This is the first of several posts covering my experience at the Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC14) held in Buellton, CA, last weekend. I’ll feature one per week, likely through August, and why not start with what’s most important to me? Naturally, that’s the wines themselves.
Over the course of the conference, I tasted around 70 wines, the majority hailing from the Santa Barbara County (SBC) region. I was re-introduced to the beauty of the countryside of the Central Coast, something I rarely experienced while growing up in the city of Santa Maria. Turns out I really should have gotten out more.
But I digress. It’s the wines I’m talking about in this post, not the sunsets over hillsides. After two liveblogging tasting sessions, two workshops on wine blends and the syrahs of Ballard Canyon, two trips to wineries and more tastings there, and multiple big-tent tasting opportunities over brunches, lunches, dinners, and desserts, these 11 wines stood out to me. Maybe they’ll do the same for you.
In no particular order….
1. Charles Krug 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley
I gave this wine, the last one I tried during the white wine liveblogging session, my highest rating of the weekend, though I suspect #11 below might beat it had I taken the time to write down my notes. Regardless, this interloper from Napa Valley overflowed with honeysuckle and exceptionally flavorful Crenshaw melon. When sipping, lime mellowed the sweetness of those two flavors, creating a divine blend.
2. Bridlewood Chardonnay 2012, Santa Barbara County
No, wine is not now appearing in appetizer form. But the reason the Bridlewood Chardonnay made this list is because of how amazingly well it paired with the sea urchin and avocado salad (far right) prepared by Industrial Eats chef Jeff Olssen.
The sea urchin came courtesy of Stephanie Mutz, a local fisherwoman also present at our Meet the Makers panel—that’ll get its own profile in an upcoming post. In contrast with the urchin’s condensed flavor and soft texture, the chardonnay popped with acidic minerality and lime. I think a few branches of seafood have met their new best culinary match.
3. Alta Maria Chardonnay 2012, Santa Maria Valley
Subtler than most of the other whites at the liveblogging session, I especially enjoyed this chardonnay’s creeping moss and stoniness that was present from sniff to finish. Wildflower honey, peaches, and a floral nose made for a refreshing, complex glass.
4. Davis Bynum Dijon Clone 115, Russian River Valley
This delicious wine, the best of the red wine liveblogging competitors, had a finish to die for. It was subtle on first sip, which belied the finish that spellbound me with its cherry, cardamom, and sweet orange blossom notes. Worth savoring as long as that finish lingers.
5. Cimarone Reserve Syrah 2009, Happy Canyon
The 2010 Cimarone Le Clos Secret was very, very close to my favorite from Cimarone’s line, which I tasted in Los Olivos immediately after the end of WBC14. But this reserve syrah came out on top. After tasting it, I understood for the first time why some people love the smell of a barnyard in their glass. The smile its straw and moss nose pried from my tired facial muscles was for daydreams of napping on a bale of hay. Once I drank it, the earthy nose gave way to surprising bright currant and cranberry fruit. Dry cigar rounded out the sip.
6. Urban Legend Teroldego 2010, Clarkesburg
Another liveblogged wine, this red tasted like a morning walk through the forest before the fog has dispelled. Boysenberry fruit, wily oak, and a jasmine nose combined for a wine with a glimpse of fairy circles.
7. Sangre de Jonata Syrah 2010, Ballard Canyon
It was the priciest of the wines coming from the new Ballard Canyon AVA and for good reason. This syrah displayed a mastery of layered complexity. I say mastery because its intense flavors offered a heartfelt caress rather than a knock-out punch. Dense black pepper with cardamom and the hard blackberry candies described in its tasting notes were all present along with a velvety crème anglaise finish. Winemaker Matt Dees should be proud. And I should find a patron of the arts just so I can afford it.
8. Ferrari-Carano Siena 2012, Sonoma County
This sangiovese, malbec, cabernet sauvignon, and petit sirah blend didn’t rate as high with me as the other wines on this list, but I can’t get it out of my mind. Why? Because it tasted like a white wine wearing a red wine’s swimsuit. Hard-to-peg tropical notes that I’m calling cocoa butter, banana, and guava made up my sample. Those impressions share nothing in common with the wine’s official tasting notes, but as I’m still obsessed, I don’t think that matters. It’s a creamy, soapy wine that made getting my mouth washed out a good experience—no, a luxurious one. You can get my review of it on Quini here.
9. Touriga Adelaida 2010, Paso Robles
This wine had a nose that I still haven’t recovered from. Rich raspberry and cherry notes were wrapped in the warmth of a freshly cut rose bouquet.
10. Tercero Mourvedre Rosé 2013, Happy Canyon
This wonderful rosé went quite well with a simple sesame chicken salad. Larry Schaffer, Tercero’s winemaker who also led the panel introducing us to the legends of Santa Barbara County winemakers a day earlier, poured my taste on Day 3 of the conference.
Orange blossom came in for me again, as did kiwi, strawberries, and peach, making for a pleasing natural sweetness that was complimented by tropical refinements. You can get my full Quini profile for it here.
Speaking of legends of winemaking,
12. Ken Brown’s 2005 and 2010 Pinot Noirs, Sta. Rita Hills
Ken has been pioneering pinot noir in SBC since the late 1970s with fellow old-timers Richard Sanford and Michael Benedict, and his passion and prowess is renowned in the area. If these two wines are any indication, I understand why.
Ken addressing us during the SBC Winemakers Panel.
I didn’t take notes on either wine, but I remember being impressed by how balanced, yet lively, the 2010 was, especially in comparison to the dustier, grassier 2011 Santa Maria Valley pinot noir that Ken wisely sampled with it that afternoon, making both wines stand out no matter the taster’s preference. The 2005 was served at dinner to gasps of appreciation from my fellow attendees who know more about wine history than I do.
They urged me to run and get a glass, and again I have no notes, but I can’t imagine a better wine for complimenting food as the sun sets on a relaxing afternoon spent at Sanford Winery.
I’m back to pictures of sunsets, aren’t I? That means it’s time to wrap it up. What’s most surprising to me about this list is how many white wines ranked high.
Tasting wines is subjective, and I subjectively prefer reds, but these results prove I may just need to get the right white wines in my glass. If sweet and buttery, I’m not likely to find a white memorable. But whites that go beyond those expectations capture my attention because I don’t expect them to. So cheers, WBC14 and SBC wines, for introducing me to so many whites that I look forward to enjoying in the future.
Next week, my WBC14 post will be my musings on the conference overall.
What’s the biggest thought that the conference content raised? Whether there’s a difference on blogging from the perspective of a consumer, which I do, versus the perspective of someone within the wine industry, which most of the speakers and my fellow attendees appeared to be. I’m still mulling that over. But whether or not it was money well-spent is no question at all. WBC14 is a value that any wine blogger should try to afford if they can. More details on why next week.by