2005 Zaca Mesa Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley

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

A few weeks ago I went to a tasting event hosted by the Rhone Rangers which is an organization focused on wine produced from Rhone varietals grown in the United States. Being a Southern California event, most of the wineries (if not all) were from Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, and the Santa Ynez Valley appellations.

Prior to attending, I researched the wineries to see which 20 I should actually taste because I knew I'd never make all 40-something. During my research I found the 2005 Zaca Mesa Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley had been rated 92 by Wine Spectator (for my palette, that almost always means I'll like it). I found that highly suspect

because I'd had Zaca Mesa wines before and been, as I like to say, underwhelmed. The other thing I found surprising was a $22 bottle of Syrah from Santa Ynez was rated so highly. Now I LOVE Syrah, especially Santa Ynez Syrahs, so for me, it was a little jewel to behold.

2005 Zaca Mesa Syrah

2005 Zaca Mesa Syrah

I managed not to get to the Zaca Mesa table while I was at the tasting event, but that's okay because it's a fairly large-production wine and I knew I could find it elsewhere. On tonight's trip to Costco I noticed the Zaca Mesa Syrah and grabbed a bottle. Being me, I naturally couldn't wait more than 5 minutes to crack it and see if it passes my critical (ha!) muster, or at least lives up to its hype.

What Jess says: First impressions are great. A nice cherry/jammy bouquet with a little smoke at the back of the nose. Chewy, but enjoyable, mouthfeel. It does something funny toward the back of my tongue that I'm not loving (somehow reminds me of the other Zaca Mesa experiences I've had). Hardly noticeable jamminess in the mouth (some people love it, some hate it… I'm a lover) as opposed to the nose. Some kind of salty or some other mineral taste in the finish. Would almost certainly benefit from aeration, age, (I was too eager) and some red meat (or any food probably).

What Wine Spectator said: “Tight and beefy, with focused blueberry and wild berry flavors that are spicy and complex. Full-bodied, with a hint of stewed plum and wild berry peaking through on the finish. Drink now through 2015. 13,090 cases made.”

What Zaca Mesa said: “Our Syrah displays rich blackberry, cassis, espresso, mocha and our signature sage spice aromas and flavors. The silky finish lingers from the ripe tannins and smoky oak. This full-bodied wine should be enjoyed over the next ten years. A traditional pairing for this wine is a rack of lamb marinated in rosemary and garlic. However, a peppercorn steak or mushroom risotto would work incredibly well.”

[Editor's note: Even though I don't think all wines at Costco are priced as “deals,” knowing what your favorites cost elsewhere helps you identify when Costco has listed something at a lower price than most other places. We paid $16.79 and which seems to be a middle-of-the-road price for this wine in today's market despite it's $22 release price.]

Lone Madrone Winery – Paso Robles Wine Tasting

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Trips | 3 Comments
lone-madrone-logo

Their name comes from a lone Madrone tree in a vineyard under which workers eat their lunches.

I consider living in California to be one of life's great pleasures (I know not everyone agrees) so I spend a great deal of time driving around and enjoying any parts I can get to whenever I can get to them. I was visiting my Dad near Monterey last week and planned to take Hwy 101 all the way back to LA… which means driving through Paso Robles!! I, being the lover of wine and California wine country that I am, just HAD to stop in for a tasting. Planning ahead, I asked my Twitter followers for a suggestion and the ever-so-helpful Twitterer for Alta Colina suggested I try Lone Madrone, quite close to Hwy 101 and therefore convenient for this tasting side-trip. It was a fabulous recommendation.

When I go out to a tasting room, I'm looking for the following things to make my experience even better than just the wine…

  1. Easy access to the tasting room from the parking area (it's often hot out there)
  2. Friendly and prompt greeting by the staff
  3. Nice decorations and/or stuff for sale (good to look at between tastes, especially if the room is crowded)
  4. A very long bar area for tastings (nothing worse than a cramped tasting)
  5. Knowledgable and still-friendly staff even after the tasting has begun (rarely is this criteria not met in the Paso area)
  6. GOOD WINE!
  7. More than 5 wines to taste. I don't like it when the tasting room experience is micro-managed. Wineries: I've come a great distance to sample your wares, please give me a large sampling so I can accurately judge whether or not I want to create a relationship with you  (as a consumer OR as a blogger).
  8. Quick checkout, whether I'm only paying for my tasting or I'm buying several bottles
  9. A nice outdoor area where I feel welcome to wander around and enjoy wine country while I sober up
Lone Madrone, Paso Robles, CA

