Tag Archives: Viognier

A WEEK IN THE OKANAGAN WINE COUNTRY – OVERVIEW

I just spent a week in the Okanagan Valley, in Kelowna and the areas surrounding the southern half of Lake Okanagan. The lake, a 90-mile long glacial lake, which, at the moment, is at a record high, creating some havoc in the area. I was there for a conference, but had four days to explore some of the wineries and restaurants that make this area so inviting. How many wineries? I was told 235, 250, even 285 by various people. The WineBC website says it’s 172 (LINK).

Wine - Okanagan wine-map

This was my third trip to the Okanagan since 2007, and the number of wineries has definitely multiplied. Another change from that time is the quality of the wines – there are some truly excellent wines being produced up and down the region. I made return visits to three wineries and two of them had improved their products greatly.

The Okanagan was initially home to white wines from Germany. Rieslings and Gewürztraminers are still prevalent, and used for ice wines and late harvest wines, which have precise definitions in Canada (LINK). There are also drier versions of these varietals being made today, echoing trends across the world.

The growing season has been lengthening here, as in other places. This means that red varietals are being grown across a wider area than in the past. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, and others are very common, joining Pinot Noir which has been widely cultivated for some time. Over the past decade, many wineries are producing excellent reds. As a rule, the wines are in the European style, more elegant than bold.

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Downtown Kelowna – Delta Grand Hotel in foreground

Kelowna is a beautiful city of about 200,000 on the east side of Lake Okanagan. With a temperate climate and warm summers, the area attracts vacationers and there are many large homes along the lake. Good restaurants, wine bars, brewpubs, and more are readily available. A number of wineries, both urban and rural, have restaurants.

SOME HIGHLIGHTS

Cactus Club at Kelowna Yacht Club (LINK): A modern restaurant with two bars (patrons must be seated at the bar to be served, a BC law), a view of the lake and downtown, and a very attractive and well-trained wait staff (think little black dresses). I only went here three times during my stay because I moved across the lake to West Kelowna for the last three days. Great food, ranging from casual to fine dining on the same menu, a nice selection of wines by the glass, and a good bottle list as well. Standard pours are either 6oz or 9oz; generous! The prices are a bit expensive, but the exchange rate works in your favor if you are not Canadian (currently about 70% of US dollar).

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Pinot Gris at the Cactus Club

Oak + Cru, Delta Grand Hotel (LINK): A full-service restaurant and bar in the lobby of the hotel and extending out to a lakeside area. Also a wine tasting room featuring only Okanagan wines. I ate dinner there one night, had glasses of wine in the bar another, and did a tasting at the wine tasting room/wine cellar as well. Each experience was excellent – good food, good wines, a beautiful setting, and well-trained staff. If you want to taste a range of local wines without leaving town, this is the place. There are tastings each evening from 4 to 6 pm, each featuring a different area of the Okanagan region and different varietals, plus food pairings. The tasting room can be reserved for private dinners in the evenings for groups of six or more.

Volcanic Hills Winery/Blue Saffron Bistro (LINK): In West Kelowna, a winery and restaurant. The bistro is outdoors and offers a view of sloping vineyards, with the lake and mountains in the distance. I went for lunch and a tasting (separate days), and enjoyed both. The kitchen does a good job, and their 2016 Gamay/Pinot Noir rosé wine was an excellent pairing with my lunch salad. Volcanic Hills whites are their strength – especially their Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Chardonnay. The Viognier was a bit thin and not to my taste. Reds were decent, but not outstanding.

In the next post, I’ll talk about the wineries I visited on this trip.

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Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

RETURN TO SOUTHWEST OREGON

Dorianne and I are spending three weeks in Southwest Oregon, and wine tasting will be part of the experience (of course!). We were here just about a year ago (LINK).

Our first two winery visits were to 2Hawk Winery (LINK) in Medford and Ledger David (LINK) Wine Tasting Room in Central Point. Both are part of the Rogue Valley AVA (LINK).

