It’s only very rarely that the Young Winos find themselves intimidated by quantity.
We’ve been known, at our weekly tastings, to put down fifteen to sixteen bottles and then hit the bar for margaritas. We’ve been seen, when in wine country, to thoughtfully critique the offerings of eight or nine wineries within the constraints of 11am-5pm opening hours and still make it back to LA in time for karaoke. But upon arriving at Santa Barbara’s venerable Wine Cask restaurant on Saturday, the Winos admittedly found themselves a bit overwhelmed, both by the sheer number of wineries present, and by the enormity of the task presented to us: how could we possibly taste and fairly evaluate 200 wines in only three hours?
Needless to say, we didn’t quite drink them all. We did, however, accomplish two important goals: we met a ton of fascinating winemakers, and we tasted loads of diverse and delicious wines. In this dispatch the Winos hope to share with you some of our favorite experiences of the day so that you can live vicariously through us, as we know so many of you like to do.
The Wine Cask restaurant utilized the full extent of its available space in hosting the event; winemakers had set up camp around the perimeter of the dining room, on the outdoor patio, and — appropriately — in the wine bar. One of our first stops was Blair Fox, whose eponymous winemaker was pouring a white and a red. As with many of the wines poured today, these were “barrel samples” — not-yet-released wines, currently either aging in the barrel or the bottle, which could be purchased at discounted prices as “futures,” and would then be shipped to you upon their release. The Young Winos were thrilled to be drinking wine from the future… just call us Marty “McDry.” (Or don’t. Yeah, actually don’t.)
The 2007 Blair Fox “Paradise Road Vineyard” Viognier, done in neutral French oak, had one of those Viognier noses you just want to bite into: orange blossom, a little coconut, almost a tropical drink. Great mouthfeel with some nice acid; Jessica got smoke, and Jason got some spice. (As with many of these unreleased wines, the taste you experience right now may not be quite the same as it tastes upon release, which adds another level of intrigue.) The 2005 Blair Fox “Paradise Road Vineyard” Syrah, also unreleased, treated us to a lush nose, with Jordan picking out some brown sugar; the palette followed suit with classic Syrah notes of leather, ink, and game.
Next up was Blair’s friend Dave Potter, pouring a white and a red from his brand new Municipal Winemakers label. Dave’s a big believer in expression of place; he cut his teeth in Australia and has crafted his 2007 “Bright White” Riesling in a dry style reminiscent of that country. The nose might fool you: it’s resplendent with syrupy marmalade notes, but the pal is bone-dry. Great mineral, some citrus dancing around on your tongue… just really interesting. A couple Winos grabbed some sushi off the buffet and said the pairing was phenomenal. We also tried his 2007 “Bright Red” rhone blend, another dynamic wine which Jessica thought “smelled like a rock.” Great herbal notes, coffee, red fruit — a lot going on. Dave’s distinctive wines were among our favorites of the day, and, priced at $15 and $20 respectively, they’re total deals.
Married winemakers Bob and Louisa Lindquist were each pouring wines from their respective labels. The first we tried was Louisa’s 2007 Verdad Albariño. Several Winos picked up some bubble gum on the racy nose, which sparked a debate about which brand it was; we eventually agreed to Jessica’s identification of grape-flavor Bazooka Joe. The palette was crisp, with a lot of apple; like its cousins in Rías Baixas, this would make a great seafood wine. Next up was Bob’s 2006 Qupé Roussanne, done in one-year-old barrels. A big musky nose, which Jason likened to “walking into a wine cellar.” The moldy oak melts into toasty oak — a great bouquet. This led into a well-balanced palette with acid and oak dancing a nice box-step, as well as some big tangerine action. Finally, we tried two Syrahs, both of which represented themselves tremendously. The 2006 Qupé “Bien Nacido Hillside Estate” featured interesting oregano on the nose and a refined herbaceous quality on the pal, while the 2006 Qupé “Bien Nacido X Block” was an austere wine with a remarkable nose that I referred to as a “cornucopia of black pepper.” Sensational spice, extremely unique; we were very pleased to taste these.
