about as many new enotecas as marijuana dispensaries. Trust me, that’s a lot of vino.

While I’ve been loving this trend, I have also really noticed that there is a distinct lack of wine education offered by these establishments. It’s rare to find a place that hosts classes or opportunities to learn about what they have on the menu and why. Often the waiters are kind and helpful and exuberant, but they can’t really offer a breakdown of what went into the bottle – and how one can get the most out of it.

To fill that void, Los Angeles is lucky to have Ian Blackburn leading us from the levels of oeno-ignorance to aficionado. Through his company, Learn About Wine, he offers everything from Intro to Wine classes; to Wine, Cheese and Chocolate Pairings; to credential programs for consumers and professionals.

Ian also organizes grand tasting events which gather the best of the bunch across a wide array of categories. Often, the actual vintners are present to discuss their product and, without condescension, answer all questions. Everyone – novice and expert alike – leave having learned something.

On Wednesday, January 27th, Ian is partnering with Wally’s Wines and Spirits to offer a tasting of hundreds of Bordeaux’s best wines. Most of the actual Chateau owners are turning out for this Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux event, and will be pouring and discussing their own.

When was the last time you got that at a wine bar?

At $49 per ticket, this tasting is actually a fraction of the price of a single bottle of Grand Cru! Tickets are still available, and I encourage you to come out and enjoy this experience.

Our Bordeaux knowledge went from 0-60 at the BevMo! tasting that featured 100 Bordeaux wines and it helped us better understand French wine, winemaking, and red blends from around the world. We highly recommend these types of events in general, but this one will be special.

If you’re ready to learn about wine, Ian Blackburn’s Learn About Wine events are the way to go. And if you’re going to go, the Union des Grand Crus tasting is a great place to start.

Register today to get your spot!

Orvieto, Vinho Verde and Pinot Blanc – Oh Dear…

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | Leave a comment

wine_corkI recently had the pleasure of trying several types of wine that – prior to my drinking them – I had never even heard of before. They were an Orvieto from Italy, Vinho Verde (a slightly effervescent wine) from Portugal and Pinot Blanc from Austria and the Alsace region in France.

Orvieto is a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) located in Umbria and Lazio, Italy, centered specifically around the commune of Orvieto. Wine has been made here since the Medieval days of yore, although the actual wine making has changed a bit; while Orvieto whites were once known for their golden sweetness, now similar sweet wines are only produced in small quantities, and the majority of whites are made dry and delicious.

Most Orvieto whites are crafted from a blend consisting primarily of Grechetto and Trebbiano grapes (often called Procanico in this area, and referred to as Ugni Blanc, St. Émilion, Thalia and White Hermitage in other parts of the world). Eight blended red varietals are sold under the Rosso Orvietano DOC.

The beautiful Italian town of Orvieto

The beautiful Italian town of Orvieto

The Orvieto I tried – a 2008 Palazzone Umbria Dubini Bianco (try saying that ten times fast) – is comprised of all five of the standard varietals from this Italian region: Procanico, Grechetto, Verdello, Malvasia and Drupeggio.

Palazzone Umbria Dubini Bianco, as you might have guessed from the name, is a white wine. In the glass, it has the color of light golden sunlight and a nose of dried honey, apricot, pineapple and hay. The consistency is almost creamy; it’s smooth and somewhat thick. It has a lovely balance and flavor of apples and honey and stone fruit. Not sweet, but not overly sharp and acidic, either – even though this wine is aged in steel tanks. And at around $15 a bottle, it isn’t just the color that seems like sunshine in a glass.

Vinho Verde is my most exciting new alcoholic discovery, next to Jess’ La Finca Chardonnay find and adult Arnold Palmers. Vinho Verde, or “green wine,” is a popular Portuguese wine, from the Minho region in the north – a rainy and protected designation of origin (in Portuguese: Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC)). The name doesn’t refer to its color, but rather its youthfulness: Vinho Verde is best enjoyed within a year of bottling.

Green, green wine...stay close to me...

Green, green wine…stay close to me…

While available in both white and red varietals, white is exported far more than red and is rumored to be the tastier of the two (although not, perhaps, for the Portuguese, who tend to drink more of the red stuff). For the purposes of this piece, I will be referring to white Verde.

Although these wines do not qualify as sparkling or even semi-sparkling, they do contain a lovely, light effervescence. The Portuguese actually play this up by pouring one’s glass of Vinho Verde from a dramatic height. This sets all those tiny bubbles to frothing, and enhances the overall experience of the drink. But even poured from a more normal altitude, it’s still super yum.

Vinho Verde is less alcoholic than most of the wines we’re used to here. The most potent ones, made from the Alvarinho grape, top out at 11% alcohol by volume. This makes Vinho Verde great for lunch and picnics and not people who’re looking to get totally wasted – although, especially in the hot summer sun – this wine can pack a more powerful punch than you might expect.

Vinho Verde is light and crisp and refreshing and cheap. There is great stuff to be had between $5 and $10, although some go all the way to $20. I just finished a bottle of Trajarinho Vinho Verde, a blend of Trajadura and Alvarinho grapes, for about $10. It was the color of light straw with a nose of green apple and honeysuckle and peach. In the mouth it was fruity and lively and magically delicious, with flavors of honey and peach and citrus and green apple and the slightest touch of yeast. It bears repeating that Vinho Verde should not be cellared – but at these prices it’s worth it to drink up!

Pinot Blanc, like its fiery cousin, Pinot Noir (genetically mutated sibling, actually), is mysterious, seductive and – apparently – kind of hard to get to know.

Not Chardonnay

Not Chardonnay

Pinot Noir is genetically unstable, and sometimes a vine will produce all black fruit, but for one cane that grows all white. These freakish grapes (which are grown in their own right) are used to make still Pinot Blanc and bubbly Cremant d’Alsace in France (although buying a bottle of “Pinot Blanc” does not necessarily mean you’re getting Pinot Blanc if it comes from the Alsace AOC (speaking of freakish…). Pinot Blanc from that region only means it was made from Pinot varieties).

The most full-bodied and well-known Pinot Blanc wines (whether you’re looking for Pinot Blanc or “Pinot Blanc”) hail from Alsace. Sometimes Pinot Blanc grapes are used in the making of Champagne, although in the Champagne region, Pinot Blanc is usually called Blanc Vrai. Pinot Blanc is most widely grown in Italy, where it is known as Pinot Bianco; it is also grown abundantly in Slovenia and Croatia, where it’s called Beli Pinot. In the United States, what we tend to label Pinot Blanc is actually a variety called Melon de Bourgogne or Muscadet, but looks a lot like Chardonnay on the vine.

I’ll give you a minute to catch up.

Actually don’t bother, let’s just get right to the tastings!

Hop on over to Tasca and try a glass

Hop on over to Tasca and try a glass

I first tried Pinot Blanc while at Tasca wine bar with my friend, Jordana. It was her pour, and she picked a good one: Light straw color in the glass, with a lively nose and taste of green apple and a little citrus. An almost effervescent crispness. It was delicious, refreshing and – frankly – quite a surprise! Great balance and a nice, firm body. Went incredibly well with our ridiculously flavorful braised short ribs with spinach and goat cheese agnolotti with brown butter and sage sauce, and Tasca’s succulent wild mushroom linguine (with five types of mushrooms!) that made both of us sigh with pure contentment.

To recreate the joy of that experience, I went straight away to a local wine shop to pick up a bottle of my very own.

