Sparkling Vermentino – “tears of laughter and joy”

As I went looking for a bottle to open for a simple evening dinner, a small celebration of the end of a work week, I came across a bottle of sparkling vermentino in the wine fridge.

I love vermentino and today was one of the first really hot days this summer, with temps hitting triple digits. Those kind of temps call for something bright and vermentino certainly fits the bill. On top of it, it was a sparkling vermentino. Well I am always down for bubbles!

It was from Bonny Doon and I flipped it over to read the back label. Randall Grahm always has enchanting lengthy back labels. The description ended with ” -tears of joy and laughter”. Well…now of course I was going to pop this bottle! I really needed that at the end of this week!

Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

This wine is a blend, 77% Vermentino and 23% Grenache Blanc from Beeswax and Cedar Lane Vineyards in the Arroyo Seco AVA within Monterey County. This AVA sits in the Santa Lucia mountain range.

Soils are Arroyo Seco gravelly loam, with river stones that absorb the heat during the day and radiate in the evening. The vineyards are nearby to each other and closer to the valley floor between 300-500 ft. The valley has a cool climate with Pacific ocean breezes every afternoon.

https://shop.bonnydoonvineyard.com/product/2017-Sparkling-Vermentino

The label on this wine is deep green and yellow which inspired the bottle shot, out back on the grass with the fallen blossoms from our desert museum palo verde, Dulcinea-Sophia (yes, I name my trees).

A bit of Dulcinea-Sophia in bloom, our Desert Museum Palo Verde

The back label entertainment

I mentioned that Randall’s back labels (and really anything he writes) are enchanting. He is a thoughtful writer, and while often the words are many, they are all entertaining. This is actually one of his shorter back labels.

Back label of the Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

Pairings

While not included on the label, a quick visit to the Bonny Doon site, set me up with options for pairings. Sometimes, I go off the rails with pairings from what is suggested, but Bonny Doon’s suggestions are always tried and tested. The suggestions were

Oysters on the half shell, Dungeness crab, fish tacos, prosciutto-wrapped melon.

https://shop.bonnydoonvineyard.com/product/2017-Sparkling-Vermentino

So we did some prosciutto-wrapped canteloupe and I whipped up some fish tacos.

Fish Tacos

Fish tacos to pair with the Bonny Doon Sparkling Vermentino

The description of the wine on the site mentioned citrus, lemon balm, lemon-lime, and an herbal note of possibly rosemary…so my fish tacos riffed on this.

Fish taco w/ cod bits en papillote with lemon & rosemary

Ingredients

  • 4.5 lbs of Atlantic Cod bits defrosted
  • 2 lemons
  • 4 sprigs of rosemary
  • medium to small tortillas (I used flour tortillas)
  • guacamole
  • 1 lime
  • spring greens (or cabbage)
  • rice
  • salsa (I like green salsa)
  • salt
  • pepper

The fish

Cod bits en papillote with lemon & rosemary
  • Preheat the oven to 425
  • Cut two large squares of parchment
  • place 6-8 thin lemon slices to one side of center on one sheet of the parchment
  • arrange half the cod on top of the lemon slices
  • sprinkle with salt (I used pink himalayan salt)
  • add a grind of pepper
  • top with 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • zest a bit of the lemon on top
  • repeat with the other sheet and the rest of the fish
  • fold up the edges (here’s a video from @Cooksmarts)
  • place both packets on a cookie sheet
  • pop into the oven for about 20 minutes (or less)

The rest

I typically get a plate and a damp dishtowel and wrap my tortillas in the towel and pop them in the oven to warm for 5 minutes. This steams them so that they stay soft.

Then I gather all the other stuff I want on the tacos. Today it was guacamole, jasmine rice, lime wedges to squeeze, spring greens and I had Herdez guacamole salsa, which is medium heat.

Fish tacos and the Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

All in all a pretty delicious evening! Light-hearted and delicious. That Sparkling Vermentino? Well, they only made 210 cases of it, so if it sounds good to you, you’d best go grab a bottle from their site. It’s set you back $36 a bottle, but the “tears of joy and laughter” make it all worth it.

You can find Bonny Doon online or drive out to their tasting room on the coast in Davenport. The views are spectacular, and the people and the wines in their tasting room will make you want to stay all day.

  • Bonny Doon Vineyards A Proper Claret
  • Bonny Doon beach

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Pairing with Bubbles – Gloria Ferrer and the amazing Sarah Tracey

The line up of Bubbles from Gloria Ferrer for the Bubbles and Bites Sparkling Pairing Exploration with Sarah Tracey

It’s the season for bubbles and this past October I was able to do an amazing tasting and pairing event with sparkling wines from Gloria Ferrer at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla Washington.

I met Sarah Tracey of The Lush Life the evening before her Bubbles and Bites Seminar at WBC18. At the dinner at Doubleback Winery, we finished with the hors d’ouervres in the winery and headed back into the beautiful tasting room to find a seat for dinner and as luck would have it, I ended up sitting next to Sarah. We had great conversation throughout the evening (we both fell in love with the AMAZING lobster bisque) and at the end of the evening she mentioned that she was hosting Wine Discovery Session “Gloria Ferrer Bubbles and Bites” which I had signed up for.

The Amazing Sarah Tracey of The Lush Life
The Amazing Sarah Tracey of The Lush Life (and no, that’s not her dog, just a friend she made who was happy to pose with her for this shot!)

Sarah has quite the history! She writes a column for Martha Stewart (you can check that out here) . She’s a Somm, a wine educator and is spectacular at putting on events. She loves to travel and loves bubbles! (my kinda girl!).

The Bubbles

Gloria Ferrer

Gloria Ferrer Vineyard View
The view of the Carneros Vineyards from Gloria Ferrer

Before we get started with the pairings, I should probably tell you a little about Gloria Ferrer. This winery is located in the southern part Sonoma County. We visited one early morning and enjoyed glorious views from the patio while doing a seated tasting. I love their sparkling wines. We loved them enough to join the club. When a morning is tough, I just close my eyes and picture myself sitting there on their patio with a glass of their sparkling in hand. It inevitably makes the day better. We wrote about our visit in Bubbles to Start the Day at Gloria Ferrer and give you a little background in Gloria Ferrer – a Little History

The wines of Gloria Ferrer, while always well received, particularly by the critics, have continued to improve over 30 growing seasons. The family legacy of uncompromising quality is passed down through generations. The Pinot Pedigree born of decades nurturing our Sonoma Carneros Estate vineyards. The patience-testing méthode champenoise process of aging and blending is paramount. It’s all coming together in the perfect blend of savor and celebrate. Find them on Facebook, Twitter at @GloriaFerrer, and Instagram.

Source Gloria Ferrer

Pairing Strategies

The Bubbles and Bites Session with Gloria Ferrer, was more than just showing you a pairing…this was meant to get your brain thinking about what makes a good pairing and why. Think of colors. There are complimentary colors and contrasting colors. Food and wine are the same way, you can match or contrast

Sarah laid down 4 pairing strategies

  1. Acid needs Acid
  2. Flavor Match
  3. Contrast Pairing
  4. Texture Match

Within these strategies, she paired a Gloria Ferrer Sparkling wine with a small bite. Let’s walk through these delicious pairings. While we do this, keep in mind the flavor profiles and how you can use these to create your own pairings.

Acid needs Acid

For this strategy Sarah chose the Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut. This wine is 86.5% Pinot Noir and 13.5% Chardonnay. It is aged in stainless steel and then aged en tirage for a year and a half and you can find it for about $22

The pairing Sarah chose for this wine was a Classic Bruschetta with grated parmesan and a balsamic glaze. The acid in the tomatoes and the vinegar call for a high acid wine, a low acid wine would end up tasting flat.

This pairing worked! Keep this in mind when pairing dishes with tomatoes, lemon or vinegar and reach for a wine with higher acid to keep the flavors bright in both the wine and the food.

Bruschetta in the foreground and Turkey pinwheel in the back  Bubbles and Bites
Bruschetta in the foreground and Turkey pinwheel in the back

Flavor Match

The second pairing strategy is one that I often employ. Flavor Matching pulls from the wine and matches the food (or vice versa). I often use this when I picking up a wine I have not tasted. I can read the tasting notes on the shelf talker (or that I have looked up) and pull from that for my pairing. Syrah’s often have blackberry notes and I will pair them with a dish that has blackberries or a blackberry sauce. Spice notes on a wine, can inform the direction of your seasoning.

The wine for this pairing was the Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs. This wine is 91.6% Pinot Noir and 8.4% Chardonnay. (I know, they are so exact with their percentages!). This wine is hand harvested and whole cluster pressed. They blend 5-7% Vin Gris (cold-soaked Pinot Noir juice) into the base wine. This Vin Gris with it’s skin contact gives the wine it’s bit of color. It is again stainless steel aged and a year and a half en tirage.

Sarah paired this with a Turkey pinwheel with Cougar Gold, strawberry preserve, boursin & arugula. Okay…if you are asking, “What is Cougar Gold” you are not alone. When she announced this half the room murmured with smiles on their faces while the rest of us looked about bewildered. Okay here’s the deal.

