Category Archives: Barbera

Discoveries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burns, baby, Burns!

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Housekeeping

Arrivederci, 2011! It’s not that Your West Coast Oenophile doesn’t harbor any warm recollections from the year just past—certainly my creation of ResCue™ bodes well, in and of itself, for this quasi-altruistic endeavor, but augurs perhaps to consolidate the long-overdue launch sustainable wine bar & retail shop to which this blog is intended to serve merely as an adjunct (my readers do want to taste the wines I have been highlighting, don’t you?). Yet my continued struggles to give substance to my sundry concepts (not to mention keep updating these posts in a relatively timely fashion) over the course of the past year proved quite draining, physically, emotionally, financially, and

Basta! Enough indulging in dour lamentation! Moving forward, I forecast that 2012 will turn out to be a gem, if not a Gemma, of a year, not only for my assorted wine ventures—Sostevinobile, COMUNALE, and Risorgimento, but on a personal level as well.* Beyond that, I offer no speculation for this Leap Year, neither for the Giants returning to the World Series, the Punahou Kid re-upping for another four-year stretch, nor the possible future of the world after December 21.
Allora! Let me FINALLY put 2011 in the rear-view mirror by giving long overdue acknowledgment to the numerous events I attended but have neglected to chronicle, starting with the Taste of Mendocino that supplanted Slow Food San Francisco’s Golden Glass. A truly spectacular tasting, this event filled the cavernous Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason with 63 wine producers from three regional groupings, numerous food vendors, solar living displays, art promoters, music—even acrobats! This potpourri of diversions made the oft-formidable challenge of covering so many wineries far from onerous (not that tasting great wine ever is).
Newcomers to the Sostevinobile roster this afternoon started with Campovida, more of an umbrella for art, music, gardening, and the full panoply of gastronomy, an agricultural preserve that leases its viticultural operations to house the four labels under which Magnanimus produces their organic and biodynamic wines, most notably the 2005 Mendocino Farms Syrah Fairborn Ranch poured here. Also heralding from the Hopland/Ukiah Haven sector, Orsianna similarly impressed with its 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino.
From Fort Bragg, Sally Ottoson’s Pacific Star Winery staked its claim with their 2005 Merlot, though I had a great fondness for their 2007 Charbono, as well (I can’t think of any other North Coast winery that makes both Charbono and Carignane). And though Hopland’s Rack & Riddle may be a custom crush facility, they release a small selection of wines under their own label, here best exemplified by their non-vintage sparkling wines, the Rack & Riddle Brut, a blend from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and the Rack & Riddle Rosé, composition unspecified.
Before moving onto the next designated “district,” I sampled a pair of organically-grown wines from Ukiah’s Simaine Cellars, the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and the delectable 2007 Syrah Venturi Vineyard. First up from Anderson Valley/Yorkville Haven, Jeff Hansen’s debut of his Lula Cellars equally impressed with both their 2009 Mendocino Coast Pinot Noir and the 2009 Mendocino Zinfandel. Also based in Philo, Toulouse Vineyards offered a cross-section of their Pinot portfolio, of which the 2008 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir left me feeling the “goosiest.”
The third sector, Redwood/Potter Valley Haven, featured a number of Carignane producers, spearheaded by Tahto Wines with their 2009 Carignane Potter Valley, as well as a compelling 2008 Petite Sirah Potter Valley and 2009 Syrah. In a different vein, Testa Vineyards offered a dry 2010 Rosé of Carignane alongside a most compelling 2007 Black, a blend of 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Carignane, and 3% Petite Sirah from their organic vines in Calpella. Lastly, Yeilding Wines featured a number of wines as distinctive as its atypical orthography, particularly the 2008 Syrah Mendocino; as impressive were the 2008 Bell Springs Cuvée (30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petit Verdot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot) and the 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino.


That Taste of Mendocino will now host an annual event in its own right made this year’s session even more pivotal, And I look forward to an abundance of new participants, as well as the many established wineries, in 2012. Moving forward to my next outstanding obligation, I returned to downtown Livermore for the Ninth Annual Petite Sirah Symposium. This year’s event fêted the 80th birthday of host Jim Concannon, whose namesake winery bottled California’s first varietal Petite Sirah in 1961.
Nearly all of the 43 wineries scheduled to pour this year, having appeared at previous incarnations of this single-focused event, have been covered here extensively. Newcomers included Livermore’s Las Positas, which comported themselves admirably with their 2007 Casa de Viñas Covarrubias Vineyard Petite Sirah. Tapping into the same fruit, McGrail Vineyards showcased their splendid 2009 Casa de Viñas Petite Sirah, also from the Covarrubias Vineyard.
San Francisco’s Shoe Shine Wine, initially founded as a purely Petite Sirah venture, debuted their 2006 Petite Sirah Solano County from the highly coveted Tenbrink Vineyard. A true standout for the afternoon came from the 2007 Petite Sirah Winemaker’s Reserve from Calistoga’s Vincent Arroyo, while Clarksburg’s Wilson Vineyards offered a most approachable 2008 Petite Sirah from their sustainably-farmed Yolo County estate.


Back when I toiled as a denizen of the Fourth Estate, the cardinal rule was always to lead in directly with the article’s main topic, not to obfuscate the subject with a mash of peripheral issues or questions. And so I will refrain from bemoaning, yet again, the conspicuous dearth of Porta-Potties at the latest Monterey Winemakers’ Celebration and focus instead on the delectable wines and sumptuous cuisine purveyed to the resilient attendees who braved the narrow confines of The Barnyard in Carmel, the newest staging for this annual event, with nary a recourse to relieve the effects of their overconsumption.
Discoveries here began with Carmel Hills Winery, a boutique operations that excelled with both their 2007 Unfiltered Chardonnay and a spectacular 2009 Syrah. Tiny Figge Cellars provided a chiasmus with their 2009 La Reina Chardonnay and 2007 Sycamore Flat Syrah. Holman Ranch also offered a delectable 2010 Chardonnay, complemented by their 2009 Pinot Noir.
Hard to believe that a winery in this millennium could even countenance the concept of a White Zinfandel, but Saint’s Valley, a winery based in Temecula that sources Monterey grapes, made a gambit with their own bottling in 2010. Fortunately, they obviated this miscue with both their 2009 Zinfandel Vista Del Lago Estate Vineyards and an intriguing white Rhône blend, the 2009 GVR (Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne). And while this last stop concluded the discovery portion of my tasting, the rest of the event was more than flush with many excellent wineries I had sampled at last year’s event or other tastings. And if next year’s Winemakers’ Celebration provides more facilities to flush, I am sure I will find the fortitude to cover them all!


Sometime in the not-so-distant future, the resorts around Clear Lake will likely attain the cachet of major destination—a magnet like Tahoe or Palm Springs. Not that I want to despoil this relative isolation of this underappreciated sector of Northern California nor overrun its lacustrine jewel with throngs of tourists—it just seems inevitable that such a spectacular natural resource gain a popularity on par with its majesty. When I
started out in the wine industry, one would have been hard pressed to identify another Lake County winery apart from Guenoc; today, this North Coast quadrant contains five distinct AVAs and is dotted with dozens of progressive producers.
To showcase just how diverse this region has developed viticulturally, the Lake County Winery Association put on its first urban group showcase, Big Wines from the High Elevations of Lake County, at Winery SF on Treasure Island. Of the 23 wineries participating, fourteen were debuting labels which Sostevinobile had not previously encountered, with a range of varietals easily matching Sonoma or Paso Robles.
Of course, I was temperamentally predisposed to like a winery that calls itself Bullion Creek. Their striking vertical of Cabernets from 2005-07 was preceded by an even more outstanding library selection, the 2003 Bullion Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Kelseyville’s Bell Hill Vineyards showed itself equally adept with Bordeaux varietals, their forte being the 2005 Merlot, which slightly edged their 2004 vintage, as well as their more recent foray with the noteworthy 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon.
In sharp contrast, another Kelseyville winery, Chacewater, showcased a complex variety of varietals, starting with a modest 2010 Riesling.Their 2010 Chardonnay proved nominally better, the 2009 Malbec even more so. Their indisputable skill at vinification shone best in their 2009 Syrah and particularly in their 2009 Petite Sirah. From Lower Lake, biodynamic growers Hawk and Horse produced an enticing 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, matched by their distinctive 2006 Latigo—a Cabernet Sauvignon dessert wine.
No, they are not dyslexic. Lavender Blue impressed their self-described 2010 Sweet Suave Blanc, a Sauvignon Blanc desert wine with 2% residual sugar. Still I preferred their dry 2010 Sauvignon Blanc and found their 2010 Nebbiolo Rosé, an interesting, if not compelling, wine. Continuing with my vigilant exploration, I next sampled the numerous offerings of Vigilance, a sustainably-famed winery based in Lower Lake. While their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, and particularly the 2010 Chardonnay were pleasing, their star turned out to be the luscious 2009 Viognier. On the red side, I found the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (blended with 9% Petite Sirah) young but quite delectable, while the 2009 Petite Sirah stood out on its own merits.
Vigilance’s sister operation, Shannon Ridge, provided a veritable marathon to taste through, with 10 wines to negotiate—about as an eclectic a mix as any winery offers. The 2008 Single Vineyard Roussanne clearly stood out among the white selections, while the 2008 Single Vineyard Barbera and the 2009 Single Vineyard Zinfandel highlighted their red lineup. Inarguably their most notable bottling was the 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, while the 2008 Wrangler from their Ranch Collection, a proprietary blend of 37% Zinfandel, 35% Syrah, 18% Petite Sirah, 5% Barbera, 3% Mourvèdre and 2% Tempranillo demarcated the considerable breadth of their viticulture.
On a much smaller scale, both the 2007 Petite Sirah and the 2007 Petit Verdot from Dusinberre Cellars made striking first impressions. Robinson Lake, primarily a bulk and varietal supplier, still showcased its deft blend, 2009 Glamazon Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon, and an amiable Glamazon Chardonnay. Again from Kelseyville, Lajour Estate completed an impressive trifecta with their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 Zinfandel, and a superb 2009 Barbera. And Wildhurst featured both an impressive 2010 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc and 2008 Reserve Zinfandel, alongside their 2010 Muscat Canelli and stupendous 2010 Reserve Chardonnay.
Rounding out Sostevinobile’s list of discoveries came the delightful Shed Horn Cellars from Middleton. I found myself quite impressed with both their 2009 Lake County Sauvignon Blanc and the 2010 Lake County Chardonnay, but relished their 2009 Lake County Zinfandel even more. Even so, their 2007 Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon may well have been the most serendipitous find of the afternoon.
Had I time and space, I would detail the many other excellent wines I sampled from familiar stalwarts like Beaver Creek, Ceāgo, Diamond Ridge, Gregory Graham, Langtry, Six Sigma, Steele, Nils Venge’s Cougar’s Leap, host Sol Rouge, and Italian varietal virtuoso Rosa d’Oro, But as all the participating wineries in Big Wines from the High Elevations richly demonstrated, Lake County has blossomed into a distinct and diverse appellation in its own right, one that will certainly command a prominent role in the Sostevinobile wine program.


The next two days belonged to the grandest of the Grand Tastings, the 21st Annual Family Winemakers of California. Even though I have attended this event ever since it served as a coda to the fall harvest, I still found numerous wineries making their first appearance here (or that I had perhaps inadvertently overlooked in previous years).Also from St. Helena, Andesite, named for the ancient volcanic deposits found atop Spring Mountain, showcased its Right Bank-style 2007 Mervignon, a rich blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, rounded with a small percentage of Cabernet Franc. Across the way in Santa Rosa, Château Adoré debuted with a discrete selection of their offerings, including a striking 2009 Chardonnay, a generically-labeled Vintage White, and an impressive 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.



This
tasting took on special meaning for many of the wineries and attendees,
as it served as tribute to the late Jess Jackson, one of Family
Winemakers’ founders and a driving force behind its impetus to give
voice to the small family endeavors that serve as backbone to the wine
industry. Fittingly, one of the first wineries I sampled on this day, Analog,
prototyped the kind of venture Jess had championed, a humble, two-person operation producing a mere 600 cases of a
proprietary wine. Their mélange of Merlot and Sangiovese, the 2005 Analog, replete with their nostalgic logo (the once ubiquitous triskelion adapter used to play 45s), tasted redolent of their craft and commitment.

