Monthly Archives: March 2009

Quo vadis, Rhône Rangers?

I am one of those people who is chronically late.*** The last time I arrived early for anything was the day of my birth, which arrived nearly a month before my parents had anticipated. Apparently, I have been compensating for this miscalculation ever since, so much so that I’m known in my Italian circles as Marco Sempre Tardi. A compliment, to be sure.

In a previous incarnation, Your West Coast Oenophile was involved with a pulchritudinous, albeit nefarious, woman who hailed from the Beijing region and managed to achieve the hitherto incomprehensible feat of systematically arriving even later than I did. Much to her delight, I nicknamed her Tardissima.
Beyond that, pleasant recollections of said perfidious Clytemnestra remain few and distant. “Time wounds all heels,” John Lennon wryly noted, and, without waiting for the inevitable repercussions to expiate her calumny, I have moved onto genuine domestic bliss. Because my beloved Ginkgo Girl and her circle of friends have all adopted English alternatives for their proper names, I, in turn, have recently decided to endow myself with a Chinese name: Tai Da (太大).
As per usual, my penchant for digression does have its purpose; in this instance, veering from overt promulgation of the artifacts and milestones of my own ethnicity, I am striving to demonstrate a catholic appreciation for the significant contributions other cultures have made. In the viticultural realm, my pronounced fondness for Italian varietals grown throughout the West Coast belies the delight I take in the diversity of other wines produced here, especially for the incredible spectrum of grapes affiliated with the Rhône region.
I have been attending the annual Rhône Rangers convention in Fort Mason for many years before I officially represented Sostevinobile at this year’s gathering. This year, I even managed to arrive well before the gates were opened to the public (though sufficiently late for the trade portion to keep my reputation unblemished). With 123 wineries pouring, I had to be judicious in selecting the ones which I could sample.
Sadly, that meant having to bypass many familiar stations, like Ridge, Bonny Doon, the always-wonderful Lava Cap, Arrowood, and Rosenblum, among others, in favor of wineries to which I had not previously been exposed. So, after paying courtesy calls to numerous new-found friends from Paso Robles (L’Aventure, Halter Ranch, Tablas Creek, and Justin), not to mention Anaba, the dean of Sonoma’s Eighth Street, I quickly found myself at the table for Cass Winery, a clandestine outpost on the east side of Paso Robles what bears no connection to my former squash opponent and noted wine critic, Bruce Cass. With six wines featured, their standout was the 2006 Grenache-until partner Lisa Plemons brought out their 2006 Mourvèdre, the first  I will bestow.
Zigzagging over to the lower reaches of the alphabet, I next treated myself to Healdsburg’s Stark Wine, a feint misnomer. With a well-balanced 2007 Viognier and a quintet of Syrahs on display, this winery excelled with both the 2005 and 2006 vintages of its bipartite Syrah, Teldeschi and Unti Vineyards.
Next up, Naggiar Vineyards from Grass Valley apparently makes every varietal known to mankind, but brought along only a handful of their Rhône selections. Much like Cass, the 2006 Grenache and the 2006 Mourvèdre proved the most memorable.
I visited with Washington’s titan, Château Ste. Michelle, whose various subsidiaries were spread throughout the hall, for a chance to lose my Cinsault virginity before I ambled onward to Frick Winery, a serendipitous discovery out of Geyserville. Their 2006 Cinsault, Dry Creek Valley might well have deserved a , were it not only my second exposure to a wine from this varietal; unquestionably, their 2007 Viognier, Gannon Valley merits this accolade. In addition, their fraternal twins, the 2006 Grenache, Dry Creek Valley and the 2006 Grenache Blanc, Owl Hill Vineyard win significant kudos.
