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My friend Louise hosts a wonderful brown bag tasting every time she and friends feel like they need to cull their wine collections.   She calls it a Winemergency.  She specifies a type of wine or a few types as the unifying theme.  Then attendees bring appetizers to share and a bottle or two.  All the bottles are bagged, tasted and then everyone compares notes at the end just before the bottles are removed from the bags.   This evening we tasted no fewer than twenty nine wines:  seven Chardonnays, six Grenaches, nine Syrahs and seven blends.   Needless to say we weren’t drinking the wine, we were tasting, spitting and then scribbling a few notes.    I know some people feel like it is a waste to spit out wine – and I wholeheartedly agree with them.  With that said, these events present an opportunity to taste many wines side by side, which is one of the best ways to train your palate. After every wine was swirled, tasted, compared and contrasted, there were a few bottles that really stood out from the crowd:  2006 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, 2008 Brewer Clifton Chardonnay, 2007 Tre Anelli Grenache, 2004 Beckmen Estate Grenache and 2006 Rey Grenache (Note: priced around $20, the Rey is a great buy though it can be hard to find – try the Wine Hound in Santa Barbara or the Bounty Hunter in Napa if you’re trying to find Rey wines), 2005 Ampelos Epsilon Syrah, 2004 Beckmen Estate Syrah, 2006 Clos Saint Michel Châteauneuf-du-Pape (blend of 40% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 30% Mourvedre), 2006 Ampelos Syrache (blend of 73% Syrah, 27% Grenache), 2008 Delas Saint-Esprit Côtes du Rhône  (blend of 70% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 5% Mourvedre, 5% Carignan and a with a price of $15 a great buy).    In between tasting, spitting and scribbling notes, I managed to take a few snapshots.

The brown bagged lineup of wines

The brown bagged lineup of wines

After the reveal - the Chardonnays

After the reveal - the Chardonnays

After the reveal - the Grenaches

After the reveal - the Grenaches

2006 Rey Grenache - Lots of taste for very little money

2006 Rey Grenache - Lots of taste for very little money

After the reveal, the Syrahs

After the reveal, the Syrahs

After the reveal, the Blends

After the reveal, the red blends

Just a quick little newsflash – I’m happy to announce that I’ve been asked to write for Corkd.com.  =)  Here is a link to my first in a series of articles on large format bottles of wine.

The 2nd annual Dierberg / Star Lane industry open house was fabulous!  There are many fun industry open house events during the course of the year, but Dierberg sets the bar high!   The food is always wonderful!  This year featured raw oysters paired with Sauvignon Blanc.   Also, Bello Forno was there with a wood fired oven turning out incredible pizzas.  The Ballard Inn‘s Chef Budi Kazali was there with amazingly tasty pork belly.  The guys from Petros restaurant  were there dishing up bite-sized Greek meatballs – these were perfect with Syrah.  There was also an entire table of handmade chocolates and desserts from Jessica Foster Confections and Pattibakes.   A big “thank you” to the folks at Dierberg / Star Lane for hosting such a great party!   I took a few snapshots.  =)

Dierberg / Star Lane

Dierberg / Star Lane 2nd Annual Industry Open House

Ashley, Janeen and Anne from Tre Anelli and Consilience

Ashley, Janeen and Anne from Tre Anelli & Consilience

Jason and Jim from Tre Anelli & Consilience

Jason (WineNationUnderdog) and Jim from Tre Anelli & Consilience

Janeen, Jim, Mike, Louise

Janeen & Jim (Tre Anelli), Mike (Carhartt), Louise (Brander)

Kevin, Angela, Anne & Peggy

Kevin, Angela, Anne & Peggy

Peter and Jason

Peter (Scott Cellars) and Jason (WineNationUnderdog)

Anne (WineNationUnderdog), Angela and Peggy (Tre Anelli & Consilience)

Anne (WineNationUnderdog), Angela and Peggy (Tre Anelli & Consilience)

Today I poured wine at a benefit for a wonderful local non-profit organization called Girls Inc.  The event was held at a beautiful estate in Montecito which was surrounded by an incredible garden full of interesting succulents and other unusual plants.  After this event my husband and I attended an industry-only wine tasting at Carr Winery in downtown Santa Barbara on the “urban wine trail”.   This is  a fun way to enjoy limited production wine, mix and mingle with other industry people and taste some great appetizers from area restaurants.   We loved the portabella mushroom wrapped around goat cheese from Blush.   We also loved all the wonderful cheeses by the folks from C’est Cheese.   By the way, Carr is open late (5pm-11pm) on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays – so if you are looking for a fun place with great wine (by-the-glass and bottle service) check it out!  They even have live music on Fridays!

