Dascomb Cellars: 40th Birthday Road Trip

Deciding you’re done tasting is something of a challenge in Solvang. There’s always one more tasting room enticing you to taste a little more, one more place that comes highly recommended. It can be hard to resist. If tasting in Solvang teaches you anything, it’s that the folks here make incredible wine and it would be a shame to miss any of it.

That’s how we wound up ending our day at Dascomb Cellars. We had pretty much decided we were done, but we had received a strong recommendation while we were at Lucas and Lewellen. Dascomb was mere steps away, so we decided to tough it out (sigh) and pay them a visit.

We’re glad we did. Our pourer (whose name I shamefully failed to put in my notes) was charming and shared her deep knowledge of the area, its history as a winemaking region and the history of the Dascomb family.

The Dascomb family planted the area in 1974. The winemaker grew up on the vineyard, and crafting these wines has been a lifelong passion.

The valleys in the larger growing region are unusual in that they are traverse – that is, they run east-west instead of north-south. This channels cooler ocean air inland and results in a wide range of microclimates suitable for many different types of grapes.

Dascomb’s tasting room had a classic feel, with a dark wood bar placed at a slight angle along one side, with a couple of additional seating clusters where visitors can enjoy their tastings while giving their feet a break.

The Wines

2009 Pinot Gris: This mellow white had hints of saffron, citrus and a hint of oak. I also got a mild but definite hit of bleu cheese.

2008 Roussanne: The aroma of this wine was intriguing and complex. Nikki was reminded of incense. I found the scent to be bold, with toasty sugar elements and a hint of lipstick aroma. Nikki noted a kola flavor and I sensed an herbal overlay. I generally like Roussanne but usually find it not-terribly-complex. This one demonstrated that Roussanne can be more.

2005 Pinot Noir: I was delighted to get a strong scent of toasted marshmallow hovering over the fruit here. The flavor shows fruit in a lighter-bodied wine. Nice, gentle tannins finish the flavor.

2007 Sangiovese: Nikki’s notes say “Hint of port. Smells like the blood in The Vampire Lestat.” I have no idea what she means – I hope the blood in that novel smells like delicious wine. Says Nikki: If you’ve ever read the way Anne Rice describes blood from Louis or Lestat’s perspective in her Vampire Chronicles books, you know exactly what I mean. If not, smelling this Sangiovese to find out is probably faster than reading the books. There was an energetic ensemble of flavors evident here – blackberries and cream, a hint of tobacco and multiple fruits including cherries. It’s bright and acidic so it would be a great accompaniment to Italian food.

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon: Tasting this immediately put me in mind of chocolate covered cherries. Nikki was reminded of port. It’s bright with good acidity and light tannins.

2005 Cabernet Port: 100% cab port, fortified with triple-distilled wine brandy. Nikki’s super-sniffer got caramel, plum and toffee while I sensed chocolate covered raspberries in the aroma and flavor. After enjoying an actual chocolate covered raspberry offered by our pourer, the chocolate notes in the port emerged to the point that I could think of nothing else but a rich, dark, fresh chocolate souffle with raspberry sauce.

It’s becoming a common refrain: This is an area that deserves a whole weekend from tasters. Solvang is a lovely town to stroll around and spend time in, the wine tasting is fabulous and abundant and the people are friendly. We’ll be back.

Lucas and Lewellen: 40th Birthday Road Trip

Lucas and Lewellen Vineyards
1645 Copenhagen Drive, Solvang, California 93463 (map)

From Mandolina, we walked straight down the block to Lucas and Lewellen. The tasting room is beautiful and elegant, with an extremely long bar that can handle many people.

Tommy and Judy, the friendly, lively tasting staffers, are more than up to the task. They kept the conversation going and gently joked with everyone in the tasting room, creating a very enjoyable atmosphere. It was like being at your friendly, charming friends’ home, if your friend had a 30-foot dark wood tasting bar and an endless supply of amazing wine.

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2006 Sparkling Wine: I’m not normally a huge fan of sparkling wines, but this is one I would be glad to give a good home to. In my belly! The smell had notes of toffee and caramel and the taste was warm, a little tangy, with a hint of savory caramel at the end.

2008 Rosé of Pinot Noir: This smelled more like a white than a red, with a hint of honeyed tangerines. It tasted of lemons, underlined with caramel and blackberries.

2009 Riesling: Mmmmm. This smelled like strawberries and perfume. It tasted like strawberries and cream with a hint of cucumber on the finish.

2009 Viognier: This was surprisingly syrupy, with flavors of peaches and pears.

2005 Sommeil en Barrique: This Sauvignon Blanc smelled tart, but there was no tartness in the flavor; it tasted of caramel and pears.

Silver King port: They served this port in a dark chocolate tumbler, just a little smaller than a shot glass. It smelled yummy, savory and deep, like a really great flan. It tasted sweet and savory at the same time, and had notes of tobacco as well.

