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2008 SB Wine
2008 Wine Cask Santa Barbara County Wine review|
By Doug Margerum. Consultant to The Wine Cask. Reproduced courtesy of The Wine Cask.
Wine Cask wine director Cheryl Stanley and Wine Cask consultant Doug Margerum spent the first two months of 2008 meeting with the top Santa Barbara County wine makers and tasting their fine wines from recent vintages. The goal is simple: find the best 100 (or so) wines produced in the county. While we always seek out new wines and new wine makers, we want to make sure we recommend wines and wineries with a proven track record. We balance the report with a variety of types of wines, wines that have reasons and seasons. There are wines for early consumption that we offer for day to day drinking. There are wines that are serious and age-worthy in the 3 to 5 year category and there are the legendary wines for collectors that will, can, and should age for ten years plus.
The tasting notes are for wines that are in three stages of development and we will strive to indicate at what stage we tasted them at in our notes. There are wines already bottled or just bottled, assembled tank samples just about to be bottled, and barrel samples which will be bottled in the next twelve months or so. Most of the 2007 wines had not been bottled at time we tasted them and some of the 2006 wines were just about to be bottled or were bottled. We have been doing this for a long time and we know the stages of a wine in its early life and we can evaluate and we know the characteristics of great wine at this stage.
We hope you enjoy these tasting notes and our observations. The tasting note authors are noted: DM means the notes were written by Doug Margerum and CS denotes they were written by Cheryl Stanly. Release dates are approximate.
I love history. I love family history even more. Hearing Paul Wilkins describe how he and his friend/co-owner of Alta Maria, James Ontiveros, selected the name of Alta Maria gave me goose bumps. Nine generations ago (see Native9) the first Ontiveros family member Josef, came to Santa Barbara. His grandson Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros was moving cattle from the family’s original land grant in Northern Orange County to property he had purchased, called Rancho Tepusquet, east of Santa Maria (now, Bien Nacido, Cambria, Byron). He arrived in Northern Santa Barbara County on the Catholic day of Saint Mary’s Day. As he crossed the small river towards his property, he named it Santa Maria to commemorate his arrival. That is how the name started; that is the romanticized version. Paul, former assistant winemaker to John Alban, also described Alta Maria as: "Alta", meaning high/higher, and "Maria", after the Santa Maria Valley. Together Paul and James are elevating Santa Maria Valley vineyards by showcasing the great fruit that is grown here. -CS
2006 Grenache Santa Maria Valley
100 cases produced
This year’s blend of the Grenache is: 77% Grenache, 10% Syrah, and 13% Mourvèdre. The fruit is sourced from the Nielson and Bien Nacido Vineyards. Paul was very lucky to get the new plantings of Grenache and Mourvèdre that have just come into line at Bien Nacido. This vintage is elegant like a ballerina on point as compared to the big, masculine style of the 2005. The Syrah adds to the mid-palate and the Mourvèdre imparts an earthy, gamey finish.
Release price $55 Scheduled release: Fall 2008
2007 was a very busy harvest for Joe Davis and his winemaking team at Arcadian. He relocated from Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria to Santa Rosa Road in Lompoc two days before his first grapes were harvested. Unfortunately this new facility did not have interior plumbing so Joe found a new skill; he installed two sinks and a shower inside the building in 2 days. With the size of this space, it was a monstrous task. Building projects aside, Joe is continuing his goal to make age worthy wines (not "fast food wines") which develop like an incredible Grand Cru Burgundy. Did you also know his Chardonnay is the house wine for all of Alain Ducasse’s restaurants in Paris? That speaks for itself. -CS
2006 Pinot Noir "Dierberg Vineyard" Santa Maria Valley
550 cases produced
I love Joe’s philosophy about wine. He equates his wines to the wines of Burgundy. He only sources from the best vineyards such as Dierberg, Fiddlestix, Pisoni and Stolpman. These make-up his Grand Crus. He also has his village wines, such as Santa Rita Hills, with declassified fruit from his "Grand Crus" - not inferior vineyards. The village-type wines offer an introduction to his style. This 2006 Dierberg has seen no racking and no blending with two years of barrel age. This is a blend of the Dijon Clones 667, 777, 115, 13 and Champagne Clone 31. The color is bright red lipstick on just kissed lips. This wine exudes bright red fruit character with allspice and cassis.
Release price $60 Scheduled release: Summer 2008
2006 Pinot Noir "Fiddlestix Vineyard" Sta. Rita Hills
500 cases produced
"Big Pinot" were the first words that I wrote regarding this wine. Even though this wine might appear to be bigger than the Dierberg, it has the elegance and beauty that is hard to put into words. This wine has more intense cinnamon toned spice with a floral component that reminds me of spring. The oak is very well integrated and adds just a hint of smokiness. It is just a gorgeous expression of Fiddlestix. I am speechless.
Release price $55 Scheduled release: Fall 2008
2006 Syrah "Stolpman Vineyard" Santa Ynez Valley
600 cases produced
This is one of Joe’s great syrahs. It comes from the famed Stolpman Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley. It is a blend of the Estrella Clone in block 6 and Clone 7 in block 1. Joe shares block 6 with Manfred Krankel’s Sine Qua Non and Adam Tolmach’s The Ojai Vineyard. The Clone 7 is planted in solid limestone top soil which Joe loves. Intense huckleberry and other dark blue fruits escape the glass with a vapor of sweet vanilla. This wine is hearty like a warm lamb stew on a cold evening. Recommend food pairings: Roasted Venison with blackberry sauce. Yummy!
