Category Archives: Petit Manseng

And the beat goes on…

Marching forward, Your West Coast Oenophile became mired in circumstances that compelled me to miss out on this year’s celebration of Première Napa Valley. Regrettable, of course, but with the prospect of finally launching Sostevinobile’s physical operations this year, I have vowed to return in 2013 fully credentialed as a prospective buyer.

My lapse this year meant a prolonged break from formal wine tastings until the return of In Pursuit of Balance, the very focused wine colloquium sponsored once again by Rajat Parr and Jasmine Hirsch. Though relocated from Parr’s RN74 to the Julia Morgan Ballroom atop San Francisco’s Merchant Exchange Building—a venue quite a few levels below the Michael Mina-catered cuisine from the inaugural event, the tasting drew very nearly the exact same lineup of wineries pouring, a veritable Who’s Who of restrained œnology in California.
The one newcomer this afternoon, Petaluma’s Soliste, derives its name from the Burgundian practice of reserving a barrel for the vintner’s family and friends; the goal of the winery is to make each vintage they produce seem as individually cared for. Here, the meticulous craftsmanship was readily apparent in each of the three Sonoma Coast Pinots they featured, starting with the 2009 Sonatera Vineyard Pinot Noir. The subsequent vintage introduced two new bottlings with great aplomb, the 2010 Nouveau Monde Pinot Noir and a superb 2010 Forêt Pinot Noir.
I started the tasting with Alta Maria Vineyards, a joint project from Paul Wilkins and James Ontiveros. Its 2009 Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley and 2009 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley could easily have served as benchmarks for the afternoon. James’ primary venture, Native, comported itself quite admirably with the splendid 2009 Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard Pinot Noir.
The trio who produce Anthill Farms impressed this afternoon with a trio of their wines, starting with the 2010 Tina Marie Pinot Noir from Grass Valley; while the 2009 Demuth Pinot Noir was a superb wine, the 2009 Comptche Ridge Pinot Noir proved utterly majestic. Arnot-Roberts may only boast a duo behind their winemaking, but their range should little limitation, with striking productions of their contrasting 2010 Watson Ranch Chardonnay (Napa Valley) and the 2011 Trout Gulch Vineyard Chardonnay (Santa Cruz Mountains), complemented by the surprisingly ripe 2011 Peter Martin Ray Vineyard Pinot Noir, another Santa Cruz bottling.
Many of the wineries in this group eschew restricting their viticulture exploits to a single AVA. Wind Gap’s Pax Mahle sources his fruit from the disparate appellations of both the Sonoma Coast and the Santa Cruz Mountains, and while the nature of In Pursuit of Balance restricted him from pouring some of his most interesting fare, like his Nebbiolo, Trousseau Gris, and esoteric blends, I found his contrasting Chards and Pinots here quite compelling. On the white side, the excellence of his 2009 Gap’s Crown Chardonnay (Sonoma) was nonetheless exceeded by the wondrous 2009 Woodruff Chardonnay (Santa Cruz); with the red selections, both hailing from the subsequent vintage, the 2010 Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir outshone the elegant 2010 Woodruff Pinot Noir. Similarly, Sashi Moorman’s Evening Land Vineyards spans not only Santa Barbara and Sonoma County, but traipses across state lines to the Willamette Valley to source its fruit. Here, a trio of superb wines included the 2010 Occidental Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast, the 2010 Tempest Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Rita Hills, and a truly spectacular 2010 Santa Rita Hills Estate Pinot Noir.
Another In Pursuit of Balance stalwart, Copain, always puts on a commanding presentation of their wines. Wells Guthrie featured three enticing Pinot from Anderson Valley: the 2009 Monument Tree Pinot Noir, his 2009 Kiser En Haut Pinot Noir, and the standout, the 2009 Wentzel Pinot Noir. Outpacing this trio, however, was a luscious 2010 Brousseau Chardonnay from the Chalone AVA that transects Monterey and San Benito counties. Nearby, from Calera’s “private” appellation, the Mt. Harlan AVA, Josh Jensen served up his usual array of compelling Chards and Pinots, starting with his introductory 2010 Chardonnay Central Coast. At the next level, both his 2010 Chardonnay Mt. Harlan and 2009 Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir struck concordant notes, while the 2009 Selleck Vineyard Pinot Noir outshone even the library selection: the 1998 Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir (all from Mt. Harlan).
Cabernet specialists Silver Oak produces an adjunct Pinot-focused label, Twomey Cellars, which subsumed the former Roshambo facility in Healdsburg. With grapes sourced from four distinct AVAs, their wines ran the gamut, with striking vintages from both the 2009 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and the 2009 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. Their single vineyard bottling, the 2009 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir seemed a tad less refined, while the 2010 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley paled in comparison to the preceding 2009 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley.
Not straying from Sonoma, Red Car nonetheless brought a mix of wines, beginning with an extraordinary 2010 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay from their Trolley series. Breaking pattern for the afternoon, the 2011 Boxcar Rosé was a flavorful saignée consisting of 62% Syrah and 38% Pinot Noir. A pure Pinot Noir, Red Car’s 2010 The Aphorist, proved more than enjoyable, but the 2010 Heaven & Earth Pinot Noir seemed a bit askew, like the misplaced accent aigu above the first e of “La Bohéme Vineyard” in their tasting notes. 
Neither diacriticals nor Sonoma constituted part of the picture for Sandhi, the joint Santa Rita Hills venture from Sashi Moorman and Rajat Parr. As cohost of In Pursuit of Balance, I suppose it was Rajat’s prerogative to pour six wines, which, fortuitously, did not disappoint in the least. On the white side, the trio of Chardonnays included the 2010 Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay, an impressive 2010 Bent Rock Chardonnay, and the utterly compelling 2010 Rita’s Crown Chardonnay. In tandem with the Chard, the 2010 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir proved an exceptionally balanced wine, though exceeded by both the unspecified 2010 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills and the clear favorite, the 2010 Evening Land Tempest Pinot Noir.
While the afternoon’s other host, Hirsch Vineyards, is renowned for its Pinot plantings, here the 2010 Estate Chardonnay outshone its Burgundian confrères. Nonetheless, I found much to extol about their 2010 Bohan Dillon Pinot Noir, along with the equally-appealing 2009 San Andreas Fault Pinot Noir and the 2009 Reserve Estate Pinot Noir. And, of course, I immensely enjoyed the offerings from the Sonoma Coast’s perennially popular Flowers, which showcased its 2009 Camp Meeting Ridge Chardonnay and 2009 Camp Meeting Ridge Pinot Noir, alongside the striking 2009 Sea View Ridge Estate Pinot Noir.
I can’t really say why it resonates, but Failla just sounds (when pronounced properly in Italian) like it ought to be an ultrapremium label, and with wines like their 2010 Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay and their extraordinary rendition of a 2010 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, that supposition was once again validate. Pleasing, if not striking: their 2010 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast and the 2010 Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir. And while wine cognoscenti clash over the pronunciation of Peay, little is disputed over the consistent quality of their Sonoma Coast bottlings, apart from my distinct preference for their 2009 Estate Chardonnay over its subsequent vintage. Peay’s 2010 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast may have tasted a sli
