Monthly Archives: April 2010

A tale of two cities

It has been over 500 days since I last donned a necktie. Or cravat. Or noose, if you will. It has also been more than 500 days since I last set foot in San Jose. Anyone who knows Your West Coast Oenophile is well aware of my aversion towards Silicon Valley. Or 408-ville. Or Legoland, if you will. Which makes the following admission all the more remarkable:

Ten days ago, I attended two wine tastings on behalf of Sostevinobile, one in Menlo Park, the other in San Francisco; the former event was unquestionably superior.

The Quadrus Conference Center at 2400 Sand Hill Road is pretty much ground zero for the VC community, and as I remain heavily into fundraising mode for our wine bars, I had almost hoped more to bump into a venture capitalist or two (after all, this is where “spare change” is a 7-digit figure) than to discover an astounding Roussanne or Syrah/Zinfandel/Cabernet Sauvignon blend. But the portable PDF of our Keynote presentation, which I had logged into my iPhone in case I needed to make an on-the-spot pitch, received as much use as the list of wineries I had culled from the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance’s pre-published roster for its Grand Tasting Tour: Mid-Peninsula.

N’importe! This still turned out to be a representative sampling of what is arguably the most interesting AVA in California, comprising well over 240 wineries and more acreage than any other appellation. The afternoon began with a seminar from three of the more prominent wineries in the region: Clayhouse, J. Lohr, and Ancient Peaks. Each of the three wineries brought a representative selection of wines in the $16 range, as well as one of their higher-end offerings.

Though the allure of Paso Robles is that allows itself to be unfettered by orthodox varietal categorizations (i.e., Burgundian, Bordelaise, Rhône), each of the three winemakers presented selections that were consistent within their own strictures. Steve Lohr poured two blends in the Bordeaux tradition, the first in the style of Pomerol, the more luxuriant based on Médoc, though each contained a sufficient amount of its primary varietal to be labeled 2007 J. Lohr Los Osos Merlot and 2006 J. Lohr Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon. David Frick first poured his 2008 Clayhouse Malbec, ever-so-subtly softened with 2% Merlot, then switched to a Rhône blend, the 2007 Clayhouse Estate Petite Sirah, this time tempered with 1.5% Syrah. Meanwhile, Mike Sinoir showed true Paso Robles temperament by first blending his 2007 Ancient Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon Margarita Vineyard with Malbec, Petit Verdot and Zinfandel, then showcased his 2007 Ancient Peaks Oyster Ridge Margarita Vineyard, a totally unconventional blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Petite Sirah, rounded out equally with Merlot and Petit Verdot.

Following what turned out to be a lively exchange, I joined up with the main tasting, armed with a plan of attack that bore little correlation to what I found awaiting us. Because I had failed to try Anglim at each of the previous two Rhône Rangers, I first gravitated toward their table to sample their mix. while I found their 2006 Cameo (Marsanne/Roussanne/Viognier) and the 2006 Cerise (Grenache/Mourvèdre/Syrah/Viognier) blends quite approachable, I favored their single varietal 2007 Roussanne, the 2006 Grenache and the 2007 Mourvèdre Hastings Ranch Vineyard far more to my liking. In such company, their 2007 St. Peter of Alcantara, a Zinfandel, seemed a bit anomalous but quaintly nostalgic, the name being the same as the Catholic parish I attended, unmolested, in my youth. Nearby, Alta Colina’s 2008 Claudia Cuvée blended Grenache Blanc with Roussanne and Marsanne, while their 2007 GSM clearly excelled.

To my mind, nothing typifies Paso Robles more than its unusual blends—after all, such experimentation put Piero Antinori on the viticultural map. The 2006 Companion from Caliza, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Tannat, could not exemplify this willingness to experiment better, but, again, I most cottoned to their 2007 Syrah. Paso’s true pioneer in this array, though, has to be L’Aventure, a winery that needs no introduction here. Even though I had liberally sampled their wines at Rhône Rangers but a few weeks before, my friend Jennifer Hong, who distributes their wine in the Bay Area, insisted that today’s tasting would be featuring some newly released vintages. Here the superb 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon was complemented by the even more imposing 2007 Estate Cuvée, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot.