Cougar Gold

Cougar Gold is a cheese. A canned cheese developed in the 1940s at Washington State University, funded by the US Government. The idea of a canned cheese that would last indefinitely was appealing at this time. It’s a white cheddar. You can find it online at the WSU siteor on Amazon, where a 30 oz can will set you back $64.99. You can watch a quirky fun video called The Making of Cougar Gold Cheese on Vimeo.

Okay, now that that is out of the way…so this pinwheel is turkey with Cougar Gold, which we now know is a white cheddar, plus boursin (a rich crumbly Gournay cheese made of cows milk), strawberry preserves and fresh arugula.

The strawberry notes in the wine match with the strawberry preserves enhancing both the wine and the food.

Contrast Pairing

We head now to pairing the Gloria Ferrer Brut Rosé. This wine is 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. To get that lovely pink color they macerate half of the Pinot Noir on skin for 36-48 hours. This also developes the nose and flavor. This is aged en tirage for 2 years. This wine runs about $29.

The pairing is Ahi Poke with sunomono cucumbers, sriracha, seaweed salad & pickled ginger. The wine with it’s vibrant fruit sits in contrast to the heat and umami in the dish with the seaweed, sriracha and ginger. For other contrast pairings think, sweet and salty or sweet and tart. Think Thai food and Riesling or lambrusco and chinese food. (somehow I’m always drawn to Asian pairings here, but there are many more!)

Right to left, Ahi Poke with sunomono cucumbers, sriracha, seaweed salad & pickled ginger and Bacon Wrapped Scallops with Meyer lemon aioli
Right to left, Ahi Poke with sunomono cucumbers, sriracha, seaweed salad & pickled ginger and Bacon Wrapped Scallops with Meyer lemon aioli

Texture Match

Wine, most especially sparkling wine, has a definite texture in your mouth. Sarah used this pairing to highlight this. The wine was the 2010 Anniversary Cuvée by Gloria Ferrer 67% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay this wine only uses the first press of juice. It ferments in stainless steel and spends 5 years en tirage. The growing season for this vintage was very cool. This lovely bottle runs $45.

Gloria Ferrer 2010 Anniversary Cuvée
Gloria Ferrer 2010 Anniversary Cuvée

The pairing here was elevated, as was the wine and was a bacon wrapped scallop with meyer lemon aioli. The creamy texture of the scallop and the creamy texture of the wine are gorgeous together in your mouth. Then you add the fat and salt of the bacon…yep…pretty heavenly.

The wrap up

Gloria Ferrer sparkling wines Sonoma Brut and Blanc de Noirs
Gloria Ferrer sparkling wines Sonoma Brut and Blanc de Noirs

These 4 strategies for pairing wines, work with sparkling as well as still wines and you can use them beyond that, with beers and spirits and even with creating a menu or a dish.

I encourage you to drink bubbles often. They are not all the same! And put them in a wine glass, not a flute, you will be able to enjoy the aromas in the wine even better.

Bubbles are joyful and these bubbles we discussed are affordable. Don’t just hoard your bubbles for an “Occassion”, life is short, make Thursday an Occassion!

Thanks to Gloria Ferrer for sponsoring this seminar and to Sarah Tracey for such an interesting seminar. And of course thanks to the Wine Bloggers Conference (newly rechristened the Wine Media Conference) for making this all possible!

A couple of quick disclaimers. I went to the Wine Bloggers Conference as a Citizen Blogger and this tasting was part of the conference. The conference is offered at an amazing rate for citizen bloggers to entice us to write about the different wineries and areas we visit. So…this great tasting and pairing, cost me next to nothing. BUT, I assure you that had it been crap, I would not have written about it. So there you have it. Second side note, I’ve written about Gloria Ferrer before and enjoy their wines on a regular basis as a paying wineclub member, so yeah, I like their wines.

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The 12th Day arrives…2009 Esprit de Beaucastel Panoplie & Duck

Assorted cheeses with the 2009 Tablas Creek Panoplie

The 12th Day of Wine demanded digging in the cellar for something special and Michael perused the Tablas Creek Wines that we patiently wait to open, allowing them to age as we gaze longingly at the Vintage chart waiting for them to be in their prime.

It’s worth noting that as we gazed at the Vintage Chart, we opted to open the 2009 even though it is listed as “Drinking Well: Youthful”. The 2010 that we have is in a closed phase.  We probably could wait another 5 years to open this bottle and have it in a “Drinking Well: Mature” stage, but…life is short.

Tablas Creek 2009 Espirit de Beaucastel Panoplie
Tablas Creek 2009 Espirit de Beaucastel Panoplie

Tablas Creek Vineyard 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel Panoplie

What makes the Panoplie different from the other Esprits?  Well this is the most age worthy wine they make.

“sourced from the most age worthy lots in the cellar and blended for intensity and balance.”

Tablas Creek (from the bottle!)

This is why this wine that is almost 10 years old, is still drinking “Youthful”.

This vintage had the Panoplie blend at 65% Mourvèdre, 26% Grenache and 9% Syrah.

Tablas Creek Vineyard Winery in Paso Robles Adelaida AVA
Tablas Creek Vineyard Winery in Paso Robles Adelaida AVA

Monica from Tablas Creek was kind enough to send me a link to a post Jason Haas had done a few years ago “We Warm-up for the Holidays with a Vertical Tasting of Panoplie, 2000-2015”

This was written in December of 2016 (so 2 years ago).  In it Jason describes how the 2009 Panoplie was showing then.

2009 Panoplie (65% Mourvedre, 26% Grenache, 9% Syrah): A very cool, savory, and exciting nose of dark blue/black fruit, seemingly less about Grenache than the 2008. The fruit is fresh but concentrated, cherry and plum, with a powdered sugar character to the tannins that we often see in great vintages.  Some cocoa powder on the finish, which is still youthfully grippy and fairly primary.  It’s still quite a young wine, from a powerful vintage, and may also still be emerging from its closed phase.  Should make great drinking over the next decade.

Jason Haas from the Tablas Creek Blog December 2016

What to pair?

We looked at options for pairings, and while Neil Collin’s recipe for Boeuf Provençale looked wonderful, I am beef stewed out this holiday season.  So…we opted to go for something celebratory, like duck!  And for an extra bit of celebration, (and to be sure I didn’t mess up cooking the precious duck), we chose to pick up some superbly made duck dishes from Cured & Whey and eatt  here in Las Vegas.

Cured and Whey – Duck Reuben

Duck Rueben from Cured & Whey
Duck Rueben from Cured & Whey

I have been meaning to try this great sandwich from Cured & Whey and managed to be on this end of town today to stop by and pick one up. Rocksan was kind enough to have them prepare it for me uncooked, so I could grill it at home for Michael and I for dinner. What’s in it you ask? Hudson Valley Duck Ham, Swiss Cheese, Sauerkraut, Dijon and house sauce.

Cured & Whey Gourmet Market and sandwich shop storefront
Cured & Whey Gourmet Market and sandwich shop storefront

Cured and Whey is a great little gourmet/sandwich shop created by Chef Michael Stamm. They are in a warehouse area, but don’t be afraid, they are well worth searching out. They get busy at lunch time, because they are so good. So plan ahead and leave enough time to order and sit with your eyes closed soaking in each and every bite.

6265 S Valley View Blvd Ste K Las Vegas, NV 89118 | 702-429-3617

eatt – Duck with sunchoke three ways & black currant sauce

The Tablas 2009 Panoplie with Slow Cooked Duck Breast and sunchokes 3 ways
The Tablas 2009 Panoplie with Slow Cooked Duck Breast and sunchokes 3 ways
Eatt Gourmet Bistro
Eatt Gourmet Bistro

eatt is a neighborhood restaurant in Vegas that is serving amazing Michelin Star worthy food. The duck is “Slow cooked and seared served with
sunchoke three ways and a black currant sauce” The chef was kind enough to prepare it for me slightly deconstructed, so that I could warm the sunchokes and duck later for Michael and I to enjoy. The 3 ways for the sunchoke were confit, puree and chips. Sadly my plating is probably no where near as beautiful as it would have been had I enjoyed it at the restaurant.

You can find them at:

7865 W Sahara Avenue Suite 104-105
Las Vegas, NV 89117 702-608-5233

Funny Coincidence. When I told Rocksan that I was picking up her duck sandwich and then heading to eatt for their duck dish, she asked if I was basing this on Michael’s article in the RJ on duck dishes. Nope! I had missed that, but you know what they say about “great minds”! (Looks like there are a few more places I need to hit up!)

Article in the RJ on Duck Dishes around the Valley
Article in the RJ on Duck Dishes around the Valley

The Pairing

Ah duck…so adorable, but so delicious. The wine took a bit to open up. I suggest decanting an hour before (which I did not do, so we waited for it to open in the glass.)

The pairing was divine. The duck breast melted in your mouth and the sunchokes were the perfect companion adding a bit of brightness to the rich and beautiful duck. The currants set the dish off with that sweet/tart/acid component and made the pairing with the wine even better.

We moved on to the duck rueben…mmmmm…great flavor without being too overpowering. I had worried about the sauerkraut with this, but it was perfect. And I have to do a shout out on the tiny pickle medley that accompanied the salad. Mini gherkins, and tiny grape size and smaller tomatoes along with some heritage tomato slices in the lightest of pickling that were perfection (where can I get more of those Rocksan?)

