Category Archives: Sauvignon Blanc

Stags, Stag’s, Stags’ or Stagg?

While Your West Coast Oenophile still strives to maintain a 1:1 ratio of Resveratrol-to-Hemoglobin in my bloodstream, I also partake in a wide range of other alcoholic beverages from time-to-time, particularly at bars where the $16 Wine-by-the-Glass selection goes for $9.99 a bottle at BevMo and has been sitting, unpreserved, on the shelf since last Tuesday—know that none of this will ever happen at Sostevinobile! My tastes run from vodka and bourbon to tequila and scotch, with a refined mezcal or cognac or grappa doing the trick when I feel like being warmed up from the inside out. I am inordinately fond of single malts like Talisker or Oban and occasionally indulge in a dry martini, stirred not shaken (of late, the house variation at The Progress, with a touch of smoked Castelvetrano olive juice and rosemary oil, has been an especial favorite).

Of course, anyone who knows me will be aware that I am not content simply to indulge in others’ creations. Longtime readers of this blog will remember the Tai Da (太大) cocktail I concocted several years ago and introduced to a handful of bars in San Francisco. And for those with extremely long-term memories, there was the Fook Yu cocktail I created as a bartender at the legendary dim sum house on Clement Street. These days, I am pursuing the ultimate version of the venerable dark liquor equivalent of a martini, an atomic strength version I have dubbed The Manhattan Project. My quest still hinges on selecting the perfect handmade bitters to complement this recipe, along with exquisitely marinated cherries as a garnish. Without question, my vermouth of choice will be Quadys VYA Sweet Vermouth, and the base liquor will naturally be the highest proof I can find. If I were a strict traditionalist, I would have to go with a rye—the Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye Whiskey being the strongest commercially-produced bottling I know, clocking in at 129.2°. But I have to defer to parent company Buffalo Trace ’s remarkable 144.1° bourbon, the George T. Stagg.

Speaking of cervids, the taxonomical family that encompasses moose, elk, antelope and deer, I had the pleasure of attending the first San Francisco trade tasting for the Stags Leap District. Of course, the feud between Warren Winiarski’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Carl Doumani’s Stags’ Leap Winery is the stuff of legend, and while neither retains ownership of the winery they founded, the trade association has chosen, collectively, to be grammatically apostate and eschew any employment of the apostrophe. A most politic decision.

But when wines of this caliber are being poured, remaining neutral is hardly possible. 18 of the most prominent producers from the District poured at Jardinière in San Francisco’s Civic Center, and despite several having been subsumed by the leading wine conglomerates over the years, nearly all the wines maintained a uniform excellence. As is my wont, I began my session with the one winery I had not previously encountered on Sostevinobile’s watch. Ilsley Vineyards has been furnishing a number of highly prestigious wine labels with grapes since 1962, but only started producing their own label this century. Lacking winemaking facilities or a tasting room, it is a property I have driven by on Silverado Trail numerous times but completely bypassed. Not to be overlooked at this event, however, was their approachable 2015 JK Sauvignon Blanc. Even more striking, the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District was an impressive introduction to their red line, but the true standout this afternoon was the 2013 Seis Primas, a Malbec-focused Meritage, with 33% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Merlot blended in.

Lindstrom Wines is a label I had only recently discovered; nor, before this tasting, had I met Carol Lindstrom, only her distributor. Still, reacquainting myself with these wines proved propitious. The 2013 Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch seemed, frankly, rather anomalous for this event, but easily held its own with the numerous other bottlings from this Sonoma mainstay I have tasted throughout the year. Clearly Lindstrom’s forte came from its own Cabernet plantings and the capable hands of winemaker Celia Welch.. The 2010 Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon displayed a strong expression of the grape, nicely acting its age six years later, but the current release, the 2012 Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon truly showed a more seasoned vinification.

I was quite pleased to find Steltzner pouring here. Formerly a landmark among the Silverado Trail, they had sold their winery to Gavin Newsom’s Plump Jack empire, which drastically remodeled the facility and transformed it into Odette, a label that was curiously absent on this afternoon. Often, when such a takeover transpires, the original winery, despite claiming it would continue producing, soon closes down altogether, as when Roshambo sold its Russian River Valley premises to Twomey, at least for now, all seems to be business as usual for the Napa Valley’s only Pinotage producer. I, of course, would have been thrilled if they had poured their Sangiovese here, but more than happily settled for their Bordeaux variant., starting with a noteworthy 2013 Malbec Stags Leap District. The 2013 Martini Clone Cabernet Sauvignon, proved an excellent wine, redolent of the intensity and character expected with a Stag Leap Cab, but the 2013 Pool Block Cabernet Sauvignon most certainly was one of the afternoon’s true standouts. As a bonus, Steltzner also poured the inaugural release from their Bench Vineyards, the 2014 Circa 64, a deft blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with Petit Verdot and Malbec from the select family vineyard block planted 52 years ago.

A significant portion of Stags Leap has been acquired by a number of the megabrands in the wine industry, though with little or no diminution the wine’s historic quality. Crimson Wine Group has long held Pine Ridge, the Napa jewel in their tri-state conglomerate. Always consistent, their wines here this day furthered a sense that this workhorse may well be underappreciated. Their portion of the event started of amiably with the 2014 Dijon Clones Chardonnay, then segued to their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District. I found myself rather partial to the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, but clearly favored the peak aging of their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District, a library selection.

I tend to think of Terlato primarily as a distributor for imported wines, as well as the holding company for such brands as Alderbrook and Sanford. I was only vaguely familiar with their eponymous label, produced in Stags Leap at their Rutherford Hill facility. Given my preconceptions, I was pleasantly surprised to find their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District more than approachable; more intriguing, the 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap from their library selection demonstrated a well-qualified lineage for this particular label. I was, however, less sanguine about their cross-pollinated project poured here—the 2014 Galaxy White and the 2013 Galaxy Red . The former ineptly blends of Santa Rita Hills Viognier with Russian River Valley Chardonnay, then adds a dash of Sauvignon Blanc from the Napa Valley to putatively give this wine a regional balance; the latter melange of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot similarly attempts to fuse varietals harvested from different AVAs, albeit with greater focus.

Terlato also owns Chimney Rock, a striking landmark alongside Silverado Trail. Under these more recognizable auspices, the winery contrasted its 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District with the single-vineyard designate, their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Tomahawk Vineyard. Most noteworthy here, however, was the 2014 Élévage Blanc, a distinctive blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris, of which Chimney Rock uniquely (in Napa) offers a single varietal bottling, as well.

The holdings of Clos du Val’s parent company may be less profuse than the Terlato empire, but it spans the globe, from California to Languedoc to Australia. Still, this Stags Leap winery owes its greatest acclaim to its inclusion in 1976’s legendary Judgment of Paris, as well as the French Culinary Institute Tasting of 1986, where it bested all the Cabernets from the previous tasting after aging 10 years. The wineries of Goelet Wine Estates are marked by their crossover varietals, and Clos du Val proved no exception, opening here with their accessible 2015 Chardonnay Carneros and then the vineyard-designate 2014 Pinot Noir Block 73. Still, forty years later, their standout was the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Hirondelle Vineyard, a true Stags Leap selection.

Of course, the AVA’s other representative in 1976 was the eventual winner, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. Owner Warren Winiarski sold his crown jewel a number of years ago to Château Ste. Michelle, Washington’s leading producer and conglomerate, which now operates the winery in partnership with Marchesi Antonori, the Italian producer famed for Solaia, Tignanello, and creation of the SuperTuscan designation. But no tinkering has been needed here, as the winery remains consistently excellent, as evidenced first by the 2014 Karia Chardonnay. Classical allusion befit their second label, represented admirably here with the 2014 Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, but clearly outshone by the highly nuanced, structured 2013 S. L. V. Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that upheld its legend.

The rivalry between Stag’s Leap and Stags’ Leap seems to have quelled with Carl Doumani sale of his property to Treasury Wine Estates. Though his label seemed overshadowed by accolades accorded his justly-heralded neighbor, much as CK Mondavi was long subsumed by the Robert Mondavi label, Carl rightfully deserve recognition for spearheading Napa’s interest in Petite Sirah, now its second most popular red varietal planting. After showcasing their 2015 Viognier Napa Valley, the winery poured their justly reputed 2013 Ne Cede Malis, their flagship Stags Leap District Petite. Next up, the 2013 The Leap Estate Cabernet Sauvignon was remarkable drinkable for a wine so relatively young; in contrast, the 2009 The Leap Estate Cabernet Sauvignon showed a wine that had gloriously matured, yet with plenty of ageability to come.

After selling Stags’ Leap Winery, Carl opened the utterly eclectic Quixote along a shared driveway with Shafer. Here, of course, Petite Sirah reigned supreme without compromising Cabernet, as evidenced by the well-balanced 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District poured here. But Quixote’s œnological mastery came through with its 2011 Petite Syrah Stags Leap District and overwhelmed with the exquisite 2012 Petite Syrah Stags Leap District, a true star of this event.

Carl sold this winery to investors from China not too long ago but continues with a yet-to-be released project from his personal vineyard. Meanwhile, Shafer remains in family hands and continues to outdo themselves on a yearly basis. I had hoped Doug Shafer would be on hand this afternoon and sneak in some samples of his new Eighty Four Wines (the Albariño is phenomenal), but I had to “settle” for such splendid offerings as the 2014 Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay and an exquisite 2014 Merlot Napa Valley. Shafer’s coup de grâce, though, was easily its 2013 One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that begs to be laid down for at least 10 more years.

I cannot recall whether I’ve tried the wines from Silverado Vineyards since the untimely passing of proprietor Diane Disney Miller, but as this has never been a Mickey Mouse operation, the quality has remained consistent.I cottoned to their 2013 GEO Cabernet Sauvignon Coombsville (an AVA I wish would revive their trade tasting), and positively reveled in the 2013 SOLO Cabernet Sauvignon Stag Leap District.

I always seems to drop in on Baldacci Family Vineyards minutes after they close for tastings, so it was quite fortuitous to find them pouring here. Baldacci’s inornate, decidedly rustic setting seems a far cry from the showcase wineries that dot the Silverado Trail, yet belies the sophistication of their viticulture. I tend to think of this winery first for its white wines, and the superb 2014 Sorelle Chardonnay poured here did nothing to disappoint. So too did the 2013 Fraternity prove exemplary—normally blended with Syrah, this vintage was a straightforward mélange of Cabernet Sauvignon from their two estate properties (as well as a touch of Oakville fruit) with their estate Merlot. Meanwhile, their pure Stags Leap District selection, the 2013 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon, proved their masterpiece.

Cavus Vineyards is a boutique winery that sources it fruit from less than two acres,, but enlists Jim Barbour as its Vineyard Manager and David Phinney as its consulting winemaker. The result is a stellar 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District, along with a Prisoner-like blend, its 2013 The Crane Assembly, an eclectic marriage of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Another boutique operation, Malk Family Vineyards prides themselves as “the smallest producers of premium 100% hand-crafted Cabernet Sauvignon wine from the famous Stags Leap District.” Outside of their estate, however, they source Oak Knoll fruit for an exceptional 2015 Sauvignon Blanc; further out, their 2014 Pinot Noir Fort Ross-Seaview provides a deft expression of the Sonoma Coast. Back in their home AVA, the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District was a delightful wine on the verge of peaking, as was the 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

Sostevinobile can categorically state that there is no correlation between Taylor Family Wines and Taylor, the upstate New York jug wine behemoth that ultimately morphed into Constellation. Still, the overlap in names tends to obfuscate this seventh generation Napa clan’s label, even though their winemaking focus could not be more different. From their perch in Stags Leap, this Taylor produces an impressive array of varietal Cabernets from an array of Napa AVAs, including Stags Leap District, Rutherford, Diamond Mountain, and Atlas Peak. However, this afternoon led off with a striking 2014 Chardonnay, vinted from the Chardonnay Musqué clone, from the same vineyard that supplied Château Montelena’s winning entry in the Judgment of Paris. Contrasting Taylor’s 2013 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District with the 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District showed remarkably distinct wines, fruit-forward vs. restrained, yet both proved equally appealing. Their final offering, a proprietary mélange of Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc, the 2012 V VI VII Red Blend, mislead lead me. I took the name to indicate this was a progressive Solera from the last three vintages; in truth, it constitutes a tribute the 5th, 6th and 7th Napa generation of the Taylor family, all of whom work for the winery!

One of Stags Leap District’s more dominant players, Cliff Lede, owns both a winery estate and a luxury inn at the juncture of Silverado Trail and Yountville Cross Road, along with a second winery, FEL. in the Anderson Valley. At Jardinière this day, they poured a selection across the board from his holdings, starting with the indelible 2015 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley. I found the 2014 FEL Pinot Noir Anderson Valley better than adequate, but truly relished the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District. The artistic flair of the winemaking here shows full force with the vineyard designate Cabernet from the vineyards encompassing Cliff’s Poetry Inn, yearning for greatness in the 2013 Poetry and full achieving it with the library selection 2007 Poetry uncorked for this tasting.

Quietly, a burgeoning mini-empire has been emerging in Napa, with its roots in the Stags Leap District. In Calistoga, the eclectic Tank Garage Winery produces a line of eclectic wines, whimsical both in their labeling and their viticulture. Nearby, T-Vine Winery is a long-standing endeavor that early on open my eyes to a number of Rhône varietals, as well as fruit sourced from the Contra Costa Valley. Just below the Stags Leap District, James Cole Winery is a high-end, small production facility available only by subscription. Anchoring all of these is Regusci Winery, a rustic operation that heralds the old style Italian family wineries of a bygone era. I can still recall my first visit here meeting family patriarch Angelo Regusci, who every day would walk his dogs down to the tasting room and pick up two bottles—one red, one white—for the evening’s dinner fare.

The quaintness of this routine belied the sophistication of Regusci’s craft. Befittingly, their first pour came from the 2012 Patriarch, a refined blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon and 42% Merlot, with plenty of ageability ahead. On its own merits, the 2012 Merlot Stags Leap District proved even more impressive, while the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District could best be described as splendiferous. All these wines, however, paled in comparison to Regusci’s flagship, the gracefully aged 2001 Angelo’s Cabernet Sauvignon, perhaps the best wine overall for the afternoon. If he were alive, I’m sure Angelo would be carting off a bottle home tonight.

As a denizen of the wine trade, I have often bemoaned the decline of trade tastings these past few years. Seeing a new event, especially one consistent in its focus and the quality of its wines gives hope for a resurgence in what has long been a vital component to building the comprehensive wine program Sostevinobile proposes. This past month also saw the launch of a similar event from Napa’s Spring Mountain District, a remarkable maturation at Petaluma Gap’s second annual trade tasting, the naisence a fledgling collective known as New Mission Winemakers,  and the crowning dénouement for In Pursuit of Balance—all of which I hope to cover in subsequent installations.

I owe. I owe. So off to work I go.

This Labor Day was doubly supposed to be a holiday for Your West Coast Oenophile. As happens every five or six years, my birthday falls on the first Monday in September, and while this was not a milestone year for me, it did add to the usual significance of the annual rite of passage (for the chronological sleuths out there, my only hint is that the next occurrence of this overlap will echo a sappy Paul McCartney tune). But instead of devoting the three day holiday to an inexorable celebration, I found myself on Sostevinobile duty, headed north for a return, at long last, to Sonoma County’s Wine Country Weekend.

I would be hard-pressed to think of another wine festival that encompasses such an expansive panorama of what its county-wide AVA offers, not just in wine but its complementary cuisine, food offerings, and other agricultural forays. Even Flavor! Napa Valley, a truly comprehensive cross-section of Sonoma’s immediate neighbor, seems somewhat dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of this three-day event.

My invitation included the Grand Tasting at MacMurray Ranch and the Sonoma Starlight dinner the preceding night. I had last visited Francis Ford Coppola Winery in its incarnation as Souverain, back during my years advising Bacardi on winery purchases they never completed. Under the Coppola umbrella, this facility, which produces the bulk of his mid-range and popular selections, has transmogrified into a lavish, if not grandiose, reflection of his directorial style, an estate that is as much resort as it is a producing winery, not unlike Bernardus in Carmel Valley.

Friday night attendees were fêted with an array of buffet food tables, gourmet poolside fair from a selection of local culinary vendors, while the patio was aligned with tables from many of the select wineries scheduled to pour the next day. Here, however, the vastly smaller VIP crowd enjoyed easy access to the wines and the winemakers themselves, along with a handful of reserve pourings that would not be featured at the public event. Even with the undulating strains of Notorious, Sonoma’s answer to Big Bang Beat, permeating the chill of the evening air, intimate conversations with the winemakers seemed effortless, allowing me the opportunity to meet and mingle with most of the participants I had highlighted as must-visits for the weekend.

One of the most intriguing of my new discoveries was Trinité Estate, the Alexander Valley expansion of the Lurton family’s vast portfolio of wineries that include Château Durfort-Vivens, a Deuxième Grand Cru Classé estate in the Margaux region, Château Ferrière, Château Haut-Bâges Libéral, Château La Gurgue, and Château Domeyne. True to form, owners Gonzague and Claire Lurton produce remarkable Bordeaux-style wines from their Healdsburg vineyards, notably their flagship 2012 Acaibo, a blend of 53 percent Merlot and 46 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, with “a sprinkling” of Cabernet Franc. Young but portending to be perhaps even more prodigious, their 2013 Amaino also focused on Merlot from the same trinity of Bordelaise grapes.

I am intrigued by the notion of wines that bear the same names as cheese, but so far, have only found Pecorino, an Italian white grape that is also produced in Temecula. Coming tantalizingly close, the Russian River Valley’s Parmeson Wines more than competently epitomized the contiguity of this AVA and the Sonoma Coast appellation with their inaugural trio of wines: 2013 Chardonnay Josephine Hill Vineyard, 2013 Pinot Noir Wildcat Mountain Vineyard, and their 2013 Zinfandel Alegría Vineyard.

One late-registered participant I hadn’t previously sampled was Merisi, an understated albeit fledgling endeavor that derives its elusive name from Michelangelo Merisi, better known as the Renaissance chiaroscuro master Caravaggio. Nothing about Mandy and Nick Donovan’s wines, however, seemed dimmed or shadowy, as their opulent 2013 Glen Oaks Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon amply displayed.

I confess to being often befuddled by the difference between Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers and Sonoma County Vintners and will not attempt to distinguish these two largely overlapping trade associations, other than to note that the former is the official producer of this event. The latter faced a bit of hasty reorganization earlier this past year with the abrupt resignation of both Director of Marketing Communications Sara Cummings and Executive Director Honore Comfort. Honore, however, hardly extricated herself from the ranks of Sonoma County’s Vintners, with the inclusion of her Brack Mountain Wine Company at this year’s festivities. Under their Bench Wines label, Brack Manager Taylor Osborn poured a noteworthy 2013 Bench Pinot Noir and a truly delightful 2013 Fable Pinot Meunier, a single vineyard designate.

It’s not uncommon for me to taste 4-5,000 wines every year, and even with over 190 varietals produced on the West Coast in Sostevinobile’s database, such a relatively obscure wine is a great pleasure. And herein lies my contention with the Grand Tasting the following day. Don’t get me wrong—it was a wonderful, if not opulent event, and even without having to jockey among 4,000 attendees, one could never possibly have taken in everything it has to offer.

But with over 150 wineries on hand, I would have expected far more to have showcased their non-standard selections—not merely the Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, Zinfandels, and Cabernet Sauvignons that predominate in the Valley. I realize there are vastly more labels produced in the county than this event could possibly accommodate; furthermore, for many of the smaller, cutting-edge producers—Ryme, Agharta, Idlewild, Sheldon, Castelli, Scherrer, Stark, Nico, DaVero, Two Shepherds, Porter-Bass, to name but a few—who seemed conspicuously absent, I suspect participation fees may have proved too steep vs. potential return for the time and resources they would have to expend.

Nonetheless, far better that I focus on who was there and what they poured, rather than further expound my wistfulness over what was absent. Stopping off at the Alexander Valley tent, I first sampled a trio of wines from Lake Sonoma Winery, one of Madrone Vineyards Estates’ holdings. As befits the appellation, their standout proved to be the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley, an exceptional expression of both the grape and the AVA. From the other side of 101, both the 2013 Chardonnay Russian River Valley and the 2013 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast proved rather redolent of what I would expect from this vintage.

Curiously, Lake Sonoma did not pour their 2012 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, a wine sourced closest to their namesake destination. Zinfandel’s Italian cousin, however, did make an appearance at deLorimier Winery’s table, a striking 2013 The Station Primitivo. On the other side of the tent, Soda Rock—like deLorimier, one of Diane Wilson’s myriad holdings—featured a more straightforward Zin, their 2012 Zinfandel Alexander Valley, alongside an equally-competent 2011 The General Cabernet Sauvignon.

The burgeoning Wilson empire includes numerous Dry Creek Valley wineries (Pezzi King, Mazzocco, as well as their eponymous label), but within this designation, arguably the crown jewel is the Rockpile AVA, which truly has to be the province of Mauritson Family Winery. Their wines are consistently deep, lush, and intense, a reputation borne out once again here with both the 2012 Rockpile Cabernet Sauvignon Rockpile Ridge Vineyard and the 2013 Rockpile Zinfandel Jack’s Cabin Vineyard. Also pouring a highly impressive Zinfandel—Comstock Wines, with their 2013 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley.

As with Mauritson, I can always count on Lambert Bridge for consistency and excellence in their Bordelaise varietals and blends, a view reinforced here by their 2012 Cabernet Franc Sonoma County. Still, I was saddened to learn that Greg Wilcox, one of my favorite curmudgeons, no longer managed the winery. On a different front, affable owners Jann and Gerry still operate their namesake Forth Vineyards in Healdsburg, excelling in the production of their 2012 Single Vineyard Sangiovese, along with a delightfully spry 2014 Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.

The broadbased Russian River Valley tent encompassed a number of districts that may soon comprise their own sub-AVA, including Petaluma Gap and Fountaingrove; the representative wineries, however, displayed a greater homogeneity. Endemic of this focus, Christopher Creek Winery, a winery whose acclaim is based on its Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc, nonetheless impressed with its highly nuanced 2013 Pinot Noir Reserve. Burgundian purists Bucher Vineyard featured its 2013 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, while my friends Bill and Betty Nachbaur kept things close to the vest with the 2012 Axiom Single Vineyard Syrah from their Acorn Winery, rather than their more adventurous Dolcetto or Sangiovese.

In contrast, the smaller boutique enterprises from Fountaingrove shared a table that showcased their diversity, starting with the excellent 2009 Petite Sirah from Chuck McCoy’s Volante Vineyards. Equally delightful yet paradoxically named—the 2010 Les Trois Rhône Blend from Margaret Foley’s Petrichor Vineyards, a deft marriage of Syrah with 15% Grenache. Atypically focused solely on Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, the Heller Family’s H•L•R Cellars furnished an appealing 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, while their fellow Fountaingrovians, the wonderfully-named Hostage Wines, offer a superlative 2012 Cabernet Franc.

Could a winery name be more vocative than The Calling? This collaboration between winemaker Peter Deutsch and renowned sportscaster Jim Nantz dazzled with their 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley. Served up by the equally dazzling Summer Jeffus, The Calling also offered their 2011 Our Tribute, a complex yet compelling Meritage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc, along with the 2013 Chardonnay Jewell Vineyard.

With sharply contrasting (obscurant) nomenclature, Ektimo—either meaning alarm in Esperanto or derived from the Greek term for reckon, εκτιμώ—is a nascent venture from Chinese ownership in the Russian River Valley. New winemaking will handle future vintages; here the selection of their 2014 Single Vineyard Chardonnay, the 2013 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, and the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Russian River Valley seemed, at best, modest efforts.

Over in the all-encompassing Sonoma Valley tent, a more representative expression of the varietal could be found in Laurel Glen’s lush 2012 Counterpoint Cabernet Sauvignon. As compelling and as superlative, both the 2013 Chardonnay Durrell Vineyard and the 2013 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley from Will Price’s fabled Three Sticks Wine. Victor Hill Wines, the reemergence of former Castle Winery owner Vic McWilliams, displayed a Phoenix-like deftness with their 2012 Barrel Select Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Bush Vineyard, a wine as big as its name, coupled with their final 2013 Belle Blanc, a most compelling marriage of Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, and Viognier.

My last stop of the afternoon, Bart Hansen’s Dane Cellars, closed out the day with another superb Rhône blend, their 2013 Valeria, a GMS augmented with 8% Counoise. My to-do list had also included Idell Family Vineyards, which regrettably had closed down their station nearly an hour, and Steven & Walker, which failed to appear at all (though I did manage to insinuate myself into their release party in downtown Healdsburg that evening).

Looking over my notes from Wine Country Weekend, it seems I barely scratched the surface with the wineries on hand for Taste of Sonoma. Part of the reason surely was the sheer volume of the attendance, which made jockeying for a winery’s attention more than a challenge; part may have been that I had sampled nearly 90% of these wineries in the past year or two; and part was, most assuredly, the superb selection of food pairings throughout the four tents! As such, my assessment of the breadth of wines served may be skewed. Still I offer these comments not as criticism but a wish that, collectively, the Sonoma winemakers might be more ambitious next time around and truly showcase the vast panoply of what is claimed to be the most diverse wine region in California.

Discoveries

It’s far too infrequent that Your West Coast Oenophile gets to celebrate a milestone in the prolonged development of Sostevinobile, but I suppose it will portend of good things finally coalescing in 2015 if I start off this year’s chronicle by noting that, at long last, I have managed to optimize our winery database and bring it current, cataloging a backlog of 400-500 business cards I had allowed to accrue over the course of 2014. Granted, not exactly earth-shattering news, but still a highly significant hurdle, with widespread ramifications for the Sostevinobile wine program as I dabble with alternative sources for funding (more on that in another post).

Much of what I wrote last year bemoaned the apparent decline in the major trade tastings, both in terms of public attendance and winery participation. Over the past two decades, these events have proven a cornerstone in my developing a comprehensive perspective on the West Coast wine industry and in enabling Sostevinobile to meet and vet some 3,600+ wine producers since our inception.

