Category Archives: Gamay Noir

Lacuna

lacuna: noun, plural lacunæ

 

1. a gap or missing part, as in a manuscript, series, or logical argument; hiatus.

2. Anatomy. one of the numerous minute cavities in the substance of bone, supposed to contain nucleate cells.
 
3. Botany. an air space in the cellular tissue of plants.

Loyal readers of the Sostevinobile blog have probably noticed a paucity of entries, so far, for 2017. As in none. This gap, however, has not occurred because Your West Coast Oenophile has been missing in action or confronting his worst case of writer’s block since John Hawkes’ graduate seminar in fiction writing. I have actually started several posts covering my wine forays to Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Amador, Lodi, Santa Cruz, and El Dorado (according to my odometer, nearly 77% of the miles I’ve clocked in 2017 have been for wine tasting forays). Add to that the usual array of trade tastings, although I skipped ZAP for the first time in 20 or so years, as it coincided with Premier Napa, plus I single-handedly produced a wine tasting extravaganza in Menlo Park, featuring some 30 wineries owned by or affiliated with alumni from my undergraduate institute.

In a word, I’ve been hard-pressed to put words to the page. And since I am so woefully behind in timely coverage of the various events I have attended, let me focus on the various discoveries I have made over the past few months as I have been meandering throughout the state.

As they usually do, my journeys began with a swing down to Paso Robles, though this time with one very significant difference: rain. After 5 years of drought, the weather gods seemed determined to atone for their dereliction in a single season, and on the Friday before President’s Day, turned what is normally a 3¼ hour drive down US 101 into a 7+ hour ordeal.

Despite oftentimes feeling as if I were taking my life into my own hands—at one point, almost driving into the Salinas River—I still managed to handle the deluge in stride, and managed to visit quite a number of wineries, while sandwiching in the regional Rhône Rangers tasting. It proved a most revelatory excursion, renewing my acquaintance with Roger Nicolas of RN Estate (not to be confused with Roger Nicholas of Lodi’s Grand Amis) and discussing his transition from the superb Rhône varietals he produces to a Bordeaux focus, including his sublime 2014 Malbec.

Readers here know that I have been championing Malbec as the Next Big Thing in California (along with my declaration of Pinot fatigue). Just before joining Roger for his tasting, I waded through the Adelaida District to join Jim Madsen at Thacher, where The Farm was laboring through its annual day of bottling. Much to my surprise, Santiago Achával was also manning the line alongside his associates. Though we had not met before, we have corresponded over the past several years and have numerous mutual friends, including Manuel Ferrer Minetti, his former partner at Argentina’s renowned Achával-Ferrer.

To learn from Santiago that The Farm was indeed planning to bottle their own Malbec in Paso Robles—once it met his exacting standards—was an epiphany. Further underscoring this prognostication was my discovery of Tooth & Nail’s 2014 The Fiend, a Malbec blended with 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petite Sirah, and 2% Syrah and a revisit with Wally Murray’s Bon Niche, whose 2011 Voûtes/Arches has long been a benchmark Malbec blend. In fact, Wally’s second label, Birdland, is comprised of three mid-range Malbecs and Malbec blends, a further validation of my belief that California is no longer ceding this varietal to the South Americans. The only question that remains is whether Carménère can be far behind.

I have been referring to this Paso Robles trip as my M&M excursion. True, before the massive proliferation of wineries throughout the AVA, a packet of these candies was my go-to choice whenever I stopped here for the obligatory refill the tank and relieve the bladder before the second leg of my drive to Los Angeles, but this winter, it took on a whole new meaning. Also rising up from relative obscurity among its peer varietals, Mourvèdre, at long last appears to be taking center stage for many Rhône red producers. If GSMs could be likened to a professional basketball squad, Grenache would be Kevin Durant, Syrah—Steph Curry, and Mourvèdre, the overshadowed star of this triumvirate, Klay Thompson. But just as Thompson can manage to eclipse his co-stars every so often, so too can Mourvèdre find its niche as a primary varietal.

The Saturday event at Broken Earth proved, admittedly, a bit of an endurance test, given the decibel level of the concrete antechamber where the Grand Tasting took place. Placards hung from the ceiling celebrate each of the Rhône varietals, though the irony of misspelling “Mourvédre” was not lost. Still, eleven of the participating wineries featured a varietal Mourvèdre bottling, with particular standouts including Adelaida’s 2014 Mourvèdre Signature Anna’s Estate Vineyard, Clautière’s 2012 Estate Mourvèdre, compelling bottlings of the 2014 Mataró from Red Soles, Summerwood’s 2013 Mourvèdre, and the 2014 Mourvèdre from the redoubtable Vines on the Marycrest. Rounding out the assemblage, both Seven Oxen and Rhône virtuoso Tablas Creek offered superb renditions of their 2014 Mourvèdre.

