WanderCurtis Wine

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California’s Central Coast (4) – Paso Robles AVA

View towards Paso Robles from Daou Winery

Paso Robles AVA

This was once an area predominantly known for growing Zinfandel with few wineries and not a well known area on the wine map. This has changed dramatically in the last twenty years with hundreds of new wineries. The town of Paso Robles benefits from the commerce with a range of organic restaurants, artisan wineries and my favourite hangout, the excellent Spearhead coffee company. An advantage of the area for viticulture is the considerable diurnal temperature variation which  prolongs the growing season and helps the grapes develop physiological ripeness. Paso Robles AVA is 20 miles by 20 miles with areas as close as six miles or as far as forty from the ocean. The altitude also varies from 200 to 2,500 feet. There are now 11 sub AVA’s to reflect some of the differences.

Tablas Creek

Robert Haas in combination with Perrin family from Chateau de Beaucastel  started this venture in 1989. It took many years of quarantine by the US department of agriculture until cuttings taken from the Rhone  were released virus free.
They were pioneers of California’s Rhône movement and very much sparked the great interest and growth in this area.
They follow dry farm, biodynamic, organic methods.
Initially around 100 Acres the Estate is now 280 acres with a sheep and alpaca farm.
They Searched for 4 years for the best site to plant the vines
This area in Paso Robles was chosen for the Mediterranean climate and limestone chalky soils similar to the Rhone. The particular soils  help in many ways including retaining water and the alkalinity of the soils allowing the grapes to express the terroir. Seven varietals were initially brought in –
Grenache Blanc, Roussane, picpoul, Grenache,  Shiraz, Mourvèdre &Counoise

Wines Tasted

Tablas Creek Patelin De Tablas Blanc 2017
Grenache Blanc,Viognier, Marsanne, Roussane, Clairette Blanche
Classic Rhône white varietal. Marked by its texture smooth mouthfeel no overt aromas in the nose but lovely balanced finish

Tablas Creek Picpoul Blanc 2017
Lipstinger! Zingy acidity and freshness. Calling out for a San Fran Seafood Cioppone

Tablas Creek Marsanne 2017 100% hints of tangerine lavender and aniseed lovely mouthfeel with good acidity

Tablas Creek Côtés De Tablas Blanc 2017
Viognier 44 Marsanne 24 Grenache Blanc 20 Roussane 12
Lemon hint floral mineral bright acids full bodied textural and layered

Tablas Creek Esprit de Tablas Blanc 2015
Roussane 55 Grenache Blanc 28 picpoul Blanc 17
Flagship Tablas Creek white. Lovely smooth satiny texture savoury layers richly layered fat wine lanolin concentration.Certainly comparably to Chateau du pape Chateau de Beaucastel

Tablas Creek Patelin De Tablas Rose 2017
Grenache Noir 64 Mourvèdre 28 Syrah 5 counoise 2
Estate vineyard and 7 top Paso Robles Vineyards good crisp Rose

Tablas Creek Grenache 2016 100%
Pale colour red fruits restrained style with good finish

Tablas Creek Mourvèdre 2016 100%
Light red and blue fruits,some earthiness

Tablas Creek Esprit De Tablas 2015

Flagship red Mourvèdre 49 Grenache Noir. 25 Syrah 21 counoise 5
Elegant, violets on the nose, blueberries, fresh concentrated long finish
Needs some ageing.

Tablas Creek Vin De Paille ‘Sacrerouge’ 2014  100% Mourvèdre
Treacle figs coffee chocolate unctuous 225g/l rich concentrated length ++
A truly delicious Vin Santo style

Law Estate Wines

We cycled from Paso Robles along Peachy Canyon road and reached elevations of  their Vineyards between 1600 to 1900 feet. Cycling gave us the best sense of the geology as pieces of calcareous limestone rock were scattered on the sides of the roads.
This is a new no expense spared winery and tasting room which boasts panoramic views of the area.
They pride themselves on low intervention and have a spotless state of the art winery including gravity fed concrete fermenters. They have a multinational wine making team to bring the potential into reality.
The wines are  small production Rhone and Priorat style, powerful and concentrated and certainly have ageability and are showing their sense of place.
We were kindly Hosted by General Manager Oliver Esparham
Most of the wines are already allocated to their wine club members which we found to be common practice in general in California.