But I have never relied exclusively on these events to research the exhaustive program for sustainably-grown West Coast wines we are undertaking. Often, I resort to happenstance or other random means to discover unheralded wineries that limit their distribution to a discrete clientele or simply shy from publicity. No matter where I journey, I always make a point to avoid scheduling meetings or tastings for the latter part of the afternoon and allow myself to get lost along the back roads of the particular AVA I happen to be investigating. Invariably, I will stumble upon a ramshackle barn with a dirt driveway beside a barely perceptible welcome sign or ID placard, a harbinger of unpretentious yet dedicated craftsmen—vignerons, in the true sense of the word.

Last fall, I made several treks to southern Napa and the Carneros region to see how I might help out numerous friends whose wine operations were severely impacted by the Napa earthquake. On one such visit, en route to Bouchaine and Adastra, I quite unexpectedly came upon the unadorned rustic tract where McKenzie-Mueller Vineyards & Winery crafts its select varietals. The rundown, dusty barn that houses their wine operations and ersatz tasting room seemed anachronistic, a throwback to an era before ornate $50 tastings became the vogue in Napa, but the simplicity of the setting belied a fastidious endeavor whose forte lies with their bottling of the other four Bordelaise reds, a rarity here on the West Coast, along with an unwavering commitment to a straightforward vinification, unmasked by filtration or other manipulations.

Most impressive among their offerings were the 2006 Malbec Los Carneros and the 2009 Petit Verdot, both splendid renditions of these less storied varietals. The more familiar 2007 Estate Bottled Cabernet Franc Napa Valley and the 2009 Merlot Los Carneros proved nearly as striking, while their 2008 Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon reflected the adequacy of this off year vintage.Alas, McKenzie-Mueller’s proprietary blend, the 2005 Tartan was not available this particular afternoon, and so I will be compelled to visit again!

On a different tour of the earthquake’s scope, I walked through downtown Napa to survey the undocumented damage and visit with the dozen or so wineries that have set up tasting rooms there. Stopping by Gustavo Wine, the downtown nexus for what had been known as Gustavo Thrace and other wines produced by the legendary Gustavo Brambila. Not to make short shrift of these selections, worthy successors all to his role in Château Montelena’s historic showing at the Judgment of Paris, but my intrigue lay in discovering the wines from Avinodos, a nascent undertaking by his son Lorin Brambila and Tasting Room Manager Dan Dexter. Starting off modestly, this label nevertheless made an auspicious debut with both their 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and a full-bodied 2012 Malbec—yet another encouraging indicator of California wineries’ determination not to accede to perceptions of Argentina’s inextricable domination of this varietal.

My meanderings in Dry Creek yielded similar serendipity. On a hot afternoon last fall, I unexpectedly came upon the Geyserville home of Cast, as I headed up Dry Creek Road in search of the beachhead at Lake Sonoma. This brand new, state-of-the-art winery culminates the aspirations of two community bankers from Texas, and though the ambience may seem a bit Southwestern, the wine is decidedly Californian. The early lineup includes a NV Blanc de Noirs, a Pinot-based sparking wine, a tepid 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, the vineyard-specific (Marimar Estate’s Don Miguel Vineyard) 2012 Pinot Noir, and the 2011 Grey Palm Estate Zinfandel. The forte for winemaker Mikael Gulyash proved, however to be the exquisite 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel Watson Vineyard and—atypical for Dry Creek— the 2012 Grey Palm Estate Petite Sirah.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the AVA, I discovered the striking, sustainably-designed tasting room for Uptick Vineyards. Perched above their Westside Road vineyards, I enjoyed a striking NV Sparkling Brut, a wine designed to bias me toward white selections. The 2012 Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc proved amiable enough, but the hot afternoon only accentuated the 2012 Hilda’s Rosé, a deft marriage of Pinot Noir and Syrah. Uptick

Because of the sweltering conditions, I eschewed Uptick’s selection of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Syrah, as well as their Old Vine Zinfandel, in favor of two delightful—and chilled— white selections: the 2009 Chalk Hill Chardonnay and the contrasting yet equally impressive 2011 Russian River Valley Chardonnay. There will be other occasions to revisit and sample these other selections, perhaps on my next Dry Creek stumble.


As much as I have lamented, over the past year in particular, the paucity of new labels for Sostevinobile to source at the major wine tastings—partly because I have repeatedly attended these events, partly because of the decline in winery participation—I nonetheless manage, on occasion, to encounter a plethora of discoveries.

Such fortuity seems to be the rule at the various Garagiste Festivals held throughout the state. Most recently, the Paso Robles session offered nearly 40 (!) wineries and labels to add to the Sostevinobile roster, a veritable cornucopia of nascent producers bottling under 1,000 cases annually. Exemplifying this profile, John & Lisa Shaw craft a scant 300 cases under their Alma Sol label. Their 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon offered a competent wine, while their 2011 Meritage blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot proved preferable, even for such a challenging vintage. But, true to Paso’s unfettered œnology, the standout was the 2013 Sagrado, a proprietary blend of Syrah, Viognier, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

An implicit acknowledgment of this open spirit is evidenced in the nomenclature for Artisan Uprising. Brothers William & David Vondrasek produce a mere 275 cases annually, exemplified by their appealing 2012 Merlot, alongside its Bordelaise counterpart, the 2012 Malbec. By contrast, Barton Family’s 900 cases annually seems gargantuan (this volume partly explains their need to bottle under three distinct labels: Barton, Grey Wolf, and Occasional Wines). Here, under their eponymous line, the superb 2011 E-Street artfully blended 80% Tempranillo with 20% Mourvèdre (or Monastrell, its Spanish name).

Mourvèdre underpinned three sublime interpretations of traditional Rhône bottlings from Copia Vineyards, starting with 2013 The Answer, a marriage of 75% Syrah, 23% Grenache, and 2% Mourvèdre. Their previous project, 2012 The Cure predominantly featured Syrah, while their standout, the understated 2012 The Blend married 40% Syrah with equal parts Grenache and Mourvèdre. Dramatically, David DuBois’ Cholame Vineyard showcased the Mourvèdre-dominant 2011 Cross Country, a mélange rounded out with 35% Grenache and 5% Petite Sirah; this Rhône-style variant was nicely juxtaposed against the 2012 Summer Stock, an estate grown Grenache Blanc.

Rising above the strictures of the French AOC, Ascension Cellars forged together a line consisting of both Rhône and Bordelaise-style wines, showing deft touches with both their 2011 Ascendance, a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and the 2012 Evangelist, an exceptional dessert-style (6.8% residual sugar) Viognier. Even more disparate, Château Lettau’s 1,100 case production not only spanned both Bordeaux and the Rhône, but offered an interpretation of Iberian varietals that proved their forte: a striking 2012 Stiletto Tempranillo, accompanied by the 2013 Albariño Kristy Vineyard. A winery that truly epitomizes the frontier spirit that demarcates Paso Robles, Deodoro Cellars dazzled with its unconventional blends, starting with a dazzling white trilogy of Sauvignon Blanc, Malvasia Bianca, and Viognier, the 2013 Euphoria. On the red side, the 2012 Pantheon married Zinfandel with Grenache and Syrah, a deft combination that almost made the straightforward 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon seem mundane. And lest I forget—the 2012 Nepenthe, tempering a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc pas de deux with Petite Sirah.

Conventional or not, blends did seem to dominate among these craft vintners. One of my most impressive discoveries of the afternoon, Deno Wines, offered their imaginative 2010 2 Bills Estate Blend (66% Zinfandel, 34% Grenache) alongside a three-year vertical of their proscribed Rhône blend (60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre), the most striking of which was the middle selection, the 2009 Estate GSM. Proudly proclaiming its contrarian approach, Dilecta Wines poured what might be called an MSG, the 2012 Unorthodox, a blend of 42% Mourvèdre, 42% Syrah and but 16% Grenache. Less bold but as flavorful: their 65% Grenache/35% Syrah blend called the 2012 The Tiller.

The orthodox tenets of Catholicism under which I was inculcated as an impressionable youth attending St. Peter of Alcantara Church would not have countenanced the incorporation of an Indian elephant, particularly with its allusions to the Hindu god Ganesh, into its catechism; this unusual hybrid, however, distinguishes Guyomar Winery in Templeton, whose estate, coincidentally, is known as St. Peter of Alcantara Vineyard. Blue Nun this is not, but it pervasive religious nomenclature includes the 2010 Monsignor, a Petite Sirah-dominant blend with 24% Zinfandel, 16% Syrah, and 4% Grenache. On the other side of the pulpit, the 2010 Laity offered 64% Syrah, 16% Grenache, 14% Petite Sirah, and 6% Zinfandel, while the intermediary 2010 Oblate focused on the Zin, with 19% Petite Sirah, 9% Grenache and 5% Syrah to round it out. A relative gargantuan at this tasting, with 1250 case production, Falcone Family Vineyards loomed large with their 2012 Estate Syrah and a striking 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Mia’s Vineyard, but overshadowed even these exceptional vintages with their NV Annaté V Estate Blend, an ongoing solera culled (so far) from the 2001, 2012 and 2013 bottlings of their proprietary Syrah/Petite Sirah/Cabernet Sauvignon blend.

Another classical Indian allusion, drawn from the apocryphal 65th position in Vātsyāyana’s Kama Sutra, LXV Wines strives to evoke a deep sensuality with its labels, as well as their wines, like their Cabernet Franc/Syrah/Merlot, the 2012 Secret Craving. and the seductive 2012 Rising Tempo, a deft blend of Grenache, Tempranillo, and Syrah. The double-entendre of its nomenclature—MCV (not to be confused with MC5) —derives from winemaker Matt Villard’s initials and well as to a different Roman numeral, to which he paid homage with he 2011 1105, a Petite Sirah softened with Syrah and Grenache and its more elegant successor, the 2012 1105, a true blend, with 66% Petite Sirah, 24% Syrah, 9% Grenache and a 1% splash of Viognier. However, MCV really kicked out the jams in Petite Sirah with their 2013 Pink, a rosé expression of Petite Sirah, Syrah, Grenache and Tannat, alongside their 2012 Petite Sirah Rosewynn Vineyard, a stunning expression of the varietal unadorned.

I always appreciate a good pun—especially a bilingual one. Ryan Pease’s Paix Sur Terre is a 400 case specialist in Mourvèdre, though when I arrived, they only had left their Syrah/Mourvèdre blend, the 2012 Either Side of the Hill still on hand (testimony, I guess, to the quality of their straight varietal bottling, 2012 The Other One). At 500 cases, Edmond August put on an amazingly diverse display, starting with the 2012 Inference, a classic Rhône white marrying 76% Roussanne with Viognier. Both their 2011 Soft Letters (½ Mourvèdre, ½ Grenache) and 2010 Indelible (Syrah rounded out with Grenache and Viognier) proved likable, drinkable wines, while the 2011 Anthology Red (60% Grenache, 16% Syrah, 8% Tannat, 7% Cinsault) stood on par with the white blend.

Like a number of wineries (Artisan Uprising and Guyomar) pouring their first vintage here, Diablo Pass displayed considerable viticultural adeptness with both their 2013 Grenache and the robust 2012 Tempranillo. Similarly, Mystic Hills Vineyard turned a passable 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon into two deft Meritages, the 2011 Estate Unforgiven, a traditional five varietal blend and the more striking 2011 Sequel, a mélange of 605 Cabernet Sauvignon with equal parts Cabernet Franc and Merlot rounding out the wine. Sebastian Noël’s first vintage of Nobelle Wines displayed surprising sophistication, not only with Rhône’s fraternal white twins, the 2012 Marsanne and the 2012 Roussanne, but also with an astounding 2012 Cabernet Franc.

Despite my need to focus on labels to add to the Sostevinobile database, I still could not bypass a handful of familiar establishments like Cutruzzola. Once again, I delved into their 2011 Riesling Riven Rock Vineyard and reveled in their wondrous 2012 Gloria Pinot Noir. An even more extraordinary rendition of this varietal was the 2012 Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard RN Estate Winery featured. An unheralded viticultural star, this winery consistently impresses with blends like the 2010 Cuvée des Artistes (Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot) and the 2011 Cuvée des Trois Cépages (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc). A most pleasant surprise, however, came from II Moons, a burgeoning label from my long-standing Dartmouth colleague John Gleason. This independent spinoff from Clavo Cellars seemed rather perfunctory when I first sampled their initial vintage. Two years later, I found myself vastly impressed by their 2012 Aporia, a well-balanced blend of Grenache Blanc and Marsanne. As splendid: the 2011 Angst, an atypical GMS equally balanced between the three varietals, while clearly the most striking blend, the 2011 Ardor, offered 50% Mourvèdre and 50% Syrah.

Andy Zaninoch’s Tlo Wines also poured a strikingly well-balanced 2012 GSM, skewed slightly toward the Grenache. Keeping stride, his 2011 Tempranillo featured 25% Touriga Nacional, a true Spanish blend. In contrast, Roger Janakus’ Stanger Vineyards elected to follow a decidedly unorthodox path, blending Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo with noteworthy results. I noted a striking contrast between the Syrah-dominant 2009 Bench and the even core compelling 2010 Master, in which the Cabernet Sauvignon predominated. A similar fondness for atypical Syrah blends came from Jacob Toft, a decidedly esoteric (and eponymous) boutique. Bloviating notwithstanding, this winemaker made an eloquent statement with both his 2012 Sarah’s Cuvée, a Syrah blended with 18% Grenache, and the 2012 Maggie’s Cuvée, a predominantly Petite Sirah wine, with 22% Syrah and 19% Mourvèdre. And with its even more elliptical nomenclature, Nicora Wines nonetheless made a sizable impression with its 2012 Buxom Syrah (6% Grenache) and the 2012 Euphoric La Vista Vineyard, a delightful single-vineyard Grenache, balanced with 4% Syrah.

With 4,030 hits on Google, Sostevinobile certainly knows the value of creating your own portmanteau in dominating an Internet search on your name. Likewise, Ryan Render’s alteration of his surname to coin Rendarrio, which culls entries solely linked to his wine. Which probably accounts for the regal coat of arms on his label and blends like his 2011 First Born King, a Grenache/Syrah mélange. Admittedly, I had to research 2012 League of Shadows to uncover its Batman derivation, but required only traditional œnophilic techniques to uncover the appealing flavors of its Cabernet/Merlot marriage. Pulchella Winery is one of several wine labels to allude to dragonflies (Libellula pulchella or the Twelve-Spotted Skimmer), but manifests its individuality with distinctive blends like the 2012 Highs & Lows (66% Syrah, 34% Grenache), and the 2012 Awakening (66% Syrah, 34% Grenache).

In a similar vein, Justin Murphy’s Irie Wines showcased an intriguing trio of wines, starting with their 2013 One Love, a rosé of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Viognier. The 2013 Zinfandel La Vista Vineyard presented a single vineyard effort, while the extremely limited (23 cases!) 2012 Cask One tempered Petite Sirah with 8% Zinfandel. One of the few endeavors on hand that tackled Italian varietals, Bella Luna Winery featured a modest 2011 Lot One, their estate Barbera and their 2010 Estate Riserva, a SuperTuscan. Another contender, Vinemark Cellars, focused their efforts on Primitivo, with both their straight varietal bottling, the 2012 Primitivo, and the proprietary 2012 Mezzanotte, a balanced blend of 75% Primitivo and 25% Petite Sirah.

One of the smallest endeavors here, Soaring Hawk, offered an array of wines that comprised their 250 case production, the standout of which was easily the 2009 Syrah Gill Vineyard. Moving from the supernal to the pelagic, Seashell Cellars presented select blends like the 2010 Balboa Reserve (75% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacha) or the sedate 2011 Vineyard Collection, a Syrah-focused GSM. And I can think of no clever segue to assay the delightful wines of Felten Cellars, which distinguished itself with both the 2012 Gewürztraminer and its wonderful 2012 Old Casteel Vineyard Zinfandel.

Another splendid endeavor, The Missing Leg, stumped any critics with such full-bodied wines as its 2011 Syrah St. Peter of Alcantara Vineyard or the adroit 2012 Pinot Noir Kruse Vineyard. An equally compelling 2012 Estate Syrah distinguished Cambria’s Stolo Family Vineyards, while LaZarre Wines, the proprietary label of much-lauded winemaker Adam LaZarre, proved its mettle with their compelling 2010 Merlot Paso Robles and a subtle 2012 Albariño Edna Valley.

Also flourishing through their Iberian varietal bottlings, Filipponi Ranch, which produced an extraordinary 2012 Cronologie Verdelho alongside a more-than-approachable 2012 Cronologie Tempranillo. In a different vein but as appealing: the 2012 Lorenzo, a Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon/Petite Sirah combine. As the festival drew to a close, I discovered a winery surprisingly sophisticated for its miniscule (450 case) production. The unapologetically Francophilic Clos Selène dazzled with their 2013 Hommage Blanc, a beguiling blend of 65% Roussanne and 35% Viognier. Purely Rhône-style in their focus, the 2012 Hommage à Nos Pairs Syrah deftly married varietal pickings from both Russell Family Vineyards and iconic Paso winery L’Aventure.

However, my greatest revelation of the day came from Wally Murray’s decidedly unpretentious Bon Niche. This unassuming vintner delighted with his 2011 Voyage an estate Syrah rounded with 20% Petit Verdot and 10% Merlot, but utterly defined what California Malbec could be with three of his offerings: the near-mindboggling 2010 L’Entrée, his estate Malbec, and both the astounding 2010 Voûtes, a proprietary 45% Malbec, 45% Petit Verdot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and its worthy successor, the 2011 Voûtes. To say Murray has found his niche would be an understatement.

There will be several Garagiste Festivals in 2015. With more discoveries like these to be made, Sostevinobile’s calendar is marked for all.

Quō vasisti, vēritās?

Let me state from the outset, Your West Coast Oenophile is not trying to cast any aspersions. Sostevinobile may be a passion—even an intellectual pursuit as I strive to develop an encyclopædic knowledge of the wines grown and produced along the northeast rim of the Pacific. But I initially trained as a Classics scholar, a pursuit with little practical relevance outside of academia or a post at the Vatican, and so I resort to any pretext I can find for dusting off twelve years of Latin studies (what does irrumabo mean, Sister Frances?) as a language and corpus of literature.

At another point, I may regale readers with some of the more piquant tales of my academic pursuits, particularly those relating to the tutelage of renowned Plautine and Euripidean scholar, the late Erich Segal. Suffice it to say that my response to his intellectual pretense became encapsulated in a full-length drama I wrote to fulfill the requirements for my other academic major in Creative Writing: (The Love Story of Big Daddy’s) Пошлость. OK, so I needed a pretext to dust off my knowledge of the русский язык, as well.

But before I go off on yet another endless digression, let me redirect focus to a trio of intimate wine tastings I attended to kick off the opening round of wine releases for 2014. All of these events, of course, are familiar to frequent visitors here, but the prospect of sampling numerous bottlings from the highly-anticipated 2012 vintage portended to promise “never having to say you’re sorry.”

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I) Every January, the collective known as In Vino Unitas holds its annual trade tasting in several venues around the Bay Area, including San Francisco. In many ways, it’s exactly what a trade tasting should be: intimate setting (Press Club), a moderate crowd delimited by staging in multiple alcoves, a leisurely pace that allowed ample time to interact with each of the winemakers or representatives from the wineries, and a discrete selection of wines neither overwhelming in its scope nor predominated by the more familiar selections each winery typically featured at other events.

I, of course, have sampled and cited each of the 14 wineries pouring here numerous times now; as such, let me simply highlight the most noteworthy selections from each, starting with a surprising 2010 Malbec Napa Valley, a three vineyard assemblage from Buoncristiani. This opulent rendering was accompanied by the four Buoncristiani brothers’ signature 2009 O.P.C. (Ol’ Pa’s Cuvée), a proprietary blend of four varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Malbec. And as exquisite were the 2012 Chardonnay Napa Valley, blended with grapes from both Hyde Vineyard and Pahlmeyer Waters Ranch, and the limited production 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, combining fruit sourced from the Howell Mountain, Coombsville, and Atlas Peak appellations.

Like Coombsville, Atlas Peak is a sleeper sub-AVA in the Napa Valley that is finally starting to get the recognition it deserves. Although Antinori has replaced the extensive Sangiovese plantings that gave this region its early renown, the current roster of Atlas Peak vineyards is achieving prominence for all five of the primary Bordeaux varietals, Syrah, the resultant Meritages and blends, plus a number of Rhône and other varietals. Perhaps the most prominent tract from Atlas Peak, Stagecoach Vineyard is the centerpiece of Krupp Brothers viticultural expanse. While myriad labels source their grapes from Stagecoach, here Krupp’s own eclectic labels showcased a number of exceptional selections, including their 2009 Black Bart Syrah and 2011 Chardonnay. Krupp’s true stars of the afternoon came from their (slightly) waggishly-named 2008 Veraison Red Wine, a claret-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Syrah, and the superb 2008 Veraison Cabernet Sauvignon Stagecoach Vineyard, a pinnacle of Atlas Peak œnology.

The name Stagecoach may be a conceit for Krupp but certainly holds validity for Fisher, a winery whose forebears revolutionized carriage production. With a viticultural craft as meticulous as their branded Body by Fisher, their immensely appealing 2011 Mountain Estate Chardonnay poured here served as bold prelude to the phenomenal 2010 Coach Insignia Cabernet Sauvignon, a blend of 86% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Merlot from their Calistoga estate.

A couple of more understated Napa Valley estates focused on their 2011 releases. Organically farmed Ehlers Estate, a trust holding of the Leducq Foundation (Ehlers was deeded by late founder Jean Leducq), showcased their 2011 120/80 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2011 1886 Cabernet Sauvignon. Michael Marks’ Gemstone highlighted an exceptional 2011 Estate Red Wine, a Meritage focused on 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, with 23% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc. 

It seems to early to formulate a consensus on the 2011 Cabernet vintage; so far, after four consecutive excellent, if not monumental, years, the 2011 Pinot Noir vintage has tested the mettle of winemakers across the state and in Oregon. Donum Estate in Carneros, now owned by a Danish partnership but still overseen by Anne Moller-Racke displayed their forte with both the 2011 Anderson Valley Estate Grown Pinot Noir Angel Camp Vineyard and the less ponderously labeled 2011 Russian River Valley Estate Grown Pinot Noir. Also excelling with this vintage, Soledad’s Manzoni Estate Vineyard, impressing with their 2011 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Home Vineyard and startling with the luxuriant 2011 Pinot Noir Estate Reserve Santa Lucia Highlands Home Vineyard.

Jericho Canyon in Calistoga should not be confused with the Sanel Valley’s Jeriko Estate, two wineries as much dedicated to sustaining the integrity of the environment as much as their devotion to their viticulture. Jericho Canyon’s meticulous focus on Bordeaux varietals most evidenced itself in both their 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and a striking 2010 Jericho Creek Cabernet Sauvignon. And, of course, I would never compare Meyer Family Cellars to Löwenbräu, Munich’s 631 year old brewery, despite the overt similarity of their leonine logos. Heralding from Yorkville, near Mendocino’s Hopland (as opposed to Bavaria, Germany’s “Hopsland”), their iconoclastic bottlings prominently featured the 2009 Reserve Syrah High Ground and a voluptuous 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Bonny’s Vineyard 10-Year Anniversary Release.

Little question whether redheads like Christina Hendricks embody the very definition of voluptuous. Nearly as luscious—Los Gatos’ titian tribute, Testarossa, a winery whose name clamors for Italian varietals but nonetheless flourishes with a striking portfolio of Burgundian bottlings. From its hillside perch along the Santa Cruz Highway where Novitiate used to make sacramental wines, Rob and Diana Jensen produce consistently elegant vintages, evidenced here by both their 2012 Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay and the 2011 Doctor’s Vineyard Pinot Noir.
67th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Arrivals

Streaks of red highlighted the asymmetric coiffure Remi Barrett sported for this event, but there was little, if any, bottleshock detectable in the stellar lineup from La Sirena that she poured here. Winemaker Heidi Barrett, Remi’s mother, while renown for her Cabernets, here excelled with a pair of Syrahs: the 2010 Le Barrettage Napa Valley and the 2007 Syrah Barrett Vineyard. Nevertheless, the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley proved every bit the equal of both these bottlings, but the true standout here undoubtedly came from the 2010 Barrett and Barrett Cabernet Sauvignon, a sumptuous collaboration between Heidi and husband Bo, winemaker for Château Montelena.

I wish Heidi’s considerable repute would carry over to her winemaking at Kenzo. It’s not that the wines aren’t good, but neither the 2012 Astasuyu, an estate-bottled Sauvignon Blanc, nor the 2010 Rindo, Kenzo’s traditional Meritage, astounded—something I expect from a $200 million winery that lavished on every aspect of its production.

Back when I started out in the wine industry, I was acquainted with Heidi’s father Richard Peterson, as well as the Mirassou brothers in San Martin, who had offered to provide the juice for my George Herbert Walker Blush. While Mirassou is now firmly in the clutches of Gallo, Steven Kent Mirassou, the family’s sixth generation winemaker, is serving notice that the Livermore Valley is a force with which to be reckoned (beyond its nuclear capabilities). Certainly the Russian River Valley 2012 Pinot Meunier Saralee’s Vineyard his La Rochelle label produces deserves a nod, but both the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Livermore Valley from this Steven Kent Winery and the extraordinary 2010 Lineage, a proprietary bottling of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, and 1% Malbec, also from Livermore, could easily hold their own against higher priced Napa bottlings..

As wonderfully unpredictable as a Livermore venture of such exceptional caliber may seem, a mediocre bottling from the fabled Far Niente, along with sister labels Nickel & Nickel, En Route and Dolce, would be equally surprising. Yet the opulence of the Far Niente label hardly belies the richness of its viticulture. Its 2012 Chardonnay Napa Valley Estate proved utterly splendid, as did its 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Estate. Equally enchanting: the 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Branding Iron Vineyard from Nickel & Nickel. As the baby sister of the family, En Route still needs time to equal these peaks, but the 2007 Late Harvest Wine from Dolce, a botrytis-laden blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc, most definitely warranted its “Liquid Gold from Napa Valley” moniker.


