Category Archives: Nebbiolo

Falling into 2017

An interesting question posed Your West Coast Oenophile is whether Sostevinobile would consider opening a branch outside the parameters of our West Coast focus. Such a venture would, of course, violate the regional and environmental guidelines I have set for our operations, but I have considered, in times of idle speculation, how our model might be adapted to another region. One could create a discreet chain of wine bars localised on the wines produced throughout the Great Lakes region—predominantly Michigan, Ontario, Ohio, and the New York Finger Lakes. Another model might focus on the Eastern seaboard, from Long Island down through Virginia and North Carolina.

Of course, these are just intellectual speculations, with one caveat. Early on, in my development of Sostevinobile, I stipulated that I would not categorically refuse to consider any wine produced from the West Coast and meeting our sustainable criteria, except for the now-defunct Asteri Mou (for reasons I no longer need to elaborate). Similarly, were I to develop these cloned versions of our operations, I would absolutely eschew any wine from Trump Winery—the political implications being quite obvious, I would hope. Besides, how could you trust a wine from someone who has never even tasted his own vintages?

Speaking of wine tasting, this November has been jam-packed with events—far too many for me to have covered all. Impecuniosity and the implausibility of bilocation caused me to miss a handful of annual events, including Califermentation, the Paso Robles session of the Garagiste Festival, SF Vintners Market, and Premier Cruz. Alas, I missed some 30 wineries I might have vetted for Sostevinobile, but, as is my wont, I have catalogued their information and am reaching out to them on my own.

Among the many events I did manage to attend, the most intimate certainly had to have been the ragtag popup organized by Pietro Buttitta. Little else may link the assembled collective that comprised the New Mission Winemakers besides their situation in various industrial facilities scattered throughout San Francisco, but their disparity did not diminish the overall quality of the wines featured at this debut. As he transitions from his former label, Rosa d’Oro, which focused primarily on Italian varietals, to a more nuanced Prima Materia, a deft touch can be seen in such bottlings as his lush 2013 Mourvèdre, along with other Rhône and Bordeaux offerings. And yet this new direction has not diminished his craft from Rosa d’Oro, here displayed in a delightful 2013 Vermentino, a compelling 2012 Refosco and 2012 Montepulciano, and a truly wondrous 2012 Aglianico.

The 2014 Aglianico ruled the day among the 16 or so selections Harrington Wine poured. I equally cottoned to his splendid 2015 Corvina, a light, garnet-colored wine that could almost be mistaken for a rosé. Still, there was nothing mistakable about their 2014 Grenache, the 2015 Zinfandel, nor the 2014 Nebbiolo, a beautiful expression of the Piemonte noble grape. Added to this mix was the first release of the Chinato, an infused digestif based on Nebbiolo.

Between these two Italian varietal specialists stood Betwixt, Tim Telli’s consistently excellent venture from the Minnesota Street facility Sostevinobile my one day call neighbor. Here Tim poured a most impressive 2014 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay, paired nicely alongside his 2014 Pinot Noir Lester Family Vineyard and the aptly named 2013 Pinot Noir Helluva Vineyard. Sharing this Dogpatch urban winery, Flywheel Wines also stood out for their 2013  Brosseau Vineyard  Chardonnay and the 2013 Boer Vineyard Grenache, both from the Chalone AVA.

I had not previously encountered Betwixt’ and Flywheel’s third co-tenant, Cellars 33 (another winery at this facility, Von Holt, did not participate in this tasting). Its standout wine, from the selections poured here, arguably was the superb 2015 Grenache Blanc Lodi, a truly marvelous Rhône white. Blending these same grapes with Viognier produced their whimsical 2015 The Betty White, also from Lodi, while both their appealing 2013 Pinot Noir Gloria Vineyard and 2013 Zinfandel Bacigalupi Vineyard heralded from Russian River Valley plantings.

This popup also afforded me my first tasting of Neighborhood Vineyards, Elly Hartshorn’s vineyard project in San Francisco. With vines planted at numerous locations throughout the City, Neighborhood is poised to become the first urban winery totally ensconced within its confines. While waiting for the vines to reach, Elly sources fruit for her other bottlings, like the 2014 Tide & Travel Pinot Noir from Santa Rita Hills poured here.

One needn’t be a rocket scientist to make great wine, but being a geneticist might help. Tessier’s Kristie Tacey moved to the Bay Area to work on the Human Genome Project, then segued into winemaking. Judging by the wines poured here, her œnological DNA was most dominant in the 2015 El Dorado Grenache and the 2015 Russian River Cabernet Franc, a wine redolent of its Alegría Vineyard parentage. Meanwhile, one might easily believe Ed Kurzman had turned the vinification of Pinot Noir into an exacting science, with across the board excellence in all the offerings he poured from both his Sandler and August West labels. Still, the great pleasure from the latter proved to be his 2014 Sierra Mar Vineyard Chardonnay and the 2012 Rosella’s Vineyard Syrah.

Ed’s Sandler offerings provided me with my first glimpse of the 2015 vintage, a year that had been marked by its low yields throughout the state. Nonetheless, it portends to be great, potentially surpassing both 2012 and 2014. Of the three single vineyard selections he poured, the 2015 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir stood slightly above both the 2015 Keeler Ranch Pinot Noir and his proprietary 2015 Boer Vineyard Pinot Noir. But eclipsing all these: the utterly marvelous 2013 Boer Vineyard Grenache capped a most delightful afternoon on Minna Street.


 

The Judgment of Piemonte

A curious comment Your West Coast Oenophile overheard at a trade tasting recently. A wine buyer from a certain local restaurant scoffed at the notion of drinking California wines and exulted that they had been relegated to an obscure table at the rear of this event. In part, this kind of myopia is what gives Sostevinobile its focus in dealing exclusively with sustainably grown wines from the West Coast, but readers here, as well as our future clientele, need appreciate that our choices stem foremost from a belief in the excellence of the wines produced here. So, with this credo in mind, I recently headed up to the top of St. Helena to stage a somewhat ragtag shootout I dubbed The Judgment of Piemonte.

Now much attention has been paid in 2016 to the 40th Anniversary of the legendary Judgment of Paris tasting, with commemorative events, seminars and celebrations having taken place throughout the year (though I am rather baffled as to why the major tribute should have taken place in Washington, DC). Previously, the 30th Anniversary restaging of the tasting again placed California above the French entrants. Five years later, the Chinese wine industry sponsored its own derivation of Steve Spurrier’s competition, the Ningxia vs Bordeaux Challenge, in which four of the five Chinese wines bested the top French entry. And earlier this year, Oregon’s Domaine Serène’s 2012 Pinot Noir Winery Hill Vineyard topped Burgundy’s selection to win the Platinum Best of Show at the Decanter World Wine Awards.

As such, it seemed only fitting that Sostevinobile sponsor a tasting featuring anything but variants to French cépages. So when Nile Zacherle boasted he knew of no other California-grown Nebbiolo that could rival his selections at David Arthur, the die was cast. Longtime fans of their esteemed Elevation 1147 may not be familiar with their Italian varietals, but this Pritchard Hill icon most certainly has the wherewithal to afford deviating from Cabernet exclusivity.

In turn, my long-standing affiliation with the Nebbiolo Enthusiasts & Believers (NEB) afforded me special insight into premium West Coast producers of this rich varietal. So naturally I marshalled a couple of ringers to counter Nile’s challenge. From Sebastopol, Emilio Castelli produces a line of vineyard-designate bottlings, as well as one sourced from the heralded Luna Matta Vineyard in Paso Robles. Further south, Palmina’s Steve Clifton is a sedulous devotee of the grape, with four distinct bottlings each vintage.

And so the lineup was set. It was a spectacular sunny day, perched high up on the hill overlooking a remarkably full Lake Hennessey, the kind of setting that gives one pause to wonder why anyone would have wanted to herd cattle here, as Long Ranch was originally intended. Emilio hade the leisurely trek over from Sebastopol while I frantically dashed from my San Francisco abode once Palmina’s delivery from Lompoc, three hours late.

As a benchmark, Nile provided a couple of Barolos from his personal cellar. In all, eight wines were blindly tasted and assessed by our redoubtable panel. Based on aggregate rank scoring, the results were as follows:

1) 2008 Palmina Nebbiolo Rocca Vineyard: A fruit-forward expression, with hints of tannin, this wine proved the overall favorite of the afternoon. As with all of Palmina’s selections, Steve Clifton’s restraint in releasing his Nebbiolos only when they are at their prime proved extremely admirable.

palmina2) 2012 David Arthur Estate Nebbiolo: H0me field advantage? Only in that the rocky soil and hillside terroir that has proven so hospitable for Cabernet provides an equally-appealing stratum for the noble Piemontese grape. This slightly aromatic bottling, balanced at 14.9% alcohol (as was the Rocca), delivered a soft wine without any trace of astringency.

