Monthly Archives: August 2014

Wine Geek USA postcard #1

Postcard 1

Hi Winos!

Just ‘cos I’m on my holidays it doesn’t mean I don’t care about you lot… a week in and so much has happened! Vegas was just plain awesome… or MENTAL as I’ve described it elsewhere. I played my first face-to-face poker event … and won!! $375 meant we ate and drank well that night… I’ve got a better poker face than a mirror face I tell you!


The Fish got addicted to the slot machines and became a pool-fiend; we had such a laugh in Buellton and enjoyed an amazing four days in Napa. It’s been pretty wild and I just love the Nevada and California folk… we should all be so polite!


We’ve arrived in Healdsburg, Sonoma and have some amazing wine tastings lined up over the next few days: Kistler. Red Car, Wind Gap. Ridge, Joseph Swan, Porter Creek… I can’t wait to see and taste what’s in front of us.

Here’s a selection of posts so far; there will be one on the fantastic (and I really mean that!) Cabs of Napa in a day or so. Oh and I met the amazing Cathy Corison – a real Wine Geek moment! If you don’t know who she is then keep an eye out for the Napa post… she even agreed to have her photo taken with me!!!!


A tasting at Au Bon Climat – my favourite Californian winemaker didn’t let me down!


This week’s #newwinethisweek had to be Californian Chardonnay… give it another go, you won’t be disappointed!


Have you seen the film Sideways? I love it, and we lived and breathed it for 24 hours in Buellton… And we didn’t drink any f*cking Merlot!


The boring stuff

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Please enjoy these posts and wish you were all here!!!

Wine Geek




Sideways – the Wine Geek experience

I am a big fan of the film Sideways. I love the scenery, the characters, the storyline and, most of all, the dialogue, which never fails to make me fall about laughing. The film won an Oscar for Best Writing Adapted Screenplay and did a lot for wine tourism as Sideways became a huge box office hit upon its launch almost 10 years ago, in October 2004.

Sideways poster

Two of the key settings in the film are the Windmill hotel and The Hitching Post restaurant. Many of the scenes are set in these locations and they have become destinations for wine geeks around the globe… including this one! When we were planning our holiday and realised we would be driving past Buellton on our way from LAX to Napa we just had to do it; so we booked a night at The Windmill and made a reservation at The Hitching Post… and I am so glad we did!

Miles & Jack at The Hitching Post

Miles & Jack at The Hitching Post

The Windmill


The hotel is a Days Inn situated less than a 100 metres off Interstate 101. It’s not luxurious or flashy, and apart from a small poster behind the reception area, they don’t play on the Sideways association. The Windmill is a comfortable and welcoming pit stop with wonderfully friendly staff and clean surroundings. It made us smile, especially at $69 a night (and a very healthy £:$ exchange rate!).

Pool shark... I mean Fish!

Pool shark… I mean Fish!

As we waited for our reservation at the Hitching Post we strolled over to the Club House just as it opened at 4PM and ordered a couple of glasses of refreshingly crisp Chardonnay from nearby Paso Robles. The bar is great fun with lots of gaming machines and 4 pool tables, charged at very little per hour. The staff are welcoming and extremely funny, making you feel as at home as one of the locals supping a beer at the bar; it’s the kind of place I wish I could walk into after a hard day’s work.


The Hitching Post

Well actually it’s the Hitching Post II, the sister restaurant of The Hitching Post I, which is located a little further north in Santa Maria; HP1 first opened its doors in 1952 with HP2 coming on board quite some time later, in 1986. Forbes Magazine featured The Hitching Post and The Hitching Post II together as one of “10 Great BBQ Joints in the USA” and nothing in our experience gave any reason to disagree with this assertion.

Hitching POst

The welcome is warm and it feels like waking into someone’s (very large) home. The tables are well spaced and we were guided to our prime position, right next to the indoor BBQ pit. The “pit” actually sits behind a glass enclosure but you can watch every move made by Executive Chef (and Magnum lookalike) Bradley Lettau and Sous Chef Jesus Montano. There seems to be three different kinds of seasoning and three more marinades that help give the meat and seafood its delicious barbecued flavour as it cooks long and slow over the open fire.


