Category Archives: Riesling

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! 

The first 100 postings are the hardest

Quite the milestone for Your West Coast Oenophile. This seemingly interminable blog has now posted its 100th entry. I haven’t tried to enumerate the major wine events I’ve attended and covered, calculate the number of wines I’ve sampled (~7,000), nor tally a precise word count (somewhere between 200-250,000 would be a fair guess). It’s just a shame, though, to have come this far and have to log in with a pejorative note.

Thankfully, it’s not dire news concerning Sostevinobile and its protracted development. Unfortunately, however, I do have to chronicle what was, in all likelihood, the worst wine tasting I’ve ever attended—academic colloquia included! Normally, as readers know, I find myself trying to squeeze every minute I can out of an event, particularly when there are over 100 wineries pouring. Suffice it to say that only a colossal fiasco could have compelled me to leave with two hours still to go.

I’ve attended a number of wine gatherings where the terroir-focused vintages tasted more like the vineyard’s soil. This year’s Pinot on the River literally submerged us in it. Undoubtedly, some will hold that contending with the elements is part & parcel of wine tasting; however, sloughing through mud six inches deep, in an often futile effort to waddle from table to table, can hardly be said to enhance the experience.


Call it, if you will, Pinot IN the River. Call it Winestock. Clever witticisms aside, there can be no excuse for holding this event outdoors amid a torrential rain shower. The three tents erected along the lawn at Rodney Strong Vineyards may have provided a modicum of shelter from the rain overhead but offered no barrier to the surface runoff. Hard to believe that the organizers thought these provisions would be adequate, and even harder to comprehend how they could not have made contingency arrangements, with predictions of rain regularly broadcast throughout the entire week preceding the festival. The fault does not lie with Rodney Strong, of course, but still, there must be at least 35,000 square feet of indoor space at the winery that could have utilized for the tasting.

Quite a number of the wineries pulled out before I did, unable to withstand the atrocious conditions to which they were subjected, and I sense quite a few other never even bothered to show up (the ever-deepening muck made it impossible to locate several of the labels I had preliminarily highlighted for visiting). Nonetheless, I did find quite an array of superb Pinots interspersed throughout the three tents, so rather than belabor my lament, let me report on those wines I was able to source and sample.

First up was Auteur, a Carneros-based boutique
operation that sources its grapes from both Sonoma and from Oregon. I started with an impressive 2008 Sonoma Stage Vineyard Pinot Noir, which was upstaged by its Yamhill-Carlton AVA (Willamette Valley) counterpart, the 2008 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir. A similar bifurcation might be inferred by the origins of Calicaro’s name, but fortunately their grapes are grown only in California and not the “Right Coast” state where owner Dave Ball practices healthcare business law (after all, South Carolina’s official beverage is milk, while its state snack is boiled peanuts). With less than 200 cases of production, and most vintages limited to a single barrel, this boutique nonetheless poured an impressive lineup of Pinot from four distinct appellations, while paying oblique homage to landmarks from his Greenville home: the 2007 Annahala Pinot Noir Hayley Vineyard from Anderson Valley; the 2008 Liberty Bridge Pinot Noir Split Rock Vineyard from Sonoma Coast; the 2008 Poinsett Pinot Noir La Encantada Vineyard from Santa Rita Hills; and the standout 2008 Paris Mountain Pinot Noir Lone Oak Vineyard, a Santa Lucia Highlands vintage.

Tony Austin’s Clouds Rest originates from a single volcanic soil vineyard above the 1250′ level on Sonoma Mountain, hand-farmed grapes in a hand-painted bottle. The 2004 Pinot Noir truly reflected the meticulous efforts that produced this exceptional wine; the yet-released 2005 Pinot Noir intimated equal greatness in the offing. Meanwhile, Clouds Rest’s second-tier bottling, the 2008 Pinot Noir Femme Fatale, proved a worthy entry-level expression of their intense focus. Quaintly-named Small Vines Wines made a grandiloquent statement with both Pinots they had on hand, the 2008 Russian River Pinot Noir and their superb 2008 Sonoma Coast MK Vineyard Pinot Noir.

I had had no previous exposure to Sierra Madre Vineyard, whose Santa Maria Valley ranch produces Pinot Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir; I found myself equally impressed with their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir and the highly-focused 2008 Block 216 Pinot Noir, and yearn to sample their whites sometime soon. On the other hand, TAZ is one of the 50 or so labels that comprise Treasury Wine Estates, which used to be Foster’s, which used to be Beringer-Blass, but still remains a relatively autonomous operation on Paso Robles’ East Side. Their trifecta included the 2008 Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard Santa Rita Hills and the 2008 Pinot Noir Cuyama River Santa Maria Valley, two highly competent wines whose grapes are combined to produce the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara, a superior mélange.

Mark West Winery constitutes the crown jewel of a far more compact conglomerate, the Purple Wine Company. They, too, offered a pair of AVA-focused wines, the 2009 Russian River Pinot Noir and the 2009 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, as well as the blended 2009 CA Pinot Noir drawn from a wide array of appellations throughout California. One of Don Van Staaveren’s ventures, Three Sticks, poured a three-vintage vertical of its Pinot, starting with the 2005 Durell Pinot Noir. This superb wine was matched in quality by the 2007 Durell Pinot Noir, but both were somewhat eclipsed by the superior 2006 vintage.

Me, oh my! I know that Caymus’ Wagner family pronounces their Meiomi label “May-oh-mee.” but either way, their 2008 Pinot Noir—a marriage of grapes from select vineyards in Sonoma, Monterey, and Santa Barbara Counties—proved a most delectable wine. Keefer Ranch Wines< /a> poured a single selection, their 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, while the highly-esteemed Kosta Browne elected to represent themselves with just their 2008 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, again a cross of two renowned Pinot vineyards, Gap’s Crown and Terra de Promissio, with their newly-sourced Walala Vineyard from outside Annapolis. I also managed to taste one of George Wine’s elusive bottlings, the 2008 Vintage VI Pinot Noir Ceremonial Vineyard, a delightful successor to last year’s profound selection.

Besides mud and water, this year’s Pinot IN the River was filled with a quite a number of seasoned pros—were one able to reach their station. I did manage to battle the elements and catch up with David Vergari, one of the mainstays at the annual Marin County Pinot Noir Celebration. Despite our mutual misgivings over the handling of this event, I managed to savor his exquisite 2007 Pinot Noir Van der Kamp Vineyard and the 2007 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard; trumping both, however, was his first-rate 2007 Pinot Noir Marin County. I also waded over to Sojourn Cellar’s table to indulge in a number of their wines. While the 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley seemed a tad lackluster, I immensely enjoyed both the 2008 Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard and the superb 2008 Pinot Noir Rodgers Creek Vineyard. Most œnophiles, myself included, think of David Bruce as the premier producer of Pinot Noir from the Santa Cruz Mountains, so it was a bit of a surprise to find them here; nonetheless, winemaker Mitri Faravashi produced a splendid 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and slipped in a taste of his unsanctioned (for this event) 2004 Estate Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains.

I would think any Pinot-focused event would embrace such varietals as Pinot Meunier and Pinotage, the aforementioned white Pinots, interpretations like Vin Gris or Blanc de Pinot Noir, or any version of sparkling wine that incorporates these grapes, but I found little variance from the common standard this afternoon among the limited number of wineries I could visit. La Rochelle did deviate from the norm with the refreshing 2009 Pinot Gris alongside their refined 2008 Pinot Noir Sleepy Hollow Vineyard and their more broadly designated 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains. Newcomer Halleck Vineyard strayed even further with their 2009 Dry Gewürztraminer that nicely complimented their family of Pinots: the 2007 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2007 The Farm Vineyards Pinot Noir, and the 2007 Three Sons Cuvée Pinot Noir. Far surpassing its brethren, however, was their 2007 Hillside Cuvée Pinot Noir, an extraordinary find.

Another new find for Sostevinobile was Capiaux Cellars from Angwin. Atypically offering a selection of their wines from two different vintages, both their 2007 Pinot Noir Widdoes Vineyard and 2007 Pinot Noir Wilson Vineyard presented strong, forward interpretations of the varietal; greater discrepancy could be tasted between the anything but illusory 2008 Pinot Noir Chimera and the 2008 Pinot Noir Freestone Hill Vineyard. Freestone itself poured a pair of wines, the 2008 Fogdog Pinot Noir and their eponymous 2007 Freestone Pinot Noir. Also divided between these two vintages, wines produced from Durrell Vineyards contrasted its elite 2008 Dunstan Pinot Noir, with the 2007 Sand Hill Pinot Noir, another Don van Staaveren collaboration.

I do not recall whether I preferred the unfiltered 2007 HKG Pinot Noir Russian River Valley from Hop Kiln to its 2008 Estate Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, such were the challenges o
f taking notes and maintaining one’s balance amid the soggy conditions. I did, however, manage to record my highly favorable impressions of both the 2007 Pinot Noir La Colline and the 2007 Pinot Noir La Coupelle, two single vineyard offerings from Laetitia. And no shorthand was necessary to recall how truly superb both the 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and the 2007 Pinot Noir Nicole’s Vineyard that J Vineyards poured were.

At long last, I finally encountered a sparkling wine, Gloria Ferrer’s 2007 Blanc de Noirs. While chatting with winemaker Bob Iantosca, I also sampled their 2005 José Ferrer Pinot Noir and its 2006 successor, along with the 2006 Carneros Estate Pinot Noir and its 2007 version. Another GF, Gary Farrell Vineyards, excelled, as one might expect, with both their 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Selection, blended from seven of their contracted vineyards, and the single vineyard designate 2007 Pinot Noir Ramal Vineyard.

Gary Farrell sold his eponymous label in 2004 and, since 2007, has crafted Pinot under his new Alysian line. Unable to tolerate any further soil liquefaction inside the tents, I elected to forgo hunting down the rest of my must-visit wineries (assuming they hadn’t pulled up stakes already) and close out this calamitous afternoon with four of his intriguing new venture’s initial bottlings: the 2007 Pinot Noir Starr Ridge Vineyard; Farrell’s take on a 2007 Pinot Noir Hallberg Vineyard; a competitive 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Selection, and, in a touch of final irony, the superb 2007 Pinot Noir Floodgate West Block.
The name“Alysian” apparently derives from a corrupted transliteration of Ἠλύσιον, the Elysian Fields Homer cites as the final abode for the souls of dead heroes and warriors. The inundated lawn at Rodney Strong seemed a far cry from such an ætherial vision on this rain-drenched afternoon, but the damage the resultant swamp inflicted on my favorite pair of Tony Lamas may pale in comparison to how this tasting may have been irreparably harmed by its promoters’ failure to make provisions for such abysmal conditions.

I have a favorite moment on The Sopranos where Christopher Moltisanti, clinging to life, envisions himself condemned to an Italian’s vision of Hell. Damnation, in his hallucination, is an Irish bar where every day is St. Patty’s. For an œnophile, I used to fear hell would be a wine & cheese reception, where tweedy scholars deconstructed Rod McKuen poetry while nibbling on cubes of synthetic Cheddar cheese paired with dust-laden jugs of Almaden. After Pinot on the River, I’m starting to wonder if something even more dire could possibly be in store.


I had hoped to mark this milestone for Sostevinobile with a more upbeat entry, and, fortunately, the week did close with the kind of tasting that makes my labors worthwhile. Sunday’s downpour gave way to wondrous, albeit highly delayed, summer weather, just in time to enable the Giants to win both their World Series home games and for CCOF to hold its annual Organic Beer & Wine Tasting at the Ferry Building on balmy, shirtsleeve night.

Some tastings are geared towards cognoscenti, people well versed in a certain field or sector; many of the trade events I attend would strike the casual attendee as indecipherable, if not overwhelming. On the other hand, numerous events that strive to make themselves readily accessible on all levels are likely to be better appreciated by first-time attendees, as they serve as a far more revelatory experience than as an enhancement to previous exposure or opinion. Although there was little change from last year’s gathering, I can think of no better event than CCOF’s Annual Tasting, nor a more enveloping ambiance than the spacious galleria of the Ferry Plaza Market, to introduce the uninitiated to the bounties of organic foods and beverages.

