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WINE

Thanksgiving Wine Review 2011
updated: Nov 26, 2011, 10:00 AM

By Marc Liberts

Whenever I’m asked to bring something to any party or holiday dinner, it is usually wine that I’m asked to bring. This year, I was informed that there were 40 guests coming to Thanksgiving dinner at my friend’s house, so I estimated that if each guest was to have an average of 2 glasses of wine each, I might need 400 ounces of wine (40 guests x 2 glasses each x 5oz/glass). Each bottle of wine is about 25 ounces, so I figured that 400 ounces ÷ 25oz/bottle = 16 bottles. I brought 18 bottles just to be safe. A quick check at the end showed me that about 1/3 of the bottles were empty, 1/3 of the bottles were 75% empty, and ½ of the bottles were 50% empty. My error was that I forgot to figure that of the 40 guests, about 10 were children. So, my rule of thumb of 10 oz wine/guest was about right. I would imagine that the remaining wine should go nicely with all the left-overs tomorrow.

Like last year, I was given a small space at the end of the kitchen bar to set up a wine tasting, and to block the kitchen entrance so the cooks could work. This arrangement worked out nicely for the 2nd year in a row.

The first wine I poured was a fun white wine blend I found while visiting Bergevin Lane Vineyards in Walla Walla Washington a few years ago. The wine was their 2008 Calico White Columbia Valley, and it is a blend of Chardonnay and Viognier. I always like those two grapes blended together, and for about $15.00 this wine was a good value. It starts with a pretty nose featuring citrus and spring flowers. On the palate, the wine has the fun tropical fruit component you expect from the Viognier, melded with a pleasant hint tangerine from the Chardonnay. This wine is aged in neutral oak and stainless steel, so there is virtually no oak present. As I suspected it was a nice beginning to my white wine flight, and I rated it 88 points.

The second wine in my white flight was the Curran Gewürztraminer, Santa Ynez Valley, 2007. Most people think automatically that Gewürztraminer is going to be sweet, but this is not always the case. Gewürztraminer from Germany tends to be sweet, Gewürztraminer from the Alsace in France tends to be off-dry, and Gewürztraminer from California tends to be dry. I tasted and purchased this wine originally in 2008 at the old D'Alfonso-Curran Wines tasting room in Solvang called Trio, which is currently closed as they prepare to move to a new location. This wine has aged very gracefully, and can still be purchased on-line at their website. As I mentioned before, the wine is dry, but has all the flavor characteristics you expect in Gewürztraminer - orange marmalade, spice, dried apricot, fresh ginger and lemongrass with moderate acidity. I liked this wine and rated it 89 points. You can still get it from their website for about $22.00!

The third wine in my flight was a 2009 Pinot Gris From Brander Vineyard, Los Olivos Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley. Brander does not usually bottle a 100% Pinot Gris wine, but 2009 was a prodigious year at Brander’s Los Olivos Vineyard, and Fred Brander was able to bottle about 50 cases of this wine. I tasted and purchased it last year because I was so impressed with it. Like the previous 2 wines, this wine was made in 100% stainless steel, so there is no oak present. Crisp and clean, this wine’s predominant note on the palate is ruby red grapefruit with a nice clean hit of acidity. Everyone liked it, and I rated it 88 points. Unfortunately, this wine is not readily available. However, I believe that if you call the winery and tell them that you heard about it here, they might be able to poke around in their cellar and rescue a bottle or two for you. I believe the price was around $20.00 if memory serves.

The forth wine in my flight was Beckmen Vineyards 2007 Grenache Blanc from the Purisima Mountain Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley. Many of the guests at the party were not familiar with Grenache Blanc. Briefly, Grenache Blanc is a white grape that is most famously grown in the Rhône Valley of France and in northern Spain. Wines made from the Grenache Blanc grape tend to be less acidic, and have nice herbal notes. Some people describe them as having an ‘oily’ characteristic (probably due to the low acid). I’ve always loved Grenache Blanc, and whenever I can find a good one here locally, I buy it. I tasted this one at Beckmen Vineyard’s tasting room in Los Olivos in 2008, and liked it so much I bought a few bottles. I wish I would have bought more because this wine was good then, and it has gotten even better with a few years of bottle age. The nose and palate featured fresh-cut spring flowers. The wine was lower in acid than the others, and paired perfectly with the vegetables and turkey. This wine was one of my favorites of the night, and I rated it 93 points.

