1999 Santa Barbara Wine Futures Tasting - 1997-'98 Vintage Releases


Saturday, March 13, 1999

Report on the 10th annual futures offering sponsored by the Wine Cask restaurant and wine store in Santa Barbara. The event presents tasting of locally grown and/or produced wines from soon-to-be-released vintages, and is usually presented twice during the Spring to accommodate all those interested. The tasting notes compiled below are from the first of this year's tastings. 80 wines from 25 labels were being poured to a sizable crowd at the University Club in downtown SB.

As usual, it just wasn't possible to taste everything being poured (you do know I tried). Considering the limited amount of time, other patrons, etc., one can only accomplish so much. I concentrated on the reds, and did manage to taste the majority of them. My scores are an alpha rating, based on an overall opinion of the wine's qualities. All prices are Futures prices from the Wine Cask, and are generally good through either 4/30 or 5/15/99.


AU BON CLIMAT: pouring 12 wines

1997 Pinot Noir "La Bauges Au-dessus". $44.99. Nose of floral qualities, raspberry, and boysenberry, but with a dishwater aroma in the background. The mouth has decent off-sweet raspberry fruit, but is also stemmy and a bit leafy leading to a somewhat bitter finish. Seems disjointed. B

1997 Pinot Noir "Sanford & Benedict Vnyd". $27.99 Strawberry, raspberry, and slightly leafy nose. Young and somewhat sour/tart mouthfeel. Seems awkward at this stage, but hopefully it'll come around. B+

1997 Pinot Noir "Talley - Rincon & Rosemary's Vnyd". $31.99 Nose of Strawberry, beet, and shoe polish. Very fleshy mouthfeel, but also with a stemmy and leafy quality to it. B+

1997 Pinot Noir "Isabelle". $44.99 Sweet nose of strawberry and stems. Warm yet somewhat thin flavors, with moderate tannins. B+

Overall Comments: I tasted 4 of the 5 Pinots, and was surprisingly underwhelmed. Generally, the wines seemed to be fruit-thin and unusually sour or bitter in the mouth. Also missing was the characteristic meaty and feral qualities I've come to expect from ABC Pinots. I don't know if this is just a vintage problem or what. But, we're still talking disappointment here.

BABCOCK: pouring 3 wines

1997 Pinot Noir "Grand Cuvee ". $31.99. Fleshy-smelling nose of strawberry and spices, with a bit of stem. Slightly tart, but very full, fleshy, and young mouthfeel. Nice long finish. A-

1997 Sangiovese "Eleven Oaks". $23.99. Nose of cherry, strawberry, and spices. Full, spicy mouthfeel, and very long finish. B+

1997 Syrah. $23.99. Textbook nose of blackberry, spice and briar. Big extraction. Fleshy, stemmy, and very chewy mouthfeel, with a ton of blackberry fruit through full long finish. A-

Overall Comments: certainly one of the better Pinots at the tasting, this nice Babcock effort was exceeded only by his Syrah. Very, very nice stuff! The Sangiovese was an interesting hybrid. This wine attempts to masquerade as Chianti-like with its spicy sharp nose and slightly acidic mouthfeel - but then the fleshy Cal-Ital fruit comes on at midpalate. Bus-ted!

BLACKJACK RANCH: pouring 1 wine

1997 Cabernet Sauvignon "Wilkening Vnyd". $23.99. Nose of cassis and ink well, with a somewhat lean and leafy quality. Good core of fruit, fleshy mouthfeel, with lots of tar, anise, and ...yep, ink. B+
Overall Comments: the first offering [that I'm aware of] from Roger Wisted. Program notes state that the fruit was sourced from the Wilkening Vnyd in Los Olivos, while his own vnyd matures. Also, the name is a play on his invention of a CA legal blackjack game (sorry, this is about wine - I'm not going there).