2Hawk was within walking distance of where we were staying for the weekend in Medford. The tasting room, winery, and the family home are all on the 23.5 acre estate, where many of the grapes are grown – others are sourced from other vineyards in the area. The tasting room, completed in 2012, is very nice, following historic California architectural styling and using a variety of rustic building materials, both local and imported.

When we arrived, the two “flagship” estate wines were sold out. We tasted their 2015 Viognier and Chardonnay – the Chardonnay is estate grown. Both showed good balance and nice fruit from the nose through the finish. The Viognier was especially nice – in the French style. The reds, a Malbec and a blend, were less impressive, and made us wish those flagship reds had been available, especially their Tempranillo. We also tried their rosé, made from Grenache. A very nice wine. We purchased bottles of the Viognier and Grenache Rosé.

Later in the week, I visited Ledger David Cellars tasting room without Dorianne, but with three friends. The tasting room is a small, but nicely appointed space in Central Point, a small town north of Medford that does not appear the be the central point of anything.

At Ledger David I had one of those amazing experiences where pretty much everything turns out beautifully. A good group of friends, a nice atmosphere, a very high caliber staff, and some amazing wines constellated in that couple of hours – along with some very nice chocolates!

Let’s cut to the chase – the wines. At worst, the Ledger David wines I tasted were better than average. At best, they were superb; all are estate grown just north of Ashland. Production is just 3500 cases, 11 varietals, on about 40 acres of vineyard (some fruit is sold).

White varietals: Chenin Blanc, Malvasia Bianca, Viognier, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc

Red varietals: Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Malbec, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Petit Verdot

We explored beyond the basic tasting list and were ably guided by Scott Oakley, something of a tasting room legend in the Rogue Valley, and a relative newcomer to Ledger David. Scott is one of those people who was born to work in the hospitality business, and would be equally at home in a Michelin Star Restaurant. Our experience was made more amazing because of his efforts to ensure that we had the best possible experience. But I digress.

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Scott and Alecia in the Ledger David Petit Tasting Room

The wines, whether white or red, were superbly crafted, well-balanced, and each had its own character. The 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, as an example, fell somewhere between French and New Zealand Sauv Blancs. It was grassy, but neither heavy on citrus nor on green fruit. There was a hint of minerality and a generous mouthfeel. A nice wine for summer and it will be excellent with oysters. The 2016 Viognier was very nicely crafted, with hints of pear and apricot and a floral nose. This is a very impressive white wine – the winemakers of this area are doing very nice things with Viognier.

The reds at Ledger David were varied. We tasted six reds, and each was unique – to me a good sign of a relatively light touch indicating the winemaker lets the fruit speak for itself. If I were a 100-point scale person (which, as a rule, I am not), I would place all of these wines in the 89-95-point range. I have not checked to see if anyone has done this. One of the wines, a 100% Petite Verdot, was nearly gone, down to 6 bottles (4 when we left), so I won’t critique it other than to say it was unique, full bodied, and cried out for a rack of lamb.

The other reds, mostly blends, were excellent. I purchased a few bottles of a wine called Epitome of ThreeTempranillo, Sangiovese and Syrah – an Old World tour, that was very nice. It’s only available at the tasting room.

Reds that are available via the website include a 2014 Dark Night blend, a 2014 100% Tempranillo, a 2014 100% Cabernet Franc, a 2013 Orion’s Nebula blend (did not taste this one), a 2013 Sangiovese, and a 2014 Sublimus blend. Of these, the Cabernet Franc and the Sublimus blend stood out for me.

We left with a number of bottles and will enjoy these wines over the next few weeks (I can’t take more than a couple with me to our next stop!).

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The Rogue Valley area wines are showing some maturity, a very good sign that the wines produced here will take their place among Oregon’s best over the next few years.

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

Follow me on TWITTER: @JimLockardWine

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

AUSTRALIAN WINE TASTING IN LONDON

I was invited to an industry-only tasting in London yesterday. Titled “Artisans of Australian Wines,” it featured 43 labels being introduced by 15 British distributors. Held during the day at Cargo, a trendy nightclub in the Shoreditch area of London, the event was both fun and very interesting.

