Category Archives: Arneis

99 bottles of wine on the wall,* 99 bottles of wine…

Your West Coast Oenophile has remained deluged with responsibilities for keeping the vision of Sostevinobile alive, and yet I owe acknowledgments to so many whose wines I have enjoyed these past few months. So, in no particular order or with any attempt to rank them, here’s a list of the many memorable vintages I’ve sampled:

99) I visited with Ray D’Argenzio, who is developing a cluster of artisan wineries and food purveyors in an enclave he calls Santa Rosa Vintners Square. As we compared our common roots from Avellino to California via grandparents who had settled in Glen Cove, NY, I sampled what is arguably the first bottling of “raisin wine” in California, the 2007 D’Amarone. Classic Amarone is produced from a blend of semi-desiccated Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes, but I am unaware of any successful plantings of these varietals stateside. Ray’s interpretation came from a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah—grapes that are no strangers to late harvest bottlings, but he is striving ultimately to bottle a replica of the authentic constituency. Perhaps even with a hand-blown, twisted bottle neck?

98) From next generation winemaker, daughter Breanna, came a highly impressive debut effort, the 2008 Sant’Angelo Sangiovese, vinted from fruit grown in Amador County.

97) I had come to the Vintners Square, following a most promising meeting with Silicon Valley Bank, to meet with Matthew Trulli of MJ Lords. His first allure had been the promise of sampling only the third pure varietal bottling of the “sixth Bordeaux red” I have found in California, though several wineries do blend this grape into their Meritages. The signature grape of the emerging Chilean wine industry, Matthew’s yet-to-be-released 2009 Carménère, clearly showed an ability to give the South Americans a run for their money.

96) Another signature varietal rarely cultivated here, Matthew’s 2009 Montepulciano (to disambiguate, the Abruzzese varietal, not the Tuscan vino nobile derived from Sangiovese) amply displayed the kind of complexity I have come to expect from this burgeoning viticultural talent.

95) Matthew shares his space with Krutz Family Cellars, a decidedly understated venture that left a deep first impression. Owner/winemaker Patrick Krutz showcased his take on yet another South American standard with his 2007 Napa Valley Malbec.

94) Not many fledgling operations can presuppose to charge $195 for a 1.5L bottle of anything, but, without question, Patrick’s 2007 Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon rose to the occasion—and then some.

93) A third suite mate, Sheldon Wines, moved here from the Sebastopol caboose where I had originally met with them last year. Here Dylan’s 2009 Graciano continued to rise in my estimation from the exceptional previous vintage that I had tasted.

92) I have long felt the same ambivalence towards Viansa as I have about the Punahou Kid. On a philosophical level—at least in what they purport to champion—I am vocally in accord; what they actually have accomplished or delivered, however, has been a far cry from what I am able to bring myself to endorse. But while the neophyte in the Oval Office combats our economic miasma by committing our scant resources to yet a third theater of overseas combat, Sonoma’s Italian varietal pioneers have taken stock in their disparate œnological forays and revamped with a focus on quality, while still retaining a pronounced fidelity to their founding mission.

Under the stewardship of independent owner Lloyd Davis, Viansa has realigned, jettisoning a number of varietals that failed to gain traction, increasing their portfolio of more traditional wines like Chardonnay and Syrah, along with Bordelaise varietals Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, while still fortifying the array of Italian wines on which founder Sam Sebastiani had originally focused. Perhaps no wine better exemplified this transition than the 2009 Arneis, a crisp, delectable rendition of a varietal that had hovered near mediocrity in its earliest vintages here.

91) Just as astounding was the risorgimento of Viansa’s 2009 Reserve Vernaccia, one of the most delightful Italian whites to be produced in California.

90) Not all Sangiovese is created equal, and few on this side of the Atlantic realize that there are multiple variants to this grape. The Sangiovese Grosso used in Barolo is, as one might infer, a bold, powerful strain of this varietal; here, Viansa showed the subtle intensity of its somewhat overshadowed brethren, with their 2005 Piccolo Sangiovese, again an exceptional expression that reaffirmed the appropriateness of transplanting the Italian family of grapes along the West Coast.

89) I made my way through virtually all of Viansa’s lineup before I tried their thoroughly splendid dessert wine, the 2009 Tocai Friulano. Some winemakers seek to restrain the sweetness of this grape; here, the unfettered expression created an extraordinary wine that could complement the finale of any repast.

I took my leave of Lloyd and his gracious tasting staff, not before collecting a bottle from his hand-picked Signature Series for further evaluation, to head north for more tastings, meetings, and the inexorable pursuit of the wherewithal to make Sostevinobile a prominent presence on the viticultural scene.

*this actually should have read “deposited in the blue recycling bin,” but there wasn’t headline space to fit it.

Vinolivo 1-2-3

Long before embarking on this interminable journey known as Sostevinobile, Your West Coast Oenophile attended one of New England’s most prestigious boarding schools. Founded by the widow of the man who invented the revolving canon that the U.S. Cavalry deployed at the Wounded Knee and other massacres of Native American tribes in the late 19th Century, Hotchkiss thrived in the 20th Century largely on the largesse of Philip Morris and R. J. Reynolds, conglomerates that systematically ravaged the populace in general.

During my years of sequestration in Lakeville, a fellow students was Sebastopol winery Baker Lane’s Stephen Singer. I can’t say I knew Steve well back in those days, though I suspect he would not mind my characterizing him as one of the more disaffected attendees of this august institute. When we did reconnect—over wine, of course—in the earliest days of developing Sostevinobile’s wine program, I discovered he was the same Steve Singer who had been married to Alice Waters during the early days of Chez Panisse. All have been much chronicled over the years: Alice and her æsthetics, the restaurant and its influence on contemporary cuisine, the travails of this marriage, even the rarefied upbringing of their daughter.

I’ve never met Fanny Singer, now a doctoral candidate at Cambridge, but the articles I’ve read make me wonder how gastronomically-focused her upbringing may have been. Was she told babies came from the arugula patch? Did her third grade science project consist of creating a composting bin with live earthworms (as opposed to building the more familiar ant farm)? Did she play normal childhood games, like Ringolevio, or adapt it to something more germane, like…Vinolivo?

Recently, I attended Vinolivo ‘11, a “Gala Celebration for the Senses” held in conjunction with the Annual Sonoma Valley Olive Season. This fundraiser and tasting seemed a perfect venue for Baker Lane to participate, but, as it turned out, they were not among the 48 wineries pouring here this evening, nor was their affiliated restaurant Pizzavino 707 among the nearly two dozen food purveyors. No matter, I had plenty to discover and to occupy me in the thick of the rain-sheltered tent at The Lodge at Sonoma.

Before entering the main arena, though, guests were fêted with two Specialty Tasting Bars, featuring Sparkling Wine food pairings. The first seemed downright Parisian, matching a Carneros Bistro’s duet of Pommes Frites (potato, sweet potato) with the 2006 Blanc de Blancs and the non-vintage Va de Vi Sparkling Wines from Gloria Ferrer. Across the foyer, the Meyer Lemon Roasted Salmon on White Bean Crostini from the chiastic Olive & Vine needed no complement; still both the 2000 Brut de Noirs from Robert Hunter and the 2007 Rouge de Noirs Brut from Shug Carneros delightfully accentuated this utterly addicting canapé.

Moving onto the main event, I strolled into the tightly-packed reception and endeavored to sample as many of the wineries as I could fit into the time allotted, a considerable challenge given the surprising number of attendees who had braved the evening’s torrent, not to mention the enticing aromas emanating from gourmet food stations interspersed among the wine purveyors. Given the numerous trips I had made to Sonoma over the past year, only a handful of the vintners here remained unfamiliar to me. The first, Clarbec, seemed a curious portmanteau, which I could not identify until meeting owners Clarence and Becky Jenkins. These founders of Madrone Vineyard Management have planted vines in Glen Ellen, from where they sourced the grapes for their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Glen Oaks Ranch, as well as produce their 2009 Pinot Gris Clarbec Vineyard and an excellent 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Clarbec Vineyard in the Sonoma Valley AVA.

Also from Glen Ellen, Eric Ross treated this evening’s guests to a quartet of his wines, starting with an elegant 2009 Marsanne-Roussanne Russian River. I tend to find 2009 Pinots still too underripe, and the 2009 Pinot Noir Russian River poured here seemed no exception. I’ll resist any temptation to describe his two tasty, Chanticleer-adorned blends, the 2009 Struttin’ White (“Albariño with a kiss of Orange Muscat”) and 2009 Struttin’ Red (Tempranillo, Garnacha), as “cocky”—that’s a bad pun I’ll reserve for Gallo, when a propitious occasion arises.

I was surprised that Keating had not participated in previous Rockpile tastings I’ve attended. No matter, their wines this evening made quite a solid impression. Although the 2008 Beckstoffer Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon seemed still too young. their inaugural 2009 Dry Creek Buchignani Zinfandel struck me as ripe and well-balanced. Their best offering, the 2007 Rockpile Malbec, begged the question why more Bordeaux-focused wineries don’t bottle this robust varietal.

I had not previously encountered MacLeod, a quaint family vineyard out of Kenwood. This boutique winery comported themselves quite admirably with their 2007 Merlot, 2008 Zinfandel, and 2009 Sauvignon, all estate grown. For years, I had always seen Roche perched on the hillside across from Infineon Raceway, a veritable beacon demarcating the entrance to Sonoma Valley. Suddenly, however, the quaint barn house disappeared, only to be resurrected as contemporary edifice belonging to Ram’s Gate Winery, while Roche’s tasting and hospitality operations relocated to Sonoma Square. Rather than trying to comprehend this mystery, I opted simply to try Roche’s wines, contrasting their oaked 2009 Estate Chardonnay to the more appealing 2009 Stainless Steel Estate Chardonnay. Following this comparison, I delighted in sampling their exemplary 2008 Pinot Noir Los Carneros, a wine that typified both the vintage and the AVA.

With new business concluded, I could now focus on revisiting the numerous other wineries I had previously engaged over the past two years, despite weaving through the crush of attendees and the constant urge to nosh on the some of the finest cuisine Sonoma could offer. When I toured the wine country a couple of years back with the delightfully eccentric Lucy Townsend, we were fêted at a private lunch reception and reserve tasting at the St. Francis winery. Today, Executive Chef David Bush accompanied the dry 2009 Wild Oak Chardonnay with his Pork rillette and grilled beef Banh Mi, followed by a sumptuous 2007 Port vinted from fortified Zinfandel.
Lured by the seductive wafts of Zuppa di Farro, a Tuscan barley soup served up by tablemate Della Santina’s, I wandered over to try the wines from Audelssa. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve but the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon proved a remarkable wine. I also especially liked the 2008 Summit, a blend of 39 % Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21 % Cabernet Franc, 11% Malbec, and 3% Petit Verdot. Audelssa’s winemaker, Erich Bradley performs double-duty at acclaimed Pinot producer Sojourn Cellars. The effusive praise Robert Parker has heaped on this winery proved presaged this preview of Sojourn’s 2009 vintage: the 2009 Pinot Noir Rodgers Creek Vineyard, their 2009 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and the superb 2009 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard. Nearly as striking was the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mountain Terraces Vineyard.

Another winery whose Pinot Noirs I have long relished is Roessler. I delayed my gratification by first sampling their excellent 2008 Big Bend Estate Chardonnay, then regaled in the 2008 Hein Family Pinot Noir. Next up, Landmark Vineyards led with their intense 2007 Damaris Reserve Chardonnay, as well as the likable 2008 Overlook Chardonnay, before showcasing their 2008 Grand Detour Pinot Noir
Nearby, Robert Hunter’s main table featured their 2006 Pinot Noir Sonoma Valley, which preceded my final Pinot of the evening, the 2008 Pinot Noir Marina’s Vineyard from Bennett Valley Cellars, two splendid wines underscored by the constant patter of rain that thankfully (as opposed to last fall’s Pinot in the River debacle) remained outside the tasting tent.

It had been two years since I’d toured Bartholomew Park and the preserve that envelops the winery, so it was a pleasure to revisit their organic 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine just now attaining peak maturity. Bart Hansen’s Dane Cellars also poured an exquisite 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley, with its 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Jackknife Corner falling just a
tad behind. I was equally impressed with their 2007 Zinfandel Sonoma Valley, and wish they had included their 2009 Dry Chenin Blanc, a varietal not seen enough these days. Also scarce at this celebration, the only Sauvignon Blanc I managed to try was the 2009 Estate Sauvignon Blanc from Beltane Ranch, the sole focus of this Glen Ellen boutique.

From Hamel Family’s Tres Palmas Vineyard, the 2007 Pamelita proved a worthy successor to the inaugural release of this same Cabernet Sauvignon last year. I tend to think of Schug primarily as a Pinot producer, so sampling the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon at their main table proved a pleasant revelation. By contrast, Larson Family blended their Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah and Zinfandel to make an accessible, non-vintage jug wine they simply called Sonoma Red.

Zinfandel proved a strong suit for Mayo Family Winery, with their 2007 Zinfandel Los Chamizal Vineyard; even more compelling, however, was the superb 2007 Merlot Laurent Vineyard. Hoffman Family Cellars brought out a noteworthy 2009 Zinfandel Sonoma County under their Headbanger label, as well as a blush they called the 2010 Rock ‘n Rosé of ZinfandelAnother pink wine as big as its name, the 2009 Vineyard Station Ranch Pinot Noir Saignée from Fichtenberg Vineyards struck me as quite enticing, though I wasn’t all that fond of their 2007 Syrah.

I would have expected to find more Zins at Vinolivo, but, in truth, the evening’s true star had to have been Syrah. Westwood Winery from Sonoma poured a delectable 2007 Syrah Annandale Estate. Westerhold Family Vineyards also excelled with their 2007 Estate Syrah Bennett Valley. Mulas Family showcased a truly compelling 2005 Syrah Alta Vista Vineyards, while my good friend Mike Muscardini debuted his 2008 Fortuna, a Syrah blended with 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 2.5% Cabernet Franc, and 2.5% Petit Verdot. And, much to my good fortune, he also poured his Grappa di Sangiovese, a personal favorite as well as a welcome contrast to the abundance of wines on hand.

