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Santa Barbara Winetasting Trip Day 2: Carr, Tensley, Carina, Qupé

August 16, 2010

SANTA BARBARA WINETASTING TRIP DAY 2: CARR, TENSLEY, CARINA, QUPÉ – Santa Barbara and Los Olivos, California (8/8/2010)


For my last day of tasting in Santa Barbara County, I started in Santa Barbara itself, at the Carr tasting room (after shopping at Santa Barbara’s Sunday farmers market for what we were going to cook for dinner later that day). I then headed up to Los Olivos’s tasting room row, to try the wines at Tensley, taste through the wines Joey Tensley makes for Carina Cellars, and then to finish at Santa Barbara region mainstay Qupé. The Qupé wines–which included wines made by Bob Lindquist’s wife and son–were the best overall, but I also liked the Pinot and Syrahs at Carr, and the Syrahs at Tensley. The Carina wines, however, were not very good.

Carr Tasting Room


Carr’s first vintage was 1999. All their wines are sourced from Santa Barbara County vineyards, and the focus is on their Pinots, but the Syrahs are quite good too. Ryan Carr is the winemaker/owner. Carr Vineyards is a vineyard management and development company that now manages 100 acres in Santa Barbara County, so the grapes are sourced from the vineyards Ryan develops and manages. As it happens, the next two wineries I tasted at–Tensley and Carina–both buy grapes from vineyards Carr manages. Carr has turned a 1940s quonset hut into rather attractive winemaking and tasting facilities.


  • 2009 Carr Pinot Gris Turner Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills – Sta. Rita Hills
    Pale yellow color; focused, green apple, white peach nose; good, tart apple, white peach palate with medium acidity; medium finish 90+ pts. (cold fermented in stainless steel and aged 5 mos.) (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Paredon Syrah – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Medium orange pink color with clear meniscus; dry red fruit, orange peel nose; tart cherry, ripe blood orange palate; short-medium finish 87+ pts. (87 pts.)
  • 2007 Carr Pinot Noir Turner Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills – Sta. Rita Hills
    Dark cherry red color; red fruit, caramel, black raspberry, blackberry nose; rich but poised, black cherry, blackberry palate, juicy, with firm sweet tannins, needs 4-plus years; medium-plus finish (12 mos. in French oak) (92 pts.)
  • 2006 Carr Syrah – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Dark red violet color; black fruit, blackberry, blue plum, pepper nose; black fruit, tart blackberry, pepper palate with a savory note and good acidity; medium finish 91+ pts. (blend of 3 vineyards; 18 mos. in French oak) (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Carr Syrah Morehouse – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Deep purple red violet color; roasted meat, asphalt, dry black fruit, tar nose; tasty, tart black fruit, tar, asphalt palate with structure and balance, needs 3-plus years; medium-plus finish (18 mos. in French oak) (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Carr Cabernet Franc – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Very dark red violet color; menthol, olive, herbaceous nose; solid, ripe Cabernet Franc, cassis, menthol, olive palate with grip; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (blend of 2 vineyards in Happy Canyon: Happy Canyon Vineyard and Three Creek Vineyard) (91 pts.)

Tensley

Tensley was started in 1998, and by 2006, they were producing 7 vineyard designate Syrahs. Joey Tensley got his start in the wine business in 1993, first as cellar rat then as bottling line supervisor at Fess Parker Winery in Santa Barbara County. After only three years he became the assistant winemaker at Babcock Vineyards. In 1998 Joey moved on to become the assistant winemaker at Beckmen Vineyards. There he was offered space to launch his own label. He decided to produce only vineyard designated Syrahs. He used 30% whole cluster fermentation, three times daily hand punch-downs, and very little or no new oak. In 2001, Matt Kramer in Wine Spectator named two of Tensley’s 2001 Syrahs to his list of Top Ten Wines in the World and described them as, “elegant, characterful wines with the grace of a ballroom dancer.” Joey’s wife Jennifer Beck makes Pinots and a rosé under the Lea name. The Camp 4 Blanc they make together. In prior years, Tensley has had some high scores from Parker in the Wine Advocate, ranging from 90 to 95 points, but I won’t hold that against him.

The Syrahs were good, and most impressive of all was the expensive and unusual blend of California and Gigondas grapes Tensley makes with Cécile Dusserre of Domaine de Montvac, the Détente.

  • 2009 Tensley Blanc Camp 4 Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Light green-tinged yellow color; green apple, green melon nose; green apple, tart green melon palate; medium finish (65% Grenache Blanc, 35% Roussanne) (89 pts.)
  • 2009 Lea (Tensley) Syrah Rosé Tierra Alta – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Light red color with pale meniscus; herbaceous, tart red currant nose; full flavored, red currant, herbaceous palate with refreshing acidity; medium finish 88+ pts. (88 pts.)
  • 2008 Tensley Syrah Tierra Alta Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Very dark red violet color; tart red plum, menthol, green herb nose; light-medium bodied, herbal, red currant, red plum palate with near medium acidity; medium finish (89 pts.)
  • 2008 Tensley Syrah Thompson Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Very dark red violet color; nice tart red plum, herbal nose with a sense of white pepper; tasty, tart red plum, white pepper palate with good balance and acidity; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2006 Tensley Syrah Three Creek Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Very dark red violet color; herbal, asphalt, tar, tart black fruit nose; tart black fruit, tar palate with depth and firm tannins, needs 2-plus years; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Tensley Détente – Mixed, USA/France, California/Rhone
    Dark red violet color; subtle, herbal, tart black fruit nose; tight, tart black fruit, pepper, green herb palate with balance; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (50% from Domaine de Montvac (Gigondas), 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 5% Mourvedre; 50% Syrah from Colson Canyon, all neutral French oak except 20% of Colson Syrah in new oak) (92 pts.)

