Categories
Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Carménère Chardonnay Colombard Grenache Loureiro Malbec Merlot Mourvèdre Petit Verdot Rosé Sangiovese Sauvignon Blanc St. Laurent Syrah Viognier Zinfandel Zweigelt

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.

Categories
Albariño Alvarelhão Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Graciano Grenache Grenache Blanc Loureiro Malbec Malvasia Bianca Mazuelo Merlot Montepulciano Mourvèdre Petit Verdot Petite Sirah Picpoul Blanc Port Rio Tinto Rosé Roussanne Souzão Symphony Syrah Tannat Tempranillo Tinta Amarela Tinta Cão Torrontés Touriga Francesa Touriga Nacional Trousseau Verdelho

Arizona, Narsai & Bastardo*

*OK, so it ain’t Kukla, Fran & Ollie. But still…
“And what is so rare as a day in June?” This spring, the answer may well be “a day that behaves like a June day.” Finally, after an interminably long rainy season, San Francisco basked in warm sunshine this past Saturday—the perfect setting for the 3rd Annual T.A.P.A.S. Grand Tasting. Your West Coast Oenophile had laid out warm clothes the night before, figuring on drive to Fort Mason, make my loop through the tables, then head to Healdsburg for A Single Night, Single Vineyards at C. Donatielloyes, my duties for Sostevinobile do seem endless—but the weather proved too inviting. I donned my familiar shorts & wine collar, strapped on my helmet, then headed down the hill from Pacific Heights on my 14-speed Trek.

Good thing I made the switch, too. T.A.P.A.S. was competing both with the Union Street Festival and another wine event, Vina Moda’s Crush Barrel Wine Market, also at Fort Mason. I smugly whizzed by utter standstill traffic and hundreds of cars futilely searching for parking over most of the 20 or so blocks from my place to Herbst Pavilion. Actually, this tasting wasn’t originally suppose to conflict with the other events, but Crushpad’s abrupt move to Napa forced organizers to scramble to find a new site back in March. I assisted the board in this search and had tried to get the tasting moved to Rock Wall’s facility in Alameda, but in the end, they elected to return to Fort Mason, where last year’s tasting was held in the Golden Gate Room, the site of the original ZAP tasting.

This year’s tasting included 39 wineries (versus 36 in 2009), complemented by the most sumptuous and varied appetizers and noshes I have seen at a Fort Mason event (why is it that, when I describe the alimentary portion a wine tasting, I always feel like Khlestakov from Nikolai Gogol’s Ревизор, aka The Government Inspector?). Today’s larger setting filled out quite nicely with paella, oysters, chicken breast, jellied quince, stuffed peppers, stuffed olives, an abundance of fresh fruit, cheese and bread—I didn’t even miss the conspicuous absence of Aidells sausages! Of course, however, the wine was paramount.

The Tempranillo Advocates Producers & Amigos Society (T.A.P.A.S.) functions as more than just a trade association. Its goal is as much to raise awareness of the numerous wineries along the West Coast and other states about the wealth of Spanish, Portuguese and Basque varietals being cultivated and vinified here. Though the ample crowd certainly indicated an increasing success with this mission, I was quite surprised to hear KCBS’ Food & Wine Critic Narsai David’s report on Lee Family Farms just a few days before the tasting, claiming they were the first winery in California to grow Verdelho and Rio Tinto that he had ever encountered—particularly surprising since he himself hails from the Central Valley, but then how much credence can you place in a man who pronounces Merlot (muhr•LŌ´) MĀR´•lō?

Confident in my knowledge of the ever-growing and long-standing proliferation of these and other Iberian grapes, I started my afternoon at A Cellar Full of Noise, James Judd’s only foray to date into Spanish varietals, with their delectable 2006 Tempranillo Paso Robles. Judd makes a number of other wines, both from Italian and from Bordeaux varietals (including their fraternal twins Verdot Malbec and Malbec Verdot), while another previously untried venture, Stein Family Wines acquitted themselves quite ably with their only wine, the 2007 Just Joshin Tempranillo. Meanwhile Coral Mustang’s Penelope Gadd-Coster, who led last year’s seminar, staked her claim as the Merry Edwards of Tempranillo with her 2006 Tempranillo Vista Creek, as well as a reprise of last year’s wine.

