Seattle Wine Blog

This blog is dedicated to commentary on all aspects of wine, especially short entries to help you find the best wines without the usual hype and spin. These are my frank, independent opinions, usually based on tasting wine at a public event, off the shelf or at the winery. "All creative acts must arise out of a specific soil and flicker with a spirit of place" -D.H. Lawrence

Monday, May 30, 2011

The End of the Road Less Traveled

I have traveled this road less traveled many times, but I have never gotten to the end of it. That's because I always get distracted at the tasting rooms in Los Olivos and then only get part way up Foxen Canyon Road. Canyon is sometimes abbreviated to Cyn in California which always makes me think of the Welsh word "cyn", so then I am  hoping to get there "soon." Unfortunately, some canyon roads are too long to get you anywhere soon. This time I left early and drove almost straight through with a brief stop at Foxen winery. They now have two tasting rooms - the original "Sideways" one and a brand new modern building. This time I stopped at the modern one where they were serving up mostly cooler climate grapes such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The 2009 Bien Nacido Chard was light, fresh, and tart. The 2009 Tinaquaic Vineyard was round, balanced and medium bodied - two very distinct styles. The 2010 Rose of Mourvedre had a very fruity nose and sweet strawberry flavors. The 2009 Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir tasted of sour cherry, while the 2009 Tinaquaic Syrah was spectacular with great color and  fabulous fruit.

On to Riverbench winery, no longer really in Foxen Canyon, but sitting on the south river bench of the Santa Maria river, home to the best commercial strawberries grown in the U.S. First out of the shoot was a nice 2010 Pinot Noir Rose that was fresh and fruity and tasted of... strawberries. Next up the crisp and citrusy, stainless fermented 2009 Bedrock Chardonnay followed by the oaked 2007 Estate Chardonnay which had a very nice nose and was balanced and round with a nice touch of vanilla.The 2008 Estate Pinot Noir had a nose of smoke, tobacco, and leather followed by rhubarb flavors. The 2008 Reserve Pinot was light in color with cherry flavors and leather accents. The 2008 Mesa was the standout, again with light color, and round full fruit flavors - here is an Oregon style Pinot to go with your locally caught salmon.

Several years ago, I tasted a Kenneth Volk Chardonnay that made me want to taste more from the former owner of Wild Horse winery. Now, out on his own, Ken seems to be brewing up a storm. I counted approximately twenty different wines on the list. Ken seems to love to experiment with different varietals, Verdelho, Negrette, Touriga, and Aglianca for example, The wonderful 2008 Verdelho reminded me of figs, the 2009 Viognier was round and fruity, the 2009 Rose of Grenache, very fruity and sweet, the 2008 regular Grenache light and pleasant, a good patio or hamburger wine. The 2008 Negrette had a sweet mouthfeel like a perfect French Aperitif. The 2008 Touriga had the feel and flavor of Port , but without the sweetness - a perfect Port for diabetics? The 2006 Tempranillo also had the same sweet mouthfeel. Ken appears to have a distinctive signature of full roundness and fruit with some "sweet" mouthfeel. He certainly leaves his mark on the wine. Among my faves were 2008 Mourvedre, Enz Vineyard which had a fabulous nose and the 2006 Sierra Madre Chardonnay  which really expressed and benefited from Ken's stylistic preferences with its full creamy mouthfeel. The highlight, though, was a comparison tasting of two very different 2007 Pinot Noirs - same vintage, same winemaker, but different clones, different styles. The "Old School" Pinot made from Pommard clones was light, elegant and silky on the palate with complex fruit flavors - very Oregon in style, perfect with salmon. The "New School" Pinot made from Dijon clones was big, spicy and full, - very California in style, perfect with buffalo steaks. The New School" reminds me of a good Nuits St. Georges, while the "Old School" is reminiscent of a Savigny Les Beaune. Kenneth Volk's prices in the 20s and 30s are very reasonable these days for what you get. It was definitely worth it to finally get to the end of the road. BTW, Kenneth Volk is very close to Cambria winery whose excellent Chardonnay is widely available, frequently at Costco for a very reasonable price. On to Paso Robles!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Los Olivos

