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


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