Categories
Bordeaux blend Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Chardonnay Syrah

Please don’t turn these Rockstars into a LivingSocial App on Facebook!

Here’s an intriguing conundrum: if you could somehow reassemble one great rock band, in its original incarnation, which would you choose? Of course, The Beatles is too obvious a choice, kinda like ordering a magnum of 1947 Cheval Blanc to accompany your last meal. Personally, I’m torn. Blind Faith might have been at the top of my list (after all, everyone is still alive), but then I heard the Cream reunion and, hard as it is to admit, they sounded a bit…anemic. But since this is a hypothetical query, I’d narrow my selection to three bands at their now-defunct apex, based on sheer musicianship (so much for Led Zeppelin, I’m afraid).

The Band comes first to mind. These guys weren’t about making popular albums—they set out to make great albums. Music from Big Pink, Stage Fright, and their self-titled second album, The Band, still hold up as modern masterpieces. In music circles, many of the leading performers of the day held this quintet in complete awe, something readily apparent in the enthusiasm with which they contributed to The Band’s epochal live albums, Rock of Ages and The Last Waltz. If only there’d been a way to stop the feud between Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm…
The Band was a hybrid of Canadian and New Orleans musicians. Another group that blend the New Orleans sound with contemporary California style was Little Feat. Driven by the seamless slide guitar of the late Lowell George and the unmistakable barrelhouse blues rifts from Bill Payne’s keyboards, there is little wonder why more bands named the Feat as their favorite band (apart from their own ensemble). No album gets more play on my iPod these days than Waiting for Columbus.
Alas, however, Little Feat must step aside for the ultimate band for which I’d pay a Warren Buffett-sized fortune to hear just once in its original lineup. As Bill Graham put it the night The Allman Brothers Band closed the Fillmore East, “In all my life, I’ve never heard the kind of music this group plays—the finest contemporary music.” Perhaps he should have said “timeless.” Listening to the live version of One Way Out as I pen this entry, it’s hard to believe the sophistication and intricacy of their music, especially considering they were all under 25 at the time. Trying to imagine what they might have produced had both Berry Oakley and Duane Allman not been killed in separate motorcycle accidents simply makes one shiver.

Of course, I’m keenly aware that readers are entitled to their own choices, but please show some restraint. This is a professional blog, after all, not a social networking site! This entry meanders, with my usual penchant for digression, because I could find no more apt analogy to describe my wonderment—and pleasure—at the rockstar lineup that came out to pour at Acme Fine Wine
’s inaugural Atelier tasting last Saturday.

Here, in no particular order, was an assembly of a dozen winemakers who could make even an ardent Francophile take pause: Pam Starr, Dave Phinney, Russell Bevan, Craig MacLean, Andy Erickson, Philippe Melka, Sarah Gott, Mike Hirby, Robbie Meyer, Mark Herold, and Heidi Barrett. Drawing upon the sundry labels they either produce directly or act as consulting winemaker, this coterie poured over 50 different wines. As I remarked to Acme principal David Stevens, it reminded me of the Déjà Vu strip club chain’s trademark: “1000’s of Beautiful Girls and Three Ugly Ones.” Only I’d’ve been hard pressed to name even one ugly one from this lot—each wine was a revelation to the palate. 

