Categories
Cabernet Sauvignon Canaiolo Clairette Blanc Colorino Corvina Lacrima di Moro Malbec Peloursin Schioppettino Uncategorized Vranac

What have I done for you lately?

Unarguably, my favorite bumper sticker that I didn’t compose simply declared “Eschew Obfuscation.” During the protracted intermezzo between the two stages of my wine career, I continually advised clients that, similarly, they should eschew all acronyms in their promotional literature I was retained to write. And yet while Your West Coast Oenophile may have seemed MIA for the better part of 2015, the truth is that I have probably been harder at work on Sostevinobile than since its inception.

Just before the beginning of the year, I found myself lured back into complex challenges of winery Mergers & Acquisition (M&A), a practice I abandoned in 1989, vowing never to resume. Don’t get me wrong—my previous foray into the M&A realm accorded me considerable recognition within the wine industry, while instilling a n appreciation for the subtle intricacies of œnology and viticulture, a comprehension that now underscores the various endeavors I am undertaking on behalf of Sostevinobile.

But this initiation also entailed the often insurmountable challenge of trying to persuade two often-disparate parties—buyer and seller—without having sufficient leverage to control or manipulate the deal in question. Though in 2015, I am better situated to handle the complexities of contentious negotiations and am beginning enjoy the advantage of having prospective clients approach and retain me, I still remain an intermediary, a subordinate player beholden to the precarious whims of principals whose arbitrary choice can subvert even the soundest deals.

To the degree this resurrected role preoccupies the bulk of my working ours, even I sometimes fell I have lost sight of my primary goals with the wine industry. Still, never let it be said that my determination to realize the lofty vision I have created for Sostevinobile has been diminished. Extrapolating from the vast number of relationships I have built among the West Coast wineries, I am continually expanding the reach of my professional wine involvement: sourcing grapes, orchestrating bottlings, developing wine lists for like-minded enterprises, and even spearheading hotel acquisitions. And yet amid all these efforts, I still have found the time to taste perhaps the widest selection of wines and esoteric varietals I have found since embarking on this venture.

With no particular adherence to chronological order, my sojourns over the last six months have taken me to from Nevada City to Templeton, covering Lodi, Plymouth, San Miguel, Paso Robles, Saratoga, and sundry destinations throughout Napa and Sonoma, not to mention the putative viticultural deserts of Santa Clara and Richmond. My ever-expanding database added numerous unheralded discoveries, ranging from Vranac and Schioppettino to Peloursin and Lacrima di Moro, along with exotic but yet-to-be-bottled varietals, including Canaiolo, Clairette Blanc, and Colorino.

Distinctive wines, however, are by no means solely the purview of the esoteric, an understanding that lured me to the drought-impacted domain of Paso Robles, with its eleven newly-minted sub-AVAs, for their Cabs of Distinction conference. An admirable albeit rather fledgling advocacy, the 24 wineries participating in this consortium represented a comprehensive yet by no means exhaustive cross-section of Paso’s premier Cabernet Sauvignon producers.

The gist of this gathering, of course. was to showcase how the wines of this burgeoning region can now rival those produced in both Napa and Bordeaux—a claim, in effect, catapulting the AVA’s prominence on par with the Alexander Valley and the various pockets of esteemed Cabernet sprinkled throughout Washington State. Certainly, quite a number of these wines could stand head-to-head with the more extravagantly priced ($200-300) Cabs found in Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, and the surrounding mountain districts, starting with the roundly lauded offerings from Justin. Admittedly, I had not found myself as wowed with these wines as more prominent critics have been, but the 2014 Isosceles proved a most formidable wine that compelled revisiting throughout the three days of events. As impressive was the 2012 Soul of the Lion, Daou Vineyards’ showcase offering, a wine whose pedigree winemaker Danny Daou meticulously laid out in a tour of his estate.

