Category Archives: Torrontés

11 bottles of wine on the wall, 11 bottles of wine…

Your West Coast Oenophile is normally not one to laud his own accomplishments, but my ongoing efforts to launch Sostevinobile, along with the creation of Smartphone app ResCue™ and the design of Comunale, have led to my selection as Featured Entrepreneur by EFactor, the self-billed World’s Largest Entrepreneurial Community.

The downside to this accolade has been responding to the flood of e-mails I’ve received from well-wishers and the like, yet another task impeding my progress in completing entries for this blog. Still, I am drawing to a close with this (admittedly) gimmicky approach to short-format posts focused on the vast array of wines I have had the privilege of sampling this past summer, and so, without further ado:

11) The name Murphys has always struck me as somewhat incongruous, but this quaint, self-billed “Queen of the Sierra” has evolved into the seat of Calaveras County viticulture. Keeping stride with this recently garnered reputation, Hovey Wine showcased their delightful 2009 Tempranillo Rolleri Cuvee, an exemplary take on this varietal.

10) The last time I wrote about T.A.P.A.S., I exhausted every pun I could make about Longoria, so today I will only sing praises of their 2010 Albariño Clover Creek Vineyard. Here truly is a vintage that could convert even the most diehard white wine skeptic.

9) Pierce Ranch is both one of the mainstays of the San Antonio Valley AVA and a principal grower of Iberian varietals in Monterey County. It’s always a pleasure to see Josh Pierce at numerous tastings throughout the season and sample through his wines. This afternoon’s nod went to his 2008 Cosecheiro, a deft proprietary blend of Tempranillo, Touriga, Graciano and Petit Sirah

8) For me, trying to pronounce Cosecheiro probably poses the same difficulties others encounter in my pentasyllabic surname, a euphonic conjugation I had mastered by age 2½. It took a bit of Internet sleuthing to discover it’s a variation on cosechero, or harvester, a tribute to the field workers who make winemaking possible. No such challenge for this former Vergilian scholar to grasp the nuances of the exceptional 2009 Idilico Garnacha from Pomum Cellars, the lone visitor here from the Puget Sound AVA in Washington.

7) Continuing in this vein, San Francisco’s own Urbanite Cellars coined its own proprietary portmanteau for the pair of Lodi blends it produces; of the two, I gave slight nod to the 2010 Caliberico White, a mezcla of Albariño, Verdelho, and Torrontés.

And yet, I didn’t realize the connection between Urbanite and Vinos Unico until I found two listings for mutual owner Luis Moya in my iPhone Address Book. The latter lists itself as “Wine Importers and Wholesalers,” with a portfolio from Spain and Portugal, as well as Iberian wine producers in Argentina, Arizona, and California. With that, the derivation of Cal-Iberico finally dawned upon me. Allora! I wish him greater success than the ill-fated Consorzio Cal-Italia ever enjoyed!

6) Should my cohorts and I manage successfully to launch Risorgimento as a preferable successor to Consorzio Cal-Italia, I suppose the inevitable question people will ask is whether D. Marc Capobianco can be the next Bob Cappuccino? Which is not unlike asking whether Jeff Tsai will be the next Randall Grahm. Not this is meant to contrast their winemaking styles or philosophy—the 2010 Verdelho Calaveras County from Jeff’s Twisted Oak proved a true highlight of this tasting—nor foster a debate on their mutually over-the-top showmanship. Indeed, the only relevant question any of us should be pondering at this time is “who can become the next Steve Jobs?”


Would you buy a used Cabernet from this man?

5Quinta Cruz, the Iberian varietal arm of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, has long been a reliable presence at a number of events, including T.A.P.A.S., and certainly one of the most heavily Portuguese-focused wineries in California. One of the peeves I have with some Iberian producers here is their rather lax approach to labeling their varietals, in particular, the generic use of “Touriga.” This practice is akin to calling a varietal “Cabernet,” when distinction between Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc is obligatory. But Quinta Cruz’ superb 2009 Touriga San Antonio Valley commits no such transgression—components are properly listed as Touriga Franca and Touriga Naçional.

4) Not to be confused with Yorba Linda, the birthplace of Richard Milhaus Nixon, Yorba Wines from Sutter Creek (self-billed as “the Jewel of Amador County”) offered a rare vertical tasting of their lone Spanish wine, with the oldest vintage, the 2005 Tempranillo, clearly manifesting the beauty and complexity of aging this noble varietal.

3) Odisea, or, more Hellenically, Ὀδύσσεια, doesn’t merely constitute the 24 book tome I labored to translate under the questionable tutelage of William C. Scott, but a rather cerebral winery operating out of Danville (the Jewel of Contra Costa County?). Though each of their featured wines had much to admire, I found myself quite partial this time to the 2009 Unusual Suspects, an atypical blend of Tempranillo, Cariñena (Carignane), and Garnacha. (This same wine venture also produces the Circean-inspired Cochon Wines).

2) From Suspects to Oregon’s Rogue Valley—RoxyAnn typically makes French varietals but managed to comport themselves quite admirably with their 2007 Tempranillo. I will be more than interested to taste through the rest of their library, which includes a non-vintage Pear Wine from their Hillcrest Orchard.
1) Of course, what would an Iberian varietal tasting be without Port, even if it no longer can use this nomenclature? St. Helena’s Tesouro Port Cellars returned with a superb vintage of their 2005 California Dessert Wine, deftly marrying lots of Touriga, Tinta Cão, Tempranillo, Alvarelhão, and Souzão.

0) OK, I admit I’ve exceeded my self-imposed limits for the scope of this seemingly interminable exercise, yet despite its conceits, I am no closer to catching up with my backlog than when I began, 99 bottles of wine ago. But it’s my blog and if I can make the rules, I can just as well violate them! And so I elect to bring this exercise to a murmuring close with Wine #100, the phenomenal NV Tawny Port Amador that Lodi’s St. Amant Winery crafted. The perfect coda to a labor of love (Sostevinobile) that (hopefully) never ends…

Welcome 2011!

Hard to believe Your West Coast Oenophile began writing this blog for Sostevinobile two years and 104 entries ago. Now that 2010 has been officially relegated to the scrap heap of time and the second decade of this millennium has dawned upon us, I am cautiously predicting auspicious developments this January. How good a prognosticator I am remains to be seen.

My first winery tour of the year began with a casual swing through Napa this past Wednesday—a string of impromptu stops before attending Cheers! to Taste at Rubicon Estate. First up was lunch and tasting with my pal Matt Rorick and the array of incredible wines he makes under his Forlorn Hope label. We met up at downtown Napa’s Zuzu, an understated Tapas house befitting Matt’s minimal approach to his œnology. In his muted accoutrement and my tailless coiffure, we differed from our previous encounters but happily set about our business.

Now, much as former NBA star Darryl Dawkins liked to give colorful names to his glass-shattering dunks, Matt has created a nomenclature for his wines that belies their varietal base. We started with his 2007 Nacré, a Napa Valley Sémillon emboldened by Australia’s Hunter Valley tradition of imbuing this varietal with robust character. Another white grape that often yields a somewhat tepid wine, Torrontés, danced to life in his 2009 La Gitana. We rounded out the white portion of our session with the 2009 Que Saudade, a Portuguese-style Verdelho that totally invigorated the Ceviche del Dio Matt had ordered.

I am never able to resist Grilled Octopus, which turned out to be an ideal complement to the 2009 Suspiro del Moro, Matt’s exceptional Alvarelhão from Ron Silva’s storied Silvaspoons Vineyard. We moved onto the 2009 Sangiovese, a wine without a descriptive name yet totally in sync with Forlorn Hope’s superlative standards. I had not previously sampled most of Matt’s forays outside of Iberian wines, so it was quite revelatory to try both the 2006 Gascony Cadets (Petit Verdot) and the 2006 Les Deux (Petite Sirah). I had previously tried a wee sip of his 2007 St. Laurent, so reveled in a more indulgent pour of the enticing 2008 Ost-Intrigen before wrapping up our luncheon.

After Matt left for his next meeting, I took a stroll along the newly-completed renovations of Napa’s downtown river front that has transformed this former backwater into a worthy rival of Healdsburg as St. Helena’s counterpart. Strolling past such highly acclaimed culinary destinations as Morimoto and Ubuntu, I found myself in front of the quaint downtown tasting room for Stonehedge and winemaker Jon Alexander-Hills’ organic Koo Loo Loo label. To this mix, Jon has added a biodynamic Mendocino-based line, 39 North, which I eagerly sampled. Regrettably, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon seemed a rather tenuous wine, but I was favorably impressed by the 2006 Petite Sirah.

With several hours to fill before the Coppola event, I pointed my Corolla up Silverado Trail and rolled into the first winery I hadn’t yet encountered for Sostevinobile. Not that I hadn’t heard of Regusci many times over the years, but with the bulk of their wines purchased by their membership, any opportunity for tasting had been quite rare. A sign in front of the winery exhorted visitors not to feed the property’s canines, but judging by the fox terrier that resembled an oversized, four-legged bratwurst, I sensed it has rarely been heeded. A bit more lithe and definitely more appealing, Wine Club Manager Ashley McMullen warmly greeted me as I entered the rustic tasting room.

Regusci lists itself as having been established in 1932, but its current incarnation did not formally open doors until 1998. Originally, however, this property housed the Grigsby-Occidental Winery, built in 1870 by Terrill Grigsby, whose family had played a major role in the Bear Flag Revolt that established the short-lived independent Republic of California (a concept we would be well-advised to reconsider).

History aside, the contemporary operations here contrast with the nostalgic imagery of its antiquated label. Grown in Carneros, the 2009 Chardonnay represents Regusci’s only non-estate bottling, its typicity readily apparent. The exceptional 2007 Estate Zinfandel, on the other hand, constitutes the sole estate-grown Zin in the Stags Leap District AVA. I found the 2007 Estate Merlot a most amiable wine, while their popular 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon proved as appealing.

About this time, nonagenarian Angelo Regusci strolled in with another of his dogs and picked out a couple of bottles for personal consumption. As Ashley noted, this enviable lifestyle came as reward for decades of laboring to develop the winery to what its has become today. Fittingly, Regusci bottles a pair of Heritage Wines in honor of its lineage. A decidedly Left Bank-style Meritage, the wondrous 2007 Patriarch blended 55% Cabernet Sauvignon with 35% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, all estate grown. The true star of the winery portends to be the 2006 Angelo’s Hillside Cabernet Sauvignon, a striking wine at present, with its true potential 10-15 years away.

I left Regusci and headed north for a mile or so until I stumbled upon Steltzner, another winery whose Pinotage I have long hoped to try. With only a small group of visiting medical students from Annapolis finishing up their guided tour, Tasting Room Manager Travis Westrope was able to accord me individualized attention as he steered me through their varied inventory. We started with the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley, a subdued take on this varietal, then followed with the well-rounded 2008 Pinot Noir Hendricks Vineyard, a striking Sonoma Coast vintage, before moving onto the much-anticipated 2006 Estate Pinotage, a South African varietal that has increasingly gained popularity in California.

As with Regusci, I did immensely enjoy Steltzner’s 2007 Estate Merlot before moving on to the surprising 2006 Estate Sangiovese Riserva, a true bellwether of this varietal’s resurgence on the West Coast. I next found myself entranced by the 2006 Estate Cabernet Franc, as well as by the 2005 Pool Block Cabernet Sauvignon. Still, Steltzner’s best offering had to have been the alluring NV Merlot Port, a fortified wine infused not with brandy but the distilled must from its own grapes. A shame they didn’t make grappa instead, but I appreciated the symmetry nonetheless.

I was surprised, around a month ago or so, to discover that I had never tasted Miner’s wines in my role as Sostevinobile’s Wine Program Director. Determined to rectify this oversight, I continued my northward trek until I espied their familiar perch along the east side of the trail. Lumbering up the steps to the upper-level tasting room, I was heartened to see the posted prohibition against smoking on the terrace—further validation that wine and tobacco simply should not be mixed.