As such, I am almost hesitant to highlight the handful of wines I felt garnered special citation, especially considering the brevity of the notes I took. My taste memory may be long, perhaps even synæsthesic, but the truncated entries I managed to record in the program guide we received barely merit the term “chirographic.” Or legible. And I challenge anyone to record their findings on 50 wines with a iPhone touchpad! Nonetheless, I did find standouts in Philippe Melka’s 2006 Vineyard 29 Aida Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Celia Welch Masyczek’s 2006 Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon.
Celia’s indelible touch was abundantly evident in the 2006 Keever Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine owners Bill and Olga Keever justifiably call “the best wine we have made to date.” Similarly distinguishable was the 2006 Bialla Cabernet from Craig MacLean and Pam Starr’s 2006 Crocker & Starr Cabernet Sauvignon. Rarely does a Cab winemaker excel on par with a Pinot, but her 2006 Adastra Pinot Noir was every bit the equal of her Bordeaux varietals. Classic Bordeaux blends that tantalized included Mike Hirby’s 2006 Roy J. Maier Cabernet Sauvignon and Andy Erickson’s 2005 Dancing Hares.
My truncated notes for Mark Herold describe his 2006 Kamen Cabernet Sauvignon as “pure chocolate.” My assessment of the 2005 Barbour Cabernet Sauvignon that Heidi Peterson Barrett crafted was no less lofty. Of course, there is more to the viticultural realm than great Cabernet; a most capable proponent of this tenet, Robbie Meyer, deftly offset the heat of the gathering with his proprietary 2007 Peirson Meyer Chardonnay. Also qualifying: Sarah Gott’s 2006 Blackbird Vineyards Illustration, a predominantly Merlot-based blend, with both Cabernets (Franc and Sauvignon) rounding it out. No stranger to blends, Dave Phinney produced his 2005 Orin Swift Papillon with the full complement of the classic Bordeaux varietals. Meanwhile, Russell Bevan offered his eponymous 2007 Bevan Red, a blend of 45% Cabernet Franc and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, balanced out with 10% Merlot. His 2006 Dry Stack Syrah was equally pleasing.
The true revelation of this event (reaffirmation, actually, for the many cognoscenti in the crowd) was the amazing breadth and quality of the wines being produced here. It seems fashionable, particularly in certain dining circles, to denigrate California wines as lacking subtlety or, worse, adhering
to an indistinguishable conformity (see the comments appended to Michael Bauer’s recent Does buying local apply to wine?). The Atelier tasting incontrovertibly demonstrated that these local vintages are anything but monolithic and can hold their own against any other wines.
Before concluding, I would be remiss if I didn’t pay tribute to the marvelous food that accompanied this event. David and Mimi Katz, the caterers at Panevino, share the same building as Acme Fine Wines, and cranked out an abundance of chichetti throughout the afternoon. I do hope, however, that my fellow blogger, Napa Man, is premature in pronouncing the Atelier as the premier tasting of the year. I, for one, am looking forward to see how David and Karen might outdo themselves with Atelier II. But, as a long-standing Acme denizen who decried the lapse of their annual anniversary party at the Tucker Farm Center while they located to this site in 2008, I can happily say that this tasting more than mitigated for the omission!

Categories
Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Chardonnay Grenache Malbec Merlot Sangiovese Syrah

It ain’t just about the wine!

Be Altitude: Respect Yourself. Back when The Staples Singers released this album in 1972, Napa Valley wine had yet to earn a decent modicum of respect beyond limited confines within the Bay Area. Thirty-seven years later, it seems fairly inarguable that these wines have elevated themselves to more than a pinnacle of success.

Last Thursday, the insightful crew over at Uncorked Events put together a tasting from some of the finest recent viticultural endeavors in California. April 23rd has long been one of the more propitious dates on the calendar, marking the birth of both William Shakespeare (1564) and Vladimir Nabokov (1899); Napa Valley with Altitude did its considerable part to complement this historical legacy.

The event focused on wines from the three sub-AVAs that demarcate the Mayacamas Mountains: Mt. Veeder, Spring Mountain, and Diamond Mountain. Not surprisingly, Cabernet Sauvignon, along with kindred Bordeaux varietals and blends thereof, dominated the tasting selections. Chardonnay had numerous proponents, as well, along with a smattering of Syrah and one heteroclitic Sangiovese to appease Your West Coast Oenophile.

With 36 wineries on hand, it would be nigh impossible to highlight each here. Virtually every wine I tasted offered depth and complexity, and it is in no way intended as critique if I fail to delve into greater detail.Certainly, Sostevinobile will be pleased to offer the preponderance of these distinctive vintages (as fall within the economic determinants we are compelled to observe). But before I attempt to assay the list of wines I felt warranted particular kudos, I’d like to elucidate what truly distinguished this tasting from so many others that I attend.