3) 2009 Castelli Estate Nebbiolo: Our panelists had rough consensus on this selection, a wine that clearly displayed Emilio’s facility with the grape. A pleasantly cherryish wine, with just a hint of sweetness to round it out.

4) 2008 Palmina Nebbiolo Honea Vineyard: A complex wine, to be sure. A powerful yet wondrous nose belied it honeyed tinge and remarkably soft finish. Slightly lower (14.5%) alcohol than Palmina’s other offerings here, balanced acidity, and the aura of food-friendliness.

5) 2011 Baroli Barolo: Decidedly mixed results. While the other panelist felt strongly about this wine, my California-focused palate was less sanguine about it. Notable strains of cherry flavor countered but a slight aromatic quality and its 14% alcohol

6) 2008 Palmina Nebbiolo Sisquoc Vineyard: Also less concurrence among us for Palmina’s third vineyard-specific entry. I initially felt rather tepid about this selection, but grew to appreciate its ever-so-slight sweetness with subsequent tastings.

7) 2011 Castelli Estate Nebbiolo: Consensus here was that this vintage fell short of the 2009. Both wines showed considerable restraint at 13.5% alcohol, but this later bottling seemed more tart than sweet, a tinge that may have proved more approachable with food.

8) 2011 Rocche Costamagna Barolo Rocche dell’Annunziata: Perhaps an unfair ranking, as this wine seemed to have turned. Interestingly, it bore the highest alcohol of the wines we sampled blindly.

Of course, this rather impromptu assembly of tasters and attentuated selection of wines would not bear scrutiny, compared the other aforementioned tastings. To accord more validity to our results, I independently tasted these eight wines at home, both with and without food pairings, along with two selections we had not included in St. Helena. To my surprise, both these latter wines superseded the bottlings we had tasted ensemble.

The 2013 David Arthur Estate Nebbiolo proved an astonishingly wonderful wine, far more full than its predessors, a lush, phenomenal expression of the grape at 14.7% alcohol. Yet as much as I cottoned to this selection, I clearly favored the 2011 Castelli Nebbiolo Luna Matta Vineyard. Unlike Emilio’s other offerings, this wine heralds from the Paso Robles vineyard maintained by fellow NEB member Stephy Terrizzi, who bottles under the Giornata label. At 14.4% alcohol, this wine displayed the same light elegance that had originally driven me to the Castelli label and truly validated my selection of these wines for this challenge. I can only imagine how both these wines might have skewed The Judgment of Piemonte, had they been included.

I suspect diehard Barolo devotees would not likely be swayed from their allegiance by the tenuous results of this session nor the local wines presented. But certainly even a tasting as narrowly focused as this refutes the monolithic prejudices many of the buyers I encounter and calls into question the acumen of the numerous sommeliers whose European bias could not be more palpable. The Judgment of Piemonte will be, I hope, a precursor to a more comprehensive tasting in the near future, one of many such events Sostevinobile plans to include in its upcoming repertoire.

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!

Housekeeping

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

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


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


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


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


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



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

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

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


Oracle World Headquarters

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

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

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

Zurviving ZAP

Many of my longstanding readers know that Sostevinobile was borne partly out of Your West Coast Oenophile’s frustration with the advertising industry in San Francisco. Meritocracy be damned—this is an insidious clique hellbent on quashing true talent in favor of preserving the status quo mediocrity. A prime example of this phenomenon can be see at the once illustrious Foote, Cone & Belding, an agency that blazed trails in the 1980s with its work for Levi’s, as well as its iconic claymation, The Dancing Raisins. 

In the 1990s, FCB created one of the most vapid commercials ever broadcast, for the short-lived malt beverage Zima. Their spokesman, a pallid imitation of Chico Marx, feebly promoted this clear-colored alternative to Bartles & Jaymes and Quinn’s Quail Coolers by eliminating the letter “S” from his dialogue, substituting a “Z” whenever possible.

Zimply ridiculouz! I was so offended by this spot—not because of its content but because the hack who created it, not me, was thriving as a copywriter—that I took to posting this retort outside FCB’s entryway.

Zo I zaid,“Zit on my face!”


And zhe replied, “Then pop it, Pimplehead!”


Zima exists now only in the painful recesses of the memory, while Foote Cone & Belding’s office in San Francisco has shrunk to a vestige of what it once was. I don’t pretend I could have salvaged this product, but had the FCB folks ever had the perspicacity to put me on staff, I can safely say (zafely zay?) such a ludicrous campaign would have never seen the light of day.








Twenty-five years’ of backstabbing, rampant mediocrity, and relentless
mendacity ultimately drove me out of advertising & marketing and back into the relative tranquility of the viticultural realm, though readers here know that I always maintained close ties to the industry through this hiatus, developing wine labels, custom bottling, and, most importantly steadfastly attending numerous trade shows to continue expanding and refining my palate. These efforts included taking part of nearly every ZAP festival since it first filled the Golden Gate Room at Fort Mason.

Naturally, I was on hand a couple of weeks ago for 20 Years of Zinspiration, the vigentennial celebration of ZAP’s Grand Zinfandel Tasting. Popular perception holds that this gathering has mushroomed to overwhelming proportions since its inception, but actually it has contracted from around 250 participating wineries in 2009 to just 205 this most recent incarnation. Yet with nearly seven hours to cover both buildings, I still found myself hard-pressed to meet with every winery I had pre-identified for the afternoon.

Over the course of the afternoon, I delved into some Primitivos, some Zinfandel blends, a handful of Ports, and one or two unsanctioned wines hidden beneath the table. If there were any White Zins on hand, I managed to skillfully avoid them; for the most part, however, the event provided an interminable flow of Zinfandel, Zinfandel, and more Zinfandel.

Several of my previous entries have detailed my perceptions on the challenges of tasting through a single varietal event. My methodology for navigating these events certainly has been laid out extensively. And by now, I’ve described the setting of the pavilions at Fort Mason and my bipedal commute from Pacific Heights ad nauseam. So, rather than risk redundancy, let me list the stations I visited, starting with the newcomers to the Sostevinobile roster.

Santa Rosa’s Carlisle Winery bottles both Zinfandel and an array of Rhône-style wines. Here they poured contrasting Zins, starting with the 2009 Zinfandel Montafi Ranch from the Russian River Valley. This superb wine only slightly eclipsed their 2009 Zinfandel Monte Rosso Vineyard, which, in turn I found slightly better that the still-impressive 2009 Zinfandel Martinelli Road Vineyard. Now recite them all, three times fast…

My readers know that I have been steadily building this wine program for nearly three years. At this stage, I can list three certainties about the wine industry: 1) no one can list all the wine labels being produced on the West Coast (current estimates place this figure at ~8,000 distinct producers); 2) no one can possibly guess how many varietals are being grown here (Sostevinobile has uncovered 147 so far); 3) no one knows every wine venture Nils Venge has his hand in. And so I was quite surprised to see this storied winemaker standing at the table for Cougar’s Leap, a red wine venture out of Rutherford. Today’s tasting provided a cursory insight into the scope of this venture, which is also bottling a Meritage, Petite Sirah and Rosato di Sangiovese; the 2007 Black Rock Zinfandel showed beautifully, while the 2009 vintage struck me as too early to be poured.

My appreciation for the wines from Dendor Patton fell pretty much along the same lines. This Mendocino venture, which lists its business domain as Belchertown, MA (great address for a brewery!), impressed me greatly with their 2007 Wisdom Zinfandel, while the 2009 proved premature.

Lest anyone begin to suspect that the 2008 vintage was somehow missing in action, Haraszthy Family Cellars more than filled in the gap with four distinct bottlings—not surprising when the title bar to their Website reads “Zinfandels and only Zinfandels.” Their pouring progressed from the 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi to the pleasant 2008 Zinfandel Amador County to the more luxuriant 2008 Zinfandel Sonoma County. The crescendo came from their unannounced 2008 Zinfandel Howell Mountain, a genuine pleasure to sample.

From there, I moved onto a semi-unfamiliar label, Headbanger, a division of Hoffman Family Cellars. As with Dendor Patton and Cougar’s Leap, attendees were presented with non-sequential vintages of their Zins, the definitive 2007 Sonoma County Zinfandel and the aspirant 2009 vintage. Headbanger also offered their 2010 Rock n Rosé of Zinfandel, nice diversion but not a wine worth revisiting.

