Category Archives: Tasting
So here we are at the grand opening of Rough Draft, the latest of a string of new breweries opening up during the past month here in San Diego. The tasting room is very spacious, with a long tasting bar and TVs already mounted, ready for you to pair up beer tastings with the sports game du jour.
Currently, Rough Draft has just four beers on tap: a Belgian-style blond ale, an amber ale, “What the Ale” American pale ale, and Eraser IPA. I’m told they will soon offer a double IPA, and plan to have a total of 12 beers on tap by the end of the year. The grand opening event includes tastings of all 4 aforementioned beers, plus a 64 oz. logo growler with a fill of your favorite, all for $20. It sold out last Sunday, so you’re not alone if you snoozed and missed out on your ticket to this one (Terry!)
The Belgian-style blond was nice and light, floral character. This was quite similar to some of my favorite blond ales imported from Belgium. A refreshing beer for a summer afternoon, a way to go light without being wimpy and selling your soul to the devil from St. Louis or Milwaukee. I also enjoyed the Amber ale–approaching a more medium to full body with a very malt-forward caramelish flavor, and packing 7.5% ABV although you wouldn’t know it from the taste. The “What The Ale?” American pale ale took us into hoppier territory, albeit on the lighter side of that style’s popular embodiment, Sierra Nevada P.A. Good clean citrusy finish. The Eraser IPA seemed to be a revved up version of the pale ale, but obviously with more hops–bold but not exactly knocking over any of the many other IPAs within this hop-friendly county. Being an IPA guy, I chose this as my growler fill and will be enjoying this tomorrow on my Sunday afternoon in the patio.
This latest Stone collaboration beer just came out last week, and I couldn’t wait to try it. I had hoped to fill up a growler at the 30th Street tasting room this past Friday, but things came up, and when I made it in Saturday afternoon the kegs had already been tapped out by my fellow beer enthusiasts. Luckily, they had some 12 oz. bottles sitting in the fridge!
This time Mitch Steele at Stone joined with co-conspirators Richard Norgrove, Jr. of Bear Republic Brewing and Matt Cole of Fat Head’s Brewery (out of Cleveland, OH) for what’s described as an “extra hoppy brown ale brewed with brown sugar and molasses.”. It seems Cole took the lead in the enthusiasm generating this project, with fond recollections of one of his first home brewing experiments from the early ’90s being in this style.
The result is a brown ale with a lower gravity than most, and a hops-forward flavor that will find immediate enjoyment by West Coast hopheads. Nicely balanced, easy drinking, and with an understated sweet finish that shows off the brown sugar and molasses that went into the recipe. This beer probably won’t be around too long, so seek it out and drink what you can before it goes dry like a sagebrush landscape in the Lone Star state! (Rating on a scale of 10…I was gonna go modest and say 8.75, but it’s a 9, solid! Now let me stop typing and enjoy this….)
Sylvaner is an ancient varietal of white wine grape originating from central eastern Europe and mostly fpund within Germany nowadays. Rancho Sisquoc, a family-owned winery located in the rural eastern end of the Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County, is the only producer of Sylvaner in California. I picked up some honey and floral notes on the bouquet, nice aroma on this one. I got some apricot on the mid-palate and a slight bit of citrus on the finish.
A bit off-dry upfront, but let it linger a bit to enjoy the crispness as it develops, with the crunch of a green apple. Pick this up if you can find it, I picked mine up at the winery, which is one of my most-recommended wineries in Santa Barbara County…great off-the-beaten-path scenery and standout wines that won’t bust your budget.
Breakwater Brewing Company is the northernmost craft brewery in San Diego County, nestled a block away from the ocean on 101/North Coast Hwy.
I tried a taster set of 6 beers: Beach Honey Ale, Railside Red ale, Beachbreak Brown ale, Eric’s Quadrupel Belgian-style, Maverick’s Double IPA, and Walkabout IMP Stout.
