I have a friend—I mention this with a rather detached sense of bemusement—who is vying for the title of Most Dourest Man on the Planet (if you knew him, this would not seem a redundancy). Fortunately, he has a histaminic reaction to wine and almost never drinks it; otherwise, I might have titled this entry “Sour Grapes.”
One of the pillars of his “campaign,” so it seems, is to become the living embodiment of the truism “Misery Loves Company.” Although Your West Coast Oenophile is demonstrably younger and vastly more well-preserved than such a palpably decrepit fatalist, this dour fellow incessantly strives to cajole a kind of pathetic empathy, commencing his pronouncements with such leveling phrases as “when you get to be our age” or “guys like us.” Perish the thought!
Recently, he sought my concurrence with his conjecture that, having reached that point in life known as the “declining years,” “we” no longer have the tolerance to wait on line an hour or so to get into this new hot spot or that fancy nightclub. “On the contrary,” I protested. “I never had the patience for that!”
To this day, I cannot fathom the rationale in lining up for a place which will be packed to the rafters and as deafening as a crowded subway station. Why endure the indignity of being herded like cattle just to endure the further indignity of a venue where you cannot move more than an inch at a time or hear what the person beside you is saying? Is this really how people connect with each other?
Which brings me to the phenomenon known as the overcrowded wine-tasting event. Last Monday, I obliged myself to attend both the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association tasting in Los Gatos and the California Cabernet Society’s Spring Barrel tasting in San Francisco. How I managed the two, I am still trying to fathom. Don’t get me wrong—these were marvelous events, with opportunities to sample some incredible wines. It’s just that the pleasure I used to derive from such gatherings is diminishing as I find myself becoming more and more overwhelmed by the crush—not of grapes, but of attendees.
There is an æsthetic to wine tasting, perhaps even a need for a touch of solipsism, in order to enjoy fully the aromas, flavors and texture of a well-executed vintage. The more tranquil the setting, the more conducive to the pleasure of the indulgence (as we deliberate the design for Sostevinobile, this attribute will remain a paramount consideration). Granted, I am trading a large degree of serenity at these tastings for the convenience of meeting with 40 or 60 or 100 wineries, all in a convenient, centralized location, but with wine cradle slung about my neck, a pen clasped in one hand and a program guide steadied by the other, the task presented me—taking copious notes, exchanging pleasantries and business cards, and remaining focused through four hours of standing and sipping—becomes rather daunting, if not onerous. Especially amid a throng of several hundred with the same agenda as mine.
But enough with my lamentations. To paraphrase a familiar saying, “there’s no crying over spilt (spit?) wine.” And certainly, I have to offer tremendous plaudits to the good folks from the Santa Cruz Mountain Winegrowers for their selection of a setting for their wine expo. Those familiar with Los Gatos know it as an oasis of charm amidst the monolith sprawl of light industrial campuses that dominates Silicon Valley. Largely overshadowed by the culinary meccas of San Francisco, Berkeley and the Napa/Sonoma axis, Los Gatos (along with its neighboring Saratoga) now boast three of the 28 Bay Area restaurants to garner stars in the prestigious Michelin guide. Ensconced in the former Coggeshall mansion, a picturesque Queen Anne Victorian located along the major downtown thoroughfare, Michael Miller’s Italian gem, Trevese, readily reveals why it warrants this coveted accolade.
In between delectable canapés of mushroom mousse and smoked sturgeon, I fended my way through my fellow trade attendees and managed to sample pourings from each of the 29 wineries present. New discoveries included the 2006 San Andreas Red, an estate-grown Bordeaux blend from the boutique Black Ridge Vineyards. Its companion winery, Heart O’ The Mountain, the former Alfred Hitchcock estate in Scotts Valley excelled with its 2006 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains. Winemaker Frank Ashton of the whimsically named Downhill Winery introduced me to his 2008 Torrontés, a white wine that usually heralds from Argentina and a perfect counterpart to his 2007 Chardonnay Sleepy Hollow. Echoing Downhill’s Iberian-style affinity, Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards offered an array of Spanish and Portuguese varietals, including their 2008 Verdelho Alta Mesa, their Douro-style 2005 Concertina, and a 2006 Touriga Pierce Ranch; of course, I’d be remiss not to cite their 2006 Durif McDowell Valley, a wine that tripped me up in a recent blind tasting at Vino Locale.
Saratoga’s Cinnabar Winery most impressed me with a trio of their wines, a 2004 Petit Verdot from Lodi, their Bordeaux-style 2006 Mercury Rising blend, and an intriguing interpretation of their 2004 Teroldego. Similarly striking was the 2007 Viognier Santa Cruz Mountains from Cooper-Garrod Estate Vineyards, and both the 2008 J. D. Hurley Sauvignon Blanc and the 2006 J. D. Hurley Merlot from Gilroy’s Martin Ranch Winery. Tiny Sones Cellars offered a striking 2006 Petite Sirah, and an excellent array of Pinot Noirs were displayed by both Muccigrosso Vineyards and Sonnet Wine Cellars.
Hitherto unfamiliar wineries are primary focus when I attend these tastings, so my neglect to cite wines from well-established operations like Bargetto, Burrell School, Clos LaChance, (smooth as ice) Fleming Jenkins, Kathryn Kennedy, Michael Martella, Mount Eden, Roudon-Smith, Savannah Chanelle, Storrs, the angioplasty of Thomas Fogarty and, of course, Ridge, is not meant as a critique. Their inclusion on Sostevinobile’s roster has been pre-ordained. Or, as we Italians often say when confronted with formidable prospects, allora!
Formidable could not even begin to describe the task that await me later that afternoon at San Francisco’s Bently Reserve. My trek to Los Gatos had left me with barely an hour to wind my way through 93 purveyors of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Bordeaux-style Meritage blends. And each was presenting not only their current releases, but their 2008 barrel samples. Throw in a crowd of 400 or more, and you begin to realize what a Herculean task confronted me. Even with a number of old familiars, like Jordan, Beaulieu Vineyards and Arrowood; recent acquaintances like Adelaida Cellars, Justin, and Ty Caton; and a slew of participants from April’s Napa Valley with Altitude and the Acme Atelier tastings, I was barely able to make a dent.
When I was in graduate school, the Women’s Locker Room attendant also maintained the sign-up list for the squash courts at the Smith Swim Center. Looking up from the registry one evening, I found myself gazing at four naked coeds, pristinely bathed and eagerly awaiting their towels from the dispensary. To put it bluntly, it is nigh impossible for any 19-year-old, all pink and fragrant from a fresh shower to look bad; similarly, it is quite a feat for any Cabernet at the level presented last Monday not to be good. I will make individual amends with all the wineries not mentioned here as I meticulously make my way through the roster in the California Cabernet Society program guide. For the time being, however, let me offer kudos to those I did manage to savor: Kenefick Ranch, Arns, Sequum, Garden Creek, Corison, Roberts + Rogers, Ascentia, Atlas Peak, Martin Estate, Delectus, Steven Kent, and, as a most appropriate finial to the apex of this event, the wondrously-named…Allora!