Category Archives: Rosé

How you gonna keep him down on the Pharm?

2016-07-30 15.16.40It was high time Your West Coast Oenophile venture outside my frequent stomping grounds and undertake some serious exploration of the joints—I mean, wineries—that I have vetted for Sostevinobile primarily through trade tastings in San Francisco and on Treasure Island. And so I threw caution to the wind and risked upping my per-mile bracket with Metromile and headed north beyond the confines of Sonoma and Napa for the other regions that constitute the vast North Coast AVA: Lake and Mendocino counties.

After several years’ worth of invites, I finally capitulated and agreed to attend the annual picnic and members meeting for the Redwood Forest Foundation (RFFI) in Ukiah. This foundation represents a laudable effort to preserve not only much of the old growth redwoods throughout California but to protect the wildlife that inhabit these preserves. Naturally, the focus of their efforts aligns synergistically with the sustainable aims of Sostevinobile, but I am not entirely sanguine about the use of cap & trade carbon credits to offset their budget deficit. Global warming has now reached the point where merely maintaining current level of carbon emissions—which, in effect, is what carbon credits facilitates—rather than radically reducing them, is not sufficient to offset the pending catastrophic impact from our profligate industrial consumption.

In spite of such conundrums, Mendocino still can lay valid claim to its self-professed accolade as “The Greenest AVA in America.” Many may claim this is a double-entendre, and yet my only encounter with any semblance of cannabis culture was a sign at the gateway to Hopland. There was no indication, however, that they operated a tasting room.

No dearth of visible tasting rooms existed for the numerous wineries that have sprung up in county since I first visited with Mendocino’s first varietal producer, the late John Parducci. Before locating the Redwood Forest picnic, I fittingly managed to squeeze a visit with Rich Parducci’s McNab Ridge, a winery I had featured a few years ago at a tasting I designed for NAAAP-SF. As eclectic in his tastes as his grandfather, Rich bottles an extraordinary array of organically grown selections that span from a strikingly appealing 2014 French Colombard to his admirable rendition of the 2013 Pinotage. I was quite taken with McNab Ridge’s exemplary 2013 Primitivo, but still managed to spare enough room to sample their 2013 John Parducci Signature Series Port, an opulent blend of Touriga Nacional (55%), Tinta Roriz (16%), Touriga Francesca (10%), Tinta Barroca (10%), and Tinta Cão (9%).

Time constraints dictated that I cut short my visit with McNab Ridge and depart Hopland’s quaint confines for the aforementioned luncheon, aptly situated amid a redwood grove at Nelson Family Vineyards. As these wines are not commonly distributed beyond subscribers and visitors to the tasting room, I took the opportunity to sample through their roster after the RFFI conclave. Starting with their NV Brut, one of Mendocino’s signature expressions, I segued to a delightfully light 2014 Pinot Grigio. Nelson’s deft touch truly manifested itself next in their 2013 Viognier, a well-balanced expression of the grape that proved neither austere nor cloying.

Creative minds most certainly lurked behind their 2015 Barn Blend, a unique blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel and Viognier. More traditional, the 2013 Top Row Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, an intensified wine crafted from a prized block on their estate vineyard. Finally, Nelson revealed its true virtuosity in their exceptional 2013 Zinfandel, a dense, jammy wine that long lingered on the palate.

I next veered southward back to Hopland, where I spent a most enjoyable hour visiting with César Toxqui at the tasting room he maintains alongside Bruotocao’s. His affable 2013 Muscat Canelli prefaced 2014 Rosé of Zinfandel, a wine most definitely not to be confused with the much-maligned White Zin concoction that ruled the 1980s. I found his 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley appealing, his 2010 Grenache decidely more so. Here again, the 2007 Immigrant Zinfandel reigned supreme, closely followed by a 2013 Zinfandel Dry Creek, sourced from across the county line.

César also poured a noteworthy single vineyard Cabernet, his 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Bloom Vineyards. His trademark, however, stems from his non-vintage blends, the Ruthless Red, a mélange of 80% Zinfandel, 10% Syrah, and 10% Merlot , dedicated to his wife, and the Heirloom Cinco, a solera now in its fifth cuvée, produced from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Viognier.

Following an a raucous evening indulging in all two of downtown Ukiah’s hot spots, I rose early the next day, squeezed in a few laps across the motel pool, and headed out to the foot of Anderson Valley for their annual Barrel Tasting Weekend. Before I reached the festival, I popped into Simaine, an bootstrap winery/tasting room housed in a light industrial complex where my GPS steered me in my quest to locate Germain-Robin. Owner Vic Símon graciously received me just as he prepared to open for the day and opened a selection of his current offerings, starting with his personal favorite, the 2012 Sangiovese. Other wine, designated as Reserve, included the 2010 Petite Sirah and a 2010 Carignane, both of which proved balanced and approachable. His final selection, a Bordeaux blend with the rather elusive name, the 2011 Virisda.

After departing Simaine, the scenic 17-mile expanse of Hwy. 253 wound across the county to Boonville, where I collected my credentials at Philo Ridge’s tasting room. I had hoped to surprise Fred Buonanno with my long-delayed visit but was informed he was still nursing the after-effects of his 60th birthday celebration the night before. Nonetheless, I managed to soldier on and taste through a number of his selections. Having recently sampled several of their Pinot Noir selections at June’s Taste of Mendocino, I opted to taste through an array of white varietals, starting with a lean 2014 Chardonnay Haiku Ranch.Seventeen syllables later, I moved onto the 2014 Pinot Gris Nelson Vineyard, a fresh, tank-fermented rendition of the grape. Also, tank-fermented: the floral yet delicate 2014 Viognier Nelson Ranch, a perfect white for what would prove a scorchingly hot afternoon.

Several Mendocino growers have collaborated over the past several years on a bottling a regional proprietary wine they call Coro. In keeping with this Zinfandel-focused blend, Philo Ridge bottles an intriguing mélange they call Vino di Mendocino. Currently in its fourth release, this wine marries Zinfandel with Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Carignane. The wine was delightful but the burden of becoming a sexagenarian had evidently taken its toll, so I abandoned the notion of waiting for Fred to appear and moseyed onto the next stop.

It was rather surprising to find a town as quaint and remote as Boonville dotted with so many satellite tasting rooms; I would have thought such a laid-back rural setting more conducive to onsite estate visits. Nonetheless, it proved rather convenient to meander between premises and sampling their offerings. Having tried Seebass Family Wines at numerous tastings over the years, I correlated their wines with the impressive Bavarian coat of arms that highlights their label. The tasting room proved to be anything but ponderous, manned by Brigitte Seebass’ daughter Michelle Myrenne Willoughby. Michelle ably navigated five different parties that had bellied up to her bar, yet still found time to attend to my personal discretion. We started with her 2015 Family Chardonnay, a bold wine, like all of Seebass’ selections, sourced from estate-grown, hand-harvested, hand-pruned, sustainably farmed fruit. Quelling my thirst from the 95° F heat, the delightfully chilled 2015 Fantasie proved a compelling Rosé of Grenache.

Varietal bottlings constitute a distinct strength at Seebass, starting with the 2012 Grand Reserve Merlot and punctuated by the exceptionally well-rounded 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel, honed from 100+ year old vines. Nonetheless, I also greatly enjoyed their 2012 Romantik, a blend of Syrah and Grenache, along with their NV Mysteriös, a proprietary mix from their 2011 & 2012 harvests, combining Grenache, Syrah, Merlot and Zinfandel.

Though certainly a pleasant wine, admittedly the most striking aspect of the Mysteriös was the artistic design of it label, a reproduction of one of Michelle’s late father’s paintings, a geometric design that echoed the prints of op art’s grandfather, renowned Hungarian-French master Victor Vasarely. Coincidentally, I bounced over next to Boonville’s John Hanes Fine Art, a modern gallery that shares space with Harmonique. I would like to think the hermaphroditic statuary that adorned the entrance to this facility dissuaded me from partaking of the various Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs for which Harmonique is prized, but, in truth, Harmonique’s absence from the roster of the Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting precluded my visiting.

And so I ambled across the street to the Boonville Hotel, the onetime home of the legendary New Boonville Hotel, a restaurant that had turned this area into a culinary mecca. In the courtyard, I found Paul and Valerie Gordon of Halcón Vineyards, an intrepid couple who sojourn weekly from their Silicon Valley home to produce Mendocino wine. Their al fresco tasting in the hotel’s garden court included a slew of exemplary wines, starting with their 2013 Prado, a classic Rhône blend of Roussanne and Marsanne. From there, we progressed to the 2014 Rosé, a deft melding of Grenache and Syrah, then segued onto the 2014 Alturas Estate Syrah, classically cofermented with a scintilla of Viognier. Opting for a pure expression of the varietal, Paul poured his 2014 Tierra Petite Sirah, a wine quite reflective of its Yorkville Highlands pedigree. His coup de grâce most certainly, however,was the 2014 Wentzel Vineyard Pinot Noir, an exceptionally well-balanced wine, neither light nor ponderous, a blend with 35% whole cluster that clung to the palate ever so delightfully.

Following this stop, I backpedaled from the center of downtown Boonville to visit with Joe Webb at Foursight. This boutique operation has long stood as one of Mendocino’s premier Pinot Noir labels, but first I had to try the refreshingly chilled 2013 Charles Vineyard Sémillon, a most pleasant, understated wine. Though it may be a noble experiment, I confess that I did not cotton to the 2013 Unoaked Pinot Noir, a simplified expression of the grape that struck me as overly sour. In contrast, Joe’s signature wine, the 2014 Paraboll Pinot Noir presented a geometric leap over the Unoaked, a truly exquisite wine that attested to Anderson Valley’s rightful place in California’s Pinot hierarchy.

Onward, returned to my car and headed north to Elke, the first onsite tasting room on the trail. The dirt road, clapboard barn, unpretentious landscaping embodied just the kind of ramshackle setting I had envisioned before I’d arrived, and while owner Mary Elke was not on hand this afternoon, I still enjoyed a most pleasant session, sipping through a welcomely-chilled NV Sparkling Brut crafted from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I found myself equally pleased—and refreshed—by both the 2014 Chardonnay Anderson Valley and a candy-like 2014 Rosé of Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. For balance, I finished with their 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Lake County, a heterodoxical selection for the afternoon.

Creeping back onto the highway, I next dropped in on Witching Stick, another understated operation that belied the sophistication of its œnology. Owner Van Williamson began my tasting with a straightforward yet excellent 2014 Durrell Vineyard Chardonnay, then moved to the delightful albeit atypical 2014 Carignano Rosato. After these chilled wines, I delighted in an enticing 2012 Valenti Vineyard Syrah before delving into Van’s Pinot lineup. The 2013 Gianoli Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2013 Perli Vineyard Pinot Noir proved equally compelling, but both were clearly outshone by the lushness of the 2012 Gianoli Vineyard Pinot Noir. But the pinnacle at this stop turned out to be the 2013 Fashauer Vineyard Zinfandel, a deep, complex , jammy wine.

Across the street, Phil T. G. Baxter welcomed me like an old friend to the intimate confines of his eponymous tasting room. As with Witching Stick, the tasting centered on his lineup of Pinot Noir, starting with an acutely focused 2013 Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir. I found both the 2013 Valenti Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2013 Langley Vineyard Pinot Noir on par with the 2013s from across the street, while the 2012 Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir once again underscored the superior quality of this vintage. Phil concluded our visit with a sample of his 2013 Valenti Vineyard Syrah, a perfectly amiable wine that complement a perfectly amiable setting.

I have often expressed my personal qualms about engaging in Mergers & Acquisitions, my original role in the wine industry and a practice I’ve recently resumed on behalf of Sostevinobile. One of my favorite Mendocino labels has long been Greenwood Ridge, and I had hoped to visit with Allan Green in Philo, but the winery had been acquired back in March by Diane and Ken Wilson and folded into the mini-empire they have quietly cobbled together in Sonoma and Mendocino. Though Allan will be sorely missed, the new regime has nonetheless stayed the course, including the winery’s focus on organic farming and winemaking; the wines I sampled here, however, were produced under the former ownership, so assaying the perpetuation of these practices remains undetermined. Nevertheless, I cottoned immensely to all three wines I tasted, starting with the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, the first wine to open my eyes to the full potential organic winemaking. Complementing this indubitable bottling, the 2015 Riesling retained just enough sweetness to taste refined, not cloying. Rounding out my visit, the whimsically-labelled 2013 Hundred Point Pinot Noir, named for a promontory along the Mendocino Coast where 100 ships have wrecked, bore fitting testament to Allan’s legacy.

Not quite Helen of Troy (was this the face that launched a thousand ships?), but close. My combined 18 years’ inculcation in Greek & Latin literature begs for allusion as often as I can cite it. As such, I need confess the allure of Lula Cellars stemmed not merely from the beauty of its wines but the striking pulchritude of their delightful hostess. Kacy managed, despite my overt distraction, to steer me through Lula’s lineup with considerable aplomb, commencing her tasting session with an exceptional 2014 Dry Gewürztraminer, a varietal that for many years characterized Mendocino for me. The 2015 Rosato displayed a delight derivation of a Pinot Noir, while the 2013 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir simply resounded. Rounding out this visit, the 2014 Mariah Vineyard Zinfandel provided a rich dénouement to a most productive afternoon.

Only my tasting day was far from over. Resolved to head back to San Francisco along the leisurely coastal route, I continued up toward along Route 128 toward the town of Albion, below which it interests with Highway 1. To my great surprise, nearly all the wineries along this road remained open until 7pm, a far cry from Napa and Sonoma, where 4:30pm seems the general rule of thumb. And so I abruptly veered into the parking lot for Domaine Anderson, the new branch of Roederer Estate dedicated to still wines. I had first encountered these wines at San Francisco’s Pinot Days, where Wine Club Manager Jennie Dallery had apparently drawn the short straw and was relegated to the antechamber at Bespoke, along with a handful of other wineries forced to compete against subway-level acoustics. I had promised her I would visit soon and discuss these wines in an audible setting, but was chagrined to learn she had left the premises a mere five minutes before my arrival. Nonetheless, I made the best of my visit and sampled both the 2014 Estate Chardonnay and the notably lemony 2013 Dach Chardonnay, both complements to the designate Pinot Noirs I had tried in San Francisco, before continuing my trek to an old familiar, Handley Cellars.

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve sampled (and enjoyed) these wines at tastings throughout the year since 2008 and have even attended a luncheon where seven selections of their Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays were paired to each course. So here I was more than happy to taste through their non-standard selections, starting with the exquisitely floral 2014 Pinot Blanc Mendocino County. Complementing this wine, the 2015 Pinot Gris Anderson Valley seemed a bit more subdued but approachable, while the 2015 Riesling Anderson Valley gave considerable credence to Mendocino’s claim as California’s prime AVA for Alsatian varietals.

I bypassed Handley’s all-too-familiar lineup of Pinots for a selection of their other reds, including the unlisted 2013 Vittorio Petite Sirah. I found the 2013 Zinfandel Russian River Valley equally pleasurable, yet both combine, along with a healthy share of Carignane to make a true standout, the 2013 Vittorio Red Table Wine. Meanwhile, standing out on its own merits: the 2013 Syrah Kazmet Vineyard.

Truth be told: I had two primary destinations in mind when I embarked on this journey. Although I finally did manage to determine the actual location for Germain-Robin, I learned that weekend appointments would not have been available anyway. My other Holy Grail, of course, was sparkling wine virtuoso Roederer Estate, which was just about to close its doors as I arrived. I almost convinced the tasting room staff I had won a case of L’Ermitage, but settled for the final tasting of the day as reward for my ruse. Their base offering, the Brut MV, artfully combined a blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. Roederer serves this wine from different size bottles, and clearly the Brut MV Magnum outshone the confines of the standard 750ml bottling. I could not have asked more of the Brut Rosé MV, a Pinot-dominant blend, while their Tête du Cuvée, my cherished 2009 L’Ermitage reaffirmed itself as my perennial favorite sparkling.

2016-07-24-16-33-40While my return to Mendocino proved both fruitful and enlightening, I confess I was surprised that I never once stumbled across the mood-altering botanical for which it is primarily known. Perhaps because it has been a few decades since I cultivated an affinity for the weed that its whereabouts eluded me. Perhaps it was because I have had little to praise for the few bottlings of marijuana-infused wine that I’ve tried. Or could it be that this reputation is simply an elaborate hoax, a convoluted pharmaceutical paronomasia?


I passed through Mendocino a week later, en route to a wine tasting in neighboring Lake County, another AVA I have been remiss in visiting. But with so many fires having recently ravaged this pristine preserve, it seemed almost obligatory that I journey north as a gesture of solidarity with the fourteen wineries on hand for The People’s Choice Wine Tasting.2016-07-30 15.44.28Admittedly, I could have made better timing in getting to the Kelseyville destination, but I decided to follow the scenic mountain route over from Hopland.As I began my descent down Highway 175, the vista from atop Cobb Mountain provided a breathtaking panoramic of Clear Lake, a natural phenomenon often unfairly depicted as a poor man’s Lake Tahoe. The vast expanse of this waterway was an unanticipated revelation, tinged with regret that I have not taken advantage of the resorts that dot its shore, especially when San Francisco summers have taken an Arctic turn.