Headbanger brought to mind last year’s 120 dB pour from Deep Purple, which I unfortunately bypassed, as well as the other rock ’n’ roll label, Sledgehammer (think Peter Gabriel). All jesting aside, this Napa project produced quite an impressive 2007 North Coast Zinfandel. As over the top as these labels may sound, at the opposite end of the spectrum I discovered Predator, the Zinfandel-only label out of Rutherford Ranch’s stable, benignly illustrated with a spotted ladybug on its label. In a rare reversal, I found the 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel from Lodi most distinct, while the 2007 Rutherford Ranch Zinfandel seemed commonplace.

Another highly impressive 2009 came from Mike and Molly Hendry, a label wholly independent from the acclaimed Hendry Ranch Winery run by Mike’s uncle. This offshoot also produced a solid 2009 vintage, the 2009 Zinfandel R. W. Moore Vineyard. There are more offshoots from the Sebastiani clan these day than I enumerate, but, ironically one is not Sebastiani, which is now part of the burgeoning Foley Wine empire. Nonetheless, this current incarnation mildly impressed me with both their 2008 Zinfandel Sonoma Valley and the 2008 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley.

I had a nice moment visiting with Camille Seghesio, whose mother I had befriended just days before her untimely death. As one of the leading Zinfandel producers whose name does not begin with an “R,” their 2008 Cortina from Dry Creek Valley proved as splendid as ever. Camille’s cousin, Gia Passalacqua, returned to ZAP with her Dancing Lady Wines’ spectacular 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel (I could not muster the same enthusiasm for the 2009 California Zinfandel from her pal Gina Gallo’s Dancing Bull ). Another Seghesio cousin, Rich Passalacqua has consistently dazzled with his lineup of Gia Domella Zins, making equally impressive showings with both the 2007 Estate Zinfandel and the 2008 Estate Zinfandel. Approaching a surreal plane were both his 2008 Reserve Zinfandel Russian Valley and its predecessor, the 2007 Reserve Zinfandel Russian River Valley.

I had not previously encountered Rancho San Miguel Winery from Sonoma, yet found myself extremely pleased with their 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel Starr Rd. Vineyard. On the other hand, the San Joaquin Wine Company from Madera produced a 2007 Green Eyes Zinfandel barely worth the $7 it lists for. Ditto for the overpriced ($11.99) 2006 Howling Moon Zinfandel from ADS Wines of Walnut Creek, a decidedly schizophrenic operation. And Forever Vineyards poured a $9.99 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel that, indeed, may be permanently burnished in the memory in ways they had not intended.

Returning to my genial demeanor, I found much to appreciate in the 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel Sherman Family Vineyards from Lodi’s Fields Family. I was also extremely pleased finally to make it to Manzanita Creek’s table to sample a trio of their wines. while the name alone made me like their lush 2005 Stealth from Alexander Valley, even more compelling were the 2007 Zinfandel Alfonso Old Vines and the 2007 Zinfandel Old Vines Carreras Ranch.

I knew I had tasted with Pech Merle previously, but somehow managed to forget incorporating them in my previous entries. Non è importante—it was more than a pleasure to revisit with Laree Adair Mancour and Bruce Lawton and enter both the 2008 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley and their impressive 2008 L’Entrée into my Sostevinobile column. Keeping my pre-tasting notes, however, proved a bit more elusive. A glitch in my iPhone somehow relegated my methodical sampling guides to an unknown sector of cyberspace just as I was finishing up with Spenker—a Lodi house producing enviable results with their 2002 Estate Zinfandel and the aptly-named 2008 Rustic Red Zinfandel—and, in my frantic attempts to recreate this road map, I inadvertently overlooked Saldo, Sausal, along with Nils Venge’s home base, Saddleback Cellars.

Despite not having my iPhone to guide me, I did remember to traipse over to review Healdsburg’s Rusina. Here the splendid, acronymic 2007 AXV (for Alexander Valley) presaged the even more appealing 2007 DCV (Dry Creek Valley). Finally, their 2007 Triskelion, echoing the familiar three-legged Sicilian icon, broke up the afternoon’s redundancy with a distinctive blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Syrah. Nearby, Jeff Cohn crafted not only an excellent organic 2008 Estate Zinfandel for Simoncini but also a dry 2009 Zinfandel Rosé that bore little resemblance to Bob Trinchero’s paltry pink approximation of this wine.

Trinchero does not comprise the only Italian “T” within the California wine realm. Vince Tofanelli, whom I would subsequently visit in Calistoga just to try his Charbono, made a marvelous initial impression, first with his 2007 Estate Zinfandel, then with the superb 2008 Estate Zinfandel. Trione Vineyards, whose various incarnations I have encountered since 1983, held court with their 2008 Home Ranch Zinfandel. Technically, of course, Trentadue is Swiss Italian, but I was nonetheless taken by their 2009 Old Patch Red, an old school blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane and Sangiovese. And while Trattore Estate’s Tim Bucher may not be Italian, his pivotal role in the promulgation of Apple’s OSX garners him honorary inclusion among il vero popolo eletto, as we refer to ourselves. Not that his 2009 Estate Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley wouldn’t warrant major accolades!

Being such an unabashed evangelist for Italian culture and, in particular, Italian varietals grown within Sostevinobile’s radius, I would think certain wineries like Staglin would be ecstatic to have me sample their pertinent bottlings, like the 2008 Stagliano Estate Sangiovese. Similarly, I have long been pestering Bill and Betty Nachbaur to ply me with their 2008 Dolcetto Alegría Vineyards; instead, I had to content myself with Acorn’s nonetheless splendid 2008 Zinfandel Heritage Vines. And although Jerry Baldwin does not produce any wines in the CalItalia category, once I had finished sampling his striking 2008 Zinfandel Dawn Hill Ranch and its preceding vintage, he did pour me a most enjoyable 2008 Rattlesnake Ridge Petite Sirah

I’ve not only indulged in the wonderful Sagrantino and Aglianico Napa’s Benessere crafts, I have even partaken of their little-known Grappa of Trebbiano; their ZAP selection, the 2007 Black Glass Zinfandel, more than held its own with their signature varietals. Another ZAP stalwart, Brown Estate made their customary splash with both the 2009 Zinfandel Napa Valley and the incredible 2009 Zinfandel Chiles Valley. And no matter how many years they pour at this event, Rombauer will always make for a mandatory visit, as both their exceptional 2008 Zinfandel Fiddletown and the quirkily-labeled 2008 Zinfandel North Coast (60% Sierra Foothills, 40% North Coast) readily attested.

Rombauer, of course, is best known as one of the four R’s of Zinfandel. Being that I receive Ridge’s ATP shipments, sampling from their two tables seemed superfluous, given the confines of my schedule. I also chose to bypass Rosenblum, whose fortunes appear to be declining under Diageo’s stewardship, but did partake in a couple of wines from successor Rock Wall: the 2009 Zinfandel Pearl Hart Reserve and the newish 2009 Vive La Rouge, blended from Syrah, Zinfandel and Nebbiolo.

Ravenswood Quarry separated itself from the Ravenswood Sonoma table, where founder Joel Peterson —a fitting acknowledgment from parent company Constellation presided—arguably showed no signs of decline following their acquisition, boasting a phenomenal 2008 Zinfandel Old Hill Vineyard, a single vineyard designate described as Zinfandel “+ mixed Blacks,” and the ever-reliable 2008 Zinfandel Teldeschi Vineyard, a wine blended with Petite Sirah and Carignane. Teldeschi Vineyard’s family stewards, Ray and Lori, appeared once again this afternoon with their Del Carlo label, featuring the 2006 Old Vine Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley and the clearly preferable 2007 vintage of the same. 

Zinfandel seems to thrive in nearly every sector of California. Witness Guglielmo from Morgan Hill, with their respectable 2007 Private Reserve Estate Zinfandel Santa Clara Valley. Marr Cellars of Davis sandwiched two exceptional versions of the grape, the 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel Mattern Ranch and the 2008 Zinfandel Tehama County around a very food friendly 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel Mendocino. Templeton’s Rotta showcased their 2006 Estate Zinfandel Giubbini Vineyard and the 2006 Heritage Zinfandel, a blend of 80% Zinfandel and 20% Primitivo. And from Alexander Valley, Starlite Vineyards produced a 2006 Estate Grown Zinfandel.