Much to my significant disappointment, they did not carry the 2008 Hopler Pinot Blanc from Burgenland, Austria. Instead they sold me a 2006 Domaine Stirn Pinot Blanc, from the Alsace AOC (and what did we learn about Pinot Blanc from the Alsace AOC, kids? Right. Could be any ol’ Pinot.) It was Pin-ew, in fact. Not impressed. I found it thicker and sweeter than the light, crisp Hopler. A bit flabby, without a lot of character. I guess one could describe it as the Billy Baldwin of beverages…

Anyway.

Whatever your taste or interest in adventure, I encourage you to try something new in 2010. In fact, I’d recommend you do it with an open heart and a glass of Vinho Verde.

Trajarinho

The name does not refer to the color of the wine,

La Finca Wines from Trader Joe’s

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wines from the Grocery Store | Leave a comment
La Finca wines from Trader Joe's

La Finca wines from Trader Joe\’s

With Two-Buck Chuck heralded as the “everyman’s” wine I have become more open to the idea of deeply-discounted wines. To me, Two-Buck Chuck has always been a nice $6 wine for $2. Since I don’t drink $6 wine unless there isn’t any beer available, Two-Buck Chuck is just something other people talk about, not something I experience myself anymore.

But a few months ago, Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer fearlessly arrived in my mailbox and found its way onto my coffee table. While perusing it, I noticed some new wine they were promoting that goes by the name of La Finca and comes from Argentina. They sell these wines for $3.99 and it caught my attention. The following questions ran through my head, in roughly this order:

  1. If it’s $3.99 could it be twice as good as Two-Buck Chuck?
  2. If it’s $3.99 could it be like a nice wine that’s normally $12?
  3. If it’s $3.99 could it be any good?

By the time I’d arrived at the third question I’d reached the point of mini-obsession and I just had to know what they’d be like. So I marched myself right over to TJ’s and picked up a bottle each of the La Finca 2009 Malbec, La Finca 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the La Finca 2009 Chardonnay.

I’ve drinking a lot of Malbec in the last six months as I’m going to write a post about Malbec one of these days. Anyway, the general conclusion I’m drawing about Argentinian Malbec involves the difference between “regular” Malbec and “reserve” Malbec and the old addage “You get what you pay for.” Looking for one more notch in my Malbec bedpost, I dove right in as soon as I got home. And I was pleasantly surprised!

I found the La Finca 2009 Malbec to be very drinkable, very characteristic of Malbec from this region, and of pretty solid structure for a very young wine. Here is a little recap from twitter after I tweeted my usual “mini-review.”

grapesmart: Drinking 2009 La Finca Malbec from Trader Joe’s for $3.99. Was very skeptical–Chocolate nose, slightly acidic, low alcohol… kinda nice.
7:10 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck

happywineguy: @grapesmart so…is it a middle of the week wine or something good enough to pour for friends?
7:18 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck in reply to grapesmart

grapesmart: @HappyWineGuy Depends on your friends. It’s acceptable for friends after the first bottle is gone. I have friends I could serve it to :)
7:26 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck

grapesmart: @HappyWineGuy That is, if you’re not embarrassed to serve a 2009 IN 2009 😉
7:29 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck

happywineguy: @grapesmart not at all. The Southern Hemisphere is a half year ahead of us on vintages. So a 2009 is not unacceptable. As a 2nd btl, ok.
7:32 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck in reply to grapesmart

grapesmart: @HappyWineGuy Thanks for teaching me something new about vintages! I had never thought about Southern Hemisphere being 6-months ahead!
7:42 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck

happywineguy: @grapesmart awww, that’s what I do. :-)
7:43 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck in reply to grapesmart

Some time later I opened the La Finca 2009 Chardonnay. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from an Argentinian Chardonnay, or a $3.99 Chardonnay for that matter. I have to tell you, I was absolutely blown away by this wine. It is better than 95% of the Chardonnays I’ve ever had, including all the ones that are over $30. My biggest concern was that since it doesn’t taste like a typical Chardonnay—or even an unoaked Chardonnay where you’ll (hopefully) find more of the Chardonnay grape showing off instead of the oak—that I was mistaken about how good it was. So, I called up Arianna (whom you may remember from such posts as: “I Don’t Read Playboy for the Articles“, “Wine and… Food? Please! Pairings“, and “An Oak Barrel-less Barrel of Fun“), had her come over, and gave her a blind taste. I told her absolutely nothing about what she was drinking and handed her a glass of chilled white wine. I found her analysis to be extremely curious considering what I’d poured.

Amazing balance, citrusy, apricot. Bright & crisp, no alcohol taste like you get in cheaper wines. I’d guess this is a Roussane or other white Rhone and that it’s at least $20. It tastes a little bit older, like a 2007.

This kind of wine is the reason this blog exists. We try everything and point you to great values. This kind of value is rare. If you like white wine go stock up on this Chardonnay, you’ll be glad you did. And if you’re not, I’ll buy the rest of yours off ya.

The story of La Finca comes to La Fin on a sadder note though… Last night I finally cracked the La Finca 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and I have to say… meh. Not only was there nothing extraordinary, there was nothing ordinary. Well maybe not nothing, because the underlying flavors were nice (cherry and blackberry I think), but I had to fight through minerality, alcohol taste, and that dreaded cheap-red-wine-toothiness to get to them and my taste buds were fatigued before I even finished the first swallow. I wonder if it sat in the bottle a while longer (maybe a year or two) if it would get better. I also wonder if it will be better tonight than it was last night (I’ll keep you posted if it is).

At any rate, the moral of the story is to drink lots of wine so you can figure out what you like and what you don’t like… and then buy lots of what you like when it goes on sale.