BREWER-CLIFTON: pouring 4 wines

1998 Pinot Noir "Julia's Vnyd". $23.99. Decidedly floral nose, with notes of strawberry, plus a bit of weed and stem. Good concentration of fruit, fleshy and stemmy mouthfeel. B+

1998 Pinot Noir "Santa Maria Hills". $33.99. Nose of strawberry, weed, rose petal, and celery. Fleshy mouthfeel, good strawberry-like fruit; meaty with a brushy quality. B+

Overall Comments: both of these offerings were intriguing, though slightly missing the [supposed] varietal mark. I preferred the Julia's, which seemed a bit more forward, if possibly a little less complex at this point.

DI BRUNO: pouring 2 wines

1997 Sangiovese "Stolpman Vineyard". $14.99. Nose of spicy strawberry, black cherry, and pomegranate. Big mouthfeel and sweet chewy fruit. Excellent tannins and acids for a nice dry grip, and a long spicy finish. A-
Overall Comments: caution! This is not your dad's Chianti Classico! A lot is written about Cal-Itals as a group not being varietally correct. But, that's all a lot of hooey. Good wine is good wine! The mouthfeel on this Sangiovese was terrific, and the nose was no slouch, either. Yeah! Bru-no...Bru-no...Bru-no!

FOXEN: pouring 4 wines

1998 Mourvédre "Rothberg Vineyard". $20.75. Fleshy nose, with hits of beet, leaf, and lots of floral components (nearly a Cab Franc quality). Cool and fleshy mouthfeel, with raspberry, perfume and leafy notes. B+

1998 "Cuvée Jeanne Marie". $ 24.75. Nose of raspberry, beet, shoe polish, and leather. Medium mouthfeel, with leafy raspberry fruit. Medium long finish. 60% Syrah, 40% Mourvédre. B+

1998 Tinaquaic Estate Red. $ 24.75. Nose of raspberry, blackberry, with hints of green bean, beet and shoe polish. Nice sweet medium mouthfeel, fleshy and a bit warm feeling. Smooth and seamless with a medium long finish. 60% Merlot, 30% Cab Franc, 10% Malbec. B+

1997 Cabernet Sauvignon "Ma Mere". $ 32.99. Cassis and just the vaguest hint of green bean. Full, young mouthfeel, with very nice fruit. B+

Overall Comments: I enjoyed this year's Mourvédre a bit better than last year's - if not as a Mourvédre, at least as a wine. The Cuvée is quite interesting. There seems to be confusion about the Tinaquaic Estate Red. I recall the info provided at the tasting table stated the wine was predominately Cab Franc, but the program booklet indicates Merlot.

GAINEY: pouring 1 wine

1996 Merlot "Limited Selection". $19.99. Nose of cassis, black cherry, major floral qualities, and spice. Stemmy and a bit herbal/veggie as well. Big, tannic and oaky mouthfeel of what appears to be slightly underripe fruit. The wine does feel fleshy and stemmy in the mouth, and the "green" fruit may likely wear off. Very nice finish, if still a bit leafy. B ...for now
Overall Comments: nice to see Gainey here again. This selection had a huge mouthfeel, but the fruit was just a little too green tasting to make the wine a contender.

HARTLEY-OSTINI: pouring 4 wines

1997 Pinot Noir "Santa Maria Valley". $19.99. Nose of strawberry and a bit of clove and cinnamon. Light-medium body, and very floral and meaty tasting. Medium-long finish. B+

1997 Pinot Noir "Bien Nacido". $19.99. Nose of strawberry, black cherry, smoke, and spice. Very young mouthfeel and substantially tart, yet plenty of fleshy fruit. B+

1997 Pinot Noir "Sanford & Benedict". $25.99. Smoky, cherry, and meaty nose. Fleshy and slightly stemmy and/or tart in the mouth. Long slightly stemmy finish. B+

1997 Pinot Noir "Highliner". $33.99. Nose of strawberry, cinnamon, persimmon, and a meaty quality. Warm fruits and a very flavorful mouthfeel. Slightly hot at long finish. A blend of 43% Riverbench, and about 14% each of the Sierra Madre, Bien Nacido, and Sanford & Benedict Vnyds, plus about 14% of Julia's Vnyd. A-

Overall Comments: the Highliner continues to be the star in this lineup in very nice Pinots. Of the balance, I liked the SMV next, followed by the SB.

