Did some wine tasting in Paso two weeks ago with my L. A. wine group, and here are some impressions which should all be taken with a huge grain of salt because I arrived with cold, and on the first day could smell almost nothing.
Andrew Murray Winery
A member of our tasting group has known Andrew since he was a kid, hence we met the winemaker and learned more insider stuff than one would normally. Such as, that the estate was sold last year so from now on all Andrew's wines will be made with contract grapes. 2005 Estate Viongier--pale yellow, picked slightly underripe, grapefruity, tarragon, good acidity. 2004 Chardonnay--ML, good acid and varietal character, spice, spent a year in barrel. 2004 Oak Savanna "Naked Chard"--this is a partnership between the Murray family and another party for which Andrew makes the wines. Very refreshing, others say it's simple. 2004 Esperance (a GSM)--I could smell nothing, and it tasted of milk and strawberries. Seemed very fruity and forward. 2004 Estate Syrah--light and lean, kind of racy. Everybody's favorite and Andrew's too. "People want warm fuzzy blankets in their wine where I want thin sheets." 2004 Roasted Slope Syrah--here's the warm fuzzy blanket. Intense and heavy like sweetened espresso with noticeably higher alcohol than the Estate.
Where I struggled to get nuances at Andrew Murray, at Foxen two things came through the congestion loud and clear on every wine I tasted: sugar and alcohol. In a way, after struggling at Andrew Murray's to get nuances it was enjoyable to definitively taste something, but it was obvious that these wines would be too-too for me on a good day and there was no need to take detailed notes when two words did for all.
Kriss suggested this as a next stop since we could fit in one more before closing time, and strangely, I could smell and taste them to some degree where I'd been in a fog at Foxen not half an hour earlier. We all liked the grassy, citrusy 05 Sauvignon Blanc a lot. The 05 Estate Chard which balances 50% new wood with 50% stainless managed to hold back the tropical stuff, but it wasn't compelling. An 05 Viognier was better with tangerines among the flowers. An 03 Pinot Noir from Santa Rita Hills fruit (the only wine they make with non-estate grapes) had us gasping at the $45 price tag. Here's the Sideways effect at it's very worst--this was a thin, simple little pinot probably made from brand new vines, for which somewhere around $10-12 would have been a fair price. An 04 Syrah was jammy and extracted with black curranty flavors (American oak?) and licorice. An 03 Cabernet was confected with tobacco notes on black fruit and a hot finish. Their most complete and interesting red was the 04 Mangia Nera, which uses 50% sangiovese and half the rest each syrah and cabernet to make a spicey and attractive red blend. An 05 LH Riesling made us all wonder that riesling could be that boring.
Windward (start of Day Two)
All this winery makes is pinot, and my cold was definitely better but I didn't get these wines. They want to be Burgundian but their vines are in the most unBurgundian place on earth, and the pinot ends up tasting of neither. I found the 04 harsh where it should be singing, and the 03 more en pointe with more balanced flavors, but still somehow not quite there. Would love to taste an older one to get a sense of where these are going.
The 04 Roussane was forward but it also had acidity and structure. About 15% abv which is par for the course here and there was a little burn on the finish, but it was a step above all the whites we'd tasted so far and I found it interesting enough to buy a bottle ($25). An 05 GSM Rose tasted of buttered red rose petals with a splash of vodka, and Gary bought three to take home to his partner who loves rose. An 01 Zin (Library release) had a jammy nose but didn't taste jammy, nice zinberry fruit with some herbs and tannins. Almost Ridge-like, we thought. An 03 Rim Rock Syrah from grapes grown near Pismo Beach was dusty with cherry blossoms and white pepper. I liked this quite a bit ($45) though I nearly had fisticuffs with the pourer over use of the term "cool climate". The 03 Optimus Cab blend ($45), made of cab, petite verdot and syrah was very good, and why we were told the winemaker/proprietor had to leave France--he just HAD to mix cab and syrah, and he couldn't do it in Bordeaux, so "he searched around the world for the perfect place to grow..." You know the story, nobody ever admits that it was just cheap land or that they got run out of X by some lynch mob. Anyway, the Optimum was deep purple with black currant, blackberry, plum and cedar notes, but owing to considerable tannins not drinking especially well right now. Friendlier and plusher was the 03 Estate Cuvee--all the same grapes but with estate fruit. Delicious in a big California cab kind of way, but spendy at $75.
