What, you ask, are Albariño and Tannat? A Spanish vaudeville act? Well, no, they are two grapes brashly edging into wine conversations on the Central Coast. They were also the headliners at the Alternative Tastes Wine Fest which kicked off with a Friday evening VIP dinner at Brecon Estate followed by a seminar and grand tasting on June 8 at Broken Earth Winery in Paso Robles.

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On the panel – Bastien Leduc, Scott Schramm, Nancy Ulloa, Neil Collins, Damian Grindley, Jason Bushong, Sherrie Holzer and Adam Lazarre Photos: ZW Images

Nevertheless, aren’t these two a bit of an odd couple? Not at all, insisted Damian Grindley, founder and co-chair of the festival and founding winemaker of Brecon Estate winery, which partnered with CRUSH Vineyard to present the festival.

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“It’s not an odd couple as [they] are very close to each other geographically,” Grindley declared. “They do overlap just a little bit.” Yes, geographically speaking, the two growing regions are indeed snuggled between southern France and northern Spain.


The tango of these two varieties also also had seminar moderator Adam Lazarre wondering: “Why are we doing a seminar on wines that don’t sell well in the marketplace?” Yet an attendance of 300-plus people at the afternoon grand tasting was proof that there is a market for such alternative tastes.

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Brigitte Harper and Josh Harper, winemaker for End of the Day Wines

At the walk-about tasting, Albariño, a crisp white wine from Galicia’s Rias Baixas region in northwest Spain, offered zippy freshness in contrast to the brooding, deep-hued Tannat, redolent with plum and licorice notes, flexing grippy tannins. Tannat is originally native to the Basque region, but principally known in the foothills of the Pyrénées appellation of Madiran in southwest France. It’s also the best-known red wine in Uruguay.

The seven-panel seminar opened with an uncorking of Rava Wine’s non-vintage sparkling Albariño. “Not a lot of people make sparkling Albariño. It takes a lot of patience,” remarked winemaker Sherrie Holzer.

“There’s a method to this madness of my winemaking,” commented Albariño-aficionado Damian Grindley, pondering his 2023 True Acacia Head, rich on the mid-palate with peach notes. “It appeals to people who like Chardonnay.”

The signature citrusy Albariños were well represented by the 2023 Ulloa Cellars whose owner/winemaker and white wine diva Nancy Ulloa crafted the wine in neutral oak and LaZarre, who took a few minutes out of his moderating stint and offered his stainless-steel fermented 2023 Lazarre Albariño, its fruit sourced from Jack Ranch.

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Denise Schramm (CRUSH Vineyard), Alex Kemp (Brecon Estate), Scott Schramm and Hal Schmitt (Volatus Wine)

Tannat was represented by Tablas Creek Vineyard’s winemaker Neil Collins who brought the debut 2002 vintage, a superb wine expressing an Old-World style, produced from the 5-acre, head-trained, dry-farmed vineyard.

Seven Oxen Estate Wines’ Bastien Leduc offered the 2018 Estate Tannat also from its dry-farmed vineyards, aromatic with black fruit and balanced with soft tannins. Jason Bushong, owner/winemaker of Bushong Vintage Company as he presented his 2021 Tannat aged for 22 months in 50 percent new French oak. 

In a blind tasting exercise, we also savored two non-US wines: the 2018 Marichal Grand Reserve from Uruguay and the 2016 Domaine Berthoumieau against Tablas Creek, Seven Oxen and Bushong Tannats. 

The concept of the Alternative Tastes was born out of two separate events hosted by Brecon: an Albariño Summit (which had a life span of three festivals from 2016-2018 and an Albariño-focused industry night in 2022) and occasional Tannat industry tastings. 

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Damian Grindley, Neil Collins and Bastien Leduc

Enter Denise and Scott Schram who were much impressed by their Tannat tastings at Brecon. The couple had acquired a five-acre Adelaida District vineyard in 2019 which had original plantings of Tannat and Tempranillo dating back to 2007. They released their first vintage of 2021 CRUSH Vineyards wine crafted by Tyler Russell. 

The Schramms approached Grindley with the festival concept and he was inspired to combine his Albariño Fest reboot with Tannat, thus giving birth to the Alternative Tastes Wine Fest.

While most Central Coast winemakers source their Albariño grapes from San Luis Obispo’s SLO Coast AVA, specifically the Edna Valley region, namely Jack Ranch, Sawyer Lindquist and Spanish Springs, there are a handful of vineyards in Paso with minuscule Albariño plantings. On the west side, there’s Derby and Castoro Cellars. Bovino, Barr Estate, Pear Valley and Vina Robles carry the flag on the east side.

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Nancy Ulloa and Adriana Neal (Seven Oxen Estate Wines)

An impressive selection of crisp Albarinos screaming with zingy acidity was represented by the above vineyards produced by such wineries as Bodega de Edgar, Cairjn, High Camp, End of the Day and Mea.

Absolution Cellars’ barrel-fermented and barrel-aged Albariño was sourced from Alisos Canyon and Brij Wine from North Coast vineyard both in Santa Barbara County.

In San Luis Obispo (SLO) County just 72 acres of Tannat and 76 acres of Albariño are planted according to the 2023 grape acreage report by the California Department of Food & Agriculture.

That Tannat ever got planted locally is due to the audacity of a nursery manager in France. “We were definitely the first [to plant Tannat] in SLO County,” confirmed Jason Haas, the partner and general manager of Tablas Creek Vineyards, in an email exchange.

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Victoria Schmitt and Amy Hulett (Volatus Wine) with Nicole Rittenhouse and Suzie Gavdini (Midnight Cellars)

With the renowned Perrins family of Château de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf-du-Pape as their partners, Tablas Creek pioneered Rhône planting in Paso when they imported seven initial varieties in 1990 from France. Yet Tannat is not a Rhône variety. Nonetheless, it arrived in the US in 1992 with another batch of Tablas Creek orders for Rhône grape cuttings.

“It was the manager of that nursery who decided (without asking or telling us or the Perrins) to send the vines to us because he thought they would thrive in Paso Robles,” Haas noted. “And he was right!”

By 1996, Tablas Creek multiplied, grafted and planted Tannat vines and in 2001 the winery began receiving orders for Tannat plants from vineyards in California, Arizona and Virginia.

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Andrew Neja (Cairjn Cellas), Jason Bushong and chef Justin Munson

“So many people coming to our tasting room have heard of Tannat but never tasted it. It’s more on people’s radar,” Denise commented on their flagship 2021 Tantalize, a 100 percent Estate Tannat.

Among the Tannat selection, there was a luscious 2021 Castoro Cellars, a smoky 2018 Allegretto and a richly textured 2022 Volatus Wine’s Bloody Well Right which recently nabbed a Double Gold at the Central Coast Wine Competition.

Barr Estate, Emercy, I. Brand Wines, Broken Earth, Midnight Cellars, Lone Madrone, Moose Mountain and Kaleidoscope were among the 20 some winery participants. The pizza oven at the Broken Earth Winery cafe kept attendees well-fed with piping hot pies dished out of the oven.

Net proceeds from the VIP dinner and grand tasting plus 100 percent from the silent auction amounted to $2160, benefitting the newly established Flag Ranch, a non-profit organization with a mission to help horses and people.