A surprising pairing with goat cheese

Honeyed goat cheese with cherry preserves and rosemary
Honeyed goat cheese with cherry preserves and rosemary

One last surprising pairing. We still had some goat cheese around from other pairings and I had thrown together a cheese plate. The goat cheese with cherry preserves and a bit of rosemary was really nice with this wine, as did the Haymarket Goat Cheese I had picked up at Cured & Whey.

Want some?

This particular wine is sold out on their site. The idea with these wines, is to get them when they are released and then sit on them while they get tastier and tastier. So…go find a bottle on their website https://tablascreek.com/story/vineyard_and_winemaking/our_wines

You really should go visit

Make your way to Paso Robles. There is wine in abundance. Take the time to make the drive out to Tablas Creek. I really believe that these are some of the finest wines being made in this country. And…you can learn all about all of the Rhône varieties here

Tablas Creek Vineyard
9339 Adelaida Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446
Phone: 805.237.1231

More Info…

We have tons of information on our site about Tablas Creek. They really are an inspirational winery. There is a whole page of information, posts and a great series of interviews that we did with Jason Haas the GM for you to check out!

Want more?  Click through to all of our 12 Days of Wine posts!

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On the 11th Day – A Ballard Canyon Syrah from Larner & Beef Stew

Larner Reserve Syrah with Beef stew and Polenta

We’ve come to the 11th Day in our 12 Days of Wine and we pulled a beautiful bottle of Ballard Canyon Syrah out from Larner Vineyard & Winery.

2013 Larner Estate Syrah – Reserve

Larner Ballard Canyon Syrah
Larner 2013 Ballard Canyon Syrah Reserve

Our finest Syrah from the 2013 vintage has a vivid bouquet of violets, cassis, blueberries, pepper, vanilla and espresso. The intense, full palate has a layered texture of chalky tannins followed by a smooth finish. Fermented with 20% whole cluster, 4% Viognier and aged 36 months in 30% new French oak barrels.

Larnerwine.com

So this is a big Syrah.  This is not just their Estate Syrah, but a bottling of the best of the lots of the Estate Syrah from 2013. 

Ballard Canyon AVA

The view down @ballardcanyon from above @saarloosandsons Windmill Ranch Vineyard. #sbcwines

This AVA is in the Santa Barbara Region and is nested inside the Santa Ynez Valley AVA.  At about the half way point of the East West Valley of Santa Barbara, the climate is perfect for Rhône Varieties and Syrah thrives here. 

You can visit the AVA site and read about the climate and varieties here.

Larner Vineyard

We have been lucky enough to spend significant time with Michael Larner soaking up his amazing knowledge of the area and the soils.  You can find all sorts of articles and interviews on our Larner Winery & Vineyard page.

What to Pair?

I reached out to Larner Vineyards and Jeni who runs the Tasting Room and Wine Club responded with a great pairing for winter.  A Beef Stew made with the Syrah to pair with the Syrah!


Hi there Robin! Here is a recipe that we definitely recommend to go withour Reserve Syrah! Nice and hearty and pairs perfectly with the wonderfully balanced 2013 Syrah!

Jeni Torres Larner Wine Club Manager and Tasting Room Lead

Here is the beautiful recipe she shared with us.

Beef stew with mushrooms and polenta

  • 3 pounds stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 4 thick bacon slices, cut into 1-inch –wide strip. (I used unsalted bacon)
  • 4 cups of beef broth
  • 4 cups of 2011 Larner Syrah.
  • 25 pearl onions
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 20 ounces of mushrooms, you can used brown button mushrooms, quartered, shitake cut in half,
  • cremini mushroom or if possible fresh porcini mushroom. I soaked the dry porcini mushrooms in the warm water and added this water to the stew.
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoon of all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoon on tomato paste
  • 1 bunch of baby carrots, cut
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 springs of thyme
  • Salt. If you use the salted bacon don’t add salt,you can always do it at the table.
  • Some olive oil
  • 3 cups of polenta

In the heavy pot cook bacon, until the bacon turns light brown and crisp. Remove the bacon from the pot and drain on paper towels. Keep the fat.

 Dry the meat in the paper towel and cook it in the bacon fat until brown. Put the meat aside in the bowl. Add 1 cup of beef stock to the pot,increase the temperature and try to scrape all the brown bits from the bottom.  Pour this liquid over the meat in the bowl.

 Add 4 tablespoons of the olive oil to the clean pot and add chopped onion. Cook until golden.

Add garlic and cook until soft. Add all the mushrooms and cook until soften, about 2 minutes

Add 3 tablespoon of flower and cook for1 more minute stirring. Pour 2 cups of beef broth to the mixture, stir and add to the meat.

Return the beef and all the juices that have accumulated to the pot. Add 4 cups of red wine.  I used Larner Syrah 2011. 

Add 2 tablespoon of the tomato paste, herbs and bring the meat to the boil. Simmer for about 1 hour or until the meat is soft.

Boil some water in the pot, add small onions and cook for 10 minutes. Peel the onion. Clean the carrots and cook them until soft.

When the meat is ready add the bacon, onions and carrots to the pot. Remove the herbs.

If your beef stew is too thick add more beef broth.

In the medium pot bring 9 cups of water to the boil. Add polenta in the thin stream stirring all the time until polenta starts to separate from the side of the pot. Your polenta should be very soft and runny. You can also follow the instruction on the box.

Pour the polenta on the plates and cover it with beef stew. You can also sprinkle it with some chopped parsley. (Optional)

Beef Stew with Polenta
Beef Stew with Polenta

This was a delicious meal and was beautiful with the Syrah. As you can see I did not add the parsley, but I did add a pat of butter on top of the polenta before ladeling on the stew.

Want some?

Well I don’t know if there is any of the 2013 left but you can find their beautiful Syrahs as well as other Rhône style wines in single varieties as well as their Elemental Blend on their site.

They also have a tasting room in Los Olivos, next to the Los Olivos General Store where you can taste their wines.

Larner Vineyard & Winery Tasting Room

2900 Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441
T | (805) 688-8148

Want more?  Click through to all of our 12 Days of Wine posts!

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On the 10th Doon of Wine…short ribs and Syrah from Bonny Doon

Randall Grahm is one of the hardest working guys in wine and he has always been an “of the people for the people” kinda guy.  I remember meeting him for the first time at a conference dinner 5 or so years ago.  A fan of his blog, I was a little star struck, but he was genuine and just a nice guy.  He was kind enough to do a phone interview with me on his Picpoul Blanc a while back which was included in a piece on Picpoul from California and France.

We visited the Bonny Doon tasting room a couple years ago and were sucked in by the humor, the down to earth (well except for the spaceship) nature of the place and the interesting, quirky, yet completely approachable wines he was making.

Bonny Doon 2017 Syrah from Lieff Vineyard in San Luis Obispo County

Bonny Doon 2017 Syrah from Lieff Vineyard in San Luis Obispo County
Bonny Doon 2017 Syrah from Lieff Vineyard in San Luis Obispo County

This wine comes from Lieff Vineyard in San Luis Obispo County. 

If you haven’t visited SLO Wine Country, it is worth a trip.  We did an interview with Heather Muran, Executive Director of San Luis Obispo Vintners and Growers Association a few years back and need to return to the area ourselves!
The Lieff Vineyard is in the southern part of San Luis Obispo Country.  Lweieff spent years making wine in the Napa Valley, before starting to make wines from this estate, which is really, further south than any of the other vineyards. The vineyard lies east of Santa Maria. They make their own wines (with Mikael Sigouin of Kaena at the helm) and then are growers for many winemakers, including Randall of Bonny Doon. 

Soils here are iron rich, the growing season is long, with warm clear days and cool nights with a marine layer that rolls in.  Want more details…

The Wine

Randall describes this wine as unusual.  It’s not an “in your face” Syrah in my opinion.  He likens the body to “a proper Burgundy”.

A rather unusual Syrah, and definitely not one for those who imagine that Syrah’s best work is doon as a macho, blockbuster, dense-packed vinous analogue to 10-40 motor oil. This wine is all about elegance and finesse and is a study in rotundone—the peppery/bacon-fatty molecule that is the essence of Syrah, and is optimally expressed in cooler vintages and the coolest sites. This wine has the body of a proper Burgundy, lovely, fresh acidity, light to medium weight and just exudes white, black and pink pepper.

Bonny Doon Tasting Notes for the 2017 Syrah “Lieff Vineyard on the Bonny Doon site

What to pair

Of all the winemakers that I contacted to ask for pairing suggestions with wines for our 12 Days of Wine, Randall was the quickest to respond.  He is always ready to talk about his wines and share information.  When I asked for a suggestion for a pairing with the Syrah, he quickly got back to me with a suggestion of Birria de Res (goat) with dried chilis and offered to send me the recipe, which he did shortly thereafter.  Lucky for me, you can use beef short ribs with the recipe also (I was worried about finding goat!).

Birria de Res

This recipe comes from Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen by Gonzalo Guzmán.  It was served at the Day of the Doon 2017 and Randall says it was a standout for their staff.

