Category Archives: Picpoul Blanc

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote…

Make no mistake about it: five years of seeking out and sampling wines for Sostevinobile takes its toll in unforeseen ways. Your West Coast Oenophile recently donated over 50 wine glasses to Goodwill, not necessarily out of a sense of χάρις—despite the urbanity of the local indigent populace, who have compelled pharmacies here to safeguard their supply of dental floss in locked display cases—but, rather, in an overdue attempt to streamline the clutter in my 150 ft.² kitchen. Standing out among the forgotten gems from this meticulous collection, culled from over two decades of professional tasting, was a pair of souvenir glasses from the erstwhile Consorzio CalItalia, the trade association for locally-produced Italian varietals that I have frequently cited here. Although I’ve had owned this set since 2005, I somehow had failed to notice that the bowl was engraved with a secondary promotional logo, one that inextricably explained why Consorzio had collapsed so spectacularly. Its principal co-sponsor had been that travesty masquerading as Italian cuisine—Olive Garden!

Olive GardenHospitaliano! It cannot be overstated how fundamentally offensive these poseurs are, not simply because their culinary assembly line poses an affront to anyone who cherishes their rich Italian heritage. More odious renditions of this artifice certainly can be found—assuming I could ever muster the temerity to set foot in one of their pretentious prefab outlets. And know that I find jejune, cartoonish stereotypings, like The Fonz or the intellectually vacant Vinny Barbarino, far more debasing than any of the 30-second spots Darden Restaurants broadcasts. But the none-too-subtle implication of Olive Garden, with its pathetic promotional panderage, is that not just Italian, but any ethnicity can be readily coöpted—nay, blithely bastardizedfor crass commercial benefit.

Even without being underwritten by such an odious enterprise, my oft-mentioned desire to launch Risorgimento as a successor to Consorzio CalItalia faces significant hurdles, something that the diaspora of this year’s Rhône Rangers Grand Tasting painfully drove home. Like many in the trade, I had tried to keep an open mind about trekking across the Bay to the Craneway Pavilion in Point Richmond (if truth be told, Sostevinobile owes Richmond a debt of gratitude I will explicate after our doors finally open). This renovated Ford assembly plant occupies a scenic perch along the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay, with unrivaled vistas of The City, several bridges, and the sundry islets that dot the estruary; warm sun, a negligible breeze and a reasonably-priced chartered ferry made the excursion far more placid than battling the inevitable traffic that clogged the main thoroughfares in either direction.

Still, less than thirty of my trade cohorts took advantage of this amenity, an ominous portent for the ensuing event. Inside the cavernous hall, the 89 participating wineries represented a striking diminution from just a few years back when nearly 200 filled the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason, and though an ample number of professional tasters did arrive by car or public transportation, public ticketholders were rumored to be only 120.

In truth, I doubt more than forty paid attendees actually showed up, but no matter the actual tally, it was apparent that the Rhône Rangers membership absorbed a substantial financial hit for the afternoon. Still, an extensive selection of impressive varietals and blend, along with a number of new participants, made for a worthwhile excursion. First up, I saddled up to Los OlivosBernat Estate, an organic winery that features organized retreats and an onsite café. Along with Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, they specialize in a trio of bottlings, starting with the amiable 2009 Presence, their Colson Canyon Syrah. More impressive, however, was their 2009 Gratitude, an estate-bottled Syrah, which was complemented by an equally delightful 2011 Grenache Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley.

Making the trek to Richmond from the Central Coast, new attendee Le Cuvier debuted with an impressive 2010 Viognier Paso Robles, then segued to their 2010 Syrah Paso Robles. I found myself vastly impressed with their 2010 L’Enfant du Pape, a subtle blend of Viognier, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Grenache, while the barrel sample of their 2010 Grenache Paso Robles portended great promise. Another newcomer, Lightning Wines, enjoyed a far easier commute from Napa to pour their 2013 CdP Blanc, a distinctive mélange of Roussanne, Picpoul Blanc, and Grenache Blanc sourced from Paso Robles, and a 2012 Grenache Sonoma County. Most striking, their 2011 Syrah Phoenix Ranch, with grapes from a Rhône-focused vineyard on Altlas Peak I had not previously encountered.

Hyde Vineyard in Carneros has long been familiar; nonetheless, Mira Winery offered distinctive expressions of their grapes, with both the 2010 Syrah Hyde Vineyard and its preceding 2009 vintage. Northeast of Carneros, the Capay Valley iepresents a designated AVA with a burgeoning reputation that also serves as the historic home of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. With over 11,000 acres in production, the tribe today produces a diverse range of agricultural fare, including olive oil, honey, and a nascent wine label: Séka Hills. Derived from the Patwin word for blue, their inaugural efforts here included their amiable 2012 Viognier and a proprietary blend, the 2012 Tuluk’a, a decidedly nascent endeavor combining 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot, and 3% Petite Sirah.

Despite the relatively obscure location, a few intrepid souls found their way to Richmond from the Pacific Northwest. Hailing from Prosser, WA, newcomer Mercer Estates is a fourth-generation Horse Heaven Hills producer, here showcasing their 2013 Viognier, the 2013 Rosé (100% Grenache), and their Estate Reserve blend, the 2010 Ode to Brothers. a GSM featuring 40% Grenache, 39% Syrah, and 21% Mourvedre. Also debuting at Rhône Rangers, Southern Oregon’s EdenVale featured a 2009 Viognier that seemed past its prime alongside a noteworthy 2007 Grenache.

Expediency dictates that I limit my review of this tasting to these new discoveries—I have chronicled the rest of the attendees multiple times over the past five years, and while I am hardly sanguine about the financial setback Rhône Rangers must have incurred from this year’s tasting, I can only hope this choice of venue will not prove utterly deleterious and 2015 will see a new and reinvigorated tasting closer to the nexus of the Bay Area.


