A tale of two Malvasia Biancas

A tale of two Malvasia Biancas

Malvasia Bianca…does it sound exotic? A little Italian right? This is not a wine you come across very often, but, it is gaining ground, at least with a couple of my favorite winemakers.

I first had Malvasia Bianca at a winemaker dinner. Actually the very first Larner winemaker dinner, held at Ballard Inn with Larner wines and delicious food by Chef Budi Kazali. (read about it here) It was served with the dessert course.

Michael Larner grows mostly Rhône varieties on his Ballard Canyon Vineyard. The Malvasia is his exception, a nod to the time spent growing up in Rome while his father was filming there. Obviously, by the name, this is an Italian variety, but lets dig a little deeper.

Malvasia Bianca

Malvasia does not make the list of the top 15 grapes in Italy. It is thought to come from Greece, but became very popular with the Venetian Merchants. It was so popular it became synonymous with Venetian wines, with Venetian wine merchants naming their stores Malavasie. Malvasia Bianca is the sub-variety that is white. It is often likened to Muscat with it’s sweet nose.

In Italy you find it in Lazio (the area around Rome), among other places, where it is blended with Trebbiano into the famous Est! Est!! Est!!! (which has it’s own fabulous story which you can read here as told by the Bubbly Professor)

Map of Italy
Map of Italy

California’s Central Coast is now home to a considerable amount of Malvasia and I happened to have 2 bottles in my cellar. One from Larner Vineyards in Santa Barbara’s Ballard Canyon and another from Bonny Doon Vineyards with grapes from Monterey. Strangely enough, both wines are from winemakers known for Rhône varieties and this is not a Rhône. So when you have 2 bottles of Malvasia, why not do a comparative tasting?

Larner 2017 Malvasia Bianca

Larner 2018 Malvasia Bianca Ballard Canyon
Larner 2018 Malvasia Bianca Ballard Canyon

This wine is from Larner Vineyard in the southern part of Ballard Canyon. It was destemmed, crushed and got a 24 hour cold soak before it was pressed.

Fruit was destemmed and crushed for a 24-hour cold soak on the skins before pressing. Fermented in 50% stainless steel and 50% concrete egg around 62 degrees for 4 weeks. The wine spent 2 months of ageing sur lees in Stainless steel and concrete, before bottling, followed by a minimum of 4 months in bottle before release.

http://www.larnerwine.com

Bonny Doon 2018 Malvasia Bianca

Bonny Doon 2018 Malvasia Bianca
Bonny Doon 2018 Malvasia Bianca

These grapes hail from Monterey County from the Loma del Rio Vineyard. Bonny Doon only made 182 cases of this lovely wine.

I found a bit of details on this charming label, from a speech that Randall Grahm gave last year on labeling. The wine was originally under the Ca’ del Solo label.

Chuck House and I came up with the idea of using a kind of cartoonish illustration on a series of wines we made under the Ca’ del Solo label. This is a picture of little Malvasia Bianca on her first day of school, letting go of her mother’s hand, going “solo” (get it?) and of course, stepping on every crack in the sidewalk she comes across.

https://www.bonnydoonvineyard.com/keynote-speech-wines-vines-packaging-conference-august-9th-2018-yountville-ca/

Evidently the label cause a stir in Washington where they took offense to a depiction of a child on the label. Luckily, all ended well and this sweet girl who is a little bit of a renegade still appropriately graces this wine’s label.

The battle!

Really…I have overplayed this. It’s not a battle. These wines are apples and oranges…both of which I love. Similar but different, from different vineyards, soils and winemakers.

We paired with crab rangoons, crab cakes, lo mein and teriyaki salmon.

Crab rangoons, crab cakes, teriyaki salmon & lo mein
Crab rangoons, crab cakes, teriyaki salmon & lo mein

The Bonny Doon Malvasia Bianca from Monterey

This wine was lush with honeysuckle on the nose (I wanted to dab it behind my ears!). It was sweet with lychee like a Gewurztraminer on the nose and florals and perfumes on the palate. There was a little waxiness (the tasting notes say “a slightly waxy, lanolin finish.”, but it was subtle. This was medium weight with light acid as you would expect with this variety. I found that I liked this best with the rangoons and teriyaki salmon, as it tending to lend itself to the sweetness of these dishes.

Larner Malvasia Bianca from Ballard Canyon

This wine is a year older, a different vintage, a different winemaker. Remember I said that the first time I had Malvasia Bianca was a dessert pairing with a Larner Malvasia. I remember it being sweet. This wine was not. It had more white florals with the honeysuckle on the nose as well as a little mineral or chalk note. It was tarter on the palate with soft citrus, like meyer lemon. This was a clean fresh wine and it seemed higher in acid than the Bonny Doon. I enjoyed it more with the crab cakes and the lo mein, the bit of minerality working with the umami and red pepper flavors making them explode in my mouth.

The takeaway

  • Larner Vineyard
  • Larner Los Olivos Central Coast Wine Country
  • Bonny Doon beach

So as you can see, it’s best that I opened both of these bottles to best enjoy all of my meal! Both are delicious and made by two of my favorite winemakers. Of course you won’t find either of these wines made in large quantities. I suggest that you take a road trip, stop by Larner’s tasting room in Los Olivos and then head up the coast and visit Bonny Doon in Davenport! (Or hell jump on a plane and head to Rome!) Mostly, you should pick up a bottle of a type of wine you have never tried before. Explore and taste and travel through the bottle.

  • Find Larner Wine’s tasting room in Los Olivos at 2900 Grand Ave.
  • Bonny Doon’s tasting room can be found on the California Coast in Davenport at 450 Hwy 1

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Dinner with a view – Cadaretta

The Glasshouse at Southwind Vineyard by Cadaretta

We got in a van not knowing how long the drive might be.  I suppose I could have looked at a map, but I’m not sure that would have helped.  We actually ended up in Oregon.  Walla Walla AVA is a border AVA with part of the AVA in Washington and part in Oregon.

We were headed to Cadaretta’s Glasshouse on their Southwind Vineyard for dinner.  We arrived as the sun was setting to amazing views.  We were greeted with a glass of wine and trays of passed hors d’oeuvres.  The food and wine were lovely, but that view…

Cadaretta

The name comes from the name of the schooner that carried the Anderson & Middleton lumber products to market in the early 20th century.  The family has a history in Washington having been in lumber on the coast since 1898.  That’s 120 years in business in WA this year, which is no small feat.  The timber company was based on the coast in Aberdeen WA (of Nirvana fame).

Getting into Grapes

Issues came up with the decline of old growth and the family, always looking to preserve the land, closed their mill. In the 70’s issues with the spotted owl came up and many companies went out of business. The family bought property in California’s central valley and started growing table grapes.  This led them to Paso Robles where they have been growers of wine grapes at their Red Cedar Vineyard for 30 years.

They started Clayhouse wines in Paso Robles.  Their roots were in Washington though, and they returned to purchase this piece of property in the Walla Walla AVA.

Back to the ship

The Cadaretta carried lumber to San Francisco and LA.  Kris’ father used to ride on the ship as a kid on it’s journeys.  During WWII the ship was requisitioned by the Government.  Family lore tell the tale that on the final trip as the Cadaretta the ship was followed down the coast by a Japanese submarine.  The ship was later renamed Southwind, which is where this particular vineyard derives its name.

Southwind Vineyard

This vineyard sits just west of Milton-Freewater on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla AVA.  L’Ecole, Doubleback and Sleight of Hand also have vineyards nearby.  The view and the company are impressive, but what makes this place special for wine is the soil.

