Tag Archives: Chardonnay

A Taste of the Sta. Rita Hills

by Donald Sonderling – May 2016

Fess Parker Winery - Sta. Rita Hills

Sta. Rita Hills: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and “Pinks” for Good Measure

The Sta. Rita Hills AVA, located about two hours north of Los Angeles in the stunning wine country of the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County, produces world class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the picturesque Central Coast area of California. With a total area of 30,720 acres, the area is home to over 59 vineyards, totaling 2,700 hundred acres planted to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and 18 other cool climate wine grape varieties.

Last month the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance  hosted their annual “road trip” at the Wine House in West Los Angeles, providing a unique “under one roof” opportunity to taste and compare a vast selection of wines from many of the areas wineries.  Each of the wines were reflective of the myriad terroir and micro climates, and of course the individual expressions of the winemaker.  James Suckling’s comment on the Sta. Rita Hills AVA Pinot Noir couldn’t be more apt:  “I am in love with Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir.  They are bold and rich wines, yet balanced and refined with wonderful freshness and length.”  (Tasting Report:  California’s Sta. Rita Hills).

Hitching Post "Pinks" - Sta. Rita Hills Pinot NoirAlthough Pinots and Chardonnays were the main focus of this event, Hitching Post was pouring their 2015 “Pinks,” a fun, vibrant dry rose blend of 30% Pinot Noir and 70% Valdiguie.  As Hitching Post’s Gray Hartley describes this wine, “this Pinks exemplifies our attitude that we take our fun seriously.”  Indeed, this is a fun, happy wine to pop open, especially on a warm spring or summer afternoon – it will put a smile on your face.

Several of the wineries represented are well known, such as Foxen Canyon, Fess Parker and Hitching Post.  However, also represented was a significant number of small, boutique wineries, including:  Kessler-Haak, Pali Wines, Flying Goat, Longoria, Clos Pepe, The Hilt, Crawford Family Wines, Montemar.

The wineries with tasting rooms are  primarily located in Santa Barbara, Buelton, Los Olivos and in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  Los Olivos, over the past several years has grown into a vibrant “Tasting Room Town” and is a wonderful way to easily explore over 40 different wineries from the area.  The same can be said of Lompoc and the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, which is a unique industrial park with close to 20 tasting rooms.  Having the opportunity to try so many wines from so many producers, (many of these wineries either have no tasting room, or their hours are very limited), made this a very special event.

A visit to any of these areas and wineries is a must for the wine enthusiast looking to experience wine that is truly an expression of place.  A Taste of the Santa Rita Hills gave those in attendance an opportunity to do just that.  A special “Thank You” to the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance and The Wine House  for hosting this event.

Complete listing of the winery members of the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance


An Afternoon of Tasting at Hahn Family Wines

by Xochitl Maiman – March 6, 2016

The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir of Hahn Family Wines exemplifies the quality of premium wine being produced in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA of California.

When viewed from above, like from an airplane, the patchwork quilt-like patterns in which agricultural areas are laid out have always interested me. I love the color variations, the vastness of the open space, and the precisely marked out parcels that seem to stretch on forever.view of the Salinas Valley from Hahn Family Wines

So it makes sense that I have viewed many a map of the vineyard locations of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA , 6,100 acres overlooking the Salinas Valley, with fascination and awe. There they are, 50 vineyards sewn in to the hillside’s topography – vineyards like Gary’s, Boekenoogen, Manzoni, Mer Soleil, Pisoni and Doctor’s – where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes flourish and find beautiful expression due to the fog and cooling breezes coming off Monterey Bay.  Last October, I was finally able to visit the region, and the beauty of the mountainside vineyards and the fertile valley below was truly breathtaking!

As part of a group of wine journalists and bloggers, I had been invited to visit the area’s Hahn Family Wines for a tour of the estate vineyards and wine pairing luncheon. With the gorgeous valley as a backdrop, we were first given a show and tell overview of the region by Andy Mitchell, Hahn’s Director of Viticulture, and a member of the Hahn team since 1998.  He also explained the history of Hahn Family Wines beginning with founder, Nicolaus ‘Nicky’ Hahn’s vision over 30 years ago, of the potential of the area to support world-class vineyards.

Andy Mitchell, Director of Viticulture, Hahn Family Wines

Today, son, Philip Hahn, oversees the four estate vineyards in the area and an additional two in Arroyo Seco , from which are created wines for their three labels: Hahn, Hahn SLH and Lucienne.