Wine tasted

Law Estate Rose 2017
GSM and Carignan blend
Lovely acidity and balance strawberries and watermelon nose

Law Estate Beguiling 2015
Grenache 85% Shiraz 15%
Good depth richness and concentration hints of black pepper and blueberries

Law Estate Audacious 2015
Interesting blend of Grenache Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon and petit Syrah
Powerful wine Very good core of black fruit with baking spice and chocolate on the finish
Law Estate Beyond Category 2015
Tempranillo Carignan Mourvèdre Grenache
Another very interesting blend full of blue fruits with lovely spicy, tobacco and lavender notes

Seriously good wines which will age well

L’Aventure winery  Willow Creek AVA

Set up by Frenchman Stephan and Beatrice Asseo founded in 1998 producing Bordeaux and Rhône Blends. South West of Paso Robles 127 acres
Beautiful setting with a new winery and tasting room, solar powered sustainable agriculture low yield.
We were looked after by the engaging Leanne and later fortuitously met Beatrice in her boutique shop in Paso Robles and we shared a nicely chilled bottle of her Estate Rose to celebrate Friday evening.

Wines tasted

Estate Rose 2017
GSM and petit Verdot 100% tank ferment
Lovely crisp delicate and refreshing subtle red fruits

Optimus 2016

Syrah 50 Cabernet 30 petit Verdot 20
14 months barrel 60 new French oak
Deep ruby rich concentrated blackberry touch of violets savoury textured
Delicious though has a long way to go. A baby.

Cote à Cote 2016

Grenache 55 Mourvèdre 25 Syrah 20
Concrete tank amphora and oak barrel
Loads of ripe fruit full bodied lots of ripe tannins
Phenomenal potential again needs tucking away for 10 years if you could keep your hands off it

Estate Cuvee 2016

Syrah 52 Cabernet Sauvignon 32 petit Verdot 16 100% new French oak 15 months in barrel. Full bodied concentrated deep colour great structure cassis cedar graphite

Stephan’s wines are very much my style.
Rich concentrated well balanced big wines with great ageing potential. Some of my favourite in California and I highly recommend arranging to visit if you’re in the area.

There are now hundreds of wineries in Paso Robles AVA and it’s hard to choose where to visit.

Other notable tastings and visits for us were-

Ranchero cellars – highly talented winemaker Amy doing some terrific things with Carignan

Venteux boutique winery with a lovely selection of wines making only a few hundred cases each dry farmed estate.

Daou vineyards
Well worth a visit for the panoramic mountain top views and immaculate grounds food and wine pairings available

 

Santa Margarita AVA

 

Ancient Peaks

The southern most AVA in Paso Robles.
Santa Margarita AVA with fve different soil types, one of Paso’s coolest regions due to marine influence of the ocean.
Kristin marketing director of ancient peaks gave us a wonderful tour of Santa Margarita ranch. They have 14,000 acres mostly a cattle ranch one of the oldest in California. First planted with vines in 1780 by Franciscan missionaries. In 2005 Ancient Peaks winery established. A wide array of grape varieties now grown.

Wines tasted

Ancient Peaks Sauvignon Blanc 2017
Closer to the aromatic Style than we’ve had so far lovely touches of white flower jasmine and citrus

Ancient Peaks 2017 Chardonnay
Guava good acidity

Ancient Peaks 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon

Good core of fruits mainly black and plum

Ancient Peaks 2016 Merlot

Rounded fruit hint of spice alcohol a little prominent

Ancient Peaks 2016 Zinfandel

Black cherry and fruit some fig raisin and dry fruit

Ancient Peaks 2016 Renegade
Dark ruby pepper cherry plum

Ancient Peaks 2014 Oyster Ridge
More rich and concentrated
Vanilla chocolate spice good texture and good tannins likely to age a few more years

 

Our visit to Paso Robles was memorable. We were impressed by the wide variety of wines, terrain and climactic conditions. The locals warmly welcomed us. The town has everything you need to make it an ideal base. I would love to return for one of the special festival weekends.

