Remind me to go see Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Your West Coast Oenophile knows that a day will soon come when he can look back and regard all his efforts to create a truly different kind of wine bar as worthwhile, but for the time being, the demands of establishing Sostevinobile feels like the Red Queen Effect—running as hard as I can to stay in the same place.
My February included a whirlwind of wine tastings, starting with a couple of wine organizations I had not previously encountered. First up, the curiously franglais-labeled Wine Entre Femme host an international tasting of sorts at the Metropolitan Club, a bastion of female power and exclusivity on Nob Hill. This partnership of women vintners and winery owners included wineries from Switzerland, Turkey, South Africa, and Japan but focused principally on France and Napa Valley. While I did swill a few of these imports along the way, I concentrated, of course, on the selection of wines that met with Sostevinobile’s local criteria.
I started off with a familiar face, Jane Wolf of Wolf Family Vineyards, a San Francisco neighbor whose estate wines from St. Helena were a serendipitous discovery at Cheers! St Helena last fall. As before, the 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena deeply impressed me, while the introduction to her 2008 Estate Sauvignon Blanc St. Helena only served to served to solidify my initial impression. One needn’t be a schooled classicist to appreciate the 2006 Phaedrus St. Helena—Φαιδρός is ancient Greek for Wolf; this profound Cabernet Sauvignon, rounded out with Malbec and Petit Verdot, seemed tantamount to dizzying in its delights.
Karen Culler, Wolf’s winemaker, was on hand to pour her own Culler label. Her deft touch with Cabernet manifested itself twice again, in her exceptional 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain and in her proprietary 2006 La Pallette, 95% Cabernet Sauvignon–5% Petit Verdot from Alexander Ranch.
Another esteemed winemaker doing double-duty at this tasting was Heidi Peterson Barrett, first with the aptly-named Fantesca Estate & Winery of Susan and Duane Hoff. Both their 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain and the 2007 Chardonnay Russian River distinctively impressed. Heidi’s own venture, La Sirena, amply represented itself with a quartet of their wines. I have always been a fan of her blue-bottled Muscat Canelli and the 2008 Moscato Azul did not disappoint. Another strikingly distinctive wine was her 2007 Pirate TreasuRed, an homage to the “Treasures of the Seven Seas,” a near-impossible Sean Thrackrey-esque blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, and Petite Sirah.
Even now, I’m not sure I understand the cross-pollination and joint ventures among Pavi, Fisticuffs, Erna Schein, Hourglass, and Drinkward Peschon. Rather than trying to decipher who is married to whom and yet joint-venturing with so & so, while collaborating with whomever, let me highlight each winery and their produce individually. Having long abandoned the rigidity of my Catholic upbringing, I remain fairly distant these days from any sort of canonical expertise, though I still retain enough recollection to know there never was an Angel of the Meat, the whimsical figure who graces the Thomas Hart Benton-style label for Erna Schein’s 2007 Sainte Fumée, a superb Rhône-style red whose apostasy incorporates 10% Petit Verdot along with its blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Petite Sirah. Drinkward Peschon’s 2007 Entre Deux Mères, on the other hand, reflects a traditional Cabernet Sauvignon grown just below the Médoc region of Burgundy.
Fisticuffs seeks a more modest approach to its vinification; nevertheless, its modestly-priced 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley resonates with the same flair winemaker Rob Lawson instills in such prominent wines as Colgin and Bryant Family. Hourglass has long made an esteemed 100% Cabernet Sauvignon; here Carolyn Duryea debuted her Hourglass Blueline bottlings of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, as well as a Blueline Cabernet Sauvignon. Though least expensive of the three, the 2007 Blueline Merlot stood out amid its cousins. Meanwhile, the organically-farmed vineyards at Pavi yielded a quite drinkable 2008 Pinot Grigio and an alluringly Sémillon-based 2003 Vino Santo—but why didn’t they bring their 2005 Dolcetto?
The presence of larger, familiar wineries like Merryvale, Trinchero Napa Valley, and Chappellet gave Wine Entre Femme a certain degree of pedigree. Several of Wine Entre Femme’s participants hailed from much-heralded wineries and offered wines whose considerable acclaim preceded them. What can I say about such wines as Naoko Dalla Valle’s 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Joseph Phelps’ 2006 Insignia, Philippe Melka’s 2006 Metisse Proprietary Red or the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley from Spottswoode other than to add that each more than lived up to its reputation? On the other hand, several of the wineries present may not enjoy as great familiarity among the general population but have garnered considerable acclaim in wine circles and previously in this blog, like Cathy Corison’s rich 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Kronos Vineyard and Lail Vineyards’ 2006 J. Daniel Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon. Similarly, William Cole’s 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Cuvée Claire, Luc & Geneviève Janssens’ limited release 2005 Portfolio, a Bordelaise blend, and Crocker & Starr’s equally-striking 2007 Cabernet Franc and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Stone Place maintained my favorable impressions from previous events.
I’ve known David and Monica Stevens, who organized this gathering, for a number of years from David’s previous venture, Acme Fine Wines, but had not previously tried their Shelter Wine Company; the 2006 Headwater Cabernet Sauvignon was excellent, the 2005 Butcher Cabernet Sauvignon exceptional. Equally enjoyable was my introduction to Phifer Pavitt Wine, with their whimsical 2006 Datenight Cabernet Sauvignon. Arns Winery had previously crossed my radar, but this tasting provided my first opportunity to sample their 2006 Syrah Melanson Vineyards and the organically-farmed 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. I was also surprised I hadn’t previously encountered Titus Vineyards, a Napa winery focused both on Bordeaux varietals and on Zinfandcl, exemplified by their 2007 Estate Zinfandel Napa Valley and a lush 2007 Estate Cabernet Franc.
I closed this tasting on a light note, with the very approachable 2008 Sauvignon Blanc from Amici Cellars and a five-varietal blush wine, the 2008 Lorenza Rosé. By then, I was ready for the ground-floor swimming pool, but, alas, the Metropolitan Club had reverted its extended policies some 15 years ago, and no longer accommodated Ivy League men!
No such distinction marked the inaugural tasting of the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans at Fort Mason a few days later. Followers of this blog may suspect that I had saturated myself with Pinot Noir throughout 2009, but this event offered a different focus than the plethora of other Pinot tastings I had attended. Granted, 26 of the 27 wineries on hand poured at least one Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot, and several of these had pour these wines at other, broader-oriented tastings, but this gathering was, to the best of my knowledge, the first exclusive tasting of wines focused exclusively on the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA to be held in San Francisco.
