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Samples Galore: From Ohio to Washington with a Stop in Argentina

June 21, 2019 5 comments

Have wine, will travel – who is coming with me?

How about staring our wine journey in Ohio? There is a very, very good chance you never had a wine from Ohio – am I right? So was I – until the beginning of this year.

All 50 states in the USA produce wine – not sure as of what date, but this was already true at least 15 years ago. While this is true, it doesn’t mean that you can go into the store and pick up a bottle of wine from South Dakota as this is something you want to drink tonight. There is a slew of issues (economic, legal, etc.) which make it impossible. Never mind South Dakota – while Texas is one of the largest wine producers in the USA, I stand no chance of finding Texas wines in the local liquor store in Connecticut. And as I love collecting the experiences, when I was offered to participate in the Twitter Chat about Ohio wines, I quickly agreed.

The wines had been made in Ohio for a while – on par with most of the traditional wine regions in the USA. The wine cellar which is now a part of Firelands Winery in Sandusky, Ohio, was built in 1880. Obviously the wines are still unknown outside of the local towns and maybe some visitors, but still, Ohio has the winemaking history.

When I opened the box with the wines for the tasting, my first reaction was “ohh, this might not end well”. First one was Firelands Gewurztraminer – and I consider Gewurztraminer a very difficult grape – it is really difficult to create a balanced Gewurztraminer wine – I had lots (did I say lots?) of undrinkable editions, so yes, that bottle made me concerned. The second wine was equally concerning – Vidal Blanc Ice Wine from Ferrante winery. Again – an experience with many plonk-level Ice wines was definitely getting in the way.

So how the wines fared, you ask? Much (much!) better than I expected (sorry, the inner snob was talking) – really, here are the notes:

2017 Firelands Winery Gewurztraminer Isle St. George, Ohio (12.5% ABV)
Light golden
Beautiful fresh tropical fruit – leeches, guava, white peach, intense
Dry palate, clean acidity, spicy bite, Whitestone fruit, good minerality, good balance
8, very enjoyable wine, will work well with food, excellent with cheese (manchego)

2016 Ferrante Vidal Blanc Ice Wine Grand River Valley (11% ABV)
Golden color
Honey, candied peaches, fig jam, medium plus intensity.
Perfectly clean palate, a touch of honey, apples, ripe pear. Honey notes linger on the finish, but it is not overwhelming and supported by good acidity.
8+, very impressive, this is the wine I want to have a second glass of. Outstanding.

As you can see, very impressive wines. I would gladly drink both at any time – and I would love to visit the wineries if I ever make it into the area. Ahh, and one more check mark for my collection of attempts to try the wines made in all 50 states – a personal challenge which I’m tracking right here.

After having a great experience in Ohio, let’s continue our trip. Next stop? California.

First, let’s go to Santa Barbara County. Lucas and Lewellen Estate Vineyards were born in 1996 out of the friendship between Louis Lucas, a third-generation grape grower, and Superior Court Judge Royce Lewellen who first met back in 1975. They started making wine under their own label in 1998, and from there, the business expanded to include vineyards in 3 principal winegrowing areas in the Santa Barbara County – the Santa Maria Valley, the Los Alamos Valley, and the Santa Ynez Valley. They also opened a tasting room in Solvang, one of the best “wine towns” in the country. The wine we are talking about today is a classic Bordeaux blend coming from the Valley View Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley:

2016 Lucas and Lewellen Cabernet Sauvignon Valley View Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley (14.5% ABV, $25, 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7.5% Petit Verdot, 7.5% Malbec, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 21 months in French oak, 40% new)
Dark garnet
Mint, underbrush, blackberries, cherries, medium intensity
Cherry-forward, tart, a touch of mint, tight, well-integrated tannins, full body, good acidity, good balance, spicy finish in the back of the mouth
8-, probably will further improve with time

Let’s move up north in California, to the famed Napa Valley.

