I watched many Virtual tastings pop up and while I joined in on a few casually, I’d actually been too busy to do a proper Virtual Tasting. Then I saw a friend of mine post that he and his fiance got all dressed up and did a virtual tasting at home with a local wine bar.
Well, that had my attention. 1st “Local Wine Bar”?!! I live in Vegas and there are so few. The ones I was familiar with were on the other side of the valley. But this one was new. Garagiste opened this past year in downtown Las Vegas (no not Fremont street…the cool local section). It sits off of Main street at the corner of California and Casino Center. It’s in my favorite section of downtown, where the Majestic Theatre, ReBAR, and the Priscilla Fowler Gallery are located. It’s across from the delicious Esther’s Kitchen. How did I not already know about this!?
Pour in the Alley
The tasting was scheduled through Fergusons Downtown as part of their Pour in the Alley series. With the pandemic, this series needed to go virtual. Okay…Fergusons is another favorite spot of mine. They are a renovated downtown motel, that now has 2 restaurants, Mothership Coffee, and then lots of small businesses. It’s an incubator of sorts and it rocks! Great people looking to create a community space that supports each other.
As if I was not already sold on this tasting…it came with a cheese and charcuterie platter from another of my favorite spots Cured & Whey. Ding, ding, ding! I was all in. But wait…it gets better.
I go online and set up for the tasting. I’m excited because it’s a Zoom tasting and I’ll get to see my friends, Dean & Amanda, virtually too. Then I jot down the names of the wines and go to look them up. Turns out they are both by a winemaker I am familiar with in Santa Barbara. Greg Brewer was the winemaker for Melville for many years and created with a partner, Brewer Clifton. We had visited their tasting room in Lompoc. They made great wines from Sta. Rita Hills. So I’m extra pumped.
The night arrives. We set up on the computer and layout our spread. I see that it is part of a Winemaker series. Well, that makes sense, it’s wines from one winemaker. But no, that’s not all, Greg Brewer is actually there on the Zoom to discuss the wines.
This was beautifully put together. The folks from Fergusons, kicked things off and introduced everyone. They also stayed with us to help with managing any online questions. Mario & Eric were there from Garagiste to facilitate the conversation on the wines. Emily from Cured and Whey was there to talk us through the cheeses and potential pairings, and then Greg to give us details on the wines. As a big bonus his wife, winemaker Sonja Madjevski of Casa Dumetz dropped by!
Let’s start with the cheese by Cured & Whey!
Emily with Cured and Whey had put together a Spanish cheese and charcuterie platter for us and talked us through it.
We began with a Los Cameros cheese, which was made from 3 kinds of milk, goat, cow, and sheep. It is a washed rind cheese with olive oil and will tend to have an earthy flavor. Next was the 3-month manchego, of sheep’s milk. This cheese was young, creamy, and salty with notes of hay and fruit.
We move on to the Cana de Cabra, a bloomy rind goats milk cheese. The outside is softer than the center that will have mushroomy notes. For meats, we had Mortadella which is a thinly sliced pork sausage that many may interpret as fancy bologna and finally a salami with white peppercorns. The platter finished with almonds to cleanse your palate and Italian olives.
About Greg Brewer the Winemaker
Greg Brewer is from LA. In 1991 he applied for a job in Santa Barbara Winery’s Tasting room. He didn’t get it. But, the smells, the sounds…he was hooked. In 1996 started Brewer Clifton Estate with Steve Clifton. They started with just 12,000 dollars.
We found out he also worked at Sunstone (that stunning winery that most of you will now know as Jean-Luc Picard’s vineyard in the series “Picard”). You can read a bit more about this winery that we visited in 2014 in our 2014 Retrospect. Scroll down in that piece to July 2014.
In 2015 he and Steve Clifton parted ways, and in 2017 Brewer Clifton became part of Jackson Family wines.
The Wines – Diatom & Ex Post Facto
Diatom Chardonnay from Bar-M Vineyard
A diatom is a plankton fossil. It’s where we get the term diatomaceous earth. There is lots in of this type of earth in Santa Barbara’s Lompoc area.
Los Alamos is a magnificent and relatively unknown region whose sandy loam soil lends itself to fruit with a bit more flesh and weight – perfectly suited to the diatom model.