La Finca wines from Trader Joe\’sWith Two-Buck Chuck heralded as the “everyman’s” wine I have become more open to the idea of deeply-discounted wines. To me, Two-Buck Chuck has always been a nice $6 wine for $2. Since I don’t drink $6 wine unless there isn’t any beer available, Two-Buck Chuck is just something other people talk about, not something I experience myself anymore.
But a few months ago, Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer fearlessly arrived in my mailbox and found its way onto my coffee table. While perusing it, I noticed some new wine they were promoting that goes by the name of La Finca and comes from Argentina. They sell these wines for $3.99 and it caught my attention. The following questions ran through my head, in roughly this order:
If it’s $3.99 could it be twice as good as Two-Buck Chuck?
If it’s $3.99 could it be like a nice wine that’s normally $12?
If it’s $3.99 could it be any good?
By the time I’d arrived at the third question I’d reached the point of mini-obsession and I just had to know what they’d be like. So I marched myself right over to TJ’s and picked up a bottle each of the La Finca 2009 Malbec, La Finca 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the La Finca 2009 Chardonnay.
I’ve drinking a lot of Malbec in the last six months as I’m going to write a post about Malbec one of these days. Anyway, the general conclusion I’m drawing about Argentinian Malbec involves the difference between “regular” Malbec and “reserve” Malbec and the old addage “You get what you pay for.” Looking for one more notch in my Malbec bedpost, I dove right in as soon as I got home. And I was pleasantly surprised!
I found the La Finca 2009 Malbec to be very drinkable, very characteristic of Malbec from this region, and of pretty solid structure for a very young wine. Here is a little recap from twitter after I tweeted my usual “mini-review.”
grapesmart: Drinking 2009 La Finca Malbec from Trader Joe’s for $3.99. Was very skeptical–Chocolate nose, slightly acidic, low alcohol… kinda nice.
7:10 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck
happywineguy: @grapesmart so…is it a middle of the week wine or something good enough to pour for friends?
7:18 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck in reply to grapesmart
grapesmart: @HappyWineGuy Depends on your friends. It’s acceptable for friends after the first bottle is gone. I have friends I could serve it to :)
7:26 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck
grapesmart: @HappyWineGuy That is, if you’re not embarrassed to serve a 2009 IN 2009 😉
7:29 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck
happywineguy: @grapesmart not at all. The Southern Hemisphere is a half year ahead of us on vintages. So a 2009 is not unacceptable. As a 2nd btl, ok.
7:32 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck in reply to grapesmart
grapesmart: @HappyWineGuy Thanks for teaching me something new about vintages! I had never thought about Southern Hemisphere being 6-months ahead!
7:42 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck
happywineguy: @grapesmart awww, that’s what I do. :-)
7:43 PM Oct 19th from TweetDeck in reply to grapesmart
Some time later I opened the La Finca 2009 Chardonnay. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from an Argentinian Chardonnay, or a $3.99 Chardonnay for that matter. I have to tell you, I was absolutely blown away by this wine. It is better than 95% of the Chardonnays I’ve ever had, including all the ones that are over $30. My biggest concern was that since it doesn’t taste like a typical Chardonnay—or even an unoaked Chardonnay where you’ll (hopefully) find more of the Chardonnay grape showing off instead of the oak—that I was mistaken about how good it was. So, I called up Arianna (whom you may remember from such posts as: “I Don’t Read Playboy for the Articles”, “Wine and… Food? Please! Pairings”, and “An Oak Barrel-less Barrel of Fun”), had her come over, and gave her a blind taste. I told her absolutely nothing about what she was drinking and handed her a glass of chilled white wine. I found her analysis to be extremely curious considering what I’d poured.
Amazing balance, citrusy, apricot. Bright & crisp, no alcohol taste like you get in cheaper wines. I’d guess this is a Roussane or other white Rhone and that it’s at least $20. It tastes a little bit older, like a 2007.
This kind of wine is the reason this blog exists. We try everything and point you to great values. This kind of value is rare. If you like white wine go stock up on this Chardonnay, you’ll be glad you did. And if you’re not, I’ll buy the rest of yours off ya.
The story of La Finca comes to La Fin on a sadder note though… Last night I finally cracked the La Finca 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and I have to say… meh. Not only was there nothing extraordinary, there was nothing ordinary. Well maybe not nothing, because the underlying flavors were nice (cherry and blackberry I think), but I had to fight through minerality, alcohol taste, and that dreaded cheap-red-wine-toothiness to get to them and my taste buds were fatigued before I even finished the first swallow. I wonder if it sat in the bottle a while longer (maybe a year or two) if it would get better. I also wonder if it will be better tonight than it was last night (I’ll keep you posted if it is).
At any rate, the moral of the story is to drink lots of wine so you can figure out what you like and what you don’t like… and then buy lots of what you like when it goes on sale.

I Don’t Read Playboy For The Articles

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | Leave a comment
Two Great Things That Go Great Together

Two Great Things That Go Great Together

In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t read Playboy for the pictures, either. If I want to see well-lit T&A, I’m lucky enough to be able to step into my shower. You wouldn’t believe the money I don’t spend on internet porn.

I’m a big fan of Playboy for a reason that has nothing to do with literary merit or bouncy body parts. His name is Dan Dunn. He’s known as The Imbiber; he’s the spirits writer for Playboy and he just gave me a big ol’ box o’ booze to review.

Never stop believing in miracles, kids.

The only thing naked in this post will be my reviews. But don’t hold it against me. I promise I’m good and my wine rack is awesome (even in low light).

Campo Viejo Crianza Tempranillo 2006: From the world-renowned Rioja region of Spain comes an “old friend.” A blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha and Mazuelo, this deep, dark garnet wine has a golden rim in the glass and a nose of plum and cherry, ripe blackberry and vanilla. 12 months of barrel aging adds smooth vanilla on the palate and soft, ripe fruits like the cherry and blackberry you smell right out of the bottle. But this baby burns. It’s acidic; the initial velvet mouthfeel is replaced by a tinge of acid in the back of the throat. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed it the first night. It felt rich, smooth. It went down easy. I didn’t enjoy it as much the next night. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t as good as the first time. And in my opinion, it should always be better the second time around.

Castello Monaci Piluna Primitivo 2007: Italian Primitivo is the genetic twin of the grape we know as Zinfandel.

Primo Primitivo

Primo Primitivo

Generally best consumed in the first 3 – 5 years after bottling, the longer Primitivo/Zinfandel ages in the bottle, the more that lush, jammy fruit taste diminishes.

Apparently for the Castello Monaci Piluna, now is a great time to drink the 2007.

Dark purple in the glass, with a nose of cherry, blackberry and blueberry (Jess actually called it blueberry pie). On the palate it’s all ripe black fruit deliciousness. Balanced, velvety mouthfeel. Medium tannins, medium finish. There was a slight burning on the way down, but just the slightest bit.

Antonio Galloni reviewed it for Parker:

The 2007 Primitivo Piluna flows from the glass with waves of dark red fruit. This generous, ripe wine should continue to drink well for at least another year or two. It is another incredibly delicious value-priced red from Castello Monaci.


Producer Notes:

The wine has broad, ripe black fruit and spice aromas, with notes of pepper, toasty vanilla and Mediterranean scrub. On the palate, the wine has a robust, concentrated character, a firm structure, and small black fruit and licorice notes on the aftertaste.

At around 11 bucks a bottle, this is a great buy.

Good stuff

Good stuff

Trapiche Broquel Chardonnay 2007: In doing research for this piece, I noticed that the importer used the word “international” to describe this wine and its packaging no less than 1 billion times (give or take a few). So I’m going to wager that they’re describing this wine as “international” to reassure potential buyers that it’s as good as Australian and Californian Chardonnay; maybe they’re afraid the average bear won’t buy a Chardonnay from Argentina. Could that be true? Do we use Argentina for their Malbec and rudely walk away from the rest?

If that’s the case, than shame on us. This wine is delightful. Lovely, golden straw in the glass. A nose of honey and apricot and peach. Flavors of green apple, honeysuckle, grass, muscat and apricot. It’s crisp but has backbone. A bit of bite, but – under the right circumstances – a bite isn’t bad. At $15 a bottle, it’s a little more than I’d want to spend, but if you find it on sale, go for it.

Producer Notes:

Tasting Notes: It is an elegant wine with intense scents of red apples, honey, and cinnamon [Ed: Cinnamon?! WTF?!]. Well-rounded flavors offer good body and a mild, harmonious finish.

Food Match: White meats, scallops, hard cheeses, fish, chicken, BBQ [Ed: And

left-over pumpkin cheesecake right out of the fridge, when you’re too lazy to make yourself lunch after spending an entire week cooking for Thanksgiving].

Those are my favorites from the free stuff I got; I raise a glass and toast. Here’s to women and wine. Here’s to Dan Dunn, The Imbiber. And here’s to the magazine that circuitously brought all of them together in this piece. Cheers!

Wine Tasting Trip: Hitching Post Wines

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Trips | 3 Comments

One can hardly visit the Santa Ynez Valley and not notice the effect of the movie Sideways. I never visited before the movie so I can’t be sure what was different then (probably fewer tourists and less usage of the words “sideways” and “pinot noir”), but the impact of the film is obvious when you visit the area.

It’s the most obvious when you visit The Hitching Post II restaurant and bar on Highway 246 in Buellton. You can drive the route that Miles stumbled, you can hang out at the bar where he drowned his sorrows in Pinot Noir, and now you can even see pictures on the wall of the cast and crew when they were filming.

I was personally more interested to see what all the hype was about than I was in reliving the movie, but it was a bit surreal. Up until a few weeks ago my interest in Hitching Post was nil specifically because of all the hype and I’d avoided the scene on previous trips. This time though, I squeezed it into our itinerary for a few reasons.

