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Abouriou Assyrtiko Barbera Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Canaiolo Carignane Chardonnay Chasselas Doré Chenin Blanc Cinsault Colombard Dreirebe Grenache Mencia Merlot Mission Pinot Grigio Pinot Gris Pinot Noir Riesling Rosé Saperavi Verdelho Zinfandel

Noted

Mon dieu! Could it be that Your West Coast Oenophile is going to switch his allegiance to Bordelaise wines? Will Sostevinobile become a paean to the vignerons of France?

There are numerous reasons I attend trade tastings for imported wines, despite my unyielding commitment to serve only sustainably-grown wines from the West Coast (meaning British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Baja Norte, and perhaps a little pocket across the border in Arizona), including sourcing accounts for my trade tasting venue, familiarizing myself with varietals that have only a small presence here, like Canaiolo, Saperavi, Assyrtiko, Dreirebe, Chasselas Doré, Mencia, to name a few, or simply to socialize with other wine trade comrades. Rarely, however, do I leave one of these events feeling that I am perhaps missing out on something with my attenuated focus. But, in the interest of objectivity, I have to concede that last month’s showcase of the 2016 vintage from the Association de Grands Crus Classés de Saint-Emilion was truly spectacular.

The homage California pays to French viticulture is, of course, centered on Bordeaux, but within this spectrum, the focus falls predominantly on the Left Bank and the prestige of the Premier Cru houses, which skew towards Cabernet Sauvignon. But among the AOCs of the Right Bank, Merlot predominates, as exemplified by what, until the recent Pinotphile craze, was annually the world’s most expensive wine, Pomerol’s Château Pétrus.

Saint-Emilion lies to the south of Pomerol and is distinguished by wines that blend Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Principal protagonists here include Château Ausone and the legendary Château Cheval Blanc, whose namesake bottling is generally acclaimed as the greatest wine ever by wine cognoscenti worldwide, the only debate being a preference for the 1947 or 1961 vintages. Malheureusement, neither of these houses nor their fellow Premiers Grands Crus Classés A wineries, Château Angélus and Château Pavie participated in the San Francisco tasting. And though none of Saint-Emilion’s Premier Grand Cru Classé B chateaux were on hand either, 18 of the 64 Grand Cru Classé houses poured their 2016s, along with a library wine of their own choosing.

Across the board these wines were uniformly excellent, a testament to their third-tier status that only could make one wonder what the various Premier Cru Classé wines might offer. My preference leaned heavily toward those wines that married a higher percentage of Cabernet Franc or even featured Merlot as the secondary varietal. And given the leanings of my California-honed palate, the relatively high (14-15.5%) alcohol content of most, compared to the restrained (12-14%) level of Médoc’s Premier Grand Cru, certainly factored into the appeal.

Unfortunately, I cannot provide further details or observations on the individual wines. The promoters of this event did not correlate the printing of their program guide with the number of RSVPs; as such, attendees like myself, who strive to take meticulous notes at tastings were left to our own devices, something that can be extremely onerous when having to deal with a foreign language (mon français est un peu faible ces jours). And so I took none, leaving these wines to the recesses of my memory.


At least Team Balzac designed a guide for their event, which they subsequently emailed to attendees. Two other major tastings I attend last month eschewed printing programs altogether. Given that these events both commanded steep ticket prices, I could take the promoters to task for not allocating a portion of their gross revenue for such a relatively inexpensive production (I am well aware of this expense, have personally designed the brochures for every wine tasting I have curated). But the issue here isn’t cost, but the difficulty such an omission creates in trying to enjoy the wines, notate them, and navigate the entire event with the degree of alacrity it demands.

Many readers here know that, after my first career in winery Mergers & Acquisitions, I spent nearly 25 years wallowing in the recesses of the advertising & marketing industry. Though nominally a copywriter, I was compelled to learn graphic design, and with that, acquire a concomitant fluidity in numerous word processing, page layout, and desktop design programs. Yet even with a high degree of expertise in these softwares, navigating the mobile versions, particularly on an iPhone, is cumbersome, if not outright challenging. There are no easy shortcuts to this process—being confronted with having to record an event on Notes requires typing out every single word, all while trying to balance a glass, maintain a dialogue with the winemaker, and keep from hogging space at the table from other attendees. Plus, this is just as much an imposition on the wineries, who are paying fees and donating bottles with the expectation of having the rapt attention of trade individuals, either for purchasing their wines or promoting them.

This is not to say that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy Carlo Niboli’s second staging of CabFest at the Westfield. Given my struggles with producing wine events like CalAsia these past two years, I can only defer to the success of his efforts, which included the first public tasting (as far as I know) of Napa’s mythic Ghost Horse, the wine that has eclipsed Screaming Eagle’s claim to California’s top pricing. Here, the 2015 Fantome, merely the fourth tier of Todd Anderson’s Cabernets (priced at a meager $1500/bottle), proved an extraordinary wine well worth its rarefied claim. Even so, a lofty price does not ensure exclusivity, as the 2004 Harry’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Hesperian proved a worthy counter. Also as impressive: the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Alison Green Doran’s Hoot Owl Creek and the 2015 Red Wine Blend, an equal marriage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, produced by Laurie Maurer Shelton’s CAMi.

