Monthly Archives: June 2010

Let sleeping billionaires lie

Following the Annual Marin Pinot Tasting in Larkspur, Your West Coast Oenophile took in a number of visits to individual wineries before embarking on the major excursion that will be detailed later in this entry. The interesting thread that tied each of these operations wasn’t their wines but the striking facilities that house their operations.

I first stopped by La Honda Winery in Redwood City to take in what has to be the most eclectic structure this side of Tobin James. La Honda’s partner Don Modica framed portions of several buildings on contiguous tracts to create a warehouse-like interior into which other structures appear to intrude. The overall effect seems much like a film stage, illusory yet compelling at the same time. I had met assistant winemaker Colin McNany at a Santa Cruz tasting earlier this year, but was happy this time to meet winemaker/owner Ken Wornick for what turned out to be one of the most energized discussions of Sostevinobile I have had to date. Moreover, the selection of wines made my jaunt down the Peninsula well worth my while, with the 2007 Pinot Noir Sequence and their new 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon/Sangiovese Modica Estate striking my particular fancy. I also greatly enjoy their 2006 Meritage, a deft blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc from the Windsor Oaks Vineyard in the Chalk Hill AVA.

With enough time to make one more stop, I elected to shoot across Hwy 101 and track down the new headquarters for Woodside Vineyards, a small-scale producer I had long meant to seek out. Like La Honda, the name somewhat belied its location, but the recent move to Menlo Park freed the winery from a number of local restrictions, notably a maximum allowable production scale of a mere 2,000 cases. Woodside’s new owner, Buff Giurlani, has transformed an industrial warehouse near the foot of the Dumbarton Bridge into an airy showcase for vintage auto collectors alongside his expanded winery production and tasting room, with the intent of creating event space, not unlike the nearby Museum of Aviation in San Carlos. With this expansion of the winery’s capacity, he and winemaker Brian Caseldon are looking to move beyond their current inventory of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Port and sparkling wines to include a number of Italian varietals, including Sangiovese and Dolcetto. But, for now, the noteworthy holdovers from their former facility that I had the chance to sample: the 2007 Woodside Chardonnay, the 2004 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2004 Woodside Port, more than sufficed.

I finished this day with a half-mile swim at the Pacific Athletic Club in Redwood Shores, a much-needed tonic after my major bicycle excursion (documented in my last entry) between the two major wine tastings the day before. Not that I needed the rest of the week to recover and brace myself for my planned trek up Silverado Trail; still, I refrained from any major excursions until I drove to Napa the following Friday.

Before attending the debut of Andrea Schwartz’ art installations at Yountville’s eco-resort Bardessono, I squeezed in a visit with bocce giacatrice Elena Franceschi at Silverado Vineyards. I had forgotten this winery’s connection to the Disney Family, thus was unprepared for the sheer opulence of the estate. Perched on a hilltop just after Silverado Trail crosses into Yountville, this spectacular Mediterranean edifice offers sweeping views of their 93 planted acres and most of the Stags Leap District lying just beyond. Merely to sit out on the patio leaves one feeling quite regal, if but for a fleeting moment.

Of course, the wines lived up to the richness of this setting. We cooled down first with the 2008 Miller Ranch Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, the delightful 2008 Estate Chardonnay, and, for good measure, the 2008 Sangiovese Rosato before tackling a serious array of red wines, starting with the much-anticipated 2006 Estate Sangiovese that Elena had alluded to when we’d first met. Elena hadn’t mentioned Silverado’s amazing Super Tuscan, the 2006 Fantasia before, and naturally, this Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon blend led into a selection of select Cabernets, starting with the 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. After trying the 2006 vintage, she offered me a rare vertical from the late 1990s. While the 1997 and 1998 vintages lived up to my expectations for a Napa Valley Cab, the largely unheralded 1999 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon was quite the unexpected pleasure.

I might have worked my way through half a dozen more wines, but I was past due for the Pulse Tasting at Acme Fine Wines in St. Helena, where scion Justin Stephens of D.R. Stephens Wines pour a trio of his luxuriant wines, including the 2008 Estate Chardonnay, his 2007 DR II Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and the breathtaking 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Moose Valley Vineyard. Next, I wound my way down to Bardessono, where Erin Lail was on hand to pair her 2009 Blueprint Sauvignon Blanc with the array of artists Andrea had included in her opening. I managed to take in a quick dinner at one of Yountville’s lesser-known cafés before taking in a promised stop at Michael Polenske’s Ma(i)sonry, the venerable stone edifice he converted to a gallery and tasting room he describes as “pairing artisan wines with exquisite art and furnishings in an historic setting.” While not as grandiose as Jan Shrem’s Clos Pégase nor quite as imposing as Greg Martin’s artifact-laden Martin Estate, Ma(i)sonry manages to create an enveloping atmosphere that lends itself exquisitely to sampling the artisan wines its Vintner Collective features. Most of these have appeared in this blog at one time or another, and given the exhaustive tasting I was facing the next day, I limited myself to a half-glass of the 2007 Contrarian, the Pomerol-style Meritage from Polenske’s own Blackbird Vineyards. The perfect coda to a well-traveled day

I checked out of my downtown Napa hotel at 11 AM, but left my car in their parking lot for the afternoon. After many years of contemplation, I had decided to wind my way up the Silverado Trail on my Trek, a 22-mile pedal from point of departure to destination, with a formidable return trip after three hours of wine tasting and feasting.

The ride from Napa to St. Helena could not have been more pleasant. Despite its formidable length, the road remained relatively flat the entire stretch—enough so that I never had to shift out of high gear! The temperature hovered around 75° F, maybe a tad less, and a cool but gentle breeze from the rear kept conditions ideal. I clocked in a markedly quicker pace than the 1:56 that my iPhone’s GPS estimated, and would have finished closer to an hour and a half, had I not stopped briefly at Judd’s Hill and Chimney Rock along the way. As with cycling in San Francisco, the ability to cover a known route at a leisurely pace and with sightlines unimpeded yielded a plethora of discoveries, like the hidden gem of Razi Winery or the new home for Crushpad being built at Silverado Trail Wine Studio. Ever mindful of Sostevinobile’s ecological commitment, I made mental notes of the water levels (or lack thereof) of the many creeks I crossed, surveyed the various arrays of solar installations and CCOF-tagged vineyards, and promised myself I would return to make a more detailed exploration when not so pressed for time.

Just before 2 PM, I arrived at the Charles Krug Vineyard for the Taste of Howell Mountain Wine Tasting Garden Party & Auction. This annual benefit for the Howell Mountain Elementary School marks a special convergence of professional, social and charitable interests in Napa Valley. This year’s event precluded the Howell Mountain Tasting that usually takes place later in the summer in San Francisco, so it especially behooved me to attend and renew acquaintances with the many vintners and winery owners I had met at last year’s functions.

