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Abouriou Assyrtiko Barbera Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Canaiolo Carignane Chardonnay Chasselas Doré Chenin Blanc Cinsault Colombard Dreirebe Grenache Mencia Merlot Mission Pinot Grigio Pinot Gris Pinot Noir Riesling Rosé Saperavi Verdelho Zinfandel

Noted

Mon dieu! Could it be that Your West Coast Oenophile is going to switch his allegiance to Bordelaise wines? Will Sostevinobile become a paean to the vignerons of France?

There are numerous reasons I attend trade tastings for imported wines, despite my unyielding commitment to serve only sustainably-grown wines from the West Coast (meaning British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Baja Norte, and perhaps a little pocket across the border in Arizona), including sourcing accounts for my trade tasting venue, familiarizing myself with varietals that have only a small presence here, like Canaiolo, Saperavi, Assyrtiko, Dreirebe, Chasselas Doré, Mencia, to name a few, or simply to socialize with other wine trade comrades. Rarely, however, do I leave one of these events feeling that I am perhaps missing out on something with my attenuated focus. But, in the interest of objectivity, I have to concede that last month’s showcase of the 2016 vintage from the Association de Grands Crus Classés de Saint-Emilion was truly spectacular.

The homage California pays to French viticulture is, of course, centered on Bordeaux, but within this spectrum, the focus falls predominantly on the Left Bank and the prestige of the Premier Cru houses, which skew towards Cabernet Sauvignon. But among the AOCs of the Right Bank, Merlot predominates, as exemplified by what, until the recent Pinotphile craze, was annually the world’s most expensive wine, Pomerol’s Château Pétrus.

Saint-Emilion lies to the south of Pomerol and is distinguished by wines that blend Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Principal protagonists here include Château Ausone and the legendary Château Cheval Blanc, whose namesake bottling is generally acclaimed as the greatest wine ever by wine cognoscenti worldwide, the only debate being a preference for the 1947 or 1961 vintages. Malheureusement, neither of these houses nor their fellow Premiers Grands Crus Classés A wineries, Château Angélus and Château Pavie participated in the San Francisco tasting. And though none of Saint-Emilion’s Premier Grand Cru Classé B chateaux were on hand either, 18 of the 64 Grand Cru Classé houses poured their 2016s, along with a library wine of their own choosing.

Across the board these wines were uniformly excellent, a testament to their third-tier status that only could make one wonder what the various Premier Cru Classé wines might offer. My preference leaned heavily toward those wines that married a higher percentage of Cabernet Franc or even featured Merlot as the secondary varietal. And given the leanings of my California-honed palate, the relatively high (14-15.5%) alcohol content of most, compared to the restrained (12-14%) level of Médoc’s Premier Grand Cru, certainly factored into the appeal.

Unfortunately, I cannot provide further details or observations on the individual wines. The promoters of this event did not correlate the printing of their program guide with the number of RSVPs; as such, attendees like myself, who strive to take meticulous notes at tastings were left to our own devices, something that can be extremely onerous when having to deal with a foreign language (mon français est un peu faible ces jours). And so I took none, leaving these wines to the recesses of my memory.


At least Team Balzac designed a guide for their event, which they subsequently emailed to attendees. Two other major tastings I attend last month eschewed printing programs altogether. Given that these events both commanded steep ticket prices, I could take the promoters to task for not allocating a portion of their gross revenue for such a relatively inexpensive production (I am well aware of this expense, have personally designed the brochures for every wine tasting I have curated). But the issue here isn’t cost, but the difficulty such an omission creates in trying to enjoy the wines, notate them, and navigate the entire event with the degree of alacrity it demands.

Many readers here know that, after my first career in winery Mergers & Acquisitions, I spent nearly 25 years wallowing in the recesses of the advertising & marketing industry. Though nominally a copywriter, I was compelled to learn graphic design, and with that, acquire a concomitant fluidity in numerous word processing, page layout, and desktop design programs. Yet even with a high degree of expertise in these softwares, navigating the mobile versions, particularly on an iPhone, is cumbersome, if not outright challenging. There are no easy shortcuts to this process—being confronted with having to record an event on Notes requires typing out every single word, all while trying to balance a glass, maintain a dialogue with the winemaker, and keep from hogging space at the table from other attendees. Plus, this is just as much an imposition on the wineries, who are paying fees and donating bottles with the expectation of having the rapt attention of trade individuals, either for purchasing their wines or promoting them.