Release price $60 Scheduled release: Fall 2008
AU BON CLIMAT
I really enjoy visiting Au Bon Climat and Qupé. There is always a sumptuous lunch, lively conservation and there are dozens of bottles of wine opened to sample and enjoy with Jim’s delicious cuisine. It is a pleasant atmosphere, congenial, with intellectual dialog amongst long time wine professionals concerning the attributes of wine and the state of the industry.
Jim is a chef. He manages his winery like a kitchen and he knows where everything is, wastes nothing, looks for unique flavors and wine styles and is always inspiring his brigade. To his longtime team there is a merit based system under which he delegates responsibilities. After 17 years working together Jim Adelmen directs the wine making, Enrique organizes the cellar, Arturo executes the bottling and production, and Michael handles the finances. Consistently the top wines produced from this facility rate as some of the best wines produced in the world from young to mature. Granted Jim Clendenen has been a friend for many years but I taste wine, especially Pinot Noir, from every top producer in the world. Many of the fashionable wines produced today are over ripe, deficient in acidity and will simply not stand the test of time. The wines of Au Bon Climat will be judged favorably as the best of their era. Serious wine collectors and serious wine consumers know and enjoy the wine flavors (bouquet, texture, and complexity) that are enhanced as balanced wine matures. The lucky people who will have these wines in their cellars are the folks I get emails from five, ten years later telling me they just opened, for example, an ABC 1995 Isabelle Pinot Noir in magnum and it is so fantastic they just had to thank me for them about it. I am more than pleased than to receive a note like that but really, they should thank Jim and his crew – they made it. -DM
2006 Chardonnay "Sanford & Benedict ~ Historic Vineyard Collection" Santa Ynez Valley
180 cases produced
Well, this wine is really Burgundian. I know, if we hear one more reference to Burgundian we are all going to scream. But please, stick your nose in a glass of this and you will agree. Not only is it lower in alcohol than almost any Chardonnay produced in California it has those European nuances. I simply love the rich, complex, intense yet elegant essences that are in the nose of this wine. Like some of the greatest Meursault and Chassagne-Montrachet with their wonderful combination of sumptuousness and mineral complexities, Sanford & Benedict has a soil and aspect that produces distinctive, extraordinary chardonnay. The penetrating nose of the wine reveals a cornucopia of flavor, great depth and a faint brioche/brie anise that is so common in Meursault. As the wine warms in the glass I detect a little caramel. The palate is polished smooth and gives a very impressive, slightly creamy length. It expands very nicely on the palate in a youthful and understated way. It kept going very, very long and finished with a little lime and chalk. This is simply a great wine right up there with a Grand Cru.
Release price $29.95, scheduled release: Fall 2008
2006 Pinot Noir "Nielson ~ Historic Vineyard Collection" Santa Maria Valley
150 cases produced
Nielson Vineyard is the oldest commercial vineyard in Santa Barbara County planted in 1964. Yields here are very low averaging one to two tons per acre. In 2006 the yields were even lower resulting in a very structured and complex creation. I like this wine. I can only describe it as delicious and downright flavorful. I found myself licking my lips like after having a great meal. This wine has Umami; which means "yummy" in Japanese. Umami is a taste that represents the elements of savory or deliciousness.
Release price $49.95, scheduled release: Fall 2008
2006 Pinot Noir Estate "Knox Alexander" Santa Maria Valley
500 cases produced
My notes say "now we’re talking"! This is a big wine with lots of flavor, integrated tannins and an intense core of fruit. Like the rich and explosive ’05, the ’06 Knox is always among the highest scored wines at the ABC staff tastings. This is often the showiest of Jim’s Pinots out of the gate from the stable of pinot noirs produced each year at Au Bon Climat. It is a combination of high elevation, north-facing fruit at Bien Nacido (for concentration and structure) and organically farmed hillside fruit at Le Bon Climat (for fruit and complexity). There is a delectable sumptuousness that bodes well for earlier drinking, but the Knox Alexander bottling always takes on a very complex minerality, with earth and flower notes (read: forbidden Burgundian character) with proper storage and reasonable cellar time.
Release price $44.95, $89.95/1.5L, scheduled release: Fall 2008
2006 Pinot Noir "Isabelle Morgan" California
400 cases produced
A blend of the best barrels from the best parcels produced at Au Bon Climat, Isabelle Morgan is a blend put together by the "Mind Behind", as Jim refers to himself and it continues to be a closely guarded secret as to what exactly it is. Jim likens this to his very successful 2005 wine. It is nicely extracted with rich layers of flavors that connect from the front of the palate to the back. Well incorporated acidity and balanced tannins. Tons of aromatics full of blue and black berry preserves, earth, mushrooms and a hint of dried flowers. There is clear vanillin oak notes which really add to the overall pleasurable aroma. Full bodied and concentrated fruit underscored by a hint of minerality. I don’t think it is a wine that needs to age for a long time but it will be outstanding with another two years of bottle age. Let me assure you, there isn’t an Isabelle Pinot Noir that has not shown deliciously and graciously with ten years in the bottle.