II) My extensive Latin studies coincided with 12 years of pedantic exercises regurgitating les précis de grammaire française. Add to the mix six years of ancient Greek and several terms of Russian along the way. If memory serves, there was actually a master plan behind all this, though precisely what eludes me at this stage.

It wasn’t until I completed my various courses of study that I decided to tackle a language with practical implications. Others in my position might well have opted to learn Spanish, but for myriad reasons I may elucidate in another post, non voglio parlare spagnolo

My choice finally to learn the tongue my grandparents grew up speaking continues to open doors for me in San Francisco and throughout the wine realm, but at times my predilection for Italian puts me at odds with the realities of a state that had formerly been part of Mexico. And so I must catch myself from the pronouncing ci as ch (instead of the Spanish si) when speaking of the Santa Lucia Highlands.

But, of course, Sostevinobile concerns itself with the pleasures of wine, not the minutia of morphology, and once again, the annual trade tasting for the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans abundantly demonstrated why this AVA is so prized. And perhaps more than any other AVA in California, its renown predominantly relies on select, highly-revered vineyards even more than its acclaimed labels, notably Soberanes, Pisoni, Garys’, Rosella’s and Sierra Mar Vineyards, farmed collectively or individually by the Pisoni and Franscioni families, well as Tondrē Grapefield and the Hahn Family’s Doctor’s Vineyard.

The youngest tract in this cluster, Soberanes, found ample representation within this tightly-bonded alliance, as evidenced by newcomer Cattelya, with their introductory 2012 Syrah Soberanes Vineyard (at $70/bottle, a surprisingly high price for a first release, were it not crafted by a winemaker with Bibiana González Rave’s pedigree). Also sourcing from this plot, my friend Rebecca Green Birdsall’s Black Kite, a winery that, until now, had sourced its Pinot strictly from Mendocino. Here the 2011 Pinot Noir Soberanes Vineyard paired nicely with their first white offering, the 2012 Chardonnay Soberanes Vineyard.

One of my central tenets in developing the wine program for Sostevinobile has been my belief that the boundaries between the West Coast states have now blurred in terms of the quality and prominence of their viticulture—an admission I would certainly never have made when I began
my wine career in 1982. Perhaps no other artisanal endeavor transcends the artifice of these territorial delineations more than Hawks View Cellars, an Oregon-based winery specializing in distinctive varietals from all three states. Here they showcased their California selections, a 2011 Pinot Noir Soberanes Vineyard along with an equally luscious 2011 Syrah Garys’ Vineyard. Their apex, however, was the 2011 Syrah Cellar Series—Garys’ Vineyard, a masterful expression of the grape.

Like many of today’s wine writers, I maintain a scoring system, not for purposes of publication, per se, but rather to maintain a hierarchy for my own notes. I haven’t scrutinized the methodologies 100-point scoring systems Wine Spectator and Robert Parker employ, but I would be hard pressed to make such fine distinctions between say a 96 vs. 97 in their ratings; rather, mine roughly correlates to the 4.0 scale academies use in their grading. As such, so many of the wines here warranted scores substantially greater than the proverbial A-, I am going to restrict inclusion only to those in the top tier for the day, like the aforementioned Cellar Series Syrah.

All six of the wines Lompoc’s Loring Wine Company poured showed extraordinary complexity, but even among this collection, the 2012 Chardonnay Sierra Mar Vineyard outshone. McIntyre, which only sources estate fruit for its Pinots and Chardonnays, radiated with its “old vine” selection, the 2012 Estate Pinot Noir 25th Anniversary Santa Lucia Highlands. Similarly, Dan Morgan Lee, who produces the quasi-eponymous Morgan label, flourished with a pair of bottlings from his proprietary vineyard blocks: the 2012 Pinot Noir Twelve Clones and the equally spectacular 2012 Pinot Noir Double L Vineyard, where he also grows Syrah, Chardonnay and, atypically, Riesling.

Another winery that notably veers from the orthodoxy of the SLH trifecta: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah, Chris Weidemann’s Pelerin, which I last encountered at Wines of Danger, hit their apex here with their 2010 Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard. Manzoni made a reappearance at this tasting, with the same lineup as they had poured at In Vino Unitas, while La Rochelle showcased their SLH selections, highlighted by a spectacular 2010 Pinot Noir Sleepy Hollow Vineyard and their version of 2011 Pinot Noir Soberanes Vineyard.

Both of the Garys excelled in their own right at this tasting. Gary Franscioni highlighting the 2012 Pinot Noir under his Roar label, Gary Pisoni with the 2012 Chardonnay Soberanes Vineyard from his Lucia line. And Tondrē Alarid more than proved his mettle with his 2010 Pinot Noir Tondrē Grapefield from his eponymous Tondrē Wines.


III) Shifting focus, my next foray took me to the Oakland outpost of Campovida, the Hopland retreat center that produces a line of organic wines under its various Mendocino labels. The tasting here served as one of the several regional preludes Rhône Rangers has been hosting prior to its revamped Grand Tasting in Richmond, with select wineries from its North Coast chapter.

As with the SLH Artisans, exceptional wines were largely rule of the day, starting with the 2006 Syrah Saralee’s Vineyard from Arrowood, a winery that, along with Byron and Freemark Abbey, was bounced around in an acquisition juggernaut following Constellation’s purchase of Robert Mondavi, before finally settling in the Jackson Family Wines portfolio. Although Richard Arrowood has moved onto Amapola Creek, this splendid wine still bore his imprimatur. Charlie Dollbaum’s Carica Wines has also seen a changing of the guard, as well as the vineyards it had originally sourced, and so his superb 2009 Syrah Kick Ranch will not have a successive vintage. Nonetheless, his 2010 Siren, a Sonoma County Syrah-focused GSM blend proved even more compelling.

I tend to regard Craig Camp’s Cornerstone as a Cabernet-focused house, but here they abundantly demonstrated their versatility with Syrah. starting with their 2009 Stepping Stone Syrah, blended with 10% Grenache, followed by their showcasing of the subsequent 2010 Stepping Stone Syrah, atypically rounded out with 5% Merlot. Another Rhône iconoclast from Napa, Miner Family Winery, excelled with a bone-dry yet subtle 2011 La Diligence, their 100% Marsanne. Equally appealing—the 2011 Marsanne from JC Cellars. Complementing this white delight, winemaker Jeff Cohn reached back to his Rosenblum roots to craft an elegant 2010 Syrah Rockpile Vineyard and a stunning mélange of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Petite Sirah he modestly labeled the 2011 Misc Stuff.

Another JC’s compatriots from the East Bay Vintners Alliance, Bob Rawson’s Urbano Cellars, vastly impressed with both their 2009 Grenache Lodi and the 2010 Côte du Clements, a blend of 50% Syrah, 25% Grenache, and 25% Mourvèdre. Urbano’s frequent tablemate at these tastings, Oakland’s Urban Legend, similarly is a label I tend to associate more with Italian varietals; here, they flourished with their Rhône offerings: the 2010 Grenache Shenandoah Valley, the 2011 Syrah Cooper Ranch, and the 2020 Cuvée Lola, a distinctive blend of 45% Mourvèdre, 42% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 3% Petite Sirah.

I have striven, throughout the years I have been building the wine program for Sostevinobile, to maintain an utter objectivity about the wines we will select. Granted, I may display a small degree of partiality toward a number of wineries and winemakers who abetted my previous tenure in winery Mergers & Acquisitions (eventually, I will recount here how a series of coincidences involving Frog’s Leap and a comedy sketch by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore led me to the wine field) while the collapse of Katselis Wines has rendered my vow never to serve Αστέρι Μου a moot point; still, I ought to have a predisposition towards Kent Humphrey’s Eric Kent Wines based on our mutual renunciation of the kakocracy known as advertising to pursue the collegiality of the œnological realm. No bias needed on this day, however, to luxuriate in both his 2011 Kalen’s Big Boy Blend (100% Syrah) and the 2011 Barrel Climber Grenache—both for the wine inside the bottles and the amazing commissioned art gracing the individual labels.

If I had one, albeit slight, complaint about this tasting, it was that most of the wineries poured conservatively, not veering from the GMS mainstays on the red side, along with Petite Sirah, and the Roussanne-Marsanne-Viognier triumvirate for their whites. Christian Stark, however, showcased his 2012 Carignane Trimble Vineyard alongside impressive bottlings of the 2011 Petite Sirah Damiano Vineyard and the 2011 Syrah Eaglepoint Ranch. And William Allen, one of the prime movers on the current Rhône Rangers Board of Directors, featured Two Shepherds’ signature 2012 Grenache Blanc Saarloos Vineyard, complemented by the 2011 Syrah|Mourvèdre.

It took a bit of prodding to get host Campovida to pour their rendition of the 2012 Carignane Mendocino County from behind the bar, but it proved well worth the effort. Among their official selections for the afternoon, the standouts were the 2012 Grenache Mendocino County and a proprietary blend, the 2012 Campo di Rossa, a sublime marriage of 67% Grenache, 18% Syrah, 16% Carignane and 4% Petite Sirah.

I concluded the afternoon with Melinda Doty’s Stage Left Cellars, an Oakland winery given to some wondrously unorthodox blends, like Grenache/Cabernet Sauvignon/Mourvèdre, but here electing to prove their forte with unadorned yet excellent single varietals: the 2009 Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard from Mendocino, their 2010 The Escape Artist, a Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah, and a 2009 Petite Sirah, blended from the Yorkville Highlands’ Theopolis Vineyard and HoppeKelly Vineyards in the Russian River Valley.

Whither the truth in all these forays? Will my ceaseless efforts to catalogue the entire panoply of sustainable West Coast wines finally bear fruition in 2014 or merely serve as another intellectual pursuit? Rest assured, there was method to my madness back during my academic tenure that adapted to the rigors of my current pursuit, will carry my vision for Sostevinobile to fruition.

Quod erit demonstrandum.

Burns, baby, Burns!

An elliptical way for Your West Coast Oenophile to toast to Auld Lang Syne, usher in the New Year, wish all of our Sostevinobile readers the best in 2014, etc. If only Scotland’s greatest poet, Robert Burns, had written a tribute to wine, although his homage to Scotch may inspire me to switch to a wee dram of Talisker or Oban for these festivities.

My favorite aspect of the New Year celebrations isn’t the day itself or the night before, but the Monday following, which I have christened The Parade of the NYRs. This is a phenomenon that I’m sure occurs at every health club: the annual rush of newly-resolved fitness devotees, adorned in spanking new aerobic outfits they gifted themselves for Christmas, sworn to exercise fervently, shed 15 pounds and embark on a newer, richer—perhaps even amorous—lifestyle. Of course, 90% of these zealots will concede defeat and vanish by Valentine’s Day, reverting to a familiar and comfortable lethargy until next January 2; still, though they may create a cue to ride the elliptical trainer and clog the garage over the ensuing six weeks, for 10½ months afterwards, their MIA status subsidizes my membership!
In any case, trite as it may seem, I’m going to share a number of my own resolutions for 2014:

  1. First and foremost, I am not going to be run over by another truck as I navigate the streets of San Francisco on my new carbon frame bicycle.
  2. Should anyone should even try to steal this bicycle, I will renounce my lifelong commitment to pacifism and deal with them accordingly.
  3. I did add nearly 25 pounds after my accident and still need further physical therapy before I m restored to my optimal condition and weight. This will happen.
  4. I have ⁶⁄₇ of Sostevinobile’s funding completed. Now all I need is the digit in front of the two triple-aughts. This, too, will happen.
  5. I will keep these Sostevinobile blog entries succinct. (keep laughing)
  6. I will post these Sostevinobile blog entries in a timely fashion. (keep laughing)
  7. At long last, I will open Sostevinobile as the most dramatic wine bar in the Bay Area.
In several previous posts, I’ve alluded that big changes are afoot on the trade tasting circuit, precipitated by diminishing attendance and participation, exorbitant rental fees, and the pending renovation of the Fort Mason Center. Small tastings that can be accommodated by The Golden Gate Room, where I first attended ZAP 24 years ago, will continue, as the upcoming Santa Lucia Highlands Trade & Press Tasting affirms, but the larger mainstays have fled for newer turf and revamped formats. ZAP, for instance, has bifurcated, holding a trade tasting mid-week at Rock Wall in Alameda, then presenting a dizzying, multi-venue public session in The Presidio the ensuing weekend.
I have a number of fond associations with Fort Mason. My play Stillborn House saw its first public script-in-hand performance there. I commenced learning Italian at Museo ItaloAmericano in Building C. For several years I took Jim Cranna’s Improv Comedy Class there on Saturdays, discovering my unparalleled talent for l’esprit de l’escalier—invariably, on Sunday, I had the wittiest repartée of the group! And I concede that I attended more than a few tastings before I acquired legitimate trade & press credentials in the wine industry.
So, in return, let me highlight the last two major events I attended in 2013, starting with Family Winemakers of California’s swan song at Fort Mason. Originally I had been informed that the 2014 event would take place in Point Richmond, at the New Craneway Pavilion, to where Rhône Rangers will be relocating their 2014 Grand Tasting; now, the plan is apparently to hold this event at a yet-undesignated site in San Mateo. While Family Winemakers enthusiastically touts the benefits of a new locale, they seem less sanguine
about conceding the attrition in winery participation over the last
several years.
Of the 218 wineries on hand in 2013, Sostevinobile had established contact with all but a mere fifteen since 2009. From the top, including a number of labels I had previously sampled but inadvertently omitted from these posts, I delved into Windsor’s Balverne, a revival of the label John Kongsgaard and Doug Nalle popularized in the 1980s, reemerged with a 2012 Russian River Chardonnay, as well as a noteworthy 2012 Russian River Sauvignon Blanc and 2010 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, all crafted under Doug’s tutelage. Like Stone the Crows, Arroyo Grande’s Center of Effort had me predisposed toward their wines merely by virtue of their name, while the lineup poured here only solidified this bias. Particularly superb wines included their 2009 Chardonnay Effort and the cuvée, the 2010 Chardonnay Center of Effort;, Similarly, the 2010 Pinot Noir Effort and their red cuvée, the 2010 Pinot Noir Center of Effort excelled, while both the 2012 Chardonnay Fossil Point and the 2012 Pinot Noir Effort portended to come into their own at some later point.

Cenyth represented yet another of Barbara Banke’s single-wine projects, debuting here with its inaugural 2009 Red Blend, a Bordeaux style wine consisting of 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot and 7% Malbec from select estate vineyards in Alexander Valley, Bennett Valley and Chalk Hill. A bit more diversified, Santa Maria’s Double Bond Winery, offered distinctive renditions of a 2009 Pinot Noir Wolff Vineyard, their 2009 Syrah Larner Vineyards, and a 2011 Chardonnay Edna Ranch Vineyards.
With Julien Fayard at the winemaking helm, Napa’s EDICT poured a wide range of varietals and blends, ranging from their 2011 Oakville Sauvignon Blanc and 2010 Napa Valley Chardonnay to a 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and an utterly superb 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2011 Napa Valley Proprietary White blended Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Chardonnay and Viognier, while the 2010 Napa Valley Proprietary Red married Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec in unspecified proportions.
Without trying to be elliptical, I had judged most of the wines Healdsburg’s Ellipsis poured here at Taste TV’s New Release Wines Taste-Off but had not been introduced to winery principals Chris Sevilla and Jonathan Neisingh, and so was pleased to sample their pleasant 2011 Rosé of Sangiovese here. A similarly clever segue to introduce Eonian eludes me, yet their inaugural 2010 Eonian, an Australian-style blend of 80% Syrah with Cabernet Sauvignon, boldly eschewed the dominant paradigm for St. Helena.
In contrast, Oakville’s Galerie, yet another Barbara Banke discrete varietal venture, holds firm to Napa’s fealty to Bordeaux strictures, pouring its first selection, the 2012 Naissance Sauvignon Blanc (to be followed with release of its Cabernet selection later this year). Also from the Napa Valley, Herb Lamb may sound more like an entré that goes with Cabernet Sauvignon, not its producer, yet I was vastly impressed with both their 2010 HL Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon and from the cooler blocks of this tract, the 2010 Two Old Dogs Cabernet Sauvignon, along with their tangy new 2010 Two Old Dogs Cabernet Sauvignon.
I took a brief pause before venturing onto Hiatus Cellars, a winery that lists its address in Carlsbad but sources the grapes (I shudder to imagine, were the converse to be true!) for its 2011 Idle Hour Simpson Vineyard Barrel Select Viognier from prominent vineyards in Sonoma and Napa; their results ranged from quite appealing interpretations of a 2011 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Griffin’s Lair Vineyard and a 2012 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc to their 2007 Red Wine Julianna’s Vineyard, a blend of 39% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Franc, 22% Petit Sirah, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Zinfandel, and the apex of their efforts, the 2010 Apex, an exquisite Cabernet Sauvignon softened with 7% Merlot and 2% Malbec. Next I idled my time with Idle Hour, an Oakhurst label featuring wines from the Clarksburg, Madera, and Santa Lucia Highlands AVAs. From its perch overlooking the Fresno River, owners Anna Marie dos Remedios and Deb Payne shone with their Rhône selections, the 2011 Idle
Hour Simpson Vineyard Barrel Select Viognier
and 2010 Syrah Love Ranch Vineyard. Along with their 2010 Tempranillo Heringer Estate Vineyard, even more impressive standouts included the 2011 Cabernet Franc Heringer Estate Vineyard and the 2009 Cuvée Rouge Love Ranch Vineyard, a deft blend of 53% Mourvèdre with 47% Syrah.
I’m trying quite hard to resist any pithy observations about a wine label called Law Estate, especially in face of their splendid interpretations of several Rhône-style blends. This Paso Robles winery offered compelling nomenclature for their four wines here, not to mention the wines themselves: the 2010 Sagacious, a GMS comprised of 44% Grenache, 42% Syrah, and 14% Mourvèdre; a straight Syrah, the 2010 Intrepid; the 2010 Beguiling, a Grenache tempered with 6% Syrah; and their most esoteric 2010 Audacious, a proprietary blend of 44% Grenache, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah, and 10% Petit Sirah.
Also known for his audacious blends, esteemed winemaker David Phinney debuted his Locations label, a project highlighting the viticultural fortes of five distinct winemaking nations, here pouring his understated selection from Republic of California (“California is a country unto itself, and fittingly, an appropriate addition to the Locations family”), the non-vintage CA-2, a masterful blend of Tempranillo, Barbera, Petit Sirah, Syrah, and Grenache. Lost Canyon, the Burgundian-focused sister to Cloverdale’s Fritz Winery, showcased their 2011 Ruxton Vineyard Chardonnay and a pair of vineyard-designate Pinots: the 2010 Morelli Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir and an excellent 2010 Goff-Whitton Vineyard Pinot Noir.

O’Connell Family Wines, a Napa winery founded in 1988, certainly seems the kind of prolific producer Sostevinobile ought to have encountered long before this past summer. Happily, Family Winemakers gave remedy to this oversight and enabled me to sample through a wide swath of the numerous wines they produce under four interdependent labels. Under CE Cellars, they produced a lighthearted Sauvignon Blanc, the 2010 Levity, as well as an economical Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2010 Bash. Their Pietro label also featured a 2012 Pietro Sauvignon Blanc and a Cab, the 2010 Pietro Napa Valley, plus their 2010 Pietro Chardonnay. Other Cabernets included the ultrapremium O’Connell Family Estate bottlings and the Gabrielle Collection, here featuring both the 2010 Equilateral Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2008 Vertex Red Cuvée Blend 615.
Not to be outdone in the quest for elliptical nomenclature, Templeton’s ONX featured a sextet of esoteric blends, beginning with their 2012 Field Day, a mélange of 59% Sauvignon Blanc and 41% Viognier. The appropriately-named 2011 Brash comprised 62% Zinfandel 62%, 21% Petite Sirah and 17% Tempranillo, while the 2011 Crux added 7% Cabernet Sauvignon to a 51/16/26 GMS. The 2011 Mad Crush substituted Tempranillo for Syrah in what would have been a 65/14/21 GMS blend; the 2011 Reckoning combined 64% Syrah, 20% Petite Sirah, 8% Zinfandel, 4% Tempranillo, and 4% Grenache; most beguilingly, the 2011 Prætorian consisted of 64% Tempranillo with equal parts Grenache, Mourvèdre and Malbec rounding it out.
Simplifying matters, Pegasus Estate offered a single bottling from their Santa Ynez Valley perch, the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon., while Calistoga’s Picayune Cellars poured both their 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley and the 2011 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast. Simplicity may also mark the style of beloved Papa Francesco, but a modesty reflected in Pope Valley Winery, where an unostentatious profile belies a complexity in its viticulture, with a diverse inventory of wines, including a sparkling 2010 Blanc de Blancs, their 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford, and the 2012 Chenin Blanc Meyercamp Vineyard. Red selections ranged from the 2010 Merlot Eakle Ranch and 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Eakle Ranch to the 2010 Tre Uve, a SuperTuscan blend of 55% Sangiovese, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Merlot and the remarkable 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve.
Powell Mountain should not be confused with Calistoga’s Howell Mountain; true to form for its Paso Robles base, it straddles an affinity for both Rhône and Bordeaux grapes, with a Primitivo identified as their 2010 Zinfandel for good measure. Varietal bottlings include the 2010 Viognier, the 2010 S
yrah, a 2011 Grenache
, an outstanding 2010 Mourvèdre, and their pure Paso 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. Proprietary blends the 2010 Summit, a mélange of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Syrah, a GMS, the 2010 Ascent, and their Meritage, the 2010 Pinnacle, with 20% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 6.5% Malbec, and 6.5% Petit Verdot rounding out the Cabernet Sauvignon.
With wines from both Paso Robles and the Santa Maria Valley, Rob Murray Vineyards divvies up its wines into four disparate collections. Here they featured the 2010 Amor Fati Grenache Murmur Vineyard and its spectacular kin, the 2010 Amor Fati Syrah Murmur Vineyard. Quite pleasing was the 2010 Chardonnay Murmur Vineyard, produced as part of the Stasis collection, and the 2012 Force of Nature Pinot Gris, also from Murmur Vineyard.
Sonoma’s Saxon Brown is a seasoned Sonoma operation offering a striking range of vineyard-specific bottlings. My sampling bean with the 2011 Sémillon Cricket Creek, then segued to a contrasting pair of Chards: the exceptional 2009 Chardonnay Durrell Vineyard and the atypical 2010 Être Chardonnay Sonoma Coast, a blend with 5% each of Roussanne, Marsanne and Vermentino from Prenda Vineyards. Their two Pinots consisted of a striking 2009 Pinot Noir Parmalee-Hill and the 2009 Pinot Noir Durrell Hayfield. Several Saxon Brown wines focused on designated blocks within a parcel, as exemplified by the wondrous 2007 Syrah Parmelee-Hill Camp Block, while the 2009 Zinfandel Parmelee-Hill Stonewall contrasted favorably with their 2009 Zinfandel Fighting Brothers. And the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley proved more than a worthy coda to their diverse capabilities.
A new participant, Silver Trident, described its inaugural releases here as “our maiden voyage,” an auspicious debut, to be sure, for both their 2010 Benevolent Dictator, a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and the 2010 Twenty Seven Fathoms, a Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the Napa Valley. Another initiate, St. Helena’s Taplin Cellars, offered their first two Julien Fayard-crafted vintages, a well-rounded 2008 Terra 9 Cabernet Sauvignon and the young 2009 Terra 9 Cabernet Sauvignon.
My last stop over the two-day stretch was The Wine Foundry, a collective from Sonoma’s East 8th Street. Representing this group at Family Winemakers was Egyptian-themed Ankh, showcasing both their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and a relatively improved 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley; Ankh’s wines may not have yet achieved noteworthy distinction, but the sheer bombast of their grandiose membership program—Inundation: The Path to Eternal Allocation—certainly deserves plaudits. 
Another Wine Foundry co-tenant, Platinum Crush, also offered a modest 2007 Ink Grade Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain. Additionally, 5 Bridges paired their 2007 Tempranillo with a three year vertical of their proprietary Bordeaux (Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon): the 2005 Red, along with the 2007 and 2008 vintages.


The Wine Foundry was prominently represented at what may very well turn out to be the last major tasting at Fort Mason, this fall’s Vintners Market. Along with Ankh, 5 Bridges. and Platinum Crush, their colleagues Antonio Patric, Kaye Wines, Mulvane, and RockRoom poured inside the Reserve Room.
Antonio Patric, another Kian Tavakoli project, entitles their wine club Vignoble—not quite as lyrical as Ankh’s Inundation, but surely akin to Sostevinobile. Here I developed a definite affinity for both their 2009 La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir and their 2009 Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon, inexplicably listed as part of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA on their product sheet! Their tablemates, Mulvane, Rocco Califano’s boutique Sonoma label demarcated by its clever rebus, notably featured their 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Neal 3 Vineyard and the 2011 Syrah White Hawk Vineyard.
I found myself rather enthralled the Pinot-focused Sonoma label from owner/winemaker Ed Thralls, whose day gig consists of directing social media at < a href="http://www.flowerswinery.com" target="_blank" class="">Flowers. Under his eponymous label, he distinguished himself with both his 2012 Pinot Noir Bucher Vineyard and 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, along with an elegant 2008 Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard. Readers know that I have been an avid proponent of NVMAVA from its outset; here, I had hoped to introduce Honrama Cellars’ owners Juan José and Miriam Puentes to this association, only to learn they had become acquainted before I could discover them! And while their 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon seemed a bit early in its evolution, it did portend of intriguing releases with future vintages.