Inside,
as with Steltzner, I encountered only a handful of scholastic
tourists, this time a pair of teachers from, I believe, Ohio (all those states east of the Tehachapis eventually meld into one). Tasting Room Manager Steve Gage first guided us through the standard tasting, starting
with Miner’s welcoming staple, the 2009 Viognier Simpson Vineyard. Few wineries have made this varietal with such consistency over the years, so it seemed a tad surprising that the next selection, the 2007 Chardonnay, employed a highly fickle Wild Yeast fermentation—this time, with superb results.

As with Regusci, I found the 2007 Merlot Stagecoach Vineyard and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Stagecoach Vineyard pretty much on par with each other, while their pinnacle, the 2006 Oracle, a blend of the five principal Bordeaux grapes focused on Cabernet Sauvignon, drank quite smoothly now but portended to show spectacularly in another five years. Before taking off, I backtracked a bit to sample both the 2009 Tempranillo and the 2007 La Diligence, a Syrah collaboration between David Miner and noted Rhône Valley winemaker François Villard. I should have tried another joint effort, the 2007 Miner Benedetto Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon, a true Left Bank-style venture vinted in conjunction with jazz guitar craftsman Robert Benedetto, whose signature instrument adorns the Tasting Room wall, but. alas, my gratification must be delayed.

Impressively, Miner Vineyards operates entirely on an extensive solar grid whose output is tracked on their Website. Just to their north, Mumm Napa sports a slanted roofing that could power the entire Chiles Valley, were it solar equipped (though, to their credit, Mumm Napa is the only winery in Napa Valley to achieve the highly distinguished Triple Certification from the International Organization for Standardization). Regardless of this anomaly, I swung across Silverado Trail and indulged in a quick sampling of their sparkling wines. After all, at a recent France vs. California blind tasting, their 2001 DVX had placed 7th.

Alas, I was only accommodated with the standard tourist tasting—a flight of three of Mumm’s non-vintage bubblies: the Brut Prestige, its corollary Brut Rosé, and the slightly distinguished Cuvée M. I would have like to sample their still wines, as well, but the house runs on a precise schedule and showed no flexibility on their closing time. I did, however, manage to cajole my waitress into serving me a taste of their superb 2003 DVX. This last sparkler made my stop utterly worthwhile.

With an hour left to kill before the Rubicon Estate affair and craving some solid sustenance, I wound my way up to the Pope St. intersection and crossed over to the St. Helena Highway for my obligatory stop at Gott’s Roadside (formerly Taylor’s Automatic Refresher). Violating the strictures of my 2011 diet, I indulged in an order of their legendary garlic fries before crossing the highway on foot to visit with Long Meadow Ranch. Neither Chris nor Ted Hall were on hand at this late hour, but I nonetheless sampled their delectable 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, a moderately grassy interpretation of the varietal and an array of their prized Cabs, starting with the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon and its superb successor, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Interestingly, I favored this wine over the 2005 EJ Church Cabernet Sauvignon, despite it listing at double the price (admittedly, this latter bottling seemed structured to peak at a much later date). Of course, I had to indulge in the 2007 Sangiovese Peter’s Vineyard, and with that, I was, at long last, ready to motor down to Rutherford and hobnob at Rubicon Estate with an assemblage of the folks who help make the wine country such a special place to visit.

The promoters of the May-November monthly wine stroll, CHEERS! St. Helena, and the concierge trade association CANVAS, began last year to hold gatherings in Napa and in Sonoma to bring together tasting room and hospitality professionals for an evening of networking, wine education, and socializing. With the survival of many wineries now dependent on direct sales, both through their tasting rooms and their wines clubs, these individuals have become the critical cog in the industry.

Francis Ford Coppola’s restoration of the Inglenook estate has long conveyed a sense of opulence and sheer might, not unlike the Corleone’s Long Beach compound in Godfather I or King’s Beach compound in Godfather II. Still, the grandeur of the setting merely provided a backdrop to the array of local wines being poured, including the “house brand.” Granted, our hosts were not about to break out the Cask 23 for this crowd, but no complaints were heard about the organically-grown 2008 B
lancaneaux
, a Rhône-style blend of 43% Roussanne, 38% Marsanne, and 19% Viognier. Even more impressive, the 2006 Captain’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, another organic endeavor, was rounded out with 8% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot, and 1% Petit Verdot.

Ten other wineries poured a selection of their fare, although, incredibly, Caymus ran out of their wines half an hour into the event! I did, however, manage to sample the rest of the local wines on hand, starting with a trio of Rutherford’s leading female winery proprietors. First up, I greeted my friend HB Peju of Peju Province, who had so graciously entertained me at her home last summer. Several months later, I was still pleased to retry her 2009 Chardonnay Napa Valley alongside the excellent 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. Her pal Gretchen Lieff countered with her wondrous 2007 Auberge Road Cabernet Sauvignon and the even more impressive 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. In contrast Julie Johnson of Tres Sabores showcased her organic 2008 ¿Porqué No?, a deft mélange of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot.

Julie had been instrumental in the founding of Frog’s Leap when she was married to current owner John Williams. A true believer in organic farming, John’s winery poured a trio of their current releases: the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2007 Merlot, and the stellar 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine subtly blended with 10% Cabernet Franc and 2% Merlot.

John, unfortunately, could not be present this evening, but holding court at his winery’s station, Larry Piña more than pleased the crowd with his always wondrous 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon D’Adamo Vineyard. I can’t recall who poured for Corley Family’s Monticello Cellars, but I was suitably impressed with both their 2008 Estate Grown Chardonnay and the 2008 Estate Grown Cabernet Franc (admittedly, the 2008 Estate Grown Pinot Noir did not measure up to these levels). I also immensely enjoyed the 2007 Cabernet Franc from Slaughterhouse, a winery I first encountered at a previous Rutherford tasting at Rubicon Estate, along with their amiable 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

The folks from Frank Family held true to form with their ever-reliable 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, while the 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Freemark Abbey, the only winery to place both a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon in 1976’s famed Judgment of Paris tasting, proved a most elegant vintage. As an added treat, Freemark reached back not quite as far as 1976 but still wowed the crowd with a library taste of their perfectly-peaked 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Rutherford Estate provided the event with an array of charcuterie and cheese selections. I know I also liberally partook in the tapas catered by both Rutherford Grill and St. Helena’s Panevino, but, unfortunately, neglected to record what they served. Mi dispiace! I’d only been tasting for the past eight hours and, besides, I need to uphold my New Year’s Resolution of bringing these entries on time and in under 2,500 words!
I’ve just barely made it on both counts…

Four for the road

Your West Coast Oenophile diligently tries not exhibit any favoritism in these entries toward any particular winery, and apart from affirming that Sostevinobile will never serve Asteri Mou at any of our premises, I make no declarations about the wines I will include. But, of course, anyone who knows me does know that, outside of my professional role, I have been inordinately fond of Ridge Vineyards since the 1980s and have filled my private collection with many of their wines.

Given this predilection, it surprised me to realize I had not visited Ridge’s Montebello facility for nearly two years until my stop earlier this month. Somehow, I managed to arrange a meeting at Stanford on the same Sunday as Michael Martella’s tasting in Woodside, so scheduling a trip up the mountain made for an ideal detour between my two appointments.

Plenty of wine writers extol the virtues of Ridge’s vineyard-designate Zins or their renowned Monte Bello, but I have long held the winery’s true forte lay with its periodic bottling of off-varietals like Carignane. Occasionally, one or more of Ridge’s vineyards will yield an excess of grapes they use primarily for blending, prompting the winemakers to vinify the remainder as a single varietal. Years ago, my introduction to Mataro came from such a bottling, and I am always on the lookout for the possibility that another vintage will be released.

Last year, a surplus of Viognier led Ridge to try its hand with this grape, and the results proved astounding. The flawless 2009 Lytton Estate Viognier represents the most alluring expression of this varietal I have yet to taste, beyond the  I bestow sparingly on utterly superb wines. To prove my tasting room sample wasn’t merely a fluke or the whim of my palate on this particular afternoon, I not only brought home a 375 ml bottle, I went out and sampled a glass of the 2009 Viognier Central Coast from Alban Vineyards, one of the few wineries that has produced a consistently great Viognier over the past decade. The Ridge surpassed even this exceptional wine. Some Viogniers can be flat, almost lifeless; other are made cloying sweet. Ridge’s bottling expressed the subtlety of a honeysuckle blossom, elegant and compelling at the same time. I could not have been more pleased.

Ridge’s forays into white wines have garnered considerable accolades in recent years for this red stronghold. Wine Spectator named the 2006 Monte Bello Chardonnay its #21 Wine of the Year, and the 2007 bottling the tasting room poured this afternoon may even be better. Other wines included in its Estate Single-Vineyard Flight included the 2008 Geyserville Zinfandel (72% Zinfandel, 20% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah, 2% Mataro), the equal blend of the 2006 Syrah/Grenache Lytton Springs and the 2007 Monte Bello Estate Cabernet/Merlot (58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot).

The real treat, though, was a sip (or two) (or three) of the 2007 Monte Bello, an exceptional assemblage with 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 9% Petite Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc. Part of the reason I so enjoy visiting Ridge’s Cupertino facility is its perch some 2500′ above Silicon Valley, reducing the drab, box-like factories and insular hi-tech campuses to postage stamp size; amid the afternoon cloudburst, the vistas from atop Black Mountain were totally obfuscated and yet sipping on this phenomenal Meritage, I still managed to feel above it all.


The drive down Monte Bello Road becomes particularly hazardous in these conditions, yet I managed to navigate the hairpin turns without incident. Finding my way back to I-280 wasn’t an issue, nor was finding the exit to Alpine Road. Light showers turned to a drenching downpour as I wound my way through the unfamiliar terrain of Portola Valley, past the Ginkgo Girl’s latest place of employ, and eventually finding myself at Woodside’s Mountain Terrace for the Martella tasting.

Despite the inclement weather and remote hillside setting, the parking lot had filled and many attendees had to resort to finding space across Skyline Blvd. at Alice’s Restaurant, a fabled biker’s roadhouse where Chardonnay is definitely not the drink of choice.The stark contrast between the two establishments belies an easy rapport that has existed for years, and neither attempts to be exclusionary. 

For the record, Michael wasn’t pouring Chardonnay this afternoon but did start the tasting off with his 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, a grapefruity take on the varietal. The SB proved a perfect accompaniment to the Crab Cakes the waitresses from Mountain Terrace circulated throughout the three tasting areas, but I found his 2007 Grenache Rosé a tad more satisfying as a thirst quencher; in turn, I had an even greater partiality towards the 2007 Fiddletown Grenache.

Arguments could be made either way, but I personally favored Michael’s 2007 Hammer Syrah to his 2007 Camel Hill Syrah (rumors of camel dung being the fertilizer of choice at the latter vineyard had no bearing on my preference). Not surprising, the 2008 Fiddletown Zinfandel provided one of the true standouts this afternoonZin being the backbone of the Amador AVA—while also complementing the ample charcuterie spread out on the main table

An easier distinction loomed between the 2006 Heart Arrow Cabernet Sauvignon—quite possibly the best wine of the afternoon—and its followup, the 2007 Heart Arrow Cabernet Sauvignon. The latter posed a bit of a conundrum, a wine that, with time, will likely surpass its predecessor, and yet despite its ageworthiness, seemed the more ripened of the two vintages being poured. A more vexing question, though was whether the 2007 Heart Arrow Petite Sirah made for better pairing than the Cabs with the bits of dark chocolate on the counter, and which of the three matched up best with the beef tri-tip canapés. Certainly, I’d be willing to revisit the issue!

All in all, the Martella tasting proved a most convivial gathering, and with the rains precluding gathering outdoors on Mountain Terrace’s redwood deck, a genuine intimacy took hold indoors. My friend from Rock Wall, Renee Cheng, introduced me to numerous regular attendees, including her parents, while Michael himself seemed surprised I had not previously me his wife, Beverly. “Oddly,” I noted. “Most men try not to introduce me to their wives.” We both being Italian, he well understood.

