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 2009Sauvignon, 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 Zinfandel. Another 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 2005Samuele 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.
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!
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.
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 NoirMcIntyre 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 SyrahManzoni 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 Robert—a 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 NoirPatricia 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 laWine 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 Liégeoisought 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 acclaimedDaring 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 ReserveScheid 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 Cellars’ 2006 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 TastingWine 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.
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 3≥5? 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 Sostevinobilereaders, 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 Sauvignonfrom 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≠ cnwhen 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 Vineyardsdazzled 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 Wineryshared 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 Vineyards’ 2005 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.
Confession: I glossed over a few stops in my last entry. I don’t know why. It just seemed easier to wedge them into here.
I had tried to devote a full day to a swing through Sonoma, but The Fates seem to conspire against me. The ultimate goal of finishing my visit by attending the Mendocino County Grape Growers Showcase in Santa Rosa remained constant, but scheduling visits throughout Sebastopol proved rather elusive, and then the intrusion of a slew of non-wine related matters delayed my departure for nearly two hours. Nonetheless, Your West Coast Oenophile did mange to keep an appointment with tiny Sheldon Wines, a dedicated artisanal winery whose tasting room occupies a remodeled railroad car near the Sebastopol Inn.
Winemaker Dylan Sheldon is a purist, who crafts his small lot wines with extreme fidelity to the origins of the varietal and its historical vinification. Witness (or, in my case, sample) his 2008 Viognier Sonoma Coast, Single Barrel Production. Unfiltered and unrefined, this flavor of the grape shines with little adornment or manipulation, a genuine expression of Viognier. Similar veracity can be found in his 2006 Chardonnay Santa Lucia Vineyard, the 2007 Graciano Super Freak and his 2006 Grenache, Santa Ynez Valley. Sheldon’s most “manipulated” wine was his 2005 Vinolocity, a blend of Grenache and Syrah, while the 2006 Petite Sirah Ripken Vineyard was an intensified, 100% expression of this varietal. All in all, a highly personal tasting I was glad to discover.
I had hoped to make short shrift of the drive to Santa Rosa; allora, it was anything but. My iPhone’s GPS mapped out a direct route from Sebastopol but pinpointed the Fountaingrove Golf Club nearly ½ mile from its actual location, along a rolling parkway that wound through the city without any conspicuous number signs to demarcate the unfamiliar terrain. Finally espying a motorcyclist who knew the precise location of this secluded complex, I encountered a veritable maze trying to decipher the layout of the grounds, which seemed intentionally designed to perplex any first-time visitor. Naturally, by the time located the correct building and parked, the 1½ hours I had allotted for the event had dwindled to a scant 25 minutes.
I might have had a full half-hour to network, but finding the reception room in the club’s main building proved one more challenge. After all that, you would think I’d at least have won the raffle for 5 tons of grapes, though, admittedly, I am far from ready to bottle my first vintage under the Sostevinobile label! Still, there was quite a bit of wine left to sample and several growers to meet among those who had not packed up early and headed back to Ukiah. Lisa Sutton of Bells Echo Vineyards could have easily beguiled me without pouring her wine, but I was nonetheless impressed with both the 2006 Syrah and the 2006 Interlude, their premium Syrah—both inaugural releases.
Nearby, the next wave of biodynamic farming was ably represented by fourth-generation vineyardist Heath Dolan of Dark Horse Ranch. Showcasing wineries that source his meticulously-tended grapes, Heath poured the complex 2007 Truett•Hurst|Dark Horse GPS, a GMS blend with Petite Sirah added to the mix, and the 2007 Mendocino Farms Grenache Dark Horse Ranch, one of Magnanimus Wine Group’s bottlings.
I’ve known members of Heath‘s family for decades (one of his father Paul Dolan’s cousins was slated as Sostevinobile’s original investor), but that connection has no bearing on my appreciation for his viticulture or his wines. Similarly, I’ve enjoyed a lively correspondence with Jim Kimmel over the last several weeks, but approached his brother Gary’s Kimmel Vineyards with the same lack of bias. Their boutique winemaking operations in Potter Valley embarked with 285 cases of the 2007 Chardonnay Mendocino County and a mere 271 cases of their equally fine 2007 Merlot Mendocino County.
