Given that wine is what makes much of Santa Barbara County go ’round, this summer The Independent started a new tradition of office tastings, in which submitted bottles from around the region and world are hidden in paper bags and then sampled blindly by a diverse panel of participants, from oenophiles who sip seriously to proud know-nothings who are interested in learning more. In the three separate tastings to date—and they do all happen after work, with plenty of spitting involved, in case you’re wondering—the panel enjoyed nearly three dozen wines, most hailing from Santa Barbara County, but some coming from as far as France, Chile, and British Columbia.
The plan is to conduct quarterly tastings into the future; to submit wines or learn how else to get involved, email email@example.com. What follows is a brief roundup of the three tastings, with more detailed descriptions available online at independent.com/wine.
June 9 Tasting: Mixed Bag
Zaca Mesa Viognier, 2009 ($20): Pungent with fresh jasmine notes, it could use another year in the bottle.
Manent Chardonnay, 2009 ($8): A grassy, crisp, walk-on-the-beach Chilean wine made us wonder whether we were sipping sauvignon blanc.
Viu Manent Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 ($8): Grapefruit and guava gave a perfect way to start the evening or eat some seafood.
Gray Monk Pinot Auxerrois, 2007 ($17): No one had heard of this grape from British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, but the Alsace varietal’s slight honey sweetness was rounded out by tongue-tingling minerality.
À Côté Chardonnay, 2008 ($25): Getting the best of the oak without going overboard, this favorite offered a vanilla-tinged finish behind its fresh Granny Smith-apple forefront.
Stolpman Syrah, 2008 ($38): Dark, inky, and mysterious, this combined a lanolin, meaty, espresso nose with a smooth, dark-chocolate-covered-cherry finish.
À Côté Pinot Noir, 2008 ($25): Jewel-toned garnet in the glass, this lighter pinot gave us cherry cola upfront, with a strong finish, perfect for pairing with a wide variety of food.
Evening Land Pinot Noir, 2008 ($25): Setting our taste buds in a frenzy, this presented a smoked-hickory meat bouquet, slowly releasing such flavors as tobacco, rhubarb, eucalyptus, and even Dr. Pepper.
Zaca Mesa Syrah, 2008 ($23): The ultra-opulent, fruit-forward front was nearly sweet, but found balance with spiciness and vanilla extract on the finish.
July 21 Tasting: Rhône Wines, Part One
Tercero Grenache Blanc Camp Four Vineyard, 2009 ($20): Crisp and light, easy to drink as a bottle of Evian on a summer night.
Jaffurs Grenache Blanc Thompson Vineyard, 2008 ($30): Offering a rich, honeyed, butterscotch essence, this was a seriously complex, deep, and suave white wine.
Buttonwood Estate Grown Grenache Blanc, 2009 ($22): With citrus on the front, smoke in the mouth, and a nice acidic finish, this wine also boasted hints of eucalyptus, tea-tree oil, and a bit of basil.
Calzada Ridge Santa Ynez Valley Viognier, 2009 ($30): An Andrew Murray creation for the Oscar-winning editor of Titanic, this earthy wine showed promise, but could use a bit more time in the bottle to mellow out.
Romaine de Saint-Ser Côtes de Provence Sainte Victoire Rosé Cuvée Prestige, 2008 ($14): This beautifully peachy-hued rosé was outstanding—delicate but strong, well-balanced with candied floral aromas and pomegranate flavors.
Tercero Grenache/Mourvedre Rosé, 2009 ($15): The juicy, pink fruit profile on this rosé led into a light, mellow flavor with just the right amount of zing on the finish.
Paredon Santa Barbara County Syrah Rosé, 2009 ($22): This darker-than-most rosé offered illuminated watermelon and strawberry aromas with butter and spice, laid over flavors as dark as plum.
Ampelos Santa Barbara County Syrache, 2006 ($28): We marveled at tasting strawberries, blackberries, apples, and cranberries alongside vanilla spice and wet earth in this light yet amazingly complex wine.