Release price $49.95, $99.95/1.5L, scheduled release: Fall 2008
2005 Pinot Noir "Larmes de Grappe", Santa Maria Valley
100 cases produced
This is the second ever Larmes de Grappe. The 2001 version is still on my top wines ever tasted list. Larmes de Grappe means "tears of the whole cluster" because the grapes were fermented as whole clusters, including the stems. This is exceptional wine making and it can only be done well in certain years where the cluster stems have fully lignified. Stem tannins are different from skin tannins; they impart a different sensory profile. Stem tannins are more astringent and harsher than skin tannins. However fully lignified (meaning brown not green) stems give an increased tannin intensity. So, we expect this wine to age. I would give it a minimum of ten years. Buy it for your children, special anniversaries, and to experience what a great wine can be. This rare wine has exceptional potential for development due to the extraordinary wine making. Add in low yields of about a half- ton per acre, the minerality of the soils at Sanford & Benedict and the fact it is from one of the greatest vintages for Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara County ever! What more can you want? All in all this wine is an incredible experience. The nose is reminiscent of the best of Vosne-Romanée Grand Cru as it is extremely powerful and surprisingly elegant.
Release price $150, scheduled release: Spring 2008
I visited Bryan Babcock on a beautiful, sunny morning in January. The drive up was breathtaking and the conversation fascinating. Bryan described new vine spacing that he is working on to maximize the sun timing on the fruit or something like "plant geometry". He completed a new 5,000 square foot building last January that is allowing him to increase and play around with the wines that he makes. Bryan also completed his work on some farm equipment that he had been working on last year. It is a great tractor that was cut in half and put back together. Instead of going between the rows, it now straddles it. Just genius! -CS
2007 Pinot Gris "Naughty Little Hillsides" Sta. Rita Hills
200 cases produced
As you are approaching the Babcock Tasting room, you come across a small little knoll. Well this small rise is a "naughty little hillside". Bryan describes it as a temperamental child. It has never thrown a full crop and something always goes wrong. But you can’t blame it for trying. The fruit that does come off it has verve and intensity. Bright, crisp green apple is greeted by juicy pears that flow into a shortbread crust on a fruit tart finish. This hillside is certainly giving it’s all to the vines and I have to stand up and applaud it.
Release price $30 Scheduled release: Spring 2008
2006 Merlot/Petit Verdot "Fathom" Santa Ynez Valley
200 cases produced
Bryan has experimented with Bordeaux varietals for many years now. You might remember from our 2003 review we featured a Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon bottling under the same name. Well this is the Fathom’s new life form and it blows the previous incarnations out of the sky. It 100% Estelle Vineyard fruit and is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Petit Verdot. Bryan feels that Petit Verdot is the next great Bordeaux varietal. Of course the farming is so important to all grapes but the concentration and character that the Petit Verdot gives to the blend is just unsurpassable. This wine has bright fruit, huge color extraction and a long finish. Chateau Palmer-esque. Velvety textures roll off the tongue and are greeted with aromas of violets and currants.
Release price $40 Scheduled release: Summer 2008
Steve Beckmen has been part of the review for 8 years now and he continues to out do himself each vintage taking his Syrah and Grenache to new heights. With the return of Mikael, Steve has been able to devote his time to his true love, his beautiful Purisima Mountain Vineyard. Steve has been farming Purisima Mountain biodynamically for 5 years now and the fruit is better than ever. Tasting the 2007 vintage proves this point with amazingly big and complex wines poised to be the vintage of the decade for this extraordinary vineyard. With fruit yields down 1/3 normal in 2007 the wines are intensely concentrated. -DM
2007 Grenache "Purisima Mountain Vineyard" Santa Ynez Valley
600 cases produced
This is a HUGE wine with layers of flavor and all sorts of personality and possible delusions. Deep beautiful baked raspberry nose with plenty of pomegranate, sandalwood herbs de Provence and black truffles. On the palate the wine delivers plush dense expressions of pomegranate, blackberry, dark chocolate and baker’s spice. The co-fermentation with 10% Syrah has softened the tannins, creating a seamless wine with tons of character. Release price $44.95, scheduled
Release price TBD release: Summer 2009
2007 Syrah "Purisima Mountain Vineyard ~ Block Six" Santa Ynez Valley $28.95
600 cases produced
Block Six represents the essence of Syrah made with Syrah clones 383, 174 and Estrella grown on the highest point on Purisima Mountain. This wine is just an adjective festival. The nose: a magnificent nose that rocks with black fruit, Niman Ranch bacon, and pistol gun smoke. The mouth: mysterious, unctuous, but ultimately will be focused, with stratums of ripe fruits like plum, blackberry, blueberry and boysenberry. The finish to the wine runs the gauntlet with massive, gushing fruit, brown sugar, coffee, and bittersweet chocolate.
Release price $49.95 scheduled release: Summer 2009
Download 2008 WINE CASK SANTA BARBARA COUNTY WINE REVIEW
In The Pink|
by Arthur von Wiesenberger
A rosé is a rosé is a rosé, unless it is a rosé Champagne. Don't confuse rosé wines with rosé Champagnes. Rosé wines are nice summertime beverages that range from awfully good to just plain awful. But with rosé (or pink) Champagnes, the quality is far more bankable and almost always a reason to celebrate. Rosé Champagnes sales are booming and some classic rosés have returned to the US shores after a long hiatus.
This is good news for distributors who usually get a bigger margin on rosés over regular white Champagnes. For the consumer it is also good news because there is a broader selection of quality rosés than there was a few years ago.