The first vineyard on the Mt. Veeder site which is now home to the Hess Family Wine Estates, was planted in 1876. Donald Hess acquired his first vineyard on the Mt. Veeder in 1978, and through the chain of events which are described in details here, all the history connected together. In 1986, the Hess Collection winery was established, and from the early days Hess Collection became a pioneer of sustainable viticulture, hosting the first Natural Farming Symposium in 1992, and then helping to develop the California Wine Institute’s “Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices” in 2002.

You can see a symbol of the lion on most of the Hess Collection wines – “live each day with the heart and courage of the lion” had been a guiding principle of the Hess family for 9 generations. Two years ago, Hess Family Wine Estates introduced a new portfolio of wine with the release of Lion Tamer red blend. Last year, the Lion Tamer was joined by Panthera Chardonnay in its inaugural release. I had an opportunity to taste the new release of these wines, and here are my notes:

2016 Hess Collection Lion Tamer Red Blend Napa Valley (14.8% ABV, $45, 40% Malbec, 27% Zinfandel, 21% Petite Sirah, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Mourvedre, 1% Petit Verdot, 1% Merlot, 22 months in French oak, 40% new)
Dark garnet
Coffee, dark fruit, sandalwood, cherries, a touch of sapidity
Palate on the first day was massive, with espresso, tar, pencil shavings, and cherries.
On the second day, the wine appeared a lot more balanced, with clean acidity underscoring fresh blueberries and blackberries with a touch of coffee on the finish.
V: 8, definitely needs time. Decant for 2-3 hours if you want to drink now, or put it aside for the 4-5 years. Make sure to serve it at room temperature at around 68F.

2016 Hess Collection Panthera Chardonnay Russian River Valley Sonoma County (14.3% ABV, $45, 15 months in French oak barrels, 35% new)
Golden color with a greenish hue
Distant touch of a gunflint, minerality, underripe white plums
Vanilla, butter, a classic California Chardonnay profile, big, present, Granny Smith apples, good acidity.
8-, I prefer Chardonnay with a bit more subtle expression, but this is definitely drinkable on its own and should be good with food ( nicely complimented manchego cheese)

Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay with Glass

Our next stop is in Pacific Northwest – in Oregon, to be more precise. Knudsen Family had been growing grapes in Dundee Hills AVA in Willamette Valley since 1971, one of the pioneers of the viticulture in Oregon. For a long time, the grapes from the Knudsen Vineyards were only bought by the other wineries. Relatively recently Knudsen Vineyards started producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay under its own name. Previously, I tasted Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay from 2015 and 2016 vintages, which were both excellent. This year I had an opportunity to try 2017 Knudsen Vineyards Chardonnay (13.5% ABV, $45), and was able to see a clear progression, from 2015 to 2016 to 2017. My analogy for 2017 is Burgundian, but I don’t even know if this is a fair comparison. Knudsen Chardonnay is not a white Burgundy – it is an Oregon Chardonnay first and foremost, and it is a simply beautiful wine.

Citing myself sounds strange, but here is what I wrote about 2017 Knudsen Chardonnay in the Instagram post: “I would describe this wine as an Elegance of Precision – from the get-go, it had just a perfect amount of everything Chardonnay is famous for – a touch of vanilla, a touch of butter, a touch of golden delicious apples, vibrant acidity – and it was getting even better over the few days it was stored in the fridge, more precise, more integrated, more Burgundian. If you like Chardonnay, this is a “case buy” wine – not because it is inexpensive, but because you want to keep a few bottles in the cellar for the next 5-10 years, to see it magically evolve”. Drinkability: 9-

While we are in the Pacific Northwest, let’s try a few more wines. Kin and Cascadia wines are the result of the partnership between multi-generational families, Sagers and Masters, with these multiple generations involved in the wine business (hence the “Kin” part). This new line of wines comes from the Cascade Mountains region – which brings in Cascadia part. I had an opportunity to try Kin and Cascadia Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir – here are the notes.