ght notch below Failla’s, but both their 2010 Pomarium Estate Pinot Noir and the 2010 Scallop Shelf Estate Pinot Noir easily rivaled it.
John Raytek’s Ceritas hails from the Sonoma Coast, too, offering a pair of vineyard-designate Chardonnays and Pinots. While the 2010 Escarpa Vineyard Pinot Noir seemed a bit young yet amiable, the 2010 Annabelle Vineyard Pinot Noir proved eminently drinkable at this stage. My preference here, however, belonged to the 2010 Porter-Bass Vineyard Chardonnay and the equally compelling 2010 Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay. I found another Sonoma Coast exhibitor, Cobb Wines, a bit more perfunctory, although its wines here were longer aged. My preference here was for the 2009 Joy Road Vineyard Chardonnay, but I still held a moderate appreciation for the 2008 Emmaline Ann Vineyard Pinot Noir and its coeval, the 2008 Rice-Spivak Vineyard Pinot Noir.
At the proximate table, Chanin offered a quartet of its Santa Barbara vintages on par with Cobb, starting with the 2009 Los Alamos Vineyard Chardonnay. I found the 2009 Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnay slightly preferable, as was the 2009 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir to the 2009 Le Bon Climat Pinot Noir, an organically-grown wine.
Au Bon Climat, of course, is a much-revered enterprise from the Santa Maria Valley that farms both the Bien Nacido and Le Bon Climat vineyards. of course, their wines would have been even more enjoyable had Jim Clendenen been on hand to pour, but nonetheless, I found the 2008 Ici/La-Bas Les Revelles a wonderful expression of an Elke Valley (Mendocino) Pinot Noir. Even more impressive: the 2007 Barham Mendelsohn Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley and the 2009 Pinot Noir Isabelle, a blend from sundry Santa Rita Hills Vineyards, including Bien Nacido, Sanford & Benedict, Talley Rincon, and Mt. Carmel.
Perhaps the most consistently superb winery on hand—at least from the standpoint of their offerings here, Freeman dazzled with a trio of their selections, headed by the 2010 Ryo-fu Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley. Equally compelling: the 2010 Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir from the same AVA, while, not surprisingly, their Sonoma Coast selection, the eponymous 2010 Akiko’s Cuvée Pinot Noir proved near flawless. I could be just as effusive about the 2008 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Freestone poured, but both the 2009 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast and the 2009 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast struck me as more modest in their scope.
Several of the wineries featured at In Pursuit of Balance offer their most compelling wines from outside the Burgundian spectrum or the Syrah selections that seem de rigeur for most of these vignerons. Lioco produces a delectable Pinot Blanc, for instance, as well as an annual proprietary blend of Carignane and Petite Sirah they call Indica. Here, however, there was much to admire in their 2010 Demuth Vineyard Chardonnay and a delicious 2010 Chardonnay Russian River Valley. A similar contrast marked their 2010 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley and the 2010 Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir. Behind the mesmerizing blue eyes of Littorai sometimes lies a most seductive late harvest Gewürztraminer called Lemon’s Folly. Still, in its absence, the five wines poured here proved nothing short of spectacular. All that prevent me from heaping superlatives on the 2010 May Canyon Vineyard Chardonnay was the startling brilliance of the 2009 Charles Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay. And only the luscious texture of the 2009 Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir could eclipse the wonders of both the 2009 Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir and the matching 2009 The Haven Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Not every winery can boast its own private appellation, but Calera has exclusive hold on the Mt. Harlan AVA in San Benito County, a sparsely populated enclave abutting both Santa Cruz and the self-proclaimed Garlic Capital of the World, Gilroy. Here amid the Gabilan Mountains, Josh Jensen forges his revered Burgundian vintages, starting here with his entry-level 2010 Chardonnay Central Coast. Ramping up, his 2010 Chardonnay Mt. Harlan manifested an exceptional expression of the varietal, while a pair of Pinots proved his forte: the 2009 Ryan Vineyard Pinot Noir and the ex
ceptional 2009 Selleck Vineyard Pinot Noir. To validate Calera’s age-worthiness, the 1998 Reed Vineyard Pinot Noir admirably held its own with these later bottlings
Having exclusive claim to represent its AVA here, Mount Eden Vineyards ably showcased the potential of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Here, they poured an abundant selection from both their primary and secondary labels, leading with 2009 Domaine Eden Chardonnay. As is appropriate, Mount Eden Vineyards’ 2007 Estate Chardonnay proved demonstrably superior, while the 2009 Estate Chardonnay tasted utterly glorious. Similarly, the 2009 Domaine Eden Pinot Noir stood as an amiable expression of the grape, while both the 2008 Estate Bottled Pinot Noir and the 2009 Estate Bottled Pinot Noir tasted markedly better.
Ventura County’s lone representative here, The Ojai Vineyard, should never be confused with an Ohio vineyard, where wine-tasting can indeed be a life-imperiling experience. And while their grapes do not derive from their home county, neither do they source such non-vinifera varietals as Niagara, Catawba or Concord from the Lake Erie shore front. What Adam Tolmach’s prolific venture does produce is an exceptional lineup of Burgundian varietals, as exemplified first by the 2008 Chardonnay Santa Barbara County and more so by an exceptional rendition of a 2009 Bien Nacido Chardonnay. The Pinot selections comprised of the 2011 Fe Ciega Pinot Noir, a remarkable wine for so early a release, and the glorious 2008 Presidio Pinot Noir.
In contrast, Miura Vineyards
lacks a specific AVA. Or a identifiable physical facility. Or even a
Website. Still, Emmanuel Kemiji crafts a beautiful array of wines,
focusing on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and (not on hand for this tasting)
Merlot. Without question, his 2009 Talley Vineyard Chardonnay stood a notch above his compelling trio of equally-impressive Pinots: the 2009 Silacci Ranch Pinot Noir from Monterey, a 2009 Williams Ranch Pinot Noir out of Anderson Valley, and Emmanuel’s personal interpretation of the 2009 Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands).
I wrapped up my session with In Pursuit of Balance with iconic producer Tyler Winery
of Santa Barbara. With grapes sourced from many of the same Santa Rita
Hills and Santa Maria Valley vineyards as many of the other presenters,
these wines began with an assurance of quality and finished with their
own flair. This was particularly evident with both the 2009 Clos Pepe Chardonnay and the 2009 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir, not as dramatic with the 2010 Dierberg Chardonnay and the 2010 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County. Justin Willett’s pinnacle, of course, was the 2010 Bien Nacido-Q Block Pinot Noir, a most superb wine with which to cap the afternoon.
I might continue to
review the other aspects of this tasting, but I suppose to refrain from
further observation would be perfectly in line with the motif of
restraint that characterizes all the wines of In Pursuit of Balance. Besides, there will always be next year, as well the many other recent events that demand Sostevinobile’s scrutiny and words.


