“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. Donatiello—yes, 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!
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. Amantpoured 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 Lompoc—The 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…
There can be a considerable downside to the simplicity of Copy & Paste. Your West Coast Oenophile is starting to realize that the pressures of trying to handle all the needs of Sostevinobile can sometimes cause me to overlook small but important details when I transfer information to my iCal datebook. Like the word preceding the calendar date—the month.
Perhaps I should blame my oversight on my attendance at Rock Wall’s Spring Fling Open House. The weather was perfect Saturday (something Rock Wall always seems to conjure for their major events); the salsicce spicy and enticing; the bevy of Tibetan nursing students who arrived at the tail end of the event alluringly beautiful; the usual suspects—wineries who regularly participate in these quarterly gatherings—there in force. Carica Wines, Ehrenberg , R&B Cellars all poured essentially the same lineup I had tasted at my most recent visit and reviewed here.
Of the new wines I tasted, John Robert Eppler’s JRE label showed notable progress with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford. Matt Smith, with whom I had recently participated on one of the Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wine Tasting Panels, poured several releases from his Blacksmith label, including his 2008 Torrontés, a nostalgic 2008 Chenin Blanc and his Syrah, Grenache/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, the 2006 Hephaestus. Good always to see Sasha Verhage with his redesigned labels for his Eno Wines; inside the bottle, the 2007 Mr. Fix-It (Syrah) and 2007 The Change Agent (Grenache) lingered longest on the memory.
Rock Wall also debuted several wines, including the 2008 Cabernet Franc Holbrook Mitchell, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Holbrook Mitchell, a Sonoma County 2008 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, and the 2008 Zinfandel Reserve. The true revelation of the afternoon, however, was the much-anticipated 2008 Montepulciano Contra Costa County. A distinct varietal, not to be confused with the Sangiovese-based Italian wine of the same name, I have enjoyed this wine only twice before from other California wineries. This 88-case bottling sold out in less than a week (I did my part by returning to the tasting table several times) and truly stand as a harbinger of the risorgimento of Italian varietals on the West Coast (more on this phenomenon later).
Following the Spring Fling, I rushed back to San Francisco to order online passes to the Vinify Winery Collective Tasting in Santa Rosa. With my e-confirmation safely logged into my iPhone, I mapped out an itinerary, arranged appointments in Glen Ellen and Kenwood, then headed out from San Francisco before my usual wake-up time on Sundays.When my companion and I arrived at the industrial complex on Coffey Lane where Vinify houses its custom crush operations, the parking lot seemed eerily empty. Sure enough, Vinify’s front door was locked and neither Hillary Lattanzio nor her husband Matt were answering their phones. The sun was sweltering, Dongzhe was impatient, and I was flummoxed.
I had noticed, as we entered, that Carol Shelton operated her tasting room from another one of the complex’s warehouses. Determined that our trip not become a total wash, I pulled up to her window, hoping to fulfill a long-standing promise to visit her operations. Unfortunately, Carol was off pouring at a tasting in Southern California, but her Hospitality Manager Joanne Emery was more than happy to accommodate us. A check of my Webmail account from Joanne’s computer affirmed that our party was in fact scheduled for the last Sunday in May, so we mollified our frustration with a rather comprehensive survey of Carol’s current releases, starting with her 2008 Rendezvous Rosé, a blush expression of 100% Carignane.
I skipped past a couple of her Zinfandels I had sampled recently, settling first for the 2005 Wild Thing Zin, a much-awarded bottling smoothed by 10% Carignane. The 2006 Rocky Reserve Zin, a bold, signature Rockpile showcased Carol’s considerable repute for this varietal, as did her perennial favorite, the 2005 Karma Zin. Rockpile’s special allure figured prominently in the 2007 Petite Sirah Rockpile Reserve, while the 2005 Exhale Syrah Reserve derived from a rare second bottling of a wine that had been left in cask for over four years.
My readers, fans of Sostevinobile, and our future clientele all know how I am constantly seeking out different and obscure varietals to add to our inventory. The lineup at Carol’s tasting room yielded just such a discovery with her 2008 Sweet Caroline, a late harvest wine crafted from Trousseau Gris. We closed our visit with a taste of Dark Chocolate and the 2008 Black Magic, a late harvest Zinfandel, a fitting cap to our impromptu stop.
