Category Archives: Malvasia Bianca

Discoveries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What wine goes best with Fruit Loop-encrusted doughnuts?

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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






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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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.”

Quattro…cinque…sei…sette…otto…

4) Spring Mountain

I don’t mean to give short shrift to the early morning reception at Clos du Val, but Your West Coast Oenophile had reviewed the same wines served here back at their Vindependence function in July, and with my well-documented aversion to eggs, I could only try the wonderful baguettes along with the 2009 Ariadne (Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon), Pinot Noirs, and library Cabernets on hand. But I did manage to persuade Hospitality and Wine Education Associate Jim Wilkinson to open a bottle of the limited-release 2007 Primitivo that I enjoyed immensely.

Excruciatingly missing from Clos du Val’s fête was my essential AM Java jolt (I had anticipated getting my fix here and so had eschewed the hotel’s diluted styrofoam-clad version before driving up to Stags Leap). Miraculously, I managed to cruise on autopilot over to Yountville and locate the quaint Coffee Caboose I had espied the day before at the Napa Valley Railway Inn. Sufficiently caffeinated, I coherently would my way up St. Helena Highway to join in the festivities at Spring Mountain Vineyard.

Constrictions of time and space here preclude me from recounting numerous tales of this storied winery, which I had not visited since 1984. Suffice it to say, the facilities had changed dramatically over the past quarter century, as had the personnel. Still, I found it most welcoming to be greeted by Sostevinobile’s Facebook fan Valli Ferrell before descending into the bowels of the candlelit caves that had been excavated since my last tour.

To be frank, long-term, subterranean occupancy may well be suitable for bats, but it is hardly conducive to Homo sapiens, and while being capable of flying might mitigate reincarnation as one of the Chiroptera species in the next life, for now, negotiating a two-hour tasting in this dimly-lit environment utterly strained my endurance. That said, the wines, of course, proved more than delectable, and, despite the constraints of the setting, I managed to negotiate all 17 wineries pouring here.

First up, I stopped by Cain to chat with Associate Winemaker François Bugué and sample through his eclectic mix. We started with his non-vintage Cain Cuvée, a Merlot-dominant blend from both the 2006 and 2007 vintages, rounded out with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, as well as 7% Petit Verdot. With 20% Merlot and just 2% Cabernet Franc, the 2006 Cain Concept could have been labeled varietal Cabernet Sauvignon, while the flagship 2006 Cain 5 married the five Bordeaux grapes in differing percentages, with none dominating. Most intriguing, however, was Cain’s auction selection, the 2009 François’ Pick, an atypical blend of 67% Malbec and 33% Petit Verdot. By contrast, Frias Family chose simply to pour their excellent 2007 Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, while Sherwin Family’s lone entry, the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, softened with 12% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc.

I’d missed the table for Vineyard 7 & 8 at the Next Generation tasting, so was pleased to atone for my oversight here with their trio of Cabernets. I preferred the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon to the(slightly) more modest 2007 7 Cabernet Sauvignon, while the 2001 7 Cabernet Sauvignon proved an unexpected pleasure. And although I had tried both wines only a few hours before, I was happy to resample the 2009 Albion and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Marston Family again poured.

Another all-Cab effort, Peacock contrasted their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District with winemaker Craig Becker’s East Napa venture, Somerston, from along Sage Canyon Road, and its 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Estate Grown; like Vineyard 7 & 8, Peacock also treated attendees to a taste to a retrospective of their 2001 vintage.

The Spring Mountain District AVA was established in 1983, so I am at a los to explain of the significance of the 2001 vintage or why nearly every winery here brought a sample. Although they produce a number of varietals, Terra Valentine showcased a pure Cabernet play, starting with their 2001 Wurtele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. I was just as pleased with the 2007 Wurtele, while the 2007 Yverdon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Spring Mountain District Cabernet both proved highly amiable wines. By contrast, the 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Barnett Vineyards poured outshone their current 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District, while the 2008 Merlot Spring Mountain District provided a refreshing contrast to this uniformity.

Juslyn Vineyards may not be Justin Vineyards (now incongruously part of the Fiji Water empire), but their wines created no ambiguity, with a superb 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, complemented by their proprietary 2006 Perry’s Blend, a Merlot-based Meritage tempered with 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot. Behrens Family Winery, producers of Erna Schein, featured their Behrens & Hitchcock label, bulking up with their 2006 Petite Sirah Spring Mountain District and the evocatively illustrated 2007 The Heavyweight, an equal Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot mix, tempered with 20% Petit Verdot.

Keenan Winery virtually wrote the book on blending Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Their flagship 2001 Mernet combined 50% Merlot with equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Just as impressive was the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District, while the 2008 Chardonnay Spring Mountain District brought a most welcome white wine into the mix. Similarly, Fantesca showcased not only their impressive 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon but what they claim is winemaker Heidi Barrett’s first foray into white Burgundy, her 2008 Chardonnay.

Schweiger first poured their 2008 Estate Chardonnay, then followed with the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and an utterly compelling Meritage, the 2006 Dedication, a wine easily 5-10 years before its peak. Their best effort, however, was assuredly their ten year old 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, an omen for these later vintages. Newton’s iconic 2007 Unfiltered Chardonnay definitely stood up to its considerable legend, but their coup here came from two near-perfect wines, the superbly aged 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon and their 2007 The Puzzle, a marriage of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, and 3% Cabernet Franc.

Before coming to this event, I cruised to the top of Spring Mountain and inadvertently found myself driving through Pride Mountain’s vineyards. Here I intentionally navigated my way through their superlative 2009 Chardonnay, then onto the 2008 Merlot and 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, before settling into their luxurious 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon. Last up, our hosts, Spring Mountain Vineyards gallantly provided the final pours of this tasting, starting with a most refreshing 2009 Estate Sauvignon Blanc. The 2007 Syrah proved a welcome alternative to the near monotony of Bordeaux reds, while their own 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon held its own in this crowded field. Finally, the 2006 Elivette, a Cabernet Sauvignon with touches of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, led into their crowning achievement, the 2001 Elevette.

And with this final wine, I re-emerged from the bowels of darkness into a bath of welcome sunlight. Gradually regaining my bearings, I quickly thanked Valli (“Farewell, Ferrell”) for her hospitality and proceeded to “de-elevate” from the mountain slope to the floor of the Valley for my second round of the afternoon.

5) St. Helena

Even before I arrived at the Charles Krug Winery, it had become apparent that I would never be able to taste every wine and visit with every winery, with barely an hour to devote to each of the events remaining on my itinerary, Highway 29 traffic notwithstanding. I headed down Spring Mountain Road, turned north, and followed Main Street almost the juncture where the St. Helena Highway resumes.

I’ve attended enough events at Krug now that I instinctively knew to head for the restored 1881 Carriage House behind the main winery facilities. My head was still throbbing from spelunking at Spring Mountain, but Whitehall Lane’s Do
uglas Logan-Kuhs heroically managed to round up some aspirin. Revitalized, I proceeded to ply my way through the various wineries I had not yet contacted for Sostevinobile, and then some.

Commencing with Bressler, I found their superb 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon to be everything one should expect from a Mia Klein/David Abreu collaboration. Another boutique producer, this time with Chris Dearden consulting as winemaker, V Madrone poured a noteworthy 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon V Madrone Vineyard, along with its even more fetching predecessor from 2006.

I suspect the generic name of Peter Story’s St. Helena Winery may have caused me to overlooked this unassuming venture over the years, so finally being able to sample their 2006 Scandale and superb 2006 Sympa, both Estate Cabernet Sauvignons, proved truly serendipitous. Another discovery, Casa Nuestra, seems delightfully bent on going against the St. Helena grain, beginning with the once commonly planted 2010 Estate Dry Chenin Blanc. What they label the 2007 Tinto St. Helena is a field blend not of Portuguese but of traditional Napa varietals including Refosco, Petite Sirah, Carignane, and Zinfandel; their special bottling for Première, the 2009 Ellis blended these same grapes, along with Mondeuse and Valdiguié, from their Oakville vineyard where they produce their self-described Tinto Classico.

