Category Archives: Cinsault

An austere wine, with an alluring bucket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discoveries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duck die nasty

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

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

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

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

PALE FIRE
(A Poem in Four Cantos)

     CANTO 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the beat goes on…

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

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


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


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

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

Discoveries 2011½

If Ernest Hemingway hadn’t existed, some high school English teacher would have had to invent him. And maybe one did. Think about it for a moment: imagine having to read and critique 40 or so 10th grade essays every week. Ponder what that might be like if students were exhorted to write like Pynchon. Or Laurence Sterne. Or—shudder—James Joyce.

At the quaint New England institute where Your West Coast Oenophile was incarcerated during his formative years, the author I most idolized was Thomas Love Peacock, whose parlor novels satirized the Romantic poets and other luminaries of 19th century Great Britain. Granted, those among my schoolmates who were fifth- or sixth-generation Hotchkiss legacies showed a pronounced predilection for F. Scott Fitzgerald, but the virtues of such works as A Farewell to Arms and The Old Man and the Sea were rarely extolled as paragons of emulative composition.

Perhaps if they had been, I might now be able to contain my entries for Sostevinobile to a concise 750 words, instead of the opus interminatum each one of these postings turns out to be. Allora! After three years grinding my fingertips on a Mac keyboard, I am still trying.

My overdue reports on these rounds of tastings started with a long overdue event, a Paso Robles trade tasting in San Francisco. The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance had previously sponsored an intimate though curiously situated tasting amid the leading venture capital firms on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, an enclave where substance tends to be measured more in bytes than in brix. Here, amid the more familiar environs of the Presidio, the Golden Gate Club offered Trade and Media an intimate tasting before holding its oversold public event, the 2nd Annual Lamb Jam, a pairing of lamb with an array of wines from this Central Coast stronghold.

Yet there was nothing sheepish about the wines themselves, as my introduction to Bianchi, the masculine plural of the attributive terminus of my surname (but no familial relation) quickly showed. Tanto peggio per me, it would have been nice to qualify for the Friends & Family discount on their 2008 Moscato, a delightfully sweet wine with kumquat overtures, and their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles, a varietal rounded with 2.3% Syrah (a blend quite prevalent in Paso). Their most intriguing wine, the 2008 Zinfandel, consisted not only of 3% Syrah, but a 2% touch of Royalty, a varietal I not encountered before.

Another revelation, Riverstar, offered a diverse range of wines that also reflected the staunchly independent spirit of the AVA. Wines like the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2007 Syrah, and even the 2009 Vintner’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon presented straightforward expressions of their single varietals, but the winery’s truest creative expression manifest itself in the NV Sunset Red, an uncommon blend of equal proportions of Merlot and Syrah. And while I also greatly enjoyed the Twilight Vintners Reserve, a non-vintage Port-style wine, my true affinity, coincidentally, was for the 2007 Affinity, an artful blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with 20% Zinfandel.

After twilight, of course, comes Midnight Cellars, an astrological endeavor from Rich Hartenberger that. somewhat ironically, leaves nothing about their wines in the dark. I know of no other winery, including the ultraspecific wine labels from Ridge, that lists not only the volume of alcohol and the percentage of residual sugar, but also the pH and “titratable acidity” for each of their wines (even with a strong background in chemistry, I have no idea what the distinction between these latter two measurements means). Certainly this winery’s expression of straight varietals, like their 2010 Estate Chardonnay and the 2007 Estate Zinfandel, proved more than admirable, but it would not be overstatement to say they reached for the stars (and came rather proximate) with both the 2007 Nebula, a Cabernet Sauvignon rounded with Malbec and Merlot and their standout, the 2007 Mare Nectaris, a Merlot-dominant Bordeaux blend balancing 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Malbec, and 12% each of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Ironically, with all the precision of their labels, the 2008 Full Moon lists itself merely as a red blend (with pH: 3.67 and titratable acidity: 0.625); nonetheless, an eminently approachable wine!

I didn’t think to ask whether Kim & Jeff Steele of Roxo Port Cellars were related to Shoo
ting Star
’s Jed Steele, but their meticulous approach to producing authentic Metodo Portugues fortified wine certainly belies a strong kindred spirit. Their 2007 Magia Preta proved a more than interesting variant on the 50/50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah so prevalent in Paso, while even more delightful was the 2007 Paso Mélange, a Port-style blend of 71% Cabernet Franc with 22% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Petit Verdot. Best, though, inarguably had to have been the 2007 Ruby Tradicional, a traditional blend of 34% Souzão, 25% Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), 18% Touriga Nacional, 15% Tinta Cão, and 8% Bastardo.

Having begun this post with a literary riff, I can be forgiven for presupposing Steinbeck Vineyards had ties to the famed Central Coast chronicler and author of Grapes of Wrath. Despite my erroneous assumption, the wines proved as rich and complex as any of John Steinbeck’s literary opera. The superb 2008 Viognier set the tone for this lineup. Other equally compelling single varietal bottlings included the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2007 Petite Sirah, and a wondrous 2007 Zinfandel. Even more compelling, however, was Steinbeck’s 2006 The Crash, an atypical blend of these four grapes, along with the 2007 Voice, a 2:1 mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah.

Twenty-nine other wineries featured their diverse vintages this particular afternoon, and it is by no means a disparagement not to detail each here, along with the panoply of wines they offered. Certainly, I have covered each of these ventures numerous times in this blog, but, in the interest of (relative for me) brevity, I am electing now only to highlight the premium echelon of these selections, starting with the 2008 Version from Adelaida, a Mourvèdre-focused GMS blend balanced with 9% Counoise.

No overlap in the blended varietals could be found in Ancient Peaks2008 Oyster Ridge, a Meritage composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Petite Sirah. Cypher Winery pulled no punches in labeling its Zinfandel/Mourvèdre/Syrah blend the 2008 Anarchy, but I can only defer to their own description of the dodecahedron known as the 2008 Louis Cypher: 15% Teroldego, 14% Petit Verdot, 13% Souzão, 13% Petite Sirah, 9% Carignane, 9% Alicante Bouschet, 6% Syrah, 5% Tinta Cão, 5% Tinta Roriz, 5% Tannat, 4% Touriga Nacional, 2% Zinfandel = 100% Seduction! Even if they did forget the Touriga Francesa…

I’d be dishonest if I didn’t concede that the true pleasure of Derby Wine is the chance to revisit with Katie Kanpantha, but their standout vintage had to have been the 2007 Reserve Pinot Noir Derbyshire Vineyard from San Simeon, the home of Hearst Castle. And it seemed only fitting that San Simeon would also feature the Hearst Ranch Winery, whose Rhône selections stood out among its eclectic choice of varietals. In particular, the 2008 Three Sisters Cuvée, a straightforward Syrah/Grenache/Mourvèdre blend outshone such curious nomenclature as Chileano, Babicora, and Bunkhouse—all of which beg the question: why not Rosebud?

Always a prominent presence at events where they pour, Paso’s Halter Ranch truly excelled with a pair of their wines, the 2008 Syrah, rounded with Mourvèdre, Viognier, and, uncharacteristically (for a Rhône blend), Malbec. Esoteric, but in proper keeping with the genre, their stellar 2008 Côtes de Paso added both Cinsault and Counoise to the standard GSM composition. Another of Paso’s revered wineries, Justin, must be finding itself in quite the conundrum, its overt commitment to sustainability in stark contrast with new owner Stewart Resnick’s other signature venture, Fiji Water. Nevertheless, Justin’s iconic Meritage, the 2008 Isosceles, proved itself worthy of the myriad accolades it has received.

My friends at L’Aventure managed to garner a Sostevinobile trifecta here, impressing across the board with their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2008 Côte à Côte (their GMS blend), and the crossbreed, the 2008 Estate Cuvée, a mélange of 50% Syrah, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 14% Petit Verdot. Despite its insistence on lower -case lettering, kukkula once again proved there is nothing diminutive about its œnology, excelling with its own Syrah-dominant GMS, the 2009 sisu, and the Mourvèdre-less 2009 pas de deux.

One of the afternoon’s most striking wines came from Ortman Family Vineyards: the utterly delectable 2007 Petite Sirah Wittstrom Vineyard. Meanwhile, the Rhône virtuosos at Tablas Creek veered beyond their forte and produced a stunning 2010 Vermentino.

But Paso will always remain the realm of Syrah and Roussanne, Tannat and Viognier, Grenache and Picpoul Blanc, Picpoul and Grenache Blanc, with a wide smattering of Bordeaux, Spanish, Italian and local varietals thrown into the mix. Whether its the joyous blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault Terry Hoage bottles as their 2008 5 Blocks Cuvée or the Shel Silverstein-ish GMZ blend, Thacher’s 2008 Controlled Chaos (42% Mourvèdre, 35% Zinfandel, 23% Grenache), California’s largest and most diversified AVA continues to delight with its unfettered approach to winemaking.


Ah, if only my own writing could possibly be fettered! I keep trying to keep things here succinct, and yet…

I seem to be going backwards, not forward. I should have completed my June notes æons ago, but somehow I let the reformulated Pinot Days slip through the cracks. Nonetheless, I need only remind my readers (as well as myself) that the primary purpose of this blog is to share all the wondrous wines that I sample—at least until I am able to have them actually poured for my readers’ delectation!

After such strong showings across California and Oregon for both the 2007 and 2008 Pinot vintages, the tendency might have been to expect a letdown in 2009. Among those who would prove to the contrary was Ed Kurtzman’s August West, dazzling with its 2009 Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir. And if my trepidation needed further debunking, Wes Hagen generously featured a five-year vertical of his Clos Pepe Pinot Noir. My preference ran to the unheralded 2005 Estate Pinot Noir, a wine that completely withstood the test of time, as well as the benchmark 2007 vintage. But the much younger 2009 bottling held its own against these, portending, with further aging, to equal or excel its predecessors. And though I was less sanguine about both the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir Rosé and the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Brut Rosé, the contrast came as extremely welcome.



Not to be confused with Justin Harmon—Justin Herman Plaza

Command of a sesquipedalian vocabulary is usually my forte, but sometimes I confuse simpler terminologies, like ingot with argot. Ingot, of course,refers to the rounded, rectangular die cut of gold that, had more investors acquired a few years back, would have eased my struggles to finance Sostevinobile. Argot, on the other hand, is Justin Harmon’s Sonoma wine venture, with a penchant for whimsical labels and even sounder œnology. His 2009 Over the Moon displayed touches of elegance, while the 2009 The Fence proved a far more structured Pinot Noir. Most alluring, however, was his clandestine pour of his 2009 Happenstance, an uncommon blend of Roussanne and Chardonnay.

