Uncorked Ventures Blog
We're happy to be hosting #winechat tonight with a group of bloggers who received two bottles from Wesley Ashley Wines. We're featuring these two wines, along with an Oregon Pinot Noir in our Special Selections Wine Club this month.
Instead of including newsletters in our sample shipments, we thought that simply adding our newsletter online....would make more sense as well as making the entire event more accessible for anyone who chooses to take part.
About Wesley Ashley: Only the grandson of two Baptist ministers could be brave enough to explore the question; does wine have a soul? Is the science of wine the most important aspect, or is there something intrinsic to specific wines, the sense of place that it comes from and some other incalculable quality that leads to some being better than others. In this space, we don’t typically spend a ton of time talking about the people behind the brands but in this case Wesley Ashley is being pushed forward first and foremost by proprietor James Sloate who comes from an influential and successful background in real estate, into the wine industry for the first time. Wesley Ashley is named after his son (whose first name is his middle name) as well as his daughter and takes an interesting look at building a wine brand. What you have in your glass are two interesting and unique looks into the Rhone varietals from Santa Barbara County, both of which should pair incredibly well with food. Secondly, Wesley Ashley is making a series of keg wines, at lower price points, in compostable or recyclable containers, which are starting to make significant headway into restaurants in the east bay area of San Francisco. I met Sloate at his urban warehouse which contains both the Wesley Ashley offices, as well as some of their storage and production facilities and came away impressed with both his passion for wine and his brand, while noticing immediately that this is a better funded winery operation than many startups we run into. In any case, the wine is extemporary and deserves a space on your dinner table here in the near future.
Tasting Notes Cuvee Blanc: Stereotypical and enjoyable extremely aromatic Rhone white, only 250 cases of total production shows notes of pear, apricot and slight floral accents. Creamy and silky texture, but enough backbone to give your mouth some warmth (one of the reasons we liked it with turkey). Satisfying without length on the finish.
Tasting Notes Cuvee: Largely Grenache (75%), the classic strawberry flavors from that varietal are evident from the nose, to the palate. There is also plenty of spice imparted from the Syrah and an innovative winemaking technique of fermenting the Syrah (20% of the final blend) and Petite Sirah (5%) together and allowing that fermentation to end while already in barrel, has left a nice mouth feel and some oak and vanilla flavors from the wood that you don’t normally have in Grenache. If you’re someone wanting a Grenache with some more weight, this is a good bet and a good combo.
I have to admit, I find it easy to be mesmerized by Santa Barbara wine country and that’s not just because I enjoyed my time in Santa Barbara, the warmer weather and views make it one of the most appealing wine destinations in America.
Of course, Ampelos Cellars and their owners share some of those same thoughts which helps to explain how they ended up retiring onto 80+ acres in the Sta. Rita Hills all the while creating a new business for themselves.
I think the background of Ampelos is interesting, the winery is named after a Greek word for wine, largely taken because the proprietors have owned a bed and breakfast on a small Greek island for some time. For many, retiring to that small Greek island would have been a happy enough end don’t you think?
For Rebecca and Peter Work, having one incredible retirement opportunity simply wasn’t enough, it seems they wanted both the beachside bed and breakfast as well as the winery.
Of course, most people don’t end up owning a vineyard without some type of connection to the wine industry and for the Work’s, their connection is among the clearest possible. Their son Don Work is the current winemaker at Sea Smoke. It bears a quick mention that neither the quality of the grapes in the Sta Rita Hills need a long mention in this space, but neither does the quality of the wines being produced at Sea Smoke. It’s said that California lacks the Grand Cru classification system that has served Bordeaux well for about 150 years, but we’ve heard from respected sources like Wine Spectator that the vineyards owned by Sea Smoke would certainly be included, or at least seriously considered among the five best in the state, or the equivilant to our Grand Cru. Additionally, Sea Smoke works solely off a mailing list these days, making the wines as successful with consumers as they are with critics. We’ve heard they’re the Studio 54 of wineries, it’s hard to get in, but once you do, you never want to leave.
