Monday, June 6, 2011

Tasting in Los Olivos

In my last post I shared our guerilla mission to enjoy food & drink in downtown Santa Barbara in the one day we(Margot and I ) had set aside for it. We had a second day and planned another round of wine tastings in a similar fashion. It is sort of what we do.

We rented a car (from Hertz in the lobby of the hotel, super convenient!) first thing in the morning and after breakfast headed up to Los Olivos, about 45 minutes to the north. Los Olivos is home to a wide array of tasting rooms for area wineries, making it a great place for us to drive to, park and explore. We certainly could have planned some winery visits, but with the extra travel we would inevitably have needed to spend more time or cut our plans short.

Out first stop was Alexander & Wayne the product of two wine loving gentlemen, hence the name. The sign outside the tasting room suggested Bordeaux and Burgundy styles, which if you think about it long enough doesn’t make a lot of sense since you are in California. I guess advertising to a common denominator and trying to evoke a sensibility from another place is a smart play, I just don’t get it. We saw a lot of that and suspect that the average taste isn’t very educated and needs to be led in this way.

Setting the rant above aside I did enjoy the wines. The blends were my favorite, offering considerable complexity with combinations of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. I liked the Cuvee HM the best although the Cuvee Five was very good, just a little more muscular and rougher. In both cases the tannins were pretty big, but softening; something I would imagine some time would help with. Their varietal Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc didn’t disappoint either. The Cab Franc in particular did exude some stinky cheese rind, which I was very happy to experience. The final wine I tasted here was the RSF, a port style blend of Zinfandel and Petite Syrah. It presented itself with a ruby/tawny color and aromas of dried fruits and raisins. Spices showed up in the middle and through the finish. We took a bottle of this home so we could have some sweet memories on another day.

Our second stop, and the reason why we really chose Los Olivos, was Andrew Murray Vineyards. Sometime in 2010 I noticed a Twitter follow notification for Andrew Murray (@gotrhones) and was curious enough to look up who the person was. If a the proprietor of a small winery in hills north of Santa Barbara thought I was interesting enough to follow I knew we should visit and try the wines. As luck would have it Andrew was out of town during our visit, but was sure to alert the tasting room staff that we would coming around so they could share the story and the wines with us. Stephanie cheerfully greeted us when we arrived, and for the next hour we had her and the tasting room all to ourselves. To be fair Los Olivos wasn’t busy so our exclusive attention was probably a bit of luck as well. I’ll say it right up front, I am so glad we chose to stop by. The Syrahs, all single vineyard designates, were fantastic and worth a leisurely taste.

The story of the wines and the person behind them is actually quite simple. Andrew lived in France with his family for a time when he was a teenager. His family was in the restaurant business and exposed him to wine in the Southern Rhone. He fell in love with the placed and the wines, something I surely know is easy to do. At some point they decided to bring what they loved to California and started a winery using his name.

My favorite was the 2007 McGinley Syrah. I found it to be really well balanced with bold but respectable tannins. The Tous Les Jours Syrah was much spicier with a considerable fruit forward character. The Watch Hill Syrah had some underlying funkiness to it that I couldn’t pin down. It added some allure and made raspberry fruit taste more savory than I would have ever expected. The last Syrah was from the Thompson vineyard and was a pleasurable combination of cherries, berries, spice and wood. We tasted several other styles including some from the “Days Off” label that offer wines designed for casual drinking and no fuss. The most recent Viognier was not yet available so my anticipation for it still stands. I will keep my eye on their online store in hopes I catch it before it sells out! Before we left we put together a mixed case to have shipped home. Sharing the Syrahs with friends is going to be a real treat.

This post would not be complete without a mention of the serendipitous lunch option we took advantage of. It turns out that we had arrived on “Tri-Tip” day, which is a local fascination. The R Country Market sells wood smoked tri-tip sandwiches a few days per week and when it is gone, it is gone and you have to wait until the next week. Margot and I love smoke meat and BBQ so this really was a lucky break for us. The sandwich was one of the best I have ever had and I will say nothing more. Look it up online, and believe me I have given you enough information to find it. New York Times, anyone? You’ll be jealous, and this picture isn’t going to help!

The last tasting room we visited was Byron Estate. I picked this one while had lunch after remembering how much I enjoyed a Chardonnay of theirs that we had had at the Blue Ginger (Ming Tsai’s restaurant) in Wellesley, MA about 10 years ago.

I tasted four Chardonnays and three Pinots. The Chards spanned 2005 to 2009 while the Pinots were all from 2009. The 2008 Santa Maria Chardonnay felt the most familiar and had me connecting the richness I enjoyed with my lobster dish at the Blue Ginger. The 2007 stainless Chard presented an interesting spiciness which grew through the finish. The 2005 selection was one of their library wines (no longer available) from the Nielson vineyard. It was impressive to see how well this wine has held up in the nearly 6 years since it was made. Keeping with the spicy theme I was caught off guard by the spicy (pepper) character of the 2009 Santa Barbara Pinot Noir. With cherry and smoke added in this wine was one of the more interesting ones I tried on this trip. The 2009 Nielson Pinot was the most complex of the three I tried. The baking spices and considerable structure of the wine was a great pleasure to taste.

By this point the afternoon was fully upon us and we headed back to Santa Barbara. It is always going to be true that you will need more time to really get to know a place, but the time we did had helped make it much less of a stranger to us.




Elizabeth the Granite Gourmet said...

Hi Jason! Thanks for the visit. I'm incredibly envious of your guerilla tasting in Santa Barbara. My husband and I were there a few weeks ago (but spent most of our time in Paso). We came back in body, but not in spirit. We enjoy a lot (a LOT) of great Syrahs and Rhone style GSMs in that area. Please have a bottle or two for us!

Brant Burgiss said...

We did a tasting in Los Olivos too, but we went to the Carhartt Vineyards tasting room. They had a REALLY good Sangiovese, an interesting White Grenache, a terrific Sauvignon Blanc and a wonderful Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. We bought bottles of each type and had them shipped back to NC.

Lori Lynn said...

Thanks for the wine tour Jason! I gotta go! It's less than a three hour drive from here. Hope to get there on tri-tip day!

Spice Sherpa said...

I couldn't believe it when I saw Los Olivos in your post. Had you ventured a little further north up 101 you would find yourself in San Luis Obispo County near Paso Robles a bourgeoning wine country. Dry hot days and nights that touch the vines with coastal fog create very intense grapes.

I never knew tri-tip was such an local specialty until I moved. Glad you liked it. Many grocery stores will load up an outdoor BBQ with split oak and cook away. So glad you enjoyed it and gave me a little taste of home while I live here in Upstate New York.


Lisa | Authentic Suburban Gourmet said...

Jason - I love Los Olivos! Not sure if you visited Stolpman or Blair Fox - if not, check them out next time. It is such a great little town. I am going to check out your recommendations!! Have a great weekend!