The first of two premier annual Howell Mountain showcases takes place at San Francisco’s Bently Reserve. Like many tastings from the Napa Valley, Moving Mountains Above the Fog offered a wonderful excuse to luxuriate in the opulence of great Cabernets and other varietals. Given the myriad times I have reviewed each of the wineries pouring at this session, it behooves me, once again, simply to highlight the upper tiers from
Sostevinobile’s elusive scale for assaying the wines I sample.
Wines that I would deem very good, if not excellent, included such gems as both the 2010 Howell Mountain Estate Sauvignon Blanc and the 2007 Howell Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Bravante, Piña Napa Valley’s 2007 Buckeye Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Cap, and the 2009 Risa, a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated Meritage that White Cottage Ranch poured. Two especial treats at this level included the 2002 Howell Mountain Zinfandel Port from Summit Lake and Cornerstone’s library selection, the 1994 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.
At the next elevation up, metaphorically speaking, Black Sears Vineyards led an array of stunning Cabs with their 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. A bit older, both Blue Hall, with its 2007 Camiana Cabernet Sauvignon and Bravante with its 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, rose to the same heights. Also flourishing with 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon: Highlands Winery and my friend Bob Matousek’s Roberts+Rogers. In contrast—but by no means contrarian—the 2007 Howell Mountain Zinfandel former ZAP president Duane Dappen poured from his D-Cubed Cellars proved equally compelling.
Cornerstone superseded their earlier offering with sequentially impressive bottlings of the 2008 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. Kendall-Jackson’s La Jota matched its 2009 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon with a comparable 2009 Howell Mountain Cabernet FrancBremer Family offered twin delights with their 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and 2005 Howell Mountain Merlot.
Some day, Denis Malbec’s Notre
Vin
will produce a version of their self-referential varietal, but for now little was left wanting with their exceptional 2008 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2008 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from Marc Cohen’s Howell at the Moon commanded similar exuberance, as did the organic 2006 Estate Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from Neal Family.
At the apex of this tasting, Cimarossa arguably tends Howell Mountain’s most prized vineyard, and its extraordinary 2008 Riva di Ponente Cabernet Sauvignon well lived up to this lofty reputation. On par with this exceptional bottling, Bremer showcased their 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Cimarossa Vineyard. The resurgence of St. Helena’s Charles Krug manifested itself in their 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Rocky Ridge Vineyard while the venerable Cakebread offered an equally compelling 2008 Dancing Bear Cabernet Sauvignon. Piña’s 2008 Buckeye Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon proved a quantum leap above its previous vintage, while Dunn Vineyards cemented its prestigious reputation with both their 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and a library selection, the 1998 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.
I could wax eloquent on many more of the wines poured here, if the need for relative brevity and another backlog of events did not preclude further exposition. But to dispel any notion that my overt exuberance for the wines of Howell Mountain poured belies a reluctance to discern—or worse, a lack of critical objectivity. Perish the thought! The absence of a roast beef carving station, one of the principal allures of previous tastings, sorely impacted my endurance, even if it left my palate relatively uncompromised and may have even compelled me to consider precluding my attendance at future events—for a brief moment!