One of Lodi’s premier Zinfandel producers, McCay Cellars, featured their two stellar bottlings, the 2007 Jupiter Zinfandel and (this is not a mistyping of Turlock) the 2007 Trulucks Zinfandel. Fiddletown’s Easton excelled with both the 2007 Estate Zinfandel Shenandoah Valley and the 2008 Fiddletown Zinfandel Rinaldi Vineyards. And with a quartet of elegantly crafted wines, Gamba Vineyards certified the Russian River Valley’s rightful place in the Zinfandel pantheon: the 2008 Zinfandel Russian River Valley, their 2008 Estate Old Vine Zinfandel, and the remarkable 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel Moratto Vineyard, as well as a preview release of their 2009 bottling.

Austin Hope’s Candor label came through, as per usual, with an intriguing non-vintage selection, their Lot 2 Zinfandel, blended from both Lodi and Paso Robles grapes. Lake County’s Gregory Graham demonstrated his virtuosity with the interminably-named 2007 Cluster Select Sweet Zinfandel Crimson Hill Vineyard. Vineburg’s cacuminal Gundlach Bundschu offered their affable 2008 Zinfandel Sonoma County, while Healdsburg’s Sapphire Hill seemed downright whimsical in their nomenclature for both the 2008 Zinfandel Winberrie Vineyard and their impressive 2006 Zinfandel Porky’s Patch.

Th-th-th-th-That’s all, Folks! Or so I would wish, having some 20 more wineries to cite. Several tried and true friends from my two decades of attending this event warranted quick visits as I passed by their tables. Harney Lane lent considerable credence to the acclaim for Lodi’s Zins with their 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel Lizzie James Vineyard, as well as the unpretentious 2008 Lodi Zinfandel. Similarly, Lava Cap helped consolidate the Sierra Foothills burgeoning reputation for this varietal with three solid bottlings: the 2008 Zinfandel Rocky Draw, their 2008 Zinfandel Spring House, and the standout 2008 Reserve Zinfandel. I know Skip Granger probably has still not forgiven me for eschewing tasting every one of Starry Night’s selections but I was favorably impressed with the two I did sample, their final 2006 Zinfandel Tom Feeney Ranch and the 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel Nervo Station, before I moved onto other stations I needed to cover.

Rockpile pioneers Mauritson brought out their big guns with the 2009 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley, the 2009 Jack’s Cabin Zinfandel, and the masterful 2009 Rockpile Ridge Zinfandel. ZAP’s co-founder Prof. Jerry Seps manifested his Storybook Mountain Vineyards’ considerable pedigree with both the 2008 Mayacamas Ridge Estate Zinfandel and the 2007 Estate Antæus, a superior mélange of 57% Zinfandel, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot, and 6% Merlot. Julie Johnson’s Tres Sabores poured a similar blend, the 2008 ¿Por qué no? (Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah) and her excellent 2008 Rutherford Estate Zinfandel.

I bypassed both vintages of their Willow Creek Farm Zinfandel in favor of the 2008 Dimples Proulx poured, an evenly-balanced mix of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Syrah in true Paso Robles style. Another Central Coast operation, Hearthstone Vineyards, made a nice ZAP debut with their 2007 Zinfandel Paso Robles. And Paso Robles Zin specialists Peachy Canyon prominently poured their 2008 Mustang Springs Zinfandel, as well as two confidently-named bottlings, the 2008 Vortex Zinfandel and the 2008 Especial Zinfandel.

Despite Sostevinobile’s frequent disparagements, the large conglomerates sometimes do manage to produce memorable wines, like the 2007 Zinfandel Paso Robles from Constellation’s Paso Creek. Likewise, Terlato Wines2007 The Federalist, a single-bottling endeavor, provided a nicely approachable Zin, even though their costumes and antics seemed totally affected (ever since Randall Grahm sold his over-the-top Cardinal Zin, someone has always been trying to usurp his aplomb). And hard as it may be for me to admit, the 800-lb. gorilla in the room, Bronco, managed to preserve the quality and integrity of Red Truck’s organic offering, the 2008 Green Truck Zinfandel.

Of course, these mass producers will inevitably bottle their vintages, too, like the 2007 The Fiddler Zinfandel from Masked Rider (Bronco) and the nadir of Twisted’s unpalatable 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel (Delicato).

20 Years of Zinspiration marked what may well be the annual devolution of the Grand Zinfandel Tasting into something more manageable for attendees and more viable for wineries. If participation continues to contract, the event could easily revert to occupying a single pavilion, as it had in earlier days; certainly, a number of the wineries at this event would be better served tinkering with their œnology before considering a return here. As always, there were extraordinary wines on hand, but the proliferation of mediocre bottlings seemed far more evident than ever before.
Usually, I like to wrap up my posts here on an upbeat note, but, alas, the last word in Zin this afternoon, the 2009 Lodi Zinfandel from Zynthesis tasted as absurd as its name. Zometimez, that’z juzt the way the ball bounzez!

Four for the road

Your West Coast Oenophile diligently tries not exhibit any favoritism in these entries toward any particular winery, and apart from affirming that Sostevinobile will never serve Asteri Mou at any of our premises, I make no declarations about the wines I will include. But, of course, anyone who knows me does know that, outside of my professional role, I have been inordinately fond of Ridge Vineyards since the 1980s and have filled my private collection with many of their wines.

Given this predilection, it surprised me to realize I had not visited Ridge’s Montebello facility for nearly two years until my stop earlier this month. Somehow, I managed to arrange a meeting at Stanford on the same Sunday as Michael Martella’s tasting in Woodside, so scheduling a trip up the mountain made for an ideal detour between my two appointments.

Plenty of wine writers extol the virtues of Ridge’s vineyard-designate Zins or their renowned Monte Bello, but I have long held the winery’s true forte lay with its periodic bottling of off-varietals like Carignane. Occasionally, one or more of Ridge’s vineyards will yield an excess of grapes they use primarily for blending, prompting the winemakers to vinify the remainder as a single varietal. Years ago, my introduction to Mataro came from such a bottling, and I am always on the lookout for the possibility that another vintage will be released.

Last year, a surplus of Viognier led Ridge to try its hand with this grape, and the results proved astounding. The flawless 2009 Lytton Estate Viognier represents the most alluring expression of this varietal I have yet to taste, beyond the  I bestow sparingly on utterly superb wines. To prove my tasting room sample wasn’t merely a fluke or the whim of my palate on this particular afternoon, I not only brought home a 375 ml bottle, I went out and sampled a glass of the 2009 Viognier Central Coast from Alban Vineyards, one of the few wineries that has produced a consistently great Viognier over the past decade. The Ridge surpassed even this exceptional wine. Some Viogniers can be flat, almost lifeless; other are made cloying sweet. Ridge’s bottling expressed the subtlety of a honeysuckle blossom, elegant and compelling at the same time. I could not have been more pleased.

Ridge’s forays into white wines have garnered considerable accolades in recent years for this red stronghold. Wine Spectator named the 2006 Monte Bello Chardonnay its #21 Wine of the Year, and the 2007 bottling the tasting room poured this afternoon may even be better. Other wines included in its Estate Single-Vineyard Flight included the 2008 Geyserville Zinfandel (72% Zinfandel, 20% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah, 2% Mataro), the equal blend of the 2006 Syrah/Grenache Lytton Springs and the 2007 Monte Bello Estate Cabernet/Merlot (58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot).

The real treat, though, was a sip (or two) (or three) of the 2007 Monte Bello, an exceptional assemblage with 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 9% Petite Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc. Part of the reason I so enjoy visiting Ridge’s Cupertino facility is its perch some 2500′ above Silicon Valley, reducing the drab, box-like factories and insular hi-tech campuses to postage stamp size; amid the afternoon cloudburst, the vistas from atop Black Mountain were totally obfuscated and yet sipping on this phenomenal Meritage, I still managed to feel above it all.


The drive down Monte Bello Road becomes particularly hazardous in these conditions, yet I managed to navigate the hairpin turns without incident. Finding my way back to I-280 wasn’t an issue, nor was finding the exit to Alpine Road. Light showers turned to a drenching downpour as I wound my way through the unfamiliar terrain of Portola Valley, past the Ginkgo Girl’s latest place of employ, and eventually finding myself at Woodside’s Mountain Terrace for the Martella tasting.

Despite the inclement weather and remote hillside setting, the parking lot had filled and many attendees had to resort to finding space across Skyline Blvd. at Alice’s Restaurant, a fabled biker’s roadhouse where Chardonnay is definitely not the drink of choice.The stark contrast between the two establishments belies an easy rapport that has existed for years, and neither attempts to be exclusionary. 

For the record, Michael wasn’t pouring Chardonnay this afternoon but did start the tasting off with his 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, a grapefruity take on the varietal. The SB proved a perfect accompaniment to the Crab Cakes the waitresses from Mountain Terrace circulated throughout the three tasting areas, but I found his 2007 Grenache Rosé a tad more satisfying as a thirst quencher; in turn, I had an even greater partiality towards the 2007 Fiddletown Grenache.