In the same orbit, Lompoc’s Hilliard Bruce contrasted their estate bottlings, the 2009 Pinot Noir Moon with the slightly preferable 2009 Pinot Noir Sun, while adding a 2009 Chardonnay for good measure. ADS Wines, which seems to change its corporate identity every time I encounter one of their ventures, added to this lunacy with their 2007 Howling Moon Pinot Noir, along with their similarly lackluster 2007 Silver Peak and 2009 Odd Lot bottlings.
Basically, I had a dual agenda this afternoon—first, as always, to connect with the wineries that were either new to Sostevinobile, like Aeshna, or that I had previously bypassed at other events because of time constraints (or inadvertently), like Arcadian. To the best of my knowledge, the former has never participated in the numerous Santa Cruz Mountain Winegrowers Association events, nor in the sundry Pinot-focused tastings held each year; named for the dragonfly genus that is part of the Odonata order (coincidentally, the name for another notable Santa Cruz Mountain winery that produces Chardonnay, Malbec, Durif, Syrah, and Grenache), this single-vineyard-focused venture debuted here with six distinctive bottlings, headlined by an exceptional 2008 Pinot Noir Two Pisces and the 2007 Pinot Noir Split Rock,
both grown on the Sonoma Coast. Meanwhile, Solvang’s Arcadian
contrasted two 2007 bottlings with a pair from 2005, the most
distinctive being its 2007 Pisoni Pinot Noir.
 

Among other previously overlooked labels, Napa’s Elkhorn Peak Cellars comported itself admirably with their 2008 Pinot Noir Rosé, as well an acceptable 2007 Estate Napa Valley Pinot Noir. Sebastopol’s Fog Crest Vineyard shone through the mist with both their 2009 Estate Bottled Pinot Noir and the splendid 2009 Laguna West Pinot Noir.

Newcomers this afternoon included Los Angeles-based Inception Wines, with a splendid 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County they surreptitiously counterbalanced with an even-keeled 2009 Chardonnay Santa Barbara County. Miracle One may be better known for its Bluebird Wine-in-a-Pouch; nonetheless, their 2008 Carneros Pinot Noir Truchard Vineyard offered a well-structured bottled varietal. Sebastopol’s Sandole Wines debuted here with a most impressive 2009 Oehlman Ranch Pinot Noir, while Windsor’s Joseph Jewell, a familiar pourer at other affairs, showcased a trio of Pinots: the 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, the 2009 Pinot Noir Floodgate Vineyard, and the utterly superb 2008 Pinot Noir Elk Prairie Vineyard from the verdant confines of Humboldt County.
While certain reactionary elements will claim that partaking in Humboldt’s most popular “substance” leads to hardered addictions, it is only coincidence that I transitioned next to Poppy, not the opiate-bearing bud but the King City viticultural venture out of Monterey Wine Country’s custom crush operations, here featuring a surprisingly good 2009 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands and an even better 2009 Pinot Noir Monterey County. At its neighboring table, Santa Maria’s Presqu’ile shared an equally striking 2009 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley and their estate grown 2009 Pinot Noir Presqu’ile Vineyard, along with one of the afternoon’s most appealing pink efforts, the 2010 Rosé of Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley.

My other principal target here was to connect with the broad representation of Oregon wineries, both new to Pinot Days and old hands, as exploration of this enormous swath of AVAs does not present itself as readily as my frequent jaunts to the wineries in a 100-mile radius of San Francisco. First up was the deceptively simple-sounding Big Table Farm out of Gaston; their 2009 Pinot Noir Resonance Vineyard (Yamhill-Carlton AVA) proved an elegant entrée to this segment of my tasting. Another epiphany here came from the more mellifluously named Carabella Vineyard from the Chehalem Mountains AVA, dazzling with their 2008 Inchinnan Pinot Noir and proving more than correct with their 2008 Pinot Noir Mistake Block.

Ironic labeling seems to abound north of the state line, as witnessed by the wholly appealing 2009 Provocateur, a J. K. Carriere-crafted wine that overshadowed its more generically named 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Nor I could detect any ambiguity in the wines from Monks Gate Vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, a single varietal endeavor that contrasted its 2007 Pinot Noir with a more robust 2008 Pinot Noir.

Part of my impetus in selecting the architects who will render the design for Sostevinobile was their work on Sokol Blosser, the first winery to receive LEED certification, but until this Pinot Days, I had not had the opportunity to sample their Dundee Hills wines. My consensus: I could easily sustain myself with both the 2008 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir and the special bottling of the 2008 Cuvée Pinot Noir. Another Dundee Hills winery that has achieved Gold LEED Certification, Dayton’s Stoller Vineyards focuses exclusively on the Burgundian varietals (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay), represented here by a disparate contrast between the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir and their superb 2007 Estate Pinot Noir.
Dundee’s twinless Lange Estate Winery produced a triplet from their inventory of seven distinct Pinots, beginning with their generic 2009 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley. The 2009 Pinot Noir Reserve proved incrementally better, but principal kudos belonged to their standout, the 2008 Pinot Noir Three Hills Cuvée. Similarly, White Rose showcased their 2009 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir alongside their 2008 Dundee Hills AVA Pinot Noir and a somewhat lackluster 2008 Estate Pinot Noir.
It would have been most interesting to try the Hand Picked Pinot Noir, as well as the Whole Cluster Pinot Noir White Rose produces, but these wines were not made available here. On the other hand, I was underwhelmed by the 2010 Whole Clust
er Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley Vineyards presented (perhaps, in time, this jejune wine will finds its expression); their 2008 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley and the 2008 Pinot Noir Estate Willamette Valley mitigated tremendously, while the 2009 Pinot Gris proved a welcome contrast to the red orthodoxy of the afternoon. So, too, did Dundee’s Winderlea, with its crisp 2008 Chardonnay, blended from 50% Carabella Vineyard (Chehalem Mountain AVA) and 50% Hyland Vineyard (McMinnville AVA) fruit. Equally impressive—their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir, while their eponymous 2008 Pinot Noir offered much to admire.
My friend Craig Camp seems ubiquitous these days, but I was pleased to sample the 2009 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from his Cornerstone Cellars Oregon. Other familiar Oregonians here included Domaine Serene, splendiferous as ever with their 2008 Jerusalem Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir and the exquisite 2007 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir. Dusky Goose, a name I’ve never quite fathomed but still enjoy, featured a three year vertical, starting with their 2006 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, a somewhat tepid bottling compared to the exceptional 2007 and 2008 vintages.

Out of Newberg, Raptor Ridge sounds more like a vineyard that might have flourished on Isla Nublar (Jurassic Park), but, like Dusky Goose, its name is ornithological, its flavors, unmistakably Oregonian. Both the four vineyard blend that comprised its 2009 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley and its 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir, a six vineyard mix, flourished at this stage. And Le Cadeau, though not blending such a diverse range of fruit, still gifted attendees with six distinct bottlings: two from 2008 and four from the ensuing vintage. Of the former, both the 2009 Côte Est Pinot Noir proved a formidable entry-level selection, while the 2008 Aubichon Pinot Noir Reserve, Le Cadeau’s second label. showed every bit its equal. The 2009 vintage excelled across the board, with the 2009 Aubichon Pinot Noir Reserve, the 2009 Diversité Pinot Noir, and the 2009 Équinoxe Pinot Noir all enormously impressive; the “champion,” however, had to have been the 2009 Rocheux Pinot Noir, crafted by winemaker Jim Sanders, Le Cadeau partner in Aubichon.
With that, I had one more Oregon house to sample before completing my predetermined agenda. A couple of years ago, I did report on the delightful 2007 Pinot Gris Dundee Hills’ Torii Mor had produced, so was happy to revisit with them and sample both the 2007 Olson Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2008 Chehalem Mountain Select Pinot Noir (maybe I’ll get to try their Pinot Blanc at our next encounter).
Technically, I suppose all varietals prefaced as Pinot ought to be fair fare for Pinot Days, including the semi-archaic “Pinot Chardonnay” (genealogists at UC Davis have determined that Chardonnay resulted from a cross between the proximate plantings of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc in Burgundy). Though an essential component in Champagne, Pinot Meunier rarely finds expression as a distinct varietal, a notable exception being La Follette’s striking 2009 Van der Kamp Pinot Meunier. While I found the 2008 Van der Kamp Pinot Noir a notch below its cousin, both the 2009 Sangiacomo Pinot Noir and the 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir equaled its prowess.
Its remote perch in Oregon House has neither proximity nor correlation to California’s northerly neighbor; still, natural wine proponent Gideon Beinstock’s Clos Saron brought out a decidedly mixed collection of his Pinots, with the perfunctory 2009 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard contrasting dramatically with its predecessor, the more elegant 2000 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard, while the 2005 Pinot Noir Texas Hill demonstrated how truly superb a natural wine can be when it hits its mark. Another vintner with deep French roots, De Novo Wines’ Hervé Bruckert showed greater consistency and an incremental increase in quality from his 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino County to the 2008 Pinot Noir Bennett Valley to his delightful non-Pinot, the 2009 Bastille, a Right Bank-style Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc.
CRŪ is not Vineyard 29’s Cru in St. Helena, but nonetheless this Madera vintner produced an impressive lineup with its 2009 Appellation Series Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, the 2008 Appellation Series Santa Mara Valley Pinot Noir, and an exceptional 2008 Vineyard Montage Central Coast Pinot Noir. St. Helena’s own Couloir introduced its own triple play, excelling with both the 2009 Pinot Noir Chileno Valley (Marin) and the 2009 Pinot Noir Monument Tree (Mendocino), followed closely by their second label, the 2009 Straight Line Pinot Noir.
One of Mendocino’s most revered ventures, Londer Vineyards, held true to its reputation with a stellar array of wines from their 2007 vintage, starting with more generic 2009 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. As always, both the 2007 Estate Valley Pinot Noir and the 2007 Ferrington Pinot Noir soared with intense flavor, but perhaps the best wine of the afternoon had to have been the 2007 Paraboll Pinot Noir, an effusion of delights. Slightly below Philo, Santa Rosa’s Lattanzio Wines, an understated yet accomplished winery cum custom crush facility in Santa Rosa, hit a zenith with the 2008 Pinot Noir W. E. Bottoms Vineyard and its 2009 successor; even more compelling was their 2009 Pinot Noir Manchester Ridge Vineyard, a name that begs no punning.
My other nomination for this tasting’s Palme d’Or most assuredly belonged to my friend Hank Skewis, whose 2008 Peters Vineyard Sonoma Coast drank like a wine thrice its price. Slightly overshadowed by this monumental bottling, yet every bit as prodigious, were his 2008 Pinot Noir, Montgomery Vineyard Russian River Valley, 2008 Pinot Noir North Coast Cuvée, and the 2008 Pinot Noir Peters Vineyard Sonoma Coast. Nearby in Sebastopol, Small Vines impressed me once again with their Pinot trio: the 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, the 2009 Baranoff Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, and, most notably, the 2009 MK Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Meanwhile, heir neighbors at Suacci Carciere snuck in another “illicit” diversion for the afternoon, their 2008 Chardonnay Heintz Vineyard (somehow I managed to miss their always appreciated Pinot selections).
Nearly every AVA provides a distinct pocket for Pinot, as exhibited by Belle Glos’ Meiomi, with its authoritative 2009 Meiomi Pinot Noir, a blend of fruit from Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara. Heron Lake’s Olivia Brion is nestled in Wild Horse Valley, a semi-obscure AVA that straddles Napa and Sonoma; here their 2008 Pinot Noir Heron Lake Vineyard made its presence known with quiet aplomb. And San Rafael’s Peter Paul Winery offered its excellent 2009 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Mill Station Road.
Winding down for the afternoon, I resampled Ray Franscioni’s 2007 Puma Road Pinot Noir Black Mountain Vineyard before cooling down with his delightful 2009 Puma Road Pinot Gris Black Mountain Vineyard. My final stop turned out to be the East Bay’s highly vaunted Stomping Girl, which rounded out the afternoon with two superb vintages: the 2009 Pinot Noir Lauterbach Hill from Sonoma (Russian River Valley) and their equally wondrous 2009 Pinot Noir Beresini Vineyard from Napa Valley (Carneros).

