Tasting blind – globetrotting at home

Table set for a blind tasting

We gathered a bakers dozen of folks for a blind tasting of 3 white wines and 3 reds. There were aroma jars and tasting sheets and lots of glasses! After the reveal for each, we had small bites to pair with each of the wines. People discovered varieties and places they did not know they liked. Here’s the run down on the wines we tasted.

The White Wines

When choosing these wines, we didn’t want to pick wines everyone was already familiar with and we also wanted them to be from a range of places around the globe. Without realizing it at first, we had chosen three wines, with somewhat similar profiles, which made the guessing a bit harder. Here are our 3 white wines.

White Wine #1 Carhartt 2018 Sauvignon Blanc

Carhartt 2018 Savignon Blanc bottle shot with apple, lemon zest and honeydew melon
Carhartt 2018 Savignon Blanc

This wine is from California, Santa Barbara Country and more specifically from the Santa Ynez Valley. It hails from 2 vineyards, the Carhartt Vineyard in Santa Ynez (60%), and Grassini Vineyard located in Happy Canyon (40%). Carhartt is great about the deets on their labels: 100% Savignon Blanc, Clone 1 on 101-14 rootstock, vertical trellis system, sustainably farmed, fermentation in both oak and stainless steel, cooperage :6 months in neutral oak and stainless steel 50% each.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

We set out scent jars for this wine that included pear, green apple, lemon zest and honeydew melon. We paired this with herbed goat cheese on crostini.

This is a great summer sipper sitting at 12.5% alcohol, it will drink fresh through 2022 and can age beyond that. They made 900 cases of this wine and it will set you back $25.00.

About Carhartt

And yes….this is the same Carhartt that you see on work wear. They family had a ranch in the Santa Ynez valley that Mike and his family decided to grow wine grapes on. They still have some livestock and they work the ranch and vineyard. Here is a link to a video that will give you a feel for Carhartt.

Carhartt Hand Made Films Presents: Carhartt Vineyard

You can find their tasting room in Los Olivos at 2939 Grand Ave If you have visited before, know that they are no longer in the tiniest tasting room at the north end of Grand Ave. You can find them in the new larger spot across the street about a block south.

2939 Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441
Ph #: 805.693.5100
Open daily 11am-6pm
No reservations. First-come, first-serve.
Closed only on Christmas Day

White Wine #2 Spier 2017 Vintage Selection Chenin Blanc

Spier 2017 Vintage Selection Chenin Blanc
Spier 2017 Vintage Selection Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc hails form the Loire Valley in France. While it is grown in France and elsewhere, this is a variety that has become most notable in South Africa, where locally they refer to it as “Steen”.

Spier Wine Farm

This wine is from South Africa from Spier Wine Farm which dates back to 1692. The fruit comes from the Western Cape in the Breede River and Coastal regions. For a video about this winery…

A visit to Spier Wine Farm and Hotel

More details: alluvial, well-drained and aerated soils with decomposed granite from the mountain foothills. Grapes are both trellised and bush vines (head pruned). They hand harvest, destem and slightly crush before pressing. There is a bit of skin contact then they let the free run juic settle in tanks overnight. In the morning they rack from the lees and innoculate with yeast strains (so this is not a native yeast wine). They let the wine mature on the fine lees for 3 months to add body. We could see the results of this in the richer fuller mouthfeel of this wine.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

Fragrance jars for this wine included pear, peach, vanilla beans and a mango/guava/passion fruit jam, as there were notes of tropical fruit and green guava in the wine. We paired this with two different bites, a cracker with brie and a dab of the mango/guava/passion fruit wine as well as smoked trout on a baguette slice with either a russian pickle or a cucumber slice. (Here we were lucky that one of our guests had recently been fishing and caught a trout and another had taken that trout and smoked it! Thank you for this great bite to pair with this wine!)

You can look for this wine locally as it is widely distributed. It sits at a higher alcohol level than the Sav Blanc at 14.5% and you can find it for around $18.00.