While nearly all the same vendors from last year’s event returned, a notable improvement to the evening was CCOF’s decision to dispense with drink tickets and allow unlimited sampling, something I am sure vendors, as well as attendees appreciated. Also notably improved—the quality of the wine, a testament to the evolution of organic grapegrowing and winemaking, which, admittedly, has experienced a number of pitfalls as it struggled to gain traction here. Perhaps no one exemplified this evolution better than Richard Sanford, on hand from Buellton to pour the panoply of wines he produces at Alma Rosa. Famed for his Lompoc winery, perhaps the foremost producers of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Santa Rita Hills even before Sideways brought it into the public vernacular, he sold his eponymous label and started this subsequent all-organic venture in 2005.

Attendees were richly served with Alma Rose’s 2008 Pinot Gris, plus elegant expressions of the 2007 Pinot Blanc and 2007 Chardonnay. I confess to preferring the 2007 Pinot Noir La Encantada over the 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills, though both presented elegantly structured wines. We migrated next to another organic venture that has evolved in the aftermath of selling off an iconic, eponymous label, even though owner Richard Arrowood had already retreated to Montana after completing harvest at Amapola Creek. I had previously tasted both his estate grown 2007 Syrah and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon in barrel while visiting the winery last year, and marveled at the fully-realized wine, especially the Cabernet.

I had not sampled Hawley’s wines since last year’s CCOF event, and found both their 2009 Viognier and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley likable; even more so, the 2009 Zinfandel Ponzo Vineyard proved to be an outstanding vintage. I had just recently retasted a number of wines from Lodi’s M2, but had not had Emtu since my introduction to their operations last year. This time, the 2008 Rosé of Merlot was both refreshing and delectable, while the 2006 Pinot Noir contrasted starkly from its refined successor, the 2007 Pinot Noir Labyrinth.

Several of the wineries on hand pour at numerous tastings, but it was still enjoyable to sample their bottlings in this context. Hagafen’s 2009 White Riesling proved as reliable as ever, as did the 2008 Chardonnay and 2007 Merlot from Chris Thorpe’s Adastra in Carneros. Unfortunately, I missed the table for his neighbor, Domaine Carneros, but I did manage to try the excellent 2004 Alloy, an enticing Bordeaux blend from Santa Cruz’s organic stalwart, Silver Mountain.

It’s hard to resist pinning on Girasole’s bumblebee sticker, which usually becomes a ubiquitous sighting whenever they participate at a tasting. Even harder to resist was their 2008 Sangiovese, another organic staple, as well as the 2004 Petite Sirah they poured from their Barra of Mendocino label. Much to my chagrin, Phil LaRocca declined to bring his Sangiovese to this event but did manage to impress this year with his 2006 Zinfandel and a seductive 2005 Lush Zinfandel Port.

It’s a rare treat for Mendocino’s Yorkville Cellars to pour their Carménère, and this evening was not one of those occasions; still, the 2007 Richard the Lion Heart nearly mitigated for this oversight, with its exclusive blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Carménère. Their 2008 Petit Verdot also resonated, while the 2009 Sweet Malbec displayed a most interesting interpretation of the grape. Over to the east in Lake County, Kelseyville Wine Company provides a cooperative facility for a number of labels who contract their bulk wines. The wines so far have proven adequate, judging by the 2007 Kelseyville Wine Company Sierra Foothills Cabernet Sauvignon, an unspecified 2009 Chace Water White, and the 2005 Old River Cabernet Sauvignon.

Hallcrest Vineyards from Felton produces a number of labels, as well, but I only managed to try the lush 2008 Zenful Zinfandel they bottle under Organic Wine Works. My last wine stop turned out to be Terra Sávia, where my friend Laurie recognized Jim Milone from her Mendocino days. As they renewed acquaintances, I sampled his compelling 2007 Meritage, a Merlot-dominant Bordeaux blend before trying the side-by-side comparison of their two 2009 Chardonnays. Though sourced from the same vineyard, these wines underwent contrasting vinification; call it my California palate, but I found the oaked Chard slightly preferable to its unoaked counterpart.

Had Laurie and I not had theater tickets to A.C.T., we might have had enough time to cover the wines from Chance Creek and Bonterra, as well as the organic sparkling efforts both Korbel and Domaine Carneros have included in their inventory. For that matter, we might have noshed on many of the delicacies being purveyed by Ferry Plaza restaurants like Slanted Door and Hog Island Oyster Company, but settled for some quick slices of Pumpkin Pizza that Marketbar was featuring. We did, however, manage to take in a sip of Golden Vanilla Ale from Thirsty Bear, one of the eight organic brewers participating this evening, before heading out the door.

It’s admittedly quite hard to savor beer after working one’s way through a couple dozen wines, but I owe it to both CCOF and Sostevinobile to gi
ve these craft brewers first crack next year. I am still, after all, quite the neophyte in this regard. but, regardless of what beers, wines, or small plates I do manage to sample in 2011, I know that the 6th Annual Organic Beer & Wine Tasting will be just as splendid as in previous years. And if next year’s event takes place during a downpour, who cares? With its dramatic arched glass ceiling, the Ferry Plaza Marketplace will be sure to keep attendees dry, from head to toe.

And happily “wet” where they should be…

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.

Rock & Ribolla

Many, many years ago, when I first moved to San Francisco, I looked into shared housing situations—the usual purview of a would-be starving artist with a freshly minted diploma. At one point, my quest brought me to a home in Noe Valley, where the three roommates were seeking to replace the fourth, who had just moved out.

Now, to be perfectly honest, Your West Coast Oenophile will never make it into the Good Housekeeping Hall of Fame nor have a place featured in Better Homes & Gardens, but with the possible exception of the domicile of a certain lawyer/cab driver on Twin Peaks, this has to have been the most unsanitary household I have ever set foot in. So maybe it didn’t approach the squalor one sees on Hoarders, but with three practicing potters in residence, the place seemed little more than an amalgam of clay residue and decrepit furniture.

The really problem, however, wasn’t the abysmal condition of the premises but the tenor of my prospective co-tenants. The leaseholders, a boyfriend and girlfriend, seemed genial enough, pretty much conforming to a discernable type from that era—adamantly anti-nuclear, pro-Jerry Brown, heavily into alfalfa sprouts, Patchouli oil, Pink Floyd. The other occupant exuded a far different vibe, with impossibly gnarly hair and woefully undersized lenses that kept her eye in a perpetual squint—the kind of women Woody Allen tended to date while pursuing Diane Keaton in his 1970s films.

Maybe I should have been clued in by the fact her name was Zenobia. After the perfunctory tour of the house and pottery equipment, the three housemates sat me down over a cup of tea and poised to evaluate me over a single question: “if I moved in, would I be able to love Zenobia?”

I paused, not to contemplate the possibility but, rather, to figure a diplomatic way to pose my response. I looked to Zenobia, drew a deep breath, then turned to her roomies. “No!” I replied, as I made retreated for the door without hesitation. Nary a day has gone by since that I stopped to wonder what might have been.

Fortunately, attending Arlequin Wine Merchant’s California Natural Wine Tasting for the 2nd Annual San Francisco Natural Wine Week required no similar declaration of unwavering fidelity. As inveterate Sostevinobile readers know, while I have an appreciation for this approach to winemaking, I am, by no means, one of their rabid zealots. After all, if it weren’t for manipulation, few, if any, contemporary varietals would exist today (I know Sean Thackrey attempts to replicate winemaking from ancient Greek texts, but would he want to resurrect 5th Century B.C. Macedonian grapes?).

That said, there is much to commend in the minimal intervention that Natural Winemaking extols; the results, when good, can be very, very good. Elsewise, let’s just say it’s an acquired taste. The twelve wineries on hand at this event certainly covered the gamut.

I started off at the entrance where Chris Brockway’s own label, Broc Cellars, as well as his joint venture, Broadside, had set up. I suspect Arlequin and its sister operations, Absinthe Brasserie, may account for 50% of the 4600 cases of the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Margarita Vineyard Broadside produces—no surprise, as this wine has consistently shown excellently every year it has been produced. I have also been long enamored of Broc’s Grenache, but they opted this time to pour the stellar 2009 Carignan Alexander Valley instead. I was not as impressed with their 2008 Pinot Noir Tondrē Grapefield,but my introduction to their 2009 Vine star, a blend of Picpoul, Chardonnay, and Roussanne, proved to be quite revelatory.

I cited Littorai’s 2007 The Haven Pinot Noir in my last entry, so gladly moved up a notch to their 2007 Pinot Noir Mays Canyon. Their versatility Chardonnay kept pace with its Burgundian confrère, as evidenced by the 2008 Chardonnay Charles Heintz, also from the Sonoma Coast.

The 2007 Petit Frère from Unti seemed a serviceable GMS blend, while I found their 2007 Estate Zinfandel quite distinctive. Personal predilections aside, I have always felt this winery makes its strongest statements with its Italian varietals, like the 2008 Estate Barbera they poured here. Underscoring my contention, the 2008 Estate Sangiovese proved exemplary, one of the best expressions of this varietal I have sampled in recent months.

So many wineries I know custom crush at Copain, I often forget they have their own label, as well.with three wines poured on this particular evening, I found both their 2009 Tous Ensemble Rosé, a blush Pinot Noir, and the 2009 Tous Ensemble Viognier rather adequate, but relished their 2007 Pinot Noir Wentzel. Salinia, their offshoot from assistant winemaker Kevin Kelley, displayed an appealing complexity with both their 2006 Chardonnay Heintz Ranch and the 2006 Pinot Noir W. E. Bottoms.

I wasn’t entirely clear on the interrelationship between Salinia and its other tablemates, Lioco and the Natural Process Alliance, though these latter two endeavors comprise two of the more predominant Wine on Tap labels increasingly found in San Francisco. lioco proved just as impressive as they had at last year’s tasting, with a splendid 2007 Pinot Noir Klindt from Mendocino and their trademark 2007 Indica, a Carignane rounded out with Grenache and Mourvèdre. NPA’s 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley, one of the wines they also distribute in “refillable aluminum canteens” that have been conspicuously supplanting water bottles over the past couple of years, proved itself more than a gimmick or sustainably novelty. An unlisted addition to the bill, a stellar 2007 Grenache came from A Tribute to Grace, the side venture of NPA assistant winemaker Angela Osborne.

At last year’s event, I befriended Clos Saron winemaker Gideon Beinstock and eventually joined him at the 30th Anniversary party for Renaissance Winery, his principal gig in the far reached of Oregon House, CA. While I initially found myself quite favorably disposed towards his vinification, I found myself questioning some of his wines at this year’s Pinot Days. But what I had initially construed as possible cork taint repeated itself in a number of the wines he poured this day—the frequent downside to the Natural Wine movement. Both the 2009 Tickled Pink, a rosé of Syrah, and the 2005 Heart of Stone Syrah tasted off (musky), while their proprietary blends, the 2009 Carte Blanche (Sauvignon Blanc, Roussanne, Chardonnay, Viognier) and the 2005 Black Pearl (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Viognier, Roussanne) seemed pleasant, if perfunctory.

Meanwhile, my old friends from A Donkey and Goat also displayed some of the hazards of this new minimalism. Not that I didn’t like their 2008 Blend 413 (a traditional GMS with Counoise added) nor their 2007 Fenaughty Vineyard Syrah or the 2007 Vielles Vignes Syrah. But Jared and Tracey have shown themselves capable of extraordinary wines, starting with their debut Syrah in 2000 that floored everyone at Family Winemakers or, more recently, their 2006 Tamarindo Roussanne. In this context, their obeisance to the tenets of Natural Winemaking seems somewhat to have diminished their prowess.

