Wine tasting is just a great part of life. And going up to the Santa Ynez area is a great way to spend the day or a weekend tasting and enjoying the gorgeous countryside. Each time I go up there I take the time to explore a different series of wineries. There are many to choose from and many excellent wines being produced in this region. Then again that can be said for many of the regions in California. On this particular trip, we decided to begin with lunch at Trattoria Grappolo in the town of Santa Ynez. The food at this place is fantastic. We had grilled calamari stuffed with smoked mozzarella, prosciutto, garlic, parsley and sautéed with lemon and olive oil. This is one of those OMG dishes you must try and make sure you have plenty of their crusty bread to soak up the remaining sauce that’s on the plate. We finished off our lunch with a pepperoni pizza and beet, goat cheese and spinach salad. The pepperoni was delicious and mild. The thin crisp crust of the pizza was just enough of a foundation to keep the ingredients in place but its definitely one of those you either need to fold in half to eat or just eat it with a fork. Of course, the salad was very tasty and just the perfect compliment to the cheesy/salumi deliciousness that was the pizza.
With our stomachs amply coated we ventured off to do a bit of tasting. We made one stop a Rideau Vineyard which was very disappointing. Having been there a few times over the years I remembered it for some very nice reds, a wonderful atmosphere, and knowledgeable staff. Unfortunately today I can only say that the property is still very nice. Apparently, they changed their winemaker a couple of years ago and the quality of their wines has gone downhill as well. I am by no means a hoity-toity wine snob but I know what I like and these wines were just not good. Not to mention the service was equally poor. They were more concerned with us taking a tasting out and about the grounds than giving us any information about their wines etc… I don’t need to get into each of the wines we tasted but needless to say, the whites were unbalanced and nothing to write home about and when it came to the reds notes of Robitussin and other medicinal syrups were involved.
Having a bad taste in our mouths it was time to repair our palates. We headed to Kaena’s tasting room in Los Olivos. This is winemaker Mikael Sigouin’s own label. He is the winemaker for Beckman and also consults for Shai wines. Both Beckman and Shai make excellent wines and now we had the opportunity to enjoy Mikael’s own label. I’ve had the pleasure of drinking early vintages of Kaena 04, 05, 07, etc… and those were all stellar wines. We ponied up to the tasting bar and began with the 2012 Hapa Blanc a blend of 60% Roussanne, 30% Grenache Blanc and 10% Viognier the perfect summer afternoon relaxing on the porch drinking wine. Next, we enjoyed the 2013 Grenache Rosé and it’s just divine. It reminds me very much of a Provencal style rosés. Then we moved on to 2 Grenache’s one from the Vie Caprice Vineyard and the other from Tierra Alta. The Vie Caprice was planted exclusively for Kaena and is off Refugio Rd and Tierra Alta is from a vineyard in Ballard Canyon. I love doing tastings like this since it always amazes me how much difference the terroir makes in the wine. Both were excellent but my favorite was the Tierra Alta. Last but not least was the 2012 Ronin 65% Malbec and 35% Grenache a beautiful and complex blend filled with dark berry and spice notes. This wine along with the other reds will age very well. Although very good now they will become stellar within the next 3 to 5 years.
Next, we moseyed on to Tercero’s tasting room. Larry Schaffer is the owner and winemaker of these beautiful wines. He opened his tasting room about a year and a half ago although he has been making wine for much longer than that. Larry has always had a very relaxed approach to wine as is reflected in his tasting room but don’t let that fool you, his wines are outstanding. Larry wasn’t in that day but we were assisted by the most congenial maestro of the tasting room Jim Mann, a retired Disney graphic editor. His tales of food, wine and travel can keep one entertained for the entire day. As he poured each wine he will let you know what pairs well with it. Not just the simple – pork, chicken or beef, but specific recipes and descriptions such as seafood paella or lamb tagine or chicken vindaloo, maybe Bistec al la Fiorentina describing the perfect char that should encrust it. Once he gets done describing each recipe to pair with the wine you’ll be craving food, possibly starving – even if you have just come from eating a nice meal. Besides the wines, he was one of the treats of going to the tasting room. We tasted a variety of wines. Here are a few to get you warmed up. The Viognier and The Outlier are both wonderful and complex whites that pair perfectly with Indian and Thai food or just enjoying a glass on a warm day with friends. Some of the notable reds we tasted were: The 2009 Cuvee Loco is a blend of 75% Grenache and 25% Syrah that has the taste of dark fruits and berries with a hint of chocolate on the finish. The 2009 Cuvee Christie is a blend of 65% Grenache, 15% Mourvedre, 10% Syrah and 10% Petite Sirah. Another stellar wine with hints of dark cherry and berry and well-balanced tannins. I haven’t had much Petit Sirah and what I have had has been hit or miss. The 2009 Petit Sirah is another welcome surprise. Larry accentuated the purple fruits in this wine giving it a richness with a nice long finish. Tercero is definitely one tasting room to visit when you find yourself in Los Olivos.
Our final stop of the day was to go visit Dan at Koehler. He is always welcoming and just makes us feel at home. The vineyard is beautiful in the pristine remote environment. The kind of place you could take a picnic, buy some wine and enjoy the surroundings for a nice relaxing afternoon. The wines are stellar. I won’t get into a long description since I recently did an article about them, but a few notables for their whites are the Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier and for the reds Sangiovese, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, the Magia Nera, and their Pinot Noir. It’s one place that I seem to go most of the times that I’m in the area.
So whether you are looking to spend the day or create a weekend getaway the Santa Ynez area is a great place to taste some stellar wines that won’t set you back too much and will give you a lot of enjoyment.