My other epiphany came as I wound down from Middleton to the back stretches of Bottle Rock Road: seemingly every other vineyard I passed was tagged with a Beckstoffer sign. Behind this ubiquity lies a concerted effort to bolster the quality and reputation of Lake County’s wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon hailing from the Red Hills AVA, where they farm nearly 1,300 acres of vineyard. This past winter, owner Andy Beckstoffer announced a program wherein he would provide one acres’ worth of Cabernet for free to ten select vintners in the county to draw help catalyze this ambitious project. Despite being seen by some merely as theatricality, the chosen vintners with whom I spoke wear their selection as a badge of honor.

I arrived at host Moore Family Winery amid their own theatricality, a blind tasting of thirteen Lake County Sauvignon Blancs. As with the Anderson Valley Barrel Tasting, I quickly drifted from the staged event inside the Tasting Room and focused my visit on the wineries pouring their Gold Medal selections. Host Steve Moore offered a distinctive lineup, starting with his 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, a wine that had not taken part in the shootout. I clearly favored his 2015 Chardonnay, however, but did cotton to the 2009 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, a most deserving dessert wine.

In a similar vein, Kelseyville’s Chacewater showcased their 2014 Chardonnay, a wine I would have liked to contrast with their Organic Certified 2015 Chardonnay. Complementing this vintage, however, was the 2015 Muscat Canelli, a sweet yet appealing wine, to be sure. Former Kendall-Jackson winemaker Jed Steele had his various labels out in force, impressing with the Sweepstake Red Winner, the 2012 Steele-Stymie Merlot and, in a nod to poetic justice,the 2015 Writer’s Block Roussanne.

Forsooth, Fults Family Vineyards, a winery I had not previously encountered, countered with a pair of their amiable whites, the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2015 Chardonnay. Contrasting quite nicely, the stainless steel 2015 Endeavor, a limited release Chardonnay from Wildhurst, which showcased its 2013 Petite Sirah alongside. And in keeping with the caliber of his worldwide wine portfolio,a standout 2013 Petite Sirah came from Langtry, new NHL team owner Bill Foley’s Lake County acquisition.

While Foley has ponied up $500,000,000 for the construction of T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the more anticlimactic redevelopment of San Francisco’s Treasure Island has begun displacing the cottage wine industry there, starting with the myriad labels produced at The Winery SF. Nonetheless, owner Bryan Kane remains committed to the Lake County fruit he sources for his personal Sol Rouge label, resulting in an ever-reliable 2013 Petite Sirah and a most compelling bottling of his 2012 Cabernet Franc. Another multilabel enterprise, Shannon Ridge showed atypical restraint, pouring a mere four selections from their seemingly inexhaustible lineup. Both the 2013 Wrangler Red, a blend of 44% Zinfandel, 43% Syrah, 11% Petite Sirah, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2012 Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon seemed tepid, particularly when juxtaposed with their 2015 High Elevation Sauvignon Blanc and the superb 2013 High Elevation Chardonnay. Another winery that featured a blend was Fore Family Vineyards, also previously unfamiliar to Sostevinobile, with their delightful Grenache-based 2013 GSM; deftly displaying the potential of the Red Hills volcanic soil, their 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon proved sheer elegant.

From Clearlake Oaks, Cache Creek Vineyards shares only a name with the more familiar casino, but a kindred spirit with its Lake County brethren. Their 2014 Rosé of Cabernet attested to their acuity of their vinification, while the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon constituted yet another testament to the potential of this AVA. Admittedly, I found myself wondering if Jack Welch would deem that Six Sigma’s somewhat tepid 2014 Sauvignon Blanc held to continuous efforts to achieve stable and predictable process results, but I was especially pleased to taste their 2013 Diamond Mine Cuvée, a black belt mélange of Tempranillo with lesser parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Also veering from the predominant French focus of the afternoon, Nick Buttitta made an impromptu appearance on behalf of his Rosa d’Oro label, sharing his intense 2013 Aglianico, a dense, intense interpretation of this varietal. Still, I concede that the standout wine of the afternoon was the opulent 2014 Viognier from Gregory Graham, one of the most acclaimed winemakers in Lake County.

Andy Beckstoffer contends Lake County’s “Red Hills is the most promising Cabernet Sauvignon site outside of Europe.” At the heart of this AVA sits Tricycle Wine Partners’ Obsidian Ridge, whose wines compare favorably at 2-3 times the price from their southerly neighbors in Napa. Underscoring this point today, they wowed the crowd with considerable aplomb, pouring a robust 2013 Estate Syrah, their 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, co-winner of the Sweepstake Red award, and a distinctive Meritage, the 2012 Half Mile Proprietary Red, a wondrous blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.

I wish I had allotted more time to this visit, as many intriguing Lake County ventures that participated in this competition could not be present. I find myself now filled with trepidation that I may never have the opportunity to visit with several of these; as most people know, a series of wildfires have struck since my visit, threatening to undermine the emergence of Lake County as a world-class AVA. Fortunately, the arsonist responsible for many of these conflagrations has been apprehended. Moving forward, absent of natural catastrophe, perhaps Lake County can look toward their westerly neighbor for definition of the expression “up in smoke!”

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…

Housekeeping

Arrivederci, 2011! It’s not that Your West Coast Oenophile doesn’t harbor any warm recollections from the year just past—certainly my creation of ResCue™ bodes well, in and of itself, for this quasi-altruistic endeavor, but augurs perhaps to consolidate the long-overdue launch sustainable wine bar & retail shop to which this blog is intended to serve merely as an adjunct (my readers do want to taste the wines I have been highlighting, don’t you?). Yet my continued struggles to give substance to my sundry concepts (not to mention keep updating these posts in a relatively timely fashion) over the course of the past year proved quite draining, physically, emotionally, financially, and

Basta! Enough indulging in dour lamentation! Moving forward, I forecast that 2012 will turn out to be a gem, if not a Gemma, of a year, not only for my assorted wine ventures—Sostevinobile, COMUNALE, and Risorgimento, but on a personal level as well.* Beyond that, I offer no speculation for this Leap Year, neither for the Giants returning to the World Series, the Punahou Kid re-upping for another four-year stretch, nor the possible future of the world after December 21.
Allora! Let me FINALLY put 2011 in the rear-view mirror by giving long overdue acknowledgment to the numerous events I attended but have neglected to chronicle, starting with the Taste of Mendocino that supplanted Slow Food San Francisco’s Golden Glass. A truly spectacular tasting, this event filled the cavernous Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason with 63 wine producers from three regional groupings, numerous food vendors, solar living displays, art promoters, music—even acrobats! This potpourri of diversions made the oft-formidable challenge of covering so many wineries far from onerous (not that tasting great wine ever is).
Newcomers to the Sostevinobile roster this afternoon started with Campovida, more of an umbrella for art, music, gardening, and the full panoply of gastronomy, an agricultural preserve that leases its viticultural operations to house the four labels under which Magnanimus produces their organic and biodynamic wines, most notably the 2005 Mendocino Farms Syrah Fairborn Ranch poured here. Also heralding from the Hopland/Ukiah Haven sector, Orsianna similarly impressed with its 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino.
From Fort Bragg, Sally Ottoson’s Pacific Star Winery staked its claim with their 2005 Merlot, though I had a great fondness for their 2007 Charbono, as well (I can’t think of any other North Coast winery that makes both Charbono and Carignane). And though Hopland’s Rack & Riddle may be a custom crush facility, they release a small selection of wines under their own label, here best exemplified by their non-vintage sparkling wines, the Rack & Riddle Brut, a blend from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and the Rack & Riddle Rosé, composition unspecified.
Before moving onto the next designated “district,” I sampled a pair of organically-grown wines from Ukiah’s Simaine Cellars, the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and the delectable 2007 Syrah Venturi Vineyard. First up from Anderson Valley/Yorkville Haven, Jeff Hansen’s debut of his Lula Cellars equally impressed with both their 2009 Mendocino Coast Pinot Noir and the 2009 Mendocino Zinfandel. Also based in Philo, Toulouse Vineyards offered a cross-section of their Pinot portfolio, of which the 2008 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir left me feeling the “goosiest.”
The third sector, Redwood/Potter Valley Haven, featured a number of Carignane producers, spearheaded by Tahto Wines with their 2009 Carignane Potter Valley, as well as a compelling 2008 Petite Sirah Potter Valley and 2009 Syrah. In a different vein, Testa Vineyards offered a dry 2010 Rosé of Carignane alongside a most compelling 2007 Black, a blend of 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Carignane, and 3% Petite Sirah from their organic vines in Calpella. Lastly, Yeilding Wines featured a number of wines as distinctive as its atypical orthography, particularly the 2008 Syrah Mendocino; as impressive were the 2008 Bell Springs Cuvée (30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petit Verdot, 30% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot) and the 2009 Chardonnay Mendocino.


That Taste of Mendocino will now host an annual event in its own right made this year’s session even more pivotal, And I look forward to an abundance of new participants, as well as the many established wineries, in 2012. Moving forward to my next outstanding obligation, I returned to downtown Livermore for the Ninth Annual Petite Sirah Symposium. This year’s event fêted the 80th birthday of host Jim Concannon, whose namesake winery bottled California’s first varietal Petite Sirah in 1961.
Nearly all of the 43 wineries scheduled to pour this year, having appeared at previous incarnations of this single-focused event, have been covered here extensively. Newcomers included Livermore’s Las Positas, which comported themselves admirably with their 2007 Casa de Viñas Covarrubias Vineyard Petite Sirah. Tapping into the same fruit, McGrail Vineyards showcased their splendid 2009 Casa de Viñas Petite Sirah, also from the Covarrubias Vineyard.
San Francisco’s Shoe Shine Wine, initially founded as a purely Petite Sirah venture, debuted their 2006 Petite Sirah Solano County from the highly coveted Tenbrink Vineyard. A true standout for the afternoon came from the 2007 Petite Sirah Winemaker’s Reserve from Calistoga’s Vincent Arroyo, while Clarksburg’s Wilson Vineyards offered a most approachable 2008 Petite Sirah from their sustainably-farmed Yolo County estate.


Back when I toiled as a denizen of the Fourth Estate, the cardinal rule was always to lead in directly with the article’s main topic, not to obfuscate the subject with a mash of peripheral issues or questions. And so I will refrain from bemoaning, yet again, the conspicuous dearth of Porta-Potties at the latest Monterey Winemakers’ Celebration and focus instead on the delectable wines and sumptuous cuisine purveyed to the resilient attendees who braved the narrow confines of The Barnyard in Carmel, the newest staging for this annual event, with nary a recourse to relieve the effects of their overconsumption.
Discoveries here began with Carmel Hills Winery, a boutique operations that excelled with both their 2007 Unfiltered Chardonnay and a spectacular 2009 Syrah. Tiny Figge Cellars provided a chiasmus with their 2009 La Reina Chardonnay and 2007 Sycamore Flat Syrah. Holman Ranch also offered a delectable 2010 Chardonnay, complemented by their 2009 Pinot Noir.
Hard to believe that a winery in this millennium could even countenance the concept of a White Zinfandel, but Saint’s Valley, a winery based in Temecula that sources Monterey grapes, made a gambit with their own bottling in 2010. Fortunately, they obviated this miscue with both their 2009 Zinfandel Vista Del Lago Estate Vineyards and an intriguing white Rhône blend, the 2009 GVR (Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne). And while this last stop concluded the discovery portion of my tasting, the rest of the event was more than flush with many excellent wineries I had sampled at last year’s event or other tastings. And if next year’s Winemakers’ Celebration provides more facilities to flush, I am sure I will find the fortitude to cover them all!


Sometime in the not-so-distant future, the resorts around Clear Lake will likely attain the cachet of major destination—a magnet like Tahoe or Palm Springs. Not that I want to despoil this relative isolation of this underappreciated sector of Northern California nor overrun its lacustrine jewel with throngs of tourists—it just seems inevitable that such a spectacular natural resource gain a popularity on par with its majesty. When I
started out in the wine industry, one would have been hard pressed to identify another Lake County winery apart from Guenoc; today, this North Coast quadrant contains five distinct AVAs and is dotted with dozens of progressive producers.
To showcase just how diverse this region has developed viticulturally, the Lake County Winery Association put on its first urban group showcase, Big Wines from the High Elevations of Lake County, at Winery SF on Treasure Island. Of the 23 wineries participating, fourteen were debuting labels which Sostevinobile had not previously encountered, with a range of varietals easily matching Sonoma or Paso Robles.
Of course, I was temperamentally predisposed to like a winery that calls itself Bullion Creek. Their striking vertical of Cabernets from 2005-07 was preceded by an even more outstanding library selection, the 2003 Bullion Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Kelseyville’s Bell Hill Vineyards showed itself equally adept with Bordeaux varietals, their forte being the 2005 Merlot, which slightly edged their 2004 vintage, as well as their more recent foray with the noteworthy 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon.
In sharp contrast, another Kelseyville winery, Chacewater, showcased a complex variety of varietals, starting with a modest 2010 Riesling.Their 2010 Chardonnay proved nominally better, the 2009 Malbec even more so. Their indisputable skill at vinification shone best in their 2009 Syrah and particularly in their 2009 Petite Sirah. From Lower Lake, biodynamic growers Hawk and Horse produced an enticing 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, matched by their distinctive 2006 Latigo—a Cabernet Sauvignon dessert wine.
No, they are not dyslexic. Lavender Blue impressed their self-described 2010 Sweet Suave Blanc, a Sauvignon Blanc desert wine with 2% residual sugar. Still I preferred their dry 2010 Sauvignon Blanc and found their 2010 Nebbiolo Rosé, an interesting, if not compelling, wine. Continuing with my vigilant exploration, I next sampled the numerous offerings of Vigilance, a sustainably-famed winery based in Lower Lake. While their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, and particularly the 2010 Chardonnay were pleasing, their star turned out to be the luscious 2009 Viognier. On the red side, I found the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (blended with 9% Petite Sirah) young but quite delectable, while the 2009 Petite Sirah stood out on its own merits.
Vigilance’s sister operation, Shannon Ridge, provided a veritable marathon to taste through, with 10 wines to negotiate—about as an eclectic a mix as any winery offers. The 2008 Single Vineyard Roussanne clearly stood out among the white selections, while the 2008 Single Vineyard Barbera and the 2009 Single Vineyard Zinfandel highlighted their red lineup. Inarguably their most notable bottling was the 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, while the 2008 Wrangler from their Ranch Collection, a proprietary blend of 37% Zinfandel, 35% Syrah, 18% Petite Sirah, 5% Barbera, 3% Mourvèdre and 2% Tempranillo demarcated the considerable breadth of their viticulture.
On a much smaller scale, both the 2007 Petite Sirah and the 2007 Petit Verdot from Dusinberre Cellars made striking first impressions. Robinson Lake, primarily a bulk and varietal supplier, still showcased its deft blend, 2009 Glamazon Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon, and an amiable Glamazon Chardonnay. Again from Kelseyville, Lajour Estate completed an impressive trifecta with their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 Zinfandel, and a superb 2009 Barbera. And Wildhurst featured both an impressive 2010 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc and 2008 Reserve Zinfandel, alongside their 2010 Muscat Canelli and stupendous 2010 Reserve Chardonnay.
Rounding out Sostevinobile’s list of discoveries came the delightful Shed Horn Cellars from Middleton. I found myself quite impressed with both their 2009 Lake County Sauvignon Blanc and the 2010 Lake County Chardonnay, but relished their 2009 Lake County Zinfandel even more. Even so, their 2007 Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon may well have been the most serendipitous find of the afternoon.
Had I time and space, I would detail the many other excellent wines I sampled from familiar stalwarts like Beaver Creek, Ceāgo, Diamond Ridge, Gregory Graham, Langtry, Six Sigma, Steele, Nils Venge’s Cougar’s Leap, host Sol Rouge, and Italian varietal virtuoso Rosa d’Oro, But as all the participating wineries in Big Wines from the High Elevations richly demonstrated, Lake County has blossomed into a distinct and diverse appellation in its own right, one that will certainly command a prominent role in the Sostevinobile wine program.


The next two days belonged to the grandest of the Grand Tastings, the 21st Annual Family Winemakers of California. Even though I have attended this event ever since it served as a coda to the fall harvest, I still found numerous wineries making their first appearance here (or that I had perhaps inadvertently overlooked in previous years).Also from St. Helena, Andesite, named for the ancient volcanic deposits found atop Spring Mountain, showcased its Right Bank-style 2007 Mervignon, a rich blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, rounded with a small percentage of Cabernet Franc. Across the way in Santa Rosa, Château Adoré debuted with a discrete selection of their offerings, including a striking 2009 Chardonnay, a generically-labeled Vintage White, and an impressive 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.



This
tasting took on special meaning for many of the wineries and attendees,
as it served as tribute to the late Jess Jackson, one of Family
Winemakers’ founders and a driving force behind its impetus to give
voice to the small family endeavors that serve as backbone to the wine
industry. Fittingly, one of the first wineries I sampled on this day, Analog,
prototyped the kind of venture Jess had championed, a humble, two-person operation producing a mere 600 cases of a
proprietary wine. Their mélange of Merlot and Sangiovese, the 2005 Analog, replete with their nostalgic logo (the once ubiquitous triskelion adapter used to play 45s), tasted redolent of their craft and commitment.