Kenneth Volk had introduced me to Negrétte last year, but was pouring samples only of their Paso Robles wines this afternoon. Still, I delighted in the 2008 Viognier Live Oak Vineyard, the 2005 Cabernet Franc, and especially the 2005 Tempranillo. And though I had sampled their wines at Rhône tasting, the sardonic wit of their emissary, Katie Kanphantha, drew me back to Derby Wine Estates’ table where I retried their delightful though inexplicable 2006 Fifteen10 Red and regaled in their 2006 Implico, a Bordeaux Meritage.

At this point, the tasting took a turn for the definite better, as the ever-alluring BeiBei Song joined me for a guided introduction. We scurried out onto the deck to join Tommy Oldré, bedecked in a loud, fuchsia necktie (or cravat) (or noose), at his Tablas Creek table. As always, the 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, their famed blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and Picpoul Blanc, proved an immediate favorite, while both the 2007 Grenache and the 2007 Mourvèdre charmed BeiBei in a way I thought only I could! We proceeded to Mike Giubbini’s Rotta Winery, a somewhat understated venture mostly producing traditional varietals like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel (I found the 2005 Rotta Giubbini Estate Zinfandel quite compelling). And while the 2005 Trinity, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot made for a more than competent Meritage, the real discovery here was the non-vintage Black Manukka, an oak-aged, rare dessert wine that begs comparison with a fine cream sherry. Dessert wine also stole the show at Robert Hall Winery. I found their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon quite appealing, but their 2009 Orange Muscat tasted like a liquid Grand Slam.

In the past, I may have been critical in this forum of wines from Niner’s Bootjack Ranch. I now realize that the particular vintages I have been served as a certain wine establishment may well have been past their prime, for the current releases I sampled here more than favorably impressed me. I found much merit in the 2006 Sangiovese but truly relished the 2005 Fogcatcher, a skillful mélange of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, along with Cabernet Franc and Merlot. I hadn’t had previous experience with Silver Horse Winery, but found their Bordeaux bled, the Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec/Petit Verdot combo of the 2007 SAGE enticing. More compelling, however, was their 2007 TOMORI, marrying Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with Syrah, while their straightforward 2009 Albariño offered a nice contrast to most of the afternoon’s offerings.

A wide range of Spanish varietals have taken root at numerous Paso Robles wineries, like Stanger, vinifying a more than competent rendition with their 2006 Tempranillo Stanger Vineyards; their forte, however, might have been the 2007 Viognier Paso Robles, a clean expression of this finicky varietal. Meanwhile, restricting themselves to what they do best, Terry Hoage presented three takes on Grenache: the 2007 The Pick, a Grenache-dominant GMS blend, the 2007 The 46, a Grenache/Syrah combo, and the 100% 2007 Skins Grenache.

               Kukla, Fran & Ollie

When I toured Paso Robles last year, I found myself rather intrigued by a gated Westside estate that was under development. Was this oddly-named winery a latent tribute to a Black & White puppet show that lurked deep in the recesses of my memory? kukkula, it turns out, is the Finnish word for “high place” (kukla is the transliteration of κούκλα or кукла, the respective terms in Greek and in Russian for doll), a most apt description of Kevin Jussila’s aerie. Finnish varietals are an unknown species to me, but Kevin compensates by giving his intriguing wines names like the 2008 vaalea, meaning “fair” or “white” to his Viognier/Roussanne blend or 2006 sisu, the term for “patience” or “perseverance”to his GMS blend. His superb mélange of Grenache, Mourvèdre and Zinfandel bears the label of 2006 Lothario, a moniker I often fancy for myself, while his Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah goes by the inornate 2006 in the red.

During the height of the dot.com explosion, a popular Italian restaurant in Mill Valley decided to open a branch in Palo Alto; rather than clone the name, they decided to hold a contest to see who could come up with the most clever appellation (the prize being a free meal every week for life, if I recall correctly). I submitted Il Pastaio Ottimo, meaning “the best pasta maker” but also deftly abbreviated as I.P.O. kukkula also produces a wine with the same acronym, a mostly Cabernet Sauvignon blend paying tribute to Kevin’s real job as a financial advisor. I tried to persuade him to drop off a bottle of his 2005 i.p.o., along with his business card, on the doorstep of every VC firm in the complex, but he demurred. Maybe I should have purchased a couple cases and left a bottle with Sostevinobile’s card instead!

