Category Archives: Colombard

How you gonna keep him down on the Pharm?

2016-07-30 15.16.40It was high time Your West Coast Oenophile venture outside my frequent stomping grounds and undertake some serious exploration of the joints—I mean, wineries—that I have vetted for Sostevinobile primarily through trade tastings in San Francisco and on Treasure Island. And so I threw caution to the wind and risked upping my per-mile bracket with Metromile and headed north beyond the confines of Sonoma and Napa for the other regions that constitute the vast North Coast AVA: Lake and Mendocino counties.

After several years’ worth of invites, I finally capitulated and agreed to attend the annual picnic and members meeting for the Redwood Forest Foundation (RFFI) in Ukiah. This foundation represents a laudable effort to preserve not only much of the old growth redwoods throughout California but to protect the wildlife that inhabit these preserves. Naturally, the focus of their efforts aligns synergistically with the sustainable aims of Sostevinobile, but I am not entirely sanguine about the use of cap & trade carbon credits to offset their budget deficit. Global warming has now reached the point where merely maintaining current level of carbon emissions—which, in effect, is what carbon credits facilitates—rather than radically reducing them, is not sufficient to offset the pending catastrophic impact from our profligate industrial consumption.

In spite of such conundrums, Mendocino still can lay valid claim to its self-professed accolade as “The Greenest AVA in America.” Many may claim this is a double-entendre, and yet my only encounter with any semblance of cannabis culture was a sign at the gateway to Hopland. There was no indication, however, that they operated a tasting room.

No dearth of visible tasting rooms existed for the numerous wineries that have sprung up in county since I first visited with Mendocino’s first varietal producer, the late John Parducci. Before locating the Redwood Forest picnic, I fittingly managed to squeeze a visit with Rich Parducci’s McNab Ridge, a winery I had featured a few years ago at a tasting I designed for NAAAP-SF. As eclectic in his tastes as his grandfather, Rich bottles an extraordinary array of organically grown selections that span from a strikingly appealing 2014 French Colombard to his admirable rendition of the 2013 Pinotage. I was quite taken with McNab Ridge’s exemplary 2013 Primitivo, but still managed to spare enough room to sample their 2013 John Parducci Signature Series Port, an opulent blend of Touriga Nacional (55%), Tinta Roriz (16%), Touriga Francesca (10%), Tinta Barroca (10%), and Tinta Cão (9%).

Time constraints dictated that I cut short my visit with McNab Ridge and depart Hopland’s quaint confines for the aforementioned luncheon, aptly situated amid a redwood grove at Nelson Family Vineyards. As these wines are not commonly distributed beyond subscribers and visitors to the tasting room, I took the opportunity to sample through their roster after the RFFI conclave. Starting with their NV Brut, one of Mendocino’s signature expressions, I segued to a delightfully light 2014 Pinot Grigio. Nelson’s deft touch truly manifested itself next in their 2013 Viognier, a well-balanced expression of the grape that proved neither austere nor cloying.

Creative minds most certainly lurked behind their 2015 Barn Blend, a unique blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel and Viognier. More traditional, the 2013 Top Row Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, an intensified wine crafted from a prized block on their estate vineyard. Finally, Nelson revealed its true virtuosity in their exceptional 2013 Zinfandel, a dense, jammy wine that long lingered on the palate.

I next veered southward back to Hopland, where I spent a most enjoyable hour visiting with César Toxqui at the tasting room he maintains alongside Bruotocao’s. His affable 2013 Muscat Canelli prefaced 2014 Rosé of Zinfandel, a wine most definitely not to be confused with the much-maligned White Zin concoction that ruled the 1980s. I found his 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley appealing, his 2010 Grenache decidely more so. Here again, the 2007 Immigrant Zinfandel reigned supreme, closely followed by a 2013 Zinfandel Dry Creek, sourced from across the county line.

César also poured a noteworthy single vineyard Cabernet, his 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Bloom Vineyards. His trademark, however, stems from his non-vintage blends, the Ruthless Red, a mélange of 80% Zinfandel, 10% Syrah, and 10% Merlot , dedicated to his wife, and the Heirloom Cinco, a solera now in its fifth cuvée, produced from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Viognier.

Following an a raucous evening indulging in all two of downtown Ukiah’s hot spots, I rose early the next day, squeezed in a few laps across the motel pool, and headed out to the foot of Anderson Valley for their annual Barrel Tasting Weekend. Before I reached the festival, I popped into Simaine, an bootstrap winery/tasting room housed in a light industrial complex where my GPS steered me in my quest to locate Germain-Robin. Owner Vic Símon graciously received me just as he prepared to open for the day and opened a selection of his current offerings, starting with his personal favorite, the 2012 Sangiovese. Other wine, designated as Reserve, included the 2010 Petite Sirah and a 2010 Carignane, both of which proved balanced and approachable. His final selection, a Bordeaux blend with the rather elusive name, the 2011 Virisda.

After departing Simaine, the scenic 17-mile expanse of Hwy. 253 wound across the county to Boonville, where I collected my credentials at Philo Ridge’s tasting room. I had hoped to surprise Fred Buonanno with my long-delayed visit but was informed he was still nursing the after-effects of his 60th birthday celebration the night before. Nonetheless, I managed to soldier on and taste through a number of his selections. Having recently sampled several of their Pinot Noir selections at June’s Taste of Mendocino, I opted to taste through an array of white varietals, starting with a lean 2014 Chardonnay Haiku Ranch.Seventeen syllables later, I moved onto the 2014 Pinot Gris Nelson Vineyard, a fresh, tank-fermented rendition of the grape. Also, tank-fermented: the floral yet delicate 2014 Viognier Nelson Ranch, a perfect white for what would prove a scorchingly hot afternoon.

Several Mendocino growers have collaborated over the past several years on a bottling a regional proprietary wine they call Coro. In keeping with this Zinfandel-focused blend, Philo Ridge bottles an intriguing mélange they call Vino di Mendocino. Currently in its fourth release, this wine marries Zinfandel with Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Carignane. The wine was delightful but the burden of becoming a sexagenarian had evidently taken its toll, so I abandoned the notion of waiting for Fred to appear and moseyed onto the next stop.

It was rather surprising to find a town as quaint and remote as Boonville dotted with so many satellite tasting rooms; I would have thought such a laid-back rural setting more conducive to onsite estate visits. Nonetheless, it proved rather convenient to meander between premises and sampling their offerings. Having tried Seebass Family Wines at numerous tastings over the years, I correlated their wines with the impressive Bavarian coat of arms that highlights their label. The tasting room proved to be anything but ponderous, manned by Brigitte Seebass’ daughter Michelle Myrenne Willoughby. Michelle ably navigated five different parties that had bellied up to her bar, yet still found time to attend to my personal discretion. We started with her 2015 Family Chardonnay, a bold wine, like all of Seebass’ selections, sourced from estate-grown, hand-harvested, hand-pruned, sustainably farmed fruit. Quelling my thirst from the 95° F heat, the delightfully chilled 2015 Fantasie proved a compelling Rosé of Grenache.

Varietal bottlings constitute a distinct strength at Seebass, starting with the 2012 Grand Reserve Merlot and punctuated by the exceptionally well-rounded 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel, honed from 100+ year old vines. Nonetheless, I also greatly enjoyed their 2012 Romantik, a blend of Syrah and Grenache, along with their NV Mysteriös, a proprietary mix from their 2011 & 2012 harvests, combining Grenache, Syrah, Merlot and Zinfandel.

Though certainly a pleasant wine, admittedly the most striking aspect of the Mysteriös was the artistic design of it label, a reproduction of one of Michelle’s late father’s paintings, a geometric design that echoed the prints of op art’s grandfather, renowned Hungarian-French master Victor Vasarely. Coincidentally, I bounced over next to Boonville’s John Hanes Fine Art, a modern gallery that shares space with Harmonique. I would like to think the hermaphroditic statuary that adorned the entrance to this facility dissuaded me from partaking of the various Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs for which Harmonique is prized, but, in truth, Harmonique’s absence from the roster of the Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting precluded my visiting.

And so I ambled across the street to the Boonville Hotel, the onetime home of the legendary New Boonville Hotel, a restaurant that had turned this area into a culinary mecca. In the courtyard, I found Paul and Valerie Gordon of Halcón Vineyards, an intrepid couple who sojourn weekly from their Silicon Valley home to produce Mendocino wine. Their al fresco tasting in the hotel’s garden court included a slew of exemplary wines, starting with their 2013 Prado, a classic Rhône blend of Roussanne and Marsanne. From there, we progressed to the 2014 Rosé, a deft melding of Grenache and Syrah, then segued onto the 2014 Alturas Estate Syrah, classically cofermented with a scintilla of Viognier. Opting for a pure expression of the varietal, Paul poured his 2014 Tierra Petite Sirah, a wine quite reflective of its Yorkville Highlands pedigree. His coup de grâce most certainly, however,was the 2014 Wentzel Vineyard Pinot Noir, an exceptionally well-balanced wine, neither light nor ponderous, a blend with 35% whole cluster that clung to the palate ever so delightfully.

Following this stop, I backpedaled from the center of downtown Boonville to visit with Joe Webb at Foursight. This boutique operation has long stood as one of Mendocino’s premier Pinot Noir labels, but first I had to try the refreshingly chilled 2013 Charles Vineyard Sémillon, a most pleasant, understated wine. Though it may be a noble experiment, I confess that I did not cotton to the 2013 Unoaked Pinot Noir, a simplified expression of the grape that struck me as overly sour. In contrast, Joe’s signature wine, the 2014 Paraboll Pinot Noir presented a geometric leap over the Unoaked, a truly exquisite wine that attested to Anderson Valley’s rightful place in California’s Pinot hierarchy.

Onward, returned to my car and headed north to Elke, the first onsite tasting room on the trail. The dirt road, clapboard barn, unpretentious landscaping embodied just the kind of ramshackle setting I had envisioned before I’d arrived, and while owner Mary Elke was not on hand this afternoon, I still enjoyed a most pleasant session, sipping through a welcomely-chilled NV Sparkling Brut crafted from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I found myself equally pleased—and refreshed—by both the 2014 Chardonnay Anderson Valley and a candy-like 2014 Rosé of Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. For balance, I finished with their 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Lake County, a heterodoxical selection for the afternoon.

Creeping back onto the highway, I next dropped in on Witching Stick, another understated operation that belied the sophistication of its œnology. Owner Van Williamson began my tasting with a straightforward yet excellent 2014 Durrell Vineyard Chardonnay, then moved to the delightful albeit atypical 2014 Carignano Rosato. After these chilled wines, I delighted in an enticing 2012 Valenti Vineyard Syrah before delving into Van’s Pinot lineup. The 2013 Gianoli Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2013 Perli Vineyard Pinot Noir proved equally compelling, but both were clearly outshone by the lushness of the 2012 Gianoli Vineyard Pinot Noir. But the pinnacle at this stop turned out to be the 2013 Fashauer Vineyard Zinfandel, a deep, complex , jammy wine.

Across the street, Phil T. G. Baxter welcomed me like an old friend to the intimate confines of his eponymous tasting room. As with Witching Stick, the tasting centered on his lineup of Pinot Noir, starting with an acutely focused 2013 Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir. I found both the 2013 Valenti Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2013 Langley Vineyard Pinot Noir on par with the 2013s from across the street, while the 2012 Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir once again underscored the superior quality of this vintage. Phil concluded our visit with a sample of his 2013 Valenti Vineyard Syrah, a perfectly amiable wine that complement a perfectly amiable setting.

I have often expressed my personal qualms about engaging in Mergers & Acquisitions, my original role in the wine industry and a practice I’ve recently resumed on behalf of Sostevinobile. One of my favorite Mendocino labels has long been Greenwood Ridge, and I had hoped to visit with Allan Green in Philo, but the winery had been acquired back in March by Diane and Ken Wilson and folded into the mini-empire they have quietly cobbled together in Sonoma and Mendocino. Though Allan will be sorely missed, the new regime has nonetheless stayed the course, including the winery’s focus on organic farming and winemaking; the wines I sampled here, however, were produced under the former ownership, so assaying the perpetuation of these practices remains undetermined. Nevertheless, I cottoned immensely to all three wines I tasted, starting with the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, the first wine to open my eyes to the full potential organic winemaking. Complementing this indubitable bottling, the 2015 Riesling retained just enough sweetness to taste refined, not cloying. Rounding out my visit, the whimsically-labelled 2013 Hundred Point Pinot Noir, named for a promontory along the Mendocino Coast where 100 ships have wrecked, bore fitting testament to Allan’s legacy.

