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Paso Robles

Rhône with me!

I can’t believe it!  It’s here!  Tomorrow afternoon, I kick off my 2012 Hospiece du Rhône experience with my good friends Amy & Joe Power of Another Wine Blog.

This year is a particularly special occassion, in that it is the 20th Anniversary of HdR, and Amy’s bday.  I won’t tell you which one, since I want to live through the weekend but it will be big.

This year, Hospice du Rhône, the world’s largest gathering of Rhône variety wines and producers, will celebrate 20 years of all things Rhône.  The events are sold out, which is hardly surprising given the amazing agenda we have lined up, and I’m so excited to be headed down to Paso Robles tomorrow to participate.

Fortunately for you latecomers, if you are in Paso Robles on Saturday, there will be 100 Golden Tickets sold at the door to the Grand Tasting.  It is a bit like Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, as yo8u enter the gates to the fairgrounds, and see the throngs of people lined up.

For our experience, we are starting with dinner at Artisan, a local restaurant known for it’s wine & food pairings with local ingredients.  Amy, Joe, myself, and our friends from Pithy LIttle Wine Co. will kick off the weekend wiht a dinner fit for Rhône-heads everywhere.

Thursday, I will be wandering around Paso with stops at Ranchero Cellars and whereever else the wind blows up.  Thursday evening, a special welcome reception to jump start the event.  A lucky few will be participating in a  Châteauneuf du Pape seminar and pairing dinner, who will have the privilege to taste Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines dating as far back as 1954.  Author of The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Book, Harry Karis along with Vigneron Philippe Cambie will lead the audience through an in-depth look at this historic region of France before delighting in dinner at Paso Robles’ premier French restaurant, Bistro Laurent. Chef Laurent Grangien has carefully prepared a five-course meal for this enchanting evening.

Friday will begin with wines from four rock star winemakers hailing from the Priorat region of Spain. Eric Solomon of Eric Solomon Selections will bring to the stage Jose Maria Vicente of Casa Castillo, Daniel Jimenez-Landi of Jimenez-Landi, Bixente Ocafrain of Bodegas Mas Alta and Daphne Glorian-Solomon of Clos I Terrasses. Next, attendees will dive into the stones Walla Walla, Washington with a focused seminar by the ever spirited and knowledgeable Christophe Baron of Cayuse.  Having just hopped a plane home from Barcelona last month, I am especially looking forward to the Priorat seminar.

After we are full of Priorat, we head over to the Rosé Lunch, celebrating pink wine.  There will be a huge variety of pinks to choose from, and with the delicious nibbles from the girl & the fig, I might need a nap after!  I seem to recall the Great Pot du Creme caper of a couple of years ago when attendees could not eat enough of the three selections and may or may not have accidentally taken a pot back to their hotel room.

After lunch, and said nap, the Rhône Rendezvous has gone BIG!  This walk-around tasting for will feature 100 producers who will share their Rhône wines from large-format bottles.  Wowza!  Friday night I have a feeling we might be seen at Villa Creek or the brewery for dinner, if we can roll out of the parking lot.

After a good night’s sleep (or lackthere of knowing how things roll at the Black Oak) day two of the 2012 Seminar Series will begin with a look at the historic Northern Rhône with the wines of Les Vins de Vienne. These wines are crafted by three long-time friends of Hospice du Rhône, Francois Villard, Yves Cullieron and Pierre Gaillard. Closing out day two of the Seminar Series will be Chester Osborn of d’Arenberg, South Australia who will guide the audience through 13 wines showcasing the terroir of multiple vineyard sites and plots.

Lunch on Saturday is always a raucous and good time.  The Lunch and Live Auction gives us a glimpse in to the world of the Rhône Collector, as those with deeper pockets vie for the best lots as we eat the delicious food from Far Western Tavern.  Proceeds from this auction

As we roll out of lunch, the Rhône quest continues at the Saturday Grand Tasting with over 135 winemakers pouring tastes from around the globe for over 1000 Rhône freaks. It has been said that to duplicate this tasting, one would need a passport, many weeks off work and thousands of airline miles to taste the variety of wines showcased at the Grand Tasting. While strolling the Tasting Pavilion guests will savor bites from specialty food purveyors who will be stationed throughout the hall.