First, I’d recently tried the Cork Dancer Pinot Noir at the Viceroy in Santa Monica at a friend’s birthday party. They have it on their Happy Hour menu (which goes until 9pm) for $6 a glass. That’s a deal for any wine in this town and it’s a great deal for good wine. The second reason we went there on this trip was that we were spending the night in Buellton and its gravity sucked me into a vortex of curiosity (that, and we needed to eat dinner in the small town). Lastly, I saw on their website they do a full wine tasting at their bar for $7 until 6pm. THIS was a reason to go!

We arrived around 5pm (we had a 6pm reservation–I HIGHLY recommend making reservations and going early. People were waiting in big crowds/lines for a long time.) and found a spot in the bar area which was eerily familiar (I’ve only seen the movie once but the images from inside HPII were burned into my brain). We ordered a couple of tastings and settled in to try the 7 pours of infamy before dinner.

(If you get bored reading the reviews of the wines, skip to the end where I talk about our dining experience.)

Note: The website is a little out of date and the wines available for purchase aren’t all the same vintages as I tasted so the notes and prices may be a little askew. Well, their notes might be… mine are probably as askew as they always are!

2007 Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post “Pinks”, a Dry Rose – $18 per bottle

What they say: Beautiful aromas of strawberry, cherry and rainbow sherbet. Brilliant color and fresh crisp flavors makes this a joy to swirl and sip.

What Jess says: Mild and subtle. Cool and refreshing. Would go well with anything on a hot day. (Still biased by my favorite Rose of all, Beckmen Grenache Rose.)

2006 Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Cork Dancer Pinot Noir – $27 per bottle

Hitching Post Cork Dancer Pinot Noir

Hitching Post Cork Dancer Pinot Noir

What they say: A blend of six vineyards that stretch from Santa Maria through Los Alamos and into the Santa Rita Hills. Bright fruits, medium body, a well proportioned great drinking everyday pinot.

What Jess says: The nose was like other earthy local Pinot Noirs. (I find that Pinots from this area of a distinctive nose that I can always detect, no matter what the winemaking did to the wine.) It was a beautiful light red with a nice feeling at the back of the mouth. I detected berries in this well-balanced Pinot. I liked it as much as I did at the Viceroy, too. While I like this wine, I’m not sure most of us think $27 per bottle is an “everyday” wine.

2006 Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post St. Rita’s Earth Pinot Noir – $34 per bottle

What they say: Dark fruits, good structured blend of Sanford & Benedict, Fiddlestix and Clos Pepe Vineyards. All Santa Rita Hills. Aromas of earth and cherries. Deep purple color with warm flavors of berry and spice that linger.

What Jess says: The nose was detectably earthier and stronger than the Cork Dancer. When I tasted it my first response was YUM. Blueberries and blackberries slinking seductively across the tongue in this smooth well-balanced Pinot Noir. For $7 more, I’d choose this over the Cork Dancer.

2006 Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Highliner Pinot Noir – $42 per bottle

What they say: Aromas of berries and sweet Frenchy oak, bright young fruit tastes rich and round, poised to improve over the next 5 to 10 years. (Note: this is their flagship wine.)

What Jess says: The nose had a very particular smell about it that I couldn’t put my finger on. I tasted cherries. This wine was super smooth and a long, silky, wonderful finish. WOW. I can see why this wine gets so much attention and it tastes like it’s their pride and joy. But even still, we didn’t buy any of this wine because it’s still out of reach for most people.

2006 Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Generation Red – $18 per bottle

Hitching Post Generation Red Blend - Cabernet Franc, Mourvedre, Syrah, Refosco

Hitching Post Generation Red Blend – Cabernet Franc, Mourvedre, Syrah, Refosco

38% Cabernet Franc, 33% Merlot, 23% Syrah, 6% Refosco

What they say: Generation Red honors our parents and grandparents who first introduced us to wine at the dinner table, and our children, who have shown a keen interest in winemaking as inquisitive youngsters and excited young adults. With this bottling we focused on high quality sources: 20 yr old Cabernet Franc from Alisos Vineyard in the hills above Los Alamos, meticulously farmed Merlot from Westerly and Gainey vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley, and small amounts of White Hawk Syrah and Bien Nacido Refosco. This blend is mainly Cabernet Franc and shows a young rustic character with dusty, smoky aromatics. Excellent with food.

What Jess says: The nose smelled “Cabby.” I tasted cola and “purple” fruit. I found the wine smooth and interesting (in a good way, unlike the Porque No! red blend from Napa I just tried that found to be interesting in a notsogood way). This wine said to me, “Buy me!” So I did. A great value in a unique and high-quality wine.

2006 Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Merlot, Santa Barbara County – $20 per bottle

What they say: I can’t locate their tasting notes on this one.

What Jess says: I’m not a fan of Merlot, but at this point my notes just say “too buzzed to care.” That’s me, slackin’ on the job!

2006 Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Syrah, Big Circle – $25 per bottle

What they say: This cuvee honors the Big Circle Riders who surrounded the cattle to bring them together are the roundup, where our style of oakwood grilling got its beginnings by feeding the cowboys after a hard day’s work. Today we gather Syrah grapes from various Santa Barbara vineyards, and bring them together in this wine that combines the structure and intensity of cool sites with the broad flavors of Syrah grapes from warmer vineyards.This wine is ripe, juicy and flashy. Showing notes of black cherry and cooked plum with polished edges.

What Jess says: Red berry and chocolate on the nose. Nice, chocolate, black cherry, pepper, and plum in the mouth. A little more expensive than I normally spend, I bought a bottle anyway because it was very good and I’d look forward to serving it to guests.

At this point in the evening, our reservation was up and we were drunk. WE is a noteworthy comment because Mitch RARELY gets drunk.  The tasting pours were very generous and we were on an empty stomach (especially Mitch because at least I’d had some snacks at the Vino de Suenos event earlier in the day where I’d met and spoke with Frank Ostini–super nice guy). We ambled over to the hostess stand, and were promptly seated as we walked past hordes of jealous restaurant-goers.

Folks, I gotta say, this place is like a time warp. What it’s not though is snobby or elitist. When I met Frank Ostini earlier in the day, our conversation led me to believe he’s a genuine guy who believes in the good things in life: Good food, good wine, good friends, and doing what you love with honesty and integrity. I got that sense at the restaurant, too.

Not everything we tried was a winner and the veggie tray that they brought out when were seated was peculiar, right down to the 1970’s aluminum serving dish the veggies arrived in. We ordered a couple of appetizers (I liked the mushrooms, Mitch didn’t) and dinner. Mitch had pork chops for dinner and I had a cut of their famous BBQ steak. The steak was incredible. The most flavorful, moist, and tender piece of meat I’ve ever eaten (and I eat a lot of meat). I can’t recommend the steaks highly enough.

At any rate, if you’re a Sideways junkie, a Pinot Noir lover, or just want to take a trip back in time to the late 70s, add the Hitching Post II to your itinerary and make a reservation!

Spectacular Fall Foliage in Santa Ynez Valley

Spectacular Fall Foliage in Santa Ynez Valley

Wine Tasting Trip: Sanford Winery in Santa Ynez Valley, California

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Trips | Leave a comment

People who love wine often talk about how wine is just as much about the experience as it is about the wine itself. They’re sometimes referring to the process of uncorking a bottle, who they’ve shared the wine with, or the time they visited the winery. In my case, when I wax poetic about Sanford Winery, it’s 1/3 because of how I discovered it, 1/3 because of how beautiful it is there, and 1/3 because I like the wines.

