Category Archives: Bordeaux blend

Why wine is better than beer. Or liquor. Or sex.

OK, scratch the third comparison. Sometimes Your West Coast Oenophile can get a tad overzealous when starting a new blog entry. But, with the possible exception of grappa, wine is, according to my unabashed claim, notably superior to the vast array of alcoholic potables because it is a communal beverage. Whisky, ale, gin—these drinks are designed for individual consumption. Wine is meant to be shared, with friends or with strangers, in happiness or in sorrow, with all partaking from the same bottle. It is this unique, convivial quality of wine wherein lies its distinctive beauty.

The month of June began as all months should, with a celebratory kickoff. I received an invite from a loose collective of women heralding from assorted Napa wine ventures to join them for lunch and wine tasting at San Francisco’s Ferry Building—in other words, a marvelous excuse to break up the tedium of a Monday, to crisscross the City on my 14-speed Trek, and to meet new friends (I still haven’t figured out how I was included in their mailing) who share similar passions.
Being a long-time fan of Taylor’s Automatic Refreshers in St. Helena, any chance to patronize their outpost here has “Gott” to be good. And it didn’t hurt to be accompanied by a sextet of female denizens of the viticultural arts. After all, it wasn’t all that long ago when it seemed the only woman in the wine industry was Jill Davis!

My hostesses each brought a sampling of their own wines, ranging from Orin Swift’s ever-popular 2007 The Prisoner to the somewhat dyslexically-labeled 2008 Abi Blanc (a 100% Viognier) and 2007 Adi Rosé (of Syrah) from Beth Adams’ new Abigail Adams. From stalwart Patz & Hall, Anne Moses brought two of her finer Pinot Noirs, the 2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and the 2007 Jenkins Ranch.
Another familiar label, Viader, was ably represented daughter Janet, who organized this gathering. Her Howell Mountain offerings consisted of their eponymous 2005 Viader, a proprietary Bordeaux and their elegant Cabernet Franc, the 2005 Dare. From Buehler Vineyards, gregarious Italophile Misha Chelini graced the table with their 2008 Russian River Chardonnay and 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Quaintly named Jelly Jar Wines, a venture of Shannon Pistoni and her husband, proved to be no misnomer—their 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel was jammy indeed and quite pleasing to the palate. Finishing off the event, fellow pentasyllabic Italian surnamed Melissa Leonardini also chipped in with her Orin Swift 2006 Papillon, a traditional Bordeaux blend and the 2007 Volunteer, a side venture of her and her husband.
Amid such pleasant company and delightful wines, it would have been a shame to swill and spit, and so I allowed myself to forgo the illusion of further productivity for the afternoon and happily imbibe. Perhaps I may

have even consumed one  drop too many, for I somehow managed to forget to eat my obligatory Taylor’s Veggie Burger. Oh well, as the crew packed up their effects to head back to Napa, I gladly accepted the proffering of a nearly-full bottle of the Volunteer (I might have taken more, but where to carry on a road bike?). I managed to cradle the leftover portions we had ordered and passed them out to some transients sleeping on the grass beside the immortal Vaillancourt Fountain. Even for these desultory fellows, not a bad way to kick off the month.

Please don’t turn these Rockstars into a LivingSocial App on Facebook!

Here’s an intriguing conundrum: if you could somehow reassemble one great rock band, in its original incarnation, which would you choose? Of course, The Beatles is too obvious a choice, kinda like ordering a magnum of 1947 Cheval Blanc to accompany your last meal. Personally, I’m torn. Blind Faith might have been at the top of my list (after all, everyone is still alive), but then I heard the Cream reunion and, hard as it is to admit, they sounded a bit…anemic. But since this is a hypothetical query, I’d narrow my selection to three bands at their now-defunct apex, based on sheer musicianship (so much for Led Zeppelin, I’m afraid).

The Band comes first to mind. These guys weren’t about making popular albums—they set out to make great albums. Music from Big Pink, Stage Fright, and their self-titled second album, The Band, still hold up as modern masterpieces. In music circles, many of the leading performers of the day held this quintet in complete awe, something readily apparent in the enthusiasm with which they contributed to The Band’s epochal live albums, Rock of Ages and The Last Waltz. If only there’d been a way to stop the feud between Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm…
The Band was a hybrid of Canadian and New Orleans musicians. Another group that blend the New Orleans sound with contemporary California style was Little Feat. Driven by the seamless slide guitar of the late Lowell George and the unmistakable barrelhouse blues rifts from Bill Payne’s keyboards, there is little wonder why more bands named the Feat as their favorite band (apart from their own ensemble). No album gets more play on my iPod these days than Waiting for Columbus.
Alas, however, Little Feat must step aside for the ultimate band for which I’d pay a Warren Buffett-sized fortune to hear just once in its original lineup. As Bill Graham put it the night The Allman Brothers Band closed the Fillmore East, “In all my life, I’ve never heard the kind of music this group plays—the finest contemporary music.” Perhaps he should have said “timeless.” Listening to the live version of One Way Out as I pen this entry, it’s hard to believe the sophistication and intricacy of their music, especially considering they were all under 25 at the time. Trying to imagine what they might have produced had both Berry Oakley and Duane Allman not been killed in separate motorcycle accidents simply makes one shiver.

