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A Re-cap of the First Official Independent Wine Tasting

Wednesday, June 9, 2010 will forever go down in history as the day of the Independent’s first official wine tasting. Six Indy employees, an intern, and a friend—half self-titled wine geeks, half admittedly unfamiliar with the fancy beverage—gathered in the office conference room to blindly sip nine wines.

We decided to open up some of the bottles a few generous wineries had sent us, along with a few we brought ourselves, and ended up with a table full of wines from Canada to Chile. Haphazard as it was, the theme-less tasting posed an interesting, sometimes befuddling, and certainly delicious experience for all.

The only real organization to this test-run tasting was whites and reds. Thus, the following reveals our findings, in the same order we tasted:

The whites:

2009 Zaca Mesa Viognier: Although the veteran tasters recognized this as Viognier pretty quickly for its typical floral-front aroma, its pungency surprised us all. Although we enjoyed the fresh jasmine notes, and were pleased by its acidic punch, we ultimately decided that this Viognier would only improve with another year or so in the bottle.

2009 Viu Manet Chardonnay: A favorite among the novices, this Chilean wine definitely threw a wrench into the tasting. Maybe it’s because we’re used to uber-oaky Chards, but its grassy, crisp, walk-on-the-beach demeanor had most of us wondering if we were sipping Sauvignon Blanc. Either way, this Chardonnay captured the hearts of a few of our tasters.

2009 Viu Manet Sauvignon Blanc: The Chilean winery pleased the crowd again with this classic new world Sauvignon Blanc. Grapefruit and guava give way to a smooth acidity that finishes with finesse. We all liked it, and think it would be a great way to start out a balmy evening. Drink it with you favorite fresh seafood fare (or other apertif) this summer.

2007 Gray Monk Pinot Auxerrois: Admittedly, none of us had heard of this grape prior to the tasting. Hailing from Canada’s Okanagan Valley, the varietal—sometimes called Auxerrois Blanc—is native to the French-German border wine region of Alsace. The light-bodied, cool-weather wine provided a slight honeyed-sweetness that followed tongue-tingling mineral notes. Everyone agreed that it went down smoothly and the sweet-tooth-inclined found it downright delectable.

2008 A Cote Chardonnay: This one had all of the Chardonnay devotees holding out their glasses for “just a little taste more.” Indeed, this wine represented its varietal and its region (Santa Barbara), as well as the oak barrels it lived in. Still, it managed to get the best of the oak without going overboard, offering a vanilla-tinged finish behind its fresh Granny Smith apple forefront.

The reds:

2008 Stolpman Syrah: Dark, inky, and mysterious, Stolpman proved to us all that it knows how to make some powerful stuff (not that we ever doubted the talented winery). While the very front of the nose leads with a softer scent reminiscent of lanolin, fresh meat and espresso follow quickly behind. The mouth on this wine followed suit, and we all relished its smooth, dark-chocolate-covered cherry finish.

2008 A Cote Pinot Noir: Jewel-toned garnet in the glass, this wine stays true to winemaker Joshua Klapper’s Au Bon Climat roots with a Burgundy-style high acidity and modest alcohol level. Veterans enjoyed this lighter Pinot’s cherry cola and strong finish, while the novices noted its nice presentation of oak.

2008 Eveningland Pinot Noir: This wine sent our taste buds into a frenzy with its deep, weighty, smoked-hickory meat bouquet. We definitely had to sit with this one for a few minutes, slowly unearthing scents and flavors, including tobacco, rhubarb, eucalyptus, and even Dr. Pepper. Whether you enjoy perplexing wines or just want something tasty to fill your glass with, we think this Pinot will fit the bill.

2008 Zaca Mesa Syrah: This super approachable syrah doesn’t have a pretentious note in its big, dark purple body. Its ultra opulent, fruit-forward front creates the illusion of an almost-sweet flavor. The wine balances such fruitiness with an impassioned bite on the way down, then soothes the spiciness with an admirably long vanilla extract finish.

We hadn’t finished the final drops before we found ourselves eagerly planning the next official Independent tasting. As much fun as we had confusing our taste buds with the rather erratic melange of varietals--including one we avoided trying to pronounce at all costs—from now on each Indy tasting will decidedly follow a theme.

Likewise, we hope to begin inviting guests to future tastings to muse, effuse, and swirl glasses with our regular panel of tasters. This way we’ll be able to throw in the delightful and enthralling insights of winemakers, wine professionals, and community members to our tasting reports.

The next tasting will feature Rhone varietals, and will take place at a date to be announced within the next few weeks.

If you would like to submit your wine to an Indy tasting, please send bottles to the Independent's office at 122 W. Figueroa St., Santa Barbara, 93101.

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