I have been building the wine program for Sostevinobile for nearly two years, building on an extensive involvement in the California wine industry since 1982. During this development, I have reached out to and sampled wines from 2,000 or so labels along the West Coast; as such, it seems a natural extension of my research to provided consulting services to other ventures on their wine program, particularly in helping them gain more of a focus on the bounty of wines we have available at our own doorstep. In search of assisting a small group of Italian restaurants incorporate a selection of Italian varietals grown here for their wine list, we headed across Sonoma County to the Kenwood tasting room Michael Muscardini had opened.
Michael couldn’t meet us, owing to a charitable obligation, but we were ably guided through the selections by Tasting Room Manager George Delano. We started off with the 2009Rosato di Sangiovese, a bone-dry expression of the grape I look forward to comparing with other Rosé wines at the Pink Out SF tasting next week. Next up were the 2008 Barbera Pauli Ranch from Ukiah and the 2008 Sangiovese Monte Rosso Vineyards, one of several Sangiovesi Muscardini produces. We could not resist contrasting the 2007 Syrah Gracie Creek with the 2007 Syrah Unti Vineyard before moving onto the 2007 Tesoro, a proprietary Super Tuscan with 58% Sangiovese from both Merlo and Favero Vineyards, plus 21% of Unti’s Syrah.
The 21% remaining to this bottling was Cabernet Sauvignon from Ty Caton, which now shares Muscardini’s tasting room. No Italian varietals here, but memories of working our way through a mixed case of these wines with The Ginkgo Girl last year spurred us to try several of his current offerings. Setting our palate fresh was his crisp 2009 Riesling from the Central Coast, followed by his very approachable 2009 Syrah Rosé. With a wide choice of vineyard designate reds to chose, we opted for the 2008 Petite Sirah Caton Vineyard, the 2008 Upper Bench Merlot, and the 2008 The Ridge George’s Malbec.
Of course, we could not leave without a taste of Caton’s crown jewel, the 2008 Tytanium, a well-balanced blend of 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petite Sirah, 24% Syrah, and 9% Malbec. I had first tried the 2007 vintage of this wine last year at the Open House for Eighth Street Wineries in Sonoma, an industrial warehouse complex that houses the production facilities for Ty Caton and a handful of other boutique wineries like Three Stick, Kamen and Enkidu. I had recently sampled Enkidu’s superb inaugural Sangiovese, the 2008 Rosso Fazekas, at QuestPoint Solar Solutions’ Appreciation and Rejuvenation soirée at Green Zebra, and was happily surprised to discover their new tasting room adjacent to Muscardini. Alas, however, this wine was not on their tasting list, so we departed for a meal in Sonoma Square before returning to San Francisco.
My premature trek to the Vinify tasting made me all the more resolute to enjoy the Taste of Mendocino in the Presidio the following Tuesday. If only the weather had decided to act as cooperative as it had in Alameda the preceding weekend! Within moments of leaving the Cow Hollow Fedex/Kinko’s, where I had dropped off the sunglasses Dongzhe had left under my car seat, I found myself caught in a downpour as I pedaled furiously over to the Golden Gate Club in the Presidio. I arrived thoroughly drenched, then spent the next 20 minutes seeking out a restroom with hot air hand blower to try drying my shirt!
When I finally did get myself to a point of appearing presentable, I beelined for the tasting room and caught up with Fred Buonanno, who was pouring his Philo Ridge. Though his name, like mine, begs for Italian varietals, Fred vinifies a more mainstream Mendocino varietal selection, with an elegant 2008 Pinot Gris Klindt Vineyard, the AVA signature 2006 CORO Mendocino, and his 2006 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. Of course, the A-Z (Z-A?) in Mendocino wines decidely must be Fred Zmarzly’s Albertina Wine Cellars; an intimate, small production, single varietal operation, Albertina made an emphatic statement with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, a 330 case bottling.
Content merely to span the Bs, Brutocao Cellars and Bliss Family Vineyards herald from a single proprietorship, the former being the primary label. The more affordable Bliss brand offered a straightforward lineup, with an approachable 2008 Pinot Noir an easy favorite. Brutocao’s 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley fell squarely in line with the overall excellence of this vintage throughout the West
Coast,while its 2006 Quadriga, a blend of 40% Sangiovese, 38% Primitivo, 18% Barbera, and 4% Dolcetto, provided a tantalizing glimpse of their Italian heritage wines that were not on this afternoon’s roster.