Finally, on Saturday evening, we bid a bittersweet farewell to HdR with casino themed Farewell BBQ.  The beer will flow, the bottles will be emptied, and weekend is topped off by some pretty serious silliness.

To follow all of the phone, the Third Edition of the app was launched.  This app is available for your iPhone & iPad, as well as Android.  Forget the paper!  Go iRhône!  This all inclusive app allows you to find, track, tweet and takes notes on your favorite wines from the event.  Those with the app will never be at a loss for Rhône wine information when at the annual event or at home. This is the digital guide to all things Rhône.

A special thanks to HdR for this unique opportunity to participate again this year.  I can’t wait!  Stay tuned to @luscious_lushes for all event updates!

Happy Earth Day!

 

It’s Earth Day again, that one day when we’re supposed to stop to smell the roses, and celebrate Gaia.  I try to be kind to my planet every day, by taking care of her and recycling, reducing and reusing – since it’s clear to me that she is one pissed off mama.

Today, I’m sipping on some green wines, in partnership with Sip Certified.  Sip Certified has spent the last 15 years working with growers and wineries rethink their strategy about sustainability.  Pretty cool stuff!

To become Sip Certified, you msut address the entire farm ecosystem, from soil to vine, from bottle to cork. you can learn more HERE.
But today, I’m sipping on Riverbench Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley.

Riverbench Vineyard began in 1973, when it was planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Now, over 30 years later, they are a leading fruit source for the Santa maria Valley.  In 2004 the property was purchased, and the new owners embarked on their own wine adventure, reserving some of the fruit for their own estate wines.

The 2010 Estate Pinot  starts out with some bold red fruit on the nose, with ripe strawberries and raspberries on the palate.  Surprisingly, there is some great acidity in this wine; I am constantly looking for more acid in my pinots, and it’s nice to find a southern Central Coast example that has some bright cranberry and bright red fruit along with the rich ripe berry.  There is also a nice spice box hiding in there that gives the wine a kick on the finish.  I am enjoying the allspice and pepper kick.

One of the hallmarks of this wine is the silky mouth feel and smooth palate, due to the 96% neutral oak.  with only 4% new French Oak, the flavor of the fruit shine through wihtout being overpowered.

At a budget friendly !~$25, this is a Santa Maria wine I will keep my eye on!

Enjoy!

This wine was provided by Sip Certified, to celebrate Earth Day.

Something in the way you Rhone

Attracts me like, no other lady!

True story.  I am slightly addicted to Rhone wines, particularly Rhone reds.  I’ve been on a Monastrell/Mouvedre/Mataro kick lately, but my first love really is Grenache.  Of the 22 Rhone varietals, these are my go to babies.  Luckily for me, I’ve been having fantastic luck lately at Whole Foods (not to mention The Spanish Table) at finding some great wine at even better prices.

But really, this post is about the mother of all Rhone gatherings:  Hospices du Rhône .  The annual Rhône celebration in Paso Robles will be celebrating her 20th anniversary next year!

April 26th through 28th, Rhône lovers and producers from all over the world will converge on the Paso Robles Fairgrounds.  Over the last 20 years, HdR has hosted diverse personalities, from Charles Smith (aka AC/DC with Grower Bubbles) to Australian producers, to heritage growers from Châteauneuf-du-Pape

This year, HdR is pleased to announce that there will be an exclusive  Conversations with Châteauneuf-du-Pape event, led by author Harry Karis, vigneron Philippe Cambie and Sommelier Kelly McAuliffe.  After the seminar, which is sure to sell out well in advance, dinner will be served at Bisto Laurentin.  These limited tickets are available a la carte at www.hospicedurhone.org.  Sadly the dinner is sold out at this time.

