Category Archives: Montepulciano

Falling into 2017

An interesting question posed Your West Coast Oenophile is whether Sostevinobile would consider opening a branch outside the parameters of our West Coast focus. Such a venture would, of course, violate the regional and environmental guidelines I have set for our operations, but I have considered, in times of idle speculation, how our model might be adapted to another region. One could create a discreet chain of wine bars localised on the wines produced throughout the Great Lakes region—predominantly Michigan, Ontario, Ohio, and the New York Finger Lakes. Another model might focus on the Eastern seaboard, from Long Island down through Virginia and North Carolina.

Of course, these are just intellectual speculations, with one caveat. Early on, in my development of Sostevinobile, I stipulated that I would not categorically refuse to consider any wine produced from the West Coast and meeting our sustainable criteria, except for the now-defunct Asteri Mou (for reasons I no longer need to elaborate). Similarly, were I to develop these cloned versions of our operations, I would absolutely eschew any wine from Trump Winery—the political implications being quite obvious, I would hope. Besides, how could you trust a wine from someone who has never even tasted his own vintages?

Speaking of wine tasting, this November has been jam-packed with events—far too many for me to have covered all. Impecuniosity and the implausibility of bilocation caused me to miss a handful of annual events, including Califermentation, the Paso Robles session of the Garagiste Festival, SF Vintners Market, and Premier Cruz. Alas, I missed some 30 wineries I might have vetted for Sostevinobile, but, as is my wont, I have catalogued their information and am reaching out to them on my own.

Among the many events I did manage to attend, the most intimate certainly had to have been the ragtag popup organized by Pietro Buttitta. Little else may link the assembled collective that comprised the New Mission Winemakers besides their situation in various industrial facilities scattered throughout San Francisco, but their disparity did not diminish the overall quality of the wines featured at this debut. As he transitions from his former label, Rosa d’Oro, which focused primarily on Italian varietals, to a more nuanced Prima Materia, a deft touch can be seen in such bottlings as his lush 2013 Mourvèdre, along with other Rhône and Bordeaux offerings. And yet this new direction has not diminished his craft from Rosa d’Oro, here displayed in a delightful 2013 Vermentino, a compelling 2012 Refosco and 2012 Montepulciano, and a truly wondrous 2012 Aglianico.

The 2014 Aglianico ruled the day among the 16 or so selections Harrington Wine poured. I equally cottoned to his splendid 2015 Corvina, a light, garnet-colored wine that could almost be mistaken for a rosé. Still, there was nothing mistakable about their 2014 Grenache, the 2015 Zinfandel, nor the 2014 Nebbiolo, a beautiful expression of the Piemonte noble grape. Added to this mix was the first release of the Chinato, an infused digestif based on Nebbiolo.

Between these two Italian varietal specialists stood Betwixt, Tim Telli’s consistently excellent venture from the Minnesota Street facility Sostevinobile my one day call neighbor. Here Tim poured a most impressive 2014 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay, paired nicely alongside his 2014 Pinot Noir Lester Family Vineyard and the aptly named 2013 Pinot Noir Helluva Vineyard. Sharing this Dogpatch urban winery, Flywheel Wines also stood out for their 2013  Brosseau Vineyard  Chardonnay and the 2013 Boer Vineyard Grenache, both from the Chalone AVA.

I had not previously encountered Betwixt’ and Flywheel’s third co-tenant, Cellars 33 (another winery at this facility, Von Holt, did not participate in this tasting). Its standout wine, from the selections poured here, arguably was the superb 2015 Grenache Blanc Lodi, a truly marvelous Rhône white. Blending these same grapes with Viognier produced their whimsical 2015 The Betty White, also from Lodi, while both their appealing 2013 Pinot Noir Gloria Vineyard and 2013 Zinfandel Bacigalupi Vineyard heralded from Russian River Valley plantings.

This popup also afforded me my first tasting of Neighborhood Vineyards, Elly Hartshorn’s vineyard project in San Francisco. With vines planted at numerous locations throughout the City, Neighborhood is poised to become the first urban winery totally ensconced within its confines. While waiting for the vines to reach, Elly sources fruit for her other bottlings, like the 2014 Tide & Travel Pinot Noir from Santa Rita Hills poured here.

One needn’t be a rocket scientist to make great wine, but being a geneticist might help. Tessier’s Kristie Tacey moved to the Bay Area to work on the Human Genome Project, then segued into winemaking. Judging by the wines poured here, her œnological DNA was most dominant in the 2015 El Dorado Grenache and the 2015 Russian River Cabernet Franc, a wine redolent of its Alegría Vineyard parentage. Meanwhile, one might easily believe Ed Kurzman had turned the vinification of Pinot Noir into an exacting science, with across the board excellence in all the offerings he poured from both his Sandler and August West labels. Still, the great pleasure from the latter proved to be his 2014 Sierra Mar Vineyard Chardonnay and the 2012 Rosella’s Vineyard Syrah.

Ed’s Sandler offerings provided me with my first glimpse of the 2015 vintage, a year that had been marked by its low yields throughout the state. Nonetheless, it portends to be great, potentially surpassing both 2012 and 2014. Of the three single vineyard selections he poured, the 2015 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir stood slightly above both the 2015 Keeler Ranch Pinot Noir and his proprietary 2015 Boer Vineyard Pinot Noir. But eclipsing all these: the utterly marvelous 2013 Boer Vineyard Grenache capped a most delightful afternoon on Minna Street.


 

An austere wine, with an alluring bucket

Long before developing Sostevinobile, even prior to my original career in the wine industry, Your West Coast Oenophile pursued a much loftier vocation. Hubristic though it may sound, I truly believed I could elected the next pope.

Driving up the coast from Pacifica on a warm September evening in 1978, I heard the news that Pope Paul VI had just died. The broadcast further stated that the next Pope would assuredly be “younger, male, Italian, and allied with neither the liberal nor the conservative wing of the Catholic Church.” In other words, me.

With little time to mount an extensive worldwide campaign, I resorted to a decidedly grassroots effort, greeting people everywhere I went and exhorting them to write their favorite cardinal to support my candidacy. Hard to tell exactly how well I placed, as the balloting remains secret, but I finished a healthy runner-up to Venetian Cardinal Albino Luciani.

Ioannes Paulus PP. I proved a genial, albeit inferior, choice, as attested by his untimely death a mere 33 days after his installation. Seizing this renewed opportunity, I immediately took to the streets with a more aggressive campaign, this time pledging, with utter fidelity, “I won’t die in office!” Of course, I realized I didn’t need to worry about facing any consequences if I did break my promise. And if somehow I had managed to keep it, well…
Giampaolo

As I’m sure everyone knows, I wound up losing that election to Karol Wojtyla and his 27-year interregnum as Ioannes Paulus PP. II. Thereafter, the abrupt resignation of his successor, Benedictus XVI, dispelled any hope I could run once more on my immortality platform, though my apostasy still contends that, the Universe being merely a figment of my imagination, I cannot be allowed to die. Nonetheless, owning to reality, I am resolved to live at least as long to hear some hotblooded twentysomething admonish his friend “Dude, c’mon! That chick is too old! She’s got tattoos!!

Moreover, after recent Facebook rumors had reported my likely demise—compounded, I suspect, by three months’ absence in attending to this blog—I composed a bucket list of wineries I still craved to try. While my selections may lean heavily towards several of the renowned “cult Cabernets,” they also reflect, by omission, the vast number of these wines I have already had the pleasure of sampling.

Scarecrow Without trying to seem boastful, I have delighted over the years in such legendary producers as Harlan, Maybach, Dalla Valle, Bond, Opus One, Scarecrow, Shafer, David Arthur, Ovid, Kapcsándy, and the obligatory Screaming Eagle. Aetherial Chardonnays from Peter Michael and Kongsgaard have crossed my lips. Château Pétrus’ alter ego, Dominus, has been a perennial favorite, along with classic bottlings like Joseph Phelps’ Insignia and Ridge’s Montebello.

I’ve enjoyed deep velvet Zinfandels from Turley and Martinelli’s Jackass Hill. astounding blends from Paso Robles’ L’Aventure and Daou that depart from orthodoxies of Bordeaux and the Rhône, and luminescent Pinot Noirs from the Sta. Rita Hills’ Sea Smoke and Oregon’s Domaine Serène. But partaking of the latter’s storied Monogram remains the first of many elusive quests. After that, my bucket list most certainly includes the Santa Cruz Mountains’ clandestine Pinot Noir producer, Rhys, and Vérité, whose three wines have all repeatedly garnered perfect 100s from Robert Parker.

My must-taste list includes a slew of a stratospherically-priced Cabernets, including Colgin, Bryant Family, Grace Family, Dana Estates, Futo, and Harbison Estate, wines for which one must apply to receive an allocation. Legendary labels include Araujo (now owned by Château Latour) and Abreu, Napa’s premier vineyardist, as well as Chardonnay virtuoso Marcassin. True viticultural connoisseurs will certainly recognize Todd Anderson’s ultra-elite Ghost Horse from St. Helena and the coveted Sine Qua Non, the cult Rhône producer from Ventura County. Lurking in the wings, Grace Family’s winemaker, Helen Keplinger produces a line of Rhône blends under her own eponymous label that seem destined for legend.

Some may find Cougar an anomaly amid such vaunted company, but I have included it for their pioneering efforts to transform Temecula into the leading destination for Italian varietals in California —who else here is growing Falanghina, Ciliegiolo, or Piedirosso? I intend to visit this burgeoning AVA on my next swing down to San Diego and explore how it is being transformed after an infestation of the glassy-winged sharpshooter nearly eradicated all of the region’s vineyard plantings in 2001.

Last month, just after compiling this list, I did manage to venture fairly far south to visit a number of Central Coast AVAs Sostevinobile has inadvertently neglected; this trip, in turn, led to a two-week sojourn of non-stop wine tastings, during which I surprisingly managed to encounter six wineries from this roster.

I will cover my swing through Paso Robles, Temecula, Lompoc, Santa Barbara, Solvang, Buellton, Santa Ynez and Arroyo Grande more thoroughly in a subsequent post. Having the advantage of a holiday weekend that coincided with the Garagiste Fest Santa Ynez Valley, I arranged to veer southward to the Wine Collection of El Paseo, a cooperative tasting room in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara, where I met with Doug Margerum, winemaker for Cent’Anni, a Santa Ynez Valley winery I had discovered after Mick Unti had challenged me to find Canaiolo grown in California. I landed up accruing four sources: the aforementioned Cougar, Sierra Ridge in Sutter Creek, Vino Noceto in Plymouth, and this wondrous endeavor. With the same fidelity Tablas Creek strives to attain with its Rhône selections or the authentic approach to Bordelaise blends one finds with Luc Morlet’s eponymous label or Bernard Portet’s wines from Clos du Val, Jamie and Julie Kellner have brought to their quest to make Tuscan-style Sangiovese in California. Toward this exacting vision, they have planted five distinct Sangiovese clones, along with Canaiolo and, as claimed, the only Colorino vines on the West Coast.

Cent’Anni also grows a small amount of Pinot Grigio and sources Tocai Friulano, Pinot Bianco, as well as some additional Sangiovese for their second-tier offerings. I began my tasting with the 2012 Buoni Anni Bianco, a deft blend of their Estate Pinot Grigio with 38% Honea Vineyard Tocai Friulano and 28% Bien Nacido Pinot Bianco. Complementing it was the 2010 Buoni Anni Sangiovese, a pure varietal expression in the style of a Rosso di Montalcino.

These two wines prefaced the object of my sojourn, the 2010 Cent’Anni Riserva. Here was a wine truly at the apex of Italian vinification in the New World, a indelible marriage of 16% Sangiovese Montepulciano clone, 16% Clone 3, 16% Clone 6, 16% Clone 23 & 34% Sangiovese Rodino, topped off with 1% each of Canaiolo and Colorino. Without question, I found a wine well on its way to greatness, dense, rich, flavorful, and almost impossible to put down. My 35-mile detour from Solvang had certainly not been taken in vain.

Under his personal Margerum label, Doug also produces California’s first Amaro, a fortified red blend infused with “herbs (sage, thyme, marjoram, parsley, lemon verbena, rosemary, and mint), barks, roots, dried orange peels, and caramelized simple syrup” and a very floral white Vermouth produced from Late Harvest Viognier. Alas, The Wine Collection’s license does not permit pouring or tasting hard alcohol, so I could only gaze upon the bottle of grappa Doug also distills from his Viognier pomace. At least I could console myself that he had named it appropriately: Marc.

After attending both sessions of the Garagiste Festival, I moseyed onto another Italian-focused endeavor, the legendary Mosby in Buellton, where I was hosted by Chris Burroughs, famed for his portrayal of Sanford’s Tasting Room Manager in Sideways. Our tasting began with crisp, clean 2013 Cortese, the predominant grape in Gavi di Gavi, and reputedly Italy’s first white varietal. We followed this superb wine with a notable rendition of a 2013 Pinot Grigio and an amiable 2013 Rosato di Cannonau (aka Grenache).

Mosby’s red repertoire included their 2009 Sangiovese and a most striking 2009 Primitivo. I was duly impressed with their Estate-grown 2009 Sagrantino and the 2008 La Seduzione, one of the better domestic Lagreins I have had the pleasure of sampling. Along with Palmina, which I also visited this trip, Mosby has pioneered the planting and vinification of Italian varietals on the Central Coast. I only wish I had been able to try their other homegrown varietals, particularly, their Traminer, Dolcetto, and Teroldego. Portents of a return visit, I am sure.

Miles
CAENCONTESTa-C-29MAR02-MT-KK Herb Caen writing contest finalist D. Marc Capobianco CHRONICLE PHOTO BY KIM KOMENICH

I may be a balding and bearded writer, an Italian inculcated at Ivy institutes, and an unregenerate œnophile, but in no way do I resemble Paul Giamatti. Still, I could not leave Buellton without the obligatory pilgrimage to Hitching Post II, Frank Otsini’s restaurant adjunct to his popular wine label and setting for numerous scenes in the movie. Having recently had to fend off the rather forward queries of a quasi-inebriated party of divorcées at a Sonoma winery (“no, but I understand he drops my name quite frequently”), I announced as I approached the bar, “If anyone calls me Miles, they’re getting punched out!”

I managed to escape unscathed and make it on time the next morning to cover another entry from my bucket list, Paso Robles’ eclectic Linne Calodo. Truly a connoisseur’s winery, its elusive nomenclature belies a line of superb Rhône blends, along with a few proprietary mélange or two combining Zinfandel. I was quite taken with the 2013 Rising Tides, a well-balanced marriage of 40% Syrah, 32% Grenache, 18% Mourvèdre, and 10% Cinsault. The predominantly Zinfandel offering this day, their 2014 Problem Child (20% Syrah, 8% Mourvèdre) could have borne a bit more aging, but the 2014 Sticks and Stones (71% Grenache, 12% Syrah, 9% Cinsault, and 8% Mourvèdre) radiated with well-ripened flavors.

As with Mosby, I wish my visit could have encompassed all of Linne Calodo’s portfolio, particularly its sundry variations on GSM blends. Secreted amid the Willow Creek flatlands below the towering perches of Adelaida, this elusive yet dramatic winery—which, ironically, resembles a mountain top ski chalet—beckons further visits upon my anticipated return to Paso Robles later this year.

I barely had time to settle back into San Francisco before heading up to the Napa Valley for the annual tasting marathon known as Première Napa. As always, this event tests the mettle of professional œnophiles like myself—just how many tastings can one person squeeze into 48 hours?—but it continues to prove an invaluable resource, both for bolstering Sostevinobile’s wine program and for my ongoing quest for funding. An unexpected benefit this year, however, was an introduction to the wines of Sloan Estate, yet another bucket list candidate, and its rather ebullient proprietor, Jenny Pan.
Jenny Pan

About a year or so ago, a casual acquaintance related that he had recently sat beside former owner Stuart Sloan on a flight to San Francisco and queried whether I was familiar with the winery he had founded. Much to my interlocutor’s incredulity, I conceded I had no awareness of this label—not that I should be held accountable or derelict for such an omission. According to Wines & Vines, there are 5,461 bonded wineries among the three Pacific states (4,054 California, 718 Washington, 689 Oregon) or 58% of the 9,436 premises throughout North America (USA, Canada, Mexico). Conservatively, I would estimate that there are more than 6,000 additional labels produced at West Coast facilities, meaning that I have barely cataloged ⅓ of the producers Sostevinobile’s wine program is targeting. I took great umbrage at his disparagement, yet resolved to familiarize myself with such a highly prestigious brand.

Before I had a chance to set up a visit with Sloan, I stumbled upon their table at Première’s Women Winemakers Winetasting, an annual benefit at Bardessono. I had intended to make haste with this event, an unscheduled stop between First Taste Yountville and the Appellation St. Helena trade tasting at Raymond, but amid an exchange of light-hearted banter with Pam Starr (Crocker & Starr), I espied Jenny and her winemaker Martha McClellan obscurely manning a mere sliver of a pouring station across the room. With only two wines in production annually, Sloan could have presented their entire lineup here, but unfortunately their namesake Meritage, the current vintage of the SLOAN Proprietary Red, was awaiting bottling. Nonetheless, their second selection, the ASTERISK Proprietary Red, an indelible blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, proved more than compensatory. And with a proffered private tour of the estate now in the offing, I was duly appeased.

Less than two weeks later, I attended what may well prove to be the most impressive tasting of 2016: The State of Washington Wine at The Metreon. Having not visited San Francisco for over 15 years, this trade collective pulled out all the stops, featuring over 75 wineries and a fresh seafood bar best described as beyond indulgent. But the ultimate lure here was the presence of two of the Evergreen State’s two most acclaimed denizens, Leonetti Cellar and Quilceda Creek. Like Sloan Estate. As with most Napa’s cult labels, these bucket list wineries normally make their production available only to Mailing List members—with a four-year wait just to enroll! Having this opportunity to sample both wineries at the same time proved the pinnacle of this afternoon.

Leonetti poured somewhat secretively as Figgins Family Wine Estates, their parent label. Once I had deciphered this conundrum, I was rewarded with my introduction to a selection of their mid-range wines, the 2014 Merlot and the justly acclaimed 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. A complete surprise was 2012 Figgins Estate Red Wine, a massive Meritage marrying Cabernet Sauvignon with Petit Verdot and Merlot; as impressive as this wine proved, though, it left me yearning for Leonetti’s much-heralded Reserve Bordeaux blend, along with their Estate Sangiovese.

No similar sense of want from Snohomish’s storied Quilceda Creek, however, which started with the 2013 CVR Red Blend, a deft mélange of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot and 3% Malbec. As impressive as this wine proved, their top-of-the-line 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley, a pure varietal culled from their Champoux, Palengat and Wallula Vineyards, flat-out wowed (as a wine that lists for triple the Red Blend’s price tag should). These wines completely validated Sostevinobile’s tenet that the three West Coast states should rightly be considered a viticultural continuum.

Of course, it would be highly tempting to eliminate the six wineries cited here from my bucket list, but there still looms so much more to discover about each. And why rush? The longer I keep sourcing and drinking such great wines, the greater my chances of attaining immortality surely becomes.

A blog a week, that’s all we ask

Your West Coast Oenophile realizes I may be setting myself up making the above declaration, but it’s time for me to redouble my efforts on all fronts concerning Sostevinobile. Later on, I will perhaps devote one or more of these entries to detailing the various aspects of what I am striving to do behind the scenes in order to effect our launch, but for now let me just say that the many, many months I have devoted (and kept both the wine world and my readership dangling) with the promise of opening an unparalleled wine bar/casual eatery/retail outlet will result in a far more comprehensive and exciting establishment than what I had originally mapped out.

The past few years have witnessed a
growing phenomenon, particularly in the Central Valley, of vineyards being
torn out and replanted with nut trees, now that almonds have surpassed grapes as the second leading crop in California. I personally have never been a rabid nut aficionado, although the proven health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet suggest that I ought focus on more than simply the wine component of this regimen.

Ironically, almonds have served as a continuous thread throughout my professional career, from my initial forays in the wine industry to some of the most inspired (albeit unproduced) copywriting I crafted during the thankless interregnum I employed myself in consumer advertising—even to now, with the peripheral ventures I have recently undertaken in order to finance my long-awaited shrine to West Coast’s viticultural prowess.

