Category Archives: Gewürztraminer

How you gonna keep him down on the Pharm?

2016-07-30 15.16.40It was high time Your West Coast Oenophile venture outside my frequent stomping grounds and undertake some serious exploration of the joints—I mean, wineries—that I have vetted for Sostevinobile primarily through trade tastings in San Francisco and on Treasure Island. And so I threw caution to the wind and risked upping my per-mile bracket with Metromile and headed north beyond the confines of Sonoma and Napa for the other regions that constitute the vast North Coast AVA: Lake and Mendocino counties.

After several years’ worth of invites, I finally capitulated and agreed to attend the annual picnic and members meeting for the Redwood Forest Foundation (RFFI) in Ukiah. This foundation represents a laudable effort to preserve not only much of the old growth redwoods throughout California but to protect the wildlife that inhabit these preserves. Naturally, the focus of their efforts aligns synergistically with the sustainable aims of Sostevinobile, but I am not entirely sanguine about the use of cap & trade carbon credits to offset their budget deficit. Global warming has now reached the point where merely maintaining current level of carbon emissions—which, in effect, is what carbon credits facilitates—rather than radically reducing them, is not sufficient to offset the pending catastrophic impact from our profligate industrial consumption.

In spite of such conundrums, Mendocino still can lay valid claim to its self-professed accolade as “The Greenest AVA in America.” Many may claim this is a double-entendre, and yet my only encounter with any semblance of cannabis culture was a sign at the gateway to Hopland. There was no indication, however, that they operated a tasting room.

No dearth of visible tasting rooms existed for the numerous wineries that have sprung up in county since I first visited with Mendocino’s first varietal producer, the late John Parducci. Before locating the Redwood Forest picnic, I fittingly managed to squeeze a visit with Rich Parducci’s McNab Ridge, a winery I had featured a few years ago at a tasting I designed for NAAAP-SF. As eclectic in his tastes as his grandfather, Rich bottles an extraordinary array of organically grown selections that span from a strikingly appealing 2014 French Colombard to his admirable rendition of the 2013 Pinotage. I was quite taken with McNab Ridge’s exemplary 2013 Primitivo, but still managed to spare enough room to sample their 2013 John Parducci Signature Series Port, an opulent blend of Touriga Nacional (55%), Tinta Roriz (16%), Touriga Francesca (10%), Tinta Barroca (10%), and Tinta Cão (9%).

Time constraints dictated that I cut short my visit with McNab Ridge and depart Hopland’s quaint confines for the aforementioned luncheon, aptly situated amid a redwood grove at Nelson Family Vineyards. As these wines are not commonly distributed beyond subscribers and visitors to the tasting room, I took the opportunity to sample through their roster after the RFFI conclave. Starting with their NV Brut, one of Mendocino’s signature expressions, I segued to a delightfully light 2014 Pinot Grigio. Nelson’s deft touch truly manifested itself next in their 2013 Viognier, a well-balanced expression of the grape that proved neither austere nor cloying.

Creative minds most certainly lurked behind their 2015 Barn Blend, a unique blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel and Viognier. More traditional, the 2013 Top Row Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, an intensified wine crafted from a prized block on their estate vineyard. Finally, Nelson revealed its true virtuosity in their exceptional 2013 Zinfandel, a dense, jammy wine that long lingered on the palate.

I next veered southward back to Hopland, where I spent a most enjoyable hour visiting with César Toxqui at the tasting room he maintains alongside Bruotocao’s. His affable 2013 Muscat Canelli prefaced 2014 Rosé of Zinfandel, a wine most definitely not to be confused with the much-maligned White Zin concoction that ruled the 1980s. I found his 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley appealing, his 2010 Grenache decidely more so. Here again, the 2007 Immigrant Zinfandel reigned supreme, closely followed by a 2013 Zinfandel Dry Creek, sourced from across the county line.

César also poured a noteworthy single vineyard Cabernet, his 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Bloom Vineyards. His trademark, however, stems from his non-vintage blends, the Ruthless Red, a mélange of 80% Zinfandel, 10% Syrah, and 10% Merlot , dedicated to his wife, and the Heirloom Cinco, a solera now in its fifth cuvée, produced from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Viognier.

Following an a raucous evening indulging in all two of downtown Ukiah’s hot spots, I rose early the next day, squeezed in a few laps across the motel pool, and headed out to the foot of Anderson Valley for their annual Barrel Tasting Weekend. Before I reached the festival, I popped into Simaine, an bootstrap winery/tasting room housed in a light industrial complex where my GPS steered me in my quest to locate Germain-Robin. Owner Vic Símon graciously received me just as he prepared to open for the day and opened a selection of his current offerings, starting with his personal favorite, the 2012 Sangiovese. Other wine, designated as Reserve, included the 2010 Petite Sirah and a 2010 Carignane, both of which proved balanced and approachable. His final selection, a Bordeaux blend with the rather elusive name, the 2011 Virisda.

After departing Simaine, the scenic 17-mile expanse of Hwy. 253 wound across the county to Boonville, where I collected my credentials at Philo Ridge’s tasting room. I had hoped to surprise Fred Buonanno with my long-delayed visit but was informed he was still nursing the after-effects of his 60th birthday celebration the night before. Nonetheless, I managed to soldier on and taste through a number of his selections. Having recently sampled several of their Pinot Noir selections at June’s Taste of Mendocino, I opted to taste through an array of white varietals, starting with a lean 2014 Chardonnay Haiku Ranch.Seventeen syllables later, I moved onto the 2014 Pinot Gris Nelson Vineyard, a fresh, tank-fermented rendition of the grape. Also, tank-fermented: the floral yet delicate 2014 Viognier Nelson Ranch, a perfect white for what would prove a scorchingly hot afternoon.

Several Mendocino growers have collaborated over the past several years on a bottling a regional proprietary wine they call Coro. In keeping with this Zinfandel-focused blend, Philo Ridge bottles an intriguing mélange they call Vino di Mendocino. Currently in its fourth release, this wine marries Zinfandel with Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Carignane. The wine was delightful but the burden of becoming a sexagenarian had evidently taken its toll, so I abandoned the notion of waiting for Fred to appear and moseyed onto the next stop.

It was rather surprising to find a town as quaint and remote as Boonville dotted with so many satellite tasting rooms; I would have thought such a laid-back rural setting more conducive to onsite estate visits. Nonetheless, it proved rather convenient to meander between premises and sampling their offerings. Having tried Seebass Family Wines at numerous tastings over the years, I correlated their wines with the impressive Bavarian coat of arms that highlights their label. The tasting room proved to be anything but ponderous, manned by Brigitte Seebass’ daughter Michelle Myrenne Willoughby. Michelle ably navigated five different parties that had bellied up to her bar, yet still found time to attend to my personal discretion. We started with her 2015 Family Chardonnay, a bold wine, like all of Seebass’ selections, sourced from estate-grown, hand-harvested, hand-pruned, sustainably farmed fruit. Quelling my thirst from the 95° F heat, the delightfully chilled 2015 Fantasie proved a compelling Rosé of Grenache.

Varietal bottlings constitute a distinct strength at Seebass, starting with the 2012 Grand Reserve Merlot and punctuated by the exceptionally well-rounded 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel, honed from 100+ year old vines. Nonetheless, I also greatly enjoyed their 2012 Romantik, a blend of Syrah and Grenache, along with their NV Mysteriös, a proprietary mix from their 2011 & 2012 harvests, combining Grenache, Syrah, Merlot and Zinfandel.

Though certainly a pleasant wine, admittedly the most striking aspect of the Mysteriös was the artistic design of it label, a reproduction of one of Michelle’s late father’s paintings, a geometric design that echoed the prints of op art’s grandfather, renowned Hungarian-French master Victor Vasarely. Coincidentally, I bounced over next to Boonville’s John Hanes Fine Art, a modern gallery that shares space with Harmonique. I would like to think the hermaphroditic statuary that adorned the entrance to this facility dissuaded me from partaking of the various Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs for which Harmonique is prized, but, in truth, Harmonique’s absence from the roster of the Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting precluded my visiting.

And so I ambled across the street to the Boonville Hotel, the onetime home of the legendary New Boonville Hotel, a restaurant that had turned this area into a culinary mecca. In the courtyard, I found Paul and Valerie Gordon of Halcón Vineyards, an intrepid couple who sojourn weekly from their Silicon Valley home to produce Mendocino wine. Their al fresco tasting in the hotel’s garden court included a slew of exemplary wines, starting with their 2013 Prado, a classic Rhône blend of Roussanne and Marsanne. From there, we progressed to the 2014 Rosé, a deft melding of Grenache and Syrah, then segued onto the 2014 Alturas Estate Syrah, classically cofermented with a scintilla of Viognier. Opting for a pure expression of the varietal, Paul poured his 2014 Tierra Petite Sirah, a wine quite reflective of its Yorkville Highlands pedigree. His coup de grâce most certainly, however,was the 2014 Wentzel Vineyard Pinot Noir, an exceptionally well-balanced wine, neither light nor ponderous, a blend with 35% whole cluster that clung to the palate ever so delightfully.

Following this stop, I backpedaled from the center of downtown Boonville to visit with Joe Webb at Foursight. This boutique operation has long stood as one of Mendocino’s premier Pinot Noir labels, but first I had to try the refreshingly chilled 2013 Charles Vineyard Sémillon, a most pleasant, understated wine. Though it may be a noble experiment, I confess that I did not cotton to the 2013 Unoaked Pinot Noir, a simplified expression of the grape that struck me as overly sour. In contrast, Joe’s signature wine, the 2014 Paraboll Pinot Noir presented a geometric leap over the Unoaked, a truly exquisite wine that attested to Anderson Valley’s rightful place in California’s Pinot hierarchy.

Onward, returned to my car and headed north to Elke, the first onsite tasting room on the trail. The dirt road, clapboard barn, unpretentious landscaping embodied just the kind of ramshackle setting I had envisioned before I’d arrived, and while owner Mary Elke was not on hand this afternoon, I still enjoyed a most pleasant session, sipping through a welcomely-chilled NV Sparkling Brut crafted from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I found myself equally pleased—and refreshed—by both the 2014 Chardonnay Anderson Valley and a candy-like 2014 Rosé of Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. For balance, I finished with their 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Lake County, a heterodoxical selection for the afternoon.