I found the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Emily Kestrel from Summit Lake exceptional, as was the 2017 Stagecoach Cabernet Sauvignon from newcomer Stringer Cellars. On a more bittersweet note, Cabfest marked what will likely be the last public tasting for Battle Estate Vineyards, which has decided to cease operations after the devastation of the Kincade Fire. Wines like their 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley will be sorely missed.

And while I did not miss tasting the wide range of other Cabernets, Cab Francs, and Bordeaux blends at this event, awkwardness of trying to record my impressions with a virtual keyboard on a 5.5″ display, while striving to balance my glass and continue conversing with the winemaker left most of my notes in shambles, despite generally favorable impressions of Chiron, Obvious, Zialena, V, Howell at the Moon, Ballentine, Stonestreet, Angwin Estate, Ron Rubin, Guarachi, Robert Young, Medlock Ames, Sutro, Lancaster, and Patel.


I had hoped not to confront the same dilemma the following weekend at the debut of Wine Call SF at the Old Mint. The two-day tasting featured over 50 wineries, predominantly from the West Coast, and selected from the leading proponents of the natural wine movement. It seemed incomprehensible that an event of this scale would not feature a guide—and a professionally designed program at that. But alas, I once again was compelled to wing my way through with my iPhone, this time starting by pasting the winery roster featured on the Website into a Pages document.

An utter catastrophe! Though I am highly skilled in this app on my MacBook Pro and can navigate the differences in the mobile version on my iPadcusing a keyboard, here there is no way to paste text into the text field without copyng its formatting, which, in this case, included the hyperlinks that launched a Web page nearly every time I tried to navigate the cursor. Which, in turn, meant it took three times as long to type, once I finally got things placed where I needed them.

But then entire sections of my document were somehow deleted, which compelled me to return to the various wine stations and re-record ratings on what they had poured. Not impossible, of course, but enormously frustrating to the point that, were it not for my reluctance to shell out another $1,000 to replace it, I came close to flinging my iPhone across the room.

More importantly, the struggles with my note-taking consumed an inordinate amount of time, so much so that even with three separate trips to The Old Mint over Saturday and Sunday, I still missed sampling half a dozen of the wineries. Insurmountable impositions like this hurt not only attendees like Sostevinobile, but penalize all the winemakers who put in the time and effort to make an event succeed.

Nonetheless, I did manage to salvage a good portion of my observations. The absolute standouts had to be the 2018 Flaws, an impeccable Abouriou from Absentee, who ironically was away from his table while I was sampling, and and a luxuriant 2015 Carignane from Faith Armstong-Foster’s Onward, which, along with sister label Farmstrong, specializes in this wondrous Rhône varietal.

Close behind, four other wines astounded, as well, starting with another of Onward’s remarkable bottlings, the 2017 Pétillant Naturel Rosé of Pinot Noir. Even though he has now already sold out, Hank Beckmeyer produced a near-flawless 2018 Viognier at his La Clarine Farm in Somerset. Having partied on Friday with Anna & David Delaski at the Pretty in Pinot Prom—following a full day at the annual Pinotfest, I was struck by the contrast of Solminer’s 2018 Dry Riesling Coquelicot Vineyard, one of the several Germanic varietals they are producing. Trekking from Oregon, Division Wine Making Company also proved a formidable presence here, making a statement its 2017 Granit Cabernet Franc.

If my notes had stayed intact, I could go into finer detail on the remaining wines, but, as it were, numerous others made significant impressions, including Sacramento’s Haarmeyer Wine Cellars, with their 2017 Riesling Wirz Vineyard and the ever-reliable Old World Winery with yet another standout vintage, their 2015 Luminous, a luscious Abouriou from Sherry Martinelli vineyard in Windsor.

Shaunt Oungoulian’s Les Lunes featured a pair of intriguing bottlings, the 2017 Carignane Arnold’s Block and a deftly blended 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot Coplan Vineyard. His former winemaking partner, Martha Stoumen, now well into her connubial bliss, tributed her recent marriage with the 2018 Honeymoon, a Colombard blend with 15% Chardonnay. Likewise, Breaking Bread, an offshoot of Kokomo, debuted their 2018 Zinfandel Redwood Valley with considerable aplomb.

The splendidly-named Caleb Leisure specializes in fermenting their wines in qvevri, the traditional Georgian buried clay pots (and killer Scrabble word!), exemplified here with the 2018 Other Hand, a Chalk Hill Cabernet Sauvignon. A bit of an anomaly, Ruth Lewandowski, a winery based in Salt Lake City but sourcing its grapes from Mendocino, featured its eclectic blends, highlighted by the 2018 Boaz, a mélange of Carignane, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Grenache. And hailing from Los Alamos—California, not New Mexico, Lo-Fi Wines showcased their 2018 Sparkling Rosé, a Pét-Nat rendition of Cabernet Franc.

The much-lauded Carboniste only produces sparkling wines, exemplified best by the 2018 Mackerel, a Pét-Nat Pinot Grigio. Further to the south, in Escondido, J. Brix featured this varietal as a ramato, the 2018 Nomine Amoris Skin-Contact Pinot Gris. Returning north, Keegan Mayo’s Assiduous Wines offered a less avant-garde yet equally appealing rendition, their 2018 Pinot Gris Regan Vineyard.