I wished Italian varietal specialists Jacuzzi had brought their version of Sangiovese, but settled for their 2009 Tocai Friulano, a truly delicate expression of this varietal. I bypassed the 2008 Late Harvest Aleatico but did allow enough time to savor their Bordeaux-style bottling, the 2007 Valeriano. Jacuzzi’s next door neighbor, Viansa, pioneered the planting of quite a number of less-familiar Italian grapes, like Refosco, but now is gradually transitioning to a balance between CalItalia and the Bordelaise varietals. Their 2005 Thalia Sangiovese displayed a complexity I had not seen in it earlier releases, while the 2009 Arneis, like Jacuzzi’s Tocai, offered a clear alternative to the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio. Genial new owner Lloyd Davis’ hand was clearly evident in the 2005 Samuele Cabernet Franc, a harbinger of the direction he is driving this winery.

Another Sonoma trailblazer evolving under its new ownership has been Arrowood. Now that founder Richard Arrowood has redirected his full-time energies to Amapola Creek, the winery seems less defined, though his influence still remained in each of this evening’s selections. The 2006 Côte de Lune Rouge offered a standard GMS blend in near-equal proportions while the 2006 Côte de Lune Blanc favored the Roussanne and Marsanne over its Viognier component. Keeping up with Keating, Arrowood also poured their 2007 Malbec Sonoma Valley, a definitive, unblended expression of this varietal.

Several
of the wineries from Sonoma’s 8th Street East poured this evening,
giving me a chance to experience them outside their industrial park setting. Tin Barn Vineyards excelled with both their 2006 Syrah Coryelle Fields and the 2008 Zinfandel Gilsson Vineyard. Gilgamesh-themed Enkidu grows in my estimation each time I sample their wines; the 2008 Humbaba proved a giant of a Rhône blend, combining 65% Syrah with 35% Petite Sirah. Former tenant Ty Caton, a favorite of the Ginkgo Girl, now operates in Kenwood, with no detriment to his splendid 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley nor his Mayacamas Mountain Range Meritage, the 2009 Tytanium.
Another former 8th Street East denizen, John Sweazy’s Anaba, which has subsequently transplanted to Bonneau Road, focused on two amiable Rhône blends, the 2008 Coriol Red (38% Grenache, 27% Mourvèdre, 25% Petite Sirah, 10% Counoise) and the 2009 Coriol White (49% Roussanne, 27% Viognier, 15% Grenache Blanc, 9% Marsanne). More impressive, however, was his 2008 Sonoma Valley Red, a proprietary mélange of Zinfandel, Mourvèdre, and Syrah, as well as the cleverly-named Anaba Red Aero Port, a non-vintage bottling of Syrah picked at 30° Brix

I wrapped up the tasting with Richard Kasmier’s Kaz Winery, first sampling his 2007 Barbera and 2007 Sangiovese (atypically blended with 25% Cabernet Franc), before moving onto his Bodega Bay Portworks lineup. The excellent “almost Tawny” Red Port boasted a scant 3% residual sugar, while the sweeter White Port, a fortified Chardonnay with 9% sugar, had me humming the 4 Deuces doo-wop classic, WPLJ (though many may understandably prefer the Frank Zappa/Lowell George version popularized on Burnt Weeny Sandwich).

Speaking of songs, I actually had someone singing Sostevinobile at the tasting! I’m still polishing the libretto for Il Canto di Sostevinobile (sung to the famous tune from Rigoletto), but am always happy to explain the mnemonic significance to anyone. Several times this year, people at the various tastings I attend have come up to me and commended the thoroughness of the notes they observe me taking on each winery that I visit. Here, a fellow I remember only as Ivan queried why I was so immersed in this exacting exercise.
After explicating the whats and whys of my wine bar project, I took a final lap around Vinolivo’s tables to seek out and thank my hosts, while Ivan headed out to attend the afterparty across the parking lot. Finito, I heard the unmistakable strains of the Sostevinobile aria reverberating in Ivan’s sonorous baritone as I entered the vestibule leading to the coat check. Quite the validating sendoff to a most enjoyable event, to be sure!

Try to dismember a guy in September

T.S. Eliot was wrong—how could anyone who is as morosely fatalistic before the age of 35, as the pre-redacted version of The Wasteland clearly illustrates, not be? Granted, September may not truly be the cruelest month—Your West Coast Oenophile is a proud September baby—but, in its role as California Wine Month, it has certainly proved the most overwhelming for Sostevinobile.

Nine major events to attend and cover, in the space of little over three weeks, with several others I was forced to bypass because of time overlaps—suffice it to say I felt tugged in about a hundred different directions. This coming on the heels of Family Winemakers, with the 76 wineries I tasted there. I’m beginning to feel like a walking field blend! I’ve already written extensively on the Taste of Sonoma, and am obliged to thorough coverage of The Ultimate Sierra Foothills Wine Tasting Experience, the 11th Annual Mt. Veeder Appellation Tasting, and the Coombsville Première Tasting. Now, however, let me try to synopsize the other five events and some private explorations:

Rock Wall Does Rockpile

The day after my Disco Milestone Birthday, my friend Randy Caparoso sponsored a side-by-side tasting of the various winemakers and growers from the Rockpile AVA. This viticultural area is highly unusual, in that it owes its prominence to the recent man-made phenomenon of Lake Sonoma, which formed following the damming of Dry Creek in 1983. Unintentionally, this artificial reservoir provided a new climate modulator for the soil-poor ridge tops that were not submerged after the dam’s completion, making possible the highly-stressed Zinfandel vines for which this rugged region is famed.

Others had farmed here before or made wine from Rockpile Vineyards, but the AVA truly came into its own when Wine Spectator named the 2003 Rosenblum Rockpile Road Zinfandel its #3 wine for 2005. Fittingly, Randy’s Rockpile seminar took place at Alameda’s Rock Wall, Kent Rosenblum’s current wine venture that Sostevinobile has cited on numerous occasions. Along with the “home team,” seven other wineries poured for this trade-only event, making the afternoon quite leisurely, with unfettered access to all the winemakers on hand.

Rock Wall poured familiar selections of its wines, including the 2008 Chardonnay Russian River and a barrel sample of its 2009 Rockpile Zinfandel, chivalrously allowing its guest wineries to take the spotlight. Along with its 2007 Señal, a Zinfandel smoothed with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Petite Sirah it had poured at Family Winemakers, Branham Estate showcased both a 2007 Rockpile Petite Sirah and 2005 Rockpile Zinfandel.

Stryker Sonoma is a Geyserville operation making a number of wines from Rockpile Vineyards. Exceptional wines, as their black ink 2006 Petit Verdot Rockpile Vineyard and new 2007 Cabernet Franc Rockpile Vineyard attested, along with an amiable 2005 Zinfandel. My friends from Seghesio poured an interesting bi-annual vertical of their Rockpile Zins, starting with their exceptional 2005 Rockpile Zinfandel. While the 2007 Rockpile Zinfandel tasted a tad less complex, the barrel sample of the 2009 vintage portended great promise

Rockpile suits a range of bold, red varietals, including the family of Bordeaux grapes. Paradise Ridge fully exploits this terrain with its 2007 Rockpile Merlot. Like Seghesio, it offered a vertical of its Rockpile Cabs, starting with the 2005 Elevation Cabernet Sauvignon Rockpile. Again, this wine did not seem as striking in 2006, but the 2007 Eleva
tion Cabernet Sauvignon Rockpile
was extraordinary
.

Rosenblum’s former winemaker, Jeff Cohn, proved ever the contrarian by pouring four Syrahs with nary a Zin—quite the Rockpile anomaly—from his own JC Cellars. Jeff actually sources Syrah from two different vineyards and pour two different vintages from each. I found the 2008 Buffalo Hill Syrah incrementally preferable its 2007 version, while the equally excellent 2007 Haley Syrah and the 2008 Haley Syrah contrasted only in style, the latter displaying  far more minerality than its predecessor.

As good as these Syrahs were, they were overshadowed by the absolutely astounding 2007 Madrone Spring Syrah that Mauritson Wines poured. Mauritson forebear S. P. Hallengren essentially founded Rockpile, first planting vines there in 1884. With seven separate vineyards in the AVA, the breadth of wines they bottle under their affiliated Rockpile label is remarkable, ranging from the 2008 Rockpile Ridge Zinfandel and the terminally-named 2008 Cemetery Zinfandel to the 2007 Madrone Spring Petite Sirah and the 2007 Buck Pasture Malbec. I also sampled their 2007 Buck Pasture Red, a Meritage with 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petit Verdot, 10% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc, and can only wish they had poured their alluring 2007 Independence Red, an exotic blend of 23% Tinta Cão, 23% Touriga Nacional, 23% Souzão, 23% Tinta Madeira, and 8% Tannat.

As I alluded in my last entry, I had kind of taken Mauritson for granted after my initial exposure to their wines a while back and not really explored them in depth. This afternoon, however, they absolutely opened up my eyes (as they did for many of the other attendees) to how extraordinary so many of their wine are during the centerpiece of the afternoon: the Rockpile tasting seminar. Not that I mean to detract anything from Seghesio or Paradise Ridge or Carol Shelton, who also poured comparative selections of their Rockpile Zinfandels from the 2000s, all of whom had several highly impressive bottlings throughout this past decade.

Shelton and Mauritson each poured one of their 2001 and 2002 bottlings, starting with Carol’s 2001 Zinfandel Rocky Reserve and Mauritson’s 2001 Rockpile Ridge Zinfandel—a bit peaked, in both incidences. the 2002 Rocky Ridge, however, proved a wine whose flavors exploded on the tongue, a truly amazing wine. We leaped ahead to 2005 with Seghesio’s 2005 Rockpile Zinfandel and the 2005 The Convict Zinfandel Rocky Ridge Vineyard from Paradise Ridge joining the mix. Both of these wines struck me as amiable, as did the 2007 Shelton, but the 2005 Rocky Ridge Zinfandel Mauritson poured warranted one of my very rare !

2007 is widely considered a benchmark year for Rockpile Zins, and both Seghesio and Carol Shelton more than lived up to expectation. I felt a bit indifferent about Paradise Ridge’s selection from this vintage and, ironically, Mauritson’s bottling, while superb, seemed a bit diminished compared to the 2005. The last comparison, the barrel samples from 2009, came around full circle. Paradise Ridge showed strong, Seghesio and Shelton hinted at extraordinary things to open up with a few years’ aging, and, again, the Mauritson garnered a (pre-bottling!) .

Another of my coveted red & black accolades belongs to a wine Carol Shelton poured at the main tasting, the 2003 Zinfandel Rocky Reserve. The 2000 vintage of the same showed remarkably for a 10-year-old Zin, while both the 2004 and 2006 remained impressive. I also found the much to like in her 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Rockpile Reserve and in the dense richness of her 2006 Petite Sirah Rockpile Reserve.

Some of the attendees at this intimate gathering wondered why know one had tried growing a white varietal in Rockpile, though the consensus seemed that rugged character of the soil might not suit itself to the majority of these grapes. In jest, I suggested they could always make a White Zinfandel. My hasty retreat to the door and my next appointment at the Green Chamber of Commerce came not a moment too soon!


No acronyms, please! SLH—the Santa Lucia Highlands.
Given my proclivity with ABM software (anything but Microsoft), along with my numerous stints writing for and marketing hi-tech and Internet enterprises, many people think of me as a techie. Hardly, even though I did submit a GUI icon for COBOL for patent and often find myself an easy mark for free Macintosh tech support among my close circles. On the other hand, my disdain for the prefab milieu of Silicon Valley (aka LegoLand) has been well documented in these entries, and, despite my overt allegiance, I will readily identify Cupertino as the home of Ridge over Apple.

Technological advances can offer wonderful advantages. Back in the days of typewriters and IBM Selectrics, I could never compose at the keyboard and always had to transcribe my manuscripts from hand-written pages; with the advent of personal computers and Quark Xpress (whose word processing functions are infinitely more elegant than MS-Word), I script seamlessly on the screen and edit as I type. It’s only when operating a technology becomes an end in itself, rather facilitating a purpose or achievement (i.e., Facebook) that I find myself contending with its value. Or simply when it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.

GPS stands for Global Positioning Satellite; like millions of other people, I have come to rely on this technology to pinpoint any place on the globe with utmost precision. Sometimes, however, I think it must stand for General Proximity (Sort of). The Wine Artisans of the Santa Lucia Highlands held their Summer Trade Tasting at Cin-Cin Wine Bar the following Monday. Even with plugging in their precise street address, differing mapping services put their location at point more than nine miles away from downtown Los Gatos, near the Palm Haven area of San Jose! 

A number of attendees and even some of the winery representatives failed to note this discrepancy, only to find themselves hopeless crisscrossing the Valley and arriving more than an hour late; I had enough of a sense of the general boundaries of Los Gatos to double-check and point my iPhone toward the correct listing. But even this setting could not properly identify the little side alleys and walkways that subdivided this little shopping district, causing me to squander a good 20 minutes or so crisscrossing a four block area in search of a storefront. By the time I located the bar, I was ready to drink, or should I say, sip.

No matter, once I had signed in and collected my glass, my frustration bubbled away. Most of the wineries on hand today had poured either at the Santa Lucia Highlands tasting in San Francisco back in March or at this summer’s 18th Annual Winemakers Celebration in Monterey (or both), so I naturally gravitated to newcomer Caraccioli Cellars, a tantalizing startup working out of Gonzales. Atypically, my first tasting of the afternoon was their superbly dry 2006 Brut, a méthode champenoise rendering of their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay lots. Their second cuvée, a sparkling 2006 Brut Rosé, faintly painted a pink pour in the subdued interior lighting and hinted at a touch more sweetness than a Brut typically imparts. I was struck by the acidity of their food-friendly 2007 Chardonnay, while the 2007 Pinot Noir had already attained a distinct softness to it.

This event launched the first-ever bottling for tiny KORi Wines, with a their 2007 Pinot Noir KW Ranch, an auspicious debut for this Gonzales boutique head up by the effervescent Kori Violini, who wisely eschewed any musical depictions on her label. Other wineries that chose to represent themselves with but a single Pinot were Charles Hendricks’ Hope & Grace, a Yountville-based operation pouring their Santa Lucia Highlands bottling, the 2008 Pinot Noir Doctors’ Vineyard, Scenic Routes of Marin’s Pey-Lucia Vineyards, with a 2008 Pinot Noir Frisquet, and Healdsburg’s Sequana, with their 2008 Pinot Noir Sarmento Vineyard, their Santa Lucia Highlands single-vineyard Pinot.