Remarkably, of the 30 wineries on hand, only one had not participated in last year’s tasting, so I beelined over to Bremer Family’s table just as soon as I had locked my bicycled, registered, and downed the glass of chilled 2009 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc with which Charles Krug greets attendees. Bremer turns out to be an extraordinary winery (not that most of the wineries on hand could easily qualify as extraordinary in a less comparable setting), with a focus on Bordeaux reds. I felt fortunate to sample both their 2004 Howell Mountain Merlot alongside their striking 2004 Los Posados Merlot, as well as contrasting the 2004 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon with their delightful 2003 Seek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. I do look forward to trying their vintages from benchmark years.

Little of the literature I’ve encountered extols the virtues of the 2006 vintage, but quite a number of the wineries on hand showed how even a non-storied vintage can garner tremendous respect, especially if it heralds from one of California’s premier AVAs. While my resampling of the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Roberts + Rogers showed remarkable consistency from last year, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon was clearly a more compelling vintage. I also found the 2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from Ladera quite excellent, while W.S. Keyes made as profound a statement with their 2006 Merlot Howell Mountain. Meanwhile, La Jota demonstrated superb vinification with each, though I gave a slight nod to their 2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon over their 2006 Howell Mountain Merlot.

Denis Malbec’s pedigree from Château Latour has been well-documented and I would have stopped by his Notre Vin table even if I hadn’t received his e-mail invite just the day before. As anticipated, his 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, artfully blended with 83% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot, drank splendidly. As did the organically grown 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Estate from Neal Family Vineyards, an unblended bottling. In addition to their delightful, single-varietal 2007 Merlot, O’Shaughnessy Wine Estate deserved kudos for the authenticity of their Bordeaux-style bottling of the 2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, a historic assemblage of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot, 2% Carménère, 2% St. Macaire (!), and 1% Cabernet Franc. I am hoping for single-varietal releases of each.

W.H. Smith saves its complexity for its nomenclature, as the 2006 Purple Label Piedra Hill Cabernet Sauvignon attests; the wine, a straightforward, Bordeaux-style Cab, remains a gem vintage after vintage. Calling one’s wine the 2007 Howell Mountain Zinfandel Yee Haw Vintage may evoke images of Li’l Abner, Dogpatch, and Kickapoo Joy Juice, but this delectable bottling from Lamborn Family Vineyards is anything but Boone’s Farm. Both their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Vintage IV and the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Vintage III struck me as being quite cellar-worthy, as well. Meanwhile, as if to refute those skeptics who believe Zin doesn’t age, Duane D. Draper showcased his 1996 D-Cubed Zinfandel Howell Mountain.

At the other end of the spectrum, Diamond Terrace’s Maureen Taylor pour her yet-unreleased 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain alongside her bottled 2006 vintage, with the younger wine portending of amazing complexity. So too did host Charles Krug new 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon show intimations of greatness. And while beneficent owner Gordon Getty dozed perilously at a nearby picnic table (oh, if only his attendant hadn’t moved the somnolent billionaire out of the sweltering midday heat—I might have hit him up for the $3,000,000 in funding Sostevinobile is still seeking!), CADE Winery sizzled with their 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain.

I found myself more impressed with Summit Lake this time around. Their 2006 Emily Kestrel Cabernet Sauvignon was a pleasure indeed, but the 2006 Zinfandel really put them on the map. Red Cap’s lone effort, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, nonetheless made them a player with which to be reckoned, while the indubitable White Cottage proffered their own 2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. Another Howell Mountain stalwart, Piña impressed, as usual, with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Buckeye Vineyard while Highlands excelled with their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Howell Mountain.

Amid the overall superior quality of virtually every wine I sampled, a handful of vintages distinguished themselves as a cut above. Once again, Cimarossa dazzled with their proprietary Cabernet, the 2006 Riva Di Ponente Estate Wine. Outpost contributed an extraordinary Chardonnay, the 2007 La Blonde. Robert Craig’s 2008 Howell Mountain Napa Valley Zinfandel tasted almost Cabernet-like in its texture and complexity, while SPENCE Vineyards brought their 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, an amazing expression of this varietal. The 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon for Cornerstone Cellars proved just as enticing, while Bravante Vineyards, Wine & Spirits’ Winery of the Year in 2007, made a most profound statement with their 2006 Trio, a Merlot-based wine with balancing infusions of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The source of Robert Craig’s Zinfandel, Black Sears, demonstrated their profound œnological skills with their own 2006 Estate Zinfandel. Merlot virtuoso Duckhorn Vineyards impressed with their modestly titled Meritage, the 2005 Howell Mountain Napa Valley Red Wine, artfully blending 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot. And reborn Atlas Peak continued to demonstrate how the skills of their revitalization with their much-lauded 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.

As happened at Silverado, the 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain from Dunn Vineyards proved quite the revelation from a somewhat obscure year. And certainly a rather obscure varietal for Howell Mountain was the nonetheless wonderful 2006 Petite Sirah from Retro Cellars.

Maybe I should have spent less time trying to figure a way to reintroduce myself to Gordon Getty (we had met some 22 years ago at a fundraiser at his Presidio Heights mansion, where soporific Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis had me dozing in my seat this time). Maybe I should learn to read the fine points of a program before mapping my schedule. I only had time to sample the elegant 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Steinhauer Ranch from St. Clement before we were briskly ushered indoors for the two-hour auction. Regrettably, I can only note the presence and generous contribution of Arkenstone, Blue Hall, Cakebread Cellars, Haber Vineyards, Howell at the Moon, Rutherford Grove, and Tor Kenward—all of whom I covered last year and, with several, at other tastings. I will strive to highlight them in subsequent entries.

We climbed to the second floor of Charles Krug’s renovated 1881 Carriage House, where glasses of much-needed sparkling wine were liberally poured alongside an assortment of Howell Mountain and other donated wines, plus an array of desserts that included caffeine-laced brownies! This magnificent edifice features a naturally illuminated, vaulted ceiling that seems almost ecclesiastical (little wonder why it is often rented out for vineyard weddings) and served as a perfect coda to the architectural focus of my week. 

I stumbled upon a pair of interesting wines that had not been featured at the tasting proper before I settled in: the 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from Villa Hermosa and the striking 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Fleury, whose website extols their wines as “100% good juice.” Auctioneer Greg Quiroga, a fellow veteran of Jim Cranna’s Improv Workshop, regaled the crowd as he cajoled them into bidding for lots that ranged from 16 of Thomas Brown’s acclaimed wines to a sports extravaganza dinner at Bottega Restaurant Baseball Hall of Famer Tom Seaver (owner of GTS Vineyards) and other sports luminaries involved in the wine industry. By the end of the event, over $85,000 had ben raised, an increase of 10% over last year’s auction.
Growing up on Long Island, I was transfixed throughout the 1969 baseball season, as Seaver led the New York Mets to their first winning season and an astounding World series championship. I was gratified, years later, to learn that Tom had taken up the game of squash and then viticulture, two of my more pronounced passions. I’d like to think that these pursuits—plus the fact that neither of us command bank accounts anywhere near Gordon Getty’s—now puts me on relative equal footing with my childhood idol.
OK, maybe we don’t have tremendous athleticism in common, but I did record a personal best for the 22 mile cycle back to Napa.

