San Clemente Wine Bars

San Clemente, California ain’t what it used to be, and I’m not talking about Nixon. Once a sleepy retirement village with a single good restaurant, I recently learned that the hamlet is now considered a “party town,” populated with surfers, Marines and cougars. Indeed, with bars clustered on El Camino Real and Avenida Del Mar, one can conveniently drink and walk.

Two new wine bars have created a little Del Mar wine gulch: The Cellar and San Clemente Wine Company. Over the Memorial Day long weekend, after enjoying Hawaiian music at the Polynesian Festival on the library’s lawn, I stumbled into the SC Wine Co. for a flight of wines.

SC Wine Co is a long shop, done in a Spanish country style, with the tasting bar in the cool back area. A full crowd sat at short and tall tables, but I took a stool at the wood bar. I was handed not one or two menus of flights, but three, and read them top to bottle, weighing my options. I love flights of wine, they hold so much opportunity for surprise.

I chose the Memorial Day Picks – six white wines and red wines, plus a “secret wine” – mostly because of the rosé it starts with. The Ch De Campuget 2009 Costieres de Nime Rosé was such a satisfying quaff after I baked in the sun, and I loved it’s big body, creamy mouth and bowlful of red and orange fruit.

The Martin Ray Angeline 2009 Russian River Sauvignon Blanc had snappy green apple, sharp citrus and a dry finish, and if super chilled, would make a great summer wine.

Two wines from Heron followed: a chard and a pinot. The bar girl told me about Laely Heron’s recent visit to the store, how she sources grapes from all over the world, that she is the child of hippie parents, and coincidentally, I had been curious about Heron wines for a while. The 2007 California Chardonnay is full of ripe tropical fruit, banana and coconut especially, and there is a fair amount of oak for its lean body. The Sonoma County Pinot Noir has a lot going on – earth, wood, spice, black cherry and raspberry – but the tannins are still a little rough and the finish bit me. Perhaps in a year…?

Another from Martin Ray, the liter jug 2007 California Red, a blend of syrah, merlot and cab franc. I’m all for liter-sized bottles and the wine is solid. Ripe, briary red/black fruit, soft tannins, good balance  – what more do you need next to the campfire?

Educated Guess 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet was the priciest bottle on the menu at $19.90, but in flush times the same juice might have sold for $40. Clearly made with superb fruit that couldn’t fetch a higher price, it has layers of ripe black fruit, cedar bark, earth and herbs on a thick body of chalky tannins, and a dry, cedary finish. Something to curl up with.

I was told the secret bottle was a blend of six varietals, nothing more. I was right about its syrah, carignan, and granache, but the tempranillo, lleedoner and pelut noir eluded me. The wine was Sexto 2006 Terra Alto from Spain, made by none other than flying Laely Heron. Sexto is a lively fruit forward red wine with smoke, sweet oak, fresh plum and blackberry, and a fun burst of acidity at the finish. Quite a surprise.

I enjoyed all that with a small plate of assorted cheeses, one of which was soaked in cabernet. Seven pours and an appie for $20: it worked for me.

I can visit all I want, but I lived in this party town, I would definitely become a regular at San Clemente’s wine bars.

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Mari Kane

Mari is a writer, blogger and WordPress consultant, living in Vancouver, BC, the most wine-soaked town north of the 49th Parallel. She also blogs about WordPress web design at Blogsite Studio.com. Follow her on Twitter or Google Plus.

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