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CCWP Tasting Panel

CCWP Tasting Panel reconvenes to partake of the perfumed pink: rosé

The first time I tried a pink wine, it was just that — pink — and it probably was poured from a half-gallon jug into a red solo cup. But over several decades, pink evolved into rosé, and since has eclipsed any memory of the essence of overripe strawberry dripping from a green-tinted bottle.

The sticky-sweet pink wine I remember from my youth bears absolutely no resemblance to today's rosés. They are refreshing, crisp and produced from all sorts of red grape varietals, from pinot noir to mourvedré, syrah, grenache and even cabernet franc or cabernet sauvignon.

A modern rosé (rosado in Spanish, or rosato in Italian) is crafted either by the traditional saignée style (saignée is French for "bleed") — the process by which the juice is bleed off the grapes — or via skin contact with the skins of red grapes. Naturally, the longer the juice "sits" on skins, the darker the color of the final rosé product.

The sixth adventure of the Central Coast Wine Press' tasting panel focused on rosé. A handful of members met at the home of Michelle and Jeremy Ball March 8.

Participating were Michelle and Jeremy Ball, Bottle Branding; Ashley Costa, Lompoc City Council member and tasting room manager at Loring Wine Company; myself, and for the first time, Matt Mauldin, wine sales professional and blogger; and his financeé, Melissa Miller, developmental analyst at UCSB. The size of our group likely will fluctuate in coming months.

Because were so few this time around we tasted just two rosés. The Ball's provided charcuterie, pulled pork sandwiches and slaw. We never leave the Ball's home hungry.

Comments about the wine, in the order we sampled them:

Wine One: "Tart, some spice, no strawberry, very little sweetness (this taster had the first pour and later noted that it "sweetened" up as it got air); low acid, even (more so) on the nose; salty, with mouth-smacking acidity; big and rich, zero minerality, strawberry, watermelon; (like a) basket of eggs on the nose, a little barn-y on the ending, soft on the palate."

Wine Two: "The fruit shows — cherry, strawberry, less so on the watermelon; the tannins make you salivate; floral, tropical, grapefruit on the nose; real floral, perfume-y; if I didn't know this was a rosé, I'd think it was a sauvignon blanc; banana; they must have blended some white wine into this; crisp (with) integrated, lighter minerality; like grenache with a sauvignon blanc; all back, no front palate; lean and mean, on the extreme side of racy, and juicy on the finish, although the fruit is more of a sensation; it doesn't know what it wants to be when it grows up; piercing fruit on the front palate when paired with the proscuitto — the food equation opens up variables with feel … it's almost too acidic (on its own), and has no balance. It needs the fat (of the proscuitto)."

The wines:

Wine One: 2011 Carhartt Vineyard & Winery, grenache rosé, $21 per bottle but sold out, according to

Wine Two: 2012 Domaine de la Fouquette Cotes de Provence Cuvee Rosee d'Aurore, Provence, France. This vintage is comprised of Cinsault, grenache, syrah and rolle. Most interestingly, Michelle Ball let the cat out of the bag: While it's known as rolle in the south of France, it's vermentino in Italy and other nations in Southern Europe. And it presents like sauvignon blanc, with lots of bright acidity. $14 per bottle, according to

CCWP Tasting Panel Number 5 savors sauvignon blanc from around the world

Once upon a time, I worked full-time as news editor at a local daily newspaper. Every night, I beat deadline, and made sure those working around me did as well. Today, my sole limits on time are random days of my own choosing, but for the life of me, watching them drift slowly past is often all the effort I can muster.

Which means there's forever a jumble of words cluttering my mind.

To my credit, a large freelance writing gig consumed most of my word smithing time until quite recently. Beyond that, I have absolutely no excuse.

But if the world pops tonight, at least I've got this done.

Today, nearly three months after the fifth meeting of the Central Coast Wine Press Tasting Panel, I've collected my pile of words into working order.

* * *

On a very warm evening in late September, panel members regrouped at the Lompoc home of members Jeremy and Michelle Ball to taste sauvignon blanc.

Followers of my wine tales know that this white Bordeaux grape is without fail one of my favorite varietals, and I do recall being very excited about what wines awaited us.

