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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2017 The year in retrospect

Wet West Virginia moss

I’ve started this post at least 3 times.  How to sum up a year?  My tendency is to go analytical and spin out the year chronologically.  But remembering a year doesn’t really work that way.  Even scanning through my Instagram feed, I found my mind drifting, one memory taking me to another, rarely chronologically and I would swipe from one end of my feed to the other as the thoughts took me.  The visuals, the photos, were the things that drew me in, so that is what I want to share with you.

A Year of #_______Strong and of people coming together

2017…It’s been a year. It was the year of #(currentdisasterousevent)strong. There were so many, it was overwhelming at times. These events, that used to happen in some far away place, to people we didn’t know, suddenly, as we become a global community, have become things happening to people we know in places we have often seen. I had friends in Florida, Houston, in Sonoma, in New York City, in the Dominican Republic. And then of course there was Vegas. That’s home, and while I was not on the strip that night, many people that I work with daily and care for deeply, were. It was a year of stress and struggles, but also a year of people coming together. These events reminded us what is important, they caused us to be in touch with people who are dear to us and let them know they are dear to us.

Nature and home

As I sifted through the photos from this year, the ones I found the most moving, were those I took on our family farm early this spring.  No, they have nothing to do with wine, but returning to this place during some torrential spring rains, brought some perspective to the year.  The day was wet and rainy, but it only drizzled a bit while we were there.  We watched the creek rush overflowing it’s banks, and trudged from the ridge to the meadow and were soaked to the bone by the the dripping trees and wet underbrush by the time we left, but bits of astounding beauty were everywhere.

Fungus on the Farm

Fungus on the Farm

My Waterfall.

My Waterfall

Friends and Wine in Virginia

While we were on the East Coast we were able to catch up with friends and spent a weekend with my best friend and another friend from college as well as their husbands and did a bit of exploring of Virginia Wine Country.  A few years ago, we did a girls weekend in Virginia wine country and this was a great opportunity to do  Wine Country II,  Electric Boogaloo tour with the boys.

I did a bit of research on the history of Virginia Wine Country before we traveled, and we tried to take in a few different areas starting at Chrysalis and Stone Tower in Northern Virginia.  Chrysalis Vineyards is the Champion of the Norton Grape, a grape native to North America and have their tasting room at the Ag District Center.  The Winery is the vision of Jennifer McCloud who started Chrysalis in the late 1990’s.  This is a from scratch business. In Todd Kliman’s book “The Wild Vine – A forgotten grape and the untold story of American Wine” he talks about meeting Jennifer at the Vineyards and riding out with her in her pickup to see the vines.  She is the heart and soul of this winery.

Norton Grape Vine at Chrysalis Tasting Room

Norton Grape Vine at Chrysalis Tasting Room

Stone Tower Vineyards, is something completely different.  You drive up Hogsback Mountain to find an impressive Estate with a “stone tower” hence the name.  Part of the property had been in the family for 40 years and in 2005 they added to the property when a neighboring farm was available.  Many of their vines are still too young to yield fruit, so their winemaker brings in juice from California for some of their wines, which are labeled under “Wild Boar Cellars”.  Regardless, the wines were all beautifully made and the Estate wines made from grapes grown on site are really exquisite.  The tasting room at the vineyard in Loudoun County is expansive and beautiful and as such is overflowing with wine tasters from the DC area on the weekends, so go early!

Stone Tower Winery in Virginia

Stone Tower Winery in Virginia

We ventured south from here to meet my dearest friend at Barboursville Vineyards in Central Virginia.  This Vineyard is on a historic estate between Monticello and Montpelier. On the property lies the remnants of the home designed for James Barbour by Thomas Jefferson.  In 1976 the Zonin Family, who command a portfolio of 9 wineries in 7 regions of Italy, acquired the property.

Barboursville Vineyards

Barboursville Vineyards

We then headed to Charlottesville (this was early in the year, before they needed a #CharlottesvilleStong).  We had a great dinner on the Historic Downtown Mall and then planned our morning trip to Monticello.

Jefferson wanted so desperately to grow grapes and make his own wine.  He was a renaissance man and as such tended to get wrapped up in some things to the detriment of others.  The property is beautiful, the house unique and quirky, with it’s wine elevator among other things and the gardens are lovely, if filled with non native species.  The vineyards speak to the longing to make his own wine and on this spring day, in the mist, they seemed to echo this.

 

Monticello

Monticello

Vineyards at Monticello

Vineyards at Monticello

We had lunch at the historic Michie Tavern and visited a few other wineries, a standout being Blenheim Vineyards, owned by Dave Matthews.

How much California Wine Country can you see in 6 days?