Though the name Honrama derives from a contraction meant to pay tribute to Miriam’s father, Honorio Ramírez-Mata, my linguistic propensity initially led me to suspect it was a Japanese surname. Similarly, I anticipated that Mastro Scheidt
might have produced Italian varietals, or, more aptly, wines in the
tradition of Alto Adige, aka Südtirol, the autonomous Northern Italian
region that straddles both Italian and Austro-Germanic cultures. The
truth could not have been farther away, yet I was hardly disappointed in
their 2010 Cabernet Harris Kratka Vineyard or the 2011 Generations, a blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon from Dry Creek Valley and 9% Merlot from Alexander Valley, and I especially cottoned to their 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Valley. Similarly, my presuppositions about Enoteca 5
were quickly dispelled by their emulation of St. Émilion, with a decidedly
non-Italian focus that eschewing the five principal Bordelaise varietals for but three: the Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Merlot that
predominate on the Right Bank of the Gironde River.
The winery poured two contrasting releases: the 2011 Cabernet Franc Silvaspoons Vineyard from Lodi and the 2011 Cabernet Franc Alegría Vineyard from Acorn’s highly prized Russian River Valley vineyard, then previewed their forthcoming 2012 Petit Verdot Ripken Vineyards.

I did manage to appease my Italian cravings, somewhat ironically, with St. Barthélemy Cellars, a contrarian Napa operation producing seven varietal-focused fortified wines, of which I sampled the 2003 Barbera Port before delving into the 2003 Syrah Port and the 2003 Petite Sirah Port (the Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot and Pinot Noir version will have to wait until our next encounter). And I might have had another fix, had Lucca decided to bring their 2011 Sangiovese or even their Bordeaux-Barbera blend, the 2011 Grande, but I was hardly disappointed by their 2011 Old Vine Carignane nor their astounding 2011 Old Vine Mourvèdre.

Other most impressive discoveries were the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from TwentyFour, the label produced by storied Oakland Raider Charles Woodson and, seemingly, a graphic homage to Edward Gorey, the superb 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Cameron Woodbridge’s Stormy Weather. À propos, Stephanie Cook Sedmak’s Wonderment Wines indeed proved a wonderment, starting with her delightful 2012 Dr. Stan’s Pinot Noir and utterly remarkable 2012 Campbell’s Vineyard Pinot Noir. Similarly, her wondrous 2011 Bastioni Zinfandel was nonetheless exceeded by the sheer complexity of her 2011 Burton Ranch Zinfandel.
Napa’s Holman Cellars eschewed convention to produce a most unorthodox 2010 Uncharted Vineyard Blend, an esoteric mélange of Syrah and Tempranillo, with 12% Viognier added for balance. Their 2010 Uncharted Red Wine married Cabernet Sauvignon with 28% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, while the 2010 Fate Red offered a well-rounded Bordelaise blend with an additional 8% Petit Verdot.
I was less sanguine about OFFbeat Brands2012 Zin-Phomaniac, an Old Vine Zinfandel sourced from Lodi that was long on the pun and less so on the delivery (I could not bring myself to sample their saccharine Jellybean Wines). And I hoped for more complex wines than Jamieson Ranch’s bargain brand 2012 Light Horse Pinot Noir and 2012 Light Horse Chardonnay proved. But my final discovery, Solvang’s Larner Vineyard and Winery, redeemed these disappointments with a quartet of exceptional Rhône-style wines: the 2009 Grenache, a Grenache-focused GSM dubbed the 2009 Elemental, an even more delectable 2009 Syrah, and the coup de grâce, their 2009 Reserve Syrah, an utterly spectacular wine.


Vintners Market has announced its intentions to return to Fort Mason for its Spring 2014 rendition, though I will not be surprised to see them abruptly announce a change of venue. Then again, perhaps the mass defection of the other major events will give pause to the Board of Trustees and precipitate a more favorable revision of their rental policies and pricing.
Regardless of what transpires this year, the overarching issue—from a personal standpoint—is the ongoing viability of major trade events. For some time now, I have been discussing the resurrection of an Italian varietal trade association, and have recently taken a number of steps towards realizing this vision. From the wineries’ standpoint, such an organization makes tremendous sense; as of December 2013, I had cataloged 311 West Coast wineries producing varietals and blends with Italian grapes, with 42 Italian varietals grown here (admittedly, I haven’t found anyone bottling Schioppettino yet). But the steady decline in winery participation and public attendance at each of the major trade events, coupled with the schizophrenic demands of suitable venues calls into question the wisdom of trying to found a new trade association and concomitant perennial event on par with Rhônes Rangers and T.A.P.A.S.
So let me sign off with a vetching question: should my Resolution #8 be to launch Risorgimento?

Duck die nasty

This past November marked a bit of a bittersweet milestone for Sostevinobile—one which Your West Coast Oenophile seems a tad reluctant to concede at this stage—as has been the situation with the preponderance of 2013 (in no small part from having been struck by an industrial truck while cycling back in March). So for now, let me just say it is both a
triumph and a disappointment. Fortunately, I have a phenomenal bottle
of 2009 Barbera from Mora Estate with which to console myself
.

Mora Estate is perhaps the most recent of my wine discoveries, a boutique operation in Sonoma County that focuses on esoteric Italian varietals. I’ve also had the chance to sample their soon-to-be released 2012 Rosato, a wine made predominantly from Corvina Veronese. Winemaker Fabiano Ramaci’s greatest viticultural triumph to date, however, has to be his 2009 Valpo, California’s first authentic Amarone, produced from Corvina, Molinara, Rondinella, and Negara grapes he has sourced from Alexander Valley. And to think, I thought I had a bead on almost everything being grown out here!

Much has been made lately about Lou Reed since his recent passing, and the seminal influence of his music. Debates will long rage on as to which was his signature album, but I tend to favor The Velvet Underground and Nico. The late German female vocalist who collaborated with Reed on this opus bears no relation to Sonoma’s Nico Wines, a boutique label specializing in Italian varietals, to which I was formally introduced at Mystery Wine Night, Underground Cellars launch party. I had already had the good fortune to have been wowed by Nico’s superb 2009 Dolcetto a few weeks prior, after Debbie Zachareas of Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant had casually donated it to a poolside gathering at The Gateway, and so had prearranged to meet with owner/winemaker Kevin Rogers at this ensuing tasting. Nico’s other selections included a 2012 Fiano, along with my first sampling of a California Greco di Tufo, the 2012 Il Greco, both harvested from Tanya’s Vineyard in the Russian River Valley.

My exposure to Grignolino grown on the West Coast has pretty much been limited to Heitz’ renowned Grignolino, their Grignolino Rosé, and a Guglielmo Grignolino I have yet to try. Add Nico to that list, with its 2012 Rosé, vinted from 55% Lagrein and 45% Grignolino. Kevin’s lineup also included a 2012 Barbera and a notable 2012 Moscato (95% Moscato Giallo, 5% Fiano). My other initiation at this event came from Santa Rosa’s Woodenhead, a winery that had long eluded encountering me. Here they featured an intriguing pair of their current releases: 2010 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and the 2008 Zinfandel Martinelli Road Vineyard Old Vine.
Sostevinobile is usually quite happy to extoll the efforts of fellow entrepreneurs venturing into the wine realm, particularly those that portend to abet what we are striving to accomplish (and vice versa). This sort of mutual cooperation has truly been a hallmark throughout all facets of the wine industry, a stark contrast to the ruthless competitiveness and unwritten code of “mediocrity promoting mediocrity” that demarcate the advertising/marketing sector (the ignoble profession I forsook to found this venture). Still, I am perplexed by a number of recent launches like Underground Cellar or Wine Savage, online forays from acquaintances on the wine circuit, that seem rather jejune, if not emulative of the ὕβρις that befell the now-defunct Wine Luxury.
In contrast, one venture that can Sostevinobile enthusiastically endorse is SoFi, a social finance initiative that provides a creative platform for investors to help mitigate the burden of student loans for higher education. As their mission statement proclaims, “SoFi connects investors and borrowers via school-specific lending funds. Investors receive a compelling return and borrowers reduce the cost of their student loans.”
SoFi sponsors a number of events in the Bay Area and in other key cities across the US to bring together members and potential investors, along with students who have subscribed to their programs, in a convivial atmosphere. I was graciously invited to attend their most recent wine gathering at San Francisco’s opulent Millennium Tower, in the private dining room above RN74. The demure allure of Thuy Vu quite swayed me from my task at hand, but I somehow managed to extricate myself from the sway of her pulchritude and focus on the quartet of wine labels being featured at this intimate soirée.
I, of course, had long ago been captivated by Realm Cellars, a winery producing three distinctive Cabernets showcasing three separate Napa AVAs: the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Farella Vineyard from Coombsville, the Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyard from St. Helena, and the Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard from Oakville. Similarly, I have succumbed on numerous occasions to the twins charms of Kristine Ashe and Entre Nous, and so gladly engaged General Manager Joe Filippini, here showcasing the 2010 Entre Nous Cabernet Sauvignon from their Oakville vineyards along Highway 29. The new discoveries at this event came from the inaugural bottling of Adriel Lares2010 Memento Mori, a poignant tribute to his late father cultivated from a selection of prized Cabernet Sauvignon plantings, predominantly from Beckstoffer’s George III and Las Piedras Vineyards; wine industry veteran Lee Nordlund, with whom I ought to have crossed paths at some previous point since 1982, introduced his Punch label’s 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, alongside his 2012 Proof Chardonnay.
I had the chance to taste through the full Punch/Proof lineup a month after this event, at a private release party for their fetching 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon. Other wines from Lee’s impressive lineup included Punch’s 2011 Bracero Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and the 2012 Proof Pinot Noir Anderson Valley.
I arrived at the Nordlund home that afternoon, having attended the nearby 14th Annual Mt. Veeder Appellation Tasting, an event that had been dampened—literally—by an unanticipated summer shower. As
with many attendees, I had delayed setting out from San Francisco in the hope the weather
would clear; consequently, I was still able to enjoy the last hour or so of this event with only slight impediment from the lingering drizzle. While the muddied grounds may have caused my hand-stitched Lucchese 2000s to slip a few times, this muck was definitely no revival of Pinot in the River
My first reward for persevering was an introduction to Anthem, a collaboration between industry veterans Jeff Ames (Rudius) and John Anthony Truchard (John Anthony), here showcasing their inaugural bottling, the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder. Other epiphanies here included Mithra, a œnological homage to the Zoroastrian divinity coöpted by latter-day Roman mysticism, dazzling with their gorgeous 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, and VGS Château Potelle, a reconfiguration of Château Potelle by inveterate Francophile Jean-Noël Fourmeaux du Sartel, which contrasted a selection of Bordelaise varietal bottlings: the obligatory yet nonetheless noteworthy 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, alongside remarkable renditions of a 2010 Cabernet Franc and a 2010 Merlot.
Despite my usually meticulous notes, I somehow had not recorded previous tastings with Foyt and with Lampyridae; the former comported itself ably with Foyt Family Wines #77, a 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, while Lampyridae’s wines, developed, in part, to raise funds for children with severe communication needs, excelled with both their 2010 Mount Veeder Communication Block Cabernet Sauvignon and their Syrah, the 2010 Lampyridae Vineyards Mount Veeder Communication Block Red Wine, as well as the 2009 Lampyridae Vineyards Mount Veeder Communication Block Red Wine, a blend of 66% Syrah and 34% Cabernet Sauvignon.
My previous omissions also included Progeny, who is, to the best of my knowledge, only the second winery (the other being O’Shaughnessy) growing St. Macaire in Napa, here featured their as-yet unblended standard, the 2007 Special Selection Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, while Ron Fenolio’s Veedercrest contrasted their amiable 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon with the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that was definitely hitting its stride now.
Further north of Mt. Veeder, I had earlier traversed the Valley to attend another summer tradition, Rutherford’s Day in the Dust, an event that had yet again been transposed, this time from the signature grandiose staging of Jean-Charles Boisset to a more subdued venue at BV’s production facility. Many familiar faces pouring here, with 2010 Cabs and 2012 Sauvignon Blancs predominant among the offerings. Caspar Estate, a boutique project from Cultivar’s Jody Harris and Julien Fayard, underscored the tightness of this young vintage (as opposed to the immediate approachability I found in most 2009s) with their 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford. Nonetheless, I cottoned to the 2010 Scarlett Cabernet Sauvignon McGah Family Cellars poured alongside a notable 2011 1070 Green Sauvignon Blanc.
I had always liked Sawyer Cellars, in part because of its Anglicized version of my mother’s family’s name, so was apprehensive to see it reincarnated as Foley Johnson after its acquisition by Foley Family Wines, but the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford they poured displayed a most reassuring continuity. Previous renditions of this event had proven rather homogenous in its varietal range, apart from Tres Sabores2010 Zinfandel Rutherford Estate and a sporadic selection of Petite Sirahs, so it was most welcome to find a break in this monotony from newcomer Talahalusi, Rene and Maria Haug’s iconoclastic Rhône venture. I was quite satisfied with the 2011 Roussanne Rutherford but a bit more tepid towards the 2011 Picpoul. Alors, nous verrons
Recently, it was announced that Petite Sirah had supplanted Zinfandel as Napa’s second most prolific red grape, a particularly notable feat, given the relative obscurity of the varietal only a few years ago. Efforts to rebrand the grape as Durif—a disambiguation from Syrah—have largely failed to gain any traction, and the debate on whether it should be classified as a true Rhône varietal rages on, yet amidst all this clamor, this spicy varietal has gained considerable popularity.
Yet despite its upsurgence in Napa, Petite Sirah is still very much rooted in the Livermore Valley, a distinction borne out annually by the Petite Sirah Symposium—a rare instance of this term being employed in the original Platonic nuance. Though notably smaller in scope and attendance from last ye
ar’s tribute to Jim Concannon, this year’s gathering included a number of new participants Sostevinobile had yet to have encountered. Leading alphabetically, Aaron Wines, a panelist for the symposium in addition to pouring here for the first time, impressed with their 2010 Petite Sirah-Paso Robles. Napa-based Aratas Wine, here also for the first time, offered contrasting bottlings from 2009, the 2009 Shake Ridge Ranch Petite Sirah (Amador County) and their estate grown 2009 Napa Valley Petite Sirah, along with a young 2010 version of the latter.
Many here know that I started out in the wine business helping to orchestrate Mergers & Acquisitions. Over the past year, in an effort to bolster my subsistence while negotiating Sostevinobile’s funding—contrary to appearances, I couldn’t possibly survive solely on the generosity of catered wine events I attend—I have found myself reluctantly drawn back into this practice, offering to parlay the strength of my winery knowledge for discreet investors. These endeavors led me to discover Mike Kooyman’s Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg several months ago, but I had not previously its in-house label, Clarksburg Wine Co., prior to this rendition of P.S. I Love You. Though apparently concentrating more on their white varietals, particularly the once-ubiquitous Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg comported themselves admirably with their locally-sourced 2010 Petite Sirah.
Other Sostevinobile revelations pouring here included Michael James’ Hidden Oak with a notably low alcohol (12.87%) 2009 Petite Sirah, and PaZa, a portmanteau of owners Pamela and Zane Dobson’s names, with their 2011 Petite Sirah from Placer County. I admit I am decidedly ambivalent about the name Red Soles—at least, it’s not another sappy canine label or Jack Welch tribute—but have no reservations about their 2011 Estate Petite Sirah from Paso Robles. And I am indebted to Healdsburg’s Handal-Denier, not only for their exquisite 2010 Alexander Valley Petite Sirah but for introducing me to the above-mentioned pioneers at Nico and Mora Estate.
I hadn’t encountered boutique producer Burt Street Cellars before Rosé by the Bay afforded the opportunity to sample their 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Rosé and a sneak sip of their 2012 Chardonnay Carneros-Sonoma. I also encountered Ten Acre Winery for what would be the first of many times, as they poured their striking 2012 Rosé of Pinot Noir here.
I suppose it was only fitting that both serendipities from this year’s West of West Wine Festival derived their nomenclature from the tropospheric intensity that characterizes this coastal AVA. Appropriately named 32 Winds Wine provided a veritable tour de force with their quartet of superb wines, starting with their 2011 Lucky Well U. V. Chardonnay and its sister 2011 Lucky Well U. V. Pinot Noir. As striking was their 2010 Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir, while the 2010 Maestro Pinot Noir blew the rest of this lineup away. Gros Ventre Cellars (which—oops!— I mistranslated as “big wind”) did wind up making a similarly impressive debut with three distinct bottlings, a 2011 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, the 2011 First Born Pinot Noir, and a superb 2011 Campbell Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Amid all the revisits to events the past few months, a truly outstanding debut took place at the Press Club: Wines of Danger. This intimate gathering brought together twenty relatively boutique-scale producers, the majority of which had been hitherto unknown to Sostevinobile. Some were outstanding, others admittedly lackluster, yet all were laudable in their efforts to produce wines of distinctive character. Ed Ulshafer’ and Brian Carlson’s self-referential Brian Edward poured quite amiable renditions of a 2011 Carneros Chardonnay and 2009 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with 2% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc, while Michael Simons’ Monterey-based Comanche Cellars dazzled with a wide array of varietals, including their 2010 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, blended from the Hahn, Paraiso and Sarmento Vineyards, plus a striking 2010 San Antonio Valley Tempranillo Pierce Ranch Vineyard, and superb bottlings of both the 2009 San Antonio Valley Cabernet Franc Jolon Vineyard and 2009 Arroyo Seco Syrah Mission Ranch Vineyard.
Eclecticism was the rule of thumb for Eric Laumann, whose Cambiata label derives its name from the polyphonic idiom rendering an “added tonal dimension that occurs when two chords momentarily share
properties, so that the transition has greater depth and mellifluence”
; hence, the contrast of his 2012 Cambiata Albariño and 2009 Cambiata Tannat.
This theory of musical counterpoint, first cited in the musical treatise Gradus ad Parnassum by Johann Joseph Fux, highly influenced Beethoven, to which Laumann alludes in his tributary label, Ludwig and its 2009 Hammerklavier, a unique blend of Pinot Noir and Dornfelder. And not to appear harmonious in his nomenclature, Laumann’s third label draws its inspiration from the surfing technique known as Rail 2 Rail, an apt metaphor for his unbridled 2011 Rail 2 Rail Zinfandel, a bottling of Old Vine Zinfandel grown in Lodi, the legendary riparian outpost for longboard enthusiasts!
Taking matters to a literal level, Michael and Wendy Trotta’s Eclectic Wines showcased their inaugural vintage with a sublime 2012 Viognier Dry Creek Valley, a charming 2012 Vermentino Dunnigan Hills, and their 2011 Tempranillo Sierra Foothills. In a similar vein, while there may be nothing allusive in the name Lars Björkman and Molly Hill designated for their Mt. Veeder boutique, Grow Wines did impress with their estate grown 2011 Ruhl Vineyard Chardonnay.
While
we are in stealth mode, I am not at liberty to disclose details on an inchoate venture—not wine-related, but
potentially capable of funding Sostevinobile—but I can concede that I was quite astonished that the URL for the name we chose remained available, despite deriving our moniker from a frequently-invoked, albeit semi-scatological, term from the vernacular. So, too, does it surprise me that Cuvée Wine Cellars had not been trademarked generations before Paul Rogerville founded his San Mateo County cooperative
. Though I would have preferred a greater adherence to the level of selectivity this name implies, I nonetheless enjoyed all five wines in their lineup, starting with the 2012 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc. From the previous vintage, Paul poured a 2011 Russian River Valley Chardonnay and a 2011 Pinot Noir Saralee’s Vineyard, while dipping back two previous cycles and outside Sonoma for his 2009 El Dorado Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.
Too many possibilities come to mind if I try to conjure the origins for the name Farm Life & Massa. Organically grown by Patrick Ridder, these wines contrasted widely, from a tepid 2012 Massa Sauvignon Blanc to a more energized 2009 Farm Life Red Wine, a Syrah/Petite Sirah blend. On the other hand, Maboroshi is clearly derived from 幻の光, a term meaning “trick of light;” nothing phantasmic, however, about the exceptional wines Tom and Rebecca Kisaichi produce here, including the 2012 Maboroshi Los Carneros Chardonnay and an equally compelling 2008 Maboroshi Russian River Pinot Noir. Under their Rebecca K label, the Kisaichis excelled with a NV Rebecca K North Coast Méthode Champenoise Brut and a superb 2008 Rebecca K Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.
With only one label but two states of origin, Molly Williams and Ryan Hodgins of M Autumn contrasted their Californian 2008 Napa Valley Merlot with their Oregonian 2009 Johnson Vineyard Pinot Noir. No such peregrinations demarcated Jillian Johnston’s Onesta, a Lodi—focused startup that debuted here with a splendid 2012 Grenache Blanc, a strikingly-focused 2012 Cinsault Rosé Bechthold Vineyard, and her outstanding 2011 Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard.
As more and more wineries are now releasing their 2011 Pinots, I am beginning to view this vintage as a true test of a winemaker’s craft. Some have proven quite iffy; others, like the 2011 Pinot Noir Tudor House Vineyards and the 2011 Pinot Noir Dolinsek Vineyards, both Russian Rivers Valley selections from Patrick Murray’s Paro, proved utterly wonderful. Murray also added a 2010 Pinot Noir Sunnyside Vineyard from Sonoma Mountain and a well-balanced 2010 Rosé to his lineup here.

PALE FIRE
(A Poem in Four Cantos)

     CANTO 1

     I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
     By the false azure in the windowpane
     I was the smudge of ashen fluff–and I
     Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky,
     And from the inside, too, I’d duplicate
     Myself, my lamp, an apple on a plate:
     Uncurtaining the night, I’d let dark glass
     Hang all the furniture above the grass,
     And how delightful when a fall of snow
     Covered my glimpse of lawn and reached up so
     As to make chair and bed exactly stand
     Upon that snow, out in that crystal land!

Over the years, this blog has frequently contained Gogolian allusions, not to mention the occasional Nabokovian echo, and so it was most delightful to meet Waxwing Wine Cellars, an ornithological œnological endeavor. Shades of John Shade? Alas, my citation of Pale Fire fell flat with winemaker Scott Sisemore whose forte lies with red grapes that favor the windswept chill of coastside Sonoma. A very strong 2011 Pinot Noir Spring Hill Vineyard was complemented by both the 2011 Syrah Sonoma Coast and an exceptional 2012 Pinot Noir Rosé Spring Hill Vine
yard
. On the other hand, I couldn’t place either reference from City Cellars, here pouring their 2008 Lopa, a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon & 40% Tempranillo​ and the 2009 Gianna, a Malbec/Petit Verdot medley.

Sometimes, an transparent allusion creates an impression different from what it hopes to convey, as with Calistoga’s People’s Wine Revolution, a boutique producer that sounds as if it ought to be nestled among Berkeley’s urban wineries. And while their labels tend more towards whimsy, one could certainly taste a proletariat edge to their quartet of vintages poured here, starting with the 2012 The People’s Viognier Salem Ranch from Dry Creek Valley and their Lodi-grown 2012 The People’s Grenache. Meanwhile, their unadorned 2011 Syrah Massa Ranch noticeably contrasted with the 2008 Bea’s Knees Petite Sirah, their vanguard bottling.
No pretense could be attributed to Sabrine Rodems’ Scratch, a Monterey project sourcing its fruit from both Arroyo Seco and the Santa Lucia Highlands. Certainly, both her 2011 Riesling Arroyo Seco and 2011 Grenache Arroyo Seco proved competent wines, but the 2011 Scratch Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands showcased her viticultural prowess. Further north, it took quite a bit of Internet sleuthing to uncover the Russian Ridge that gives rise to Russian Ridge Winery. Not far from the San Carlos cooperative where these wines are bottled, one can find the picturesque preserve that graces their label, an underdeveloped 3,137acre expanse that comprises a major asset of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. In keeping with the pristine beauty of this locale, their wines express a straightforward portrait of their individual terroirs, from the elegant 2012 Pinot Grigio Chiles Valley and 2011 Chardonnay Napa to the striking 2011 Petite Sirah Paso Robles and the 2011 Syrah Santa Cruz Mountains. 

In contrast, Site derives its name from a place as generic as it is obvious, much like the delightfully understated road sign puns from acclaimed muralist Rigo 23 adorning numerous San Francisco landmarks. Maverick Adelaida winemaker Jeremy Weintraub showcased five of Site bottlings from an assortment of Central Coast vineyards, starting with his superb 2012 Roussanne Stolpman Vineyard and his 2012 Viognier Larner Vineyard.

Jeremy also crafted a 2012 Grenache Larner Vineyard and an equally-appealing 2012 Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard, but his signature effort had to have been the lush, compelling 2012 Syrah Larner Vineyard.

I truly wish there had been more events that offered such a range new discoveries for Sostevinobile. As enjoyable as I have always found the Russian River Valley’s Single Vineyard Night, since La Follette’s assistant winemaker and effervescent new mother Simone Sequeira guided me through their inaugural event at the then-C. Donatiello Winery a few years back, the sole revelation this year came from Via Giusti Wines, a single-selection wine project debuting their 2011 Russian River Pinot Noir. Formerly partnered with Paso Robles’ Grand Tasting Tour, the annual Lamb Jam Tour did offer me the chance finally to meet Grace Patriot, a Sierra Foothills winery with Dartmouth roots, here featuring their 2012 Riesling alongside a striking blend of Tempranillo and Graciano, bearing the portmanteau of 2009 Tempriano and a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah mélange whimsically labeled the 2007 Aboriginal. No
t from Oregon, Napa Valley’s Corvalle poured their 2011 Framework, a Cabernet Sauvignon tempered with both Merlot and Syrah.