I am usually prone to reserve this level of vinification (for Cabernet Sauvignon) for L’Aventure, as well, whose absence from this conference appeared rather conspicuous. Nonetheles, I was surprised to find myself including the 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Calcareous, the 2012 CV Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Broken Earth, and Brecon Estates’ lush 2012 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Moreover, a pair of Meritages—Vina Robles’ elegant 2011 Suendero (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petit Verdot) and J. Lohr’s Right Bank tribute, the 2010 Cuvée Pom, a Merlot-focused blend rivaled these wines.

Paso Robles’ greatest claim to fame still comes from the breadth of its Rhône varietals, while making a most compelling case for its Bordelaise wines. However, the true sleeper in this region has to be its emergence as California’s leading producer of Malbec. It has long seemed that wineries here were content to surrender this category to the admittedly wondrous wines produced in Argentina; the great revelation from Cabs of Distinction, however, may have inadvertently been the handful of bottlings showcasing this grape. The serendipity of my previous visit proved to be Wally Murray’s Bon Niche, an unheralded East Side winery whose 2011 Voûtes, a blend of 45% Malbec, 45% Petit Verdot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, proved no less extraordinary this time around.On par: the 2011 Malbec from West Side stalwart Halter Ranch, a truly profound wine.

My peregrinations through several of Paso’s hitherto unexplored sub-AVAs only fortified my belief that I need to make yet another Sostevinobile swing through this vast region, with a particular eye for other impressive Malbecs and blends. Ironically, my attempt to meet with  Argentine legend Santiago Achával revealed that his Paso project is producing Grenache and unorthodox Cab blends, but not Malbec, for which he is so esteemed. No matter. I will still seek out The Farm, Sculpterra, the ever-elusive Linne Calodo, Four Lanterns, Rob Murray’s Tooth & Nail, and, of course, Law Estate, whose Clairette Blanc should be ready to sample by then.


“I am not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman!”

—Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

Way before Miles Raymond devastated Merlot for an entire generation with a single swipe in Sideways, the late Arthur Miller annihilated an entire profession in his chef d’œuvre. Over the years I have been able to endure kneejerk comparisons to Holden Caufield for having gone to boarding school, relished the very accurate stereotypes of virility attributed to my Italian heritage, and abhorred the innuendos of criminality ascribed to the same. But to label myself a salesman remains an anathema.

Categories
Peloursin Petite Sirah Port Syrah Zinfandel

Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.

Someday, someone (not Your West Coast Oenophile) should open a winery primarily focused on Petite Sirah and call it Schnozzola Vineyards. Or, to be a little less obscurant, Durante Cellars. The connection? Whenever I hold up a truly wondrous glass of this underappreciated varietal, its lush, ebony tincture devoid even of a hint of pellucidity, I find myself quietly humming strains of Inka Dinka Doo, the signature song of this beloved, malapropistic Italian comedian.

OK, so even if a wine could be characterized as having a big nose, I’m not sure it’s an epithet I’d readily employ. Unquestionably, however, I would characterize Petite Sirah as a big wine. Bold and forthright, with a flavor that can hold its own against a Filet Mignon or venison. Not to mention Pasta al Sugo di Salcisse. Or exquisitely-rendered Ostrich medallions. Suffice it to say that Petite Sirah can easily be matched to any entrée that pairs with Zinfandel; Zins may express a great range of complexity, but, in general, Petite Sirahs will hold their own over a longer duration.

Last Tuesday, I ventured out to Livermore to taste a smorgasbord of these wines as part of the Seventh Annual Petite Symposium but on by the varietal’s principal advocacy, P.S. I Love You. Fittingly, this gathering was held at Concannon Vineyards, which holds claim to the first varietally-labeled release of Petite Sirah in California. I should have known this, of course, but flubbed my response when queried on the matter by Jim Concannon, an embarrassing moment not unlike the exchange from Cheech & Chong’s Let’s Make a Dope Deal (our first question: what is your name, Bob?).