This year, the seminars will focus on highlighting the last 20 years of Hospice-Du-Châteauneuf producers who have been center stage.  I am especially looking forward to Why Spain (continues to) Rock – which will focus on what is happening today in Priorat and beyond.

Another fantastic seminar will highlight Walla Walla once again, with The Return of the Bionic Frog (say wha?), where Christophe Baron of Cayuse will make his debut at HdR.

On Saturday, France will be showcased with A Collective Quest, highlighting Les Vins de Vienne.

Finally, the seminars round out the day with Research, Revelations and the Art of Being Different.  Here, Chester Osbourn of Australia’s d’Arenderg will explore how recent studies in geology and sub regions have changed his winemaking and growing practices since his last HdR appearance in 1999.

Phew!  But that’s not all kids.  Like a Ginsu knife commercial, the weekend is jam packed with more tastings.

The Rhône Rendezvous is back, where over 100 producers from near and far will share their Rhône wines from large-format bottles. To complement this BIG evening of BIG bottles highly-acclaimed chefs from Blackberry Farm in Tennessee will serve up a taste of the South in a BIG way.

But before that you need sustinance, right?   If you’re not entirely dead by this point, don’t forget to participate in the Rosé Lunch, which is always a treat.  This year, our friends from The Girl & Fig will fill us up with deliciousness once again!  Remember the pot de creme from years past? Um yeah.  MORE PLEASE!  I had to taste all three flavors, and I almost left with some in my purse.  The rosés for this delecitble feast will be provided by the attending producers, which is a departure (and a welcome one for variety’s sake).

If you are sufficiently recovered from Friday and still have steam after the final two seminars, the Saturday Grand Tasting will feature over 130 winemakers pouring tastes from around the globe. It has been said that to duplicate this tasting, one would need a passport, many weeks off work and thousands of airline miles to taste the variety of wines showcased at the Grand Tasting.  Many producers who poured at the Rhône Rendezvous will also pour here but they will be featuring different wines.

On Saturday, the Live Auction wil lleave you tingling as lots of sought after wine are hard won and wine washes down the lunch provided by Guadalupe.

If you’re still upright at the end of the day, the Farewell BBQ promises a lot of beer, dancing, and casino action to wrap up your weekend.

After that, you can explore the other wines that Paso has to offer on Sunday!  Or if you’re like me, sleep in, eat a lot of carbs (and bacon naturally) and then head back home with a belly full of delish Rhône and a weekend of memories.

A full weekend pass (highly recomended) is $795 but now is the time to save up!  It’s so worth it.  You can also opt to purchase events a la carte, but by the time you add up a couple of seminars ($155 each) and tasting events ($100-125 each), lunch and dinner, you might as well get the pass.

Hope to see you there!  This year promises to be bigger and better, so if you do only one Rhône event, do this one! 

On the table top…


It’s Thursday, and I”m back in Paso Robles for Hospice du Rhone, the annual extravaganza showcasing the 22 Rhone Varietals from around the world.  Since the first event didn’t kick off until that evening, we had some free time to visit a few favorite wineries – starting with Tablas Creek.

Tablas Creek Vineyard was founded in 1989, as a partnership between the Perrin family of Chatau de Beaucastel and Rover Hass, who founded Vineyard Brands.  Having a shared vision of creating Rhone wines in California,they set about creating a New World Rhone house.

Today, Robert’s son Jason showed us around he property which boasts a spanking new tasting room, complete with cork floors (can I have some in MY house?  Seriously noise cancelling comfort at its best) and several tasting areas that are easiy divdied up for differnet groups, or opened up for a community feeling.