Healdsburg’s Field Stone Winery featured an impressive array of wines, starting with their 2010 Vineyard Select Sauvignon Blanc. Switching quickly to reds, their proprietary 2007 Convivio blended the Merlot, Cabernet, Sangiovese, and Petite Sirah found in their Vineyard Select varietals. While the Sangiovese was not available here, I found both the 2007 Vineyard Select Merlot and the 2007 Vineyard Select Cabernet Sauvignon standouts among their selections, with the 2007 Staten Family Reserve Petite Sirah and the 2007 Staten Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon nearly as approachable.
Field Recordings Wines holds no connect to Field Stone (nor, for that matter, the aforementioned vinyl-themed Analog); its esoteric blends bear little resemblance to others’ wines as well. After sampling their 2009 Chenin Blanc Jurassic Park Vineyard, I delved into the 2010 Fiction White, a proprietary mélange of Albariño, Grenache Blanc, Malvasia Bianca, and Marsanne. No less complex was the 2010 Fiction Red, this a blend of 28% Zinfandel, 26% Tempranillo, 18% Grenache, 18% Malbec, 5% Touriga Nacional, 3% Mourvèdre, and 2% Syrah. While the 2009 Petite Sirah Red Cedar Vineyard offered a straightforward interpretation, the 2009 Chorus Effect Koligian Vineyard presented a Paso Robles-style marriage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Tannat.
Also heralding from Paso, Barr Estate Winery started out strongly with their 2010 Albariño, a delicate expression of the grape. From there, their wines focused on Bordeaux varietals and blends, including a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon balanced with 20% Petit Verdot. Their 2007 Jubilado highlighted Petit Verdot, with Cabernet Sauvignon coming in at 40%. Distinctively, the 2007 Malbec added 10% Petit Verdot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, to meld a most striking mélange, while their Port-style dessert wine, befittingly titled The Last Act, married five parts Syrah with two parts Souzão and a single part Touriga.
Further to the south, the town of Los Alamos, CA should not be confused with its New Mexican counterpart; even with Vandenberg Air Force Base nearby, it’s highly probable this Santa Barbara enclave has never developed—nor even housed—a nuclear weapon. And while not as recognized as other nearby cities for its œnology, it serves home to the beguilingly named Martian Ranch Vineyard & Winery. I initially surmised theis moniker was meant to parody Michael Mondavi (much in the same manner Randall Grahm’s Le Cigare Volant tweaks the esoteric regulations of Châteauneuf-du-Pape), but owner Nan Helgeland assured me she derived it as a portmanteau of the names for her sons. Martin and Ian. Regardless, the winery’s 2009 Viognier and spectrum of Grenaches: 2009 Grenache Blanc, 2009 Grenache Rose, and the 2009 Grenache displayed a most assuredly earthy familiarity and appeal. Over in neighboring Ventura County, Oxnard may seems even less likely a domain for viticulture, but from its base here, Montage sources grapes from as far north as Oregon and as far south as Los Angeles! I enjoyed both the 2009 Chardonnay Russian River Valley and the 2010 Viognier Malibu, while their 2008 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and 2008 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley proved twin wonders.
Out in Brentwood (the Northern California city, not the Los Angeles district), Hannah Nicole has been petitioning to establish a separate AVA for eastern Contra Costa County, a designation that would grant them a level of exclusivity on par with Esterlina’s Cole Ranch AVA in Mendocino. Putting this debate aside for now, I did enjoy their 2010 Viognier, along with their aptly-named 2010 Mélange Rosé, a blend of Grenache with 10% Mourvèdre. Single varietal reds included the 2009 Petite Sirah Reserve, a notable 2009 Cabernet Franc, and the equally-appealing 2009 Petit Verdot Reserve.
On the other hand, Napa Angel does indeed herald from LA County. This domestic project from wine importers Montes USA impressed with their 2007 Star Angel Syrah from Paso Robles, while making a commendable debut with both their Napa-grown 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The same ownership offered an eponymous label, Guarachi Family Wines, also from Woodland Hills; with the guidance of consulting winemaker Paul Hobbs, they produced a trio of exceptional wines: the 2009 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, the 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and a spectacular 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Paralleling this effort, Paul Hobbes’ new CrossBarn label presented its 2009 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, a compelling 2009 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, and their elegantly structured 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Havens Winery represents a bit of a phoenix, a peripatetic label that has moved, closed, then been revived by Stonehedge. Here at Family Winemakers, its first bottlings under its new incarnation included the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, a 2009 Meritage Red, and the 2009 Red Blend, a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Employing a bit of legerdemain, St. Helena’s Houdini Wines magically debuted with their 2009 Talaria Chardonnay, alongside a striking 2007 Oakville Merlot and 2007 St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cru, a label from Highway 29, bears no relation to Crū from Madera, and neither winery holds any connect to Cru Vine Dogs, a Denver-based wine project sourcing from vineyards in Sonoma and Napa. Despite the mawkishness of its canine-themed labels, I found both the 2008 Blue Heeler Shiraz-Grenache-Mourvèdre and the 2006 Lucky Cabernet-Merlot moderately appealing. Also blend-focused, Napa’s Jules Mélange showcased three generically-labeled wines, the 2009 Vin Blanc, the 2009 Vin Rosé, and their distinctive 2009 Vin Rouge.
Healdsburg’s Kachina, a name derived from the emblematic Hopi carved dolls that adorn their label, posed no ambiguity with its varietals: a mellow 2009 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, the 2007 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (blended with 5% Syrah), and their signature 2009 Charbono. Further south in Sonoma, Cotati’s Katarina, the wine-producing adjunct of Field Vineyards, displayed a competent 2009 Chardonnay Sonoma County alongside their new 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley, an evolution of the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County and 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County, which they poured for contrast.
Coastview winemaker Ian Brand’s own brand, Le P’tit Paysan, impressed more than a little with his 2010 Le P’tit Pape Monterey County, a Rhône-style blend consisting of 42% Mourvèdre, 42% Grenache, and 16% Syrah, and the 2007 Meritage, an atypical blend with equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Not atypical but still a rare pleasure from Napa was the 2010 Tocai Friulano that Macauley Vineyard poured as white complement to its 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, a distinctive 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel and 2008 Petite Sirah, and their forte, the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon.
Not surprisingly, Napa was well-represented during this two-day marathon. One of their new entrants here, Craig Handly’s Terroir Napa Valley, lived up to the audacity of its name with a scintillating 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, a promising 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Carpenter Ranch, and their 2009 Chardonnay P&J Vineyard. From their second label, the 2010 Pool Boy Sauvignon Blanc and the 2009 Pool Boy Chardonnay also proved quite enjoyable. Another Napa venture with a touch of whimsy, Toolbox comported themselves handily with their 2010 Clarksburg Pinot Grigio, alongside a respectable 2007 Oak Knoll District Napa Valley Chardonnay and the 2008 Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Their red offering included the curiously-named 2007 Napa Valley Merlot (Mi-anti) and former San Francisco Giant J. T. Show’s 2008 THIRST, a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (the 2009 Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon tasted far too young to assess fairly).

Moving laterally over to Trancas Street, Lateral has evolved from its origins at Kathryn Kennedy’s Saratoga winery to a Napa-based endeavor, sourcing from several local vineyards to create the St. Émilion-style 2008 Lateral, a blend focused on Cabernet Franc and Merlot. As cherished as this vintage has been, the 2010 Lateral portends to reach even greater heights. Moving lower to Solano County, Vezér Family Vineyard of Suisun Valley opened with a delightful 2008 Verdelho. Both their 2007 Zinfandel and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon matched the intensity of this Iberian white, while the 2007 Petite Sirah and the 2007 La Sallette, a blend of Petite Sirah and Zinfandel, approached it. Vezér’s zenith, however had to have been the 2007 Franci, an indelibly sweet Black Muscat dessert wine.


Oracle World Headquarters

Under the stern gaze of Larry Ellison’s self-aggrandizing erection, Von Holt Wines, in nearby Belmont, crafts sources grapes from prized vineyards in Sonoma to craft such wines as its excellent 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and the 2009 Suacci Vineyard Pinot Noir. Von Holt’s forte, however, came from its two Syrahs, their 2008 Hoppe-Kelly Vineyard Syrah and the compelling 2008 Old Lakeville Vineyard Syrah. Lastly, veering a final time down south, Santa Barbara’s first urban winery, Oreana, closed up Sostevinobile’s discovery list with two utterly compelling whites, their 2009 Verdelho and the 2009 Chardonnay Santa Barbara County. Though I was slightly less impressed with their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, their red portfolio more than mitigated with a sublime 2008 Pinot Noir Central Coast, the 2008 Zinfandel and 2008 Syrah Santa Barbara County, and most distinctly, the 2009 Malbec Margarita Vineyard. If only they had poured their intriguing 2008 Refosco, as well!

The two day marathon at Family Winemakers did allow me to visit with quite a few established friends, while probably 150 other wineries eluded my reach. As 2012 proceeds, I can only strive to do better, both in reaching out to new discoveries and in fulfilling the many, many promises Sostevinobile has made. Please stay tuned…

*Lest anyone surmise that, in the aftermath of my relationship with the oft-cited Ginkgo Girl, I’ve intended to maintain a perpetual “lock heart.”

Vinolivo 1-2-3

Long before embarking on this interminable journey known as Sostevinobile, Your West Coast Oenophile attended one of New England’s most prestigious boarding schools. Founded by the widow of the man who invented the revolving canon that the U.S. Cavalry deployed at the Wounded Knee and other massacres of Native American tribes in the late 19th Century, Hotchkiss thrived in the 20th Century largely on the largesse of Philip Morris and R. J. Reynolds, conglomerates that systematically ravaged the populace in general.

During my years of sequestration in Lakeville, a fellow students was Sebastopol winery Baker Lane’s Stephen Singer. I can’t say I knew Steve well back in those days, though I suspect he would not mind my characterizing him as one of the more disaffected attendees of this august institute. When we did reconnect—over wine, of course—in the earliest days of developing Sostevinobile’s wine program, I discovered he was the same Steve Singer who had been married to Alice Waters during the early days of Chez Panisse. All have been much chronicled over the years: Alice and her æsthetics, the restaurant and its influence on contemporary cuisine, the travails of this marriage, even the rarefied upbringing of their daughter.

I’ve never met Fanny Singer, now a doctoral candidate at Cambridge, but the articles I’ve read make me wonder how gastronomically-focused her upbringing may have been. Was she told babies came from the arugula patch? Did her third grade science project consist of creating a composting bin with live earthworms (as opposed to building the more familiar ant farm)? Did she play normal childhood games, like Ringolevio, or adapt it to something more germane, like…Vinolivo?

Recently, I attended Vinolivo ‘11, a “Gala Celebration for the Senses” held in conjunction with the Annual Sonoma Valley Olive Season. This fundraiser and tasting seemed a perfect venue for Baker Lane to participate, but, as it turned out, they were not among the 48 wineries pouring here this evening, nor was their affiliated restaurant Pizzavino 707 among the nearly two dozen food purveyors. No matter, I had plenty to discover and to occupy me in the thick of the rain-sheltered tent at The Lodge at Sonoma.

Before entering the main arena, though, guests were fêted with two Specialty Tasting Bars, featuring Sparkling Wine food pairings. The first seemed downright Parisian, matching a Carneros Bistro’s duet of Pommes Frites (potato, sweet potato) with the 2006 Blanc de Blancs and the non-vintage Va de Vi Sparkling Wines from Gloria Ferrer. Across the foyer, the Meyer Lemon Roasted Salmon on White Bean Crostini from the chiastic Olive & Vine needed no complement; still both the 2000 Brut de Noirs from Robert Hunter and the 2007 Rouge de Noirs Brut from Shug Carneros delightfully accentuated this utterly addicting canapé.

Moving onto the main event, I strolled into the tightly-packed reception and endeavored to sample as many of the wineries as I could fit into the time allotted, a considerable challenge given the surprising number of attendees who had braved the evening’s torrent, not to mention the enticing aromas emanating from gourmet food stations interspersed among the wine purveyors. Given the numerous trips I had made to Sonoma over the past year, only a handful of the vintners here remained unfamiliar to me. The first, Clarbec, seemed a curious portmanteau, which I could not identify until meeting owners Clarence and Becky Jenkins. These founders of Madrone Vineyard Management have planted vines in Glen Ellen, from where they sourced the grapes for their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Glen Oaks Ranch, as well as produce their 2009 Pinot Gris Clarbec Vineyard and an excellent 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Clarbec Vineyard in the Sonoma Valley AVA.

Also from Glen Ellen, Eric Ross treated this evening’s guests to a quartet of his wines, starting with an elegant 2009 Marsanne-Roussanne Russian River. I tend to find 2009 Pinots still too underripe, and the 2009 Pinot Noir Russian River poured here seemed no exception. I’ll resist any temptation to describe his two tasty, Chanticleer-adorned blends, the 2009 Struttin’ White (“Albariño with a kiss of Orange Muscat”) and 2009 Struttin’ Red (Tempranillo, Garnacha), as “cocky”—that’s a bad pun I’ll reserve for Gallo, when a propitious occasion arises.

I was surprised that Keating had not participated in previous Rockpile tastings I’ve attended. No matter, their wines this evening made quite a solid impression. Although the 2008 Beckstoffer Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon seemed still too young. their inaugural 2009 Dry Creek Buchignani Zinfandel struck me as ripe and well-balanced. Their best offering, the 2007 Rockpile Malbec, begged the question why more Bordeaux-focused wineries don’t bottle this robust varietal.