I probably sample a few thousand wines each year, both within my professional capacity and for my private enjoyment. This process often requires me to attend many of the large trade and public tastings put on by various wine associations and commercial promoters. While these duties may not prove as enviable as, say, being the official ice cream taster at Dreyer’s, it is definitely one of the more pleasurable tasks to which one can be assigned. Still, these events can be overwhelming—the ZAP Grand Tasting, for instance, fills two exhibit halls at Fort Mason!

However, for a tasting of its scale, Napa Valley with Altitude was the most pleasurable event I have encountered in quite a long while. Three rooms at the Fort Mason Officers’ Club were commodiously laid out to accommodate each of the sub-AVAs, creating an intimate locus for sampling wines and interacting with each winery’s representative. The rooms all afforded panoramic views of San Francisco Bay and Aquatic Park, which were bathed in sunlight Thursday afternoon. Generous helpings of both warm and cold hors d’oeuvres—a must for keeping up with five hours’ worth of wine tasting—were continually replenished by the caterers from Mariposa Kitchen and from AG Ferrari. Sofas, tables, and even a fireplace in the vestibule offered a welcome retreat from the din of the gathering when such was needed for composing notes or merely collecting one’s thoughts. All-in-all, even with a moderate crowd in attendance during the public segment, this venue seemed closer to a private living room than a leviathan warehouse. If only all wine trade events could feel so accessible!

And then there was the wine. Most of my colleagues beelined over to Spring Mountain Vineyard’s 2004 Elivette, a Bordeaux blend that emphasized Cabernet Sauvignon. Back when my friend Mike Robbins owned this winery, it was featured as the setting for Falcon Crest; the current ownership still makes an enviable Cabernet Sauvignon (2005), as well.
Another old friend whose Cabernet never disappoint was Peter Thompson, who was on hand to pour his 2005 Andrew Geoffrey Cabernet Sauvignon. I confess to indulging myself more than once at his table. On the other hand, I never knew the late actor Richard Farnsworth, who, despite his appearance in Olympia Beer’s insipid commercials from the 1980s, nevertheless always managed to evoke a kind of warm & fuzzy feeling in whatever role he played; Richard Graeser’s portrait on his Graeser Winery labels might seem a veritable doppelgänger for the Grey Fox star, but his flagship Bordeaux-style 2005 Couer de Leon was unmistakable. Other standout Diamond Mountain District Cabs from the Class of 2005 included Dyer Vineyard, Diamond Terrace, the old pros at Martin Ray Winery and Schramsberg scion Hugh Davies venture into still wines with his J. Davies tribute.

Perhaps “old pro” is a tad premature for describing Newton Vineyard, but their strict adherence to offering unfiltered wines shone exemplarily in their 2005 Merlot, 2006 Chardonnay and 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. As with their fellow vintners from Diamond Mountain, the rest of the Spring Mountain contingent shone most brightly with their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon—notably Marston Family Vineyard, Peacock Family Vineyards, Vineyard 7 & 8, and, with striking panache, Sherwin Family Vineyards 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.
A Spring Mountain newcomer to me, Terra Valentine Winery, poured a trio of their estate-bottled Cabs. Ever-so-slightly, the 2005 Wurtele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, stood out among the three. Unabashedly proclaiming itself, Mount Veeder’s Vinoce Vineyards 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon might have inspired one to abjure all others (OK, maybe that’s a bit extreme). Still, my remaining notes do seem to focus on other vintages, like the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon from Diamond Mountain’s Kiss Ridge Vineyards or the bi-county mélange Pride Mountain Vineyards assembles for its stellar 2006 Napa/Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon. From Spring Mountain, Paloma Vineyard’s 2006 Merlot heartily echoed the 2001 vintage that garnered them a #1 ranking among Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines.
Mount Veeder’s representatives tended to feature standout blends. sounding almost Shakespearean, Godspeed Vineyards married Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Syrah to produce their 2005 Trinity. Marketta Fourmeaux, the longtime producer of her eponymous Marketta Vineyards label, introduced her latest foray, Hand Made with its 2006 Mt. Veeder Blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot). Wine ingénues Mary and Whitney Yates might have had the Ginkgo Girl fuming at the attention I paid them, but their Yates Family Vineyard’s 2005 Alden Perry Reserve, a Merlot-dominated blend balanced out with both Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, would surely have appeased her.
The sisters Yates also impressed with their 2005 Cheval, their showcase 100% Cabernet Franc. Another breathtaking 2005 Cabernet Franc came from Spring Mountain’s Guilliams Vineyards, a fitting tribute to the birthday and translated surname co-owner Shawn Guilliams was sharing with the aforementioned Bard of Avon. Despite the name it shares with the nomenclature-obsessed Grand Cru châteaux, LaTour Vineyards shared a superb Burgundian-style 2006 Napa Valley Chardonnay. With no conflict to its name, Paras Vineyard offered a remarkable array of wines, resounding with their 2007 Grenache, 2005 Syrah and a contrasting pair of Viognier from both 2005 and 2006.
The earliest vintage of the tasting came from Random Ridge, with a 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon that hopefully proved a harbinger for where all the wondrous 2005 Cabs I tasted at Napa Valley with Altitude will be heading. But readers of this blog will not be surprised that the 2006 Fortunata, their extraordinary expression of Sangiovese, was the wine that held me rapt at this most delightful event.

