Want to end your work week in a fabulous way?  Go taste some really outstanding wines from Tablas Creek this Friday 12/10 from 4:30-7:00pm  at East Beach Wine.   This is a great opportunity to taste wine with Tablas Creek’s Tommy Oldre without having to drive all the way to Paso Robles.   He’ll be pouring six wines that span four separate vintages from the Tablas Creek estate.  The lineup includes:  2009 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (a new release), 2008 Cotes de Tablas, 2007 Syrah, 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (rated 94 points by noted wine critic Robert Parker Jr., not to be confused with Ray Parker Jr.), 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel and 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel.  The 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel is available for sale in magnum format, though from what I understand there are only a few left.  Buy one for your best friend or favorite wine blogger.  😉   This event costs only $10 and is sure to put you in the right mood to finish your holiday shopping.   And since East Beach Wine is located at 1114 State Street, you’re in walking distance from shopping (and restaurants) in any direction.   Happy quaffing and tell Tommy that you heard about the event from WineNationUnderdog.com!

Winemaker Matthias Pippig

Grassini and Sanguis winemaker Matthias Pippig (he talks with his hand alot)

A few days ago I brought a group of friends to Grassini Family Vineyard in the American Viticultural Area (AVA) called Happy Canyon.  I tasted here in the summer and was very impressed with Grassini’s winemaker Matthias Pippig’s talents especially with his own label, Sanguis.  My reasons for scheduling this visit were twofold.  First, I wanted to see how the wines were evolving and secondly I wanted my friends to see the most beautiful winery in Santa Ynez Valley (in my humble opinion).  After driving through the scenic Happy Canyon area, with its horse farms and vineyards, we arrived at the Grassini gate and rang the intercom.  We were buzzed in and the gate opened to reveal gently sloping hills covered with grapevines with varying hues of autumn yellow leaves.  Further on we passed a beautiful lake surrounded by reeds and water-loving plants of many types.  After driving slowly so we could take in the beautiful vistas, we arrived at the winery.   Though the winery was recently constructed, it looked as though it had been there for many years.  It was built using reclaimed antique fir (circa the late 1800s), some of which was milled from timbers found in the Oregon River.  We were greeted by assistant winemaker, Jessica Gasca, who took us on a tour of the facility, which is itself a work of well engineered art.  It is solar powered and built such that the juice, must and wine are gravity fed (in lieu of using pumps) during the entire production process.  Moving grape must and wine by gravity is a technique used for centuries that fell out of favor because of the convenience of pumps.  Though the use of pumps is the norm, some winemakers and reviewers feel that the use of pumps can cause irreparable damage by introducing air and smashing berries and seeds in a way which can release unwanted off flavors.

The cave at Grassini Family Vineyard

The cave at Grassini Family Vineyard

Another time-honored method utilized at Grassini has to do with wine storage.  During the construction of the facility, a cave was excavated at the site so that the wines could be stored in a place that stays cool and dark with steady relative humidity.   After spending some time in the Grassini cave, I wanted to start digging one at my house.

Tasting Grassini wines upstairs

The group tasting Grassini wines (that's me taking notes)

Our tour included a very comfortable family room with beautiful copper clad fireplace and dining room.  There is also a large bedroom suite (with a great view of the vineyard) that wine club members can rent.  We tasted a couple Grassini wines, both inaugural releases, while sitting at the dining room table.   We started with the spectacular 2007 Grassini Sauvignon Blanc which aged for 17 months:  60% in stainless steel, 20% in new French oak and the remaining 20% in neutral French oak.  With well integrated flavors of white flower, peach and pear this wine has extraordinary richness, an almost creamy mouthfeel, and a finish with hints of vanilla and caramel.  Next we tasted the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Though a bit young, this wine already has beautifully integrated flavors of black currant, plum, cherry and a finish of chocolate.  I really enjoyed this painstakingly crafted wine and I look forward to tasting it over the next four or five years as the tannins soften.

2008 Sanguis Ramshackle and Threadbare

2008 Sanguis Ramshackle & Threadbare

Next Jessica took us downstairs to the main tasting area which has stunning view of the vineyard.  The room was dominated by an enormous hand wrought table where we were seated to sample the Sanguis wines.  Those familiar with Manfred Krankl’s coveted Sine Qua Non will notice an unmistakable similarity with Sanguis as both labels feature unique artwork by their respective winemakers.  An observant wine taster in our group asked Pippig about this; Pippig cracked a smile and said that he and Krankl have been friends for years and that they share a passion for motorcycles.  Small world eh?  First up was the Sanguis 2008 Ramshackle & Threadbare, a heady white blend of 58% Roussane, 40% Malvasia Bianca and 2% Viognier with aromas of honeysuckle and orange blossom.  Though very rich, the fruit and acidity are balanced.  I’d serve this wine in warm summer months with Asian or Thai cuisine or seafood.  When I tasted the wine I thought it would be fabulous with grilled thresher shark steaks in a spicy orange and ginger marinade.