After I had severed my ties to Merrill Lynch White Weld and Bacardi’s futile attempts to compete in the wine arena—back then, apart from Gallo, the leading megaplayers in the industry were all food & beverage conglomerates like Coca Cola, Nestlé’s, Heublein, Seagrams—I took on a number of clients, including Agricultural Industries, Inc., the holding company that lost out to Suntory in its escalated bidding for Château St. Jean, after the Merzoian family put the winery up for sale. I won’t belabor readers with rehashing the story at this time, apart from my utter incredulity at this client’s refusal to consider the alternative of acquiring the 1,000,000-case operations of Sonoma Vineyards, now known as Rodney Strong, for $35,000,000 less than St. Jean’s eventual sale price; rather, the salient aspect of recounting this calamity was that Agland principals Dick Jones and Buzz Carless, in addition to owning vast tracts of Central Valley grapes they had hoped to vinify, also controlled what was then 50% of California’s almond crop.

The collapse of this deal pretty much catalyzed my decision to exit the Merger & Acquisitions field and plummet into the miasma of the advertising world. If I had had my druthers, I would have concentrated exclusively on broadcast accounts—script writing being my forte, particularly for radio. But advertising (as practiced in San Francisco) proved more pernicious than I could have ever anticipated, a collusion where mediocrity triumphed over talent and where broadcast copywriting was treated as a plum, rather than a skilled specialty. My efforts to transcend these biases met with success far too infrequently, but I did encounter a rare interlude when I was introduced to Chuck Blore, a radio legend in Los Angeles.

In 1995, Chuck hired me toscript a number of radio spots for Blue Diamond, the cooperative that thencomprised the majority of almond growers in California. I created a campaign that dovetailed rom their signature A Can a Week, That’s All We Ask, juxtaposing their array of flavored almond selections against a series of satirical cameos spoofing prominent public figures as Just Plain Nuts. These included such luminaries as Rush Limbaugh: That’s right, friends. A conspiracy of the Left to lower our average oxygen intake; Ronald Reagan: Well, if it doesn’t work, maybe I can sell a whole bunch of goods to embargoed countries at ten times their worth and pay off the national debt with the profits; and Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton: The Borgias are still alive and controlling the world from a secret bunker below San Marino. A memorable campaign, to be sure, but little chance of convincing more than 3,000 almond growers to take a calculated risk with their marketing!

And so, putting the advertising profession in the rear view mirror, I created Sostevinobile after first tentative making tentative forays into starting my own label. Readers here know that launching a wine bar & retail operation this comprehensive has turned into quite a protracted process, compelling me to venture out into other practices while I assemble the necessary financing. Rather hesitantly, I allowed myself to reengage in Mergers & Acquisitions for the wine industry, on a limited basis.

I can’t say that this practice has become any easier over the past 25 years, nor any more lucrative. While I have tried to remain as judicious as possible, only taking on projects where I deemed myself to have 110% faith in both the validity and the resolve of my clients, the few deals I have allowed myself to entertain have, so far, all been for naught. Still, I found it quite interesting to discover that the principals behind Clarksburg’s Old Sugar Mill and the Clarksburg Wine Company now also control the majority of almonds grown in California! Some may call it déjà vu; some may call it an inexorable cycle. I just hope that the degree to which it drives me to drink inspires my customers when Sostevinobile finally opens its doors!

While I am on the topic of alternative crops, I found myself abruptly confronted this past week with plum blossoms covering the hood of my Corolla! Fruit trees blossoming in mid-January? Normally, I would have anticipated seeing fruit trees flower in April, but coupled with the news that estates in Napa are already pruning their vines, this accelerated vegetative cycle bodes ominous for the 2014 harvest, with dire predictions of yields reduced by as much as 80%!

But why fret over the uncertainty of the future? For now, with two consecutive bountiful harvests behind us, wine is in abundance, and as wineries begin to release and showcase their 2012 vintage, the quality of these wines appears to be just as impressive.

In any year, the first major tasting has traditionally been ZAP, radically reconfigured after 20+ years of captivating San Francisco in January. As I have cited in previous entries, every major trade tastings has forsaken the expanse of Fort Mason for an array of cozier venues throughout the Bay Area. ZAP had actually precipitated this migration two years ago, setting up shop at the Concourse Exhibition Center in the South of Market (SOMA). But with the huge influx of techies and humans over the past several years, available housing is at a dearth in San Francisco, and so this pavilion is being razed for a new condominium development.

The new format for 2014 bifurcated the Zinfandel tasting into separate trade and public events. The trade tasting took place three days before the public session, inexplicably excised from the logical relocation to the Presidio to Rock Wall’s expansive barrel room in Alameda. The roster of wineries that had once filled two halls in Fort Mason now dwindled to 85 participants, the vast majority of which had poured at numerous previous tastings.

The few discoveries I found here nonetheless proved consistently impressive. El Dorado’s Gwinllan Estate showcased a delightful 2009 Zinfandel, surpassed only by its striking 2010 Zinfandel. Healdsburg’s Hart’s Desire contrasted their semi-generic 2012 Ponzo Vineyard Field Blend Zinfandel with the superb 2012 Ponzo Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel. No stranger here (or at numerous other tastings), Rutherford Wine Company showcased their Predator label’s 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi alongside their more formulaic 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel Napa Valley, bottled under their Rutherford Ranch label.

The Prisoner, and its sister label, Saldo, helped catapult David Phinney to viticultural fame. Now owned by the Huneeus family (Faust, Quintessa, Flowers), these wines still delighted, though at a slight notch below their earlier zenith. Nonetheless, I held both the 2012 The Prisoner, a Zinfandel blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Charbono, and Grenache, and the 2012 Saldo, a mix of multiple Zinfandel plantings in Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Amador, Mendocino, and Contra Costa counties, in equal esteem.

Moonlighting from his full-time gig at wine megabrokers Ciatti, Glenn Proctor debuted his Puccioni Vineyards, contrasting the 2010 Old Vine Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley with its equally worthy 2011 successor. And not content to devote her entire focus on her extraordinary Tierra Roja label, my friend Linda Neal showed herself equally adept to her Cabernet craft with her Mellowood’s 2009 Zinfandel Fair Play, its successor, the 2010 Zinfandel Fair Play, and the foundation of a nascent solera(?), the 2009/10 Red Hat.

Numerous friends and familiars filled the expansive setting here looking out across the bay to downtown San Francisco. Jerry Baldwin featured the 2010 Slater, a blend of Zinfandels from Baldwin Wines’ from Rattlesnake Ridge, Dawn Hill Ranch and Madrone Ridge vineyards. Beekeeper poured with its usual aplomb, dazzling with its 2011 Zinfandel Madrone Vineyard, while Morgan Twain-Peterson returned with two gems, the 2012 Sonoma Valley Old Vine Zinfandel and the 2012 Evangelho Heritage Wine, a field blend of 40% Carignane and 38% Mourvèdre, plus Zinfandel, Palomino, Alicante Bouschet, and Mission, from his Bedrock Wine. Meanwhile, Bella Vineyards dazzled with their 2011 Zinfandel Big River Ranch and a remarkable 2010 Zinfandel Lily Hill Estate.

I first met the Parducci clan in the early 1980s; here I tasted through McNab Ridge, Rich Parducci’s successor to the label his family sold to Paul Dolan. I was mildly impressed with McNab’s 2011 Mendo Zinfandel and the 2010 Coloniah Reserve Zinfandel, bottled under their Family Reserve label; more compelling were both the 2011 Zinzilla, a blend of 87% Zinfandel, 8% Pinotage, and 5% Petite Sirah, and the 2010 Zinister Reserve, also a McNab Family Reserve. As I might have expected, Kyle and Jorja Lerner of Harney Lane unfailingly wowed with their 2011 Lodi Zinfandel and the incredible 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel Lizzy James Vineyard. And my good friend Mike McCay also ventured from Lodi to Alameda to feature a quartet of his eponymous wines, starting with the 2010 Trulux Zinfandel. Equally appealing were the 2010 Jupiter Zinfandel and his extraordinary 2010 Contentious Zinfandel, but the 2011 Equity Zinfandel proved the showstopper.

Representing Paso Robles, Sextant, producers of a rather rare Late Harvest Sauvignon Gris, comported themselves admirably with their flagship Zinfandel, the 2011 Wheelhouse, but truly shone with the 2011 Holystone. Their fellow Paso compatriots, Peachy Canyon, strained credulity with their 2011 Incredible Red but rebounded with their 2011 Westside Zinfandel. The Sierra Foothills were well represented by Placerville’s Lava Cap, with competent bottlings of the 2011 Zinfandel Rocky Draw and the 2011 Zinfandel Reserve, while Plymouth’s Andis showcased a trifecta: their 2011 Zinfandel Amador County, the 2011 Estate Zinfandel, and the venerable 2011 Zinfandel Original Grandpère, a wine sourced from oldest documented Zinfandel vineyard in California.

Of course, Napa was also well-represent at ZAP, including Hendry and its tangential progeny, Mike & Molly Hendry. Their stellar 2011 Blocks 7 & 22 Zinfandel gave way to an even superior (and more specific) 2011 Block 28 Zinfandel—too bad they didn’t pour the 2011 Block 24 Primitivo to contrast! And Mike and Molly had previously committed not to producing the same as their family, they happily succumbed with the 2011 Zinfandel R. W. Moore Vineyard. Meantime, at the next table over, Howell Mountain’s new owner, Mike Beatty, poured an equally noteworthy 2010 Old Vine Zinfandel.

Also under new ownership, Healdsburg’s Limerick Lane, a winery borne of Zinfandel, displayed flawless continuity with both their 2011 Zinfandel Russian River Valley Rocky Knoll and their 2011 Zinfandel Russian River Valley Block 1910. Geyserville stalwarts Trentadue contrasted their 2011 La Storia Zinfandel with the 2012 Old Patch Red Lot 36, a Zinfandel/Petite Sirah blend, while their winemaker, Miroslav Tcholakov, showcased his Miro Cellars2011 Zinfandel Wolcott-Bevill & Piccetti Vineyards. And biodynamic pioneers Quivira featured their 2011 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley, rounded with 10% Petite Sirah, 7% Carignane, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 1%Syrah, plus their superb 2011 Quest, a blend of 85% Zinfandel and 15% Petite Sirah.

I freely admit a longstanding fondness for the Italian varietals Acorn produces; here owner Bill Nachbaur demonstrated the range of his œnological dexterity with the forthcoming 2012 Zinfandel Heritage Vines, and its current 2011 release, an astounding mélange of 78% Zinfandel, 13% Alicante Bouschet, and 7% Petite Sirah, with the remaining 2% comprised of a field blend that includes Carignane, Trousseau, Sangiovese, Petit Bouschet, Négrette, Syrah, Plavac Mali, Tannat, Muscat Noir, Peloursin, Béclan, Cinsault, and Grenache. Next, over at ZAP’s first table, I paid my respects to Italian progetto, Accademia dei Racemi, which featured its 2011 Sinfonia,a wine labeled as Zinfandel but cited as 100% Primitivo. No need to quibble—Racemi’s Gregory Perrucci has dedicated his efforts to preserving obscure Apulian varietals like Sussumaniello and Ottavianello, while patenting hybrids like Zinfandel/Malvasia Nera.

As intriguing as Racemi’s programs may seem, Sostevinobile cannot bend its sustainable parameters to accommodate an imported producer. But I am gradually moving towards considering other AVAs beyond the California-Washington-Oregon axis, should they fall within the radius from San Francisco that I have proscribed. This expansion could include up & coming West Coast regions, such as the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia or the Guadalupe Valley in Baja California Norte, along with the burgeoning wine destinations of nearby Arizona.

The experimental blends produced by Jerome Winery/Cellar 433 certainly lend credence to this argument. Here at Rock Wall, the team from Gilbert, AZ poured eclectic concoctions like their NV Zinfandel/Blaufränkisch, a 2010 Zinfandel/Marselan, and a barrel sample of their Amuse Bouche, a mix of Primitivo and Arinarnoa. Other offerings included the 2010 Bitter Creek Star XVII, their Primitivo/Montepulciano blend rounded out with Tempranillo and Petite Sirah, and the 2010 Arizona Angel—by comparison, a staid Zinfandel/Syrah marriageand the unblended 2012 Jerome Primitivo. Whew!.

Reaching back inside my originally designated boundaries, Oregon’s lone representative here, Troon Vineyard, offered a straight, if not exceptional, quartet of Zins, starting with their 2011 Foundation ’72 Zinfandel. The 2012 Foundation ’72 Zinfandel proved excellent, as did the 2011 Estate Zinfandel Applegate Valley, but the absolute standout proved to be the 2010 Reserve Zinfandel. Even closer to home, I concluded this tasting with Brown Estate, one of ZAP’s perennial favorites. Of course, their 2012 Napa Valley Zinfandel was delightful, and the 2012 Chaos Theory, this year blending 60% Zinfandel, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petite Sirah, drew the customary crowd to their table. But arguably the best wine I tasted this afternoon had to be the 2012 Rosemary’s Block Zinfandel, a near-perfect expression of the grape.

I did not have the bandwidth to take in the numerous other events scheduled for this year’s festival, and so cannot evaluate the wisdom of dissociating the trade and public tastings. As for relocating to Alameda? Until they build a bicycle lane on the western span of the Bay Bridge, I will always opt for a San Francisco site. Whether the wineries concur, remains to be seen.

No matter, when Sostevinobile opens its doors, they will always have a San Francisco showcase.

What wine goes best with Fruit Loop-encrusted doughnuts?

In our last installment, Your West Coast Oenophile alluded to a continuing need to augment the databank of labels and varietals being assembled for Sostevinobile.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve had the opportunity both to visit
with new wineries and to attend a number of new industry events that
further exposed me to intriguing labels of which I had not previously been aware.


There can be a certain charm when a new, perennial wine tasting starts to get its footing. Or when a perennial tasting reinvigorates itself. The first gathering of the current cycle, the“season” between bud break and harvest, the always delightful benefit in Larkspur for the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, has augmented itself over the past few years, as plantings in Marin County, technically an extension of the Sonoma Coast AVA, have expanded and diversified.


Just as the savory game charcuterie from Mark Pasternak’s Devils Gulch Ranch
has evolved from rabbit sausage and venison shanks to include an array
of farm-bred patés, so too has the selection of wines grown in this
semi-rural county grown beyond the monopoly of cold climate Pinot Noir
to include a broad array of plantings. Famed for its olive oils, McEvoy Ranch in the Marin portion of Petaluma debuted its first wine foray here, the 2010 Evening Standard Estate Pinot Noir, a tribute to owner
Nan McEvoy’s newspaper legacy. But this wine was merely a portent of
things to come, as 25 acres of this special preserve have been planted
to Pinot Noir, Syrah, Montepulciano, Refosco, Alicante Bouschet,
Grenache, and Viognier.


I often stumble upon wineries through Internet searches and articles I read, then try to connect with them for Sostevinobile. One such venture with which I had corresponded over the past several years but never had the chance to taste is Department C Wines, a Pinot-focused label that had originated in San Francisco. Their first Marin release, the 2011 Chileno Valley Vineyard Pinot Noir, finally afforded me the opportunity to meet Ian Bunje and acquaint myself with his œnological prowess.


As it evolves in its own right as a sub-AVA, Marin will mold an identity, one that is not so restrictive that it creates a de facto orthodoxy. In this vein, Pacheco Ranch had first broken through the Pinot Noir stranglehold with its dry-farmed Cabernet, here represented by both the 2006 Reserve Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2006 & 2007 vintages of the Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon. Pushing even further, newcomer West Wind Wines showcased their Nicasio-grown 2006 Cabernet Franc and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. Add to this array the return of Pey-Marin’s 2012 The Shell Mound Riesling and Kendric’s introduction of their 2012 Marin Viognier, and behold the seeds of a varied and distinct AVA being sown.


There are still parts of San Francisco to which realtors fancifully ascribe—or worse, deceptive concoct—a nomenclature to feign the appearance of a desirable locale. A few years ago, restored stucco houses in the Presidio, along the edge of the Outer Richmond, were designated Wyman Avenue Cottages and wishfully described as “lakeside properties.” True, the sludge-filled pond known as Mountain Lake lies but a mere 50 yards away, but in between lies Veterans Boulevard, an impassable four-lane thoroughfare to the Golden Gate Bridge. Try to imagine these residents dashing out the front door for an early morning swim before heading off to work!


The
pundits of real estate commerce have yet to devise a sobriquet for the
triangular wedge that lies between the gradually gentrified Dogpatch, a
strip of abandoned factories and obsolete shipyards along Third Street and its Muni rail line (and home to both August West Wines and Crushpad’s renaissance, Dogpatch Wineworks) and the still-foreboding enclaves of Bayview, Hunter’s Point, and India Basin. Here, in the heart of this terra incognita, the peripatetic Bryan Harrington has settled on a home for his Harrington label.


I’ve known Bryan for more than a decade, ever since his then Berkeley-based operations donated to the annual fundraiser my playwrights’ workshop, Play Café, produces. Bryan’s migration westward parallels an ascendancy in his wine making, both in terms of quality and in breadth; his forte in Pinot Noir has gradually been augmented with an impressive lineup of Italian varietals, including his off-dry 2012 Muscat Canelli Fratelli Vineyard. I was duly impressed with his 2010 Nebbiolo Paso Robles, but most striking had to be his bottling of three different interpretations of Fiano. First up was his striking 2012 Fiano Fratelli Vineyard from the Santa Clara Valley, an emerging niche for Italian varietals. Sourced from the same vineyard in Paso Robles, the 2011 Terrane Fiano, a sulfite-free expression, contrasted quite favorably with the 2012 Fiano Luna Matta Vineyard, an organic vintage.


I made the intrepid trek on my since-purloined Trek 1.2 to Harrington’s Spring Open House in the ramshackle warehouse he shares with an industrial designer and was rewarded for my efforts not only with the aforementioned wines but an exceptionally generous selection of local cheeses and salumi. But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this semi-annual gathering was the portent of things to come,
with barrel selections from his 2012 Négrette, Trousseau, Teroldego,
Charbono, Lagrein, and Carignane. Quite the evolution from the
specialized Pinot producer I first met, and certainly one that appeals
to the esoteric predilections of Sostevinobile! I am certainly looking forward to sampling the bottled versions of these varietals in 2014.



A lot of people are surprised to learn that, beneath my hirsute (beard, ponytail) exterior, lies a discernable discomfort with, if not dread of, San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Back when I returned to San Francisco with my freshly-minted Master’s in Creative Writing, I financed my literary aspirations with a series of bartending gigs, more often than not in the less desirable establishments, where customers invariably tipped with unwashed coins, not crisp dollar bills.


One of the most despicable employers I had to endure ran a tawdry, mildew-laden saloon that feigned a veneer of sophistication with nomenclature bearing trite homage to Greek mythology. One evening, the pusillanimous dweeb who owned this dive inexplicably launched a tirade of racially-laden epithets against a clandestinely-armed patron, who, upon being ejected from the bar, lurked outside at the corner of Haight & Clayton, intent on stabbing me as I headed out.


Fortunately, several of the more level-headed regulars diffused this situation before my shift ended, but what perturbed me most wasn’t so much the volatility of this situation as the
sudden realization that many other habitués of this downbeat district
could have spontaneously sprung into violence without provocation, as if still strung out on a rumored batch of bad LSD had pervaded the neighborhood some fifteen years before.


But what
of the hippies who fortuitously managed to drop the good batch of acid
back then? These folks, so the story goes, packed up and settled in
Fairfax, a quasi-gentrified enclave that straddles the edges of
yuppified Central and still-rustic West Marin. As in Humboldt County, wine in Fairfax now constitutes the second-most preferred social lubricant, and so it seemed most befitting that the annual Fairfax Ecofest sponsor an organic wine tasting tent this year.


Without even a semblance of a site map, I fumbled my way through booths hawking handcrafted flying pig mobiles, energy gems, lobbyists for Palestinian solidarity, artisan ceramic and jewelry makers, tripped over innumerable loose dogs and unleashed children, nearly fell into the brook, but eventually wound my way up the hill, through the Fairfax Pavillion, and onto the hilltop tent perched above the Ball Field of FUN. There I sampled through an admittedly smaller than advertised selection of mostly familiar stalwarts of organic winemaking like Medlock Ames, Terra Sávia, Ceàgo, Scenic Root’s Spicerack, and Chacewater.