The Beach Honey ale was light and refreshing, not too overpowered with honey and with a nice infusion of grapefruit for a citrusy finish. The Railside Red was okay, very drinkable but didn’t do much for me as far as a standout beer. Beachbreak Brown was a very nicely balanced ale made with Cacade hops, that hides the fact that it’s 7.8% ABV. Next up was is Eric’s Quadrupel….taking the ABV up to 9.6%, a dark Belgian-style with coriander and chamomile in the recipe by Eric Magruder, a local homebrewer who took home an award and then Breakwater picked it up and made it available to the North County masses. Maverick’s Double IPA was my type of beer, they bill it as a “hop monster” but I could handle more hops…good, but not particularly notable among hoppy IPAs and Double/Triple IPAs being put out by other brewers around the county. The Walkabout Stout was sweet with a delayed lingering finish of vanilla…tasting partner Terry says it was kinda flat overall (I’ve never been much of a stout guy). Also of note: Kali Kush, a medium-bodied special pale ale with a touch of local sagebrush, and Old Blue Eyes, a malty “Old Ale” style of beer that is extremely low on the hops while upping the ABV to 9.1% .
When in Oceanside, surf your way in to Breakwater for a wide selection of hand-crafted beer! Most recommended: Beachbreak Brown, Kali Kush.
After more than three days of personal sacrifice for the sake of the grape, we arrived back in San Diego with a bounty of wine bottles from our trip to Santa Barbara County. We went to 24 wineries and also made it to 5 craft breweries. It wasn’t possible to taste at every place I wanted to or even planned to, but we visited an immense collection of wine tasting rooms spread out all over SB County and took home some real gems. Here’s my take; I’m sure Terry (the studious note-taker) will have more to add. If you’re headed up for a wine trip of your own at any time, we hope to be a go-to source of helpful hints!
SANTA BARBARA WINERY – This is an old stand-by, an urban winery with deep roots in the county’s wine industry. We arrived right as they opened at 10 AM. I’ll say it again–this a great place for discovering new wines and picking up some great values. They were having a problem with their electricity when we went in, so we were tasting in the dark and the staff was happy to offer tastings of other bottles that were not on their tasting list (all you have to do is ask questions). We tried eight to ten different wines, including a 2009 semi-sweet Riesling that my wife brought home. They make a dry Orange Muscat which was quite good, although I didn’t buy it. I really liked their Grenache/Syrah blend as well. I ended up buying their ZCS (70% Zinfandel, 21% Carignane, 9% Sangiovese–although the percentages of each varietal do vary from year to year)…hey, it’s only $13 and a good wine you can break out with dinner on any given night without feeling guilty. I also brought home their 2008 Lagrein from Joughin Vineyard, which set me back $30 but I don’t think I have ever had a Lagrein before and it was an intriguing buy. According to Wikipedia, “outside Italy’s South Tyrol region [in Northern Italy], the variety is rare to the point of obscurity.” Santa Barbara Winery’s Lagrein was very dark and inky–almost black in color–and had a bold and peppery finish. (We would come across more Lagrein the next day at Mosby). http://sbwinery.com/
GAINEY WINERY – First stop after arriving in Santa Ynez Valley from the city. We were whisked into a barrel room in the back for our tastings. Gainey makes some good wines, and they have an impressive estate with some great views, but they charge way too much for their tastings, and way too much for their bottles. In fact, several of the better wines we tried are only available for sale to wine club members. I think of this place as a kind of old-school winery that is coasting on its legacy and has blinders on when it comes to being competitive with all the new school winemakers in the area. Maybe it was worth the short visit, but this wouldn’t be on my list of stops on a future trip. We brought home a freakin’ magnet for the fridge. http://www.gaineyvineyard.com/
BRIDLEWOOD WINERY – Another big winery on a gorgeous estate in the east part of Santa Ynez Valley. I wasn’t expecting to be all that impressed here, but I was pleasantly surprised. The wines we tried are not the same mass bottlings with the Bridlewood label that you see at Ralph’s. We tried their classic tasting which included a really nice Pinot Noir (was it Monterey County fruit?) that I was tempted to bring home. Alas, we left empty-handed as I knew we were going to visit some prime Pinot country the next day. But I would recommend this winery for a visit. http://www.bridlewoodwinery.com/
