Croquettes de Brandade

Croquettes, golden brown

As I prepared for our picpoul blanc tasting I was searching for some perfect pairings.  Picpoul-de-Pinet is from the south of France, the Languedoc-Roussillon region along the Mediterranean Sea, so I was searching for dishes that spoke of place.  Briny oysters were definitely on the list.  I headed to the Picpoul-de-Pinet web site and was able to find a recipe for Croquettes de Brandade  These are salt cod croquettes that are a specialty in Languedoc and Provençe. This recipe turned out to just be the starting point as it called for “400 g de brandade de morue”, and that of course, was not something I knew how to find.  I search a little more and found a recipe I could work with.

I was unfamiliar with salt cod, so I did a little research.  Salt cod is a dried and salted fish that originated from the Basque region.  It was originally Atlantic cod, but due to over fishing, you now find pollock, haddock and other fish being used.  This method of salting and then drying the fish, originally on wooden racks in the sun, preserved the nutrients in the fish and made it tastier.  In this way you could keep the fish for several years.  With “meatless” Friday’s for Catholics during lent, salt cod became a staple for many families.  While originating in Europe, sea trade took salt cod to Brazil, West Africa, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.  I came across another name for salt cod, “bacalhau” which is a Portuguese word.  Now I had a way to track some down.  I am lucky to work with several beautiful Brazilians who gave me in depth details on how to work with salt cod.  I ended up tracking some down at the International Market here in Las Vegas.  I was expecting it to be dried, but the “bacalao” (that’s the spanish spelling) that they carried was in the refrigerated section.

Salted Codfish

Salted Codfish

I followed the instructions for soaking it overnight in water in the refrigerator with at least 3 water changes.  This is to get rid of the extra salt that is used to preserve the fish.  So this recipe, you need to start a day in advance.

Also in advance I made the garlic confit for the dish.  Confit usually refers to a meat cooked in it’s own fat, but really the french word means “preserved” and can be anything that is slow cooked and preserved in fat.  So we did this with the garlic.

Garlic Confit

  • 2 to 3 heads of garlic, cloves peeled
  • enough olive oil to cover

Peel the garlic, place it in a small oven proof dish and cover in olive oil.  Put this in a preheated oven at 300 degrees for about 45 minutes.  Let it cool a bit and pour all of it into a glass jar.  You can keep this in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Now to get down to cooking the croquettes.  I had an event in the afternoon so I needed to prep the croquettes in the morning and then cook them in the evening.  This actually worked out well, because setting the mixture in the refrigerator allowed it to set up and be easier to handle.

The ingredients for Croquettes de Brandade

Croquettes de brandade

  • 1 1/2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
  • Sea Salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups of whole milk
  • 1/2 lb salt cod
  • 2 or 3 bay leaves or thyme
  • Garlic confit
  • oil from confit
  • 2 teaspoons of lemon zest
  • 2 cups of bread crumbs
  • 2 to 3 cups of frying oil
  • Flaky sea salt

 

 

As I was peeling the beautiful Yukon Gold potatoes with a paring knife, I was feeling bad about wasting the peels.  So I searched on the net and found a quick chip recipe.  I lined a sheet pan with parchment, tossed the skins with olive oil and salt and roasted them for 15 to 20 minutes at 400 and snacked on them while I cooked! I don’t know that I would do this with all potato’s but these Yukon Golds were so beautiful and their skins were smooth and didn’t look like they had even been in the ground.

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Cook the potato in salted water until tender.  Drain it and let it dry briefly and then put it through a ricer.  Okay, I know everyone doesn’t have a ricer.  I am lucky that I inherited by Grandmother’s and I love pulling it out when I’m cooking.

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If you don’t have a ricer mash the potato up with a potato masher or a fork.

Crack the eggs and add a pinch of salt and mix, then add to the potato, stir and set the mixture aside. (I skipped this step and dropped them right in the potatos, but it will incorporate more easily if you mix it separately first).

Drain the salt cod from it’s soaking water and place it in a pot add your bay leaves or sprigs of thyme (I used fresh thyme) and cover in milk.  Bring it to a simmer and cook until the fish is flaky.  Remove the fish from the milk and set it aside to cool.

Add 1/2 cup of the warm milk to the potatoes and mix (be careful with this, and maybe add a little less at first then increase.  My mixture ended up being a little loose and I think if I had added just a little less milk it would have been easier to work with.  That said, my end croquettes were perfect, so….)

Mash 8-12 cloves of the garlic confit to a paste and add to the potatoes.

Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of the oil that was with the garlic and the lemon zest and mix with the potato until smooth.

Check to see if the cod is cool enough to handle and then break it up with your fingers and add it to the potato and mix.  Now you can season with salt and garlic to taste.  I tossed in some dried thyme at this point also.

Line a sheet pan with parchment and roll the mixture into golf ball size pieces.  I did one pan (the mixture was loose and hard to work with) then put it in the refrigerator with the remainder of the mixture still in the bowl.  I figured it could set up while I was gone, and it did.  I think I would recommend refrigerating for an hour or so before making the balls.  When I returned, the balls on the pan were firmer and the mixture in the bowl was easier to work with.

I heated my oil in a fry pan (or sautuese) until I could see a shimmer, then added my first croquette.  I cooked 5 at a time, waiting until they were a deep golden brown, before removing them to a paper towel lined plate to drain.  They came out crunchy and delicious on the outside and soft and creamy inside.  Really delicious.  We thought we would need a sauce with them, but didn’t.  They were perfect with the wine.

You can reheat them, if needed in the oven.  This recipe made about 2 1/2 dozen croquettes.

Croquettes & Picpoul Tasting

Croquettes & Picpoul Tasting

On the third Saturday of each month, The French #Winophiles convene and share posts about a particular grape or region. On April 21st we are focusing on the Picpoul varietal hosted by Camilla of Culinary Adventures.   We will be posting a piece about the two picpouls you see in the photo above, a little on the history of picpoul and the pairings.

If you’re reading this soon enough, hop on the Twitter chat on Saturday, April 21st at 8am Pacific time. Search for the hashtag #Winophiles to follow along or peruse the tweets later, and be sure to check out all the articles prepared by some amazing writers on their take on picpoul!

 

You can find more information on all things wine, on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

White Sangria – the perfect wine cocktail for spring and summer

Sangria Test with Sav Blanc

I love wine and typically I am a purist, wanting to stick my nose in a glass and breathe in the aromas of the place where the grapes were grown, the seasons they saw and the soil they came from.  But spring hits and I’m looking for something for a party that is a little less intellectual and a little more fun.  That’s where sangria comes in.  The great thing for me is, that I can still geek out, finding pairings to go with the wine for the sangria and riff on some great recipes.

We started testing some recipes for a white sangria, for a party coming up later this month.

I came across a great pin shared by Wine Enthusiast The Anatomy of Sangria which is perfect for giving you the basics to riff on! The base of sangria is wine, then you can add fruit, liquor, fruit juice, sweetener, a mixer and then garnish.  This really is a wine cocktail.

I also came across a recipe on Pinterest for a cucumber melon sangria https://www.bhg.com/recipe/cucumber-sangria/ .  So we did a play on the one recipe and created another, for testing and tasting to find a crowd-pleaser for our upcoming sangria and tapas party.

Sangria lineup

Sangria alcohol lineup

Based on the Cucumber Sangria recipe, we decided to try two styles with a sauvignon blanc as the base.  I made a simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar, on the stove, bring to a boil and cook 3 minutes until the sugar dissolves, then cool), and let it cool while we went shopping for ingredients.  The great thing about this is that you can just roam the produce section and find things that speak to you of the winen you’ve decided to use.  We picked up lemons and limes, which seemed a no-brainer with a sauvignon blanc.  Of course we picked up a cucumber and honeydew melon for the recipe we had, and then a granny smith apple, lemon grass, mint, basil, starfruit & ginger.  We had honey at home, as well as rum, triple sec and some sparkling water.

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After chopping up all the ingredients, I settled on two blends.

Cucumber melon Sangria

  • cucumber slices
  • honeydew melon
  • lime
  • fresh mint
  • sauvignon blanc
  • triple sec
  • simple syrup
  • sparkling water

So because I was just doing a test, I used 1/2 bottle of wine.  I used about a 1/4 each of the cucumber, lime and honeydew.  The lime and cucumber I halved lengthwise and then sliced thinly, since I was not going to let this soak too long.  The melon I just scooped with a spoon, but you could use a melon baller (as I probably will when I make a full batch).  I used about 1 ounce of triple sec and 1/4 cup of simple syrup.  I tossed the fruit in the carafe first, added the wine and then the triple sec and simple syrup and swished it a bit before tossing it in the fridge. The sparkling water gets added as it is served.

 

Starfruit Sangria

  • Starfruit
  • lemon
  • lime
  • granny smith apple
  • basil
  • lemon grass
  • ginger
  • honey
  • rum
  • sauvignon blanc
  • sparkling water

Again I used the remainder of the sav blanc and a quarter of the other fruits thinly sliced.  This one gets called “starfruit” because it’s the showiest fruit in the glass.  I layered the fruits in, added the basil (2 sprigs), lemon grass (1 piece cut in half) and ginger (which was peeled and sliced thinly and you only need a little, 4 or 5 small slices). I mixed the honey with the rum so the honey would incorporate into the liquid and not be globby and added it and the wine.  Another swish and into the fridge.

I let them sit for maybe 30 minutes.  Then I added a little ice to a couple of wine glasses, poured in the sangria and dug out some of the fruit from the carafe to go in the glass.  We tasted first, then added sparkling water.  The extra fizz really works nicely.  The cucumber melon was perfect, which means you can make this fresh and serve almost immediately.  The starfruit, probably needs a little more time to meld.  It was a little tart, so perhaps more honey next time?  And I think I like triple sec better than the rum in these white sangrias. I also think that I would add kiwi to this recipe in the future. I had skipped the kiwi this time, because I thought it would be too mushy, but in retrospect, it would have integrated into the wine and given it an added sweetness.  All in all, it was lovely, but when you take a sip of the cucumber melon, you know you have found a crowd-pleaser.  The melon adds a lovely sweetness, you still get this bright clean fragrance from the cucumbers and then the mint just knocks it out of the park.  So we found our white sangria.