I had heard of exactly none of the 43 labels before the tasting. Indeed, most are smaller producers who do not export to the U.S., and who are just trying to break into the British market. I spent about 3 hours exploring, tasting, speaking to the people pouring (sometimes someone from the winery/vineyard, but most frequently someone from one of the distributors). I did not taste everything (there were at least 200 wines), not even close. But I will give you my impressions of what I did taste and who I did meet. And I will list all of the labels at the end of the blog post, in case you happen across any of them.

General impressions: there were some very nice wines here; in fact, most were very good or better. That would make sense, as they had been vetted by the distributors. Australia has no restrictions on who can grow what grapes where, and no blending rules, like there are in France and Spain, therefore, there is a great variety of both the varietals grown and the blends that are produced. There were a couple of wines that did knock my socks off, but only a couple. That said, pretty much all of these wines could have a place in my cellar or on my table or both.

So with my apologies to those labels that I did not get to taste (mostly in that really crowded section in the front room), let’s see what I did taste.

Adelina and VineMind Wines: The winemaker, Col McBryde was here pouring wines from his two labels. He produces about 2,000 cases/year and has been exporting to the UK for 6 years. Of most interest to me are his Rieslings, one from each label – both nicely balanced with minimal residual sugar.

Yangarra Estate: Nicely polished, well-crafted wines from a producer owned by Jackson Family Wines of California. Winemaker Peter Fraser (Australian Winemaker of the Year for 2016), has crafted two wonderful McLaren Vale Grenache wines from single vineyards. The 2013 High Sands Grenache is of particular note.

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Chalmers Wines: Kim Chalmers, daughter of the owner, was pouring the Chalmers Wines at the tasting. I tasted four of the ten Italian varietal wines (3 labels) on hand – a 2014 Vermentino, which was one of the best whites I tasted all day – smooth, velvety, with green fruit and a hint of minerality on the finishsimply excellent. The 2013 Fiano, a varietal I had not previously encountered, was like a younger sister to the Vermentino in character – which makes me think that the winemaker has a large influence on the wines. The red, I tasted, a 2015 Nero d’Avila, was well-structured but young – it needs some time. The 2016 Schioppettino, under the Chalmers Project label, was tannic and bold, with red fruit and a strong finish. Another varietal that is new to me.

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Castagna Wines: The father and son team of Julian and Adam Castagna were presiding over their table with aplomb. Their Rhône-focused vineyard & winery deliver the goods. Their wines were consistently well made and nicely balanced. I tasted 8 of 9 wines available (choosing not to taste their Shiraz Vermouth). Standouts were the 2016 Rousanne, bottled a week ago, and already moving toward becoming a great white wine. The highlight, however, is their 2008 Sparkling Genesis Shiraz-Viognier, a dark red sparkler that delivers great taste and can be paired with just about anything, including meat. This is an amazing wine.

Bill Downie Wine: Apparently, Bill Downie is fairly well-known in Australia as a producer of small quantity, high quality wines. The lone representation of his work, sitting at the end of a table where about 5 other labels were being poured by distributor reps, would have been easy to overlook – in fact, I did on my first pass. Only after reading about it in the catalog did I return to try the 2015 Riverland Biodynamic Petit Verdot. This was my favorite wine of the day. I liked everything about it – the nose was beautifully balanced, inviting you to taste, the mouthfeel was like velvet, with red and black fruit, some leathery tones, and a smoothness that carried into the finish. If I could have purchased a case, I would have. Be on the lookout for this wine.

 

L.A.S. Vino: Aside from good marketing and design (something that was in abundance here – no doubt a reflection of the assistance that a good distributor can provide) this winery makes some good wine. I only tasted the 2013 ‘Portuguese Pirate’ Margaret River Blend made with Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cao, and Souzao grapes. I cannot honestly attest as to whether this blend is on a par in style or quality to a similar blend in Portugal, but I can say that this wine is of very high quality and would be an excellent companion to a leg of lamb, a steak, or a good cigar. Think smooth, a bit jammy (but not too much), and rich in black fruit. Very nice.