Not quite Helen of Troy (was this the face that launched a thousand ships?), but close. My combined 18 years’ inculcation in Greek & Latin literature begs for allusion as often as I can cite it. As such, I need confess the allure of Lula Cellars stemmed not merely from the beauty of its wines but the striking pulchritude of their delightful hostess. Kacy managed, despite my overt distraction, to steer me through Lula’s lineup with considerable aplomb, commencing her tasting session with an exceptional 2014 Dry Gewürztraminer, a varietal that for many years characterized Mendocino for me. The 2015 Rosato displayed a delight derivation of a Pinot Noir, while the 2013 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir simply resounded. Rounding out this visit, the 2014 Mariah Vineyard Zinfandel provided a rich dénouement to a most productive afternoon.

Only my tasting day was far from over. Resolved to head back to San Francisco along the leisurely coastal route, I continued up toward along Route 128 toward the town of Albion, below which it interests with Highway 1. To my great surprise, nearly all the wineries along this road remained open until 7pm, a far cry from Napa and Sonoma, where 4:30pm seems the general rule of thumb. And so I abruptly veered into the parking lot for Domaine Anderson, the new branch of Roederer Estate dedicated to still wines. I had first encountered these wines at San Francisco’s Pinot Days, where Wine Club Manager Jennie Dallery had apparently drawn the short straw and was relegated to the antechamber at Bespoke, along with a handful of other wineries forced to compete against subway-level acoustics. I had promised her I would visit soon and discuss these wines in an audible setting, but was chagrined to learn she had left the premises a mere five minutes before my arrival. Nonetheless, I made the best of my visit and sampled both the 2014 Estate Chardonnay and the notably lemony 2013 Dach Chardonnay, both complements to the designate Pinot Noirs I had tried in San Francisco, before continuing my trek to an old familiar, Handley Cellars.

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve sampled (and enjoyed) these wines at tastings throughout the year since 2008 and have even attended a luncheon where seven selections of their Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays were paired to each course. So here I was more than happy to taste through their non-standard selections, starting with the exquisitely floral 2014 Pinot Blanc Mendocino County. Complementing this wine, the 2015 Pinot Gris Anderson Valley seemed a bit more subdued but approachable, while the 2015 Riesling Anderson Valley gave considerable credence to Mendocino’s claim as California’s prime AVA for Alsatian varietals.

I bypassed Handley’s all-too-familiar lineup of Pinots for a selection of their other reds, including the unlisted 2013 Vittorio Petite Sirah. I found the 2013 Zinfandel Russian River Valley equally pleasurable, yet both combine, along with a healthy share of Carignane to make a true standout, the 2013 Vittorio Red Table Wine. Meanwhile, standing out on its own merits: the 2013 Syrah Kazmet Vineyard.

Truth be told: I had two primary destinations in mind when I embarked on this journey. Although I finally did manage to determine the actual location for Germain-Robin, I learned that weekend appointments would not have been available anyway. My other Holy Grail, of course, was sparkling wine virtuoso Roederer Estate, which was just about to close its doors as I arrived. I almost convinced the tasting room staff I had won a case of L’Ermitage, but settled for the final tasting of the day as reward for my ruse. Their base offering, the Brut MV, artfully combined a blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. Roederer serves this wine from different size bottles, and clearly the Brut MV Magnum outshone the confines of the standard 750ml bottling. I could not have asked more of the Brut Rosé MV, a Pinot-dominant blend, while their Tête du Cuvée, my cherished 2009 L’Ermitage reaffirmed itself as my perennial favorite sparkling.

2016-07-24-16-33-40While my return to Mendocino proved both fruitful and enlightening, I confess I was surprised that I never once stumbled across the mood-altering botanical for which it is primarily known. Perhaps because it has been a few decades since I cultivated an affinity for the weed that its whereabouts eluded me. Perhaps it was because I have had little to praise for the few bottlings of marijuana-infused wine that I’ve tried. Or could it be that this reputation is simply an elaborate hoax, a convoluted pharmaceutical paronomasia?


I passed through Mendocino a week later, en route to a wine tasting in neighboring Lake County, another AVA I have been remiss in visiting. But with so many fires having recently ravaged this pristine preserve, it seemed almost obligatory that I journey north as a gesture of solidarity with the fourteen wineries on hand for The People’s Choice Wine Tasting.2016-07-30 15.44.28Admittedly, I could have made better timing in getting to the Kelseyville destination, but I decided to follow the scenic mountain route over from Hopland.As I began my descent down Highway 175, the vista from atop Cobb Mountain provided a breathtaking panoramic of Clear Lake, a natural phenomenon often unfairly depicted as a poor man’s Lake Tahoe. The vast expanse of this waterway was an unanticipated revelation, tinged with regret that I have not taken advantage of the resorts that dot its shore, especially when San Francisco summers have taken an Arctic turn.

My other epiphany came as I wound down from Middleton to the back stretches of Bottle Rock Road: seemingly every other vineyard I passed was tagged with a Beckstoffer sign. Behind this ubiquity lies a concerted effort to bolster the quality and reputation of Lake County’s wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon hailing from the Red Hills AVA, where they farm nearly 1,300 acres of vineyard. This past winter, owner Andy Beckstoffer announced a program wherein he would provide one acres’ worth of Cabernet for free to ten select vintners in the county to draw help catalyze this ambitious project. Despite being seen by some merely as theatricality, the chosen vintners with whom I spoke wear their selection as a badge of honor.

I arrived at host Moore Family Winery amid their own theatricality, a blind tasting of thirteen Lake County Sauvignon Blancs. As with the Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting, I quickly drifted from the staged event inside the Tasting Room and focused my visit on the wineries pouring their Gold Medal selections. Host Steve Moore offered a distinctive lineup, starting with his 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, a wine that had not taken part in the shootout. I clearly favored his 2015 Chardonnay, however, but did cotton to the 2009 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, a most deserving dessert wine.

In a similar vein, Kelseyville’s Chacewater showcased their 2014 Chardonnay, a wine I would have liked to contrast with their Organic Certified 2015 Chardonnay. Complementing this vintage, however, was the 2015 Muscat Canelli, a sweet yet appealing wine, to be sure. Former Kendall-Jackson winemaker Jed Steele had his various labels out in force, impressing with the Sweepstake Red Winner, the 2012 Steele-Stymie Merlot and, in a nod to poetic justice,the 2015 Writer’s Block Roussanne.

Forsooth, Fults Family Vineyards, a winery I had not previously encountered, countered with a pair of their amiable whites, the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2015 Chardonnay. Contrasting quite nicely, the stainless steel 2015 Endeavor, a limited release Chardonnay from Wildhurst, which showcased its 2013 Petite Sirah alongside. And in keeping with the caliber of his worldwide wine portfolio,a standout 2013 Petite Sirah came from Langtry, new NHL team owner Bill Foley’s Lake County acquisition.

While Foley has ponied up $500,000,000 for the construction of T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the more anticlimactic redevelopment of San Francisco’s Treasure Island has begun displacing the cottage wine industry there, starting with the myriad labels produced at The Winery SF. Nonetheless, owner Bryan Kane remains committed to the Lake County fruit he sources for his personal Sol Rouge label, resulting in an ever-reliable 2013 Petite Sirah and a most compelling bottling of his 2012 Cabernet Franc. Another multilabel enterprise, Shannon Ridge showed atypical restraint, pouring a mere four selections from their seemingly inexhaustible lineup. Both the 2013 Wrangler Red, a blend of 44% Zinfandel, 43% Syrah, 11% Petite Sirah, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2012 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon seemed tepid, particularly when juxtaposed with their 2015 High Elevation Sauvignon Blanc and the superb 2013 High Elevation Chardonnay. Another winery that featured a blend was Fore Family Vineyards, also previously unfamiliar to Sostevinobile, with their delightful Grenache-based 2013 GSM; deftly displaying the potential of the Red Hills volcanic soil, their 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon proved sheer elegant.

From Clearlake Oaks, Cache Creek Vineyards shares only a name with the more familiar casino, but a kindred spirit with its Lake County brethren. Their 2014 Rosé of Cabernet attested to their acuity of their vinification, while the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon constituted yet another testament to the potential of this AVA. Admittedly, I found myself wondering if Jack Welch would deem that Six Sigma’s somewhat tepid 2014 Sauvignon Blanc held to continuous efforts to achieve stable and predictable process results, but I was especially pleased to taste their 2013 Diamond Mine Cuvée, a black belt mélange of Tempranillo with lesser parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Also veering from the predominant French focus of the afternoon, Nick Buttitta made an impromptu appearance on behalf of his Rosa d’Oro label, sharing his intense 2013 Aglianico, a dense, intense interpretation of this varietal. Still, I concede that the standout wine of the afternoon was the opulent 2014 Viognier from Gregory Graham, one of the most acclaimed winemakers in Lake County.

Andy Beckstoffer contends Lake County’s “Red Hills is the most promising Cabernet Sauvignon site outside of Europe.” At the heart of this AVA sits Tricycle Wine Partners’ Obsidian Ridge, whose wines compare favorably at 2-3 times the price from their southerly neighbors in Napa. Underscoring this point today, they wowed the crowd with considerable aplomb, pouring a robust 2013 Estate Syrah, their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, co-winner of the Sweepstake Red award, and a distinctive Meritage, the 2012 Half Mile Proprietary Red, a wondrous blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.

I wish I had allotted more time to this visit, as many intriguing Lake County ventures that participated in this competition could not be present. I find myself now filled with trepidation that I may never have the opportunity to visit with several of these; as most people know, a series of wildfires have struck since my visit, threatening to undermine the emergence of Lake County as a world-class AVA. Fortunately, the arsonist responsible for many of these conflagrations has been apprehended. Moving forward, absent of natural catastrophe, perhaps Lake County can look toward their westerly neighbor for definition of the expression “up in smoke!”

KA-BOOM!!

It gets harder and harder these days to recall how Healdsburg looked in the early 1980s. None of the sleek, modernistic structures nor the trappings of luxury had taken root back when Your West Coast Oenophile first started out in the wine industry, and the town felt more like a rustic outpost than an upscale destination.

Indeed, all the sleepy little wine villages in northern Sonoma felt utterly remote from the urbanization that had taken hold in Santa Rosa and was slowly transforming this one-time agricultural capital into a mini-metropolis in its own right, led, by among other factors, an Italian emigration from San Francisco’s Marina district. Flash-forward to this most curious decade to find Healdsburg completely unrecognizable from its former self merely a quarter-century ago. But, as I discovered this past Columbus Day weekend, a venture just a few miles north finds Geyserville relatively unchanged amid its bucolic trappings, its quaint downtown a timeless preserve that could easily serve as scenic backdrop for a 19th century Western or Gold Rush epic.

The Sonoma County chapter of Slow Food invited Sostevinobile to cover their Artisano Festival at the Geyserville Inn, a decidedly unpretentious (souvenir pen upon checkout!) motor lodge just north of the village square. Not trusting the accuracy of my GPS, which had mapped out a route that took me past my destination, then backtracked for two miles, I exited Highway 101 at the first Geyserville offramp and wound my way up Geyserville Avenue through the downtown area. Certainly, several of the names had changed, and there was arguably more neon than I had recalled, but essentially the quaint little hitching post stop seemed exactly how I had recalled, a memento not only of its own past but of the kind of town Healdsburg once had been, too.

As I type this installment, the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco is deliberating a ban on Happy Meals, those coercive gimmicks that include the latest must-have toys that virtually compel parents to bring their youngsters to McDonald’s. While I support this measure wholeheartedly, I feel the supervisors are missing the essential point here. The insidious aspect of Happy Meals isn’t so much that they ply kids with fat-laden, 1,500-calorie engorgements, along with their cute action figures; worse is that they instill in these highly impressionable minds the notion that McDonald’s is an inextricable part of American culture, an icon on par with the Statue of Liberty or an institution like baseball, rather than a self-aggrandizing, crass, commercial enterprise. Just as with nicotine in cigarettes, it’s deliberately design to hook kids early and hook them for life.