Healdsburg’s Field Stone Winery featured an impressive array of wines, starting with their 2010 Vineyard Select Sauvignon Blanc. Switching quickly to reds, their proprietary 2007 Convivio blended the Merlot, Cabernet, Sangiovese, and Petite Sirah found in their Vineyard Select varietals. While the Sangiovese was not available here, I found both the 2007 Vineyard Select Merlot and the 2007 Vineyard Select Cabernet Sauvignon standouts among their selections, with the 2007 Staten Family Reserve Petite Sirah and the 2007 Staten Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon nearly as approachable.
Field Recordings Wines holds no connect to Field Stone (nor, for that matter, the aforementioned vinyl-themed Analog); its esoteric blends bear little resemblance to others’ wines as well. After sampling their 2009 Chenin Blanc Jurassic Park Vineyard, I delved into the 2010 Fiction White, a proprietary mélange of Albariño, Grenache Blanc, Malvasia Bianca, and Marsanne. No less complex was the 2010 Fiction Red, this a blend of 28% Zinfandel, 26% Tempranillo, 18% Grenache, 18% Malbec, 5% Touriga Nacional, 3% Mourvèdre, and 2% Syrah. While the 2009 Petite Sirah Red Cedar Vineyard offered a straightforward interpretation, the 2009 Chorus Effect Koligian Vineyard presented a Paso Robles-style marriage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Tannat.
Also heralding from Paso, Barr Estate Winery started out strongly with their 2010 Albariño, a delicate expression of the grape. From there, their wines focused on Bordeaux varietals and blends, including a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon balanced with 20% Petit Verdot. Their 2007 Jubilado highlighted Petit Verdot, with Cabernet Sauvignon coming in at 40%. Distinctively, the 2007 Malbec added 10% Petit Verdot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, to meld a most striking mélange, while their Port-style dessert wine, befittingly titled The Last Act, married five parts Syrah with two parts Souzão and a single part Touriga.
Further to the south, the town of Los Alamos, CA should not be confused with its New Mexican counterpart; even with Vandenberg Air Force Base nearby, it’s highly probable this Santa Barbara enclave has never developed—nor even housed—a nuclear weapon. And while not as recognized as other nearby cities for its œnology, it serves home to the beguilingly named Martian Ranch Vineyard & Winery. I initially surmised theis moniker was meant to parody Michael Mondavi (much in the same manner Randall Grahm’s Le Cigare Volant tweaks the esoteric regulations of Châteauneuf-du-Pape), but owner Nan Helgeland assured me she derived it as a portmanteau of the names for her sons. Martin and Ian. Regardless, the winery’s 2009 Viognier and spectrum of Grenaches: 2009 Grenache Blanc, 2009 Grenache Rose, and the 2009 Grenache displayed a most assuredly earthy familiarity and appeal. Over in neighboring Ventura County, Oxnard may seems even less likely a domain for viticulture, but from its base here, Montage sources grapes from as far north as Oregon and as far south as Los Angeles! I enjoyed both the 2009 Chardonnay Russian River Valley and the 2010 Viognier Malibu, while their 2008 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and 2008 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley proved twin wonders.
Out in Brentwood (the Northern California city, not the Los Angeles district), Hannah Nicole has been petitioning to establish a separate AVA for eastern Contra Costa County, a designation that would grant them a level of exclusivity on par with Esterlina’s Cole Ranch AVA in Mendocino. Putting this debate aside for now, I did enjoy their 2010 Viognier, along with their aptly-named 2010 Mélange Rosé, a blend of Grenache with 10% Mourvèdre. Single varietal reds included the 2009 Petite Sirah Reserve, a notable 2009 Cabernet Franc, and the equally-appealing 2009 Petit Verdot Reserve.
On the other hand, Napa Angel does indeed herald from LA County. This domestic project from wine importers Montes USA impressed with their 2007 Star Angel Syrah from Paso Robles, while making a commendable debut with both their Napa-grown 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The same ownership offered an eponymous label, Guarachi Family Wines, also from Woodland Hills; with the guidance of consulting winemaker Paul Hobbs, they produced a trio of exceptional wines: the 2009 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, the 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and a spectacular 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Paralleling this effort, Paul Hobbes’ new CrossBarn label presented its 2009 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, a compelling 2009 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, and their elegantly structured 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Havens Winery represents a bit of a phoenix, a peripatetic label that has moved, closed, then been revived by Stonehedge. Here at Family Winemakers, its first bottlings under its new incarnation included the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, a 2009 Meritage Red, and the 2009 Red Blend, a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Employing a bit of legerdemain, St. Helena’s Houdini Wines magically debuted with their 2009 Talaria Chardonnay, alongside a striking 2007 Oakville Merlot and 2007 St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon.
Cru, a label from Highway 29, bears no relation to Crū from Madera, and neither winery holds any connect to Cru Vine Dogs, a Denver-based wine project sourcing from vineyards in Sonoma and Napa. Despite the mawkishness of its canine-themed labels, I found both the 2008 Blue Heeler Shiraz-Grenache-Mourvèdre and the 2006 Lucky Cabernet-Merlot moderately appealing. Also blend-focused, Napa’s Jules Mélange showcased three generically-labeled wines, the 2009 Vin Blanc, the 2009 Vin Rosé, and their distinctive 2009 Vin Rouge.
Healdsburg’s Kachina, a name derived from the emblematic Hopi carved dolls that adorn their label, posed no ambiguity with its varietals: a mellow 2009 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, the 2007 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (blended with 5% Syrah), and their signature 2009 Charbono. Further south in Sonoma, Cotati’s Katarina, the wine-producing adjunct of Field Vineyards, displayed a competent 2009 Chardonnay Sonoma County alongside their new 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley, an evolution of the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County and 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County, which they poured for contrast.
Coastview winemaker Ian Brand’s own brand, Le P’tit Paysan, impressed more than a little with his 2010 Le P’tit Pape Monterey County, a Rhône-style blend consisting of 42% Mourvèdre, 42% Grenache, and 16% Syrah, and the 2007 Meritage, an atypical blend with equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Not atypical but still a rare pleasure from Napa was the 2010 Tocai Friulano that Macauley Vineyard poured as white complement to its 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, a distinctive 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel and 2008 Petite Sirah, and their forte, the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To Kalon.
Not surprisingly, Napa was well-represented during this two-day marathon. One of their new entrants here, Craig Handly’s Terroir Napa Valley, lived up to the audacity of its name with a scintillating 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, a promising 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Carpenter Ranch, and their 2009 Chardonnay P&J Vineyard. From their second label, the 2010 Pool Boy Sauvignon Blanc and the 2009 Pool Boy Chardonnay also proved quite enjoyable. Another Napa venture with a touch of whimsy, Toolbox comported themselves handily with their 2010 Clarksburg Pinot Grigio, alongside a respectable 2007 Oak Knoll District Napa Valley Chardonnay and the 2008 Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Their red offering included the curiously-named 2007 Napa Valley Merlot (Mi-anti) and former San Francisco Giant J. T. Show’s 2008 THIRST, a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (the 2009 Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon tasted far too young to assess fairly).

Moving laterally over to Trancas Street, Lateral has evolved from its origins at Kathryn Kennedy’s Saratoga winery to a Napa-based endeavor, sourcing from several local vineyards to create the St. Émilion-style 2008 Lateral, a blend focused on Cabernet Franc and Merlot. As cherished as this vintage has been, the 2010 Lateral portends to reach even greater heights. Moving lower to Solano County, Vezér Family Vineyard of Suisun Valley opened with a delightful 2008 Verdelho. Both their 2007 Zinfandel and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon matched the intensity of this Iberian white, while the 2007 Petite Sirah and the 2007 La Sallette, a blend of Petite Sirah and Zinfandel, approached it. Vezér’s zenith, however had to have been the 2007 Franci, an indelibly sweet Black Muscat dessert wine.


Oracle World Headquarters

Under the stern gaze of Larry Ellison’s self-aggrandizing erection, Von Holt Wines, in nearby Belmont, crafts sources grapes from prized vineyards in Sonoma to craft such wines as its excellent 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and the 2009 Suacci Vineyard Pinot Noir. Von Holt’s forte, however, came from its two Syrahs, their 2008 Hoppe-Kelly Vineyard Syrah and the compelling 2008 Old Lakeville Vineyard Syrah. Lastly, veering a final time down south, Santa Barbara’s first urban winery, Oreana, closed up Sostevinobile’s discovery list with two utterly compelling whites, their 2009 Verdelho and the 2009 Chardonnay Santa Barbara County. Though I was slightly less impressed with their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, their red portfolio more than mitigated with a sublime 2008 Pinot Noir Central Coast, the 2008 Zinfandel and 2008 Syrah Santa Barbara County, and most distinctly, the 2009 Malbec Margarita Vineyard. If only they had poured their intriguing 2008 Refosco, as well!

The two day marathon at Family Winemakers did allow me to visit with quite a few established friends, while probably 150 other wineries eluded my reach. As 2012 proceeds, I can only strive to do better, both in reaching out to new discoveries and in fulfilling the many, many promises Sostevinobile has made. Please stay tuned…

*Lest anyone surmise that, in the aftermath of my relationship with the oft-cited Ginkgo Girl, I’ve intended to maintain a perpetual “lock heart.”

Pomp & circumstance

Aiuto! Aiuto! Your West Coast Oenophile still has not found the magic formula to weave my way through the interminable backlog to which I’ve committed Sostevinobile! So the new grand scheme is this: tackle my most recent tasting and pair it with the one for which I am most remiss, winnowing my way down to the middle.

De extremis. This entry will cover the long overdue A Single Night, Single Vineyards alongside my most recent foray, the Grand Tasting from this year’s Artisano celebration, relocated from Geyserville to The Vintners Inn of Santa Rosa. Being that Sostevinobile has yet to open and generate a revenue stream, I am compelled to flip an imaginary coin and decide to lead with the old and segue into the new.
While all of the wineries pouring at this second staging of A Single Night have previously been covered in this blog, this marquée event for the Russian River Valley Winegrowers took on a decidedly different tone this time around, and not simply because the venue had shifted from the courtyard at C. Donatiello (formerly Belvedere) to the caves at Thomas George Estates (formerly Davis Bynum). The inaugural celebration of these singularly-focused bottlings offered an undeniably millennial flair and seemed more like a slightly subdued frat party than a staid wine tasting. This year, a more mellow atmosphere brought out a more well-established, if not perceptibly older, attendance. Lady Gaga gives way to Bob Seger, Pumped Up Kicks cedes to Pump It Up. A paradigm shift or merely a shift in the economy—I can only hazard a guess.
N’importa. What matters here was the wine, which covered a wide gamut in terms of both variety and quality. In the interest of my oft-stated quest for brevity, I will highlight only discoveries from my top-tier for the evening, not so much in the same manner other writers grade the wines they sample, but more in line with scholastic honors. My corollary to summa cum laude started with the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir from Desmond Wines, a Russian River winery singularly focused on vinting estate-grown Pinot. Rivaling this bottling was the 2008 Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir from acclaimed producer Merry Edwards, the 2009 Ewald Vineyard Pinot Noir from Adam Lee’s Siduri, and a surprisingly delectable 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley from Trione.
Other wines that attained such lofty levels this day included an exceptional 2009 Bacigalupi Zinfandel from Graton Ridge Cellars and the 2010 Estates Chardonnay from host Thomas George. The 2008 Uncle Zio Syrah Gianna Maria from Martinelli proved spectacularly lush, while their cousin Darek Trowbridge provided a deft touch with the 2005 Laughlin Vineyard Zinfandel from his Old World Winery. Sparkling wine virtuoso Iron Horse continued to impress me with their forays into still wine, exemplified here by their enchanting 2009 Rude Clone Chardonnay. Lastly, the 2009 Benevolo Forte, a rich port-style wine from a collaboration between Foppoli Wines and some friends, rounded out the top tier.
The next tier (aka magna cum laude) narrowly focused on a handful of Pinots, the 2008 Lolita Ranch Pinot Noir, also from Martinelli, and Thomas George’s 2008 Lancel Creek Pinot Noir. My friends from Joseph Swan held court with their elegant 2007 Trenton View Vineyard Pinot Noir, while the fourth exemplar of this ranking came from Benovia, whose 2008 Bella Una Pinot Noir, while not a single vineyard bottling, constituted a blend of “the best possible expression of all of the sub-regions of
the Russian River Valley.”
Though far more wines fell warranted a broader cum laude, it would be erroneous to consider such well-crafted bottlings commonplace. Still, Pinot Noir dominated once more, starting with the 2008 Siebert Ranch Pinot Noir produced by Ancient Oak and Balletto Vineyards2009 Single Vineyard Pinot Noir. Desmond followed up its initial pouring with their 2009 Estate Pinot Noir, a worthy albeit slightly less dramatic successor, while La Follette impressed with their 2009 DuNah Vineyard Pinot. Others featuring comparably striking vintages included Matrix, with their 2008 Nunes Ranch Pinot Noir, Nalle with a splendid 2009 Hopkins Ranch Pinot Noir, Moshin, pouring its 2009 Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir, and the inveterate Williams Selyem, which poured the 2008 Flax Vineyard Pinot Noir from their vast repertoire of this varietal.
In addition to its sapid 2008 Oehlman Ranch Pinot Noir, Sandole featured an equally pleasant 2008 Russian River Valley Zinfandel. Hop Kiln showcased two distinctive wines, their 2009 HKG Pinot Noir Bridge Selection and its corollary, the 2009 Chardonnay Six Barrel Bridge Selection. Foppoli shone with its Burgundian pair, as well: the 2009 Estate Vineyard Chardonnay and the 2009 Late Harvest Pinot Noir, an especial treat.
Renowned vintner Gary Farrell also showcased his elegant 2008 Westside Farms Chardonnay, while Gordian Knot (formerly Sapphire Hill) debuted its current incarnation with a splendid 2010 Estate Albariño. Meanwhile, focusing on red varietals, John Tyler Wines crafted an elegant 2006 Zinfandel from their proprietary Bacigalupi Vineyards.
I would have expected to find more Zins served at this event, but was even more surprised at the atypical selection of Bordelaise varietals Merriam poured—not that their 2005 Windacre Merlot wasn’t an outstanding wine, as was their 2010 Willowside Sauvignon Blanc. Trione’s 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley struck me as equally impressive, while their 2007 Syrah Russian River Valley matched its intensity. Wrapping up my talley for the evening, host Thomas George again delivered with its 2008 Ulises Valdez Vineyard Syrah and dazzled with its 2009 Pinot Blanc Saralee’s Vineyard, a distinctive selection for this distinguished gathering.


Not meaning to slight the other wineries who poured at A Single Night, but brevity demands I truncate my review and move onto my most recent foray. A whirlwind celebration of wine, food and art, Artisano focused on handcrafted, small production labels from the North Coast, though the preponderance of participating wineries heralded from Sonoma, as well. Many were well-familiar, but a handful new to Sostevinobile. Nearly all had at least one wine that, as above, made the proverbial honor roll.
A quartet of the wines scored at stratospheric levels—these I will assay at the conclusion of my review. To commence at the same tier (summa cum) where my evaluations for A Single Night began, I found myself reveling in the 2009 Zinfandel Alexander Valley’s William Gordon Winery showcased. Across the patio, Paul Mathew’s major opus turned out to be his 2008 TnT Vineyard Pinot Noir. A new label from Ferrari-Carano (which also owns Santa Rosa’s Vintners Inn that hosted this gathering), PreVail transcended the garishness of their other endeavors and impressed with their 2006 Back Forty, an elegantly textured Cabernet Sauvignon.
In addition to its coveted buttons, Pech Merle poured a wide array of their wines, prominently featuring the 2009 Russian River Valley Chardonnay winemaker John Pepe crafted. Steve Domenichelli dazzled with his 2007 Zinfandel, one of but two wines his boutique operation produces. At a nearby table, my friend from Mendocino, John Chiarito, returned with his trailblazing Sicilian transplant, the 2009 Nero d’Avola and an outstanding 2009 Estate Zinfandel. Also charting comparable territory was Cartograph, with their 2009 Floodgate Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Bill and Betsy Nachbaur finally accorded me a taste of their marvelous 2008 Dolcetto at a private visit to Acorn following Artisano, but here they most impressed with their 2008 Heritage Vines Zinfandel from their Alegría Vineyard. Somewhat paradoxically, Vince Ciolino of Montemaggiore produces no Italian varietals, despite a meticulous approach and organic practices that bespeak a Tuscan æsthetic; nevertheless, his 2007 Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah proved redolent of his Sicilian forbearers.
Although De Novo made a striking impression with their 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino County,
it proved only their second best wine of the afternoon. Similarly, I
will briefly gloss over the choicest revelation from Old World Winery in
favor of their alluringly floral 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Bon Tempe. Also showing spectacularly with its whites, Cloverdale’s Icaria soared to new heights with its 2010 Estate Chardonnay.
When well-crafted, Viognier can reveal an incomparable varietal, as exemplified here by Stark Wine of Dry Creek’s 2009 Viognier Damiano Vineyard, which matched this pinnacle with a sister Rhône bottling, the 2009 Syrah Eaglepoint Vineyard. Ulises Valdez, whose vineyards furnished Syrah for Thomas George, here showed his own deft touch for œnology with the 2008 Silver Eagle Syrah and a Rockpile standout, the 2008 Botticelli Zinfandel.
Respite flourished with their red bottling, 2008 Antics Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley. Also from Geyserville, Munselle Vineyards enticed with a pair of superb bottlings, the 2006 Coyote Crest Cabernet Sauvignon and the equally compelling 2008 Zinfandel Osborn Ranch. The award for consistency, however, undoubtedly belonged to Miro Cellars, with all five of their selections garnering this premium score: the 2009 Windsor Oak Vineyard Pinot Noir, the 2010 Grist Vineyard Zinfandel, from atop Pride Mountain, the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, winemaker Miroslav Tcholakov’s signature 2010 Piccetti Vineyard Petite Sirah, and the 2010 Cuvée Sasha, a Grenache masterfully blended with 19% Mourvèdre and 6% Syrah.
Garnering middle honors, William Gordon returned with a 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Personen Vineyard, a wine that portends to blossom in the next 5-7 years. Paul Mathew featured two more Pinots, his 2008 Horseshoe Bend Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2008 Ruxton Vineyard Pinot Noir. And again, Prevail prevailed with the 2006 West Face, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with 36% Syrah.
Both Pech Merle’s new 2009 Merlot and Domenichelli’s 2007 Magnificent 7 Petite Sirah offered vastly compelling wines, as was Chiarito’s other Italian rarity, the 2009 Negroamaro. I especially delighted in Acorn’s 2008 Cabernet Franc Alegría Vineyard, while relishing the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon De Novo provided.
Three wonderful Sauvignon Blancs came from Simoncini, newly releasing their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc; Alexander Valley’s Reynoso, with their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc; and the “we don’t make Chardonnay” offshoot of famed grower Robert Young, Kelley & Young, who poured their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc. Captûre also poured a top-flight 2010 Tradition Sauvignon Blanc and matched it with their 2010 Ma Vie Carol Chardonnay, while my friends Jim and Christina Landy impressed with their 2009 Chardonnay Russian River Valley.