INGREDIENTS and DIRECTIONS:
Adobo: 
200 grams ancho chiles 
8 garlic cloves  
1 1/2 tbsp dry thyme
1 1/2 tbsp dry oregano
1 tbsp whole black pepper 
7 bay leaves
2 tsp cooking cloves 
3 tbsp white sesame seed
1 whole dry cumin 
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 tbsp ginger powder 
1 cup dark beer (such as Negra Modelo)

Cover the chiles with boiling water for 20 minutes. Toast the rest of the dry ingredients at 350 for about 15
minutes or until sesame seeds turn brown, but not black. Using a blender, combine all the ingredients and
blend; it should be a smooth thick paste (if more liquid is needed to blend, use the soaking liquid from the
chiles).

Birria: 
8 lbs short ribs (about 6 large pieces) 
1/2 onion
6 garlic cloves 
3 bay leaves
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
Salt 
Water to cover meat

Season short ribs heavily with salt all around and let it sit for 30 minutes. In a large sauté pan seared the meat
on all sides until golden brown. Using half of the adobo marinate the meat and let it rest for at least 4 hours or
overnight. Lay down some banana leaf (if unavailable, can sub cabbage leaves, corn husks or parchment paper)
on a braising pan followed by the meat. Cut the onions into quarters and spread over the meat with the rest of
the ingredients, cover with water about and inch above the meat, cover with more banana leaf and foil. Braise
for 3 hours at 325. When very tender, strain and place the liquid aside.

Salsa: 
2 qts diced can tomatoes 
35 grams toasted chile cascabel
3 garlic cloves 
1/2 of the above adobo

On a medium sauté pan or griddle on medium heat toast the chiles; they should change to bright red and will
have some hard spots. On a roasting pan add all the other ingredients except for the adobo and roast for 30
minutes at 350 then add the adobo and blend until really smooth.

To finish: In a medium pot combine the salsa and remaining liquid from braising, bring it to a boil and simmer
for 30 minutes, it should be rich but still runny consistency. Cut the birria into serving portions and it to the
mix, taste for salt. Best served with some warm tortillas, fresh cilantro, pickled red
onion (or simply diced red onions), and a hot sauce if you decide it’s not too spicy.

Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen by Gonzalo Guzmán. via Bonny Doon Vineyards

Our Variation

I’ll admit that I’ve never done short ribs, so when the butcher asked “Bone in or Boneless”  I ended up with half bone in and half boneless.  Michael hates the bones, but…after further discussion with the butcher and seeing the final product, I found out that bones short ribs are a whole different cut of meat and don’t have the fat and marbling that ribs do.

A few other details that I adjusted.  We had some lovely dried chili’s that my friend Giacomo had given me, and I was unable to find Anchos…I also didn’t find whole cumin, so powder will have to do (I expect we might lose a bit of roastiness in flavor sadly).

Michael took over from here, and stuck closely to the adobo recipe with the exception of using a little less ginger powder. It sat over night with the ribs soaking up the flavor.

I popped it in the oven the following day to cook for 3 hours and prepared the salsa while it cooked. I took some liberties. Michael and I don’t do spicy so much these days and I could not locate the chile cascabel, so we did without that. We used stewed tomatoes rather than diced, which I drained before roasting with the garlic. Our adobo was a little thinner than a paste and we didn’t want things to be too soupy.

I added the braising liquid to the roasted tomatoes and cooked it down for 30 minutes. I skipped adding the additional adobo, as we tasted it and found it a little too spicy for us. So I drained the mixture a little before blending it. For me it was perfect. It came out like a really authentic mexican salsa, you know the really good ones that you only find at a mexican restaurant. It was roasty and had just the right spice for us. If you like spice, stick to the recipe! I am sure that it is delicious and packs more of a punch than our version.

We served this with flour tortillas, as well as a southwest cabbage slaw, sour cream, guac and the salsa, which we served on the side. Michael preferred the boneless cuts of meat, I preferred the bone in (we really are Jack Sprat and his wife).

A late lesson on Birria

I had a Spanish friend who was wondering about “birria” (she had a much different connotation of the word). I googled it and found lovely photos of a goat or mutton stew from the Mexican State of Jalisco. (So perhaps I should have left some of that liquid in. I guess, it could have been soupier! LOL.) Perhaps we will find ourselves in San Francisco and make a stop at Nopalito and if it is on the menu, taste the dish the way it was meant to be. Regardless, our variation on this dish was delicious, and I encourage you to try the recipe and find your own variation.

The Pairing

The Birria de Res was delicious. And the wine…well we both really raved about this wine. It was the perfect compliment, it was beautiful with the food.

I got exotic spices and black fruit on the nose. You could tell this was a cool climate Syrah. The mouth feel was lighter than those giant Syrahs you often find. This wine was flavorful, without being BIG. It was food friendly, but it wasn’t a pushover with the food. Balance…that was what this wine had in spades.

The entire pairing was comfortably delicious. Thanks Randall for this pairing suggestion which made for a really memorable meal.

Want some?

Visit the site to order the 2017 Syrah “Lieff Vineyard”

It runs an extraordinarily reasonable $26 per bottle.

Want to visit them?

You really should get yourself to their tasting room in Davenport.  Located at 450 Highway 1, Davenport, CA 95017. They are typically open 11 to 5. Plan to visit the beautiful coast that is right out their front door and perhaps take a drive into Bonny Doon, the tiny town that inspired the name that sits up in the hills just inland from Davenport. Make sure to allow plenty of time to taste through the ecclectic line up that is Rhône driven, by the original Rhône Ranger himself.

Want more?  Click through to all of our 12 Days of Wine posts!

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.


Picpoul from Pinet and California and a seaside pairing with #Winophiles

Picpoul de Pinet and Bonny Doon Vineyard Picpoul

Picpoul or Piquepoul is a grape of the South of France. While it is used as a blending grape in the Rhône, when you travel to Occitanie on the Mediterranean Sea you find it made as a single varietal wine. It is a wine of place, pairing perfectly with the briny oysters and other seafood of the coast. Picpoul translates to “lip stinger”, is named for it’s bright and tingly acid.  It is one of the oldest grape varieties in the Occitanie Region of France.

Languedoc-Rousillon in Occitanie

Occitanie Region of France map

Occitanie Region of France

While we have been diving into Rhone grapes lately, and picpoul is a grape of the Southern Rhone, it is more well know in Languedoc-Roussillon, a wine region in the south of France that is west of the French Riviera and runs around the Mediterranean Sea to the border with Spain.

Until 2016 the Occitanie region was referred to as Languedoc-Roussillon, and Midi-Pyrénées. The new name for the region comes from the Occitan cross which was the coat of arms used by the Counts of Toulouse and used in the 12th and 13th centuries. This new larger region encompasses the area they ruled.

Map of the Languedoc-Rousillon Wine Region in France

The Languedoc-Rousillon Wine Region in France

Within this region you find Picpoul-de-Pinet. This area around the Étang de Thau has moderate daytime temperatures due to the sea breezes and being close to the lagoon keeps the night time temps from dropping too much.

Étang de Thau

Photo of Oyster beds on the Thau Lagoon

The oyster beds on the Etang du Thau

The lagoon (étang) itself is 7,500 hectares and spans an area along the Mediterranean that runs 21 km along the coast and is 8 km wide. It is one of the largest lagoons off of the Mediterranean Sea. It is also a spectacular place to see flamingos, who stop in to eat in the lagoon around the village of Frontignan. You will also find many oyster and mussel farms in the region.

Picpoul-de-Pinet

Pinet is a commune in the Héralt department in the Occitanie region of Southern France. The small community gives it’s name to Picpoul-de-Pinet.  The vineyards here are among the oldest on the Mediterranean and grow on the edge of the Thau Lagoon.

The Grape

Picpoul vines grow well and are early to bud out in the spring, which does make it a little susceptible to frost. It also ripens late and it has a tendency toward mildew. The grapes themselves are oval and tend to drop off easily. I have heard that vineyards used to lay pans out under the vines to catch the grapes as they fell.

Picpoul comes to America

I first discovered this variety at Tablas Creek in Paso Robles, the winery noted for bringing this variety to the US. This is one of the 13 varieties of grape allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Tablas Creek did not bring this grape in initially with the first 8 varieties that they brought from the Rhône, but after seeing how well suited the land and climate were to this grape imported it and planted an acre in 2000. Since then they have added another acre, grafting some roussanne vines over to picpoul blanc. As in the Southern Rhone, they use picpoul as a blending grape in their Esprit de Tablas Blanc. About every other year they do a varietal bottling. Sadly, I did not have a bottle for this tasting.

Bonny Doon’s Picpoul

When we were traveling and tasting last year and stopped by Bonny Doon, we found that they also had a picpoul. Randall Grahm, the winemaker, sources the grapes from Beeswax Vineyard in Arroyo Seco. We  shared a little about this area and vineyard last year in our “Pairing food with Picpoul Blanc – (Speed Dating for Food and Wine)

Arroyo Seco

Arroyo Seco is an AVA in Monterey County. The AVA covers two towns, Soledad and Greenfield. The area sits in the Salinas Valley 40 miles from Monterey Bay, which brings dense fog and howling winds during the growing season in the Eastern and Central Portions of the AVA. Named for the “Arroyo Seco” a seasonal waterway that brings in water from the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Los Padres National Forest. The Western portion of the AVA runs east to west in a narrow gorge that is sheltered from the Monterey Bay fog and winds and has higher daytime temperatures. The AVA covers over 18,000 acres and is one of the smallest AVAs in California and has about 7,000 planted acres. Find out more about this region at http://www.arroyosecowinegrowers.com/

Beeswax Vineyards

Beeswax Vineyard was established in 2000 and has 24 acres of organically farmed wine grapes with blocks of pinot noir, grenache blanc, roussanne and picpoul blanc. This tiny vineyard is in the Salinas Valley toward the southern end of the AVA and is nestled into the Santa Lucia foothills.