Creeping back onto the highway, I next dropped in on Witching Stick, another understated operation that belied the sophistication of its œnology. Owner Van Williamson began my tasting with a straightforward yet excellent 2014 Durrell Vineyard Chardonnay, then moved to the delightful albeit atypical 2014 Carignano Rosato. After these chilled wines, I delighted in an enticing 2012 Valenti Vineyard Syrah before delving into Van’s Pinot lineup. The 2013 Gianoli Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2013 Perli Vineyard Pinot Noir proved equally compelling, but both were clearly outshone by the lushness of the 2012 Gianoli Vineyard Pinot Noir. But the pinnacle at this stop turned out to be the 2013 Fashauer Vineyard Zinfandel, a deep, complex , jammy wine.

Across the street, Phil T. G. Baxter welcomed me like an old friend to the intimate confines of his eponymous tasting room. As with Witching Stick, the tasting centered on his lineup of Pinot Noir, starting with an acutely focused 2013 Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir. I found both the 2013 Valenti Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2013 Langley Vineyard Pinot Noir on par with the 2013s from across the street, while the 2012 Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir once again underscored the superior quality of this vintage. Phil concluded our visit with a sample of his 2013 Valenti Vineyard Syrah, a perfectly amiable wine that complement a perfectly amiable setting.

I have often expressed my personal qualms about engaging in Mergers & Acquisitions, my original role in the wine industry and a practice I’ve recently resumed on behalf of Sostevinobile. One of my favorite Mendocino labels has long been Greenwood Ridge, and I had hoped to visit with Allan Green in Philo, but the winery had been acquired back in March by Diane and Ken Wilson and folded into the mini-empire they have quietly cobbled together in Sonoma and Mendocino. Though Allan will be sorely missed, the new regime has nonetheless stayed the course, including the winery’s focus on organic farming and winemaking; the wines I sampled here, however, were produced under the former ownership, so assaying the perpetuation of these practices remains undetermined. Nevertheless, I cottoned immensely to all three wines I tasted, starting with the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, the first wine to open my eyes to the full potential organic winemaking. Complementing this indubitable bottling, the 2015 Riesling retained just enough sweetness to taste refined, not cloying. Rounding out my visit, the whimsically-labelled 2013 Hundred Point Pinot Noir, named for a promontory along the Mendocino Coast where 100 ships have wrecked, bore fitting testament to Allan’s legacy.

Not quite Helen of Troy (was this the face that launched a thousand ships?), but close. My combined 18 years’ inculcation in Greek & Latin literature begs for allusion as often as I can cite it. As such, I need confess the allure of Lula Cellars stemmed not merely from the beauty of its wines but the striking pulchritude of their delightful hostess. Kacy managed, despite my overt distraction, to steer me through Lula’s lineup with considerable aplomb, commencing her tasting session with an exceptional 2014 Dry Gewürztraminer, a varietal that for many years characterized Mendocino for me. The 2015 Rosato displayed a delight derivation of a Pinot Noir, while the 2013 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir simply resounded. Rounding out this visit, the 2014 Mariah Vineyard Zinfandel provided a rich dénouement to a most productive afternoon.

Only my tasting day was far from over. Resolved to head back to San Francisco along the leisurely coastal route, I continued up toward along Route 128 toward the town of Albion, below which it interests with Highway 1. To my great surprise, nearly all the wineries along this road remained open until 7pm, a far cry from Napa and Sonoma, where 4:30pm seems the general rule of thumb. And so I abruptly veered into the parking lot for Domaine Anderson, the new branch of Roederer Estate dedicated to still wines. I had first encountered these wines at San Francisco’s Pinot Days, where Wine Club Manager Jennie Dallery had apparently drawn the short straw and was relegated to the antechamber at Bespoke, along with a handful of other wineries forced to compete against subway-level acoustics. I had promised her I would visit soon and discuss these wines in an audible setting, but was chagrined to learn she had left the premises a mere five minutes before my arrival. Nonetheless, I made the best of my visit and sampled both the 2014 Estate Chardonnay and the notably lemony 2013 Dach Chardonnay, both complements to the designate Pinot Noirs I had tried in San Francisco, before continuing my trek to an old familiar, Handley Cellars.

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve sampled (and enjoyed) these wines at tastings throughout the year since 2008 and have even attended a luncheon where seven selections of their Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays were paired to each course. So here I was more than happy to taste through their non-standard selections, starting with the exquisitely floral 2014 Pinot Blanc Mendocino County. Complementing this wine, the 2015 Pinot Gris Anderson Valley seemed a bit more subdued but approachable, while the 2015 Riesling Anderson Valley gave considerable credence to Mendocino’s claim as California’s prime AVA for Alsatian varietals.

I bypassed Handley’s all-too-familiar lineup of Pinots for a selection of their other reds, including the unlisted 2013 Vittorio Petite Sirah. I found the 2013 Zinfandel Russian River Valley equally pleasurable, yet both combine, along with a healthy share of Carignane to make a true standout, the 2013 Vittorio Red Table Wine. Meanwhile, standing out on its own merits: the 2013 Syrah Kazmet Vineyard.

Truth be told: I had two primary destinations in mind when I embarked on this journey. Although I finally did manage to determine the actual location for Germain-Robin, I learned that weekend appointments would not have been available anyway. My other Holy Grail, of course, was sparkling wine virtuoso Roederer Estate, which was just about to close its doors as I arrived. I almost convinced the tasting room staff I had won a case of L’Ermitage, but settled for the final tasting of the day as reward for my ruse. Their base offering, the Brut MV, artfully combined a blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. Roederer serves this wine from different size bottles, and clearly the Brut MV Magnum outshone the confines of the standard 750ml bottling. I could not have asked more of the Brut Rosé MV, a Pinot-dominant blend, while their Tête du Cuvée, my cherished 2009 L’Ermitage reaffirmed itself as my perennial favorite sparkling.

2016-07-24-16-33-40While my return to Mendocino proved both fruitful and enlightening, I confess I was surprised that I never once stumbled across the mood-altering botanical for which it is primarily known. Perhaps because it has been a few decades since I cultivated an affinity for the weed that its whereabouts eluded me. Perhaps it was because I have had little to praise for the few bottlings of marijuana-infused wine that I’ve tried. Or could it be that this reputation is simply an elaborate hoax, a convoluted pharmaceutical paronomasia?


I passed through Mendocino a week later, en route to a wine tasting in neighboring Lake County, another AVA I have been remiss in visiting. But with so many fires having recently ravaged this pristine preserve, it seemed almost obligatory that I journey north as a gesture of solidarity with the fourteen wineries on hand for The People’s Choice Wine Tasting.2016-07-30 15.44.28Admittedly, I could have made better timing in getting to the Kelseyville destination, but I decided to follow the scenic mountain route over from Hopland.As I began my descent down Highway 175, the vista from atop Cobb Mountain provided a breathtaking panoramic of Clear Lake, a natural phenomenon often unfairly depicted as a poor man’s Lake Tahoe. The vast expanse of this waterway was an unanticipated revelation, tinged with regret that I have not taken advantage of the resorts that dot its shore, especially when San Francisco summers have taken an Arctic turn.

My other epiphany came as I wound down from Middleton to the back stretches of Bottle Rock Road: seemingly every other vineyard I passed was tagged with a Beckstoffer sign. Behind this ubiquity lies a concerted effort to bolster the quality and reputation of Lake County’s wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon hailing from the Red Hills AVA, where they farm nearly 1,300 acres of vineyard. This past winter, owner Andy Beckstoffer announced a program wherein he would provide one acres’ worth of Cabernet for free to ten select vintners in the county to draw help catalyze this ambitious project. Despite being seen by some merely as theatricality, the chosen vintners with whom I spoke wear their selection as a badge of honor.

I arrived at host Moore Family Winery amid their own theatricality, a blind tasting of thirteen Lake County Sauvignon Blancs. As with the Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting, I quickly drifted from the staged event inside the Tasting Room and focused my visit on the wineries pouring their Gold Medal selections. Host Steve Moore offered a distinctive lineup, starting with his 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, a wine that had not taken part in the shootout. I clearly favored his 2015 Chardonnay, however, but did cotton to the 2009 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, a most deserving dessert wine.

In a similar vein, Kelseyville’s Chacewater showcased their 2014 Chardonnay, a wine I would have liked to contrast with their Organic Certified 2015 Chardonnay. Complementing this vintage, however, was the 2015 Muscat Canelli, a sweet yet appealing wine, to be sure. Former Kendall-Jackson winemaker Jed Steele had his various labels out in force, impressing with the Sweepstake Red Winner, the 2012 Steele-Stymie Merlot and, in a nod to poetic justice,the 2015 Writer’s Block Roussanne.

Forsooth, Fults Family Vineyards, a winery I had not previously encountered, countered with a pair of their amiable whites, the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2015 Chardonnay. Contrasting quite nicely, the stainless steel 2015 Endeavor, a limited release Chardonnay from Wildhurst, which showcased its 2013 Petite Sirah alongside. And in keeping with the caliber of his worldwide wine portfolio,a standout 2013 Petite Sirah came from Langtry, new NHL team owner Bill Foley’s Lake County acquisition.

While Foley has ponied up $500,000,000 for the construction of T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the more anticlimactic redevelopment of San Francisco’s Treasure Island has begun displacing the cottage wine industry there, starting with the myriad labels produced at The Winery SF. Nonetheless, owner Bryan Kane remains committed to the Lake County fruit he sources for his personal Sol Rouge label, resulting in an ever-reliable 2013 Petite Sirah and a most compelling bottling of his 2012 Cabernet Franc. Another multilabel enterprise, Shannon Ridge showed atypical restraint, pouring a mere four selections from their seemingly inexhaustible lineup. Both the 2013 Wrangler Red, a blend of 44% Zinfandel, 43% Syrah, 11% Petite Sirah, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2012 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon seemed tepid, particularly when juxtaposed with their 2015 High Elevation Sauvignon Blanc and the superb 2013 High Elevation Chardonnay. Another winery that featured a blend was Fore Family Vineyards, also previously unfamiliar to Sostevinobile, with their delightful Grenache-based 2013 GSM; deftly displaying the potential of the Red Hills volcanic soil, their 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon proved sheer elegant.