I deliberately maintain my ignorance when it comes to comprehending derivatives and other vehicles of the options market—such contrivances just seem antithetical to everything Sostevinobile espouses, so terminology like the trading positions known as Long Gamma seems rather oblique to me; nonetheless, the accomplished winery bearing same name produced an excellent wine with little statistical deviation, the 2007 Red, a Zinfandel blended with 25% Syrah and 5% Petite Sirah. Montemaggiore countered with their 2005 Nobile, a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon with 36% Syrah. And natural wine proponents Arnot-Roberts hedged their bets with their unequivocal 2009 Syrah Griffin’s Lair Vineyard.
At Artisano’s cum laude level, a variety of different wines offered compelling tastings. Again, William Gordon impressed with their 2009 Petit Verdot. Paralleling his red Burgundians, Paul Mathew featured a rich 2010 Dutton Ranch Chardonnay. Musetta’s 2009 Zinfandel handily made the grade, as did the 2008 Landy Zinfandel from Valdez.

Other standout Zins included De Novo’s 2006 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley, the 2008 Estate Zinfandel from Simoncini, and Saini’s 2008 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley. Pech Merle impressed with both its 2009 Dry Creek Zinfandel and the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, while Anderson Valley’s Foursight paired their 2009 Charles Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc and a delightful 2009 Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir.

I happily cottoned to the 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Landy poured, then wrapped up this segment with an wide array of varietals and blends, starting with the 2010 Kathleen Rose from Kelley & Young, a Bordeaux-style rosé crafted from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. Captûre’s 2009 Harmonie combined the same complement of varietals (sans Malbec) for a captivating Meritage, while Montemaggiore’s 2010 3 Divas blended the classic Rhône white tercet: Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier.

Rounding out this level, I found the 2010 Floodgate Vineyard Gewürztraminer Cartograph poured a most refreshing contrast, and had little trouble regaling in the 2008 Shadrach Chardonnay from Munselle. As always, the 2008 Sangiovese Alegría Vineyard Acorn served up proved most impressive; so, too, was the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Kenny Kahn’s Blue Rock.

As alluded above, four wines poured here achieved rarefied stature—ΦΒΚ, so to speak. Winemaker Justin Miller’s Garden Creek showcased an amazing rendition of their Meritage, the 2005 Tesserae, which, unlike its predecessors, could not be fully classified as a Cabernet—rather, a true Bordeaux mosaic of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, and 20% Cabernet Franc. All in all, an amazing Alexander Valley vintage.
De Novo’s best effort turned out to be another Burgundian, their 2008 Pinot Noir Bennett Valley, a spectacularly rich rendition of this subtle varietal. At the same threshold, Old World Winery floored me with their new 2009 Abourious Russian River Valley (little wonder, with a wine this lush, why Darek chose to pluralize the varietal). His previous endeavor with Abouriou, also known as Early Burgundy, the 2008 Fulton Foderol, was actually a blend with Zinfandel that masked much of its character; here, the unfettered expression seemed nothing short of glorious.
Finally, I must bestow my all-too-rarely accorded to Skipstone for their flawless 2008 Oliver’s Blend, a Cabernet Sauvignon rounded with a mere 4% Cabernet Franc. Wines like this can only cement Alexander Valley’s richly deserved reputation, along with Napa Valley and Washington’s Red Mountain as worthy rivals to Bordeaux (I think it’s still a safe bet we can rule out Ningxia from this category).
As with A Single Night, I intend no offense toward those wineries that generously shared their best efforts at Artisano but have been bypassed here for the sake of (relative) brevity. My goal of timeliness is another matter entirely, remaining ever elusive as I struggle to balance not only the competing demands I face in turning Sostevinobile into a working reality, source funding for COMUNALE, and negotiate contracts for my SmartPhone development, ResCue (the acquisition of which could easily provide the wherewithal to launch my empassioned wine ventures). And so, as we close down the annus horribilis that was 2011, my New Year’s pledge to my steady readership here is to bring you my wine findings at on a regular, steady, and timely basis in 2012.
And if you bring a copy of this pledge to our wine bar, the first glass will be on me…

Discoveries 2011½

If Ernest Hemingway hadn’t existed, some high school English teacher would have had to invent him. And maybe one did. Think about it for a moment: imagine having to read and critique 40 or so 10th grade essays every week. Ponder what that might be like if students were exhorted to write like Pynchon. Or Laurence Sterne. Or—shudder—James Joyce.

At the quaint New England institute where Your West Coast Oenophile was incarcerated during his formative years, the author I most idolized was Thomas Love Peacock, whose parlor novels satirized the Romantic poets and other luminaries of 19th century Great Britain. Granted, those among my schoolmates who were fifth- or sixth-generation Hotchkiss legacies showed a pronounced predilection for F. Scott Fitzgerald, but the virtues of such works as A Farewell to Arms and The Old Man and the Sea were rarely extolled as paragons of emulative composition.

Perhaps if they had been, I might now be able to contain my entries for Sostevinobile to a concise 750 words, instead of the opus interminatum each one of these postings turns out to be. Allora! After three years grinding my fingertips on a Mac keyboard, I am still trying.

My overdue reports on these rounds of tastings started with a long overdue event, a Paso Robles trade tasting in San Francisco. The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance had previously sponsored an intimate though curiously situated tasting amid the leading venture capital firms on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, an enclave where substance tends to be measured more in bytes than in brix. Here, amid the more familiar environs of the Presidio, the Golden Gate Club offered Trade and Media an intimate tasting before holding its oversold public event, the 2nd Annual Lamb Jam, a pairing of lamb with an array of wines from this Central Coast stronghold.

Yet there was nothing sheepish about the wines themselves, as my introduction to Bianchi, the masculine plural of the attributive terminus of my surname (but no familial relation) quickly showed. Tanto peggio per me, it would have been nice to qualify for the Friends & Family discount on their 2008 Moscato, a delightfully sweet wine with kumquat overtures, and their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles, a varietal rounded with 2.3% Syrah (a blend quite prevalent in Paso). Their most intriguing wine, the 2008 Zinfandel, consisted not only of 3% Syrah, but a 2% touch of Royalty, a varietal I not encountered before.

Another revelation, Riverstar, offered a diverse range of wines that also reflected the staunchly independent spirit of the AVA. Wines like the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2007 Syrah, and even the 2009 Vintner’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon presented straightforward expressions of their single varietals, but the winery’s truest creative expression manifest itself in the NV Sunset Red, an uncommon blend of equal proportions of Merlot and Syrah. And while I also greatly enjoyed the Twilight Vintners Reserve, a non-vintage Port-style wine, my true affinity, coincidentally, was for the 2007 Affinity, an artful blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with 20% Zinfandel.

After twilight, of course, comes Midnight Cellars, an astrological endeavor from Rich Hartenberger that. somewhat ironically, leaves nothing about their wines in the dark. I know of no other winery, including the ultraspecific wine labels from Ridge, that lists not only the volume of alcohol and the percentage of residual sugar, but also the pH and “titratable acidity” for each of their wines (even with a strong background in chemistry, I have no idea what the distinction between these latter two measurements means). Certainly this winery’s expression of straight varietals, like their 2010 Estate Chardonnay and the 2007 Estate Zinfandel, proved more than admirable, but it would not be overstatement to say they reached for the stars (and came rather proximate) with both the 2007 Nebula, a Cabernet Sauvignon rounded with Malbec and Merlot and their standout, the 2007 Mare Nectaris, a Merlot-dominant Bordeaux blend balancing 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Malbec, and 12% each of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Ironically, with all the precision of their labels, the 2008 Full Moon lists itself merely as a red blend (with pH: 3.67 and titratable acidity: 0.625); nonetheless, an eminently approachable wine!

I didn’t think to ask whether Kim & Jeff Steele of Roxo Port Cellars were related to Shoo
ting Star
’s Jed Steele, but their meticulous approach to producing authentic Metodo Portugues fortified wine certainly belies a strong kindred spirit. Their 2007 Magia Preta proved a more than interesting variant on the 50/50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah so prevalent in Paso, while even more delightful was the 2007 Paso Mélange, a Port-style blend of 71% Cabernet Franc with 22% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Petit Verdot. Best, though, inarguably had to have been the 2007 Ruby Tradicional, a traditional blend of 34% Souzão, 25% Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), 18% Touriga Nacional, 15% Tinta Cão, and 8% Bastardo.

Having begun this post with a literary riff, I can be forgiven for presupposing Steinbeck Vineyards had ties to the famed Central Coast chronicler and author of Grapes of Wrath. Despite my erroneous assumption, the wines proved as rich and complex as any of John Steinbeck’s literary opera. The superb 2008 Viognier set the tone for this lineup. Other equally compelling single varietal bottlings included the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2007 Petite Sirah, and a wondrous 2007 Zinfandel. Even more compelling, however, was Steinbeck’s 2006 The Crash, an atypical blend of these four grapes, along with the 2007 Voice, a 2:1 mix of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah.

Twenty-nine other wineries featured their diverse vintages this particular afternoon, and it is by no means a disparagement not to detail each here, along with the panoply of wines they offered. Certainly, I have covered each of these ventures numerous times in this blog, but, in the interest of (relative for me) brevity, I am electing now only to highlight the premium echelon of these selections, starting with the 2008 Version from Adelaida, a Mourvèdre-focused GMS blend balanced with 9% Counoise.

No overlap in the blended varietals could be found in Ancient Peaks2008 Oyster Ridge, a Meritage composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Petite Sirah. Cypher Winery pulled no punches in labeling its Zinfandel/Mourvèdre/Syrah blend the 2008 Anarchy, but I can only defer to their own description of the dodecahedron known as the 2008 Louis Cypher: 15% Teroldego, 14% Petit Verdot, 13% Souzão, 13% Petite Sirah, 9% Carignane, 9% Alicante Bouschet, 6% Syrah, 5% Tinta Cão, 5% Tinta Roriz, 5% Tannat, 4% Touriga Nacional, 2% Zinfandel = 100% Seduction! Even if they did forget the Touriga Francesa…

I’d be dishonest if I didn’t concede that the true pleasure of Derby Wine is the chance to revisit with Katie Kanpantha, but their standout vintage had to have been the 2007 Reserve Pinot Noir Derbyshire Vineyard from San Simeon, the home of Hearst Castle. And it seemed only fitting that San Simeon would also feature the Hearst Ranch Winery, whose Rhône selections stood out among its eclectic choice of varietals. In particular, the 2008 Three Sisters Cuvée, a straightforward Syrah/Grenache/Mourvèdre blend outshone such curious nomenclature as Chileano, Babicora, and Bunkhouse—all of which beg the question: why not Rosebud?

Always a prominent presence at events where they pour, Paso’s Halter Ranch truly excelled with a pair of their wines, the 2008 Syrah, rounded with Mourvèdre, Viognier, and, uncharacteristically (for a Rhône blend), Malbec. Esoteric, but in proper keeping with the genre, their stellar 2008 Côtes de Paso added both Cinsault and Counoise to the standard GSM composition. Another of Paso’s revered wineries, Justin, must be finding itself in quite the conundrum, its overt commitment to sustainability in stark contrast with new owner Stewart Resnick’s other signature venture, Fiji Water. Nevertheless, Justin’s iconic Meritage, the 2008 Isosceles, proved itself worthy of the myriad accolades it has received.

My friends at L’Aventure managed to garner a Sostevinobile trifecta here, impressing across the board with their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2008 Côte à Côte (their GMS blend), and the crossbreed, the 2008 Estate Cuvée, a mélange of 50% Syrah, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 14% Petit Verdot. Despite its insistence on lower -case lettering, kukkula once again proved there is nothing diminutive about its œnology, excelling with its own Syrah-dominant GMS, the 2009 sisu, and the Mourvèdre-less 2009 pas de deux.

One of the afternoon’s most striking wines came from Ortman Family Vineyards: the utterly delectable 2007 Petite Sirah Wittstrom Vineyard. Meanwhile, the Rhône virtuosos at Tablas Creek veered beyond their forte and produced a stunning 2010 Vermentino.

But Paso will always remain the realm of Syrah and Roussanne, Tannat and Viognier, Grenache and Picpoul Blanc, Picpoul and Grenache Blanc, with a wide smattering of Bordeaux, Spanish, Italian and local varietals thrown into the mix. Whether its the joyous blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault Terry Hoage bottles as their 2008 5 Blocks Cuvée or the Shel Silverstein-ish GMZ blend, Thacher’s 2008 Controlled Chaos (42% Mourvèdre, 35% Zinfandel, 23% Grenache), California’s largest and most diversified AVA continues to delight with its unfettered approach to winemaking.


Ah, if only my own writing could possibly be fettered! I keep trying to keep things here succinct, and yet…

I seem to be going backwards, not forward. I should have completed my June notes æons ago, but somehow I let the reformulated Pinot Days slip through the cracks. Nonetheless, I need only remind my readers (as well as myself) that the primary purpose of this blog is to share all the wondrous wines that I sample—at least until I am able to have them actually poured for my readers’ delectation!

After such strong showings across California and Oregon for both the 2007 and 2008 Pinot vintages, the tendency might have been to expect a letdown in 2009. Among those who would prove to the contrary was Ed Kurtzman’s August West, dazzling with its 2009 Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir. And if my trepidation needed further debunking, Wes Hagen generously featured a five-year vertical of his Clos Pepe Pinot Noir. My preference ran to the unheralded 2005 Estate Pinot Noir, a wine that completely withstood the test of time, as well as the benchmark 2007 vintage. But the much younger 2009 bottling held its own against these, portending, with further aging, to equal or excel its predecessors. And though I was less sanguine about both the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir Rosé and the 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Brut Rosé, the contrast came as extremely welcome.



Not to be confused with Justin Harmon—Justin Herman Plaza

Command of a sesquipedalian vocabulary is usually my forte, but sometimes I confuse simpler terminologies, like ingot with argot. Ingot, of course,refers to the rounded, rectangular die cut of gold that, had more investors acquired a few years back, would have eased my struggles to finance Sostevinobile. Argot, on the other hand, is Justin Harmon’s Sonoma wine venture, with a penchant for whimsical labels and even sounder œnology. His 2009 Over the Moon displayed touches of elegance, while the 2009 The Fence proved a far more structured Pinot Noir. Most alluring, however, was his clandestine pour of his 2009 Happenstance, an uncommon blend of Roussanne and Chardonnay.

