Category Archives: Black Muscat

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.”

Apennine Wine (in 2,000 words or less)

One of these days I will figure out the art of concision. If anyone can demonstrate that they made it through all 6,321 words of the last installment here, Your West Coast Oenophile will treat you to free drinks for a month at Sostevinobile (once we open our doors). Count on it!

In the meantime, readers can vicariously experience the numerous discoveries I make as I continue to build an all-embracing program of the sustainable wines grown on the West Coast. This interminable pursuit led me to Danville on a warm September Sunday for what was billed as The Ultimate Sierra Foothills Wine Tasting Experience. And to think people tell me pronouncing “Sostevinobile” is a mouthful…!

I’ve attended a number of wine industry tastings at private clubs in recent months, but this event was the first not affiliated in some manner with the wine country. Blackhawk is a gated enclave in Danville, near the base of Mt. Diablo. Conceived as a master planned community in 1979, this secluded development includes the lavish homes of several prominent Bay Area sports figures, two golf courses that annually host the LPGA challenge, a renowned automotive museum, and the exclusive Blackhawk Country Club, where the tasting took place. While ample, luxurious, perhaps even graceful, it seemed an odd choice of venues, given its proximity only unto itself.

Still, once I had waited in line to be checked in by the gate guard and wound my way around serpentine lanes until I came upon the main clubhouse, the event came off with nary a hitch. This cooperative promotion between three different AVAs presented a marked disparity between the El Dorado Winery Association, which had held its own tasting earlier in the year with many of the same participants, Amador Vintners, whose wine trail I had briefly explored on my way to Lake Tahoe, and the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance, most of whose members were completely new to me.

The mountainous terrain of all three appellations lends itself to many similarities, and for œnophiles focused on the orthodoxy of Burgundian or Bordelaise varietals, this tasting offered scant familiarity. Amador, in particular, has long held repute for its Zinfandels, and while El Dorado has been a staple of Rhône Rangers since its inception, the entire region has taken quite a shining to the various Spanish and Portuguese varietals that have now proliferate throughout the state. Still, this three county region collectively produces the greatest concentration of Italian varietals on the West Coast, even discounting the mega-production of Trinchero’s Montevina and Terra d’Oro labels. Up by Lake Shasta, Trinity County may have its own version of the Swiss Alps; wineries here are transforming the Sierra Foothills into the western Apennines.

One of the first wineries I encountered this afternoon was Amador’s Driven Cellars. An intimate operation that produces six varietals in lots of 200-300 cases, they excelled with a 2007 Barbera and a 2007 Primitivo. At the next table, Dillian Wines raised the stakes with an extraordinary 2008 Barbera, juxtaposed with its 2008 Primitivo and its fraternal twin, the 2008 Hangtree Zinfandel.

I stopped by the table for Calaveras’ Hatcher Winery and worked my way through four of their wines, starting with a crisp 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. They, too, comported themselves admirably with a 2007 Barbera and an appealing 2007 Petite Sirah, but made perhaps their strongest statement with the 2007 Zinfandel, a cross-pollination of Amador and Calaveras fruit. Another Calaveras endeavor, Murphys’ Frog’s Tooth, produces a wide selection of white wines, including Viognier, Marsanne, and Torrontés. Today’s offerings included a 2009 Fumé Blanc and a very approachable 2009 Pinot Grigio, as well as the 2008 Barbera and the rich 2008 Grenache from their red portfolio.

In usual fashion, I sought to visit wineries with whom I needed to establish a relationship before revisiting those whom I have documented here previously. I had fully intended to swing by and taste Twisted Oak, but time did not allow me to reach their table on my final swing-though; however, I did want to acknowledge their pivotal role in popularizing Iberian varietals in Calaveras. Flourishing with this genre, Chatom Vineyards brought out an exquisite 2007 Touriga (I am assuming it was Touriga Nacional, not Touriga Franca), along with an appealing 2007 Sémillon and striking vintages of the 2005 Syrah and 2008 Chardonnay. Equally amazing was the 2008 Verdelho from Victor Reyes Umaña’s Bodega del Sur, a striking contrast to his 2008 Marsanne. Solomon Wine Company produced an adequate 2007 Tempranillo, plus a better 2006 Syrah, but I found both their NV Mingle, a Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot blend, as well as their proprietary blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon,Syrah, Petite Verdot, and Barbera, the 2006 Composition, somewhat wanting.

As with Twisted Oak, I initially bypassed many of the El Dorado wineries and found not enough time at closing to take in Auriga, Fitzpatrick’s organic winery, Mt. Aukum, sister ventures Latcham/Granite Springs, Holly’s Hill, the Primitivo and Barbera of Colibri Ridge, Cedarville, Rhône specialist David Girard, and Crystal Basin—all wineries I have previously chronicled and enjoyed. I did, however, work my way through Miraflores Winery’s offerings: the 2008 Chardonnay, the 2007 Zinfandel, their choice 2006 Petite Sirah, and their special focus, the 2005 Syrah. I do wish, however, that Miraflores had brought their 2006 Barbera, the 2007 Pinot Grigio, and the 2007 Muscat Canelli (would have helped validate my premise in this entry), but Perry Creek mitigated for them with a luscious NV Black Muscat.

