Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wines, right at the source.

I think I understand why Americans with a little bit of wine knowledge tend towards snobbery. Wine is a hard study! There are so many grapes, regions, vintages, producers, and combinations thereof that it's easy to feel proud for knowing a little more than your average Joe. Ultimately, however, these people need to get over themselves because these attitudes make the average consumer hesitant to venture outside their comfort zones. Then, everyone else gets stuck with wine lists comprised of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Big, tannic Cabs and over-oaked Chards to boot.

Though I know I don't like big, tannic Cabs and overly-oaked Chards, I don't know a ton about wines. I'm sitting for my Certified Sommelier exam at the end of August so that I can force myself to learn more. Despite not knowing all the facts, TM and I are very opinionated about what we like, and have had the privilege of tasting quite a bit at local wineries and with vendors. We know how to identify quality in wines and find value in lesser known regions and varietals. So, when we put together our list in NYC and discovered some stellar local wines from the Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley and Long Island, we decided that there was no reason for us not to feature locally-produced, sustainably-grown options in our restaurant-to-be in Los Angeles.

As luck would have it, some winemakers have discovered that traditionally Continental-climate-loving Spanish grapes can be coaxed to adopt to the climate and elevation along California's Central Coast and in Oregon. At a recent tasting at our favorite local wine shop, Silverlake Wine, we tasted 3 local Grenache (aka Garnacha in Spain) wines by Qupe, Ethan (Qupe winemaker Bob Lindquist's son), and Barrel 27. We both admired the biodynamically-produced Qupe for its spice, elegance, and long finish. The Barrel 27 was also stunningly complex for its price-point, so we brought a bottle home to enjoy with some home-cooked Spanish fare.

The Albarinos we tasted were not all from California; the staff at Silverlake Wine mentioned that it wasn't quite cool enough to reproduce the conditions in Rias Baixes. Rightly so, the Albarino from Oregon and California were delicious, but didn't quite have the same crisp citrus flavors and minerality of Spanish Albarinos. Is "warm" an appropriate descriptor?

Shortly after our tasting, we found ourselves in the Northern end of Malibu for a friend's BBQ. On a whim, we decided to make the hour trip up to Santa Barbara to discover some other Spanish varietals right at the source. We sought out the Qupe tasting room in Los Olivos, partially because of the Grenache we so enjoyed. Incidentally, Bob Lindquist's wife Louisa had started a line of exclusively Spanish varietals. We tried the Grenache Rose, which was aptly described as a strawberry creamsicle. It had a tremendously round mouth-feel. We also tried the Tempranillo, which was a different style than we expected - bright fruits, medium bodied, dusty. The tasting room manager, Robert, gave us some terrific advice regarding a Private Label, kegged wines (to save on bottling costs and reduce waste caused by server error and corkage), and a winery in Lodi specializing in Spanish varietals called Bokisch. Yay!

After Qupe, we wandered down the street to Tre Anelli, which produces Italian and Spanish varietals. We couldn't help but tell the tasting room manager Janeen all about Racion, and she couldn't help but treat us to three additional tastings. We brought home the Verdelho, which tasted like a Chardonnay we had from Channing Daughters in NY (?!) and the Grenache, just because. We didn't get to taste the Grenache in the tasting room, but the Italian varietals were all well-balanced and flavorful.

Our trip was too short. I wish we had another day just to sit, drink, and relax. Though short-lived, we learned so much about where we want to go with our wine program at Racion. And thankfully, I got fresh inspiration to sit and study for my wine exam. There is still a long way to go, but how special will it be when we're able to bring in small-batch, local, native Spanish varietals, have our own Private Label, and/or tap kegs to bring high-quality wines at a lower economic and environmental cost?? Very cool.

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