Rosé Champagne has to be grown in that very clearly defined Champagne region in North Eastern France. Everything else is just sparkling pinks from Cold Duck to Spumante blush. Most Champagne is made with several grape varietals including the pinor noir grape. If the grape skin is left in contact with the juice for awhile then skin maceration occurs which extracts a little of the pink color. It has to be done with great care as too much contact with the skins can produce a bitter wine. A nicely aged rosé Champagne will have a yeasty, frothy mousse with tiny bubbles and a taste that whispers biscuits and fresh fruit. Pink Champagne has always been considered a romantic wine and one that does well in welcoming in the New Year, St. Valentine's Day or celebrating a wedding. For those die-hard hard romantics who pop open a cork of rosé Champagne more often, we say cheers!
A tour of top rosé Champagnes
If money is no object:
1996 Dom Pérignon rosé (about $300*). Pop a cork on this spectacular Champagne and those lucky enough to toast with it will remember the incredibly fine, pin-point bubbles, the stunning sunrise pink color and a finesse that entices the taste buds to nirvana.
Krug rosé (about $290). Although this is a non vintage, and the world's most pricey non vintage Champagne, Krug produces a rosé Champagne steeped in tradition. It has a hint of raspberries and strawberries in the nose and a copper-pink color. The taste is surprisingly dry yet mellow. There is a unique sophistication to this rosé Champagne which will make seasoned connoisseurs sit up and take notice.
Billecart-Salmon rosé (about $60). Like an orange sunset, this beautiful rosé Champagne is a joy to observe. It might be wise to let it open in the glass for a moment to uncover the tangy rhubarb and berry flavors. It has a determined crispness which lingers long after the first swallow.
Moet Imperial rosé (about $55). This elegant, pale pink color rose has a slightly spicy nose with hints of black cherries in a smokey forest. In the mouth it is crisp with a complex blend of fruit tones including currants, toast and a touch of cinnamon.
Ruinart rosé (about $70). Ruinart ruined our day when it disappeared from American wine shops until this year. Fortunately Ruinart is back and with gusto. The non-vintage blend of 45% chardonnay 55% pinot noir from recent great vintages shines with a golden pink color, thanks to a dash of added red wine and a nose of currants and spice. The lingering fruit and finesse of this wonderful Champagne brings together freshness and tannins in a satisfying marriage. By the way, Dom Ruinart rosé (the prestige cuvee) will be re-introduced next March.
Taittinger Cuvee rosé (about $60). For those who like their Champagnes crisp, Taittinger has managed to balance acidity with a vibrant, crisp quality. A cherry pink color has a dazzling nose of red berries with fresh floral tones. The taste is refreshing and the crispness lingers on the tongue between sips.
Veuve Clicquot rosé (about $60). "Veuve" has become the trendy Champagne in the US and abroad and although you can find the "yellow label" at Costco and other large chains, the non-vintage rosé is a little more challenging and about double the price. It bursts onto the rosé scene with a bold, red fruit quality. The flavor of cherries, raspberries and strawberries are all wrapped up and ready for a night out on the town.
Bargain rosé :
Mumm Brut rosé (about $40) Don't confuse this with its American cousin, Mumm Napa Valley Blanc de Noirs. The French original has a deep almost orange color with a slight melon nose and a depth of flavor that is a cornucopia of fruits from banana to oranges, topped with some spicy honey. It makes one go "yum, more Mumm,"
(*) all prices quoted are approximate for 750 ml size bottles. Half bottles (375 ml) and Magnums (1.5 liter) may be available from some retailers. Wine shops may offer discounts for case purchases. Champagne can be stored for several years in a proper controlled temperature environment.
Some Great Quality but Costlier Bubbles
Serving on the Bon Appetit Tasting Panel has it's benefits. The other day I was asked to Bon Appetit's Los Angeles' conference room to taste 38 bottles of vintage Champagne and sparkling wines. Anthony Dias Blue, the organizer of the panel, said it was $3526 worth of wines.
Blue knows his bubbles. He zeroed in on some of the Deutz Champagnes (William Deutz 1995 Champagne Amour de Deutz $206, William Deutz 1996, $158 and William Deutz 1998, $99). "Deutz is making brilliant wines since Roederer took them over", Blue said. Amy Reiley, purred over the 95 William Deutz, "all those spices". Her book, Fork Me, Spoon Me: Essential Cookbook, raises the subject of aphrodisiac qualities in foods and beverages. She noted that the blanc de blanc style, such as in Deutz, is an aphrodisiac resembling the female pheromone that arouses both men and women. For my taste buds the Deutz Champagnes were well-rounded and reflected a more traditional style of Champagne craftsmanship. Not unlike Bollinger, Deutz uses age as an enhancing accent and one that gives every glass body and depth.
"1996", Blue said, "was the greatest Champagne vintage ever", and there was no shortage of examples of this great wine. Just inhaling the aromas of the Gosset 1996 ($150) was a heady experience. This was a penetrating Champagne reflective of the Gosset style, both beautifully balanced and with a lingering finish. Blue proclaimed that Gosset was "really impressive".
My personal favorite was the 1985 Champagne Charlie ($120). It was like the ultimate fruit and nuts dessert with peaches and cream and toasted almonds in between . It could stand up to virtually any food you served with it because of great structure and well-developed aftertaste. Blue declared it as "unbelievable". Alain Gayot, editor and publisher of the Gayot restaurant guides, said that the Heidsieck was "drinking impeccably. If I had a case I'd still hold on to it. When Champagne is well made it has supreme longevity".