In the same orbit, Lompoc’s Hilliard Bruce contrasted their estate bottlings, the 2009 Pinot Noir Moon with the slightly preferable 2009 Pinot Noir Sun, while adding a 2009 Chardonnay for good measure. ADS Wines, which seems to change its corporate identity every time I encounter one of their ventures, added to this lunacy with their 2007 Howling Moon Pinot Noir, along with their similarly lackluster 2007 Silver Peak and 2009 Odd Lot bottlings.
Basically, I had a dual agenda this afternoon—first, as always, to connect with the wineries that were either new to Sostevinobile, like Aeshna, or that I had previously bypassed at other events because of time constraints (or inadvertently), like Arcadian. To the best of my knowledge, the former has never participated in the numerous Santa Cruz Mountain Winegrowers Association events, nor in the sundry Pinot-focused tastings held each year; named for the dragonfly genus that is part of the Odonata order (coincidentally, the name for another notable Santa Cruz Mountain winery that produces Chardonnay, Malbec, Durif, Syrah, and Grenache), this single-vineyard-focused venture debuted here with six distinctive bottlings, headlined by an exceptional 2008 Pinot Noir Two Pisces and the 2007 Pinot Noir Split Rock,
both grown on the Sonoma Coast. Meanwhile, Solvang’s Arcadian
contrasted two 2007 bottlings with a pair from 2005, the most
distinctive being its 2007 Pisoni Pinot Noir.
 

Among other previously overlooked labels, Napa’s Elkhorn Peak Cellars comported itself admirably with their 2008 Pinot Noir Rosé, as well an acceptable 2007 Estate Napa Valley Pinot Noir. Sebastopol’s Fog Crest Vineyard shone through the mist with both their 2009 Estate Bottled Pinot Noir and the splendid 2009 Laguna West Pinot Noir.

Newcomers this afternoon included Los Angeles-based Inception Wines, with a splendid 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County they surreptitiously counterbalanced with an even-keeled 2009 Chardonnay Santa Barbara County. Miracle One may be better known for its Bluebird Wine-in-a-Pouch; nonetheless, their 2008 Carneros Pinot Noir Truchard Vineyard offered a well-structured bottled varietal. Sebastopol’s Sandole Wines debuted here with a most impressive 2009 Oehlman Ranch Pinot Noir, while Windsor’s Joseph Jewell, a familiar pourer at other affairs, showcased a trio of Pinots: the 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, the 2009 Pinot Noir Floodgate Vineyard, and the utterly superb 2008 Pinot Noir Elk Prairie Vineyard from the verdant confines of Humboldt County.
While certain reactionary elements will claim that partaking in Humboldt’s most popular “substance” leads to hardered addictions, it is only coincidence that I transitioned next to Poppy, not the opiate-bearing bud but the King City viticultural venture out of Monterey Wine Country’s custom crush operations, here featuring a surprisingly good 2009 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands and an even better 2009 Pinot Noir Monterey County. At its neighboring table, Santa Maria’s Presqu’ile shared an equally striking 2009 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley and their estate grown 2009 Pinot Noir Presqu’ile Vineyard, along with one of the afternoon’s most appealing pink efforts, the 2010 Rosé of Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley.

My other principal target here was to connect with the broad representation of Oregon wineries, both new to Pinot Days and old hands, as exploration of this enormous swath of AVAs does not present itself as readily as my frequent jaunts to the wineries in a 100-mile radius of San Francisco. First up was the deceptively simple-sounding Big Table Farm out of Gaston; their 2009 Pinot Noir Resonance Vineyard (Yamhill-Carlton AVA) proved an elegant entrée to this segment of my tasting. Another epiphany here came from the more mellifluously named Carabella Vineyard from the Chehalem Mountains AVA, dazzling with their 2008 Inchinnan Pinot Noir and proving more than correct with their 2008 Pinot Noir Mistake Block.

Ironic labeling seems to abound north of the state line, as witnessed by the wholly appealing 2009 Provocateur, a J. K. Carriere-crafted wine that overshadowed its more generically named 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Nor I could detect any ambiguity in the wines from Monks Gate Vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, a single varietal endeavor that contrasted its 2007 Pinot Noir with a more robust 2008 Pinot Noir.

Part of my impetus in selecting the architects who will render the design for Sostevinobile was their work on Sokol Blosser, the first winery to receive LEED certification, but until this Pinot Days, I had not had the opportunity to sample their Dundee Hills wines. My consensus: I could easily sustain myself with both the 2008 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir and the special bottling of the 2008 Cuvée Pinot Noir. Another Dundee Hills winery that has achieved Gold LEED Certification, Dayton’s Stoller Vineyards focuses exclusively on the Burgundian varietals (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay), represented here by a disparate contrast between the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir and their superb 2007 Estate Pinot Noir.
Dundee’s twinless Lange Estate Winery produced a triplet from their inventory of seven distinct Pinots, beginning with their generic 2009 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley. The 2009 Pinot Noir Reserve proved incrementally better, but principal kudos belonged to their standout, the 2008 Pinot Noir Three Hills Cuvée. Similarly, White Rose showcased their 2009 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir alongside their 2008 Dundee Hills AVA Pinot Noir and a somewhat lackluster 2008 Estate Pinot Noir.
It would have been most interesting to try the Hand Picked Pinot Noir, as well as the Whole Cluster Pinot Noir White Rose produces, but these wines were not made available here. On the other hand, I was underwhelmed by the 2010 Whole Clust
er Pinot Noir
Willamette Valley Vineyards presented (perhaps, in time, this jejune wine will finds its expression); their 2008 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley and the 2008 Pinot Noir Estate Willamette Valley mitigated tremendously, while the 2009 Pinot Gris proved a welcome contrast to the red orthodoxy of the afternoon. So, too, did Dundee’s Winderlea, with its crisp 2008 Chardonnay, blended from 50% Carabella Vineyard (Chehalem Mountain AVA) and 50% Hyland Vineyard (McMinnville AVA) fruit. Equally impressive—their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir, while their eponymous 2008 Pinot Noir offered much to admire.
My friend Craig Camp seems ubiquitous these days, but I was pleased to sample the 2009 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from his Cornerstone Cellars Oregon. Other familiar Oregonians here included Domaine Serene, splendiferous as ever with their 2008 Jerusalem Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir and the exquisite 2007 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir. Dusky Goose, a name I’ve never quite fathomed but still enjoy, featured a three year vertical, starting with their 2006 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, a somewhat tepid bottling compared to the exceptional 2007 and 2008 vintages.

Out of Newberg, Raptor Ridge sounds more like a vineyard that might have flourished on Isla Nublar (Jurassic Park), but, like Dusky Goose, its name is ornithological, its flavors, unmistakably Oregonian. Both the four vineyard blend that comprised its 2009 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley and its 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir, a six vineyard mix, flourished at this stage. And Le Cadeau, though not blending such a diverse range of fruit, still gifted attendees with six distinct bottlings: two from 2008 and four from the ensuing vintage. Of the former, both the 2009 Côte Est Pinot Noir proved a formidable entry-level selection, while the 2008 Aubichon Pinot Noir Reserve, Le Cadeau’s second label. showed every bit its equal. The 2009 vintage excelled across the board, with the 2009 Aubichon Pinot Noir Reserve, the 2009 Diversité Pinot Noir, and the 2009 Équinoxe Pinot Noir all enormously impressive; the “champion,” however, had to have been the 2009 Rocheux Pinot Noir, crafted by winemaker Jim Sanders, Le Cadeau partner in Aubichon.
With that, I had one more Oregon house to sample before completing my predetermined agenda. A couple of years ago, I did report on the delightful 2007 Pinot Gris Dundee Hills’ Torii Mor had produced, so was happy to revisit with them and sample both the 2007 Olson Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir and the 2008 Chehalem Mountain Select Pinot Noir (maybe I’ll get to try their Pinot Blanc at our next encounter).
Technically, I suppose all varietals prefaced as Pinot ought to be fair fare for Pinot Days, including the semi-archaic “Pinot Chardonnay” (genealogists at UC Davis have determined that Chardonnay resulted from a cross between the proximate plantings of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc in Burgundy). Though an essential component in Champagne, Pinot Meunier rarely finds expression as a distinct varietal, a notable exception being La Follette’s striking 2009 Van der Kamp Pinot Meunier. While I found the 2008 Van der Kamp Pinot Noir a notch below its cousin, both the 2009 Sangiacomo Pinot Noir and the 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir equaled its prowess.
Its remote perch in Oregon House has neither proximity nor correlation to California’s northerly neighbor; still, natural wine proponent Gideon Beinstock’s Clos Saron brought out a decidedly mixed collection of his Pinots, with the perfunctory 2009 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard contrasting dramatically with its predecessor, the more elegant 2000 Pinot Noir Home Vineyard, while the 2005 Pinot Noir Texas Hill demonstrated how truly superb a natural wine can be when it hits its mark. Another vintner with deep French roots, De Novo Wines’ Hervé Bruckert showed greater consistency and an incremental increase in quality from his 2007 Pinot Noir Mendocino County to the 2008 Pinot Noir Bennett Valley to his delightful non-Pinot, the 2009 Bastille, a Right Bank-style Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc.
CRŪ is not Vineyard 29’s Cru in St. Helena, but nonetheless this Madera vintner produced an impressive lineup with its 2009 Appellation Series Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, the 2008 Appellation Series Santa Mara Valley Pinot Noir, and an exceptional 2008 Vineyard Montage Central Coast Pinot Noir. St. Helena’s own Couloir introduced its own triple play, excelling with both the 2009 Pinot Noir Chileno Valley (Marin) and the 2009 Pinot Noir Monument Tree (Mendocino), followed closely by their second label, the 2009 Straight Line Pinot Noir.
One of Mendocino’s most revered ventures, Londer Vineyards, held true to its reputation with a stellar array of wines from their 2007 vintage, starting with more generic 2009 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. As always, both the 2007 Estate Valley Pinot Noir and the 2007 Ferrington Pinot Noir soared with intense flavor, but perhaps the best wine of the afternoon had to have been the 2007 Paraboll Pinot Noir, an effusion of delights. Slightly below Philo, Santa Rosa’s Lattanzio Wines, an understated yet accomplished winery cum custom crush facility in Santa Rosa, hit a zenith with the 2008 Pinot Noir W. E. Bottoms Vineyard and its 2009 successor; even more compelling was their 2009 Pinot Noir Manchester Ridge Vineyard, a name that begs no punning.
My other nomination for this tasting’s Palme d’Or most assuredly belonged to my friend Hank Skewis, whose 2008 Peters Vineyard Sonoma Coast drank like a wine thrice its price. Slightly overshadowed by this monumental bottling, yet every bit as prodigious, were his 2008 Pinot Noir, Montgomery Vineyard Russian River Valley, 2008 Pinot Noir North Coast Cuvée, and the 2008 Pinot Noir Peters Vineyard Sonoma Coast. Nearby in Sebastopol, Small Vines impressed me once again with their Pinot trio: the 2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, the 2009 Baranoff Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, and, most notably, the 2009 MK Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Meanwhile, heir neighbors at Suacci Carciere snuck in another “illicit” diversion for the afternoon, their 2008 Chardonnay Heintz Vineyard (somehow I managed to miss their always appreciated Pinot selections).
Nearly every AVA provides a distinct pocket for Pinot, as exhibited by Belle Glos’ Meiomi, with its authoritative 2009 Meiomi Pinot Noir, a blend of fruit from Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara. Heron Lake’s Olivia Brion is nestled in Wild Horse Valley, a semi-obscure AVA that straddles Napa and Sonoma; here their 2008 Pinot Noir Heron Lake Vineyard made its presence known with quiet aplomb. And San Rafael’s Peter Paul Winery offered its excellent 2009 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Mill Station Road.
Winding down for the afternoon, I resampled Ray Franscioni’s 2007 Puma Road Pinot Noir Black Mountain Vineyard before cooling down with his delightful 2009 Puma Road Pinot Gris Black Mountain Vineyard. My final stop turned out to be the East Bay’s highly vaunted Stomping Girl, which rounded out the afternoon with two superb vintages: the 2009 Pinot Noir Lauterbach Hill from Sonoma (Russian River Valley) and their equally wondrous 2009 Pinot Noir Beresini Vineyard from Napa Valley (Carneros).

No slight intended to the many, many other wineries I failed to include here—with 179 labels on hand for this event, I couldn’t possibly sample and cover all. Add to that the fact that I am behind close to 179 wine tastings I’ve attended on behalf of this blog, and can there be little wonder that I have the stamina to make it through any of what Sostevinobile has promised to cover? But soldier on I do, and perhaps I will even record all of 2011 events in 2011 (of course, restricting my entries to under 4,000 words would expedite matters tremendously).
In closing, I would b
e remiss in not thanking Steve and Lisa Rigisch for revamping their Pinot Days format after the debacle of 2010’s non-contiguous affair. The reversion to a single day’s Grand Tasting with overlapping trade and public sessions made accessing so many of the wineries vastly easier, and I am honestly looking forward to 2012’s celebration.

22 bottles of wine on the wall, 22 bottles of wine…

Seven down, two to go. And even with this pithy approach to succinct (for me) postings, Your West Coast Oenophile has barely made a dent in the backlog of chronicles to which Sostevinobile has committed. “It’s all about the wine,” I keep telling myself. “The wine has no time frame…”

22) Earlier in this series, I offered a few observations about the diminishing attendance at industry tastings in San Francisco, including Rosé Avengers & Producers’ annual PINK OUT SF!. Though I am finding the continued attrition of both attendees and participating wineries at these industry tastings increasingly disconcerting, I would be remiss in not acknowledging my discovery here of Paradise View, a Sonoma Coast winery producing an international potpourri varietals, including Arneis, Albariño, Malbec, Roussanne, and Lemberger (or Blaüfrankish, if you prefer). Despite its unspecified varietal identity, the 2008 Rosé poured here furnished an impressive introduction to this skilled, eclectic venture.

21) This is the age at which I arrived in California, with a freshly-minted Dartmouth diploma stashed somewhere amid my worldly possessions, which fit snugly in the rear of a 1978 Dodge Omni. At the time, the only California wineries I could name were Gallo, Sebastiani, Paul Masson, Almaden, and Inglenook. Today, my Rolodex is approaching 2,500 distinct labels, with new discoveries almost daily—even in pockets where I thought my knowledge was comprehensive. Case in point—although I have covered individual wineries and at least a dozen tastings for the Santa Cruz Mountains Winery Association, I had not encountered Villa del Monte until the most recent South Bay Trade tasting at The International Culinary Center in Campbell. My reaction to their focused 2009 Reserve Pinot Noir Regan Vineyard? Where have you guys been hiding?

Speaking of hiding, I must commend the Culinary Center for coming out this year from behind their glass-enclosed culinary lab and catering the tasting this year. Recalling how excruciating it had been last year, when we had to shuttle between two tasting rooms and content ourselves to stare longingly at their amazing feats of gastronomy through impermeable glass displays, I had scheduled a luncheon meeting beforehand with Lathrop Engineering to architect my design for a low-cost nitrogen preservation system for Sostevinobile’s wines. Oh well! I never claimed foresight to be my forte!

20) I’ve registered www.sostevinobile.net to be deployed as an extranet, once we are ready to start taking orders. The goal is to allow every winery and producing label in California, Washington, and Oregon who can meet Sostevinobile’s criteria for sustainability to access and manage their own information in our database. When that day does come, my first order of business will be to hire a Filemaker programmer to build this platform for us. In the meantime, I am compelled to enter each winery I encounter into a very rudimentary data file, and, like everything else, I frequently fall way behind in this responsibility with all I compelled to handle.

As such, I failed to realize that I had already visited with Paradise View when I retasted them at T.A.P.A.S. a few weeks later. No similar confusion, however, with Acampo’s Riaza Wines, an indisputably new discovery that came close to flooring me with their knockout 2008 Tempranillo Amador County.

19) It was extremely hard for me to assess the success of the T.A.P.A.S. Grand Wine Tasting. Last year, the somewhat thin crowd coul
d be attributed to the unforeseen change of venue when Crushpad, which had committed to host the event, suddenly pulled up stakes and relocated to Napa; that same day, SF Vintners Market held its event in Fort Mason, as well, while the nearby Union Street Festival commandeered nearly every available parking slots in the Marina. This year again, the street fair wreaked havoc with the local traffic, while the crowd inside Herbst Pavilion seemed just as sparse.

T.A.P.A.S., of course, is still very much a nascent undertaking, and, to be honest, 44 participating wineries does not warrant so cavernous a space. Nonetheless, I can’t gauge whether this event is gaining traction, declining, or simply maintaining its status quo. Over the past couple of years, I have become increasingly concerned over the attrition of attendance at nearly all the major tastings, hoping it is not a harbinger for the state of the wine industry itself nor, circumspectly, for Sostevinobile. Now I have even greater reasons for wanting to see groups like T.A.P.A.S. and Rhône Rangers thrive, as I am heading an effort to resurrect a similar organization for West Coast producers of Italian varietals. Look for an announcement about Risorgimento in an upcoming entry.

Of course, part of the pleasure of T.A.P.A.S. is simply the effort I must put in to make sure I have the correct orthography for the sundry Spanish and Portuguese varietals I taste my way through. And just when I think I’ve got a handle on every Tinta and Touriga out there, along comes Ron Silva, adding yet another indecipherable grape to the list! Still, the barrel sample of the 2010 Trincadeira his Alta Mesa Cellars provided proved a most delectable discovery.