Star Lane Astral Cabernet Sauvignon

Star Lane Astral Cabernet Sauvignon

Tonight we headed out to the Star Lane / Dierberg Vineyard industry open house / one year tasting room anniversary celebration.  The folks at Star Lane / Dierberg really went all out with a beautiful spread of food and wine.  Jason got a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and then headed to the oyster bar.  After that we sampled the lamb pops – which were wonderful with the Syrah.  The quail was very popular too, although I didn’t get a chance to try it as I was deep in conversation with Janeen (from Tre Anelli) and Louise (from Brander) about our recent Sangiovese tasting.  I did manage to taste the Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon and the Star Lane Astral reserve Cabernet Sauvignon with dark chocolate – wow!    Over the course of the evening, I ran into many familiar faces:  Peter Stolpman and Carol from Stolpman, Rebecca and Peter Work from Ampelos, Chelsea, Angela, Stu, Peggy from Consilience and Tre Anelli, Chris from Alma Rosa and Mo from Foxen.  I left with a few bottles of Syrah, some of the Santa Ynez Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and a couple of the Star Lane Astral Cabernet Sauvignon.   I thank the great people over at Star Lane and Dierberg for such an enjoyable evening!

13 Year Vertical of Qupé Bien Nacido Hillside Estate Syrah

13 Year Vertical of Qupé Bien Nacido Hillside Estate Syrah (photo credit: Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Jason and some friends and I are heading out to Au Bon Climat / Qupé for their annual open house event.  We were fortunate enough to be able to have a special vertical tasting of 13 years (2007-1995) of Qupé Bien Nacido Hillside Estate Syrah with winemaker / owner Robert Lindquist.  I’m a longtime fan of Lindquist’s award-winning Syrahs and so I was really looking forward to this once in a lifetime tasting opportunity.  We exceeded the speed limit (more times than I’d care to admit) in order to arrive at the winery by 10am.  After traveling for over an hour, we got out of the air conditioned car into a surprisingly warm (80+ degree) morning.  Then we walked into the winery and eventually gathered in a cordoned off area of the chilly and dimly lit Qupé barrel room.

Qupé winemaker / owner Robert Lindquist (photo credit:  Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Qupé winemaker / owner Robert Lindquist (photo credit: Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Lindquist was already there with all the Bien Nacido Hillside Estate Syrahs displayed on a table.  He handed each of us glasses and an information sheet detailing each vintage’s harvest dates, brix, pH, total acidity, % alcohol, yield per acre, and number of cases produced.  We started with the youngest one (a 2007 barrel sample) and moved vintage by vintage to the oldest.  First Lindquist spoke about “Z block” which is a custom 5 acre block of vines in Bien Nacido vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley.  It is located about 16 miles from the Pacific Ocean and was originally planted for Qupé in 1992.  It is on a southwest facing slope about 850 feet above sea level.  Lindquist went on to describe the soil which is a “combination of volcanic clay and Monterey shale with significant substrata of sandstone and limestone”.  Finally, the knowledge I gained from my college geology class came in handy.   As we tasted each vintage, Lindquist described the challenges presented during the growing season year, from too much wind during fruit set in 2007 to a cold, wet spring (which delays flowering and reduces yields) in 1998 due to El Niño.  To my palate, a few years really stood out as shining examples of Syrah – 2002 (great balance of spice and fruit), 1998 (Lindquist’s favorite) and 1999 (wonderful complexity including notes of chocolate).

Anne taking notes at the Qupé 13 year vertical tasting (photo credit: Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Taking notes at the Qupé 13 year vertical tasting (photo credit: Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

After the vertical tasting, we stayed around for the open house activities which included wines from Qupé, Au Bon Climat, Verdad, Ici/La-Bas, Vita Nova, Il Podere dell’Olivos, Clendenen Family Vineyards, Makor and Barham Mendelsohn.   With over 70 wines on the list available for tasting (not including the 13 I’d already sampled earlier in the morning) I decided it was best to take a few minutes to zero in on the ones that were new to me:  2005 Il Podere Dell’Olivos Teroldego (deep garnet color, fruity – very food friendly), 2001 Clendenen Family Nebbiolo (florals, earth and spice), 2005 Clendenen Family Syrah/Viognier (florals, white pepper, earth and dark purple fruit), 2002 Vita Nova Stolpman Vineyard Sangiovese (bright red fruit, very food friendly), 2001 Vita Nova Reservatum (a red blend with spicy, red currant and dark berry flavors).  I tasted a few other wines here and there, but the ones mentioned above actually came home with me.  After getting the wine loaded into the car, we headed out to the next event which was held at a new cooperative winemaking facility called Terravant.