Whether it’s labeled as its Spanish name (Monastrell) or its Catalan nomenclature (Mataró), Mourvèdre has been unheralded as a primary Rhône varietal for far too long on the West Coast. It is most gratifying to see that it is finally getting the measure of respect it deserves. Of course, I could say the same for the vast majority of the 200+ varietals I have sourced for Sostevinobile throughout the West Coast,  but that would require a far more comprehensive undertaking than I have time to allocate currently. Still, my final takeaway from Paso Robles was the discovery of a true Gamay—not Valdiguié—the 2015 Stasis Gamay Noir from Rob Murray’s Murmur VIneyard in nearby Santa Maria Valley, an exceptional wine that easily rivaled the 2012 RPM Gamay Noir, my overall favorite wine from that vintage.

After stopping off in Carmel-by-the-Sea, I made it back to San Francisco with barely enough time to brush my teeth and reload my travel bags before heading up to Napa and Sonoma for a five day excursion. In many ways, I concede that the events surrounding Première Napa are more personal indulgence than research; after all, this is primary county-wide showcase of the year and it remains fairly difficult, for the most part, to distinguish, critically, wines that range from very good to phenomenal. Première is about building and cementing relationships, cultivated over the years, in the hope of gaining discrete allocations if and when Sostevinobile becomes able to take on a prestigious reserve list or cater to a private membership within the confines of our facilities.

The other challenge, of course, is the rigid orthodoxy of the Bordeaux strictures to which the vast majority of Napa wineries adhere. Encountering unheralded varietals or non-traditional blends is a rarity in this AVA. Highway 29, the backbone of the Napa Valley, interconnects its most mainstream AVAs: Oak Knoll, Yountville, Rutherford, Oakville, and St. Helena, and along this conduit one tends to find the least variance in deference to the near universal excellence of its Cabernets—not to mention the price per ton Cabernet Sauvignon from here commands. Meanwhile, the more remote regions of the county, like Coombsville and Calistoga, generally seem more willing to delve into other varietals—even those that have fallen into disuse in Bordeaux!

As scarce as Malbec may be in California, the fabled sixth Bordeaux grape, Carménère, is even rarer. Even its most noteworthy producer outside of South America, Yorkville Cellars in Mendocino, seems almost reticent in promoting its varietal bottling. But with little fanfare, the redoubtable John Caldwell has plantings in Coombsville, and what suppose to be a quick visit to discuss obtaining some graftings of Malbec and of Carménère for my Paso Robles clients turned into a 3½ hour bacchanal that only ended because I had to attend a memorial service at the Marin Art & Garden Center in Ross.

I’d like to believe the late Dr. Jim McCole would not have minded my missing his Celebration of Life. Certainly, he would have himself preferred to indulge in the 2014 Rocket Science, Caldwell’s signature bottling of  ⅔ Syrah with 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Malbec, 6% Cabernet Franc, 5% Pinot Noir, 4% Merlot, 3% Tannat, and 1% Carménère, a blend as unconventional as the man behind it. I, in turn, cottoned to the 2012 Gold Cabernet Suavignon and an equally alluring 2014 Silver Proprietary Red, a rare blend of his six Bordeaux varietals, with a 1% dash of Syrah—an homage to 19th Century Claret.

Caldwell is renowned for the meticulously researched, albeit often smuggled, varietal clones grown on his estate, and labels his wines accordingly. The apex of this precision was his 2013 Merlot [Clone 181], along with the 2013 Malbec [Clone 595], but I still delighted most in the 2014 Carménère [Clone 2].

Readers well-familiar with my penchant for rare and obscure varietals will know that I am not satisfied with sourcing a mere six red Bordeaux varietals, and while John has yet to smuggle in cuttings of St. Macaire, both Mt. Veeder’s Progeny and O’Shaughnessy on Howell Mountain have plantings. But like the elusive Planet X, theoretically lurking undetected in the Kuiper Belt, the eighth Bordeaux red, Gros Verdot, has never found its niche in California, at least until now. Indeed, O’Shaughnessy has covertly planted it at their Angwin estateand will be releasing their 8 varietal blend this spring, superseding their famed Howell Mountain Cabernet, renowned for its inclusion of St,. Maciare and Carménère with the major Bordelaise grapes. Now if only Jancis Robinson hadn’t debunked Cabernet Gernischt…

Potpourri or po’ poor me?

