Saddle Peak Showcase: Martian Ranch & Vineyard

mars_planetWEBSeated under the moosehead with the French doors open to the early evening air we sat in wicker chairs that are never this comfy anywhere else. Our love affair with Saddle Peak Lodge in Calabasas got even steamier this week. Somm Jen Carter presented her first small winery Winemaker Dinner featuring Martian Ranch & Winery of Los Alamos. The invite said the “owner, operator, winemaker and sommelier would be available to educate and entertain.” Two out of four is good enough for us especially when that duo includes Ms. Carter and winemaker Mike Roth. Somm Jen, GM Bobby Caravella and chef Chris Kurek have turned the onetime staid and spotty Saddlepeak Lodge into our favorite dining venue in the city. Saddlepeak has always had the space-based charm with the Water Buffalo and other icons of taxidermy everywhere which fortunately do not count towards the fire department occupancy limit. Now it has tons of personal charm that shows on the scorecard.

This dinner had everything we liked when we pony up the big bucks: plenty of wine from a very interesting and new winery with which we are not too familiar; cool and innovative food plates; commitment to low alcohol levels; and plenty of conversation about food and wine. Did I miss something?

mikeroth-martianYes: what made this wine dinner special. The Martian team is doing what we like to see in the Central Coast wine scene. Taking a page from the Tablas Creek gamebook they are working with as many Rhone style grapes as they can come up with. We have long concluded this is the right decision for the region. They work with a very good winemaker who brings an outsider credibility sorely needed in Santa Barbara circles. Mike Roth – trained at CSU Fresno has Napa and Sonoma pedigree but moved to the Santa Rita Hills to make his mark. Each one of the wines showed this evening was a success. Side story I cannot help but repeat [ed. only the millionth time] is that John Alban who was among the earliest notable CSU Fresno grads told us the difference between a UC Davis enology degree and Fresno. In Davis you learn all the chemistry and cell structures. At Fresno you learn how to attach all the hoses and clean the pumps. Roth confirmed “I have had to show quite a few winemakers how to roll a barrel.”

The other aspect we love about Martian is in addition to working with the best varietals for the region they also experiment with winemaking styles. This is exceptional. Tablas Creek will do a steel fermented Grenache Blanc as well as one aged in oak. Cool if a bit conservative. But a well made “natural wine” Mourvedre? That is what we closed with this evening and we loved that!

Here is the tasting menu and the wines that accompanied each course.

martian_roseWEB2012 Martian Down To Earth Rosé $18 (K&L): Grenache Noir fruit. Red salmon color. Pretty forward with a sweet candy finish. However, paired with the pork belly spring roll and kimchi aioli that candy turned to charm. Perfect match. 12%

2011 Martian Uforic Albariño $22: Jen poured this for tBoW a few months ago and we really liked it. She pours it by the glass. It is still good. Flavors are per and sweet red Texas grapefruit. Chef prepared an outrageous Saba Panna Cota which was a somewhat sweet tomatoes and pickled cukes with yogurt for an appetizer. This was a complete fit with the outerspace cliche becuz the combo was outtasite. The plate and wine harmonized for a dry finish with diced veggies and… yogurt! 13.6%

2011 Martian Gravitas Tempranillo $??: Not listed at the website. We see domestic Tempranillo and our faces get a little skrinchy. This wine showed a lovely deep and dark violet nose. Flavors are balanced. Masculine tannins showing. If I were choosing a medium weight red wine with some stuffing it would be a Cab Franc. However, as Sugar Kane panted in Some Like It Hot, this wine is “perfectly delicate.” Somewhat voluptuous too. Old World style is hard to do in the Central Coast. This course was a teeny grilled quail served splayed on the plate facing a splotch of fennel mousseline. Brought to mind that eruptive Prometheus dude heading over the falls in the opening scene. 14.1%

2011 Martian Dark Matter Syrah $24: Prove us wrong again! The winemaker’s art on full display here. Full berry clusters aged 6 months in neutral oak. This wine is wow. Such a light touch with a grape that mostly confuses – is it Syrah or Pinot? – or repels us in Central Coast versions. Cocoa, peaberry coffee nose and flavors with the pepper finish. Rich flavors and medium weight perfectly supported the grilled lamb filet with pomegranate sauce piquillo yogurt and braised eggplant. Love it.

Somm Jen and Chef Chris saved the best wine-food pairing for last.

Chef wanted to prepare a rhubarb tart but Martian does not make a dessert wine. So they poured the…

parallax copy2011 Martian Parallax Mourvedre $24: What a terrific wine! We have recently tasted another “natural wine” the R12 made by Lemasson This is the New World counterpart. Call us rubes but we have never tasted a “natural wine” from the USA. If the Lemasson wine is the model then Mike Roth nailed it. Grapey flavors with a tart cranberry finish. And it worked perfectly with the rhubarb pastry. 11.5%!!!

Final thoughts: Nan Helgeland is the mind and proprietor behind the Martian. We applaud her grand design. The property in Aliso Canyon is large [how large?] with all estate grown grapes now six to seven years of age and showing just wonderfully. They are still planting having recently put in some Cab Franc [ed. which should also do well in the neighborhood]. Price points are very accessible even at the winery! A winery worth watching.

Here is the Marilyn Monroe vid youse was waiting for where she takes off like a rocket!

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