With all his various permutations, Ed Kurtzman has become a familiar face at numerous tastings. Here, his August West label excelled with the first of the many 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands I sampled throughout the afternoon. Close behind was his 2008 Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard, another stalwart of the region. Belle Glos brought but a single wine but made it count: a more than amiable 2008 Pinot Noir Las Alturas Vineyard. Similarly, Tondrē elected to show only its 2007 Pinot Noir Tondrē Grapefield and Sequana brought its 2007 Pinot Noir Sarmento Vineyard while Pey’s SLH label, Pey-Lucia showcased its 2007 Pinot Noir Frisquet.
Hope & Grace staked their singular claim with the 2007 Pinot Noir Hahn Estate. Hahn Family Wines was itself well-represented at the tasting with a quartet of their estate wines. Of the four, the 2007 Estate Syrah warranted particular note. A second label, Lucienne Vineyards, proved more distinctive, with the 2007 Pinot Noir Lone Oak Vineyard and a superb 2007 Pinot Noir Doctor’s Vineyard. Nearby, Crū, a label from Mariposa Wine, struck a most consonant chord with their twin 2008 Chardonnay Vigna Monte Nero Vineyard and the 2008 Pinot Noir Vigna Monte Nero Vineyard.
The lone Pinot-less winery at the tasting, Mer Soleil, staked its claim with a pair of contrasting Chards, the 2007 Chardonnay Silver “Unoaked” and the contrasting (and more striking) 2007 Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands. In contrast, three of the wineries offered a Pinot-only format, starting with Roar Wines ably displaying their 2008 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands alongside their striking 2008 Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard. Santa Cruz Pinot specialists Martin Alfaro brought three of their seven current bottlings, highlighted by the 2007 Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard and the 2008 Pinot Moir Vigna Monte Nero Vineyard. Meanwhile, La Rochelle proffered four selections, punctuated by the superb 2007 Pinot Noir Sleepy Hollow Martini Clone and the 2007 Pinot Noir Paraiso Vineyard.
In true Burgundian style, numerous presenters featured both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, including the event’s organizer, Morgan. Their Monterey County Organic Certified property was the source for both the 2007 Chardonnay Double L Vineyard and the 2007 Pinot Noir Double L Vineyard. McIntyre showed the clear preferability of its 2007 Estate Pinot Noir to the previous vintage it also brought, while their 2008 Estate Chardonnay proved amiable. Owned by one of the “Garys” (the other being Gary Franscioni), Pisoni Vineyards naturally sparkled with their 2007 Lucia Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard and offered a refreshing 2009 Lucy Pinot Rosé, but lagged with their 2007 Lucia Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands
In my early days, my carroty hair garnered me a couple of Testarossa ribbings along the way, but while most of my reddish follicles have forsaken me, the 2008 Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard only commends the Los Gatos winery bearing this moniker. Quite enjoyable, as well, was their 2008 Pinot Noir Sleepy Hollow Vineyard and its sibling 2008 Chardonnay Sleepy Hollow Vineyard. Neckties, too, were a symbol of taunting from my youth, so it is understandable why I shy from the tartan cravats of Carmel Valley’s Talbott(do love their sweaters, though). Their vinification efforts are equally lush, as evidenced by the 2007 Chardonnay Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, the 007 Logan Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands, and the 2008 Logan Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands.
Probably the next most popular varietal this afternoon was Syrah. In addition to their 2007 Chardonnay Lucia Highland Vineyard and their noteworthy 2007 Pinot Noir Private Reserve, Manzoni highlighted the tasting with their 2007 Estate Syrah. Paraiso, whose grapes grace La Rochelle’s exquisite vintage, ably displayed their own versatility with Pinot, culminating in their 2007 Pinot Noir West, but shone most notably with their 2005 Syrah Wedding Hill. At times, the dual personæ of Siduri/Novy may seem a bit schizophrenic, but there winemaking is always lucid; Novy, however, held the upper hand on this afternoon, with a standout 2008 Novy Chardonnay Rosella’s Vineyard and the 2007 Novy Syrah Rosella’s Vineyard.
The 2005 Les Violettes from Pelerin comprised a Syrah atypically blended with Viognier, a grape also employed in rounding out their 2008 Les Tournesols, a Roussanne. Ray Franscioni’s Puma Road chose to veer from the orthodoxy of the event with a 2007 Pinot Gris Black Mountain Vineyard, the same property that grew its 2007 Pinot Noir Black Mountain Vineyard, as well as its 2006 Chardonnay Black Mountain Vineyard. Tudor Wines sourced its Pinots from several plots, including the 2007 Pinot Noir Sarmento Vineyard, while adding a 2007 Rador Riesling Santa Lucia Highlands on the white side. Pessagno also featured a 2008 Riesling La Estancia Vineyard but flourished with their 2007 Chardonnay Intrinity and the remarkable 2007 Pinot Noir Four Boys’ Vineyard.
The afternoon introduced me to two extraordinary wineries to which Sostevinobile had not been previously exposed. Fortunately, I needn’t inflict my mangled attempts at Dutch in telling my readers how splendid I found the wines of Boekenoogen to be. The 2007 Estate Pinot Noir provided one of the afternoon’s most memorable samplings, while the stark contrast between their 2008 Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands “Stainless Steel” and the 2008 Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands “Oak Fermented” favored the latter, if but slightly. Meanwhile, I absolutely reveled in the grapes of Wrath, with its twin delights: the 2008 Chardonnay McIntyre Vineyard and the 2008 Pinot Noir McIntyre Vineyard. The great revelation, however, was its near-perfect 2007 Syrah Doctor’s Vineyard, a wine I had to sample at least three times throughout the afternoon.
I realize, as I complete this entry, that I am still summarizing my discoveries of February as the close of March draws nigh. I can only hope the wineries and my readership understand the numerous demands of creating Sostevinobile, and will know that I am toiling ceaselessly to bring this dream to fruition.
Here’s an interesting concept to ponder: among the best-known tech moguls we have here on the West Coast, with whom would you most want to share (or not) a bottle of wine? Of course, they will be picking up the tab…
I imagine Bill Gates would have an ultra hi-tech wine cellar with every bottle controlled by individual sensors monitoring its temperature, rate of loss diffusion, cork moisture, etc., and automatically making the necessary adjustments to maintain the wine’s optimal maturation and integrity. Here vin ordinaire might mean a 1994 Château Le Pin or a 1985 Domaine De La Romanée-Conti La Tâche, but no matter how extraordinary the repute or price of the wine, one senses that Gates simply wouldn’t know how to relish the moment—kind of like Richard Simmons in an all-women’s sauna. His successor, Steve Ballmer , probably would appreciate the wine, even savor it, but, with his gargantuan appetite, mostly like would have a decanter and goblet of hand-blown Venetian crystal, with a bowl large enough to accommodate an entire magnum of 2005 Chateau Pétrus Pomerol, all for himself.