Seriously, as much as I loved the Howell Mountain tasting, I probably could not have faced sipping another Cabernet for at least a week. Which made the 15th Annual Rhône Rangers Grand Tasting three days later all the more welcome.
Now I don’t believe I have partaken in all fifteen of these sessions, but I have certainly attended Rhône Rangers from as far back as when Alban Vineyards still participated (I believe it was their 2000 Reserve Viognier that convinced me that California had, at last, achieved mastery of the varietal). But the downside to my frequency here is that it leaves a paucity of new wineries for Sostevinobile to discover.
Petrichor Vineyards is a relatively new boutique operation out of Santa Rosa, producing a scant 140 cases of their Rhône blend, the 2009 Les Trois, an anomalous mix of 86% Syrah (from two distinct clones) and 14% Grenache, an amiable wine that overshadowed the pre-release of its 2010 vintage. A more distinctive and traditional GMS blend, the 2009 Inspiration from Paso Robles’ Pear Valley Vineyard, featured 59% Syrah, 32% Grenache, and 9% Mourvèdre. Their single varietal bottlings, the 2006 Syrah and the 2009 Grenache, seemed more modest, however.
The rather understated Refugio Ranch curiously bestows Spanish epithets, derived from names for extinct languages indigenous to its Los Olivos-area tribes, on its estate Rhône blends, but there is nothing ambiguous about either the 2010 Ineseño (60% Roussanne/40% Viognier) nor the 2009 Barbereño (65% Syrah. 35% Petite Sirah). Out of Fulton (Sonoma County), Sanglier Cellars made a similarly impressive debut with a quartet of wines, starting with the 2011 Rosé du Tusque, a delightful pink rendition of a Grenache/Mourvèdre/Carignane blend. Their new alloy, the 2009 Boar’s Camp, combined 65% Syrah with 21% Grenache and 14% Cinsault, while the exceptional 2009 Rouge du Tusque married 49% Syrah, 33% Petite Sirah, and 18% Grenache. Despite Sanglier’s strong propensity for blending, the 2009 Syrah Kemp Vineyard displayed extraordinary versatility with single varietal bottlings, as well. 
Commanding a wide range of Rhône varietal
s, Santa Rosa’s Two Shepherds initially sounded as if it might be the opening to a bad Brokeback Mountain joke, but a sip of their 2010 MRV Saralee’s Vineyard, a compelling mélange of 47% Marsanne and 47% Roussanne, with 6% Viognier, quickly establishes the deftness of this enterprise. The 2010 Viognier Saralee’s Vineyard approached the same level of likability, while the 2010 Grenache Blanc Saarloos Vineyard sourced the Santa Ynez Valley to craft this wine. While the Grenache-dominant 2010 GSM Russian River Valley presented an approachable red blend, the equally balanced 2010 Syrah|Mourvèdre, also from Russian River Valley grapes, represented a far more formidable endeavor.
My final new discovery of the day came from Wesley Ashley, a relatively new winery heralding from the unpresupposing enclave of Alamo in Contra Costa County. The ironic labels for the red and white blends they call “Intelligent Design” feature an imaginary depiction of would likely constitute the least ergonomic bicycle ever built. No such folly goes into their winemaking, however, with the 2009 Intelligent Design Cuvée Blanc artfully combining 50% Viognier, 30% Roussanne, and 20% Grenache Blanc. The 2007 Intelligent Design Cuvée Rouge offered a Carignane-based blend, with Grenache, Cinsault, Petite Sirah, Mourvèdre, and Pinot Noir (!) added; in contrast the 2009 Intelligent Design Cuvée Rouge comprised 75% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 5% Petite Sirah, a radical departure that nonetheless proved evolutionary.
Having completed my discovery round, I did mange to sample from quite a few old friends and other presenters, starting with an exceptional pair of wines from Paso Robles’ Caliza: their 2009 Syrah and a 2009 Red Cohort, an extraordinary, albeit unorthodox, blend of 55% Syrah, 20% Petite Sirah, 20% Primitivo, and 5% Grenache. Also heralding from Paso Robles, one of last year’s most striking discoveries proved just as compelling the second time around, as Edward Sellers started their presentation with their 2009 Le Passage Estate, a vin blanc composed of 43% Grenache Blanc, 36% Roussanne, and 21% Marsanne. I found both the 2008 Syrah Sélectionée and the 2008 The Thief, a Syrah-based blend with 26% Mourvèdre, 12% Grenache, and 6%
Cinsault equally compelling, while the 2007 Vertigo, a traditional GMS blend, dominated these selections.

