Cimarone Winery


At the tail-end of my 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference experience, I stopped in at Cimarone Winery. I’d heard of them through Twitter, as the winery’s social media (@cimarone) did a great job letting us bloggers know they were in nearby Los Olivos and would be offering a special tasting for us if we ever had the chance to steal away from the conference. I didn’t have much time that last afternoon, having dinner plans in Santa Maria and being due in San Luis Obispo that night, but I fit Cimarone in, and I’m glad I did.


Nestled in Los Olivos’s adorable few blocks of tasting rooms, restaurants, and shops, Cimarone’s English flag and cottage-style building stands out. Why the Union Jack? While owner Priscilla Higgins has an international background, her husband and co-owner Roger hails from Yorkshire and has obviously retained his British loyalties despite starting a winery in Santa Barbara County in 2001.

The Higgins are pictured in the photo to the left. I know, I know, you can’t see it.

The Higgins are pictured in the photo to the left. I know, I know, you can’t see it.

My guide in the tasting room, Shelley Woods, spoke highly of the Higgins and of winemaker Andrew Murray, who’s done impressive work throughout the Santa Barbara region. What impressed me most about Cimarone’s wines was the nose—they all had amazingly complex and memorable noses.

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WBC14: Bridlewood Estate Excursion


View from Bridlewood’s mission bells.

As I wrote in my thoughts on the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC14), the overall value of the conference is one of the biggest reasons I’d consider going again in the future. And nothing can illustrate that better than the one additional excursion I attended the afternoon after WBC14 closed: the Bridlewood Estate Excursion.

For about the cost of a burger in most San Francisco eateries ($15), I added on this bonus trip into the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, which I knew included a tour, tasting wines, and a picnic lunch.

The lunch, all bundled up.

The lunch, all bundled up.

I didn’t know it included a panel discussion called “Meet Your Makers”, which would stuff us even more with an amazing array of appetizers prepared by Industrial Eat’s Jeff Olsson, a chef that every blogger who made it away from the hotel for dinner raved about.

Olsson with Valley Piggery’s Jake O’Francis.

Olsson with Valley Piggery’s Jake O’Francis.

More on that later, but even without that bonus session, I would have felt I got my money’s worth from the event. Heck, I probably would have felt it the moment I stepped out of the bus.

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The Quini App and My Changing Wine Reviews

Shortly before I headed out to the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC14), I agreed to watch a demo of the new Quini app with Roger Noueim, the company’s CEO. Excepting the occasionally slow search functions, it works beautifully on iPhone, iPad, and the desktop. I’m mostly using a beta version for Android, which is much, much buggier than the released versions of Quini I already listed, but that’s why it’s still in beta, right?

Regardless, I loved what I saw because Quini’s distinctive floral imagery offered me a new way of looking at wine reviews, literally.

The petals each represent a different aspect of wine appreciation: eye, nose, mouth, finish, and the overall opinion of the wine. Height represents how high the user scores that aspect and width represents how much character that aspect has.

In other words, you wouldn’t necessarily want full petals if you’re looking for easy drinking or light summer wines, but you should probably be wary of short and stubby petals no matter your goal. The desktop version allows users to rate the wines in much greater detail than the mobile app, but I use my phone because there’s something so satisfying about the tactile nature of shaping the petals.

The final floral image is unique for every wine you taste, and so is the final score in that little right-hand corner. I find that score a truer reflection of the wine than gauging the Parker point system, which starts at 50, a practice that always throws me off. Quini reviews can score anywhere from 0-100, so a score in the middle ranges doesn’t indicate a poor wine, just an average one. I assure you this 2010 Proprietor’s Reserve Zinfandel from Maryhill was anything *but* average at the 78 points I gave it.

maryhill quini

For Quini, scoring in the 70s is great! I also like the variety of ways Quini displays their reviews. Some highlight the individual flavors tasted in the wine and others only show the petals.

quini sample

My recent use of Quini has contributed to a realization I’ve made about my own wine reviews—I’m done focusing on a wine’s notes in my writing. Quini’s graphics will summarize all that well enough on their own. I hesitate to add them to my reviews only because Quini’s built-in categories aren’t as comprehensive as I’d like. For example, there are a lot more ways for a wine to taste earthy than “dust”, “forest floor”, and “mushroom”. But I can point out any significant flavors Quini doesn’t have listed in the rest of my review, so that’s not really a problem.

With Quini handling the flavor profile, my posts will shift from listing flavors to using metaphors to paint a fuller picture of the wine. Aiming to submerge the reader in an experience is not an unexpected move for a fiction writer like myself, I suppose, but I was honestly surprised to realize how much more effective I find fanciful wine reviews than reviews focused entirely on physical characteristics. At the WBC14, Marcy Gordon of Come for the Wine grabbed me with this tweeted review during the Ballard AVA Syrah session:

I can so easily imagine the sleek rebellion I’d feel pulling on that slip, or drinking the wine as the case may be. It’s Creative Writing 101, really, but in the past, I’ve approached wine reviews more clinically. Being new to wine appreciation, I felt the need to learn and respect the boundaries of someone else’s field, if you will. But after a great conversation on using Quini in wine reviews with Kayla Koroush-Lewis, the Barrel Thief, this past Saturday, and reading inspiring, imaginative reviews from my fellow wine bloggers, I think I’m ready to leave the recitation of tasting notes behind and move on to describing the experience of drinking wine, incorporating whatever sensations or imagery a glass of wine may bring to mind. Listing spices and fruits is no longer exciting for me, and thus it can’t be vivid for you to read, either.

Is this a big change? No. But to me, it signifies both my growth as a wine appreciator (I can taste different fruits, spices, oak, etc., with confidence!) and a recognition that the growth I want to pursue isn’t in training my palate further (I don’t care to tell the difference between a 12% or 13% ABV bottle with a sip). I’d rather more effectively relay to my readers the thrill or misery of drinking each wine, not just the flavors it recalls. I want that sensory impression to linger long enough for you to pick up your own bottle, and “bathing in moonlight underneath wisteria boughs” is going to stick around a lot longer than “floral with a pleasant mouthfeel.”

Again, I am a fiction writer. That difference should have been way more obvious to me. I’m shamed that it wasn’t.

sad wine becca

Shamed…with a mimosa.

As I post new reviews, let me know what you think of Quini’s profiles and my plunges into imagery-filled wine reviewing. Your feedback is always welcome.

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