I’m fortunate to live in the prime grape growing and wine producing region of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties–and, until just recently, just a few miles away from the Grateful Palate warehouse facility in Oxnard (it’s now in Fairfield near Napa).
I’ve long been a fan of Adam Tolmach’s Ojai Vineyard from back in the day when I had a print column “The Art Predator” for a weekly where I reviewed art shows, restaurants and whatever took my fancy, and was paid primarily in trade, mostly food and drink (I could never say I was a starving artist.)
We had lots of trade at an Ojai restaurant which carried Adam Tolmach’s wines and I was thrilled to get to know many of them by the glass. It seemed that wine maker Tolmach often dropped off the odd bottle or two of wine that wouldn’t find its way onto a typical list or store. In particular, I remember being floored by one of his syrahs back in 1998.
So when I learned that Michael Meagher was a disciple of Adam Tolmach and was making his own wines under the Vino V label (V as in Ventura), that his limited edition wines (600 cases) are carried by restaurants like Campanile, and that his daughter was in my son’s kindergarten class, I wanted to get my hands on some and try it!
With this Wine Blogging Wednesday hosted by Remy Charest, pitting north vs south, here was a perfect opportunity to put a tasting together using a Vino V wine.
Vino V is available by mail order, in select restaurants, a few wine stores, or by hand off which, being local, and connected, I took advantage of a Syrah from the White Hawk vineyard in Santa Barbara county which retails off the website for $45.
The grapes come from White Hawk Vineyard, about two miles from the Pacific in a rea of former sand dunes, on a cooler north facing slope in the northern Santa Ynez Valley (yes, where they filmed that movie that put down merlot), and according to his wife Anita, Michael is very faithful to his vines, taking great care with them and overseeing every aspect of their development personally. White Hawk Vineyards uses sustainable and organic practices; in addition to Vino V, they supply grapes to Ojai Vineyard, Andrew Murray Vineyards, Herman Story Wines, Sine Qua Non, and Wild Horse Winery.
Determining a worthy opponent to Vino V proved challenging; I finally went with a hazyblur Adelaide Plains 2003 I’d picked up at a Grateful Palate warehouse sale (retail online between $30-40 so vintage and age would have less influence. See my choices and learn about my cellar here).
While Vino V offers a handful of wines including the syrah of which Meagher is most proud, hazyblur specializes in shiraz. Winemaker/owner Ross Trimboli makes a number of them from various areas in AUS, including his “backyard” vineyard resulting in this Adelaide Plains shiraz on alluvial soils which I chose for the challenge because he claims to take personal, utmost care of the vines just like Michael Meagher. However, hazyblur’s vines are 45 years old which I suspected might make a difference especially to my palate which tends to appreciate old vine wines. And while Vino V produces 600 cases total, hazyblur produces 600 cases of this wine…
We warmed up our palates and drenched our glasses with a little AUS Houghton 2004 Cab Shiraz Merlot blend which had an odd fishy smell and taste to it I thought so I dumped mine while my husband found his drinkable. Since it was St Pat’s Day and I’d picked up some Murphy’s stout for his Irish soul, he’d already enjoyed a beer and that might have made the Houghton better to him. For our first tastes, I was making risotto and he was doing a rack of lamb (here are the recipes) and we had some water crackers out.
We liked them both right away and had no trouble at all telling the two wines apart: they were so distinct in terms of nose, color, and taste, and so throughout, we referred to them as the Aussie and the American, and in fact, they had the characteristics that I associate with syrah/shiraz from those regions. It was almost like having two more people in the room. We tasted them in both large chardonnay glasses and large burgundy glasses as I lack a proper Rhone glass.
But which was better? That was more difficult to determine: we liked them both very much, and in no time we were absorbed in enjoying our dinner and the wine and each other! And with the alc on each 14.5%, we were quickly distracted from the task of TASTING the wine, and soon enamoured with DRINKING the wine!
Vino V– deep, dense garnet color in the glass–very jewel like
hazyblur–garnet/red/orange/brown, almost blood like
Both are pretty, but the inky Vino V really coats the glass with color!
VV–fruit, blue fruit, pepper, spice–5 spice? smells great!
hb–more going on and more complex, blackberry, eucalytp, anise, chocolate mint, caramel, some florals–maybe acacia?
VV– we just want to keep drinking this, it is such a pleasure! the rich fruit meshes so well with the rich meal!
hb–so much going on, we keep going back for more! choc mint! violets?
Overall, these are both wonderful wines, whether fixing dinner, eating dinner of rack of lamb and risotto, or with some leftover pasta with mushrooms and black olives, cheese and crackers while writing this up the next day (did I mention how much we enjoyed the wine?); however the hazyblur is fading somewhat while the Vino V is holding strong with lots of flavor and maybe even more going on now than yesterday. In fact, this might be a good wine to put down for a few more years to see what happens. Another observation between the two is that although the alcohol is the same 14.5%, I am more aware of it in the hazyblur–the Vino V seems more balanced, especially the second day. And the last swallow on the hazyblur requires some straining and chewing…but worth it!
A final consideration: price. Recently, I have had the good fortune to taste a number of wines in the 35-50 range and these both are as good or better as anything I have tasted. In fact, in terms of American syrahs, the Vino V is exceptional, and well worth the price.
Getting excellent grapes from an organic, sustainable vineyard in the Santa Barbara area is incredibly competitive, and expensive (as you can see by who else is sourcing their grapes at White Hawk!). As the AUS dollar goes up, those wines will go up in price even though nothing is changing. I wonder if, as real estate values go down in the US, grapes may go down in price also…
North vs South: I think they’re both winners!