Arroyo Seco Appellation map courtesy the Arroyo Seco Winegrowers

A conversation with Randall Grahm on picpoul blanc

I had an opportunity to speak with Randall Grahm the infamous winemaker at Bonny Doon Vineyards about picpoul.  He was gracious enough to take a few moments out of his busy morning for a chat on the phone.

Randall told me they originally brought picpoul in to add to their Cigare Blanc which is a white Rhône blend. The blend for the Cigare Blanc with the roussanne and grenache blanc was becoming more alcoholic and the acid was dropping. They grafted over some of the roussanne to picpoul hoping to add some of the acid that picpoul is known for, to the blend. “It seemed like a good idea, and we used it for one vintage, but found it did not play well with the roussanne and grenache blanc”, Randall said. It did, however make a great wine on it’s own, and has been well received. 2017 makes their 6th bottling of this variety.

We spoke about Beeswax Vineyard, the vineyard in Arroyo Seco where they source the grapes for this wine. They have had a good relationship with this grower and were involved in the layout and planning for the vineyard 14 years ago.  As I mentioned, they grafted over some of the original roussanne in this vineyard to picpoul which is where we get this wine. Randall also mentioned to me when we spoke that they have recently grafted some of the Beeswax vineyard roussanne over to clairette blanche, so watch for that from Bonny Doon in the future.

As to the wine making behind the Bonny Doon Picpoul,  “It’s a pretty low tech wine, whole cluster pressed with no skin contact and batonnage post fermentation for texture”.  Randall says the 2017 Vintage is a bit of an anomaly, in that it has riper aromatics and is more articulated. In this vintage you get floral notes where you normally find only flinty minerality. Randall only made 1500 cases of the 2017 Picpoul, so you should hurry and get some.

Picpoul in California

It is estimated (and only estimated because there is so little of it) that as of 2016 there were only 30 acres of picpoul in California. In addition to Tablas Creek and Bonny Doon, I found a few other California wineries that have produced picpoul blanc including Forlorn Hope (Napa), Broc Cellars (Berkley), TH Estates, Adelaida (Paso Robles), and Acquiesce (Lodi). If you are aware of other US wineries producing picpoul, let us know in the comments!

The Wines

Mouline de Gassac Picpoul de Pinet

Picpoul de Pinet

Picpoul de Pinet

The Mouline de Gassac Picpoul-de-Pinet we chose, grows in limestone soils on a 5 hectare vineyard that is organically farmed. The soil here is clay and limestone close to the Thau Lagoon.  This is an unoaked picpoul.  40,000 bottles were made and the alcohol sits at 12.5%.

Bonny Doon 2016 Picpoul

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2016 Picpoul

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2016 Picpoul

We had two bottles of this wine.  The first we indulged in last September when we did our “Pairing food with Picpoul Blanc – (Speed Dating for Food and Wine)” post.  As I posted then..

“This wine was mouthwatering and bright, with a light straw yellow color. You get minerals, ocean and a floral note when you stick your nose in the glass and then tart green apple and stone fruit pits in your mouth. There is in the background this little bit of beeswax. It is a lovely and subtle wine.”

This wine comes in at 12.7% alcohol

It is worth mentioning the beautiful art on the label of the Bonny Doon Picpoul.  The artist is by Wendy Cook a calligrapher in San Francisco.  She has also done the labels for the Bonny Doon Viognier and roussanne and you can see more of her work at www.bellocchio.com

Bonny Doon 2017 Picpoul

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2017 Picpoul

Bonny Doon 2017 Picpoul from Arroyo Seco Beeswax Vineyard

We did our initial tasting with the 2016 Bonny Doon Picpoul and had a bottle of the 2017 in route.  While it didn’t arrive in time for our pairing.  We did taste it after to see if we could pick up on the differences in the vintage that Randall mentioned.

This wine opened with sweet honeysuckle on the nose with lighter minerals in the back that grew to slate as it opened.  The nose was enchanting.  As with the other picpoul we found notes of beeswax also, but the sweet floral notes were the star.  We ended up pairing this will some linguine and clam sauce for dinner which was a great pairing.

This 6th vintage of Picpoul has an alcohol level a little lower than it’s predecessor, coming in at 12%

We have to thank Bonny Doon for including us in their food pairing notes for this wine! I went to check suggested pairings on their site and this is what I found.

“This wine is utterly brilliant with the briniest oysters you can find or Dungeness crab. Other ideas include Grilled Octopus with Lemon, Moussaka, Sardines a la Plancha, Grilled Sardines with Frisée & Whole-Grain Mustard Dressing. We also love these more doon-to-earth ideas from our friends over at CrushedGrapeChronicles.com: Iberico or Manchego cheese, herbed goat cheese, smoked oysters, anchovies, capers, olive tapenade, calamari.”

 

The Pairing

Croquettes & Picpoul Tasting

Croquettes & Picpoul Tasting

The last time we tried a pairing, we didn’t prepare very well, although it did lead to some amazing discoveries that were noted in the pairing notes above. This time, I planned ahead. We found briney oysters and Dungeness crab as Randall suggested and made Croquettes de brandade, which is a popular pairing in Provence and Languedoc. The croquettes are made with potatoes and salt cod.  We rounded things out with a salad of frisee with a whole grain mustard vinaigrette.

If you are interested in making Croquettes de brandade (they were delicious), we did a separate post on how to make them along with a little video.

The Experience

Picpoul comparison

Picpoul comparison

Michael poured a glass of each of the wines and the first thing you noticed was the difference in color.  The Picpoul-de-Pinet was a deeper golden color and on pouring, produced tiny bubbles on the bottom of the glass.  The effervescence dissipated when you swirled the glass.  The Bonny Doon Picpoul was much lighter in color, just tinted with a bit of light straw that had a touch of green.

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On the nose the  Picpoul-de-Pinet smelled instantly of the sea, followed by citrus and lemon.  The Bonny Doon opened with slate and was a bit more mouth filling, and I never know if it is just my brain playing tricks on me, since I know that this wine comes from Beeswax vineyard, but I get beeswax on the nose.

Picpoul is a wine of place.  Sip it on it’s own and it’s fine, but it is truly meant to pair with food.  With the oysters, Dungeness crab and the croquettes, it paired perfectly.  Close your eyes and picture the Etang de Thau, or the California coast in Davenport, across the street from the Bonny Doon tasting room.  Smell the sea, taste the oysters, sip the wine.  That is the experience.

Bonny Doon beach

Bonny Doon beach

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

The #Winophiles

On the third Saturday of each month, The French #Winophiles convene and share posts about a particular grape or region. Today we are focusing on the Picpoul varietal hosted by Camilla of Culinary Adventures.

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 the following articles prepared by these amazing writers on their take on picpoul!

The Picpoul Posts

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

 

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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A Grenache Vertical from Tablas Creek

Grenache Vertical Tablas Creek

We had planned to head to the Valley of Fire, but the winds kicked up and it didn’t seem like a good day to go, so…how to fill our day off?  Michael suggested a vertical.  We settled on a Grenache Vertical from Tablas Creek Vineyard.  We had a 2009, 2010 and 2012 in the cellar (they didn’t make a single variety Grenache in 2011).

Grenache

First, let’s start by talking about Grenache. The grape likely originated in Spain where they call it Garnacha, but it is found abundantly in France in the Rhône Valley. It is the “G” in a “GSM” (Grenache, Syrah & Mourvedre) which is the traditional Red Blend from the Southern Rhône. About half of the Grenache grown in the world is in France, with the next biggest portion being grown in Spain. As far as the Rhône Valley goes, it is the most widely planted grape and it is the second most widely planted grape in the world! When you have a single variety Grenache you are looking at a Medium bodied wine.

 

Grenache Noir Tablas Creek

Grenache Noir in veraison at Tablas Creek

Tablas Creek has an incredible website, most especially if you are a wine geek. So here’s a link if you want to dive in deep on Grenache and in particular Grenache from Tablas Creek. https://tablascreek.com/story/vineyard_and_winemaking/grapes/grenache

Tablas Creek Vineyard

Tablas Creek Vineyard is located in Paso Robles in California’s Central Coast Region. The Vineyard and winery are a collaborative effort between the Perrin Family of Chateau de Beaucastel in the Rhône Valley’s Châteauneuf du Pape area and the Haas Family. Vineyard Brands, the wine import company founded by Robert Haas had been the exclusive importer for Beaucastel wines. They spent 4 years searching for a property that would be similar to the southern Rhône and settled on this piece of land with limestone soils similar to Beaucastel. In 1989 they founded Tablas Creek Vineyard on the West side of Paso Robles to grow Rhone Varieties. Hot sunny summer days and cool nights from the nearby Pacific, were just the right conditions. At the time, Paso Robles was one big AVA. This ginormous AVA which covered 614,000 acres of land and had 40,000 vineyard acres, was broken into 11 new AVAs including the Adelaida District AVA which is where Tablas Creek is located.