I always seem to be obliged to some other commitment when Martella holds one of its infrequent tastings, so finally making it to this event was especially gratifying. I have long championed Michael’s œnology both under his own label and for the wines he crafts for Thomas Fogarty, while his assistant winemaker, Nathan Kandler, makes exceptional Pinots under his own Precedent label; the wet, winding jaunt to this quasi-remote sector of San Mateo County was well worth my effort. Now, if only some free-spending Venture Capitalist from Woodside had felt equally impassioned, this might have turned out to be an unprecedented event!


One of these days, if I’m still on the money hunt for Sostevinobile, I plan somehow to rise at 6 a.m., drive back down to Woodside in time for breakfast at Buck’s and pretend to have lost my term sheet somewhere in the vicinity of John Doerr’s table. But perhaps my diligence will have paid off before I need to resort to such a ploy. In the meantime, I followed my Woodside trip with yet another trek to the East Bay the following weekend.

Now, normally, any excursion to Berkeley obliges me to visit Berkeley Bowl, the independent market rumored to feature the world’s largest produce section. However, I’d attended the Green Building Forum and Celebration at the David Brower Center just a few days before and had detoured to the Bowl’s new adjunct on Heinz Avenue, leaving with a $2.99 sack of loose lettuce leaves that dwarfed a King size pillow. As such, a second trip in three days seemed utterly superfluous.

Instead, I wound my way through the low-level warehouses below University Avenue to the familiar confines of A Donkey and Goat. I first met Jared and Tracey Brandt at Rhône Rangers in 2005, and while I had never completely left the wine world, the epiphany of their unbottled 2003 Syrah that led to the reinvigoration of my active involvement, ultimately spawning the genesis of Sostevinobile.

Having missed their Fall Open House, I felt compelled (as much as I ever need to be compelled to enjoy wine) to attend one of their December Holiday Saturday tastings. Here I was pleasantly surprise not only to find Tracey preparing for the birth of a second child, but to discover the latest additions to their family of wines. Syrah, Grenache, Chardonnay and, over the last couple of years, Roussanne, have been the mainstays here, so it was refreshing to see Carignane, Pinot Noir and some new Rhône blends in the lineup.

First up was the new 2009 Sluice Box, a well-balanced mélange of Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. Ironically, the next wine poured, the 2008 Mendocino Mélange blended not different varietals but different clones of Syrah (with a touch of co-fermented Viognier) from Broken Leg and McDowell Vineyards.

I find Carignane a rather finicky grape to tame, and Jared’s first stab with his 2009 Carignane from Alexander Valley proved no exception. Bouncing back in superlative form was the first of three Syrahs, the 2007 Vielles Vignes Syrah from McDowell Valley—one sip and I instantly recalled why I have championed this winery for so many years. Coming in a close second, the 2007 Fenaughty Vineyard Syrah from El Dorado County validated A Donkey and Goat’s focus on this varietal.

This afternoon’s Reserve Tasting brought out more revelations, starting with the 2009 Untended Chardonnay. The name for this wine reflects an adherence to the Natural (or Do-Nothing) Farming principles of Masanobu Fukuoka, whose non-interventionist techniques represent a reformation of biodynamic tenets. Philosophy aside, it proved quite a special wine. Next up, the superb 2009 Coupe d’Or showed its deft blend of Marsanne and Roussanne to be quite worthy of its lofty moniker.

Jared and Tracey quite fervently extol the virtues of Syrah over Cabernet and Pinot, so it was a tad surprising to discover their 2009 Broken Leg Vineyard Pinot Noir, from one of their contracted Anderson Valley Syrah ranches. But then there was the 2007 Perli Vineyard Syrah—quite possibly their best Syrah effort since the initial beaker they featured at Fort Mason. A wonderful, rich, velvety wine, it lacked only the dense dried cherries with which A Donkey and Goat usually adorns their parties’ hors d’œuvres table (forget dark chocolate—words cannot begin to describe this ætherial pairing).

With this last wine, it was time to bid farewell to all 3.5 Brandt family members and head off to my next whirlwind event. Still, I was pleased to see the winery expanding its roster and bringing its Natural Winemaking precepts to other varietals. Jared has now added me to the list for A Donkey and Goat’s upcoming trade tasting. I look forward to the event with heightened anticipation.


By now, I ought to have been able to make my way to Rock Wall with my eyes closed. Still, with the CHP out in full force for the holidays, I remained extra-vigilant as I drove to Alameda to squeeze in the tail end of their Wine Wonderland Open House. Given the frequency of events I’ve attend here lately, my visit constituted less a quest for new discoveries for Sostevinobile as it was a chance to celebrate the season with numerous friends and acquaintances. Still, I did manage to find some surprises among the nine wineries pouring at the event.

First up, I encountered Joseph Gary Cellars, a new label making their wine at the Rock Wall facility. While they are portending to release a line of Iberian wines—Garnacha, Tempranillo, Albariño—sometime in the near future, for now their sole production consisted of a label they call Manic Monday, whose 2008 Proprietary Red blends Syrah and Zinfandel from Sonoma fruit. An easy assimilable weekday table wine at an easily assimilable price.

Another newcomer to the Rock Wall event, Mercy Vineyards from Arroyo Seco, had just poured at the San Francisco Vintners Market; despite their anomalous location, it seemed a welcome addition to the East Bay contingent of wineries. Once again, I greatly enjoyed their 2008 Syrah Zabala Vineyard, but not before I had worked my way through their selection of whites and Pinot. Both the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2008 Chardonnay Zabala Vineyard proved highly pleasing wines, while the 2008 Chardonnay Arroyo Seco approached the extraordinary. With three different Pinots to samples, I found the 2008 Pinot Noir Cedar Lane Vineyard and the 2009 Pinot Noir Grive Vineyard both competently crafted vintages, while the 2008 Pinot Noir Arroyo Seco clearly excelled.

My fellow tasting panel partner, Blacksmith Cellars’ Matt Smith, showcased the current vintages of his superb 2008 Chenin Blanc and the 2008 Torrontés, while debuting the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley and a remarkable 2007 Grenache/Syrah. And despite my sampling some 18 of their wines less than a month before, Rock Wall managed to impress with the latest vintages of their 2009 Zinfandel Sonoma County and the exceptional 2009 Zinfandel Stagecoach Vineyard. Their real revelations, however, were the new line of the 2009 Viva La Blanc, a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and the 2009 Viva La Rouge, an extraordinary marriage of Syrah, Zinfandel, and Nebbiolo. These wines were good enough not to correct the incongruities their French nomenclature.

I confess that the short time I had allotted meant I could enjoy only a cursory sampling of the wineries I have covered numerous times previously. Nonetheless, I immensely enjoyed Ehrenberg Cellars2009 Petite Sirah from Lodi and John Robert Eppler’s splendid 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford. I wish I had had more time to explore the remainder of my friend Dick Keenan’s Carica Wines, but was happy just the same to sample his 2008 The Siren, a traditional Rhône-style blend of Grenache, syrah, and Mourvèdre.

Maybe I was too apprehensive from my other recent tastings to believe there really be three outstanding expressions of a tendentious varietal; in any case, I somehow overlooked sampling the 2008 Viognier for Eno in favor of their seductive 2007 Change Agent Grenache, along with the 2007 The One (Pinot Noir) and the 2007 Mr. Fix It (Syrah). As always, catching up with my friend Sasha Verhage made this stop all the more worthwhile.

I finished up with the musically-focused R&B Cellars, which, true to form, offered an imposing lineup. Feeling selective, I opted to start with their new 2006 Metronome Merlot. The 2006 Counterpoint Cabernet Franc showed quite impressively, as did the 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. While I also liked the 2008 Pizzicato Petite Sirah (not being a cellist, I had to look the term up), the Fortissimo Port (50% Tinta Madeira, 50% Touriga) provided the perfect crescendo to my visit.

I returned to San Francisco as Wine Wonderland drew to a close, content that I had covered enough ground for Sostevinobile to call it a wrap for 2010. That is, in terms of formal wine tasting events. There were still plenty of blog entries to fill, as well as the seemingly endless quest for financing (more on that in January). And, of course, my pick of great wines to guide me through it all.

Where there is there there

A few days after attending P.S. I Love You’s Petite Sirah Symposium, Your West Coast Oenophile ventured back across the Bay Bridge for the 5th Annual Urban Wine Xperience in Oakland. Again, having blogged this event for Sostevinobile last year,  I anticipated little in terms of new discovery, but was happy to renew acquaintances and do my small part to help publicize the efforts of these dedicated wine entrepreneurs.

There is an intangible quality to the East Bay wine tastings I’ve attended over the years, something that sharply delineates the ticket holders here from events in San Francisco. On a superficial level, the crowds look different, but only in the sense that they both equally reflect the heterogeneous population of their surrounding communities. But there is definitely a vibe that transcends ethnic makeup here, and I think it may well be a correlation between the lack of pretense among the local wine artisans and the genuine enthusiasm of the majority of attendees—hardly a poseur or dilettante in the crowd, as far as I could detect.

Last year, the Urban Wine Xperience was held outdoors, in a field beside the USS Potomac, the showcase restoration of FDR‘s “floating White House,” ensconced in the Oakland estuary. I arrived in need of some serious heat, maybe not quite the sweltering 95° of previous tasting, but definitely something to recharge the solar batteries after this summer’s protracted winter had taken its toll over the past four bleak, sunless days in San Francisco. Much to my chagrin, UWX V had moved a couple of blocks down the waterfront promenade, off the lawn and inside the enclosed showroom that anchors the Jack London Square complex.



There is no square there

Despite my disappointment at having to spend the afternoon indoors, I found the venue far more spacious and easier to navigate among the 18 various wineries, along with their partnered restaurants and caterers. The copious servings of food showcased not only their precise pairings with the wines being poured but the emerging food scene near the Oakland waterfront and surrounding neighborhoods. Certainly, I found intimations of places I am apt to explore on subsequent East Bay trips, but my focus for the afternoon centered on the appeal of the wines for Sostevinobile

I stopped by first to exchange greetings with Matt Smith, my fellow tasting panelist from the Connoisseurs Guide to California Wine, and to sample, among others, his latest release of the 2008 Alta Mesa Torrontés from his Blacksmith Cellars. Though (so I’m told) every Torrontés producer in California sources their grapes from this same vineyard, Matt manages to craft this wine with his personal touch, just as he did with the very striking 2008 North Coast Chenin Blanc, a once-ubiquitous varietal that has fallen into disfavor over the past two decades. Rounding out his inventory for the afternoon was the 2006 C.L.R.T., a wine that dare not speak its name (in accord with 2005’s Napa Declaration of Place), a Cabernet Sauvignon-based claret blended with Cabernet Franc and Merlot. 

Oakland’s World Ground Cafe matched these wines with a pork canapé, a pairing I find almost ubiquitous at fine & food affairs, but nonetheless well suited to Matt’s craftsmanship. Another restaurant I discovered just outside the exhibit hall, Bocanova, seemed a gargantuan undertaking, but also provided an intriguing pork variation to pair with Cerruti Cellars, a newcomer to Urban Wine Xperience. Their 2009 Mer Blanc Merlot Rosé heralds from vineyards in Alexander Valley, while the 2006 Cuvée Red Blend, a marriage of Sangiovese, Zinfandel and Merlot bottled under their Tudal label, boasts a Napa Valley origin. As if to forge a compromise, they melded barrels from both AVAs to produce the 2007 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa/Sonoma.

I haven’t quite ascertained how Andrew Lane Wines qualifies as an urban winemaker, though their wines certainly warranted inclusion this afternoon. Their corollary to Cerruti’s Cuvée Red blend was an amiable 2007 Rosso Napa Valley, a well-balanced ménage à trois with Sangiovese, Zinfandel and Valdiguié, another somewhat obscured varietal that had once enjoyed immense popularity. I found myself intrigued with their semi-spicy 2007 Petite Sirah Napa Valley, while enthralled with their 2007 Cabernet Franc Oakville. Franc-ly speaking, one of Sostevinobile’s most popular citations, Rock Wall Wine Company, made an equally strong statement with their 2007 Cabernet Franc Holbrook Mitchell from Napa Valley. On numerous visits to their facility, I don’t believe I’d previously tried their 2009 Russian River Reserve Chardonnay and, as with their progenitor, their array of top-notch Zins, including today’s 2008 Sonoma County Zinfandel, often leaves me scrambling to decipher my tasting notes.