Ok, so what do you have here at Ampelos? To start, you have a winemaker who currently holds the same title at a winery that makes wines you simply can’t buy , they’re too sought after and the mailing list attached to them reportedly is about a decade long. You also have a vineyard purchased in an earlier era of Santa Barbara wine, before Sideways and the hype which has ensued. Has Ampelos enjoyed the critical acclaim that Sea Smoke has? Certainly not and before Don Work ascended at Sea Smoke, Ampelos would have been simply one of about a dozen wineries in the Santa Lucia Highlands that we thought was ready to take the next step to making world renowned wine. Now, that connection is more clear that many realize and we think, the time is right to enjoy an Ampelos wine, after all a long mailing list is likely in their future as well.
Here’s what to taste from Ampelos:
Pinot Noir. Let’s not get too complicated here, any Pinot made here is going to be among the best in California in a given vintage.
Grenache: I personally think it’s the next big thing from the Santa Lucia Highlands as the wine comes off these cooler vineyard sites with an incredible depth of flavors and spices. It seems as an industry we’re constantly looking for the next big thing when it comes to cool weather grapes, perhaps we’re just making things too complicated.
Late Harvest Viognier: Despite my Studio 54 reference earlier, I’m still a Millennial. Yeah, I know. In any case we’re reaching an age where a greater percentage of people have grown up drinking sweeter beverages than ever before from juice to soda. All that means is that there’s going to be an ever increasing market and market demand for sweet dessert wines. You don’t see ice wine’s or Port’s you’d actually want to drink at this $25 price point often.
I’ll admit to loving Viognier, it’s a Rhone varietal so that’s not surprising. I like the rounded edges that can come with it and find it to be a pleasurable food wine. While everyone else at my table typically drinks Chardonnay, I am usually content with a Viognier, although I tend to enjoy spicy food so it’s a natural fit. What I said:
#winechat oak is interesting here. Fun nose again. Nice and round to be sure. I always forget, I love Viognier— Mark Aselstine (@wineclubguy) July 18, 2013
What Others Said:
Sierra Madre Chardonnay: I will admit that Sierra Madre is an old favorite of ours, when we lived in Santa Barbara it was part of a by the glass program pretty close to where we lived. It was good then and it continues to be good now. What I said:
#winechat We've had this before...my wife was eyeing it last night with shrimp for dinner— Mark Aselstine (@wineclubguy) July 18, 2013
What Others Said:
I enjoyed the mid on the Summerland 2012 Sierra Madre Vineyard Chardonnay -> what was the oak or ML treatment - if any #winechat— WineCompass (@winecompass) July 18, 2013
Brewer Clifton Gnesa Chardonnay In many ways, this was a typical California Chardonnay. Rounder than some, but no so round that it was off-putting for those of us who enjoy more acidity in our wines, this was an inspired effort to showcase what the central coast does really well-simply produce great wine. Given that I typically enjoy my Chardonnay with bubbles included, I was happy to pour myself a glass of the Gnesa Chardonnay when the chat ended. What I said:
What Others Said:
'10 Brewer Clifton Gnesa Chardonnay has Staw golden hue w/aromoas of floral lemons ending w/a lemon tangy finish #WineChat— Eileen Gross (@WineEveryday) July 18, 2013
Last night brought a rather unique opportunity to take part in #winechat with the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association. The Association brought together six wineries, who shipped one wine each to ten different wine bloggers, myself included.
I’ll cover the tasting over the next few days, otherwise these entries are going to get out of control rather quickly. I’ll also take the time over the coming weeks to feature each of the six wineries whom were kind enough to share their wine, their story and their time with all of us.