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Uncategorized

At long last: reflections on a final visit to the orthodontist!

Congratulations, Ginkgo Girl! Now it’s time to show the world your smile!!!

Categories
Aleatico Barbera Cabernet Sauvignon Carignane Chardonnay Dolcetto Marsanne Merlot Petite Sirah Pinot Gris Pinot Noir Roussanne Sangiovese Sauvignon Blanc Syrah Valdiguié Viognier Zinfandel

What kind of wine goes best with apostacy?

I would never think of serving venison for Christmas. A rabbit repast for Easter is, however, an indulgent heresy. Years ago, I tried adapting a Paul Prudhomme recipe for Cajun-style Coniglio Tetrazzini as the overture the post-prandial delectations of a young denizen of New Orleans who was summering in Santa Cruz, but, alas, she never did show for dinner,—or the follow-through breakfast I had so elaborately planned-and I was left to slough through reheated leftovers for the next four days.

Twenty-five or so years later, I decided to reprise my culinary fête for The Ginkgo Girl. Lacking my original recipe, I improvised, kneaded a batch of Red Pepper/Paprika dough instead of the Cilantro Fettuccine I had made the previous time, and cranked it through the spaghetti cutter on my well-worn Atlas Pasta Maker. Fresh spring vegetables (bell peppers, snap peas, button mushrooms) and butter were readily acquired on AT&T Coupon Night at Rainbow Grocery, but an exhaustive search found only Little City Meat Market stocked fresh rabbit for the coming Saturday.

Sunday morning, I set to task, first rolling out the noodles, then boiling and cooling them down as I prepared the sherry-cream base. In the middle of my preparations, I realized, much to my chagrin, that—horrors!—none of the wine we had on hand would complement the myriad flavors of my elaborate concoction.

Because it was Sunday, and a sacrosanct holiday to boot, I soon became aware that my options were quite limited. The Wine Club was closed; groceries, if open, were limited, at best; and all of my preferred wine shops were closed. Reluctantly, I settled for my last available recourse: BevMo.

Now, this isn’t to say that Calizona’s leading beverage chain does not offer a very nice selection of some very nice wines. One certainly can find a wealth of highly serviceable vintages in the $15-20 range that more than adequately address the need for an everyday wine. And their selection of higher-end wines is far from pedestrian. But a store like BevMo, quite understandably, leans toward predictably safe choices. There are rows upon rows of Cabernet, of Zinfandel, of Pinot, of Merlot, and of Chardonnay. They is an abundance of Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah, dollops of Roussanne and Marsanne, a smattering of Pinot Gris and Viognier, and an homage to Petite Sirah and an array of blends, both red and white. But none of these quite fit the menu.

