Category Archives: Tocai Friulano

An austere wine, with an alluring bucket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

99 bottles of wine on the wall,* 99 bottles of wine…

Your West Coast Oenophile has remained deluged with responsibilities for keeping the vision of Sostevinobile alive, and yet I owe acknowledgments to so many whose wines I have enjoyed these past few months. So, in no particular order or with any attempt to rank them, here’s a list of the many memorable vintages I’ve sampled:

99) I visited with Ray D’Argenzio, who is developing a cluster of artisan wineries and food purveyors in an enclave he calls Santa Rosa Vintners Square. As we compared our common roots from Avellino to California via grandparents who had settled in Glen Cove, NY, I sampled what is arguably the first bottling of “raisin wine” in California, the 2007 D’Amarone. Classic Amarone is produced from a blend of semi-desiccated Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes, but I am unaware of any successful plantings of these varietals stateside. Ray’s interpretation came from a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah—grapes that are no strangers to late harvest bottlings, but he is striving ultimately to bottle a replica of the authentic constituency. Perhaps even with a hand-blown, twisted bottle neck?

98) From next generation winemaker, daughter Breanna, came a highly impressive debut effort, the 2008 Sant’Angelo Sangiovese, vinted from fruit grown in Amador County.

97) I had come to the Vintners Square, following a most promising meeting with Silicon Valley Bank, to meet with Matthew Trulli of MJ Lords. His first allure had been the promise of sampling only the third pure varietal bottling of the “sixth Bordeaux red” I have found in California, though several wineries do blend this grape into their Meritages. The signature grape of the emerging Chilean wine industry, Matthew’s yet-to-be-released 2009 Carménère, clearly showed an ability to give the South Americans a run for their money.

96) Another signature varietal rarely cultivated here, Matthew’s 2009 Montepulciano (to disambiguate, the Abruzzese varietal, not the Tuscan vino nobile derived from Sangiovese) amply displayed the kind of complexity I have come to expect from this burgeoning viticultural talent.

95) Matthew shares his space with Krutz Family Cellars, a decidedly understated venture that left a deep first impression. Owner/winemaker Patrick Krutz showcased his take on yet another South American standard with his 2007 Napa Valley Malbec.

94) Not many fledgling operations can presuppose to charge $195 for a 1.5L bottle of anything, but, without question, Patrick’s 2007 Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon rose to the occasion—and then some.

93) A third suite mate, Sheldon Wines, moved here from the Sebastopol caboose where I had originally met with them last year. Here Dylan’s 2009 Graciano continued to rise in my estimation from the exceptional previous vintage that I had tasted.

92) I have long felt the same ambivalence towards Viansa as I have about the Punahou Kid. On a philosophical level—at least in what they purport to champion—I am vocally in accord; what they actually have accomplished or delivered, however, has been a far cry from what I am able to bring myself to endorse. But while the neophyte in the Oval Office combats our economic miasma by committing our scant resources to yet a third theater of overseas combat, Sonoma’s Italian varietal pioneers have taken stock in their disparate œnological forays and revamped with a focus on quality, while still retaining a pronounced fidelity to their founding mission.

Under the stewardship of independent owner Lloyd Davis, Viansa has realigned, jettisoning a number of varietals that failed to gain traction, increasing their portfolio of more traditional wines like Chardonnay and Syrah, along with Bordelaise varietals Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, while still fortifying the array of Italian wines on which founder Sam Sebastiani had originally focused. Perhaps no wine better exemplified this transition than the 2009 Arneis, a crisp, delectable rendition of a varietal that had hovered near mediocrity in its earliest vintages here.

91) Just as astounding was the risorgimento of Viansa’s 2009 Reserve Vernaccia, one of the most delightful Italian whites to be produced in California.

90) Not all Sangiovese is created equal, and few on this side of the Atlantic realize that there are multiple variants to this grape. The Sangiovese Grosso used in Barolo is, as one might infer, a bold, powerful strain of this varietal; here, Viansa showed the subtle intensity of its somewhat overshadowed brethren, with their 2005 Piccolo Sangiovese, again an exceptional expression that reaffirmed the appropriateness of transplanting the Italian family of grapes along the West Coast.

89) I made my way through virtually all of Viansa’s lineup before I tried their thoroughly splendid dessert wine, the 2009 Tocai Friulano. Some winemakers seek to restrain the sweetness of this grape; here, the unfettered expression created an extraordinary wine that could complement the finale of any repast.

I took my leave of Lloyd and his gracious tasting staff, not before collecting a bottle from his hand-picked Signature Series for further evaluation, to head north for more tastings, meetings, and the inexorable pursuit of the wherewithal to make Sostevinobile a prominent presence on the viticultural scene.

*this actually should have read “deposited in the blue recycling bin,” but there wasn’t headline space to fit it.

Uno…due…tre…

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

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

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

1) Yountville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Oak Knoll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Try to dismember a guy in September

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

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

Rock Wall Does Rockpile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


No acronyms, please! SLH—the Santa Lucia Highlands.
Given my proclivity with ABM software (anything but Microsoft), along with my numerous stints writing for and marketing hi-tech and Internet enterprises, many people think of me as a techie. Hardly, even though I did submit a GUI icon for COBOL for patent and often find myself an easy mark for free Macintosh tech support among my close circles. On the other hand, my disdain for the prefab milieu of Silicon Valley (aka LegoLand) has been well documented in these entries, and, despite my overt allegiance, I will readily identify Cupertino as the home of Ridge over Apple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Adventures in West Coast Wines
Eight things I know about Daly City:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not that Washington. This one!

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wines of the Mojave Desert


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Food & Wine Tasting

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

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

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

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


Vive la France?

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

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

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

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

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