From Clearlake Oaks, Cache Creek Vineyards shares only a name with the more familiar casino, but a kindred spirit with its Lake County brethren. Their 2014 Rosé of Cabernet attested to their acuity of their vinification, while the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon constituted yet another testament to the potential of this AVA. Admittedly, I found myself wondering if Jack Welch would deem that Six Sigma’s somewhat tepid 2014 Sauvignon Blanc held to continuous efforts to achieve stable and predictable process results, but I was especially pleased to taste their 2013 Diamond Mine Cuvée, a black belt mélange of Tempranillo with lesser parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Also veering from the predominant French focus of the afternoon, Nick Buttitta made an impromptu appearance on behalf of his Rosa d’Oro label, sharing his intense 2013 Aglianico, a dense, intense interpretation of this varietal. Still, I concede that the standout wine of the afternoon was the opulent 2014 Viognier from Gregory Graham, one of the most acclaimed winemakers in Lake County.

Andy Beckstoffer contends Lake County’s “Red Hills is the most promising Cabernet Sauvignon site outside of Europe.” At the heart of this AVA sits Tricycle Wine Partners’ Obsidian Ridge, whose wines compare favorably at 2-3 times the price from their southerly neighbors in Napa. Underscoring this point today, they wowed the crowd with considerable aplomb, pouring a robust 2013 Estate Syrah, their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, co-winner of the Sweepstake Red award, and a distinctive Meritage, the 2012 Half Mile Proprietary Red, a wondrous blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.

I wish I had allotted more time to this visit, as many intriguing Lake County ventures that participated in this competition could not be present. I find myself now filled with trepidation that I may never have the opportunity to visit with several of these; as most people know, a series of wildfires have struck since my visit, threatening to undermine the emergence of Lake County as a world-class AVA. Fortunately, the arsonist responsible for many of these conflagrations has been apprehended. Moving forward, absent of natural catastrophe, perhaps Lake County can look toward their westerly neighbor for definition of the expression “up in smoke!”

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.

What wine goes best with Fruit Loop-encrusted doughnuts?

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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






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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Ch-ch-ch-changes

It’s time I renew my commitment to keeping this blog fresh (and current). And so, now that I’ve put that most execrable year—2011—to bed, proverbially, let me plunge into the exciting slew of tastings and other wine events I have covered since the dawn of the New Year.
I realize I need to reinvigorate the content here. The arduous protraction in developing the sustainable wine bar/retail shop to which I have been slavishly (albeit happily) devoted for the past three years has created more than a bit of redundancy in the events I am covering, but recently renewed promise of catalytic investment means that a physical launch for Sostevinobile appears well within sight. And with that portent comes reinvigoration for Your West Coast Oenophile.
My first wine foray for 2012 came, as always, with ZAP, the Grand Tasting that introduced me to the pleasures of grand tasting some two decades ago. As I’ve documented many times, the nascent festival took place in the narrow confines of Fort Mason Mason’s Golden Gate Room before it mushroomed into a mammoth extravaganza, with nearly 400 wineries filling two exhibition halls. To be honest, the enormity proved intimidating even to those of us who had attended (nearly) every one of its twenty previous sessions, but for reasons that have yet to be made clear, this year’s session relocated to the Concourse Exhibition Center in San Francisco’s SoMa district.
I had expected the space to be overbearing, if not oppressive. The numerous times I have attended West Coast Green, trying to navigate the Concourse has felt like wading through a crowded subway station; this day, with lines wrapping nearly around all four sides of the building before I arrived, I braced myself for even worse congestion. Surprisingly, the scene inside was anything but daunting. With its wooden floors and mezzanines, multiple partitions, raised roof and carpeting, the block-long facility insulated and dampened the cacophony that Fort Mason’s concrete warehouse amplifies. Moreover, the Concourse’s 125,000 ft.² easily dwarfed the combined 80,000 ft.² of the Herbst Pavilion and Festival Pavilion that ZAP has occupied for the past dozen or so Januaries, making this marathon feel more like a casual stroll.
Because of my long-standing history with this event, only a handful of presenters had not been covered on these pages; only fitting, therefore, that I started off this iteration with Beekeeper Cellars, a single-wine project focused on one of Zinfandel’s most storied appellations, Rockpile. Fittingly, Ian Blackburn’s first vintage, the 2009 Zinfandel Madrone Spring Vineyard, proved absolutely stunning, a liquid paean to Clay Mauritson’s viticultural prowess. Over in Glen Ellen, Bucklin Vineyards represents a throwback to the heyday of California field blends, with Grenache, Alicante Bouchet, Petite Sirah, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Carignane, and Tempranillo interspersed among its Zinfandel vines. This random mélange was best expressed in Will Bucklin’s extraordinary and aptly-named 2009 Mixed, a wine that fell beneath the required Zinfandel threshold for ZAP but drew no complaints. His compliant entries, the 2008 Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel VOVZ (Very Old Vine Zinfandel) and its younger brethren, the 2009 Bambino Old Hill Ranch, proved exceptional wines in their own right.

To the uninitiated, Cycles Gladiator may sound more like a counterpart to Segway Polo than a wine label, and while this Lodi branch of Santa Lucia Highland’s Hahn Estates derives its name from one of the classic Velocipede models from the late 19th century, its evocative label gives the wine a perceived style all its own. Unfortunately, though, $12 wine all too often constitutes a rather mundane effort, and both the 2009 Zinfandel Lodi and the far-too-early 2010 Zinfandel Lodi made for rather tepid offerings; an earlier vintage, the 2007 Cycles Clement Zinfandel proved only marginally better. Not that a wine need be inordinately expensive to wow me, as both the 2006 Alexander Valley Zinfandel and its successor, the 2007 Alexander Valley Zinfandel from Healdsburg’s Gann Family Cellars readily demonstrated.

The Velocipede, as designed by brothers Pierre and Ernest Michaux

Of course, I am usually blind to bottle prices as I evaluate wines at the various events and tastings I attend. Poignantly, not ironically, David Hunt of Paso Robles’ Hunt Cellars displa
yed a unique deftness with œnological skills unimpeded by his retinitis pigmentosa. Little doubt to his claim that his lack of vision accentuates his other senses, as evidenced by his array of Zins and Zin-based wines, starting with his delightful trademark, 2007 Zinovation Destiny Vineyards. From there, his vinification continued on an upward trajectory to include the 2007 Zinfandel Reserve Outlaw Ridge Vineyard and the superb 2007 Rocket Man Zinfandel. This trio was accompanied by hunt’s 2006 Thriller, a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot and Syrah, and the splendid 2003 Zinful Delight, a Tawny Port-style dessert wine.

