Sostevinobile has not always been as diligent as we could be in visiting some of the outlying wine regions that we will be featuring, and so Your West Coast Oenophile recently ventured out to the Livermore Valley for the first time in a few years. Apart from its renowned gargantuan wine operations: Wente, the first significant Chardonnay producer in California, and Concannon, which inaugurated Petite Sirah on the West Coast, far too many other members of the Livermore Valley AVA are relegated to relative obscurity outside the Bay Area (in no small part because these two aforementioned wineries were permitted to remain open during Prohibition).
To rectify matters, I took recently advantage of an invite to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremonies for Wente’s Table & Tasting Lounge to reacquaint myself with some of the AVA’s cutting-edge producers. Readers who know me know I have long been a vocal advocate of Steven Kent, a producer whose Cabernets deliver more bang for the buck—$125 for a bottle that would easily fetch $500+ if the label read Napa—than perhaps any other winery on the West Coast, along with Daou and Quilceda Creek. Less publicized is that his family’s former winery, Mirrasou, had committed 250,000 cases of their White Zinfandel to my debut bottling, George Herbert Walker Blush, before the bureaucrats at BATF denied us label approval.
Thirty years later, Steven’s wines are a far cry from what I experienced in the snow-covered (!) vineyards in San Martin. Our tasting began with a sneak taste of their just-bottled 2018 Ragbag Albariño, a crisp, deft expression of the grape form Lodi’s acclaimed Bokisch Vineyards. Similarly, the 2018 Lola was a predominantly Sauvignon Blanc blend, mellowed out with a substantial 32% Sémillon. Mid-range BDX single-varietal bottlings of the classic, pre-climate change Bordeaux reds from their Ghielmetti Estate Vineyard, was strikingly represented by the non-vintage BDX Collection Malbec, while the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon exquisitely blended their Ghielmetti Cabernet with 4.5% Petit Verdot and 4.5% Merlot from nearby vineyards.
Though young, the 2016 SVS Cabernet Sauvignon, produced entirely from the Clone 7 plantings at Steven Kent’s Home Ranch Vineyard, totally exemplified why this unassuming operation deserves to be ranked among the elite producers from California’s more heralded regions. A beautiful wine with the promise of attaining its full potential in another 10 years.
From there, I moseyed on to Darcie Kent, no relation to Steven but certainly a kindred spirit in raising the bar for Livermore viticulture. Their quaint, cottage-style winery stands in welcome contrast to the industrial feel of the nearby Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the soulless abodes of its nuclear physicists. Darcie and her husband David greeted me with a special hand selected tasting that began with their 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, a self-described spicy interpretation of the ever-so-delicate Musqué clone. Next up was their spectacular 2018 Rava Blackjack Grüner Veltliner, a signature wine that predated the Kent’s’ move into their own facility. I was similarly impress with the upcoming release of the 2018 Pistachio Lane Chardonnay, while the library selection of the 2014 DeMayo Chardonnay aged beautifully.
Darcie Kent’s Petite Sirah bottling, the 2009 Madden Big Petite amply showed why this varietal remains a mainstay in Livermore. We concluded the tasting with their 2015 Firepit Red, a deft mélange of the premium fruit from their Crown Block Estate Vineyard: Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot, and Zinfandel. Afterwards, I stayed on as a guest for their barbecue and concert by The Novelists, a Reno-based quartet that adeptly covers hits from Bruce Springsteen and Queen to Toto and Pink Floyd. It was a splendid coda to a splendid visit.
My only regret of the afternoon was not allotting sufficient time to visit with the many other wineries here. Since my last visit to Livermore, there has been a notable proliferation of vineyards, tasting rooms, and producers, along with a collaborative effort to upgrade facilities here from the rather mundane sterility of a light industrial complex to more inviting and encompassing tasting experiences, as renovation of S. Vasco Road’s The Block 37 attests. I intend to make up for this lapse quite soon.
One of the hallmarks Your West Coast Oenophile is striving to establish for the wine program at Sostevinobile is untainted objectivity in selecting the wines we will feature, both at our wine bar and through our retail operations. Over the 2½ years that I have been relentlessly developing the wine program, I have made numerous new friends, strengthened old acquaintances, and been extended enormous generosity everywhere I’ve traveled. But I cannot allow the pull of personal relationships to influence our decisions, insuring that our clientele knows that we are offering them the best wines we can source, week in and week out, based solely on a rigorous methodology for evaluation (more on this in a later posting).
