Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation, Santa Barbara

On Sunday, May 23rd, Santa Barbara area residents enjoyed wine and delicacies from renowned restaurants at the 2010 Taste of the Nation Santa Barbara in support of Share our Strength's campaign to end childhood hunger in America.  The event was held once again at the picturesque Montecito Country Club on a clear afternoon.  While the skies were void of any clouds, the winds caused quite a stir for anyone with a loose skirt or for anything not held down with a heavy weight.  However, the winds were no match for the fine wine and food - and the view of the Pacific Ocean were amazing!  There was plenty of beautiful people in the crowd too, which added to the allure of this event. 

For a list of this year's participating restaurants and wineries, click here.  Some of the participants included The Bacara Resort and Spa, The Ballard Inn and Restaurant, Elements Restaurant and Bar, The Pierpont Inn, Ampelos Cellars, Blair Fox Cellars, Dragonette Cellars, Reeves Ranch Vineyards, Tercero and Stella Artois (free logo glass!).  For wineries, this event was a great opportunity to expose local residents, including restaurants, to some great wines from the Santa Barbara County wine region.  I enjoyed this event and hope to return next year!  Cheers!

Hospice du Rhône 2010

It's 5:00 a.m., I am wide awake, and trekking 3 hours north from LA to Paso Robles.  Why?  Only for the greatest wine event on the Central Coast - Hospice du Rhône!  Hello Syrah.  How do you do Grenache!  What's that Chateauneuf-du-Pape?  Your a sexy chick, Picpoul Blanc!  If it didn't click yet, I love Rhône wines.  If you get an invite to attend this event, wouldn't you drop everything to go?


Before the festivities began at Hospice du Rhône, I picked up my good friend and great winemaker (plus weekend host), Larry Schaffer of Tercero Wines for a quick trip west on Nacimiento Lake Dr. to visit another good friend and great winemaker, Victor Abascal of Vines on the Marycrest. These two gentlemen are the some of the most generous individuals I know in or outside of the wine industry.  They are the reason I won't hesitate driving hours north to the Central Coast to help pour their wines or work in the vineyard and winery.  I was excited to finally bring these two winemakers together and hear them swap their knowledge about wine (and music).   

When Larry and I arrived at Vines on the Marycrest, Victor was hard at work on Carter's Crest tending to the newly planted vineyard.  It was such a beautiful morning that we all took a ride through the vineyards, chatting about the recent and arduous task of planting Carter's Crest, as well as Paso Robles wines.  Hearing two winemakers talk passionately about their trade is far more interesting to me than a trade tasting, but I got the best of both worlds this weekend.

After a great visit to Vines on the Marycrest, Larry and I headed back into town to set up for the Rhône Rendezvous tasting later that afternoon at the Paso Robles Event Center.  Hospice du Rhône operates as a non-profit business league with the specific purpose of improving the business conditions of the grape growers and wine producers of Rhône varietal wines and grapes throughout the world.  Now in its 18th year, HdR assembles wines and winemakers from France, South Africa, Australia, Spain, Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington to share, engage and explore the 22 Rhône varietals.

On Friday at 3:00 p.m., volunteers opened the doors to eager wine enthusiasts and foodies to experience a range of Rhône wines from across the world.  I didn't have to venture far from the Tercero Wines booth to sample some fantastic wines.  We stood between Alban and Terry Hoage. You may be asking yourself, "how did Alban get thrown into the "T" section? We're still asking ourselves that same question, but it worked to our advantage.  Now to some of the highlights from Friday's Rhône Rendezvous:

Alban Vineyards - 2004 Reva, Alban Estate (Edna Valley)

Alta Colina - 2007 GSM and 2007 Old 900 Syrah (Paso Robles)

Anglim - 2007 Mourvèdre, Hastings Ranch Vineyard (Paso Robles)

Davis Family Vineyard - 2007 Côte Rosé, Viognier/Syrah (Russian River Valley)

Dragonette Cellars - 2007 Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley

Jaffurs Wine Cellars - 1999 Syrah and 2001 Syrah (Thompson Vineyard, Los Alamos) and 2007 Upslope Syrah

Tallulah - 2007 Syrah, Shake Ridge Ranch (Amador County) and 2006 Syrah, Bald Mountain Ranch (Napa Valley)

Terry Hoage Vineyards - 2007/2006/2005 The Pick (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Counoise)

Torrin - 2006 The Banshee, Torrin Vineyard (Paso Robles)

Verge Wine Cellars - 2007 Syrah, Dry Creek Valley


Saturday has arrived, I am a little hung over from the "offline" after the Rhône Rendezvous, but ready for the Grand Tasting.  The throngs of wine enthusiasts descended on the Paso Robles Event Center for one of the most enjoyable wine industry events during the year.

Although my palate was wearing thin after 24 hours of wine tasting, I tried to be as selective as possible during the Grand Tasting.  Scott Hawley, Winemaker of Torrin in Paso Robles (to the right), provided one of the highlights during this round of Rhône tasting.  Hawley poured a vertical of his prized Akasha Syrah. Here are a few of my favorites from the Grand Tasting:

Cabot Vineyards - 2007 Syrah, Kimberly's Vineyard (Humboldt)

Herman Story - 2008 Syrah, White Hawk Vineyard (Santa Barbara County), 2008 Nuts & Bolts Syrah, 2008 On the Road Grenache, 2008 427

Jacob Toft - 2007 Sarah's Cuvee, Syrah/Grenache (Booker Vineyard, James Berry Vineyard and Terry Hoage Vineyards); 2007 Tessa's Cuvee, Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon (Booker Vineyard); 2007 Mary Jane's Cuvee, Mourvèdre/Grenache/Syrah (James Berry Vineyard and Terry Hoage Vineyards)

