2000 Santa Barbara Wine Futures Tasting - 1998-'99 Vintage Releases


Sunday, March 19, 2000

Report on the 11th annual futures offering sponsored by the Wine Cask restaurant and wine store in Santa Barbara. This event is a tasting of locally grown and/or produced wines from soon-to-be-released vintages. It is usually presented twice during the Spring in order to accommodate all those interested. The tasting notes compiled below are from the first of this year's tastings. 105 wines from 33 labels were being poured to a sizable crowd at the University Club in downtown SB. This year's event was $35, up from $25 last year, but still a bargain considering the array of wines

Obviously, it wasn't possible to taste everything being poured. So, I concentrated on the reds, and did manage to taste the majority of them. My scores are an alpha rating, based on an overall opinion of the wine's qualities. All prices listed are Futures prices from the Wine Cask, and are generally good through either 4/30 or 5/15/00.


ARCADIAN: pouring 2 wines

1998 Pinot Noir "Pisoni". $39.99. Big complex nose of black cherry, toast, and cola. Chewy mouthfeel, with lots of fruit and toast and long finish. A-
Overall Comments: very nice job with the Pisoni Pinot here. Probably the most refined Pisoni I've ever tasted. Who are these guys?

BABCOCK: pouring 2 wines

1998 Pinot Noir "Grand Cuvee ". $39.99. Very nice nose of strawberry, black cherry, with a touch of meat. Medium mouthfeel, long finish. B+
Overall Comments: solid effort, but a bit overpriced.

BECKMEN: pouring 4 wines

1998 Atelier . $15.99. Stemmy nose, with cassis and blueberry notes. Full mouthfeel of sweet fleshy fruit, and very long finish. 68/32% CF/Merlot from Stolpman Vnyd. B+

1998 Cabernet Sauvignon "SM". $22.99. Complex, sweet nose of black cherry, blackberry, and toast. Very toasty long finish. A-

1999 Grenache "Purisima". $19.99. Huge sweet raspberry and floral nose. Full mouthfeel, tannic and dry, with a somewhat tart finish. Tablas clone. B+

1998 Syrah "Estate Reserve". $25.49. Bright nose of blueberry and blackberry. Massively jammy mouthfeel of blueberry and blackberry fruit, long finish. A-

Overall Comments: first time at the futures tasting, Beckmen has worked nothing short of a miracle out of the old Houtz property. with Steve Beckmen's winemaking, the reds are all excellent, and the Rhone program looks to have a fabulous future.

BLACKJACK RANCH: pouring 2 wines

1998 harmonie "Santa Barbara County". $23.99. Spicy and stemmy blackberry and blueberry fruit. Big chewy mouthfeel, long finish. 80% CS, with small amounts of Cab Franc, merlot, and Petite Verdot. B+

1998 Syrah "Santa Barbara County". $23.99. Fascinating complex nose of blackberry, anise, and herbs. Lots of fruit, somewhat soft mouthfeel, and long finish. B+

Overall Comments: both of these wines are excellent, but the Syrah has one of the most fascinating noses in the tasting. The wines were made by the ex-Maison Deutz winemaker.

CALLE CIELO: pouring 2 wines

1998 Pinot Noir "Santa Maria Valley". $25.99. Stemmy ripe strawberry nose, medium mouthfeel, good balance, with a nice bite on the finish. B+
Overall Comments: by Foley wineaker Alan Philips. Nice work, and right on target.

COSTA DE ORO: pouring 2 wines.

1998 Pinot Noir "Reserva Oro Rojo". $31.99. Bright strawberry/cherry nose. Very tight and acidic mouthfeel, long finish. B
Overall Comments: the proverbial "food wine" with its acid bent, but also a bit overpriced.

DI BRUNO: pouring 2 wines

1998 Sangiovese "Stolpman Vineyard". $14.99. Smoky and lush nose of sweet dried cherry and toast. Toasted cherry taste, medium mouthfeel, very long finish. 10% Nebbiolo. A-
Overall Comments: a very nice Calif Sangiovese, and a repeat of last year's success, with a touch more refinement.

FOLEY: pouring 1 wine

1999 Pinot Noir "Crown Vineyard Reserve". $31.99. Slightly dense shoe-polishy and black fruit nose. Big mouthfeel, lots of fruit, long finish. This is a Pinot dressed in a Syrah suit. Sure, it doesn't really fit, but it looks so good! A-
Overall Comments: very nice fully extracted effort. Smells like a Syrah, and pulls the freight in mouthfeel. When you just gotta have a big Pinot....