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Vinteloper Wines: This Adelaide Hills winery is operated by winemaker David Bowley, who was present and pouring. I tasted three of his excellent wines, two Pinot Noirs – which were nicely crafted and very good, especially his 2012 OPN Lenswood Pinot Noir, a single vineyard beauty. We had a good discussion about Pinot Noir, and I told him about some of the great Burgundian style wines coming out of the Santa Rita Hills AVA in  California.

Bowley’s other wine, the 2015 ‘Urban Winery Project #3’ Shiraz/Malbec comes with a story. This nice table wine is the result of a project that Bowley undertakes every year at harvest time. He moves parts of his winemaking operation to a city and, for one month, opens the operation to the locals, who can do everything from stomping grapes to blending wines. It is a great marketing idea – and a great way to invite people into the winemaking process. Kudos to David Bowley.

Sami Odi Wines: Two wines from this small producer were available for tasting – both are a bit unusual in packaging and presentation. The distributor rep, a very nice young woman, spoke so fast that I did not get a lot of information from her (my issue, being an American – she was speaking The King’s English after all). But the wines were very good – a ‘Little Wine #5’ Syrah and a 2014 Syrah ‘XIV’. The former comes from a vineyard with vines planted in different years. Both bring out the best aspects of Syrah.

Chaffey Bros Wines: Producing in the Barossa and Eden Valleys, Chaffey Bros make a number of wines. I would say that their strength is in their whites. I tasted 5 of 7 wines available. Their Rieslings were very good, the best being a 2015 Tripelpunkt Riesling, with fruit from three vineyards – dry with a hint of sweetness, floral notes, and smooth finish – what I like to see in a Riesling. Of interest is a true field blend, called 2015 ‘Düfte Punkt’ with Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Weißer Herold (Kerner). The field blend was nicely balanced – not a great wine, but of interest because of the willingness to experiment.

S.C. Pannell/The Other Wine Co.: Side-by-side on the tasting table, these wineries bring good tasting wines at value price-points. I tasted the 2014 S.C Pannell Adelaide Hills Syrah (McLaren Vale)  – very rich, even for a Syrah, almost jammy; but nice red and black fruit notes with chocolate and slate later on. Long finish. I tasted the 2015 The Other Wine Co. Adelaide Hills Pinot Gris (before the Syrah) – a decent table wine with notes of lemon grass and pear.

Again, I did not taste them all – my bad – but suffice to say that there were a range of good quality wines on display. Aside from a growing tendency to call Syrah by its original name, instead of Shiraz, the most remarkable thing about this group was the winesgood quality and individual character. The UK wine market will be looking up thanks to these Aussie newcomers.

As promised, a list of all of the producers present:

Lethbridge Wines      Deviation Road           Adelina         VineMind           Yangarra Estate     Mac Forbes          Chalmers     Gembrook Hill     Teusner        Eden Road        Ruggabellus   Eperosa        Strenua        Ochota Barrels       Jamseed Wines        Luke Lambert Wines           Timo Mayer        Delinquente Wine Co.      Si Vintners       Patrick Sullivan Wines           Xavier          Gentle Folk Wines           Castagna      Jauma        Bill Downie      La Línea           L.A.S. Vino              S.C. Pannell         The Other Wine Co.         Chaffey Bros                     Bellwether          Vinteloper           Bremerton Wines   The Pawn Wine Co.     smallfry        BK Wines Massena           Sami Odi           Byrne             CRFT            David Franz                     La Violetta           Ministry of Clouds

You may be seeing some of these labels in your area soon.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

OREGON’S UMPQUA VALLEY – TWO WINERIES

The Umpqua Valley AVA (LINK) in south-central Oregon does not yet have a signature varietal, and it may not have one in the future. This rambling AVA contains many micro-climates and a range of soils, so it may well remain home to dozens of varietals over time, which is not a bad thing at all.

