Sunday, May 29, 2022

Château Gruaud Larose, St Julien, Bordeaux 2010

Château Gruaud Larose, St Julien, Bordeaux 2010

The family celebrated my decade significant birthday with a special treat, attending the greatest spectacle in racing, the Indianapolis 500 together, one of the biggest most thrilling sporting events in the world. Coming out of the Covid disruptions, this year was back in full swing with more than 300,000 race fans attending. 

Its been years since we attended the race and we were amazed at how the speeds have increased. In the attached videos, look at how incredibly fast they go these days, reaching speeds above 230 mph, and, the thrill of them all coming into the pits at once when there is a yellow flag due to a crash. 

We had four hotel rooms in Lafayette the night before where the grandkids partied with their cousins in the pool and the adults relaxed with some wine after dinner. 

But back to the wine .... Ryan brought from home this 2010 St Julien Bordeaux from a case that I acquired and we shared/split together. 

Château Gruaud Larose, St Julien, Bordeaux 2010 

Our visit to and tour of Château Gruaud-Larose estate, winery and vineyards was one of the highlights of our St Julien appellation trip in 2019.

We hold more than a dozen vintages of this wine in regular and large formats dating back to our kids' birthyear vintages in 1981, '82, '85 and 1990. 

This vintage release was awarded  96 points by James Suckling, 95 points by Wine Enthusiast, 94 points by Decanter and Vinous and 93 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator. It also was awarded 92 points by Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar. 

A classic Gruaud Larose and St Julien wine, this begged for a grilled beefsteak and potatoes accompaniment. At twelve years this is just starting to hit its stride coming across as still youthful and probably could use another decade to settle in and more fully integrate.

Dark garnet/plum/purple colored, medium bodied with full round concentrated complex dark berry fruits, note of gaminess initially turning to accents of tobacco, cigar box, leather and garrigue spice with earth and underbrush and finishing with cassis and licorice with firm grainy tannins and fresh tangy acidity on a long finish.

RM 93 points.


Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Tensley Wines Tensley Vineyard SBC Syrah

Tensley Wines Tensley Vineyard Santa Barbara County Syrah 2020

During our tour of the Santa Maria Valley Foxen Canyon Wine Trail we were advised by one of the other producers to check out Tensley Wines. We drove by the Tensley Vineyard and then visited the hospitality tasting room downtown Los Olivos. We were so impressed with their wines that we joined their wineclub and subsequently received our first shipment which included this label, which we did not taste during our tasting room wine flight. 

For a grilled tomahawk beefsteak dinner, with grilled asparagus, mashed potatoes and ceasar salad, we opened this special Syrah that we just received in our wineclub allocation shipment from Tensley Wines. We were anxious to try this label since we did not get a chance to taste it during our visit to the producer's hospitality tasting room downtown Los Olivos.

Tensley Wines Tensley Vineyard Santa Barbara County Syrah 2020

This vineyard was planted in 2011 in Tensley's backyard in Los Olivos.

Winemaker notes: "Talk about meticulous farming! Being in our backyard this vineyard gets a lot of love, probably to much! All of the time spent in the vineyard here results in a rustic savory style with amazing texture, while toeing the line of finesse. Tiny berries and low yields make this wine dark in color and tannic in the mouth. Not a wine for the meek. If you plan to drink this wine in the next 3-4 years give it an hour to open up so you get the full experience of the texture and complexities."

This release was awarded 93 points by Jeb Dunnuck and 93 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate.

This is the classic big bold Syrah style that we love. Deep dark inky purple colored, full bodied, rich, round, concentrated black currant fruits with notes of anise, menthol, clove spice and wet earth with firm tannins and tangy acidity on the lingering finish. 

RM 93 points.



Sunday, May 22, 2022

Hugh Hamilton Black Sheep Shiraz Saperavi

Hugh Hamilton Dark-Arts Black-Ops South-Australia Shiraz Saperavi 2017

For our family gathering for my birthday bbq, we also opened this South Australia McLaren Vale Shiraz. I found this interesting blend at Binny's, Chicagoland's big box beverage super store and picked up a couple bottles to try. It proved to provide good QPR - Quality Price Ratio with its $22 pricepoint. There were 1,200 cases producer of which only 180 were imported.