Soil at Southwind Vineyard

Most of the soil in the surrounding area is loess (blown dust) from the Columbia and Missoula Floods and you find that in the soils on the Northern slope. Those are the relatively young 15 million year old soils.  On the South slope you find fractured basalt soils.  These are ancient soils.  They were just behind the tent we were sitting in.  You find them only on steep hillsides above 1250.

When they bought the property they spent 2 years digging test plots.  After soil analysis they planted 1 acre test plots. Digging into the basalt is difficult, time consuming and expensive.  The vines have to work harder and dig deeper, but the characteristic they were getting in the wines from this soil made it worth it.

They have been working on this for 8 years and only 2 years ago release the first of the Southwind wines. Kris said that as a timber family they have a saying…

“It takes 40 years to grow a tree, we have patience.”

They wanted to get it right.  They find Syrah and Malbec do best in this soil.  There are few other vineyard grown in fractured basalt. These Southwind wines are pretty rare also with just 50 cases of each released.

Sustainability is common sense

The family comes from timber and it was always just common sense to take care of the land.  It’s no different with the vineyard.  Being salmon safe and sustainable isn’t something they advertise, they just do it.  They have falconers from Paso that they used in the vineyard there who come in to help keep the vermin down, as well as owl boxes on the property.  They use arugula for cover crop and have a bee keeper who comes in with the bees.  It just makes sense to be sustainable.

Artifexs

With that idea in mind, they also didn’t see the need for a big showy winery.  Instead they worked with Norm McKibben and  JF Pellet and created Artifex in Walla Walla which is a custom crush facility for small lot, high end wines.  The name comes from a Latin term meaning “Made skillfully” and it is a state of the art facility.  The facility houses multiple wineries and they are customers to themselves.

The Glasshouse

So they had determined that they didn’t need an extravagant tasting room, but her brother still wanted a place to entertain.  The view here from the vineyard was stunning and he wanted to create a place to enjoy that view.  He had seen a building at the Santa Rosa Airport and honed in on the idea of a glass house with garage doors to open to the view.  The timber is recycled, of course.  To keep this a “special” place they limit it to just a few events.  We were lucky to be one of those few events.

The Dinner

Over the course of the evening, Kris spoke to us between courses and we enjoyed dinner from Olive Catering in Walla Walla to compliment the wines.

The 2014 Cadaretta, Windthrow

This wine was paired with Wild Canadian Arctic Char with Yukon potato emulsion, chanterelle mushrooms and plum relish.

The Windthrow is a Columbia Valley Rhone Style Blend (76% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre and 9% Grenache) sourced from Stonetree, Southwind and Monetta’s Vineyards.  Aged 22 month in 50% Hungarian Oak, 40% New French Oak and 10% Neutral French Oak.  Unfined they made just 259 cases.

The 2015 Cadaretta, Southwind Malbec

Paired with maple braised lamb shank with black truffle risotto, foraged mushrooms and dates.

The Southwind Malbec is a Walla Walla Valley wine specifically from the Southwind Vineyard.  2015 was a warm vintage with an early bud break. This was a wine that opened in the glass.

The 2014 Cadaretta, Springboard

Our dessert pairing of petite fours & truffles.

The Springboard is a Columbia Valley wine and is a Bordeaux style blend of 81% Cab Sav, 10% Malbec and 9% Petit Verdot sourced from Obelisco, Southwind, Red Mountain and Alder Ridge Vineyards.  It is aged in 60% new french oak with the remainder in more neutral oak.  Only 249 cases of this wine were made.

The evening was beautiful, the hosting was warm and the wines were truly stunning.  Getting to speak with Kris and being so warmly welcomed to the place that is so special to their family was a wonderful experience.

You can taste them at their tasting room in Downtown Walla Walla at 315 E. Main Street Thursday through Sunday.  Visit there website here for details.

Don’t forget to check back with us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more great wine country experiences in Washington, Oregon and beyond. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

 

 

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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What is Terret Noir?

Wine & Cheese Pairing with Tablas Creek Terret Noir 2105

Terret Noir

Terret Noir is a Rhône Valley Grape that is dark but thinned skinned and produces a light colored wine. It is one of the 13 grapes permitted for blending in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, although it totals just 2 acres of vineyard in the region. Like Grenache you will also find Terret Blanc and Terret Gris the other color variations in the grape. Terret Noir is thought to be originally from Languedoc where Terret Gris was once grown widely and used in the production of vermouth.

This grape buds late (which is great, so you don’t have as much frost worry with it), produces abundantly and brings a freshness to other varieties when blended.

Terret Noir in Paso Robles

Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles brought this grape in with their program to bring all 13 of the Châteauneuf-de-Pape grapes to their vineyard.  We had the opportunity to taste a single varietal of Terret Noir in their tasting room and took a bottle of the 2015 with us. (They made this as a single varietal in 2013, 2014 & 2015)

It was indeed a light colored wine, transparent cranberry red, leaning more toward orange than purple in my glass.  On the nose you get bright red fruit and spice with dried strawberries and brambles, like a walk in a meadow in summer after rain as you get all the lush green grasses drying in the sun.

In your mouth it is pomegranate and bright spices and the flesh of a bright red plum.

We paired it with a cheese and charcuterie plate and found it made the parmesan cheese taste sharper and less salty.  The dry Italian salami brightened the fruit in the wine while the wine brought out the savory tones in the salami.

Tablas Creek plans to use this as a blending grape. Watch for it to appear with Syrah and Grenache in a 2016 blend.

I always enjoy exploring those underappreciated grape varieties.  It widens your palate and reminds you that there is so much more out there than Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

This wine pairs well with braised vegetables, grilled eggplant and salty meats and cheeses.

Come back and see what other great wine varieties we are tasting. Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Wine and chocolate bark pairing ideas

chocolate bark for syrah & Viognier Pairing

I was searching for a nut mix recipe for the holidays and came across a “no recipe” recipe for chocolate bark (so easy it’s not really a recipe, but just a little bit of direction to get you going). I’ve always loved chocolate bark and had just seen an article on pairing wine with chocolate, and not just “a dark red wine with dark chocolate” kinda article but one with some variety. Then I started to think about cheese plates and the nut and dried fruit pairings you could do with each wine, and my imagination took off. So now I am putting together some “toss together” ideas for perfect wine and chocolate bark recipes.

Basics to start with

Typically you want your wine as sweet as your chocolate. Dark chocolates seem to be much more forgiving of this with big red wines. And Sparkling wines pull up the celebratory mood and that mood more than anything is very forgiving with pairings. Champagne goes with anything and if it doesn’t people are unlikely to notice. The bubbles will have them too happy to care.

White chocolate

white chocolate

white chocolate

Yes, yes, I know it’s not chocolate, it is cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids.  But butter, is fat so you can see how you can pair this with Champagne or sparkling wines.  Rieslings, or Gewürtraminer work also, as long as they lean to the sweet side. Try Muscats, a fruit forward Chardonnay, or a late harvest white wine.

Milk Chocolate

milk chocolate

milk chocolate

Look to Ports and Sherrys and maybe a Pinot Noir. You can really go with most red wines as long as they are not too dry. Also a Sparkling Moscato works nice.

Dark Chocolate

dark chocolate

dark chocolate

Well big reds love dark chocolate, think Merlot, Cab Sav, Cab Franc, Zinfandel, Syrah or Mourvedre. Or take it the dessert route with a Ruby or Tawny Port. The lighter the chocolate the sweeter the wine should be, so 60% dark chocolates with Ports, 70% with the darker reds.