The first wines of Tablas Creek were created in 1997 when the Estate Winery was completed.  On this day, we toured the property, examined the new tasting room, and…well, drank some wine.  With a wet wet wet 2010-11 growing season under way, Tablas – and most of Paso Robles- has seen a lot of rain.  In a place where a typical year sees 28 inches of rain, so far (and this was in April) they have seen 36 inches.  Tablas Creek is dry farmed, and with this kind of rain and whacky snow, sleet and frost, there has been some damage to the vines recently.  Fortunately, most of the crop was saved, and there will be wine to show for it.  What will this year’s weather do?  Who knows.  Stay tuned, I’ll take up the cause and go taste the wines every season.  I’m a giver that way.

Each parcel on the property is hand picked to ripeness, meanng that there might be several passes on a row before all the bunches are harvested.  Another highlight of Tablas is that they use 100% Native Yeast, and do not innocolate with commerical yeastes.  It’s my personal belief that this gives much more character to a wine, and lets the fruit develop the beauty of the juice without overmanipulating it and turning it in to a Frankenwine.

Our first taste on the warm spring day was the 2010 Verminto.  It was bright and crisp, with lot fo honey and stone fruit.  The minerals clung to the glass with a burst of tangerine that I just love.

A new line for Tablas Creek is the Patelin de Tables.  Launcehd in 2010, the white is based on Grenache Blanc, (see my passion ofr this wine HERE), and the red is based on Syrah.  This is a ncie counterpart to the Esprit de Beaucastel line, which are based on Roussanne and Mouvedre.  The Patelin de Tables Blanc had crisp pears, and green apple and was fresh and bright.  I loved this wine, and could easily sip this on the patio for days.

Next up the 2010 Côtes de Tablas Blanc, which is viognier based.  It was smooth and rich, with low acid and tons of floral notes.  There is a touch of rousanne and marsanne blended in as well,  I have to say, it was a nice white, but my money is on the Patelin de Tables.

The 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc had a lot of nutty notes, as well as baked fruti.  This is a roussane blend, and is showing a touch of oxidation in it’s 5 year old life, but in an enjoyable way.

A favorite of mine, and one I enjoyed at the Pink Out as well, is the 2010 Rose.  With 48 hours of skin contact, it has a rosy glow, and is a blend of 50% saignée (juice bled off from red wine production) and 50% purpose made rose.  The majority of this wine is mourvedre, which gives it a backbone and some structure, even for a light rose.  Great choice!

Ahh now on to the reds!  Starting with the 2009 Côtes de Tablas, a grenache based big boy with huge spicy blackberry notes, cinnamon spice and plum.  I absolutely adored this wine.  The additions of syrah, counoise and mourvedre to the blend liven up the wine and give it a dark and brooding character with a kick of pepper at the end.

A treat from Jason was the 2009 100% Grenache, with its delicious spicy plum notes.  I am a grenache FREAK and the high acid balances out the big fruit.

At this point, I have no idea what we were tasting, just that I had a great afternoon tasting some fantastic Rhone wines from Paso.  There was not a bad wine in the bunch, and I could easily have taken a seat on the new terrace and sipped an entire bottle of any of them.  You can find Tablas Creek wines fairly easily in the market, and if you are even in Paso Robles – I suggest looking them up.  A smorgasbord for your senses awaits!

Thanks Jason for taking the time to show us around and open up so many treats.  Keep up the good work and I look forward to seeing you again soon!

 

 

I'm drawing a blanc

Blanc did you say?  Yes Blanc.  As in white.  Wine.  White wine!  I am not the biggest wine wine drinker in general, instead preferring the heartier meat of a red wine, but there are a few white that really rope me in.  Specifically, Greanache Blanc.  I particularly enjoy GB because it is NOT your average white, it’s nothing like the overblown California chardonnay that I run screaming from, and it’s just plain good.

Grenache Blanc the counterpart to Grenache, or Garnacha, which is classically found in Chateau Neuf de Pape wines from the Rhone.  It is unusual to find Grenache Blanc on it’s own outsidede of the US, but particularly in Paso Robles, this single varietal flourishes.