JAFFURS WINE CELLAR: pouring 1 wine

1998 Syrah "Stolpman Vineyard". $21.99. Very meaty and fleshy nose of blackberry and briar aromas. Slightly sweet mouthfeel of raspberry and boysenberry fruit. Bit of fizz noted. Long finish. A-
Overall Comments: another nice job from Craig Jaffurs. Just about everything that comes out of the Stolpman Vnyd is aces.


1997 Syrah "Roasted Slope". $14.99. Nose of blackberry, black cherry, briar, stems, honey, and some floral aspects. Very, very fleshy mouthfeel of young wine. Flavors of blackberry, boysenberry and a touch of shoe polishy stuff. This sample was still a bit spritzy. About 5% Viognier. B+

1997 Syrah "South Slope". $15.99. Mass of blackraspberry, cinnamon and floral notes. Just a huge nose! Big mouthfull of slightly bitter off-sweet fruit. Some tartness and sourness through long finish. B+

Overall Comments: last year I said about the South Slope, "...I'd sure like to see this become a regular part of the cast...." It looks like it did. Both wines are very nice, with the "Roasted" having a shot stardom.

PALMINA: pouring 1 wine

1998 Nebbiolo. $27.99. Light extraction. Very floral, dried cherry, dried flower nose. Big dose of stern acids, sweet but dried fruits, and a bit hot through long finish. B
Overall Comments: yeah, I know what you're thinking...oh no, not another one of those flabby Cal-Itals. Well, yes and no. Poured from a huge Ultra decanter, the nose was positively full, fleshy and grabbing. But, the mouthfeel immediately addresses the usual charge that these Cal renditions don't have any backbone. Okay, it's not a real Nebbiolo, but it is a real attempt at the style, and I'm interested to see where this wine goes in future vintages. The fruit is sourced from the [fast becoming famous] Stolpman Vnyd.

OJAI VINEYARD: pouring 5 wines

1997 Pinot Noir "Pisoni Vnyd". $44.99. Lovely nose of strawberry and wild cherry. Big, but very fleshy and silky in mouthfeel. Bit of heat noted on sweet long finish. B+

1997 Syrah "Bien Nacido". $29.99. Sweet briary nose of shoe polish, blackberry, and cinnamon. Big but slightly tart fruit. Good fleshy mouthfeel, with off-sweet raspberry and blackberry and a stemminess. Long finish. B+

1997 Syrah "Roll Ranch". $29.99. Purple and inky color. Nose of shoe polish, spice and blackberry; very refined and complex smelling. Smooth and easy mouthfeel, good fruit at mid-palate, but slightly short on the medium-long finish. Seems to taste like a "junior" version of what I recall from last year. A-

Overall Comments: in contrast to last year's rendition, this year's Pisoni Pinot was much more restrained - and, I think it's a better wine for that factor. The BN Syrah is a good wine, but not nearly as spectacular as those from the preceding two vintages. The RR had the potential, based on the nose alone, to be a real standout. But, I found the mouth a bit wanting for fruit.

QUPE: pouring 4 wines

1997 Los Olivos Cuvée. $14.99. Medium nose of raspberry, boysenberry, and some floral qualities. Pleasant mouthfeel, if slightly soft on the palate. B

1997 Syrah "Bien Nacido". $19.99. Rich nose of black cherry, blackberry, and boysenberry. Big, fleshy mouthfeel, with a tart aspect to the fruit, and an oaky finish. A-

1997 Syrah "Hillside Estate". $28.99. Solid and very nice nose of black cherry, blackberry, and briar. Big, fleshy and stemmy mouthfeel, but also a bit sour and tart. Seems very young at this point, and hopefully will improve substantially. B+

Overall Comments: the Hillside had the best of the two Syrahs. But, the Bien Nacido seemed the most presentable, at least at this stage.