I have long been an unabashed fan of Bill Frick’s Rhône wines, but opted here to sample only the single varietals. On the white side, the 2008 Grenache Blanc Owl Hill Vineyard and the 2009 Viognier Gannon Vineyard proved excellent vintages. Even more pleasing—the 2008 Grenache Conley Vineyard. But certainly his forte turned out to be the three C’s—stratospheric bottlings of the 2008 Counoise Owl Hill Vineyard, the 2008 Cinsault Dry Creek Valley and his 2006 Carignan Mendocino County.
Down from Placerville, Holly’s Hill kept pace with their 2010 Counoise and one of the afternoon’s few single varietal bottlings of the 2009 Mourvèdre Classique. From even further north, Oregon’s Folin Cellars poured four Rogue Valley wines, ranging from a tepid 2010 Estate Petite Sirah and a genial GMS blend, the 2009 Misceo, to a distinctive 2011 Estate Viognier and the extraordinary 2008 Estate Syrah, quite possibly the best bottling of this varietal on hand this afternoon.
Quady North, Andrew Quady’s Oregon branch, focuses more on traditional wines than does his original Madera facility, with its Vermouths and fortified vintages. Here they showcased their viticultural versatility with the 2011 Pistoleta, a blend of ⅓ Viognier, ⅓Roussanne, and ⅓ Marsanne. The compellingly dry 2011 Rosé combines 40% Grenache and 60% Syrah, while their signature 2008 4.2-a Syrah proved superb. As an added treat, Quady North sampled their 2010 Bomba, a co-fermented Syrah/Grenache wine exclusively exported to Belgium.
Oregon House is an obscure hamlet 90 miles northeast of Sacramento—not even in proximity to the Oregon border—and home to Renaissance Winery,
an esoteric cultivar that has previously graced these pages.
Contrasting the evening of 35 Cabernets I sampled on my pilgrimage to
their 30th Anniversary celebration, here they featured a varied
selection of both red and white Rhônes, starting with the 2006 Roussanne Vendanges Tardives and its preferable counterpoint, the 2006 Roussanne Vin de Terroir. I found no qualitative separation between the 2005 Estate Syrah and the finely-aged 2002 Estate Syrah. The 2005 Granite Crown, an even Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend again proved on par with the other reds, as did the 2001 Claret Prestige, a blend of indeterminate components, including Syrah, while the 2006 Mediterranean Red, a less-common GMS blend focus on Mourvèdre, constituted their best offering of the afternoon
.
I won’t hazard a guess whether another allegedly cult-like practice (biodynamics) constitutes the distinguishing factor in Quivira’s superb rendition of the 2009 Estate Mourvèdre, but the wine begged for extreme accolades. Almost as distinguished—their 2009 Grenache Dry Creek Valley, while the 2009 Estate Petite Sirah, the not-so-elusive GMS Blend, the 2009 Elusive, and their exquisite 2011 Rosé (51% Mourvèdre, 18% Carignane, 18% Counoise, 7% Grenache, 6% Syrah) all proved more than delightful.
As always, it was good to see the ever-reliable Truchard Vineyards on hand. From their perch on the Napa side of Carneros, Jo Ann and Tony grow a wide variety of grapes ranging from Cabernet to Pinot Noir to Tempranillo, as befits the venerable viticulturists that they are. Here, their Rhône selections comprised of a 2010 Roussanne, their 2009 Syrah, and an indelible 2007 Late Harvest Roussanne, all estate grown. The 2011 Rosé from Napa’s Lagier Meredith showed just as compelling despite its single varietal (Syrah) base. I was even more taken by their 2007 Syrah and enthralled by the 2009 Syrah Mount Veeder. Alors! If only their newly released 2009 Mondeuse constituted a Rhône varietal!
The
Napa Valley proper rarely strays from its Bordelaise orthodoxy beyond
Chardonnay and Zinfandel, one can find the occasional iconoclast, like
Oakville‘s Miner Family, with its scintillating 2009 La Diligence Marsanne and 2008 La Diligence Syrah. On the other hand, Sonoma has a far greater breadth to the varietals it hosts, so it is not surprising to find a premier Italian varietal producer like Unti also purveying a wide selection of Rhônes, a cross-pollination readily apparent in their superb, albeit unorthodox, 2011 Cuvée Blanc, a marriage of Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc, with a healthy share of Vermentino (!) blended in. More traditionally, their 2011 Rosé is a mélange of Grenache and Mourvèdre, while the 2009 Petit Frère offers a Côtes-du-Rhône-style GMS balance. I greatly admired their 2009 Syrah, but favored the more focused 2008 Syrah Benchland, an unfiltered and unfined rendition of the varietal.
I confess being rather constrained to find any redemptive quality in the wines featured by Healdsburg’s MacLaren. Like haggis, I suppose their 2009 Syrah Drouthy Neebors is an acquired taste, while the 2009 Syrah Judge Family Vineyard tasted as if it had been farmed on the slopes of MacLaren Park in San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley. On the other hand, Tobe Sheldon probably could force-feed me haggis and make me beg for more. Nonetheless, I strove to maintain objectivity in my enthusiasm for her four wines, marked by such gems as the 2010 Vinolocity Blanc, 50% Viognier with equal parts Grenache Blanc and Roussanne and the 2008 Vinolocity Vogelzang Vineyard, a Grenache tempered with 18% Syrah. Her twin standouts, however, were the 2007 Petite Sirah Ripken Vineyard and the 2009 Weatherly Cuvée, a red blend from “50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Petite Sirah, co-fermented with Viognier skins.”
Another Sonoma winery, my friend Gerry Baldwin’s eponymous J. Baldwin Wines, previewed their lone yet luscious Rhône entrant, the 2009 Rattlesnake Ridge Petite Sirah. And though best known for Zinfandel and their Cupertino facility (along with a certain Meritage called Monte Bello), Ridge also operates a dramatically architected straw bale winery at their Lytton Springs estate in Healdsburg, from where most of their Rhône offerings originate. Much of my self-taught appreciation for varietals like Grenache, Syrah and Mataro (Mourvèdre) began with these wines, and so I was immensely pleased to visit with their 2010 Carignane Buchignani Ranch and the 2010 Petite Sirah Lytton Estate. though technically a Zinfandel, the 2006 Lytton Springs was structured with 16% Petite Sirah, and 4% Carignane; the 2007 Syrah Lytton Estate was rounded with 12% Viognier. The real treat, however, was the 1999 Syrah Lytton Estate, blending in 7% Grenache, and 1% Viognier—still a masterful wine 13 years later.
Nearly all the remaining wineries I visited base their operations in California’s Rhône Capital, Paso Robles. First, though, a trio of Bay Area vintners showcased their prodigious efforts. San Francisco’s Skylark returned to the Grand Tasting with a quintet of red wines, that included two blends: the 2009 Red Belly North Coast, a mix of 40% Carignane, 40% Grenache and 20% Syrah, and the 2009 Les Aves Mendocino, a non-Hitchcockian rendition of Carignane, rounded out with Cabernet Sauvignon (!), Grenache and Syrah. I found the 2009 Grenache Mendocino and the 2008 Syrah Rodgers Creek exceptionally appealing, while totally cottoning to the 2007 Syrah Unti Vineyard
Across the Bay Bridge, Oakland’s Stage Left led with their 2009 The Go Getter, a balanced blend of 42% Viognier, 29% Grenache Blanc, and 29% Roussanne that contrasted with its previous Viognier-dominant vintage. A traditional GMS, the superb 2009 The Globetrotter consisted of 48% Grenache, 40% Syrah, and 12% Mourvèdre, while the 2009 ExPat switched formula to 50% Syrah, 33% Petite Sirah, and 17% Grenache from its previous incarnation of 51% Mourvèdre/49% Petite Sirah. Their last offering, a debut bottling of the 2009 Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard, constituted an unblended varietal. Rounding out this tercet, Woodside’s Michael Martella comported itself with customary aplomb, overtly pleasing with its current release of both the 2008 Hammer Syrah and the 2010 Grenache Santa Cruz Mountains.
I managed to accommodate seven more wineries this afternoon, and given Sostevinobile’s dedication to the tenets of sustainability—both within our own practices and with the wines we will be selecting—it seemed prudent to inquire how Justin has fared since its acquisition by Stewart Resnick in late 2010. Of course, I and many others strain to countenance one of Paso Robles’ self-proclaimed greenest wineries
laying in the hands of 
Fiji Water, one of Earth’s most profligate circulators of non-biodegradable plastic, and though this may well be the most incomprehensible marriage since Gregg Allman and Cher (or Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts, for those born after 1970), it does seem that the winery continues to maintain its progress towards conversion to biodynamic farming and further adoption of a wide range of green implementations. Meanwhile, focusing my attention on the wines featured here, I found both the 2010 Viognier and the 2009 Syrah quite admirable, while the 2009 Savant, a proprietary blend of 77% Syrah, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon (!), and 4% Grenache stood as their most striking Rhône bottling. But, from under the table, a sneak pour of their justly acclaimed 2009 Isosceles, a blend this year of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon with 3% each of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, meant all could be forgiven.
Next up—Hearthstone, with an amiable 2009 Pearl (58% Roussanne, 42% Viognier) and the 2007 Slipstone, an exceptional blend of 65% Grenache and 35% Syrah. And while I quite appreciated the 2008 Grenache, the standout here had to have been the 2007 Lodestone, a distinguished GMS blend balancing 50% Syrah, 33% Grenache, and 17% Mourvèdre. From there, I moved onto Paso’s Finnish wonder, kukkula. a winery that never failss to enthuse me. This day, I sampled their 2010 Vaalea—43% Viognier, 29% Roussanne, and 28% Grenache Blanc, then moved on to contrast the 2009 Sisu, which blended 51% Syrah, 27% Grenache, and 22% Mourvèdre, with the even more enticing 2007 Sisu, slightly differing in its balance of 55% Syrah, 25% Grenache, and 20% Mourvèdre. On par with this latter bottling: both the 2009 Pas de Deux (58% Grenache, 42% Syrah) and the 2010 Aatto, a Mourvèdre-focused wine with liberal dashes of Grenache and Counoise added.
kukkula’s Kevin Jussila acknowledges the influence of Paso’s premier iconoclast, Stephan Asseo, whose L’Aventure sets the bar for what can be accomplished venturing outside French AOC parameters. Nowhere was this eclectic mindset more apparent—and successful—than with the 2009 Estate Cuvée, a near-flawless wine comprised of 42% Syrah, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 16% Petit Verdot. Stephan’s traditional Rhône bottling, the 2009 Côte à Côte, blended 42% Grenache, 33% Syrah, and 25% Mourvèdre, with results nearly as alluring.
I’ve had many occasions to sample my way through nearly all of the single varietals Tablas Creek produces, save their newly-released Petit Manseng, and so limited myself to just a selection of the red wines gracing their table. This winery remains at the vanguard of California Rhône producers, with an approachable second line, the 2010 Patelin de Tablas; here, the rouge bottling consisted of a traditional Syrah-focused GMS blend, with 3% Counoise added. In keeping with the strictures of Côtes-du-Rhône, the Patelin’s big brother, the 2010 Côtes de Tablas, blended the same quartet of varietals in a Grenache-focused bottling: 46% Grenache, 39% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre, and 5% Counoise. Keeping pace, their single-varietal 2009 Estate Grenache proved an exceptional vintage, while their signature effort, the 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel, showcased how extraordinary a Mourvèdre-focused blend (40% Mourvèdre, 28% Syrah, 27% Grenache, 5% Counoise) can turn out.
My last visit was bestowed on Katin, an understated virtuoso in California Rhône vinification. Three simple bottlings, all astronomically great. The 2009 Viognier Paso Robles proved near perfect; both the 2008 Syrah Glenrose Vineyard (Paso Robles) and 2008 Syrah Michaud Vineyard (Chalone) stood near flawless. It would be hard to ask more of a winery.
If only there had been more time to taste more wines! As alluded above, Sostevinobile will endeavor to sample and review as many wines as possible at next year’s gathering, particularly those we had to overlook this round. But the attrition of participating wineries and the notable paucity of attendees over the past several years does lead me to wonder about the prospects for the 16th Annual Rhône Rangers Grand Tasting. As well as gives me pause in my dilatory attempts to launch Risorgimento, a parallel consortium for Italian varietal producers.
It is a subject I will have to address in a subsequent installment here…