I finished my El Dorado visits with a sip of the 2009 Viognier from Sierra Vista and a retasting of the 2009 Chardonnay as I chatted with Lava Cap’s Beth Jones and chided her for not yet connecting me with the bottle of 2006 Sangiovese Matagrano she had promised back in the spring. Amador Foothill Winery, too, neglected to bring either their 2006 Sangiovese or the 2004 Sangiovese Grand Reserve, but more than made up for this lapse with an outstanding 2007 Aglianico. Equally impressive was the 2007 Clockspring Zinfandel, while their Grenache/Syrah blend known as the 2006 Kathie’s Côte came in not far behind; I also thoroughly enjoyed their light 2007 Sémillon.

Slightly confusing matters, the next table over featured Amador Cellars, a notable winery in its own right, with a 2007 Syrah, the newly-released 2008 Barbera, and a 2007 Zinfandel I can best describe as jammy. I bypassed familiars C.G. Di Arie and Primitivo star Bray to discover the striking wines of Cooper Vineyards, who impressed me with their 2007 Sangiovese and 2007 Zinfandel, along with a 2008 Barbera and a 2009 Pinot Grigio. I wonder, though, does Cooper make their own barrels?

The story now moves to Story Winery, a place whose URL (Zin.com) pretty much puts the winery in context. Producers of seven different Amador Zins, plus a Zinfandel/Mission blend (as well as, regrettably, a White Zinfandel), they did impress me with both their 2006 Picnic Hill Zinfandel and the 2006 Creekside Zinfandel. However, their strongest expressions came from the 2008 Primitivo and a 2006 Barbera. I did like the 2008 Amador County Zinfandel from Sera Fina Cellars, along with their approachable 2009 Pinot Grigio; unfortunately, neither their 2009 Malvasia Bianca nor the 2006 Elegant Cowboy Syrah met this same level.

I missed out on one of my favorite Italian varietal specialists, Vino Noceto (who else in California makes distinct Sangiovese Grosso and Sangiovese Piccolo?) and Terre Rouge, a house devoted to Rhône varietals while bottling Zinfandel under its Easton Wines label, but did visit with Terra d’Oro, which poured an excellent 2008 Teroldego alongside their 100-year-old vine 2007 Zinfandel Deaver Vineyard. A portmanteau honoring owner Marilyn Hoopes’ mother, Karmère (karma + mère) blended Primitivo and Barbera to create their proprietary 2008 Primabera (a wine and a name far more subtle than Lone Madrone’s Barfandel, which I cited last week); I also found much to like in their 2007 Syrah and 2009 Viognier.

I had just tasted the range of Italian varietals Jeff Runquist produces, so I limited myself to exploring his 2008 R Touriga this afternoon. After that, my friend David Roberts, whom I had met at last month’s Rockpile Tasting insisted I reacquaint myself with Il Gioiello, Morse Wines’ Italian label—as it turned out, an excellent recommendation. I found the 2007 Triumphe, an atypical Super Tuscan (70% Sangiovese, 30% Cabernet Franc) more than intriguing, while the 2007 Montepulciano continues to fascinate me.

The 2007 Cabernet Franc from Calaveras’ Brice Station stood out as their preferred wine. Less impressive were their 2007 High Country, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and 2007 Port made from the same blend. Also from Murphys, Broll Mountain Vineyards produced a highly impressive 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, with a 2007 Petite Sirah and 2006 Syrah that underscored this winery’s capabilities. I also enjoyed the 2007 Syrah from Milliaire.

The most impressive Syrah of the afternoon was certainly the 2005 Syrah (in a most distinctive bottle) from Vallecito’s Laraine Winery. Their 2008 Zinfandel and 2007 Chardonnay showed almost as much complexity, while their whimsical 2008 Scarlet Harlot, a blend of Syrah, Sangiovese, Merlot, and Petite Sirah, intrigued as much it delighted. I liked the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Newsome-Harlow; I liked their 2007 Petite Sirah; their 2008 Zinfandel Calaveras County elated me.

If only I could have been as enthusiastic about Tanner Vineyards. Their 2009 Viognier and 2007 Syrah were pleasant enough, but I had quite the tepid response to the 2009 Vermentino and the 2009 Doux Rosé, a blush Syrah. I was also underwhelmed by the 2007 Petite Syrah and the 2007 Mélange de Mère, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot. Perhaps not the best coda to this very enjoyable event, but sometimes, that’s just how things play out.

Most private clubs I know would never daunt a two-star restaurant in San Francisco, and I realize that’s not the point, anyway. Clubs exist to establish camaraderie and interaction between members, not to vie for one of the slots on The Next Iron Chef. Still, the hors d’œuvres at this afternoon gathering made up in volume what they may have lacked in cutting-edge culinary. I deign to criticize the cuisine only to highlight my feelings that an event of this scope ought to be held in a more prominent and accessible location, like San Francisco or downtown Oakland, if the East Bay seems preferable.

All-in-all, these wines were too good not to merit more prominent exposure, should this event be reprised next year. I suspect quite a number of potential attendees shied away from this location, and it seemed that a number of absent Sierra Foothills wineries, like Villa Toscano, Jodar, and the incredible Lavender Hill might have participated, had a more accessible venue been selected. And the event might have allowed more wineries to participate, had its timing not coincided with the beginning of the harvest, creating a conflict of choices for numerous wineries.

I truly enjoyed this event and the vast majority of wines that I sampled. It was an impressive start for a cooperative tasting among three separate AVAs, all with individual agenda. As I told the promoters, it would have helped the afternoon flow far more smoothly, had the program guide correlated with the order of the designated tables and different rooms assigned to the tasting. A minor point for most attendees, but significant for Sostevinobile and other trade participants; then again, with a well-ordered setting and corresponding tasting guide, I might have found enough time to sample each of the wines from all 40 wineries and far exceeded the succinct 2,000 word target I had imposed on this entry!