Here is a video to give you a little more information on this South african Winery. https://www.spier.co.za/

White Wine #3 Martin Codax Albariño

Martin Codáx 2016 Albarino from Rias Baixas Spain with pear and green apple
Martin Codáx 2016 Albarino from Rias Baixas Spain

We headed to another country for our final white wine. This is an Albariño from Spain’s Rias Baixas region. Michael actually tasted this wine last year at a session at WBC18 on Rias Baixas.

Rias Baixas

The region of Rias Baixas, if you are unfamiliar, is on the coast of Spain above Portugal. The area is known as Galacia. Most grapes here are grown on pergolas, and the region is green and lush. This wine comes from Val do Salnés, which runs along the coast south of the Ria de Arousa. This area is known as the birthplace of the Albariño grape.

Bodegas Martin Códax was founded in 1986 and was named after the most known Galacian troubadour whose medieval poems, the oldest in the Galician-Portuguese language, have survived to the present. In the poems, the troubadour sings to love, the sea and the coastline.

http://www.martincodax.com/en/

The winemaker for Martin Códax is Katia Alvarez. That she is a woman is unsuprising in Spain’s Rias Baixas region, where roughtly half of the winemakers are female.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

The scent jars for this wine were simply, pear, green apple and the mango/guava/passion fruit jam (this time for the passion fruit). We paired this with a slice of Guyere and a slice of pear. It sits at 13% abv and runs about $16. Widely distributed, this is a fairly easy to find wine.

Find out more about this beautiful wine region by visiting the Rias Baixas site.

The Red Wines

When looking to red wines, we again wanted to go a bit out of the box, but not too far. Here though, the wines that we chose had flavor profiles that varied quite a bit so it was easier to differentiate the wines. All of these wines were international varieties that have ventured out from their homeland.

Red Wine #1 Carhartt 2016 Estate Sangiovese

Carhartt 2016 Estate Sangiovese with wet stones, strawberries, black tea, clove, and cedar plank
Carhartt 2016 Estate Sangiovese

We spoke earlier about Carhartt. We have been fans of Carhartt for awhile and on two separate occasions were able to visit the ranch. Once for a wine dinner (which was a blast) and once to take a tour with Joe, who at the time ran their wine club. We walked the Hilltop vineyard and he pointed out the Sangiovese on the 11 Oaks vineyard across the way.

Sangiovese? Think Chianti

This is a Sangiovese, the famous Italian variety that you might think of as Chianti. You remember the wine in those straw wrapped bottles?

The Geeky bits: 100% Sangiovese from 11 Oaks Vineyard in Santa Barbara’s Santa Ynez Valley. Fontodi & isole e olena clones that are own rooted, sustainably farmed, fermented in small lots with a cold soak, 18 months in barrel 25% of which is new. Unfined and unfiltered (see Zeina, that was the floaty stuff!)

Aromas, flavors and pairings

Jars for this included: wet stone, wild raspberry jam (couldn’t find wild raspberries), black tea, cedar plank, clove and strawberry. We paired this with an Asigo cheese topped with a bit of prosciutto and a touch of raspberry jam.

Asiago Proscuitto and raspberry jam
Asiago Proscuitto and raspberry jam appetizer

They made just 565 cases of this wine, it sits at 13.6% abv and is a crowd pleaser. It is medium to light bodied, so lots of folks guessed it was a Pinot Noir. It will drink well through 2029 and was the most expensive wine we poured at $40 per bottle.

Red wine #2 Gascon Malbec Reserve 2015

Gascón 2015 Reserva Malbec from Argentina with blackberries, plum and spice
Gascón 2015 Reserva Malbec from Argentina

This grape is a little more well traveled. Malbec is originally from Cahors in France where it is known as “the black wine of Cahors”. Long ago it travelled to Argentina where it found it’s voice. In Cahors he dressed in black, in Argentina he wears purple and red!

Don Miguel Gascón Wines

This particular wine is from Mendoza where more than 70% of the country’s vines can be found and most of which are high altitude at 2,000 to 4,000 feet above sea level. Argentina currently has just 2 DOCs: Luján de Cuyo and San Rafael. This wine hails from Luján de Cuyo, and more specifically from the Agrelo and Uco Valley regions. It is labeled “Reserva” which indicates it must have been aged at least 6 months.