Aaron’s top wines of the central coast tour-

M5 Margerum  red/Ridge Montebello Chardonnay/Law Estate Audacious 2015

Nick’s top wines

Ancient Peak Sauvignon Blanc 2017/L’aventure Grenache Rose/Tablas Creek Late Harvest Mourvèdre

Adam’s top wines

Au Bon Climat Pinot Runway/M5 Margerum white/L’Aventure Cote a Cote 2016

 


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California’s Central Coast (3) – Santa Barbara County

Vines were first planted here in the 1700s by Spanish missionaries who travelled up  from Mexico and set up missions along the Californian coast. Prohibition set things back and it took until the 1960s for grape growing to take hold. The Santa Maria valley produced the most grapes for the likes of Gallo. Santa Ynez valley remained more boutique and reached global attention after the blockbuster film ‘Sideways’ in 2004. We discovered on this tour many wineries have chosen to have their tasting rooms in towns such as Los Olivos, Buellton and Santa Barbara. Whilst this is clearly a good commercial and practical option for the individual business, it takes away the interest and romance of tasting on site and getting the full experience terroir and all.

Downtown Santa Barbara, Anacapa St

Au Bon Climat

Established by the famed Jim Clenenden in 1982 Au Bon Climat (a well exposed vineyard) is renowned as one of the best producers of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in California.They use sites from various areas of central coast including Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Maria and their own Au Bon Climat Vineyard in Santa Maria ValleyThe wines tasted had great purity and exposed typical Pinot Noir characteristics and also showed the variation in styles depending on site selection.

Wines tasted

Hildegard 2015
Pinot Gris Pinot Blanc and Aligoté, aged 2 years in French oak
Lemon, lime nose subtle with good balance and acidity no major oak influence  nice texture

Los Alamos Pinot Noir 2015
Red fruits medium intensity lively

Sanford and Benedict Pinot Noir 2014
From parcels in Santa Rita Hills, bright red  berry fruit, spice and mineral notes

Runway Pinot Noir 2015
From a site near Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Maria. My favourite of the tasting intense rich red fruits with an earthiness and spice  long length. Classic Pinot with great balance that I’m sure will age for years if you can keep your hand off it.

Isabelle Pinot Noir 2015 Composed of the best barrels of the vintage limited release dark rich complex beautiful balance and finish.

Great wines, I’d like to take a case of this and Runway home!

 

 

Santa Barbara County – Santa Ynez Valley

Margerum Wine Company

Founded by Doug Margerum restauranteur who worked with Jim Clenenden and Bob Linquist before starting up Margerum and now focuses more on Rhone varietals. Their winery is in Buellton 1 hours scenic drive on route 9  up the valley from Santa Barabara. We were lucky enough to arrive as the harvest was in full swing. Julia Weinberg gave us a fantastic tour of the busy winery including a traditional punching down caps of the grenache, smelling the yeasty, sulphurous, Carbon dioxide emitting from the open top fermenters and tasting fresh chilled  Marsanne juice. We were lucky to meet the congenial Doug. They seemed to have an excellent team spirit and have a mandatory stop for lunch every day catered by their in house chef.

Wines tasted

Sybarite Sauvignon Blanc 2017
Restraint white flower jasmine great balance and texture.

M5 Los Olivos District 2017   Grenache Blanc, Viognier,Marsanne, Roussane and Vermentinto
Nice texture hint of nuttiness lovely mouthfeel white flower delicious

Barden Santa Rita Hills. 2016
12months sur lié French oak, Butter toast vanilla subtle nose lovely toasty notes

Barden Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills 2015
Red and darker fruits strawberries also baking spices clove long finish spiciness
Minerality. Cold soak free run 10% whole cluster.

M5 2016 Santa Barbara county Mourvèdre counoise Grenache Shiraz cinsault. Lovely front of blueberry with savouriness. Amazing balance 14.6% but don’t feel the alcohol as concentration tannin acid fruit is such balance. Brilliantly integrated wine length +

 

Uber Syrah 2016 Santa Barabara county

Co ferment of lots of parcels, Subtle blue fruits some spice Great concentration.

