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Old World Style in the New World!

If you follow my blog, you know that I love to travel! And when I travel, it’s usually to a wine region somewhere in the world! Well last week my husband and I hit California’s Central Coast AVA. We visited a few different areas, but today I’m going to tell you about three wineries from Santa Barbara County that really stood out to me!

First up was Whitcraft, located in Santa Barbara! Fresh off the airplane, this was our first stop. I’ve always wanted to taste here and was very excited.  I wasn’t disappointed! Sadly, Chris Whitcraft (who started making wine as a hobby and turned it into an award winning winery) passed last year. Happily, his very talented son Drake is now in charge of the winemaking and operations of Whitcraft Winery. He also happened to be pouring in the tasting room that day!

We had a wonderful tasting here, perhaps my favorite of the entire trip!!! Whitcraft’s Chardonnay is powerful with fruit, and has notes of earth and minerals. The Pinot Noir and Syrah are lovely “Old World” representatives that make me very happy! I can tell that Drake cares about the fruit! The wines are not overdone; he lets them speak for themselves. I bought three of his Pinots and one of his Chards. Believe me, if I lived in the area I’d buy his wines by the truckload!

Oh, and by the way, Whitcraft has a very cute Wine Dog named Terra!

Another winery that definitely stood out was Transcendence! I’m a very picky Pinot Noir drinker (see above). I admit it! Most “New World” Pinots just don’t rock my boat. Transcendence, on the other hand … WOW! 

Once again we were fortunate to taste with owner/winemaker Joey Gummere in their Lompoc tasting room. His Pinot Noirs are (in my opinion) being made the way Pinot Noir is supposed to be made! There is some earthy funkiness behind the fruit, along with lovely floral notes. He also does some nice Chardonnay and some rockin’ Rhone blends. In fact, I’m drinking a bottle of his 2012 Parea (50% Syrah, 29% Mourvèdre and 21% Grenache) as I write this! I bought a bunch, and he gave me a nice deal on shipping.

Last (but not least!) was Liquid Farm. Located in Buellton, this winery focuses on Chardonnay. I love the name (their goal is to promote that what happens above and below the ground produces the liquid in the bottle) and I also love the wine.

Anna set us up with a tasting with the Assistant Winemaker Tanner and his playful Wine Dog Button. We tasted through 5 different Chardonnays, and there wasn’t a dud in the group! My personal favorites were the 2013 Golden Slope, named for the famous Côte-d’Or of Burgundy France and the 2013 Bien Bien, which had a wonderful finish and reminded me of a Chassagne-Montrachet! I’m a sucker for Chassagne-Montrachet, so you can imagine how much I loved this wine!

Again, wish I could have bought a heck of a lot more, but thankful that I can order online!

As you can imagine, this was a great start to a very rewarding wine excursion.  I look forward to sharing more in future blogs!

If you’re interested in visiting any of these wonderful wineries, or are simply curious to check out more about them, here are links:

Rockin’ Syrah from Chile

Want a great wine for a great price?  If you’re a lover of Syrah, and especially Syrah from the Northern Rhone, check out this winner from Chile!

The 2012 Merino Syrah is from the Limari Valley in Chile.  Located in the Coquimbo region north of Santiago, the Limari Valley has mineral rich soil and a similar climate to Marlborough in New Zealand, influenced by the Pacific Ocean.  This is a very dry area with an average of only four inches of rain per year.  Drip irrigation is allowed and used to water the vines.

The wine is a bright purple in color.  The nose screams ripe blueberries, with some mocha and a touch of smoky meat.  The palate has the juicy blackberries, olive juice and the meatiness.  The bright fruitiness is balanced by some earth and acidity making the wine taste very alive!   The tannins are sweet and velvety smooth.

If you’re a fan of Syrah, check out this wine.  It reminds me of a Syrah from the Northern Rhone and ROCKS for the retail price of about $15!


Visiting Gigondas

After visiting the Northern Rhone Valley, Gigondas was our next stop.

Gigondas is a charming village located near Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Southern Rhone.  It is also an appellation that produces some fabulous wines, both red and rosé, with its vineyards sitting below the dramatic rock formation called the Dentelles de Montmirail.

For many decades all of the wines of Gigondas were simply Côtes-du-Rhône, but in 1966 they were elevated to Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages.  In 1971 Gigondas was deservingly awarded its own appellation.  By law, the red wines of Gigondas can be made of no more than eighty percent Grenache, and no less than fifteen percent Syrah and/or Mourvedre.  The remaining blending varietal is usually Cinsault, but may be any other red Rhone varietal except Carignan.

One of the top producers of Gigondas is Domaine de Cayron.  I have some of their wines in my home cellar and was excited to visit them.  Sadly when I arrived for my tasting the winery was closed and I received no response to my knocks on the door or rings of their bell.

Thankfully, not far down the road sits the Caveau du Gigondas.  Here one can taste a plethora of Gigondas wines (over one hundred!), including wines from Domaine de Cayron!  The tasting room is a large, modern space that has many wines along the walls.  At the tasting bar we bellied up and were offered as many tastes as we liked, all being poured from small bottles that were filled directly from barrel at the respective winery. 

My husband and I tried many, but not all, of the wines.  One of our favorites was the 2010 Domaine La Bouïssiere Gigondas Le Font de Tonin.  This full-bodied wine is a blend of 80% Grenache and 20 % Mourvedre.  Its floral and dark fruits on the palate are well concentrated with nice minerality.  We bought a couple of bottles that will sit in our cellar for a few years, because they need some more time to evolve.

The Caveau du Gigondas is a GREAT place to taste.  It was quite busy while we were there, but nonetheless the service was wonderful and the fellow tasters very friendly.  We were given a written list of each wine available to taste, and we were able to pick and choose our preferences.  One man we met had tasted them all!!!  I sure do hope that he wasn’t driving!!!

