By Celia Strong
Here we go again! Another year started on the school calendar. Another nine months of all those activities — teacher conferences, carpools, sports, uniforms, books, blah, blah, blah. (I don’t have to do any of those things and I know it’s still a long nine months!) But, lucky us, another new wine. Another new good wine and another new good price.
A little white wine this week. Just so you know, “a little wine” is an older way of saying nothing fancy and nothing expensive. “A little wine” sounds far nicer than plain and cheap! Ours this week is a Sauvignon Blanc, again, but truly very different from any of the others we’ve done. But we’ll get to that in a minute. For now, let’s revisit what Sauvignon Blanc is and how it grows.
Its history says it traces its origins to the Loire Valley and Bordeaux, both regions in western France. Research suggests that this variety may have come from “savignin,” but it is also, probably, related to the Carmenere family. During the 18th and 19th centuries, it cross bred with Cabernet Franc to make Cabernet Sauvignon, and Bordeaux plantings of it were often mixed with Sauvignon Vert and Sauvignon Gris, the pink variation. It was this mish-mash of white Sauvignon grapes that went to Chile before phylloxera hit the Bordeaux vineyards. (Many of these field blends of Sauvignon Blanc are still in the vineyards of Chile. One more difficulty for that country’s wine industry to overcome.) Anyhow, back to our business.
Sauvignon Blanc grapes grow better in cooler climates. Too warm where it grows results in wines that have dull flavors and flat acidity. In California, where our wine for this week is from, there is a whole range of climate conditions in which this variety is grown. In fact, there is an involved and complicated Climate Zone system that was developed years ago and you can determine the style of your Sauvignon Blanc from the Climate Zone it was grown in. There are five zones in the systems, named Climate Zone 1, Climate Zone 2, etc. Really complicated. The higher the zone number, the warmer the climate in that zone and the grassier the style of the wine. There was a time when these overly grassy wines were some of the California versions of Sauvignon Blanc we all drank. But, things change, vineyards get replanted, customers get more educated and experienced, thank goodness, and wine makers have to keep doing more and better.
Which leads to our source for this week’s Sauvignon Blanc. Paso Robles. To be totally correct , it’s El Paso de Robles — the Pass of the Oaks. Paso Robles is a city in San Luis Obispo County, located on the Salinas River and known for its hot springs, an abundance of wineries and the California Mid-State Fair. Originally, the Salinan Indians lived in this area, thousands of years before the Spanish missions. These Indians knew it as the “Hot Springs.” Paso Robles was part of a Mexican land grant that was purchased by James and Daniel Blackburn in 1857. Travelers stopped and rested here on their travels up and down the Camino Real, the Spanish highway that ran from mission to mission. In 1864, the first El Paso de Robles Hotel was built and featured a hot, mineral springs bath house. The Blackburns donated two blocks to the city for a public park and, in 1890, a bandstand was added. In 1886, when the Southern Pacific Railroad came through town, work began on laying out the city with the hotel resort as the center. Two weeks after the first train came through, on October 31, 1886, a three day celebration was held. Included in the celebration was a train from San Francisco carrying prospective property buyers. On November 17, the “Grand Auction” was held and 228 lots were sold. The hotel continued to be a large part of the city’s history and growth.
Paso Robles wine history dates back to 1797 when Spanish and Franciscan missionaries first planted grapes here. Commercial wine making began in 1882, when Andrew York from Indiana established Ascension Winery. York and others who followed him found the soil and climate in and around Paso Robles to be very well suited for grapes. Located close to the Pacific Ocean, the cooling effects of the breezes help maintain a daily temperature range of warm days and cool nights. Most of this area is categorized as Climate Zone IV.
Tarrica Wine Cellars was founded in 2000 in Paso Robles. The focus of this winery is to make value-priced wines that are good expressions of their soil and climate and their variety. Their first wine was released in April, 2003. The winery is nestled slightly inland, with warm clear days that are insulated from clouds, fog and severe winds so the grapes get sufficient sun and heat. After the sun sets, a marine layer moves over the region and the temperatures drop to 50 degrees. This drop in temperature lets the grapes cool off all night long and develop the acids that make their wines need to be have. This is particularly true for Sauvignon Blanc.
The Tarrica Sauvignon Blanc is aromatic and lividly. Fermented slowly, at low temperatures, this wine is 100% stainless steel made and no malolactic fermentation is done. Both these (stainless steel and no malo) help to enhance the fruitiness and freshness of the wine. It is a light straw color with citrusy and grassy stone fruit aromas. The wine is medium-bodied with citrus and stone fruit flavors (peaches, nectarines, apricots) that finish with flinty notes. It is dry and crisp. For food, it pairs well with herbal sauces, almost all seafoods and shellfish, plus, out of the norm things like corn tortillas, fish tacos, polenta, fruit salsas and salads. And now I’m getting thirsty and hungry.
So, just one more tidbit. Where did the name “Tarrica” come from? No, not the Indians who used to live in Paso Robles. The owners of Tarrica, Sam and Valerie Balakian, have two daughters — Taryn and Erica. “Tarrica” is a combination of their two names. And, now, for $6.99, we can all have a glass of their wine. Yay! Enjoy.
By Celia Strong