Larry Ellison comes across as a guy who probably not only knows the world’s most esoteric wines but how to get them. Once his mind is set on a particular bottling, he would invite you to join him on his jet, fly to the source, and share the bottle on site—and probably buying the winery while he’s there. Paul Allen, on the other hand, has probably already purchased a 10,000 acre site in Eastern Washington where a team of enologists and botanical experts are experimenting with genetic engineering to create the hybrid varietal that will revolutionize the wine industry in the 21st century.
It isn’t political differences that would make Your West Coast Oenophile reluctant to join California’s current duo of tech execs turned political aspirant for preprandial libations. One senses that Meg Whitman could make even the leanest Chardonnay taste flabby, while Carli Fiorina would probably proclaim unwavering fealty to the California wine industry, then pour a 2004 Bouchard Le Montrachet.
The Google twins, Larry PageandSergey Brin, leave me with the same sense of incredulity as does The Punahou Kid . The rhetoric is seductive (“do no evil”) but delivery of the same seems a hollow promise; moreover, they similarly lack sufficient seasoning to inspire any credence in their command of matters outside of their primary niche. But none of the tech titans I’ve lampooned here musters the same feeling of unsavoriness as does Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who strikes me as the kind of guy who would fill a 750 ml bottle with cheap Chianti and glue on a 2003 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Masseto label (even though he could easily afford to pour a case of the same).
My disdain for Facebook has been well-documented, and although I do maintain a page for Sostevinobile there, it stems from a sense of necessity, not a belief in the supreme importance of its social networking. But, just as I reluctantly admit that Gallo occasionally does make a good wine or two in Sonoma, I concede that Facebook intermittently offers benefits. Case in point, I might never have learned of Vin12 had I not noticed one of my Facebook compadres attending their latest wine soirée.
I started off last Thursday evening by attending the (re)launch of San Francisco’s chapter of the Clean Economy Network in the lofty reception loft of Orrick Herrington, a prominent local law firm. Given that this gathering was intended as an informal introduction to the nationwide network CEN is building in major urban centers like here, LA and San Diego, there seemed little to accomplish here, save a chance to catch up with prominent sustainable writers like Gil Friend and Dallas Kachan, study the sustainable design or Orrick’s architectural showcase, and partake in some fairly decent hors d’œuvres and a sip of Más—which is becoming to Green gatherings (mucho desmasiado!) what Two Buck Chuck is to art openings—before exchanging parting embraces with Danna West and heading around the corner to The Solarium at 55 Second Street.
Though new to me, Vin12 has been staging monthly wine events for more than a year. There’s definitely a quality to these tastings—the lineup of participating wineries struck me as more than respectable, and promoter Elie Ernest’s ability to convince numerous winemakers to attend such a moderately-scaled event certainly seemed impressive. I found few, if any, true discoveries among the wines being poured this evening (apart from there being scant few Zins in an event billed as Zinfandel Spring Event), but then, my familiarity with local wines is hardly typical of most of the people in attendance.
And that, in itself, was perhaps the major revelation of the evening. These events aren’t necessarily about wine so much as they are about bringing people together over wine—a critical component to Sostevinobile’s future success I tend to underplay in my zeal to assemble the best wine program in San Francisco.
Climbing the stairs to the event room, I first found myself at the table for Bohème, an Occidental winery. Here the 2007 Stuller Vineyard Pinot Noir impressed, alongside the approachable 2007 Que Syrah Vineyard Syrah. Meanwhile, its table mate, Sonoma’s Barber Cellars may not have brought their shears, but their 2008 Kitten with a Whip, a rosé of Syrah, most certainly dispelled any notion of blush wine as being dainty.
It had been a while since I’d sampled Bourassa Vineyards’ wines, so after reacquainting myself with Sostevinobile’s Facebook fan Efrain Barragan, I partook of their 2008 Chardonnay, Russian River Valley and the outstanding 2005 Harmony³, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc Meritage. Several months had also passed since my last visit to Adastra on the Napa side of Carneros, so it was quite enjoyable to catch up with Chris Thorpe and make my way through the organic offerings he had on hand: the 2008 Chardonnay, the always wonderful 2006 Proximus Pinot Noir, both his 2007 Merlot and his 2006 Merlot, whose enormous potential was just beginning to reveal itself, and, of course, his idiosyncratic 2007 Ed’s Red, a blend of Syrah, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot Adastra describes as “a hefty wine, best paired with mammoth.”
I shouldn’t have stopped by the table for Flora Springs. Not that their 2007 Merlot and the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Soliloquy Vineyard weren’t both standout wines. It’s just that Flora Springs wines need to be experienced in their new St. Helena tasting room, a modernistic edifice reminiscent of a Pat Kuleto restaurant design. Further up St. Helena Highway, the Charles Krug winery offers an almost incongruously tranquil setting for such a conspicuous facility, but excels with its portfolio of orthodox varietals: the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley, a buttery 2008 Chardonnay Carneros, the 2006 Zinfandel St. Helena, and the utterly compelling 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville. Due Vigne shares a tasting facility in Napa with an ever-changing roster of wineries at Silenus, but this evening showed great consistency with their excellent 2006 Dolcetto, a promising 2007 Nebbiolo, a 2007 Viognier and the quite affordable 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.
The Terraces is one of those wineries I’ve long had on Sostevinobile’s radar yet somehow had failed to sample, so it was a pleasure to meet Nat Page and quaff (yes, this was a quaffing night) their 2007 Napa Valley Zinfandel. On the other hand, as readers of my last entry know, I had recently reveled in Cornerstone’s rosé blended from Grenache and Syrah, so I was immensely please that their 2007 Stepping Stone Red Hills-Lake County Grenache was every bit its equal.
Normally, I like Vinum, but I was underwhelmed by their 2008 Chenin/Vio, a perfunctory blend of Viognier and Chenin Blanc. On the other hand, I have long championed Astrale e Terra, and their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc did not disappoint. Ditto for the 2008 Zinfandel Reserve Sonoma County from Rock Wall, whose wines had not crossed my lips in at least four days preceding this gathering!
this evening was billed as a Zin experience, so it seemed fitting to close out with a pair of wineries whose organic fare has received numerous citations here. Wild Hog’s 2006 Porter Bass Zinfandel may sound like a cross between wine and ale, but it proved a pure expression of this varietal; its 2006 Nova Zinfandel Lake County was flat-out excellent. Beyond organic, Demeter-certified Quivira once again showed its deft touch in producing compelling wines without the taint of added sulfur with its 2007 Zinfandel from Dry Creek.