This is from Hugh Hamilton Wine, a family owned producer for six generations spanning 180 years. Current owners Hugh Hamilton and his daughter Mary Hamilton are the 5th and 6th generation of the Australian Hamilton wine dynasty that stretches back over 180 years. In 1837 Hugh’s great great grandfather Richard emigrated to the new colony of South Australia and planted Australia’s first wine grapes starting perhaps South Australia’s first wine dynasty that continues to this day.

Before emigrating to South Australia, Hugh’s great, great grandfather Richard was a tailor on the high streets of Dover, England. He was also known to be engaged in smuggling contraband Bordeaux from France. Hamiltons speculate his dark secret caught up with him because Richard, with his wife Anne and eight children packed up and left the country, emigrating to Australia where they settled on 80 acres of remote rural land. There he planted what may have been the region's first wine grapes. 

Hence, the Hamilton brand plays on the sordid past of a 'black sheep' character. 

I've written often in these pages about the Australian sense of humor and some of their whimsical branding and labels (Mollydooker). This label is one of those whimsical fun play on words labels: "As with all families one is a Black Sheep and (co-owner-producer) Hugh is it. Hugh Hamilton wines are far from ordinary. Hugh has a clear vision about the way he sees wines and he produces accordingly. Hugh’s legacy continues as Mary is now the CEO of the family winery and brings insight, energy and enormous talent to this exciting winery." 

The Black Sheep branding carries over to their Wine Club, the Black Sheep Club, where they offer special and limited production labels, "and our premium range of eclectic wines designed by the family themselves to be of an outstanding quality".

Today, Hugh and Mary produce a own unique trio of wines, a Grenache, a Shiraz and a Pedro Ximenez in honour of their forebear, Richard Hamilton along with this interesting Red Blend, 60% Shiraz and 40% Saperavi. I admit I had never heard of our encountered this varietal before and knew nothing of it. 

The Saperavi grape roots (pun intended) trace back to Georgia where the name translates literally "paint, dye, give color". It is a hardy variety able to handle extremely cold weather and thus is popular for growing in cold climate inland regions.

It is the most predominant varietal in Georgia and is also found grown throughout the region east of Europe in Russia, Armenia, Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan. It is the basis for the region's most popular wines. It has also been imported and is grown in the Niagara and Finger Lakes regions of New York State and the Erie region of Northeast Ohio. 
Seperavi produces an extractive wine with a characteristic bouquet, a harmonious taste, and pleasant astringency. Saperavi grapes produce very deep red wines that are suitable for extended aging. It has the potential to produce high alcohol levels, and is often blended with lighter varieties. 
Hamilton vineyards are on the north-eastern fringe of the broader McLaren Vale region in the Blewitt Springs sub-region. There the higher elevation and distance inland from the sea have a cooler climate and later-ripening than the main region, hence the use of Separvi is found in conjunction with Shiraz. 
The Hugh Hamilton ‘Black Sheep’ vineyards are planted mainly to Shiraz, Grenache, Saperavi and some Cabernet, each of which is divided into smaller sub-blocks according to the patchwork of soils. Many of the vines are what Hamilton calls ‘Old’ Shiraz, differentiated from the ‘Ancient’, with vineyards dating back well over 60 years old. The Cabernet date back as much as 25 years.

Hugh Hamilton Dark-Arts Black-Ops South-Australia Shiraz Saperavi 2017

This is sourced from the Church Vineyard which stands east of the winery surrounding on three sides the old Bethany Chapel for which it is named. It is planted to Shiraz, Saperavi, Merlot and Sangiovese. The soil is alluvial as the vineyard is an ancient creek bed  with a deep, winter-only creek in a distinct very shallow gully which cuts across the Merlot and Shiraz vineyards; and at the western end has a band of soil which is shallow and tough, with bits of quartz and scattered ironstone. The rows run east/west, which provides maximum shade from the sun during heatwave conditions.

Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast both rated this label 88 points. 
Dark inky purple colored, full bodied, muscular, rich blackberry and black plum fruits are accented with herbal notes of black olive, bell pepper, black pepper and hints of spice and mint with a full firm lingering finish. 
RM 89 points. 



Deci-significant Old Man's Birthday Wine

Deci-significant Old Man's Birthday Wine

For my deci-significant birthyear birthday celebration, I pulled from the cellar this aged vintage aptly-named top rated super premium Barossa Valley Shiraz for the occasion. 

This is the flagship wine of Kaesler, one of the traditional old vine family names of the Barossa Valley, South Australia with vineyards dating back to 1893. 