ATV tour of Hahn Family Wines estate vineyardsAfter our pictorial overview, it was time to get up close and personal with the estate’s vineyards…and view. To my utter delight and excitement, we were escorted to ATV’s for the ride up..and up…and up to about 900’ in elevation.  An exhilarating ride – so much fun!  The reward for a little blown out hair, ( I refused the branded baseball cap offered – vanity, you know),  was a view not only of the valley, but also of the estate’s vineyards, which cover an expansive 650 acres. Basically, beauty every which way you turned.


vineyard view from Hahn Family Wines

LA Wine Writers at Hahn Family Wines

duck confit tacos at Hahn Family Wines

After the obligatory picture taking frenzy, we then gathered in a pavilion to enjoy duck confit tacos with a cherry reduction sauce presented by Executive Chef Dyon Foster, paired with a line-up of their Lucienne label single vineyard Pinot Noir. Winemaker, Greg Freeman, took us through the wines, explaining the differences in vineyards, elevation and the 4 major contributing factors to differences in the wines: fog, sun, wind and clones. Indeed, each wine was quite different, but all were elegantly styled with great acidity, earthy aromas and bright fruit.

Lucienne Pinot Noir at Hahn Family Wines


Another thrilling ATV ride down the hill brought us back to the viewing deck where luncheon tables had been laid.  The menu looked promising and it would end up being an incredible display of culinary deliciousness!

Hahn Family wines Pinot Gris








Wild Caught Sablefish, Risotto, Beurre Noisette – just amazing!

Hahn Family Wines - SLH Chardonnay


Pork Medallion, Cranberry and Corn Polenta

IMG_3733 IMG_3734 IMG_3737

Turns out making wonderful wine isn’t Greg’s only talent…..IMG_3745

Suffice it to say that a trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea or Monterey County would not be complete without a visit to Hahn Family Vineyards.  Pack a picnic, arrange a walking or ATV tour, and get acquainted with the wines of the Santa Lucia Highlands.

Hahn Family Wines - Santa Lucia Highlands

I’LL DRINK TO THAT! – I would like to express my gratitude to our hosts at Hahn Family Wines for their gracious hospitality and for providing us with a complete, informative and delicious experience while visiting their beautiful estate. 

Related story: Carmel-by-the-Sea: A Weekend Food and Wine Getaway



Carmel-by-the-Sea – A Food and Wine Weekend Getaway

by Xochitl Maiman – November 27, 2015

Carmel-by-the-sea, on California’s Central Coast, is the perfect spot for a wine weekend getaway between holidays.

If you’re still washing dishes and wine glasses from Thanksgiving, but already thinking about the next big celebration, now might be a great time to plan a quickie wine weekend getaway before the next wave of relatives arrives. California offers myriad wine country destination choices, but perhaps not as familiar to some, is the wine region of Monterey County and the gorgeous Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, home to some of the most elegant and delicious Pinot Noir and Chardonnay the state has to offer.

Where to stay…

Carmel-by -the-Sea” is just the place to relax and take some big breaths of clean ocean air to rejuvenate your spirit and energy. But don’t be fooled by the tranquility, this charming European-style village, rated a top 10 U.S destination, has it all including art galleries, unique boutiques, bakeries and dining, gourmet food shops, spas, lodging and plenty of tasting rooms. And the best part is that all this can be enjoyed by foot as the village and shore is within walking distance of many of the area hotels and inns. Hofsas House - Carmel, CaliforniaThe iconic family owned and Bavarian inspired Hofsas House has been offering European hospitality in Carmel for over 60 years. Their “hands on” approach to providing their guests with the best possible service is evident from the moment you check in. You’re greeted like visiting family, and, with the wine and cheese package, you’ll find in your room a bottle of Monterey County wine and a cheese selection from The Cheese Shop – Carmel, for you to enjoy as you warm up by the in-room fireplace. Each of the spacious 38 rooms are unique, offering amenities like the aforementioned fireplaces, balconies, wet bars, kitchens and WiFi. The landmark pink building is located among tall trees and on a hillside with westward views offering stunning sunset viewing while enjoying a glass of wine.  In the mornings, visit the main lobby for continental breakfast and to pick up a map of the village before starting off to explore.

Where to taste…

If this is your first time wine tasting in the area you might consider purchasing the Carmel Wine Walk by-the-Sea Passport which provides visitors with a tasting at their choice of 9 of the 14 village tasting rooms. The concierge at Hofsas House can arrange to have your passport waiting for you when you check in, upon request at booking.  Two standouts on the self-paced tour include Caraccioli Cellars and Wrath Wines.

