9 No.1 - March
Journal and tasting
notes from visits to several Santa Ynez Valley wineries.
Tasting Notes / Scores: Brief tasting impressions are
included following the winery write-up. An "n/n" indicates that no notes
Sun, March 18, 2001
Since I'd been in Santa Barbara for the Santa
Barbara Futures Tasting on Saturday, I decided to head over the hill
on Sunday to the Santa Ynez Valley for a little more wine tasting. Left
Santa Barbara about 10:15am.
Arrived at Bridlewood Winery about 10:45. Located in the middle
of the Valley, the beautiful grounds is the first thing one notices about
this former equestrian rehabilitation facility. Cory Holbrook established
in 1998, electing to retain the property's mission architecture while
renovating the 105-acre estate into a winery and vineyards. The very spacious
and well-appointed tasting room opened in April '99. Behind the tasting
room and large courtyard is a picnic area, as well as more parking. From
here, the view includes a horse training track, lovely pond, and some
rolling hills, all of which makes for some very Disneyesque scenery. The
winery and storage facility now occupy the previous stable area, and Bridlewood
produces about 25,000 cases annually. On the wine side, Kevin Willenborg
is winemaker, and Dan Gehrs is consulting winemaker. Tasting fee is $5,
including a logo glass. A very knowledgeable and gracious staff member,
Keith Biggars, was kind enough to open new bottles, taking the time to
explain the sources and styles of each wine. Although they are cranking
out a lot of juice at this winery, I'm impressed with the quality level
of these wines, and the prices seem really great. Out at 11:50
Tasted at Bridlewood:
1998 Bridlewood Saddlesore Rose - California.
$4.50. Fruity, floral and slightly singed nose. Lightly fruity
on the palate, with a decent balance, and shows a little heat
at the finish. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Zin, it's certainly
an affordable Summer quaffer. The price of this wine had been
reduced, and there was some speculation that it may be the last
vintage for this proprietary blend. Aroma/Taste: B/B
1998 Bridlewood Chenin Blanc - Santa Barbara Co. $6.50.
Floral and fruity nose. Slightly off-sweet taste, crisp acids,
with a medium-long finish and toasty aftertaste. Aroma/Taste:
1999 Bridlewood Sauvignon Blanc - Santa Barbara Co. $12.00.
Lemon-scented aromas, with some hay/grass hints. Clean light mouthfeel,
good balance, crisp lemony fruit, and a medium-long finish. Aroma/Taste:
1997 Bridlewood Sangiovese - Santa Barbara Co. $16.00.
Nose of dried cherry with a bit of chocolate - almost Mourvedre-like.
Dried cherry flavors and mouthfeel, somewhat chewy, with good
fruit and balance, and a long finish. Seems to give off a bit
of heat, although it's only 12.1% alcohol. 25% Merlot. Not a prototypical
new world Sangiovese, but an interesting one. Aroma/Taste: B+/B
1998 Bridlewood Grenache - California. $12.00. Old viney
aromas, with candied and burnished fruit in the nose. Big mouthfeel,
nice off-sweet fruit with a touch of chocolate, good balance,
and long finish. 200 cases made. Fruit from Collins Ranch, Cucamonga.
1998 Bridlewood Zinfandel - Paso Robles. $12.00. Beautiful
floral, raspberry, chocolate and stemmy nose. Nice full mouthfeel,
very ripe boysenberry flavors with just a hint of prune, long
finish and delicious aftertaste. The 7% Rhone varietals blended
with the Dusi Zin have undoubtedly helped flesh this wine out.
