Tuesday, May 22, 2012

August Ridge Vineyards - A Taste of Italy in Templeton, California

In my previous travels along the California Coast wine countries I tasted and picked up bottles of Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara and Rhône varietals from Paso Robles for which these regions are well known. So, in planning this trip that is what I had intended. But, it turned out that although I had tasted a few Pinot Noirs from Santa Barbara none of them impressed me enough to want to take any home. Instead, I purchased a number of Rhône varietals (Syrah, Viognier, Rousanne, Grenache Blanc and blends) in Santa Barbara, Los Alamos and San Luis Obispo. So, before I arrived in Paso Robles I already had a good collection of Rhônes and I wasn’t in the mood to pick up any more. Consequently I changed my plans and decided to visit two wineries in the region that specialized in non-Rhône wines.
I also wanted to visit wineries in areas of Paso Robles that I had not been to before. The most traveled routes in Paso Robles by tourists are along east and west highway 46 which I have visited in previous trips. I had also explored wineries in the far west side of Paso, such as Justin Wines and Vineyards, and north, such as Adelaida Cellars. So, I decided to explore a different area and chose two wineries in the far south-east side of Paso Robles that are off the beaten path and way out in the country and focus on non-Rhône wines.
My first stop in Paso was August Ridge Vineyards in Templeton, which not only specializes in estate-grown Italian varietals but they grow several grapes that are rarely found in California such as Arneis, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo.
August Ridge was established by John Backer and Jill Zamborelli Backer in the spring of 2001 with the purchase of 40 acres of rolling hills in Creston. From the beginning their goal was to produce wines that combine the robust New World style of California with the restrained elegance of the classic wines from northern and central Italy. They released their first vintage in the summer of 2007 with their 2005 Sangiovese as well as the 2005 Merlot and 2006 Vino Bianco de Pasto (Arneis/Sauvignon Blanc blend). August Ridge is a small production winery, in fact their first release was less than 250 cases and their current production is only around 1400 cases.
The winery is at the end of a long drive way perched on top of a hill where you’ll find a small barn that serves as the winery and the tasting room. There you can taste the wines while standing next to the barrels and fermenting tanks or outside while enjoying the view of the estate vineyards below adjacent to their lovely home.

While visiting I tasted the following wines:

The first wine was the 2009 Arneis, a white wine grape variety originating from Piedmont, Italy. It is most commonly found in the hills of the Roero. The word Arneis literally means “little rascal” in Piedmontese and is so called because it is a difficult variety to grow. This wine was unfiltered and had not undergone malolactic fermentation and seemed somewhat cloudy. On the nose I picked up lemon and a hint of herbs. On the palate this wine is dry, VERY tart, highly acidic and resembles drinking unsweetened lemonade. I can image that this wine might be enjoyable with seafood, but it is otherwise TOO sharp and cutting for drinking. This wine sells for $19 a bottle.

The second wine was the 2010 Arneis. This wine went through 25% malolactic fermentation, was clearer and had a similar nose to the first wine. But on the palate the acidity and tartness has been reined in and consequently it is more balanced with refreshing acidity. This wine also sells for $19 a bottle and I brought one home.

The third pour and first red was the 2009 Rocco’s Red, a blend of Sangiovese, Dolcetto and Barbera. This wine is ruby red and the nose on this wine is very expressive with Bing cherries and a hint of smoke. For $19 this is a really enjoyable table wine, great for everyday Italian food like pizza, spaghetti, lasagna etc. I brought one home to share with family and friends.

The fourth sample was the 2009 Barbera. This wine is garnet in color, on the nose it is really smoky with black plums, Bing cherries, spice, good acidity and a very long finish. A really enjoyable wine for $29 a bottle.

My fifth sample was the 2009 Primativo. On the nose and palate this is a fruity wine displaying “sweet” cherries, strawberry jam, and a hint of pepper. On the palate it is medium bodied, has good acidity and is well balanced. Although this grape is the Italian relative of Zinfandel, this wine is not like many California Zins that are huge, alcoholic and can seem overbearing. A really nice wine for $26 a bottle.

My sixth wine was the 2006 Sangiovese. In contrast to the previous wine, this wine has tart cherries, cedar, pepper, and dried tobacco notes. On the palate it is medium bodied and has fairly high acidity. Another nice wine for $30 a bottle.

I know it sounds like I am tasting a lot of wines but I am SPITTING into a cup and drinking water along the way…

The seventh pour was the 2009 Dolceto which is made from black wine grape variety that is widely grown in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. The Italian word dolcetto means “little sweet one”, but it is not certain that the name originally carried any reference to the grape’s sugar levels but may be derived from the name of the hills where the vine is cultivated. This Italian varietal is rarely grown in California and the best way to think about this grape is in terms of scale of tannin in relation to Barbera and Nebbiolo. The most tannic is Nebbiolo, second is Barbera and the least is Dolceto. So, Dolceto tends to be softer and easier to drink young than Nebbiolo and it is a really good introduction to red wine for those who prefer only white wine or sweet wines. This wine displays notes of cherry, blackberries, plums a hint of vanilla and has medium acidity. A really well balanced wine and easy to drink now, it sells for $24 a bottle.

The eighth wine sample was the 2007 Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo is a late-ripening grape that is responsible for the great wines of Piedmont’s Langhe and Monferrato hills: Barolo and Barbaresco. Notoriously difficult to cultivate, Nebbiolo tends to be planted in the warmest hillside sites, where drainage is excellent. Barolo comes from Nebbiolo planted on the hills southwest of the town of Alba, while Barbaresco is made from Nebbiolo grown just to the north of Alba. This Italian varietal is also rarely grown in California. The wine is light ruby in color, on the nose it has aromas of tart cherries, a hint of cedar, dried roses, and subtle licorice notes. On the palate it has pronounced but well refined tannins and mouth watering acidity.  This is a really fine example of this varietal and it easily has the ageing capability of 10-15 years. This wine sells for $32 a bottle.

The ninth sample was the 2007 Ingenious, a blend of 72% Nebbiolo, 19% Merlot and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is clear garnet to tawny at the rim in color. On the nose I picked up cherries, licorice, eucalyptus and spice. On the palate it is a bit woody and tannic. Of all the wines I tasted, this was my least favorite and it seems a bit over priced at $44 a bottle.

My final wine was the 2007 Jovial, a Super-Tuscan blend of 64% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 16% Merlot. This wine is ruby red and displays aromas of sweet red plums,  cassis, black licorice and sweet tobacco and spice. On the plate this wine is full bodied with refined tannins and a lingering finish. An absolutely fabulous wine for $42 a bottle and I brought one home to share with friends.

To visit or for more information:

August Ridge Vineyards
8790 E Highway 41  
Templeton, CA 93465
Phone: 1-805-239-2455