No slight intended to the many, many other wineries I failed to include here—with 179 labels on hand for this event, I couldn’t possibly sample and cover all. Add to that the fact that I am behind close to 179 wine tastings I’ve attended on behalf of this blog, and can there be little wonder that I have the stamina to make it through any of what Sostevinobile has promised to cover? But soldier on I do, and perhaps I will even record all of 2011 events in 2011 (of course, restricting my entries to under 4,000 words would expedite matters tremendously).
In closing, I would b
e remiss in not thanking Steve and Lisa Rigisch for revamping their Pinot Days format after the debacle of 2010’s non-contiguous affair. The reversion to a single day’s Grand Tasting with overlapping trade and public sessions made accessing so many of the wineries vastly easier, and I am honestly looking forward to 2012’s celebration.

Quō vadis, kemosabē?

Apart from Family Winemakers, there isn’t a more varied wine event than the annual Rhône Rangers Grand Tasting at Fort Mason. Your West Coast Oenophile has attended this gathering almost religiously for the past 12 years or so, the last three sessions on behalf of Sostevinobile. In 2009 and 2010, a noticeable decline in attendance seemed reasonable, given the sorry state of the economy. It came as a bit of a surprise that this year’s event drew a relatively paltry crowd, in light of signs that things are finally on the upswing.

Of course, smaller crowds means easier navigation throughout the five hours I was on hand for both the trade and the public portions of the tasting. Not enough time to cover all 108 wineries that were pouring, but certainly enough to investigate the slew of newcomers and still make the rounds with a number of old acquaintances. Ambyth Estate out of Templeton seemed a logical place to start, and while this biodynamic gem did not bring the single varietal wines it had listed, it offered an array of delectable blends, starting with their 2009 Priscus, predominantly Grenache Blanc with 25% Viognier and 17% Roussanne. Their three red blends all combined Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Counoise in varying proportions, each with one of the GMS varietals in the forefront: the 2008 Maiestas (Syrah); the 2008 Adamo (Grenache), and the 2008 ReVera (Mourvèdre).

I happen to be quite partial to Mourvèdre, a generally underappreciated grape. Others extol the virtues of Grenache, while, in the same breath, deriding Syrah for its failure to seize the public’s imagination. And yet, here at Rhône Rangers, Forestville’s Arnot-Roberts showcased four separate Syrah bottlings. I preferred both the 2009 Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard (Mendocino) and the 2009 Syrah North Block Hudson Vineyard (Napa) to the 2009 Syrah Griffin’s Lair Vineyard (Sonoma Coast), while the generic 2009 Syrah (North Coast) came in on par with the single vineyard versions.

Along with Copain, which did not pour here, Arnot-Roberts and Wind Gap have been heralded as the rule changers with their contemporary vinification of cool vineyard Syrah. Here winemaker Pax Mahle excelled with his own version of a 2009 Syrah Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, while his 2009 Syrah Griffin’s Lair Vineyard struck me as a bit tepid. More striking was his Syrah-less blend, the 2009 Orra, a mélange of Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Counoise, as well as the 2008 Rana, a standard GMS mix.

I hadn’t tried the Beckmen wines before, but soon found myself wondering why this Los Olivos gem has not received greater fanfare, apart from its Sideways highlight. Starting with their blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, and Marsanne, the 2009 Le Bec Blanc, the winery produced a number of superlative bottlings. I enjoyed both the 2010 Rosé Purisima Mountain (Grenache) and the 2009 Cuvée Le Bec, a deft blend of 45% Grenache, 34% Syrah, 14% Mourvèdre, and 7% Counoise. But Beckmen’s best efforts came from its varietal bottlings, starting with the 2009 Estate Syrah. The higher end 2008 Syrah Purisima Mountain Vineyard proved even more astounding, while both the 2009 Estate Grenache and the 2008 Grenache Purisima Mountain Vineyard matched this level. And I nearly overlooked the 2008 Marsanne Purisima Mountain Vineyard, which would have been tragic to miss.

Stolpman, too, presented a formidable lineup, with six different Syrahs among the nine wines they poured. I am always a fan of a great Roussanne, and the 2008 L’Avion proved no exception. Before delving into the Syrahs, I sampled both the 2009 La Cuadrilla, a Grenache/Syrah combo, as well as the truly excellent 2008 Estate Grenache. From there, the 2009 Estate Syrah paved the way for profound, proprietary bottlings that included the 2008 Originals (notably better than the 2009 also pon hand), the 2008 Hilltops Syrah, the 2008 High Density Syrah, and Stolpman’s zenith, the 2009 Angeli.

The folks from Skylark showcased a similar range with their wines. The 2008 Red Belly married Syrah with Carignane, though previous vintages had included Grenache as well. Rebounding from 2008’s misgivings, their 2009 Grenache was clearly a wondrous wine, but, like Stolpman, their heart lies with their range of single vineyard Syrahs. Here, I liked the 2007 Syrah Unti Vineyards, but favored both the 2007 Syrah Stagecoach Vineyard and the delectable 2008 Syrah Rodgers Creek Vineyard. Making a pure Syrah play this afternoon, Henson scored a trifecta with a superb 2007 Syrah Michaud Vineyard from the Chalone AVA, the 2007 Syrah Luna Matta Vineyard from Paso Robles and their home-based 2008 Syrah Estero Vineyard from San Luis Obispo.

It’s been long known that some, if not most, of the exciting developments in Rhône varietals have come out of Paso Robles; validating that truism, Kaleidos offered a modestly-named 2008 White, a symmetrically balanced confluence of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. I relished their excellent 2006 Grenache, as well as the equally delightful < b>2006 Syrah. There appears to be an incongruity in calling a Rhône blend a Spanish name, yet the unspecified makeup of Katin’s 2008 La Ramblas Blancas provided an extraordinary bottling. No such ambiguity marked the other wines I sampled, especially the crisp 2009 Viognier and the 2009 Grenache Blanc (which they fortunately did not call Garnacha Blanca). I was deeply impressed by the 2009 Syrah GlenRose Vineyard, as well as by their yet-to-be-released 2007 Red Blend, a Syrah remarkably dominated by its 10% Viognier component.

Given my aforementioned predilection for Mourvèdre, I found myself drawn to the 2007 Mourvèdre Enz Vineyard that Kenneth Volk was pouring, as well as its equally-appealing 2008 vintage. And from the realm of “if you think Sostevinobile is hard to pronounce,” Paso Robles’ Minassian-Young proffered an compelling 2009 Mourvèdre alongside its dry-farmed 2010 Grenache Rosé. Buellton’s Curtis Winery showcased its own complex 2007 Mourvèdre Santa Ynez Valley, complemented by a 2007 Heritage Cuvée, a mélange of 36% Mourvèdre, 28% Grenache, 19% Cinsault, and 17% Syrah that bespoke their versatility with Rhône varietals. Of course, I appreciated their 2009 Roussanne and the splendid 2007 Grenache, while admittedly felt somewhat surprised they only poured their 2007 Syrah Ambassador’s Vineyard from the quartet of vineyard-designate Syrahs that they feature.

My last Mourvèdre fix came from Oregon’s Folin Cellars, a Rogue Valley winery I had sampled in previous years. Their 2009 Estate Mourvèdre exceeded the 2009 Estate Grenache, but their classic GSM blend, the 2008 Estate Misceo, edged out both. Another Oregonian, Cliff Creek Cellars, started off with a smooth 2009 Marsanne Roussanne, their first white effort. I had no preference between the 2006 Estate Syrah and its predecessor, but did favor the 2005 Claret, a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Merlot hidden beneath the table, as well as the appealing 2008 Tribute, Cliff Creek’s inaugural dessert wine that garnered Best of Show accolades at the 2010 World of Wine Festival in Rogue Valley. Dobbes Family Estate also proved a striking discovery, a winery strongly focused on Pinot Noir but showing tremendous strength with their 2007 Fortmiller Vineyard Syrah and the wondrous 2007 Sundown Vineyard Syrah, both from Rogue Valley.
A final Oregon entry, Jacksonville’s Quady North returned to Rhône Rangers with an impressive lineup that included the 2009 Viognier Ox Block Mae’s Vineyard, a Syrah/Grenache-based 2010 Rosé, plus a pair of Syrahs, the 2007 Syrah 4 2-a and the exceptional 2007 Syrah Steelhead Run VineyardWashington’s lone representative here, Waterbrook, comported themselves ably with both their 2008 Grenache 1st & Main and the 2007 Reserve Syrah.