Many of the wines from Hunt take on a musical theme, no surprise given David’s successful career as a recording artist. Continuing this motif, Paul Hoffman’s Headbanger demonstrated that even at deafening decibel levels, Zins can not only rock but satisfy—to wit, the 2009 Sonoma County Zinfandel. I bypassed the usual culprits like R&B Cellars, Deep Purple and Sledgehammer, though I usually have an affinity for rock-oriented labels; canine labels, however, tend to nauseate me with their overt sentimentality. And I suppose I should hold cat labels with equal contempt, but Les Deux Chats, a whimsical, boutique producer out of Valencia deeply impressed me with their très bon 2010 Zinfandel Benito Dusi Vineyard.
From an even more improbable locale, Jerome, Arizona’s eponymous Jerome Winery gave me yet another reason to question whether Sostevinobile should augment its roster with the Grand Canyon State, notably impressing with both their 2009 Colored Soldier Zinfandel and their library selection, the 2005 Cochise Willcox Zinfandel. Of course, there is little question Napa falls well within our purview; nonetheless, stellar efforts as those displayed by Mike and Molly Hendry, with both their 2009 R. W. Moore Zinfandel and the successive 2010 R. W. Moore Zinfandel, make this even more a moot point. Similarly, following in the heels of its highly acclaimed Zinfandel blend, The Prisoner, Rutherford’s Orin Swift affirmed its standing at ZAP with the 2009 Saldo, a whimsical mix of 80% Zinfandel with 9% Petite Sirah, 8% Syrah, and 3% Grenache.
Old Moon was a curious participant at ZAP. Its 2010 California Zinfandel proved marginally drinkable, though incrementally better than its fellow Trader Joe’s exclusive offering, the famed Charles Shaw. Likewise, Unruly is one of the house labels contracted to BevMo, and while I personally respect wine buyer Wilfred Wong, I question the objectivity of his scoring their mediocre-at-best 2010 California Zinfandel at 90 points.
Sostevinobile also scores the wines I sample, but on a much different scale that is not intended for publication; still, the 2008 California Zinfandel Soulmates’ Aggie Bonpua crafted in tribute to her late brother would easily cross this mystical threshold. Meanwhile, Victor Hugo Winery from Paso Robles nominally has no connection to the great French author (although proprietor Victor Hugo Roberts does bottle wines he calls Les Mis Rosé, and Hunchback); here, he excelled with his 2009 Estate Zinfandel and a late harvest Zin, the 2009 Quasi.
Up north, the Terlato conglomerate attempted to stir up patriotic feelings with their The Federalist (a somewhat ironic designation, given their international billing). Nonetheless, their 2008 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley proved both fiscally and viticulturally quite sound, while their 2009 Dueling Pistols, a further homage to Alexander Hamilton, constituted a deft blend of Zinfandel and Syrah (of course, were they to price this wine at an even sawbuck, that would only complete the allusion). Also vinting a superb Zin blend, Trattore’s 2009 Tractor Red combined 38% Petite Sirah with Dry Creek Zinfandel, while their 2009 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley proved redolent of the famed AVA.
Speaking of Petite Sirah, perhaps the most compelling wine of the afternoon was the 2009 Estate Petite Sirah Vince Tofanelli wasn’t supposed to be pouring; mellowed with 2% Grenache, this ink-dark wine showed sumptuously now and portend seven greater grandeur with aging. These same grapes also lent balance to his 2008 Estate Zinfandel, which more than complied with ZAP’s specifications.
As much as I enjoyed the atmosphere and pace of this year’s event, I still could only wind my way to a mere fraction of the tables spread throughout this spacious complex. Among those that I did mange to sample, many truly excellent bottlings stood out, starting with the aforementioned Mauritson, which affirmed its status as the premier producers of Rockpile Zinfandel, starting with their 2010 Rockpile Ridge Vineyard Zinfandel. From another of their Rockpile plantings, the 2010 Westphall Ridge Zinfandel nearly matched this spectacular quality, while the nonetheless excellent 2010 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel seemed a slight notch below.
Validating the reputation of another premier AVA for Zinfandel, Lodi’s McCay Cellars simply wowed with their 2010 Contention Zinfandel, a wine with a Turley price point and equal to the task.Also quite compelling—the 2009 Jupiter Zinfandel, also from Lodi. Napa Zins tend to lag behind their Bordelaise counterparts, in terms of public perception; along with Turley, St. Helena’s Brown Family Estate has staked its claim not with Cabernet but with astounding wines like their 2010 Rosemary’s Block Zinfandel. Nearly as luscious was their 2010 Napa Valley Zinfandel and the always popular 2010 Chaos Theory, where 35% Cabernet Sauvignon underlies 60% Zinfandel (along with 5% Petite Sirah).
Several other wineries displayed superlative renditions of the grape, including such Sonoma stalwarts as Bella Vineyards, with their 2009 Maple Vineyard Zinfandel and Bonneau, with a near-foolproof 2009 Rockpile Zinfandel. Other killer B’s included Glen Ellen’s Baldwin Wines, pouring an enticing 2009 Slater Zinfandel and their 2007 Dawn Hill Ranch Zinfandel; Hopland’s venerable Brutocao Cellars, showcasing the 2007 Reserve Zinfandel Mendocino; and, from Ravenswood’s scion Morgan Peterson’s Bedrock Wine, the 2009 Dolinsek Ranch Heirloom Wine (60% Zinfandel, with Charbono, Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet and “a few other varietals”).
My friend Ray Teldeschi’s Del Carlo once again showed their redoubtable command of this varietal with their 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel, while Hartford Family Wines once again proved their mettle with both the 2010 Highwire Zinfandel and, from their library, the 2005 Hartford Vineyard Zinfandel. Another Lodi standout, Harney Lane, showcased a jammy 2009 Zinfandel Lizzy James Vineyard, while Placerville’s Lava Cap, an inveterate Rhône specialist, excelled here with their 2008 Zinfandel Reserve, alongside an impressive bottling of the 2009 Zinfandel Spring House.
Miro Cellars in Cloverdale usually stakes its claim with their catalog of Petite Sirahs, but here manifested equal versatility with their 2010 Grist Vineyard Zinfandel. Rock Wall, the successor to Zinfandel legend Rosenblum Cellars, extended their prodigious reputation with a striking 2010 Obsidian, an equal blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. Keeping pace, Healdsburg’s understated Simoncini dazzled with their 2009 Estate Zinfandel. Another understated endeavor, Lodi’s Van Ruiten also impressed with their 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel.
I finished up my rounds with a couple of long-standing familiars. Julie Johnson’s Tres Sabores flourished with their usual aplomb, matching the quality of their 2009 Estate Zinfandel with their proprietary 2009 ¿Porqué No?, a Zinfandel rounded out with Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. And the peripatetic Starry Night poured their extensive lineup of Zins, headlined by the 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel Nervo Station, a superb selection.
I did manage to sample from another dozen or so wineries I have reviewed extensively here and could not fit in the other 150 or so spread out among this complex. No matter—their fare has been extensively covered in previous Sostevinobile entries and all will be given equally opportunity to present their wines to our tasting panel, once we begin acquiring inventory.

Spectacular wines aside, the true star of this tasting had to have been its new locale at the Concourse
. Spacious, airy, well-partitioned, with abundant light, and, most significantly, dampened acoustics, this SOMA destination turned what had grown, frankly, into an overwhelming tasting into an event that approached manageability, albeit a few glitches that I am sure will be worked out when ZAP 2013 returns next year.


I had been lead to believe ZAP had switched settings this year to accommodate the long-awaited renovations to the piers at Fort Mason, but apparently other matters were at play. The next weekend, The Golden Glass returned to Herbst Pavilion after its 18 month absence, having taken a hiatus in 2011. Besides shifting to a winter time slot, this showcase for Slow Food had was compelled to alter its local wine focus, now that Taste of Mendocino has spun off into its own full-fledged event.
Golden Glass was once again dominated by Italian wines, not surprising given that my good friend and Slow Food San Francisco’s founder Lorenzo Scarpone imports wine through his principal business, Villa Italia. The California selection were but a smattering, with 10 wineries on hand, along with a small selection from the Central Coast’s Sustainability in Practice (SIP) certification ranks and several Golden Glass honorees, which were poured in absentia.
One of the winners, VML, represented the latest incarnation of the former Belvedere Winery, coincidentally the facility where I bottled my first custom label some 22 years ago. Now part of H.D.D. Wines (the initials for Hurst Dolan Dolan), VML (the initials of winemaker Virgina Marie Lambrix) showcased an exceptional, biodynamically-grown 2010 Boudreaux Vineyard Pinot Noir. Also heralding from the Russian River Valley, La Follette medaled for both its 2009 Pinot Noir Van Der Kamp Vineyard and the 2010 Pinot Meunier Van Der Kamp Vineyard.
I confess to having, on occasion, less than objective attitudes on certain matters. Most large-scale winery operations do not readily come to mind when I think of Slow Food and sustainability, and, as such, it was a tad surprising to find Wente and J. Lohr among the lauded labels here. Still, such preconceptions proved erroneous (Lohr’s operating slogan is “Respecting Nature, Nurturing Balance”) and in no way reflected on my appreciation for the quality of the wines they poured. I was particularly taken with Wente’s 2010 Riva Ranch Chardonnay, as well as J. Lohr’s 2010 October Night Chardonnay. I also cottoned to the latter’s 2010 Tower Road Petite Sirah and Wente’s 2009 Southern Hills Cabernet Sauvignon.
An early proponent of biodynamic farming, Grgich Hills is no stranger to acclaim for its Chardonnay, as exemplified by the 2009 Chardonnay Napa Valley they poured here. Equally appealing: the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and their 2008 Zinfandel Napa Valley. Another early biodynamic proponent, Robert Sinskey Vineyards, offered an impressive trio from their inventory starting with their signature 2008 Pinot Noir Three Amigos Vineyard from the Napa side of the Carneros AVA. Sinskey’s hallmark is to craft their wines in Burgundian fashion, no matter what its origins; this restrained approach readily presented itself in their 2006 Marcien, a Right Bank-focused Bordelaise blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

While I generally appreciate the overall validity of certain applied agricultural practices that constitute the core organic elements of Rudolf Steiner’s proscriptions for biodynamic farming, I am far less sanguine about embracing its numerous cosmological incantations, finding them far closer to the mystic theology and precepts of Gnosticism, or the transcendental enlightenment espoused by such noted Sri Chinmoy devotees as Mahavishnu John McLaughlin and Devadip Carlos Santana, than to precisions of quantifiable science. From this ætherial connection comes Sinskey’s 2010 Abraxas (Αβραξας), a striking vin de terroir from the Scintilla Sonoma Vineyard, blended from the four classic Alsatian white varietals: Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Blanc.

Down from Folio Fine Wines, Michael Mondavi’s new Oberon Wines made its Golden Glass debut with a mix of wines that ranged from a passable 2010 Sauvignon Blanc to a fairly impressive 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. In between, the 2007 Hillside Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon proved enjoyable but less than spectacular for such a universally consistent Napa vintage.

I felt similarly tepid about several of the other entrants here, including Think Tank Wines, which appeared here with a disparate selection of wines from random AVAs throughout California. Still, their effort was commendable for their 2008 La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Sta. Rita Hills, the 2008 White Hawk Vineyard Syrah from Santa Barbara, and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon out of Napa Valley. Similarly, sister operations Loredona Vineyards, with their 2010 Viognier, and Noble Wines, with their 2010 446 Chardonnay, may well represent the evolution of Central Valley powerhouse Delicato Family Wines, but here made only slight impression.
The representative wines SIP poured varied widely, as well. Always impressive—the 2008 Monterey Pinot Noir from Carmel Road. Less so—Tangent’s 2010 Albariño Edna Valley. In between—the 2009 Syrah Paso Robles from Templeton’s Pomar Junction. Another winery, pouring for itself, that has always impressed me is Santa Cruz’ Clos LaChance. Here their 2010 Estate Viognier served as a most worthy complement to the exceptional 2008 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir.
As readers here know, my friends from Clos Saron can vary incredibly with the outcome of their natural winemaking, a risk they proudly undertake. This afternoon, the selected wines were spot-on, in particular the 2006 Heart of Stone Syrah. Equally appealing were the 2009 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard and appropriately-labeled 2011 Carte Blanche, a stunning blend of Albariño, Verdelho, Chardonnay, and Petit Manseng, a varietal rarely found in California.
The final California representatives pouring at Golden Glass, Ca’ Momi, offered a likable array of Napa vintages,ranging from the 2010 Napa Valley Chardonnay to a most striking 2010 Napa Valley Zinfandel. Both their 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Napa Valley Pinot Noir seemed a slightly less developed, but the NV Ca’ Secco, a sparkling wine derived from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Muscat, proved quite intriguing.
Ca’ Momi posed a bit on an anomaly at this event, albeit a pleasant one at that. As an offshoot of the Ca’ Momi Enoteca in downtown Napa, it enjoyed the enviable distinction of being both wine and food purveyor at this event. And to be honest, Golden Glass is not so much a wine expo as a guilty pleasure in indulging in some of San Francisco’s finest Italian restaurants: the authentically Neapolitan A16, Acquerello, Delfina, È Tutto Qua, Farina, Ristobar/Emporio Rulli, and Alameda’s C’era Una Volta. Once upon a time, this event was solely the purview of Italian cuisine, but its resurrection included other such Slow Food purveyors as Bi-Rite Creamery, perennial favorite Gott’s Roadside, Serpentine/Slow Club, Izakaya Yuzuki, Thirsty Bear, and Charles Phan’s new Wo Hing General Store.
Clearly Golden Glass is a celebration of sustainable wine and extraordinary cuisine that serves as an homage not just to how food ought to be enjoyed but to the indelible fabric of human society, whose foundation arguably stems from communal eating. Sostevinobile’s participation here isn’t merely an investigation into wine but a solidarity in the wish that the æsthetics embodied here extend far beyond a single day’s extravaganza and become incorporated into every day livi
ng.


