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Next Exit? Buellton!

The Hitching Post II is a great restaurant in Buellton, CA, a small town smack dab in the middle (maybe not literally, but dang close) of the Santa Ynez wine region in California’s Central Coast AVA. You may know of The Hitching Post from the 2004 hit movie Sideways! If you’ve had the pleasure of seeing the movie, you undoubtedly know of the wines associated with this popular restaurant too!

Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Wines is the collaboration of two good friends who seem to have very different backgrounds. Gray Hartley (a former professional fisherman) and Frank Ostini (chef and owner of The Hitching Post) first made “home wine” in 1979. Their first Pinot Noir came in 1981, and their wine “project” moved to a winery in 1984. Initially the wines were made exclusively for The Hitching Post, but now the country is happy to have them distributed so that we can enjoy them even when we’re not visiting California!

My husband and I have visited Buellton and The Hitching Post II several times, and we’re always sure to stock up on some of their wines to bring home with us. They make a fun Rosé, some nice Merlot and Syrah, and an interesting (and very affordable) red blend called “Gen Red”. Their specialty, though, is killer Pinot Noir!

The other night I pulled a Hartley-Ostini 2012 Pinot Noir Highliner out of our cellar. Their flagship wine, this Pinot Noir has a beautiful nose! With aromas of violets, cherry, raspberry and some wet earth, this wine rocks. The velvety palate has bright cherry, raspberry, pomegranate, and that lovely earthiness that I pray for when cracking open a Pinot. This is one heck of a wine!

Whether you enjoyed the movie or not, definitely check out The Hitching Post II and the lovely Hartley-Ostini wines! The Santa Ynez Valley is a fabulous wine region to visit, so if you haven’t been, definitely put it on your bucket list. The fabulous wines, the delicious food and the gorgeous scenery will entice you to go back time and again! Just make sure that you’re not chewing gum while tasting!

Check out the Hartley-Ostini wines here:

https://store.hitchingpostwines.com/storefront.aspx 

 

Pair a Pinot With a Fall Salad!

One of my favorite things about wine is pairing it with the right dish. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m definitely not one of those “Pairing Police” who freaks out when someone wants to drink their favorite Merlot and they’ve ordered fish! I am a true believer in drinking and eating what one wants, whether it’s an “acceptable pairing” or not.

I do, however, appreciate that some wines taste better with certain dishes and vice versa! Plus, it’s really fun to try different wines with different foods.

Last night for dinner I made a wonderful vegetarian Cobb salad with Gala apple, crispy mushrooms, pecans, avocado and a creamy chive dressing. I paired it with the 2012 Weatherborne Pinot Noir from the Santa Rita Hills AVA, and it was a great match!

This Pinot is bright and fruity with snappy Bing cherry, fresh raspberry and plum, and pairs well with the wine-friendly Gala apple. Along with the fruitiness of the wine is also some great Old World-like earthiness, a perfect match with the oyster mushrooms. Roasted with smoked paprika and smoked Maldon sea salt, the mushrooms also compliment a smoky quality in the wine.

The wine itself is lovely and certainly doesn’t NEED food! I can definitely see myself sipping a glass of this on an upcoming fall evening while hanging out with friends by a fire. It would also be the perfect wine with Thanksgiving dinner!

Weatherborne Wine Corp is the child of Cris Carter who originally followed in his father, uncle and grandfather’s footsteps and planned to be a pilot. While studying at UC Davis his love of chemistry and his interest in wine ultimately prepared him for a life in wine! His 2012 Pinot Noir is his winery’s inaugural release, and the ’13 and ’14 are now available on his website!

Be sure to check out this winery, and stock up for Thanksgiving!

http://www.weatherborne.com

Rajat Parr – A Somm & His Wines!

Rajat Parr is one of the most famous sommeliers in the U.S. He is also a very busy man! Not only is he wine director for the Michael Mina restaurant group in San Francisco, co-author of the highly respected Secrets of the Sommeliers (in fact, he won his first James Beard Award for this) he is ALSO a founding co-owner of a winery and a winemaker! I recently attended a wine dinner featuring some of these wines!