Хлестаков возвращается!

Khlestakov returns!
Apart from Aristophanes’ Βάτροχοι (The Frogs), Nikolai Gogol’s Ревизор (The Government Inspector) may be the most uproarious satire ever written (and, no, my my choice to eschew transliteration is not a conceit—Your West Coast Oenophile has read both in the original). His protagonist, Khlestakov, though hardly æsthete, bumbles his way through life and the unwitting indulgence of the local villagers in the play, steered by a gastronomic compass. Indeed, his boundless appetite for the next delectation constitutes the distinguishing thread that delineates him from the malevolent opportunism of a rake like Lothario or Madoff and relegates him to the status of what Nabokov deemed a пошляк, a term that has no true equivalent in English, though various Internet translation tools render it as “platitudinarian” or “vulgarian.”

As I stated in a recent entry, sometimes my quest to sample new and interesting wines for Sostevinobile brings me to events where food purveyors play a major, if not dominant, role; within this milieu, my designated perspective as œnophile gives way to that of a gourmand, making me feel somewhat the grand poseur, like Khlestakov, as I wend from food stand to food stand, delighting at each stop.

Just recently, I managed to sandwich in two such events on a single Saturday, the 2010 Golden Glass at Fort Mason and the 6th Annual Marin County Pinot Tasting at the historic Escalle Winery in Larkspur. Given that I chose to cover this entire loop on bicycle—not so much out of adherence to sustainable principles as a need to counterbalance my caloric intake with a substantial degree of physical exertion, this day would prove quite a marathon.

This day started out as I donned my helmet and rolled down from Pacific Heights to Fort Mason, a trek on my Trek to which readers of this blog have become quite familiar. Slow Food San Francisco has sponsored this pæan to sustainable food and wine for the past several years, engorging the throng of attendees with delectables from many of the Bay Area’s most revered Italian restaurants and other philosophically concordant establishments. Among my many favorites, È Tutto Qua, Delfina, Frantoio, Serpentine and Ristobar lavished generous portions of their signature dishes on eager attendees. My old friend Alex Ong, who blazed a culinary trail for East/west fusion cuisine at Orocco in the mid-1990s, showed glimpses of his current mastery at Betelnut, with an ætherial slice of Salmon Sashimi topped with its own roe. Heaven’s Dog, the hip Chinese destination from renowned Vietnamese food impresario Charles Pham (Slanted Door) dazzled, as well.

I made several visits to the table for A16, the first restaurant I have encountered in San Francisco that captures the essence of the Neapolitan fare on which I was raised. I could not help but tweak chef Liz Shaw about her table, festooned with a roasted pig’s head and fronds of fennel. “Funny,” I remarked. “This is the first time I’ve seen finocchio in San Francisco.”

“It grows wild all along the roadside,” she replied, oblivious to my subtle double-entendre. But of the subtle nuances of Italian cuisine was lost on her excellent pulled pork topping a moist baguette slice, nor on the obligatory wood-fired pizza from Flour + Water (apparently, each year at Golden Glass, one of San Francisco’s leading pizzaioli takes its turn at firing up the mobile wood oven from Emilio Miti).

Suffice it to say, I sampled enough food to pedal the 22-mile trip to Larkspur and then some, but, of course, my attendance on behalf of Sostevinobile primarily focused (or, I should say, was supposed to be focused) on the wines being poured. I first attended Golden Glass in 2008, the year A16 handled pizza duties. Much to my dismay, only one winery from California was pouring at what supposed to be the premier showcase for local, sustainable food. When I later drew the promoter’s attention to this incongruity, she complained that she could not source reliably good organic wines from nearby. I begged to differ, and while she declined my offer to help with arrangements for the following year, I was pleased to find nearly a dozen California wineries in attendance in 2009 (along with Delfina at the helm of the pizza oven).

Golden Glass 2010 featured more than 30 wineries pouring, with several others not on had winning Golden Glass awards for their vintages. Remarkably, 13 of the 17 prizes awarded at this competition were bestowed to California wineries, a remarkable achievement considering that the overwhelming majority of wineries present came from Italy, along with Spain, France, New Zealand and Argentina. But with my apologies to Lorenzo Scarpone and Franco Minniti of Villa Italia, the driving forces behind Slow Food San Francisco and this event in particular,I restricted my sampling to the local wines that fall within Sostevinobile’s stated parameters.

Quite a number wineries held a cooperative presence through Artisan Growers & Producers, a San Francisco-based collective. Mercury Wines showcased their The 500, a non-vintage Bordeaux-style wine in distinctive 500 ml. jugs. Duende, arriving a week late for T.A.P.A.S., still shone with their 2007 Tempranillo Clement Hills and an appealing 2005 Cabernet Franc. Hawkes, a sister operation, easily matched up with both a 2005 Merlot and a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Tallulah Wines may never be as racy as their namesake, Tallulah Bankhead, but their 2006 Syrah could cause a bit of a stir on its own. A returnee from PINK OUT! SF, Dacalier demonstrated how their Grenache/Mourvèdre blend, the 2009 Première Rosé held its own in a contrasting setting. And despite my having to spend the latter part of the day sipping nothing but Pinot, I still delighted in Wait Cellars2007 Pinot Noir.

Three other Artisan members showcased their Pinots. Both Blagden Wines and Corkscrew Wines poured a 2007 Pinot Noir, while Prophet Wines chose to feature their 2006 Pinot Noir. Along with their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir, Lazy Creek Vineyards excelled with a super-dry 2007 Gewürztraminer and an equally compelling 2008 Riesling. Electing not to pour themselves, Domaine Carneros nonetheless garnered the award for their 2007 Pinot Noir The Famous Gate.

Another award-winning winery that appeared only at the winner’s table was J. Lohr, with their Bordeaux-inspired 2006 Cuvée POM, a Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, with slight additions of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Similarly, Livermore’s Wente Vineyards earned top accolades or their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Southern Hills. And Napa’s Ca’ Momi took home the prize for their 2007 Rosso di California, a Zinfandel/Cabernet Sauvignon blend.

My friend Darek Trowbridge adheres to an extreme fidelity to the health of his vines and the environment in which he tends; his biodynamic techniques shows richly in the wines from his Old World Winery, particularly the 2005 Pinot Noir Nunes Vineyard Cellar Rat and the 2008 Chardonnay Tweek Block. From Fulton, the Vandendriessche Family runs White Rock Vineyards, and I suppose having that extensive a surname precludes labeling with anything overtly complex; nonetheless, in addition to their excellent 2007 Chardonnay, the 2005 Claret (40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 14% Petit Verdot, 11% Cabernet Franc) and the newly-released 2005 Laureate (predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon) were simply outstanding vinifications.