So they found the spot, now it was about the grapes. At this point in time, Rhône grape vines were not abundantly available in California, so they began the process of importing vines from Beaucastel. 9 grape varieties, with several clones from each as well as a variety of rootstocks where selected and imported. Of course that sounds easy right? Just get the cuttings and FedEx them right? Nope. The process is tedious, but important. After the Pheloxera outbreaks in the mid 1800’s and again in 1980’s, regulation to keep vineyards safe was imperative. The first vines arrived from France in 1990 and went through a 3 year process to be sure they were free of all virus’. Once the vines were released they needed to make more vines to have enough to plant. They created a nursery to do this which “at it’s peak produced over 200,000 bench-rafted vines for planting in Tablas Creek’s own vineyard and for sale to interested growers each year.” ( from https://tablascreek.com/story/history) They later partnered with NovaVine in Sonoma to handle this. You can now find Tablas Creek Clones in over 600 vineyards in multiple states.

They began with 9 varietals from Southern Rhone, including Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Counoise, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Picpoul. They continue bringing in varietals so that they eventually will have all of the Châteauneuf du Pape collection.

We have been lucky enough to visit them multiple times and even had an opportunity to do an extensive interview a few years ago with Jason Haas their General Manager.  You can find all that info here on the website on our Tablas Creek Page.

The Grenache Vertical

Yes, each of these wines are grown at the same vineyard and made by the same winemaker, but there are differences.  First of course is the difference in age, when it was made and how much time it has spent in the bottle before opening.  But each vintage is unique.  We began our Grenache vertical with the 2009 which was the fourth time that Tablas Creek had done a single varietal Grenache bottling.

 

Grenache Vertical poured

Vertical tasting through 3 years of Tablas Creek Grenache

2009

In 2009 California had been in drought conditions for 3 years. April frost and a huge October rainstorm caused the lowest yields they had ever seen at 1.85 tons per acre for the reds. Low yields do typically indicate more concentrated fruit and that held true for this wine when it was made. This was the 4th bottling of Grenache as a single varietal for Tablas Creek.

The Vintage Chart for this wine (which you can find on the Tablas site) indicates that this wine is “Drinking Well: Youthful” while the other two vintages are noted at “Drinking Well: Mature”. Seems strange that the older wine is more tasting more youthful right? The concentration of this vintage allowed more tannins in the wine to give it more room for aging, and in fact they believe that this wine will continue to age nicely for another decade or more.   When it comes to aging wines, these folks know a thing or two.

This wine started off warm with red fruit topped with baking spice and prune then it opened up and became spicier with fine ground white pepper. It continued to open through the evening with more herbs and resin.

2010

Harvest for this vintage was late, starting 3 weeks later than usual and ending 2 weeks later. As opposed to 2009, yields of Grenache were almost doubled from the previous vintage. The summer was cool, but not foggy and while they had a little rain during harvest, it was followed by sun and wind to dry out the moisture. This wine and the ’12 are expected to continue to age well for the next 15 years.

This wine had more fruit on the palate than the ’09 and it was a little figgy on the nose (which caused me to buy some fig butter to pair with it). As it opened up I got a little leather, then prunes and more warmth.

2012

The yields from this vintage were similar to 2010 (just a small increase in the tons of Grenache). The sugar levels in the 2012 Grenache sit at just about the same place as the 2010 also.

My first impression in the glass was dried strawberries and cocoa. It opened up to more savory notes of black tea on roasted meat with dried herbs and then some caramel at the end.

On the Tablas Blog you can find a charming comparison of vintages to Hollywood stars

The Pairings

We opened the wines mid day and had a taste to see what we wanted to pair with them. We did not decant, which was recommended and here’s why. We had 3 bottles, and we were planning to pair with lunch and then again with dinner and we did not want to let them dissipate too quickly. So after sipping, we set out to find some pairings that might show up the similarities and differences in our Grenache Vertical.

Lunch

Cheese Pairings with Grenache

Our cheese pairings with the Tablas Creek Grenache Vertical

Our lunch pairings included a Beef Shepherd’s pie, lentil soup and then a cheese plate that consisted of Asiago with Rosemary, a triple crème cheese and a Cambolzola (a triple crème bleu), fig butter, cherry preserves, dates, strawberries and rosemary.

Dinner

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For dinner, we made bacon wrapped dates, roasted root vegetables (carrots and beets), roasted strawberries with rosemary and crostini’s with cherry preserves and Beef Sirloin Tri Tip in a Kansas City BBQ sauce, which we topped with a little fresh rosemary.

The Tasting

The lentil soup: This went well with the ‘09, great with the ‘10 and not so much with the ‘12. The 12 was just a little too fruity to go with the spices, where the 09 was good, but took a little bit of a backseat. The ‘10 was “just right”.

The Shepherd’s Pie: The ’09 was really nice, there was less spice in the shepherd’s pie than in the soup and that seemed to lend itself to a nice match with the ’09. The ’10 was a little big for the pie and the ’12 a little fruity but okay. The ’09 wins for this pairing.

With the cheeses the Fig butter and triple crème brie were wonderful with the ’09, and the ’10. The Asiago and rosemary went best with the ’10 and the Triple Crème Bleu and cherry preserves were heaven with the ’12.

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The bacon wrapped dates and the crostini with cherry jam and BBQ tri tip were heaven with all 3.

My idea of the roasted strawberries seemed great and the nose and taste seemed like it would be great with the wines, but  I tasted alone with the ’12 had me reeling. The sugars in the strawberries made the wine go pure heat and alcohol in my mouth (don’t try this at home).

These wines continued to open up. We vacuum sealed them at the end of the evening and popped them open the following day to taste again. They continued to open up in our glasses with more nuances and surprises.

This was a wonderful vertical…I just wish I had another bottle of each that I could hold for another 10 years and try then! (This is why I need a Coravin!)

Check back for more vertical tastings! We will be doing an Esprit de Tablas (with one Esprit de Beaucastel) vertical with Thanksgiving Dinner!

And 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

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Pairing food with Picpoul Blanc – (speed dating for food and wine)

Picpoul Blanc Pairing Bonny Doon 2016 Arroyo Seco Beeswax Vineyard

While on the Central Coast we made the pilgrimage to Bonny Doon Vineyard’s tasting room on the Pacific Coast Highway in Davenport, CA. We left with a couple bottles of their 2016 Picpoul. The grapes for this 100% Picpoul Wine come from Beeswax Vineyard in Arroyo Seco.

Picpoul

So this grape is from the Southern Rhone and often is used as a blending grape. The label by Wendy Cook steers you toward the meaning of the name.

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2016 Picpoul Arroyo Seco Beeswax Vineyard

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2016 Picpoul Arroyo Seco Beeswax Vineyard Label Art by Wendy Cook

“Pique-poule” means lip stinger in French (or pecking hens depending on your translation, either way…you can picture the hens pecking your lips) It’s one of those 13 varieties of grape that are allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Picpoul does come in red (Picpoul Noir), white (Picpoul Blanc) and pink (Picpoul Gris), but the white variety is most prevalent, which is why Bonny Doon refers to their Picpoul Blanc as simply Picpoul.

In France it is best known today as Picpoul de Pinet from the Pinet Region of Languedoc.

Arroyo Seco

Arroyo Seco is an AVA in Monterey County. The AVA covers two towns, Soledad and Greenfield. The area sits in the Salinas Valley 40 miles from Monterey Bay, which brings dense fog and howling winds during the growing season in the Eastern and Central Portions of the AVA. Named for the “Arroyo Seco” a seasonal waterway that brings in water from the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Los Padres National Forest. The Western portion of the AVA runs east to west in a narrow gorge that is sheltered from the Monterey Bay fog and winds and has higher daytime temperatures. The AVA covers over 18,000 acres and is one of the smallest AVAs in California and has about 7,000 planted acres.

Beeswax Vineyards

Beeswax Vineyard is owned by the Silva family who also runs Poppy Wines. It was established in 2000 and has 24 acres of organically farmed wine grapes with blocks of Pinot Noir, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Picpoul Blanc. This tiny vineyard is in the Salinas Valley toward the southern end of the AVA and is nestled into the Santa Lucia foothills.

Bonny Doon 2016 Picpoul – Arroyo Seco Beeswax Vineyard

This wine was mouthwatering and bright, with a light straw yellow color. You get minerals, ocean and a floral note when you stick your nose in the glass and then tart green apple and stone fruit pits in your mouth. There is in the background this little bit of beeswax. It is a lovely and subtle wine.

What to Pair with it?

I spent a little time in the afternoon researching what to pair with this wine. I started with the Bonny Doon site, which gave me “the briniest oysters you can find or Dungeness crab.” Well, sadly, finding either of those for the evening dinner was not really a possibility, so I searched further.

Tablas Creek Vineyards also does a Picpoul (there are not many wineries in the country that do), and they suggested; Fried Calamari, Thai dishes with lemongrass and ginger, Dover sole, Cerviche, Braised tuna or Swordfish. Well, that I could work with and Calamari and some Thai lemongrass sticks were added to the shopping list.