If you look at the Wine Enthusiasts Sangria Anatomy, you will note that I did not add a juice.  I didn’t need one, I feel like I would be more likely to add juice to a red sangria, to help to cut the alcohol a bit,but really, you should do your own taste test and see what you like best.

There are so many options with Sangria, you can even leave fresh fruit and herbs out so that guests can mix their own.  Grab a wine, find the flavors in it and create your own sangria recipe.  Don’t forget to come back and share with us! I will be on to test a red recipe next!

You can find more information on wines, restaurants and on wine country and on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

 

Spring in the Vineyard

Spring time in the vineyard
Grapevines and mustard growing in California's Napa Valley

Grapevines and mustard growing in California’s Napa Valley

Spring arrived a week or so ago, and much of the country has finally seen flowers start to bloom and things start to green up.  I have kept track of spring in California, as vineyards in many areas saw early an early warm spell, which actually caused an early bud break for some white varietals in Napa Valley.  This was followed by cold spells that had vineyard managers seeing sleepless nights as they monitored for frost.  Then they got rain and clouds, that turned early spring breakers away from the coast.  Now the warm temps are back and bud break has begun in many areas.

Now I am seeing beautiful photos on my Instagram feed of vineyards carpeted in green, dotted with flowers and the dormant vines spouting plumps ends, that are starting to open and leaf out.  So it seems appropriate to dive into a little of what happens in spring in the vineyards.

Spring

Perfect spring conditions have the weather warming gradually. The barren vines become dotted with bright green buds. Bud break when the tiny buds of green burst forward with those vividly bright green leaves. The vines coming back to life after being dormant all winter is a time for celebration right?

Sadly, with spring comes spring frosts, and those are a nightmare for those who work in the vineyards.

Paso Robles vineyard in the Central Coast Wine Country

A beautiful West Side Paso Vineyard in the hills, green with spring.

Frost & frost protection

If you have ever driven by a citrus grove in winter, you might see the big barrels for fire (smudge pots) and fans to spread around the warm air. This can be used in vineyards also.

Fans

Large fans or wind machines are used in vineyards to move the air around. This directs the warmer air from above down toward the vines and displaces the colder air on the ground away from the vines. You need one of these machines for every 10 to 12 acres of vineyard.

Heaters

Heaters or smudge pots can be used to heat the air in the vineyards. These heaters typically burn about a gallon of diesel oil per hour and give off a thick warm smoke that the vineyard fans then circulate to keep the vines from freezing. Mind you, this is not just about the heat from the smudge pots, it is also about the smoke, particulates, carbon dioxide and water vapor. This “smog” is a layer blocking out infrared light which prevents radiant cooling. This method requires about 25 smudge pots per acre, which are typically at the edges of the vineyard.

Balleto Winery, Sprinkler head in Vineayrd

Balletto Winery, Sprinkler head in Vineyard

Overhead sprinklers

Now most vineyards now also have an overhead sprinkler system. When it gets to freezing a fine mist is turned on, it coats the buds and keeps them from freezing. Here’s the magic of this, as the water changes to ice, it releases a small amount of heat and that is what protects the vines. Of course this depends on the water continuing to flow and continuing to freeze and give off this latent heat. Of course this leaves you at the mercy of the amount of water in a vineyard. During times of drought this kind of frost protection becomes difficult.

Preventative mowing

Vineyards will also mow down the cover crops to allow for airflow down off of hillsides and into valleys. This protects the hillside vines. Also they do not till or cultivate the soil, because that would let out the heat in the soil.

What kind of damage can frost do?

It can completely wipe out the buds on a vine. Vines can re-sprout, they will do this if the primary buds are destroyed. The problem with this is that when your pruned, you set up for where the vine would sprout and the secondary sprouts may not be so conveniently located. It also will severely diminish the amount of grapes for harvest.

This is why many vineyard managers and winemakers spend endless sleepless nights in the spring worrying about frost. Nights are spent tracking temperature patterns hourly and if the temperature drops getting out there and turning on that frost protection equipment and hoping for the best. Okay…enough of the scary part…on to bud break.

Bud break

This is the opening of the buds left behind by pruning. These fuzzy beady little things have all the stuff to grow leaves, shoots, tendrils and berries.

Norton Grape Vine at Chrysalis Tasting Room

Norton Grape Vine at Chrysalis Tasting Room

Flowering

About a month after bud bread the flowers come out. These are tight bunches of tiny flowers, and each flower has the potential to become a grape.

Shatter

Standby for more scary stuff. Wind and frost can wipe out the flowers and that would mean that those bunches of grapes would never form. There is the possibility of a re-sprout, but at this point in the vines season the yield will be considerably smaller.

Fruit Set

This is when the flowers start to take the shape of grapes in the cluster. As the are pollinated the flowers drop their petals and tiny green sphere emerge.

Now things are warming up and we are moving into summer.  When things really get rolling in the vineyard!

You can check out our pages on the seasons in the vineyard at “the seasons”

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Chef’s Tasting Menu at Masso Osteria

squid ink rigatoni served with spicy king crab and a calamari ragu with tomatoes at Masso Osteria

Masso Osteria is Chef Scott Conant’s new restaurant at the Red Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.  The property is off strip, near Red Rock National Park and is a stunning facility.  Masso Osteria just opened in February.  Their website describes their goal as “to create unforgettable dining experiences rooted in soulful cooking and generous hospitality.”  I cannot describe it more perfectly.  The service was impeccable.  Our waiter Nick took great care with us, explaining courses and making sure we had an amazing experience.

Six course Chef’s Tasting Menu at Masso Osteria

We chose the Chef’s Tasting Menu, which is a 6 course menu served family style.  The portions are generous and most of the courses include 2 dishes, so come hungry.  When we asked about wine pairings they offered to put together pairings for each course for us.  This is not yet on the menu, but may be added in the future.

First course – Recco Style Garlic Bread with Gambino Prosecco

Recco Style Garlic Bread Masso Osteria

Recco Style Garlic Bread

They started us off with a glass of Gambino Prosecco, Extra Dry from Veneto, to accompany the Recco Style Garlic Bread (think of an Italian quesadilla).  It is wood fired and filled with stracchino cheese.  Don’t try to eat it all, there is so much more food coming. The Prosecco, while made in the Charmant method, has fine and persistent bubbles and was a great palate cleanser with the cheese.

Second Course Kale Salad & Tuno Crudo with 2015 Pio Cesare Cortese de Gavi

 

Kale salad Masso Osteria

Kale salad with almonds and an avocado vinaigrette

Tuna Crudo at Masso Osteria

Tuna Crudo with red leaf greens, lemon and pickled fresno chilies

The second course of Kale salad (baby kale) with parmesan, almonds and green onions in an avocado vinaigrette and the Tuna Crudo with red leaf greens, lemon and pickled fresno chilies (those are a little warm, so beware) was paired with a 2015 Pio Cesare Cortese di Gavi. This is 100% Cortese (the grape variety) from hillside vineyards in the Gavi DOCG in the Piedmont region of Italy.  The wine was bright and clean, with a great depth of flavor and notes that reminded me of a Sauvignon Blanc, it paired beautifully with both dishes.

We return to “service here”  it wasn’t until researching later that I realized that the gentleman who came by to pour this wine for us and patiently spell the name so that I could note it, was indeed the restaurant GM Rudy Aguas.

Third Course – Creamy Polenta & Wood Roasted Octopus with 2016 Tormaresca Chardonnay di Puglia

Creamy Polenta with bacon truffles and mushrooms at Masso Osteria

Creamy Polenta with bacon, truffles and mushrooms at Masso Osteria

Wood roasted octopus at Masso Osteria

Wood roasted octopus

The third course was their signature Creamy Polenta with bacon, truffles and mushrooms.  It is rich, I mean RICH, and decadent.  The other dish in this course was the Wood roasted octopus.  I typically don’t eat octopus, (they are just too smart, and they like to decorate, how can you eat someone who likes to decorate), but since he had already given his life and was sitting before me on the table…it was delicious, perfectly cooked with grape tomatoes, greens, onions and a potato aioli.  This paired with the 2016 Tormaresca Chardonnay di Puglia.  This Chardonnay from Puglia in the “boot” of Italy, is a little heavier in body than the Cortese allowing it to stand up to the polenta.  This is a stainless steel Chard with grapes pulled from two Tormaresca estates in San Pietro Vernotico and Minervino Murge. The nose is rounded citrus and flowers.

 

Fourth Course Pasta al Pomodoro and Squid Ink Rigatoni with 2015 Chianti Castiglioni

Pasta al Pomodoro at Masso Osteria

Pasta al Pomodoro at Masso Osteria

squid ink rigatoni served with spicy king crab and a calamari ragu with tomatoes at Masso Osteria

Squid ink rigatoni served with spicy king crab and a calamari ragu with tomatoes at Masso Osteria

The fourth course was our Pasta Course.  It included the house specialty Pasta al Pomodoro.  It is a simple dish, but this is so deftly crafted, with butter enriching the sauce, it is no wonder that it is a signature dish.  The other pasta was a beautiful squid ink rigatoni.  These gorgeous black rigatoni are served with spicy king crab and a calamari ragu with tomatoes.  Both pasta’s of course are made fresh in-house and were perfectly cooked al dente.  These are pasta’s that cause you to be quiet while you eat, savoring each bite, typically with your eyes closed.  They paired this with a 2015 Chianti Castiglioni from Marchese de Frescobaldi in Tuscany.  (Here’s the geeky tech sheet details:  This is a sangiovese, merlot blend that sits at 13% alcohol. It spent 11 days with skin contact and did malolactic fermentation immediately following the alcoholic fermentation.  It aged in Stainless steel for 6 months with microxygenation.).  I especially liked this with the squid ink pasta.