My perverse desire to stage a biodynamic vs. vegan wine debate will happen one day, but for now I was content to sample the latter philosophy in Barra of Mendocino’s rich 2007 Girasole Vineyards Zinfandel (but where was your ever-delightful Sangiovese?), along with contrasting their 2006 Barra of Mendocino Pinot Noir with the 2006 Girasole Vineyards Pinot Noir. I also took a shining to their luscious 2007 Eagle’s Perch Chardonnay and 2008 West Terrace Pinot Noir from Paraiso Vineyards, a stalwart of the Sta. Lucia Highlands. Naturally, my ostensible charm prompted the folks from Santa Maria’s Riverbench Vineyard to open up their unlisted 2008 One Palm Pinot Noir, an utterly superb to their striking 2007 Estate Chardonnay.

I had met John Aver at a couple of previous tastings but am happy to aver that his 2007 Homage Syrah and 2006 Heritage Cabernet Sauvignon were both delightful wines. And Derby Wine Estates in Paso Robles proved that their wines are far more dimensional than simply a vehicle for someone like me to converse with Hospitality Manager Katie Kanphantha, yet another aspirant to the title of California’s lengthiest surname. Their quixotic 2007 Fifteen 10 White Rhône Blend (40% Marsanne, 40% Roussanne, 20% Viognier) firmly established this winery, while the 2006 Implipo, a traditional Bordeaux blend, soared beyond expectations. Occasio’s versatility with winemaking is anything but occasional; major accolades are due both their 2008 Petite Sirah del Arroyo Vineyard and their 2009 Sauvignon Blanc del Arroyo Vineyard

I believe Kunde operates the largest vineyard estate in California (I’m too pressed for time to verify this statistic) and certainly it is the largest property to have been bestowed the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award for sustainable practices and facilities in the wine industry. As validating as a GEELA may be, however, their attendance at Golden Glass stemmed as much from the quality of their 2009 Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc and the 2007 Reserve Century Vines Zinfandel.

Sostevinobile has long been familiar with several of the wineries on hand, starting with the pioneering Paul Dolan Vineyards. Not content to rest merely on their biodynamic credentials, their 2006 Deep Red, a blend of 57% Syrah, 31% Petite Sirah, and 12% Grenache from their Dark Horse Vineyards, won one of the coveted Golden Glasses, a fitting testimony to these practices. Legendary restaurateur Lorenzo Petroni surpassed his showing at last year’s tasting by garnering his own Golden Glass for his Super Tuscan-style 2007 Rosso di Sonoma, while his Petroni Vineyards’ lush 2004 Brunello di Sonoma, crafted from 100% Sangiovese Grosso, proved every bit its equal. And returning a week after his attendance at T.A.P.A.S., Victor Reyes Umaña from Murphys’ Bodega del Sur displayed extraordinary versatility with a crisp, clean 2008 Marsanne to complement his Spanish-style 2007 Carmessi, a blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah.

Golden Glass allotted nearly a full table to the Mendocino WineGrape & Wine Commission, which represented the remainder of wineries I sampled. From this constellation came Esterlina Vineyards, the sister winery of Everett Ridge, poured a 2008 Dry Ranch Riesling Cole Ranch and their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, while Pacific Star Winery brought a trio of underserved varietals: their 2007 Charbono, the 2005 Carignane and a more recent 2009 Viognier. Sara Bennett poured an intriguing 2007 Pinot Noir Méthode à l’Ancienne and the justly acclaimed 2008 Estate Bottled Gewürztraminer for her family’s Navarro Vineyards, while the luminous Deborah Schatzlein comported herself quite admirably with her 2009 Randle Hill Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc and the 2005 Hawks Bottle Vineyard Syrah from Bink Wines.

The 2009 Gewürztraminer Anderson Valley ruled the day for Breggo Cellars, along with their equally appealing 2009 Pinot Gris Anderson Valley and a 2008 Pinot Noir from the same AVA. Meanwhile, nothing quite saves the day on a 85° afternoon like a chilled sparkling wine, courtesy of the 2009 Brut Rosé from Handley Cellars, along with their compelling smooth 2007 Syrah Kazmet Vineyard in the Redwood Valley. Magnanimus Wine Group manages a small consortium of “authentic, living wines integrate nature into the bottle and are inspired by simpler times”—an apt description for their 2007 Mendocino Farms Grenache.

Jim Milone’s Terra Sávia is one of Mendocino’s better known organic wineries, and the overall excellence I have come to expect from wines like his 2008 Chardonnay, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2006 Meritage (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot) easily spilled over to his newly-released 2006 Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine. Another organic champion, McNab Ridge, the current venture of my old friend John Parducci, featured a superb 2006 Petite Sirah (though not on hand at Golden Glass, their 2007 Pinotage Napoli Vineyard is a wine not to be missed).

Excellence aboundedat Baxter, the last Mendocino winery I sampled. In short, my first contact with this operation brought me to their 2007 Pinot Noir Toulouse Vineyard and the remarkable 2007 Pinot Noir Oppenlander Vineyard, as well as a vibrant 2006 Carignane Caballo Blanco Vineyard. Still, my most astounding discovery of the afternoon was that Chronicle Wines is actually a label, not the wine club that the San Francisco Chronicle sponsors! I admitted to proprietor Mike Hengehold that I had bypassed their table at several previous event because of this misconception—obviously my loss, since their 2007 Cerise Pinot Noir truly was superb. I will not make the same error at ZAP 2011!

My swill & spit restraint most have been in full force, because I felt more than fine in departing at this point and undertaking the 16-mile bike ride over the Golden Gate Bridge to Larkspur. And, if this 1¾ hour jaunt depleted all the energy I had stored up from the numerous protein-laden food purveyors I had tried, there would be another feast awaiting me.

Chapter Two in this saga started with a change of shirts outside the horse barn at the historic Escalle Winery. The ride in 2010’s first truly warm day left me staggering for breath and utterly drenched, just as it had last year—though this time, without the Ginkgo Girl looming to retrieve me, I came prepared to freshen up before tackling the affair.

So with Bolan somewhere unknown, celebrating her 41st in solitude, I splashed myself with the remaining water from my road bottle, stuffed my sweat-soaked Polo shirt into my fanny pack, and headed up the hill to the staging area. To be perfectly candid, though, this could just as easily have been the 2009 tasting. Many of the same attendees, including Dean Stephens, who meet me at the entryway and regaled me with tales of his trip to Las Vegas with Bill Clinton, the same grilling team with the same excellent Leg of Venison and Rabbit Sausage, the same worthy benefit for the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), and pretty much the same roster of wineries in attendance.

Debuting at this event, Skywalker Vineyards unveiled its first vintage, grown exclusively on their estate Skywalker Ranch—now that George Lucas has moved his LucasArts empire to The Presidio, he and Francis Ford Coppola have developed much of his Lucas Valley campus as a vineyard. And with this kind of financial stability, there is little wonder why their inaugural 2008 Pinot Noir and 2008 Chardonnay, which they reserved for trade attendees, tasted so lush. Also appearing as a Marin venture for the first time, Carneros pioneer Acacia, a Diageo acquisition when they had financial stability, translated their considerable pedigree to their 2008 Redding Ranch Pinot Noir.
Before I proceeded to Dan Goldfield’s Orogeny, I had to break for some fresh air and a generous plate of the venison. Deer meat proved the perfect complement to his 2006 Pinot Noir Redding Ranch, a reprise from last year. And maybe with the upcoming Grand Opening for his new tasting room in Sebastopol, Dan will release the 2007 Orogeny (if not the 2008)! After all, his principal venture, Dutton-Goldfield, is already pouring their 2008 Pinot Noir Devil’s Gulch, which showed itself already a superb wine at this tasting.

