Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Santa Ynez Wine Trip, Day #2

“An alcoholic is someone you don’t like that drinks as much as you do.”

WHAT A SURPRISE!!!  Day #2 was not what I had planned for our group of six.  The Hospitality Coordinatior at the Santa Ynez Inn, Christina Papalexis, knows many of the small boutique wineries and suggested a different itinerary for our day of pleasure. Our agenda consisted of four wineries/tasting rooms that we had never visited.  The first...

Foxen Canyon Winery.  Okay, we’ve been to Foxen many times but not the NEW tasting room at 7200 Foxen Canyon Rd., Santa Maria.  Many of you have seen or visited the roadside shack depicted in the movie “Sideways.”  It’s an institution with its Porta-Potties and weather-regaled interior, located at 7600 Foxen Canyon Rd.

The new tasting room has real bathrooms!!!  And it’s comfortable and very attractive.  Best of all are the tasting room staff.  We were greeted by the newlywed, Michelle, who was warm, friendly, knowledgeable, and inviting.  We were later joined by old acquaintances Bobby and Sally.  The three of them were awesome and made us all feel right at home.

As always, the wines we tasted were incredible.  Personally, I love almost every Foxen wine I’ve ever tasted.  And as usual, we spent much more money on wine than we had planned, but it’s money well spent.  My two favorites were the Block 8 2008 Pinot Noir and the Tenaquaic Vineyard 2008 Syrah.  I’ll give them a year before consuming...maybe.  You can contact the tasting room at 805-937-4251

Next we visited Demetria Estate, 6701 Foxen Canyon Rd., Los Olivos.  What a wonderful surprise this winery turned out to be!  It’s a boutique winery established n 2005 and is now owned and operated by Alexis Zahoudanis.  Alexis was a fabulous host, laid-back, took his time, let us sip and enjoy the wines along with the view from the patio where we sat in repose.  The view down the hillside was bucolic, scenic and relaxing.

And the wines weren’t bad.  In fact, they were wonderful.  The winery specializes in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the classic Burgundian wines but also Rhone-styled wines, both Red and White.  There’s a broad palette from which to select and which our group accomplished with alacrity.  I purchased a bottle of the Chablis-style 2007 Chardonnay from the Santa Rita Hill area and a bottle of Cuvee Constantine, a 2007 red blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah.  Both are excellent!

We bid Alexis adieu, until our next visit which will be in short order, and headed for our third winery of the day, Harrison Clarke.  A visit to this winery is by appointment only so call Roger and Hilarie at 805-686-0850 or email: wine@harrisonclarkewine.com.

Roger manages the vineyards and he was kind enough to take us on a walking tour of the vineyards before visiting Hilarie in the tasting room.  Hilarie is the winemaker and Harrison Clarke specializes in Grenache and Syrah.  Since those two grapes are amongst my favorites, it was not surprising that I totally enjoyed their wines.  Hilarie even included a barrel tasting of their 2009 vintage which was young and rough but the potential was palpable. Hilarie continued with a vertical tasting of their Syrahs and one could experience the difference the aging made with each wine.  It was both educational and fun!

Needless to say, we again spent more money than planned.  My wife Jacquie and I purchased a 2005 Grenache, a 2008 Grenache, and a 2006 Syrah.  They were all excellent and we had to have them.

Call Roger and Hilarie for an enjoyable wine experience.  You won’t regret it!

Last but not least, we headed for Ken Browns tasting room for his Ken Brown Wines.  As many of you know, Ken Brown  is recognized as one of Santa Barbara County’s pioneering winemakers. He was among the first vintners to realize the great promise for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in this cool-climate appellation in the mid-1970’s. He was also the first winemaker to introduce the Syrah grape, as well as Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, to Santa Barbara County.

Ken was Zaca Mesa’s first winemaker and in 1984, he and his wife Deborah started Byron Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley before selling it to the Mondavi family in 1990.  Now he runs a small production winery for premium wines; Ken Brown Wines.

A visit is by appointment only so email Deborah at deb@kenbrownwines.com or call 805-448-3791.

Ken greeted us at his office/tasting room.  He was all alone and did the pouring and explaining.  I’ll admit that I was a little star-struck.  I’ve known of his repute for years but had never met him before so it was an honor.

We tasted all the wines he was pouring and all were as you would expect.  Superior wines through winemaking experience and great fruit.  Ken was generous with his time and spent an entire hour talking wines while pouring and showing us on various maps, where the different vineyards were located.  It was such an experience!

For the last time in this blog posting, I will say that our group spent more than budgeted.  Jacquie and I purchased two bottles of Cargasacchi Vineyard 2008 Pinot Noir that is going to be awesome in another year.  It’s near-awesome now.

So good readers, to summarize, four new wine locations to visit:  Foxen Winery’s new tasting room, Demetria Estate, Harrison Clarke, and Ken Brown Wines.  I urge you to visit these wineries.  What’s especially interesting is that each has its own character, personality, and feel.  It was a wonderful “wine blending experience.”