A couple of years ago on my first trip to the Santa Ynez area with Mitch, we got lost looking for the Wine Ghetto in Lompoc. We’d never been and Google Maps is dreadful at understanding the addresses in this area so we had to attack the problem the old-fashioned way–drive around aimlessly until we stumble on it, or give up and try it again next time. We did NOT find the wine ghetto on that trip (but we did on the next one with much more assiduous research). We did, however, take a detour down Santa Rosa Rd (which we didn’t know the name of) through a beautiful valley, part of the Santa Rita Hills AVA. On our way, we encountered what appeared to be a brand new, and open, tasting room… so we went. We’d never heard of Sanford before that moment, but we’re glad our adventure went that way.

Chardonnay grapes growing on the flat land at the Sanford-Benedict Vineyard

Chardonnay grapes growing on the flat land at the Sanford-Benedict Vineyard

On this past trip, honoring the discovery of the winery on our last trip and the several bottles of Sanford Chardonnay we’ve consumed since then, we popped in on our way to a scheduled wine-tasting charity event. Boy are we glad we did!

We came at the winery from the opposite side of Santa Rosa Rd (exiting 101E instead of 246W) and drove through the gorgeous valley in late-afternoon sunlight which–yes it’s cheesy–danced on the grapevines showing their new fall colors. We passed by Mosby and Alma Rosa, making note to come back this way next time, and pulled into the parking lot at Sanford to find only four cars. Sweet!

In we went to the familiar tasting room. We later learned that the beautiful architecture is made from reclaimed Douglas Fir and local adobe hand cut by the vineyard workers themselves. Because it was empty we were served immediately and we shared our first tasting of the day.

Mitch isn’t crazy about Chardonnays in general, but really likes the Sanford Chardonnay (probably because there’s no oak). We both remembered not being crazy about their red wines a couple of years ago, but we know our palates have matured and each vintage is different, so we had open minds as we began the discovery process all over again.

The door to the barrel room

The door to the barrel room

The Sanford Winery Tasting Room does public tours of their winery every Saturday at 12pm and 2pm. We were the only folks around so we took a private tour of the winery with the new tasting room manager’s inaugural tour. If he hadn’t told us, we wouldn’t have known!

It was our first time in the “employees only” area of a winery so it was great fun to see all the wine as it ages, to learn about the equipment and methods of their winemaking, to hear about the investments a winery makes, and just to soak in what daily life might be like if we lived there (one can dream). As our careful tour guide removed the lock and the stellar old-fashioned door “knob” from the West Barrel Room, we knew we were in for a treat. The room requires no HVAC to remain a constant 60-something degrees and walking into the quiet room filled with barrels which each hold 300 bottles of wine was serene.

Fermentation-Tanks

Where the Chardonnay Ferments

We also saw the different types of equipment to start extracting juice from the grapes, the massive open-topped fermentation tanks, and views of the vineyard which included an explanation of how the Pinot Noir grapes grow up on the hill and the Chardonnay grapes grow in the lower flat areas. There were also, as I somewhat expected, various clones the winemakers are “fooling around with” as they craft their next wines.

The Pinot Noir grapes growing up the hill with the Chardonnay grapes in front

The Pinot Noir grapes growing up the hill with the Chardonnay grapes in front

Of course, let’s not forget about the reason it’s all here looking so luscious… the wines! Here’s a rundown of what we tasted and what we thought about it.

Sunlight shining into the Sanford Winery Tasting Room

Sunlight shining into the Sanford Winery Tasting Room

2007 Sanford Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County, $22 per bottle

What they say: Our 2007 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay comes from four great vineyards. Our estate vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills, La Rinconada and Sanford & Bendict, along with the El Camino Vineyard in Los Alamos and the Bien Nacido Vineyard east of Santa Maria, combine to give this wine aromatic complexity and layers of flavor. The 2007 vintage was low yielding and produced wines of great intensity and structure. This barrel fermented Chardonnay shows all of the exotic tropical fruit and citrus that Santa Barbara is renowned for, along with the minerality that is a signature of wines from the Santa Rita Hills. This full bodied wine has nice acidity to keep it in balance and makes a nice complement to most seafood, poultry, and pasta with lighter sauces.

What Jess says: Apple & oak on the nose, with a smoky, astringent quality to it. It’s initially strong on the front of the palate with a bit of pineapple in the mid-palate. A lingering finish that fades gracefully.

Also known as “The Flower Label” Chardonnay, it’s a fairly large-production wine that can be found at Vons/Pavillions/Safeway/etc. and other stores, too. Santa Monica Seafood retails it for $17 and it goes on sale at the Safeway stores for as low as $14.99. At $14.99 it’s a FANTASTIC Chardonnay.

Buy it at K&L Wines

2006 Sanford La Rinconada Vineyard Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills, $34 per bottle

What they say: The 2006 La Rinconada Chardonnay comes exclusively from our estate vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills. It is sourced from our two best lbocks (Wente and Clone 15), whole cluster pressed and barrel fermented. With the traditional Burgundian technique of lees stirring and barrel aging, this wine has developed richness and elegance sought after in fine Chardonnay. Intense by balanced, our flagship Chardonnay is bursting with citrus and tropical fruit, with hints of creme brulee.

What Jess says: On the nose: detectable minerality, earthy, smells like a Chardonnay and not like overdone winemaking. In the mouth, light, acidic/bright, and smooth with notes of oak and, believe it or not, that creme brulee.

2006 Sanford La Entrada Chardonnay, $45 per bottle

What they say: A stunning Chardonnay from our most prized block of Clone 15. This intense but balanced barrel fermented wine is called “La Entrada” because it comes from the parcel at the entrance to the Rinconada Vineyard. From its lifted citrus and tropical aromatics, to its rich but well structured palate, this barrel fermented Chardonnay has impressed all who have tasted it.

What Jess says: Yum. I, too, was impressed. A delicate vanilla nose. Smooth and silky mouthfeel with hints of citrus and pineapple. I’d be happy to drink some more of this one.

2007 Sanford Flor de Campo White Blend, $48 per bottle

What they say: The 2007 vintage marks the second bottling of this exotic white wine. Inspired by the great wines of France’s Northern Rhone Valley, this wine from Santa Ynez Valley is called “Flor de Campo” which is Spanish for wildflower. To preserve the exotic spicy floral character of this Roussanne/Viognier blend, we barrel fermented in neutral French Oak barrels. The resulting full-bodied wine offers aromas of peach and nectarine, with hints of jasmine. The full palate is balanced by crisp acid and minerality.

What Jess says: Also blended with less than 1% Chardonnay, these grapes hail from Happy Canyon, happy indeed. The nose was sweet, green apple and honeysuckle for me. It was smooth but tasted heavily of the Viognier. As much as I’m a Rhone nut (or at least a Rhone Ranger Sidekick), I’m notsomuch a fan of the Viognier unless it’s been cut by something heavier or sweeter. In this case, the more delicate Roussane could have used more mmph than the 60%/40% blend gave it… at least for me.

2008 Sanford Pinot Noir Rose – Vin Gris, $18 per bottle

What they say: Our 2008 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir is from the La Rinconada Vineyard and the historic Sanford and Benedict Vineyard. After de-stemming our Pinot Noir, we allow 3-5 hours of contact time before draining off the lightly colored juice for our Vin Gris. This wine is then tank-fermented to dryness before aging in neutral French Oak barrels for 4 months. This wine has inviting aromas of strawberry, rhubarb, and cranberry along with floral notes suggestive of orange blossoms and a hint of white pepper. This dry orse has excellent acidity, which allows it to pair well with a range of foods. Grilled seafood, spicy dishes and most picnic fare would be excellent with this wine.