I had not previously encountered MacLeod, a quaint family vineyard out of Kenwood. This boutique winery comported themselves quite admirably with their 2007 Merlot, 2008 Zinfandel, and 2009 Sauvignon, all estate grown. For years, I had always seen Roche perched on the hillside across from Infineon Raceway, a veritable beacon demarcating the entrance to Sonoma Valley. Suddenly, however, the quaint barn house disappeared, only to be resurrected as contemporary edifice belonging to Ram’s Gate Winery, while Roche’s tasting and hospitality operations relocated to Sonoma Square. Rather than trying to comprehend this mystery, I opted simply to try Roche’s wines, contrasting their oaked 2009 Estate Chardonnay to the more appealing 2009 Stainless Steel Estate Chardonnay. Following this comparison, I delighted in sampling their exemplary 2008 Pinot Noir Los Carneros, a wine that typified both the vintage and the AVA.

With new business concluded, I could now focus on revisiting the numerous other wineries I had previously engaged over the past two years, despite weaving through the crush of attendees and the constant urge to nosh on the some of the finest cuisine Sonoma could offer. When I toured the wine country a couple of years back with the delightfully eccentric Lucy Townsend, we were fêted at a private lunch reception and reserve tasting at the St. Francis winery. Today, Executive Chef David Bush accompanied the dry 2009 Wild Oak Chardonnay with his Pork rillette and grilled beef Banh Mi, followed by a sumptuous 2007 Port vinted from fortified Zinfandel.
Lured by the seductive wafts of Zuppa di Farro, a Tuscan barley soup served up by tablemate Della Santina’s, I wandered over to try the wines from Audelssa. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve but the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon proved a remarkable wine. I also especially liked the 2008 Summit, a blend of 39 % Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21 % Cabernet Franc, 11% Malbec, and 3% Petit Verdot. Audelssa’s winemaker, Erich Bradley performs double-duty at acclaimed Pinot producer Sojourn Cellars. The effusive praise Robert Parker has heaped on this winery proved presaged this preview of Sojourn’s 2009 vintage: the 2009 Pinot Noir Rodgers Creek Vineyard, their 2009 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and the superb 2009 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard. Nearly as striking was the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mountain Terraces Vineyard.

Another winery whose Pinot Noirs I have long relished is Roessler. I delayed my gratification by first sampling their excellent 2008 Big Bend Estate Chardonnay, then regaled in the 2008 Hein Family Pinot Noir. Next up, Landmark Vineyards led with their intense 2007 Damaris Reserve Chardonnay, as well as the likable 2008 Overlook Chardonnay, before showcasing their 2008 Grand Detour Pinot Noir
Nearby, Robert Hunter’s main table featured their 2006 Pinot Noir Sonoma Valley, which preceded my final Pinot of the evening, the 2008 Pinot Noir Marina’s Vineyard from Bennett Valley Cellars, two splendid wines underscored by the constant patter of rain that thankfully (as opposed to last fall’s Pinot in the River debacle) remained outside the tasting tent.

It had been two years since I’d toured Bartholomew Park and the preserve that envelops the winery, so it was a pleasure to revisit their organic 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine just now attaining peak maturity. Bart Hansen’s Dane Cellars also poured an exquisite 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley, with its 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Jackknife Corner falling just a
tad behind. I was equally impressed with their 2007 Zinfandel Sonoma Valley, and wish they had included their 2009 Dry Chenin Blanc, a varietal not seen enough these days. Also scarce at this celebration, the only Sauvignon Blanc I managed to try was the 2009 Estate Sauvignon Blanc from Beltane Ranch, the sole focus of this Glen Ellen boutique.

From Hamel Family’s Tres Palmas Vineyard, the 2007 Pamelita proved a worthy successor to the inaugural release of this same Cabernet Sauvignon last year. I tend to think of Schug primarily as a Pinot producer, so sampling the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon at their main table proved a pleasant revelation. By contrast, Larson Family blended their Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah and Zinfandel to make an accessible, non-vintage jug wine they simply called Sonoma Red.

Zinfandel proved a strong suit for Mayo Family Winery, with their 2007 Zinfandel Los Chamizal Vineyard; even more compelling, however, was the superb 2007 Merlot Laurent Vineyard. Hoffman Family Cellars brought out a noteworthy 2009 Zinfandel Sonoma County under their Headbanger label, as well as a blush they called the 2010 Rock ‘n Rosé of ZinfandelAnother pink wine as big as its name, the 2009 Vineyard Station Ranch Pinot Noir Saignée from Fichtenberg Vineyards struck me as quite enticing, though I wasn’t all that fond of their 2007 Syrah.

I would have expected to find more Zins at Vinolivo, but, in truth, the evening’s true star had to have been Syrah. Westwood Winery from Sonoma poured a delectable 2007 Syrah Annandale Estate. Westerhold Family Vineyards also excelled with their 2007 Estate Syrah Bennett Valley. Mulas Family showcased a truly compelling 2005 Syrah Alta Vista Vineyards, while my good friend Mike Muscardini debuted his 2008 Fortuna, a Syrah blended with 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 2.5% Cabernet Franc, and 2.5% Petit Verdot. And, much to my good fortune, he also poured his Grappa di Sangiovese, a personal favorite as well as a welcome contrast to the abundance of wines on hand.

I wished Italian varietal specialists Jacuzzi had brought their version of Sangiovese, but settled for their 2009 Tocai Friulano, a truly delicate expression of this varietal. I bypassed the 2008 Late Harvest Aleatico but did allow enough time to savor their Bordeaux-style bottling, the 2007 Valeriano. Jacuzzi’s next door neighbor, Viansa, pioneered the planting of quite a number of less-familiar Italian grapes, like Refosco, but now is gradually transitioning to a balance between CalItalia and the Bordelaise varietals. Their 2005 Thalia Sangiovese displayed a complexity I had not seen in it earlier releases, while the 2009 Arneis, like Jacuzzi’s Tocai, offered a clear alternative to the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio. Genial new owner Lloyd Davis’ hand was clearly evident in the 2005 Samuele Cabernet Franc, a harbinger of the direction he is driving this winery.

Another Sonoma trailblazer evolving under its new ownership has been Arrowood. Now that founder Richard Arrowood has redirected his full-time energies to Amapola Creek, the winery seems less defined, though his influence still remained in each of this evening’s selections. The 2006 Côte de Lune Rouge offered a standard GMS blend in near-equal proportions while the 2006 Côte de Lune Blanc favored the Roussanne and Marsanne over its Viognier component. Keeping up with Keating, Arrowood also poured their 2007 Malbec Sonoma Valley, a definitive, unblended expression of this varietal.

Several
of the wineries from Sonoma’s 8th Street East poured this evening,
giving me a chance to experience them outside their industrial park setting. Tin Barn Vineyards excelled with both their 2006 Syrah Coryelle Fields and the 2008 Zinfandel Gilsson Vineyard. Gilgamesh-themed Enkidu grows in my estimation each time I sample their wines; the 2008 Humbaba proved a giant of a Rhône blend, combining 65% Syrah with 35% Petite Sirah. Former tenant Ty Caton, a favorite of the Ginkgo Girl, now operates in Kenwood, with no detriment to his splendid 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley nor his Mayacamas Mountain Range Meritage, the 2009 Tytanium.
Another former 8th Street East denizen, John Sweazy’s Anaba, which has subsequently transplanted to Bonneau Road, focused on two amiable Rhône blends, the 2008 Coriol Red (38% Grenache, 27% Mourvèdre, 25% Petite Sirah, 10% Counoise) and the 2009 Coriol White (49% Roussanne, 27% Viognier, 15% Grenache Blanc, 9% Marsanne). More impressive, however, was his 2008 Sonoma Valley Red, a proprietary mélange of Zinfandel, Mourvèdre, and Syrah, as well as the cleverly-named Anaba Red Aero Port, a non-vintage bottling of Syrah picked at 30° Brix

I wrapped up the tasting with Richard Kasmier’s Kaz Winery, first sampling his 2007 Barbera and 2007 Sangiovese (atypically blended with 25% Cabernet Franc), before moving onto his Bodega Bay Portworks lineup. The excellent “almost Tawny” Red Port boasted a scant 3% residual sugar, while the sweeter White Port, a fortified Chardonnay with 9% sugar, had me humming the 4 Deuces doo-wop classic, WPLJ (though many may understandably prefer the Frank Zappa/Lowell George version popularized on Burnt Weeny Sandwich).

Speaking of songs, I actually had someone singing Sostevinobile at the tasting! I’m still polishing the libretto for Il Canto di Sostevinobile (sung to the famous tune from Rigoletto), but am always happy to explain the mnemonic significance to anyone. Several times this year, people at the various tastings I attend have come up to me and commended the thoroughness of the notes they observe me taking on each winery that I visit. Here, a fellow I remember only as Ivan queried why I was so immersed in this exacting exercise.
After explicating the whats and whys of my wine bar project, I took a final lap around Vinolivo’s tables to seek out and thank my hosts, while Ivan headed out to attend the afterparty across the parking lot. Finito, I heard the unmistakable strains of the Sostevinobile aria reverberating in Ivan’s sonorous baritone as I entered the vestibule leading to the coat check. Quite the validating sendoff to a most enjoyable event, to be sure!

My contribution to the world’s wine lexicon

One of the hallmarks Your West Coast Oenophile is striving to establish for the wine program at Sostevinobile is untainted objectivity in selecting the wines we will feature, both at our wine bar and through our retail operations. Over the 2½ years that I have been relentlessly developing the wine program, I have made numerous new friends, strengthened old acquaintances, and been extended enormous generosity everywhere I’ve traveled. But I cannot allow the pull of personal relationships to influence our decisions, insuring that our clientele knows that we are offering them the best wines we can source, week in and week out, based solely on a rigorous methodology for evaluation (more on this in a later posting).

This process of selection, however, is based on a bias I have articulated many times: that the quality and variety of wines found on the West Coast makes for a superior wine program that is comprehensive in its scope and that delivers wines of sufficient, if not exceptional, value. Toward this end, I am constantly willing to challenge my own hypothesis and sample a wide array of the imported wines Sostevinobile eschews. 

Recently, I returned for another pre-auction tasting with Wine Gavel at Ame restaurant in San Francisco. Admittedly, this is a realm in which I have scant exposure and have little ability to assess the quality of the event, apart from the criteria outlined in their event program. After all, the mere notion of wine collecting baffles me. Unlike something like numismatics or philately or other accumulations of memorabilia, the only way a wine collector can fully enjoy his acquisition is to obliterate its value. On the other hand, if the collector does not consume the wine, the whole exercise seems like a thankless pursuit. 

As with last year’s event that I attended, Wine Gavel poured a number of well-aged French vintages, including a handful of Premiers Crus, from their own vaults. Several of these had been polished off before I arrived, but those that I did manage to taste ranged from lackluster to near dreadful, at least when standing on their own merits (vs. pairing with food). Maybe these particular wines came from off vintages. Maybe previous owners had stored them improperly. In any case, I was once again duly unimpressed with such highly-touted labels.

Shortly after, I partook in a late night tasting of French wines at Prospect. Here, the Robert Kacher Selections and our host, the Henry Wine Group, brought out a number of more moderate selections from the Loire Valley, Alsace, Côtes du Gascogne, Burgundy, Corbières, Costières de Nîmes, and the Rhône Valley. Nearly all these wines listed at <$20/bottle wholesale, many even less than $10, while the represented AOCs ranged from the rigid strictures of Bourgogne and Châteauneuf du Pape to the unfettered blends found in the minor regions. As I found with the Bordeaux tasting I had attended earlier this year, an enormous gulf exists between the top echelon (Premier Cru houses in Bordeaux, Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy) and those from the lower tiers in those appellations that issue such rankings. 

Here’s the gist of what I ascertained at this tasting. The lower end white and red Burgundies (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) poured here could hardly be said to give Oregon or Santa Barbara a run for their money. The range of Sauvignon Blanc expressions, including the Sancerres, mostly seemed pleasant, if unremarkable. The dessert bottlings never failed to please, while I must concede that the West Coast is still catching up to France in its capacity to offer as broad a selection of noteworthy, mid-range sparkling wines as the proliferation of Crémants and Champagnes they produce.

My investigations into West Coast viticulture are by no means near complete or comprehensive, but as yet, I have not found a varietal bottling of Aligoté or a straight Ugni Blanc here. Seldom -seen Carignan played a more prominent role in a number of the French wines, including the 2008 Domaine Sainte Eugénie Le Clos Vin de Pays d’Hauterive and its sibling 2007 Domaine Sainte Eugénie Corbières Rouge, two highly impressive wines, given their sub-$9 price tag, while the premium Font du Michelle Châteauneuf du Pape Étienne proved well-worth the price it commands. But, in spite these exceptions, the selection of French wines overall failed to sway me from my contention that the omission of imports diminishes the wine program I am building.



Some wines can be so restrained or overly acidic that they simply cannot function on their own merits. To call such wines “food mandatory” seems appropriate, as their need for complementary pairings cries out:







Feed me! 




The pablum reiterated ad infinitum by local sommeliers to rationalize their disdain for California wines is that French and other European vintages offer lower alcohol levels and a more restrained, terroir-expressive style that makes them food friendly. I would contend that the plethora of these imports are food mandatory—wines virtually undrinkable without the salvation of food pairings.