Van Ballentine didn’t pour his acclaimed Chenin Blanc but did offer a sample of the newly-released 2009 Malvasia Bianca Betty’s Vineyard, followed by his 2006 Merlot St. Helena. And certainly there was nothing small about either 2006 Petit Verdot and 2008 Petite Sirah, two wines I greatly enjoyed. Stellar quality seemed to be the rule of thumb at this event, but, after Ballentine, few of the wineries I tried showed little daring to venture outside of Bordelaise orthodoxy. Jaffe Estate, which had so impressed me at November’s St. Helena tasting, revalidated my laudation of their wines with the 2007 Transformation, a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot. Boeschen Vineyards complemented their fine 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon with their 2008 Carrera Estate Blend, a Meritage of unspecified proportions.

A familiar name with which I first became acquainted in 1982, Freemark Abbey’s 2007 Josephine could almost have qualified as a blend, but with only 12.6% Merlot, 7.9% Malbec, and 4% Cabernet Franc, its 75.5% Cabernet Sauvignon met the varietal threshold. I tried to convince Joann Ross of Shibumi Knoll to incorporate the Rolling Stones’ Shattered (okay, so maybe Jagger is actually singing “shadoobie”) before delving into their inarguably wondrous 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

I’ve ceased being surprised at all the AVA tastings where I find Steve Lohr pouring; his family’s Silicon Valley-based J. Lohr Vineyards may very well source grapes from every single one! From St. Helena, his 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Carol’s Vineyard proved surprisingly appealing, as did the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Tomasson Vineyard from Midsummer Cellars.

Just a notch higher, I found the 2006 Bisou Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Bisou Cabernet Sauvignon, James Johnson’s sole endeavor, equally excellent. On par here was the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Sabina Vineyards, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Forman Vineyards, and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from Revana.

Although I’ve sampled his wines on a number of occasions, this tasting marked my first meeting namesake Dr. Madaiah Revana, who graciously invited me to one of his storied house parties the next evening (alas, I was already committed to a tasting back in San Francisco). I also met Austin Gallion of Vineyard 29 after numerous e-mail exchanges over the past several months while tasting my way through their phenomenal 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and their Première bottling, a 2009 Cabernet culled from their several Napa vineyards.

By now, I was approaching the time I had allotted St. Helena, but did take a final taste of the 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2006 Estate Petite Sirah from Varozza. I had hoped to see my friends Marc and Janice Mondavi before I left, but they were not in the Carriage House. H
owever, my friend Douglas Logan-Kuhs pulled off yet another coup, introducing me to 96-year-old Peter Mondavi Sr., and poured us both a taste of a 1960 Zinfandel (I believe it was bottled under the CK Mondavi line—the label was too faded to read!), a wine that had withstood the tests of time almost as well as the winery’s patriarch.

6) Rutherford

In retrospect, maybe I ought to have attended the Phillipe Melka party at David Stevens’ 750 Wines instead of the Rutherford event, or skipped both and taken in the Oakville tasting from the beginning. Not that the wines poured upstairs at Peju weren’t wondrous—it was just that I’d had the opportunity to sample all of them several times previously.

Several of the staff recalled me from my sorry-I-can’t do-eggs luncheon visit this past summer. In turn, however, I was pleasantly surprised to find my longtime associate Dan Gaffey, with whom I’d worked at Real Beer.com, now part of the Peju team. (The irony here is that I wrote the content for nearly 30 craft beer brewers’ websites throughout the latter part of the 1990s, yet probably consumed the equivalent of one 6-pack a year—or less)!

Running into Dan probably set the tone for this gathering, which ultimately proved more of a klatch than a tasting. Doyen Huerta Peju may not have been in attendance, but Rutherford’s sonsiest winemaker, Bridget Raymond warmly greeted me at the top of the stairs. As we caught up with each other and discussed her upcoming San Francisco Vintners Market, I sampled her latest effort, the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon she bottles under her Courtesan label, as well as the Meritage from her secondary line, the 2006 Brigitte.

Over in the main room, Greg Martin stood out in a corduroy jacket that understated his encyclopædic command of antique weaponry and other artifacts of medieval societies. I see Greg quite often at our health club and have sampled his wines almost as frequently, so after retasting Martin Estate’s 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, I deferred to my friend, aspirant œnophile Lisa Mroz, while I roamed about the other stations. I didn’t see my former neighbor Michael Honig, who used to run his family operations from their home in Pacific Heights when the winery solely focused on Sauvignon Blanc. Now firmly ensconced in Rutherford, their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc displayed redolence of the mastery that gave this winery such acclaim, but the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Campbell Vineyard showed even stronger, as did the 2008 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.

Nearby, Alpha Omega also showcased their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and their special Première bottling, the 2009 Red (52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 13 Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot). I sampled Cakebread’s anomalous 2009 Red, a blend of 75% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, and 10% Syrah, before I meandered to the back room and ran into Julie Johnson.

At Julie’s insistence, I worked my way through her range of Tres Sabores wines, starting with a luscious 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. As we traded recollections of Spring Mountain Winery from the 1980s, I sampled her organic 2008 Estate Zinfandel and 2008 ¿Por Qué No?, an unusual blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Petit Verdot, before trying her best effort, the compelling 2007 Petite Sirah. As a couple out-of- town buyers commandeered Julie’s attention, I turned to introduce myself to Sharon Crull of The Terraces. As we chatted, I revisited her 2009 Chardonnay and the intensely aromatic 2009 Riesling, an uncommon Rutherford varietal. As usual, I found the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon thoroughly enjoyable, while the 2008 Zinfandel and 2008 Petite Sirah were clearly superior wines.

Napa Smith Brewery also manned a table here, a first time (in my experience) that a Napa wine tasting also featured a beer maker. By now, however, I was clearly past the hour I had slated to arrive at Oakville’s Opening Party for Première, and, besides, there was no way my stomach could tolerate mixing beer with wine at this point. Instead, Amanda Horn sent me off with 22 oz. bottles of their Organic IPA and the Amber Ale to explore at home for the local, sustainable beer program Sostevinobile will feature. I liked these beers, to be sure, but I realize my palate is far too unrefined to be assaying the beers we will serve. Still, the unfamiliar sight of me cradling a pair of ales definitely put a smile on Dan Gaffey’s face as I left.

7) Oakville

I’ll know better for Première 2012. I should have paid closer attention to the times on my invite. I should have scheduled my other visits more precisely. I should have consulted the GPS Map on my iPhone and realized Nickel & Nickel’s facilities and the Far Niente estate, where the Oakville tasting was being held, weren’t situated all that close to each other. And ever since the time we drove to Oxbow Market’s special reception for successful Auction Napa Valley bidders on the wrong day, I should have known not to rely on Karen Mancuso’s inside scoops.

Despite the glaring typo on its program cover, Première Napa Valley Begins in Oakville was the focal event of the day, but I only caught the last half hour or so. Once I managed to find a space in the makeshift parking lot, I elected to walk up to the caves rather than wait for a shuttle, which dissipated another vital 15 minutes I might have spent interacting with the participating wineries. Once I did arrive, the labyrinthine caves felt more like a maze; finding in which corridor the individual wineries had set up might even have confounded Dædalus!

I did connect with quite a few, nonetheless, while others that I missed, like Detert, Ghost Block, Gargiulo, Swanson, and Gamble, have been covered here quite a few times (not that I would have had any reluctance to taste them again)! First up, I managed to catch up with Groth’s genial winemaker, Michael Weis, while sampling his 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville along with the Duck Rillettes on Crouton from Groth’s chef Peter Hall. Deeper into the cave, Brix chef Anne Gingrass offered up a glimpse of her culinary wizardry with her Fennel & Mushroom Risotto Fritters, fittingly juxtaposed between Kelleher, with their 2005 Cabernet Brix Vineyard, and the always delightful Kristine Ashe, who poured her superb 2008 Entre Nous Cabernet Sauvignon.