The first owners of the Kaesler vineyards were Silesian pioneers who came to the Barossa Valley in the 1840s and took up 96 acres in 1891. By 1893 they had planted the entire acreage with Shiraz, Grenache, Mataro (Mourvedre) and White Hermitage vines. Some of the gnarled dry-grown Shiraz still remain and provide the backbone of a family of intense wines.

The Kaesler family first purchased several blocks 1893 and operated the property until 1986. In those early days, much of the fruit was sold to Seppeltsfield for port and sherry production.

By 1917 with grape sales flagging, various blocks were pulled up and replanted to orchards including apricot, peach and plums. The remaining vines mostly consisted of red and fortified varieties, some Grenache added in the 1930’s and more Shiraz planted in the 60’s and 70’s. These plantings account for the celebrated aged Shiraz produce to today.

In 1944 the family holdings were divided between the three Kaesler brothers, two selling off their properties, but Arthur Kaesler (the youngest brother) held on to the home block converting orchards back to vineyard and maintaining its old vines. Kaesler sold the property in 1986 to private owners who continued to sell the fruit to local wineries including Penfolds, Seppelt and Orlando. 

At the time, the Kaesler vineyards consisted of over 70% red wine vines, all 40 years of age or more.  

Winemaker Reid ‘Boz’ Bosward heard of the remarkable qualities of this special vineyard when he managed to get his hands on some of the grapes and produce a special batch of the first Old Bastard Shiraz in 1998. 

In 1999, Bosward seized the opportunity to become the head of the new Kaesler family property when he and his partners bought Kaesler, becoming the third owners of the property. Teaming with Swiss banker Edourd Peters, they formed a syndicate and purchased and consolidated two of the three original historic old vine Kaesler Blocks, and Old Bastard was born.

The revered 2.5 acre (12 row) vineyard consists of 125 year old vines that sit just outside the back door of the winery, Kaesler Cellar Door; an old brick horse stable now is a private tasting room, an old cow shed now the Kaesler Kitchen restaurant, and Ernst Kaesler’s old house, now the Kaesler Cottages B&B.

One of the most famous patches of Shiraz vines in the Barossa, sourced from a unique clone of French Rhone Valley Shiraz (now extinct in France) they produce a unique flavour characteristics and distinctive profile that makes the Old Bastard what it is.  It has become recognized as one of Australia’s most highly regarded Shiraz wines, consistently rated as one of the Barossa’s benchmark Shiraz wines and is highly sought after by wine collectors around the world.

Consistent wine making since 1998, focusing on meticulous vineyard management and using the highest quality Burgundian oak for 12 to 19 months depending on the character of the vintage, Kaesler Shiraz is bottled “au naturel”, with no fining and filtration. The result is fruit driven to the core, elegant with density and richness, savoury muscular tannins and underlying oak.

Kaesler "Old Bastard" Barossa Valley South Australia Shiraz 2005  

The whimsical label features a distinctive Ralph Steadman caricature.  
My records show we also drank the 2001 vintage of this label for my birthday back in 2004 and then again at our OTBN event in 2013 (Open That Bottle Night,)
This '05 release was awarded 98 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, 95 points by Wine Enthusiast and WS Forum, 94 points from Wine Spectator.
Dark inky purple, full bodied, round, full throttled, tight, ultra-concentrated thick forward raisiny spicy blackberry and blueberry fruits with with notes of bacon fat, bramble, game, licorice, pepper, cedar and spice with firm long lasting tannins on the finish. 

RM 93 points.


Thursday, May 19, 2022

Suzette's Creperie Wheaton

Suzette's Creperie Wheaton for authentic French cuisine in intimate casual setting

Thursday night out, we dined at Suzette's Crêperie in nearby Wheaton (IL), one of the few authentic French cuisine eateries in the western suburbs, and one of our favorite go-to casual fine dining sites. 

Sited downtown Wheaton city centre, adjacent the convenient muni parking garage, a block from the Metra station, Suzette's offers intimate casual fine dining, al fresco dining out front or on the rear patio, a private dining room for special dinners, and a bar, adjacent the authentic Suzette's Boulangerie & Pâtisserie, a French inspired bakery. 

We wish they'd offer a broader selection beyond the Crêpe centric menu, beyond the two nightly specials, which often aren't published or revealed until opening time. But hey, its Suzette's Crêperie, inspired by and built to bring to America authentic Parisian Crêpes.