Fifth Course – Wood Roasted Chicken & Cedar Roasted Sea Bass with a Ronchi di Pietro Schioppettino

Wood Roasted Chicken with lemon and vegetables at Masso Osteria

Wood Roasted Chicken with lemon and vegetables at Masso Osteria

Cedar Roasted Sea Bass with a medley of roasted vegetables at Masso Osteria

Cedar Roasted Sea Bass with a medley of roasted vegetables at Masso Osteria

Onto the fifth course.  Our waiter had earlier told us that two of his favorite dishes on the menu were the Pasta al Pomodor and the Wood Roasted Chicken.  He said he always felt funny saying that, because he didn’t want people to think he had a pedestrian palate, but that these simple dishes were so extraordinarily well done that they really were exceptional.  The Wood Roasted Chicken with lemon and vegetables really was perfection, this dish had roasted carrots that were tender, sweet and infused with wood smoke from the grill.  We also had the Cedar Roasted Sea Bass which came with a medley of roasted vegetables, that included whole baby onions, radishes, baby zucchini and multicolored cauliflower.  These dishes were paired with a Ronchi di Pietro Schioppettino.  “Schioppettino?  I asked?”  They sent a wine specialist to explain. It is a clone of Ribolla Nera and is best compared to Carménère.  2nd thought was…Red wine with chicken and fish?  Yes…the spices in the Sea Bass and the Wood smoke in the wood roasted chicken made this pairing work.  This wine, by the way, is not listed on their wine list currently.  Perhaps it is an addition they are entertaining.

Ronchi di Pietro Schioppettino at Masso Osteria

Ronchi di Pietro Schioppettino at Masso Osteria

We can’t just let “Schippettino go by without a little background on this variety that was new to me.  So this grape comes from Friuli and was almost completely wiped out by the phylloxera in the early 1900’s.  It evidently was found on the Slovenian border where it was recorded being used for wedding ceremonies as early as 1282, so it had been around a while before almost disappearing.  Paulo Rapuzzi, the founder of Ronchi di Cialla has been credited with searching out old Schioppettino vines that he read about in books.  You can read a great piece on this wine on Vinepair by Courtney Schiessl “This Italian Grape is Back from near-Extinction, Thanks to one Winemaker” 

Sixth Course – Dessert!  Mascarpone Cheese cake & Sticky Toffee Banana Pudding..oh and a Cleto Chiarli Ambile Lambrusco on the side

Mascarpone Cheesecake with huckleberries & spiced streusel at Masso Osteria

Mascarpone Cheesecake with huckleberries & spiced streusel at Masso Osteria

Sticky Toffee Banana Pudding with a cookie crunch and coffee cardamon gelato at Masso Osteria

Sticky Toffee Banana Pudding with a cookie crunch and coffee cardamom gelato at Masso Osteria

Stuffed as we were (with a bag of leftovers growing for a fabulous lunch to follow) we pressed on to dessert.  Our waiter Nick, said they didn’t have a dessert pairing prepared, so he poured us 2 coupes of Lambrusco.  (if you read the blog, you remember I had recently tried to find a Lambrusco to pair with some Chinese food and sadly failed in my search).  I had been eyeing the Lambrusco on the menu at the top of the night and felt like we had come full circle with having it with dessert.  The Lambrusco was from Cleto Chiarli Ambile in Emiglia-Romagna. Dessert, was yet again 2 plates, we did not have the Salted Caramel Budino for which Chef Conant received multiple awards.  No worries, we will be back for that.  Instead we enjoyed the Mascarpone Cheesecake with huckleberries & spiced streusel. This dessert was perfection after our filling meal.  It was light and creamy and each bite left me feeling lighter and less heavy from my meal.  It was another eyes closed moment.  The other dish was the Sticky Toffee Banana Pudding with a cookie crunch and coffee cardamom gelato.  This dish was delicious but a bit heavy after all the food we had eaten.  None-the-less, I took one for the team and cleaned the plate.  How was the Lambrusco with dessert you ask?  Meh.  But I didn’t mind, this didn’t feel like a pairing, but rather an additional celebratory glass to end this spectacular meal.

I must mention the fantastic price on this dinner.  The Chef’s Tasting menu is $65 per person.  We tasted 11 dishes, with most plates big enough that after sharing, we had them pack the rest of the plate to take home.  As I mentioned the wine pairings were kind of, off the cuff that night.  They put together the pairings for us for $35 per person and the pours were generous, not full glasses of course, but more than small sips, and plenty to accompany the course.  They are still developing the wine pairing menu, so it is likely to change and develop.

A couple of great stories of a young foodie…

Our waiter Nick, regaled us with a couple of stories that I will remember forever and have to share with you.  His young son is a big fan of “Chopped” and he told us he walked in on his son at his toy kitchen and his son being a little frenetic.  “What’s up?” he asked, his son replied “I need help plating!  I only have 30 seconds left!”  I could see a new Chopped Pre-school segment coming here! 

His son is growing up tasting all sorts of food and has an unusual palate for a child so small.  They (like us) often shop at Trader Joe’s.  I had no idea that Trader Joe’s has a hidden stuffed animal at every store.  It gives the kids something to search for while their parents shop, they get a lollipop if they can find it.  On one trip, Sally Seashell (the stuffed animal) was evidently right in sight lines of front door when you walk in.  His son went to get his lollipop and let them know that Sally Seashell was not very well hidden.  The guy at the service counter agreed then told him “I’m all out of lollipops, all I have are frozen peas or brussel sprouts”.  Without missing a beat his son said “Brussel sprouts please.”  which surprised the TJ’s staff, who had been kidding with him.  When offered the lollipop, that they did have in stock, he still preferred the brussel sprouts. 

I suggest going early in the evening (we had a 5:15 reservation).  The restaurant filled quickly and it was nice to get in and started on our meal before the crowd descended and the wait staff got busier.  Hospitality was at the forefront here.  Our waiter Nicholas was training someone through out the evening, which you might think would impede your experience.  It did not, and she was getting exceptional training watching and learning from his interaction with the patrons. Each course brought new plates and carefully laid out silverware.  The precision and elegance of this, with the arrival of the new silver at the table in a wooden box, then carefully laid out piece by piece, elevated the experience, adding a sense of dining ritual, a quiet solemnity to preparing for the next course.  I can recommend dinner here any time, but when you are able, treat yourself to the full experience and get the Chef’s Tasting Menu.

Masso Osteria (inside Red Rock Hotel & Casino)

11011 W Charleston Blvd

Las Vegas, NV 89135

702.797.7097

Sunday – Thursday | 5pm – 10pm

Friday & Saturday | 5pm – 11pm

Social Hour | Sun – Fri |  4pm – 6pm at the bar

You can find more information on restaurants and on wine country and wines on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

10 Dog Friendly tasting rooms in Santa Barbara

My friends know me as the go to person for recommendation in Santa Barbara when it comes to wine and I have a friend who asked about dog friendly tasting rooms as they were heading out to Santa Barbara with their dog. So, I did a little investigating, checking in with some wineries to see what their policy was. This list is in no way all-inclusive, I am sure there are many more dog friendly tasting rooms in Santa Barbara, and if you know of them, please leave the info in the comments! But here is a list of some of my favorite places, that happen to also be dog friendly.

Municipal Winemakers

Municipal Winemkers

Municipal Winemakers is in an old Surf Shop near the beach in Santa Barbara

I instinctively knew that Municipal Winemakers was a dog friendly kind of place. They are close to the beach in Santa Barbara and have outside picnic tables and are very laid back. But to be sure I emailed Dave Potter (the winemaker) to check. His response “Absolutely! have a look at #dogsofmuni on instagram.” So I did and you should too (it’s pretty adorable).

Municipal is in the words of Antonio Galloni “Joyous” (click the about button).  He’s so right. The location near the beach is in an old Surf shop and has a wall of filing cabinets where they store the glasses. You can bring lunch and sit at a picnic table outside or watch for great events like the pom pom & tassel workshop or plant-based cheese making workshop! The wines are approachable, affordable and they go fast, so stock up while you are there. You will find they have extremely unpretentious names like Bright Red, Pale Pink, Bright White, Fizz (which is a sparkling Syrah), and Heavy Pets, (keep your mind out of the gutter and think big dogs) which is billed as a weekday sipper.

2 locations!

The tasting room in Santa Barbara is located at 22 Anacapa St. Santa Barbara, CA 93101 (805) 931-6864

They are open every day here Sunday through Wednesday from 11 am to 8 pm and Thursday through Saturday from 11 am to 11 pm.

They also have a tasting room in Los Alamos

423 Bell St. Los Alamos, CA 93440 (805) 245-5524

It’s open Thursdays from 2 to 7 pm; Fridays and Saturdays from 1 to 8 pm and Sundays from 12 to 7 pm.

For some more info on Municipal check out our post Municipal Winemakers and the Funk Zone Wineries.

Deep Sea Tasting Room

If you need to get a little closer to the water, the Conway Family has their Deep Sea Tasting room on Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara. Upstairs with a patio and views of Santa Barbara, the Coast and the Ocean, they are definitely dog friendly.

Deep Sea Conway Winery Santa Barbara Central Coast Wine Country

Deep Sea Tasting Room on Sterns Wharf in Santa Barbara

Gillian Conway, the Owner, responded to my inquiry with “Dogs are very welcome! We have two Winery Dogs who are usually hanging with us, their names are Ringo and Rolo. Both of our dogs have their own wine- Ringo’s Rescue Red supports our local Dog Shelter, the Dog Adoption Welfare Group (DAWG) and Rolo’s Red is in honor of our Rolo, the chocolate lab.”