Facing this alcove, what turned out to be the central nexus of the caves housed a dizzying array of endeavors, all bearing the Oakville name: Oakville Cuvée, Oakville East, Oakville Ranch, Oakville Terraces, and Oakville Winery. I’m still not sure which represented bonded wineries and which were cooperative bottling projects, but I did manage to sample the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Gary Raugh’s Oakville Terraces and both the 2008 Estate Zinfandel and 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville Winery.

From there, following the map became far too confusing, and in my efforts to locate Opus One, I stumbled upon my friend Phil Schlein, whose protégé at Stanford Business School co-wrote the business plan for Sostevinobile with me. Phil produces three distinct lines of organic wines at his estate, including Emilio’s Terrace and the whimsically named MoonSchlein, but here I only sampled the 2007 Sophie’s Rows, a Cabernet Sauvignon with 10% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc. Unfortunately, I missed out on both Robert Mondavi’s Cabernet selections and the Braised Lamb Bouchée from their chef Jeff Mosher, who had been sharing this station, but the overpowering aromas of Mu Shu Pork served up by Mustard’s Grill chef Cindy Pawlcyn lured me to the deepest recesses of the cave, where I found the tables for Rudd and for Bond/Harlan Estate. Regrettably, Rudd had already packed up and Bond could not even muster a drop from its last bottle of 2006 Vecina, but I did manage to garner the final pour of the 2004 Harlan Estate, a Meritage best described as “mind-blowingly great.” I completely savored every drop.

Just before I left, I did catch my old friend Ren Harris pouring his Paradigm. His Heidi Barrett-crafted 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon deftly blended 7% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot. I knew both Ren and Jeannie Phillips when they shared a real estate office in the Napa Valley, prior to launc
hing their individual labels. I suppose if Screaming Eagle had been on hand for this event, I might never have made it through the front door!

8) Stags Leap

By now, I was fairly exhausted, but I had promised Clos du Val’s Tracey Mason I would make it to the 2011 Stags Leap District Bar and Lounge at Pine Ridge. Here the veneer of valet parking and ornate name tags belied the reality of yet another plunge into the depths of a cave, albeit without even the perfunctory guidance of a map or event program.

Despite the hazy lighting of the disco-like atmosphere, I did manage to stumble upon most of the wineries that had been scheduled to participate and hastily scribbled notes on whatever paper I could muster. Cliff Lede poured his ever-reliable 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District, a wine he rounded out with 12% Merlot, 7% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. Foster’s Group’s Stags’ Leap Winery offered its 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon—the wine tasted just as wonderful here as it had when I had tried at the estate last summer.

I was surprised at how much I liked the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Terlato Family Vineyards while the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from their Chimney Rock Winery seemed almost as approachable. Next to their table, Baldacci poured their 2007 Brenda’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon alongside a striking barrel sample of their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon being offered at Saturday’s auction.

On my first Napa swing of 2011, I had stopped at Regusci and lauded their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon as much then as I did this evening. From there, I had meandered down Silverado Trail and tasted with Steltzner, similarly enjoying their 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon as much then as this evening. On a different trip, I had visited with host Pine Ridge, but most assuredly had not been poured the well-rounded 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon they featured here.
Pine Ridge’s nook here also featured the Bar and Lounge’s DJ, and while I enjoyed most of the selections he played, the music only complicated my efforts to sample and evaluate the wines on hand. Barely legible notes list my favorite wine here as the 2007 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, but I cannot make out my shorthand for the winery. Silverado? Shafer? I am completely lost.
No matter what I had written, it was apparent that I had reach my saturation point. I stopped by Clos du Val’s table to try their contribution to the auction, the 2009 Cabernet Franc, and to thank the two blonde Traceys for inviting me. And with that, I headed back to the less frenetic pace of The City.
Eight tastings and then some in less than 36 hours. I don’t know how many wineries I covered and won’t even try to guess how many wines I had sampled. On my way back to San Francisco, I vowed I would abstain from touching another drop—for at least 18 more hours, when I was due to attend the Affairs of the Vine’s 9th Annual Pinot Noir Summit

Apennine Wine (in 2,000 words or less)

One of these days I will figure out the art of concision. If anyone can demonstrate that they made it through all 6,321 words of the last installment here, Your West Coast Oenophile will treat you to free drinks for a month at Sostevinobile (once we open our doors). Count on it!

In the meantime, readers can vicariously experience the numerous discoveries I make as I continue to build an all-embracing program of the sustainable wines grown on the West Coast. This interminable pursuit led me to Danville on a warm September Sunday for what was billed as The Ultimate Sierra Foothills Wine Tasting Experience. And to think people tell me pronouncing “Sostevinobile” is a mouthful…!

I’ve attended a number of wine industry tastings at private clubs in recent months, but this event was the first not affiliated in some manner with the wine country. Blackhawk is a gated enclave in Danville, near the base of Mt. Diablo. Conceived as a master planned community in 1979, this secluded development includes the lavish homes of several prominent Bay Area sports figures, two golf courses that annually host the LPGA challenge, a renowned automotive museum, and the exclusive Blackhawk Country Club, where the tasting took place. While ample, luxurious, perhaps even graceful, it seemed an odd choice of venues, given its proximity only unto itself.

Still, once I had waited in line to be checked in by the gate guard and wound my way around serpentine lanes until I came upon the main clubhouse, the event came off with nary a hitch. This cooperative promotion between three different AVAs presented a marked disparity between the El Dorado Winery Association, which had held its own tasting earlier in the year with many of the same participants, Amador Vintners, whose wine trail I had briefly explored on my way to Lake Tahoe, and the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance, most of whose members were completely new to me.

The mountainous terrain of all three appellations lends itself to many similarities, and for œnophiles focused on the orthodoxy of Burgundian or Bordelaise varietals, this tasting offered scant familiarity. Amador, in particular, has long held repute for its Zinfandels, and while El Dorado has been a staple of Rhône Rangers since its inception, the entire region has taken quite a shining to the various Spanish and Portuguese varietals that have now proliferate throughout the state. Still, this three county region collectively produces the greatest concentration of Italian varietals on the West Coast, even discounting the mega-production of Trinchero’s Montevina and Terra d’Oro labels. Up by Lake Shasta, Trinity County may have its own version of the Swiss Alps; wineries here are transforming the Sierra Foothills into the western Apennines.

One of the first wineries I encountered this afternoon was Amador’s Driven Cellars. An intimate operation that produces six varietals in lots of 200-300 cases, they excelled with a 2007 Barbera and a 2007 Primitivo. At the next table, Dillian Wines raised the stakes with an extraordinary 2008 Barbera, juxtaposed with its 2008 Primitivo and its fraternal twin, the 2008 Hangtree Zinfandel.

I stopped by the table for Calaveras’ Hatcher Winery and worked my way through four of their wines, starting with a crisp 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. They, too, comported themselves admirably with a 2007 Barbera and an appealing 2007 Petite Sirah, but made perhaps their strongest statement with the 2007 Zinfandel, a cross-pollination of Amador and Calaveras fruit. Another Calaveras endeavor, Murphys’ Frog’s Tooth, produces a wide selection of white wines, including Viognier, Marsanne, and Torrontés. Today’s offerings included a 2009 Fumé Blanc and a very approachable 2009 Pinot Grigio, as well as the 2008 Barbera and the rich 2008 Grenache from their red portfolio.

In usual fashion, I sought to visit wineries with whom I needed to establish a relationship before revisiting those whom I have documented here previously. I had fully intended to swing by and taste Twisted Oak, but time did not allow me to reach their table on my final swing-though; however, I did want to acknowledge their pivotal role in popularizing Iberian varietals in Calaveras. Flourishing with this genre, Chatom Vineyards brought out an exquisite 2007 Touriga (I am assuming it was Touriga Nacional, not Touriga Franca), along with an appealing 2007 Sémillon and striking vintages of the 2005 Syrah and 2008 Chardonnay. Equally amazing was the 2008 Verdelho from Victor Reyes Umaña’s Bodega del Sur, a striking contrast to his 2008 Marsanne. Solomon Wine Company produced an adequate 2007 Tempranillo, plus a better 2006 Syrah, but I found both their NV Mingle, a Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot blend, as well as their proprietary blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon,Syrah, Petite Verdot, and Barbera, the 2006 Composition, somewhat wanting.

