Tag Archives: Marsanne

A RETURN VISIT TO PASO ROBLES

Earlier this week, Dorianne and I spent a couple of days in the California Central Coast Wine Country with friends. We stayed at the KonTiki Inn, a mid-20th Century gem in Pismo Beach. Don’t try to reserve a room at the KonTiki online – you can’t. They have a website (LINK), but you can’t reserve there or on the other online hotel sites. It’s very retro, very well maintained, very inexpensive, every room has an ocean view, and it’s very comfortable.

On Monday, we drove up to Paso Robles and visited three wineries. The first was Peachy Canyon (LINK) on Paso’s West Side. The tasting room is picturesque – they have been around for a while, since 1988 – and their wines are very drinkable. There is a nice selection of clothing and wine stuff in the tasting room shop. The $10 tasting fee is waived with a two-bottle purchase. Peachy Canyon is known for their Zinfandels, but their whites are also worth a look, as well as their other reds.

Next, we went over to Paso Robles’ East Side, to Sculptera Winery & Sculpture Garden (LINK). This was my first visit to Sculptera, even though I have been to Paso Robles many times. The first thing that you notice about Sculptera, after passing through the vineyards, is the amazing front sculpture garden. Here is a sample of what is there – there is another garden behind the tasting room.

Inside, the tasting room is nicely appointed, with more sculptures, including miniature versions of some of the larger sculptures. At this point, my suspicions were aroused – how often does an impressive winery and tasting room that clearly cost millions of dollars produce mediocre and overpriced wines?

Well, Sculptera is not in that category. The wines were uniformly excellent – so much so, that all three couples – all knowledgeable about wine – ended up joining the wine club. As I write this, two cases of their wines are on the way to our temporary residence, Roam.co (LINK), in Miami. And the tasting room staff was knowledgeable and very good at what they do. Their wines are priced from the low $20’s to $60.

Several of the wines on the tasting list (8 wines) were exceptional, including the first one poured, the newly-released 2015 Viognier, one of those whites that hits your palate and you instantly know that it is exceptional; it has everything you want, a rich bouquet – floral with hints of minerality; a slightly viscous mouthfeel; lots of green fruit and levels of complexity; and a smooth and very pleasing finish. At $26 retail, this wine is a bargain. Other highlights were the 2013 Pinot Noir, which was peppery and earthy, but the fruit held its own (yes, a good Pinot Noir from Paso Robles); the 2014 Primitivo (and the 2013 Primitivo Reserve, which was not on the list, but was poured for us), a big wine that also showed complexity and balance; the 2012 Merlot, also nicely balanced; and the two blends we tried, 2013 Figurine (45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Primitivo, & 13% Merlot), and the 2013 Statuesque (38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Syrah, 28% Petite Syrah). There is also a second label called Héroe Wines, which are also very good as well, and they honor the workers who produced it on the labels, front and back.  So many good wines.

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The Gang at Sculptera’s Wine Tasting Room

Our final stop was at Cass Winery (LINK), where we had lunch from their excellent kitchen. We did not do a tasting here, but had glasses of wine with lunch. Cass produces very good Rhône-style wines, and their whites – Rousanne & Marsanne and the blend they make with them are superior. It is a great lunch spot with indoor and outdoor seating and a very convivial atmosphere in the tasting room.

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Paso Robles is one of the most interesting wine regions in California right now. There are some wineries that have been around long enough to develop some great wines, there are some who are very nearly at that point, and there are a lot of very innovative things happening with interesting varietals and new viticulture and wine making techniques. A great place to visit.

The next day, we drove south to the Bien Nacido area and the Santa Rita Hills AVA to visit two very interesting wineries – more about that in the next post.

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

APPLEGATE VALLY AVA – TWO WINERIES

Yesterday, several of us went to the Applegate Valley AVA area in southern Oregon to taste some wines. This area, just to the west of Ashland, is in the foothills of the Coastal Range near the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest. Beautiful country, a growing number of  wineries in the area , but you travel a bit of a distance to get from winery to winery.

The AVA does not have a signature varietal. There are a number of micro-climates present, soil variations, and annual rainfall amounts vary from around 20 to 40 inches in different parts of the AVA. So you have Italian varietals like Sangiovese, Spanish Tempranillo, Rhône Syrah, Rousanne and Marsanne, plus Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and others.

We wanted to taste some of the best of the area, so our local friends took us to Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden (LINK) and to Red Lily Winery both off of Route 238 southwest of the quaint town of Jacksonville.