Wine Call SF featured keynotes both days by Tegan Passalacqua, whose Sandlands Vineyards underscored his authority on natural winemaking, evidenced here with two superb  offerings: the 2018 Grenache and the 2018 Cinsault. Tegan is one of the leading proponents of the next wave of vineyardists in Lodi; Abe Schoener’s Scholium Project, recently relocated to Los Angeles, sourced their Zinfandel from Passalacqua’s plantings there for their 2017 FTP-Z Kirschenmann Ranch. Meanwhile, their excellent 2012 Delta Blend identifies neither the Sacramento vineyards from which it is sourced, nor its varietals (though I beleive Verdelho was a major component). Also sourcing from the Delta, Maître de Chai selected its grapes from Wilson Vineyards for its 2018 Sparkling Chenin Blanc. Its 2017 Kiekegaard Chenin Blanc, however, comes from the same Sonoma vineyard Leo Steen utilizes.

Last but not least, Craft Wine Company trekked from Oregon to feature its 2018 Origin Chenin Blanc. And even further north, Washington’s Swick Wines produced a panoply of Italian varietal wines, notably the Barolo-worthy 2018 Nebbiolo.

Washington tends to be the preferred West Coast domain for Riesling, with notable exceptions like Santa Cruz’s Stirm Wine Company, which produces a number of different bottlings. But here Ryan flourished with a relatively obscure, though formerly prolific grape, with his 2018 Mission. Another Santa Cruz winery, Florèz, may not tend toward exotic varietals or blends, but comported itself memorably with their elegant 2017 Chardonnay.

Some may prefer to call it Mourvèdre or Monastrell, but the 2016 Mataro Del Barbra Vineyard from Erggelet Brothers was still a masterful wine. And it seems fitting that my final entry comes from Amador’s End of Nowhere, with a stellar 2018 #1 Crush Rosé, a Zinfandel rendering and their 2017 Nemesis, a Yolo County Barbera.


I suppose if I had been able to take notes easily, this column might have run on until 2020, so perhaps there is a silver lining here. But as long as trade tastings resort to the expediency of not printing programs, I will keep harping on this issue.

Categories
Chardonnay Grenache Mission Mourvèdre Pinot Grigio Pinot Gris Pinot Noir Rosé Sauvignon Blanc Syrah Viognier

The wine was terrific. The food was offal.

Readers here realize that Sostevinobile will offer a vastly different wine æsthetic than RN74, and given the subordinate role local wines play at this establishment, it’s a bit surprising to see them host trade association events in their vast antechamber. But a growing number of wineries, particularly Syrah and Pinot Noir producers, are falling within sommelier Rajat Parr’s strictures, and so, recently, this pioneering viticultural shrine has conducted a pair of truly excellent tastings that Your West Coast Oenophile has attended.

A few weeks back, San Francisco saw its first gathering of the Santa Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance. While this diverse collection of wineries has banded together for the past ten years, this tasting represented, to the best of my knowledge, their first collective foray outside their region. Among the 19 wineries on hand, several new faces were interspersed alongside a handful of familiars, but given the utterly manageable scope of the event, I was able to allot equal attention to all.

Sta. Rita Hills, of course, is Sideways territory, and so it made sense to commence with Hitching Post, where owner Gray Hartley poured a selection of—what else?—his Pinots. We started off with the 2006 Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard before settling into the more selective 2007 Pinot Noir Perfect Set, a barrel selection from their Fiddlestix fruit. The literally named 2007 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita’s Earth preceded his best selection, the lyrical 2006 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard

Of course, it was no surprise to find Peter Cargasacchi among this group. Under his eponymous label, he contrasted the rounded 2007 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard with the developing 2009 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard (I forget why he bypassed the 2008). From his Point Concepción label, he poured a striking interpretation of Pinot Grigio, the 2009 Celestina, a wine vinified by destemming the clusters and allowing them to cold soak on their own reddish-pink skins to extract greater flavor, as well as its pink/orange hue. Following this unconventional bottling, he capped his appearance with Cargasacchi’s compelling 2009 Late Harvest Pinot Grigio.
Demetria also presented an anomalous lineup that eschewed the 2008 vintage. Starting with their 2007 Eighteen Chardonnay Santa Rita Hills, this extraordinary bottling edged out its 2009 version. I preferred the 2007 Pinot Noir Cuvée Sandra to the 2007 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills, while finding both the 2009 Pinot Noir Cuvée Sandra to the 2009 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills, while finding both the quite exceptional. Conversely, Kessler-Haak poured only from their 2008 vintage, offering a likable 2008 Syrah Turner Vineyard, their estate 2008 Pinot Noir Kessler-Haak Vineyard, and the impressive 2008 Chardonnay Kessler-Haak Vineyard.

I would have expected less orthodoxy within this AVA, but, at least this afternoon, few other producers showed much outside the Chardonnay-Pinot Noir-Syrah triumvirate that predominates throughout the Central Coast. Fiddlehead Cellars did pour a 2010 Rosé of Pinot Noir before serving up their trio of traditional Pinots from their Fiddlestix Vineyard, starting with the 2007 Lollapalooza Pinot Noir. From the same vintage, the 2007 Seven Twenty Eight Pinot Noir proved notably superior, as did the 2005 Lollapalooza Pinot Noir.