Most Natural winemakers acknowledge this methodology poses a gamble, and sometimes that gamble can really pay off. Somehow, over the years, I had managed to bypass Arnot-Roberts at a number of tastings I had attended, so this evening’s gathering gave me an overdue opportunity to rectify this mistake. Starting with the 2009 Old Vine White Compagni Portis (Gewürztraminer, Trousseau Gris, Riesling), their wines all lived up to their considerable maverick reputation. While the 2008 Syrah Hudson clearly overshadowed the 2008 Syrah Clary Ranch, the 2009 Trousseau Luchsinger from Clearlake showed itself an exceptional wine—even if they declined to label it Bastardo. The treat of the evening, however, was the release of their 2009 Ribolla Gialla from Vare Vineyard in Napa, one of four wineries bottling from this same crop. Given my long-stated desire to taste a California expression of this varietal, I was—quite naturally—immensely pleased.

Natural Wine Week will return in 2011, and I am sure I will attend the pertinent events once again. Maybe I’m spending too much time with angel investors and other financial types in my quest to fund Sostevinobile—I don’t think I could afford to undertake such a risky proposition as these winemakers do. But they add yet another layer to the complexity of the wines we have here on the West Coast, and when they do succeed in their efforts, they will certainly find a niche with us.
Provided no one labels their wine Zenobia.

Pop, Jazz, Squid—and Wine?

This entry could just have easily been titled Everything I Know About Monterey I Learned in the Fifth Grade. First and foremost, for anyone over 35, like Your West Coast Oenophile, Monterey has long meant the seminal Monterey Pop Festival of 1967, the first true rock mega-concert that propelled the careers of Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Steve Miller, Janis Joplin and numerous other legendary musical acts. Music purist would probably defer to the annual Monterey Jazz Festival, now in its 53rd year—though many will cite Clint Eastwood traipsing through the woods at Big Sur with Donna Mills as their favorite scene from the 1971 film Play Misty for Me, I relish the clip of the late, great Cannonball Adderley playing at the Festival.

Growing up in a Neapolitan household, one of the more esoteric dishes I enjoyed in my youth was calamari (few people today realize that many of today’s popular menu items were long shunned as “peasant food” outside of ethnic circles). Of course, the preferred source of this delicacy was Monterey squid, even if we could only obtain it frozen on the East Coast. Wine from Monterey, however, was a far different matter.

At first, there were the big jug wines like Almaden. Other bulk producers followed, planting extensive vineyards or leasing other large tracts to furnish themselves with a substantial source of cheap varietal gapes—in one memorable incident from the early 1980s, Ernest Gallo, at his craven-hearted best, flew over the 10,000 acres he had under contract in Monterey and pronounced the grapes undesirable, leaving growers scrambling to find an alternate buyer. Then came the proliferation of “Coastal Cellars.” Several of the industry’s most revered labels, having ceded control to their new corporate conglomerate, came out with “affordable” lines of their wines, capitalizing on their long-established reputation in Napa and elsewhere, but markedly inferior to their primary bottlings—a ill-conceived effort to make wines from a prestigious label “accessible,” that only served to erode brand value and recognition.

Amid all this clutter, Monterey’s AVAs have long encompassed premium winemaking, so in quest to engage more of these wineries for Sostevinobile, I traveled south to the 18th Annual Winemakers’ Celebration in Monterey’s Custom House Plaza last weekend. Had the purpose of my two-hour drive been to escape the gloom and overcast of San Francisco for much-needed æstival warmth, this was not the trek to make. Nonetheless, a fresh setting with new people to meet and wines to sample mitigated for the lack of sunshine. Event promoters had set up ample white tents at strategic corners of this bi-level plaza to house the 40 wineries pouring a wide array of their varietals and blends. I tried to visit with each, starting, as previously document, with those labels I had not previously contacted and striving to save enough time to cover the rest

Consequently, I started out by heading to the table for Line Shack, a winery I had just recently encountered at P.S. I Love You. On hand, owner/winemaker John Baletto and his wife Daphne poured a striking array of wines grown in Monterey County, starting with a seductive 2009 Roussanne San Antonio Valley and an equally appealing 2008 Chardonnay Monterey County. I bypassed resampling their Petite Sirah in favor of the 2008 Syrah San Antonio Valley and a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon San Antonio Valley John blended in Paso Robles style, with enough Syrah to round it out rather deftly. On the other hand, Lockwood Vineyard from Monterey was a new discovery, featuring an austere 2008 Malbec and a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon rounded out with Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Syrah.

From Soledad, Manzoni Estate Vineyard made a strong first impression with a quartet of their wines, particularly their 2007 Pinot Noir Private Reserve. I also found the 2008 Pinot Gris and 2007 Syrah enormously appealing, along with a 2007 Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands. Contrasting Chardonnays marked Mercy Vineyards, an artisan winery from Pebble Beach. I rated the 2008 Chardonnay Zabala Vineyard a cut above the nonetheless compelling 2008 Chardonnay Arroyo Seco and equal to their 2008 Pinot Noir Arroyo Seco, while the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Arroyo Seco did not disappoint.

I don’t recall seeing La Rochelle on my recent swing through the Livermore Valley; then again, given the well-publicized zealotry of the local highway patrol, my eyes were probably fixed on my speedometer as I drove by. Though this winery resides in a different AVA, it sources its many of its grapes from numerous appellations in Monterey to produce both the 2009 Pinot Gris Mark’s Vineyard, Arroyo Seco and the 2007 Pinot Noir Monterey. On the other hand, Marin’s Vineyard only sounds like it is situated in another locale. This nascent San Antonio Valley winery produced a splendid 2008 Viognier, as well as their signature 2007 Syrah.

Other non-local based enterprises that grow and source significant amount of grapes from Monterey included Napa’s Delicato Family Vineyards, whose Sr. Brand Manager Christine Lilienthal served up some impressive banter, along with three of their Monterey labels. Loredona boasts itself as Delicato’s Anything But Chardonnay label, amply demonstrated by their 2009 Riesling, the 2009 Pinot Grigio and a pre-release sample of their enchanting 2009 Malvasia Bianca. Although Irony is one of their Napa labels, the 2008 Monterey Pinot Noir came from their San Benabe Vineyard (reputed the world’s largest single vineyard), as did the grapes in their Fog Head 2005 Blow Sand Syrah. Meanwhile, Wente Vineyards, the Goliath of Livermore Valley, might seem an interloper here but actually maintains extensive vineyards in Arroyo Seco, exemplified by their 2007 Reliz Creek Pinot Noir and the approachable 2008 Riva Ranch Chardonnay.

Given the number of nearby retreats like Esalen, Ventana Inn, and Carmel Valley Ranch, it comes as little surprise that Bernadus is both a resort and a winery. Nearly a decade ago, I enjoyed my first comprehensive tasting from the various Monterey AVAs at their Taste of Carmel Valley, so was more than please this afternoon to revisit their 2006 Monterey County Pinot Noir and the always wonderful 2005 Estate Marinus, a traditional Bordelaise blend, on behalf of Sostevinobile. On a much more modest scale, Mesa del Sol Vineyards offers a quiet cottage amid a 14 acre estate with trout pond and a vineyard that produces their 2005 Syrah and the highly likable 2006 Sangiovese.

I suspect many of the smaller ventures on hand this afternoon do not see tremendous distribution outside the Central Coast region, so, of course, it is a particular pleasure to give them wider exposure here. Though I found Snosrap, their semordnilaps label, a bit jejune, I nonetheless reveled in the wines Parsonage Village Vineyards from Carmel Valley featured, starting with the 2008 Snosrap Cyrano Chardonnay and the 2007 Estate Syrah. The 2007 Bordelaise blended Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, while the quite drinkable 2007 Snosrap Merlot, blended with 25% Syrah, proved most gnillepmoc. A most aptly named Carmel winery, Mission Trail Vineyard, paid tribute to the historical planting of vineyards at California’s Franciscan missions 230 years ago with a superb 2005 Garnacha, along with a satisfactory 2006 Tempranillo. While I also found their 2007 Malbec and 2007 Syrah quite appealing, the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc left much to be desired.

I had corresponded earlier this year with Otter Cove on behalf of the wine auction for Asia Society Northern California, but had not previously sampled their wines. Like Mission Trail, I found varying degrees of quality, ranging from a superb 2006 Chardonnay to a disappointing 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands. in between, I was most impressed with their 2007 Off-dry Riesling Santa Lucia Highlands while cottoning to both the 2006 Gewürztraminer and the 2007 Syrah. Acclaimed musical composer Alan Silvestri orchestrated a harmonious trio of vintages for his eponymous winery: the 2005 Syrah Carmel Valley, the 2006 Pinot Noir Carmel Valley, and the tributary 2007 Bella Sandra Chardonnay. Meanwhile, the compelling rodeo theme of Galante’s labels underscored a gritty, no-nonsense approach that characterized both their 2007 Red Rose Hill Cabernet Sauvignon and the rich 2006 Galante Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, both from Carmel Valley.

Galante operates a tasting room in tony Carmel-by-the-Sea, where Clint Eastwood presides, as does Cima Collina, a quaint, artisan operation. Their 2009 Tondrē Riesling favored a slightly sweet approach, while their 2007 Chula Viña Chardonnay seemed quite redolent of its unfiltered process. Most intriguing, however, was the 2005 Hilltop Red, a skilled blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah. Another familiar name, Carmel Valley’s Château Julien, offered a decidedly mellow 2009 Barrel Selected Pinot Grigio alongside its sibling 2008 Barrel Selected Chardonnay and a superb 2006 Private Reserve Merlot.

The night before I attended the Monterey Winemakers Celebration, I stopped off for a bite at St. Helena’s Farmstead, following a grueling day on the fundraising trail for Sostevinobile. Along with my entrée, I enjoyed a chilled glass of the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc San Saba Vineyard from Soledad’s Wrath Wines. Readers here know how I raved about discovering this winery at January’s Santa Lucia Highlands tasting, so I was pleased to get a leg up on my Monterey sojourn. Faced with an array of their wines, once again, I was smitten, first with the 2009 Chardonnay Ex Anima, followed by the rosé-style 2009 Pinot Noir Saignée San Saba Vineyard and culminating with their extraordinary 2007 Pinot Noir San Saba Vineyard. Today’s serendipity, however, came from Carmel Valley’s unassuming Joyce Vineyards. Dentist-turned-winemaker Frank Joyce crafted exceptional 2008 Chardonnay Black Mountain Vineyard and 2008 Pinot Noir Black Mountain Vineyard, as well as his notable 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Pedregal Vineyard and a spectacular 2007 Merlot. According to their Website, Joyce also produces something called Pudding Wine—I have no idea what this might be, but based on the virtuosity, I’d be willing to gamble on a bottle of the 2007 vintage.

Perhaps this Pudding Wine will prove to be akin the 2008 Ekem, a whimsical homonym for the revered Sauternes, that De Tierra produces from its Musque Clone Sauvignon Blanc. This organic endeavor produces several noteworthy reds, including the 2005 Monterey Syrah, the 2006 Silacci Pinot Noir, and their 2006 Estate Merlot, while excelling on the white front with both their 2007 Monterey Chardonnay and the exceptional 2008 Tin Man Chardonnay. In the same vein, Heller Estate Organic Vineyards impressed me with their 2008 Cuvée, a Meritage blending Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, the 2007 Chenin Blanc, and their current offering of the 2002 Merlot (Heller clearly relishes Merlot, also producing a 2007 Merlot Rosé, a 2006 Merlot Blanc (!), and even a 2005 Sparkling Merlot).