Rolo at the Deep Sea Tasting room on Stearns Wharf (Photo courtesy of Conway Family Wines)

Ringo, looking very handsome in the vineyard. (Photo courtesy of Conway Family Wines)

The tasting room is located at 217 G Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA 93101.  (805)709-0151.

During the winter their hours at Sunday through Thursday 12-7 and Friday’s and Saturday’s 12-8.

Alma Rosa

Alma Rosa Tasting Room

Outside seating at Alma Rosa in Buellton

Alma Rosa Tasting Room

The beautiful Alma Rosa Tasting Room

You’ll find Alma Rosa in Buellton in an Industry Park, next to the deliciousness that is Industrial Eats.  They are dog friendly “Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards is proud to state that we are dog friendly both within and outside our Tasting Room, as long as the dogs are on a leash.”

The wines here are by Richard Sanford, who is legendary in this area.  He was the first to plant grapes in the Sta. Rita Hills.  The wines are spectacular.  Inside the tasting room the centerpiece is Olivia, their stunning Olive tree planted in the center, so even inside, you feel the great outdoors.  The experience is at table, so you take a seat and they bring the wines to you.  They have tables out front, so you can pick up a bite from Industrial Eats and enjoy a bottle outside.

181-C Industrial Way, Buellton CA, 93427  (805)691-9395

Their Spring and Summer Hours are Monday through Thursday 12:00 to 6:30 and Friday through Sunday 11:00 to 6:30.

You can find more on Richard Sanford as well as some of the other incredible winemakers in Santa Barbara in A Sampling of the Incredible Winemakers of Santa Barbara

Kaena

Los Olivos is a great place to taste and walk your dog.  Many of the tasting rooms here are dog friendly and lots have patios so you can sit outside with your pooch.  Kaena is one of these great places.  Mikael Sigouin the winemaker is known as the “Grenache King” and makes a great rose!  You’ll find lots of Aloha here, Mikael is from Hawaii and Kaena is his Hawaiian name given to him by his Tutu (that’s Grandmother in Hawaiian).

The beautiful tasting room is located at 2890 Grand Ave. Los Olivos, CA 93441  (805) 688-4069.

They are open Daily 11-5 (Island time)

For a little background on the Grenache King check out our post How the Grenache King got his block.

Buttonwood Farm

To get to Buttonwood Farm you will have to head into the Santa Ynez Valley.   This winery is also an organic farm. During the season, you can find their farm stand open with fresh fruits and vegetables.  And you can wander the gardens, where they also raise goats. Dogs are welcome on leash in the tasting room and the gardens, but not at events (due to health department regulations).

 

Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard

Buttonwood Farm inthe Santa Ynez Valley

They are located at 1500 Alamo Pintado Road in Solvang, CA 93463.

Their tasting room is open Daily from 11-5.

For more on Buttonwood Farm read our post Buttonwood Farm, a Hidden Gem in Santa Barbara County

Or check out the video Buttonwood Farm, a video Tour

Zaca Mesa

Zaca Mesa loves their dogs.  You can see great photos of winery dog Ichi on their Instagram feed.

 

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When you get on Zaca Mesa Station Road you head through the woods in the Valley and then you come around a bend and Foxen Canyon opens up ahead of you.  If it’s in the morning, you will be watching the Fog and mist swirl around the windmill as you turn into Zaca Mesa.  I always love walking up to the winery beneath the huge tree that shades the courtyard and winery.

6905 Foxen Canyon Road, Los Olivos CA 93441  (805)688-9339 ext 308

They are Open Daily from 10-4 but if you are headed there on a holiday, double check the site.

For more information on the amazing winemakers who have come through Zaca Mesa Checkout the video of the Santa Barbara Spring 2015 Wine Seminar “Zaca Mesa University”

Foxen

If you continue past Zaca Mesa on Foxen Canyon Road, you will find Foxen just when you think you have gone too far. The “Shack” is my favorite spot with all their non-Burgundian varieties. But the beautiful Pinot House on the hill is really stunning. Both locations are Dog Friendly.

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Elizabeth sent me a wonderful response “Yes, we are dog friendly are both of our tasting rooms. We just request that the dogs be on a leash and have decent social skills. We’ve got dog biscuits behind our counters and water bowls outside for our furry friends. Sometimes we’ll even have cats visit us! FOXEN collectively has 5 dogs and 2 cats, so we definitely love animals here. Just for fun, I’ve attached a picture of Rosie, Zeke and Tucker’s birthday party last month. They celebrated with pup cakes. The cats were not invited. “

Rosie, Zeke and Tucker’s birthday party at Foxen. (Photo courtesy Foxen Winery)

Foxen (The Pinot House) is the first tasting room you come upon at 7600 Foxen Canyon Road, Santa Maria CA, 93454.  (805) 937-4251.

Continue just a little further to The Shack (or 7200 Foxen) at 7200 Foxen Canyon Road, Santa Maria CA, 93454. (805) 937-4251 ext 201.

They are open Daily from 11-4, but check their site for their holiday hours.

Riverbench

If you get back on Foxen Canyon and keep driving you will come into the area of the Santa Maria Bench on your right and soon the Riverbench vineyards will be in view.  Riverbench is primarily Chardonnay and Pinot and they do have a wonderful Sparkling wine program.  The tasting room is a restored 1920’s craftsman style house and the grounds around the tasting room are perfect for a picnic.  You will find a Bocce ball court and a horseshoe pit, so it’s a great place to spend an afternoon.

Sadie and a friend in the vineyard at Riverbench. (Photo courtesy of Riverbench Vineyard & Winery)

Sadie and a friend in the vineyard at Riverbench. (Photo courtesy of Riverbench Vineyard & Winery)

We did a vineyard tour with Rawley and were joined by his black Labrador Sadie.  This is a great location to bring the dog along.

Riverbench historic overview

Riverbench Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley shares a little of their history as you enter their tasting room

They are located at 6020 Foxen Canyon Road, Santa Maria, CA 93454 (805) 937-8340

They are open Daily from 10 to 4.

Downtown Santa Barbara location

Riverbench Santa Barbara Tasting Room

The Riverbench Santa Barbara Tasting Room on Anacapa St.

They also have a new Downtown location, (also Dog Friendly) at 137 Anacapa St. Suite C, Santa Barbara CA 93101 (805) 324-4100

Which is open daily from 11-6.

For more on Riverbench check out the post Riverbench Vineyards and Winery, a Vineyard tour

and you can see a video here.  Riverbench Winery, a Video Tour

Presqu’ile

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Presqu’ile Winery is located up in the Santa Maria Valley. The winery sits up on a hill (it’s a gravity flow winery) and has amazing views on clear days of the ocean. Dogs here are allowed both indoors and outdoors as long as they are friendly and on-leash. The only area they don’t allow them in is on their tours.

This winery is stunning and has amazing hospitality as well as brilliant wines by winemaker Dieter Cronje.  If you happen to be driving an electric vehicle, they do have charging stations and they offer really beautiful, Cheese Plates, Charcuterie, and a Parisian sandwich 7 days a week from 11am-4pm.

The beautiful property is at 5391 Presqu’ile Drive  Santa Maria, CA 93455 (805) 937-8110

Their tasting room is open 7 days a week year round. On Friday’s from 11am to 6pm and Saturday through Thursday from 11am to 5pm

We have visited Presqu’ile multiple times, so there is plenty of information on the site about them.  Start with the Big Bottle Bash at Presqu’ile  and then check out the series from The Taste through the Vineyard Event

Longoria

Another legendary Winemaker in this region is Richard Longoria.  He and his wife Diana have been making wine in Santa Barbara since 1982.  For many years they had a tasting room in Los Olivos.  Two years ago they built a winery and tasting room in Lompoc and closed the Los Olivos tasting room to focus their energies there.  Lompoc is the perfect place for them.  Richard was the first winery in what is now affectionately known at the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  The new winery is just outside the “Ghetto” in the historic Lompoc JM Club building.

Rick Longoria of Longoria Wines

Rick Longoria, Longoria Winery

In response to my question of if they were dog friendly, Diana Longoria replied “Our tasting room is Dog Friendly!  We only ask that owners keep their dogs on their leash and next to them during their visit.

When I’m working in the tasting room, my Beagle, Buddy is usually with me.  He’ll be 12 years old next month and has been “helping” in the tasting room since he was a puppy.” And she kindly included a photo of Buddy.

Winery Dogs

Buddy, the tasting room assistant at Longoria in Lompoc (photo courtesy of Longoria Winery)

You will find the tasting room at 415 W. Chestnut Ave.  Lompoc, CA 93436 (866) 759-4637.

They are open daily 11 to 4:30, but do check for holiday closings and special hours.

As I said, this list in by no mean all of the Dog Friendly wineries or tasting rooms in Santa Barbara County, it’s just a few that I know of.  If you know of other dog friendly tasting rooms in the area, please leave us a note in the comments!

You can find more information on Santa Barbara County and on wine country and wines on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

Pairing a movie day with a wine from Lirac

Domaine Coudoulis 2013 Lirac

Recently I indulged myself with a day of movies. I love going to movies by myself. You can immerse yourself in a film, in it’s moods, colors and tones. I always stay until the end to read all the credits. By then you can escape quietly, no other voices to pull you out of your contemplation/meditation. There is no one there waiting to talk about the film, no one to disagree with your interpretations. You are free to stay immersed in your reverie, musing on the mood the film has wrapped you up in.

This was a day for that. I went to see The Phantom Thread. It was lyrical and ordered, filled with manipulation and surrender. (The sound design, by the way, was stunning. You will hear about the annoying toast, but it goes far beyond that. They movie is filled with silences where the sounds of steps or breathes, of closing doors or fabric moving.)

I left and still happily ensconced in my reverie headed to look for a bottle of wine for my evening. I am exploring the Rhône and settled on a bottle from Lirac. The shelf talker spoke of violets and white pepper and this seemed appropriate today. (I will stay away from mushrooms for a bit. spoilers)

I chose a Domaine Coudoulis 2013. This wine is a blend of grenache and syrah.

