Faulty Towers

And there I found myself paying to taste…. off-wines…

definitely spat my way through this one

definitely spat my way through this one

Since my days of running around the Savoy are long gone, I tend not to have the high turn-over of faulty wines at my disposal. When you’re opening 50-some wines a night….you’re gonna find some bad ones.

Those were the days.

Les Marchands has these bi-monthly tasting things which cover regions, grapes, you get the picture. But my interest was particularly piqued when I received the email blast on a faulty wine tasting. The last time I sat through such a class was during my first year of university….about 15 years ago, a refresher was in order.

We went through all the major wine faults: brett, VA (I actually like that), oxidation, SO2, TCA, secondary fermentation and heat stress…..you know all the GOOD stuff!!

Here’s some cheat notes on what to look out for:

  • brett – gamey, barnyard, oddly enough I always find it scratchy on the palate
  • VA – I always think nail varnish
  • Oxidation – nuttiness, tastes tired (but sometimes it’s meant to be…)
  • SO2 – match sticks – rotten egg
  • TCA – aka corked – cardboard
  • secondary fermentation – when it’s sweet and not meant to be, sometimes bubbles
  • heat stress – smells/tastes of cooked fruit

Highly recommended since the guys at Marchands sought out these examples for the class.

Punters basking in wine fault glory.

Punters basking in wine fault glory.

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Sparkling wine for my real friends…..

I tried my first Sta Rita Hills vin clair chard from a barrel of one of the Sashi/Raj (SaRaj, perhaps?) projects, back in 2012 I think. It was sublime, to say the least. Tension in its full definition. The wine brought me plummeting back to the white chalky soils of Champagne. Without even trying one fully feremented bottle, I have complete confidence in what it’ll become.

At this year’s WOPN, Sea Smoke was pouring their Sea Spray (see what they did there?) it was perfect. A crisp blanc de noir, lovely tiny boules, wild strawberry on the nose and a palate cleansing finish.

Sea smoke sea spray

At a recent industry  tasting held at Palmina  I was able to try a few more local sparklers, sadly, there were only eight. This was due to a lot of the sparkling in the county not even being in bottle yet and also the tiny amounts producers even have. The following three were my top picks of the night.  Lucas & Lewellen Blanc de Noirs was my favorite on the night. Nectarines, apricot and brioche. Perfectly balanced. – $30 (great price) Summerland Winery Brut using Sonoma fruit was very crisp, and tasted of granny smiths and lime. $30 While Brewer-Cliftons straight Chard, from their own 3D vineyard, has more mouthfeel and a bit heavier with nutty, yeasty flavors and baked peach. You could age this one for 10 years or so. $50  

There is a sparkling future in Santa Barbara County and I really think Sta Rita Hills will be leading that pack. In a bit of a discussion afterwards I asked about price, as its expensive making this stuff and competing against Les Grand Marques, which I believe SB County can do against non-vintage stuff, but it will be no easy task.

However, a good point was brought up by Morgen McLaughlin, who heads up SB County Vintners Assoc no less, that if we consider the local sparkling producers like those of the grower Champagner movement, that SBC will more likely to shine.  In short, Santa Barbara County sparkling, and for me specifically Sta Rita Hills, is California’s answer to grower Champagne…..there you have it.

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La Paulée Kicks-Off Vintage Party at Mattei’s

Mattei’s Tavern is a bit of an institution in these parts and I was very happy to return to the stagecoach turned restaurant for Santa Barbara’s Vintner’s kick-off vintage party, Paulée style. I hadn’t been to Mattei’s for what must be about 15 years (it was a regular go-to spot for the well behaved students of my high school, Midland, just up the way on Figueroa Mountain Road, I think I went once in those years…). It was also my first time attending a Paulée event, where you bring a favorite bottle and go around and share with the other folk.

Nyetimber, Ambyth Estate After much deliberation I brought my treasured sparkling wine from England, 2007 Nyetimber Classic Cuvee. A vineyard I spent a lot of time at while writing my dissertation for uni. The place is mentioned in the Domesday Book and the soil is this little lone spot of chalk, straight from the Paris Basin and oddly enough surrounded by clay. Just for good measure I also brought an Ambyth zinfandel from 2010, their ode to Paolo Bea and my first Californian natural wine and from Paso no less.