Still having a bit of a sweet bug, I indulged in a taste of the 2008 Vinho Doce, a Port-style wine blended from Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cão, and Tinto Roriz (aka Tempranillo), fortified with Tempranillo brandy, from Pierce Ranch Vineyards, a winery whose selections I have enjoyed on numerous other occasions. I’d also sampled a plethora of wine from Hahn/Lucienne over the years at various Pinot Noir events, so I opted for their other selections, like the 2009 Rosé, a compelling 2001 Blush Sparkling, the easy-to-drink 2005 Coastal Cabernet Sauvignon and 2008 Chardonnay Monterey, an extremely good 2005 Viognier, and the memorable 2007 SLH Estate Pinot Gris Santa Lucia Highlands. I followed by revising Ray Franscioni’s Puma Road, trying their amiable 2007 Pinot Gris Black Mountain Vineyard, an equally likable 2007 Pinot Noir Black Mountain Vineyard, his 2008 Chardonnay Black Mountain Vineyard, and the 2005 Cache Paicines, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

A winery I would have sworn I tried before was Scheid Vineyards from Monterey’s own Cannery Row, so tasting their wines turned out to be a nice discovery. Today’s well-balanced quartet was comprised of the 2007 Chardonnay, a 2008 Syrah Rosé, the 2007 Pinot Noir they atypically rounded out with 1% each of Syrah and Petite Sirah, and their 2007 Syrah, a 100% varietal expression (the latter two wines both won Gold Medals at the 2010 New World International Wine Competition named for my late friend, wine writer Jerry D. Mead). I was also surprised I hadn’t previously tried Graff Family Vineyards, the wine-producing extension of the Woodward-Graff Foundation. This Rhône-focused venture excelled with straight varietal expressions in their 2007 Grenache and 2007 Mourvèdre, while flourishing on the white side with a 2007 Viognier and a superb 2007 Pinot Blanc. Unifying the two halves was their proprietary 2007 Consensus, a deft blend of Mourvèdre, Viognier and Syrah.

Graff is a bit of an anomaly, in that their winemaking facilities are in Sonoma. Similarly, Carmel Road Winery grows its grapes in Monterey but trucks them to Santa Rosa for vinification. This virtual winery, created by Jackson Family Wines, nonetheless distinguished itself with their 2009 Pinot Gris, the well-balanced pair of the 2008 Monterey Chardonnay and the slightly preferable 2006 Arroyo Seco Chardonnay, and the starkly contrasting 2008 Monterey Pinot Noir and the 2006 Arroyo Seco Pinot Noir, a clearly superior wine. Chalone, on the other hand, was a pre-established operation Diageo purchased in 20o4, also seemed to maintain its quality and autonomy, though I only managed to sample the 2008 Pinot Blanc.

Perhaps if event promoters had furnished more than a meager five Porta-Potties for this large crowd (and interspersed them throughout at different points in the plaza instead of the corner furthest from the wine tables), I might have had enough time to visit with Crū, Estancia, Michaud, Morgan, Pelerin, Pessagno, and TondrēThat I missed their tables is a testament to the favorable encounters Sostevinobile has already enjoyed with their wines and their owners

All-in-all, the Monterey Winemakers Celebration wasa highly successful showcase for this distinctive wineregion. Even the conspicuously A.W.O.L. sun managed to make a late appearance for the final hour of the festivities! As I left, I felt there was but one glaring omission to an elsewise splendid event:

Where was the calamari?

Where there is there there

A few days after attending P.S. I Love You’s Petite Sirah Symposium, Your West Coast Oenophile ventured back across the Bay Bridge for the 5th Annual Urban Wine Xperience in Oakland. Again, having blogged this event for Sostevinobile last year,  I anticipated little in terms of new discovery, but was happy to renew acquaintances and do my small part to help publicize the efforts of these dedicated wine entrepreneurs.

There is an intangible quality to the East Bay wine tastings I’ve attended over the years, something that sharply delineates the ticket holders here from events in San Francisco. On a superficial level, the crowds look different, but only in the sense that they both equally reflect the heterogeneous population of their surrounding communities. But there is definitely a vibe that transcends ethnic makeup here, and I think it may well be a correlation between the lack of pretense among the local wine artisans and the genuine enthusiasm of the majority of attendees—hardly a poseur or dilettante in the crowd, as far as I could detect.

Last year, the Urban Wine Xperience was held outdoors, in a field beside the USS Potomac, the showcase restoration of FDR‘s “floating White House,” ensconced in the Oakland estuary. I arrived in need of some serious heat, maybe not quite the sweltering 95° of previous tasting, but definitely something to recharge the solar batteries after this summer’s protracted winter had taken its toll over the past four bleak, sunless days in San Francisco. Much to my chagrin, UWX V had moved a couple of blocks down the waterfront promenade, off the lawn and inside the enclosed showroom that anchors the Jack London Square complex.



There is no square there

Despite my disappointment at having to spend the afternoon indoors, I found the venue far more spacious and easier to navigate among the 18 various wineries, along with their partnered restaurants and caterers. The copious servings of food showcased not only their precise pairings with the wines being poured but the emerging food scene near the Oakland waterfront and surrounding neighborhoods. Certainly, I found intimations of places I am apt to explore on subsequent East Bay trips, but my focus for the afternoon centered on the appeal of the wines for Sostevinobile

I stopped by first to exchange greetings with Matt Smith, my fellow tasting panelist from the Connoisseurs Guide to California Wine, and to sample, among others, his latest release of the 2008 Alta Mesa Torrontés from his Blacksmith Cellars. Though (so I’m told) every Torrontés producer in California sources their grapes from this same vineyard, Matt manages to craft this wine with his personal touch, just as he did with the very striking 2008 North Coast Chenin Blanc, a once-ubiquitous varietal that has fallen into disfavor over the past two decades. Rounding out his inventory for the afternoon was the 2006 C.L.R.T., a wine that dare not speak its name (in accord with 2005’s Napa Declaration of Place), a Cabernet Sauvignon-based claret blended with Cabernet Franc and Merlot. 

Oakland’s World Ground Cafe matched these wines with a pork canapé, a pairing I find almost ubiquitous at fine & food affairs, but nonetheless well suited to Matt’s craftsmanship. Another restaurant I discovered just outside the exhibit hall, Bocanova, seemed a gargantuan undertaking, but also provided an intriguing pork variation to pair with Cerruti Cellars, a newcomer to Urban Wine Xperience. Their 2009 Mer Blanc Merlot Rosé heralds from vineyards in Alexander Valley, while the 2006 Cuvée Red Blend, a marriage of Sangiovese, Zinfandel and Merlot bottled under their Tudal label, boasts a Napa Valley origin. As if to forge a compromise, they melded barrels from both AVAs to produce the 2007 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa/Sonoma.

I haven’t quite ascertained how Andrew Lane Wines qualifies as an urban winemaker, though their wines certainly warranted inclusion this afternoon. Their corollary to Cerruti’s Cuvée Red blend was an amiable 2007 Rosso Napa Valley, a well-balanced ménage à trois with Sangiovese, Zinfandel and Valdiguié, another somewhat obscured varietal that had once enjoyed immense popularity. I found myself intrigued with their semi-spicy 2007 Petite Sirah Napa Valley, while enthralled with their 2007 Cabernet Franc Oakville. Franc-ly speaking, one of Sostevinobile’s most popular citations, Rock Wall Wine Company, made an equally strong statement with their 2007 Cabernet Franc Holbrook Mitchell from Napa Valley. On numerous visits to their facility, I don’t believe I’d previously tried their 2009 Russian River Reserve Chardonnay and, as with their progenitor, their array of top-notch Zins, including today’s 2008 Sonoma County Zinfandel, often leaves me scrambling to decipher my tasting notes.

Rock Wall’s Kent Rosenblum launched the East Bay winery phenomenon with his eponymous Rosenblum Cellars, now undergoing the throes of assimilation under its corporate parent, Diageo. The realignment was quite apparent in both their 2008 Zinfandel Sonoma Appellation Series and 2007 Zinfandel Paso Robles Appellation Series, not so much in the 2007 Syrah Snow’s Lake. Another spinoff from Rosenblum, JC Cellars, extended the tradition of quality begun in Alameda with a profound series of his own blends, ranging from the Roussanne-Marsanne duality of their 2008 The First Date to the complexity of the 2008 Daily Ration (Carignane, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, Grenache, and Zinfandel) to the quixotic array of Zinfandel, Syrah, Carignane, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, and Viognier in their ever-popular 2008 The Impostor.

JC Cellars’ white Rhône blend was paired with an incredible Seared Halibut on a fried wonton wedge from East Bay caterer Oren’s Kitchen (I confess to circling back to their table numerous times throughout the afternoon). Similarly, the Shrimp and Corn Pudding Tart from Alameda’s Little House Café proved an extraordinary complement to Stage Left Cellars’ white Rhône, the 2008 The Go Getter, a blend of Roussanne, Viognier, and Grenache Blanc. Sourced from a Syrah vineyard in Rogue Valley, their tasty 2007 The Scenic Route seemed an apt title for a descriptor of the grapes’ path back to Oakland while their 2006 Grenache stayed in-state from a vineyard sourced in Santa Maria.

One of my discoveries last year, Irish Monkey Cellars, also poured two Rhône varietals, the approachable 2008 Mourvèdre Lodi and a compelling 2007 Syrah Amador, as well as a blend of varietals they source from Napa’s Lovall Valley (a Real Estate designation, not a recognized AVA), the 2008 Chateaux du Lovall, a will-o’-the-wisp assemblage of Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, Primitivo, Syrah and Merlot. Another of 2009’s stars, Prospect 772 Wine Company, returned with the latest versions of their proprietary blends, the Syrah/Grenache mélange, the 2007 The Brat and its Viognier-infused Syrah brethren, the 2007 The Brawler, along with newcomer 2009 Baby Doll Rosé, also made from Syrah and Grenache.

At most tastings, R & B Cellars usually breaks out the kitchen sink, pouring more wines than I can fathom, but held to a mere trio this afternoon, showcasing their Sauvignon Blanc, the 2007 Serenade in Blanc, a highly likable 2007 Swingsville Zinfandel and the superb 2005 Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Also at most East Bay affairs,Urbano Cellars and Urban Legend Cellars seem inextricably joined at the hip; sequestered in different wings of the exhibition hall, they stood out today on individual merit. Urbano opened with their 2008 Vin Rosé Green Valley, a blush version of Napa Gamay (aka Valdiguié), then followed with an exceptional blend of Syrah, Grenache and Tempranillo, the 2007 5 Barrel Lodi, a haphazard assemblage of they would be, admittedly, hard-pressed to duplicate. Their standout pour came from their wondrous 2008 Sangiovese Mountain View Ranch.

Urban Cellars’ forte also stemmed from its Italian varietal bottlings, starting with the stellar 2008 Barbera Clarksburg that had crowds flocking to their table. Nebbiolo and Sangiovese worked synergistically to deliver their well-balanced 2008 Ironworks, while Marilee Shaffer delighted me with a sip from a bottle of the 2008 Teroldego Clarksburg she had secreted under the table. I also had warm feelings for the yet-unreleased 2009 Tempranillo Clarksburg and for the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Lake County that paired rather seamlessly with Warmed Grits topped with a confit of Chicken & Corn from Oakland‘s Brown Sugar Kitchen (proving, yet again, that there can be a wine to match up with almost everything).

Ehrenberg Cellars is a venture on the cusp of coming into its own, with more people behind its table sporting badges that read “Investor” than I can enumerate. Seemingly, their food partner Paradiso had as many pasta selections on hand, each distinctive and satisfying. This wine venture, formerly known as Nectar Vineyards, showcased promising futures from its unbottled 2009 Shenandoah Zinfandel and 2009 Petite Sirah, along with the 2008 Contra Costa Zinfandel from its previous incarnation. Meanwhile the more seasoned Dashe Cellars displayed its versatility with an organic 2008 Dry Riesling McFadden Farm and a pair of Sonoma vintages, the 2009 Grenache Dry Creek Valley and the 2008 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley, both tangy complements to the Seared Lamb & Arugula canapé from Oakland’s Chop Bar.

In my quest for objectivity, I hope Sasha Verhage will forgive me if I describe his 2007 The One Fairview Road Ranch, the Pinot Noir from his Eno Wines as not quite as mind-blowing as the 2007 The Change Agent (Grenache) and the 2007 The Freedom Fighter (old vine Zinfandel) proved this particular afternoon. Meanwhile, Dick Keenan’s Carica Wines held up their end with the 2008 Kick Ranch Sauvignon Blanc, the 2007 Kick Ranch Syrah, and Syrah-dominated GMS blend, the 2007 Temptation Sonoma County.

I was happy to find Marie Bourdillas’ Aubin Cellars on hand once again. This restrained, Burgundian-style operation offered equally-striking bottlings of their 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir and the 2007 Sonoma Mountain Syrah, along with a demure 2008 French Colombard. And, of course, I saved room for dessert, knowing that Adams Point Winery had its 18% alcohol Mango Wine on hand. In keeping with the Napa Declaration of Place, Adams Point calls its fortified blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petite Sirah California Red After Dinner Wine. While I found this “not Port” quite compelling, their Chocolate Dessert Wine, the same wine with an infusion of chocolate, bordered on tasting syrupy, not quite the finale to this event I had conjured.