Syrah fan and Bob Lindquist (photo credit: Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Syrah fan and Bob Lindquist (photo credit: Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Along the way we realized that we were going to be driving right by Foxen…so we unanimously voted to stop by.  (In case you are wondering, “yes” we have a designated driver.)  We headed over to the bar to taste the whites first.  A dynamic and knowledgeable young woman named Mo was behind the bar – expertly leading us through the 2007 Foxen Viognier (Vogelzang Vineyard, nose of honeysuckle and flavors of tropical fruit) and the 2007 Chardonnay (Tinaquaic Vineyard, dry farmed, bouquet of citrus fruit with green apple, vibrant acidity and mineral notes). Wine Enthusiast awarded this wine 94 points.  Unfortunately there were only made 500 cases produced, so it is going fast.  I cannot recall the last time I purchased a bottle of Chardonnay – but the Tinaquaic was just too good to pass up!  As we chatted with fellow tasters, a couple next to us commented that although it was their first visit to Foxen, they felt as though they’d been there before.   This experience of déjà vu is quite common – ever since Foxen was featured in the movie Sideways.  We also tasted a few reds beginning with the 2007 Pinot Noir (Bien Nacido Vineyard and Julia’s Vineyard, strawberry and cherries).  We tasted the 2006 Zinfandel (Lockshaw Vineyard, Paso Robles) and the 2006 Syrah (Williamson-Doré Vineyard, rich with flavors of black cherry, blackberry, smoke and white pepper).  I had to take home some of the Syrah too!  We talked with Allison the tasting room manager who boxed up our wine purchases and then we jumped back in the car to head to Terravant.

Inside the Terravant facility (photo credit Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Inside the Terravant facility (photo credit Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

A few minutes later, we arrived at the Terravant Wine Center.  First we tasted a few wines including the latest offering from Chien, the 2008 Edelzwicker (an Alsatian-style white blend of Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Gewurztraminer).  Then we took a tour of this 40,000 square foot wine center.  This state-of-the-art facility was created in order to provide vintners with the equipment and laboratory necessary to control the quality from grape to bottle (not to mention executive offices and a large conference area where events can be held).  There were enormous insulated tanks with digital temperature displays, peristaltic pumps, open and closed top fermenters, cold stabilization and bottling equipment and much, much more.   Even the barrel room was high tech with automated relative humidity and temperature control and RFID tracking.  While everything was really impressive – lots of shiny chrome, automated thingamajigs that beep- it just seemed a little too industrial to me.  Maybe I am just a hopeless romantic, but to me wine is a wonderful marriage of art AND science – not just science.  I can think of a number of accidents that resulted in beautiful wine.  Case in point is the 2006 Ojai Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay – an accidental dessert wine – only two barrels were produced.  A small section of the Chardonnay grapes at the Solomon Hills Vineyard became infected with a fungus called botrytis cinerea (the so called “noble rot”).  Infected grapes shrivel up like raisins – thus concentrating the flavor.   I was fortunate enough to acquire one of the few bottles of this special wine.  Friends and I shared it with rich, creamy cheeses, nuts and dried fruits.  This wine itself was reminiscent of the great wines of Sauternes with a rich honeyed character.  Truly a happy accident!

Some friends and I got a chance to get a sneak preview of two soon-to-be-released wines from Tre Anelli:   2007 Lagrein and 2007 Centellinare (a Super Tuscan inspired blend).  Wow!  Winemaker Brett Escalera does not disappoint – both of these wines are incredible and very food friendly.  Here are the draft versions of the tasting notes:

2007 Lagrein

Lagrein, (aka Lagarino) hails from the Alto Adige region of northern Italy.  Whereas in Italy Lagreins are often made into intense, dark, tannic reds, Tre Anelli’s garnet colored, smooth drinking wine is a decidedly New World take on this largely unsung grape.  Hints of baking spices and florals on the nose lead to flavors of red berry fruit and a smooth mouthfeel on the palate.  With good balance and acidity, this wine tastes best when paired with food – like fish, poultry, cheese (Gruyere, blue, Gouda), and especially grilled meat.   How about a bottle of Lagrein and a pancetta wrapped, mustard rubbed pork tenderloin?   Lagrein is the perfect wine for any day that ends in “y”.

2007 Centellinare

Philosopher and wine drinker Aristotle is famously quoted as saying “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.  Case in point is Centellinare, Tre Anelli’s Super Tuscan style blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel.   Each varietal on its own is good, but put them all together and you get a complex wine with a nose of dark berry fruit with subtle earthy notes and flavors of black raspberry, cassis, fig and spice.  Its long flavorful finish invites you back to take another sip.  Best of all, the softer tannin structure and well-balanced acidity levels make this a supremely good “food wine”.  Experience the romance and history of Italy without ever needing a passport!