The more traditional Chicken Tetrazzini could have withstood a strong white, perhaps a heavily-oaked Chardonnay that trend-seeking wine enthusiasts often deride. The peppers and spices that infused my rabbit/pasta mélange demanded something red, but on the lighter side. Don’t even think Valdiguié! Perhaps the charms of a California Dolcetto or the rare subtlety of a local Aleatico might have served my purpose, but the tiny tiers of the Other Reds rack offered only an array of GMS blends, a couple of
Petit Verdot and a lone bottle of Carignane. If memory serves true, there may have also been some $9 Sangiovese and a rather unassuming Barbera, but my quest for a well-paired varietal was not to be satisfied. Loathe as I am to admit it, Your West Coast Oenophile was stumped; eschewing the anathema of scouring the Imports aisle, I settled on a 2006 Cambria Pinot Noir (Julia’s Vineyard) and returned to the stove.

My fanatically Catholic mother would readily attribute my shortfall to the heterodoxy of my religious tenets—a divine retribution against my culinary foray. Who knows? I am not about to give her the satisfaction of acceding to her strictures. Next year, I intend to select the wine first and devise a recipe around it.

Categories
Barbera Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Chardonnay Colombard Dolcetto Malbec Merlot Nebbiolo Pinot Noir Port Riesling Sangiovese Syrah Zinfandel

Whither Bambi Francisco?

Somehow, Your West Coast Oenophile managed to lose track of Bambi Francisco at the 2009 Wine 2.0 Expo last Thursday. Because this gathering showcased the convergence of wine and technology, I could have thought up a highly inventive way to signal her, like Tweeting “tell Bambi I’m standing by the Cameron Hughes table” from my iPhone or by logging onto the Web app Nirvino had set up for the event and wryly posting “2007 Inman Family Russian River Valley Pinot Gris would sure taste great if Bambi were tasting it here with me” on their overhead screen. But like esprit de l’escalier, the notion didn’t occur to me until well after I had left.