Arguments could be made either way, but I personally favored Michael’s 2007 Hammer Syrah to his 2007 Camel Hill Syrah (rumors of camel dung being the fertilizer of choice at the latter vineyard had no bearing on my preference). Not surprising, the 2008 Fiddletown Zinfandel provided one of the true standouts this afternoonZin being the backbone of the Amador AVA—while also complementing the ample charcuterie spread out on the main table

An easier distinction loomed between the 2006 Heart Arrow Cabernet Sauvignon—quite possibly the best wine of the afternoon—and its followup, the 2007 Heart Arrow Cabernet Sauvignon. The latter posed a bit of a conundrum, a wine that, with time, will likely surpass its predecessor, and yet despite its ageworthiness, seemed the more ripened of the two vintages being poured. A more vexing question, though was whether the 2007 Heart Arrow Petite Sirah made for better pairing than the Cabs with the bits of dark chocolate on the counter, and which of the three matched up best with the beef tri-tip canapés. Certainly, I’d be willing to revisit the issue!

All in all, the Martella tasting proved a most convivial gathering, and with the rains precluding gathering outdoors on Mountain Terrace’s redwood deck, a genuine intimacy took hold indoors. My friend from Rock Wall, Renee Cheng, introduced me to numerous regular attendees, including her parents, while Michael himself seemed surprised I had not previously me his wife, Beverly. “Oddly,” I noted. “Most men try not to introduce me to their wives.” We both being Italian, he well understood.

I always seem to be obliged to some other commitment when Martella holds one of its infrequent tastings, so finally making it to this event was especially gratifying. I have long championed Michael’s œnology both under his own label and for the wines he crafts for Thomas Fogarty, while his assistant winemaker, Nathan Kandler, makes exceptional Pinots under his own Precedent label; the wet, winding jaunt to this quasi-remote sector of San Mateo County was well worth my effort. Now, if only some free-spending Venture Capitalist from Woodside had felt equally impassioned, this might have turned out to be an unprecedented event!


One of these days, if I’m still on the money hunt for Sostevinobile, I plan somehow to rise at 6 a.m., drive back down to Woodside in time for breakfast at Buck’s and pretend to have lost my term sheet somewhere in the vicinity of John Doerr’s table. But perhaps my diligence will have paid off before I need to resort to such a ploy. In the meantime, I followed my Woodside trip with yet another trek to the East Bay the following weekend.

Now, normally, any excursion to Berkeley obliges me to visit Berkeley Bowl, the independent market rumored to feature the world’s largest produce section. However, I’d attended the Green Building Forum and Celebration at the David Brower Center just a few days before and had detoured to the Bowl’s new adjunct on Heinz Avenue, leaving with a $2.99 sack of loose lettuce leaves that dwarfed a King size pillow. As such, a second trip in three days seemed utterly superfluous.

Instead, I wound my way through the low-level warehouses below University Avenue to the familiar confines of A Donkey and Goat. I first met Jared and Tracey Brandt at Rhône Rangers in 2005, and while I had never completely left the wine world, the epiphany of their unbottled 2003 Syrah that led to the reinvigoration of my active involvement, ultimately spawning the genesis of Sostevinobile.

Having missed their Fall Open House, I felt compelled (as much as I ever need to be compelled to enjoy wine) to attend one of their December Holiday Saturday tastings. Here I was pleasantly surprise not only to find Tracey preparing for the birth of a second child, but to discover the latest additions to their family of wines. Syrah, Grenache, Chardonnay and, over the last couple of years, Roussanne, have been the mainstays here, so it was refreshing to see Carignane, Pinot Noir and some new Rhône blends in the lineup.

First up was the new 2009 Sluice Box, a well-balanced mélange of Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. Ironically, the next wine poured, the 2008 Mendocino Mélange blended not different varietals but different clones of Syrah (with a touch of co-fermented Viognier) from Broken Leg and McDowell Vineyards.

I find Carignane a rather finicky grape to tame, and Jared’s first stab with his 2009 Carignane from Alexander Valley proved no exception. Bouncing back in superlative form was the first of three Syrahs, the 2007 Vielles Vignes Syrah from McDowell Valley—one sip and I instantly recalled why I have championed this winery for so many years. Coming in a close second, the 2007 Fenaughty Vineyard Syrah from El Dorado County validated A Donkey and Goat’s focus on this varietal.

This afternoon’s Reserve Tasting brought out more revelations, starting with the 2009 Untended Chardonnay. The name for this wine reflects an adherence to the Natural (or Do-Nothing) Farming principles of Masanobu Fukuoka, whose non-interventionist techniques represent a reformation of biodynamic tenets. Philosophy aside, it proved quite a special wine. Next up, the superb 2009 Coupe d’Or showed its deft blend of Marsanne and Roussanne to be quite worthy of its lofty moniker.

Jared and Tracey quite fervently extol the virtues of Syrah over Cabernet and Pinot, so it was a tad surprising to discover their 2009 Broken Leg Vineyard Pinot Noir, from one of their contracted Anderson Valley Syrah ranches. But then there was the 2007 Perli Vineyard Syrah—quite possibly their best Syrah effort since the initial beaker they featured at Fort Mason. A wonderful, rich, velvety wine, it lacked only the dense dried cherries with which A Donkey and Goat usually adorns their parties’ hors d’œuvres table (forget dark chocolate—words cannot begin to describe this ætherial pairing).

With this last wine, it was time to bid farewell to all 3.5 Brandt family members and head off to my next whirlwind event. Still, I was pleased to see the winery expanding its roster and bringing its Natural Winemaking precepts to other varietals. Jared has now added me to the list for A Donkey and Goat’s upcoming trade tasting. I look forward to the event with heightened anticipation.


By now, I ought to have been able to make my way to Rock Wall with my eyes closed. Still, with the CHP out in full force for the holidays, I remained extra-vigilant as I drove to Alameda to squeeze in the tail end of their Wine Wonderland Open House. Given the frequency of events I’ve attend here lately, my visit constituted less a quest for new discoveries for Sostevinobile as it was a chance to celebrate the season with numerous friends and acquaintances. Still, I did manage to find some surprises among the nine wineries pouring at the event.

First up, I encountered Joseph Gary Cellars, a new label making their wine at the Rock Wall facility. While they are portending to release a line of Iberian wines—Garnacha, Tempranillo, Albariño—sometime in the near future, for now their sole production consisted of a label they call Manic Monday, whose 2008 Proprietary Red blends Syrah and Zinfandel from Sonoma fruit. An easy assimilable weekday table wine at an easily assimilable price.

Another newcomer to the Rock Wall event, Mercy Vineyards from Arroyo Seco, had just poured at the San Francisco Vintners Market; despite their anomalous location, it seemed a welcome addition to the East Bay contingent of wineries. Once again, I greatly enjoyed their 2008 Syrah Zabala Vineyard, but not before I had worked my way through their selection of whites and Pinot. Both the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2008 Chardonnay Zabala Vineyard proved highly pleasing wines, while the 2008 Chardonnay Arroyo Seco approached the extraordinary. With three different Pinots to samples, I found the 2008 Pinot Noir Cedar Lane Vineyard and the 2009 Pinot Noir Grive Vineyard both competently crafted vintages, while the 2008 Pinot Noir Arroyo Seco clearly excelled.

My fellow tasting panel partner, Blacksmith Cellars’ Matt Smith, showcased the current vintages of his superb 2008 Chenin Blanc and the 2008 Torrontés, while debuting the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley and a remarkable 2007 Grenache/Syrah. And despite my sampling some 18 of their wines less than a month before, Rock Wall managed to impress with the latest vintages of their 2009 Zinfandel Sonoma County and the exceptional 2009 Zinfandel Stagecoach Vineyard. Their real revelations, however, were the new line of the 2009 Viva La Blanc, a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and the 2009 Viva La Rouge, an extraordinary marriage of Syrah, Zinfandel, and Nebbiolo. These wines were good enough not to correct the incongruities their French nomenclature.

I confess that the short time I had allotted meant I could enjoy only a cursory sampling of the wineries I have covered numerous times previously. Nonetheless, I immensely enjoyed Ehrenberg Cellars2009 Petite Sirah from Lodi and John Robert Eppler’s splendid 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford. I wish I had had more time to explore the remainder of my friend Dick Keenan’s Carica Wines, but was happy just the same to sample his 2008 The Siren, a traditional Rhône-style blend of Grenache, syrah, and Mourvèdre.