This is not to say that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy Carlo Niboli’s second staging of CabFest at the Westfield. Given my struggles with producing wine events like CalAsia these past two years, I can only defer to the success of his efforts, which included the first public tasting (as far as I know) of Napa’s mythic Ghost Horse, the wine that has eclipsed Screaming Eagle’s claim to California’s top pricing. Here, the 2015 Fantome, merely the fourth tier of Todd Anderson’s Cabernets (priced at a meager $1500/bottle), proved an extraordinary wine well worth its rarefied claim. Even so, a lofty price does not ensure exclusivity, as the 2004 Harry’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Hesperian proved a worthy counter. Also as impressive: the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Alison Green Doran’s Hoot Owl Creek and the 2015 Red Wine Blend, an equal marriage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, produced by Laurie Maurer Shelton’s CAMi.

I found the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Emily Kestrel from Summit Lake exceptional, as was the 2017 Stagecoach Cabernet Sauvignon from newcomer Stringer Cellars. On a more bittersweet note, Cabfest marked what will likely be the last public tasting for Battle Estate Vineyards, which has decided to cease operations after the devastation of the Kincade Fire. Wines like their 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley will be sorely missed.

And while I did not miss tasting the wide range of other Cabernets, Cab Francs, and Bordeaux blends at this event, awkwardness of trying to record my impressions with a virtual keyboard on a 5.5″ display, while striving to balance my glass and continue conversing with the winemaker left most of my notes in shambles, despite generally favorable impressions of Chiron, Obvious, Zialena, V, Howell at the Moon, Ballentine, Stonestreet, Angwin Estate, Ron Rubin, Guarachi, Robert Young, Medlock Ames, Sutro, Lancaster, and Patel.


I had hoped not to confront the same dilemma the following weekend at the debut of Wine Call SF at the Old Mint. The two-day tasting featured over 50 wineries, predominantly from the West Coast, and selected from the leading proponents of the natural wine movement. It seemed incomprehensible that an event of this scale would not feature a guide—and a professionally designed program at that. But alas, I once again was compelled to wing my way through with my iPhone, this time starting by pasting the winery roster featured on the Website into a Pages document.

An utter catastrophe! Though I am highly skilled in this app on my MacBook Pro and can navigate the differences in the mobile version on my iPadcusing a keyboard, here there is no way to paste text into the text field without copyng its formatting, which, in this case, included the hyperlinks that launched a Web page nearly every time I tried to navigate the cursor. Which, in turn, meant it took three times as long to type, once I finally got things placed where I needed them.

But then entire sections of my document were somehow deleted, which compelled me to return to the various wine stations and re-record ratings on what they had poured. Not impossible, of course, but enormously frustrating to the point that, were it not for my reluctance to shell out another $1,000 to replace it, I came close to flinging my iPhone across the room.

More importantly, the struggles with my note-taking consumed an inordinate amount of time, so much so that even with three separate trips to The Old Mint over Saturday and Sunday, I still missed sampling half a dozen of the wineries. Insurmountable impositions like this hurt not only attendees like Sostevinobile, but penalize all the winemakers who put in the time and effort to make an event succeed.

Nonetheless, I did manage to salvage a good portion of my observations. The absolute standouts had to be the 2018 Flaws, an impeccable Abouriou from Absentee, who ironically was away from his table while I was sampling, and and a luxuriant 2015 Carignane from Faith Armstong-Foster’s Onward, which, along with sister label Farmstrong, specializes in this wondrous Rhône varietal.

Close behind, four other wines astounded, as well, starting with another of Onward’s remarkable bottlings, the 2017 Pétillant Naturel Rosé of Pinot Noir. Even though he has now already sold out, Hank Beckmeyer produced a near-flawless 2018 Viognier at his La Clarine Farm in Somerset. Having partied on Friday with Anna & David Delaski at the Pretty in Pinot Prom—following a full day at the annual Pinotfest, I was struck by the contrast of Solminer’s 2018 Dry Riesling Coquelicot Vineyard, one of the several Germanic varietals they are producing. Trekking from Oregon, Division Wine Making Company also proved a formidable presence here, making a statement its 2017 Granit Cabernet Franc.

If my notes had stayed intact, I could go into finer detail on the remaining wines, but, as it were, numerous others made significant impressions, including Sacramento’s Haarmeyer Wine Cellars, with their 2017 Riesling Wirz Vineyard and the ever-reliable Old World Winery with yet another standout vintage, their 2015 Luminous, a luscious Abouriou from Sherry Martinelli vineyard in Windsor.