The grapes for our Don Miguel Gascón Reserva Malbec were harvested by hand in the early morning hours in mid to late April from the high elevation vineyards of Altamira, Agrelo and Tupungato, then crushed and cold soaked for 72 to 96 hours. The juice maintained contact with the skins for up to three weeks through the end of fermentation, which occurred in upright conical tanks at 85°F for six days. Malolactic fermentation was completed prior to racking and aging. Sixty-five percent of the wine was aged for 15 months in a combination of medium toast French and American oak barriques.

http://www.gasconwine.com

You should really visit the Gascon site for great information on this winery that dates back to 1884.

This wine is 97% Malbec with just a touch (3%) of Petit Verdot. It sits at 14.8% abv and runs a little over $20 a bottle.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

Scent jars here included blackberries, plum and spice. We did two bites here a cracker with blue cheese and cherry jam, as well as a slice of smoked gouda.

Red wine #3 Larner 2014 Syrah Ballard Canyon

Larner 2014 Syrah Ballard Canyon  with plum, blackberry, cherry, peppercorn, earth and leather.
Larner 2014 Syrah Ballard Canyon

If you have visited our site before, you know we are big fans of Michael Larner of Larner Vineyard & Winery. He helped to put Ballard Canyon and their Syrah on the map. He was instrumental in founding the Ballard Canyon AVA in Santa Barbara County.

Michael’s background is in geology and he is an invaluable resource for discussing the soils of the entire Santa Barbara Region. He is passionate about the region and it’s wines, most especially the Syrah from this little corner of the universe.

This wine is all Estate grown fruit that is aged 22 months in 33% new French oak and 8% new American oak (the rest is neutral oak).

  • Larner Vineyard Syrah
  • Larner Fête 2016, Larner Vineyard
  • Larner Vineyard Sunset

Aromas, flavors and pairings

This wine was the biggest we served at 14.9%. With a complex nose, we set out scent jars of blackberry, plum, cherry, pepper corns, leather and earth. We paired this with our favorite bite with syrah, bacon wrapped dates.

Visit Larner

If you want a bottle of this wine, or to taste his other wines, head to Santa Barbara and Los Olivos. You can find the tasting room at the corner of Grand Avenue and Alamo Pintado Ave next to the Los Olivos General Store. Grab a tasting and a sandwich from next door and sit at a table in front in the shade, behind the historic gas pump.

2900 Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441
Email: [email protected]
T: (805) 688-8148

Open Daily 11-5

It was a fun evening and hopefully everyone discovered a new wine that they enjoyed! We got up today to 85 dirty glasses! I have a new appreciation for tasting room staff who deal with this, and then some, daily! Was it worth it? Damn straight! We got to explore the world with wine while sitting in the living room with friends. What could be better?

85 dirty wine glasses
A sampling of the 85 dirty wine glasses after last nights tasting.

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Albariños from Rias Baixas

Albariño is being grown all over the world, but it originates from Rias Baixas.  We spent some time getting to know a little about the region and then tasting through 3 Albariños from this region and doing a little experimental food pairing.

Where does Albariño come from?

Galicia

This area is the Northwestern corner of Spain, and it’s probably not what you picture when you picture Spain.  Located above Portugal with two edges of coast line on the Atlantic.  It’s called Galicia and it sounds Gaelic for a reason.  This area was inhabited by Celtic people who lived north of the Douro River.  My dear friend Pepe who is from Spain once told me about this area with such passion and longing, that he created a picture of this place for me without my even seeing it.  The area is often wet and cloudy and feels more like Ireland than Spain.  You find it populated with many ginger-haired blue-eyed Spaniards.  Bagpipes are not uncommon and Celtic crosses dot the landscape.

Rias Baixas

Within this green wet corner of Spain you find Rias Baixas.   “Rias Baixas” means “lower Rias” in Galician.  This coastal area encompasses 4 inlets and it is rich in fishing and aquaculture.  Wide beaches and beautiful vineyards, great seafood and wine make this an idealic destination.