I don’t know of many wineries with the versatility to make an array of Sauvignon Blancs, but Chance Creek Vineyards certainly proved themselves quite adept in this niche. Of the three interpretation they poured, I greatly favored the 2006 95470 Sauvignon Blanc, while being slightly partial to the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc vs. the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc reserve. And, of course. I took quite a shining to their 2006 Sangiovese. The pinnacle of Italian varietals this afternoon, however, most certainty had to have been Chiarito Vineyard. Advance intimations of John Chiarito’s bottlings of several varietals unique to this region had lead a number of e-mail exchanges before the Mendocino event, and I was rewarded with tastings of his 2003 Negroamaro and his striking 2003 Nero d’Avola. To John’s credit, his 2007 Petite Sirah was no slouch, either.
I am always appreciative of a clever wine name, especially when the wine itself warrants attention, like the 2006 Sedulous from Rivino. I suppose the 18 months I have dedicated (so far) to building Sostevinobile’s wine program might qualify me for this moniker, as well, but Jason McConnell’s deft blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with just a splash of Viognier, deserves the spotlight at this moment, alongside his superb 2007 Sangiovese. Meanwhile, the quaint family operations of Mariah Vineyards seemed to have posted a typo in the tasting guide, lisiting both a 2006 Syrah and a 2006 Syriah, but, indeed, the latter is a proprietary portmanteau (Syrah Mariah) and distinct bottling of but 51 cases, crafted by hand.
Kimmel Vineyards has nothing to do with late night comedy, just the production of a superb 2007 Merlot and an admirable 2007 Chardonnay. One might also suspect Naughty Boy Vineyards as well of having ties to Jimmy K., but is instead the domain of Jim & Emjay Scott and crafts a fine 2007 Dolcetto.
Diametrically opposite but without apparent sanctimony, Mendielle Vertu could easily have derived an esoteric name from owner Bently Luneau or winemaker Kian Tavakoli, but instead chose to honor Mendi, their ranch dog. Though focused on Merlot, with strongest showing from both their 2007 Proprietary Red Merlot and the 2007 Reserve Merlot, they flourished with their new 2008 Chenin Blanc. With as intense focus on Pinot Noir, Phillips Hill held forth with a trio of this varietal, the most definitive being their 2008 Ring of Fire Anderson Valley.
Claudia Springs also excelled with their 2005 Pinot Noir Klindt Vineyard, while also producing a 2009 Viognier Lolonis Vineyard and a 2009 Pinot Gris Klindt Vineyard. Coincidence? Foursight Wines brought along four Pinots, dominated by their 2007 Clone 05 Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard, and a companion 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Charles Vineyard.
Coming from opposite ends of the spectrum, two wineries showcased a single Chardonnay. Independent winery Demuth Kemos produced but a scant 96 cases of their 2008 Chardonnay Anderson Valley, while Constellation’s Mendocino Vineyards bottled 10,000 cases of its foray into organic viticulture, the 2009 Chardonnay. Other boutique proprietors included: Nelson Family Vineyards, notable for both their 2008 Pinot Grigio and 2008 Riesling; Cesar Toxqui, with a sturdy 2006 Zinfandel and a non-vintage Heirloom II, a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot; and Drew Wines, with under 1,300 cases of their three Pinot Noirs, plus a memorable 2007 Syrah Perli Vineyard.
Dreyer Wine displayed its dual personality, with its Il Cuore line and one name for the thoroughbred who ran with such heart, Seabiscuit Ranch. I warmed to Seabiscuit’s 2006 Superfecta Red, a traditional Meritage, but had my greatest fondness for Il Cuore’s new release, the 2006 Barbera, along with their 2007 Rosso Classico, a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Carignane. Meritage components starred at Le Vin Winery, which broke out their older 2002 Merlot and 2004 Cabernet Franc for this afternoon’s gathering.
