Category Archives: Lagrein

An austere wine, with an alluring bucket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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).

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
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.
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.
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!
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!

Try to dismember a guy in September

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

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

Rock Wall Does Rockpile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No acronyms, please! SLH—the Santa Lucia Highlands.

Given my proclivity with ABM software (anything but Microsoft), along with my numerous stints writing for and marketing hi-tech and Internet enterprises, many people think of me as a techie. Hardly, even though I did submit a GUI icon for COBOL for patent and often find myself an easy mark for free Macintosh tech support among my close circles. On the other hand, my disdain for the prefab milieu of Silicon Valley (aka LegoLand) has been well documented in these entries, and, despite my overt allegiance, I will readily identify Cupertino as the home of Ridge over Apple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adventures in West Coast Wines

Eight things I know about Daly City:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not that Washington. This one!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wines of the Mojave Desert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Food & Wine Tasting

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

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

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

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

Vive la France?

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

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

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

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

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

A tale of two cities

It has been over 500 days since I last donned a necktie. Or cravat. Or noose, if you will. It has also been more than 500 days since I last set foot in San Jose. Anyone who knows Your West Coast Oenophile is well aware of my aversion towards Silicon Valley. Or 408-ville. Or Legoland, if you will. Which makes the following admission all the more remarkable:

Ten days ago, I attended two wine tastings on behalf of Sostevinobile, one in Menlo Park, the other in San Francisco; the former event was unquestionably superior.

The Quadrus Conference Center at 2400 Sand Hill Road is pretty much ground zero for the VC community, and as I remain heavily into fundraising mode for our wine bars, I had almost hoped more to bump into a venture capitalist or two (after all, this is where “spare change” is a 7-digit figure) than to discover an astounding Roussanne or Syrah/Zinfandel/Cabernet Sauvignon blend. But the portable PDF of our Keynote presentation, which I had logged into my iPhone in case I needed to make an on-the-spot pitch, received as much use as the list of wineries I had culled from the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance’s pre-published roster for its Grand Tasting Tour: Mid-Peninsula.

N’importe! This still turned out to be a representative sampling of what is arguably the most interesting AVA in California, comprising well over 240 wineries and more acreage than any other appellation. The afternoon began with a seminar from three of the more prominent wineries in the region: Clayhouse, J. Lohr, and Ancient Peaks. Each of the three wineries brought a representative selection of wines in the $16 range, as well as one of their higher-end offerings.

Though the allure of Paso Robles is that allows itself to be unfettered by orthodox varietal categorizations (i.e., Burgundian, Bordelaise, Rhône), each of the three winemakers presented selections that were consistent within their own strictures. Steve Lohr poured two blends in the Bordeaux tradition, the first in the style of Pomerol, the more luxuriant based on Médoc, though each contained a sufficient amount of its primary varietal to be labeled 2007 J. Lohr Los Osos Merlot and 2006 J. Lohr Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon. David Frick first poured his 2008 Clayhouse Malbec, ever-so-subtly softened with 2% Merlot, then switched to a Rhône blend, the 2007 Clayhouse Estate Petite Sirah, this time tempered with 1.5% Syrah. Meanwhile, Mike Sinoir showed true Paso Robles temperament by first blending his 2007 Ancient Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon Margarita Vineyard with Malbec, Petit Verdot and Zinfandel, then showcased his 2007 Ancient Peaks Oyster Ridge Margarita Vineyard, a totally unconventional blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Petite Sirah, rounded out equally with Merlot and Petit Verdot.

Following what turned out to be a lively exchange, I joined up with the main tasting, armed with a plan of attack that bore little correlation to what I found awaiting us. Because I had failed to try Anglim at each of the previous two Rhône Rangers, I first gravitated toward their table to sample their mix. while I found their 2006 Cameo (Marsanne/Roussanne/Viognier) and the 2006 Cerise (Grenache/Mourvèdre/Syrah/Viognier) blends quite approachable, I favored their single varietal 2007 Roussanne, the 2006 Grenache and the 2007 Mourvèdre Hastings Ranch Vineyard far more to my liking. In such company, their 2007 St. Peter of Alcantara, a Zinfandel, seemed a bit anomalous but quaintly nostalgic, the name being the same as the Catholic parish I attended, unmolested, in my youth. Nearby, Alta Colina’s 2008 Claudia Cuvée blended Grenache Blanc with Roussanne and Marsanne, while their 2007 GSM clearly excelled.

To my mind, nothing typifies Paso Robles more than its unusual blends—after all, such experimentation put Piero Antinori on the viticultural map. The 2006 Companion from Caliza, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Tannat, could not exemplify this willingness to experiment better, but, again, I most cottoned to their 2007 Syrah. Paso’s true pioneer in this array, though, has to be L’Aventure, a winery that needs no introduction here. Even though I had liberally sampled their wines at Rhône Rangers but a few weeks before, my friend Jennifer Hong, who distributes their wine in the Bay Area, insisted that today’s tasting would be featuring some newly released vintages. Here the superb 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon was complemented by the even more imposing 2007 Estate Cuvée, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot.

Kenneth Volk had introduced me to Negrétte last year, but was pouring samples only of their Paso Robles wines this afternoon. Still, I delighted in the 2008 Viognier Live Oak Vineyard, the 2005 Cabernet Franc, and especially the 2005 Tempranillo. And though I had sampled their wines at Rhône tasting, the sardonic wit of their emissary, Katie Kanphantha, drew me back to Derby Wine Estates’ table where I retried their delightful though inexplicable 2006 Fifteen10 Red and regaled in their 2006 Implico, a Bordeaux Meritage.

At this point, the tasting took a turn for the definite better, as the ever-alluring BeiBei Song joined me for a guided introduction. We scurried out onto the deck to join Tommy Oldré, bedecked in a loud, fuchsia necktie (or cravat) (or noose), at his Tablas Creek table. As always, the 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, their famed blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and Picpoul Blanc, proved an immediate favorite, while both the 2007 Grenache and the 2007 Mourvèdre charmed BeiBei in a way I thought only I could! We proceeded to Mike Giubbini’s Rotta Winery, a somewhat understated venture mostly producing traditional varietals like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel (I found the 2005 Rotta Giubbini Estate Zinfandel quite compelling). And while the 2005 Trinity, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot made for a more than competent Meritage, the real discovery here was the non-vintage Black Manukka, an oak-aged, rare dessert wine that begs comparison with a fine cream sherry. Dessert wine also stole the show at Robert Hall Winery. I found their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon quite appealing, but their 2009 Orange Muscat tasted like a liquid Grand Slam.

In the past, I may have been critical in this forum of wines from Niner’s Bootjack Ranch. I now realize that the particular vintages I have been served as a certain wine establishment may well have been past their prime, for the current releases I sampled here more than favorably impressed me. I found much merit in the 2006 Sangiovese but truly relished the 2005 Fogcatcher, a skillful mélange of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, along with Cabernet Franc and Merlot. I hadn’t had previous experience with Silver Horse Winery, but found their Bordeaux bled, the Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec/Petit Verdot combo of the 2007 SAGE enticing. More compelling, however, was their 2007 TOMORI, marrying Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with Syrah, while their straightforward 2009 Albariño offered a nice contrast to most of the afternoon’s offerings.

A wide range of Spanish varietals have taken root at numerous Paso Robles wineries, like Stanger, vinifying a more than competent rendition with their 2006 Tempranillo Stanger Vineyards; their forte, however, might have been the 2007 Viognier Paso Robles, a clean expression of this finicky varietal. Meanwhile, restricting themselves to what they do best, Terry Hoage presented three takes on Grenache: the 2007 The Pick, a Grenache-dominant GMS blend, the 2007 The 46, a Grenache/Syrah combo, and the 100% 2007 Skins Grenache.

               Kukla, Fran & Ollie

When I toured Paso Robles last year, I found myself rather intrigued by a gated Westside estate that was under development. Was this oddly-named winery a latent tribute to a Black & White puppet show that lurked deep in the recesses of my memory? kukkula, it turns out, is the Finnish word for “high place” (kukla is the transliteration of κούκλα or кукла, the respective terms in Greek and in Russian for doll), a most apt description of Kevin Jussila’s aerie. Finnish varietals are an unknown species to me, but Kevin compensates by giving his intriguing wines names like the 2008 vaalea, meaning “fair” or “white” to his Viognier/Roussanne blend or 2006 sisu, the term for “patience” or “perseverance”to his GMS blend. His superb mélange of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Zinfandel bears the label of 2006 Lothario, a moniker I often fancy for myself, while his Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah goes by the inornate 2006 in the red.

During the height of the explosion, a popular Italian restaurant in Mill Valley decided to open a branch in Palo Alto; rather than clone the name, they decided to hold a contest to see who could come up with the most clever appellation (the prize being a free meal every week for life, if I recall correctly). I submitted Il Pastaio Ottimo, meaning “the best pasta maker” but also deftly abbreviated as I.P.O. kukkula also produces a wine with the same acronym, a mostly Cabernet Sauvignon blend paying tribute to Kevin’s real job as a financial advisor. I tried to persuade him to drop off a bottle of his 2005 i.p.o., along with his business card, on the doorstep of every VC firm in the complex, but he demurred. Maybe I should have purchased a couple cases and left a bottle with Sostevinobile’s card instead!

As much as I enjoyed kukkula’s wines, my great discovery of the afternoon had to have been Roger Nicolas’ RN Estate. I could lavish superlatives on these wines all day (in between repeated sips, of course)! Two of these wines, the 2007 Young Vine Zinfandel and the 2006 Enfant Prodigué, a Mourvèdre/Syrah/Zinfandel blend, I conservatively scored as excellent. The other two Roger poured, the 2007 Cuvée des Artistes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel) and the 2007 Cuvée des Trois Cépages (a more traditional Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) well warrant the resurrection of my highly-coveted.   

I did skip a handful of attending wineries to which I have given extensive coverage in previous entries here, but concluded this tasting with Maloy O’Neill, another winery that had escaped previous notice. Quite the versatile viticultural venture, they impressed me with their 2005 Zinfandel, the 2005 Private Reserve Syrah, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Windy Hill, and the 2005 Malbec. However, I was most struck by their 2005 Lagrein, a wine that contrasted strikingly with the Lagrein from Sonoma’s Jacuzzi that I have previously assayed here.

As the trade portion of this tasting drew to a close, I sadly could not convince BeiBei to accompany me to the evening’s tasting in San Francisco. In retrospect, I probably ought to have fortified myself with a little sisu (the concept, not the wine) and loitered with the winery crews until the public arrived; instead, I basked in a few minutes of rare sunshine, then headed up Interstate 280 for Wine Enthusiast’s Toast of the Town 2010.

On surface impression, the wine tasting in San Francisco should have had everything going for it: a splendiferous setting inside the War Memorial Opera House, access to innumerable top-flight restaurants and caterers, a well-heeled crowd easily able to swing the $89 ticket price (if not the $169 tab for the VIP tasting), plus a prestigious wine publication as sponsor for the event.

And therein lies the rub. With this kind of clout behind the event, attendees had every right to expect a roster of wines of which only the true cognoscenti might be aware. Instead, table upon table proved to be subsidiaries of the leviathan wine corporations of this world: Gallo, Constellation, Château Ste. Michelle, Jackson Family Wines, Folio, Hess Collection, Trinchero, Coppola, Kobrand, Diageo, Banfi, Moët Hennessey, Delicato, Artesa, Crimson Wine Group, Foley Family Wines, Don & Sons (aka Sebastiani). To put things more succinctly, the greatest hits of Safeway’s wine aisle—minus Brown-Forman.

This isn’t to say that, even within these conglomerates, there aren’t quite a number of excellent labels and individual wines. I even sampled from BV, Cardinale, Archery Summit, and Robert Mondavi, to name but a few. But a neophyte could have put together this list as easily as Wine Enthusiast did—just without their imprimatur. And that hardly warrants an $89 premium.

On the plus side, Farallon generously shelled out tray upon tray of Champagne Poached Oysters, Cindy Pawlcyn’s Go Fish Restaurant whipped up a superb Shrimp & Lobster Salad, an Oakland establishment called Home of Chicken and Waffles covered everyone’s comfort food needs with Fried Chicken and Macaroni & Cheese, while Bistro Boudin from Fisherman’s Wharf incongruously assembled superb medallions of Alder Smoked Duck atop shot glasses filled what they described as Beet Gazpacho. Other food purveyors had offerings just as delectable, I am sure, but were already depleted by the time I arrived.

And in all fairness, there were more than a handful of independent wineries scattered throughout the four floors of this event. Jordan showed its usual flair with both its 2008 Chardonnay Russian River Valley and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley. One of Crushpad’s last, lingering autonomous labels, PerryMoore, impressed with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Vineyard and their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Stagecoach Vineyard. From Monterey, Josh Pierce of Pierce Ranch impressed me with his 2008 Albariño San Antonio Valley, while international wine mini-mogul Jean-Charles Boisset poured a selection of his family’s California and French labels, including DeLoach’s 2007 O.F.C. Reserve Pinot Noir, Lyeth’s wondrous 2006 Meritage, and newly-acquired Raymond’s 2007 Reserve Chardonnay.

Before I bring this review to a close, I wanted also to mention the presence of three promotional associations of independent wineries who poured a representation of their members’ wines. Unfortunately, each had far too many offerings for me to serve them justice during the limited time span of this event, and I can only urge them to hold a collective tasting like the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance sometime in the near future. Of course, I fully expect once again to attend the Grand Tasting for PS I Love You at Concannon, America’s birthplace of Petite Sirah, in the summer. And I hope Jim Ryan will use this event as a model for the members of his Livermore Valley Wine Country to establish a tasting of their own. Lastly, being sandwiched in-between Santa Cruz, Santa Lucia Highlands, and Paso Robles, Monterey Wine Country has plenty of examples to follow if it decides to a trade tasting of the diverse wines within their AVA.

Two tastings in one day—a lot to absorb, a lot to record, and (perhaps) too much to imbibe. My trek from San Francisco to Menlo Park and back covered nearly eighty miles and a wealth of contrast between the two cities and the events they had hosted. Perhaps Charles Dickens said it best: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

Nyah! That’s way too much to swallow!


Marc’s flat-out mean & lean post-Thanksgiving slimdown: the sequel

I didn’t do so well last week. 1,788 words when I was aiming to come in under 1,000. And that was meant to include this entry, as well! I just hope all will be forgiven by the time I reach the end of the electronic page this time!
I wanted to get my review of Holiday in Carneros out before December, but the demands of raising funds for Sostevinobile occupy front and center for Your West Coast Oenophile. I am determined to generate a financial tsunami this month!
It was another kind of tempestuous storm that afflicted my very temperamental digestive system on the morning before I set out for Carneros. If only Jacuzzi had a Jacuzzi at their winery! Or, failing that, a stiff shot of grappa to quell my agita. Instead, I settled for a few gulps of olive oil, great hospitality, and some splendid wines.
The formal event paired an assortment of Italian appetizers with their 2008 Gilia’s Vernaccia, an appealing 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2006 Rosso di Sette Fratelli, a Merlot named for the brothers who founded the various Jacuzzi enterprises. But, as Tasting Room Manager Teresa Hernando quickly showed me, the winery’s true forte is in its wide range of Italian varietals and blends. Given my self-imposed limitations for the afternoon, I skipped the 2007 Pinot Grigio and opted for the 2008 Arneis before moving onto a selection of reds. Here I bypassed the 2006 Primitivo and, surprisingly, the 2006 Sangiovese for a sample of the 2006 Aleatico, their Mendocino 2007 Barbera, and the incredible 2007 Nebbiolo from Carneros. As often happens, my retasting of the 2006 Lagrein seemed less sweet than it had at the Napa Valley Wine & Grape Expo, thereby mitigating my disappointment in Whitcraft’s discontinuation of this varietal. With time pressing, I thanked Teresa and promised to return for a more comprehensive tasting in the near future, making mental notes of their family commemoratives, the 2006 Giuseppina, the 2005 Valeriano, as well as their Chardonnay, the 2006 Bianco di Sei Sorelle (Six Sister’s White). Seven brothers + six sisters = 13 siblings! Is it any wonder we associate hot tubs with…?
My friend Sasha Verhage from Eno had told me a while back about his satellite tasting room in the Cornerstone Place complex just down the road from Jacuzzi, and while the tasting collective Grange Sonoma was not pouring his wines, they did feature a number of their other members, which gave me the opportunity to try the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley from Mantra. Around the corner, the wafts of wood-fired pizza lured me to Roshambo’s new base of operations since Turley acquired their Dry Creek winery. Sales manager Steve Morvai offered generous pours of the 2006 Justice Syrah and the 2006 Rock, an equal blend of Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Syrah, while enticing me with descriptions of his own Syrah project, Les Caves Roties de Pente, a Bonny Doon-like tweak of a renowned Rhône producer. Another Cornerstone tenant, Larson Family Winery, poured a selection of both their own label, and Sadler-Wells, a joint venture between proprietress Becky Larson and Jean Spear, a veteran wine marketer. While I found both the 2005 Sadler-Wells Chardonnay Carneros and the 2005 Sadler-Wells Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast perfectly amiable wines, the 2006 Larson Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley proved the true standout.
I think I failed to locate Bonneau’s tasting room on Bonneau Road because it was housed inside the Carneros Deli. My loss, I am sure, but the reception I received at Schug amply mitigated for my miscalculation. Despite their legendary prowess, I initially tried to beg off from sampling their selection of Pinot Noir (too much sensory overload from the previous day’s PinotFest) and pared their much-welcomed bowl of Creamy Wild Mushroom Soup with both the 2006 Merlot Sonoma Valley and the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley. However, an introduction to scion Axel Schug convinced me to indulge in their truly wonderful 2007 Pinot Noir Carneros, along with the equally appealing 2004 Cabernet Reserve. Only the many stops still on my itinerary kept m
e from sampling the rest of their library wines being poured.
If you produce both wines, why would you call one Pinot Grigio and the other Pinot Blanc (or, for that matter, Pinot Gris and Pinot Bianco)? Granted, I understand the marketing concept, but the linguist in me argues for consistency. Allora, my query seemed to generate a bit of bewilderment at Robledo Family Winery, which perhaps should call the pair Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanco (or so my Easy Translator widget indicates). Rhetorical conundrums notwithstanding, I was immensely please finally to meet this pioneering family and experience their hospitality. Patriarch Reynaldo Robledo’s storied ascendancy from farmhand to winery owner has been well documented on their Website and in other media, but their wines demonstrate that this evolution is far more than a Horatio Alger tale. I did appreciate both the above-mentioned 2006 Pinot Grigio and the 2006 Pinot Blanc, but the eye-opener was their 2005 El Rey Cabernet Sauvignon, an exceptional Lake County varietal. Even more striking, the 2005 Los Braceros, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah, pays homage both to the Robledo’s roots as well as their winemaking virtuosity. 
For some reason, I’d always thought Adastra was a Paso Robles winery. The name sounds like a Paso Robles name. As I crossed over to the Napa portion of Carneros to visit their ramshackle barn, it even felt like Paso Robles. But Dr. Chris Thorpe’s certified organic winery is authentically Carneros, and it only takes a sip of winemaker Pam Starr’s opulent Pinot Noir, the 2006 Adastra Proximus to recognize the winery’s sense of place. No Miles Raymond dilemma here—I found the 2006 Adastra Merlot as enticing as the Pinot, while the 2007 Ed’s Red, Adastra’s second label, proved an intriguing blend of 43% Syrah, 39% Zinfandel, 13% Petite Sirah, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot
Burgundy and Bordeaux took center stage at nearby McKenzie-Mueller, a boutique winery just across the street. The 2006 Pinot Noir and 2006 Chardonnay made a nice introduction to this previously unfamiliar label, but winemaker Bob Mueller’s forte lay in the components of a Meritage, in particular the 2005 Merlot, the 2004 Cabernet Franc, and the truly outstanding 2006 Malbec. Even the curious strains of a male folk duo singing Eartha Kitt’s Santa Baby could not detract from this delightfully unpretentious destination.
As laidback as Adasta and McKenzie-Mueller may have been, Ceja proved just as ebullient. Pint-sized owner Amelia Morán Ceja made a most irrepressible hostess as she escorted me back to the bocce courts for a taste of tri-tip that I washed down with a generous pour of its perfect complement, the 2005 Syrah Sonoma Coast. The 2006 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast certainly held its own, but their trademark Pinot Noir/Syrah/ Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Vino de Casa Red Blend seemed positively redolent. I managed to taste their 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon while listening to Amelia expound her recipe for the risotto she was readying to prepare for 37 or so family and friends, then headed out to complete my loop for the afternoon.
Alas, the hour I spent at Ceja meant I missed the last moments at Étude, who was just closing down as I entered the new tasting room. Michael Mondavi’s Folio, with its seemingly incongruous Irish flag out front, also was unattainable, so I headed over, as promised, to the Carneros Inn and FARM, their onsite restaurant from the Plump Jack Hospitality Group. The setting was warm; the pulchritudinous Ms. Cheung’s effusive greeting even warmer. As if I hadn’t sampled enough wines this afternoon, she poured me a complimentary selection from her wine list and sent over a much-appreciated bowl of Truffle Fries. Just the reinvigoration I needed before heading back to San Francisco.
Was my entire excursion to Carneros merely a pretext to visit Yvonne? A chance to see her hard at work in her role as manager/sommelier? Or maybe a promising portent for Sostevinobile? We may well have to wait to 2010 to find out…

Marc’s flat-out mean & lean post-Thanksgiving slimdown

No more interminable digressions! No more anecdotes from my checkered past! From hereon until the New Year, I have vowed to keep my Sostevinobile blog tight, sparse, and directly to the point. Call it what you will, but Your West Coast Oenophile is commencing his annual post-Thanksgiving ritual.
To be honest, this isn’t a response to my overconsumption. Rather, it’s the realization I must devote December to the unenviable task of raising the capital Sostevinobile needs to launch in 2010. After months of laying the groundwork, it’s time for a full-fledged assault, casting aside my “arduous” schedule of four-five wine tastings a week.
Before Thanksgiving, I was able to sandwich in a pair of tastings, however: PinotFest in San Francisco and Holiday in Carneros. Many fans of this blog will surely be clamoring for me to include my next installment of Waiting for Pinot before launching into my findings at Farallon’s 11th annual “Public Tasting of a Sexy Wine,” but, like Vigneron and Donatello, they will simply have to bide their time. I will preface my remarks, however, by commending Peter Palmer and his staff for always staging an impressive event (even though the tray of Ahi tuna medallions on fried wontons made its way by me only once). The private rooms in the Kensington Park Hotel where Farallon holdings its periodic industry tastings are warm and capacious, with presenter tables spaced amply apart. The catering is splendid (as one might expect from Farallon); the servers, more than accommodating; the crowd, knowledgeable and professional. In short, all the right elements for a splendid wine tasting.
The best part of this event, besides unexpectedly running into Yvonne Cheung, was the chance to meet with so many wineries from Oregon. The A-List of Oregon Pinot producers starts with Argyle and Adelsheim, a pair of wineries whose high profile sometimes tends to belie just how spectacular their wines can be. Argyle has, of course, gained as much of its reputation of late from its line of sparkling wines as it has for its Pinot Noir, and the 2007 Argyle Brut Rosé, blended from both Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier deftly showcased their prowess in this area. Their 2006 Reserve Pinot Noir Willamette Valley was as strong a vintage of this particular bottling as I can remember. Likewise, Michael Adelsheim demonstrated his family’s winemaking and artistic prowess with their popular 2007 Adelsheim Pinot Noir Willamette Valley and their single-vineyard 2007 Elizabeth’s Reserve Pinot Noir. Veering slightly off-course, he also poured the 2007 Auxerrois Willamette Valley, a fairly obscure white varietal resulting from cross between Pinot Noir and an ignoble (!) varietal known as Gouais Blanc.
Tony Soter gained considerable acclaim for his wines at Étude, before pulling up stakes and establishing his eponymous winery in Carlton, Oregon to make Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir. Soter obviously studied well in Carneros, judging by the pair of Oregon Pinots he poured: the 2007 Pinot Noir North Valley and a dazzling 2006 Pinot Noir Mineral Springs. Also staking its claim to “Oregonically grown” royalty was the aptly named Rex Hill, with noteworthy selections in their 2006 Pinot Noir Reserve Willamette Valley and the 2006 Pinot Noir Jacob-Hart
Domaine Drouhin sounds like a name that might have been lifted from Le Morte d’Arthur or Chaucer (coincidence I subsequently discovered from their Website—their Chardonnay is called Arthur); this Oregon branch of a 13th Century Burgundian house having not previously come to my attention, I was especially pleased to sample their flagship Pinot, the 2006 Laurène and the 2007 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley. Chehalem, on the other hand, is a name that could only come from Oregon; their trio on hand from the numerous Pinots they produce included the 2006 Oregon Pinot Noir Reserve, the 2007 Corral Creek Pinot Noir, and a distinctive 2007 3 Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Despite my exhortations,
I could not convince owners of Ponzi Vineyards that they ought to produce a wine called Madoff. In contrast, Dick Ponzi produces wines that are incredibly straightforward and honest, “neither fined nor filtered…crafted to be delicious upon release,” as ably exemplified by the 2008 Tavola Pinot Noir and the 2007 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley that he poured. Though the Wine Spectator declares that “all Oregon Pinot Noirs are measured by the Ponzi yardstick,” I suspect Domaine Serene may feel their wines warrant similar accolade. The Wine Spectator and Robert Parker may differ over whether they prefer the 2006 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir to the 2006 Jerusalem Hill Pinot Noir, but it will require a bottle of their 2005 Monogram to get me to reveal my choice!
Bridging the divide between Oregon and California stands, Siduri/Novy, Adam Lee’s sister labels. My fondness for his Siduri Pinots has been noted several time in this blog, but I was extremely please to see that he had brought along the 2008 Novy Blanc de Noir, an exceptional white wine crafted by gingerly pressing the Pinot Noir grape to extract its juice without skin contact. Descending latitudinally, I made the acquaintance of Greenwood Ridge, an organic winery in Mendocino. If only it were possible to describe their 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino Ridge better than Wine & Spirits’ citation as “a meaty Pinot Noir for Coq au Vin with Morels!” Still, my appreciation for this wine pales in comparison with their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Meyer Vineyard (a wine I discovered subsequently at the Green Wine Summit)—perhaps the best expression of this varietal I can recall enjoying.
I managed to taste Kosta Browne’s 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and 2007 Pinot Noir Amber Ridge Vineyard for the second time each in as many months and found my appreciation for these wines still enormously favorable. The treat this afternoon, however, was sampling the private efforts of associate winemaker Shane Finley and his much-storied Spell label; his 2008 Spell Pinot Noir Weir Vineyard shows how well he has taken Michael Browne’s tutelage to heart. His utterly splendid 2007 Shane Syrah Mendocino, however, shows an artistry all his own.
Like Kosta Browne, Littorai was a winery whom I had sampled at Pinot on the River; their 2007 Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard was a superb discovery this time around. Pey has poured their fare at several tastings I attended this past year, but I still relished my first sampling of their 2007 Pey-Marin Pinot Noir Trois Filles Marin County and the equally spectacular 2007 Pey-Lucia Frisquet Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands. The real treat, however, was the 2008 The Shell Mound Riesling, Marin County that Jonathan Pey managed to smuggle in.
Another familiar presence, though one I do not usually associate with Pinot, was Thomas Fogarty. The debate over the efficacy of angioplasty may be somewhat nascent, but his efforts with this varietal proved undeniable. Besides, I would far prefer to unclog my arteries with his 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz or the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Rapley Trail and most certainly via the catharsis of his extraordinary 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Windy Hills. I have no idea whether Costa de Oro has any medical affiliations, but their Pinots were beyond therapeutic. Apart from their soothing 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County, the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Gold Coast Vineyard and especially the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Riserva Oro Rojo would provide extraordinary palliative therapy for almost any condition.
Some names in the Pinot world need no introduction, but an opportunity to taste their wine can never be overlooked. Robert Sinskey’s renowned organic winery in Napa falls into this category and came through with flying colors on their 2005 Pinot Noir Vandal Vineyard. Similarly, the highly-touted Williams Selyem from the Russian River Valley showed why 2007 has proven such a banner year for Pinot, with their 2007 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir and their triumphant 2007 Westside Road Neighbors Pinot Noir (having missed out on my WS List member allotment this fall, I was doubly pleased to enjoy this sample).
Sometimes you are predisposed to like a band even before you hear their music, simply because they have such an appealing or quirky name, like Foo Fighters or Death Cab for Cutie. I was similarly drawn to Radio Coteau and, ultimately, far from disappointed. Of the four Pinot Noirs I tasted, the 2007 Terra Neuma stood out, followed closely by the 2007 Savoy. The 2006 Savoy presented a classic contrast between these two vintage years, while the 2007 La Nebalina lagged a tad behind its 2007 counterparts. While Lynmar Estate is not a particularly esoteric name for a winery, its 2007 Terra di Promissio lures one in automatically to this splendid Pinot, a worthy Sonoma Coast variant to Lynmar’s home-based 2007 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
The Napa Valley usually is not considered a stronghold for Pinot, so sampling El Molino’s efforts with this varietal was most illuminating. As in Sonoma and on the Central Coast, the comparison between vintages was quite stark, with the 2007 Rutherford Pinot Noir clearly preferable to its nonetheless admirable 2006 Rutherford Pinot Noir. Moving forward, I tasted was the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley from Foxen Vineyard, who also furnished their highly-specific 2007 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard Block 8. Ah, if they had only brought along their selection of Sea Smoke bottlings!
A number of Central Coast wineries made strong impressions with this tasting, starting with Barbara Banke’s hands-on project for her Jackson Family Wines, Cambria Winery, offered its own highly-specific 2007 Pinot Noir Clone 2A. Michael Michaud’s eponymous winery bottles its wines with varied, alluring pastel labels that most certainly do not belie the quality of his Chalone appellation wines, notably the 2004 Pinot Noir he sampled. Even more enticing was the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Arroyo Grande Valley from Talley Vineyards, producers of the trendy Bishop’s Peak label.
In my quest to find California producers of Lagrein, I had recently uncovered Santa Barbara’s Whitcraft Winery, but was dismayed to learn from founder Jonathan Whitman they had discontinued the varietal. I nonetheless allowed myself to be consoled with a quartet of his Pinots, starting with the 2006 Melville Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills, then moving onto the 2007 Aubaine Pinot Noir from Nipomo. The 2006 Morning Dew Ranch from Anderson Valley represented Whitcraft’s “northern” excursion, the 2006 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir N Block his pinnacle. My palate reached its threshold with Cobb, a Pinot specialist from the Sonoma Coast. Their wines proved that their considerable advance accolades were no hype, as I greatly relished both the 2007 Pinot Noir Rice-Spivak Vineyard and the 2007 Pinot Noir Coastland Vineyard. One can only wonder whether their 2007 Pinot Noir Joy Road Vineyard would have completed a trifecta.
I promised Yvonne I would see her in Carneros the next day, and as my next installment will attest, I was true to my word. Fortunately, I had not promised a similar timeline for completing this entry. My overwhelming schedule for Sostevinobile these past few weeks has set me woefully way behind.

How Green Was My Thursday

A most interesting piece in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat on Sunday highlighted how consumers may one day see wine bottles making carbon claims to show consumers these products aren’t contributing to the destruction of the planet. The article quoted Robert Nicholson from Healdsburg wine consulting firm International Wine Associates as predicting that “It’s going to be increasingly important for consumers to know that the wines they choose are participating in the green revolution that our planet is going to have to go through to survive.” 
Your West Coast Oenophile could not agree more. I’d like to believe that Sostevinobile has been quite prescient in insisting that we implement the highest degree of sustainable guidelines from the outset of our development, in the expectation that most, if not all of these practices will soon become mandatory. And it is gratifying to see this article cite that the California wine industry (as well as its counterparts in Washington and Oregon) has been “long at the forefront of the sustainable agriculture movement.”
Throughout much of the West Coast wine region, there is no formal standard for defining “sustainably-grown wine;” it will, of course, be incumbent upon Sostevinobile to establish a set of criteria for what we will ascertain as sustainable in the wines that we select for our wine bar operations. On the other hand, it is just as much our responsibility to encourage all vineyards and wineries within our designate locale to adopt sustainable practices throughout their farming and production. As I grind out this latest blog entry, I am of a mind to focus not solely on those operations that have already adopted strictly defined parameters for sustainability but also to embrace those labels that show a true impetus towards incorporating an identifiable and well-reasoned environmental stewardship into their winemaking and distribution.
Last Thursday, Napa Valley Grapegrowers stage their bi-annual Wine & Grape Expo. It wasn’t merely the lure of a free lunch and superb wine tasting—not to mention a much-needed break from midweek urban realities—that drew me up to Yountville. The day was packed with seminars, trade booths, and some lively demonstrations of cooperage and barrel blasting, nearly all of which focused on advancing sustainable practices throughout the entire wine production cycle.
With my linguistic abilities limited to English, Italian, Russian and French (along with my facility in ancient Greek or Latin, if ever summoned to the Vatican), I spared myself the arduousness of attempting to arrive at 8 AM for the early morning seminars in Spanish, even though topics like Importancia del Cambio Climático Sobre la Fenelogía de la Vid and Introduccíon a la Agricultura Biodinámica have obvious implications for sustainability. I did manage to attend the later morning sessions on developing water wells and the integration of vineyard architecture and soil reservoir as determinants for winegrowing strategy, subjects that play a significant role in the sustainable management of a vineyard.


Lunchtime gave opportunity to visit with a number of the exhibitors, including the solar power advisers from Solarcraft and the ecologically imperative The Compost Store. I suspect (though will willingly stand to be corrected) that the offerings from Dow Agro Sciences and Chevron’s Allied Propane would not meet the litmus for sustainability, but nonetheless I was happy to partake of one of their reusable cloth shopping totes for my intended stopover at Berkeley Bowl West en route back to San Francisco. 
A number of custom crush facilities, including Judd’s Hill & Microcrush and Bin to Bottle, also operated trade booths, but the true crowd pleaser for the afternoon was the barrel-making demonstration from Seguin Moreau Napa Cooperage.Watching such time-honored precision handicraft up close was indeed a marvel to behold. Across the courtyard, the truly modern technique of CO₂ barrel cleaning and sanitization held court. The environment
al implications of Cryo Clean’s Barrel Blasting method, a patent-pending process that propels dry ice pellets at airstream velocity into the fine wood surface of the barrel’s interior include no chemical residue or runoff, dramatically reduced waste residue, no water contamination, and significant increase in a barrel’s longevity.

Still, the most salient presentation of the day came from UC-Davis Steven Sinclair Scott Professor Roger B. Boulton, a leading proponent of sustainability in the wine industry. His comprehensive presentation, entitled Self-Sustaining Vineyards and Wineries, examined the myriad aspects and challenges of developing a self-contained, truly sustainable vineyard and winery operation, not merely in terms of carbon emissions but also mitigating the emission of CH₄ (methane) and N₂O (nitrous oxide), consumption and onsite generation of energy, reclamation and reapplication of winery water, and the use of environmentally-sound cleaning and sterilization solutions—particularly in terms of potential soil contamination.
Boulton’s far-sighted proposals and solutions for future development and implementation in wine industry extended beyond the theoretical. Following his discourse, he unveiled a preview of the Research and Teaching Winery under construction at UC Davis’ Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. Upon its opening for the 2010 harvest, this working laboratory will constitute “the world’s most sustainable vineyard and winery,” with innovative features that include onsite photovoltaic hydrogen production, passive solar-fuel cell co-generation of hot water, reverse osmosis (RO) and nano-filtration (NF) systems for water purification, an all-electric vehicle fleet with recharging station, hydrogen fuel cell hybrid, and rainwater capture and storage systems, all to be housed in a LEED Platinum Certified facility.
Even preoccupied with all these innovations, I think one can safely assume that Davis’ Department of Enology can also make a fairly decent wine. And, of course, this jaunt up to Yountville had its own perquisite tasting of an impressive selection of local vintages (after all, a trip to Napa without tasting wine is like sunning on a nude beach wearing blindfolds). Following a final seminar on olfactory sensations in wine by one of France’s leading parfumiers, an assortment of Napa Valley wines were scattered about the various exhibition booths. This arrangement made finding particular wines or determining whether I had sampled each of the donations rather haphazard, but my notes covered as much as I could sample during the brief period before the expo concluded.
Many of these wines marked my first tastes of their 2006 vintage. I started out on a high note with the 2006 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon. My enthusiasm did not diminish with Branham Estates’ 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon nor were Cade Winery’s two selection, the 2006 Napa Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon and the superb 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain any bit the letdown.
Rocca Family Vineyards also featured a pair of wines, their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville and their 2006 Merlot Yountville, proving that here the Burgundian Left Bank/Right Bank schism has little corollary. The 2006 Georges de Latour Private Reserve from Beaulieu Vineyards was its usual excellent self, and I found the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon D’Adamo Vineyard from Piña would have made quite the indulgence—if only I weren’t compelled to swill and spit!
Benessere makes a number of Italian varietals I have yet to try, but made quite the impression with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. As wondrous as this wine was, however, it still placed a distinct second to their 2005 Phenomenon, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese and Syrah, with no need for false modesty. The 2005 vintage from Napa continues to impress me every time I enjoy it; the tastings this afternoon merely elucidated this opinion, with Trefethen’s exceptional 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Oak Knoll, my old friend Ren Harris and his Paradigm’s 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville, and the hitherto unfamiliar Meander with their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon.
For this day, at least, the head of the Class of ’05 had to have been the 2005 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, one of Celia Welch’s most noteworthy efforts. beyond that, my most joyful discovery of the afternoon was the 2006 Opus One, and not just because it was being poured so liberally. As documented in many installments of this blog, I tr
uly dread how the giant conglomerates eviscerate a respected label after they acquire it (cf: Diageo and BV Coastal Estates; Constellation and Solaire by Robert Mondavi; Gallo and Louis M. Martini’s Ghost Pines). With such a dismal history, one ought to be downright euphoric to discover that Opus One has weathered the takeover virtually unscathed, thanks, I am told, to the perseverance of Baroness Philippine de Rothschild, who insisted that this icon label not be tampered with. The result was a glorious 2006 Meritage (the first produced since the sale of Robert Mondavi) that unabashedly maintained its esteemed pedigree.
The one white wine I managed to try was the 2005 D’Argent Chardonnay from Silver Rose, which bills itself as Napa’s only resort winery. I am aware of missing a few other whites, Sauvignon Blancs from both Cakebread Cellars and from Long Meadow Ranch, but did manage to slip in a modest sip of their 2004 LMR Cabernet Sauvignon. Two other labels, Jaffe Estate and Snowden Vineyards were listed as being poured, but I have no recollection of encountering either. Another winery I did taste, but—true confession—I cannot decipher the scribble from my own hand.
The rest of the wines stood out from Cabernet’s inevitable domination. Though quite elusive (at least on the Internet), Blair Estate dazzled with their 2002 Blair Estate Meritage, an enormously pleasing wine. Tofanelli strayed even further with their amiable 2006 Zinfandel. Truly a Napa apostate, B. Kosuge managed to comport himself quite respectably with his 2007 The Shop Pinot Noir. Ever the iconoclast, my friend John Wilkinson poured his 2006 Wilkinson, his esoteric blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah he bottles at Bin to Bottle, his custom crush facility in Napa. And just for fun, I had to try a sip of the 2006 Lagrein from Jacuzzi Vineyards, a very festive wine, to say the least.
I had hoped that this event would have provided the occasion, at long last, to meet brothers Sloane and John Upton, owners of the famed Three Palms Vineyard and fellow survivors of the arcane rectitude of the storied Hotchkiss School. If they did attend, we still managed to miss each other, and while it would have been a special treat to sample the flagship Merlot Duckhorn Vineyards produces from their grapes, the 2005 Duckhorn Vineyards Howell Mountain Napa Valley Red Wine, a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot proved more than adequate compensation.
The Napa Wine & Grape Expo provided considerable fodder to help validate my espousal of sustainable practices for Sostevinobile; y seeing these tenets so universally embraced by the California wine industry greatly reassures me that our focus on serving only sustainably grown wines will embrace an incredibly wide selection from the preponderance of wineries here and throughout the West Coast. I left the Lincoln Theater amid a slight drizzle and plodded my way down the East Bay corridor to attend the last half-hour of the Green Chamber of Commerce’s 2nd Annual Celebration, entitled Building an Honest Economy. Here, overlooking the Tribune Tower in downtown Oakland, I found an assembly of like-minded ecopreneurs, passionate in their vision, but nonetheless pragmatic. Their unapologetic mantra: “people, planet, and profit.”
The Green Chamber of Commerce (GCOC) comprises a San Francisco-based business network of more than 160 Bay Area businesses from various industry sectors including architecture & design, media, finance, legal, renewable energy, and health. In light of recent developments, GCOC is aggressively seeking to present a viable alternative for major companies like Apple, Nike and PG&E, which have withdrawn from the US Chamber of Commerce in protest over its sheer inanity in refusing to endorse legislation that would counter the precipitants of climate change.
The annual celebration featured a dynamic presentation from Ahmed Rahim, co-founder of Numi Organic Tea and a preview of the Chamber’s new promotional video. Oakland’s Savoy Events highlighted the evening with a rather sumptuous spread of sustainably-farmed, healthy appetizers (although hors d’œuvres of sculpted, purple-dyed potatoes strike me as somewhat counterintuitive), complemented by the 2007 Organic Syrah and 2008 Organic Chardonnay from Mendocino’s pioneering Frey Vineyards, recognized as the first organic winery in North America.
I received a complimentary toothbrush fr
om GCOC member Dr. Nammy Patel as I left. My 23 years as a copywriter makes me question certain connotations of billing her practice as “green dentistry,” albeit her extreme awareness of the environmental impact caused by numerous aspects of basic dental practices. But even the dreadful glass of White Zinfandel I was offered at my final stop of the day, the Bravo Club party in the lobby space of San Francisco’s Automattic, could not diminish the fact that a green time was had by all.

Præternatural Wine

Your West Coast Oenophile feels more like an OenoFill this week, having spent nearly ten hours visiting tables at Family Winemakers of California this past Sunday and Monday. It’s like undertaking a Master’s Swim class; no matter how hard you try, you can’t help but swallow a bit as you complete your interminable laps. I know I ought to rally and make it to at least some of the tastings for San Francisco Natural Wine Week that is now upon us, but we will have to see. 

Natural wine is a bit hard to define, even for its proponents. There are elements, of course, that completely sync with the values that Sostevinobile espouses; nonetheless, there are indeed times when in the craft of making great wine—be it léger de main or the sheer artistry of a skilled vintner—when intervention can be warranted. And, as I have often rebuked those who monomaniacally extol the merits of terroir above all else, wine should taste of the soil, not like the soil. That small quibble aside, I’m sure the lure of good wine will lure me to at least one of the events. As they say in France, nous verrons

The prospect of enjoying natural wine has made me ponder whether I’ve ever tasted præternatural wine. Some would justifiably apply this term to the 1945 Château Pétrus or the famed 1947 Cheval Blanc, and although I lack direct evidence, I feel confident they would be right. For me, the closest I can recall was the 2005 David Arthur Elevation 1147, a phenomenal wine that hinted at the greatness of their legendary 1997 vintage. Soon, quite soon, I hope to have added many of these ætherial wines to my list of “conquests.”

Præternatural wines do not often appear at industry grand tastings, but, as it has many times over the past 19 years, Family Winemakers did showcase a number of extraordinary bottlings. Not to mention some very good wines, as well. If only I had the endurance to taste every one of them. Figure if I allocated a scant five minutes per station, in my ten hours on the floor, I’d still only connect with 120 of the attendees—barely ⅓ of the wineries on hand—and that would be without a moment’s pause!

So, with apologies to all I must overlook, let me summarize my discoveries from this year’s gathering. In the spirit of generosity, I will first cite the 2007 Philanthropist from Indigène Cellars of Paso Robles. The somewhat odd placement of the accent grave in their name underscores their contrarian approach to the wines they blend. This assemblage of Cabernet and Petit Verdot that winemaker/owner Raymond Smith inoculated with white wine yeast might evoke cries of Sacré Bleu in Bordeaux, but here it drank quite artfully. Another winery from Paso Robles debuting at this tasting, HammerSky Vineyards, also presented a Bordeaux-style blend, their 2007 Party of Four, along with their noteworthy 2007 Zinfandel. Finding myself next to Paso stalwart Halter Ranch, I of course indulged in their nicely-aging 2004 Ancestor.

Older wines are not usually par for the course at these industrial tastings, so the 2004 Brion Cabernet Sauvignon from B Wise Vineyards was a happy exception. So, too, were the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2004 Syrah from Reynoso Family in Alexander Valley. Slightly younger, the 2005 Crazy Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from DeLorimier Vineyards, part of the Wilson Winery’s growing portfolio, did its Alexander Valley roots quite proud, while the 2005 Lytton Cabernet Sauvignon was quite the amiable Cab from Zinfandel territory. Many California wineries that blend their Cabernets with traditional Bordeaux varietals often omit Malbec, citing difficulties with growing this grape. Discovering the 2004 Malbec from Elements of Sonoma was therefore all the more gratifying.

The up & coming wineries in Paso Robles, Santa Maria, and Santa Barbara, on the other hand, often feel unbound by the rigidity of the French classifications, and have developed evocative Meritage blends from Bordeaux and Rhône varietals, among other apostasies. Jettlynn Winery poured two of their Masters Blend, the (predominantly 2006) NV Mon Couer, a Bordeaux blend with 4% Syrah in the mix, and the aptly-named NV Opulent, which softened with 10% Syrah. Once again, a mere table over introduced me to another Paso neighbor, Justin Kahler’s JK Wine Company, with its contrasting 2005 Syrah Chalone and 2007 Syrah del Rio, a strong showing for their Family Winemakers inaugural appearance.

And what would be a tasting without satisfying my penchant for esoteric varietals? Santa Maria’s Kenneth Volk Vineyards offered their 2006 Négrette while Arbios Cellars pleased with their 2007 Praxis Central Coast Lagrein. Slightly more familiar, Templeton’s Clavo Cellars shone with a noteworthy 2006 Grenache Blanc, while its red twin 2007 Grenache Mendocino marked Elizabeth Spencer’s high point. One could luxuriate all day in the intriguing varietals Tablas Creek produces, but I held myself to a quick sip of their 2008 Picpoul Blanc while introducing myself to fellow wine blogger Tommy Oldré. A number of Iberian wines proliferated the event, notably Fenestra Winery’s 2006 Alvarelhão, while veteran Cal-Italia specialist Graziano Family impressed with both their 2005 Enotria Dolcetto and 2007 Enotria Barbera.

The curiously-named Herman Story showcased an exemplary 2007 White Hawk Vineyard Viognier, while Calluna Vineyards, a name that might have been derived from Jerry Brown’s tenure as Governor Moonbeam, held forth with both their Bordeaux-style 2007 Calluna Cuvée and the 2007 Merlot Aux Raynauds. Twisting the tongue almost as much as Sostevinobile, Coquelicot Estate also featured their 2006 Syrah and a Meritage, the 2006 Mon Amour.

Mon amour is a term I am sure many a wine connoisseur has longed to whisper to Flowers Winery’s Keiko Niccolini, and it was not just the allure of their renowned Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that drew me to her table. So, too, did my well-documented fondness for the Yates sisters lure me to try their 2006 Cheval, a pure Cabernet Franc. Lust, of course, does not enter into my friendship with Peter Thompson of Andrew Geoffrey Vineyards, but his 2005 Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon did inspire lascivious thoughts.
On the green side of winemaking, it was most gratifying to connect finally with LangeTwins, the Lodi appellation recently honored for their solar implementation. Their 2005 Midnight Reserve is a Bordeaux blend as admirable as their commitment to sustainability. Organically-farmed Ackerman Family presented a selection of their limited-release Cabs, culminating in a “sneak preview” of the 2005 Ackerman Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. Terra Sávia was one of the few wineries bold enough to call themselves organic; their 2005 Petit Verdot made a bold statement in its own right.
I like to think of Ventana Vineyards as a somewhat traditional winery and have long been impressed with their Chardonnays, in particular; nonetheless, their 2007 Gewürztraminer Monterey Arroyo Seco was a notably subdued expression of this tangy varietal. Schug Carneros Wine Estate did, however, make their statement with the 2006 Chardonnay Heritage Reserve. Another winery that stood out in this vein was Athair Wines, with a notably crisp 2007 Chardonnay.
On the traditional red side, notable Cabernets abounded from Lawrence Harrison Vineyards, a winery led by their 101-year-old proprietress, with their 2005 Leo Joseph Cabernet Sauvignon; Tayson Pierce Estates, whose 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon barely attained the single varietal threshold, with a 75% Cabernet/25% Merlot blend; Alexander Valley’s Roth Estate, Lancaster Estate’s Cab-only division, with their 2006 vintage; Darms Lane, also a single-varietal producer from Oak Knoll in Napa, with their 2005 Darms Lane Cabernet Sauvignon, and Castello di Amorosa, Dario Sattui’s monumental erection, with their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.

I was hard-pressed to pick a favorite between the 2005 Hestan Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2005 Meyer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, both from Hestan Vineyards (perhaps they could have settled the debate if they’d brought their 2005 Stephanie Cabernet, as well). Recipient of numerous Robert Parker accolades Gemstone Vineyards offered a similar dilemma with their 2006 Facets of Gemstone Estate Red Blend, a Bordeaux-style Meritage, and the special release 2006 10th Gemstone, a Cabernet with 20% Petit Verdot blended in. Portfolio Winery, a venture in art and in wine, offered no dilemma, pouring their exquisite 2005 Portfolio Limited Edition, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
 is the selective accolade I bestow on wines that truly strike me as præternatural—or close to it. Certainly Clos Pepe fit the bill with their seductive 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Rita. Also dazzling in the Pinot realm was consensus favorite Wedell Cellars, with both his 2006 Wedell Cellars Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir and his staggering 2005 Hillside Vineyard Pinot Noir from Edna Valley. Amid all the hubbub on the floor of the Festival Pavilion, I fell sway to the worldly charms of Jennifer Hong from TGIC Importers, who steered me to the wines of Skipstone Ranch; both their 2007 Makena’s Vineyard Viognier and Bordeaux-style 2005 Oliver’s Blend dazzled with their organically-farmed grapes. Jennifer, however, held the great surprise to the tasting herself as the representative for Paso Robles’ Opolo Vineyards. Their 2005 Rhapsody was yet another standout Bordeaux Meritage, but the 2006 Montagna-Mare, a blend of Barbera and Sangiovese, truly stole my heart.
As an addendum, I did manage to sneak out and attend the Natural Wine Week tasting at Arlequin in the midst of composing this piece. Look for my findings in my next blog entry.