Many people know that between the time I began developing Sostevinobile and my early endeavors in putting together winery deals, I sloughed my way through the advertising industry, as well as a number of hi-tech ventures for which I provided advertising and marketing services. These realms contrast so starkly with the wine world and have played no small part in my impetus to open the warmth and civility so inextricable from wine to as many people as possible. With that in mind, I can only applaud the ambassadorship of Vin12. Who knows? In the months to follow, perhaps their growing following will find a most welcome home within our midst.
‡Three days after the Vin12 event, I finally made my way back to Vinify for this winery collective’s Open House that I had mistakenly tried to attend in April. This custom crush facility in a Santa Rosa industrial park houses production for 20 or so labels, some quite familiar, others obscure, and still others on the verge of breaking out. Having been first apprised of Vinify by fellow Lakeville refugee Steve Singer, I first paid a courtesy call to his table for Baker Lane. From a pair of small vineyard in Sonoma, Steve handcrafts small lots of Syrah and Pinot Noir—I especially liked the 2007 Estate Syrah and the 2008 Ramondo Pinot Noir he poured this afternoon.
Not surprisingly, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay would dominate this afternoon’s samplings. Exemplifying this backbone of Russian River winemaking, Pfendler Vineyards offered
both their 2007 Pinot Noir and its newly-released successor, while making their strongest statement with the 2008 Chardonnay. Meanwhile, Bjørnstad Cellars inundated attendees with 5 different Chards led by the 2007 Porter Bass Chardonnay and a trio of Pinots, including the equally striking 2007 Hellenthal Pinot Noir and the 2007 van der Kamp Pinot Noir. Of the two pink Pinots they also poured, I found the 2009 Rosé preferable and drier.
Greg Bjørnstad provides winemaking services to Barbed Oak Vineyard, which debuted their 2008 Chardonnay Bennett Valley at this event. Another single wine effort, Westerhold Family Vineyards, showcased an extraordinary 2007 Estate Syrah Bennett Valley. In turn, their winemaker, Russell Bevan manifested his œnological versatility not only with a pair of his own Bevan Cellars Syrahs, the 2006 Syrah Bennett Valley Porter’s Cuvée and the outstanding 2007 Syrah Dry Stack Bob’s Cuvée, but ranging from the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Kick Ranch Maria’s Cuvée and 2008 Merlot Showket Vineyard Alexis’s Cuvée to his new Cuvée-less Meritage, the 2008 Ontogeny Oakville.
Because their table sign was partially obscured, I initially mistook Blagden Wine for Olson Ogden, which obfuscated a portion of my tasting notes. But I did like her 2006 Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon and its companion 2008 Rosé of Cab Monte Rosso, along with her various bottlings from Sangiacomo Vineyards. Olson Ogden, in turn, comported itself with the typical aplomb I have come to expect from this winery, particularly with the 2008 Margaret’s Mandate Stagecoach Vineyard Marsanne, the velvety 2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, and their 2007 Stagecoach Vineyard Syrah.
A quintet of San Francisco œnophiles banded together to form Cinque Insieme, which showcased their stellar 2006 Whitehawk Vineyard Syrah alongside the debut of their 2006 Wildcat Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir. Winemaking Partner Justin Lattanzio, who, with his joyfully enceinte spouse Hillary manage Vinify, also poured from his own Lattanzio Wines, again pairing the 2007 Fedrick Ranch Syrah with their 2008 W. E. Bottoms Pinot Noir.
Up until this day, I hadn’t enjoyed the opportunity to taste any of the wines Frostwatch Vineyard produces. Attorney-turned-winemaker Brett Raven ably comported himself with his 2007 Bennett Valley Merlot. the seductive 2007 Bennett Valley Chardonnay, and the proprietary 2009 Kismet, a blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Another revelation was Audelssa Winery, an exceptional effort out of Glen Ellen, roundly impressing with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve, a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley and their deft Meritage, the 2007 Summit, well-balanced Bordeaux blend dominate by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with significant portions of Cabernet Franc and Malbec, along with a splash of Petit Verdot.
It had been quite a while since I’d sampled the esteemed wines of Sojourn Cellars, so it was like a new indulgence to work my way through their justly-revered line of Pinots. While I clearly favored the 2008 Pinot Noir Sangiacomo Vineyard, sojourn’s new 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Mountain Terraces displayed quite the deft touch with this varietal, as well. In contrast, Desmond Wines staked their claim with two vintages of a single Pinot. This tiny venture offered a noteworthy 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and a younger, contrasting, yet equally appealing 2008 Pinot Noir Russian RiverValley.
I wasn’t quite as taken with the Pinot from Gracianna, but found myself quite impressed with both the 2008 Zinfandel Bacigalupi Vineyard and the 2009 Chardonnay Suzanne’s Blend. And I confess I was poised not to give much credence to Claypool Cellars , but despite the alliterative silliness of their labels, both the 2008 Purple Pachyderm Pinot Noir and the 2008 Pink Platypus Pinot Rosé proved serious wines.
Sostevinobile is my original portmanteau from sostenibile + vino + nobile, the Italian words for sustainable, noble, and wine; I have previously speculated in this column about the coinage of the names of a couple of wineries, but my guesses have been far from the truth. Calluna continued with its intense focus on Bordeaux varietals and blends, previewing their 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon The Colonel’s Vineyard and the Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot dominated 2008 Calluna Estate(both barrel samples). Their released vintages included their 2008 Merlot Aux Raynauds and the artful 2008 Calluna Vineyards Cuvée, which blends 44% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 23% Cabernet Sauvignon with Petit Verdot and Malbec. Much to my chagrin, their compatriots in apocryphal etymology, Jemrose, folded up their table before I could sample their wines, including the 2008 Cardiac Hill Syrah and the 2006 Two Sisters Merlot. But proprietor Jim Mack knows that I waxed eloquently last year about the previous release of their 2008 Egret Pond Viognier and positively gushed over their 2007 Gloria’s Gem, a proprietary blend of the above-mentioned Syrah and Merlot, just last month.