Cowhorn represents a number of good things about growing and making wine. First of all, the quality of the wines is simply superb. Producing a total of 2300 cases of Rhône varietals – Grenanche, Mouvedre, Syrah, ViognierRousanne and Marsanne, the owners and winemakersBill and Barbara Steele, use state-of-the-art biodynamic techniques. The wines that we tasted (and we didn’t even get to taste the reserve wines, which are spoken for by the wine club – hint) were beautifully crafted, balanced, and tasted much like wines we have had in the Rhône Valley. Their wines consistently score in the low to mid 90’s from such reviewers as Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Robert Parker.

The 2012 Syrah was beautifully crafted and needs a couple more years in the bottle to reach it’s peak. The whites – a Spiral 36 Blend of ViognierRousanne and Marsanne  is delicious and a bargain. The 100% Viognier was a revelation – a beautiful mouth feel with apple, pear, and other green fruit, some minerality, and a very smooth finish. The Marsanne/Rousanne 50/50 was also quite good – all of the whites could have been from top Rhône Valley producers. We did take some of these home with us.

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Some of Cowhorn’s Wines
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Jim & Bill Steele

Second, they are operating a highly eco-sensitive and sustainable operation. Under construction is a new tasting room that is being built to the exacting standards of  the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) (LINK), meaning that the building will add as much as it takes from the environment at every step of the building and operating process. While we were there, a beautiful table made from recovered wood and custom-designed for wine tasting by Barbara Steele, was delivered and set up. Here are a few photos.

If you can get your hands on some Cowhorn wines, do it.

Our next stop, after getting a bit lost on the scenic back roads of the area, was Red Lily Vineyards (LINK), a beautiful property along the roaring Applegate River. Here, Tempranillo is king. Les and Rachel Martin own and operate the vineyard and winery. The tasting room building is beautifully designed and contains facilities for special events. They also have a kitchen that produces some very good food. We had lunch here, accompanied by some of the Red Lily Wines.

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Red Lilly Tasting Room

The wines that we tasted were primarily Tempranillo, some mixed with Cabernet Sauvignon. The 100% 2012 Tempranillo in the tasting was the best of that group. I had a glass of a 2006 100% Tempranillo that showed how well these wines age. Great tannin structure, well balanced between dark red fruit and minerality. A beautiful wine (and, at $51, the most expensive). They also sell some wines made in Spain to compliment the Spanish varietals grown here.

The wine tastings are available poured into test tubes and put in a rack that you can pour yourself when you are ready. There are tasting notes for each wine. You can also have the friendly and knowledgeable tasting room staff pour each taste for you. The Red Lily wines are very well crafted, not up to the level of the Cowhorn, which would be exceptional in any AVA or appellation, but very drinkable and reasonably priced.

Both of these wineries were a joy to visit, with the usual great people that one tends to meet in the wine industry. If you are visiting southern Oregon soon, make it a point to check these two out.

We will be doing some more exploration on this visit – so watch this space.

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Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

 

PASO ROBLES TRIP, PART 1. EBERLE, TOBIN JAMES & CASS WINERIES

Dorianne and I did a post-Christmas trip to Paso Robles this week. We were accompanied by her sister Debby and Debby’s husband, Mike, who live in Oklahoma, but love wine very much. The trip was really a good experience, so I will cover it in two posts.

Paso Robles has become the premier region of California’s Central Coast, which is saying something, as there are a lot of great wines coming from Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Monterey Counties. With over 200 producers, Paso Robles is the largest region (it includes 11 AVA’s), but it is also the place where the most experimentation and innovation is happening, which is by design. The focus is mainly on Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, but there are dozens of varietals being grown and the Rhône-style wines produced there are world-class.

I have written before of our trips there to attend the Garagiste Festivals (LINKS). This time, we selected just a few wineries to visit, three on the east side and two on the west side; HWY 101 is the divider. This post will speak to the east side and Part 2 the west side.

Our arrival on Sunday night began with dinner at Mistura (LINK), a Peruvian themed restaurant located at a golf course on the east side of town. This highly rated restaurant was an excellent choice for food and beverage, but our timing was off. The Sunday after Christmas is a very unpredictable night, and they were a bit over-crowded. We did not get seated for our 7:00 pm reservation until about 7:45 pm and our dinner did not arrive until almost 8:30 pm. That said, the staff was very gracious and helpful the wine list is very good, and the venue is very nice. Avoid the holidays and you should have a great experience.

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On Monday, joined by our daughter, Grace, who was in the area with her father for the holidays, we began our tours at Eberle Winery (LINK) on Route 46. A relatively large producer for Paso RoblesEberle provides a very good customer experience when you visit: complimentary tastings and winery tours (Dave Olcott and his team do a very professional job), a nicely appointed main tasting room, and knowledgeable staff. We felt well cared for and enjoyed our tour and experience very much. The venue is also available for special occasions and there is a VIP Tasting experience in the Wine Caves offered for a fee that looked very nice. Some photos from Eberle.

