Comparing Rhône blends from California’s Central Coast

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

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

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

The Wines

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

2011 Patelin de Tablas

 

2011 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas

2011 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas

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

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

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

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

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

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

2013 Le Cigare Volant Réserve “en bonbonne”

2013 Le Cigare Volant reserve from Bonny Doon

2013 Le Cigare Volant reserve from Bonny Doon

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

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

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

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

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

Carboy or Demijohn at Bonny Doon

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

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

This wine’s production was only 554 cases.

What to Pair with these Rhône Blends?

I took inspiration from Randall’s suggestions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tasting the Rhône Blends

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

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

Pairing the Rhône Blends with Food

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

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April on the Central Coast

I love April. It is a month where Michael and I have a little time to travel. This year, I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that we hit the Central Coast. This trip was about taking in all that the Central Coast has to offer. We visited wineries and tasting rooms, yes, but one of the great things about the Central Coast is that the ocean is right there. We had an opportunity to speak with Heather Muran of SLO Wine Country. You may have seen our quick video with Heather talking about the wrap up of the April month long anniversary celebration for “Roll Out the Barrels”. There will be more video with Heather giving us more insights to the SLO Wine Region, but she impressed upon us that one of the most wonderful things about this area is the lifestyle. Many of the winemakers, surf or hike, and Michael and I wanted to take this in. So on our trip we visited wineries, hiked the bluffs trail at Montana de Oro north of Morro Bay, drove the Pacific Coast Highway, stopped in at the Avila Beach tasting rooms and watched a cricket game on the beach!

You’ve seen the beginning of our trip. It started at Santa Barbara’s El Paseo , first with lunch on the rooftop patio of Nordstroms in the historic Presidio district, with a view of the shops, buildings and trailing bouganvilla. The blog post has photos and details of The Wine Collection of the El Paseo with details on tasting at the 6 tasting rooms; Jamie Slone Wines, Margerum, Au Bon Climat, MCW32, Happy Canyon and Grassini Family Vineyards.

After our afternoon at the El Paseo, we wandered back down through the funk zone and onto the pier. The Conway Family’s Deep Sea Tasting room is the perfect place to enjoy some wine and watch the sunset over the water.

Evening view from the Conway Family Vineyards Deep Sea Tasting Room on the pier in Santa Barbara
Central Coast Wine Country Spring at Tablas Creek

We also spent a bit of time in Paso Robles. Jason Haas, GM of Tablas Creek Vineyards was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to do an interview with us in the vineyard and the winery. It was a fascinating conversation that I look forward to sharing with you.

As I mentioned we did a great interview with Heather Muran the Executive Director of the San Luis Obispo Wine Country Association at the beautiful Laetitia Vineyards which is the southern most end of SLO Wine Country. We did a tasting at Claiborne & Churchill where they were doing a “Roll Out the Barrels” Event called “Hit Me”. They are known for their Alsatian style white wines and did a blind tasting of 5 aromatic wines where you had to pick which variety matched each wine. We had a great lunch at Big Sky Cafe in downtown San Luis Obispo, which is a great town to stroll through.

Claiborne & Churchill SLO Central Coast Wine Country
Kynsi San Luis Obispo Central Coast Wine Country

Kynsi has a beautiful tasting patio at their vineyard. Don Othman came to the area to start a company to design and manufacture wine making equipment. He created the “Bulldog Pup” which is a widely used racking wand for transferring wine from barrels. He later began making wine and now his daughter Kala and her husband also work in the winery.

We returned for a tasting and a short hike at Laetitia, where you can taste classic sparkling wines and hike part way through the vineyard and see the ocean views. Come through the week if you want to talk wine, the tasting room is bustling on the weekends!

These vineyards are just a few miles from the Central Coast beaches, so after your tasting you have time for a leisurely drive to Pismo or Shell beach to take in the sunset.

Laetitia Central Coast Wine Country
The Hike on the Bluffs at Montana de Oro

The Morro Bay area has a beautiful park that is just south of the Bay called Montana de Oro where you can hike the bluffs at the edge of the ocean. After a little exercise, a drive up the coast exploring the beach towns and catching lunch at a great little beach spot is perfect. We had lunch at Schooners at Cayucos. This place has great views and a very attentive staff. The food is fresh and easy going and if you are there around sunset there is a great view from the upstairs bar.

Schooner's Restaurant in Caucus on the Coast

Continue up the Pacific Coast Highway to Hearst Castle or Cambria or on to Ragged Point for some great views.

We turned around a little past Ragged Point and headed into Paso Robles for dinner at Artisan. You are likely to see a winemaker or two here. The sidewalk patio on the square is nice and it is a great local menu with artisan cheeses, small plates and more. You can enjoy great local wines and they also have flights. A couple of flights and some small plates make for a great evening exploring pairings! And don’t skip the dessert, the bread pudding was delicious.

Artisan Restaurant in Central Coast Wine Country

Avila Beach is a great little secluded getaway on the Central Coast. As you drive in, you pass Apple Orchards where you can pick your own apples, Hot springs where you can lounge at the resort or rent a hot spring tub by the hour. The Bob Jones trail runs from the springs to the beach and is busy on weekend mornings with bicyclists, walkers and dog walkers. Pirates Cove is said to be great for hiking and word has it the secluded beach that you must hike in to, is clothing optional. We parked ourselves at the in Avila beach to watch the ocean and suddenly a group of guys set up a cricket game on the beach in front of us.  Beyond them sail boats from San Luis Harbor were out. After a morning on the beach we had lunch at the Custom House, enjoying live music on the patio and then strolled to several of the wine tasting rooms nearby.