Maple Creek Winery sees itself as a fusion of wine and art, so it should come as no surprise that they poured a 2008 Artezin Symphony, a grape that itself is a hybrid of Muscat and Grenache Gris. Their notable pour, however, was the 2005 Cowboy Red, a blend of Merlot, Zinfandel and Carignane.Its Mendocino compatrio
t, Trinafour Cellars, bottled straight 2009 Muscat Canelli and 2007 Carignane, along with their 2006 Petite Sirah.
Like Fred Zmarzly, Rosati Family is a Cab-only operation, bottling 1,000 cases each year; of the 3-year vertical they poured, the youngest, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, stood out as the most complex. One of the oldest names in Mendocino winemaking, Weibel Family Winery, demonstrated its small lot varietals, a 200-case 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and a very approachable 2006 Zinfandel, bottled in the same quantity.
Of course, Weibel’s array of champagnes and flavored sparkling wines make it quite the substantial operation. I eschewed their NV Sparkelle for two of the leading méthode champenoise producers on hand, Scharffenberger, which poured its NV Brut Rosé, and the always-marvelous Roederer Estate, which indulged me in its 2002 L’Ermitage.
Following the sale of their family label to Brown-Forman, several of the 11 Fetzer offspring have started their own labels. Present today were both Saracina Vineyards, delighting with its 2006 Atrea Old Soul Red (Zinfandel, Syrah, Malbec, Petite Sirah) as well as its 2007 Petite Sirah, and Jeriko Estate, with its 2006 Pinot Noir and 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Like their original venture, the Fetzer spinoffs all maintain a great fealty to organic and biodynamic farming, a hallmark of numerous Mendocino wineries, including Patianna, which shone with its organic 2008 Chardonnay, and organic pioneers Frey Vineyards, whose Katrina Frey regaled me with the 2007 Sangiovese, as had her daughter Eliza with the previous vintage just as I was formally embarking on Sostevinobile’s wine program.
As always, I never seem to find the time to taste every winery with whom I set out to connect and often miss out on ones with whom I would love to reconnect. I did manage to squeeze in a taste of Esterlina’s excellent 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, along with their contrasting 2008 Riesling and 2008 Dry Riesling Cole Ranch. Edmeades offered a quartet of Zins, headlined by the 2007 Ciapusci Zinfandel. In turn, Elke Vineyard made its strongest impression with their pair of 2007 Pinot Noir Donnelly Creek and 2008 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. I took in a quick tasting 2008 Pinot Gris and 2006 Riesling from McFadden Farm, along with their 2008 Sparkling, but somehow entirely missed both Meyer Family Cellars and Milano Family Winery (I will be sure to make amends at another date).
Had there been time to spare, I would have gladly caught up with old familiars like Lolonis, Navarro, Parducci, Bonterra, Barra, and Jaxon Keys, but, unfortunately, my unforeseen drenching en route to the event whittled away a significant portion of the time I had allotted. Fitting, therefore, that my finally tasting was the 2009 Chenin Blanc of Husch Vineyards. while my dampened attire did not lead to anything quite as dire as pneumonia, I did come down with a nasty bout of congestion and most unwelcome case of laryngitis, which kept me “hushed” for the next several days.
I haven’t written about the Punahou Kid since he took office. Of course, if he had actually accomplished anything beyond soaring rhetoric over the past nine months, I might have felt compelled to comment. Still, I find it alarmingly incongruent that a person perpetuating one war and escalating another can be accorded the world’s most revered award for the promulgation of pacifistic ideals. Failure to see the inherent contradiction here fundamentally correlates to an unabashed appreciation of the Blue Angels as a precision flight formation performing purely for entertainment value, while myopically ignoring the militaristic propaganda underlying such displays.
Far better to see military facilities turned to civilian use. Once again, Your West Coast Oenophile had the pleasure of visiting one such converted base, this time on the man-made Treasure Island, a four hundred acre development attached to the natural formation of Yerba Buena Island at the middle juncture of the Bay Bridge. This past Sunday, the first annual Treasure Island Wine Fest hosted Lodi on the Water, a celebration of more than 40 wineries from this surprisingly diverse AVA can no longer be considered the backwater of the California wine industry.
A chance to see old friends, a chance to meet new ones. Before I started developing Sostevinobile, the Ginkgo Girl and I ventured out to the delta for Lodi Zinfest on a day where the temperature rose above 100° F. Not exactly the most conducive way to pour or to taste wine. This weekend, however, a fog so heavy the Blue Angels had to cancel their Saturday performance hovered well into the afternoon before dissipating.