Your West Coast Oenophile ought to be making preparations right now for the most important mid-March holiday, Festà di San Giùseppe—The Feast of St. Joseph, patron saint of Italy, on the 19th. Yes, I know the beer world had its major observance a couple of days ago, but let’s just say Sostevinobile wears its true green 365¼ days a year and leave matters at that.

The truth is, I may not be able even to break out the grappa and celebrate on this Saturday. I have been swamped since January, not just with this blog but with high-level fundraising efforts and with more wine events than I can enumerate. To quote the late Warren Zevon, “poor, poor, pitiful me!” And so I am woefully behind in the installments I have promise to post here; therefore, in the interest of (vainly) essaying to catch up, let me try to condense many of my lingering February reports in potpourri fashion.

Il racconto del pavone bianco

Every now and then, I find myself feeling confined inside San Francisco and schedule a trip to someplace in the wine country, ostensibly on behalf of Sostevinobile, though, in truth, it’s simply a more of a need to decompress. And so, under the pretext of having to attend the Cheers! to Taste! monthly soirée, I headed up to Napa to visit with and sample a few wineries ahead of time.

First up, as I was scheduled to attend an event at his daughter’s acclaimed restaurant Ame in San Francisco the coming weekend, I made a quick stopover at Carl Doumani’s Quixote to visit with Anne White and taste my way through their recent releases. Given Carl’s iconoclastic nature, he rounded out his superb 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon with 12% Syrah, a rarity in Napa. As he had with Stags’ Leap Winery, the estate next door he had formerly owned, Carl’s singular focus on Petite Sirah paid off handsomely with his 2004 Quixote but truly blossomed in the 2008 Quixote Anne inadvertently opened. The only letdown here was with the 2005 Panza, another incredible wine; sadly, just before they realized how good this wine would become, they decided to uproot the Grenache and Mourvèdre vines from which it had been vinted and replant them with Syrah. So much for foresight!

I had wanted to visit with Carl’s other neighbor, Shafer, a winery I have long hoped to tour, but Doug Shafer informed me they were booked for the afternoon. Still, as I passed by the farm that abuts both these vineyards, I heard a cacophonous screeching off to my left. Recognizing the trademark caw of the regal Indian phasianid, I stopped the car and got out, only to be greeted by the pavone bianco—a rare albino peacock!—its lustrous, monochromatic plumage fully spread like the spokes of an enormous white wheel. The sight was beyond breathtaking—I could have stayed and watched for hours.

I finally managed to pry myself away, wondering whether any of the
wines I would be tasting could match the magnificence of this spectacle. Fortunately, my fears were soon allayed. I drove Silverado all the way up to Calistoga, then crisscrossed through downtown to locate the vineyard estate of Envy, where I had scheduled to met Vince Tofanelli, who crafts his wines in their barrel room. A relatively modest endeavor, Tofanelli bottles only Zinfandel and Charbono grown on his organic Tofanelli & DiGiulio Ranch, which also produces Sauvignon Musqué, Sémillon, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Grenache, Mondeuse Noire, and Cinsault. I had already tried Vince’s 2008 Zinfandel, so he took me through barrel tastings of the 2009 Zinfandel and the 2009 Charbono, a wine that portends to become quite intriguing over the next 4-5 years.

Tofanelli’s vineyard lies right beside Paoletti, the Calistoga winery next up on my agendum for the day. But before I headed over there to meet with winemaker Gabriella Gazzano, I was not about to bypass the opportunity to taste my way through Envy’s offerings. This joint venture brings together the impressive viticultural talents of Mark Carter, whose famed Restaurant 301 in Eureka may be the only restaurant in America with more wine selections than local inhabitants, and the previously heralded Nils Venge (the NV in Envy).

Tasting Room Manager Phillip Murphy led me through his entire lineup, an quartet of wines with nary a miss. we started off with the lone white selection, the crisp 2009 Sauvignon Blanc before Phillip poured another Napa contrarian, the 2008 Bee Bee’s Blend, a mélange of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petite Sirah. Individually, both the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2008 Petite Sirah showed highly compelling wines, and I gather there was no varietal Merlot for comparison.