As a refresher, we are: Michelle and Jeremy Ball, Bottle Branding; Katie Baillargeon and Marcel Rivera-Baillargeon, UCSB creative writing professor and online marketing specialist, respectively; Anne and Jason Burns, software entrepreneurs; Mark Cargasacchi, winemaker/owner, Jalama Wines and Joseph Blair Wines; myself and author Laura Sanchez, chronicler of wine and food for various local and national publications. Joining us this evening was Ashley Costa, Lompoc City Council member and tasting room manager at Loring Wine Company.

Michelle Ball is but one of a handful of friends who can prepare and present food like nobody's business. We enjoyed varieties of fine cheeses, breads, fruit and creamy homemade spreads designed to pair with the wines. And fried chicken. Just because Michelle is Michelle.

The Balls had bagged seven wines, but divulged that they hailed from Sancerre, Chile, Marlborough, Mendocino County, the Santa Ynez Valley, Monterey County and the Edna Valley.

I love the essence of "cat pee" that's often strongest in some of Marlborough's finest sauvignon blancs. That characteristic is strongest in cool-climate terroir, i.e., Marlborough versus the Santa Ynez Valley.

And we were off.

Wine One: "Not my favorite (said two tasters); falls flat mid-palate; easy drinking fruit, sort of between the $8 and $10 or $12 range; not enough 'there, there': a good value wine; a hot day wine; would make a nice Sangria; something to serve to my friends who don't drink a lot of wine; elegant, balanced but with a bite; Monterey? Mendocino?"

Wine Two: "Chilean? Has riper pear; warmer and more tropical; colder climate, which tends toward 'cat pee,' versus hotter climate, which tends toward 'tropical'; slight banana, especially on the palate; like the core of a pineapple — not quite ripe, and not quite sour; not complex enough, unilateral; one trick pony; roller coaster of a palate ride; I say Chilean, or this county's?"

Wine Three: "Cuts the fat of the food well; nice balance of 'pee'; barrel flavor; more spice; Edna Valley?; local, California for sure; Edna Valley; nice; definitely not Santa Ynez Valley."

Wine Four: "Just on the nose (alone), this is Marlborough; wow!; New Zealand; unabashedly New Zealand; guava; a grassy classic; good vegetal; Marlborough!; yummy."

Wine Five: "Is this corked?; pineapple; Santa Ynez Valley?; Chilean?; this is my number two favorite, so far; tarragon; grapefruit pith; citrus; more of a 'tongue biter'; has pyrazines, like licking the inside of a jalapeño pepper; mmmm, balanced."

Wine Six: "I'm sooo done with sauvignon blanc!; I think this is Monterey, 2009 or 2010; pine tree and tangy cat pee; not a lot of depth."

Wine Seven: "Blue fruit; like snozberries; Happy Canyon vegetal; pink grapefruit; not much more than grapefruit, really; one trick pony; a hot tub sauvignon blanc; is this a Brander?"

The wines:

Wine One: 2011 Veramonte, "La Gloria," Chile; $11

Wine Two: 2010 Patianna Estate, Ukiah, Mendocino County, organic; $17

Wine Three: 2011 Gainey, Santa Ynez Valley; $14, but sold out

Wine Four: 2011 Villa Maria Winery, Cellar Selection, Marlborough, New Zealand; $12-$15

Wine Five: 2010 Tangent Wines, Paragon Vineyards, Edna Valley; $13

Wine Six: 2011 Pascal Jolivet, Appellation Sancerre Controle; average $21

Wine Seven: 2011 Wrath, Ex Anima ("From the Soul"), Monterey County. $15-$20, but sold out


The Tasting Panel relishes Bordeaux, barbecue on a summer night

Back in early July, when summer was still young, the tasting panel gathered at the rustic home of winemaker Mark Cargasacchi for an evening of bubbles and Bordeaux blends. Cargasacchi outdid himself with both wine and food to accompany the libations, serving us seared scallops, creamed spinach, salad and rack of lamb in a North African herb marinade — by itself naturally the sweet spot for heartier reds.

Because it's been a while, here's a refresher — we are: Michelle Lee and Jeremy Ball, Bottle Branding Inc.; Katie Baillargeon and Marcel Rivera-Baillargeon, UCSB creative writing professor and online marketing specialist, respectively; new panel members Anne and Jason Burns, software entrepreneurs; Cargasacchi, winemaker/owner, Jalama Wines and Joseph Blair Wines; and myself. (Missing this evening was Laura Sanchez, wine journalist for several local and national publications).

