This wasn’t meant to be a post. It was supposed to be a quick dinner and a bottle of wine. We didn’t even really plan the pairing, we just knew it would be a white wine.
I’ve been thinking about Bonny Doon and Randall Grahm quite a bit lately. I had just seen his tweet about writing his last DEWN club letter and being a bit emotional. So, I was a bit nostalgic when Michael brought up the 2015 Le Cigare Blanc.
Randall sold Bonny Doon back in January of 2020 to WarRoom Ventures. So the tasting room is gone…the beautiful one across from Bonny Doon beach in Davenport California. All of those amazing wines, some made in carboys, the festive and clever labels and art… The club shipment, going out next month, would be the last.
The new owners will continue with just 4 wines, the most popular of course. the flagship red Rhône blend Le Cigare Volant; Le Cigare Blanc (the later version based on Vermentino); Vin Gris de Cigare (a Rhône varietal rosé); and a 100% Picpoul. They will just make a lot more of each of these wines.
It feels like the end of an era. Randall, the original Rhône Ranger, has been making beautiful, quirky wines with Bonny Doon since he founded it in 1983. It’s the playful while scientific exploration that I will miss most. Interesting varieties, made in interesting ways. I discovered it all too late in my wine exploration and was not able to sample nearly enough of these wines.
But let’s get to the…
Le Cigare Blanc 2015
This wine is 55% Grenache Blanc, 39% Roussanne and 9% Picpoul. The grapes hail from the Beeswax Vineyard on the Central Coast, in the Arroyo Seco region of Monterey County.
This wine was a full yellow/gold color and when first opening the bottle and pouring, I got notes of Petrol, or lanolin. It came off a little like a Semillon, quite honestly. As it opened, I got notes of Asian Pear, Lime Pith and citrus fruit. It was dry, full and had a long finish.
While I enjoyed the wine, I felt it was missing something. I sincerely feel that we opened it in a closed phase. The tropical notes from original tasting notes I read, had all disappeared and that Roussanne had yet to blossom into the wonderousness that it will eventually become. So… more sadness. It’s the only bottle I had. I will not have the opportunity to taste this again when it has matured a bit, and I missed the chance to taste it when it was younger. That’s the thing, wines change…the world changes. So, I will just sit and, like Randall writing his newsletter, be a little emotional about the fact that this bottle is now gone.
Pairing with Tumeric shrimp & poblanos
I had already started our dinner from Sun Basket, which was Turmeric-mojo shrimp with roasted carrots and poblano. I was a bit skeptical of this dish as I prepared it, but it came together and was really good!
How was the pairing? It was fine. The food was good, the wine was good. Sometimes that has to be enough. I have a feeling I will be pretty stingy about pulling out bottles of Bonny Doon from the cellar to drink from now on. It’s okay, I will sit patiently and wait, while Randall works away at Popelouchum, his new (well new as in started in 2011) project in San Juan Bautista, building a vineyard from scratch. At Popelouchum he is propagating new vines and putting together a New World Grand Cru. I know it will be worth the wait.
More on Bonny Doon
We’ve written about Randall and Bonny Doon before. Here’s a list of some of our other pieces you might want to peruse.
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.
This month the French Winophiles are diving into a French Wine 101. It’s timely as we all enter our comments to the government in opposition to proposed 100% European wine tariffs. (If you have not heard about this, I’ll post some links at the bottom for more information.) We have done a bit of writing on French wines and you will find links to those pieces. Many of these pieces were written in conjunction with the French #Winophiles, which means there is the extra bonus, of each of those pieces having links to other articles written by the rest of the #Winophiles! If you are interested in French wine, you will have plenty of reading available!
French Wine 101
I’m here to rally for French wine. If you are new to wine, French wine can be a bit overwhelming so let’s start at the beginning.
World vs New World
sure, when we say “Old World” in reference to wines, we think first of French
wines. But what does “Old World”
mean? From a scholastic point of view: Old
world wines are dominated by terroir, they are defined by place. Typically these wines are more restrained and
elegant. New World wines, on the other
hand tend to be reflective of the winemaker’s style and are often more fruit
forward and bold.
is a really broad definition of the differences, and doesn’t always hold true,
but when people say “Old World” and “New World” this is what they are thinking.
