About The Author:

"Roger, The Wine Guy" is Roger Yazell, CWS. He is a member of the International Wine Guild and has had a long time admiration of wine. After careers in broadcasting, advertising and marketing account management, he explored his love of wine in hospitality, wholesale and retail sales. The intent of Roger's Grapevine is to share stories, history and information that will add to the reader's love, enjoyment and appreciation of wine and sake'.

Questions, requests for topics and comments are always welcome via email: rogerthewineguy@gmail.com.

(Note: The Wine Guy is currently undergoing chemotherapy and this blog will be on hiatus for the duration and into a recovery period. The Wine Guy is planning to celebrate his recovery with a trip to the two wine producing regions in Argentina and that should provide for some interesting new blogs. Meanwhile please enjoy the archives and feel free to email in the interim.)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Exploring Restaurant Wine Lists Is A Good Idea!

There are a number of sources through which the average consumer tastes a new wine. Wine tasting events at a winery operated tasting room or sponsored by a seller of wine are always a great source because they usually involve someone with good (although probably biased) knowledge and information regarding the wines being poured. Social events, particularly with friends and acquaintances, are also a common exposure to new wines. Year in and year, however, the most frequently mentioned source by regular wine consumers for experiencing new wines is while dining in a restaurant.

While restaurant wine lists and the thought of seeking wine advice might intimidate some, it’s often one of the best places for the average consumer to seek out and try new wines. The key qualifier is, of course, selecting a restaurant that chooses its wine lists carefully and spends time educating and exposing its staff to the offerings available. Most good establishments do just that.
In addition, the average server’s income is directly dependent on seeing that you enjoy your dining experience. A good server is going to be candid and cautious in guiding you to a wine selection if you are as equally candid about your desires, expectations and, of course, budget.

Summertime is a particularly good time to exercise your sense of exploration while dining out. During the warmer summer months, especially in off-peak dining nights, many restaurants offer incentives and discounts on both wine-by-the-glass and by the bottle to address the natural decline in volume. One of my regular sources for pizza, Grimaldi’s, offers one night each week in June where bottles are discounted 50% and the prices approach regular retail. (For a discussion of restaurant wine pricing, visit the archives and review my blog on wine pricing from 9/10/09). This promotion never fails to get me exploring the wine list or seeking a recommendation from my server.

Tasting events, trade shows, winery visits and industry samples remain the top sources for The Wine Guy for most of the new wines I sample and write about. However, I regularly take advantage of the opportunity to sample a new wine in the restaurants I visit. Here are just a few of the recent wines I’ve tried during a restaurant outing:

Jean Luc Colombo La Violette Viognier @ The Stonehouse, San Ysidro Ranch, Ca.
(See recent blog, Good Friends, Good Food & Good Wine Make for a Great Evening 6/8/10)

Stolpman Estate Syrah @ Emilio’s Restaurante, Santa Barbara, Ca.

Skouras St. George Nemea @ The Greek At The Harbor, Ventura, Ca.

Yves Breussin Val De Loire Vouvrey Sec @ Petit Valentein, Santa Barbara, Ca.
(See photo with server Justin above)

Margerum Santa Ynez Valley M5 @ Los Olivos Café, Los Olivos, Ca.

San Antonio Heritage Paso Robles Red Rhone Blend @ Magddaelena, Los Angeles

I wouldn’t have missed the experience of any one of the above wines and a few have since been added to my on-hand collection at home. The moral of my story: don’t be afraid to venture forth and enjoy something new when you’re dining out. With a little help, the odds are, you’ll be adding some new wines to your list of enjoyable favorites.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Carr Winery, One to Watch in Santa Barbara!

During our recent visit to Santa Barbara, Mrs. Wine Guy and I did a portion of the Urban Wine Trail in the city of Santa Barbara, revisiting some familiar tasting rooms and seeking some new discoveries. Of those discoveries, the most enjoyable was in a converted Quonset hut on Salsipuedes Street (see photos), the home of Carr Winery.

Owned by Ryan Carr, this winery sources its grapes from a number of Santa Barbara vineyards. All are clients of a vineyard management company founded by Ryan in partnership with Andy Kahn. Ryan learned viniculture and wine making “hands-on” after returning to California from the University of Arizona where he degreed in graphic design. His first wine totaled 10 cases and was made in a garage but today he produces in excess of 3,000 cases annually. In addition to the Santa Barbara’s favorite, Pinot Noir, Carr also produces Pinot Gris, Grenache, Cabernet Franc and Syrah.