We moved on to reds, beginning with the Sanguis 2007 Backseat Betty.  This is a blend of 83% Syrah, 14% Grenache and 3% Viognier.  Pippig, who’d taken a break from his tasks in the winery to greet us, commented that the Syrah and the Viognier were cofermented.  He feels that this influences the texture in a positive way.  Though it sounds counter intuitive (since Viognier is white), cofermentation helps to deepen the color and flavor of the Syrah.  This exceptional wine with flavors of white pepper, blackberry and plum is a real pleasure to drink young, but I think a patient collector will be rewarded in 2014 or 2015 with greater complexity and character.  I think that this wine will follow the same arc that I find with some Châteauneuf-du-Papes. They drink well young and then have a few sleepy years where they are best left undisturbed followed by a period of time when they’ve evolved into captivating, complex wines.

2006 Sanguis As the Crow Flies

2006 Sanguis As the Crow Flies

Next up was the Sanguis 2006 As the Crow Flies, a classic Côte-Rôtie style blend of 97% Syrah and 3% Viognier with flavors of black cherry, blackberry, hints of smoke and herbs.  I have to admit that I fall head over heels for great Côte-Rôtie style wines and their oddly pleasurable combination of floral and meaty, bacon-y aromas.  I purchased some this beautiful wine on my last visit, so it was especially interesting to taste how well it is evolving.  I don’t plan on opening any of these bottles in my collection until sometime between 2013 and 2015.

Lastly we tasted the Sanguis 2007 Devil in the Deep Blue Sea a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Though this is a brand new release, this wine is drinking beautifully now with dominant flavors of black and red fruits and hints of mocha and bittersweet chocolate.  I’d be willing to bet that this wine will evolve beautifully over the next few years.  If you have the patience, I’d recommend opening at least one bottle of this gorgeous wine every year beginning in 2012.

The exceptional wines we tasted from Grassini and Sanguis are the product of impeccable winegrowing practices and the beautiful marriage of art and chemistry in the winery.  Trust me, just go there.  You’ll thank me later.   Don’t forget to call a week or so ahead to make an appointment (888-686-3086).  And when you get there, let Jessica and Matthias know that Anne from Wine Nation Underdog says “hi and keep up the fabulous work”.

Presqu'ile Chardonnay

As the old saying goes, “no man is an island”, but Matt Murphy and Dieter Cronje, winemakers of Presqu’ile are good with “almost”.  Presqu’ile is French for “peninsula” (or almost an island) and it is the name that Murphy’s grandparents gave to a promontory of land they purchased off of the Missippi’s Gulf Coast.  It was a gathering spot for family celebrations for many years until hurricane Katrina destroyed it.   Years of fond memories inspired Matt Murphy to name his wine label Presqu’ile.

Dieter Cronje and Matt Murphy winemakers of Presqu'ile

Dieter Cronje (L) and Matt Murphy (R) winemakers of Presqu'ile

I was fortunate enough to taste the Presqu’ile 2008 Chardonnay at the Chardonnay Symposium earlier this year.  Unfortunately, the bright sun conspired with my camera settings and my photos weren’t good – in fact they were really, really, bad.  (Thankfully their winemaking is way better than my photography.)  Suffice it to say, Presqu’ile is worth seeking out.  The Chardonnay fruit is from Solomon Hills and Bien Nacido and is cold fermented with native yeasts.  Some is aged in stainless steel and the rest in neutral French Oak.  This wine is too good to pour for your friends who insist they only like red wine…which leaves more for you!  Murphy and Cronje also make an incredibly bright and refreshing Sauvignon Blanc that you can find on the by-the-glass list at Full of Life Flatbread.   Now, you have yet another excuse to go to Flatbread this weekend.  =)  They also make a Pinot Noir, which I am looking forward to tasting soon.  For more information on Presqu’ile, check out this great article that the Santa Barbara Independent just published.   Until next time, remember life is too short to drink bad wine!