As much as I enjoyed kukkula’s wines, my great discovery of the afternoon had to have been Roger Nicolas’ RN Estate. I could lavish superlatives on these wines all day (in between repeated sips, of course)! Two of these wines, the 2007 Young Vine Zinfandel and the 2006 Enfant Prodigué, a Mourvèdre/Syrah/Zinfandel blend, I conservatively scored as excellent. The other two Roger poured, the 2007 Cuvée des Artistes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel) and the 2007 Cuvée des Trois Cépages (a more traditional Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) well warrant the resurrection of my highly-coveted.   

I did skip a handful of attending wineries to which I have given extensive coverage in previous entries here, but concluded this tasting with Maloy O’Neill, another winery that had escaped previous notice. Quite the versatile viticultural venture, they impressed me with their 2005 Zinfandel, the 2005 Private Reserve Syrah, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Windy Hill, and the 2005 Malbec. However, I was most struck by their 2005 Lagrein, a wine that contrasted strikingly with the Lagrein from Sonoma’s Jacuzzi that I have previously assayed here.

As the trade portion of this tasting drew to a close, I sadly could not convince BeiBei to accompany me to the evening’s tasting in San Francisco. In retrospect, I probably ought to have fortified myself with a little sisu (the concept, not the wine) and loitered with the winery crews until the public arrived; instead, I basked in a few minutes of rare sunshine, then headed up Interstate 280 for Wine Enthusiast’s Toast of the Town 2010.

On surface impression, the wine tasting in San Francisco should have had everything going for it: a splendiferous setting inside the War Memorial Opera House, access to innumerable top-flight restaurants and caterers, a well-heeled crowd easily able to swing the $89 ticket price (if not the $169 tab for the VIP tasting), plus a prestigious wine publication as sponsor for the event.

And therein lies the rub. With this kind of clout behind the event, attendees had every right to expect a roster of wines of which only the true cognoscenti might be aware. Instead, table upon table proved to be subsidiaries of the leviathan wine corporations of this world: Gallo, Constellation, Château Ste. Michelle, Jackson Family Wines, Folio, Hess Collection, Trinchero, Coppola, Kobrand, Diageo, Banfi, Moët Hennessey, Delicato, Artesa, Crimson Wine Group, Foley Family Wines, Don & Sons (aka Sebastiani). To put things more succinctly, the greatest hits of Safeway’s wine aisle—minus Brown-Forman.

This isn’t to say that, even within these conglomerates, there aren’t quite a number of excellent labels and individual wines. I even sampled from BV, Cardinale, Archery Summit, and Robert Mondavi, to name but a few. But a neophyte could have put together this list as easily as Wine Enthusiast did—just without their imprimatur. And that hardly warrants an $89 premium.

On the plus side, Farallon generously shelled out tray upon tray of Champagne Poached Oysters, Cindy Pawlcyn’s Go Fish Restaurant whipped up a superb Shrimp & Lobster Salad, an Oakland establishment called Home of Chicken and Waffles covered everyone’s comfort food needs with Fried Chicken and Macaroni & Cheese, while Bistro Boudin from Fisherman’s Wharf incongruously assembled superb medallions of Alder Smoked Duck atop shot glasses filled what they described as Beet Gazpacho. Other food purveyors had offerings just as delectable, I am sure, but were already depleted by the time I arrived.

And in all fairness, there were more than a handful of independent wineries scattered throughout the four floors of this event. Jordan showed its usual flair with both its 2008 Chardonnay Russian River Valley and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley. One of Crushpad’s last, lingering autonomous labels, PerryMoore, impressed with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Vineyard and their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Stagecoach Vineyard. From Monterey, Josh Pierce of Pierce Ranch impressed me with his 2008 Albariño San Antonio Valley, while international wine mini-mogul Jean-Charles Boisset poured a selection of his family’s California and French labels, including DeLoach’s 2007 O.F.C. Reserve Pinot Noir, Lyeth’s wondrous 2006 Meritage, and newly-acquired Raymond’s 2007 Reserve Chardonnay.

Before I bring this review to a close, I wanted also to mention the presence of three promotional associations of independent wineries who poured a representation of their members’ wines. Unfortunately, each had far too many offerings for me to serve them justice during the limited time span of this event, and I can only urge them to hold a collective tasting like the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance sometime in the near future. Of course, I fully expect once again to attend the Grand Tasting for PS I Love You at Concannon, America’s birthplace of Petite Sirah, in the summer. And I hope Jim Ryan will use this event as a model for the members of his Livermore Valley Wine Country to establish a tasting of their own. Lastly, being sandwiched in-between Santa Cruz, Santa Lucia Highlands, and Paso Robles, Monterey Wine Country has plenty of examples to follow if it decides to a trade tasting of the diverse wines within their AVA.