Tondrē Wines was scheduled to pour their 2007 Pinot Noir Tondrē Grapefield, but failed, once again, to appear. The 2007 Pinot Noir Tondrē Grapefield from Bernardus, however, proved an exceptional wine, almost the equal of their 2007 Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard. Meanwhile, their 2007 Chardonnay Rosella’s Vineyard distinguished itself in comparison to the 2007 Chardonnay Paraiso Vineyard. The ubiquitous Ed Kurtzman’s August West produced a trio of impressive wines from this same grapefield, the 2008 Chardonnay Rosella’s Vineyard, 2008 Syrah Rosella’s Vineyard, and their 2008 Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard, as well as a distinctive 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands.

The Santa Lucia Highlands AVA has taken on quite the Burgundian aura since its inception, and, befittingly, nearly half the remaining wineries this afternoon showcased only their Chardonnay and Pinot (I realize each may also produce other varietals from outside the growing area). Having highlighted these efforts earlier this year, let me simply cite the standouts: the 2008 Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard from Martin Alfaro; Talbott’s extraordinary 2007 Chardonnay Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, as well as their 2008 Pinot Noir Kali Hart; Morgan’s 2008 Pinot Noir Double L Vineyard; the double charms the 2008 Pinot Noir Sleepy Hollow Vineyard and the 2008 Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard from Testarossa; Mariposa Wine’s Crū label, with its 2008 Pinot Noir S.L.H; the delightful 2007 Pinot Noir Four Boys’s Vineyard that Pessagno poured alongside its 2008 Chardonnay Lucia Highlands Vineyard; and a striking contrast between the 2008 Mer Soleil Chardonnay and its twin 2008 Mer Soleil Chardonnay Silver, the same wine aged in cement tanks, that Belle Glos showcased.

Pockets of contrast did appear this afternoon. Tudor Wines made a strong showing with its 2006 Pinot Noir Sarmento Vineyard, distinguished itself with a pair of contrasting Rieslings, the 2007 Radog Riesling Santa Lucia Highlands. and the drier, more approachable 2007 Radog Riesling Evie’s Blend. beyond its familiar lineup, Hahn Family Wines poured a rather likable 2008 Hahn Pinot Gris, while Ray Franscioni’s Puma Road showcased its 2007 Pinot Gris Black Mountain Vineyard, the same source of its 2007 Chardonnay.

A rosé by any other name is still a rosé; nonetheless, the 2008 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir McIntyre poured was a welcome refresher on this warm afternoon. My friends from Pelerin impressed with their 2009 Les Tournesols Paraiso Vineyard, a Roussanne/Viognier blend, to complement their 2007 Les Violettes Paraiso Vineyard, a Syrah.

Paraiso produced its own label, under which they bottled their 2008 Estate Pinot Noir and a truly delectable 2007 Pinot Noir West Terrace; their own 2005 Syrah Wedding Hill showed their impressive versatility, as well. Similarly, I found the 2007 Estate Syrah Manzoni produced equal to, if not superior, to their efforts with Chardonnay and Pinot.

I have made no pretense about my fondness for Wrath, and this afternoon only amplified my appreciation with the exceptional 2007 Syrah Doctors’ Vineyard (if only they had not run out of the 2007 Syrah 877/Noir before I approached their table)! Similarly, I have been effusive in my praise for Carmel Valley’s Boekenoogen, and was delighted to sample the 2008 Syrah Santa Lucia Highlands left behind at their station when they packed up early and left.

Obviously, I would have also like to try Boekenoogen’s 2008 Estate Chardonnay and the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir, as well, had they finished the event. From a professional standpoint, I find it highly disconcerting when wineries depart prematurely (this occurs with predictable regularity at almost every tasting)
—it seems little to ask if someone makes a three hour commitment for them to avail themselves for the full three hours and enable as many attendees as possible to sample and evaluate their wines. It’s quite an overwhelming feat to try covering everyone who pours at these tastings—and remember, folks like me are there principally to support and promote you.


Adventures in West Coast Wines
Eight things I know about Daly City:

1) Its formal name, The City of Daly City, seems woefully redundant

2) The revolution that overthrew the Marcos regime in the Philippines was largely financed in Daly City

3) Malvina Reynolds’ song Little Boxes was written about Daly City

4) Malvina Reynolds’ song Little Boxes will probably be the only song ever  written about Daly City

5) John Charles Wester, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Salt Lake City, came from Daly City. So what?

6) Daly City calls itself “The Gateway to the Peninsula.” So what?

7) No one describes San Francisco as being “just outside Daly City”

8) Steven Matthew David’s Matthew’s Top of the Hill Daly City no longer sits atop the hill in Daly City

To put matters a different way, trekking across San Francisco’s southwest boundary hasn’t been a high priority of late, other than detouring to shop at 99 Ranch on the way home from Santa Cruz or Monterey, so I was immensely pleased to accept Robert Morrison’s invitation to attend his Adventures in Wine Trade Tasting at Fort Mason. While this Daly City distributor and wine storage facility focuses heavily on imports from France, as well as Southern Hemisphere and other European producers, they carry a strong inventory of wines from California, Washington and Oregon, as well.

Although I had committed to attend the Wine Institute’s Unexpected Grapes from Unexpected Places (unless, like Sostevinobile, you’ve been combing the state for unusual wines for the past two years), I managed to sandwich in a couple of hours to meet and sample from the 23 West Coast vintners represented at this trade-only event. It turned out to be well worth the digression.
It’s pronounced “Oregon.”

As with the Santa Lucia Highlands wineries, Oregon’s houses predominantly focused on Pinot Noir—at least, in what they were pouring on this afternoon. A paragon of phenomenon, the Willamette Valley’s Amalie Roberta name that sounds utterly Burgundian—proudly poured four interpretations of its forte: the 2006 Pinot Noir Dijon Clones, an impressive 2006 Pinot Noir Amalie’s Cuvée, and their standout, the 2006 Estate Pinot Noir, along with the augur of their soon-to-be released vintage, the 2007 Vintage Debut Pinot Noir. From Dundee Hills, Dusky Goose, which ought not be confused with Zazu’s Duskie Estes of Iron Chef fame, impressed with both their 2007 Pinot Noir Rambouillet Vineyard and the 2007 Pinot Noir Dundee Hills.
Soléna Estate made its opening statement with Oregon’s other signature Pinot, pouring an easily approached 2009 Pinot Gris. Interestingly, they also featured three diffrent Pinot from sequential vintages. While the 2008 Pinot Noir Grand Cuvée still demanded time to develop, the 2007 Pinot Noir Hyland Vineyard was eminently drinkable; in turn, the exquisite 2006 Pinot Noir Domaine Danielle Laurent, fittingly named for owners Laurent & Danielle Montalieu, was just reaching its peak.
I confess to feeling tepid about the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir Patricia Green Cellars poured but very much cottoned to their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. Oregon’s final representative of the afternoon, Et Fille daughter Jessica Mozeico complemented her three Pinots: the 2008 Pinot Noir Maresh Vineyard, the 2008 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, and her superb 2008 Pinot Noir Kalita Vineyard with and exceptionally dry 2008 Viognier.
Les grands vins de la Californie.

Adventures in Wine’s California selections included a number of familiar faces, like Mendocino’s organic specialists Yorkville Cellars. Though their claim to be the only producers of varietal Carménère in the state would be refuted later in the month, they did make a strong showing with their latest production of the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, their 2007 Merlot, and the 2007 Hi-Rollr Red, their second bottling of this Zinfandel-based proprietary blend that features Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and a touch of Petit Verdot.

Another longtime familiar venture that has managed to maintain the quality of its wine despite considerable internal upheaval over the past decade is Healdsburg’s Pezzi-King. The current release, the 2007 Old Vines Zinfandel, still displays the same flare that originally garnered so much press for this venture, while their 2009 Chardonnay seemed eminently drinkable. Their 2008 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon tasted far too early, but I had no qualms about the 2007 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel or their fine 2008 Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc.

Even though I have long received the newsletter from Bruce Patch’s Wine Guerrilla and sampled their wine on a number of occasions, I habitually think of them as a marketing tool, à la Wine Spies or Bottlenotes. No such mistake was possible this day, as worked my way through five titillating Zins, the standouts being the 2008 Zinfandel Adel’s Vineyard, the 2008 Zinfandel Russian River Valley, and, as might be expected, the utterly sensual 2008 Zinfandel Coffaro Vineyard.

No surprise in finding Carole Meredith pouring her Lagier Meredith; contrary to Robert Parker’s ratings, I preferred her 2006 Syrah to the 2007 Syrah he rated 94+ pts. I was surprised to find my old squash opponent Jack Jelenko, late of Villa Toscano, pouring for Jeff Runquist Wines. Jack poured their newest release, the 2008 1448 R, alongside its constituent components: the 2008 Zinfandel Z, the 2008 Syrah R, a tantalizing 2008 Barbera R, and a superb 2008 Petite Sirah R. 1448 stands for the winery’s elevation; I have no idea what these initials mean.

Not that Washington. This one!

Before tackling the vast selection of Washington wineries on hand, I stumbled across Relativity, a California négociant label whose slogan “You don’t have to be a genius to drink good wine” speaks volumes. While their websites boasts of a Napa Cabernet and research has uncovered a proprietary blend they call the 2007 Quantum Reserve, Adventures in Wine apparently only handles their 2007 Merlot Oak Knoll. Several of the Washington operations represented themselves with but a single wine, to decidedly mixed results. Another négociant, Randy Leitman, poured his 2007 Randall Harris Merlot, a wine that fell short of expectations. On the other hand, Robert Karl Cellars comported themselves quite capably with their 2007 Claret, as did Syncline, with their proprietary 2007 Subduction Red, a Rhône-style blend with Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Counoise, and Carignane.

With its aristocratic-sounding name and derivative French label, the 2008 Syrah Cuveé Marcel Dupont from Descendants Liégeois ought to have been an impressive wine, but disappointed. Its parent company, Hedges Family Estate, also proved rather unremarkable with their 2007 Red Mountain (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot) and their mass-produced blend, the 2008 CMS Red, although I did enjoy their 2009 CMS White, a Sauvignon Blanc. Another Hedges label with French pretensions, the House of Independent Producers, proved rather bourgeois with their 2008 Merlot La Bourgeoisie but did score quite nicely with the 2009 Chardonnay Dionysus.

In recent years, Washington has garnered considerable acclaim for its Cabernets and Bordeaux blends. This reputation proved itself with the two selections Cadence poured: the 2007 Ciel du Cheval, a Cabernet Sauvignon- & Cabernet Franc-dominated blend, with Merlot and Petit Verdot, and the 2008 Coda, a Pomérol-style blend of these four varietals from the same vineyard. Walla Walla’s Abeja ratcheted things up a notch with their spectacular 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2008 Merlot that was almost its equal. Their regular 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon wasn’t quite in this league, but the 2009 Chardonnay proved every bit as extraordinary.

If only Washington’s premier Cabernet producer had brought a couple of their much-heralded bottlings! Leonetti Cellars did, however, mitigate most of my disappointment with their profound 2008 Merlot and an unexpected surprise, the seductive 2007 Sangiovese. Another of Washington’s most acclaimed houses, DeLille Cellars, proved their mettle with the 2006 Doyenne Syrah and a decidedly unsweet 2008 Chaleur Estate Blanc, a 2:1 blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.

I would have appreciated Woodinville’s Efeste merely for the playful names with which it labels its wines, like its natural wine approach to Sauvignon Blanc, the 2008 Feral or the literal impression of it 2007 Jolie Bouche Syrah. Equally compelling was its 2009 Evergreen Riesling, a splendid medium-dry wine. A bit more pedantic in their labeling but still impressive were the six wines L’École No. 41 poured. The 2008 Recess Red nicely blended Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, while the 2007 Perigee offered a more orthodox mélange of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. As enjoyable were the 2007 Merlot Columbia Valley and the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla, but my decided preference was for both the 2007 Cabernet Columbia Valley and the exquisite 2008 Sémillon Columbia Valley.

I might have stayed longer to sample a number of the French, Italian and Spanish wines being poured—comparative tastings like this helps Sostevinobile put its own palate in perspective,—but my other obligations demanded that I pedal halfway across town and join the crowd inside the tent at Hotel Vitale. I thanked my host for his hospitality and for sparing me from an arduous commute to his warehouse, but my day was far from over.


Wines of the Mojave Desert


Maybe I shouldn’t be so facetious. Perhaps one day we will transcend the known bounds of viticulture and establish a Mojave AVA, encompassing a vast swath of tilled acreage that stretches from Palmdale to the California/Nevada border, dotted with colorful names like Château Barstow and Devil’s Playground & Cellars, producing Xeric Red from the most water-stressed Zinfandel vines ever to be planted. After all, Michael Mondavi did envision growing grapes and building wineries on Mars in Mondovino. Indeed, this breakthrough could be his vindication.

Meanwhile, pretty much every other part of California is encompassed by an AVA. To demonstrate the incredible panoply of œnology throughout the State, the Wine Institute orchestrated Unexpected Grapes from Unexpected Places, an expo of wine from 15 of California’s major wine growing regions. More than 100 different wines were featured in an open-air tent erected in front of Americano, the wildly popular bar and restaurant that anchors Hotel Vitale along San Francisco’s Embarcadero.

For Sostevinobile, the event offered a chance not so much to sample hitherto unknown wines as it was to solidify relations with the all-important regional trade associations and cooperatives. Plus, as a bonus, pre-registered trade participants were treated to an intimate presentation of Evan Goldstein’s acclaimed Daring Pairings seminar, an insightful demo of how wine focuses and amplifies the flavors of meticulously-matched food preparations.

First things first, however. Though it was hardly possible to sample every wine being poured, let me offer my findings, region by region, with no particular order of priority.