This year also saw the first participants from Virginia, Tarara Winery. Even though the cross-country haul means that this winery cannot fit within Sostevinobile’s sustainable guidelines, I was happy to sample these wines, knowing little about the region other than, of course, the public saga of Kluge Vineyards and Horton Vineyards, which specializes in Petit Manseng and Rkatsiteli, in addition to its widely-acclaimed V
iognier. Tarara brought three distinct bottlings of this varietal: the 2009 Viognier Nevaeh Vineyard, the 2009 Viognier Honah Lee Vineyard, and a slightly premature 2010 Viognier Williams Gap Vineyard. Both of their 2008 and 2010 Syrahs were barrel samples, as was the non-specific 2010 Red Blend. If I ever decide to do a Sostevinobile d’Este, I will definitely keep this winery in mind.

Back in California, I was pleasantly surprised to discover my former Dartmouth schoolmate Joe Gleason manning the table for Clavo Cellars. Here the 2009 Apparition, a pure Viognier, ruled the day, while their Grenache Blanc, the 2009 Oracle seemed pleasant enough. On the other had, both the 2008 Dreamer (Petite Sirah) and 2007 Reckless Moment (Syrah) struck me as particularly strong expressions of their respective varietals. I had recently visited Pine Ridge, so tasting through their sister winery Chamisal’s offerings mirrored this pleasure. I was equally impressed by their 2010 Rosé (of Grenache) and the 2008 Estate Grenache, but found their strong suits to be the 2008 Estate Syrah and especially the 2008 Califa Syrah.

Just as wine neophytes and aficionados alike tend to focus on the Napa for Cabernet Sauvignon, in the past decade, Paso Robles has become ground zero for Rhône varietals. Nonetheless, numerous other AVAs offer strong selections of these varietals, like Carneros, from where the omnipresent Truchard Vineyards produced an easily assimilable 2009 Roussanne and their 2008 Syrah. Big Basin from the Santa Cruz Mountains featured six different Syrahs, underscored by their 2007 Coastview Vineyard Syrah. As truly awesome as their 2008 Mandala Syrah may have been, the soon-to-be- released 2007 Frenchie’s Ranch Syrah proved an absolute revelation, perhaps the best Syrah of the afternoon.

Santa Rosa’s Cosa Obra, a small, artisanal winery with but two selections, nonetheless impressed with their 2008 Proprietor’s Blend, a fusion of Grenache and Syrah from three separate vineyards (their other wine, the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc showed itself to be a delightful find, despite not being a Rhône varietal).

I wonder how many people at Rhône Rangers have ever been to Oregon House, northeast of Sacramento? Somehow, Clos Saron’s Gideon Beinstock makes it down to San Francisco for almost every relevant tasting to trumpet his natural wines, which span the gamut in terms of flavor. Here he demonstrated his versatility with his 2008 Holy Moly!, a GMS blend focused on Syrah, and a striking 2010 Out of the Blue, a Cinsault rounded out with Syrah. Closer to home, Berkeley’s Rock Wren, Dennis DeDomenico’s successor to his family’s Ghirardelli Chocolates, made a noteworthy debut with their 2007 Syrah from his vineyard in Solano County’s Green Valley AVA.

South of Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo winery 10 Knots Cellars sailed in with a spectacular Viognier, the 2008 Beachcomber; almost as impressive were their 2010 Grenache Rosé and the 2006 Atlantis, a well-balanced GMS blend. Even further south, Los Olivos’ Saarloos and Sons poured their parental vintages, the 2009 Mother (Grenache Blanc) and the 2008 Father (Syrah), bypassing their 2008 Wolfhounden, a Petit Verdot that pays homage to the German Shepherd/Canadian timber wolf bred by Leendert Saarloos.

I wrapped up my time at Rhône Rangers with a cluster of Paso wineries, starting with the melodically-focused Vines on
the Marycrest
. The 2009 Summertime, a rosé blended from Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Zinfandel. The 2007 ’Round Midnight focused on Syrah, with 20% each of Mourvèdre and Grenache. The misnamed 2007 Heart of Glass (shouldn’t a Blondie song title be reserved for a white blend?) nonetheless artfully combined 60% Grenache with equal parts Syrah and Mourvèdre. I found the 2007 Petite Sirah adequate but did like the 2007 My Generation, an Old Vine Zinfandel with Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Petite Sirah mixed in.
Cypher Winery named their Syrah the 2008 Phoenix. Like Vines on the Marycrest, they added Zinfandel to their GMS, the 2008 Anarchy, but omitted the Grenache. Their other GMS blend, the 2008 Peasant, stayed purely Rhône, adding Counoise and Tannat. Ortman Family was not nearly as clever with their nomenclature, labeling their striking GMS+PS red blend the 2007 Cuvée Eddy; moreover, their 2008 Petite Sirah Wittstrom Vineyard proved outstanding. Arroyo Robles served up a nice trio of wines: the 2008 Viognier, their 2007 Rosé (a blush Syrah), and a dominant 2008 Syrah.

My final stop turned out to be a revisit with kukkula, a winery that pays homage to its Scandinavian heritage by giving most of their wines Finnish names. The 2009 vaalea combined Roussanne with Viognier. Three consecutive vintage of their GMS concluded with the 2009 sisu, an extraordinary mélange. New to their repertoire was the pas de deux, a marriage of Syrah and Grenache from different vintages and an excellent conclusion to the afternoon.

Despite five hours on the floor and notably smaller crowds, I certainly could have covered many more wineries here, although each of the rest has been reviewed one time or more by Sostevinobile. The relative paucity of attendees actually worried me, and I hope this will not deter Rhône Rangers from conducting this event in the future. Tastings like this have been critical to my development of our wine program, allowing me to interface with far more wineries than I might be able to cover if I had to review each onsite (not that I don’t try to visit as many as I can). More importantly, it would be tragic for the public to lose such a profound event that allows them to experience the amazing panoply of wine varietals, winemaking styles, and winegrowing regions here on the West Coast..

I am at a loss to explain why so many wine enthusiasts failed to show for this comprehensive Grand Tasting. Then again, the prospect of enduring another Presidential campaign year in 2012 may well drive everyone back to imbibing on a grand scale once again!

Uno…due…tre…

Eight tastings in the space of 32 hours. And that’s not including wine breakfast at Clos du Val! Is there any wonder why Your West Coast Oenophile is just now filing my review of Première Napa? So, in the interest of posting this review out before Tax Day and trying to do justice to all the wineries with which Sostevinobile connected, let me take a stab at something totally uncharacteristic of this blog—brevity!

To say that Première Napa is the premier trade event of the winter isn’t a tautology; major wine buyers from around the country descend upon the Valley for the entire week preceding this highly anticipated auction. Various trade groups and other associations host dozens of tastings and private parties throughout the entire region, showcasing their barrel samples as well as many of the bottlings they typically reserve only for select customers. With each district seemingly trying to outdo each others, this friendly rivalry makes for quite lavish entertainment for attendees.

It’s hard to countenance, but Sostevinobile is not (yet) on Première’s A-list. I understand the priorities given to auction bidders and the people who already actively purchase wine. Once we are up & running and amassing inventory, though, we will be a force with which to reckon! Last year, I wasn’t even aware that I was in the midst of these events the same day I was conducting a business swing through the Valley; I thought I was meeting Chris Dearden of Costa Del Sol Consulting at the Vintage 1870 Barrel Room simply to try his wines—only to find myself catching the tail end of First Taste Yountville. Being able to sample a small modicum of the wineries on hand, I resolved to redeem myself by starting off my Première marathon here.

1) Yountville

First Taste 2011 included 26 of this sub-appellation’s most distinctive wineries, too many to fit on a single-sheet program but just enough to be able to engage with everyone in a reasonable amount of time. I started off with Tor Kenward, whose Cabernets from Howell Mountain draw inordinate attention at that AVA’s summer gathering; here the 2008 Cabernet Mast Vineyard proved every bit their equal. His tablemate, Tom Scott Vineyard, which really ought to feature a saxophone on their label, held court with a preview of their sole endeavor, the prodigious 2008 Barn Burner Cabernet Sauvignon.

Not too frequently, I land up overlooking a label in the mistaken belief I have previously sampled their wines. I could have sworn I had tasted Tamber Bey on several occasions, but here was glad to be introduced to their two thoroughbreds: the 2008 Deux Chevaux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2008 Deux Chevaux Vineyard Rabicano, a Meritage of predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Their tablemates, the redoubtable Rocca Family, upheld their repute with the 2007 Grigsby Cabernet Sauvignon and the lone representative of a 2007 Syrah here this afternoon.

No question that I’d previously tried Bell Wine Cellars, which staked their claim with today’s only 2007 Petit Sirah Massa Ranch. Blankiet Estate, on the other hand, came as a completely fresh revelation, first with their 60%/40% Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot mélange, the 2007 Proprietary Red Wine Paradise Hills Vineyard, then followed by the more intriguing 2008 Prince of Hearts Red Wine, a Bordeaux blend of unspecified proportions. Similarly, at the next table over, Ted Astorian’s boutique Clos Valmi has flown under the radar without even a Website to promote it, though his delightful 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and atypical (for Yountville) 2008 Pinot Noir certainly spoke for themselves. Sharing a common nook here, Charles Krug continues in its evolution into a formidable 21st century winery with its Yountville bottlings, the 2008 Vintage Selection Cabernet Sauvignon and their limited release 2008 X Clones, the pinnacle of their Cabernet Sauvignon production.

Five other tables fell into this same pattern of matching a long-standing acquaintance with a fresh face. Like Blankiet, Joe Grupalo’s Groppallo offered an unvariegated Bordelaise blend, their 2009 Bliss alongside a distinctive 2009 Estate Merlot. Their “neighbor” Gemstone p
erformed its customary bedazzlement with the cult-like status of their 2008 Facets of Gemstone, paired with a special release, the 2006 10th Anniversary Cabernet as well as the 2009 Parma Clone Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

Lest anyone think Yountville only produces red wines, newcomer Dillon contrasted two Chardonnays grown from the same estate vineyard, the 2009 Chardonnay Oak Fermented vs. the 2009 Chardonnay Oak Fermented (I found both equally pleasing). Not accidentally, this winery shared its spot with familiar faces from 5th generation Gustav Niebaum descendants Lail Vineyards, who juxtaposed their renowned Philippe Melka-crafted 2008 Georgia Sauvignon Blanc with their new 2008 Henry Sauvignon Blanc, grown on their remnant of the former Inglenook estate. For good measure, they also poured their flagship 2006 J. Daniel Cabernet Sauvignon, an unblended interpretation of the varietal. I also had no previous experience with Joseph George and their very fine 2009 Sauvignon Blanc but had previously tried an earlier vintage of the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Gamble Family Vineyards.