1999 Bridlewood Syrah - Central Coast. $20.00. Toasty,
slightly restrained blackberry nose. Young, and somewhat chewy
mouthfeel, with a bit of stem and pepper on a long finish. The
successor to their really nice '98 Syrah, this has been in bottle
for about three months. Fruit source is mostly Meeker Vnyd in
Paso Robles. Aroma/Taste: B/B+
1997 Bridlewood Cabernet Sauvignon - Daly Vnyd, Santa Ynez
Valley. $24.00. Stemmy nose of chocolate, shoe wax, and a
bit of petrol. Full mouthfeel, toasty cassis and chocolate flavors,
long finish. The Daly vnyd is apparently located near the Stolpman
Vnyd, and its fruit has produced an interesting example of a SYV
Cab. Aroma/Taste: B/B
1998 Bridlewood Arabesque - California.$14.00.
Very nice nose, with lots of slightly ripe black cherry, a bit
of raspberry and cranberry, along with chocolate and some sage.
Chewy mouthfeel, toasty ripe fruit, long finish, nice aftertaste.
About 60% Grenache, with equal parts of Syrah and Mourvedre. Aroma/Taste:
1998 Bridlewood Ranger Red - California.$8.00.
Nose of slightly burnished fruit with a bit of stem and floral
notes. Stemmy mouthfeel, decent fruit, yet a bit light on the
palate, medium long finish. Not a bad quaffer. As with the Zin
above, I suspect the fruit was rescued by the addition of some
Rhone varietals. About 75% Zin, with equal parts of Grenache and
Syrah. Aroma/Taste: B/B
1998 Bridlewood Chardonnay - Santa Barbara Co. $18.00.
Nose of lemon/apple fruit, with touches of caramel and oak. Initially
sweet mouthfeel, with crisp green apple fruit, nice acidity and
balance, very long finish and a nice aftertaste. Definitely fruity,
but made to cut through cream sauces. Fruit sources 50/50 Santa
Ynez and Santa Maria. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+
1998 Bridlewood Merlot - Santa Barbara Co. $22.00. Fleshy
and chocolate-influenced black cherry in the nose. Nice ripeness.
Rich and lush mouthfeel, with the barest hint of stem. Moderate
black cherry, toast, and chocolate flavors, with a long finish.
100% Merlot from Firestone Vnyd. Aroma/Taste: B+/B
Arrived at Foxen at 12:20 to an unusually light crowd. However,
the lack of a crowd is often just the calm before the storm. Judging by
the frequent mass-arrivals of tasters, one gets the feeling that people
are meeting up somewhere else, and forming a convoy to arrive at the winery
at the same time. Tasting fee is $3 for the pours of the day - usually
5 wines. Two ladies were tending the small tasting bar, while another
person appeared to be assisting a guest with wines on the small concrete
pad just behind the rustic tasting room. Foxen always seems to do a nice
job with their wines, but this time I found the '98 Cab and Merlot particularly
interesting. Out at 12:45.
Tasted at Foxen:
1998 Foxen Chardonnay - Santa Maria Valley. $20.00. Fruity/grassy
and toasty nose. Big rich mouthfeel, with lots of fruit throughout,
and a very long tasty finish. Fruit is 60% Tinaquaic, 40% Bien
Nacido Vnyd. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+
1997 Foxen Chardonnay - Tinaquaic Vnyd, Santa Ynez Valley.$30.00.
Nose of minerals, mown grass, toast, and a bit of stem. Grassy
and toasty flavors, full and chewy mouthfeel, long finish. Aroma/Taste:
1999 Foxen Pinot Noir - Santa Maria Valley. $24.00.
Lots of black cherry fruit in the nose, with some stemmy spice
background notes. Quite chewy mouthfeel, nice black cherry fruit,
touch of cola and spice, long finish. Fruit is approximately equal
amounts of Bien Nacido, Gold Coast, and Julia's Vnyds. Aroma/Taste:
1998 Foxen Syrah - Santa Barbara Co. $22.00. Toasty and
slightly stemmy blackberry nose, with hints of shoe polish and
a slight green vegetal background note. Toasty and surprisingly
moderate mouthfeel, nice fruit, medium-long finish. While the
nose has some complexity, I'm worried that the mouthfeel is a
little soft to go the distance. Fruit is sourced from Morehouse,
Carhartt, Alisos, and Ambassador's Vnyds. Aroma/Taste: B+/B
1998 Foxen Cabernet Franc - Santa Barbara Co. $25.00.
Stemmy and steely, with a slightly vegetal nose. Steely and lean
mouthfeel, with ample slightly underripe yet fleshy fruit, and
a long finish. Seems mostly tight and tart right now, time will
tell whether this loosens up a bit. Fruit is sourced from Tinaquaic,
Westerly, and Alisos Vnyds. Aroma/Taste: B/B
1998 Foxen Merlot - Santa Barbara Co. $25.00. Fleshy and
slightly stemmy nose, with toasty, plummy and black cherry aromas.