Keplinger - 2007 Grenache/Syrah, Pelkan Ranch (Knights Valley); 2007 Syrah, Pelkan Ranch (Knights Valley); 2007 Mourvèdre/Grenache/Counoise, Goldbud Vineyard (El Dorado)

L'Aventure - 2007 Côte à Côte, Estate Vineyard (Paso Robles) and 2007 Estate Cuvée (Paso Robles)

Sans Liege - 2008 Pickpocket, Derby and Pipestone Vineyards (Paso Robles), 2008 The Offering, Zotovich Vineyard (Santa Barbara County)

Torrin - 2008 Akasha Syrah, 2007 Akasha Syrah, and 2006 Akasha Syrah (Torrin Vineyard, Paso Robles)

So what was the greatest wine I tasted at Hospice du Rhône??? Terry Hoage Vineyards, 2009 Picpoul Blanc (Paso Robles).  This wine was indescribably amazing!  Full of life and character, and the most distinguishable wine of the entire tasting.

The food award goes to Full of Life Flatbread.  I'm pretty sure I saw the Virgin Mary after eating a slice of their pizza.  Check them out in Los Alamos the next time you visit Santa Barbara County (open Friday-Sunday; hours vary).  

On Saturday evening, Larry and I headed to Thomas Hill Organics in Downtown Paso Robles for dinner.  One of the best culinary experiences!  The Grilled Meyer Lemon Pizza paired with the Tercero Wines Grenache Blanc was amazing.  Thanks to Victory Abascal for helping us score a table!  Make a reservation next time you're in town...you'll thank me later.

I can't wait till next year!  In the meantime, I need to clear the cellar to add some new finds from HdR 2010. Cheers to the HdR staff, vendors and attendees for a spectacular event!  On to the next wine adventure...

Monday, May 3, 2010

2010 Santa Barbara County Wine Futures Tasting in Los Angeles

On April 24th, The Wine House and The Winehound hosted some three hundred wine enthusiasts at the the 2010 Santa Barbara County Wine Futures Tasting in Los Angeles.  Over 50 wineries from across Santa Barbara County participated in the tasting at the Olympic Collection Banquet and Conference Center a few blocks from The Wine House.  Last year's event was held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel in Century City and showcased some amazing wines. In fact, I was introduced to one notable winemaker at last year's futures tasting, who has become a great friend - Larry Schaffer of Tercero Wines

With glass in hand and some small bites, I set out to taste my way through the dozens of '08 and '09 vintages.  A number of my fellow wine enthusiasts/writers/bloggers also attended the futures tasting, some who I met for the first time.  It was also a great opportunity to reconnect with winemakers, such as Larry Schaffer, Dave Potter, Ken Brown, Bob Lindquist, Adam Tolmach, Doug Margerum, Peter Work, Norm Yost, Peter Cargasacchi, and David Yates.
Larry Schaffer, Tercero Wines
Doug Margerum, Margerum Wine Co.

Peter Work, Ampelos Cellars
Ken Brown, Ken Brown Wines
I set out with one goal in mind: try to visit as many wineries as possible, particularly those I consistently buy from, while managing to taste a few new ones.  From my own biased perspective, I thought the selection of wines represented the diverse vineyards and winemaking styles of Santa Barbara County.  More importantly, many wines (some recently bottled or barrel samples) exhibited remarkable structure and complexity.  A few wines were exceedingly tantalizing on the nose and palate.  There is no doubt that these standouts will mature into award winning wines from this acclaimed wine region.  In all honesty, no one wine stood out as a disappointment, but a handful of wines left me asking myself  "where is this going?"  There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to your nose or palate, but you can quickly pick up when something is right or wrong about a wine.  Don't infer from that that some wines were "inferior" or "tainted."  Just take it as it is.

I enjoyed 99% of the wines at the futures tasting, but some deserved a little more attention than others.  Also, you will notice that I did not add tasting notes.  I was busy enjoying the wines and chatting up the winemakers.  More importantly, it's about what you discover in these wines if you so choose to taste them or buy them when they are released.  I'm sure you will pick up dark fruit, citrus, smoke, tar, etc.  All I want to do is steer you in the direction of a few standouts and discoveries.  I don't think you'll be disappointed.

And the Nominees are...

Tercero Wines - '08 Cuvee Loco, Larner Vineyard (Ballard Canyon) and '08 The Climb, Santa Barbara County

Jaffurs -'08 Syrah, Larner Vineyard (Ballard Canyon)

Au Bon Climat - '08 Estate Chadonnay, Santa Maria Valley

Ken Brown Wines - '08 Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills

Dragonette Cellars - '09 Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley

Honorable Mentions

Blair Fox - '09 Vermentino, Fox Family Vineyard, Santa Barbara County

Shai Cellars - '08 Adome Syrah/Cabernet Blend, Santa Barbara County

Kenneth-Crawford - '09 Pinot Noir, Babcock Vineyard and '09 Rhone Blend, Larner Vineyard (Ballard Canyon)

Rey - '07 Syrah Central Coast

Sanguis - '07 Syrah "Backseat Betty"

Harrison-Clarke - '07 Syrah Estate, Santa Ynez Valley and '07 Cuvee Charlotte Estate, Santa Ynez Valley

And the Oscar Goes to...

Clos Pepe - '09 Pinot Noir Estate, Sta. Rita Hills

Cargasacchi - '08 Pinot Noir, Cargasacchi Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills

Margerum - '08 M5 Reserve, Santa Barbara County