Rock Wall’s Kent Rosenblum launched the East Bay winery phenomenon with his eponymous Rosenblum Cellars, now undergoing the throes of assimilation under its corporate parent, Diageo. The realignment was quite apparent in both their 2008 Zinfandel Sonoma Appellation Series and 2007 Zinfandel Paso Robles Appellation Series, not so much in the 2007 Syrah Snow’s Lake. Another spinoff from Rosenblum, JC Cellars, extended the tradition of quality begun in Alameda with a profound series of his own blends, ranging from the Roussanne-Marsanne duality of their 2008 The First Date to the complexity of the 2008 Daily Ration (Carignane, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, Grenache, and Zinfandel) to the quixotic array of Zinfandel, Syrah, Carignane, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, and Viognier in their ever-popular 2008 The Impostor.

JC Cellars’ white Rhône blend was paired with an incredible Seared Halibut on a fried wonton wedge from East Bay caterer Oren’s Kitchen (I confess to circling back to their table numerous times throughout the afternoon). Similarly, the Shrimp and Corn Pudding Tart from Alameda’s Little House Café proved an extraordinary complement to Stage Left Cellars’ white Rhône, the 2008 The Go Getter, a blend of Roussanne, Viognier, and Grenache Blanc. Sourced from a Syrah vineyard in Rogue Valley, their tasty 2007 The Scenic Route seemed an apt title for a descriptor of the grapes’ path back to Oakland while their 2006 Grenache stayed in-state from a vineyard sourced in Santa Maria.

One of my discoveries last year, Irish Monkey Cellars, also poured two Rhône varietals, the approachable 2008 Mourvèdre Lodi and a compelling 2007 Syrah Amador, as well as a blend of varietals they source from Napa’s Lovall Valley (a Real Estate designation, not a recognized AVA), the 2008 Chateaux du Lovall, a will-o’-the-wisp assemblage of Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, Primitivo, Syrah and Merlot. Another of 2009’s stars, Prospect 772 Wine Company, returned with the latest versions of their proprietary blends, the Syrah/Grenache mélange, the 2007 The Brat and its Viognier-infused Syrah brethren, the 2007 The Brawler, along with newcomer 2009 Baby Doll Rosé, also made from Syrah and Grenache.

At most tastings, R & B Cellars usually breaks out the kitchen sink, pouring more wines than I can fathom, but held to a mere trio this afternoon, showcasing their Sauvignon Blanc, the 2007 Serenade in Blanc, a highly likable 2007 Swingsville Zinfandel and the superb 2005 Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Also at most East Bay affairs,Urbano Cellars and Urban Legend Cellars seem inextricably joined at the hip; sequestered in different wings of the exhibition hall, they stood out today on individual merit. Urbano opened with their 2008 Vin Rosé Green Valley, a blush version of Napa Gamay (aka Valdiguié), then followed with an exceptional blend of Syrah, Grenache and Tempranillo, the 2007 5 Barrel Lodi, a haphazard assemblage of they would be, admittedly, hard-pressed to duplicate. Their standout pour came from their wondrous 2008 Sangiovese Mountain View Ranch.

Urban Cellars’ forte also stemmed from its Italian varietal bottlings, starting with the stellar 2008 Barbera Clarksburg that had crowds flocking to their table. Nebbiolo and Sangiovese worked synergistically to deliver their well-balanced 2008 Ironworks, while Marilee Shaffer delighted me with a sip from a bottle of the 2008 Teroldego Clarksburg she had secreted under the table. I also had warm feelings for the yet-unreleased 2009 Tempranillo Clarksburg and for the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Lake County that paired rather seamlessly with Warmed Grits topped with a confit of Chicken & Corn from Oakland‘s Brown Sugar Kitchen (proving, yet again, that there can be a wine to match up with almost everything).

Ehrenberg Cellars is a venture on the cusp of coming into its own, with more people behind its table sporting badges that read “Investor” than I can enumerate. Seemingly, their food partner Paradiso had as many pasta selections on hand, each distinctive and satisfying. This wine venture, formerly known as Nectar Vineyards, showcased promising futures from its unbottled 2009 Shenandoah Zinfandel and 2009 Petite Sirah, along with the 2008 Contra Costa Zinfandel from its previous incarnation. Meanwhile the more seasoned Dashe Cellars displayed its versatility with an organic 2008 Dry Riesling McFadden Farm and a pair of Sonoma vintages, the 2009 Grenache Dry Creek Valley and the 2008 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley, both tangy complements to the Seared Lamb & Arugula canapé from Oakland’s Chop Bar.

In my quest for objectivity, I hope Sasha Verhage will forgive me if I describe his 2007 The One Fairview Road Ranch, the Pinot Noir from his Eno Wines as not quite as mind-blowing as the 2007 The Change Agent (Grenache) and the 2007 The Freedom Fighter (old vine Zinfandel) proved this particular afternoon. Meanwhile, Dick Keenan’s Carica Wines held up their end with the 2008 Kick Ranch Sauvignon Blanc, the 2007 Kick Ranch Syrah, and Syrah-dominated GMS blend, the 2007 Temptation Sonoma County.

I was happy to find Marie Bourdillas’ Aubin Cellars on hand once again. This restrained, Burgundian-style operation offered equally-striking bottlings of their 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir and the 2007 Sonoma Mountain Syrah, along with a demure 2008 French Colombard. And, of course, I saved room for dessert, knowing that Adams Point Winery had its 18% alcohol Mango Wine on hand. In keeping with the Napa Declaration of Place, Adams Point calls its fortified blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petite Sirah California Red After Dinner Wine. While I found this “not Port” quite compelling, their Chocolate Dessert Wine, the same wine with an infusion of chocolate, bordered on tasting syrupy, not quite the finale to this event I had conjured.

Efforts to transform Jack London Square into a culinary mecca have been well-documented of late, and while the quiet exit of hokey food chains like T.G.I. Friday’s, El Torito and the Old Spaghetti Factory certainly seem a positive development, I, too, question whether this destination can draw sufficient crowds to sustain a mega-enterprise like Bocanova or, speculatively, a future branch of Sostevinobile. But, on this one afternoon, there definitely was a there there, and it remains safe to say that Urban Wine Experience proves the East Bay winery scene remains a vibrant presence that will continue to endure.

Arizona, Narsai & Bastardo*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marco Azzurro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

One I missed. The other I made.

There can be a considerable downside to the simplicity of Copy & Paste. Your West Coast Oenophile is starting to realize that the pressures of trying to handle all the needs of Sostevinobile can sometimes cause me to overlook small but important details when I transfer information to my iCal datebook. Like the word preceding the calendar date—the month.
Perhaps I should blame my oversight on my attendance at Rock Wall’s Spring Fling Open House. The weather was perfect Saturday (something Rock Wall always seems to conjure for their major events); the salsicce spicy and enticing; the bevy of Tibetan nursing students who arrived at the tail end of the event alluringly beautiful; the usual suspects—wineries who regularly participate in these quarterly gatherings—there in force. Carica Wines, Ehrenberg , R&B Cellars all poured essentially the same lineup I had tasted at my most recent visit and reviewed here.
Of the new wines I tasted, John Robert Eppler’s JRE label showed notable progress with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford. Matt Smith, with whom I had recently participated on one of the Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wine Tasting Panels, poured several releases from his Blacksmith label, including his 2008 Torrontés, a nostalgic 2008 Chenin Blanc and his Syrah, Grenache/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, the 2006 Hephaestus. Good always to see Sasha Verhage with his redesigned labels for his Eno Wines; inside the bottle, the 2007 Mr. Fix-It (Syrah) and 2007 The Change Agent (Grenache) lingered longest on the memory.
Rock Wall also debuted several wines, including the 2008 Cabernet Franc Holbrook Mitchell, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Holbrook Mitchell, a Sonoma County 2008 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, and the 2008 Zinfandel Reserve. The true revelation of the afternoon, however, was the much-anticipated 2008 Montepulciano Contra Costa County. A distinct varietal, not to be confused with the Sangiovese-based Italian wine of the same name, I have enjoyed this wine only twice before from other California wineries. This 88-case bottling sold out in less than a week (I did my part by returning to the tasting table several times) and truly stand as a harbinger of the risorgimento of Italian varietals on the West Coast (more on this phenomenon later).
Following the Spring Fling, I rushed back to San Francisco to order online passes to the Vinify Winery Collective Tasting in Santa Rosa. With my e-confirmation safely logged into my iPhone, I mapped out an itinerary, arranged appointments in Glen Ellen and Kenwood, then headed out from San Francisco before my usual wake-up time on Sundays.When my companion and I arrived at the industrial complex on Coffey Lane where Vinify houses its custom crush operations, the parking lot seemed eerily empty. Sure enough, Vinify’s front door was locked and neither Hillary Lattanzio nor her husband Matt were answering their phones. The sun was sweltering, Dongzhe was impatient, and I was flummoxed.

I had noticed, as we entered, that Carol Shelton operated her tasting room from another one of the complex’s warehouses. Determined that our trip not become a total wash, I pulled up to her window, hoping to fulfill a long-standing promise to visit her operations. Unfortunately, Carol was off pouring at a tasting in Southern California, but her Hospitality Manager Joanne Emery was more than happy to accommodate us. A check of my Webmail account from Joanne’s computer affirmed that our party was in fact scheduled for the last Sunday in May, so we mollified our frustration with a rather comprehensive survey of Carol’s current releases, starting with her 2008 Rendezvous Rosé, a blush expression of 100% Carignane.
I skipped past a couple of her Zinfandels I had sampled recently, settling first for the 2005 Wild Thing Zin, a much-awarded bottling smoothed by 10% Carignane. The 2006 Rocky Reserve Zin, a bold, signature Rockpile showcased Carol’s considerable repute for this varietal, as did her perennial favorite, the 2005 Karma Zin. Rockpile’s special allure figured prominently in the 2007 Petite Sirah Rockpile Reserve, while the 2005 Exhale Syrah Reserve derived from a rare second bottling of a wine that had been left in cask for over four years.
My readers, fans of Sostevinobile, and our future clientele all know how I am constantly seeking out different and obscure varietals to add to our inventory. The lineup at Carol’s tasting room yielded just such a discovery with her 2008 Sweet Caroline, a late harvest wine crafted from Trousseau Gris. We closed our visit with a taste of Dark Chocolate and the 2008 Black Magic, a late harvest Zinfandel, a fitting cap to our impromptu stop.
I have been building the wine program for Sostevinobile for nearly two years, building on an extensive involvement in the California wine industry since 1982. During this development, I have reached out to and sampled wines from 2,000 or so labels along the West Coast; as such, it seems a natural extension of my research to provided consulting services to other ventures on their wine program, particularly in helping them gain more of a focus on the bounty of wines we have available at our own doorstep. In search of assisting a small group of Italian restaurants incorporate a selection of Italian varietals grown here for their wine list, we headed across Sonoma County to the Kenwood tasting room Michael Muscardini had opened.
Michael couldn’t meet us, owing to a charitable obligation, but we were ably guided through the selections by Tasting Room Manager George Delano. We started off with the 2009Rosato di Sangiovese, a bone-dry expression of the grape I look forward to comparing with other Rosé wines at the Pink Out SF tasting next week. Next up were the 2008 Barbera Pauli Ranch from Ukiah and the 2008 Sangiovese Monte Rosso Vineyards, one of several Sangiovesi Muscardini produces. We could not resist contrasting the 2007 Syrah Gracie Creek with the 2007 Syrah Unti Vineyard before moving onto the 2007 Tesoro, a proprietary Super Tuscan with 58% Sangiovese from both Merlo and Favero Vineyards, plus 21% of Unti’s Syrah.
The 21% remaining to this bottling was Cabernet Sauvignon from Ty Caton, which now shares Muscardini’s tasting room. No Italian varietals here, but memories of working our way through a mixed case of these wines with The Ginkgo Girl last year spurred us to try several of his current offerings. Setting our palate fresh was his crisp 2009 Riesling from the Central Coast, followed by his very approachable 2009 Syrah Rosé. With a wide choice of vineyard designate reds to chose, we opted for the 2008 Petite Sirah Caton Vineyard, the 2008 Upper Bench Merlot, and the 2008 The Ridge George’s Malbec.
Of course, we could not leave without a taste of Caton’s crown jewel, the 2008 Tytanium, a well-balanced blend of 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petite Sirah, 24% Syrah, and 9% Malbec. I had first tried the 2007 vintage of this wine last year at the Open House for Eighth Street Wineries in Sonoma, an industrial warehouse complex that houses the production facilities for Ty Caton and a handful of other boutique wineries like Three Stick, Kamen and Enkidu. I had recently sampled Enkidu’s superb inaugural Sangiovese, the 2008 Rosso Fazekas, at QuestPoint Solar Solutions’ Appreciation and Rejuvenation soirée at Green Zebra, and was happily surprised to discover their new tasting room adjacent to Muscardini. Alas, however, this wine was not on their tasting list, so we departed for a meal in Sonoma Square before returning to San Francisco.