2007 Ken Brown Cargassachi Pinot NoirI got some news from Deb over at Ken Brown that some of my favorite wines are running really low in terms of inventory.  There are only 12 cases (out of only 140) of the 2007 Cargasacchi Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita AVA) left.  I’ll be the first one to admit that most Pinot Noirs leave me wishing I was drinking a wine with a bit more oomph.  I am always on the lookout for what I call a “velvet hammer” which is a balanced Pinot Noir with deep, multi-layered flavors that make a smooth progression over my entire palate, with a long finish.   I rarely find these types of  uber-satisfying Pinots, but  Ken Brown’s 2007 Cargasacchi is a lovely velvet hammer, indeed.    The flavor profile is distinctly black cherry with baking spices and some earthiness.   Here are the stats for the wine geeks out there (you know who you are):  Alcohol 14.6%, pH 3.65, 100% Pinot Noir -clone 115 on 3309 rootstock, harvested 10/10/2007, French oak for 17 months.  Get it while you can – and tell Ken or Deb that Anne at Wine Nation Underdog sent you.

2005 Ken Brown Syrah A CuveeKen Brown is also running low on the 2004 Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah and the 2005 A Cuvee Syrah.   There are only fifteen cases left of each.    Both are outstanding, but I am a huge fan of the 2005 A Cuvee; I will sheepishly admit that I am such a fan that I asked Ken to autograph one of my bottles. The A Cuvee is a blend of warm climate fruit from Watch Hill Vineyard and cooler climate fruit from Bien Nacido.   Flavors of black plum and blackberry from the cool climate fruit and spice and garrigue from the warm climate fruit combine to make a Syrah so deep and luscious you want to swim in it.   Just be sure to give this one some time to breathe so that you get to experience the full spectrum of flavors.    This wine is drinking soooo beautifully right now but if you are the patient type you can lay it down for a few years and be rewarded for your restraint.

What do you think about Ken Brown Wines?  Drop me a line and let me know.   Until then, remember life is too short, drink good wine.

Morgan Clendenen winemaker/owner of Cold Heaven

Morgan Clendenen winemaker/owner of Cold Heaven

When I think of Harvest Festival, I imagine there is an autumn chill in the air and I’m sipping red wines bundled up in a cozy sweater.  However, this year, the 20th year of the festival, we were in the midst of a late summer heat wave, so shorts and sandals were de rigueur.  This year there were over 115 different wineries represented at the festival.  Of the 115, there were many wonderful, familiar wines from Ampelos, Beckmen, Brander, Dragonette, Fiddlehead, Foxen, Margerum, Jaffurs, Tre Anelli, Stolpman, Ken Brown, Cold Heaven, Palmina, Qupé, being poured, so I a made point to seek out wines that I had not sampled before.

Bob Lindquist winemaker/owner of Qupe and his son Theo

Bob Lindquist winemaker/owner of Qupe and his son Theo

With far too many wines to sample everything, I had to really pick and choose carefully from the offerings.  Of the wines I tasted, there were a few real stands outs.  Jim Vogelzang was pouring an absolutely lovely ’06 Vogelzang Cabernet Sauvignon, but his superb 2009 Sauvignon Blanc was what took my breath away.  Jim took a few minutes to explain to me what they do differently.  Naturally, they start with great fruit – after all you cannot make an outstanding wine if you start with bad grapes.  Here is where it gets interesting.  After the grapes are picked; they are put on refrigerated trucks which are driven to Napa.   In Napa they delivered to renowned winemaker Robbie Meyer (of Versant, Jericho Canyon, Peirson Meyer and L’Angevin) who works his oenological magic.   Jim also let me know that for the Sauvignon Blanc, Meyer uses neutral French oak barrels that have been used for Chardonnay.   Another outstanding white was the unreleased ’09 Dragonette Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc which was heady with the aroma of honeysuckle and tasted of creamy lemon curd.  Yes, dear reader, I know I said I was going to avoid familiar labels, but this was an unreleased Sauvignon Blanc from Dragonette, so I had to bend my own rule.  It was less of a hard and fast rule and more of a guideline really, anyway.  😉