These wines will have their “official debut” in about a month at Tre Anelli’s tasting room (in Los Olivos, CA) on Saturday May 15, 2009 at the wine club pick up party -wine, food, friends, FUN!  Come on in and taste them for yourself!

Tre Anelli 2007 Centellinare

Tre Anelli 2007 Centellinare

Tonight was the Stolpman Industry Open House at the tasting room in Los Olivos.  Tom Stolpman was behind the bar pouring barrel samples and Peter Stolpman was pressing the flesh with other industry folks, in his new role as National Sales Director.  I saw a number of people from Consilience and Tre Anelli including Jodie Boulet-Daughters (one of the owners), Brett Escalera (winemaker / one of the owners) and Janeen (tasting room manager).   I have a confession to make – I am a rabid fan of Stolpman wine –all the red and rosé wines for my wedding were Stolpman.  I think that winemaker Sashi Moorman is very, very good at his job.  With that disclosure, I have to say that I enjoyed many of the wines at Stolpman including the Hilltops Syrah and the soon-to-be-released Sauvignon Blanc.  The Sauvignon Blanc is lovely – totally done in steel, which preserves its wonderful white grapefruit flavors and citrus nose.  This is definitely a wine I’ll be pouring at backyard barbeques this summer.  Also, the recently released Grenache tastes really good right now; it has evolved in a very positive way since I tasted it a month ago.  After tasting through the wines, I walked down the street for an impromptu dinner with Louise (from Brander), Janeen (Tre Anelli) and Joy (Janeen’s sister) at the Los Olivos Café.  We shared a few appetizers – spring rolls, mini sliders with horseradish sauce and a fresh green salad.  The food from Los Olivos Café is always good – and the wine was wonderful.  We shared a bottle of the 2006 Dragonette Sta. Rita Hills Pinot.    I’ve been hearing good things about Dragonette and was excited to try out their Pinot.  I was not disappointed.  Dragonette is a partnership of two brothers, John and Steve Dragonette and their close friend Brandon Sparks-Gillis.   The ’06 vintage is only their second – but the wine from this triumvirate doesn’t taste like a new kid on the block.  How did they pull off this feat?  First and foremost, hard work and a lot of research; plus they sourced fruit from very high quality growers.  Case in point, this vintage is made of fruit from the esteemed Gaia (formerly Ashley’s) Vineyard (Fess Parker) and Fiddlestix (Fiddlehead) Vineyard.  Then, using tried and true, time consuming methods, they hand harvested, cluster sorted and then destemmed the grapes.  You could taste the passion in the end product – it was delicate, with a nose of strawberry, cherries and juniper berries.  The finish alluded to dried red fruit like cranberries and Bing cherries.  Dragonette only produced 144 cases of this Pinot Noir – so get it while you can!

Tonight we hosted a vertical wine tasting with friends and fellow wine appreciators Louise (Brander Vineyards), Janeen (Tre Anelli and Consilience), Jim (Tre Anelli and Consilience) and Jennifer (wine lover by marriage). A vertical tasting is one where different years of the same wine, from the same producer are compared. Our vertical consisted of vintages 2001 – 2005 of Eros, a Bordeaux-style blend made by Sunstone. We also had a bonus wine to compare (thank you Louise), a 2002 Brander Bouchet, which is also a Bordeaux-style blend. The vertical format draws attention to differences between vintages, which can be quite dramatic. These can be attributed to many things – including differences in weather, to a change in the levels of fruit thinning, to barrel toast modifications and everything in between. It is helpful to have the winemaker’s release notes for each vintage during the tasting because they’ll often shed light on the factors which helped shaped a particular vintage. Often winemakers will mention the weather, how the grapes fared during the season, conditions of the harvest, the ripeness of the grapes and much more. It is best to start tasting with the youngest wine and end with the oldest wine, that way your palate is more likely to be able to pick up on the complexities in the older vintages.  It is also important to give the wines plenty of time to breathe. We found that the 2001 Eros tasted best three hours after it was decanted. After all the Sunstone wine was evaluated, there were two Eros vintages that the tasters preferred over the others, 2001 and 2005. The 2001 was appreciated for its balance of fruit, spice and oak whereas the 2005 stood out with its intense dark berry flavors. The 2005 went especially well with the cheesecake and brownies we had for dessert. When we voted on our favorite single wine of the evening, it was unanimous – the Bordeaux blend from Brander, the 2002 Bouchet won.  