Of course, I found it most heartening to sample through an array of organic Sangiovese and Tuscan blends from old friends at Frey, Petroni, Barra’s Girasole, and Lou Bock’s Chance Creek, but the serendipity of the afternoon came from Fairfax’ own Maysie Cellars, a boutique operation that poured its 2012 Rosato and the 2010 Sangiovese Masút, one of three different Sangio/Tuscan bottlings they offer. 


Also of note, an outstanding 2010 Velocity, the flagship Malbec from Velocity Cellars in Ashland, Oregon, which also is known the home of California’s leading Shakespeare festival—at least it is in Fairfax, where altered perceptions of geography remain kind of de rigeur!


One could argue that Washington was the first state to have an AVA highlighted in a hit song—Alvin and the Chipmunks’ 1958 chart topper, My Friend the Witch Doctor (oo-ee-oo-aah-aah, ting-tang, Walla Walla bing-bang). I prefer to believe this distinction belongs to California, Sir Douglas Quintet’s Top 100 hit in 1969, Mendocino. At least, that was how my initial introduction to this rising star on the viticultural landscape came about.


Now in its fifth incarnation, after devolving from The Golden Glass (sadly, an event now in search of itself), Taste of Mendocino revamped its format from last year’s extravaganza at Terra; the dissolution of the Mendocino Winegrape & Wine Commission gave rise to the newly-formed Mendocino WineGrowers, which offered a scaled-down event at the Presidio’s Golden Gate Club.


Even
though wine was the central focus of this event, the panoply of
Mendocino’s offerings in the gustatory realm was amply displayed here.
Culinary exhibitors like Assaggiare Mendocino, Kemmy’s Pies, Eat Mendocino, Pennyroyal Farm, Mendocino Organics, and Ocean Harvest Sea Vegetable
served up exceptional tidbits that included savory panini sandwiches,
slices of homemade fruit pies, several cheese selections, and an
assortment of delectable dried seaweed snacks


And of course, there was the wine. Over the years, I have tasted numerous wines from Alder Springs Vineyard, but can’t recall any from under his own label. Given owner R. Stuart Bewley’s beverage
pedigree, it would be all too tempting to quip how these four wines
were far better than California Coolers; then again, they were far better than many, many wines I have tried over the years I have been building the wine program for Sostevinobile. I was well impressed by both of the white selections on hand, the 2011 Row Five Viognier-Marsanne and the 2010 Estate Chardonnay, while the 2011 Estate Syrah easily proved their equal. The standout, however, was a claret-style wine deftly blending Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot, the sumptuous 2009 13 Tasks
. Tempting, of course, to describe this wine as Herculean, but that would leave it a task short.


The
beauty of the wine program I am designing comes from the breadth I
allowed for creativity, particularly in designing categories for the 16
three-wine flights that will form the core of our menu every week. With
such an expansive latitude, I needn’t restrict myself only to varietal
groupings, featured AVAs, focus on a particular winemaker, etc., and can
create truly esoteric groupings, like Euphonic Wineries (Harmony Wynelands, Harmonique and Harmony Cellars),
Wines of the NFL or Ivy League Winemakers or something else that
strikes my fancy. Shortly after Marc Mondavi released his own Divining Rod label, I learned about Van Williamson’s Witching Stick Wines, here ably represented by their 2010 Fashauer Zinfandel. Now all I need is a third label predicated on dowsing and I’ll have my category!


On the other hand, I will never be able to bring myself to have a flight based on pet-themed labels. Or really bad proselytizing puns, like Same Sex Meritage. But Testa Vineyards
could earn an entire flight for themselves, were they take up my
suggestion that they give their wines Italian colloquial names. Such as Testa Dura, something my paternal grandfather used to call me in moments of exasperation (other terms, in his native dialetto napoletano, comprise an orthography far too mangled for me to attempt). Nonetheless, with wines like the 2010 Simply Black Tré, a striking blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane, and Petite Sirah, and the compelling 2010 Simply Charbono, my suggestions were likely superfluous.




It
should be noted that regional dialects are not merely the province of
former Italian city-states. Up in Mendocino, the natives of Boonville
concocted Boontling, their own derivation on English peppered with numerous derivations from Scottish Gaelic, Irish, Pomoan and Spanish, along with unique local coinages. Frati Horn, the Boontling term for “glass of wine,” produced limited releases of the 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and its more complex successor, the just-released 2011 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. Apparently, this esoteric dialect is facing the possibility of extinction, with only 12 fluent speakers remaining, but even an outsider can understand that these wines make for bahl hornin’!






Familiar faces populated the rest of the tables at the Golden Gate Club this afternoon. Standout wines included a surprisingly subtle 2009 Merlot from Albertina, along with their 2009 Cabernet Franc and textured 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Reserve. Bink Wines proved just as formidable with their 2009 Merlot Hawkes Butte Vineyard, while Phillip Baxter excelled with both his 2009 Pinot Noir and 2009 Syrah Valente Vineyard.


As has been almost a rule of thumb, the pourings of 2010 Pinot Noir from Claudia Springs and from Greenwood Ridge proved outstanding, as did the latter’s perennial favorite 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, a masterful organic expression. Elke Vineyards also shone with their 2010 Pinot Noir Donnelly Creek Pinot Noir, while the aforementioned Harmonique dazzled with both the 2007 Pinot Noir The Noble One and the 2008 Chardonnay Un-Oaked,


Normally, I’d be quite skeptical of any self-canonized winemaker, but
Gregory Graziano has certainly committed himself to the promulgation of
Italian varietals in California as devoutly as any evangelical,
particularly with his Monte Volpe and Enotria labels. Under the latter auspices, his 2009 Dolcetto proved a delightfully unexpected discovery. Biodynamic adherents Jeriko Estate contrasted a compelling 2011 Pinot Noir Pommard Clone with a vastly impressive 2010 Sangiovese.


The
2011 vintage seems to be erratic for Pinot Noir, though not without
splendid bottlings throughout both California and Oregon’s
Burgundian-focused AVAs; on the other hand, 2010 continues to show
uniformly excellent, as also evidenced here by both Lula Cellars
2010 Mendocino Coast Pinot Noir and Navarro’s 2010 Pinot Noir Méthode à l’Ancienne.


Rounding out my most notable list for the afternoon, Meyer Cellars impressed with their Meyer 2009 Syrah High Ground, while my longtime friend Fred Buonanno displayed his usual aplomb with both the 2009 Pinot Noir Marguerite Vineyard and the 2012 Gewürztraminer Ferrington Vineyard from his meticulously sustainable Philo Ridge.


I
am not meaning to give short-shrift to the other wineries pouring here
and covered numerous times in this column. At the risk of sounding
trite, the whole event this day was greater than the sum of its parts,
and, in many ways, Taste of Mendocino proved an ideal
tasting, with the right balance of wine and food, and just the right
number of participating producers that one could both enjoy each of the
wines without the sense of being rushed or scrambling to cover as much
as possible.



Ordinarily, wine serves as a complement to food, an equal partner in gustatory pairings. At the 6th Annual Vinify Get a Taste tasting in Santa Rosa, the culinary indulgence of Vinoteca co-owner
Hillary Lattanzio came close overwhelming the collective vinifications
of 14 boutique winemakers. Trays upon trays of hand-pressed
meatballs—three varieties in three different sauces—lured attendees from
the different wine stations set up along this cozy custom crush
facility parked inside the same Santa Rosa industrial complex that
houses Carol Shelton and Salinia.


Along with anchor winery Lattanzio, well-known produces like Olson Ogden, Sojourn, Couloir, and Calluna poured alongside Baker Lane, Argot, Bjørnstad, Desmond, and Frostwatch. Boutique producers included pulchritudinous Pfendler, co-tenant Super Sonoman, and Syrah virtuoso Westerhold. Having cited these labels in numerous Sostevinobile posts, I was nonetheless pleased to discover Randal Bennett’s Townley Wines pouring their 2010 Chardonnay Alder Springs Vineyard, the almost foolproof 2010 Pinot Noir La Encantada Vineyard, and a curiously-named 2008 The Shizzle Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. 
Other revelations here came from microproducer Cowan Cellars2012 Sauvignon Blanc Lake County2012 Rosé North Coast2010 Isa, and 2010 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, while Couloir’s alter ego, Straight Line Wines impressed with a trio of wines: the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, 2011 Syrah, and, most welcome, 2011 Tempranillo.


Over the past few years, T.A.P.A.S.
has proven the most peripatetic of the major tastings, changing venues
with almost each iteration until settling this year, as have many
others, at the Golden Gate Club. One of the cornerstones of this event
has always been its gargantuan paella dish, this Spanish culinary
staple being the perfect complement to Tempranillo. Whether it were a
matter of funding or the challenges of the Presidio setting, I cannot
attest, but its absence this year sorely impacted the overall tasting. 

Nonetheless,
the smaller venue paired nicely with the intimate collection of
wineries for the sixth staging of the Grand Tasting. The forty wineries
on hand included a number of new participants (at least, new for Sostevinobile, as commitments to a synchronous event in St. Helena precluded my attending), a list that began with Egan Cellars, a boutique operation that impressed with its
2011 Albariño Terra Alta Vineyard and 2011 Tempranillo Liberty Oaks Vineyard (along with an anomalous 2012 Vermentino Las Lomas Vineyard they graciously poured).

From Paso Robles, the delightfully-named Pasoport focuses on fortified wines whose sanctioned nomenclature, fortunately, was grandfathered in before the U.S. /EU Wine Agreement on Certificates of Label Approval took effect, as well as other Portuguese-style blends and varietals. Starting with their 2011 Vinho Blanco Edna Valley, a light, competent Albariño that prefaced their 2008 Vinho Tinto, a deft blend of 30%
Tempranillo, 25% Touriga, 23% Tinta Cão, and 22% Souzão. Beyond these
still wines, their port offerings took center stage: the 2008 PasoPort Brandi Touriga Nacional and the utterly superb 2007 Violeta, an intense marriage of 53% Touriga, 28% Souzão, and 19% Tinta Cão.

The US/EU Wine Agreement covers a number of Spanish regional designations, but not the labeling within. As such, Dubost Ranch can call its red blend—40% Tempranillo, 40% Syrah, 20% Garnacha—a 2009 Crianza (though
Syrah is not a designated varietal of the Rioja DOCa, this wine does
conform to the aging prerequisites of Crianza classification).
Similarly, the 2009 Reserva Starr Ranch, a co-fermented blend of 30% Tempranillo and 70% Syrah, aged in barrels for three years before bottling, as Rioja requires.

After selling off their vast R. H. Philips
operations, Lane and John Giguiere remained in Yolo County and opened
their Crew Wine company, a multi-label holding company that includes Matchbook in Zamora, CA. Their Iberian offerings include the 2009 Tempranillo Dunnigan Hills, the crisp 2012 Rosé of Tempranillo Dunnigan Hills, and a 2009 Tinto Rey, a crossover blend of 40% Tempranillo, 33% Syrah, 19% Graciano, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 4% Tannat. From Sonora, Inner Sanctum Cellars featured a more traditional blend, the intriguing 2010 Torro, a mélange of 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano.

Though
distinctly California town, Sonora and Zamora sound as if they belong
in Arizona. Each year, T.A.P.A.S includes a growing contingent of
wineries from the Sonoita AVA and the Verde Valley; as the quality of
these wines incrementally improves, it becomes more and more compelling
to expand the scope of Sostevinobile’s wine program (though technically not part of the West Coast, these vineyards do fall within the 750-mile radius from San Francisco).Highlights from the Cactus State included a competent 2012 Tempranillo from Javelina Leap, Dos Cabezas three-headed blend of Tempranillo, Monastrell, and Garnacha, the 2010 Aguileon Cochise County, and longtime participant Callaghan Vineyards, returning here with their 2009 Claire’s Sonoita, a blend of 55% Monastrell and 45% Garnacha.

One of the state’s highest profile winery, Caduceus Cellars, stems from the pioneering vision of Maynard James Keenan, lead singer of Tool. At T.A.P.A.S., his 2010 Sancha artfully blended Tempranillo with 8% Garnacha. Meanwhile, sister winery Arizona Stronghold poured their 2010 Site Archive Mourvèdre, aka Monastrell, as well as the 2011 Site Archive Malvasia Mid-Block, a varietal whose Spanish name eludes me.

In 2013, Arizona Stronghold brought a number of new varietals into production, including their Cabernet Pfeffer. Kenneth Volk,
which sources Cabernet Pfeffer from California’s only known plantings,
broadly impressed here with their wide selection of Iberian varietals,
most notably the 2010 Verdelho, Paso Robles, a striking 2009 Grenache San Benito Vineyard, and the redoubtable 2008 Tempranillo San Benito (though technically not part of the official T.A.P.A.S. roster, both the outstanding 2010 Tannat Bella Collina Vineyards and 2007 Cabernet Franc Paso Robles underscored Volk’s legendary viticultural prowess).

As
with Primitivo and Zinfandel, or Charbono and Dolcetto, there continues
to be considerable debate on whether Cabernet Pfeffer and Gros Verdot
are distinct varietals or simply different nomenclature for the same
grape (Sostevinobile is wont to believe they are not).
Nonetheless, let me move onto Petit Verdot, another grape that is
normally foreign to the Iberian lexicon; here, this ancillary Bordelaise
varietal comprised a third of the trilogy that comprised Starr Ranch’s 2010 Orion, in what has previously constituted a Tempranillo-Garnacha-Monastrell blend. Starr Ranch also served up an amiable 2011 Tempranillo Paso Robles and an exquisite 2011 Estate Grenache.

The rest of the tasting featured wineries that have sustained this event since its inception. Berryessa Gap, which hales from the rather isolated confines of Winters, showcased their 2009 Rocky Ridge Tempranillo. Bodegas Paso Robles stunned with their 2008 Pimenteiro, a 2:1 blend of Bastardo and Tempranillo and a delightful 2010 Monastrell.

I do wish Baiocchi
specialized in Italian varietals, but nonetheless they excelled here
with a trio of outstanding Grenache-focused wines, starting with the 2011 Gminor,
a mixto of 44% Garnacha with 32% Syrah and 24% Tempranillo. The
equally-splendid 2010 Orellana featured Tempranillo and Garnacha in a
3:2 blend, while the 2012 Neophyte Rosé (100% Garnacha) proved utterly stellar. Other Garnacha standouts were Turkovich’s 2011 Grenache California, Twisted Oak’s 2009 Torcido Calaveras County, and Core’s 2008 Grenache Reserve Santa Barbara County.

Of course, Tempranillo ruled the roost here, with veterans like Clayhouse, with their 2010 Casa de Arcilla Tempranillo and Verdad’s 2010 Tempranillo Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard. Berryessa Gap in Winters offered a scintillating 2009 Rocky Ridge Tempranillo, as did Sutter Creek’s Yorba with their 2009 Tempranillo Amador County, while from Oregon’s Rogue Valley, Folin Cellars weighed in with their sumptuous 2007 Estate Reserve Tempranillo.

Oregon’s other representative here, founding T.A.P.A.S. member Abacela, brought their perennial favorite, the 2009 Port, a blend of 46% Tempranillo, 19% Tinta Amarela, 18% Bastardo, 11% Tinta Cão, and 6% Touriga Naçional that even an abecedarian could cotton to! Closer to home, Lake County’s Six Sigma showcased their 2010 Diamond Mine Cuvée, an atypical blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Tempranillo, and 8% Syrah, while Lodi’s venerable Riaza intrigued with their NV Viña Selecta, a “sort-of-proprietary red blend” consisting of 80% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, 5% Graciano, and 5% ???

Lodi’s other mainstays here, Bokisch proved across-the-board excellent, with this year’s standouts coming from the 2012 Verdelho Borden Ranch, a striking 2010 Tempranillo Lodi, their 2010 Monastrell Clement Hills, and an always-dazzling 2010 Graciano Lodi. And in addition to their own excellent 2010 Tempranillo Lodi, Harney Lane yet again produced a dazzling 2012 Albariño Lodi.
Regrettably absent from this year’s Grand Tasting: Forlorn Hope, Berghold, and Silvaspoons, three wineries that have long impressed me here and on other occasions. But it would be absent of me not to cite attending wineries like St. Jorge which, in their stead, showcased a trio of esoteric varietals, including the 2009 Touriga Nacional Silvaspoons Vineyard, a sublime 2009 Souzão Silvaspoons Vineyard, and (to the best of my knowledge) California’s first 2010 Trincadeira Silvaspoons Vineyard. A final singular grape expression came from the 2011 Arinto San Antonio Valley, bottled (I had tried the barrel sample earlier this year) by Lockwood’s Pierce Ranch, complemented perfectly by their 2011 Albariño San Antonio Valley.
Even though the San Antonio Valley AVA is in Monterey County, it reminds that the first T.A.P.A.S. Grand
Tasting featured a Texas winery, an absence I can’t say I totally
regret. But this event has thrived, in the past, not just by its wines
but through pairing and the totality of the Iberian tasting experience.
Certainly locating a venue that can accommodate the full panoply of the
event would bode well for the Seventh Grand Tasting next year.


The following week saw the return of a perennial megatasting Pinot Days
in its final Fort Mason appearance. Even if the exhibit halls were not
being shut down for a dramatic redesign, I suspect relocation of this
and numerous other wine events would have been desirable. Shrinking
attendance, as well as a notable diminution of participating wineries,
have reached a point where the Festival Pavilion has begun to feel
cavernous.
With
the desertion of the once-teeming crowd and numerous wineries, there
was also a notable absence of any kind of substantive food offering,
It’s not just that five hours of tasting requires a lot of stamina and a
continuous need to replenish. It’s primarily a safety measure to
provide attendees a modicum of something to nosh and keep from hammered
after visiting eight or so tables. But perhaps a new venue next year
will come with onsite catering.
Meanwhile, Sostevinobile was able to acquaint itself with a handful of new wineries and begin to gain a perspective on the 2011 vintage (and even a glimpse into 2012). First up was Santa Rosa’s Amelle Wines, a specialist in both Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, with a refined 2010 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and a stellar 2010 La Cruz Pinot Noir. As would be pattern, the 2011 Amelle Pinot Noir Pratt Vineyard, while quite amiable, did not prove the equal to the preceding vintage. Showcasing their first commercial bottling, Apogee served up an equally appealing 2010 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, a 130 case effort.
With Siduri’s Adam Lee as their winemaker, Healdsburg’s Bucher offered a tepid rendition of the 2011 Pinot Noir but surprised with a sneak pouring of their strikingly rounded 2012 Chardonnay. Chris Donatiello is another veteran winemaker, and while his C. Donatiello label isn’t new or unfamiliar, it does represent a sort of resurrection since his schism with Hambrecht Wine Group. Here his 2010 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley proved an exceptional wine, while, as with others, the 2011 Pinot Noir Tina Marie Vineyard and the 2011 Pinot Noir Block 15 seemed a slight notch below, although both were excellent bottlings. In his stead, VML Winery has taken over the Healdsburg facility (where , in its Belvedere incarnation, I had contracted my first bottling in 1990) and here showcased winemaker Virginia Lambrix’ deft approach, first with her superb 2011 Earth Pinot Noir, a blend of assorted vineyards and clones from the Russian River Valley, followed by one of the afternoon’s standout, the 2011 Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir. Also not to be missed: the 2012 Rosé of Pinot.
Pence Ranch
lists it address as Pacific Palisades, which would be one of the most
ætherial places to own a winery, but, alas, its grapes and production
all come from Santa Barbara. No disappointment whatsoever, however, in
the quality of their wines, with a trio of superlative offerings:
the 2010 Estate Pinot Noir, the 2010 Uplands Pinot Noir, and most significantly, the utterly delectable 2010 Westslope Pinot Noir. Such wines can only make one interpolate how their sold out 2010 Swan Pinot Noir might have tasted.
In other years, I have chided Tondrē for failing to show at their designated table at a number of events. And with wines like their 2010 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands,
I will excoriate them if they ever fail to show again! I’ve also had a
number of occasions to savor Hall Wines, but previously not had the
opportunity to taste through their adjunct WALT Wines. In keeping with her Cabernet forte, the Pinots here proved just as first-rate: the 2011 Blue Jay Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley and the exceptional 2011 Rita’s Crown Pinot Noir from the Sta. Rita Hills.
A new and interesting participant this year was Healdsburg’s Ousterhout,
a Zinfandel-focused winery that sounds like Pinotage producer, but only
vints rosés from its Pinot Noir grapes. Here their two offerings stood
in marked contrast to most producers, with the 2012 Dellinger Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé decidedly preferable to the 2012 Wood’s Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé. Also pouring a rosé, fellow newcomer Reuling Vineyard juxtaposed their 2012 Rosé of Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast with an equally-appealing 2011 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast.
The last word at this tasting came from Oregon’s Z’IVO Wines, showcasing a retrospective of their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills and their current 2009 Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Judging by the previews of the 2012 vintage I sampled here or elsewhere, Pinot Days 2014
portends to be a revelatory, if not highly enjoyable tasting, wherever
it is eventually held. As long as the promoters don’t further scrimp on
the sustenance.