As with Twisted Oak, I initially bypassed many of the El Dorado wineries and found not enough time at closing to take in Auriga, Fitzpatrick’s organic winery, Mt. Aukum, sister ventures Latcham/Granite Springs, Holly’s Hill, the Primitivo and Barbera of Colibri Ridge, Cedarville, Rhône specialist David Girard, and Crystal Basin—all wineries I have previously chronicled and enjoyed. I did, however, work my way through Miraflores Winery’s offerings: the 2008 Chardonnay, the 2007 Zinfandel, their choice 2006 Petite Sirah, and their special focus, the 2005 Syrah. I do wish, however, that Miraflores had brought their 2006 Barbera, the 2007 Pinot Grigio, and the 2007 Muscat Canelli (would have helped validate my premise in this entry), but Perry Creek mitigated for them with a luscious NV Black Muscat.

I finished my El Dorado visits with a sip of the 2009 Viognier from Sierra Vista and a retasting of the 2009 Chardonnay as I chatted with Lava Cap’s Beth Jones and chided her for not yet connecting me with the bottle of 2006 Sangiovese Matagrano she had promised back in the spring. Amador Foothill Winery, too, neglected to bring either their 2006 Sangiovese or the 2004 Sangiovese Grand Reserve, but more than made up for this lapse with an outstanding 2007 Aglianico. Equally impressive was the 2007 Clockspring Zinfandel, while their Grenache/Syrah blend known as the 2006 Kathie’s Côte came in not far behind; I also thoroughly enjoyed their light 2007 Sémillon.

Slightly confusing matters, the next table over featured Amador Cellars, a notable winery in its own right, with a 2007 Syrah, the newly-released 2008 Barbera, and a 2007 Zinfandel I can best describe as jammy. I bypassed familiars C.G. Di Arie and Primitivo star Bray to discover the striking wines of Cooper Vineyards, who impressed me with their 2007 Sangiovese and 2007 Zinfandel, along with a 2008 Barbera and a 2009 Pinot Grigio. I wonder, though, does Cooper make their own barrels?

The story now moves to Story Winery, a place whose URL (Zin.com) pretty much puts the winery in context. Producers of seven different Amador Zins, plus a Zinfandel/Mission blend (as well as, regrettably, a White Zinfandel), they did impress me with both their 2006 Picnic Hill Zinfandel and the 2006 Creekside Zinfandel. However, their strongest expressions came from the 2008 Primitivo and a 2006 Barbera. I did like the 2008 Amador County Zinfandel from Sera Fina Cellars, along with their approachable 2009 Pinot Grigio; unfortunately, neither their 2009 Malvasia Bianca nor the 2006 Elegant Cowboy Syrah met this same level.

I missed out on one of my favorite Italian varietal specialists, Vino Noceto (who else in California makes distinct Sangiovese Grosso and Sangiovese Piccolo?) and Terre Rouge, a house devoted to Rhône varietals while bottling Zinfandel under its Easton Wines label, but did visit with Terra d’Oro, which poured an excellent 2008 Teroldego alongside their 100-year-old vine 2007 Zinfandel Deaver Vineyard. A portmanteau honoring owner Marilyn Hoopes’ mother, Karmère (karma + mère) blended Primitivo and Barbera to create their proprietary 2008 Primabera (a wine and a name far more subtle than Lone Madrone’s Barfandel, which I cited last week); I also found much to like in their 2007 Syrah and 2009 Viognier.

I had just tasted the range of Italian varietals Jeff Runquist produces, so I limited myself to exploring his 2008 R Touriga this afternoon. After that, my friend David Roberts, whom I had met at last month’s Rockpile Tasting insisted I reacquaint myself with Il Gioiello, Morse Wines’ Italian label—as it turned out, an excellent recommendation. I found the 2007 Triumphe, an atypical Super Tuscan (70% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Franc) more than intriguing, while the 2007 Montepulciano continues to fascinate me.

The 2007 Cabernet Franc from Calaveras’ Brice Station stood out as their preferred wine. Less impressive were their 2007 High Country, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and 2007 Port made from the same blend. Also from Murphys, Broll Mountain Vineyards produced a highly impressive 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, with a 2007 Petite Sirah and 2006 Syrah that underscored this winery’s capabilities. I also enjoyed the 2007 Syrah from Milliaire.

The most impressive Syrah of the afternoon was certainly the 2005 Syrah (in a most distinctive bottle) from Vallecito’s Laraine Winery. Their 2008 Zinfandel and 2007 Chardonnay showed almost as much complexity, while their whimsical 2008 Scarlet Harlot, a blend of Syrah, Sangiovese, Merlot, and Petite Sirah, intrigued as much it delighted. I liked the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Newsome-Harlow; I liked their 2007 Petite Sirah; their 2008 Zinfandel Calaveras County elated me.

If only I could have been as enthusiastic about Tanner Vineyards. Their 2009 Viognier and 2007 Syrah were pleasant enough, but I had quite the tepid response to the 2009 Vermentino and the 2009 Doux Rosé, a blush Syrah. I was also underwhelmed by the 2007 Petite Syrah and the 2007 Mélange de Mère, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot. Perhaps not the best coda to this very enjoyable event, but sometimes, that’s just how things play out.

Most private clubs I know would never daunt a two-star restaurant in San Francisco, and I realize that’s not the point, anyway. Clubs exist to establish camaraderie and interaction between members, not to vie for one of the slots on The Next Iron Chef. Still, the hors d’œuvres at this afternoon gathering made up in volume what they may have lacked in cutting-edge culinary. I deign to criticize the cuisine only to highlight my feelings that an event of this scope ought to be held in a more prominent and accessible location, like San Francisco or downtown Oakland, if the East Bay seems preferable.

All-in-all, these wines were too good not to merit more prominent exposure, should this event be reprised next year. I suspect quite a number of potential attendees shied away from this location, and it seemed that a number of absent Sierra Foothills wineries, like Villa Toscano, Jodar, and the incredible Lavender Hill might have participated, had a more accessible venue been selected. And the event might have allowed more wineries to participate, had its timing not coincided with the beginning of the harvest, creating a conflict of choices for numerous wineries.

I truly enjoyed this event and the vast majority of wines that I sampled. It was an impressive start for a cooperative tasting among three separate AVAs, all with individual agenda. As I told the promoters, it would have helped the afternoon flow far more smoothly, had the program guide correlated with the order of the designated tables and different rooms assigned to the tasting. A minor point for most attendees, but significant for Sostevinobile and other trade participants; then again, with a well-ordered setting and corresponding tasting guide, I might have found enough time to sample each of the wines from all 40 wineries and far exceeded the succinct 2,000 word target I had imposed on this entry!

 

Pop, Jazz, Squid—and Wine?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where was the calamari?

Saved by Charbono

I used to think that this was Larry Ellison’s world and that the rest of us only lived in it. Perhaps, but recently I’ve begun to wonder whether it’s not Tyler Florence’s world, as well. This celebrity chef and star from the Food Network not only has his own iPhone app, but seems to be taking over the entire Northern California food scene since his relocation here in 2008 and opening his eponymous food and cookware shop. Recently, he opened Wayfare Tavern in the space where Robin Williams, Robert DeNiro, Francis Ford Coppola and restaurateur Drew Nieporent had owned Rubicon. Sostevinobile feels a kindred bond with this new restaurant for its singular devotion to its California-only wine list, a philosophical consistency with its dedication to locally-sourced cuisine and ingredients.