Maybe because it was late in the day, maybe because, well, I could, I opted to try only the sweeter selectionsfrom Nelson Family Vineyards, a winery that grows just about everything. I was richly rewarded with their 2008 Estate Riesling, an intense 2008 Estate Viognier and their delightful dessert wine, the 2009 Estate Orange Muscat. Meanwhile, another grower whose plantings include a veritable potpourri of varietals, Rossetti Brothers, poured finished wines that included the 2008 Petite Sirah and both their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, along with bulk samples of their Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Carignane.
As the event came to a close, the sponsors of this event from True Mendocino promised that next year’s showcase would be held at a far more accessible site, and while I did treat myself to a leftover bottle of the tour of the 2006 Weibel Family Chardonnay Mendocino County for later delectation and self-guided tour of the Fountaingrove swimming complex, I opted to drive back and take a dip in Corte Madera natatorium where I frequent, before heading across the Golden Gate Bridge.
The next day promised to be quite the challenge, not for the intensity of my schedule but because I had finally decided to risk subjecting the cluttered environs of the home office I maintain for Sostevinobile to an onsite tasting by a local distributor. Housekeeping, as my familiars and family will attest—ce n’est-pas mon forte. Nonetheless, I managed to clear the living room, wash half a dozen goblets Cascade-spotless, and improvise a water pitcher and spill bucket in time to host Kip Martinez. Kip is a longtime San Franciscan who, with his wife, operates a rather quaintly-named wine distribution company called Kip and Nancy; we had met at the recent T.A.P.A.S. tasting, where he had filled in for client winery Bodega Paso Robles and piqued my curiosity with intimations of their Bastardo, which he had opted not to bring with him.
First up, however, was the eponymous label of winemaker Michel Berthoud and his homage to Helvetian winemaking, the 2008 Chasselas Doré Pagani Vineyard. I confess that I had not previous tried this varietal, grown in Switzerland to produce their signature Fendant du Valais; I would not venture to describe its taste, though, on a spectrum, I would be tempted to place it closer to a Chenin Blanc or slightly grassy Sauvignon Blanc than to a Chardonnay.
Michel is well-known as the winemaker for Mayo Family Winery, where he puts on a clinic,œnologically speaking, with his Alicante Bouschet (which sounds like it ought to be a Swiss wine), Italian varietals, and many of the other grapes predominant in Sonoma. Kip treated me to a small selection that included the 2006 Petite Sirah Sodini Ranch Vineyard, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Delaney Vineyard, and the 2006 Libertine, described as “a dollop of Merlot, a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon, a smidgen of Syrah and a dash of Zinfandel, with Petite Sirah and Petite Verdot thrown in for good measure.”
It seems a bit odd that Switzerland’s northern neighbor, Germany, has only one winery in California devoted to its varietals. Numerous wineries here are focusing on Riesling, and in Washington, wines like Lemberger and Riesling have begun to proliferate, but only Lodi’s Mokelumne Glen devotes itself exclusively to this category. Winemaker/owner Bob Koth had apprised me of another winery producing Dornfelder, so I was especially eager to try the Huber Estate wines when I found. As I had hoped, the 2006 Estate Dornfelder was a most compelling wine, and I only wish Kip had carried the 2006 Estate Dornfelder Charlotte’s Reserve for comparison. And until I next make a swing for Sostevinobile through the Santa Rita Hills AVA, the 2008 Hafen, a dessert-style Dornfelder, must remain a creature of my imagination!
One wine, however, no longer remaining within the realm of my imagination is Bastardo, or, as the wonderful censors at ATF would have us call it, Trousseau. Given the Bureau’s prohibition of the use of such provocative nomenclature, Bodega Paso Robles elected to label their offering the 2007 Pimenteiro. It did not bastardize this rustic wine, by any means. Kip also revisited their 2005 Solea (90% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano) and the 2003 Iberia(Tempranillo, Graciano, Tinta Cão, Touriga Nacional), two blends I had highly enjoyed in early June.