This process of selection, however, is based on a bias I have articulated many times: that the quality and variety of wines found on the West Coast makes for a superior wine program that is comprehensive in its scope and that delivers wines of sufficient, if not exceptional, value. Toward this end, I am constantly willing to challenge my own hypothesis and sample a wide array of the imported wines Sostevinobile eschews.
Recently, I returned for another pre-auction tasting with Wine Gavel at Ame restaurant in San Francisco. Admittedly, this is a realm in which I have scant exposure and have little ability to assess the quality of the event, apart from the criteria outlined in their event program. After all, the mere notion of wine collecting baffles me. Unlike something like numismatics or philately or other accumulations of memorabilia, the only way a wine collector can fully enjoy his acquisition is to obliterate its value. On the other hand, if the collector does not consume the wine, the whole exercise seems like a thankless pursuit.
As with last year’s event that I attended, Wine Gavel poured a number of well-aged French vintages, including a handful of Premiers Crus, from their own vaults. Several of these had been polished off before I arrived, but those that I did manage to taste ranged from lackluster to near dreadful, at least when standing on their own merits (vs. pairing with food). Maybe these particular wines came from off vintages. Maybe previous owners had stored them improperly. In any case, I was once again duly unimpressed with such highly-touted labels.
Shortly after, I partook in a late night tasting of French wines at Prospect. Here, the Robert Kacher Selections and our host, the Henry Wine Group, brought out a number of more moderate selections from the Loire Valley, Alsace, Côtes du Gascogne, Burgundy, Corbières, Costières de Nîmes, and the Rhône Valley. Nearly all these wines listed at <$20/bottle wholesale, many even less than $10, while the represented AOCs ranged from the rigid strictures of Bourgogne and Châteauneuf du Pape to the unfettered blends found in the minor regions. As I found with the Bordeaux tasting I had attended earlier this year, an enormous gulf exists between the top echelon (Premier Cru houses in Bordeaux, Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy) and those from the lower tiers in those appellations that issue such rankings.
Here’s the gist of what I ascertained at this tasting. The lower end white and red Burgundies (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) poured here could hardly be said to give Oregon or Santa Barbara a run for their money. The range of Sauvignon Blanc expressions, including the Sancerres, mostly seemed pleasant, if unremarkable. The dessert bottlings never failed to please, while I must concede that the West Coast is still catching up to France in its capacity to offer as broad a selection of noteworthy, mid-range sparkling wines as the proliferation of Crémants and Champagnes they produce.
My investigations into West Coast viticulture are by no means near complete or comprehensive, but as yet, I have not found a varietal bottling of Aligoté or a straight Ugni Blanc here. Seldom -seen Carignan played a more prominent role in a number of the French wines, including the 2008 Domaine Sainte Eugénie Le Clos Vin de Pays d’Hauterive and its sibling 2007 Domaine Sainte Eugénie Corbières Rouge, two highly impressive wines, given their sub-$9 price tag, while the premium Font du Michelle Châteauneuf du Pape Étienne proved well-worth the price it commands. But, in spite these exceptions, the selection of French wines overall failed to sway me from my contention that the omission of imports diminishes the wine program I am building.
Some wines can be so restrained or overly acidic that they simply cannot function on their own merits. To call such wines “food mandatory” seems appropriate, as their need for complementary pairings cries out:
The pablum reiterated ad infinitum by local sommeliers to rationalize their disdain for California wines is that French and other European vintages offer lower alcohol levels and a more restrained, terroir-expressive style that makes them food friendly. I would contend that the plethora of these imports are food mandatory—wines virtually undrinkable without the salvation of food pairings.
This reality hits home pointedly with the Italian vintages I’ve recently sampled, including the 1998 Quintarelli Ca’ del Merlo IGT Veneto(Valpolicella) or the Terlato-owned 2001 Gaja Sito Moresco poured at Wine Gavel. At San Francisco’s hotter than hot Cotogna, I had to send back both the 2008 Tenimenti d’Alessandro Cortona Syrah and the 2008 Renato Ratti Nebbiolo d’Alba Ochetti, while I struggled through samples of the 2008 Torre di Beatti Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, the 2009Cantine Barbera Nero d’Avola, and the 2008 Marotti Campi Lacrima di Morro d’Alba Rúbico before throwing in the towel and ordering grappa at Italian wine-focused Ottimista Enoteca.