After that, things got interesting, as we worked our way through Mark Carter’s own label (which accounts for ~.35% of the selections at Restaurant 301). First up was his in-house wine, the 2008 Table 5 Meritage. Similarly, the 2008 Hossfeld Coliseum Red Blend married Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot in an extraordinary composite. I very much liked the 2008 Revilo Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon but relished the 2008 Coliseum Block Cabernet Sauvignon even more. Keeping pace with this wine was the 2008 Truchard Vineyard Merlotand I suspect I would have been just as effusive about 2008 Coliseum Block Beckstoffer To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon, had I been able to try it! Last but not least, we delved into the 2007 The Archer, a Grenache with 5% Syrah bottled by artist Ruby Kurant under her eponymous label.

With that, I headed back over to Silverado to explore the wine caves and cellar at Paoletti, arriving at the same time as Gabriella, who doubles as winemaker for her own Rielle label in Petaluma (I would try these wines a week later at the Pacific Orchid Exposition Benefit). We started off with the 2009 Fiora Rosa d’Amore, a rosato of 31% Sangiovese, 64% Syrah, 5% Cinsault, and 2% Grenache. From there we segued. quite logically, to the 2008 Fiore Sangiovese before sampling the 2008 Bella Novello, an impressive Cabernet Sauvignon despite its syntactical incongruity. The pièce de résistance, the exquisite 2007 Nero d’Avola, one of only four bottlings of this varietal I have found in California.

After a quick tour of the caves and original sculptures Gianni had commissioned, I headed down to St. Helena for Cheers! to Taste! Usually this social takes place at a specific venue or winery, like Rubicon Estate. This time, however, the organizers tried to create a facsimile of the summertime Cheers! St Helena party, and, frankly, it proved too chaotic to attempt anything except simply to indulge in the moment and enjoy the camaraderie of the dedicated winery workers whom this group supports. Little on the program matched where the listed wineries actually were pouring, but no matter. I had sampled nearly everyone recently, except for Schweiger Vineyards, a winery I would cover more extensively a couple of weeks later at the Spring Mountain Open House.

even though I had indulged in a number of wines and hors d’œuvres at participating venues along Main Street, I still had room for an obligatory order of Onion Rings at Taylor’s Refresher before heading back to San Francisco. That in itself was pretext enough spending the day in Napa…

Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly

Just because I’m a single male of a certain age living in San Francisco doesn’t mean…you know. I mean…I’ve never even shown the slightest incarnation toward…you know. To be frank, the whole notion of…you know…makes me kinda nauseous. But I concede, when I was much, much younger, there was an occasion (or two) when I listened to show tunes. A whole album’s worth.

As an aspiring playwright, I naturally consider musical theater to be the absolute nadir of the stage and am as likely attend an Andrew Lloyd Weber production as I would order a big Mac and wash it down with White Zin. Still, deep in the recesses of my mind, I heard echoes of the oft-recorded centerpiece from Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun as I entered the Mission District’s cavernous Heart Wine on Valencia for a wine tasting fundraiser for The Proof is in the Vine: Natural Wine in California. I suppose there’s a touch of irony that the two brothers producing this documentary chose a wine bar that virtually eschews California wines, but with the usual lineup of natural wine aficionados pouring their selections, it became easy to overlook this discrepancy.

Normally, I would have expected to find Gideon Beinstock among this collection, showcasing his Clos Saron, but he made up for his absence by pouring his delightful 2005 Black Pearl (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Viognier, Roussanne) and other wines at the aforementioned Pacific Orchid Exposition the following week. His congenial demeanor was more than compensated for by the appearance of the ever-ebullient Hardy Wallace on behalf of the Natural Process Alliance, whose wines in stainless steel canteens have become familiar sights at events promoting a number of green causes. The contents of these canteens this evening started with the 2009 Pinot Gris Chalk Hill and the 2009 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast. I haven’t quite figured out why organic Sauvignon Blanc just seems to work better than other organic varietals, and the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley poured here was no exception. The wild card of the evening, though was the whim of the wheel 2009 Sunhawk, a co-fermented filed blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier, a splendid wine one could easily quaff six night a week.

