Category: Winery Reviews

Tasting Santa Barbara’s Newest AVA—Alisos Canyon

I find Santa Barbara wine country so interesting. As a kid, Santa Barbara always meant vacation—hot days, sandy toes, beach water I could actually swim in. (If you grew up along the San Francisco shoreline, you know what I mean when I say Pacific Beach is never that welcoming). So, it’s interesting that a placed perceived as a summertime getaway where board shorts and flip flops are basically the dress code, could produce wines with any kind of delicacy. Let alone the cool-climate grapes for which it’s gained a reputation, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

But as all you fellow wine nerds know, the cool thing (pun not intended, but not deleted either) is that because of tectonic plate-shifting, Santa Barbara’s Transverse Ranges are exactly that—transverse. Whereas most of California’s coastal ranges run from north to south, limiting some inland locations from cool ocean breezes and fog patterns, in Santa Barbara the ranges go from east to west, thereby funneling in that cool ocean air.

The two major AVAs are Santa Maria and Santa Ynez, the latter of which contains four sub-AVAs: Santa Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos, and Happy Canyon.

But at the end of 2020, Santa Barbara County finalized the approval process for its seventh appellation—Alisos Canyon AVA

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Tasting Modern Day Chardonnay from Three Sonoma County AVAs

If there’s anything we know about Chardonnay, it’s that it is highly adaptable to its environment. Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, Oregon—heck even Canada—all have areas that produce premium Chardonnays. Yet all are so distinctly different, all so uniquely dependent on both environmental (soil, climate, altitude and latitude) and human factors (grape grower, winemaker).

In California, Chardonnay is our most-planted white wine grape variety. It’s produced all over the state and, given the size of the state and the amount of wine producers, it can be expressed in a number of different styles. Today I’m zeroing in on three specific AVAs: Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, and Dry Creek Valley—all part of the Northern Sonoma AVA in Sonoma County, Calif.

Northern Sonoma This AVA is as vast and amorphous as its name, encompassing Chalk Hill, Knights Valley, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, most of Green Valley as well as portions of Rockpile and Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak.
Northern Sonoma, courtesy Sonoma County Vintners (sonomawine.com)
This AVA is as vast and amorphous as its name, encompassing Chalk Hill, Knights Valley, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, most of Green Valley as well as portions of Rockpile and Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak.

The wines expressing these pieces of California terroir are all Chardonnays produced by Dutcher Crossing Winemaker, Nick Briggs, who walked me through a virtual tasting which included insight into the regional specificities from his growing partners: Charlie Chenoweth (Chenoweth Vineyards), Pam Bacigalupi (Bacigalupi Vineyards), Dan Rotlisberger (Redwood Empire Vineyard Management).

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Tasting Wines of Roero—Arneis & Nebbiolo

If you’ve read my Northern Italy Overview and, more recently, my Diploma WSET Theory and Tasting—Piemonte, you’ll note that (for good reason) the primary focus is on the regions of Barolo and Barbaresco, Dolcetta d’Asti, Barbera d’Alba, and to a somewhat lesser extent my personal fav—Gavi di Gavi.

Recently, I had the opportunity to learn and taste through the wines of Roero, located on the western side of the Langhe region, just below Asti on the map. The tasting and master class was provided by the The Consorzio di Tutela Roero. Founded in 2013, the Consorzio di Tutela Roero aims to protect and promote Roero Docg Bianco and Rosso through the synergy between vine growers and winemakers in the area. According to the Consorzio, the Roero appellation, a DOCG since 2004, covers a total surface of 1,158 hectares of vineyard, of which 889 are planted with Arneis vines and 269 with Nebbiolo vines. Out of an annual production of about 7 million bottles, just over 60% is exported.

And so was our focus of the tasting—the Arneis and Nebbiolo grapes, which can produce a variety of wine styles dependent on specific terroir.

