The Young Winos stop by for a quickie at the Santa Lucia Highlands shindig

By Jesse on February 13, 2009

For whatever reason, the Winos seem to have a propensity for rolling up late to tasting events. Sometimes it’s because we’re still way too hung-over from the night before, while other times it’s because we know that if we actually get there at the beginning we’ll inevitably be way too hung-over the next day. On Monday afternoon, however, we were left wishing we would’ve arrived at the “Santa Lucia Highlands trade & press tasting” at a reasonable hour, as a number of probably-delicious bottles went untasted.

Undaunted by the ramifications of our fashionable lateness, we succeeded in tasting a good lineup of wines before eventually being shunted out (and even that failed to interfere with our journalistic pursuits, as depicted in the photo above). Organized by The Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans and brought to us by Blue Lifestyle, the event was held at BLT Steak on Sunset and featured 27 wineries, 70 wines, and a solid contingency of winemakers to talk about them. Here are the bottles that the Winos managed to taste before (and, in several cases, after) the end of the event.

We opened things up with a sparkling wine, the non-vintage McIntyre “L’homme qui ri” (Santa Lucia Highlands), a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. This bubbly ran a little closer to the Cremant d’Loire model than the Champagne, featuring bright citrus flavors and a dry, crisp mouthfeel. For my part, I was left wanting more body, but Jordan applauded the “crisp lemon notes” and said he was a big fan.

Chardonnay was strongly represented on the white side — not surprising, as a full 2,100 of the Santa Lucia’s 6,100 planted acres are devoted to Chardonnay cultivation. The first Chard we bumped into was the 2007 Testarossa Chardonnay (Santa Lucia Highlands), sourced from the famed Sleepy Hollow Vineyard. The nose was oaky, with orange blossom a-plenty, but the mouth ran refreshingly crisp, offering generous grapefruit notes on the medium body. This vibrant little number would prove to be my favorite of the whites.

Mer Soleil was pouring both of their recognizable Chardonnays. The 2006 Mer Soleil “Silver” Unoaked Chardonnay (Santa Lucia Highlands), which their rep told us is fermented in cement vats, offered up a bready nose and a crisp, clean palate, with the slightest hint of green herbal character — as naked an expression of the grape as we’d taste that day, and very refreshing. The 2006 Mer Soleil Chardonnay (Santa Lucia Highlands), however, fully embraced the oak; the nose was woody and floral, somewhat akin, I burbled, to “an old shed in a field of wildflowers.” The palate ran plush and round, with a touch of sweetness at the start and some gentle acidity towards the back.

Dylan and Jordan’s favorite Chard was the 2007 Martin Alfaro Chardonnay (Santa Lucia Highlands), also from the Sleepy Hollow Vineyard. The nose was rich and tropically fruity, smelling to me like the syrupy juice in a can of pineapple chunks, with an interesting sourdough component present as well. The palate was light and surprisingly spicy, and didn’t display a whole lot of oak character — winemaker Joseph Martin told us that this Chard saw about 35% new oak during its fermentation.

It wasn’t all Chard, however — some Riesling and some Roussanne were also present, as was the 2007 Hahn Estates Pinot Gris (Santa Lucia Highlands), offering up a fragrant nose of honeysuckle and wildflowers. The palate tasted like something that should’ve been on a dessert try at a restaurant I can’t afford — soft and light, a touch of citrus, some vanilla, and a clean finish. Very subtle and extremely pleasant.

The 2007 Radog Riesling (Santa Lucia Highlands) didn’t quite aspire to that “subtle” feel — the bouquet grabbed us by the collar with a stranglehold of passion fruit and lychee, and tossed in a couple floral jabs for good measure. On the thick, viscous palate, the big lychee notes were joined by an interesting spicy-sweet character. Jordan and Dylan found the sweetness a bit much, but I thought it was a fun example of the warm-climate interpretation of the grape… as long as you don’t mind your Rieslings a little aggressive.

Things started seriously enough, but once people started to file out, we switched to reds and got a little nutty

On the red side, Pinot Noir was the star of the show, and two of our favorites came from the Morgan Winery. The 2007 Morgan “Twelve Clones” Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands) offered up a woodsy nose of brambles, craisins, and leather. The palate was tart raspberry and loamy spice; Jordan also picked up some dried apricot on the back end. And the 2006 Morgan “Gary’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands) went even woodsier: the nose nailed that tasty balance of cranberries and thicket, along with what Dylan called “strawberry rhubarb pie.” On the palate, we picked some cinnamon, some spicy red fruit, and even a hint of firewood.