Rich somewhat spicy mouthfeel, the black cherry and cassis fruit
gets a bit tart/sour and tannic through the latter palate and
the long finish. Fruit is sourced from Tinaquaic, Westerly, Carhartt,
Alisos, and Rancho Sisquoc Vnyds. Aroma/Taste: B+/B
1998 Foxen Cabernet Sauvignon - Santa Barbara Co. $25.00.
Nose of rose stems, toast, cassis, and a bit of chocolate. Full
mouthfeel, nice toasty off-sweet fruit, and long finish. Big surprise
here; left me wondering where the green went. Nice job. Fruit
is sourced from Stolpman, Rancho Sisquoc, and Daly-Forthman Vnyds.
1998 Foxen Syrah - Morehouse Vnyd. $35.00. A bit closed
in the nose, but has slight aromas of blackberry and peppery beef
jerky. Big chewy mouthfeel, nice fruity flavors, with a bit of
spicy quality to the long tasty finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+
Arrived at Rusack at 1:20. Hadn't been here is a while, and I
was interested to see if some of the wines were as good as I remembered.
Very friendly staff working the tasting room. Tasting fee is $4, including
logo glass. Since my last visit, hey've relocated the tasting bar to a
different side of the room, making their beautifully shaded redwood deck
and patio much more obvious and inviting. Once known as Ballard Canyon
Winery, Rusack Vineyards was established in 1995 by Alison and Geoff Rusack
on the 48 acre site, 37 of which are planted to Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon,
Riesling, Muscat Canelli, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. Production
is about 5000 cases per year. Resurrecting a familiar, yet welcome theme
from the Valley's past, Rusack also produces a Riesling and Muscat Canelli.
This, along with other white varietals and blends, make the lineup more
appealing to a wider audience. These are all nicely made wines. Yet, I
just wasn't as impressed with them this time around - especially the reds.
However, the ambiance is very nice, and the redwood deck and patio area
just begs you to sit around relaxing with a glass of riesling. Out at
Tasted at Rusack:
1999 Rusack Chardonnay - Huber Vnyd, Lompoc. $20.00. Still
opaque/cloudy looking (only been in bottle 1-1/2 mos.), with a
tropical fruity and slightly toasty caramelized nose. Medium-full
mouthfeel, with crisp clean apple flavors, and a caramel/butterscotch
flavored long finish. Probably a bit to cloying with it's caramel
apple qualities, but also very tasty. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+
1999 Rusack Chardonnay - Santa Maria Valley. $20.00. Nose
is lemon-scented and toasty, with a bit of soapy/swampy quality.
Nice body, crisp apple flavors, with hints of toast and a bit
of hay, and a nice long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B+
1999 Rusack Pinot Noir - Lake Marie Vnyd, Santa Maria Valley.
$25.00. Slightly burnished and stemmy nose of strawberry/black
cherry, and cola. Medium-full mouthfeel, very stemmy-influenced
fruit flavors, long somewhat stemmy finish. Gosh, I wonder where
all this stem quality stems from. Aroma/Taste: B/B
1998 Rusack Merlot - Santa Ynez Valley. $29.00. Nose of
cassis and shoe polish (the good kind). Full mouthfeel, somewhat
green and steely flavors, long finish. 15% Cab Franc, and it definitely
comes through on the palate. Aroma/Taste: B/B
1998 Rusack Cabernet Sauvignon - Estate, Santa Ynez Valley.$25.00.
Nose of cassis, strawberry, black cherry and a bit of chocolate.