Two tastings in one day—a lot to absorb, a lot to record, and (perhaps) too much to imbibe. My trek from San Francisco to Menlo Park and back covered nearly eighty miles and a wealth of contrast between the two cities and the events they had hosted. Perhaps Charles Dickens said it best: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

Nyah! That’s way too much to swallow!

 

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 III)

So much has been happening since my last installment of this blog. Try as I might to catch up with the myriad tastings of this past winter, just as soon as I sit down before my monitor, it seems a new obstacle is thrown my way. But the dreary annual ritual of preparing my taxes has been postpones, and I am truly hoping to wrap up my explorations and finally bring my readership up to date with all of Sostevinobile’s doings.

Following the debacle of my truncated appearance at the Swirl tasting, I was determined to make sure I calendared the San Francisco installment of In Vino Unitas correctly and arrived with sufficient time to cover the entire tasting at One Market.

Actually, the Dungeness crab tacos I had sampled at One Market a few nights before were so delectable delectable, I probably would have attended this event even if they were pouring Crane Lake and Corbett Canyon. But this cooperative marketing arm represents nearly two dozen highly prestigious wineries that distribute directly to retail and ventures like Sostevinobile, something that will prove clearly advantageous to our wine program (not that we will not also work with distributors like Swirl).

Now, apparently Your West Coast Oenophile has become a bit of a known quantity at the various San Francisco trade tasting for his penchant for appearing in shorts and a polo shirt. Note, however, that this isn’t so much a fashion statement as it is a practicality; my dedication to sustainability (and admitted parsimony when it comes to parking fees) dictates that I arrive at these events, whenever possible, on my faithful Trek 14-speed. Shorts permit me both to pedal far faster and to avoid staining my Levis with chain grease. Flash your detached bemusement if you must—cutting a bella figura will always take a back seat to philosophical adherence!


Does this really make for an enticing wine bar?

Alpha Omega might very well be the first or last word in winemaking, depending on one’s perspective. On the epic bike journey through Napa Valley that I led the Ginkgo Girl in the early part of our relationship, we made our final stop at their just-opened facility. Today it would commence my explorations, as I had not had the opportunity to revisit with them since. I found myself re-impressed by a number of their offerings, including the 2007 Chardonnay Napa Valley, their newly-released 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon that presaged the excellence of this much-anticipated vintage, and the 2006 Alpha Omega Proprietary Red, a Meritage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petite Verdot.
Over the past 18 months, I have had the pleasure of acquainting myself with many of the
wineries at In Vino Unitas; as such, this event more enabled me to solidify the relationship  between Sostevinobile and these producers than to familiarize myself with their wines (although I did sample liberally and without disappointment). Naturally, it was a pleasure to see Phil Schlein of Diamond Creek and to navigate through the trio of his designate Cabernet Sauvignons: the 2006 Red Rock Vineyard, the 2006 Gravelly Meadow Vineyard, and the 2006 Volcanic Hill Vineyard without having to man the steering wheel of their gas-powered golf cart.
Similarly, Merry Edwards held forth with considerable aplomb, underscored by a triple play of her  acclaimed Pinots: the 2007 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast as well as the 2007 Pinot Noir Klopp Ranch and the 2007 Pinot Noir Meredith Estate, both from the Russian River Valley. The Nickel & Nickel/Far Niente dichotomy presented a representative array of their wines, notably Nickel & Nickel’s 2007 Zinfandel Bonfire Vineyard and the ever-popular 2007 Estate Bottled Chardonnay from Far Niente, while sweetening the proposition with their exquisite Sémillon/Sauvignon Blanc Late Harvest selection the 2005 Dolce.
Astrale e Terra poured at a number of tastings I’ve attended in 2009, so my sampling of the 2004 Arcturus served to underscore my fondness for their Scott Harvey-crafted wines. I’d also recently had opportunities to visit both Napa facilities of sister operations Twomey Cellars and Silver Oak, with personal previews of their respective 2005 Napa Valley Merlot and the 2005 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
I could have bypassed their tables and still have known I relished Heitz Wine Cellars’ signature 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Martha’s Vineyard or the 2006 Chardonnay Carneros Selection from Grgich Hills. Thankfully, my stop at their tables also introduced me to Grgich’s 2006 Miljenko’s Old Vine Zinfandel and the fruit of Heitz’ progressive conversion to organic farming, the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Trailside Vineyard.
Likewise, my familiarity with their offerings did not prevent my visiting Duckhorn (along with its Goldeneye and Paraduxx labels) for a tasting of their 2008 Decoy Merlot, La Sirena yet again for the 2008 Moscato Azul and the 2007 Pirate TreasuredTestarossa for its array of Pinots—especially  the 2008 Pinot Noir Gary’s Vineyard, and Mayacamas for its 2001 Merlot.