Nebbiolo di Roero tasting line up

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Tasting Rosé from Puglia

If you’ve seen my post on my top ten Southern Italy factoids (along with interesting anecdotes), then this little section on Puglia may seem familiar:

Puglia is hot Mediterranean with moderating sea breezes, low rainfall, fertile soils, and permitted irrigation—most suitable for high volume production

INTERESTING FACTOID: “Its name derives from the Roman a-pluvia or ‘lack of rain.'” ——Oxford Companion to Wine (Fourth Edition). Pretty much confirms the above description. —me (First Edition)

Puglia key grapes:

    1. Primitivo (Primitivo di Manduira DOC; Gioia del Colle DOC) INTERESTING ANECDOTE: Gioia translates to “joy” in Italian; Colle translates to “glue” in French. Interestingly, Gioia del Colle DOC, despite its reputation for the higher quality grapes grown at elevation, is the one that requires the least amount of Primitivo, allowing blending of other grapes such as Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Negroamara, and even the white wine grape, Malvasia (as well as other local and international varieties)—or “gluing” together to create the “joy” that is the region’s red wines. However, the region was so-named before some monk guy brought over the primitivo grape, which he named prima-tivo because of its early-ripening-ness (prima meaning first or early). —me and my remedial Italian and French (First Edition)
    2. Negroamaro “Makes sweet-tasting, early-drinking reds and some good rosés on the heel of Italy.” “Wine Grapes” (Robinson, Harding, Vouilamoz) (Salice Salentino Rosso/Riserva DOC)
    3. Nero di Troia/Uva di Troia “High-quality, flavorful, firm northern Puglian that has declined considerably in the last 40 years.” “Wine Grapes” (Robinson, Harding, Vouilamoz) (Castel del Monte/Riserva DOC/G)

While the WSET has us focusing on Puglian red wine production, I was provided the opportunity to taste through some rosés of the region as well as participate in a master class educating us on these wines and Puglia as a wine producing region in general. I wanted to share with you some of my tasting notes, as well as some of the things I learned from the Italian industry pros.

Rosé in Puglia
Rosé in Puglia

A note about the wines: According to the winemakers present, all wines are created in a style intended for immediate consumption—light, easy, fruitful. They’re looking to appeal to a broad range of consumers, but are also very keen on introducing non, new, or infrequent wine drinkers into the wine-drinking culture. Unfortunately, none of these wines are available in the US at the moment. All are within a 2 to 5 Euro price point.

Andiamo…

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Alma Rosa Spring 2021 Releases with Winemaker Samra Morris

If you haven’t heard of Samra Morris, take note, this Bosnian-born woman is a winemaker to watch. She is, indeed, the first Bosnian female winemaker in California. Samra has both a Bachelors and Masters degree in Food Sciences from The University of Sarajevo, College of Agricultural and Food Sciences. Post-graduation, Morris interned in the Department of Enology at The University of Sarajevo before deciding to pursue a winemaking career.

Samra came to Napa alongside her military air force husband whose station assignment moved from her home town in Bosnia to Travis Air Force Base just outside of California’s esteemed wine country. “I’m the luckiest Bosnian,” she said during our recent tasting together.

Her career in the wine business started with a tasting room position, then on to a vineyard internship for St. Supery, after which she spent three harvests with winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown and eventually became part of the cellar team for Michael Mondavi Family Estate.

Today, Samra is head winemaker for Alma Rosa in Santa Rita Hills, Calif. , a sub-AVA of Santa Ynez Valley AVA, located in Santa Barbara County, the most southern wine producing region within the state’s Central Coast.

As many know, the Santa Barbara region, in general is noted for its cool climate, brought on by the Transverse Ranges—mountainous ranges that glide east-to-west, funneling the cool maritime air from the Pacific Ocean. The combination of those cooling sea breezes and a range of aspects and altitudes means that the key grapes of the region, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, are able to achieve full phenolic ripeness, but maintain a high enough acidity to balance the structure fruit concentration.

But Samra didn’t come to Santa Rita Hills to do what everyone else is doing. Beyond Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Alma Rosa produces Rhone varieties including Syrah and Grenache; Alsatian varieties such as Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. And that these “alternative” Santa Rita Hills expression is what Samra brought to the table for a recent media tasting.

Alma Rosa Winery vineyards in Buellton, California. Photo Credit: Ciro Coehlo
Alma Rosa Winery vineyards in Buellton, California. Photo Credit: Ciro Coehlo

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