The six wines, Cargasacchi noted beforehand, hailed from California, Washington, the Santa Ynez Valley, Napa, France and Israel.

Wine One: "Wow — tannic; this is a cabernet franc; short finish; tart cherry; love this; a great meat wine; little bit of Brett (brettanomyces)."

Wine Two: "This is all cab sauv; elegant; 'wet dog'; like Red Camel cigarettes, possibly the Israeli cabernet sauvignon?"

Wine Three: "Coffee on the nose; unripe; this must be the Washington wine; beefy, meaty; like a dirty Indian food restaurant with pureed plums and yellow curry; sour; oily butternut."

Wine Four: "Elegant; expensive; hot; from the Santa Ynez Valley; spicy; cabernet franc."

Wine Five: "Big-time Brett (brettanomyces) — way more than number one; corked."

Wine Six: "Butter on the nose; spice — kind of like a Christmas (cookie) spice; musky, dark; lighter; I like this; black plum and black cherry; more cabernet sauvignon-like; cocoa powder."

The wines:

Wine One: 2008 Carhartt Fourplay: a blend of Carhartt estate fruit and that from other sites — 43 percent estate merlot; 36 percent cabernet sauvignon, Paso Robles; 16 percent cabernet franc, Rock Hollow Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley; and 5 percent petit verdot, Paso Robles. Price: $40 (According to, that's the 2009 price, and since 2009 is sold out, I assume that 2008 is, as well).

Wine Two: 2010 Gamla, from Galilee, Israel, Golan Heights Winery; 100 percent cabernet sauvignon. Price: Approximately $13.

Wine Three: 2006 Col Solare, Columbia Valley, Wash. Contains 72 percent cabernet sauvignon, 19 percent merlot, 4 percent cabernet franc, 3 percent petit verdot and 2 percent syrah. Price: $75 at

Wine Four: 2007 Star Lane Happy Canyon Estate Red Blend: Contains 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, according to Price: $44.

Wine Five: 1994 Chateau Corbin Michotte Grand Cru Classe, Saint-Emillion Grand Cru. Price: Approximately $40, according to

Wine Six: 2007 Miner Oracle, Napa Valley Red Wine, comprised of 55 percent cabernet sauvignon, 20 percent cabernet franc, 15 percent merlot, 5 percent malbec and 5 percent petit verdot. Price: $90. Sold out;


Our panel's third tasting report: Grenache

As it is one of the world's most widely planted wine grapes, one might assume that grenache has cultivated more prominence in the New World.

I feel silly even writing those words, for grenache is hands down my favorite red grape varietal. Perhaps I have France in my bones, for while grenache is a key component in some Northern Rhône reds, and the lead varietal in nearly all Southern Rhône red blends, it's famed for being the base varietal for Chateauneuf du Pape, Côtes du Rhône and Gigondas. Grenache is also used to produce the rosés for which the Tavel district of Côtes du Rhône is known.

Grenache, however, has its roots in Spain, where it is known as garnacha, or garnacha tinta, and nearly three times as much grenache grows in Spain as in France.

Grenache thrives throughout California, especially in the interior valleys, since this state's conditions match those in the hot and driest regions of Spain and France.

I tell people who are newer to grenache to look for flavors of bright strawberry, raspberry and blackberry, with a dash of black pepper on the finish. Grenache is supple but bold, and sassy like a playful cat. Michelle Lee Ball aptly described grenache as the Rhône sister to pinot noir both in color and on the palate. Think light and bright.

Anyone who farms grenache understands its virility; viticulturists routinely thin shoots and drop fruit clusters throughout each growing season. The shoots of the grenache vine in my yard wave in the Lompoc wind like the arms of an octopus.

On May 25, members of the tasting panel gathered round to taste grenache. We were short one panelist, but general rakishness — the theme that unites us — kept us in stitches throughout the night.

During this, our third tasting (the first two being malbec, in January, and chardonnay, in March) our hosts raised the bar considerably by providing six grenaches, which they described as two from the Central Coast, and one each from Australia, France, Italy and Spain.