Ch-ch-ch-changes

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

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

The Velocipede, as designed by brothers Pierre and Ernest Michaux

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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

Quō vadis, kemosabē?

Apart from Family Winemakers, there isn’t a more varied wine event than the annual Rhône Rangers Grand Tasting at Fort Mason. Your West Coast Oenophile has attended this gathering almost religiously for the past 12 years or so, the last three sessions on behalf of Sostevinobile. In 2009 and 2010, a noticeable decline in attendance seemed reasonable, given the sorry state of the economy. It came as a bit of a surprise that this year’s event drew a relatively paltry crowd, in light of signs that things are finally on the upswing.

Of course, smaller crowds means easier navigation throughout the five hours I was on hand for both the trade and the public portions of the tasting. Not enough time to cover all 108 wineries that were pouring, but certainly enough to investigate the slew of newcomers and still make the rounds with a number of old acquaintances. Ambyth Estate out of Templeton seemed a logical place to start, and while this biodynamic gem did not bring the single varietal wines it had listed, it offered an array of delectable blends, starting with their 2009 Priscus, predominantly Grenache Blanc with 25% Viognier and 17% Roussanne. Their three red blends all combined Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Counoise in varying proportions, each with one of the GMS varietals in the forefront: the 2008 Maiestas (Syrah); the 2008 Adamo (Grenache), and the 2008 ReVera (Mourvèdre).

I happen to be quite partial to Mourvèdre, a generally underappreciated grape. Others extol the virtues of Grenache, while, in the same breath, deriding Syrah for its failure to seize the public’s imagination. And yet, here at Rhône Rangers, Forestville’s Arnot-Roberts showcased four separate Syrah bottlings. I preferred both the 2009 Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard (Mendocino) and the 2009 Syrah North Block Hudson Vineyard (Napa) to the 2009 Syrah Griffin’s Lair Vineyard (Sonoma Coast), while the generic 2009 Syrah (North Coast) came in on par with the single vineyard versions.