Digging deeper The Wine Cellar Insider suggested “salmon, swordfish, scallops, clams, oysters and rich cream or butter sauces.” And Picpoul de Pinet suggestion “not only….seafood and shellfish as well as other traditional Mediterranean dishes, but also with cheese and chocolate.” And finally Wine & Good Food suggested “oysters, Mahi Mahi or a salad topped with strawberries and goat cheese”

Okay…so now we had a list to work with. We headed to TJ’s, to see what we could find that might fit the bill and give us a wide variety of things to try.

Pairing a Picpoul

Picpoul Blanc Pairing Bonny Doon 2016 Arroyo Seco Beeswax Vineyard

A Picpoul Blanc Pairing

So we ended up with a big platter with a variety of things to try with this wine. We included;  smoked oysters, herbed goat cheese, anchovies,  smoked gouda, sardines, olive tapenade, capers and a couple Spanish Cheeses; Manchego and Iberico . We later dinned on the Calamari with a mayo, greek yogurt dip with thyme, lemon juice and lemon zest and the Thai Lemongrass chicken sticks.

As I tasted an allegory took hold in my mind, so indulge me as it carries me through my tasting notes.

The tasting hook up

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Smoked Oysters

Smoked oysters are not my favorite thing, but paired with the Picpoul they mellow and created a lighter tone for both the oyster and the wines and pulling up a floral note in the wine. This couple I really didn’t think would get along and they ended up having a great conversation.

Iberco

This is a fine pairing (remember when your date told you that you looked “fine”). The Spanish cheese pulls out the body in the wine and the saltiness in the cheese. These two might date for a while.

Anchovies

Anchovies are a little loud and unruly in your mouth. A sip of the Picpoul mellows and soothes the flavor and makes those anchovies much more likeable.

Olive Tapenade

These two change when they are together and continue changing in my mouth, like a couple lovingly pushing each other to take another step.

Manchego

They meet and compliment each other. The compliments make them smile and their smile makes each more beautiful.

Sardines

This is a blending that just makes you happy. Neither the Spanish cheese or the wine stand out, but together they are just right, snuggling in my mouth like an adorable quiet couple.

Capers

The picpoul just flatters the capers here, brightening them, while toning the acid in both and giving a little floral note to the bite. I think Picpoul might get Capers number.

Herbed Goat Cheese

Alright these two are the life of the party. Each are good but together they are a party in my mouth and are tearing up the dance floor!

Calamari

I’m out of allegory here. This was a great pairing, and while I think it would have been good with just Calamari and Picpoul the addition of the dip with the greek yogurt, thyme and lemon zest really kicked it up a notch.

Thai lemongrass chicken sticks

This was good. Mellow not a stand out, but certainly a good meld.

Last notes

Just before finishing this post, I was doing some additional research on Picpoul and came across this description on Appellationamerica.com. http://wine.appellationamerica.com/grape-varietal/Picpoul.html

Maybe my allegory wasn’t so far off.

Hopefully, this will inspire you in a couple of ways. To search out some Picpoul to start with and then to try some pairings. Take a moment with a wine and a food and think about them. What do you taste, what does it make you think of. Taste and explore! Then come back and share with us!

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

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Crawford Family Wines

Crawford Family Wines Tasting Room Los Olivos Santa Barbara County

Celebration of Harvest with the Santa Barbara Vintners is upon us and with the endless number of wineries in the Santa Barbara Valley, there are plenty to explore.  On our last trip we made a new discovery, as we visited Crawford Family Wines in Los Olivos.

Mark Horvath is the owner and winemaker at Crawford Family Wines.  That being so, you might ask where the name for the winery came from.  Well before Crawford Family Wines, Mark had another winery with Joey Gummere (who now runs his own winery Transcendence).  They spent a bit of time batting around names for their collaborative venture, mixing and matching their names and they came up with Kenneth Crawford.  Not names either of them were really known by, Kenneth is Joey’s first name, but he doesn’t go by it and Crawford is Mark’s mother’s maiden name but together…it sounded pretty cool, better than Gummere and Horvath or Mark & Joey, that was for sure.  So when opening his own winery Mark figured he would stick with the Crawford, and Crawford Family Wines was born.

Mark Horvath, Crawford family Wines speaking at the Santa Barbara Vintners Syrah Seminar April 2016

Mark and his wife Wendy have been in the wine industry for a while.  Spent time immmersed in the industry in Sonoma, with Mark working at Carmenet Winery, learning the cellar, the lab and then taking UC Davis courses.  It was at UC Davis, that he ran into a bunch of Santa Barbara Winemakers.  Mind you, back then there was not alot of buzz about Santa Barbara, but these winemakers had a passion and Mark and Wendy found themselves drawn to the area.  Mark worked at Babcock as the assistant winemaker, then started Kenneth Crawford with Joey Gummere and recently has worked at Tres Hermanas as the winemaker.Wendy has a background in the restaurant industry, she worked at The French Laundry and at Santa Barbara’s Wine Cask and has done work with a wine distributor.

The focus at Crawford Family Wines is Pinot Noir from the Sta. Rita Hills, many of which are vineyard specific.  They also do a Chardonnay from Rita’s Crown.  Outside of the Burgundian wines, they have an Albarino, a Rosé and a couple of Rhones.  We enjoyed a Syrah Seminar on the range of Santa Barbara Syrahs in April of 2016 and Mark spoke about the cool climate Syrah he was making from the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.

Crawford Family Wines Los Olivos Santa Barbara County Tasting Room

Tin Roof and all at the Crawford Family Wines Tasting Room in Los Olivos

The day we walked into the tasting room was a Monday and we were lucky enough to find Wendy manning the tasting room.  On the outside the building is rustic with a tin roof and wood siding, and beautifully manicured plants.  When you walk in the tasting room is clean and bright with white walls with large vivid photography gracing the walls.  While clean and sharp it’s also warm and welcoming.

We had a wonderful conversation with Wendy while tasting through their wines.

Speaking of the Wines….

 

Crawford Family Wines 2016 Albariño

Yeah, one of these things is not like the others…but this is a great wine and a great grape that is getting more traction in Santa Barbara.  The grapes for this particular wine come from Brick Barn Vineyard, which is located just outside the Sta. Rita Hills AVA in Buellton.  The entire vineyard is 50 acres on a former horse and cattle ranch.  This is only the 2nd crop of this grape.  It is fermented in Stainless steel and is bright and crisp with a some lemon, some peaches and florals.  This is what I would consider a Zesty wine.

$28.00

2015 Tin Shack Chardonnay

This wine comes from the Sta. Rita Hills, from Rita’s Crown.  As the name indicates this vineyard sits on the highest point in the region, the “Crown” in Sta. Rita.  The vineyard sits at 600 to 1000 feet and has diatomaceous soil.  Close to the ocean, you find fossilized seashells here.  It has southwest facing slopes and is surrounded by other well known, dare I say “famous” vineyards in the area, like Sea Smoke, La Rinconada, Sanford & Benedict and Fiddlestix.

This wine is called “Tin Shack” because it is fermented in Stainless Steel, then put into neutral oak for a year.  Only 180 cases were produced.  This is meant to get the best of both worlds with fermentation and winemaking technique.  The stainless steel fermentation captures the essence of the soil, the bright acidity and aromatics.  The year it spends in barrel on the lees softens it and adds some complexity giving you that baking spice on the nose.

The label for this wine as well as for the Walk Slow Pinot were done by Wendy’s Brother.

$42.00

2016 Rosé

This wine comes from probably the warmest vineyard that they source from.  It is a Grenache rosé from Mesa Verde Vineyard, which is one of the southern-most vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley, sitting just west of Sunstone.  They picked early to keep the brightness, but because it is the southern part of the valley, the fruit developed some of those riper flavors.

$25.00

2013 Bentrock Pinot Noir

This is single vineyard wine from Bentrock Vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.  Bentrock was formerly known as Salsipuedes.  This is the far South West corner of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation and is close to the ocean catching daily cold ocean winds (not breezes).  This is a lean and earthy Pinot Noir, with minerality.  This is a wine that has capture the terroir, you can taste the wind, the ocean, the reach for the warmth of sunlight.

$52.00

2014 Pinot Noir, Walk Slow

This Pinot is a blend of fruit from Bentrock and Babcock Vineyards.  It does 30% whole cluster fermentation and is 75% Babcock fruit which is clone 115 and 24% Bentrock which is clone 667.  Both vineyards are in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, but Babcock sits down in the valley on the route 246 where as Bentrock is up on the far west end of Santa Rosa Road.

This is 30% new french oak, which is the only new oak in his winemaking program.  It spends 16 months in barrel.  The fruit from these two different vineyards balance each other.  With a beautiful nose of black tea with woods and dark cherry and cherries and tart red fruit in your mouth.  (My mouth is watering just thinking about this wine and I’m kicking myself for not leaving with a bottle!)

The name of this wine “Walk Slow” is Mark’s reminder to himself to slow down and enjoy.  This is a wine that opens up with layer upon layer, you have to slow down and experience it as it changes in your glass.