Domaine Coudoulis 2013 Lirac

Domaine Coudoulis 2013 Lirac

So as always, I like to know a bit about where the wine I am drinking came from, so…we will dive in to a few details on Lirac and then Domaine Coudoulis.

Lirac

Lirac is in the southern Rhône an sits west of the Rhône River across from the famous Chateauneuf du Pape AOC and just north of Tavel where the famous rosés are found. It officially became and appellation in 1947, but wine grapes have been grown here since the middle ages.

Lirac in France

Map of France with the Lirac area highlighted Mapdata ©2018 GeoBasis-DE/BKG (©2009), Google Imagery ©2018 TerraMetrics

You will find crus here in red, white and rosé. Primarily they focus on the reds, with 10% of the wines being white wines and just 3% rose. They focus on the white grapes Grenache blanc, bourboulenc, roussanne and clairette and use picpoul, marsanne or viognier for in small amounts for blending.

The variety of soils, clay plateaus with those galets roulés or pebbles for the reds, sandy soils where they grow the red for rosés and then the scrubland where the whites grow, give each variety a distinctiveness.

The red wines here are full-bodied, the white wines are heavier whites with floral notes. Many of the rosés of the area are in the deeper darker style of Tavel, but are significantly more affordable.

While Lirac has only been an AOC since 1947, it is said that Lirac is the birthplace of the Côte du Rhône. In the 16th century the wines of Lirac were known around the world. They were very popular so to protect them from misuse of the name, the wines were authenticated by labeling the barrels CDR (Côte du Rhône). This was the origin of Côtes du Rhône wines.

Read more about this amazing region in a beautiful article by Jill Barth that she wrote for PalatePress.  It gives a vivid and intimate view of this area.

Domaine Coudoulis

The soils here are limestone topped with a dusting of red clay and pebbles. They grow grenache, syrah, cinsault, carignan and mourvèdre as is typical for the region.   Harvest yields are kept low to keep the best quality and the grapes are harvested by hand. The grapes are destemmed before fermentation.

Bernard Callet bought Domaine Coudoulis in 1996. The Domaine is 28 hectares (just under 70 acres). It sits on a terrace where you look out over head trained vines, the rows between filled with the galets roulés, and down onto the village of Saint-Laurent-Des-Arbres and it’s medieval castle. There is a sense the history of the place, and you remember that wines have been grown here since the middle ages.

When Bernard Callet bought this place he wanted to blend the tradition with the modern. He spent 10 years on-site learning from the crew. He and Patrick Hilaire, his winemaker, then take the tradition and add a little innovation. So the grapes are sorted by hand, and then go into a modern cellar with a cooling system built into the walls. But within the added technology there is a simplicity. A respect for the vines and the soil.

The Pairing

First the second movie

I sat down on the couch with this lovely bottle and continued my movie reverie, turning this time to “Theatre of Life” a beautiful documentary on the story of the Refettorio Ambrosiano, invisioned by Massimo Bottura. Massimo was overwhelmed by the amount of food waste at the Milan Expo and worked with other famous chefs to open a soup kitchen which would serve gourmet meals made from this food waste to the hungry in Milan. His restaurant Osteria Francescana is in Modena and was rated the 2 two restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine in 2015. The story of Refettorio Ambrosiano is not just that of the chefs and the food that they create, it is about the sense of community and respect that they bring to the hungry. Much of the food waste is bread and the through line becomes “bread is gold”. Such a simple thing, bread. Breaking bread together can span the gaps between us.  The documentary begins with a homeless woman, Stefania Bassania reciting a poem she wrote, it continues, sharing the stories of the people who came to the Refettorio Ambrosiano and their stories of how they came to Milan and how they became homeless.  It also documents their stories as their lives continue.  It’s about people coming together at table, and finding that we are not so different from each other.  Using our empathy to see their story from their perspective.  So I was in this very open place when I reached for the bottle of of 2013 Domaine Coudoulis Lirac.

Then the 2013 Domaine Coudoulis Lirac

As I opened the wine, blackberries hit my nose immediately. As I dipped my nose into the glass there were dusty notes of cocoa powder, I swished it in my mouth and tasted dark chocolate. (It went brilliantly with the chocolate pudding cake I had for dessert). As it opened up there were notes of dried thyme, then a little barnyard funk and wet straw. Another dip with my nose and I smelled anise/black licorice. At this point the movie had me enthralled, there were tears…does that mess up your nose for tasting? Doesn’t matter, my heart was full and I went back to the wine and found more warm dark berries, those blackberries from the beginning, warming, changing and coming full circle. There were violets and white pepper and then some deeper warmer spices like curry.

The tannins on this wine coated my mouth, and then smoothed, like the feeling when you brush your hand against the grain on velvet feeling the prickliness, then you turn your hand and feel the luxurious softness as you smooth the fabric.

bunched velvet

Velvet and other fabrics can be so soft when you touch with the grain, but brush it back and you get that prickliness, that roughness. (photo credit Act2Art by RuBen)

This wine is not a high end wine, and it comes from the other side of the tracks (the other side of the Rhône from the more well-known Châteauneuf-du-Pape). But the depth and unfussy complexity was perfect. This is a rustic heartfelt wine and it was the perfect pairing with my day of movies. The 2013 Domaine Coudoulis Lirac can be had for $17 or less and is pretty widely available.

All in all it was a day of exceptional feels.  The movies opened me up to listening more deeply and being open to other perspectives, which in turn I believe opened my senses to be able to take in the depth of the wine and the changes as it opened up.  It is typical to pair wine with food, but wine is so much more, and pairing it with, movies, art and music can open your mind to new ways to appreciate it.

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Wine pairings for Chinese takeout

Chinese Takeout and gewürztraminer.

It was Valentines Day and I was trapped at home, waiting for a wine shipment that needed my signature. Michael was working so he suggested Chinese Takeout for dinner. This brilliant move allowed us to order when he was heading home so dinner could be ready upon his arrival! (Good thing too, because I was hungry!) So Valentine’s Day evening curled up on the couch with Chinese Takeout, my husband maybe some winter Olympics? Yeah, that sounds pretty heavenly to me. But what to drink with our takeout? I thought I would research some options and see what we had to match in the cellar.

Luckily with Chinese New Year being Friday (February 16th), it is easy to find suggestions this time of year.

A little bit on Chinese New Year and the Year of the Dog

Living in Vegas, I am well aware of Chinese New Year. The town is covered in Billboards announcing, sometimes in English, sometimes Chinese, that we are welcoming the Year of the Dog.

So…in the Chinese Zodiac, the dog is the eleventh animal. Dogs as everyone knows are honest and loyal and so it goes for those born in the year of the dog. Sadly the year of your Zodiac sign is traditionally an unlucky year, so if you were born in 1910, 1922, 1034, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994 or 2006, it’s time to pull up your big girl panties and prepare for a challenging year. Don’t worry the rest of us have your back!

Back to wine pairing

Typically when you think of Chinese or Asian style foods reisling or gewürztraminer, the sweetness in these wines can be great for complimenting the spiciness or sweetness in the food. But when you get into sweet and sour dishes you will find they go well with high acid wines, so a sauvignon blanc, an albariño or un-oaked chardonnay would work. Of course sparkling wines and rosés are a good bet too, pairing with a range of flavors and sparkling wine is exceptional with fatty dishes, cutting the fat and cleaning your palate for the next bite. If we were diving into some duck or pork I would probably think about a pinot noir, and with beef…I might lean toward a Rhône style blend or even something deeper like a syrah or malbec. Remember that to keep the spice down in a dish you want to pair it with a wine that is not too dry, one that has a bit of sweetness.

chicken lettuce cups

chicken lettuce cups

vegetable lo mein

vegetable lo mein

Chinese Sesame chicken

Sesame chicken

But for this night we settled on crab rangoons & chicken lettuce wraps, I had some hot & sour soup (it’s a weakness) and then Vegetable Lo Mein while Michael enjoyed some sesame chicken. I searched for a lambrusco for Michael to pair with the sesame chicken. I know lambrusco fell out of favor in the 80’s, but it can pair very well with dishes that are a little sweet with some soy. Sadly…I could not find a store near by that had a lambrusco. So that pairing will have to wait for our next Chinese takeout day.

Balleto gewürztraminer and Chinese food.

Balletto 2016 Gewürztraminer and Chinese food.

We ended up popping open the gewürztraminer from Balletto Vineyards and enjoying that with dinner. This wine has a hint of sweetness and a little spice on the finish. It was really lovely with both the chicken lettuce cups and my vegetable lo mein. This is a great wine for pairing with lighter vegetable dishes, because it doesn’t overpower them. I do admit to having a little trouble pulling my nose out of the glass to take a bite of food. This gewürztraminer from Balletto is so beautifully fragrant, it had me captivated. (If you would like a virtual visit to this Sonoma Country Winery, check out our video!)

With Chinese New Year and all the dumplings right around the corner, I do have a couple of suggestions. With dumplings, keep in mind that you are pairing with the fillings or the sauces. A traditional pork and cabbage dumpling would be very nice with a chardonnay that has good acid and a little oak. If you have some fresh ginger with your dish, you might go with a Sauvignon Blanc. If you really want a red, by all means do it! Pinot Noir is that great crossover wine and it’s lovely with pork. It is also light enough that it won’t overpower your dumpling.

So…I hope you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day and here’s to a great Year of the Dog!  Pick up some Chinese take out grab a bottle or two of wine and have your own celebration!

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Balletto Vineyards in the Russian River Valley

I had a plan, well sort of. It was Day 3 of our Flash tour and Flash tours are pretty busy! We had spent a day in Sonoma and this day was to start in Napa and end up in the Livermore Valley. That’s a lot of ground to cover. I had a plan to start the day and to end the day, but the middle was a bit mushy. There was much driving to be done, so the wine needed to wait until later in the day and I had not done enough research to find a proper stop. Michael dove online and saved the day. A mid afternoon stop that could be our final Sonoma destination that had a patio for a picnic lunch and a hike! Balletto it was! Since then I have had multiple people tell me how much they like this winery, but at the time…I knew nothing about them.