Visiting friends near Roseburg, we head out to the wineries, which are about a 30 minute drive to the southwest. A stop at the Lighthouse Center Bakery and Café (LINK), for a vegetarian lunch of huge proportions, fortifies us for an afternoon of wine tasting. Two wineries are on the schedule for this first day, Ruestle Prayer Rock Vineyards (LINK), and Abacela Winery and Vineyard (LINK). Our hosts, Andy and Bonnie Anderson, assure us that these are representative of the wines of the area.

Ruestle Prayer Rock Vineyards is set in rolling hills and has been developed, built and planted by someone with an eye for beauty. Everything about this 200 acre patch of Oregon is lovely to behold. Stephen and Gloria Reustle made their money in marketing in New York and moved west to explore entry into the wine business. After a few false starts in California, they discovered this part of Oregon and fell in love with it. The first vines went into the ground in 2003 and now they produce about 8000 cases annually. The Reustles are devout Christians, and there are quotes form the Bible on the winery floors and elsewhere on the property. There is also a Men’s Bible Study group that meets at the winery and studies The Bible while they taste wine. Not a bad idea.

All of the wines produced here are estate grown. There are currently 6 red varietals – Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Syrah, Malbec, Merlot, and Grenache; and 6 whites – Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Muscat, and Semillon. There are reserves of most of these and several blends, and both a red and a white port. There is also an amphitheater nearby for events.

We were shown around by Kevin Kline, Wine Educator and Events Coordinator for the winery, and escorted to one of the private tasting rooms and served appetizers with each wine tasting. The tasting rooms, production area, and the wine cave (which includes tasting rooms and event space), are located in a lovely building that has been designed to look like old stone caves by a designer/architect who does a lot of work for Disney. In the cave are the barrels of French and American oak, where the reds are stored; the whites are in aluminum tanks in the production area.

Okay, let’s cut to the chase. The tasting was of four wines – the 2013 Grüner Veltliner, the 2013 Pinot Noir, the 2013 Syrah, and the 2013 Tempranillo. The Grüner Veltliner, with 1% residual sugar, was a bit sweet for me, but others may like it; the reds were all young with good tannins and acidity, indicating that they will age well. Nothing outstanding, but all well-crafted wines and good values at their respective price points.

I requested a taste of the 2013 Blanco Dulce, the white port. Mr. Kline was kind enough to open a bottle, and it was a revelation. This wine was aged in Acacia wood barrels for nearly two years, adding to the wine’s complexity and depth. It is a 50/50 blend of Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. Smooth, with just the right amount of sugar, fortified with brandy (sourced elsewhere) to 19% alcohol content, this is everything a white port should be. We bought 2 half-bottles, as did one of the other couples with us. I love making a find like this.

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Abacela Vineyards

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Our next stop was Abacela Winery and Vineyard, again featuring a nicely designed and appointed tasting room area set atop a hill overlooking 40 acres of vines. In 1995, Earl and Hilda Jones planted the first vines here. The focus here is Tempranillo, and they make several of them, most for wine club members only (although available for tasting). They also make small amounts of Albarino, Viognier, and Muscat, plus a Grenache Rosè; and in addition to the Tempranillo, Garnacha (Grenache), Malbec, Dolcetto, Graciano, Syrah, Tinta Amarela (a very nice wine), and a Tannat is coming soon.

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For the tasting, you get to pick any 8 of 17 wines, so Dorianne and I each did a tasting and alternated and shared – so we tasted 16 of the 17 available on the general tasting. You can also taste their reserve wines for an additional $5 per taste.

The highlights were the Tempranillos and, a bit surprisingly, the 2015 Muscat, a semi-sweet white wine, that is a great light sweet wine; and the 2013 Blanco Dulce, a late-harvest Albarino that is made into a faux ice-wine by freezing the grapes at the local creamery before fermenting. The wine was not too sweet and very elegant on the nose and the palate.