Along with Copain, which did not pour here, Arnot-Roberts and Wind Gap have been heralded as the rule changers with their contemporary vinification of cool vineyard Syrah. Here winemaker Pax Mahle excelled with his own version of a 2009 Syrah Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, while his 2009 Syrah Griffin’s Lair Vineyard struck me as a bit tepid. More striking was his Syrah-less blend, the 2009 Orra, a mélange of Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Counoise, as well as the 2008 Rana, a standard GMS mix.

I hadn’t tried the Beckmen wines before, but soon found myself wondering why this Los Olivos gem has not received greater fanfare, apart from its Sideways highlight. Starting with their blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, and Marsanne, the 2009 Le Bec Blanc, the winery produced a number of superlative bottlings. I enjoyed both the 2010 Rosé Purisima Mountain (Grenache) and the 2009 Cuvée Le Bec, a deft blend of 45% Grenache, 34% Syrah, 14% Mourvèdre, and 7% Counoise. But Beckmen’s best efforts came from its varietal bottlings, starting with the 2009 Estate Syrah. The higher end 2008 Syrah Purisima Mountain Vineyard proved even more astounding, while both the 2009 Estate Grenache and the 2008 Grenache Purisima Mountain Vineyard matched this level. And I nearly overlooked the 2008 Marsanne Purisima Mountain Vineyard, which would have been tragic to miss.

Stolpman, too, presented a formidable lineup, with six different Syrahs among the nine wines they poured. I am always a fan of a great Roussanne, and the 2008 L’Avion proved no exception. Before delving into the Syrahs, I sampled both the 2009 La Cuadrilla, a Grenache/Syrah combo, as well as the truly excellent 2008 Estate Grenache. From there, the 2009 Estate Syrah paved the way for profound, proprietary bottlings that included the 2008 Originals (notably better than the 2009 also pon hand), the 2008 Hilltops Syrah, the 2008 High Density Syrah, and Stolpman’s zenith, the 2009 Angeli.

The folks from Skylark showcased a similar range with their wines. The 2008 Red Belly married Syrah with Carignane, though previous vintages had included Grenache as well. Rebounding from 2008’s misgivings, their 2009 Grenache was clearly a wondrous wine, but, like Stolpman, their heart lies with their range of single vineyard Syrahs. Here, I liked the 2007 Syrah Unti Vineyards, but favored both the 2007 Syrah Stagecoach Vineyard and the delectable 2008 Syrah Rodgers Creek Vineyard. Making a pure Syrah play this afternoon, Henson scored a trifecta with a superb 2007 Syrah Michaud Vineyard from the Chalone AVA, the 2007 Syrah Luna Matta Vineyard from Paso Robles and their home-based 2008 Syrah Estero Vineyard from San Luis Obispo.

It’s been long known that some, if not most, of the exciting developments in Rhône varietals have come out of Paso Robles; validating that truism, Kaleidos offered a modestly-named 2008 White, a symmetrically balanced confluence of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. I relished their excellent 2006 Grenache, as well as the equally delightful < b>2006 Syrah. There appears to be an incongruity in calling a Rhône blend a Spanish name, yet the unspecified makeup of Katin’s 2008 La Ramblas Blancas provided an extraordinary bottling. No such ambiguity marked the other wines I sampled, especially the crisp 2009 Viognier and the 2009 Grenache Blanc (which they fortunately did not call Garnacha Blanca). I was deeply impressed by the 2009 Syrah GlenRose Vineyard, as well as by their yet-to-be-released 2007 Red Blend, a Syrah remarkably dominated by its 10% Viognier component.

Given my aforementioned predilection for Mourvèdre, I found myself drawn to the 2007 Mourvèdre Enz Vineyard that Kenneth Volk was pouring, as well as its equally-appealing 2008 vintage. And from the realm of “if you think Sostevinobile is hard to pronounce,” Paso Robles’ Minassian-Young proffered an compelling 2009 Mourvèdre alongside its dry-farmed 2010 Grenache Rosé. Buellton’s Curtis Winery showcased its own complex 2007 Mourvèdre Santa Ynez Valley, complemented by a 2007 Heritage Cuvée, a mélange of 36% Mourvèdre, 28% Grenache, 19% Cinsault, and 17% Syrah that bespoke their versatility with Rhône varietals. Of course, I appreciated their 2009 Roussanne and the splendid 2007 Grenache, while admittedly felt somewhat surprised they only poured their 2007 Syrah Ambassador’s Vineyard from the quartet of vineyard-designate Syrahs that they feature.

My last Mourvèdre fix came from Oregon’s Folin Cellars, a Rogue Valley winery I had sampled in previous years. Their 2009 Estate Mourvèdre exceeded the 2009 Estate Grenache, but their classic GSM blend, the 2008 Estate Misceo, edged out both. Another Oregonian, Cliff Creek Cellars, started off with a smooth 2009 Marsanne Roussanne, their first white effort. I had no preference between the 2006 Estate Syrah and its predecessor, but did favor the 2005 Claret, a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Merlot hidden beneath the table, as well as the appealing 2008 Tribute, Cliff Creek’s inaugural dessert wine that garnered Best of Show accolades at the 2010 World of Wine Festival in Rogue Valley. Dobbes Family Estate also proved a striking discovery, a winery strongly focused on Pinot Noir but showing tremendous strength with their 2007 Fortmiller Vineyard Syrah and the wondrous 2007 Sundown Vineyard Syrah, both from Rogue Valley.
A final Oregon entry, Jacksonville’s Quady North returned to Rhône Rangers with an impressive lineup that included the 2009 Viognier Ox Block Mae’s Vineyard, a Syrah/Grenache-based 2010 Rosé, plus a pair of Syrahs, the 2007 Syrah 4 2-a and the exceptional 2007 Syrah Steelhead Run VineyardWashington’s lone representative here, Waterbrook, comported themselves ably with both their 2008 Grenache 1st & Main and the 2007 Reserve Syrah.

