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Dry Riesling by Tatomer Wines in SB County
updated: Jul 28, 2012, 10:00 AM

By Marc Liberts

I attended a BYOB winemaker dinner at Max's Restaurant & Cucina in Santa Barbara on Sunday July 22, 2012 featuring winemaker Graham Tatomer of Tatomer Wines. The theme of the dinner was Alsatian White varietals (Dry Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Sylvaner).

Graham Tatomer of Tatomer Wines is one of the new leaders of dry Riesling winemaking in Santa Barbara County. He first discovered chablis and chardonnay and then later changed to liking stainless steel wines and eventually Alsatian wines. My wine experience was very similar to Graham's and I have come to love Alsatian white varietals, especially Riesling and Gewurztraminer from the Alsace region of France.

Graham gained experience at Santa Barbara Winery, and has collaborated with winemaker Greg Brewer of Brewer-Clifton. Graham also spent three years making wines in the Wachau. Since his return home to Santa Barbara, Graham has succeeded in making dry Rieslings in the style he had learned in Austria.

Riesling is originally believed to be a German varietal. Its biggest claims to fame are its bold perfume, often described as having honeyed stone fruit, herb, apple and citrus notes, and its incredible longevity - the wines can last and improve for decades. Aged Rieslings often take on an interesting Petrol-like aroma. Within Germany, the grape performs best in the warming slate soils of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. Other German regions that turn out great Rieslings include Pfalz, Rheingau and Nahe. German Rieslings are made in a range of ripeness levels. The top wines are assigned Pr├Ądikat levels to describe their ripeness at harvest. These are: Kabinett, Sp├Ątlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein and Trockenbeerenauslese.

Riesling has also achieved acclaim in France's Alsace, the only region in that country where the grape is officially permitted. Alsatian Rieslings are typically dry and very aromatic. Austrian Riesling is also steadily gaining praise and fine Riesling is also produced in Italy's Alto-Adige and Friuli. In the New World Riesling's stronghold is Australia, where it does best in the Eden and Clare Valleys. It is also planted in smaller amounts in New Zealand. In the US, winemakers have generally abandoned the syrupy sweet versions of the 1970s and 1980s, and are instead making elegant and balanced wines in both California and Washington State. Riesling has been making a slow but steady appearance increasingly in Santa Barbara county as winemakers have gained experience growing the grape and ultimately making quality wines from those grapes. Graham Tatomer of Tatomer Wines is one of the foremost leaders in the production of dry Riesling in Santa Barbara County.

Graham started the evening by mentioning that Riesling is great at expressing its place and varietal, but can be confusing because it can be made so many different ways. Graham commented that dry Riesling wines pair exceptionally well with food. For example, he pointed out that Indian & Thai food both can be paired successfully with dry Riesling. The wine also pairs well with onions & tarts because of the successfully interplay between sweetness & savoriness. Cabbage also can be successfully paired well with Riesling. Graham likes wines that bend the rules and can address multiple flavors in food simultaneously. He pointed out that he has found that dry Riesling works well with carnitas. Tatomer Wines makes roughly 700 cases of wine per year. It is mostly sold by the glass in restaurants and is also available for sale on his website, and at local wine stores.

The four Tatomer wines Graham brought to share were all very good to excellent, and I was excited to see how well his winemaking skills are evolving over time. I think many wine drinkers will really enjoy these types of wines once they gain some exposure to them because they are so enjoyable to drink and because they pair so well with food.

The meal started with Tatomer wine and assorted paired cheeses from C'est Cheese. The first course was Caramelized Onion Flatbread with Shiitake Crisps. The main course was Salmon in Dijon & White Wine Sauce, with Potatoes & Cabbage d'Alsace. The final course was Almond-Orange Pots de Creme. Everything was very good to excellent, and all the food paired very well with the Tatomer wines that we got to try.

Below is a short list of the wines we had throughout the evening.

1. TATOMER 2010 Sisquoc, Riesling, Santa Maria Valley - light, pleasant and dry with a bold start and strong finish. 90 points.

2. JOH. HOS. CHRISTOFFEL ERBEN 2006 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spatlese - Good but not a dry wine and outside the parameters of the wines for the evening.

3. KALYRA 2009 Reisling, Santa Ynez Valley - not a favorite. Undisciplined and all over the place. 83 points.

4. GAINEY VINEYARD 2009 Riesling, Santa Ynez Valley - Powerful but unfocused. Fun but not special. 85 points.

5. CHARLES SMITH Kung Fu Girl, Riesling 2011, Washington State - no one liked this but me. I thought it was lush, well made, and fun. 88 points.

6. BARON HEYL 2002 Nierstein Riesling Spatslase - possibly corked. Had a corky smell but was ok on the palate. Hard to appreciate. 84 points.

7. PRESIDIO Santa Barbara County, Alisos Vineyard, Gewurztraminer 2009 - Fun but sloppy and not a good comparison to classic Gewurztraminer. 83 points.

