1997 Santa Barbara Wine Futures Tasting


Saturday, April 5, 1997

Report on the 8th annual futures offering sponsored by the Wine Cask restaurant and wine store in Santa Barbara. This event presents tasting of locally grown and/or produced wines from soon-to-be-released vintages. The event is usually presented twice in the Spring to accommodate all those interested. The tasting notes compiled below are from the second of this year's tastings. 93 wines from 25 labels were being poured to a fairly sizable crowd at the University Club in downtown SB. Unfortunately, it just wasn't possible to taste everything, what with a limited amount of time, other patrons, etc. (most notably missing all those ABC Chards). However, I tried to concentrate on the reds, and managed to nail quite a few of them - most of which were pretty darn fine, I might add. So, on with the show. Scores are an alpha rating (just like in school). Listed in order tasted.

WINE CASK: pouring 7 wines; tasted 2:

1987 Blanc de Noirs Sparkling Wine. Light yellow color. Very yeasty nose and mouthfeel. Long smooth finish. A discussin' kind of wine. B+

1987 Rosé Sparkling Wine. Fairly deep and dark rose color. Somewhat odd and funky nose, with both feral and dank earthy qualities. Similar notes found in mouthfeel and finish. I could probably warm up to this with time, but for now...B-

Overall Comments: this was the 1st table inside the door, and instead of digging right in with the reds as I'd promised myself, I dallied with a couple of sparklers. In retrospect, I'm remorseful to have not tried their very affordable reds: a Mélange, a Claret, and a Reserve Pinot as well.

MARGERUM NEGOCIANTS: pouring 2 wines; tasted none.

  • Overall Comments: served at the Wine Cask table. Didn't try either of the two.

ANDREW MURRAY VINEYARDS: pouring 4 wines; tasted 4.

1996 Roussanne. Light touch of peaches and melon in nose; ditto in mouth. Seemed a bit restrained on general mouthfeel. B+

1996 Viognier. Light flavors of peach and apricot. Good medium body. Nice enough I suppose, but I still can't warm up to the varietal. What's all the fuss? B

1995 Syrah. Deep, rich black fruits apparent in both nose and taste. Nice extraction and mouthfeel. Wanting just a bit at finish. B+

1996 Esperance. The floral qualities and Grenaché nose just blast out of the glass. Reminiscent of many of the Phelps Vin du Mistrals. A-

  • Overall Comments: I'm probably not the best person to judge the Rhone whites (they're just not my bag). But, on the other hand, I think Murray does some very elegant reds. That being said, I'd like to see a little more extraction on the Syrah, though. I wanna paint the barn, rather than just stain it.

HARTLEY-OSTINI: pouring 4 wines; tasted 4.

1995 "Santa Maria Valley" Pinot Noir. Very smooth and quite accessible now. Full flavors of strawberry, cola, and cinnamon. Nice juice. A-

1995 "Bien Nacido Vineyard" Pinot Noir. This has a knockout nose, but the current mouthfeel and flavors fall a little short. B+ ...at least for now.

1995 "Sanford & Benedict Vineyard" Pinot Noir. Still a bit young and tight. As with most of the S/B Vnyd Pinots, some bottle aging is necessary to smooth out the bumps and stretch out the flavors. B+

1995 "California" Zinfandel. Very nice spicy raspberry. Succulent fruit and nice full mouthfeel. Nice job, guys.B+

  • Overall Comments: Solid Pinots as always. Pound for pound, they turn out a fabulous product. With good weight and balance, yet with elegant nuances, they seem more Burgundian than their Russian River siblings. I find the more accessible "Santa Maria" bottling to be my favorite -- at least for now.

BABCOCK: pouring 4 wines; tasted none.

  • Overall Comments: only pouring whites, and having dedicated myself to all that is red, I passed. Wish they'd have brought the Estate Pinot.

JAFFURS WINE CELLAR: pouring 1 wine; tasted 1.

1996 Syrah "Thompson Vineyard". The fruit for this bottling is from the Los Alamos area, and they've apparently done a blending of wine from both new and old barrels. The effect is quite nice on all counts, but I'd sure like to have tasted the two lots side-by-side. B+
  • Overall Comments: First time I've had this label, which is appears to be earning a name for itself by word of mouth. Having had this Syrah, I've heard the word, and the word is good.

FOXEN: pouring 3 wines; tasted 2.