Margerum wines were some of the most outstanding of my tour. It was the incredible balance of the wines. I feel Doug’s skills and prior intimate knowledge of the food and restaurant industry helps in the  complex process of blending  five grape  varietals in the M5’s with superb results. The benefits of working cohesively as a team is invaluable.

 

 

Bien Nacido Vineyards & Solomon Hills Estates – Santa Maria Valley.

This visit was very kindly arranged at late notice  by  Master Sommelier Will Costello who works as the Estate Ambassador. He told me afterwards the only way to arrange the visit at this very busy winemaking time was to say we were interns who had come to help. They must have been disappointed when we arrived! We drove North East from Buellton  to  Santa Maria Valley and Bien Nacido Vineyards. It is one of the major viticultural nurseries, much of the Chardonnay in California came from BN cuttings. Fruit from Bien Nacido is used for Jim Clenendens and Bob Linquist wines. Assistant wine maker Anthony hosted us with a tasting table right in the middle of the working winery.

Wines tasted

The wines displayed a great purity and balance with a real sense of place and I shall be seeking them out from our main supplier, Armit Wines in London

Bien Nacido Chardonnay 2016

Solomon Hills. Santa Maria Valley 2016

Solomon Hills Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley 2014

Bien Nacido Pinot Noir 2013

Bien Nacido Syrah 2014 x block

 

 

 

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California Central Coast(2) – Carmel Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands

Route 101 South from San Jose took us through the fertile plains of the Salinas Valley known locally as  the ‘salad Bowl’ of California. We were greeted by fields of endless ripe orange pumpkins, lettuce in pristine rows and the sulphurous aroma of fields of brassicas. Then a turn South on the route 68 and we climbed into the Santa Lucia mountain range. Most of the  tasting rooms are in the small town of Carmel Valley one of the eight sub AVAs of Monterey AVA. In the 1960s A.J Winkler and Maynard Amerine from UC Davis produced the Winkler scale, a classification system describing the climate of wine regions. It characterised Monterey County as comparable to Burgundy. Due to its proximity to the Pacific and Monterey Bay it is blessed with cool days throughout the growing season.

Talbott Vineyards

Wines tasted

Sarah Case Chardonnay 2014

From Sleepy Hollow Vineyard thirteen miles South of Monterey Bay, Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, Golden colour, very oaky nose, coconut, butter, some stone fruit, brioche butterscotch 90% new French oak barrels. Delicious but this one is for the full oak lovers.

Diamond T Chardonnay 2014  

A vineyard site in SL Highlands closer to the ocean eight miles from Carmel Bay and more cool climate in character. Crisper more mineral and Burgundian some Meyer lemon notes, Crème brûlée finish.

Audrey Chardonnay 2014

From a highly selected parcels of the Diamond T Vineyards deep honeyed colour Creamy buttery oaky.

Sarah Case Pinot Noir 2015

From exceptional parcels in sleepy hollow Vineyard lovely notes of ripe red fruits red cherries strawberries soft tannins long length like a concentrated cherry bonbon

Diamond T Pinot Noir 2014

Cherry plum spice more spice than Sarah case crisp soft tannins.

 

We dropped in to other tasting rooms and also liked some of the Pinot’s from Bernardus. The Wine House is a good place to go and relax in their gardens and have wines by the glass recommended by their sommelier they also have some interesting bin ends from around California.

 

 

 

I was  impressed with the Pinot’s which showed the high quality which can be obtained from the cooler areas of Central Coast such as Santa Lucia Highlands. The Chardonnays were perhaps over buttery and rich, but I still enjoyed them as the fruit still showed and the quality was obvious.

 

 

 

 

For evening entertainment we headed to the old Cowboy bar ‘The Running Iron’. The locals were very welcoming and entertaining. Their 805 beer went down well with a six dice game called One Four Twenty Four introduced by Katy and Casey.  When one of the regulars turned up with a version of  Le Nez De Vin with forty aroma essences I was in my element!