We ducked outside to dip into the 2007 Foxen Chenin Blanc, which Jessica thought smelled “like a bakery.” Jason and I got honeysuckle, leading us into a smooth palette on which some initial sweetness melted into nectary peach. “This makes me want to go on a picnic,” mused Jessica, who was already feeling the effects of her five or six tastes. Before we headed inside to escape the heat, Brander Vineyard scored big with their 2007 “Au Natural” Sauvignon Blanc and a round, opulent Chardonnay that wasn’t listed in our tasting guide. Yay for mystery bottle!
Several badass wineries awaited us in the wine bar. First up was Westerly, where we tasted the intriguing 2004 W Blanc, a blend of Roussanne and Viognier. Subtle and smooth, this was an understated Rhone blend with delicate fruit flavors and great texture. Our next pour was a big surprise: the 2005 “Après“ dessert wine, made from Viognier grapes which have been air-dried (rather than late-harvested or nobly rotten). With a caramel nose that Jessica described as “cake icing,” this light and silky little rascal coats your mouth like a wine of twice the texture; it was at once spicy and sweet, and Jason spoke for the group in proclaiming his deep affection for it. Moving down a few tables, we encountered Justin Willett, pouring his 2006 Tyler Chardonnay (Santa Rita Hills) and his 2006 Tyler Pinot Noir (Santa Maria). The latter was particularly special, and may have been Jordan’s favorite wine of the day; great Burgundian structure with a light floral nose and delicate fruit on the tongue.
We made our way to Tercero, where winemaker Larry Schaffer poured us a couple of excellent Rhone-inspired wines from his brand new label. First up was his 2007 Grenache Blanc, thus far unreleased (as evidenced by the Bentonite particles still floating around in the wine… Larry explained that this clay-like substance is introduced to white wines early in the process in order to remove unnecessary proteins). Great acid on this well-structured little number, which was quite reminiscent of several of the Rhone whites we drank at this week’s tasting, including the Vieux Télégraphe. The red was his 2006 “Camp Four” Grenache, featuring a big cherry nose riding a wave of mocha underneath; these flavors repeated nicely on the light, spicy pal. Larry’s an engaging personality who loves talking about his process, and the Winos look forward to keeping an eye on Tercero in the months ahead.
We wish we could’ve tasted all 200 wines; alas, we realistically drank probably no more than fifty. Sorry to all the awesome winemakers out there who we missed… perhaps you should have us come up for a visit? We’re only a couple hours away.
Among our other favorites were:
—2005 Bozzano Merlot (Santa Maria). Huge inky nose, dark berries and burnt wood on the palette. This stocky slugger hits for average and power.
—2006 Carhartt Syrah (Santa Ynez). A great expression of the grape, with some game, black pepper, and nice round fruit.
—2007 Coquelicot Riesling (Santa Ynez). Jessica’s “favorite Riesling ever,” featuring a nectar overtone without being syrupy, as well as some nice effervescence.
—2007 Jaffurs Petite Sirah (Santa Barbara). Absurd fruit on this one; raspberry, blueberry, even some orange blossom. Bursting with youthful vigor… can’t wait to see how it grows up.
—2007 P2 Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara). A new-world Pinot that doesn’t go all fruit-Unabomber on you. Big dark berries with some great backbone.
—2006 Paul Lato Syrah (Santa Ynez). Great black pepper and fresh-cut grass on the nose. (Per the palette, I literally wrote in my notes that this wine was “loghtib-laeced.” Honestly, I can’t read what I wrote, and that’s the best I can do. I’m sorry. I recall that it was delicious, and apparently it was loghtib-laeced as well, so clearly it’s unique.)
The Young Winos of LA — edutoxicating Los Angeles since 2005.