Albariño and how it is grown

90% of the wine coming out of Rias Baixas is Albariño, and the grape is thought to have originated in the area.  While it has been proven to be indigenous to Spain, there were legends saying that monks had brought Riesling or Petit Manseng from Burgundy to this region of Spain back in the  12th or 13th centuries. It does resemble Riesling in it’s minerality.

This grape is very good at thriving in this moist environment, but to up the odds of success, the vines here are trained on pergolas. The pergolas are hewed from granite (makes sense because wood would rot in the moisture).  The pergola’s keep the grapes off the ground,  they get protection from the sun and great airflow.  These pergolas can be up to 7 feet tall, so the breezes pass through keeping down mildew and allowing for even ripening.  Harvest is by hand into 40 lb bins and yields here are low, between 3 and 5 tons per acre.

The Wines for today

2016 Luzado Albariño

The first was a 2016 Luzada Albariño. This is an estate grown and bottled wine from Val do Sainés in Rais Baixas. We picked this up at Trader Joes for $6.99. This was to be our low end wine for comparison. Quite honestly it stood up pretty well. The closure on this wine was screw cap, so quick and easy to get into. On the nose I got dusty rocks, minerals, lemon spritzer and pith. As it opened up it blossomed with honeysuckle. On the palate there was a tartness, like an under ripe green apple. It lingers on the palate and we found it to be really nice. Is there a ton of depth and nuance? No, but the nose did evolve and kept me going back for more.

Luzada Albariño with Palak Paneer and Pad Thai

Luzada Albariño with Palak Paneer and Pad Thai

We paired this one night (yes at $6.99 it’s easy to pick up another bottle), with Indian and Thai food, which are go to pairings for Albariño. It was beautiful with the Palak Paneer, the brightness of the wine went well with the greens in the dish. With the Pad Thai, it was nice, but we still got stung a bit by the heat of the dish, so I think I will still prefer Rieslings with Thai.

2015 Alma Terra Albariño

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The 2015 Alma Terra we picked up at Total Wine. This bottle set us back $16.99. This is a “Ponte” which means it is single vineyard. When I stuck my nose in this glass, I got peach pits and dusty honeysuckle. In my mouth it was more tropical with a little pineapple and tart still hard white peaches. (I actually tasted this wine with some slightly under ripe white peaches). There was a bit more nuance to the nose on this wine, but we found that it settled quickly, and didn’t continue to open or change.  This bottle had a cork closure. I mention this because, surprisingly, each of these bottles had a different closure.

2014 La Caña Albariño

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Lastly we had a 2014 La Caña Albariño. This wine again came from Total Wine and ran $19.99. Upon sticking my nose in the glass, I knew we had something different here. The nose was beeswax and honeysuckle and it felt comfortable and round. It opened up to peach and nectarine and citrus blossoms late in the day on a hot and humid day. 80% of this wine is fermented in Stainless and 20 percent in French Oak puncheons. It rests 8 months on the lees before bottling. This wine was not bright and sharp, like the previous wines, but rather comes across like a beautiful watercolor painting, the colors melding and blending softly as they seep into the paper. This perhaps is because it sits on the lees for 8 months. Oh and this bottle had a composite stopper.

While the La Caña was my favorite of the evening, it is also clearly a different style of Albariño.

The pairings

Eggplant was the theme du jour.  We had picked some at Gilcrease Farm and were ready to dive into using it.  I made a dip, with a recipe from my friend Corinne.  It called for roasting the eggplant, scooping out  the insides and mixing it with mayo, yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  I tossed in some lemon zest for good measure.

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Michael pulled up a recipe for Eggplant parmesean.  He had just made several jars of roasted tomato sauce that we used in this.  Pretty simple, slice the eggplant in 1/8 inch slices lengthwise, salt and let sit for 30 minutes.  Then do an egg and breadcrumb dip and fry them.  Then layer like lasagna…a layer of eggplant, a layer of sauce and repeat twice (3 layers), then top with fresh mozzerella slices and bake.

