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Alvarelhão Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon Chardonnay Marsanne Merlot Petit Verdot Petite Sirah Pinot Noir Pinotage Port Roussanne Sangiovese Sauvignon Blanc Sémillon Sparkling Wine St. Laurent Syrah Tempranillo Torrontés Verdelho Viognier Zinfandel

Welcome 2011!

Hard to believe Your West Coast Oenophile began writing this blog for Sostevinobile two years and 104 entries ago. Now that 2010 has been officially relegated to the scrap heap of time and the second decade of this millennium has dawned upon us, I am cautiously predicting auspicious developments this January. How good a prognosticator I am remains to be seen.

My first winery tour of the year began with a casual swing through Napa this past Wednesday—a string of impromptu stops before attending Cheers! to Taste at Rubicon Estate. First up was lunch and tasting with my pal Matt Rorick and the array of incredible wines he makes under his Forlorn Hope label. We met up at downtown Napa’s Zuzu, an understated Tapas house befitting Matt’s minimal approach to his œnology. In his muted accoutrement and my tailless coiffure, we differed from our previous encounters but happily set about our business.

Now, much as former NBA star Darryl Dawkins liked to give colorful names to his glass-shattering dunks, Matt has created a nomenclature for his wines that belies their varietal base. We started with his 2007 Nacré, a Napa Valley Sémillon emboldened by Australia’s Hunter Valley tradition of imbuing this varietal with robust character. Another white grape that often yields a somewhat tepid wine, Torrontés, danced to life in his 2009 La Gitana. We rounded out the white portion of our session with the 2009 Que Saudade, a Portuguese-style Verdelho that totally invigorated the Ceviche del Dio Matt had ordered.

I am never able to resist Grilled Octopus, which turned out to be an ideal complement to the 2009 Suspiro del Moro, Matt’s exceptional Alvarelhão from Ron Silva’s storied Silvaspoons Vineyard. We moved onto the 2009 Sangiovese, a wine without a descriptive name yet totally in sync with Forlorn Hope’s superlative standards. I had not previously sampled most of Matt’s forays outside of Iberian wines, so it was quite revelatory to try both the 2006 Gascony Cadets (Petit Verdot) and the 2006 Les Deux (Petite Sirah). I had previously tried a wee sip of his 2007 St. Laurent, so reveled in a more indulgent pour of the enticing 2008 Ost-Intrigen before wrapping up our luncheon.

After Matt left for his next meeting, I took a stroll along the newly-completed renovations of Napa’s downtown river front that has transformed this former backwater into a worthy rival of Healdsburg as St. Helena’s counterpart. Strolling past such highly acclaimed culinary destinations as Morimoto and Ubuntu, I found myself in front of the quaint downtown tasting room for Stonehedge and winemaker Jon Alexander-Hills’ organic Koo Loo Loo label. To this mix, Jon has added a biodynamic Mendocino-based line, 39 North, which I eagerly sampled. Regrettably, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon seemed a rather tenuous wine, but I was favorably impressed by the 2006 Petite Sirah.

With several hours to fill before the Coppola event, I pointed my Corolla up Silverado Trail and rolled into the first winery I hadn’t yet encountered for Sostevinobile. Not that I hadn’t heard of Regusci many times over the years, but with the bulk of their wines purchased by their membership, any opportunity for tasting had been quite rare. A sign in front of the winery exhorted visitors not to feed the property’s canines, but judging by the fox terrier that resembled an oversized, four-legged bratwurst, I sensed it has rarely been heeded. A bit more lithe and definitely more appealing, Wine Club Manager Ashley McMullen warmly greeted me as I entered the rustic tasting room.

Regusci lists itself as having been established in 1932, but its current incarnation did not formally open doors until 1998. Originally, however, this property housed the Grigsby-Occidental Winery, built in 1870 by Terrill Grigsby, whose family had played a major role in the Bear Flag Revolt that established the short-lived independent Republic of California (a concept we would be well-advised to reconsider).

History aside, the contemporary operations here contrast with the nostalgic imagery of its antiquated label. Grown in Carneros, the 2009 Chardonnay represents Regusci’s only non-estate bottling, its typicity readily apparent. The exceptional 2007 Estate Zinfandel, on the other hand, constitutes the sole estate-grown Zin in the Stags Leap District AVA. I found the 2007 Estate Merlot a most amiable wine, while their popular 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon proved as appealing.