Another Fort Mason refugee found its change of venue diminished its scope and attendance, though not nearly as drastically as its French counterpart. Over the past several years, I have endeavored to help promote T.A.P.A.S., the trade association for Iberian varietal producers in the US., in no small part because I had hoped to see them catalyze renewed interest in a diverse array of trade tastings. I fear, though, that this annual showcase may have already reached its pinnacle, with fewer than 40 wineries on hand for 2014. While core members of this organization, like Bokisch, Abacela, Verdad, Quinta Cruz, Pierce Ranch, and Twisted Oak remain committed to advancing this sector and promoting its events, but too many others, like Berghold and SilvaSpoons, along with maverick producers like Forlorn Hope, were conspicuous in their absence (along with the once obligatory culinary anchor, Marco Paella), new participants dwindled to a mere four—all from outside of California.

These Northwest newcomers included HillCrest, Oregon’s oldest estate winery, purportedly the first winery to bottle a Pinot Noir in the Beaver State. This pedigree was amply displayed in their NV One the Lamb, an intriguing blend of Mazuelo (Carignane) and Pinot Noir. I found their 2008 Cadiz, an Umpqua Valley Tempranillo quite appealing, while their Tempranillo/Cabernet Sauvignon (a SuperRioja?) blend, the 2009 Umpqua Ribera, proved superb. I was a bit less sanguine about their 2010 Tempranillo Della Terra Torero Nuevo, but truly cottoned to the 1998 Vintage Trop, a superbly aged, fortified, Port-style offering.

Previously, I hadn’t realized that there was an Oakland in Oregon, here represented by Triple Oak Vineyard, which fittingly featured a chronological vertical of its three most recent releases. This trio commenced with the striking 2010 Tempranillo Umpqua Valley. The 2011 bottling frankly seemed a bit wanting, while the quite-young 2012 hinted at fuller expression over the next 2-3 years. In contrast, the 2011 Tempranillo Rogue Valley from debuting winery Upper Five Vineyard proved a superb, compelling rendition of the varietal.

Further north, Woodinville’s wondrously named Vinateria Idilico proffered an excellent 2013 Albariño Yakima Valley. Their 2011 Tempranillo and 2011 Garnacha Columbia proved equally appealing, while the 2011 Graciano Snipes Mountain simply dazzled. And while Tempranillo, Albariño, and, to a degree, Garnacha—the 2011 Garnacha San Antonio Valley from Pierce Ranch proved astounding—predominated this T.A.P.A.S. session, I was pleased that a number of wineries poured Graciano, led by the spectacular 2011 Graciano Mokelumne River & Clement Hills that Bokisch farmed and bottled. Others included Fenestra’s 2011 Graciano Lodi, Riaza’s 2011 Graciano Clement Hills, and the 2010 Graciano Clement Hills from Quinta Cruz—all, I assume, sourced from Markus’ plantings, while Pierce Ranch showcased their own 2011 Graciano San Antonio Valley, Twisted Oak featured a 2011 Graciano Calaveras County, and Bob Lindquist’s Verdad poured the 2012 Graciano Ibarra-Young Vineyard from the Santa Ynez Valley.

Otherwise, the preponderance of the event seemed decidedly mainstream—no Trincadeira, no Tinta Cão, merely a pair of Souzãos, no Loureiro, and no Torrontés. The sole revelation here was from a number of wineries pouring Verdejo—I believe, for most, their first vintage. I must confess that, until this year’s tasting I had assumed Verdejo was simply the Spanish term for the Portuguese Verdelho—an error quickly rectified by sampling the two varietals side-by-side. Though slightly overshadowed by the more sublime 2013 Verdelho Yolo County, Berryessa Gap’s 2013 Verdejo Yolo County still very much pleased with its slightly tart palate. A similar (albeit slight) contrast marked the exceptional 2013 Verdelho Borden Ranch from the 2013 Verdejo Borden Ranch that Bokisch debuted. Equally compelling: the 2012 Verdejo Clarksburg from Riaza.

At this point, I must own to another of my ulterior motives—a wine blending project I am contemplating,  to be called V (pronounced “quintus”). Like so many other endeavors I cite here, this, too, has been incubating far too long, as I have been searching for the hitherto elusive  V-varietal #5 to complete this esoteric blend. And in Verdejo, my quest may have been fulfilled.

Despite an overt disappointment in the decline of these focused trade tastings, Sostevinobile remains firmly committed to our continued support of worthy organizations like T.A.P.A.S. and Rhône Rangers and will strive not only to bolster their efforts, but, of course, to showcase the incredible panoply of wines produced within our designated boundaries. Of course, a generous serving of paella (or bouillabaisse) along the way would go far in fueling my energies toward these ends…


Fast forward to the anomaly known as Pinot Days. This event abruptly shifted both its date and location from earlier in June to the end of the month and from Fort Mason to the resurrected Metreon Center overlooking Yerba Buena Gardens. As such, I would have predicted significantly diminished attendance from previous years, and indeed the number of participating wineries did dwindle by nearly ⅔, from 253 to 92! As such, new discoveries for Sostevinobile’s wine program were but few, starting with Attune Wines, a boutique Sonoma producer focused exclusively on Burgundian varietals. Veering from the sanctioned selections, they first pour a 2012 Chardonnay, which displayed a focused roundness. And while their 2013 Pinot Noir Rosé proved quite amiable, their 2011 Pinot Noir held up impressively for, admittedly, a most challenging vintage.

One of the hallmarks I have set for Sostevinobile has been an unwavering objectivity in the wines we review and select. So some may question my effuse praise for the exceptional Pinots Belden Barns poured, given that proprietor Lauren Belden also graduated from the Creative Writing program at Dartmouth, but coincidences will abound My introduction to their 2012 Estate Pinot Noir was beyond pleasant, while their 2012 Serendipity Block Pinot Noir proved one of the highlights of the afternoon. Belden Barns also bottles a discrete selection of white, including both an estate bottled Late Harvest Viognier and an Estate Grüner Veltliner, ambitious for so young a winery and certainly an rarity among Sonoma’s Pinot vineyards. I hope to report more in a future post.

One of the few wineries trekking from Oregon, Merriman Wines nonetheless made the most of their journey, scoring impressively with both their 2011 Cummins Road Pinot Noir and their outstanding flagship, the 2011 Estate Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton District, a wine that rivaled the aforementioned Serendipity. Though unrelated to Merriman Capital, another Dartmouth colleague I had previous approached for Sostevinobile’s financing, Merriman does share Belden Barn’s penchant for the anomalous, complementing their red production not with the typical Burgundian white, but, rather, an Old Vine Chenin Blanc, a varietal that has certainly become underserved on the West Coast.