We moved onto the remaining wines I had selected from his catalog. Marco di Giulio Wines may have coöpted the URL I would have chosen for my first personal label, but I am perfectly able to let bygones be bygones and laud both their2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain District and its coeval, the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Progeny Vineyard. Similarly, CalStar might have been a desirable alternative to Sostevinobile, but that matters little now. I applaud their 2008 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard and would be eager to sample the rest of their inventory. Meanwhile, Starr Ranch bears no relation to the aforementioned winery nor to any of Pam Starr’s various viticultural forays; nonetheless, I found this Paso Robles producer quite adept with its 2007 Estate Grenache and its astral 2007 Orion, a Tempranillo-based wine.
Kip’s last offerings came from organically-farmed Lavender Ridge in Murphys. We started white, with their 2009 Côtes du Calaveras Blanc, Sierra Foothills, a blend of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc, then proceeded through their sundry single-varietal Rhône reds: the 2006 Grenache Sierra Foothills, the 2007 Mourvèdre Sierra Foothills, the 2005 Syrah Sierra Foothills, and the 2005 Petite Sirah Sierra Foothills before finishing up with the utterly complex 2006 Côtes du Calaveras that blended Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, and Counoise. A perfect note on which to end the day and ready myself for the major trade event on Friday.
The 6th Annual Pinot Days San Francisco Grand Tasting was slated for Sunday, June 27th in the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason. Unlike at other major tastings, however, the powers that be decided this year to sever the trade portion of the festival from the main event and hold it two days earlier in the Fleet Room, a far less capacious reception area in Building D, two floors below the famed Magic Theatre. In over thirty years of attending events, I had no awareness that this facility even existed and was quite surprised the promoters had selected it.
Of course, I understand that these Grand Tastings constitute a business for the people who organize them, particularly for the Pinot Days folks who do not represent a not-for-profit trade organization like Family Winemakers or ZAP. As well, to a large extent, trade and media tickets are provided as a courtesy, and I am indeed grateful each time I have been provided such. However, the greatest allure of these events for participating wineries are the opportunities they provided both for publicity and for significant sales of their wines. Speaking as Sostevinobile’s trade representative, let me say that I found the new configuration counterproductive in this regard and express my hope that next year’s Pinot Days returns to its previous formula. I know many of Friday’s other attendees feel similarly.
The schedule split and smaller space allowed less than half of Sunday’s wineries to participate. Still, the room was packed and without a printed tasting program, quite difficult to navigate. I managed to scribble my notes onto the back of several product flyers I appropriated from Chamisal Vineyards’ table as I quaffed their eminently drinkable 2007 Estate Pinot Noir. Shifting to my right, I next sampled from a pair of wineries I have known long before I create Sostevinobile but had not visited with in this capacity. Founded in 1857, Buena Vista bills itself as California’s oldest premium winery, though its wines are decidedly far more contemporary than I recall from the 1980s. The 2007 Pinot Noir Ramal Vineyard Estate Vineyard Series Dijon Clones proved an elegant wine, while their 2006 Pinot Noir Ramal Vineyard Estate Vineyard Series Swan Selection drank like a glissade across the tongue. At a nearby table, August Briggs opted to pour a single wine, their 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, more than a fine choice to represent their efforts.
Somewhere around the middle between these two tables, Mendocino’s Baxter Winery, with which I had become acquainted at Golden Glass, poured their jammy albeit curiously titled 2008 Pinot Noir Run Dog Vineyard. From Santa Rita Hills, Carr Vineyards introduced themselves and not only poured a striking 2008 Pinot Noir Turner Vineyard but slipped in a taste of their 2009 Pinot Gris, the first such “extra” of the afternoon. Fort Ross fell within house rules for pouring their always-special 2006 Pinotage, but Johanna Bernstein still managed to slip me a welcome sip of her 2007 Chardonnay Fort Ross Vineyard (or should I call it Pinot Chardonnay, to keep it within bounds?).
There may not be any correlation between these two Russian River Valley vintners, apart from their consecutive appearance in my note, but I was impressed with both the 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Selection from esteemed winemaker Gary Farrell and the 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from the newly established Thomas George Estates. And from the same notepad, Gundlach Bundschu, another continuum from the mid-19th century, maintained their pedigree with their 2007 Pinot Noir, while Gloria Ferrer, the Sonoma arm of the historic Spanish sparkling wine house Freixenet, impressed with both their 2006 Carneros Pinot Noir and a sparkling 2006 Brut Rosé.
