Sunday, April 29, 2012

San Vicente Cellars

 Sangiovese and Dulcinea Bottling 

Vince and Cathy Pantess invited their friends and wine club members to help with bottling a few barrels of San Vicente Sangiovese and their Dulcinea red wines today. It was a fun event with everyone pitching in from 11:00 am until 5:00 pm.  

After a little on-the-job training the bottling line started to operate smoothly.  Samples of the wine were served after 12:00 and lunch was provided.
Dueling Corkers
People rotated to the next bottling station down the line so everyone got to do something different during the day.

Filling, Corking, Labeling and Packing.
Bottling the old school way seems to work well at San Vicente Cellars!

Friday, April 27, 2012

12th Annual Zinfandel Blind Tasting

Here we go again, is it that time so quickly?

When we pay our taxes, & then get a bit tipsy.

So dust off the cookbooks for a healthy dish that's Zin-friendly,

To pair to nine wines we'll provide for tasting blindly.

Who could refuse an Evite that started this way?

A couple of weeks ago our friends Leslie (of Wine Dine Design) and Richard put on their 12th Annual Zinfandel Blind Tasting.  This was their largest blind tasting yet - with 50 people attending this private party to taste a dozen  Zinfandel wines on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Santa Barbara. All the guests brought Zin-friendly dishes to start the Zinfandel blind tasting party.

Leslie poured a 2008 Tobin James "Ballistic" Zin (Paso Robles $18) as the starter wine to enjoy with the great food.  All sorts of spicy sausage, chili, beans, breads, veggies, and pasta were contributed by the gourmet guests.  I found a Zin-friendly Italian sausage cheeseburger recipe from Zinfandel Advocates ‏on Twitter (@TheZinfandelOrg). And in keeping with Leslie's suggestion for a "healthy" dish I used turkey Italian sausages (half mild & half hot) to make slider-sized cheeseburgers.

Leslie and Richard started with 10 clear bottles of anonymous  Zinfandel wines.  When I arrived they were lined up and ready to go with a couple of last minute additions.  That brought it up to  an even dozen, or a case of Zin.  I calculate that 12 bottles poured for about 25 people works out to roughly 12 ounces per person (or a 1 ounce taste of each bottle).  And a few bottles weren't completely empty at the end, so I'm guessing only about 20 (virtual) people were actually tasting.

The clear wine bottles (with only an ID number) and the original wines bottles with related tasting notes were placed randomly around a table.  Then the guests were challenged to match the names and descriptions with the numbered bottles.  I focused on tasting and ranking the Zins because I figured odds were pretty low that I would guess any correctly. A couple of lucky winners accurately matched 5 of the mystery wines to their labels and they got bragging rights for their prizes.

We learned at the end of the blind tasting that the 12 Zinfandel wines were:

1) 2008 Quivira Zin, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma $20   

2) 2009 The Other Guys "Plungerhead" Old Vine Zin, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma  $17

3) 2008 Cordon Zin, French Camp Vineyard, Paso Robles $22.50  

4) 2007 Stacked Stone "Zin Stone," Paso Robles $30  

5) 2009 Crooked Path Zin, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma $20

6) 2009 Dashe Zin, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma $24 

7) 2007 Kenneth Volk Zin Enz Vineyard, Lime Kiln Valley $36 

8) 2008 Oso Libre "Nativo" Primitivo, Paso Robles, $45 

9) 2007 Mantra, Old Vines Reserve Zin, Alexander Valley, Sonoma $30

10) 2009 Los Cinco Locos Zinfandel, Paso Robles

(Not sold in stores)

11) 2010 Los Cinco Locos Zinfandel, Paso Robles

(Not sold in stores)

12) 2009 Bogle Old Vines Zinfandel, Probably from the Amador Zinfandel grapes $7.99

A fun blind tasting time was had by all!  It was interesting to see that the three I liked best (#1, #2 and #5) were were all from Dry Creek Valley. I thought #6, another Dry Creek wine, was OK as well, but I wasn't as impressed with it. So I learned that I really like Zins from Dry Creek the best (at least in comparison with this grouping).  I found that #8 2008 Oso Libre "Nativo" Primitivo and #10 2009 Los Cinco Locos Zinfandel were too sweet for me.  And it was interesting to taste the difference between the 2009 and 2010 Los Cinco Locos Zinfandel vintages.  The 2010 wasn't quite as sweet as the 2009, although I thought it was a little too grapey for my taste.

I contributed the 12th Zin and the label (which I removed) described it as "intense blackberry, black cherry, and raspberry flavors, wrapped in a smooth blanket of vanilla and oak."  I thought it was a  reasonably good (although a bit young), low-priced alternative to the other wines.