I was ready to symbolically fold my table, but first swung over to visit with and speak a little Italian with John Suacci of Suacci Carciere. Because I will be sampling his array of Pinot Noirs in a few weeks at Pinot Days, I focused instead on his 2007 Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay and the 2008 Bismark Vineyard Zinfandel, an unsinkable wine to be sure. with a couple of hours to kill before I was due in Marin, I tried to visit with Carol Shelton (closed for a private memorial!) and then head down the road to make my first visit to fellow paesan Giuseppe Battaglini since I started Sostevinobile.
I’ve long championed Battaglini’s natural wines since discovering their Petite Sirah at Family Winemakers about a decade ago; I have to admit I have a particular fondness for Joe and his ramshackle operations on Santa Rosa’s Piner Road, as it seems so reminiscent of my paternal grandfather and the barnyard operations and trellised grapes he planted after emigrating from Sturno, a commune in the province of Avellino (Regione Campania). When I started out in the California wine industry in the 1980s, there were still quite a number of old-school vignaioli like Elmo Martini, whose Martini & Pratiat the northern edge of Santa Rosa has now morphed into a revived Martin Ray, and Ralph Montali of the now-defunct Audubon Cellars.
As one of the last remnants of this same rustic spirit, Joe produces a splendid array of unmanipulated, unpretentious Chardonnays, Zinfandels, and Petite Sirahs. As we sat back in his barn, he poured me seven different Zins from his 1999 through 2007 vintages, as well as his memorable 2005 Petite Sirah Proprietor’s Reserve. His Zinfandel line includes both a Select and Proprietor’s Reserve, in addition to his main bottling, yet, as is often the case with natural winemaking, the flavors of his youngest 2007 Zinfandel Proprietor’s Reserve left the strongest impression this afternoon.
I found some strong coffee at a nearby supermarket before attempting the trek down 101 and attracting the wiles of the CHP. Before I joined my date at E & O Trading Company in Larkspur Landing, I slipped into the local Bed, Bath & Beyond and picked out a large, stainless steel meat tenderizer. Whether this purchased had reunion that evening with the delightfully contentious Terry Graham, I cannot say. I’ll simply leave the math to my readers…
Actually, it was somewhere in the order of 76 Cabs, give or take. After a while, Your West Coast Oenophile kinda lost count, but then, these are the hazards of duty I encounter when attending single-varietal showcases for Sostevinobile. Still, given the choice of spending my day in front of a monitor or sipping from the best at the California Cabernet Society, it was really no contest.
As was last year’s event, the 20th Annual Spring Barrel Tasting was held at San Francisco’s Bently Reserve. Once again, the overall quality of the wine made making critical distinctions somewhat of a challenge; indeed, if there was an indisputable champion among the presentation tables, it may well have been the extraordinary Wagyu from Morgan Ranch, braised to near perfection. Lipitor be damned! This station commanded more repeat visits than anyone else this afternoon!
But, of course, the purpose of this event was not to assuage the carnivore in me but to showcase the wine that put California on the viticultural map. The first table I came upon, Grassi Wines, set the tone for the afternoon with a released 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and a barrel sample of their upcoming 2009 vintage. The tantalizing Cassandra Grassi managed, however, to tantalize me with the allure of Grassi’s soon-to-be-released 2009 Ribolla Gialla, which I plan to sample on my next Napa swing. Another Napa denizen, Baldacci Vineyards poured a selection of the several Cabernets they produce, both the 2006 IV Sons Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District and their much-honored 2006 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District. And it was great to have another chance to sample the 2006 Concept from Cain, the purest Cabernet Sauvignon among their family of Bordelaise blends.
Maybe the truest differential of the afternoon came from the names, particularly for the Meritages or for those Cabernets the winemakers chose to give proprietary labels. A stellar example heralded from Santa Ynez’ Star Lane Vineyard, the 2005 Astral, their premium Cabernet. From Calistoga, Carter Cellars caused quite a stir, not merely for the surprisingly excellent quality of their wines (though listing a pedigree that includes Nils Venge, Jeff Fontanella and Beckstoffer To Kalon ought to have been a harbinger), but also for their 2007 Coliseum Block, a luxuriant Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2008 Envy Cabernet Sauvignon. Terlato Family’s Chimney Rock paired its 2006 Tomahawk with a barrel sample of their 2009 Ganymede Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, both of Stags Leap. Cliff Lede’sStags Leap entrant, the aptly named 2006 Poetry, a Cab softened with 2% each of Merlot and Petit Verdot. Sonoma’s Simi blended Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec with the predominant Cabernet Sauvignon to make its single vineyard 2006 Landslide, while its 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley boasted a more streamlined blend.
Some wineries can’t help but make great Cabernet, the only nuance coming from the vintage. To no surprise, I savored my sip of the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Volcanic Hill from Diamond Creek as I exchanged pleasantries with Boots Brounstein. Similarly, my chat with Richard Arrowood allowed me to indulge both in the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from his Amapola Creek, as well as his newly-released 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley from his eponymous Arrowood Vineyards. Peju Provence was superb, as one might have expected, with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, a blend that features both 7% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot, while the delightfully eccentric polyglot, Jan Shrem, regaled me in Italian as he poured his Clos Pégase2006 Cabernet Hommage Artist Series Reserve.
Readers know that I scrupulously try to avoid sweeping generalizations in these entries, and certainly the selections we will make for Sostevinobile’s wine program will be assessed on the quality of each wine, not any established bias. Still, if I found any consensus on this particular afternoon, it was that those wineries that featured their 2007 vintage seemed to offer a more compelling display of their viticultural prowess than I perceived overall in the wines from 2006. Case in point—the newly released 2007 Entre Nous from Ashe Family Vineyards, a strikingly rich bottling of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon limited to a mere four barrels. The estate bottling of the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain District from Barnett Vineyards, balanced with small aliquots of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, similarly distinguished itself. Temecula’s Briar Rose contrasted several vintages of its Cab, with the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Linkogle Estate Collection clearly showing its potential for longevity.
Few California wineries grow Carménère, let alone blend it with its fellow Bordeaux varietals, but Alexander Valley’s Chalk Hill has embraced it for years. I failed to notate the percentages blend in their 2007 Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon but, again, found it preferable to the 2006 vintage, a blend that eked in at 76% Cabernet, along with its other components. The 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from the Buoncristiani brothers displayed an amazing texture, while Lorena and Rolando Herrera from Mi Sueño crafted an elegant2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignonof their own. Just north of St. Helena, tiny Tudal Winery, a single varietal operation, showcased a pair of its wines, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve and the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon—with a total of 600 cases a year, both flourished under Tudal’s handcrafted methodology.
