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los olivos

Highs & lows

pelicanAlta Maria – A pure drop-in, at a winery (it might be slightly more correct to call this a project) of which I’ve never heard after the beyond-enthusiastic recommendation of the behind-the-counter guy at Qupé.

Unfortunately, his description does not fully, or in fact even partially, conform to what I taste. The wines aren’t bad at all, for the most part, but there’s nothing particularly special about most of them either. Euphemasia quickly sets in, and by the end there’s also a sort of strange fascination…like being tied to a chair while watching a Michael Bay film.

Alta Maria 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (Santa Ynez Valley) – Grapes. This tastes like grapes. Mixed apples, crisp enough but softening residual sugar (not, analytically, much at all…yet it’s quite detectable), and grapes.

Alta Maria 2009 Chardonnay (Santa Maria Valley) – Green fig, ripe tangerine. Good acidity and a deft use of wood. Long and solid.

Alta Maria 2009 Pinot Noir Rancho Ontiveros (Santa Maria Valley) – Blood orange and plum. Medium-bodied. Central Otago-ish. I like it, but it’s a bit of a stumbler.

Native9 2009 Pinot Noir Rancho Ontiveros (Santa Maria Valley) – Big and leathery, with just about the darkest fruit one can extract from pinot noir. Very long, with steady and impenetrable density throughout. This is massive, but it’s also a very good wine.

Native9 2008 Pinot Noir Rancho Ontiveros (Santa Maria Valley) – Liquorous cough syrup heavy on the menthol, plus massive tannin that hasn’t quite escaped its green stage.

Alta Maria 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon (Santa Ynez Valley) – Were this from a more recent vintage, the appellation would apparently be Happy Canyon. A mix of ripe and green tannin…and if the first thing I write about a wine is a description of its tannin, one can assume they’re prominent…chocolate, and cloves. Note, also, that I haven’t actually mentioned anything in the fruit realm; between tannin and barrel, there’s not much else to this.

Autonom 2008 “Rhône Cuvée” (California) – The winery web site’s description of this wine:

A subtle Violettes de Toulouse aroma is captive to a prominent Chambord and white pepper presences which makes this wine appear like a beast. On the palate, however, the Grenache and Mourvedre expand the richness of the Syrah to create salivating flavors of strawberries, pomegranate and cranberry relish which all transition into a brandied char which gives lift and added dimensions to the finish.

While I suppose I can’t top that (and why would I try? it sounds disgusting, like someone let an arsonist loose in a speakeasy), I also can’t endorse it. Can I? My notes speak of chocolate, booze, chocolate, spice, chocolate, blueberry and blackberry syrups, chocolate, jam, chocolate, makeup, and chocolate. So, actually, maybe I’d prefer their version.

Autonom 2008 “Law of Proportions” Syrah (California) – Smells like breakfast: bacon, blackberry syrup, brioche. Pretty good acidity (hmmmm), spice, and berry skin tannin in pulsing waves. An assault rifle of a wine.

Do not go gentle into that good Nacido

santa barbara mission urnQupé/Verdad/Ethan – Old reliable and the interlopers. No, not really. But as venerable as the Qupé name is, ’round these parts, the two relatives – for that’s what the other wineries are: labels belonging to scions and shoots of Qupé’s Lindquist family – create a somewhat jumbled picture when viewed (or tasted) together. Stylistic threads are hard to untangle.

Plus, there’s a lot of wine being made here. I don’t even scratch the surface, despite a fairly broad tasting, and as the genesis seesaws between the Rhône and various parts of Spain, I leave less sure of what I’ve experienced than I was before I entered. But this is why one tastes, right?

Verdad 2010 Grenache Rosé Sawyer Lindquist (Edna Valley) – Raspberry bubblegum. Texturally rich (aided by the strong impression of sweetness) with decent acidity. Not bad, not great.

Qupé 2010 “Bien Nacido Cuvée” (Santa Maria Valley) – Viognier and chardonnay, the former deliberately picked ripe and the latter deliberately picked underripe. I understand why they do this, even absent their explanation, but to my palate they’re still not getting what they appear to want. Peach blossom and the typically lurid flower-based soap aromas to which viognier is so susceptible and into which it is so easily pushed. Dense and sticky. The acidity comes through on the finish, but by then it’s a bit too late. Whatever trick they wish to use to re-introduce acidity into a blowsy, lurid viognier, they’re going to have to find a way to get it better-integrated with the wine at a far earlier stage.