2017 Kin and Cascadia Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley Washington (13.5% ABV, $16)
Dark garnet color
Intense berry flavor, blackberries, eucalyptus, sweet cherries
Fruit forward but has enough supporting acidity to make it pleasant. Medium body, light, simple, fresh, fresh berries (cherries and blackberries), good acidity.
7+/8-, not my idea of Cabernet Sauvignon, but it is definitely easy to drink wine. Plus, it is young, so it might evolve.

2017 Kin and Cascadia Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (13.5% ABV, $14)
Ruby color
Muted nose, a touch of earthy notes, underbrush
Not very expressive palate either – Light, medium body, good acidity lingering on the finish
7/7+, I personally would like more fruit and more energy. This is drinkable, but not thought-provoking.

Santa Julia wine cans

And we finally arrived at our last stop in Argentina.

In 1950, Alberto Zuccardi started working on the new irrigation systems for the vineyards in Mendoza. In 1963, he founded the vineyard of his own, which over the years became one of the most renowned in Argentina. In 1982, Bodega Santa Julia was born, named in honor of Julia (yes, she is a real person), the granddaughter of Albero Zuccardi – and Julia Zuccardi is managing her namesake winery today.

Bodega Santa Julia focuses on organic and sustainable viticulture, which sprawls from the vineyards to the people. Santa Julia was the first winery in Mendoza to achieve Fair for Life certification.

The winery joined the popular canned wines movement in the USA and introduced the line of beautifully packaged wines, which I had an opportunity to try. The wines are not amazing, but sufficient for the day on the beach or a pool party. Here are my brief notes:

NV Santa Julia Organic Malbec Rosé (375 ml can, SRP $6) – simple, quaffable, but too sweet for my taste.
NV Santa Julia Organic Chardonnay (375 ml can, SRP $6) – a bit tart, restrained fruit expression.
NV Santa Julia Tintillo Red Blend (375 ml can, SRP $6, 50% Malbec, 50% Bonarda) – good fruit expression, good acidity, medium body, good balance. My favorite of the three. And despite the recommendation, I liked it more at the room temperature than cold.

Here you are, my friends. As I said before, have wine – will travel. Until the next trip – cheers!

Wine Bloggers Conference 2014: Mystery Bus Trip, or The Ode to Solvang

July 31, 2014 15 comments

Windmills of Solvang“I’m waiting for a call”, said one of the attendees at Wine Bloggers Conference, “or a text”.

“About what?”, I asked.

“About the right bus for the today’s winery excursion”.

One of the main staples of the Wine Bloggers Conference program is so-called Excursion. The agenda item, titled at WBC14 simply as “Excursions into Santa Barbara County Wine Country”, was an object of discussion, agitation, frustration, and many other “-tions”. The whisper in the air was insisting “you have to get on the right bus”, or else. Supposedly a few attendees, mostly veterans, such as 1WineDude, knew what bus was the right one. So the task was to follow the people who were “in the know”, and get on the right bus with them. And there was also fear. A fear to get on the wrong bus. Yes, you can laugh all you want, but you know how most of us are afraid to miss out on something special and be left (ahh, horrors!) out of the supposedly exceptional experience – in this case, we could get on the wrong bus and end up at the winery, which wouldn’t be “the right one”.

When I came out shortly before the excursion time at 5 o’clock, I only caught a glimpse of 1WineDude, disappearing in the “right bus”. I should’ve taken a picture of the crowd, waiting to get on the “right bus” – probably all of the 400+ conference attendees were standing outside, creating a large, impatient crowd. The next person who seemed to know what he is doing was TheDrunkenCyclist. As he was getting on the “right bus”, the only way for me to join him would be if I would have a practical experience of dealing with Japanese subway at the peak hour, which I don’t have. Thus the next “right bus” was missed again. At this point, my only desire was to get on any bus, but at least with someone, I knew (SAHMMelier). When we got on the bus as part of a group of 20 people, I was relieved – at least we are going somewhere.