Teac Mor sounds like an Oregon label, but, in fact, hails from the Russian River Valley. Though I would dispute co-owner Christine Moore’s contention that pistachios make for an excellent palate cleanser, I had no quarrel with the 4-year vertical they poured here. Being a young venture, their 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir seemed a tad jejune, while the 2010 Russian River Valley Noir showed signs of hitting its stride. Atypically, their
2011 Russian River Valley Noir shone far brighter than its preceding vintages, while the 2012 bottling lived up to expectations for such a banner. year.

Another Sonoma producer, Kobler Estate, also showcased a vertical of their wines, beginning with the 2009 Russian River Pinot Noir. This well-balanced wine was followed with a striking 2010 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, the sole variant in this flight. The 2011 Russian River Pinot Noir seemed adequate for the vintage, while the 2012 Russian River Pinot Noir matched the loftiness of the 2010 bottling.

Though technically Spell Estate did not constitute a new label, it has subsequently parted ways with winemaker Shane Finley since I first encountered them and is, in essence, a wholly different entity. Yet Spell has most definitely suffered no diminution in its scope or profound quality under current winemaker Andrew Berge. After sampling their exquisite 2011 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, I found myself marveling equally at their trio of vineyard-designate Pinots: the 2012 Pinot Noir Nicole’s Vineyard, the 2012 Pinot Noir Alder Spring Vineyard, and their crown jewel—the 2012 Pinot Noir Marimar Estate Vineyard. Astounding wines, all.

Jayson Pahlmeyer is no newcomer, either, but Pinot Days afforded the opportunity to sample his much-heralded new Sonoma label, Wayfarer. Keeping stride with Pahlmeyer’s mythic Chardonnay, the 2012 Wayfarer Vineyard Pinot Noir proved a glorious wine. only to be outshone by the aptly-named 2012 Golden Mean Pinot Noir, a truly extraordinary expression of the grape. Similarly, FEL represents legendary Napa producer Cliff Lede’s conversion of Mendocino’s Breggo Cellars for his Sonoma and Mendocino operations. With equal aplomb, this new moniker debuted the 2012 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley alongside the vineyard designates 2012 Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard (Anderson Valley) and 2012 Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard (Sonoma Coast).

I do not mean to give short shrift to the other labels showcased here—certainly I cannot fail to cite Wrath’s equally impressive 2011 Wrath Pinot Noir San Saba Vineyard nor its compelling 2011 Ex Vite Pinot Noir—but despite uncharacteristically arriving just as the gates opened, I only managed to sample a few other selections this afternoon from those wineries making a return appearance at this tasting. Typically, I tend to malinger at tastings of this scope, hoping to include as many different wineries as possible, but on this afternoon, I felt compelled to exit an hour before closing. For while the number of wineries on hand had considerably dwindled from years past, the number of public attendees barely differed from the throngs that filled Fort Mason!

Admittedly, I am not a person who bears up well in tight crowds. Trying to navigate such a compact space became intolerable almost immediately after the gates opened. Just as synæsthetes can see colors from sounds—as in Rimbaud’s Voyelles—I cannot taste when the volume reaches a certain decibel level. And so I surrendered to the futility of the exercise and departed.

As with the other tastings I have chronicled here, I am not seeking to critique the event, merely to comprehend its post-Fort Mason evolution. Certainly, I find it most encouraging that a major tasting can still draw a significant crowd, and while I am sure there are scores of Pinot Noir devotees, if not rabid fans throughout the Bay Area, I suspect the attendance at Pinot Days resulted more from aggressive marketing. And as I contemplate launching Risorgimento, I hope this holds true!

Duck die nasty

This past November marked a bit of a bittersweet milestone for Sostevinobile—one which Your West Coast Oenophile seems a tad reluctant to concede at this stage—as has been the situation with the preponderance of 2013 (in no small part from having been struck by an industrial truck while cycling back in March). So for now, let me just say it is both a
triumph and a disappointment. Fortunately, I have a phenomenal bottle
of 2009 Barbera from Mora Estate with which to console myself
.

Mora Estate is perhaps the most recent of my wine discoveries, a boutique operation in Sonoma County that focuses on esoteric Italian varietals. I’ve also had the chance to sample their soon-to-be released 2012 Rosato, a wine made predominantly from Corvina Veronese. Winemaker Fabiano Ramaci’s greatest viticultural triumph to date, however, has to be his 2009 Valpo, California’s first authentic Amarone, produced from Corvina, Molinara, Rondinella, and Negara grapes he has sourced from Alexander Valley. And to think, I thought I had a bead on almost everything being grown out here!

Much has been made lately about Lou Reed since his recent passing, and the seminal influence of his music. Debates will long rage on as to which was his signature album, but I tend to favor The Velvet Underground and Nico. The late German female vocalist who collaborated with Reed on this opus bears no relation to Sonoma’s Nico Wines, a boutique label specializing in Italian varietals, to which I was formally introduced at Mystery Wine Night, Underground Cellars launch party. I had already had the good fortune to have been wowed by Nico’s superb 2009 Dolcetto a few weeks prior, after Debbie Zachareas of Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant had casually donated it to a poolside gathering at The Gateway, and so had prearranged to meet with owner/winemaker Kevin Rogers at this ensuing tasting. Nico’s other selections included a 2012 Fiano, along with my first sampling of a California Greco di Tufo, the 2012 Il Greco, both harvested from Tanya’s Vineyard in the Russian River Valley.