Shaunt Oungoulian’s Les Lunes featured a pair of intriguing bottlings, the 2017 Carignane Arnold’s Block and a deftly blended 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot Coplan Vineyard. His former winemaking partner, Martha Stoumen, now well into her connubial bliss, tributed her recent marriage with the 2018 Honeymoon, a Colombard blend with 15% Chardonnay. Likewise, Breaking Bread, an offshoot of Kokomo, debuted their 2018 Zinfandel Redwood Valley with considerable aplomb.

The splendidly-named Caleb Leisure specializes in fermenting their wines in qvevri, the traditional Georgian buried clay pots (and killer Scrabble word!), exemplified here with the 2018 Other Hand, a Chalk Hill Cabernet Sauvignon. A bit of an anomaly, Ruth Lewandowski, a winery based in Salt Lake City but sourcing its grapes from Mendocino, featured its eclectic blends, highlighted by the 2018 Boaz, a mélange of Carignane, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Grenache. And hailing from Los Alamos—California, not New Mexico, Lo-Fi Wines showcased their 2018 Sparkling Rosé, a Pét-Nat rendition of Cabernet Franc.

The much-lauded Carboniste only produces sparkling wines, exemplified best by the 2018 Mackerel, a Pét-Nat Pinot Grigio. Further to the south, in Escondido, J. Brix featured this varietal as a ramato, the 2018 Nomine Amoris Skin-Contact Pinot Gris. Returning north, Keegan Mayo’s Assiduous Wines offered a less avant-garde yet equally appealing rendition, their 2018 Pinot Gris Regan Vineyard.

Wine Call SF featured keynotes both days by Tegan Passalacqua, whose Sandlands Vineyards underscored his authority on natural winemaking, evidenced here with two superb  offerings: the 2018 Grenache and the 2018 Cinsault. Tegan is one of the leading proponents of the next wave of vineyardists in Lodi; Abe Schoener’s Scholium Project, recently relocated to Los Angeles, sourced their Zinfandel from Passalacqua’s plantings there for their 2017 FTP-Z Kirschenmann Ranch. Meanwhile, their excellent 2012 Delta Blend identifies neither the Sacramento vineyards from which it is sourced, nor its varietals (though I beleive Verdelho was a major component). Also sourcing from the Delta, Maître de Chai selected its grapes from Wilson Vineyards for its 2018 Sparkling Chenin Blanc. Its 2017 Kiekegaard Chenin Blanc, however, comes from the same Sonoma vineyard Leo Steen utilizes.

Last but not least, Craft Wine Company trekked from Oregon to feature its 2018 Origin Chenin Blanc. And even further north, Washington’s Swick Wines produced a panoply of Italian varietal wines, notably the Barolo-worthy 2018 Nebbiolo.

Washington tends to be the preferred West Coast domain for Riesling, with notable exceptions like Santa Cruz’s Stirm Wine Company, which produces a number of different bottlings. But here Ryan flourished with a relatively obscure, though formerly prolific grape, with his 2018 Mission. Another Santa Cruz winery, Florèz, may not tend toward exotic varietals or blends, but comported itself memorably with their elegant 2017 Chardonnay.

Some may prefer to call it Mourvèdre or Monastrell, but the 2016 Mataro Del Barbra Vineyard from Erggelet Brothers was still a masterful wine. And it seems fitting that my final entry comes from Amador’s End of Nowhere, with a stellar 2018 #1 Crush Rosé, a Zinfandel rendering and their 2017 Nemesis, a Yolo County Barbera.


I suppose if I had been able to take notes easily, this column might have run on until 2020, so perhaps there is a silver lining here. But as long as trade tastings resort to the expediency of not printing programs, I will keep harping on this issue.

Categories
Abouriou Albariño Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Chardonnay Dolcetto Gewürztraminer Grenache Malbec Marsanne Merlot Mourvèdre Negroamaro Nero d’Avola Petit Verdot Petite Sirah Pinot Blanc Pinot Noir Port Rosé Roussanne Sangiovese Sauvignon Blanc Syrah Viognier Zinfandel

Pomp & circumstance

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

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


Not meaning to slight the other wineries who poured at A Single Night, but brevity demands I truncate my review and move onto my most recent foray. A whirlwind celebration of wine, food and art, Artisano focused on handcrafted, small production labels from the North Coast, though the preponderance of participating wineries heralded from Sonoma, as well. Many were well-familiar, but a handful new to Sostevinobile. Nearly all had at least one wine that, as above, made the proverbial honor roll.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Abouriou Cabernet Sauvignon Charbono Cinsault Gamay Noir Grenache Malbec Marsanne Merlot Mourvèdre Petit Verdot Petite Sirah Pinot Gris Pinot Noir Roussanne Sangiovese Sauvignon Blanc Syrah Viognier Zinfandel

Potpourri or po’ poor me?

