The Winos’ Tasting Series — pregaming for Santa Barbara with a Lucas & Lewellen lineup

By Jesse on March 30, 2009

The big trip up the 101 is less than a week away, and we LA lushes have all got Santa Barbara on the brain. So, when Friday evening beckoned several thirsty Winos to my abode, we thought it made sense to reach for a 4-pack of Santa Barbara bottles recently sent our way by the good people at Lucas & Lewellen.

Inspired by the exciting new capabilities at my disposal ever since I got myself a brand new 1GB memory card for my relic of a digital camera, I decided to take some home movies of the Winos in action… the results are embedded later in this post. Although the video quality may not be great, it’s the content of the discourse that counts — and, fortunately, this lineup gave us much to talk about.

We kicked things off with a most interesting white, the 2007 Mandolina Malvasia Bianca (Santa Barbara County). As the bottle made its way around the room, I noticed that the Winos were too preoccupied with their own conversations to look at what they were pouring, so I figured this would be a great opportunity to play “guess that grape.” (Presumably, the whole thing would end with everyone being pissed at me for making them try to guess at such an obscure varietal, but did that stop me from doing it anyway? Aw hell no!)

On the nose, Andrew picked up the floral character immediately, and posited that it might be a Torrontés, or maybe an Albariño. Jason thought it wasn’t citrussy enough for the latter, but picked up a beguiling cheesiness and withheld judgment temporarily. The rest of us picked up huge lychee notes, and I got a little smattering of lime zest… even a nice Mojito vibe.

The palate was light bodied, with a healthy dose of sweetness, but with a distinct lemony character as well. Also present were notes of honey and apricot, followed by a green apple finish. Andrew changed his vote to Chenin Blanc, Sasha guessed Riesling, and Noah struck a popular chord by guessing Gewurztraminer. Jason channeled Sauternes and thought it might be a “late-harvest Semillion.” He also commented that he found it “too sweet and weird,” with “too many fruits,” but that it was at least “interesting.” Max disagreed — he loved it, and said he’d drink it nice and cold out in the sun, maybe by the pool or on the beach.

The big reveal came, and everyone was predictably miffed that I’d made them take guesses at a varietal most of us had never tried (or even heard of) before tonight. That said, several of the Winos had enjoyed the Malvasia, and Max said he’d definitely buy it again for $15.

Thirsty Winos; too busy to check what they’re pouring; all eyes on me for the reveal

The second white of the evening was the 2007 Lucas & Lewellen “Goodchild Vineyard” Chardonnay (Santa Barbara County), boasting an oaky nose that prompted some varied responses. Kate got oatmeal and brown sugar, while Jason said he smelled friend shrimp in cream sauce. Max and I were on a breakfast wavelength — he got buttered English muffin, and I picked up Corn Pops and milk. Sasha compared it to an “everlasting gobstopper” in that it was a whole meal at once: it started yeasty, she said, and then moved on to Alfredo sauce. (Not sure if those two items quite constitute a meal in my book, but hey… to each her own.)

148_4824.jpgThe palate, medium-bodied with significant acid and prevalent oakiness, proved equally contentious. Max called it “bitter and sour,” and Jason thought the big oak made it “too one-note.” Sasha loved it, however, applauding the combination of oak and acid, and opined that it would go well with a “down-home southern meal.” Others agreed that this was a wine for food — Max, having made it clear that the Malvasia was a wine he’d drink on its own, called the Chardonnay a “definite food wine,” and said it would be a great compliment to “something with some kind of sweetness” (such as coconut shrimp or a pineapple-based dish). As for me, I’m a fan of this style of Chard; I appreciated the bright lemon component, and I thought the wood was in balance. At $24, this was on the high end of what most people would’ve liked to pay, but Sasha said she’d buy it again.

Moving on to the reds, we kicked things off with the 2005 Lucas & Lewellen Syrah (Santa Barbara County). “This nose is sensational,” exclaimed Noah, who picked up a lot of black pepper. Leather and chocolate both made appearances, while Andrew got barnyard, Max got gamey notes, and Jason got autumn leaves. I picked up some smoke, but specifically smoke from a wood stove… haven’t smelled that in a while. Max agreed with the smoke, and also got some peaty notes, like a big Islay Scotch. (Definitely smelled that a bit more recently.)

The palate provoked mixed responses. Some of us were all over the berry train to Tasty Town, and we loved the sour raspberry and deep blueberry notes. Sasha found it too “bitter and peppery,” however, and others thought it was a bit sour after the rich nose. Jason disagreed, calling it “solid,” while I was fond of the game and cedar notes. Always the foodie, Max offered that he’d drink it with “a big pan-seared steak and mushrooms.” The $26 price tag was again on the high end for our tasters — Noah said he’d pay that price for the nose, but he’d “ask for a refund on the palate.”

It’s fun with Leo time; that Syrah was a dark one; exhibit #248 in the “nonchalant wine-themed self-portrait” series

Rounding out the tasting was the 2005 Lucas & Lewellen Cabernet Franc (Santa Barbara County). A few concerns were floated ahead of time — Cabernet Franc can sometimes be a bit “green” for our palates, and several Winos worried that the cool Santa Barbara climate might be conducive to such an expression of the grape. Nevertheless, we boldly opened the bottle… after all, there’s nothing we won’t try once.

The nose was dark and inky, with notes of black licorice, damp earth, and dirt. Sasha claimed to pick up “big green pepper,” but most of us could only detect a faint whiff. As the wine opened up in the glass, Max picked up “wet leaves and wild mushrooms,” and I started to get some big pine forest action. We decided it smelled very drinkable, so we resolved to drink it.

“Oh, I am down with this,” cooed Max, after taking his first sip — and he wasn’t alone. The wine was well-balanced with some acid and some chalky tannins, while the flavors were big and lush: dark chocolate, earth, black cherry, and charcoal. No green pepper… a couple people picked up a touch of oregano, but that was about as “green” as we got. I found it a touch medicinal, but I like that “bitters” quality in my Cabs, and I thought it was a real winner. The sole holdout, Andrew called it “one-note” and “uninteresting,” but everyone else disagreed. At $26, Noah said he’d buy one “and lay it down, to let the acid settle out a little bit.” Jason agreed, saying that he’d buy it again, and stating that “it’s not often you find a Cab Franc this good.”

The lineup from Lucas & Lewellen was a strong and varied one. With a couple of Santa Barbara stalwarts (Chardonnay and Syrah) complimented nicely by a pair of over-performing “niche grapes” (Malvasia Bianca and Cabernet Franc), this roster put us in the perfect mood for our trip. Lets see if the whole county holds itself to these lofty standards.

Jason checks the facts; Andrew’s really popular; that means they liked it!

The Young Winos of LA — edutoxicating Los Angeles since 2005


  1. That thing takes video???

    Comment by jasonm1 — April 1, 2009 @ 1:13 pm

  2. Great notes on some consistent – and fair priced – wines!

    So what is this of a trip up our way? I didn’t get any notice of this?

    What’s Up?


    Comment by larry schaffer — April 2, 2009 @ 7:03 am

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