By Jon McDaniel
Every year, the who’s who of wine writers get together and release their version of the top wines of the year. For some publications, like Wine Spectator, it is a Top 100 wines that you cannot get nor afford. Wine Enthusiast publishes their Top 100 wines to drink at an Occupy Wall Street protest. Other small publications just publish all of the wines that they were sent for the year.
Each of these lists is used for a variety of purposes: collecting, aiding distributors in selling the actual current vintage and other pat on the back type congratulations. The one problem that all of these Top (fill in the blank) Lists have is that they provide no context for which to enjoy the wine. Is Kosta Browne Pinot really the Top wine to drink with Fruity Pebbles? Is that highly rated Oregon Chard the Top wine to get over a breakup?
All of these “Top” lists fail in the most important charge that a wine publication should have – why should you drink the wine?
So I will pick up where all my writer friends left off, with a bit of a twist. After tasting thousands of wines in 2011, I present to you – 7 Days in Santa Ynez Valley. A journey through the rehab-inducing week of some of my favorite wines and situations in which to enjoy them
– Cue Law & Order Sound Byte –
Monday 8pm – Mandarin Touch, Solvang
Calzada Ridge 2010 Viognier, Santa Ynez Valley – $25
Seeing as how there are literally zero Thai restaurants in the valley without going to Lompoc, enter one of my favorite joints for delicious Chinese fare, the Mandarin Touch. When Monday rolls around, you are either feeling great, or wishing it was Friday already. So sit down with some Chinese mustard and a bit of Kung Pao whatever and relish in the day that seemed to roll on forever.
The perfect pairing is this delicious, small production Viognier from Santa Ynez. Richard and Pamela Harris’ backyard is the setting for this 80 case production, purchased after a lifetime in the film industry (Ghostbusters 2 anyone???). Andrew Murray wields this vineyard into an amazing offering of the varietal. Crisp, vibrant, tropical and a touch of sweetness, it plays off of spice and such like a harmonious Hall & Oates power ballad.
With such a small production, get this Viognier while there is still some floating around the valley and try it with your Moo Goo Gai Pan!
Tuesday 7pm – Home
Tyler 2009 Pinot Noir, Presidio Vineyard, Santa Barbara County – $53
Tuesday is the day where you come to grips with the way the week is going to go and you take it head-on. Tonight, you decide that you may even cook something. After watching an episode of some show on the Food Network with some dreamy celebrity chef (put your own choice here), you decide to make that delicious chicken and mushroom dish you have been dying to try. You start cooking, feeling the gentle, calloused hands of Bobby Flay or Giada (or Batali if you liked the big-boned type) guiding you over the stove as you pour yourself a glass of wine. Not just any wine though. The perfect wine for a romantic evening with a non-existent figment of your imagination while cooking – this Tyler Pinot. Justin Willet is one of the top, young, hotshot winemakers in Santa Barbara County and is a master at bringing all that can be shown from a single vineyard straight to the glass. Every Presidio Vineyard Pinot Noir that I have tried this year has been phenomenal, and Tyler’s 2009 is at the top of the heap.
Lush cran and raspberry lead the way to a lengthy, velvety finish of spice and hints of chocolate-covered strawberries. It may not make it to Day #2 in the bottle, but if it does, you will notice a whole new world of flavors! Make sure you save some for your Iron Chef!
Wednesday 11:15am – Your cubicle
Roark 2010 Chenin Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley – $16
So your fake date with the Food Network didn’t pan out as you had hoped and you sit at your desk and realize the week is not even half over. You look at the Chicken Salad Sandwich you brought with you, longing for that Tuesday night, and tell yourself the only way you are getting through this day is with a little vino. There is no better wine for this occasion than the 2010 Roark Chenin Blanc. Now you have probably never heard of Chenin Blanc or Roark, much like Bobby Flay has never heard of you – but like you, this delicious sipping white is a star!
Head to your office wine fridge (doesn’t every office have one?) and grab this vibrant, racy wine with kisses of white peach, citrus and a bit of minerality. There is no better pair to get over the hump of Wednesday that will make even that slightly warm chicken salad taste like a piece of heaven. Ryan Roark, owner and winemaker made only 90 cases of this wine, so sip and spread the word to make yourself look like you are in the know on this new project!
Wednesday 5pm – Root 246
Dragonette 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Happy Canyon – $30
Having gotten through Wednesday, what a better way to reward yourself, than getting together with friends over a local institution – $1 Oyster Night! Yes, if any day deserves 2 bottles of wine, it is Wednesday. The relief of the downturn of your week while slurping slimy, yet satisfying bivalves is a wash of comfort over you. With that bracing salinity of the oysters, I can think of no better wine than the tantalizing, tropical treat known as Dragonette Sauv. Blanc. Arguably one of the best Sauvignon Blancs I have ever tasted, it combines the richness of Napa Sauvignon Blanc with the bright grassiness of New Zealand. There is possibly no better example of the untapped resources of Happy Canyon than through this wine. To the point, ‘nuff said!