Of course, if it weren’t for McDonald’s delusion of global hegemony, there probably would never have been a Slow Food Society and the impetus for splendid events like Artisano. A celebration of both local wine and culinary fare, it would be hard to imagine a better way to spend a warm Saturday afternoon. As I drove down Geyserville Avenue, I passed by a tasting room featuring the unassumingly nomenclature of Route 128, the highway that crisscrosses Solano, Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties; finding their table at the entrance to the festival, it seemed only fitting to start out sampling their wines. Despite their lack of pretentiousness, this highly-skilled venture produced an enviable 2008 Viognier Opatz Family Vineyard, along with a superb Rhône red, the 2007 Syrah. In turn, these wines were paired to a Crispy Butternut Squash Ravioli topped with Pulled Pork that had been prepared by Hoffman House, Geyserville Inn’s on-premise restaurant. 

Route 128’s showcase wine, however, was their 2007 Hi-Five, an unspecified blend of the five principal Bordeaux varietals; though I have scant background information on this particular wine, it was nonetheless a superb bottling. I moved next to visit Saini, a winery I had inadvertently overlooked at Grape to Glass. With only 180 cases of Sauvignon Blanc and 98 cases of Zinfandel produced, this boutique operation nonetheless showed itself to be a formidable presence, with a sharp 2008 Zinfandel Olive Block and an even more promising 2009 vintage soon to be bottled. I followed this sampling with some housemade salumi and a succulent medallion of Roasted Porchetta from Diavola, a downtown Geyserville restaurant I had passed on my way to the event.

The tasting filled two separate lawns at the Inn, so I meandered over to the other section and visited once again with Betsy Nachbaur of Acorn, in the futile hope she might have finally brought a sample of her Dolcetto to a tasting. Despite my palpable dismay, I did mange to enjoy her 2009 Rosato once again (see my entry on Taste of Sonoma for a breakdown on its eight varietals), as well as the 2007 Zinfandel Alegría Vineyard. Just to her right, Mendocino’s Chiarito poured their wondrous 2007 Nero d’Avola, a rare and extraordinary expression of this varietal in California. I hadn’t previous sampled their 2007 Petite Sirah, which proved every bit the Nero’s equal; this same Petite Sirah constituted 18% of Chiarito’s 2005 Estate Zinfandel and only 8% of the 2006 Estate Zinfandel. The 2007 Estate Zinfandel, a pure varietal, proved itself my favorite from this vertical.

I had to try a second pour of the Petite Sirah to complement the Wild Game Chili Bear Republic served at the next table over. Ironically, there was nothing ursine to this recipe; this popular Healdsburg brewpub blended in venison, antelope, and wild boar to create a savory contrast to the spicy wine. Inches away and 180° apart, Kim Fanucchi, the cheese stylists at Oz Family Farms, juxtaposed her Rose Petal Terrine with the 2009 Late Harvest Durif from Pendleton Wines, an Alexander Valley boutique. Though this dessert wine struck me as Pendleton’s best effort, I was favorably impressed by their 2007 Zinfandel Ponzo’s Vineyard as well. On the other hand, the 2006 Reserve Zinfandel, along with the 2007 Petite Sirah and the 2009 Petite Rosé, seemed rather commonplace, while the 2008 Celebration managed to blend Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Carignane with 43% Alvarelhão and Touriga from Lodi, a veritable California medley.

I hadn’t seen Arnot-Roberts since sampling their Ribolla Galla during Natural Wine Week in August. This day, they simply poured the 2009 Chardonnay Green Island Vineyard and their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Bugay Vineyard. And I might have bypassed his table if Hank Skewis hadn’t told me they were bypassing this year’s Pinot on the River (a prescient decision, as I will attest in my subsequent entry). This Pinot-only virtuoso featured a quartet from his 2007 vintage, first the 2007 Pinot Noir Montgomery Vineyard and the 2007 Pinot Noir Salzberger-Chan Vineyard, followed by the 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Reserve and the 2007 Pinot Noir Peters Vineyard; while all four were excellent wines, the latter two proved truly astounding.
The sun may have been hot enough to melt wax this afternoon, but that did not daunt me from sampling a flight of Icaria’s wines. The lofty 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley fused the varietal with 15% Merlot, 2% Petite Sirah, 2% Petit Verdot, and 3% Malbec, while the 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (20% Merlot) utterly soared.
And I found their unfettered 2006 Petite Sirah a heightened expression of the varietal.

From her family’s eponymous, Domenica Catelli served up an Oz Family Farm Rabbit Crostini with Polenta, the perfect complement to the 2009 Pinot Noir Miroslav Tcholakov poured. Before this afternoon, I had only tried the Petite Sirahs his Miro Cellars produces, so it was an unexpected pleasure to sample both this varietal and his superb 2008 Zinfandel. Not that the 2008 Petite Sirah nor the 2008 Petite Sirah Rockpile were by any means laggards!

I’m always thrilled to discover little-known producers with limited distribution at events like this, such as Musetta, a winery specializing in Sauvignon Blanc, like the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Mt. Konocti they poured here, and a Zinfandel I will have to try at another time. Similarly, Verge focuses their efforts almost exclusively on their 2007 Syrah Dry Creek Valley, with an ancillary production of their Viognier. At the other end of the spectrum, Reynoso featured six wine selections this afternoon, a repertoire that included both their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc and equally appealing 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, strong showing for the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2004 Syrah, plus a first appreciation of both their 2009 Long Gamma (60% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Viognier, 15% Gewürztraminer) and the 2007 Long Gamma Red (75% Zinfandel, 20% Syrah, and 5% Petite Sirah), both from Alexander Valley.

Garden Creek may not be the most evocative name for a winery, but I very much liked the name for (and the wine that constituted their red blend), the 2004 Tesserae, meaning the tiles that form a mosaic, in this case, figuratively, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. On the other hand, Foursight is quite the clever pun, given the quartet of partners who produced their 2007 Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard and the appealing, semi-dry 2009 Gewürztraminer. And given my penchant for pentasyllabic Italian surnames, it was a given I would cotton to Domenichelli, who poured two excellent wines, their 2007 Petite Sirah and the 2007 Zinfandel, which combined for a 150-case production.

Montemaggiore also falls into this exclusive category, but their early departure this afternoon meant I missed the opportunity to resample their wines. Wineries I did not miss included Munselle—no relation to the colatura soprano Patrice Munsel—which still hit all their high notes with the 2007 Shadrach Chardonnay and the 2006 Coyote Crest Cabernet Sauvignon, a most operatic endeavor. Kelley & Young is related to the late Robert Young—the renowned vineyardist, not Marcus Welby—and carries on the family legacy quite fittingly with a respectable 2008 Sauvignon Blanc and two truly impressive bottlings, the blush-style Bordelaise blend 2009 Kathleen Rosé and the 2008 Zinfandel. And despite boastinging Denis and May-Britt Malbec as its winemakers, the superb 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Respite is an undiluted expression of this single varietal.

Terroirs Artisan Wines serves as an umbrella for a number of wine labels produced in and about the Geyserville area; it seemed only fitting that they pour a number of their collective’s fare at the Artisano Festival. Godwin produced an excellent 2007 Floral Clone Chardonnay, while Peña Ridge held forth with their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley. Terroirs Director Kerry Damskey also poured the 2004 Stagecoach Cabernet/Syrah, a handcrafted blend from his own Palmeri label.

Many publications, including Sostevinobile, have chronicled the story of the Valdez Family Winery, so I need only let the wines speak for themselves here. All five of the vintages they poured this afternoon proved stunning, starting with the 2008 Silver Eagle Chardonnay. Equally enchanting were the 2007 Zinfandel Russian River Valley, the inky 2007 Petite Sirah, and their 2008 Pinot Noir Lancel Creek, but the standout had to have been the 2007 Zinfandel Rockpile, a wine that could have held its own with Mauritson and Carol Shelton.

Ulises Valdez also serves as Vineyard Manager for Skipstone Ranch from Alexander Valley. Here esteemed winemaker Philippe Melka crafted the outstanding 2007 Oliver’s Blend, a Cabernet Sauvignon with 4% Cabernet Franc. This synergistic, sustainable ranch also produces the 2009 Melina’s Harvest Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which, in turn, marinated the Beef Crostini that paired so precisely with the wine and constituted my last nibble of the afternoon.

In truth, neither 50,000 James Oliver Hubertys nor Slow Food will likely purge the world of McDonald’s, but at least events like the Artisano Festival do their utmost to steer their communities towards a more redeeming diet and a healthier approach to life. This event wasn’t so much a promotion as a celebration of an ethos and a lifestyle devised to benefit both individuals and the planet they inhabit. In other words, the true definition of a Happy Meal!


The following day, just as the Trade/Media tasting was drawing to a close, a thunderous BOOM! literally shook the tent on Treasure Island. The concussive force + the sheer volume of its explosion initially gave the impression that a bomb might have been detonated nearby, but, as this was the weekend for the aerial spectacles of Fleet Week, most soon surmised that one of the naval aviators had passed by precipitously low at supersonic speed. Either that, or the Treasure Island promoters were simply trying new tactics to drive people to drink.

Back when I slaved for a living as an advertising copywriter, personal credo prevented me from engaging certain types of accounts. The 4 Ms, as I referred to them, consisted of McDonald’s (no surprise here); Microsoft (again, my antipathy has been well documented); Marlboro (an alliterative symbol for all tobacco); and the Military. Pacifism aside, I contended that recruitment advertising was deceptive at best and predatory at its worst; regardless of personal politics, it still seems only valid that the Armed Forces be required to maintain the same standards for veracity and full disclosure as any other advertiser must. Without such compliance, I deemed it irresponsible to work on such accounts.

In this light, I feel tremendous ambivalence each year when the Blue Angels perform their acrobatics. Inarguably, their precision formations and death-defying maneuvers are thrilling to observe, and yet these stunts serve as recruitment for an occupation and lifestyle accorded only to extremely few prospects, the odds for attainment as daunting as any lottery. Yet, in a convoluted way, this incongruity symbolized the 2nd Annual Lodi on the Water Tasting, with some wineries deftly soaring to astounding heights, while others remained mired in mundanity.

Compared to last year’s event, there was little variance in the wineries which chose to participate. With so few newcomers, I departed from my usual strategy and attempted to visit with each, making it to 33 out of 43 tables. Still, a microcosm for the entire event could be found in the two “rookie” attendees I did encounter.

McCay Cellars seemed a quintessential Lodi winery: small, brash without being pretentious, highly oriented toward Zinfandel and quite comfortable in its niche. Their 2007 Truluck’s Zinfandel made an indelible first impression, and while both their 2007 Jupiter Zinfandel and 2007 Paisley (a Zinfandel/Petite Sirah blend) scored just below this level, their 2007 Petite Sirah proved every bit as memorable. In contrast, Viaggio pretty much constituted the nadir of what the Lodi AVA has to offer. Situated on the bank of the Mokelumne River, this gargantuan estate has insinuated itself as Acampo’s principal landmark. Garish or opulent, depending one’s viewpoint, Viaggio offers a bit of everything: restaurant, concerts, wedding hall, private residence, except for actual winemaking, which it consigns to a nearby custom crush facility. The resulting wines bordered on the undrinkable. The 2007 Pinot Grigio tasted as pallid as any of the tenuous wines Santa Margherita ever foisted on an unsuspecting public, while neither the 2006 Petite Sirah nor the 2008 Chardonnay even approximated a well-crafted vintage. Granted, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon displayed a modicum of potential, but not enough to mitigate for the egregious flaws of the overall œnology here.

This paradigm continued throughout the afternoon, between contrasting wineries and, often, within individual wineries themselves. On the one hand, Grands Amis proved itself exemplary of the quality of wine Lodi can produce, starting with their excellent 2009 Pinot Grigio. Equally seductive was their 2008 Première Passion, a stellar blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, as well as the 2009 Chardonnay, while the 2008 Barbera maintained the same quality I had recently lauded at The Wine Institute’s Unexpected Grapes from Unexpected Places. On the other hand, Barefoot Wines poured a NV Zinfandel reminiscent of the dreary days when Lodi boasted warehouses filled with 250,000 cases of unsaleable wine (if you ever tried California Coolers or Bartles & Jaymes in the mid-1980s, you know where this wine landed up).