This reality hits home pointedly with the Italian vintages I’ve recently sampled, including the 1998 Quintarelli Ca’ del Merlo IGT Veneto (Valpolicella) or the Terlato-owned 2001 Gaja Sito Moresco poured at Wine Gavel. At San Francisco’s hotter than hot Cotogna, I had to send back both the 2008 Tenimenti d’Alessandro Cortona Syrah and the 2008 Renato Ratti Nebbiolo d’Alba Ochetti, while I struggled through samples of the 2008 Torre di Beatti Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, the 2009 Cantine Barbera Nero d’Avola, and the 2008 Marotti Campi Lacrima di Morro d’Alba Rúbico before throwing in the towel and ordering grappa at Italian wine-focused Ottimista Enoteca.

These explorations served as prelude to my return visit to Around the World in 80 Sips, a reprise from the tasting Alyssa Rapp’s Bottlenotes staged last year. This time round, however, the event took place at the Golden Gate Club in the Presidio, rather than at Crushpad, which had relocated to Napa. Consequently, this tasting no longer was dominated by labels from the defunct San Francisco Wine Association or produced at the Third Street facility, while offering a wider spectrum from winemakers within California and around the world.

I had planned to work my way through the local producers, then continue my forays into the imported wines, and ought to have had enough time to sample just about everything on the program. But even with a trade hour before its official start, Around the World in 80 Sips is a different kind of wine tasting, a sales event geared for their wine club subscribers and the οἱ πολλοί, as we used to say in my ancient Greek studies. Not that it even remotely resembled the mass frenzy of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition that transpired a week later; still, the setup here lacked a flow and coherence one expects at an event oriented toward wine industry professionals.

The central reception area housed a number of the sponsoring wineries, along with vendors for different wine paraphernalia, and the only food at the event. I immediately gravitated toward Clos du Val’s table for my first sampling of their wines since their Vindependence launch last July. Fortunately, Tracey Mason only remembered my commendations for their wines and so generously poured a full selection of their offerings, starting with the unlisted 2007 Carneros Chardonnay, followed by a superior successor in the 2008 Carneros Chardonnay. Similarly, as enjoyable as the 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir proved to be, the 2007 Reserve Pinot Noir easily eclipsed it. And while I preferred the less expensive 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2006 Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon hardly stoods as a laggard.

Chappellet is one of those wineries so consistently good, it’s easy to take them for granted. Their more accessible selections, the 2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay and the 2008 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon could easily delineate a lesser winery, while their 2008 Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon proved absolutely stellar.

Sonoma’s Freeman Vineyards may not be as widely recognized as Chappellet, but inarguably maintains an equally impressive reputation for their Pinots. As expected, both the 2008 Akiko’s Cuvée and the 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir exemplified this finicky varietal. One of these days, I may actually get the chance to tell Michael Polenske how much I like his Blackbird label, but, for this evening, I simply had to content myself by tasting through his 2008 Arriviste (a dry rosé crafted from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc), the Merlot-dominant 2007 Illustration, and the 2008 Arise, a Pomérol-style blend.

It was good to reencounter my friend Janet Viader, who has included Sostevinobile in all sorts of industry events over the past couple of years, and sample her latest vintages. The 2007 Tempranillo showed an amiable expression of the grape, while the 2008 Cabernet Franc radiated. Also excelling with this latter varietal, Crocker & Starr poured its version of the 2008 Cabernet Franc alongside a splendid 2009 Sauvignon Blanc.

Whenever I encounter Cannonball, I invariably break out my iPhone and play the live version of Mercy, Mercy, Mercy—a perfect tune to complement both the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the exceptional 2007 Merlot. I also cited a musical allusion for Sledgehammer in my last column, so will avoid the pitfall of redundancy this time around. A resampling of their 2008 Zinfandel, however, seemed perfectly warranted, while I was glad to be introduced to their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. Nearby, Karen Cakebread introduced attendees to her new venture, Ziata Wines, pouring her inaugural 2008 Oakville Cabernet Franc and a preview of the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, both superb viticultural efforts.

Also new to me was Matt Kowalczyk’s Buscador from Santa Ynez. This decidedly non-vegan venture made a strong initial impression with its 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and a trio of reds: the 2008 Petite Sirah, a youngish 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the quite splendid 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. Not new but more than wonderful to see once again was Napa’s Neal Family, with equally impressive bottlings of their 2008 Napa Valley Zinfandel and the 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. And I was please to check in on the continuing evolution of Clif Family Winery, whose accessible and affordable The Climber series included the 2009 The Climber Sauvignon Blanc and the 2009 The Climber Red, a blend of 63% Zinfandel, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Syrah, 2% Merlot, and 2% Petite Sirah.

An interesting find this evening was a négociant bottler known as Banshee, which bifurcates its production with a lower-end label they call Rickshaw. Both the $15 2009 Rickshaw Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and the $15 2007 Red Wine Napa Valley (a mélange of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot) struck me as well-crafted wines, while the more expensive 2009 Banshee Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and the 2008 Banshee Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley impressed me mightily for wines sourced on the open market. Now that the Huneeus Partnerships produces a number of Orin Swift’s former bottlings, they treat each as a separate label, without detriment to either the 2009 Saldo Zinfandel or the emblematic 2009 The Prisoner, still a Zinfandel blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Charbono, Grenache, and Malbec.

Also featuring a split persona, Greg Norman Estates Wine featured both their California and their Australian labels; from their local operations, the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc struck me as a bit perfunctory. Before I delve into his imported wines, however, as well as the others I managed to sample, I wanted to focus on the true anomaly of Around the World in 80 Sips: an entire enclave devoted to the wines of the Livermore Valley. I’d like to think this sequestration stemmed from an ultimatum: buy our wines or we will obliterate you from the face of the Earth, but, despite their superior nuclear capabilities (compared to every other appellation on the planet), I gather that the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association helped underwrite the event and so warranted special focus.

Front and center in the Livermore room, Concannon’s Jim Ryan held court, pouring both his lush 2006 Reserve Petite Sirah and the 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as the 2008 DeMayo Chardonnay and the 2007 DeMayo Zinfandel from Darcie Kent, a Livermore boutique noted for her vibrant painted labels. Livermore’s other Goliath, Wente Vineyards showcased a range of its labels, from the low-end Tamás Estates2008 Double Decker Red (Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Barbera) to the striking Meritage 2008 The Spur from Murrieta’s Well to their own 2009 Riva Ranch Chardonnay and the smooth 2008 Small Lot Grenache.

No longer affiliated with his family’s Gallo-controlled winery, Steven Mirrasou’s eponymous Steven Kent offered a trio of his vintages: the 2008 Merrillie Chardonnay Landucci Block, his signature 2007 Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon, and an extremely pleasing 2007 Small-Lot Petit Verdot Ghielmetti Vineyard. Finally, one of Livermore’s hidden gems, Nottingham Cellars, hit critical mass with their featured wines: the 2009 Chardonnay and a superb 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

I had hoped to find more time to work my way through the rest of the world, but the disparate configuration of the event made access to a number of stations problematic. In particular, I regret missing the wide selection of Austrian wines. Despite pouring from three tables in the central room, the crush of attendees thwarted my efforts to sample a number of varietals that have scant production in California: Zweigelt (Mokelumne Glen); St. Laurent (Forlorn Hope); and Grüner Veltliner (von Strasser and the aforementioned Darcie Kent). Not to mention a Riesling or two.

I did make it to the Australian table, however, and found Greg Norman’s contribution, his 2007 Limestone Coast Shiraz, a perfectly standard Aussie Syrah, while the slightly blushing 2008 Brut Taché from Taltarni Vineyards only marginally impressed. I didn’t get to try any of the Sauvignon Blancs that put New Zealand on the viticultural landscape nor the lone Malbec that exemplified Argentina, but did linger at the table for neighboring Chile. Here the forte has become Carménère, best represented this evening by the 2007 Terrunyo Carménère from Concha y Toro, the conglomerate which recently acquired Fetzer and Brown & Forman’s other wine holdings. Apart from this exceptional wine, the Chilean portfolio struck me as rather mundane, including the 2008 Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon from Cousiño Macul, a weak 2009 Reserva Carménère from Casa Silva, and even the much-touted 2007 Maquis Lien, a wine that blended Syrah with Carménère, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.

The table from Italy had already packed up when I arrived, and most of France had been depleted, save the rather forgettable 2009 Whispering Angel Côtes de Provence Rosé from Château d’Esclans. And with that final sip, it was time to bid adieu and thank Alyssa for her hospitality, then head to the home of the America’s Cup for a social gathering.

Someday soon, I hope, I will be able to attend a wine tasting simply for the pleasure of the wine and the comradery of the other attendees. When I no longer need to research the wine program at Sostevinobile on such an intense level, I will be able to appreciate events like Around the World in 80 Sips in a completely different light, to be sure. And with that in mind, I look forward to next year’s event and Bottlenotes’ continued success.

Meanwhile, though little convinces me I should reconstrue the wine program I have mapped out, I expect that I will continue to explore the range of wines that fall outside our purview. Know that the staff Sostevinobile plans to assemble will be thoroughly versed in the entire world of wine and able to explain the virtues of varietals and styles grown elsewhere, in order to offer our clientele a sound basis for understanding and enjoying the wines we do select.

On a professional level, the staunch proponents of imported wines will continue to champion their belief in the superior balance in their selections. Food friendly or food mandatory, it is not my charge to sway the beliefs of these sommeliers and restaurateurs. My only mandate is to build a wine program that will be second to none.

All wine trails lead to San Francisco

Your West Coast Oenophile is back in full swing on the wine circuit. This has nothing to do with my internist giving me the all clear on my liver tests (an annual ritual mandated by my need for daily statins); building the wine program for Sostevinobile remains an inexorable labor of love.

I’ll review ZAP’s 20th Annual Grand Zinfandel Tasting in my subsequent column. Sandwiched between this behemoth were two intimate, trade-only events in San Francisco, on winter days that strove to compensate the local populace for our Summer of 2010 that never happened. Fittingly, the first of these tastings transplanted itself from the undemarcated reception area adjoining One Market (San Francisco’s only top-tier restaurant that eschews imports among the 400+ selections on their awarded-winning wine list) to one of summertime’s more dazzling settings on the Bay, the St. Francis Yacht Club.

In Vino Unitas creates an alliance of prominent wineries, predominantly from Napa, that sell their wares directly to purchasers in California. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting with nearly all of these winemakers on numerous occasions, and so beelined directly to the table for Quill, a newcomer both to Sostevinobile and to this event. I wish owner Shana Graham had brought her 2007 Viognier Stagecoach Vineyard (Ridge has got me on a serious Viognier quest these days), but I was quite content to taste my way through her Syrah and array of Cabernets. Her exquisite 2007 Bismarck Ranch Syrah from Sonoma Valley could hardly have been said to have left me with a sinking feeling while two separate vintages each highlighted the distinct differences in Napa’s sub-AVAs. I could not pick a favorite between the 2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, but think the 2007 Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon edged out its predecessor (though the 2006 did portend to open up more in a few years).

I suppose the obsolescence of the quill as a writing instrument makes it a quaint name for a label. By extension, one wonders whether the rise of the iPad will spur labels like Ballpoint or Biro once penmanship has totally been obviated! No matter, this virtuoso winery made for a great discovery on a sun-drenched afternoon.

Other wineries new to In Vino Unitas included Jericho Canyon, which comported themselves admirably with three selections: an appealing 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2006 Creek Block Cabernet Sauvignon, and their standout 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Chase Cellars also made their first appearance here with a Zin-focused lineup. I enjoyed both the 2006 Hayne Valley Zinfandel and, in particular, the jamminess of the 2007 Hayne Valley Zinfandel, but the fruity 2009 Rosé of Zinfandel left me rather indifferent.

The third newcomer this afternoon was a longtime familiar label, Mendocino’s Navarro, though I had not previously met owner Deborah Cahn. With nine wines to work through, we easily made up for this oversight and had become old acquaintances by the time I had finished! Her first pour, the 2008 Estate Gewürztraminer, defied usual expectations, revealing an dry, clean interpretation of the varietal, devoid of sweetness and demanding a food complement. The 2008 Première Reserve Chardonnay proved an amiable wine, while the 2009 Estate Muscat Blanc professed a dryness not unlike the Gewürz.

We moved onto Deborah’s reds, starting with the 2007 Pinot Noir Méthode à l’Ancienne, a wine that reflected the across-the-board excellence of this vintage in Anderson Valley. The 2008 Navarrouge, a wine salvaged from the smoke infusion that stymied the Pinot crop in Anderson Valley and nearby parts of Sonoma following the summer’s wildfires, made for an oddly appropriate wine to pair with lox. Navarro rebounded, however, with a superb 2007 Zinfandel Mendocino, a highlight of the afternoon.

Atypically, we swung back to white for a side-by-side comparison of Deborah’s two Rieslings. Again, the 2009 Dry Riesling Anderson Valley held its own with her other dry vintages, while the 2007 Cluster Select Late Harvest Riesling seemed almost ætherial. From there, I moved onto the more succinct display from my old friends at Gargiulo Vineyards. Neither Jeff nor April were on hand this time round, but I nonetheless enjoyed their ever-evolving expression of their signature Sangiovese, the 2007 Aprile. I don’t recall having previously sampled their Cabernets, but the OVX G Major 7 Cabernet Sauvignon was quite delectable while the 2007 Money Road Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon tasted as expensive as it sounds.