Lone Madrone, Paso Robles, CA

windmill-welcome

The charm begins with a windmill

Lone Madrone delivered on all of these expectations! It's a charming winery run by a brother-sister team who are focused on sourcing grapes from earth-friendly growers. The winemaker:

“Neil Collins has been making the wines and tending to the vineyard operations for Tablas Creek Vineyards since 1998. The wines he produces for Tablas Creek are among the best Rhone varietals produced in California, and he brings this same passion and quest for excellence to his own Lone Madrone wines. Neil honed his craft in the cellars and vineyards of two prestigious California Central Coast operations, Wild Horse Winery and Adelaida Cellars, where he served as a winemaker for five years.”

The wines were consistently surprising (in a good way) and unique. It opened my taste buds to some varietals I'd never tried before, or had only had as part of a blend where the wines lost the character of the grapes that comprised them. The little birdie at Alta Colina told me they make some interesting red blends, and she was right!

wisteria-welcome-2

A Wisteria Welcome

vineyard

Beautiful adjacent hillside vineyard

Lone Madrone was offering a generous tasting list last Tuesday, so I spent plenty of time enjoying a great variety of wines. Here's what I tasted and what I thought (and bought).

2007 Lone Madrone La Mezcla, $25 per bottle

What they say: A Spanish influenced blend of Garnaca Blanca (Grenache Blanc) and Albarino, La Mezcla rings bright in the nose with aromas of pear, green apple, lime and straw with a hint of stone fruit. In the mouth, the blend tastes brilliantly balanced with crisp acidity and a rich mid-palate that finishes with a little Grenache Blanc tannin. Try it with oysters, clams, ceviche, or just by itself on a hot day! Grape source: Dawson Creek Vineyard, El Pomar, Templeton.

What Jess said: Clean, smooth mouthfeel with unique flavors from the different grapes. A little green fruit in the mid-palate, and a bit of applesauce. A lightly acidic finish (probably the aforementioned tannin). I found it to be a great alternative to Sauvignon Blanc which can get boring after a while. I bought a bottle of this and am looking forward to cracking it!

tasting-room

Inside the charming tasting room

2007 Lone Madrone Points West White, $32 per bottle

What they say: This golden hued wine shows a luscious bouquet of honeydew melon, sweet pear, anda  tinge of anise spice. Rich viscosity drives the palate which finishes long, and with a pleasant minerality. Try it with a variety of seafood, spicy cuisine, and even certain chocolates! This white Rhone blend features Roussane picked from three West-side Paso Robles vineyards.

What Jess said: Very unique white wine. Seems like a full-bodied white, but with no oak or butter that I'm used to from Chardonnays. There's a lovely honey taste throughout… so unique and palate-pleasing. A little bit of apple in the finish for me.  If I weren't limiting my purchases for space reasons, I would have bought a couple bottles of this one. It would make a great alternative to Chardonnay.

2007 Lone Madrone Picpoul Blanc, $32 per bottle

What they say (in Haiku no less!): lemon drop, wet stone / sweet apple, a hint of pear / rich, viscous palate. Glenrose Vineyard Fruit.

What Jess said: Bright nose, like a mild Sauvignon Blanc. Dry mid-palate and long dry finish.

2003 Il Toyon Nebbiolo, $25 per bottle

What they say: The 2003 Nebbiolo might be just the perfect wine for your next Mediterranean meal! Its enticing nose of strawberry, ruby red grapefruit, cassis, and menthol is laced with hints of cranberry, white pepper and pomegranate. Firm tannins give this earthy wine authority on the palate, and at the table as well, next to a hearty lasagna or moussaka. Salute! Grapes sourced from a winery up on Peachy Canyon Rd.

What Jess said: I'm not a fan of Nebbiolo… so take my lack of descriptiveness as a reflection of not relating to the wine. Dry and earthy with a strong taste of cherry. A light-to-medium-bodied red.