18) Marie Antoinette Nichelini-Irwin had introduced me to Sauvignon Vert, a varietal I thought I had never tried until I learned it was the same grape as Tocai Friulano (as I am all too fond of saying, sempre i francese imitano gl’italiani). After Toni died last year, I thought that Irwin Family Vineyards might have been her legacy, but there is no correlation. This first generation endeavor made an impressive introduction with their 2008 Tempranillo Piedra Rioja Block 22, their sole production.
17A first-time entry from Lodi was Jeremy Wine Company, a relatively new hand-selected boutique venture from industry veteran Jeremy Trettevik, focused on both Italian and Iberian varietals. Here, the 2010 Albariño Lodi proved an exceptional introduction to this notable endeavor.
16) My friend John Monnich of Silkwood Wines would take affront, but I am all-too-fond of denigrating wines from Modesto as being a front for Ernest & Julio. Another exception to this blanket generalization is Duarte Georgetown, whose exceptional 2008 Divide Tempranillo El Dorado proved every bit as alluring as its highly commendable 2007 vintage.
15) The next time I decide to get lost in Winters, the Yolo County hamlet juxtaposed between the Napa Valley and UC-Davis, I will make every effort to track down Turkovich Family Wines (provided I can finally get GPS service or AT&T cellular reception anywhere in these environs). Meanwhile, I can only content myself with their stellar array of wines, led by the exceptional 2009 Tempranillo Yolo County.

14) Readers here know how much I gushed over the Reserve Chardonnay from Jarvis this past spring. Here, their virtuoso winemaking continued, the results very nearly as impressive with their exceptional 2009 Tempranillo Napa Valley.

13) No surprise that I would offer glowing reviews for the wines Markus Bokisch produces. This time round, their game never been as on as with their 2008 Graciano Mokelumne River, easily the best vintage produced of their signature red varietal.
12) Introducing Markus and his wife Liz to Matthew Rorick felt like an inkling of what the late Tom Dowd must have felt pairing Eric Clapton and Duane Allman. Hyperbolic praise? Not if you had sampled Forlorn Hope’s 2006 Mil Amores, yet another truly astounding blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cão, Tinta Amarella, and Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo).

Más a venir, even with less than a dozen bottles left…

Quō vadis, kemosabē?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wine was terrific. The food was offal.

Readers here realize that Sostevinobile will offer a vastly different wine æsthetic than RN74, and given the subordinate role local wines play at this establishment, it’s a bit surprising to see them host trade association events in their vast antechamber. But a growing number of wineries, particularly Syrah and Pinot Noir producers, are falling within sommelier Rajat Parr’s strictures, and so, recently, this pioneering viticultural shrine has conducted a pair of truly excellent tastings that Your West Coast Oenophile has attended.

A few weeks back, San Francisco saw its first gathering of the Santa Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance. While this diverse collection of wineries has banded together for the past ten years, this tasting represented, to the best of my knowledge, their first collective foray outside their region. Among the 19 wineries on hand, several new faces were interspersed alongside a handful of familiars, but given the utterly manageable scope of the event, I was able to allot equal attention to all.

Sta. Rita Hills, of course, is Sideways territory, and so it made sense to commence with Hitching Post, where owner Gray Hartley poured a selection of—what else?—his Pinots. We started off with the 2006 Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard before settling into the more selective 2007 Pinot Noir Perfect Set, a barrel selection from their Fiddlestix fruit. The literally named 2007 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita’s Earth preceded his best selection, the lyrical 2006 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard

Of course, it was no surprise to find Peter Cargasacchi among this group. Under his eponymous label, he contrasted the rounded 2007 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard with the developing 2009 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard (I forget why he bypassed the 2008). From his Point Concepción label, he poured a striking interpretation of Pinot Grigio, the 2009 Celestina, a wine vinified by destemming the clusters and allowing them to cold soak on their own reddish-pink skins to extract greater flavor, as well as its pink/orange hue. Following this unconventional bottling, he capped his appearance with Cargasacchi’s compelling 2009 Late Harvest Pinot Grigio.
Demetria also presented an anomalous lineup that eschewed the 2008 vintage. Starting with their 2007 Eighteen Chardonnay Santa Rita Hills, this extraordinary bottling edged out its 2009 version. I preferred the 2007 Pinot Noir Cuvée Sandra to the 2007 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills, while finding both the 2009 Pinot Noir Cuvée Sandra to the 2009 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills, while finding both the quite exceptional. Conversely, Kessler-Haak poured only from their 2008 vintage, offering a likable 2008 Syrah Turner Vineyard, their estate 2008 Pinot Noir Kessler-Haak Vineyard, and the impressive 2008 Chardonnay Kessler-Haak Vineyard.

I would have expected less orthodoxy within this AVA, but, at least this afternoon, few other producers showed much outside the Chardonnay-Pinot Noir-Syrah triumvirate that predominates throughout the Central Coast. Fiddlehead Cellars did pour a 2010 Rosé of Pinot Noir before serving up their trio of traditional Pinots from their Fiddlestix Vineyard, starting with the 2007 Lollapalooza Pinot Noir. From the same vintage, the 2007 Seven Twenty Eight Pinot Noir proved notably superior, as did the 2005 Lollapalooza Pinot Noir.

Fiddlehead is one of the growing number of wineries that bifurcate their operations between California and Oregon. Siduri, similarly, produces wines in both states, but leaves its more experimental winemaking to their Novy label.
At RN74, no disappointment could be found with
2009 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills nor the 2009 Pinot Noir Clos Pepe Vineyard, yet both were eclipsed by the sensational 2009 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard. Just as enticing, the 2009 Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard from Pali Wine Company proved their best effort here, overshadowing their versions of both the 2009 Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard and its preceding vintage. Still, their 2009 Pinot Noir Huntington showed true individuality.

I’ve tried Dragonette at a number of different Pinot events, so was pleased to be able explore the diversity of their lineup here, starting with their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Santa Ynez Valley, one of three they produce from the Happy Canyon sub-sub-AVA. Moving on, their 2010 Rosé of Pinot Noir provided a superb transition to their red bottlings, including the 2009 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills and their distinctive 2009 Pinot Noir Hilliard Bruce Vineyard. To my taste, however, Dragonette showed most strongly with their Rhône vintages, the 2008 Syrah and the 2008 MJM, a profound Syrah blended with Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Viognier.

I am always fond of a good Viognier, and so it was extraordinary to discover Cold Heaven, a wine venture devoted to this oft-times fickle grape. Supremely complemented by the allure of winemaker Morgan Clendenen’s golden tresses, this lineup began with her 2009 Viognier Au Bon Climat, then followed by the 2009 Viognier Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. Of course, I had to admire a wine coyly called the 2009 Pinot Noir Never Tell, but Morgan’s forte proved to be the 2009 Late Harvest Viognier, an exceptional dessert wine.

D’Alfonso-Curran didn’t try to match Cold Heaven, but they comport themselves more than admirably with their 2009 Di Bruno Pinot Grigio from the same, acclaimed Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. Holding back their wines longer than most, they then presented a quartet of Pinots, starting with the 2006 Pinot Noir Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. I felt a bit tepid about the 2006 Pinot Noir Rancho Las Hermanas Vineyard, but truly cottoned to the 2006 Pinot Noir Rancho La Viña Vineyard. And it was wonderful to learn from Marketing Director Lisa Christensen that their euphonic 2006 BADGE Pinot Noir did indeed derive its name form the Cream classic.

It was good to meet noted vineyardist Wes Hagen and plow my way through the seven Clos Pepe wines he poured. First, he contrasted the austere 2009 Estate Chardonnay “Hommage to Chablis” with the luscious 2009 Estate Chardonnay Barrel Fermented. Demonstrating the longevity of his wines, he next poured the 2000 Estate Chardonnay, a wine showing remarkably well after 11 years. Wes’ Pinot selections showcased a disjointed vertical, with a young 2009 Estate Pinot Noir to start. I found the 2007 and 2006 vintages equivalent yet better, while being happily surprised to see the 2000 Estate Pinot Noir had aged so elegantly.

Seven wines in one stop meant I needed a dose of sustenance before moving on. Fortunately, RN74 put out a generous spread of salumi, including an addictive finocchiona (dry fennel sausage). What I mistook for a variant on head cheese turned out to be paté de compagne, a ground blend of pork and bacon. Very good, if not offal.

Back at the tasting stations, I brought myself next to Foley Family Wines’ table, where this burgeoning conglomerate served up a selection from a pair of its labels
. From
Lincourt, the 2009 Chardonnay Steel was delightful, the 2008 Pinot Noir Rancho Santa Rosa Vineyard even more so. Their home brand, Foley Estate, compared favorably with their own 2008 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills. With his Byron and Io labels now part of Jackson Family Wines, Santa Barbara pioneer Ken Brown showcased his eponymous line, starting with a 2009 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir. The 2008 Rancho La Viña Vineyard Pinot Noir proved an even more noteworthy expression, as did both the 2007 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir and the 2007 Clos Pepe Vineyard Pinot Noir.

A couple wineries that Sostevinobile had yet to cover proved fortuitous finds. At 18,000 cases, Gainey Vineyards qualifies as more than a boutique operations, yet both their 2009 Chardonnay and 2008 Limited Selection Pinot Noir showed handcrafted elegance. The tiny production of Gypsy Canyon (<200 cases) belies a sophistication both with their 2009 Pinot Noir and the non-vintage Ancient Vine Angelica Dona Marcelina’s Vineyard, a seductive dessert wine vinted from the historic Mission grapes originally planted in the AVA.

Longoria Wines offers quite a diverse portfolio of varietals and blends, so it seemed surprising that they only poured a selection of their Pinots here. Nonetheless, there was much to admire in their 2008 Pinot Noir Lovely Rita and the 2007 Pinot Noir Fe Ciega Vineyard, as well as the approachable 2008 Pinot Noir Rancho Santa Rosa. Others, like Zotovich, which grows Dolcetto and Barbera for Italian varietal specialists Palmina, showcased compelling bottlings of both their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir and 2008 Estate Syrah.

Sweeney Canyon is an understated, dry-farmed vineyard producing wines from its own fruit. Their 2008 Chardonnay Sweeney Canyon Vineyard preceded an even more extraordinary 2006 Chardonnay Sweeney Canyon Vineyard, while the 2007 Pinot Noir Sweeney Canyon Vineyard proved slightly preferable to the 2008 Pinot Noir Sweeney Canyon Vineyard. Completing this tasting, Kenneth-Crawford Wines scored across-the-board excellence with 2007 Pinot Noir Turner Vineyard and the 2006 Syrah Lafond Vineyard, then ratcheted things up a notch with both the 2008 Pinot Noir Babcock Vineyard and the 2006 Syrah Turner Vineyard.

I must tip my hat to RN74 for this splendid gathering. Great wine, delicious house-cured meats, and a cozy, manageable setting. Just the kind of industry tasting Sostevinobile will strive to host in the near future.


A couple of weeks later, Rajat & Co. managed to outdo themselves with their own conference and tasting: California Pinot Noir: In Pursuit of Balance. Here 23 diverse Pinot Noir producers who fit within RN74’s dictum against wines exceeding 14% alcohol levels. In many ways, a bouquet to the select California producers among this wine emporium’s vast roster, this gathering felt like a veritable Who’s Who of the leading winemakers who emphasize restraint above all in their vinification practices.

And in keeping with the spirit of the event, I am going to try to record my summaries of the various wines equally restrained—or at least as succinct as I can ever be! I did not attend the seminar which preceded this tasting, but I did know that Vanessa Wong was one of the panelists, so starting with Peay seemed as logical a choice as any. A rare event where Andy Peay was not representing the winery; in his stead, Vanessa’s husband (and Andy’s brother) Nick poured a trio of their wines, starting with the more general 2009 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, then moving on to the 2009 Pinot Noir Ama Estate, and, finally, to the superb 2009 Pinot Noir Pomarium Estate. I can always count on Peay to have something outside a tasting’s parameters hidden under the table, and thus was ecstatic to sample their utterly marvelous estate Syrah, the 2008 Les Titans

Given the affinity many of these wineries share for also producing Syrah, I would have expected there to have been a strong overlap here from the previous day’s Rhône Rangers tasting, but only found Pax Mahle, whom I just met for the first time. I would not have minded trying his Wind Gap wines every day that week, with a caveat. Wind Gap epitomizes the precepts of In Pursuit of Balance, and in its relentless fidelity to the production of wines that suppress the level of alcohol in order to promote greater expression
of terroir, they fall prey to the same pitfalls that bedevils many of the French wines I have sampled of late. There is little question that these wines handsomely complement food, yet I find the way they are structured makes them dependent on food to succeed. This nuance holds significant ramifications for the wine program Sostevinobile is establishing.

Nonetheless, within this context, I did like the 2008 Pinot Noir Woodruff Vineyard that Wind Gap produced from the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. I found the 2009 vintage preferable, however, on par with their 2009 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast. Another winery often mentioned in the context, Josh Jensen’s Calera holds the enviable position of occupying its own AVA, Mt. Harlan in San Benito County. One of California’s only producers of Aligoté, Calera represented themselves this afternoon with a trio of Pinot, the broadly focused 2009 Pinot Noir Central Coast and two from their exclusive enclave, the 2007 Pinot Noir Jensen Vineyard Mt. Harlan and the 2007 Pinot Noir Ryan Vineyard Mt. Harlan.

I hadn’t had a chance to try Flowers wines since Keiko Niccolini left to start her own company. Not that she had made the wine. Somehow, she just made it taste better. Still, I was extremely pleased with both their 2007 Pinot Noir Sea View Ridge Estate and the 2007 Pinot Noir Thompson Ridge Estate Estate Director Christopher Barefoot poured here. Failla came through with their usual aplomb, impressing with the 2009 Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard and the 2009 Pinot Noir Pearlessence Vineyard; I did feel the 2009 Pinot Noir Keefer Ranch was a tad too young for release.

Speaking of Hirsch Vineyards, Jasmine Hirsch, who orchestrated this tasting, and her father David poured a trio of their famed Pinots, starting with the 2009 Pinot Noir Bohan Dillon. This fine bottling preceded the exceptional 2007 Pinot Noir San Andreas, followed by a preliminary tasting of their 2009 Estate Pinot Noir (barrel sample). On the same level, Jim Clendenen’s Au Bon Climat is revered in these wine circles, and, indeed, his 2008 Isabelle Pinot Noir was close to perfect. keeping pace was his 2009 Le Bon Climat —K&U Pinot Noir and the superb, organically-grown 2007 Clendenen Family Vineyards Pinot Noir.

My command of French may not match up with Jim’s but I will hold my Latin skills up to anyone’s. Of course, it rarely offers any practical use, though I did manage to compel RN74 to correct the En Vino Veritas they had misprinted on their receipts last year. Similarly, I take issue with fellow Brunonian Ted Lemon’s choice of orthography for his Littorai (should be litora), but I cannot quarrel with his selection as the 2010 Winemaker of the Year by SFGate. Both his 2009 Pinot Noir The Pivot Vineyard and the 2009 Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard struck me as equally fine wines, exceeded by the splendid 2007 Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard.

Another fixture in these circles, Copain, contrasted four of their Anderson Valley bottlings, starting with the 2009 Les Voisons Pinot Noir and the single vineyard 2009 Wentzel Pinot Noir. tied for Copain’s acme were the 2009 Monument Tree Pinot Noir and the tongue-twister, 2009 Kiser En Haute Pinot Noir. Though I liked their wines, admittedly, the vertical selection of Freestone’s Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, starting with the 2007 and 2008 bottlings, along with a tank sample of the 2009, paled in comparison.

Santa Cruz’ Mount Eden always stood as the odd duck amid the Napa and Sonoma wineries that had bought into The Press Club. The success of this cooperative tasting room’s metamorphosis into a wine lounge remains to be seen, but Mount Eden has emerged no worse for the wear and tear, boasting an exceptional odd-year vertical, the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir, their benchmark 2007 Estate Pinot Noir, and a remarkably well-aged 2005 Pinot Noir. Another familiar venture I was pleased to see here was Native⁹ pouring a mini-vertical of their 2009 Pinot Noir Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard and its superior predecessor, the 2008 Pinot Noir Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard.

I hadn’t previously tried James Ontiveros’ other label, Alta Maria, a collaboration with Paul Wilkins of Autonom. Here the 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley proved slightly preferable to the otherwise wondrous 2009 vintage. I had not heard of Chanin Wine Company before this event, but developed a great fondness for their 2008 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard and the preferable 2008 Pinot Noir Le Bon Climat Vineyard. Similarly, I discovered Kutch Wines here and sampled my way through their 2009 Pinot Noir McDougall Ranch and 2009 Pinot Noir Falstaff, both Sonoma Coast, as well as their 2009 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley.

Before delving into the several other wineries I had not tried before, I needed to recharge my system with the delectable Prosciutto, as well as the same salumi and offal-looking paté RN74 had provided at the previous event. Revitalized, I moved onto Solíste, the winery here that offered the most contrast to the Pinot uniformity. Starting with a crisp 2010 Lune et Soleil Sauvignon Blanc, we segued into the red selections first with the 2009 Soleil Rouge, a rosé of Pinot Noir. The fruity 2008 Pinot Noir L’Esperance preceded a more subdued 2007 vintage, while both contrasted with the younger 2009 Pinot Noir Sonatera Vineyards. Solíste’s forte, however, proved to be their 2008 Syrah Out of the Shadows, a wine that made one wish others had brought along a Syrah as well.