As if the huge amount of Zin-friendly food consumed with the wine wasn't enough, there were plenty of chocolate and berry desserts served with a couple of Zin dessert wines and a tawny port.

Leslie and Richard sure have great food and wine tasting events and I enjoyed meeting many new Zin friends at this one.  Can't wait for the 13th Annual Zinfandel Blind Tasting next year!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Wine tasting in Santa Barbara County at the Carranza

Santa Barbara County Vintners' Festival 2012

The word "Carranza" might be from a Basque surname, possibly derived from the words for "big rock," but I will always associate it with drinking wine in a cow pasture in 90+ degree heat. That's not really a bad thing when the wines are from Santa Barbara county and you have over a hundred vintners to choose from though. 

Wine enthusiasts carefully maneuvered major ruts, holes, and the odd cow-pie on Saturday to meet Santa Barbara county vintners, taste their wines, and enjoy great food and music.  The Festival was held at The Carranza on the outskirts of Los Olivos in the Santa Ynez Valley.  The grounds are very scenic, surrounded by rolling hills dotted with old oak trees.  I'll just have to wear my boots the next time.
L-R top:  Blackjack, Carr, J Ludlow
L-R bottom:  Rarus, Cambria, TreAnelli

There were over a hundred wineries proudly pouring their latest vintages. The best part about the festival was finding vintners who don't have their own tasting rooms and have limited distribution.  Of course, many of the well-known, larger wineries from Santa Barbara county were there as well.
L-R top:  Lafond, Presquile, Mosby
L-R bottom:  Tantara, Silver, Tantara
It was a warm day with temperatures in the 90s and most people were looking for chilled white or rosé wines to taste. A few wineries were even chilling their red wines in an effort to keep them in the range of what "room temp" is normally.  Others were serving their red wines at warmer than optimal temperatures.
Decanting is good, and in this heat chilling red wine is a good idea too!

Grassini Family Vineyards pouring the 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
A few of the new wines I enjoyed were from Ampelos Cellars, Tre Anelli, Grassini Family Vineyards, J Ludlow Vineyard, Mosby Winery & Vineyards, Presquile Winery, and Silver Wines.  Some interesting wines that I'm familiar with included Au Bon Climat, Cambria, Carr, Jaffurs Wine Cellars, Lafond Winery & Vineyards, Melville Winery, Rusack, Rancho Sisquoc, and Tantara. There were so many wines being poured it was easy to find something interesting!

Cookies from Panera Bread, melon drink from The Willows, frozen syrah sorbet from the Epicurean Cowboy
A wide variety of gourmet food was served and most of it was great! There was something for everyone with restaurants and caterers like The Epicurean Cowboy, Hitching Post II Restaurant, Panera Bread, Rooney’s Irish Pub, Root 246, The Willows, and Zaca Ranch Cafe serving up samples that paired well with wine.
Hitching Post smokey BBQ with mushrooms and carrots

Red hot pickin from Burning James
Burning James & the Funky Flames, a funk n soul powered combo from the California Central Coast, performed some great numbers during the first half of the day.  Click here for a video of the band playing "Nasty Habits."

Wine tasters - out standing in the field
At the end of the day I picked up a Gruner Veltliner "green vine" (from Vintage Nurseries, courtesy of Allan Hancock College), to complete the wine experience.  It was a great time overall and I'm looking forward to more adventures tasting the wines of Santa Barbara county!

Prodigal looked like a no show, but I'm sure they'll return...

Contact CoonToonStudios to download hi-res pictures of this event.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Beer is better bitter – in search of an IPA

Agoura Road Brewpub Tour
From Calabasas to Agoura Hills, brewpubs are popping up all along Agoura Road. In addition to BJ’s chain brewpub in Thousand Oaks and the tasting room at Wades Wines in Westlake Village there are now three very good brewpubs in the area. They all brew their own beer and have a variety of guest brews on tap. I have only been to each place a few times for lunch or dinner and they all serve an interesting variety of pub fare.

Wolf Creek Restaurant & Brewing Company in Calabasas
Kyle seems to be tending bar whenever I visit; you’ll know who he is if he calls you “Boss.”  Wolf Creek makes a Midnight Howl Black IPA, but the few times I’ve been there it wasn’t on tap. This is an IPA - Stout combo and it’s brewed at their Santa Clarita location, where all their beers are produced.

Guest taps may include Great Divide Titan IPA, Green Flash West Coast IPA, and Port Brewing Wipeout IPA.  I didn’t see the Titan on tap last time I was there, but the other two were available.  I’ve seen the West Coast IPA from Green Flash on tap at other places like the Mermaid Tavern in Thousand Oaks, so I chose the Wipeout IPA from Port Brewing Company.  I hadn’t had it on tap yet and it was great.  Port’s description is “a massively hopped India Pale Ale.” The Beer Advocate rating is 91 and the ABV is 7.0%.  A pint costs $5.75 at Wolf Creek.
Click here to see beer info.