Avila Beach and it's Tasting rooms

The beautiful Peloton Cellars tasting room with it’s bicycle racing theme, attentive and informed pouring staff and really great afternoon light (oh and lovely wines) was our first stop. A little past them there was live music by A Simple Parade in the Morovino tasting room. This tiny tasting room has the winemaker pouring behind the bar, with wines that she makes because she likes them. She has recipe cards for pairing with each of her wines. The tasting room atmosphere was warm and friendly and the music filled the room and kept us all entranced. We headed around the corner to the downstairs Alapay Cellars tasting room with their large Aquarium behind the tasting bar. And our final stop was at Sinor La Vallee’s brand new tasting room. Mike Sinor has worked with Byron, Center of Effort and Ancient Peaks. He now owns the Bassi Vineyard in Avila Valley which is only 1.5 miles from the ocean. After a late day tasting we finished the day on a super casual note with pizza at Mission Pizza and sunset at the beach.

Of course the following weekend was the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring weekend, so we were back to dive into Santa Barbara County. We finally were able to get to the new Alma Rosa Tasting room, conveniently located next to Industrial Eats in Beullton. You are in an industrial area, but when you walk through the door you forget all of that. The center piece of the tasting room is Olivia, their olive tree. There are skylights, beautiful photos of the vineyards and casual seating. You are greeted at the door and your Wine Guide finds you a seat. This is not your typical wine tasting bar. And of course Richard Sanford’s wines are spectacular.

Another one of those iconic Santa Barbara spots that we had not managed to get to yet, was The Hitching Post II. So…we enjoyed dinner there. This place is like a time capsule. The way you saw it in “Sideways” is exactly how it is today. But the food, while in a style of times past, is delicious. The steaks here really are phenomenal. I can’t gush enough quite honestly.

The Beautiful Tasting Room at Alma Rosa in Buellton

We started Saturday bright and early at the Santa Ynez Marriott with a Wine Seminar by the http://www.sbcountywines.com/. Christopher Sawyer moderated a panel of current and previous winemakers at Zaca Mesa including Ken Brown, Jim Clendenen, Bob Lindquist and Eric Mohseni. We will have a multiple part series coming out with the full Seminar.

It was a grey morning and it rained right up until the Vintners Spring Festival tasting at River View Park in Buellton. The cloud cover kept us from getting sunburned and overheated as we tasted through wines and spoke with winemakers from all over the area.

After the tasting we headed to Los Alamos where Sonja Madjevski was releasing Sonja’s Sonnet at her Babi’s Beer Emporium next to her Casa Dumetz wine tasting room. This was a project with the Libertine Pub Limited release ale fermented & barrel aged in French Oak, brewed with Kiwi, hibiscus, & Mourvedre grapes. This was a great sour beer and the Turkey Buzzards were playing inside and the kitchen was open. We relaxed on stools by the bar on the fence, enjoyed the beer and watched the people go by.

Babi's Beer Emporium Los Alamos Central Coast Wine Country
Ful of Life Flatbread Central Coast Wine Country

Dinner called and when in Los Alamos what better place is there than Full of Life Flatbread. The place is small so there was a wait. So we bellied up to the bar and ordered a couple of glasses of wine. I ordered the Au Bon Climat Aligote that was on tap. Little did I know that when our table was ready, we would have a perfect view of the big wood fired oven and an entire table with Jim Clendenen and his staff behind us. This is Santa Barbara County. It’s rare that you walk into a restaurant and don’t see a winemaker enjoying wine “at table” as it is meant to be with friends or colleagues.

Our flatbread was great and we ordered 2 desserts since we couldn’t decide between them. Another perfect day in wine country.

Sunday had us out in Ballard Canyon doing another great interview with Michael Larner, of Larner Vineyards and Winery, this time focusing on the wines. (Look for that shortly). We then headed out to Sta. Rita Hills to the open house at Hilliard Bruce. I had a chance at the Festival to speak with the owners and winemakers Christine Bruce and John Hilliard, but they were out of town today, so we went to see their beautiful new winery. We had been to the vineyard before and did a post about their detailed viticultural methods, and wanted to see their new winery which is a blend of the practical and the artistically beautiful.

The new Hilliard Bruce Winery in the Sta. Rita Hills of Santa Barbara

We finished our day tasting in Los Olivos, at Stolpman, Longoria, and Blair Fox, all of which introduced us to more amazing wines.

On our final morning in wine country we headed out to see how the new chardonnay planting at Riverbench was coming along. When we were here last year in June we saw these vines before they went in the ground and have been following their progress. They were pulling off the tubes today and training them up on the trellis’. We drove out onto the Bench in Santa Maria and drove by the Bien Nacido Vineyards before heading back through Foxen Canyon to meet Larry Schaffer of Tercero in his Los Olivos Tasting room. We had a great interview with Larry that will come out shortly, talking about, screw caps, Roussanne, Rhones and so much more. It is always a fascinating conversation with Larry.

So as you can see, we have tons to tell you about our trip to the Central Coast! We will be releasing video’s as soon as they are ready, watch for the Wine Seminar to come out first! Stick with us on the journey..from dirt to glass!