Stone Brewery’s Got Some Major Stones

I know, I’ve been missing in action of late, and for that I’m sorry.  Between the holidays, my day job, traveling, and yeh drinking, I’ve been slacking.   I have about 10 posts written, well in my head at least.  Since most of you don’t yet have access to those files, I thought I’d write one up for you..

beerSo, I love Wine and Wine is Good.  So does that mean I can’t dable in other liquid refreshments every now and then??  My love for scotch has been well documented and I know I’ve written about beer before.  But when beer is good, beer rocks!  Now I’m not talking about that crap you pick up cheap – you know, the yellow stuff that your friend shows up with to your place (you need new friends by the way).  I’m talking, big, bold, complex beer.  The kind you can’t see through.  The kind that brings you to a complex place layered with flavors.

One of these amazing breweries is Stone Brewing Company.  They are down in the San Diego area and make some big time kick ass beers.  In fact, the first time I tried it I went based on bartender referral and name – Stone Arrogant Bastard.  This beer is awesome, but its clearly not for everyone.  It’s an aggressive ale that’s dark, rich, and has a great bite to it.  YUM.

But then the other day I was out with the wife lady, testing out a new burger and beer joint when I stumbled across Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale.

Now this, I fell instantly in love with.  This complex beer comes out of the bottle black, with a huge frothy head on it.  Its hoppy and rich, yet has some tropical fruit notes (in a good way!).  I think I found my new go to beer when out doing the tavern thing. 

One of the things I love about this Brewery, is their extreme attitude that I feel is totally deserved.  They don’t claim to be the best or the biggest or even the smartest.  They just claim to make a kick ass beer, for those people that want something to kick their ass on the flavor front.  

I must say that if your a ‘big red’ wine drinker and think beer is just a one note BBQ beverage, give Stone a try and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Sunce 2003 Syrah – Rockin’

So there I was, looking through my wine storage binder trying to figure out what to drink with my wife’s latest attempt at crock pot mastery, a tri-tip cut o’beef that “stewed” all day.  Clearly, something big and bold was in order but what to pick.  Then, duh, the moment hit, we’ve got this awesome 2003 Sunce Syrah that’s just been sitting there all these years chilling in the storage fridge.

Now, for those of you that don’t know Sunce, you must find some of their wine and try them out.   We stumbled across this small family run operation several years ago while on a trip in the Russian River area of Sonoma County. We had no expectations when we arrived (often how we prefer it) and were totally blown away by the staff and amazing wines.. We signed up for the wine club on the spot (something we rarely do) and for years have been excited to get our Sunce box in shipped to us.  Sunce makes these great big Reds, that age gracefully and mature wonderfully.  

The 2003 Syrah had such a great note when we opened the bottle we knew that regardless of how the “crock pot” adventures were going to turn out we’d be in for an awesome evening.  This wine is a full bodied, rich Syrah with notes of fruit and pepper on the finish.   I’m dying for another trip up to visit Sunce and sample some of their newest creations.  Due to a lack of storage, we ended our wine club membership last year and are in major need of some new Sunce Wine to round out our collection. 

In the end, the tri-tip was good, not great.  The wine however, Rocked!

My Kid Loves Wine Country

Wine country is a magical place for me and now that we’re in the holiday season and about to have our son out of school for 3 weeks for winter recess, it seems that a visit in clearly required.  And yes, My Kid Loves Wine Country, but no, he doesn’t drink the wine (yet).  We as a family have been regularly going from our home in Los Angeles up to the Santa Barbara wine country area, at least 4-6 times a year.  This started when my son was just 3-months old. 

Picture this, Mom and Dad bleary eyed from new parental exhaustion head up to their beloved wine country with their new baby.  The fresh, crisp air instantly awakens their senses and they are excited and happy to be there.  At the first stop, Dad, Mom, and Baby (strapped to Mommy in one of those archaic Baby Bjorn’s).  We’re in the tasting room, enjoying, mingling, chatting with other fellow tasters, and tasting some interesting wines – all while our son sleeps in his holster on one of us at a time.