Ladyface Ale Companie
Alehouse & Brasserie in Agoura Hills

This place always seems busy with people eating and drinking at tables and at the bar. The On Tap board at Ladyface offers a very wide selection of guest beers, types, and formats.

I sampled their SPECIAL EDITION Chesebro IPA (Imperial IPA).  As you’d expect with an Imperial IPA it had a bigger malt flavor than the Port Wipeout IPA that I previously tasted.  This special edition celebrated Batch #200. I’m sure Batch #201 will be very good as well.

The Beer Advocate rating for the Chesebro IPA is 86 and the ABV is 10.6% (wow!).  A pint costs $7.00 at Ladyface.
Click here to see beer info.

The Lab Brewing Company in Agoura Hills
(Micro Brew, Macro Attitude)

According to Foursquare I’ve visited Lab Brewing Company 5 times since December. Sounds about right! Thanks to a birthday gift certificate from Devon we have had dinner there a few times. I have had their Bad Influence IPA and Enegren’s Protector Imperial IPA (100 IBUs) guest brew – both were great!  But they weren’t available on my last visit, so I had the lighter XPA (billed as IPA’s baby brother), only 67 IBUs, but still very nice!

Unfortunately there isn’t a Beer Advocate rating for the Lab’s XPA yet.  The ABV is a respectable 6% and I think a pint costs $6.00.  I didn’t pay for the XPA though – because with your 5th Foursquare visit you get a free beer!  Social media is working here. 

Roger Bott, aka Dr. Hops, is usually around with an interesting sample of something like “After Midnight Moo” (Milk Stout) or an impromptu tour of the brewing equipment. 
Click here to see beer info. 

Considering that Lab is the closest of the three brewpubs to my house, the beer and food are good, and they have live music, I think this is probably my favorite place. Although I’ll have to keep checking back on all of them regularly just to make sure...  Cheers!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Provence in the City 2012

Although the Taste N Trip blog usually covers tasting trips in California, it isn’t just about products from California.  This entry describes rosé wines from Provence that I tasted in Los Angeles.
 “Provence in the City 2012” was recently held at the Fig & Olive Melrose Place restaurant in West Hollywood. The presentation of wines from the Côtes de Provence appellation was organized by the Provence Wine Council; also known as The Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence (CIVP) in France.  It featured rosé wines, as well as a few red and white wines from Provence.  They were paired with Mediterranean-influenced hors d’oeuvres from the Fig & Olive that were fantastic!  I plan to visit this restaurant again for dinner in the future.

Rosé comes from the French word for pink and it is a category of wine just as white and red are categories.
Wines from the Côtes de Provence appellation are typically a very bright, pale pink color. This light pink coloring doesn’t mean it’s sweet like with a White Zinfandel or Pink Muscato though. Typical blush wines made in the U.S. have nearly seven times as much residual sugar as a Provençal rosé. Now that’s a difference worth noting!

Provence rosés have some common characteristics: on the palate they tend to be fresh, crisp, bright, and dry. Fresh and exotic fruits dominate in their highly complex bouquet, along with floral and spicy notes. Well-balanced and zesty, combining freshness and smoothness, they are best served chilled from 46° to 53° F. Most of the rosés at the tasting were from the Côtes de Provence and some were from La Londe and Montagne Sainte-Victoire sub-appellations.

The grapes used in rosé wine are primarily Mourvedre, Grenache and Cinsault. Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah are also blended in with some cuvées. These two grapes are viewed as an appeal to international tastes by traditional winemakers. Additional blends also used Carignan (a high yielding grape not known for quality), Tibouren, and white wine grapes Semillon and Rolle/Vermentino. Vermentino is an Italian grape known as Rolle in France. Vermentino produces crisp, floral and tart wines.

All of the rosés I tasted were very nice, but the ones I liked best are below in my top ten list. 

Fig & Olive Pasta
Fig & Olive Appetizers
The nature and impression of rosés change significantly depending on whether they are consumed as an apéritif or paired with food, particularly with the traditional flavors of Provençal cuisine. Rosé wine pairs especially well with Mediterranean-influenced dishes, such as the Warm Fig Gorgonzola Tartlet or Mediterranean Chicken Samosa appetizers at the Fig & Olive.

This wine tasting event has changed my thinking about drinking rosé wines from Provence. Rosé is a great alternative to red and white wines that you can enjoy with or without food. I recommend trying any of the wines in my top ten the next time you have the opportunity. A votre sante!
More info is at or and