During my recent trip to Paso Robles, when were were visiting some Zinfandel vineyards, we were treated to dinner at Artisan, a local hot spot for dining.  Since we were exploring the area’s wines, we thought we’d explore the area’s foods as well!  Michael Kobayashi, the owner and general manager, welcomed us like old friends.  We sat down to a well varied menu and wine list, which included a particularly good wines by the glass program.

First up, the Paso Robles Wine Commission selected our appetizers - Cayucos Red Abalone - The green apple and tropical fruits in the Halter Ranch, Roussanne/Picpoul/Gren Blanc/Marsanne “Côtes de Paso Blanc” really brought out the flavors of the abalone, and we enjoyed that along with the Ranchero Cellars Grenache Blanc.  The Halter Ranch white (and red for that matter) were my faves of the evening, and the white
with the honeysuckle, stone fruit and richness topped by a light but noticeable wet river rock flavor were my winning combo.  In the Halter Ranch, I tasted white and had tons of nectarine and grapefruit flavors, with a touch of cotton candy and a hint of light caramel, or brown sugar as well as some lovely floral and honeysuckle notes.  I probably could have had this wine all night and it was a gorgeous match with the abalone, but didn’t work quite as well with the Pork Belly we also had for an appetzer.

We also ordered the Halter Ranch Cotes de Paso red, which is a blend of  Grenache, Syrah, Mouvdre, Couioise, and Cinsault = basically a Rhone mutt.  This went beautifully with the pork belly.  Before we moved on to mains, I just HAD to order the KILLER gouda and porter fondue. This dish was so amazing that I really wanted to lick the scalding hot cauldron clean.  For mains, I had organic chicken, peas and carrots, aligot potatoes, hen of the woods gravy  which was simply luscious.  With that we continued sipping on several by the glass selections, including another glass of Halter Ranch Cotes de Paso because I loved it so much.

I also tried the Jacob Toft Sarah’s Cuvee, which si a GSM as well.  This was a lovely wine but there was just something missing for me.  For kicks, and because we were in experimentation mode, we tried the Calcareous, Grenache/Mourvedre as well to see what happens when you leave the syrah out.  I think that was it, but I stopped taking notes since iphyoning at the dinner table makes my partner a little testy, so I just enjoyed the lovely food and wine.

Hats off to the people at Artisan.  They made our meal an extremely enjoyable experience.  So much so, that, the next night after being given the shaft at a local brewery, we went back!  There we were, on a Saturday night, with no reservation in a very small town.  There was a festival, and we weren’t sure we’d get in.  But Mike worked his magic, and the hostess who greeted us remembered us and took care of us immediately.  There is something to be said for excellent customer service, on top of excellent food.   The second night, I had an off the menu burger (to DIE for) which the waitress from the night before stopped by to suggest to us.  I split this with my other half, after enjoying the butter leaf salad, beets, walnuts, Point Reyes Bluer cheesem  which was delicate and flavorful.  I started with beer, but quickly moved to wine so we could try those that we didn’t have the first night.  Of courses, by then we were a bit beat and weary of wine tasting, but it was still a blast.

I can’t wait to go back and see Artisan while down in Paso at Hospices du Rhone!  Please do stop by and see Mike and the gang!

The first meal was sponsored by the Paso Robles Wine Commission,  The second was on us, but both were worth 10 times as much as we paid!


 

 

Loosey goosey Dusi!

It’s raining cats and dogs, and we’re driving around in the mud, trying to find Dusi Vineyards.  As it happens, J Dusi Wines is tucked away in the family home in the middle of a vineyard just outside of Paso Robles, and is hidden in the 80 year vines of the vineyard.  This is like stepping back in time, to an era when there were more cows in Paso Robles than wine; to an era of farming, of family, and of community.