David Vergari is one of those people who always manages to greet you like a lifelong friend, and so it was the usual pleasure in seeing him again in this setting and comparing his 2007 Pinot Noir Marin County with his 2008 Pinot Noir Marin County (for now, the earlier wine show better, but who knows?). And if he ever deigns to show up at Marin again, Mac McDonald would provide welcome coloratura to the 2007 Pinot Noir from his Vision Cellars.

As they had last year, Thomas Fogarty Winery from San Mateo County featured their Marin-grown 2007 Pinot Noir Corda Family Vineyard. And, in accord with last year’s precedent, assistant winemaker Nathan Kandler offered his own Precedent Wines 2006 Pinot Noir Chileno Valley Vineyard. I followed this wine with the 2006 Marin County Estate Grown Pinot Noir from organic vineyardists Stubbs Vineyard, then headed back to the grill for some rabbit sausage from Devil’s Gulch Ranch

Another organic vineyard—on the cusp of becoming biodynamic, DeLoach is part of Boisset Family’s genial expansion into California. And as this label expands beyond its Russian River Valley home, the 2009 Pinot Noir Marin County stacked up quite nicely with another 2009 Pinot Noir ???—I expect my proposed name will ultimately be selected in the contest they conducted. Stewart Johnson of Kendric Vineyards poured a five-year vertical of his Marin Pinot, but I guess I somehow missed the framing years of 2004 and 2008. Still I greatly enjoyed the superb 2005 Pinot Noir Marin County, followed by the 2007 and the 2006 in my personal preference. Meanwhile, Jonathan Pey of Pey-Marin Vineyards assumed pouring duties this year, serving his ever-notable 2007 Trois Filles Pinot Noir. I think he also slipped a taste of his 2009 The Shell Mound Riesling, but my notes show no mention.
Cowgirl Creamery generously furnished an array of cheeses, from which I liberally partook before heading over to Point Reyes Vineyards and their chilled NV Blanc de Noir; their 2007 Pinot Noir also warranted attention. I then tried a side-by-side comparison of the 2007 Pinot Noir Chileno Valley from Willowbrook Cellars, along their 2008 vintage, only to find both equally appealing. I did, however, display overt enthusiasm for the 2007 Andromedia Devil’s Gulch Ranch over its previous vintage, though both represent superb Pinot Noirs from Sean Thackrey, perhaps the only other man in attendance who has translated Aristophanes.
By now, there was but a scant few medallions of venison left, so I refueled for the ride back to San Francisco, but headed first for the Bay Club Marin for a quick swim and shower. I blundered slightly in ascertaining the best route home from there, but the starlit trek over the Golden Gate Bridge proved a perfect coda to this 10 hour sojourn.


One of the more memorable scenes from Sideways has Miles, in his uniquely desultory fashion, scarfing down some ungodly fast food meal while pouring his prized 1961 Cheval Blanc (ironically, a blend of Cabernet Franc and—mon dieu!—Merlot) into a styrofoam cup. I’m sure many wine purists found the whole notion utterly incongruous, if not appalling. Like inviting a Scientologist to address the Prometheus Society .

On the other hand, there is the perspective of trying to make wine applicable to any situation, from the most meager meal to the most ornate banquet, from the most celebratory setting to the bleachers at a ball game. Many years ago, when I visited the Franzia plant in Manteca, I was compelled to wear an industrial hardhat throughout the tour,as if I were a blue collar construction manager. As Operations Manager Lou Quaglia bellied up to the tasting bar, looking more like Teamsters than wine connoisseurs, I commented, “you know, the day this image doesn’t seem like an anomaly is the day the California wine industry will have truly arrived.”

And therein lies my dilemma. Your West Coast Oenophile left the cozy confines of T.A.P.A.S. at Fort Mason last Saturday to attend A Single Night, Single Vineyards at C. Donatiello, which first required pedaling back up the hill to Pacific Heights, “recovering,” showering, changing, then driving to Sonoma. I, of course, had lingered far longer than anticipated the first tasting, but with the Healdsburg event scheduled to run until 10 pm, I figured I had plenty of time to mingle with the winemakers pouring there. Or so I thought.

Just slightly overshooting the most expedient exit off US 101 meant I arrived at the winery around 8:30 pm. Instantly, I was taken back twenty years, when this facility was known as Belvedere, where I had contracted my first professional bottling for Spectrum HoloByte Wines, a promotional label I developed for this software gaming legend. Any sense of serenity or nostalgia, however, was quickly dispelled, as the pounding rhythms from the DJ and the amplified, hyperkinetic exhortations of an auctioneer filled the amphitheater with a cacophony more reminiscent of a disco floor than a winery.

Now, I have no problem with an auction, especially if it’s for a worthwhile cause (the El Molino High School Agriculture Department). It’s just that I was ill-prepared for the evening to be on a preset schedule that limited the time the participating vineyards would be pouring. So, as the tasting portion of the evening gave way to the clamor and the gavel, I found I missed on the major impetus of Sostevinobile’s presence at this event—the chance to sample wine and mingle with the new generation of winemakers on hand.

My hostess for the evening could not have been more gracious in understanding my plight. Cailyn McCauley of Creative Furnace, the promotions firm who staged this tasting, set me up with a private tasting of the remaining wines on hand, including my own personal wine docent. Ambassador extraordinaire from Greg La Follette’s Tandem Winery, Simone Sequeira represents the kind of vibrant, young œnophile that Sostevinobile only wishes could constitute the dominant paradigm. Totally immersed in the marvels and details of the local wine industry, she guided me point by point through each of the wines that had been reserved for the wine-by-the-glass portion of the evening.

We commenced lightly, of course, with the inaugural 2009 Estate Pinot Grigio Russian River Valley from D & L Carinalli, truly a refreshing start to a late spring evening far more clement than recent nights in San Francisco had been. From there we moved onto a pair of Chardonnays, first the house brand, the 2009 Healdsburg Cellars Chardonnay (C. Dontiello’s holdover second label from its Belvedere phase) and a remarkable 2008 Chardonnay Russian River Valley from Graton Ridge, lush, heavy wine weighing in at 14.5% alcohol.

Many of my colleagues map out large, multi-winery tastings by color, white to pink to red, followed by dessert wines. Given the constraints of time, I tend to taste winery by winery, but may reevaluate this strategy as Sostevinobile nears the point of actual wine acquisitions. Thus noted, Simone and I moved onto a pair of rosé selections. Windsor Oaks prefers to label their extraction of Pinot Noir the 2008 Vin Gris, whereas Benovia made its presence known with their 2009 Rosé of Pinot Noir, both well-restrained and compelling wines that yearned for food complements (my nonetheless excellent grilled Portabello mushroom sandwich did not pair with these light wines).