Maybe I was too apprehensive from my other recent tastings to believe there really be three outstanding expressions of a tendentious varietal; in any case, I somehow overlooked sampling the 2008 Viognier for Eno in favor of their seductive 2007 Change Agent Grenache, along with the 2007 The One (Pinot Noir) and the 2007 Mr. Fix It (Syrah). As always, catching up with my friend Sasha Verhage made this stop all the more worthwhile.

I finished up with the musically-focused R&B Cellars, which, true to form, offered an imposing lineup. Feeling selective, I opted to start with their new 2006 Metronome Merlot. The 2006 Counterpoint Cabernet Franc showed quite impressively, as did the 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. While I also liked the 2008 Pizzicato Petite Sirah (not being a cellist, I had to look the term up), the Fortissimo Port (50% Tinta Madeira, 50% Touriga) provided the perfect crescendo to my visit.

I returned to San Francisco as Wine Wonderland drew to a close, content that I had covered enough ground for Sostevinobile to call it a wrap for 2010. That is, in terms of formal wine tasting events. There were still plenty of blog entries to fill, as well as the seemingly endless quest for financing (more on that in January). And, of course, my pick of great wines to guide me through it all.

Maybe I need to take out palate insurance

November turned out to be another one of those months for Your West Coast Oenophile, which is why I landed up starting this entry in December. Sometimes my duties for Sostevinobile make me wonder how sustainable I am. But I get to drink some pretty special wine quite often. At least I usually think I do…
My first jaunt was to a special Friday night reception at Stags’ Leap Winery for the relaunch of their Artist in Residence program. With the good folks at Treasury Wine Estates providing shuttle service from San Francisco’s Ferry Building, this offer seemed too good to pass up—I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Napa with a designated driver in well over 10 years!

The trip up to the winery proved more than comfortable, given I can only remember 10-15 minute segments at either end, wrapped around a much-needed, hour-long nap. Oddly, though, I seemed to be the only rider connected to the wine industry. Everyone else on the bus either worked as a travel writer or belonged to the Luxury Marketing Council, an association with which I had no previous familiarity. While this anomaly didn’t quite make me feel like a nun on an Esalen retreat—after all, the wine world is supposedly my milieu; still, finding common ground among my fellow passengers certainly seemed a stretch. Nevertheless, I did collect some business cards, just in case I’m ever in the market for a new yacht.

In spite of the Friday night commute traffic, we arrived in front of the turret gracing the winery’s famed Manor House in under 90 minutes. Movie fans may well recognize this 120-year-old landmark as the home of my earliest childhood crush, Hayley Mills, in Pollyanna, or perhaps from This Earth is Mine, but my attention was quickly drawn to the crisp 2008 Viognier we were served upon entering.

Details from Portrait of a Community

Inside this converted residence, attendees were fêted with canapés and other appetizers exquisitely paired to the 2008 Reserve Chardonnay and Stags’ Leap’s signature Petite Sirah, the 2006 Ne Cede Malis. Throughout the Manor House, portraits of several wine country luminaries adorned the walls, a remounting of Napa Valley: Portrait of a Community, the series 1998’s Artist in Residence Patrick McFarlin had composed during his tenure.

Outside
on the porch, guests assembled for a brief history of Stags’ Leap,
accompanied by a recitation by poet Theresa Whitehill, and the debut of
the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, an impressive vintage from a
somewhat mercurial year. Oddly, the chronicle of the winery offered rich
insights into the winery’s stewardship by the Chase family, followed by
the Granges (several of whom were in attendance), yet elided
over the period when Carl Doumani brought the winery into prominence and
pioneered its focus on Petite Sirah. Nonetheless, with the current
corporate ownership systematically enhancing the winery’s focus and
upgrading its facilities, we were introduced to new winemaker
Christopher Paubert and treated to an overview of his œnological
philosophy.


Christopher led us on a tour of the new wine caves, where current Artist in Residence, New York photographer Jefferson Hayman hung a selection of his photos detailing the varying aspects of Stags’ Leap. We enjoyed a barrel sampling from of the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Christopher’s first, then collected gift bags that generously include a bottle of the aforementioned 2006 vintage. Needless to say, the ride back to San Francisco became a lot more festive than on the way up!


Alas, I did not have the luxury of being chauffeured the next day as I again crossed the Bay Bridge to attend the 2010 Harvest Rocks at Rock Wall, a winery that has frequently appeared here. What can I say? They put on a good party, they have a convenient location with an incredible vista on fog-free days, and they consistently make excellent and intriguing wines. This afternoon’s gathering lacked their more esoteric endeavors, like the 2007 Tannat Contra Costa County, the utterly compelling 2008 Montepulciano, or their 2009 Sparkling Grenache Rosé (although winemaker Shauna Rosenblum did put on an entertaining demonstration of dégorgement—the freezing and ejection of the sediment cap that forms during riddling—one of the more animated stages of méthode champenoise). The more mainstream varietals that they did pour demonstrated an overall consistent quality, both with their red and their white selections, and easily could stand with wines at twice their suggested price.

I found myself particularly fond of the 2009 Viognier Monterey County,
a bottling that further exemplified how California wineries are at last getting
hold of how to structure this wine—a well-balanced, superb
expression of the grape.
Similarly, the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Lake County displayed admirable restraint, neither too grassy nor too citrus. And with three Chards to taste side-by-side, the 2008 Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay clearly stood above the two 2009 bottlings.

Despite its lineage, Rock Wall isn’t striving to be the reincarnation of Rosenblum Cellars (no matter how much Diageo succeeds in eviscerating the pioneering Alameda facility). Still, it would be nigh impossible for them not to produce a lineup with numerous Zins, headlined this afternoon by a simply spectacular 2007 Zinfandel Reserve Sonoma County. While the successive Sonoma bottling in 2008 did not shine quite as brightly, I did also greatly enjoy the 2008 Jesse’s Vineyard Zinfandel from Contra Costa County.

Given Rock Wall’s versatility, I would have expected a bit more from their Cabs. The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley seemed a tad lackluster, however, while the extremely approachable 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley still lagged behind the numerous exceptional wines this vintage has produced. On the other hand, their 2008 Petite Sirah Mendocino County, the varietal that introduced me to this venture two years ago, showed every bit as solid as my initial exposure had been.

Before closing out with the dessert selections, I did partake in a plate of the tangy barbecue whipped up by Big Ray “the Armadillo” Green. With sightlines across the Bay to downtown San Francisco and AT&T Park, it took considerable restraint not to tweak this native of Euliss, Texas, a town only 7 miles from Rangers Ballpark, about the just-concluded World Series, but great ribs have been known to inspire discretion. Fittingly, the post-prandial wines, the 2007 Late Harvest Riesling and the 2008 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc proved as fitting a cap to the event as an Edgar Renteria home run, and with that I retreated to the comforts of my championship home turf.


Rock Wall has been a mainstay of the Urban Wineries that comprise the East Bay Vintners Alliance. Another member that is garnering considerable attention of late has been Urban Legend, which hosted a Release Party to celebrate the inaugural in-house harvest at their recently completed facility. While I’ve been able to taste one or two of their wines at collective tastings before, I hadn’t really had the opportunity to explore the wide range of varietals they produce, nor focus on their wines exclusively. All of which made trekking to West Oakland’s warehouse district rather compelling (though perhaps more wisely attempted during daylight hours).

Wineries that operate in converted storage sheds or light industrial parks tend to be quite utilitarian—not exactly the pastoral setting one finds in Paso Robles or the Shenandoah Valley. But the lack of surrounding vineyards or imposing architecture did nothing to detract from the quality of the wine, as Marilee and Steve Shaffer readily demonstrated. A polished tasting bar greeted their guests in the antechamber of their facility—a singular welcoming gesture, to be sure—while stacked tiers of barrels holding the just-completed 2010 crush filled the main area. Eager tasting room assistants served up the organically grown 2009 Lake County Sauvignon Blanc, the sole white pour this evening, 

Moving onto the reds, the 2008 Ironworks blended Nebbiolo with 20% Sangiovese for a soft, approachable wine; I held similar fondness for the 2009 Lake County Mourvèdre. A more robust Rhône expression came from the 2009 Lolapalooza, their take on Grenache. The strongest expression of the GMS elements, however, was the 2009 Amador County Syrah, a wine that craved chocolate pairing.

Urban Legend covers a lot of ground, viticulturally speaking. Their sole foray with Iberian varietals (discounting interpreting their Mourvèdre as Monastrell or the Grenache as Garnacha) was a delightful, peppery 2009 Tempranillo from Clarksburg. Bordelaise vintages included an amiable 2009 Petit Verdot from Mendocino and the Right Bank-style 2009 Uptown, blending 60% Merlot with 40% Cabernet Sauvignon.

