A few years ago, I took a year long sommelier (wine expert) course offered by the Gastronomic College of Hungary. This experience was a kind of turnaround in my life, making me ask myself why I did not take this course ten years ago.
Anyway, let’s enjoy whatever is ahead of us; since I completed the course I try to travel with open eyes, enjoying all that my homeland can offer, while also discovering areas like Priorat in Catalonia, Tuscany, the TBAs of Germany and many other wine regions.
The last week brought me to the leading wine district of the world. I can say leading, as an examination of the 2006 list of top 100 wines of the world (assembled by Wine Spectator, one of the most respected journals pertaining to world wines) shows that Californian wines were all over the list though the top 10 was domniated by classic French and Italian wineries.
In 2011 the first two places were taken by two wineries from California: Costa Browne Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast; and Kathryn Hall, 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. Among the top 20 you can definitely detect Californian dominance.
We have visited San Diego, but for one day it did not make too much sense to fly to Napa, so we decided to discover a less frequently praised, but still interesting part of California Wine Country, the areas of Los Olivos and Solvang in Santa Barbara, made famous in the movie “Sideways” which had great influence on winemaking in California. As I have quoted Wine Spectator, we felt it worthwhile to explore the best of the best showcased from this region, so we started our visit at Tensley Winery whose Syrah, Santa Barbara County, Colson Canyon Vineyard 2008, made it to 17th place. We were in communication with the Tensleys by email prior to our visit, so we stopped by. When we entered the shop we had quite a surprise as not a single bottle had the Tensley logo on it. The nice California blonde shop assistant just smiled and pointed us to a dark corner of the room, where we discovered a man on his 60s with a few visitors around him in an area of roughly 10 square meters….
Well, you might not need a banner for a good wine…. We went through the general tasting list, starting with some new Chardonnays, which did not really impress us, but as long as we started to “climb” the expected Syrah ladder, we have just looked at each other, smiled into the glass, took another sniff and simply did not believe our own senses: This is it! The blackcherry, vanilla bomb just exploded in our nose and later in our mouth, and we knew, we could go around to other tasting rooms of other wineries (and trust me there are LOADs of them) but from this point, the quality could only go down. (Did I forget to mention the Syrahs averaged between 96 and 99 points from Robert Parker…?)
The only other worthwhile tasting we can mention (not that we have not had good wines, just not necessarily great wines) is the 2010 Paradise Road Viognier from Blair Fox Winery which received 93 points in the “Editor’s Choice” in Wine Enthusiast.
We also visited the Rusack Wineyard, which was also showcased among the top 40 wines in Wine Spectator. We learned about the great variety of soils in Santa Barbara, which enables the local winemakers to grow anything from Pinot Noir to Syrah without any problem and the vintners have even found it possible to make wine with Botrytis Cinera…..
Now, I think it’s time to reveal why I have chosen the catchy title of this article. How does Rusack achieve Botrytis “infected” grapes? Are there any small rivers or lakes around to create the perfect surrounding as in Tokaj or Ruszt? Of course NOT! It is easier to use sprinklers with mushroom spores inside and cover the grapes with plastic bags, the rest will be handled by nature!! It’s not only like having a silicon implant, but the outcome is hilariously awful as they made the wine from Semillion grapes which made it taste more like generic grape juice with extra sugar added.
California wine makers, you are great, but don’t overdo it; try to admint you can do ALMOST everything, but think about the word ALMOST at all times and limit yourselves to remain on the top and let us enjoy whatever is really great from your end.