The California Series: Part 1 (the 1st day of the girly ‘Sideways’ trip)
When I heard that my cousin was getting married in California’s Sonoma county, I was chuffed to say the least. Weddings are a great excuse to travel to beautiful places and stuff yourself full of the local food and drink. And when the wedding happens to be set in one of the great winemaking regions of the world, even better.
If I was going to be coming all the way from London to California, you can bet I was going to turn the trip into a proper holiday and spend a few weeks traveling up and down the state.
Since this blog is about all things vinous, I’ll just stick with the wine part of the trip, so as not to make you green with envy at the mention of endless amounts of sunshine, sandy beaches, and beautifully tanned, chiseled surfers.
Ok just one picture to make you jealous:
Anyway, part one of the California adventure started with a sort of girly ‘Sideways’ trip. I flew into Los Angeles to meet up with my best buddy (and Crush co-host) Whitney. We immediately set about eating and drinking our way through some of the best joints in LA, including a fabulous night at the Italian restaurant she sommeliers at, Terroni.
Let the night begin!
A wonderfully fun oxidative orange wine from the Alberto Tedeschi made from the pignoletto grape, found in Emilia-Romagna
We had this Sagrantino di Montefalco from Milziade Antano with perhaps the best lamb ragu I’ve ever had. It was a stunning match–well done Whitney!
We then hopped in Whitney’s little convertible and drove northeast to the vineyards of Santa Barbara county. Within these regions are four appellations including the Santa Maria Valley and the Santa Ynez Valley (and there are even smaller regions within those!). Although the film ‘Sideways’ put these regions on the map for much of the world, they’ve long held a stellar reputation for making Rhone varietals such as syrah, grenache, and mouvedre, among others. And although this region should in theory be too hot to make pinot noir and chardonnay, the crazy microclimates, which can change the temperature drastically from valley to valley and hill to hill, make it very possible in some areas.
Our first stop was at the Bien Nacido vineyards and winery of famed duo Au Bon Climat and Qupé where we were shown around by young and talented assistant winemaker Gavin Chanin (who is also making fantastic wine of his own-his ‘Chanin’ pinot noir is cracking, and his funky labels are from his own hand). We were treated to a lunch and tasting with the ABC/Qupé gang, including Qupé’s founder Bob Linquist, whom I’ve always admired. Among the wines we tried, the Qupé 2010 Sawyer-Linquist Syrah, with its meaty savoury peppery notes and endless finish, stood out as my favourite.
The next stop on our tour was at the ‘wine ghetto’ (literally rows of warehouses being used as wineries for dozens of local vignerons) in the extremely windy town of Lompoc. There we met up with winemaker extraordinaire Sashi Moorman, who makes wine for enough labels to make your head spin. We tasted equally as many barrel samples, and by the end I started to get an idea of the varying styles of the different labels. My favourites were those with the least amount of extraction and therefore the most delicacy. I have long drifted away from the over-extracted, high alcohol fruit bombs that are so synonomous with the ‘new world’. Luckily for me, things are slowly changing, and many new world winemakers are at last working with a gentler touch.
Of all the labels Sashi is involved with (his others include Piedrasassi, Stolpman, and Sandhi), his Evening Land pinot noirs took the prize for being my overall favourites. His whole cluster 2010 pinot, even straight out of the barrel, promised spicy cinnamon-y and cedary goodness, while his ‘Occidental’ pinot exuded typical Sonoma Coast coca cola characteristics laced with ripe plums, and a fantastic stucture that will give it real longevity.
That evening, we felt it was our touristic duty to have dinner at The Hitching Post (again made famous from ‘Sideways’). Gavin joined us with a few of his delicious wines. Going with a local made the experience a memorable one, and the attention Gavin received from the older female server particularly added to our fun!
Stay tuned for part 2 of the California series coming soon!