A second Pinot, the 2009 Pinot Noir came from Elizabeth Rose’s certified organic vineyards. Winemaker Kristi Koford’s fresh effort naturally demanded she produce a 2010 Rosé, blending Syrah with Grenache and Cinsault. The formidable Ghost Block, also produced at Bonded Winery No. 9, poured alongside this boutique label, staking its claim with their extraordinary 2007 Yountville Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and an assimilable 2009 MorgaenLee Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. Finally, I caught up with Chris Dearden pouring both the 2008 Sangiovese and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from his main project Chanticleer (not to be confused with Chaucer or the men’s choral ensemble). Next to him, my new friend Carmen Policy put an impressive seven points on the scoreboard with the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from his Casa Piena, then quickly chipped in three more with his backup label, the 2008 Our Gang Cabernet Sauvignon.

If wineries truly correlated to football franchises, Christian Moueix’ Château Pétrus would undoubtedly stand as France’s version of the Dallas Cowboys. Here in Yountville, his Napa affiliate Dominus Estate consistently vies for the lead in Bordelaise-style wines, with his single bottling, the 2007 Dominus, a blend ironically devoid of Merlot but consisting of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot. Next to his station, Corley Family showcased their sole Yountville endeavor, the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon State Lane Vineyard.

By contrast, Hopper Creek inundated attendees with seven of their vintages, beginning with a three year vertical from the 2007 Estate Merlot to its 2009 counterpart. Though appreciably young, their 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon impressed even more than the matured 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Valerga Vineyard. And while I particularly cottoned to the 2005 Petit Verdot Massa Ranch, the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Massa Ranch left me somewhat indifferent. I would have anticipated a Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay from table partner Grgich Hills, but happily settled for their superb 2009 Petit Verdot and the 2006 Yountville Selection Cabernet Sauvignon.

Though Kapcsandy may also challenge the strictures of English orthography, I have nothing but the greatest admiration for their œnology, as evidenced here by both the 2008 Family Estate Cuvée, a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated Meritage and their proprietary blend, the 2008 Endre. I defied convention by next sampling their exotic 2009 Rosé (49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot) before elbowing over to try the 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Keever Vineyards.

Granted, I mistook John Piña for his brother Larry, but had no confusion with their outstanding 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Wolff Vineyard from their Piña Napa Valley. Not that it bore any significance, but finishing up with the 2007 The Philanthropist, a limited production estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Markham Vineyards, allowed me to move onto the next stage of my excursion on a most pleasant high note.

2) Oak Knoll

Oak Knoll is a road I frequently take to bypass downtown Na
pa and cross from Highway 29 to Silverado Trail relatively unimpeded. While I’ve long recognized Oak Knoll as a district within the City of Napa, I only recently realized it constituted its own sub-AVA. Though dominated by the vast acreage of the Trefethen family, several other highly-acclaimed wineries like Laird and Darioush also dot this terrain. And so the prospect of sampling premium wines with a complementing bounty of appetizers lured me to Bistro Don Giovanni, a familiar sight along St. Helena Highway, where the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley held its gathering.

This afternoon, eleven Oak Knoll wineries participated in this intimate tasting. For the second time today, Corley Family garnered a table and poured an array of wines from their Monticello Estate. While the 2008 Corley Reserve Estate Grown Chardonnay and the 2008 Monticello Vineyards Estate Grown Cabernet Franc showed their greatest strength, there was much to appreciate in both the 2007 Monticello Vineyards Estate Grown Merlot and the 2006 Corley Proprietary Red Wine, an opulent blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

Focused solely on its proprietary blend, Matthiasson impressed not only with their Right Bank-style 2006 Red Wine (51% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec) but also with their inimitable 2009 White Wine, a fusion of Sauvignon Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, Tocai Friulano, and Sémillon. Anchor winery Trefethen presented their own 2009 Double T Red Blend of the same Bordeaux varietals, along with the 2008 Harmony Chardonnay.

Lewis Cellars offered a typical Napa red & white selection with anything but typical results: both the 2009 Chardonnay Napa Valley and 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley proved exquisite wines. Veteran vineyardist Robert Biale produced similar across-the-board excellence with his four reds: his delightful 2008 Sangiovese, the 2008 Petite Sirah Napa Valley, and a pair of Zins—the 2009 Zinfandel Aldo’s Vineyard and the 2009 Black Chicken Zinfandel. Michael Polenske’s Blackbird showcased their interpretation of a Pomerol Merlot with the 2007 Illustration and a more balanced blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon in the 2008 Arise.

A few years back, the Ginkgo Girl had given me a subscription to Black Stallion when they opened. Regrettably, their acquisition by Diageo has diminished their viticultural output in my estimation, as the roughly passable 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon demonstrated. No such qualms about the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Erna Schein, whose hand-designed labels reminded me of the fluid style of Thomas Hart Benton. From primitivism to simplicity, the unadorned labels of Boyd belied the complexity of their 2006 Merlot and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

O’Brien Estate sports the golden calligraphy of an “O” on their label, symbolizing the lofty standards their wines meet. Following their superb 2009 Chardonnay, I moved onto an even more impressive 2008 Merlot and the complex 2007 Seduction that blended Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. The sheer apex of the afternoon came from O’Brien’s remarkable 2008 Unrestrained Reserve, a flawless wine derived from 49% Cabernet Franc, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7% Merlot.

I finished off this event (along with the pizza and the crab cakes) with John Anthony, sampling his well-crafted 2009 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc and 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve often cited Carneros vintners Tony and Joanne Truchard of Carneros in this blog, but hadn’t correlated John Anthony Truchard as their son prior to speaking with him this afternoon. As my next event was the annual Next Generation tasting at Ted Hall’s Farmstead, this revelation provided a perfect segue before I headed up to St. Helena.
3) NG: The Next Generation In Wine

OK, so technically this gathering didn’t encompass a specific AVA, but it was an invitation I couldn’t pass up. A number of trade associations focus on the promise burgeoning wine aficionados hold for the wine industry, like New Generation Growers and Vintners and my friend Bridget Raymond’s Next Generation Winemakers™. The 4th Annual gathering of The Next Generation showcased the efforts of the progeny of 18 of Napa’s leading wineries, including host Chris Hall of Long Meadow Ranch.

I suppose more seasoned industry veterans would have recognized the advantage of providing attendees with a program detailing who was in attendance, so without a printed guide, I may have overlooked some of the stations. But those with which I did visit portended great promise for the next decade or two, as the ensuing generation of these well-established wine estates move into more prominent roles.

With no prior awareness of Broman Cellars, I was happy to let daughter Lisa Broman Augustine guide me through their three current releases: the 2009 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc and the equally appealing 2005 Napa Valley Syrah and 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Certainly, I had heard of Spelletich and their new generation Spell Wines (not to be confused with Shane Finley’s superb Spell Estate), but had not met the mother-daughter team of Barbara & Kristin Spelletich before this event. I found myself particularly impressed with the 2006 Spelletich Reserve Merlot and the stout 2005 Spellport, while the splashy gradients radiating from Spell Wine’s labels hardly belied the youthful, fruit-forward approach of the 2006 Spell Wine Syrah and the 2006 Spellonu Red, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with 41% Merlot.

Over at Ray Signorello Jr.’s table, Marketing Director Ryan Shenk previewed a barrel sample of their 2009 Collaboration, a Cabernet crafted in unison by the Estate’s two winemakers, Pierre Birebent and Luc Morlet, then wowed with the bottled 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet stalwart Marston Family expanded their operations to enable their son John and daughter Elizabeth Marston Leahy to launch their own autonomous label, ElizabethJohn; here they poured their own 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, as well as the 2007 Marston Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and a new release, the 2009 Marston Family Vineyard Albion, a Sauvignon Blanc with 4% Sémillon.

One of the most established wineries here, Burgess Cellars, featured scion Steve’s contributions to their exceptional line of reds: the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, the unblended 2007 Estate Merlot, and the 2007 Syrah (10% Grenache). And continuing their family’s organic practices, Brandon and Jill deLeuze poured ZD Wine’s 2009 Pinot Noir Carneros, the 2009 Chardonnay, and a surprisingly ripe 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Brette Bartolucci, representing her family’s organic Carneros winery, Madonna Estate, instinctively poured this Italian lad a fetching 2008 Dolcetto, then followed with an equally appealing 2007 Estate Pinot Noir. I also relished her 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Riesling. Cleo Pahlmeyer poured both the 2009 Jayson Chardonnay and the 2007 Jayson Pinot Noir from her father’s second label, before impressing with the 2006 Proprietary Red, and its successive vintage, which focused even more (85% vs. 81%) on Cabernet Sauvignon.

This event provided my introduction to Rutherford’s Stewart Cellars, a serendipitous discovery as daughter Caroline escorted me through the 2008 Chardonnay Farina Vineyards, the exquisite 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley before pouring their special 2007 Nomad, their reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Another Pinot that rated a “Whoa!” in my hastily scribbled notes was the 2007 Stewart Ranch Pinot Noir from Hill Family Estate, Son Ryan Hill also treated me to the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc and their noteworthy 2008 Clarke Vineyard Syrah.

I’d met Robert Fisher a few years ago, but hadn’t tired his wines in a while; the current releases of both the 2008 Syrah Hidden Terrace Vineyard and the 2007 Coach Insignia, their signature Cabernet Sauvignon, proved just as delightful as I had recalled. I ran into Janet Viader only a couple of weeks before, but was pleased to be regaled by her brother Alan as he poured their sumptuous 2007 Viader, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc Blend. Meanwhile, there seems always to be someone from the Ceja clan at every Napa event I’ve recently attended, but it was still fun to have Dalia pour me her
2007 Carneros Pinot Noir.

Of course, no New Generation wine event in Napa could be complete with Mt. Veeder’s Yates Family, with both Whitney and Mary holding down the fort here this evening. And even though I am always charmed and smitten, I nonetheless remain thoroughly objective in my praise for their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2007 Fleur de Veeder (Merlot), and the 2007 Cheval, a stellar Cabernet Franc. I nearly lost my barely legible tasting notes after this visit, so I decided it was time that I head back to my hotel room in downtown Napa (not before stopping once again for my dose of Onion Rings across the street at Taylor’s Refresher) and ready myself to arrive on time for my 9 AM wine breakfast the following day.
(to be continued)

Potpourri or po’ poor me?