Efforts to transform Jack London Square into a culinary mecca have been well-documented of late, and while the quiet exit of hokey food chains like T.G.I. Friday’s, El Torito and the Old Spaghetti Factory certainly seem a positive development, I, too, question whether this destination can draw sufficient crowds to sustain a mega-enterprise like Bocanova or, speculatively, a future branch of Sostevinobile. But, on this one afternoon, there definitely was a there there, and it remains safe to say that Urban Wine Experience proves the East Bay winery scene remains a vibrant presence that will continue to endure.

Let them make grappa!

When last seen in these parts, Your West Coast Oenophile was bandying about Napa like a royal with his head cut off while indulging in the various excesses of Bastille Day celebrations. My return, a week later, for the far more subdued Organic Winegrowers Conference not only proved highly informative but gave cause to reevaluate my casual reiteration of the apocryphal line so often attributed to Marie Antoinette. Instead of “let them eat cake,” perhaps the rallying cry ought to be qu’ils fassent le marc!”*

More on this exhortation a bit later. For now, I was a bit chagrined that, though more than a quarter-century before I began developing Sostevinobile, Frog’s Leap Winery had played a major part in precipitating my professional wine career, I had yet to visit their winery until they hosted this conference. Tucked away on Rutherford’s Conn Creek Road, the rustic exterior belies one of the more sophisticated organic operations in the Valley. Even an untrained eye can easily recognize the amazing biodiversity with which vineyard owner John Williams has purposefully crafted his property, a balance of flora and fauna, along with dedicated sustainable practices throughout their buildings and business practices. The balance between vineyard and orchards, cover crops and pollinated flowers, poultry and fodder was as striking as it was educational in how to manage a farm as a holistic system.

Organic farming holds a lot of connotations, primarily for its preservation of the flavor and nutrition of the food it provides—a restoration of the elements conventional, chemical-driven farming leeches out. Beyond its benefits to human (or animal) consumption, organic farming focuses on the health of the land and its environs, water, air, and soil. Still, in and of itself, organic cannot supply a complete solution (I’ve noted before in this blog that theoretically, one can implement strict organic standards yet not be sustainable); rather, the need exists to move towards what was termed organic plus, a clarion call Dave Henson of the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center sounded in his keynote Organic Agriculture: For Human and Environmental Health, for Mitigating Climate Change, and to Refresh the Culture of Agriculture.

Henson argued passionately for organic farming to encompass the Three Es of sustainable farming: Economy, Ecology, and Social Equity, while noting that these practice must not simply focus on the present but take into account the ramifications for seven generations and beyond. “These solutions must be regenerative,” he summarized.

As would many of the presenters, Henson argued for the need to “look beyond the crop and see the whole system” of a vineyard, underscoring the vital part biodiversity of an agricultural tract plays in maintaining the balance of the entire ecosystem. He also warned against oversimplification of formulae, noting, for example, that the carbon expenditure from shipping along the 1,000 nautical mile stretch from Vancouver to Tijuana would be far less than transporting the same freight, via tractor-trailer, over the 200 mile haul over the Sierras (another central tenet of Sostevinobile’s parameters for the sustainability of our West Coast-exclusive wine program).

Henson’s free-form discourse was followed by a more didactic yet highly informative lecture by Ellen Ingham of Soil Foodweb. This Corvallis-based consultancy constructs organic remedies for the restoration of mismanaged soil. As Ingham pointed out, even organically farmed fields can create an imbalance that negatively impacts both crops and the ecosystem, notably through soil compaction that inhibits both the downward growth of roots and the seepage of nutrients vital to the living microorganisms that sustain a healthy soil. Practices such as organic weed eradication at the point of germination (rather than tilling the infestation, which contributes to soil compaction) and the balanced introduction of aerobically produced compost and compost tea can ameliorate much of these problems and enable the natural nutrients within the earth to sustain the vines. Consequently, according to Ingham, grapes can achieve their true flavor potential without inducing stress, as is commonly practices, and reach their zenith at a lower Brix, thereby allowing a lower alcohol level than is generally promoted here in California.

The Napa County Viticultural Farm Advisor for UC-Davis, Monica Cooper, followed with an entomologist’s perspective on organic approaches to pest management. Not being an active vineyardist, I admit the challenge to paying rapt attention to her presentation; nonetheless, the vital need to eradicate the infestation of Lobesia botrana, the European Grapevine Moth now plaguing Napa, concerns all true œnophiles. Cooper outlined a number of alternative defenses, including the introduction of predatory mites that can disrupt the larval and pupal development of this pest, and compared assays of the efficacy of both chemical and organic pesticides specific to this species, including their impact on other insects beneficial to the health of the vineyard. One promising methodology she described confusing the female moth’s mating attempts with pheromonal mimics of fertile males, in effect flooding the tract with the illusion of so many eligible suitors, the female becomes confused to be point of being incapable of reproduction (here in San Francisco, a sociological model of the same has long been in effect).

The dour news of this conference came with the announcement that the infestation of Lobesia botrana now compelled the imposition of mandatory moth control. Napa County agricultural commissioner Dave Whitmer seemed almost apologetic in making this announcement and promised enforcement that was as minimally invasive as could be sustained. While precluding the deployment of sheriff’s deputies to enforce compliance, he expressed faith that wineries and grapegrowers recognize the steps necessary to eradicate this blight remain in their best interest. Among the measures he cited, effective composting stands to be especially important, with enough aeration and saturation of heated water to kill the invaders, as he wistfully noted, “I know that this will also kill beneficial organisms, and I’m sorry about that.”

Following a brief break, Steve Matthiasson from Premiere Viticultural Services moderated a panel on the Practices and Costs of organic grape farming. Despite heralding from the same alma mater as Richard Nixon, Matthiasson’s service promotes an honest, transparent approach to viticulture: Better Grapes = Better Wine = Better Returns, a belief that was echoed repeatedly by panelists Ted Hall (Long Meadow Ranch), Patrick Riggs (Jack Neal & Son Vineyard Management), and Kirk Grace (Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars). Each of these presenters emphatically averred that their commitment to organic practices stemmed not from philosophical dogma but pragmatic realization that this methodology ultimately yields higher quality grapes at lower cost. Hall’s observation that the life cycle of an organic vineyard extends at least twice as long as one that is famed conventionally seemed particularly salient in calculating the economics of the competing practices.

All in all, there seemed little room to quarrel that adoption of the various practices outlined this afternoon portended not only to be economically prudent but offered far-reaching solutions not just to the quality of the wine grown and produced in the Napa AVA but to the industry’s impact on the overall quality of the environment. Of course, the ultimate proof lies within the quality of the wines themselves, and, as such, a tasting of twelve of Napa‘s most prominent organic producers seemed an appropriate dénouement to the conference presentations. 

I did not make an attempt to ascertain whether the wines being poured were fully organic or simply wines made from organically grown grapes, a nuance that has little bearing on this review. All in all, the wines I sampled displayed uniformly high quality, with a couple of vintages that warranted particular attention. As such, all fell well within the preliminary parameters Sostevinobile has established for our wine program, so I intend merely to cite each, with delineation only for the pair of truly extraordinary vintages I discovered.

The heat of the late afternoon drove me first to Ehlers Estate for a sampling of their chilled 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. I followed this engaging wine with the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley from Honig Vineyard & Winery I had sampled at the recent Mill Valley tasting. A welcome contrast to these two wines came from the 2009 Estate Bottled White Riesling Mayeri Vineyard Hagafen Cellars poured (kosher though this wine may have been, Manischewitz it was not).

After Ted Hall’s presentation I was eager both to speak with him and to sample the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc from his Long Meadow Ranch Winery. I did partake of this wine a couple of times, but failed to connect with Ted, though reengaging his delightful assistant Megan Skupny seemed more than compensatory. Alas, I don’t receive compensation for authoring this blog, but intermittently I enjoy the pleasures of a perk: passes to an industry event, some samples of wine, or simply the graciousness of an individual’s hospitality. Having received an invitation to lunch on my iPhone while covering the conference, it was a marvelous coincidence to encounter my prospective hostess, Herta Peju pouring her own 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley.

I hadn’t encountered Oakville Ranch before, though their label seemed fairly reminiscent of 365, the house organic label Whole Foods sponsors. Their 2005 Napa Valley Robert’s Blend, a Cabernet Franc, however, tasted anything but ordinary. And I suppose the rather bland façade of its building had discouraged me in the past from visiting the generically-named Napa Wine Company, a custom crush facility I now recognize as home to numerous of the Valley’s elite brands, as well as their own label, under which they produced a superb 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Yount Mill Vineyards (the Pelissa family’s holdings of 635 organically-famed acres in Yountville and Oakville AVAs).

Now I have tried Spottswoode’s storied Cabernets on enough occasions to get the spelling of their name correct on first pass, but this afternoon was my introduction to their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, as well as their second label, the 2007 Lyndenhurst Cabernet Sauvignon. I was also delighted to have a chance to taste the 2006 Cask Cabernet from Rubicon Estate, a much-heralded wine I had missed at last week’s A Day in the Dust. Similarly, this previous tasting had not included host Frog’s Leap’s 2008 Sauvignon Blanc nor their rich 2007 Zinfandel, both welcome additions to my tasting notes.

I’ve often cited the scarcity of Pinot on this side of the Napa-Sonoma line, the cross-county Carneros AVA being the exception. ZD Wines fully exploits this potential with both their 2008 Pinot Noir Carneros and the truly superb 2008 Founder’s Reserve Pinot Noir. Meanwhile, rounding out the afternoon’s selections, Rocca Family Vineyards first impressed me with both their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and their 2006 Syrah, but flat-out wowed me with their proprietary 2007 Bad Boy, a Meritage composed of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Cabernet Franc, 17% Merlot, and 10% Petit Verdot.

Although the conference resumed on the following day, I drew my visit to a close at this point. The remaining symposia covered far more of the finer points of organic wine growing, but I had already absorbed the gist of this event. Obviously, the pivotal role Napa plays will resonate throughout the entire West Coast wine industry as it inexorably moves toward a complete organic standard for its grapes, a situation neither I nor anyone involved in wine during the 1980s could have ever envisioned. Surely, there remains a great deal of fine-tuning before the most efficient organic practices can be standardized, and while the initial costs of converting from conventional farming will still take a slight toll, the overall benefits of this methodology, both economic and environmental, cannot be denied.

Moreover, organic farming underscores the need to consider not only the ramifications for owns own crop or vineyard, but the overall responsibility one shares with the entire region and ecosystem. As Ellen Ingham pointed out, an increase of just 2% of the organic composition of the soils in our state would entirely mitigate carbon pollution in California. And there are even ingenious solutions to situations that strictly organic practices might not be able to address on their own

In the midst of his remarks, Dave Whitmer noted that over breeding grounds green waste provides for the European Grapevine Moth.green waste of all types is of great concern. Though alcohol in the pomace from fermented red grapes remains lethal to the infantile stages of this pest, the pre-fermented pomace from white and rosé winemaking and all leaves, stems andother waste remains a potent carrier that can spread the infestation. Sostevinobile, of course, sees great opportunity in this situation. “If unfermented pomace is a problem,” I told him. “Che facciano la grappa!”
Actually, I said “Let them make grappa.” It just that expressions always sound better in Italian than in English. *Or than in French.

P(in)otpourri!

Confession: I glossed over a few stops in my last entry. I don’t know why. It just seemed easier to wedge them into here.

I had tried to devote a full day to a swing through Sonoma, but The Fates seem to conspire against me. The ultimate goal of finishing my visit by attending the Mendocino County Grape Growers Showcase in Santa Rosa remained constant, but scheduling visits throughout Sebastopol proved rather elusive, and then the intrusion of a slew of non-wine related matters delayed my departure for nearly two hours. Nonetheless, Your West Coast Oenophile did mange to keep an appointment with tiny Sheldon Wines, a dedicated artisanal winery whose tasting room occupies a remodeled railroad car near the Sebastopol Inn.