My exposure to Grignolino grown on the West Coast has pretty much been limited to Heitz’ renowned Grignolino, their Grignolino Rosé, and a Guglielmo Grignolino I have yet to try. Add Nico to that list, with its 2012 Rosé, vinted from 55% Lagrein and 45% Grignolino. Kevin’s lineup also included a 2012 Barbera and a notable 2012 Moscato (95% Moscato Giallo, 5% Fiano). My other initiation at this event came from Santa Rosa’s Woodenhead, a winery that had long eluded encountering me. Here they featured an intriguing pair of their current releases: 2010 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and the 2008 Zinfandel Martinelli Road Vineyard Old Vine.
Sostevinobile is usually quite happy to extoll the efforts of fellow entrepreneurs venturing into the wine realm, particularly those that portend to abet what we are striving to accomplish (and vice versa). This sort of mutual cooperation has truly been a hallmark throughout all facets of the wine industry, a stark contrast to the ruthless competitiveness and unwritten code of “mediocrity promoting mediocrity” that demarcate the advertising/marketing sector (the ignoble profession I forsook to found this venture). Still, I am perplexed by a number of recent launches like Underground Cellar or Wine Savage, online forays from acquaintances on the wine circuit, that seem rather jejune, if not emulative of the ὕβρις that befell the now-defunct Wine Luxury.
In contrast, one venture that can Sostevinobile enthusiastically endorse is SoFi, a social finance initiative that provides a creative platform for investors to help mitigate the burden of student loans for higher education. As their mission statement proclaims, “SoFi connects investors and borrowers via school-specific lending funds. Investors receive a compelling return and borrowers reduce the cost of their student loans.”
SoFi sponsors a number of events in the Bay Area and in other key cities across the US to bring together members and potential investors, along with students who have subscribed to their programs, in a convivial atmosphere. I was graciously invited to attend their most recent wine gathering at San Francisco’s opulent Millennium Tower, in the private dining room above RN74. The demure allure of Thuy Vu quite swayed me from my task at hand, but I somehow managed to extricate myself from the sway of her pulchritude and focus on the quartet of wine labels being featured at this intimate soirée.
I, of course, had long ago been captivated by Realm Cellars, a winery producing three distinctive Cabernets showcasing three separate Napa AVAs: the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Farella Vineyard from Coombsville, the Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyard from St. Helena, and the Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard from Oakville. Similarly, I have succumbed on numerous occasions to the twins charms of Kristine Ashe and Entre Nous, and so gladly engaged General Manager Joe Filippini, here showcasing the 2010 Entre Nous Cabernet Sauvignon from their Oakville vineyards along Highway 29. The new discoveries at this event came from the inaugural bottling of Adriel Lares2010 Memento Mori, a poignant tribute to his late father cultivated from a selection of prized Cabernet Sauvignon plantings, predominantly from Beckstoffer’s George III and Las Piedras Vineyards; wine industry veteran Lee Nordlund, with whom I ought to have crossed paths at some previous point since 1982, introduced his Punch label’s 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, alongside his 2012 Proof Chardonnay.
I had the chance to taste through the full Punch/Proof lineup a month after this event, at a private release party for their fetching 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon. Other wines from Lee’s impressive lineup included Punch’s 2011 Bracero Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and the 2012 Proof Pinot Noir Anderson Valley.
I arrived at the Nordlund home that afternoon, having attended the nearby 14th Annual Mt. Veeder Appellation Tasting, an event that had been dampened—literally—by an unanticipated summer shower. As
with many attendees, I had delayed setting out from San Francisco in the hope the weather
would clear; consequently, I was still able to enjoy the last hour or so of this event with only slight impediment from the lingering drizzle. While the muddied grounds may have caused my hand-stitched Lucchese 2000s to slip a few times, this muck was definitely no revival of Pinot in the River
My first reward for persevering was an introduction to Anthem, a collaboration between industry veterans Jeff Ames (Rudius) and John Anthony Truchard (John Anthony), here showcasing their inaugural bottling, the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder. Other epiphanies here included Mithra, a œnological homage to the Zoroastrian divinity coöpted by latter-day Roman mysticism, dazzling with their gorgeous 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, and VGS Château Potelle, a reconfiguration of Château Potelle by inveterate Francophile Jean-Noël Fourmeaux du Sartel, which contrasted a selection of Bordelaise varietal bottlings: the obligatory yet nonetheless noteworthy 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, alongside remarkable renditions of a 2010 Cabernet Franc and a 2010 Merlot.
Despite my usually meticulous notes, I somehow had not recorded previous tastings with Foyt and with Lampyridae; the former comported itself ably with Foyt Family Wines #77, a 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, while Lampyridae’s wines, developed, in part, to raise funds for children with severe communication needs, excelled with both their 2010 Mount Veeder Communication Block Cabernet Sauvignon and their Syrah, the 2010 Lampyridae Vineyards Mount Veeder Communication Block Red Wine, as well as the 2009 Lampyridae Vineyards Mount Veeder Communication Block Red Wine, a blend of 66% Syrah and 34% Cabernet Sauvignon.
My previous omissions also included Progeny, who is, to the best of my knowledge, only the second winery (the other being O’Shaughnessy) growing St. Macaire in Napa, here featured their as-yet unblended standard, the 2007 Special Selection Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, while Ron Fenolio’s Veedercrest contrasted their amiable 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon with the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine that was definitely hitting its stride now.
Further north of Mt. Veeder, I had earlier traversed the Valley to attend another summer tradition, Rutherford’s Day in the Dust, an event that had yet again been transposed, this time from the signature grandiose staging of Jean-Charles Boisset to a more subdued venue at BV’s production facility. Many familiar faces pouring here, with 2010 Cabs and 2012 Sauvignon Blancs predominant among the offerings. Caspar Estate, a boutique project from Cultivar’s Jody Harris and Julien Fayard, underscored the tightness of this young vintage (as opposed to the immediate approachability I found in most 2009s) with their 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford. Nonetheless, I cottoned to the 2010 Scarlett Cabernet Sauvignon McGah Family Cellars poured alongside a notable 2011 1070 Green Sauvignon Blanc.
I had always liked Sawyer Cellars, in part because of its Anglicized version of my mother’s family’s name, so was apprehensive to see it reincarnated as Foley Johnson after its acquisition by Foley Family Wines, but the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford they poured displayed a most reassuring continuity. Previous renditions of this event had proven rather homogenous in its varietal range, apart from Tres Sabores2010 Zinfandel Rutherford Estate and a sporadic selection of Petite Sirahs, so it was most welcome to find a break in this monotony from newcomer Talahalusi, Rene and Maria Haug’s iconoclastic Rhône venture. I was quite satisfied with the 2011 Roussanne Rutherford but a bit more tepid towards the 2011 Picpoul. Alors, nous verrons
Recently, it was announced that Petite Sirah had supplanted Zinfandel as Napa’s second most prolific red grape, a particularly notable feat, given the relative obscurity of the varietal only a few years ago. Efforts to rebrand the grape as Durif—a disambiguation from Syrah—have largely failed to gain any traction, and the debate on whether it should be classified as a true Rhône varietal rages on, yet amidst all this clamor, this spicy varietal has gained considerable popularity.