As we enter the house, Janell and her mom greet us with coffee, which was welcome at 9:30 on a chilly wet day.  Mom was in the kitchen cooking up a storm for the wine club party that night, and Janell sat down with us at the table to tell us the story of her wine, and the family tradition.  Janell Dusi is turning her family business on its head, becoming the first Dusi to make wine and not just grow it.  Her great grandparents, Sylvester and Caterina Dusi began farming this land in the early 1920s, and started  business after business, including vineyards, farms, restaurants, and the now defunct Dusi Winery.  She was born on this vineyard, and raised among the vines that her grandfather Dante planted with his two brothers, the sons of Sylvester.  In 1945, vineyards were few and far between in Paso, since it was a large rural farming community.  With the farm, came the Italians, and the rich tradition of Zinfandel and field blends.  Th brothers planted a classic field blend, and head trained the vines, with no irrigation.  65 years later, the traditions remain the same.

This fourth generation winemaker hand picks during harvest, and enlists the entire family to help – including her nieces and nephews, who are young sprouts in the field.  This family tradition is dying in California, and it’s refreshing to see a tried and true farm family, albeit farmign wine. Growing up int he vines, Janell learned all she could about grape farming, but she always wanted her Grandfather Dante to teach her how to make wine.  When she was 16, she made her first wine, and continued making an Italian style zinfandel every year after that.  Each vintage asked and answered a different question in winemaking, and Janell learned by doing, under the careful gaze of Grandpa..

Now, she’s in her 3rd vintage of J Dusi wines. The two original vineyards are about 1/4 mile away from the family house; the first is 40 acres, that was planted in 1943 with an Italian field blend of Carignane, Alicante Bouchet, Petite Sirah, and who knows what else.  in 1945 a second parcel was purchased nearby.  In the beginning, the family sold their grapes to surrounding wineries, but as the grape market fell in the 1950s, the Dusis ventured in to winemaking to make their way through the grape glut.  Their first foray in to finished wine was about 8-9 years under the label Dusi Winery, and when the grape prices came back up, they stopped making wine and started selling grapes again.

One of the unique properties of this area is the large diurnal temperature swing during the course of day.  This vineyard in particular can go from 99+ degrees on a hot summer day, to below  at night on that same day.  This gives the fruit some unique character.  That, combined with dry farming, give the vines some vigor as they are forced to struggle a bit – classically, this makes a lovely wine.  First up, the 2008 Dante Dusi Ranch Zinfandel.  This was bright raspberry with white pepper, bold blackberry juice and hints of other spice box flavors.  I found it to be viscous and lingering (in a good way).  Only 850 cases were made, and since 90% of the home ranch fruit is sold to other wineries, this is a rare gem.  Janelle really wants to showcase the whole ranch in one bottle and not segment the wine out.  These wines are Representative of the terroir of the property as a whole, and this zin in particular showed a lot of juicy red fruit, with just a hint of oak, followed by a lot of cherry cola.

The 900 cases of the 2009 Zinfandel was just released.  This was a totally different wine – and rather unexpected in the zone of big, jammy, raisiny Paso zins.  The herbaceousness really struck me, and while it might have been a bit closed, it was herbal with bay leaf , dusty black pepper, a hint of red raspberry coming out under tobacco and leather.  There were chewy bark lots of spice.  

Finally, the 2009 Fiorento which was recently bottled.  This blend of 50% Zin, 25% Carignane, and 25% Syrah showed dusty blue fruit, and was lean and racy but refined, with dusty blue fruit, and strong chewy notes from the Syrah.  With only 50-60 Carignane vines on the property, they are hand picked to ripeness to make sure that the perfect fruit is selected.

 

We could have stayed and talked to the Dusi family for hours – about dry farming, about old vine zin, about restrained California Zinfandels, about Paso Robles’ best changes at Rhone.  But alas, another appointment was calling.  I did however not leave empty handed!  I brought home some Zinfandel to share with my friends, and am looking forward to trying the 09 again after it settles down a bit.

Thanks for such a great visit Janell!