A number of wineries handled their reds quite well but fumbled with their whites. Nomenclature notwithstanding, Dancing Fox produced a remarkably good 2007 Rumplestilt-Zin and 2004 Rip van Cab. And while even their 2008 The Red Prince, a Cabernet Franc, made a notable impression, the 2007 Firedance, a white blend dominated by Colombard, tasted flavorless. Similarly, I found the 2007 Merlot and 2008 Zinfandel from Vicarmont enormously appealing, but completely disdained their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2009 Eclectic Pink Rosé. McConnell Estate vinted adequate wines with their 2007 6 GenZin Zinfandel, 2006 Syrah,
and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Wackman Ranch, yet would have done well to have left their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc behind. 

Barsetti Vineyards, with their picturesque, Van Gogh-style label, comported themselves ably with both their 2006 Zinfandel and 2008 Zinfandel but found their 2007 Chardonnay quite wanting (for that matter, their 2007 Merlot could have been a white). On the other hand, Stama Winery excelled with their 2006 Merlot but fell short with their 2007 Zany Zin; calling their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon “premature” would be charitable. E2 Family Winery offered a decidedly mixed bag: a strikingly good 2006 Verdelho Elegante and 2008 H. Walter’s Family Zinfandel, mediocre efforts with their 2007 River Isle Merlot and 2008 Farmer’s Table Big White, and a dreary 2009 Zagan’s Fire Pinot Noir.

I admit to being surprised at my dislike for the 2007 Chardonnay from Watts Winery. Their 2005 Zinfandel and 2004 Cabernet Franc were superb wines, while the 2005 Montepulciano proved flat-out excellent. No lapse, however, with Uvaggio, which poured quite the refreshing 2009 Vermentino and a splendid 2007 Barbera; their two other nonetheless excellent wines, the 2009 Moscato-Secco and 2009 Moscato-Dolce, provided a pronounced contrast with each other, the sweet version proving truly remarkable.

As with any tasting I attend for Sostevinobile, I am bound to encounter number of familiar faces, be they friends, fellow wine trade attendees, œnophiles or interlopers, as well as the numerous winery owners and winemakers with whom I have become acquainted over the years. Lodi tastings are always cause for visit the Koth family and the portfolio of German wines they produce at Mokelumne Glen. Since last year’s event, I’ve tried a number of other California interpretations of German & Austrian varietals: Dornfelder; St. Laurent; Grüner Veltliner, but all have been singular efforts. Today, the Koths poured an excellent 2008 Gewürztraminer, their 2007 Dornfelder, and the new 2008 Zweigelt, along with their 2009 Kerner and a spectacular 2004 Late Harvest Kerner, one of the great treats this afternoon. On the Spanish side, Liz Bokisch manned the tent while Markus tended to the harvest, pouring their justly-acclaimed 2009 Albariño and 2007 Tempranillo. Their newly-released 2008 Garnacha returned to the previous heights this version of the Grenache varietal had reached when I first encountered this winery, while the 2007 Graciano once again proved itself my overall favorite of their offerings.

Lani Holdener’s Macchia, a winery I had discovered while exiled to the Central Valley, once again displayed its versatility with Italian varietals, the 2009 Amorous Sangiovese and the 2009 Delicious Barbera, while her 2009 Mischievous Old Vine Zinfandel proved her true forte. During this time, I also reencountered Joe Berghold, whom I had initially met in the early 1990s. I had hoped to see him again this afternoon, but was informed he was off on a six week trip to Europe during the peak of harvest (I egged his stand-in pourer, Leonard Cicerello, to send him an e-mail: “sold the grapes to Fred Franzia. $50/ton”). Nonetheless, I greatly enjoyed revisiting Joe’s array of wines in his stead, starting with the appealing 2008 Viognier. As always, his 2007 Footstomp Zinfandel displayed far more complexity than whimsy, while the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon proved every bit as structured. I greatly enjoyed his 2006 Syrah, and do hope his grapes for the 2010 vintage find their way to his fermentation tanks!

Dino Mencarini is a man who demonstrably doesn’t need to travel to Europe in order to relax. After encountering him as I entered the tent, I strolled by his table for Abundance Vineyards and asked where he had gone. “Out on the lawn, watching the show,” much as he had been when I visited his winery last November. But the energy he puts into his winemaking resulted in a pair of robust wines, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Elegante Carignane. During my Lodi trip last fall, I had intended to visit Harney Lane, as well, having been duly impressed by their wines at the inaugural Lodi on the Water. This second time around proved just as impressive, starting with their take on a 2009 Albariño. The 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel captivated; the 2007 Petite Sirah proved age-worthy; the 2008 Zinfandel—utterly seductive.

This being Lodi, Zinfandel held center stage at a number of wineries. Tiny St. Sophia poured just one wine but made the most with their 2007 Zinfandel. M2 Wines, which is not Emtu Wines, comported themselves quite admirably with the 2008 Soucie Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel and the 2008 Artist Series Zinfandel. Benson Ferry dazzled with their 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel, which they poured alongside their Lodi-specific 2006 95240 Zinfandel and the ultra-specific 2006 Nine X Nine Zinfandel, named for “the Lodi region’s historic, head-trained Zinfandel vines, which were planted with 9′ x 9′ spacing for easy cultivation and optimal sun exposure.” Their Douro-style NV Port proved an added delight.

Featuring what may truly be the worst Web page of any winery, St. Amant nonetheless excelled with their two Zins: the 2008 Mohr Fry’s Zinfandel and the 2008 Marian’s Zinfandel. I found myself intrigued by their 2009 Barbera Rosé and transfixed by its companion 2009 Barbera. St. Jorge, meanwhile, offered a single 2008 Zinfandel, preceded by their refreshing 2009 Verdelho and followed by an excellent 2007 Tempranillo and the delights of their 2008 Alicante Bouschet. The jovial crew from Harmony Wynelands also poured a rich 2006 Alicante Bouschet, as well as their unique 2007 GMA, a blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Alicante. Their NV Rosé similarly blends an atypical combination of Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Zinfandel (GMZ?), while the understated 2009 Riesling seemed almost contrarian for Lodi.

As he had at The Ultimate Sierra Foothills Wine Tasting Experience, David Roberts bumped into me and insisted I revisit one of his discoveries, Michael~David Winery. I limited myself merely to four from their portfolio of wines on hand: the 2008 Incognito Rouge, their “tango” of Mourvèdre, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cinsault, Carignane, Tannat, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Grenache; the 2006 Earthquake, a Cabernet Sauvignon rounded out with Petite Sirah and Cabernet Franc; a splendid Zinfandel, the 2008 Lust; plus, the excellent and easy-to-decipher Petite Sirah/Petit Verdot blend, the 2008 Petite Petit. Not so easy to decipher was the identity of Scotto Family Cellars, aka ADS Wines, which had been Regio and last year labeled themselves as Blue Moon Wines. This year’s incarnation pour the 2008 Howling Moon Chardonnay, the 2006 Howling Moon Zinfandel, and the 2009 Howling Moon Pinot Grigio, all of which labored to distinguish themselves.

Meanwhile, the highly inventive Peltier Station (see the label for their 2004 UBS —-) introduced their new second label with a quartet of amiable wines: the 2008 hy brid Pinot Grigio, their 2008 hy brid Chardonnaythe 2008 hy brid Pinot Noir, and a superb 2008 hy brid Syrah. The many faces of DFV Wines here today included Gnarly Head and Brazin, which I failed to reach, and two numerical labels, 337 and 181, named for cultivated clones of Cabernet Sauvignon and of Merlot. By the time I reached this table, they had already poured the last drop of the 2007 337 Cabernet Sauvignon but managed to score significantly with the 2008 181 Merlot.

While the Delicato Family may have had the most labels here this day, it seems that Mettler clan is ubiquitous in Lodi. Vicarmont is a Mettler offshoot. Seemingly everyone at the Michael~David table was named Mettler. Curiously, however, no one at the table for Mettler Family Vineyards was a Mettler! Nonetheless, their 2007 Epicenter Old Vine Zinfandel, the 2005 Petite Sirah and particularly the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon were all displayed true Lodi pedigree. Similarly, no one at the table for Cosentino Winery was named Cosentino, for, I am told, Mitch Cosentino has ceded its ownership. Financial ambiguities aside, these operations, which are split between Napa and Woodbridge, still produce routinely excellent wines, like the 2007 The Temp (Tempranillo); the 2007 The Zin (Zinfandel); and the 2007 The Med (a blend rivaling the 2008 Incognito Rouge’s “tango,” marrying Tempranillo, Dolcetto, Alicante Bouschet, Barbera, Carignane, Tannat, Valdiguié, Mourvèdre, Tinta Cão, and Souzão).

A simpler formula came from Lucas Winery, with their unadorned 2008 Chardonnay and the striking 2005 ZinStar. the 2008 Tempranillo, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2008 Petite Sirah, the varietals from D’Art Wines also comprised straightforward expressions, while their 2007 Lodi Port blended 50% Tempranillo, 35% Petite Sirah, and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Their most intriguing wine, the NV Dog Day, marries an unspecified number of D’Art’s wines with 25% Port.

I failed to manage my time adequately enough to reach the tables for Heritage Oak, Ironstone, Jessie’s Grove, LangeTwins, Klinker Brick, Ripken, Talus, Woodbridge, or Van Ruiten, though last year’s tasting showed these wineries to span the spectrum from compelling to marginally passable. I concluded the afternoon at the fittingly terminal Omega Cellars, with their own set of 4 Ms: the elegant 2009 Mosaic, an unoaked Chardonnay; their Bordeaux blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot), the 2007 Mystico; the superb, proprietary Rhône blend (Syrah, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah), the 2007 Mélange; and a late Harvest Petite Verdot melodically called the 2007 Midnight Serenade

As stated in the outset of this installment, I felt tremendous ambivalence about this tasting. Despite its long history with viticulture, Lodi remains an emerging AVA, a region that as recently as 1991 could claim only eight wineries. Many of the wineries can justifiably lay claim to standing on par with some of the best California has to offer; others, however, have far to go to meet contemporary wine standards. Obviously, any business needs to market itself and sell their product; still, I wish, for the overall reputation of the region, these enterprises would restrict their participation from collective tastings like Lodi on the Water until their wines attain a sufficient quality. Certainly, Sostevinobile would be loathe to include any inferior wines on our roster; conversely, those wines upon which I have heaped accolades will be readily welcome.


Regardless of this critique, I do want to acknowledge Lodi for its commitment to the protection and stewardship of its environment and the healthy quality of their wines. Many other AVAs would do well to implement guidelines for their wineries like Lodi Rules, the certification program for sustainability devised by the Lodi Woodbridge Winegrape Commission. I would offer one caveat, though, to wineries like Berghold (Stogie Club Petite Sirah Port) and Cosentino (CigarZin)—or any winery throughout the West Coast that seeks to tie enjoyment of its wines to smoking: this tactic flies in the face of green principles and poses significant detriment to the wine industry as a whole. Legislators are all too eager to impose “sin taxes” on alcoholic beverages, rationalizing their posture by equating them to the same deleterious health impact as tobacco. Someone other than myself once noted that “while the abuse of alcohol is hazardous, it is the mere use of tobacco that is harmful.” It is a critical distinction that should always be reinforced.

2+2+2

Whew! With this entry, Your West Coast Oenophile can finally put September to rest. Not that I’m complaining, but sampling some 600-700 wines, attending nine major tastings—not to mention sustainable business & networking affairs like West Coast Green and SOCAPand then chronicling the entire panoply of events could render a man follicly challenged (if he weren’t already follicly challenged). Ironically, though, two of the most intriguing wines I had the pleasure of sampling this past month I encountered outside these tastings.

First was the 2009 Loureiro John Whitman from Old Creek Ranch sent me. The principal grape in Portugal’s Vinho Verde, it had an unexpected tartness that strained my ability to construe an apt food pairing. Online suggestions include tomato salads with vinaigrette or a roast Cornish game hen, but I suspect Fillet of Sole or grilled Tilapia might fit even better. In any case, a splendid bottling from one of California’s most diverse winemakers.

