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 that—shudder!—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.