While we’re on the subject of first times, I was also introduced to my first wines from Idaho, courtesy of Sawtooth Winery. Their 2006 Viognier, Snake River Valley displayed distinct undertones of right wing militia (I jest)—actually, it was quite amiable for a wine in its price range, even though it falls beyond Sostevinobile’s sustainable boundaries. On the other hand, Paso Robles’ Jada Vineyard seems mired in East Coast nostalgia, or so one might infer from labels like 2006 Red Blend, “Hell’s Kitchen” and 2006 Syrah, “Jersey Girl.” Just as long as they don’t try to pair their wines with meats from Satriale’s, I guess they’ll do fine.
I swung by Preston of Dry Creek to sample their 2007 Cinsault (my third experience!) before tasting four wines from Jemrose Vineyards, a relatively new venture out of Bennett Valley. Both the 2007 Viognier Egret Pond and the 2006 Gloria’s Gem, a Syrah blend, were highly impressive, but it took the 2007 Grenache Foggy Knoll to win a .
Even with my iPhone’s GPS functionality,  I’m not sure I’ll ever be  able to find Oregon House, CA. Still, every couple of months, the good folks at Renaissance Winery and Vineyard e-mail an invitation to visit. Naturally, I can never bypass their table at Rhône Rangers or at Family Winemakers. As I expected, my effort was well rewarded with a wonderful 2006 Viognier and a -worthy 2004 Mediterranean Red, a GMS blend.
Meantime, the state of Oregon was well-represented by none other than Domaine Serene, the much-honored Pinot Noir house. Their 2007 Viognier Rockblock Del Rio and 2005 Syrah Rockblock, Seven Hills did nothing to diminish their considerable reputation.
Down in Santa Maria, Sans Liege could well see their esteem catapult with their 2006 Grenache, my final  of the tasting. And San Francisco’s own Skylark Wine Company’s 2007 Syrah Rodger’s Creek might easily top the 91 points Wine Spectator awarded its 2006 version.
One of the few independent Washington wineries on hand, DeLille Cellars, merited further attention for its Doyenne line, especially the 2006 Syrah, Doyenne Signature. Sarah’s Vineyard ably demonstrated that not everything that comes from Santa Clara County need feel (or taste) fabricated. My final stop of the day, Napa’s Hagafen Cellars, left me smiling with both their 2005 Syrah, Prix Vineyards Reserve, and the favorite 2007 Roussanne that I managed to taste at the event.
Unfortunately, there were several wineries I did not have the chance to taste, like the quirky Four Vines Winery from Templeton, either because they ran out of supplies, or because they packed up prematurely. Despite my delight in the many wines I did taste, I have to say that this year’s Rhône Rangers Grand Tasting was a bit of a letdown. Many established favorites, like Eno, Broc Cellars and A Donkey and Goat—not to mention Alban and myriad others I am overlooking—chose simply not to participate. Half of the festival participants seemed to be food vendors or peripheral manufacturers. More disconcerting was the paucity of attendees during the public portion of the event. The mere trickle of a crowd, rather than the customary deluge that hits once the doors open, seems to indicate that the Punahou Kid has a long way to go before his léger de main can right this economy.
Quo vadis, publicē? Surely, it cannot be thatshudder!—the public has lost its interest in drinking good wine (along with the corollary conclusion that Fred Franzia has won)! Whatever the cause of this dire phenomenon, note here that Sostevinobile is poise to ensure that the pleasures of œnophilia will be back, stronger than ever!
***Astute devotees of this blog will note that I had promised to post my Rhône Rangers comments three days ago.