SANFORD: pouring 3 wines

1997 Pinot Noir "Barrel Select". $33.99. Black cherry, shoe polish, and strawberry nose. Good fleshy and stemmy mouthfeel, if seemingly a bit thin on fruit. Long, slightly bitter finish. B+
Overall Comments: here's possibly another case where I think the vintage conditions thinned out the apparent fruit in the mouthfeel.

TALLEY: pouring 5 wines

1997 Pinot Noir "Estate". $21.99. Very nice nose of strawberry and candied apple, and just a hint of stems. Fleshy, off-sweet fruit, full mouthfeel, and long slightly tart finish. A-

1997 Pinot Noir "Rosemary's Vnyd". $31.99. Wow! Killer nose of strawberry, black cherry, and lots of floral nuances. Lively mouthfeel, good stemmy fruit with a nice feral quality, and long off-sweet finish. Kudos here. A

1997 Pinot Noir "Rincon Vnyd". $35.99. Very restrained nose of strawberry and cinnamon. Big and meaty mouthfeel, with juicy and chewy, yet slightly soft strawberry fruit. A-

Overall Comments: last year I said, "...this may just be a stylistic difference between the two, but I definitely prefer the wines that ABC produces using Talley's fruit (Rincon, Rosemary's)." This year I take it all back! All three of these Pinots were very good, but the Rosemary's was particularly good, and the Rincon just lost by a "nose."

VITA NOVA: pouring 2 wines

1997 Sangiovese "Austin Vnyd". $14.99. Lots of green bean here, with just a hint of red fruit. Very good mouthfeel, slightly sweet fruit, and residual tannins through medium long finish. B

1997 Cabernet Sauvignon - Petite Verdot "I, Acronicus". $31.99. Cassis, with a veggie quality that seems to blow off a bit with time. But, how much time? Somewhat thin mouthfeel, with steely, leafy flavors. 50/50 Cab and Petite Verdot. B

Overall Comments: strange selections here. VN's blends seemed very nice to me last year. But, this year...I dunno.

ZACA MESA: pouring 1 wine

1998 Mourvedre. Garnet purple color, quite dark and opaque. Sweet blackberry nose. Big and smooth mouthfeel. Weighty and very chewy on the palate, with soft tannins and a long finish. B+
Overall Comments: nice effort from Zaca, once again. I liked this a little better than the Foxen rendition.


Unable to taste and review:

BRANDER: pouring 3 wines.
Cold Heaven: pouring 2 wines.
COSTA DE ORO: pouring 2 wines.
DOMAINE SANTA BARBARA: pouring 1 wine.
ICI/LA-BAS: pouring 2 wines
IL PODERE DELL' OLIVOS: pouring 2 wines
MAKOR: pouring 3 wines.
WINE CASK: pouring 9 wines:

Final comments: The Wine Cask continues to do a fabulous job on this annual event. The wines and the food are great, and there's always a feeling of excitement among the participants and attendees. At $25, it is a bargain for any tasting. The attendance at this first tasting seemed a little lighter this year, which made negotiating the rooms a lot easier than in previous years.

Among the stars of this event were the Jaffurs, Babcock, and Ojai Roll Ranch Syrahs. And, the Talley Rosemary and Rincon bottlings were some beautiful Pinots. Babcock delivered a trio of very good wines, and Di Bruno's Sangiovese was a nice surprise. Most of the Syrahs I tasted were very good, as were many of the Pinots. But, others just didn't seem to live up to their potential.

Unfortunately, 1997 was not kind to the crop. And when the grapes can't deliver the extraction or flavors, the winemakers just can't work their usual magic. ABC turned out to be my biggest disappointment. And, largely thin fruit seemed to be the culprit.

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