The Independent's long-awaited second tasting rocked the office as we hoped. With a table lined with wines from France’s Rhone Valley to Santa Barbara’s Milpas Street, the blind Rhone-themed tasting brought interesting comparisons, insightful chatter, and some exciting wines for us to share.
More tasters this time around meant more creative descriptions and added breadth of analysis. But like our first tasting, the panel featured half self-declared “pro snobs” and half “amateurs." As a result, our tasting notes will give readers a more well-rounded idea of how and why they can enjoy each wine.
With more wines to try than last time, we also put a rating system into place. The favorites for each category are starred and listed first.
*2009 Tercero Grenache Blanc Camp Four Vineyard ($20): The first pour of the evening, Tercero set the tasting off to a good start with this crisp and light Grenache Blanc. While one taster decided she could drink an entire bottle and feel refreshed, we all agreed it was at least as easy to drink as a bottle of Evian (but for many reasons much better) on a summer night.
*2008 Jaffurs Grenache Blanc Thompson Vineyard ($30): The other favorite white took Grenache Blanc to a darker side than Tercero did. Both pros and amateurs lauded this wine’s rich honeyed butterscotch essence. With citrus on the front and a fantastically long finish, Jaffurs has created a seriously complex, deep, and suave wine.
2009 Buttonwood Estate Grown Grenache Blanc ($22): With citrus on the front, smoke in the mouth, and a nice acidic finish, this wine was easier for the more experienced drinkers to enjoy. This Grenache Blanc will also lend the perceptive taster hints of eucalyptus, tea tree oil, and a bit of basil.
2009 Calzada Ridge Santa Ynez Valley Viognier ($30): Amateurs were more excited about this Viognier as they found floral notes blended with basil, campfire, and all-around earthy aromas. While the pros agreed the wine was smoky and green, we would prefer to taste this wine after a little more time in the bottle.
*2008 Domaine de Saint-Ser Cotes de Provence Sainte Victoire Rosé Cuveé Prestige ($14): The moment we poured this beautifully peachy-hued rosé into our glasses, we (pros) knew it had to be French. On an unrelated note, this wine was outstanding, and probably received the overall best response of the evening. Delicate but strong, this rosé is well balanced with candied floral aromas and pomegranate flavors that came in smoothly but left our taste buds with a bang.
2009 Tercero Grenache/Mourvedre Rosé ($15): We all enjoyed the great juicy, pink fruit profile on this rose. This wine’s light, mellow flavor make it a refreshing beverage, while it shows just the right amount of zing on the finish.
2009 Paredon Santa Barbara County Syrah Rosé ($22): The amateurs in particular deemed this darker-than-most rose their favorite (while pros enjoyed it, too!). We mused over its illuminated watermelon and strawberry aromas with butter and spice laid over flavors as dark as plum.
*2006 Ampelos Santa Barbara County Syrache ($28): Nary a negative comment was made about Peter and Rebecca Work’s Syrache. The winemakers pleased everyone with their light yet amazingly complex wine. Tasters marveled at the layers of fruit, claiming strawberries, blackberries, apples, and cranberries. These flavors lingered alongside vanilla spice and wet earth, with an elegance and precision that left us ruminating over our empty glasses.
2007 Tercero Santa Barbara County Cuveé Christie ($28): Named after his “partner in crime,” Larry Tercero’s Cuveé Christie represents California-style rhones with a humongous maple, dark cherry, and licorice smack. The full-figured body on this wine left a smoky, nutty minerality on our palates. This wine is highly recommended for those who adore the big Californians (but those who don't should try it anyway, just for good measure).
2007 Domaine Bressy-Masson Cuveé Paul Emile Côtes du Rhone Villages Rasteau ($26): Hailing from centennial vines, this wine surprised the group. While the amateurs contemplated its characteristically French moldy, wet earth notes, the pros noted how rich it was for an old world wine. Indeed, we decided that a wine with such pungent aromas and subdued alcohol had to be from the homeland. The earthiness sat in stark contrast to Tercero’s Christie, with meaty, grassy aromatics, an earthy, blackberry penchant, and a nice, refined finish.
*2006 Qupé Bien Nacido Hillsides Estate Syrah ($45): The amateurs didn’t respond as excitedly as pros did to this wine probably due to its subdued nature. Qupé’s offering takes a more fine-tuned palate to unravel the white pepper, cigar stub, and cedar notes woven into its smooth, well-structured body. We enjoyed sipping a syrah that had more herbs and spices than fruitiness. And by the way, everyone enjoyed it, pro or not.
*2006 Niner Boot Jack Ranch Paso Robles Syrah ($20): Most of the group found this powerful Paso Robles syrah very satisfying. Aside from luscious blackberry bush and violet field elements, the wine favors spice over fruit, and has a really interesting show of salinity that reminded us of salty, ocean air.
2007 Carr Morehouse Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley Syrah ($50): Carr’s Morehouse syrah is not for the weak of heart; intensely dark fruits with a touch of tartness unfolds alongside other heavy licorice and caramel flavors.
2007 Harvest Girl Santa Barbara County Syrah ($18): The tasters who favored this wine noted its citrus aromas, spicy cinnamon zest, and bold lychee nut finish.
2006 Hitching Post Big Circle Santa Barbara County Syrah ($20): Even without knowing where this wine came from, it gave us a hankering for some barbecue fare. With a dark, dusty, cassis essence—and a friendly price—this wine certainly belongs where it came from; beside the grill.
To be sure we put enough time and thought into each wine we’ve received, this tasting will merely serve as part one of our Rhone tasting. We are looking forward to tasting a whole other batch of these wonderful varietals within the next couple of weeks.
If you think you have a wine that our tasters will enjoy brooding and enthusing about, e-mail .