These explorations served as prelude to my return visit to Around the World in 80 Sips, a reprise from the tasting Alyssa Rapp’s Bottlenotes staged last year. This time round, however, the event took place at the Golden Gate Club in the Presidio, rather than at Crushpad, which had relocated to Napa. Consequently, this tasting no longer was dominated by labels from the defunct San Francisco Wine Association or produced at the Third Street facility, while offering a wider spectrum from winemakers within California and around the world.
I had planned to work my way through the local producers, then continue my forays into the imported wines, and ought to have had enough time to sample just about everything on the program. But even with a trade hour before its official start, Around the World in 80 Sips is a different kind of wine tasting, a sales event geared for their wine club subscribers and the οἱ πολλοί, as we used to say in my ancient Greek studies. Not that it even remotely resembled the mass frenzy of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition that transpired a week later; still, the setup here lacked a flow and coherence one expects at an event oriented toward wine industry professionals.
The central reception area housed a number of the sponsoring wineries, along with vendors for different wine paraphernalia, and the only food at the event. I immediately gravitated toward Clos du Val’s table for my first sampling of their wines since their Vindependence launch last July. Fortunately, Tracey Mason only remembered my commendations for their wines and so generously poured a full selection of their offerings, starting with the unlisted 2007 Carneros Chardonnay, followed by a superior successor in the 2008 Carneros Chardonnay. Similarly, as enjoyable as the 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir proved to be, the 2007 Reserve Pinot Noir easily eclipsed it. And while I preferred the less expensive 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2006 Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon hardly stoods as a laggard.
Chappellet is one of those wineries so consistently good, it’s easy to take them for granted. Their more accessible selections, the 2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay and the 2008 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon could easily delineate a lesser winery, while their 2008 Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon proved absolutely stellar.
Sonoma’s Freeman Vineyards may not be as widely recognized as Chappellet, but inarguably maintains an equally impressive reputation for their Pinots. As expected, both the 2008 Akiko’s Cuvée and the 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir exemplified this finicky varietal. One of these days, I may actually get the chance to tell Michael Polenske how much I like his Blackbird label, but, for this evening, I simply had to content myself by tasting through his 2008 Arriviste (a dry rosé crafted from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc), the Merlot-dominant 2007 Illustration, and the 2008 Arise, a Pomérol-style blend.
It was good to reencounter my friend Janet Viader, who has included Sostevinobile in all sorts of industry events over the past couple of years, and sample her latest vintages. The 2007 Tempranillo showed an amiable expression of the grape, while the 2008 Cabernet Franc radiated. Also excelling with this latter varietal, Crocker & Starr poured its version of the 2008 Cabernet Franc alongside a splendid 2009 Sauvignon Blanc.
Whenever I encounter Cannonball, I invariably break out my iPhone and play the live version of Mercy, Mercy, Mercy—a perfect tune to complement both the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the exceptional 2007 Merlot. I also cited a musical allusion for Sledgehammer in my last column, so will avoid the pitfall of redundancy this time around. A resampling of their 2008 Zinfandel, however, seemed perfectly warranted, while I was glad to be introduced to their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. Nearby, Karen Cakebread introduced attendees to her new venture, Ziata Wines, pouring her inaugural 2008 Oakville Cabernet Franc and a preview of the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, both superb viticultural efforts.
Also new to me was Matt Kowalczyk’s Buscador from Santa Ynez. This decidedly non-vegan venture made a strong initial impression with its 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and a trio of reds: the 2008 Petite Sirah, a youngish 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the quite splendid 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. Not new but more than wonderful to see once again was Napa’s Neal Family, with equally impressive bottlings of their 2008 Napa Valley Zinfandel and the 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. And I was please to check in on the continuing evolution of Clif Family Winery, whose accessible and affordable The Climber series included the 2009 The Climber Sauvignon Blanc and the 2009 The Climber Red, a blend of 63% Zinfandel, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Syrah, 2% Merlot, and 2% Petite Sirah.
An interesting find this evening was a négociant bottler known as Banshee, which bifurcates its production with a lower-end label they call Rickshaw. Both the $15 2009 Rickshaw Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and the $15 2007 Red Wine Napa Valley (a mélange of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot) struck me as well-crafted wines, while the more expensive 2009 Banshee Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and the 2008 Banshee Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley impressed me mightily for wines sourced on the open market. Now that the Huneeus Partnerships produces a number of Orin Swift’s former bottlings, they treat each as a separate label, without detriment to either the 2009 Saldo Zinfandel or the emblematic 2009 The Prisoner, still a Zinfandel blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Charbono, Grenache, and Malbec.