Fiddlehead is one of the growing number of wineries that bifurcate their operations between California and Oregon. Siduri, similarly, produces wines in both states, but leaves its more experimental winemaking to their Novy label.
At RN74, no disappointment could be found with
2009 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills nor the 2009 Pinot Noir Clos Pepe Vineyard, yet both were eclipsed by the sensational 2009 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard. Just as enticing, the 2009 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard from Pali Wine Company proved their best effort here, overshadowing their versions of both the 2009 Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard and its preceding vintage. Still, their 2009 Pinot Noir Huntington showed true individuality.

I’ve tried Dragonette at a number of different Pinot events, so was pleased to be able explore the diversity of their lineup here, starting with their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Santa Ynez Valley, one of three they produce from the Happy Canyon sub-sub-AVA. Moving on, their 2010 Rosé of Pinot Noir provided a superb transition to their red bottlings, including the 2009 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills and their distinctive 2009 Pinot Noir Hilliard Bruce Vineyard. To my taste, however, Dragonette showed most strongly with their Rhône vintages, the 2008 Syrah and the 2008 MJM, a profound Syrah blended with Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Viognier.

I am always fond of a good Viognier, and so it was extraordinary to discover Cold Heaven, a wine venture devoted to this oft-times fickle grape. Supremely complemented by the allure of winemaker Morgan Clendenen’s golden tresses, this lineup began with her 2009 Viognier Au Bon Climat, then followed by the 2009 Viognier Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. Of course, I had to admire a wine coyly called the 2009 Pinot Noir Never Tell, but Morgan’s forte proved to be the 2009 Late Harvest Viognier, an exceptional dessert wine.

D’Alfonso-Curran didn’t try to match Cold Heaven, but they comport themselves more than admirably with their 2009 Di Bruno Pinot Grigio from the same, acclaimed Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. Holding back their wines longer than most, they then presented a quartet of Pinots, starting with the 2006 Pinot Noir Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. I felt a bit tepid about the 2006 Pinot Noir Rancho Las Hermanas Vineyard, but truly cottoned to the 2006 Pinot Noir Rancho La Viña Vineyard. And it was wonderful to learn from Marketing Director Lisa Christensen that their euphonic 2006 BADGE Pinot Noir did indeed derive its name form the Cream classic.

It was good to meet noted vineyardist Wes Hagen and plow my way through the seven Clos Pepe wines he poured. First, he contrasted the austere 2009 Estate Chardonnay “Hommage to Chablis” with the luscious 2009 Estate Chardonnay Barrel Fermented. Demonstrating the longevity of his wines, he next poured the 2000 Estate Chardonnay, a wine showing remarkably well after 11 years. Wes’ Pinot selections showcased a disjointed vertical, with a young 2009 Estate Pinot Noir to start. I found the 2007 and 2006 vintages equivalent yet better, while being happily surprised to see the 2000 Estate Pinot Noir had aged so elegantly.

Seven wines in one stop meant I needed a dose of sustenance before moving on. Fortunately, RN74 put out a generous spread of salumi, including an addictive finocchiona (dry fennel sausage). What I mistook for a variant on head cheese turned out to be paté de compagne, a ground blend of pork and bacon. Very good, if not offal.

Back at the tasting stations, I brought myself next to Foley Family Wines’ table, where this burgeoning conglomerate served up a selection from a pair of its labels
. From
Lincourt, the 2009 Chardonnay Steel was delightful, the 2008 Pinot Noir Rancho Santa Rosa Vineyard even more so. Their home brand, Foley Estate, compared favorably with their own 2008 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills. With his Byron and Io labels now part of Jackson Family Wines, Santa Barbara pioneer Ken Brown showcased his eponymous line, starting with a 2009 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir. The 2008 Rancho La Viña Vineyard Pinot Noir proved an even more noteworthy expression, as did both the 2007 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir and the 2007 Clos Pepe Vineyard Pinot Noir.

A couple wineries that Sostevinobile had yet to cover proved fortuitous finds. At 18,000 cases, Gainey Vineyards qualifies as more than a boutique operations, yet both their 2009 Chardonnay and 2008 Limited Selection Pinot Noir showed handcrafted elegance. The tiny production of Gypsy Canyon (<200 cases) belies a sophistication both with their 2009 Pinot Noir and the non-vintage Ancient Vine Angelica Dona Marcelina’s Vineyard, a seductive dessert wine vinted from the historic Mission grapes originally planted in the AVA.

Longoria Wines offers quite a diverse portfolio of varietals and blends, so it seemed surprising that they only poured a selection of their Pinots here. Nonetheless, there was much to admire in their 2008 Pinot Noir Lovely Rita and the 2007 Pinot Noir Fe Ciega Vineyard, as well as the approachable 2008 Pinot Noir Rancho Santa Rosa. Others, like Zotovich, which grows Dolcetto and Barbera for Italian varietal specialists Palmina, showcased compelling bottlings of both their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir and 2008 Estate Syrah.

Sweeney Canyon is an understated, dry-farmed vineyard producing wines from its own fruit. Their 2008 Chardonnay Sweeney Canyon Vineyard preceded an even more extraordinary 2006 Chardonnay Sweeney Canyon Vineyard, while the 2007 Pinot Noir Sweeney Canyon Vineyard proved slightly preferable to the 2008 Pinot Noir Sweeney Canyon Vineyard. Completing this tasting, Kenneth-Crawford Wines scored across-the-board excellence with 2007 Pinot Noir Turner Vineyard and the 2006 Syrah Lafond Vineyard, then ratcheted things up a notch with both the 2008 Pinot Noir Babcock Vineyard and the 2006 Syrah Turner Vineyard.