Philosophy or pablum?

I’ve long held a strong disdain for California’s senior Senator. Meretricious may be too harsh an epithet, but her penchant for self-aggrandizement is egregious. And even that wouldn’t be such a calumnious indictment, except that, apart from her overt desire to augment her own political capital she singularly lacks a philosophical adherence behind her legislative agenda. She may have felt a moral duty to replace slain San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk (of the recent cinematic hagiography) with another denizen of the Castro District, but where was her concomitant obligation to the local Italian community in the wake of the ethnically-motivated assassination of George Moscone? Her much-publicized efforts to homeport the nuclear battleship USS Missouri offered no measurable benefit, albeit posing substantial environmental and safety risk, to the Bay Area, apart from bolstering her own defense credentials in preparation for her eventual Senate run. True, she may fervently drive legislation on behalf of tighter gun control, yet she had the unmitigated chutzpah to lobby openly for the death penalty from the pulpit of the Roman Catholic cathedral, in blatant disregard for one of the few truly enlightened Vatican doctrines.
Still, Your West Coast Oenophile really harbors no concern over the apostasy of this patrician-Republican-cloaked-as-a-centrist-Democrat, even as her aged jowls descend eerily into a Nixonian physiognomy. It is not the intent of this blog to vitiate her potential entry in the next California gubernatorial race nor to take issue with her various contrivances, political or personal (no matter how indistinguishable the two may be). Indeed, the vituperance of my prefatory comments belies a primarydesire to advocate a logical and philosophical consistency to whatever position one espouses; it’s just that no one I know embodies a starker contrast to this dictum than does Dianne Feinstein.
SWitness her efforts several years ago to shore up her credentials with the female electorate—hardly a stronghold for this well-ensconced spouse of a leading local billionaire. Feinstein openly lobbied for unrestricted access to abortion, arguing that choice in this matter belonged solely to the woman and not to the discretion of the state. “Does that include allowing abortion for gender selection?” an astute interrogator queried, a deliberate allusion to the prevalent application of this procedure in societies that derogate the value of female progeny. The inherent contradiction here requires no further explanation.
The moral ramifications of philosophical inconsistency may not be as pronounced in issues of sustainability, but I do find the dominant paradigm to which so many professed locavore establishments ascribe to be equally paradoxical. In a scenario that seemingly repeats itself ad infinitum, I engaged a new, highly-touted San Francisco organic dining establishment in an inquisitive exchange over their professed adherence to local, sustainable principles a couple of nights ago.
Having read a rather lavish encomium in The Tablehopper for (I am withholding identification of this cafe beyond an overt symbol), I thought I might reward myself with a late night bite and a touch of the grape for completing my dastardly 1040A forms far ahead of the government’s due date (note how I deftly carried my numerous 2008 expenditures for developing Sostevinobile over to the current tax year). As soon as I hit the Electronic File option, I turned off TurboTax and cautiously wound my way past dissolute throngs of Hibernian revelers to the quiet perch in the Mission where operates. The atmosphere, as well as the clientele, seemed to have been transported from Saturn—not the multi-ringed planetary giant but the eclectic Santa Cruz cafe—ebullient and completely sincere. The bubbly, mildly corpulent server behind the counter greeted me warmly and without any need for prodding, launched rapturously into her litany of the multiple virtues behind all the ingredients  deploys in its cuisine.
“That’s wonderful,” I replied. “But may I see your wine list?” To their credit, their offerings were all either biodynamic- or organically-grown, but, as I suspected, predominantly imported, with a smattering of wines from California and the West Coast.
“So why don’t you extend the same [local, sustainable] principles to your wine selections?” I asked. Of course this hostess was completely fazed by my question and meekly allowed that they hadn’t considered this aspect. “Besides,” she proffered. “This way we can offer you a glass of organic wine without having to charge outlandish prices.”
At this time, I won’t try to belabor the point that there is an abundance of excellent and affordable organic wine produced in Oregon, California, and Washington. I could argue at length that shipping wine here from overseas not only creates a considerable expenditure of carbon emissions, the resulting need for wine produced here to be delivered to non-local markets doubles the impact. The issue at hand is that one needs to be philosophically thorough in comprehending and applying one’s putative principles, else they become empty pablum. It is a point I hope (and others) will soon recognize.
I don’t pretend it will be an easy task for Sostevinobile to maintain a rigid adherence to accepted sustainable principles, nor will I be surprised if we slip, on occasion. Nor will I deride the laudable intentions of , if they do not conform exactly to what we will advocate. I culled over wine list at and passed over the very serviceable 2006 Jeriko Estate Pinot Noir for a delightful, slightly more economical glass of 2006 Bonny Doon Ca’ del Solo Sangiovese. I could not help but wonder whether the organic Sangiovese from Staglin Family Vineyard, a $95 bottle when available, might not have tasted…

Rhymes with fog

The artistry of the grape
I didn’t mean to pay Bargetto short shrift in my last posting. I was originally introduced to their Chaucer’s line of Olallieberry and Raspberry wines, as well as the only domestic Mead of which I am aware. Some years later, on my first visit to their winery, I learned that they produced an intriguing range of Italian varietals (including their aforementioned 2002 La Vita), along with Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot and other familiar grapes. Even though my quest for their excellent Dolcetto proved futile this time, I still returned back to San Francisco with a bottle of their 2004 Santa Cruz Mountains Nebbiolo to share on our Saturday night excursion.