Held at the beautiful restaurant Capa, located on the top floor of the Four Seasons in Orlando, the dinner was lovely and the wines were fabulous! Considering that this is a WINE blog, not a food blog, I’m going to focus on the wines!

During the reception we were poured the 2012 Sandhi Santa Barbara County Chardonnay. This is NOT the typical California Chard.  This straw colored wine has white flowers, meyer lemon, apricots and honeydew melon on the nose. The palate is very well balanced with lively acidity, the meyer lemon, green apple and a touch of oak with butterscotch flavors.  I will seek this wine out and buy it by the case.  Yum!!!!

The first course of the meal was paired with the 2012 Sandhi Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay. On the nose is citrus and tart apple. The palate has razor sharp acidity, citrus, tart apple, lots of minerality and is very fresh. This wine tastes much more like a White Burgundy than a California Chardonnay. It actually reminds me of a Pluigny-Montrachet! Again, a delightful wine.

Next up was the 2011 Maison L’Orée Meursault Charmes.  As a white Burgundy freak, I was very excited to taste this. Rajat Parr is also a Burgundy freak! The wines of this region have always inspired him, therefore an opportunity to create a negociant house to help produce wines from this region was undoubtedly a dream come true for him. This Meursault Charmes (a Premiers Cru) has medium ++ acidity balanced by a wonderful creaminess. This wine definitely reflects it’s sense of place, while bursting with citrus flavors and finishing with baking spices.

On to the reds we went with the 2012 Domaine de la Côte Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir. I’m very picky when it comes to this varietal and oh boy, I wasn’t disappointed. On the nose are lively fresh flowers and lots of red fruit, especially strawberry, raspberry and cranberry. The palate confirms the fruit and has some good earthiness. Fermented with 50% whole cluster and 50% stem inclusion, this Pinot Noir never sees new oak. 2100 cases were bottled.

The last wine of the evening was the 2012 Domaine de la Côte Blooms Field Pinot Noir. With rose petals and ripe red fruit on the nose, the palate was quite lush with candied strawberries, dark cherries, some pepper and a touch of saline. That doesn’t surprise me considering this vineyard is located only 8 miles from the Pacific Ocean.  Fermented with 100% whole cluster and 100% stem inclusion, this is again aged in 100% neutral French oak. 500 cases were bottled.

All of the night’s wines poured were lovely. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for each of them. Rajat and his partners should be very proud, and have a very bright future in front of them!

Here are the links:

http://sandhiwines.com

http://domainedelacote.com

 

This Wine is “Fergalicious”!

I’m having a “ME” night tonight. The hubby is off working and I’m on my own with a good book and a hopefully good bottle of wine. So I went into our cellar and pulled out a bottle of 2011 Ferguson Crest “Fergalicious”, knowing only that it’s a blend of 56% Syrah, 25% Merlot, 13% Grenache and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. I’m a huge lover of Syrah (in case you didn’t already know that) and the price wasn’t outrageous (I feel guilty opening an expensive bottle with my husband off working), so I grabbed this bottle thinking that it was the perfect wine for the night.

I popped and poured it without decanting … and actually really liked it right off the bat! I’m used to Syrah from the Rhone Valley, which this is NOT! Well, of course it’s not! This is only 56% Syrah, and it’s from the Santa Ynez region of California’s Central Coast AVA. The “Fergalious” is an interesting blend of Rhone varietals with Bordeaux varietals. It’s a lush, full-bodied wine with lots of dark fruit, violets and some spice on the nose. On the palate are the ripe dark fruit, mocha, olives and sweet tannins.

Holy crap! After reading up a bit on this wine, I realized that it’s a family-owned boutique winery established by Pat Ferguson (whose passion for years has been growing many different types of fruits) and his daughter Stacy Duhmel. In case you don’t know, that’s THE Fergie! Yes, THAT Fergie, the vocalist from Black Eyed Peas. I had no idea that she has a wine!!!!

I want to try to find a few more of these, hold on to them, and see how they taste after a few years in the bottle. I can’t help but think that they’ll get even better than they already are. I also look forward to trying some of Ferguson Crest’s other wines!