Your West Coast Oenophile ought to be making preparations right now for the most important mid-March holiday, Festà di San Giùseppe—The Feast of St. Joseph, patron saint of Italy, on the 19th. Yes, I know the beer world had its major observance a couple of days ago, but let’s just say Sostevinobile wears its true green 365¼ days a year and leave matters at that.

The truth is, I may not be able even to break out the grappa and celebrate on this Saturday. I have been swamped since January, not just with this blog but with high-level fundraising efforts and with more wine events than I can enumerate. To quote the late Warren Zevon, “poor, poor, pitiful me!” And so I am woefully behind in the installments I have promise to post here; therefore, in the interest of (vainly) essaying to catch up, let me try to condense many of my lingering February reports in potpourri fashion.

Il racconto del pavone bianco

Every now and then, I find myself feeling confined inside San Francisco and schedule a trip to someplace in the wine country, ostensibly on behalf of Sostevinobile, though, in truth, it’s simply a more of a need to decompress. And so, under the pretext of having to attend the Cheers! to Taste! monthly soirée, I headed up to Napa to visit with and sample a few wineries ahead of time.

First up, as I was scheduled to attend an event at his daughter’s acclaimed restaurant Ame in San Francisco the coming weekend, I made a quick stopover at Carl Doumani’s Quixote to visit with Anne White and taste my way through their recent releases. Given Carl’s iconoclastic nature, he rounded out his superb 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon with 12% Syrah, a rarity in Napa. As he had with Stags’ Leap Winery, the estate next door he had formerly owned, Carl’s singular focus on Petite Sirah paid off handsomely with his 2004 Quixote but truly blossomed in the 2008 Quixote Anne inadvertently opened. The only letdown here was with the 2005 Panza, another incredible wine; sadly, just before they realized how good this wine would become, they decided to uproot the Grenache and Mourvèdre vines from which it had been vinted and replant them with Syrah. So much for foresight!

I had wanted to visit with Carl’s other neighbor, Shafer, a winery I have long hoped to tour, but Doug Shafer informed me they were booked for the afternoon. Still, as I passed by the farm that abuts both these vineyards, I heard a cacophonous screeching off to my left. Recognizing the trademark caw of the regal Indian phasianid, I stopped the car and got out, only to be greeted by the pavone bianco—a rare albino peacock!—its lustrous, monochromatic plumage fully spread like the spokes of an enormous white wheel. The sight was beyond breathtaking—I could have stayed and watched for hours.

I finally managed to pry myself away, wondering whether any of the
wines I would be tasting could match the magnificence of this spectacle. Fortunately, my fears were soon allayed. I drove Silverado all the way up to Calistoga, then crisscrossed through downtown to locate the vineyard estate of Envy, where I had scheduled to met Vince Tofanelli, who crafts his wines in their barrel room. A relatively modest endeavor, Tofanelli bottles only Zinfandel and Charbono grown on his organic Tofanelli & DiGiulio Ranch, which also produces Sauvignon Musqué, Sémillon, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Grenache, Mondeuse Noire, and Cinsault. I had already tried Vince’s 2008 Zinfandel, so he took me through barrel tastings of the 2009 Zinfandel and the 2009 Charbono, a wine that portends to become quite intriguing over the next 4-5 years.

Tofanelli’s vineyard lies right beside Paoletti, the Calistoga winery next up on my agendum for the day. But before I headed over there to meet with winemaker Gabriella Gazzano, I was not about to bypass the opportunity to taste my way through Envy’s offerings. This joint venture brings together the impressive viticultural talents of Mark Carter, whose famed Restaurant 301 in Eureka may be the only restaurant in America with more wine selections than local inhabitants, and the previously heralded Nils Venge (the NV in Envy).

Tasting Room Manager Phillip Murphy led me through his entire lineup, an quartet of wines with nary a miss. we started off with the lone white selection, the crisp 2009 Sauvignon Blanc before Phillip poured another Napa contrarian, the 2008 Bee Bee’s Blend, a mélange of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petite Sirah. Individually, both the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2008 Petite Sirah showed highly compelling wines, and I gather there was no varietal Merlot for comparison.

After that, things got interesting, as we worked our way through Mark Carter’s own label (which accounts for ~.35% of the selections at Restaurant 301). First up was his in-house wine, the 2008 Table 5 Meritage. Similarly, the 2008 Hossfeld Coliseum Red Blend married Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot in an extraordinary composite. I very much liked the 2008 Revilo Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon but relished the 2008 Coliseum Block Cabernet Sauvignon even more. Keeping pace with this wine was the 2008 Truchard Vineyard Merlotand I suspect I would have been just as effusive about 2008 Coliseum Block Beckstoffer To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon, had I been able to try it! Last but not least, we delved into the 2007 The Archer, a Grenache with 5% Syrah bottled by artist Ruby Kurant under her eponymous label.

With that, I headed back over to Silverado to explore the wine caves and cellar at Paoletti, arriving at the same time as Gabriella, who doubles as winemaker for her own Rielle label in Petaluma (I would try these wines a week later at the Pacific Orchid Exposition Benefit). We started off with the 2009 Fiora Rosa d’Amore, a rosato of 31% Sangiovese, 64% Syrah, 5% Cinsault, and 2% Grenache. From there we segued. quite logically, to the 2008 Fiore Sangiovese before sampling the 2008 Bella Novello, an impressive Cabernet Sauvignon despite its syntactical incongruity. The pièce de résistance, the exquisite 2007 Nero d’Avola, one of only four bottlings of this varietal I have found in California.

After a quick tour of the caves and original sculptures Gianni had commissioned, I headed down to St. Helena for Cheers! to Taste! Usually this social takes place at a specific venue or winery, like Rubicon Estate. This time, however, the organizers tried to create a facsimile of the summertime Cheers! St Helena party, and, frankly, it proved too chaotic to attempt anything except simply to indulge in the moment and enjoy the camaraderie of the dedicated winery workers whom this group supports. Little on the program matched where the listed wineries actually were pouring, but no matter. I had sampled nearly everyone recently, except for Schweiger Vineyards, a winery I would cover more extensively a couple of weeks later at the Spring Mountain Open House.

even though I had indulged in a number of wines and hors d’œuvres at participating venues along Main Street, I still had room for an obligatory order of Onion Rings at Taylor’s Refresher before heading back to San Francisco. That in itself was pretext enough spending the day in Napa…

Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly

Just because I’m a single male of a certain age living in San Francisco doesn’t mean…you know. I mean…I’ve never even shown the slightest incarnation toward…you know. To be frank, the whole notion of…you know…makes me kinda nauseous. But I concede, when I was much, much younger, there was an occasion (or two) when I listened to show tunes. A whole album’s worth.

As an aspiring playwright, I naturally consider musical theater to be the absolute nadir of the stage and am as likely attend an Andrew Lloyd Weber production as I would order a big Mac and wash it down with White Zin. Still, deep in the recesses of my mind, I heard echoes of the oft-recorded centerpiece from Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun as I entered the Mission District’s cavernous Heart Wine on Valencia for a wine tasting fundraiser for The Proof is in the Vine: Natural Wine in California. I suppose there’s a touch of irony that the two brothers producing this documentary chose a wine bar that virtually eschews California wines, but with the usual lineup of natural wine aficionados pouring their selections, it became easy to overlook this discrepancy.

Normally, I would have expected to find Gideon Beinstock among this collection, showcasing his Clos Saron, but he made up for his absence by pouring his delightful 2005 Black Pearl (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Viognier, Roussanne) and other wines at the aforementioned Pacific Orchid Exposition the following week. His congenial demeanor was more than compensated for by the appearance of the ever-ebullient Hardy Wallace on behalf of the Natural Process Alliance, whose wines in stainless steel canteens have become familiar sights at events promoting a number of green causes. The contents of these canteens this evening started with the 2009 Pinot Gris Chalk Hill and the 2009 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast. I haven’t quite figured out why organic Sauvignon Blanc just seems to work better than other organic varietals, and the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley poured here was no exception. The wild card of the evening, though was the whim of the wheel 2009 Sunhawk, a co-fermented filed blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier, a splendid wine one could easily quaff six night a week.

Their literature states they grow a “field blend of Tempranillo, Syrah, Tannat, Grenache, Negroamaro and Cabernet Sauvignon,” certainly a wine I would be more than interested in tasting, but this evening La Clarine Farm only poured their 2009 Syrah Sumu Kaw Vineyard. Nonetheless, this biodynamic bottling proved quite a compelling introduction to this impassioned Somerset winery. Needing no introduction this evening were Tracey and Jared Brandt, though daughter Lily Grace, born March 10, was still in utero for the event. Her expectant parents poured a representative selection of their Donkey & Goat viticultural offspring, including the 2009 Untended Chardonnay Anderson Valley, the 2009 Brosseau Vineyard Chardonnay, their always marvelous 2008 Fenaughty Vineyard Syrah, and the newest bottling of their selective Rhône blend, the 2009 Four Thirteen, a GMS + Counoise.

I’d met their fellow Berkeley winemaker Steve Edmunds years before the Brandts had probably contemplated starting a label and have long enjoyed both his Edmunds St. John wines and eclectic Organoleptician newsletter. To be honest, however, there was a period during the early 2000s when I felt his wines had notably slipped. This evening, it was quite pleasurable to see him back on track with his 2009 Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir, one of the few true versions of this compelling varietal produced in California, along with the 2009 Wylie Syrah, and his own GMS blend, the 2009 Rocks and Gravel Dry Creek Valley grown at Unti Vineyards.

The evening’s great revelation, though, had to have come from Old World Winery. My good friend Darek Trowbridge seemed almost surprised to find me at the event; on the other hand, I hadn’t realized he was such an orthodox adherent to natural winemaking principles. In any case, it made for an interesting context to resample many of his wines that I had tried over the summer, starting with his 2008 Sauvignon Blanc.

Darek didn’t have a Chardonnay on hand, so we moved straight to his red selections with the 2006 Pinot Noir Sterling Family Vineyard, a wine that whetted your thirst for the 2007 vintage (as many 2006s will). The 2005 Cabernet Two Rock Block Bei du Rocchi Vineyard proved just as delectable, while the 2005 Zinfandel Laughlin Vineyard stood as a pinnacle of the evening. With that, he told me, “I have my Arborio under the table…”

Now, I’ve known quite a few winemakers who produce their own olive oil, raise cattle, or even maintain apiaries, but growing superfine rice was a first. As he brought out a bottle of his yet-unreleased 2008 Fulton Foderol, I finally clued into what he was saying.


This classic Risotto Milanese is made with Arborio, not Abouriou!