The Ginkgo Girl and I joined fellow boarding school survivor Jon Welles and his wife for The International Theater Ensemble’s multimedia adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s Нос (The Nose) at San Francisco’s Phoenix Theatre. The Nebbiolo proved a worthy complement to Paulette’s pre-performance hors d’œuvres—just what we needed to hold us over until we ventured out to dinner at the new Heaven’s Dog.

I’m told there is something propitious about the name, and it certainly has no bearing on the cuisine. Über-successful restaurateur Charles Phan has deviated here from his native Vietnamese cuisine, but proves himself equally adept at what he describes as Chinese comfort food. Moreover, there is a common dedication to sustainable design and cuisine not only between this restaurant and Sostevinobile, but with star mixologist Thad Vogler’s upcoming Bar Agricole and with Bardessono’s Phil Sherburne, who sourced much of the recycle materials built into the decor. The evening’s singular revelation came, however, from Your West Coast Oenophile’s adroit choice of a wine to accompany the eight or so menu selections that adorned our table. The 2007 Scholium Project Verdelho Naucratis Last Slough Vineyard is a wine boasts far more than a protracted name. Though principally a Portuguese varietal, winemaker Abe Schoener has crafted his expression, from Scholium’s Suisun Valley vineyards, more as a “straight Grüner Veltliner knock-off.” Let him call it what he will, it made for superb pairing.
I look forward to savoring more of Scholium Project’s wildly-experimental œnology in the not-too-distant future.

On the Road Again (redux)

And what is so rare as a day in June? Perhaps a midweek March afternoon, winding up a country hillside halfway from nowhere for nine miles to stumble upon an organic farm where a striking 5’9″ Chinese girl touts organic olive oil and tea tree scrubs while ever-so-slightly mispronouncing “bruschetta.” The Mt. Olive Organic Farm wasn’t a scheduled stop or even the point of my trip, but it serves as a paradigm for all the unanticipated discoveries I made during my Paso Robles swing last week.
In terms of winery destinations, Your West Coast Oenophile has been, as I suspect many others are, egregiously Napa/Sonoma-centric for more years than I care to enumerate. There have always been pockets of vineyards interspersed throughout the state, and I’ve happily visited a number of them here and there. But the notion of a concentrated, cohesive, cooperative wine community outside of the aforementioned region seemed a bit unfathomable (even though Sideways had clued me in to the existence of such). So, naturally, I was quite taken by surprise to discover that the juncture of US 101 and Hwy. 46, long seen as little more than a convenient pit stop en route to Los Angeles, had exploded into a major AVA blanketing both sides of the freeway.
Let me end any suspense here and now: during my three day Paso Robles swing, I did not manage to visit all 240 wineries (suffice it to say that such a feat would have lent considerable credence to the Ginkgo Girl’s suspicions of my incipient dipsomania). Still, I did manage to take in quite a selective range of what this vast AVA has to offer.
My first stop in Paso Robles tended to the sustainable component of Sostevinobile, a most informative workshop on sustainable building jointly sponsored by the good folks at PG&E and the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. Wonderful to learn of the numerous energy rebates potentially available to our San Francisco flagship site, as well as the requirements for LEED-CI certification. This ever-evolving project continues to take many turns at each juncture. The workshop began with a tour of the Eos Estate Winery, the Central Coast’s first winery to supply 100% of its own electrical consumption. Years ago, I met the Arcieros, former owners of this estate, and introduced them to the forebear of Bacar and the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, Eos Restaurant and Wine Salon in Cole Valley—a natural marriage, or so it had dawned on me. But progress is progress, and one would tend to believe that should Sapphire Wines apply the same exacting diligence to their wine operations, their potential will be impressive.