Wine country is beautiful, and not just because of the awesome wine tasting experience. Here in LA I feel we’re spoiled.  Only a short, 90 minute drive away from crowded, smelly, smoggy Los Angeles – you can be away in farm country.  Vineyard and groves and rolling hills in every direction that you can see.  The air is clean and perfect.

So back to the point – my kid then, and now 7 years later, loves going up there.  Due to state law (and our out preferences) he stays outside of the tasting rooms.  One of us goes in, grabs a taste and notes, and comes back outside to one of the great outdoor picnic areas and we taste together.  My son meanwhile, will see other kids to talk to up there, collect sticks, check out the cool giant leaves, and look for animals (everything from horses, cows, lizards, birds and ostriches).  He just loves being outside, seeing the new environments, and having family bonding time.  Many of the wineries now even have bocce ball courts so we get a little competition in as well.

Wine country can be a fun, family friendly event (yes, read that as moderation!).  Then, don’t forget, the awesome dinner BBQ joints up in the area as all so perfect for kiddies too.

Anyone else bring their kid(s) up to wine country now and then?   Am I crazy or on to something?

Shiraz Blind Wine Tasting

Recently (ok, a few weeks ago now) I was invited to participate and help host the Los Angeles area version of a nationwide blind wine tasting.  This event was put together by WineTwits, a huge online wine centric community that focuses in and around the Twittersphere.   The aim of this night was for us to host a blind wine tasting on behalf of Yellow Tail Reserve.  Yellow Tail is absolutely not a brand that I reach for, own, or ever call for in a restaurant or bar.  My history with the brand was that it was simply a lower end supermarket (aka mediocre) level wine and nothing special.  This all said, I knew this was a blind tasting and I’d have to put my palate to the test rather than my perceptions of a brand. 

In the Los Angeles area, we had 10 total tasters join us for what turned into an awesome, educational, and overall a lot of fun evening.  The way the event worked was pretty cool.  The day before the tasting, we received a box with tasting notes, turnkey instructions for hosting, 4 tasting bottles of Shiraz that were both wrapped in foil as well as brown bags, few other bottles of other Yellow Tail offerings to kick off the evening, and of course a cheat cheat to be used for the final reveal at the end of the tasting.  We got lucky and had the good fortune of having Pourtal in Santa Monica host our tasting.  Pourtal is an amazing wine bar down by the beach.  The owner went above and beyond setting up the patio for our tasting, complete with large notebook computer, speakers, wine glasses, and anything else we could dream up to ask for.  Being that this tasting was happening live across 20 other cities in the US, the Los Angeles crew opted instead to start a few hours later and simply watch the tasting via a video feed loop.  The event was lead by Doug Frost, a Master Sommelier and Master of Wine, and Yellow Tail owner John Casella. They were both on-hand at the Boston tasting, and through the magic of video, this live tasting was transmitted in real time to all other markets that were tasting at the time.  

Overall the event was excellent with a few expected hiccups with video feeds and audio quality.  Our group, like each of the other groups, tasting on our own, referring to and viewing the video feed as we progress from bottle to bottle in turn.  Like all good tastings, we compared notes, debated flavor profiles, and in the end voted on which we preferred. 

In the end, we tasted four different Shiraz  – 

  • Wine No. 1 – 2007 Archetype Shiraz – $15
  • Wine No. 2 – 2008 Marquis Philips Shiraz – $13
  • Wine No. 3 – 2006 D’ Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz – $60
  • Wine No. 4 – 2008 Yellow Tail Reserve Shiraz – $11

In the end, my two favorite wines of the evening were #2 and #4.  Yeh, I know, Yellow Tail was in the final as one of my top picks – who knew?  The Yellow Tail Reserve Shiraz was overall very drinkable, had a nice full body, and was a mix of darker fruits and pepper.  Overall, at only $11 I think its totally worth grabbing a bottle for a mid-week glass of vino.  Wine #3, the Dead Arm, was a nice Shiraz, but at $60/bottle I can see no chance that I would ever pay that for it.  If I’m spending that kinda money on a bottle of wine, its going to need a lot more character that this simple Shiraz.

In the end, while I know I probably am not going to run out to the store to buy a bottle tomorrow, I was very impressed with the Yellow Tail Reserve product and can see the extensive amount of effort that they are putting into the brand (and more importantly the end product). 

