I am firmly back on the online wine tasting horse these days despite my misgivings, and the next two months my Tuesday evenings will be focused on the wines of the Rías Biaxas appellation of Spain with Protocol Wine Studio. Back in February, though, the focus was on wines from Santa Barbara County in California.
I have visited the region several times now and there is certainly something special about the region. First, I had an Aunt Barbara, whom I never met (she died in a car crash before I was born), but all my life my mother has stressed that she has looked over me, think guardian angel, if you are into that sort of thing.
Next, it is a fantastic place to ride a bike with gently rolling hills, wide shoulders, and a wonderful climate, it really is a cyclist’s dream (which is why many domestic cycling teams visit the region on a regular basis).
Then there is the wine. While much of the focus is on the Santa Rita Hills of Sideways fame, the Santa Ynez Valley and Ballard Canyon appellations produce some of the best Rhône varietal wines in California.
Over the course of three weeks, we tasted through the following wines with the winemakers on Twitter:
2014 Kessler-Haak Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills: Retail $29. I am still trying t get my head around the agglomerated battle stopper. I was steadfast against it until a couple winemakers I respect voiced their unequivocal support for them. thus I am trying to keep an open mind on the subject, but the stopper in this bottle clearly did not have a firm seal as it started to go further into the bottle as I inserted the corkscrew, and then it started to spin. Ugh. Luckily, the wine inside was just fine. In fact, it was better than fine: lemon curd and tart apple with vanilla up front, bright and focused behind. Great balance between the fruit and the acidity, this is really nice–not overly oaked or fruity, this is a Goldilocks type of wine: just right. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2012 Kessler-Haak Pinot Noir Ohana Sta. Rita Hills: Retail $40. Pretty darned dark for a Pinot, but wonderful aromas of black cherry and a bit of tar, interestingly. The first day, this was honestly a bit harsh, but a completely different story on day two. Supple yet direct, fruity yet focussed, this wine dances on the tongue and tantalizes the palate. Honestly? I had my doubts on the first go around, but clearly this wine needs a bit of time. In the short-term, this would need a good decant, and will certainly improve over the next 5 years in the cellar. Outstanding. 91-93 Points (Day 2).
2014 La Montagne Malvasia Marshall Vineyard: $30. Not a variety that you see all that much outside of the Mediterranean, most notably on the island of Madiera, the fruit was offered to La Montagne owner Kimberly Smith by a friend who asked if they wanted to “play with it.” Only 100 cases made, the wine impresses with great aromatics of guava and passion fruit. On the palate, fruit is prevalent and quite tart, and it really does work well. The finish is a bit chalky, but long-lasting. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
2013 La Montagne Pinot Noir, Kessler-Haak, Sta. Rita Hills, Clone 4a ‘THERON’: Retail $65. 98 cases produced. Fantastic in the glass with black cherry, rhubarb, and just a hint of anise at the rear. On the palate, this is really a fun wine to drink. The fruit is prevalent, but in balance with the acidity. Certainly more new world in style, but man is it good. I would not wait long as there is not much in the way of tannin on the back-end, but that is not a bad plan at all. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
We then moved on to tercero wines, made by the gregarious Larry Schaffer, whom I have met several times now and is, simply put, a pretty great guy. It also helps that he really makes some fabulous wines, focusing on Rhône varieties. And a bonus? He bottles all of his wines under Stelvin closures.
2014 tercero wines Grenache Blanc Santa Ynez Valley: Retail $25: Vibrant, rich aromas of mandarin orange and white peach lead to a wonderfully rich mouthfeel, both unctuous and crisp. The fruit (particularly the peach) dances on the tongue leading to a soft, lingering finish. Grenache Blanc is a variety that is slowly gaining some traction in this country, with more wineries experimenting with the grape. Should they follow the lead set here by Larry Schaffer of tercero, I have no doubt Grenache Blanc could explode in popularity. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2011 tercero wines Grenache Larner Vineyards, Ballard Canyon: Retail $35. A brilliant translucent crimson in the glass, the nose is a brilliant combination of strawberry rhubarb pie, black pepper, and a dash of anise. Another varietal wine that is fairly rare in the U.S. Even though approaching five years since the harvest, this wine is but a pup as the tannic structure is noticeable. Still, this wine is simply delicious: round and full without being overbearing, this is a remarkable effort by Mr. Schaffer. I have tasted his wines for several years now and I would be hard pressed to find a wine that I enjoyed more. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
2010 tercero wines Cuvee Loco: Retail $35. 50% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 25% Mourvèdre. Aged for 34 months (!) in “older” French oak, this wine has an incredible nose: intense red berry fruit with more than a dash of vanilla, it comes off as perhaps a shade slightly darker than the Grenache. On the palate, this wine starts off a bit shy (the antithesis of the winemaker), which one would not think given the name. Certainly fruity and full, but nowhere near a fruit dominated wine. On day two, this was much more elegant and refined, underlying my original feeling that this wine, already 6 years old, could use even more time to allow the fruit to calm down a bit and reveal the elegance beneath. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.