My premature trek to the Vinify tasting made me all the more resolute to enjoy the Taste of Mendocino in the Presidio the following Tuesday.  If only the weather had decided to act as cooperative as it had in Alameda the preceding weekend! Within moments of leaving the Cow Hollow Fedex/Kinko’s, where I had dropped off the sunglasses Dongzhe had left under my car seat, I found myself caught in a downpour as I pedaled furiously over to the Golden Gate Club in the Presidio. I arrived thoroughly drenched, then spent the next 20 minutes seeking out a restroom with hot air hand blower to try drying my shirt!
When I finally did get myself to a point of appearing presentable, I beelined for the tasting room and caught up with Fred Buonanno, who was pouring his Philo Ridge. Though his name, like mine, begs for Italian varietals, Fred vinifies a more mainstream Mendocino varietal selection, with an elegant 2008 Pinot Gris Klindt Vineyard, the AVA signature 2006 CORO Mendocino, and his 2006 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. Of course, the A-Z (Z-A?) in Mendocino wines decidely must be Fred Zmarzly’s Albertina Wine Cellars; an intimate, small production, single varietal operation, Albertina made an emphatic statement with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, a 330 case bottling.
Content merely to span the Bs, Brutocao Cellars and Bliss Family Vineyards herald from a single proprietorship, the former being the primary label. The more affordable Bliss brand offered a straightforward lineup, with an approachable 2008 Pinot Noir an easy favorite. Brutocao’s 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley fell squarely in line with the overall excellence of this vintage throughout the West
Coast,while its 2006 Quadriga, a blend of 40% Sangiovese, 38% Primitivo, 18% Barbera, and 4% Dolcetto, provided a tantalizing glimpse of their Italian heritage wines that were not on this afternoon’s roster.
I don’t know of many wineries with the versatility to make an array of Sauvignon Blancs, but Chance Creek Vineyards certainly proved themselves quite adept in this niche. Of the three interpretation they poured, I greatly favored the 2006 95470 Sauvignon Blanc, while being slightly partial to the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc vs. the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc reserve. And, of course. I took quite a shining to their 2006 Sangiovese. The pinnacle of Italian varietals this afternoon, however, most certainty had to have been Chiarito Vineyard. Advance intimations of John Chiarito’s bottlings of several varietals unique to this region had lead a number of e-mail exchanges before the Mendocino event, and I was rewarded with tastings of his 2003 Negroamaro and his striking 2003 Nero d’Avola. To John’s credit, his 2007 Petite Sirah was no slouch, either.
I am always appreciative of a clever wine name, especially when the wine itself warrants attention, like the 2006 Sedulous from Rivino. I suppose the 18 months I have dedicated (so far) to building Sostevinobile’s wine program might qualify me for this moniker, as well, but Jason McConnell’s deft blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with just a splash of Viognier, deserves the spotlight at this moment, alongside his superb 2007 Sangiovese. Meanwhile, the quaint family operations of Mariah Vineyards seemed to have posted a typo in the tasting guide, lisiting both a 2006 Syrah and a 2006 Syriah, but, indeed, the latter is a proprietary portmanteau (Syrah Mariah) and distinct bottling of but 51 cases, crafted by hand.
Kimmel Vineyards has nothing to do with late night comedy, just the production of a superb 2007 Merlot and an admirable 2007 Chardonnay. One might also suspect Naughty Boy Vineyards as well of having ties to Jimmy K., but is instead the domain of Jim & Emjay Scott and crafts a fine 2007 Dolcetto.
Diametrically opposite but without apparent sanctimony, Mendielle Vertu could easily have derived an esoteric name from owner Bently Luneau or winemaker Kian Tavakoli, but instead chose to honor Mendi, their ranch dog. Though focused on Merlot, with strongest showing from both their 2007 Proprietary Red Merlot and the 2007 Reserve Merlot, they flourished with their new 2008 Chenin Blanc. With as intense focus on Pinot Noir, Phillips Hill held forth with a trio of this varietal, the most definitive being their 2008 Ring of Fire Anderson Valley.
Claudia Springs also excelled with their 2005 Pinot Noir Klindt Vineyard, while also producing a 2009 Viognier Lolonis Vineyard and a 2009 Pinot Gris Klindt Vineyard. Coincidence? Foursight Wines brought along four Pinots, dominated by their 2007 Clone 05 Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard, and a companion 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Charles Vineyard.
Coming from opposite ends of the spectrum, two wineries showcased a single Chardonnay. Independent winery Demuth Kemos produced but a scant 96 cases of their 2008 Chardonnay Anderson Valley, while Constellation’s Mendocino Vineyards bottled 10,000 cases of its foray into organic viticulture, the 2009 Chardonnay. Other boutique proprietors included: Nelson Family Vineyards, notable for both their 2008 Pinot Grigio and 2008 Riesling; Cesar Toxqui, with a sturdy 2006 Zinfandel and a non-vintage Heirloom II, a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot; and Drew Wines, with under 1,300 cases of their three Pinot Noirs, plus a memorable 2007 Syrah Perli Vineyard.
Dreyer Wine displayed its dual personality, with its Il Cuore line and one name for the thoroughbred who ran with such heart, Seabiscuit Ranch. I warmed to Seabiscuit’s 2006 Superfecta Red, a traditional Meritage, but had my greatest fondness for Il Cuore’s new release, the 2006 Barbera, along with their 2007 Rosso Classico, a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Carignane. Meritage components starred at Le Vin Winery, which broke out their older 2002 Merlot and 2004 Cabernet Franc for this afternoon’s gathering.
Maple Creek Winery sees itself as a fusion of wine and art, so it should come as no surprise that they poured a 2008 Artezin Symphony, a grape that itself is a hybrid of Muscat and Grenache Gris. Their notable pour, however, was the 2005 Cowboy Red, a blend of Merlot, Zinfandel and Carignane.Its Mendocino compatrio
t, Trinafour Cellars, bottled straight 2009 Muscat Canelli and 2007 Carignane, along with their 2006 Petite Sirah.
Like Fred Zmarzly, Rosati Family is a Cab-only operation, bottling 1,000 cases each year; of the 3-year vertical they poured, the youngest, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, stood out as the most complex. One of the oldest names in Mendocino winemaking, Weibel Family Winery, demonstrated its small lot varietals, a 200-case 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and a very approachable 2006 Zinfandel, bottled in the same quantity.
Of course, Weibel’s array of champagnes and flavored sparkling wines make it quite the substantial operation. I eschewed their NV Sparkelle for two of the leading méthode champenoise producers on hand, Scharffenberger, which poured its NV Brut Rosé, and the always-marvelous Roederer Estate, which indulged me in its 2002 L’Ermitage.
Following the sale of their family label to Brown-Forman, several of the 11 Fetzer offspring have started their own labels. Present today were both Saracina Vineyards, delighting with its 2006 Atrea Old Soul Red (Zinfandel, Syrah, Malbec, Petite Sirah) as well as its 2007 Petite Sirah, and Jeriko Estate, with its 2006 Pinot Noir and 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Like their original venture, the Fetzer spinoffs all maintain a great fealty to organic and biodynamic farming, a hallmark of numerous Mendocino wineries, including Patianna, which shone with its organic 2008 Chardonnay, and organic pioneers Frey Vineyards, whose Katrina Frey regaled me with the 2007 Sangiovese, as had her daughter Eliza with the previous vintage just as I was formally embarking on Sostevinobile’s wine program.
As always, I never seem to find the time to taste every winery with whom I set out to connect and often miss out on ones with whom I would love to reconnect. I did manage to squeeze in a taste of Esterlina’s excellent 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, along with their contrasting 2008 Riesling and 2008 Dry Riesling Cole Ranch. Edmeades offered a quartet of Zins, headlined by the 2007 Ciapusci Zinfandel. In turn, Elke Vineyard made its strongest impression with their pair of 2007 Pinot Noir Donnelly Creek and 2008 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. I took in a quick tasting 2008 Pinot Gris and 2006 Riesling from McFadden Farm, along with their 2008 Sparkling, but somehow entirely missed both Meyer Family Cellars and Milano Family Winery (I will be sure to make amends at another date).
Had there been time to spare, I would have gladly caught up with old familiars like Lolonis, Navarro, Parducci, Bonterra, Barra, and Jaxon Keys, but, unfortunately, my unforeseen drenching en route to the event whittled away a significant portion of the time I had allotted. Fitting, therefore, that my finally tasting was the 2009 Chenin Blanc of Husch Vineyards. while my dampened attire did not lead to anything quite as dire as pneumonia, I did come down with a nasty bout of congestion and most unwelcome case of laryngitis, which kept me “hushed” for the next several days.

Back with a vengeance! The return of the Liberal Freeloader!