Back to the Tempranillos – the “Barrel Select” versions, and especially the 2009 Paramour ($100), which we tasted were all very well-crafted and balanced wines; they are not the same as you find in Spain, even though this part of Oregon is at about the same latitude as Ribero del Duero and Rioja. Nevertheless, good wines and all of them should age well or a decade or two. I really like what Abacela is doing with this amazing Spanish varietal. Given more time, they will likely become known for the Tempranillos they are producing.

The Umpqua Valley AVA is shaping up nicely and should mature well in the future. It is worth a visit.

Jim at Reustle Wines
Enjoying a Good Day
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Tasting Room at Reustle Winery

Copyright 2016 – 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 2.TABLAS CREEK VINEYARD AND CALCAREOUS WINERY

As I noted in my last post (LINK), Dorianne and I went to Paso Robles  along California’s Central Coast region for three nights and two days of wine tasting with her sister and brother-in-law, Debby and Mike. Our daughter, Grace, joined us on the first day of wine tasting, but the four of us were on our own as we set out on Tuesday morning. We decided to keep it to two wineries to allow time for a nature walk later in the day.

Our first stop on the west side was Tablas Creek Vineyards (LINK) in the Adelaida AVA of west Paso Robles. Long known for their expertise in Rhône varietalsTablas Creek has a Rhône River partner, Chateau Beaucastel (LINK) in France. You could spend months studying the Tablas Creek history, viticulture, wine making techniques, and tasting their wines (maybe a lifetime on that), but we only had a couple of hours.

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From the website (LINK) with embedded links:

Tablas Creek Vineyard is the result of a decades-long friendship between the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, longtime importer and founder of Vineyard Brands. The families created a partnership in 1985 and in 1989 purchased a 120-acre property in the hilly Las Tablas district of west Paso Robles for its similarities to Châteauneuf du Pape: limestone soils, a favorable climate, and rugged terrain.

The partners imported the traditional varietals grown on the Perrins’ celebrated estate, including Mourvèdre, Grenache Noir, Syrah, and Counoise for reds, and Roussanne, Viognier, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc for whites. These imported vines passed a rigorous 3-year USDA testing program, were propagated and grafted in our on-site nursery, and used to plant our organic estate vineyard.

Dorianne and I were members of the Tablas Creek wine club for a couple of years before we moved from Southern California. Their wines are beautifully crafted and many of their varietals are unique on the Central Coast, or even in all of California. They produce a few dozen wines, only three of which, called their core blends, are distributed widely. Here is the link to their wines page (LINK) for a more thorough description of each one.

Tablas Creek Vineyards and Tasting Room is located at the far west end of the Paso Robles area, which means that they are closer to the Pacific Ocean and its cooling influence. The tasting room is modern and state-of-the-art, with views into the winery. Several tasting stations surround a central core with displays of wines and other things for sale. As you approach the entryway, a display of grape vines for sale and a tub of stainless steel water bottles for guests to use during their visit.

The tasting room was crowded when we arrived. We found some space at a station being staffed by Suphada Rom, a very knowledgeable and well-traveled young woman from Vermont. Like many of the winery and tasting room workers in California, she arrived after some experience in Old World wine regions and developed a love for wineSuphada writes a wine blog (LINK).

The tasting experience at Tablas Creek involves the core blends and one or two varietals. To keep it short, I will just say that the core blends are always of a very high caliber. What I seek out at Tablas Creek are the single varietals. Our tasting included the 2013 Viognier and the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. Both were very good – the Cabernet being smoother and lighter, more elegant  than the typical Paso Robles-style Cabernet, which are big powerful wines.

Before departing Tablas Creek, we purchased a four-pack of varietals that included the 2013 Cabernet, 2012 Tannat2012 Picpoul Blanc (a varietal we enjoyed in France), and the 2013 Vermentino – a set that should provide many pleasures in the coming months.

Our next stop was farther east, up on a very high hill closer to Paso Robles on the border between the Adelaida and Willow Creek AVAsCalcereous (pronounced with two hard “C’s”) is another wonderful Paso Robles wine experience. The name comes from the limestone soils of the area.