FOXEN: pouring 3 wines

1998 Merlot "Carhartt". $22.49. Fleshy and stemmy cherry nose. Full mouthfeel, smooth texture, bit of menthol on long finish. A-

1998 Sangiovese "Volpino". $ 19.95. Sweet dried cherry nose, with hint of stemminess. Medium mouthfeel, stemmy fruity finish. 75% Stolpman Sangiovese; 25% Carhartt Merlot. B+

1998 Syrah "Ambassador". $ 23.95. Spicy blackberry nose. Big mouthfeel of fleshy blackberry fruit, loads of spice and long tasty finish. Just stunning! Co-fermented with 5%Viognier in new French oak. A-

Overall Comments: the Ma Mere didn't get poured, given the 1/2 barrel quantity. But, the rest of the lineup were the real stars anyway. The "Ambassador" Vnyd is a Firestone/Curtis property, but, put this fruit in the hands of Dore and Wathen, and it takes on a life of its own.

GAINEY: pouring 1 wine

1997 Merlot "Limited Selection". $22.99. Fleshy and stemmy nose, with a dense and slight herbal quality. Big mouthfeel, very extracted, stemmy and somewhat herbal taste, long finish. B
Overall Comments: this has been a fairly dependable offering each year, and is suited for those who like full-throttle fully extracted Merlots.

HARTLEY-OSTINI: pouring 5 wines

1998 Pinot Noir "Riverbench-Julia's". $19.99. Strawberry/cherry nose. Medium mouthfeel, smooth texture on nearly soft fruit, long finish. B+

1998 Pinot Noir "Bien Nacido". $19.99. Stemmy fruity nose. Somewhat tart and acidic mouthfeel, long finish. B

1998 Pinot Noir "Highliner". $31.99. Nose of cherry/strawberry and cola. Tight mouthfeel, slightly tart and acidic through long finish. B+

1998 Cabernet/Merlot "Generation Red". $14.99. Fleshy and slightly stemmy nose. Soft and smooth mouthfeel, smooth easy finish. 40/40% CS/Merlot; 20% Refosco. B

Overall Comments: not up to previous offerings, and this is probably vintage-induced. The Cab/Merlot was an interesting wine, but very one-dimensional.

JAFFURS WINE CELLAR: pouring 2 wines

1999 Syrah "Stolpman Vineyard". $23.99. Nose of blackberry and spice. Medium mouthfeel of young blackberry fruit, long finish. B+

1999 Syrah "Thompson Vineyard". $23.99. Very concentrated jammy blackberry nose. Jammy mouthfeel, thick fruit that coats the palate, very long full finish. A-

Overall Comments: Craig says he really likes working with the Thompson fruit, and it shows. The Stolpman has refinement as its most obvious quality; but, the Thompson has the nod for extracted jamminess.

KUNIN: pouring 2 wines.

1999 Syrah "French Camp". $22.99. Big sweet blackberry nose. Full mouthfeel, chewy fruit, has a slight tang to the long finish. A-
Overall Comments: very nice work here, from a former Wine Cask employee.

LINCOURT: pouring 1 wine.

1999 Pinot Noir "Reserve". $18.99. Huge black cherry/strawberry nose. Very chewy mouthfeel, with slightly tart finish. B+
Overall Comments: I've found this winery to produce hit or miss Pinots. This one's a hit.

MAKOR: pouring 3 wines.

1999 Carignane "Cuvee Forets Diverses". $11.99. Woody and varnishy nose. Tannic mouthfeel with mocha and dark cherry fruit. Tannic and austere finish. B-

1999 Merlot "Westside". $14.99. Smoky and musty nose, with cherry fruit in a supporting role. Fleshy and smoky mouthfeel, the fruit has a singed quality to it. From the "Westside" of Bien Nacido Vnyd. B

Overall Comments: I just don't "get" these wines. Each year they're acidic, or fruitless, or tannic, or all of the above.


1998 Syrah "South Slope". $23.99. Sweet jammy blackberry nose. Big mouthfeel of slightly tart fruit. Long finish. B+
Overall Comments: nice offering from a tough vintage.

OJAI VINEYARD: pouring 6 wines

1998 Pinot Noir "Bien Nacido". $29.99. B+

1998 Syrah "Bien Nacido". $29.99. Huge blackberry nose. Very smooth and complex mouthfeel, long finish. A-

1998 Syrah "Roll Ranch". $29.99. Nose of bright and jammy blackberry/blueberry fruit. Very jammy mouthfeel, smooth long sweet finish. A

Overall Comments: somehow, Adam Tolmach pulled off fruity extracted wines in a weak vintage. Maybe it's fabulous winemaking, maybe it's Karma.

PALMINA: pouring 3 wines

1998 Sangiovese. $28.99. Smoky, dried cherry old vine nose. Medium mouthfeel, seems a bit thin on fruit, dry long finish. B

1998 Sangiovese/Merlot/Cabernet. $22.99. Buttery malo-like quality to the fruit in the nose. Good mouthfeel, sweet long finish. B

Overall Comments: disappointing efforts. The Sangiovese is very Cucamonga-like, and is overpriced to boot. The blend was a bit better, but was a little too buttery for its own good.

IL PODERE DELL' OLIVOS: pouring 2 wines

1998 Barbera "Riserva". $15.99. Smoky vinyl nose with vague hint of dried fruits. Moderate mouthfeel of thin dried fruit, long finish. Where's the beef? B-
Overall Comments: bah! This bore too much of a resemblance to a carafe of Chianti at the local deli.