Coincidentally, Your West Coast Oenophile stumbled upon this new venue the day after attending the 29th Annual Wine & Gourmet Food Tasting in Mill Valley. Among the numerous food purveyors, which included tents from standout local restaurants Balboa Café, Bungalow 44, Piatti, Piazza D’Angelo, and Small Shed Flatbreads, the Tyler Florence Shop held central court sampling selections of CC Made caramels, Golden Star Tea’s sparkling teas, “healthy granola” from San Franola, and an array of oils from The Smoked Olive

But meatballs and sliders and pizza and cupcakes and ice cream, etc., weren’t the reason I had pedaled across the Golden Gate Bridge. Given the major treks I had documented from the previous two weekends, the ride to Mill Valley was a relative sprint, and, after rendezvousing with my inveterate verbal jousting partner Terry Graham outside the Mill Valley Middle School, rolled into Depot Plaza, barely breaking a sweat. Wristbands affixed and tasting glasses in hand, we set about to take in as many of the 70 wineries on hand as could be squeezed into a three hour window.

I had been apprised of this event while reviewing Tor Kenward’s website as I composed my review of the Taste of Howell Mountain that proceed this entry. Having missed his various 2007 Cabernet Sauvignons, I beelined to his table, only to discover that his distributor, Nurit Robitschek of Discoveries in Wine had elected only to bring his nonetheless excellent 2008 Chardonnay Durell Vineyard and the hitherto unheralded 2007 Grenache Judge Family Vineyard, Hommage Allan. To no surprise, the table next to Tor’s was manned by the indubitable Truchards, a welcome constant at every wine tasting I attend (I had expected them to be pouring at Pinot Days, but if anyone were capable of bilocation, it would probably be Joanne and Tony). As per usual, the 2006 Cabernet Franc I sampled proved yet another découverte grande.

Jan Shrem appeared at neither of the day’s tastings, but I wish he had been on hand to pour his Clos Pégase. Nevertheless, the rep from Wilson Daniels served up the 2008 Chardonnay Mitsuko’s Vineyard quite professionally, along with an enticing 2007 Chardonnay from Sonoma Coast Vineyards, and Girard’s refreshing 2009 Girard Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley and their premature 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa County. At the next table, I reacquainted myself with White Rock Vineyard and met owner Henri Vandendriessche while sampling his 2007 Napa Valley Chardonnay.

I’d sampled wines from Balletto Vineyards on several occasions at the Monday night wine tastings at California Wine Merchant, but not had the opportunity to interact with them directly before this gathering. Amid exchanging pleasantries, I enjoyed their approachable 2007 Zinfandel but savored both the 2007 Estate Chardonnay and the 2009 Rosé of Pinot Noir. Sharing the same table, Bennett Valley’s Baldassari Family Wines poured both wines they produce, the 2007 Syrah Nolan Vineyard and the clearly preferable 2007 Syrah Jemrose Vineyard.

As is often the case with outdoor summer tastings, the afternoon heat often makes keeping wine at a desirable temperature a daunting exercise. Sampling an iced-down wine or semi-cooked red gives no true indication of the wine’s quality, although, at times, a clearly superior wine will manifest a redolence of its potential. Such was the case with Crinella Winery, whose superb 2006 Sauvignon Blanc Marino Vineyard rose above the elements; on the other hand, getting a handle on their 2005 Pinot Noir proved far too elusive. The same could be said for Buttonwood Farm, a whimsical, sustainably-farmed winery out of Solvang (not to be confused with Buttonwood Farm in Griswold, CT, an ice cream enterprise which may have recorded the worst jingle in human history), scoring high marks for its 2007 Cabernet Franc, despite the heat, but pouring a 2009 Syrah Rosé that was impossible to evaluate fairly.

Given that this tasting wasn’t a major industry event (not to mention that it was competing with one less than 10 miles away), it was particularly heartening to discover so many boutique producers and other wineries that had yet to register on Sostevinobile’s radar. Ray Coursen makes an array of varietal wines and quixotic blends at his Elyse Winery and under its premium Jacob Franklin label (Charbono!). I opted to try his striking red and white Rhône mixes sourced from Naggiar Vineyards: the 2006 C’est Si Bon (Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Cinsault, Counoise, and Viognier) and the 2007 L’Ingénue (Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc).Another Francophone, LeVois Vineyards from Sonoma’s Bradford Mountain made a striking first impression with both their 2007 Zinfandel and their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Limerick Lane, self-styled sole source of the floral Furmint found in the U.S., had been scheduled to pour this afternoon; in its stead, I encountered the alliterative juxtaposition of Lewelling Vineyards, Lewis Cellars, and Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards. Starting with Lucas & Lewellen, a winery highly focused on Italian varietals, I relished both their off-dry 2009 Mandolina Malvasia Bianca and the complex 2007 Mandolina Toccata, an atypical Super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Freisa with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. By comparison, Lewis Cellars appeared a bit more conservative, pouring a muscular 2007 Syrah Napa Valley alongside their more tame 2009 Vin Gris, a rosé of Syrah. And Lewelling remained true to its St. Helena roots, with a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and a newly released 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon showing strong intimations of future complexity.

My next four stops covered wineries with which I have long been acquainted. Sonoma’s MacRostie Winery, the crown jewel of 8th Street East, garners most of its press for its Chardonnays, but I elected to bypass these selections for the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, a most fortuitous choice. Honig, a Rutherford winery that originally operated a mere two blocks away in Pacific Heights, cuts its viticultural teeth with Sauvignon Blanc, and still makes this wine its forte, as the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford abundantly displayed; I found its red brethren, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, equally appealing. Silverado Trail’s esteemed Signorello Estate held its own with their 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and, frankly, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley from Frank Family Vineyard tasted on par with its best vintages.

While this year’s tasting featured a number of wineries from Italy, France, Spain—three of the past four Wold Cup Champions—and New Zealand, I bypassed these tables, in keeping with Sostevinobile’s parameters. I also skipped several of the wine distributors on hand, having sampled their clients’ wines on numerous occasions. I did, however, stop by the table for Northwest Wines in order to partake of Owen Roe. This unique winery, based in Oregon but encompassing Washington vineyards as well, blends a mind-boggling 24% Zinfandel, 22% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Syrah, 10% Merlot, 7%, Cabernet Franc, 6% Blaufränkish, and 4% Malbec to craft its fine 2008 Abbott’s Table. Closer to home, Odisea Wine Company in Danville offered its own idiosyncratic mélange, the wonderfully named 2006 Veritable Quandary, a Spanish-Rhône blend of 40% Verdelho, 25% Roussanne, 20% Marsanne, and 15% Viognier. As if to compensate for this non-traditional mix, they also presented a straightforward 2009 Grenache Blanc, a stellar wine.

I noted in my previous entry a certain remorse at having opted to skip the Grand Tasting for Pinot Days in committing to this festival. Fortunately, Paul Mathew Winery elected to do likewise and so validated my decision with two superb interpretations of this varietal, the 2007 Ruxton Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2007 TnT Vineyard Pinot Noir. Promoters of the Marin tasting pointed extolled the return appearance of Pride Mountain, which lived up to this advanced billing both with its well-balanced 2009 Viognier and a standout 2007 Pride Merlot.

True wine connoisseurs know you shouldn’t judge a wine by its label, even though somewhere in the order of 90% of all wine sales are predicated by how buyer responds visually to the label (how well I remember debating Louis P. Martini back in the 1980s on the merits of his then-antiquated label)! My visceral, albeit initial response Speedy Creek Winery’s labels was rather dismissive, but then I sampled their trio of extremely satisfying wines: the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Knights Valley, the 2007 Zinfandel KnightsValley, and their particularly appealing 2006 Sangiovese. No such dilemma influenced my perception of Robert Rue Vineyard, which matched the bold wines they poured: the 2007 Wood Road Reserve Zinfandel and the even more compelling 2006 Wood Road Reserve Zinfandel with an unambiguous label (however, if they ever try to come out with a Bob Street second label)…

The Mill Valley Wine & Gourmet Food Tasting boasted over 70 wineries in attendance, and had there been more time, I might have sampled each of the ventures not mentioned here that Sostevinobile has covered at numerous other events. For what is essentially a celebration of wine and food (as opposed to an industry promotion), I was astounded at both the quality and the breadth of the participants that the festival promoters and the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce were able to draw. Truly, this was no small town affair.