Ah March! With all the events I had to cover for Sostevinobile—not to mention the inexorable task of sourcing our financing—it came as great relief to close the month with one of my favorite annual gatherings, the Rhône Rangers Grand Tasting. I can’t remember when I first attended this early spring festival, but it has always served not only as a harbinger of spring but of incredible wines on the cusp of reaching the market..
Your West Coast Oenophile actually held true to his strict two-pronged agenda for this tasting. First was to visit with the first-time participants at Rhône Rangers; once completed, I would next tackle those wineries who were part of my database, but I had yet to sample. First up, I gravitated over to Black Sheep Winery, who shared its table with Milliaire, another Murphys winery with the same ownership. Notable selections were the 2008 Cinsault Dusty Lane and the 2005 Syrah Milliaire, Sierra Foothills.
From Paso Robles, Caliza, my next stop, a winery given to diverse nomenclature for its Rhône blends. Its mélange of Roussanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc, the 2008 Kissin Cousins, was quite refreshing; its GMS blend, the 2006 Azimuth, emphasized Syrah, while the 2007 Azimuth was Grenache-dominant. I followed my list to the anomaly of Coiled Wines, a venture that produces its wine in Napa from grapes it farms in Idaho! To be honest, I’m not sure how that benefitted its 2008 Syrah Snake River Valley..
Folin came down from Oregon to pour its array of varietals, with a 2007 Estate Viognier, a young 2008 Estate Petite Sirah, and a noteworthy 2006 Syrah. Further down the coast, Paso Robles’s Katin displayed a range of wines, with an exceptional 2008 Viognier Paso Robles and a trio of Syrahs, ranging from the 2007 Syrah Glenrose Vineyard and the outstanding 2007 Syrah Michaud Vineyard to their Oregonian 2007 Syrah Del Rio Vineyard. Martinelli Winery from Windsor also produced a Syrah Trifecta, showing with the 2005 Syrah Terra Felice, placing with the 2006 Hop Camp Gravel Lens Vineyard, and winning with the exceptional 2006 Syrah Zio Tony Ranch.
Though I tend to favor Roussanne, I am always impressed by a great Marsanne and certainly Michaud Vineyards did just that with their 2007 Estate Syrah Chalone AVA. They also managed to put themselves on Sostevinobile’s radar with their 2004 Estate Syrah Chalone AVA, the clear favorite among their four verticals of this bottling. From there, I progressed to Shane, one of Kosta Browne associate winemaker Shane Finley’s acclaimed sidelines; of the multiple Syrahs he poured, I cottoned most to the 2008 Jemrose and the 2008 Judge, while noting also the easy pleasure of his rosé, the 2009 Ma Fille. From Fair Play, Skinner Vineyards claims a legacy that dates back to 1861—fortunately I did not have to wait until their 150th anniversary to discover their exception Roussanne/Marsanne/Viognier blend, the 2008 Seven Generations nor their elegant 2007 Syrah Stoney Creek Vineyard.
I also confess that I had never heard of Oregon’s Hundred Valleys of the Umpqua, which sounds appropriate for a West Coast campus of Cornell, but provides a fitting backdrop for Spangler Vineyards and their Rhône-style plantings, the source of both their 2006 Syrah and 2006 Syrah Reserve. And, from the southern extreme of this tasting, Venteux Vineyards from the self-described “windy Templeton Gap” made an impressive Rhône Rangers debut both with their 2007 Grenache Paso Robles and 2007 Syrah Tache le Verre, as well as an amiable Châteauneuf du Pape-style 2007 Farmhouse Cuvée.
So next I moved on to cover those wineries I should have covered at previous Rhône Ranger tastings or other events. In my contrarian mood, I started from the nether realm of the alphabet with Zaca Mesa, a Paso Robles winery I was surprised I hadn’t previously chronicled. Nonetheless, I found much to admire in their 2009 Estate Viognier, 2008 Estate Grenache Blanc, the 2006 Estate Syrah and an estate GMS blend from the Santa Ynez Valley, the 2006Z Three. Up in Sonoma, Valley of the Moon Winery produced a likable 2007 Petite Sirah, while perennial favorite Unti contrasted its Rhône-style 2007 Grenache Dry Creek Valley with a 2007 Syrah Benchland that seemed almost Italianate.
I’d been introduced to Mats Hagstrom of Travieso and his 2007 Amaranta Kirks’ Fairview Ranch (Syrah) at a recent convocation of the Stanford Wine Club; new this afternoon was his 2007 El Chupacabras, a blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Viognier. On the other hand, I can’t recall the first time I met Tony and Jo Ann Truchard, but it was a delight, as per usual, to delve into their 2008 Roussanne. Another familiar, Andrew Quady, was not in attendance, but his new Oregon arm, Quady North, proved a worthy extension of his famed California operations, especially with the 2007 Viognier Steelhead Run and a striking 2006 Syrah Flagship.
Also comporting themselves with considerable aplomb, Pomar Junction showcased why Paso Robles has come to exemplify Rhône varietal viticulture in the New World with a 2008 Viognier, their dry 2008 Rosé of Syrah and the understated elegance of their 2007 Syrah. Reinforcing this claim to prominence. Paso’s own Lone Madrone poured a number of varietals and blends, highlighted by the 2007 Points West Red, a combination of Syrah & Mourvèdre. And, of course, L’Aventure crystallized this reputation, flourishing with their 2007 Rhône blend, the 2007 Côte à Côte.
Loosely translated from the Greek, Kaleidos means “beautiful form; its flavors, too, evoke a sense of beauty and delight, particularly its 2005 Syrah and its sumptuous 2006 Grenache. Jemrose is a portmanteau of uncertain derivation but offers no ambiguity with its distinctive 2007 Gloria’s Gem, a proprietary mélange of Syrah and Merlot.
Coincidentally, as I set about to keyboard in my notes on Holly’s Hill, I received an e-mail from their winemaker querying whether Sostevinobile would like to purchase some cases of their Mourvèdre, and while I cannot commit to any wine acquisitions until our program is in full force, I am happy to state that I did, indeed, find the 2008 Classique quite delicious! So, too, was the 2006 Estate Syrah from Solvang’s Harrison Clarke (no relation to Myron Harrison Clarke, a name some of my readers may recall with detached bemusement).
I neglected to ask Derby Wine Estates from where the name was derived, but their 2007 Fifteen 10 White (a blend of Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier) and their 2006 Fifteen 10 Red (38% Syrah, 28% Grenache, 28% Counoise, 6% Mourvèdre) needed no explanation. In typical fashion, Concannon Vineyard flourished with their 2004 Reserve Captain Joe’s Petite Sirah but demonstrated their versatility remains unhampered since its acquisition by The Wine Group with their 2005 Grenache and 2006 Syrah.
I wrapped up the afternoon with a trio of wineries. Boulder Creek’s Big Basin furnished an impressive lineup of Syrahs, most notably the 2007 Syrah Mandala, Santa Cruz Mountains. Paso’s Clautiere Vineyards made its strongest impression with both the 2004 Estate Syrah and the 2005 Estate Mourvèdre while Clayhouse’s 2007 Show Pony Red Cedar Vineyard, an estate Petite Sirah, spoke loudest for this venture from the Middleton Family Wines.
Despite my best intentions, I failed to cover  Los Olivos’ Curtis Winery, as well as Arroyo Robles and Arnot-Roberts, as I had penciled into my roster for the afternoon. If only there had been time to cover everyone I wanted to taste!


If Rhône Rangers had put my skills for advanced preparation and navigation to the test, two days of trying to cover the inaugural SF Vintners Market at Fort Mason showed how little they had been honed. I cannot commend Bridget Raymond of Courtesan Wines and Cornelius Geary of Radcru enough for how impressive tasting-cum-retail market at Fort Mason on April 10 & 11 turned out. Wineries from California, Oregon and a smattering of other countries filled the Herbst Pavilion at Fort Mason and showcased an impressive array of wines, ranging from hobbyist vintages to near-cult status.
Admittedly, a guide a bit more comprehensive than a four-column list printed out on a single 8″ x 11″ sheet might have made negotiating the roster of some 150+ wineries a bit easier and allowed me to cover the numerous labels I was not yet formally acquainted. In truth, however, the greater challenge to making my quota stemmed from that I was attending the Market not so much to sample new wines but to escort potential investors for Sostevinobile through the intricacies of the wine world, its products and its consumers.
As such, my notes on individual wines are scant, but I would like to commend the following wineries for the fine variety of wines I did sample and share with Sostevinobile’s suitors: Bialla Vineyards, Amapola Creek, Tom Scott Vineyard, Reynolds Family Winery, Kapcsándy, Sciandri, Dominari, Palladian, Captûre, Rosa d’Oro, Provenance, Perry Creek, Modus Operandi, Ochoa, Olivia Brion, Pavo, PB Hein, Sylk, Signorello, Spotted Owl, Lancaster, MadoroM, Ramazzotti, Respite, De Novo, TR Elliot, Terisa, Waits-Mast, Urban Legend, Two Mile Wines, Tristant, Coup de Foudre, and the collective wineries of Terroirs Artisan Wines. For now I can only acknowledge their contribution to our efforts and incorporate them into our roster, but more extensive reviews of their offerings will surely come.


By contrast, my 2010 excursion to the Trade Tasting for the Santa Cruz Mountains Winery Association in Campbell was a succinct, manageable affair. Nearly all of these wineries had participated several weeks before in a Santa Cruz tasting at Farallon, which left few new wines for me to sample. Plus, I had attended numerous Santa Cruz tastings in 2009, including an absolutely splendid staging of this same event at Trevese in Los Gatos, one of only four restaurants in Silicon Valley ever to have garnered a Michelin star.
And therein lies the rub. Much to almost everyone’s surprise, Trevese abruptly shut its doors not long after last year’s event, forcing the SCMWA to find a new locale to host their event. And certainly the Professional Culinary Institute is a fine space, albeit a bit cramped, in a building it shares with a branch of Gold’s Gym in Campbell. But whereas Trevese had pulled out all its stops, regaling attendees with trays upon trays of extraordinary cicchetti and other appetizers, this tasting furnished little beyond the customary fruit platter and cheese spread. Which would have been fine except that in between the two rooms housing the tasting was their professional kitchen, a state-of-the-art facility with expansive picture windows, which allowed attendees to peer in at the gourmet preparations these up & coming culinary stars were executing every time we passed from one room to the other! A veritable torture for even a moderate gastronome, and not even the exquisite kind!
Basta! I know I’m supposed to be discussing the wines, like my introduction to the 2005 La Rusticana d’Orsa, a single production blend focused on Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from the winery bearing the same name. Another winery I had not previously encountered, Beauregard Vineyards, made a great initial impression with their 2006 Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains. A final winery so new to this event, they failed to be included in the program guide, Dancing Creek, hinted auspiciously at their potential with their just-released 2008 Pinot Noir Regan Vineyard and a 2008 Reserve Merlot.
No newcomer to this tasting or to Sostevinobile, Kathryn Kennedy did share a new perspective on their efforts with an inaugural release of their organic 2009 Sauvignon Blanc (I continue to be impressed how this varietal particularly seems to flourish in it organic expression). While at their table, I also happily partook in their 2007 Syrah Reserve Maridon Vineyard and in both the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate and the outstanding 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, the single varietal bottlings that help put this winery on the map. Silver Mountain struck a consonant chord with their 2006 Syrah Wiedeman Vineyard, while Michael Martella once again demonstrated his virtuosity with his 2006 Fiddletown Grenache Oleata Vineyard.
One winery that has consistently impressed me is Odonata, and their 2008 Grenache Alta Mesa did much to perpetuate my endorsement. I seem to receive e-mails every week from Pleasant Valley Vineyards, which may account for my overlooking their table a time or two in the past; today, I leisurely partook of their entire inventory, noting their exceptional 2008 Erika Anna Viognier, Hansen Vineyards, the 2008 Dylan David Pinot Noir, Lester Family Vineyards, Thelma Henrietta Block, and the 2007 Abby Madison Cabernet Sauvignon, Martin Ranch (I suppose, as Craig and Cathy Handley add more grandchildren, their roster of eponymous labels will increase accordingly). Finally, I stopped by to visit briefly with Frank Ashton, who had last year introduced me to my first Torrontés from California that Downhill Winery produced. This time, his 2009 Torrontés showed considerable evolution, while his 2007 Susannah’s Barbera proved an evenly-structured wine (as did his preview of his forthcoming 2008 Alessia Barbera from Amador County).
I hurried back to San Francisco to attend a reading by William T. Vollmann at the Mechanics Institute Library, to which I have subscribed for a decade or so. I can’t remember what wine they were serving, although I did partake in more than my share, along with the bowls of Japanese rice crackers. More evidence of my liberal freeloading? I’ll let my readers decide for themselves.