Before deciding what to eat we were handed the wine list… I have no idea why as there was never any doubt about what we would order; it just had to be a bottle of Highliner, described by Miles as “tighter than a nun’s arse, but great concentration”! Hitching Post owner Frank Ostini and former fisherman Gray Hartley make the Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post wines, with a focus on Pinot Noir that now also extends to Syrah and Cabernet Franc.

Highliner is the top-of-the-line bottling, blending the best barrels from the best vineyards. The wine is matured in 70% new French oak and aims to “combine the forward fruit and richness of the Santa Maria Valley, with the earthiness and structure of fruit from the Sta. Rita Hills”. The 2011 was on the menu and it was a very good wine indeed:


Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Highliner Pinot Noir 2011, Santa Barbara County ($52, $42 take-home)

I don’t quite agree with Miles about the tightness – this has a beautiful combination of black and red cherries with layers of red currant and raspberry coming along on the mod-palate. The tannin is firm but elegant and the finish is spicy and smoky, with hints of Chinese 5-spice. It’s a Pinot with guts but also good manners. I wish we could get wine this good at prices like this in restaurants back home. 93 points


The Fish and I were hungry so we went for the 26oz Angus rib-chop, which at £53.95 sounded like great value… and that was before we realised what it came with. All entrees include:

Fresh Vegetable Tray & Garlic Bread

Your choice of Rice Pilaf, Baked Potato or French Fries (we could choose a couple as it was for 2!)

Plus Two Preliminary Courses:

Your Choice of Organic Mixed Green Salad or Today’s Soup

Your Choice of Bay Shrimp Cocktail (add $1), Today’s Soup or Neither (Less $1)

All of this for $27 each!!



The starters and accompaniments were delicious but the rib was stunning. We watched it cook for about 30 minutes (to medium rare – slow and low baby!) on the grill as our various appetisers came and went and when we took our first bite it was meltingly tender and the flavour was smoky and meaty and just damn fantastic. We love Hawksmoor back in London but they now have a lot to live up to, especially as a prime-cut like this would not be far off £100.

... After!

… After!

Too full for dessert, we made like Miles and Jack and wandered past the Ford garage, back to the Windmill, along highway 246.

The way home...

The way home…


There’s little else to say except that if you are in the vicinity, be sure to have your own Sideways experience; its brilliant for what it is, not just because of the film, but its so much fun to visit both places and quote lines from the film every 2 minutes…

“I’m not drinking any f*cking Merlot!”




Au Bon Climat – the perfect place to start the California adventure!

Vegas baby!

Vegas baby!

As a prequel to our Californian wine adventure we advanced upon Vegas and what a place it is! Its not like Disneyland for kids, as many people have told me, it’s more like 6 Disneylands all packed either side of 4 miles of heavy-duty traffic! I couldn’t get my head around the scale of the place before I got there… now having been I think I’d still struggle to describe it to anyone. In a single word, it’s MENTAL… but already I can’t wait to return!

The Fish is hooked!

The Fish is hooked!

After 3 days of mentalness we flew into LAX, hired a car and drove up to Santa Barbara. I have really fallen for the Pinots and Chards of this region and one of the main reasons for the visit was to call upon the door of Au Bon Climat. Unfortunately Jim Clendenan, founder, owner, and superstar yet understated winemaker of ABC, wasn’t around the day we visited but the staff on hand were equally brilliant and enthusiastic, leading to one of my favourite and most fun tastings yet.

Beautiful tasting room in a beautiful town

Beautiful tasting room in a beautiful town

The tasting room itself is delightful and comfortable and there were 2 tasting options. The first option was the “Classic” flight at $10, which navigated a few unexpected grapes as well as the world-renowned Burgundy varieties. The second “Pinot Reserve” flight focussed purely on Jim’s true love. The Fish was with me so we went for both… purely in the interest of you readers of course!