8. PALMINA 2011 Pionot Grigio, Santa Barbara County - pleasant and taut with low alcohol and nice citrus notes. A good wine to pair with light food - 88 points.

9. RECLINE RIDGE, Canada, 2009 Siegerrebe White Wine - Strong notes of ruby red grapefruit. Strange wine - 83 points.

10. PACIFIC RIM 2008 Dry Riesling, Columbia Valley - Nothing special and kind of weak. I didn't like it much. 81 points.

11. STEINKLOTZ Alsace Grand Cru, Helfrich, Gewurztraminer 2007 - finally wine from the Alsace! Interesting tart citrus with tangy acidity and nice length. 91 points.

12. GUNDLACH BUNDSCHU 2011 Gewurztraminer, Sonoma Coast - nice California wine in the Alsacian style - dry, minerally, good acid, but slightly light. 88 points.

13. CARR 2010 Pinot Gris, Turner Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills - Big and bold but somewhat atypical. Leaps out at you and takes firm hold. Over-aggressive for me - 85 points.

14. ONE WINE, AU BON CLIMAT, 2011 Pinot Gris - pretty and pleasant with nice fruit and almost enough acid. A little flabby - 88 points.

15. FIRESTONE VINEYARD Gewurztraminer, Santa Ynez Valley 2010 - fun but not in the Alsacian style. Out of balance - 83 points.

16. TATOMER, 2010 Lafond, Riesling, Sta. Rita Hills - Alsatian style but different in that the ripeness shows immediately. Wine is nice on the mid-palate and gets aggressive again on the finish. I would bet this wine might be great with 5 years of cellaring. 89 points.

17. TATOMER, 2009 Kick-on Ranch, Riesling, Santa Barbara County - Alsatian style and pleasantly not as aggressive as the Lafond. Good minerality and acid. A nice wine now that also might improve with age. Paired really nicely with food. Get some if you can find it. 90 points.

18. TATOMER, 2009 Vandenberg, Riesling, Santa Barbara County - my favorite of the 4. Good attack in the beginning and end with really nice salinity, acidity, and minerality. Another really good food wine. This one also will probably improve with cellaring. 92 points.

19. HUGEL, Pinot Gris Classic, Alsace, 2007 - really pretty win with good balance, nice fruit and racy tangy flavors. A very good example of Alsace wine. 89 points.

20. MAIN & GEARY, Pinot Grigio, California 2011 - thin & light, typical supermarket wine. OK, no vices but nothing special at all. 82 points.

21. TRIMBACH Riesling, 2009, Alsace - great example of Riesling from the Alsace - Dry an taut with mouth-watering tang, good minerality and nice salinity. 88 points.

22. ONE SPICY MEATBALL, 2006 Gewurztraminer, Sanford & Benedict Vineyard - thin but interesting. Not a typical Gewurztraminer, but compelling for some reason. 86 points.

23. VIGNETI DELLE DOLOMITI, Pinot Grigio, 2010 - pretty average example of Italian Pinot Grigio. Predictable and ok but nothing special. 85 points.

24. KESSLER-HAAK, 2011 Riesling, Sta. Rita Hills - lush and plush but slightly out of balance. Fun and interesting - 87 points.

25. SANTA BARBARA WINERY 2009 Lafond Vineyard, Riesling, Sta. Rita Hills - plump and slightly sweet. Fun to drink but hard to pair with food - 85 points.

26. DOMAINE ZIND HUMBRECHT, Pinot Gris, Rotenberg, Wintzenheim 1999 - MAGICAL! Amazing what proper cellaring will do for good wine. Apricot color in the glass with aromas of honey, mead, and sweet flowers. Unbelievable honey and mead on the palate with sparkling acid, vivid minerality, and a sexy velvety finish that lasts for almost 90 seconds. One of the best wines I've ever had in my entire life! Truly amazing! Thanks to Bernie for cellaring and sharing this wine. 100 points (perfection)!

27. KELLER, 2007 Riesling, Hubacker - tight and taut with good balance and nice minerality. A masculine style Riesling with great structure and interesting herbal and smoky notes. Graham was excited about this wine. I liked it very much. 92 points.

28. DOMAINE ZIND HUMBRECHT, Tokay Pinot Gris, Alsace Turckheim Clos Jebsal Vendange Tardive 1992 - Another beautiful old wine from the Alsace but slightly past its prime. Nice to drink but the magic wasn't there. Plump honey and fruit with some acid left. 91 points.


FIRST PLACE: DOMAINE ZIND HUMBRECHT, Pinot Gris, Rotenberg, Wintzenheim 1999 - 100 POINTS!!!!

SECOND PLACE: TATOMER, 2009 Vandenberg, Riesling, Santa Barbara County - 92 Points.

THIRD PLACE: KELLER, 2007 Riesling, Hubacker - 92 Points.

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