Caraccioli Cellars Caraccioli Cellars - Carmel, CaliforniaStart your special wine weekend off right with bubbles! Caraccioli Cellars produces a Brut Cuvée and a Brut Rosé that are just the thing to help you toast your getaway weekend, and to take home to share with friends as you toast the holidays and New Year. Winemaker Michel Salgues also produces lovely and elegant still wines with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands.

Wrath Wines Wrath Wines - Carmel, California Wrath Wines -Sabrine RodemsWhen tasting wines produced in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, you’re going to hear a lot about clones. Clones are different strains of the same grape, notable for their specific characteristics. Winemakers grow and blend different clones to achieve the finished wine that they envision. Kind of like a spice rack to a chef. You’ll see lots of mention of clones in the names of the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on the tasting list at Wrath Wines. But don’t let that deter or confuse you. Take advantage of all this variety to avail yourself of a comprehensive focus tasting of these two varietals and the many styles of wines they can produce under the guidance of a passionate, talented and creative winemaker, in this case, Sabrine Rodems. Besides all that very interesting and delicious Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Wrath Wines also makes a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc under their Ex Anima label and in the Single Vineyard Series, I loved the San Saba Vineyard Syrah. Note: Need cheese for that wine? The Cheese Shop is right next door!

Where to dine…

While you can easily walk to many fine restaurants in the village, there are also many wonderful and unique restaurants just a short driving distance away.

Located in an 1840’s adobe in Monterey, Restaurant 1833 is an intrigue from the moment you approach its inviting front courtyard. Standing tall and stately over the various candlelit seating areas and fire pits are an odd threesome of old trees – an oak, a palm and a pine tree, the three trees of California, according to our maitre d’.  Once inside, the ambience is warm, dark and a bit mysterious with many different dining areas and bars located in the various rooms upstairs and down. Of course, this old building comes with some ghost stories, but the real story here is the food – while basically American comfort food, the inspired menu consists of dishes made special with unique ingredients and combinations, artistically presented. They get pretty creative with the drinks menu too and pride themselves on their award winning cocktails.

Duck at Tarpy's Roadhouse - Monterey, California

Tarpy’s Maple Leaf Farms Duck over Farro with Rye Glazed Heirloom Carrots, Cherry-Port Compote

Tarpy’s Roadhouse has been an area favorite since 1992, but the history of the name and site is storied and dates back to 1851. Today, however, it’s all about  the food. The menu is varied, but the meat dishes prevail and are combined with tastes and textures of additional ingredients that just tantalize your taste buds to the last bite. If you are a scotch, bourbon or rye fan, try one of their unique cocktails or choose from a good selection to drink “straight up”.

Tarpy's - Carmel, California

Cast Iron-Seared Sea Scallops with coffee-cocoa rubbed bacon, grits, cauliflower, bourbon syrup

So….here’s the takeaway….take some time out for yourself and head to beautiful Carmel-by-the-Sea. It just might become your “special place”.

Note: I’d like to thank Hofsas House for having me as their guest, and for the gracious hospitality at both Restaurant 1833 and Tarpy’s Roadhouse. Special thanks to the folks at Caraccioli Cellars and Wrath Wines for taking the time to share their wines and their stories.

Italian Wines take Center Stage at Focus Tastings in Los Angeles

When one speaks of “terroir”, there is obvious reference to the earth in which the vines are planted. But the roots of those vines go deeper still into the history and “sense of place” that defines a wine making region. This was made clear to me at two focus tastings I recently attended which introduced me to the Italian wine regions of Calabria and Puglia.

VINO California Grand Tasting – May 14, 2013 – Los Angeles

Seminar: “Call to Calabria: Discovering the Wines from the “Toe” of Italy’s Peninsula”

Calabria Tasting - Los Angeles 2013

Calabria Tasting - Los Angeles 2013

Calabria, located in the “toe” of Italy’s “boot”, is steeped in ancient history, surrounded by Mediterranean beauty, and a testament to locally produced wines paired with the local flavors of seafood, cured meats, salty capers and spicy pepperoncino. Over 90% of the regions wine production is red wine, much of which until recent years was transported elsewhere and used as blending wine. Now, however, Calabria is emerging as its own wine producing region with wines that are pure and honest expressions of where they come from. These wines share a unique flavor profile with plenty of character, earthiness, rusticity and approachable tannins….all at very affordable prices.

Our tasting was led by an esteemed panel of wine experts: Anthony Dias Blue, Editor-In-Chief, The Tasting Panel Magazine, Piero Selvaggio of Valentino Restaurant and Jonathan Mitchell of Locanda del Lago Restaurant. They spoke colorfully and expressively of the wines, the producers and the memorable food pairings they had experienced in Calabria and re-created in their restaurants.