The new and renovated Mattei’s is to say the least, stunning. I was seated next to kitchen and pretty much all the action. The food was excellent with the dinner highlights being the grilled avocado starter, the Smoked Beef Short Rib, and the Rotisserie Chicken salsa verde.


On the left Mike Roth of Lo-Fi is probably talking about SO2. While on the right Tyler Thomas of Dierberg and Star Lane is struggling with what appears to be a decanter.

These are the sort of events that bring a wine community together. Wines were shared, poured for others, swapped around, some were even hidden. But the idea is you get to hang around with some of the local winemakers in a very non-formal fashion. Yes, winemaker dinners are also fun, but here people are bringing wines they feel best represent what they are doing or what they strive to do.
It’s brilliant.

wines matteis

Above, is some of the older French stuff that appeared from Mattei’s Cellar.
A 2001 Stolpman syrah, Sashi Moorman’s first wine.
And Greg Martellotto’s epic grenache, syrah and mourvedre blend, with grapes from Demetria.

Thanks to Eric Railsback from Mattei’s and Morgen McLaughlin from Santa Barbara Vintners for the invite.

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Backing into the Garagiste

It’s spring time again and right on cue is  The Third Annual Garagiste Festival Southern Exposure!

Admittedly, I am a fan of this little event. Well it was a little event when it started four long years ago in Paso. Then it was a one day tasting, now it’s morphed into a 3-day event of seminars and tastings. And best yet, you are 20% likely to find a wine you enjoy at the Garagiste Festival, let me explain…..

Garagiste Festival Southern Exposure

I have found some gems at Garagiste. The first to come to mind is that crazy dry-farming duo in Paso, Phillip Hart & Mary Morwood Hart, who together make up Ambyth Estate. Then there was the Tempier loving (well who doesn’t love it) winemaker Ryan Pease, of the Southern Rhône influenced, Paix-sur-Terre (that’s Peace on Earth…see what they did there?) Then there’s the Tim Riggins look-alike, Central Coast’s very own Texan, Ryan Roark, who is inspired and lived in the Loire Valley (he loves talking about minerality).

I like this event, but it’s not to say, if you are a Garagiste, aka a small producer, that you make good wines. In fact, it’s the contrary, there are a few amateur wines here. BUT, of the four Garagiste tastings I’ve been to, I have always seemed to find one or two superb wines. From that there are usually five or six great wines. So, of the 30-odd wines at these tastings there’s a 20% hit rate on very good wines….not too shabby….and that’s statistically proven.

Another, little thing I like about these guys. Because less popular grapes tend to be cheaper, it’s at these sort of events where you might see the beginning of a trend or two. I’m not dropping any Trousseau bombs…..but you never know.

Garagiste Festival Southern Exposure runs from Friday March 27th to Sunday the 29th.
There is still some availability to the individual events.
For ticket details go to: http://www.showclix.com/event/GaragisteSE2015

The Saturday and Sunday tastings have different wineries:
Winemakers on Saturday Include: Apical Cellars, Archium Cellars, Baehner Fournier, Bellissimo Cellars, Bradley Family Winery, Brophy Clark, Carivintas Winery, Carucci Wines, Clos Des Amis, Cordon Wines, Cotiere, Crawford Family Wines, Dascomb Cellars, Ferguson Crest, Kessler-Haak Vineyards, La Montagne Winery, Larner Vineyards, Levo Wines, No Limit Wines, Pence Ranch, Press Gang Cellars, Roark Wine Co., SamSara Wine Co., Scott Cellars, Seagrape Cellars, Section Wines, Solminer Wines, Turiya Wines and Weatherborne.

Winemakers on Sunday Include: Alta Colina Vineyards, Ascension Cellars, Barbieri Wines, Big Tar Wines, Central Coast Group Project, Center of Effort Wines, Cloak & Dagger Wines, Conarium Wines, Dilecta Wines, Dreamcote Wine Co., Falcone Family Vineyards, Graef Wines, Imagine Wines, J. Brix Wines, J. Ludlow Vineyard, Mattina Fiore, MCV Wines, Mount Dorado Winery, Pace Family Wines, Ryan Cochrane Wines, STANGER Vineyards, Tercero Wines, Tierra y Vino, Vines on the Marycrest, Vino Vargas, Wandering Dog Wines, Workman Ayer and Zeppelin Winery.