I had been seduced earlier this summer by the 2008 Teroldego and hoped this or the subsequent vintage would be poured at the event, but I will have to wait for a subsequent visit. Nonetheless, Italian varietals flowed in force this afternoon; released from the dominant Nebbiolo of the Ironworks, their straight 2008 Lake County Sangiovese proved delightful in its own right. The 2008 Barbera from Clarksburg seemed a bit sweet for my taste, but the 2009 Dolcetto from El Dorado County was a masterful bottling (as well as the strongest candidate I could find for an ideal Turkey Day pairin
g)
.

Steve and Marilee put out a smorgasbord of appetizers to complement their wines—fitting, indeed, for the inevitable smorgasbord of attendees one finds at East Bay wine tastings (Sostevinobile finds such multicultural interest in wine most telling to our core mission of promoting wines for their universal appeal). And so its seemed only right to conclude the evening with their Grapefiti, a non-vintage blend of just about everything Urban Legend puts in a barrel—not quite a field blend but definitely not a haphazard assemblage, either. A most enjoyable wine from a most enjoyable venture.


My readers know I made no bones about my disappointment in this year’s Pinot on the River. For weeks, I assuaged myself with the anticipation of Farallon’s annual PinotFest, held just before Thanksgiving in the safe and dry confines of the Kensington Park Hotel. Now, most wine critics, myself included, do find single varietal tastings somewhat challenging—we all reach a point where it becomes extremely difficult to distinguish among the various labels on hand. This tasting, however, completely flummoxed me—none of the wines stood out!

I started to think that I might have been permanently affected by the October debacle—perhaps I would never be able to appreciate Pinot unless my feet were sunk 6″ deep in mud! Then, I realized something almost as horrific was afoot—my palate had gone on strike! I recognized many of these wines; I had tasted them before and delighted in their nuances. This day, I could barely distinguish a thing beyond an initial recognition of the varietal. Fortunately, this setback turned out to be ephemeral, but any hope of finding an amazing new discovery this day was shot.

And so I can only offer an amalgamation of what I did sample, with apologies all around. First up, I wound my way over to the table for Bonaccorsi, a Santa Barbara winery specializing in Viognier, Syrah, and, of course, Pinot. Principal Michael Bonaccorsi cut his teeth as the director of Spago’s wine program in Los Angeles; today, his venture debuted at PinotFest with their 2007 Cargasacchi Vineyard Pinot Noir, a wine even my debilitated palate could not fail to appreciate, alongside the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills and the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara. Also from the Central Coast, Drake poured a striking duo: the 2008 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard H Block and the superb 2008 Les Galets Pinot Noir from Arroyo Grande Valley.

Just up the coast, Fiddlehead Cellars offered a pair of wines from its Fiddlestix Vineyard in Santa Rita Hills: the 2007 Seven Twenty Eight Pinot Noir (the name derives from the mile marker on Santa Rosa Road) and the 2007 Lollapalooza (not to be confused with the Lolapalooza from Urban Legend). Fiddlehead is a bit of an anomaly, in that it produces only Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc and that it manages vineyards in both California and in Oregon, the latter which was not showcased here. Siduri Wines did contrast the two parts of its bifurcated operations, pouring their 2009 Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands alongside the 2007 Willamette Blanc de Pinot Noir, a truly special handcrafted effort.

I began to realize my palate was rather askew this afternoon when I visited with Skewis at the next table over. I had sampled these Pinots with considerable pleasure quite recently in Geyserville; today, I felt almost indifferent towards them. I have long known I can rely on Skewis as a benchmark for excellence in Pinot Noir, and while I was willing to allow that one wine could seem off from my previous evaluation, how could I sip my way through such wines as the 2000 Montgomery Vineyard Pinot Noir or the 2008 Anderson Valley Reserve Pinot Noir and not experience a tinge of elation? I began fearing my libido would be the next to go.

Nonetheless, I soldiered on, hoping my taste buds might somehow recover before the afternoon concluded. Newcomer Beaux Frères from Oregon offered a nice array of their wines, starting with 2008 The Beaux Frères Vineyard Pinot Noir. This Pinot-only operation from Newberg, Oregon also poured their 2007 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and a new release, the 2009 Les Cousins Pinot Noir. From nearby McMinnville, former Stags’ Leap winemaker Robert Brittan paired the 2007 Basalt Block Pinot Noir and 2007 Gestalt Block Pinot Noir produced at his eponymous Syrah- & Pinot-focused winery. Meanwhile, one of Oregon’s tried & true wine pioneers, Adelsheim, showcased both their 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and the coveted 2008 Elizabeth’s Reserve Pinot Noir.

Quite a number of wineries from our northern neighbor make the annual trek to this event. Among those I enjoy with regularity were Domaine Drouhin, with its 2007 Cuvée Laurène, one of their twin Estate Pinots, and the 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. The ever-revered Domaine Serene sampled a pair of its wines, the 2006 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir and the equally-acclaimed 2007 Mark Bradford Vineyard Pinot Noir. Soter Vineyards made a return appearance to feature their latest, the 2008 North Valley Pinot Noir and the 2008 Mineral Springs Ranch Pinot Noir.

Tony Soter’s former venture, Étude, continued his legacy with their Carneros bottlings, including the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir. Just north of Carneros, Hendry represents a rare winery within the Napa Valley AVA producing a 2007 Estate Pinot Noir. Back in Carneros, Gloria Ferrer tends to be better known for their sparkling wines, but comported themselves admirably here with both their 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir and the 2006 José S. Ferrer Pinot Noir.

I’ve long relished the sparkling wines Sonoma’s Iron Horse produces, so was more than happy to sample their 2005 Brut Rosé alongside their 2008 Estate Pinot Noir (a wine I feel sure I would have appreciated with an intact palate). I do know, from the CCOF tasting in October, that I highly appreciated the selection of Pinots from Alma Rosa, Richard Sanford’s followup to his eponymous winery; certainly, there was no disappointment either with the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills or the top-rated 2007 Pinot Noir La Encantade Vineyard. And I almost would have been willing to defer any assessment of the wines Au Bon Climat poured to previous accolades from other sources, but I nonetheless managed to sample the 2006 Barham Mendelsohn Russian River Pinot Noir, the 2007 Bien Nacido Historical Vineyard Pinot Noir, the filial 2007 Pinot Noir-Isabelle, and, with a name almost as convoluted as Sostevinobile, the 2007 La Bauge Au-Dessus Estate Pinot Noir.

Another acclaimed Pinot producer, Merry Edwards, offered a tantalizing glimpse into her portfolio with the 2008 Olivet Lane Pinot Noir and her 2008 Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir. I managed to sample but one of Robert Sinskey’s fabled organic Pinots, the 2007 Pinot Noir Three Amigos Vineyards, and only the 2008 La Neblina from Radio-Coteau, a winery I first encountered at last year’s tasting. I relish Greenwood Ridge for their biodynamic Sauvignon Blanc, but subsequently discovered their Pinot at last year’s PinotFest; my recollections made me eager to try their 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino Ridge this time round.

I opted for the 2008 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Occidental Ridge Vineyard from Failla’s two selections, while choosing the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County from Costa de Oro. I hadn’t had the chance to catch up with Byron since their whirlwind of ownership changes a couple of years back, so I lingered long enough to sample both the 2008 Monument Pinot Noir and the 2008 Nielsen Vineyard Pinot Noir while discussing the evolution of their winemaking under the stewardship of Jackson Family Wines.

Down in Lompoc, Melville operates a highly concentrated endeavor that limits itself to (and excels in) Chardonnay, Syrah, and, of course, Pinot Noir. For PinotFest, they poured three of their more noteworthy efforts: the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills and both the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir Carrie’s and the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir Terrace’s, which are scheduled for release next spring. Melville’s winemaker Greg Brewer has also heads up a Burgundian-focused project with Italian varietal specialist Steve Clifton (from Palmina), fittingly named Brewer-Clifton. I enjoyed both the 2009 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills and the 2009 Pinot Noir Mount Carmel, though even my palsied palate could sense that these wines were still quite young.