Wines labeled North Coast can contain grapes from any of the four counties comprise this mega-region. Often lost in the shuffle behind Mendocino, Sonoma, and Napa, Lake County has steadily expanded as a premium winegrowing locale over the past decade. The table this afternoon featured but two of the more prominent local producers. I opted for the full complement of wines from Italian varietal specialist Rosa d’Oro while renewing my acquaintance with Pietro Buttitta. Little doubt I would enjoy his 2006 Aglianico and a very robust 2007 Dolcetto, while the NV Nebbiolo proved a pleasant surprise. The true revelation, however, was the 2007 Primitivo, which I even commended to new Wine Institute President Tom Klein—an amazing demonstration of how this varietal distinguishes itself from Zinfandel. Having enjoyed their wines on numerous other occasions, I bypassed the offerings from Lake County’s other representative, Six Sigma, a winery I will richly embrace if they ever change their name! (Note to owner Kaj Ahlmann: people enter the wine business in order to flee corporate culture, not embrace it.)

The Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant isn’t the only thing fired up in this dynamic wine region. Their table provided me my first exposure to Salisbury Vineyards, who, in turn, introduced me to their 2007 Syrah Noir, a varietal that had previously eluded me. Niven Family brought their entire line of labels, but I focused only on their new Zocker, with its compelling 2009 Grüner Veltliner. I also managed a taste of Claiborne & Churchill’s aptly-named 2007 Dry Gewürztraminer, a frequent favorite.

Home to more than 240 wineries, the Paso Robles AVA is California’s largest, and, in many ways, most intriguing. Not bound by arcane traditions, wineries here fully exploit its status as the new frontier for winemaking in the 21st Century. I dabbled in a few of the many familiar labels here this afternoon, starting with an earthy 2007 Tempranillo from San Miguel’s Silver Horse. Ortman Family vastly impressed me with their 2007 Petite Sirah, while Justin seems to impress everyone these days with its proprietary Cabernet Sauvignon, the much-lauded 2007 Isosceles. I didn’t tasted the 2009 Barfandel, a blend of Zinfandel and Barbera from Lone Madrone, though I have but two words to describe the name: Olive Garden.

The French equivalent for the Portuguese amador is amateur, but as far as winemaking goes, it’s entirely a misnomer. One of three regions that comprise the overall Sierra Foothills designation, Amador has proven fertile ground for Italian, Iberian, and Rhône varietals. Having made plans to attend the more comprehensive regional tasting the following Sunday, I limited myself here to Karly’s 2009 Rolle, a refined Vermetino, and
the 2008 Normale Sangiovese from Vino Noceto.

Monterey may be the seat of the Central Coast region, but it offers far more than the ubiquitous Coastal Cellars that have diluted the brand of so many premium wineries. Ironically, I bypassed such stalwarts as the 2007 Grenache from Marilyn Remark or the 2006 Claret Reserve Scheid was pouring; perhaps, I was simply in a white mood. In any case, I was happy to taste a staple of the AVA: the 2009 Bay Mist Monterey White Riesling from J. Lohr and the 2008 Loredona Riesling from Delicato.

In between the majesty of the Pacific Ocean and the monotony of Silicon Valley stands the alpine buffer of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Encompassing a cross-section of three counties, it lays claim to some of the most innovative wineries in California, like Ridge, David Bruce and Bonny Doon. Today’s table presented several of the lesser-known from this appellation, all of whom I have covered extensively over the past two years. I confess that my sip of the NV Brut from Equinox only made me long for their superb sparkling endeavor, the 1997 Blanc de Blanc Cuvée de Chardonnay. And while I tend to concentrate on their Iberian-focused Quinta Cruz label, Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard captured my attention with their 2006 Durif McDowell Valley (aka Petite Sirah).

Miles Raymond, take heed! Santa Barbara means far more than Pinot Noir—and by that, I do not mean Ronald Reagan’s Santa Barbara Ranch, Michael Jackson’s pederastic playground, or even the unsightly offshore oil rigs near La Conchita. Of course, there was a delicious irony this afternoon that Miles’ iconic Hitching Post chose to serve their 2007 Merlot, but the true diversity of this AVA presented itself in a trio of wineries on hand. I have long wanted to sample the wines of Rancho Sisquoc, and was richly rewarded with my first taste of their 2009 Sylvaner Flood Family Vineyards, a wine that easily lived up to its advance billing. Similarly, my long-awaited introduction to Mosby rewarded me with their superb 2006 Sagrantino. It had been several years since I first met Crystal Clifton at A16, so I had no compunction about sampling the full array of Italian varietals her Palmina had transported here. As with the handful of other wineries producing this Trentinese varietal, her 2008 Lagrein defied stereotyping, but the 2009 Dolcetto was near stratospheric. I greatly enjoyed both the 2008 Barbera and the 2006 Nebbiolo, but found myself most intrigued by her pair of white wines, the 2009 Arneis and the sumptuous 2009 Tocai Friulano. All in all, this region packs more of a wallop than an irate Sandra Oh.

The second part of the Sierra Foothills triumvirate, Calaveras also displays a wide range of varietals, with particular strength in the Spanish & Portuguese grapes, as well as with Zinfandel. With plans to attend their upcoming tastings, I merely made a courtesy stop to try the surprisingly good 2007 Garsa Tempranillo from Solomon Wine Company and a refreshing 2009 Muscat Blanc from Newsome-Harlow.

They used to be known merely for their Tokay. And a 1969 song by El Cerrito’s Creedence Clearwater Revival. Much like Paso Robles, this former backwater of the wine industry has evolved over the past two decades into a significant AVA, with a number of innovative wineries and a genuine commitment to sustainable practices. As the appellation continues to evolve and establish its identity, a wide array of varietals are moving to the forefront. Once again, I managed to sample just a small selection from the array of wines being poured here, knowing I would be attending a more focused tasting in a couple of weeks. Still, I was pleased to revisit with Harney Lane and indulge in their 2009 Albariño before moving on to indulge in the 2008 Great Friends Barbera Grands Amis poured, along with the rare opportunity to taste the 2006 Teroldego Reserve from Peltier Station.

San Luis Obispo may have its own nuclear reactor; Livermore has its prestigious atomic research lab (I’m told “engineered in Livermore commands” a considerable premium on the nuclear black market). With a winegrowing tradition that dates to the 1760s, this AVA lays claim to the first labeling of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Petite Sirah as varietal bottling in California. Though dominated by large-scale, historic wineries like Wente and Concannon, it has given rise to numerous boutique producers over the past two decades, like Picazo Vineyards, with their handcrafted 2006 Estate Merlot and the cerebral Occasio, which poured its 2008 Pinot Gris Del Arroyo Vineyard.

Juxtaposed between Fresno County and the Merced-Mariposa axis, Madera quite literally occupies the center of California. The county is best known for Mammoth Mountain and Yosemite, bears the ignominy of the Chowchilla kidnappings, and is home to a pocket of rugged, hi-tech developers in Coarsegold. While its reputation for wine has squarely rested on its dessert-style wines, like the NV Old Vine Tinta Port from Ficklin or Quady’s ever-amazing 2009 Electra, an intense Orange Muscat, the region is starting to blossom in a fashion similar to the Sierra Foothills, as the amiable NV Reserve Dolcetto from Birdstone Winery exemplifies.

Completing the Sierra Foothills triangle, El Dorado has long held a particular affinity for Zinfandel, as well as for Rhône varietals. In recent years, however, a number of these wineries have shifted toward more standard grapes, as the 2009 Reserve Chardonnay that longtime Rhône Ranger Lava Cap poured here. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed 2007 Patriarche from Holly’s Hill, a deft blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Counoise, and resolved to explore more of this AVA’s wines the following Sunday. 

It’s tempting, of course, to compare Mendocino with the Sierra Foothills and describe their appellation as “elevated,” in a manner of speaking. A prime location for Pinot Noir and Gewürztraminer, the county also lays claim to California’s finest production of sparkling wines, alambic brandies, grappa, and other grape distillates. Mendocino boasts of being “America’s Greenest Wine Region,” a claim that is bolstered by the presence of Parducci, Navarro, Fetzer and its many offshoots, and innumerable other practitioners. This afternoon, however, I was drawn to a pair of Syrahs, the 2006 Broken Leg Syrah from Drew Family and an incredible 2006 Syrah Yorkville Highlands that Meyer Family produced.

Both these regions need no introduction. Though strongly represented on this afternoon, each has already received extensive coverage in this blog. While noting the strong presence of wineries from both counties, I bypassed their stations in favor of the food pairing seminar.

The Food & Wine Tasting

Evan Goldstein, the youngest American ever to complete the Master Sommelier certification, conducted a special seminar based on his current book, Daring Pairings, a copy of which was generously given each of the attendees. After an introductory glass of Handley Cellars2006 Brut Rosé Anderson Valley, we paired a pair of wines each to three exceptional entrées prepared by the kitchen at American. The first round matched a Halibut Crudo with a traditional complement, the 2009 Fumé Blanc from Sonoma’s Château St. Jean and a less orthodox Roussanne/Grenache Blanc blend, the 2009 Camp 4 Vineyard Blanc from Santa Barbara’s Tensley. I found myself favoring the more traditional match-up.

We followed with the Liberty Duck Involtini, a thin, carpaccio-style slice of cured meat wrapped around a fig filling. While the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir from Rodney Strong paired admirably with this hors d’œuvre, I felt it illuminated the 2008 Grenache from Paso Robles’ Denner Vineyards.

The final course, a Short Rib Bruschetta with Tomato Conserva, seemed a bit perfunctory in its two pairings. Of course, I had had many occasions to sample the 2006 Reserve Petite Sirah from Concannon, but the revelatory aspect of the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Robert Mondavi was that Constellation had managed to maintain its excellence.

Having attended a truncated version of this seminar at The Mechanics Institute earlier this summer, I confess I had approached the event with guarded skepticism. This previous presentation had featured only imported wines (plus New Mexico’s Gruet), which led me to suspect that Goldstein might be one of those sommeliers that take pains to eschew California wines, unless, like this afternoon, compelled to serve them. “Hardly,” Evan assured me. “The last time, I had simply grabbed whatever I had lying around.”


Vive la France?

The last event I must cover for this seemingly interminable installation was the Pre-Auction Tasting Wine Gavel conducted The San Francisco Wine Center. Another Judgment of Paris this may not have been, but here was a chance to stack my California predilection against some of the more acclaimed wines France has produced. I swear I tried to be objective.

Starting with the whites, I worked my way through comparative sips of the 1997 Verget Puligny-Montrachet Les Enseignères 1er Cru and the newer 2001 Boyer-Martenot Puligny-Montrachet Les Caillerets 1er Cru. the former, frankly bordered on being undrinkable; the latter, while faring better, hardly seemed a wine I would make efforts to seek out. In contrast, the 2004 La Carrière from Calistoga’s Peter Michael Winery proved an extraordinary wine from this exceptional producer of vineyard designate Chardonnays (and easily worth its $90 price tag).

My familiarity with much of French wine is admittedly limited; I had never heard of the 1964 Leroy Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru prior to this event and, again, found myself duly unimpressed. Nor am I versed in what years constituted great vintages. I approached both the 1967 Chateau Cheval Blanc Saint-Émilion 1er Cru and the 1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild Pauillac with near-giddy expectation, only to be underwhelmed. Were these notably poor vintages? Had the bottles been stored inappropriately? How was I to tell?

My reaction to the 1969 Cabernet Sauvignon from Charles Krug was admittedly tepid, but I was pleased to try what may well have been my first taste of a pre-1970s California wine outside of the Gallo-Paul Masson-Almaden jug oligarchy. Nor did the 1980 Cabernet Sauvignon from Chappellet seem to have stood the test of time. Purely by accident, however, our hosts had included two bot
tles of 1970 Cabernet Sauvignon from Robert Mondavi. I noticed one had been stamped Unfined, the other Unfiltered, in what later was described to me as simply casual experimentation during that era. The two wines contrasted starkly, and while the Unfined vintage certainly offered considerable merit, the Unfiltered shone through as an exceptional wine.

Far and away, the best wine of the evening proved to be the 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon from Caymus. Second only to 1997 as one of the spectacular vintages from the last decade, this wine stood at the peak of perfection and begged to be tasted two, three, four times (with a nary a drop to be spit!). As I prepared to leave, our hosts brought out a bottle of 2004 Gaja Ca’Marcanda Promis, a Sangiovese blended with Merlot and Syrah. If Sostevinobile poured imports, this wine could easily find its way to our roster, but for now I have to settle for the guilty pleasure of a Gaja Castello Di Barbaresco NV Grappa the next time I dine out.

Son of Flubber

It’s probably a safe bet that anyone who can remember where they were when President Kennedy was shot also remembers Fred MacMurray. Many, if not most, will think of him as Steve Douglas, the widowed father in My Three Sons. Others, of course, will remember him as Ned Brainard from the Absent-Minded Professor films. In wine circles, however, MacMurray is best known for his eponymous Healdsburg ranch which Gallo developed into the seat of their Sonoma operations.

Now, I am fully aware that Gallo of Sonoma and its array of labels like Frei Brothers and Rancho Zabaco has evolved itself into a far cry from the Central Valley behemoth I’ve unflinchingly critiqued in several of these entries; still, I can never quite wrap myself around an embrace of their wines, much in the same way I can never get past the notion of Jennifer Aniston, however attractive I may find her, knotting tongues with David Schwimmer.

Your West Coast Oenophile is nothing, however, if not a gracious guest, and I can state without even a hint of hesitation that the Taste of Sonoma that MacMurray Ranch hosted amid the 2010 Sonoma Wine Country Weekend this past Labor Day was likely the best executed large-scale wine tasting I have attended in the many months I have been authoring this blog for Sostevinobile. Even with a record-breaking 2,500 attendees on hand, this outdoor extravaganza, which included tastings, food pairings, cooking demonstrations, a Sonoma County marketplace, and numerous wine talks, maintained a smooth flow and intimacy rare for events even ¹⁄₁₀ this size. Bathed in sunshine and basking in the glow of conviviality, this affair could not have been more splendid.

Oftentimes, tastings of this scope (roughly 150-160 wineries) inundate and overwhelm. Here, four distinct regions of the Sonoma appellation were clustered in separate tents, making navigation to the tables on my must-visit list more than manageable. Moreover, with outdoor tables, a village-feel to the buildings housing the various lectures, corralled areas, and, importantly, non-wine activities, the tasting genuinely accommodated a full family outing, much like the Sausalito Art Festival I had bypassed in order to attend here.