His Pinot Noir is flavorfully competitive in a land full of good Pinot Noir and his Paredon Vineyards Grenache was viable, as well, with smooth, supple round tannins and a hint of tobacco on the nose. It was, however his Syrah and his Cabernet Franc which captured most of The Wine Guy’s attention.

The 2007 Carr Vineyards and Winery Cabernet Franc utilizes grapes from two vineyards in the Santa Ynez valley and has a light but appealing nose with good blueberry and herbal flavors. There was a slight acidity to the wine and the somewhat crisp edge to the finish hinted of a wine that was still young in its presentation. The fullness of the tannins suggested there was both room and potential for improvement with ageing. For that reason it was one of the wines I choose to bring home.

Both the Carr Santa Barbara Syrah and the Paredon Syrah offered black fruit flavors accented with spice and distinctive moist leather palpability on the palate. The 18-months of oak aging and slightly higher (15%) alcohol content of the Carr label offered a little more accent on the spice. The Paredon Syrah was very smooth, well balanced and had a pleasant lingering finish. It too made the list for wine to bring home

I learned much of Ryan’s story and history after returning home and researching his background. His dedication to beginning the development of the wine in the vineyard and his work with other growers and winemakers in learning his craft while having his sense of style and purpose remind me a great deal of Eric Glomski of Paige Spring Cellars in Arizona. Both these young developing winemakers deserve to be watched as trailblazers and both have the potential to produce some outstanding wines in the future.

If you elect to the Urban Wine Trail on a future visit to Santa Barbara, make the Carr Vineyards and Winery a must stop on your tasting tour!

A supplemental note from The Wine Guy:

The two Syrah from Ryan Carr were among a group of five enjoyable and very well made Syrah that I tasted during my stay in Santa Barbara. All five had some unique and common flavor characteristics that lead me to believe Santa Barbara has the opportunity to produce a signature style in this varietal.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Discovering some sweet whites in Santa Barbara

It’s been at least five years since The Wine Guy visited Santa Barbara Wine country. When I recently took some friends there for an exploration getaway, I discovered a lot of things haven’t changed, but a few have.

The hype over the movie “Sideways” has abated a bit but Santa Barbara still remains a consummate tourist destination, sometimes stopping just short of “kitchsy”. However, even in the highly tourist oriented village of Solvang, there is always abundant things worth exploring and fun to be had. Our entourage, armed with a quick breakfast that included the requisite (and delicious) homemade Danish pastry headed out to explore shopping and wine tasting in a community that offers both in abundance. We made an obligatory stop in one of the great Christmas shops that operates here year around. (Mrs. Wine Guy decorates five trees every holiday season and is always on the lookout for something new!). With well over 100 wineries now listed as members of the Santa Barbara Vintner’s Association and nearly two dozen wine bars and tasting rooms in the tiny village of Solvang alone, there’s much to choose from. Santa Barbara wines are far from limited to the Pinot Noir made famous by the movie. In fact, the variety of wines being offered by Santa Barbara winemakers is very reflective of the wide diversity of microclimates in the region.

At the Mandolina tasting room, the Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards offer a wide sampling of Italian varietals. Co-owner Louis Lucas has a thirty-five year history in the area. His vineyards utilize cuttings brought from Italy and bottled under the Mandolina brand. Mandolina’s bolder Italian reds (Nebbiolo and Barbera), while quite drinkable, offered a little imbalance with a slight tendency to bite or burn on the finish. The best red offering was a nicely balanced, bright cherry Sangiovese with a moderate finish. The room’s standout offering was a Malvasia Bianco, a refreshing, gently sweet and aromatic offering that smacked of apricot and white peach. It’s an unusual varietal for not only Santa Barbara County, but also California as a whole, and, sadly, only four acres of their Los Alamos vineyard are dedicated to this grape.

Whites held the day, as well, at the co-owned Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards tasting room just a couple of blocks away. Lemon and orange aromas and flavors were accented with a touch of clover honey in a very respectable late harvest Viognier. We also discovered a pair of excellent aperitifs in two Late Harvest Sauvignon Blancs, both containing a stout 14% residual sugar. The latter, labeled “Sommeil en Barrique” (French for “slept in barrel”) benefited from 12 months aging in French oak barrels. Friend Kent (pictured above with The Wine Guy and our tasting steward) preferred the un-oaked variety while Mrs. Wine Guy and I opted for the greater depth offered by the oaked style. Both went home with us for later enjoyment.