My other surprise came from Forlorn Hope, a winery upon which Sostevinobile has heaped oodles of praise. Winemaker Matt Rorick excels as few others have with Spanish varietals grown here in California, so it was quite revelatory to discover his 2007 Ost-Intrigen, a wine made from the Austrian varietal, St. Laurent (apparently only 97 vines are planted in the entire state)! Like the Loureiro, this wine defies categorization, though comparisons to Mokelumne Glen’s Zweigelt, which is a cross between St. Laurent and Lemberger, seem inevitable.

I encountered Matt’s wine purely by happenstance, in the midst of my investigation of , a new San Francisco eatery that dares to believe fidelity to locavore principles should extend to the wine list as well. Although it’s primarily a burger house, this relatively small establishment carries over 40 wines by the glass, all from California. Interestingly, rather that focus on a breadth of varietals, they try to offer a full range of offering from a few particular wineries—I think there were seven different wines from Forlorn Hope, for instance. Also following suit is Radius, a nearby fledgling operations in the former Julie’s Supper Club space, a restaurant and cafe that bills itself as “locally sourced, French inspired, California cuisine.” Here the modest local wine list includes wine by the glass, bottle service and vino alla spica—wines on tap from the small but growing number of wineries that provide this option. To both, Sostevinobile says “welcome to the club,” while in the same breath, we bid a sad farewell to Wayfare Tavern, which has capitulated and now feels compelled to carry a growing number of French vintages among its California-predominant wine list.

A final bit of news that readers outside the Bay Area may have missed is that summer finally arrived here—only days after the autumnal equinox! The heat wave of late September almost felt like it was compacting in as many degree-days over a long weekend as a full season usually accounts for, and this has had myriad implications—some good, some very bad—for the 2010 harvest. But at least the warmth allowed me finally to take a hike and swim to Bass Lake in Bolinas, a secluded treasure that has proven my haven in
times of stress dozens of times over the decades. A more pristine spot you could not find, and, fortunately, most people can’t find it!

I had hoped to drop by and visit Thackrey while I was in town, but too many obligations on either side of my Sunday hike limited my escape from diurnal duties. The day before, I drove in 100+ degree weather up to Hess Collection for the 11th Annual Mt. Veeder Appellation Wine Tasting. Twenty-one of Napa’s finest wineries poured their select vintages from grapes grown within the appellation in the sculpture garden that fronts Hess’ Visitors Center. With a moderate crowd on hand, the afternoon proved both manageable and thoroughly enjoyable.

Of course, being greeted by ever-ebullient Mary Yates at the check-in desk set the tone for the event, and so it just seemed appropriate to start off at her family’s table. Yates Family Vineyard produces less than 1000 cases of their own wine, including 100 cases of their 2009 Viognier, which readily soothed me after the hot drive from San Francisco. Their next wine, the 2007 Fleur de Mount Veeder, proved a paramount example that Merlot, made properly, can be a superlative wine, and while I felt this particular bottling stood out among their wines today, the 2007 Cheval, a Cabernet Franc, came not far behind. 2006 has generally proven a weaker vintage than its successor, and, while impressed, I felt the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon was not quite the equal of its Bordeaux brethren at the table. Nonetheless, the 2006 Alden Perry Reserve, a Pomérol-style blend of 50% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 8% Cabernet Franc proved a luscious wine.

Because of the Mt. Veeder-grown restriction, several of the wineries could only represent themselves with a single wine. Nonetheless, I found ample incentive for further exploration of Mount Veeder Winery, based on their 2005 Reserve (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec) and Renteria, with their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Tambor Vineyard, softened with 3% Syrah by winemaker Karen Culler. Brian & Lori Nuss’ Vinoce featured their self-referential 2006 Vinoce Mount Veeder Estate. O’Shaughnessy Estate  showcased their pure 2007 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon, a stark contrast from their 2007 Howell Mountian Cabernet Sauvignon I have previously reviewed. And, if they produced more than one wine besides 100 cases of their superb 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, I would keenly pursue the other bottlings of Paratus.

For the most part, Mount Veeder focuses on Cabernet and other Bordelaise varietals, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, a bit of Sauvignon Blanc, and a smattering of Rhône Grapes. Today’s one exception to this orthodoxy was Random Ridge, with its 2007 Fortunata, a Super Tuscan that is 90% Sangiovese; I also found the separate components of this bottling, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2004 Cabernet Franc, highly appealing. Otherwise, even the iconoclasts at Y. Rousseau, which continues to excel with their 2009 Colombard Old Vines from the Russian River Valley, stayed within bounds with their very fine 2008 Chardonnay and the 2008 Le Roi, a Cabernet Sauvignon.

It was good to see several familiar faces here from a number of different tastings I had attended in the past year. I’d met Dominique Scaggs at last year’s CCOF Organic Beer, Wine & Spirit Tasting and had raved about her 2008 Vineyard Rosé. Call it the heat—this time, the blush Grenache seemed quite good but not as stratospheric as I had recalled. Nonetheless, her 2007 Mount Veeder Montage, a Mourvèdre-dominated GMS blend gradually opened up to reveal a superlative wine. Marketta Formeaux was a familiar face from the discontinued Napa Valley with Altitude tasting and continued to impress with her Hand Made label; an undeclared “natural wine” producer, she poured a hig
hly approachable 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, an admirable 2006 Mt. Veeder Blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot), and her standout, the 2005 Mt. Veeder Chardonnay. And for the third time this month, I sampled Lagier Meredith, this time pouring a 2009 Rosé of Syrah, a likable 2006 Syrah, and the preferable 2007 Syrah.

I hadn’t previously heard of Jake-Ryan Cellars, but was please to try their 2006 Syrah Napa Valley, as well as a standout 2007 Zinfandel Bald Mountain Vineyard. It turns out to be my first encounter, too, with Lokoya Winery, an enterprise that has received enormous accolades for its vineyard-designate Cabernets from each of Napa’s mountain AVAs (Spring Mountain, Diamond Mountain, Howell Mountain, and, of course Mt. Veeder). While none of their Cabs were on hand for this tasting, I found their 2007 Cardinale Merlot and the 2007 Malbec both excellent.

Another multi-mountain specialist, Robert Craig, needs no introduction, yet I found the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder an intense, complex wine. Presaging how this wine portends to develop, he also pour his 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine close to its peak of excellence. Godspeed Vineyards dug back even further, showcasing their striking 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon, from a vintage that had originally been deemed inferior, as well as a noteworthy 2001 and 2003 bottling. Lest they seem mired in the past, they also pour the 2008 Chardonnay.

1997 was thought to be the vintage of the decade, yet the 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon Mayacamas Vineyards poured paled in comparison to their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Likewise, I greatly preferred the 2007 Chardonnay to the 2000 Chardonnay, though I admired how well it had held up for 10 years. Meanwhile, both the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2006 Merlot proved more than pleasant. Rubissow poured a substantial selection of their current wines, all of even consistency: the 2006 Merlot, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2005 Trompette, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Their standout, however, was the 2005 Sargent Reserve, an exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon.

I count on LaTour for consistent performance, and found nothing to dissuade me in either the 2007 Chardonnay or the 2006 Syrah they poured. Syrah specialists Spotted Owl proved their mettle as well, with the 2006 Lev’s Cuvée and the 2007 Alexandria’s Cuvée, as well as with their 2007 Mountain Cuvée, a Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon blend.

I confess I found both the 2009 Chardonnay and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Fontanella somewhat lackluster. So, too, were the basic 2008 Chardonnay and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from host Hess Collection. From their Small Block series, however, the 2007 Block 19 Cuvée proved an extraordinary wine, a deft blend of 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Malbec, 4% Syrah, 4% Merlot, and 1% Petit Verdot every bit as profound as the art collection for which this winery is famed.

I did linger a bit, once the event had wrapped up, to explore the collection a bit and sample a few of Hess’ other wines, but, by now, time was truly of the essence, as I had fallen behind in chronicling my seven previous September tastings and still had another to cover. And, besides, I had a long-overdue date with Ba
ss Lake the next morning.


September culminated in the Première Coombsville Trade & Media Tasting at the posh Napa Valley Country Club. This soon-to-be certified sub-AVA encompasses 11,000 acres from the eastern bank of the Napa River to the western edge of the Vaca Range. Some had preferred this region be called Tulocay, but the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau denied their petition. With this controversy laid to rest, 21 Coombsville wineries eagerly participated in this afternoon’s gathering.

Now if only every other tasting provided such a thorough event program detailing not only the participating wineries but also each of the wines they were featuring—with ample space for taking notes—it’s possible (though not highly probable) that I might wind my way through this blog in a quasi-timely fashion! Of course, in the not-so-distant future, an electronic guide one could navigate and annotate on an iPad would serve just as well—if not better, considering I can barely read my own handwriting these days!

Flipping through this booklet, I randomly selected Inherit the Sheep for my first stop. It’s a quirky name, with an equally quirky label, and while I truly wonder whether I could order a bottle of this wine in a restaurant while managing to keep a straight face, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon proved itself a serious wine, albeit a bit tight (no sheep pun intended). Owner Tersilla Gregory also previewed her 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, another 200 case production that displayed incredible promise while, at the same time, being eminently drinkable now.

Many of the wineries here this day fell within the sub-1000 case level, if not significantly smaller. Black Cat, with just over 500 cases, typified this category, handcrafting their three stellar wines, the 2007 Estate Syrah, a notable 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2006 Cuvée, a deft blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Syrah. Another such boutique, organic winemaker Tournesol featured their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2006 Proprietor’s Blend, a mix of predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot and minor portions of Petit Verdot and Malbec. Weighing in at 600 cases, Sciandri poured their sole effort, the 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and its burgeoning successor, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Other Cab only ventures include the 250 case production of Le Chanceux; their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Belles Filles Vineyard has developed into an exceptional wine, while the 2007 vintage portends even further greatness. Marita’s Vineyard showcased their twin small-production wines, the 2005 Marita’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and the equally-appealing 2005 Soma Cabernet Sauvignon.

In 2005, with his wife Lisa, Jarvis winemaker Ted Henry launched Prime Cellars, believing Coombsville to offer a prime location for their winery. Certainly, their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Midoriya Hills Vineyard has validated this assumption, while their 2007 District 4 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2008 District 4 Chardonnay did much to underscore it. Another Coombsville pioneer, Daviana, showed a strong 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Red Wine, a (roughly) 3:2 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc; their standout, however, was the 2007 Cabernache,
which is not Neapolitan slang but a fusion of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache
.

Among Coombsville’s better-known wineries lies Palmaz Vineyards, in the foothills of Mt. George. This gravity-flow facility (no mechanical pumps) boasts the world’s largest underground reinforced structure in its fermentation dome. But such interesting factoids need be subordinate to the actual appreciation for the wine, which proved quite remarkable in both the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Cedar Knoll Vineyards and the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Palmaz Vineyards. Coombsville’s Ancien Wines seemed almost Carneros-like on this afternoon, dazzling with its 2008 Pinot Noir Mink Vineyard, backed by their 2007 Pinot Noir Haynes Vineyard and the 2007 Napa Chardonnay.And while Silverado Vineyards is actually a Stags Leap District winery, its properties in Coombsville bore the fruit that comprised the 2006 Mount George Merlot and its successive vintage.

Interestingly, two of the wineries here produce wine as a philanthropic venture. My friend Lauren Ackerman’s winery has produced a single annual Cabernet since 2003 and donated the net proceeds to the Napa Valley Community Foundation. Here they poured a vertical of their past three vintages, with a decided nod toward the middle selection, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon; the recently added 2007 Alavigna Tosca is a superb blend Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon I was eager to resample, as well. Dickhaus Valley Vineyards is primarily a grapegrower but bottles an annual Meritage that they donate to charitable events; while I felt the need to be charitable toward their 2007 vintage, the 2006 Coombsville Hillside Bordeaux Estate Blend was a delightful wine. Dickhaus also poured a couple of wines other vintners had produced from their grapes, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Coombsville from Hesperian and the very approachable 2007 Right Bank Blend, a Cheval Blanc homage of 75% Cabernet Franc & 25% Merlot, from Sullivan Vineyards.

Speaking of Merlot, I found Blue Oak Vineyards lone pour, the 2007 Estate Merlot, downright excellent. And I suppose I would have liked the delightful 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from Burly simply based on its name (despite this afternoon’s decidedly ectomorphic server). And based on the delights of his 2007 Rocket Science, a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, and Carménère, I am eager to sample the varietal bottlings of the six principal Bordeaux reds and Tannat that owner John Caldwell described so floridly.