The fifth wine in the 2011 Thanksgiving white wine flight was the 2008 Foxen Chardonnay, Tinaquaic Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley. I tasted this wine in 2009 at Foxen’s winery and tasting room on Foxen Canyon Road, and purchased a few bottles. I like Chardonnay with bravado, and this wine was impressive. Starting with a pretty nose featuring citrus and some floral notes, on the palate you get a pleasant zing of orange, tangerine, melon, and some sweet butterscotch candy. There is a slight sense of oak, but not much. Overall, a very good effort and a very well made wine. I rated it 90 points. I believe there were less than 200 cases of this wine that were produced, and a quick check of their website shows that this wine is sold out. However, the 2009 and 2010 versions of this wine are currently available for about $35.00. If you happen to like Foxen, make sure to try their 2010 Chenin Blanc, Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard "Old Vines”. Their Chenin Blanc is one of my all-time favorite white wines from Santa Barbara County!

The sixth wine in my tasting was Melville’s 2009 Viognier Estate, Verna’s Vineyard. Viognier is another white grape commonly grown in the Rhône Valley of France, with an increasing showing in California. On the palate, I enjoyed wild flowers, tropical fruit, and light citrus. On the palate, I got citrus, flowers, tropical fruit, and good weight and finesse. I liked it and rated it 89 points. I purchased this wine at Melville’s tasting room which is located off Highway 246 as you head from Solvang to Lompoc. The 2009 which was originally about $25.00 is sold out, but they are currently selling their 2010 Viognier at about the same price. If you or someone you know likes Viognier, this is one of the best ones produced in Santa Barbara County, and is a consistent winner.

The seventh wine we tried was the 2009 Brander Cuvee Nicolas. Fred Brander is known as the King of Sauvignon Blanc in the Santa Ynez valley, and his decades of experience and success with Sauvignon Blanc are legendary. If you want to try the best Sauvignon Blanc in Santa Barbara County, you can usually find it at Brander Vineyard in Los Olivos. The Cuvee Nicolas is usually a blend of about 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Semillon. This blend is inspired by the white wines of Bordeaux France, which are usually the same grapes in about the same proportions. Brander ages his Cuvee Nicolas in new French oak barrels for about 6-9 months, and this is one of the only oaked Sauvignon Blanc wines Fred makes. I tasted it at his winery in 2010 and purchased a few bottles. The wine is good now, but probably will get even better over the next 2-3 years. If you have this wine, I recommend you hold it a little longer. On the palate, you get a whiff of oak, grapefruit, and oregano. On the palate, the grapefruit is the dominant player, with a nice balance of fruit and acid. The oak is present but not overbearing. A very nice wine I rated 91 points. A quick check of their website shows that the 2009 is sold out. But the 2010 is currently being offered for $25.00.

The eighth and last wine in my white flight was Stolpman Vineyards 2007 La Coppa Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley. The La Coppa Blanc is a blend of 60% Roussanne and 40% Viognier. Roussanne is another white grape featured in the wines of the Rhône Valley of France. In France, you will find Roussanne blended with Marsanne, and sometimes Viognier, depending on where in France you are. I tasted this wine originally at the Stolpman Tasting room in Los Olivos in 2009 and was very impressed with it. Unlike the other whites, this wine is not primarily fruit driven, but instead more herbal and earthy in front, with the fruit playing behind. Interesting and complex, I thought it would go nicely with the Thanksgiving meal. Unfortunately, the tasters weren’t very keen on this wine. As most everyday wine drinkers in Santa Barbara County are expecting ripe, fruity wines, this was somewhat outside their comfort zone. Something to consider if you plan on serving this wine or giving it as a gift. The wine is very good and extremely well made, and I rated it 91 points.