Cima Collina and I have had a long e-mail correspondence for the past several months, so it surprised me that I had not previously sampled their products. Their representatives easily remedied this oversight with a quartet of their vintages: their more generic 2006 Pinot Noir Monterey County and the 2006 Chula Viña Vineyard Pinot Noir, top by their Santa Lucia Highlands vineyard-designate 2007 Tondrē Grapefield Pinot Noir and the superb 2006 Hilltop Ranch Pinot Noir. Another winery making quite the first impression with four distinct interpretation of the grape was Pinot-only Fulcrum Wines, a Napa-produced boutique venture. Their latest vintage comprised an almost dizzying array of choice AVAs: the 2008 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, the 2008 Tina Marie Russian River Pinot Noir, the 2008 ON Point Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, and my personal (as well as Wine Spectator’s) favorite, the lush 2008 Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.
That I had not previously visited with Crū, one of Mariposa Wine Company’s trio of labels. Fortunately, their 2007 Montage Central Coast Pinot Noir and the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Sarmento Vineyards cemented this connection. And how I could have overlooked Sebastopol’s DuNah until now astounds me almost as much as did their 2006 Pinot Noir DuNah Estate and their 2006 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard.
I was a tad surprised there were not more wineries from Oregon on hand this afternoon, given their pivotal role in establishing Pinot Noir on the West Coast (as well as Pinot Noir establishing Oregon as a major viticultural region). One such presence, Le Cadeau, happily displayed four of their most recent bottlings: the 2008 Pinot Noir Équinoxe, the amiable 2008 Pinot Noir Rocheux, the oddly named but excellent 2008 Pinot Noir Côte Est, and their crown jewel, the 2008 Pinot Diversité (shades of liberté, égalité, fraternité, to be sure)! Owner Tom Mortimer partners in another venture, Aubichon Cellars and generously included their inaugural release, the 2007 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley. French nomenclature also claimed the Central Coast’s La Fenêtre, whose Pinot offering ranged from the 2008 Pinot Noir Los Alamos Vineyard and the 2008 Pinot Noir Sierra Madre Vineyard to the more treasured 2008 Pinot Noir Central Coast and their acme, the 2008 Pinot Noir Le Bon Climat. While I greatly enjoyed La Fenêtre’s 2008 Bien Nacido Chardonnay, the winery seems hellbent on compelling me to struggle with composite characters, debuting their second label with the 2008 À Côté Chardonnay. Sans accents, Roots shared their whimsically-titled 2009 Melon de Bourgogne (a Chardonnay, naturally) and their 2008 Riesling before pouring a trio of delightful Pinots, the 2007 Crosshairs Pinot Noir, the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir, and the 2008 Leroy Pinot Noir.
Back in the Anglophile realm, M. Autumn bifurcates their winemaking between California and Oregon to offer their own Pinot trio: the 2006 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, the 2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, and newcomer 2008 Johnson Vineyard Pinot Noir from Chehalem. Keeping things somewhat thematic, from Chehalem. Keeping things kinda thematic, R. Merlo’s aspirations for an AVA in Hyampom Valley manifested itself in his 2005 Pinot Noir Trinity County.
Joseph Swan, the last winery I tried that poured four different Pinots, is a place I typically associate with Zinfandel. N’importe! I found myself uniformly enthralled with both the 2006 Pinot Noir Saralee’s Vineyard and the 2008 Pinot Noir Cuvee du Trois, as well as the 2007 Pinot Noir Trenton Estate Vineyard 2006 Pinot Noir Trenton View Vineyard, despite the New Jersey allusion! Pinot-centric Sequana chimed in with three different takes on the varietal, the superb 2008 Sundawg Ridge Pinot Noir from Green Valley, its proximate neighbor, the 2008 Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir, and the distant 2008 Sarmento Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands. Also posting a trifecta was my old friend Gideon Beinstock, with the terroir-driven wines from his Clos Saron in Oregon House. People who follow natural winemaking know this methodology can often be a crap shoot, but I was immensely pleased with his rosé, the 2009 Tickled Pink. Admittedly, I found myself ambivalent about the 2008 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard, but the 2006 Pinot Noir Texas Hill was one of the more outstanding efforts of the afternoon.