Balletto Vineyards

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Balletto Vineyards is located in Sonoma, with their winery just a little bit off the 12 on Occidental Road.  The address says Santa Rosa, but they are closer to Sebastopol.  They were farmers first, with John Balletto starting the business running the family’s 5 acre farm growing vegetables in 1977.  John’s father had passed away and to care for his family, he gave up college athletic scholarships to start the business.  They expanded the property they owned and grew more and more produce.  In 1995 they had 700 acres and grew 70 different varieties of produce and were one of the largest vegetable farms in Northern California.  Multiple El Ninos in 1998 wiped out much of their crops and as they looked at potential future water crisis’ they determined to turn their properties to wine grapes.  They began with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and sold fruit to Sonoma Wine Producers.  In 2001 they created Balletto Vineyards, keeping 10% of their fruit from their Russian River Valley Vineyards for themselves.  Their produce packaging and shipping center, became the winery.

#VineyardAdventures

In the tasting room you can ask about the self guided tour and they will give you a laminated map to guide you.  These are done in conjunction with Sonoma.com and on their site you can find details on multiple Free Vineyard Walking Tours.

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

We started out with the hike, it was a beautiful day and getting to see the soil and the vines and a little of the story of this place seemed to be a good way to set the mood for the wines we would taste later.  The tour had 7 stops, each telling you a bit of behind the scenes information on things Balletto Vineyards is doing to be sustainable, to care for the land and the people on it.  Because after all…that really does make for better wine.

Preservation of Habitat

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

Located in the Russian River Valley the vineyard and winery sit next to the Laguna de Santa Rosa which is a major tributary of the Russian River. This part of the Russian River Valley is flat and open and the Laguna de Santa Rosa is a wetland habitat where you can see a variety of birds, including osprey, pelicans and Great Blue Herons.  Diversity in species and landscape are vital to keeping environments healthy.

Water Conservation

When Balletto began as a vineyard, they already understood the importance of water conservation.  Here next to the winery they have 3 holding ponds where they reused water from the winery.  The water is specially routed to the ponds from the winery where it is treated.  It is then reused for irrigation and in the spring for frost protection.  In addition they have mobile fans for the vineyard. Frost protection can be quite the water guzzler, so the fans allow them to use less water.  They also utilize recycled water from the City of Santa Rosa’s Laguna treatment plant.

Trellising

While water can be in short supply, the morning fog brings lots of moisture to the vines.  When you get close to harvest, this can be detrimental as it can increase the chance of fungal diseases.  To mitigate this, vineyards use trellising.  The Chardonnay vines at Balletto are trellised to keep the clusters of grapes even along the vine, allowing for more air circulation among the leaves and clusters and decreasing the chance of mold and fungus growing.

Grapes

We walked along the vines and were drawn to the beautiful clusters which were going through veraison, turning those beautiful shades of deep purple, bronze, or silvery gray.  Balletto grows 9 varieties of Pinot Noir and one Pinot Gris (known as Pinot Grigio in Italy).  Pinot Gris is Pinot Noir’s lighter dryer cousin.  These grapes thrive in the Russian River Valley’s cool coastal climate.  There is Chardonnay here also, so the colors of the berries in the blocks varied from the bright greens of the still ripening Chardonnay to the dusty grey bronze of the Pinot Gris to the deepening purple of the Pinot Noir.  Here for your viewing pleasure, a selection of grape glamour shots.

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Soils

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

Terroir is the idea of the essence of a place.  This begins with the soil.  The vineyards of Balletto encompass 5 different soil types with the two primary types being Wright Loam and Blucher Fine Sandy Loam.  North of the winery near Oxnard road you find Clear Lake Clay.  The differences in soil, site and climate are what make vineyards unique.  Mind you, we were just standing on one of the Balletto Vineyards, they own 16 estate vineyards in the Russian River Valley AVA from the Santa Rosa Plains to the Sebastapol Hills area and Petaluma Gap.  From these vineyards Balletto creates 8 vineyard designate wines, allowing you to taste the difference in terroir.

Pomace for Fertilizer

Pomace is the seeds, stems, skin and sometimes pulp, left over after the grapes are crushed for their juice.  Named for the Goddess of Fruit “Pomona”  this leftover from the wine making process can be used for fertilizer.  It tends to be a little smelly, as any good fertilizer is.  Here at Balletto they create piles of pomace after harvest and let them dry for 16 to 18 months, then they use them as fertilizer between the rows.  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle…there you go.

Field of Dreams

There is more to wine than the soil and the grapes, the people who make the wine are part of this story.  It’s their hard work you taste in the glass.  Protecting the land and conserving it’s resources, is good for grapes, but it’s also, more importantly, good for people.  A sense of community is important.  Here is one story from Balletto on building community.

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour field of dreams

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour, field of dreams

Next to the winery, it is impossible to miss the “Field of Dreams”.  Instead of being in the middle of a cornfield, this field sits on 4 acres in the middle of the Balletto vineyard.  In 2004 the Balletto vineyard crew asked John Balletto if the winery would sponsor their league baseball team.  John Balletto took it a step further and took 4 acres next to the winery and donated all the materials to build a regulation baseball field.  The vineyard crew built the field and now in the Spring and Summer the league plays games here on Sundays. Blocks in the vineyard now sport names like  “First Baseline Chardonnay” or “Field/Dream (west) Pinot Gris”.  (scroll to the bottom to see the field in our video of our walk)

On to the Wines

Balletto has an extensive tasting list ranging from Sparkling wines (which makes perfect sense since they grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), to Pinot Gris, Sav Blanc, Chardonnay and a Gewurtztraminer. They produce a lovely Rosé of Pinot Noir and a Vin de Paille dessert wine from their Pinot Gris.  Their Reds are dominated by Pinot Noir (no surprise there), with several vineyard designates.  They also have a Zin and a Syrah.

Balletto Vineyard, Tasting Menu

Balletto Vineyard, Tasting Menu

2013 Brut Rosé 2013 $42

This wine spends 3 years in the bottle. In June of 2017 it was given 90 points by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay this Sparkling wine is made the the Methode Traditionelle.  It is dry and refreshing with balanced acids and a little mineral note.  Stacy at Briscoe Bites did a great review on this wine http://briscoebites.com/balletto-brut-rose/

2016 Savignon Blanc $19

This wine comes from the Balletto Estate Vineyard on Hall Road, where they have two blocks that balance each other. The South block fruit is 80% of this wine with bright fruit and high acidity while the fruit from the north block adds a rich and savory note to balance the wine. My note on this was “Bright without being abrasive”. They note that the wine is pressed lightly in whole clusters and fermented in neutral oak for 5 months on the lees. 20% of this goes through malolactic fermentation. They produce 1200 cases of this wine.

2016 Teresa’s Unoaked Chardonnay $20

The grapes for this wine come from the west end of the vineyard around the winery which has sandy soil and they are a Robert Young clone.  The grapes are harvested early, whole cluster pressed and given a long cool fermentation.  This is 100% stainless steel, no lees stirring and no Malolactic fermentation.  What you get is vibrant with great acidity, but also with a great texture.  They made 3,260 cases of this wine.

2014 Cider Ridge Chardonnay $38

This wine comes from their new Cedar Ridge Vineyard which sits just 10 miles from the Pacific.  It is cold and foggy and windy, but the vines are on slopes that face west, get amazing sun and sit at an elevation of 950 feet.  This wine has tropical notes and well as subtle nut tones and a little minerality. The grapes are whole cluster pressed and then barrel fermented, so it is a great contrast to Teresa’s Unoaked.

2016 Gewütztraminer $19

This Gewürztraminer is from their Piner Road Vineyard where they have 2 blocks of Gewürztraminer totaling less than 5 acres on the 58 acre vineyard.  With a nose ripe with lychee, beeswax, honey and white flowers, this wine steps away from the traditional Burgundian wines this winery is known for.

2016 Rosé of Pinot Noir $18

Rosé has come back full force and drinking pink is finally fashionable again.  This particular Rosé is of Pinot Noir.  They specifically farm blocks of Pinot Noir at Balletto for their Rosé, the idea is to have brightness and soft tannins to give the wine structure.  This rosé is light in color because they limit skin contact.  They do 80% whole cluster pressing and 20% is sanguine (or the bleed off from their regular Pinot Noir fermentation).  This gives the wine depth.  Luckily they make 4,840 cases of this wine, but you should still plan to get the 2017 as soon as it comes out, and stock up.  Our friend Sarah did a review that I will share with you.

Sonoma Magazine – “22 Best Sonoma Rose Wines to Drink All Summer,” June 2017
“A perennial favorite, we loved the easy drinkability of Balletto’s Rosé. The classic strawberry notes are complemented by herbaceous green tea, Kefir lime, candied apple and a bit of minerality. At under $20 a bottle, easily findable at the grocery or liquor store across the country, and family owned and operated, it’s an easy pick for the ice bucket when company comes over.”- Sarah Stierch

2014 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir $29

This Balletto Pinot Noir is a blend from 7 of their estate vineyards.  Because the vineyards are diverse and range from warmer to cooler areas and open flat areas like the estate vineyard at the winery to vineyards that are steeper hillside vineyards, these grapes blend to create a wine with depth and complexity.  This wine and all of their Pinot Noirs are fermented with native yeast.  They ferment in 6 ton open top fermenters and then age in mostly neutral French Oak.

2014 Cider Ridge Pinot Noir $42

This Pinot is from the new Cedar Ridge Vineyard.  Balletto has 14 acres of Pinot Noir planted here and this is the first release of Pinot Noir from this site.  The Cider Ridge we found to be bigger on the palate than on the nose.

2015 BCD Pinot Noir $44

This wine is a vineyard designate from their BCD Vineyard.  This wine had more tannins than the other two Pinot Noirs that we tasted, but was still mellow and very nice.