From their website (LINK): “Father and daughter Lloyd Messer and Dana Brown realized their dream of finding a place to express their passion for wine in 2000, when they established Calcareous Vineyards on one of the highest limestone plateaus on Paso Robles’ westside. Both Lloyd and Dana, experienced wine distributors in their native Iowa, recognized the westside of Paso Robles had potential to produce world class wines. Their acquisition of 342 acres atop solid calcareous rock reaching 1,800 feet above sea level confirmed their dedication to producing the highest quality, terroir driven wines possible.  It is a labor of love to cultivate fruit on this challenging land, but the reward is immediately apparent when tasting the wines.”

 

Everything about Calcereous is beautiful – the wines, the land, the tasting room, and the experience. Our tasting room host, Karl Jepsen, is from Denmark. He gave an animated and informative “wine seminar” as we tasted six wines (five from the list and one additional).

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Karl led us through the tasting, going over the provenance of each wine and adding some additional bits of information, such as how to determine which aspects of the bouquet of the wine come from the fruit and which come from the barrel.

Calcereous wines are premium wines – every wine we tasted was in the 90’s in my own mental ratings chart. We were given an impromptu tour of the  vineyard & winery as well. I think we spent nearly 3 hours there. Wine highlights were the 2014 Estate Chardonnay, the 2013 ZSM (a fantastic blend of Zinfandel, Syrah & Merlot), and the 2012 Lloyd Bordeaux-style Blend, a truly exceptional wine Our 1/2 case purchase contained all three of those.

A note about the restaurant where we ate lunch after these great winery experiences – Fish Gaucho (LINK) in downtown Paso Robles did not disappoint. Very good Mexican dishes, large portions, and a nice atmosphere with good service. It’s worth a look when you are in Paso Robles.

There are over 200 wineries in Paso Robles, California. We visited just five of the more established producers on this short trip. I look forward to returning soon and exploring some of the smaller and newer producers.

As always, your comments are welcome.

And it was chilly – here are Dorianne and Debby clearing the ice from the car in the morning.

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Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

WESTERN SONOMA – A TASTE OF THE POSSIBILITIES

The other day, I was joined by Sonic Nourishment (LINK) musicians Erika Luckett and Lisa Ferraro for a day in western Sonoma for some wine tastings and lunch. It was a perfect day weatherwise, and we began with a drive out to Iron Horse Vineyards (LINK) near Sebastopol.

Known for their sparkling and white wines, Iron Horse consists of just over 100 acres of vineyards. We opted for two tastings, with Lisa getting the sparkling wines and me getting the white wines (Erika was our designated driver). The sparklers were all well-crafted (with the exception of one that turned out to be a bad bottle – when we pointed it out to the tasting room personnel, another one was opened, which was fine). I am not a huge sparkling wine fan, but I do appreciate the bubbly from time to time, and these were all very drinkable to me. Lisa said that she was overall less impressed than on a prior visit to Iron Horse.

The whites, all Chardonnays, were equally well-crafted, especially the 2012 Rued Clone Chardonnay which was especially well-crafted with a nose of white fruit – pears and apples – with a hint of caramel. Very nice. We did not taste any of their Pinot Noirs, saving our strength for the long day ahead.

One note – the tasting notes pages at Iron Horse said nothing about the wines, only naming some suggested food pairings. Since there was no food available, I did not find this very helpful. On the other hand, the tasting room staff was very helpful and paid attention to everyone.

Next, we headed into Healdsburg (LINK) for lunch and to hit a couple of tasting rooms there.

After a healthy lunch at the Oakville Grocery, we headed over to Banshee Wines (LINK), for some Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, a Cabernet and a red blend. Banshee sources fruit from a number of Sonoma coastal and inland vineyards. They produce wines that are more Californian than Burgundian in style, which is not surprising. Lisa and I each did their basic tasting (there is also a reserve tasting), of three Chardonnays and two Pinot Noirs. They were all well-crafted and very good (think somewhere between oaky and stainless steel for the Chardonnays; the reds were very nice with one exception – The 2013 Mordecai Red Blend, made up of 9 varietals, had such an off-putting nose (think swampy) that neither Lisa nor I could get to the tasting. We asked the tasting room staff if this was a bad bottle, and were told that it was fine. We dumped that one.