Yet despite its upsurgence in Napa, Petite Sirah is still very much rooted in the Livermore Valley, a distinction borne out annually by the Petite Sirah Symposium—a rare instance of this term being employed in the original Platonic nuance. Though notably smaller in scope and attendance from last ye
ar’s tribute to Jim Concannon, this year’s gathering included a number of new participants Sostevinobile had yet to have encountered. Leading alphabetically, Aaron Wines, a panelist for the symposium in addition to pouring here for the first time, impressed with their 2010 Petite Sirah-Paso Robles. Napa-based Aratas Wine, here also for the first time, offered contrasting bottlings from 2009, the 2009 Shake Ridge Ranch Petite Sirah (Amador County) and their estate grown 2009 Napa Valley Petite Sirah, along with a young 2010 version of the latter.
Many here know that I started out in the wine business helping to orchestrate Mergers & Acquisitions. Over the past year, in an effort to bolster my subsistence while negotiating Sostevinobile’s funding—contrary to appearances, I couldn’t possibly survive solely on the generosity of catered wine events I attend—I have found myself reluctantly drawn back into this practice, offering to parlay the strength of my winery knowledge for discreet investors. These endeavors led me to discover Mike Kooyman’s Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg several months ago, but I had not previously its in-house label, Clarksburg Wine Co., prior to this rendition of P.S. I Love You. Though apparently concentrating more on their white varietals, particularly the once-ubiquitous Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg comported themselves admirably with their locally-sourced 2010 Petite Sirah.
Other Sostevinobile revelations pouring here included Michael James’ Hidden Oak with a notably low alcohol (12.87%) 2009 Petite Sirah, and PaZa, a portmanteau of owners Pamela and Zane Dobson’s names, with their 2011 Petite Sirah from Placer County. I admit I am decidedly ambivalent about the name Red Soles—at least, it’s not another sappy canine label or Jack Welch tribute—but have no reservations about their 2011 Estate Petite Sirah from Paso Robles. And I am indebted to Healdsburg’s Handal-Denier, not only for their exquisite 2010 Alexander Valley Petite Sirah but for introducing me to the above-mentioned pioneers at Nico and Mora Estate.
I hadn’t encountered boutique producer Burt Street Cellars before Rosé by the Bay afforded the opportunity to sample their 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Rosé and a sneak sip of their 2012 Chardonnay Carneros-Sonoma. I also encountered Ten Acre Winery for what would be the first of many times, as they poured their striking 2012 Rosé of Pinot Noir here.
I suppose it was only fitting that both serendipities from this year’s West of West Wine Festival derived their nomenclature from the tropospheric intensity that characterizes this coastal AVA. Appropriately named 32 Winds Wine provided a veritable tour de force with their quartet of superb wines, starting with their 2011 Lucky Well U. V. Chardonnay and its sister 2011 Lucky Well U. V. Pinot Noir. As striking was their 2010 Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir, while the 2010 Maestro Pinot Noir blew the rest of this lineup away. Gros Ventre Cellars (which—oops!— I mistranslated as “big wind”) did wind up making a similarly impressive debut with three distinct bottlings, a 2011 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, the 2011 First Born Pinot Noir, and a superb 2011 Campbell Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Amid all the revisits to events the past few months, a truly outstanding debut took place at the Press Club: Wines of Danger. This intimate gathering brought together twenty relatively boutique-scale producers, the majority of which had been hitherto unknown to Sostevinobile. Some were outstanding, others admittedly lackluster, yet all were laudable in their efforts to produce wines of distinctive character. Ed Ulshafer’ and Brian Carlson’s self-referential Brian Edward poured quite amiable renditions of a 2011 Carneros Chardonnay and 2009 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with 2% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc, while Michael Simons’ Monterey-based Comanche Cellars dazzled with a wide array of varietals, including their 2010 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, blended from the Hahn, Paraiso and Sarmento Vineyards, plus a striking 2010 San Antonio Valley Tempranillo Pierce Ranch Vineyard, and superb bottlings of both the 2009 San Antonio Valley Cabernet Franc Jolon Vineyard and 2009 Arroyo Seco Syrah Mission Ranch Vineyard.
Eclecticism was the rule of thumb for Eric Laumann, whose Cambiata label derives its name from the polyphonic idiom rendering an “added tonal dimension that occurs when two chords momentarily share
properties, so that the transition has greater depth and mellifluence”
; hence, the contrast of his 2012 Cambiata Albariño and 2009 Cambiata Tannat.
This theory of musical counterpoint, first cited in the musical treatise Gradus ad Parnassum by Johann Joseph Fux, highly influenced Beethoven, to which Laumann alludes in his tributary label, Ludwig and its 2009 Hammerklavier, a unique blend of Pinot Noir and Dornfelder. And not to appear harmonious in his nomenclature, Laumann’s third label draws its inspiration from the surfing technique known as Rail 2 Rail, an apt metaphor for his unbridled 2011 Rail 2 Rail Zinfandel, a bottling of Old Vine Zinfandel grown in Lodi, the legendary riparian outpost for longboard enthusiasts!
Taking matters to a literal level, Michael and Wendy Trotta’s Eclectic Wines showcased their inaugural vintage with a sublime 2012 Viognier Dry Creek Valley, a charming 2012 Vermentino Dunnigan Hills, and their 2011 Tempranillo Sierra Foothills. In a similar vein, while there may be nothing allusive in the name Lars Björkman and Molly Hill designated for their Mt. Veeder boutique, Grow Wines did impress with their estate grown 2011 Ruhl Vineyard Chardonnay.
While
we are in stealth mode, I am not at liberty to disclose details on an inchoate venture—not wine-related, but
potentially capable of funding Sostevinobile—but I can concede that I was quite astonished that the URL for the name we chose remained available, despite deriving our moniker from a frequently-invoked, albeit semi-scatological, term from the vernacular. So, too, does it surprise me that Cuvée Wine Cellars had not been trademarked generations before Paul Rogerville founded his San Mateo County cooperative
. Though I would have preferred a greater adherence to the level of selectivity this name implies, I nonetheless enjoyed all five wines in their lineup, starting with the 2012 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc. From the previous vintage, Paul poured a 2011 Russian River Valley Chardonnay and a 2011 Pinot Noir Saralee’s Vineyard, while dipping back two previous cycles and outside Sonoma for his 2009 El Dorado Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.
Too many possibilities come to mind if I try to conjure the origins for the name Farm Life & Massa. Organically grown by Patrick Ridder, these wines contrasted widely, from a tepid 2012 Massa Sauvignon Blanc to a more energized 2009 Farm Life Red Wine, a Syrah/Petite Sirah blend. On the other hand, Maboroshi is clearly derived from 幻の光, a term meaning “trick of light;” nothing phantasmic, however, about the exceptional wines Tom and Rebecca Kisaichi produce here, including the 2012 Maboroshi Los Carneros Chardonnay and an equally compelling 2008 Maboroshi Russian River Pinot Noir. Under their Rebecca K label, the Kisaichis excelled with a NV Rebecca K North Coast Méthode Champenoise Brut and a superb 2008 Rebecca K Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.
With only one label but two states of origin, Molly Williams and Ryan Hodgins of M Autumn contrasted their Californian 2008 Napa Valley Merlot with their Oregonian 2009 Johnson Vineyard Pinot Noir. No such peregrinations demarcated Jillian Johnston’s Onesta, a Lodi—focused startup that debuted here with a splendid 2012 Grenache Blanc, a strikingly-focused 2012 Cinsault Rosé Bechthold Vineyard, and her outstanding 2011 Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard.
As more and more wineries are now releasing their 2011 Pinots, I am beginning to view this vintage as a true test of a winemaker’s craft. Some have proven quite iffy; others, like the 2011 Pinot Noir Tudor House Vineyards and the 2011 Pinot Noir Dolinsek Vineyards, both Russian Rivers Valley selections from Patrick Murray’s Paro, proved utterly wonderful. Murray also added a 2010 Pinot Noir Sunnyside Vineyard from Sonoma Mountain and a well-balanced 2010 Rosé to his lineup here.