What has Your West Coast Oenophile done for you lately? (part II)

Sometime after this year’s Super Bowl, someone named Danica Patrick “the World’s Worst Celebrity Endorser.” Given that she rather ubiquitously promotes Go Daddy.com, I presume much of this attribution stems from her product. I had meant to post one lengthy entry entitled What has Your West Coast Oenophile done for you lately?, but in “improving” its blogging application, which I use to post this blog and Sostevinobile’s other Web presences, the programming geniuses at Go Daddy’s Scottsdale headquarters reduced the capacity of the Tags field from unlimited to 500 characters, forcing me to truncate my entries. I’m starting to regard Arizona as the Bangalore of the Southwest.
I could extend the simile by comparing the burgeoning wine industries in both Arizona and India, but, fortunately, neither will find into the select program of sustainably grown West Coast vintages at Sostevinobile. And, in my perpetual quest to make this program incomparable, my next foray following WORDUP was an intimate gathering of Ivy Plus wine aficionados under the auspices of the Stanford Wine Club. These bi-monthly klatches have begun to take on an almost familial flavor, with many of the attendees regular participants. On this particular evening, a trio of Stanford-affiliated winemakers—Mats Hagstrom of Travieso, Chris Loxton of Glen Ellen’s Loxton Cellars, and Michael Muscardini of Sonoma’s Muscardini Cellars—all showcased their array of Syrahs from Sonoma and from the Central Coast. As per usual, these vintages were juxtaposed against a pair of representative imports—here a pair of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and, as is frequently the case, clearly outshone their European counterparts, according to my palate.
The international contrast was even more pronounced later in the week, as I attended Crushpad’s farewell outside event in San Francisco, Bottlenote’s Around the World in 80 Sips. Despite its billing, however, this event seemed predominantly focused on wines from California, with distributors for imported wines manning tables that featured a potpourri of their selections. Not that I’m complaining—the more wineries I can discover that fit Sostevinobile’s criteria makes it a win-win proposition all around.
My friend Alyssa Rapp assembled a wide span of participants for this event, ranging from large-production labels controlled by the large conglomerates to little-known high-end wines that I had yet to encounter. Wineries like Cellar No. 8, Clos du Bois, Francis Ford Coppola, Frei Brothers, Rodney Strong and William Hill were probably familiar to most attendees. Others like Cannonball and Foggy Bridge seem almost ubiquitous presences at San Francisco wine tastings. From my previous incarnation in the wine business, Spring Mountain and Trione (which had spun off from its Geyser Peak holdings over a decade ago) were comforting presences to revisit. Likewise, Ackerman Family, Château Montelena, Fisher, Corison, and Skipstone have all graced this blog with their intricate wines on one or more occasions. 
I am surprised whenever Bottlenotes’ The Daily Sip newsletter uncovers a California winery I have yet to discover, and so it was a pleasant revelation to be introduced to a number of wineries at this event. Chamisal Vineyards from Edna Valley featured a delectable 2007 Pinot Noir. As Jimmy Durante so often said, “Everybody wants to get into the act,” and so, too, Bottlenotes itself debuted their own vintage, the 2008 Notoriety Pinot Noir Doctors Vineyard. Vineyard 29, which customized the bottling for Bottlenotes and shares a winemaker (Philippe Melka) with Skipstone, scored with their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena. I liked the 2008 PAX Roussanne/Viognier from Donelan Family, while the organic vineyard of Garden Creek, with its quaint “One Red. One White. One Family. One Vineyard” motto impressed with its five-varietal 2004 Bordeaux Blend. Hawkes Wine, which fortunately has no affiliation with my major nemesis from graduate school, offered an amiable pair of 2007 Chardonnay and their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, while both Healdsburg’s Stonestreet and Geyserville’s Munselle Vineyards matched a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon with a 2007 Chardonnay.
Kelley & Young is an offshoot of the acclaimed Robert Young Estate Winery—a case of Father Knows Best totally unrelated to the TV series; nonetheless, this startup production showed glimpses of its pedigree with their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc and 2008 Merlot. Stryker Sonoma is an equally lean organization that balanced its offerings with a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and a more modest 2006 Zinfandel.
Our two northern neighbors each made a token appearance at this tasting. Washington’s DiStefano Winery held its own with a 2004 Cabernet Franc, while Archery Summit, the Oregon sister to Napa’s Pine Ridge, clearly lived up to its billing with their 2007 Pinot Noir. A label that enjoys incredible fanfare and a cult-like following, Scholium Project, fired on all cylinders with three of its renowned bottlings, the 2008 Naucratis Lost Slough (Verdelho), the 2007 Choêphoroi Los Olivos (Chardonnay), and the 2006 Tenbrink Babylon (Petite Sirah). In addition to the opportunity of finally meeting Scholium’s guru, Abe Schoener, this tasting afforded me the chance to sample the 2007 Chardonnay he made for Tenbrink Family Vineyards’ own label.
I did taste a number of the other wines, partly in deference to Lisa Perkins of New World Wine Imports, Inc., who, besides supplying the Northwest wines, had furnished me with a ticket to the event. OK, but I’m not about to revamp Sostevinobile’s focus.
The following Monday, I paid one of my occasional visits to California Wine Merchant, where Robert Pepi showcased his Eponymous label’s 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and its Bordeaux-style kin, the 2005 Red Wine MacAllister Vineyard, alongside his wizardry for Soñador, an Argentine label producing Malbec and Torrontés.
On very rare occasions, I actually get it wrong. I had originally intended to attend In Vino Unitas in Carneros the following day, but received an invite to the Swirl tasting at Jardinière for the same afternoon. I then changed my RSVP to attend In Vino Unitas on Wednesday at One Market in San Francisco and overwrote my calendar entry for Tuesday. Unfortunately, I neglected to switch the times as well, and so had slated the Swirl tasting for 1-4pm, the hours for In Vino Unitas, instead of the correct times of 11-3. My fashionably late arrival left me with less than half an hour to race through the tables, instead of the nearly two hours I had anticipated!
The good news, however, is that Sostevinobile had previously connected with many, if not most, of the wineries present; I was able to make the acquaintance of all the others I had not met previously, except for Maldonado (an omission I will surely rectify on my next swing through St. Helena). Certainly, I would hope Crocker & Starr, Elizabeth Spencer, Hollywood & Vine, Kapcsándy, Kobalt, LaTour, Favia, Lindstrom,and Revana feel no slight in my having bypassed their tables on this visit—my appreciation of their wines has been cited in this column on numerous occasions. Meanwhile, I did manage to taste an impressive 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley from Alondra, the sister label of Skylark. Somewhat of a misnomer, Anomaly also impressed with its 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, along with a 2003 vintage of the same from it library.
Admittedly, if I had known my time was so constrained, I might not have lingered quite so long sampling the various vintages from Fritz Hatton’s Arietta Wines. Still, this music-themed label offered a number of mellifluous Bordelaise blends, including the 2008 On the White Keys, a combination of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc, the Merlot-dominant 2007 Quartet, a more traditional 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, a less orthodox Merlot/Syrah blend entitled 2007 Variation One, and his premium 2007 H Block Hudson Vineyard, a cross between Cabernet Franc and Merlot. At the next stop, Gary Brookman and Jack Edwards delineated their Rhône and Bordeaux varietals, pouring their 2006 Brookman Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as the 2008 La Diligence Marsanne Stagecoach Vineyard and the 2007 La Diligence Syrah Stagecoach Vineyard.
Regrettably, she may no longer be Celia Welch Masyczek (fellow members of La Società delle Cognome Italiane Pentasillabe and certain other readers know how much I revere intricate surnames), but her superb 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon for Corra Wines was no maiden effort! Another inveterate Napa winemaker, Karen Culler, offered equally tantalizing 2006 La Palette Cabernet Sauvignon and the 23% Syrah-infused 2007 Casaeda Cabernet Sauvignon from her eponymous label. I had sampled several of Rob Lawson’s sundry permutations at Wine Entre Femme back in February, but not his 2007 Blueline Vineyard Merlot from Hourglass. And though I had sampled numerous wines from Vineyard 29 only a few days before, their 2007 Cru Cabernet Sauvignon was a new discovery.
Another revelation during my truncated visit was Julianna Corley’s ever-so-aptly named Jules Mélange; her eclectic blends included the 2008 Vin Blanc, a combo of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Muscat, and the 2007 Vin Rouge, another Cabernet Franc-Merlot marriage, rounded out with 19% Syrah. By now, the event had ended, but fortunately some vendors do manage to be a bit remiss in clearly their table. Tricycle Wine Company, which bottles under the Molnar, Kazmer & Blaise, and Obsidian Ridge labels, dawdled long enough for me to taste their 2007 Obsidian Ridge Cabernet Red Hills, to contrast 2007 Molnar Chardonnay Poseidon’s Vineyard with the 2007 Kazmer & Blaise Chardonnay Boonfly Hill, and to luxuriate equally in the 2007 Molnar Pinot Noir Poseidon’s Vineyard and the 2007 Kazmer & Blaise Pinot Noir Primo’s Hill.
I suppose I, too, could linger here and jam this entry with my next investigative foray, but the new constraints of Go Daddy’s ineptitude and a redesigned interface to which I am just now adapting dictate that I draw this chapter to an abrupt close and resume momentarily…

Make Wine, not War

Some parts of Alameda definitely do not resemble Mayberry. The decommissioned Naval Air Base on the west side of the island is gradually being transformed with residential developments and commercial enterprises, an irenic reinvigoration of the local economy that parallels many of the tenets Sostevinobile embodies. Among the facilities that have been converted to civilian utilization, perhaps none offer a more dramatic environment than the former airplane hangars. Fans of St. George Spirits (Absinthe Verte!), including Your West Coast Oenophile, have long been quite familiar with the facility that lends its name to their Hangar One Vodka.

Finally, Alameda’s favorite artisanal spirits producer has company. Over at the next hangar, Rock Wall Wine Company has set up shop. Self-billed as a continuation of a “legacy of fine winemaking,” this grandiloquent venture constitutes the evolution of pioneering Alameda winemaker Kent Rosenblum and is daughter Shauna. The facility is massive, some 40,000 ft.², with a vaulted roof that is at least 35 ft. high. On a clear day, the open-air portion of the former hangar offers unsurpassed views across the Bay to downtown San Francisco and beyond, like an oversized Gottardo Piazzoni mural, only more vibrant.
Last Saturday presented a picture-perfect afternoon; a more enticing scenario for Rock Wall’s first Open House could not be imagined. Rocked by the Downwind Run’s authentic cover versions of classic rock anthems from the Sixties and Seventies (Allman Brothers, J.J. Cale) and fueled by an endless, carnivore’s delight from Angela’s Bistro, Rock Wall and five of its tenant wineries offered an array of new wines for one’s delectation.
I started off at the table for Carica Wines, fulfilling a long-overdue promise to join owner Dick Keenan for a tasting of his varietals and blends. I found the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc Kick Ranch to be an exceptionally clean expression of this grape, to the point it almost reminded me of an unoaked Chardonnay. Standout among the five wines they poured, though, was certainly the 2007 Temptation, again from Kick Ranch, a superb take on the classic GMS blend. I also found the futures tasting of their 2008 Petite Sirah displayed noteworthy potential.
Carica’s 2006 Syrah struck me as a tad on the sweet side. In contrast, fellow resident winery Blacksmith Cellars brought forth a 2005 Syrah from Alexander Valley, a wine rounded out with 7% Tannat, that utterly exploded the flavor of a well-done slice of Tri-Tip from one of the carving stations. I was pleased to sample Matt Smith’s 2008 Torrontés once again, but felt less enthusiastic about his 2008 Chenin Blanc, a once-popular varietal that has fallen into near oblivion in California. On the other hand, Blacksmith’s 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley offered tantalizing hints for the unreleased 2005 vintage, and their two dessert wines, a non-vintage Malvasia Bianca and the 2007 Late Harvest Syrah were almost perfect alongside the ice cream made from Rock Wall’s Late Harvest Zinfandel!
Readers know that I’ve cited R & B Cellars a number of times recently, including the Urban Wine Experience in Oakland; their wines were not so much a revelation this afternoon as a chance to revisit several outstanding vintages. Like the Blacksmith Syrah, R & B’s 2006 Counterpoint, a straight Cabernet Franc, made me cry out “bring on the steak!” Three vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon made an indelible impression, with the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Reserve begging to be drunk now, while the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Reserve demands another 5-7 years before hitting its peak. I personally preferred both R & B’s 2006 Swingville and 2007 Swingville, a zinfandel blended with ~10% Petite Sirah to their 100% Zinfandel, the 2007 Zydeco from Napa Valley. Unquestionably, however, the 2007 Minuet in Merlot completely outshone the 2005 Metronome, an unblended Merlot.
I wish I could be more encouraging about Ehrenberg Cellars, formerly known as Nectar Vineyards. Despite winning amateur winemaking awards, these wines seemed rather unfocused; perhaps, their move “out of the garage” into a community of well-seasoned wine producers, including the peripatetic Edmunds St. John, will enable them to achieve their potential.
Weighing in at the next viticultural tier, JRE Wines, the Rock Wall co-tenant from namesake John Robert Eppler, offered glimmers of his winemaking pedigree at Rosenblum and Robert Mondavi. Again, one sensed that this winemaker had yet to hit his stride, though I found his two blends, the 2007 Tradition (Zinfandel/Petite Sirah/Tempranillo) and the self-proclaimed “Rhôneaux”-style 2006 Petit Rouge (Syrah/Petite Sirah/Cabernet Sauvignon/Petit Verdot) eminently drinkable.
Even though Shauna Rosenblum did give me her last bottle of Rock Wall’s 2007 Tannat, I will not be compelled to say every single one of her wines were extraordinary; after all, the wine program at Sostevinobile has always been and must remain predicated on objectivity in our selection process. Still, Shauna is an enormously affable next-generation winemaker and her skills clearly show why it is far better that she has pursued this vocation rather than succeed her father in his veterinary practice. Their 2008 Chardonnay Russian River Valley was a pleasing revelation, as was the 2007 Rock Star Rouge, a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cinsault. Even stronger was the 2007 Zinfandel Sonoma County, to my taste a more approachable wine than its Reserve incarnation. 
Lipitor be damned! I headed back to the food counter for another generous helping of Tri-Tip before downing Rock Wall’s 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, the veritable Grammy-winner from their lineup and another ideal pairing for this delectable meat. I also found their 2007 Late Harvest Riesling to be a worthy complement to the aforementioned Zinfandel ice cream, but had to beg off from marrying it with Blue Cheese, as one of my fellow attendees recommended.
I do look forward to great things from Rock Wall, both from its resident producers at its custom facility, as well as the winery itself. I have seen this same scenario played out so many times before. Successful winemaker sells his inextricably self-identified label to one of the handful of corporate megaliths devouring independent producers these days. Promises of autonomy are made initially, but slowly the eponymous brand is exploited to further the conglomerate‘s reach and by the time the attendant service contract has expired, the label feels like a vestige of its former grandeur. On the positive side, however, the original winemaker tends to go on to found a new label that does express the ideals of his vinification. Witness Carl Doumani’s Quixote, Richard Arrowood’s Amapola Creek or Tim Mondavi’s Continuum—by the time Diageo releases Rosenblum Coastal Cellars, I fully anticipate Rock Wall will be in this league.