As the bus started moving, two very excited ladies (our guides) told us the name of our destination – Solvang. Solvang? What the heck is Solvang? A winery? Ahh, it is the town related to the movies Sideways. As a matter of fact, it is the 10th anniversary of the “Sideways”. which came out in 2004, and Solvang was mentioned in that movie (nice, but I had no idea). We even were asked to answer 10 questions about the movie Sideways, and the person with the fastest and best response would get a special prize. I dribbled something just to be a team player, but my enthusiasm was not moving.

It turns out that Solvang is a small town in the Santa Barbara County which was established about 100 years ago by the group of Danish immigrants (“Solvang” in Danish means “sunny fields”). The town itself looks very different from the most of the typical American towns of the same size of population (about 5,245 people live there based on 2010 data) – it looks like someone simply transposed a tiny piece of Europe in a middle of the Santa Ynez Valley. Colorful roofs, windmill and overall setting more suitable for Medieval Times than for a small modern American town are all the part of Solvang downtown.

Going back to the bus ride, the statement from our very enthusiastic guides that we will be visiting tasting rooms was not registering with me. I’m not very familiar with the concept of the tasting rooms outside of wineries, so I’m not expecting anything mind blowing. The bus stops. We are split into two groups and off we go – visiting tasting rooms first, with the dinner following right after.

As we started walking, our first stop is the wine bar called Sevtap. We get around the bar counter, the first wine is poured, it is a very nice Sauvignon Blanc. And the gentleman who is pouring the wine is actually a … winemaker! He pours more of his wines, including some which are not even bottled yet, and all the wines are excellent. What I thought to be just a wine bar, in reality, was a winery – and so was the story at all other “bars” we stopped at. Solvang has 18 so-called tasting rooms – each one of them is the winery, with its own winemaker, its own history, and – its own wine. Considering what we had an opportunity to taste, a lot of those wines were outstanding – but, as you can imagine, mostly not available anywhere else outside of that tasting room/winery. Sigh.

Now I’m going to share some notes which I managed to scribble during our visits to the 5 different wineries/tasting rooms, plus more wines which were poured during dinner. Here we go.

Sevtap Winery. Art Sevtap, who came over from Turkey 22 years ago, changed a number of professions, fell in love with wine and now makes wines and entertains people at his Sevtap Winery tasting room. The tasting room itself is very unusually decorated, with the chalkboard-type walls, all covered in the notes and names of the guests (take a look at the pictures below). We tried a number of wines, including two wines which had not been even bottled yet, and all the wines were excellent. I also love the unique and different names of the wines as well as the unique label design. Here is what we tried:

2012 Sevtap Istanbul Sauvignon Blanc Santa Ynez Valley (12.4% ABV) – unusual nose, beautiful concentrated fruit, refreshing. Drinkability: 8-

2012 Sevtap Zig-a-zig-ah Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Ynez Valley (tasted from the “barrel”) – notes of eucalyptus, pure, beautiful, dark fruit, cherries, overall an excellent wine. Drinkability: 8-

2012 Sevtap Pillow Talk Petit Verdot Santa Ynez Valley (14.25% ABV, again from the “barrel”) – concentrated, earthy, almost black color, notes of barnyard. Very balanced overall. Drinkability: 8-

2012 Sevtap Wish You Were Here Sangiovese Santa Ynez Valley (13% ABV) – Tobacco and earthiness on the nose, clean tobacco and coffee flavor profile on the palate, an excellent balance. Drinkability: 8-

A short walk along the streets of a beautiful replica of Europe, and we enter the Wandering Dog Wine Bar. We were greeted with the glass of 2011 Wandering Dog Bentley’s Bubbles Blanc de Blancs – perfectly classic, with a fine mousse, touch of toasted apples and minerality on the nose, perfectly balanced – an excellent Champagne-rivaling California sparkler (Drinkability: 8). We also had the Wandering Dog Petite Sirah which was simply spectacular – luscious, layered, perfectly balanced and just a joy in the glass – but I didn’t even have a chance to take a picture as we had to run to our next destination…