During my recent visit to the Gold Country, I regretted that I arrived too late in the day to visit Bray Vineyards, so I made sure I didn’t miss the opportunity today to sample their excellent 2006 Tempranillo Shenandoah Valley. I found their 2006 Verdelho equally appealing, while the 2006 Vinho Tinto, a blend of Tinta Cão, Touriga Nacional, Souzão, Alvarelhão, and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) shone brightest. In addition to their 2007 Tempranillo Paso Robles, Arroyo Grande’s Barreto Cellars brought their varietal 2007 Touriga Nacional and the field blend 2007 Vinho Tinto, which adds Touriga Francesa and Tannat to the aforementioned grapes. And Pacifica’s aptly named (from a San Francisco perspective) Bodega del Sur married Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah in a silky proprietary blend known as the 2007 Carmesi, while offering a respectable 2008 Verdelho Alta Mesa and 2009 Albariño.

Albariño, of course, has long been the forte of Bokisch Vineyards, which held true with their latest 2008 Albariño Terra Alta Vineyard. New (at least to my recollection) was the 2009 Garnacha Blanca, an amiable white cousin of their 2007 Garnacha Clements Hills. And though I typically would extol their 2006 Graciano Mokelumne as their most outstanding pour, I favored the 2007 Tempranillo Liberty Oaks Vineyard this time around. On the other hand, I clearly favored the 2007 Graciano Bokisch Vineyard from the several selections Quinta Cruz featured, along with their superb 2007 Tempranillo Pierce Ranch. Their 2009 Verdelho Silvaspoons Vineyard showed a straightforward expression of this grape, while the 2007 Touriga Pierce Ranch deftly blended Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesa. The 2007 Concertina added Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cão to make a striking Douro-style blend, while their 2006 Rabelo presented a Port-style wine from the same. Generically labeling their fare the 2005 California Dessert Wine, Tesouro Port Cellars with a fortified blend of Alvarelhão, Souzão, Touriga, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cão.

Like Quinta Cruz, many of the wineries on hand sourced their grapes from Silvaspoons and from Pierce Ranch, both of whom were present with their own wines. Pierce Ranch Vineyards made their statement with their 2009 Albariño San Antonio Valley and the eclectic 2007 Cosechiero, a proprietary mélange of Tempranillo, Touriga, Tinta Cão, Graciano, and Garnacha Blanca. Silvaspoons’ Ron Silva bottles his own grapes under the Alta Mesa Cellars label, displaying a deft touch with both his 2009 Verdelho Alta Mesa and the 2007 Tempranillo Alta Mesa. On the other hand, the barrel sample of his 2008 Tannat Alta Mesa showed considerable promise but will only live up to its full potential if he incorporates the attached portrait on this label!

Marco Azzurro

The first time yours truly attended the T.A.P.A.S. Grand Tasting, I chose Abacela as my major revelation of the afternoon. Once again, Earl and Hilda Jones flat-out dazzled me with their 2007 Estate Port Southern Oregon, while I was pleasantly surprised by the striking quality of their 2005 Tempranillo Reserve. It still remains to be seen if my most significant discovery from this year’s tasting will prove to be the pulchritudinous Kimberly Quan, but I found myself even further amazed by last year’s pick, Napa’s Forlorn Hope. One may question winemaker Matt Rorick’s sartorial taste, but his vinification remains dead-on. Even better than my previous sampling of his wines, his quarter this year simply astounded. His 2009 La Gitana would surely have made for the best Torrontés of the afternoon, even if it hadn’t been the sole representation of this grape, while his 2009 Que Saudade was easily today’s champion Verdelho. On the red side, I loved his Alvarelhão, the 2009 Suspiro Del Moro but nearly wept at my taste of the 2006 Mil Amores, an utterly astounding blend of Touriga, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cão, and Tinta Amarela.

My readers should know that this far into my column, the demands of Portuguese orthography is nearly driving me to drink, but I will forge on!