The rather obscure varietal Abouriou, also known as Early Gamay, is planted on a single acre in California at the Gibson-Martinelli Vineyard. My research shows that winemaker Steve Canter used to source these grapes for his defunct Luddite Vineyards, which bottled their own Abouriou Gibson-Martinelli Vineyard from 2001-05. After Steve took on the role of winemaker for Quivira, he abandoned this project, making the Abouriou available to Darek, who, coincidentally, is a member of the Martinelli clan. His forthcoming bottling blends the Abouriou with 50% Zinfandel, making for a distinctive wine that shows similarities to Lagrein. In any case, a complete revelation to me.

After the tasting, we stopped by Beretta for a late dinner. In addition to the obligatory pizza, we ordered a side dish of the Baccalà Mantecato, a Venetian interpretation of this centuries-old Italian staple, whipped into a delicate mash with potatoes, cream and olive oil. Incredibly, even with growing up in an Italian family, Darek had never tried salted cod before. Somehow my previous ignorance of Abouriou seemed mitigated.
To be continued
Two down and twelve to go. I
still have to report on Affairs of the Vine’s Pinot Summit, the first San Francisco tasting from the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance, and nine appellation tastings at Première Napa! And I ought not give short shrift to the Pacific Orchid Expo, but as with Cheers! to Taste!, there was little new ground here for Sostevinobile. True, I did find much to like in all five of Rielle’s wines: both the 2007 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay and the 2008 Sonoma County Chardonnay; her 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley and the 2008 Sonoma County Zinfandel, as well as Gabriella’s proprietary 2006 Sonoma County Red Wine, a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon and 36% Syrah. I was also intrigued by my first taste of the 2005 Estate Pinot Noir from Casa Carneros, though disappointed to learn that the 2002 Merlot Las Loma Vineyard will be their last bottling of this varietal. And while I’d be remiss in not citing my discovery of the excellent 2005 Sonoma Valley Syrah from Petrali, as well as the 2005 Sonoma Valley Blythleigh, their special blend of Syrah, Viognier, Mourvèdre, and Petite Sirah, my presence at this affair was intended to be purely social, and so my summary will end at that.
Tax preparations are looming. Other remaining tasks for Sostevinobile seem innumerable. Perhaps it is best to put this post aside and find some grappa after all…

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.

Innumerable enumeration? Enumerable inumbration?

Once there was an elephant,
Who tried to use the telephant

No! No! I mean an elephone

Who tried to use the telephone

—Laura E. Richards

Try to do the math. 342 wineries ÷ (2 days x 5 hrs/day) = (34 wineries/hr. ÷ 60 min/hr.)− 1 = 1.7543 min/winery. With no bathroom breaks. Forget swill & spit—there’s not even enough time to bring the glass to your lips!

On the plus side, Your West Coast Oenophile is happy to report that Family Winemakers of California seems to have finally settled comfortably into its August slot. But even if they had brought back the Aidells Sausage station and pumped me up with protein, there was no way I could visit even half the wineries in attendance.

My must-see list for Sostevinobile ran to around 98 wineries, which meant just a shade over 6 minutes with every prospect (again, assuming indefatigable bladder control), provided I didn’t spend a moment with any of the folks I’d already befriended over the years. In other words, still a Herculean feat to accomplish. And so, as always, I strove to do the best that I could.

ZAP, Rhône Rangers, Pinot Days, T.A.P.A.S.—by now, I am sure I have exhausted every possible description of a large-scale wine tasting at Fort Mason’s Festival Pavilion. All I can add is an enumeration of the innumerable wineries in attendance that I succeeded in sampling. Or is it an inumbration of the enumerable?

Arriving from Healdsburg Sunday afternoon, I attempted to survey the room and plot my plan of attack. Halfway down the first row, however, a “Hello, Marc!” drew me over to Silkwood’s table owner/winemaker John Monnich, whose Petite Sirahs are a mainstay of P.S. I Love You, treated me to a sample of his NV Red Duet, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend primarily from his 2007 vintages. Over at the next table, Santa Barbara’s Silver Wines displayed a deft touch with blending, both with their 2005 Syrah-Mourvèdre Larner Vineyard and a unreleased, non-vintage I Tre Figli, a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and 5% Cabernet Franc.And belying the complexity of their wines, the π-adorned Simple Math Cellars derived a winning formula for their first Family Winemakers appearance, with their 2008 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mayacamas Mountains that portends to age logarithmically.

I only managed to taste their 2005 Barbera Napa Valley, but the eclectic Sunset Cellars still made quite a calculable impression. Similarly, Alexander Valley’s Stuhlmuller Vineyards featured a 2008 Zinfandel (with 23% Petite Sirah) that allowed me to extrapolate on the general quality of all their wines. I did, however, dawdle a bit longer at the Stonehedge table, sampling their sweeter wines, the 2008 Terroir Select Gewürztraminer and the 2009 Muscat Canelli, as well as the 2007 Terroir Select Malbec.

Brentwood’s Tamayo Family Vineyards offered a 2009 Malbec Ryland’s Block and a likable 2009 Viognier Bailey that preceded indulging in their Port-style 2008 J. Jaden Red Dessert Wine, a Syrah derivative named, as are all their Signature Series wines, for one of their algebraic subset of grandchildren. The urge to become fruitful and multiply has also struck Ackerman Family Vineyards, previously a single Cabernet venture, with the release of their 2007 Alavigna Tosca, a Super Tuscan blend of their Cabernet Sauvignon with 40% Sangiovese from Luna Vineyards. And while Ancient Peaks has never positioned itself as a one-wine venture, their own proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, the 2007 Oyster Ridge impressed, as always.

Blue Moon Wines now bills themselves as ADS Wines, though after perusing their website, I’m tempted to refer to them as ADD; nonetheless, their seeming lack of distinguishable focus did not prevent me from appreciating their NV Rare Red, a Valdiguié from the Napa Valley. I had similar trouble getting a handle on the permutations of Azari Winery/Corkscrew, but found their 2007 Corkscrew Syrah more approachable their sweetish 2009 Chardonnay. Fortunately, I was immediately able to recalibrate with the numeric scaling of B Cellars, a Napa label devoted to blends calibrated by the Brix of their grapes.The white 2009 Blend 23 combines Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Viognier; the 2006 Blend 24 mixes Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Sangiovese. The linear progression to the 2006 Blend 25 brings a mélange of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, while the single varietal 2006 Blend 26 marries fruit from Napa’s To Kalon, Dr. Crane & Stagecoach vineyards—superior, I thought, to the undiluted 2006 Dr. Crane Cabernet Sauvignon they also poured.

Despite being recruited to the Math Honors program at Dartmouth, I quit after one semester with the most soporific instructor I had ever encountered and switched to the Classics Department, where my comprehension of ancient Greek and Latin plays into my professional endeavors almost yearly. Of course, I didn’t need to master the Ionic dialect to recognize the literary references in Arger-Martucci’s labels, the highly aromatic 2008 Iliad, a blend of Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, and Muscat, nor the 2005 Odyssey Estate Reserve, a classic Napa Meritage that complements their varietal 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Italian being the direct evolution of Latin, I suppose August Ridge could have countered by calling their wines Aeneid or the Golden Ass, but the owners refrained from the pretense of allusion and instead elected to bestow simple varietal names on their 2009 Arneis, the 2007 Sangiovese, the very likable 2007 Nebbiolo, and a rustic 2008 Barbera.

How Bennet Lane construes the names for its wines seems anything but formulaic; then again, neither were their stellar Cab-centric vintages: the new 2008 Turn 4 Cabernet Sauvignon, equally impressive bottlings of the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2006 Maximus (a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Malbec blend), and their standout, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. My observations on Beau Vigne would mirror this, as I didn’t allow the nomenclature to befuddle my appreciation of their 2008 Persuasion (Chardonnay) nor of their overtly labeled 2008 Cult (Cabernet Sauvignon).

Is 35? Sonoma’s B Wise Vineyards displays convincing proof with its 2006 Trios, a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot, and Petite Verdot, while their 2005 Brion Cabernet Sauvignon offered the singular complexity of a pure varietal expression. Calistoga’s Barlow Vineyards sampled a more orthodox blend of four Bordeaux varietals, the 2006 Barrouge, which straddled the middle ground between their 2006 Merlot and the slightly more impressive 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. And though Carrefour holds no mathematical significance, their range of varietals equated to 2005 Estate Merlot 2006 Estate Cabernet Franc ∪ 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cartograph echoes a distinct discipline with obvious dependency on trigonometry and other branches of mathematics, but for the purposes of Family Winemakers solely refers to the three vertices of this Healdsburg winery’s vinification: the 2008 two Pisces Pinot Noir, the exceptional 2008 Split Rock Pinot Noir, and their somewhat anomalous white counterpoint, the 2009 Floodgate Vineyard Gewürztraminer. A more southerly interpolation of this latter varietal came from the 2009 Monterey County Gewürztraminer that Banyan Wines vinted, along with their new 2009 The Guardian Chardonnay. Meanwhile, their tasting room cohorts. Branham Estate, showcased two intriguing blends, the 2007 Jazz, a mix that subordinates Cabernet Sauvignon, along with Syrah and Petite Sirah, to Zinfandel, and the 2007 Señal, that similarly proportions the same varietals from Branham’s Rockpile vineyard, as well as their 2006 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.

The center of the California Delta does not fall within any recognized AVA, but Bixler Vineyards grows a number of varietals there on its Union Island Farms. Admittedly, I was underwhelmed by their economical 2009 Union Island White and 2009 Union Island Red blends, but their splendid $12 2009 Union Island Pinot Grigio proved (perpetuating the math theme here) an absolute value. Another rather obscure designation, Capay Valley, furnishes the Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Mourvèdre that comprise the 2008 Open Range Proprietary Red Blend from Casey Flat Ranch, based in Tiburon. And while Anderson Valley is no revelation to most wine enthusiasts, headquarters for Pinot specialist Black Kite Cellars turned out to be a mere 1.5 blocks from my front door in Pacific Heights. (I restricted myself to sampling only their superb 2008 Pinot Noir Stony Terrace and the 2008 Pinot Noir Redwoods’ Edge, along with the more generic 2007 Kite’s Rest Pinot Noir, as owner Rebecca Birdsall Green invited me to join her private tasting the next day of every Pinot they had made since 2003!)