Otherwise, the Banshee Wines that we tasted were enjoyable. Like many smaller producers in the area, their price points are a bit high for the average buyer – but if you like the wines, you will buy them.

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Our final stop of the day (we needed to beat the traffic back to the East Bay), was Thumbprint Cellars (LINK), whose tasting room is just off the square in Healdsburg. I had some of their wines a couple of years back, when they were regularly featured on the Wines Till Sold Out (www.WTSO.com) site, and liked them very much. When I mentioned that to the tasting room staff, I was told that those were special blends made just for WTSO at the time.

We started with their 2013 Arousal white blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, a floral nose, very rich mouth feel, and smooth finish on this one. We also tasted the 2011 Climax red blend, a mix of 44% Syrah, 26% Merlot,
20% Zinfandel, 7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Viogner
. This one is very smooth and complex (as you might imagine), but well-balanced. Very nice. I brought a bottle of this one home; so did Lisa. The 2011 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon was everything you would want in a Sonoma Cab – rich, spicy, bold, and lots of dark fruit, but with an elegance that is so often missing in “big” wines.

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Thumbprint Cellars Tasting Room

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So that was our day in Western Sonoma. Like all such tasting outings, we had a great time and missed a lot of wineries. But that gives us something to go back for.

CASA BARRANCA WINE PAIRING DINNER IN OXNARD

On Friday, eleven of us made the short trek from the Conejo and Simi Valleys to the Oxnard/Port Hueneme area for a wine pairing dinner at the Waterside Restaurant (LINK), featuring Casa Barranca Wines (LINK). The dinner was set up in the back of the restaurant and included a table for 12 or so in a back room and a table for 16 in the front room.

I will speak to the food, the wine, and the execution of the concept. I want to begin by giving kudos to the owners of the Waterside Restaurant, who have created a very nice wine bar on a scenic marina in Oxnard. We had lunch there a while back and everything was good – the food, the wine, and the service. They hold a number of events during the week, and are working hard to bring a good wine experience to an area that has been generally lacking in good cuisine and good wine venues.

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As you can see, the menu was both ambitious and inventive. I should also note that some of the dishes were prepared differently for a member of our party who had allergies.The service was efficient and friendly.

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That said, there were some problems with the wine pairing event. The food was both inventive and beautifully presented, the chef used the paired wines in most of the courses. However, almost everything was served at a luke warm temperature at best. Part of this was due to the desire to have the chef explain each course after it was served AND having the winemaker describe the wine each time.This had to be done twice, as they could not be heard at both tables. They did finally alternate, with each speaking to a table then switching. I did taste a couple of courses as soon as they hit the table, and they were not hot. Something to think about for future events.

The Casa Barranca Wines are organically grown at a historic winery in Ojai, CA. The winery shares space with a spa retreat facility. Grapes are sources from Santa Ynez for the most part. Winemaker Samuel Tulberg, represented the winery at the dinner. He was very knowledgeable about the wines and their process, as you would expect.

The wines served were their 2013 Viognier, 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, 2010 Pinot Noir, 2013 Craftsman Red, and a 2011 Vino Noche Port. The Sauvignon Blanc and the Craftsman Red (56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 22% Merlot – and just 12.5% alcohol) were quite good. The Pinot Noir was very average, and the Viognier and the Vino Noche were just not very good. The wines that I liked (and this was the general consensus at the table) were complex and somewhat elegant, with nice hints of fruit and terroir in there. The Viognier was anything but elegant, had a chemical nose, and simply was not a pleasing wine to drink. The Vino Noche Port was very harsh on the palate and hot with alcohol. It was better with the dessert – chocolate lava cake, but still . . .

I am sure that a visit to the Casa Barranca Winery is a fun outing, but I would not be going for the wines. Perhaps, over time, the wine making process will mature and even out.

As for the Waterside Restaurant, I encourage them to keep on trying and working on their presentation timing for food at events such as this.