Lest it seem that I glossed over the abundance of Italian wines poured at Golden Glass, I do hope my readers understand that I did sample many, even if I do not intend to include them in this blog’s roster of wines from California, Washington, and Oregon. My purpose, as always, is first to gain a broader understanding of the wealth of varietals being vinified and to develop an appreciation for the contrast one finds in the interpretations of the same grapes and blends made here with their counterparts in the Old World and other wine-producing regions.
I managed to attend two other Italian wine tastings after Golden Glass, Italian Wine Masters at Terra Gallery on Rincon Hill and Tre Bicchieri at Fort Mason. For the uninitiated (including myself), Tre Bicchieri is the highest classification awarded a wine by the prestigious Italian food and wine publication Gambero Rosso—somewhat analogous to earning a coveted three star Michelin rating. Oddly, though, I found the wines poured at Italian Wine Masters, a due bicchieri event, far more approachable, a phenomenon I attribute in part to having a California palate. And while many of the Chianti, Barolo, and Nobile di Montepulciano wines proved quite delectable, even with my pronounced predilection for Sangiovese, I could not say that I found any that would make me rue Sostevinobile’s restriction to wines grown within the 750 mile radius of our home base.
It could be argued that many of the wines at Tre Bicchieri, as well as Golden Glass and even Italian Wine Masters demanded food pairing in order to be fully appreciated. I have no problem conceding this point. Nonetheless, at the risk of alienating many of San Francisco’s notable sommeliers, wines served at a wine bar need first and foremost to be quaffable in their own right, with food friendliness, alas, being a subordinate quality. Not that a great wine can’t fulfill both criteria.


A couple of perennial tastings punctuated the mid-winter doldrums with their usual array of impressive wine. The always delightful In Vino Unitas took place at the revived Press Club, with 19 small, handcrafted wineries on hand to pour their directly distributed wines. This far-flung coalition includes winemakers from Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Amador, the Santa Lucia Highlands, and Santa Cruz Mountains and ranges from venerable producers, like Heitz and Grgich Hills, to new ventures, like Kenzo.
This latter endeavor comprises a brand new, $100,000,000 Napa estate developed by Kenzo Tsujimoto, CEO of video game giant Capcom; Tsujimoto has enlisted the zenith of Napa luminaries from Hedi Barrett to craft his wines and David Abreu to manage his vineyards to having French Laundry’s Thomas Keller create his tasting room menu. Still, this lavish expenditure has yet to pay off in the quality of his wines, the 2010 Asatsuyu, a Sauvignon Blanc, and his Bordeaux blend, the 2008 Rindo; while both wines were indeed quite enjoyable, they did not rise to the level one might expect from such a prodigious undertaking.
As the remaining participants have all poured for Sostevinobile on one or more occasions, I of course had reasonable expectations for each, and failed to be disappointed by any, beginning with Buoncristiani, whose flagship 2007 OPC, a proprietary blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Syrah, 17% Merlot and 10% Malbec, easily exceeded the several past vintages I have sampled. Also portending greatness: their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.
St Helena’s Ehlers Estate scored as favorably with their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon 1886, as did Far Niente, with their exceptional 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Estate. Sister label Nickel & Nickel also shone with a glorious rendition of their 2010 Chardonnay Truchard Vineyard. Easily matching with their own Napa duet, the 2010 Unity Chardonnay and their trademark 2007 Coach Insignia Cabernet Sauvignon, Fisher Vineyards outpaced even themselves with a pair of remarkable Sonoma vintages, the 2008 Mountain Estate Chardonnay and the 2007 Wedding Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
Just when I thought I might have hit the apex for the afternoon, Heitz dazzled with it widely acclaimed 2006 Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. And their non-vintage Ink Grade Port, a deft blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Sauzão, Tinta Cão, Tinta Bairrada, Tinta Madeira, Tinta Amarela and Bastardo, might well have met the criterion for perfection had they not poured the flawless 2001 Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, a library reserve.
Meyer Family crafts their California Port purely from Old Vine Zinfandel, employing the Solera proces
s, which consists of annually topping each barrel with subsequent vintages to create a continually-evolving non-vintage blend. Other artisans showcasing distinctive blends included Krupp Brothers, whose 2007 Syncrony Stagecoach Vineyard combined 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 43% Cabernet Franc, with 5% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec and 3% Merlot, and Gemstone, which contrasted their Cab-focused 2009 Estate Red (71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc) alongside their 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville.
Napa Cabs did not necessarily dominate this tasting, but there was certainly a preponderance on hand, including both the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Dust Vineyard and the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Estate from Neal Family Vineyards and a more than amiable 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley from Jericho Canyon. The aforementioned Heidi Barrett’s own label, La Sirena made their presence known with her 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, as well as with the 2006 Syrah Napa Valley.
With his family’s label now in Gallo’s capable hands, Steve Mirassou has vaulted to the forefront of Livermore winemakers with his eponymous Steven Kent label; here, the 2008 Petit Verdot Ghielmetti Vineyard dramatically displayed redolence of the varietal’s intense character. Amador’s Yorba, a winery that blurs the lines between Italian, Spanish, Rhône, and homegrown varietals, flourished with their 2007 Zinfandel Shake Ridge Vineyards, as well as the 2007 Shake Ridge Red, an esoteric blend of Syrah, Primitivo, Petite Sirah, Mourvèdre, Malbec, and Merlot (of course, I’d be remiss in not citing their 2008 Barbera Shake Ridge Vineyard or noting that they have just planted my people’s Greco di Tufo, which will be ready for bottling in 20??) .
Little surprise that their 2008 Chardonnay Napa Valley represented Grgich Hills strongest effort, though this vintage did not quite rise to the levels I have come to expect. More to my taste—the 2009 Chardonnay Premier Reserve Anderson Valley’s Navarro poured, alongside the striking 2010 Pinot Gris and their 2006 Late Harvest Cluster Select Gewürztraminer. Likewise, Los Gatos’ Testarossa shone most brightly with their 2009 Chardonnay Rosella’s Vineyard among the three Chardonnays they had on hand.
The Central Coast was well represented by La Rochelle, a Pinot-focused effort also from Steven Kent Mirassou, highly impressing with their 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands and an extraordinary 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains. On par with these vintages: the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands that Caraccioli Cellars poured.
Caraccioli did not participate in the San Francisco debut of the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans tasting in the Golden Gate Room at Fort Mason. Although this event mirrored much of September’s tasting in Walnut Creek, many discoveries could be made. I relished the 2009 Estate Chardonnay from Boekenoogen, as well as the 2010 Chardonnay Sierra Mar Vineyard that distinguished Roar. As per usual, Talbott excelled with their 2010 Chardonnay Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, while Pisoni’s Lucia label showcased both an impressive 2010 Chardonnay Soberanes Vineyard and the 2010 Syrah Garys’ Vineyard.
A reassuringly reliable presence at tastings for this appellation, Manzoni poured a delightful 2008 Chardonnay Lucia Highland Vineyard and their 2010 Pinot Gris North Highlands’ Cuvée. Ray Franscioni’s Santa Lucia Highlands label, Puma Road, favorably contrasted his 2010 Unoaked Chardonnay Black Mountain Vineyard to its oaked counterpart while delighting with the 2009 Pinot Gris Black Mountain Vineyard (oak complexity not specified). Tondrē made a rare appearance, touting both their 2010 Chardonnay Tondrē Grapefield and a spectacular 2009 Pinot Noir Tondrē Grapefield. Testarossa returned here and added both the 2009 Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard and a superb 2010 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands to their repertoire from In Vino Unitas.
Another repeat attendee, La Rochelle augmented their earlier showing with their 2008 Pinot Noir Sleepy Hollow Block A. A previously unfamiliar winery, Mansfield-Dunne, debuted here with their 2010 Pinot Noir Peterson Vineyard; also new to Sostevinobile, Mooney featured a pair of Pinots, the 2010 Pinot Noir Boekenoogen and the 2010 Pinot Noir Vigna Monte Nero.
Mooney also (clandestinely) featured a distinctive 2008 Mourvèdre Paso Robles, from where they also derive their Grenache and Grenache Blanc. I found it somewhat odd that more Rhône varietals were not grown in the Santa Lucia Highlands, given the prevalence of Syrah at this tasting. Emmanuel Kemiji’s Miura complemented their superb 2009 Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard with the 2007 Antiqv2s Syrah Pisoni Vineyard. Both the 2009 Syrah Doctor’s Vineyard and the 2009 Pinot Noir McIntyre Vineyard from Wrath proved extraordinary. Siduri held court with its usual aplomb, impressing not only with their interpretation of a 2009 Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard and a 2009 Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard, but even more strikingly with their 2009 Syrah Rosella’s Vineyard under their Novy label.
A perennial favorite, the 2008 Les Violettes Paraiso Vineyard from Pelerin proved once again a most delectable Syrah. Even more delightful: their 2010 Chardonnay Sierra Mar Vineyard and the 2008 Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard. Other impressive Pinots came from Tudor, whose 2006 Pinot Noir SLH stood up to the far more recent vintages others poured here; Pessagno, with a double offering of their 2009 Pinot Noir Lucia Highland Vineyard and their estate-grown 2009 Pinot Noir Four Boys Vineyard; Sequana, whose sole representation consisted of their 2009 Pinot Noir SLH; and KORi, with their only bottling, the 2010 Pinot Noir KW Ranch.
I would be utterly remiss in not in not giving special appreciation for the superb 2008 Pinot Noir Fâite that Paraiso pured alongside their estate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The SLH appelation’s leading advocate, Morgan, impressed with a 2010 Pinot Noir Twelve Clones, while McIntyre made their strongest statement with both the 2009 Pinot Noir Estate and their crown jewel, the 2009 Pinot Noir Block 3.
Finally, Belle Glos rounded out the afternoon with the 2010 Pinot Noir Las Alturas Vineyard, while the ever-luxuriant Bernardus delivered a plush version of their 2009 Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard.
Regretfully, Hahn/Lucienne and August West had depleted their inventory before I could reach their tables, but I have had and will continue to have multiple opportunities to taste through their offerings. Kosta Browne had poured the last of their 2009 Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard and 2009 Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard even before I arrived, but such will be my lot on occasion. All-in-all, I had probably sampled enough wines to get anyone through their winter doldrums. Or maybe not.