Carina Cellars

So Joey Tensley is also the winemaker for Carina Cellars. I’m not sure why. These are pretty mediocre wines, at best, with the exception of the “7 Percent” Syrah, which includes 7 percent Viognier. The label art is pretty bad too. Seems like a vanity project gone wrong to me.

  • 2009 Carina Cellars Viognier Central Coast – USA, California, Central Coast
    Light medium canary yellow color; big honeysuckle, honeydew melon nose; ripe honeydew, pear palate with an oak edge; short-medium finish (84 pts.)
  • 2009 Carina Cellars Rosé – USA, California, Central Coast
    Medium dark orange pink color with pale meniscus; herbaceous, olive nose; ripe, sweet cherry, currant palate; short-medium finish (81 pts.)
  • 2007 Carina Cellars Grenache – USA, California, Central Coast
    Medium red color with pale meniscus; tangy currant, spicy red fruit, oak nose; soft, ripe cherry, red berry palate; short-medium finish (83 pts.)
  • 2007 Carina Cellars Sibylline – USA, California, Central Coast
    Dark red color; deep red currant, red berry nose; tart red currant, herbal, cranberry, pomegranate palate; medium finish (55% Mourvedre, 33% Grenache, 12% Syrah) (86 pts.)
  • 2007 Carina Cellars Clairvoyant – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Medium dark red color; pepper, tar, sweet sage nose; tight, tart black fruit, herbal, red currant palate; medium finish (55% Syrah, 33% Grenache, 12% Mourvedre) (87 pts.)
  • 2007 Carina Cellars Syrah “7 Percent” – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Very dark red color; nice pepper, lifted, tart black fruit, tar nose; tight, tart black fruit, tar palate with grip; medium-plus finish (93% Syrah from Colson Canyon Vineyard, 7% Viognier from Stolpman Vineyard) (90 pts.)

Qupé Tasting Room (Verdad, Qupé and Ethan)

I wanted to finish with something stalwart and reliable from Santa Barbara, and Qupé turned out to be just the right choice. Qupé produces Rhone varietals and Chardonnay. A majority of Qupé’s wines (about 50%) are made from grapes grown on the Bien Nacido Vineyard, where the Syrah and Chardonnay are planted and grown to Bob’s specifications. In addition to Bien Nacido, Qupé also farms (using organic practices) a 14-acre vineyard in Los Olivos, Ibarra-Young. The balance of the Qupé wines are made from grapes grown at various vineyards in the Central Coast appellation. Bob and his wife Louisa have recently purchased an 80-acre vineyard site in the Edna Valley which they began planting in the spring of 2005. This vineyard, Sawyer Lindquist, is being developed and farmed under the rigorous principles of biodynamics. Louisa is also producing Spanish varietals under the Verdad name, a couple of which were being poured at the Qupé tasting room, as was a wine from Bob’s first son, Ethan, which was a very concentrated Grenache raised in oak for 30 months.

All of these were good wines. My favorite of the whites were the ’09 Verdad Albariño, the very good ’07 Roussanne, and the ’08 Y Block Bien Nacido Chardonnay. The best of the reds were the Ethan Grenache and the ’08 Syrah Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard.

  • 2009 Verdad Rosé Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Arroyo Grande Valley
    Light pink orange color; tart cantaloupe, tart orange nose; tasty, refreshing, tart orange, cantaloupe palate; medium finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Verdad Albariño Sawyer Lindquist Edna Valley – USA, California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
    Very light yellow color; lightly oily, tart white fruit, herbal nose; tasty, light bodied, tart white fruit, white peach, mineral palate, refreshing; medium finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Qupé Bien Nacido Cuvée – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
    Very light yellow color; lightly floral, jasmine, white flower, nectarine nose; tasty, poised, refreshing, nectarine, white fruit palate; medium finish 90+ pts. (50% Chardonnay, picked early; 50% Viognier, picked late) (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Qupé Roussanne Bien Nacido Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
    Light lemon yellow color; almond, vanilla, rich lemon custard nose; creamy textured, almond, lemon custard palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (1 year in neutral oak) (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Qupé Chardonnay Y Block Bien Nacido Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
    From 375 ml – light lemon yellow color; nice light lemon, mineral nose; tasty, poised, ripe lemon, tart lemon, mineral palate with balance; medium finish (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Qupé Marsanne – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Light lemon yellow color; light lemon, mineral nose; creamy textured, lemon, mineral, oily palate; medium finish 90+ pts. (81% Marsanne, 19% Roussanne) (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Qupé Los Olivos Cuvée – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Medium cherry red color with clear meniscus; tart red fruit, subtle white pepper nose; tart red fruit, tart red currant, mineral palate; medium finish 88+ pts. (53% Syrah, 25% Grenache, 22% Mourvedre; aged 9 mos. separately in neutral oak) (88 pts.)
  • 2007 Ethan Grenache Nielson Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
    Medium cranberry red color; ripe berry, cherry, cranberry, black cherry nose with depth; concentrated, rich berry, cherry, red fruit, boysenberry, cherry pie palate with depth; medium-plus finish (aged 30 mos. in neutral barrels) (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Qupé Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
    Dark purple red violet color; big, herbaceous, green peppercorn nose; tasty, balanced, tart black fruit, herbaceous, green peppercorn palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Qupé Syrah Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
    Very dark red violet color; olive, herbaceous, green peppercorn nose; tart currant, herbaceous, green peppercorn palate, balanced, with depth; long finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
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