The day prior to the Pinot tasting proved to be a
whirlwind, starting with this century’s equivalent of feeling naked in
public, namely arriving at an event, only to realize I’d left my iPhone
at home, and ending amid the
row of tasting rooms in Saratoga’s quaint downtown.
The calamity of the forgotten phone meant I could only shoehorn in a
15-minute survey through the vastly pared-down Golden Glass tasting at
the revived Metreon Center, yet even this brief interlude revealed that
this once-monumental event had dwindled to a mere vestige of its
previous glory.

Collecting myself and my cell phone, I quickly headed down the Peninsula for the Farm to Grill celebration Ridge
extends to its members. But before embarking on the long trek up Monte
Bello Road, I detoured to the Campbell Community Center for the
inaugural Silicon Valley’s Wine Escape, sponsored by the nascent Wineries of the Santa Clara Valley
trade alliance. Despite its long viticultural significance—at the time
of statehood, Santa Clara counted more vineyard acreage than any other
county in California—the Santa Clara Valley AVA has long been
underrepresented among the prime viticultural settings in the Bay Area.
On this afternoon, there was an obvious overlap with the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrower Association, with several attendees also frequent pourers at these older trade events.
These wineries also tended to be more seasoned than their less familiar colleagues, yet there were plenty of intriguing discoveries. From Gilroy, Fortino featured a rather impressive 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon alongside their equally-appealing 2008 Charbono from their San Martin plantings. And demonstrating their command of œnological sciences (as opposed to Scientology), Thomas Kruse Winery showcased their 2011 Chardonnay and 2010 Merlot.
Two
other Gilroy wineries further highlighted the versatility of the AVA,
with the multichrome Satori Cellars ably marrying 49% Cabernet
Sauvignon, 36% Syrah and 15% Merlot to produce their 2010 JoyoUS Estate Reserve. Tucked into Hecker Pass, Solis Winery flourished here with a diverse trio of wines: a highly competent 2008 Estate Syrah, a wondrous 2012 Reserve Fiano, and an unspecfied Bordeaux blend, the 2009 Cara Mia.
Two
other Gilroy wineries further highlighted the versatility of the AVA,
with the multichrome Satori Cellars ably marrying 49% Cabernet
Sauvignon, 36% Syrah and 15% Merlot to produce their 2010 JoyoUS Estate Reserve. Tucked into Hecker Pass, Solis Winery flourished here with a diverse trio of wines: a highly competent 2008 Estate Syrah, a wondrous 2012 Reserve Fiano, and an unspecified Bordeaux blend, the 2009 Cara Mia.
Most of the wineries here heralded from the garlic capital of the world, Gilroy. Kirigin Cellars has the added distinction of being the only winery in North America that also sports a regulation cricket pitch and field. Neither batsmen nor Commonwealth loyalists were on hand here, as the winery featured a decidedly Italian 2012 Malvasia Bianca, alongside their 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon and a passable 2011 Petite Sirah (I will refrain from commenting on their saccharine, signature Vino de Moca). Another of Gilroy’s Hecker Pass denizens, Sarah’s Vineyard, excelled with their Rhône focused 2010 Côte de Madone Blanc, a Roussanne-focused vintage rounded out with 25% Marsanne, 15% Viognier, and 10% Grenache Blanc and their 2009 Côte de Madone, a GMS blend with Carignane and Counoise, as well.
Just after Christmas, in 1988, I was actually snowed out of a meeting in San Martin as I sought a custom facility to bottle my George Herbert Walker Blush—A Kinder, Gentler Wine; no worries about precipitation on this scorching afternoon as I sampled the 2008 Estate Melody, a Meritage of 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Cabernet Franc, 17% Petit Verdot, 14% Malbec, and 4% Merlot from San Martin’s Creekview. Morgan Hill’s Sycamore Creek also specialized in Bordeaux varietals, with an appealing 2010 Malbec and a well-rounded 2009 Merlot
As I had sampled a number of Jason-Stephens wines only a few days before, I elected here only to try their superb 2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Likewise, the constraints of a breakneck schedule meant bypassing such familiars as Aver Family, Clos LaChance, Cooper-Garrod, and the ubiquitous J. Lohr. I could not, however, fail to taste the exquisite Martin Ranch’s 2009 Thérèse Vineyards 2009 Sangiovese nor Guglielmo’s utterly compelling 2009 Private Reserve Barbera, despite my usual trepidation after being informed it had won Best in Region at the 2013 California State Fair Wine Competition.
I did like the 2011 Colombard from Lightheart Cellars but was a bit less sanguine about their 2012 Let There Be White, a wine described only as “a fun white blend.” The other wineries on hand—Casa De Fruta, Ross Vineyards, Rapazzini, Morgan Hill Cellars, and Sunlit Oaks—fared
even more poorly, I fear, including a pair of Moscato bottlings I found
utterly clawing. Perhaps, however, these wines were the inspiration for
the box of Fruit Loop-encrusted doughnuts (!) decorating the food table in the center of the Community Center!
With
150 years of viticultural history, the Santa Clara Valley may not
qualify as an emerging wine region, but as a trade associate, it is
still quite inchoate. As such, their events will combine a mixture of
veteran savvy and naïve charm, as the Silicon Valley Wine Escape
showed. The setting felt more like a church bake sale than a slick wine
tasting, with a genial crowd and some of Silicon Valley’s better
gastronomic ventures interspersed throughout this meeting hall. Some
wineries were quite established, others still jejune, but that is to be
expected at this stage, and all held promise for the future. And with a
center bar of tables featuring a surfeit of homemade entrées and
desserts (including the aforementioned doughnuts), they certainly upped the ante for outright hospitality to which some long-established tastings might want to pay heed!

99 bottles of wine on the wall,* 99 bottles of wine…

Your West Coast Oenophile has remained deluged with responsibilities for keeping the vision of Sostevinobile alive, and yet I owe acknowledgments to so many whose wines I have enjoyed these past few months. So, in no particular order or with any attempt to rank them, here’s a list of the many memorable vintages I’ve sampled:

99) I visited with Ray D’Argenzio, who is developing a cluster of artisan wineries and food purveyors in an enclave he calls Santa Rosa Vintners Square. As we compared our common roots from Avellino to California via grandparents who had settled in Glen Cove, NY, I sampled what is arguably the first bottling of “raisin wine” in California, the 2007 D’Amarone. Classic Amarone is produced from a blend of semi-desiccated Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes, but I am unaware of any successful plantings of these varietals stateside. Ray’s interpretation came from a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah—grapes that are no strangers to late harvest bottlings, but he is striving ultimately to bottle a replica of the authentic constituency. Perhaps even with a hand-blown, twisted bottle neck?

98) From next generation winemaker, daughter Breanna, came a highly impressive debut effort, the 2008 Sant’Angelo Sangiovese, vinted from fruit grown in Amador County.

97) I had come to the Vintners Square, following a most promising meeting with Silicon Valley Bank, to meet with Matthew Trulli of MJ Lords. His first allure had been the promise of sampling only the third pure varietal bottling of the “sixth Bordeaux red” I have found in California, though several wineries do blend this grape into their Meritages. The signature grape of the emerging Chilean wine industry, Matthew’s yet-to-be-released 2009 Carménère, clearly showed an ability to give the South Americans a run for their money.

96) Another signature varietal rarely cultivated here, Matthew’s 2009 Montepulciano (to disambiguate, the Abruzzese varietal, not the Tuscan vino nobile derived from Sangiovese) amply displayed the kind of complexity I have come to expect from this burgeoning viticultural talent.

95) Matthew shares his space with Krutz Family Cellars, a decidedly understated venture that left a deep first impression. Owner/winemaker Patrick Krutz showcased his take on yet another South American standard with his 2007 Napa Valley Malbec.

94) Not many fledgling operations can presuppose to charge $195 for a 1.5L bottle of anything, but, without question, Patrick’s 2007 Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon rose to the occasion—and then some.

93) A third suite mate, Sheldon Wines, moved here from the Sebastopol caboose where I had originally met with them last year. Here Dylan’s 2009 Graciano continued to rise in my estimation from the exceptional previous vintage that I had tasted.

92) I have long felt the same ambivalence towards Viansa as I have about the Punahou Kid. On a philosophical level—at least in what they purport to champion—I am vocally in accord; what they actually have accomplished or delivered, however, has been a far cry from what I am able to bring myself to endorse. But while the neophyte in the Oval Office combats our economic miasma by committing our scant resources to yet a third theater of overseas combat, Sonoma’s Italian varietal pioneers have taken stock in their disparate œnological forays and revamped with a focus on quality, while still retaining a pronounced fidelity to their founding mission.

Under the stewardship of independent owner Lloyd Davis, Viansa has realigned, jettisoning a number of varietals that failed to gain traction, increasing their portfolio of more traditional wines like Chardonnay and Syrah, along with Bordelaise varietals Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, while still fortifying the array of Italian wines on which founder Sam Sebastiani had originally focused. Perhaps no wine better exemplified this transition than the 2009 Arneis, a crisp, delectable rendition of a varietal that had hovered near mediocrity in its earliest vintages here.

91) Just as astounding was the risorgimento of Viansa’s 2009 Reserve Vernaccia, one of the most delightful Italian whites to be produced in California.

90) Not all Sangiovese is created equal, and few on this side of the Atlantic realize that there are multiple variants to this grape. The Sangiovese Grosso used in Barolo is, as one might infer, a bold, powerful strain of this varietal; here, Viansa showed the subtle intensity of its somewhat overshadowed brethren, with their 2005 Piccolo Sangiovese, again an exceptional expression that reaffirmed the appropriateness of transplanting the Italian family of grapes along the West Coast.

89) I made my way through virtually all of Viansa’s lineup before I tried their thoroughly splendid dessert wine, the 2009 Tocai Friulano. Some winemakers seek to restrain the sweetness of this grape; here, the unfettered expression created an extraordinary wine that could complement the finale of any repast.

I took my leave of Lloyd and his gracious tasting staff, not before collecting a bottle from his hand-picked Signature Series for further evaluation, to head north for more tastings, meetings, and the inexorable pursuit of the wherewithal to make Sostevinobile a prominent presence on the viticultural scene.

*this actually should have read “deposited in the blue recycling bin,” but there wasn’t headline space to fit it.

Maybe I need to take out palate insurance

November turned out to be another one of those months for Your West Coast Oenophile, which is why I landed up starting this entry in December. Sometimes my duties for Sostevinobile make me wonder how sustainable I am. But I get to drink some pretty special wine quite often. At least I usually think I do…
My first jaunt was to a special Friday night reception at Stags’ Leap Winery for the relaunch of their Artist in Residence program. With the good folks at Treasury Wine Estates providing shuttle service from San Francisco’s Ferry Building, this offer seemed too good to pass up—I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Napa with a designated driver in well over 10 years!

The trip up to the winery proved more than comfortable, given I can only remember 10-15 minute segments at either end, wrapped around a much-needed, hour-long nap. Oddly, though, I seemed to be the only rider connected to the wine industry. Everyone else on the bus either worked as a travel writer or belonged to the Luxury Marketing Council, an association with which I had no previous familiarity. While this anomaly didn’t quite make me feel like a nun on an Esalen retreat—after all, the wine world is supposedly my milieu; still, finding common ground among my fellow passengers certainly seemed a stretch. Nevertheless, I did collect some business cards, just in case I’m ever in the market for a new yacht.

In spite of the Friday night commute traffic, we arrived in front of the turret gracing the winery’s famed Manor House in under 90 minutes. Movie fans may well recognize this 120-year-old landmark as the home of my earliest childhood crush, Hayley Mills, in Pollyanna, or perhaps from This Earth is Mine, but my attention was quickly drawn to the crisp 2008 Viognier we were served upon entering.

Details from Portrait of a Community

Inside this converted residence, attendees were fêted with canapés and other appetizers exquisitely paired to the 2008 Reserve Chardonnay and Stags’ Leap’s signature Petite Sirah, the 2006 Ne Cede Malis. Throughout the Manor House, portraits of several wine country luminaries adorned the walls, a remounting of Napa Valley: Portrait of a Community, the series 1998’s Artist in Residence Patrick McFarlin had composed during his tenure.

Outside
on the porch, guests assembled for a brief history of Stags’ Leap,
accompanied by a recitation by poet Theresa Whitehill, and the debut of
the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, an impressive vintage from a
somewhat mercurial year. Oddly, the chronicle of the winery offered rich
insights into the winery’s stewardship by the Chase family, followed by
the Granges (several of whom were in attendance), yet elided
over the period when Carl Doumani brought the winery into prominence and
pioneered its focus on Petite Sirah. Nonetheless, with the current
corporate ownership systematically enhancing the winery’s focus and
upgrading its facilities, we were introduced to new winemaker
Christopher Paubert and treated to an overview of his œnological
philosophy.


Christopher led us on a tour of the new wine caves, where current Artist in Residence, New York photographer Jefferson Hayman hung a selection of his photos detailing the varying aspects of Stags’ Leap. We enjoyed a barrel sampling from of the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Christopher’s first, then collected gift bags that generously include a bottle of the aforementioned 2006 vintage. Needless to say, the ride back to San Francisco became a lot more festive than on the way up!


Alas, I did not have the luxury of being chauffeured the next day as I again crossed the Bay Bridge to attend the 2010 Harvest Rocks at Rock Wall, a winery that has frequently appeared here. What can I say? They put on a good party, they have a convenient location with an incredible vista on fog-free days, and they consistently make excellent and intriguing wines. This afternoon’s gathering lacked their more esoteric endeavors, like the 2007 Tannat Contra Costa County, the utterly compelling 2008 Montepulciano, or their 2009 Sparkling Grenache Rosé (although winemaker Shauna Rosenblum did put on an entertaining demonstration of dégorgement—the freezing and ejection of the sediment cap that forms during riddling—one of the more animated stages of méthode champenoise). The more mainstream varietals that they did pour demonstrated an overall consistent quality, both with their red and their white selections, and easily could stand with wines at twice their suggested price.

I found myself particularly fond of the 2009 Viognier Monterey County,
a bottling that further exemplified how California wineries are at last getting
hold of how to structure this wine—a well-balanced, superb
expression of the grape.
Similarly, the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Lake County displayed admirable restraint, neither too grassy nor too citrus. And with three Chards to taste side-by-side, the 2008 Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay clearly stood above the two 2009 bottlings.

Despite its lineage, Rock Wall isn’t striving to be the reincarnation of Rosenblum Cellars (no matter how much Diageo succeeds in eviscerating the pioneering Alameda facility). Still, it would be nigh impossible for them not to produce a lineup with numerous Zins, headlined this afternoon by a simply spectacular 2007 Zinfandel Reserve Sonoma County. While the successive Sonoma bottling in 2008 did not shine quite as brightly, I did also greatly enjoy the 2008 Jesse’s Vineyard Zinfandel from Contra Costa County.

Given Rock Wall’s versatility, I would have expected a bit more from their Cabs. The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley seemed a tad lackluster, however, while the extremely approachable 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley still lagged behind the numerous exceptional wines this vintage has produced. On the other hand, their 2008 Petite Sirah Mendocino County, the varietal that introduced me to this venture two years ago, showed every bit as solid as my initial exposure had been.

Before closing out with the dessert selections, I did partake in a plate of the tangy barbecue whipped up by Big Ray “the Armadillo” Green. With sightlines across the Bay to downtown San Francisco and AT&T Park, it took considerable restraint not to tweak this native of Euliss, Texas, a town only 7 miles from Rangers Ballpark, about the just-concluded World Series, but great ribs have been known to inspire discretion. Fittingly, the post-prandial wines, the 2007 Late Harvest Riesling and the 2008 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc proved as fitting a cap to the event as an Edgar Renteria home run, and with that I retreated to the comforts of my championship home turf.


Rock Wall has been a mainstay of the Urban Wineries that comprise the East Bay Vintners Alliance. Another member that is garnering considerable attention of late has been Urban Legend, which hosted a Release Party to celebrate the inaugural in-house harvest at their recently completed facility. While I’ve been able to taste one or two of their wines at collective tastings before, I hadn’t really had the opportunity to explore the wide range of varietals they produce, nor focus on their wines exclusively. All of which made trekking to West Oakland’s warehouse district rather compelling (though perhaps more wisely attempted during daylight hours).

Wineries that operate in converted storage sheds or light industrial parks tend to be quite utilitarian—not exactly the pastoral setting one finds in Paso Robles or the Shenandoah Valley. But the lack of surrounding vineyards or imposing architecture did nothing to detract from the quality of the wine, as Marilee and Steve Shaffer readily demonstrated. A polished tasting bar greeted their guests in the antechamber of their facility—a singular welcoming gesture, to be sure—while stacked tiers of barrels holding the just-completed 2010 crush filled the main area. Eager tasting room assistants served up the organically grown 2009 Lake County Sauvignon Blanc, the sole white pour this evening, 

Moving onto the reds, the 2008 Ironworks blended Nebbiolo with 20% Sangiovese for a soft, approachable wine; I held similar fondness for the 2009 Lake County Mourvèdre. A more robust Rhône expression came from the 2009 Lolapalooza, their take on Grenache. The strongest expression of the GMS elements, however, was the 2009 Amador County Syrah, a wine that craved chocolate pairing.

Urban Legend covers a lot of ground, viticulturally speaking. Their sole foray with Iberian varietals (discounting interpreting their Mourvèdre as Monastrell or the Grenache as Garnacha) was a delightful, peppery 2009 Tempranillo from Clarksburg. Bordelaise vintages included an amiable 2009 Petit Verdot from Mendocino and the Right Bank-style 2009 Uptown, blending 60% Merlot with 40% Cabernet Sauvignon.

I had been seduced earlier this summer by the 2008 Teroldego and hoped this or the subsequent vintage would be poured at the event, but I will have to wait for a subsequent visit. Nonetheless, Italian varietals flowed in force this afternoon; released from the dominant Nebbiolo of the Ironworks, their straight 2008 Lake County Sangiovese proved delightful in its own right. The 2008 Barbera from Clarksburg seemed a bit sweet for my taste, but the 2009 Dolcetto from El Dorado County was a masterful bottling (as well as the strongest candidate I could find for an ideal Turkey Day pairin
g)
.

Steve and Marilee put out a smorgasbord of appetizers to complement their wines—fitting, indeed, for the inevitable smorgasbord of attendees one finds at East Bay wine tastings (Sostevinobile finds such multicultural interest in wine most telling to our core mission of promoting wines for their universal appeal). And so its seemed only right to conclude the evening with their Grapefiti, a non-vintage blend of just about everything Urban Legend puts in a barrel—not quite a field blend but definitely not a haphazard assemblage, either. A most enjoyable wine from a most enjoyable venture.


My readers know I made no bones about my disappointment in this year’s Pinot on the River. For weeks, I assuaged myself with the anticipation of Farallon’s annual PinotFest, held just before Thanksgiving in the safe and dry confines of the Kensington Park Hotel. Now, most wine critics, myself included, do find single varietal tastings somewhat challenging—we all reach a point where it becomes extremely difficult to distinguish among the various labels on hand. This tasting, however, completely flummoxed me—none of the wines stood out!

I started to think that I might have been permanently affected by the October debacle—perhaps I would never be able to appreciate Pinot unless my feet were sunk 6″ deep in mud! Then, I realized something almost as horrific was afoot—my palate had gone on strike! I recognized many of these wines; I had tasted them before and delighted in their nuances. This day, I could barely distinguish a thing beyond an initial recognition of the varietal. Fortunately, this setback turned out to be ephemeral, but any hope of finding an amazing new discovery this day was shot.

And so I can only offer an amalgamation of what I did sample, with apologies all around. First up, I wound my way over to the table for Bonaccorsi, a Santa Barbara winery specializing in Viognier, Syrah, and, of course, Pinot. Principal Michael Bonaccorsi cut his teeth as the director of Spago’s wine program in Los Angeles; today, his venture debuted at PinotFest with their 2007 Cargasacchi Vineyard Pinot Noir, a wine even my debilitated palate could not fail to appreciate, alongside the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills and the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara. Also from the Central Coast, Drake poured a striking duo: the 2008 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard H Block and the superb 2008 Les Galets Pinot Noir from Arroyo Grande Valley.