Thursday 6:30pm – Home
Liquid Farm 2010 Chardonnay, ‘White Hill’, Sta. Rita Hills – $30
By the time that Thursday is over, you can see end. The week is almost done. Thursday is what I like to affectionately call “The Stretch”. Before what will ultimately be a rager of a weekend, you need a wine that will take you to a place that is like listening Alec Trebek read Walt Whitman. A wine that will get you in and your palate into shape for a long weekend of vino-bachery.
On Thursday evening, after you have put your keys and money clip in that valet that your 9-year old made for you out of Fudgesicle sticks, go into the fridge, pull out the finest cheese without mold, some delicious Triscuit crackers and join a club I like to call “The Liquid Farm Experience”. Not a Starland Vocal Tribute Band, Liquid Farm is the most whimsical, pure, natural Chardonnay that will ever pass over your palate. If there was a wine that would wipe away the horrors of your workweek and send your mind to the rolling hills of eastern France, this is the one.
Liquid Farm is a young, energetic, rock solid wine project by Nikki and Jeff Nelson – professional-winos – who have taken the best of Burgundy and brought it to the Sta. Rita Hills with their 2010 ‘White Hill’. Fresh, vibrant, waxy and long, this is the satiny 1,000-thread count Egyptian cotton sheet that your mouth has been dying for all week long. Open the bottle at 6:42pm on Thursday night, and you will look at your clock 5 minutes later and it will be 10pm. It is of another dimension.
Friday – 7pm – Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café
Sanguis 2008, Red Blend, ‘Endangered Species, acts 1-3’, California – $72
Friday is the national holiday known as “Date Night”. Tonight, I recommend having the kids stay at a friend’s house, because if Sanguis is involved, there will be some Marvin Gaye on the iPod later! While sitting down for an intimate dinner at “The Café”, enjoy some house-made pasta and delicious short ribs and pull a bottle of Sanguis off of the famous wine wall.
Every year, Matthias Pippig creates an entirely new wine to represent the uniqueness of each vintage. The 2008 offering is a big, luxurious and packed Syrah with touches of Roussanne and Viognier. These small percentages of co-fermented white grapes give a beautiful purple color to the wine and a haunting floral nose that is exclusive to a blend like this.
To the point, this is baby-makin’ wine. Beautiful, sensual and complex, it will intensify every one of your senses and will bring you to a place in your wine-drinking life that you have never been before.
Saturday – 8:30am – La Purisima Mountain Golf Course
Tercero 2008 Mourvedre, Camp 4 Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley – $30
Nothing says a great Saturday morning like 9 holes, a cigar and a beverage. Before you hit the links at La Purisima, take a bottle of Tercero Mourvedre, pour it into one of those clever Camelbak water bottles and off you go. By the 5th hole and your 3rd double-bogey, there will be no bigger treat than a Partagas and an earthy, rich, meaty sip of wine.
Mourvedre, like your short game, is one of the most mis-understood and under-appreciated things on the planet. Rarely bottled on its’ own, Larry Schaffer has taken this wild beast of a grape and bottled it under his Tercero label. The great pairing of luscious boysenberry, cedar and hints of freshly ground mint in this wine are a fantastic compliment to a spicy Maduro-wrapped Churchill from Dominica, while being smoked in yet another sand trap.
Sunday – 12:30pm – Brunch
Sierra Madre Vineyard 2009, Blanc de Blanc, Santa Maria Valley – $40
So you have survived another week of torturous work, but somehow made it through. A toast to you! Along with that massive pile of Challah French Toast, nineteen different kinds of pork and perhaps even some fruit, comes a rich effervescent treat to cap your week in celebration. A very small (somewhere in the 25 case neighborhood) production of sparkling Chardonnay comes from Sierra Madre Vineyard.
One of the top vineyards in the Central Coast, some fantastic grapes go into this small production label by Norm Yost (Flying Goat) for the folks at Sierra Madre Vineyard. With hints of toasted almond, brioche and creamy mascarpone cheese, this is a great sipping bubbly for all of your brunch favorites.
This also works as a great hangover wine, because bubbles cure everything.
7 Days in a week, my Top 8 wines to get you through. Now this is just a start to open up your eyes to the fact that every wine has a perfect situation. You – the drinker, can only determine that perfect situation!
So look at your week, map it out, and mark with a big circle which event will be served best by a bottle of wine. Try different wines, make your own notes and reflect fondly to see which is your Top Wine of 2011 and beyond!