I must tip my hat to RN74 for this splendid gathering. Great wine, delicious house-cured meats, and a cozy, manageable setting. Just the kind of industry tasting Sostevinobile will strive to host in the near future.


A couple of weeks later, Rajat & Co. managed to outdo themselves with their own conference and tasting: California Pinot Noir: In Pursuit of Balance. Here 23 diverse Pinot Noir producers who fit within RN74’s dictum against wines exceeding 14% alcohol levels. In many ways, a bouquet to the select California producers among this wine emporium’s vast roster, this gathering felt like a veritable Who’s Who of the leading winemakers who emphasize restraint above all in their vinification practices.

And in keeping with the spirit of the event, I am going to try to record my summaries of the various wines equally restrained—or at least as succinct as I can ever be! I did not attend the seminar which preceded this tasting, but I did know that Vanessa Wong was one of the panelists, so starting with Peay seemed as logical a choice as any. A rare event where Andy Peay was not representing the winery; in his stead, Vanessa’s husband (and Andy’s brother) Nick poured a trio of their wines, starting with the more general 2009 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, then moving on to the 2009 Pinot Noir Ama Estate, and, finally, to the superb 2009 Pinot Noir Pomarium Estate. I can always count on Peay to have something outside a tasting’s parameters hidden under the table, and thus was ecstatic to sample their utterly marvelous estate Syrah, the 2008 Les Titans

Given the affinity many of these wineries share for also producing Syrah, I would have expected there to have been a strong overlap here from the previous day’s Rhône Rangers tasting, but only found Pax Mahle, whom I just met for the first time. I would not have minded trying his Wind Gap wines every day that week, with a caveat. Wind Gap epitomizes the precepts of In Pursuit of Balance, and in its relentless fidelity to the production of wines that suppress the level of alcohol in order to promote greater expression
of terroir, they fall prey to the same pitfalls that bedevils many of the French wines I have sampled of late. There is little question that these wines handsomely complement food, yet I find the way they are structured makes them dependent on food to succeed. This nuance holds significant ramifications for the wine program Sostevinobile is establishing.

Nonetheless, within this context, I did like the 2008 Pinot Noir Woodruff Vineyard that Wind Gap produced from the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. I found the 2009 vintage preferable, however, on par with their 2009 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast. Another winery often mentioned in the context, Josh Jensen’s Calera holds the enviable position of occupying its own AVA, Mt. Harlan in San Benito County. One of California’s only producers of Aligoté, Calera represented themselves this afternoon with a trio of Pinot, the broadly focused 2009 Pinot Noir Central Coast and two from their exclusive enclave, the 2007 Pinot Noir Jensen Vineyard Mt. Harlan and the 2007 Pinot Noir Ryan Vineyard Mt. Harlan.

I hadn’t had a chance to try Flowers wines since Keiko Niccolini left to start her own company. Not that she had made the wine. Somehow, she just made it taste better. Still, I was extremely pleased with both their 2007 Pinot Noir Sea View Ridge Estate and the 2007 Pinot Noir Thompson Ridge Estate Estate Director Christopher Barefoot poured here. Failla came through with their usual aplomb, impressing with the 2009 Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard and the 2009 Pinot Noir Pearlessence Vineyard; I did feel the 2009 Pinot Noir Keefer Ranch was a tad too young for release.

Speaking of Hirsch Vineyards, Jasmine Hirsch, who orchestrated this tasting, and her father David poured a trio of their famed Pinots, starting with the 2009 Pinot Noir Bohan Dillon. This fine bottling preceded the exceptional 2007 Pinot Noir San Andreas, followed by a preliminary tasting of their 2009 Estate Pinot Noir (barrel sample). On the same level, Jim Clendenen’s Au Bon Climat is revered in these wine circles, and, indeed, his 2008 Isabelle Pinot Noir was close to perfect. keeping pace was his 2009 Le Bon Climat —K&U Pinot Noir and the superb, organically-grown 2007 Clendenen Family Vineyards Pinot Noir.

My command of French may not match up with Jim’s but I will hold my Latin skills up to anyone’s. Of course, it rarely offers any practical use, though I did manage to compel RN74 to correct the En Vino Veritas they had misprinted on their receipts last year. Similarly, I take issue with fellow Brunonian Ted Lemon’s choice of orthography for his Littorai (should be litora), but I cannot quarrel with his selection as the 2010 Winemaker of the Year by SFGate. Both his 2009 Pinot Noir The Pivot Vineyard and the 2009 Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard struck me as equally fine wines, exceeded by the splendid 2007 Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard.

Another fixture in these circles, Copain, contrasted four of their Anderson Valley bottlings, starting with the 2009 Les Voisons Pinot Noir and the single vineyard 2009 Wentzel Pinot Noir. tied for Copain’s acme were the 2009 Monument Tree Pinot Noir and the tongue-twister, 2009 Kiser En Haute Pinot Noir. Though I liked their wines, admittedly, the vertical selection of Freestone’s Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, starting with the 2007 and 2008 bottlings, along with a tank sample of the 2009, paled in comparison.