Now if only Gemstone had nine wines to pour! Alas, I had to content myself with the wonderful 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Facets of Gemstone, then finalize this brief interlude with the utterly superb 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. No paucity of selections, however, could be found at the Far Niente table, with its twin sister Nickel & Nickel, along with single-release satellites Dolce and EnRoute. I discovered an equal fondness for Nickel & Nickel’s 2009 Chardonnay Searby Vineyard and Far Niente’s 2009 Estate Bottle Chardonnay.

There was much to admire in the 2007 Harris Vineyard Merlot (Nickel & Nickel), but not surprisingly, their selection of Cabernets dominated. Nickel & Nickel’s 2007 John C. Sullenger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon leaped exuberantly out the bottle, while the more subdued 2007 Vogt Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon displayed the reticence of a wine that will not fully express itself until 2015. The development of the 2008 Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Bottled was presaged by the ripe maturity of the 2004 vintage, drinking now at its peak.

As I have in years past, I immensely enjoyed the 2006 Dolce, a Sauternes-style wine Far Niente bottles exclusively under this separate label. EnRoute, their new entry in the mix, debuted with a likable if young 2009 Les Pommiers, a blend of organically farmed Pinot Noir grapes from their vineyards in Green Valley and the Russian River AVA.

Moving forward, it is always a pleasure to visit with Matt Buoncristiani and sample portfolio of his wines. Here I was impressed with another Rhône expression, the 2008 Gemello Viognier. In the same vein, the 2007 Artistico was a splendid expression of Napa Valley Syrah. This venture from four brothers excelled, however, with both their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the premium 2007 The Core Cabernet Sauvignon, despite these wines tasting at least seven years away attaining from peak maturity.

Similarly, Ehlers Estate offered a small selection of their Napa Valley wines, starting with the somewhat clawing 2009 Estate Sauvignon Blanc. Far more appealing were their red bottlings: the 2007 Estate Merlot, the 2007 Ehlers Estate One Twenty Over Eighty and, in particular, the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1886. Their exclusive focus of Larkmead lent itself to a four-year vertical tasting of the Cabernet Sauvignon Larkmead Vineyard. The 2008 vintage inevitably tasted a bit too young, while the 2005 clearly soared. Both the 2006 and 2007 fell squarely in between the two.

Just next to them, Krupp Brothers made an impressive statement with their array of Wild West-themed wines, starting with the 2007 Black Bart’s Bride, a mélange of Marsanne, Viognier, and Chardonnay. More compelling, however, was their Black Bart Syrah, and the 2007 Synchrony Stagecoach Vineya
rd
, a Bordeaux blend focused on Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The 2006 Veraison Cabernet Sauvignon represented a more traditional Left Bank-style Cab while the proprietary 2007 The Doctor offered a proprietary blend of 33% Merlot, 31% Tempranillo, 23% Malbec, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Both Heitz Cellar and Grgich Hills have historical ties to the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting that put California on the world wine map, so it was little trouble to wade my way through the extensive inventory they had on hand. Grgich offered eight different wines, starting with the 2008 Estate Fumé Blanc and 2008 Estate Chardonnay, a wine I would have anticipated to be more compelling, given Miljenko Grgich’s pivotal role as winemaker for Château Montelena, which garnered first in the white wine competition. More impressive were his 2007 Estate Zinfandel and 2006 Estate Merlot.

Much closer to my expectation was the 2006 Estate Chardonnay Carneros Selection, a wine on par with Grgich’s 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville Selection. The standout this afternoon, however, proved to be the uxorial 2008 Violetta, a late harvest blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer.

Heitz Cellar stands as a singular winery, famed for its Cabernet Sauvignon and as one of the very few producers of Grignolino on the West Coast. Admittedly, I was somewhat tepid about the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2008 Chardonnay they poured at In Vino Unitas, but quickly warmed to their 2007 Zinfandel. Their quartet of Cabernets, all from 2005, impressed me incrementally with each bottling I sampled, starting with the generic 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Bella Oaks Vineyard seemed even better, while the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Trailside Vineyard completely allured me. At last, the famed 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Martha’s Vineyard simply overwhelmed and garnered the rare Sostevinobile accolade: .

Heitz concluded its presentation with a non-vintage dessert wine called Ink Grade Port, made from Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Souzão, Tinta Cão, Tinta Bairrada, Tinta Madeira, Tinta Amarela, and Bastardo (all I can say is, “loved the wine but thank heavens for Cut & Paste”)! A more modestly structured but equally enjoyable Port-style wine came from the Löwenbräu of wineries, Meyer Family Cellars, with their superb Old-Vine Zinfandel Port, also non-vintage. Similarly, I very much liked their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Bonnie’s Vineyard from Oakville, but wish I had passed on their inaugural 2006 Yorkville Highlands Syrah.

Like Meyer, Yorba heralds from outside of Napa. Here the varietals typified the diversity of Amador County, starting with their 2006 Zinfandel and a delightful 2006 Syrah.Their 2007 Tempranillo represented a straightforward expression of the grape, while their eclectic 2007 Shake Ridge Red combined Syrah, Petite Sirah, Malbec, Merlot, Mourvèdre, and Primitivo.

Apart from Gargiulo, Yorba featured the only other Italian varietal of the afternoon, their tangy 2007 Barbera. As I often them, Testarossa ought to try their hand at CalItalia bottlings, but nonetheless seem content to focus on Burgundian-style wines. Of their three Chardonnays, I distinctly preferred the 2009 Chardonnay Sierra Madre Vineyard to the quite competent 2009 Chardonnay Santa Barbara County and the 2009 Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands. Given their youth, I found both the 2009 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County and the 2009 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands too premature to assess.

When all was said and done, this year’s In Vino U
nitas
proved a most delightful event, one I hope will continue to be held at the St. Francis Yacht Club. After all, their co-occupants on the breakwater, Larry Ellison’s Golden Gate Yacht Club, will be sponsoring quite the yachting spectacle some 24 months from now. Imagine that as a backdrop to a wine tasting!


Several days after ZAP, the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association held their first trade tasting of the season at the always well-appointed Farallon. I like to think this sumptuously catered affair was meant to atone for last year’s gathering at the Professional Culinary Institute in Campbell. Not that it had been a bad event or venue, but still, compelling attendees to stroll alongside the picture windows overlooking the school’s culinary lab and gaze upon their gastronomic marvels while we had to content ourselves with Monterey Jack and slices of celery constituted pure torture. 

This afternoon, the Farallon staff generously circulated wedges of fried wonton topped with slabs of sushi-grade Ahi as professionals and poseurs alike sipped through an array of newly-released wines. Feeling quite sated, I commenced my wine explorations by regaling in the gustatory delights of Regale, a new participant in this group. Befittingly, they pulled out all the stops, serving up nine of their wines, starting strongly with their 2007 Barbera El Dorado County. I cottoned as readily to their 2007 Sangiovese Napa Valley before sampling their notably restrained 2006 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley. As has often been the case, I enjoyed their 2007 Pinot Noir O’Neel Vineyards, then found myself as enthused by the 2008 vintage. The more broadly focused 2008 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast seemed less developed than these other two, and it certainly would have been more telling if they had poured their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir (actually, it seemed odd that none of the wines they showcased were Santa Cruz-grown).

Regale finished with their Bordelaise selections, a nice but undramatic 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, with a similar results for its subsequent vintage, while the 2006 Cabernet Franc portended to brandish its true potential 2- 3 years from now. In the same fashion, Santa Cruz-based MJA Vineyards chose to pour only its Napa-grown wines, bottled under two separate labels. I preferred the 2007 Serene Cellars Carneros to the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley, while the 2006 DaVine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon outpointed the 2006 Serene Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. While apparently sourced from different vineyards than before, the 2005 Serene Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon tasted roughly equivalent to its successor.

Lest one begin to think the fruit of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA not compare with the Napa crops, the estate grown wines from Beauregard proved to be more than well-regarded. Its two vineyards in the Ben Lomond Mountain sub-AVA offered four contrasting yet equally wondrous Burgundian wines: the 2007 Estate Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains and its apposite, the 2007 Estate Chardonnay Bald Mountain Vineyard, along with their red counterparts, the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains and the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Bald Mountain Vineyard.

I have never seen Picchetti at a trade tasting, but Cupertino’s other Monte Bello Road wineries showed up in full regalia. First up, my friend Don Naumann showed off his customary wines, with a delicious 2008 Chardonnay and a truly delightful 2006 Estate Merlot. Though quite good, his 2007 Estate Merlot still struck me as young, but his superb 2007 Late Harvest Semi-Sweet Merlot proved a wondrous addition to his lineup. From across the street, the good folks at Ridge made quite an impressive appearance, pouring their sturdy 2008 Ridge Lytton Springs, a strik
ing yet hitherto unfamiliar 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and the absolutely riveting 2007 Monte Bello, unquestionably worthy of a .

My friend Michael Martella pulled double-duty this afternoon, fronting both his eponymous label and Thomas Fogarty, where he serves as winemaker. His own 2009 Monterey Sauvignon Blanc showed quite likably, while he excelled with his red selections: the 2007 Fiddletown Grenache, his 2007 Hammer Syrah, and the exceptional 2007 Heart Arrow Petite Sirah. From the Fogarty label, he poured a forward 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay and the 2008 Monterey Gewürztraminer, alongside a somewhat fruity 2008 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir. I quite enjoyed the 2005 Lexington, a mélange of 49% Cab. Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 21% Cabernet Franc, while totally relishing the 2006 Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Franc.

Another exceptional take on this varietal came from Cinnabar, whose 2007 Cabernet Franc rivaled the appeal of their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon in complexity. Similarly, their 2007 Merlot proved quite strong while their 2008 Mercury Rising was particularly affordable for a Bordeaux blend of similar quality. La Honda Winery’s Ken Wornick chaired this year’s tasting, but still managed to serve up his wines this afternoon, starting with the 2009 Exponent, a deft blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Sangiovese. On the more traditional front, I immensely enjoyed his 2008 Salinian Block Cabernet Sauvignon and the exceptional 2007 Naylor’s Dry Hole Cabernet Sauvignon.

Two Clos for comfort—if not wondrous wines! The ever-unassuming Clos Títa managed once again to impress me with their beautiful Bordeaux blend, the 2006 Gironde, as well as their proprietary of Syrah, Merlot and Viognier, the 2007 La Sierra Azul. Meanwhile, Clos La Chance made an impressive showing with their 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay, the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and an exceptional 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir.

The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is, of course, acclaimed for its Pinot Noir, so the Pinot-only focus of Heart o’ the Mountain comes as now surprise. Certainly their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir put them on par with Clos LaChance’s efforts, while their 2008 vintage fell a notch below. And although they also bottle Pinot, Big Basin elected to represent themselves with four different Syrahs, the 2006 Rattlesnake Rock Syrah, the 2007 Fairview Road Ranch Syrah, a sand-free 2007 Mandala Syrah, and their standout, the 2007 Homestead Syrah. Sonnet Wine Cellars also focuses on this varietal only, with a quartet distinct vineyards in different AVAs. Of the four, I particularly liked their 2008 Pinot Noir Tondrē’s Grapefield (Santa Lucia Highlands) and the 2007 Pinot Noir Mums Vineyard (Santa Cruz Mountains).

While they also bottle Pinot, Big Basin elected to represent themselves with four different Syrahs, the 2006 Rattlesnake Rock Syrah, the 2007 Fairview Road Ranch Syrah, a sand-free 2007 Mandala Syrah, and their standout, the 2007 Homestead Syrah. And though Kathryn Kennedy Winery originally staked its claim as a Cabernet-only endeavor, her heirs now release an organically-grown 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. While the 2000 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon served this afternoon seemed focused more on nostalgia, the 2006 Estate Cabernet Estate Cabernet certainly paid tribute to her legacy. 

No Santa Cruz tasting would be complete without Bonny Doon, a winery known for never sitting on its laurels. I bypassed both Le Cigares and settled for the 2009 Ca’ del Solo Albariño and their new 2009 Contra, a Carignane rounded with Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel. No need to winnow my sele
ctions with Martin Ranch Winery, who quietly presented their 2006 J. D. Hurley Merlot and 2006 Dos Rios Cabernet Sauvignon.

Saratoga got to call itself Saratoga, after the famed hot springs in upstate New York, only because the speaker at Calistoga’s christening screwed up and pronounced this to be “the Calistoga of Sarafornia!” Nonetheless, two of Saratoga’s more prominent wineries, along with Kathryn Kennedy, were on hand for this tasting. Chavannah-Sanelle—I mean, Savannah-Chanelle, poured an array of their wines, including their 2007 Estate Zinfandel and noteworthy 2007 Estate Cabernet Franc. I liked the 2007 Coastview Vineyards Syrah, though found it a bit floral, while the 2007 Monmatre, a Zinfandel/Carignane/Cabernet Franc blend, tasted too acidic for my liking. Cooper-Garrod (not Gooper-Carrod or some other syncretic twist) offered a range of wines, which I commenced sampling with the 2009 Estate Viognier. I was copacetic with the 2006 Estate Syrah, as well, but relished to the 2005 Test Pilot F-16, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Their varietal 2006 Estate Cabernet Franc, however, proved simply outstanding.