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Wines For All The Times

I was lucky enough to do a little comparative tasting of these two similar varities. Jura-vision is taking over some of the more brave of California’s winemakers and I’d much rather see the likes of these grapes then say sangio or another gsm blend…..I suggest just trying one if you can find it. Totally different and unique.

2012 Two Shepherds Trousseau Gris, Fanucchi Vineyard, Russian River – $27.00

2014 Stolpman Trousseau ‘Combe’, Stolpman Vinyards, Ballard Canyon – $??

Inspired by Grand Budapest Hotel the Adami Prosseco was just enough crisp to cut through the frosting lathered and choc filled choux pastry. Sublime.

Ramonet. C’est tout.

Sparkling white goes perfect with sushi!!!!      


Mike Roth is making insane natural wine in Santa Barbara. This guy is a blend of syrah, grenache and even some counoise. Lighter style, with lots of stems but insanely good. So happy this stuff is coming out of SB County. Went perfect with that beast of a burger….something in that acidity

It’s something about the pineapple in this wine that makes me think California. It’s bright with a bit of weight on the palate, just a fresh, quenching drop. A wine perfectly matched with a classic SoCal dish.

Mike Roth made this wine too when he was a Martian. However biodynamique vudu guru Phillipe Armenier has since taken over the winery responsibilities. His wine will be released soon…..something to watch out for….

Very excited that by the BD pedigree in my backyard.

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Camp Fire Wines

This is a long overdue post from the end of last summer.
We went on a two-nighter camping trip out to the redwood forest in Big Basin.

Considering we were in Santa Cruz County there were only two wineries worthy of the journey!

Bonny Doon and Ridge.

Bonny Doon’s Albariño is one of California’s best, lovely lime and tangerine with lots of acidity crispness.
At $18 too, quite a bargain. The current vintage is from a different vineyard, however without even tasting it I am sure it will be good. Perfect apéritf.

Bonny Doon Albariño

2013 Bonny Doon Albariño

Geyserville was the first Ridge wine I had, it was one from the mid-nighties, from then on I’ve been a fan, collecting different vintages, varietals and trying them randomly….2009 was indeed a superb wine. Soft cherry fruit, pepper, bramble, hint of clove spice, mint – we had these with wild boar and sage sausage and merguez, with harrissa mayonnaise. Being from California I’ll always have soft spot for zinfandel, this guy is a benchmark for the rest.


2009 Ridge Geyserville

2009 Ridge Geyserville


Me and Bonny Doon have got some history. From my first encounter when I set out on the near impossible task of sourcing a bottle of Cardinal Zin in the English country side for a zinfandel presentation at college (I even had the t-shirt!). To some ten years later when I finally got to meet Randal Grahm himself; where I had hard time keeping up with him as he went from tank to barrel trying his newest vintage that had just finished fermentation. To the encounter with Le Cigar Volant below…What in God’s holy name are you blathering about?

Well, I’ll tell you what I’m blathering about man…after having tried all these wines, served these wines and admired these wines….this 2009 Le Cigare Volant Réserve (en bonbonne, no doubt), is by far the finest Bonny Doon I’ve ever had. This wine is silky soft on the palate and gushing with pure blackberry fruit, there’s some mint, black licorice, wild mountain herbs and it just lasts and lasts on the finish. This is not a big wine and the alcohol is on the surprisingly low side at 13.4%. Regardless, this wine is fantastic, and for some god forsaken reason there’s still some left on their website.

I vividly remember sipping this wine well into the night just amazed at its

Well done.

2009 Le Cigare Volant

2009 Le Cigare Volant – best served with steak on the bloody side











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the freaky-lookin’, soily, green crowd

A handful of Santa Barbara County’s (and beyond) green conscious winemakers….some are organic, some are bio, guess which one was natural.