We also made some fried calamari and we had white peaches and nectarines as well as two types of flavored goat cheese and a sampling of spanish cheeses.

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So…as to the pairings;  The Luzado was really wonderful with the eggplant dip.  I attribute this to the lemon juice and zest in the dip.  The Calamari was great with the Alma Terra.  The La Caña blended well with everything, it didn’t make anything sparkle or shine, but it was really easy going playing well with all the dishes.

How was the Eggplant Parmesean you ask?

Homemade Eggplant Parmesan

Homemade Eggplant Parmesan

Well, due to the red sauce, it really didn’t do much of anything with the wine, but, it was tasty on it’s own!

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Albarino, Portico da Rio a crisp, zesty white wine from Spain!

Recently I have been discovering Albarino.  I have enjoyed it before, but had not looked deep into it.  Now I needed to learn more about this wine, it’s origins, it’s moods.  So time for some research, which of course will include a few more bottles.

To begin with Albarino is a white Spanish wine.  It is grown in the Rias Baixas region of Spain.  Rias Baixas is Galacian for “lower Rias”.  This area is located in the North West Corner of Spain, just above Portugal.  It is close to the Atlantic Ocean and the area tends to have mild temperatures and to be damp.   This is the wettest part of Spain and often pergolas are used to get airflow up under the vines to prevent mildew and disease.  The soil here is mostly slate & granite which are perfect for cultivating this grape.  This is one of very few Spanish grapes that are produced into a variety of it’s own.

The stories of it’s origin are interesting.  One legend has monks bringing Riesling or Petit Manseng from Burgundy to this part of Spain in the 12th or 13th centuries.  It has since been proven to be indigenous to Spain, but it does resemble Riesling’s minerality.  It often has the body and weight of a Viognier and the acidity of a Pinot Gris.

I read quite a bit about the history of the area, but it was much more fun to hear about it from my friend Pepe who is from Spain.  He was so excited to tell me about Galacia.  The area is often wet and cloudy and feels more like Ireland than Spain.  He says this is not just the weather, but the fact that the Celts settled this area long ago, so you see many ginger haired blue-eyed spaniards here.  In addition it is not uncommon to hear bagpipes and Celtic crosses dot the landscape.

The albarino vines are low yielding and the berries are green, small and thick skinned.   It is often fermented in steel for an early drinking wine.  A more complex wine can be created with barrel fermentation or malolactic fermentation.  It pairs well with food because of it’s bright acidity, but has good body also. Being a coastal grape, it pairs beautifully with seafood.

In addition to being grown in Spain, it is also grown in Portugal (makes sense, as it is right over the border) and California.  I am looking forward to tasting some Longoria Albarino when we head back out to Santa Barbara County, if the 2013 has been released.  Richard grows this on his Clover Creek Vineyard.  We did enjoy a Verdad Albarino in the Qupe & Verdad Tasting room when were were last in Los Olivos.   On a separate tangent…if you have not been tasting and drinking the wines of Santa Barbara County, you are missing out.  This is by far my favorite wine region in the country.  Down to earth wineries and people and amazing wines.

We enjoyed a 2012 Iberian Remix Albarino from the Edna Valley at bin702 the other day.  It went beautifully with the lobster salad sandwich.  This wine is created by Master Sommelier William Sherer and are meant to pair with Mediterannean inspired dishes.  His idea with the label is to showcase Spanish grapes in American Viticulture.

We also enjoyed a nice Portico da Rio Albarino that we picked up inexpensively at Trader Joe’s.  This bottle does come from Rias Baixas.  This is a great deal for a varietal that is rarely found under $15.  I have heard reports of it selling at Trader Joe’s for anywhere from $5.99 to $9.00. On Cellar Tracker it’s listed as selling for $22, so if you find it at Trader Joe’s stock up!

Portico da Rio Albarino

Portico da Rio Albarino

I also found a great recipe for summer for Albarino “Hielo” which is basically a wine and fruit popsicle!  Visit the Albarino Explorers Club for the recipe!

So get out there and Explore some Albarinos!