PALE FIRE
(A Poem in Four Cantos)

     CANTO 1

     I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
     By the false azure in the windowpane
     I was the smudge of ashen fluff–and I
     Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky,
     And from the inside, too, I’d duplicate
     Myself, my lamp, an apple on a plate:
     Uncurtaining the night, I’d let dark glass
     Hang all the furniture above the grass,
     And how delightful when a fall of snow
     Covered my glimpse of lawn and reached up so
     As to make chair and bed exactly stand
     Upon that snow, out in that crystal land!

Over the years, this blog has frequently contained Gogolian allusions, not to mention the occasional Nabokovian echo, and so it was most delightful to meet Waxwing Wine Cellars, an ornithological œnological endeavor. Shades of John Shade? Alas, my citation of Pale Fire fell flat with winemaker Scott Sisemore whose forte lies with red grapes that favor the windswept chill of coastside Sonoma. A very strong 2011 Pinot Noir Spring Hill Vineyard was complemented by both the 2011 Syrah Sonoma Coast and an exceptional 2012 Pinot Noir Rosé Spring Hill Vine
yard
. On the other hand, I couldn’t place either reference from City Cellars, here pouring their 2008 Lopa, a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon & 40% Tempranillo​ and the 2009 Gianna, a Malbec/Petit Verdot medley.

Sometimes, an transparent allusion creates an impression different from what it hopes to convey, as with Calistoga’s People’s Wine Revolution, a boutique producer that sounds as if it ought to be nestled among Berkeley’s urban wineries. And while their labels tend more towards whimsy, one could certainly taste a proletariat edge to their quartet of vintages poured here, starting with the 2012 The People’s Viognier Salem Ranch from Dry Creek Valley and their Lodi-grown 2012 The People’s Grenache. Meanwhile, their unadorned 2011 Syrah Massa Ranch noticeably contrasted with the 2008 Bea’s Knees Petite Sirah, their vanguard bottling.
No pretense could be attributed to Sabrine Rodems’ Scratch, a Monterey project sourcing its fruit from both Arroyo Seco and the Santa Lucia Highlands. Certainly, both her 2011 Riesling Arroyo Seco and 2011 Grenache Arroyo Seco proved competent wines, but the 2011 Scratch Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands showcased her viticultural prowess. Further north, it took quite a bit of Internet sleuthing to uncover the Russian Ridge that gives rise to Russian Ridge Winery. Not far from the San Carlos cooperative where these wines are bottled, one can find the picturesque preserve that graces their label, an underdeveloped 3,137acre expanse that comprises a major asset of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. In keeping with the pristine beauty of this locale, their wines express a straightforward portrait of their individual terroirs, from the elegant 2012 Pinot Grigio Chiles Valley and 2011 Chardonnay Napa to the striking 2011 Petite Sirah Paso Robles and the 2011 Syrah Santa Cruz Mountains. 

In contrast, Site derives its name from a place as generic as it is obvious, much like the delightfully understated road sign puns from acclaimed muralist Rigo 23 adorning numerous San Francisco landmarks. Maverick Adelaida winemaker Jeremy Weintraub showcased five of Site bottlings from an assortment of Central Coast vineyards, starting with his superb 2012 Roussanne Stolpman Vineyard and his 2012 Viognier Larner Vineyard.

Jeremy also crafted a 2012 Grenache Larner Vineyard and an equally-appealing 2012 Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard, but his signature effort had to have been the lush, compelling 2012 Syrah Larner Vineyard.