The Au Bon Climat story started back in 1982 when Jim decided to start his own winery, which means “a well exposed vineyard”. The winery focused on Burgundian varieties and also many techniques from the region; in my experience of tasting the wines, Jim manages to get a wonderful balance of old and new world style, many of the Pinots are reminiscent of Volnay and Chambolle, wines with wonderful elegance, finesse and a very gentle touch. Over the years the number of varieties increased as did the number of labels (Jim now has a family label as well as another venture with his barrel-maker) but the one thing that always seems to stand out is a stylish grace and refinement; this truly is one of the great modern winemakers.


The Classic flight:


Au Bon Climat Pinot Gris Pinot Blanc 2012 ($5 glass/$18 bottle)

75% Pinot Gris and 25% Pinot Blanc – a real summer glass of sunshine. Fresh and bright with lots of apple and citrus fruit. The finish is a touch creamy but lovely acidity cuts through for a very satisfying and enjoyable finish. If I could get this for $18 (£12) at home I’d have a case in the fridge! 90 points


Clendenen Family Vineyards “The Pip” Chardonnay 2012 ($6 glass/$25 bottle)

The first of the wines produced by Jim, his daughter Isabelle and son Knox, with fruit from the Santa Maria Valley, aged in older oak. Bright and fruity again but with a touch of buttery richness. On the palate there is a ton of apple and lovely flourishes of tropical goodness. A fab wine and one that reminded me of a 1er Cru from Puligny. 92 points

Pip Chard

Au Bon Climat Los Alamos Chardonnay 2011 ($6 glass/$25 bottle)

Single vineyard wine aged for 12 months in 40% new French oak. Tight and tense with lots of minerality but the trademark freshness and acidity makes this very drinkable right now. The apple and citrus fruit is complimented with a slightly smoky finish with just a hint of coconut; a little short on the finish but now I’m just being picky. 92+ points


Au Bon Climat Los Alamos Pinot Noir 2010 ($8 glass/$30 bottle)

Smells and tastes like a bowl of red summer fruits – it’s like a firework display of summer for the nose and the tongue. Elegant and delicious and just lots and lots of fun and enjoyment; the long wild strawberry finish is sublime. 93 points

Los Alamos

Clendenen Family Vineyards Le Bon Climat Pinot Noir 2008 ($9 glass/$35 bottle)

All of the fruit is sourced from a vineyard Jim bought in 1998 and has been certified organic since 2003. Once more the red fruits are to the fore in this wonderful wine but now we have layers of earth and spice; leather, clove, smoke and fruit combine beautifully to produce an elegant, delicate and downright beautiful wine that could be tipped as a top-end 1er Cru Volnay. Brilliant. 95 points


I love this wine!

I love this wine!

Clendenen Family Vineyards Petit Verdot 2008 ($9 glass/$35 bottle)

Very unusual to find a Petit Verdot single variety bottling, this is a single vineyard bottling from Bien Nacido and just shows how Jim can lend a gentle touch to more than Pinot and Chard. The nose is herbal and menthol but the palate retains the freshness and red fruit I’ve come to associate with the label. The fruit is concentrated and there is plenty of body building tannin but I’m still left with a lift and freshness that keeps you going back for more. A winemaker with great skill. 91 points


The Pinot Reserve flight:


Clendenen Family Vineyards “The Pip” Pinot Noir 2012 ($6 glass/$25 bottle)

Lashings of red fruit on the nose and palate but also a hint of something savoury – bay leaf maybe? This is a very easy drinking wine, simple and enjoyable and the guys suggest to serve it slightly chilled – I can see that working. 89 points


Au Bon Climat “La Bauge Au-deussus” Pinot Noir 2010 ($7 glass/$30 bottle)

Lots of elegance here with plenty of raspberry, strawberry and cranberry fruit and a delicate touch with the sweet but beautifully balanced oak. There’s a lovely mineral note to the wine and just a hint of leather adds to the complexity. A beautiful wine. 93 points

La Bauge

Ici/La-Bas “Les Révélés” Pinot Noir 2009 ($7 glass/$30 bottle)