In keeping with the spirit of this event, I decided to visit each tent sequentially, rather than carve a deliberate path by wine hue or alphabetically. Whether this approach affected my tasting impressions, I can’t be sure, but it seemed appropriate to rise to the occasion and adapt to the planners’ configuration (not to mention that my tasting program is broken down by the same criteria).

Russian River ValleyFinding a Silver Lining

I had sampled many of the Russian River Valley wineries just a couple of weekends before, and again the trade organization had provided my passes, so starting here seemed the optimal choice. Given the heat of the afternoon, I deemed it best to start off with a chilled wine, something the 2009 Rosato Alegría Vineyards from Acorn Winery fit my needs precisely. This unique rosé, while predominantly Zinfandel, blends Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, and Sangiovese, with a dollop each of Trousseau, Négrette, and Mourvèdre. Later on, under the pretext of needing another of their souvenir pens, I resampled the 2007 Sangiovese Alegría that I had enjoyed during Grape to Glass. At my next stop, Alysian Wines stood prototypic for the AVA, meaning a strong selection of both Chard and Pinot; I opted for the highly specific 2007 Chardonnay Taurin Block Cresta Ridge Vineyard and the equally impressive 2007 Pinot Noir West Block Floodgate Vineyard.

Ramey Wine Cellars also delighted with their 2008 Chardonnay Russian River Valley while flourishing with both the 2007 Syrah Sonoma Coast and the 2007 Syrah Rodger’s Creek Vineyard. Though rather generic in name, Russian River Vineyards proved noteworthy for their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Left Edge Selection, along with an embracing 2009 Rosé of Pinot Noir and its companion 2008 Pinot Noir Bella Vineyards.

I bypassed retasting the wines from Dutton-Goldfield, even though I promised my friend Valerie Wathen I would try to come back after I had finished off my checklist, but did score a silver medal with D’Argenzio, a winery I had hoped to explore when I was in Healdsburg. N’importe, they were here in force today, with strong selections from their red bottlings. Their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County and the 2006 Petite Sirah Russian River Valley showed particularly defined structure, while the curiously-named 2007 Levi Leipheimer’s King Ridge Gran Fondo underscored their fundamental agility with Pinot Noir.

Freestone seemed like a winery I ought to have encountered before, but both their 2007 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast and the 2007 Fogdog Pinot Noir were new to my palate. Likewise, I felt a bit surprised I had not tried Merriam Vineyards’ wines before, so both their 2006 Cabernet Franc Windacre Vineyard and 2005 Miktos, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with touches Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, proved welcome revelations.

I knew I would be visiting with Paradise Ridge in a few days at the Rockpile tasting, so I selectively tried out only some of their wines this day, including the 2008 Estate Chardonnay Nagasawa Vineyard, the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Grandview Vineyard, and the irresistible 2007 Elevation Cabernet Sauvignon. I confess that I could not keep my promise to come back and taste with the many familiar faces I encountered along the way, including Balletto, Joseph Swan, La Follette, Mueller, Matrix, and even host MacMurray Ranch, but I did manage to squeeze in Davis Bynum with their exceptional 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley before migrating to the next tent. 

The last time I remember tasting Davis Bynum was a rather popular jug label they produced, then known as Barefoot Bynum. The brand has changed hands a number of times since and is now known as Barefoot Cellars. I’ll let my readers guess who in Modesto owns it.

Alexander ValleyCabernet to die for

Let’s just say it’s not a smart thing to piss off the dictator of a foreign country where you had significant business holdings. I will judiciously decline to mention names, but back in the 1980s, a certain landmark operations in Alexander Valley felt more like an armed fortress than a winery, with electric gates, surveillance cameras, and barbed wire fencing surrounding the property. In the 21st century, these defenses are no longer necessary, as stewardship of the winery and the political regime have both changed and the contracted hit squads have returned home to Southeast Asia. 

Much has changed in Alexander Valley from when I first started combing the area back in 1982, before it was even certified as an AVA. Geyser Peak was Geyser Peak but then became annexed by Trione Vineyards, then was sold, only to be reacquired by the Trione family, then spun off and later merged into the nucleus of what has become Ascentia. Sonoma Vineyards produced both their own wines and Windsor Winery’s personalized wine labels under the tutelage of Rodney Strong and was almost acquired by Nestlé, but then collapsed and was foreclosed by Renfield Imports, who ran the autonomous operations for Piper Sonoma on the same property and subsequently built the Carneros Alambic Distillery to serve as parent company for Rémy-Martin’s California operations; Renfield renamed the winery and the brand Rodney Strong but then sold the Sonoma operations a few years later to its current proprietors, Klein Brothers International and spun off their cognac facility to what has now become Étude. Seghesio was then Seghesio and today remains Seghesio. Simi was then Simi and today remains Simi (although controlled by Constellation, which had also bought and sold Geyser Peak). Souverain was then Souverain and today remains Souverain, but is no longer at Souverain, which has become the Francisc Ford Coppola Winery.

Needless to say, my long-standing connections to the area led me to explore those labels which had yet to exist when I was facilitating Bacardi’s search for a California winery. Hanna Winery has the distinction, so I believe, of pioneering application of an asymmetrical wine label (if you’d ever worked a bottling line in the 1980s, you’d understand the challenge this posed); their 2006 Zinfandel Bismark Mountain that I sampled appealed on an even more striking gustatory level. On the other hand, I can’t recall having any prior knowledge of Farrier Wine or their particular claim to fame, but found myself duly impressed with this Jackson Family Wines venture’s 2007 Countenance and particularly their 2007 Presshouse, both Alexander Valley Bordeaux blends.

Alexander Valley’s reputation for Cabernet on par with Napa manifested in the various wines Ehret Family brought to this gathering, especially their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley and its follow-up, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Reserve. I also enjoyed the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley Vineyards, while the 2007 Alexander School Reserve Grenache proved exemplary.

From a marketing standpoint, the name Alexander Valley Vineyards strikes me as way too generic; I also might say the same for Vintners Signatures, though their 2007 El Roy Malbec was displayed substantial character.

I didn’t allot enough time to sample Jackson’s other Alexander Valley venture, Murphy-Goode or Gallo’s Frei Brothers, but I did stop by Wilson’s deLorimier Winery for a much-needed refreshing from their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Alexander Valley. And before I moved to the next tent, I absolutely had to try the 2009 Arneis Russian River Valley Seghesio poured.

Dry CreekDual Dynasties and then some

Dry Creek Valley is home to Gallo’s Sonoma operations, as well as Rancho Zabaco, their Zinfandel-focused operations (Gina Gallo also owns the wonderfully eclectic Dry Creek General Store). Dry Creek Valley is also base of operations for the burgeoning Wilson Winery conglomerate, with their eponymous Zinfandel superstar and nearby Mazzocco. With numerous other operations, like Frick, Pezzi King, and Thumbprint, which I had recently sampled, as well as others like Everett Ridge, Kokomo, Michel-Schlumberger, Rued, and Pedroncelli, with which Sostevinobole has long been familiar, I focused my attention on the handful of wineries here with which I had yet to connect.*

Not that I haven’t been long familiar with Davero Farms & Winery—for their Extra Virgin Olive Oil. After sampling their 2007 Estate Hawk Mountain Vineyard Sangiovese, I was especially pleased to explore the wonders of their 2008 Sagrantino Hawk Mountain Vineyard, a true rarity in California. And I certainly plan to remain familiar with Hauck Cellars, a surprising discovery with a 2008 Zinfandel Treborce Vineyard that holds its own with Dry Creek’s leading producers.

I don’t quite remember why I opted for the 2009 Gewürztraminer Dry Creek Valley from Mill Creek, but it turned out to be a fortuitous choice. Meanwhile, Forth Vineyards pleasantly surprised with their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon All Boys Vineyard, which sounded as if it might be an appeal to a niche market until Gerry and Jann explained how it was an homage to their four grandsons. And while I am usually disinclined toward pet-homage labels, I did enjoy the 2007 Petite Sirah Canis Major from Mutt Lynch.

Sonoma ValleyI’m loving it

Some things in life will always seem drastically incongruous, like appointing Courtney Love to head the DEA or naming a Boy Scout lodge for Michael Jackson. So, too, is the notion of fine wine having any connection to McDonald’s (I apologize in advance if Fred Franzia draws inspiration from this contention). I may personally bristle at the notion of Bark & Wine, though I realize some people find enormous appeal in such mawkish contrivances; still, seeing a snapshot of Ronald McDonald in the midst of the Sonoma Valley tent struck me as complete anathema.

The proprietor of GlenLyon Vineyards, the aristocratically-named Squire Fridell, parlayed the substantial rewards of his illustrious career as a commercial actor—serving nearly 30 years as the national spokesman for Toyota—into a winery estate in Glen Ellen. And indeed his 2008 Syrah GlenLyon Vineyards bespoke the same amiable demeanor with which he comported himself on these commercials. But he also followed in the oversized footsteps of buffoon weatherman Willard Scott and portrayed the aforementioned contemptible clown, purveying pablum and paltry pap to highly impressionable children across the country. Sostevinobile’s adviso: if you want to conjure up images of unpalatable food alongside arguably fine wine, please don’t resort to the nadir of the Big Mac. You can just as easily do that with haggis!

I recovered soon enough from this unspeakable trauma to take in the rest of the Sonoma Valley tent, which did not truly encompass a single appellation but all the other participating wineries which did not fall within the other defined AVAs. Hailing from Bennet Valley, the aptly-named Bennett Valley Cellars displayed considerable aptitude with Pinot, pouring a splendid 2008 Pinot Noir Bin 6410 Zanin Vineyard alongside a surprisingly mature 2009 Pinot Noir Simpatico Ranch. Also deftly handling the Burgundian red, Ashton Vineyards of Glen Ellen poured a striking 2006 Pinot Noir Sonoma Mountain alongside its just-peaking 2004 Syrah Sonoma Mountain.
Another Glen Ellen participant, Beltane Ranch, pulled no punches with its labeling as it poured its enticing 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Inaugural Vintage. A familiar site along Highway 12 in Carneros, Nicholson Ranch scored with both their 2007 Estate Chardonnay and the superb 2007 Estate Pinot Noir. On the other hand, Highway 12 Vineyards is not visible along Highway 12, as it occupies a tract along 8th Street East, but this offshoot of Sonoma’s prominent Sebastiani clan did provide an appealing 2008 Sangiovese La Plaza.
One of my guilty pleasures this afternoon was revisiting my friend Mike Muscardini’s 2008 Sangiovese Monte Rosso Vineyard, along with the 2007 Tesoro, his signature Super Tuscan that blends Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah with Sangiovese. Although his neighbor VJB Cellars specializes in Italian varietals, as well, they only poured their 2009 Gabrielle Ranch Chardonnay and a striking 2007 Dante, a Cabernet Sauvignon with 15% Sangiovese.
Hidden Ridge is a winery with plantings on the Sonoma side of the Mayacamas, boasting the steepest slope—55°!—of any vineyard in California; their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon 55 Slope warrants boasting, as well. Two Bennett Valley wineries, Grey Stack and Frostwatch, appeared to be just as clandestine (they were only included after the tasting guide printed), but comported themselves admirably, the former with their 2007 Syrah Marie’s Block, the latter with a likable 2007 Bennet Valley Merlot. And spanning several of the counties above San Francisco Bay, Spann Vineyards showed great versatility with their 2007 Chardonnay-Viognier, the 2007 Mo Zin (Zinfandel + Mourvèdre, with a bit of Petite Sirah and Syrah), and their excellent, 2007 Classic Four, a Bordeaux-style Meritage with no Cabernet Franc.
I can’t recall who now owns Viansa after its many gyrations over the past
couple of years, but their 2005 Thalia, the Muse of bucolic poetry,proved a most mellifluous
interpretation of Sangiovese. Their neighbor, Cline Cellars, relegates its Italian varietals to its sister operations, Jacuzzi Family Vineyards and chose to flourish with their 2008 Zinfandel Sonoma Valley instead. Vineburg’s Dane Cellars also showed an impressive 2007 Zinfandel Sonoma Valley, along with their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Jack Knife.
Despite its dominating presence this afternoon, Gallo did not have a representative label in the Sonoma Valley tent. Most of the other wine groups did, including Ascentia, with Buena Vista Carneros, Constellation’s Ravenswood and Blackstone (not to mention their acquisition of Sebastiani)Benziger, with both its eponymous label and Imagery, Foster’s own Château St. Jean, and Jackson Family Wines, with their now-subsumed Arrowood. Their other Sonoma Valley label, Matanzas Creek, still managed to impress me with their 2006 Merlot Bennett Valley, but I chose to allot the rest of my time with Syrahs from three hitherto unknown operations.
Eric K. James, a somewhat obscure operation within the Napa-Sonoma Vineyard Group, nevertheless made an enormous impression with its 2005 Syrah Fieldsa Vineyards. Hoffman Family Cellars similarly operates under a confounding guise, but drummed up support with their 2007 Headbanger Syrah, along with an exceptional 2007 Atmosphere Syrah Parmalee-Hill Vineyard. Finally, Mulas Family complemented their own 2005 Syrah Los Carneros with a welcome 2009 Pinot Gris Los Carneros.
Hard as it may seem, I probably neglected to cite half the wineries on hand this sunny afternoon, though I did manage to connect with every new (to Sostevinobile) winery I had targeted before arriving. But, apart from being unable to take in every single offering at the event, the 2010 Taste of Sonoma proved to be my and many other people’s top wine gathering of 2010. No matter what role he played—Ned Brainard, Steve Douglas, Walter Neff, at the end of the day, Fred MacMurray always seemed to come up right answer (apparently, in real life, he did as well, at one point becoming the highest-paid actor in Hollywood and the fourth highest salaried person in the entire United States). All-in-all, the equally impressive performance his ranch put on can only be fitting tribute to what he had accomplished in his lifetime. I look forward to returning in 2011.
*This strategy sometimes causes me to take certain places for granted, once I have incorporated them into the Sostevinobile data base. See my notes on Dry Creek’s Mauritson in my next entry.

Innumerable enumeration? Enumerable inumbration?

Once there was an elephant,
Who tried to use the telephant

No! No! I mean an elephone

Who tried to use the telephone

—Laura E. Richards

Try to do the math. 342 wineries ÷ (2 days x 5 hrs/day) = (34 wineries/hr. ÷ 60 min/hr.)− 1 = 1.7543 min/winery. With no bathroom breaks. Forget swill & spit—there’s not even enough time to bring the glass to your lips!