France, wines are named for the region they come from, not by the variety of
grape as we do in the new world. This
takes us back to that idea of “terroir” which is a sense of place, with soil,
and climate. So rather than speaking
about Chardonnay in France, you would speak of Chablis or White Burgundy. Both of those wines are made with Chardonnay,
but the wine is named for the region.
we think of Bordeaux, we think of age worthy reds. These are typically Cabernet or Merlot based,
depending on which bank of the river the region sits. And you will notice that I said “based”.
These wines are blends of the different varieties of grapes that grow best in
There is one exception to this. In Alsace, the white wine region on the German border in the North East of France, wines are often labeled with the variety. This comes from the German culture and this area throughout the ages, has bounced back and forth between French and German control.
Without going too deep into the wine labels (that’s a rabbit hole best saved for another day), let’s talk about some of the most well known French Wine Regions, and I’ll give you a translation for what varieties you will see from each.
I love maps. It gives you a better sense of the geography and influences on a region. I could dive into the climates and soils in each of these regions (I do love to get geeky on these things), but this is French Wine 101! So let’s put together some dots for you, on what varieties you will find in each of these regions and what you might want to eat with each of these wines!
Loire Valley – Val de Loire
This is white wine country! You will find a bit of red, but the white wines are likely to be the ones you have heard of.
On the West end of the Loire Valley closest to the Atlantic Ocean. Melon de Bourgogne, which you will hear called Muscadet, is most prevalent here. This is a dry white wine that pairs really well with seafood. You will get citrus, and green apple and pear along with a lovely note of salinity. Go for shellfish with this wine
Moving east Chenin Blanc begins to shine. Vouvray and Saviennières are well known Chenin Blancs from the regions of Touraine and Anjou-Saumur respectively. The two can be very different. Vouvray can be made from dry to semi-sweet to sweet, and you will find you need to do a bit of research to determine which sweetness level you are getting. Saviennières has been called the “most cerebral wine in the world”. These wines have depth of flavor, great acidity and minerality.
Sauvignon Blanc, is mainly found in the Upper Loire, the area furthest east and inland. Here you hear of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. These wines are crisp and high acid. Pair them with fish or poultry. With cheeses these are wonderful with goat cheese or other creamy cheeses (think brie).
Not to be overlooked is Cabernet Franc which in this region is the primary red wine. Chinon or Bourgueil in the Touraine region produce elegant Cab Francs. These wines can be slightly spicy with raspberry and violet notes and are a favorite at Parisian Bistros.
Well you know what Champagne is! This region and it’s soil and climate produce some of the world’s finest sparkling wines primarily from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.
These wines, while often looked at a just for celebrations or just with the hors d’oeuvres at the top of the meal actually are perfect during a meal. The bubbles and acidity clean your palate making every bite taste as amazing as the first.
There are plenty of classic pairings, but try potato chips, buttered popcorn or fried chicken! The bubbles and acid with the fat and salt are heaven.
This region sits on the German border and as I mentioned earlier has bounced back and forth between French and German control. The names and architecture here reflect that mixed heritage and the wines do as well.
These bright aromatic white wines are perfect to keep your nose in all day or dab behind your ears. But…if you must move on to drinking them, pair them with fish, aromatic cheeses, schnitzle, salads…there are so many great pairings. These are also wines known for pairing well with spicy foods like Thai! You will find riesling, pinot gris, muscadet and gewurztraminer lead the pack on varieties.
a few other varieties including Pinot Noir, but you are less likely to run into
This is Chardonnay land, but not those big buttery California Chardonnays that your Aunt might drink. These are sharp and bright with great mineral quality! Pair with fish or chicken, oysters or other shellfish, mushrooms or cheese (think goat cheese or Comté). The sharp acid makes this great with creme sauces.
Chablis, above, is in Burgundy sitting 80 miles northwest of the rest of Burgundy. Burgundy is known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
The Côte de Nuits is the Northern part of the Côte d’Or and is the region that Pinot Noir calls home. It ventures further afield, but this is it’s homeland and you will find some of the most expensive Pinot Noirs on the planet, hail from here.
Pinot Noir is perfect for red wine with fish. It is the go to wine to pair with salmon. Many Pinot Noirs also have earthy notes and pair beautifully with mushrooms.
The Côte de Beaune is dominated by Chardonnay. These are likely to be aged in oak. They will be richer and more buttery than those lean Chardonnays from Chablis, but they are still dry. Try this wine with pasta, chicken, risotto, shellfish or salt water fish and with cheeses like gruyere.
There is more to the region, the Côte Chalonnais and the Mâconnais, but we will leave those for another day.