Rajat’s own label, Sandhi, did not pour their Syrah but did assert their viticultural prowess with the 2009 ELV Tempest Pinot Noir; for contrast, the 2009 Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay showed itself to be a worthy balance to its Burgundian counterpart. One of Sandhi’s winemakers, Sashi Moorman, is partnered with former Rubicon General Manager Lawrence Stone in Evening Land Vineyards, a far-flung venture making wines from Sonoma, Santa Rita Hills, the Willamette Valley, and even Burgundy. At In Pursuit of Balance, they sampled both their 2009 Pinot Noir Tempest Bloom’s Field from the SRH appellation and the exceptional 2009 Pinot Noir Occidental Vineyards along the Sonoma Coast.

Also from the Sonoma Coast, Cobb Wines offered an assimilable threesome: the 2007 Pinot No
ir Emmaline Vineyard
, the uxorial 2008 Pinot Noir Diane Cobb: Coastlands Vineyard, and their standout, the 2008 Pinot Noir Coastlands Vineyard. This appellation also featured John Raytek’s Ceritas, with their 2008 Pinot Noir Escarpa Vineyard and its successive vintage; with Sanglier’s Glenn Alexander, he also produced the 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir under the Cartha label, a venture that has been widely praised for its Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.

I had had disparate experiences with the final three wineries. Lioco, a stalwart of the Natural Wine movement, balanced their offerings here between the 2009 Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard and their outstanding 2009 Pinot Noir Michaud Vineyard from the Chalone appellation. Miura, which I had cajoled into donating wine to The Asia Society’s Annual Dinner but never tasted myself, featured their emblematic 2008 Pinot Noir Silacci Vineyard–Matador, along with the 2008 Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard and their standout, the 2008 Pinot Noir Pisoni Vineyard. Rounding out the afternoon, understated Tyler, a winery I had not heard of before, scored with an impressive lineup of Pinots from Santa Barbara: the 2009 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido N Block–Old Vines, a beautiful 2008 Pinot Noir Clos Pepe, and the 2008 Pinot Noir Presidio.

All in all, In Pursuit of Balance turned out to be a splendid event, so much so that I remained for the first hour of the public tasting to resample several of the wines and nosh on some more offal. In doing so, I made one final discovery for the day: our host Rajat Parr plays squash at the same racquets club where I belong. A match will soon be arranged, Sostevinobile vs. RN74. Don’t let on about my court strategy—I intend to subdue by my display of restraint!

Vinolivo 1-2-3

Long before embarking on this interminable journey known as Sostevinobile, Your West Coast Oenophile attended one of New England’s most prestigious boarding schools. Founded by the widow of the man who invented the revolving canon that the U.S. Cavalry deployed at the Wounded Knee and other massacres of Native American tribes in the late 19th Century, Hotchkiss thrived in the 20th Century largely on the largesse of Philip Morris and R. J. Reynolds, conglomerates that systematically ravaged the populace in general.

During my years of sequestration in Lakeville, a fellow students was Sebastopol winery Baker Lane’s Stephen Singer. I can’t say I knew Steve well back in those days, though I suspect he would not mind my characterizing him as one of the more disaffected attendees of this august institute. When we did reconnect—over wine, of course—in the earliest days of developing Sostevinobile’s wine program, I discovered he was the same Steve Singer who had been married to Alice Waters during the early days of Chez Panisse. All have been much chronicled over the years: Alice and her æsthetics, the restaurant and its influence on contemporary cuisine, the travails of this marriage, even the rarefied upbringing of their daughter.

I’ve never met Fanny Singer, now a doctoral candidate at Cambridge, but the articles I’ve read make me wonder how gastronomically-focused her upbringing may have been. Was she told babies came from the arugula patch? Did her third grade science project consist of creating a composting bin with live earthworms (as opposed to building the more familiar ant farm)? Did she play normal childhood games, like Ringolevio, or adapt it to something more germane, like…Vinolivo?

Recently, I attended Vinolivo ‘11, a “Gala Celebration for the Senses” held in conjunction with the Annual Sonoma Valley Olive Season. This fundraiser and tasting seemed a perfect venue for Baker Lane to participate, but, as it turned out, they were not among the 48 wineries pouring here this evening, nor was their affiliated restaurant Pizzavino 707 among the nearly two dozen food purveyors. No matter, I had plenty to discover and to occupy me in the thick of the rain-sheltered tent at The Lodge at Sonoma.

Before entering the main arena, though, guests were fêted with two Specialty Tasting Bars, featuring Sparkling Wine food pairings. The first seemed downright Parisian, matching a Carneros Bistro’s duet of Pommes Frites (potato, sweet potato) with the 2006 Blanc de Blancs and the non-vintage Va de Vi Sparkling Wines from Gloria Ferrer. Across the foyer, the Meyer Lemon Roasted Salmon on White Bean Crostini from the chiastic Olive & Vine needed no complement; still both the 2000 Brut de Noirs from Robert Hunter and the 2007 Rouge de Noirs Brut from Shug Carneros delightfully accentuated this utterly addicting canapé.

Moving onto the main event, I strolled into the tightly-packed reception and endeavored to sample as many of the wineries as I could fit into the time allotted, a considerable challenge given the surprising number of attendees who had braved the evening’s torrent, not to mention the enticing aromas emanating from gourmet food stations interspersed among the wine purveyors. Given the numerous trips I had made to Sonoma over the past year, only a handful of the vintners here remained unfamiliar to me. The first, Clarbec, seemed a curious portmanteau, which I could not identify until meeting owners Clarence and Becky Jenkins. These founders of Madrone Vineyard Management have planted vines in Glen Ellen, from where they sourced the grapes for their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Glen Oaks Ranch, as well as produce their 2009 Pinot Gris Clarbec Vineyard and an excellent 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Clarbec Vineyard in the Sonoma Valley AVA.

Also from Glen Ellen, Eric Ross treated this evening’s guests to a quartet of his wines, starting with an elegant 2009 Marsanne-Roussanne Russian River. I tend to find 2009 Pinots still too underripe, and the 2009 Pinot Noir Russian River poured here seemed no exception. I’ll resist any temptation to describe his two tasty, Chanticleer-adorned blends, the 2009 Struttin’ White (“Albariño with a kiss of Orange Muscat”) and 2009 Struttin’ Red (Tempranillo, Garnacha), as “cocky”—that’s a bad pun I’ll reserve for Gallo, when a propitious occasion arises.

I was surprised that Keating had not participated in previous Rockpile tastings I’ve attended. No matter, their wines this evening made quite a solid impression. Although the 2008 Beckstoffer Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon seemed still too young. their inaugural 2009 Dry Creek Buchignani Zinfandel struck me as ripe and well-balanced. Their best offering, the 2007 Rockpile Malbec, begged the question why more Bordeaux-focused wineries don’t bottle this robust varietal.

I had not previously encountered MacLeod, a quaint family vineyard out of Kenwood. This boutique winery comported themselves quite admirably with their 2007 Merlot, 2008 Zinfandel, and 2009 Sauvignon, all estate grown. For years, I had always seen Roche perched on the hillside across from Infineon Raceway, a veritable beacon demarcating the entrance to Sonoma Valley. Suddenly, however, the quaint barn house disappeared, only to be resurrected as contemporary edifice belonging to Ram’s Gate Winery, while Roche’s tasting and hospitality operations relocated to Sonoma Square. Rather than trying to comprehend this mystery, I opted simply to try Roche’s wines, contrasting their oaked 2009 Estate Chardonnay to the more appealing 2009 Stainless Steel Estate Chardonnay. Following this comparison, I delighted in sampling their exemplary 2008 Pinot Noir Los Carneros, a wine that typified both the vintage and the AVA.

With new business concluded, I could now focus on revisiting the numerous other wineries I had previously engaged over the past two years, despite weaving through the crush of attendees and the constant urge to nosh on the some of the finest cuisine Sonoma could offer. When I toured the wine country a couple of years back with the delightfully eccentric Lucy Townsend, we were fêted at a private lunch reception and reserve tasting at the St. Francis winery. Today, Executive Chef David Bush accompanied the dry 2009 Wild Oak Chardonnay with his Pork rillette and grilled beef Banh Mi, followed by a sumptuous 2007 Port vinted from fortified Zinfandel.
Lured by the seductive wafts of Zuppa di Farro, a Tuscan barley soup served up by tablemate Della Santina’s, I wandered over to try the wines from Audelssa. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve but the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon proved a remarkable wine. I also especially liked the 2008 Summit, a blend of 39 % Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21 % Cabernet Franc, 11% Malbec, and 3% Petit Verdot. Audelssa’s winemaker, Erich Bradley performs double-duty at acclaimed Pinot producer Sojourn Cellars. The effusive praise Robert Parker has heaped on this winery proved presaged this preview of Sojourn’s 2009 vintage: the 2009 Pinot Noir Rodgers Creek Vineyard, their 2009 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast and the superb 2009 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard. Nearly as striking was the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mountain Terraces Vineyard.

Another winery whose Pinot Noirs I have long relished is Roessler. I delayed my gratification by first sampling their excellent 2008 Big Bend Estate Chardonnay, then regaled in the 2008 Hein Family Pinot Noir. Next up, Landmark Vineyards led with their intense 2007 Damaris Reserve Chardonnay, as well as the likable 2008 Overlook Chardonnay, before showcasing their 2008 Grand Detour Pinot Noir
Nearby, Robert Hunter’s main table featured their 2006 Pinot Noir Sonoma Valley, which preceded my final Pinot of the evening, the 2008 Pinot Noir Marina’s Vineyard from Bennett Valley Cellars, two splendid wines underscored by the constant patter of rain that thankfully (as opposed to last fall’s Pinot in the River debacle) remained outside the tasting tent.

It had been two years since I’d toured Bartholomew Park and the preserve that envelops the winery, so it was a pleasure to revisit their organic 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine just now attaining peak maturity. Bart Hansen’s Dane Cellars also poured an exquisite 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley, with its 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Jackknife Corner falling just a
tad behind. I was equally impressed with their 2007 Zinfandel Sonoma Valley, and wish they had included their 2009 Dry Chenin Blanc, a varietal not seen enough these days. Also scarce at this celebration, the only Sauvignon Blanc I managed to try was the 2009 Estate Sauvignon Blanc from Beltane Ranch, the sole focus of this Glen Ellen boutique.

From Hamel Family’s Tres Palmas Vineyard, the 2007 Pamelita proved a worthy successor to the inaugural release of this same Cabernet Sauvignon last year. I tend to think of Schug primarily as a Pinot producer, so sampling the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon at their main table proved a pleasant revelation. By contrast, Larson Family blended their Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah and Zinfandel to make an accessible, non-vintage jug wine they simply called Sonoma Red.

Zinfandel proved a strong suit for Mayo Family Winery, with their 2007 Zinfandel Los Chamizal Vineyard; even more compelling, however, was the superb 2007 Merlot Laurent Vineyard. Hoffman Family Cellars brought out a noteworthy 2009 Zinfandel Sonoma County under their Headbanger label, as well as a blush they called the 2010 Rock ‘n Rosé of ZinfandelAnother pink wine as big as its name, the 2009 Vineyard Station Ranch Pinot Noir Saignée from Fichtenberg Vineyards struck me as quite enticing, though I wasn’t all that fond of their 2007 Syrah.

I would have expected to find more Zins at Vinolivo, but, in truth, the evening’s true star had to have been Syrah. Westwood Winery from Sonoma poured a delectable 2007 Syrah Annandale Estate. Westerhold Family Vineyards also excelled with their 2007 Estate Syrah Bennett Valley. Mulas Family showcased a truly compelling 2005 Syrah Alta Vista Vineyards, while my good friend Mike Muscardini debuted his 2008 Fortuna, a Syrah blended with 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 2.5% Cabernet Franc, and 2.5% Petit Verdot. And, much to my good fortune, he also poured his Grappa di Sangiovese, a personal favorite as well as a welcome contrast to the abundance of wines on hand.

I wished Italian varietal specialists Jacuzzi had brought their version of Sangiovese, but settled for their 2009 Tocai Friulano, a truly delicate expression of this varietal. I bypassed the 2008 Late Harvest Aleatico but did allow enough time to savor their Bordeaux-style bottling, the 2007 Valeriano. Jacuzzi’s next door neighbor, Viansa, pioneered the planting of quite a number of less-familiar Italian grapes, like Refosco, but now is gradually transitioning to a balance between CalItalia and the Bordelaise varietals. Their 2005 Thalia Sangiovese displayed a complexity I had not seen in it earlier releases, while the 2009 Arneis, like Jacuzzi’s Tocai, offered a clear alternative to the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio. Genial new owner Lloyd Davis’ hand was clearly evident in the 2005 Samuele Cabernet Franc, a harbinger of the direction he is driving this winery.

Another Sonoma trailblazer evolving under its new ownership has been Arrowood. Now that founder Richard Arrowood has redirected his full-time energies to Amapola Creek, the winery seems less defined, though his influence still remained in each of this evening’s selections. The 2006 Côte de Lune Rouge offered a standard GMS blend in near-equal proportions while the 2006 Côte de Lune Blanc favored the Roussanne and Marsanne over its Viognier component. Keeping up with Keating, Arrowood also poured their 2007 Malbec Sonoma Valley, a definitive, unblended expression of this varietal.

Several
of the wineries from Sonoma’s 8th Street East poured this evening,
giving me a chance to experience them outside their industrial park setting. Tin Barn Vineyards excelled with both their 2006 Syrah Coryelle Fields and the 2008 Zinfandel Gilsson Vineyard. Gilgamesh-themed Enkidu grows in my estimation each time I sample their wines; the 2008 Humbaba proved a giant of a Rhône blend, combining 65% Syrah with 35% Petite Sirah. Former tenant Ty Caton, a favorite of the Ginkgo Girl, now operates in Kenwood, with no detriment to his splendid 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley nor his Mayacamas Mountain Range Meritage, the 2009 Tytanium.
Another former 8th Street East denizen, John Sweazy’s Anaba, which has subsequently transplanted to Bonneau Road, focused on two amiable Rhône blends, the 2008 Coriol Red (38% Grenache, 27% Mourvèdre, 25% Petite Sirah, 10% Counoise) and the 2009 Coriol White (49% Roussanne, 27% Viognier, 15% Grenache Blanc, 9% Marsanne). More impressive, however, was his 2008 Sonoma Valley Red, a proprietary mélange of Zinfandel, Mourvèdre, and Syrah, as well as the cleverly-named Anaba Red Aero Port, a non-vintage bottling of Syrah picked at 30° Brix

I wrapped up the tasting with Richard Kasmier’s Kaz Winery, first sampling his 2007 Barbera and 2007 Sangiovese (atypically blended with 25% Cabernet Franc), before moving onto his Bodega Bay Portworks lineup. The excellent “almost Tawny” Red Port boasted a scant 3% residual sugar, while the sweeter White Port, a fortified Chardonnay with 9% sugar, had me humming the 4 Deuces doo-wop classic, WPLJ (though many may understandably prefer the Frank Zappa/Lowell George version popularized on Burnt Weeny Sandwich).

Speaking of songs, I actually had someone singing Sostevinobile at the tasting! I’m still polishing the libretto for Il Canto di Sostevinobile (sung to the famous tune from Rigoletto), but am always happy to explain the mnemonic significance to anyone. Several times this year, people at the various tastings I attend have come up to me and commended the thoroughness of the notes they observe me taking on each winery that I visit. Here, a fellow I remember only as Ivan queried why I was so immersed in this exacting exercise.
After explicating the whats and whys of my wine bar project, I took a final lap around Vinolivo’s tables to seek out and thank my hosts, while Ivan headed out to attend the afterparty across the parking lot. Finito, I heard the unmistakable strains of the Sostevinobile aria reverberating in Ivan’s sonorous baritone as I entered the vestibule leading to the coat check. Quite the validating sendoff to a most enjoyable event, to be sure!

Zurviving ZAP

Many of my longstanding readers know that Sostevinobile was borne partly out of Your West Coast Oenophile’s frustration with the advertising industry in San Francisco. Meritocracy be damned—this is an insidious clique hellbent on quashing true talent in favor of preserving the status quo mediocrity. A prime example of this phenomenon can be see at the once illustrious Foote, Cone & Belding, an agency that blazed trails in the 1980s with its work for Levi’s, as well as its iconic claymation, The Dancing Raisins. 

In the 1990s, FCB created one of the most vapid commercials ever broadcast, for the short-lived malt beverage Zima. Their spokesman, a pallid imitation of Chico Marx, feebly promoted this clear-colored alternative to Bartles & Jaymes and Quinn’s Quail Coolers by eliminating the letter “S” from his dialogue, substituting a “Z” whenever possible.

Zimply ridiculouz! I was so offended by this spot—not because of its content but because the hack who created it, not me, was thriving as a copywriter—that I took to posting this retort outside FCB’s entryway.

Zo I zaid,“Zit on my face!”


And zhe replied, “Then pop it, Pimplehead!”