On the plus side, Your West Coast Oenophile is happy to report that Family Winemakers of California seems to have finally settled comfortably into its August slot. But even if they had brought back the Aidells Sausage station and pumped me up with protein, there was no way I could visit even half the wineries in attendance.

My must-see list for Sostevinobile ran to around 98 wineries, which meant just a shade over 6 minutes with every prospect (again, assuming indefatigable bladder control), provided I didn’t spend a moment with any of the folks I’d already befriended over the years. In other words, still a Herculean feat to accomplish. And so, as always, I strove to do the best that I could.

ZAP, Rhône Rangers, Pinot Days, T.A.P.A.S.—by now, I am sure I have exhausted every possible description of a large-scale wine tasting at Fort Mason’s Festival Pavilion. All I can add is an enumeration of the innumerable wineries in attendance that I succeeded in sampling. Or is it an inumbration of the enumerable?

Arriving from Healdsburg Sunday afternoon, I attempted to survey the room and plot my plan of attack. Halfway down the first row, however, a “Hello, Marc!” drew me over to Silkwood’s table owner/winemaker John Monnich, whose Petite Sirahs are a mainstay of P.S. I Love You, treated me to a sample of his NV Red Duet, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend primarily from his 2007 vintages. Over at the next table, Santa Barbara’s Silver Wines displayed a deft touch with blending, both with their 2005 Syrah-Mourvèdre Larner Vineyard and a unreleased, non-vintage I Tre Figli, a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and 5% Cabernet Franc.And belying the complexity of their wines, the π-adorned Simple Math Cellars derived a winning formula for their first Family Winemakers appearance, with their 2008 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mayacamas Mountains that portends to age logarithmically.

I only managed to taste their 2005 Barbera Napa Valley, but the eclectic Sunset Cellars still made quite a calculable impression. Similarly, Alexander Valley’s Stuhlmuller Vineyards featured a 2008 Zinfandel (with 23% Petite Sirah) that allowed me to extrapolate on the general quality of all their wines. I did, however, dawdle a bit longer at the Stonehedge table, sampling their sweeter wines, the 2008 Terroir Select Gewürztraminer and the 2009 Muscat Canelli, as well as the 2007 Terroir Select Malbec.

Brentwood’s Tamayo Family Vineyards offered a 2009 Malbec Ryland’s Block and a likable 2009 Viognier Bailey that preceded indulging in their Port-style 2008 J. Jaden Red Dessert Wine, a Syrah derivative named, as are all their Signature Series wines, for one of their algebraic subset of grandchildren. The urge to become fruitful and multiply has also struck Ackerman Family Vineyards, previously a single Cabernet venture, with the release of their 2007 Alavigna Tosca, a Super Tuscan blend of their Cabernet Sauvignon with 40% Sangiovese from Luna Vineyards. And while Ancient Peaks has never positioned itself as a one-wine venture, their own proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, the 2007 Oyster Ridge impressed, as always.

Blue Moon Wines now bills themselves as ADS Wines, though after perusing their website, I’m tempted to refer to them as ADD; nonetheless, their seeming lack of distinguishable focus did not prevent me from appreciating their NV Rare Red, a Valdiguié from the Napa Valley. I had similar trouble getting a handle on the permutations of Azari Winery/Corkscrew, but found their 2007 Corkscrew Syrah more approachable their sweetish 2009 Chardonnay. Fortunately, I was immediately able to recalibrate with the numeric scaling of B Cellars, a Napa label devoted to blends calibrated by the Brix of their grapes.The white 2009 Blend 23 combines Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier; the 2006 Blend 24 mixes Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Sangiovese. The linear progression to the 2006 Blend 25 brings a mélange of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, while the single varietal 2006 Blend 26 marries fruit from Napa’s To Kalon, Dr. Crane & Stagecoach vineyards—superior, I thought, to the undiluted 2006 Dr. Crane Cabernet Sauvignon they also poured.

Despite being recruited to the Math Honors program at Dartmouth, I quit after one semester with the most soporific instructor I had ever encountered and switched to the Classics Department, where my comprehension of ancient Greek and Latin plays into my professional endeavors almost yearly. Of course, I didn’t need to master the Ionic dialect to recognize the literary references in Arger-Martucci’s labels, the highly aromatic 2008 Iliad, a blend of Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, and Muscat, nor the 2005 Odyssey Estate Reserve, a classic Napa Meritage that complements their varietal 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Italian being the direct evolution of Latin, I suppose August Ridge could have countered by calling their wines Aeneid or the Golden Ass, but the owners refrained from the pretense of allusion and instead elected to bestow simple varietal names on their 2009 Arneis, the 2007 Sangiovese, the very likable 2007 Nebbiolo, and a rustic 2008 Barbera.

How Bennet Lane construes the names for its wines seems anything but formulaic; then again, neither were their stellar Cab-centric vintages: the new 2008 Turn 4 Cabernet Sauvignon, equally impressive bottlings of the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2006 Maximus (a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Malbec blend), and their standout, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. My observations on Beau Vigne would mirror this, as I didn’t allow the nomenclature to befuddle my appreciation of their 2008 Persuasion (Chardonnay) nor of their overtly labeled 2008 Cult (Cabernet Sauvignon).

Is 35? Sonoma’s B Wise Vineyards displays convincing proof with its 2006 Trios, a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot, and Petite Verdot, while their 2005 Brion Cabernet Sauvignon offered the singular complexity of a pure varietal expression. Calistoga’s Barlow Vineyards sampled a more orthodox blend of four Bordeaux varietals, the 2006 Barrouge, which straddled the middle ground between their 2006 Merlot and the slightly more impressive 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. And though Carrefour holds no mathematical significance, their range of varietals equated to 2005 Estate Merlot 2006 Estate Cabernet Franc ∪ 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cartograph echoes a distinct discipline with obvious dependency on trigonometry and other branches of mathematics, but for the purposes of Family Winemakers solely refers to the three vertices of this Healdsburg winery’s vinification: the 2008 two Pisces Pinot Noir, the exceptional 2008 Split Rock Pinot Noir, and their somewhat anomalous white counterpoint, the 2009 Floodgate Vineyard Gewürztraminer. A more southerly interpolation of this latter varietal came from the 2009 Monterey County Gewürztraminer that Banyan Wines vinted, along with their new 2009 The Guardian Chardonnay. Meanwhile, their tasting room cohorts. Branham Estate, showcased two intriguing blends, the 2007 Jazz, a mix that subordinates Cabernet Sauvignon, along with Syrah and Petite Sirah, to Zinfandel, and the 2007 Señal, that similarly proportions the same varietals from Branham’s Rockpile vineyard, as well as their 2006 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.

The center of the California Delta does not fall within any recognized AVA, but Bixler Vineyards grows a number of varietals there on its Union Island Farms. Admittedly, I was underwhelmed by their economical 2009 Union Island White and 2009 Union Island Red blends, but their splendid $12 2009 Union Island Pinot Grigio proved (perpetuating the math theme here) an absolute value. Another rather obscure designation, Capay Valley, furnishes the Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Mourvèdre that comprise the 2008 Open Range Proprietary Red Blend from Casey Flat Ranch, based in Tiburon. And while Anderson Valley is no revelation to most wine enthusiasts, headquarters for Pinot specialist Black Kite Cellars turned out to be a mere 1.5 blocks from my front door in Pacific Heights. (I restricted myself to sampling only their superb 2008 Pinot Noir Stony Terrace and the 2008 Pinot Noir Redwoods’ Edge, along with the more generic 2007 Kite’s Rest Pinot Noir, as owner Rebecca Birdsall Green invited me to join her private tasting the next day of every Pinot they had made since 2003!)

As always, my efforts to make new friends at Family Winemakers brings me into contact with numerous old friends who insist I taste their latest and greatest (not that this is any sort of burden), but in my ever-futile attempts to pare these blog entries to a reasonable length, let me list these in as a verbal depiction of a mathematical : Andrew Quady’s NV Deviation, an Orange Muscat infused with damiana and scented geranium; Andrew Geoffrey’s unfailingly amazing 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon; my favorite 2007 Graciano from Bokisch Vineyards; both the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon I’d previously tasted at Joseph Family Vineyards barbecue; Lava Cap’s 2008 Barbera and 2007 Zinfandel; Ty Caton’s superb 2008 Ballfield Syrah: his co-tenant Muscardini’s Super Tuscan, the 2007 Tesoro; the 2006 Sangiovese (where was your Dolcetto?) from Pietra Santa; the new 2009 Gewürztraminer (where was your Blanc de Pinot Noir?) from Siduri; the omnipresent JoAnne and Tony Truchard with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon; and Steve and Marilee Shaffer of the newly-emboldened Urban Legend with their 2008 Ironworks, a blend of Nebbiolo and Sangiovese.

I might have enumerated Bill Frick among these members of this set, but I lingered at their table long enough to make my way through the 3 C’s of his quintessential Rhône varietals: the 2006 Cinsault Dry Creek Valley, the 2005 Carignane Mendocino County, and the 2007 Estate Counoise Owl Hill Vineyard, as well as his more whimsical 2007 Côtes-du-Dry Creek,a blend of Grenache and Syrah (had I known I’d be adopting a theme for this entry, I’d have opted for his two North Coast red Rhône blends, the C² and the C³)! Bill does not bottle the Rhône “varietal du jour,” but my friends at Rock Wall (which does) steered me to the table for Paso Robles’ Lone Madrone, which treated me to a taste of their 2005 Tannat. Another grape that is demanding attention in California made its Family Winemakers debut with the new release of the 2009 Grüner Veltliner from Dancing Coyote.

My next summation covers wineries that will likely not prove revelations to my Sostevinobile readers, but their renown proved too alluring to bypass along the way to my appointed destinations. Jeff Mathy & Karl Lehmann’s Vellum Wine Craft, a single bottling venture like Andrew Geoffrey, reinforced their considerable repute with their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from the soon-to-be certified Coombsville AVA; another Coombsville denizen, Pahlmeyer, gained considerable fame for its 1991 Chardonnay in the movie Disclosure but flourished this afternoon with a Meritage, the 2006 Napa Valley Proprietary Red; another Chardonnay movie star, Château Montelena (Bottle Shock), staked its claim with the 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon; my personal pedantry aside, Littorai may not garner acclaim for their classical scholarship (Latin for “shore” is litus, litoris), but biodynamically farmed 2007 The Haven Pinot Noir proved exemplary of the many storied Chardonnays and Pinots they produce; Carneros pioneer Kent Rasmussen showed a delightful 2007 Pinot Noir and his 2007 Esoterica Pete Sirah; and also from Carneros, Robert Stemmler poured its acclaimed 2007 Pinot Noir Nugent Vineyard.

Writing this blog is a lot like Fermat’s Last Theorem (an + bn  cn when n>2), an elegant, if not empirical, premise that took over 200 years to prove. I plot out these entries with every intention of being concise, but somehow my fidelity to every possible permutation means I must labor ad infinitum. Onward, onward!

My linear progression takes us next to Calstar Cellars, a name many wineries must feel could be applicable to them, whose œnological agility seemed most pronounced in their 2007 Alta Zinfandel Cardanini Vineyard and its companion 2007 ZaZa Zin grown in El Dorado County. Next up, Charnu Winery derives its name from a French term for “fleshy,” a more than apt description of the small production 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and its stunning predecessor, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, both pure expressions of the varietal from Napa Valley. Likewise, Atlas Peak’s Cobblestone Vineyards dazzled with their 2004 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon.

 A good pun, whether expressed verbally or algebraically, is always a good pun,and in addition to their winemaking prowess, Napa’s Crane Brothers skillfully eschew calling their blends Niles and Frasier, opting instead for the 2007 Brodatious (a mélange of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) and the 2007 Bromance (a Port-style Syrah dessert wine), while also pouring a straightforward 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and their trademark 2006 Syrah. Meanwhile, the rest of Family Winemakers’ C-section included Croze’s 2006 Smith Wooton Cabernet Franc, Corté Riva’s equally-appealing 2006 Cabernet Franc and perfunctory 2006 Petite Sirah, an excellent 2007 Syrah and amiable 2008 Rosé of Syrah from Coastview Vineyard, and the debut of Paul Hobbs’ new CrossBarn label that contrasted the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon with his eponymous 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.

The addition of Dragonette Cellars to the Family Winemakers roster meant an obligatory stop for Sostevinobile, but sampling their 2008 Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard, along with their 2007 Syrah Santa Ynez Valley and the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Santa Ynez Valley, proved hardly a chore. Healdsburg’s Dogwood Cellars matched up nicely with their own 2007 Dry Creek Syrah and a 2007 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, while truly flourishing with both their 2006 Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2006 Mendocino Meritage, a 1:1 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend. And with four distinct points, Donati Family Vineyards of Templeton defined their particular space, highlighted by the 2007 Estate Pinot Blanc Paicines, their Bordelaise-style 2007 Claret, the unblended 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2006 Ezio, their marqué Meritage driven by Merlot.

Decades after I studied (and excelled at) calculus, I am still hard-pressed to explain why e, a mathematical constant roughly equivalent to 2.718218285904523536, forms the base of the natural logarithm, but with no E’s from which to cull for the remaining wineries that I covered, I can refrain from having to contrive a forced segue. Indeed, my tasting notes bypass several letters until I neared the middle of the H section with Hearthstone, another Paso Robles winery that stakes its claim primarily with Rhône varietals, including the 2007 Pearl, a Roussanne/Viognier blend, and a superb 2007 Grenache. And even though I did manage it to taste Ispiri’s 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Maylena, their Alexander Valley Merlot, I will resist any temptation to make a √-1 = ι correlation with the letter I.

Way back when, square roots introduced me (as I’m sure it did most people) to the concept of irrational numbers—those endless sequences that defy any discernable pattern of regularity. And perhaps I should draw inspiration from this phenomenon, randomly selecting any order for the wineries I assay. And yet the next four wineries I plucked from my list share the bond of making their Family Winemakers debut in 2010. Two of these ventures featured well-seasoned winemakers whose craft was well apparent. Glen Ellen’s Korbin Kameron brought on board Bob Pepi to lend his deft touch to their Meritage, the 2007 Estate Blend Cuvée Kristin, while Tandem’s Greg La Follette established his eponymous label with his 2008 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and an extraordinary 2008 Sangiacomo Pinot Noir. The other two endeavors came from unfamiliar winemakers; nonetheless, Olin Wines made a strong debut with their 2006 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, while Kristian Story showed considerable range with his 2006 Soirée Estate Meritage, the 2006 Rhapsodie Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Petit Verdot he simply calls the 2007 RED Special Vineyard.