Canoe Ridge is a Horse Heaven Hills holding from Precept Wine, one of the largest wine holding companies on the West Coast, but a relative anomaly with its focus on Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Like Leslie Rudd’s Vintage Wine Estates and Foley Family Wines, its rivals in the current Mergers & Acquisition market, Precept gives wide latitude to its subsidiaries; this autonomy manifested itself admirably in four wines Canoe Ridge offered in complement to the featured lamb entrées: the 2012 Expedition Pinot Gris, a superb 2011 Expedition Chardonnay and 2011 Expedition Merlot, and the 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Cayucos Cellars, an independent winery from the Paso Robles AVA, offered three remarkably well-aged selections: a 2007 Chardonnay, their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2007 Syrah, matched alongside their 2005 Devils Gate Zinfandel and two curiously-named multivintage blends of Grenache and Petit Sirah, the Devils Gate x/ix and its fraternal twin, the Devils Gate ix/x.
A trip to Shone Farm, the producing winery and farm that serves as outdoor laboratory for œnology studies at Santa Rosa Junior College for the for the premier of The Press Democrat’s North Coast Wine Challenge offered quite a number of familiar faces, albeit with introductions to a handful of wineries . I had tried on numerous occasions to visit Amista as I wandered along Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg, and so was more than happy to begin this event with Mike & Vicky Farrow’s sparkling wine, the NV Blanc de Blanc Morningsong Vineyard. Here they also poured an impressive 2010 Chardonnay Morningsong Vineyard and their 2008 Syrah Morningsong Vineyard, with promises to share their full lineup when I finally do visit them. Also from Healdsburg, Estate 1856, a family-held vineyard that antedates me by a full century, impressed with their 2010 Malbec and 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, alongside their signature 2010 Bordeaux Blend, a Cabernet Sauvignon rounded out with 10% Petit Verdot and 14% Malbec.
I had only recent encountered cardiac surgeon Ramzi Derek’s Grapeheart at a WineLuv tasting, but was pleased to resample their 2010 The Beat, a proprietary blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Syrah and 17% Cabernet Franc. Also not new, but oddly missing from these pages: Trombetta, which I had met at the 2012 West of West Festival, revisited here with their 2010 Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard, an outstanding wine that managed to be overshadowed by their exquisite 2011 Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard.
Rob + Kat McDonald’s Art + Farm Wines produces a number of quirky labels that belie a solid viticultural heritage. Here they poured their 2011 The Girls in the Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc,and the 2011 The Girls in the Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, both single vineyard expressions, as well as the 2011 Circadia Chardonnay. Another seemingly unprepossessing venture, Thirty Seven Winery, situated at the Gateway to Carneros, provides yet another showcase for winemakers May-Britt and Denis Malbec, here featuring both their 2009 Pinot Noir and 2010 Chardonnay. And to my infinite surprise, they are finally making a Malbec here, as well!
An intimate return to Fort Mason from the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance brought both Lindley, with its 2011 Pinot Noir La Lomita Vineyard and Chardonnay specialists Liquid Farm into the Sostevinobile fold. Along with a 2012 Rosé Vogelzang Vineyard, Liquid Farm produced a trifecta of Chards: the 2011 White Hill Chardonnay, the 2011 Golden Slope Chardonnay, and their showstopper, the 2011 FOUR Chardonnay, a combination from Bent Rock, Radian, Huber, and Clos Pepe vineyards. If only Huber Cellars had attended, as was billed, I might have finally sampled their signature Dornfelder!
Later on, Fort Mason hosted the Anderson Valley Trade Tasting, an attenuated version of Taste of Mendocino that still managed to yield a handful of surprises. Philo’s Angel Camp Vineyard made a spectacular, if not stunning debut, with its tricolore—red, white, rosé—of estate-grown Pinot Noirs: the 2011 Pinot Noir, the rare, excruciating-to-produce 2012 Pinot Noir Blanc, and a dry 2012 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir. Had winemaker Jon Keyes the bandwidth, they could have added an orange version, as well, as exemplified by the 2011 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir Foursight poured here: a wine with limited skin contact that visually resembled the true orange color of Pinot Gris. Though I have tasted with Foursight on numerous occasions, I’d be remiss in not noting the wonderful 2011 Sémillon and the intriguing 2010 Zero New Oak Pinot Noir they also poured here.
Jackson Family Wines has also been a major player in Mergers & Acquisitions in the wine industry, with an aggressive program to acquire established vineyards like Saralee’s in Windsor, as well as Zena Crown and Gran Moraine in Oregon, since the death of founder Jess Jackson in 2011. In addition to the 14 new properties (2,800 acres) Barabara Banke has added to her late husband’s portfolio, she has continued to launch single-vineyard projects like Cardinale throughout the West Coast, represented this day by three different properties. Champs de Rêves featured their 2011 Pinot Noir Boone Ridge Vineyard, while its thematic equestrian kin, WindRacer, poured both its 2010 Anderson Valley Chardonnay and 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. Named in tribute to the progeny of Banke’s prized thoroughbred Maggy Hawk, the 2010 Jolie comes from a Pinot Noir Clone 115, while the 2010 Unforgettable features Clone 667.
It seems that I have forgotten to include Knez Winery in previous posts, but found both the 2010 Demuth Chardonnay and the 2011 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir poured here more than memorable. Not that I intend any short shrift to their 2011 Cerise Pinot Noir, either! And though I’ve often cited Scharffenberger Cellars for their sparkling wines, this tasting provided my introduction to their still wines: the 2011 Carpe Diem Pinot Noir and the 2012 Carpe Diem Chardonnay.
The most innovative winery here had to have been Lichen Estate, an organic seven-acre planting in Boonville. Their 2012 Pinot Noir proved straightforward, but their unconventional 2012 Les Pinots Noir & Gris, a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Pinot Gris, truly struck my fancy. Adding to the intrigue, their NV Solera Pinot Noir, here a preliminary blend of the 2011 and 2012 vintages, but portending to become more and more striking as subsequent years are added to the mix.
Sostevinobile wrapped up formal tasting season for 2013 with a repeat of last November’s Third Friday marathon. If only Elon Musk had already launched his Hyperloop! Imagine attending a Pinot tasting in San Francisco, staying until its conclusion, taking a leisurely shower and changing, hopping into a Hyperloop pod and arriving in Napa Valley 11 minutes later to attend a four-hour Taste & Sip extravaganza at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), then hopping back into the pod and returning to the City before midnight (all the while thumbing y
our nose at the St. Helena cop who parks outside the Greystone driveway every day)
. Oh well! Perhaps in 2113!
Nonetheless, the third annual Flavor! Napa Valley again featured the Appellation Trail, a bit pared down from its inaugural rendition, with fewer of the most prominent wineries and restaurants participating and scant sightings of the Valley’s notables in attendance. And while there were still a handful of wine labels to uncover, the more compelling aspect of this event was the chance to sample from a number of storied Napa restaurants and food purveyors. Like Redd Wood. And Morimoto Napa. Auberge du Soleil. And Morimoto Napa. Press St. Helena. And Morimoto Napa. Oenotri. And Morimoto Napa. Silverado Resort & Spa. And Morimoto Napa. Bistro Jeanty And Morimoto Napa.
So perhaps I overdid it at the Morimoto station; nevertheless, my primary focus remained on the wine discoveries. Jason Valenti, with the help of Philippe Melka, showcased his Adamvs label, a biodynamic Howell Mountain project focused solely on Cabernet Sauvignon. I found myself equally captivated by their 2010 Téres, a blend of Estate Cabernet with other Napa Valley fruit, and the to-be-released 2010 Quintvs, a blend of five distinct estate vineyard blocks. Nearby, John Skupny’s Lang & Reed joined the growing ranks of vintners producing extraordinary Cab Francs with his 2011 Two-Fourteen Cabernet Franc Napa Valley.
Montes is a Chilean conglomerate producing wines much in the same mode as Cupcake or Paul Hobbs, not restricting themselves to the confines of national boundaries but sourcing varietals from the terroirs and appellations they see befitting their wine program. Their new Napa Angel label debuted here with their easy-to drink 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, a combination of Yountville, Oak Knoll, and Coombsville fruit, and the 2008 Aurelio’s Selection, a Cabernet focused on Oak Knoll and Yountville. With the changing of the guard after the death of Marie Nichelini-Irwin, I felt Nichelini had essentially become a new label; however, their signature 2012 Old Vine Muscadelle de Boredelais, formerly (and preferably) known as Sauvignon Vert, remained, if memory serves me, true to form.
Under the tutelage of acclaimed winemaker Marco DiGiulio, Adam Braustein crafted a delightful, multiclone expression of the 2010 JBV Cabernet Sauvignon, an estate grown bottling for Jack Brooks Vineyard. And I was quite pleased to meet former Opus One winemaker Kian Takavoli and partake of the austerely named 2010 Red Wine Napa Valley he crafted for Patel Winery on Silverado Trail, a Merlot-dominant Right Bank homage tempered with Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. And I most assuredly would have loved the offerings from Stone the Crows solely for their dispassionate nomenclature, but cottoned to both the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Three Twins Vineyard (no relation to Terra Linda’s much-heralded organic Three Twins Ice Cream label) and its evolving successor, the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Three Twins Vineyard.
The Appellation Trail Tasting is always a welcome challenge to navigate and complete, but the true test of the day was making a safe and relatively unfettered drive to Greystone after the annual Pinotfest tasting at Farallon. Many have heard me complain of late of Pinot fatigue—not surprising with 12% of California’s vineyards, plus nearly 40% of Oregon’s acreage, planted to Pinot Noir, and a veritable overload of Pinot tastings throughout the latter half of the year. Still this is always a must-attend event, and will remain so, even if it continues to fall on the same day as Flavor! Napa Valley.
One of the hallmarks of this tasting is the wide selections of Oregon wineries on hand, posing a
far easier commute across San Francisco than the 10 hour trek to the Willamette Valley. And while this event afforded me the opportunity to catch up with Tendril, Domaine Serene, Soter, and Domaine Drouhin, etc., as well as mingle numerous friends from Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, and the myriad Sonoma appellations, the standout of the afternoon was the worst—and best—Pinot producer in Napa’s Rutherford AVA, El Molino, pouring an exceptional 2010
Rutherford Pinot Noir and its counterpoint, the 2011 Rutherford Chardonnay.
Lamentably, however, this event featured only a single newcomer, Paul Lato Wines, which nonetheless dazzled with two selections from a stable (several of his labels allude to horse racing) of nine distinct Pinots: the 2011 Pinot Noir C’est La Vie Wenzlau Vineyard (Sta. Rita Hills) and the superb 2011 Pinot Noir Suerte Solomon Hills Vineyard (Santa Maria Valley). This paucity of discoveries, however, wasn’t necessarily a disappointment as, I confess, had primarily hied my way over to Farallon for the delectable Seared Duck-Gizzard Confit and, particularly, the transcendant Duck-Gizzard Meatballs that always highlight this tasting
Does the duck die nasty to render these delicacies? I’ve never asked, though I am sure the process of procurement is nothing as heinous as the caged breeding and disemboweling involved in making Paté Fois Gras. And while we’re on the topic, let me close out the year with a premature resolution to once again let the grizzling on my grizzled visage return to its more luxuriant style—not the Methuselaic proportions of reinstated Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, but more a quasi-revival of last decade’s efforts to transmogrify myself into a latter day Da Vinci, adopting an appearance to complement my numerous forays, inventive and intellectual, and impending successes (to be detailed in subsequent entries here, as they coalesce) that served to redeem a most challenging 2013.

A tale of two Napas

Usually when Your West Coast Oenophile sits down to compose these installments for Sostevinobile, I have a vague outline of the post mapped out in my mind. I had originally planned to wrap up the chronicle on my summer peregrinations throughout various regions of the wine country here (any pretense I could cover my trips in a single article fell by the wayside when I hit the 4,500 word mark), but I’ve had to shelve Part II temporarily in favor a series of contrasting events I’ve attended in Napa.
The good folks at North Bay Business Journal were kind enough to issue me a media pass for their annual Impact Napa conference. I, in turn, made every effort possible to arrive at the Napa Valley Marriott bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to hear economist Chris Thornberg deliver the keynote address. But somehow my alarm failed to ring, and I found myself strolling in for the last 90 seconds of his speech. I suppose I might justify my tardiness with claims I have yet to hear a presentation by an economist that hasn’t been inexorably soporific, but I’ll demur for now and focus instead on the panel discussion that I did attend.
The Business Journal assembled a veritable marquée lineup from the Valley, with proprietors from revered wineries Araujo and Pahlmeyer, premier Merger & Acquisition specialist Mario Zepponi, and seminal vineyardist Andy Beckstoffer. Now, lest readers think I’ve taken to fawning over viticultural superstars at this juncture, be not alarmed: I am merely essaying to accentuate the tenor of this discourse, which focused largely on the rarefied niche held by Napa’s ultrapremium wineries.
Each of these panelist expounded a personal perspective on how the past few years have impacted their sector of the wine industry, and while the economic downturn may briefly have had a deleterious effect on the pace and volume of high-end sales, the wines and grapes in this echelon quickly rebounded to as robust a level as had previously been experienced.
Unlike Reaganomics, however, the economics of the wine industry have not adhered to the dictates of the dubious Laffer curve, and while the fortunes of Napa’s premier cru wineries
may have contravened the otherwise downward spiral of the general
economy, there has not been a proportionate trickle-down of prosperity to
the scores of other wineries, even in the Napa Valley, that occupy the
secondary or tertiary tiers of the industry. Yet I will readily agree
with Bart Araujo that the success and prestige of Napa’s so-called cult
wines ultimately creates a brand whose recognition and appeal
extends throughout the entire AVA and raises the value and perception of
all wines produced here.

Nonetheless, I am loath to equate these wines with the kind of vanity that defines such brands as Cartier, Prada, Hermès,
Gucci, Ferragamo, Armani, Brioni, Rolex, etc., for the mere notion of a
status symbol inherently diminishes the perception that such prominence
stems from the informed appreciation of genuine cognoscenti, not the shallowness of dilettantes buying into superficial allure. This
pretentiousness, of course, is what creates the all-too-prevalent
barriers to entry into China and other export markets where nouveau riche consumers are
driven by status consciousness. More importantly, focusing on the
prestige of a label quite often belies the true quality and complexity
of these wines—the very factors that ought to be propelling them into
the forefront
.

Admittedly, I can also be susceptible to this allure. Each year, I relish the opportunity to attend Taste of Oakville and luxuriate in a brief interlude with an amazing array of wines, each of which would easily set me back a month’s rent, if not more. And I am as likely as the label-driven neophyte to have my perception influenced by a winery’s cachet, though I would think only to a degree.

My tasting notes from this year’s event unabashedly gave the Sostevinobile equivalent of a perfect score to numerous of the cult wines poured at the Robert Mondavi facility: the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from Dalla Valle, as well as its incredibly balanced and sustained library version, the 1993 Cabernet Sauvignon; the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Ren Harris’ Paradigm and from his erstwhile real estate partner’s monument, the 2009 Screaming Eagle; host Robert Mondavi’s autonomous joint venture, the 2008 Opus One; Bond’s 2001 Vecina and quite possibly the greatest wine I have tasted since launching this phase of my wine career, their 2007 St. Eden.
Riding the cusp of this apex, Harlan Estate’s (Bond’s parent label) scintillating 2008 The Maiden; the immensely popular Rudd’s 2008 Oakville Estate; Nickel & Nickel’s elegant 2009 John C. Sullenger Cabernet Sauvignon; host Robert Mondavi’s pre-Constellation 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve; the 2009 Materium from Maybach (of the legendary automotive designers) and, again from Paradigm, the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Even at the next tier, a level at which I still accord superlatives, I could fill the roster with the veritable Rolls Royces and Bentleys (or, if you prefer, the Pétruses and La Tâches) of the Napa Valley. By no means am I demeaning these wines for their vaunted reputation—each and every one of these wines would easily garner my loftiest accolades in a blind tasting. But for every Rolex and Philippe Patek (Quintarelli and Ornellaia?) one found here, there were also as many stunning revelations from wineries that may not share the same iconic status or command a $350+ bottle price.
Both the 2009 Beckstoffer To Kalon Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2005 Beckstoffer To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon from Tor Kenward, as well as the 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon from Tierra Roja, proved every bit as astounding and complex as the Dalla Valle or Bond selections. Tierra Rioja’s 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon led a vastly impressive array of near-perfect wines, which included both the 2004 Merlot from Kelham Vineyards and the 2008 Oakville Merlot Barrel Select from Saddleback Cellars, an exquisite 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville Ranch, the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon from Vine Cliff, Vine Hill Ranchs 2008 VHR Cabernet Sauvignon, and a striking 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Vitus.
In any other milieu, I might have considered the next level the relative zenith; here, it became almost commonplace, with wines from both the more venerable labels and those less renown amply represented. My list of these exceptional wines ranged from Dalla Valle’s 2009 Collina to Flora Springs2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Holy Smoke Vineyard to the exacting 2009 Block 1 the Trail Cabernet Sauvignon from Harbison Estate. The 1993 Harlan Estate, their eponymous Meritage, dazzled, while Sangiovese virtuoso Gargiulo harmonized with both their 2009 OVX Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Money Road Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon.
Calling one’s vineyard Brix may be somewhat akin to naming the family pet Dog or Parrot, but literal nomenclature did nothing to diminish my friend Valerie Herzog’s 2005 Brix Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from her Kelleher Family Vineyards. This same vintage marked incredible bottlings for Nickel & Nickel, with their 2005 John C. Sullenger Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as for Ramey, whose 2005 Pedregral Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon rivaled its 2009 version. Similarly, Oakville East impressed with both their 2005 Exposure Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Core Stone, a true Meritage (Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc), while Oakville Ranch stood parallel with their 2007 Robert’s Blend, a varietal bottling of Cabernet Franc.
It seemed that almost every vintage in Oakville produced standouts, be it the 2006 Bonny’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Meyer Cellars or Robert Mondavi’s post-Constellation 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. Kelham pushed the proverbial envelope with a stunningly balanced 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon, while the eclectic Nils Venge poured an eclectic (for Napa) 2010 Oakville Estate Pinot Blanc from his Saddleback Cellars, in tandem with his 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.
A final detour from the Cab-dominance of this tasting came from Vitus’ 2008 Reserve Merlot; not to veer entirely from Oakville’s orthodoxy, they also flourished with the 2009 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon at the terminus of their three year vertical. last but by no means least: both the 2009 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon from Vine Cliff and the 2009 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon from Stanton Vineyards.
I could continue to list numerous wines that easily would have astounded outside the context of this tasting, but I would hope it is evident that the superb quality of the wines poured here cuts a broad swath, from the cult labels perceived as status symbols to the meticulously-crafted bottlings that garner but a portion of the allure (and the price) these highly-regarded bottlings command. Despite these superficial disparities, the consistent excellence of so many wines bespeaks the need for Napa to promote itself informatively and resist the ephemeral whims of a cult following.
Even so, I recognize that a substantial range of wines throughout the entire Napa Valley, whether a $150 Casa Piena or a $750 Scarecrow, lie well beyond the means of most consumers; in effect, all these wines serve as the vanguard of the Napa Valley brand, justly admired but usually attainable as an indulgence or special purchase. No less a part of the fabric of this storied appellation derives from those unheralded endeavors unprepossessed by fanfare and more oriented toward crafting wines with the simplicity and earnestness of that bygone era in Napa that preceded the Judgment of Paris. This is the side of Napa that has risen from the trenches (or wine cellars) but nonetheless constitutes an equally important and compelling portion of the landscape, one that has formed the backbone of the wine industry for here for numerous generations, and in no small way has given it such special character.
Perhaps nowhere is such endeavor more extolled that in the emerging wineries that comprise the Napa Sonoma Mexican American Vintners Association (NSMAVA). Now in its second year, this nascent trade alliance descent has embraced a number of Sonoma wineries, along with its original Napa members, and will soon extend its reach throughout California. But at its core lies the perseverance of self-determined individuals whose industry and fortitude empowered their rise from the relative obscurity of laboring as a bracero to the founding of labels and winery operations under their own auspices. It is an ascendancy that only a place as beholden to its agriculture—more narrowly, its wine industry—as California could engender.
Prominent among NSMAVA’s founders, Ceja Vineyards, host for this year’s Alianzas celebration, exemplifies this aspiration. Pedro and Amelia Ceja have built an estate and label in Carneros as distinguished for its varietals, blends, dessert, and sparkling wines as they are for the unbridled exuberance they bring to all their undertakings. As with many of the pioneering families in this group, their transformation evolve over 50 years and three generations, culminating in such wines as their delectable 2009 Carneros Pinot Noir.
In a similar vein, Ignacio Delgadillo Sr. & Jr. launched their eponymous label as a culmination of over three decades tending vineyards. Much to the envy of other wineries throughout the West Coast, Delgadillo is able to hold back its vintages until they reach a ripened maturity, as witnessed by their current release, the 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, a wine aged 20 months in the barrel and 5 (!) years in bottle. Arriving in California in 1991, Alex Sotelo rose from vineyard labor under the tutelage of Robert Pecota and launched his own label a decade later. Like Delgadillo, Sotelo holds his wines back far longer than is typical, resulting in well-rounded bottlings readily drinkable upon release. To wit, near-uniform excellence marked his wines six years after harvest: the 2006 Zinfandel, the 2006 Syrah, a striking 2006 Merlot, and the aptly named 2006 Big A Cabernet Sauvignon.
Nearly 50 years have passed since Salvador Renteria began picking grapes at Sterling, then methodically working his way up through foreman to establishing his highly-esteemed vineyard management company. His son Oscar furthered this ascendancy, founding winemaking ventures comprised of Salva Terra, the ultrapremium Tres Perlas, and the family’s principal label, Renteria Wines. Like many other NSMAVA wineries, Renteria excels with Napa’s white staple, a 2009 Chardonnay Carneros. Nearly as compelling: both the 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. A similar evolution—in this case, father-daughter—marks the launch of Encanto Vineyards, an intimate, boutique operation Rosauro Segura founded in tribute to her father, Don Enrique Segura, one of Napa’s first Mexican vineyard managers. Her initial offering, the 2008 Pinot Noir Carneros, a 146 case effort, has been followed by a 2009 vintage, as well as the addition of Sauvignon Blanc to her repertoire.
Rolando Herrera labored in a number of positions only tangentially related to viticulture prior to his “promotion” to the wine cellars at Stag’s Leap. Under the tutelage of Warren Winiarski, he honed his skills and eventually launched his own label in 1997. Today, Mi Sueño produces nearly 10,000 cases and offers a limited production select label, Herrera. Continuing their original varietal, the winery clearly excels with the 2008 Chardonnay Los Carneros, matched in intensity by their 2008 El Llano, a proprietary blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Other noteworthy offerings include their 2008 Pinot Noir Los Carneros and a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Coombsville.
Its physical facility is actually on the Sonoma side of Carneros, but Robledo owns vineyards in Lake County and Napa, as well. Honored as “the first
winery established by a former Mexican migrant worker” in California, its portfolio of wines includes an exceptional 2009 Pinot Noir Los Carneros from their Rancho Rincon (Napa) and a most striking 2010 Tempranillo Napa Valley. These wines are complemented by the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley–Eighth Collector’s Series, and, like Mi Sueño, a 2008 Chardonnay Los Carneros and their 2006 Los Braceros, a proprietary blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah dedicated to the contributions of the Mexican men and women recruited to work the agricultural fields here during World War II.
Having emigrated from Mexico in 1984 and working in the cellar at Robert Mondavi, Fernando Candelario launched Voces in 2001. His boutique label produces a notable 2007 Petite Sirah Napa Valley and a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, along with a more recent bottling, the 2009 Zinfandel. The age-worthiness of his wines was commendably manifest in the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, an elegantly rounded wine.
Spanning the geographical extremes of Napa, Coombsville’s Marita’s Vineyard marks the 50+ year culmination of Oaxacan-born brothers Manuel and Bulmaro Montes; their 2006 SOMA Limited Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is a testament to their vision and labor. At the northern end of the valley, Calistoga’s Maldonado Vineyards is home booth to one of Napa’s most dramatic wine caves and a highly-prized Chardonnay. Here, the 2010 Los Olivos Chardonnay proved nothing short of spectacular, on par with this varietal’s most storied producers in California. Maldonado’s versatility with white grapes extends to the 2008 Late Harvest White, a Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend, while both the 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Proprietary Red Wine (like Robledo’s Los Braceros, a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah blend) solidifies their stature.
Even a decade or two ago, it would have been unfathomable that the Napa Valley would be crafting wines more costly than a family’s weekly food budget, but I have little quarrel with the notion that many of the vintages produced here warrant inclusion with the viticultural world’s most opulent offerings. My only caveat is that these wineries should endeavor to be recognized for the superb quality of their vinification and not the patina of a status symbol.
Certainly the prestige of the so-called cult labels lends a luster to all wines in the Napa Valley, much in the same way the name Harvard or Stanford gives intellectual gravitas to all their divisions, even their business schools. And while there may be a whole separate realm within this AVA that does not yearn for the kind of limelight these leading wines command, the incongruity should not constitute a basis for undue stratification. Excellence needn’t bear correlation to price point, as many of the wines cited here have amply demonstrated.
I have no illusions that there will long remain two Napas, one that graces the glossy covers of lifestyle magazines and auction catalogs, the other that modestly dimensionalizes a family meals or intimate gathering. But for all these ostensible differences, the two remain interdependent and will continue to fortify each other, as long as each remains true to their core mission of crafting elegant wines that stand second to none. Which is why an organization like NSMAVA stands as a paragon not only for the aspirations of the itinerant laborer, but for the entire industry in the Napa Valley.

And the beat goes on…

Marching forward, Your West Coast Oenophile became mired in circumstances that compelled me to miss out on this year’s celebration of Première Napa Valley. Regrettable, of course, but with the prospect of finally launching Sostevinobile’s physical operations this year, I have vowed to return in 2013 fully credentialed as a prospective buyer.