Just south of Burgundy you find Beaujolais. This is a wine you will know better by the region name than by the grape, Gamay, that it is made from. Beaujolais Nouveau is the first wine released each year on the third Thursday in November. These early release wines are fresh and fruity, but the region does have other Gamay’s that are meant to be deeper and more age worthy.
Beaujolais Nouveau will be fruit forward and downright perky! Sometimes you will hear people say that they smell bubblegum or bananas in addition to raspberries and cranberry.
Aged Beaujolais might have notes of forest floor, mushroom, violet, tart cherry and smoke.
These are lighter wines and can pair across the spectrum from salmon to barbeque. Visit the Beaujolais site for a great graphic to assist with pairings for all the varied wines from this region.
I am a lover of Rhônes. Guaranteed…many of mine come from the Rhône Rangers that you find in California, and many of which were brought from Chateauneuf-de-Pape in the Southern Rhône.
The region is broken into the Northern and Southern Rhône. The Northern Rhône is the land of Syrah and Viognier and typically very pure and expensive versions of these.
The Côte Rotie is known for some of the most amazing Syrah on the planet. I’ve heard it described as bacon and violets. Which sounds pretty amazing to me.
Condrieu is well known for 100% Viognier. This white wine is full bodied and round with notes of apricot, pear and almonds.
There are other appellations like Crozes Hermitage above and Cornas, there is more to explore here, if you have the budget.
The Southern Rhone is warmer as it heads down the Rhone river to the Mediterranean and you will find blends of multiple varieties. The famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape is here with blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre and more. Wines here lean toward blends.
Red Rhône Blends
These will have berry notes (think raspberry and black berry) baking spice, and maybe some garrigue (think underbrush), lavender, dried herbs. The more Mourvedre, the more likely you will have meaty notes to the wine.
These go well with mediterranean foods, like olives and red peppers, and herbs like rosemary or sage (or herbs de Provençe).
White Rhône Blends
Marsanne, Roussanne & Viognier make up the body of most white wines in this area. These blends are medium bodied and have notes of beeswax (I love that), as well as moderate citrus, like a meyer lemon, then stone fruits like peach and apricot.
Pair them with richer dishes with white meat (chicken or fish or even pork) and perhaps with fruits that are stewed or roasted. Dried apricots are a definite must on a cheese plate with these wines.
If you have heard of any region in France other than Champagne, it will be Bordeaux. This is the region that Napa Valley wants to be. It is the big daddy of French wine with bottles that can be very pricey and many that need considerable aging. When people pull out dusty bottles from their wine cellar, typically they are Bordeaux wines.
Left Bank Reds (Cabernet Sauvignon based)
Red wines here are classified by which bank of the river the vineyards sit on. Left bank wines are west of the river in Médoc and Graves. The reds here are Cabernet Sauvignon based.
Right Bank Reds (Merlot driven)
The Right bank wines are on the other side of the river in the Libournais. These wines are Merlot driven. The Entre-deux-mers, the area in the middle between the two, has much more fertile soil producing less concentrated (but more affordable) wines.
The bold reds of Bordeaux are perfect with rich meaty dishes, like a big steak.
Sweet wines of Sauternes
Down in Graves you find the region of Sauternes. These are my friend Corinne’s favorite wines. These are sweet wines made from grapes with “Noble rot”. The botrytis fungus takes hold of the grape and dries them out considerably. They are pressed into tiny amounts of wine that when fermented becomes sweet and delicious. These are wines to pair with bleu cheese or with desserts.
This is Rosê country, more than 1/2 the output of wine from this region is rosé. The mistral wind that whips down from the mountains keeping the vines in this Mediterannean region dry and free from disease. The landscape is dotted with lavender fields. It’s pretty dreamy.
In addition to those delicate ballet slipper pink rosés you will find Bandol, which is a rich red wine from Mourvedre.
Pair pink with pink. It’s delicious and pretty. Smoked salmon, ham, prosciutto, crab, lobster….you get the picture.
Yes…these wines are great in the summer. Their high acid and bright flavors are perfect to help you cool down on a hot day. But don’t overlook them at other times.
Is there more to French Wine? Why yes…so much more, there is the island of Corsica, the black wines of Cahors, Picpoul de Pinet from Languedoc-Rousillon…and then there are the wines that I have yet to discover!
Oh and did I mention Crémant? That would be sparkling wine from any region outside of Champagne! You want bubbles and value? It’s your go to!
Dive deep into the links and the links in the links and take a little vacay to France sans airfare!