Robert Lawrence Balzar, the California wine writer, found the Perrier Jouet 1998 Fleur de Champagne ($89) "wonderful". But when it came to the California sparkling wines, he noted that there were some surprises. "The new administration at Domaine Chandon has dropped the ball", he said. For me, most of the California bubblers left me flat. Too sweet and carbonated with some chemical overtones. The one that showed some promise was Mumm's 1999 DVX ($45) but at that price I'd rather buy a French non-vintage Champagne like Clicquot or Perrier Jouet.
The prices of the wines were certainly not shy and are reaching new heights. Gayot said, "The Champagne producers went to the gas stations and saw the prices and said we'll increase our prices too!"
Of the 38 Champagnes tasted, the top 20 provided a style that I would be thrilled to pop open on New Years Eve as well as on every other evening. Although some of the priciest Champagnes were also the best tasting, there were some bargains in relative terms.
Von Wiesenberger's Top 20 Champagne Roundup.
The following list: Ranking - Name - Vintage - Suggested Retail Price
1. Charles Heidsieck 1985 Champagne Charlie ($120)
2. William Deutz 1995 Champagne Amour de Deutz ($206)
3. Gosset 1996 Champagne Celebris ($150)
4. Charles Heidsieck 1995 Blanc de Millenaires ($95)
5. Bollinger 1997 La Grande Annee ($104)
6. Charles Heidsieck 1995 ($75)
7. William Deutz 1996 Cuvee William Deutz ($158)
8. Gosset 1995 Champagne Celebris ($150)
9. Gosset 1999 Grand Millesime ($85)
10. Taittinger 1995 Comtes de Champagne ($140)
11. Moet & Chandon 1998 Dom Perignon ($110)
12. Pommery 1995 Cuvee Louise ($160)
13. Perrier Jouet 1998 Fleur de Champagne ($70)
14 Perrier Jouet 1999 Fleur de Champagne ($70)
15. Taittinger 1998 Brut Millesime ($70)
16. Delamotte 1997 ($74)
17. Mumm 1999 Mumm de Cremant ($65)
18. Veuve Clicquot 1999 ($66)
19. Lanson 1989 Noble Cuvee ($110)
20. Nicholas Feuillatte 1995 Cuvee Special ($65)
2007 SB Wine
2007 Wine Cask Santa Barbara County Wine review|
By Doug Margerum. Owner, Wine Cask
Wine Cask wine director, Wendy Van Horn, and I spend months meeting with and tasting the fine wines from the best Santa Barbara County producers. We have a simple goal -- to find the top100 (or so) wines produced in the county. While we always seek out new wines and new wine makers, we want to make sure we recommend wines and wineries with a proven track record. We balance the report with a variety of types of wines, wines that have reasons and seasons. There are wines for early consumption that we offer for day to day drinking. There are wines that are serious and age-worthy in the 3 to 5 year category and there are the legendary wines for collectors that will, can, and should age for ten years plus.
I hope you enjoy the tasting notes and observations.
Thanks and remember that wine is good living!
Owner, Wine Cask
Peter and Rebecca Work have had a busy year. While continuing to climb the steep learning curve required to successfully manage and grow high quality wine grapes, then turn them into wine, they have, on the physical level, completed the vertical integration of their winemaking operations with the acquisition of new winery space this past June. The new winery (which they share with fellow winemaker, Ken Brown), provides plenty of elbow room for production and cellaring as well as office space and enough extra square footage to allow for future growth. The winery represents yet another significant milestone in the couple's pursuit of their passion, yet it has not detracted from their focus on their estate vineyard. Peter spends a lot of time getting his hands dirty. He constantly experiments --different trellising methods, leaf pulling regimens, co-planting trials --all in an effort to learn the very best way to farm his grapes. Yields are carefully managed and quality is the clear priority both in the vineyard and in the winery. Without question, Ampelos is a property to watch. WV.
2004 Pinot Noir "Alpha", Santa Rita Hills
310 cases produced
It's finally here! The debut of the first Estate Pinot from Ampelos. A blend of clones 115 and Pommard picked during the '04 heat spike that had everybody scrambling, this inaugural bottling is very pretty and destined to please. Bountiful red fruit dominates --raspberry, black cherry, strawberry --accented invitingly with hints of exotic spice, gingerbread and a warm earthiness. This sumptuous extract is balanced with bright acidity and softly framed by fine tannins. There is an appealing up-front quality to the fruit that is very "friendly" yet not over the top. As we taste, Peter comments on making Pinot, "it's about the fruit. I want to make Pinot that can be enjoyed with food."
2004 Syrah / Grenache "Syrache", Santa Barbara County
210 cases produced
In the best tradition of blends from the Southern Rhône valley, this wine incorporates each individual element into a greater whole. Nearly 50% of the Syrah is from Alisos Vineyard, with the balance, 23% Syrah and 27% Grenache both from Roger Harrison's vineyard in Ballard Canyon. The Alisos Syrah is the dark, brooding base while the components from Harrison-Clark add flesh and plenty of lush fruit. The nose is redolent of blueberries and strawberries with lovely floral topnotes and a hint of underlying minerality. 1/3 new oak plays a subtle background note while fruit commands center stage.
Joe Davis continues to excel. His wines are truly wines for collectors. Joe's wines age. DM
2003 Pinot Noir "Fiddlestix", Santa Rita Hills
176 cases produced
This is a beautifully scented wine full of delicacy in the nose with a tighter than expected mouth feel and lots of complexity and verve as it lingers on the palate. Light in color but very powerful ala some of the great wines from Burgundy. Once again Joe uses all three clones of Pinot Noir (113, 115, & 667) from the impeccably farmed Fiddlestix vineyard. A vineyard Joe believes might be the best new vineyard planted in the nineties. He ferments each clone separately to evaluate the purity of each lot and then blends to make this his most elegant Pinot Noir.