Somewhat astringent and grainy mouthfeel, narrowly focussed fruit,
and very long finish. Nice enough nose, but the mouthfeel lacks
some fleshiness and seems a bit too stern. Aroma/Taste: B/B
1999 Rusack Riesling - Santa Maria Valley. $13.75. Slightly
sweet and lightly spiced fruit in the nose. Fruity mouthfeel,
light-medium body, nice balance, clean taste, and long finish.
Seems well made, just lacks a little grip. Aroma/Taste: B/B
1999 Rusack Muscat Canelli - Santa Ynez Valley. $12.50.
Sweet tropical fruit spicy nose, with a slight swampy/sweaty aroma
in the background. Medium body, nice balance, clean spicy fruit
flavors, and long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B+
1999 Rusack Soul of the Vine - Santa
YnezValley. $20.00. Fairly light mouthfeel, spicy flavors,
fruit falls-off briefly on the otherwise long clean finish. A
50/50 blend of Riesling and Muscat Canelli, that is picked nearly
'late harvest' and force-frozen at a market in Solvang. Aroma/Taste:
Arrived at Rideau at 2:05. I was interested to see if any changes
had been made to their program since the last visit. As it turns out,
not much has changed. Rideau pours the first few wines in the front room
of the adobe house, then pour the final selections on a covered patio
expansion near the rear of the house. Tasting fee is $5, including a logo
glass. The wines here are made in a lighter style, attempting to focus
more on the delicate qualities of certain varietals and blends. Unfortunately,
it's mostly lost on me, and the wines come off more as under-filled or
thin, rather than delicate. The pricing seems a little ambitious as well.
With ten acres of Rhone varietals planted in the Spring of 2000, Rideau
expects to produce their first estate Syrah and Viognier wines in 2001.
At that point, we'll see if a change in fruit source translates to the
wines. Out at 2:25.
Tasted at Rideau:
1999 Rideau Viognier Reserve - Santa
YnezValley. $27.00. Slightly sweet and dense-smelling peach
and orange aromas, with a touch of toasted nuts. Somewhat sweet
mouthfeel, with a nutty peach and apricot flavors, and long finish.
Fruit from Stolpman and Lucas Vnyds. Aroma/Taste: B/B
1998 Rideau Chardonnay - Bien Nacido Vnyd. $23.00. Nose
of grass/hay, with additional notes of apple and tropical fruit.
Medium-full mouthfeel, nice body and toasted flavors, long crisp
finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B+
1998 Rideau Tempranillo - California. $20.00. Rustic and
somewhat astringent floral nose. Medium-full mouthfeel, slightly
burnished fruit and a biting stemmy quality that leads to a mostly
tart finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B
1998 Rideau Syrah - Central Coast. $28.00. Somewhat burnished
and overripe in the nose. Full bodied, but astringent and tight
mouthfeel, with long finish. Fruit from French Camp Vnyd. Aroma/Taste:
1998 Rideau Chateau DuPlantier Cuvee
-Santa Ynez Valley. $25.00. Seems a bit simple in its floral
and fruity aromas. Medium-full body, toasty mouthfeel, long finish.
A blend of Mourvedre, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Viognier. Aroma/Taste:
1998 Rideau Vin Blanc - California. $8.50.
Appealing fruity and floral nose. Clean and light mouthfeel, off-sweet
fruity flavors with a hint of stems, and a clean long finish.
Mostly Chenin Blanc. Aroma/Taste: B/B
Wrap up: covered just 4 wineries, and 34 wines in this short trip.
But, Bridlewood was an eye-opener. There seems to be a lot of potential
here, and the '98 Syrah was something of a Central Coast star for the
vintage - especially for the price. Excellent hospitality staff as well.
Foxen is always good - especially if you can visit without a large
crowd in the room. Now, if you're just crusing through the area with no
particular goal or schedule in mind, I'd recommend planning on a lengthy
and relaxing visit to Rusack - and just hang out on the patio/deck
with a glass in hand. Finally, Rideau does have a very inviting
tasting room and surroundings, despite my lukewarm opinion of the wines
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