Having verified the spelling for Loureiro, a grape I had not previously encountered, I can report on the splendid version Bonny Doon bottled under their Ca’ del Solo label as 2009 Vinho Grinho (I’m pretty certain Randall made up this word). Just as alluring were the 2009 Albariño Bonny Doon Vineyard and the ever-popular 2009 Clos de Gilroy, their version of Garnacha. Another varietal that took me by surprise was one that wasn’t even poured! Bodegas Paso Robles did pour an interesting array of blends, like their 2008 Doña Blanca, a mix of Garnacha Blanca and Malvasia Bianca. Their reds included the superb 2003 Iberia (Touriga, Tempranillo, Graciano and Tinta Cão) and the 2005 ¡Viva Yo!, combining Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as a straight 2003 Graciano. But the real allure was the 2007 Pimenteiro, a wine made from Trousseau (smoothed with 10% Tempranillo). In realms where the FCC holds no sway, Trousseau is known as Bastardo, a name hardly as provocative as the epithet Marco Materazzi hurled at Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 World Cup Finals, but enough to draw protest from the BATF.

Actually, St. Amant poured their 2008 Bootleg Port, a fortified 6-grape combo of Tinta Cão, Touriga Nacional, Souzão, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Francesa, and Bastardo, but this wasn’t sufficient to appreciate the varietal. Touriga Nacional dominates their superb 2008 Touriga Amador County, while their NV Tawny Port Amador County blends Touriga, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz, Alvarelhão, Souzão, and, again, Bastardo. Another Lodi winery, Ripken Vineyards, produced a 2005 Vintage Port from Souzão and Touriga Nacional while making a strong statement with their 2005 Old Spanish Red, a blend of Monastrell, Graciano, and Garnacha.

Some readers may recall my previous citation of my attempt to launch Château LompocThe Wine Served Behind the Finest Bars in America back in 1990 with the late Pat Paulsen. Do realize that I am always fond of Santa Ynez wineries like Lompoc’s own D’Alfonso-Curran, who, besides their superb 2009 Grenache Blanc and notable 2007 Grenache, created their own rosado, aptly named 2009 Grenache Gris. I assume Orcutt, California lies somewhere near Lompoc, and though I’ve not encountered this town before, it certainly warrants attention for local venture Core Wine Company. Winemaker Dave Corey (unrelated to the David Corey with whom I roomed freshman year at Dartmouth), masterfully mirrored his 2006 Elevation Sensation, a Garnacha blended with Monastrell with his 2006 Mister Moreved, a mélange of inverse proportions. I should have tasted his late harvest Garnacha, the 2004 Candy Core (my former roommate could never have been this clever), but did revel in his 2006 Ground Around, a blend of Tempranillo, Syrah and Garnacha. And all I had known previously about Winters, CA was that I lost all cell and data service on my iPhone after passing through this hamlet en route from Davis to Rutherford, but now recognize it as the home of Berryessa Gap Vineyards, purveyors of the striking 2007 Tempranillo Yolo County and the vineyard designate 2007 Tempranillo Rocky Ridge.
I can’t remember a wine tasting of late where the family Truchard did not pour, so it was quite reassuring to see this genial pair yet again. Besides tasting the 2005 Tempranillo Carneros (as well as the elegantly aged 2002 Tempranillo Carneros), their sole foray into Spanish varietals, I managed to show Joanne a few of the wonders that make my iPhone so indispensable these days. Like the Truchards, Yorba Wines, another Napa winery with ancillary interest in Spanish wines, deftly blended their 2007 Tempranillo with a touch of Graciano, also grown at their Shaker Ridge Vineyard.

Many of the Iberian varietals have counterparts in Rhône grapes that I have highlighted numerous times in this blog, though here I have striven to identify by their Spanish or Portuguese identities. Villa Creek Cellars may label its 2007 Damas Noir a Mourvèdre rather than Monastrell, but either way, it was amazingly delicious. As was their 2009 White, which blended Garnacha Blanca with both Roussanne and Picpoul Blanc. T.A.P.A.S. President Jeff Stai’s own Twisted Oak had no such ambiguity labeling their 2007 River of Skulls a Monastrell, while his superb 2007 Parcel combined Monastrell, Garnacha and Mazuelo.

Niven Family Wines bottles under four or five different labels; here, they stood out with the 2008 Tangent Albariño and 2008 Tangent Grenache Blanc, while their 2009 Trenza Blanco combined both these grapes as a counterpoint to the 2008 Trenza Tinto (Tempranillo, Garnacha, Monastrell, Syrah). Meanwhile, Verdad, the alter ego of Rhône specialist Qupé, scored with both the 2009 Albariño Santa Ynez Valley and the 2009 Albariño Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, while excelling at their 2007 Tempranillo Santa Ynez Valley.