My lapse this year meant a prolonged break from formal wine tastings until the return of In Pursuit of Balance, the very focused wine colloquium sponsored once again by Rajat Parr and Jasmine Hirsch. Though relocated from Parr’s RN74 to the Julia Morgan Ballroom atop San Francisco’s Merchant Exchange Building—a venue quite a few levels below the Michael Mina-catered cuisine from the inaugural event, the tasting drew very nearly the exact same lineup of wineries pouring, a veritable Who’s Who of restrained œnology in California.
The one newcomer this afternoon, Petaluma’s Soliste, derives its name from the Burgundian practice of reserving a barrel for the vintner’s family and friends; the goal of the winery is to make each vintage they produce seem as individually cared for. Here, the meticulous craftsmanship was readily apparent in each of the three Sonoma Coast Pinots they featured, starting with the 2009 Sonatera Vineyard Pinot Noir. The subsequent vintage introduced two new bottlings with great aplomb, the 2010 Nouveau Monde Pinot Noir and a superb 2010 Forêt Pinot Noir.
I started the tasting with Alta Maria Vineyards, a joint project from Paul Wilkins and James Ontiveros. Its 2009 Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley and 2009 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley could easily have served as benchmarks for the afternoon. James’ primary venture, Native, comported itself quite admirably with the splendid 2009 Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard Pinot Noir.
The trio who produce Anthill Farms impressed this afternoon with a trio of their wines, starting with the 2010 Tina Marie Pinot Noir from Grass Valley; while the 2009 Demuth Pinot Noir was a superb wine, the 2009 Comptche Ridge Pinot Noir proved utterly majestic. Arnot-Roberts may only boast a duo behind their winemaking, but their range should little limitation, with striking productions of their contrasting 2010 Watson Ranch Chardonnay (Napa Valley) and the 2011 Trout Gulch Vineyard Chardonnay (Santa Cruz Mountains), complemented by the surprisingly ripe 2011 Peter Martin Ray Vineyard Pinot Noir, another Santa Cruz bottling.
Many of the wineries in this group eschew restricting their viticulture exploits to a single AVA. Wind Gap’s Pax Mahle sources his fruit from the disparate appellations of both the Sonoma Coast and the Santa Cruz Mountains, and while the nature of In Pursuit of Balance restricted him from pouring some of his most interesting fare, like his Nebbiolo, Trousseau Gris, and esoteric blends, I found his contrasting Chards and Pinots here quite compelling. On the white side, the excellence of his 2009 Gap’s Crown Chardonnay (Sonoma) was nonetheless exceeded by the wondrous 2009 Woodruff Chardonnay (Santa Cruz); with the red selections, both hailing from the subsequent vintage, the 2010 Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir outshone the elegant 2010 Woodruff Pinot Noir. Similarly, Sashi Moorman’s Evening Land Vineyards spans not only Santa Barbara and Sonoma County, but traipses across state lines to the Willamette Valley to source its fruit. Here, a trio of superb wines included the 2010 Occidental Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast, the 2010 Tempest Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Rita Hills, and a truly spectacular 2010 Santa Rita Hills Estate Pinot Noir.
Another In Pursuit of Balance stalwart, Copain, always puts on a commanding presentation of their wines. Wells Guthrie featured three enticing Pinot from Anderson Valley: the 2009 Monument Tree Pinot Noir, his 2009 Kiser En Haut Pinot Noir, and the standout, the 2009 Wentzel Pinot Noir. Outpacing this trio, however, was a luscious 2010 Brousseau Chardonnay from the Chalone AVA that transects Monterey and San Benito counties. Nearby, from Calera’s “private” appellation, the Mt. Harlan AVA, Josh Jensen served up his usual array of compelling Chards and Pinots, starting with his introductory 2010 Chardonnay Central Coast. At the next level, both his 2010 Chardonnay Mt. Harlan and 2009 Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir struck concordant notes, while the 2009 Selleck Vineyard Pinot Noir outshone even the library selection: the 1998 Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir (all from Mt. Harlan).
Cabernet specialists Silver Oak produces an adjunct Pinot-focused label, Twomey Cellars, which subsumed the former Roshambo facility in Healdsburg. With grapes sourced from four distinct AVAs, their wines ran the gamut, with striking vintages from both the 2009 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and the 2009 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. Their single vineyard bottling, the 2009 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir seemed a tad less refined, while the 2010 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley paled in comparison to the preceding 2009 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley.
Not straying from Sonoma, Red Car nonetheless brought a mix of wines, beginning with an extraordinary 2010 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay from their Trolley series. Breaking pattern for the afternoon, the 2011 Boxcar Rosé was a flavorful saignée consisting of 62% Syrah and 38% Pinot Noir. A pure Pinot Noir, Red Car’s 2010 The Aphorist, proved more than enjoyable, but the 2010 Heaven & Earth Pinot Noir seemed a bit askew, like the misplaced accent aigu above the first e of “La Bohéme Vineyard” in their tasting notes. 
Neither diacriticals nor Sonoma constituted part of the picture for Sandhi, the joint Santa Rita Hills venture from Sashi Moorman and Rajat Parr. As cohost of In Pursuit of Balance, I suppose it was Rajat’s prerogative to pour six wines, which, fortuitously, did not disappoint in the least. On the white side, the trio of Chardonnays included the 2010 Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay, an impressive 2010 Bent Rock Chardonnay, and the utterly compelling 2010 Rita’s Crown Chardonnay. In tandem with the Chard, the 2010 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir proved an exceptionally balanced wine, though exceeded by both the unspecified 2010 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills and the clear favorite, the 2010 Evening Land Tempest Pinot Noir.
While the afternoon’s other host, Hirsch Vineyards, is renowned for its Pinot plantings, here the 2010 Estate Chardonnay outshone its Burgundian confrères. Nonetheless, I found much to extol about their 2010 Bohan Dillon Pinot Noir, along with the equally-appealing 2009 San Andreas Fault Pinot Noir and the 2009 Reserve Estate Pinot Noir. And, of course, I immensely enjoyed the offerings from the Sonoma Coast’s perennially popular Flowers, which showcased its 2009 Camp Meeting Ridge Chardonnay and 2009 Camp Meeting Ridge Pinot Noir, alongside the striking 2009 Sea View Ridge Estate Pinot Noir.
I can’t really say why it resonates, but Failla just sounds (when pronounced properly in Italian) like it ought to be an ultrapremium label, and with wines like their 2010 Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay and their extraordinary rendition of a 2010 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, that supposition was once again validate. Pleasing, if not striking: their 2010 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast and the 2010 Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir. And while wine cognoscenti clash over the pronunciation of Peay, little is disputed over the consistent quality of their Sonoma Coast bottlings, apart from my distinct preference for their 2009 Estate Chardonnay over its subsequent vintage. Peay’s 2010 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast may have tasted a sli
ght notch below Failla’s, but both their 2010 Pomarium Estate Pinot Noir and the 2010 Scallop Shelf Estate Pinot Noir easily rivaled it.
John Raytek’s Ceritas hails from the Sonoma Coast, too, offering a pair of vineyard-designate Chardonnays and Pinots. While the 2010 Escarpa Vineyard Pinot Noir seemed a bit young yet amiable, the 2010 Annabelle Vineyard Pinot Noir proved eminently drinkable at this stage. My preference here, however, belonged to the 2010 Porter-Bass Vineyard Chardonnay and the equally compelling 2010 Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay. I found another Sonoma Coast exhibitor, Cobb Wines, a bit more perfunctory, although its wines here were longer aged. My preference here was for the 2009 Joy Road Vineyard Chardonnay, but I still held a moderate appreciation for the 2008 Emmaline Ann Vineyard Pinot Noir and its coeval, the 2008 Rice-Spivak Vineyard Pinot Noir.
At the proximate table, Chanin offered a quartet of its Santa Barbara vintages on par with Cobb, starting with the 2009 Los Alamos Vineyard Chardonnay. I found the 2009 Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnay slightly preferable, as was the 2009 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir to the 2009 Le Bon Climat Pinot Noir, an organically-grown wine.
Au Bon Climat, of course, is a much-revered enterprise from the Santa Maria Valley that farms both the Bien Nacido and Le Bon Climat vineyards. of course, their wines would have been even more enjoyable had Jim Clendenen been on hand to pour, but nonetheless, I found the 2008 Ici/La-Bas Les Revelles a wonderful expression of an Elke Valley (Mendocino) Pinot Noir. Even more impressive: the 2007 Barham Mendelsohn Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley and the 2009 Pinot Noir Isabelle, a blend from sundry Santa Rita Hills Vineyards, including Bien Nacido, Sanford & Benedict, Talley Rincon, and Mt. Carmel.
Perhaps the most consistently superb winery on hand—at least from the standpoint of their offerings here, Freeman dazzled with a trio of their selections, headed by the 2010 Ryo-fu Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley. Equally compelling: the 2010 Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir from the same AVA, while, not surprisingly, their Sonoma Coast selection, the eponymous 2010 Akiko’s Cuvée Pinot Noir proved near flawless. I could be just as effusive about the 2008 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Freestone poured, but both the 2009 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast and the 2009 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast struck me as more modest in their scope.
Several of the wineries featured at In Pursuit of Balance offer their most compelling wines from outside the Burgundian spectrum or the Syrah selections that seem de rigeur for most of these vignerons. Lioco produces a delectable Pinot Blanc, for instance, as well as an annual proprietary blend of Carignane and Petite Sirah they call Indica. Here, however, there was much to admire in their 2010 Demuth Vineyard Chardonnay and a delicious 2010 Chardonnay Russian River Valley. A similar contrast marked their 2010 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley and the 2010 Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir. Behind the mesmerizing blue eyes of Littorai sometimes lies a most seductive late harvest Gewürztraminer called Lemon’s Folly. Still, in its absence, the five wines poured here proved nothing short of spectacular. All that prevent me from heaping superlatives on the 2010 May Canyon Vineyard Chardonnay was the startling brilliance of the 2009 Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay. And only the luscious texture of the 2009 Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir could eclipse the wonders of both the 2009 Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir and the matching 2009 The Haven Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Not every winery can boast its own private appellation, but Calera has exclusive hold on the Mt. Harlan AVA in San Benito County, a sparsely populated enclave abutting both Santa Cruz and the self-proclaimed Garlic Capital of the World, Gilroy. Here amid the Gabilan Mountains, Josh Jensen forges his revered Burgundian vintages, starting here with his entry-level 2010 Chardonnay Central Coast. Ramping up, his 2010 Chardonnay Mt. Harlan manifested an exceptional expression of the varietal, while a pair of Pinots proved his forte: the 2009 Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir and the ex
ceptional 2009 Selleck Vineyard Pinot Noir. To validate Calera’s age-worthiness, the 1998 Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir admirably held its own with these later bottlings
Having exclusive claim to represent its AVA here, Mount Eden Vineyards ably showcased the potential of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Here, they poured an abundant selection from both their primary and secondary labels, leading with 2009 Domaine Eden Chardonnay. As is appropriate, Mount Eden Vineyards’ 2007 Estate Chardonnay proved demonstrably superior, while the 2009 Estate Chardonnay tasted utterly glorious. Similarly, the 2009 Domaine Eden Pinot Noir stood as an amiable expression of the grape, while both the 2008 Estate Bottled Pinot Noir and the 2009 Estate Bottled Pinot Noir tasted markedly better.
Ventura County’s lone representative here, The Ojai Vineyard, should never be confused with an Ohio vineyard, where wine-tasting can indeed be a life-imperiling experience. And while their grapes do not derive from their home county, neither do they source such non-vinifera varietals as Niagara, Catawba or Concord from the Lake Erie shore front. What Adam Tolmach’s prolific venture does produce is an exceptional lineup of Burgundian varietals, as exemplified first by the 2008 Chardonnay Santa Barbara County and more so by an exceptional rendition of a 2009 Bien Nacido Chardonnay. The Pinot selections comprised of the 2011 Fe Ciega Pinot Noir, a remarkable wine for so early a release, and the glorious 2008 Presidio Pinot Noir.
In contrast, Miura Vineyards
lacks a specific AVA. Or a identifiable physical facility. Or even a
Website. Still, Emmanuel Kemiji crafts a beautiful array of wines,
focusing on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and (not on hand for this tasting)
Merlot. Without question, his 2009 Talley Vineyard Chardonnay stood a notch above his compelling trio of equally-impressive Pinots: the 2009 Silacci Ranch Pinot Noir from Monterey, a 2009 Williams Ranch Pinot Noir out of Anderson Valley, and Emmanuel’s personal interpretation of the 2009 Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands).
I wrapped up my session with In Pursuit of Balance with iconic producer Tyler Winery
of Santa Barbara. With grapes sourced from many of the same Santa Rita
Hills and Santa Maria Valley vineyards as many of the other presenters,
these wines began with an assurance of quality and finished with their
own flair. This was particularly evident with both the 2009 Clos Pepe Chardonnay and the 2009 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir, not as dramatic with the 2010 Dierberg Chardonnay and the 2010 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County. Justin Willett’s pinnacle, of course, was the 2010 Bien Nacido-Q Block Pinot Noir, a most superb wine with which to cap the afternoon.
I might continue to
review the other aspects of this tasting, but I suppose to refrain from
further observation would be perfectly in line with the motif of
restraint that characterizes all the wines of In Pursuit of Balance. Besides, there will always be next year, as well the many other recent events that demand Sostevinobile’s scrutiny and words.


The first of two premier annual Howell Mountain showcases takes place at San Francisco’s Bently Reserve. Like many tastings from the Napa Valley, Moving Mountains Above the Fog offered a wonderful excuse to luxuriate in the opulence of great Cabernets and other varietals. Given the myriad times I have reviewed each of the wineries pouring at this session, it behooves me, once again, simply to highlight the upper tiers from
Sostevinobile’s elusive scale for assaying the wines I sample.
Wines that I would deem very good, if not excellent, included such gems as both the 2010 Howell Mountain Estate Sauvignon Blanc and the 2007 Howell Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Bravante, Piña Napa Valley’s 2007 Buckeye Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Cap, and the 2009 Risa, a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated Meritage that White Cottage Ranch poured. Two especial treats at this level included the 2002 Howell Mountain Zinfandel Port from Summit Lake and Cornerstone’s library selection, the 1994 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.
At the next elevation up, metaphorically speaking, Black Sears Vineyards led an array of stunning Cabs with their 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. A bit older, both Blue Hall, with its 2007 Camiana Cabernet Sauvignon and Bravante with its 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, rose to the same heights. Also flourishing with 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon: Highlands Winery and my friend Bob Matousek’s Roberts+Rogers. In contrast—but by no means contrarian—the 2007 Howell Mountain Zinfandel former ZAP president Duane Dappen poured from his D-Cubed Cellars proved equally compelling.
Cornerstone superseded their earlier offering with sequentially impressive bottlings of the 2008 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. Kendall-Jackson’s La Jota matched its 2009 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon with a comparable 2009 Howell Mountain Cabernet FrancBremer Family offered twin delights with their 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and 2005 Howell Mountain Merlot.
Some day, Denis Malbec’s Notre
Vin
will produce a version of their self-referential varietal, but for now little was left wanting with their exceptional 2008 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2008 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from Marc Cohen’s Howell at the Moon commanded similar exuberance, as did the organic 2006 Estate Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from Neal Family.
At the apex of this tasting, Cimarossa arguably tends Howell Mountain’s most prized vineyard, and its extraordinary 2008 Riva di Ponente Cabernet Sauvignon well lived up to this lofty reputation. On par with this exceptional bottling, Bremer showcased their 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Cimarossa Vineyard. The resurgence of St. Helena’s Charles Krug manifested itself in their 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Rocky Ridge Vineyard while the venerable Cakebread offered an equally compelling 2008 Dancing Bear Cabernet Sauvignon. Piña’s 2008 Buckeye Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon proved a quantum leap above its previous vintage, while Dunn Vineyards cemented its prestigious reputation with both their 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and a library selection, the 1998 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.
I could wax eloquent on many more of the wines poured here, if the need for relative brevity and another backlog of events did not preclude further exposition. But to dispel any notion that my overt exuberance for the wines of Howell Mountain poured belies a reluctance to discern—or worse, a lack of critical objectivity. Perish the thought! The absence of a roast beef carving station, one of the principal allures of previous tastings, sorely impacted my endurance, even if it left my palate relatively uncompromised and may have even compelled me to consider precluding my attendance at future events—for a brief moment!


Seriously, as much as I loved the Howell Mountain tasting, I probably could not have faced sipping another Cabernet for at least a week. Which made the 15th Annual Rhône Rangers Grand Tasting three days later all the more welcome.
Now I don’t believe I have partaken in all fifteen of these sessions, but I have certainly attended Rhône Rangers from as far back as when Alban Vineyards still participated (I believe it was their 2000 Reserve Viognier that convinced me that California had, at last, achieved mastery of the varietal). But the downside to my frequency here is that it leaves a paucity of new wineries for Sostevinobile to discover.
Petrichor Vineyards is a relatively new boutique operation out of Santa Rosa, producing a scant 140 cases of their Rhône blend, the 2009 Les Trois, an anomalous mix of 86% Syrah (from two distinct clones) and 14% Grenache, an amiable wine that overshadowed the pre-release of its 2010 vintage. A more distinctive and traditional GMS blend, the 2009 Inspiration from Paso Robles’ Pear Valley Vineyard, featured 59% Syrah, 32% Grenache, and 9% Mourvèdre. Their single varietal bottlings, the 2006 Syrah and the 2009 Grenache, seemed more modest, however.
The rather understated Refugio Ranch curiously bestows Spanish epithets, derived from names for extinct languages indigenous to its Los Olivos-area tribes, on its estate Rhône blends, but there is nothing ambiguous about either the 2010 Ineseño (60% Roussanne/40% Viognier) nor the 2009 Barbereño (65% Syrah. 35% Petite Sirah). Out of Fulton (Sonoma County), Sanglier Cellars made a similarly impressive debut with a quartet of wines, starting with the 2011 Rosé du Tusque, a delightful pink rendition of a Grenache/Mourvèdre/Carignane blend. Their new alloy, the 2009 Boar’s Camp, combined 65% Syrah with 21% Grenache and 14% Cinsault, while the exceptional 2009 Rouge du Tusque married 49% Syrah, 33% Petite Sirah, and 18% Grenache. Despite Sanglier’s strong propensity for blending, the 2009 Syrah Kemp Vineyard displayed extraordinary versatility with single varietal bottlings, as well. 
Commanding a wide range of Rhône varietal
s, Santa Rosa’s Two Shepherds initially sounded as if it might be the opening to a bad Brokeback Mountain joke, but a sip of their 2010 MRV Saralee’s Vineyard, a compelling mélange of 47% Marsanne and 47% Roussanne, with 6% Viognier, quickly establishes the deftness of this enterprise. The 2010 Viognier Saralee’s Vineyard approached the same level of likability, while the 2010 Grenache Blanc Saarloos Vineyard sourced the Santa Ynez Valley to craft this wine. While the Grenache-dominant 2010 GSM Russian River Valley presented an approachable red blend, the equally balanced 2010 Syrah|Mourvèdre, also from Russian River Valley grapes, represented a far more formidable endeavor.
My final new discovery of the day came from Wesley Ashley, a relatively new winery heralding from the unpresupposing enclave of Alamo in Contra Costa County. The ironic labels for the red and white blends they call “Intelligent Design” feature an imaginary depiction of would likely constitute the least ergonomic bicycle ever built. No such folly goes into their winemaking, however, with the 2009 Intelligent Design Cuvée Blanc artfully combining 50% Viognier, 30% Roussanne, and 20% Grenache Blanc. The 2007 Intelligent Design Cuvée Rouge offered a Carignane-based blend, with Grenache, Cinsault, Petite Sirah, Mourvèdre, and Pinot Noir (!) added; in contrast the 2009 Intelligent Design Cuvée Rouge comprised 75% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 5% Petite Sirah, a radical departure that nonetheless proved evolutionary.
Having completed my discovery round, I did mange to sample from quite a few old friends and other presenters, starting with an exceptional pair of wines from Paso Robles’ Caliza: their 2009 Syrah and a 2009 Red Cohort, an extraordinary, albeit unorthodox, blend of 55% Syrah, 20% Petite Sirah, 20% Primitivo, and 5% Grenache. Also heralding from Paso Robles, one of last year’s most striking discoveries proved just as compelling the second time around, as Edward Sellers started their presentation with their 2009 Le Passage Estate, a vin blanc composed of 43% Grenache Blanc, 36% Roussanne, and 21% Marsanne. I found both the 2008 Syrah Sélectionée and the 2008 The Thief, a Syrah-based blend with 26% Mourvèdre, 12% Grenache, and 6%
Cinsault equally compelling, while the 2007 Vertigo, a traditional GMS blend, dominated these selections.