Just up the coast, Fiddlehead Cellars offered a pair of wines from its Fiddlestix Vineyard in Santa Rita Hills: the 2007 Seven Twenty Eight Pinot Noir (the name derives from the mile marker on Santa Rosa Road) and the 2007 Lollapalooza (not to be confused with the Lolapalooza from Urban Legend). Fiddlehead is a bit of an anomaly, in that it produces only Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc and that it manages vineyards in both California and in Oregon, the latter which was not showcased here. Siduri Wines did contrast the two parts of its bifurcated operations, pouring their 2009 Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands alongside the 2007 Willamette Blanc de Pinot Noir, a truly special handcrafted effort.

I began to realize my palate was rather askew this afternoon when I visited with Skewis at the next table over. I had sampled these Pinots with considerable pleasure quite recently in Geyserville; today, I felt almost indifferent towards them. I have long known I can rely on Skewis as a benchmark for excellence in Pinot Noir, and while I was willing to allow that one wine could seem off from my previous evaluation, how could I sip my way through such wines as the 2000 Montgomery Vineyard Pinot Noir or the 2008 Anderson Valley Reserve Pinot Noir and not experience a tinge of elation? I began fearing my libido would be the next to go.

Nonetheless, I soldiered on, hoping my taste buds might somehow recover before the afternoon concluded. Newcomer Beaux Frères from Oregon offered a nice array of their wines, starting with 2008 The Beaux Frères Vineyard Pinot Noir. This Pinot-only operation from Newberg, Oregon also poured their 2007 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and a new release, the 2009 Les Cousins Pinot Noir. From nearby McMinnville, former Stags’ Leap winemaker Robert Brittan paired the 2007 Basalt Block Pinot Noir and 2007 Gestalt Block Pinot Noir produced at his eponymous Syrah- & Pinot-focused winery. Meanwhile, one of Oregon’s tried & true wine pioneers, Adelsheim, showcased both their 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and the coveted 2008 Elizabeth’s Reserve Pinot Noir.

Quite a number of wineries from our northern neighbor make the annual trek to this event. Among those I enjoy with regularity were Domaine Drouhin, with its 2007 Cuvée Laurène, one of their twin Estate Pinots, and the 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. The ever-revered Domaine Serene sampled a pair of its wines, the 2006 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir and the equally-acclaimed 2007 Mark Bradford Vineyard Pinot Noir. Soter Vineyards made a return appearance to feature their latest, the 2008 North Valley Pinot Noir and the 2008 Mineral Springs Ranch Pinot Noir.

Tony Soter’s former venture, Étude, continued his legacy with their Carneros bottlings, including the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir. Just north of Carneros, Hendry represents a rare winery within the Napa Valley AVA producing a 2007 Estate Pinot Noir. Back in Carneros, Gloria Ferrer tends to be better known for their sparkling wines, but comported themselves admirably here with both their 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir and the 2006 José S. Ferrer Pinot Noir.

I’ve long relished the sparkling wines Sonoma’s Iron Horse produces, so was more than happy to sample their 2005 Brut Rosé alongside their 2008 Estate Pinot Noir (a wine I feel sure I would have appreciated with an intact palate). I do know, from the CCOF tasting in October, that I highly appreciated the selection of Pinots from Alma Rosa, Richard Sanford’s followup to his eponymous winery; certainly, there was no disappointment either with the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills or the top-rated 2007 Pinot Noir La Encantade Vineyard. And I almost would have been willing to defer any assessment of the wines Au Bon Climat poured to previous accolades from other sources, but I nonetheless managed to sample the 2006 Barham Mendelsohn Russian River Pinot Noir, the 2007 Bien Nacido Historical Vineyard Pinot Noir, the filial 2007 Pinot Noir-Isabelle, and, with a name almost as convoluted as Sostevinobile, the 2007 La Bauge Au-Dessus Estate Pinot Noir.

Another acclaimed Pinot producer, Merry Edwards, offered a tantalizing glimpse into her portfolio with the 2008 Olivet Lane Pinot Noir and her 2008 Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir. I managed to sample but one of Robert Sinskey’s fabled organic Pinots, the 2007 Pinot Noir Three Amigos Vineyards, and only the 2008 La Neblina from Radio-Coteau, a winery I first encountered at last year’s tasting. I relish Greenwood Ridge for their biodynamic Sauvignon Blanc, but subsequently discovered their Pinot at last year’s PinotFest; my recollections made me eager to try their 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino Ridge this time round.

I opted for the 2008 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Occidental Ridge Vineyard from Failla’s two selections, while choosing the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County from Costa de Oro. I hadn’t had the chance to catch up with Byron since their whirlwind of ownership changes a couple of years back, so I lingered long enough to sample both the 2008 Monument Pinot Noir and the 2008 Nielsen Vineyard Pinot Noir while discussing the evolution of their winemaking under the stewardship of Jackson Family Wines.

Down in Lompoc, Melville operates a highly concentrated endeavor that limits itself to (and excels in) Chardonnay, Syrah, and, of course, Pinot Noir. For PinotFest, they poured three of their more noteworthy efforts: the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills and both the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir Carrie’s and the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir Terrace’s, which are scheduled for release next spring. Melville’s winemaker Greg Brewer has also heads up a Burgundian-focused project with Italian varietal specialist Steve Clifton (from Palmina), fittingly named Brewer-Clifton. I enjoyed both the 2009 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills and the 2009 Pinot Noir Mount Carmel, though even my palsied palate could sense that these wines were still quite young.

Certainly, if time had permitted, I would have brought myself to sample the numerous other wineries who have made this event so splendid year after year. After all, it wasn’t that I hadn’t found nearly all the wines I tried this afternoon commendable—rather, it was an inability to discern the distinguishing characteristics of the various vintages that left me in such a quandary. I recall how my good friend Carlo Middione had to close Vivande, his temple to Southern Italian cuisine, earlier this year, after an automobile accident rendered his sense of smell and taste permanently impaired; even though my own dilemma turned out fortunately to be a fleeting (albeit excruciating) moment, I can well empathize with his frustration. After all, it has been the exquisite subtlety of my palate that has carried on the vision for Sostevinobile for nearly two years.


Fortunately, my taste buds revived with a vengeance in time to take in the second installment of San Francisco Vintners Market, my final marathon for the month of November. Instead, the debacle of my palatal paralysis gave way to the perplexity of perambulating the aisles of a trade show that did not even provide attendees with a booth guide or tasting map. As is my wont, I had deciphered the list of attending wineries from the promoters’ website and highlighted those I hoped to acquaint with Sostevinobile’s wine program; even with this targeted agenda, the task of finding their tables inside the enormous Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason became a game of sleuthing.

Working blindly, I first stumbled upon Rua, a small, single bottling venture from the consultancy at Wines West. The 2008 Rua Napa Valley is a Right Bank-style Bordelaise wine derived from a co-fermentation of Cabernet Franc and Merlot grown on the right side of the Carneros AVA. Cultivar, a winery out of Rutherford, offered a most impressive 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (especially considering its $25 price point).

Sometimes a label can seem so evocative, one wonders whether the wine can match the impression it gives. Despite the allure of David Pizzimenti’s Mendoza, TAJ Cellars managed to exceed expectations with the 2008 Zinfandel and an exceptional 2007 Syrah. Similarly, the classical allusion of a goddess bearing two οἰνοχόαι (wine jugs) adorning the bottles of Mercy Vineyards’ artisan wines heralded a much-pleasing 2008 Syrah Zabala Vineyard from Arroyo Seco. And the appeal of its Papyrus Condensed lettering superimposed on a swath of broad-stroked sunset colors hardly belied the delights of the striking Italian varietals from Plymouth’s Bella Grace: their 2008 Vermentino, the 2008 Pinot Grigio, and the 2009 Primitivo, as well as its cousin, the 2006 Old Vine Zinfandel.

As with April’s Vintners Market, one of the true pleasures of the event was discovering a number of microproducers like Evidence Wines, whose 250 case production consists solely of its 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, a meaty selection from Knights Valley with 10% Malbec, 8% Petit Verdot, and 7% Petite Sirah. Hamel Family Wines topped out 290 cases of the 2006 Pamelita, an estate Cabernet Sauvignon from their sustainably farmed, one acre vineyard in Sonoma Valley. Along with 49 cases of Sauvignon Blanc, Heibel Ranch Vineyards bottled a whopping 188 cases of its proprietary 2007 Lappa’s, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah.

All told, Flying Horse has produced an inventory of nearly 2,000 cases among its three vintages from 2005-07. With Denis Malbec consulting, the 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 Napa Valley Petite Sirah, and 2007 Sauvignon Blanc all proved to be well-structured, memorable wines. J&J Cellars is the premium line from A Cellar Full of Noise’s James Judd; I found their 2009 Tempranillo Rosé more than refreshing while being pleasantly surprised by the complexity of their NV Autumn Flight Barbera.

Vintners Market featured a VIP section with many of the same premium wineries that also poured in April. I was pleased to meet Vito Bialla and taste his 2008 Cabernet, a Craig MacLean vinification tempered with 14% Merlot. Nearby, an extraordinary discovery was the 2007 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon from Rugg Family, blending grapes from Stag’s Leap, Oak Knoll and Yountville. Downtown Napa’s leading wine bar, Bounty Hunter, poured their own 2008 Jurisprudence, a Cabernet Sauvignon blended with 12% Cabernet Franc and 1% Merlot.

Another special blend in the VIP section was the 2007 Enjoie RTW, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot mélange from VinRoc, whose Atlas Peak 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon proved truly outstanding. I was happy to visit with Sciandri and resample their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon I had first encountered at the inaugural Coombsville tasting. Demuth Kemos featured their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mountain Terraces but truly excelled with their 2008 Syrah Bei Ranch.

Back with the οἱ πολλοί, I worked my way through the latest and greatest from Baker Lane: the 2009 Rosé of Syrah, the 2008 Ramondo Pinot Noir, and both the 2008 Estate Syrah and the 2008 Sonoma Coast Cuvée Syrah. I also revisited with Tom Keith’s Athair in order to try his elegant 2007 Russian River Pinot Noir and the 2009 Russian River Pinot Noir Rosé. On the more raucous side, Red Zeppelin struck a resounding note with both their 2009 White Zeppelin Chardonnay and the 2009 Black Zeppelin Petite Sirah.

I had hoped to retry John Chiarito’s Italian varietals, but opted instead for his exquisite 2007 Petite Sir
ah
. With Kelseyville’s Rosa d’Oro on hand, I did get my fix with their 2007 Barbera, the 2007 Dolcetto, and an imposing 2008 Sangiovese. And if that weren’t enough, Treasure Island’s Fat Grape Winery poured its 2008 Sangiovese alongside a 2008 Cabernet Franc, an appealing 2008 Zinfandel, a 2008 Mourvèdre, and a 2008 Petit Verdot.

Page Wine Cellars bottles its Bordeaux-style blends under its own name and designates its Revolver label for the rest. This afternoon they poured the 2007 The Stash, a Cabernet Sauvignon softened with 5% Cabernet Franc, while showcasing Revolver’s 2007 The Fury (Cabernet Franc) and the 2007 Perdition (Petite Sirah). Also from Napa, Longfellow Wines elected to feature their 2007 Dry Creek Valley Syrah Unti Vineyard and the 2008 Pinot Noir Griffin’s Lair Vineyard. The unassumingly named Napa Station from former Merryvale CEO Peter Huwiler quietly made its splash here with a quartet of well-executed wines: the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, the delectable 2007 Chardonnay, a balanced 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Merlot.


In Mendocino, the city of Point Arena has its own lighthouse, as well as an official Poet Laureate—and Mariah Vineyards; their meticulously hand-picked wines included the 2007 Zinfandel and the 2006 Syrah, both strikingly well-crafted vintages. Meanwhile, Bennett Valley near Santa Rosa boasts Bennett Valley Cellars, with its appealing Bin 6410 Pinot Noir. And nearby in Santa Rosa, Kivelstadt Family Vineyard offered its 2009 Dog Daze Rosé (Syrah/Grenache) and the 2008 Pavo Syrah. An utterly superb Grenache came from Santa Rosa’s Grey Stack, the 2007 Dry Stack Grenache, while their 2007 Marie’s Block Syrah came half a sip to being as good.

Like Mariah, Fogline Vineyards handcrafts their wines, with impressive results for both the 2009 Pinot Noir Windsor Oaks Vineyard and the 2009 Zinfandel. Equal parts Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon constitute the aptly-named and immensely appealing 2006 Mixto from Solovino.

I oughtn’t be critical of Greater Purpose, a wine venture with charitable aspirations, but with their added purpose, all-too-hip design, and state-of-the-art Web site, they seem to have overlooked attention to detail in their wine blending. Their two wines, the NV White Label and the NV Black Label, both marry Cabernet Sauvignon with Zinfandel, the latter adding 10% Syrah. Neither had that “you’ve got to try this” cachet, but I respect their effort. I will, however, stand unrestrained in my disapprobation of wineries and wine events that affiliate themselves with or incorporate tobacco; certainly, I hope the appearance of CigarRV—the Mobile Mancave will prove a one-time aberration for Vintners Market. (Readers here should know that Sostevinobile’s
commitment to a sustainable environment means that we will not
accommodate smoking on any portion of our premises, including the
projected outdoor seating area atop our living roof
).

In reading other wine blogs, I sense I may have missed perhaps 50% of the possible new wineries that attended Vintners Market. As always, I am grateful to Bridget and Cornelius for inviting me to their splendid event, but let me exhort them print out a program next time!! It will expedite matters for everyone: the media trying to cover the event, wineries taking the time to make the event happen, and attendees who come to enjoy and purchase the wine on hand. In return, yours truly will continue striving to sample and evaluate as many West Coast wineries that meet Sostevinobile’s criteria as I can—provided my palate doesn’t go south again! 

KA-BOOM!!

It gets harder and harder these days to recall how Healdsburg looked in the early 1980s. None of the sleek, modernistic structures nor the trappings of luxury had taken root back when Your West Coast Oenophile first started out in the wine industry, and the town felt more like a rustic outpost than an upscale destination.

Indeed, all the sleepy little wine villages in northern Sonoma felt utterly remote from the urbanization that had taken hold in Santa Rosa and was slowly transforming this one-time agricultural capital into a mini-metropolis in its own right, led, by among other factors, an Italian emigration from San Francisco’s Marina district. Flash-forward to this most curious decade to find Healdsburg completely unrecognizable from its former self merely a quarter-century ago. But, as I discovered this past Columbus Day weekend, a venture just a few miles north finds Geyserville relatively unchanged amid its bucolic trappings, its quaint downtown a timeless preserve that could easily serve as scenic backdrop for a 19th century Western or Gold Rush epic.

The Sonoma County chapter of Slow Food invited Sostevinobile to cover their Artisano Festival at the Geyserville Inn, a decidedly unpretentious (souvenir pen upon checkout!) motor lodge just north of the village square. Not trusting the accuracy of my GPS, which had mapped out a route that took me past my destination, then backtracked for two miles, I exited Highway 101 at the first Geyserville offramp and wound my way up Geyserville Avenue through the downtown area. Certainly, several of the names had changed, and there was arguably more neon than I had recalled, but essentially the quaint little hitching post stop seemed exactly how I had recalled, a memento not only of its own past but of the kind of town Healdsburg once had been, too.

As I type this installment, the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco is deliberating a ban on Happy Meals, those coercive gimmicks that include the latest must-have toys that virtually compel parents to bring their youngsters to McDonald’s. While I support this measure wholeheartedly, I feel the supervisors are missing the essential point here. The insidious aspect of Happy Meals isn’t so much that they ply kids with fat-laden, 1,500-calorie engorgements, along with their cute action figures; worse is that they instill in these highly impressionable minds the notion that McDonald’s is an inextricable part of American culture, an icon on par with the Statue of Liberty or an institution like baseball, rather than a self-aggrandizing, crass, commercial enterprise. Just as with nicotine in cigarettes, it’s deliberately design to hook kids early and hook them for life.

Of course, if it weren’t for McDonald’s delusion of global hegemony, there probably would never have been a Slow Food Society and the impetus for splendid events like Artisano. A celebration of both local wine and culinary fare, it would be hard to imagine a better way to spend a warm Saturday afternoon. As I drove down Geyserville Avenue, I passed by a tasting room featuring the unassumingly nomenclature of Route 128, the highway that crisscrosses Solano, Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties; finding their table at the entrance to the festival, it seemed only fitting to start out sampling their wines. Despite their lack of pretentiousness, this highly-skilled venture produced an enviable 2008 Viognier Opatz Family Vineyard, along with a superb Rhône red, the 2007 Syrah. In turn, these wines were paired to a Crispy Butternut Squash Ravioli topped with Pulled Pork that had been prepared by Hoffman House, Geyserville Inn’s on-premise restaurant. 

Route 128’s showcase wine, however, was their 2007 Hi-Five, an unspecified blend of the five principal Bordeaux varietals; though I have scant background information on this particular wine, it was nonetheless a superb bottling. I moved next to visit Saini, a winery I had inadvertently overlooked at Grape to Glass. With only 180 cases of Sauvignon Blanc and 98 cases of Zinfandel produced, this boutique operation nonetheless showed itself to be a formidable presence, with a sharp 2008 Zinfandel Olive Block and an even more promising 2009 vintage soon to be bottled. I followed this sampling with some housemade salumi and a succulent medallion of Roasted Porchetta from Diavola, a downtown Geyserville restaurant I had passed on my way to the event.

The tasting filled two separate lawns at the Inn, so I meandered over to the other section and visited once again with Betsy Nachbaur of Acorn, in the futile hope she might have finally brought a sample of her Dolcetto to a tasting. Despite my palpable dismay, I did mange to enjoy her 2009 Rosato once again (see my entry on Taste of Sonoma for a breakdown on its eight varietals), as well as the 2007 Zinfandel Alegría Vineyard. Just to her right, Mendocino’s Chiarito poured their wondrous 2007 Nero d’Avola, a rare and extraordinary expression of this varietal in California. I hadn’t previous sampled their 2007 Petite Sirah, which proved every bit the Nero’s equal; this same Petite Sirah constituted 18% of Chiarito’s 2005 Estate Zinfandel and only 8% of the 2006 Estate Zinfandel. The 2007 Estate Zinfandel, a pure varietal, proved itself my favorite from this vertical.

I had to try a second pour of the Petite Sirah to complement the Wild Game Chili Bear Republic served at the next table over. Ironically, there was nothing ursine to this recipe; this popular Healdsburg brewpub blended in venison, antelope, and wild boar to create a savory contrast to the spicy wine. Inches away and 180° apart, Kim Fanucchi, the cheese stylists at Oz Family Farms, juxtaposed her Rose Petal Terrine with the 2009 Late Harvest Durif from Pendleton Wines, an Alexander Valley boutique. Though this dessert wine struck me as Pendleton’s best effort, I was favorably impressed by their 2007 Zinfandel Ponzo’s Vineyard as well. On the other hand, the 2006 Reserve Zinfandel, along with the 2007 Petite Sirah and the 2009 Petite Rosé, seemed rather commonplace, while the 2008 Celebration managed to blend Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Carignane with 43% Alvarelhão and Touriga from Lodi, a veritable California medley.

I hadn’t seen Arnot-Roberts since sampling their Ribolla Galla during Natural Wine Week in August. This day, they simply poured the 2009 Chardonnay Green Island Vineyard and their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Bugay Vineyard. And I might have bypassed his table if Hank Skewis hadn’t told me they were bypassing this year’s Pinot on the River (a prescient decision, as I will attest in my subsequent entry). This Pinot-only virtuoso featured a quartet from his 2007 vintage, first the 2007 Pinot Noir Montgomery Vineyard and the 2007 Pinot Noir Salzberger-Chan Vineyard, followed by the 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley Reserve and the 2007 Pinot Noir Peters Vineyard; while all four were excellent wines, the latter two proved truly astounding.
The sun may have been hot enough to melt wax this afternoon, but that did not daunt me from sampling a flight of Icaria’s wines. The lofty 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley fused the varietal with 15% Merlot, 2% Petite Sirah, 2% Petit Verdot, and 3% Malbec, while the 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (20% Merlot) utterly soared.
And I found their unfettered 2006 Petite Sirah a heightened expression of the varietal.