We had lunch at the LOS OLIVOS WINE MERCHANT & CAFE in Los Olivos, which was recently recognized by some sommelier publication for having one of the best restaurant wine lists in the country. This is the place in Sideways where Miles is deadset against having any f**kin’ Merlot. Well, we sided with Miles in ordering a Pinot Noir to share with our meal. I picked a Melville off the list, knowing that Melville makes some of the best Pinots in the county but wasn’t going to fit into our itinerary….when our server informed us that they were completely out of the Melville, they offered us a Pinot by Ampelos (also of the Santa Rita Hills AVA) at their retail store price, without the usual restaurant markup and corkage. I believe we all loved this wine, which had a beautiful garnet color and a lot of cherries on the nose. A noble exemplification of what kinds of Pinot Noir you are likely to taste coming out of the Santa Rita Hills. The service was attentive and I think we can all agree the food was probably the best we had during our trip. I had the mushroom ravioli, a perfect match with the wine. If you are in Los Olivos, you had better make a reservation and not miss out on this place! This is also a go-to place if you just want to buy wine, check ’em out online. http://www.losolivoscafe.com/
BECKMEN – This was a disappointment. I went in expecting to be overwhelmed with some awesome Rhone varietals and with an interest in possibly joining their wine club. The tasting fees here were among the more expensive among the 24 winery tasting rooms that we visited, yet their pourings were metrically measured and too miniscule to share or even get much of a sense of the wine. I guess the tasting room staff are instructed to only pour that exact amount of wine and then step back from the bar while you look at the 4 or 5 drops worth in your glass. We weren’t there to get drunk, but if you’re going to charge us $15 at least pour enough that we can share a tasting flight. No offers of extra tastes or anything not included on the tasting list. They make some pretty good stuff here, if you don’t mind parting with $48 for a Syrah or $52 for a single-block Grenache. Ouch! Wines for the top 1%. (Note: I’m known to drop up to $50 on occasion when I covet a particular wine, and then I usually feel like a fool parted from his money when I realize I have better wines in my collection that cost less). The prices, service, and Scrooge-like pourings were a turnoff. http://www.beckmenvineyards.com
RIDEAU – They had some good wines here, and most of them were fairly priced, although I’m not so sure about the $42 my wife dropped for their reserve Viognier! I really liked their “Lagniappe” blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, and Grenache. http://www.rideauvineyard.com
SEVTAP – We visited this tasting room in Solvang, just a half-block away from where we were staying. Arturo Sevtap, the owner/proprietor/winemaker, was on hand to pour wines and he’s really making an effort to provide some low-key nightlife in a touristy town where everything else curiously shuts down at 6 pm. The Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon were from grapes harvested from the Happy Canyon at the extreme east end of the valley, and seemed to have an odd aftertaste to me….but again, this is after a full day of wrecking my palate. Recommend for the chill vibe and live music (however contrived); not sold on the wine here (although one guy we met from Temecula–of all places–swears it’s his favorite winery).
As is becoming the annual tradition here at Vines & Steins, I am planning another late December wine tasting trip. Last year it was Sonoma County with an emphasis on Russian River Valley, this time we’re headed to the wine regions of Santa Barbara county.
Santa Barbara County is where I got started with my wine tasting adventures, during a Central Coast trip back in 1997. Sure, I had wine before, but this was getting out into the countryside and opening up my palette to a wider variety of wines and learning about the varietals, the climate, and the winemaking process. Right away I was a big fan of the “Rhone rangers”–Central coast winemakers who were eschewing the usual Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in favor of grape varietals from the Rhone River valley of France: Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. Perhaps you’ve had some of these wines…Syrah and Viognier have grown in popularity such that they are among the most common grapes being grown throughout the state nowadays.
Later, I became more of a Pinot Noir enthusiast, or Pinotphile….(see Sideways). The Santa Rita Hills AVA of Santa Barbara County was made famous in that movie for its cool climate favorable to growing this finicky thin-skinned grape, that when done well….is an indulgence of pure sensuality. Either that, or you will lose your inhibitions about opening your wallet to buy more Pinot for prices you’d probably never spend elsewhere.
So here’s the itinerary SO FAR….I’m a meticulous planner and trying to get in as many good tasting rooms each day as humanly possible! If any of my readers have recommendations or comments, please chime in!