Notably, it's difficult enough for restaurants to carry on in the post covid era with reduced limited staff, Biden induced inflation increased costs, and budget conscious diners. 

C'est la vie. 

Tonight, I selected the 'daily special' Sole Meunière, which is one of my favorite dishes, along with the Country Style Pâté, another of my favorites. 

As featured in recent previous posts in these pages, the Chicken Liver Mousse and slice of Country Style Pâté  are served with Dijon mustard, Cornichons and delicious Red Onion Marmalade with toasted Brioche on the side.  

Suzette's Sole Meunière is served in the classic French style, Filets of Sole were dredged in flour, pan fried in butter and served with the resulting brown butter herb sauce, parsley and lemon, alongside spring vegetables and mashed potatoes. Wonderful, delicious, as usual.

Linda order the Ham & Cheese Crêpe, which described in the menu as simple but delicious, and it was, delectable, exceeding both our expectations. 

I had already ordered this Domaine Chevalier Les Voleyses Crozes-Hermitage Northern Rhone Syrah to accompany my Country Style Pâté starter, before selecting my Sole Meunière entree, otherwise, I would've opted for a white wine. Never-the-less it went well with the my starter and Linda's entree. 

This was a wine we had ordered in a previous visit from their somewhat limited but artfully and carefully selected wine list. The Wine Spectator Magazine Award of Excellence wine list offers close to a hundred French wines from an inventory of nearly 600 bottles, as well as champagnes, sherries, French beer, French Ciders, Cognacs, Armagnacs and spirits. They offer wines in all price ranges from modest house W-B-T-G (wines by the glass) or bottles from basic to to super premium vintage first growths.

Marlène & Nicolas Chevalier Les Voleyses Crozes Hermitage 2018

I wrote about this wine and this producer in an earlier blogpost. This Tain-Hermitage, Domaine Chevalier is produced by brother and sister team of Nicolas and Marlène Chevalier. Nicolas tends the vineyards and crafts each cuvee, while Marlène handles all of the sales and marketing for Domaine Chevalier.

Marlène and Nicolas Chevalier farm three small vineyards at their meticulously tended family property comprising 3 1/2 acres in Crozes-Hermitage from which they produce on average 500 cases of red and white Rhône wines in tiny lots which are highly allocated. Their wines are found only in a couple of importer direct wine clubs and renowned restaurants in North American.

The 2018 vintage was top rated in the Northern Rhône.
Importer notes: The 2018 Domaine Chevalier Les Voleyses Crozes-Hermitage sports a brilliant purple robe and a captivating aroma redolent with the scents of blackberry, plum, violets, and exotic spices. Sensuous and seductive in the mouth, the 2018 Les Voleyses graces the palate with a silky texture and pure floral, fruit, and forest floor flavors that have aptly been described as hedonism in a glass. Moreover, the 2018 Domaine Chevalier Les Voleyses is juicy and harmonious to the finish, as it makes an exit with joyful panache.
The Voleyses Cuvée is 100% Syrah made from younger vine fruit and aged in stainless steel.

Consistent with my earlier tasting notes, Deep inky purple colored medium-full bodied, full round layers of blackberry and plum fruits, notes of black tea, spice and leather overtake the fruits, turning to soft chewy textured tannins on a medium finish. 

RM 91 points.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Beckmen Ballard Canyon Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah

Beckmen Vineyards Estate Visit - Ballard Canyon Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah

During our visit to Santa Barbara County, Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys, we stopped in at Beckmen Vineyards. It is one of the wineries that has distribution in the Midwest (Illinois) so we can buy their wines here. Hence, we knew of Beckmen and had had their wines. But, of course, only a few labels from their broad portfolio are distributed here, so it was a chance to discover their wines. Regretably, we didn't allow or take time to do a tasting. We'll definitely make it a priority for a future visit to the region. 

Beckmen produce nearly a dozen white wines, and more than a dozen reds, primarily Rhône varietals on their vast estate vineyards. Once again, we were taken aback to discover Rhône varietals in this region, belaying our preconceptions that it is primarily Burgundian varietals (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), as we discovered with our visits to the Tensley and Zaca Mesa vineyard estates and tasting rooms.