Every county in California apparently contains a municipality with its same nomenclature. Similarly, each AVA contains a winery named the wine region that encompasses it. Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard grows a number of well-structured, if not familiar varietals, but I opted to focus on the Iberian-style wines it produces under its Quinta Cruz label. Their 2008 Tempranillo was certainly a pleasant enough wine, while the 2008 Graciano proved truly outstanding. So, too, was the 2007 Touriga, a blend of both Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesa. Even more diverse were the wines from River Run, a Watsonville winery. I did appreciate their organic 2008 Chardonnay Mountanos Vineyard and the atypical 2009 Rosé of Carignane, as well as their 2008 Côte d’Aromas that blended of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignane, Viognier, and Grenache. More telling was the 2007 Carignane Wirz Vineyards and the wondrous 2008 Négrette San Benito County.

His organically-grown grapes mean that I frequently encounter Jerold O’Brien’s Silver Mountain Vineyards at CCOF and other interrelated tastings. With time pressing, I limited myself to his superb 2006 Syrah and a retasting of the 2004 Alloy, his signature Bordeaux blend. Despite the waning minutes, I should have tried all four wines Storrs Winery poured, but leapfrogged over to their 2008 Central Coast Grenache. Thankfully, I did not miss out on the new release of their phenomenal 2007 Pinot Noir Christie Vineyard.

I keep waiting to hear that Press Club has closed its cooperative satellite tasting room near Yerba Buena Gardens, so it seemed fitting that I close out the tasting with Mount Eden, one of the six stations still pouring in their subterranean cavern. As with Silver Mountain, the frequency with which I have sampled their wines at other events led me to limit myself to their 2009 Wolff Vineyard Chardonnay and the equally impressive 2007 Saratoga Cuvée Chardonnay. And with that, I rested, knowing I had to brace myself for a squash match in just a few hours.


I had hoped to file my 2011 entries here in a more timely fashion, but the demands of sewing up the financing for Sostevinobile have taken center stage as of late. Admit it, though—wouldn’t you rather be tasting all these marvelous wines at our bar, rather than just reading about them? E-mail me a buona fortuna, and I’ll put you on the guest list for our Grand Opening!

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 Runquist 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!

 

Try to dismember a guy in September

T.S. Eliot was wrong—how could anyone who is as morosely fatalistic before the age of 35, as the pre-redacted version of The Wasteland clearly illustrates, not be? Granted, September may not truly be the cruelest month—Your West Coast Oenophile is a proud September baby—but, in its role as California Wine Month, it has certainly proved the most overwhelming for Sostevinobile.

Nine major events to attend and cover, in the space of little over three weeks, with several others I was forced to bypass because of time overlaps—suffice it to say I felt tugged in about a hundred different directions. This coming on the heels of Family Winemakers, with the 76 wineries I tasted there. I’m beginning to feel like a walking field blend! I’ve already written extensively on the Taste of Sonoma, and am obliged to thorough coverage of The Ultimate Sierra Foothills Wine Tasting Experience, the 11th Annual Mt. Veeder Appellation Tasting, and the Coombsville Première Tasting. Now, however, let me try to synopsize the other five events and some private explorations:

Rock Wall Does Rockpile

The day after my Disco Milestone Birthday, my friend Randy Caparoso sponsored a side-by-side tasting of the various winemakers and growers from the Rockpile AVA. This viticultural area is highly unusual, in that it owes its prominence to the recent man-made phenomenon of Lake Sonoma, which formed following the damming of Dry Creek in 1983. Unintentionally, this artificial reservoir provided a new climate modulator for the soil-poor ridge tops that were not submerged after the dam’s completion, making possible the highly-stressed Zinfandel vines for which this rugged region is famed.

Others had farmed here before or made wine from Rockpile Vineyards, but the AVA truly came into its own when Wine Spectator named the 2003 Rosenblum Rockpile Road Zinfandel its #3 wine for 2005. Fittingly, Randy’s Rockpile seminar took place at Alameda’s Rock Wall, Kent Rosenblum’s current wine venture that Sostevinobile has cited on numerous occasions. Along with the “home team,” seven other wineries poured for this trade-only event, making the afternoon quite leisurely, with unfettered access to all the winemakers on hand.

Rock Wall poured familiar selections of its wines, including the 2008 Chardonnay Russian River and a barrel sample of its 2009 Rockpile Zinfandel, chivalrously allowing its guest wineries to take the spotlight. Along with its 2007 Señal, a Zinfandel smoothed with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Petite Sirah it had poured at Family Winemakers, Branham Estate showcased both a 2007 Rockpile Petite Sirah and 2005 Rockpile Zinfandel.

Stryker Sonoma is a Geyserville operation making a number of wines from Rockpile Vineyards. Exceptional wines, as their black ink 2006 Petit Verdot Rockpile Vineyard and new 2007 Cabernet Franc Rockpile Vineyard attested, along with an amiable 2005 Zinfandel. My friends from Seghesio poured an interesting bi-annual vertical of their Rockpile Zins, starting with their exceptional 2005 Rockpile Zinfandel. While the 2007 Rockpile Zinfandel tasted a tad less complex, the barrel sample of the 2009 vintage portended great promise

Rockpile suits a range of bold, red varietals, including the family of Bordeaux grapes. Paradise Ridge fully exploits this terrain with its 2007 Rockpile Merlot. Like Seghesio, it offered a vertical of its Rockpile Cabs, starting with the 2005 Elevation Cabernet Sauvignon Rockpile. Again, this wine did not seem as striking in 2006, but the 2007 Eleva
tion Cabernet Sauvignon Rockpile
was extraordinary
.

Rosenblum’s former winemaker, Jeff Cohn, proved ever the contrarian by pouring four Syrahs with nary a Zin—quite the Rockpile anomaly—from his own JC Cellars. Jeff actually sources Syrah from two different vineyards and pour two different vintages from each. I found the 2008 Buffalo Hill Syrah incrementally preferable its 2007 version, while the equally excellent 2007 Haley Syrah and the 2008 Haley Syrah contrasted only in style, the latter displaying  far more minerality than its predecessor.

As good as these Syrahs were, they were overshadowed by the absolutely astounding 2007 Madrone Spring Syrah that Mauritson Wines poured. Mauritson forebear S. P. Hallengren essentially founded Rockpile, first planting vines there in 1884. With seven separate vineyards in the AVA, the breadth of wines they bottle under their affiliated Rockpile label is remarkable, ranging from the 2008 Rockpile Ridge Zinfandel and the terminally-named 2008 Cemetery Zinfandel to the 2007 Madrone Spring Petite Sirah and the 2007 Buck Pasture Malbec. I also sampled their 2007 Buck Pasture Red, a Meritage with 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petit Verdot, 10% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc, and can only wish they had poured their alluring 2007 Independence Red, an exotic blend of 23% Tinta Cão, 23% Touriga Nacional, 23% Souzão, 23% Tinta Madeira, and 8% Tannat.

As I alluded in my last entry, I had kind of taken Mauritson for granted after my initial exposure to their wines a while back and not really explored them in depth. This afternoon, however, they absolutely opened up my eyes (as they did for many of the other attendees) to how extraordinary so many of their wine are during the centerpiece of the afternoon: the Rockpile tasting seminar. Not that I mean to detract anything from Seghesio or Paradise Ridge or Carol Shelton, who also poured comparative selections of their Rockpile Zinfandels from the 2000s, all of whom had several highly impressive bottlings throughout this past decade.

Shelton and Mauritson each poured one of their 2001 and 2002 bottlings, starting with Carol’s 2001 Zinfandel Rocky Reserve and Mauritson’s 2001 Rockpile Ridge Zinfandel—a bit peaked, in both incidences. the 2002 Rocky Ridge, however, proved a wine whose flavors exploded on the tongue, a truly amazing wine. We leaped ahead to 2005 with Seghesio’s 2005 Rockpile Zinfandel and the 2005 The Convict Zinfandel Rocky Ridge Vineyard from Paradise Ridge joining the mix. Both of these wines struck me as amiable, as did the 2007 Shelton, but the 2005 Rocky Ridge Zinfandel Mauritson poured warranted one of my very rare !

2007 is widely considered a benchmark year for Rockpile Zins, and both Seghesio and Carol Shelton more than lived up to expectation. I felt a bit indifferent about Paradise Ridge’s selection from this vintage and, ironically, Mauritson’s bottling, while superb, seemed a bit diminished compared to the 2005. The last comparison, the barrel samples from 2009, came around full circle. Paradise Ridge showed strong, Seghesio and Shelton hinted at extraordinary things to open up with a few years’ aging, and, again, the Mauritson garnered a (pre-bottling!) .

Another of my coveted red & black accolades belongs to a wine Carol Shelton poured at the main tasting, the 2003 Zinfandel Rocky Reserve. The 2000 vintage of the same showed remarkably for a 10-year-old Zin, while both the 2004 and 2006 remained impressive. I also found the much to like in her 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Rockpile Reserve and in the dense richness of her 2006 Petite Sirah Rockpile Reserve.

Some of the attendees at this intimate gathering wondered why know one had tried growing a white varietal in Rockpile, though the consensus seemed that rugged character of the soil might not suit itself to the majority of these grapes. In jest, I suggested they could always make a White Zinfandel. My hasty retreat to the door and my next appointment at the Green Chamber of Commerce came not a moment too soon!


No acronyms, please! SLH—the Santa Lucia Highlands.
Given my proclivity with ABM software (anything but Microsoft), along with my numerous stints writing for and marketing hi-tech and Internet enterprises, many people think of me as a techie. Hardly, even though I did submit a GUI icon for COBOL for patent and often find myself an easy mark for free Macintosh tech support among my close circles. On the other hand, my disdain for the prefab milieu of Silicon Valley (aka LegoLand) has been well documented in these entries, and, despite my overt allegiance, I will readily identify Cupertino as the home of Ridge over Apple.

Technological advances can offer wonderful advantages. Back in the days of typewriters and IBM Selectrics, I could never compose at the keyboard and always had to transcribe my manuscripts from hand-written pages; with the advent of personal computers and Quark Xpress (whose word processing functions are infinitely more elegant than MS-Word), I script seamlessly on the screen and edit as I type. It’s only when operating a technology becomes an end in itself, rather facilitating a purpose or achievement (i.e., Facebook) that I find myself contending with its value. Or simply when it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.

GPS stands for Global Positioning Satellite; like millions of other people, I have come to rely on this technology to pinpoint any place on the globe with utmost precision. Sometimes, however, I think it must stand for General Proximity (Sort of). The Wine Artisans of the Santa Lucia Highlands held their Summer Trade Tasting at Cin-Cin Wine Bar the following Monday. Even with plugging in their precise street address, differing mapping services put their location at point more than nine miles away from downtown Los Gatos, near the Palm Haven area of San Jose! 

A number of attendees and even some of the winery representatives failed to note this discrepancy, only to find themselves hopeless crisscrossing the Valley and arriving more than an hour late; I had enough of a sense of the general boundaries of Los Gatos to double-check and point my iPhone toward the correct listing. But even this setting could not properly identify the little side alleys and walkways that subdivided this little shopping district, causing me to squander a good 20 minutes or so crisscrossing a four block area in search of a storefront. By the time I located the bar, I was ready to drink, or should I say, sip.

No matter, once I had signed in and collected my glass, my frustration bubbled away. Most of the wineries on hand today had poured either at the Santa Lucia Highlands tasting in San Francisco back in March or at this summer’s 18th Annual Winemakers Celebration in Monterey (or both), so I naturally gravitated to newcomer Caraccioli Cellars, a tantalizing startup working out of Gonzales. Atypically, my first tasting of the afternoon was their superbly dry 2006 Brut, a méthode champenoise rendering of their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay lots. Their second cuvée, a sparkling 2006 Brut Rosé, faintly painted a pink pour in the subdued interior lighting and hinted at a touch more sweetness than a Brut typically imparts. I was struck by the acidity of their food-friendly 2007 Chardonnay, while the 2007 Pinot Noir had already attained a distinct softness to it.

This event launched the first-ever bottling for tiny KORi Wines, with a their 2007 Pinot Noir KW Ranch, an auspicious debut for this Gonzales boutique head up by the effervescent Kori Violini, who wisely eschewed any musical depictions on her label. Other wineries that chose to represent themselves with but a single Pinot were Charles Hendricks’ Hope & Grace, a Yountville-based operation pouring their Santa Lucia Highlands bottling, the 2008 Pinot Noir Doctors’ Vineyard, Scenic Routes of Marin’s Pey-Lucia Vineyards, with a 2008 Pinot Noir Frisquet, and Healdsburg’s Sequana, with their 2008 Pinot Noir Sarmento Vineyard, their Santa Lucia Highlands single-vineyard Pinot.