As is my wont at these tastings, I strive first to connect with those wineries I have yet to incorporate into Sostevinobile’s database. Alexander Valley’s Blue Rock Vineyards introduced themselves with their flagship 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Laurie Claudon of Clark-Claudon Vineyards offer her sustainably produced 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a noteworthy 1,000-case effort. A member of the Silenus cooperative, Mario Bazán Cellars produces the classic Bordeaux pairing of Sauvignon Blanc and their unblended 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. I, of course, am well-familiar with Agustin Huneeus’ Quintessa, but had not previously encountered his Faust wines, a separate venture dedicated solely to Cabernet Sauvignon; winemaker Charles Thomas generously rounded out the striking 2006 Faust with 19% Merlot, plus 3% Malbec and 1% Cabernet Franc. Contrast this blend with the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from Calistoga’s Jericho Canyon, a straightforward Cab with a mere 3% Merlot added.
Naming a winery The Grade seemed quirky, if not ambiguous, until owner Tom Thornton cited the allusion from Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Silverado Squatters; tasting their 2006 The Grade Cabernet Sauvignon left no confusion about their craft, while a surreptitious sip of their 2009 Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc was a nice counterpoint to the plethora of red wine I continued to evaluate. Also in the category of hard-to-fathom names, the Most Wanted Wine Company turned out to be a Wild West-themed venture from Oakdale, a town I have since discovered lies somewhere en route from Manteca to Jamestown; fortunately, their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon proved far less grating than their music-laden Web site. Perhaps the last word in Cabernet, ZD Wines, derives its name from the acronym for aerospace quality control—Zero Defects—an attribute that could just as easily applied to their organically-grown 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.
I had passed by Volker Eisele Family Estate during my recent, inadvertent tour of Chiles Valley but hadn’t had the time to stop in. Their compelling 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon is also farmed organically, but I wish they had also brought their unique 2006 Terzetto, a blend of equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, co-fermented. Actually, I was surprised that no one (at least, among the wineries I sampled) had poured a Cabernet Franc at this tasting—after all, it does fall within Cab Society parameters. Nor did I stumble upon any Bordeaux/Rhône blends, as I often find in Lodi and in Paso Robles. Varozza Vineyards, however did pour both their estate grown 2005 St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon and their 2005 St. Helena Petite Sirah, a welcome diversion from the monolithic pourings of the event.
Inarguably, Cabernet is the cornerstone of Napa Valley, so is Cornerstone Cellars the cornerstone of cornerstones? Rather than ponder such a conundrum, I sipped their immodest 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with unabashed delight. I equally enjoyed the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Hendry Vineyard from Hendry Ranch, and look forward to sampling their Albariño and Primitivo at a future date. The steep terrain of Hidden Ridge helps shape the terroir of its Cabernet-exclusive production, making its 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon 55% Slope a most distinctive wine.
A trio of wineries from Napa comported themselves quite ably as I again established my first contact with their ventures. Silverado Vineyards, with limited production of Sangiovese and other Italian varietals, held forth with their 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Nearby, in Rutherford, Sullivan Vineyards similarly showcased their 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. And Titus from St. Helena impressed me with their 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
In my efforts to embrace as many wineries as I can for Sostevinobile, I sometimes overlook long-established labels, thinking I already know their craft quite well. This afternoon’s lesson in not taking wineries for grant first came from Spring Mountain’s Keenan Winery. I found their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District quite compelling and their special Tribute, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, 30th Anniversary even more so. Similarly, Merryvale struck me with a trio of their Cabernets, first the affordably-priced 2007 Starmont Cabernet, then their signature 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, and finally with their extraordinary 2006 Profile, a limited-release Cabernet Sauvignon blended with 2% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Franc.
Admittedly, I found myself Cabbed out at this point, vowing not to sip another of these wines at least until Tuesday. And certainly I knew I would return, same address, same staging in a few months to come, to work my way through the bounty of Howell Mountain’s Cabernets and, of course, another infusion of Wagyu beef!
There can be a considerable downside to the simplicity of Copy & Paste. Your West Coast Oenophile is starting to realize that the pressures of trying to handle all the needs of Sostevinobile can sometimes cause me to overlook small but important details when I transfer information to my iCal datebook. Like the word preceding the calendar date—the month.
Perhaps I should blame my oversight on my attendance at Rock Wall’s Spring Fling Open House. The weather was perfect Saturday (something Rock Wall always seems to conjure for their major events); the salsicce spicy and enticing; the bevy of Tibetan nursing students who arrived at the tail end of the event alluringly beautiful; the usual suspects—wineries who regularly participate in these quarterly gatherings—there in force. Carica Wines, Ehrenberg , R&B Cellars all poured essentially the same lineup I had tasted at my most recent visit and reviewed here.
Of the new wines I tasted, John Robert Eppler’s JRE label showed notable progress with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford. Matt Smith, with whom I had recently participated on one of the Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wine Tasting Panels, poured several releases from his Blacksmith label, including his 2008 Torrontés, a nostalgic 2008 Chenin Blanc and his Syrah, Grenache/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, the 2006 Hephaestus. Good always to see Sasha Verhage with his redesigned labels for his Eno Wines; inside the bottle, the 2007 Mr. Fix-It (Syrah) and 2007 The Change Agent (Grenache) lingered longest on the memory.
Rock Wall also debuted several wines, including the 2008 Cabernet Franc Holbrook Mitchell, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Holbrook Mitchell, a Sonoma County 2008 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, and the 2008 Zinfandel Reserve. The true revelation of the afternoon, however, was the much-anticipated 2008 Montepulciano Contra Costa County. A distinct varietal, not to be confused with the Sangiovese-based Italian wine of the same name, I have enjoyed this wine only twice before from other California wineries. This 88-case bottling sold out in less than a week (I did my part by returning to the tasting table several times) and truly stand as a harbinger of the risorgimento of Italian varietals on the West Coast (more on this phenomenon later).
Following the Spring Fling, I rushed back to San Francisco to order online passes to the Vinify Winery Collective Tasting in Santa Rosa. With my e-confirmation safely logged into my iPhone, I mapped out an itinerary, arranged appointments in Glen Ellen and Kenwood, then headed out from San Francisco before my usual wake-up time on Sundays.When my companion and I arrived at the industrial complex on Coffey Lane where Vinify houses its custom crush operations, the parking lot seemed eerily empty. Sure enough, Vinify’s front door was locked and neither Hillary Lattanzio nor her husband Matt were answering their phones. The sun was sweltering, Dongzhe was impatient, and I was flummoxed.