Diatom Bar-M is sourced from the stunning contiguous blocks of clone 76 Chardonnay planted over 20 years ago in the Los Alamos region of Santa Barbara County.
This vineyard sits near the junction of Alisos Canyon Road and the 101 if you know the area. This is one block from one clone, no oak, no malolactic fermentation.
Due to its weight, it can pair with quite a bit. Greg suggested tater tots (which at this point in the pandemic were in short supply, due to everyone wanting to put them in their waffle maker!),or french fries. Emily suggested a salmon Crudo or another fatty fish, perhaps grilled peaches with an acidic dressing. Pork belly or pork loin would be a good match. She found the buttery cheese with the wine made the acid mellow and the fat comes forward, which she really enjoyed.
Greg spoke of picking this early, pushing the envelope for pH. He did 6 separate picks over 3 weeks for this wine. the wine retains it’s freshness from the malic acid.
You get stone fruit, citrus and saline with lush white flowers (in a humid place). There is citrus blossom and some tropical notes as it opens up.
ExPost Facto Syrah
This idea for this wine came about in 2015 and he started making this wine, once he was with Jackson Family Wines. The name for Greg indicates a law that you cannot be held accountable for breaking, if it was not a law at the time. He finds this a bit naughty and deviant, which is what working with Syrah feels like to him. (He is by all accounts a Chard and Pinot guy).
These grapes are cool climate, and are harvested late. It is whole cluster primarily. With the generosity of fruit in Santa Barbara, Greg feels the stem inclusion helps to fetter the fruit note. It gives the wine structure and is evident in the mouthfeel. It ferments for 2 months (that’s a long time) and then is aged in 20 year old barrels (so super neutral oak).
Mario noted that this felt like a beautiful blend of a California and Rhone style Syrah with California fruit and the white pepper and sage brush of the Rhone. He mentioned a perfect pairing of grilled steak with char and a pepper crust with a drizzle of reduced port and garlic and then a bramble berry sauce. (Are you drooling yet?)
For me this wine had great acid, but was rich with smoke and garrique and a nice funk. You get a little of that olive tapenade in here.
Emily mentions that the Cana de Cabra is perfect with this wine.
At some point in here, Loki, our cat jumps up to say hello and then I disrupt things by adding a hello in the chat to Sonja, who has to lean in front of Greg to type a response. Ah the joys of Zoom. In addition, as the evening wore on, I looked at the Zoom pictures more closely. I got to meet my friends, Dean & Amanda’s, new dog. Then I realize other friends are there! Seb & Lori, fellow Zumans! “Pour in the Alley” really brings people together!
Full Disclosure – this happened in May – so what’s happened since?
This glorious evening with Pour in the Alley occurred back in mid-May. Wow. Time flies when you’re stuck at home! Fergusons Downtown has continued to do their Pour in the Alley events, which include Wine, coffee, beer, and a variety of tasty beverages.
I have not had an opportunity to attend another Pour in the Alley event yet. But, I have escaped on a couple of occasions to sip at Mothership coffee.
Fergusons since they reopened have been following safety protocols. They have what I like to think of as a “concierge desk” at the front of the property. There is always someone there to greet you and direct you. They now also make sure you are wearing a mask, when you enter the property (they actually have artisan-crafted masks for sale there also). You can grab a coffee at Mothership and sit out in the amphitheater to enjoy it. The greeters, roam the property, politely reminding folks to put their mask back up after taking a sip. It is a space that feels safe and for that I am grateful.
As to Garagiste? Well they have become my go-to wine shop! You can order online and pick up and they do have tables outside where you can enjoy a glass of wine. I have been by several times to pick up wine. The last time I went to pick up my wine, I asked Eric if they had anything else interesting. He laughed “Everything we have is interesting, it’s what we do!” He’s right of course. He and Mario only pick things they find interesting for their list. You can’t go wrong with wine here.
I have not, since I have been staying in, had the opportunity to get over to Cured & Whey (great name for a cheese shop, right?). But…they are doing online cheese classes! This week they are doing a virtual “Ultimate Grilled Cheese” class. You order ahead, pick up the ingredients curbside and go online for a cheese and cooking class!
You know, if I have to live through a pandemic, I’m awfully glad that I have great local businesses like these to get me through.
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.