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The wines at Eberle range from whites like ChardonnayViognier, and a Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc blend; a Syrah Rosé; and reds that include BarberaSyrahZinfandelCabernet Sauvignon, and a red blend. Most of the wines on their website are available for tasting. You get to choose up to five wines to taste. Overall, I would rate Eberle as a very competent wine producer and many of their wines are good values. We particularly enjoyed (and purchased) the 2014 Viognier, Mill Road Vineyard, the 2013 Zinfandel, and the 2013 Barbera.

The next stop was Tobin James Cellars (LINK), farther east just off of Route 46 East. Tobin James has a unique branding look and their tasting room facility is set like a saloon in the wild west. Very campy. The place was packed when we arrived (about noon on a Monday), with three large bars pouring complimentary tastings. One thing that appeals to me – they have Tommy Bahama brand (LINK) shirts with their logo and name on them. Probably 2/3 of my wardrobe is Tommy B.

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Bethany

Tobin James takes a little getting used to for the serious wine drinker – getting past the colorful hype if you will. In the tasting room, you have your choice of a variety of wines on the tasting menu, but only one Zinfandel. Since I know Tobin James as a producer of high-quality Zinfandels, I asked Bethany, our very personable and competent tasting room staff person, if there was another menu. She smiled and produced a second menu with 6 Zinfandels, a Primitivo, and seven other Reserve wines. Also complimentary for tasting. Now we were getting somewhere.

Dorianne and I did side-by-side tastings of the 6 Zins, which were all excellent. We purchased three after getting Grace to expand her pallet a bit. When you get to the higher-end wines, Tobin James excels. Their other wines are good for everyday use as well.

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The Gang at Tobin James

ORoussanne-2014-webur final stop of the day was a Cass Winery (LINK) in Creston, just southeast of Paso Robles. We know Cass Winery as a primary source of fruit for our Agoura Hills-based wine cooperative that I have posted about in the past (LINK)Cass, run by Steve Cass, is very well-known as both a reliable and innovative producer of a number of varietals. With 17 wines featured on their website, they are also very versatile. I am a big fan of Cass’s Rhône-style whites, particularly the Rousanne and Marsanne varietals.

Since our tasting included lunch in the winery cafe, it was an opportunity to experience their wines with some food. I opted for their award-winning burger, which was not the best choice for the whites, but . . . I was hungry.

Suffice to say that the Rousanne and Marsanne that we tasted were excellent – rich and fruity with a nice sense of minerality. The reds, a Syrah and a Cabernet Sauvignon, were also very nice.

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The Burger at Cass Winery

So our first day of tasting came to a close at about 2:30 pm. Then we said farewell to Grace and headed for the market to get chicken and some other provisions for dinner at our AirBnB house that evening. The Eberle Viognier and Zinfandel purchased that morning would prove up to the task of the appetizer and main courses.

Wine travel is indeed rewarding, the wines, the places, and the people.

Next post – Paso Robles’ west side, featuring Tablas Creek and Calcareous Wineries, and a great Mexican restaurant.

 

CHATEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, GIGONDAS, AND CRESTET – THE BEST OF NORTHERN PROVENCE

As a wine blogger, I really like to explore the wine regions I visit. We are in the Avignon area for six weeks, and I had been itching to get to Châteauneuf-du-Pape to taste some of their fantastic wines on-site and to learn more about the culture and process of this renowned region. At the recommendation of Lauren, proprietor of the wonderful Art, Wine, and Design Shop in Villeneuve-les-Avignon, I called Valentina of MistralTour.fr and set up an all-day tour this past Friday. Dorianne and our daughter, Grace, joined us. Most of the photographs in this post were taken by Grace – here is a (LINK) to her website.

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Valentina is a delight – an Italian who lives in France and speaks perfect English; she is very vivacious and professional. She is an excellent guide.

Our tour took us to the Village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where we went up to the ruins of the original chateau and surveyed the beautiful countryside laced with vineyards in all directions. Along the way, Valentina talks about all things wine – she really has a good degree of knowledge and makes everything clear.  Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a storied wine region centered around the town of the same name. The AOC (LINK) allows for 18 varietals (not 13 as is commonly believed). From Wikipedia.com: “Both red and white varieties are allowed in both red and white Châteauneuf-du-Pape. There are no restrictions as to the proportion of grape varieties to be used, and unlike the case with other appellations, the allowed grape varieties are not differentiated into principal varieties and accessory varieties. Thus, it is theoretically possible to produce varietal Châteauneuf-du-Pape from any of the eighteen allowed varieties. In reality, most Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are blends dominated by Grenache. Only one of every 16 bottles produced in the region is white wine.” 