All wines are available at Los Olivos Cafe and Wine Merchant


2013 J Brix Carignan, McCormick Ranch Vineyard, San Diego County

2013 J Brix Carignan, McCormick Ranch Vineyard, San Diego County (!?) ///// Winemaker: Jody Brix Towe (yes that’s his middle name) ///// http://www.jbrix.com

2013 Lo-Fi Cabernet Franc, Santa Ynez Valley

2013 Lo-Fi Cabernet Franc, Santa Ynez Valley – $26 ///// Winemaker: Mike Roth ///// http://lofi-wines.com


2013 Amplify Viognier, Santa Ynez Valley – $20 ///// Winemaker: Cameron Porter (also the somm at Los Olivos Cafe)

2013 Roark Wine Co. Chenin Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley

2013 Roark Wine Co. Chenin Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley – $18                  Winemaker: Ryan Roark             http://roarkwinecompany.com

2013 Solminer Syrah, Estate Reserve 'Nebullite', Santa Ynez Valley - $38

2013 Solminer Syrah, Estate Reserve ‘Nebullite’, Santa Ynez Valley – $38 ///// Winemaker: David deLaski ///// http://www.solminer.com

2012 A Tribute to Grace Grenache, Shake Ridge Ranch, Amador County

2012 A Tribute to Grace Grenache, Shake Ridge Ranch, Amador County – $75 ///// Winemaker: Angela Osborne ///// http://gracewinecompany.com

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Keyed Up

As cliche as it might sound, the Key to Wine Country event really did unlock some new tasting room doors…I think that sounds better than, I got keyed at Key to Wine Country, not sure if that even makes sense. Regardless the “keys” thing is put on by the Santa Barbara Vintners Association. You pay $100 for your ticket and there is a bevy (and a few bevvies for that matter) of different tasting rooms to visit, throughout Santa Barbara County. Admittedly, this is one of the more creative winery experiences I’ve come across. Definitely, more interesting than those big room and table affairs.

You’ll need a map of the county as all sorts of winery folk get involved. Some have food or chocolate with wine parings, others do vineyard walks, the best by far are the intimate winemaker chats (you have to RSVP as spaces are limited) where they taste you through their decision making steps, from grape to bottle….I fancied the El Paseo experience. A tour of all six tasting rooms in the maze-like corridors of El Paseo, in downtown SB.

El Paseo Santa Barbara

El Paseo is located just above De La Guerra and between State and Anacapa. Doug Margerum’s tasting room has been here the longest, about four years or so, next to his Wine Cask restaurant. Doug talked one of SB’s most famous winemaker’s, Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat fame, to open next door. You can find ABC wines to purchase, dating back decades. There’s also Grassini out of Happy Canyon AVA. And two other spots Happy Canyon Vineyard and Jamie Slone, whom I imagine also opened tasting rooms under Doug’s suggestion….and why not, he makes both of their wine (totally different styles too!).

This whole winery wonderland is really the brainchild of Doug Margerum, and I must applaud him as it has really propelled, actually started, the whole State Street wine scene. It truly is a handful of the best Santa Barbara has to offer. As for the wines I tried here are my three favorites:

Top accolades go to Au Bon Climat. Their tasting list is true to the winery’s Burgundy roots, but there’s all sorts of stuff to try. The bog standard Santa Barbara County Chardonnay for instance, which is used by MWs in London to teach classic Chardonnay. There’s everything from Aligote to Riesling to purchase, but my fav wine of the day in fact was a Chardonnay from ABC.

2009 Au Bon Climat “Compelling” Nuits-Blanches au Bouge, Santa Maria County – A tight lemony and raw apricot little number, when you talk about tension in wine make sure you try this. Has years to go, but if you’re into crisp and fresh it’s ready now – $35 (There’s also a ’98 Nibiollo that was insanely good and a steal at $35)

2009 Au Bon Climat "Compelling" Nuits-Blanches au Bouge, Santa Maria County

2009 Au Bon Climat “Compelling” Nuits-Blanches au Bouge, Santa Maria County


Margerum actually has two tasting rooms. His regular one with an entrance on Anacapa, then MWC 32 a few steps into El Paseo, where they pour older vintages and reserve wines. It was at his Anacapa room that I found my fav though.

2011 Margerum Syrah, Colson Canyon Vineyard, Santa Barbara County Margerum is all about Rhone varietals and this Syrah does not disaapoint in the slightest. I reckon it has quite a few more years (about 10), but you can have it now, no problem. It is a very, very approachable wine. With a hint of peppercorn spice and fresh juicy blueberries – $40

Margerum’s straight Grenache was also very good.