Fortunately for me, none of the wineries pouring their fare managed such an egregious faux pas. I started off at Rock Wall’s station. This new wine venture is fondly known as Rosenblum—The Next Generation, and with her 2007 Rock Wall Petite Sirah Mendocino County, daughter Shauna manifests her heredity quite ably. Next table over Rosenblum père held his own, as expected, with a trio of wines, the most notable being his 2005 Kick Ranch Petite Sirah. At the next stop, I discovered Nord Estate Vineya
rds
, where owner Julie Nord poured generous samples of her 2004 Napa Valley Petite Sirah Jonquil Vineyards.
Clarksburg is a small town in Yolo County and an AVA that encompasses parts of neighboring Sacramento and Solano Counties, as well. The 2004 Heringer Estate Petite Sirah was a fine example of what this region is capable of producing. Clarkburg’s most prominent winery, Bogle Vineyards, showcased three versions of their Petite Sirah, the 2007 Petite Sirah, the more striking 2006 Petite Sirah Reserve from Quick Ranch and a compelling 2006 Petite Sirah Port selected from the same vineyard. Actually, there were quite a number of different regions represented, despite the relatively small size of this tasting, including a selection of four distinctive Petites from host Concannon of the Livermore Valley, highlighted by their 2005 Captain Joe’s Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley.

Several Sierra wineries showed why Petite Sirah readily adapts to this cold climate. Fiddleton’s Cal-Italia specialist, Il Gioiello, featured their 2005 Estate Petite Sirah from Amador County (Sierra Foothills). From Nevada City, the ebullient Alex Szabo brought his 2006 Szabo Vineyards Petite Syrah Block 1. And Oakstone Winery’s Steve Ryan showcased his 2007 Petite Sirah Jeoff and Katy Vineyard from Fair Play. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Edwards Cellars from Ramona (San Diego County) showed a respectable 2004 Petite Sirah Ramona Valley from this notably warmer region. Mediating between these two extremes, the Central Coast’s Vina Robles pour their 2007 Petite Syrah, Jardine.

The permutations of how different wineries spell this varietal certainly argues for standardizing it as Durif, its other nomenclature, in honor of French nurseryman Dr. François Durif, who cloned this varietal by pollinating Peloursin with Syrah. As this debate continues within the wine world, it seemed in arguable that the 2006 Artezin Garzini Ranch Petite Sirah Mendocino County from Hess Collection was as big as its name. Nearby in Lake County, Langtry Estate, the umbrella operation to Guenoc, featured both their 2006 Guenoc Petite Sirah Lake County and a very sumptuous 2005 Langtry Petite Sirah Serpentine Meadow, a fitting tribute to winemaker Maria Navarro’s craft. Nearby in Cloverdale, winemaker Miroslav Tcholakov displayed both the 2004 La Storia Petite Sirah from Trentadue and the award-winning 2006 Miro Cellars Petite Sirah, his own label. Also from Sonoma County, Fortress Vineyards debuted their 2007 Petite Sirah Red Hills Lake County.
 is a plaudit longtime readers of this blog know that I dispense rather sparingly. today’s entry will be no exception. Still in keeping with my Durante motif, I must bestow an Ha-cha-cha-cha-cha on the 2007 Silkwood Petite Sirah from Monnich Family; this multi-award winning wine was every bit as velvety as the texture of its distinctive label. Another gold medal winner from the Central Valley was the 2006 Petite Sirah from Maley Brothers of Woodbridge.

Of course, it seems only logical that Petite Sirah should have had its greatest representation from Napa County. The inveterate Stags’ Leap proffered their 2006 Napa Valley Petite Syrah. Single Varietal producer Fulton Mather increased the tally with his 2005 David Fulton Winery, Estate Petite Sirah. And, from among the multifarious labels produced by RDJ Artisan Wines, the 2007 Seven Artisans Petite Sirah from Clayton Road Ranches (Suisun Valley) placed a wonderful coda to the afternoon.

While I appreciated the intimacy of this tasting, I do need to admonish P.S. I Love You for not providing a program that detailed the wineries on hand and the individual wines they poured. Expecting to find such a guide in the press kit, I was initially at a loss for composing this entry until I corresponded with each of the attendees.Not only did nearly everyone e-mail back immediately back with their particulars, it was extremely gratifying to see how the wineries expressed such tremendous enthusiasm for Sostevinobile and for having their wines included in our program. As the irrepressible Jimmy Durante so often said, “Everybody wants to get into the act!”