Monthly Archives: March 2010

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, 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…

What has Your West Coast Oenophile done for you lately?

I shouldn’t feel derelict. I have striven to record each event he has attended on behalf of Sostevinobile with utmost fidelity. But I have a backlog of thirteen different wine forays to record since my last entry here, not to mention my participation in orchestrating three significant wine tastings, a handful of sustainable workshops and forums, and the arduous grind of assembling the financial backing for this venture. With Rhône Rangers Grand Tasting rapidly approaching, I must reluctantly admit I cannot give all these past gathering the thorough review readers know I strive to record in each blog entry. Rest assured, however, that each of the more than 100 wineries I have visited with during this period will be faithfully entered into Sostevinobile’s ever-expanding database and accorded full consideration when we launch our wine program. So, for now, let me give you a succinct overview of what Your West Coast Oenophile has done for you lately:


Just before Valentine’s Day, the up & coming rockstars at Rock Wall in Alameda put on a decadent pairing of wine and confections aptly billed as Chocolate Kisses & Bubble Dreams. The first wine event to be held in their brand-new Bubble Dome, a airy, geodesic edifice adjacent to the winery’s converted airplane hangar at the decommissioned Naval Air Base, the afternoon gathering appropriately debuted Rock Wall’s two new sparkling wines, the 2009 Sparkling Grenache and the Grenache-blended 2009 Mixto. After the party, several of the wineries that contract Rock Wall’s facilities, including Carica, with its delectable 2006 Kick Ranch Syrah, and Ehrenberg Cellars, which featured its 2008 Petite Sirah alongside its just-release Zinfandel futures.

Valentine’s Day 2010 proved a decidedly muted affair, as I still grapple with the vacuity of home life post-Ginkgo Girl. As such, a trip to the wine country during the middle of the week proved a much-needed tonic. This sojourn included a visit to Silenus Vintners, a collective of Napa artisan winemakers not unlike Rock Wall that
includes B Cellars, Due Vigne di Famiglia, Gridley, IdeologyIlsley, Matthiasson, Poem Cellars, Ramian, and Venge. Tasting Room Manager Scott Turnnidge guided me through their rotating selection of wines from their nine producers, some familiar, others revelatory. Naturally, I couldn’t resist trying the 2006 Due Vigne Dolcetto after first sampling the 2008 Due Vigne Viognier, but found myself most allured by the 2006 Ramian Estate Debauchery.

From Napa, I head north and across Silverado Trail to Hall Wines’ Rutherford estate, one of the more picturesque hilltop wineries in the Valley. Again, ably guided by Laura Aguilar, the special Artisan Tour took our small group through the organic estate vineyards, the vast holdings and the custom-designed wine caves before treating us to a select tasting of Hall’s choicest crimson-labeled Cabernets, including the 2006 Exzellenz Sacrashe Vineyard and the eponymous 2006 Kathryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon. Next up, I scurried to Benessere for a belated sampling of their 2006 Sorridente, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Aglianico, and their 2006 Sangiovese (it would have been a violation, of course, to sample their Grappa of Trebbiano on site, so I took a bottle home for later evaluation).
Ostensibly, my trip this afternoon was for the invite to Orin Swift’s release party, somewhat ironic in that their recent sale of the Prisoner and Saldo to Huneeus meant the swan song for these labels. But the curious confines of St. Helena’s Odd Fellows Hall could not deter my fondness for David Phinney’s Burgundian Meritage, the 2006 Papillon or his phenomenal 2007 Mercury Head Cabernet Sauvignon.
Having recently left Benessere for his own ventures, winemaker Chris Dearden had invited me to meet him at Yountville’s V Marketplace 1870 but neglected to inform me that he was pouring his Cha
as part of First Taste Yountville. Arriving with barely 15 minutes left to the event, rather than simply enjoy a leisurely his 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2008 Chanticleer Sangiovese, I raced to acquaint myself with those participants still lingering as wineries like Casa Piena and Dominus folded their tables. I did manage to squeeze in some quick samples from Bell Wine Cellars, Corley Family, Gamble, Gemstone, Grgich Hills, Ghost Block, and Piña before we were shooed from the exhibit hall and wove my way back to downtown Napa for a final invite to BarBersQ’s showcasing of new wines from Mia Klein’s Serene and Elizabeth Spencer.
My own debut in organizing a formal wine tasting took place the following Saturday at the New Year’s Gala for the National Association of Asian American Professionals, San Francisco chapter (NAAAP-SF), a modest debut featuring wines from McNab Ridge and Wild Hog—a modest effort, to be sure, but certainly a cut (or six) above Crane Lake. The next day, Carica’s Dick Keenan kindly supplied me with passes to WORDUP, the benefit tasting featuring the Winemakers of the Outer Richmond, Upper Panhandle, and the Presidio.This eclectic assembly included three of Ed Sandler’s ventures: The Industrial, Sandler Wine, and, as always, August West; the dual personæ of Qupé (Rhône varietals) and Verdad (Spanish varietals) from Bob Lindquist; fellow wine bar entrepreneur Bryan Kane’s VIE and Sol RougeCADE and PlumpJack from Gavin Newsom’s hospitality empire; the rather peripatetic Foggy Bridge; local stalwart AP Vin; are chance to visit with Carica and sample their just-released GMS blend, the 2007 Temptation; Harrington, who had generously contributed a couple of cases of their Pinot Noir to my Play Café’s fundraiser four years ago; familiar winery veterans FreemanCalera and Pelligrini; quasi-familiar ventures Ici/La-Bas and Skylark; hitherto unfamiliar nomenclature Mojon’s Bench and Captûre; Italian varietal specialist Uvaggio, with its newly-truncated nomenclature; Syrah specialists Renard, with their superb Viognier farmed at Dick Keenan’s Kick Ranch vineyard; and lastly, the highly-prized handmade Brown Label Vermouth of the semi-cryptic Sutton Cellars.