Not that the wines still weren’t in danger of overheating. An overwhelming crowd had already inundated the tent Treasure Island had recently erected to host large gatherings even before I arrived—and this was only the preview reception for media and trade. Dreading the arrival of the public attendees, I beelined over to the table for Mokelumne Glen, a winery I believe is the only producer in California devoted exclusively to German varietals. With such scant basis for comparison, I concede I feel somewhat hesitant to assess these wines, though the 2008 Late Harvest Kerner certainly ranked as one of the standouts; also quite pleasing, the 2008 Bacchus blended Müller-Thurgau with a Riesling/Sylvaner hybrid.
Another hybrid varietal grown with greater proliferation in Lodi is Symphony, a cross UC-Davis developed from Grenache Gris and Muscat of Alexandria. Abundance marries Symphony with Sauvignon Blanc to create their 2007 Bountiful Blanc, a most distinctive blend. I used to drink their 1999 Viognier almost religiously and had hoped to sample their current vintage, Nonetheless, their 2005 Abundantly Rich Red, a Carignane/Zinfandel mélange, provided more than satisfactory consolation. Murphys stalwart Ironstone Vineyards offered an undiluted interpretation of Symphony with their 2008 Obsession, but true kudos belonged to their 2006 Cabernet Franc.
Ironstone’s Kautz family also produces Christine Andrews as a more sophisticated line of wines. Certainly their 2007 Malbec, though still young, portended a promising evolution, but I found myself wishing they’d brought their 2005 Tempranillo as a benchmark.
Not that the afternoon was lacking for Spanish varietals. Assuredly, Lodi’s leader in this category has long been Bokisch Vineyards, which also spearheads Lodi Rules, the rigorous standard for sustainability throughout this AVA. Markus could not attend this event, owing to harvest duties, but, much to everyone’s delight, this wife was on hand to promote the winery. Liz is the kind of girl who could pour Two Buck Chuck and make it taste good, but her own wines required no embellishment. I found myself liking the 2008 Albariño better than its previous vintage, while the 2007 Garnacha outpaced the other reds she offered.
Standing just behind her, Harney Lane’s interpretation of Albariño seemed somewhat fruitier, but both their 2007 Zinfandel and their 2006 Petite Sirah were monumental expressions of their particular varietal. Housed in Elk Grove, McConnell Estates also produced a noteworthy 2006 Tempranillo, as well as a forthright 2006 Petite Sirah, while Acampo’s St. Jorge Winery accompanied its stellar 2007 Tempranillo with a refreshing take on the standard Portuguese white varietal with their 2008 Verdelho. With a motto of “No Boring Wines,” Ripken Vineyards certainly produces strikingly colorful labels, but I felt neither the 2005 Vintage Port nor the 2006 El Matador Tempranillo had quite the same con gustozest that their packaging conveyed. Still, I was quite enamored of their immensely flavorful 2006 Late Harvest Viognier.
What? No Pinot? In addition to German and Iberian grapes, Lodi offers a wide range of Italian, Bordeaux and Rhône varietals, not to mention a ubiquitous supply of Zinfandel (interestingly, no one with whom I spoke ventured to mention Tokay or the other filler grapes that made up the bulk of Lodi’s growing 25 years ago). I typically think of Peltier Station for their Petite Sirah, and was pleased to discover their new Hybrid label, a line of sustainable wines that included a new 2007 Hybrid Petite Sirah, as well as a nicely drinkable 2008 Hydrid Pinot Grigio. Watts Winery is a small operation with a big heart—they produce a special On Wings of Hope line to benefit Burkitt’s lymphoma research. I wish they would have taken their 2005 Montepulciano to the tasting, but their 2005 Dolcetto Los Robles Vineyard Clements Hills was more than delightful in its own right. Time constrains caused me to overlook the 2007 Pinot Grigio from Van Ruiten Family Winery, though I did manage a taster’s sip of their splendid 2006 Cab-Shiraz.
