Andrew Murray

By all accounts, Syrah is the most overplanted grape varietal in SBC, and California for that matter. While many wine industry “experts” have been predicting a surge in the popularity of Syrah, as of yet it just hasn’t materialized. Part of the reason could very well be the abundance of some pretty lackluster Syrah based wines, some from California, but many more flooding the market in the form of Australian Shiraz. But as with any varietal, if you seek out and find the winemakers who are providing high caliber wines, even a skeptic’s faith in a once discounted wine can be born anew. We think Andrew Murray is producing some of the best Syrah in all of SBC. Whether you’re a big Syrah fan, or haven’t had great experiences with the varietal in the past, this is a great place to get exposed to the range and beauty that Syrah and Rhone style wines can possess.

Andrew Murray was touted as one of the top American winemakers of Rhone varietal wines at the age of 25 – pretty heady stuff for such a young winemaker. Over the last dozen or so years since that early burst onto the wine scene, Murray has seen many changes, most notably the sale of the family vineyard with which he got his start, but his focus has remained on producing top quality Rhone style wines, and he continues to deliver excellent results.

Murray produces blended Rhone style reds and whites, single varietal wines from multiple vineyards within Santa Barbara County, and  single vineyard wines from a variety of growers. These are beautifully composed wines that seem to bring out the best in the vineyard site, in a surprisingly wide range of styles and flavors.

At our last visit to the tasting room located in downtown Los Olivos, we were particularly enamored with some wines that no longer appear on the list of current releases, but which we’re confident have been replaced with equally compelling selections.

The one constant has been the issuance of the Tous les Jours Syrah, which, as the name suggests, is meant to be an everyday drinking wine. Priced at just $16, it’s easy to see why. But don’t write this wine off as a wimpy Syrah lacking in character, as we found the 2006 version to be a beautifully balanced wine that brought out the full-bodied fruit that you’d expect in Syrah, but in a light and playful manner that was more reminiscent of a French wine than many of the brasher American styles Syrahs.

If bold Syrahs are what you’re after, however, Murray has you covered as well, as we found out in our tastings of the single vineyard ’05 South Slope and Roasted Slope wines. Both were big and dark wines, with the South Slope offering dark berry fruit with an earthy undertone and a nice balance of spice and tight tannins – a great sampling of some classic SBC Syrah as we’ve come to know it. The Roasted Slope wine was even bolder, with very dark color, rich black cherry and blackberry fruit with pronounced pepper and spice and a big helping of oaky tannin. While it may sound overwhelming, the balance of the elements strikes a nice tone that draws you in to explore the complexities of this wine. This one could definitely use some age, however, so we’re planning on opening our bottle of Roasted Slope a few years from now.

Bottom line – Andrew Murray’s reputation as a top winemaker has not faded since his early burst onto the wine making scene, and for good reason. This is clearly a top destination for an outstanding cast of Rhone style varietal wines, with Syrah playing the starring role.

Andrew Murray Vineyards

2901-A Grand Avenue, Los Olivos CA 93441

map

(805) 693-9644

andrewmurrayvineyards.com

Open daily from 11 to 5

Los Olivos

The Ballard Inn & Restaurant

During our first few visits to Solvang and Los Olivos, and with several dining experiences in the “good, not great” category, we had resigned ourselves to the fact that finding food that rivaled our favorite restaurants in Los Angeles was beyond reasonable expectation. So when we heard in 2005 that a new chef at the Ballard Inn was putting out some amazing dishes, we thought we’d at least give it a try. Pleasant surprise is an understatement for what we experienced that night, as we were blown away by the beautifully prepared and flavored food that came out of the kitchen at the well appointed and professionally staffed Ballard Inn.

Returning every chance we get, chef Budi Kazali continues to amaze and satisfy our desires for great cuisine in a way that is truly sublime. His asian influenced take on California food is an adventure in flavor and texture combinations that is a pleasure at every mouthful. Kazali cut his culinary teeth with stints at prominent restaurants on both coasts, including La Folie and Gary Danko in San Francisco, and Blue Ginger in Boston. The setting at the Ballard Inn, a charming fifteen room bed and breakfast located equidistant between Solvang and Los Olivos, is the perfect relaxed and intimate accompaniment to a great meal. Topped off by an attentive and professional wait staff, and the best wine list of any we’ve seen in the area, featuring a full complement of excellent SBC wines, The Ballard Inn is a memorable experience at every turn.

For fine dining in SBC Wine country, Budi Kazali and the Ballard Inn is a dining treasure.

The Ballard Inn & Restaurant

2436 Baseline Ave., Ballard CA 93463

map

805-688-7770

ballardinn.com

Open Wednesday through Sunday, 5:30 to 9pm – Reservations highly recommended