QUPE: pouring 5 wines

1998 Syrah "Bien Nacido Reserve". $19.99. Relatively dense nose of blackberry and spice. Full mouthfeel of blackberry fruit, spice, and toast, with long semi-sweet finish. B+

1998 Syrah "Hillside Estate". $31.99. Bright dense nose of blueberry/blackberry fruit. Tight, but big mouthfeel, chewy fruit - if not jammy, long smooth finish. B+

Overall Comments: very nice well-made Syrahs - the both of them. My vote goes to the Bien Nacido for price alone.

SANFORD: pouring 3 wines

1998 Pinot Noir "Barrel Select". $34.99. Classic Sanford nose of stemmy cherry, spice, and cola. Moderate mouthfeel, somewhat tart cranberry fruit, long finish. B
Overall Comments: wow. The normally dependable "Barrel Select" just didn't seem to have enough un-tart (is that a word?) fruit to make it appealing.

STOLPMAN: pouring 3 wines

1997 Merlot "Reserve". $21.99. Feshy stemmy and spicy nose. Moderate mouthfeel, very good concentration of fruit, with just a trace of stemminess, on long finish. B+

1997 Sangiovese "Reserve". $23.99. Smoky dried cherry nose. Moderate mouthfeel, full flavors, excellent balance, thins out a bit on long finish. Made by Brian Babcock. A-

1998 Syrah . $27.99. Nose of spicy blackberry. Slightly soft mouthfeel, good concentration of fruit, long finish. Made by Craig Jaffurs. B+

Overall Comments: the debut of Tom Stolpman's own label, and a nice debut at that. good fruit, good winemakers...how can it miss?

TENSLEY: pouring 2 wines

1999 Syrah "Thompson". $21.99. Very dark color. Huge jammy nose of blackberry, herbs, spice, and toast. Jammy mouthfeel, very chewy consistency, massive fruit lasts and lasts through long finish. A-

1999 Syrah "Purisima Mtn". $21.99. Nearly black-purple color. Dense jammy nose of blackberry, spice, and toast. Massive mouthfeel, jammy fruit, huge long finish. What a monster! Tablas clone. A-

Overall Comments: Joey Tensley is assistant winemaker at Beckmen. Specializing in Syrah for his own label, he's turned out two absolutely stunning wines.

VITA NOVA: pouring 3 wines

1998 Sangiovese "Alisos". $14.99. Dark dried cherry nose. Thin smoky mouthfeel, long finish. B

1998 Sangiovese "Stolpman". $15.99. Smoky and spicy dried cherry nose. Moderate mouthfeel, lots of fruit, smooth long finish. B+

1997 Acronicus. $31.99. Slightly stemmy and herbal fruit in the nose. Full mouthfeel, herbal-influenced fruit, long finish. B

Overall Comments: often turning out un-even wines, they've hit a winner with the Stolpman Sangiovese. maybe it's been the fruit all along.

ZACA MESA: pouring 1 wine

1999 Mourvedre. Stunning nose of sweet gamey blackberry/boysenberry, tar, and mocha. Huge mouthfeel, somewhat tight and tart fruit, very long finish. Tablas clone used for 1/2 the fruit in the final blend. A-
Overall Comments: Benjamin Silver is knocking out some of the most never-seen fabulous Rhone wines that I've never seen. (Huh?) All you'll find at the winery is the regular stuff. You'll need to get in on the Cellar Program to latch onto the really good stuff. isn't this how Tom Dehlinger got started?


Unable to taste and review:

AU BON CLIMAT: pouring 15 wines.
BRANDER: pouring 3 wines
BREWER-CLIFTON: pouring 6 wines
CAMBRIA: pouring 2 wines
Cold Heaven: pouring 2 wines.
DOMAINE SANTA BARBARA: pouring 1 wine.
ICI/LA-BAS: pouring 2 wines
SUNSTONE: pouring 2 wines
WINE CASK: pouring 4 wines:

Final comments: as usual, the wines and the food are great, and there's always a feeling of excitement among the participants and attendees. There is usually a good-sized crowd at these tastings, which makes negotiating the various pouring stations within the rooms a real challenge. This year, in order to spread out the crowd and open up the venue a bit more, the organizers moved many of the tables outside under a tent. Great idea!

Among my stars of this event were an array of Syrahs from Tensley, Jaffurs, Ojai, Foxen, and Beckmen. Other notable Syrahs came from Kunin and Blackjack Ranch, plus there was a Grenache or two and a Mourvedre from Zaca Mesa that was beautiful. The Di Bruno Sangiovese was once again a winner. Most of the Syrahs I tasted were very excellent, but I didn't feel the Pinots fared as well with the vintage. One of the most standout things at the tasting, was the debut of several Rhone varietals made from the Tablas clone vines. It would seem that we may be on the threshold of Rhone variety excellence on the Central Coast.

(For more on the Tablas clone (from Tablas Creek Vnyds) , see the writeup on a visit to Tablas Creek.)

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