Meanwhile, I’ll be sure to save the other half of this bottle for my husband to try tomorrow night! It’s right up his alley, AND he thinks that Fergie is hot!

If you want to learn more about Ferguson Crest, check out their website here:  http://www.fergusoncrest.com

History (and great wine!) at Halter Ranch Vineyard

As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, I’ve just returned from a visit to the Central Coast AVA. We stopped in Santa Barbara County for a couple of days, but my main focus on this visit was to taste in Paso Robles. We had the opportunity to taste at many wonderful wineries, but today I’m going to focus on Halter Ranch Vineyard, located in the heart of Paso Robles’ Westside Adelaida District.

Full of history, Halter Ranch is one fun winery to visit. We were fortunate enough to embark on the full tour, hosted by our informative and personable guide Ray King. After checking out the Victorian farmhouse built in 1885 (which is a Paso Robles landmark!), we were loaded into a Jeep and crossed their picturesque covered bridge. Then off we drove into the 280 acres of vineyards!

We were shown some of their newly planted vines as well as a lot of old vine plantings. We stopped along the way for some breathtaking views, all while Ray was sharing a lot of the winery’s history and explaining which varietals were planted in which blocks, and why!

The highlight of the vineyards may not have been vines at all (although they WERE spectacular), but a huge, very old Coast Live Oak tree.  Thought to be about 600 years old, it is one of two largest trees of this variety in the world.  The tree sits in the middle of their Block 11 Syrah vineyard.  The rows of vines were planted in a radius around the Ancestor Oak (as they have named the tree) to twelve foot spacing so that the tractors could get between the rows when the vineyard was first planted back in 1996. This was definitely a photo op. As you can see by the picture, the branches have reached down into the ground and now help to support the massive tree.

At one point in the tour we hooked up with another group headed by Assistant Winemaker Molly Lonborg. Our two groups became one as we began the tour of the winery itself. 

Halter Ranch’s winery is the most state of the art I’ve seen. Architect John Mitchell worked closely with the winemaking team (headed by Winemaker Kevin Sass) to design this multi-level facility that employs gravity flow in all facets of the winemaking process. This allows the fruit to be handled in the gentlest way possible to get the grapes from the de-stemmer to the tank.

Molly showed us around the pristine facility, stopping to explain some of the many green aspects of the new facility, including rain harvesting water systems, the night cooling system, and a gravity based CO2 evacuation system. After showing off their new de-stemming machine and all of the other amazing features, she lead us to the cave where we saw barrels and barrels of fermenting juice!  

Next up was a visit to their lab. Again, the lab was immaculately clean and fascinating. Molly shared some of the fun (and not so fun) stories of their days in the lab.

Last, but certainly not least, we were led to a beautiful outdoor patio where Ray began pouring us some of the Halter Ranch wines.  This gorgeous spot was the ideal place to enjoy our tasting.

All of the Halter Ranch wines are good, but a few of them stood out for me.

Firstly, they make a rockin’ Rosé! Their 2014 is a blend of 71% Grenache, 9% Syrah, 13% Mourvèdre and 7% Picpoul Blanc. With aromas of strawberry and watermelon, it is made in the Provençal way and is refreshingly dry on the palate.

Another of my favorites was the 2012 Ancestor Estate Reserve. This is their flagship wine and is named after the “heart and soul” of their property, the Ancestor Tree. Comprised of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Malbec and 7% Petit Verdot, this lovely Bordeaux Blend has lots of dark fruit and mocha.

I also loved the 2012 Malbec Estate Reserve (76% Malbec, 20% Petit Verdot and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon) and the 2012 Syrah Block 22! Honestly, all of the wines we tasted were very well made and enjoyable.

So, if you’re in the Paso Robles area and would like to have a very memorable wine experience, be sure to put Halter Ranch on your list. You might even get really lucky and see the resident chickens.

Oh, and by the way … don’t forget to take your camera!

http://www.halterranch.com

Halter Ranch is also SIP (Sustainability in Practice) Certified. To learn more, click here:  http://www.sipcertified.org

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