2011 Margerum Syrah, Colson Canyon Vineyard, Santa Barbara County

2011 Margerum Syrah, Colson Canyon Vineyard, Santa Barbara County


Four years back, Grassini’s Bordeaux inspired wines were the first I tried out of the Happy Canyon AVA, I really liked them. There was a turn of events and Justin Willit of Tyler fame (and also partner to Mandy Grassini) made the previous vintage and his wines were being poured. I’ve been looking forward to trying Willit’s Bordeaux style, his own label is very much about Pinot and Chardonnay and above all that restraint…it was interesting to see him venture to the dark side of the noble grapes. The Sauv Blanc was particularly fresh, the grapes were picked at the very dawn of harvest, beginning of August and probably very low in potential alcohol. The two Bordeaux blends were also quite fresh it was however a single varietal wine that I really enjoyed.

2011 Grassini Petit Verdot, Happy Canyon AVA – not a grape you see very often, if at all, by itself. Petit Verdot is usually used to add back bone or rather mid-bone to the mid-palate of Cab and Merlot. Grassini PV is what I like to call a crunchy wine. It tastes as if your biting in to handful of juicy ripe blackberries, super concentrated fruit. There’s some musky like leather and grippy tannin. Like it’s palate the price too is a hefty $95, steep but a very good wine.

A great thing to note at Grassini’s tasting room, they pour all their high-end wines with a coravin, my first time seeing it in use….totally impressed!

2011 Grassini Petit Verdot, Happy Canyon AVA

2011 Grassini Petit Verdot, Happy Canyon AVA


Look out for the Keys to SBC next year. Thanks to Morgen and Taylor over at the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association for sending the tickets. Find out about future SBCVA events on their website — www.sbcountywines.com

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Move over Syrah…Ballard Cyn is all about Roussane

Ballard Canyon in Santa Barbara County is one of the most recent grape growing regions to attain the American Viticulture Area classification, or AVA. This little sub-region sits on one of the most picturesque drives in California. Ballard Canyon Road starts at State Route 154 (aka San Marcos Pass) and bends and winds its way to a little south of Buellton (home of the famous Pea Soup Andersen’s) on State Route 246. The road is only 7 miles long and full of native oak trees, rolling hills of vines, and even a few bison to complete the scenery straight off a vintage Americana postcard.

Wine drinkers are soon to hear more of Ballard Canyon as it is becoming one of the red Rhône hot spots of this great state, especially Syrah. Before receiving its official nod, Ballard Canyon was already getting a buzz of approval from sommeliers and winemakers alike. Vineyards and producers within the AVA’s boundaries include Stolpman, Beckman, Rusack, and Jonata, are all being touted for their red Rhônes. However, after a recent tasting, it was the Roussanne that was really a surprise.


stolpman vineyard

Photo courtesy of Stolpman’s Instagram — http://instagram.com/stolpmanvineyards

Roussanne is not the most recognized white wine from Southern France, which is of course Viognier – the two are most commonly blended with a third grape Marsanne. It is rare to see a 100% Roussanne wine – last year there was 1277 tons of Roussanne picked while the total for Viognier was 28,000. There are distinct differences between the two: Roussanne has flavors of peach and apricot compote while Viognier tends to lean on the more tropical side of the fruit spectrum, also with characteristic pear notes. Both are on the fuller side in mouthfeel.


Stolpman, Cosecha, Bressades, Roussanne

The first Roussanne I tried was from boutique producer De Su Propia Cosecha, a winery that firmly puts all its concentration in the vineyard. The name is Spanish for “Of One’s Own Harvest” and proprietor/winemaker Chris King personally tends the vineyards from which he buys fruit. This is a very uncommon procedure as most just buy the grapes, while King is probably in the vineyard more than the winery. King sourced these grapes from Stolpman vineyard, and this is a wine that stands out. There was a fresh apricot nose with hints of honeydew, also some flavors of almond and water chestnuts; nectar in its full definition.

I tried Stolpman Vineyard’s own Roussane a few nights later. Stolpman was the first to plant Rhone varieties in Ballard, and really began the trend across the canyon. Their Roussanne is named “L’Avion”, French for airplane, as the vines grow on a former airplane strip on the property which started out as cattle ranch. This wine too is quite special, with a lovely nose of peaches and cream, some hints of honeysuckle and with clean cut minerality on the finish.