TAPAS: taking off where ZAP began

like to create my own anagrams. Back when Your West Coast Oenophile contemplated becoming a children’s doctor, I devised POPPA, which stood for Pediatricians Opposed to Prophylactics, the Pill, and Abortion, a self-aggrandizing scheme aimed at providing an endless stream of new patients for my future practice. Later, while working at Tetris™ distributor Spectrum HoloByte, I came up with the quintessential Pranksters Hired to Undermine (Your) Competitors’ Quality and Usurp (Their) Prominence and Profitability, otherwise know as PHUCQ UPPOf course, I am always happy to give due credit to others who can hold their own in this arena, and, as Randall Grahm aptly noted in his off-the-cuff discourse, the contrivance to come up with Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society in order to educe TAPAS was sheer mastery.
Maybe because I decided to forgo the quintennial gathering of my own amigos from our days of sequestration back in Lakeville, Connecticut, I decided to attend the trade seminar on Spanish varietals, prior to the 2nd Annual TAPAS Grand Tasting at Fort Mason on Sunday. My friend Markus Bokisch broadly elucidated the history and transformation of Albariño vinification quite ably, not terribly surprising once you’ve tasted his own deft manipulation of this varietal. Similarly, Penelope Gadd-Coster navigated aficionados through an overview on Tempranillo that was highly enjoyable and never didactic.
Onward we went, from the seminar in Building D to the quaint antechamber in Building A, known as the Golden Gate Room. Hard to believe this nowadays, but it was in this very same room that the gargantuan ZAP Grand Tasting, which now occupies two entire piers, first took place. A good omen for TAPAS, to be sure, and a much easier venue to reach than the late, great Copia, where their inaugural tasting was held.
This year’s gathering included 36 member wineries from California and Oregon, plus one lone representative from Arizona. In other words, just about the right density to remain manageable for one afternoon. My simple plan of attack meant rounds of seven wineries at a time, interspersed with a recharge of the incredible paella the chefs from Marco Paella were generously doling out from the back of the room. Maybe because of their alphabetically primacy, I first turned my attention to Oregon’s Abacela, a winery owned by TAPAS president Earl Jones. Standout among their pourings was a 2005 Tempranillo, Reserve, Southern Oregon, and I reserved some space for a revisit near the end of the afternoon with their 2006 Port, Southern Oregon, whose memory from last year’s tasting still lingered. A nearby swing brought me to Plymouth’s Bray Vineyards, whose noteworthy 2008 Verdelho preceded a taste of their striking 2006 Vinho Tinto, a blend of 5 Portuguese varietals: Tinta Cão, Touriga Nacional, Souzão, Tinta Roriz, and Alvarelhão (my spellcheck hasn’t a clue about any of these)! Bodega del Sur from Pacifica(!) similarly offered their 2007 Carmesi, an intriguing blend that spanned multiple viticultural designations, combining Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. Then again, compare these wines with Boeger Winery’s 2005 Milagro, a decidedly more Spanish-leaning mélange of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Graciano.
Graciano, of course, has long been my favorite offering from Bokisch Vineyards, though I found myself more partial this time to their 2007 Garnacha, Lodi. Another paragon of this varietal was the 2007 Garnacha, Denner Vineyards, Paso Robles from Villa Creek Cellars, whose equally delightful 2007 Mas de Maha, Paso Robles combines Tempranillo with Garnacha and Mourvèdre. I am used to referring to Garnacha by its Rhône designation, Grenache, and I often flip between Mataro and Mourvèdre; calling this latter varietal Monastrell, as does Paso Robles’ Viña Castellano was unfamiliar to me. Nonetheless, this house produces a fine bottling of such but truly stood out for both its 2004 Tempranillo and 2005 Tempranillo. Viña Robles is of course, another neighbor taking liberal advantage of Paso Robles’s abundance of Rhône varietals, using Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Tannat to add to Touriga to make their 2007 Red Blend.
Maybe someday Bonny Doon will swap me a couple of cases of their finest (would that they still made grappa!) in exchange for my insights into Web design. A striking visual site, but a Web presence is supposed to be all about rapid access to information. To be fair, almost every design house I know is as self-indulgent with their own site; still, Randall, who needs hallucinogenic graphics when your 2007 Angel Paille already fits the bill? The good folks at St. Amant Winery offered their version of a post-prandial wine with their 2006 Vintage Port, Amador County, while St. Helena’s Tesouro Port Cellars blended Touriga, Tempranillo, Alvarelhão, Souzão and Tinta Cão to make their 2005 California Dessert Wine, a deceptively generic name for such an intriguing wine. Further north, in Jacksonville, Oregon, Valley View Winery topped the alcohol charts with their 2007 “Anna Marie” Port, Rogue Valley.
Though currently Sostevinobile does not plan to include Arizona in its mix, the Grand Canyon State was ably represented by Callaghan Vineyards, whose 2007 Padres accentuated its 58% Tempranillo with both Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Iberian wine houses permeated in a number of atypical locales, like Livermore’s Fenestra Winery, which finds its strength in Portuguese varietals, including its 2006 Alvarelhão and 2006 Touriga. Also from Livermore, Murrieta’s Well blends their 2007 Zarzuela with Touriga Nacional, Tempranillo, Souzão and Touriga Francesca. Closer to San Francisco Bay, Danville’s Odisea Wine Company offers blends of epic proportion, my favorite being their 2007 Two Rows Garnacha, a duet of Grenache and Tempranillo. Poised at the Bay’s edge, El Cerrito’s Tejada Vineyards offered similar fare with their 2005 Tempranillo & Garnacha Blend, as well as a noteworthy 2006 Tempranillo, Reserve. Quaint Murphys in the Gold Country lays claim to Hovey Wine, with its standout 2007 Rolleri Cuvée Tempranillo, Calaveras County; the urban confines of the City and County of San Francisco, meanwhile, is home to James Judd & Son’s 2006 Tempranillo. Circling back to Jacksonville, Red Lily Vineyards offered one of the day’s standout wines, their 2005 Tempranillo, Rogue Valley.
Anomalies (at least as far as I am concerned) in nomenclature also abounded, to a degree. The parlance of business school should have nothing to do with the soaring, elegiac beauty of viticulture; still, the 2006 Tempranillo, Lake County from Six Sigma Winery represents a commendable undertaking. I kidded the proprietors of Irish Family Vineyards that their label seemed as much an oxymoron as Pasquale’s Corned Beef & Cabbage, but their 2006 Grenache and 2007 Touriga Nacional warrant no ribbing.
Providing their own laughs, of course, was the ever-outré Twisted Oak, with a quartet of nonetheless highly respectable wines, including a 2008 Verdelho from Lodi’s highly regarded Silvaspoons Vineyards. Another familiar face was Constellation’s Clos du Bois, valiantly striving to maintain an individual identity with its 2005 Tempranillo, Alexander Valley, Sonoma Reserve. This blog has also given considerable plaudits in the past to Quinta Cruz, a pre-eminent Iberian wine producer, whose 2006 Touriga combines both Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesca.
A number of wineries came out with commendable Rosés (Rosado). After Penelope Gadd-Coster’s morning presentation, many folks flocked to the Coral Mustang display to try her 2006 Tempranillo Rosé. Solvang’s D’Alfonso-Curran dazzled with their 2007 Grenache Gris. Trenza/Tangent Wineries offered a 2008 Trenza Rosado, an uncommon Spanish-style rosé from the familiar Rhône the GMS blend. Verdad Wine Cellars, the Spanish division of Rhône-style pioneer Qupé, blended 90% Garnacha with Tempranillo to make its bone-dry 2008 Rosé.
Truth (verdad) was clearly expressed in the 100% Tempranillos from a pair of Napa wineries. Truchard Vineyards offered a vertical from 2000-2005, the standout being their current 2005 Tempranillo. Striking, too, was the 2007 Tempranillo, Shake Ridge Vineyards, Amador County from Yorba Wines. Less orthodox were the predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon blends with Tempranillo from Parador Cellars, although their 2006 Tempranillo Reserva Rancho Chiles was delightful.
Lacking a clever segue, I can only list the remaining presenters without the benefit of thematic continuity. Barreto Cellars proved strongest in their Portuguese offerings, particularly their 2005 Touriga, Lodi. From the next vintage, Pierce Ranch Vineyards shone with their 2006 Touriga . The wonderfully-labeled Dancing Coyote dueling whites from each country, with a slight edge going to the 2007 Verdelho, Clarksburg over the 2007 Albariño, Clarksburg. Premier grape grower Ron Silva, bottling as Alta Mesa Cellars from his own Silvaspoons Vineyards, truly excelled with his 2008 Alta Mesa Cellars Verdelho, Lodi
The standout producer for the afternoon also crushed Silvaspoons grapes. Matt Rorick’s whimsically named Forlorn Hope Wines dazzled with four wines. The 2008 La Gitana was one of only two Torrontés at TAPAS. The 2008 Suspiro Del Moro was, I believe, the only single-varietal Alvarelhão. A third white was his Verdelho, the 2007 Que Saudade. Lastly, he blended Touriga, Tempranillo, Tinta Cão and Tinta Amarela to make his superb 2006 Mil Amores.
It will take perhaps not mil amores but definitely mil amigos to continue sustaining TAPAS. With my strong predilection toward Italian varietals, I have watched the rise and subsequent retreat of these varietals on the West Coast, as well as the dissolution of their trade association, Consorzio Cal-Italia after its promising beginnings. Despite these vicissitudes, including Antinori’s lamentable decision to uproot the Sangiovese vines from its reacquired Atlas Peak, I see inklings of a resurgence in Italian varietals here on the West Coast and, one would hope, a restoration of the Consorzio on par with Rhône Rangers and other specialized advocacies.
I wonder whether Spanish and Portuguese varietals will need to endure a similar oscillation before truly taking hold here. Like Sangiovese and Viognier, I suppose it will take a few tries before vintners truly grasp the full nuance of Tempranillo and its compadres. And, of course, there is still the issue of acceptance from a public that has scant familiarity with these wines. Most people still associate Spanish wine with Sangria and, unfortunately, the taint of Mateus and Lancers still clouds perception of Portugal’s offerings. As always, though, I wish TAPAS all the best with their mission and look forward to the day they, too, move out of Building A and occupy the piers of Fort Mason, just like ZAP (okay, maybe just one pier—there isn’t a paella pan large enough to accommodate both exhibit halls)!