There are so many ways to dive into French Wine, I have only scratched the surface. Why not check out the other #Winophiles and their approaches to the subject! You can join us for the conversation on Twitter on Saturday Morning January 18th (8 am PST, 11 am EST) by following the hashtag #Winophiles!
The day started as overcast. We began with the amazing views from Monticello, without the sun, but without actual rain also. The world was covered in the gorgeous bright green of spring. It’s that shade that pops against the gray, turning even a completely overcast day into something bright! It was spring in Virginia, with the ground covered in pink petals washed from the trees. It’s especially magical for those of us who have been so long away from the green.
That changed as we drove our way to Blenheim Vineyards. The sky started to leak. Not a full on rain storm, just steady inconvenient rain. But that was okay. We didn’t get to sit outside at the outdoor tasting bar at Blenheim, but wandered down into the main tasting room. It is an A-frame building with the front full of windows as well as windows along the peak of the room. When you walk in you can also look down through the glass floor at the center to see the winery, it’s tanks and barrels. The windows here allow for natural light even on this rainy day.
The end of the tasting room holds the bar so you can enjoy your tasting looking out through the huge windows overlooking the vineyard. The bar was full, so we were guided to a table. I asked if we needed to go to the bar for our tastings and was assured that we did not. They have pourers assigned to the tables who come around. The staff, which seemed to be all female were helpful, friendly and knowledgeable about the wines and the vineyard. Out came the glasses and the tasting menu.
The pours here were generous and the atmosphere was relaxed. It was a place you could come and enjoy a tasting with friends, which was what we were doing. Those types of tastings lean more toward conversation with your friends, and less about in-depth tasting and contemplation. This of course is rather new to Michael and I, wine geeks who typically taste with just the two of us and take copious notes. I did manage to scribble a few down and when I did ask about the blends, the staff were quick to pull out the vineyard map and show us where each block was located.
– A map of the vineyard blocks with all the varieties at Blenheim Vineyards
The grapes of Blenheim Vineyards
They are growing 13 varieties of grapes here. You have the standard Cabernet Franc and Viognier which are the varieties that seem to grow best here in Virginia. In addition they grow, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Roussanne and then surprisingly (at least for me) Pinot Noir. Yes, I’m still two short. They also have a block of Teroldego and a block of Garganega which are new and have only been in the ground for 3 years. Teroldego is a deeply colored red grape from northern Italy in the Province of Trentino. Garganega is a white grape also from Northern Italy from the Provinces of Verona and Vicenza. It will be interesting to see how these grapes do.
The tasting at Blenheim Vineyards
I fell in love with the Rosé ’16. It does 48 hours on the skins. This is a blend of 46% Merlot, 31% Cab Franc, 12% Pinot Noir and 11% Syrah. It was complex on the nose and tart on the palate. ($17)
The Chardonnay ’15 was partially (30%) aged in Hungarian and American Oak for 5 months. While you got a little oak on the nose, the palate was clean and bright. ($17)
The 2015 Painted white has a totem on the label. It is 58% Chardonnay, 21% Viognier, 12% Albarino, 9% Sauvignon Blanc aged for 9 months in French and Hungarian oak with 35% tank aged. ($25)
Petit Verdot ’14 was 10 months on mixed oak; 75% American Oak and 25% French Oak. It had a yummy nose, was milder on the palate with a quick finish but was very nice. (My dear friend Mess, has discovered that she likes Petit Verdot and after searching for a term, decided that they were chewy!)($24)
The Painted Red ’15 also features a totem. The Painted Red 2015 was 44% Cab Franc, 31% Petit Verdot, 13% Merlot, 12% Cab Sav, 76% aged for 10 months in French, American and Hungarian Oak. This was very nice but our favorite of the reds remained the Petit Verdot. ($30)
They also sell “growlers” here. Yep, they have 2 wines, the Claim House White (83% Chardonay, 10% Pinot Noir and 7% Viognier (un-oaked) and the Claim House Red 84% Cabernet Franc, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot (un-oaked) that are available at $6 per glass or you can buy a growler for $7 and fill it for $19. The growlers are becoming popular in this area. You buy the growler itself once and then can return to have it refilled! These wines are not all estate, but include fruit from some other vineyards. Both are NV (non vintage).
Doesn’t Somebody Famous own this winery?
So here I am two thirds of the way through this post and I have just gotten around to telling you that Dave Matthews owns this vineyard. I am a Dave Matthews fan from way back and was lucky enough to see them play on Brown’s Island in Richmond with Widespread Panic back in the ’90’s. Dave draws the totems on the labels for the blends.