Tercero Santa Barbara County Cuvée Christie, 2007 ($28): Named after his “partner in crime,” Larry Tercero’s Cuvée Christie represented California-style Rhônes well, with its humongous maple, dark cherry, and licorice smack.
Domaine Bressy-Masson Cuvée Paul Emile Côtes du Rhône Villages Rasteau, 2007 ($26): A rich cuvée for an Old World wine, this had the moldy, wet-earth notes that are characteristically French, with grassy aromatics and a blackberry twist.
Qupé Bien Nacido Hillsides Estate Syrah, 2006 ($45): Requiring a more fine-tuned palate to unravel the white pepper, cigar stub, and cedar notes woven into its smooth, well-structured body, we enjoyed this wine with more herbs and spices than fruitiness.
Niner Bootjack Ranch Paso Robles Syrah, 2006 ($20): This powerful Paso syrah’s blackberry and violet notes were very satisfying, and it also had a really interesting show of salinity that reminded us of salty, ocean air.
Carr Morehouse Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley Syrah, 2007 ($50): Not for the weak of heart, the intensely dark, at-times tart fruits unfolded alongside other heavy licorice and caramel flavors.
Harvest Girl Santa Barbara County Syrah, 2007 ($18): The tasters who favored this wine noted its citrus aromas, spicy cinnamon zest, and bold lychee-nut finish.
Hitching Post Big Circle Santa Barbara County Syrah, 2006 ($20): Even without knowing where this wine came from, it gave us a hankering for some barbecue fare. With a dark, dusty, cassis essence, this wine certainly belongs where it came from—beside the grill.
August 6 Tasting: Rhône Wines, Part Two
Qupé Bien Nacido Hillside Estate Roussanne, 2009 ($40): Tropical, with notes of pineapple, coconut, papaya, and banana and a luxurious, sandy minerality mid-palate, this wine caused one taster to remark that it was “terribly charming.”
Qupé Santa Ynez Valley Marsanne, 2009 ($20): Slightly less tropical, with aromas of apricots, kiwis, and citrus, it was called “bossy” by one taster—in other words, this one has a backbone.
Lucas & Lewellen Viognier, 2007 ($19): While we were surprised to learn this was viognier, we enjoyed its bright, toasty characteristics, its smooth body, and its honey and vanilla flavors.
Terras Gauda Rias Baixas O Rosal, 2009 ($25): This northeastern Spanish blend of talabrino, loureira, and caino blanco threw us completely off. Its almost-tart, lemon-lime zest left taste buds tingling.
Paredon Santa Barbara County Syrah, 2006 ($25): The winner of the evening, this syrah possessed marvelous complexity, ranging from wet stones, moss, and spices like sea salt and pepper to raspberries and blackberries.
Ampelos Alisos Vineyard “Epsilon” Syrah, 2005 ($35): Comments for this powerful, fantastically layered, light-bodied wine with hints of forest-floor mushrooms, cherries, and palms included “party in the summer” and “boyfriend material.”
Autonom Rhône Cuvée Central Coast, 2007 ($26): This full-bodied grenache, syrah, and mourvedre blend pleased with flavors of smoked meat and spice. To quote myself, “This mélange seems built to age well.” To quote our tasters, “Yes for GSMs!”
Qupé Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah, 2008 ($27.50): Hailing from Bien Nacido Vineyard, this more subdued syrah exhibited white pepper spiciness and blackberry notes with a voluptuousness that went down with a nice “slippery” feel.
À Côté Santa Barbara Highlands Syrah, 2008 ($24): Pristine and perfume-like aromatics like lanolin give way to subtle yet dark hints of plum, cacao, and flowers.
Alchemy Syrah Santa Barbara County, 2007 ($22): This elephant-clad bottle caught our attention with a balanced bite of acidity and solid tannic structure.
Viu Manent Malbec ($25): Decidedly a good companion for a hunk of meat, this Chilean malbec’s inky, pomegranate, and tobacco ash pungency threw a wrench into the Rhône flow.