From her family’s eponymous, Domenica Catelli served up an Oz Family Farm Rabbit Crostini with Polenta, the perfect complement to the 2009 Pinot Noir Miroslav Tcholakov poured. Before this afternoon, I had only tried the Petite Sirahs his Miro Cellars produces, so it was an unexpected pleasure to sample both this varietal and his superb 2008 Zinfandel. Not that the 2008 Petite Sirah nor the 2008 Petite Sirah Rockpile were by any means laggards!

I’m always thrilled to discover little-known producers with limited distribution at events like this, such as Musetta, a winery specializing in Sauvignon Blanc, like the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Mt. Konocti they poured here, and a Zinfandel I will have to try at another time. Similarly, Verge focuses their efforts almost exclusively on their 2007 Syrah Dry Creek Valley, with an ancillary production of their Viognier. At the other end of the spectrum, Reynoso featured six wine selections this afternoon, a repertoire that included both their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc and equally appealing 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, strong showing for the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2004 Syrah, plus a first appreciation of both their 2009 Long Gamma (60% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Viognier, 15% Gewürztraminer) and the 2007 Long Gamma Red (75% Zinfandel, 20% Syrah, and 5% Petite Sirah), both from Alexander Valley.

Garden Creek may not be the most evocative name for a winery, but I very much liked the name for (and the wine that constituted their red blend), the 2004 Tesserae, meaning the tiles that form a mosaic, in this case, figuratively, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. On the other hand, Foursight is quite the clever pun, given the quartet of partners who produced their 2007 Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard and the appealing, semi-dry 2009 Gewürztraminer. And given my penchant for pentasyllabic Italian surnames, it was a given I would cotton to Domenichelli, who poured two excellent wines, their 2007 Petite Sirah and the 2007 Zinfandel, which combined for a 150-case production.

Montemaggiore also falls into this exclusive category, but their early departure this afternoon meant I missed the opportunity to resample their wines. Wineries I did not miss included Munselle—no relation to the colatura soprano Patrice Munsel—which still hit all their high notes with the 2007 Shadrach Chardonnay and the 2006 Coyote Crest Cabernet Sauvignon, a most operatic endeavor. Kelley & Young is related to the late Robert Young—the renowned vineyardist, not Marcus Welby—and carries on the family legacy quite fittingly with a respectable 2008 Sauvignon Blanc and two truly impressive bottlings, the blush-style Bordelaise blend 2009 Kathleen Rosé and the 2008 Zinfandel. And despite boastinging Denis and May-Britt Malbec as its winemakers, the superb 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Respite is an undiluted expression of this single varietal.

Terroirs Artisan Wines serves as an umbrella for a number of wine labels produced in and about the Geyserville area; it seemed only fitting that they pour a number of their collective’s fare at the Artisano Festival. Godwin produced an excellent 2007 Floral Clone Chardonnay, while Peña Ridge held forth with their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley. Terroirs Director Kerry Damskey also poured the 2004 Stagecoach Cabernet/Syrah, a handcrafted blend from his own Palmeri label.

Many publications, including Sostevinobile, have chronicled the story of the Valdez Family Winery, so I need only let the wines speak for themselves here. All five of the vintages they poured this afternoon proved stunning, starting with the 2008 Silver Eagle Chardonnay. Equally enchanting were the 2007 Zinfandel Russian River Valley, the inky 2007 Petite Sirah, and their 2008 Pinot Noir Lancel Creek, but the standout had to have been the 2007 Zinfandel Rockpile, a wine that could have held its own with Mauritson and Carol Shelton.

Ulises Valdez also serves as Vineyard Manager for Skipstone Ranch from Alexander Valley. Here esteemed winemaker Philippe Melka crafted the outstanding 2007 Oliver’s Blend, a Cabernet Sauvignon with 4% Cabernet Franc. This synergistic, sustainable ranch also produces the 2009 Melina’s Harvest Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which, in turn, marinated the Beef Crostini that paired so precisely with the wine and constituted my last nibble of the afternoon.

In truth, neither 50,000 James Oliver Hubertys nor Slow Food will likely purge the world of McDonald’s, but at least events like the Artisano Festival do their utmost to steer their communities towards a more redeeming diet and a healthier approach to life. This event wasn’t so much a promotion as a celebration of an ethos and a lifestyle devised to benefit both individuals and the planet they inhabit. In other words, the true definition of a Happy Meal!


The following day, just as the Trade/Media tasting was drawing to a close, a thunderous BOOM! literally shook the tent on Treasure Island. The concussive force + the sheer volume of its explosion initially gave the impression that a bomb might have been detonated nearby, but, as this was the weekend for the aerial spectacles of Fleet Week, most soon surmised that one of the naval aviators had passed by precipitously low at supersonic speed. Either that, or the Treasure Island promoters were simply trying new tactics to drive people to drink.

Back when I slaved for a living as an advertising copywriter, personal credo prevented me from engaging certain types of accounts. The 4 Ms, as I referred to them, consisted of McDonald’s (no surprise here); Microsoft (again, my antipathy has been well documented); Marlboro (an alliterative symbol for all tobacco); and the Military. Pacifism aside, I contended that recruitment advertising was deceptive at best and predatory at its worst; regardless of personal politics, it still seems only valid that the Armed Forces be required to maintain the same standards for veracity and full disclosure as any other advertiser must. Without such compliance, I deemed it irresponsible to work on such accounts.

In this light, I feel tremendous ambivalence each year when the Blue Angels perform their acrobatics. Inarguably, their precision formations and death-defying maneuvers are thrilling to observe, and yet these stunts serve as recruitment for an occupation and lifestyle accorded only to extremely few prospects, the odds for attainment as daunting as any lottery. Yet, in a convoluted way, this incongruity symbolized the 2nd Annual Lodi on the Water Tasting, with some wineries deftly soaring to astounding heights, while others remained mired in mundanity.

Compared to last year’s event, there was little variance in the wineries which chose to participate. With so few newcomers, I departed from my usual strategy and attempted to visit with each, making it to 33 out of 43 tables. Still, a microcosm for the entire event could be found in the two “rookie” attendees I did encounter.

McCay Cellars seemed a quintessential Lodi winery: small, brash without being pretentious, highly oriented toward Zinfandel and quite comfortable in its niche. Their 2007 Truluck’s Zinfandel made an indelible first impression, and while both their 2007 Jupiter Zinfandel and 2007 Paisley (a Zinfandel/Petite Sirah blend) scored just below this level, their 2007 Petite Sirah proved every bit as memorable. In contrast, Viaggio pretty much constituted the nadir of what the Lodi AVA has to offer. Situated on the bank of the Mokelumne River, this gargantuan estate has insinuated itself as Acampo’s principal landmark. Garish or opulent, depending one’s viewpoint, Viaggio offers a bit of everything: restaurant, concerts, wedding hall, private residence, except for actual winemaking, which it consigns to a nearby custom crush facility. The resulting wines bordered on the undrinkable. The 2007 Pinot Grigio tasted as pallid as any of the tenuous wines Santa Margherita ever foisted on an unsuspecting public, while neither the 2006 Petite Sirah nor the 2008 Chardonnay even approximated a well-crafted vintage. Granted, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon displayed a modicum of potential, but not enough to mitigate for the egregious flaws of the overall œnology here.

This paradigm continued throughout the afternoon, between contrasting wineries and, often, within individual wineries themselves. On the one hand, Grands Amis proved itself exemplary of the quality of wine Lodi can produce, starting with their excellent 2009 Pinot Grigio. Equally seductive was their 2008 Première Passion, a stellar blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, as well as the 2009 Chardonnay, while the 2008 Barbera maintained the same quality I had recently lauded at The Wine Institute’s Unexpected Grapes from Unexpected Places. On the other hand, Barefoot Wines poured a NV Zinfandel reminiscent of the dreary days when Lodi boasted warehouses filled with 250,000 cases of unsaleable wine (if you ever tried California Coolers or Bartles & Jaymes in the mid-1980s, you know where this wine landed up).

A number of wineries handled their reds quite well but fumbled with their whites. Nomenclature notwithstanding, Dancing Fox produced a remarkably good 2007 Rumplestilt-Zin and 2004 Rip van Cab. And while even their 2008 The Red Prince, a Cabernet Franc, made a notable impression, the 2007 Firedance, a white blend dominated by Colombard, tasted flavorless. Similarly, I found the 2007 Merlot and 2008 Zinfandel from Vicarmont enormously appealing, but completely disdained their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2009 Eclectic Pink Rosé. McConnell Estate vinted adequate wines with their 2007 6 GenZin Zinfandel, 2006 Syrah,
and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Wackman Ranch, yet would have done well to have left their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc behind. 

Barsetti Vineyards, with their picturesque, Van Gogh-style label, comported themselves ably with both their 2006 Zinfandel and 2008 Zinfandel but found their 2007 Chardonnay quite wanting (for that matter, their 2007 Merlot could have been a white). On the other hand, Stama Winery excelled with their 2006 Merlot but fell short with their 2007 Zany Zin; calling their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon “premature” would be charitable. E2 Family Winery offered a decidedly mixed bag: a strikingly good 2006 Verdelho Elegante and 2008 H. Walter’s Family Zinfandel, mediocre efforts with their 2007 River Isle Merlot and 2008 Farmer’s Table Big White, and a dreary 2009 Zagan’s Fire Pinot Noir.

I admit to being surprised at my dislike for the 2007 Chardonnay from Watts Winery. Their 2005 Zinfandel and 2004 Cabernet Franc were superb wines, while the 2005 Montepulciano proved flat-out excellent. No lapse, however, with Uvaggio, which poured quite the refreshing 2009 Vermentino and a splendid 2007 Barbera; their two other nonetheless excellent wines, the 2009 Moscato-Secco and 2009 Moscato-Dolce, provided a pronounced contrast with each other, the sweet version proving truly remarkable.

As with any tasting I attend for Sostevinobile, I am bound to encounter number of familiar faces, be they friends, fellow wine trade attendees, œnophiles or interlopers, as well as the numerous winery owners and winemakers with whom I have become acquainted over the years. Lodi tastings are always cause for visit the Koth family and the portfolio of German wines they produce at Mokelumne Glen. Since last year’s event, I’ve tried a number of other California interpretations of German & Austrian varietals: Dornfelder; St. Laurent; Grüner Veltliner, but all have been singular efforts. Today, the Koths poured an excellent 2008 Gewürztraminer, their 2007 Dornfelder, and the new 2008 Zweigelt, along with their 2009 Kerner and a spectacular 2004 Late Harvest Kerner, one of the great treats this afternoon. On the Spanish side, Liz Bokisch manned the tent while Markus tended to the harvest, pouring their justly-acclaimed 2009 Albariño and 2007 Tempranillo. Their newly-released 2008 Garnacha returned to the previous heights this version of the Grenache varietal had reached when I first encountered this winery, while the 2007 Graciano once again proved itself my overall favorite of their offerings.

Lani Holdener’s Macchia, a winery I had discovered while exiled to the Central Valley, once again displayed its versatility with Italian varietals, the 2009 Amorous Sangiovese and the 2009 Delicious Barbera, while her 2009 Mischievous Old Vine Zinfandel proved her true forte. During this time, I also reencountered Joe Berghold, whom I had initially met in the early 1990s. I had hoped to see him again this afternoon, but was informed he was off on a six week trip to Europe during the peak of harvest (I egged his stand-in pourer, Leonard Cicerello, to send him an e-mail: “sold the grapes to Fred Franzia. $50/ton”). Nonetheless, I greatly enjoyed revisiting Joe’s array of wines in his stead, starting with the appealing 2008 Viognier. As always, his 2007 Footstomp Zinfandel displayed far more complexity than whimsy, while the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon proved every bit as structured. I greatly enjoyed his 2006 Syrah, and do hope his grapes for the 2010 vintage find their way to his fermentation tanks!

Dino Mencarini is a man who demonstrably doesn’t need to travel to Europe in order to relax. After encountering him as I entered the tent, I strolled by his table for Abundance Vineyards and asked where he had gone. “Out on the lawn, watching the show,” much as he had been when I visited his winery last November. But the energy he puts into his winemaking resulted in a pair of robust wines, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Elegante Carignane. During my Lodi trip last fall, I had intended to visit Harney Lane, as well, having been duly impressed by their wines at the inaugural Lodi on the Water. This second time around proved just as impressive, starting with their take on a 2009 Albariño. The 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel captivated; the 2007 Petite Sirah proved age-worthy; the 2008 Zinfandel—utterly seductive.

This being Lodi, Zinfandel held center stage at a number of wineries. Tiny St. Sophia poured just one wine but made the most with their 2007 Zinfandel. M2 Wines, which is not Emtu Wines, comported themselves quite admirably with the 2008 Soucie Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel and the 2008 Artist Series Zinfandel. Benson Ferry dazzled with their 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel, which they poured alongside their Lodi-specific 2006 95240 Zinfandel and the ultra-specific 2006 Nine X Nine Zinfandel, named for “the Lodi region’s historic, head-trained Zinfandel vines, which were planted with 9′ x 9′ spacing for easy cultivation and optimal sun exposure.” Their Douro-style NV Port proved an added delight.

Featuring what may truly be the worst Web page of any winery, St. Amant nonetheless excelled with their two Zins: the 2008 Mohr Fry’s Zinfandel and the 2008 Marian’s Zinfandel. I found myself intrigued by their 2009 Barbera Rosé and transfixed by its companion 2009 Barbera. St. Jorge, meanwhile, offered a single 2008 Zinfandel, preceded by their refreshing 2009 Verdelho and followed by an excellent 2007 Tempranillo and the delights of their 2008 Alicante Bouschet. The jovial crew from Harmony Wynelands also poured a rich 2006 Alicante Bouschet, as well as their unique 2007 GMA, a blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Alicante. Their NV Rosé similarly blends an atypical combination of Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Zinfandel (GMZ?), while the understated 2009 Riesling seemed almost contrarian for Lodi.

As he had at The Ultimate Sierra Foothills Wine Tasting Experience, David Roberts bumped into me and insisted I revisit one of his discoveries, Michael~David Winery. I limited myself merely to four from their portfolio of wines on hand: the 2008 Incognito Rouge, their “tango” of Mourvèdre, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cinsault, Carignane, Tannat, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Grenache; the 2006 Earthquake, a Cabernet Sauvignon rounded out with Petite Sirah and Cabernet Franc; a splendid Zinfandel, the 2008 Lust; plus, the excellent and easy-to-decipher Petite Sirah/Petit Verdot blend, the 2008 Petite Petit. Not so easy to decipher was the identity of Scotto Family Cellars, aka ADS Wines, which had been Regio and last year labeled themselves as Blue Moon Wines. This year’s incarnation pour the 2008 Howling Moon Chardonnay, the 2006 Howling Moon Zinfandel, and the 2009 Howling Moon Pinot Grigio, all of which labored to distinguish themselves.

Meanwhile, the highly inventive Peltier Station (see the label for their 2004 UBS —-) introduced their new second label with a quartet of amiable wines: the 2008 hy brid Pinot Grigio, their 2008 hy brid Chardonnaythe 2008 hy brid Pinot Noir, and a superb 2008 hy brid Syrah. The many faces of DFV Wines here today included Gnarly Head and Brazin, which I failed to reach, and two numerical labels, 337 and 181, named for cultivated clones of Cabernet Sauvignon and of Merlot. By the time I reached this table, they had already poured the last drop of the 2007 337 Cabernet Sauvignon but managed to score significantly with the 2008 181 Merlot.

While the Delicato Family may have had the most labels here this day, it seems that Mettler clan is ubiquitous in Lodi. Vicarmont is a Mettler offshoot. Seemingly everyone at the Michael~David table was named Mettler. Curiously, however, no one at the table for Mettler Family Vineyards was a Mettler! Nonetheless, their 2007 Epicenter Old Vine Zinfandel, the 2005 Petite Sirah and particularly the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon were all displayed true Lodi pedigree. Similarly, no one at the table for Cosentino Winery was named Cosentino, for, I am told, Mitch Cosentino has ceded its ownership. Financial ambiguities aside, these operations, which are split between Napa and Woodbridge, still produce routinely excellent wines, like the 2007 The Temp (Tempranillo); the 2007 The Zin (Zinfandel); and the 2007 The Med (a blend rivaling the 2008 Incognito Rouge’s “tango,” marrying Tempranillo, Dolcetto, Alicante Bouschet, Barbera, Carignane, Tannat, Valdiguié, Mourvèdre, Tinta Cão, and Souzão).

A simpler formula came from Lucas Winery, with their unadorned 2008 Chardonnay and the striking 2005 ZinStar. the 2008 Tempranillo, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2008 Petite Sirah, the varietals from D’Art Wines also comprised straightforward expressions, while their 2007 Lodi Port blended 50% Tempranillo, 35% Petite Sirah, and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Their most intriguing wine, the NV Dog Day, marries an unspecified number of D’Art’s wines with 25% Port.

I failed to manage my time adequately enough to reach the tables for Heritage Oak, Ironstone, Jessie’s Grove, LangeTwins, Klinker Brick, Ripken, Talus, Woodbridge, or Van Ruiten, though last year’s tasting showed these wineries to span the spectrum from compelling to marginally passable. I concluded the afternoon at the fittingly terminal Omega Cellars, with their own set of 4 Ms: the elegant 2009 Mosaic, an unoaked Chardonnay; their Bordeaux blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot), the 2007 Mystico; the superb, proprietary Rhône blend (Syrah, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah), the 2007 Mélange; and a late Harvest Petite Verdot melodically called the 2007 Midnight Serenade

As stated in the outset of this installment, I felt tremendous ambivalence about this tasting. Despite its long history with viticulture, Lodi remains an emerging AVA, a region that as recently as 1991 could claim only eight wineries. Many of the wineries can justifiably lay claim to standing on par with some of the best California has to offer; others, however, have far to go to meet contemporary wine standards. Obviously, any business needs to market itself and sell their product; still, I wish, for the overall reputation of the region, these enterprises would restrict their participation from collective tastings like Lodi on the Water until their wines attain a sufficient quality. Certainly, Sostevinobile would be loathe to include any inferior wines on our roster; conversely, those wines upon which I have heaped accolades will be readily welcome.


Regardless of this critique, I do want to acknowledge Lodi for its commitment to the protection and stewardship of its environment and the healthy quality of their wines. Many other AVAs would do well to implement guidelines for their wineries like Lodi Rules, the certification program for sustainability devised by the Lodi Woodbridge Winegrape Commission. I would offer one caveat, though, to wineries like Berghold (Stogie Club Petite Sirah Port) and Cosentino (CigarZin)—or any winery throughout the West Coast that seeks to tie enjoyment of its wines to smoking: this tactic flies in the face of green principles and poses significant detriment to the wine industry as a whole. Legislators are all too eager to impose “sin taxes” on alcoholic beverages, rationalizing their posture by equating them to the same deleterious health impact as tobacco. Someone other than myself once noted that “while the abuse of alcohol is hazardous, it is the mere use of tobacco that is harmful.” It is a critical distinction that should always be reinforced.

Apennine Wine (in 2,000 words or less)

One of these days I will figure out the art of concision. If anyone can demonstrate that they made it through all 6,321 words of the last installment here, Your West Coast Oenophile will treat you to free drinks for a month at Sostevinobile (once we open our doors). Count on it!

In the meantime, readers can vicariously experience the numerous discoveries I make as I continue to build an all-embracing program of the sustainable wines grown on the West Coast. This interminable pursuit led me to Danville on a warm September Sunday for what was billed as The Ultimate Sierra Foothills Wine Tasting Experience. And to think people tell me pronouncing “Sostevinobile” is a mouthful…!

I’ve attended a number of wine industry tastings at private clubs in recent months, but this event was the first not affiliated in some manner with the wine country. Blackhawk is a gated enclave in Danville, near the base of Mt. Diablo. Conceived as a master planned community in 1979, this secluded development includes the lavish homes of several prominent Bay Area sports figures, two golf courses that annually host the LPGA challenge, a renowned automotive museum, and the exclusive Blackhawk Country Club, where the tasting took place. While ample, luxurious, perhaps even graceful, it seemed an odd choice of venues, given its proximity only unto itself.