2006 Lone Madrone Barfandel, $45 per bottle

What they say: Never mind the name, it's the nose you'll want to first contemplate; a dark, smoky briar-fruit haven for your olfactory! The vibrant aromas of blackberry and boysenbeery accompanied by a smidge of tar pave the road for the full-bodied palate of this Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Barbera blend. Edifying tannins complimented with ideal acidity delight the mouth and finish with a pleasant, almost nostalgic, vestige of oak.

What Jess said: Smell of soil or dirt and fruit on the nose. I tend to be sensitive to smells that remind me of soil and the ocean, especially in wines from the Paso Robles area. The wine was acidic on the mid-palate, tannic at the back of the mouth, and had a fairly short finish for a big red.

2004 Lone Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon, $42.50 per bottle

What they say: Big, rich, structured, this wine shows a dark ruby purple hue in the glass. Lots of black cherry, blackberry, and cassis with notes of tobacco and vanilla. This wine has a pleasant oak influence which blends beautifully with the massive dark fruit and leads to an everlasting finish. Fruit from Chelle Mountain Vineyard.

What Jess said: “Stings” my nose with dark fruit. It doesn't taste like a Cab to me (one of my favorite varietals), though it hints at it. What it DOES taste like to me is a wine that comes from the Paso Robles area (the terroir is distinctive). My other notes include cherry and dry. I like my Cabs with a little cherry in them and I definitely like them dry, but something here didn't work for me.

2006 Lone Madrone Baily Ranch Zinfandel, $40 per bottle

What they say: Gold Medal, 2009 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Vibrant red fruit thrice over, and with conviction! Candied red apple, ollalieberry and cherry aromas, with notes of pepper and nutmeg, lead to a full, juicy red fruit palate supported by youthful tannins. Days of flavor slowly fade to a receding tide of crushed red fruit specked with red apple peel and pomegranate. Produced with fruit from the beautiful, certified organic and dry-farmed vineyard of David Bailey.

What Jess said: WOW. That's what I said. The most beautiful color, an entertaining Syrah-like nose, and the Zinfandel was restrained (SO unusual for Paso Robles Zins) but present. A LOVELY wine that I willingly spent the $40 on. We're saving it to christen our next vacation!

Also check out the reviews for the winery on Yelp

roosters

Awesome rooster sculptures out front

The Weekly (almost) Wine Tasting @ Literati

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Jess' Wine Tasting Notes | Comments Off on The Weekly (almost) Wine Tasting @ Literati

Gordon and I live near each other, and there's a cafe at the intersection of the busy streets where he goes home in one direction and I go home in the other. And they have lovely food and a nice wine list at very reasonable prices. So, guess where we have our semi-weekly meetings? It's called Literati2 (a spin-off of the very successful Literati Cafe next door).

Literat2's history is lackluster. When they first opened a few years ago the food tasted like the cafe food next door but at 3 times the price. This is a restaurant with very bad parking, so they need to be providing great food and great value if they want to sustain themselves. I think they figured this out about a year ago and did a huge remodel and reworked their entire menu, too. The only thing they seem to have forgotten is to promote this massive transition in the neighborhood (where people can walk to the restaurant and skip the parking hassle) since we all thought it was that stuffy old over-priced joint it used to be. At any rate, the food is yummy and VERY reasonably priced… as are the wines! They pick great wines for the list (which they offer by the glass and carafe) and it gets refreshed every so often.

Since we're meeting to talk about our wine blog, we incorporate a wine tasting into each meeting, and I've been remisce in uploading the results of the tastings… so here goes! (What's very interesting to me is how different my palate is from Gordon's. We always try the same wines and rarely have the same flavor profiles jump out at us.)