Dan Reeves of Reeves Ranch Vineyard

Dan Reeves of Reeves Ranch Vineyard

Even though it was a very warm day and white wines were helping me cool off, I did taste some wonderful reds at the festival.  I loved the 2006 Jalama Paradise Road Syrah, which is co-fermented with 3% Viognier in the classic French CôteRôtie style.  Young winemaker, Mark Cargasacchi is crafting some truly beautiful wines.  It runs in the family; Mark’s brother is making some outstanding wine too.  Speaking of Mark’s wines, he wasn’t pouring it at the festival, but his 2006 Jalama El Capitan is *really* worth getting your hands on (while you still can).  It is a red blend of 47% Syrah, 30% Mourvedre and 23% Cabernet.  He only made 92 cases of this rich beauty, and last time I checked they only had 8 cases left, so if you’re a fan of GSM blends, give the folks over at Jalama Wines a call: 805-735-8937 or go visit the new tasting room in the Lompoc.  Tell them that Anne from Wine Nation Underdog sent you.  You’ll thank me later after you’re tucking into your first glass.  Overall, my favorite Syrah of the festival was the 2008 Reeves Ranch Syrah.  I had heard of the name Reeves Ranch Vineyard because Kris Curran (winemaker/owner of Curran) made a Reeve’s Ranch Reserve Syrah from fruit from this vineyard a few vintages ago.  It was extraordinary, so naturally I had to go investigate the source of this outstanding fruit.  Boy was I in for a treat.   Dan Reeves poured me some of his 2008 Reeves Ranch Vineyard Syrah and I really enjoyed the well integrated flavors of coffee, mocha and spice.   Most of the fruit is from the estate which is located in the foothills above Los Olivos.  The vines which were originally planted in 1989, were grafted over to Australian and French Syrah clones (Shiraz clone 3, Estrella and Clone 99) in 1994.   The rest of the fruit is from Black Oak vineyard in Los Alamos.  Though the grapes from Reeves and Black Oak were fermented separately, it was eventually blended together and aged for 18 months in French oak, some of which was neutral.  After I tasted this wine, I thought it would be priced around $35 a bottle.  Are you ready for this?  The wine sells for $24 on the Reeves Ranch website and you get a discount if you order a case.  Don’t you love it when you find a great wine at a really good price?  I do!  If you are in the Central Coast area, you can taste this wine at Avant Tapas and Wine bar in Buellton.  It is also being poured by the glass at Los Olivos Café (in Los Olivos).  Don’t wait too long though, because they only make 400 cases a year.

Peter Stolpman of Stolpman Vineyards

Peter Stolpman of Stolpman Vineyards

There were lots of great events over the Harvest Festival weekend, including an open house at Au Bon Climat / Qupé winemaking facility.  There was also an open house event at Cold Heaven – as soon as I get my notes and snapshots organized I will post again.  Until then, let me leave you with this thought.  Those who abstain from alcohol die sooner than those who drink moderately (1 to 3 drinks per day)…as if you needed an excuse!

Danish cellar rats who are interning at Ampelos for the summer.

Danish visitors who are cellar ratting at Ampelos for the summer

De Su Propia Cosecha
Even though I insist that I “drink wine, not points”, I was thrilled to see one of my favorite boutique wineries, De Su Propia Cosecha, receive glowing praise in Robert Parker‘s most recent edition of the Wine Advocate.   Kudos and congratulations to Chris and Deanna King, the husband and wife winemaking team of De Su Propia Cosecha.   Here is the review for De Su Propia Cosecha 2007 Red Luna Matta Vineyard:

Wine Advocate
rating:  “92…A sensational blend of 42% Grenache, 42% Mourvedre, and 16% Syrah that utilized whole clusters in the winemaking process, this deep ruby/plum-colored wine initially screams kirsch liqueur in the nose, but as it sits in the glass, raspberry, licorice, and lavender aromas emerge. The aromatic complexity is matched by a wine boasting splendid concentration, medium to full-bodied flavors, beautiful purity, and a silky, seductive texture. Drink this super-impressive proprietary red over the next 4-5 years.”

Faithful Wine Nation Underdog readers will note that I tasted this wine as a barrel sample (before it was bottled) and gave it high praise back in June of 2009.   I also mentioned the De Su Propia label earlier this year and said “if you can find it, buy it”.    So, there you have it, proof positive that Robert Parker reads Wine Nation Underdog.  😉  Well, maybe that is overstating things a bit.  Perhaps a better way is simply to say that Mr. Parker and I agree that the De Su Propia Cosecha 2007 Red Luna Matta Vineyard is an absolutely gorgeous wine, worth seeking out.   If you can find wines from DSP Cosecha or its “sister” label, Rey, buy them, you won’t regret it.  I know that Bob over at the Winehound in Santa Barbara has a few cases.   Get some while it lasts and tell Bob that Wine Nation Underdog sent you!

The first Pinot Noir harvested from the student vineyard.  Many thanks to the viticultural students!

The first Pinot Noir harvested from the student vineyard. Many thanks to the viticultural students!

It is very strange to be attending college again after graduating so many years ago.   Recently, I showed up for my first day of wine making class at Allan Hancock College (go Bulldogs) and expected to sit in a lecture hall taking notes for 4.5 hours.  Boy, was I wrong!  Our professor, Norm Yost (winemaker of Flying Goat cellars) spoke for about an hour, assigned some homework and then let us know that we have 600 pounds of Pinot Noir to work with – TODAY!   He said the grapes won’t wait, so we just have to sink or swill, err swim. 😉   Our mission in class is to make a sparkling wine from Pinot Noir.  This is traditionally called a blanc de noirs, literally “white of blacks”, meaning a white wine that is made from black grapes.

