Your West Coast Oenophile ought to be making preparations right now for the most important mid-March holiday, Festà di San Giùseppe—The Feast of St. Joseph, patron saint of Italy, on the 19th. Yes, I know the beer world had its major observance a couple of days ago, but let’s just say Sostevinobile wears its true green 365¼ days a year and leave matters at that.
The truth is, I may not be able even to break out the grappa and celebrate on this Saturday. I have been swamped since January, not just with this blog but with high-level fundraising efforts and with more wine events than I can enumerate. To quote the late Warren Zevon, “poor, poor, pitiful me!
” And so I am woefully behind in the installments I have promise to post here; therefore, in the interest of (vainly)
essaying to catch up, let me try to condense many of my lingering February reports in potpourri fashion.
Il racconto del pavone bianco
Every now and then, I find myself feeling confined inside San Francisco and schedule a trip to someplace in the wine country, ostensibly on behalf of Sostevinobile
, though, in truth, it’s simply
a more of a need to decompress. And so, under the pretext of having to attend the Cheers! to Taste!
monthly soirée, I headed up to Napa to visit with and sample a few wineries ahead of time.
First up, as I was scheduled to attend an event at his daughter’s acclaimed restaurant Ame
in San Francisco the coming weekend, I made a quick stopover at Carl Doumani’s Quixote
to visit with Anne White and taste my way through their recent releases. Given Carl’s iconoclastic nature, he rounded out his superb 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon
with 12% Syrah, a rarity in Napa. As he had with Stags’ Leap Winery
, the estate next door he had formerly owned, Carl’s singular focus on Petite Sirah paid off handsomely with his 2004 Quixote
but truly blossomed in the 2008 Quixote
Anne inadvertently opened. The only letdown here was with the 2005 Panza
, another incredible wine; sadly, just before they realized how good this wine would become, they decided to uproot the Grenache and Mourvèdre vines from which it had been vinted and replant them with Syrah. So much for foresight!
I had wanted to visit with Carl’s other neighbor, Shafer, a winery I have long hoped to tour, but Doug Shafer informed me they were booked for the afternoon. Still, as I passed by the farm that abuts both these vineyards, I heard a cacophonous screeching off to my left. Recognizing the trademark caw of the regal Indian phasianid, I stopped the car and got out, only to be greeted by the pavone bianco—a rare albino peacock!—its lustrous, monochromatic plumage fully spread like the spokes of an enormous white wheel. The sight was beyond breathtaking—I could have stayed and watched for hours.
I finally managed to pry myself away, wondering whether any of the
wines I would be tasting could match the magnificence of this spectacle. Fortunately, my fears were soon allayed. I drove Silverado all the way up to Calistoga, then crisscrossed through downtown to locate the vineyard estate of Envy
, where I had scheduled to met Vince Tofanelli, who crafts his wines in their barrel room. A relatively modest endeavor, Tofanelli
bottles only Zinfandel and Charbono grown on his organic Tofanelli & DiGiulio Ranch, which also produces Sauvignon Musqué, Sémillon, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Grenache, Mondeuse Noire, and Cinsault. I had already tried Vince’s 2008 Zinfandel
, so he took me through barrel tastings of the 2009 Zinfandel
and the 2009 Charbono
, a wine that portends to become quite intriguing over the next 4-5 years.
Tofanelli’s vineyard lies right beside Paoletti
, the Calistoga winery next up on my agendum for the day. But before I headed over there to meet with winemaker Gabriella Gazzano, I was not about to bypass the opportunity to taste my way through Envy’s offerings. This joint venture brings together the impressive viticultural talents of Mark Carter, whose famed Restaurant 301
in Eureka may be the only restaurant in America with more wine selections than local inhabitants, and the previously heralded Nils Venge (the NV in Envy)
Tasting Room Manager Phillip Murphy led me through his entire lineup, an quartet of wines with nary a miss. we started off with the lone white selection, the crisp 2009 Sauvignon Blanc before Phillip poured another Napa contrarian, the 2008 Bee Bee’s Blend, a mélange of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petite Sirah. Individually, both the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2008 Petite Sirah showed highly compelling wines, and I gather there was no varietal Merlot for comparison.