Lions Peak Vineyards. One of the oldest wineries on Central Coast, founded in 1992. Jennifer Arant, the winemaker, was born and raised in Texas, learned classical French ways of making the wine, traveled the world and now is crafting excellent wines under the Lions Peak label (the pictures below might not be great, but still should give you an idea of the artfully designed labels). I only wish I would be paying more attention tot he Jennifer’s story and take notes, but I didn’t 😦 Here is what we tasted:

2011 Lions Peak Vineyards Zinfandel Paso Robles – restrained smokey nose, dusty palate, dry, perfect balance. Drinkability: 7+

2010 Lions Peak Vineyards Lionesse Central Coast (40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc) – beautiful Bordeaux nose, the palate is slightly sharp, restrained, needs more fruit. Drinkability: 7

2010 Lions Peak Vineyards Roaring Lion Cabernet Sauvignon (100% Cabernet Sauvignon) – classic Cab, cassis, green bell pepper, soft, round, supple, good open fruit. Drinkability: 8-

Our next stop is Presidio Winery tasting room. Presidio Winery is Certified Biodynamic winery ( Demeter) since 1994. We had two wines at the Presidio Winery. 2011 Presidio Vineyard Syrah Rose Santa Barbara County (12% ABV) was nice, light, with some strawberry notes and good acidity. Drinkability: 7

2011 Presidio Vineyard Pinot Gris Estate Grown Santa Barbara County – earthy nose, apples, butter, popcorn. Butter on the palate, then just acidity. Drinkability: 7-

I also learned about the usage of Pinot Gris versus Pinot Grigio name. Grapes for Pinot Gris wines are usually picked up earlier, and then generally fermented and aged in the oak barrels (neutral oak). Grapes for the Pinot Grigio wines are picked up later and fermented and aged in the stainless steel.

Our last stop before dinner was Dascomb Cellars. Dascomb family had been growing grapes in Santa Ynez Valley since 1974, which makes it one of the oldest vineyards in the region. The wines had been commercially produced for the first time in 1999, and the Dascomb label was started in 2008. The tasting room at the Dascomb Cellars is decorated with the paintings by renown wine artist, Leanne Laine – the two well visible paintings are called “Rubylicious” and “The Wine Collector”. And now, here are some tasting notes:

2011 Dascomb Cellars Melange Central Coast Santa Barbara County (35% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 55% Mourvedre) – earthy nose, good balance, clean, spicy, peppery. Drinkability: 7+

2011 Dascomb Cellars White Hawk Vineyard Sangiovese Santa Barbara County – interesting nose, a bit too sweet on the palate but clean and balanced overall. Drinkability: 7+

2010 Dascomb Cellars Riserva Santa Barbara County (Cabernet Sauvignon/Sangiovese blend) – open nose, some barnyard and fresh fruit. On the palate – tobacco, cassis, green bell pepper, perfectly elegant. Drinkability: 8

And … we are still not done here. After visiting all these tasting rooms, our last stop was the Cecco Ristorante for dinner – with more wines. At the restaurant, we had most of the winemakers we just met waiting for us with more wines to pour – we also met more winemakers with more wines. All the dishes, which were served buffet style, were outstanding. Sliders were just melting in your mouth; two different kinds of pizza were delicious; beets salad, always my favorite, had big chunks of delicious red and yellow beets with arugula and mozzarella.

Among the wines we tasted, I have to mention the wines from Lucas and Lewellen. Everything we tasted – the Rose, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon – were delicious. But – I hope you can forgive me, considering the late hour –  I got no detailed notes whatsoever on these wines.

And I can finally conclude this long post about our excursion to Solvang. I’m really glad I missed all the “special” buses and got an opportunity to discover Solvang. We had a great time, met great people and tasted wonderful wines. If your travel will take you anywhere near Solvang, I hope you understand that not visiting it would be the loss you can not afford. Proost!

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