Nearly every trade tasting has a familiar corps of attendees, with an unspoken camaraderie that parallels the cooperative spirit that permeates the wine industry. Some are hardcore bloggers from whose meticulous notes I sometimes borrow when my own degenerated penmanship fails me. Some are wine buyers or sommeliers. Others may be entrepreneurs, like Sostevinobile, striving to put together the next Big Thing in wine, while others still are obviously poseurs simply out for a good time. 
My point is not to delineate the legitimacy of my fellow œnophiles as it is to highlight that we all approach these gatherings with different agenda. For myself, it is as much a survey of attendee demographics, particularly during events’ public hours, as it is in making the acquaintance of as many wineries as I am able. As such, it was an exercise in crowd study that led me, at long last, to attend the gargantuan of public tastings, the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Thousands of people attend this annual event. Thousands of wines are entered into the competition, and nearly as many thousand win some sort of medal. What does it mean to wine a Silver Medal for Riesling with under 1.49% Residual Sugar, a slam-dunk for Long Island’s Castello di Borghese, or the highly-coveted Double Gold for Merlot under $9.99, a coup for Hacienda Cellars, a rising star in Bronco Wine’s firmament, alongside its premium Charles Shaw and Salmon Creek labels. Gallo’s bulk superstar, Barefoot Cellars, formerly a fairly-respected label known as Barefoot Bynum, managed to garner an impressive 11 medals in various sub-$10 categories alone. But for every White Blush winner like the 2010 Austin St. Comanche Rose from Texas’ Brennan Vineyards, one could find a genuine gem like the 2009 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley from Oregon’s Brooks Wine or the 2010 Chardonnay from Dolin Malibu Estate.
My appreciation for what is billed as “the world’s largest competition of American wines” is largely tempered by the realization that this isn’t an industry tasting nor an objective judging by a panel of professional wine writers, but a raw, commercial venture that seems geared toward preserving the phenomenon, with little regard for the finer details that demarcate the more respected events I have chronicled with regularity. The organizers neglected to provide a tasting program or table guide that might have enabled attendees to navigate the expansive exhibit hall, and far be it that any accommodations be made for trade and media.
Rather than shell out the $80 admission fee, I volunteered to man the other side of the table for my friends from Pomo Nation Wine, California’s first Native American-owned Winery. This Healdsburg endeavor boasts a lineup that includes a 2007 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, a 2006 Mendocino County Merlot, and a 2007 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, but most distinguishes itself with their proprietary blends, the 2009 Bi Si (Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Viognier) and the 2007 Bi Du (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Petite Sirah), an assessment with which The Chronicle Tasting judges apparently concurred, awarding both wines a Silver Medal.
Certainly there were new discoveries interspersed throughout the Festival Pavilion, had I the time and patience to locate them, but I nonetheless found great value in serving the throng, instead of navigating it. For while The Chronicle Tasting may have been more of a paean to dipsomania than to Dionysian precepts, the more salient observation was the pervasive appeal of wine across myriad and diverse cultural segments across the Bay Area. And if such revelries become the catalyst for a lifelong love and respect for, who can complain? After all, I started mine, way back when, washing down dips of fondu with 3-liter jugs of Almaden…

Pomp & circumstance

Aiuto! Aiuto! Your West Coast Oenophile still has not found the magic formula to weave my way through the interminable backlog to which I’ve committed Sostevinobile! So the new grand scheme is this: tackle my most recent tasting and pair it with the one for which I am most remiss, winnowing my way down to the middle.

De extremis. This entry will cover the long overdue A Single Night, Single Vineyards alongside my most recent foray, the Grand Tasting from this year’s Artisano celebration, relocated from Geyserville to The Vintners Inn of Santa Rosa. Being that Sostevinobile has yet to open and generate a revenue stream, I am compelled to flip an imaginary coin and decide to lead with the old and segue into the new.
While all of the wineries pouring at this second staging of A Single Night have previously been covered in this blog, this marquée event for the Russian River Valley Winegrowers took on a decidedly different tone this time around, and not simply because the venue had shifted from the courtyard at C. Donatiello (formerly Belvedere) to the caves at Thomas George Estates (formerly Davis Bynum). The inaugural celebration of these singularly-focused bottlings offered an undeniably millennial flair and seemed more like a slightly subdued frat party than a staid wine tasting. This year, a more mellow atmosphere brought out a more well-established, if not perceptibly older, attendance. Lady Gaga gives way to Bob Seger, Pumped Up Kicks cedes to Pump It Up. A paradigm shift or merely a shift in the economy—I can only hazard a guess.
N’importa. What matters here was the wine, which covered a wide gamut in terms of both variety and quality. In the interest of my oft-stated quest for brevity, I will highlight only discoveries from my top-tier for the evening, not so much in the same manner other writers grade the wines they sample, but more in line with scholastic honors. My corollary to summa cum laude started with the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir from Desmond Wines, a Russian River winery singularly focused on vinting estate-grown Pinot. Rivaling this bottling was the 2008 Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir from acclaimed producer Merry Edwards, the 2009 Ewald Vineyard Pinot Noir from Adam Lee’s Siduri, and a surprisingly delectable 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley from Trione.
Other wines that attained such lofty levels this day included an exceptional 2009 Bacigalupi Zinfandel from Graton Ridge Cellars and the 2010 Estates Chardonnay from host Thomas George. The 2008 Uncle Zio Syrah Gianna Maria from Martinelli proved spectacularly lush, while their cousin Darek Trowbridge provided a deft touch with the 2005 Laughlin Vineyard Zinfandel from his Old World Winery. Sparkling wine virtuoso Iron Horse continued to impress me with their forays into still wine, exemplified here by their enchanting 2009 Rude Clone Chardonnay. Lastly, the 2009 Benevolo Forte, a rich port-style wine from a collaboration between Foppoli Wines and some friends, rounded out the top tier.
The next tier (aka magna cum laude) narrowly focused on a handful of Pinots, the 2008 Lolita Ranch Pinot Noir, also from Martinelli, and Thomas George’s 2008 Lancel Creek Pinot Noir. My friends from Joseph Swan held court with their elegant 2007 Trenton View Vineyard Pinot Noir, while the fourth exemplar of this ranking came from Benovia, whose 2008 Bella Una Pinot Noir, while not a single vineyard bottling, constituted a blend of “the best possible expression of all of the sub-regions of
the Russian River Valley.”
Though far more wines fell warranted a broader cum laude, it would be erroneous to consider such well-crafted bottlings commonplace. Still, Pinot Noir dominated once more, starting with the 2008 Siebert Ranch Pinot Noir produced by Ancient Oak and Balletto Vineyards2009 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir. Desmond followed up its initial pouring with their 2009 Estate Pinot Noir, a worthy albeit slightly less dramatic successor, while La Follette impressed with their 2009 DuNah Vineyard Pinot. Others featuring comparably striking vintages included Matrix, with their 2008 Nunes Ranch Pinot Noir, Nalle with a splendid 2009 Hopkins Ranch Pinot Noir, Moshin, pouring its 2009 Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir, and the inveterate Williams Selyem, which poured the 2008 Flax Vineyard Pinot Noir from their vast repertoire of this varietal.
In addition to its sapid 2008 Oehlman Ranch Pinot Noir, Sandole featured an equally pleasant 2008 Russian River Valley Zinfandel. Hop Kiln showcased two distinctive wines, their 2009 HKG Pinot Noir Bridge Selection and its corollary, the 2009 Chardonnay Six Barrel Bridge Selection. Foppoli shone with its Burgundian pair, as well: the 2009 Estate Vineyard Chardonnay and the 2009 Late Harvest Pinot Noir, an especial treat.
Renowned vintner Gary Farrell also showcased his elegant 2008 Westside Farms Chardonnay, while Gordian Knot (formerly Sapphire Hill) debuted its current incarnation with a splendid 2010 Estate Albariño. Meanwhile, focusing on red varietals, John Tyler Wines crafted an elegant 2006 Zinfandel from their proprietary Bacigalupi Vineyards.
I would have expected to find more Zins served at this event, but was even more surprised at the atypical selection of Bordelaise varietals Merriam poured—not that their 2005 Windacre Merlot wasn’t an outstanding wine, as was their 2010 Willowside Sauvignon Blanc. Trione’s 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley struck me as equally impressive, while their 2007 Syrah Russian River Valley matched its intensity. Wrapping up my talley for the evening, host Thomas George again delivered with its 2008 Ulises Valdez Vineyard Syrah and dazzled with its 2009 Pinot Blanc Saralee’s Vineyard, a distinctive selection for this distinguished gathering.