Back to my old stompin' grounds! First stop? Stolpman! First taste? 2009 Rose -salmon-colored, dry, tart with citrus accents, very Provencal. Next in the flight, 2009 L'Avion, a very round, full Roussanne with an interesting hint of nutmeg. The vineyard crew made the next wine in the tasting room lineup, the 2009 La Cuadrilla from Syrah and Grenache  co-fermented with a little Viognier thrown in, next up 2007 Sangiovese - soft, mellow and creamy -a dreamy Sangio you can even drink on its own. The 2008 Originals had a meat and rhubarb nose and fruit and pepper flavors, the 2008 Hilltop Syrah was much nicer, more elegant and pleasing. The '08 Grenache was medium bodied round, fruity and pleasing. All in all a lot of stars for Stolpman this time around.

Fortunately, the tasting room person at Stolpman recommended the new kid on the block. Just across the street we found Steve Dragonette of Dragonette Cellars. Famous opera singer Aunt Jessica changed the name from Dragonetti. No matter the name, a bunch of winners here. Dragonette specializes in Sauvignon Blanc making three different bottlings. The three star 2009 Santa Ynez Sauvignon Blanc  was beautiful, round, and fruity with none of that in your face grapefruit so common in Sauv Blancs. The 2009 SB from Vogelzang Vineyard was balanced and carefully crafted, too. A good 2009 Pinot Noir was followed the 2008 Syrah with hint of eucalyptus and mint in the nose. The bombshell, 2008 MJM, named after the owners' wives was big and beautiful with a fabulous nose. This is definitely a winery to watch..

Every year I seem to have missed Tensley winery, but not this year. The wines were all good, but a little light for my taste. The most interesting wine was Detente a combined effort of Joey Tensley and Cecile Dussurre. The wine is a blend of 50% Domaine de Montavac Gigondas and 50% 2008 Tensley Colson Canyon Syrah.We first tasted Gigondas in a small Rhone style restaurant in the Maubert Mutualite area of Paris in 1970. The 1962 Gigondas was unforgettable. Gigondas could be called the poor man's Chateauneuf Du Papes, but in my book, anyone who gets to drink Gigondas is rich. BTW, Gigondas is another one of those reliable, not well known wines that you should jump at on a restaurant wist list.

Qupe has become one of  my favorite wineries in Los Olivos. This is truly a family winery. Every family member makes wine - Bob, the father, Louisa, the wife, and Ethan the son. Louisa's Spanish style wines are bottled under the Verdad label. 2010 Verdad Rose was a little sweet for my taste, but the 2009 Albarino was wonderfully dry with good fruit that gave it a fuller mouthfeel, almost like a Galacian Albarino, but with riper California fruit.The 2008 Qupe Roussanne "Bien Nacido Hillside Estate" had a nose of pear and fruit, and a fruity big bodied mouthfeel. The widely available Qupe Los Olivos Cuvee was excellent as usual and the even more widely distributed 2008 Qupe Syrah "Bien Nacido Vineyard"  was even better Virtually all of the Qupe wines were excellent, esepcially the 2009 Sawyer Lindquist - "amazing", "fantastic", leather, tobacco, panoply of spice, garam masala.

I got to Los Olivos early so I had a  cup of coffee and an egg croissant at Corner House Coffee.
Los Olivos is a lovely place with great tasting rooms, but the city, which only offers portable restrooms to tourists and wine tasters really had better clean up its act. As Jimmy Durante used to say only the nose knows!

Real Food

Thanks to my friends Carole and Steve, I found the real thing in Morro Bay. Real eggs from Los Osos Ranch, real strawberries from Santa Maria, real fish from the Dockside Market. How convenient to pick up a dozen burst of flavor eggs at Spencer's Market, the Real Food  MarketI dreamed of in my last post. Santa Maria strawberries are by far the best commercially grown strawberries from California. What a problem to have, choosing fresh off the boat fish at the Dockside - three kinds of rockfish, halibut, locally caught Salmon, cod, ling cod. We chose Vermillion Rockfish which we sauteed in olive oil, butter, white wine and a touch of Anisette paired with a light, tart 2009 L'Aventure Viognier. What a pleasure to taste some locally harvested real food.

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