I truly wish there had been more events that offered such a range new discoveries for Sostevinobile. As enjoyable as I have always found the Russian River Valley’s Single Vineyard Night, since La Follette’s assistant winemaker and effervescent new mother Simone Sequeira guided me through their inaugural event at the then-C. Donatiello Winery a few years back, the sole revelation this year came from Via Giusti Wines, a single-selection wine project debuting their 2011 Russian River Pinot Noir. Formerly partnered with Paso Robles’ Grand Tasting Tour, the annual Lamb Jam Tour did offer me the chance finally to meet Grace Patriot, a Sierra Foothills winery with Dartmouth roots, here featuring their 2012 Riesling alongside a striking blend of Tempranillo and Graciano, bearing the portmanteau of 2009 Tempriano and a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah mélange whimsically labeled the 2007 Aboriginal. No
t from Oregon, Napa Valley’s Corvalle poured their 2011 Framework, a Cabernet Sauvignon tempered with both Merlot and Syrah.

Canoe Ridge is a Horse Heaven Hills holding from Precept Wine, one of the largest wine holding companies on the West Coast, but a relative anomaly with its focus on Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Like Leslie Rudd’s Vintage Wine Estates and Foley Family Wines, its rivals in the current Mergers & Acquisition market, Precept gives wide latitude to its subsidiaries; this autonomy manifested itself admirably in four wines Canoe Ridge offered in complement to the featured lamb entrées: the 2012 Expedition Pinot Gris, a superb 2011 Expedition Chardonnay and 2011 Expedition Merlot, and the 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Cayucos Cellars, an independent winery from the Paso Robles AVA, offered three remarkably well-aged selections: a 2007 Chardonnay, their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2007 Syrah, matched alongside their 2005 Devils Gate Zinfandel and two curiously-named multivintage blends of Grenache and Petit Sirah, the Devils Gate x/ix and its fraternal twin, the Devils Gate ix/x.
A trip to Shone Farm, the producing winery and farm that serves as outdoor laboratory for œnology studies at Santa Rosa Junior College for the for the premier of The Press Democrat’s North Coast Wine Challenge offered quite a number of familiar faces, albeit with introductions to a handful of wineries . I had tried on numerous occasions to visit Amista as I wandered along Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg, and so was more than happy to begin this event with Mike & Vicky Farrow’s sparkling wine, the NV Blanc de Blanc Morningsong Vineyard. Here they also poured an impressive 2010 Chardonnay Morningsong Vineyard and their 2008 Syrah Morningsong Vineyard, with promises to share their full lineup when I finally do visit them. Also from Healdsburg, Estate 1856, a family-held vineyard that antedates me by a full century, impressed with their 2010 Malbec and 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, alongside their signature 2010 Bordeaux Blend, a Cabernet Sauvignon rounded out with 10% Petit Verdot and 14% Malbec.
I had only recent encountered cardiac surgeon Ramzi Derek’s Grapeheart at a WineLuv tasting, but was pleased to resample their 2010 The Beat, a proprietary blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Syrah and 17% Cabernet Franc. Also not new, but oddly missing from these pages: Trombetta, which I had met at the 2012 West of West Festival, revisited here with their 2010 Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard, an outstanding wine that managed to be overshadowed by their exquisite 2011 Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard.
Rob + Kat McDonald’s Art + Farm Wines produces a number of quirky labels that belie a solid viticultural heritage. Here they poured their 2011 The Girls in the Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc,and the 2011 The Girls in the Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, both single vineyard expressions, as well as the 2011 Circadia Chardonnay. Another seemingly unprepossessing venture, Thirty Seven Winery, situated at the Gateway to Carneros, provides yet another showcase for winemakers May-Britt and Denis Malbec, here featuring both their 2009 Pinot Noir and 2010 Chardonnay. And to my infinite surprise, they are finally making a Malbec here, as well!
An intimate return to Fort Mason from the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance brought both Lindley, with its 2011 Pinot Noir La Lomita Vineyard and Chardonnay specialists Liquid Farm into the Sostevinobile fold. Along with a 2012 Rosé Vogelzang Vineyard, Liquid Farm produced a trifecta of Chards: the 2011 White Hill Chardonnay, the 2011 Golden Slope Chardonnay, and their showstopper, the 2011 FOUR Chardonnay, a combination from Bent Rock, Radian, Huber, and Clos Pepe vineyards. If only Huber Cellars had attended, as was billed, I might have finally sampled their signature Dornfelder!
Later on, Fort Mason hosted the Anderson Valley Trade Tasting, an attenuated version of Taste of Mendocino that still managed to yield a handful of surprises. Philo’s Angel Camp Vineyard made a spectacular, if not stunning debut, with its tricolore—red, white, rosé—of estate-grown Pinot Noirs: the 2011 Pinot Noir, the rare, excruciating-to-produce 2012 Pinot Noir Blanc, and a dry 2012 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir. Had winemaker Jon Keyes the bandwidth, they could have added an orange version, as well, as exemplified by the 2011 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir Foursight poured here: a wine with limited skin contact that visually resembled the true orange color of Pinot Gris. Though I have tasted with Foursight on numerous occasions, I’d be remiss in not noting the wonderful 2011 Sémillon and the intriguing 2010 Zero New Oak Pinot Noir they also poured here.
Jackson Family Wines has also been a major player in Mergers & Acquisitions in the wine industry, with an aggressive program to acquire established vineyards like Saralee’s in Windsor, as well as Zena Crown and Gran Moraine in Oregon, since the death of founder Jess Jackson in 2011. In addition to the 14 new properties (2,800 acres) Barabara Banke has added to her late husband’s portfolio, she has continued to launch single-vineyard projects like Cardinale throughout the West Coast, represented this day by three different properties. Champs de Rêves featured their 2011 Pinot Noir Boone Ridge Vineyard, while its thematic equestrian kin, WindRacer, poured both its 2010 Anderson Valley Chardonnay and 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. Named in tribute to the progeny of Banke’s prized thoroughbred Maggy Hawk, the 2010 Jolie comes from a Pinot Noir Clone 115, while the 2010 Unforgettable features Clone 667.
It seems that I have forgotten to include Knez Winery in previous posts, but found both the 2010 Demuth Chardonnay and the 2011 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir poured here more than memorable. Not that I intend any short shrift to their 2011 Cerise Pinot Noir, either! And though I’ve often cited Scharffenberger Cellars for their sparkling wines, this tasting provided my introduction to their still wines: the 2011 Carpe Diem Pinot Noir and the 2012 Carpe Diem Chardonnay.