After the brief lecture, we headed down to the tiny campus winery  (why, oh why didn’t my alma mater have a campus winery?) where 600 pounds of freshly picked Pinot Noir grapes were waiting in bins.  This is the first Pinot Noir harvested from the Allan Hancock student vineyard.  (Many thanks to all the viticulture students who made this happen!)  First, we put up canopies to keep the sun off of us (and the grapes) and then moved all the equipment we’d need: bladder basket press, pump, fermentation tank, various clamps, gaskets, hoses and buckets.   We took everything apart and thoroughly washed it.  Then we put it all back together and attached the pump’s hose to the fermentation tank.

Basket press

The bladder basket press gently presses the juice from the whole clusters.

Next we filled the press with whole clusters of grapes and pressed off the juice.    Then we pumped the juice into the fermentation tank.   Then we filled the press with grapes again and repeated the process (we did this quite a few times until all the grapes were pressed).   We took a sample of the juice and tested its brix with a hydrometer.  Our reading was 18.2 brix.   After all the grapes were pressed, it was time to inoculate the juice with yeast and get fermentation started.

winemaking math

Calculating the amount of yeast needed for fermentation.

This involved more math than I’ve done in many years.  Essentially we needed to make an educated guess of how much wine was in the fermentation tank (why aren’t tanks conveniently marked like measuring cups?).  This involved calculating the volume of a cylinder…something I am certain I learned in high school, though haven’t thought about it quite some time.    Here is how:
1. Measure the height of the cylinder (up to where the juice is)
2. Measure the radius of the cylinder (across the top of the tank at the widest point)
3. Multiply the radius by pi (3.14159)
4. Multiply the radius by itself
5. Multiply #3 by #4
In our case we wound up with 42.1 gallons.  In order to figure out how much yeast to use, we needed to translate our gallons to hectoliters.   To do this, we multiplied our gallons times 3.785.   42.1 gallons x 3.785 = 1.59 hectoliters.    Next we multiplied the hectoliters by the number of grams of yeast required in order to calculate the amount of yeast required for inoculation.  1.59 hectoliters x 25 grams = 40 grams of yeast.   We combined the yeast with 400 milliliters of 105F water in a measuring cup and let the yeast begin their work.  After a few minutes we combined about a 1/2 C of juice to the mixture.  After stirring the mixture up, we added to to the tank and stirred with a big, plastic oar-like implement.

fermentation tank

Fermentation tank: Home of our soon-to-be-wine for the next two weeks.

We then attached the lid of the fermentation tank.  Lastly, we created a schedule so that once daily a student would go check on the fermentation, take the brix and temperature reading with the hydrometer and log the results.  Jason and I are going later on in the week, so the initial fermentation will be nearly halfway done (it should take about 2 weeks to complete).   If all goes as planned, the fermentation will be well steadily progressing.   Even though the soon-to-be-wine is still in the fermentation tank, I am already looking forward to popping the cork.  My favorite sparkling wine is Schramberg Blanc de Noirs; hopefully someday I can craft a sparkling reminiscent of this.   My fingers are crossed!

Oyster shooter with cucumber juice and a dash of Siracha sauce.

Oyster shooter with cucumber juice and a dash of Siracha sauce.

Recently, Jason and I went to one of our favorite local restaurants, Root 246, to celebrate our wedding anniversary.  I’d booked the chef’s table (located in the kitchen) and I was looking forward to a  spectacular culinary adventure similar to one we had with friends at the end of June.  Jason and I had already decided that we’d order the multi-course tasting menu, because it was so wonderful last time.  When we arrived we were disappointed to find out that for reasons unknown, the Executive Chef Johnny Church is no longer with Root 246.  Thankfully, immensely talented and creative Bradley Ogden, consultant chef and the creator of Root 246’s  farm-to-table style menu is still affiliated with the restaurant.  We learned that Church has been replaced by the Executive Chef team of Jordan Graf and Brian Ridgeway.    Sadly we found out that the multi-course tasting menu is no longer on the menu.   Jason and I were celebrating, so we just rolled with these surprises and hoped for the best.  Thankfully, we were in the very capable hands of our favorite waiter, Bobby Dommeyer, who chose the perfect sparkling wine to go with our delicious Kumamato oysters.  As Jason and I sat back to watch the action in the kitchen, we noted that the vibe was very tense, there were problems and people were clearly stressing out.  I thought this odd, because our reservation was for an early time on a Sunday.   This was a stark contrast to when we sat at the chef’s table on a busy Friday night in June (when Johnny Church and Bradley Ogden were both in the kitchen) , the vibe was positive, and things were running smoothly.   With all that said, rather than come to any premature conclusions about the recent changes at Root 246, I am instead going to chalk up our recent dining experience to the kitchen being a bit shortstaffed.  Regardless, Jason and I’ll come back soon to see how things are progressing under the Executive Chef team of Graf and Ridgeway.