After the workshop, I drifted eastward to the amazingly eclectic Tobin James, a must-see winery that also serves as a counterpoint to Healdsburg’s Dry Creek General Store 1881. In a strange way, my awkward efforts to snap a picture from my iPhone perfectly captures the élan of this place. The quirky charm of the ramshackle place belies the seriousness of their winemaking, which, in turn, exposed a common conceit to which I admit
succumbing occasionally, that being a predilection to correlate quality and price. While I had the chance to sample several of their varietal offerings, including a most agreeable 2005 Sangiovese Il Palio, their standout was also their most economical wine, the 2006 Chateau Le Cacheflo, a proprietary blend of Syrah, Sangiovese and Barbera that retails for a relatively paltry trickling from one’s “cash flow”—somewhere in the vicinity of $11.99.
By no means, however, does Tobin James hold a monopoly on Italian varietals bottled on Paso Robles’ east side. Poised at the intersection of the two main thoroughfares, Martin & Weyrich, a longtime favorite, featured a number of traditional Italian wines and esoteric blends, including their signature 2005 Insieme, a
mind-boggling mélange of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Barbera, Pinot Nero and Petit Verdot (please don’t suggest they add Graciano—that’s reserved for blending in their 2002 Flamenco Rojo)! Still, I found myself particularly enticed by their well-rounded 2004 Nebbiolo Il Vecchio, a worthy rival to any Barbaresco priced even double the $22 it commands.