 

Now when you start to toss on those toppings…

The first thing that came to mind for me was bacon. I know….but dark chocolate and bacon with a Syrah? Yum. Maybe some dried cranberries to pull out the fruit in the wine. Are you feelin’ me here?

Nuts and dried fruits

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Add some dried apricots and orange zest to a white chocolate and pair with a Tokaji or a late harvest white wine.

Add almonds or chestnuts to dark chocolate to pair with a Merlot

Dried cherries and walnuts to milk chocolate for a Pinot Noir.

Hazelnuts to white chocolate to pair with a toasty sparkling wine.

Caramel with Madeira…

Herbs & other flavors

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And then don’t forget the herbs and other flavors.

Lavender in a white or milk chocolate with a sweet Riesling.

Or take it spicy with some chili flakes or chili powder.

Coffee, or espresso powder with a rich Pinot Noir or Shiraz.

Salty potato chips in white chocolate with sparkling wine.

Rosemary and salt with a dark chocolate and a Carignan, Zin or Shiraz.

Try a little coriander in dark chocolate with a Mourvedre.

Or a little cumin in a dark chocolate with a Cabernet or Bordeaux blend.

Finishing salts are great and often are infused…I have a Stumptown coffee infused salt that I love!

White & Dark chocolate Bark ingredients

White & Dark chocolate Bark ingredients & possibilities

Wines to Avoid

Typically you want to avoid:

white wines as they are high in acid

cold wines that will change the texture of the chocolate in your mouth (you want it to melt right?)

and wines that are high in tannins (so check those big reds before diving in)

Of course in the end it all depends on personal taste. So make a mix and let people taste, or just put out the chocolate and let them pair with the extras on their own! I suggest having a nice sparkling wine on the side as a palate cleanser for those who make unfortunate pairings and need to get the taste out of their mouth!

How to put it together?

I love that this part is so easy.

 

overhead cutting chocolate for chocolate bark

Chop or shave some chocolate

Throw it in a double boiler over low (or like me just a pot of simmering water with a glass bowl on top) and stir constantly until it melts.

adding rosemary to chocolate Bark

Sprinkle on your toppings of choice!

Toss it in the fridge (okay, this might be the toughest part at this time of the year, finding room in the fridge for a sheet pan).

Once it has set, break it up and pair!

Our Pairings

chocolate bark for syrah & Viognier Pairing

Dark chocolate with dried cranberries, bacon, rosemary and coffee infused finishing salt. white chocolate with dried apricots, orange zest and pistachios, and a bonus dark chocoalte with cranberries and pistachios.

We settled on two pairings.  We had a bottle of 2012 Reserve Syrah from Larner Vineyards in Santa Barbara’s Ballard Canyon AVA.  The Tasting notes for this wine included: “Black fruit, cedar, licorice, smoked meat and leather with silky tannins.”  This Larner Syrah is the 4 best barrels of Syrah from 2012.  It spends 36 months on 50% New French Oak. There were only 97 cases of this wine produced.

We opted to do a dark chocolate bark with dried cranberries, bacon, rosemary and a coffee infused finishing salt.

Larner Reserve Syrah with choclate Bark ingredients, rosemary, cranberries, bacon, coffee finishing salt

Larner Reserve Syrah with chocolate bark ingredients: rosemary, cranberries, bacon, coffee finishing salt

And to go with dessert, a limited release 2013 late harvest Viognier from Cold Heaven Cellars (again Santa Barbara).

Cold Heaven only produces a late harvest Viognier in years when the conditions are just right.  200 cases of this wine were produced.  It was 50% barrel aged for 4 months in 2 year old French Hermitage barrels.

For this wine we went with a white chocolate bark with dried apricot, orange zest and pistachios.

Late Harvest Viognier from Cold Heaven with white chocolate Bark

Late Harvest Viognier from Cold Heaven with white chocolate bark with orange zest and dried apricots

Explore!  Pick your favorite wines then choose complimenting or contrasting flavors.  An easy go to, is to find the tasting notes for the wine and choose ingredients from that list!  Have fun and let us know what amazing combinations for pairings that you come up with!

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

 

A Day in Sonoma County

We spent a day in Sonoma.   I suppose that’s a pretty vague statement when you consider the size of the area, so let me be more specific.  We spent a day in the Southern part of Sonoma County, starting our day in the Carneros region and finishing in the City of Sonoma.

When you find yourself in this area, it is tempting to try to take in as many wineries as possible.  I would encourage you to select just a few and soak up each.

We started our day with a visit to Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards, enjoying the views and tasting sparking wines.  We continued to see the amazing landscape around Viansa just south of them.  Our day finished in the city of Sonoma with a visit to the beautiful Sonoma Plaza and an amazing tasting and cheese pairing at Corner 103 across from the Plaza.

Take the visual journey with us here.

If you want to know more of the details visit Flash tour Central Coast Wine Country and Beyond – Day 2 Sonoma

This was one of the two “Beyond” days where we enjoyed a little of the North Coast.

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Crushed Grapes & Open Minds – The Event

Crushed Grapes & Open Minds

an interactive experience

Last August we held an event entitled “Crushed Grapes and Open Minds”. My friend RuBen with Act2Art by RuBen is an accomplished artist and created some works specifically for this event. The idea connected scent memory and art, both in the creation of the pieces and peoples reactions to them.

We chose 5 wines, a Champagne (A.J. de Margerie a Bouzy Grand Cru), a Sauvignon Blanc (Starborough Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough New Zealand) a Syrah (Carhartt 2013 Estate Syrah Santa Barbara), 2 Zinfandels (Tobin James 2010 Fat Boy & French Camp Zin) and a Dessert wine (Chateau Megyer Tokaji Aszu 2010)

There was a station for each wine, with a pairing, aroma jars, the wine and of course the associated work of art. Cards to explain the pairings were located at each station.

Individuals bring their personal experiences and memories as they interpret a work of art. Scent memories are similar, an aroma can trigger a very personal memory. Mixing the two and stirring in a little wine and good food can make for a powerful experience.

We asked guests to smell the aroma jars, taste the wine, and look at the art, then jot down a word, a phrase or a memory that came to them.

A.J. de Margerie a Bouzy Grand Cru

 

We chose this Champagne for the bread on the nose. When we were sampling Champagnes, Cremants and Sparkling wines, we dipped our nose in this glass and got hamburger buns. Yep, hamburger buns. That yeasty smell of bread came across in a very approachable way that we thought would make this wine less intimidating for those new to finding aromas in wine, so it made a great start. This Champagne is mostly Pinot Noir so you also get berries on the nose and so there were scent jars of hamburger buns and berries for people to smell. For a food pairing we matched it with Salty potato chips. The salt and fat are a perfect pairing, the salt making you crave another sip of the champagne and the champagne’s bubbles and acid clean the fat off of your palate after each bite, making every bit as delicious as the first.

 

The Art – Champagne

Champagne Painting by Act2Art

Champagne

Some of the responses to this piece:  “A perfect first date” “Crisp pears – a cool spring afternoon” “Happy – like a picnic at an apple orchard” “Fields of dandelions – fresh grass” “A beautiful sun shower in late April or Early May”

 

 

Starborough Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough New Zealand

Crushed Grapes & Open Minds w/ Crushed Grape Chronicles.com

Starborough Sauvignon Blanc w/ Crushed Grape Chronicles.com

We had a bunch of Sav Blancs to choose from, but the nose on this one was just captivating! This wine, is not fancy, you can find it in your local grocery store. We had jars of lime, grapefruit, cut grass, stone fruit, and lemongrass and everyone found something different in the wine. We paired this with Guacamole and chips. The avocado is fatty which is nice with the acid in the wine and goes well with the lime and fresh greenness of the wine.

