Thursday, February 3, 2011

Luis Ochoa and Rios / Solovino Tasting Room

While waiting for the 4:00 VINE bus from Calistoga to Napa today, I decided it was time to try some wines at the new tasting room along Lincoln Ave: Rios / Ochoa wines. These are technically two different wineries -- Luis Ochoa, a longtime farmer, owns Luis Ochoa Vineyards; the tasting room is shared with Rios Wines, LLC (aka Solovino wines)

There are several varietals being offered at the tasting room, with the whites being sauvignon blanc and chardonnay and the reds being mostly cabernet sauvignon but also some merlot, zinfandel, and blends. Tasting policy is $15 with $5 refunded for each bottle purchased.

It can be a daunting task to get through a tasting of these -- especially if you are like me, not picky about varietals but simply curious to try them all because you never know which will yield an interesting, exemplary wine. There were a total of 11 wines for tasting on the counter! The good news is that I was riding the bus (not driving), and had no other tastings that day, so I decided to try most of them -- I skipped the Solovino crisp chardonnay and opted instead for trying the fuller-bodied Ochoa chardonnays.

Luis Ochoa was there and when he heard my discussion with the server that I am a computer teacher, he eagerly asked if perhaps I could help him learn some computer stuff and he could pay me with wine. Not sure how much time I have for that right now, but I do like teaching people and he seems like a pretty cool, friendly guy; I may have to consider the offer.

The wines (by both wineries) are small-production and there is a lot of variety here under one roof -- even with grapes sourced from the same vineyards, there are vast differences between winemakers and vintages. Of the reds, my favorite was the zinfandel because it had a rich, typical zin flavor (ripe, dark berry fruit and a tiny bit of peppery earth), but my favorite overall was Ochoa's 2003 chardonnay... of which he seemed to be a fan himself, considering it was the one he decided to pour a small glass and partake of. The pourer told me it was their best-selling wine, and I have to say I really enjoyed it for its unique flavor -- it has some of the full, rich fruit so prominent in California chardonnay, but the first hit on the tongue was not fruit but rather rich, mellow, spicy sweetness, like butter toffee, or cinnamon caramel, or granny smith apples and dulce de leche. Overall I feel like the experience is something like drinking a glass of not-overly-sweet apple pie.

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