If you’re into Shiraz, give it a try and let me know what you think.

Cheers, Doug !

Wine Weekend Away Part 2

Day two started off a little slow, but then again, between tasting and drinking we polished off a nice amount of our favorite juice varietals the day before. 

Today was going to be a great day, and we all knew it.  Our first stop of the day was going to be meeting with Curt Schalchlin from Sans Liege Wines.  Curt is the winemaker and owner of this boutique, cult favorite Rhone variety style winery, known for choosing the best fruit from Santa Barbara up to Paso Robles.   The Sans Liege concept of “without allegiance” is his way to acknowledge that these grape varietals do not have a history on the central coast, yet, in the spirit of “independence in wine making” he’s going to go for it and make the best damn wine he can.

Now I have to admit, I really wasn’t ready to start tasting wine when we first arrived.  Curt came outside and greeted us, and his genuine warmth and down to earth nature was immediately welcoming.  He has his operation housed within Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria.  While Curt’s operation is amazing, he walked us through the CCSW complex and explained how the “big boys” produce wine in mass.  I’ve seen barrel rooms and wine caves on many occasions, though in this case walking the floor, seeing the de-stemmer, the sorter, the varied bins and drums, not to mention the giant steel drums, were all an amazing site.  This facility provides services to several big name wineries in the Central California Coast, doing anything from grape to bottle. 

In contrast this this automated and processed world, Curt showed us where he makes his wine, the old fashioned way, by hand.  We even got to press down the grapes in a bin to aid in the fermentation process.  Not exciting to some, so cool to us.  The warmth and aromas coming off these just picked fruit was inspiring.  Now, I was ready to taste some wine !  We sat down at casual table surrounded by rows and rows of stacked barrels, to walk talk and taste our way through the world of Sans Liege. 

I must admit, this is without doubt, one of my new favorite wineries!!  Not only is Curt making amazing Rhone blends, but he’s managing to keep the price points down.  Not only is the wine spectacular, but each bottle tells a story, starting with the name itself – The Pickpocket, The Offering, The Transcendentalist – each is a different wine with different story to tell, and each with its own unique spin on things.  Needless to say, we had a great experience here and walked out with a nice array of wines to try back home.

From here, our little group had a monumental decision to make.   We were all hungry, but the tasting rooms close early.  The decision was made, rather quickly I’d offer up.  We jumped into the waiting car and raced off to the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, opting to eat after the wineries close rather than waste precious wine time eating.  Now this area is not what most people think about when they think wine tasting but its definitely something I’d recommend experiencing.  The Wine Ghetto is an industrial park, located behind a Home Depot in Lompoc.  Visiting here is a factory style visit, although the tasting rooms have come along nicely this past year.  In the front of each “office” is the tasting room, and the back warehouse area is used to make, store, and age the individual wineries wine.  Each, very different from the next so give yourself some time to go into and try each one.   A star in my opinion here in Palmina Wines.  They have a nice variety of Italian inspired wines, a pleasant staff, and nice snacks to complement the wine tasting experience (did I mention we skipped lunch?).   They I’d have to admit are probably one of the bigger players in this complex.  The Lompoc Ghetto complex houses around 10-12 different and unrelated wineries, ranging from literally husband and wife winemaker teams to larger midsized producers.

When we left the Ghetto I was more or less wine’d out.  Tasting is fun, but honestly I can only go to 4-5 places MAX before my palate is fried and I lose my ability to distinguish flavor profiles (not that I’m that good to begin with).

For dinner, we went over to Full of Life Flatbread  up in Los Alamos.  This little joint in this tiny throwback old west feeling town is exactly what we needed.  Several of the locals we ran into over our weekend mentioned this as a local favorite so we knew we had to try it.  Excellent salads and artisan styled flatbread pizzas worked their magic to fill our stomachs, while a nice selection of local wines did the job to complement the food.  They also had a nice beer selection as well.

All in all, I remain a huge fan of wine country weekends away, and am already looking forward to going back up (hopefully very soon).  My next hope – roll up my sleeves and help with making wine.  I’m ready to get dirty and jump in today.

What do you like about wine tasting?   Favorite memory?  Please share…