Beckmen is a family owned and operated business founded in 1994 by Tom and Judy Beckmen, their youngest son Steve and more recently by their oldest son Jeff. Beckmen have established themselves as a leading grower and producer in Santa Barbara County, their wines crafted almost exclusively from their two vineyards sites of 150 planted acres combined, the Thomas and Judith Beckmen Estate Vineyard in Los Olivos District AVA and Purisima Mountain Vineyard in the Ballard Canyon AVA

The Beck­men Vine­yards are sited in two locations with dra­mat­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent soils and climates. See their vineyard map (s) at

The 40 acre (25 plant­ed) Beckmen estate vineyard surround the winery and hospitality facilities just outside and south of the town of Los Olivos, on the west­ern bor­der of the Los Olivos Dis­trict. The Beck­men Estate is most­ly plant­ed to Caber­net Sauvi­gnon with small amounts of Grenache, Mourve­dre, and Syrah.

Several miles to the west is Purisi­ma Moun­tain on the west­ern side of Bal­lard Canyon AVA lies their 365 acre (125 acres plant­ed), Purisi­ma Moun­tain Vine­yard. Com­prised most­ly of clay and clay loam, with vary­ing amounts of grav­el, the most unique aspect of this site is the lime­stone sub­soil. The lime­stone soil lim­its vine vig­or and pro­duces small­er vines with low­er yields and more intense­ly fla­vored fruit. 

With peaks reach­ing 1,150 feet, Purisi­ma Moun­tain has almost 500 feet of ele­va­tion change with mul­ti­ple expo­sures. With a cli­mate and rare lime­stone sub­soils sim­i­lar to those found in Côte Rôtie and Châteauneuf du Pape, the vine­yard has proven per­fect for pro­duc­ing a range of Rhône vari­etals, espe­cial­ly Syrah and Grenache, Mourve­dre, and Counoise. 

PMV is also the home of Beck­men’s white wine port­fo­lio, con­sist­ing of Rosé, Sauvi­gnon Blanc, Chardon­nay, Viog­nier, and Grenache Blanc.  

Tend­ing vines from dor­man­cy through har­vest since 1994, the Beck­men's have learned about their two dis­tinct vine­yard prop­er­ties - acre by acre, the unique soil and micro­cli­mate, the elements of terroir, that best hosts each grape vari­etal, fine-tuning their plantings and viticulture to ensur­e every block in the vine­yard con­sis­tent­ly pro­duces the high­est qual­i­ty fruit possible.

The Beckmen estate is tucked back off the road from the side road south of town. 

Past the winery and production facility (below) is a hospitality center (above) with a tasting bar, outdoor decks, patios and lawns overlooking ponds. 

They offer numerous tasting flights and WBTG including some of their limited, allocated, some club-only, and Library wines.

Across the drive is the stately residence, what in France they would refer to as the Chateau, with outdoor gardens and groomed grounds overlooking and surrounded by the vineyards, with views of the hills in distance. 

As soon as we returned home I sought out Beckmen labels at our local wine merchants and found at Binny's, our big-box wine and beverage superstore this Beckmen Syrah.

Beckmen Vineyards Ballard Canyon Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah 2019

I must say, this label exceeded my expectations and provided great QPR - Quality Price Ratio - better than my earlier forays into this brand. I've gained a new appreciation for Rhône vari­etals from Santa Maria Valley and the range of high quality production from there. 

Winemaker notes: "The cool 2019 growing season produced a very savory vintage of PMV (Purisima Mountain Vineyard) Syrah. Cured meats, game, roasted earth, pepper, blackberry, and coco highlight the aromas of the 2019. Elegant and rounded on the palate (reminiscent of the very successful 2015 vintage), the mouth shows off sweet black fruits, dark chocolate, game, mocha, and pepper with fine tannins that carry the flavor through the very long, savory finish. A bit young and tight upon release, the 2019 should be decanted or aged for the short term and will age beautifully for the next 15-18 years or longer. Crafted from 100% certified biodynamic syrah grapes."

Antonio Galloni of Vinous gave this wine 94 points in Oct 2021. "The 2019 Syrah Purisima Mountain Vineyard is a wild, exotic wine. Blueberry jam, chocolate, spice, leather and licorice fill out the layers effortlessly. This unctuous, heady Syrah shows just how distinctive Ballard Canyon is. A year or two in bottle should help soften some of the harder edges."