$48.00

2014 Second Street Cuvée

The Second Street Cuvée is a GSM blend, in a Cotes-du-Rhone Style. It is named after the “Second Street” where their winery is located in Buellton.

It is 60% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre from Lavando and Shokrian Vineyards.  Lavando is a small vineyard that is planted at a friends ranch just outside the Ballard Canyon AVA.  Shokrian is in Los Alamos and is owned by Babak Shokrian and was previously Verna’s Vineyard, owned by Melville.  This vineyard sits across the road from White Hawk Vineyard on Cat Canyon Road.  So there is a bit of distance between where the fruit grew.  The fruit came from hillside blocks together give this wine an earthy fruit quality, that is very food friendly.

$32.00

This tasting room is not on Grand Avenue, the main road in town, but is a block over on the main cross street Alamo Pintado.  If you find your self at the flagpole, head east on Alamo Pintado (past Panino) and cross San Marcos Ave.  It will be on your left past Blair Fox Cellars.  It is well worth the stroll to the outer edges of the town.  If you are hungry after your tasting, I recommend the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe, where they often serve Crawford Family Wines by the glass.

Celebration of Harvest Weekend which is coming up September 29th through October 1st, is a great opportunity to taste a variety of the amazing wines from this area and get to meet some of the winemakers.  There is so much to this amazing area you could spend weeks here and not see it all (trust me, we’ve tried).  So take the weekend and learn about this amazing wine region that is practically in LA’s backyard.  There are beautiful wines being made here and there is something for everyone.

You can find out more on the Santa Barbara Vintners Celebration of Harvest site, where you can see the entire schedule for the weekend, buy tickets for the events and purchase your passport for the weekend.

And be sure to stop back here!  We look forward to sharing with you all of our adventures during the Celebration of Harvest.

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

 

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The French Laundry Culinary Gardens

The French Laundry Culinary Gardens Yountville

I remember first reading about Thomas Keller in Michael Ruhlman’s “The Soul of a Chef”.  Ruhlman describes his first visit to the French Laundry and the out of body experience that it was.  He includes the story that is included in the French Laundry Cookbook about Keller’s first time butchering rabbits. The experience was for him, a turning point.  The experience was awful and he vowed to ensure that these rabbits were beautiful, there would be no neglecting them as they cooked, overcooking by accident and throwing away needlessly was not to occur after taking their lives.  This story of getting back to where the food comes from, the respect for that and subsequent care for the products that he puts on the plate is part of the essence of what makes the French Laundry so special.

The history of the building

The French Laundry is a two story stone building that was built in 1900 originally as a saloon.   In the 1920’s it served as a French steam laundry.  It had a personal residence and was also a brothel and saloon in the 1930’s, before going vacant for many years, but the locals still referred to it as the French Laundry.  In 1976, one time Yountville Mayor Don Schmitt and his wife Sally purchased the neglected property and turned it into a restaurant.  In the 1990’s the Schmitt’s were ready to leave Yountville, it had grown a little too big for them and an unemployed Chef from LA saw the property and knew it was his destiny.  Mind you, Keller had already made a name for himself at Rakel in NYC as well as Checkers in LA.  When he opened the French Laundry in 1994 he had immediate interest followed by profuse praise.  The restaurant continues to set high standards and be one of the most acclaimed restaurants on the planet.

The building is inconspicuous and you can easily walk by and miss it.  Covered in vines, it is humble and elegant.  While walking by, we watched multiple cars stop, it’s occupants hurrying around to have their picture snapped in front of this iconic restaurant.

Thomas Keller's French Laundry In Yountville

Thomas Keller’s French Laundry In Yountville

When you follow the front walk to the end, you can see the beautiful new kitchen that was built in 2015.  This is modern in contrast to the restaurant building.  Thomas Keller comments that he was inspired by the Louvre, contrasting the older and traditional with the new and innovative.  There is a great video with him on the The French Laundry Culinary Gardens Facebook Page.

The French Laundry Culinary Gardens

The gardens across the street, are well kept, but also humble.  A vegetable garden, with herbs and flowers, that is not pretentious and is open to passersby.  As you stroll up the street you will see the hoop houses in the back.  At the center of the garden near the sidewalk you will find a podium with a wood and glass display box that shows the layout of the garden.  You can look about and see exactly where the tomatoes, cucumbers, squash…the herb patch and the flower bed with sunflowers are located.  Off to the side you see the chicken coop and you can wonder up and say hello to the chickens.  There are bee boxes for fresh honey as well as to provide a home for the bees who pollinate the garden. There are sun chokes, pumpkins, peppers and along the sidewalk you will see fruit trees.  Here and there you find benches to sit and enjoy the bucolic view.

The Gardens at the French Laundry in Yountville Napa North Coast

The Gardens at the French Laundry in Yountville

French Laundry Culinary Gardens and Bench Yountville

A shady tree and a bench to sit on while you take in the culinary gardens.

This is farm to table.  The produce comes in each morning and the menu can be based on what they know is going to be ready in the garden. Again, this is Keller getting back to the source of the food he is so beautifully preparing.

All in all, strolling Yountville and the French Laundry Culinary Gardens is a fantastic way to start a day in Napa.  It is stimulating to the senses, yet calming.  It quiets your mind and puts you in a reflective mindset, which I believe is the perfect way to start tasting wine.

Continue with us as we chronicle our journey through wine country and dig into some of the wonderful places we’ve already visited.  You can find us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles   or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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Coffee, Art and a Morning Stroll in Yountville

Morning in Yountville

When in Napa, the best place to spend your morning, before heading out for wine tasting, is Yountville.  Bouchon Bakery….Ahh… I live in Vegas and there are two Bouchon Bakeries at the Venetian, so I am luckier than most to be able to have these delicious pastries closer at hand than most, but really there is nothing like a Café au Lait and a Pain du Chocolat while sitting on a bench outside Bouchon Bakery in Yountville in the morning.  You often start outside on the sidewalk, making friends as you exchange the duty of holding the door for the line that trails out of the tiny building.  Once inside you can watch the bakery though the glass windows as they make the bread and pastries, while you await a close enough spot in the line to see the pastries in the display case.  Once there you are mesmerized by all the beautiful pastries, which to choose?  Then you must quickly decide on your drink (this part reminds me of the Starbucks in Time Square).  The staff bustles behind the counter, maneuvering around each other in their morning game of twister as they fill orders.  You politely duck back to await your name being called and move 5 or 6 times to allow others to grab a napkin or a fork from the counter behind you.  This bustle could feel stressful anywhere else, but you’re in Yountville, so everyone smiles sweetly with an underlying sense of bliss for the deliciousness that is coming and the wonders of the day ahead.

Once handed your parcel of pastries, you scoot outside to find a seat.  This trip had us there on a Saturday, and we were lucky that a bench opened up quickly.  Immediately the sparrows stop by to demand crumbs.  I’m so blissful, I can’t deny them. Then suddenly my pain au chocolate is gone.  I nurse my café au lait to extend my reason for staying.  Finally, we vacate to allow someone else a little of this bliss.

But the morning doesn’t end there.  It’s cool and comfortable.  The birds are chirping and Yountville is the perfect place for a morning stroll.  The city is dotted with public art, and grapevines and then there is the French Laundry Culinary Garden.  And strolling is part of what this place is about.  If you visit the Yountville website, the first words you read are “Welcome to Yountville! Here we embrace the old world Italian custom “Passeggiata” – an appreciation for the art of stroll and all the discovery and comfort that comes with it.”  So, to embrace the local culture, we strolled.

First…a little history on Yountville.

Yountville and the surrounding area, in the early 1800’s was owned by Mexico.  In 1836, George C. Yount, the city’s namesake, got a land grant from Mexico that ran the width of the Napa Valley from the current city of Yountville, north to the southern edge of St. Helena.  George named the area Caymus Rancho.  He was the first to plant grapes in Napa Valley and laid out a village with a public square that he called “Yountville”.

Art Walk

The city is dotted with public art.  You can find a map for the Art Walk on the Yountville City Site.  I was enamoured with the Rock Mushroom Garden by Napa Valley Artists Rich Botto.

V Marketplace

As you stroll through town, you will find the V Marketplace across the street from Bouchon Bakery (and of course Bouchon, the restaurant).  This Marketplace houses Michael Chiarello’s restaurant Bottega as well as multiple specialty shops.  This spot has some history also.  In 1874 this was the site of the first winery in Napa Valley built by Gotteib Groezinger. The three massive stone buildings Groezinger built now house beautiful specialty shops with apparel, home decor, jewelry, art as well as restaurants and tasting rooms.  The structure encompasses gardens with fountains and often hosts events.

The city is also dotted with grapevines here and there, it is after all, their biggest industry, and the vines were beautiful with grapes in veraison as we strolled.  There is also a large oak tree in the in the center of town, branches shored up by posts, that provides shade over a park. We were strolling, but there is plenty here to side track you, tasting rooms, shops, galleries, bistros and then of course, some of the finest restaurants in the country.

And this was just the beginning of our stroll.  Next we will stroll down Washington Street to visit the Culinary Gardens of the French Laundry.

For more on Yountville visit the Yountville site where you can find details on places to stay, things to do and upcoming events.

Continue with us as we chronicle our journey through wine country and dig into some of the wonderful places we’ve already visited.  You can find us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles   or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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