About this time, nonagenarian Angelo Regusci strolled in with another of his dogs and picked out a couple of bottles for personal consumption. As Ashley noted, this enviable lifestyle came as reward for decades of laboring to develop the winery to what its has become today. Fittingly, Regusci bottles a pair of Heritage Wines in honor of its lineage. A decidedly Left Bank-style Meritage, the wondrous 2007 Patriarch blended 55% Cabernet Sauvignon with 35% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, all estate grown. The true star of the winery portends to be the 2006 Angelo’s Hillside Cabernet Sauvignon, a striking wine at present, with its true potential 10-15 years away.

I left Regusci and headed north for a mile or so until I stumbled upon Steltzner, another winery whose Pinotage I have long hoped to try. With only a small group of visiting medical students from Annapolis finishing up their guided tour, Tasting Room Manager Travis Westrope was able to accord me individualized attention as he steered me through their varied inventory. We started with the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley, a subdued take on this varietal, then followed with the well-rounded 2008 Pinot Noir Hendricks Vineyard, a striking Sonoma Coast vintage, before moving onto the much-anticipated 2006 Estate Pinotage, a South African varietal that has increasingly gained popularity in California.

As with Regusci, I did immensely enjoy Steltzner’s 2007 Estate Merlot before moving on to the surprising 2006 Estate Sangiovese Riserva, a true bellwether of this varietal’s resurgence on the West Coast. I next found myself entranced by the 2006 Estate Cabernet Franc, as well as by the 2005 Pool Block Cabernet Sauvignon. Still, Steltzner’s best offering had to have been the alluring NV Merlot Port, a fortified wine infused not with brandy but the distilled must from its own grapes. A shame they didn’t make grappa instead, but I appreciated the symmetry nonetheless.

I was surprised, around a month ago or so, to discover that I had never tasted Miner’s wines in my role as Sostevinobile’s Wine Program Director. Determined to rectify this oversight, I continued my northward trek until I espied their familiar perch along the east side of the trail. Lumbering up the steps to the upper-level tasting room, I was heartened to see the posted prohibition against smoking on the terrace—further validation that wine and tobacco simply should not be mixed.

Inside,
as with Steltzner, I encountered only a handful of scholastic
tourists, this time a pair of teachers from, I believe, Ohio (all those states east of the Tehachapis eventually meld into one). Tasting Room Manager Steve Gage first guided us through the standard tasting, starting
with Miner’s welcoming staple, the 2009 Viognier Simpson Vineyard. Few wineries have made this varietal with such consistency over the years, so it seemed a tad surprising that the next selection, the 2007 Chardonnay, employed a highly fickle Wild Yeast fermentation—this time, with superb results.

As with Regusci, I found the 2007 Merlot Stagecoach Vineyard and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Stagecoach Vineyard pretty much on par with each other, while their pinnacle, the 2006 Oracle, a blend of the five principal Bordeaux grapes focused on Cabernet Sauvignon, drank quite smoothly now but portended to show spectacularly in another five years. Before taking off, I backtracked a bit to sample both the 2009 Tempranillo and the 2007 La Diligence, a Syrah collaboration between David Miner and noted Rhône Valley winemaker François Villard. I should have tried another joint effort, the 2007 Miner Benedetto Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon, a true Left Bank-style venture vinted in conjunction with jazz guitar craftsman Robert Benedetto, whose signature instrument adorns the Tasting Room wall, but. alas, my gratification must be delayed.

Impressively, Miner Vineyards operates entirely on an extensive solar grid whose output is tracked on their Website. Just to their north, Mumm Napa sports a slanted roofing that could power the entire Chiles Valley, were it solar equipped (though, to their credit, Mumm Napa is the only winery in Napa Valley to achieve the highly distinguished Triple Certification from the International Organization for Standardization). Regardless of this anomaly, I swung across Silverado Trail and indulged in a quick sampling of their sparkling wines. After all, at a recent France vs. California blind tasting, their 2001 DVX had placed 7th.

Alas, I was only accommodated with the standard tourist tasting—a flight of three of Mumm’s non-vintage bubblies: the Brut Prestige, its corollary Brut Rosé, and the slightly distinguished Cuvée M. I would have like to sample their still wines, as well, but the house runs on a precise schedule and showed no flexibility on their closing time. I did, however, manage to cajole my waitress into serving me a taste of their superb 2003 DVX. This last sparkler made my stop utterly worthwhile.