Santa Cruz’ Mount Eden always stood as the odd duck amid the Napa and Sonoma wineries that had bought into The Press Club. The success of this cooperative tasting room’s metamorphosis into a wine lounge remains to be seen, but Mount Eden has emerged no worse for the wear and tear, boasting an exceptional odd-year vertical, the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir, their benchmark 2007 Estate Pinot Noir, and a remarkably well-aged 2005 Pinot Noir. Another familiar venture I was pleased to see here was Native⁹ pouring a mini-vertical of their 2009 Pinot Noir Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard and its superior predecessor, the 2008 Pinot Noir Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard.

I hadn’t previously tried James Ontiveros’ other label, Alta Maria, a collaboration with Paul Wilkins of Autonom. Here the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley proved slightly preferable to the otherwise wondrous 2009 vintage. I had not heard of Chanin Wine Company before this event, but developed a great fondness for their 2008 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard and the preferable 2008 Pinot Noir Le Bon Climat Vineyard. Similarly, I discovered Kutch Wines here and sampled my way through their 2009 Pinot Noir McDougall Ranch and 2009 Pinot Noir Falstaff, both Sonoma Coast, as well as their 2009 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley.

Before delving into the several other wineries I had not tried before, I needed to recharge my system with the delectable Prosciutto, as well as the same salumi and offal-looking paté RN74 had provided at the previous event. Revitalized, I moved onto Solíste, the winery here that offered the most contrast to the Pinot uniformity. Starting with a crisp 2010 Lune et Soleil Sauvignon Blanc, we segued into the red selections first with the 2009 Soleil Rouge, a rosé of Pinot Noir. The fruity 2008 Pinot Noir L’Esperance preceded a more subdued 2007 vintage, while both contrasted with the younger 2009 Pinot Noir Sonatera Vineyards. Solíste’s forte, however, proved to be their 2008 Syrah Out of the Shadows, a wine that made one wish others had brought along a Syrah as well.

Rajat’s own label, Sandhi, did not pour their Syrah but did assert their viticultural prowess with the 2009 ELV Tempest Pinot Noir; for contrast, the 2009 Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay showed itself to be a worthy balance to its Burgundian counterpart. One of Sandhi’s winemakers, Sashi Moorman, is partnered with former Rubicon General Manager Lawrence Stone in Evening Land Vineyards, a far-flung venture making wines from Sonoma, Santa Rita Hills, the Willamette Valley, and even Burgundy. At In Pursuit of Balance, they sampled both their 2009 Pinot Noir Tempest Bloom’s Field from the SRH appellation and the exceptional 2009 Pinot Noir Occidental Vineyards along the Sonoma Coast.

Also from the Sonoma Coast, Cobb Wines offered an assimilable threesome: the 2007 Pinot No
ir Emmaline Vineyard
, the uxorial 2008 Pinot Noir Diane Cobb: Coastlands Vineyard, and their standout, the 2008 Pinot Noir Coastlands Vineyard. This appellation also featured John Raytek’s Ceritas, with their 2008 Pinot Noir Escarpa Vineyard and its successive vintage; with Sanglier’s Glenn Alexander, he also produced the 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir under the Cartha label, a venture that has been widely praised for its Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.

I had had disparate experiences with the final three wineries. Lioco, a stalwart of the Natural Wine movement, balanced their offerings here between the 2009 Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard and their outstanding 2009 Pinot Noir Michaud Vineyard from the Chalone appellation. Miura, which I had cajoled into donating wine to The Asia Society’s Annual Dinner but never tasted myself, featured their emblematic 2008 Pinot Noir Silacci Vineyard–Matador, along with the 2008 Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard and their standout, the 2008 Pinot Noir Pisoni Vineyard. Rounding out the afternoon, understated Tyler, a winery I had not heard of before, scored with an impressive lineup of Pinots from Santa Barbara: the 2009 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido N Block–Old Vines, a beautiful 2008 Pinot Noir Clos Pepe, and the 2008 Pinot Noir Presidio.

All in all, In Pursuit of Balance turned out to be a splendid event, so much so that I remained for the first hour of the public tasting to resample several of the wines and nosh on some more offal. In doing so, I made one final discovery for the day: our host Rajat Parr plays squash at the same racquets club where I belong. A match will soon be arranged, Sostevinobile vs. RN74. Don’t let on about my court strategy—I intend to subdue by my display of restraint!

Categories
Aglianico Barbera Black Muscat Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Chardonnay Grenache Malvasia Bianca Marsanne Merlot Mission Montepulciano Petit Verdot Petite Sirah Pinot Grigio Port Primitivo Sangiovese Sangiovese Grosso Sangiovese Piccolo Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon Syrah Teroldego Touriga Nacional Verdelho Vermentino Viognier Zinfandel

Apennine Wine (in 2,000 words or less)

One of these days I will figure out the art of concision. If anyone can demonstrate that they made it through all 6,321 words of the last installment here, Your West Coast Oenophile will treat you to free drinks for a month at Sostevinobile (once we open our doors). Count on it!

In the meantime, readers can vicariously experience the numerous discoveries I make as I continue to build an all-embracing program of the sustainable wines grown on the West Coast. This interminable pursuit led me to Danville on a warm September Sunday for what was billed as The Ultimate Sierra Foothills Wine Tasting Experience. And to think people tell me pronouncing “Sostevinobile” is a mouthful…!