Of course, I hadn’t been invited to this tasting to renew my acquaintance with this intrepid reporter, so while she filmed her podcast, I moseyed about the various nooks and crannies at Crushpad, searching for memorable wines to add to our growing roster at Sostevinobile and to include in this blog (a fairly formidable task, given the somewhat chaotic layout of the vent and program guide). Naturally, I first found myself at the table for Classic Malts of Scotland, where the temptation of Lagavulin 16 Year Old proved…too tempting.
Admittedly, it takes a few moments to cleanse one’s palate from the taste of Single Islay Malt Scotch, so let me take this time to explain what the intersection of wine and technology is not. At the bottom of the list, one would have to cite the automatonic wonder known as The Winepod™. This impersonal contraption has been billed as “George Jetson, Meet Winemaker” and could only come from the aesthetic void known as San Jose—throw in the grapes, flip on the switch and await your technologically perfect wine. Suitable, of course, to be dispensed in discrete 1 oz. shots at the nadir of the wine tasting experience, the late and not especially lamented VinoVenue. Technology, however, does offer the possibility of enveloping more people into the richness of the wine experience, and, as it has become the lingua franca of the under-35 set, there is much to be said for the virtues of marrying social networking and web-based communities to the sheer joy of œnophilia.
So onward to the wines I discovered (given the utter randomness of listings in the program guide, the order of my selections will likely seem splenetic). First up, though not because he invited me to the upcoming Pinot Days Grand Festival Steve Rigisch poured a pair of truly excellent 2007 Russian River Pinot Noirs, from Olson Ogden and his own Ketcham Estate. If this was a prelude to the June gathering, I am bound to be euphoric. 
Post-prandial fare came early Thursday evening, with a 2004 Port of Pinot Noir, which 122° West Winery calls Sonoma County Dessert Wine. Their 2006 Napa Valley Sangiovese was equally impressive. Strains of The Deuces’ WPLJ (not the Long Island radio station) echoed through my head with my taste of Rick Kasmier’s White Port of Chardonnay, a wine that may well become timely in the midst of this economic neo-depression. In a similar vein, I admit I cringed before tasting his Kaz Vineyards 2008 Stimulus (seems every advertiser these days feels compelled to use this term in their promotions), but with a lineup that includes Lenoir, Malbec, Barbera and DeChaunac, I suspect a trip to his Kenwood tasting room will soon be in order.
In stark contrast to Kaz’ 27 varietal offerings, Bedarra Vineyards from Dry Creek Valley produces a mere 250 cases of a single wine. Their second vintage, a 2007 Chardonnay, showed tremendous promise. Meanwhile, making their first California foray, Y Rousseau Wines presented their understated yet refreshing 2008 Russian River Valley Colombard Old Vines.
Similar modesty was not to be found in Walla Walla’s lone representative, Wines of Substance. While their labels cheekily borrows from Breaking Bad’s twist on the Periodic Table, their wines are anything but chemical in composition or taste, with both 2007 Riesling and their 2007 Merlot ably displaying why Washington excels in these particular varietals.
Loyal readers of this blog well know my partiality for the Italian interpretation of most cultural expressions or phenomena. Naturally, I gravitated to Dono dal Cielo’s table, where I was delighted with both the 2006 and 2007 versions of their Newcastle (the California hamlet, not Newcastle-on-Tyne, the more renowned British brewery enclave) Zinfandel. Of greater fidelity, Due Vigne di Famiglia offer a quartet of wines, punctuated by their salubrious 2006 Nebbiolo and my predilection a 2005 Dolcetto.
It would have been wonderful if Michael Giarraputo had been able to speak with me in Italian, but his Think Tank Wine Company is quiet conversant in the sustainable values Sostevinobile espouses. His 2007 La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir is an excellent organic expression of Santa Rita Hills’ signature varietal. Another winery aiming at a different kind of appeal, Courtesan Wines, echoed the highly romanticized version of this Venetian archetype, so sensually portrayed in Dangerous Beauty. Hints of sensuality were abundant in both the 2006 Courtesan (Cabernet Sauvignon) and 2006 Brigitte (Merlot), both hailing from Oakville. The big O of the evening, however, was O’Brien Estate, whose 2006 Seduction is a Bordeaux-style blend that lived up to the promise of its name. Their 2007 Chardonnay was also a worthy counterpart.
A Palo Alto venture, Cannonball Wine Company, inspired me to whip out my iPhone 3G and play the immortal saxophonist’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. Their 2006 Cannonball Cabernet was a deft blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah from a decidedly unkosher mélange of four vineyards in Dry Creek, Mendocino and Paso Robles. A more traditional blend was the 2005 Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon from Lancaster Estate, a stellar Bordeaux-style assemblage of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec, 2% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot.
It’s a rare treat when a wine looks as good as it tastes. The labels Eric Kent Cellars commissions for their wines are vibrant, evocative and well-suited to their portfolio of Chardonnay, Syrah, and Pinot Noir from Sonoma. Most memorable of the evening was their 2006 Dry Stack Vineyard Syrah, a stellar Bennett Valley vintage with and equally memorable label from artist Colin Day.
Some people are drawn to wines by their rating points from Robert Parker or Wine Spectator. I tend to succumb to those wineries that can offer something contrarian in nature, as demonstrated by Delgadillo Cellars, which was just now releasing its 2001 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon! A splendid Old Vine Cabernet, this wine came closest to warranting the highly coveted .
I topped off the evening with a return to the Classic Malts of Scotland table and, later, an unanticipated (and soon to be contested) rendezvous with the traffic constabulary from the SFPD. Though highly improbable, I can categorically state that a late-night encounter with the elusive Ms. Francisco would have been far preferable. Then again, she never did show up that time for the showdown on the squash court she had always promised…

Categories
Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Carignane Chardonnay Grenache Merlot Mourvèdre Petite Sirah Syrah Zinfandel

Best to Drink from Years 7DD to 7E5; San Jose Mercury News Rating: 5E pts.