Not meaning to slight the other wineries who poured at A Single Night, but brevity demands I truncate my review and move onto my most recent foray. A whirlwind celebration of wine, food and art, Artisano focused on handcrafted, small production labels from the North Coast, though the preponderance of participating wineries heralded from Sonoma, as well. Many were well-familiar, but a handful new to Sostevinobile. Nearly all had at least one wine that, as above, made the proverbial honor roll.
A quartet of the wines scored at stratospheric levels—these I will assay at the conclusion of my review. To commence at the same tier (summa cum) where my evaluations for A Single Night began, I found myself reveling in the 2009 Zinfandel Alexander Valley’s William Gordon Winery showcased. Across the patio, Paul Mathew’s major opus turned out to be his 2008 TnT Vineyard Pinot Noir. A new label from Ferrari-Carano (which also owns Santa Rosa’s Vintners Inn that hosted this gathering), PreVail transcended the garishness of their other endeavors and impressed with their 2006 Back Forty, an elegantly textured Cabernet Sauvignon.
In addition to its coveted buttons, Pech Merle poured a wide array of their wines, prominently featuring the 2009 Russian River Valley Chardonnay winemaker John Pepe crafted. Steve Domenichelli dazzled with his 2007 Zinfandel, one of but two wines his boutique operation produces. At a nearby table, my friend from Mendocino, John Chiarito, returned with his trailblazing Sicilian transplant, the 2009 Nero d’Avola and an outstanding 2009 Estate Zinfandel. Also charting comparable territory was Cartograph, with their 2009 Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Bill and Betsy Nachbaur finally accorded me a taste of their marvelous 2008 Dolcetto at a private visit to Acorn following Artisano, but here they most impressed with their 2008 Heritage Vines Zinfandel from their Alegría Vineyard. Somewhat paradoxically, Vince Ciolino of Montemaggiore produces no Italian varietals, despite a meticulous approach and organic practices that bespeak a Tuscan æsthetic; nevertheless, his 2007 Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah proved redolent of his Sicilian forbearers.
Although De Novo made a striking impression with their 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino County,
it proved only their second best wine of the afternoon. Similarly, I
will briefly gloss over the choicest revelation from Old World Winery in
favor of their alluringly floral 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Bon Tempe. Also showing spectacularly with its whites, Cloverdale’s Icaria soared to new heights with its 2010 Estate Chardonnay.
When well-crafted, Viognier can reveal an incomparable varietal, as exemplified here by Stark Wine of Dry Creek’s 2009 Viognier Damiano Vineyard, which matched this pinnacle with a sister Rhône bottling, the 2009 Syrah Eaglepoint Vineyard. Ulises Valdez, whose vineyards furnished Syrah for Thomas George, here showed his own deft touch for œnology with the 2008 Silver Eagle Syrah and a Rockpile standout, the 2008 Botticelli Zinfandel.
Respite flourished with their red bottling, 2008 Antics Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley. Also from Geyserville, Munselle Vineyards enticed with a pair of superb bottlings, the 2006 Coyote Crest Cabernet Sauvignon and the equally compelling 2008 Zinfandel Osborn Ranch. The award for consistency, however, undoubtedly belonged to Miro Cellars, with all five of their selections garnering this premium score: the 2009 Windsor Oak Vineyard Pinot Noir, the 2010 Grist Vineyard Zinfandel, from atop Pride Mountain, the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, winemaker Miroslav Tcholakov’s signature 2010 Piccetti Vineyard Petite Sirah, and the 2010 Cuvée Sasha, a Grenache masterfully blended with 19% Mourvèdre and 6% Syrah.
Garnering middle honors, William Gordon returned with a 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Personen Vineyard, a wine that portends to blossom in the next 5-7 years. Paul Mathew featured two more Pinots, his 2008 Horseshoe Bend Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2008 Ruxton Vineyard Pinot Noir. And again, Prevail prevailed with the 2006 West Face, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with 36% Syrah.
Both Pech Merle’s new 2009 Merlot and Domenichelli’s 2007 Magnificent 7 Petite Sirah offered vastly compelling wines, as was Chiarito’s other Italian rarity, the 2009 Negroamaro. I especially delighted in Acorn’s 2008 Cabernet Franc Alegría Vineyard, while relishing the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon De Novo provided.
Three wonderful Sauvignon Blancs came from Simoncini, newly releasing their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc; Alexander Valley’s Reynoso, with their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc; and the “we don’t make Chardonnay” offshoot of famed grower Robert Young, Kelley & Young, who poured their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc. Captûre also poured a top-flight 2010 Tradition Sauvignon Blanc and matched it with their 2010 Ma Vie Carol Chardonnay, while my friends Jim and Christina Landy impressed with their 2009 Chardonnay Russian River Valley.

I deliberately maintain my ignorance when it comes to comprehending derivatives and other vehicles of the options market—such contrivances just seem antithetical to everything Sostevinobile espouses, so terminology like the trading positions known as Long Gamma seems rather oblique to me; nonetheless, the accomplished winery bearing same name produced an excellent wine with little statistical deviation, the 2007 Red, a Zinfandel blended with 25% Syrah and 5% Petite Sirah. Montemaggiore countered with their 2005 Nobile, a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon with 36% Syrah. And natural wine proponents Arnot-Roberts hedged their bets with their unequivocal 2009 Syrah Griffin’s Lair Vineyard.
At Artisano’s cum laude level, a variety of different wines offered compelling tastings. Again, William Gordon impressed with their 2009 Petit Verdot. Paralleling his red Burgundians, Paul Mathew featured a rich 2010 Dutton Ranch Chardonnay. Musetta’s 2009 Zinfandel handily made the grade, as did the 2008 Landy Zinfandel from Valdez.

Other standout Zins included De Novo’s 2006 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley, the 2008 Estate Zinfandel from Simoncini, and Saini’s 2008 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley. Pech Merle impressed with both its 2009 Dry Creek Zinfandel and the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, while Anderson Valley’s Foursight paired their 2009 Charles Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc and a delightful 2009 Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir.

I happily cottoned to the 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Landy poured, then wrapped up this segment with an wide array of varietals and blends, starting with the 2010 Kathleen Rose from Kelley & Young, a Bordeaux-style rosé crafted from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. Captûre’s 2009 Harmonie combined the same complement of varietals (sans Malbec) for a captivating Meritage, while Montemaggiore’s 2010 3 Divas blended the classic Rhône white tercet: Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier.

Rounding out this level, I found the 2010 Floodgate Vineyard Gewürztraminer Cartograph poured a most refreshing contrast, and had little trouble regaling in the 2008 Shadrach Chardonnay from Munselle. As always, the 2008 Sangiovese Alegría Vineyard Acorn served up proved most impressive; so, too, was the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Kenny Kahn’s Blue Rock.

As alluded above, four wines poured here achieved rarefied stature—ΦΒΚ, so to speak. Winemaker Justin Miller’s Garden Creek showcased an amazing rendition of their Meritage, the 2005 Tesserae, which, unlike its predecessors, could not be fully classified as a Cabernet—rather, a true Bordeaux mosaic of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, and 20% Cabernet Franc. All in all, an amazing Alexander Valley vintage.
De Novo’s best effort turned out to be another Burgundian, their 2008 Pinot Noir Bennett Valley, a spectacularly rich rendition of this subtle varietal. At the same threshold, Old World Winery floored me with their new 2009 Abourious Russian River Valley (little wonder, with a wine this lush, why Darek chose to pluralize the varietal). His previous endeavor with Abouriou, also known as Early Burgundy, the 2008 Fulton Foderol, was actually a blend with Zinfandel that masked much of its character; here, the unfettered expression seemed nothing short of glorious.
Finally, I must bestow my all-too-rarely accorded to Skipstone for their flawless 2008 Oliver’s Blend, a Cabernet Sauvignon rounded with a mere 4% Cabernet Franc. Wines like this can only cement Alexander Valley’s richly deserved reputation, along with Napa Valley and Washington’s Red Mountain as worthy rivals to Bordeaux (I think it’s still a safe bet we can rule out Ningxia from this category).
As with A Single Night, I intend no offense toward those wineries that generously shared their best efforts at Artisano but have been bypassed here for the sake of (relative) brevity. My goal of timeliness is another matter entirely, remaining ever elusive as I struggle to balance not only the competing demands I face in turning Sostevinobile into a working reality, source funding for COMUNALE, and negotiate contracts for my SmartPhone development, ResCue (the acquisition of which could easily provide the wherewithal to launch my empassioned wine ventures). And so, as we close down the annus horribilis that was 2011, my New Year’s pledge to my steady readership here is to bring you my wine findings at on a regular, steady, and timely basis in 2012.
And if you bring a copy of this pledge to our wine bar, the first glass will be on me…

Redux: So many tastings. So little time.

Oh, if only there were four (maybe five) of Your West Coast Oenophile to crank out this column! Actually, if I were quintuplets, I would have one of me oversee and manage the development of Sostevinobile, another liaise with the 8,000+ wine labels in California, Washington, and Oregon, a third run the wine programs at all of our (eventual) locations, have Marco Quattro handle funding, and let the one who drew the short straw sit in front of a keyboard and churn the daily prose here. Not that I would ever demean the pleasures of the scribe.

I shouldn’t really apologize for being so far behind—after all, if July’s weather has decided it can show up in October, so, too, can my reviews and witticisms roll in at a languid pace. And so the events I attended in lieu of journeying East for Livia’s ottantenario now occupy the forefront of this blog, commencing with the Grand Tasting for a new annual celebration.

Held at the Westin St. Francis, Sonoma in the City brought together an impressive array of wineries from the county’s various sub-AVAs. The alphabetical listings in the program, however, held little correlation to the actual floor plan of the exhibit room, but being the first production of this event, its organizers can be forgiven for the confusion in locating the tables I had earmarked (I suspect I might have been able to cover 50% more of the wineries, had navigating the layout not been so challenging). The first winery I was able to find turned out to be Argot, a whimsical Sonoma venture I had not previously encountered. Predominantly focused on Bennett Valley fruit, they began their tasting with the 2009 Happenstance, a deft blend of 70% Roussanne from the acclaimed Saralee’s Vineyard with 30% Chardonnay. This same Bennett Valley Chardonnay comprised the 2009 Old Habits, a wine on par with their 2007 The Preamble, a straightforward Bennett Valley Syrah. Their final offering, the 2009 Over the Moon displayed the ample potential Bennett Valley offers for Pinot Noir.

The program called them Draxton. The parent venture, however, calls itself Vintners Signatures. in contrast, the website lists the label as El Roy. Despite this conundrum, the wines proved uniformly quite good, starting with a crisp 2010 Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley. I liked the more modest 2009 El Roy Chardonnay and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley both, but found 2007 Malbec Alexander Valley clearly preferable

Even though I have been familiar with Saintsbury’s Garnet since the early 1980s, I had not realized that it had been spun off as an independent label and acquired earlier this year by David Biggar’ and Tom Peterson’s Vintage Point, a Sonoma partnership that also markets such favorites as Educated Guess and Layer Cake. To be honest, I have not always been a fan of this approach to crafting Pinot, but was surprisingly pleased by the 2009 Carneros Pinot Noir, especially considering that it represents a 10,000 case undertaking. On the other hand, I was well aware that the venerable MacRostie label had been sold to Lion Nathan, an Australian/New Zealand-based importer/producer that also owns Oregon’s esteemed Argyle Winery; still under the tutelage of Steve MacRostie, the 2008 Sonoma Chardonnay remained a most pleasant wine.