  1. 2007 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay
    Jess: Tingly, oaky on the nose. Very oaky in the mouth with a hint of fruit/citrus (specifically apple and grapefruit). This is a “safe wine” for me. I know I can order it, any vintage, and get a decent but oaky chardonnay.
    Gordon: Acidic nose. Dry start, sweet finish. Nice finish, long.
  2. 2006 Bex Riesling
    Jess: Light nose, appley and sweet but not too sweet. I would consider buying this, and I'm not a fan of sweet wines.
    Gordon: Tangy, honey, fruit on the nose. Viscous, sweet silky mouthfeel. Apricot. Gordon said he would buy this.
  3. 2006 Trefethen Chardonnay
    Jess: Woody and the smell of shrimp on the nose (I sometimes smell “ocean” in my wines). Balanced, fresh, medium-length finish.
    Gordon: Acidic, bright on the nose. Dry at first, has a sweet finish with licorice and lemon.
  4. 2007 Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc
    Jess: Green fruit on the nose and tangy grapefruit in the mouth. A mild Sauvignon Blanc which makes me like it more than an average Sauvignon Blanc.
    Gordon: Light nose. Lingering bitter and citrus finish.
  5. 2007 Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio
    Jess: I have a love-hate relationship with this wine. It was one of my favorites in my early wine-drinking days but seems to have gone downhill in quality/taste as its product volumes have risen. Good for their business in general, but not great for me. I ordered a glass for tasting anyway… Pineapple and apple on the nose. Light and bright taste, open at the front of the palate, sweet in the mid-palate, and a rounded but acidic finish (which is where my love affair ends).
    Gordon: I seem to have lost Gordon's notes from here out… hazard of drinking too much wine! Oh darn!
  6. D'Arenberg Grenache (a red!)
    Jess: Smells like a cabernet. Red fruit (is there such a thing?) and earthy. A little mushroomy at the back of the mouth and a bit gritty. I thought it was okay, but better with food.
  7. 2007 Brander Sauvignon Blanc
    Jess: I REALLY liked this wine. I'm going to hunt it down at the grocery store on my next wine-buying trip. Very bright, apple on the nose with a little bit of lemon. Smooth mouthfeel and I tasted watermelon in the well-balanced finish. There was a hint of zest or rind at the back of my mouth, but that went away when the Tiger Shrimp, Pesto, and Sun-dried tomato pizza arrived. And then I ordered a second glass!
  8. 2006 Bridlewood Viogner
    Jess: I'm a fan of Bridlewood wines, despite the fact that they're owned by Gallo. It's good wine at a good price. I've been drinking their Syrahs for a few years, I like their Syrah Port (which isn't truly a Port), and now, I like their Viognier. I smelled lavendar and oak on the nose. The wine was vanilla and spice with a touch of oak. It had a gentle love-bite and a smooth finish. Yum. I'll be looking for this at the grocery store, too.

I'll keep updating this post as time goes by. Maybe next time we'll get to some more reds!

Vina Santurnia (Rioja, Spain): A lesson in vintages

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Jess' Wine Tasting Notes | 1 Comment
2005 Vina Santurnia

2005 Vina Santurnia

One of our favorite stores for buying wine is The Wine House on Cotner in West Los Angeles. We like it because the prices and selection are great, the staff is knowledgable, it's close to home (which in LA is a bigger deal than it ought to be), and we can always order more of whatever we fall in love with.

The first time that happened, we fell in love with the 2004 Vina Santurnia, a delicious wine from Rioja. At $10.99 a bottle, we didn't even hesitate to order a case. Mitch is a big Pinot Noir fan, I'm a big Cabernet Sauvignon fan, and this wine satisfied both of us. We both like that it's smooth and has a nice mouthfeel, a barely-berry flavor in a medium-bodied, dry red wine. We ordered a case of course, after we cleaned out the remaining five bottles they had in stock. Except we still haven't invested in proper wine storage and the last few bottles started to get a little… negative… before we finished the case.

Nonetheless, we happily drank the remainder and went back to The Wine House to purchase some more. Except now they were onto the 2005 vintage. I'd been doing research and learning that a 2004 Whatchyacallit isn't going to be the same as a 2005 Whatchyacallit unless we're talking about Champagne. So we sent up a test balloon and only bought a few bottles of the 2005. Good thing! We didn't love it as much as we loved the 2004.

Until today that is! I have this not-so-secret love affair with Garlic Triscuit (pronounced tris-kwee in our household). I also love Garlic Jack cheese. Well, in fact, I like nearly all foods with garlic in them, including raw garlic which grosses everyone out and is neither here nor there. Anyway, I had a lovely snack of Garlic Jack on Garlic Triscuit this afternoon, and opened a bottle of the 2005 Vina Santurnia to enjoy with it. And enjoy I did! The pairing of food and wine seems like an academic pursuit to me, until the magic happens like it did today.

On the label
Rioja – Type of wine named after the region of La Rioja in Spain
Denominacion de Origen Calificada – Spain's way of telling you this wine comes from a top-quality wine region
Vina Santurnia – The winery
Crianza – This means it spent one year in an oak barrel
Varietal – 100% Tempranillo