Maybe I should have saved my sandwich for the trio of Pinots that followed. Porter Creek bills their fare as “Original Wines of Great Purity,” farming in accord Aurora certified organic practices, with a craft that was obvious from the first sip of their 2007 Estate Pinot Noir. Moshin Vineyards their usual aplomb with their 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, while Santa Rosa’s Ancient Oak Cellars offered their offshoot 2008 47 Friends Pinot Noir.

The west side of Sonoma also excels at Zinfandel, as I have documented numerous times in this blog. Even though I had previously sampled the 2006 Estate Zinfandel from Ottimino at ZAP this past January, it somehow tasted better in this limited forum. And Matrix Winery, part of Diane Wilson’s burgeoning conglomerate, showed nicely with their 2007 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley.
Of course, the tasting did require a couple of atypical wines for the AVA. I regret that I missed out on the 2008 Arneis Russian River Valley that Seghesio poured earlier in the evening, but I was treated to the enormously satisfying 2006 Sangiovese Alegría Vineyards that Acorn Winery produced from a field blend of seven different Sangiovese clones, along with 1% each of Canaiolo and Mammolo. Not to be outmixed, Foppiano, a winery established in 1896, the year my grandfather was born in Avellino, offered its own occasional blend, the Lot 96 Bin 002, a proprietary red wine made from 28% Sangiovese, 19% Petite Sirah, 17% Zinfandel, 14% Carignane, 10% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Cabernet Franc.

As the evening wound down, Cailyn introduced me to one of the up & coming winemakers featured earlier in the evening. Dominic Foppoli and I exchanged a few pleasantries in Italian while we sipped on his 2007 Reserve Chardonnay Russian River Valley, a wine completely devoid of oak and solely expressive of its grape. An exceptional wine, this vinification is clearly a standard for the new generation of Chardonnay in California (though I will unabashedly aver that a well-crafted, oaky Chard like the Graft Ridge I had sampled earlier in the evening, maintains its rightful place, as well).

One day in the next few months, I will attain the distinction of having maintained a beard for twice as long as I’ve “faced” the world with a pre-hirsute visage. This milestone may well have placed me at diametric odds with the majority of the crowd at A Single Night, Single Vineyards. Clearly this evening’s gathering focused on the age bracket pop sociologists term “the Millennials,” the next cadre of wine drinkers who portend to become the mainstay of Sostevinobile’s future clientele, and while there is a universality to wine that transcends generational differences, certain cultural trends and philosophical adherences stand beyond my ability (or willingness) to incorporate into my own lifestyle. “Why have sex when you can have virtual sex?” may be too strident a condemnation of social networking, but most Baby Boomers will catch my drift.

To put this matter another way, let me defer to Katey Bacigalupi of John Tyler Wines, whom I’ve previously cited in this blog. As she told The Press Democrat, “You don’t necessarily have to be a millennial to know a millennial as a human being, but when it comes to more in-depth topics like buying habits, preferences, music choices, et cetera, it definitely helps. I think one of the things that defines our generation much more than any other is technology and how we use it. Information is so much more available and constant than it ever has been before.”

Point well taken, and let me be unequivocal in stating that Sostevinobile will address the particular needs and wants of this demographic—along with the comfort and service of all our customers—as a paramount consideration as we develop our operations, but nonetheless this event posed an interesting paradox.

Succinctly put, the portion of the evening I attended struck me as a bit antithetical, a pulsating, near-deafening dance scene I would normally associate with Margaritas and shots of Jägermeister, more akin to a Saturday afternoon mob along the Esplanade in Capitola than a wine gathering in Sonoma. But wherein lies the resolution? Is it the desire to make the crowd more amenable to the conventional tenor of the wine world or is it to make wine more appealing to a broader range of events and celebrations? Is there a happy medium?

For now, I see no easy answer. An event like A Single Night, Single Vineyards or anything that opens up the world of wine to more people ought to be seen as an asset, and (from the standpoint of enlightened self-interest) certainly a trend Sostevinobile should see fit to embrace. And while the merger of two such disparate elements may not rise to the level of a dialectic, I am ever-mindful that the unequaled largesse that the late Sidney Frank bestowed on my graduate institute derived from his success in mass-marketing frozen shots of the above-mentioned Jäger. 
I know I will still be wrestling with these inherent contradictions for months to come. But still, wine at 120 dB? An utter incongruity.

Arizona, Narsai & Bastardo*

*OK, so it ain’t Kukla, Fran & Ollie. But still…
“And what is so rare as a day in June?” This spring, the answer may well be “a day that behaves like a June day.” Finally, after an interminably long rainy season, San Francisco basked in warm sunshine this past Saturday—the perfect setting for the 3rd Annual T.A.P.A.S. Grand Tasting. Your West Coast Oenophile had laid out warm clothes the night before, figuring on drive to Fort Mason, make my loop through the tables, then head to Healdsburg for A Single Night, Single Vineyards at C. Donatielloyes, my duties for Sostevinobile do seem endless—but the weather proved too inviting. I donned my familiar shorts & wine collar, strapped on my helmet, then headed down the hill from Pacific Heights on my 14-speed Trek.

Good thing I made the switch, too. T.A.P.A.S. was competing both with the Union Street Festival and another wine event, Vina Moda’s Crush Barrel Wine Market, also at Fort Mason. I smugly whizzed by utter standstill traffic and hundreds of cars futilely searching for parking over most of the 20 or so blocks from my place to Herbst Pavilion. Actually, this tasting wasn’t originally suppose to conflict with the other events, but Crushpad’s abrupt move to Napa forced organizers to scramble to find a new site back in March. I assisted the board in this search and had tried to get the tasting moved to Rock Wall’s facility in Alameda, but in the end, they elected to return to Fort Mason, where last year’s tasting was held in the Golden Gate Room, the site of the original ZAP tasting.

This year’s tasting included 39 wineries (versus 36 in 2009), complemented by the most sumptuous and varied appetizers and noshes I have seen at a Fort Mason event (why is it that, when I describe the alimentary portion a wine tasting, I always feel like Khlestakov from Nikolai Gogol’s Ревизор, aka The Government Inspector?). Today’s larger setting filled out quite nicely with paella, oysters, chicken breast, jellied quince, stuffed peppers, stuffed olives, an abundance of fresh fruit, cheese and bread—I didn’t even miss the conspicuous absence of Aidells sausages! Of course, however, the wine was paramount.