After that, things got interesting, as we worked our way through Mark Carter’s own label (which accounts for ~.35% of the selections at Restaurant 301)
. First up was his in-house wine, the 2008 Table 5 Meritage. Similarly, the 2008 Hossfeld Coliseum Red Blend married Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot in an extraordinary composite. I very much liked the 2008 Revilo Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon but relished the 2008 Coliseum Block Cabernet Sauvignon even more. Keeping pace with this wine was the 2008 Truchard Vineyard Merlot—and I suspect I would have been just as effusive about 2008 Coliseum Block Beckstoffer To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon, had I been able to try it! Last but not least, we delved into the 2007 The Archer, a Grenache with 5% Syrah bottled by artist Ruby Kurant under her eponymous label.
With that, I headed back over to Silverado to explore the wine caves and cellar at Paoletti, arriving at the same time as Gabriella, who doubles as winemaker for her own Rielle
label in Petaluma (I would try these wines a week later at the Pacific Orchid Exposition Benefit)
. We started off with the 2009 Fiora Rosa d’Amore
, a rosato
of 31% Sangiovese
, 64% Syrah
, 5% Cinsault
, and 2% Grenache
. From there we segued. quite logically, to the 2008 Fiore Sangiovese
before sampling the 2008 Bella Novello
, an impressive Cabernet Sauvignon despite its syntactical incongruity. The pièce de résistance
, the exquisite 2007 Nero d’Avola
, one of only four bottlings of this varietal I have found in California.
After a quick tour of the caves and original sculptures Gianni had commissioned, I headed down to St. Helena for Cheers! to Taste!
Usually this social takes place at a specific venue or winery, like Rubicon Estate. This time, however, the organizers tried to create a facsimile of the summertime Cheers! St Helena party, and, frankly, it proved too chaotic to attempt anything except simply to indulge in the moment and enjoy the camaraderie of the dedicated winery workers whom this group supports. Little on the program matched where the listed wineries actually were pouring, but no matter. I had sampled nearly everyone recently, except for Schweiger Vineyards, a winery I would cover more extensively a couple of weeks later at the Spring Mountain Open House.
even though I had indulged in a number of wines and hors d’œuvres at participating venues along Main Street, I still had room for an obligatory order of Onion Rings at Taylor’s Refresher
before heading back to San Francisco. That in itself was pretext enough spending the day in Napa…
Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly
Just because I’m a single male of a certain age living in San Francisco doesn’t mean…you know. I mean…I’ve never even shown the slightest incarnation toward…you know. To be frank, the whole notion of…you know…makes me kinda nauseous. But I concede, when I was much, much younger, there was an occasion (or two) when I listened to show tunes. A whole album’s worth.
As an aspiring playwright, I naturally consider musical theater to be the absolute nadir of the stage and am as likely attend an Andrew Lloyd Weber production as I would order a big Mac and wash it down with White Zin. Still, deep in the recesses of my mind, I heard echoes of the oft-recorded centerpiece
from Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun
as I entered the Mission District’s cavernous Heart Wine
on Valencia for a wine tasting fundraiser for The Proof is in the Vine: Natural Wine in California
. I suppose there’s a touch of irony that the two brothers producing this documentary chose a wine bar that virtually eschews California wines, but with the usual lineup of natural wine aficionados pouring their selections, it became easy to overlook this discrepancy.
Normally, I would have expected to find Gideon Beinstock among this collection, showcasing his Clos Saron
, but he made up for his absence by pouring his delightful 2005 Black Pearl (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Viognier, Roussanne)
and other wines at the aforementioned Pacific Orchid Exposition
the following week. His congenial demeanor was more than compensated for by the appearance of the ever-ebullient Hardy Wallace on behalf of the Natural Process Alliance
, whose wines in stainless steel canteens have become familiar sights at events promoting a number of green causes. The contents of these canteens this evening started with the 2009 Pinot Gris Chalk Hill
and the 2009 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast.
I haven’t quite figured out why organic Sauvignon Blanc just seems to work better than other organic varietals, and the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley
poured here was no exception. The wild card of the evening, though was the whim of the wheel 2009 Sunhawk
, a co-fermented filed blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier, a splendid wine one could easily quaff six night a week.
Their literature states they grow a “field blend of Tempranillo, Syrah, Tannat, Grenache, Negroamaro and Cabernet Sauvignon,” certainly a wine I would be more than interested in tasting, but this evening La Clarine Farm
only poured their 2009 Syrah Sumu Kaw Vineyard
. Nonetheless, this biodynamic bottling proved quite a compelling introduction to this impassioned Somerset winery. Needing no introduction this evening were Tracey and Jared Brandt, though daughter Lily Grace, born March 10, was still in utero
for the event. Her expectant parents poured a representative selection of their Donkey & Goat
viticultural offspring, including the 2009 Untended Chardonnay Anderson Valley
, the 2009 Brosseau Vineyard Chardonnay
, their always marvelous 2008 Fenaughty Vineyard Syrah
, and the newest bottling of their selective Rhône blend, the 2009 Four Thirteen
, a GMS + Counoise.