Who we are: Michelle Lee and Jeremy Ball, Bottle Branding Inc.; Katie Baillargeon and Marcel Rivera-Baillargeon, UCSB creative writing professor and online marketing specialist, respectively; Mark Cargasacchi, winemaker/owner, Jalama Wines and Joseph Blair Wines; and myself. (Missing this evening was Laura Sanchez, wine journalist for several local and national publications).

Over cheese and crackers, home-pickled snap peas and spicy beef sliders, we blended our trademark hilarity with the six wines. It was a Friday night, and we let loose.

Wine One: "Fruity; moderate alcohol; chalky, with viscosity; definitely from Ballard Canyon; very little acidity; balanced; not flabby; austere and basic; good, but not balanced; definitely 'local' fruit; pairs well with the cheese; lovely nose."

Wine Two: "Has a slight menthol-like taste; oak; could be from the Barossa Valley (Australia); I don't know how to describe this, but it's intriguing; this is a superior food wine; elegant; spicy; has an aftertaste; probably made with neutral American oak barrels, or maybe Hungarian; a great wine; this is a nice European wine — if this is from the Central Coast, I'll be surprised; this is lighter and fruitier, but it eases off at the end."

We jumped back and forth between wines one and two, sipping each repeatedly. We took a poll, and both wines one and two were in a dead heat for first. One panelist described wine one as more masculine, and two as more feminine, and in general, we agreed, describing two as full of intrigue.

Wine Three: "Sweet; almost Australian; it's got candy-like sweetness, and I like it — but after a while, it would get on my nerves; lovely; short finish; jammy, sweet and short; not much here, taste wise."

Wine Four: "Chocolate nose; inky; oaky; alcohol, sweet ethanol; California; no, Australia; has a little bit of funk."

Wine Five: "Definitely from the U.S.; coconut flavors, which I take to mean American oak; just really drinkable." (Note: This wine was decanted).

Wine Six: "It sucks; we love it — not; definitely French (three panelists agreed); no, it's Italian (in the end, all four were wrong); stinky sweet on the nose, but better on the palate."

The wines:

Wine One: 2007 Herman Story, Larner Vineyard, $38.

Wine Two: 2009 Argiolas Costera, Sardinina, Italy; blend of 90 percent cannonau (described as a descendant of grenache), 5 percent carignano and 5 percent bovale sardo; $25.

Wine Three: 2008 Kenneth Crawford, also from Larner Vineyard; $12.

Wine Four: 2009 Pertuisane "Le Nain Violet" Maury Rouge; 100 percent grenache from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France; $20.

Wine Five: 2008 Alto Moncayo garnacha, $50.

Wine Six: 2008 Yalumba Bush Vine, Barossa Valley, $17.


Our panel's second report: Chardonnay

In March, the tasting panel of met for the second time, and sampled six chardonnays in a blind tasting. Since nearly four months have passed since I posted about our debut tasting (malbec, viewable at, Feb. 8, 2012), the panel, again, includes Michelle Lee and Jeremy Ball, Bottle Branding; Katie Baillargeon and Marcel Rivera-Baillargeon, professor, UCSB creative writing program, and online marketing specialist, respectively; Mark Cargasacchi, winemaker/owner, Jalama Wines and Joseph Blair Wines; Laura Sanchez, wine journalist for several local and national publications; and myself.

On March 24, we gathered around a table laden with cheeses, crackers and other edibles designed to enhance the traditional flavors of chardonnay — green apple, pear, honeydew, citrus, vanilla, honey and oak.

Chardonnay is considered by experts to be one of the more difficult wines to pair with food, in part because of the length of time it traditionally ages in — and is seasoned by — oak.

Chardonnays produced with little or no oak are more crisp and frankly, more balanced and elegant. Just my opinion.

The hosts shared only that wines number one and two were from the same region, and that two others were different vintages from the same producer.

Our comments:

Wine One: "Oak; petrol; some butter; really nice balance between acidity and butter/fat; elegant; excellent finish; and racy." After a repeat taste, one panelist found a hint of sulphur and "earthiness."

Wine Two: "Stainless; lovely ride; spice; light; elegant; lovely finish; and flows nicely with food." One of the hosts noted that both wines one and two "were not meant to be consumed for many years," which turned out to be a salient point.