Martin & Weyrich also produces a wine they label Etrusco, not really a Super Tuscan so much as a Cabernet rounded out with Sangiovese. Some dominazioni purists may regard such a blend as heresy, but the folks at Martin & Weyrich are in good company. Across 101, L’Aventure commits similar apostasy with their artful marriage of Bordeaux and Rhône varietals. Yes, mes amis, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah can happily reside in the same bottle, as their aptly-named 2006 Optimus attests. Conventional Cabernet and Rhône GMS (Grenache-Mourvèdre-Syrah) blends are well represented in L’Aventure’s library and offer quite the sophisticated counter to Paso Robles’ rustic perception, while their new Syrah-based 2008 Estate Rosé will by no means remind anyone of White Zinfandel.
I spent my final day in Paso Robles scouring the westside hills, on a loop that took me to Adelaida Cellars, Justin Vineyards, Tablas Creek, Halter Ranch and the geologically-imbued Calcareous Vineyard (would that the folks at Linne Calodo have been remotely as accommodating in their response to my inquiry)! My first stop, Adelaida, is a winery that embraces a wide swath of the viticultural terrain: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhône, and Piemonte, as well as the obligatory homage to the local signature grape, Zinfandel. Their 2007 Viognier inarguably lived up to its billing as a balance of crisp minerality and aromatic fruit, a subdued expression of this somewhat haphazard varietal. Similarly, the 2005 Nebbiolo brought an unabashed smile to my face. I of course delighted in their 2005 Viking Reserve Cabernet, as strong a $75 Bordeaux blend as any of its Northern competitors, but, as per usual, found myself most intrigued by the 2006 Version, a jam-packed blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Counoise.
Leave it to Tablas Creek, however, to tantalize me with a 100% Counoise bottling. The 2005 Tablas Creek Counoise came about, as it has in occasional prior vintages, when their estate pantings yielded more fruit than needed for their Esprit de Beaucastel and Côtes de Tablas. This is a rare expression of this grape for California and a wondrous d
elight. Tablas Creek also poured me their 2006 Tannat (an 88% blend softened with Cabernet Sauvignon) again a rarety on the West Coast and again an amazing discovery. 2006 Roussanne, 2006 Grenache Blanc, 2006 Mourvèdre—I could wax ad infinitum—Tablas Creek, along with Alban Vineyards and Qupé, has always represented the holy grail of Rhône-style wines from California to me, and this visit exceeded my expectations. That their 120 acres of plantings are all organic certified only enhanced my appreciation.
I would be quite remiss if I did not acknowledge Monica, whose splendid hospitality and individualized attention truly made my Tablas visit thoroughly enjoyable. Her counterpart at Justin, Sara Lutsko, was equally delightful and could have even tempted me to…but I digress. Justin is a winery that also features one of Paso Robles most acclaimed restaurants. Judging by the hairpin turns and utter remoteness of the setting, diners would be wise to book a room at JUST Inn, their onsite bed & breakfast. Justin takes a decidedly Pythagorean approach to their labels, and indeed their blends often do sum up a² + b² to produce a decidedly synergistic c². Case in point, their 2006 Justification, an atypical blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, or the 2007 Orphan, a Cabernet Sauvignon + Syrah combination. I joked that they ought to pair their 2006 Savant (another Cabernet & Syrah hybrid) with a wine labeled Idiot (cf. Rainman for the reference), and they came close with their 2007 Obtuse, a port-style dessert wine made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. My kudos, as well, for their 2006 Tempranillo Reserve (mistakenly priced, one would hope, at $312.50! on their website) and their distinctive 2006 Petit Verdot. And did I mention the 2006 Isosceles, their justly-famed Bordeaux meritage?.
It seems that many of the attendees at the Green Building Workshop beat me to Halter Ranch, a small, unimposing venture that both Jill Whitacre and Kira Costa of the Central Coast Vineyard Team highly touted. Their judgment makes me wish I could have followed up on all their recommendations. As one of the first Central Coast wineries to be certified for Sustainability in Practice (SIP), Halter Ranch put forth a lineup of estate grown varietals and blends of both Bordeaux and Rhône clones, distinguished by their 2007 Viognier and their 2005 Cabernet Franc.
By now, everyone knows that bombastic scene, with Leonardo Di Caprio, arms spread back like an erne, perched atop the Titanic’s bow, proclaiming “I am King of the World!” Yet that is exactly the feeling one gets from the panoramic loft that houses Calcareous Vineyard’s new tasting facility. The grandeur of this setting, with 270° views sweeping across the entire valley, is impossible to depict with the constrictions of HTML text, but it should become an obligatory stop for any Paso Robles tour. Against this commanding backdrop, one could easily luxuriate in their 2004 Reserve Zinfandel, the 2006 Twisted Sisters Chardonnay, a York Mountain 2006 Pinot Noir or the 2006 Petit Verdot. Still, I have to confess a fondness for their 2006 Très Violet, a GMS blend that veers from duality of Grenache or Mourvèdre predominance and allows Syrah the upper hand.
I drove back to San Francisco along the Pacific Coast Highway as a coda to my revelatory visit. As I passed through Soquel, I detoured to Bargetto Winery in the hope of finding a final touch of Dolcetto to round out my excursion, but, alas, they were sold out and I had to settle for a taste of their 2002 La Vita, a proprietary blend of Dolcetto, Nebbiolo and Refosco from their Santa Cruz Mountain estate vineyards. It is a hard life I lead…