Another longtime acquaintance that my Sostevinobile blog readers should readily recognize was Dr. Chris Thorpe and his 100% organically-grown wines from Adastra. Once again, I fell sway to his 2006 Proximus Pinot Noir, a wine that reveals new complexities each time I encounter it. I never did get to meet Fred MacMurray while he was alive, though many hours of my childhood were dissipated watching his 1960s series after the departure of William Frawley. Many readers know of my disparagement of the Gallo wine empire, but, candidly, both the 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and the 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley from MacMurray Ranch were noteworthy expressions of the grape.
Coming on the heels of the extraordinary 2007 vintage, one which Wine Spectator lauded as Pinot Noir’s “best ever” in California, 2008’s wines faced the kind of daunting challenge Michael Jordan’s kids felt when trying out for the basketball team. A couple of wineries that only pour 2008 left no basis for comparison, but impressed on their own merits. The very fine 2008 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast from Pfendler Vineyards nonetheless risked being overshadowed by the presence of the pulchritudinous Kimberly Pfendler, while Richard Sanford’s 2008 Pinot Noir La Encantada Vineyard Santa Rita Hills (I failed to note whether it was the Clone 666 or the Clone 115 bottling) from his Alma Rosa Winery was flat-out superb. However, among where I could sample the two vintages side-by-side, I found a definite predilection for the 2007 Pinot Noir from Keefer Ranch over its successor. And among the three bottlings spanning 2006-08, Rusack Vineyards’ 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley clearly stood out.
Once again, Weibel had a presence with their 2006 Weibel Family Pinot Noir Mendocino County. Derby Wine Estates demonstrated the exceptional moments this earlier vintage enjoyed with their 2006 Pinot Noir Derbyshire Vineyard. And while the 2006 Pinot Noir from Hanzell, proud stewards of the oldest Pinot vineyard on the West Coast, proved to be a marvelous wine, I fear the 2000 Pinot Noir they poured did not quite withstand the test of time.
The last two wineries I had never before encountered helped wind down the day with some side tastings. Mark Cargasacchi’s Jalama Wines matched their superb 2007 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi-Jalama Vineyard with a refreshing splash of their whimsically-named 2007 Gialla, a Pinot Gris from their Santa Barbara estate. And the veritable last word in Pinot, Zotovich, augmented the excellence of their 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills with the clean flavor of its 2008 Chardonnay and an astoundingly good 2007 Syrah, all vinted by Palmina’s Steve Clifton.
Capping the afternoon, I very much enjoyed the Pinots Hahn Estate Wines bottles as part of their winery-within-a-winery label, Lucienne. Sipping the admirable 2007 Lucienne Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Lone Oak Vineyard segued into tasting the even more flavorful 2007 Lucienne Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Doctor’s Vineyard before I completed my rounds with Riverbench Estate. Here, both the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir and the 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley warranted tremendous accolades, while I was ready to rest on my laurels until my next tasting venture.
Every year, the month leading to Pinot Days has grown incrementally with seminars, winemaker dinners, preview tastings at numerous wine shops in San Francisco, and a dizzying array of other events throughout the Bay Area. Promoters Steve and Lisa Rigisich, partners in Pinot Noir specialist Ketcham Estate, are to be commended for their fanatical devotion to this grape. With this inundation of activities, I just hope they don’t lose sight of the important connection that Grand Tastings afford wineries and the people who promote them, the trade and the press, establish at such gatherings.
I understand the desire to weed out the numerous poseurs who like to attend trade & press events without ever contributing to the industry (apart from conspicuous consumption).Unfortunately, the segregation of this trade tasting meant only 96 wineries, out of 212 subscribed to the Grand Tasting the following Sunday, participated. By the time I realized the professional segment would truncate not just the time I had to spend with the wineries on my “To Meet” list but the roster of participants as well—only 29 of the 84 wineries I had earmarked exhibited on Friday—I had committed to the Mill Valley Wine & Gourmet Food Tasting, where yet another potpourri of wines and wineries would be featured. Allora, I merely hope we will all have a chance to meet at Pinot Days VII.