That’s Silicon Valley parlance for “drink between 2013 and 2021” and a “95 point rating.”** These hexadecimal assessments may even be modest for Ridge Winery’s 7D5—I mean, 2005 Monte Bello. As I mentioned to my hosts last Sunday, at Ridge’s First Assemblage tasting for the 2008 Monte Bello, I have yet to taste such a complex 2005 Cabernet (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc), so much so that it demands being set down for at least 15 years. Winemaker Eric Baugher insists that the current vintage, an uncharacteristic blend of 81% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Merlot portends to become one of their benchmark releases, superior, in fact, to the 1971 Monte Bello that placed first in the 2006 reenactment of the Judgment of Paris.


Your West Coast Oenophile tends to be a bit of an agnostic when it comes to Ridge. I have always held them in exalted esteem not so much for their single vineyard Zinfandels but for the “off-varietal” selections they produce intermittently: Mataro (Mourvèdre), Carignane, and Grenache, as well as single varietals and blends with Syrah and Petite Sirah. But the real virtue of the winery comes out on a crystal-clear day like Sunday, where panoramic views from some 2200′ up make Silicon Valley look like a vast Legoland below—a realized metaphor, as some might say.

Ridge is not the only winery on Black Mountain. As you approach the hairpin turns en route to the summit, you first encounter Picchetti, a winery and preserve that is all too frequently overlooked by Ridge pilgrims, much in the way the more demure Jan Smithers got overlooked for the amply-endowed Loni Anderson on WKRP in Cincinnati. If you somehow manage to miss Ridge, you’ll encounter the rarely-accessible Fellom Ranch Winery. Almost as far up the mountain, on the side of Montebello Road overlooking the valley, Don Naumann operates his eponymous Naumann Vineyards from the aerie he built just below Ridge’s original operations. Like Fellom Ranch, it is only open on select weekends and by appointments. 

Last Sunday, Naumann held a couple of private tastings and put out their sandwich boards to direct visitors to their deck. Having never had the opportunity to visit this winery, I took my chances and veered off to the side on my way back from the Assemblage tasting. I would hazard to guess that few, if any, would-be burglars would set their sites on a home 16 miles up an inexorable series of hairpin turns, so it’s a fairly safe assumption that a stranger traipsing across your back porch at 5 PM is likely there to try your wines. Even though Don had already closed up for the day, he happily brought out two glasses and two bottlings each of his Chardonnay and his Merlot. The latter, which he grows on his two Montebello properties, quite clearly constitutes his pet project and his passion show in the wine. The 2004 Estate Merlot was an honest, fruit-forward expression of the varietal, easily drinkable now and a wonderful complement to a lighter cut of beef or a red meat medallion (think ostrich)! In contrast, the 2005 Estate Merlot is a wine waiting to happen, not quite the two decades before the Monte Bello will reach maturity, but easily three-five years away from hitting full stride.

Don and I must have spent close to an hour sitting on his porch, over looking the expanse of Santa Clara County, discussing winemaking, viticulture and my plans for Sostevinobile. He could not have been more hospitable. Recently, the Ginkgo Girl and I rented Bottle Shock, a somewhat apocryphal version of the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting. I recall Bill Pullman’s Jim Barrett telling Steven Spurrier (Alan Rickman) how people in the Napa Valley were different and genuinely bonded together as a community. Jim Warren of Freemark Abbey always used to tell me, “It isn’t just the wine. It’s the lifestyle we have here.” I wish I had understood that better while he was still alive. The same could be said for the beauty and tranquility along Montebello Road and the people who inhabit it.

There is a pre-fab, monlithic conformity to much of Silicon Valley that seems, apart from the form & functional design of the Apple product line, almost impervious to a sense of aesthetics. Fortunately, this rigid orthodoxy has not made it up the way of the Valley’s western slopes. The people who operate the nearby Lehigh-Hanson Cement Quarry have ambitions to expand their operations significantly, a move that would have significant environmental repercussions throughout the nearby region, including the vineyards on Black Mountain. To counter this proposed devastation, please visit and endorse Quarry No!

**The hexadecimal conversions were hard enough to derive. Please d
on’t even think to ask for them in binary!