I finished the afternoon with a winery that I had somehow missed, despite its position right next to my first stop of the afternoon. Hiding behind a pair of overpriced sunglasses, Summer Estate Wines volunteer pourer Susan Hopp appeared incognito, until I read her name tag.Now, back in the days before I fully appreciated my own predilection for miscegenation, Susan was not quite a friend, not even a paramour, but someone with whom I had shared a bond that ought to have sprung certain feelings of amity at this re-encounter. Ah, but for a lingering acerbity I struggle to comprehend!

I found I very much admired Summer Estate’s unoaked 2008 La Nude Chardonnay and their exceptional 2006 Andriana’s Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon, but was perfectly willing to allow my visceral reaction to this overt snub to leave me hopping mad and willing to dismiss the winery outright (after all, with over 2,100 wineries now on Sostevinobile’s roster, overlooking one Chard and one Cab isn’t going to alter our wine program to any measurable degree). But the cycle back to San Francisco mitigated much of the perceived affront, and my Internet investigation revealed the pivotal position Summer Estate and its owners, Jim and Beth Summers, play in establishing Charbono as a significant California varietal. I plan to visit on my next swing through Calistoga.

Shortly after Susan had relocated from Michigan to San Francisco, I was quite bemused to hear her chastise me for purchasing a Toyota instead of a Detroit-made car—while she was driving a BMW 320i! Now that she is earning an MBA Studies in Sustainable Management at the Presidio Graduate School, I hope she will be enabled to make more consistent critical discernment. After all, Sostevinobile strives to embrace all the genuine advocates for sustainability we can find.

A seat at the bar will be waiting…

Arizona, Narsai & Bastardo*

*OK, so it ain’t Kukla, Fran & Ollie. But still…
“And what is so rare as a day in June?” This spring, the answer may well be “a day that behaves like a June day.” Finally, after an interminably long rainy season, San Francisco basked in warm sunshine this past Saturday—the perfect setting for the 3rd Annual T.A.P.A.S. Grand Tasting. Your West Coast Oenophile had laid out warm clothes the night before, figuring on drive to Fort Mason, make my loop through the tables, then head to Healdsburg for A Single Night, Single Vineyards at C. Donatielloyes, my duties for Sostevinobile do seem endless—but the weather proved too inviting. I donned my familiar shorts & wine collar, strapped on my helmet, then headed down the hill from Pacific Heights on my 14-speed Trek.

Good thing I made the switch, too. T.A.P.A.S. was competing both with the Union Street Festival and another wine event, Vina Moda’s Crush Barrel Wine Market, also at Fort Mason. I smugly whizzed by utter standstill traffic and hundreds of cars futilely searching for parking over most of the 20 or so blocks from my place to Herbst Pavilion. Actually, this tasting wasn’t originally suppose to conflict with the other events, but Crushpad’s abrupt move to Napa forced organizers to scramble to find a new site back in March. I assisted the board in this search and had tried to get the tasting moved to Rock Wall’s facility in Alameda, but in the end, they elected to return to Fort Mason, where last year’s tasting was held in the Golden Gate Room, the site of the original ZAP tasting.

This year’s tasting included 39 wineries (versus 36 in 2009), complemented by the most sumptuous and varied appetizers and noshes I have seen at a Fort Mason event (why is it that, when I describe the alimentary portion a wine tasting, I always feel like Khlestakov from Nikolai Gogol’s Ревизор, aka The Government Inspector?). Today’s larger setting filled out quite nicely with paella, oysters, chicken breast, jellied quince, stuffed peppers, stuffed olives, an abundance of fresh fruit, cheese and bread—I didn’t even miss the conspicuous absence of Aidells sausages! Of course, however, the wine was paramount.

The Tempranillo Advocates Producers & Amigos Society (T.A.P.A.S.) functions as more than just a trade association. Its goal is as much to raise awareness of the numerous wineries along the West Coast and other states about the wealth of Spanish, Portuguese and Basque varietals being cultivated and vinified here. Though the ample crowd certainly indicated an increasing success with this mission, I was quite surprised to hear KCBS’ Food & Wine Critic Narsai David’s report on Lee Family Farms just a few days before the tasting, claiming they were the first winery in California to grow Verdelho and Rio Tinto that he had ever encountered—particularly surprising since he himself hails from the Central Valley, but then how much credence can you place in a man who pronounces Merlot (muhr•LŌ´) MĀR´•lō?

Confident in my knowledge of the ever-growing and long-standing proliferation of these and other Iberian grapes, I started my afternoon at A Cellar Full of Noise, James Judd’s only foray to date into Spanish varietals, with their delectable 2006 Tempranillo Paso Robles. Judd makes a number of other wines, both from Italian and from Bordeaux varietals (including their fraternal twins Verdot Malbec and Malbec Verdot), while another previously untried venture, Stein Family Wines acquitted themselves quite ably with their only wine, the 2007 Just Joshin Tempranillo. Meanwhile Coral Mustang’s Penelope Gadd-Coster, who led last year’s seminar, staked her claim as the Merry Edwards of Tempranillo with her 2006 Tempranillo Vista Creek, as well as a reprise of last year’s wine.

During my recent visit to the Gold Country, I regretted that I arrived too late in the day to visit Bray Vineyards, so I made sure I didn’t miss the opportunity today to sample their excellent 2006 Tempranillo Shenandoah Valley. I found their 2006 Verdelho equally appealing, while the 2006 Vinho Tinto, a blend of Tinta Cão, Touriga Nacional, Souzão, Alvarelhão, and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) shone brightest. In addition to their 2007 Tempranillo Paso Robles, Arroyo Grande’s Barreto Cellars brought their varietal 2007 Touriga Nacional and the field blend 2007 Vinho Tinto, which adds Touriga Francesa and Tannat to the aforementioned grapes. And Pacifica’s aptly named (from a San Francisco perspective) Bodega del Sur married Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah in a silky proprietary blend known as the 2007 Carmesi, while offering a respectable 2008 Verdelho Alta Mesa and 2009 Albariño.

Albariño, of course, has long been the forte of Bokisch Vineyards, which held true with their latest 2008 Albariño Terra Alta Vineyard. New (at least to my recollection) was the 2009 Garnacha Blanca, an amiable white cousin of their 2007 Garnacha Clements Hills. And though I typically would extol their 2006 Graciano Mokelumne as their most outstanding pour, I favored the 2007 Tempranillo Liberty Oaks Vineyard this time around. On the other hand, I clearly favored the 2007 Graciano Bokisch Vineyard from the several selections Quinta Cruz featured, along with their superb 2007 Tempranillo Pierce Ranch. Their 2009 Verdelho Silvaspoons Vineyard showed a straightforward expression of this grape, while the 2007 Touriga Pierce Ranch deftly blended Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesa. The 2007 Concertina added Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cão to make a striking Douro-style blend, while their 2006 Rabelo presented a Port-style wine from the same. Generically labeling their fare the 2005 California Dessert Wine, Tesouro Port Cellars with a fortified blend of Alvarelhão, Souzão, Touriga, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cão.

Like Quinta Cruz, many of the wineries on hand sourced their grapes from Silvaspoons and from Pierce Ranch, both of whom were present with their own wines. Pierce Ranch Vineyards made their statement with their 2009 Albariño San Antonio Valley and the eclectic 2007 Cosechiero, a proprietary mélange of Tempranillo, Touriga, Tinta Cão, Graciano, and Garnacha Blanca. Silvaspoons’ Ron Silva bottles his own grapes under the Alta Mesa Cellars label, displaying a deft touch with both his 2009 Verdelho Alta Mesa and the 2007 Tempranillo Alta Mesa. On the other hand, the barrel sample of his 2008 Tannat Alta Mesa showed considerable promise but will only live up to its full potential if he incorporates the attached portrait on this label!