This is a collaboration with barrel broker Mel Knox, made with fruit form Anderson Valley. There is a very nice smoky attack along with the usual red fruit but this one has a hole in the middle. I really liked the earthiness but wanted everything to come together a little bit more. 88 points


Au Bon Climat Talley Pinot Noir 2009 ($10 glass/$40 bottle)

In 1991 Jim started a relationship with Brian Talley to make Pinot Noir from two of his vinyeards, Rincon Adobe and Rosemary’s Vineyard, both located in the Arroyo Grande Valley. The grapes for this wine come from a 1.2 acre block from that contains some of the oldest vines on the property.

So far all of the wines have been about the fruit, The Talley is all about the earth. The wine is smoky and slightly spicy upfront with cool mineral notes, then comes the bright red fruit and beautifully judged acidity, fine tannin and exceptional length. This is a wine with fine body and great concentration. Wonderful. 94 points



Au Bon Climat Sandford & Benedict Pinot Noir 2012 ($12 glass/$50 bottle)

The Sanford & Benedict vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley is the benchmark site for California Pinot and ABC’s offering is delightful. The fruit is back to the forefront in this still young wine but there is a delicious savoury edge of bay leaf and leather just starting to show it’s head. The elegance is there as you would expect and all this baby needs is a little more time to come together. 93+ points


Au Bon Climat “Isabelle” Pinot Noir 2011

This one wasn’t on the tasting list but there was a bottle open and it would have been very rude to say no! “Isabelle” is named after Jim daughter (there is also a wine called Knox after his son) and is a blend of the best barrels from the vintage from all of the ABC sites, hence the California designation. All of the vital ABC signs are there with lashings of red fruit, a touch of spice, cool minerality and a delicate touch… unfortunately this one has a clipped finish and leaves you wanting more… but I’m not sure it’s going to get there. 90 points


A brilliant couple of flights from a master winemaker – all of the wins have a delicate touch and show a delightful balance of concentration and elegance; the best are top-notch and the others are still wonderful wines. Get yourself a bottle soon… you deserve it!






#newwinethisweek Week 31 – California Chardonnay #NWTW on tour!


I’m writing this at the Windmill motel in Buellton (yes the one from Sideways) and tucking into a glass of superb Chardonnay from Au Bon Climat (posts about both to come soon!) so it just has to be California Chardonnay all the way this week… well what else can I write about??

It wasn’t until the 1960’s that California recovered from Prohibition and got itself back on the world wine atlas; it is reported there were less that 130 wineries in operation when Prohibition was repealed in 1933. It took a while for the Californians to rebuild from almost scratch but in 1976, at the Judgement of Paris, everything would change forever. Chateau Montelena’s 1973 beat off competition from Beaune, Puligny, Meursault and the Grand Cru Batard-Montrachet to take first place in the battle of white wines and the world started to take notice again. If you haven’t seen the film Bottle Shock then do yourself a favour and click on this link!

In the 1990’s California Chardonnay took a beating with it’s over-oaked tropical fruit-bombs bringing ABC – Anything But Chardonnay – into our lexicon; hell, even then Prime Minister John Major jumped on that bandwagon! But these days the wines can be simply stunning and I implore you to give them a go! I know the Americans amongst you already know this but seriously guys, spend a couple more quid and give the REAL USA a go… forget Gallo and Blossom Hill and try some wine that may well blow your mind!


Dark Horse Chardonnay 2011 (Tesco £8.99)

Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay 2012 (Tesco £12.99)

Sand Point Chardonnay 2010 (M&S £10.99)

First Press Chardonnay 2011 (Waitrose £16.99)


Or if you want to do it properly… Get yourself a bottle of Au Bon Climat!

Au Bon Climat Los Alomos Chardonnay 2011 (The Wine Society £20.00)

Au Bon Climat Wild Boy Chardonnay 2011 (Roberson £22.95)


I’ll be drinking plenty this side of the pond, make sure you pick up a bottle and tell us what you think… Happy holidays!







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