Wine Three: "Yellow; more butter; full mouthfeel; lemon chiffon but no butter; dessert-like; and Cougar Juice." Used in the context of our group, that descriptor is negative; however, I must emphasize that a majority of consumers prefer "Cougar Juice"-style chardonnays. (Translation: Full, voluptuous, buttery).

Wine Four: "Less butter; more structure; elegant; more stainless than oak, or a half-and-half split; and more butter on nose."

Before we got to wine number five, our hosts divulged the identity of the final two, which, under the circumstances, was fine.

Wine Five: While described as "lighter and elegant," this wine, a 2010 Longoria Wines Cuvee Diana, got overshadowed by Wine Six, which the hosts unveiled as a 1995 Longoria Wines Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Ynez Valley at the time, since it pre-dates the Sta. Rita Hills' AVA).

The hosts had received the bottle as a gift from winemaker Rick Longoria.

While the 1995 chardonnay displayed light caramel in color, the panel agreed that "time was in its favor, and the palate bright." One taster described the 17-year-old wine as "Betty White in a glass when she was on "Golden Girls" ... she just keeps giving."

Identities for remaining four chardonnays:

One: 2008 Melville Winery Clone 76, stainless steel

Two: 2009 Clos Pepe Estate, stainless steel, and the most popular among the panelists

Three: 2010 Riverbench

Four: 2009 Talley Vineyard Estate

Welcome to our first panel report: Malbec

This is the debut of wine reviews by Central Coast Wine Press' core tasting panel. Who we are: Michelle Lee Ball and Jeremy Ball, Bottle Branding; Katie Baillargeon and Marcel Rivera-Baillargeon, consumers and aficionados; Mark Cargasacchi, winemaker/owner, Jalama Wines and Joseph Blair Wines; myself; and Laura Sanchez, wine journalist for several local and national publications.

The Jan. 21 debut tasting, presented in a blind format, included four malbecs, two from Paso Robles, one from Santa Barbara County and one from Mendoza, Argentina.

Malbec is characterized by a deep, bluish color, ripe aromas of dark fruit blended with delicate floral notes, as well as traces of mocha and tobacco. Traditionally, malbecs show a hint of flint with exceptional finishes.

Note: When I outlined the four wines' origins to my co-tasters, I erred by saying two hail from Santa Barbara County; while it's crafted by a Santa Barbara County winery, the wine bagged as Number 1 is produced from grapes grown in a vineyard located in Paso Robles.

When we unveiled the bottles and discovered my mistake, it was clear that Cargasacchi's initial comment about Number 1 — "I think this one is from Paso" — nailed it.

The group's further descriptions of Number 1 included "dusty, fruity, molasses, with firmer tannins," a wine that's "made to drink now" — and "cough syrup."

Both wines 1 and 2 were later described as "over ripe" and, following a second taste of the entire flight, Number 3 became both "more tannic" and "more flat."

After reviewing all four wines, another taster noted Number 1 was more layered, and Number 4 had more developed structure. Someone else thought Number 4 had a higher percentage of alcohol than the others, but it turned out to have the lowest, at 13.5 percent.

Guessing the order of wines poured by their origin were Marcel Rivera-Baillargeon, Cargasacchi and Sanchez, who correctly stated that the Number 1 was from Paso Robles. Jeremy Ball and Katie Baillargeon nailed the origins of Numbers 2 and 3 (Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles, respectively), Michelle Lee Ball surmised that Number 3 was from Paso Robles and I fingered Number 4 as Argentina.

As a group, we preferred the Argentian malbec for its elegance and varietal conformity.

The wines:

Number 1: 2009 Oreana, produced in Santa Barbara with grapes grown at Margarita Vineyard in Paso Robles. Cost: $13; alcohol: 13.8 percent.

Number 2: 2009 Rancho Sisquoc, Flood Family Vineyard, Santa Barbara County. Cost: $21; alcohol: 13.8 percent.

Number 3: 2008 Clayhouse, Red Cedar Vineyard, Paso Robles. Cost: $30; alcohol: 14.1 percent.

Number 4: 2009 Catena, Mendoza, Argentina. Cost: $25; alcohol: 13.5 percent.

Wines 1, 2 and 4 I purchased at a retail outlet that tends toward costly; wine number 3, the Clayhouse, I bought directly from the tasting room in Paso Robles.

— Laurie Jervis,