Most of the guests were relieved when I pulled out my second box that was full of red wine. I brought 8 bottles of red wine for everyone to taste and enjoy. Truth be told, most people were far more excited by the red wines, even though I had carefully and meticulously collected the best white wines in Santa Barbara County I could find. Another heads-up if you are thinking about serving wine or giving it as a gift!

The first wine I poured was a fun red wine blend I found while visiting Bergevin Lane Vineyards in Walla Walla Washington a few years ago. The wine was their 2008 Calico Red, Columbia Valley, and it is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and a few others. I liked this wine when I tasted it at the winery, and it has improved markedly with a few years of bottle age. The predominant players are the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Syrah, providing a spicy blend of currants, dark fruits, spice, and a melange of interesting dark fruits. Pleasant on the nose and powerful on the palate, I really enjoyed this wine and rated it 89 points. An excellent effort for a wine that was purchased for about $20.00. I’ve come to find that Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah really blend well, and I hope to see more of it from our local producers in the future.

The second red wine I poured was the Brander 2009 Merlot, Santa Ynez Valley. I tasted this last year at Brander Vineyard, and purchased a few bottles at around $20.00. This is a red that is easy to enjoy by just about anyone. It has a pretty nose featuring light red fruits and a tiny whiff of oak. On the palate, this wine is very fruit forward, with juicy light and dark fruit flavors. This wine was referred to as the ‘girls merlot’ because all the women tasters really liked it. A wine with few vices but not terribly interesting, I rated it 86 points. It is a nice, affordable, every day red wine that can be enjoyed by most. I believe the 2009 is sold out, but the 2010 is probably still available at the winery or on their website.

The third red wine I poured was the 2005 Bergevin Lane Vineyards 2005 Merlot, Columbia Valley. I tasted and purchased this wine a few years ago when I visited the winery in Walla Walla Washington. When I tasted it, I was impressed with the huge tannins and firmness of the wine. I guessed that with a few more years of age, this wine might impress, and I was right. On the palate, you get pleasant plum, cherries, and herbs. On the palate, the firm fruit stands up nicely and is very well balanced. You get a long and elegant finish with a broad and full aftertaste. There is uncommon depth and richness in this wine that make a strong statement about how good Merlot can be. This wine probably could still benefit from 5 more years in the bottle, but it was great last night, and I rated it 92 points.

The forth wine we tried was the 2006 BenMarco Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina. I found this wine at Costco in 2008, and purchased it due to its very high ratings from the critics, and its sub $15.00 price. I wanted to bring something different to the dinner and I was also interested to see if the guests would like it. Most people think they like Malbec, but I don’t believe that many people have actually tried it, or have tried good Malbec. I’ve had a few while traveling around in Paso Robles and further north, but have yet to have a good or enjoyable one. I hoped that since this one had been aged for 5 years, that we might see it at its best. I was right! Everyone loved it, and the wine showed beautifully. On the nose, there is a hint of pretty flowers, metal and blueberries. On the palate, you get a nice sampling of boysenberry and blackberry. The impressive finish features nice minerality and dark fruit. This wine is still powerful, and would probably be better in 3-4 years. Everyone loved it, and I rated it 92 points. I believe you can spot later vintages of this wine at Costco in Goleta from time to time.