Here are the photos from the wonderful multi-course dinner that we had back in June.  Maybe we’ll get lucky and Root 246 will bring the tasting menu back?   Thanks again Johnny, we miss you!

The spices lined up in the kitchen at Root 246. They would be so much cooler if they were alphabetized. ;)

The spices lined up in the kitchen at Root 246.

The view from the chef's table at Root 246.

The view from the chef's table at Root 246.

So happy to be here!

So happy to be in the kitchen where all the fun is happening.

Celebrating Brian's birthday

We are celebrating Brian's birthday.

Cheese plate

Artisanal cheese plate.

The Kumamato oysters at Root 246 are FABULOUS.

The Kumamato oysters at Root 246 are FABULOUS.

Tempura calamari and vegetables

Tempura style calamari and vegetables.

Foie gras terrine with strawberries and toasted nuts. Crazy good!

Foie gras terrine with strawberries and toasted nuts. Crazy good!

Our table

Our table with friends in the kitchen

really wonderful breads at Root 246

Really tasty breads at Root 246.

The black cod was fabulous!

The black cod was fabulous (and my favorite)!

Duck confit stuffed pasta with duck breast slices...OUTSTANDING.

Duck confit stuffed pasta with duck breast slices...OUTSTANDING.

Beef short ribs and filet mignon with Shiitake mushrooms

Beef short ribs and filet mignon with Shiitake mushrooms.

The sweet end to a wonderful meal

The sweet end to a wonderful meal.

The food groupies with chef Bradley Odgen.

The food groupies with chef Bradley Odgen.

Chef Bradley Ogden (center) Johnny Church hamming it up in the back.

Chef Bradley Ogden (center), Executive Chef Johnny Church hamming it up in the back.

One of Executive Chef Johnny Church's tattoos

In the genre of chef's tattoos, this one (belonging to Church) is fun and simple.

In the genre of chef's tattoos, this one (belonging to Church) is fun and simple.

Another one of chef Church's food-related tattoos.

A plethora of Colson Canyon Syrah

My husband is tenacious and extremely focused. If he gets sparked by something, he follows the rabbit hole until he has thoroughly exhausted the subject. For example, he was on a chipotle kick last year, where *everything* he made included chipotle – even cocktails…chipotle raspberry martini anyone?  Earlier this year some fabulous friends gave us a smoker as a housewarming present…everything was smoked for months. Ribs, fish, pork shoulder, hard boiled eggs, chicken, turkey, garlic, tomatillos, tomatoes, tomatoes, onions, peppers – it all went into the smoker. This kick hasn’t stopped, though thankfully it did slow down a bit. There are only so many rib recipes you can smoke and eat in one weekend.  Whew!

One of his latest obsessions started while tasting the 2008 Brander Colson Canyon Syrah at the Brander tasting room a few months ago. Even though it is relatively young, this is a complex, full-bodied wine with flavors of black cherry, white pepper, anise and hints of cigar box. Jason and I loved the wine and asked Louise (the knowledgeable, personable and all-around wonderful tasting room manager) about the Colson Canyon Vineyard. From her we learned that Colson Canyon Vineyard is a small vineyard, relatively isolated in the hills of Santa Maria. She told us that Colson sells fruit to only a handful of wineries. That was all it took – Jason was on the hunt to taste every wine made with Colson Canyon fruit. Over the next few months, through various purchases made in person, online and over the phone, Jason collected about 2.5 cases of Colson Canyon vineyard designate wines from a bunch of different wineries. Our friends collected still more Colson Syrah. Naturally, the next step was to taste these wines and try to glean a sense of place, the terroir of Colson Canyon. This was the perfect excuse for a dinner party, so we invited some friends from the wine and food business over to help us with the plethora of Colson Syrah. With 2.5 cases of wine to choose from, we sorted and re-sorted the bottles. After much deliberation we settled upon which bottles to open (and found that we have enough wine for a second Colson Canyon dinner – tba).