It has been over 500 days since I last donned a necktie. Or cravat. Or noose, if you will. It has also been more than 500 days since I last set foot in San Jose. Anyone who knows Your West Coast Oenophile is well aware of my aversion towards Silicon Valley. Or 408-ville. Or Legoland, if you will. Which makes the following admission all the more remarkable:
Ten days ago, I attended two wine tastings on behalf of Sostevinobile, one in Menlo Park, the other in San Francisco; the former event was unquestionably superior.
The Quadrus Conference Center at 2400 Sand Hill Road is pretty much ground zero for the VC community, and as I remain heavily into fundraising mode for our wine bars, I had almost hoped more to bump into a venture capitalist or two (after all, this is where “spare change” is a 7-digit figure) than to discover an astounding Roussanne or Syrah/Zinfandel/Cabernet Sauvignon blend. But the portable PDF of our Keynote presentation, which I had logged into my iPhone in case I needed to make an on-the-spot pitch, received as much use as the list of wineries I had culled from the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance’s pre-published roster for its Grand Tasting Tour: Mid-Peninsula.
N’importe! This still turned out to be a representative sampling of what is arguably the most interesting AVA in California, comprising well over 240 wineries and more acreage than any other appellation. The afternoon began with a seminar from three of the more prominent wineries in the region: Clayhouse, J. Lohr, and Ancient Peaks. Each of the three wineries brought a representative selection of wines in the $16 range, as well as one of their higher-end offerings.
Though the allure of Paso Robles is that allows itself to be unfettered by orthodox varietal categorizations (i.e., Burgundian, Bordelaise, Rhône), each of the three winemakers presented selections that were consistent within their own strictures. Steve Lohr poured two blends in the Bordeaux tradition, the first in the style of Pomerol, the more luxuriant based on Médoc, though each contained a sufficient amount of its primary varietal to be labeled 2007 J. Lohr Los Osos Merlot and 2006 J. Lohr Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon. David Frick first poured his 2008 Clayhouse Malbec, ever-so-subtly softened with 2% Merlot, then switched to a Rhône blend, the 2007 Clayhouse Estate Petite Sirah, this time tempered with 1.5% Syrah. Meanwhile, Mike Sinoir showed true Paso Robles temperament by first blending his 2007 Ancient Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon Margarita Vineyard with Malbec, Petit Verdot and Zinfandel, then showcased his 2007 Ancient Peaks Oyster Ridge Margarita Vineyard, a totally unconventional blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Petite Sirah, rounded out equally with Merlot and Petit Verdot.
Following what turned out to be a lively exchange, I joined up with the main tasting, armed with a plan of attack that bore little correlation to what I found awaiting us. Because I had failed to try Anglim at each of the previous two Rhône Rangers, I first gravitated toward their table to sample their mix. while I found their 2006 Cameo (Marsanne/Roussanne/Viognier) and the 2006 Cerise (Grenache/Mourvèdre/Syrah/Viognier) blends quite approachable, I favored their single varietal 2007 Roussanne, the 2006 Grenache and the 2007 Mourvèdre Hastings Ranch Vineyard far more to my liking. In such company, their 2007 St. Peter of Alcantara, a Zinfandel, seemed a bit anomalous but quaintly nostalgic, the name being the same as the Catholic parish I attended, unmolested, in my youth. Nearby, Alta Colina’s 2008 Claudia Cuvée blended Grenache Blanc with Roussanne and Marsanne, while their 2007 GSM clearly excelled.
To my mind, nothing typifies Paso Robles more than its unusual blends—after all, such experimentation put Piero Antinori on the viticultural map. The 2006 Companion from Caliza, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Tannat, could not exemplify this willingness to experiment better, but, again, I most cottoned to their 2007 Syrah. Paso’s true pioneer in this array, though, has to be L’Aventure, a winery that needs no introduction here. Even though I had liberally sampled their wines at Rhône Rangers but a few weeks before, my friend Jennifer Hong, who distributes their wine in the Bay Area, insisted that today’s tasting would be featuring some newly released vintages. Here the superb 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon was complemented by the even more imposing 2007 Estate Cuvée, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot.
Kenneth Volk had introduced me to Negrétte last year, but was pouring samples only of their Paso Robles wines this afternoon. Still, I delighted in the 2008 Viognier Live Oak Vineyard, the 2005 Cabernet Franc, and especially the 2005 Tempranillo. And though I had sampled their wines at Rhône tasting, the sardonic wit of their emissary, Katie Kanphantha, drew me back to Derby Wine Estates’ table where I retried their delightful though inexplicable 2006 Fifteen10 Red and regaled in their 2006 Implico, a Bordeaux Meritage.