 

The Art – Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc Painting by Act2Art Ruben Permel

Sauvignon Blanc Painting by Act2Art Ruben Permel

“Blowing out candles on your birthday cake” “Very content and peaceful – smells like our smoothie day” “Blood splatter on the grass from when I split my lip” (I love this childhood memory)

 

Carhartt 2013 Estate Syrah Santa Barbara

We love the wines from this Winery and Syrah from Santa Barbara is almost always wonderful. These are the same “Carhartts” that make the work clothes. They owned a cattle farm in Santa Barbara that Mike Carhartt turned into a vineyard. His wife Brooke and their son Chase now make the wines and they have my favorite tasting room on the planet in Los Olivos.

Carhartt Syrah at Crushed Grapes & Open Minds

Carhartt Syrah

This wine has quite a bit going on with aromas of Black berries, dirt, allspice, tobacco, vanilla bean and beef jerky and we had scent jars with all of these. As to a pairing? Well there is a pig on the label, so bacon was the perfect pairing.

 

The Art – Syrah

Carhartt Syrah Painting by Act2Art.com Ruben Permel

Carhartt Syrah Painting by Act2Art.com Ruben Permel

“The calm after a winter storm – perfect tranquility” Dark – cosmos – blanketing” “Thirsty – the kind of thirst when flying” “A very tempestuous sunset”

 

Tobin James 2010 Fat Boy and French Camp Zinfandels

Tobin James Zin at Crushed Grape Open Minds Event

Tobin James Zin at Crushed Grape Open Minds Event

We were members of Tobin James for a while and pulled these two older Zinfandels from the cellar to try. Tobin James is in Paso Robles California and their wines tend to be pretty big. The aromas on these were earth, pepper, fruit jam, leather and chocolate. We paired them with chocolate fountain mini cup cakes from Retro Bakery.

 

The Art – Zin

Zinfandel Painting by Act2Art.com Ruben Permel

Zinfandel Painting by Act2Art.com Ruben Permel

“Making a picnic lunch for the family” “Costy – like a warm blanket wrapped around me during the winter” “tobacco warmth – a little earthy – comfortable”

 

Chateau Megyer Tokaji Aszu 2010

Chateau Megyer Tokaji at Crushed Grape Open Minds Event

Chateau Megyer Tokaji at Crushed Grape Open Minds Event

Tokaj is an area in Hungary and this wine is made from a grape called “furmint”. This is a wine made through “noble rot” or “botrytis cinerea” a fungus that shrivels the grapes like raisins. The raisins are then made into a paste which is added to a dry base wine. This is a sweet wine with citrus, apricot and honey on the nose. We paired it with Brie and Comte cheese.

 

The Art – Tokaji

Chateau Megyer Tokaji Painting by Act2ARt.com Ruben Permel

Chateau Megyer Tokaji Painting by Act2ARt.com Ruben Permel

“Oceanside Cliffs on a summer evening” “My first visit to Montreal – wonder and excitement – Christmas eve” “Tending to my fathers garden”

 

In addition to the wine stations, there was more to eat with a table filled with delicious things with notes to suggest pairings to try with the wine as well as more of RuBen’s beautiful art around the space.

Perfect pairings with wine at Crushed Grapes Open Minds Event

Perfect pairings with wine at Crushed Grapes Open Minds Event

This was an evening of exploration, discovery and animated conversations.

Check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on wine and the people behind the wines!   You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And you can find RuBen and his gorgeous art at Act2Art or on Facebook

To have an evening like this created for you, contact 42Aspens Productions at…. 702.463.4242

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The Art Installation – Crushed Grapes and Open Minds

Crushed Grapes & Open Minds, with Crushed Grape Chronicles and Act2Art

A few days before the “Crushed Grapes and Open Minds” event.  The Artist RuBen Permel came by to install the art works.  He brought the 5 paintings inspired by the wine, as well as a selection of other pieces.  Including his Upland Flight series, “Three Angles Walking”, “Landscape Series 6” parts of the “Whispering Goliath Series” and the beautiful “Open Minds”.  We spent the morning finding just the right spot for each work.

Check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on the details on our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds Event!   You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And you can find RuBen and his gorgeous art at Act2Art or on Facebook

RuBen Permel – Act2Art – Wine Inspired Art

Crushed Grapes & Open Minds with Act2Art.com

RuBen Permel of Act2Art is an accomplished artist.  He’s actually quite the renaissance man, he is an actor and dancer, a puppeteer, a costumer, a painter, a writer, a film maker….and lucky for me, my friend.

Last year we worked together on a project called “Crushed Grapes and Open Minds”.  I had this idea of finding wine that would pair with some of RuBen’s beautiful art.  RuBen, ever the overachiever, decided he would paint a piece for each wine we chose.  We chose 5 wines and he painted a piece to pair with each.

We spent an afternoon with RuBen while he painted, actually priming a canvas for what became the signature piece for the event.

Check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on the details on our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds Event!   You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And you can find RuBen and his gorgeous art at Act2Art or on Facebook

So you are heading to Santa Barbara and want to know where to taste wine…

Sunset Au Bon Climat

I was asked recently about insights into visiting Santa Barbara. My brain goes a little crazy then, filled with all the wonderful options. It’s no secret that I love this area and it’s people. As I set out to jot down some notes, it occurred to me that I am asked this quite often. And while Crushed Grape Chronicles has loads of information on Santa Barbara, I do not have one concise blog post that details the highlights as I see them today. So here I am, putting together my SBC highlight reel. Keep in mind that there will be omissions. Some because there is only so much room in a highlight reel and some because I have yet to discover them. So if you come across one of these omissions, please feel free to add your SBC favs in the comments section!

When you say Santa Barbara, the first thing that comes to mind is the beach, and the city of Santa Barbara. So we will start there. Just know that Santa Barbara is so much more than that.

The City of Santa Barbara

Stearns Wharf and the Beach

Evening view from the Conway Family Vineyards Deep Sea Tasting Room on the pier in Santa Barbara

 

 

Go straight to the beach. You know you want to. You can head out onto Sterns Wharf where there are restaurants and a tasting room. The Conway Family’s Deep Sea Tasting room is a great place to start. They have a variety of wines that they source from coastal vineyards and you can’t beat the ocean view, I mean you are ON the ocean, not just on the beach looking at it! And a meal at The Santa Barbara Shellfish Company is perfect, especially on a cloudy day. If you can manage to pack into this tiny place at the far end of the wharf you will indulge in some soul warming seafood.

The perfect place for a quick overview: The Valley Project

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

But the city beckons and I suggest your first stop be to the The Valley Project– AVA Santa Barbara
This project started by Seth Kunin will give you an overview of Santa Barbara County. This county contains multiple AVA’s (American viticulture Areas), which differentiate climate and soils within wine growing areas. The beautiful Elkpen chalk mural that spans the entire wall behind the tasting room bar will give you an overview and the pourers are there to discuss the differences in the wines and areas with you. Expect them to pull out soil samples to show you.