Collectively, we loved this little winery, just sitting in it's own peaceful little valley not bothering nobody and making it's own maverick version of Rhone varietals. No frills, no attitude, just good wine. Four out of our group of ten even joined their wine club. The 05 Viognier was assertive with excellent varietal character ($23). The 05 Grenache rose was bone dry and the most Tavel-like American rose I've tasted. Their regular 03 Grenache was complex and bright, showing the good side of grenache without junking it up. It was a definite buy for me until I tasted the 03 Mouvedre, which mixed red berry notes with a bit of stable and a captivating hazelnut butter finish. I bought two of these instead. I also liked the barnyardy 02 Rhone blend (40 Syr/30 Gren/30 Mou) but my husband found it too barnyardy. An 03 Syrah was meaty with good tannin structure ($25), and an 03 Zin was the best zin of the trip with black raspberry fruit and spice. Though I generally don't care for zins, I was tempted to buy a bottle (the schlep factor limited my total purchases to one case). The 02 Reserve Syrah ($38) was silky and sweet, almost like a dessert wine.
We wanted to taste at Le Cuvier, but settled for this Cuvier-wannabe. On the whole we found the wines interestingly offbeat, if inconsistent. A NV Chardonnay was deep yellow with butterscotch and hazelnut praline flavors. Heavy at 15.8%, too. 2003 Aria was a GSM blend wtih currants, tobacco and too much heat in the finish. A 2000 Asini was a really good blend of sangiovese and zinfandel that had us wondering why more don't combine these two grapes. Aged five years in barrel, it shows good acidity and interesting secondary development. His NV Syrah was a curious blend of 00, 01 and 03 small lots, and I liked it's minerality. An 02 Zinfandel was fully mature with orange rim and flat acidity.
Ever walk into a winery with a fairly positive advance impression and leave just hating them? Well, that's how things went at Justin. We went to the VIP center, which architecturally looks like something from a post-modernist Alice in Wonderland set, because one of our group is a club member. Which I liked, mind you, the turnoff were our pourers. The employment want ad just have read, "Obnoxiousness a plus." It's the same condescending blow-hard attitude you run into at wineries like Opus One. And god forbid you should correct your sneering pontificant when he explains that tempranillo is the great grape of Priorat. No more wine for you, missy! So having said all that, about the wines I'll say that they were clean and correct. Not one of us liked the 05 Mouvedre Rose which had too much RS, we found the 05 Chardonnay green appley and good, the 04 Cabernet Sauvignon probably would have tasted better somewhere else but around these guys it seemed not quite real like the difference between a pretty mannequin and a pretty girl, the 04 Tempranillo was extracted and lacking varietal typicity (my notes say it could have been a cab-syr blend) and the Justification was quite tasty but by the time they poured it I just wanted out of there.
Like with Justin, I came to Tablas Creek with a good impression of the winery, but unlike Justin the visit only increased my admiration. The wines were classy and consistent all the way down the line. The 05 Cotes de Tablas Blanc, made from 42% viog/33% rouss and I presume the rest marsanne, though my notes don't provide the last detail. was a delicious blend of white nectarine and lemon flavors. The 04 Esprit de Beaucastel (65 rouss/30 grenache blanc and 5% picpoul) was apparently so good I didn't bother with descriptors, just "classy" and "best Esprit I've tasted". An 02 100% roussane missed the mark for me by sporting detergent flavors on the finish. I liked an 05 rose made of mouvedre, grenache noir and counoise, the 04 Mouvedre was delicious and Rhone-like, the 03 Esprit de Beaucastel was "exceptional, pulls all the prior wines together", and though I took no notes on it, I liked an 02 Las Tablas "Glendridge Vineyard" so much I bought one. It's also the one wine I couldn't hope to find locally. I'm only sorry I didn't try these wines earlier in the day rather than at the end of a long day's tasting for me and at closing time for them. It was a shame to rush through such a solid line-up.