2003 Pinot Noir "Dierberg", Santa Maria Valley
722 cases produced
From vineyards planted in 1997 by Jim Dierberg to multiple clones and on two distinct primary soils, alluvial sand and clay loam. Joe has chosen two "explore" both soil types comparing clonal selection between the two different soils. Working with clones 115, Pommard 5 and clone 31 they have a chance to evaluate what clone matches best with what soil. It's a fantastic wine. The color is a very light and bright red shoes red. In the mouth it exudes power and nobility. I found tremendous spicy, earthy mushroom, red meat flavors with nuances of oak and vanilla. It's a very flavorful wine that lingers long in the mouth. It's a full bucket of pinot noir, richer and a tad more powerful than the Fiddlestix version.
AU BON CLIMAT
2005 was Jim Clendenen's best year ever. Great wines, incredible demand worldwide, a new outlook, a great winery team, and finally, his best estate grapes ever. The world just can't seem to satisfy its demand for Au Bon Climat wines. These are the very very best from Jim's production. The 2004 Pinot Noir vintage was tough for many but since Jim has always been an early picker the 2004 "heat wave" that affected many in 2004 was less a factor for Au Bon Climat, especially in their most important selections. DM
2004 Chardonnay "Mount Carmel", Santa Rita Hills
180 cases produced
I am very keen on this vineyard and it seems to only get better each year as new and better farming practices are instituted. Jim makes many different Chardonnays from a variety of vineyards in Santa Barbara County and they are all very good -- especially in 2004. I decided select just one Chardonnay from Au Bon Climat as it is clearly the most exuberant rich classy wine of the bunch. It is a wine for serious wine collectors as it will age. It is also the perfect wine to pull the cork on for those important dinner parties where you need to have something very good but also very showy. With its opulent explosive creamy aromas of oak and its silky texture it is the go to wine for those special occasions -- now and in the future.
2004 Pinot Noir "Sanford & Benedict", Santa Rita Hills
150 cases produced
What a Pinot Noir package this is. Consistently one of Jim's top wines and at this point I think we can safely say he is the master and king of Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir. He has been the most reliable producer of wine from this fruit. I think I can safely say he is now officially the man who has made wine from this vineyard longer than just about anyone. The 2004 was surprisingly tight initially in the mouth but as it warmed in the glass it stretched out and expanded its flavors to reveal an elegant fruit filled wine with smoky nuances, dried rose petal, and carpaccio complexities. The adjectives don't stop there -- I spent a lot of time with this wine as I could not fully capture it as it evolved in the glass revealing additional flavors of candied cherries with hints of vanilla, coffee and toasty oak notes in the background. I'm very keen on this wine.
2004 Pinot Noir Estate "Knox Alexander" Santa Maria Valley
500 cases produced
This wine is already so evolved in the aromatics it is hard to believe what it gives in the mouth. This will be one of the longest lived Knox Alexander's that Jim has done. Jim blends this as he racks it bringing it up with care and love like any good parent. He has had to adjust the blend and try new blends as the wines developed in directions different than expected in barrel. The estate vineyard, Le Bon Climat, provides 50% of the grapes, which in 2004 had an absurdly low crop that in the heat of 2004 got over ripe too fast, and the remaining 50% come from estate plantings at Bien Nacido vineyard. Jim made barrel selections that balanced acid, fruit, tannin and alcohol. I really like the final blend even though it is a little mixed-up in its youth. I want to see the wine in seven to ten years as the firm handmade wine merges with the opulent bouquet.
2004 Pinot Noir "Isabelle Morgan", California
300 cases produced
Sanford & Benedict dominates this blend making it a leaner tighter wine than ever before. It is very dark with a great fruit backbone. The remainder of the blend is the best barrels (that contribute to the structure) from vineyards in Mendocino, Sonoma, and Santa Barbara. Jim does the blend after the first racking and tweaks it a bit right before bottling. For the first time in many years I am giving the nod to Isabelle over the Knox -- but just barely. It was an exceptional vintage for Sanford & Benedict fruit (see my notes for Jim's single vineyard Sanford & Benedict above) and it really is the main building block for this wine. It is also a great example of the extraordinary blending skills of Jim Clendenen who probably knows what constitutes great Pinot Noir more than anyone else-- maybe on this planet.
Last year, Bryan Babcock introduced a new lineup of single terroir wines that he calls Terroir Exclusives. In many ways they represent the culmination of years of experience and accumulated knowledge; in every way they are extremely impressive. As a farmer and winemaker, Bryan is practical. The majority of the estate's 75 planted acres are geared towards production of high quality, reasonably priced, everyday wines. And while Bryan employs mechanized farming and interventionist winemaking technologies as needed, he also incorporates more traditional techniques when he feels they make sense. For the Terroir Exclusives program the emphasis is definitely on the traditional side, as no effort or expense is spared -- Bryan is trying to hit perfection. And it shows. WV
Download 2007 WINE CASK SANTA BARBARA COUNTY WINE REVIEW
Past SB Wine Reports
2005 Santa Barbara Wine Report|
by Doug Margerum
I spend the first two months of every year traveling and tasting with Santa Barbara's finest wine makers. I am pleased to present another fine line-up of wines from the best producers in the Santa Barbara County. In fact, I have included a few more wineries but fewer wines per producer. The quality bar continues to be raised as new vineyards are constantly coming on line, new growing areas emerge, and new producers begin production. Overall the quality and consistency continues to increase dramatically.