The posters of the labels for the Blenheim Vineyard blends, drawn by Dave Matthews
Dave designed the winery with William Johnson and finished it in 2000. The winery, that you see though the glass floor in the center of the tasting room is nestled into the hillside to help with climate control. The place is made from reclaimed wood and those south facing windows mean that they don’t need to use lighting in tasting room at all in the summer.
Dave Matthews moved to Charlottesville when he was 19. He formed the Dave Matthews band here. Did you know their first concert was on Earth Day in 1991? Without knowing the connection we had dinner (and great burgers and beer) at Miller’s in Charlottesville where he bartended before he started the band.
The Vineyard and Winery were meant to make good wine, not necessary to make money. Success had hit and they had the luxury of not needing the money. So they focused on the wine, and in my opinion succeeded. Inspired by Farm Aid, he started out with the BOWA (Best of What’s Around) farm outside of Charlottesville that they rehabilitated and had certified organic. He planted Blenheim Vineyards on the remnants of an old vineyard that was on the property.
But why is it named Blenheim Vineyards?
Ok, while it seems like this should be an easy question, I found the answer to be a bit ’round about.
So…John Carter was the Secretary of the Colony of Virginia. In 1730 he obtained a large parcel of land in what is now Albemarle County Virginia. His son Edward, of Blenheim built the first Blenheim house, which was named for the Duke of Marlborough who won the War of the Spanish Succession for Britain. The Duke’s family seat was Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire. Blenheim Farm & Blenheim Vineyards are located on this property.
It is said that Thomas & Martha Jefferson stayed here when their coach had to stop nearby in a snowstorm. The house burned down in the mid 1840’s.
The Women of Blenheim Vineyards
I mentioned that the tasting room staff was primarily women. Well the winery staff is also female dominated, which is a rarity these days. Their Winemaker and General Manager Kirsty Harmon, graduated from UVA with a degree in Biology in 1998. She apprenticed with Gabriele Rausse (who has his own winery in Virginia and was the director of gardens and grounds at Monticello and is often referred to as “The Father of the Modern Virginia Wine Industry”). She then studied at UC Davis in California getting a degree in Viticulture and Enology in 2007. She spent a bit of time in France and New Zealand working in the industry and then became the Winemaker at Blenheim Vineyards in 2008.
The remainder of the major members of the staff are also female (I’m lovin’ the girl power!). Tracy Love runs the Sales department, Ellen Houle is the tasting room manager, Amanda Gray is the Event Manager & Mimi Adams is the Vineyard Manager.
So if you are an environmentalist, a feminist and like good music, good people and good wine (like me) than you should definitely stop by Blenheim. If it is a pretty day you can see the grounds, but even if it’s raining, it’s well worth the trip.
They are open daily from 11 am to 5:30 pm, tastings are $7 per person and you can bring your dog, as long as they are on a leash and friendly. They are on the Monticello Wine Trail
It is well worth it to make it a day! Visit Monticello in the morning, stop at Blenheim Vineyards and have lunch at the Historic Michie Tavern. Find another winery (there are plenty in the area) and then go for dinner downtown in Charlottesville. We had amazing burgers the first night at Miller’s (you remember I mentioned the Dave Matthews connection there earlier) and the 2nd night we had an amazing meal at the Downtown Grill (and a great bottle of Frank Family Pinot Noir from Carneros) followed by drinks upstairs at the Sky Bar. This is a college town so it is eclectic and busy. If the weather is nice I highly recommend enjoying a table out on the Downtown Mall which is one of the longest pedestrian malls in the country. It is located on Main Street and the center is set with tables for outdoor dining for all of the restaurants.
While on the Central Coast in April we were lucky enough to meet with Jason Haas, General Manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles. Jason graciously took time out of his busy schedule to spend a couple of hours with Michael and I in the vineyard and the winery.
Tablas Creek Vineyard is the collaborative effort between the Perrin Family of Chateau du Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape in France’s Rhone Valley and the Haas Family. Vineyard Brands, the wine import company founded by Robert Haas had been the exclusive importer for Beaucastel wines. In 1989 they founded Tablas Creek Vineyard in the west side of Paso Robles to grow Rhone varieties.