Winemaker Dylan Sheldon is a purist, who crafts his small lot wines with extreme fidelity to the origins of the varietal and its historical vinification. Witness (or, in my case, sample) his 2008 Viognier Sonoma Coast, Single Barrel Production. Unfiltered and unrefined, this flavor of the grape shines with little adornment or manipulation, a genuine expression of Viognier. Similar veracity can be found in his 2006 Chardonnay Santa Lucia Vineyard, the 2007 Graciano Super Freak and his 2006 Grenache, Santa Ynez Valley. Sheldon’s most “manipulated” wine was his 2005 Vinolocity, a blend of Grenache and Syrah, while the 2006 Petite Sirah Ripken Vineyard was an intensified, 100% expression of this varietal. All in all, a highly personal tasting I was glad to discover.

I had hoped to make short shrift of the drive to Santa Rosa; allora, it was anything but. My iPhone’s GPS mapped out a direct route from Sebastopol but pinpointed the Fountaingrove Golf Club nearly ½ mile from its actual location, along a rolling parkway that wound through the city without any conspicuous number signs to demarcate the unfamiliar terrain. Finally espying a motorcyclist who knew the precise location of this secluded complex, I encountered a veritable maze trying to decipher the layout of the grounds, which seemed intentionally designed to perplex any first-time visitor. Naturally, by the time located the correct building and parked, the 1½ hours I had allotted for the event had dwindled to a scant 25 minutes.

I might have had a full half-hour to network, but finding the reception room in the club’s main building proved one more challenge. After all that, you would think I’d at least have won the raffle for 5 tons of grapes, though, admittedly, I am far from ready to bottle my first vintage under the Sostevinobile label! Still, there was quite a bit of wine left to sample and several growers to meet among those who had not packed up early and headed back to Ukiah. Lisa Sutton of Bells Echo Vineyards could have easily beguiled me without pouring her wine, but I was nonetheless impressed with both the 2006 Syrah and the 2006 Interlude, their premium Syrah—both inaugural releases.

Nearby, the next wave of biodynamic farming was ably represented by fourth-generation vineyardist Heath Dolan of Dark Horse Ranch. Showcasing wineries that source his meticulously-tended grapes, Heath poured the complex 2007 Truett•Hurst|Dark Horse GPS, a GMS blend with Petite Sirah added to the mix, and the 2007 Mendocino Farms Grenache Dark Horse Ranch, one of Magnanimus Wine Group’s bottlings.

I’ve known members of Heath‘s family for decades (one of his father Paul Dolan’s cousins was slated as Sostevinobile’s original investor), but that connection has no bearing on my appreciation for his viticulture or his wines. Similarly, I’ve enjoyed a lively correspondence with Jim Kimmel over the last several weeks, but approached his brother Gary’s Kimmel Vineyards with the same lack of bias. Their boutique winemaking operations in Potter Valley embarked with 285 cases of the 2007 Chardonnay Mendocino County and a mere 271 cases of their equally fine 2007 Merlot Mendocino County.

Maybe because it was late in the day, maybe because, well, I could, I opted to try only the sweeter selections from Nelson Family Vineyards, a winery that grows just about everything. I was richly rewarded with their 2008 Estate Riesling, an intense 2008 Estate Viognier and their delightful dessert wine, the 2009 Estate Orange Muscat. Meanwhile, another grower whose plantings include a veritable potpourri of varietals, Rossetti Brothers, poured finished wines that included the 2008 Petite Sirah and both their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, along with bulk samples of their Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Carignane.

As the event came to a close, the sponsors of this event from True Mendocino promised that next year’s showcase would be held at a far more accessible site, and while I did treat myself to a leftover bottle of the tour of the 2006 Weibel Family Chardonnay Mendocino County for later delectation and self-guided tour of the Fountaingrove swimming complex, I opted to drive back and take a dip in Corte Madera natatorium where I frequent, before heading across the Golden Gate Bridge.

The next day promised to be quite the challenge, not for the intensity of my schedule but because I had finally decided to risk subjecting the cluttered environs of the home office I maintain for Sostevinobile to an onsite tasting by a local distributor. Housekeeping, as my familiars and family will attest—ce n’est-pas mon forte. Nonetheless, I managed to clear the living room, wash half a dozen goblets Cascade-spotless, and improvise a water pitcher and spill bucket in time to host Kip Martinez. Kip is a longtime San Franciscan who, with his wife, operates a rather quaintly-named wine distribution company called Kip and Nancy; we had met at the recent T.A.P.A.S. tasting, where he had filled in for client winery Bodega Paso Robles and piqued my curiosity with intimations of their Bastardo, which he had opted not to bring with him.

First up, however, was the eponymous label of winemaker Michel Berthoud and his homage to Helvetian winemaking, the 2008 Chasselas Doré Pagani Vineyard. I confess that I had not previous tried this varietal, grown in Switzerland to produce their signature Fendant du Valais; I would not venture to describe its taste, though, on a spectrum, I would be tempted to place it closer to a Chenin Blanc or slightly grassy Sauvignon Blanc than to a Chardonnay.

Michel is well-known as the winemaker for Mayo Family Winery, where he puts on a clinic,œnologically speaking, with his Alicante Bouschet (which sounds like it ought to be a Swiss wine), Italian varietals, and many of the other grapes predominant in Sonoma. Kip treated me to a small selection that included the 2006 Petite Sirah Sodini Ranch Vineyard, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Delaney Vineyard, and the 2006 Libertine, described as “a dollop of Merlot, a splash of Cabernet Sauvignon, a smidgen of Syrah and a dash of Zinfandel, with Petite Sirah and Petite Verdot thrown in for good measure.”

It seems a bit odd that Switzerland’s northern neighbor, Germany, has only one winery in California devoted to its varietals. Numerous wineries here are focusing on Riesling, and in Washington, wines like Lemberger and Riesling have begun to proliferate, but only Lodi’s Mokelumne Glen devotes itself exclusively to this category. Winemaker/owner Bob Koth had apprised me of another winery producing Dornfelder, so I was especially eager to try the Huber Estate wines when I found. As I had hoped, the 2006 Estate Dornfelder was a most compelling wine, and I only wish Kip had carried the 2006 Estate Dornfelder Charlotte’s Reserve for comparison. And until I next make a swing for Sostevinobile through the Santa Rita Hills AVA, the 2008 Hafen, a dessert-style Dornfelder, must remain a creature of my imagination!

One wine, however, no longer remaining within the realm of my imagination is Bastardo, or, as the wonderful censors at ATF would have us call it, Trousseau. Given the Bureau’s prohibition of the use of such provocative nomenclature, Bodega Paso Robles elected to label their offering the 2007 Pimenteiro. It did not bastardize this rustic wine, by any means. Kip also revisited their 2005 Solea (90% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano) and the 2003 Iberia (Tempranillo, Graciano, Tinta Cão, Touriga Nacional), two blends I had highly enjoyed in early June.

We moved onto the remaining wines I had selected from his catalog. Marco di Giulio Wines may have coöpted the URL I would have chosen for my first personal label, but I am perfectly able to let bygones be bygones and laud both their 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain District and its coeval, the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Progeny Vineyard. Similarly, CalStar might have been a desirable alternative to Sostevinobile, but that matters little now. I applaud their 2008 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard and would be eager to sample the rest of their inventory. Meanwhile, Starr Ranch bears no relation to the aforementioned winery nor to any of Pam Starr’s various viticultural forays; nonetheless, I found this Paso Robles producer quite adept with its 2007 Estate Grenache and its astral 2007 Orion, a Tempranillo-based wine.

Kip’s last offerings came from organically-farmed Lavender Ridge in Murphys. We started white, with their 2009 Côtes du Calaveras Blanc, Sierra Foothills, a blend of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc, then proceeded through their sundry single-varietal Rhône reds: the 2006 Grenache Sierra Foothills, the 2007 Mourvèdre Sierra Foothills, the 2005 Syrah Sierra Foothills, and the 2005 Petite Sirah Sierra Foothills before finishing up with the utterly complex 2006 Côtes du Calaveras that blended Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, and Counoise. A perfect note on which to end the day and ready myself for the major trade event on Friday.


The 6th Annual Pinot Days San Francisco Grand Tasting was slated for Sunday, June 27th in the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason. Unlike at other major tastings, however, the powers that be decided this year to sever the trade portion of the festival from the main event and hold it two days earlier in the Fleet Room, a far less capacious reception area in Building D, two floors below the famed Magic Theatre. In over thirty years of attending events, I had no awareness that this facility even existed and was quite surprised the promoters had selected it.

Of course, I understand that these Grand Tastings constitute a business for the people who organize them, particularly for the Pinot Days folks who do not represent a not-for-profit trade organization like Family Winemakers or ZAP. As well, to a large extent, trade and media tickets are provided as a courtesy, and I am indeed grateful each time I have been provided such. However, the greatest allure of these events for participating wineries are the opportunities they provided both for publicity and for significant sales of their wines. Speaking as Sostevinobile’s trade representative, let me say that I found the new configuration counterproductive in this regard and express my hope that next year’s Pinot Days returns to its previous formula. I know many of Friday’s other attendees feel similarly.

The schedule split and smaller space allowed less than half of Sunday’s wineries to participate. Still, the room was packed and without a printed tasting program, quite difficult to navigate. I managed to scribble my notes onto the back of several product flyers I appropriated from Chamisal Vineyards’ table as I quaffed their eminently drinkable 2007 Estate Pinot Noir. Shifting to my right, I next sampled from a pair of wineries I have known long before I create Sostevinobile but had not visited with in this capacity. Founded in 1857, Buena Vista bills itself as California’s oldest premium winery, though its wines are decidedly far more contemporary than I recall from the 1980s. The 2007 Pinot Noir Ramal Vineyard Estate Vineyard Series Dijon Clones proved an elegant wine, while their 2006 Pinot Noir Ramal Vineyard Estate Vineyard Series Swan Selection drank like a glissade across the tongue. At a nearby table, August Briggs opted to pour a single wine, their 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, more than a fine choice to represent their efforts.

Somewhere around the middle between these two tables, Mendocino’s Baxter Winery, with which I had become acquainted at Golden Glass, poured their jammy albeit curiously titled 2008 Pinot Noir Run Dog Vineyard. From Santa Rita Hills, Carr Vineyards introduced themselves and not only poured a striking 2008 Pinot Noir Turner Vineyard but slipped in a taste of their 2009 Pinot Gris, the first such “extra” of the afternoon. Fort Ross fell within house rules for pouring their always-special 2006 Pinotage, but Johanna Bernstein still managed to slip me a welcome sip of her 2007 Chardonnay Fort Ross Vineyard (or should I call it Pinot Chardonnay, to keep it within bounds?).

There may not be any correlation between these two Russian River Valley vintners, apart from their consecutive appearance in my note, but I was impressed with both the 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Selection from esteemed winemaker Gary Farrell and the 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from the newly established Thomas George Estates. And from the same notepad, Gundlach Bundschu, another continuum from the mid-19th century, maintained their pedigree with their 2007 Pinot Noir, while Gloria Ferrer, the Sonoma arm of the historic Spanish sparkling wine house Freixenet, impressed with both their 2006 Carneros Pinot Noir and a sparkling 2006 Brut Rosé.

Cima Collina and I have had a long e-mail correspondence for the past several months, so it surprised me that I had not previously sampled their products. Their representatives easily remedied this oversight with a quartet of their vintages: their more generic 2006 Pinot Noir Monterey County and the 2006 Chula Viña Vineyard Pinot Noir, top by their Santa Lucia Highlands vineyard-designate 2007 Tondrē Grapefield Pinot Noir and the superb 2006 Hilltop Ranch Pinot Noir. Another winery making quite the first impression with four distinct interpretation of the grape was Pinot-only Fulcrum Wines, a Napa-produced boutique venture. Their latest vintage comprised an almost dizzying array of choice AVAs: the 2008 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, the 2008 Tina Marie Russian River Pinot Noir, the 2008 ON Point Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, and my personal (as well as Wine Spectator’s) favorite, the lush 2008 Gap’s Crown Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.