Marco Azzurro

The first time yours truly attended the T.A.P.A.S. Grand Tasting, I chose Abacela as my major revelation of the afternoon. Once again, Earl and Hilda Jones flat-out dazzled me with their 2007 Estate Port Southern Oregon, while I was pleasantly surprised by the striking quality of their 2005 Tempranillo Reserve. It still remains to be seen if my most significant discovery from this year’s tasting will prove to be the pulchritudinous Kimberly Quan, but I found myself even further amazed by last year’s pick, Napa’s Forlorn Hope. One may question winemaker Matt Rorick’s sartorial taste, but his vinification remains dead-on. Even better than my previous sampling of his wines, his quarter this year simply astounded. His 2009 La Gitana would surely have made for the best Torrontés of the afternoon, even if it hadn’t been the sole representation of this grape, while his 2009 Que Saudade was easily today’s champion Verdelho. On the red side, I loved his Alvarelhão, the 2009 Suspiro Del Moro but nearly wept at my taste of the 2006 Mil Amores, an utterly astounding blend of Touriga, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cão, and Tinta Amarela.

My readers should know that this far into my column, the demands of Portuguese orthography is nearly driving me to drink, but I will forge on!

Having verified the spelling for Loureiro, a grape I had not previously encountered, I can report on the splendid version Bonny Doon bottled under their Ca’ del Solo label as 2009 Vinho Grinho (I’m pretty certain Randall made up this word). Just as alluring were the 2009 Albariño Bonny Doon Vineyard and the ever-popular 2009 Clos de Gilroy, their version of Garnacha. Another varietal that took me by surprise was one that wasn’t even poured! Bodegas Paso Robles did pour an interesting array of blends, like their 2008 Doña Blanca, a mix of Garnacha Blanca and Malvasia Bianca. Their reds included the superb 2003 Iberia (Touriga, Tempranillo, Graciano and Tinta Cão) and the 2005 ¡Viva Yo!, combining Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as a straight 2003 Graciano. But the real allure was the 2007 Pimenteiro, a wine made from Trousseau (smoothed with 10% Tempranillo). In realms where the FCC holds no sway, Trousseau is known as Bastardo, a name hardly as provocative as the epithet Marco Materazzi hurled at Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 World Cup Finals, but enough to draw protest from the BATF.

Actually, St. Amant poured their 2008 Bootleg Port, a fortified 6-grape combo of Tinta Cão, Touriga Nacional, Souzão, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Francesa, and Bastardo, but this wasn’t sufficient to appreciate the varietal. Touriga Nacional dominates their superb 2008 Touriga Amador County, while their NV Tawny Port Amador County blends Touriga, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz, Alvarelhão, Souzão, and, again, Bastardo. Another Lodi winery, Ripken Vineyards, produced a 2005 Vintage Port from Souzão and Touriga Nacional while making a strong statement with their 2005 Old Spanish Red, a blend of Monastrell, Graciano, and Garnacha.

Some readers may recall my previous citation of my attempt to launch Château LompocThe Wine Served Behind the Finest Bars in America back in 1990 with the late Pat Paulsen. Do realize that I am always fond of Santa Ynez wineries like Lompoc’s own D’Alfonso-Curran, who, besides their superb 2009 Grenache Blanc and notable 2007 Grenache, created their own rosado, aptly named 2009 Grenache Gris. I assume Orcutt, California lies somewhere near Lompoc, and though I’ve not encountered this town before, it certainly warrants attention for local venture Core Wine Company. Winemaker Dave Corey (unrelated to the David Corey with whom I roomed freshman year at Dartmouth), masterfully mirrored his 2006 Elevation Sensation, a Garnacha blended with Monastrell with his 2006 Mister Moreved, a mélange of inverse proportions. I should have tasted his late harvest Garnacha, the 2004 Candy Core (my former roommate could never have been this clever), but did revel in his 2006 Ground Around, a blend of Tempranillo, Syrah and Garnacha. And all I had known previously about Winters, CA was that I lost all cell and data service on my iPhone after passing through this hamlet en route from Davis to Rutherford, but now recognize it as the home of Berryessa Gap Vineyards, purveyors of the striking 2007 Tempranillo Yolo County and the vineyard designate 2007 Tempranillo Rocky Ridge.
I can’t remember a wine tasting of late where the family Truchard did not pour, so it was quite reassuring to see this genial pair yet again. Besides tasting the 2005 Tempranillo Carneros (as well as the elegantly aged 2002 Tempranillo Carneros), their sole foray into Spanish varietals, I managed to show Joanne a few of the wonders that make my iPhone so indispensable these days. Like the Truchards, Yorba Wines, another Napa winery with ancillary interest in Spanish wines, deftly blended their 2007 Tempranillo with a touch of Graciano, also grown at their Shaker Ridge Vineyard.

Many of the Iberian varietals have counterparts in Rhône grapes that I have highlighted numerous times in this blog, though here I have striven to identify by their Spanish or Portuguese identities. Villa Creek Cellars may label its 2007 Damas Noir a Mourvèdre rather than Monastrell, but either way, it was amazingly delicious. As was their 2009 White, which blended Garnacha Blanca with both Roussanne and Picpoul Blanc. T.A.P.A.S. President Jeff Stai’s own Twisted Oak had no such ambiguity labeling their 2007 River of Skulls a Monastrell, while his superb 2007 Parcel combined Monastrell, Garnacha and Mazuelo.

Niven Family Wines bottles under four or five different labels; here, they stood out with the 2008 Tangent Albariño and 2008 Tangent Grenache Blanc, while their 2009 Trenza Blanco combined both these grapes as a counterpoint to the 2008 Trenza Tinto (Tempranillo, Garnacha, Monastrell, Syrah). Meanwhile, Verdad, the alter ego of Rhône specialist Qupé, scored with both the 2009 Albariño Santa Ynez Valley and the 2009 Albariño Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, while excelling at their 2007 Tempranillo Santa Ynez Valley.

As one might expect, the Lodi area was well-represented this afternoon. Besides those wineries I have already mentioned, Rio Vista’s Dancing Coyote brought their two white endeavors, the 2009 Albariño and the 2009 Verdelho (both farmed in Clarksburg), while the ever-wondrous Harney Lane offered both their 2009 Albariño Lodi and the 2007 Tempranillo Lodi. Napa also added Montepulciano specialist Mahoney Vineyards, with their 2008 Albariño Las Brisas Vineyard and 2007 Tempranillo Las Brisas Vineyard, along with Parador Cellars, who blended Napa’s favorite grape, Cabernet Sauvignon into the Tempranillo base of both their 2005 Red Table Wine and the 2003 Riserva.
The Livermore Valley featured venerable winemaker Larry Replogle’s Fenestra, with quite the wide selection—I particularly cottoned to his 2007 Touriga and the 2006 Tourvanillo, a proprietary blend of Touriga, Alvarelhão, Tempranillo, and Malbec. Meanwhile, his compatriots at Murrieta’s Well matched their 2007 Tempranillo Livermore Valley with the 2007 Zarzuela, a Tempranillo tempered with Touriga, Souzão, and Petite Sirah. Oregon, along with T.A.P.A.S. founder Abacela, once again made a strong T.A.P.A.S. showing with Red Lily Vineyards, a singularly focused winery that garnered considerable attention for its 2006 Tempranillo Rogue Valley and 2007 Red Blanket Tempranillo and with Jacksonville’s Valley View Winery, whose 2006 Anna Maria Tempranillo may have eclipsed its 2005 vintage but fell a small step behind its superlative 2008 Anna Maria Port.