Interesting that he notes the "harder edges", which is what I encountered and found off-putting on earlier tastings from this producer, but they were moderated and not impacting this release. This was dark inky garnet purple colored, full bodied, unctuous brambly blackberry and blueberry fruits with a nuance of sweet clove spice and vanilla punctuated by notes of licorice, black pepper and hints of dark chocolate and leather, with lingering moderate tannins on the finish. 

RM 92 points.


Monday, May 2, 2022

Tensley Santa Barbara County Wines

Tensley Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County Wines

During our Santa Barbara County, Santa Maria Valley Wine Experience, we drove the Foxen Canyon wine trail. On one of our stops, we were referred by one producer to check out Tensley Wines, which was near the estate we were visiting. 

We drove by the Tensley vineyards on Alisos Canyon Road, (shown left) which was closed, so we stopped in the Tensley tasting room in downtown Los Olivos.

We first visited a central location serving as the confluence of many producers in Woodinville, Washington, during our Seattle/Woodinville Wine Experience, where over a hundred wineries have retail tasting facilities. 

The town of Los Olivos is all about winery tasting rooms with forty different producers having public retail facilities there. It is the anchor for the Santa Ynez Valley wine appellation, situated on State Road 154 just off the major Route 101, about thirty five miles north, inland, from Santa Barbara.

One of the great surprises of our Santa Barbara County, Santa Maria Valley wine experience was the revelation of Syrah being one of the lead varietals in the area. We were expecting to see Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which are predominant taking advantage of the cool climate being close to the coastal maritime eftects. The cool coastal breezes run up the valleys of the mountains that run perpendicular to the coast.

We were delighted to find several producers featuring or even specializing in Syrah, Tensley included. At the Tensley tasting room, we were able to taste a flight of their Rhône varietals centered on their Syrahs.  

Readers of these pages know we're huge fans of Syrah as one of our favorite varietals for big fruit filled every day sipping as well as serious wine pairing with robust foods such as BBQ.

Joey Tensley launched Tensley Wines in 1998 with the goal to produce well-priced, Syrah-driven wines, by "sourcing the best fruit possible and let the unique vineyards of Santa Barbara County speak for themselves."

The first release of Tensley totaled just 100 cases. By 2015, production had grown to 5,000 cases and included five single-vineyard Syrahs, the most in Santa Barbara County. Tensley Syrah’s have made the Wine Spectator’s Top 100, scored 99 points with Robert Parker, and won Food and Wine Magazine’s award for the “Top Syrah in America over $20.”

Joey’s first experience with wine took place when he was just twelve-years-old, when his soccer team toured a winery while taking part in a tournament in France. He vividly recalls the chill of the old caves and the aromas of wines fermenting in barrel. From that moment on he knew he wanted to be a winemaker. “Which pretty much made me the only kid in Bakersfield with that particular dream,” Joey says.

Joey got his start in the wine business working as a “cellar rat” for Fess Parker Winery in Santa Barbara County in 1993. Three years later, he became assistant winemaker at Babcock Vineyards. There, he came to appreciate the importance of the vineyard and the grower. 

Over time, Tensley also came to appreciate the uniqueness of Santa Barbara County as a growing region. “We’re one of the only places in the world with a mountain range that runs east-west. That gives us many different, unique micro-climates, so a Syrah grown in one place is so different from a Syrah grown in another. It’s an exciting place to make wine.”

In 1998, Joey became assistant winemaker at Beckmen Vineyards where he was also offered the chance to produce his own label. There, he developed his love for Rhône varietals and decided Tensley would produce only Rhône varietal wines, sourced solely from Santa Barbara County.

Tensley wines gained the attention of the wine press in 2001 when Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator named two of Tensley’s 2001 Syrah’s to his list of the Top Ten Wines in the World, and, Robert Parker scored all the ‘01’s in the high 90’s, calling them “serious, hand-crafted efforts.”

In 2008 Food and Wine Magazine named the Tensley 2006 Colson Canyon Syrah “Top Syrah in America Over $20.” Two years later, Robert Parker gave the 2008 Anniversary Series Colson Canyon Syrah 99 points, and The Wine Spectator named the 2008 Colson Canyon Syrah #17 of its Top 100 Wines in the World. The 2007 Colson Canyon Syrah was ranked #22 the year before

More recently Tensley received high praise and high scores from wine critics Josh Raynolds, James Laube, and Jeb Dunnuck. Dunnuck gave Tensley’s 2008 Syrah Noir 99 points and named Joey, “one of the rising superstars in California.”