Your West Coast Oenophile ought to be making preparations right now for the most important mid-March holiday, Festà di San Giùseppe—The Feast of St. Joseph, patron saint of Italy, on the 19th. Yes, I know the beer world had its major observance a couple of days ago, but let’s just say Sostevinobile wears its true green 365¼ days a year and leave matters at that.

The truth is, I may not be able even to break out the grappa and celebrate on this Saturday. I have been swamped since January, not just with this blog but with high-level fundraising efforts and with more wine events than I can enumerate. To quote the late Warren Zevon, “poor, poor, pitiful me!” And so I am woefully behind in the installments I have promise to post here; therefore, in the interest of (vainly) essaying to catch up, let me try to condense many of my lingering February reports in potpourri fashion.

Il racconto del pavone bianco

Every now and then, I find myself feeling confined inside San Francisco and schedule a trip to someplace in the wine country, ostensibly on behalf of Sostevinobile, though, in truth, it’s simply a more of a need to decompress. And so, under the pretext of having to attend the Cheers! to Taste! monthly soirée, I headed up to Napa to visit with and sample a few wineries ahead of time.

First up, as I was scheduled to attend an event at his daughter’s acclaimed restaurant Ame in San Francisco the coming weekend, I made a quick stopover at Carl Doumani’s Quixote to visit with Anne White and taste my way through their recent releases. Given Carl’s iconoclastic nature, he rounded out his superb 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon with 12% Syrah, a rarity in Napa. As he had with Stags’ Leap Winery, the estate next door he had formerly owned, Carl’s singular focus on Petite Sirah paid off handsomely with his 2004 Quixote but truly blossomed in the 2008 Quixote Anne inadvertently opened. The only letdown here was with the 2005 Panza, another incredible wine; sadly, just before they realized how good this wine would become, they decided to uproot the Grenache and Mourvèdre vines from which it had been vinted and replant them with Syrah. So much for foresight!

I had wanted to visit with Carl’s other neighbor, Shafer, a winery I have long hoped to tour, but Doug Shafer informed me they were booked for the afternoon. Still, as I passed by the farm that abuts both these vineyards, I heard a cacophonous screeching off to my left. Recognizing the trademark caw of the regal Indian phasianid, I stopped the car and got out, only to be greeted by the pavone bianco—a rare albino peacock!—its lustrous, monochromatic plumage fully spread like the spokes of an enormous white wheel. The sight was beyond breathtaking—I could have stayed and watched for hours.

I finally managed to pry myself away, wondering whether any of the
wines I would be tasting could match the magnificence of this spectacle. Fortunately, my fears were soon allayed. I drove Silverado all the way up to Calistoga, then crisscrossed through downtown to locate the vineyard estate of Envy, where I had scheduled to met Vince Tofanelli, who crafts his wines in their barrel room. A relatively modest endeavor, Tofanelli bottles only Zinfandel and Charbono grown on his organic Tofanelli & DiGiulio Ranch, which also produces Sauvignon Musqué, Sémillon, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Grenache, Mondeuse Noire, and Cinsault. I had already tried Vince’s 2008 Zinfandel, so he took me through barrel tastings of the 2009 Zinfandel and the 2009 Charbono, a wine that portends to become quite intriguing over the next 4-5 years.

Tofanelli’s vineyard lies right beside Paoletti, the Calistoga winery next up on my agendum for the day. But before I headed over there to meet with winemaker Gabriella Gazzano, I was not about to bypass the opportunity to taste my way through Envy’s offerings. This joint venture brings together the impressive viticultural talents of Mark Carter, whose famed Restaurant 301 in Eureka may be the only restaurant in America with more wine selections than local inhabitants, and the previously heralded Nils Venge (the NV in Envy).

Tasting Room Manager Phillip Murphy led me through his entire lineup, an quartet of wines with nary a miss. we started off with the lone white selection, the crisp 2009 Sauvignon Blanc before Phillip poured another Napa contrarian, the 2008 Bee Bee’s Blend, a mélange of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petite Sirah. Individually, both the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2008 Petite Sirah showed highly compelling wines, and I gather there was no varietal Merlot for comparison.