Normally, I would not associate Merlot with salmon, but Coho Wines is a different case. Of course, it seems almost obligatory that they produce a Russian River Pinot Noir, which I have yet to try, but I delighted in their Coombsville offerings, including both the 2006 Merlot Michael Black Vineyard and its softer successor, the 2007 Merlot Michael Black Vineyard. While not officially being released until November, their 2008 Headwaters, a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and around 30% Merlot, with Petit Verdot added for roundness, proved a wine of tremendous promise. Also with a pre-release of a fauna-inspired label, Porter Family Vineyards masterfully blended Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to make their 2007 Sandpiper Red. Their 2009 Sandpiper Rosé (of Syrah) hedged a bit on the fruity side, but I found both their 2007 Syrah and the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon (blended with 12% Syrah and 3% Merlot) compelling, handsome wines.

Winemaker Dawnine Dyer’s skilled touch evidenced itself in both wines Sodaro Estate produces: the 2006 Felicity Cabernet Sauvignon, which contains 8% Merlot, 7% Malbec and 7%
Petit Verdot, and the striking 2006 Estate Blend, a wine that more evenly marries the same four varietals. Kirk Venge crafts wines for Frazier Winery also focused on the principal Bordelaise varietals, and while I found both the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Cabernet Franc rather insubstantial, I did relish the 2007 Merlot and particularly liked the 2007 Memento Cabernet Sauvignon.

My last sampling of the afternoon featured another seasoned industry veteran, Tom Farella, with his esteemed Farella-Park label. His wines ranged from the very good—the 2009 La Luce Sauvignon Blanc—to the flat-out excellent 2006 Coombsville Divide Merlot. In between, both the 2006 Road Lock Syrah and the 2006 West Face Cabernet Sauvignon presented superb œnology. Bottled separately under the Farella label, the 2006 Alta, a proprietary blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot, stood equal to these other reds.

As with the Mt. Veeder tasting, the Coombsville Première immensely pleased me for orchestrating a well-planned event that posed little difficulty in navigating, while restricting itself to few enough wineries to allow me to sample each and spend quality time interfacing with their principals. Plus, it proved highly productive to discover so many wineries that had yet to be included in Sostevinobile’s ever-expanding roster. And with that, my arduous slate of nine full-scale September tastings came to a close.

I hadn’t brought my golf clubs along (but probably would have been daunted by the 108°F temperature if I had); I did have a bathing suit on hand, and seriously contemplated hopping in the pool before leaving. Instead, I thought better and decided to wait until I reached Bay Club Marin, where I could swim legitimately. Later that evening, I needed to confront a pair of interlopers intent on turning Sostevinobile’s preferred location into a pool hall, but that is a drama that will likely unfold in a future instillation here.

Where there is there there

A few days after attending P.S. I Love You’s Petite Sirah Symposium, Your West Coast Oenophile ventured back across the Bay Bridge for the 5th Annual Urban Wine Xperience in Oakland. Again, having blogged this event for Sostevinobile last year,  I anticipated little in terms of new discovery, but was happy to renew acquaintances and do my small part to help publicize the efforts of these dedicated wine entrepreneurs.

There is an intangible quality to the East Bay wine tastings I’ve attended over the years, something that sharply delineates the ticket holders here from events in San Francisco. On a superficial level, the crowds look different, but only in the sense that they both equally reflect the heterogeneous population of their surrounding communities. But there is definitely a vibe that transcends ethnic makeup here, and I think it may well be a correlation between the lack of pretense among the local wine artisans and the genuine enthusiasm of the majority of attendees—hardly a poseur or dilettante in the crowd, as far as I could detect.

Last year, the Urban Wine Xperience was held outdoors, in a field beside the USS Potomac, the showcase restoration of FDR‘s “floating White House,” ensconced in the Oakland estuary. I arrived in need of some serious heat, maybe not quite the sweltering 95° of previous tasting, but definitely something to recharge the solar batteries after this summer’s protracted winter had taken its toll over the past four bleak, sunless days in San Francisco. Much to my chagrin, UWX V had moved a couple of blocks down the waterfront promenade, off the lawn and inside the enclosed showroom that anchors the Jack London Square complex.



There is no square there

Despite my disappointment at having to spend the afternoon indoors, I found the venue far more spacious and easier to navigate among the 18 various wineries, along with their partnered restaurants and caterers. The copious servings of food showcased not only their precise pairings with the wines being poured but the emerging food scene near the Oakland waterfront and surrounding neighborhoods. Certainly, I found intimations of places I am apt to explore on subsequent East Bay trips, but my focus for the afternoon centered on the appeal of the wines for Sostevinobile

I stopped by first to exchange greetings with Matt Smith, my fellow tasting panelist from the Connoisseurs Guide to California Wine, and to sample, among others, his latest release of the 2008 Alta Mesa Torrontés from his Blacksmith Cellars. Though (so I’m told) every Torrontés producer in California sources their grapes from this same vineyard, Matt manages to craft this wine with his personal touch, just as he did with the very striking 2008 North Coast Chenin Blanc, a once-ubiquitous varietal that has fallen into disfavor over the past two decades. Rounding out his inventory for the afternoon was the 2006 C.L.R.T., a wine that dare not speak its name (in accord with 2005’s Napa Declaration of Place), a Cabernet Sauvignon-based claret blended with Cabernet Franc and Merlot. 

Oakland’s World Ground Cafe matched these wines with a pork canapé, a pairing I find almost ubiquitous at fine & food affairs, but nonetheless well suited to Matt’s craftsmanship. Another restaurant I discovered just outside the exhibit hall, Bocanova, seemed a gargantuan undertaking, but also provided an intriguing pork variation to pair with Cerruti Cellars, a newcomer to Urban Wine Xperience. Their 2009 Mer Blanc Merlot Rosé heralds from vineyards in Alexander Valley, while the 2006 Cuvée Red Blend, a marriage of Sangiovese, Zinfandel and Merlot bottled under their Tudal label, boasts a Napa Valley origin. As if to forge a compromise, they melded barrels from both AVAs to produce the 2007 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa/Sonoma.

I haven’t quite ascertained how Andrew Lane Wines qualifies as an urban winemaker, though their wines certainly warranted inclusion this afternoon. Their corollary to Cerruti’s Cuvée Red blend was an amiable 2007 Rosso Napa Valley, a well-balanced ménage à trois with Sangiovese, Zinfandel and Valdiguié, another somewhat obscured varietal that had once enjoyed immense popularity. I found myself intrigued with their semi-spicy 2007 Petite Sirah Napa Valley, while enthralled with their 2007 Cabernet Franc Oakville. Franc-ly speaking, one of Sostevinobile’s most popular citations, Rock Wall Wine Company, made an equally strong statement with their 2007 Cabernet Franc Holbrook Mitchell from Napa Valley. On numerous visits to their facility, I don’t believe I’d previously tried their 2009 Russian River Reserve Chardonnay and, as with their progenitor, their array of top-notch Zins, including today’s 2008 Sonoma County Zinfandel, often leaves me scrambling to decipher my tasting notes.

Rock Wall’s Kent Rosenblum launched the East Bay winery phenomenon with his eponymous Rosenblum Cellars, now undergoing the throes of assimilation under its corporate parent, Diageo. The realignment was quite apparent in both their 2008 Zinfandel Sonoma Appellation Series and 2007 Zinfandel Paso Robles Appellation Series, not so much in the 2007 Syrah Snow’s Lake. Another spinoff from Rosenblum, JC Cellars, extended the tradition of quality begun in Alameda with a profound series of his own blends, ranging from the Roussanne-Marsanne duality of their 2008 The First Date to the complexity of the 2008 Daily Ration (Carignane, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, Grenache, and Zinfandel) to the quixotic array of Zinfandel, Syrah, Carignane, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, and Viognier in their ever-popular 2008 The Impostor.

JC Cellars’ white Rhône blend was paired with an incredible Seared Halibut on a fried wonton wedge from East Bay caterer Oren’s Kitchen (I confess to circling back to their table numerous times throughout the afternoon). Similarly, the Shrimp and Corn Pudding Tart from Alameda’s Little House Café proved an extraordinary complement to Stage Left Cellars’ white Rhône, the 2008 The Go Getter, a blend of Roussanne, Viognier, and Grenache Blanc. Sourced from a Syrah vineyard in Rogue Valley, their tasty 2007 The Scenic Route seemed an apt title for a descriptor of the grapes’ path back to Oakland while their 2006 Grenache stayed in-state from a vineyard sourced in Santa Maria.

One of my discoveries last year, Irish Monkey Cellars, also poured two Rhône varietals, the approachable 2008 Mourvèdre Lodi and a compelling 2007 Syrah Amador, as well as a blend of varietals they source from Napa’s Lovall Valley (a Real Estate designation, not a recognized AVA), the 2008 Chateaux du Lovall, a will-o’-the-wisp assemblage of Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, Primitivo, Syrah and Merlot. Another of 2009’s stars, Prospect 772 Wine Company, returned with the latest versions of their proprietary blends, the Syrah/Grenache mélange, the 2007 The Brat and its Viognier-infused Syrah brethren, the 2007 The Brawler, along with newcomer 2009 Baby Doll Rosé, also made from Syrah and Grenache.

At most tastings, R & B Cellars usually breaks out the kitchen sink, pouring more wines than I can fathom, but held to a mere trio this afternoon, showcasing their Sauvignon Blanc, the 2007 Serenade in Blanc, a highly likable 2007 Swingsville Zinfandel and the superb 2005 Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Also at most East Bay affairs,Urbano Cellars and Urban Legend Cellars seem inextricably joined at the hip; sequestered in different wings of the exhibition hall, they stood out today on individual merit. Urbano opened with their 2008 Vin Rosé Green Valley, a blush version of Napa Gamay (aka Valdiguié), then followed with an exceptional blend of Syrah, Grenache and Tempranillo, the 2007 5 Barrel Lodi, a haphazard assemblage of they would be, admittedly, hard-pressed to duplicate. Their standout pour came from their wondrous 2008 Sangiovese Mountain View Ranch.

Urban Cellars’ forte also stemmed from its Italian varietal bottlings, starting with the stellar 2008 Barbera Clarksburg that had crowds flocking to their table. Nebbiolo and Sangiovese worked synergistically to deliver their well-balanced 2008 Ironworks, while Marilee Shaffer delighted me with a sip from a bottle of the 2008 Teroldego Clarksburg she had secreted under the table. I also had warm feelings for the yet-unreleased 2009 Tempranillo Clarksburg and for the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Lake County that paired rather seamlessly with Warmed Grits topped with a confit of Chicken & Corn from Oakland‘s Brown Sugar Kitchen (proving, yet again, that there can be a wine to match up with almost everything).

Ehrenberg Cellars is a venture on the cusp of coming into its own, with more people behind its table sporting badges that read “Investor” than I can enumerate. Seemingly, their food partner Paradiso had as many pasta selections on hand, each distinctive and satisfying. This wine venture, formerly known as Nectar Vineyards, showcased promising futures from its unbottled 2009 Shenandoah Zinfandel and 2009 Petite Sirah, along with the 2008 Contra Costa Zinfandel from its previous incarnation. Meanwhile the more seasoned Dashe Cellars displayed its versatility with an organic 2008 Dry Riesling McFadden Farm and a pair of Sonoma vintages, the 2009 Grenache Dry Creek Valley and the 2008 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley, both tangy complements to the Seared Lamb & Arugula canapé from Oakland’s Chop Bar.

In my quest for objectivity, I hope Sasha Verhage will forgive me if I describe his 2007 The One Fairview Road Ranch, the Pinot Noir from his Eno Wines as not quite as mind-blowing as the 2007 The Change Agent (Grenache) and the 2007 The Freedom Fighter (old vine Zinfandel) proved this particular afternoon. Meanwhile, Dick Keenan’s Carica Wines held up their end with the 2008 Kick Ranch Sauvignon Blanc, the 2007 Kick Ranch Syrah, and Syrah-dominated GMS blend, the 2007 Temptation Sonoma County.