This year also saw the first participants from Virginia, Tarara Winery. Even though the cross-country haul means that this winery cannot fit within Sostevinobile’s sustainable guidelines, I was happy to sample these wines, knowing little about the region other than, of course, the public saga of Kluge Vineyards and Horton Vineyards, which specializes in Petit Manseng and Rkatsiteli, in addition to its widely-acclaimed V
iognier. Tarara brought three distinct bottlings of this varietal: the 2009 Viognier Nevaeh Vineyard, the 2009 Viognier Honah Lee Vineyard, and a slightly premature 2010 Viognier Williams Gap Vineyard. Both of their 2008 and 2010 Syrahs were barrel samples, as was the non-specific 2010 Red Blend. If I ever decide to do a Sostevinobile d’Este, I will definitely keep this winery in mind.

Back in California, I was pleasantly surprised to discover my former Dartmouth schoolmate Joe Gleason manning the table for Clavo Cellars. Here the 2009 Apparition, a pure Viognier, ruled the day, while their Grenache Blanc, the 2009 Oracle seemed pleasant enough. On the other had, both the 2008 Dreamer (Petite Sirah) and 2007 Reckless Moment (Syrah) struck me as particularly strong expressions of their respective varietals. I had recently visited Pine Ridge, so tasting through their sister winery Chamisal’s offerings mirrored this pleasure. I was equally impressed by their 2010 Rosé (of Grenache) and the 2008 Estate Grenache, but found their strong suits to be the 2008 Estate Syrah and especially the 2008 Califa Syrah.

Just as wine neophytes and aficionados alike tend to focus on the Napa for Cabernet Sauvignon, in the past decade, Paso Robles has become ground zero for Rhône varietals. Nonetheless, numerous other AVAs offer strong selections of these varietals, like Carneros, from where the omnipresent Truchard Vineyards produced an easily assimilable 2009 Roussanne and their 2008 Syrah. Big Basin from the Santa Cruz Mountains featured six different Syrahs, underscored by their 2007 Coastview Vineyard Syrah. As truly awesome as their 2008 Mandala Syrah may have been, the soon-to-be- released 2007 Frenchie’s Ranch Syrah proved an absolute revelation, perhaps the best Syrah of the afternoon.

Santa Rosa’s Cosa Obra, a small, artisanal winery with but two selections, nonetheless impressed with their 2008 Proprietor’s Blend, a fusion of Grenache and Syrah from three separate vineyards (their other wine, the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc showed itself to be a delightful find, despite not being a Rhône varietal).

I wonder how many people at Rhône Rangers have ever been to Oregon House, northeast of Sacramento? Somehow, Clos Saron’s Gideon Beinstock makes it down to San Francisco for almost every relevant tasting to trumpet his natural wines, which span the gamut in terms of flavor. Here he demonstrated his versatility with his 2008 Holy Moly!, a GMS blend focused on Syrah, and a striking 2010 Out of the Blue, a Cinsault rounded out with Syrah. Closer to home, Berkeley’s Rock Wren, Dennis DeDomenico’s successor to his family’s Ghirardelli Chocolates, made a noteworthy debut with their 2007 Syrah from his vineyard in Solano County’s Green Valley AVA.

South of Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo winery 10 Knots Cellars sailed in with a spectacular Viognier, the 2008 Beachcomber; almost as impressive were their 2010 Grenache Rosé and the 2006 Atlantis, a well-balanced GMS blend. Even further south, Los Olivos’ Saarloos and Sons poured their parental vintages, the 2009 Mother (Grenache Blanc) and the 2008 Father (Syrah), bypassing their 2008 Wolfhounden, a Petit Verdot that pays homage to the German Shepherd/Canadian timber wolf bred by Leendert Saarloos.

I wrapped up my time at Rhône Rangers with a cluster of Paso wineries, starting with the melodically-focused Vines on
the Marycrest
. The 2009 Summertime, a rosé blended from Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Zinfandel. The 2007 ’Round Midnight focused on Syrah, with 20% each of Mourvèdre and Grenache. The misnamed 2007 Heart of Glass (shouldn’t a Blondie song title be reserved for a white blend?) nonetheless artfully combined 60% Grenache with equal parts Syrah and Mourvèdre. I found the 2007 Petite Sirah adequate but did like the 2007 My Generation, an Old Vine Zinfandel with Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Petite Sirah mixed in.
Cypher Winery named their Syrah the 2008 Phoenix. Like Vines on the Marycrest, they added Zinfandel to their GMS, the 2008 Anarchy, but omitted the Grenache. Their other GMS blend, the 2008 Peasant, stayed purely Rhône, adding Counoise and Tannat. Ortman Family was not nearly as clever with their nomenclature, labeling their striking GMS+PS red blend the 2007 Cuvée Eddy; moreover, their 2008 Petite Sirah Wittstrom Vineyard proved outstanding. Arroyo Robles served up a nice trio of wines: the 2008 Viognier, their 2007 Rosé (a blush Syrah), and a dominant 2008 Syrah.

My final stop turned out to be a revisit with kukkula, a winery that pays homage to its Scandinavian heritage by giving most of their wines Finnish names. The 2009 vaalea combined Roussanne with Viognier. Three consecutive vintage of their GMS concluded with the 2009 sisu, an extraordinary mélange. New to their repertoire was the pas de deux, a marriage of Syrah and Grenache from different vintages and an excellent conclusion to the afternoon.

Despite five hours on the floor and notably smaller crowds, I certainly could have covered many more wineries here, although each of the rest has been reviewed one time or more by Sostevinobile. The relative paucity of attendees actually worried me, and I hope this will not deter Rhône Rangers from conducting this event in the future. Tastings like this have been critical to my development of our wine program, allowing me to interface with far more wineries than I might be able to cover if I had to review each onsite (not that I don’t try to visit as many as I can). More importantly, it would be tragic for the public to lose such a profound event that allows them to experience the amazing panoply of wine varietals, winemaking styles, and winegrowing regions here on the West Coast..

I am at a loss to explain why so many wine enthusiasts failed to show for this comprehensive Grand Tasting. Then again, the prospect of enduring another Presidential campaign year in 2012 may well drive everyone back to imbibing on a grand scale once again!