I was unfamiliar with whites and rosés from this region, but let me tell you, there are some amazing wines here. U.S. retailers and restaurants should be getting on the bandwagon for the whites and rosés of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and  Gigondas.

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Chateau de Vaudieu. Side entrance.
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La Cave at Chateau de Vaudieu.

Then we drove just down the road to Chateau de Vaudieu (LINK) for a tour and a private tasting with the winemaker, Christophe. Chateau de Vaudieu dates from 1767. They have 70 hectares (173 acres) of grapes under cultivation, all around the chateau.

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Winemaker Christophe and his wines.
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A White Chateauneuf-du-Pape – whites make up 15% of Chateau de Vaudieu’s production. Grenache 75% – Roussanne 25%.
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Another White Chateauneuf-du-Pape – whites make up 15% of Chateau de Vaudieu’s production. 100% Grenache Blanc.

Lirac is an AOC just across the Rhône River from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It has similar varietals and soils, and the wines are a bargain. Quite a few Châteauneuf-du-Pape growers bottle Lirac Wines.

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is 2012 Plateau des Red Oak , Lirac. Grenache/Syrah blend.
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2012 Chateau de Vaudieu Red. AOC CHATEAUNEUF DU PAPE. Grapes : Grenache 74% – Syrah 26%

Next, we went into the village to the wine shop of Domaine Durieu, where the winemaker was also present for part of our stay, then we tasted four of their wines. I should add that Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines are among the best in France. No photos here.

Then a long drive through he region to La Verrière, in Crestet up on a mountain, where we had a wonderful lunch, a conversation with the owner (Nicole Rolet who co-owns with her husband, Xavier) and the winemaker, and tasted the award winning Chene Bleu Rhône wines (LINK); then we had a complete tour of the facilities. This is one of the most beautiful wine estates I have ever seen in France, and after speaking with the principals, I can see why.

This team produces some excellent wines and they have created an atmosphere of success at their beautiful property. The wines were smooth, well-crafted, beautifully balanced and simply delicious. They are available in the U.S. and elsewhere, so check their website (LINK) for more information, or Google the wine names.

Note that the Chene Bleu wines are made outside of the French AOC systemNicole and Xavier felt too bound by the rules of the local AOC, so they deviated, and it has been a battle for acceptance. Of course, the wines speak for themselves and have received numerous awards and recognitions.

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Owner Nicole Rolet, our guide, Valentina, and the wines of Chêne Bleu at Domaine de la Verrière.
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The Chêne Bleu (Blue Oak) at Domaine de la Verrière – painted with copper paint.
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The wines of Domaine de la Verrière, labeled Chêne Bleu.

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Me and the Winemaker, Jean-Luis Gallucci.

Then we were off to Gigondas, another storied region, for a tasting at Domaine des Bosquets (LINK), owned by the same family as Chateau de Veudieu. We tasted several wines with the owner/winemaker at this location as well. Winemaker Julien Bréchet hosted our tasting. The Gigondas is very similar to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, with a focus on Grenache and Syrah as the primary varietals. The main difference is the type of soil – less gravely and with more limestone and sand than Châteauneuf-du-Pape, plus a higher elevation with more verticality to the vineyards. The wines at Domaine des Bosquets were similar in style to those from Chateau de Veudieu – smooth, well-structured and elegant. The Gigondas is a great wine region.

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2014 Domaine des Bosquets Blanc – 80% Grenache – 20% Roussane – This white is made on the high elevation plot called “Cheval Long”. Handpicked, and vinified in oak barrels, only several cases are released.
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2013 Domaine des Bosquets Rouge cuvée « Le Lieu dit… » – The laying down wine from the estate’s celebrated plot, vinified and matured pure. This is a Grenache in all its splendor, in turn opulent, soft, elegant and blessed with beautiful length on the palate.
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2013 Domaine des Bosquets Rouge cuvée « La Colline… » – This parcel was planted into the rocks by our ancestors. It overlooks the estate and stretches as far as the edge of the Dentelles de Montmirail.
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2009 Domaine des Bosquets Rouge cuvée « Le Lieu dit… »
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Grace (our official photographer for the trip), Me, and Dorianne in the vineyard at Domaine des Bosquets

Then we explored the nearby hilltop town of Gigondas a bit before heading back to our apartment.

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It was an amazing day that filled my need to explore somewhat more n depth the areas we visited and to learn more about the wines. We made purchases at every stop! This is a very rich region, part of the overall Rhône Valley Region, so there is much, much more to explore. So we will have to do some more exploring on this trip, and we will have to come back.

And again, I cannot give enough praise to Valentina of MistralTour.fr (LINK) – she is a professional and makes your time together very enjoyable, while giving you as much, or as little inside information as you would like. And her prices really are a bargain.