Zima exists now only in the painful recesses of the memory, while Foote Cone & Belding’s office in San Francisco has shrunk to a vestige of what it once was. I don’t pretend I could have salvaged this product, but had the FCB folks ever had the perspicacity to put me on staff, I can safely say (zafely zay?) such a ludicrous campaign would have never seen the light of day.








Twenty-five years’ of backstabbing, rampant mediocrity, and relentless
mendacity ultimately drove me out of advertising & marketing and back into the relative tranquility of the viticultural realm, though readers here know that I always maintained close ties to the industry through this hiatus, developing wine labels, custom bottling, and, most importantly steadfastly attending numerous trade shows to continue expanding and refining my palate. These efforts included taking part of nearly every ZAP festival since it first filled the Golden Gate Room at Fort Mason.

Naturally, I was on hand a couple of weeks ago for 20 Years of Zinspiration, the vigentennial celebration of ZAP’s Grand Zinfandel Tasting. Popular perception holds that this gathering has mushroomed to overwhelming proportions since its inception, but actually it has contracted from around 250 participating wineries in 2009 to just 205 this most recent incarnation. Yet with nearly seven hours to cover both buildings, I still found myself hard-pressed to meet with every winery I had pre-identified for the afternoon.

Over the course of the afternoon, I delved into some Primitivos, some Zinfandel blends, a handful of Ports, and one or two unsanctioned wines hidden beneath the table. If there were any White Zins on hand, I managed to skillfully avoid them; for the most part, however, the event provided an interminable flow of Zinfandel, Zinfandel, and more Zinfandel.

Several of my previous entries have detailed my perceptions on the challenges of tasting through a single varietal event. My methodology for navigating these events certainly has been laid out extensively. And by now, I’ve described the setting of the pavilions at Fort Mason and my bipedal commute from Pacific Heights ad nauseam. So, rather than risk redundancy, let me list the stations I visited, starting with the newcomers to the Sostevinobile roster.

Santa Rosa’s Carlisle Winery bottles both Zinfandel and an array of Rhône-style wines. Here they poured contrasting Zins, starting with the 2009 Zinfandel Montafi Ranch from the Russian River Valley. This superb wine only slightly eclipsed their 2009 Zinfandel Monte Rosso Vineyard, which, in turn I found slightly better that the still-impressive 2009 Zinfandel Martinelli Road Vineyard. Now recite them all, three times fast…

My readers know that I have been steadily building this wine program for nearly three years. At this stage, I can list three certainties about the wine industry: 1) no one can list all the wine labels being produced on the West Coast (current estimates place this figure at ~8,000 distinct producers); 2) no one can possibly guess how many varietals are being grown here (Sostevinobile has uncovered 147 so far); 3) no one knows every wine venture Nils Venge has his hand in. And so I was quite surprised to see this storied winemaker standing at the table for Cougar’s Leap, a red wine venture out of Rutherford. Today’s tasting provided a cursory insight into the scope of this venture, which is also bottling a Meritage, Petite Sirah and Rosato di Sangiovese; the 2007 Black Rock Zinfandel showed beautifully, while the 2009 vintage struck me as too early to be poured.

My appreciation for the wines from Dendor Patton fell pretty much along the same lines. This Mendocino venture, which lists its business domain as Belchertown, MA (great address for a brewery!), impressed me greatly with their 2007 Wisdom Zinfandel, while the 2009 proved premature.

Lest anyone begin to suspect that the 2008 vintage was somehow missing in action, Haraszthy Family Cellars more than filled in the gap with four distinct bottlings—not surprising when the title bar to their Website reads “Zinfandels and only Zinfandels.” Their pouring progressed from the 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi to the pleasant 2008 Zinfandel Amador County to the more luxuriant 2008 Zinfandel Sonoma County. The crescendo came from their unannounced 2008 Zinfandel Howell Mountain, a genuine pleasure to sample.

From there, I moved onto a semi-unfamiliar label, Headbanger, a division of Hoffman Family Cellars. As with Dendor Patton and Cougar’s Leap, attendees were presented with non-sequential vintages of their Zins, the definitive 2007 Sonoma County Zinfandel and the aspirant 2009 vintage. Headbanger also offered their 2010 Rock n Rosé of Zinfandel, nice diversion but not a wine worth revisiting.

Headbanger brought to mind last year’s 120 dB pour from Deep Purple, which I unfortunately bypassed, as well as the other rock ’n’ roll label, Sledgehammer (think Peter Gabriel). All jesting aside, this Napa project produced quite an impressive 2007 North Coast Zinfandel. As over the top as these labels may sound, at the opposite end of the spectrum I discovered Predator, the Zinfandel-only label out of Rutherford Ranch’s stable, benignly illustrated with a spotted ladybug on its label. In a rare reversal, I found the 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel from Lodi most distinct, while the 2007 Rutherford Ranch Zinfandel seemed commonplace.

Another highly impressive 2009 came from Mike and Molly Hendry, a label wholly independent from the acclaimed Hendry Ranch Winery run by Mike’s uncle. This offshoot also produced a solid 2009 vintage, the 2009 Zinfandel R. W. Moore Vineyard. There are more offshoots from the Sebastiani clan these day than I enumerate, but, ironically one is not Sebastiani, which is now part of the burgeoning Foley Wine empire. Nonetheless, this current incarnation mildly impressed me with both their 2008 Zinfandel Sonoma Valley and the 2008 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley.

I had a nice moment visiting with Camille Seghesio, whose mother I had befriended just days before her untimely death. As one of the leading Zinfandel producers whose name does not begin with an “R,” their 2008 Cortina from Dry Creek Valley proved as splendid as ever. Camille’s cousin, Gia Passalacqua, returned to ZAP with her Dancing Lady Wines’ spectacular 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel (I could not muster the same enthusiasm for the 2009 California Zinfandel from her pal Gina Gallo’s Dancing Bull ). Another Seghesio cousin, Rich Passalacqua has consistently dazzled with his lineup of Gia Domella Zins, making equally impressive showings with both the 2007 Estate Zinfandel and the 2008 Estate Zinfandel. Approaching a surreal plane were both his 2008 Reserve Zinfandel Russian Valley and its predecessor, the 2007 Reserve Zinfandel Russian River Valley.

I had not previously encountered Rancho San Miguel Winery from Sonoma, yet found myself extremely pleased with their 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel Starr Rd. Vineyard. On the other hand, the San Joaquin Wine Company from Madera produced a 2007 Green Eyes Zinfandel barely worth the $7 it lists for. Ditto for the overpriced ($11.99) 2006 Howling Moon Zinfandel from ADS Wines of Walnut Creek, a decidedly schizophrenic operation. And Forever Vineyards poured a $9.99 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel that, indeed, may be permanently burnished in the memory in ways they had not intended.

Returning to my genial demeanor, I found much to appreciate in the 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel Sherman Family Vineyards from Lodi’s Fields Family. I was also extremely pleased finally to make it to Manzanita Creek’s table to sample a trio of their wines. while the name alone made me like their lush 2005 Stealth from Alexander Valley, even more compelling were the 2007 Zinfandel Alfonso Old Vines and the 2007 Zinfandel Old Vines Carreras Ranch.

I knew I had tasted with Pech Merle previously, but somehow managed to forget incorporating them in my previous entries. Non è importante—it was more than a pleasure to revisit with Laree Adair Mancour and Bruce Lawton and enter both the 2008 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley and their impressive 2008 L’Entrée into my Sostevinobile column. Keeping my pre-tasting notes, however, proved a bit more elusive. A glitch in my iPhone somehow relegated my methodical sampling guides to an unknown sector of cyberspace just as I was finishing up with Spenker—a Lodi house producing enviable results with their 2002 Estate Zinfandel and the aptly-named 2008 Rustic Red Zinfandel—and, in my frantic attempts to recreate this road map, I inadvertently overlooked Saldo, Sausal, along with Nils Venge’s home base, Saddleback Cellars.

Despite not having my iPhone to guide me, I did remember to traipse over to review Healdsburg’s Rusina. Here the splendid, acronymic 2007 AXV (for Alexander Valley) presaged the even more appealing 2007 DCV (Dry Creek Valley). Finally, their 2007 Triskelion, echoing the familiar three-legged Sicilian icon, broke up the afternoon’s redundancy with a distinctive blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Syrah. Nearby, Jeff Cohn crafted not only an excellent organic 2008 Estate Zinfandel for Simoncini but also a dry 2009 Zinfandel Rosé that bore little resemblance to Bob Trinchero’s paltry pink approximation of this wine.

Trinchero does not comprise the only Italian “T” within the California wine realm. Vince Tofanelli, whom I would subsequently visit in Calistoga just to try his Charbono, made a marvelous initial impression, first with his 2007 Estate Zinfandel, then with the superb 2008 Estate Zinfandel. Trione Vineyards, whose various incarnations I have encountered since 1983, held court with their 2008 Home Ranch Zinfandel. Technically, of course, Trentadue is Swiss Italian, but I was nonetheless taken by their 2009 Old Patch Red, an old school blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane and Sangiovese. And while Trattore Estate’s Tim Bucher may not be Italian, his pivotal role in the promulgation of Apple’s OSX garners him honorary inclusion among il vero popolo eletto, as we refer to ourselves. Not that his 2009 Estate Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley wouldn’t warrant major accolades!

Being such an unabashed evangelist for Italian culture and, in particular, Italian varietals grown within Sostevinobile’s radius, I would think certain wineries like Staglin would be ecstatic to have me sample their pertinent bottlings, like the 2008 Stagliano Estate Sangiovese. Similarly, I have long been pestering Bill and Betty Nachbaur to ply me with their 2008 Dolcetto Alegría Vineyards; instead, I had to content myself with Acorn’s nonetheless splendid 2008 Zinfandel Heritage Vines. And although Jerry Baldwin does not produce any wines in the CalItalia category, once I had finished sampling his striking 2008 Zinfandel Dawn Hill Ranch and its preceding vintage, he did pour me a most enjoyable 2008 Rattlesnake Ridge Petite Sirah

I’ve not only indulged in the wonderful Sagrantino and Aglianico Napa’s Benessere crafts, I have even partaken of their little-known Grappa of Trebbiano; their ZAP selection, the 2007 Black Glass Zinfandel, more than held its own with their signature varietals. Another ZAP stalwart, Brown Estate made their customary splash with both the 2009 Zinfandel Napa Valley and the incredible 2009 Zinfandel Chiles Valley. And no matter how many years they pour at this event, Rombauer will always make for a mandatory visit, as both their exceptional 2008 Zinfandel Fiddletown and the quirkily-labeled 2008 Zinfandel North Coast (60% Sierra Foothills, 40% North Coast) readily attested.

Rombauer, of course, is best known as one of the four R’s of Zinfandel. Being that I receive Ridge’s ATP shipments, sampling from their two tables seemed superfluous, given the confines of my schedule. I also chose to bypass Rosenblum, whose fortunes appear to be declining under Diageo’s stewardship, but did partake in a couple of wines from successor Rock Wall: the 2009 Zinfandel Pearl Hart Reserve and the newish 2009 Vive La Rouge, blended from Syrah, Zinfandel and Nebbiolo.

Ravenswood Quarry separated itself from the Ravenswood Sonoma table, where founder Joel Peterson —a fitting acknowledgment from parent company Constellation presided—arguably showed no signs of decline following their acquisition, boasting a phenomenal 2008 Zinfandel Old Hill Vineyard, a single vineyard designate described as Zinfandel “+ mixed Blacks,” and the ever-reliable 2008 Zinfandel Teldeschi Vineyard, a wine blended with Petite Sirah and Carignane. Teldeschi Vineyard’s family stewards, Ray and Lori, appeared once again this afternoon with their Del Carlo label, featuring the 2006 Old Vine Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley and the clearly preferable 2007 vintage of the same. 

Zinfandel seems to thrive in nearly every sector of California. Witness Guglielmo from Morgan Hill, with their respectable 2007 Private Reserve Estate Zinfandel Santa Clara Valley. Marr Cellars of Davis sandwiched two exceptional versions of the grape, the 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel Mattern Ranch and the 2008 Zinfandel Tehama County around a very food friendly 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel Mendocino. Templeton’s Rotta showcased their 2006 Estate Zinfandel Giubbini Vineyard and the 2006 Heritage Zinfandel, a blend of 80% Zinfandel and 20% Primitivo. And from Alexander Valley, Starlite Vineyards produced a 2006 Estate Grown Zinfandel.

One of Lodi’s premier Zinfandel producers, McCay Cellars, featured their two stellar bottlings, the 2007 Jupiter Zinfandel and (this is not a mistyping of Turlock) the 2007 Trulucks Zinfandel. Fiddletown’s Easton excelled with both the 2007 Estate Zinfandel Shenandoah Valley and the 2008 Fiddletown Zinfandel Rinaldi Vineyards. And with a quartet of elegantly crafted wines, Gamba Vineyards certified the Russian River Valley’s rightful place in the Zinfandel pantheon: the 2008 Zinfandel Russian River Valley, their 2008 Estate Old Vine Zinfandel, and the remarkable 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel Moratto Vineyard, as well as a preview release of their 2009 bottling.

Austin Hope’s Candor label came through, as per usual, with an intriguing non-vintage selection, their Lot 2 Zinfandel, blended from both Lodi and Paso Robles grapes. Lake County’s Gregory Graham demonstrated his virtuosity with the interminably-named 2007 Cluster Select Sweet Zinfandel Crimson Hill Vineyard. Vineburg’s cacuminal Gundlach Bundschu offered their affable 2008 Zinfandel Sonoma County, while Healdsburg’s Sapphire Hill seemed downright whimsical in their nomenclature for both the 2008 Zinfandel Winberrie Vineyard and their impressive 2006 Zinfandel Porky’s Patch.

Th-th-th-th-That’s all, Folks! Or so I would wish, having some 20 more wineries to cite. Several tried and true friends from my two decades of attending this event warranted quick visits as I passed by their tables. Harney Lane lent considerable credence to the acclaim for Lodi’s Zins with their 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel Lizzie James Vineyard, as well as the unpretentious 2008 Lodi Zinfandel. Similarly, Lava Cap helped consolidate the Sierra Foothills burgeoning reputation for this varietal with three solid bottlings: the 2008 Zinfandel Rocky Draw, their 2008 Zinfandel Spring House, and the standout 2008 Reserve Zinfandel. I know Skip Granger probably has still not forgiven me for eschewing tasting every one of Starry Night’s selections but I was favorably impressed with the two I did sample, their final 2006 Zinfandel Tom Feeney Ranch and the 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel Nervo Station, before I moved onto other stations I needed to cover.

Rockpile pioneers Mauritson brought out their big guns with the 2009 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley, the 2009 Jack’s Cabin Zinfandel, and the masterful 2009 Rockpile Ridge Zinfandel. ZAP’s co-founder Prof. Jerry Seps manifested his Storybook Mountain Vineyards’ considerable pedigree with both the 2008 Mayacamas Ridge Estate Zinfandel and the 2007 Estate Antæus, a superior mélange of 57% Zinfandel, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot, and 6% Merlot. Julie Johnson’s Tres Sabores poured a similar blend, the 2008 ¿Por qué no? (Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah) and her excellent 2008 Rutherford Estate Zinfandel.

I bypassed both vintages of their Willow Creek Farm Zinfandel in favor of the 2008 Dimples Proulx poured, an evenly-balanced mix of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Syrah in true Paso Robles style. Another Central Coast operation, Hearthstone Vineyards, made a nice ZAP debut with their 2007 Zinfandel Paso Robles. And Paso Robles Zin specialists Peachy Canyon prominently poured their 2008 Mustang Springs Zinfandel, as well as two confidently-named bottlings, the 2008 Vortex Zinfandel and the 2008 Especial Zinfandel.

Despite Sostevinobile’s frequent disparagements, the large conglomerates sometimes do manage to produce memorable wines, like the 2007 Zinfandel Paso Robles from Constellation’s Paso Creek. Likewise, Terlato Wines2007 The Federalist, a single-bottling endeavor, provided a nicely approachable Zin, even though their costumes and antics seemed totally affected (ever since Randall Grahm sold his over-the-top Cardinal Zin, someone has always been trying to usurp his aplomb). And hard as it may be for me to admit, the 800-lb. gorilla in the room, Bronco, managed to preserve the quality and integrity of Red Truck’s organic offering, the 2008 Green Truck Zinfandel.

Of course, these mass producers will inevitably bottle their vintages, too, like the 2007 The Fiddler Zinfandel from Masked Rider (Bronco) and the nadir of Twisted’s unpalatable 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel (Delicato).

20 Years of Zinspiration marked what may well be the annual devolution of the Grand Zinfandel Tasting into something more manageable for attendees and more viable for wineries. If participation continues to contract, the event could easily revert to occupying a single pavilion, as it had in earlier days; certainly, a number of the wineries at this event would be better served tinkering with their œnology before considering a return here. As always, there were extraordinary wines on hand, but the proliferation of mediocre bottlings seemed far more evident than ever before.
Usually, I like to wrap up my posts here on an upbeat note, but, alas, the last word in Zin this afternoon, the 2009 Lodi Zinfandel from Zynthesis tasted as absurd as its name. Zometimez, that’z juzt the way the ball bounzez!