Still, once I had waited in line to be checked in by the gate guard and wound my way around serpentine lanes until I came upon the main clubhouse, the event came off with nary a hitch. This cooperative promotion between three different AVAs presented a marked disparity between the El Dorado Winery Association, which had held its own tasting earlier in the year with many of the same participants, Amador Vintners, whose wine trail I had briefly explored on my way to Lake Tahoe, and the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance, most of whose members were completely new to me.

The mountainous terrain of all three appellations lends itself to many similarities, and for œnophiles focused on the orthodoxy of Burgundian or Bordelaise varietals, this tasting offered scant familiarity. Amador, in particular, has long held repute for its Zinfandels, and while El Dorado has been a staple of Rhône Rangers since its inception, the entire region has taken quite a shining to the various Spanish and Portuguese varietals that have now proliferate throughout the state. Still, this three county region collectively produces the greatest concentration of Italian varietals on the West Coast, even discounting the mega-production of Trinchero’s Montevina and Terra d’Oro labels. Up by Lake Shasta, Trinity County may have its own version of the Swiss Alps; wineries here are transforming the Sierra Foothills into the western Apennines.

One of the first wineries I encountered this afternoon was Amador’s Driven Cellars. An intimate operation that produces six varietals in lots of 200-300 cases, they excelled with a 2007 Barbera and a 2007 Primitivo. At the next table, Dillian Wines raised the stakes with an extraordinary 2008 Barbera, juxtaposed with its 2008 Primitivo and its fraternal twin, the 2008 Hangtree Zinfandel.

I stopped by the table for Calaveras’ Hatcher Winery and worked my way through four of their wines, starting with a crisp 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. They, too, comported themselves admirably with a 2007 Barbera and an appealing 2007 Petite Sirah, but made perhaps their strongest statement with the 2007 Zinfandel, a cross-pollination of Amador and Calaveras fruit. Another Calaveras endeavor, Murphys’ Frog’s Tooth, produces a wide selection of white wines, including Viognier, Marsanne, and Torrontés. Today’s offerings included a 2009 Fumé Blanc and a very approachable 2009 Pinot Grigio, as well as the 2008 Barbera and the rich 2008 Grenache from their red portfolio.

In usual fashion, I sought to visit wineries with whom I needed to establish a relationship before revisiting those whom I have documented here previously. I had fully intended to swing by and taste Twisted Oak, but time did not allow me to reach their table on my final swing-though; however, I did want to acknowledge their pivotal role in popularizing Iberian varietals in Calaveras. Flourishing with this genre, Chatom Vineyards brought out an exquisite 2007 Touriga (I am assuming it was Touriga Nacional, not Touriga Franca), along with an appealing 2007 Sémillon and striking vintages of the 2005 Syrah and 2008 Chardonnay. Equally amazing was the 2008 Verdelho from Victor Reyes Umaña’s Bodega del Sur, a striking contrast to his 2008 Marsanne. Solomon Wine Company produced an adequate 2007 Tempranillo, plus a better 2006 Syrah, but I found both their NV Mingle, a Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot blend, as well as their proprietary blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon,Syrah, Petite Verdot, and Barbera, the 2006 Composition, somewhat wanting.

As with Twisted Oak, I initially bypassed many of the El Dorado wineries and found not enough time at closing to take in Auriga, Fitzpatrick’s organic winery, Mt. Aukum, sister ventures Latcham/Granite Springs, Holly’s Hill, the Primitivo and Barbera of Colibri Ridge, Cedarville, Rhône specialist David Girard, and Crystal Basin—all wineries I have previously chronicled and enjoyed. I did, however, work my way through Miraflores Winery’s offerings: the 2008 Chardonnay, the 2007 Zinfandel, their choice 2006 Petite Sirah, and their special focus, the 2005 Syrah. I do wish, however, that Miraflores had brought their 2006 Barbera, the 2007 Pinot Grigio, and the 2007 Muscat Canelli (would have helped validate my premise in this entry), but Perry Creek mitigated for them with a luscious NV Black Muscat.

I finished my El Dorado visits with a sip of the 2009 Viognier from Sierra Vista and a retasting of the 2009 Chardonnay as I chatted with Lava Cap’s Beth Jones and chided her for not yet connecting me with the bottle of 2006 Sangiovese Matagrano she had promised back in the spring. Amador Foothill Winery, too, neglected to bring either their 2006 Sangiovese or the 2004 Sangiovese Grand Reserve, but more than made up for this lapse with an outstanding 2007 Aglianico. Equally impressive was the 2007 Clockspring Zinfandel, while their Grenache/Syrah blend known as the 2006 Kathie’s Côte came in not far behind; I also thoroughly enjoyed their light 2007 Sémillon.

Slightly confusing matters, the next table over featured Amador Cellars, a notable winery in its own right, with a 2007 Syrah, the newly-released 2008 Barbera, and a 2007 Zinfandel I can best describe as jammy. I bypassed familiars C.G. Di Arie and Primitivo star Bray to discover the striking wines of Cooper Vineyards, who impressed me with their 2007 Sangiovese and 2007 Zinfandel, along with a 2008 Barbera and a 2009 Pinot Grigio. I wonder, though, does Cooper make their own barrels?

The story now moves to Story Winery, a place whose URL (Zin.com) pretty much puts the winery in context. Producers of seven different Amador Zins, plus a Zinfandel/Mission blend (as well as, regrettably, a White Zinfandel), they did impress me with both their 2006 Picnic Hill Zinfandel and the 2006 Creekside Zinfandel. However, their strongest expressions came from the 2008 Primitivo and a 2006 Barbera. I did like the 2008 Amador County Zinfandel from Sera Fina Cellars, along with their approachable 2009 Pinot Grigio; unfortunately, neither their 2009 Malvasia Bianca nor the 2006 Elegant Cowboy Syrah met this same level.

I missed out on one of my favorite Italian varietal specialists, Vino Noceto (who else in California makes distinct Sangiovese Grosso and Sangiovese Piccolo?) and Terre Rouge, a house devoted to Rhône varietals while bottling Zinfandel under its Easton Wines label, but did visit with Terra d’Oro, which poured an excellent 2008 Teroldego alongside their 100-year-old vine 2007 Zinfandel Deaver Vineyard. A portmanteau honoring owner Marilyn Hoopes’ mother, Karmère (karma + mère) blended Primitivo and Barbera to create their proprietary 2008 Primabera (a wine and a name far more subtle than Lone Madrone’s Barfandel, which I cited last week); I also found much to like in their 2007 Syrah and 2009 Viognier.

I had just tasted the range of Italian varietals Jeff Rundquist produces, so I limited myself to exploring his 2008 R Touriga this afternoon. After that, my friend David Roberts, whom I had met at last month’s Rockpile Tasting insisted I reacquaint myself with Il Gioiello, Morse Wines’ Italian label—as it turned out, an excellent recommendation. I found the 2007 Triumphe, an atypical Super Tuscan (70% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Franc) more than intriguing, while the 2007 Montepulciano continues to fascinate me.

The 2007 Cabernet Franc from Calaveras’ Brice Station stood out as their preferred wine. Less impressive were their 2007 High Country, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and 2007 Port made from the same blend. Also from Murphys, Broll Mountain Vineyards produced a highly impressive 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, with a 2007 Petite Sirah and 2006 Syrah that underscored this winery’s capabilities. I also enjoyed the 2007 Syrah from Milliaire.

The most impressive Syrah of the afternoon was certainly the 2005 Syrah (in a most distinctive bottle) from Vallecito’s Laraine Winery. Their 2008 Zinfandel and 2007 Chardonnay showed almost as much complexity, while their whimsical 2008 Scarlet Harlot, a blend of Syrah, Sangiovese, Merlot, and Petite Sirah, intrigued as much it delighted. I liked the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Newsome-Harlow; I liked their 2007 Petite Sirah; their 2008 Zinfandel Calaveras County elated me.

If only I could have been as enthusiastic about Tanner Vineyards. Their 2009 Viognier and 2007 Syrah were pleasant enough, but I had quite the tepid response to the 2009 Vermentino and the 2009 Doux Rosé, a blush Syrah. I was also underwhelmed by the 2007 Petite Syrah and the 2007 Mélange de Mère, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot. Perhaps not the best coda to this very enjoyable event, but sometimes, that’s just how things play out.

Most private clubs I know would never daunt a two-star restaurant in San Francisco, and I realize that’s not the point, anyway. Clubs exist to establish camaraderie and interaction between members, not to vie for one of the slots on The Next Iron Chef. Still, the hors d’œuvres at this afternoon gathering made up in volume what they may have lacked in cutting-edge culinary. I deign to criticize the cuisine only to highlight my feelings that an event of this scope ought to be held in a more prominent and accessible location, like San Francisco or downtown Oakland, if the East Bay seems preferable.

All-in-all, these wines were too good not to merit more prominent exposure, should this event be reprised next year. I suspect quite a number of potential attendees shied away from this location, and it seemed that a number of absent Sierra Foothills wineries, like Villa Toscano, Jodar, and the incredible Lavender Hill might have participated, had a more accessible venue been selected. And the event might have allowed more wineries to participate, had its timing not coincided with the beginning of the harvest, creating a conflict of choices for numerous wineries.

I truly enjoyed this event and the vast majority of wines that I sampled. It was an impressive start for a cooperative tasting among three separate AVAs, all with individual agenda. As I told the promoters, it would have helped the afternoon flow far more smoothly, had the program guide correlated with the order of the designated tables and different rooms assigned to the tasting. A minor point for most attendees, but significant for Sostevinobile and other trade participants; then again, with a well-ordered setting and corresponding tasting guide, I might have found enough time to sample each of the wines from all 40 wineries and far exceeded the succinct 2,000 word target I had imposed on this entry!

 

Arizona, Narsai & Bastardo*

*OK, so it ain’t Kukla, Fran & Ollie. But still…
“And what is so rare as a day in June?” This spring, the answer may well be “a day that behaves like a June day.” Finally, after an interminably long rainy season, San Francisco basked in warm sunshine this past Saturday—the perfect setting for the 3rd Annual T.A.P.A.S. Grand Tasting. Your West Coast Oenophile had laid out warm clothes the night before, figuring on drive to Fort Mason, make my loop through the tables, then head to Healdsburg for A Single Night, Single Vineyards at C. Donatielloyes, my duties for Sostevinobile do seem endless—but the weather proved too inviting. I donned my familiar shorts & wine collar, strapped on my helmet, then headed down the hill from Pacific Heights on my 14-speed Trek.

Good thing I made the switch, too. T.A.P.A.S. was competing both with the Union Street Festival and another wine event, Vina Moda’s Crush Barrel Wine Market, also at Fort Mason. I smugly whizzed by utter standstill traffic and hundreds of cars futilely searching for parking over most of the 20 or so blocks from my place to Herbst Pavilion. Actually, this tasting wasn’t originally suppose to conflict with the other events, but Crushpad’s abrupt move to Napa forced organizers to scramble to find a new site back in March. I assisted the board in this search and had tried to get the tasting moved to Rock Wall’s facility in Alameda, but in the end, they elected to return to Fort Mason, where last year’s tasting was held in the Golden Gate Room, the site of the original ZAP tasting.

This year’s tasting included 39 wineries (versus 36 in 2009), complemented by the most sumptuous and varied appetizers and noshes I have seen at a Fort Mason event (why is it that, when I describe the alimentary portion a wine tasting, I always feel like Khlestakov from Nikolai Gogol’s Ревизор, aka The Government Inspector?). Today’s larger setting filled out quite nicely with paella, oysters, chicken breast, jellied quince, stuffed peppers, stuffed olives, an abundance of fresh fruit, cheese and bread—I didn’t even miss the conspicuous absence of Aidells sausages! Of course, however, the wine was paramount.

The Tempranillo Advocates Producers & Amigos Society (T.A.P.A.S.) functions as more than just a trade association. Its goal is as much to raise awareness of the numerous wineries along the West Coast and other states about the wealth of Spanish, Portuguese and Basque varietals being cultivated and vinified here. Though the ample crowd certainly indicated an increasing success with this mission, I was quite surprised to hear KCBS’ Food & Wine Critic Narsai David’s report on Lee Family Farms just a few days before the tasting, claiming they were the first winery in California to grow Verdelho and Rio Tinto that he had ever encountered—particularly surprising since he himself hails from the Central Valley, but then how much credence can you place in a man who pronounces Merlot (muhr•LŌ´) MĀR´•lō?

Confident in my knowledge of the ever-growing and long-standing proliferation of these and other Iberian grapes, I started my afternoon at A Cellar Full of Noise, James Judd’s only foray to date into Spanish varietals, with their delectable 2006 Tempranillo Paso Robles. Judd makes a number of other wines, both from Italian and from Bordeaux varietals (including their fraternal twins Verdot Malbec and Malbec Verdot), while another previously untried venture, Stein Family Wines acquitted themselves quite ably with their only wine, the 2007 Just Joshin Tempranillo. Meanwhile Coral Mustang’s Penelope Gadd-Coster, who led last year’s seminar, staked her claim as the Merry Edwards of Tempranillo with her 2006 Tempranillo Vista Creek, as well as a reprise of last year’s wine.

During my recent visit to the Gold Country, I regretted that I arrived too late in the day to visit Bray Vineyards, so I made sure I didn’t miss the opportunity today to sample their excellent 2006 Tempranillo Shenandoah Valley. I found their 2006 Verdelho equally appealing, while the 2006 Vinho Tinto, a blend of Tinta Cão, Touriga Nacional, Souzão, Alvarelhão, and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) shone brightest. In addition to their 2007 Tempranillo Paso Robles, Arroyo Grande’s Barreto Cellars brought their varietal 2007 Touriga Nacional and the field blend 2007 Vinho Tinto, which adds Touriga Francesa and Tannat to the aforementioned grapes. And Pacifica’s aptly named (from a San Francisco perspective) Bodega del Sur married Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah in a silky proprietary blend known as the 2007 Carmesi, while offering a respectable 2008 Verdelho Alta Mesa and 2009 Albariño.

Albariño, of course, has long been the forte of Bokisch Vineyards, which held true with their latest 2008 Albariño Terra Alta Vineyard. New (at least to my recollection) was the 2009 Garnacha Blanca, an amiable white cousin of their 2007 Garnacha Clements Hills. And though I typically would extol their 2006 Graciano Mokelumne as their most outstanding pour, I favored the 2007 Tempranillo Liberty Oaks Vineyard this time around. On the other hand, I clearly favored the 2007 Graciano Bokisch Vineyard from the several selections Quinta Cruz featured, along with their superb 2007 Tempranillo Pierce Ranch. Their 2009 Verdelho Silvaspoons Vineyard showed a straightforward expression of this grape, while the 2007 Touriga Pierce Ranch deftly blended Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesa. The 2007 Concertina added Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cão to make a striking Douro-style blend, while their 2006 Rabelo presented a Port-style wine from the same. Generically labeling their fare the 2005 California Dessert Wine, Tesouro Port Cellars with a fortified blend of Alvarelhão, Souzão, Touriga, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cão.

Like Quinta Cruz, many of the wineries on hand sourced their grapes from Silvaspoons and from Pierce Ranch, both of whom were present with their own wines. Pierce Ranch Vineyards made their statement with their 2009 Albariño San Antonio Valley and the eclectic 2007 Cosechiero, a proprietary mélange of Tempranillo, Touriga, Tinta Cão, Graciano, and Garnacha Blanca. Silvaspoons’ Ron Silva bottles his own grapes under the Alta Mesa Cellars label, displaying a deft touch with both his 2009 Verdelho Alta Mesa and the 2007 Tempranillo Alta Mesa. On the other hand, the barrel sample of his 2008 Tannat Alta Mesa showed considerable promise but will only live up to its full potential if he incorporates the attached portrait on this label!

Marco Azzurro

The first time yours truly attended the T.A.P.A.S. Grand Tasting, I chose Abacela as my major revelation of the afternoon. Once again, Earl and Hilda Jones flat-out dazzled me with their 2007 Estate Port Southern Oregon, while I was pleasantly surprised by the striking quality of their 2005 Tempranillo Reserve. It still remains to be seen if my most significant discovery from this year’s tasting will prove to be the pulchritudinous Kimberly Quan, but I found myself even further amazed by last year’s pick, Napa’s Forlorn Hope. One may question winemaker Matt Rorick’s sartorial taste, but his vinification remains dead-on. Even better than my previous sampling of his wines, his quarter this year simply astounded. His 2009 La Gitana would surely have made for the best Torrontés of the afternoon, even if it hadn’t been the sole representation of this grape, while his 2009 Que Saudade was easily today’s champion Verdelho. On the red side, I loved his Alvarelhão, the 2009 Suspiro Del Moro but nearly wept at my taste of the 2006 Mil Amores, an utterly astounding blend of Touriga, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cão, and Tinta Amarela.

My readers should know that this far into my column, the demands of Portuguese orthography is nearly driving me to drink, but I will forge on!

Having verified the spelling for Loureiro, a grape I had not previously encountered, I can report on the splendid version Bonny Doon bottled under their Ca’ del Solo label as 2009 Vinho Grinho (I’m pretty certain Randall made up this word). Just as alluring were the 2009 Albariño Bonny Doon Vineyard and the ever-popular 2009 Clos de Gilroy, their version of Garnacha. Another varietal that took me by surprise was one that wasn’t even poured! Bodegas Paso Robles did pour an interesting array of blends, like their 2008 Doña Blanca, a mix of Garnacha Blanca and Malvasia Bianca. Their reds included the superb 2003 Iberia (Touriga, Tempranillo, Graciano and Tinta Cão) and the 2005 ¡Viva Yo!, combining Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as a straight 2003 Graciano. But the real allure was the 2007 Pimenteiro, a wine made from Trousseau (smoothed with 10% Tempranillo). In realms where the FCC holds no sway, Trousseau is known as Bastardo, a name hardly as provocative as the epithet Marco Materazzi hurled at Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 World Cup Finals, but enough to draw protest from the BATF.

Actually, St. Amant poured their 2008 Bootleg Port, a fortified 6-grape combo of Tinta Cão, Touriga Nacional, Souzão, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Francesa, and Bastardo, but this wasn’t sufficient to appreciate the varietal. Touriga Nacional dominates their superb 2008 Touriga Amador County, while their NV Tawny Port Amador County blends Touriga, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz, Alvarelhão, Souzão, and, again, Bastardo. Another Lodi winery, Ripken Vineyards, produced a 2005 Vintage Port from Souzão and Touriga Nacional while making a strong statement with their 2005 Old Spanish Red, a blend of Monastrell, Graciano, and Garnacha.

Some readers may recall my previous citation of my attempt to launch Château LompocThe Wine Served Behind the Finest Bars in America back in 1990 with the late Pat Paulsen. Do realize that I am always fond of Santa Ynez wineries like Lompoc’s own D’Alfonso-Curran, who, besides their superb 2009 Grenache Blanc and notable 2007 Grenache, created their own rosado, aptly named 2009 Grenache Gris. I assume Orcutt, California lies somewhere near Lompoc, and though I’ve not encountered this town before, it certainly warrants attention for local venture Core Wine Company. Winemaker Dave Corey (unrelated to the David Corey with whom I roomed freshman year at Dartmouth), masterfully mirrored his 2006 Elevation Sensation, a Garnacha blended with Monastrell with his 2006 Mister Moreved, a mélange of inverse proportions. I should have tasted his late harvest Garnacha, the 2004 Candy Core (my former roommate could never have been this clever), but did revel in his 2006 Ground Around, a blend of Tempranillo, Syrah and Garnacha. And all I had known previously about Winters, CA was that I lost all cell and data service on my iPhone after passing through this hamlet en route from Davis to Rutherford, but now recognize it as the home of Berryessa Gap Vineyards, purveyors of the striking 2007 Tempranillo Yolo County and the vineyard designate 2007 Tempranillo Rocky Ridge.
I can’t remember a wine tasting of late where the family Truchard did not pour, so it was quite reassuring to see this genial pair yet again. Besides tasting the 2005 Tempranillo Carneros (as well as the elegantly aged 2002 Tempranillo Carneros), their sole foray into Spanish varietals, I managed to show Joanne a few of the wonders that make my iPhone so indispensable these days. Like the Truchards, Yorba Wines, another Napa winery with ancillary interest in Spanish wines, deftly blended their 2007 Tempranillo with a touch of Graciano, also grown at their Shaker Ridge Vineyard.