Super quick tutorial on Santa Barbara County

Santa Barbara lies in a unique area that separated from the plates along the coast. Over the past twelve million years this little section shifted and created a Transverse valley. This means that the valley here runs east west as opposed to north south like all the other valleys on our coast. The transverse valley and the microclimates within it led to a place where you can grow an amazing variety of grapes in a relatively small area. On the western edge the valley is cool and is perfect for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. As you move east the valley warms by a degree a mile! This makes the middle section perfect for Rhone varieties like Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Roussanne and as you continue to the east side where Happy Canyon lies, you have enough heat to support those Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc. Read more about it in The varied and amazing wines and wineries of Santa Barbara County

The Funk Zone and Urban Wine Trail

So now that you are armed with a little background, you can decide where to go next. The Funk Zone is home to lots of little urban tasting rooms. If you are looking to just hang and drink wine and enjoy the sunset in a set of board shorts barefoot, you can march right down to Municipal Winemakers . The funky laid back atmosphere here is ultra relaxing. If this is your style, you can check out our article Municipal Winemakers and the “Funk Zone” wineries

Wine Collection of El Paseo

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If you are not in your board shorts there is the El Paseo further up State Street. Here you will find the tasting room for one of the grand daddies of Santa Barbara Wine Au Bon Climat (ABC to those in the know, which now you are!). Margerum Wine Company  is located here also, along with Doug Margerum’s restaurants the Wine Cask and the Intermezzo Wine Bar. Grassini, known for Happy Canyon Bordeaux style reds and gorgeous Sav Blancs is also here as well as  Jamie Sloane Wines, where you will often find Jamie himself behind the tasting bar pouring.   There are a few more tasting rooms here that I have yet to visit.

You can read more about the El Paseo in our post Santa Barbara’s Wine Collection of El Paseo

Into Wine Country

While you found tasting rooms, I bet you didn’t see any vineyards here in town. That’s because you have to drive inland to get to wine country. You have two options, you can take the 101 and head to Buellton or you can take the 154. The 101 will stick to the coast line until Gaviota State Park and then head north to Buellton. The 154 takes you up into the hills above the City of Santa Barbara and along Lake Cachuma bringing you out in Happy Canyon. From there you can choose to head to Solvang (the little Danish town, that is very quaint and contains most of the areas hotels) or to Los Olivos, a town of tasting rooms. Both are pretty drives, the 154 is quieter (and faster and my favorite).

Places to Taste:

Regulations in Santa Barbara are still quite strict in many areas, so you will find many tasting rooms in towns like Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, Solvang, Buellton & Lompoc, some of these are wine makers sourcing fruit and some are vineyards and wineries, who according to current regulations are not allowed to have a tasting room at their vineyards. Below is a short list of some of my favorites in each of the areas. As I mentioned before, I have yet to drink through all 300 wine tasting rooms in the valley, so please add your suggestions in the comments section below!

Quick note on tastings:

Many of the places listed below are not open 7 days a week, in fact some are only open on weekends. I have provided links to their websites so you can check on the days and hours before you go as they typically change seasonally. And, always be responsible. Drink lots of water, limit the number of tastings you do in a day (4 is really max) and spend some time in each tasting room. Michael and I typically share a tasting, we make sure we have snacks along the way (pack something!) and don’t be afraid to use the spit bucket! They are there for you to use. You can swish and spit or if that is uncomfortable, you can use it to empty your glass after you have “tasted”. If you walk into a tasting room and find the spit bucket is a tip bucket? You have come to the wrong place, and you should turn and find the door.

Los Olivos

The main drag of this small town circles around it’s flagpole. The streets are lined with tasting rooms as well as shops and some restaurants. If you are looking to stroll from tasting to tasting, this is the place I suggest.

 

Larner

Larner Tasting Room

Larner Tasting Room

Michael and Christina Larner are some of our favorite people in Santa Barbara. Michael championed the Ballard Canyon AVA and he is the founder of the Buellton Bodegas a Wine Cooperative space where wine makers have their individual space but can share some of the big wine making equipment. Their tasting room is on the corner by the flagpole (behind the antique gas station) next to the Los Olivos General Store, a gift shop that Christina runs. During the day you can grab a sandwich from Panino next door and get a glass of wine from the Larner tasting room and enjoy lunch on the patio. Michael has a background in Geology and as such he is an expert on soils. You will find a long list of interviews on many fascinating wine related subjects here we have discussed with him here Larner Vineyard

 

Tercero

tercero Wines Tasting Room

Larry Schaffer loves making wine and talking about wine. He especially loves Rhones. Typically you will find Maeapple pouring in the tasting room (she is a joy to chat with), but sometimes Larry will roll in from a busy day going in a million directions and will hold court in the tasting room. He is active in the Rhone Rangers, a passionate supporter of screw caps and footstomps his grapes.  Oh and he loves baking bread, so if you are exceptionally lucky, you might come in on a day when there is a loaf being shared in tasting room.  (the ultimate breaking bread!)
https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/video/tercero-wines-larry-schaffer/

Blair Fox

Blair is the Winemaker at Fess Parker. But here he makes his own wines and they are spectacular, with many single vineyard wines. His tasting room staff is well versed in the wines and the local vineyards.  We had an exceptional tasting here, talking with the staff as well as several other guests in the tasting room.  One guest had a special reserve bottle and busted it open to share tastings of.  Yep, it’s that kind of atmosphere here. They mostly produce Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Vermentino and Viognier. Alright…Vermentino & Viognier?  That makes me very happy.

Crawford Family Wines

Okay, I have yet to visit this tasting room, but I met Mark Horvath the winemaker and tasted his Sta. Rita Hills Syrah (cool climate Syrah) and really enjoyed it. Here he is on the Syrah panel this past spring speaking about this wine. Mark Horvath, Crawford Family Wines on Sta. Rita Hills Syrah

Saarloos & Sons 

Saarloos & Sons

Saarloos & Sons

Follow their blog. This place is all about family and Keith Saarloos is a joy to read. The wines here sell out fast, so if you like something, better buy it while you are here.
AND they have cupcake pairings on the weekends! Check out the video here https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/video/saarloos-sons-paired-withenjoy-cupcakes/

Bien Nacido & Solomon Hills Estate Wines

Bien Nacido has been providing extremely sought after fruit for a while. Au Bon Climat & Qupe built their winery (that they share) on the property to be close to this fruit. If you have ever tasted a Bien Nacido Pinot, you will remember it and be able to pick out this fruit regardless of the winemaker using it. It is distinctive. And now, they not only grow this prize fruit but they have begun making their own wine with Winemaker Trey Fletcher. They also make Syrah. Here is Vineyard Manager Chris Hammel talking about their Syrah and Bob Lindquist’s Qupe Syrah from their vineyards. Syrah Seminar 2016 SB Vintners – Episode 3 Bien Nacido

Kaena

Beautiful Tree outside the Kaena Tasting room in Los Olivos

Mikael Sigouin is also the Winemaker at Beckmen Vineyards (notice a theme?) He is originally from Hawaii and is known as the Grenache King, so I guess you know what you will be drinking here!  His tasting room is full of Aloha, I always end up having great conversations with other guests there.  Last time, we met some folks from Hawaii tasting, who lived near where I did when I was there growing up.  They knew dear friends of ours from when we lived out Makaha way.  Small world syndrome at it’s finest.  We included Mikael in our Sampling of the Incredible Winemakers of Santa Barbara

 

J. Wilkes

This is another tasting room I have yet to visit, but it is on my list for our next trip. Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe is now the winemaker and brand ambassador.  He can wax poetic on many topics, and is fascinating.  I was able to pick Pinot with him during an early morning harvest a few years ago at Clos Pepe.  He has helped create an educational tasting room for J. Wilkes and quite honestly I can’t wait to see it! Typically just open on weekends, Wes posts on his and J. Wilkes facebook pages and on Twitter other times when he will be in for tasting and teaching. You can Make a Reservation on the website ahead of time also.