I had noticed, as we entered, that Carol Shelton operated her tasting room from another one of the complex’s warehouses. Determined that our trip not become a total wash, I pulled up to her window, hoping to fulfill a long-standing promise to visit her operations. Unfortunately, Carol was off pouring at a tasting in Southern California, but her Hospitality Manager Joanne Emery was more than happy to accommodate us. A check of my Webmail account from Joanne’s computer affirmed that our party was in fact scheduled for the last Sunday in May, so we mollified our frustration with a rather comprehensive survey of Carol’s current releases, starting with her 2008 Rendezvous Rosé, a blush expression of 100% Carignane.
I skipped past a couple of her Zinfandels I had sampled recently, settling first for the 2005 Wild Thing Zin, a much-awarded bottling smoothed by 10% Carignane. The 2006 Rocky Reserve Zin, a bold, signature Rockpile showcased Carol’s considerable repute for this varietal, as did her perennial favorite, the 2005 Karma Zin. Rockpile’s special allure figured prominently in the 2007 Petite Sirah Rockpile Reserve, while the 2005 Exhale Syrah Reserve derived from a rare second bottling of a wine that had been left in cask for over four years.
My readers, fans of Sostevinobile, and our future clientele all know how I am constantly seeking out different and obscure varietals to add to our inventory. The lineup at Carol’s tasting room yielded just such a discovery with her 2008 Sweet Caroline, a late harvest wine crafted from Trousseau Gris. We closed our visit with a taste of Dark Chocolate and the 2008 Black Magic, a late harvest Zinfandel, a fitting cap to our impromptu stop.
I have been building the wine program for Sostevinobile for nearly two years, building on an extensive involvement in the California wine industry since 1982. During this development, I have reached out to and sampled wines from 2,000 or so labels along the West Coast; as such, it seems a natural extension of my research to provided consulting services to other ventures on their wine program, particularly in helping them gain more of a focus on the bounty of wines we have available at our own doorstep. In search of assisting a small group of Italian restaurants incorporate a selection of Italian varietals grown here for their wine list, we headed across Sonoma County to the Kenwood tasting room Michael Muscardini had opened.
Michael couldn’t meet us, owing to a charitable obligation, but we were ably guided through the selections by Tasting Room Manager George Delano. We started off with the 2009Rosato di Sangiovese, a bone-dry expression of the grape I look forward to comparing with other Rosé wines at the Pink Out SF tasting next week. Next up were the 2008 Barbera Pauli Ranch from Ukiah and the 2008 Sangiovese Monte Rosso Vineyards, one of several Sangiovesi Muscardini produces. We could not resist contrasting the 2007 Syrah Gracie Creek with the 2007 Syrah Unti Vineyard before moving onto the 2007 Tesoro, a proprietary Super Tuscan with 58% Sangiovese from both Merlo and Favero Vineyards, plus 21% of Unti’s Syrah.
The 21% remaining to this bottling was Cabernet Sauvignon from Ty Caton, which now shares Muscardini’s tasting room. No Italian varietals here, but memories of working our way through a mixed case of these wines with The Ginkgo Girl last year spurred us to try several of his current offerings. Setting our palate fresh was his crisp 2009 Riesling from the Central Coast, followed by his very approachable 2009 Syrah Rosé. With a wide choice of vineyard designate reds to chose, we opted for the 2008 Petite Sirah Caton Vineyard, the 2008 Upper Bench Merlot, and the 2008 The Ridge George’s Malbec.
Of course, we could not leave without a taste of Caton’s crown jewel, the 2008 Tytanium, a well-balanced blend of 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Petite Sirah, 24% Syrah, and 9% Malbec. I had first tried the 2007 vintage of this wine last year at the Open House for Eighth Street Wineries in Sonoma, an industrial warehouse complex that houses the production facilities for Ty Caton and a handful of other boutique wineries like Three Stick, Kamen and Enkidu. I had recently sampled Enkidu’s superb inaugural Sangiovese, the 2008 Rosso Fazekas, at QuestPoint Solar Solutions’ Appreciation and Rejuvenation soirée at Green Zebra, and was happily surprised to discover their new tasting room adjacent to Muscardini. Alas, however, this wine was not on their tasting list, so we departed for a meal in Sonoma Square before returning to San Francisco.
My premature trek to the Vinify tasting made me all the more resolute to enjoy the Taste of Mendocino in the Presidio the following Tuesday. If only the weather had decided to act as cooperative as it had in Alameda the preceding weekend! Within moments of leaving the Cow Hollow Fedex/Kinko’s, where I had dropped off the sunglasses Dongzhe had left under my car seat, I found myself caught in a downpour as I pedaled furiously over to the Golden Gate Club in the Presidio. I arrived thoroughly drenched, then spent the next 20 minutes seeking out a restroom with hot air hand blower to try drying my shirt!
When I finally did get myself to a point of appearing presentable, I beelined for the tasting room and caught up with Fred Buonanno, who was pouring his Philo Ridge. Though his name, like mine, begs for Italian varietals, Fred vinifies a more mainstream Mendocino varietal selection, with an elegant 2008 Pinot Gris Klindt Vineyard, the AVA signature 2006 CORO Mendocino, and his 2006 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. Of course, the A-Z (Z-A?) in Mendocino wines decidely must be Fred Zmarzly’s Albertina Wine Cellars; an intimate, small production, single varietal operation, Albertina made an emphatic statement with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, a 330 case bottling.
Content merely to span the Bs, Brutocao Cellars and Bliss Family Vineyards herald from a single proprietorship, the former being the primary label. The more affordable Bliss brand offered a straightforward lineup, with an approachable 2008 Pinot Noir an easy favorite. Brutocao’s 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley fell squarely in line with the overall excellence of this vintage throughout the West
Coast,while its 2006 Quadriga, a blend of 40% Sangiovese, 38% Primitivo, 18% Barbera, and 4% Dolcetto, provided a tantalizing glimpse of their Italian heritage wines that were not on this afternoon’s roster.
I don’t know of many wineries with the versatility to make an array of Sauvignon Blancs, but Chance Creek Vineyards certainly proved themselves quite adept in this niche. Of the three interpretation they poured, I greatly favored the 2006 95470 Sauvignon Blanc, while being slightly partial to the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc vs. the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc reserve. And, of course. I took quite a shining to their 2006 Sangiovese. The pinnacle of Italian varietals this afternoon, however, most certainty had to have been Chiarito Vineyard. Advance intimations of John Chiarito’s bottlings of several varietals unique to this region had lead a number of e-mail exchanges before the Mendocino event, and I was rewarded with tastings of his 2003 Negroamaro and his striking 2003 Nero d’Avola. To John’s credit, his 2007 Petite Sirah was no slouch, either.