Oh, wait!  I forgot something important.  Directly across the street from Ken Brown’s is an incredible tapas restaurant called Avant Tapas and Wine.  We ate lunch there the next day before leaving for home.

The Chef’s name is Brooke and she looks about 18 years old but don’t be fooled.

She went to UCLA then the Culinary Institute in Santa Barbara
Her working motto is “fat doesn’t contain flavor - spices and herbs do.” I’m paraphrasing, that’s not an exact quote.  But the point is, she uses spices and herbs to develop her flavors.

Her food is remarkable, full of flavor, beautifully served and totally satisfying.

We had a Kobe Beef Slider Trio with Caramelized Onion, Gorgonzola, Cheddar, Fresh Mozzarella and Balsamic Reduction.  Hot and juicy, excellent!

Shrimp Cocktail - cold shrimp with a homemade cocktail sauce.  Our favorite, simply delicious.

Grilled chicken salad.  With red grapes, candied walnuts, dried cranberries, green onions, mixed greens, gorgonzola, and a caramelized onion vinaigrette.  Deelish!

Wood fired pizza with artichoke, sundried tomatoes, kalamata olives, basil, oil and feta.  A remarkable range and depth of flavors.  You got to visit this place. It’s an awesome gastronomic experience

Tom da Wine Guy

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hot Wine Tip for Valentine's Day Wine

Rats, I should have posted this a few days ago in time for Valentine's Day, but hey, the wine I'm gonna rave about is great any day. So hustle over to Trader Joe's and grab a bottle of.......

Evenus Zinfandel Port!!!  It's awesome!  And only a mere $9.99 for a 375ml bottle.  Yes, I said mere.  Pair it with a small piece of very dark chocolate, a small piece of bleu cheese, and a couple of pieces of candied walnuts.  You'll think you died and went to heaven.

I first experienced Zin Port about three years ago at the Zin Festival in Paso Robles.  I stumbled upon Zin Alley Winery and ended up buying two 500ml bottles at $44 each.  As you can imagine, I was ecstatic when TJ's started carrying the Evenus because $9.99 is a whole lot less than $44!  Yes, a whole lot less.

By the way, thanks to all of you with your comments.  I do read them all and appreciate hearing from you. I haven't been replying just because of lack of time but will try to do better.

Tom da Wine Guy

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Santa Ynez Wine Trip, Day #1

We drove from Ventura Thursday, February 3rd and checked into the Santa Ynez Inn.  Wow, this place is great and a first time visit for us; a little pricey but a great experience.  Big rooms, fancy bathroom with jacuzzi tubs.  And a big fat breakfast each morning and wine and hors’d oeuvres each evening at 5:00 p.m. and desserts and coffee at 8:00 p.m.  Easy to put on weight while staying there.

But time to do a little wine tasting and buy food at El Rancho Marketplace at 2886 Mission Drive, Solvang.  Then on to Gainey Vineyard for a picnic.  We share a bottle Gainey Sauvignon Blanc, which is citrusy and mild, perfect for our sandwiches and chips.

We pile in our cars and head for one of our favorite tasting rooms in Los Olivos.  It’s Epiphany!  I always love an epiphany, they’re so enlightening.  The six of us enter and are greeted by Jonathan, who we’ve met several times before.  We love they’re wines, some of our favorites in the Santa Ynez region.

Anyway, Jonathan is pouring and explaining the wines we’re tasting.  We love them all, both white and red.  But their red wines are all extraordinary thanks to their winemakers Eli Parker and Blair Fox.  These two are really accomplished and both have been awarded “Winemaker of the Year.”

The visit really comes to life when the ladies in our group, all retired teachers from the Beverly Hills district recall some of their stories.  I won’t bore you readers except for the going to the Academy Awards ceremony with Angelina Jolie when she was a student and then at one of the Oscar parties, where Oprah Winfrey joined them at their table.  There were many other stories but enough.  Jonathan was beside himself and couldn’t wait to regale his wife with the stories.

We add to our wine collections with several bottles of Epiphany wines and head for our last stop of the day at Roblar Winery.  Roblar is a conundrum; beautiful buildings and tasting rooms and excellent member benefits such as their “wine pick-up parties.”  The staff is superb, friendly, warm, and knowledgeable.

Just one problem...their wines suck.  Especially the reds and to make it worse, the wines are priced as if they were fabulous Napa Cabernets.  But they’re not.  How do they get off charging $50 for a mediocre Syrah?  I do like their Sauvignon blanc but that’s about it.  They also charge $14 for a tasting, much more than most tasting rooms in the area.  Again, it’s a mystery to me.

They are searching for a new winemaker as I write this so I hope they have some good fortune with that.  So what I’m saying, is don’t go to Roblar until they have their ducks in a row.  There are too many other great places near by.  Beckman Vineyard, for example, is a favorite and less than a mile away.

Back to the Santa Ynez Inn for complimentary wine and snacks before dinner at Brothers Restaurant at Mattei’s Tavern at 2350 Railway Ave · Los Olivos
(805) 688-4820.