After that, things got interesting, as we worked our way through Mark Carter’s own label (which accounts for ~.35% of the selections at Restaurant 301). First up was his in-house wine, the 2008 Table 5 Meritage. Similarly, the 2008 Hossfeld Coliseum Red Blend married Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot in an extraordinary composite. I very much liked the 2008 Revilo Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon but relished the 2008 Coliseum Block Cabernet Sauvignon even more. Keeping pace with this wine was the 2008 Truchard Vineyard Merlotand I suspect I would have been just as effusive about 2008 Coliseum Block Beckstoffer To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon, had I been able to try it! Last but not least, we delved into the 2007 The Archer, a Grenache with 5% Syrah bottled by artist Ruby Kurant under her eponymous label.

With that, I headed back over to Silverado to explore the wine caves and cellar at Paoletti, arriving at the same time as Gabriella, who doubles as winemaker for her own Rielle label in Petaluma (I would try these wines a week later at the Pacific Orchid Exposition Benefit). We started off with the 2009 Fiora Rosa d’Amore, a rosato of 31% Sangiovese, 64% Syrah, 5% Cinsault, and 2% Grenache. From there we segued. quite logically, to the 2008 Fiore Sangiovese before sampling the 2008 Bella Novello, an impressive Cabernet Sauvignon despite its syntactical incongruity. The pièce de résistance, the exquisite 2007 Nero d’Avola, one of only four bottlings of this varietal I have found in California.

After a quick tour of the caves and original sculptures Gianni had commissioned, I headed down to St. Helena for Cheers! to Taste! Usually this social takes place at a specific venue or winery, like Rubicon Estate. This time, however, the organizers tried to create a facsimile of the summertime Cheers! St Helena party, and, frankly, it proved too chaotic to attempt anything except simply to indulge in the moment and enjoy the camaraderie of the dedicated winery workers whom this group supports. Little on the program matched where the listed wineries actually were pouring, but no matter. I had sampled nearly everyone recently, except for Schweiger Vineyards, a winery I would cover more extensively a couple of weeks later at the Spring Mountain Open House.

even though I had indulged in a number of wines and hors d’œuvres at participating venues along Main Street, I still had room for an obligatory order of Onion Rings at Taylor’s Refresher before heading back to San Francisco. That in itself was pretext enough spending the day in Napa…

Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly

Just because I’m a single male of a certain age living in San Francisco doesn’t mean…you know. I mean…I’ve never even shown the slightest incarnation toward…you know. To be frank, the whole notion of…you know…makes me kinda nauseous. But I concede, when I was much, much younger, there was an occasion (or two) when I listened to show tunes. A whole album’s worth.

As an aspiring playwright, I naturally consider musical theater to be the absolute nadir of the stage and am as likely attend an Andrew Lloyd Weber production as I would order a big Mac and wash it down with White Zin. Still, deep in the recesses of my mind, I heard echoes of the oft-recorded centerpiece from Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun as I entered the Mission District’s cavernous Heart Wine on Valencia for a wine tasting fundraiser for The Proof is in the Vine: Natural Wine in California. I suppose there’s a touch of irony that the two brothers producing this documentary chose a wine bar that virtually eschews California wines, but with the usual lineup of natural wine aficionados pouring their selections, it became easy to overlook this discrepancy.

Normally, I would have expected to find Gideon Beinstock among this collection, showcasing his Clos Saron, but he made up for his absence by pouring his delightful 2005 Black Pearl (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Viognier, Roussanne) and other wines at the aforementioned Pacific Orchid Exposition the following week. His congenial demeanor was more than compensated for by the appearance of the ever-ebullient Hardy Wallace on behalf of the Natural Process Alliance, whose wines in stainless steel canteens have become familiar sights at events promoting a number of green causes. The contents of these canteens this evening started with the 2009 Pinot Gris Chalk Hill and the 2009 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast. I haven’t quite figured out why organic Sauvignon Blanc just seems to work better than other organic varietals, and the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley poured here was no exception. The wild card of the evening, though was the whim of the wheel 2009 Sunhawk, a co-fermented filed blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier, a splendid wine one could easily quaff six night a week.