2014 Zinfandel $28

The Zin had a classic Zinfandel nose, but was lighter on the palate due to the cooler climate.  It has spice and a bit of vanilla and is bright on the palate, with a long finish. Their Zinfandel comes from the BCD Vineyard where they have about a 6.5 acre block.

2014 Syrah $28

We are finding that there are quite a few cooler climate vineyards that started out exclusively growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, that are starting to grow Syrah and finding that it thrives and creates a lovely elegant expression of this grape.  This wine comes from the BCD Vineyard which is a rolling vineyard with sandy soils.  These are typically the last grapes picked by Balletto each season and they get maximum skin contact with lots of gentle pump overs.  To soften the tannins the wine is aged in French Oak for  22 months.  This was indeed a lovely Syrah, with cocoa, coffee and smoke on the nose and smooth tannins, but quite honestly it could not outshine the Pinots on this list.

We will leave you with a virtual tour of our afternoon at Balletto!  But a virtual tour is only so good.  Get out to Sonoma and visit Balletto for yourself.

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Comparing Rhône blends from California’s Central Coast

2011 Pateline de Tablas & 2013 Le Cigare Volant Rhône Blends with cheese pairings

I love Rhône wines.  Wait…let me classify.  I love Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Viognier, Tannat, Roussanne, Marsanne, Terret Noir, Picpoul Blanc….I love the varieties and the blends of said varieties.  My experience with these wines is mostly from those Rhône Rangers in California.  I am just beginning to explore further into French wines and Rhône Blends.   In France the wine or blend is named by the area in which it is grown, the AOC , which is a completely different way of learning about the wines.

So as I learn about these wines, I start with comparing a couple of Rhône Blends from two of my favorite California wineries for Rhônes, Tablas Creek and Bonny Doon.  We chose the 2011 Patelin de Tablas from Tablas Creek and the 2013 Le Cigare Volant reserve from Bonny Doon.

The Wines

These two wines differ in where the grapes were grown, the makeup of the blends, the vintage and the wine-making techniques.  So first lets look at the wines themselves.

2011 Patelin de Tablas

 

2011 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas

2011 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas

https://tablascreek.com/wines/2011_patelin_de_tablasHere you can find all the geeky details.

This wine comes from Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, but this is not an estate wine.  This wine comes from multiple vineyards that they source from.

“Patelin” means neighborhood in French, so these are grapes not from the estate, but from the neighborhood.  The list of vineyards is long (16 different vineyards across 4 different AVA’s in the Paso Robles Region).  The AVA’s range from Adelaida Hills (higher elevation and warmer), to Templeton Gap (cooler with a coastal influence) to El Pomar (which is more moderate in climate) and then Estrella which is warmer.  The soils differ in these AVA’s also, Adelaida Hills, Templeton Gap and El Pomar tend to be limestone, where as Estrella is sandy loam.

Tablas Creek first produced this wine in 2010 after having a very light harvest in 2009.  This was second vintage of the Patelin de Tablas in 2011.

The blend is 52% Syrah, 29% Grenache, 18% Mourvedre and 1% Counoise, and sits at 13.7% Alcohol.

As to the winemaking techniques:  the grapes were de-stemmed and fermented in a mix of Open-top and closed stainless steel fermenters as well at 1500-gallon upright oak casks. As usual for Tablas Creek it was only native yeasts that were used.  After blending they were aged in stainless steel and 1200 gallon oak foudres.  So, kind of a variety (I think some of that may be due to available space).  They made 8460 cases of this wine.  That’s alot compared to the Côtes de Tablas of which they made 1560 cases.

2013 Le Cigare Volant Réserve “en bonbonne”

2013 Le Cigare Volant reserve from Bonny Doon

2013 Le Cigare Volant reserve from Bonny Doon

Randall Grahm has been making this homage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape since 1984.  The name comes from a weird wine law in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The story goes that a railway worker in northern France claimed he saw two Martians on his property who had landed in a cigar-like machine.  Soon the reports spread and the French were all worried about these “flying cigars” or Cigare Volant.  The Mayor of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region put a law into place banning these “Cigare Volants” from landing or even flying over the area or vineyards.  And…it worked, there have been no alien sitings in the region since then.  Randall came across this law and in his own inimitable fashion, names his homage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Le Cigare Volante”.

This wine is from the Central Coast.  This wine comes from multiple vineyards that are not necessarily close to each other.  It is a bit more diverse in soils and climates that they Tablas, which at least sources from the same region.

When you talk about wine-making techniques…well in Randall’s own words

“The idea of “raising” the wine in glass demijohns was also a bit of a fever dream, occasioned in part by the many hours I spent in deep contemplation of the mysteries of redox chemistry; there was something dream-like (à la Carlos Castaneda and Don Juan) about the many hours driving around southern France with Patrick Ducournau, deep thinker about oxygen and wine (and inventor of microbullage, or micro-oxygenation). I’ve already written quite a bit about the nature of the esoteric élevage en bonbonne—bâtonage magnetique, etc., the opportunity for the wine to digest a substantial volume of yeast lees, and the extraordinary texture and savoriness this protocol engenders.”  From his Production Notes

When you visit the tasting room you can see one of the demijohns (or carboys)

Carboy or Demijohn at Bonny Doon

A “Carboy” or demijohn on the counter at Bonny Doon Vineyards. This is used for élevage (the progression of a wine between fermentation and bottling)

This wine is 55% Grenache, 25% Syrah, $16% Mourvedre and 4% Cinsault and it sits a little bigger than the Tablas with Alcohol at 14.3%.

This wine’s production was only 554 cases.

What to Pair with these Rhône Blends?

I took inspiration from Randall’s suggestions.

“All manner of cute creatures: rabbit, tiny birds, etc. Rabbit in Mustard Sauce (We suggest our Cigare Blanc mustard for this dish). Beef Kidneys. Stilton. Braised Oxtail.”

Well I have a thing about eating cute creatures, so we settled on the Stilton as well as a Cambozola (a triple creme chees with the flavor of a bleu cheese).

Tablas Creek suggested Grilled Steaks, rich beef stews and spicy sausages with the Patelin.

We set off and got some sweet italian sausage, a shepard’s pie and steak and stout pie.

So here is the spread:  Sweet Italian Sausage with a brown mustard, Shepherds pie, a steak and stout pie, some zuchinni noodles sautéd with spices, black olives, a fig jam, the Stilton, Cambonzola, some manchego and aged gouda.

Eccelctic pairings for 2011 Patelin de Tablas and 2013 Le Cigare Volant Rhône Blends

Eccelctic pairings for 2011 Patelin de Tablas and 2013 Le Cigare Volant

Tasting the Rhône Blends

In general, the Patelin was more fruit forward, with a bit of wet hay on the nose (I love that funkiness), and you get a little mineral. The fruit is red and bright, but then there is spice and a bit of anise.  The tannins here are light, but the wine still has great structure.  It has developed, but still will be great for further cellaring.

The Le Cigare Volant was mellower on the nose,  But when it hit your mouth, it was richer than you expected from the nose.  My first impression was Thyme in cooked strawberries with hints of smoked spices (like a sweet smoked paprika that is very mellow)

Pairing the Rhône Blends with Food

Both of the wines were fantastic with the sausage, but each brought out something different in the wine.  The Steak and stout pie was also good with both, when paired with the Patelin, brought the fruit forward, with the Cigare Volant it highlighted the more savory notes.  Michael liked the aged gouda best with both wines (mostly because he’s not so into the Bleu cheeses).  The Bleu cheese with fig jam and the Patelin de Tablas was a big hit for me.  We got less scientific as we tasted on savoring every bite and pondering on it.  We pondered quite a bit and I forgot to write down all the notes, job hazard.  Regardless, we enjoyed both wines thoroughly and I am inspired to dive further into Rhône blends, from California as well as digging in deeper to the history of the AOC’s of the Rhône Valley in France.

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A Trio of Syrahs from California’s Central Coast

Syrah bottles Tablas Creek Carhartt Larner

I started out with a plan.  It actually wasn’t Syrah. The plan was dinner and a Roussanne.  We have spent a couple weeks doing research on Syrah and were almost complete.  Our next varietal to focus on is Roussanne and we were going to start with that tonight.  But…it got a little cloudy out and it was feeling a little cold and rather than the seafood companion to the Roussanne, we wanted something a little warmer and cozier.

I came across a post on my Twitter from Bonny Doon of two of their Syrah’s the 2013 Bien Nacido and the 2013 Le Pousseur.  I was inspired and pretty sure I had a Le Pousseur in the cellar, so I did a little pairing research on the Bonny Doon site, and Randall Grahm their winemaker, suggests lamb chops with chimichurri.  I don’t do lamb, (can’t eat baby animals) so I look a little further on the web for pairing advice and see sirloin as a pairing.  Off we go to shop for dinner.  We pick up a marinated sirloin with a chimichurri sauce!  Upon arriving at home, I head down to grab the wine, only to find, well, to not find, the Le Pousseur.  We must have already enjoyed that bottle!  Luckily, we have a few other Syrahs (that’s kind of an understatement).  So I debate between a 2013 Carhartt and a 2014 Larner Transverse.  Both are from Santa Barbara County.  Finally I decide that with a Tablas Creek 2014 Syrah already open, we might as well do a side by side with all 3.

Grilled sirloin & Syrah Tablas Creek 2014, Carhartt 2013 and Larner Transverse 2014

Grilled Sirloin with a chimichurri sauce, grilled eggplant and a salad to pair with our Trio of Syrahs.