My biggest mistake of the afternoon would have been skipping over Gargiulo Vineyards  simply because I had been invited for a private visit a few years back. Though my primary purpose in stopping by was to rib Jeff Gargiulo over having “deported” his daughter April to Hotchkiss during her formative years—much as my father had sent me when it was still an all-male boarding school, I serendipitously discovered how complex these wines had become over the past four years! The 2009 Rosato di Sangiovese was exquisite; the 2006 Aprile, a Napa Sangiovese, an absolute standout. Other Italian varietals that highlighted the afternoon were the 2007 Dolcetto di Nonno from Buoncristiani and the 2005 Charbono from Étude.
My rush through First Taste Yountville had not allowed me to linger appreciably over Gemstone’s lineup of intriguing wines, so today I partook amply of both the 2007 Facets Estate Chardonnay and the Cabernet-predominant 2006 Gemstone Proprietary Red. This afternoon also introduced me to Ehlers Estate, Ehlers Estate, a unique non-profit winery, with their 2006 Estate Merlot and the 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 1886 and the leonine Meyer Family Cellars, pouring its&nbs
p;2005 Mendocino County Syrah and the 2004 Bonny’s Cabernet Sauvignon.
Two other additions to the Sostevinobile roster came from Larkmead Vineyard, impressing with both the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Firebelle, a Merlot-based blend, and the multi-label venture from Krupp Brothers, featuring their 2007 Black Bart Syrah Stagecoach Vineyard and the 2006 Krupp Brothers The Doctor, an intriguing blend of Tempranillo, and Merlot, with smaller portions of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon tossed in for good measure.
The most intriguing discovery of the afternoon, however, was the little-heralded Vellum Wine Project, a joint project of Karl Lehmann and Jeffrey Mathy, with their first release, the 2007 Vellum Cabernet Sauvignon. Blended with 10% Merlot and 6% Petit Verdot, this extraordinary debut seemed a consensus favorite among attendees.
Nearly two weeks would pass before I took in a new wine discovery, the launch of Michael Benziger’ and Ben Flajnik’s Evolve Wines  at The Winery Collective. Right after sampling their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, deftly rounded out with Muscat Canelli, I packed up my problem-free 2002 Corolla S for a much-delayed ski trip to Lake Tahoe. On my way up, I detoured for a truncated visit to the Shenandoah Valley Wineries, exploring many of the local Italian varietal specialists like Villa Toscano, Wilderotter, Bella Piazza, Terra d’Oro, Vino Noceto, and Bray. I had hoped to finish up here and swing through Placerville for a quick tour of Lava Cap, Boeger and Madroña, but, alas, I had to have picked the first day of Daylight Savings Time for my sojourn and the consequent loss of an hour meant I did not cross El Dorado-Amador county line until after all had closed for the evening.

Of course, I knew I would be visiting with these producers and several of their other colleagues at the first El Dorado Winery Association tasting in San Francisco that coming Saturday, so I happy proceeded to King’s Beach and the slopes of Alpine Meadows for the next three days. On my return, I surveyed the new Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe, a resort where a former potential investor had tried to cajole me into launching Sostevinobile as an Audubon-themed wine bar! (see above) before leaving the snow country and winding my way to the Bay Area.  