I do want to mention that my notes are for both bottled wines and barrel samples, which can be very different. Most 2003 red and white wines notes are for barrel and/or tank samples. Please take into account when reading the notes.
I note approximate release dates for each wine and many of these wines will be limited for purchase and some wines may well be already sold out by the end of the year.
I hope you enjoy the tasting notes and observations and that you take advantage of the opportunity to secure some of these great wines.
This is my 16th report and I could not do this program without the loyal support of Wine Cask customers and the participating wineries.
I blend this wine with Fred Brander each year and this is, essentially, the one wine under the WINE CASK label for the futures program. It has been a good run - the wine is always high quality, consistent, and the best value chardonnay we have offered for fifteen years running. In addition we are able to serve this same chardonnay at the restaurant by the glass for a good part of the year. Just as you would go to a restaurant in the country side of France where the owner buys wine for his restaurant that he helps blend and offers it to his customers as a very special wine - that is what I do here.
2004 Chardonnay "Special Reserve", Santa Barbara County $11.95
100 cases produced
Half from Fred Brander's father's vineyard - Los Olivos Vineyard which is adjacent to the Brander winery building and 50% from the Palm Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley. While 2004 was a very ripe year this wine has incredible balance. I've never seen fermenting grape juice become clear delicious wine so quickly. Fred keeps taking people to the barrels to show-off what a great wine it is! Partial ML and half barrel fermented. The most fruit forward, ready to drink, hedonistic WINE CASK Chardonnay we've ever bottled.
Release price $14.95, release date 7/1/4. Must purchase by 5/31/05.
Peter and Rebecca Work purchased 82 acres of beautiful ranch land in the Santa Rita Hills in 1999 and planted their first vines in 2001. Adventurous, curious, meticulous, mindful, driven, yet unpretentious - such descriptors spring to mind after spending a little time in the company of these "refugees" from the corporate world. They have dedicated themselves to following what Peter describes as "premier farming principals" and, in that spirit, have given themselves over to research and experimentation in their efforts to produce the best possible fruit and wine from their 15 acres of Pinot Noir and Syrah. Next year, they will have their first estate wines ready for the futures program. In the meantime, two entries-a Pinot Noir and a Syrah blend-offer a stylistic pre-view of things to come. This is certainly going to be a name to watch.
2003 Pinot Noir "Fiddlestix Vineyard", Santa Rita Hills $23.95
110 cases produced
Deep garnet color with vibrant, sappy plum and blackberry fruit, accented with hints of cola, warm spice, and white flowers. Harvested at 25.8 brix, the wine will spend 16 months in barrel (50% new French oak) before bottling. The fruit is opulent, yet the texture is structured and lively. A pleasingly straightforward wine from a vineyard farmed with the same commitment to quality shared by Peter and Rebecca.
Release price $29.95, release date 7/1/05. Must purchase by 5/31/05
2003 Syrah / Grenache "Syrache" Santa Barbara County $22.95
160 cases produced
The Grenache element (about 22.5%) comes from Harrison Vineyard - another relatively new site located in Ballard Canyon between Stolpman and Purisima Mtn. vineyards. The Syrah source is a warm climate, cool climate split with the larger component (55%) from the warm Westerly Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley and the balance from the cooler Evans Ranch in the Santa Rita Hills. The Westerly Syrah provides a core of opaque, black fruits and grilled meats livened by high-toned spice and violets from the Evan's Ranch fruit and rounded by the generous, open knit, friendly, red berry qualities of Grenache. As is often the case in varietal blends, the sum is greater than the parts.
Release price $27.95, release date 7/1/05. Must purchase by 5/31/05
Joe Davis appreciates the fine qualities offered by wines given the benefit of time. He ages his Pinot Noir 22 months in barrel and an additional 10 months in bottle before release. He tends to pick grapes that are not as ripe as do many of his SB colleagues (as is the current trend), instead taking a stronger role in the vineyard, pushing for lower yields, balanced fruit, and grapes that, when made into wine, have a lower absorption rate - less likely to oxidized, less likely to show the wood - more nervous. These are wines built for the long-haul-recent tastings of Joe's '96, '97 and 1998 vintages were reported to be fantastic.
2002 Pinot Noir "Fiddlestix", Santa Rita Hills $39.95
500 cases produced
Three clones of Pinot Noir (113, 115, & 667) fermented separately to evaluate the purity of the clone and keep separate from the press fraction. After cool fermentation the wine is pressed slightly sweet into barrel. This is a fantastic example of the quality wines from this vineyard and 2002 was such a great vintage - it is a great pleasure to be able to offer this wine. It has earth tones, intense, persistent, mouth coating flavors, and what I call edge, reminiscent of great young Burgundy.
Release price $49.95, release date 11/1/05. Must purchase by 5/31/05
2002 Syrah "La Genisse", Santa Barbara County $11.99
500 cases produced
This was just too good to pass up. A blend of the "star" vineyards for Syrah in the Santa Ynez Valley - Westerly, Stolpman, Gainey's Evan's Ranch, and Star Lane. La Genisse translates to "Fat Chick" a not so subtle, reference to just how Rubenesque this wine is - round, plump and delicious. I really liked this wine. In fact, I think it is one the best wines he showed me. However, it is not exactly Joe's style. It is too big, too rich, and just too much for Joe's Burgundian palate. For me, it is just really tasty and, for the price, it would be a killer house red. This is one to buy by the case.