Several years ago, I introduce Macchia to Consorzio Cal-Italia; this tasting offered a chance to reconnect and sample their 2007 Amorous Sangiovese and their 2007 Delicious Barbera(one of several versions of this varietal that they produce). Still, it was their library offering of the debut 2001 Barbera that really sent me back. St. Amant Winery also brought a pair of strong Barbera vintages, contrasting their 2007 Barbera with a just-released 2008 Barbera, Another old acquaintance, l’Uvaggio di Giacomo has simplified its name for non-Italian speakers (something Sostevinobile will never do!), but the new Uvaggio label is undiminished with an outstanding 2005 Barbera and a 2008 Vermentino that makes for an easy apéritif.
The Woodbridge Winery not only compelled the gargantuan industrial wineries in California to start making wines with an eye toward quality, it also catalyzed recognition for the potential of Lodi as a varietal-driven AVA. Although this facility’s repute has dwindled since Robert Mondavi stepped back from personal control, and portends to devolve into an indistinguishable jug factory under the current regime, they still managed to produce a respectable 2008 Vermentino for this event. I can’t say that Constellation’s other holding, Talus Winery, struck much of a positive chord with any of their offerings, while Gallo’s Barefoot Cellars seemed outright pedestrian compared to their heyday as part of Davis Bynum. Once again, I could not bring myself to warm up to any of the lackluster Campus Oaks wines that Gnekow Family mass-produces. Central Valley conglomerate Delicato Vineyards ponied up to the table with four disparate labels, and managed to make a slightly positive impression with their 2007 181 Merlot.
Back to accentuating the positive. One thing for certain, Lodi has know lack of inventiveness in coming up with offbeat names for their wines.Witness Michael~David Winery,which seemingly tries to squeeze more life out of a pun than juice can be extracted from a ton of grapes. From their collection of collection of 7 Deadly Zins, I immensely enjoyed the 2006 Gluttony Zinfandel and luxuriated in the 2005 Rapture Cabernet Sauvignon; also noteworthy but obvious, their 2007 Petite Petit, a Petit Verdot/Petite Sirah blend. Grands Amis also offered a young but promising 2007 Petit Verdot and a similarly evolving 2007 Première Passion, a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Along with their noteworthy, 2007 Estate Petite Sirah, Vino Con Brio! shared their 2008 Estate Brillante, a deft mix of Viognier, Roussanne, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc and the 2008 Passione Rosé, a blushing Sangiovese. Stama Winery made their pitch with the 2005 Curvaceous Cabernet and 2007 Zany Zin, but I cottoned more to their 2005 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.In and of itself, Klinker Brick is a great name, so they can be excused if their 2007 Farrah Syrah is a tribute to owner Farrah Felten and not the late Charlie’s Angel. Besides, their 2007 Old Ghost Zin was enough to make one downright jiggly!
A pun on the name of owner Dave Dart led to the development of d’Art Wines, a highly stylized line of wines that feature the artwork of spouse Helen Rommel Dart on the labels. With lush red coloring on the inside of the bottles, as well, they painted a bold swath with both their 2007 Tempranillo and the 2007 Zinfandel. m2 Wines featured their 2007 Artist Series’ Zinfandel, a perennial commissioned showcase, along with their appealing Syrah/Petite Sirah mix, the 2006 Duality and the 2007 Trio, which blends the same varietal with a predominant Cabernet Sauvignon. The artwork of painter Chris Spencer adorns the very Van Gogh-like label for Barsetti Vineyards. Though it may seem heretical these days, their oaky 2006 Chardonnay outshone their steel-barreled version from the following vintage.; their 2006 Zinfandel showed quite nicely, too.
Several Lodi wineries stay close to the basics and produce quite admirable wines. The Lucas Winery offered a 2006 Chardonnay, as well as a panoply of different Zinfandel bottlings, featuring their 2005 Zinstar. I remain surprised that Maley Brothers still lacks a website, but their trio of 2004 Merlot, 2006 Petite Sirah and 2005 Zinfandel remained as true as when I’d previously sampled them. Lodi mainstay Berghold Vineyards, a long-standing acquaintance, brought out a truly elegant 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, along with the debut of their 2006 Footstomp Zinfandel, both estate bottlings. And it was no onus to sample the 2007 Chardonnay and 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Onus Vineyards.