Many of the Iberian varietals have counterparts in Rhône grapes that I have highlighted numerous times in this blog, though here I have striven to identify by their Spanish or Portuguese identities. Villa Creek Cellars may label its 2007 Damas Noir a Mourvèdre rather than Monastrell, but either way, it was amazingly delicious. As was their 2009 White, which blended Garnacha Blanca with both Roussanne and Picpoul Blanc. T.A.P.A.S. President Jeff Stai’s own Twisted Oak had no such ambiguity labeling their 2007 River of Skulls a Monastrell, while his superb 2007 Parcel combined Monastrell, Garnacha and Mazuelo.

Niven Family Wines bottles under four or five different labels; here, they stood out with the 2008 Tangent Albariño and 2008 Tangent Grenache Blanc, while their 2009 Trenza Blanco combined both these grapes as a counterpoint to the 2008 Trenza Tinto (Tempranillo, Garnacha, Monastrell, Syrah). Meanwhile, Verdad, the alter ego of Rhône specialist Qupé, scored with both the 2009 Albariño Santa Ynez Valley and the 2009 Albariño Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, while excelling at their 2007 Tempranillo Santa Ynez Valley.

As one might expect, the Lodi area was well-represented this afternoon. Besides those wineries I have already mentioned, Rio Vista’s Dancing Coyote brought their two white endeavors, the 2009 Albariño and the 2009 Verdelho (both farmed in Clarksburg), while the ever-wondrous Harney Lane offered both their 2009 Albariño Lodi and the 2007 Tempranillo Lodi. Napa also added Montepulciano specialist Mahoney Vineyards, with their 2008 Albariño Las Brisas Vineyard and 2007 Tempranillo Las Brisas Vineyard, along with Parador Cellars, who blended Napa’s favorite grape, Cabernet Sauvignon into the Tempranillo base of both their 2005 Red Table Wine and the 2003 Riserva.
The Livermore Valley featured venerable winemaker Larry Replogle’s Fenestra, with quite the wide selection—I particularly cottoned to his 2007 Touriga and the 2006 Tourvanillo, a proprietary blend of Touriga, Alvarelhão, Tempranillo, and Malbec. Meanwhile, his compatriots at Murrieta’s Well matched their 2007 Tempranillo Livermore Valley with the 2007 Zarzuela, a Tempranillo tempered with Touriga, Souzão, and Petite Sirah. Oregon, along with T.A.P.A.S. founder Abacela, once again made a strong T.A.P.A.S. showing with Red Lily Vineyards, a singularly focused winery that garnered considerable attention for its 2006 Tempranillo Rogue Valley and 2007 Red Blanket Tempranillo and with Jacksonville’s Valley View Winery, whose 2006 Anna Maria Tempranillo may have eclipsed its 2005 vintage but fell a small step behind its superlative 2008 Anna Maria Port.

The roster for T.A.P.A.S. encompasses wineries from a handful of other states, including Washington and Texas, where Alamosa literally stands as the lone star in this category. This year’s tasting featured two wineries from Arizona, one a newcomer, the other a consistent attendee. Admittedly, this places Sostevinobile in a bit of a quandary. The statement of purpose, from which I have built our wine program, focuses us exclusively on sustainably grown wines from the West Coast. Basically, for the sake of our carbon footprint, I am allowing us a swath of ~750 miles from Ground Zero in San Francisco to comprise our initial definition of local. Quite honestly, I didn’t think Arizona would have wines that would pass muster, even if they fell within this arc. But Callaghan Vineyards impressed me with their 2009 Ann’s Selection that infused Garnacha Blanca and Verdelho with Symphony, as well as their annual bottling of a Tempranillo/Bordelaise blend, starting with the 2008 Padres, a combo featuring Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. And first time presenter Dos Cabezas Wine Works from Sonoita packed more than a mouthful with its 2008 Aguileon (Tempranillo, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Souzão, Tinta Cão, Cabernet Sauvignon) and its Sean Thackrey-style blend, the 2008 El Campo (Tempranillo, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Garnacha, Syrah, Monastrell, Roussanne). But if I were to include these wineries, would I then be obliged to consider other domains within the same radius? Such as Idaho or British Columbia? Perhaps Baja California, where the wine industry is being revived? Or even—gulp!—Nevada? It is really much too much to fathom at this stage, so let me pour myself a glass of 2004 Ridge Petite Sirah Dynamite Hill and move forward.


I had a fantasy that I could wrap up this portion of my blog entry in under 1,000 words, then tackle my evening trek to Healdsburg in the second half. So, as I now cross the 2,500-word threshold, I offer comments on the last two wineries of the afternoon, unrelated to each other in any manner save that their names bring to mind certain celebrities who have no connection to the winery operations whatsoever. I’m sure Longoria Wines might not mind an endorsement from either actress Eva Longoria or Tampa Bay 3rd Baseman Evan Longoria, but they can certainly stand on their own merits with their evocative 2007 Tempranillo Santa Ynez Valley or the 2009 Albariño Santa Ynez Valley. And Viña Castellano has, to the best of my knowledge, no connection to erectile-dysfunctional crime boss Paul Castellano, late of the Gambino family, fully rising to the occasion a 2006 Garnacha, two consecutive years of superb Tempranillos (I found the later 2005 Tempranillo Sierra Foothills preferable), a 2006 Monastrell Sierra Foothills and the 2006 Abueleta, a daring mélange of Tempranillo, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Garnacha. And on that note…

One I missed. The other I made.

There can be a considerable downside to the simplicity of Copy & Paste. Your West Coast Oenophile is starting to realize that the pressures of trying to handle all the needs of Sostevinobile can sometimes cause me to overlook small but important details when I transfer information to my iCal datebook. Like the word preceding the calendar date—the month.
Perhaps I should blame my oversight on my attendance at Rock Wall’s Spring Fling Open House. The weather was perfect Saturday (something Rock Wall always seems to conjure for their major events); the salsicce spicy and enticing; the bevy of Tibetan nursing students who arrived at the tail end of the event alluringly beautiful; the usual suspects—wineries who regularly participate in these quarterly gatherings—there in force. Carica Wines, Ehrenberg , R&B Cellars all poured essentially the same lineup I had tasted at my most recent visit and reviewed here.
Of the new wines I tasted, John Robert Eppler’s JRE label showed notable progress with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford. Matt Smith, with whom I had recently participated on one of the Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wine Tasting Panels, poured several releases from his Blacksmith label, including his 2008 Torrontés, a nostalgic 2008 Chenin Blanc and his Syrah, Grenache/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, the 2006 Hephaestus. Good always to see Sasha Verhage with his redesigned labels for his Eno Wines; inside the bottle, the 2007 Mr. Fix-It (Syrah) and 2007 The Change Agent (Grenache) lingered longest on the memory.
Rock Wall also debuted several wines, including the 2008 Cabernet Franc Holbrook Mitchell, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Holbrook Mitchell, a Sonoma County 2008 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, and the 2008 Zinfandel Reserve. The true revelation of the afternoon, however, was the much-anticipated 2008 Montepulciano Contra Costa County. A distinct varietal, not to be confused with the Sangiovese-based Italian wine of the same name, I have enjoyed this wine only twice before from other California wineries. This 88-case bottling sold out in less than a week (I did my part by returning to the tasting table several times) and truly stand as a harbinger of the risorgimento of Italian varietals on the West Coast (more on this phenomenon later).
Following the Spring Fling, I rushed back to San Francisco to order online passes to the Vinify Winery Collective Tasting in Santa Rosa. With my e-confirmation safely logged into my iPhone, I mapped out an itinerary, arranged appointments in Glen Ellen and Kenwood, then headed out from San Francisco before my usual wake-up time on Sundays.When my companion and I arrived at the industrial complex on Coffey Lane where Vinify houses its custom crush operations, the parking lot seemed eerily empty. Sure enough, Vinify’s front door was locked and neither Hillary Lattanzio nor her husband Matt were answering their phones. The sun was sweltering, Dongzhe was impatient, and I was flummoxed.

I had noticed, as we entered, that Carol Shelton operated her tasting room from another one of the complex’s warehouses. Determined that our trip not become a total wash, I pulled up to her window, hoping to fulfill a long-standing promise to visit her operations. Unfortunately, Carol was off pouring at a tasting in Southern California, but her Hospitality Manager Joanne Emery was more than happy to accommodate us. A check of my Webmail account from Joanne’s computer affirmed that our party was in fact scheduled for the last Sunday in May, so we mollified our frustration with a rather comprehensive survey of Carol’s current releases, starting with her 2008 Rendezvous Rosé, a blush expression of 100% Carignane.
I skipped past a couple of her Zinfandels I had sampled recently, settling first for the 2005 Wild Thing Zin, a much-awarded bottling smoothed by 10% Carignane. The 2006 Rocky Reserve Zin, a bold, signature Rockpile showcased Carol’s considerable repute for this varietal, as did her perennial favorite, the 2005 Karma Zin. Rockpile’s special allure figured prominently in the 2007 Petite Sirah Rockpile Reserve, while the 2005 Exhale Syrah Reserve derived from a rare second bottling of a wine that had been left in cask for over four years.
My readers, fans of Sostevinobile, and our future clientele all know how I am constantly seeking out different and obscure varietals to add to our inventory. The lineup at Carol’s tasting room yielded just such a discovery with her 2008 Sweet Caroline, a late harvest wine crafted from Trousseau Gris. We closed our visit with a taste of Dark Chocolate and the 2008 Black Magic, a late harvest Zinfandel, a fitting cap to our impromptu stop.
I have been building the wine program for Sostevinobile for nearly two years, building on an extensive involvement in the California wine industry since 1982. During this development, I have reached out to and sampled wines from 2,000 or so labels along the West Coast; as such, it seems a natural extension of my research to provided consulting services to other ventures on their wine program, particularly in helping them gain more of a focus on the bounty of wines we have available at our own doorstep. In search of assisting a small group of Italian restaurants incorporate a selection of Italian varietals grown here for their wine list, we headed across Sonoma County to the Kenwood tasting room Michael Muscardini had opened.
Michael couldn’t meet us, owing to a charitable obligation, but we were ably guided through the selections by Tasting Room Manager George Delano. We started off with the 2009Rosato di Sangiovese, a bone-dry expression of the grape I look forward to comparing with other Rosé wines at the Pink Out SF tasting next week. Next up were the 2008 Barbera Pauli Ranch from Ukiah and the 2008 Sangiovese Monte Rosso Vineyards, one of several Sangiovesi Muscardini produces. We could not resist contrasting the 2007 Syrah Gracie Creek with the 2007 Syrah Unti Vineyard before moving onto the 2007 Tesoro, a proprietary Super Tuscan with 58% Sangiovese from both Merlo and Favero Vineyards, plus 21% of Unti’s Syrah.
The 21% remaining to this bottling was Cabernet Sauvignon from Ty Caton, which now shares Muscardini’s tasting room. No Italian varietals here, but memories of working our way through a mixed case of these wines with The Ginkgo Girl last year spurred us to try several of his current offerings. Setting our palate fresh was his crisp 2009 Riesling from the Central Coast, followed by his very approachable 2009 Syrah Rosé. With a wide choice of vineyard designate reds to chose, we opted for the 2008 Petite Sirah Caton Vineyard, the 2008 Upper Bench Merlot, and the 2008 The Ridge George’s Malbec.
Of course, we could not leave without a taste of Caton’s crown jewel, the 2008 Tytanium, a well-balanced blend of 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petite Sirah, 24% Syrah, and 9% Malbec. I had first tried the 2007 vintage of this wine last year at the Open House for Eighth Street Wineries in Sonoma, an industrial warehouse complex that houses the production facilities for Ty Caton and a handful of other boutique wineries like Three Stick, Kamen and Enkidu. I had recently sampled Enkidu’s superb inaugural Sangiovese, the 2008 Rosso Fazekas, at QuestPoint Solar Solutions’ Appreciation and Rejuvenation soirée at Green Zebra, and was happily surprised to discover their new tasting room adjacent to Muscardini. Alas, however, this wine was not on their tasting list, so we departed for a meal in Sonoma Square before returning to San Francisco.


My premature trek to the Vinify tasting made me all the more resolute to enjoy the Taste of Mendocino in the Presidio the following Tuesday.  If only the weather had decided to act as cooperative as it had in Alameda the preceding weekend! Within moments of leaving the Cow Hollow Fedex/Kinko’s, where I had dropped off the sunglasses Dongzhe had left under my car seat, I found myself caught in a downpour as I pedaled furiously over to the Golden Gate Club in the Presidio. I arrived thoroughly drenched, then spent the next 20 minutes seeking out a restroom with hot air hand blower to try drying my shirt!
When I finally did get myself to a point of appearing presentable, I beelined for the tasting room and caught up with Fred Buonanno, who was pouring his Philo Ridge. Though his name, like mine, begs for Italian varietals, Fred vinifies a more mainstream Mendocino varietal selection, with an elegant 2008 Pinot Gris Klindt Vineyard, the AVA signature 2006 CORO Mendocino, and his 2006 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. Of course, the A-Z (Z-A?) in Mendocino wines decidely must be Fred Zmarzly’s Albertina Wine Cellars; an intimate, small production, single varietal operation, Albertina made an emphatic statement with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, a 330 case bottling.
Content merely to span the Bs, Brutocao Cellars and Bliss Family Vineyards herald from a single proprietorship, the former being the primary label. The more affordable Bliss brand offered a straightforward lineup, with an approachable 2008 Pinot Noir an easy favorite. Brutocao’s 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley fell squarely in line with the overall excellence of this vintage throughout the West
Coast,while its 2006 Quadriga, a blend of 40% Sangiovese, 38% Primitivo, 18% Barbera, and 4% Dolcetto, provided a tantalizing glimpse of their Italian heritage wines that were not on this afternoon’s roster.
I don’t know of many wineries with the versatility to make an array of Sauvignon Blancs, but Chance Creek Vineyards certainly proved themselves quite adept in this niche. Of the three interpretation they poured, I greatly favored the 2006 95470 Sauvignon Blanc, while being slightly partial to the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc vs. the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc reserve. And, of course. I took quite a shining to their 2006 Sangiovese. The pinnacle of Italian varietals this afternoon, however, most certainty had to have been Chiarito Vineyard. Advance intimations of John Chiarito’s bottlings of several varietals unique to this region had lead a number of e-mail exchanges before the Mendocino event, and I was rewarded with tastings of his 2003 Negroamaro and his striking 2003 Nero d’Avola. To John’s credit, his 2007 Petite Sirah was no slouch, either.
I am always appreciative of a clever wine name, especially when the wine itself warrants attention, like the 2006 Sedulous from Rivino. I suppose the 18 months I have dedicated (so far) to building Sostevinobile’s wine program might qualify me for this moniker, as well, but Jason McConnell’s deft blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with just a splash of Viognier, deserves the spotlight at this moment, alongside his superb 2007 Sangiovese. Meanwhile, the quaint family operations of Mariah Vineyards seemed to have posted a typo in the tasting guide, lisiting both a 2006 Syrah and a 2006 Syriah, but, indeed, the latter is a proprietary portmanteau (Syrah Mariah) and distinct bottling of but 51 cases, crafted by hand.
Kimmel Vineyards has nothing to do with late night comedy, just the production of a superb 2007 Merlot and an admirable 2007 Chardonnay. One might also suspect Naughty Boy Vineyards as well of having ties to Jimmy K., but is instead the domain of Jim & Emjay Scott and crafts a fine 2007 Dolcetto.
Diametrically opposite but without apparent sanctimony, Mendielle Vertu could easily have derived an esoteric name from owner Bently Luneau or winemaker Kian Tavakoli, but instead chose to honor Mendi, their ranch dog. Though focused on Merlot, with strongest showing from both their 2007 Proprietary Red Merlot and the 2007 Reserve Merlot, they flourished with their new 2008 Chenin Blanc. With as intense focus on Pinot Noir, Phillips Hill held forth with a trio of this varietal, the most definitive being their 2008 Ring of Fire Anderson Valley.
Claudia Springs also excelled with their 2005 Pinot Noir Klindt Vineyard, while also producing a 2009 Viognier Lolonis Vineyard and a 2009 Pinot Gris Klindt Vineyard. Coincidence? Foursight Wines brought along four Pinots, dominated by their 2007 Clone 05 Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard, and a companion 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Charles Vineyard.
Coming from opposite ends of the spectrum, two wineries showcased a single Chardonnay. Independent winery Demuth Kemos produced but a scant 96 cases of their 2008 Chardonnay Anderson Valley, while Constellation’s Mendocino Vineyards bottled 10,000 cases of its foray into organic viticulture, the 2009 Chardonnay. Other boutique proprietors included: Nelson Family Vineyards, notable for both their 2008 Pinot Grigio and 2008 Riesling; Cesar Toxqui, with a sturdy 2006 Zinfandel and a non-vintage Heirloom II, a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot; and Drew Wines, with under 1,300 cases of their three Pinot Noirs, plus a memorable 2007 Syrah Perli Vineyard.
Dreyer Wine displayed its dual personality, with its Il Cuore line and one name for the thoroughbred who ran with such heart, Seabiscuit Ranch. I warmed to Seabiscuit’s 2006 Superfecta Red, a traditional Meritage, but had my greatest fondness for Il Cuore’s new release, the 2006 Barbera, along with their 2007 Rosso Classico, a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Carignane. Meritage components starred at Le Vin Winery, which broke out their older 2002 Merlot and 2004 Cabernet Franc for this afternoon’s gathering.
Maple Creek Winery sees itself as a fusion of wine and art, so it should come as no surprise that they poured a 2008 Artezin Symphony, a grape that itself is a hybrid of Muscat and Grenache Gris. Their notable pour, however, was the 2005 Cowboy Red, a blend of Merlot, Zinfandel and Carignane.Its Mendocino compatrio
t, Trinafour Cellars, bottled straight 2009 Muscat Canelli and 2007 Carignane, along with their 2006 Petite Sirah.
Like Fred Zmarzly, Rosati Family is a Cab-only operation, bottling 1,000 cases each year; of the 3-year vertical they poured, the youngest, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, stood out as the most complex. One of the oldest names in Mendocino winemaking, Weibel Family Winery, demonstrated its small lot varietals, a 200-case 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and a very approachable 2006 Zinfandel, bottled in the same quantity.
Of course, Weibel’s array of champagnes and flavored sparkling wines make it quite the substantial operation. I eschewed their NV Sparkelle for two of the leading méthode champenoise producers on hand, Scharffenberger, which poured its NV Brut Rosé, and the always-marvelous Roederer Estate, which indulged me in its 2002 L’Ermitage.
Following the sale of their family label to Brown-Forman, several of the 11 Fetzer offspring have started their own labels. Present today were both Saracina Vineyards, delighting with its 2006 Atrea Old Soul Red (Zinfandel, Syrah, Malbec, Petite Sirah) as well as its 2007 Petite Sirah, and Jeriko Estate, with its 2006 Pinot Noir and 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Like their original venture, the Fetzer spinoffs all maintain a great fealty to organic and biodynamic farming, a hallmark of numerous Mendocino wineries, including Patianna, which shone with its organic 2008 Chardonnay, and organic pioneers Frey Vineyards, whose Katrina Frey regaled me with the 2007 Sangiovese, as had her daughter Eliza with the previous vintage just as I was formally embarking on Sostevinobile’s wine program.
As always, I never seem to find the time to taste every winery with whom I set out to connect and often miss out on ones with whom I would love to reconnect. I did manage to squeeze in a taste of Esterlina’s excellent 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, along with their contrasting 2008 Riesling and 2008 Dry Riesling Cole Ranch. Edmeades offered a quartet of Zins, headlined by the 2007 Ciapusci Zinfandel. In turn, Elke Vineyard made its strongest impression with their pair of 2007 Pinot Noir Donnelly Creek and 2008 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. I took in a quick tasting 2008 Pinot Gris and 2006 Riesling from McFadden Farm, along with their 2008 Sparkling, but somehow entirely missed both Meyer Family Cellars and Milano Family Winery (I will be sure to make amends at another date).
Had there been time to spare, I would have gladly caught up with old familiars like Lolonis, Navarro, Parducci, Bonterra, Barra, and Jaxon Keys, but, unfortunately, my unforeseen drenching en route to the event whittled away a significant portion of the time I had allotted. Fitting, therefore, that my finally tasting was the 2009 Chenin Blanc of Husch Vineyards. while my dampened attire did not lead to anything quite as dire as pneumonia, I did come down with a nasty bout of congestion and most unwelcome case of laryngitis, which kept me “hushed” for the next several days.