This isn’t part of my incessant rant against those infuriating outsourced call centers whose mangling of even the most basic tenets of conversational English (“how might I best facilitate the rectification of your importuned perturbance most congruently Mr. Marc?”) manages to elicit threats annihilating Bangalore from this foresworn pacifist. Rather, I speak of their—one would certainly hope—erroneous concept of reincarnation, where even a minor malfeasance could condemn a poor soul to enduring a subsequent lifecycle as an aardvark or some scatophagous species like a housefly.
If there really is reincarnation, I want to come back as Jamaican or a Caribbean Islander. Not because I find the accent so appealing. Nor is it necessarily the allure of a tropical climate or the island cuisine that is primarily focused on fresh fruit and seafood. And rest assured, Your West Coast Oenophile is not secretly harboring a desire to switch from wine to rum. Or ganja. No, in my next life, I simply want to be a professional steel drum player.
Wafts of reggae fusion filled the lawn at the Oakland Ferry terminal Saturday afternoon as the East Bay Vintners Alliance staged their fourth annual Urban Wine Experience. For a moment, it almost seemed that UB40 was entertaining the crowd, but the sound belonged entirely to Bay Area Caribbean stars Pan Extasy, with their star percussionist, Ashton Craig. To call Craig a virtuoso on the steel drum is an understatement—his tantalizing arrangements of The Temptations’ Just My Imagination and Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl to reggae standards like No Woman, No Cry and I Can See Clearly Now provided the perfect backdrop to these sun-drenched festivities.
I was in attendance on behalf of Sostevinobile and, of course, to taste the wines that an eclectic collection of 16 East Bay vintners exhibited. The organizers of this event smartly paired each of the wineries with an individual food purveyor from the East Bay, as well, and I would be remiss in not recognizing the contributions of Adagia Restaurant, Angela’s Bistro, Asena Restaurant, Bellanico, Bucci, C’era Una Volta (a return visit from June’s Golden Glass), Culina, E-22 Café, Fabrique Délices, Levende East, the resurrected Miss Pearl’s Jam House, Pappo, Savory Cook Special Event Catering, Whole Foods, and—truly the last word in culinary circles—Zza’s Trattoria, Enoteca & Catering. As readers might expect, the abundance of Italian cuisine was hardly a disappointment. Various duck dishes seemed to abound, as well; a portent of which may well have been the huge gaggle of 60+ waterfowl I espied as I drove into Oakland, huddled together on nearby Coast Guard Island as if in complete trepidation of what lay ahead down the road.
As I had at P.S. I Love You, I started the tasting with Rock Wall, eager to sample what they were producing beyond Petite Sirah. Though young, I found their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley showed great promise. Standout for me, though, was their 2007 Zinfandel Sonoma County, which I felt exceeded the Reserve version they were also pouring. Over at the next table, parent winery Rosenblum Cellars filled in for the regrettably absent Stage Left Cellars. Frankly, if they would always pour their 2007 Rockpile Zinfandel, I’d be happy to let them substitute for any winery they wished!
Rosenblum also poured their 2007 Fess Parker Roussanne. I generally find Roussanne preferable to Marsanne, except in the case of Alameda’s groundbreaking winery, where the latter varietal has always outshone the former (this afternoon proved no exception). Ironically, Rosenblum’s former winemaker, Jeff Cohn’s JC Cellars poured their 2007 Preston Vineyards Marsanne, alongside an excellent catfish entrée from Miss Pearl’s Jam House; I found it slightly wanting compared to his previous efforts, but satisfying nonetheless. Better exemplifying his skills was the 2007 Smoke & Mirrors, a Syrah balanced out 9% Petite Sirah and 6% Zinfandel. Quite a satisfying wine! At the next table, Rob Lynch’s Irish Monkey can best be described as a quixotic operation with some notable offerings. Their chilled 2008 Chardonnay Davis was most welcome in the 85°F heat, while their 2006 Syrah Lovall Valley was noteworthy in it own right. As instructed, I washed down C’era Una Volta’s creamy polenta plate with the 2006 Sangiovese Amador—indeed, it was splendid.