As always, my efforts to make new friends at Family Winemakers brings me into contact with numerous old friends who insist I taste their latest and greatest (not that this is any sort of burden), but in my ever-futile attempts to pare these blog entries to a reasonable length, let me list these in as a verbal depiction of a mathematical : Andrew Quady’s NV Deviation, an Orange Muscat infused with damiana and scented geranium; Andrew Geoffrey’s unfailingly amazing 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon; my favorite 2007 Graciano from Bokisch Vineyards; both the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon I’d previously tasted at Joseph Family Vineyards barbecue; Lava Cap’s 2008 Barbera and 2007 Zinfandel; Ty Caton’s superb 2008 Ballfield Syrah: his co-tenant Muscardini’s Super Tuscan, the 2007 Tesoro; the 2006 Sangiovese (where was your Dolcetto?) from Pietra Santa; the new 2009 Gewürztraminer (where was your Blanc de Pinot Noir?) from Siduri; the omnipresent JoAnne and Tony Truchard with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon; and Steve and Marilee Shaffer of the newly-emboldened Urban Legend with their 2008 Ironworks, a blend of Nebbiolo and Sangiovese.

I might have enumerated Bill Frick among these members of this set, but I lingered at their table long enough to make my way through the 3 C’s of his quintessential Rhône varietals: the 2006 Cinsault Dry Creek Valley, the 2005 Carignane Mendocino County, and the 2007 Estate Counoise Owl Hill Vineyard, as well as his more whimsical 2007 Côtes-du-Dry Creek,a blend of Grenache and Syrah (had I known I’d be adopting a theme for this entry, I’d have opted for his two North Coast red Rhône blends, the C² and the C³)! Bill does not bottle the Rhône “varietal du jour,” but my friends at Rock Wall (which does) steered me to the table for Paso Robles’ Lone Madrone, which treated me to a taste of their 2005 Tannat. Another grape that is demanding attention in California made its Family Winemakers debut with the new release of the 2009 Grüner Veltliner from Dancing Coyote.

My next summation covers wineries that will likely not prove revelations to my Sostevinobile readers, but their renown proved too alluring to bypass along the way to my appointed destinations. Jeff Mathy & Karl Lehmann’s Vellum Wine Craft, a single bottling venture like Andrew Geoffrey, reinforced their considerable repute with their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from the soon-to-be certified Coombsville AVA; another Coombsville denizen, Pahlmeyer, gained considerable fame for its 1991 Chardonnay in the movie Disclosure but flourished this afternoon with a Meritage, the 2006 Napa Valley Proprietary Red; another Chardonnay movie star, Château Montelena (Bottle Shock), staked its claim with the 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon; my personal pedantry aside, Littorai may not garner acclaim for their classical scholarship (Latin for “shore” is litus, litoris), but biodynamically farmed 2007 The Haven Pinot Noir proved exemplary of the many storied Chardonnays and Pinots they produce; Carneros pioneer Kent Rasmussen showed a delightful 2007 Pinot Noir and his 2007 Esoterica Pete Sirah; and also from Carneros, Robert Stemmler poured its acclaimed 2007 Pinot Noir Nugent Vineyard.

Writing this blog is a lot like Fermat’s Last Theorem (an + bn  cn when n>2), an elegant, if not empirical, premise that took over 200 years to prove. I plot out these entries with every intention of being concise, but somehow my fidelity to every possible permutation means I must labor ad infinitum. Onward, onward!

My linear progression takes us next to Calstar Cellars, a name many wineries must feel could be applicable to them, whose œnological agility seemed most pronounced in their 2007 Alta Zinfandel Cardanini Vineyard and its companion 2007 ZaZa Zin grown in El Dorado County. Next up, Charnu Winery derives its name from a French term for “fleshy,” a more than apt description of the small production 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and its stunning predecessor, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, both pure expressions of the varietal from Napa Valley. Likewise, Atlas Peak’s Cobblestone Vineyards dazzled with their 2004 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon.

 A good pun, whether expressed verbally or algebraically, is always a good pun,and in addition to their winemaking prowess, Napa’s Crane Brothers skillfully eschew calling their blends Niles and Frasier, opting instead for the 2007 Brodatious (a mélange of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) and the 2007 Bromance (a Port-style Syrah dessert wine), while also pouring a straightforward 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and their trademark 2006 Syrah. Meanwhile, the rest of Family Winemakers’ C-section included Croze’s 2006 Smith Wooton Cabernet Franc, Corté Riva’s equally-appealing 2006 Cabernet Franc and perfunctory 2006 Petite Sirah, an excellent 2007 Syrah and amiable 2008 Rosé of Syrah from Coastview Vineyard, and the debut of Paul Hobbs’ new CrossBarn label that contrasted the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon with his eponymous 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.

The addition of Dragonette Cellars to the Family Winemakers roster meant an obligatory stop for Sostevinobile, but sampling their 2008 Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard, along with their 2007 Syrah Santa Ynez Valley and the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Santa Ynez Valley, proved hardly a chore. Healdsburg’s Dogwood Cellars matched up nicely with their own 2007 Dry Creek Syrah and a 2007 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, while truly flourishing with both their 2006 Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2006 Mendocino Meritage, a 1:1 Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend. And with four distinct points, Donati Family Vineyards of Templeton defined their particular space, highlighted by the 2007 Estate Pinot Blanc Paicines, their Bordelaise-style 2007 Claret, the unblended 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2006 Ezio, their marqué Meritage driven by Merlot.

Decades after I studied (and excelled at) calculus, I am still hard-pressed to explain why e, a mathematical constant roughly equivalent to 2.718218285904523536, forms the base of the natural logarithm, but with no E’s from which to cull for the remaining wineries that I covered, I can refrain from having to contrive a forced segue. Indeed, my tasting notes bypass several letters until I neared the middle of the H section with Hearthstone, another Paso Robles winery that stakes its claim primarily with Rhône varietals, including the 2007 Pearl, a Roussanne/Viognier blend, and a superb 2007 Grenache. And even though I did manage it to taste Ispiri’s 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Maylena, their Alexander Valley Merlot, I will resist any temptation to make a √-1 = ι correlation with the letter I.

Way back when, square roots introduced me (as I’m sure it did most people) to the concept of irrational numbers—those endless sequences that defy any discernable pattern of regularity. And perhaps I should draw inspiration from this phenomenon, randomly selecting any order for the wineries I assay. And yet the next four wineries I plucked from my list share the bond of making their Family Winemakers debut in 2010. Two of these ventures featured well-seasoned winemakers whose craft was well apparent. Glen Ellen’s Korbin Kameron brought on board Bob Pepi to lend his deft touch to their Meritage, the 2007 Estate Blend Cuvée Kristin, while Tandem’s Greg La Follette established his eponymous label with his 2008 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and an extraordinary 2008 Sangiacomo Pinot Noir. The other two endeavors came from unfamiliar winemakers; nonetheless, Olin Wines made a strong debut with their 2006 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, while Kristian Story showed considerable range with his 2006 Soirée Estate Meritage, the 2006 Rhapsodie Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Petit Verdot he simply calls the 2007 RED Special Vineyard.

Do Parallel Wines ever meet? With all deference to Euclid’s Fifth Postulate, renowned winemaker Philippe Melka proves he warrants the hyperbolic praise for his œnological skills with his 2008 Russian River Chardonnay, an intense 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and the evolving 2006 Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Also doing its part to maintain Napa’s repute was Maroon Wines, with seasoned winemaker Chris Corley excelling with his 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville. And although Riboli Family Wines has been headquartered in Los Angeles since 1917, their premium bottlings now herald from the Napa Valley, spearheaded by their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford. I found their 2006 San Simeon Cabernet Sauvignon just as enticing, while the 2008 Maddelena Pinot Gris and the 2005 San Simeon Petite Sirah also impressed.

Few of my Sostevinobile know that I do assign a quantitative score to each of the wines I commend; one can always track down another published source to obtain wine ratings (should you feel that determines a wine’s quality). I prefer simply to expose my followers to the diverse bounty of wines produced in our midst and allow them to make their own determination—a road map, if you will, not a scorecard. Even my thematic links serve but as a literary conceit; nonetheless I found that both Mitchella and Vihuela Winery shared common bond in their Paso Robles location, consistent quality, and distinctive nomenclature. The former also focused on Rhône derivatives, first with their 2007 Syrah, followed by their unapologetic 2008 Shameless, a GMS blend. Vihuela offered a euphonic 2007 Concierto del Rojo, a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Petit Verdot, their 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (tempered with 20% Petit Verdot), and the Syrah-based 2007 Incendio, a wine that is set to music.

Peter Paul Wines is a serious viticultural endeavor, not the remaining ⅔ of a popular folk group; though far from mellifluous to pronounce, their 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Mill Station Road drank euphoniously. And juxtaposed here purely by coincidence, Mara Winery harmonized its range of vintages with the 2009 Whitegrass (a Sauvignon Blanc), their 2006 Zinfandel Dolinsek, and the proprietary 2008 Syrage, a Syrah rounded with traditional Meritage varietals.

Counting down to my finish, I very much liked the 2006 Dry Creek Syrah from Peña Ridge. Plymouth’s Sobon Estate struck gold, metaphorically, with their 2007 Syrah. Thorne Wines from Buellton successfully staked its reputation with the single wine it produces, the 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills. And Tulip Hill pleased the palate with their Lake County bottling of the 2008 Zinfandel Dorn Vineyard.

A number of variables still remained. I opted for Yorba Wines’ chilled 2009 Touriga Rosé. And a much-needed touch of sweetness came from Voss Vineyards2005 Botrytis Sauvignon Blanc. In contrast, Napa-based Vitus focused on more mainstream bottlings: the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and 2007 Merlot, along with their notable 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. And X Winery (the name represents the letter, not the Roman numeral or multiplication sign) summed up the tasting with its 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, alongside two proprietary blends: the 2006 Amicus (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot) and the 2008 Red X (Syrah, Tempranillo, Grenache, Zinfandel).
In closing, allow me to enumerate once more. Two days. Ten hours. 342 wineries. 1700 professional attendees each day (plus an untabulated head count for Sunday’s public portion). My personal tally: at least 76 wineries visited and over 155 wines sampled.
Don’t get me wrong. Family Winemakers is a wonderful conclave, one I have enjoyed long before I launched Sostevinobile. Now that I am attending in a trade capacity, it poses an invaluable resource for the wine program I am building. And while I would not go as far as labeling the numbers stifling, the event is far too large derive any notion of atmosphere or experience beyond the marathon of tasting as many wines as can be fit into the timeframe. And so, in order to depict the enormity of the experience, my craft as a Creative Writer must defer to the mathematical training I long ago abandoned. Word count: 3315.