Piero Selvaggio, Anthony Dias Blue, Jonathan Mitchell

Piero Selvaggio, Anthony Dias Blue, Jonathan Mitchell

Wines of Calabria, Italy

Wines of Calabria, Italy

Of the 7 wines we tasted, I scored them all highly, and would be delighted to have any of them in my cellar. I look forward to the future availability of these wines in local wine stores. Here are some of the highlights:

Azienda Agricola Biologica Santa Venere White Ciro DOC 2012 – Greco grape – crisp, fresh, good acidity

Statti Mantonico IGT 2010 – acacia, figs, green tea

Casa Vinicola Crisera SRL Nerone de Calabria IGT 2008 – 70% Norelo 30% Sangiovese – Dark, complex, leathery, robust, chocolate finish – pair with game

Cantine Viola Moscato Passito IGT Calabria 2010 – From Greco de Bianco on Ionian coast – Orange/Brown color, viscous,  dried figs/raisins – pair with sweet ricotta or fustic desserts like fig/almond cake and biscotti

VINO California Grand Tasting May 14, 2013 Los Angeles

VINO California Grand Tasting May 14, 2013 Los Angeles

At the Grand Tasting the choices of wines to taste was overwhelming! Where’s a plate of pasta when you need it? By far, though, the most informative table I visited was that of US Import Manager, Stefano, who had so much wonderful info to share about Italian wine in general and in particular the wines of Beni de Batasiolo. Nestled in the heart of Piemonte in orthern Italy, they produce 7 different Barolos as well as wines made from Barbera, Chardonnay, Cortese, Dolcetto and Moscato.

The wines of Beni de Batasiolo - Piemonte, Italy

The wines of Beni de Batasiolo - Piemonte, Italy

Related links: Italy America Chamber of Commerce West (IACCW)

North American Sommelier Association presents: Puglia – featuring the wines of Tormaresca – May 20, 2013 – The Wine House, Los Angeles

The wine making region of Puglia occupies the “heel of the boot” that is Italy. Winters are short, the weather is warm, the Mediterranean Sea beckons. With 400 miles of coastline, Puglia has been named as one of the “top 10” tourist destinations for 2013.  Tormaresca export manager, Vito Palumbo, regaled us with stories of a diverse history clearly reflected today in the area’s architecture, gastronomy and wine style. Like Calabria, the wines made here were sold as bulk wine, but during the 80’s and 90’s went through what Vito describes as a “renaissance”, with today’s production decreasing in quantity and increasing in quality. The area is 7400 square miles, and while heavily planted to vine, the focus is on the grape quality. Those grape varietals include Fiano, Chardonnay, Primitivo, Negroamaro, Aglianico, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

The two wine estates of Tormaresca, “Bocca de Lupo” in the Castel del Monte DOC of northern Puglia and “Masseria Maime”, in the southern DOC, Salento, are committed to producing high-quality wines with what they call “strong territorial identity”, at affordable prices and accessible in the American market.

The 2011 Tormaresca Chardonnay had unique salty notes from the soils located so near the sea. Lots of fresh fruit with a hint of minerality. Long finish.

The 2005 Masseria Maime Negroamaro, awarded 90 points by Wine Enthusiast, was a big, lush wine, complex, powerful with an earthy-licorice finish.

I actually enjoyed all 6 of the Tormaresca wines we tasted, and would not hesitate to purchase them for my cellar.

The Wines of Tormaresca - Puglia, Italy

The Wines of Tormaresca - Puglia, Italy


Sta. Rita Hills tasting at Palate Food & Wine

It’s been a busy Spring so far, so I apologize for getting this review out a bit late. This is the second event I’ve attended at the popular Palate Food & Wine in Glendale, California. Steve Goldun, a wine mentor of mine for many years, and his partner Octavio Becerra, have created a hot spot for foodies and wine enthusiasts alike, with the emphasis on creativity served up in a casual way.

With only 20 wineries represented, this event, held April 3, 2011, was small by some tasting event standards, but well attended. In addition to the wines, Hitching Post Restaurant of Buellton was there with owner Frank Ostini at the grill turning out delicious wine tasting “go withs”.

Frank Ostini of Hitching Post Restaurant

Frank Ostini of Hitching Post Restaurant

Sponsored by the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance, located in Santa Barbara County, this tasting focused on wineries representing a group of about 55 in total,  growing over 20 wine grape varieties planted on approximately 2500 acres. I love these “focused” tastings as it really gives me the opportunity to taste wines made with fruit from the same vineyards but by different winemakers, explaining their “whys” and hows”.