I’ve attended a number of wine industry tastings at private clubs in recent months, but this event was the first not affiliated in some manner with the wine country. Blackhawk is a gated enclave in Danville, near the base of Mt. Diablo. Conceived as a master planned community in 1979, this secluded development includes the lavish homes of several prominent Bay Area sports figures, two golf courses that annually host the LPGA challenge, a renowned automotive museum, and the exclusive Blackhawk Country Club, where the tasting took place. While ample, luxurious, perhaps even graceful, it seemed an odd choice of venues, given its proximity only unto itself.

Still, once I had waited in line to be checked in by the gate guard and wound my way around serpentine lanes until I came upon the main clubhouse, the event came off with nary a hitch. This cooperative promotion between three different AVAs presented a marked disparity between the El Dorado Winery Association, which had held its own tasting earlier in the year with many of the same participants, Amador Vintners, whose wine trail I had briefly explored on my way to Lake Tahoe, and the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance, most of whose members were completely new to me.

The mountainous terrain of all three appellations lends itself to many similarities, and for œnophiles focused on the orthodoxy of Burgundian or Bordelaise varietals, this tasting offered scant familiarity. Amador, in particular, has long held repute for its Zinfandels, and while El Dorado has been a staple of Rhône Rangers since its inception, the entire region has taken quite a shining to the various Spanish and Portuguese varietals that have now proliferate throughout the state. Still, this three county region collectively produces the greatest concentration of Italian varietals on the West Coast, even discounting the mega-production of Trinchero’s Montevina and Terra d’Oro labels. Up by Lake Shasta, Trinity County may have its own version of the Swiss Alps; wineries here are transforming the Sierra Foothills into the western Apennines.

One of the first wineries I encountered this afternoon was Amador’s Driven Cellars. An intimate operation that produces six varietals in lots of 200-300 cases, they excelled with a 2007 Barbera and a 2007 Primitivo. At the next table, Dillian Wines raised the stakes with an extraordinary 2008 Barbera, juxtaposed with its 2008 Primitivo and its fraternal twin, the 2008 Hangtree Zinfandel.

I stopped by the table for Calaveras’ Hatcher Winery and worked my way through four of their wines, starting with a crisp 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. They, too, comported themselves admirably with a 2007 Barbera and an appealing 2007 Petite Sirah, but made perhaps their strongest statement with the 2007 Zinfandel, a cross-pollination of Amador and Calaveras fruit. Another Calaveras endeavor, Murphys’ Frog’s Tooth, produces a wide selection of white wines, including Viognier, Marsanne, and Torrontés. Today’s offerings included a 2009 Fumé Blanc and a very approachable 2009 Pinot Grigio, as well as the 2008 Barbera and the rich 2008 Grenache from their red portfolio.

In usual fashion, I sought to visit wineries with whom I needed to establish a relationship before revisiting those whom I have documented here previously. I had fully intended to swing by and taste Twisted Oak, but time did not allow me to reach their table on my final swing-though; however, I did want to acknowledge their pivotal role in popularizing Iberian varietals in Calaveras. Flourishing with this genre, Chatom Vineyards brought out an exquisite 2007 Touriga (I am assuming it was Touriga Nacional, not Touriga Franca), along with an appealing 2007 Sémillon and striking vintages of the 2005 Syrah and 2008 Chardonnay. Equally amazing was the 2008 Verdelho from Victor Reyes Umaña’s Bodega del Sur, a striking contrast to his 2008 Marsanne. Solomon Wine Company produced an adequate 2007 Tempranillo, plus a better 2006 Syrah, but I found both their NV Mingle, a Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot blend, as well as their proprietary blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon,Syrah, Petite Verdot, and Barbera, the 2006 Composition, somewhat wanting.

As with Twisted Oak, I initially bypassed many of the El Dorado wineries and found not enough time at closing to take in Auriga, Fitzpatrick’s organic winery, Mt. Aukum, sister ventures Latcham/Granite Springs, Holly’s Hill, the Primitivo and Barbera of Colibri Ridge, Cedarville, Rhône specialist David Girard, and Crystal Basin—all wineries I have previously chronicled and enjoyed. I did, however, work my way through Miraflores Winery’s offerings: the 2008 Chardonnay, the 2007 Zinfandel, their choice 2006 Petite Sirah, and their special focus, the 2005 Syrah. I do wish, however, that Miraflores had brought their 2006 Barbera, the 2007 Pinot Grigio, and the 2007 Muscat Canelli (would have helped validate my premise in this entry), but Perry Creek mitigated for them with a luscious NV Black Muscat.

I finished my El Dorado visits with a sip of the 2009 Viognier from Sierra Vista and a retasting of the 2009 Chardonnay as I chatted with Lava Cap’s Beth Jones and chided her for not yet connecting me with the bottle of 2006 Sangiovese Matagrano she had promised back in the spring. Amador Foothill Winery, too, neglected to bring either their 2006 Sangiovese or the 2004 Sangiovese Grand Reserve, but more than made up for this lapse with an outstanding 2007 Aglianico. Equally impressive was the 2007 Clockspring Zinfandel, while their Grenache/Syrah blend known as the 2006 Kathie’s Côte came in not far behind; I also thoroughly enjoyed their light 2007 Sémillon.