In our 3rd segment, Jason tells us about all the Rhone Varieties that Tablas has brought in to the United States, we discuss the new Adelaida AVA, he tells us the intricacies of native yeast fermentation and we discuss Tablas Creeks use of 1200 gallon Foudres for aging wines. Here’s the video, but you can read below for the details
The Rhone Grapes at Tablas Creek Vineyard
Tablas Creek brought in classic Rhone varieties directly from Chateau du Beaucastel. These original cuttings went through the mandatory 3 year quarantine and were grafted onto rootstock. These were; Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache, Counoise, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc. Soon after they also added Picpoul. They planted 1/2 acre of Picpoul and this increased the amount of Picpoul planted on the planet by 50! In 2003 they decided they might as well bring all the rest of the Chateauneuf du Pape grapes. Many of these were the first new plantings of these varieties in a decade. Clairette Blanche and Terret Noir were added and both have been made into single varieties wines in 2013 and 2014. Picardan was planted and they expect to have a small crop this year for the first time. 3 others Vaccarese, Cinsaut and Bourboulenc are out of quarantine and they expect to be able to plant these this winter. Poor Muscardin is still in quarantine and may be released next year. Tablas Creek has wonderful information on their site about all of these varieties Tablas Creek Vineyard Grapes
The Adelaida AVA
Paso Robles Wine was one of the largest unsubdivided AVA in California spanning 40 miles East to West and 30 miles North to South. This immense area varies from 350 to 2700 feet in elevation, rainfall in different areas can run from 6 to 35 inches and temperatures from one area to another can vary by 15 to 20 degrees. In November of 2014 this area was broken into 11 new AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). Tablas Creek is located in the Westernmost AVA known as the Adelaida District. This is one of the AVAs to be noted by their calcareous soil, which is one of the reasons Tablas Creek chose this location. How these new AVAs will change the area is yet to be seen. For Tablas Creek Vineyards, all of their Estate Wines will now list “Adelaida District” on their label.
Native Yeast Fermentation
I have always been fascinated by native yeast fermentation. Many winemakers find it to be too risky, so I took this opportunity to ask Jason about the native yeast fermentation at Tablas Creek and how they might handle a “stuck” fermentation. Jason mentioned that often native yeast fermentation is described as “hands off” wine making. He looks at it more as “fingerprints off” wine making because the process actually makes you more “hands on”. During fermentation they are closely monitoring each lot and testing to be sure it is perking away. If a lot is not fermenting well or looks like it is getting stuck, they have options. They can mix the lot with another lot that is fermenting well or pump it over the lees of something that is fermenting well. They can build a culture from a tank that is doing well and release it into a tank that isn’t. So they don’t get “stuck”, they just have to work harder. Using only native yeast is another way of expressing the uniqueness of the site or the “terroir” which is something that Tablas Creek is passionate about.
Use of Foudres
There are few places in California that you will see foudres used. Foudres are 1200 gallon barrels (as opposed to a typical wine barrel that holds 60 gallons). When you walk into the Tablas Creek Vineyards tasting room you can see these beautiful large foudres through the glass windows that surround the tasting room. As Jason explains it, when you are aging a wine you must determine how much oxygen and how much oak you want. As they follow the Chateau du Beaucastel style they are looking for very minor but consistent oxygen and very little oak. As a result, large wood it the way to go. With a 1200 gallon Foudre you have 20 times the wine and just 4 times the surface area compared to a normal 60 gallon barrel. This gives you more volume to surface area. The staves in these larger barrels are thicker also, which makes the penetration of oxygen slower. This is perfect for protecting Grenache which is prone to oxidation and for Syrah and Mourvedre which are prone to reduction which can cause them to go funky. The large foudres give a balance allowing the wines to age gently and still progress.
While this concludes our formal interview with Jason, we did continue with a vineyard walk and winery tour which concluded with a great conversation about how they blend their wines. So watch for more videos and blog posts.
I was going through our wine selection trying to find a wine that I could find a great pairing to go with. So I went through our Tablas Creek Wines. The great thing about Tablas is that they set you up for a great wine pairing. They have a vintage chart on their site, so you can see which wines are ready to drink. Tablas Creek does mostly Rhone varieties in the French style, so most of their wines are meant to age. I found a 2012 Patelin de Tablas in the rack in the dining room that was ready to drink and found a recipe and pairing ideas on the Tablas site (yep, they usually have one or 2 recipes to pair with each of their wines, as well as some additional suggestions…it’s really foodie heaven).