The Syrahs

 

2014 Tablas Creek Syrah

The Tablas Creek Vineyard 2014 Syrah

The Tablas Creek Vineyard 2014 Syrah

At Tablas Creek in Paso Robles they have 4 clones of Syrah that were brought from France, from Chateau du Beaucastel. They planted these in 1994, so the vines are almost in their mid 20’s.  The 2014 is the tenth bottling of this single varietal that they have done.  This was fermented in open-top fermenters and was aged in a mix of smaller newer barrels (note that they are “newer” not “New”) and Neutral 1200- gallon foudres for 20 months.  It is 100% Syrah and sits at 14.6% alcohol. If you are familiar with Rhône Syrahs, they say this wine is “more Cote Rotie than Cornas,”.  Only 800 cases were produced.  Visit https://tablascreek.com/ for all the details.

You will also find Vintage Charts (I love these) on their site, to let you know where their wines are at drinkability wise.  Many of the Tablas Creek Wines are meant to age. They taste through their wines and update the vintage chart annually.  The chart will let you know if the wine needs more aging, is drinking well but is youthful, is mature, is in a closed phase, if it’s time to drink it now, before it passes it’s prime or if you have waited too long.  It will also tell you if they currently recommend decanting the wine.

2013 Carhartt Syrah

Carhartt 2013 Syrah.

Carhartt 2013 Syrah.

This Syrah comes from Rancho Santa Ynez in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County.  Carhartt prints all the good geeky details right on the back label and I love them for that!  This vineyard is just 10 acres and sits on a mesa in the Santa Ynez Valley.  The wine is 100% Syrah from clones 470 & 174 on 1103p Rootstock and 877 & Estrella clones on 5c rootstock. It is grown on vertical trellis.  It is sustainably farmed, and fermented in small lots with a cold soak, punch downs and pump overs & gently pressed.  It spends 17 months in barrel (35% new french oak).  It sits at 13.5% alcohol.  This wine is unfined and unfiltered and only 435 cases were made.

To learn a little more about Carhartt head to their website http://carharttvineyard.com  On the home page you will find a digital magazine, written by Chase Carhartt.  He will tell you the history of this small family business, where they produce only 5000 cases of wine per year and are dedicated making quality wine and treating customers like family.  Their tasting room in Los Olivos is only 99 square feet, making it the tiniest tasting room, but then there is the back patio, which is the best place to be a 5 pm in Los Olivos.

2014 Larner Transverse

Larner 2014 Transverse Syrah

Larner 2014 Transverse Syrah

Michael Larner has a background as a Geologist, so his labels and names for his wine stem from this background.  Transverse is the name for his Syrah that is not an estate wine.

“Transverse:  A geologic structure lying or extending across an area, in a cross direction to other distinguishing local features” From his blog post on this wine

This wine is a blend of Syrah from across Santa Barbara County.  The grapes come from 4 estates spread across the area: Verna’s vineyard is on the east side of the Los Alamos Valley, Coquelicot vineyard sits in the southern part of the Santa Ynez AVA east of Solvang,  Rodney’s vineyard is in the Northern part of the Santa Ynez Valley AVA on Foxen Canyon Road (at Fess Parker) and Star Lane vineyard is in the Eastern most part of the Santa Ynez Valley in the Happy Canyon AVA. So these vineyards span the area and all sit outside the Ballard Canyon AVA, where Larner Vineyard is located.

The grapes for this wine were harvested between October 1st and November 10th, 2014.  It was aged for 14 months in 100% neutral french oak puncheons and then spent 4 months in bottle before it was released.  It sits at 14.7% Alcohol.

“100% Syrah, 10% Whole Cluster. All vineyard lots were fermented individually, macerated for a total of 15 days, initiated fermentation using native yeast, later inoculated with BM 45 yeast and pumped over 1x per day plus punched down 3x per day. Peak Temp averaged 86˚F.”

All these details can be found on the Larner site at http://www.larnerwine.com/product/2014-Transverse

The Tasting

2014 Tablas Creek Syrah

As you pour this wine you immediately notice how dark and opaque it is.  The first thing I got when I stuck my nose in the glass was leather and earth, followed by dark fruit like black currants, folloowed by pepper and savory herbs.  When I went back to it later, I was struck by the salinity and minerality that it gave off as it opened up.  In my mouth it was tart blackberries with a bit of cranberry, you know that extra tartness and tannin you get from cranberries.  It made my mouth water and my teeth dry just a little.  It was mellow and the most food friendly of the wines.

2013 Carhartt Syrah

This wine was decidedly lighter as I poured it, and more translucent in the glass.  The first thing I smelled here was wet straw and barnyard, followed by cranberries, red currants and brighter spices like white pepper.  There were also light floral notes like violets.  In my mouth it was a much lighter wine than the others and tasted of tart red apple skin and dark red berries.  It numbed my gums a little without drying them.  It had a strong medium finish.  It heightened the spice in the chimichurri sauce without making it too hot.

2014 Larner Transverse

This wine was darker, like the Tablas Creek.  Was this due to the 2014 Harvest?  It also sits at 14.7 alcohol (the Tablas is 14.6 and the Carhartt 13.5), so perhaps the depth of color has something to do with the hang time?  The nose was pepper and spice immediately followed by Eucalyptus, black currants and leather.  In my mouth it was all rich red and black fruit with spice and bright bold pepper.  The bright red fruit really hits you mid palate.  It was tangy on the sides of my tougue and had a sweetness on the finish.

After tasting the wines, I was fascinated by the differences.  Were the differences due to wine making techniques, the location of the vineyards, the vintage year and it’s weather?  So I did a little digging and here is what I found out about the harvests.

About the Vintages

Paso Robles 2014 Harvest

2014 was the 3rd year of drought in Paso Robles.  The yields across the area were down, although Tablas Creek’s Syrah Harvest yields were up by 13% over 2013.  The year was noted for depth and concentration in the berries.

Santa Barbara County 2013 Harvest

While 2013 was the 2nd year of drought it was also the 2nd year of ideal growing conditions.  It was a warm, dry growing season without any considerable heat spikes.  It was an early harvest, starting on August 14th and like 2014 it was a fast harvest.  A typical harvest is spread out over 3 months, 2013’s harvest lasted only 7 weeks.  Yields were above average, with an early bud break and large fruit set.

Santa Barbara County 2014 Harvest

In Santa Barbara they had a shorter growing season.  The winter was mild and harvest for many was the earliest ever.  Harvest was also fast, with vineyards bringing in lots of fruit at the same time putting wineries into quite the scramble.  For all intents and purposes it was a solid crop and the fruit had good intensity.

The Regions

Map of California's Central Coast with Paso Robles and Santa Barbara Highlighted

Paso Roble and Santa Barbara Regions in California’s Central Coast  Map by GoogleMaps

The areas that these wines come from spans around a hundred miles on California’s Central Coast.  Tablas Creek is in the Paso Robles Region, while the Carhartt and Larner Syrahs are from the Santa Barbara Region.

Tablas Creek, Paso Robles, Adelaida AVA

Tablas Creek Vineyards is located in the Western Portion of the Paso Robles wine region in the Adelaida AVA.  The elevations in this AVA are between 900 and 1200 feet for planted vineyards.  Because they are the closest AVA to the Ocean, hot summer days are typically tempered by the Maritime influences.  Warm days and cool nights are an ideal growing condition.

For more on the Adelaida AVA you can watch our interview with Jason Haas.

Carhartt Vineyard, Rancho Santa Ynez, Santa Ynez AVA

Carhartt Vineyard is located in Santa Barbara County.  It is in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, which is a larger AVA encompassing most of the southern part of Santa Barbara County.  Within this AVA you find the Sta. Rita Hills AVA to the West, Ballard Canyon AVA in the Central part of the area and the Happy Canyon AVA to the East.  Carhartt Vineyard sits in Rancho Santa Ynez on a hill top.

Larner Wines Transverse, Santa Barbara County

This wine is called Transverse because it comes from 4 estate vineyards that span the Transverse Valley of the Santa Barbara Area.  So…as you can see from the Map above it takes in multiple regions.

Verna’s Vineyard is in Los Alamos off of Cat Canyon Road.  The vineyard was planted in 1999 by the Melville family and is now owned by Cat Canyon / Shokrian Vineyards.  It is a or 100 acre parcel east of the 101 with warm winds and cool nights.

Rodney’s Vineyard is on the Fess Parker Ranch which is on the east side of Foxen Canyon Road. It is included in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA in it’s Northernmost region.  Fess Parker, so well known as “Daniel Boone” bought the property in 1988.  The vineyard is named after his late son-in-law.

Coquelicot Vineyard is in the Santa Ynez Valley, just east of Solvang.  It is one of the Southern most vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. This 58 Acre vineyard is Certified Organic.

Star Lane Vineyard is located in the Happy Canyon AVA which is the furthest West region of the Santa Barbara area and as such the warmest.  It sits north of Happy Canyon Road.

So, the differences in the wines?   It could be the growing season and the fact that it was just the 2nd year of drought was part of what made the Carhartt a bit lighter.  Or perhaps it was the wine making style.  Or the type of soil in the vineyards (we didn’t even really talk about that variable!)  And don’t get me wrong, the fact that it was lighter than the other two was not a bad thing.  It was lighter on my palate, but it was still full of flavor and nuance.  This whole side by side tasting is about finding the nuanced differences in the wines and enjoying each for their uniqueness.  There are differences in soils, in weather, in the clones, in the yeasts…Michael mentions inoculating with BM 35 yeast after the initial fermentation was started with native yeasts.  Tablas Creek is all native yeast and I actually don’t have the details on the yeasts used on the Carhartt, as this is one of the few details that they don’t include on this label.  The choice of when to harvest is dependent on the winemakers preference for ripeness typically, but for Michael Larner was harvesting from 4 vineyards that were not his own, which often can mean that you are subject to being harvested a little earlier or later than your preference depending on who else the vineyard is harvesting for at the time.  Then there are the subtle differences of where the block is located within the vineyard and what time of sunlight and wind it gets.  Really, there are just so many variables.

And that is what makes this beverage so fascinating. The variables all add up to a complex story in the glass.  It’s a story of the place, of the soil, of the season, of the people… and it’s a delicious story.

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