At this point, the tasting took a turn for the definite better, as the ever-alluring BeiBei Song joined me for a guided introduction. We scurried out onto the deck to join Tommy Oldré, bedecked in a loud, fuchsia necktie (or cravat) (or noose), at his Tablas Creek table. As always, the 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, their famed blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and Picpoul Blanc, proved an immediate favorite, while both the 2007 Grenache and the 2007 Mourvèdre charmed BeiBei in a way I thought only I could! We proceeded to Mike Giubbini’s Rotta Winery, a somewhat understated venture mostly producing traditional varietals like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel (I found the 2005 Rotta Giubbini Estate Zinfandel quite compelling). And while the 2005 Trinity, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot made for a more than competent Meritage, the real discovery here was the non-vintage Black Manukka, an oak-aged, rare dessert wine that begs comparison with a fine cream sherry. Dessert wine also stole the show at Robert Hall Winery. I found their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon quite appealing, but their 2009 Orange Muscat tasted like a liquid Grand Slam.
In the past, I may have been critical in this forum of wines from Niner’s Bootjack Ranch. I now realize that the particular vintages I have been served as a certain wine establishment may well have been past their prime, for the current releases I sampled here more than favorably impressed me. I found much merit in the 2006 Sangiovese but truly relished the 2005 Fogcatcher, a skillful mélange of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, along with Cabernet Franc and Merlot. I hadn’t had previous experience with Silver Horse Winery, but found their Bordeaux bled, the Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec/Petit Verdot combo of the 2007 SAGE enticing. More compelling, however, was their 2007 TOMORI, marrying Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with Syrah, while their straightforward 2009 Albariño offered a nice contrast to most of the afternoon’s offerings.
A wide range of Spanish varietals have taken root at numerous Paso Robles wineries, like Stanger, vinifying a more than competent rendition with their 2006 Tempranillo Stanger Vineyards; their forte, however, might have been the 2007 Viognier Paso Robles, a clean expression of this finicky varietal. Meanwhile, restricting themselves to what they do best, Terry Hoage presented three takes on Grenache: the 2007 The Pick, a Grenache-dominant GMS blend, the 2007 The 46, a Grenache/Syrah combo, and the 100% 2007 Skins Grenache.
When I toured Paso Robles last year, I found myself rather intrigued by a gated Westside estate that was under development. Was this oddly-named winery a latent tribute to a Black & White puppet show that lurked deep in the recesses of my memory? kukkula, it turns out, is the Finnish word for “high place” (kukla is the transliteration of κούκλα or кукла, the respective terms in Greek and in Russian for doll), a most apt description of Kevin Jussila’s aerie. Finnish varietals are an unknown species to me, but Kevin compensates by giving his intriguing wines names like the 2008 vaalea, meaning “fair” or “white” to his Viognier/Roussanne blend or 2006 sisu, the term for “patience” or “perseverance”to his GMS blend. His superb mélange of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Zinfandel bears the label of 2006 Lothario, a moniker I often fancy for myself, while his Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah goes by the inornate 2006 in the red.
During the height of the dot.com explosion, a popular Italian restaurant in Mill Valley decided to open a branch in Palo Alto; rather than clone the name, they decided to hold a contest to see who could come up with the most clever appellation (the prize being a free meal every week for life, if I recall correctly). I submitted Il Pastaio Ottimo, meaning “the best pasta maker” but also deftly abbreviated as I.P.O. kukkula also produces a wine with the same acronym, a mostly Cabernet Sauvignon blend paying tribute to Kevin’s real job as a financial advisor. I tried to persuade him to drop off a bottle of his 2005 i.p.o., along with his business card, on the doorstep of every VC firm in the complex, but he demurred. Maybe I should have purchased a couple cases and left a bottle with Sostevinobile’s card instead!