Of course, I’m keenly aware that readers are entitled to their own choices, but please show some restraint. This is a professional blog, after all, not a social networking site! This entry meanders, with my usual penchant for digression, because I could find no more apt analogy to describe my wonderment—and pleasure—at the rockstar lineup that came out to pour at Acme Fine Wine
’s inaugural Atelier tasting last Saturday.

Here, in no particular order, was an assembly of a dozen winemakers who could make even an ardent Francophile take pause: Pam Starr, Dave Phinney, Russell Bevan, Craig MacLean, Andy Erickson, Philippe Melka, Sarah Gott, Mike Hirby, Robbie Meyer, Mark Herold, and Heidi Barrett. Drawing upon the sundry labels they either produce directly or act as consulting winemaker, this coterie poured over 50 different wines. As I remarked to Acme principal David Stevens, it reminded me of the Déjà Vu strip club chain’s trademark: “1000’s of Beautiful Girls and Three Ugly Ones.” Only I’d’ve been hard pressed to name even one ugly one from this lot—each wine was a revelation to the palate. 

As such, I am almost hesitant to highlight the handful of wines I felt garnered special citation, especially considering the brevity of the notes I took. My taste memory may be long, perhaps even synæsthesic, but the truncated entries I managed to record in the program guide we received barely merit the term “chirographic.” Or legible. And I challenge anyone to record their findings on 50 wines with a iPhone touchpad! Nonetheless, I did find standouts in Philippe Melka’s 2006 Vineyard 29 Aida Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Celia Welch Masyczek’s 2006 Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon.
Celia’s indelible touch was abundantly evident in the 2006 Keever Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine owners Bill and Olga Keever justifiably call “the best wine we have made to date.” Similarly distinguishable was the 2006 Bialla Cabernet from Craig MacLean and Pam Starr’s 2006 Crocker & Starr Cabernet Sauvignon. Rarely does a Cab winemaker excel on par with a Pinot, but her 2006 Adastra Pinot Noir was every bit the equal of her Bordeaux varietals. Classic Bordeaux blends that tantalized included Mike Hirby’s 2006 Roy J. Maier Cabernet Sauvignon and Andy Erickson’s 2005 Dancing Hares.
My truncated notes for Mark Herold describe his 2006 Kamen Cabernet Sauvignon as “pure chocolate.” My assessment of the 2005 Barbour Cabernet Sauvignon that Heidi Peterson Barrett crafted was no less lofty. Of course, there is more to the viticultural realm than great Cabernet; a most capable proponent of this tenet, Robbie Meyer, deftly offset the heat of the gathering with his proprietary 2007 Peirson Meyer Chardonnay. Also qualifying: Sarah Gott’s 2006 Blackbird Vineyards Illustration, a predominantly Merlot-based blend, with both Cabernets (Franc and Sauvignon) rounding it out. No stranger to blends, Dave Phinney produced his 2005 Orin Swift Papillon with the full complement of the classic Bordeaux varietals. Meanwhile, Russell Bevan offered his eponymous 2007 Bevan Red, a blend of 45% Cabernet Franc and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, balanced out with 10% Merlot. His 2006 Dry Stack Syrah was equally pleasing.
The true revelation of this event (reaffirmation, actually, for the many cognoscenti in the crowd) was the amazing breadth and quality of the wines being produced here. It seems fashionable, particularly in certain dining circles, to denigrate California wines as lacking subtlety or, worse, adhering
to an indistinguishable conformity (see the comments appended to Michael Bauer’s recent Does buying local apply to wine?). The Atelier tasting incontrovertibly demonstrated that these local vintages are anything but monolithic and can hold their own against any other wines.
Before concluding, I would be remiss if I didn’t pay tribute to the marvelous food that accompanied this event. David and Mimi Katz, the caterers at Panevino, share the same building as Acme Fine Wines, and cranked out an abundance of chichetti throughout the afternoon. I do hope, however, that my fellow blogger, Napa Man, is premature in pronouncing the Atelier as the premier tasting of the year. I, for one, am looking forward to see how David and Karen might outdo themselves with Atelier II. But, as a long-standing Acme denizen who decried the lapse of their annual anniversary party at the Tucker Farm Center while they located to this site in 2008, I can happily say that this tasting more than mitigated for the omission!