August took us on a Flash Tour of the California Coast and it’s wine regions.  We spent 6 Days traveling the coast hitting Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Monterey, Napa, Sonoma, the Livermore Valley, and Santa Cruz. You can check out our travels here. The trip was amazing, here are some visual highlights.

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Other highlights

Those are the big highlights, but we were busy all year.

At the beginning of the year I did a tasting of Natural Wines with Matthieu at the farmers market.

We did a Superbowl Wine Party How to pair with Everything!  And we did pair with everything!

In April we did a Virtual trip to the McLaren Vale in Australia with our friend Dean being our Wine Reporter at Large

In May and June we dove into Rosé with some basics and tastings.  July saw us drinking lots of bright whites, as you would expect in the summer in Vegas, and then

We found ourselves back in Santa Barbara again in October and spent time in Lompoc in the Wine Ghetto, Solvang and downtown Santa Barbara.

Beyond that we traveled closer to home and did some amazing at home pairings.  Including a wonderful Grenache Vertical and some Wine and Chocolate bark pairings.

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Onward to 2018

And what about 2018? I love the New Year. It always feels like a clean slate. Will there be good wine and some wine travel? Yes! Adventures and meeting new people and sharing their stories is what we are all about, and we get better at this all the time. Plans are in the works for this year, but who knows where the wind may blow us. I look forward to more spontaneous trips this year.

And I have been inspired seeing people post their “power words” for the new year.  Mine…”Exploration”.  I love research and if I want to be more spontaneous this year, it actually probably means chasing tangents down the research rabbit hole, and I’m okay with that!  I do have a few things on my list.  Expect to see more on French wines and wine regions this year.  Between trips to wine regions, we will be taking some virtual trips to France and digging in deeper to it’s wine regions. There is a reason that when people think of wine, they first think of French wine.  I am also anxious to search out more “natural wines”.  I know, I know, it’s a really open term, but I love pét-nat and I want to explore deeper into this movement and I’m anxious to see how this category of wines develops and evolves.  And then of course there will be the tangents.  I always start the year with plans, and I will be sitting down soon to create my list for 2018.  By the end of 2018 I am sure that I will have happily strayed from it.

Happy New Year!  I’m off to make my exploration planning list.  I should probably pour a glass of wine as I head down the rabbit hole.

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Burgers and Cab Franc

Cab Franc and Burger

I had been craving a burger for weeks it seemed. Juicy red meat with a soft bun and lots of fun and interesting things on it. Michael had been making pickles and I had come upon a carrot ketchup recipe that I was ready to riff on. And…we had a bottle of Carhartt Vineyards Cabernet Franc that was looking perfect to go with this.

The Vegas temps had risen and we were clearly in triple digits and grilling outside was not an option. So I picked up my phone and searched for “perfect Burgers”. Bobby Flay & the food network saved the day. I’ll just leave this link right here http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/bobby-flay/perfect-burger-recipe-1957542

So we took Bobby’s advice and went to find 80/20 ground chuck and returned to make these burgers inside, out of the heat, in our cast iron skillet. Nothing added but salt pepper and a bit of attention, but no fiddling! Heat the pan with some canola oil in it. Make the patties, salt & pepper, put a thumbprint on the top and put them in the pan, then just be patient, flip them after 3 minutes, then let them cook on the other side for 4.

We added Muenster and did the quick trick of putting the cheese on, then tossing in just a little water and sticking on the lid. 30 seconds and your cheese is perfectly melted.

burger with beet and carrot ketchup and Cabernet Franc

Top a burger with a little Muenster some arugula and some home made yellow beet and carrot ketchup and pair it with a Cabernet Franc

We topped the burgers with fresh pickles, arugula, and some of this amazing beet and carrot ketchup that I had made from farm fresh veggies

Carrot Yellow Beet Catsup

Full of umami, this yellow beet and carrot ketchup is just the thing to spice up your burger condiments

 

Beet & Carrot Ketchup Recipe

This was perfect with the cab franc and I was in burger heaven.

The Carhartt Cabernet Franc was a 2013 from Curtis Vineyard. Curtis is out on Foxen Canyon Road and is part of the larger Santa Ynez AVA.

Cab Franc seems to thrive at this vineyard, which has been around for a while and is a warmer site. This wine is dark currants, raspberries and plums with nice spice and a richness that melded beautifully with my medium rare burger.

This Cab Franc was rich and lush without being too heavy.  It paired with the umami of the rare grilled meat and was mellow enough that it allowed the other ingredients to shine though.  The ketchup with the little bit of Worcestershire had a nice zing that it didn’t cover up and it didn’t fight with Michael’s homemade pickles.  All the ingredients danced happily in my mouth.

Don’t be afraid to try new pairings and stop back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles  for more insights and recipes for pairings.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

For more recipes you can visit our sister site Floating Boats, where you will find all sorts of inspiration via recipes, art, and other inspiration.

 

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