Carhartt

Los Olivos Carhartt

Los Olivos Carhartt

This is where you finish your day. It is the tiniest tasting room in the world they claim, with just 3 stools at a small bar. Luckily, the back patio opens up (and fills up) at the end of the day. The Carhartts, yes, they are those Carhartts, of work clothes fame, grow grapes and make wine as a family affair. This place is casual though, as handsome young men often pad around the back patio barefoot pouring wines. Here is a throwback piece from way back in 2011 when we first discovered them. https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/santa-barbara-and-los-olivos-part-2/

Buellton:

If you have seen Sideways, you will know Buellton. The restaurant Miles meets Maya in, is none other than The Hitching Post II. (They, by the way make their own Hitching Post wines). There are several tasting rooms in the area here are two of my favorites.

Cold Heaven

Coldheaven Winery

Coldheaven Winery

This is the place if you like cool climate Viognier. Morgan Clendenen (yes, you recognized the name, she used to be married to Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat) pioneered cool climate Viognier, and she also makes Pinot Noir. We had an extraordinary visit with them with  Cold Heaven Cellars – Rhone Scent-ual Experience

Alma Rosa

The Beautiful Tasting Room at Alma Rosa in Buellton

The Sta. Rita Hills wine growing region was pioneered by Richard Sanford. While he no longer owns and runs Sanford Winery, this legend in this area now has a new winery called Alma Rosa. The tasting room is conveniently located next to Industrial Eats, off of Industrial Way in Buellton. Get a little bit of his history here.

Lompoc:

This place looks as different from Wine Country as you can get.  When you drive out 246 toward the ocean and Vandenberg Air Force Base, the vines end and you run into an Industrial Park Area.  This is the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  The beautiful irony is that Lompoc was first founded as a Temperance Colony back in 1874.  The Ghetto has lots of wineries, but further into Lompoc you will find more wineries and tasting rooms.

Longoria

Longoria 2014 Albarino in the garden

Rick Longoria is quiet, soft-spoken and decidedly unpretentious. He quietly tries to blend in with the crowd at the Grand Tastings in Santa Barbara. A couple of years ago I had a lovely conversation with him at his table there.  And he is a joy to speak with.  He beams while telling you about his wines. His vineyard is Fe Ciega in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. In addition to his award-winning Pinot Noirs (Lovely Rita is one of my favorites…a wine that once you taste it, you long for), he also makes a wonderful Albarino sourced from Clover Creek Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley.
https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/little-longoria-albarino-shellfish/

Brewer-Clifton

Founded by Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton in 1995. Back then they were working at other wineries. In 2005 they started growing their own grapes and 2012 was their first estate vineyards vintage and their 2012 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot was named the #8 Wine in Wine Spectator’s Topp 10 of 2014. Here you will taste Sta. Rita Hills Pinot & Chard. Ask about stem inclusion. You will find an older piece I wrote about a tasting we did at Brewer-Clifton here.

Transcendence

We met Kenneth “Joey” Gummere at an event at Sunstone Winery sponsored by the Santa Barabara Vintners. He and several other wine makers were there showing off some of their wines. He and his wife Sarah are dedicated to making cool-climate Syrah, Pinot and Chard. I had a fascinating conversation with him about temperature control with his wine making process. He’s a really nice human, who is a joy to speak with AND he makes great wine. I will admit that I have not been to the tasting room, but I look forward to getting there!

Sandhi & Piedrassi

It’s time to go ghetto, Wine Ghetto that is. In a semi-industrial area of Lompac on the road in from Sta. Rita Hills you will find warehouses with roll up doors housing wineries. The office space next to each warehouse becomes the tasting room. Sandhi and Piedrassi share a winemaker Sashi Moorman, who also is the head winemaker for Pence Ranch and Stolpman. Sashi’s wife Melissa makes bread which is available (and in demand) in the tasting room. Sandhi is a project he works on with Sommelier Rajat Parr and Charles Banks. You will need to make an appointment but it is worth it. While I have not tasted in this tasting room, I was blown away by the elegance of the Chardonnays that I tasted back when they had a tasting room tucked away behind Matteis Tavern in Los Olivos.

Stoplman

Stolpman's Little Red Cottage tasting room in Los Olivos

Stolpman’s Little Red Cottage tasting room in Los Olivos

Stolpman has their vineyards in Ballard Canyon, but they have a tasting room here in the Lompac Wine Ghetto as well as one in Los Olivos. Tom Stolpman founded Stolpman Vineyard in Ballard Canyon. His son Peter manages the vineyard. Sashi Moorman as I mentioned before, is their winemaker and the Grape Whisperer himself, Ruben Solorzano is their Vineyard Manager. This vineyard did a lot of the beta testing of grapes for Ballard Canyon. They planted everything and waited to see what worked. There’s a lot of patience that goes into that. They found Syrah was the perfect match and indeed Syrah has become the flagship wine for Ballard Canyon. They are not afraid to experiment and they have some huge concrete tanks that they use for wines. Give them a taste and ask for stories and make sure to taste “Ruben’s Block”. In this post on the Syrah Seminar, Peter speaks about the Estrella River Clone from the Zaca Mesa Black Bear Block that is used in the Stoplman’s 2013 Original Syrah.

Foxen Canyon & the Santa Maria Valley

When you hop on Foxen Canyon Road you get more than Foxen Canyon. This road takes you all the way up into some of the great vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley.

Zaca Mesa

Zaca Mesa pathway

Zaca Mesa pathway

Before Au Bon Climat, before Qupe and so many others, there was Zaca Mesa. Many of the greats in Santa Barbara Wines did a stint here before opening their own wineries.  You can see more about that  in Zaca Mesa University” Santa Barbara Wine Seminar Spring 2015 – The Highlight Reel

Zaca Mesa is beautiful early in the day. When the fog weaves through the big coastal oaks it’s either ethereal or creepy (I vote for ethereal, cause after all, they have wine!)
They are dog and kid friendly and on Saturdays they have baguettes. There is a giant Chess set in the courtyard to play.
What to expect to taste: Roussane, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Pinot Blanc, Syrah (the Syrah from the Black Bear Block is highly sought after and well respected), Grenache, Mourvedre…yep, are you sensing a Rhone theme? And they do have a Pinot.

Foxen & 7200

The valley side of Foxen 7200 “The Shack”

This is the same winery, just with two tasting rooms, steps from each other. 7200 also known as “The Shack” is in an old blacksmith shop and was the wineries original tasting room. Foxen is at the top of the hill, their solar powered tasting room, where you will find their Rhone & Burgundian style wines. “The Shack” is the place to go for atmosphere. You are open to the elements and often can see the resident bobcat prowling the hill outside. Bill Wathen and Dick Dore founded this winery back in 1985.

Riverbench

The Vines we watched being planted at Riverbench are getting bigger!

Riverbench is on Foxen Canyon Road in the Santa Maria Valley. They grown Pinot and Chardonnay Pinot Meunier and a little Albarino for Kenneth Volk, who is just a stones throw away. Clarissa Nagy is their winemaker. In addition to Pinot and Chard they craft sparkling wines. We spent a morning at Riverbench doing a vineyard tour with Vineyard Manager Rawley Hermreck and learned how to hand dip bottles for the wax cap, which Rawley does mostly himself. We also watched a new block of vines put in out front and have been able to continue to watch these grown. You can read about our tour here https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/riverbench-vineyards-winery-tour/ They also have a tasting room in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone.