That I had not previously visited with Crū, one of Mariposa Wine Company’s trio of labels. Fortunately, their 2007 Montage Central Coast Pinot Noir and the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Sarmento Vineyards cemented this connection. And how I could have overlooked Sebastopol’s DuNah until now astounds me almost as much as did their 2006 Pinot Noir DuNah Estate and their 2006 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard.

I was a tad surprised there were not more wineries from Oregon on hand this afternoon, given their pivotal role in establishing Pinot Noir on the West Coast (as well as Pinot Noir establishing Oregon as a major viticultural region). One such presence, Le Cadeau, happily displayed four of their most recent bottlings: the 2008 Pinot Noir Équinoxe, the amiable 2008 Pinot Noir Rocheux, the oddly named but excellent 2008 Pinot Noir Côte Est, and their crown jewel, the 2008 Pinot Diversité (shades of liberté, égalité, fraternité, to be sure)! Owner Tom Mortimer partners in another venture, Aubichon Cellars and generously included their inaugural release, the 2007 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley. French nomenclature also claimed the Central Coast’s La Fenêtre, whose Pinot offering ranged from the 2008 Pinot Noir Los Alamos Vineyard and the 2008 Pinot Noir Sierra Madre Vineyard to the more treasured 2008 Pinot Noir Central Coast and their acme, the 2008 Pinot Noir Le Bon Climat. While I greatly enjoyed La Fenêtre’s 2008 Bien Nacido Chardonnay, the winery seems hellbent on compelling me to struggle with composite characters, debuting their second label with the 2008 À Côté Chardonnay. Sans accents, Roots shared their whimsically-titled 2009 Melon de Bourgogne (a Chardonnay, naturally) and their 2008 Riesling before pouring a trio of delightful Pinots, the 2007 Crosshairs Pinot Noir, the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir, and the 2008 Leroy Pinot Noir.

Back in the Anglophile realm, M. Autumn bifurcates their winemaking between California and Oregon to offer their own Pinot trio: the 2006 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, the 2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, and newcomer 2008 Johnson Vineyard Pinot Noir from Chehalem. Keeping things somewhat thematic, from Chehalem. Keeping things kinda thematic, R. Merlo’s aspirations for an AVA in Hyampom Valley manifested itself in his 2005 Pinot Noir Trinity County.

Joseph Swan, the last winery I tried that poured four different Pinots, is a place I typically associate with Zinfandel. N’importe! I found myself uniformly enthralled with both the 2006 Pinot Noir Saralee’s Vineyard and the 2008 Pinot Noir Cuvee du Trois, as well as the 2007 Pinot Noir Trenton Estate Vineyard 2006 Pinot Noir Trenton View Vineyard, despite the New Jersey allusion! Pinot-centric Sequana chimed in with three different takes on the varietal, the superb 2008 Sundawg Ridge Pinot Noir from Green Valley, its proximate neighbor, the 2008 Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir, and the distant 2008 Sarmento Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands. Also posting a trifecta was my old friend Gideon Beinstock, with the terroir-driven wines from his Clos Saron in Oregon House. People who follow natural winemaking know this methodology can often be a crap shoot, but I was immensely pleased with his rosé, the 2009 Tickled Pink. Admittedly, I found myself ambivalent about the 2008 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard, but the 2006 Pinot Noir Texas Hill was one of the more outstanding efforts of the afternoon.

Another longtime acquaintance that my Sostevinobile blog readers should readily recognize was Dr. Chris Thorpe and his 100% organically-grown wines from Adastra. Once again, I fell sway to his 2006 Proximus Pinot Noir, a wine that reveals new complexities each time I encounter it. I never did get to meet Fred MacMurray while he was alive, though many hours of my childhood were dissipated watching his 1960s series after the departure of William Frawley. Many readers know of my disparagement of the Gallo wine empire, but, candidly, both the 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and the 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley from MacMurray Ranch were noteworthy expressions of the grape. 

Coming on the heels of the extraordinary 2007 vintage, one which Wine Spectator lauded as Pinot Noir’s “best ever” in California, 2008’s wines faced the kind of daunting challenge Michael Jordan’s kids felt when trying out for the basketball team. A couple of wineries that only pour 2008 left no basis for comparison, but impressed on their own merits. The very fine 2008 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast from Pfendler Vineyards nonetheless risked being overshadowed by the presence of the pulchritudinous Kimberly Pfendler, while Richard Sanford’s 2008 Pinot Noir La Encantada Vineyard Santa Rita Hills (I failed to note whether it was the Clone 666 or the Clone 115 bottling) from his Alma Rosa Winery was flat-out superb. However, among where I could sample the two vintages side-by-side, I found a definite predilection for the 2007 Pinot Noir from Keefer Ranch over its successor. And among the three bottlings spanning 2006-08, Rusack Vineyards2007 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley clearly stood out.

Once again, Weibel had a presence with their 2006 Weibel Family Pinot Noir Mendocino County. Derby Wine Estates demonstrated the exceptional moments this earlier vintage enjoyed with their 2006 Pinot Noir Derbyshire Vineyard. And while the 2006 Pinot Noir from Hanzell, proud stewards of the oldest Pinot vineyard on the West Coast, proved to be a marvelous wine, I fear the 2000 Pinot Noir they poured did not quite withstand the test of time.

The last two wineries I had never before encountered helped wind down the day with some side tastings. Mark Cargasacchi’s Jalama Wines matched their superb 2007 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi-Jalama Vineyard with a refreshing splash of their whimsically-named 2007 Gialla, a Pinot Gris from their Santa Barbara estate. And the veritable last word in Pinot, Zotovich, augmented the excellence of their 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills with the clean flavor of its 2008 Chardonnay and an astoundingly good 2007 Syrah, all vinted by Palmina’s Steve Clifton.

Capping the afternoon, I very much enjoyed the Pinots Hahn Estate Wines bottles as part of their winery-within-a-winery label, Lucienne. Sipping the admirable 2007 Lucienne Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Lone Oak Vineyard segued into tasting the even more flavorful 2007 Lucienne Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Doctor’s Vineyard before I completed my rounds with Riverbench Estate. Here, both the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir and the 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley warranted tremendous accolades, while I was ready to rest on my laurels until my next tasting venture.

Every year, the month leading to Pinot Days has grown incrementally with seminars, winemaker dinners, preview tastings at numerous wine shops in San Francisco, and a dizzying array of other events throughout the Bay Area. Promoters Steve and Lisa Rigisich, partners in Pinot Noir specialist Ketcham Estate, are to be commended for their fanatical devotion to this grape. With this inundation of activities, I just hope they don’t lose sight of the important connection that Grand Tastings afford wineries and the people who promote them, the trade and the press, establish at such gatherings.

I understand the desire to weed out the numerous poseurs who like to attend trade & press events without ever contributing to the industry (apart from conspicuous consumption).Unfortunately, the segregation of this trade tasting meant only 96 wineries, out of 212 subscribed to the Grand Tasting the following Sunday, participated. By the time I realized the professional segment would truncate not just the time I had to spend with the wineries on my “To Meet” list but the roster of participants as well—only 29 of the 84 wineries I had earmarked exhibited on Friday—I had committed to the Mill Valley Wine & Gourmet Food Tasting, where yet another potpourri of wines and wineries would be featured. Allora, I merely hope we will all have a chance to meet at Pinot Days VII.

Хлестаков возвращается!

Khlestakov returns!
Apart from Aristophanes’ Βάτροχοι (The Frogs), Nikolai Gogol’s Ревизор (The Government Inspector) may be the most uproarious satire ever written (and, no, my my choice to eschew transliteration is not a conceit—Your West Coast Oenophile has read both in the original). His protagonist, Khlestakov, though hardly æsthete, bumbles his way through life and the unwitting indulgence of the local villagers in the play, steered by a gastronomic compass. Indeed, his boundless appetite for the next delectation constitutes the distinguishing thread that delineates him from the malevolent opportunism of a rake like Lothario or Madoff and relegates him to the status of what Nabokov deemed a пошляк, a term that has no true equivalent in English, though various Internet translation tools render it as “platitudinarian” or “vulgarian.”

As I stated in a recent entry, sometimes my quest to sample new and interesting wines for Sostevinobile brings me to events where food purveyors play a major, if not dominant, role; within this milieu, my designated perspective as œnophile gives way to that of a gourmand, making me feel somewhat the grand poseur, like Khlestakov, as I wend from food stand to food stand, delighting at each stop.

Just recently, I managed to sandwich in two such events on a single Saturday, the 2010 Golden Glass at Fort Mason and the 6th Annual Marin County Pinot Tasting at the historic Escalle Winery in Larkspur. Given that I chose to cover this entire loop on bicycle—not so much out of adherence to sustainable principles as a need to counterbalance my caloric intake with a substantial degree of physical exertion, this day would prove quite a marathon.

This day started out as I donned my helmet and rolled down from Pacific Heights to Fort Mason, a trek on my Trek to which readers of this blog have become quite familiar. Slow Food San Francisco has sponsored this pæan to sustainable food and wine for the past several years, engorging the throng of attendees with delectables from many of the Bay Area’s most revered Italian restaurants and other philosophically concordant establishments. Among my many favorites, È Tutto Qua, Delfina, Frantoio, Serpentine and Ristobar lavished generous portions of their signature dishes on eager attendees. My old friend Alex Ong, who blazed a culinary trail for East/west fusion cuisine at Orocco in the mid-1990s, showed glimpses of his current mastery at Betelnut, with an ætherial slice of Salmon Sashimi topped with its own roe. Heaven’s Dog, the hip Chinese destination from renowned Vietnamese food impresario Charles Pham (Slanted Door) dazzled, as well.

I made several visits to the table for A16, the first restaurant I have encountered in San Francisco that captures the essence of the Neapolitan fare on which I was raised. I could not help but tweak chef Liz Shaw about her table, festooned with a roasted pig’s head and fronds of fennel. “Funny,” I remarked. “This is the first time I’ve seen finocchio in San Francisco.”

“It grows wild all along the roadside,” she replied, oblivious to my subtle double-entendre. But of the subtle nuances of Italian cuisine was lost on her excellent pulled pork topping a moist baguette slice, nor on the obligatory wood-fired pizza from Flour + Water (apparently, each year at Golden Glass, one of San Francisco’s leading pizzaioli takes its turn at firing up the mobile wood oven from Emilio Miti).

Suffice it to say, I sampled enough food to pedal the 22-mile trip to Larkspur and then some, but, of course, my attendance on behalf of Sostevinobile primarily focused (or, I should say, was supposed to be focused) on the wines being poured. I first attended Golden Glass in 2008, the year A16 handled pizza duties. Much to my dismay, only one winery from California was pouring at what supposed to be the premier showcase for local, sustainable food. When I later drew the promoter’s attention to this incongruity, she complained that she could not source reliably good organic wines from nearby. I begged to differ, and while she declined my offer to help with arrangements for the following year, I was pleased to find nearly a dozen California wineries in attendance in 2009 (along with Delfina at the helm of the pizza oven).

Golden Glass 2010 featured more than 30 wineries pouring, with several others not on had winning Golden Glass awards for their vintages. Remarkably, 13 of the 17 prizes awarded at this competition were bestowed to California wineries, a remarkable achievement considering that the overwhelming majority of wineries present came from Italy, along with Spain, France, New Zealand and Argentina. But with my apologies to Lorenzo Scarpone and Franco Minniti of Villa Italia, the driving forces behind Slow Food San Francisco and this event in particular,I restricted my sampling to the local wines that fall within Sostevinobile’s stated parameters.

Quite a number wineries held a cooperative presence through Artisan Growers & Producers, a San Francisco-based collective. Mercury Wines showcased their The 500, a non-vintage Bordeaux-style wine in distinctive 500 ml. jugs. Duende, arriving a week late for T.A.P.A.S., still shone with their 2007 Tempranillo Clement Hills and an appealing 2005 Cabernet Franc. Hawkes, a sister operation, easily matched up with both a 2005 Merlot and a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Tallulah Wines may never be as racy as their namesake, Tallulah Bankhead, but their 2006 Syrah could cause a bit of a stir on its own. A returnee from PINK OUT! SF, Dacalier demonstrated how their Grenache/Mourvèdre blend, the 2009 Première Rosé held its own in a contrasting setting. And despite my having to spend the latter part of the day sipping nothing but Pinot, I still delighted in Wait Cellars2007 Pinot Noir.