I had wanted to visit with Roger Boulton and tour the state-of-the-art sustainable winery at UC Davis is currently developing, but arrangements could not be made in time and I had to settle for a quick drive-by. Then things got interesting.
I had never made the trek from Davis to St. Helena before, but, given the deep connection, I assumed it would be a straight-forward drive. And,
besides, I always had the GPS on my iPhone to navigate me. But once I passed through Willits on Rte. 128, both data and phone service became non-existent. For the next 45 minutes, I wound my way through interminable hairpin turns, relying on faith that the exacting precision of the route signs would guide me past Lake Berryessa with more than sufficient time to make my 2:30 meeting.
If only! By the time I reach the juncture of Hwy. 128 and Hwy. 121, I was hopelessly late, unable to phone for directions, and quite unsure whether I should veer towards Napa or toward Rutherford, as the signposts indicated. Sticking my head inside the forlorn little bait shop & convenience market that occupied this juncture, I naïvely sought to ask the T-shirted, crewcut store clerk for directions. “Which is the fastest way to St. Helena?”
Without looking up, he replied. “Never heard of it!”
Incredulous, I pressed my point. “Do I follow the road to the left or to the right?”
“I have no idea,” he responded with unbridled surliness.“Wanna buy a bottle of water?”
“No,” I insisted. “I’m just asking a simple question!”
“Sorry. I don’t serve liberal freeloaders!”
Later on, I figured I made every correct turn until I reached Lake Hennessy and missed the sign for Silverado Trail. Thirty minutes later, my cell phone came back into range as I descended upon the town of Angwin, on the backside of Howell Mountain, twenty-five miles off course. Suffice it to say my familiarity with several the lesser-known enclaves of Napa County has increased substantially from the detour.
Finding my way to Postrio the next Saturday seemed tantamount a linear excursion from my front door to theirs. Though no longer operating as an everyday restaurant, the lower levels of the Prescott Hotel catered the El Dorado Winery Association’s tasting with hors d’œuvres still on par with Wolfgang Puck’s cuisine. Twenty-four wineries made the 2½ drive from the Sierra Foothills to San Francisco to pour a wide range of wines, in terms both of varietal selections and in consistency. Old friends in the crowd included Lava Cap, who has migrated over the past few years away from its Rhône focus to more standard varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Still, I find their strength outside of the mainstream, as their 2007 Reserve Barbera attests.
Also flourishing with Barbera was Latcham Vineyards, with a 2007 Special Reserve Barbera that approached levels of the extraordinary. I also took a shining to their 2007 Special Reserve Zinfandel, while sister winery Granite Springs, long admired for their Black Muscat, made their statement with the 2006 Petite Sirah. One of El Dorado’s better-known wineries, Boeger, also impressed with their 2008 Barbera and a truly balanced 2006 Meritage Reserve, blending 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 25% Petite Verdot and 12% Merlot.
I took immense delight in the 2006 Barbera from Gold Hill Vineyards, but reveled in the delicious pun of its proprietary Meritage, the 2006 Meriticious. David Girard, also a familiar presence, displayed his virtuosity with a number of Rhône-style wines, including the 2007 Grenache, the 2006 Syrah and the 2005 Coeur Rouge, a GMS blend with a touch of Counoise. An even more exotic blend came from Colibri Ridge, whose 2006 El Dorado Rufous Red melded a traditional Bordeaux Meritage with Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz, Souzão, and Tinta Amarela
(I was also rather fond of their 2007 El Dorado Viognier).
As I had observed on my trip to the Sierra Foothills, Italian varietals constitute a significant focus in this region. Along with its amiable 2005 Syrah, Fenton Herriott  poured a noteworthy 2007 Barbera. Similarly, Single Leaf Vineyards coupled its 2004 Reserve Zinfandel with its 2006 Barbera. And, at the risk of sounding redundant, Miraflores also staked its claim with a 2007 Zinfandel and, again, a 2007 Barbera. And to show I am not entirely monolithic, I also noted that Narrow Gate brought a 2008 Chardonnay El Dorado and a 2007 Primitivo.
Besides, readers know I am just as fond of numerous other varietals, like the 2007 Mourvèdre Reserve El Dorado Crystal Basin Cellars poured besides its very palatable 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve El Dorado. And my appreciation ran deep for the 2008 Cabernet Franc that stood out among the wines Auriga Cellars poured. Both Sierra Oaks Estates and Sierra Vista Vineyards brought a 2005 Syrah to which I cottoned, while Holly’s Hill Vineyards’ 2008 Grenache Noir also provided the backbone of its 2007 Patriarche, a GMS + Counoise blend like the Coeur Rouge.