Presqu’ile

The Presqu’ile Tasting Room

Presqu’ile Winery has grown to be one of our favorite spots in the Santa Marie Valley. The winery sits up on a hill and is a gravity flow winery.  The view here is stunning, on a clear day you can see the ocean, and this place does hospitality right. If you have an electric car that needs charging, never fear, there are two charging stations. And they have a wonderful light food menu with truly spectacular cheese and charcuterie boards to enjoy with the wine. We spent a morning here for an event which brought together 4 winemakers all making wine from fruit from these vineyards. The event was held on the crush pad at the top of the winery (remember gravity flow). We again attended the Big Bottle Bash at the winery during the 2014 Vintners Spring Weekend in Santa Barbara.

Santa Rita Hills:

This is the Western part of the area, where the climate is cooler and Pinot and Chardonnay thrive.  You will find vineyards on both sides of the 246, but for a more complete look at this area, make sure to take a drive on Santa Rosa Road, where the first vineyard in this area Sanford & Benedict was planted.

Sanford WinerySanford Winery

I spoke about Richard Sanford earlier with Alma Rosa. Here is an opportunity to see the amazing winery he built before Alma Rosa. Now owned by the Terlato Family, the winery retains the beautiful buildings and exceptional vineyards that Richard Sanford built. The tasting room is in the middle of the La Riconada Vineyard on Santa Rosa Rd. Made to be sustainable the walls are adobe bricks and are 30 inches thick to keep the interior temperature cool. The lumber is from recycled timber.
Just down the way you will find the Sanford and Benedict Vineyard. The vines here grow some of the most prized fruit in these hills. Sanford & Benedict Vineyard was first planted in 1971 and is home to some of the oldest Pinot Vines in Santa Barbara County.

Hilliard Bruce

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

This stunning tasting room is appointment only, but it is well worth it. John Hilliard and Christine Bruce beautiful wines (John handles the Pinot Noir & Christine the Chardonnay). Be in touch a few days in advance. We had a wonderful visit with them before the winery was even built. The start of the series is here

Santa Ynez Valley/Los Olivos District:

The Santa Ynez Valley, actually covers quite a bit of space!  The AVA itself encompasses the entire lower section of Santa Barbara County.  Within this AVA you will find the Sta. Rita Hill AVA, Ballard Canyon AVA, Happy Canyon AVA and the newly approved Los Olivos District AVA.  The 3 wineries listed below are actually within the Los Olivos District.

Buttonwood:

Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard

Buttonwood is not just a vineyard, it is a farm. They have a farmstand with seasonal fruits and vegetables next to the tasting room. Michael spent a day on a winery & vineyard tour with winemaker Karen Steinwach, followed by chef demo and lunch with Chef Pascale Beale.
Buttonwood Farm, a Hidden Gem in Santa Barbara County

Beckmen

Beckmen Tasting Room

Beckmen Tasting Room

We did a vineyard walk with Steve Beckmen at the Purisima Mountain Vineyard. The event walk us through the vineyard with a bit of education on soil & vine thinning. I was lucky enough to have a great conversation with Steve as we hiked up to the high point. He gave me a run for my money, he is obviously used to climbing these hills! You can see an overview of the hike here, but there are additional videos with Steve speaking on the soils and shoot thinning also.

Sunstone Winery

Wine Dinner Sunstone

Wine Dinner Sunstone

This is a stunning (no…REALLY stunning) property. I mentioned earlier our visit to this winery when we met Joey Gummere at an event here. This was a Santa Barbara Vintners event for WBC14, with multiple wine makers. We were given a tour by Bion Rice, the wineries President and CEO, of the stunning Villa at Sunstone, which is built from reclaimed materials from villages in Marseille and Provence. We then gathered in the garden to sample wines and speak with the wine makers followed by a family style dinner. This is a premium place for Weddings and the location is stunning (did I say that before?)

Los Alamos:

Michael and I were lucky enough to spend a weekend in the Los Alamos Valley. That gorgeous photo on our homepage and as the feature image on this page, we took from the top of the Rancho La Cuna Vineyard.

Casa Dumetz

Casa Dumetz Winery

I first learned of Sonja Madjevski when she I came across “The Wine Down” a video series on The Lip.tv where she would have conversations with wine makers and farmers and other interesting Industry people. I loved the show. Sadly, it is no more, but go look it up, there are plenty of old episodes that are fascinating! She is the owner and winemaker at Casa Dumetz Wines as well as running Babi’s Beer Emporium here in Los Alamos.  She does a wonderful “Words to Live By” speaker series on Friday’s nights at her tasting room. I have had a few opportunities to speak with her, most recently at the Larner Fete in April (she sources grapes from Michael Larner). Her tasting room is a wonderful welcoming place.

Municipal Winemakers

(Yep you can find a location here too, if you didn’t already visit them in the Funk Zone, or if you just need more of their wine)

Places to Eat:

We published this article in April of 2014 and it is a great reference.
9 Great Places to eat in Santa Barbara County
Since then we have enjoyed a few more spots so I’ll include them below. Also, sadly Matteis Tavern is closed and is only available as an event venue.

Buellton:

The Hitching Post II

The Old School Steakhouse that you got to know in Sideways is here putting out classic steak dinners. You are likely to see Frank Ostini the owner and chef and a local personality in his pith helmet.

Industrial Eats

Industrial Eats in Buellton

Industrial Eats in Buellton

Jeff and Janet Olsson own New West Catering Company and they have been a stable for farm to table catering in the area for a while. Industrial Eats is their fast casual restaurant where they write the daily menu on the butcher paper hanging from a spool on the wall. The menu changes daily depending on what is fresh and available. It’s great for lunch (and it’s right next to Alma Rosa if you want to do a tasting there!) For a sampling of some of the amazing catering they do, check out the Sta. Rita Hills AVA Dinner that was set here.

Los Olivos:

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe

Great spot in the center of town for lunch or dinner and you can always pick up a few bottles of local wine. You are very likely to see wine makers here with friends or family. It’s elegant without being stuffy.  The patio is covered in wisteria and they do have outdoor seating available.  Inside is a wall of wine, a beautiful U shaped bar and fireplace.  They serve California/Mediterranean cuisine.  They also have a blog where they do interviews with local wine makers that you can find here.

Sides Hardware & Shoes

This building was previously a hardware and shoe store owned by Milburn Sides. The Nichols Brothers opened this restaurant with a made from scratch local menu.  They cure their own bacon here.  You can sit inside or on the front or back patios. They are open for lunch or dinner, but plan ahead, because it gets crowded.  The do have a larger restaurant in Santa Ynez called The Red Barn.

Santa Ynez:

Trattorio Grappolo

Michael tasted a bite of food from this restaurant at the Grand Tasting one year and we decided to head there for dinner. We were not disappointed. They do great Italian dishes. Skip the table and sit at the bar where you can watch the kitchen bustle! These guys make hustle in the most beautifully choreographed manner around the small kitchen.

SY Kitchen

Dinner at SY Kitchen with parpadelle and scallops and Gnocchi with sausage

A newer restaurant, having opened in April of 2013, SY Kitchen serves modern Italian in a beautiful farmhouse.  You can dine in the Front room, the porch or the Dining Room of the house. They also have an outdoor Courtyard which is great for cocktails.  Executive Chef Luca Crestanelli was born and raised in Verona Italy. His dishes take the inspiration from Italy and compose them from local fresh ingredients.  Ask the servers for wine pairings, they will be happy to assist.  In addition to lots of local wines, they have an innovative cocktail program and a great selection of dessert wines.