What Jess says: Nose: a nice smooth rose smell. Mouth, a light “red-fruity” flavor, cranberry, with a full-tongue experience and a good finish. We liked this and found it to be a good value at $18. The problem is that I’m in love with the Beckmen Grenache Rose and we figured we’d stop by there and pick some up on Sunday when we were over that way… except we didn’t go! I said, “Nah, some other time.” What was I thinking??

2007 Sanford Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, $40 per bottle

What they say: A blend from our estate vineyard, La Rinconada, and the historic Sanford & Benedict Vineyard next door. A mix of vineyard blocks and several different clones give this wine added complexity. This wine is deep violet red in color and is bursting with black cherry and plub, pepper and sage on the nose. The palate delivers dusty berry flavors framed nicely by bright acidity and supple tannins. The wine was allowed to age in French Oak barrels (30% new oak) for 10 months where it gained concentration and picked up hints of vanilla and licorice.

What Jess says: Beautiful and earthy Santa Ynez Valley Pinot on the nose, enticing me to drink it. This is a structured, smooth Pinot Noir, the red fruit is expressive, there’s a little chalkiness on the mid-palate and I detected oak but no vanilla or licorice. We liked this Pinot better than last time but we don’t think it’s worth the release price of $40… yet. Perhaps with some age this wine will mature into something spectacular. You’d have to ask Robert Parker about that :) We’ve seen this at the grocery store at retail price, if it goes on sale for $25 or less I’d pick up a bottle.

Buy it at Wine.com, Buy it at K&L Wines

2007 Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir, $60 per bottle

What they say: Sourced exclusively from this historic vineyard in the esteemed Santa Rita Hills AVA. Planted in 1971 this iconic vineyard consistently produces distinctively superb Pinot Noir. The 2007 wine is deep ruby in color and is loaded with aromas of black cherry and raspberry with hints of clove, cinnamon, and white pepper. The rich palate delivers bright spicy cherry flavors framed nicely by bright acidity and ripe tannins. Aged in French Oak for 11 months where it gained concentration and complexity, this wine will improve in the bottle for 5 to 8 years with proper cellaring.

What Jess says: The nose was deep and earthy, hints of clove for sure. This wine melts over the tongue with cherry, smooth earthy finish, oaky (but not in a bad way). This blog is about value wines because we’re too cheap to buy a $60 wine (in general). We liked the wine, but not enough to pay $60 for it.

Charity Event Tasting: Vino de Suenos

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Trips | Leave a comment
A charity event raising money for Santa Ynez Valley People Helping People (PHP)

A charity event raising money for Santa Ynez Valley People Helping People (PHP)

We had a trip planned for Santa Ynez Valley this past weekend and I decided to check out LocalWineEvents.com in the Santa Barbara area to see if there was anything going on we’d like to add to our itinerary. Indeed there was! Dean was kind enough to provide free tickets in exchange for our coverage of the event (the FTC requires me to disclose that to you).

Here’s an overview of the event:

Vino de Sueños, “Wine of Dreams,” is a wine brand conceived by the non-profit human services organization, Santa Ynez Valley People Helping People (PHP), and a small group of premium Santa Barbara County vintners. This group wanted to make a difference in the lives of vineyard and farm workers who are at the very heart of the County’s agricultural economy and more specifically, the vineyard and wine businesses. Founding Participant Wineries of Vino de Suenos include Alma Rosa, Buttonwood, Clos Pepe, Feliz Noche, Foxen, Longoria, and Presidio.

The Vino de Sueños wines will be sold in order raise funds to give workers and their families the assistance they need during difficult economic times. PHP will administer the funds to furnish basic needs (food, rent, and utility assistance) and family support services (counseling, youth after school programs, parent education, and scholarships). Services are directed to giving families a hand-up to achieve their dreams of a better life.

When I arrived, the staff was friendly and the crowd was pretty big. There was a beautiful tented set-up with a large catering area and plenty of tables to stop and chat at. Most wineries sent emissaries, and some of them were the famous winemakers themselves. It was heart-warming to see these big names and faces at an event designed to help the communities they, and their workers, live and work in.

vina-de-suenos-bottles

About the Wine (General)

Top wineries & winemakers from Santa Ynez Valley were invited to participate and the showing was impressive. Each wine was given a unique bottle with a custom-made piece of artwork adorning it. The original art the labels were based on were available for silent-auction. One piece had the media listed as “wine on paper” and it was evocative of an Old World winery… and unusual. The wines were available for purchase at the event at a little bit of a discount from their normal release prices, and some wines are only available from Vino de Sueños directly.

I’ve now attended a few different types of tasting events and I have to say each has had its own unique flair. I’ve been to a Rhone Rangers event (30+ wineries, very professional vibe), a BevMo! Mega-Tasting event (hundreds of wines, beers, and spirits, mass consumer crowd), a Learn About Wine event (unoaked theme, pretentious but consumer-oriented), and now this Vino de Sueños event (a charity event with a blue-blood feel, despite the presence of rancheros and vaqueros).

I highly recommend tasting events to anyone who wants to learn more about wine or expand their palate quickly. Arrive as early as possible, take notes, and remember to dump most of the wine or you’ll be drunk inside an hour! (Which is fine, if that’s what you’re aiming for… it’s almost inevitable anyway.)

About Each Wine


Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards – Santa Rita Hills

“For over 20 years, my wife Thekla and I have focused on what’s most important to us: sustainable business practices and organic farming. We are deeply committed to the environment and the soulful connection with our employees and the people who enjoy our wine.” says Richard Sanford.

They presented their 2008 Alma Rosa Pinot Gris, Santa Barbara County ($16 per bottle, 1201 cases produced)

What they say: Like one of the models in a Modigliani, lean yet full of curves, our 2008 Pinot Gris is a bit softer and more rounded than the prior vintage. It retains that wonderfully brilliant nose of fresh orchard fruits and a pleasant bitter-almond quality, along with apple-pie like flavors and cleansing acidity that lead us to recommend pairing this wine with Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, or inventive Pacific Rim dishes… Let’s do some lightly-fried or grilled fish in garlic-lime butter with a spicy tropical-fruit salsa…

What Jess says: Produced in the Burgundian style with stainless steel fermentation and neutral oak. No malolactic fermentation. Has a screwcap closure. On the nose I detected grapefruit and pineapple. This was a smooth wine, showing green apple and a bright, but not overly so, acidity. I also detected something that seemed “nutty” to me, but that seems strange.


Au Bon Climat Winery – Santa Maria Valley

au-bon-climat-logo“The Au Bon Climat winery is located on the world-famous Bien Nacido Vineyard, and is owned by winemaker Jim Clendenen. Au Bon Climat was listed on Robert Parker’s Best Wineries of the World in both 1989 and 1990, while Jim Clendenen has been named Winemaker of the Year in 1992 by the Los Angeles Times, and Winemaker of the Year in 2001 by Food and Wine Magazine.”

They presented their 2005 Au Bon Climat Santa Maria Petit Verdot ($32 per bottle)

I was unable to find any information about this wine online and they didn’t send me home with any goodies so that I could reference those materials… so folks, you’ll just be getting my review of this one!

What Jess says: The nose was earthy and bore the scent of many other Santa Maria Valley wines I’ve tasted. It was aged 36 months in oak and reminded me of a Merlot (which isn’t really a compliment coming from me, but they ARE growing on me a little… thank you BevMo!). I’ve only ever had one other pure (or nearly pure) Petit Verdot and it was from Justin Vineyards & Winery in Paso Robles. The Au Bon Climat sample was better.


Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard – Santa Ynez Valley

“Buttonwood’s varietal mix of sauvignon blanc, semillon, marsanne, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and syrah reflects the preferences of owners Betty Williams and her son-in-law, Bret Davenport, for Bordeaux and Rhone style wines. As we expected, they grow perfectly in our warm, eastern Santa Ynez Valley location.”