1996 Mourvédre "Rothberg Vineyard". Fabulously fleshy fruit (yes, this is unabashed alliteration), combined with a rather decent backbone. Many times this varietal comes out a little too vague. Not this time. A-

1995 Cabernet Sauvignon "Ma Mére Vineyard". Hmmm. The program notes on this wine make mention of "...little, no--make that none, of the herbal, green pepper component...." to be found. True enough. However, it seems that they've unintentionally substituted green beans in its place. Ma says, eat your vegetables kids.

  • Overall Comments: yeah, maybe one can trash Mourvédre as pedestrian or as just a blending grape. But, anyone who makes a "serious" Chenin Blanc, like Foxen,would surely due this grape justice -- and they did! The Cab is serious as well -- serious green bean! However, this is an acquired taste, and I'm afraid I've been drinking too many No. Calif. Reds lately to have this Green Mack truck slip through the checkpoint unnoticed.

CAMBRIA: pouring 4 wines; tasted 3

1996 Pinot Noir "Reserve Clone-Lot T". Fabulous nose and mouthfeel. Very light extraction, but nothing is missing in flavors or components. Sleek stuff. A-

1996 Pinot Noir "Reserve Clone-Lot L". Though somewhat closed to the nose, this appears to be the most Burgundian of the trio on the palate, with meat and strawberry and cola flavors apparent. B+

1996 Pinot Noir "Reserve Clone-Lot V". Seems a touch cold and maybe green to the nose at present. Good extraction, even slightly chewy on the palate. B+

  • Overall Comments: Very interesting trio of Pinots. Once again, I was more enamored with the immediately accessible wine from a group of Pinots. Shame on me.

TALLEY: pouring 4 wines; tasted none.

  • Overall Comments: Apparently they had run out of the "Rincon" Pinot earlier, thus all that was left was great Chardonnay. But...wait...(whining) I'm not doing Chardonnay.

SANFORD: pouring 3 wines; tasted 1.

1995 "Barrel Select" Pinot Noir. Young, with just a hint of stern backbone. Yet, the whole package is quite elegant and friendly. Small spike of heat at the finish of this otherwise beautiful wine. A-
  • Overall Comments: poured both the Estate and Barrel Select Chards, but not the Sauvignon Blanc. In fact, I seem to recall that the source for the SB fruit will not be available sometime in the future. Pity. The Sanford Sauvignon Blanc is/was excellent.

DI BRUNO: pouring 1 wines; tasted none.

  • Overall Comments: this entry was a Pinot Grigio made by the Sanford winemaker and was handled by the Sanford table. Under other circumstances I'd have loved to have tried this wine. But, not now.

AU BON CLIMAT: pouring 11 wines; tasted 1:

1995 Pinot Noir "Mistral Vnyd - Selected Dijon Clones" Light ruby-cherry color. Fabulous nose of raspberry and cherry, spice, and a Burgundian meatiness in the nose. On the palate, very fat with expansive fruit and a long finish. A-
  • Overall Comments: undoubtedly, this was a major bungle. ABC was pouring a Pinot Gris, a Pinot Blanc, 5 Chardonnays, and 4 Pinot Noirs. Quite a range. Unfortunately, I neglected to notice this (or even remember it from the program announcement), so by the time I got to the table, it looked as though only one Pinot was left. This should be a lesson to me. But, it probably won't be.

ICI/LA-BAS: pouring 1 wine; tasted none.

  • Overall Comments: missed this Pinot also. Major bungle, part Deux.

BREWER-CLIFTON: pouring 4 wines; tasted 2

1996 Pinot Noir "Gold Coast". From a Los Alamos area vnyd, this wine was very smoky and floral. Burnished cherries on the palate. B

1996 Pinot Noir "Santa Maria Hills". Nice. Black cherry, cola, and spice. Very seductive and lush. B+

  • Overall Comments: I think these guys, ex-winemakers from Rancho Sisquoc and Sunstone, have combined to be a very formidable Pinot force in the area. Time will tell. Extremely low production of 24 and 50 cases respectively.

SANTA BARBARA WINERY: pouring 2 wines; tasted 1.

1995 Cabernet Franc. Nice boysenberry and black raspberry fruit, combined with a touch too much of green tobacco, or possibly under ripe fruit. Full mouthfeel and good balance. B
  • Overall Comments: I haven't tried this varietal from SBW before. Considering the local talent in this varietal arena (Bedford-Thompson, Foxen), they'll have to do some growing to measure up to the big boys.

BRANDER: pouring 4; tasted 2.