With an hour left to kill before the Rubicon Estate affair and craving some solid sustenance, I wound my way up to the Pope St. intersection and crossed over to the St. Helena Highway for my obligatory stop at Gott’s Roadside (formerly Taylor’s Automatic Refresher). Violating the strictures of my 2011 diet, I indulged in an order of their legendary garlic fries before crossing the highway on foot to visit with Long Meadow Ranch. Neither Chris nor Ted Hall were on hand at this late hour, but I nonetheless sampled their delectable 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, a moderately grassy interpretation of the varietal and an array of their prized Cabs, starting with the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon and its superb successor, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Interestingly, I favored this wine over the 2005 EJ Church Cabernet Sauvignon, despite it listing at double the price (admittedly, this latter bottling seemed structured to peak at a much later date). Of course, I had to indulge in the 2007 Sangiovese Peter’s Vineyard, and with that, I was, at long last, ready to motor down to Rutherford and hobnob at Rubicon Estate with an assemblage of the folks who help make the wine country such a special place to visit.

The promoters of the May-November monthly wine stroll, CHEERS! St. Helena, and the concierge trade association CANVAS, began last year to hold gatherings in Napa and in Sonoma to bring together tasting room and hospitality professionals for an evening of networking, wine education, and socializing. With the survival of many wineries now dependent on direct sales, both through their tasting rooms and their wines clubs, these individuals have become the critical cog in the industry.

Francis Ford Coppola’s restoration of the Inglenook estate has long conveyed a sense of opulence and sheer might, not unlike the Corleone’s Long Beach compound in Godfather I or King’s Beach compound in Godfather II. Still, the grandeur of the setting merely provided a backdrop to the array of local wines being poured, including the “house brand.” Granted, our hosts were not about to break out the Cask 23 for this crowd, but no complaints were heard about the organically-grown 2008 B
lancaneaux
, a Rhône-style blend of 43% Roussanne, 38% Marsanne, and 19% Viognier. Even more impressive, the 2006 Captain’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, another organic endeavor, was rounded out with 8% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot, and 1% Petit Verdot.

Ten other wineries poured a selection of their fare, although, incredibly, Caymus ran out of their wines half an hour into the event! I did, however, manage to sample the rest of the local wines on hand, starting with a trio of Rutherford’s leading female winery proprietors. First up, I greeted my friend HB Peju of Peju Province, who had so graciously entertained me at her home last summer. Several months later, I was still pleased to retry her 2009 Chardonnay Napa Valley alongside the excellent 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. Her pal Gretchen Lieff countered with her wondrous 2007 Auberge Road Cabernet Sauvignon and the even more impressive 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. In contrast Julie Johnson of Tres Sabores showcased her organic 2008 ¿Porqué No?, a deft mélange of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot.

Julie had been instrumental in the founding of Frog’s Leap when she was married to current owner John Williams. A true believer in organic farming, John’s winery poured a trio of their current releases: the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2007 Merlot, and the stellar 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine subtly blended with 10% Cabernet Franc and 2% Merlot.

John, unfortunately, could not be present this evening, but holding court at his winery’s station, Larry Piña more than pleased the crowd with his always wondrous 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon D’Adamo Vineyard. I can’t recall who poured for Corley Family’s Monticello Cellars, but I was suitably impressed with both their 2008 Estate Grown Chardonnay and the 2008 Estate Grown Cabernet Franc (admittedly, the 2008 Estate Grown Pinot Noir did not measure up to these levels). I also immensely enjoyed the 2007 Cabernet Franc from Slaughterhouse, a winery I first encountered at a previous Rutherford tasting at Rubicon Estate, along with their amiable 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

The folks from Frank Family held true to form with their ever-reliable 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, while the 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Freemark Abbey, the only winery to place both a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon in 1976’s famed Judgment of Paris tasting, proved a most elegant vintage. As an added treat, Freemark reached back not quite as far as 1976 but still wowed the crowd with a library taste of their perfectly-peaked 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Rutherford Estate provided the event with an array of charcuterie and cheese selections. I know I also liberally partook in the tapas catered by both Rutherford Grill and St. Helena’s Panevino, but, unfortunately, neglected to record what they served. Mi dispiace! I’d only been tasting for the past eight hours and, besides, I need to uphold my New Year’s Resolution of bringing these entries on time and in under 2,500 words!
I’ve just barely made it on both counts…