Verdad 2010 Albariño Sawyer Lindquist (Edna Valley) – Big, sticky almonds with spice and preserved lemon. A bit of almond skin as counterpoint. Very bronzed…almost ambered, in fact…with a heavy, beeswax-textured finish. Good acidity. This is quite credible.

Qupé 2009 “Los Olivos Cuvée” (Santa Ynez Valley) – Syrah, mourvèdre, grenache. Sweat, bubblegum, peppered mushroom. Thanks, varities, for each contributing something. Fairly deft, with good balance. Marred by green-tinged tannin.

Verdad 2009 Graciano Ibarra-Young (Santa Ynez Valley) – Burnt aromas, tutti-frutti flavors. Are we sure this is graciano? Because it tastes like Purple Nurple (the drink, not the bullying technique). Finishes short and bitter, and ultimately that’s kind of a blessing.

Ethan 2009 Syrah Sawyer Lindquist (Edna Valley) – Black pepper and coal (in rock, rather than its usual dust, form). And then things get ugly: well-toasted spices heavy on clove, spiced cherry pie, and all the sickly trappings of modernity. There are wines (though few syrahs) that can take this sort of theatrical makeup, but this isn’t one of them.

Qupé 2007 Syrah Alisos (Santa Barbara County) – Luscious. Blackberry smoke, morel, earth. Gorgeous and very elegant. This is how to do a modern-leaning syrah while not losing one’s soul in the process.

Qupé 2008 Syrah Bien Nacido (Santa Maria Valley) – Rich mixed fruit, crushed black and blue berries, soft coal dust, some lingering toast, and a persistent touch of finishing oxidation. I inquire, but the bottle hasn’t been open long; perhaps the damage existed before uncorking. In any case, I don’t think this is fully intact.

Qupé 2007 Syrah Bien Nacido Hillside Estate (Santa Maria Valley) – Ripe. Blackness of both the berried and peppered varieties. Lots of tannin. This is not only made for the long haul, it’s already holding a non-refundable ticket.

Petered out

santa barbara mission baptismal fontPetros – Silence. Dark, anything-but-decrepit silence. Such a change from the Lazy Ox

I’d assumed that lunch in the midst of heavy-duty wine tasting would be some sort of California cuisine accompanied by a glass or two of local wine. I didn’t expect ambitious Greek food in an elegant setting. And I certainly didn’t expect to be dining in what I now find, poking about the internet, is a Fess Parker establishment. Will I ever live it down?

But what’s more baffling is the utter lack of patronage. I mean, sure, it’s neither cheap, quick, nor casual, and I suspect all three are what many wine country tourists are after. But there is only one other table occupied during my lunch, and its occupants…well, let’s just say that as they sit in utter silence, gnawing the decaying threads of a meal, it’s possible that after ninety-plus years (each) they’ve run out of things to say.

I hope, at least, that they enjoyed lunch. Because the food here is really very good. Greek cuisine has not, as a rule, scaled well in the…pardon me…pantheon of borrowed European cuisines. It does not take to fancifying or airs, and while I don’t know if that’s the fault of the practitioners or the cuisine itself, I rather suspect the bulk of the blame lies with the source material. As with certain regional Italian cuisines (though not all of them), Greek dishes really seem to prefer to be left to their own relatively simple devices. At which point the entirety of one’s success with the cuisine comes down to shopping and basic cooking techniques. Both are done well here.

I’ve no complaints about the service either, though I suppose it’s not hard to manage a nearly-empty dining room. As for the wine list, it’s neatly balanced between the local and the non-formulaic Grecian. Someone has put some work into this list, some curation to help ease these unfamiliar wines onto diners’ tables. Of course, I can’t quite resist either temptation…

Brander 2009 Sauvignon Blanc “au Naturel” (Santa Ynez Valley) – Green, biting sauvignon blanc with some razors thrown in for structural intensity. Yet surprisingly expansive, for all that cutting and slashing. Good? Hmmm… (11/11)

Monemvasia 2009 Peloponnese Moschofilero (Greece) – Light and insubstantial, offering a wan gesture in the direction of flowers and white sand. Is this a contextual effect from drinking it amidst a bevy of blowsy California wines? Perhaps in part, but there’s still just not much to it. (11/11)