DAY 1: SANTA BARBARA/Lower SANTA YNEZ VALLEY
Early morning drive up from San Diego
Breakfast in Santa Barbara
SANTA BARBARA WINERY – this is one of the older wineries in the county, and a good starting point for any SB County tasting. They’re located in downtown Santa Barbara, under the same ownership as LaFond Winery (located further up to the northwest in the Santa Rita Hills). Not too expensive if you find something you like; they make some really good red blends.
GAINEY VINEYARD – Located right after you get into the valley. One of the bigger wineries. I think I may have been here once before, but I can’t really remember.
BRIDLEWOOD WINERY – Also fairly big. We’re gonna score some free tastings and the place is supposed to be really nice, so why not check it out? I just picked up one of one of their cabs from Ralph’s (30% off six more wines, that’s another post!) so I’ll get a little advance taste.
Lunch – I’m thinking the LOS OLIVOS CAFE, the one where they go to dinner in Sideways. And no, I’m not having any stinking Merlot!
BECKMEN – I’ve heard good things about this winery, looking forward to trying their Rhone varietals. This might be the place where I start a new wine club membership!
RIDEAU – Located just off Alamo Pintado Road on the way back down to Solvang from Los Olivos…I think I have missed this one in years past. I’ve heard good things, gotta check ’em out.
BUTTONWOOD – Now here is one that I’ve been to plenty of times. Their all-around wine portfolio is not too impressive, but I do like their Marsanne and they are one of the few wineries to make a Marsanne. Since their wine tasting fee is (unhappily) non-refundable with purchase, this might just be a pit-stop to pick up a bottle of Marsanne (which might be a moot point if I will have just picked up some nice Marsanne from Beckmen!) Note to Buttonwood: Make your tasting experience more friendly to my limited time and budget, and I’ll spend more time at your place!
In Solvang – check in at our hotel, hit one or two of the in-town tasting rooms that stay open past 5 PM. Probably CARIVINTAS or SEV TAP.
Here are a few good web sites that I have used for exploring Santa Barbara wine country and deciding on an itinerary:
Wine Questers – one of my all-time faves! Used this one for mapping out the Russian River Valley trip last year. It’s very comprehensive, with searchable indexes and regional maps dotted with wineries. They also make a so-so iPhone app that will set you back a few bucks, but consider it an investment toward their improved future app!
Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association – very good, they also have a free iPhone app!
Stay tuned for my next posting: DAY 2: SANTA RITA HILLS & LOMPOC WINE GHETTO!!!
Now dig this.
This Friday Stone Brewing Company puts out their 11.11.11 Vertical Epic Ale, I believe this would be the eleventh in a series of twelve specialty beers, starting with 01.01.01, 02.02.02, etc. I plan to have a mouthful of this beer on 11.11.11 sometime around 11:11 (AM or PM to be determined).
It’s a Veterans Day holiday for many of us, and since it is still San Diego Beer Week, there will be not one but several places around San Diego unveiling this special ale along with a tap line full of Stone beers!
Check it all out here:
And on Saturday, Nov. 12th, Vines & Steins will be representing at the Green Flash 9th Anniversary Celebration at their new brewing facility in Mira Mesa. $40 gets you ten tastes, a collectible glass, and a t-shirt.
Info & a direct link to tickets here:
After letting this blog go lazy for too long, I’m back! San Diego Beer Week just kicked off, running ten days (yeah, some week!) from Nov. 4th through Nov. 13th. Today is a beautiful post-rainy day outside, and the San Diego Brewers Guild Festival at Liberty Station is on the agenda!
This year it’s a collaboration with FM 94/9’s anniversary bash, with Matthew Sweet headlining the main stage that also features Telekinesis and Stone Foxes. Good beer, good music….that’sawhatIlikey. All 35 members of the San Diego Brewers Guild will be pouring, and the tastes are unlimited!
There’s no way I could provide a comprehensive guide to all of the San Diego Beer Week events. For that, go to their website and also check out West Coaster and Peter Rowe’s “Brewery Rowe” column in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Here’s to a week of fun and discovery! San Diego beer rules….join the revolution of good taste, and support your local breweries!