The Tempranillo Advocates Producers & Amigos Society (T.A.P.A.S.) functions as more than just a trade association. Its goal is as much to raise awareness of the numerous wineries along the West Coast and other states about the wealth of Spanish, Portuguese and Basque varietals being cultivated and vinified here. Though the ample crowd certainly indicated an increasing success with this mission, I was quite surprised to hear KCBS’ Food & Wine Critic Narsai David’s report on Lee Family Farms just a few days before the tasting, claiming they were the first winery in California to grow Verdelho and Rio Tinto that he had ever encountered—particularly surprising since he himself hails from the Central Valley, but then how much credence can you place in a man who pronounces Merlot (muhr•LŌ´) MĀR´•lō?

Confident in my knowledge of the ever-growing and long-standing proliferation of these and other Iberian grapes, I started my afternoon at A Cellar Full of Noise, James Judd’s only foray to date into Spanish varietals, with their delectable 2006 Tempranillo Paso Robles. Judd makes a number of other wines, both from Italian and from Bordeaux varietals (including their fraternal twins Verdot Malbec and Malbec Verdot), while another previously untried venture, Stein Family Wines acquitted themselves quite ably with their only wine, the 2007 Just Joshin Tempranillo. Meanwhile Coral Mustang’s Penelope Gadd-Coster, who led last year’s seminar, staked her claim as the Merry Edwards of Tempranillo with her 2006 Tempranillo Vista Creek, as well as a reprise of last year’s wine.

During my recent visit to the Gold Country, I regretted that I arrived too late in the day to visit Bray Vineyards, so I made sure I didn’t miss the opportunity today to sample their excellent 2006 Tempranillo Shenandoah Valley. I found their 2006 Verdelho equally appealing, while the 2006 Vinho Tinto, a blend of Tinta Cão, Touriga Nacional, Souzão, Alvarelhão, and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) shone brightest. In addition to their 2007 Tempranillo Paso Robles, Arroyo Grande’s Barreto Cellars brought their varietal 2007 Touriga Nacional and the field blend 2007 Vinho Tinto, which adds Touriga Francesa and Tannat to the aforementioned grapes. And Pacifica’s aptly named (from a San Francisco perspective) Bodega del Sur married Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah in a silky proprietary blend known as the 2007 Carmesi, while offering a respectable 2008 Verdelho Alta Mesa and 2009 Albariño.

Albariño, of course, has long been the forte of Bokisch Vineyards, which held true with their latest 2008 Albariño Terra Alta Vineyard. New (at least to my recollection) was the 2009 Garnacha Blanca, an amiable white cousin of their 2007 Garnacha Clements Hills. And though I typically would extol their 2006 Graciano Mokelumne as their most outstanding pour, I favored the 2007 Tempranillo Liberty Oaks Vineyard this time around. On the other hand, I clearly favored the 2007 Graciano Bokisch Vineyard from the several selections Quinta Cruz featured, along with their superb 2007 Tempranillo Pierce Ranch. Their 2009 Verdelho Silvaspoons Vineyard showed a straightforward expression of this grape, while the 2007 Touriga Pierce Ranch deftly blended Touriga Nacional and Touriga Francesa. The 2007 Concertina added Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cão to make a striking Douro-style blend, while their 2006 Rabelo presented a Port-style wine from the same. Generically labeling their fare the 2005 California Dessert Wine, Tesouro Port Cellars with a fortified blend of Alvarelhão, Souzão, Touriga, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cão.

Like Quinta Cruz, many of the wineries on hand sourced their grapes from Silvaspoons and from Pierce Ranch, both of whom were present with their own wines. Pierce Ranch Vineyards made their statement with their 2009 Albariño San Antonio Valley and the eclectic 2007 Cosechiero, a proprietary mélange of Tempranillo, Touriga, Tinta Cão, Graciano, and Garnacha Blanca. Silvaspoons’ Ron Silva bottles his own grapes under the Alta Mesa Cellars label, displaying a deft touch with both his 2009 Verdelho Alta Mesa and the 2007 Tempranillo Alta Mesa. On the other hand, the barrel sample of his 2008 Tannat Alta Mesa showed considerable promise but will only live up to its full potential if he incorporates the attached portrait on this label!

Marco Azzurro

The first time yours truly attended the T.A.P.A.S. Grand Tasting, I chose Abacela as my major revelation of the afternoon. Once again, Earl and Hilda Jones flat-out dazzled me with their 2007 Estate Port Southern Oregon, while I was pleasantly surprised by the striking quality of their 2005 Tempranillo Reserve. It still remains to be seen if my most significant discovery from this year’s tasting will prove to be the pulchritudinous Kimberly Quan, but I found myself even further amazed by last year’s pick, Napa’s Forlorn Hope. One may question winemaker Matt Rorick’s sartorial taste, but his vinification remains dead-on. Even better than my previous sampling of his wines, his quarter this year simply astounded. His 2009 La Gitana would surely have made for the best Torrontés of the afternoon, even if it hadn’t been the sole representation of this grape, while his 2009 Que Saudade was easily today’s champion Verdelho. On the red side, I loved his Alvarelhão, the 2009 Suspiro Del Moro but nearly wept at my taste of the 2006 Mil Amores, an utterly astounding blend of Touriga, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cão, and Tinta Amarela.

My readers should know that this far into my column, the demands of Portuguese orthography is nearly driving me to drink, but I will forge on!

Having verified the spelling for Loureiro, a grape I had not previously encountered, I can report on the splendid version Bonny Doon bottled under their Ca’ del Solo label as 2009 Vinho Grinho (I’m pretty certain Randall made up this word). Just as alluring were the 2009 Albariño Bonny Doon Vineyard and the ever-popular 2009 Clos de Gilroy, their version of Garnacha. Another varietal that took me by surprise was one that wasn’t even poured! Bodegas Paso Robles did pour an interesting array of blends, like their 2008 Doña Blanca, a mix of Garnacha Blanca and Malvasia Bianca. Their reds included the superb 2003 Iberia (Touriga, Tempranillo, Graciano and Tinta Cão) and the 2005 ¡Viva Yo!, combining Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as a straight 2003 Graciano. But the real allure was the 2007 Pimenteiro, a wine made from Trousseau (smoothed with 10% Tempranillo). In realms where the FCC holds no sway, Trousseau is known as Bastardo, a name hardly as provocative as the epithet Marco Materazzi hurled at Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 World Cup Finals, but enough to draw protest from the BATF.

Actually, St. Amant poured their 2008 Bootleg Port, a fortified 6-grape combo of Tinta Cão, Touriga Nacional, Souzão, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Francesa, and Bastardo, but this wasn’t sufficient to appreciate the varietal. Touriga Nacional dominates their superb 2008 Touriga Amador County, while their NV Tawny Port Amador County blends Touriga, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz, Alvarelhão, Souzão, and, again, Bastardo. Another Lodi winery, Ripken Vineyards, produced a 2005 Vintage Port from Souzão and Touriga Nacional while making a strong statement with their 2005 Old Spanish Red, a blend of Monastrell, Graciano, and Garnacha.