Tondrē Wines was scheduled to pour their 2007 Pinot Noir Tondrē Grapefield, but failed, once again, to appear. The 2007 Pinot Noir Tondrē Grapefield from Bernardus, however, proved an exceptional wine, almost the equal of their 2007 Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard. Meanwhile, their 2007 Chardonnay Rosella’s Vineyard distinguished itself in comparison to the 2007 Chardonnay Paraiso Vineyard. The ubiquitous Ed Kurtzman’s August West produced a trio of impressive wines from this same grapefield, the 2008 Chardonnay Rosella’s Vineyard, 2008 Syrah Rosella’s Vineyard, and their 2008 Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard, as well as a distinctive 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands.

The Santa Lucia Highlands AVA has taken on quite the Burgundian aura since its inception, and, befittingly, nearly half the remaining wineries this afternoon showcased only their Chardonnay and Pinot (I realize each may also produce other varietals from outside the growing area). Having highlighted these efforts earlier this year, let me simply cite the standouts: the 2008 Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard from Martin Alfaro; Talbott’s extraordinary 2007 Chardonnay Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, as well as their 2008 Pinot Noir Kali Hart; Morgan’s 2008 Pinot Noir Double L Vineyard; the double charms the 2008 Pinot Noir Sleepy Hollow Vineyard and the 2008 Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard from Testarossa; Mariposa Wine’s Crū label, with its 2008 Pinot Noir S.L.H; the delightful 2007 Pinot Noir Four Boys’s Vineyard that Pessagno poured alongside its 2008 Chardonnay Lucia Highlands Vineyard; and a striking contrast between the 2008 Mer Soleil Chardonnay and its twin 2008 Mer Soleil Chardonnay Silver, the same wine aged in cement tanks, that Belle Glos showcased.

Pockets of contrast did appear this afternoon. Tudor Wines made a strong showing with its 2006 Pinot Noir Sarmento Vineyard, distinguished itself with a pair of contrasting Rieslings, the 2007 Radog Riesling Santa Lucia Highlands. and the drier, more approachable 2007 Radog Riesling Evie’s Blend. beyond its familiar lineup, Hahn Family Wines poured a rather likable 2008 Hahn Pinot Gris, while Ray Franscioni’s Puma Road showcased its 2007 Pinot Gris Black Mountain Vineyard, the same source of its 2007 Chardonnay.

A rosé by any other name is still a rosé; nonetheless, the 2008 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir McIntyre poured was a welcome refresher on this warm afternoon. My friends from Pelerin impressed with their 2009 Les Tournesols Paraiso Vineyard, a Roussanne/Viognier blend, to complement their 2007 Les Violettes Paraiso Vineyard, a Syrah.

Paraiso produced its own label, under which they bottled their 2008 Estate Pinot Noir and a truly delectable 2007 Pinot Noir West Terrace; their own 2005 Syrah Wedding Hill showed their impressive versatility, as well. Similarly, I found the 2007 Estate Syrah Manzoni produced equal to, if not superior, to their efforts with Chardonnay and Pinot.

I have made no pretense about my fondness for Wrath, and this afternoon only amplified my appreciation with the exceptional 2007 Syrah Doctors’ Vineyard (if only they had not run out of the 2007 Syrah 877/Noir before I approached their table)! Similarly, I have been effusive in my praise for Carmel Valley’s Boekenoogen, and was delighted to sample the 2008 Syrah Santa Lucia Highlands left behind at their station when they packed up early and left.

Obviously, I would have also like to try Boekenoogen’s 2008 Estate Chardonnay and the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir, as well, had they finished the event. From a professional standpoint, I find it highly disconcerting when wineries depart prematurely (this occurs with predictable regularity at almost every tasting)
—it seems little to ask if someone makes a three hour commitment for them to avail themselves for the full three hours and enable as many attendees as possible to sample and evaluate their wines. It’s quite an overwhelming feat to try covering everyone who pours at these tastings—and remember, folks like me are there principally to support and promote you.


Adventures in West Coast Wines
Eight things I know about Daly City:

1) Its formal name, The City of Daly City, seems woefully redundant

2) The revolution that overthrew the Marcos regime in the Philippines was largely financed in Daly City

3) Malvina Reynolds’ song Little Boxes was written about Daly City

4) Malvina Reynolds’ song Little Boxes will probably be the only song ever  written about Daly City

5) John Charles Wester, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Salt Lake City, came from Daly City. So what?

6) Daly City calls itself “The Gateway to the Peninsula.” So what?

7) No one describes San Francisco as being “just outside Daly City”

8) Steven Matthew David’s Matthew’s Top of the Hill Daly City no longer sits atop the hill in Daly City

To put matters a different way, trekking across San Francisco’s southwest boundary hasn’t been a high priority of late, other than detouring to shop at 99 Ranch on the way home from Santa Cruz or Monterey, so I was immensely pleased to accept Robert Morrison’s invitation to attend his Adventures in Wine Trade Tasting at Fort Mason. While this Daly City distributor and wine storage facility focuses heavily on imports from France, as well as Southern Hemisphere and other European producers, they carry a strong inventory of wines from California, Washington and Oregon, as well.

Although I had committed to attend the Wine Institute’s Unexpected Grapes from Unexpected Places (unless, like Sostevinobile, you’ve been combing the state for unusual wines for the past two years), I managed to sandwich in a couple of hours to meet and sample from the 23 West Coast vintners represented at this trade-only event. It turned out to be well worth the digression.
It’s pronounced “Oregon.”

As with the Santa Lucia Highlands wineries, Oregon’s houses predominantly focused on Pinot Noir—at least, in what they were pouring on this afternoon. A paragon of phenomenon, the Willamette Valley’s Amalie Roberta name that sounds utterly Burgundian—proudly poured four interpretations of its forte: the 2006 Pinot Noir Dijon Clones, an impressive 2006 Pinot Noir Amalie’s Cuvée, and their standout, the 2006 Estate Pinot Noir, along with the augur of their soon-to-be released vintage, the 2007 Vintage Debut Pinot Noir. From Dundee Hills, Dusky Goose, which ought not be confused with Zazu’s Duskie Estes of Iron Chef fame, impressed with both their 2007 Pinot Noir Rambouillet Vineyard and the 2007 Pinot Noir Dundee Hills.
Soléna Estate made its opening statement with Oregon’s other signature Pinot, pouring an easily approached 2009 Pinot Gris. Interestingly, they also featured three diffrent Pinot from sequential vintages. While the 2008 Pinot Noir Grand Cuvée still demanded time to develop, the 2007 Pinot Noir Hyland Vineyard was eminently drinkable; in turn, the exquisite 2006 Pinot Noir Domaine Danielle Laurent, fittingly named for owners Laurent & Danielle Montalieu, was just reaching its peak.
I confess to feeling tepid about the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir Patricia Green Cellars poured but very much cottoned to their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. Oregon’s final representative of the afternoon, Et Fille daughter Jessica Mozeico complemented her three Pinots: the 2008 Pinot Noir Maresh Vineyard, the 2008 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, and her superb 2008 Pinot Noir Kalita Vineyard with and exceptionally dry 2008 Viognier.
Les grands vins de la Californie.

Adventures in Wine’s California selections included a number of familiar faces, like Mendocino’s organic specialists Yorkville Cellars. Though their claim to be the only producers of varietal Carménère in the state would be refuted later in the month, they did make a strong showing with their latest production of the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, their 2007 Merlot, and the 2007 Hi-Rollr Red, their second bottling of this Zinfandel-based proprietary blend that features Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and a touch of Petit Verdot.

Another longtime familiar venture that has managed to maintain the quality of its wine despite considerable internal upheaval over the past decade is Healdsburg’s Pezzi-King. The current release, the 2007 Old Vines Zinfandel, still displays the same flare that originally garnered so much press for this venture, while their 2009 Chardonnay seemed eminently drinkable. Their 2008 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon tasted far too early, but I had no qualms about the 2007 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel or their fine 2008 Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc.

Even though I have long received the newsletter from Bruce Patch’s Wine Guerrilla and sampled their wine on a number of occasions, I habitually think of them as a marketing tool, à la Wine Spies or Bottlenotes. No such mistake was possible this day, as worked my way through five titillating Zins, the standouts being the 2008 Zinfandel Adel’s Vineyard, the 2008 Zinfandel Russian River Valley, and, as might be expected, the utterly sensual 2008 Zinfandel Coffaro Vineyard.

No surprise in finding Carole Meredith pouring her Lagier Meredith; contrary to Robert Parker’s ratings, I preferred her 2006 Syrah to the 2007 Syrah he rated 94+ pts. I was surprised to find my old squash opponent Jack Jelenko, late of Villa Toscano, pouring for Jeff Runquist Wines. Jack poured their newest release, the 2008 1448 R, alongside its constituent components: the 2008 Zinfandel Z, the 2008 Syrah R, a tantalizing 2008 Barbera R, and a superb 2008 Petite Sirah R. 1448 stands for the winery’s elevation; I have no idea what these initials mean.

Not that Washington. This one!

Before tackling the vast selection of Washington wineries on hand, I stumbled across Relativity, a California négociant label whose slogan “You don’t have to be a genius to drink good wine” speaks volumes. While their websites boasts of a Napa Cabernet and research has uncovered a proprietary blend they call the 2007 Quantum Reserve, Adventures in Wine apparently only handles their 2007 Merlot Oak Knoll. Several of the Washington operations represented themselves with but a single wine, to decidedly mixed results. Another négociant, Randy Leitman, poured his 2007 Randall Harris Merlot, a wine that fell short of expectations. On the other hand, Robert Karl Cellars comported themselves quite capably with their 2007 Claret, as did Syncline, with their proprietary 2007 Subduction Red, a Rhône-style blend with Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Counoise, and Carignane.

With its aristocratic-sounding name and derivative French label, the 2008 Syrah Cuveé Marcel Dupont from Descendants Liégeois ought to have been an impressive wine, but disappointed. Its parent company, Hedges Family Estate, also proved rather unremarkable with their 2007 Red Mountain (Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot) and their mass-produced blend, the 2008 CMS Red, although I did enjoy their 2009 CMS White, a Sauvignon Blanc. Another Hedges label with French pretensions, the House of Independent Producers, proved rather bourgeois with their 2008 Merlot La Bourgeoisie but did score quite nicely with the 2009 Chardonnay Dionysus.

In recent years, Washington has garnered considerable acclaim for its Cabernets and Bordeaux blends. This reputation proved itself with the two selections Cadence poured: the 2007 Ciel du Cheval, a Cabernet Sauvignon- & Cabernet Franc-dominated blend, with Merlot and Petit Verdot, and the 2008 Coda, a Pomérol-style blend of these four varietals from the same vineyard. Walla Walla’s Abeja ratcheted things up a notch with their spectacular 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2008 Merlot that was almost its equal. Their regular 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon wasn’t quite in this league, but the 2009 Chardonnay proved every bit as extraordinary.

If only Washington’s premier Cabernet producer had brought a couple of their much-heralded bottlings! Leonetti Cellars did, however, mitigate most of my disappointment with their profound 2008 Merlot and an unexpected surprise, the seductive 2007 Sangiovese. Another of Washington’s most acclaimed houses, DeLille Cellars, proved their mettle with the 2006 Doyenne Syrah and a decidedly unsweet 2008 Chaleur Estate Blanc, a 2:1 blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.

I would have appreciated Woodinville’s Efeste merely for the playful names with which it labels its wines, like its natural wine approach to Sauvignon Blanc, the 2008 Feral or the literal impression of it 2007 Jolie Bouche Syrah. Equally compelling was its 2009 Evergreen Riesling, a splendid medium-dry wine. A bit more pedantic in their labeling but still impressive were the six wines L’École No. 41 poured. The 2008 Recess Red nicely blended Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, while the 2007 Perigee offered a more orthodox mélange of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. As enjoyable were the 2007 Merlot Columbia Valley and the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Walla Walla, but my decided preference was for both the 2007 Cabernet Columbia Valley and the exquisite 2008 Sémillon Columbia Valley.

I might have stayed longer to sample a number of the French, Italian and Spanish wines being poured—comparative tastings like this helps Sostevinobile put its own palate in perspective,—but my other obligations demanded that I pedal halfway across town and join the crowd inside the tent at Hotel Vitale. I thanked my host for his hospitality and for sparing me from an arduous commute to his warehouse, but my day was far from over.


Wines of the Mojave Desert


Maybe I shouldn’t be so facetious. Perhaps one day we will transcend the known bounds of viticulture and establish a Mojave AVA, encompassing a vast swath of tilled acreage that stretches from Palmdale to the California/Nevada border, dotted with colorful names like Château Barstow and Devil’s Playground & Cellars, producing Xeric Red from the most water-stressed Zinfandel vines ever to be planted. After all, Michael Mondavi did envision growing grapes and building wineries on Mars in Mondovino. Indeed, this breakthrough could be his vindication.

Meanwhile, pretty much every other part of California is encompassed by an AVA. To demonstrate the incredible panoply of œnology throughout the State, the Wine Institute orchestrated Unexpected Grapes from Unexpected Places, an expo of wine from 15 of California’s major wine growing regions. More than 100 different wines were featured in an open-air tent erected in front of Americano, the wildly popular bar and restaurant that anchors Hotel Vitale along San Francisco’s Embarcadero.