Ballard Inn and Restaurant

Ballard Inn

Ballard Inn & Restaurant

Well, it’s really in the lower part of Ballard Canyon, but that is considered the Santa Ynez Valley. This is the place for a special occasion dinner. We enjoyed the first annual Larner Winemakers Dinner here with Chef Budi creating dishes to perfectly pair with each wine. Again a place you will find tons of local wines.

Solvang:

CHOMP

A great place for burgers, fries and shakes. All-American, kid friendly and locally owned (you will probably see the owner out managing the plethora of teenage staff he teaches and employs as wait staff.)

Los Alamos:

Full of Life Flatbread

Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos, where you are bound to run into a winemaker

This bakery becomes a Restaurant on the weekends, and is a frequent gathering place for wine makers. You will find lots of local wines here.

On Crushed Grape Chronicles you will find information on the area and wineries as well as interviews with Winemakers. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

See some of the Video’s we have made on Santa Barbara here.

The Santa Barbara Vintners website is the ultimate comprehensive place for information on the areas wineries. http://www.sbcountywines.com/

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Crushed Grapes & Open Minds – Art with Wine

Art with Wine

I have a dear friend who is an Artist and we had just moved into a house with lots of beautiful wall space. I kept thinking that it would a really amazing to have a party where we pair his Art with Wine. My original thought was to go through the Art he had available and choose some pieces that paired (at least in my mind) with certain wines. He agreed to do this but with one caveat, he would create pieces to pair with the wines.

Here is a short teaser that we put together before the party.

How do you pair wine with art? There is of course taste and texture, but I really find the nose of a wine (what you smell when you put your nose in the glass) to be more inspirational. Scent often brings up scent memories that can take you back to a very specific time or place. The memories are often emotional and can bring a smile to your face or a tear to your eye. RuBen loves to paint from an emotional place. So we found wines or samples of wines that he could smell and then paint. (I think he drank a little along the way and…actually added a little wine to some of the paint!)

Inspiring the ART

Adding the sense of smell

The idea from here was to create scent jars for the tasting. I have found there is nothing better to get a party going and to get people talking than scent jars.

Wine is a constantly changing variety of compounds, that come from the grapes, the yeast that causes the fermentation and then the vessels in which it is fermented and aged. Of course there are other variables, like soil, climate and the individual winemakers style. Wine is a living liquid, constantly changing, every moment that it ages, every moment that it is exposed to air and as it’s temperature changes. What it smells and tasted like can change from the time you take your first sip of a glass to your last.

There is lots of room for discussion with people about what they are smelling and tasting. But most people are intimidated about smelling a wine and telling you what they are smelling. Without comparisons, people often feel like they might get something wrong. When you open up the scent jars, they can do that comparison, and it will be different for each person. We go back to the emotional response…somehow reflecting on smell and aroma deactivates that worry about judgement. There is something in smelling that turns off inhibitors and people get excited. They want to share the smells and see if others get that also. It can be very freeing and allows people to see the “nose of a wine”, something they thought of before as stuffy and perhaps snobby language of wine people and suddenly experience it first hand for themselves.

Opening Minds

You take this uninhibited emotional experience and then pair it with art. People then have opened their minds to experience the art in a whole new way. Some will compare a scent memory to what they see in the painting.

This whole concept is about allowing people to Open their Minds to see things in a different way, Art, Wine…and maybe so much more.

 

Open-minds-1920wm

Open Minds

The party was amazing and we will be posting on how we chose the wines, the details on the wines we chose, how to set up your own scent jars and of course the Art! So stick with us!

Check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on the details on the wines we paired with the Art and our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds Event!   You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And you can find RuBen and his gorgeous art at Act2Art or on Facebook

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Wine pairings at a burger joint?

Wine & Burgers

Wine & Burgers?  You find wine pairings for all kinds of crazy things these days, girl scout cookies, junk food and yes cheese fries.  I live in Vegas and it is an amazing town.  I’m lucky enough to work near a Shake Shack, you know great simple burgers that started  in 2004 in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park. The one at the New York New York Hotel and Casino in Vegas was the first on the west coast.  The place usually has a line and it’s pretty quick.  Read the Shake Shake story.

Wine & Burgers?

Wine & Burgers

The menu board with all it’s mix and match goodness.

 

The menu board has a wide selection of sandwiches, sides shakes, concretes and even treats for your four legged friends.    And if the menu isn’t extensive enough for you, insiders tell me you can mix and match all of the basics, kind of like the secret ‘animal style” at In & Out.  Not sure if you want a burger or a chicken sandwich?  You can just have both, the chicken patty on top of the burger.  Want to take it a step further, have them top that with the ‘Shroom burger, a portabella stuffed with melted muenster and cheddar.  Or try their Smoke Shake and top that bacon with some peanut butter sauce from the shake menu!  So the mix and match combinations are endless.  Then…you can choose your beverage.  Being a wine blogger, I opted for a glass of wine.  Yep…they serve wine at Shake Shack. Frog’s Leap Vineyard is in Rutherford California, in Napa Valley and they make a special red blend as well as a white blend for Shake Shack.  Mind you you can also order several other wines, by the half bottle, bottle or carafe.  They revolve the wine menu but you can find great wines like a Talley Chardonnay from Arroyo Grande or a Pinot Noir from Merry Edwards Vineyard in the Russian River Valley and it being Vegas they have a full bottle of Krug Champagne if you just won big and want to spend $250!  Of course this is nothing new to Shake Shack when they opened the first location they featured a half-bottle of Opus One, one of the world’s most expensive wines. Picking up a tray with a burger, fries and a glass of wine and taking it out to sit and watch the people go by on the Vegas strip is a thing of beauty.

Not just Wine…organic biodynamic Wine

Frog’s Leap produces organic & biodynamic wines and created these blends specifically to pair with the Shack menu.  I highly recommend giving the Frog’s Leap Story a read.  You will see why Frog’s Leap and Shake Shack are such a good pairing.

“The Shack white is a Sauvignon Blanc that is fermented and aged in steel tanks and has 12.5% alcohol, while the red is made from Cabernet Sauvignon with a little bit of Cabernet Franc, aged for 11 months in French oak, and contains 13% alcohol, Rosati says. Those percentages are slightly on the low side and help keep the wine fresh on the palate.”David Marcus, The Street – quoting Mark Rosati, Shake Shack’s culinary development manager in February of 2015.

On to the Wine & Burger Pairings!

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So….what about the wine & burger pairings you ask?  Well my first was the Shack White paired with cheese fries.  Simple Yukon potato crinkle cut fries topped with drippy Cheddar and American cheese.  All that ooey gooey goodness can coat your palate though…so a sip of Shack white which is a zippy Sav Blanc, cut through the layers cleansed my palate and had me diving back in for more gooey messy cheesy fries.

My next pairing I shared with Michael.  We went late night after a show.  I got the ‘Shroom Burger he got the Smoke Shack, we shared fries and got a glass of the Shack White and Red.  The red was great with both burgers and the white paired nicely with the ‘Sroom burger and the fries.  I must admit that I was tempted by the Champagne.  Those bubbles would be the perfect palate cleanser and what could be more perfectly Vegas than chomping on a burger and cheese fries and sipping champagne, right on the strip!

So if you find yourself in Vegas, do it!  Shake Shake is at the NYNY Hotel and Casino on the corner of Las Vegas Blvd and Tropicana.

And stop back here for more insights on pairings, wines, wineries and winemakers!