In 2017 Joey also launched “Fundamental Wines” by Joey Tensley. The name was chosen because he felt it perfectly reflected the brand’s philosophy – make fundamentally sound, straightforward wines that over-deliver for the price on every level. Priced at about $18 per bottle, the brand has been a hit with the critics. The 2015 Joey Tensley “Fundamental” red blend received 92 points from The Wine Enthusiast and was an Editor’s Choice while the 2016 scored 90 points with both Jeb Dunnuck and The Wine Spectator. Dunnuck gave The 2016 “Fundamental White” 92 points.

I was not aware of this brand prior to this trip. It was a top discovery and revelation and may certainly be one of our go-to boutique labels going forward. We joined their wine club to obtain a supply of their labels from these tasted and going forward. 

After we returned to OC, we visited the two top wine shops, Total Wines and High Time in Cosa Mesa, the top independent merchant in the area. We were surprised and delighted to find Tensley wines on the shelves in both outlets. 

Our Tensley tasting flight included:

  • Laird Vineyard Marsanne 2021
  • 'All Blocks' Estate Blend 2020
  • Santa Barbara County Syrah 2020
  • Colson Canyon Syrah 2020

Tensley Laird Vineyard Marsanne 2021

Winemaker's Notes: "A very rare varietal that only a few wineries produce and this is our second vintage. It was the coolest vintage in over a decade thus resulting in a fresh mineral based version of Marsanne.'

"We did a bit higher percentage barrel fermentation to round out the middle pallet and give weight to the wine. In all I am very excited about this fun white wine.'

"A great that will pair well with so many dishes but the one that excites me the most is raw oysters! Look for saline, minerals, quince, star fruit and a slight nuance of almonds. Hint…. The almond flavor will evolve and show more with bottle age." 

169 Cases Produced


Tensley 'All Blocks' Tensley Vineyard Red Wine (GSM) 2020

Winemaker Notes: "Exclusively from Tensley and Colson Canyon Vineyards, this blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre (GSM) is very complex and full of texture.'

"The Grenache brings red fruit and finesse, Syrah imparts riper black fruits to the blend, and the Mourvedre rounds out the complexity with savory notes and tannic structure. A wine built for enjoyment, super complex but juicy and round for easy drinking."

540 Cases Produced

This was awarded 93-95 points by Jeb Dunnuck and 95 points by Wine Advocate.

Tensley Colson Canyon Vineyard Syrah 2020

Winemaker Notes: "Everything we farm in house is something very special to us. This site is one of the most unique and special places in the world of wine. High (1400 elevation) in the hills north of the Santa Maria Valley with some of the most iron-laced soils I have seen in Santa Barbara County.'

"This wine always delivers juicy round seamless edges. This is the only wine we add some new French oak, as its weight and power integrates with the oak, adding a bit of toasty buttery complexity. Colson Canyon is such a beautiful example of fruit forward juicy California Syrah. Open it anytime and enjoy its blueberry, cassis and chocolate nuances or leave it 20 years and enjoy its leathery, almondy notes. It does not really matter when you open it, it will deliver."

1925 Cases Produced

This was awarded 94-96 points by Jeb Dunnuck and 96 points by Wine Advocate.

Might I consider this the Tensley 'flagship'? This reminded me of a couple other memorable highly rated Syrahs, Kongsgaard Carneros Hudson Vineyard and Penfolds Grange. Both are flawless, seamless, and notable for their smooth, polished, balanced profile. While not to that level of perfection perhaps, this is close and evokes the same experience. Can't wait to receive my allocation and try it at home.

Tensley Santa Barbara County Syrah 2020

Winemaker Notes: "Every year the vineyard percentages change, yet the style remains the same. In 2020 we introduced Laird Vineyard to the blend. By adding this vineyard we continue to work with sandy cool sites to add freshness and savory notes to the final blend.'

"We add complexity and power by including all of our single vineyard Syrah sources. At the end of the day, this wine is both powerful and fresh. It beams with bright acidy and saline notes, rounding out with blue and black fruits to make it generous, juicy and easy to drink. It will age 7-10 years, but do not hesitate to open and enjoy its freshness today."

2100 Cases Produced

We didn't get to taste this label during our visit but we got it as part of our wine club allocation shipment. Stay tuned.