To put these two wines in perspective I took a quick jaunt out to my local bottle shops in search of a French Roussanne. Although I came up empty handed in 100% Roussanne wine, I did find a 50/50 Rousanne Viognier made by Mas des Bressade in the Costières de Nîmes, one of the more southern bits of the Rhône . Although this is made up half of Viognier it is still full of Roussanne flavor, lots of peaches, apricot compote, fresh minty tea leaves and tropical melon.

The Ballard Canyon wines were very fragrant and what made them stand out was the pureness on the palate. Both had such ripe stone fruit flavors and an underlining acidity mixed with minerality that adds a fresh note. Food-wise and because of the medium weight of Roussanne these wines will go perfect with most poultry, fish or seafood and citrus sauces. Fish or shrimp tacos with mango salsa or grilled salmon with a lemon cilantro sauce, the weight of the wine will counter light lemon or lime sauces. In fact, I would go as far as saying it will stand up to medium spicy Thai dishes as well. I am just imaging a chicken yellow curry matching perfect to the peach and apricot flavors of Roussanne.

So, remember the name ‘Ballard Canyon’ particularly if you come across one of these delectable Roussannes, a perfect match for your spring and early summer.


De Su Propia Cosecha is available here, at their online store, for $28

Stolpman Vineyard’s L’Avignon is available here, at their online store, for $38

Mas Bressade is available at various merchants here, for around $17

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¡Tres Vinos, por favor!

I popped in to the TAPAS tasting at the Presidio this past weekend: 30-odd wineries all making wines from Spanish varieties. I was on a bit of a mission, looking out for all the Albariños as I think this is a grape that California can and will soon embrace, my finds will be posted a bit later.

In the meantime however, are three wines off the beaten bodega.

kenneth volk, pierce ranch vineyards, bodegas paso robles

L-R Pierce Ranch Vineyards Arinto, Kenneth Volk Malvasia Bianca and Bodegas Paso Robles Pimenteiro

2011 Pierce Ranch Vineyards, Arintom San Antonio Vallley AVA, Monerey County
Arinto is one of the oldest varieties out of Portugal. This one in particular was super crisp, with lots of stone fruit and lemon flavors. A very fresh wine.

Josh Pierce planted a half acre (which came out to three barrels) of Arinto, despite never having even tried any wine produced from the grape first – he had read about it and liked the idea of its high acidity and expected to blend it into his other whites…..lo and behold, his solo Arinto turned out pretty good.


2012 Kenneth Volk Vineyards, Malvasia Bianca, San Bernabe Vineyard, Monterey

It’s hard to keep up with all the wine Ken Volk makes. He admits to having his cash crops – Pinot, Chardonnay and some Bordeaux – so he can tinker with his “Underappreciated Rarities

One such underappreciated grape was his Malvasia Bianca (which on this Spanish day should have been called Malvagia…) This is like a lighter style Gewurz, so much lychee on the nose but the palate is a bit more rambutan – if you’ve ever tried one of those spiky little guys! – tropical with a hint of black pepper. Would be great with chow mein or a Thai yellow curry.

On a side note Ken had a high school summer job at the Wham-O factory…yes, Wham-O creator of such modern marvels as the Hula Hoop, the Frisbee and of course The Slip ‘N Slide (those links are all the original commercials if you’re feeling nostalgic). It just so happens though, that this summer gig inspired him to invent a tank a lees stirring device much like the Water Wiggle, where instead of water it gets, ahem, wiggled around by CO2. Love it!

2009 Bodegas Paso Robles, Pimenteiro, Central Coast (67% Trousseau, 33% Tempranillo)

Trousseau, or ‘Bastardo’ as our Iberian cousins call it – apparently with no insult implied – is the cult grape of the moment. This one is a beast. Some soft cherry fruit, a bit of espresso, and some black olive, this wine is rich and full….with spicy peppercorn finish as well. This is what one means when we talk about a steak wine, pure carnivore.

Dorothy Schuyler owns and makes the wines here, she had the foresight to move to Paso from LA before the influx. As the winery’s name foretells, they are all about Spanish varieties.

There you go…three that caught my eye…¡Viva TAPAS! and muchas gracias to Heidi Stine for putting on a fantastico event.

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