Taking the pledge

From the look of things today, we are going to need all the help we can get if we’re going to steer ourselves out of this economic morass. This task is so formidable, there’s actually a rumor floating around that embattled Illinois Senator Roland Burris is going to quit so that the Punahou Kid can resign, reclaim his former seat, and hand the Presidency over to Joe Biden (could anyone blame him if it were true?). But rather than dwell on speculative fantasy, I, for one, am ready to do my part and right here am making my patriotic pledge: Your West Coast Oenophile will, just like the chastened, stimulus-laden bankers on Wall Street, continue to undertake my responsibilities and accept not a penny more than $500,000 in annual salary until this financial crisis has fully abated. Even if that means foregoing the Napa Valley Wine Auction this coming June.
Speaking of investment bankers, the Ginkgo Girl and I dropped in on my longtime friend Alan Jones on our way back from Sonoma last night. Alan is a former Exonian who preceded me in college at a couple of not-so-preppie student organizations, Black Praxis and Foley House before veering off to business school at Wharton. From co-op to coöpted, as I like to kid him, but then his wine collection and recently expanded wine cellar dwarf my humble assemblage, so perhaps he had the better idea.
Alan’s hospitality remains legendary and his pours are generous to a fault (or so the CHP tried to assert nearly two of decades ago), so he warrants citation on these pages. But I would be remiss in not elaborating on the splendid tasting we attended earlier in the day.
Not every winery can be described as idyllic, nor need they be to make exceptional wine. I have known several, like Starry Night and Kalin Cellars, to be housed in industrial parks, racking barrels six tiers high in cramped warehouse spaces and contracting itinerant bottling lines twice a year. Yesterday introduced us to a septet of little-known bonded ventures clustered in an industrial complex outside the town of Sonoma. It would have seemed more symmetrical had this cooperative tasting billed as The Eight Street Wineries included eight distinct labels, and, in fact, it did, but our typically tardy arrival prevented us from reaching MacRostie Winery, the sole venue housed separately from the rest. Nonetheless, I can assuage my guilt, and appease them for this transgression, by offering earnest plaudits for their many excellent Chardonnays I’ve had the pleasure to imbibe over the years.
The seven wineries we did manage to visit, as part of my never-ending quest to source an intriguing array of West Coast wines for Sostevinobile, were, in no particular order: Enkidu, Anaba Wines, Ty Caton, Talisman, Parmalee-Hill, Three Sticks and Tin Barn Vineyards. A more eclectic montage of monikers would be hard to assemble. And certainly each brought forth a wine, if not several, that I hope will find its way onto our roster.
I’m not ashamed to admit that my cuneiform reading skills have slacked off considerably, so I’ll take Enkidu winemaker Phil Shaehli at his word pertaining to the genesis for each of the esoteric labels he assigns to his wines. Babylonian floods aside, however, the true standout was his accessibly-appointed 2006 Tina Marie Pinot Noir. We found ourselves equally enjoying the 2006 Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir across the way at Three Sticks, no surprise considering the pedigree of both the vineyard and veteran winemaker Don Van Staaveren. With a quartet of 2005 Pinots, the Ginkgo Girl and I were evenly split on which of Talisman’s releases we preferred, but then isn’t that the true beauty of wine?
Don van Staaveren is also winemaker for Parmalee-Hill, a name that adorns so many labels—Flowers, Kistler, Patz & Hall, Saintsbury, Saxon-Brown, Steele—it’s almost impossible to keep track; little wonder their eponymous label is consistent across the board. Tin Barn was like a small time warp, in that their current releases all hail from vintages three to four years previous than most other wineries are now offering. Orson Welles, who, to be sure, turns agitatedly in his grave at the mere mention of his namesake restaurant in San Francisco, may have uttered the catch phrase, but Tin Barn’s wines really are sold when their time has arrived—case in point, their ready-to-drink-now 2003 Syrah Sonoma Coast, Coryelle Fields Vineyard. At the other end of the Rhône spectrum, Anaba presented both their red and white Coriol blends, the former being predominantly Grenache, the latter skewed heavily in favor of Viognier. Both were quite breezy, but proprietor John Sweazy truly stood out among the pack with his 2007 Anaba Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.
I am neither being remiss nor showing favoritism by holding my last comments for Ty Caton. Being the inveterate punster that I am (I still insist that proprietress Marcy Roth of Sausalito’s Bacchus & Venus wineshop should change the store’s name to Grapes of Roth), I lobbied shamelessly for a limited-release, vineyard-designated Napa Cabernet, Ty Caton To Kalon, but it is not to be. Oddly, though, amid his generally excellent lineup of estate-produced varietals, his almost faithful Bordeaux-style meritage, the 2005 Ty Caton Estate Field Blend stood out as the pinnacle of his winemaking talents.
And, on that note, it’s time to bring this post to a close and curl up with the Ginkgo Girl. This week has me traveling to Paso Robles, with much ground to cover and much to report on my wine explorations. Never let it be said that this erstwhile ’Kissie doesn’t earn his $500k the hard way!