Do Parallel Wines ever meet? With all deference to Euclid’s Fifth Postulate, renowned winemaker Philippe Melka proves he warrants the hyperbolic praise for his œnological skills with his 2008 Russian River Chardonnay, an intense 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and the evolving 2006 Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Also doing its part to maintain Napa’s repute was Maroon Wines, with seasoned winemaker Chris Corley excelling with his 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville. And although Riboli Family Wines has been headquartered in Los Angeles since 1917, their premium bottlings now herald from the Napa Valley, spearheaded by their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford. I found their 2006 San Simeon Cabernet Sauvignon just as enticing, while the 2008 Maddelena Pinot Gris and the 2005 San Simeon Petite Sirah also impressed.

Few of my Sostevinobile know that I do assign a quantitative score to each of the wines I commend; one can always track down another published source to obtain wine ratings (should you feel that determines a wine’s quality). I prefer simply to expose my followers to the diverse bounty of wines produced in our midst and allow them to make their own determination—a road map, if you will, not a scorecard. Even my thematic links serve but as a literary conceit; nonetheless I found that both Mitchella and Vihuela Winery shared common bond in their Paso Robles location, consistent quality, and distinctive nomenclature. The former also focused on Rhône derivatives, first with their 2007 Syrah, followed by their unapologetic 2008 Shameless, a GMS blend. Vihuela offered a euphonic 2007 Concierto del Rojo, a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Petit Verdot, their 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (tempered with 20% Petit Verdot), and the Syrah-based 2007 Incendio, a wine that is set to music.

Peter Paul Wines is a serious viticultural endeavor, not the remaining ⅔ of a popular folk group; though far from mellifluous to pronounce, their 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Mill Station Road drank euphoniously. And juxtaposed here purely by coincidence, Mara Winery harmonized its range of vintages with the 2009 Whitegrass (a Sauvignon Blanc), their 2006 Zinfandel Dolinsek, and the proprietary 2008 Syrage, a Syrah rounded with traditional Meritage varietals.

Counting down to my finish, I very much liked the 2006 Dry Creek Syrah from Peña Ridge. Plymouth’s Sobon Estate struck gold, metaphorically, with their 2007 Syrah. Thorne Wines from Buellton successfully staked its reputation with the single wine it produces, the 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills. And Tulip Hill pleased the palate with their Lake County bottling of the 2008 Zinfandel Dorn Vineyard.

A number of variables still remained. I opted for Yorba Wines’ chilled 2009 Touriga Rosé. And a much-needed touch of sweetness came from Voss Vineyards2005 Botrytis Sauvignon Blanc. In contrast, Napa-based Vitus focused on more mainstream bottlings: the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and 2007 Merlot, along with their notable 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. And X Winery (the name represents the letter, not the Roman numeral or multiplication sign) summed up the tasting with its 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, alongside two proprietary blends: the 2006 Amicus (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot) and the 2008 Red X (Syrah, Tempranillo, Grenache, Zinfandel).
In closing, allow me to enumerate once more. Two days. Ten hours. 342 wineries. 1700 professional attendees each day (plus an untabulated head count for Sunday’s public portion). My personal tally: at least 76 wineries visited and over 155 wines sampled.
Don’t get me wrong. Family Winemakers is a wonderful conclave, one I have enjoyed long before I launched Sostevinobile. Now that I am attending in a trade capacity, it poses an invaluable resource for the wine program I am building. And while I would not go as far as labeling the numbers stifling, the event is far too large derive any notion of atmosphere or experience beyond the marathon of tasting as many wines as can be fit into the timeframe. And so, in order to depict the enormity of the experience, my craft as a Creative Writer must defer to the mathematical training I long ago abandoned. Word count: 3315.

Incongruity

One of the more memorable scenes from Sideways has Miles, in his uniquely desultory fashion, scarfing down some ungodly fast food meal while pouring his prized 1961 Cheval Blanc (ironically, a blend of Cabernet Franc and—mon dieu!—Merlot) into a styrofoam cup. I’m sure many wine purists found the whole notion utterly incongruous, if not appalling. Like inviting a Scientologist to address the Prometheus Society .

On the other hand, there is the perspective of trying to make wine applicable to any situation, from the most meager meal to the most ornate banquet, from the most celebratory setting to the bleachers at a ball game. Many years ago, when I visited the Franzia plant in Manteca, I was compelled to wear an industrial hardhat throughout the tour,as if I were a blue collar construction manager. As Operations Manager Lou Quaglia bellied up to the tasting bar, looking more like Teamsters than wine connoisseurs, I commented, “you know, the day this image doesn’t seem like an anomaly is the day the California wine industry will have truly arrived.”

And therein lies my dilemma. Your West Coast Oenophile left the cozy confines of T.A.P.A.S. at Fort Mason last Saturday to attend A Single Night, Single Vineyards at C. Donatiello, which first required pedaling back up the hill to Pacific Heights, “recovering,” showering, changing, then driving to Sonoma. I, of course, had lingered far longer than anticipated the first tasting, but with the Healdsburg event scheduled to run until 10 pm, I figured I had plenty of time to mingle with the winemakers pouring there. Or so I thought.

Just slightly overshooting the most expedient exit off US 101 meant I arrived at the winery around 8:30 pm. Instantly, I was taken back twenty years, when this facility was known as Belvedere, where I had contracted my first professional bottling for Spectrum HoloByte Wines, a promotional label I developed for this software gaming legend. Any sense of serenity or nostalgia, however, was quickly dispelled, as the pounding rhythms from the DJ and the amplified, hyperkinetic exhortations of an auctioneer filled the amphitheater with a cacophony more reminiscent of a disco floor than a winery.

Now, I have no problem with an auction, especially if it’s for a worthwhile cause (the El Molino High School Agriculture Department). It’s just that I was ill-prepared for the evening to be on a preset schedule that limited the time the participating vineyards would be pouring. So, as the tasting portion of the evening gave way to the clamor and the gavel, I found I missed on the major impetus of Sostevinobile’s presence at this event—the chance to sample wine and mingle with the new generation of winemakers on hand.

My hostess for the evening could not have been more gracious in understanding my plight. Cailyn McCauley of Creative Furnace, the promotions firm who staged this tasting, set me up with a private tasting of the remaining wines on hand, including my own personal wine docent. Ambassador extraordinaire from Greg La Follette’s Tandem Winery, Simone Sequeira represents the kind of vibrant, young œnophile that Sostevinobile only wishes could constitute the dominant paradigm. Totally immersed in the marvels and details of the local wine industry, she guided me point by point through each of the wines that had been reserved for the wine-by-the-glass portion of the evening.

We commenced lightly, of course, with the inaugural 2009 Estate Pinot Grigio Russian River Valley from D & L Carinalli, truly a refreshing start to a late spring evening far more clement than recent nights in San Francisco had been. From there we moved onto a pair of Chardonnays, first the house brand, the 2009 Healdsburg Cellars Chardonnay (C. Dontiello’s holdover second label from its Belvedere phase) and a remarkable 2008 Chardonnay Russian River Valley from Graton Ridge, lush, heavy wine weighing in at 14.5% alcohol.

Many of my colleagues map out large, multi-winery tastings by color, white to pink to red, followed by dessert wines. Given the constraints of time, I tend to taste winery by winery, but may reevaluate this strategy as Sostevinobile nears the point of actual wine acquisitions. Thus noted, Simone and I moved onto a pair of rosé selections. Windsor Oaks prefers to label their extraction of Pinot Noir the 2008 Vin Gris, whereas Benovia made its presence known with their 2009 Rosé of Pinot Noir, both well-restrained and compelling wines that yearned for food complements (my nonetheless excellent grilled Portabello mushroom sandwich did not pair with these light wines).

Maybe I should have saved my sandwich for the trio of Pinots that followed. Porter Creek bills their fare as “Original Wines of Great Purity,” farming in accord Aurora certified organic practices, with a craft that was obvious from the first sip of their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir. Moshin Vineyards their usual aplomb with their 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, while Santa Rosa’s Ancient Oak Cellars offered their offshoot 2008 47 Friends Pinot Noir.

The west side of Sonoma also excels at Zinfandel, as I have documented numerous times in this blog. Even though I had previously sampled the 2006 Estate Zinfandel from Ottimino at ZAP this past January, it somehow tasted better in this limited forum. And Matrix Winery, part of Diane Wilson’s burgeoning conglomerate, showed nicely with their 2007 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley.
Of course, the tasting did require a couple of atypical wines for the AVA. I regret that I missed out on the 2008 Arneis Russian River Valley that Seghesio poured earlier in the evening, but I was treated to the enormously satisfying 2006 Sangiovese Alegría Vineyards that Acorn Winery produced from a field blend of seven different Sangiovese clones, along with 1% each of Canaiolo and Mammolo. Not to be outmixed, Foppiano, a winery established in 1896, the year my grandfather was born in Avellino, offered its own occasional blend, the Lot 96 Bin 002, a proprietary red wine made from 28% Sangiovese, 19% Petite Sirah, 17% Zinfandel, 14% Carignane, 10% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Cabernet Franc.

As the evening wound down, Cailyn introduced me to one of the up & coming winemakers featured earlier in the evening. Dominic Foppoli and I exchanged a few pleasantries in Italian while we sipped on his 2007 Reserve Chardonnay Russian River Valley, a wine completely devoid of oak and solely expressive of its grape. An exceptional wine, this vinification is clearly a standard for the new generation of Chardonnay in California (though I will unabashedly aver that a well-crafted, oaky Chard like the Graft Ridge I had sampled earlier in the evening, maintains its rightful place, as well).

One day in the next few months, I will attain the distinction of having maintained a beard for twice as long as I’ve “faced” the world with a pre-hirsute visage. This milestone may well have placed me at diametric odds with the majority of the crowd at A Single Night, Single Vineyards. Clearly this evening’s gathering focused on the age bracket pop sociologists term “the Millennials,” the next cadre of wine drinkers who portend to become the mainstay of Sostevinobile’s future clientele, and while there is a universality to wine that transcends generational differences, certain cultural trends and philosophical adherences stand beyond my ability (or willingness) to incorporate into my own lifestyle. “Why have sex when you can have virtual sex?” may be too strident a condemnation of social networking, but most Baby Boomers will catch my drift.

To put this matter another way, let me defer to Katey Bacigalupi of John Tyler Wines, whom I’ve previously cited in this blog. As she told The Press Democrat, “You don’t necessarily have to be a millennial to know a millennial as a human being, but when it comes to more in-depth topics like buying habits, preferences, music choices, et cetera, it definitely helps. I think one of the things that defines our generation much more than any other is technology and how we use it. Information is so much more available and constant than it ever has been before.”

Point well taken, and let me be unequivocal in stating that Sostevinobile will address the particular needs and wants of this demographic—along with the comfort and service of all our customers—as a paramount consideration as we develop our operations, but nonetheless this event posed an interesting paradox.

Succinctly put, the portion of the evening I attended struck me as a bit antithetical, a pulsating, near-deafening dance scene I would normally associate with Margaritas and shots of Jägermeister, more akin to a Saturday afternoon mob along the Esplanade in Capitola than a wine gathering in Sonoma. But wherein lies the resolution? Is it the desire to make the crowd more amenable to the conventional tenor of the wine world or is it to make wine more appealing to a broader range of events and celebrations? Is there a happy medium?

For now, I see no easy answer. An event like A Single Night, Single Vineyards or anything that opens up the world of wine to more people ought to be seen as an asset, and (from the standpoint of enlightened self-interest) certainly a trend Sostevinobile should see fit to embrace. And while the merger of two such disparate elements may not rise to the level of a dialectic, I am ever-mindful that the unequaled largesse that the late Sidney Frank bestowed on my graduate institute derived from his success in mass-marketing frozen shots of the above-mentioned Jäger. 
I know I will still be wrestling with these inherent contradictions for months to come. But still, wine at 120 dB? An utter incongruity.