Their literature states they grow a “field blend of Tempranillo, Syrah, Tannat, Grenache, Negroamaro and Cabernet Sauvignon,” certainly a wine I would be more than interested in tasting, but this evening La Clarine Farm only poured their 2009 Syrah Sumu Kaw Vineyard. Nonetheless, this biodynamic bottling proved quite a compelling introduction to this impassioned Somerset winery. Needing no introduction this evening were Tracey and Jared Brandt, though daughter Lily Grace, born March 10, was still in utero for the event. Her expectant parents poured a representative selection of their Donkey & Goat viticultural offspring, including the 2009 Untended Chardonnay Anderson Valley, the 2009 Brosseau Vineyard Chardonnay, their always marvelous 2008 Fenaughty Vineyard Syrah, and the newest bottling of their selective Rhône blend, the 2009 Four Thirteen, a GMS + Counoise.

I’d met their fellow Berkeley winemaker Steve Edmunds years before the Brandts had probably contemplated starting a label and have long enjoyed both his Edmunds St. John wines and eclectic Organoleptician newsletter. To be honest, however, there was a period during the early 2000s when I felt his wines had notably slipped. This evening, it was quite pleasurable to see him back on track with his 2009 Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir, one of the few true versions of this compelling varietal produced in California, along with the 2009 Wylie Syrah, and his own GMS blend, the 2009 Rocks and Gravel Dry Creek Valley grown at Unti Vineyards.

The evening’s great revelation, though, had to have come from Old World Winery. My good friend Darek Trowbridge seemed almost surprised to find me at the event; on the other hand, I hadn’t realized he was such an orthodox adherent to natural winemaking principles. In any case, it made for an interesting context to resample many of his wines that I had tried over the summer, starting with his 2008 Sauvignon Blanc.

Darek didn’t have a Chardonnay on hand, so we moved straight to his red selections with the 2006 Pinot Noir Sterling Family Vineyard, a wine that whetted your thirst for the 2007 vintage (as many 2006s will). The 2005 Cabernet Two Rock Block Bei du Rocchi Vineyard proved just as delectable, while the 2005 Zinfandel Laughlin Vineyard stood as a pinnacle of the evening. With that, he told me, “I have my Arborio under the table…”

Now, I’ve known quite a few winemakers who produce their own olive oil, raise cattle, or even maintain apiaries, but growing superfine rice was a first. As he brought out a bottle of his yet-unreleased 2008 Fulton Foderol, I finally clued into what he was saying.


This classic Risotto Milanese is made with Arborio, not Abouriou!

The rather obscure varietal Abouriou, also known as Early Gamay, is planted on a single acre in California at the Gibson-Martinelli Vineyard. My research shows that winemaker Steve Canter used to source these grapes for his defunct Luddite Vineyards, which bottled their own Abouriou Gibson-Martinelli Vineyard from 2001-05. After Steve took on the role of winemaker for Quivira, he abandoned this project, making the Abouriou available to Darek, who, coincidentally, is a member of the Martinelli clan. His forthcoming bottling blends the Abouriou with 50% Zinfandel, making for a distinctive wine that shows similarities to Lagrein. In any case, a complete revelation to me.

After the tasting, we stopped by Beretta for a late dinner. In addition to the obligatory pizza, we ordered a side dish of the Baccalà Mantecato, a Venetian interpretation of this centuries-old Italian staple, whipped into a delicate mash with potatoes, cream and olive oil. Incredibly, even with growing up in an Italian family, Darek had never tried salted cod before. Somehow my previous ignorance of Abouriou seemed mitigated.
To be continued
Two down and twelve to go. I
still have to report on Affairs of the Vine’s Pinot Summit, the first San Francisco tasting from the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance, and nine appellation tastings at Première Napa! And I ought not give short shrift to the Pacific Orchid Expo, but as with Cheers! to Taste!, there was little new ground here for Sostevinobile. True, I did find much to like in all five of Rielle’s wines: both the 2007 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay and the 2008 Sonoma County Chardonnay; her 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley and the 2008 Sonoma County Zinfandel, as well as Gabriella’s proprietary 2006 Sonoma County Red Wine, a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon and 36% Syrah. I was also intrigued by my first taste of the 2005 Estate Pinot Noir from Casa Carneros, though disappointed to learn that the 2002 Merlot Las Loma Vineyard will be their last bottling of this varietal. And while I’d be remiss in not citing my discovery of the excellent 2005 Sonoma Valley Syrah from Petrali, as well as the 2005 Sonoma Valley Blythleigh, their special blend of Syrah, Viognier, Mourvèdre, and Petite Sirah, my presence at this affair was intended to be purely social, and so my summary will end at that.
Tax preparations are looming. Other remaining tasks for Sostevinobile seem innumerable. Perhaps it is best to put this post aside and find some grappa after all…