The fifth red wine I poured was the Jaffurs 2010 Santa Barbara County Syrah. Jaffurs has had a recent string of critical success with their Syrahs from Santa Barbara County, and this wine is probably going to be another hit. I volunteered to help the Jaffurs staff bottle this wine a few months ago at their winery in downtown Santa Barbara. I got the opportunity because I am friends with them on Facebook, and one day I noticed they were looking for help on their bottling line, and in exchange they would pay in wine! So, I showed up for 2 consecutive days, worked two four hour shifts, and walked away with a half case of their wine for my trouble! If you are interested in wine and want an inside track on learning the ropes, stay in touch with your favorite wineries. Tell them you want to volunteer and will accept wine for your time. Many need constant help during harvest and bottling, and it is a great way to learn about wine and meet fun and cool people. I digressed. The Jaffurs 2010 Santa Barbara County Syrah features grapes from a number of different vineyards that are blended together. On the nose, the wine has friendly and inviting dark fruit and light earthy spice. On the palate, the wine is very young and juicy. But, it appealed to most of the tasters because it is friendly. Many local Syrah wines can be overtly black peppery and or spicy. This one is more fruity and friendly than peppery, and everyone liked it. It isn’t a block-buster, but it is nice. I rated it 88 points, and you can probably find it at the winery now or in the near future for about $25.00.

The sixth wine I poured was Jaffurs 2010 Santa Barbara County Petite Sirah, Thompson Vineyard. I’ve always liked Petite Sirah, and I wanted to see if the tasters would like it. Not everyone is familiar with this grape, so you need to know that it was developed in the 1870s in France’s Rhône region where it is known as Durif or Petite Syrah. This grape variety is more commonly known in California as Petite Sirah. The result of a cross between Syrah and a relatively minor Rhône variety, Peloursin, Petite Sirah was developed to resist Powdery Mildew, to which Syrah is susceptible. Although mildew-resistant, Petite Sirah is vulnerable to moisture-related diseases present in the Rhône. Fortunately, the grape thrives in the drier climates of California and Australia. The grape develops small berries, and the vineyards get a high skin-to-juice ratio. This allows Petite Sirah grapes to produce wines with high tannin levels, high acidity, and thus the ability to age. Typically, these wines have blackberry fruit characteristics, mixed with black pepper notes. The grape’s similarity to its parent Syrah is confusing for many consumers. Carefully check your labels! This wine in particular has a strong nose, featuring dark berries. On the palate, there are strong tannins, coupled with cassis, and dark berry jam flavors. The jam follows through until the end, featuring a long, pleasant finish. I liked it and rated it 89 points.

The seventh red wine I poured for the guests was the Brander 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Santa Ynez Valley. In addition to being famous for Sauvignon Blanc, Brander is also know for their estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve wines. Limited to a few hundred cases a year, this wine is sourced from Brander’s decades old vines on their Los Olivos Vineyard. I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy this wine in 2006, 2009, and once last year. I’m happy to report that every time I’ve tasted this wine, it has been getting better and better. Last night, the wine showed better than ever, and might still have 2-4 more years of potential. However, I would say that this wine is now perfect for consumption, and if you have any hidden away, now is the right time to start drinking them. On the nose, there is pretty red currants and nice cedar-box notes. On the palate, the wine starts with beautiful red currants, has a nice backbone of mocha, mineral and fresh-cut flowers, and a really pleasing finish. Overall, and excellent example of how good Santa Barbara County can be when done right and aged properly. An outstanding wine that was delicious, very highly regarded by all the guests, and a wine that paired beautifully with the meal. I loved it and rated it 96 points. This wine has been sold out for years, but if you go to the Brander Vineyard tasting room, tell them that you read about it hear, and would love the opportunity to buy a bottle or two if they can dig a few up out of their cellar. A truly great wine that is drinking perfectly right now.

The last wine I poured was the Bonaccorsi 2007 Pinot Noir, Cargasacchi Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills. Truth be told, this Pinot Noir probably should have been poured first, or at least right after the Merlot. However, I was planning on having this myself for dinner, and sharing it only with those around me. Unfortunately, many people started asking for Pinot Noir, so I was forced to crack it open and share it with the masses. Everyone loved it. I recently scored a few bottles of this great wine at a winemaker dinner in Santa Barbara and got a nice discount to boot! It was one of my favorites of that night. This wine starts with a pretty nose and features a creamy and balanced mouthfeel. There are hints of spice and herbs winding around very plush red fruit and a nice core of acidity. Overall, an excellent effort and an great example of place. I liked it very much and rated it 92 points.

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