1995 Bouchet. Slight amount of veggie coming through, probably due to the increase in Cabernet Sauvignon at the expense of Cab Franc in this particular vintage. Nice nose; a little thin and bitter on the palate, though. I wish he'd used more Cab Franc in the final blend. B

1994 High-Density Vineyard Cabernet. Hmmm. Not sure what to make of this very mouth filling wine. It seems very backward at this point, which may or may not improve (duh!). B-

  • Overall Comments: The "green" qualities that generally permeate the SB/SY Cabs are, once again, an acquired taste (for some people, a distaste). I particularly like the green olive and green pea; but, particularly dislike the green bean. In Brander's case, this veggie quality was only a minor background issue.

DOMAINE SANTA BARBARA: pouring 4 wines; tasted none.

  • Overall Comments: pouring one Pinot, but I never got there.

COSTA DE ORO: pouring 2 wines; tasted none.

  • Overall Comments: pouring one Pinot, but I didn't seem to run across this label; sorry to have missed it. I've just got to pay closer attention.

Cold Heaven: pouring 1 wine; tasted none.

  • Overall Comments: pouring one Viognier, I didn't seem to run across this label either. Not sure I'd have been interested anyway.

ZACA MESA: pouring 0 wines; tasted none.

  • Overall Comments: a no-show. The sign-in table didn't offer any reason for their absence, either. They weren't scheduled to pour their Syrahs, but i was looking forward to the Mourvédre. Maybe they don't need the press.

OJAI VINEYARD: pouring 8 wines; tasted 3.

1995 "Bien Nacido" Syrah. Absolutely lovely color and nose. Plums, spices, and some bacon fat make for a very smooth and amiable mid palate. Lingering finish. Just flat out delicious now, and sure to improve for awhile. A-

1995 "Roll Ranch" Syrah. Nice dark fruits and touch more floral in the nose. Flavors of spice, oak, and blackberry. Medium-long finish. B+

1995 "California" Syrah. The weaker fruit of the trio. The wine hasn't a great deal of complex elements in either nose or mouthfeel. And yet, it's very quaffable. B

  • Overall Comments: as always, Ojai does a great job with its Syrahs. It this flight, the "Bien Nacido" just knocks my socks off.

IL PODERE DELL' OLIVOS: pouring 5 wines; tasted 1.

1996 Barbera Riserva "Ragazzo Legnoso". This was a medium-bodied Barbera, with a hint of smoky fruit on nose and palate. B
  • Overall Comments: I've had better (Rabbit Ridge), and I've had worse (Mastanuano). I'd rank this one closer to some of the best..

QUPE: pouring 7 wines; tasted 2

1995 Los Olivos Cuvée. Though the nose is very seductive, this Rhone blend (50/50 Syrah and Mourvédre) comes across as a touch thin on the palate. Light and elegant finish. B

1995 Syrah "Bien Nacido Reserve". Very nice color and nose. Some floral qualities, in addition to the ample fruit. Slightly less body than the Ojai B/N. B+

  • Overall Comments: This version of the '95 "Bien Nacido" Syrah comes in 2nd when paired against the Ojai version. But, just by a small margin. They were apparently pouring a "Hillside Estate" Syrah (which was supposed to be a killer), but I didn't see it table side. Guess I should've asked.

VITA NOVA: pouring 2 wines; tasted 2.

1994 Reservatum. Not quite as forward or succulent as I 'd hoped for, this medium-full bodied wine seems to want more age. B (for now.)

1995 Sangiovese-Merlot. Now this is fabulous stuff. The 2/3 Sangiovese delivers lots of strawberry-plum flavors in nose and mouth, with the Merlot fleshing out the middle of the wine. Wow! A-

  • Overall Comments: One of my favorite Vita Nova wines has been their Cab Franc. I may have to revise my overall scorecard considering this great Sangiovese-Merlot. Kudos.

MAKOR: pouring 2 wines; tasted none.

1996 Zinfandel. Sort of an old-fashioned style Zin, this comes off a bit heavy or plodding. Since this is a '96 (?), I've got to think that we're not seeing the wine at its best. I didn't ask, but I think it's fair to assume that more time in cask is required here, and suspect that after that and some bottle age, a much different wine will emerge. B (for now.)
  • Overall Comments: Pouring a Pinot Blanc and a Zin, I haven't been overly impressed in previous tastings of this label's wines, so I wanted to give them another try. No news to report.


Final comments: The Wine Cask produced an expertly organized and conducted tasting in a perfect setting. It was especially nice both to see and to have many of the winery principals, such as Jim Clendenen and Andrew Murray, pouring their wines. The Wine Cask-supplied catering gets an A+. Empty, or nearly empty, trays of hors d'oeuvres were wisked away, and immediately replaced by newly filled ones. A new benchmark in tastings. All I really needed was a battle plan...oh, and more time.

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