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Me, tasting room staffers Tommy and Judy and Mike, whose halo is showing.

Mandolina: 40th Birthday Road Trip

We told the folks at Presidio that we especially like trying wines from wineries that are offering wine in non-French styles. The folks at Presidio immediately told us to head down to Mandolina for our next tasting.

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While the interior decorating style of Mandolina may lean toward country French, the wines themselves are Italian through and through. The tasting room staff is friendly but not overbearing. They’re also very helpful; they recommended that we visit their sister winery Lucas and Lewellen and told us that if we dropped the Mandolina name, we’d get half-off our tasting. Awesome!

2008 Pinot Grigio: Surprisingly, this smelled like jasmine and tea. On the palate it was very well-balanced, with hints of citrus and a slight acid bite that was never overwhelming.

2009 Malvasia Bianca: I tasted melon, honey and sweet overripe kiwi.

2009 Moscato: The smell of this reminded me of soda pop. It tasted like pears and nectarines.

2009 Muscat Canelli: As I smelled this, I detected hints of cola, pear and lychee. It had a thick, almost oily mouth feel, with a bright pear taste at the finish.

2005 Bianco di Bianco: When I smelled this, I was immediately reminded of one of my favorite dishes back when I wasn’t a vegetarian — chicken picatta. The scent reminded me of the best possible rendition of picatta sauce. This wine was very dry, but had a savory note on the finish.

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Mandolina’s tasting room staffer was so warm, friendly and helpful…and I never took down her name! If you’re reading this, please let me know so I can remedy my error!

Presidio: 40th Birthday Road Trip

If you’ve only heard of Solvang but never visited, it would be easy to assume its Danish heritage and theme would produce a corny, cheesetastic experience. The reality is quite different. Yes, nearly every building in town is half-timbered and there are plenty of windmills to be seen, but it is a very real place populated by genuine people. There’s a lot to do and see in Solvang and the surrounding environs, and one could easily spend a long weekend in town and still have much left to discover.

Our first stop was Presidio, where a young man named Kyle, who was quite knowledgeable and enthusiastic about wine, poured for us. We enjoyed talking with several of the other folks at the bar there. That’s one of the great things about wine tasting as a social activity – there’s really not much ice to break, and you already have something in common with everyone else who’s tasting.


Nikki adds: Kyle was actually so knowledgeable that I was a little intimidated. He talked a lot about the “brix” of the wine. When I heard it, I immediately thought BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China, the four emerging large economies). This is probably because I spend more time reading The Economist than Wine Spectator (probably not a good thing if I want any wine nerd cred). Brix, as I know now from looking it up, is a measurement of the amount of sugar in a liquid.

Presidio is commited to organic and biodynamic methods and many of their wines are certified as such. Nikki adds: Biodynamic and organic methods are similar but not the same. Biodynamic agriculture involves seeing the entire vineyard as a holistic system, while organic viticulture more specifically refers to the use of natural methods to encourage growth and control pests.

The Wines

2009 Viognier “Artistic License”: Soft, mellow fruit, not very acidic. Even though this wine isn’t oaked, I kept expecting the flavor to eventually go that direction. Of course, it didn’t. A little alcohol on the finish. Nikki noted aromas of Meyer lemons and flowers, and said it has a flavor component that she associates with red wines.

2009 Syrah Rosé: The smell implied a sweeter rosé, but that impression didn’t carry through to the flavor. It had a mellow fruit flavor that was moderated by a richness. Nikki said she might have guessed it was a red if she had tasted it with her eyes closed. To me it had some characteristics of a brighter white wine at the beginning and end, with the middle having more dominant red characteristics.

2009 Gewurtztraminer: I detected peach, apricot, flowers and a hint of bubble gum. Nikki described it as a soda-pop aroma and found apricot and lychee flavors.

2004 Diego Red Cabernet Sauvignon: Sometimes you smell a wine that has notes of blackberry. This one smelled like someone muddled a big ripe blackberry in a glass. On a more attentive second whiff, the aroma promises tannins that would draw back to reveal blackberries, and that flavor delivers that and more. Cherries, licorice and sandalwood all emerge in turn. Nikki detected (in addition to blackberry) notes of beef and charcuterie. This wine had a lot going on, and while cabs often leave me indifferent, this one was quite engaging.

2007 Sangiovese: Everything about this is big – tannins, fruit and a hit of smoke. Nikki noted light fruit and tannins on the nose, with prominent tannins in the flavor.

2006 Syrah “Artistic License”: Big, fruity blackberry aroma. The flavor opens big with fruit, then tannins emerge along with spice. There’s a hint of anise, and a red licorice aftertaste. Nikki was reminded of pepper-encrusted steak in the aroma and detected raspberry, plum and pepper in the flavor.