Categories
Amarone Arneis Cabernet Sauvignon Carménère Malbec Montepulciano Petit Verdot Sangiovese Sangiovese Piccolo Tocai Friulano Vernaccia Zinfandel

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.

Categories
Aleatico Arneis Barbera Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Chardonnay Lagrein Malbec Merlot Nebbiolo Petit Verdot Petite Sirah Pinot Blanc Pinot Grigio Pinot Noir Primitivo Sangiovese Syrah Vernaccia Zinfandel

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…