Here is the lineup of wines we chose:
2001 Tensley Colson Canyon Syrah
2002 Duo (Duo is now called Costo de Oro) Colson Canyon Syrah
2003 Tensley Colson Canyon Syrah
2004 Margerum Colson Canyon Syrah
2005 Barbieri Colson Canyon Syrah Colson Canyon Syrah
2005 McPrice Myers Colson Canyon Syrah (not pictured, oops)
2006 Cleb Colson Canyon Syrah (sadly, this wine was corked)
2006 Alchemy Colson Canyon Syrah
2006 Wades Wines Colson Canyon Syrah
2007 Brander Colson Canyon Syrah

As this was more of a social, fun evening, I did not take detailed notes but our group did draw a few conclusions from this tasting. It may sound odd, but the younger Colsons seemed to have more complexity than the older vintages. I can also tell you that the group consistently gave top marks to the Brander and Margerum Syrahs. The McPrice Myers was a very close second for me (and my husband).  All in all, a wonderful evening of wine, food and friends.  I am already looking forward to the next Colson Canyon Syrah dinner!   A very special thank you to everyone who helped make this evening so much fun.   You know who you are!

Three winemakers to have on your radar

Three winemakers to have on your radar - McPrice Myers, Edgar Torres, Russell From

Recently, a few wine geek friends and I organized a wine tasting trip to Paso Robles. We all met up and then our driver whisked us off to our first stop Barrel 27‘s tasting room at 2323 Tuley Ct. Suite 110, in Paso Robles. I’d made an appointment for us to taste the wines from Barrel 27, McPrice Myers, Herman Story and Bodega de Edgar. Barrel 27 is made by two young winemakers, McPrice Myers and Russell From. Their cellar master is Edgar Torres. Essentially, Barrel 27 is a collaborative effort while each winemaker has his own personal label as well. We walked into the tasting room (located in an industrial area just off the highway), grabbed a spot at the bar and proceeded to work our way down the list.

*2009 Barrel 27 “Sittin’ Pretty” Viognier – heady floral nose, honeysuckle, tangerine, orange marmalade. 100% Viognier. Most of the wine was done in stainless steel except for one neutral oak barrel. Retail price: $18

2008 Barrel 27 “High on the Hog” – blend of 39% Grenache Blanc, 36% Viognier, 20% Roussanne, 5% Marsanne. Florals on the nose with peach, honey and melon on the palate. Done half in oak and the rest in stainless steel. Wine Spectator 88 points. (Points, smoints, I drink wine, not points.) Retail price: $15

2005 Barrel 27 Central Coast Rosé of Syrah – 80% Syrah, 20% Grenache. Flavors of raspberry, cherry and smoky orange. This is a fabulous barbecue wine. Some of the Syrah was bled off soon after it came into contact with the skins. (This method of making rosé is called saignée -a French winemaking term). This results in a pink wine because there isn’t enough contact with the grape skins to make the wine red. Retail price: $13

2007 Barrel 27 “Rock and a Hard Place” Grenache – Nose of black and red raspberries, blueberries and dried cranberries. On the palate, flavors of the aforementioned berries plus hints of black tea and spice. Drinking this wine reminded me of wine tasting in France’s Châteauneuf-du-Pape region, where Grenache is often the primary grape. Retail price: $18

2006 Barrel 27 “Right Hand Man” Syrah – Aromas of black cherries, black pepper, anise and plum with flavors of black raspberry, pepper and hints of smoke. Retail price: $18

2007 Barrel 27 “Head Honcho” Syrah – Nose of ripe black fruit, sage and smoke. Palate of blackberries, cranberries, cola, pepper, clove, anise and dark chocolate. Retail price: $28

2007 Barrel 27 “Hand Over Fist” – Rhône style blend of 52% Syrah, 29% Grenache, 19% Mourvedre. Aromas of black plum, blueberry, rhubarb and violets. Palate of black cherry, blackberry, currants and spice. Retail price: $30

2006 Barrel 27 “Bull by the Horns” – Blend of 50% Petite Verdot, 25% Syrah, 25% Tempranillo. Aromas of blackberry, cocoa, clove, anise, pepper dominate the nose. The palate is fruit forward (blueberry, black plum, blood orange) and backed up clove, cinnamon, tea and vanilla.

Tasting in the barrel room

Herman Story wines just waiting to be tasted in the barrel room

After tasting through the Barrel 27 list we were ushered through a doorway behind the bar and into the back of the warehouse where barrels and were stacked to the ceiling. We were surprised and delighted to be greeted by Russell From, McPrice Myers and Edgar Torres. They let us know that they would be leading us through a combined tasting of wines from all three of their personal labels. What an unexpected and exciting surprise! After all the introductions, we got down to tasting. Each winemaker stood by a makeshift table (made an upended barrel) ready to pour his wine. Here are the notes I managed to scribble down during this little adventure. The wines marked with an * are the ones that made it into the trunk of my car:

*2009 Bodega de Edgar Albariño – lively acidity, ginger, lychee – one of the best Albariños I’ve tasted.