I’d met their fellow Berkeley winemaker Steve Edmunds years before the Brandts had probably
contemplated starting a label and have long enjoyed both his Edmunds St. John
wines and eclectic Organoleptician
newsletter. To be honest, however, there was a period during the early 2000s when I felt his wines had notably slipped. This evening, it was quite pleasurable to see him back on track with his 2009 Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir, one of the few true versions of this compelling varietal produced in California, along with the 2009 Wylie Syrah, and his own GMS blend, the 2009 Rocks and Gravel Dry Creek Valley grown at Unti Vineyards.
The evening’s great revelation, though, had to have come from Old World Winery
. My good friend Darek Trowbridge seemed almost surprised to find me at the event; on the other hand, I hadn’t realized he was such an orthodox adherent to natural winemaking principles. In any case, it made for an interesting context to resample many of his wines
that I had tried over the summer, starting with his 2008 Sauvignon Blanc
Darek didn’t have a Chardonnay on hand, so we moved straight to his red selections with the 2006 Pinot Noir Sterling Family Vineyard, a wine that whetted your thirst for the 2007 vintage (as many 2006s will). The 2005 Cabernet Two Rock Block Bei du Rocchi Vineyard proved just as delectable, while the 2005 Zinfandel Laughlin Vineyard stood as a pinnacle of the evening. With that, he told me, “I have my Arborio under the table…”
Now, I’ve known quite a few winemakers who produce their own olive oil, raise cattle, or even maintain apiaries, but growing superfine rice was a first. As he brought out a bottle of his yet-unreleased 2008 Fulton Foderol, I finally clued into what he was saying.
This classic Risotto Milanese is made with Arborio, not Abouriou!
The rather obscure varietal Abouriou, also known as Early Gamay, is planted on a single acre in California at the Gibson-Martinelli Vineyard. My research shows that winemaker Steve Canter used to source these grapes for his defunct Luddite Vineyards, which bottled their own Abouriou Gibson-Martinelli Vineyard from 2001-05. After Steve took on the role of winemaker for Quivira
, he abandoned this project, making the Abouriou available to Darek, who, coincidentally, is a member of the Martinelli clan. His forthcoming bottling blends the Abouriou with 50% Zinfandel, making for a distinctive wine that shows similarities to Lagrein. In any case, a complete revelation to me.
After the tasting, we stopped by Beretta
for a late dinner. In addition to the obligatory pizza, we ordered a side dish of the Baccalà Mantecato, a Venetian interpretation of this centuries-old Italian staple, whipped into a delicate mash with potatoes, cream and olive oil. Incredibly, even with growing up in an Italian family, Darek had never tried salted cod before. Somehow my previous ignorance of Abouriou seemed mitigated.
To be continued
Two down and twelve to go. I
still have to report on Affairs of the Vine’s Pinot Summit
, the first San Francisco tasting from the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance
, and nine
appellation tastings at Première Napa
! And I ought not give short shrift to the Pacific Orchid Expo, but as with Cheers! to Taste!
, there was little new ground here for Sostevinobile
. True, I did find much to like in all five of Rielle’s wines: both the 2007 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay
and the 2008 Sonoma County Chardonnay
; her 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley
and the 2008 Sonoma County Zinfandel
, as well as Gabriella’s proprietary 2006 Sonoma County Red Wine
, a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon and 36% Syrah. I was also intrigued by my first taste of the 2005 Estate Pinot Noir
from Casa Carneros
, though disappointed to learn that the 2002 Merlot Las Loma Vineyard
will be their last bottling of this varietal. And while I’d be remiss in not citing my discovery of the excellent 2005 Sonoma Valley Syrah
, as well as the 2005 Sonoma Valley Blythleigh
, their special blend of Syrah, Viognier, Mourvèdre, and Petite Sirah, my presence at this affair was intended to be purely social, and so my summary will end at that.
Tax preparations are looming. Other remaining tasks for Sostevinobile seem innumerable. Perhaps it is best to put this post aside and find some grappa after all…