I was happy to find Marie Bourdillas’ Aubin Cellars on hand once again. This restrained, Burgundian-style operation offered equally-striking bottlings of their 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir and the 2007 Sonoma Mountain Syrah, along with a demure 2008 French Colombard. And, of course, I saved room for dessert, knowing that Adams Point Winery had its 18% alcohol Mango Wine on hand. In keeping with the Napa Declaration of Place, Adams Point calls its fortified blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petite Sirah California Red After Dinner Wine. While I found this “not Port” quite compelling, their Chocolate Dessert Wine, the same wine with an infusion of chocolate, bordered on tasting syrupy, not quite the finale to this event I had conjured.

Efforts to transform Jack London Square into a culinary mecca have been well-documented of late, and while the quiet exit of hokey food chains like T.G.I. Friday’s, El Torito and the Old Spaghetti Factory certainly seem a positive development, I, too, question whether this destination can draw sufficient crowds to sustain a mega-enterprise like Bocanova or, speculatively, a future branch of Sostevinobile. But, on this one afternoon, there definitely was a there there, and it remains safe to say that Urban Wine Experience proves the East Bay winery scene remains a vibrant presence that will continue to endure.

…I’m a Tur-key!

One of the truly great things about kids is their ability to embrace absurdity simply for the sheer pleasure of nonsense. Reflect, for a moment, on the guileless lyrics of a childhood parody (I hate Bosco, it’s rich and chocolat-y. Mommy puts it in my milk to try and poison me…) or the unabated pleasure of jejune humor. When I was much younger, I used to delight in the banter of the lock & key joke. The first person would start with something like:

“I’m a Hair-lock…”

To which the other would respond:

“I’m a Hair-key!”

Then he’d say:

“I’m a Nose-lock…”

The reply:

“I’m a Nose-key!”

The next round might start with:

“I’m a Don-lock…”

Unaware, the other person would announce:

“I’m a Don-key!!!” Peals of laughter would ensue.

Alternatively, the jokester might try:

“I’m a Mon-lock…”

“I’m a Mon-key!!!

Or perhaps:

I’m a Tur-lock…”

Suffice it to say that this sleepy little hamlet in Stanislaus County, a minor of satellite in greater metropolitan Modesto’s orbit, does not take kindly to my theory on the origin of its name. Several years ago, amid exceptional tribulation, Your West Coast Oenophile accepted a position with Turlock’s most storied enterprise, the (allegedly) not-for-profit Medicalert Foundation. On my drive out to the First Sip in Lodi this past Saturday, there was nary a moment I was tempted to veer south and revisit this inglorious chapter from my past.
Having tasted nearly all the wines being poured this weekend at the recent Treasure Island WineFest, my visit was more of a goodwill tour on behalf of Sostevinobile, a chance to visit with friends and see them operating in their own setting, not to mention a respite from the diurnal struggles of urban survival.
Over at Abundance, owner Dino Mencarini sat rather regally in the recesses of his warehouse as the crowds descended from what seemed like an endless parade of stretch Hummers. The long drive from San Francisco mandated that I start with something cool, which his Colombard-based NV Brut fit the bill nicely. I hadn’t tried the 2005 Old Vine Zinfandel before, and it certainly exemplified why Lodi has become so renowned for this varietal. And, of course, how could I say no to a taste of the just-released 2008 Bacio Dolce, Abundance’s signature late harvest Carignane, pipetted from an unstopped mini-barrel?
Mitch Cosentino operates branches of his winery in Lodi and in Yountville, focusing on grapes that flourish in each locale. I could launch into an extended peroration on why wineries should never forge a connection between their products, which have pronounce health benefits, to tobacco, the most-readily accessible carcinogen on the planet, but I will concede that his 2006 CigarZin was quite delectable. On the other hand, pushing tolerances at 16% alcohol, his new 2006 Daredevil, a Syrah-based blend, proved an exceedingly fine wine. Clearly my favorite was the modestly named 2006 The Franc, from his Lodi-based The Wine series.

My visit to LangeTwins proved most eye-opening. Their scant production of ~4,000 cases in no way prepared me for the site of the 2,000,000-case contract winery I encountered. A ginormous facility recalling Lodi’s cooperative warehouses from the 1980s, this plant makes the Lange’s fervor for sustainable winemaking all the more impressive. Their fidelity to making a classic Meritage was manifest in the 2006 Midnight Reserve, a Cabernet Sauvignon-based blend, while their less traditional 2007 Petit Verdot|Petite Sirah seemed quite approachable.
More startling than LangeTwins, however, was my discovery of Viaggio, a wine estate so opulent, it seemed an apparition on the banks of the Mokelumne. Whether this gargantuan erection makes Acampo a true destination remains to be seen; still, it made quite a stirring first impression.


The new Viaggio Estate

Viaggio has yet to make wine at this facility, contracting their production to Oak Ridge in Lodi. Nonetheless, I did appreciate both their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and their 2006 Pinot Grigio, which, respectively, paired quite nicely with the superb Beef Tri-Tip and the Mango Bread Pudding, prepared by Viaggio’s Vino di Vita cafe that owner Kent Raverty to showcase his forte as a pizzaiolo.
I had wanted to visit with quite a number of wineries this afternoon, but time and the wide spread of locations made completing my list an impossibility. I was sure I could make it to both Harney Lane and Harmony Wynelands at the end of my loop but fell short of my expectations. I also wanted to pay a courtesy visit to Onus Vineyards, to thank Marty Peterson for sending me a bottle of his superb 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Lodi, an exquisite interpretation of this varietal that is drinking at its peak right now.
I did manage to squeeze in Michael~David, a winery that seems hellbent on milking every pun it can construe from its 7 Deadly Zins and other allusions. Still, I enjoyed their Petite Sirah-dominant 2007 Petite Petit and found their 2005 Rapture Cabernet Sauvignon a true pleasure at this stage in its development.
After trying a third 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Lodi at the opulent estate of my longtime friend Joe Berghold, I had to concur with his observation that Lodi wines attain their peak more rapidly than wines from nearby Napa. Given how a wine bar’s wines must offer an immediate appeal to its clientele, his analysis was not lost on me or the program I am building for Sostevinobile. Berghold is billed as a “Victorian winery,” and the breadth of the antique collection Joe has amassed approaches museum quality. With two 26-foot-long carved bars imported in their entirety from Pennsylvania and a collection of 19th century armoires that words cannot truly depict, the tasting areas convey a sense of warmth and romance few wineries could better capture. Joe spent the better part of an hour pouring me a wide selection of his wines, ranging from his truly delectable 2005 Merlot to the very special 2005 Souzão, a varietal I had tried but once before. The blended 2003 Cabernet Franc/Syrah was a revelation in itself, while the 2007 Viognier was remarkable in it restraint. I even found myself delighting (there goes that pernicious tobacco reference, again) in his Stogie Club Petite Port, a post-prandial pleasure even without a cigar to accompany it.

 

Way out on the eastern edge of Lodi, the town of Clements seemed halfway to Jackson, but I was happy to trudge out there to visit with Markus and Liz at their tasting station for Bokisch. As per usual, I readily partook of their familiar Spanish trio, the 2007 Tempranillo, the 2007 Garnacha, and the 2007 Graciano, which somehow tasted better on their home turf. The real treat, however, was a chance to sample their limited-production 2007 Monastrell, which may be my favorite of their bottlings to date. Bokisch shared tasting space with Clements Ridge Produce, perhaps the only winery in California to have a Web page devoted to its selection of fruit pies. My efforts to scarf a piece of their mini pumpkin tarts obliged me to try a sampling of their wines; despite my transparent pretext, I found both the 2005 Gatos Locos Syrah and especially the 2007 Gatos Locos Zinfandel surprisingly likable wines.
I might have stayed around for Sunday’s tasting, but my agenda for the next several days proved beyond manageable. With any luck, I hope my next installment can convey my appreciation for these ensuing absurdities with the same unfettered delight I enjoyed during my formative years.

Why, oh why, can’t organic be synonymous with dietetic?