They presented their 2008 Buttonwood Sauvignon Blanc ($13 per bottle)

What they said: The 2008 Buttonwood Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect melding of our warm Santa Ynez Valley climate, careful cultivation and winemaker know-how. Imagine what sunshine would taste like if you could bottle it and you come close to the bright and tangy flavor of our favorite white wine. Flavors of lemon-lime edged tropical fruit with a creamy core and tart finish offer a rare treat at the end of a warm summer day. A high acid profile makes Sauvignon Blanc the perfect food wine and we like it best with seafood. Try our latest edition with chilled English pea soup served with a dollop of crab salad topped with lemon infused creme fraiche.

What Jess says: The 20% Semillon was a great idea to cut through the acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc from this area. On the nose: bright, grapefruit. In the mouth: Light and buttery. This was my first stop at the event (right next to the door) and my palate was at its freshest. I’m a fan of Sauvignon Blanc from this area (thank you Fiddlehead!) and at $13 a bottle, this is a great value wine.


Cold Heaven Cellars – Santa Maria & Santa Ynez Valleys

“My mission and goal as a winemaker is to illuminate and define Viognier, to elevate its profile and explore its potential through keen observation and copious tasting. I seek to sound the depths of this enigmatic grape, to reveal its secrets and shine a bright light on the extraordinary fruit grown in the cool vineyards of the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys of California ‘s Central Coast.” – Morgan Clendenen

Morgan was representing her own wine and was delightful to speak with.

She presented her 2005 Cold Heaven Syrah Santa Barbara County ($30 per bottle). At first I thought it was the “Second Sin” Syrah, but now I’m not so sure. She’s launching a second label (focusing on Sauvignon Blanc) called Strangelove. The order form for the wines says Strangelove Syrah. Regardless, I don’t have the winemakers’ notes for you, and again, you’re stuck with my interpretation (but since I can’t identify the wine, it will make it hard for you to argue with me!)

What Jess says: I found the wine to taste quite a bit like a Pinot Noir from the area. Since this was the sixth or seventh table I tasted at I figured it was just me, but someone else asked Morgan and she said it herself (something to the effect of) “everyone is trying to make their Pinots taste like Syrahs and here I am trying to make a Syrah taste like a Pinot.” If nothing else, it’s a testament to the effect winemaking can have on a grape! The wine was “pre-release” and even though it’d had 2 years in a barrel and 2 years in the bottle, it could have used a little more time to rest… and beef up.


D’Alfonso-Curran Wines – Santa Rita Hills

“D’Alfonso – Curran Wines is the identity for two very successful and celebrated wine makers – Bruno D’Alfonso and Kris Curran. The two together bring decades of knowledge, artistry, experience and accolades to their personal labels – Curran, DiBruno and BADGE. Their wines offer an array of sought-after, limited production wines, each with its own unique characteristics. Grenache Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese, Syrah and Tempranillo all from locally grown fruit are just some of the varietals offered. The company operates a tasting room located in downtown Solvang and a new winery located in the heart of the Santa Rita Hills AVA on Rancho La Vina.”

They presented their 2006 BADGE Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills ($30 per bottle)

What they say: I can’t locate any of the winery’s tasting notes on this one.

The person pouring (I’ve now forgotten who it was) told me about their unique “triple finish” which consisted of 1/3 Oak fermentation, 1/3 Malolactic fermentation, 1/3 Stainless Steel fermentation. So I’d expect oaky, buttery, and citrus or tropical fruit.

What Jess says: Smells like pineapple. In the mouth it was bright and buttery, but I lost the oak layer in there. Perhaps what I detected as “Viognier-like” was in fact oak?


Fiddlehead Cellars – Santa Rita Hills, Santa Ynez Valley, and Willamette

“Kathy Joseph established Fiddlehead Cellars to capture the pure essence of the two grape varietals that she loves best – Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Now in her twentieth vintage

as “Head Fiddle”, Kathy continues to passionately pursue her goal of creating stylistic Sauvignon Blancs and silky, intense Pinot Noirs. Terroir-driven, Fiddlehead’s Sauvignon Blanc wines hail from the stellar eastern-end of the Santa Ynez Valley, while her estate Pinot Noirs showcase the cooler Santa Rita Hills in the western-most part of that transverse valley. And loving the nuances of place, Kathy continues to craft intriguing Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.”

The opportunity to meet Kathy Joseph was a big one for me personally. Fiddlehead was the first wine club we joined (we joined our second on the same trip as this event) and it was the first time we were blown away by everything we tasted in a tasting room. We’ve enjoyed every shipment of wine we received and were seriously bummed when our financial circumstances didn’t leave room for us to join their Stradivarius Club (small group, library wines) and we were forced to give up our spot on the long waiting list. With every tasting note packet, personal recipe, and enthusiastic email I grow to appreciate Kathy and her passion more and more.

As a side note: Doing what you are most passionate about for a living, or making wine, clearly is the secret to good, healthy living. When you see Kathy in person she doesn’t look like someone who should have 20-something vintages under her belt.

Kathy Joseph herself presented her 2005 Fiddlehead Cellars Seven Twenty Eight Estate Pinot Noir – Fiddlestix Vineyard ($38 per bottle)

What they said: This cuvée struts the beauty of the varietal: classic black cherry fruit, hints of black pepper and an underlying earthy signature; together they express layers of finesse and concentration. Laden with silky, sexy tannins and spot on acidity that ensure vibrancy through to the finish and which predict long life in your cellar. A selection of six clones: Pommard 4 and 5, and Dijon clones 667, 777, 113, and 115, each adding significant layers to this charming wine.

Aged 16 months in our favorite selection of tight-grain French oak (Rousseau, Bel Air, Cadus, Saury, Seguin Moreau, Marcel Cadet) and held an additional year in bottle to allow the pinot charm to shine in all its glory!

What Jess says: I loved the wine. I always do. A special wine, balanced and luxurious in the mouth. A long finish with red fruit that makes you relish the last sip and reach for the next.


Foxen Winery – Santa Maria Valley, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Ynez Valley

“Bill Wathen and Dick Doré have been making wine together since 1985, when they founded Foxen Winery & Vineyard at the historic Rancho Tinaquaic in northern Santa Barbara County.

Since that time, their dedication has remained the same—the creation of very small-production, vineyard-designated wines using a “minimalist” approach to winemaking.”

They presented their 2007 Cuvee Jeanne Marie (GSM – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) ($30 per bottle)

What they say: I can’t find any tasting notes on this one. What’s VERY interesting to me though is that they give you every detail about how the wine was made, and don’t tell you anything about what it tastes like. I was told a story by a younger woman at one of the other tables about how the wine is named after her grandmother, and her father (or uncle?) was pouring the Foxen wine. Perhaps this family understands that everyone will taste the wine differently and the art is in the growing of the grapes and making of the wine rather than in the poetry that sells it?

What Jess says: I love GSM. It’s one of my favorite “varietals.” (Like my interpretation of the four food groups: Bread, Cheese, Garlic, and Wine.) On the nose this wine was hearty and smelled of that ever-unidentifiable “purple fruit.” In the mouth it was flavorful but a little “thin.” I noted that it started to fill out with more and more sips. I’d bet this would be great in 6-months to a year… but not at $30.


Hartley Ostini Hitching Post Winery – Santa Barbara County

“Frank and Gray believe that great wines are made in the vineyard. Their winemaking philosophy is that they are caretakers who guide the wine into the bottle. As the wine matures it is simply left to gently age in the barrel. This minimalist approach allows Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post wines to reflect the character of the vineyard and the vintage, preserving the essence of the grape for you to enjoy when you open the bottle.”

