Critics picks in the Rhone zone

December 6, 2006 

Award-winning vintages can be found at wineries across the county, but the area is gaining the most attention for its Rhone-style wines. Here's a tour of some wineries that have been the subject of recent critical acclaim.

The 2004 vintages at L’Aventure (2815 Live Oak Road, 805-227-1588, open Thurs-Sun) sold out after receiving scores of 95 and above (including one 98) in Robert Parker’s Aug. 28 Wine Advocate. But the winery, headed by former Bordeaux winemaker Stephan Asseo, has been hailed repeatedly by all the major critics, so you’re sure to find something to please your palate. Turn up Arbor Road off Highway 46 West until you hit Live Oak Road.

Make your way back to 46 and up Vineyard Drive to find Denner Vineyards (5414 Vineyard Drive, 805-239-4287, open Sat-Sun). Though small and relatively new, it was named an "up and coming winery" by Parker, who rated a number of its wines above 90 and heralded its syrah in his column for BusinessWeek magazine. The winery, whose tasting room opened just this year, is a family affair, with Ron Denner running the business, wife Marilyn manning the tasting room and son Brian making the wine.

Continue up Vineyard Drive and take a left on Adelaida Road to Tablas Creek Vineyard (9339 Adelaida Road, 805-237-1231), where you seemingly can’t go wrong. The winery -- a joint venture between the Perrin family, owners of the famed Chateau de Beaucastel in France’s southern Rhone, and Robert Haas, their U.S. importer -- has been receiving non-stop acclaim for both its red and white Rhone varietals. In his inaugural BusinessWeek column in June, Parker identified the 2005 Tablas Creek Rosé as one of his favorite rosé wines. The hilltop setting off one of the area’s more picturesque roads just adds to the experience.

Double back on Adelaida Road east toward Highway 101 to Adelaida Cellars (5805 Adelaida Road, 805-239-8980). The winery has been around for a while, but after a change of ownership, and more recently of the winemaker, critics are saying its wines have never been better. Plugged in the June issue of Wine Spectator, the winery does well with an array of reds, from cabernet and zinfandel to syrah, Rhones and pinot noir.

Other reliable stand-outs include Summerwood Winery (2175 Arbor Road, 805-227-1365) a gorgeous, elegant estate perfect for picnics not far from Highway 101 off Highway 46 West, and Linne Calodo Cellars (3030 Vineyard Drive, 805-227-0797, open Fri-Sun), started in 1998 by Matt Trevison and Justin Smith and lauded by Wine Spectator and Robert Parker. Smith has since gone on to become winemaker at the family Saxum Vineyards, which also has won accolades from Parker but does not offer a public tasting room.

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