*2009 McPrice Myers Larner Viognier – gorgeous floral nose, lychee, tropical fruits, creamy mouthfeel. 177 cases produced. Retail price: $28

2008 Herman Story “Tomboy” – blend of 80% Viognier, 10% Marsanne, 10% Roussanne. The Viognier is from Whitehawk Vineyard and the Marsanne and Roussanne grapes are from Bien Nacido Vineyard. Florals, honey, apricot and nectarine. My scribbled notes say “Tomboy will get your friends to stop drinking crappy white wine”. 228 cases produced. Retail price: $36

2009 McPrice Myers Roussanne – This was a barrel sample. Jasmine, honey. Fruit sourced from the James Berry Vineyard (Paso’s premier source of Rhône varietals).

*2008 Bodega de Edgar Garnacha – A dear friend brought me a bottle of this a few months back – it knocked my socks off! Some whole clusters were used to make this wine. Blackberry, raspberry with anise and baking spices on the finish.

*2007 McPrice Myers “L’Ange Rouge” Grenache – 92% Grenache, 4% Syrah, 4% Mourvedre. Fruit from Alta Mesa and Larner Vineyards. Big but still elegant with flavors of red raspberry, cranberry, bittersweet chocolate, tobacco leaf. 575 cases produced. Retail price: $36

*2008 Herman Story “On the Road” Grenache – Fruit from Larner, Santa Barbara Highlands and Derby Vineyards. Cranberry, black raspberry, clove, anise, nutmeg, coffee and leather. 398 cases produced. Retail price: $36

*2008 Bodega de Edgar Tempranillo – Fruit sourced from French Camp Vineyard. Boysenberry, with vanilla and dusty earth on finish (reminded me of Sangiovese)

*2008 McPrice Myers “Altas Vinas” – 47% Mourvedre, 34% Grenache, 19% Syrah. The fruit is sourced from the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard located high in the Southern Santa Barbara Mountains. 243 cases produced. Retail price: $36

*2008 Herman Story “Casual Encounters” – 40% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre. This is the first vintage of this SGM blend. The Grenache was whole cluster and was sourced from Thompson. The Syrah is from Laetitia. The wines were 100% co-fermented. Earth, leather, pepper, black plum and chocolate. 154 cases produced. Retail price: $36

*2008 Bodega de Edgar “Mis Pasos” – 42% Syrah, 41% Merlot, 17% Tempranillo. Gorgeous, black fruit, coffee, leather, spice and earthy notes. 25 cases produced. Retail price: $45.

*2007 McPrice Myers Larner Vineyard Syrah – 3% Viognier was co-fermented with the Syrah. Flavors of black plum, dried blueberry, raspberry, hints of violets. 142 cases produced. Retail price: $36

*2008 McPrice Myers Larner Vineyard Syrah – the ’07 and the ’08 are deeply colored and dense with flavor. Also, both vintages have long finishes. Retail price: $36

*2007 Herman Story “Nuts and Bolts” Syrah – This is the second vintage of “Nuts and Bolts”. Deep dark color, black cherry, baking spices, white pepper, earth, bacon – super long finish. 522 cases produced. Retail price: $36

*2008 McPrice Myers “Beautiful Earth” – 79% Syrah, 16% Grenache, 5% Mourvedre. Flavors of black plum, blueberry, blackberry, baking spices and coffee. 650 cases produced. Retail price: $36

*2007 McPrice Myers Les Galets Vineyard Syrah – 100% Syrah – gorgeous deep ruby color. Blackberry, white pepper, anise, bittersweet chocolate, clove and hints of mint and tobacco leaf. 194 cases produced. Retail price: $36

These beautifully-crafted, small production wines are really, really, really worth getting your hands on. A huge thank you goes out to Russell From, McPrice Myers and Edgar Torres for personally introducing us to their fabulous wines. Thanks guys!

* – this marks wines I was compelled to bring home

A selection of Herman Story wines

A selection of Herman Story wines

Herman Story wines - the backs of the labels

Herman Story wines - the backs of the labels

Edgar risking life and limb to find us a couple bottles of his La Guerra white wine

Edgar risking life and limb to find us a couple bottles of his La Guerra white wine

Was it something McPrice said?

Was it something McPrice said?

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