Some readers may recall my previous citation of my attempt to launch Château LompocThe Wine Served Behind the Finest Bars in America back in 1990 with the late Pat Paulsen. Do realize that I am always fond of Santa Ynez wineries like Lompoc’s own D’Alfonso-Curran, who, besides their superb 2009 Grenache Blanc and notable 2007 Grenache, created their own rosado, aptly named 2009 Grenache Gris. I assume Orcutt, California lies somewhere near Lompoc, and though I’ve not encountered this town before, it certainly warrants attention for local venture Core Wine Company. Winemaker Dave Corey (unrelated to the David Corey with whom I roomed freshman year at Dartmouth), masterfully mirrored his 2006 Elevation Sensation, a Garnacha blended with Monastrell with his 2006 Mister Moreved, a mélange of inverse proportions. I should have tasted his late harvest Garnacha, the 2004 Candy Core (my former roommate could never have been this clever), but did revel in his 2006 Ground Around, a blend of Tempranillo, Syrah and Garnacha. And all I had known previously about Winters, CA was that I lost all cell and data service on my iPhone after passing through this hamlet en route from Davis to Rutherford, but now recognize it as the home of Berryessa Gap Vineyards, purveyors of the striking 2007 Tempranillo Yolo County and the vineyard designate 2007 Tempranillo Rocky Ridge.
I can’t remember a wine tasting of late where the family Truchard did not pour, so it was quite reassuring to see this genial pair yet again. Besides tasting the 2005 Tempranillo Carneros (as well as the elegantly aged 2002 Tempranillo Carneros), their sole foray into Spanish varietals, I managed to show Joanne a few of the wonders that make my iPhone so indispensable these days. Like the Truchards, Yorba Wines, another Napa winery with ancillary interest in Spanish wines, deftly blended their 2007 Tempranillo with a touch of Graciano, also grown at their Shaker Ridge Vineyard.

Many of the Iberian varietals have counterparts in Rhône grapes that I have highlighted numerous times in this blog, though here I have striven to identify by their Spanish or Portuguese identities. Villa Creek Cellars may label its 2007 Damas Noir a Mourvèdre rather than Monastrell, but either way, it was amazingly delicious. As was their 2009 White, which blended Garnacha Blanca with both Roussanne and Picpoul Blanc. T.A.P.A.S. President Jeff Stai’s own Twisted Oak had no such ambiguity labeling their 2007 River of Skulls a Monastrell, while his superb 2007 Parcel combined Monastrell, Garnacha and Mazuelo.

Niven Family Wines bottles under four or five different labels; here, they stood out with the 2008 Tangent Albariño and 2008 Tangent Grenache Blanc, while their 2009 Trenza Blanco combined both these grapes as a counterpoint to the 2008 Trenza Tinto (Tempranillo, Garnacha, Monastrell, Syrah). Meanwhile, Verdad, the alter ego of Rhône specialist Qupé, scored with both the 2009 Albariño Santa Ynez Valley and the 2009 Albariño Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, while excelling at their 2007 Tempranillo Santa Ynez Valley.

As one might expect, the Lodi area was well-represented this afternoon. Besides those wineries I have already mentioned, Rio Vista’s Dancing Coyote brought their two white endeavors, the 2009 Albariño and the 2009 Verdelho (both farmed in Clarksburg), while the ever-wondrous Harney Lane offered both their 2009 Albariño Lodi and the 2007 Tempranillo Lodi. Napa also added Montepulciano specialist Mahoney Vineyards, with their 2008 Albariño Las Brisas Vineyard and 2007 Tempranillo Las Brisas Vineyard, along with Parador Cellars, who blended Napa’s favorite grape, Cabernet Sauvignon into the Tempranillo base of both their 2005 Red Table Wine and the 2003 Riserva.
The Livermore Valley featured venerable winemaker Larry Replogle’s Fenestra, with quite the wide selection—I particularly cottoned to his 2007 Touriga and the 2006 Tourvanillo, a proprietary blend of Touriga, Alvarelhão, Tempranillo, and Malbec. Meanwhile, his compatriots at Murrieta’s Well matched their 2007 Tempranillo Livermore Valley with the 2007 Zarzuela, a Tempranillo tempered with Touriga, Souzão, and Petite Sirah. Oregon, along with T.A.P.A.S. founder Abacela, once again made a strong T.A.P.A.S. showing with Red Lily Vineyards, a singularly focused winery that garnered considerable attention for its 2006 Tempranillo Rogue Valley and 2007 Red Blanket Tempranillo and with Jacksonville’s Valley View Winery, whose 2006 Anna Maria Tempranillo may have eclipsed its 2005 vintage but fell a small step behind its superlative 2008 Anna Maria Port.

The roster for T.A.P.A.S. encompasses wineries from a handful of other states, including Washington and Texas, where Alamosa literally stands as the lone star in this category. This year’s tasting featured two wineries from Arizona, one a newcomer, the other a consistent attendee. Admittedly, this places Sostevinobile in a bit of a quandary. The statement of purpose, from which I have built our wine program, focuses us exclusively on sustainably grown wines from the West Coast. Basically, for the sake of our carbon footprint, I am allowing us a swath of ~750 miles from Ground Zero in San Francisco to comprise our initial definition of local. Quite honestly, I didn’t think Arizona would have wines that would pass muster, even if they fell within this arc. But Callaghan Vineyards impressed me with their 2009 Ann’s Selection that infused Garnacha Blanca and Verdelho with Symphony, as well as their annual bottling of a Tempranillo/Bordelaise blend, starting with the 2008 Padres, a combo featuring Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. And first time presenter Dos Cabezas Wine Works from Sonoita packed more than a mouthful with its 2008 Aguileon (Tempranillo, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Souzão, Tinta Cão, Cabernet Sauvignon) and its Sean Thackrey-style blend, the 2008 El Campo (Tempranillo, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Garnacha, Syrah, Monastrell, Roussanne). But if I were to include these wineries, would I then be obliged to consider other domains within the same radius? Such as Idaho or British Columbia? Perhaps Baja California, where the wine industry is being revived? Or even—gulp!—Nevada? It is really much too much to fathom at this stage, so let me pour myself a glass of 2004 Ridge Petite Sirah Dynamite Hill and move forward.

I had a fantasy that I could wrap up this portion of my blog entry in under 1,000 words, then tackle my evening trek to Healdsburg in the second half. So, as I now cross the 2,500-word threshold, I offer comments on the last two wineries of the afternoon, unrelated to each other in any manner save that their names bring to mind certain celebrities who have no connection to the winery operations whatsoever. I’m sure Longoria Wines might not mind an endorsement from either actress Eva Longoria or Tampa Bay 3rd Baseman Evan Longoria, but they can certainly stand on their own merits with their evocative 2007 Tempranillo Santa Ynez Valley or the 2009 Albariño Santa Ynez Valley. And Viña Castellano has, to the best of my knowledge, no connection to erectile-dysfunctional crime boss Paul Castellano, late of the Gambino family, fully rising to the occasion a 2006 Garnacha, two consecutive years of superb Tempranillos (I found the later 2005 Tempranillo Sierra Foothills preferable), a 2006 Monastrell Sierra Foothills and the 2006 Abueleta, a daring mélange of Tempranillo, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Garnacha. And on that note…