I have long been an unabashed fan of Bill Frick’s Rhône wines, but opted here to sample only the single varietals. On the white side, the 2008 Grenache Blanc Owl Hill Vineyard and the 2009 Viognier Gannon Vineyard proved excellent vintages. Even more pleasing—the 2008 Grenache Conley Vineyard. But certainly his forte turned out to be the three C’s—stratospheric bottlings of the 2008 Counoise Owl Hill Vineyard, the 2008 Cinsault Dry Creek Valley and his 2006 Carignan Mendocino County.
Down from Placerville, Holly’s Hill kept pace with their 2010 Counoise and one of the afternoon’s few single varietal bottlings of the 2009 Mourvèdre Classique. From even further north, Oregon’s Folin Cellars poured four Rogue Valley wines, ranging from a tepid 2010 Estate Petite Sirah and a genial GMS blend, the 2009 Misceo, to a distinctive 2011 Estate Viognier and the extraordinary 2008 Estate Syrah, quite possibly the best bottling of this varietal on hand this afternoon.
Quady North, Andrew Quady’s Oregon branch, focuses more on traditional wines than does his original Madera facility, with its Vermouths and fortified vintages. Here they showcased their viticultural versatility with the 2011 Pistoleta, a blend of ⅓ Viognier, ⅓Roussanne, and ⅓ Marsanne. The compellingly dry 2011 Rosé combines 40% Grenache and 60% Syrah, while their signature 2008 4.2-a Syrah proved superb. As an added treat, Quady North sampled their 2010 Bomba, a co-fermented Syrah/Grenache wine exclusively exported to Belgium.
Oregon House is an obscure hamlet 90 miles northeast of Sacramento—not even in proximity to the Oregon border—and home to Renaissance Winery,
an esoteric cultivar that has previously graced these pages.
Contrasting the evening of 35 Cabernets I sampled on my pilgrimage to
their 30th Anniversary celebration, here they featured a varied
selection of both red and white Rhônes, starting with the 2006 Roussanne Vendanges Tardives and its preferable counterpoint, the 2006 Roussanne Vin de Terroir. I found no qualitative separation between the 2005 Estate Syrah and the finely-aged 2002 Estate Syrah. The 2005 Granite Crown, an even Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend again proved on par with the other reds, as did the 2001 Claret Prestige, a blend of indeterminate components, including Syrah, while the 2006 Mediterranean Red, a less-common GMS blend focus on Mourvèdre, constituted their best offering of the afternoon
.
I won’t hazard a guess whether another allegedly cult-like practice (biodynamics) constitutes the distinguishing factor in Quivira’s superb rendition of the 2009 Estate Mourvèdre, but the wine begged for extreme accolades. Almost as distinguished—their 2009 Grenache Dry Creek Valley, while the 2009 Estate Petite Sirah, the not-so-elusive GMS Blend, the 2009 Elusive, and their exquisite 2011 Rosé (51% Mourvèdre, 18% Carignane, 18% Counoise, 7% Grenache, 6% Syrah) all proved more than delightful.
As always, it was good to see the ever-reliable Truchard Vineyards on hand. From their perch on the Napa side of Carneros, Jo Ann and Tony grow a wide variety of grapes ranging from Cabernet to Pinot Noir to Tempranillo, as befits the venerable viticulturists that they are. Here, their Rhône selections comprised of a 2010 Roussanne, their 2009 Syrah, and an indelible 2007 Late Harvest Roussanne, all estate grown. The 2011 Rosé from Napa’s Lagier Meredith showed just as compelling despite its single varietal (Syrah) base. I was even more taken by their 2007 Syrah and enthralled by the 2009 Syrah Mount Veeder. Alors! If only their newly released 2009 Mondeuse constituted a Rhône varietal!
The
Napa Valley proper rarely strays from its Bordelaise orthodoxy beyond
Chardonnay and Zinfandel, one can find the occasional iconoclast, like
Oakville‘s Miner Family, with its scintillating 2009 La Diligence Marsanne and 2008 La Diligence Syrah. On the other hand, Sonoma has a far greater breadth to the varietals it hosts, so it is not surprising to find a premier Italian varietal producer like Unti also purveying a wide selection of Rhônes, a cross-pollination readily apparent in their superb, albeit unorthodox, 2011 Cuvée Blanc, a marriage of Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc, with a healthy share of Vermentino (!) blended in. More traditionally, their 2011 Rosé is a mélange of Grenache and Mourvèdre, while the 2009 Petit Frère offers a Côtes-du-Rhône-style GMS balance. I greatly admired their 2009 Syrah, but favored the more focused 2008 Syrah Benchland, an unfiltered and unfined rendition of the varietal.
I confess being rather constrained to find any redemptive quality in the wines featured by Healdsburg’s MacLaren. Like haggis, I suppose their 2009 Syrah Drouthy Neebors is an acquired taste, while the 2009 Syrah Judge Family Vineyard tasted as if it had been farmed on the slopes of MacLaren Park in San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley. On the other hand, Tobe Sheldon probably could force-feed me haggis and make me beg for more. Nonetheless, I strove to maintain objectivity in my enthusiasm for her four wines, marked by such gems as the 2010 Vinolocity Blanc, 50% Viognier with equal parts Grenache Blanc and Roussanne and the 2008 Vinolocity Vogelzang Vineyard, a Grenache tempered with 18% Syrah. Her twin standouts, however, were the 2007 Petite Sirah Ripken Vineyard and the 2009 Weatherly Cuvée, a red blend from “50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Petite Sirah, co-fermented with Viognier skins.”
Another Sonoma winery, my friend Gerry Baldwin’s eponymous J. Baldwin Wines, previewed their lone yet luscious Rhône entrant, the 2009 Rattlesnake Ridge Petite Sirah. And though best known for Zinfandel and their Cupertino facility (along with a certain Meritage called Monte Bello), Ridge also operates a dramatically architected straw bale winery at their Lytton Springs estate in Healdsburg, from where most of their Rhône offerings originate. Much of my self-taught appreciation for varietals like Grenache, Syrah and Mataro (Mourvèdre) began with these wines, and so I was immensely pleased to visit with their 2010 Carignane Buchignani Ranch and the 2010 Petite Sirah Lytton Estate. though technically a Zinfandel, the 2006 Lytton Springs was structured with 16% Petite Sirah, and 4% Carignane; the 2007 Syrah Lytton Estate was rounded with 12% Viognier. The real treat, however, was the 1999 Syrah Lytton Estate, blending in 7% Grenache, and 1% Viognier—still a masterful wine 13 years later.
Nearly all the remaining wineries I visited base their operations in California’s Rhône Capital, Paso Robles. First, though, a trio of Bay Area vintners showcased their prodigious efforts. San Francisco’s Skylark returned to the Grand Tasting with a quintet of red wines, that included two blends: the 2009 Red Belly North Coast, a mix of 40% Carignane, 40% Grenache and 20% Syrah, and the 2009 Les Aves Mendocino, a non-Hitchcockian rendition of Carignane, rounded out with Cabernet Sauvignon (!), Grenache and Syrah. I found the 2009 Grenache Mendocino and the 2008 Syrah Rodgers Creek exceptionally appealing, while totally cottoning to the 2007 Syrah Unti Vineyard
Across the Bay Bridge, Oakland’s Stage Left led with their 2009 The Go Getter, a balanced blend of 42% Viognier, 29% Grenache Blanc, and 29% Roussanne that contrasted with its previous Viognier-dominant vintage. A traditional GMS, the superb 2009 The Globetrotter consisted of 48% Grenache, 40% Syrah, and 12% Mourvèdre, while the 2009 ExPat switched formula to 50% Syrah, 33% Petite Sirah, and 17% Grenache from its previous incarnation of 51% Mourvèdre/49% Petite Sirah. Their last offering, a debut bottling of the 2009 Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard, constituted an unblended varietal. Rounding out this tercet, Woodside’s Michael Martella comported itself with customary aplomb, overtly pleasing with its current release of both the 2008 Hammer Syrah and the 2010 Grenache Santa Cruz Mountains.
I managed to accommodate seven more wineries this afternoon, and given Sostevinobile’s dedication to the tenets of sustainability—both within our own practices and with the wines we will be selecting—it seemed prudent to inquire how Justin has fared since its acquisition by Stewart Resnick in late 2010. Of course, I and many others strain to countenance one of Paso Robles’ self-proclaimed greenest wineries
laying in the hands of 
Fiji Water, one of Earth’s most profligate circulators of non-biodegradable plastic, and though this may well be the most incomprehensible marriage since Gregg Allman and Cher (or Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts, for those born after 1970), it does seem that the winery continues to maintain its progress towards conversion to biodynamic farming and further adoption of a wide range of green implementations. Meanwhile, focusing my attention on the wines featured here, I found both the 2010 Viognier and the 2009 Syrah quite admirable, while the 2009 Savant, a proprietary blend of 77% Syrah, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon (!), and 4% Grenache stood as their most striking Rhône bottling. But, from under the table, a sneak pour of their justly acclaimed 2009 Isosceles, a blend this year of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon with 3% each of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, meant all could be forgiven.
Next up—Hearthstone, with an amiable 2009 Pearl (58% Roussanne, 42% Viognier) and the 2007 Slipstone, an exceptional blend of 65% Grenache and 35% Syrah. And while I quite appreciated the 2008 Grenache, the standout here had to have been the 2007 Lodestone, a distinguished GMS blend balancing 50% Syrah, 33% Grenache, and 17% Mourvèdre. From there, I moved onto Paso’s Finnish wonder, kukkula. a winery that never failss to enthuse me. This day, I sampled their 2010 Vaalea—43% Viognier, 29% Roussanne, and 28% Grenache Blanc, then moved on to contrast the 2009 Sisu, which blended 51% Syrah, 27% Grenache, and 22% Mourvèdre, with the even more enticing 2007 Sisu, slightly differing in its balance of 55% Syrah, 25% Grenache, and 20% Mourvèdre. On par with this latter bottling: both the 2009 Pas de Deux (58% Grenache, 42% Syrah) and the 2010 Aatto, a Mourvèdre-focused wine with liberal dashes of Grenache and Counoise added.
kukkula’s Kevin Jussila acknowledges the influence of Paso’s premier iconoclast, Stephan Asseo, whose L’Aventure sets the bar for what can be accomplished venturing outside French AOC parameters. Nowhere was this eclectic mindset more apparent—and successful—than with the 2009 Estate Cuvée, a near-flawless wine comprised of 42% Syrah, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 16% Petit Verdot. Stephan’s traditional Rhône bottling, the 2009 Côte à Côte, blended 42% Grenache, 33% Syrah, and 25% Mourvèdre, with results nearly as alluring.
I’ve had many occasions to sample my way through nearly all of the single varietals Tablas Creek produces, save their newly-released Petit Manseng, and so limited myself to just a selection of the red wines gracing their table. This winery remains at the vanguard of California Rhône producers, with an approachable second line, the 2010 Patelin de Tablas; here, the rouge bottling consisted of a traditional Syrah-focused GMS blend, with 3% Counoise added. In keeping with the strictures of Côtes-du-Rhône, the Patelin’s big brother, the 2010 Côtes de Tablas, blended the same quartet of varietals in a Grenache-focused bottling: 46% Grenache, 39% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre, and 5% Counoise. Keeping pace, their single-varietal 2009 Estate Grenache proved an exceptional vintage, while their signature effort, the 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel, showcased how extraordinary a Mourvèdre-focused blend (40% Mourvèdre, 28% Syrah, 27% Grenache, 5% Counoise) can turn out.
My last visit was bestowed on Katin, an understated virtuoso in California Rhône vinification. Three simple bottlings, all astronomically great. The 2009 Viognier Paso Robles proved near perfect; both the 2008 Syrah Glenrose Vineyard (Paso Robles) and 2008 Syrah Michaud Vineyard (Chalone) stood near flawless. It would be hard to ask more of a winery.
If only there had been more time to taste more wines! As alluded above, Sostevinobile will endeavor to sample and review as many wines as possible at next year’s gathering, particularly those we had to overlook this round. But the attrition of participating wineries and the notable paucity of attendees over the past several years does lead me to wonder about the prospects for the 16th Annual Rhône Rangers Grand Tasting. As well as gives me pause in my dilatory attempts to launch Risorgimento, a parallel consortium for Italian varietal producers.
It is a subject I will have to address in a subsequent installment here…

Ch-ch-ch-changes

It’s time I renew my commitment to keeping this blog fresh (and current). And so, now that I’ve put that most execrable year—2011—to bed, proverbially, let me plunge into the exciting slew of tastings and other wine events I have covered since the dawn of the New Year.
I realize I need to reinvigorate the content here. The arduous protraction in developing the sustainable wine bar/retail shop to which I have been slavishly (albeit happily) devoted for the past three years has created more than a bit of redundancy in the events I am covering, but recently renewed promise of catalytic investment means that a physical launch for Sostevinobile appears well within sight. And with that portent comes reinvigoration for Your West Coast Oenophile.
My first wine foray for 2012 came, as always, with ZAP, the Grand Tasting that introduced me to the pleasures of grand tasting some two decades ago. As I’ve documented many times, the nascent festival took place in the narrow confines of Fort Mason Mason’s Golden Gate Room before it mushroomed into a mammoth extravaganza, with nearly 400 wineries filling two exhibition halls. To be honest, the enormity proved intimidating even to those of us who had attended (nearly) every one of its twenty previous sessions, but for reasons that have yet to be made clear, this year’s session relocated to the Concourse Exhibition Center in San Francisco’s SoMa district.
I had expected the space to be overbearing, if not oppressive. The numerous times I have attended West Coast Green, trying to navigate the Concourse has felt like wading through a crowded subway station; this day, with lines wrapping nearly around all four sides of the building before I arrived, I braced myself for even worse congestion. Surprisingly, the scene inside was anything but daunting. With its wooden floors and mezzanines, multiple partitions, raised roof and carpeting, the block-long facility insulated and dampened the cacophony that Fort Mason’s concrete warehouse amplifies. Moreover, the Concourse’s 125,000 ft.² easily dwarfed the combined 80,000 ft.² of the Herbst Pavilion and Festival Pavilion that ZAP has occupied for the past dozen or so Januaries, making this marathon feel more like a casual stroll.
Because of my long-standing history with this event, only a handful of presenters had not been covered on these pages; only fitting, therefore, that I started off this iteration with Beekeeper Cellars, a single-wine project focused on one of Zinfandel’s most storied appellations, Rockpile. Fittingly, Ian Blackburn’s first vintage, the 2009 Zinfandel Madrone Spring Vineyard, proved absolutely stunning, a liquid paean to Clay Mauritson’s viticultural prowess. Over in Glen Ellen, Bucklin Vineyards represents a throwback to the heyday of California field blends, with Grenache, Alicante Bouchet, Petite Sirah, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Carignane, and Tempranillo interspersed among its Zinfandel vines. This random mélange was best expressed in Will Bucklin’s extraordinary and aptly-named 2009 Mixed, a wine that fell beneath the required Zinfandel threshold for ZAP but drew no complaints. His compliant entries, the 2008 Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel VOVZ (Very Old Vine Zinfandel) and its younger brethren, the 2009 Bambino Old Hill Ranch, proved exceptional wines in their own right.

To the uninitiated, Cycles Gladiator may sound more like a counterpart to Segway Polo than a wine label, and while this Lodi branch of Santa Lucia Highland’s Hahn Estates derives its name from one of the classic Velocipede models from the late 19th century, its evocative label gives the wine a perceived style all its own. Unfortunately, though, $12 wine all too often constitutes a rather mundane effort, and both the 2009 Zinfandel Lodi and the far-too-early 2010 Zinfandel Lodi made for rather tepid offerings; an earlier vintage, the 2007 Cycles Clement Zinfandel proved only marginally better. Not that a wine need be inordinately expensive to wow me, as both the 2006 Alexander Valley Zinfandel and its successor, the 2007 Alexander Valley Zinfandel from Healdsburg’s Gann Family Cellars readily demonstrated.

The Velocipede, as designed by brothers Pierre and Ernest Michaux

Of course, I am usually blind to bottle prices as I evaluate wines at the various events and tastings I attend. Poignantly, not ironically, David Hunt of Paso Robles’ Hunt Cellars displa
yed a unique deftness with œnological skills unimpeded by his retinitis pigmentosa. Little doubt to his claim that his lack of vision accentuates his other senses, as evidenced by his array of Zins and Zin-based wines, starting with his delightful trademark, 2007 Zinovation Destiny Vineyards. From there, his vinification continued on an upward trajectory to include the 2007 Zinfandel Reserve Outlaw Ridge Vineyard and the superb 2007 Rocket Man Zinfandel. This trio was accompanied by hunt’s 2006 Thriller, a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot and Syrah, and the splendid 2003 Zinful Delight, a Tawny Port-style dessert wine.

Many of the wines from Hunt take on a musical theme, no surprise given David’s successful career as a recording artist. Continuing this motif, Paul Hoffman’s Headbanger demonstrated that even at deafening decibel levels, Zins can not only rock but satisfy—to wit, the 2009 Sonoma County Zinfandel. I bypassed the usual culprits like R&B Cellars, Deep Purple and Sledgehammer, though I usually have an affinity for rock-oriented labels; canine labels, however, tend to nauseate me with their overt sentimentality. And I suppose I should hold cat labels with equal contempt, but Les Deux Chats, a whimsical, boutique producer out of Valencia deeply impressed me with their très bon 2010 Zinfandel Benito Dusi Vineyard.
From an even more improbable locale, Jerome, Arizona’s eponymous Jerome Winery gave me yet another reason to question whether Sostevinobile should augment its roster with the Grand Canyon State, notably impressing with both their 2009 Colored Soldier Zinfandel and their library selection, the 2005 Cochise Willcox Zinfandel. Of course, there is little question Napa falls well within our purview; nonetheless, stellar efforts as those displayed by Mike and Molly Hendry, with both their 2009 R. W. Moore Zinfandel and the successive 2010 R. W. Moore Zinfandel, make this even more a moot point. Similarly, following in the heels of its highly acclaimed Zinfandel blend, The Prisoner, Rutherford’s Orin Swift affirmed its standing at ZAP with the 2009 Saldo, a whimsical mix of 80% Zinfandel with 9% Petite Sirah, 8% Syrah, and 3% Grenache.
Old Moon was a curious participant at ZAP. Its 2010 California Zinfandel proved marginally drinkable, though incrementally better than its fellow Trader Joe’s exclusive offering, the famed Charles Shaw. Likewise, Unruly is one of the house labels contracted to BevMo, and while I personally respect wine buyer Wilfred Wong, I question the objectivity of his scoring their mediocre-at-best 2010 California Zinfandel at 90 points.
Sostevinobile also scores the wines I sample, but on a much different scale that is not intended for publication; still, the 2008 California Zinfandel Soulmates’ Aggie Bonpua crafted in tribute to her late brother would easily cross this mystical threshold. Meanwhile, Victor Hugo Winery from Paso Robles nominally has no connection to the great French author (although proprietor Victor Hugo Roberts does bottle wines he calls Les Mis Rosé, and Hunchback); here, he excelled with his 2009 Estate Zinfandel and a late harvest Zin, the 2009 Quasi.
Up north, the Terlato conglomerate attempted to stir up patriotic feelings with their The Federalist (a somewhat ironic designation, given their international billing). Nonetheless, their 2008 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley proved both fiscally and viticulturally quite sound, while their 2009 Dueling Pistols, a further homage to Alexander Hamilton, constituted a deft blend of Zinfandel and Syrah (of course, were they to price this wine at an even sawbuck, that would only complete the allusion). Also vinting a superb Zin blend, Trattore’s 2009 Tractor Red combined 38% Petite Sirah with Dry Creek Zinfandel, while their 2009 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley proved redolent of the famed AVA.
Speaking of Petite Sirah, perhaps the most compelling wine of the afternoon was the 2009 Estate Petite Sirah Vince Tofanelli wasn’t supposed to be pouring; mellowed with 2% Grenache, this ink-dark wine showed sumptuously now and portend seven greater grandeur with aging. These same grapes also lent balance to his 2008 Estate Zinfandel, which more than complied with ZAP’s specifications.
As much as I enjoyed the atmosphere and pace of this year’s event, I still could only wind my way to a mere fraction of the tables spread throughout this spacious complex. Among those that I did mange to sample, many truly excellent bottlings stood out, starting with the aforementioned Mauritson, which affirmed its status as the premier producers of Rockpile Zinfandel, starting with their 2010 Rockpile Ridge Vineyard Zinfandel. From another of their Rockpile plantings, the 2010 Westphall Ridge Zinfandel nearly matched this spectacular quality, while the nonetheless excellent 2010 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel seemed a slight notch below.
Validating the reputation of another premier AVA for Zinfandel, Lodi’s McCay Cellars simply wowed with their 2010 Contention Zinfandel, a wine with a Turley price point and equal to the task.Also quite compelling—the 2009 Jupiter Zinfandel, also from Lodi. Napa Zins tend to lag behind their Bordelaise counterparts, in terms of public perception; along with Turley, St. Helena’s Brown Family Estate has staked its claim not with Cabernet but with astounding wines like their 2010 Rosemary’s Block Zinfandel. Nearly as luscious was their 2010 Napa Valley Zinfandel and the always popular 2010 Chaos Theory, where 35% Cabernet Sauvignon underlies 60% Zinfandel (along with 5% Petite Sirah).
Several other wineries displayed superlative renditions of the grape, including such Sonoma stalwarts as Bella Vineyards, with their 2009 Maple Vineyard Zinfandel and Bonneau, with a near-foolproof 2009 Rockpile Zinfandel. Other killer B’s included Glen Ellen’s Baldwin Wines, pouring an enticing 2009 Slater Zinfandel and their 2007 Dawn Hill Ranch Zinfandel; Hopland’s venerable Brutocao Cellars, showcasing the 2007 Reserve Zinfandel Mendocino; and, from Ravenswood’s scion Morgan Peterson’s Bedrock Wine, the 2009 Dolinsek Ranch Heirloom Wine (60% Zinfandel, with Charbono, Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet and “a few other varietals”).
My friend Ray Teldeschi’s Del Carlo once again showed their redoubtable command of this varietal with their 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel, while Hartford Family Wines once again proved their mettle with both the 2010 Highwire Zinfandel and, from their library, the 2005 Hartford Vineyard Zinfandel. Another Lodi standout, Harney Lane, showcased a jammy 2009 Zinfandel Lizzy James Vineyard, while Placerville’s Lava Cap, an inveterate Rhône specialist, excelled here with their 2008 Zinfandel Reserve, alongside an impressive bottling of the 2009 Zinfandel Spring House.
Miro Cellars in Cloverdale usually stakes its claim with their catalog of Petite Sirahs, but here manifested equal versatility with their 2010 Grist Vineyard Zinfandel. Rock Wall, the successor to Zinfandel legend Rosenblum Cellars, extended their prodigious reputation with a striking 2010 Obsidian, an equal blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. Keeping pace, Healdsburg’s understated Simoncini dazzled with their 2009 Estate Zinfandel. Another understated endeavor, Lodi’s Van Ruiten also impressed with their 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel.
I finished up my rounds with a couple of long-standing familiars. Julie Johnson’s Tres Sabores flourished with their usual aplomb, matching the quality of their 2009 Estate Zinfandel with their proprietary 2009 ¿Porqué No?, a Zinfandel rounded out with Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. And the peripatetic Starry Night poured their extensive lineup of Zins, headlined by the 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel Nervo Station, a superb selection.
I did manage to sample from another dozen or so wineries I have reviewed extensively here and could not fit in the other 150 or so spread out among this complex. No matter—their fare has been extensively covered in previous Sostevinobile entries and all will be given equally opportunity to present their wines to our tasting panel, once we begin acquiring inventory.

Spectacular wines aside, the true star of this tasting had to have been its new locale at the Concourse
. Spacious, airy, well-partitioned, with abundant light, and, most significantly, dampened acoustics, this SOMA destination turned what had grown, frankly, into an overwhelming tasting into an event that approached manageability, albeit a few glitches that I am sure will be worked out when ZAP 2013 returns next year.


I had been lead to believe ZAP had switched settings this year to accommodate the long-awaited renovations to the piers at Fort Mason, but apparently other matters were at play. The next weekend, The Golden Glass returned to Herbst Pavilion after its 18 month absence, having taken a hiatus in 2011. Besides shifting to a winter time slot, this showcase for Slow Food had was compelled to alter its local wine focus, now that Taste of Mendocino has spun off into its own full-fledged event.
Golden Glass was once again dominated by Italian wines, not surprising given that my good friend and Slow Food San Francisco’s founder Lorenzo Scarpone imports wine through his principal business, Villa Italia. The California selection were but a smattering, with 10 wineries on hand, along with a small selection from the Central Coast’s Sustainability in Practice (SIP) certification ranks and several Golden Glass honorees, which were poured in absentia.
One of the winners, VML, represented the latest incarnation of the former Belvedere Winery, coincidentally the facility where I bottled my first custom label some 22 years ago. Now part of H.D.D. Wines (the initials for Hurst Dolan Dolan), VML (the initials of winemaker Virgina Marie Lambrix) showcased an exceptional, biodynamically-grown 2010 Boudreaux Vineyard Pinot Noir. Also heralding from the Russian River Valley, La Follette medaled for both its 2009 Pinot Noir Van Der Kamp Vineyard and the 2010 Pinot Meunier Van Der Kamp Vineyard.
I confess to having, on occasion, less than objective attitudes on certain matters. Most large-scale winery operations do not readily come to mind when I think of Slow Food and sustainability, and, as such, it was a tad surprising to find Wente and J. Lohr among the lauded labels here. Still, such preconceptions proved erroneous (Lohr’s operating slogan is “Respecting Nature, Nurturing Balance”) and in no way reflected on my appreciation for the quality of the wines they poured. I was particularly taken with Wente’s 2010 Riva Ranch Chardonnay, as well as J. Lohr’s 2010 October Night Chardonnay. I also cottoned to the latter’s 2010 Tower Road Petite Sirah and Wente’s 2009 Southern Hills Cabernet Sauvignon.
An early proponent of biodynamic farming, Grgich Hills is no stranger to acclaim for its Chardonnay, as exemplified by the 2009 Chardonnay Napa Valley they poured here. Equally appealing: the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and their 2008 Zinfandel Napa Valley. Another early biodynamic proponent, Robert Sinskey Vineyards, offered an impressive trio from their inventory starting with their signature 2008 Pinot Noir Three Amigos Vineyard from the Napa side of the Carneros AVA. Sinskey’s hallmark is to craft their wines in Burgundian fashion, no matter what its origins; this restrained approach readily presented itself in their 2006 Marcien, a Right Bank-focused Bordelaise blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

While I generally appreciate the overall validity of certain applied agricultural practices that constitute the core organic elements of Rudolf Steiner’s proscriptions for biodynamic farming, I am far less sanguine about embracing its numerous cosmological incantations, finding them far closer to the mystic theology and precepts of Gnosticism, or the transcendental enlightenment espoused by such noted Sri Chinmoy devotees as Mahavishnu John McLaughlin and Devadip Carlos Santana, than to precisions of quantifiable science. From this ætherial connection comes Sinskey’s 2010 Abraxas (Αβραξας), a striking vin de terroir from the Scintilla Sonoma Vineyard, blended from the four classic Alsatian white varietals: Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Blanc.

Down from Folio Fine Wines, Michael Mondavi’s new Oberon Wines made its Golden Glass debut with a mix of wines that ranged from a passable 2010 Sauvignon Blanc to a fairly impressive 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. In between, the 2007 Hillside Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon proved enjoyable but less than spectacular for such a universally consistent Napa vintage.

I felt similarly tepid about several of the other entrants here, including Think Tank Wines, which appeared here with a disparate selection of wines from random AVAs throughout California. Still, their effort was commendable for their 2008 La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Sta. Rita Hills, the 2008 White Hawk Vineyard Syrah from Santa Barbara, and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon out of Napa Valley. Similarly, sister operations Loredona Vineyards, with their 2010 Viognier, and Noble Wines, with their 2010 446 Chardonnay, may well represent the evolution of Central Valley powerhouse Delicato Family Wines, but here made only slight impression.
The representative wines SIP poured varied widely, as well. Always impressive—the 2008 Monterey Pinot Noir from Carmel Road. Less so—Tangent’s 2010 Albariño Edna Valley. In between—the 2009 Syrah Paso Robles from Templeton’s Pomar Junction. Another winery, pouring for itself, that has always impressed me is Santa Cruz’ Clos LaChance. Here their 2010 Estate Viognier served as a most worthy complement to the exceptional 2008 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir.
As readers here know, my friends from Clos Saron can vary incredibly with the outcome of their natural winemaking, a risk they proudly undertake. This afternoon, the selected wines were spot-on, in particular the 2006 Heart of Stone Syrah. Equally appealing were the 2009 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard and appropriately-labeled 2011 Carte Blanche, a stunning blend of Albariño, Verdelho, Chardonnay, and Petit Manseng, a varietal rarely found in California.
The final California representatives pouring at Golden Glass, Ca’ Momi, offered a likable array of Napa vintages,ranging from the 2010 Napa Valley Chardonnay to a most striking 2010 Napa Valley Zinfandel. Both their 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Napa Valley Pinot Noir seemed a slightly less developed, but the NV Ca’ Secco, a sparkling wine derived from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Muscat, proved quite intriguing.
Ca’ Momi posed a bit on an anomaly at this event, albeit a pleasant one at that. As an offshoot of the Ca’ Momi Enoteca in downtown Napa, it enjoyed the enviable distinction of being both wine and food purveyor at this event. And to be honest, Golden Glass is not so much a wine expo as a guilty pleasure in indulging in some of San Francisco’s finest Italian restaurants: the authentically Neapolitan A16, Acquerello, Delfina, È Tutto Qua, Farina, Ristobar/Emporio Rulli, and Alameda’s C’era Una Volta. Once upon a time, this event was solely the purview of Italian cuisine, but its resurrection included other such Slow Food purveyors as Bi-Rite Creamery, perennial favorite Gott’s Roadside, Serpentine/Slow Club, Izakaya Yuzuki, Thirsty Bear, and Charles Phan’s new Wo Hing General Store.
Clearly Golden Glass is a celebration of sustainable wine and extraordinary cuisine that serves as an homage not just to how food ought to be enjoyed but to the indelible fabric of human society, whose foundation arguably stems from communal eating. Sostevinobile’s participation here isn’t merely an investigation into wine but a solidarity in the wish that the æsthetics embodied here extend far beyond a single day’s extravaganza and become incorporated into every day livi
ng.


Lest it seem that I glossed over the abundance of Italian wines poured at Golden Glass, I do hope my readers understand that I did sample many, even if I do not intend to include them in this blog’s roster of wines from California, Washington, and Oregon. My purpose, as always, is first to gain a broader understanding of the wealth of varietals being vinified and to develop an appreciation for the contrast one finds in the interpretations of the same grapes and blends made here with their counterparts in the Old World and other wine-producing regions.
I managed to attend two other Italian wine tastings after Golden Glass, Italian Wine Masters at Terra Gallery on Rincon Hill and Tre Bicchieri at Fort Mason. For the uninitiated (including myself), Tre Bicchieri is the highest classification awarded a wine by the prestigious Italian food and wine publication Gambero Rosso—somewhat analogous to earning a coveted three star Michelin rating. Oddly, though, I found the wines poured at Italian Wine Masters, a due bicchieri event, far more approachable, a phenomenon I attribute in part to having a California palate. And while many of the Chianti, Barolo, and Nobile di Montepulciano wines proved quite delectable, even with my pronounced predilection for Sangiovese, I could not say that I found any that would make me rue Sostevinobile’s restriction to wines grown within the 750 mile radius of our home base.
It could be argued that many of the wines at Tre Bicchieri, as well as Golden Glass and even Italian Wine Masters demanded food pairing in order to be fully appreciated. I have no problem conceding this point. Nonetheless, at the risk of alienating many of San Francisco’s notable sommeliers, wines served at a wine bar need first and foremost to be quaffable in their own right, with food friendliness, alas, being a subordinate quality. Not that a great wine can’t fulfill both criteria.