I’m not sure how I’d missed Red Car before this event—Director of Sales and Viticulture Paul Sequeira is married to my good friend Simone Sequeira of La Follette—but perhaps I may have confused it with Red Truck, which has been subsumed by the good folks at JFJ Bronco. Nonetheless, Red Car sits at the proverbial antipode to Ceres’ œnology, meticulously producing restrained, unfettered wines from the Sonoma Coast. Befitting wineries that share Red Car’s æsthetic, their lineup focuses on Chardonnay, Syrah, and Pinot Noir. Their entry-level line, Boxcar, featured a palatable 2009 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast, while both the 2009 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and the 2008 Syrah Sonoma Coast from their Trolley series pleased immensely. I can’t quite decipher the nomenclature from their eclectic Reserve lineup, but was just as enthralled with the 2009 Aphorist, a Pinot Noir from Bartolomei Vineyard.

One of my all-time favorite aphorists was the self-proclaimed MetaPhys Ed Teacher, who memorably pronounced “It’s not whether you win or lose. It just is.” This philosophy parallels Sostevinobile’s efforts to stay non-judgmental about the various approaches to making wine different winerires here on the West Coast practice (with the caveat that these effo
rts reflect a sincere attempt to craft quality wine, not simply move quantities of mass-produced juice)
. This straightforward approach is exemplified in hundreds of wineries I encounter, including my discovery of Rockpile’s Bruliam Wines, where Brian Overstreet and his wife Kerith, a former general surgeon turned œnologist, handcraft a trio of vineyard-designated Pinots, alongside a stellar 2009 Rocky Ridge Vineyard Zinfandel. Sourced from The Swale, an exclusive ¾ acre block of this prized Rockpile vineyard, this limited release derives exclusively from the St. Peters Church Heritage Zinfandel clone. Dedication, precision, devotion—it just is.

Another discovery here, Bennett Valley’s Sable Ridge, concentrates its efforts on Syrah. Sonoma in the City provided an exquisite platform for the winery to contrast its current release, the 2008 Syrah Bennett Valley with its well-rounded elder sibling, the 2002 Syrah Bennett Valley. Both proved immensely appealing in their own right. I had had a number of occasions lately to sample from Flanagan Vineyards, but somehow had managed to arrive right after they had packed up. Under the tutelage of Philippe Melka, this Bennett Valley winery finally managed to impress me with both their 2008 Syrah and an equally balanced 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

From there, my task became to navigate as many familiar wineries as I could fit in logistically, with the scant amount of time and confusing floor plan. First up, I visited with the redoubtable Acorn Winery, but rather than bore dedicated Sostevinobile readers with my recurrent plea to sample their Dolcetto, I’ll merely highlight both their 2007 Cabernet Franc Alegría Vineyards and, of course, the 2007 Sangiovese Alegría Vineyards. Similarly reaffirming the quality of their craft was longtime familiar Peay Vineyards, ably serving up both their 2009 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and a highly memorable 2009 Pinot Noir Pomarium Estate Sonoma Coast. Another of Peay’s confrères from the West of West Festival that promoted the West Sonoma Coast Vintners, fellow Kissie Steven Singer’s Baker Lane held its own with its 2008 Estate Vineyard Syrah.

An equally appealing 2007 Cardiac Hill Syrah from Jemrose stood between their crisp 2009 Egret Pond Viognier and the compelling 2008 Foggy Knoll Grenache. And I certainly found myself exuberant about Bill Canihan’s 2007 Exuberance Estate, his special reserve bottling of his Syrah. Arguably, however, the benchmark for Syrah came from Westerhold, which paired two equally stunning bottlings, the 2007 Estate Syrah Bennett Valley and a pre-release of its successive vintage, both singular efforts from this esteemed family boutique. And although Schug is primarily regarded for its Pinots, I opted only to sample the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley this go-around.

As noted in previous postings, I have often been impressed with Ray D’Argenzio’s Italian bottlings, particularly his ongoing efforts to produce a California Amarone. Today, however, his offerings included only his more mainstream Sonoma wines, of which I happily partook in the 2006 Zinfandel Russian River Valley and the 2006 Petite Sirah Russian River Valley. Still, I was not to be denied my predilection for my ancestral varietals, starting with a pair of wines from Muscardini. As per usual, I greatly enjoyed the 2008 Tesoro, Mike’s proprietary blend of Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, but his real gem this afternoon was the new 2009 Sangiovese, an exquisite rendition of the grape.

Meanwhile, the olive oil virtuosos at DaVero showed just how adept they can be at vinification, starting with their 2008 Sangiovese Dry Creek Valley. I had hoped they would have poured their famed Sagrantino here, but its absence was mitigated by the superb 2007 Rosso di Bea, a miscela of Sagrantino and Sangiovese in equal proportions. DaVero’s second label displayed both skill and diversity, starting with the 2008 Falco Barbera, as well as with a non-Italian red, the 2008 Falco Zinfandel. Their versatility also extended into the white realm, with a delightful 2009 Falco Vermentino and their special 2010 Falco So’ Bianco, a complex blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Musqué, with just a touch of Riesling.

One would think that Ray Teldeschi’s Del Carlo Winery would produce Italian varietals, and certainly with his acclaim for Zinfandel, Primitivo would not constitute a stretch, but for now, I was sufficed by his 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Valley and, naturally, the 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley. Another strong showing for Zin came from Everett Ridge, with their small production 2007 Estate Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley. Still, Gracianna came c
lose to stratospheric with their amazing 2009 Zinfandel Russian River Valley. And while this extraordinary wine proved their forte, I found both the 2009 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and its immediate predecessor more than compelling, while greatly enjoying the 2010 Suzanne’s Blend Chardonnay.

Just as Westerhold focuses on a single varietal & bottling, Garden Creek Ranch annually produces around 500 cases of its proprietary Bordeaux blend. Here I had a definite preference for the 2004 Tesserae, though the 2005 vintage certainly displayed nothing to scoff at! Also with an attenuated inventory, Hidden Ridge features quite possibly the most vertically daunting vineyard to harvest in California. And yet its 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon 55% Slope (!) presents a wine that surpasses in its approachability.

At the other end of the spectrum, Hartford Family Winery offered a diverse range of exceptional wines. The 2007 Land’s End Pinot Noir tantalized with overtures of virtuosity I normally expect from their Pinot lineup, but their strong suit came from their Zins, of which I sampled three. Equally impressive were the 2009 Zinfandel Highwire Vineyard and the 2009 Zinfandel Fanucchi-Wood Road Vineyard, but the utter standout had to have been the non-specific 2009 Zinfandel Russian River Valley. Keeping pace, Hartford’s white wine portfolio featured a marvelous 2008 Stone Côte Chardonnay and three equally outstanding vintages from the Russian River Valley: the 2009 Four Hearts Chardonnay, the 2009 Fog Dance Chardonnay, and a superbly aged 2007 Laura’s Chardonnay.

Gracefully aging, too, was the 2002 Estate Pinot Noir from former Ambassador to Italy James Zellerbach’s Hanzell Vineyards. Ripe and ready now, the 2009 Pinot Noir Floodgate Vineyard from Cartograph exemplified this emerging vintage, while their 2010 Gewürztraminer Floodgate Vineyard proved equally appealing. Halfway between these vintages, the 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Laurel Glen affirmed why this sometimes obviated Glen Ellen producer has quietly remained a force with which to be reckoned for the past 30 years. Ironically, its only other selection, the 2007 Counterpoint makes no counterpoint but rather underscores Laurel Glen’s reputation for Sonoma Cabernet.

Oftentimes, trade tastings afford me the opportunity to sample wines outside of the varietals or blends for which a particular winery’s is customarily acclaimed. For example, I have typically turned to Iron Horse as a favored sparkling wine house since the mid-1980s, and certainly here the 2008 Classic Vintage Brut Green Valley was a paragon of their forte. Still, the 2008 Unoaked Chardonnay Green Valley displayed an equal facility with still wines. Similarly, I think of Mauritson as the pioneers of the Rockpile AVA—its Zins in particular. Here, their Zin offering was an inarguably excellent 2009 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley, alongside a more modest 2010 Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley. From their perch above Lake Sonoma, the 2008 Petite Sirah Rockpile Madrone Spring Vineyard displayed an utterly exquisite wine, while the 2007 Buck Pasture Red Wine exhibited all the finest qualities of a complex Meritage still 5-10 years away from peaking.

Other wineries here held close to their common perceived claim to fame. Kosta Browne offered a selection of their highly prized Pinots, including the 2009 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and the 2009 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast. Their Sonoma Coast brethren at Littorai shone, as usual, with their 2008 Pinot Noir The Pivot Vineyard and the 2008 Platt Vineyard Pinot Noir.

Winding my way through the maze and the crowd that filled the ballroom at the St. Francis left scant time to visit with but two more wineries. With no overt agenda in mind, I drifted over to the table for Medlock Ames, one of the wineries most dedicated to sustainable practices throughout every aspect of their architecture and viticultural methodology. Their 2007 Red Bell Mountain Ranch ably blended Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, while the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley begged to remain bottled for at least four more years. As is wont to happen, the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Valley from Fritz seemed quite drinkable now, while their coda to this tasting, the Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc blend known as the 2010 Vino Valpredo Bianca Mia, with its very Italianate bottle, easily won for the most intriguing name of the afternoon.

Ah, if there had only been more intrigue for Sostevinobile! But another day and another tasting loomed just on the horizon, and so I hastily pedaled back to Pacific Heights and rested up for the next day’s onslaught

All wine trails lead to San Francisco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The first 100 postings are the hardest

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And happily “wet” where they should be…

KA-BOOM!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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.