I lived in Santa Barbara for five years and greatly enjoyed my time there, so I’m fairly familiar with the wines and growing regions of the central coast, Santa Barbara in peculiar, but this event was a good reminder for me of the wide range of wines and wine styles being crafted in Santa Barbara County.
To start, I have to say a quick thank you to Bill Eyer of Cuvee Corner, someone I’ve actually worked a day of bottling with in the past as Morgen McLaughlin of the Santa Barbara Vintner’s Association for putting this together. As it turns out Morgen comes highly recommended from her time with the Finger Lakes Wine County, where she certainly helped the region gain a following with the wine community, especially in and around New York City. Welcome to California Morgen, there might not be a prettier and easier place to live than Santa Barbara County. I hope you enjoy your time there as much as I did.Wine #1: Fontes & Phillips 2010 Sauvignon Blanc: My notes were pretty simple. It’s a solid New Zealand in style (although lighter on the acidity) Sauvignon Blanc that has enough minerality to keep me interesting and make me sure this isn’t a Chardonnay. A good wine. A nice effort at the $15-$18 price point, where you don’t often find a ton of easily drinkable, yet interesting white wine’s. At 112 cases of production, it’s something I’d happy ship. What others said:
Wine #2: Baehner Fournier Vineyards 2012 Sauvignon Blanc One of the reasons people inside the wine industry, as well as consumers love events like this is the opportunity to compare and contrast wines from similar areas. In this case, we have vineyard locations only a few miles apart, but dramatically different wines. My notes show that there is more acidity here. Personally, I like that in my Sauvignon Blanc, but I worry that some of my newer wine drinking customers aren’t accustomed to it. Definitively a Bordeaux styled Sauvignon Blanc, this is a nice effort at under $20 as well. Creamy citrus is listed on the official tasting notes and that’s both a flavor as well as a smell which came through big time. It’s just a great summer wine. I also said:
#winechat it's the type of Sauv Blanc that always seems to do well when we pour it live in person— Mark Aselstine (@wineclubguy) July 18, 2013
What Others Said:
#Winechat From a palate intimately familiar w/dozens upon dozens of NZ SBs this fresh, vibrant Fontes & Phillips'10 SB at $15 is QPR indeed— Palate Exposure (@PalateXposure) July 18, 2013
Wine #3: Palmina Winery 2011 Arneis I’ll have to be honest, when I first received my tasting list I assumed this wasn’t a varietal specific wine, but instead simply a name of a blend. It turns out Arneis is a grape, about to go extinct across the world, with its roots in Italy. After a bit of research, this is the wine I was most excited to try. It isn’t often that we find something truly unique within the wine industry. I said:
Our philosophy at Palmina is not to duplicate what the Italians do, but to offer a Santa Barbara County interpretation #winechat— Palmina Wines (@palminawines) July 18, 2013
Arneis (Our-Nay-Is) is elegant and excellent with food. Lovely pear and citrus #winechat— Laurie Jervis (@LaurieJervis) July 18, 2013
This Wednesday between 6-7pm PST we’ll be one of the 10 official tasters for #winechat.
This week 6 Santa Barbara County Vintners Association wineries have shipped wine to 10 different blogs or media outlets and asked everyone to come together for a virtual tasting.
The wines are:
Imagine Wines 2010 Viognier
Baehner Fournier 2012 Sauv Blanc
Summerland 2012 Sierra Madre Chard
Brewer-Clifton 2010 Gnesa Chard
Fontes & Phillips 2010 Sauv Blanc
Palmina 2011 Arneis
I’ll talk a bit more about each wine including our tasting notes after the event tomorrow evening, but I’m quite excited for the Arneis. Arneis is a Italian wine grape from Piedmont that many Italian vintners have stopped growing over the years because it is so fickle. With under two thousand acres planted across the world, it is without a doubt a grape on the verge of extinction and one that I’ve never tasted in a varietal wine before. Seeing a planting on the central coast says a lot about Palmina and their willingness to take some risks.
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