Marc’s flat-out mean & lean post-Thanksgiving slimdown: the sequel

I didn’t do so well last week. 1,788 words when I was aiming to come in under 1,000. And that was meant to include this entry, as well! I just hope all will be forgiven by the time I reach the end of the electronic page this time!
I wanted to get my review of Holiday in Carneros out before December, but the demands of raising funds for Sostevinobile occupy front and center for Your West Coast Oenophile. I am determined to generate a financial tsunami this month!
It was another kind of tempestuous storm that afflicted my very temperamental digestive system on the morning before I set out for Carneros. If only Jacuzzi had a Jacuzzi at their winery! Or, failing that, a stiff shot of grappa to quell my agita. Instead, I settled for a few gulps of olive oil, great hospitality, and some splendid wines.
The formal event paired an assortment of Italian appetizers with their 2008 Gilia’s Vernaccia, an appealing 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2006 Rosso di Sette Fratelli, a Merlot named for the brothers who founded the various Jacuzzi enterprises. But, as Tasting Room Manager Teresa Hernando quickly showed me, the winery’s true forte is in its wide range of Italian varietals and blends. Given my self-imposed limitations for the afternoon, I skipped the 2007 Pinot Grigio and opted for the 2008 Arneis before moving onto a selection of reds. Here I bypassed the 2006 Primitivo and, surprisingly, the 2006 Sangiovese for a sample of the 2006 Aleatico, their Mendocino 2007 Barbera, and the incredible 2007 Nebbiolo from Carneros. As often happens, my retasting of the 2006 Lagrein seemed less sweet than it had at the Napa Valley Wine & Grape Expo, thereby mitigating my disappointment in Whitcraft’s discontinuation of this varietal. With time pressing, I thanked Teresa and promised to return for a more comprehensive tasting in the near future, making mental notes of their family commemoratives, the 2006 Giuseppina, the 2005 Valeriano, as well as their Chardonnay, the 2006 Bianco di Sei Sorelle (Six Sister’s White). Seven brothers + six sisters = 13 siblings! Is it any wonder we associate hot tubs with…?
My friend Sasha Verhage from Eno had told me a while back about his satellite tasting room in the Cornerstone Place complex just down the road from Jacuzzi, and while the tasting collective Grange Sonoma was not pouring his wines, they did feature a number of their other members, which gave me the opportunity to try the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley from Mantra. Around the corner, the wafts of wood-fired pizza lured me to Roshambo’s new base of operations since Turley acquired their Dry Creek winery. Sales manager Steve Morvai offered generous pours of the 2006 Justice Syrah and the 2006 Rock, an equal blend of Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Syrah, while enticing me with descriptions of his own Syrah project, Les Caves Roties de Pente, a Bonny Doon-like tweak of a renowned Rhône producer. Another Cornerstone tenant, Larson Family Winery, poured a selection of both their own label, and Sadler-Wells, a joint venture between proprietress Becky Larson and Jean Spear, a veteran wine marketer. While I found both the 2005 Sadler-Wells Chardonnay Carneros and the 2005 Sadler-Wells Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast perfectly amiable wines, the 2006 Larson Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley proved the true standout.
I think I failed to locate Bonneau’s tasting room on Bonneau Road because it was housed inside the Carneros Deli. My loss, I am sure, but the reception I received at Schug amply mitigated for my miscalculation. Despite their legendary prowess, I initially tried to beg off from sampling their selection of Pinot Noir (too much sensory overload from the previous day’s PinotFest) and pared their much-welcomed bowl of Creamy Wild Mushroom Soup with both the 2006 Merlot Sonoma Valley and the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley. However, an introduction to scion Axel Schug convinced me to indulge in their truly wonderful 2007 Pinot Noir Carneros, along with the equally appealing 2004 Cabernet Reserve. Only the many stops still on my itinerary kept m
e from sampling the rest of their library wines being poured.
If you produce both wines, why would you call one Pinot Grigio and the other Pinot Blanc (or, for that matter, Pinot Gris and Pinot Bianco)? Granted, I understand the marketing concept, but the linguist in me argues for consistency. Allora, my query seemed to generate a bit of bewilderment at Robledo Family Winery, which perhaps should call the pair Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanco (or so my Easy Translator widget indicates). Rhetorical conundrums notwithstanding, I was immensely please finally to meet this pioneering family and experience their hospitality. Patriarch Reynaldo Robledo’s storied ascendancy from farmhand to winery owner has been well documented on their Website and in other media, but their wines demonstrate that this evolution is far more than a Horatio Alger tale. I did appreciate both the above-mentioned 2006 Pinot Grigio and the 2006 Pinot Blanc, but the eye-opener was their 2005 El Rey Cabernet Sauvignon, an exceptional Lake County varietal. Even more striking, the 2005 Los Braceros, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah, pays homage both to the Robledo’s roots as well as their winemaking virtuosity. 
For some reason, I’d always thought Adastra was a Paso Robles winery. The name sounds like a Paso Robles name. As I crossed over to the Napa portion of Carneros to visit their ramshackle barn, it even felt like Paso Robles. But Dr. Chris Thorpe’s certified organic winery is authentically Carneros, and it only takes a sip of winemaker Pam Starr’s opulent Pinot Noir, the 2006 Adastra Proximus to recognize the winery’s sense of place. No Miles Raymond dilemma here—I found the 2006 Adastra Merlot as enticing as the Pinot, while the 2007 Ed’s Red, Adastra’s second label, proved an intriguing blend of 43% Syrah, 39% Zinfandel, 13% Petite Sirah, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot
Burgundy and Bordeaux took center stage at nearby McKenzie-Mueller, a boutique winery just across the street. The 2006 Pinot Noir and 2006 Chardonnay made a nice introduction to this previously unfamiliar label, but winemaker Bob Mueller’s forte lay in the components of a Meritage, in particular the 2005 Merlot, the 2004 Cabernet Franc, and the truly outstanding 2006 Malbec. Even the curious strains of a male folk duo singing Eartha Kitt’s Santa Baby could not detract from this delightfully unpretentious destination.
As laidback as Adasta and McKenzie-Mueller may have been, Ceja proved just as ebullient. Pint-sized owner Amelia Morán Ceja made a most irrepressible hostess as she escorted me back to the bocce courts for a taste of tri-tip that I washed down with a generous pour of its perfect complement, the 2005 Syrah Sonoma Coast. The 2006 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast certainly held its own, but their trademark Pinot Noir/Syrah/ Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Vino de Casa Red Blend seemed positively redolent. I managed to taste their 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon while listening to Amelia expound her recipe for the risotto she was readying to prepare for 37 or so family and friends, then headed out to complete my loop for the afternoon.
Alas, the hour I spent at Ceja meant I missed the last moments at Étude, who was just closing down as I entered the new tasting room. Michael Mondavi’s Folio, with its seemingly incongruous Irish flag out front, also was unattainable, so I headed over, as promised, to the Carneros Inn and FARM, their onsite restaurant from the Plump Jack Hospitality Group. The setting was warm; the pulchritudinous Ms. Cheung’s effusive greeting even warmer. As if I hadn’t sampled enough wines this afternoon, she poured me a complimentary selection from her wine list and sent over a much-appreciated bowl of Truffle Fries. Just the reinvigoration I needed before heading back to San Francisco.
Was my entire excursion to Carneros merely a pretext to visit Yvonne? A chance to see her hard at work in her role as manager/sommelier? Or maybe a promising portent for Sostevinobile? We may well have to wait to 2010 to find out…

Eccolà, Slow Food! Noi Californiani make SUSTAINABLE wines, too!!

Colleen was a girl of certain type—but she wasn’t. Well into her mid-twenties, she still looked like she retained her baby fat, giving her a soft, slightly roundish appeal. On the surface, she had a complete lack of pretense or guile, perhaps even an aura of naïveté. She wore her hair long, parted in the middle and without any concession to fashion or style; her attire, if memory serve correct, was generally a pair of denim overalls with a plain or calico shirt underneath. She was exactly the kind of girl you wanted to take on a picnic somewhere in a secreted mountain meadow, then make love on a blanket until the sun went down.

At the tender age of 17, Colleen firebombed a McDonald’s. In the stealth of the night, she tossed a Molotov cocktail into a new franchise under construction in Washington, DC and burned it to the ground. She was never caught and the McDonald’s never rebuilt. Leslie Bacon ought to have struck with such surgical precision.

 

Today, Colleen would find a kindred spirit, albeit less prone toward literal conflagration, in Carlo Petrini. Petrini, revered worldwide as the founder of the International Slow Food Movement, first came to prominence in the 1980s for taking part in a campaign against the fast food chain McDonald’s opening near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Originally, Petrini started out contributing culinary articles(!) to Italy’s Communist daily newspapers Il Manifesto and l’Unità (anyone know who their sports columnist was?). He has edited multiple publications at publishing house Slow Food Editore and writes several weekly columns for La Stampa. In 2004, he founded the University of Gastronomic Sciences, a school bridging the gap between agriculture and gastronomy.

The Slow Food Movement has spread across the Atlantic to North America, where is has found a most zealous advocate in Berkeley’s Alice Waters. Last year, Waters was instrumental in bringing Slow Food Nation 2008 to San Francisco, a highly-

publicized gathering that drew 85,000 enthusiasts to venues in Fort Mason and at the Civic Center, where the plaza was turned into a working Victory Garden that produced over 1,000 lbs. of organic food during its 4-month tenure.

Since 2003, Slow Food San Francisco has sponsored the Golden Glass, a celebration of food and wine that adheres to the principles of the Slow Food Nation. The recent 6th Annual Festival in Fort Mason was its grandest yet. Given the roots of this movement, it should come as no surprise that the focus of the festival was predominantly Italian, with numerous local favorites, including A16, Perbacco, È Tutto Qua, Bacco, Pizzeria Delfina, Poggio, C’era Una Volta, Emporio Rulli, Acquerello, and Trattoria Corso purveying their fare. Local Italian food artisans included Caffè del Doge, Fra’ Mani Salumi, Fresca Italia, Massimo Gelato and Stella Cadente Olive Oil.
The Golden Glass, as the name suggests, also presented an opportunity to sample an enormous selection of wines, again focused on Italian vintages. And herein lies the rub. If Slow Food is dedicated to the preservation of sustainably-operated, local farming, why was this convergence so focused on imported wines (the dozen wineries that did participate represented the first time The Golden Glass has even included California)?
Not that Italian wines don’t have their well-deserved place. After all, I know of no one on the West Coast who grows Fumin or Negroamaro or Grecante, to name but a few varietals, or who even attempt to make a straw wine (passito) like Cornarea’s Tarasco 2005. It has been well-documented, in this blog and elsewhere, that local efforts to produce Italian varietals have had to retrench considerably and are justing to make a revival. But if the true focus of Slow Food Nation—and, by extension, The Golden Glass—is to promote local, sustainable agriculture, then the vast array of wineries in this area that implicitly adhere to their manifesto ought to be the backbone of this tasting (this is, after all, the foundation on which Sostevinobile is building our wine program).
Of the West Coast wineries that did participate, several did display their efforts with Italian varietals. Iberian varietal specialist Bodega del Sur brought their 2006 Sangiovese to contrast with their 2006 Tempranillo and 2008 Verdelho. Berkeley’s Broc Cellars showed their 2006 Luna Matta Sangiovese, along with a 2007 Cassia Grenache that stakes their claim to fame. Ever ubiquitous, Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm surprised with his 2005 Ca’ del Solo Nebbiolo, a notably worthy expression of this varietal. On the other hand, it was no anomaly that Girasole Vineyards had a 2006 Sangiovese, and restaurateur Lorenzo Petroni premiered his eponymous label with his remarkable 2004 Brunello di Sonoma Poggio alla Pietra and a Super Tuscan style 2006 Rosso di Sonoma.
I had tasted the wines of Verge Wine Cellars but two nights earlier at A Community Affair, but was pleased to resample his 2007 Syrah Dry Creek Valley. Pey-Marin had poured their Pinot Noir the week before at the MALT tasting in Larkspur, but this time accompanied it with a refreshing 2008 The Shell Mound Riesling. Magnanimus Wines distributes organic and biodynamic wines from Mendocino County; I particularly liked Ukiah Cellars 2008 Chardonnay Mendocino and Mendocino Farms 2007 Grenache. From Hollister, Alicats brought a notable 2006 Syrah Gimelli Vineyard, while Sonoma’s Nalle Winery shone with their 2006 Pinot Noir Hopkins Ranch. Edmunds St. John, to whose philosophically-strewn newsletter I have long subscribed, showed the kind of consistency with their 2005 Syrah Wylie Fenaughty I have come to expect from their vintages, while Clos Saron from Oregon House displayed the versatility of the Sierra Nevada Foothills 2007 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard.
The Golden Glass has always been a marvelous event, and Your West Coast Oenophile looks forward to a long, enduring relationship between their parent Slow Food San Francisco and Sostevinobile. This year’s festival was a wonderful opportunity for me and the Ginkgo Girl to catch up with so many restaurants that have come to love us and to share in this most vital advocacy. We are looking forward to an even grander Golden Glass in 2010, with the anticipation of its increased outreach to the rich abundance sustainably -grown wines from California, Oregon and Washington.

On the Road Again

If things have seemed a bit quiet on the blogging front this week, it has only been because Your West Coast Oenophile took to the road in order to lay the foundation for Sostevinobile’s wine program. As I sit here composing my thoughts for this entry, I find it hard to believe my last business jaunt to the wine country was just over 18 years ago, when I bottled Spectrum HoloByte Wines at Healdsburg Wine Cellars, then part of Bill Hambrecht’s Belvedere portfolio, with the late Peter Friedman. There have been, of course, many, many personal trips to Sonoma and to Napa, and while there is an undeniable pleasure to the purely amateur pursuit of wine, it was certainly good to be back.
Technological changes since 1990 have altered the landscape everywhere, including the wine country. I discovered this almost immediately after crossing the Sonoma county line. Preoccupied with a cross-country phone conference (note to the CHP: always utilizing my hands-free Apple Bluetooth receiver as I drive), I missed the turn to Kenwood and found myself in Petaluma before I realized my error. Still, my egregiously late arrival at the Wine Institute’s workshop on self-assessing one’s green practices allowed me to develop a rapport with the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, an organization whose mutual interests will bear quite significantly on the selection of our wines. There is, after all (as I am wont to remind the Ginkgo Girl), a deliberate method to the madness.
At the conclusion of this gathering, I bypassed the tasting room at St. Francis and began my rounds with several of the vintners I encountered at ZAP. Most befitting the nostalgic aspect of my trip, it was extremely pleasant to visit with Dick Arrowood at his new Amapola Creek. Back in the days when my clients were bidding to acquire Chardonnay showcase Chateau St. Jean, Dick, who was then their winemaker, served as my sounding board up until Suntory outbid our team by $8 million. Dick moved on to start his eponymous label a few miles down the road and surprisingly cut a niche for himself as a red wine maker—his 1996 Arrowood Mataro opened my eyes to the wonders of this varietal.
Arrowood Vineyards was subsequently sold to Robert Mondavi, then became a pingpong ball in the ConstellationLegacy Estates fiasco a few years back. After Jess Jackson brought about a renewed stability by the winery, Dick decided to open an independent venture in the shadow of Monte Rosso. There, amid the cooperage of his pristine storage room, I sampled forthcoming vintages of Syrah, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon, along with barrel samplings of Petit Verdot that was slated for blending. Call me the viticultural equivalent of Humbert Humbert, but nothing quite stimulated the palate as the budding young flavors of undespoiled juice.
I met with a number of new friends afterwards, from Bartholomew Park, another Phil Coturri client, to previously cited GiaDomella, whose splendid 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon will be gracing our table later this week. Seghesio Family Vineyards treated me to an array of their Zinfandels, as well as their food-commanding 2007 Arneis and 2006 Sangiovese that made me yearn to sample their forthcoming Fiano and Barbera..
I thought I might cap Tuesday’s adventure in downtown Healdsburg with some bar appetizers at Cyrus, but damn!—the Hotel Les Mars was closed for staff training. Alas, I settled for a last-minute sampling at the Rosenblum tasting room, then curled up in front of the fireplace at Merritt Sher’s tantalizingly geometric Hotel Healdsburg to make some final cellphone calls before heading out to cross the border….
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