Also featuring a split persona, Greg Norman Estates Wine featured both their California and their Australian labels; from their local operations, the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc struck me as a bit perfunctory. Before I delve into his imported wines, however, as well as the others I managed to sample, I wanted to focus on the true anomaly of Around the World in 80 Sips: an entire enclave devoted to the wines of the Livermore Valley. I’d like to think this sequestration stemmed from an ultimatum: buy our wines or we will obliterate you from the face of the Earth, but, despite their superior nuclear capabilities (compared to every other appellation on the planet), I gather that the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association helped underwrite the event and so warranted special focus.
Front and center in the Livermore room, Concannon’s Jim Ryan held court, pouring both his lush 2006 Reserve Petite Sirah and the 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as the 2008 DeMayo Chardonnay and the 2007 DeMayo Zinfandel from Darcie Kent, a Livermore boutique noted for her vibrant painted labels. Livermore’s other Goliath, Wente Vineyards showcased a range of its labels, from the low-end Tamás Estates’ 2008 Double Decker Red(Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Barbera) to the striking Meritage 2008 The Spur from Murrieta’s Well to their own 2009 Riva Ranch Chardonnay and the smooth 2008 Small Lot Grenache.
No longer affiliated with his family’s Gallo-controlled winery, Steven Mirrasou’s eponymous Steven Kent offered a trio of his vintages: the 2008 Merrillie Chardonnay Landucci Block, his signature 2007 Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon, and an extremely pleasing 2007 Small-Lot Petit Verdot Ghielmetti Vineyard. Finally, one of Livermore’s hidden gems, Nottingham Cellars, hit critical mass with their featured wines: the 2009 Chardonnay and a superb 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
I had hoped to find more time to work my way through the rest of the world, but the disparate configuration of the event made access to a number of stations problematic. In particular, I regret missing the wide selection of Austrian wines. Despite pouring from three tables in the central room, the crush of attendees thwarted my efforts to sample a number of varietals that have scant production in California: Zweigelt (Mokelumne Glen); St. Laurent (Forlorn Hope); and Grüner Veltliner (von Strasser and the aforementioned Darcie Kent). Not to mention a Riesling or two.
I did make it to the Australian table, however, and found Greg Norman’s contribution, his 2007 Limestone Coast Shiraz, a perfectly standard Aussie Syrah, while the slightly blushing 2008 Brut Taché from Taltarni Vineyards only marginally impressed. I didn’t get to try any of the Sauvignon Blancs that put New Zealand on the viticultural landscape nor the lone Malbec that exemplified Argentina, but did linger at the table for neighboring Chile. Here the forte has become Carménère, best represented this evening by the 2007 Terrunyo Carménère from Concha y Toro, the conglomerate which recently acquired Fetzer and Brown & Forman’s other wine holdings. Apart from this exceptional wine, the Chilean portfolio struck me as rather mundane, including the 2008 Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon from Cousiño Macul, a weak 2009 Reserva Carménère from Casa Silva, and even the much-touted 2007 Maquis Lien, a wine that blended Syrah with Carménère, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.
The table from Italy had already packed up when I arrived, and most of France had been depleted, save the rather forgettable 2009 Whispering Angel Côtes de Provence Rosé from Château d’Esclans. And with that final sip, it was time to bid adieu and thank Alyssa for her hospitality, then head to the home of the America’s Cup for a social gathering.
Someday soon, I hope, I will be able to attend a wine tasting simply for the pleasure of the wine and the comradery of the other attendees. When I no longer need to research the wine program at Sostevinobile on such an intense level, I will be able to appreciate events like Around the World in 80 Sips in a completely different light, to be sure. And with that in mind, I look forward to next year’s event and Bottlenotes’ continued success.
Meanwhile, though little convinces me I should reconstrue the wine program I have mapped out, I expect that I will continue to explore the range of wines that fall outside our purview. Know that the staff Sostevinobile plans to assemble will be thoroughly versed in the entire world of wine and able to explain the virtues of varietals and styles grown elsewhere, in order to offer our clientele a sound basis for understanding and enjoying the wines we do select.
