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Update on Santa Barbara County Wineries

And More Red And White Wine Values And A Restaurant Recommendation

I decided to make a quick, one-day sweep through California’s Santa Barbara County in July, visiting two new wineries and one old faithful. The one I know is Fess Parker, named after the late actor, and now run by his heirs. The place was packed! His impressive daughter Ashley took some time to taste us on about five new releases, made by winemaker Alison Thomsen with the help of consulting winemaker Chad Melville. I don’t really need to recommend the wines we tasted, because as usual, all the wines tasted at Fess Parker seem to be good values and are reasonably priced between about $15 and $45. I’m particularly fond of what they are doing with Syrah.

The first new winery for me is JCR Vineyards. On the 1,000-acre ranch there is this beautiful little 6-acre vineyard, which is the source of small-lot, 100 percent estate grown Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Each is recommended: Estate Pinot Noir 2014 —small production, aged in 19 percent new French oak, and a mixture of all vineyard Pinot Noir clones, $45; Estate Pinot Noir Pommard 5 2014 — only 100 cases produced, 50 percent new French oak, brambly, dried raspberries and forest floor, $60; Estate Chardonnay 2015 — Only 25 cases, 20 percent new French oak, unique, savory and delicious, $50; and Estate Pinot Noir Rosé 2016 — 48 cases, 100 percent destemmed, 100 percent neutral oak, $32. Tasted with general manager Kiah Jordan.

The second new winery for me is Crown Point. This is possibly the ultimate terroir for Syrah and Bordeaux-type vines in Santa Barbara County, not to mention the sweeping views. Add in winemaker Adam Henkel and consulting winemaker Philippe Melka, and there you have a recipe for success. Each of the wines I tasted are exceptional and each $150 a bottle: Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 and the Estate Selection 2014.

Update on Becker Vineyards in Texas:

Believe it or not, about 100,000 people a year visit Becker Vineyards, located between Stonewall and Fredericksburg. With the addition of a new, classically-trained winemaker several years ago, the Becker wines have risen to a new quality level. The following, tasted with Bunny and Richard Becker and the winemaker, are all recommended: Jolie Texas Rosé Wine 2015 (Tempranillo, Syrah, Carignane and Petite Sirah) $24; Prarie Cuvée 2015 — (54 percent Marsanne, 46 percent Roussanne) $24; Newsome Vineyard (Texas High Plains) Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 $40; and Clementine Malmsey 2015 — must have taken awhile to get the name Malmsey approved for Texas — made from late-harvested Viognier. WOW! $34.95

Recently Tasted Excellent Values, White Wines:

Ancient Peaks Sauvignon Blanc Paso Robles Santa Margarita Ranch 2016 $15

Popcorn Chardonnay California 2015 Works with Trader Joe’s Movie Theatre Popcorn $15

Callie Collection Pinot Grigio Central Coast 2015 $16

Niro Pecorino Terre Di Chieti (Abruzzo) 2016 — Rediscovered indigenous grape! $17

Donna Fugata Sur Sur Grillo Sicilia DOC 2016 Ancient Sicilian grape! $20

Strasserhof Sylvaner DOC Alto Adige Valle Isarco 2015 $22

Miner Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2016 $22

Miner Viognier Napa Valley 2016 $22

Halter Ranch Grenache Blanc Paso Robles 2015 $22.95

Hess Collection Estate Grown Chardonnay Napa Valley 2015 $23

Amici Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2015 $25

Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2015 $30

MacRostie Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2014 $34

Migration Chardonnay Running Creek Vineyard Russian River Valley 2015 $55

Lynmar Chardonnay Quail Hill Vineyard Russian River Valley 2014 $60

E. Guigal Condrieu (Rhone Valley) 2015 This is what Viognier is all about! $65

Excellent Red Wine Values:

Valle do Bonfim Duoro (Portugal) 2015 — $13

Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel Sonoma County 2014 $18

DeLoach Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2015 $23

Diora Three Crowns Estate Red 2014 (Syrah, Grenache and Viognier) $24

Artessa Pinot Noir Carneros 2014 $24.99

J. Lohr Pinot Noir Fog’s Reach Arroyo Seco Monterey 2014 $28

Rombauer Zinfandel Napa Valley 2015 $32

Belle Glos Pinot Noir Dairyman Russian River Valley 2015 $40

Balletto Pinot Noir Sexton Hill Vineyard Russian River Valley 2015 $44

Rodney Strong Symmetry Alexander Valley 2013 $45

Amici Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2014 $50

Stewart Merlot Napa Valley 2013 (Paul Hobbs is consulting winemaker) $50

Lynmar Estate Pinot Noir Anisya’s Blend Sonoma Coast 2014 $85

Nickel & Nickel Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Martin Stelling Vineyard 2014 — The best of this vineyard, which is the primary vineyard for Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon. 491 cases $165.

Restaurant Kudo

I recently visited BRIO Tuscan Grill in City Centre, and once again found it to be one of my favorite dining establishments in Houston. Eschewing vino for the fabulous seasonal cocktails — Melon-Kick Martini (fresh watermelon, Bacardi Limon, apple juice, lime and jalapeño) for my wife, and Melon-Berry Mojito (fresh watermelon, strawberry, mint, Cruzan strawberry rum and fresh lime juice) for me. My wife had the chicken and mozzarella stuffed ravioli, asparagus, light Champagne cream, gorgonzola, pine nuts, balsamic glaze, and I had the grilled balsamic glazed pork chop, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, pancetta, Brussels sprouts, caramelized onion and maple balsamic vinaigrette. No room left for the snickerdoodle peach cobbler!

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