Three other Artisan members showcased their Pinots. Both Blagden Wines and Corkscrew Wines poured a 2007 Pinot Noir, while Prophet Wines chose to feature their 2006 Pinot Noir. Along with their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir, Lazy Creek Vineyards excelled with a super-dry 2007 Gewürztraminer and an equally compelling 2008 Riesling. Electing not to pour themselves, Domaine Carneros nonetheless garnered the award for their 2007 Pinot Noir The Famous Gate.

Another award-winning winery that appeared only at the winner’s table was J. Lohr, with their Bordeaux-inspired 2006 Cuvée POM, a Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, with slight additions of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Similarly, Livermore’s Wente Vineyards earned top accolades or their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Southern Hills. And Napa’s Ca’ Momi took home the prize for their 2007 Rosso di California, a Zinfandel/Cabernet Sauvignon blend.

My friend Darek Trowbridge adheres to an extreme fidelity to the health of his vines and the environment in which he tends; his biodynamic techniques shows richly in the wines from his Old World Winery, particularly the 2005 Pinot Noir Nunes Vineyard Cellar Rat and the 2008 Chardonnay Tweek Block. From Fulton, the Vandendriessche Family runs White Rock Vineyards, and I suppose having that extensive a surname precludes labeling with anything overtly complex; nonetheless, in addition to their excellent 2007 Chardonnay, the 2005 Claret (40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot, 11% Cabernet Franc) and the newly-released 2005 Laureate (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon) were simply outstanding vinifications.

My perverse desire to stage a biodynamic vs. vegan wine debate will happen one day, but for now I was content to sample the latter philosophy in Barra of Mendocino’s rich 2007 Girasole Vineyards Zinfandel (but where was your ever-delightful Sangiovese?), along with contrasting their 2006 Barra of Mendocino Pinot Noir with the 2006 Girasole Vineyards Pinot Noir. I also took a shining to their luscious 2007 Eagle’s Perch Chardonnay and 2008 West Terrace Pinot Noir from Paraiso Vineyards, a stalwart of the Sta. Lucia Highlands. Naturally, my ostensible charm prompted the folks from Santa Maria’s Riverbench Vineyard to open up their unlisted 2008 One Palm Pinot Noir, an utterly superb to their striking 2007 Estate Chardonnay.

I had met John Aver at a couple of previous tastings but am happy to aver that his 2007 Homage Syrah and 2006 Heritage Cabernet Sauvignon were both delightful wines. And Derby Wine Estates in Paso Robles proved that their wines are far more dimensional than simply a vehicle for someone like me to converse with Hospitality Manager Katie Kanphantha, yet another aspirant to the title of California’s lengthiest surname. Their quixotic 2007 Fifteen 10 White Rhône Blend (40% Marsanne, 40% Roussanne, 20% Viognier) firmly established this winery, while the 2006 Implipo, a traditional Bordeaux blend, soared beyond expectations. Occasio’s versatility with winemaking is anything but occasional; major accolades are due both their 2008 Petite Sirah del Arroyo Vineyard and their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc del Arroyo Vineyard

I believe Kunde operates the largest vineyard estate in California (I’m too pressed for time to verify this statistic) and certainly it is the largest property to have been bestowed the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award for sustainable practices and facilities in the wine industry. As validating as a GEELA may be, however, their attendance at Golden Glass stemmed as much from the quality of their 2009 Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc and the 2007 Reserve Century Vines Zinfandel.

Sostevinobile has long been familiar with several of the wineries on hand, starting with the pioneering Paul Dolan Vineyards. Not content to rest merely on their biodynamic credentials, their 2006 Deep Red, a blend of 57% Syrah, 31% Petite Sirah, and 12% Grenache from their Dark Horse Vineyards, won one of the coveted Golden Glasses, a fitting testimony to these practices. Legendary restaurateur Lorenzo Petroni surpassed his showing at last year’s tasting by garnering his own Golden Glass for his Super Tuscan-style 2007 Rosso di Sonoma, while his Petroni Vineyards’ lush 2004 Brunello di Sonoma, crafted from 100% Sangiovese Grosso, proved every bit its equal. And returning a week after his attendance at T.A.P.A.S., Victor Reyes Umaña from Murphys’ Bodega del Sur displayed extraordinary versatility with a crisp, clean 2008 Marsanne to complement his Spanish-style 2007 Carmessi, a blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah.

Golden Glass allotted nearly a full table to the Mendocino WineGrape & Wine Commission, which represented the remainder of wineries I sampled. From this constellation came Esterlina Vineyards, the sister winery of Everett Ridge, poured a 2008 Dry Ranch Riesling Cole Ranch and their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, while Pacific Star Winery brought a trio of underserved varietals: their 2007 Charbono, the 2005 Carignane and a more recent 2009 Viognier. Sara Bennett poured an intriguing 2007 Pinot Noir Méthode à l’Ancienne and the justly acclaimed 2008 Estate Bottled Gewürztraminer for her family’s Navarro Vineyards, while the luminous Deborah Schatzlein comported herself quite admirably with her 2009 Randle Hill Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc and the 2005 Hawks Bottle Vineyard Syrah from Bink Wines.

The 2009 Gewürztraminer Anderson Valley ruled the day for Breggo Cellars, along with their equally appealing 2009 Pinot Gris Anderson Valley and a 2008 Pinot Noir from the same AVA. Meanwhile, nothing quite saves the day on a 85° afternoon like a chilled sparkling wine, courtesy of the 2009 Brut Rosé from Handley Cellars, along with their compelling smooth 2007 Syrah Kazmet Vineyard in the Redwood Valley. Magnanimus Wine Group manages a small consortium of “authentic, living wines integrate nature into the bottle and are inspired by simpler times”—an apt description for their 2007 Mendocino Farms Grenache.

Jim Milone’s Terra Sávia is one of Mendocino’s better known organic wineries, and the overall excellence I have come to expect from wines like his 2008 Chardonnay, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2006 Meritage (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot) easily spilled over to his newly-released 2006 Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine. Another organic champion, McNab Ridge, the current venture of my old friend John Parducci, featured a superb 2006 Petite Sirah (though not on hand at Golden Glass, their 2007 Pinotage Napoli Vineyard is a wine not to be missed).

Excellence aboundedat Baxter, the last Mendocino winery I sampled. In short, my first contact with this operation brought me to their 2007 Pinot Noir Toulouse Vineyard and the remarkable 2007 Pinot Noir Oppenlander Vineyard, as well as a vibrant 2006 Carignane Caballo Blanco Vineyard. Still, my most astounding discovery of the afternoon was that Chronicle Wines is actually a label, not the wine club that the San Francisco Chronicle sponsors! I admitted to proprietor Mike Hengehold that I had bypassed their table at several previous event because of this misconception—obviously my loss, since their 2007 Cerise Pinot Noir truly was superb. I will not make the same error at ZAP 2011!

My swill & spit restraint most have been in full force, because I felt more than fine in departing at this point and undertaking the 16-mile bike ride over the Golden Gate Bridge to Larkspur. And, if this 1¾ hour jaunt depleted all the energy I had stored up from the numerous protein-laden food purveyors I had tried, there would be another feast awaiting me.

Chapter Two in this saga started with a change of shirts outside the horse barn at the historic Escalle Winery. The ride in 2010’s first truly warm day left me staggering for breath and utterly drenched, just as it had last year—though this time, without the Ginkgo Girl looming to retrieve me, I came prepared to freshen up before tackling the affair.

So with Bolan somewhere unknown, celebrating her 41st in solitude, I splashed myself with the remaining water from my road bottle, stuffed my sweat-soaked Polo shirt into my fanny pack, and headed up the hill to the staging area. To be perfectly candid, though, this could just as easily have been the 2009 tasting. Many of the same attendees, including Dean Stephens, who meet me at the entryway and regaled me with tales of his trip to Las Vegas with Bill Clinton, the same grilling team with the same excellent Leg of Venison and Rabbit Sausage, the same worthy benefit for the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), and pretty much the same roster of wineries in attendance.

Debuting at this event, Skywalker Vineyards unveiled its first vintage, grown exclusively on their estate Skywalker Ranch—now that George Lucas has moved his LucasArts empire to The Presidio, he and Francis Ford Coppola have developed much of his Lucas Valley campus as a vineyard. And with this kind of financial stability, there is little wonder why their inaugural 2008 Pinot Noir and 2008 Chardonnay, which they reserved for trade attendees, tasted so lush. Also appearing as a Marin venture for the first time, Carneros pioneer Acacia, a Diageo acquisition when they had financial stability, translated their considerable pedigree to their 2008 Redding Ranch Pinot Noir.
Before I proceeded to Dan Goldfield’s Orogeny, I had to break for some fresh air and a generous plate of the venison. Deer meat proved the perfect complement to his 2006 Pinot Noir Redding Ranch, a reprise from last year. And maybe with the upcoming Grand Opening for his new tasting room in Sebastopol, Dan will release the 2007 Orogeny (if not the 2008)! After all, his principal venture, Dutton-Goldfield, is already pouring their 2008 Pinot Noir Devil’s Gulch, which showed itself already a superb wine at this tasting.

David Vergari is one of those people who always manages to greet you like a lifelong friend, and so it was the usual pleasure in seeing him again in this setting and comparing his 2007 Pinot Noir Marin County with his 2008 Pinot Noir Marin County (for now, the earlier wine show better, but who knows?). And if he ever deigns to show up at Marin again, Mac McDonald would provide welcome coloratura to the 2007 Pinot Noir from his Vision Cellars.

As they had last year, Thomas Fogarty Winery from San Mateo County featured their Marin-grown 2007 Pinot Noir Corda Family Vineyard. And, in accord with last year’s precedent, assistant winemaker Nathan Kandler offered his own Precedent Wines 2006 Pinot Noir Chileno Valley Vineyard. I followed this wine with the 2006 Marin County Estate Grown Pinot Noir from organic vineyardists Stubbs Vineyard, then headed back to the grill for some rabbit sausage from Devil’s Gulch Ranch

Another organic vineyard—on the cusp of becoming biodynamic, DeLoach is part of Boisset Family’s genial expansion into California. And as this label expands beyond its Russian River Valley home, the 2009 Pinot Noir Marin County stacked up quite nicely with another 2009 Pinot Noir ???—I expect my proposed name will ultimately be selected in the contest they conducted. Stewart Johnson of Kendric Vineyards poured a five-year vertical of his Marin Pinot, but I guess I somehow missed the framing years of 2004 and 2008. Still I greatly enjoyed the superb 2005 Pinot Noir Marin County, followed by the 2007 and the 2006 in my personal preference. Meanwhile, Jonathan Pey of Pey-Marin Vineyards assumed pouring duties this year, serving his ever-notable 2007 Trois Filles Pinot Noir. I think he also slipped a taste of his 2009 The Shell Mound Riesling, but my notes show no mention.
Cowgirl Creamery generously furnished an array of cheeses, from which I liberally partook before heading over to Point Reyes Vineyards and their chilled NV Blanc de Noir; their 2007 Pinot Noir also warranted attention. I then tried a side-by-side comparison of the 2007 Pinot Noir Chileno Valley from Willowbrook Cellars, along their 2008 vintage, only to find both equally appealing. I did, however, display overt enthusiasm for the 2007 Andromedia Devil’s Gulch Ranch over its previous vintage, though both represent superb Pinot Noirs from Sean Thackrey, perhaps the only other man in attendance who has translated Aristophanes.
By now, there was but a scant few medallions of venison left, so I refueled for the ride back to San Francisco, but headed first for the Bay Club Marin for a quick swim and shower. I blundered slightly in ascertaining the best route home from there, but the starlit trek over the Golden Gate Bridge proved a perfect coda to this 10 hour sojourn.