Unfortunately, organic isn’t even synonymous with sustainable—yet. But this prefatory section isn’t designed to extoll one over the other, merely to outline the points of contrast between what defines each litmus. Your West Coast Oenophile believes we will soon reach a point where there is a convergence between the standards for organic and sustainable certification, and as each approximates the other, so, too, will the criteria by which Sostevinobile qualifies its wines (along with its beers and menu ingredients) be attenuated.
For now, however, it does seem pertinent to delineate these two allied approaches to œnology and viticulture. Sustainable winemaking focuses on practices that least impact the environment, in terms of resource depletion, pollution of the ecosystem, and the generation of carbon by-products proven to accelerate global warming. These ecological practices do not necessarily preclude, at this time, the use of fertilizer, pesticides or certain chemical treatments to prevent spoilage or infestation, though nearly every sustainable grower strives to utilize these as minimally as possible.
On the other hand, organic farming focuses on the exclusion of chemical additives for treating infestation and spoilage or to stimulate crop growth. Primarily, the organic methodology is intended to prevent human consumption of chemical additives, as well as the seepage of these artificial compounds into the soil and water tables. Yet, in theory, one can strictly adhere to organic practices, while flouting green tenets of resource conservation, energy consumption or generation, recycling, etc.
Overwhelming, however, practitioners of organic agriculture in California have been just as diligent in their environmental stewardship as their fealty to holistic farming. Last Friday, several of the most prominent proponents of organic grape growing showcased their viticultural virtuosity, alongside an array of organic beers, produce and vodkas(!) at the 2009 CCOF Organic Beer, Wine & Spirit Tasting at San Francisco’s Ferry Building.
Though formed in 1973, California Certified Organic Farmers and their distinctive tag were a rare sight in the wine country until relatively recently. It has been even more recent that labeling a California wine as organic was not seen as camouflage for some fairly mediocre vinification. But great strides have been made of late both in improving the quality of winemaking that accompanied organic farming, as well as in attracting many notable longtime vignerons to this practice.
I’ve known Richard Arrowood since his winemaking days at Chateau St. Jean in the mid-1980s; I suspect he and I have never once voted for the same candidate or state proposition in the past 25 years. His latest venture, Amapola Creek, is an intense, highly-individual undertaking, with small lots of handcrafted wines from estate vineyards that were organically certified in 2008. This hasn’t been the result of a political epiphany, but rather his awareness as both a farmer and a chemist how the introduction of pesticides and inorganic fertilizers adversely impacts both the quality of the produce and the health of the soil. I had the privilege of barrel tasting several of his current wines back in February. Now bottled, both his 2005 Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2006 Amapola Creek Syrah did nothing to disappoint.
Mendocino County bills itself as the greenest wine region in the country. One of their many standout organic wineries, Yorkville Cellars, bills itself as the only California winery producing single varietals from the eight primary Bordeaux grapes. Though we have crossed paths at several tastings this past year, I had yet to have the opportunity to try their 2006 Carmenère, a silver medalist in the International Green Wine Competition; even my tasting companion, the semi-recalcitrant David Latimer, was impressed enough to take a bottle back to Half Moon Bay. New also to me was the 2007 HiRollr Red, an intriguing blend of 51% Zinfandel with Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot.
BARRA of Mendocino is the sister label of Girasole Vineyards, a frequent exhibitor at green wine events. Their South San Francisco-based distributor primarily imports sustainably-grown wines and sponsors the Golden Glass tasting for Slow Food San Francisco, which Villa Italia Wines president Lorenzo Scarpone helped spearhead. BARRA/Girasole’s adherence to strict environmental practices and their affinity for Italian varietals makes for an intuitive alliance with Villa Italia, who was on hand, alongside Martha Barra, to pour the splendid 2006 Girasole Vineyards Sangiovese. I found both the 2006 Girasole Vineyards Pinot Noir and the barrel-fermented 2007 BARRA of Mendocino Chardonnay quite drinkable, but it was the stunning 2004 BARRA of Mendocino Petite Sirah that truly opened my eyes to just how far organic wine making has come along over the past several years.
I am quite aware that my blog entries run a bit long, and I would bet, were I technically savvy enough to embed a legal copy of the MP3, this column would run the full 13:01 of Boz Scaggs’ immortal version of Loan Me a Dime. Lacking these faculties, I must resort to paying tribute to the wines of Scaggs Vineyards, a surprising discovery at this event. Though their 2007 bottling was admirable indeed, their 2008 Grenache Rosé was near stratospheric, an astoundingly wonderful wine that, like BARRA, again showed just what organic winemaking could achieve. Rounding out their pours for the evening, Dominique Scaggs also featured her 2007 Montage, an organic take on the traditional GMS blend.
Inarguably, the best way demonstrate the virtues of organic produce to the uninitiated is with tomatoes; no one I know has ever been able to deny the intensity of flavor an organic Lycopersicom esculentum imparts versus the utterly bland taste of one mass-produced in a field leeched of nutrients. The 2006 El Jabali Chardonnay from Alma Rose Winery displayed the same stark contrast with the highly manipulated Chardonnays we have all experienced, an absolute revelation. This Sideways star also upheld its claim to Merlot-free fame with its 2007 Santa Rita Pinot Noir and the 2007 La Encantada Pinot Noir.
Not that organic Merlot can’t be equally delightful. This tasting gave me a chance to revisit with Hawley Winery, which impressed me considerably with their 2003 Merlot, as well as a well-rounded 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2006 Pinot Noir Oehlman Vineyard. Emtu Wines from Forestville ought not be confused with M2 Wines in Lodi; though both share a passion for environmental preservation, their varietal focus is quite different, as witnessed by the delightful 2008 Emtu Estate Rosé (of Merlot) and the 2006 Emtu Estate Pinot Noir
Merlot blends also showed well at this tasting. Along with their amiable 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Medlock Ames featured their 2006 Red, evenly split between Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Trefethen’s aptly-named True Earth Wines paired their 2007 True Earth Chardonnay with their 2007 True Earth Red, a Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Petite Sirah in their Three Thieves style.
With a name like Adastra and a winemaker like Pam Starr, one cannot afford not to have wines that are stellar; just to be sure, they brought a pair of Burgundian whites, the 2007 Chardonnay and the 2006 Proximus Chardonnay, along with a pair Burgundian reds, the 2006 Pinot Noir Carneros and the 2006 Proximus Pinot Noir. Making even more of a hedge, Chance Creek Vineyards brought a trio of the same varietal, their 2006 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve, and their unzipped premium , the 2006 Terroir 95470, along with a lone 2006 Sangiovese.
Magnanimus Wines handles quite a lineup of organic venture from Mendocino and featured both the biodynamic-certified Mendocino Farms and organically-farmed Old River Cellars this evening. The latter scored with a powerful Bordeaux blend, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Ponderosa Vineyard, while the 2005 Mendocino Farms Syrah batted cleanup to the prodigious 2007 Mendocino Farms Grenache. I wish La Rocca Vineyards had brought a deeper bench along this evening, as I only managed to taste their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon but would have loved to sample the array of their other wines, especially the 2006 Barbera that owner Philip La Rocca so extolled. Oh well, they’ve been certified organic for nearly 20 years—I expect they’ll be back for the Fifth Annual CCOF tasting next year.
Korbel Vineyards has been around since 1882, but has only recently offered an organically-grown sparkling wine, their NV Brut Champagne, crafted from Chardonnay, Sangiovese and Colombard grapes from the 2007 harvest. Meanwhile, across the room, Jim Milone’s Terra Sávia debuted its first sparkling wine, the 2006 Blanc de Blancs; I also had the chance to revisit their 2008 Chardonnay and the 2006 Meritage they introduced at Family Winemakers this summer.
I’d had the pleasure of tasting Tres Sabores on a number of occasions over the past year; still, why not sip again from their 2006 Estate Zinfandel, the 2007 Farina Sauvignon Blanc and their enchanting ¿Por Que No?, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah? Like Tres Sabores, Silver Mountain holds organic certification since 1991 and their long-standing facility in this classification showed admirably in the quartet of wines they poured: the 2007 Estate Chardonnay, the 2006 Miller Hill Pinot Noir, a 2008 Rosé made from Pinot Noir, and an exquisitely-aged 2002 Alloy, their Bordeaux blend.
I’ve recently contemplated abandoning Sostevinobile to develop a restaurant focused on Mineralism. Unlike other dietary precepts, Mineralist (or abiotic) cuisine eschews the consumption of all forms of life, be they animal, vegetable, fungi, or unicellular. Acceptable foods include soil, water (both fresh and saline), evaporated salts, and natural deposits of elements, minerals or other digestible compounds. I jest, of course—my commitment to this all-encompassing venture remains undiminished. I just felt compelled to tweak the concept of veganism. I mean, how can anyone subsist without honey or butter or milk? And do not even dare suggest to this Italian that you can make pizza with soy mozzarella!
That said, the folks from Hallcrest Vineyards, one of only four vegan wineries in California, produced some extraordinary wines, including an amazing 2005 Zinfandel Nova Vineyards, the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Brigantino Vineyards and, under their Organic Wine Works label, the 2007 À Notre Terre Red, a Rhône blend. Also in a rather esoteric niche was Napa’s Hagafen Cellars, a certified Kosher winery. Again, I personally cannot imagine life without prosciutto or Cozze in Brodo, but the 2008 White Riesling entailed was neither clawingly sweet nor restrictive to taste.
Organic entrées abounded at this event (albeit for an additional charge). I managed to sample some incredible Offal with Mango in Paper Cones from Boccalone Salumeria, fried shrimp cakes from Delica rf1, and generous dollops of caviar from Tsar Nicolai, which paired quite nicely with the organic vodkas from Shadow Spirits. I liberally consumed the free olive oil samples from McEvoy Ranch, mini-discs of Tcho Chocolate, copious amounts of Acme Bread, and a couple of servings of sausage from where I honestly can’t recall. With all that, I still managed to quaff a few of the organic beers interspersed throughout the tasting floor: a beer & tea blend from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing and the Valencia Wheat Beer from San Francisco’s Thirsty Bear (Sostevinobile intends to feature a half-dozen sustainably-produced, local beers along with our wine selections).
By the time the 2009 CCOF Organic Beer, Wine & Spirits Tasting had concluded, I was beyond the point of satiety. And it was certainly reassuring to know that everything I had consumed over the four hour span was organically certified and wonderfully nutritious—not to mention sapid. The only problem is organic or sustainable, biodynamic or kosher, macrobiotic or vegan, why can’t any of these be non-caloric as well?

Whither Bambi Francisco?

Somehow, Your West Coast Oenophile managed to lose track of Bambi Francisco at the 2009 Wine 2.0 Expo last Thursday. Because this gathering showcased the convergence of wine and technology, I could have thought up a highly inventive way to signal her, like Tweeting “tell Bambi I’m standing by the Cameron Hughes table” from my iPhone or by logging onto the Web app Nirvino had set up for the event and wryly posting “2007 Inman Family Russian River Valley Pinot Gris would sure taste great if Bambi were tasting it here with me” on their overhead screen. But like esprit de l’escalier, the notion didn’t occur to me until well after I had left.

Of course, I hadn’t been invited to this tasting to renew my acquaintance with this intrepid reporter, so while she filmed her podcast, I moseyed about the various nooks and crannies at Crushpad, searching for memorable wines to add to our growing roster at Sostevinobile and to include in this blog (a fairly formidable task, given the somewhat chaotic layout of the vent and program guide). Naturally, I first found myself at the table for Classic Malts of Scotland, where the temptation of Lagavulin 16 Year Old proved…too tempting.
Admittedly, it takes a few moments to cleanse one’s palate from the taste of Single Islay Malt Scotch, so let me take this time to explain what the intersection of wine and technology is not. At the bottom of the list, one would have to cite the automatonic wonder known as The Winepod™. This impersonal contraption has been billed as “George Jetson, Meet Winemaker” and could only come from the aesthetic void known as San Jose—throw in the grapes, flip on the switch and await your technologically perfect wine. Suitable, of course, to be dispensed in discrete 1 oz. shots at the nadir of the wine tasting experience, the late and not especially lamented VinoVenue. Technology, however, does offer the possibility of enveloping more people into the richness of the wine experience, and, as it has become the lingua franca of the under-35 set, there is much to be said for the virtues of marrying social networking and web-based communities to the sheer joy of œnophilia.
So onward to the wines I discovered (given the utter randomness of listings in the program guide, the order of my selections will likely seem splenetic). First up, though not because he invited me to the upcoming Pinot Days Grand Festival Steve Rigisch poured a pair of truly excellent 2007 Russian River Pinot Noirs, from Olson Ogden and his own Ketcham Estate. If this was a prelude to the June gathering, I am bound to be euphoric. 
Post-prandial fare came early Thursday evening, with a 2004 Port of Pinot Noir, which 122° West Winery calls Sonoma County Dessert Wine. Their 2006 Napa Valley Sangiovese was equally impressive. Strains of The Deuces’ WPLJ (not the Long Island radio station) echoed through my head with my taste of Rick Kasmier’s White Port of Chardonnay, a wine that may well become timely in the midst of this economic neo-depression. In a similar vein, I admit I cringed before tasting his Kaz Vineyards 2008 Stimulus (seems every advertiser these days feels compelled to use this term in their promotions), but with a lineup that includes Lenoir, Malbec, Barbera and DeChaunac, I suspect a trip to his Kenwood tasting room will soon be in order.
In stark contrast to Kaz’ 27 varietal offerings, Bedarra Vineyards from Dry Creek Valley produces a mere 250 cases of a single wine. Their second vintage, a 2007 Chardonnay, showed tremendous promise. Meanwhile, making their first California foray, Y Rousseau Wines presented their understated yet refreshing 2008 Russian River Valley Colombard Old Vines.
Similar modesty was not to be found in Walla Walla’s lone representative, Wines of Substance. While their labels cheekily borrows from Breaking Bad’s twist on the Periodic Table, their wines are anything but chemical in composition or taste, with both 2007 Riesling and their 2007 Merlot ably displaying why Washington excels in these particular varietals.
Loyal readers of this blog well know my partiality for the Italian interpretation of most cultural expressions or phenomena. Naturally, I gravitated to Dono dal Cielo’s table, where I was delighted with both the 2006 and 2007 versions of their Newcastle (the California hamlet, not Newcastle-on-Tyne, the more renowned British brewery enclave) Zinfandel. Of greater fidelity, Due Vigne di Famiglia offer a quartet of wines, punctuated by their salubrious 2006 Nebbiolo and my predilection a 2005 Dolcetto.
It would have been wonderful if Michael Giarraputo had been able to speak with me in Italian, but his Think Tank Wine Company is quiet conversant in the sustainable values Sostevinobile espouses. His 2007 La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir is an excellent organic expression of Santa Rita Hills’ signature varietal. Another winery aiming at a different kind of appeal, Courtesan Wines, echoed the highly romanticized version of this Venetian archetype, so sensually portrayed in Dangerous Beauty. Hints of sensuality were abundant in both the 2006 Courtesan (Cabernet Sauvignon) and 2006 Brigitte (Merlot), both hailing from Oakville. The big O of the evening, however, was O’Brien Estate, whose 2006 Seduction is a Bordeaux-style blend that lived up to the promise of its name. Their 2007 Chardonnay was also a worthy counterpart.
A Palo Alto venture, Cannonball Wine Company, inspired me to whip out my iPhone 3G and play the immortal saxophonist’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. Their 2006 Cannonball Cabernet was a deft blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah from a decidedly unkosher mélange of four vineyards in Dry Creek, Mendocino and Paso Robles. A more traditional blend was the 2005 Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon from Lancaster Estate, a stellar Bordeaux-style assemblage of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec, 2% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot.
It’s a rare treat when a wine looks as good as it tastes. The labels Eric Kent Cellars commissions for their wines are vibrant, evocative and well-suited to their portfolio of Chardonnay, Syrah, and Pinot Noir from Sonoma. Most memorable of the evening was their 2006 Dry Stack Vineyard Syrah, a stellar Bennett Valley vintage with and equally memorable label from artist Colin Day.
Some people are drawn to wines by their rating points from Robert Parker or Wine Spectator. I tend to succumb to those wineries that can offer something contrarian in nature, as demonstrated by Delgadillo Cellars, which was just now releasing its 2001 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon! A splendid Old Vine Cabernet, this wine came closest to warranting the highly coveted .
I topped off the evening with a return to the Classic Malts of Scotland table and, later, an unanticipated (and soon to be contested) rendezvous with the traffic constabulary from the SFPD. Though highly improbable, I can categorically state that a late-night encounter with the elusive Ms. Francisco would have been far preferable. Then again, she never did show up that time for the showdown on the squash court she had always promised…