There was a fish with fennel recipe and suggestions for citrus avocado salad, fish with tropical salsa and Mussels or clams cooked in butter and wine. We determined we would do the citrus avocado salad, fish with tropical salsa and the clams. We thought we would go to whole foods for a good citrus selection, but since I wanted clams and I wanted them to be easy, we stopped first at Trader Joes.
Foodies might be appalled, but while I wanted clams, I didn’t want the worry of cleaning them, so we picked up a box of TJ’s steamer clams, which are frozen and have an herb butter sauce already. We picked up some frozen Alaskan Cod, a mango, limes, a red bell pepper, a red onion, Meyer lemons, blood oranges, a Minneola, arugula and mint. I had an avocado at home from the farmers market. This was probably a Zutano or a Pinkerton avocado and it was a little different from the well-known Haas. It was smooth skinned and green with a pear like shape with a smooth light flesh.
So now it was time to cook. We started by making the salsa, dicing ½ of the red pepper, the mango and ½ of the onion then squeezing the juice of 1 lime over it and seasoning with salt and pepper. Mix this up early if you want and toss it in the fridge to let all those flavors meld.
Fresh Mango Diced
Mango Pepper Onion Salsa
Next we sliced up our citrus into rings. In retrospect I could have sliced them thinner. They get tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper and go in the oven at 425 for 10-15 minutes to roast and caramelize. While they were in there, I tossed my arugula and some fresh mint together and mixed a dressing of small diced red onion and the juice of 1 Meyer lemon.
We started the clams at this point and Michael seasoned the cod. The box of clams went into our preheated pan and then instead of the water called for on the box, I went to add the white wine… only it was red. Silly me…I saw the label and didn’t look to see if it was the white or red Patelin de Tablas. So, Plan B…I grabbed a bottle of 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc and tossed in a bit of that.
Steamer Clams with Butter and Wine Reduction
Steamer Clams with White Wine
Michael got some butter (by that I mean almost a stick) going in a skillet and added the cod pieces, these cooked while I sliced the avocado for the salad and pulled the citrus from the oven to top it. Last the dressing of Meyer lemon juice and onion went on.
Stick of Butter
Alaskan Cod poached in Butter
Alaskan Cod topped with Mango Salsa
The Wine Pairing
The fish was plated and topped with our salsa and we were ready to eat! Our wine pairing wasn’t what we originally expected, but we enjoyed the Esprit de Tablas Blanc with dinner and then enjoyed a glass of the Patelin de Tablas after. While the Patelin de Tablas Blanc would have potentially made for a better wine pairing with the mango salsa and with the citrus salad, the Esprit went very well. The difference? The Esprit is a blend of 75% Roussanne, 20% Grenache Blanc & 5% Picpoul Blanc, where the Patelin Blanc would have been 52% Grenache Blanc, 27% Viognier, 16% Roussanne & 5% Marsanne. That Viognier would have lended itself nicely to the tropical salsa, but regardless the Esprit was wonderful with it!
The fish and clams were delicious. The salad…the peel and pith were a little bitter. Perhaps if I had sliced these more thinly, it would have soaked up more of the olive oil and been a little sweeter, less chewy and caramelized a little more. It was beautiful though and the mint and arugula were nice with it.
All in all, this was a pretty simple dinner. It took us about 35 to 40 minutes total, but that was with shooting while we cooked. You could multitask and complete the whole thing in about 20 minutes.
Alaskan Cod, with Butter, Fennel, Orange, Mango Salsa
Steamed Clams with Butter and Herbs
Tablas Creek, Esprit Blanc 2012
So dive in! A fantastic looking dinner doesn’t have to take hours in the kitchen; in fact the best stuff usually is simple and cooks up pretty quick. And even an accidental wine pairing can turn out to be delicious!
This weekend Zaca Mesa Winery will celebrate it’s 40th birthday. This winery has quite a bit of history. The property was purchased by a group of friends in 1972 and the vineyard was planted in 1973 and they have been sustainably growing grapes in Santa Barbara ever since. The winery itself was built in 1978 and expanded in 1981. By the early 90’s they had determined that Rhone Varieties grew best on the property. They were the first Central Coast winery to appear in Wine Spectator’s Top 10 back in 1995. They are down to the last of their original owners and have been family owned for about 25 years.
Their first winemaker was Ken Brown who has since gone on to start the very successful Byron in Santa Maria. The rest of the list of previous winemakers continues to look like a who’s who of Santa Barbara & Paso winemakers including: Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Bob Lindquist of Qupe, Daniel Gehrs of Daniel Gehrs Wines, Clay Brock of Wild Horse, Chuck Carlson of Curtis and Benjamin Silver of Silver Wines.