On a professional level, the staunch proponents of imported wines will continue to champion their belief in the superior balance in their selections. Food friendly or food mandatory, it is not my charge to sway the beliefs of these sommeliers and restaurateurs. My only mandate is to build a wine program that will be second to none.
In this final entry for 2010, I’d like to step out of my guise as Your West Coast Oenophile and speak to the future of Sostevinobile. This past year presented considerable challenges, even for those of us who didn’t grow grapes; one of the consequences was that I became too immersed on a number of fronts to put out a newsletter. In lieu, I cobbled together a Christmas greeting for our many winery friends, business affiliates, and other acquaintances, with intimations of substantive progress for our venture looming just ahead in the New Year.
We’re still on track for January, and my optimism increases with every passing day. And it was certainly gratifying to receive numerous congratulations and encouraging responses to my mass e-mailing (once I figured out how to work around Earthlink’s bulk mail policies). Nonetheless, intimations in a few of these replies lead me to feel I should make clear what Sostevinobile’s wine acquisition procedures will be, once we become ready to start formal operations.
I began building our wine program just over two years ago and have now identified and addressed nearly 2,300 wineries and independent labels throughout California, Washington, and Oregon. This puts us somewhere between ¼ and ⅓ of our target of assembling the most comprehensive source of sustainably-grown wines from the West Coast. Obviously, there will be myriad implications to such an ambitious goal.
The long-term plan forSostevinobile is to open and operate up to a dozen large-format wine bars with retail stores and e-commerce in strategically-select cities throughout these three states (any more than that and we will not be able to provide the consistent quality I demand). For now, however, everything is focused on launching our flagship wine bar in San Francisco. Here we will have a rotating program of 48 wines by the glass, with an ever-growing reserve bottle-only list and a much more comprehensive retail line.
with swapping out one flight of red wine and one flight of white each week,
that leaves us with somewhere in the vicinity of 350-400 wines we can
offer onsite our first year. Regrettably, this will mean Sostevinobile cannot accommodate every wine I try—at least as a bar selection—and I have made a point of not making any commitments in this regard other than to be as equitable with everyone as I possibly can be.
My role in developing Sostevinobile has been to lay the groundwork for our wine programs and to build a database of wineries that meet with our criteria for inclusion. When Sostevinobile does reach the point where we are actively acquiring wine, selections will be determined by consensus of the in-house wine tasting panel I am cultivating. I do not pretend to have a universal palate that can speak to the widely disparate tastes of the clientele we are anticipating, nor do I believe any one single person should try to fulfill such a function.
Sostevinobile is determined to avail our wine bar and retail programs to every winery I have contacted and befriended over the past two years. Our tasting panel will give a fair and studied evaluation to each of the wines submitted to us and determine how best we might incorporate it into our wine lists and our retail sales. But the only immutable pledge I can make is to sustain the integrity of our program and provide the finest showcase available for the incredible wines of our region.
Certain factors will inescapably play into our decisions. Wines will have to fall into an affordable by-the-glass range. Wines readily available in supermarkets or wine superstores will likely face less of a chance for inclusion than those that can constitute discoveries for our clientele. Statistically, the four California bottlers of an underrepresented varietal like Grüner Veltliner will more likely to find their way onto one of our flights than will the 900 or so Chardonnay producers. And, of course, all the wine Sostevinobile selects must meet with a level of sustainability that I will outline in the near future (like the new California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance certification, our criteria are being designed to be supportive and embracing, not exclusionary).
On a personal note, I look forward to working in 2011 with the numerous wineries with whom Sostevinobile has already established a relationship and to enjoining those whom we have yet to meet. Like most other people, I am hoping that the economic turmoil of 2010 will soon be but a speck in the rearview mirror and the coming year will bring prosperity and success to us all.
2010 also saw the loss of a number of wine friends I have made, including Art Finkelstein, Marie Nichelini-Irwin, and Rachel Ann Seghesio, whom I had met merely two days before her unexpected passing. Perhaps most poignant, however, was the death of 104-year-old Marie Ringrose, the aunt of Sostevinobile’s putative seed investor and of numerous members of the Dolan (Mendocino Wine Company) and Rossi families (Italian Swiss Colony). Two Christmases ago, I delivered a fifth of her favorite daily tonic, Johnny Walker Red, to the San Francisco Towers, where she resided.
Sostevinobile hopes all our patrons can enjoy such dynamic longevity! Our goal is to furnish the proper elixir to ensure it!
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.