Valdiguié is not the most complex varietal, despite its tongue-twisting morphology; still, it readily adapts to a blush expression (again, quite welcome on a sweltering afternoon). I chilled down with Urbano Cellars’ version, their 2008 Vin Rosé, Green Valley and also found myself grateful for their 2006 Petit Verdot, Lodi. Unfortunately, their next door neighbor, Urban Legend, had promised to bring a tantalizing selection of Sangiovese, Teroldego, and Nebbiolo, but only mustered a premature sample of their unreleased Barbera. Allora!
A number of familiar faces were pouring this afternoon. Oakland standout Dashe Cellars brought an exceptional 2007 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley and 2008 Vin Gris, Dry Creek Valley (a blend of 40% Grenache, 30% Zinfandel and 30% Petite Sirah) to match. I also enjoyed their 2007 Dry Riesling, McFadden Farms Potter Valley. French-affiliated Aubin Cellars offered a fetching pair of Pinots from their Verve Label, the 2007 Pinot Noir Monterey Old Vines and the 2006 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast—I forget which I preferred!
Even if Eno Wines was substandard, it would still be a pleasure to see Sasha Verhage and his wife Kiara. Nonetheless, their 2006 Yes Dear (Grenache, Eaglepoint Ranch), 2006 Acre of Happiness (Zinfandel, Teldeschi) and 2006 In Your Own Time (Syrah, Las Madres) all stood out as exemplary. I’ve also long enjoyed the wines from R & B Cellars, though I had yet to make the acquaintance of Kevin Brown before this afternoon. Ironically, none of their musically-themed labels (Swingville, Zydeco, Serenade) echoed the diverse selection (socca, reggae, calypso, Caribbean Jazz) that Pan Extasy included in its repertoire, which may account for why I was extremely partial to his 2004 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and am eagerly awaiting the 2005 version.
This penchant for quaint names extended to Prospect 772, perhaps my favorite discovery of the afternoon. Along with some intriguing offerings from Bucci’s in Emeryville, including a shaved fennel cold dish, I reveled in their 2008 Baby Doll Dry Rosé, the self-styled pugnacious 2006 The Brawler (a Syrah tempered with 4% Viognier) and their standout 2006 The Brat (a 80% Grenache/20% Syrah blend). Another newcomer, Andrew Lane, blended Syrah, Zinfandel and Valdiguié to make their 2007 Andrew Lane Rosso Napa Valley. More distinctive, however, was their 2005 Andrew Lane Merlot and their multi-vintage Gamay Noir Four Vineyards Napa Valley.
On the food side of things, the Urban Wine Experience began with a Duck Paté and finished with a Duck Confit. This latter concoction paired up admirably with the 2005 Troubadour Paso Robles, an equal blend of Grenache and Petite Syrah from Tayerle. Though not listed on the program, they also poured their just-released 2006 Sun King, a Bordeaux-style red blended from Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Of course, I managed to save some room for dessert, which consisted of pure liquid delight in the form of Mango Wine and Persimmon Wine from Adams Point.
On my way out, I held the iPhone up to Pan Extasy’s bandstand, so the Ginkgo Girl could hear a portion of what she had missed. It would be a shame if she misses any more of these gatherings. Nicely tanned and filled with both good wine and good duck, I strolled through Jack London Square and quiet soberly made my way back to San Francisco (after all, it would have been a shame to meet my end after such an enjoyable afternoon).
I still sometimes think the world is merely a figment of my imagination and therefore feel compelled to remain alive forever. But if I do go and reappear, I had better not downgrade to mallard the next time around. Human (or better) is a must, and if I am not gifted with an uncanny ear for melody, an intuitive sense of rhythm, and agile hands that can hammer out an intoxicating Calypso melody across the gleaming metal surface of a kettle drum, then at least let me come back as tall as fellow locavore pioneer and Caribbean rum authority Thad Vogler!