I am always appreciative of a clever wine name, especially when the wine itself warrants attention, like the 2006 Sedulous from Rivino. I suppose the 18 months I have dedicated (so far) to building Sostevinobile’s wine program might qualify me for this moniker, as well, but Jason McConnell’s deft blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, with just a splash of Viognier, deserves the spotlight at this moment, alongside his superb 2007 Sangiovese. Meanwhile, the quaint family operations of Mariah Vineyards seemed to have posted a typo in the tasting guide, lisiting both a 2006 Syrah and a 2006 Syriah, but, indeed, the latter is a proprietary portmanteau (Syrah Mariah) and distinct bottling of but 51 cases, crafted by hand.
Kimmel Vineyards has nothing to do with late night comedy, just the production of a superb 2007 Merlot and an admirable 2007 Chardonnay. One might also suspect Naughty Boy Vineyards as well of having ties to Jimmy K., but is instead the domain of Jim & Emjay Scott and crafts a fine 2007 Dolcetto.
Diametrically opposite but without apparent sanctimony, Mendielle Vertu could easily have derived an esoteric name from owner Bently Luneau or winemaker Kian Tavakoli, but instead chose to honor Mendi, their ranch dog. Though focused on Merlot, with strongest showing from both their 2007 Proprietary Red Merlot and the 2007 Reserve Merlot, they flourished with their new 2008 Chenin Blanc. With as intense focus on Pinot Noir, Phillips Hill held forth with a trio of this varietal, the most definitive being their 2008 Ring of Fire Anderson Valley.
Claudia Springs also excelled with their 2005 Pinot Noir Klindt Vineyard, while also producing a 2009 Viognier Lolonis Vineyard and a 2009 Pinot Gris Klindt Vineyard. Coincidence? Foursight Wines brought along four Pinots, dominated by their 2007 Clone 05 Pinot Noir Charles Vineyard, and a companion 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Charles Vineyard.
Coming from opposite ends of the spectrum, two wineries showcased a single Chardonnay. Independent winery Demuth Kemos produced but a scant 96 cases of their 2008 Chardonnay Anderson Valley, while Constellation’s Mendocino Vineyards bottled 10,000 cases of its foray into organic viticulture, the 2009 Chardonnay. Other boutique proprietors included: Nelson Family Vineyards, notable for both their 2008 Pinot Grigio and 2008 Riesling; Cesar Toxqui, with a sturdy 2006 Zinfandel and a non-vintage Heirloom II, a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot; and Drew Wines, with under 1,300 cases of their three Pinot Noirs, plus a memorable 2007 Syrah Perli Vineyard.
Dreyer Wine displayed its dual personality, with its Il Cuore line and one name for the thoroughbred who ran with such heart, Seabiscuit Ranch. I warmed to Seabiscuit’s 2006 Superfecta Red, a traditional Meritage, but had my greatest fondness for Il Cuore’s new release, the 2006 Barbera, along with their 2007 Rosso Classico, a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Carignane. Meritage components starred at Le Vin Winery, which broke out their older 2002 Merlot and 2004 Cabernet Franc for this afternoon’s gathering.
Maple Creek Winery sees itself as a fusion of wine and art, so it should come as no surprise that they poured a 2008 Artezin Symphony, a grape that itself is a hybrid of Muscat and Grenache Gris. Their notable pour, however, was the 2005 Cowboy Red, a blend of Merlot, Zinfandel and Carignane.Its Mendocino compatrio
t, Trinafour Cellars, bottled straight 2009 Muscat Canelli and 2007 Carignane, along with their 2006 Petite Sirah.
Like Fred Zmarzly, Rosati Family is a Cab-only operation, bottling 1,000 cases each year; of the 3-year vertical they poured, the youngest, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, stood out as the most complex. One of the oldest names in Mendocino winemaking, Weibel Family Winery, demonstrated its small lot varietals, a 200-case 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and a very approachable 2006 Zinfandel, bottled in the same quantity.
Of course, Weibel’s array of champagnes and flavored sparkling wines make it quite the substantial operation. I eschewed their NV Sparkelle for two of the leading méthode champenoise producers on hand, Scharffenberger, which poured its NV Brut Rosé, and the always-marvelous Roederer Estate, which indulged me in its 2002 L’Ermitage.
Following the sale of their family label to Brown-Forman, several of the 11 Fetzer offspring have started their own labels. Present today were both Saracina Vineyards, delighting with its 2006 Atrea Old Soul Red (Zinfandel, Syrah, Malbec, Petite Sirah) as well as its 2007 Petite Sirah, and Jeriko Estate, with its 2006 Pinot Noir and 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Like their original venture, the Fetzer spinoffs all maintain a great fealty to organic and biodynamic farming, a hallmark of numerous Mendocino wineries, including Patianna, which shone with its organic 2008 Chardonnay, and organic pioneers Frey Vineyards, whose Katrina Frey regaled me with the 2007 Sangiovese, as had her daughter Eliza with the previous vintage just as I was formally embarking on Sostevinobile’s wine program.
As always, I never seem to find the time to taste every winery with whom I set out to connect and often miss out on ones with whom I would love to reconnect. I did manage to squeeze in a taste of Esterlina’s excellent 2007 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, along with their contrasting 2008 Riesling and 2008 Dry Riesling Cole Ranch. Edmeades offered a quartet of Zins, headlined by the 2007 Ciapusci Zinfandel. In turn, Elke Vineyard made its strongest impression with their pair of 2007 Pinot Noir Donnelly Creek and 2008 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. I took in a quick tasting 2008 Pinot Gris and 2006 Riesling from McFadden Farm, along with their 2008 Sparkling, but somehow entirely missed both Meyer Family Cellars and Milano Family Winery (I will be sure to make amends at another date).
Had there been time to spare, I would have gladly caught up with old familiars like Lolonis, Navarro, Parducci, Bonterra, Barra, and Jaxon Keys, but, unfortunately, my unforeseen drenching en route to the event whittled away a significant portion of the time I had allotted. Fitting, therefore, that my finally tasting was the 2009 Chenin Blanc of Husch Vineyards. while my dampened attire did not lead to anything quite as dire as pneumonia, I did come down with a nasty bout of congestion and most unwelcome case of laryngitis, which kept me “hushed” for the next several days.