In California, Pinot Noir runs the gamut from light and dainty to dark and hulking — and, if this tasting was any indication, the whole range of styles exists within the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA as well. The 2006 Martin Alfaro “Gary’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands) was a winner on the lighter end, featuring a subtle nose of cranberry and earth, a light-bodied palate featuring raspberry and soil notes, and some clean acid towards the back (this is one of those Pinots I’d serve slightly chilled on a summer day by my neighbor’s pool).

On the darker side, the 2006 McIntyre Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands) was a spicy little devil, boasting a compost nose and a young, berry-rich palate that Jordan called “mulchy.” And the 2006 Tudor Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands) followed suit, with its jammy nose that Dylan said smelled “like Christmas spice.” The palate was fairly light-bodied, but featured huge blackberry notes, along with some seasoned kindling (all you upstate New Yorkers know what I’m talking about) and a tart little finish. If you’re one of those people who goes to town on your pizza with the oregano and the crushed red pepper, maybe you’d like your Pinots with some spice as well — these two bottles are great places to start.

One of the more distinctive Pinots we tasted was the 2006 Puma Road Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands), which, according to owner Teresa Franscioni, is currently only available through the winery. The nose was big and broad, full of spicy notes and rich, overripe berries. The palate was juicy, with a lot of candied cherry action, and what Jordan called a “tangerine character.” Someone could’ve taken all the fruit out of this bottle and painted a pretty serious still-life.

Finding other red varietals wasn’t the easiest task in the world, but we did take a pull off the 2006 Novy Syrah (Santa Lucia Highlands), a hammy red if we’ve ever smelled one. Huge bacon on the nose, along with some dark purple plums, and the faintest whiff of grape-flavored Big League Chew. On the palate, the ham moved aside so that the medium-bodied wine could showcase its brambly spiciness and spiky tannins. This bottle left us wishing we’d gotten a chance to taste the other few Syrahs… apparently, Santa Lucia is a good place for a Syrah to grow up.

We’re always among the last people to leave these events, but once the restaurant’s staff started buffing the floors, we knew we were embarrassing ourselves. Before we left, we managed to snag a half-empty (or, as a Wino would see it, half-full) bottle of the 2006 Monterey Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands) that was otherwise destined for the trash, which we brought with us to Laurel Tavern to pair with our post-tasting grilled cheese sandwiches. The nose was total currant jelly and ripe berries, and the mouth was in lockstep, featuring juicy cranberry all over its light body. “This is a Pinot for cranberry lovers,” I wrote in my notes.

And the Santa Lucia Highlands, it would appear, is a region for diverse and delicious wines.

Teresa from Puma Road; the always-lovely Sarah Warner; checking out hilarious pics on the iPhone

We knew it was time to go once the buffing started, so we headed up the hill caravan-style, and enjoyed the Monterey Vineyard Pinot at our favorite post-tasting haunt

The Young Winos of LA — edutoxicating Los Angeles since 2005


  1. That is undoubtedly the sexiest photo ever taken of Jordan.

    Comment by Andrew Lang — February 13, 2009 @ 11:51 am

  2. You guys should have showed up earlier to try more of the wines at the SLH tasting but, thank you for the write up on our 2006 Puma Road PN. It was great to meet you guys and I think that you’re quite brilliant to start Young Winos of LA. Keep up the good work and I will definitely be paying attention to your blog.

    Comment by Teresa Franscioni — February 18, 2009 @ 9:57 am

  3. This site is fantastic! I represent Radog and Tudor in Seattle, Wa and am always trying to eduate the younger wino generation (like me) about the SLH AVA. I am sharing this with my friends in the hopes that it may inspire an SLH themed tasting. Thank you!

    Comment by Farah — May 6, 2009 @ 3:59 pm

  4. Thanks for coming to the SLH event at BLT in LA! It was great to see you there. Thanks for the nice write up about Tudor Pinot Noir and Radog Wines! Hope to see you May 16 at the big SLH event at Hahn Estates. Cheers, Dan

    Comment by Dan Tudor — May 6, 2009 @ 5:16 pm

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