As much as I enjoyed kukkula’s wines, my great discovery of the afternoon had to have been Roger Nicolas’ RN Estate. I could lavish superlatives on these wines all day (in between repeated sips, of course)! Two of these wines, the 2007 Young Vine Zinfandel and the 2006 Enfant Prodigué, a Mourvèdre/Syrah/Zinfandel blend, I conservatively scored as excellent. The other two Roger poured, the 2007 Cuvée des Artistes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel) and the 2007 Cuvée des Trois Cépages(a more traditional Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) well warrant the resurrection of my highly-coveted.
I did skip a handful of attending wineries to which I have given extensive coverage in previous entries here, but concluded this tasting with Maloy O’Neill, another winery that had escaped previous notice. Quite the versatile viticultural venture, they impressed me with their 2005 Zinfandel, the 2005 Private Reserve Syrah, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Windy Hill, and the 2005 Malbec. However, I was most struck by their 2005 Lagrein, a wine that contrasted strikingly with the Lagrein from Sonoma’s Jacuzzi that I have previously assayed here.
As the trade portion of this tasting drew to a close, I sadly could not convince BeiBei to accompany me to the evening’s tasting in San Francisco. In retrospect, I probably ought to have fortified myself with a little sisu (the concept, not the wine) and loitered with the winery crews until the public arrived; instead, I basked in a few minutes of rare sunshine, then headed up Interstate 280 for Wine Enthusiast’s Toast of the Town 2010.
On surface impression, the wine tasting in San Francisco should have had everything going for it: a splendiferous setting inside the War Memorial Opera House, access to innumerable top-flight restaurants and caterers, a well-heeled crowd easily able to swing the $89 ticket price (if not the $169 tab for the VIP tasting), plus a prestigious wine publication as sponsor for the event.
This isn’t to say that, even within these conglomerates, there aren’t quite a number of excellent labels and individual wines. I even sampled from BV, Cardinale, Archery Summit, and Robert Mondavi, to name but a few. But a neophyte could have put together this list as easily as Wine Enthusiast did—just without their imprimatur. And that hardly warrants an $89 premium.
On the plus side, Farallon generously shelled out tray upon tray of Champagne Poached Oysters, Cindy Pawlcyn’s Go Fish Restaurant whipped up a superb Shrimp & Lobster Salad, an Oakland establishment called Home of Chicken and Waffles covered everyone’s comfort food needs with Fried Chicken and Macaroni & Cheese, while Bistro Boudin from Fisherman’s Wharf incongruously assembled superb medallions of Alder Smoked Duck atop shot glasses filled what they described as Beet Gazpacho. Other food purveyors had offerings just as delectable, I am sure, but were already depleted by the time I arrived.
And in all fairness, there were more than a handful of independent wineries scattered throughout the four floors of this event. Jordan showed its usual flair with both its 2008 Chardonnay Russian River Valley and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley. One of Crushpad’s last, lingering autonomous labels, PerryMoore, impressed with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Vineyard and their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Stagecoach Vineyard. From Monterey, Josh Pierce of Pierce Ranch impressed me with his 2008 Albariño San Antonio Valley, while international wine mini-mogul Jean-Charles Boisset poured a selection of his family’s California and French labels, including DeLoach’s 2007 O.F.C. Reserve Pinot Noir, Lyeth’s wondrous 2006 Meritage, and newly-acquired Raymond’s 2007 Reserve Chardonnay.
Before I bring this review to a close, I wanted also to mention the presence of three promotional associations of independent wineries who poured a representation of their members’ wines. Unfortunately, each had far too many offerings for me to serve them justice during the limited time span of this event, and I can only urge them to hold a collective tasting like the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance sometime in the near future. Of course, I fully expect once again to attend the Grand Tasting for PS I Love You at Concannon, America’s birthplace of Petite Sirah, in the summer. And I hope Jim Ryan will use this event as a model for the members of his Livermore Valley Wine Country to establish a tasting of their own. Lastly, being sandwiched in-between Santa Cruz, Santa Lucia Highlands, and Paso Robles, Monterey Wine Country has plenty of examples to follow if it decides to a trade tasting of the diverse wines within their AVA.
Two tastings in one day—a lot to absorb, a lot to record, and (perhaps) too much to imbibe. My trek from San Francisco to Menlo Park and back covered nearly eighty miles and a wealth of contrast between the two cities and the events they had hosted. Perhaps Charles Dickens said it best: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”