We are heading up to Squaw to go skiing tomorrow with friends so I made a quick run to Los Olivos to buy wine.   Los Olivos is a very small town with many tasting rooms along its two block main drag.  This is very convenient because I only had 45 minutes to choose wines before the tasting rooms close.  First I visit the Qupé tasting room which is entirely run by the Lindquist family.  Ethan (second generation winemaker) is manning the bar today.  He pours me some selections from the Qupé list including the Los Olivos Cuvee (a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre) and the Bien Nacido Syrah.  Both are wonderful!  I buy one Syrah and a couple of the Cuvees.   Next, I visited the Stolpman tasting room, which opened a week ago; they recently moved from their old location in Solvang.  I am a big fan of the beautiful, complex Syrahs that winemaker Sashi Moorman turns out year after year.  I tasted the new release Grenache.  While many other area wineries like Beckman have been making Grenache for years, this is the first year for Stolpman.  Since my husband is obsessed with Grenache, I get a couple bottles to bring home.  Next up, I head for Consilience, best known for its very expressive, big Rhones.  I am here to buy a couple of the single vineyard Syrahs and some Petite Sirah (one of my favorite varietals).  The new release Consilience Hampton Family Vineyard Syrah is really wonderful – great fruit and white pepper spice with a nice long finish.  I also picked up a bottle of the Consilience La Presa Vineyard Petite Sirah.  (What a poorly named varietal – there is nothing petite about it and it is not a Syrah, but I digress.)  Next up I visit Tre Anelli to pick up wines made from Italian and Spanish varietals.   All the wines on the list are great “food” wines, especially the Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Barbera.  I picked up a few of these for the trip and then I headed over to the Brander industry open house event.

It was great fun to catch up with many wine industry friends while enjoying Brander‘s hospitality!  The Brander staff was pouring wine and many people brought along bottles to share.  Before I get too lost in describing the wine, let me first say that the food was amazing.  There was a wonderful mole with chicken, and these thick little tortillas topped with smashed white beans, and Mexican potato pancakes (fabulous with the salsa or guacamole), all homemade by Rachel.  There was also a meat and cheese plate which included salami, double crème brie and an unusual mild wasabi flavored cheese.  For dessert, there were delectable mini-cheesecakes, handmade by Louise Smith, the Brander tasting room manager (who is also an award-winning baker).  If you ever need a cheesecake or food for a special occasion, just call Louise.  Suffice it to say that all the food was wonderful.  The first wine that I tasted was a new release: the Brander 2008 Santa Ynez Valley Sauvignon Blanc.  With a nose of citrus and tropical fruit and a clean minerality, this wine is Brander’s 32nd vintage of Sauvignon Blanc.  Most of the fermentation was done in stainless steel with “a kiss of barrel” per the tasting notes.  Next I had the 2008 Chateau Neuf du Pink, a dry rosé that would go perfectly with gumbo or a poolside barbeque.  This wine is mostly Syrah with a little bit of Sauvignon Blanc.  Next I tasted the 2006 Bouchet, an unusual Rhone/Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah.  One taste – rich and complex – was all it took – I had to buy a bottle to take home.  Janeen (tasting room manager at Tre Anelli) mentioned that she had a 2004 Bouchet that was amazing.  I think I’ll tuck this wine in the cellar for a while before opening it.

Brander's very own Jay and Louise

Brander's very own Jay and Louise

Fred Brander (a.k.a. Mr. Sauvignon Blanc)

Fred Brander (a.k.a. Mr. Sauvignon Blanc)

Janeen (Tre Anelli), Jim (Tre Anelli) and Louise (Brander)

Janeen (Tre Anelli), Jim (Tre Anelli) and Louise (Brander)

Our neighbors have two darling children. When their oldest was nearing his 4th birthday his super-mom planned a backyard bash for about 65 people (adults and kids). My husband and I attended and brought along some wine to share (with the adults): 2005 Opolo Mountain Zinfandel and 2005 Consilience Estelle Vineyard Syrah. The Opolo Zinfandel is a Paso Robles fruit bomb – no two ways about it. The Estelle is a BIG wine – jammy and spicy and very typical of the highly expressive style of Consilience winemaker, Brett Escalera. I noticed that while all the little ones were running around having a good time (high on sugary treats) I have to admit that my palate enjoyed the pairing of the fruity Zin with the chocolate birthday cake. How is that for decadent? After most of the guests had gone home, our neighbors opened up a bottle that they’d stashed away for a while – a 1998 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages. This is a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot with chocolate, cherry and blackberry aromas with flavors of ripe plum and dark berries. What a wonderful way to end a day!

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