Kathy Joseph of Fiddlehead Cellars was there pouring her own wines, which were very good. The interesting thing was that there were several other wineries pouring Pinot Noir made from fruit from her Fiddlestix Vineyard. Again, a great opportunity to taste the different ways these wines were made. Of these, Pali Wine Co.’s 08 Pinot Noir, Fiddlestix Vineyard, was my favorite.

It was also a great pleasure to meet Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe. Wes has 28 acres of estate vineyards to work with – 24 are planted to Pinot Noir and 4 to Chardonnay. It was the Chardonnay that stood out for me on this day. While I really enjoyed the Chablis style 09 Estate Chardonnay, Barrel Fermented, it was their 2000 Estate Chardonnay, “Homage to Chablis” that stood out and was the most intriguing wine of the day. Not having tasted many 10 year old chardonnays to begin with, I was amazed at the fact that it not only had held up, but in fact had aged beautifully into a complex, multi-layered gem.

Xochitl with Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe

Xochitl with Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe

I very much enjoyed meeting newcomers Kessler-Haak Wines and tasting their inaugural releases of 08 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from their estate vineyards. Congratulations to Dan and Ellen Kessler, owners and winemakers.

So when you’re out there in your favorite wine shop looking for something new to try, think about exploring a specific area. It’s always interesting…..


Santa Lucia Highlands

About 40 miles south of Monterey, lies the wine region know as the Santa Lucia Highlands, an area as yet, somewhat undiscovered by the wine tourists. But, thankfully, winemakers know the region and are making  beautiful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as well as some Syrah. The area provides the weather conditions suitable for both the Bugundian varietals as well as those from the Rhone region, reflecting the styles of the cooler northern Rhone.

Most of the vineyards of the Highlands are planted on the elevated terraces of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range overlooking the Salinas Valley. These vineyards take advantage of the morning sunshine while still experiencing the cooling fog and ocean breezes coming off nearby Monterey Bay and are perfect for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The slightly warmer, more wind-protected canyons and slopes provide an area more suited for Syrah to flourish.

The area is small with about 46 vineyard properties comprising approximately 5,900 acres under cultivation. The wineries are family owned  and most have a long history in agriculture in the area. Their goals are passion driven with the desire to make small amounts of great wine.  Indeed case production, for the most part, is low, and I found the quality of the wine to be quite high. These producers have a strong sense of the land and are innovators in all areas of production. New clones, trellising systems and farming techniques are constantly being explored, and many are employing sustainable, organic and biodynamic regimens in their vineyards.

This week I attended a tasting event sponsored by The Wine Artisans of the Santa Lucia Highlands. This event not only provided me with the opportunity to taste wines from a region I was unfamiliar with, but I also was able to meet and talk with many of the owners and winemakers themselves. This is where their passion and knowledge of wine making shines, and their enthusiasm is tangible. Dan Morgan Lee of Morgan  excitedly enlightened me about the dozens of clones he is experimenting with and how he farms organically to protect the land.  Joe and Penny Alarid of Tondre lovingly described their family and the multiple generations participating in “the dream”. Chris Weidemann the self-proclaimed “pilgrim” of Pelerin Wines, spoke soulfully of his journey into winemaking. And let’s not forget Gregory Peebles, the wholesale manager representing La Rochelle Winery that day. He speaks about wine with such enthusiasm and passion, that one is compelled to buy whatever he’s sellin’.

And then there is the wine. I was not disappointed on this day. For the most part I was quite impressed with the range of styles represented by the Pinot’s and the quality of all the wines I tried. I’ll list here a few of my favorites, and encourage you to get to your favorite wine store and seek out some of these gems from the Santa Lucia Highlands.

  • August West – Pinot Noir, “Rosella’s Vineyard” – 09 – $42 (315 cases)
  • Boekenoogen – Pinot Noir, “Estate” – 07 – $40
  • Hahn SLH Estate – Chardonnay, “Estate” – 07 – $25
  • Lucienne – Pinot Noir “Lone Oak” – 07 – $50
  • Morgan – Chardonnay “Double L Vineyard” – 09 – $36
  • Pelerin – Pinot Noir, SLH – 08 – $36
  • Pisoni – Lucy Rose of Pinot Noir, SLH – ’10 – $18.00
  • Novy – Syrah, “Garys’ Vineyard – 08 – $33
  • Tondre – Pinot Noir, “Tondre Grapefield” – 08 – $40 (500 cases)
  • Tudor – Pinot Noir, SLH – 06 – $40

I’ll Drink to That!