Readers know I am never hesitant to tweak the wineries, whenever I see an opening. I told Trinitas Cellars their 2006 Ratzinger Zinfandel tasted rather “papal;” I was also quite fond of their 2005 Old Vine Petite Sirah. I also thought Oak Ridge Winery needed a wine called Elvira, but they handled themselves quite ably with their 2007 3 Girls Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2005 Moss Roxx Zinfandel.
Call it an Italian thing—I’ll refrain from the obvious puns on Borra Winery, tempting though they may be. Their designated 45.7° series may seem eclectic to some, but their Fusion wines, particularly the 2008 Fusion–Red, a blend with 60% Syrah and 30% Petite Sirah (with other varietals comprising the remaining 10%) set the standard for this winery. I hold a similar respect for LangeTwins, a winery that has been cited for its implementation of sustainable technology and long-standing dedication to environmental preservation. Their 2007 Petit Verdot shows that their fidelity to the Lodi Rules only enhances the flavor of the wine; the 2005 Midnight Reserve is a finely-tuned Bordeaux blend, with Cabernet Sauvignon predominant.
Zinfandel being a hallmark of Lodi, it was not surprising to find some wineries exclusively featuring this varietal, like the Paul Simeon Collection, whose only pour was their 2007 St. Sophia Zinfandel. Benson Ferry staged a Zinfandel trifecta, with their 2006 95240 Zinfandel zipping by and winning by a nose. Jessie’s Grove Winery also featured a number of their Zinfandels, including the cleverly-named 2006 Earth, Zin & Fire and a deep 2006 Westwind Zinfandel; My true fondness, however, was reserved for their 2008 Chardonnay and the 2008 Jessence Blanc, a Roussanne/Viognier blend.
I concede that my fondness for Harmony Wynelands may have precipitated from the charms of event coordinator Kitty Wong, who was on hand to pour their esoteric 2006 GMA, a marriage of Mourvèdre, Grenache and Alicante Bouschet. This latter varietal, a cross between Grenache and Petit Bouschet, a hybrid vitis vinifera created from Aramon and Teinturier du Cher, which gives Alicante Bouschet the rarity of having red flesh; such a complex pedigree is cause for Harmony Wynelands to give its bottling the lofty appellation of 2005 Alicante Bouschet Premier Crush. On the less exotic side, I also found their 2006 Riesling quite approachable, as well.
In contrast, Heritage Oak Winery may have seemed to venture into the slightly exotic with their quite satisfying 2007 Vino Tinto, but its Spanish appellation belied a distinctly California combination of Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah. Their 2007 Block 14 Zinfandel was equally appealing. Namesake Carl Mettler of Mettler Family Wines provided a well-received 2007 Epicenter Old Vine Zinfandel, along with the 2005 Petite Sirah and a somewhat early 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon that offered indications of future promise. Further down the row of tables, Vicarmont Vineyards’ Vic Mettler chose to stake his claim in the Right Bank’s dominating varietal, with a 2007 Vicarmont Merlot and the palindromic 2006 vMv Merlot.
My general sense is that the Lodi AVA, which had but eight working wineries in 1991, has made sizable strides in its viticultural evolution, especially since my last visit in 2007. Even though I would rate the inaugural Treasure Island Wine Fest as one of my more manageable tastings this year, with 43 wineries attending, there clearly was a enormous amount of information (and wine) to absorb. Certainly, a more capacious guide than a two-sided 8.5″ x 11″ print would have helped make the event more manageable, but I managed, most ironically, to visit with each of the presenters, thanks to the Blue Angels! Had they not put on their display somewhere near the midpoint of this marathon, the bulk of the crowd would have remained inside the tent, and my mounting sense of claustrophobia would have never permitted me to finish. Go figure!
I managed to attend a number of other tastings this past week, including Napa Valley Vintners’ Battle of the Palates that kicked off Harvest Week in San Francisco on Monday and Wednesday’s sumptuous Wine & Spirits Magazine Top 100 Tasting at The Galleria. The Punahou Kid came to town Thursday, yet inexplicably neglected to invite me to either of his soirées. I could have stood outside the St. Francis and joined the protests over the predictably lackluster results of his stewardship or the feckless selection of the Nobel Prize committee; instead, I opted to spend the evening uncharacteristically uncorking unimaginative imported wines at the Officer’s Club at Fort Mason. The first military base ever converted to civilian usage!