A long overdue installment in The Santa Barbara Independent‘s sporadic series of office wine tastings took place in our parking lot on March 13, when more than a dozen staffers as well as invited guests tasted 10 wines that had recently been submitted to the paper for review.
As usual, the group represented a vast tasting demographic, including some folks who rarely drink wine at all to others who have made careers out of the wine industry. But uniting everyone in attendance was the desire to learn more and try new wines that aren’t easily found around town.
Here’s what we tried, all blind, and presented in the order that we tasted.
Central Coast Chardonnays
Picnic at Pomar Junction S.B. County Chardonnay 2009: An easy-drinking wine perfect as advertised for a picnic, this Pomar Junction bottling is done in an un-oaked style, so our tasters picked up on the lemony pears, apples, and apricots present. Some even noted a slight fizz. $15; 13.9 percent alcohol. pomarjunction.com
Wente Riva Ranch Arroyo Seco Monterey 2010: Owned by the historic Wente family of the Livermore Valley — where they’ve been based for more than a century as the longest continuously operating winery in the United States — this Monterey County vineyard has been growing chardonnay since the 1960s. This wine is a buttery bomb, with French, American, and Eastern European oak employed to bring out creamy hazelnuts and vanilla flavors. For those who dig oak, this is a winner. $20; 13.5 percent. wentevineyards.com
J Wilkes Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay 2010: Only 360 cases were made of this smooth, citrusy wine, though some noted a lot of oak due to the all French barreling. This project originally started by in 2001 the late Jeff Wilkes, who started working for the owners of Bien Nacido Vineyards in 1984. Starting in 2012, the winery is in the hands of Vidal Perez, who worked with Wilkes at Central Coast Wine Services over the years. $18; 14.3 percent. jwilkes.com
Big California Reds
Conn Creek Anthology 2008: For many, this bordeaux blend from the Napa Valley was the star of the entire tasting, featuring 66 percent cabernet sauvignon alongside 12 percent malbec, 11 percent merlot, 7 percent petit verdot, and 4 percent cabernet franc, coming from 45 separate vineyard lots out of nine different appellations before spending 20 months in the barrel. The result: a rich syrup full of dark fruit, raisins, and rhubarb pie, with a cracked pepper finish, impressive in heft but silky in stride. $55; 14.5 percent. conncreek.com
Wente Nth Degree Cab Livermore 2009: Another crowd favorite was this cab from Livermore, boosted with 5 percent merlot and 3 percent petit sirah, which showed off dark cherries, boysenberry pie, and spicy pepper, while maintaining a relatively medium body throughout and epically smooth finish. Made like the chardonnay above by Karl Wente, whose family has been doing this for 125 years. $65; 14.2 percent. wentevineyards.com
Novy Zinfandel Russian River Valley 2010: Rounding out the preferred flight in this tasting was a cool climate zinfandel that expanded our minds as to what California’s often overripe grape can do. People tasted cranberry, tasted grapefruit flesh, and noted the light body, all elements of the steeply placed Elsbree Vineyard in the eastern Russian River Valley that Adam and Dianna Lee (of Siduri pinot noir fame) have come to rely upon for this always sold out offering. If more made acidity-minded zinfandels like this, Californians would be more apt to accept it as our state’s favorite grape. $19; 14.6 percent. novyfamilywines.com
Portuguese Douros with Italian Twist
Vasari Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2009: We knew that there was an Italian in the mix of our Portuguese lineup, but very few guessed that this was the one. People noticed stinky black licorice and cocoa on the nose, and appreciated its light body with a floral finish, but others found it to be a tad too light. $11; 13 percent. fratellibarba.it
Quadrifolia by Vallado Douro 2010: Known more for making fortified port, the Douro Valley of Portugal has recently been making headlines for its straight-ahead red wines, which are based on a number of varietals many Californians have never heard of. This wine, whose name refers to an endangered four-leafed clover that only exists in Portugal today, features the main ones: 35 percent tinta roriz, 3 percent touriga franca, and 15 percent touriga nacional, with another 20 percent coming from mixed vineyards (always the sign of an old growing area). Coming from 20-year-old vines, aged in steel, and grown by a sixth-generation winemaking family on property that’s been in wine since 1716, this wine featured hints of caramel and smoke, with raspberry tannins and a soft mouthfeel. $15; 13.5 percent. quintadovallado.com
Kopke Douro DOC Tinto 2009: Smoke seems a dominant feature of these Douros, though this also had minerals, meat, and seaweed involved, rounded out pleasantly with strong strawberry fruit. Though no percentages are known, the Kopke used touriga nacional, touriga franca, tinta roriz and tinto cao. $13; 13.5 percent. kopkeports.com
Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas Douro Valley 2009: Smoke and sea water were present in this bottling of 40 percent touriga franca, 40 percent tinta roriz, and 20 percent touriga nacional. Others saw cranberry with nutty almond notes, some coffee, and other dark fruit flavors, but all admired the soft and silky tannins. $15; 14 percent. ramospinto.pt