Slightly confusing matters, the next table over featured Amador Cellars, a notable winery in its own right, with a 2007 Syrah, the newly-released 2008 Barbera, and a 2007 Zinfandel I can best describe as jammy. I bypassed familiars C.G. Di Arie and Primitivo star Bray to discover the striking wines of Cooper Vineyards, who impressed me with their 2007 Sangiovese and 2007 Zinfandel, along with a 2008 Barbera and a 2009 Pinot Grigio. I wonder, though, does Cooper make their own barrels?

The story now moves to Story Winery, a place whose URL (Zin.com) pretty much puts the winery in context. Producers of seven different Amador Zins, plus a Zinfandel/Mission blend (as well as, regrettably, a White Zinfandel), they did impress me with both their 2006 Picnic Hill Zinfandel and the 2006 Creekside Zinfandel. However, their strongest expressions came from the 2008 Primitivo and a 2006 Barbera. I did like the 2008 Amador County Zinfandel from Sera Fina Cellars, along with their approachable 2009 Pinot Grigio; unfortunately, neither their 2009 Malvasia Bianca nor the 2006 Elegant Cowboy Syrah met this same level.

I missed out on one of my favorite Italian varietal specialists, Vino Noceto (who else in California makes distinct Sangiovese Grosso and Sangiovese Piccolo?) and Terre Rouge, a house devoted to Rhône varietals while bottling Zinfandel under its Easton Wines label, but did visit with Terra d’Oro, which poured an excellent 2008 Teroldego alongside their 100-year-old vine 2007 Zinfandel Deaver Vineyard. A portmanteau honoring owner Marilyn Hoopes’ mother, Karmère (karma + mère) blended Primitivo and Barbera to create their proprietary 2008 Primabera (a wine and a name far more subtle than Lone Madrone’s Barfandel, which I cited last week); I also found much to like in their 2007 Syrah and 2009 Viognier.

I had just tasted the range of Italian varietals Jeff Runquist produces, so I limited myself to exploring his 2008 R Touriga this afternoon. After that, my friend David Roberts, whom I had met at last month’s Rockpile Tasting insisted I reacquaint myself with Il Gioiello, Morse Wines’ Italian label—as it turned out, an excellent recommendation. I found the 2007 Triumphe, an atypical Super Tuscan (70% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Franc) more than intriguing, while the 2007 Montepulciano continues to fascinate me.

The 2007 Cabernet Franc from Calaveras’ Brice Station stood out as their preferred wine. Less impressive were their 2007 High Country, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and 2007 Port made from the same blend. Also from Murphys, Broll Mountain Vineyards produced a highly impressive 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, with a 2007 Petite Sirah and 2006 Syrah that underscored this winery’s capabilities. I also enjoyed the 2007 Syrah from Milliaire.

The most impressive Syrah of the afternoon was certainly the 2005 Syrah (in a most distinctive bottle) from Vallecito’s Laraine Winery. Their 2008 Zinfandel and 2007 Chardonnay showed almost as much complexity, while their whimsical 2008 Scarlet Harlot, a blend of Syrah, Sangiovese, Merlot, and Petite Sirah, intrigued as much it delighted. I liked the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Newsome-Harlow; I liked their 2007 Petite Sirah; their 2008 Zinfandel Calaveras County elated me.

If only I could have been as enthusiastic about Tanner Vineyards. Their 2009 Viognier and 2007 Syrah were pleasant enough, but I had quite the tepid response to the 2009 Vermentino and the 2009 Doux Rosé, a blush Syrah. I was also underwhelmed by the 2007 Petite Syrah and the 2007 Mélange de Mère, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot. Perhaps not the best coda to this very enjoyable event, but sometimes, that’s just how things play out.

Most private clubs I know would never daunt a two-star restaurant in San Francisco, and I realize that’s not the point, anyway. Clubs exist to establish camaraderie and interaction between members, not to vie for one of the slots on The Next Iron Chef. Still, the hors d’œuvres at this afternoon gathering made up in volume what they may have lacked in cutting-edge culinary. I deign to criticize the cuisine only to highlight my feelings that an event of this scope ought to be held in a more prominent and accessible location, like San Francisco or downtown Oakland, if the East Bay seems preferable.

All-in-all, these wines were too good not to merit more prominent exposure, should this event be reprised next year. I suspect quite a number of potential attendees shied away from this location, and it seemed that a number of absent Sierra Foothills wineries, like Villa Toscano, Jodar, and the incredible Lavender Hill might have participated, had a more accessible venue been selected. And the event might have allowed more wineries to participate, had its timing not coincided with the beginning of the harvest, creating a conflict of choices for numerous wineries.

I truly enjoyed this event and the vast majority of wines that I sampled. It was an impressive start for a cooperative tasting among three separate AVAs, all with individual agenda. As I told the promoters, it would have helped the afternoon flow far more smoothly, had the program guide correlated with the order of the designated tables and different rooms assigned to the tasting. A minor point for most attendees, but significant for Sostevinobile and other trade participants; then again, with a well-ordered setting and corresponding tasting guide, I might have found enough time to sample each of the wines from all 40 wineries and far exceeded the succinct 2,000 word target I had imposed on this entry!