Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Another Santa Ynez Trip

I haven't followed up with notes from Paso Robles despite there being some truly worthwhile words to be written with respect to producers like Villa Creek and Caparone. And yet I'm already out tasting again. This time it's another run through Santa Ynez.

We hit Foxen Vineyards for a second go-round, this time before the Happy Hour hordes descended. The initial impression stands: ripe, generous and well-made. Their 2006 Block 8 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir was the wine of the day due to its curiously French aromatics juxtaposed with rich California fruit flavors. The aromas were a mix of floral and funky "forest floor" smells with just a bit of ripe red fruit showing through as well. Good acidity produced a suitable balance and a long finish. Although there's no subtlety, this is just an alluring wine that I'd even dare suggest is worth its $54 price tag if you have the means. I suspect we tasted from an especially great bottle of a very good wine, but those are indeed the most memorable wines.

Foxen also managed to put together a rare 16% alcohol wine that held together, the 2006 Williamon-Dore Syrah. While there's no mistaking the viscosity of the ethanol and the depth of extract, it's not a hot or awkward wine. In fact, it's effusive in its bouquet and seamless on the palate. I'd still classify this as a cocktail wine, but it's one of the best entries in the genre I've encountered. I do wonder, though, if there's any point to aging a wine that is so youthfully exuberant and delicious. Meanwhile, their whites were wonderfully crisp and their Mourvedré rose showed a layer of earthiness that's not often found in pink wines. There's a real diversity of wines being produced by Foxen, all of which are well-made.

While I'm impressed with Foxen and their Bien Nacido Pinot Noir topped my list on the day, I once again have to come back to Longoria Wines as my personal favorite. Top to bottom, Longoria is the best I've come across in Santa Ynez. I can only hope that the Sea Smoke band wagoners don't learn of Longoria's Fe Ciega vineyard, because Longoria is just toeing the "affordable luxury" line as it is. With Longoria's multi-cuvee approach to his various Pinot Noirs, I get the sense he has a certain French ideology towards terroir and his wine in general. There are blends for early drinking, and there are blends for aging. And virtually every wine has a good acidic backbone leading to a fresh juiciness that leavens the fruit and alcohol in his larger framed wines. Where Foxen's wines lean towards the Parker style of excess, Longoria's always seem to hit that magic balance between California fruit and European structural balance. All of Longoria's 2007 Pinot Noirs in particular are superb, and the 2006 Fe Ciega Pinot Noir seems structured enough to evolve from its current embryonic state into a wine of tremendous nuance and complexity.

Although Foxen and Longoria differ stylistically, there is one commonality worth noting: they've both been making wine in the region for quite a while. That's always something to keep in mind with so many wealthy hobbyists jumping into the wine making game with much enthusiasm, but little experience. There's something to be said in terms of evolution, both of the individual sort via experience gained over decades and survival of the fittest.


Jeff said...

I'll have to check out the Longoria wines. Doesn't seem like there are really too many to choose from here...maybe they're sold out? Parker liked the Williamson-Dore--gave it a 93. Does Foxen own vineyards just out of curiosity? There are a lot of their wines available in LA from what I can see, and at least one of them is from "Julia's Vineyard" at Cambria apparently...

CabFrancoPhile said...

The Williamson-Dore Syrah is definitely one Parker would like. It would annihilate any food pairing except maybe elephant or walrus. My girlfriend actually liked it a lot more than I did, which is surprising. I'm pickier about the unbalancing sweetness and viscosity of alcohol, but overall like face-smashing wines more than she does. I think Foxen actually has a couple of vineyards, Williamson-Dore and Tinaquaic, IIRC. Their website's vineyard info makes Tinaquaic sound especially interesting.

Longoria only makes around 2000 or 3000 cases total, and I'd bet most of that goes through the tasting room or wine club. I'm kind of surprised they don't need a mailing list, but having met the Longoria's at several of their winery events, they're too down to earth for that. I'd definitely suggest their Syrahs as a starting point since they're a little less expensive. Blues Cuvee is really good in the $25-$30 range, too, but I think it's one to age.

maulmatt! said...

Glad to hear Foxen was pouring some of their single vineyard Pinot's in the tasting room. I checked with them in the Spring when I was making plans for my trip and they weren't at the time.
I probably should have stopped there... but went to River Bench instead.

Longoria seems interesting, I'll have to check them out. Thanks for the info.

CabFrancoPhile said...

The Bien Nacido was the only single vineyard Pinot. But it was significantly better than the Santa Maria Pinot they had last time I was there. They also had an interesting Sangiovese blend. I've noticed a consistent in-your-face exploding liquefied cherry quality to most of the Santa Ynez Sangios, and it's definitely there in their Volpino.

It's always tempting to try new places, but now that I've hit so many tasting rooms, it turns out it's hard to top the better ones I've visited. Longoria, Lafond/Santa Barbara Winery, Alma Rosa and Foxen all have delivered each time I've visited.

maulmatt! said...

That's cool, I'll have to look for that sometime. The only Sangiovese I can remember having in Santa Barbara was a Cabernet/Sangiovese blend one time at Koehler. I did try one that was pretty decent up in Paso Robles.

Interesting comments about Fe Ciega vineyard... I picked up the new Wine Spectator and was reading it after reading your post and noticed Ojai Vineyards got a 93 rating for a Fe Ciega Pinot Noir.

CabFrancoPhile said...

There are a decent number of Sangioveses I've encountered recently. Santa Barbara Winery and Carhartt have Sangios, while Longoria and Palmina have Sangio-based blends. Longoria's is particularly interesting since it's a library wine, re-released after letting the structure resolve. Even now the acids and tannins are there, but it was probably shocking to the Cali palate when first released.

I think Ojai Vineyards is the only producer other than Longoria that sources grapes from Fe Ciega. It's a relatively small vineyard. If you check out a vineyard map of SRH, it's in very auspicious company in terms of its location.