The first mention of wine tasting evokes imagery of rolling hills studded with sturdy oaks under which to picnic while enjoying the tongue-tingling flavors of the age-old tradition which is winemaking. Further along the mental path, perhaps reflecting on past experiences, one may recall the interminable drive to said idyllic vineyard locations (not so much on the going, but certainly the coming home!), the slight variation in his fellow wine-tasters' attitude (sudden appearance of extensive wine knowledge accompanied by abuse of unforeseen flavor descriptive adjectives), the gradual numbing of taste buds directly proportional to rate of progress from winery to winery (because we did drive all this way and we have to get the most out of it!). And the next morning, once the mental fog lifts, wishing you had retained a mere nugget of all that knowledge bestowed upon you by the hosts of the tasting sessions.
Beautiful hillside vineyard in Malibu.
Because let's face it if we modern-cultured humans have anything in common, it is insecurity about knowledge and selections of wine. Sure, in each social group there may be one or two who rise above average (and make their wine expertise evident), but the sad majority of us sit diffidently lamenting our ignorance of vintage years and varietals while those more 'knowledgeable' determine our destiny in terms of which wine will accompany our meal.
Wine tasting by the beach.
How can we augment our Wine IQ? According to Neil McNally, one of the 150 Certified Wine Educators (CWE) in the USA today and Director of Sales and Marketing for Rosenthal, we need to read less about what others (usually the critics) like, and taste for ourselves. Taste as many wines as possible (on separate occasions, preferably!) and decide what we like. And serendipitously enough, a new tasting room for Rosenthal Winery has just opened on PCH in Malibu, where you can stop in for a taste and a mini crash course on their Malibu wines.
Gateway to the Rosenthal Malibu Winery.
Surely you're wondering, 'Since when are there wineries in LA?' Los Angeles is known throughout the world for its sunny beaches, tan modelesque bodies (usually connected to famous faces), but at least up to now, wine production hasn't been one of those LA attributes. However, the truth is that Los Angeles has a history (use of the term 'history' loosely defined as it tends to be on the West Coast) as a center for winemaking. In fact, the first location Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were planted in the USA when brought over from France was in the heart of Los Angeles near City Hall by a man named Vignes. Varietals thrive in the arid soil such as that of Los Angeles.
The Rosenthal tasting room on PCH has just recently opened, increasing accessibility to Rosenthal wines, and thereby encouraging understanding and appreciation of the unique characteristics of the wine produced from the grapes grown in the Malibu region. However, Rosenthal Winery (previously Malibu Hills Vineyard) has been growing varietals since 1987, when the first rootstock was planted on the 250-acre estate.
Rosenthal Malibu Estate.
George Rosenthal, a native Angelino himself and owner of the Sunset Marquis Hotel, Hollywood, (named after his first son Mark) in addition to Raleigh Enterprises, Raleigh Studios, and several other entrepreneurial ventures, had bought the estate in the late 70's, inspired by the ranch life he experienced in Mexico while collaborating with Televisa. Comparisons of the landscape to Napa and Tuscany fueled his entrepreneurial spirit, and impelled him to investigate the viability of growing varietals on the Rosenthal Estate. George was not interested in an idle hobby his goal was to make world-class wine. He established a weather station which for 2 years monitored the climactic conditions of the canyon off Kanan Dune Road inland from the beach. Based on the results of these data, the vineyard consultant confirmed the site as ideal, and used the analysis to specify which varietals should be planted in which area of the estate, optimizing the combination of soil, rootstock and the existent micro-climates (Chardonnay grapes thrive in cooler temperatures, Cabernet Sauvignon in warmer).
The best French Oak barrels.
The first harvest of Cabernet Sauvignon in 1991 proved that the 'mountain fruit' (grapes grown in a canyon) resulted in a wine very distinct from that grown in valleys such as Napa; the soil in a canyon tends to produce grapes of more intense flavor, higher in tannins. These varietals of unique qualities and attributes are aged in the best French Oak barrels, all under the watchful eye of winemaker Christian Roguenant, who works toward lending a cleanliness of taste, fruit-friendliness to the Chardonnay and tame the intensity of the Cabernet Sauvignon through preservation of the wines. Today Rosenthal Winery, located on the American Viniculture Area of Malibu Newton Canyon (the only AVA in LA County today), consists of 27 breezy acres of vineyards, hand harvested, separately vinified with limited intervention and barrel aged before blending: 4 Cabernet Sauvignon, 3 Merlot vineyards (including the Devon Vineyard, named after George's son, to be fair, as the other son had a hotel as a namesake!), 3 Cabernet Franc, 2 Petit Verdot, and 2 Chardonnay. All wines are made from estate-grown grapes, grown in organic conditions not certified organic at this point, but with a noted emphasis on the minimal use of chemicals. The winery itself, replete with tasting rooms refashioned from stables from the days when Andalusian horses were raised on the grounds, and abundant artwork/ sculptures including graffitied blocks of the Berlin Wall, is used mostly for private tours and occasional weddings (Nicolas Cage and Lisa Presley being the most notable, albeit star-crossed to tie the knot there), but this summer will begin group tours starting from the store on PCH and caravanning up the canyon. Rosenthal wines are gradually broadening in reach, now sold in 12 states in the USA, as well as internationally., and will participate in the Malibu Wine Classic on April 1.
Perfect neighbors ~ Rosenthal Winery and Beau Rivage Mediterranean Restaurant.
Additionally, Rosenthal Winery plans to pursue joint ventures in the near future with its neighbor - the one-of-a-kind Beau Rivage, a Mediterranean restaurant, owned for the last 53 years by Daniel Forge, the most charming French former chef/wine expert you could hope to find within miles, if not surrounding cities.
A stimulating addition to a casual Saturday outing along the coast, for both the taste buds and the brain, $12 at the tasting room buys you ample samples of four delicious and distinct Rosenthal wines, all the viniculture information you can absorb in the meantime, amid wine accessories and books on the topic, and your own lovely glass to take home. My personal favorite was the 2004 Chardonnay, with a nice clean finish, fruit-friendly, intentionally distinct from the typically Californian buttery Chardonnays. Best to call to reserve a time for large groups. Who knows, perhaps the stereotype of LA taste is about to be upgraded.
Rosenthal Winery and Tasting Room
26023 PCH (South of Corral Canyon)
Malibu, CA 90265
George Rosenthal, Proprietor
Christian Roguenant, Winemaker
Neil McNally, Director, Sales and Marketing
Corky Roche, Vineyard Consultant