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Jason and I had a wonderful dining experience at the picturesque Ballard Inn restaurant last night.  We were seated immediately at a romantic two person table near the fireplace.  We took a look at the wine-by-the-glass list and were impressed with the carefully chosen list of fabulous –mostly local- wines.  I ordered a glass of the 2007 Ampelos Rosé of Syrah (gorgeous deep pink color, bright taste –no oak, no malolactic fermentation, nose of citrus, watermelon, florals, mineral qualities, soft tannins).   Ashley, our young but very well informed and professional server, recommended a wine for Jason – the Kaena Hapa (a mouth filling, fruit/spice bonanza of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre – nothing short of WOW).  Kaena (which means “potential for greatness” in Hawaiian) is the personal label made by Mikael Sigouin whose day job is head winemaker at Beckmen. This talented and hardworking young winemaker is officially on my radar as one to watch!  Potential for greatness, indeed!  But, I digress.  Getting back to the food, we started off with two beautifully presented appetizers.  First, room temperature short rib meat with truffle oil served on a bed of watercress, garnished with small dollops of aioli and four purple potato crisps.  I’ve never thought of making a salad out of short rib meat, but this was amazing – moist, flavorful and rich, but not too heavy to eat in the summertime.  And who knew potato chips could be so decorative – and pretty?  Our second appetizer was crispy sweetbreads served with mizuna salad and arugula with macadamia nut pesto.  All the different textures and tastes in this dish blended harmoniously together.  Wow!  Ashley surprised us with a hamachi sashimi appetizer with soy-yuzu vinaigrette which paired beautifully with the Ampelos rosé.  Our entrées arrived soon after we finished the hamachi.  Jason’s entrée was the crispy skin barramundi with chive risotto and soy mushroom broth.  Barramundi is a white fish, though not as delicate in taste or texture as halibut.  Its firm texture and rich taste was complemented well by the chive risotto.  Jason ordered the 2007 Kaena Hapa Blanc (a white Rhone-style blend of  Grenache Blanc and Roussanne – well balanced, elegant, tropical fruit notes, luscious mouth feel and a long finish- only 170 cases made) to go with his fish.

Duck at the Ballard Inn

Duck entree at the Ballard Inn

I ordered the pan seared duck breast with sweet potato purée and balsamic reduction.  I decided that the Kaena Hapa (red) that we had with our appetizers would be wonderful with the duck – and it was!  Dessert was almond panna cotta with strawberries and coconut tuile, and a bottle of 2005 Cold Heaven Late Harvest Viognier (wonderful florals on the nose, rich on the palate with peach, apricot and honey).   Chef Budi Kazali, who was recently won the 2009 Ultimate Chef competition, came out of the kitchen for a few moments to greet diners.   Jason and I were happy to thank Chef Kazali in person for all the amazing food we enjoyed tonight!

2006 Ethan Sangiovese

2006 Ethan Sangiovese

I was in Los Olivos today, so I stopped by the Qupé tasting room to see what Ethan Lindquist was up to.  In addition to the Qupé wines, he was pouring a few wines from his own label, Ethan.  His 2006 Sangiovese is wonderful.  It was so wonderful that I bought a few bottles to take home – as though I need more wine.  I guess I am working out the difference between “need” and “want”.  Well, I clearly wanted the Sangiovese – it is such a good summertime wine.  Plus it is so food friendly you can pair it with practically anything!  The fruit for this wine was grown at the Hearthstone Vineyard in Paso Robles on the west side.  It was aged for 30 months in neutral French oak barrels.  The neutral oak really allows the bright red fruit and spice flavors to shine.  I also bought each of Ethan’s vineyard designate Syrahs.  The first one was the 2006 Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah.  The fruit for this wine is from Beckmen’s outstanding, biodynamically grown Purisima Mountain Vineyard block 6.  Ethan went “old school” on this one – the whole clusters of grapes were foot stomped and fermented with native yeast in small open top fermenters.  In order to add many layers of flavors, complexity and a solid tannin structure, the skins and stems were left in contact wine for 4 weeks.  This was made to age – I’d let it sit at least four years.  The second vineyard designate Syrah was the 2006 Rancho Santa Rosa Vineyard Syrah.  The fruit was grown in the cool Sta. Rita Hills appellation in Santa Barbara County.  Typical of a cool-climate Syrah, it has notes of white pepper, leather and earth.  Ethan says it is one of the “softest and most elegant Syrahs I have ever made”.  This one can be aged for many years as well…but if you get impatient and open it soon be sure to give it plenty of time to breathe.  For best results decant it AND give it a good hour to open up. Thankfully the Sangiovese doesn’t require any additional aging.  On my way home, I picked up an authentic, super thin crust, Italian style pizza topped with prosciutto and asparagus from Via Vai.  Jason and I shared it with the Sangiovese.   What a wonderful way to end the day!  My only regret is that Ethan made a really small number of cases – only 100 cases of the Rancho Santa Rosa Vineyard,75 cases of the Sangiovese and 75 cases of the Purisima Vineyard Syrah.  Get it while you still can!

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