Frank Ostini himself presented a special blend of 2007 Santa Maria Pinot Noir & 2007 Highliner Pinot Noir ($25 per bottle)

Frank was charming and gracious. He reminded me of one of my friends’ Dad when I was a kid. It was nice to meet the man who would be responsible for my dinner that night (a separate review of my experience tasting Hitching Post wines will be available shortly). Since this was a blend made especially for this event (and probably some private labeling venture), there aren’t any winery tasting notes.

What Jess says: Nose was earthy and otherwise like a local Pinot Noir. It was a little thin, even for Pinot. It was aged 3 months in the bottle, but not scheduled for release until the Spring. And it could use the extra few months.


Kalyra Winery – Santa Ynez Valley

“With a strong conviction of creating food compatible wines and simply not making the same wines as everybody else, the Kalyra wine portfolio is as interesting as it is varied.
Winemaker Mike Brown holds true to the new world philosophy that a wine should be a reflection of the grape as well as the unique characteristics of where it is grown.”

They presented their 2005 Late Harvest Riesling ($27 per bottle)

What they say: Tasting notes from Kalyra are MIA, but that’s okay. You’ve got me!

What Jess says: Made in the “Ice Wine” style (properly called Eiswein), I was impressed. My husband is from Ontario and I always stare at the little Ice Wine bottles at the LCBO and wonder why anyone makes wine that sweet. You expect Ice Wine from the northern grape-growing regions as it can be damn cold early in the year (I remember from my Chicago-dwelling days), but it’s pretty unusual to find it in Southern California (the presenter pointed out that you can freeze anything). Honestly, I don’t like sweet wine and the only Rieslings I like are the dry ones. So let’s just say I was more than a little surprised to enjoy this Late Harvest Riesling. It was very sweet, but subtle, well-balanced and layered. I detected pineapple and other tropical fruit that I would expect from grapes grown in this area. If you like sweeter wines, I’d chase this one down.


Makor Wines – Bien Nacido Vineyards, Santa Rita Hills

“If you look at the Au Bon Climat triangular labels, a line near the bottom says “Produced and bottled by Jim Clendenen, Mind Behind.” And while Clendenen is the sole provocateur of the label, when he’s on the road promoting Au Bon Climat and Santa Barbara County, the daily winery tasks

fall to Jim Adelman, production winemaker at the joint Au Bon Climat/Qupé facility, located on the Bien Nacido Vineyard property. Effectively, he’s the mind behind the mind behind!

Adelman makes a small amount of wine under his Makor label, though it’s usually his own spin on something neither producer makes.” (Source: Appellation America)

Jim couldn’t be there that day and the event kindly provided a volunteer to pour this wine. She didn’t know much about it other than the fact that it was a 2007 Merlot from Santa Maria ($14 per bottle). I’m not a Merlot fan, so bear with me.

What Jess says: The nose was peppery (a good start!). It was a well-balanced wine with a nice finish, but it had that grapey thing going on that I don’t like about Merlot wines in general. If anybody knows why Merlot tastes grapey to me, please let me know! (That’s if you’re even still reading at this point.)


Richard Longoria Wines – Santa Barbara County

“My belief that the Santa Barbara wine region would someday produce world class wines has come true,” Rick states, “and my dream of having my own winery has also come true.”

Longoria wines are handcrafted in very small quantities ranging from 50 cases to 500 cases. Total production at this time is about 3,500 cases.”

They presented their 2007 Syrah Cuvee blended specifically for this event ($25 per bottle).

Rick Longoria created this special blend of Syrah from two of the top Syrah vineyards in Santa Barbara County, Alisos and Clover Creek. The blend is 71% Alisos Syrah, 24% Clover Creek Syrah, and 5% Viognier. The resultant wine is a delicious, complex blend that is enjoyable now but will also benefit from two to three years of cellaring.

What Jess says: The nose was smoky and chocolatey. This is a gentle, unusual Syrah. Thin and light, and Pinot Noir-like.


Vozelgang Vineyard – Santa Ynez Valley

Vogelzang Vineyard team is proud to have winemaker Robbie Meyer, former assistant winemaker at Peter Michael and winemaker for Lewis Wines. Over the last year, Robbie and the Coastal Vineyard Care team have worked together to fine-tune the growing of our Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc varietals in preparation for our coming estate wines.”

They presented their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc featured in the June 17th Wine Spectator Insider and rated 94 points ($25 per bottle).

What Jess says: The nose is like a Chardonnay to me. The wine was bright with pineapple, and acidic, with a little butteriness… despite the fact that there was no malolactic fermentation used for this wine. A very unique Sauvignon Blanc that other event-goers couldn’t get enough of.

Why Americans Don’t Drink More South African Wines

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The other day the infamous Jancis Robinson (“internationally known wine writer respected for my independence”) sent out an innocuous tweet while waiting for an event to begin. It went like this,

Why aren’t SA wines more appreciated in the US? (You can tell I’m nervously waiting for charity gala to start.) Rowley Leigh ready to cook.”

Twitter being twitter and requiring abbreviations all over the place, me being me and knowing little about wines from outside the Americas, I had to reply… “I don’t know… what are SA wines? RT @JancisRobinson: Why aren’t SA wines more appreciated in the US?”

The twitter community was quick to respond and I got many answers telling me, duh, she meant South African wines! Somebody, thank goodness, actually said it COULD have been South American wines, but since we do drink South American wines here in pretty sizeable quantities, at least in our house, I figured she must have meant South African wines, too.

But it leaves a question that DOES beg to be answered. Armed with a few pieces of data and some assumptions that I carry about how the general consuming public in the US buys wine priced under $25 per bottle, I’ve come up with a few ideas that probably contribute to our lack of interest in South African wines.

  1. Political problems created a massive stumbling block
    This one’s not my idea, I stole it from Eric Asimov. But he makes a good point. Right about the time American’s were “learning” about wine the culture of Apartheid and the associated trade embargoes, made it impossible for South African wines to find their way to the U.S. So we learned about California wine, French wine, and Italian wine instead.
  2. Americans are Xenophobes
    I’m not personally a xenophobe, but culturally-speaking, our melting-pot doesn’t like new ingredients. It especially abhors anything it can’t read (which these days includes 4th-grade textbooks), and many of the labels I looked at contain German- or Austrian-sounding names (another group of wines that doesn’t get much attention from the general consumers of America)
  3. Americans buy based on the pretty pictures on the label
    There’s something interesting that I noticed in the labels of the wines from South Africa. It’s very subjective, but they reflect a different culture of marketing & packaging design than ours.
    I’ve noticed this in my adventures in e-commerce, but I’m sure it holds true in the physical world as well. What works in America doesn’t work other places. Other cultures have different aesthetics than ours and while other cultures like what we do, we shy away from what seems different than the our “style” of doing things.
  4. We’ve been taught that Southern Hemisphere Wine = Cheap Wine
    Unfortunately, the Australians are learning this the hard way, but Americans have been programmed to believe that wines from the Southern Hemisphere are inexpensive and not well-made. Now I’ve had enough fantastic wine from Down Under, New Zealand, and Argentina to know that ain’t true, but it is the “grocery store” version of how Southern Hemisphere wines are marketed in the US. If I’m already thinking it’s cheap because of where it comes from, why spend my money to try the one or two bottles that MAY show up at my local store?

If I’ve misunderstood, been wrong, or left out important information, school me please!

Keep in touch with the people I mentioned in the article.

Follow Jancis Robinson on twitter
Visit Jancis Robinson’s website

Follow NY Times: The Pour on twitter
Read NY Times: The Pour