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Grape Treading in the Douro Valley – September 2018

 

I’ve been fortunate to have visited many stunning wine regions, but there’s always been one I’ve been itching to explore.Since my father and I were celebrating big birthdays, it was ample excuse to finally visit the spectacular Douro valley with vineyards  painstakingly carved out over centuries into the impossibly steep schist slopes. 

 

 

Our first stop was to the towering Graham’s Port Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia, set on the banks of the River Douro. Part of the Symington family holdings, started by two Scottish brothers in 1820, from the wealthy textile family Graham’s. 

 

A magical place where for hundreds of years ‘rabelos’ traditional wooden Portuguese cargo boats have shipped people and goods up the valley to deliver the port barrels here where temperatures are favourable for slow maturation.

This was a most perilous voyage and many lives were lost, as the river, now tamed by dams was full of ravaging torrents.

 

Wines tasted

Graham’s ‘six grapes’ reserve

Graham’s Vintage Port 200

Graham’s10, 20, 30 year old Tawny

Colheita single vineyard ‘the Apprentice’1994

 

 

 

Quinta Do Bomfim

The following morning we took the train from Porto Sao Bento following the river. This is a magnificent journey, most scenic after Regua, in the heart of the worlds oldest demarcated wine region. After a short walk from Pinhao train station we arrived at Quinta da Bomfim, one of the many Symington family wineries in the Douro Valley. The Grape harvest had started the day before and we were lucky to see the automated grape treaders in action

 

 Wines tasted

Altano Branco DOC Douro
Quinta do Ataide DOC Douro
Quinta do Vesuvio DOC Douro

Warres Quinta da Cavadinha vintage 2001
Graham’s Quinta Dos Malvasia Vintage  2004
Dows Quinta Do Bomfim Vintage

 

Quinta Nova De Nossa Senhora Do Carmo

Only a short 1.2 km ride from Ferrao train station we arrive at Quinta Nova winery hotel. It’s set in a truly stunning location with panoramic views up the river and miles of vineyard paths to explore. The winery on site Dates back to 1764.Their Conceitus Winery restaurant serves some of the best food in the valley. After a refreshing swim in the infinity pool we were ready for dinner with the winemakers selection at Conceitus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wines tasted

Pomares Branco 2017 three white Portuguese grape varietals Viosinho Rabigato Gouveio fresh hints tropical fruits

Grainha 2016 Branco Gouveio, Viosinho, Rabigato and Fernão Pires aged 7 months in oak with batonage
More silky smooth texture

Quinta Nova terroir  Reserve 2016 Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cão, Tinta Roriz
 Intense color , aromas of wild berries, cassis and blueberries good concentration.

The wines in general give a big bang for their buck, rich concentrated fruity but with depth and complexity.

 

Quinta da Roeda

A long term ambition to stomp grapes in the Lagares brought us to Crofts flagship Estate in the Douro. Luckily harvest had started the day before. It’s a short taxi 2km from Pinhao station

A Lagares full of red grapes awaited us.We excitedly immersed ourselves- wonderful, warm, fermenting, squishy sensations underfoot which led to some spontaneous albeit not very synchronized dancing!

 

I highly recommend a trip to this region. It has everything an oenophile can wish for and more.

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Famille Hugel Wine Dinner with Charlotte Hugel – Thursday November 1st

 

Hugel & Fils were founded in 1639 in picturesque Riquewihr, Alsace, France. The Hugel family are pioneers of winegrowing in Alsace and their distinctive yellow label has commanded world-wide recognition for excellence. They are still run by the same family. This evening was hosted by Charlotte Hugel who is Thirteenth generation! Over a matched three course dinner, we tasted a range of the brilliant Hugel wines, from the best-selling Gentil range, Classic range, Estate range, and Grand Cru “Grossi Laüe”. The wines showed off their purity and precision and demonstrated why Hugel are one of the most respected wine family’s in France

 

 

Aperitif

Hugel Gentil 2016

Starter Prawn and Avocado Cocktail

Hugel Pinot Gris Estate 2015

Main course Pan fried Hake, Smoked garlic mash, French beans & beurre blanc

Hugel Riesling classic 2014
Hugel Riesling Grossi Laüe 2011

Dessert Blue cheese and exotic fruits

Hugel Vendange Tardive Gewürztraminer 2009