From Santa Barbara I headed northwest into the Santa Ynez Valley to kick off my first full day of wine tasting. It’s about a 45 minute drive on a two lane road that winds up and down the mountains with gorgeous — and sometimes scary — views of the valley below.
My first stop was Blackjack Ranch Winery, located about five minutes outside downtown Los Olivos (though it has an address in Solvang). I’ve greatly enjoyed their wines since joining their wine club a couple of years ago, though this was my first visit to their tasting room. Earlier this year I wrote about their delicious 2006 Wilkening Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay.
Blackjack Ranch makes some great tasting Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Bordeaux blends that typically range between $20 and $50. All the wines have the depth and complexity you would expect of wines carrying this kind of price tag.
At the tasting room I tried three of Blackjack’s four Chardonnays. Each has a great mix of tropical, citrus and stone fruits, with nice minerality and gentle oak. Even if you mostly drink red wine, you would enjoy these whites with their layered flavors and texture.
For a splurge try the 2005 Black Cap Reserve Chardonnay. It has rich flavors of white peach, pineapple and honeysuckle that culminate in a long and elegant finish. The Black Cap Reserve costs $48.
On the red side, the Double-Down Syrah is a sure bet. Aptly described as a ‘crowd pleasing, user friendly Syrah,’ this wine is both juicy and smoky with flavors of blackberries, blueberries, violets and a hint of lavender. The 2005 and 2006 vintages are out now and cost $26.
I’m also a fan of the Alix de Vergy Pinot Noir (and it’s not just because we share a name). I found out from Asta, the friendly sales manager who led our tasting, that Alix de Vergy was the Duchess of Burgundy in the 13th century. Today this region in France is famous for its Pinot Noir. The Alix de Vergy Pinot Noir is just the way I like my Pinot Noir — big, thick, chewy and earthy with notes of raspberries, cherries and violet. The 2005, 2006 and 2007 vintages cost $48.
If I had to pick a favorite wine from Blackjack it would be the Harmonie. This red is a Bordeaux-blend, with a different percentage of the Bordeaux varietals each year. For a great value try the 2004, which is 58% Cabernet Sauvignon with Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot making up the remaining 42%. It has lush flavors of blackberry, black cherry, coffee and truffles. The 2004 Harmonie costs $35.
My favorite of the Harmonies is the 2005 vintage. The best way to describe it: incredibly delicious. Blackjack Ranch proprietor Roger Wisted calls this vintage his ‘baby;’ it’s clear he put in a lot of effort to make it a great wine. Grapes were harvested over the course of five passes and the wine was aged in new French oak. Bursting with juicy black fruit, this wine feels like velvet in your mouth. Unfortunately at $90 a bottle it’s a bit out of my price range. But if you can afford it, I highly recommend it.
I only found one fault with my visit to Blackjack Ranch — as the first winery of the day, it set a very high bar for the other wineries I visited in the Santa Ynez Valley.
For more information on Blackjack Ranch Vineyards & Winery visit blackjackranch.com.