Their literature states they grow a “field blend of Tempranillo, Syrah, Tannat, Grenache, Negroamaro and Cabernet Sauvignon,” certainly a wine I would be more than interested in tasting, but this evening La Clarine Farm only poured their 2009 Syrah Sumu Kaw Vineyard. Nonetheless, this biodynamic bottling proved quite a compelling introduction to this impassioned Somerset winery. Needing no introduction this evening were Tracey and Jared Brandt, though daughter Lily Grace, born March 10, was still in utero for the event. Her expectant parents poured a representative selection of their Donkey & Goat viticultural offspring, including the 2009 Untended Chardonnay Anderson Valley, the 2009 Brosseau Vineyard Chardonnay, their always marvelous 2008 Fenaughty Vineyard Syrah, and the newest bottling of their selective Rhône blend, the 2009 Four Thirteen, a GMS + Counoise.

I’d met their fellow Berkeley winemaker Steve Edmunds years before the Brandts had probably contemplated starting a label and have long enjoyed both his Edmunds St. John wines and eclectic Organoleptician newsletter. To be honest, however, there was a period during the early 2000s when I felt his wines had notably slipped. This evening, it was quite pleasurable to see him back on track with his 2009 Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir, one of the few true versions of this compelling varietal produced in California, along with the 2009 Wylie Syrah, and his own GMS blend, the 2009 Rocks and Gravel Dry Creek Valley grown at Unti Vineyards.

The evening’s great revelation, though, had to have come from Old World Winery. My good friend Darek Trowbridge seemed almost surprised to find me at the event; on the other hand, I hadn’t realized he was such an orthodox adherent to natural winemaking principles. In any case, it made for an interesting context to resample many of his wines that I had tried over the summer, starting with his 2008 Sauvignon Blanc.

Darek didn’t have a Chardonnay on hand, so we moved straight to his red selections with the 2006 Pinot Noir Sterling Family Vineyard, a wine that whetted your thirst for the 2007 vintage (as many 2006s will). The 2005 Cabernet Two Rock Block Bei du Rocchi Vineyard proved just as delectable, while the 2005 Zinfandel Laughlin Vineyard stood as a pinnacle of the evening. With that, he told me, “I have my Arborio under the table…”

Now, I’ve known quite a few winemakers who produce their own olive oil, raise cattle, or even maintain apiaries, but growing superfine rice was a first. As he brought out a bottle of his yet-unreleased 2008 Fulton Foderol, I finally clued into what he was saying.


This classic Risotto Milanese is made with Arborio, not Abouriou!

The rather obscure varietal Abouriou, also known as Early Gamay, is planted on a single acre in California at the Gibson-Martinelli Vineyard. My research shows that winemaker Steve Canter used to source these grapes for his defunct Luddite Vineyards, which bottled their own Abouriou Gibson-Martinelli Vineyard from 2001-05. After Steve took on the role of winemaker for Quivira, he abandoned this project, making the Abouriou available to Darek, who, coincidentally, is a member of the Martinelli clan. His forthcoming bottling blends the Abouriou with 50% Zinfandel, making for a distinctive wine that shows similarities to Lagrein. In any case, a complete revelation to me.

After the tasting, we stopped by Beretta for a late dinner. In addition to the obligatory pizza, we ordered a side dish of the Baccalà Mantecato, a Venetian interpretation of this centuries-old Italian staple, whipped into a delicate mash with potatoes, cream and olive oil. Incredibly, even with growing up in an Italian family, Darek had never tried salted cod before. Somehow my previous ignorance of Abouriou seemed mitigated.
To be continued
Two down and twelve to go. I
still have to report on Affairs of the Vine’s Pinot Summit, the first San Francisco tasting from the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance, and nine appellation tastings at Première Napa! And I ought not give short shrift to the Pacific Orchid Expo, but as with Cheers! to Taste!, there was little new ground here for Sostevinobile. True, I did find much to like in all five of Rielle’s wines: both the 2007 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay and the 2008 Sonoma County Chardonnay; her 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley and the 2008 Sonoma County Zinfandel, as well as Gabriella’s proprietary 2006 Sonoma County Red Wine, a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon and 36% Syrah. I was also intrigued by my first taste of the 2005 Estate Pinot Noir from Casa Carneros, though disappointed to learn that the 2002 Merlot Las Loma Vineyard will be their last bottling of this varietal. And while I’d be remiss in not citing my discovery of the excellent 2005 Sonoma Valley Syrah from Petrali, as well as the 2005 Sonoma Valley Blythleigh, their special blend of Syrah, Viognier, Mourvèdre, and Petite Sirah, my presence at this affair was intended to be purely social, and so my summary will end at that.
Tax preparations are looming. Other remaining tasks for Sostevinobile seem innumerable. Perhaps it is best to put this post aside and find some grappa after all…