Zinfandel, of course, is a predominant player in this region. Wineries that did feature this varietal included Cedarville, with its 2007 Zinfandel and Fitzpatrick Winery, which produced its 2006 Zinfandel at its CCOF-certified in Fair Play. Madroña Vineyards poured its 2007 Estate Zinfandel and accompanied it with its 2006 Reserve Malbec.
Perry Creek designated its basic Zinfandel the 2006 Zinman. Its reserve releases bore the whimsical label 2007 Altitude:2401 Dark Forest Syrah and 2006 Altitude:2401 Petite Sirah. Not to be eclipsed, Mount Aukum ensconced its SuperTuscan blend as the 2006 Vertigo but its 2007 Petite Sirah Fair Play was left unadorned. Its coup de grâce for the afternoon was the delightful Port-style 2007 Ace of Hearts, blended from Tempranillo, Tinta Cão, Souzão, and Touriga.
After this event, I took off the weekend to brace myself for a pair of tastings on Monday. The latter, a select pouring of Dutton-Goldfield wines, was basically a pretext to spend a delightful evening with BeiBei Song, who had charmed me when her Essinova crew had filmed the 2010 Cleantech Open Launch. The wines, as anticipated, were uniformly wonderful, particularly the 2008 Thomas Road Pinot Noir, 2007 Kyndall’s Reserve Chardonnay, and the 2008 Kylie’s Reserve Sauvignon Blanc; my companion proved every bit as charming as she is beautiful.
Knowing I had to precede our date with Henry Wine Group ’s 2010 Taste the World, I allocated what I thought was enough time to cover this event, then return home to shower and change. But my local trade rep had misinformed me about the times for the event (not to mention failing to clue me in on its vast scope), so once again I found myself in a slight frenzy trying to cover as much as I could in the truncated space of time I had left. Bypassing the numerous tables of imports, I stated out with Paso Robles’ Ancient Peaks and their array of Estate bottlings from their Margarita Vineyard. Both the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Syrah were quite delectable; both these grapes are blended with Petite Sirah and Zinfandel in the proprietary 2006 Oyster Ridge, a true showcase for the winery. 
Many Oregon wineries excel at any varietal in the Pinot “clan” (i.e., Pinot Chardonnay), and Anne Amie roved no exception with its 2008 Pinot Gris and 2006 Winemaker’s Select Pinot Noir, but it was the 2008 Cuvée A Müller-Thurgau that really won me over. I suppose it’s surprising that more wineries haven’t designed a pentangular wine label for their Meritage, so the geometry of Cain Vineyards label for its 2005 Cain Five s
tands out as much as the wine it adorns. Its four-varietal (sans Malbec) NV6 Cain Cuvée showed true dexterity with blending, while the 2005 The Benchland held its own as a straightforward Cabernet.
It was hard, of course, to bypass wineries like Calera, Benton Lane, and Adelsheim, but I moved onto Ceàgo, an organic/biodynamic spinoff from the Fetzer family. I found their 2006 Syrah and especially their 2008 Muscat Canelli quite enticing. Too enticing, of course, was the next table, Clear Creek Distillery, Oregon’s premier grappaioli. Licensing restrictions will not allow me to serve any of these exceptional distillates at Sostevinobile, but I had to have at least one taste of the Clear Creek Grappa Pinot Noir.
Leaning over, I consoled myself with the white wine virtuosity of Claiborne & Churchill, exemplified by their 2007 Dry Riesling and the 2007 Dry Gewürztraminer. Steven MacRostie headlined at the table his marketing agency Crawford Malone had set up and, as one might expect, showcased his 2007 Chardonnay Carneros. Crawford Malone also introduced me to Eden Stuart’s 2005 Zinfandel Korte Ranch and their organically-grown 2006 SO Zin.Their newest client, Round Pond, is a winery I have long sought to try; the 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon most certainly did not disappoint.
I managed to scarf a final sip of Demetria Estates’ biodynamic 2007 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills (the similarity of their name to the Demeter certification standard is no coincidence). Likewise, I rushed through the last samples from Long Shadows, another wine marketer from Seattle, with Columbia Valley offerings from former Penfolds winemaker John Duval: the 2006 Sequel Syrah and a Agustin Huneeus/Philippe Melka joint venture: a Bordeaux + Syrah blend called 2006 Pirouette
And on that note, I complete my thirteen or so explorations that led up to Rhône Rangers, a review I will undertake once I have a glass of single malt scotch. Neat.