The most innovative winery here had to have been Lichen Estate, an organic seven-acre planting in Boonville. Their 2012 Pinot Noir proved straightforward, but their unconventional 2012 Les Pinots Noir & Gris, a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Pinot Gris, truly struck my fancy. Adding to the intrigue, their NV Solera Pinot Noir, here a preliminary blend of the 2011 and 2012 vintages, but portending to become more and more striking as subsequent years are added to the mix.
Sostevinobile wrapped up formal tasting season for 2013 with a repeat of last November’s Third Friday marathon. If only Elon Musk had already launched his Hyperloop! Imagine attending a Pinot tasting in San Francisco, staying until its conclusion, taking a leisurely shower and changing, hopping into a Hyperloop pod and arriving in Napa Valley 11 minutes later to attend a four-hour Taste & Sip extravaganza at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), then hopping back into the pod and returning to the City before midnight (all the while thumbing y
our nose at the St. Helena cop who parks outside the Greystone driveway every day)
. Oh well! Perhaps in 2113!
Nonetheless, the third annual Flavor! Napa Valley again featured the Appellation Trail, a bit pared down from its inaugural rendition, with fewer of the most prominent wineries and restaurants participating and scant sightings of the Valley’s notables in attendance. And while there were still a handful of wine labels to uncover, the more compelling aspect of this event was the chance to sample from a number of storied Napa restaurants and food purveyors. Like Redd Wood. And Morimoto Napa. Auberge du Soleil. And Morimoto Napa. Press St. Helena. And Morimoto Napa. Oenotri. And Morimoto Napa. Silverado Resort & Spa. And Morimoto Napa. Bistro Jeanty And Morimoto Napa.
So perhaps I overdid it at the Morimoto station; nevertheless, my primary focus remained on the wine discoveries. Jason Valenti, with the help of Philippe Melka, showcased his Adamvs label, a biodynamic Howell Mountain project focused solely on Cabernet Sauvignon. I found myself equally captivated by their 2010 Téres, a blend of Estate Cabernet with other Napa Valley fruit, and the to-be-released 2010 Quintvs, a blend of five distinct estate vineyard blocks. Nearby, John Skupny’s Lang & Reed joined the growing ranks of vintners producing extraordinary Cab Francs with his 2011 Two-Fourteen Cabernet Franc Napa Valley.
Montes is a Chilean conglomerate producing wines much in the same mode as Cupcake or Paul Hobbs, not restricting themselves to the confines of national boundaries but sourcing varietals from the terroirs and appellations they see befitting their wine program. Their new Napa Angel label debuted here with their easy-to drink 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, a combination of Yountville, Oak Knoll, and Coombsville fruit, and the 2008 Aurelio’s Selection, a Cabernet focused on Oak Knoll and Yountville. With the changing of the guard after the death of Marie Nichelini-Irwin, I felt Nichelini had essentially become a new label; however, their signature 2012 Old Vine Muscadelle de Boredelais, formerly (and preferably) known as Sauvignon Vert, remained, if memory serves me, true to form.
Under the tutelage of acclaimed winemaker Marco DiGiulio, Adam Braustein crafted a delightful, multiclone expression of the 2010 JBV Cabernet Sauvignon, an estate grown bottling for Jack Brooks Vineyard. And I was quite pleased to meet former Opus One winemaker Kian Takavoli and partake of the austerely named 2010 Red Wine Napa Valley he crafted for Patel Winery on Silverado Trail, a Merlot-dominant Right Bank homage tempered with Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. And I most assuredly would have loved the offerings from Stone the Crows solely for their dispassionate nomenclature, but cottoned to both the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Three Twins Vineyard (no relation to Terra Linda’s much-heralded organic Three Twins Ice Cream label) and its evolving successor, the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Three Twins Vineyard.
The Appellation Trail Tasting is always a welcome challenge to navigate and complete, but the true test of the day was making a safe and relatively unfettered drive to Greystone after the annual Pinotfest tasting at Farallon. Many have heard me complain of late of Pinot fatigue—not surprising with 12% of California’s vineyards, plus nearly 40% of Oregon’s acreage, planted to Pinot Noir, and a veritable overload of Pinot tastings throughout the latter half of the year. Still this is always a must-attend event, and will remain so, even if it continues to fall on the same day as Flavor! Napa Valley.
One of the hallmarks of this tasting is the wide selections of Oregon wineries on hand, posing a
far easier commute across San Francisco than the 10 hour trek to the Willamette Valley. And while this event afforded me the opportunity to catch up with Tendril, Domaine Serene, Soter, and Domaine Drouhin, etc., as well as mingle numerous friends from Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, and the myriad Sonoma appellations, the standout of the afternoon was the worst—and best—Pinot producer in Napa’s Rutherford AVA, El Molino, pouring an exceptional 2010
Rutherford Pinot Noir and its counterpoint, the 2011 Rutherford Chardonnay.
Lamentably, however, this event featured only a single newcomer, Paul Lato Wines, which nonetheless dazzled with two selections from a stable (several of his labels allude to horse racing) of nine distinct Pinots: the 2011 Pinot Noir C’est La Vie Wenzlau Vineyard (Sta. Rita Hills) and the superb 2011 Pinot Noir Suerte Solomon Hills Vineyard (Santa Maria Valley). This paucity of discoveries, however, wasn’t necessarily a disappointment as, I confess, had primarily hied my way over to Farallon for the delectable Seared Duck-Gizzard Confit and, particularly, the transcendant Duck-Gizzard Meatballs that always highlight this tasting
Does the duck die nasty to render these delicacies? I’ve never asked, though I am sure the process of procurement is nothing as heinous as the caged breeding and disemboweling involved in making Paté Fois Gras. And while we’re on the topic, let me close out the year with a premature resolution to once again let the grizzling on my grizzled visage return to its more luxuriant style—not the Methuselaic proportions of reinstated Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, but more a quasi-revival of last decade’s efforts to transmogrify myself into a latter day Da Vinci, adopting an appearance to complement my numerous forays, inventive and intellectual, and impending successes (to be detailed in subsequent entries here, as they coalesce) that served to redeem a most challenging 2013.

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…

Arizona, Narsai & Bastardo*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marco Azzurro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A tale of two cities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

               Kukla, Fran & Ollie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nyah! That’s way too much to swallow!

 

Præternatural Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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