Hug/Orchid Hill (Day Three)
Raquel, who I'd been told to ask for, wasn't in, but the charming Susan West was and she is a great tasting room pourer. The opposite of the clowns at Justin, she was personable and outgoing, while paying attention to our impressions (a feat with 10 tasters). Orchid Hill, previously unknown to me, is a 51 acre estate growing pinot noir, zin and viognier. The wines are made by one of the area's busiest contract winemakers, whose name escapes me at the moment. An 05 Vignioer was tangy without obvious oak. An 03 Pinot Noir was peppery and tangy, but a little heavy compared with the brighter 2004. An 03 "primi" Zinfandel was a light, strawberryish party wine, and an 04 of the same was more structured with framboise flavors, though it's hot at 15.9%. An 02 Syrah had black and blue fruit with notes of breakfast sausage and salted pretzel. Sounds weird but I liked it, especially at $25.
From the Hug side of the fence, an 05 Central Coast pinot (only 100 cases produced, just bottled) was delicious, but such a baby I didn't trust my impressions. Of all the wines I didn't buy, I'm probably sorriest about this one. I did, however, buy the 2004 Hug Bessetti Vineyard Syrah ($40) because that funky nose set it apart from the very good but un-funky blended 2004 Central Coast Syrah.
On the way out, one of the group wanted to stop at Zin Alley so I tasted their 04 Zinfandel ($42). Remember when people used to put dried fruit in jars on the kitchen counters and cover them with brandy? Well, that's what this zin tasted of, also raspberry jam and bug spray. The antichrist of wines to me, but it's fair to mention that the person who requested this stop bought six bottles. Zin Alley makes that wine and two dessert wines (as if the regular zin isn't sweet enough!). I didn't bother to waste any more of their wine (only 650 cases total production), but I'd actually had their current release zin port the night before when I got lost on our B&B's grounds and ended up at someone else's party where I was given a chair, a glass and a cigar before I could say 'no'. Coincidentally, my new friends were in the TV business and are producing a new all-wine net-based channel that should be coming on line around January. Anyway, the zin port was, for that style of thing, quite good. Not nearly as sweet as it could be, that is, and without that bug spray quality that seems to affect so many Paso zins.
On the way home we stopped at Laetitia because we figured they'd have bathrooms and a map that would show us where Talley was. While there, we also decided to plunk down cash to taste their line of bubblies. Suffice to say that the first five were so simple and undistinguished, so devoid of the biscuit, brioche, yeasty bread dough and complex fruit that we left before they poured the supposed "best" of them all. Not nasty exactly, just more like fake wines. And they wouldn't even give us a map.
We opted to pay for the high-end line, so we started with the 04 Estate Chardonnay, Rincon & Rosemary's Vineyards. This winery, btw, makes only chardonnay and pinot noir from two vineyards. They save the best stuff for the single vineyard bottlings and blend the rest for a two-vineyard wine. This was the latter, and actually my preference among the three chardonnays. Lemony, nutty and smokey. The 04 Rincon VY chardonnay was more acidic, less smoky, and a lovely dusty quality. The 04 Rosemary's chardonnay was softer, and almost sweet after the Rincon. I believe the blend was around $30 and the SVs around $45. Then to the pinots. The 2004 estate pinot blend (again, Rincon and Rosemary's) showed good cherry fruit with herbs, violets and woodsy notes. We talked them into pouring the separate 04 Rincon and 04 Rosemary's pinot noirs side by side. The Rincon was cloudy, with black cherry and celery notes. Not particularly compelling. Though I could name no flaw, the cloudy color made me wonder if it was a slightly off bottle. The Rosemary's, however, was absolutely superb. So lovely, so perfect to my tastes, that I plunked down $68 for one without batting an eyelash. Superb pinot complexity from 20 year old vines, rich but not heavy, elegant, with black cherry, red rock minerals, earth, herbs and cinnamon spice. I commented that something about it made me feel like I was back in my mother's arms when I got one of those taste-memory flashbacks. Long long ago I didn't care for pinot noir at all. And it wasn't until I tasted a Jekyll winery "Arroyo Grande" pinot that I changed. The wine was a close-out at Trader Joe's and priced at just $3, and so we ended up going through like five cases of it. Well, Talley's vineyards are in Arroyo Grande too, and no doubt because of that early and lengthy indoctrination, it's a flavor to me unlike no other. And it was specifically the Rosemary's that brought all that back to me in a way no pinot has since, even though 20 years have passed and the Rosemary's is most likely superb to what that wine was then. Who says you can't go home again?
Anyway, that's it, show's over. Time to go do something useful with my day.
Last edited by Jenise
on Mon Sep 25, 2006 10:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov