Category Archives: Ribolla Gialla

reboot: The Return of Your West Coast Oenophile

Hurrah, hurray
The first of May
Sostevinobile
Returns this day

It won’t be a profound revelation to admit that this blog has been Missing In Action for the better part of 2013. Much as Your West Coast Oenophile has tried to maintain pace with the onslaught of trade events and viticultural excursions I undertake, the overwhelming demands of updating this chronicle have been impeded by a series of unpropitious events, the most severe of which being a TKO to my bicycle helmet from an industrial truck zipping insouciantly along San Francisco’s Market St. The damage I sustained was both physical and (briefly) neurological, with bouts of aphasia and intermittent memory “skips” now dissipated, and only the prolonged diminution of my prodigious IQ to the perfunctory level needed to espouse Princeton nubile the lone remnant of this unrepentant assault. Chalk it up to an unrealized metaphor: my pronounced aversion to that culinary abomination known as scrambled eggs may likely have been the overriding impetus to protect my cerebral mass from artlessly depicting the same.
Facing the prospect of imminent demise while hurtling toward the unbuffered pavement does give pause to reflection. Most significantly, this accident has steeled my resolve to bring the opening of Sostevinobile to fruition through any means at my disposal. Aut gratiā aut fortunā, as we used to chant in Latin class. Even if the fortunā hasn’t exactly been shining on me, as of late.
And what of this blog? The grand scheme, of course, will be to divvy up duties here among the Sostevinobile staff, once we’ve established full-scale operations. For now, however, I need to refocus these entries not simply on the wines I source for the various programs we will be offering: by-the-glass, reserve bottle, retail, etc., but on all issues relevant to this endeavor.
As is fit. After all, my forays on behalf of these wine bar developments do not simply consist of a quest to discover new vintages but to understand how these wines will fit the tastes and needs of our eventual clientele.
And who will this clientele be? And what must Sostevinobile do, not merely to attract but also to retain them? Just before my accident, I attended a group show at Alter Space in San Francisco—in an eerie coincidence, I stumbled upon this gallery when several blocks in SOMA were shut down following a pedestrian traffic fatality, forcing me to veer homeward along an alternative route. Remembering is Everything featured six artists’ recollection of what they conjured from a video the curators had created as a catalyst to their interpretation. And while the mixed media exhibition assembled together film, painting, collage—even creative taxidermy—what stood out most was a stark display, We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For, an unadorned, portable monaural turntable playing a scratched Roy Orbison 45.
While artist David Kasprzak’s intent here may have been to evoke the notion that “a community is capable of transforming the present
state of the world to prevent an apocalypse,” he could not have known
that his art would have presaged the crowd on hand for this opening.
Most of the attendees this evening hailed from the post-millennial generation that has yet to be emblemized with
pithy marketing argotrecently-minted grads of this current decade confronting the inexorable reality that four years of education and unbridled freedom has garnered them a foreseeable future without entitlement and an awkward retreat to the cocoon of their adolescence
.

My cursory perusal of this jejune crowd found them not necessarily naïve but outwardly guileless, devoid of extreme facial piercings or provocative tattooing, simply apparelled, almost wholly monochromatic (Caucasian), and seemingly unfazed by the overarching issues of the day. Apart from omnipresent cell phones in one hand and plastic cups in the other, the gathering could just have well been transposed from a setting fifty years earlier amid the media-conjured view of a strifeless America, impervious to the simmering tensions the looming civil rights struggle and nascent conflict in Vietnam would soon engender, an innocent era in which sex could be measured in bases, Coca Cola and hot dogs reigned supreme, and rock & roll music and staying out past curfew constituted the furthest extremes of rebellion. Viewed through such a prism, one must recognize the drearily puerile coiffure Michelle Obama recently adopted not as harbinger of future trends but as confirmation of this emerging generation’s atavistic drift, fostered by the forlorn economy over which her husband lacklusterly presides.

So whither Sostevinobile and today’s 20-somethings? Though my superficial assessment of this emerging generation may smack of patronization, I am hardly pessimistic about its prospects. After all, the wine poured at Alter Space easily rated a notch or two above the ubiquitous Two Buck Chuck that, along with cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, seems obligatory at most art studios. And that alone qualifies as portent of great promise…


Perhaps I oughtn’t continue to be such an ardent critic of The Punahou Kid, now that he has embarked on his second term in office. For a while, it even seemed he had taken on the aura of the Presidency (that is, until he caved on the Keystone XL Pipeline), to the point that I had actually extolled his leadership in another forum to which I sometimes contribute. < /font>
Regardless of who deserves the credit, by my unscientific reckoning, the economy is 2013 improving dramatically for the first time since he assumed office and I undertook efforts to launch the wine bar/retail establishment that these pages sustain. Not that I have never placed any credence in the pronouncements, dire or optimistic of Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, and their ilk, nor any of the so-called economic pundits one encounters in academia, the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, nor even the talking heads who fill the airwaves each afternoon with their affectations of erudition. As I have previously cited, my strongest economic bellwether is the date upon which I receive my first coin minted in the current year.
My methodology may seem empirical, though no less insightful than the economics of Lyndon LaRouche or the prescient philosophy of Ayn Rand. It stands to reason that the more vibrant the economy, the faster the influx of newly-minted money to accommodate the attendant demands of businesses. Over the past few years, the utter stagnation meant I did not see the first new coin of 2011 until June and of 2012 in mid-July. This year, I discovered a brilliant, untarnished 2013 Lincoln penny in my change March 11, a vastly significant statistical acceleration. Does this portend a slackening of the parsimony of the centimillionaires upon whose precarious whims the flow of investment capital relies? Will the lethargy that has predominated private equity markets in the 2010s finally subside and offer new life to the launch of Sostevinobile? Stay tuned…


A couple of years back, I was invited to join an exclusive wine tasting klatch, the Mercurey Club. This loosely-assembled meetup provides camaraderie for a select group of high-profile technologists who find the joys of œnological
discovery a refreshing contrast to the monolithic culture of app development and other Internet forays.
 
Each of these sporadic gatherings at a member’s abode feature sumptuous catering and designated viticultural focus toward which attendees contribute a favorite bottle or two. Even when the theme falls outside my forte of West Coast wines, I feel almost as much pressure to distinguish myself here as I do at Cliff Lede’s annual bottle party during Premier Napa or the wonderful Acme Fine Wines anniversary parties David Stevens and Karen Williams would throw at the Tucker Farm Center.
Culling a mid-range Uruguayan Tannat, for instance, provided an easy contrast to the preponderance of Argentine Malbecs and Chilean Carménères at the South American gathering. But this spring’s Anything but Chardonnay or Pinot from the Russian River Valley proved far more daunting.
Not for lack of awareness of what I might have chosen. A random list of possible selections included: a 2011 Mourvèdre from Suncé; Zeitgeist Cellars2012 Trousseau Gris Russian River Valley; Acorn’s 2010 Dolcetto Alegría Vineyards; Windsor Oaks2010 Rosato of Sangiovese, to name but a few options. But I vacillated on attending until it was too late to make a trip up to Sonoma and so I had to scour the local wine shops in San Francisco for a suitable selection.
And therein lies the rub. I combed the shelves of at least six of San Francisco’s more notable local wine specialists, only to find a broad spectrum of Pinots and Chards, interspersed with a fair amount of Zinfandel, but virtually nothing deviating from this triumvirate of Russian River varietals. 
I wound up selecting a bottle of 2010 Pinot Gris from Balletto, a fine wine at a modest price, to be sure, but just not as esoteric as what my circle of wine enthusiasts has come to expect from me. And even though I subsequently learned that I might have sourced such delights as J Stephen Wine’s 2011 Ribolla Gialla or the 2011 Woodenhead French Colombard from K&L Wine Merchants (their wine selections are meticulously organized and identified), I was still left with a sense that an overwhelming majority of the wines produced in California, particularly outside the orthodoxies of Bordelaise and Burgundian varietals (plus Zinfandel), enjoy little retail exposure beyond their tasting rooms and wine clubs.
I rarely discuss the proposed retail arm of Sostevinobile, even in my investment pitches. But this experience invigorated me in the belief that our showcase needs to amplify the exposure our wine-by-the-glass program will give to 400 or so wines annually with off-premise sales in our wine store adjunct of some 1,500-2,000 different selections from the roster of sustainable wine labels I have assembled (and continue to expand) throughout the years I have been building this program. 
As of this writing, I believe I’ve vetted nearly 3,100 wine labels throughout Washington, Oregon, and California. I cannot begin to calculate how many different wines that figure incorporates. But Sostevinobile isn’t merely about delivering words and promises. All my efforts will be for naught if I do not make access to these splendid vintages a reality for our clientele.

Uno…due…tre…

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

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

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

1) Yountville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Oak Knoll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rock & Ribolla

Many, many years ago, when I first moved to San Francisco, I looked into shared housing situations—the usual purview of a would-be starving artist with a freshly minted diploma. At one point, my quest brought me to a home in Noe Valley, where the three roommates were seeking to replace the fourth, who had just moved out.

Now, to be perfectly honest, Your West Coast Oenophile will never make it into the Good Housekeeping Hall of Fame nor have a place featured in Better Homes & Gardens, but with the possible exception of the domicile of a certain lawyer/cab driver on Twin Peaks, this has to have been the most unsanitary household I have ever set foot in. So maybe it didn’t approach the squalor one sees on Hoarders, but with three practicing potters in residence, the place seemed little more than an amalgam of clay residue and decrepit furniture.

The really problem, however, wasn’t the abysmal condition of the premises but the tenor of my prospective co-tenants. The leaseholders, a boyfriend and girlfriend, seemed genial enough, pretty much conforming to a discernable type from that era—adamantly anti-nuclear, pro-Jerry Brown, heavily into alfalfa sprouts, Patchouli oil, Pink Floyd. The other occupant exuded a far different vibe, with impossibly gnarly hair and woefully undersized lenses that kept her eye in a perpetual squint—the kind of women Woody Allen tended to date while pursuing Diane Keaton in his 1970s films.

Maybe I should have been clued in by the fact her name was Zenobia. After the perfunctory tour of the house and pottery equipment, the three housemates sat me down over a cup of tea and poised to evaluate me over a single question: “if I moved in, would I be able to love Zenobia?”

I paused, not to contemplate the possibility but, rather, to figure a diplomatic way to pose my response. I looked to Zenobia, drew a deep breath, then turned to her roomies. “No!” I replied, as I made retreated for the door without hesitation. Nary a day has gone by since that I stopped to wonder what might have been.

Fortunately, attending Arlequin Wine Merchant’s California Natural Wine Tasting for the 2nd Annual San Francisco Natural Wine Week required no similar declaration of unwavering fidelity. As inveterate Sostevinobile readers know, while I have an appreciation for this approach to winemaking, I am, by no means, one of their rabid zealots. After all, if it weren’t for manipulation, few, if any, contemporary varietals would exist today (I know Sean Thackrey attempts to replicate winemaking from ancient Greek texts, but would he want to resurrect 5th Century B.C. Macedonian grapes?).

That said, there is much to commend in the minimal intervention that Natural Winemaking extols; the results, when good, can be very, very good. Elsewise, let’s just say it’s an acquired taste. The twelve wineries on hand at this event certainly covered the gamut.

I started off at the entrance where Chris Brockway’s own label, Broc Cellars, as well as his joint venture, Broadside, had set up. I suspect Arlequin and its sister operations, Absinthe Brasserie, may account for 50% of the 4600 cases of the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Margarita Vineyard Broadside produces—no surprise, as this wine has consistently shown excellently every year it has been produced. I have also been long enamored of Broc’s Grenache, but they opted this time to pour the stellar 2009 Carignan Alexander Valley instead. I was not as impressed with their 2008 Pinot Noir Tondrē Grapefield,but my introduction to their 2009 Vine star, a blend of Picpoul, Chardonnay, and Roussanne, proved to be quite revelatory.

I cited Littorai’s 2007 The Haven Pinot Noir in my last entry, so gladly moved up a notch to their 2007 Pinot Noir Mays Canyon. Their versatility Chardonnay kept pace with its Burgundian confrère, as evidenced by the 2008 Chardonnay Charles Heintz, also from the Sonoma Coast.

The 2007 Petit Frère from Unti seemed a serviceable GMS blend, while I found their 2007 Estate Zinfandel quite distinctive. Personal predilections aside, I have always felt this winery makes its strongest statements with its Italian varietals, like the 2008 Estate Barbera they poured here. Underscoring my contention, the 2008 Estate Sangiovese proved exemplary, one of the best expressions of this varietal I have sampled in recent months.

So many wineries I know custom crush at Copain, I often forget they have their own label, as well.with three wines poured on this particular evening, I found both their 2009 Tous Ensemble Rosé, a blush Pinot Noir, and the 2009 Tous Ensemble Viognier rather adequate, but relished their 2007 Pinot Noir Wentzel. Salinia, their offshoot from assistant winemaker Kevin Kelley, displayed an appealing complexity with both their 2006 Chardonnay Heintz Ranch and the 2006 Pinot Noir W. E. Bottoms.

I wasn’t entirely clear on the interrelationship between Salinia and its other tablemates, Lioco and the Natural Process Alliance, though these latter two endeavors comprise two of the more predominant Wine on Tap labels increasingly found in San Francisco. lioco proved just as impressive as they had at last year’s tasting, with a splendid 2007 Pinot Noir Klindt from Mendocino and their trademark 2007 Indica, a Carignane rounded out with Grenache and Mourvèdre. NPA’s 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley, one of the wines they also distribute in “refillable aluminum canteens” that have been conspicuously supplanting water bottles over the past couple of years, proved itself more than a gimmick or sustainably novelty. An unlisted addition to the bill, a stellar 2007 Grenache came from A Tribute to Grace, the side venture of NPA assistant winemaker Angela Osborne.

At last year’s event, I befriended Clos Saron winemaker Gideon Beinstock and eventually joined him at the 30th Anniversary party for Renaissance Winery, his principal gig in the far reached of Oregon House, CA. While I initially found myself quite favorably disposed towards his vinification, I found myself questioning some of his wines at this year’s Pinot Days. But what I had initially construed as possible cork taint repeated itself in a number of the wines he poured this day—the frequent downside to the Natural Wine movement. Both the 2009 Tickled Pink, a rosé of Syrah, and the 2005 Heart of Stone Syrah tasted off (musky), while their proprietary blends, the 2009 Carte Blanche (Sauvignon Blanc, Roussanne, Chardonnay, Viognier) and the 2005 Black Pearl (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Viognier, Roussanne) seemed pleasant, if perfunctory.

Meanwhile, my old friends from A Donkey and Goat also displayed some of the hazards of this new minimalism. Not that I didn’t like their 2008 Blend 413 (a traditional GMS with Counoise added) nor their 2007 Fenaughty Vineyard Syrah or the 2007 Vielles Vignes Syrah. But Jared and Tracey have shown themselves capable of extraordinary wines, starting with their debut Syrah in 2000 that floored everyone at Family Winemakers or, more recently, their 2006 Tamarindo Roussanne. In this context, their obeisance to the tenets of Natural Winemaking seems somewhat to have diminished their prowess.

Most Natural winemakers acknowledge this methodology poses a gamble, and sometimes that gamble can really pay off. Somehow, over the years, I had managed to bypass Arnot-Roberts at a number of tastings I had attended, so this evening’s gathering gave me an overdue opportunity to rectify this mistake. Starting with the 2009 Old Vine White Compagni Portis (Gewürztraminer, Trousseau Gris, Riesling), their wines all lived up to their considerable maverick reputation. While the 2008 Syrah Hudson clearly overshadowed the 2008 Syrah Clary Ranch, the 2009 Trousseau Luchsinger from Clearlake showed itself an exceptional wine—even if they declined to label it Bastardo. The treat of the evening, however, was the release of their 2009 Ribolla Gialla from Vare Vineyard in Napa, one of four wineries bottling from this same crop. Given my long-stated desire to taste a California expression of this varietal, I was—quite naturally—immensely pleased.

Natural Wine Week will return in 2011, and I am sure I will attend the pertinent events once again. Maybe I’m spending too much time with angel investors and other financial types in my quest to fund Sostevinobile—I don’t think I could afford to undertake such a risky proposition as these winemakers do. But they add yet another layer to the complexity of the wines we have here on the West Coast, and when they do succeed in their efforts, they will certainly find a niche with us.
Provided no one labels their wine Zenobia.

So there I was downtown, hailing a Cab on a Monday afternoon…

Actually, it was somewhere in the order of 76 Cabs, give or take. After a while, Your West Coast Oenophile kinda lost count, but then, these are the hazards of duty I encounter when attending single-varietal showcases for Sostevinobile. Still, given the choice of spending my day in front of a monitor or sipping from the best at the California Cabernet Society, it was really no contest.

As was last year’s event, the 20th Annual Spring Barrel Tasting was held at San Francisco’s Bently Reserve. Once again, the overall quality of the wine made making critical distinctions somewhat of a challenge; indeed, if there was an indisputable champion among the presentation tables, it may well have been the extraordinary Wagyu from Morgan Ranch, braised to near perfection. Lipitor be damned! This station commanded more repeat visits than anyone else this afternoon!
But, of course, the purpose of this event was not to assuage the carnivore in me but to showcase the wine that put California on the viticultural map. The first table I came upon, Grassi Wines, set the tone for the afternoon with a released 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and a barrel sample of their upcoming 2009 vintage. The tantalizing Cassandra Grassi managed, however, to tantalize me with the allure of Grassi’s soon-to-be-released 2009 Ribolla Gialla, which I plan to sample on my next Napa swing. Another Napa denizen, Baldacci Vineyards poured a selection of the several Cabernets they produce, both the 2006 IV Sons Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District and their much-honored 2006 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District. And it was great to have another chance to sample the 2006 Concept from Cain, the purest Cabernet Sauvignon among their family of Bordelaise blends.
Maybe the truest differential of the afternoon came from the names, particularly for the Meritages or for those Cabernets the winemakers chose to give proprietary labels. A stellar example heralded from Santa Ynez’ Star Lane Vineyard, the 2005 Astral, their premium Cabernet. From Calistoga, Carter Cellars caused quite a stir, not merely for the surprisingly excellent quality of their wines (though listing a pedigree that includes Nils Venge, Jeff Fontanella and Beckstoffer To Kalon ought to have been a harbinger), but also for their 2007 Coliseum Block, a luxuriant Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2008 Envy Cabernet Sauvignon. Terlato Family’s Chimney Rock paired its 2006 Tomahawk with a barrel sample of their 2009 Ganymede Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, both of Stags Leap. Cliff Lede’sStags Leap entrant, the aptly named 2006 Poetry, a Cab softened with 2% each of Merlot and Petit Verdot. Sonoma’s Simi blended Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec with the predominant Cabernet Sauvignon to make its single vineyard 2006 Landslide, while its 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley boasted a more streamlined blend.
Some wineries can’t help but make great Cabernet, the only nuance coming from the vintage. To no surprise, I savored my sip of the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Volcanic Hill from Diamond Creek as I exchanged pleasantries with Boots Brounstein. Similarly, my chat with Richard Arrowood allowed me to indulge both in the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from his Amapola Creek, as well as his newly-released 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley from his eponymous Arrowood Vineyards. Peju Provence was superb, as one might have expected, with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, a blend that features both 7% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot, while the delightfully eccentric polyglot, Jan Shrem, regaled me in Italian as he poured his Clos Pégase 2006 Cabernet Hommage Artist Series Reserve.
Readers know that I scrupulously try to avoid sweeping generalizations in these entries, and certainly the selections we will make for Sostevinobile’s wine program will be assessed on the quality of each wine, not any established bias. Still, if I found any consensus on this particular afternoon, it was that those wineries that featured their 2007 vintage seemed to offer a more compelling display of their viticultural prowess than I perceived overall in the wines from 2006. Case in point—the newly released 2007 Entre Nous from Ashe Family Vineyards, a strikingly rich bottling of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon limited to a mere four barrels. The estate bottling of the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District from Barnett Vineyards, balanced with small aliquots of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, similarly distinguished itself. Temecula’s Briar Rose contrasted several vintages of its Cab, with the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Linkogle Estate Collection clearly showing its potential for longevity.
Few California wineries grow Carménère, let alone blend it with its fellow Bordeaux varietals, but Alexander Valley’s Chalk Hill has embraced it for years. I failed to notate the percentages blend in their 2007 Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon but, again, found it preferable to the 2006 vintage, a blend that eked in at 76% Cabernet, along with its other components. The 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from the Buoncristiani brothers displayed an amazing texture, while Lorena and Rolando Herrera from Mi Sueño crafted an elegant 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon of their own. Just north of St. Helena, tiny Tudal Winery, a single varietal operation, showcased a pair of its wines, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve and the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon—with a total of 600 cases a year, both flourished under Tudal’s handcrafted methodology.
As is my wont at these tastings, I strive first to connect with those wineries I have yet to incorporate into Sostevinobile’s database. Alexander Valley’s Blue Rock Vineyards introduced themselves with their flagship 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Laurie Claudon of Clark-Claudon Vineyards offer her sustainably produced 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a noteworthy 1,000-case effort. A member of the Silenus cooperative, Mario Bazán Cellars produces the classic Bordeaux pairing of Sauvignon Blanc and their unblended 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. I, of course, am well-familiar with Agustin Huneeus’ Quintessa, but had not previously encountered his Faust wines, a separate venture dedicated solely to Cabernet Sauvignon; winemaker Charles Thomas generously rounded out the striking 2006 Faust with 19% Merlot, plus 3% Malbec and 1% Cabernet Franc. Contrast this blend with the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from Calistoga’s Jericho Canyon, a straightforward Cab with a mere 3% Merlot added.

Naming a winery The Grade seemed quirky, if not ambiguous, until owner Tom Thornton cited the allusion from Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Silverado Squatters; tasting their 2006 The Grade Cabernet Sauvignon left no confusion about their craft, while a surreptitious sip of their 2009 Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc was a nice counterpoint to the plethora of red wine I continued to evaluate. Also in the category of hard-to-fathom names, the Most Wanted Wine Company turned out to be a Wild West-themed venture from Oakdale, a town I have since discovered lies somewhere en route from Manteca to Jamestown; fortunately, their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon proved far less grating than their music-laden Web site. Perhaps the last word in Cabernet, ZD Wines, derives its name from the acronym for aerospace quality control—Zero Defects—an attribute that could just as easily applied to their organically-grown 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.

I had passed by Volker Eisele Family Estate during my recent, inadvertent tour of Chiles Valley but hadn’t had the time to stop in. Their compelling 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon is also farmed organically, but I wish they had also brought their unique 2006 Terzetto, a blend of equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, co-fermented. Actually, I was surprised that no one (at least, among the wineries I sampled) had poured a Cabernet Franc at this tasting—after all, it does fall within Cab Society parameters. Nor did I stumble upon any Bordeaux/Rhône blends, as I often find in Lodi and in Paso Robles. Varozza Vineyards, however did pour both their estate grown 2005 St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon and their 2005 St. Helena Petite Sirah, a welcome diversion from the monolithic pourings of the event.
Inarguably, Cabernet is the cornerstone of Napa Valley, so is Cornerstone Cellars the cornerstone of cornerstones? Rather than ponder such a conundrum, I sipped their immodest 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with unabashed delight. I equally enjoyed the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Hendry Vineyard from Hendry Ranch, and look forward to sampling their Albariño and Primitivo at a future date. The steep terrain of Hidden Ridge helps shape the terroir of its Cabernet-exclusive production, making its 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon 55% Slope a most distinctive wine.
A trio of wineries from Napa comported themselves quite ably as I again established my first contact with their ventures. Silverado Vineyards, with limited production of Sangiovese and other Italian varietals, held forth with their 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Nearby, in Rutherford, Sullivan Vineyards similarly showcased their 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. And Titus from St. Helena impressed me with their 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
In my efforts to embrace as many wineries as I can for Sostevinobile, I sometimes overlook long-established labels, thinking I already know their craft quite well. This afternoon’s lesson in not taking wineries for grant first came from Spring Mountain’s Keenan Winery. I found their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District quite compelling and their special Tribute, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, 30th Anniversary even more so. Similarly, Merryvale struck me with a trio of their Cabernets, first the affordably-priced 2007 Starmont Cabernet, then their signature 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, and finally with their extraordinary 2006 Profile, a limited-release Cabernet Sauvignon blended with 2% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Franc.
Admittedly, I found myself Cabbed out at this point, vowing not to sip another of these wines at least until Tuesday. And certainly I knew I would return, same address, same staging in a few months to come, to work my way through the bounty of Howell Mountain’s Cabernets and, of course, another infusion of Wagyu beef!