A couple of perennial tastings punctuated the mid-winter doldrums with their usual array of impressive wine. The always delightful In Vino Unitas took place at the revived Press Club, with 19 small, handcrafted wineries on hand to pour their directly distributed wines. This far-flung coalition includes winemakers from Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Amador, the Santa Lucia Highlands, and Santa Cruz Mountains and ranges from venerable producers, like Heitz and Grgich Hills, to new ventures, like Kenzo.
This latter endeavor comprises a brand new, $100,000,000 Napa estate developed by Kenzo Tsujimoto, CEO of video game giant Capcom; Tsujimoto has enlisted the zenith of Napa luminaries from Hedi Barrett to craft his wines and David Abreu to manage his vineyards to having French Laundry’s Thomas Keller create his tasting room menu. Still, this lavish expenditure has yet to pay off in the quality of his wines, the 2010 Asatsuyu, a Sauvignon Blanc, and his Bordeaux blend, the 2008 Rindo; while both wines were indeed quite enjoyable, they did not rise to the level one might expect from such a prodigious undertaking.
As the remaining participants have all poured for Sostevinobile on one or more occasions, I of course had reasonable expectations for each, and failed to be disappointed by any, beginning with Buoncristiani, whose flagship 2007 OPC, a proprietary blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Syrah, 17% Merlot and 10% Malbec, easily exceeded the several past vintages I have sampled. Also portending greatness: their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.
St Helena’s Ehlers Estate scored as favorably with their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon 1886, as did Far Niente, with their exceptional 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Estate. Sister label Nickel & Nickel also shone with a glorious rendition of their 2010 Chardonnay Truchard Vineyard. Easily matching with their own Napa duet, the 2010 Unity Chardonnay and their trademark 2007 Coach Insignia Cabernet Sauvignon, Fisher Vineyards outpaced even themselves with a pair of remarkable Sonoma vintages, the 2008 Mountain Estate Chardonnay and the 2007 Wedding Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
Just when I thought I might have hit the apex for the afternoon, Heitz dazzled with it widely acclaimed 2006 Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. And their non-vintage Ink Grade Port, a deft blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Sauzão, Tinta Cão, Tinta Bairrada, Tinta Madeira, Tinta Amarela and Bastardo, might well have met the criterion for perfection had they not poured the flawless 2001 Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, a library reserve.
Meyer Family crafts their California Port purely from Old Vine Zinfandel, employing the Solera proces
s, which consists of annually topping each barrel with subsequent vintages to create a continually-evolving non-vintage blend. Other artisans showcasing distinctive blends included Krupp Brothers, whose 2007 Syncrony Stagecoach Vineyard combined 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 43% Cabernet Franc, with 5% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec and 3% Merlot, and Gemstone, which contrasted their Cab-focused 2009 Estate Red (71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc) alongside their 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville.
Napa Cabs did not necessarily dominate this tasting, but there was certainly a preponderance on hand, including both the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Dust Vineyard and the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Estate from Neal Family Vineyards and a more than amiable 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley from Jericho Canyon. The aforementioned Heidi Barrett’s own label, La Sirena made their presence known with her 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, as well as with the 2006 Syrah Napa Valley.
With his family’s label now in Gallo’s capable hands, Steve Mirassou has vaulted to the forefront of Livermore winemakers with his eponymous Steven Kent label; here, the 2008 Petit Verdot Ghielmetti Vineyard dramatically displayed redolence of the varietal’s intense character. Amador’s Yorba, a winery that blurs the lines between Italian, Spanish, Rhône, and homegrown varietals, flourished with their 2007 Zinfandel Shake Ridge Vineyards, as well as the 2007 Shake Ridge Red, an esoteric blend of Syrah, Primitivo, Petite Sirah, Mourvèdre, Malbec, and Merlot (of course, I’d be remiss in not citing their 2008 Barbera Shake Ridge Vineyard or noting that they have just planted my people’s Greco di Tufo, which will be ready for bottling in 20??) .
Little surprise that their 2008 Chardonnay Napa Valley represented Grgich Hills strongest effort, though this vintage did not quite rise to the levels I have come to expect. More to my taste—the 2009 Chardonnay Premier Reserve Anderson Valley’s Navarro poured, alongside the striking 2010 Pinot Gris and their 2006 Late Harvest Cluster Select Gewürztraminer. Likewise, Los Gatos’ Testarossa shone most brightly with their 2009 Chardonnay Rosella’s Vineyard among the three Chardonnays they had on hand.
The Central Coast was well represented by La Rochelle, a Pinot-focused effort also from Steven Kent Mirassou, highly impressing with their 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands and an extraordinary 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains. On par with these vintages: the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands that Caraccioli Cellars poured.
Caraccioli did not participate in the San Francisco debut of the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans tasting in the Golden Gate Room at Fort Mason. Although this event mirrored much of September’s tasting in Walnut Creek, many discoveries could be made. I relished the 2009 Estate Chardonnay from Boekenoogen, as well as the 2010 Chardonnay Sierra Mar Vineyard that distinguished Roar. As per usual, Talbott excelled with their 2010 Chardonnay Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, while Pisoni’s Lucia label showcased both an impressive 2010 Chardonnay Soberanes Vineyard and the 2010 Syrah Garys’ Vineyard.
A reassuringly reliable presence at tastings for this appellation, Manzoni poured a delightful 2008 Chardonnay Lucia Highland Vineyard and their 2010 Pinot Gris North Highlands’ Cuvée. Ray Franscioni’s Santa Lucia Highlands label, Puma Road, favorably contrasted his 2010 Unoaked Chardonnay Black Mountain Vineyard to its oaked counterpart while delighting with the 2009 Pinot Gris Black Mountain Vineyard (oak complexity not specified). Tondrē made a rare appearance, touting both their 2010 Chardonnay Tondrē Grapefield and a spectacular 2009 Pinot Noir Tondrē Grapefield. Testarossa returned here and added both the 2009 Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard and a superb 2010 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands to their repertoire from In Vino Unitas.
Another repeat attendee, La Rochelle augmented their earlier showing with their 2008 Pinot Noir Sleepy Hollow Block A. A previously unfamiliar winery, Mansfield-Dunne, debuted here with their 2010 Pinot Noir Peterson Vineyard; also new to Sostevinobile, Mooney featured a pair of Pinots, the 2010 Pinot Noir Boekenoogen and the 2010 Pinot Noir Vigna Monte Nero.
Mooney also (clandestinely) featured a distinctive 2008 Mourvèdre Paso Robles, from where they also derive their Grenache and Grenache Blanc. I found it somewhat odd that more Rhône varietals were not grown in the Santa Lucia Highlands, given the prevalence of Syrah at this tasting. Emmanuel Kemiji’s Miura complemented their superb 2009 Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard with the 2007 Antiqv2s Syrah Pisoni Vineyard. Both the 2009 Syrah Doctor’s Vineyard and the 2009 Pinot Noir McIntyre Vineyard from Wrath proved extraordinary. Siduri held court with its usual aplomb, impressing not only with their interpretation of a 2009 Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard and a 2009 Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard, but even more strikingly with their 2009 Syrah Rosella’s Vineyard under their Novy label.
A perennial favorite, the 2008 Les Violettes Paraiso Vineyard from Pelerin proved once again a most delectable Syrah. Even more delightful: their 2010 Chardonnay Sierra Mar Vineyard and the 2008 Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard. Other impressive Pinots came from Tudor, whose 2006 Pinot Noir SLH stood up to the far more recent vintages others poured here; Pessagno, with a double offering of their 2009 Pinot Noir Lucia Highland Vineyard and their estate-grown 2009 Pinot Noir Four Boys Vineyard; Sequana, whose sole representation consisted of their 2009 Pinot Noir SLH; and KORi, with their only bottling, the 2010 Pinot Noir KW Ranch.
I would be utterly remiss in not in not giving special appreciation for the superb 2008 Pinot Noir Fâite that Paraiso pured alongside their estate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The SLH appelation’s leading advocate, Morgan, impressed with a 2010 Pinot Noir Twelve Clones, while McIntyre made their strongest statement with both the 2009 Pinot Noir Estate and their crown jewel, the 2009 Pinot Noir Block 3.
Finally, Belle Glos rounded out the afternoon with the 2010 Pinot Noir Las Alturas Vineyard, while the ever-luxuriant Bernardus delivered a plush version of their 2009 Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard.
Regretfully, Hahn/Lucienne and August West had depleted their inventory before I could reach their tables, but I have had and will continue to have multiple opportunities to taste through their offerings. Kosta Browne had poured the last of their 2009 Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard and 2009 Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard even before I arrived, but such will be my lot on occasion. All-in-all, I had probably sampled enough wines to get anyone through their winter doldrums. Or maybe not.


Nearly every trade tasting has a familiar corps of attendees, with an unspoken camaraderie that parallels the cooperative spirit that permeates the wine industry. Some are hardcore bloggers from whose meticulous notes I sometimes borrow when my own degenerated penmanship fails me. Some are wine buyers or sommeliers. Others may be entrepreneurs, like Sostevinobile, striving to put together the next Big Thing in wine, while others still are obviously poseurs simply out for a good time. 
My point is not to delineate the legitimacy of my fellow œnophiles as it is to highlight that we all approach these gatherings with different agenda. For myself, it is as much a survey of attendee demographics, particularly during events’ public hours, as it is in making the acquaintance of as many wineries as I am able. As such, it was an exercise in crowd study that led me, at long last, to attend the gargantuan of public tastings, the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Thousands of people attend this annual event. Thousands of wines are entered into the competition, and nearly as many thousand win some sort of medal. What does it mean to wine a Silver Medal for Riesling with under 1.49% Residual Sugar, a slam-dunk for Long Island’s Castello di Borghese, or the highly-coveted Double Gold for Merlot under $9.99, a coup for Hacienda Cellars, a rising star in Bronco Wine’s firmament, alongside its premium Charles Shaw and Salmon Creek labels. Gallo’s bulk superstar, Barefoot Cellars, formerly a fairly-respected label known as Barefoot Bynum, managed to garner an impressive 11 medals in various sub-$10 categories alone. But for every White Blush winner like the 2010 Austin St. Comanche Rose from Texas’ Brennan Vineyards, one could find a genuine gem like the 2009 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley from Oregon’s Brooks Wine or the 2010 Chardonnay from Dolin Malibu Estate.
My appreciation for what is billed as “the world’s largest competition of American wines” is largely tempered by the realization that this isn’t an industry tasting nor an objective judging by a panel of professional wine writers, but a raw, commercial venture that seems geared toward preserving the phenomenon, with little regard for the finer details that demarcate the more respected events I have chronicled with regularity. The organizers neglected to provide a tasting program or table guide that might have enabled attendees to navigate the expansive exhibit hall, and far be it that any accommodations be made for trade and media.
Rather than shell out the $80 admission fee, I volunteered to man the other side of the table for my friends from Pomo Nation Wine, California’s first Native American-owned Winery. This Healdsburg endeavor boasts a lineup that includes a 2007 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, a 2006 Mendocino County Merlot, and a 2007 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, but most distinguishes itself with their proprietary blends, the 2009 Bi Si (Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Viognier) and the 2007 Bi Du (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Petite Sirah), an assessment with which The Chronicle Tasting judges apparently concurred, awarding both wines a Silver Medal.
Certainly there were new discoveries interspersed throughout the Festival Pavilion, had I the time and patience to locate them, but I nonetheless found great value in serving the throng, instead of navigating it. For while The Chronicle Tasting may have been more of a paean to dipsomania than to Dionysian precepts, the more salient observation was the pervasive appeal of wine across myriad and diverse cultural segments across the Bay Area. And if such revelries become the catalyst for a lifelong love and respect for, who can complain? After all, I started mine, way back when, washing down dips of fondu with 3-liter jugs of Almaden…

Pomp & circumstance

Aiuto! Aiuto! Your West Coast Oenophile still has not found the magic formula to weave my way through the interminable backlog to which I’ve committed Sostevinobile! So the new grand scheme is this: tackle my most recent tasting and pair it with the one for which I am most remiss, winnowing my way down to the middle.

De extremis. This entry will cover the long overdue A Single Night, Single Vineyards alongside my most recent foray, the Grand Tasting from this year’s Artisano celebration, relocated from Geyserville to The Vintners Inn of Santa Rosa. Being that Sostevinobile has yet to open and generate a revenue stream, I am compelled to flip an imaginary coin and decide to lead with the old and segue into the new.
While all of the wineries pouring at this second staging of A Single Night have previously been covered in this blog, this marquée event for the Russian River Valley Winegrowers took on a decidedly different tone this time around, and not simply because the venue had shifted from the courtyard at C. Donatiello (formerly Belvedere) to the caves at Thomas George Estates (formerly Davis Bynum). The inaugural celebration of these singularly-focused bottlings offered an undeniably millennial flair and seemed more like a slightly subdued frat party than a staid wine tasting. This year, a more mellow atmosphere brought out a more well-established, if not perceptibly older, attendance. Lady Gaga gives way to Bob Seger, Pumped Up Kicks cedes to Pump It Up. A paradigm shift or merely a shift in the economy—I can only hazard a guess.
N’importa. What matters here was the wine, which covered a wide gamut in terms of both variety and quality. In the interest of my oft-stated quest for brevity, I will highlight only discoveries from my top-tier for the evening, not so much in the same manner other writers grade the wines they sample, but more in line with scholastic honors. My corollary to summa cum laude started with the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir from Desmond Wines, a Russian River winery singularly focused on vinting estate-grown Pinot. Rivaling this bottling was the 2008 Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir from acclaimed producer Merry Edwards, the 2009 Ewald Vineyard Pinot Noir from Adam Lee’s Siduri, and a surprisingly delectable 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley from Trione.
Other wines that attained such lofty levels this day included an exceptional 2009 Bacigalupi Zinfandel from Graton Ridge Cellars and the 2010 Estates Chardonnay from host Thomas George. The 2008 Uncle Zio Syrah Gianna Maria from Martinelli proved spectacularly lush, while their cousin Darek Trowbridge provided a deft touch with the 2005 Laughlin Vineyard Zinfandel from his Old World Winery. Sparkling wine virtuoso Iron Horse continued to impress me with their forays into still wine, exemplified here by their enchanting 2009 Rude Clone Chardonnay. Lastly, the 2009 Benevolo Forte, a rich port-style wine from a collaboration between Foppoli Wines and some friends, rounded out the top tier.
The next tier (aka magna cum laude) narrowly focused on a handful of Pinots, the 2008 Lolita Ranch Pinot Noir, also from Martinelli, and Thomas George’s 2008 Lancel Creek Pinot Noir. My friends from Joseph Swan held court with their elegant 2007 Trenton View Vineyard Pinot Noir, while the fourth exemplar of this ranking came from Benovia, whose 2008 Bella Una Pinot Noir, while not a single vineyard bottling, constituted a blend of “the best possible expression of all of the sub-regions of
the Russian River Valley.”
Though far more wines fell warranted a broader cum laude, it would be erroneous to consider such well-crafted bottlings commonplace. Still, Pinot Noir dominated once more, starting with the 2008 Siebert Ranch Pinot Noir produced by Ancient Oak and Balletto Vineyards2009 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir. Desmond followed up its initial pouring with their 2009 Estate Pinot Noir, a worthy albeit slightly less dramatic successor, while La Follette impressed with their 2009 DuNah Vineyard Pinot. Others featuring comparably striking vintages included Matrix, with their 2008 Nunes Ranch Pinot Noir, Nalle with a splendid 2009 Hopkins Ranch Pinot Noir, Moshin, pouring its 2009 Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir, and the inveterate Williams Selyem, which poured the 2008 Flax Vineyard Pinot Noir from their vast repertoire of this varietal.
In addition to its sapid 2008 Oehlman Ranch Pinot Noir, Sandole featured an equally pleasant 2008 Russian River Valley Zinfandel. Hop Kiln showcased two distinctive wines, their 2009 HKG Pinot Noir Bridge Selection and its corollary, the 2009 Chardonnay Six Barrel Bridge Selection. Foppoli shone with its Burgundian pair, as well: the 2009 Estate Vineyard Chardonnay and the 2009 Late Harvest Pinot Noir, an especial treat.
Renowned vintner Gary Farrell also showcased his elegant 2008 Westside Farms Chardonnay, while Gordian Knot (formerly Sapphire Hill) debuted its current incarnation with a splendid 2010 Estate Albariño. Meanwhile, focusing on red varietals, John Tyler Wines crafted an elegant 2006 Zinfandel from their proprietary Bacigalupi Vineyards.
I would have expected to find more Zins served at this event, but was even more surprised at the atypical selection of Bordelaise varietals Merriam poured—not that their 2005 Windacre Merlot wasn’t an outstanding wine, as was their 2010 Willowside Sauvignon Blanc. Trione’s 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley struck me as equally impressive, while their 2007 Syrah Russian River Valley matched its intensity. Wrapping up my talley for the evening, host Thomas George again delivered with its 2008 Ulises Valdez Vineyard Syrah and dazzled with its 2009 Pinot Blanc Saralee’s Vineyard, a distinctive selection for this distinguished gathering.


Not meaning to slight the other wineries who poured at A Single Night, but brevity demands I truncate my review and move onto my most recent foray. A whirlwind celebration of wine, food and art, Artisano focused on handcrafted, small production labels from the North Coast, though the preponderance of participating wineries heralded from Sonoma, as well. Many were well-familiar, but a handful new to Sostevinobile. Nearly all had at least one wine that, as above, made the proverbial honor roll.
A quartet of the wines scored at stratospheric levels—these I will assay at the conclusion of my review. To commence at the same tier (summa cum) where my evaluations for A Single Night began, I found myself reveling in the 2009 Zinfandel Alexander Valley’s William Gordon Winery showcased. Across the patio, Paul Mathew’s major opus turned out to be his 2008 TnT Vineyard Pinot Noir. A new label from Ferrari-Carano (which also owns Santa Rosa’s Vintners Inn that hosted this gathering), PreVail transcended the garishness of their other endeavors and impressed with their 2006 Back Forty, an elegantly textured Cabernet Sauvignon.
In addition to its coveted buttons, Pech Merle poured a wide array of their wines, prominently featuring the 2009 Russian River Valley Chardonnay winemaker John Pepe crafted. Steve Domenichelli dazzled with his 2007 Zinfandel, one of but two wines his boutique operation produces. At a nearby table, my friend from Mendocino, John Chiarito, returned with his trailblazing Sicilian transplant, the 2009 Nero d’Avola and an outstanding 2009 Estate Zinfandel. Also charting comparable territory was Cartograph, with their 2009 Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Bill and Betsy Nachbaur finally accorded me a taste of their marvelous 2008 Dolcetto at a private visit to Acorn following Artisano, but here they most impressed with their 2008 Heritage Vines Zinfandel from their Alegría Vineyard. Somewhat paradoxically, Vince Ciolino of Montemaggiore produces no Italian varietals, despite a meticulous approach and organic practices that bespeak a Tuscan æsthetic; nevertheless, his 2007 Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah proved redolent of his Sicilian forbearers.
Although De Novo made a striking impression with their 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino County,
it proved only their second best wine of the afternoon. Similarly, I
will briefly gloss over the choicest revelation from Old World Winery in
favor of their alluringly floral 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Bon Tempe. Also showing spectacularly with its whites, Cloverdale’s Icaria soared to new heights with its 2010 Estate Chardonnay.
When well-crafted, Viognier can reveal an incomparable varietal, as exemplified here by Stark Wine of Dry Creek’s 2009 Viognier Damiano Vineyard, which matched this pinnacle with a sister Rhône bottling, the 2009 Syrah Eaglepoint Vineyard. Ulises Valdez, whose vineyards furnished Syrah for Thomas George, here showed his own deft touch for œnology with the 2008 Silver Eagle Syrah and a Rockpile standout, the 2008 Botticelli Zinfandel.
Respite flourished with their red bottling, 2008 Antics Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley. Also from Geyserville, Munselle Vineyards enticed with a pair of superb bottlings, the 2006 Coyote Crest Cabernet Sauvignon and the equally compelling 2008 Zinfandel Osborn Ranch. The award for consistency, however, undoubtedly belonged to Miro Cellars, with all five of their selections garnering this premium score: the 2009 Windsor Oak Vineyard Pinot Noir, the 2010 Grist Vineyard Zinfandel, from atop Pride Mountain, the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, winemaker Miroslav Tcholakov’s signature 2010 Piccetti Vineyard Petite Sirah, and the 2010 Cuvée Sasha, a Grenache masterfully blended with 19% Mourvèdre and 6% Syrah.
Garnering middle honors, William Gordon returned with a 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Personen Vineyard, a wine that portends to blossom in the next 5-7 years. Paul Mathew featured two more Pinots, his 2008 Horseshoe Bend Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2008 Ruxton Vineyard Pinot Noir. And again, Prevail prevailed with the 2006 West Face, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with 36% Syrah.
Both Pech Merle’s new 2009 Merlot and Domenichelli’s 2007 Magnificent 7 Petite Sirah offered vastly compelling wines, as was Chiarito’s other Italian rarity, the 2009 Negroamaro. I especially delighted in Acorn’s 2008 Cabernet Franc Alegría Vineyard, while relishing the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon De Novo provided.
Three wonderful Sauvignon Blancs came from Simoncini, newly releasing their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc; Alexander Valley’s Reynoso, with their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc; and the “we don’t make Chardonnay” offshoot of famed grower Robert Young, Kelley & Young, who poured their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc. Captûre also poured a top-flight 2010 Tradition Sauvignon Blanc and matched it with their 2010 Ma Vie Carol Chardonnay, while my friends Jim and Christina Landy impressed with their 2009 Chardonnay Russian River Valley.

I deliberately maintain my ignorance when it comes to comprehending derivatives and other vehicles of the options market—such contrivances just seem antithetical to everything Sostevinobile espouses, so terminology like the trading positions known as Long Gamma seems rather oblique to me; nonetheless, the accomplished winery bearing same name produced an excellent wine with little statistical deviation, the 2007 Red, a Zinfandel blended with 25% Syrah and 5% Petite Sirah. Montemaggiore countered with their 2005 Nobile, a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon with 36% Syrah. And natural wine proponents Arnot-Roberts hedged their bets with their unequivocal 2009 Syrah Griffin’s Lair Vineyard.
At Artisano’s cum laude level, a variety of different wines offered compelling tastings. Again, William Gordon impressed with their 2009 Petit Verdot. Paralleling his red Burgundians, Paul Mathew featured a rich 2010 Dutton Ranch Chardonnay. Musetta’s 2009 Zinfandel handily made the grade, as did the 2008 Landy Zinfandel from Valdez.

Other standout Zins included De Novo’s 2006 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley, the 2008 Estate Zinfandel from Simoncini, and Saini’s 2008 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley. Pech Merle impressed with both its 2009 Dry Creek Zinfandel and the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, while Anderson Valley’s Foursight paired their 2009 Charles Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc and a delightful 2009 Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir.

I happily cottoned to the 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Landy poured, then wrapped up this segment with an wide array of varietals and blends, starting with the 2010 Kathleen Rose from Kelley & Young, a Bordeaux-style rosé crafted from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. Captûre’s 2009 Harmonie combined the same complement of varietals (sans Malbec) for a captivating Meritage, while Montemaggiore’s 2010 3 Divas blended the classic Rhône white tercet: Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier.

Rounding out this level, I found the 2010 Floodgate Vineyard Gewürztraminer Cartograph poured a most refreshing contrast, and had little trouble regaling in the 2008 Shadrach Chardonnay from Munselle. As always, the 2008 Sangiovese Alegría Vineyard Acorn served up proved most impressive; so, too, was the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Kenny Kahn’s Blue Rock.

As alluded above, four wines poured here achieved rarefied stature—ΦΒΚ, so to speak. Winemaker Justin Miller’s Garden Creek showcased an amazing rendition of their Meritage, the 2005 Tesserae, which, unlike its predecessors, could not be fully classified as a Cabernet—rather, a true Bordeaux mosaic of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, and 20% Cabernet Franc. All in all, an amazing Alexander Valley vintage.
De Novo’s best effort turned out to be another Burgundian, their 2008 Pinot Noir Bennett Valley, a spectacularly rich rendition of this subtle varietal. At the same threshold, Old World Winery floored me with their new 2009 Abourious Russian River Valley (little wonder, with a wine this lush, why Darek chose to pluralize the varietal). His previous endeavor with Abouriou, also known as Early Burgundy, the 2008 Fulton Foderol, was actually a blend with Zinfandel that masked much of its character; here, the unfettered expression seemed nothing short of glorious.
Finally, I must bestow my all-too-rarely accorded to Skipstone for their flawless 2008 Oliver’s Blend, a Cabernet Sauvignon rounded with a mere 4% Cabernet Franc. Wines like this can only cement Alexander Valley’s richly deserved reputation, along with Napa Valley and Washington’s Red Mountain as worthy rivals to Bordeaux (I think it’s still a safe bet we can rule out Ningxia from this category).
As with A Single Night, I intend no offense toward those wineries that generously shared their best efforts at Artisano but have been bypassed here for the sake of (relative) brevity. My goal of timeliness is another matter entirely, remaining ever elusive as I struggle to balance not only the competing demands I face in turning Sostevinobile into a working reality, source funding for COMUNALE, and negotiate contracts for my SmartPhone development, ResCue (the acquisition of which could easily provide the wherewithal to launch my empassioned wine ventures). And so, as we close down the annus horribilis that was 2011, my New Year’s pledge to my steady readership here is to bring you my wine findings at on a regular, steady, and timely basis in 2012.
And if you bring a copy of this pledge to our wine bar, the first glass will be on me…