Certainly, if time had permitted, I would have brought myself to sample the numerous other wineries who have made this event so splendid year after year. After all, it wasn’t that I hadn’t found nearly all the wines I tried this afternoon commendable—rather, it was an inability to discern the distinguishing characteristics of the various vintages that left me in such a quandary. I recall how my good friend Carlo Middione had to close Vivande, his temple to Southern Italian cuisine, earlier this year, after an automobile accident rendered his sense of smell and taste permanently impaired; even though my own dilemma turned out fortunately to be a fleeting (albeit excruciating) moment, I can well empathize with his frustration. After all, it has been the exquisite subtlety of my palate that has carried on the vision for Sostevinobile for nearly two years.


Fortunately, my taste buds revived with a vengeance in time to take in the second installment of San Francisco Vintners Market, my final marathon for the month of November. Instead, the debacle of my palatal paralysis gave way to the perplexity of perambulating the aisles of a trade show that did not even provide attendees with a booth guide or tasting map. As is my wont, I had deciphered the list of attending wineries from the promoters’ website and highlighted those I hoped to acquaint with Sostevinobile’s wine program; even with this targeted agenda, the task of finding their tables inside the enormous Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason became a game of sleuthing.

Working blindly, I first stumbled upon Rua, a small, single bottling venture from the consultancy at Wines West. The 2008 Rua Napa Valley is a Right Bank-style Bordelaise wine derived from a co-fermentation of Cabernet Franc and Merlot grown on the right side of the Carneros AVA. Cultivar, a winery out of Rutherford, offered a most impressive 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (especially considering its $25 price point).

Sometimes a label can seem so evocative, one wonders whether the wine can match the impression it gives. Despite the allure of David Pizzimenti’s Mendoza, TAJ Cellars managed to exceed expectations with the 2008 Zinfandel and an exceptional 2007 Syrah. Similarly, the classical allusion of a goddess bearing two οἰνοχόαι (wine jugs) adorning the bottles of Mercy Vineyards’ artisan wines heralded a much-pleasing 2008 Syrah Zabala Vineyard from Arroyo Seco. And the appeal of its Papyrus Condensed lettering superimposed on a swath of broad-stroked sunset colors hardly belied the delights of the striking Italian varietals from Plymouth’s Bella Grace: their 2008 Vermentino, the 2008 Pinot Grigio, and the 2009 Primitivo, as well as its cousin, the 2006 Old Vine Zinfandel.

As with April’s Vintners Market, one of the true pleasures of the event was discovering a number of microproducers like Evidence Wines, whose 250 case production consists solely of its 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, a meaty selection from Knights Valley with 10% Malbec, 8% Petit Verdot, and 7% Petite Sirah. Hamel Family Wines topped out 290 cases of the 2006 Pamelita, an estate Cabernet Sauvignon from their sustainably farmed, one acre vineyard in Sonoma Valley. Along with 49 cases of Sauvignon Blanc, Heibel Ranch Vineyards bottled a whopping 188 cases of its proprietary 2007 Lappa’s, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah.

All told, Flying Horse has produced an inventory of nearly 2,000 cases among its three vintages from 2005-07. With Denis Malbec consulting, the 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 Napa Valley Petite Sirah, and 2007 Sauvignon Blanc all proved to be well-structured, memorable wines. J&J Cellars is the premium line from A Cellar Full of Noise’s James Judd; I found their 2009 Tempranillo Rosé more than refreshing while being pleasantly surprised by the complexity of their NV Autumn Flight Barbera.

Vintners Market featured a VIP section with many of the same premium wineries that also poured in April. I was pleased to meet Vito Bialla and taste his 2008 Cabernet, a Craig MacLean vinification tempered with 14% Merlot. Nearby, an extraordinary discovery was the 2007 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon from Rugg Family, blending grapes from Stag’s Leap, Oak Knoll and Yountville. Downtown Napa’s leading wine bar, Bounty Hunter, poured their own 2008 Jurisprudence, a Cabernet Sauvignon blended with 12% Cabernet Franc and 1% Merlot.

Another special blend in the VIP section was the 2007 Enjoie RTW, a Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot mélange from VinRoc, whose Atlas Peak 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon proved truly outstanding. I was happy to visit with Sciandri and resample their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon I had first encountered at the inaugural Coombsville tasting. Demuth Kemos featured their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mountain Terraces but truly excelled with their 2008 Syrah Bei Ranch.

Back with the οἱ πολλοί, I worked my way through the latest and greatest from Baker Lane: the 2009 Rosé of Syrah, the 2008 Ramondo Pinot Noir, and both the 2008 Estate Syrah and the 2008 Sonoma Coast Cuvée Syrah. I also revisited with Tom Keith’s Athair in order to try his elegant 2007 Russian River Pinot Noir and the 2009 Russian River Pinot Noir Rosé. On the more raucous side, Red Zeppelin struck a resounding note with both their 2009 White Zeppelin Chardonnay and the 2009 Black Zeppelin Petite Sirah.

I had hoped to retry John Chiarito’s Italian varietals, but opted instead for his exquisite 2007 Petite Sir
ah
. With Kelseyville’s Rosa d’Oro on hand, I did get my fix with their 2007 Barbera, the 2007 Dolcetto, and an imposing 2008 Sangiovese. And if that weren’t enough, Treasure Island’s Fat Grape Winery poured its 2008 Sangiovese alongside a 2008 Cabernet Franc, an appealing 2008 Zinfandel, a 2008 Mourvèdre, and a 2008 Petit Verdot.

Page Wine Cellars bottles its Bordeaux-style blends under its own name and designates its Revolver label for the rest. This afternoon they poured the 2007 The Stash, a Cabernet Sauvignon softened with 5% Cabernet Franc, while showcasing Revolver’s 2007 The Fury (Cabernet Franc) and the 2007 Perdition (Petite Sirah). Also from Napa, Longfellow Wines elected to feature their 2007 Dry Creek Valley Syrah Unti Vineyard and the 2008 Pinot Noir Griffin’s Lair Vineyard. The unassumingly named Napa Station from former Merryvale CEO Peter Huwiler quietly made its splash here with a quartet of well-executed wines: the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, the delectable 2007 Chardonnay, a balanced 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Merlot.


In Mendocino, the city of Point Arena has its own lighthouse, as well as an official Poet Laureate—and Mariah Vineyards; their meticulously hand-picked wines included the 2007 Zinfandel and the 2006 Syrah, both strikingly well-crafted vintages. Meanwhile, Bennett Valley near Santa Rosa boasts Bennett Valley Cellars, with its appealing Bin 6410 Pinot Noir. And nearby in Santa Rosa, Kivelstadt Family Vineyard offered its 2009 Dog Daze Rosé (Syrah/Grenache) and the 2008 Pavo Syrah. An utterly superb Grenache came from Santa Rosa’s Grey Stack, the 2007 Dry Stack Grenache, while their 2007 Marie’s Block Syrah came half a sip to being as good.

Like Mariah, Fogline Vineyards handcrafts their wines, with impressive results for both the 2009 Pinot Noir Windsor Oaks Vineyard and the 2009 Zinfandel. Equal parts Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon constitute the aptly-named and immensely appealing 2006 Mixto from Solovino.

I oughtn’t be critical of Greater Purpose, a wine venture with charitable aspirations, but with their added purpose, all-too-hip design, and state-of-the-art Web site, they seem to have overlooked attention to detail in their wine blending. Their two wines, the NV White Label and the NV Black Label, both marry Cabernet Sauvignon with Zinfandel, the latter adding 10% Syrah. Neither had that “you’ve got to try this” cachet, but I respect their effort. I will, however, stand unrestrained in my disapprobation of wineries and wine events that affiliate themselves with or incorporate tobacco; certainly, I hope the appearance of CigarRV—the Mobile Mancave will prove a one-time aberration for Vintners Market. (Readers here should know that Sostevinobile’s
commitment to a sustainable environment means that we will not
accommodate smoking on any portion of our premises, including the
projected outdoor seating area atop our living roof
).

In reading other wine blogs, I sense I may have missed perhaps 50% of the possible new wineries that attended Vintners Market. As always, I am grateful to Bridget and Cornelius for inviting me to their splendid event, but let me exhort them print out a program next time!! It will expedite matters for everyone: the media trying to cover the event, wineries taking the time to make the event happen, and attendees who come to enjoy and purchase the wine on hand. In return, yours truly will continue striving to sample and evaluate as many West Coast wineries that meet Sostevinobile’s criteria as I can—provided my palate doesn’t go south again! 

Try to dismember a guy in September

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

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

Rock Wall Does Rockpile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not that Washington. This one!

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wines of the Mojave Desert


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Food & Wine Tasting

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

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

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

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


Vive la France?

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

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

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

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

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

Innumerable enumeration? Enumerable inumbration?

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

No! No! I mean an elephone

Who tried to use the telephone

—Laura E. Richards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where there is there there

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

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

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



There is no square there

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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