Their current winemaker is Eric Mohseni. He started his career in wine retail then worked at Edna Valley Vineyards in 1997. It was there that he got hooked on winemaking. He started at Zaca Mesa in 2001 as the enologist worked up to Assistant Winemaker, then Associate Winemaker and finally took the reins in July of 2008.
All the wines here are estate bottled and grown. They don’t buy or sell grapes. They have about 750 acres of which 244 are planted with grapes. 20 acres are newly planted with Syrah. They sit about 30 miles from the Pacific Ocean in the Northern portion of the Santa Ynez AVA. Soils here are mostly Chamise loam over gravelly beds of silk and clay so the soil is well drained. Many of their vineyards are up on a high mesa at 1500 feet. This gives them lower high and higher low temperatures. The more consistent temps allow for slow consistent ripening. The height also causes higher UV radiation, which makes the grapes smaller, and thicker-skinned giving them increased color and phenolic compounds, which can provide more flavor to the wine.
Zaca Mesa glass
As to “sustainable” there is a “Code of Sustainable Winegrowing” developed by the California Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers. It spells out “practices that are sensitive to the environment, responsive to the needs and interests of society-at-large, and economically feasible to implement and maintain.” Zaca Mesa is sustainable using organic products, conserving energy and working efficiently to reduce waste. They farm only one-third of the acreage leaving open space for wildlife and preserving ground water.
Zaca Mesa was the third stop in a little trilogy we were doing in Santa Barbara, the day before we had tasted at both Au Bon Climat and Qupe. We rolled in early on a Friday morning and watched the coastal fog roll through the valley coming in from the North. The property is beautiful with huge trees greeting you as you walk from the parking area to the tasting room.
It was the beginning of a busy weekend for them as they had their wine club pickup party happening the next day. We rolled up and were the first guests in the tasting room.
Now onto the tasting!
2010 Estate Viognier. This wine received 91 Points and was the Editor’s Choice in Wine Enthusiast Magazine in the Feb 2013 issue. The nose is very Viognier but on the palate it is dryer than expected and has lots of lemon lime. It has the body of a Viognier but is crisper and brighter on the palate with a bit of minerality. This wine starts out in stainless steel and then transfers to new oak after about 3 months. $16
Z Blanc. This wine was not on the tasting menu but we managed a taste. It is a blend of Grenache, Roussanne and a little Viognier. The grapes for this were hand harvested, fermented and barrel aged for 10 months. This had minerality and a little oak and would go great with shellfish. This has great layer of flavor.
2009 Estate Roussanne: Michael does not normally like Roussanne. There is some flavor in there that he usually finds off-putting. This Roussanne has great weight and viscosity in your mouth. It is aged sur lee so it is mellower. Michael didn’t mind this Roussanne. Wine Enthusiast liked it and gave it 93 point in the February 2013 issue. $25.
2009 Estate Grenache Blanc: A little brighter than the Z Blanc Blend with a bit more mineral, but less depth then the blend (obviously). $25
2010 Estate Mourvedre: This was smoky with a beautiful nose. First I got smoke then blueberry. It was cool on the palate and had a long finish. I could have kept my nose in this glass all day. $35.
2008 Estate Z Cuvee: This GSM Blend is mostly Grenache (68%) with 18% Mourvedre and 14% Syrah. Lots of blackberry with big fruit on the nose. This will cellar for another 7 years. $20.
2008 Estate Z-Three: Another GSM with 51% Syrah, 37% Mourvedre and 12% Grenache. This was a really wonderful blend (my favorite here) Loads of blackberry with a little blueberry from the Mourvedre and then a touch of raspberry from the Grenache. This again will cellar for 5 or so more years. Wine Enthusiast gave this 89 points in their February issue. $42.
2009 Estate Syrah: I got blackberry, smoke, salted meat and a little bit of dried herbs. Bigger tannins that lightly coat your palate and the roof of your mouth but not your teeth. Warm on the back of the palate without being hot. Yeah, this would be perfect with rack of lamp in rosemary and garlic. This is great now and can cellar for up to 10 years, if you can keep from drinking it before then. $25.
After our tasting we wandered up on the hill to where they have a small picnic area overlooking the winery and vineyards. I could have strolled the grounds all day and maybe gotten Michael to play me a game of chess on the oversized chess board outside the tasting room, but….we had to press on to our next tasting! (Coming up next…Talley!)