The roster for T.A.P.A.S. encompasses wineries from a handful of other states, including Washington and Texas, where Alamosa literally stands as the lone star in this category. This year’s tasting featured two wineries from Arizona, one a newcomer, the other a consistent attendee. Admittedly, this places Sostevinobile in a bit of a quandary. The statement of purpose, from which I have built our wine program, focuses us exclusively on sustainably grown wines from the West Coast. Basically, for the sake of our carbon footprint, I am allowing us a swath of ~750 miles from Ground Zero in San Francisco to comprise our initial definition of local. Quite honestly, I didn’t think Arizona would have wines that would pass muster, even if they fell within this arc. But Callaghan Vineyards impressed me with their 2009 Ann’s Selection that infused Garnacha Blanca and Verdelho with Symphony, as well as their annual bottling of a Tempranillo/Bordelaise blend, starting with the 2008 Padres, a combo featuring Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. And first time presenter Dos Cabezas Wine Works from Sonoita packed more than a mouthful with its 2008 Aguileon (Tempranillo, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Souzão, Tinta Cão, Cabernet Sauvignon) and its Sean Thackrey-style blend, the 2008 El Campo (Tempranillo, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Garnacha, Syrah, Monastrell, Roussanne). But if I were to include these wineries, would I then be obliged to consider other domains within the same radius? Such as Idaho or British Columbia? Perhaps Baja California, where the wine industry is being revived? Or even—gulp!—Nevada? It is really much too much to fathom at this stage, so let me pour myself a glass of 2004 Ridge Petite Sirah Dynamite Hill and move forward.


I had a fantasy that I could wrap up this portion of my blog entry in under 1,000 words, then tackle my evening trek to Healdsburg in the second half. So, as I now cross the 2,500-word threshold, I offer comments on the last two wineries of the afternoon, unrelated to each other in any manner save that their names bring to mind certain celebrities who have no connection to the winery operations whatsoever. I’m sure Longoria Wines might not mind an endorsement from either actress Eva Longoria or Tampa Bay 3rd Baseman Evan Longoria, but they can certainly stand on their own merits with their evocative 2007 Tempranillo Santa Ynez Valley or the 2009 Albariño Santa Ynez Valley. And Viña Castellano has, to the best of my knowledge, no connection to erectile-dysfunctional crime boss Paul Castellano, late of the Gambino family, fully rising to the occasion a 2006 Garnacha, two consecutive years of superb Tempranillos (I found the later 2005 Tempranillo Sierra Foothills preferable), a 2006 Monastrell Sierra Foothills and the 2006 Abueleta, a daring mélange of Tempranillo, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Garnacha. And on that note…

Make Wine, not War

Some parts of Alameda definitely do not resemble Mayberry. The decommissioned Naval Air Base on the west side of the island is gradually being transformed with residential developments and commercial enterprises, an irenic reinvigoration of the local economy that parallels many of the tenets Sostevinobile embodies. Among the facilities that have been converted to civilian utilization, perhaps none offer a more dramatic environment than the former airplane hangars. Fans of St. George Spirits (Absinthe Verte!), including Your West Coast Oenophile, have long been quite familiar with the facility that lends its name to their Hangar One Vodka.

Finally, Alameda’s favorite artisanal spirits producer has company. Over at the next hangar, Rock Wall Wine Company has set up shop. Self-billed as a continuation of a “legacy of fine winemaking,” this grandiloquent venture constitutes the evolution of pioneering Alameda winemaker Kent Rosenblum and is daughter Shauna. The facility is massive, some 40,000 ft.², with a vaulted roof that is at least 35 ft. high. On a clear day, the open-air portion of the former hangar offers unsurpassed views across the Bay to downtown San Francisco and beyond, like an oversized Gottardo Piazzoni mural, only more vibrant.
Last Saturday presented a picture-perfect afternoon; a more enticing scenario for Rock Wall’s first Open House could not be imagined. Rocked by the Downwind Run’s authentic cover versions of classic rock anthems from the Sixties and Seventies (Allman Brothers, J.J. Cale) and fueled by an endless, carnivore’s delight from Angela’s Bistro, Rock Wall and five of its tenant wineries offered an array of new wines for one’s delectation.
I started off at the table for Carica Wines, fulfilling a long-overdue promise to join owner Dick Keenan for a tasting of his varietals and blends. I found the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc Kick Ranch to be an exceptionally clean expression of this grape, to the point it almost reminded me of an unoaked Chardonnay. Standout among the five wines they poured, though, was certainly the 2007 Temptation, again from Kick Ranch, a superb take on the classic GMS blend. I also found the futures tasting of their 2008 Petite Sirah displayed noteworthy potential.
Carica’s 2006 Syrah struck me as a tad on the sweet side. In contrast, fellow resident winery Blacksmith Cellars brought forth a 2005 Syrah from Alexander Valley, a wine rounded out with 7% Tannat, that utterly exploded the flavor of a well-done slice of Tri-Tip from one of the carving stations. I was pleased to sample Matt Smith’s 2008 Torrontés once again, but felt less enthusiastic about his 2008 Chenin Blanc, a once-popular varietal that has fallen into near oblivion in California. On the other hand, Blacksmith’s 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley offered tantalizing hints for the unreleased 2005 vintage, and their two dessert wines, a non-vintage Malvasia Bianca and the 2007 Late Harvest Syrah were almost perfect alongside the ice cream made from Rock Wall’s Late Harvest Zinfandel!
Readers know that I’ve cited R & B Cellars a number of times recently, including the Urban Wine Experience in Oakland; their wines were not so much a revelation this afternoon as a chance to revisit several outstanding vintages. Like the Blacksmith Syrah, R & B’s 2006 Counterpoint, a straight Cabernet Franc, made me cry out “bring on the steak!” Three vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon made an indelible impression, with the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Reserve begging to be drunk now, while the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Reserve demands another 5-7 years before hitting its peak. I personally preferred both R & B’s 2006 Swingville and 2007 Swingville, a zinfandel blended with ~10% Petite Sirah to their 100% Zinfandel, the 2007 Zydeco from Napa Valley. Unquestionably, however, the 2007 Minuet in Merlot completely outshone the 2005 Metronome, an unblended Merlot.
I wish I could be more encouraging about Ehrenberg Cellars, formerly known as Nectar Vineyards. Despite winning amateur winemaking awards, these wines seemed rather unfocused; perhaps, their move “out of the garage” into a community of well-seasoned wine producers, including the peripatetic Edmunds St. John, will enable them to achieve their potential.
Weighing in at the next viticultural tier, JRE Wines, the Rock Wall co-tenant from namesake John Robert Eppler, offered glimmers of his winemaking pedigree at Rosenblum and Robert Mondavi. Again, one sensed that this winemaker had yet to hit his stride, though I found his two blends, the 2007 Tradition (Zinfandel/Petite Sirah/Tempranillo) and the self-proclaimed “Rhôneaux”-style 2006 Petit Rouge (Syrah/Petite Sirah/Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot) eminently drinkable.
Even though Shauna Rosenblum did give me her last bottle of Rock Wall’s 2007 Tannat, I will not be compelled to say every single one of her wines were extraordinary; after all, the wine program at Sostevinobile has always been and must remain predicated on objectivity in our selection process. Still, Shauna is an enormously affable next-generation winemaker and her skills clearly show why it is far better that she has pursued this vocation rather than succeed her father in his veterinary practice. Their 2008 Chardonnay Russian River Valley was a pleasing revelation, as was the 2007 Rock Star Rouge, a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault. Even stronger was the 2007 Zinfandel Sonoma County, to my taste a more approachable wine than its Reserve incarnation. 
Lipitor be damned! I headed back to the food counter for another generous helping of Tri-Tip before downing Rock Wall’s 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, the veritable Grammy-winner from their lineup and another ideal pairing for this delectable meat. I also found their 2007 Late Harvest Riesling to be a worthy complement to the aforementioned Zinfandel ice cream, but had to beg off from marrying it with Blue Cheese, as one of my fellow attendees recommended.
I do look forward to great things from Rock Wall, both from its resident producers at its custom facility, as well as the winery itself. I have seen this same scenario played out so many times before. Successful winemaker sells his inextricably self-identified label to one of the handful of corporate megaliths devouring independent producers these days. Promises of autonomy are made initially, but slowly the eponymous brand is exploited to further the conglomerate‘s reach and by the time the attendant service contract has expired, the label feels like a vestige of its former grandeur. On the positive side, however, the original winemaker tends to go on to found a new label that does express the ideals of his vinification. Witness Carl Doumani’s Quixote, Richard Arrowood’s Amapola Creek or Tim Mondavi’s Continuum—by the time Diageo releases Rosenblum Coastal Cellars, I fully anticipate Rock Wall will be in this league.