Drink Deeply From a Stream of Sips

I often include “Sip Tips” at the end of my wine columns and this week I offer a series of tips for you to sip from, including information about bang-for-the-buck wines I’ve enjoyed, events I’ve attended and miscellaneous winery news of supplementary interest.

Roblar Winery

Santa Ynez Valley’s newest destination has just opened its doors and it is more than just a tasting room. Roblar Winery & Vineyards has incorporated a marketplace and culinary school into its winery to give visitors a full “taste” of the wine lifestyle.

Already known for its premium estate and appellation varietals ranging in price from $20-$40, Roblar Winery has opened the doors to a rustic, lodge-style estate complete with grand tasting hall, indoor and outdoor fireplaces, artisan food and gift marketplace, culinary school, separate Top Floor Member’s Lounge and outdoor vista dining terraces with picnic lawns and gardens.

At the Roblar Winery Culinary School there will be a regular schedule of cooking classes taught by local, regional and national chefs using fresh, local ingredients and organic produce, including those from the winery’s own organic herb and vegetable garden.

The marketplace will offer a wide selection of gourmet cooking accessories, high-end house wares, regional specialty food items and it will host daily food and wine pairing tasting seminars.

Visitors to the Member’s Lounge enjoy preferred access to top premium Roblar wines paired with gourmet appetizers from the winery’s culinary school kitchen.

Roblar Winery & Vineyards: 3010 Roblar Avenue (corner of Roblar and Highway 154), Santa Ynez.

Hours: 11 am to 5 pm

Info: 686-8540; info@roblarwinery.com; www.roblarwinery.com.

Bang-For-Your-Buck Wines

During a recent trip to the Bay Area we enjoyed a great sushi lunch and asked for a wine recommendation. The waiter’s choice was the 2006 Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc. Its Bordeaux style (avoidant of oak influence), fruit-forward citrus taste, crisp acidity and hint of grassiness was the perfect pairing for our sushi. The wine’s characteristic unoaked crispness cut through the salt, piquancy of the soy sauce, fatty texture of the fish and spicy wasabi without overwhelming the delicate flavors of the raw fish.

I met some new friends in bottles that won’t remain strangers at our table. Pietra Santa Winery (www.pietrasantawinery.com) is located in the Cienega Valley 25 miles east of Monterey and the name translates to “Sacred Stone” in honor of the estate’s granite and limestone soils which, along with the maritime climate and long growing season, gives bold flavors, mature ripeness and strength of acidity to its wines. Varietals and blends include Merlot, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Rosato, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sassolino.

The latter was a new name to me so I did my research. “Sassolino” means “little stone” in Italian, a reference to Pietra Santa estate’s gravel-rich soils, which soak up the sun’s heat during the day, and release it in the cooler night. The resulting grapes are richer and more concentrated, which translates into wine with similar qualities. So, it is not a new varietal, but rather a blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Sangiovese that mirrors the formulas of some Italian Super Tuscans.

My favorites were the 2005 Pietra Santa Rosato ($15) made from Sangiovese grapes with crisp flavors of ripe strawberry and peach. “Sasso Rosso” means “Red Stone” in Italian, and is in reference to the mineral-rich soil in the part of the vineyard where these Sangiovese grapes thrive. The Sacred Stone Masters Red Blend ($10) made from a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Syrah and small amounts of Carignane and Grenache was also a winner. The aromas of blackberry, leather and chocolate pull you in to the glass and the wine is ripe and juicy with cherry and plum flavors and hints of earth and spice.

While on the wine name research trail I delved below my minimal knowledge of Carignane, a Spanish variety of grape that originated in Cariñena, Aragon and was later transplanted to Sardinia, elsewhere in Italy, France, Algeria and much of the New World.

Carignane has had a reputation of producing large quantities of grapes but these have often been of mediocre quality (or worse). Nevertheless, when it is grown on a slope, to lower the yield, as is done in Sardinia and Pietra Santa Vineyard, or grown on very old, low-yielding vines, Carignane can produce a wine with good body, color and acidity. Although it is, as in the Sacred Stone Masters Red Blend, usually a blending wine, winemakers at Ravenswood, Cline and Mayo Family Winery have made impressive single varietal Carignane.

Ever since Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc turned our eyes to down under in Marlborough, New Zealand about five years ago, I keep tasting other wines from that growing region, seeking out other Sauvignon Blancs with the characteristic gooseberry, ruby grapefruit and refreshing acidity. This week I tasted the 2006 Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that had it all at the very pleasing price of $17.

Hogue Cellars has a line of reserve wines that I recently tasted. These have the bang for the buck in their reflection of the layered and concentrated fruit flavors, structure, weight and elegance found in the best wines from Washington’s Columbia Valley. In fact, at the recent tasting I attended of Washington wines $30 and under, Hogue Cellars 2003 Reserve Merlot was the winner with its dark plum earthiness. Second place, also a Hogue Cellars wine, was the 2003 Reserve Cabernet – very ripe and well structured.

The Other Bubbly

Zaffiro Restaurant (zaffirorestaurant.com) is taking food and beverage pairing in another direction. Amy McNelis, chef of Zaffiro, does some great things with Italian cuisine. She is now using her training from the Culinary Institute of America and teaching skills from her work as instructor for Pasadena's Le Cordon Bleu to collaborate on a series of food and beer pairing dinners.

Brewmaster Brian Thompson, who scrapped his Wall Street analyst job and opened Telegraph Brewing Company in Santa Barbara in 2005, has planned a series of beer and food pairing dinners. These dinners are a lively and definitely delicious mix with clear evidence that there are types of beers that pair best with different foods. The next dinner is on May 9 and seating is limited so advanced reservations are suggested.

For more info call 968-6201.