Tasting room visitors may also want to sample the Lucas & Lewellen Silver King Port. It’s an unusual fortified late harvest merlot. It’s fruit forward sweetness makes it nice for serving with chocolate (in fact, the tasting room offers the taste in a chocolate tasting cup). It was a nice dessert offering but probably not the body style that true port aficionados would rave about.

There are a lot of excellent Santa Barbara wines to be found in an area that abounds with great food, good accommodations and great fun but all priced slightly on the high side. Here are a few wines, I’d recommend you sample when you’re in the area:

LaFond Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir
Stolpman Vineyards Estate Syrah
Foley Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir
Sanford Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir
Zaca Mesa Vineyards Estate Z-Blanc
Carr Winery Paredon Syrah

There are a number of excellent Syrahs coming out of Santa Barbara County and they have an expression that is somewhat unique to that area. In a blog entitled “Que Sera, Syrah?” (see Roger’s Grapevine archive for blog of 9/30/09), I discussed the ability of this grape to grown in diverse regions and offer great representation of the environment in which it’s grown. There may be a potential for Santa Barbara winemakers to create a signature Syrah for their region.

I have a few more stories to tell in upcoming blogs about our Santa Barbara Wine country visit, including a look at the wines of one of the area’s up and coming young winemakers, David Carr. Please stop back for those and, in the interim, enjoy a great glass of wine.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Good Friends, Good Food & Good Wine Make for a Great Evening!

Over the Memorial Day week, Mr. & Mrs. Wine Guy shared an exploration of Santa Barbara wine country with our good friends, Kent and Kara. (pictured above on the left with Mr. & Mrs. Wine Guy to the right) We were both honored and delighted when we were asked to share an anniversary celebration dinner at the acclaimed Stonehouse at the San Ysidro Ranch in nearby Montecito. What an enjoyable evening it turned out to be.

The Stonehouse is a former fruit-packing house now converted to house a pair of restaurants in the ranch’s resort hotel setting. San Ysidro Ranch served as the site for the Lawrence Olivier-Vivian Leigh wedding and for John and Jackie Kennedy’s honeymoon. Its restaurants have won James Beard culinary awards and the wine list has earned a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. For our friends, for us, as well as countless other couples seeking an ambiance suited to a special romantic occasion, it proved to be a great choice.

While our friends enjoyed steak and seafood, the fetching Mrs. Wine Guy and I enjoyed a delightfully smooth, rich and creamy spaghetti al limone. Best of all was our paired wine, a Jean Luc Colombo Viognier La Viollette. This very well balanced white offered scents of lemon and honeysuckle on the nose with bright pear, honeydew and peach flavors that blended into the a palate caressing finish. The Wine Guy has long been a fan of Viognier and this wine ranks not only among the most enjoyable but also among as the most unique Viogniers I’ve had.

Uniqueness is an attribute that is often applied to many of Jean Luc Colombo’s wines. This versatile oenologist, vigneron, negociant and consultant has made quite an impact over the past couple of decades in France. Raised in a culinary family (both his mother and grandmother were chefs) he has served as a consultant to scores of French wine growers and winemakers and has been innovative in his own wine growing and wine making methods. He believes in 100% de-stemming and utilization of older vines and lower yields. He also places importance on longer maceration periods, often involving both stainless still and oak vessels for that part of the winemaking process as well as for aging. The result is wines that achieve fruit forwardness without sacrificing elegance and expression of terroir. His wines are usually characterized with great acid balance and drinkability both in their youth and after periods of ageing. I’ve previously enjoyed many of his reds, particularly his Syrah and Cotes du Rhone. This was my first experience with one of his whites and I clearly wasn’t disappointed.

This Viognier is sourced from grapes grown on 20-year old in the Languedoc-Roussillon (Colombo was responsible for introducing the varietal there and not being a traditional varietal accounts for the wine’s Vin de Pays d’Oc designation). 80% of the wine was macerated in stainless steel and 20% in oak barrels. Six months of ageing on the lees followed with 70% occurring in tanks and 30% in barrels ranging in age from one to three years. The resultant depth of fruit expression and creaminess contributes to the uniqueness of this Viognier. It also makes it quite suitable as an aperitif and it may be in that regard that my readers would most enjoy this wine.

For red wine drinkers who want to experience the uniqueness of Jean Luc Colombo’s wines, I would recommend his Les Abielles Cotes du Rhone. If you’re willing to spend a little more, a must try Syrah recommendation would be his Les Means Cornas

To good friends, Kent & Kara, thank you for a wonderful evening and for allowing us the honor of sharing your special occasion. May you be blessed with many more years of happiness together