If you’re in Gigondas be sure to plan a visit.  They are located right next to the town hall and the tourist information office.  They are closed on Christmas Day and New Years Day, along with 15 days in January.  Otherwise they are open daily from 10am – 12pm and 2pm until 6pm.  You can check out their website at:

Visiting the Northern Rhone Valley

Syrah is my favorite varietal, so I was very excited to visit its “homeland”, the Northern Rhone Valley in France.  Syrah is the only red varietal used in all five of the appellations located in the Northern Rhone:  Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Saint Joseph, Cornas and Côte-Rôtie.

My husband and I stayed in Tain l’Hermitage, a beautiful town set right on the Rhone River.  Hotel Les 2 Coteaux was the perfect spot to call home while we were there.  The view from our window had vineyards, the river, and an adorable pedestrian bridge that connects Tain l’Hermitage to its twin city Touron-sur-Rhone.  The proprietor was very kind and made us feel at home immediately.

Our first tasting was at the famous Rhone Valley producer Maison M. Chapoutier, often referred to simply as Chapoutier.  They have a beautiful tasting room right in Tain l’Hermitage where we tasted many of their wines from the Northern and Southern Rhone.  My favorites included the 2010 Côte-Rôtie Les Bécasses, which has violets, spicy earth and bacon, the 2011 Les Granilites St Joseph Blanc, big on the palate with honey, apricots and nice minerality, and the expensive but unbelievably impressive 2010 Le Pavillon Emitage, with a deep purple color, dark fruit flavors, superb concentration and a long finish.  This wine needs to spend many years in the cellar before cracking open.  Another fun fact about Chapoutier is that their labels are also in braille!

Our next visit was Cave de Tain, also right in Tain l’Hermitage.  While waiting for them to open after lunch, we witnessed some vineyard workers across the street.  It was fascinating to see the use of horse and plow in the fields.  This is not an uncommon practice in the Northern Rhone, because of the steep hillsides and the popularity of biodynamic and organic farming practices.

At Cave de Tain we tasted a large range of Rhone wines, from everyday bottlings for as little as 5 euro, a nice Cornas at 23 euro, all the way up to a nice Hermitage in the 70 euro range.

Next on our list was Domaine des Remizieres located in Mercurol.  This is a family winery with some wonderful wines.  The 2011 Cuvee Christophe Crozes-Hermitage is 100% Syrah and is quite aromatic with plenty of dark fruits and some licorice and earthiness on the nose.  The palate is lush with fruit and some pleasant toastiness.  The 2011 Saint Joseph is lush with fruitiness and vanilla.  It can be drunk young (I’ve already consumed the bottle I bought and wish I had more!), but will get even better with a couple of more years in the bottle.

Our final tasting in the area was at Domaine des Entrefaux, which is located in the village of Chanos-Curson.  This winery is set in a beautiful location, up on a mountain overlooking vineyards.  The tasting room was perfect, complete with a table and chairs in which to sit and an adorable wine dog.  The gal pouring for us was delightful, and I had the opportunity to use my much practiced, although somewhat limited, French.  We communicated fine, though, and had a wonderful tasting.  Known as one of the most reputable producers of Crozes-Hermitage, it wasn’t surprising that we were thrilled with the quality of the wines we tasted.  Father and son team Charles and Francois Tardy have 21 hectares of Syrah and 5 hectares of Marsanne.  They began using organic practices in 2000 and received official organic certification in 2012.  It was difficult to pick a favorite.  I bought a bottle of each of the 2011 Crozes-Hermitage Les Pends Rouge and Blanc.  I couldn’t wait to open the red, so I’m drinking it tonight. There is blackberry, cassis and some white pepper on the palate.  At only about $20 a bottle, this wine rocks!

If you’re a fellow lover of Syrah, the Northern Rhone Valley is a must visit.  The people are lovely, the views are incredible, and the wines are very special.


2007 Domaine Catherine Le Goeuil Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne

My husband is out of town, so I spent some time rifling through our cellar last night to find a wine for just me.  In celebration of my upcoming trip to the Rhone Valley, I decided on a half bottle of the 2007 Domaine Catherine Le Goeuil Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne.

Cairanne, located in the French departement of Vaucluse, is a small village located between the Rhone River and the famous Dentelles de Montmirail mountain chain.  Along with its neighbors Beaumes-de-Venise, Rasteau, Sablet, and Seguret, Cairanne is considered one of the five best areas allowed to use the Côtes du Rhône Villages AOC distinction.  The red wines of this region require a minimum of 50% Grenache and at least 20% Syrah and/or Mourvèdre; other permitted varieties (Counoise, Cinsault and Carignan among others) must not exceed 20%.

Catherine Le Goeuil is a bit of a trailblazer.  She was born in the Congo to French parents, but had always wanted to “return to her roots”.  In 1993 she and her family bought this six-hectare domaine.  After their first chemical treatment to the vineyards she became very ill, and she realized that if these chemicals made HER ill, they would also make the vines ill.  She began the conversion to organic farming and today her winery is now certified organic.

And now for the wine!  On the nose are bright berry aromas with a hint of fresh flowers and some damp earth.  The palate of this medium bodied wine is very pleasing with spicy red currant, thyme and good acidity.  This is a very pleasant wine possessing a substantial finish with black pepper and hints of the terroir.

I saved a glass for tonight and had it with a fresh salad drenched in a very garlicky dressing, along with a chunk of Beemster XO Gouda from Holland.  It was a great pairing with both.

There are many lovely Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages wines on the market here in North America.  A lot of these wines are of great value and don’t break the bank.  This wine is one of them!

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