Release price $14.95, release date 7/1/4. Must purchase by 5/31/05
AU BON CLIMAT
Jim Clendenen is not slowing down. While single-handedly promoting the wines of Santa Barbara County to the world, he has managed to make wine from just about every grape variety that exists on the planet under his myriad of wine labels and partnerships. I really want to focus on the wines that Jim has crafted and about which he is most passionate. He is passionate about Chardonnay (at a time when it is popular to disparage the grape) and Pinot Noir (at a time when it is popular to mention the wine in the same sentence as the movie Sideways). These are the picks of the litter.
2003 Chardonnay Bien Nacido Estate "Nuits Blanches au Bouge",
Santa Maria Valley $35.95
1000 cases produced
Once again a blend of Bien Nacido K block, Jim's own vineyard (aptly called Le Bon Climat) and Special K. No - not the cereal Special K - in this case a part of K block that was severely cropped thinned to create intense(r) flavors. This wine fermented for over a year and the resulting flavors are complex and compelling. The continual fermentation has kept the lees in the wine suspended adding flavors and textures. In addition the continual production of carbon dioxide from primary fermentation kept the wine pushing out and not oxidizing.
Release price $44.95, release date 9/1/05. Must purchase by 5/31/05
2003 Chardonnay "Mount Carmel", Santa Rita Hills $33.95
75 cases produced
This is a return to the exceptional 1999 Mount Carmel Chardonnay that Jim made - a wine considered by many sommeliers to be of equal quality to a Burgundian grand cru. Jim got a mere one ton in 2003. It is intense - aromas of white truffles, lees, slate, minerals and lemon oil with a luscious chardonnay fruit behind it. You know this baby is the real thing as it coats and lingers in the mouth. Damn nice stuff. We were all a gaga over this one. THIS IS A WINE THAT WILL NEVER BE AVAILABLE except from the futures program. In addition, Jim has given the customers of Wine Cask futures program a very special price. A great deal, and a wine not to miss.
Release price $49.95, release date 9/1/05. Must purchase by 5/31/05
2003 Pinot Noir "La Bauge Au-Dessus", Santa Maria Valley $23.95
1000 cases produced
What an excellent Pinot Noir! This is a Pinot Noir that is rich and delicious; packed with gobs of fruit, layers of texture and a lengthy, elegant finish. Superbly balanced.
Release price $29.95, release date 4/1/05. Must purchase by 4/30/05
2003 Pinot Noir "Sanford & Benedict", Santa Rita Hills $39.95
150 cases produced
I think this is the best S&B in the history of Jim's S&Bs. The grapes come from a newer planting (1997) that incorporates modern local viticulture. The '03 harvest marked the 7tth leaf and the yield as 1.5 tons/acre. S&B owner, Robert Atkin, originally planted this section adjacent to Sanford's La Rinconada for Southcorp in their attempt to make a new world Pinot that would be as singular as their Grange Shiraz. I would rate ABC's '87 and '89 as the two best Pinots I have had from S&B and this one is even better. Serious stuff. A wine that will reward the buyer who cellars it properly for 7-15 years with an extraordinary Pinot. I think this is the best "serious collector" Pinot Noir in the offering.
Release price $49.95, release date 4/1/05. Must purchase by 4/30/05
2003 Pinot Noir Estate "Knox Alexander", Santa Maria Valley $35.95,$71.95/1.5L
500 cases produced
While production of all of Jim's wines was down in 2003 this production level has suffered the most - 40% less produced than in previous years. Produced from all the hippest new clones (667,777, Swah, 2A) primarily from Bien Nacido's Block 11. The wine's fruit is so pure it has an almost sweet aspect to it. I found the wine opulent, broad on the palate and lengthy with very soft tannins. This is a Knox to consume in the short run so you can enjoy its charming openness.
Release price $44.95, $89.95/1.5L, release date 8/15/05. Must purchase by 5/31/05
2003 Pinot Noir "Isabelle Morgan", California $44.95, $89.95/1.5L
300 cases produced
Isabelle is always a blend of the he best barrels of Pinot Noir from the variety Jim produces - thus the California appellation. We do know this year's Isabelle is dominated by Sanford & Benedict fruit and then there is a barrel of just about everything else that was great. While coy to the actual blend (could anyone ever copy it?) we were able to ascertain that there is Pinot from Sonoma, Mendocino, and other top vineyards in SB County. Jim is a master blender and while a Bugundian(ist) at heart (single vineyard, single terroir) the sum of the parts is always one of the best wines in Jim's repertoire. The wine is very, very dark in color with a luxurious velvet casting as it swirls in the glass, lots of exotic spice and dark fruits in the nose and a full mouth feel that at this point is restrained and holding back. The two best moments for this wine at this point in time was smelling the empty glass and having the finish linger for a full five minutes. A great Isabelle.
Release price $49.95, $99.95/1.5L, release date 8/15/05. Must purchase by 5/31/05
Bryan Babcock has literally turned his winery inside out - I have never seen him so energized, focused and passionate about what he wants to do and what he wants to achieve. Bryan has gone back to his roots - literally the roots- of his vineyard. He showed me wines from his estate that raised my hairs on end. I've known this vineyard for a long time - I remember the 1983 Chardonnay Jim Clendenen made from the vineyard (a vineyard that Bryan and his Dad labored over) as one of the most complex and compelling wines I have ever had and have had repeatedly over the last 23 years. These two entries remind me of those first amazing wines from this great vineyard.
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