As one might expect, the Lodi area was well-represented this afternoon. Besides those wineries I have already mentioned, Rio Vista’s Dancing Coyote brought their two white endeavors, the 2009 Albariño and the 2009 Verdelho (both farmed in Clarksburg), while the ever-wondrous Harney Lane offered both their 2009 Albariño Lodi and the 2007 Tempranillo Lodi. Napa also added Montepulciano specialist Mahoney Vineyards, with their 2008 Albariño Las Brisas Vineyard and 2007 Tempranillo Las Brisas Vineyard, along with Parador Cellars, who blended Napa’s favorite grape, Cabernet Sauvignon into the Tempranillo base of both their 2005 Red Table Wine and the 2003 Riserva.
The Livermore Valley featured venerable winemaker Larry Replogle’s Fenestra, with quite the wide selection—I particularly cottoned to his 2007 Touriga and the 2006 Tourvanillo, a proprietary blend of Touriga, Alvarelhão, Tempranillo, and Malbec. Meanwhile, his compatriots at Murrieta’s Well matched their 2007 Tempranillo Livermore Valley with the 2007 Zarzuela, a Tempranillo tempered with Touriga, Souzão, and Petite Sirah. Oregon, along with T.A.P.A.S. founder Abacela, once again made a strong T.A.P.A.S. showing with Red Lily Vineyards, a singularly focused winery that garnered considerable attention for its 2006 Tempranillo Rogue Valley and 2007 Red Blanket Tempranillo and with Jacksonville’s Valley View Winery, whose 2006 Anna Maria Tempranillo may have eclipsed its 2005 vintage but fell a small step behind its superlative 2008 Anna Maria Port.

The roster for T.A.P.A.S. encompasses wineries from a handful of other states, including Washington and Texas, where Alamosa literally stands as the lone star in this category. This year’s tasting featured two wineries from Arizona, one a newcomer, the other a consistent attendee. Admittedly, this places Sostevinobile in a bit of a quandary. The statement of purpose, from which I have built our wine program, focuses us exclusively on sustainably grown wines from the West Coast. Basically, for the sake of our carbon footprint, I am allowing us a swath of ~750 miles from Ground Zero in San Francisco to comprise our initial definition of local. Quite honestly, I didn’t think Arizona would have wines that would pass muster, even if they fell within this arc. But Callaghan Vineyards impressed me with their 2009 Ann’s Selection that infused Garnacha Blanca and Verdelho with Symphony, as well as their annual bottling of a Tempranillo/Bordelaise blend, starting with the 2008 Padres, a combo featuring Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. And first time presenter Dos Cabezas Wine Works from Sonoita packed more than a mouthful with its 2008 Aguileon (Tempranillo, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Souzão, Tinta Cão, Cabernet Sauvignon) and its Sean Thackrey-style blend, the 2008 El Campo (Tempranillo, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Garnacha, Syrah, Monastrell, Roussanne). But if I were to include these wineries, would I then be obliged to consider other domains within the same radius? Such as Idaho or British Columbia? Perhaps Baja California, where the wine industry is being revived? Or even—gulp!—Nevada? It is really much too much to fathom at this stage, so let me pour myself a glass of 2004 Ridge Petite Sirah Dynamite Hill and move forward.


I had a fantasy that I could wrap up this portion of my blog entry in under 1,000 words, then tackle my evening trek to Healdsburg in the second half. So, as I now cross the 2,500-word threshold, I offer comments on the last two wineries of the afternoon, unrelated to each other in any manner save that their names bring to mind certain celebrities who have no connection to the winery operations whatsoever. I’m sure Longoria Wines might not mind an endorsement from either actress Eva Longoria or Tampa Bay 3rd Baseman Evan Longoria, but they can certainly stand on their own merits with their evocative 2007 Tempranillo Santa Ynez Valley or the 2009 Albariño Santa Ynez Valley. And Viña Castellano has, to the best of my knowledge, no connection to erectile-dysfunctional crime boss Paul Castellano, late of the Gambino family, fully rising to the occasion a 2006 Garnacha, two consecutive years of superb Tempranillos (I found the later 2005 Tempranillo Sierra Foothills preferable), a 2006 Monastrell Sierra Foothills and the 2006 Abueleta, a daring mélange of Tempranillo, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Garnacha. And on that note…