For Sostevinobile, the event offered a chance not so much to sample hitherto unknown wines as it was to solidify relations with the all-important regional trade associations and cooperatives. Plus, as a bonus, pre-registered trade participants were treated to an intimate presentation of Evan Goldstein’s acclaimed Daring Pairings seminar, an insightful demo of how wine focuses and amplifies the flavors of meticulously-matched food preparations.

First things first, however. Though it was hardly possible to sample every wine being poured, let me offer my findings, region by region, with no particular order of priority.

Wines labeled North Coast can contain grapes from any of the four counties comprise this mega-region. Often lost in the shuffle behind Mendocino, Sonoma, and Napa, Lake County has steadily expanded as a premium winegrowing locale over the past decade. The table this afternoon featured but two of the more prominent local producers. I opted for the full complement of wines from Italian varietal specialist Rosa d’Oro while renewing my acquaintance with Pietro Buttitta. Little doubt I would enjoy his 2006 Aglianico and a very robust 2007 Dolcetto, while the NV Nebbiolo proved a pleasant surprise. The true revelation, however, was the 2007 Primitivo, which I even commended to new Wine Institute President Tom Klein—an amazing demonstration of how this varietal distinguishes itself from Zinfandel. Having enjoyed their wines on numerous other occasions, I bypassed the offerings from Lake County’s other representative, Six Sigma, a winery I will richly embrace if they ever change their name! (Note to owner Kaj Ahlmann: people enter the wine business in order to flee corporate culture, not embrace it.)

The Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant isn’t the only thing fired up in this dynamic wine region. Their table provided me my first exposure to Salisbury Vineyards, who, in turn, introduced me to their 2007 Syrah Noir, a varietal that had previously eluded me. Niven Family brought their entire line of labels, but I focused only on their new Zocker, with its compelling 2009 Grüner Veltliner. I also managed a taste of Claiborne & Churchill’s aptly-named 2007 Dry Gewürztraminer, a frequent favorite.

Home to more than 240 wineries, the Paso Robles AVA is California’s largest, and, in many ways, most intriguing. Not bound by arcane traditions, wineries here fully exploit its status as the new frontier for winemaking in the 21st Century. I dabbled in a few of the many familiar labels here this afternoon, starting with an earthy 2007 Tempranillo from San Miguel’s Silver Horse. Ortman Family vastly impressed me with their 2007 Petite Sirah, while Justin seems to impress everyone these days with its proprietary Cabernet Sauvignon, the much-lauded 2007 Isosceles. I didn’t tasted the 2009 Barfandel, a blend of Zinfandel and Barbera from Lone Madrone, though I have but two words to describe the name: Olive Garden.

The French equivalent for the Portuguese amador is amateur, but as far as winemaking goes, it’s entirely a misnomer. One of three regions that comprise the overall Sierra Foothills designation, Amador has proven fertile ground for Italian, Iberian, and Rhône varietals. Having made plans to attend the more comprehensive regional tasting the following Sunday, I limited myself here to Karly’s 2009 Rolle, a refined Vermetino, and
the 2008 Normale Sangiovese from Vino Noceto.

Monterey may be the seat of the Central Coast region, but it offers far more than the ubiquitous Coastal Cellars that have diluted the brand of so many premium wineries. Ironically, I bypassed such stalwarts as the 2007 Grenache from Marilyn Remark or the 2006 Claret Reserve Scheid was pouring; perhaps, I was simply in a white mood. In any case, I was happy to taste a staple of the AVA: the 2009 Bay Mist Monterey White Riesling from J. Lohr and the 2008 Loredona Riesling from Delicato.

In between the majesty of the Pacific Ocean and the monotony of Silicon Valley stands the alpine buffer of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Encompassing a cross-section of three counties, it lays claim to some of the most innovative wineries in California, like Ridge, David Bruce and Bonny Doon. Today’s table presented several of the lesser-known from this appellation, all of whom I have covered extensively over the past two years. I confess that my sip of the NV Brut from Equinox only made me long for their superb sparkling endeavor, the 1997 Blanc de Blanc Cuvée de Chardonnay. And while I tend to concentrate on their Iberian-focused Quinta Cruz label, Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard captured my attention with their 2006 Durif McDowell Valley (aka Petite Sirah).

Miles Raymond, take heed! Santa Barbara means far more than Pinot Noir—and by that, I do not mean Ronald Reagan’s Santa Barbara Ranch, Michael Jackson’s pederastic playground, or even the unsightly offshore oil rigs near La Conchita. Of course, there was a delicious irony this afternoon that Miles’ iconic Hitching Post chose to serve their 2007 Merlot, but the true diversity of this AVA presented itself in a trio of wineries on hand. I have long wanted to sample the wines of Rancho Sisquoc, and was richly rewarded with my first taste of their 2009 Sylvaner Flood Family Vineyards, a wine that easily lived up to its advance billing. Similarly, my long-awaited introduction to Mosby rewarded me with their superb 2006 Sagrantino. It had been several years since I first met Crystal Clifton at A16, so I had no compunction about sampling the full array of Italian varietals her Palmina had transported here. As with the handful of other wineries producing this Trentinese varietal, her 2008 Lagrein defied stereotyping, but the 2009 Dolcetto was near stratospheric. I greatly enjoyed both the 2008 Barbera and the 2006 Nebbiolo, but found myself most intrigued by her pair of white wines, the 2009 Arneis and the sumptuous 2009 Tocai Friulano. All in all, this region packs more of a wallop than an irate Sandra Oh.

The second part of the Sierra Foothills triumvirate, Calaveras also displays a wide range of varietals, with particular strength in the Spanish & Portuguese grapes, as well as with Zinfandel. With plans to attend their upcoming tastings, I merely made a courtesy stop to try the surprisingly good 2007 Garsa Tempranillo from Solomon Wine Company and a refreshing 2009 Muscat Blanc from Newsome-Harlow.

They used to be known merely for their Tokay. And a 1969 song by El Cerrito’s Creedence Clearwater Revival. Much like Paso Robles, this former backwater of the wine industry has evolved over the past two decades into a significant AVA, with a number of innovative wineries and a genuine commitment to sustainable practices. As the appellation continues to evolve and establish its identity, a wide array of varietals are moving to the forefront. Once again, I managed to sample just a small selection from the array of wines being poured here, knowing I would be attending a more focused tasting in a couple of weeks. Still, I was pleased to revisit with Harney Lane and indulge in their 2009 Albariño before moving on to indulge in the 2008 Great Friends Barbera Grands Amis poured, along with the rare opportunity to taste the 2006 Teroldego Reserve from Peltier Station.

San Luis Obispo may have its own nuclear reactor; Livermore has its prestigious atomic research lab (I’m told “engineered in Livermore commands” a considerable premium on the nuclear black market). With a winegrowing tradition that dates to the 1760s, this AVA lays claim to the first labeling of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Petite Sirah as varietal bottling in California. Though dominated by large-scale, historic wineries like Wente and Concannon, it has given rise to numerous boutique producers over the past two decades, like Picazo Vineyards, with their handcrafted 2006 Estate Merlot and the cerebral Occasio, which poured its 2008 Pinot Gris Del Arroyo Vineyard.

Juxtaposed between Fresno County and the Merced-Mariposa axis, Madera quite literally occupies the center of California. The county is best known for Mammoth Mountain and Yosemite, bears the ignominy of the Chowchilla kidnappings, and is home to a pocket of rugged, hi-tech developers in Coarsegold. While its reputation for wine has squarely rested on its dessert-style wines, like the NV Old Vine Tinta Port from Ficklin or Quady’s ever-amazing 2009 Electra, an intense Orange Muscat, the region is starting to blossom in a fashion similar to the Sierra Foothills, as the amiable NV Reserve Dolcetto from Birdstone Winery exemplifies.

Completing the Sierra Foothills triangle, El Dorado has long held a particular affinity for Zinfandel, as well as for Rhône varietals. In recent years, however, a number of these wineries have shifted toward more standard grapes, as the 2009 Reserve Chardonnay that longtime Rhône Ranger Lava Cap poured here. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed 2007 Patriarche from Holly’s Hill, a deft blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Counoise, and resolved to explore more of this AVA’s wines the following Sunday. 

It’s tempting, of course, to compare Mendocino with the Sierra Foothills and describe their appellation as “elevated,” in a manner of speaking. A prime location for Pinot Noir and Gewürztraminer, the county also lays claim to California’s finest production of sparkling wines, alambic brandies, grappa, and other grape distillates. Mendocino boasts of being “America’s Greenest Wine Region,” a claim that is bolstered by the presence of Parducci, Navarro, Fetzer and its many offshoots, and innumerable other practitioners. This afternoon, however, I was drawn to a pair of Syrahs, the 2006 Broken Leg Syrah from Drew Family and an incredible 2006 Syrah Yorkville Highlands that Meyer Family produced.

Both these regions need no introduction. Though strongly represented on this afternoon, each has already received extensive coverage in this blog. While noting the strong presence of wineries from both counties, I bypassed their stations in favor of the food pairing seminar.

The Food & Wine Tasting

Evan Goldstein, the youngest American ever to complete the Master Sommelier certification, conducted a special seminar based on his current book, Daring Pairings, a copy of which was generously given each of the attendees. After an introductory glass of Handley Cellars2006 Brut Rosé Anderson Valley, we paired a pair of wines each to three exceptional entrées prepared by the kitchen at American. The first round matched a Halibut Crudo with a traditional complement, the 2009 Fumé Blanc from Sonoma’s Château St. Jean and a less orthodox Roussanne/Grenache Blanc blend, the 2009 Camp 4 Vineyard Blanc from Santa Barbara’s Tensley. I found myself favoring the more traditional match-up.

We followed with the Liberty Duck Involtini, a thin, carpaccio-style slice of cured meat wrapped around a fig filling. While the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir from Rodney Strong paired admirably with this hors d’œuvre, I felt it illuminated the 2008 Grenache from Paso Robles’ Denner Vineyards.

The final course, a Short Rib Bruschetta with Tomato Conserva, seemed a bit perfunctory in its two pairings. Of course, I had had many occasions to sample the 2006 Reserve Petite Sirah from Concannon, but the revelatory aspect of the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Robert Mondavi was that Constellation had managed to maintain its excellence.

Having attended a truncated version of this seminar at The Mechanics Institute earlier this summer, I confess I had approached the event with guarded skepticism. This previous presentation had featured only imported wines (plus New Mexico’s Gruet), which led me to suspect that Goldstein might be one of those sommeliers that take pains to eschew California wines, unless, like this afternoon, compelled to serve them. “Hardly,” Evan assured me. “The last time, I had simply grabbed whatever I had lying around.”


Vive la France?

The last event I must cover for this seemingly interminable installation was the Pre-Auction Tasting Wine Gavel conducted The San Francisco Wine Center. Another Judgment of Paris this may not have been, but here was a chance to stack my California predilection against some of the more acclaimed wines France has produced. I swear I tried to be objective.

Starting with the whites, I worked my way through comparative sips of the 1997 Verget Puligny-Montrachet Les Enseignères 1er Cru and the newer 2001 Boyer-Martenot Puligny-Montrachet Les Caillerets 1er Cru. the former, frankly bordered on being undrinkable; the latter, while faring better, hardly seemed a wine I would make efforts to seek out. In contrast, the 2004 La Carrière from Calistoga’s Peter Michael Winery proved an extraordinary wine from this exceptional producer of vineyard designate Chardonnays (and easily worth its $90 price tag).

My familiarity with much of French wine is admittedly limited; I had never heard of the 1964 Leroy Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru prior to this event and, again, found myself duly unimpressed. Nor am I versed in what years constituted great vintages. I approached both the 1967 Chateau Cheval Blanc Saint-Émilion 1er Cru and the 1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild Pauillac with near-giddy expectation, only to be underwhelmed. Were these notably poor vintages? Had the bottles been stored inappropriately? How was I to tell?

My reaction to the 1969 Cabernet Sauvignon from Charles Krug was admittedly tepid, but I was pleased to try what may well have been my first taste of a pre-1970s California wine outside of the Gallo-Paul Masson-Almaden jug oligarchy. Nor did the 1980 Cabernet Sauvignon from Chappellet seem to have stood the test of time. Purely by accident, however, our hosts had included two bot
tles of 1970 Cabernet Sauvignon from Robert Mondavi. I noticed one had been stamped Unfined, the other Unfiltered, in what later was described to me as simply casual experimentation during that era. The two wines contrasted starkly, and while the Unfined vintage certainly offered considerable merit, the Unfiltered shone through as an exceptional wine.

Far and away, the best wine of the evening proved to be the 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon from Caymus. Second only to 1997 as one of the spectacular vintages from the last decade, this wine stood at the peak of perfection and begged to be tasted two, three, four times (with a nary a drop to be spit!). As I prepared to leave, our hosts brought out a bottle of 2004 Gaja Ca’Marcanda Promis, a Sangiovese blended with Merlot and Syrah. If Sostevinobile poured imports, this wine could easily find its way to our roster, but for now I have to settle for the guilty pleasure of a Gaja Castello Di Barbaresco NV Grappa the next time I dine out.