Monthly Archives: August 2011

11 bottles of wine on the wall, 11 bottles of wine…

Your West Coast Oenophile is normally not one to laud his own accomplishments, but my ongoing efforts to launch Sostevinobile, along with the creation of Smartphone app ResCue™ and the design of Comunale, have led to my selection as Featured Entrepreneur by EFactor, the self-billed World’s Largest Entrepreneurial Community.

The downside to this accolade has been responding to the flood of e-mails I’ve received from well-wishers and the like, yet another task impeding my progress in completing entries for this blog. Still, I am drawing to a close with this (admittedly) gimmicky approach to short-format posts focused on the vast array of wines I have had the privilege of sampling this past summer, and so, without further ado:

11) The name Murphys has always struck me as somewhat incongruous, but this quaint, self-billed “Queen of the Sierra” has evolved into the seat of Calaveras County viticulture. Keeping stride with this recently garnered reputation, Hovey Wine showcased their delightful 2009 Tempranillo Rolleri Cuvee, an exemplary take on this varietal.

10) The last time I wrote about T.A.P.A.S., I exhausted every pun I could make about Longoria, so today I will only sing praises of their 2010 Albariño Clover Creek Vineyard. Here truly is a vintage that could convert even the most diehard white wine skeptic.

9) Pierce Ranch is both one of the mainstays of the San Antonio Valley AVA and a principal grower of Iberian varietals in Monterey County. It’s always a pleasure to see Josh Pierce at numerous tastings throughout the season and sample through his wines. This afternoon’s nod went to his 2008 Cosecheiro, a deft proprietary blend of Tempranillo, Touriga, Graciano and Petit Sirah

8) For me, trying to pronounce Cosecheiro probably poses the same difficulties others encounter in my pentasyllabic surname, a euphonic conjugation I had mastered by age 2½. It took a bit of Internet sleuthing to discover it’s a variation on cosechero, or harvester, a tribute to the field workers who make winemaking possible. No such challenge for this former Vergilian scholar to grasp the nuances of the exceptional 2009 Idilico Garnacha from Pomum Cellars, the lone visitor here from the Puget Sound AVA in Washington.

7) Continuing in this vein, San Francisco’s own Urbanite Cellars coined its own proprietary portmanteau for the pair of Lodi blends it produces; of the two, I gave slight nod to the 2010 Caliberico White, a mezcla of Albariño, Verdelho, and Torrontés.

And yet, I didn’t realize the connection between Urbanite and Vinos Unico until I found two listings for mutual owner Luis Moya in my iPhone Address Book. The latter lists itself as “Wine Importers and Wholesalers,” with a portfolio from Spain and Portugal, as well as Iberian wine producers in Argentina, Arizona, and California. With that, the derivation of Cal-Iberico finally dawned upon me. Allora! I wish him greater success than the ill-fated Consorzio Cal-Italia ever enjoyed!

6) Should my cohorts and I manage successfully to launch Risorgimento as a preferable successor to Consorzio Cal-Italia, I suppose the inevitable question people will ask is whether D. Marc Capobianco can be the next Bob Cappuccino? Which is not unlike asking whether Jeff Tsai will be the next Randall Grahm. Not this is meant to contrast their winemaking styles or philosophy—the 2010 Verdelho Calaveras County from Jeff’s Twisted Oak proved a true highlight of this tasting—nor foster a debate on their mutually over-the-top showmanship. Indeed, the only relevant question any of us should be pondering at this time is “who can become the next Steve Jobs?”

Would you buy a used Cabernet from this man?

5Quinta Cruz, the Iberian varietal arm of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, has long been a reliable presence at a number of events, including T.A.P.A.S., and certainly one of the most heavily Portuguese-focused wineries in California. One of the peeves I have with some Iberian producers here is their rather lax approach to labeling their varietals, in particular, the generic use of “Touriga.” This practice is akin to calling a varietal “Cabernet,” when distinction between Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc is obligatory. But Quinta Cruz’ superb 2009 Touriga San Antonio Valley commits no such transgression—components are properly listed as Touriga Franca and Touriga Naçional.

4) Not to be confused with Yorba Linda, the birthplace of Richard Milhaus Nixon, Yorba Wines from Sutter Creek (self-billed as “the Jewel of Amador County”) offered a rare vertical tasting of their lone Spanish wine, with the oldest vintage, the 2005 Tempranillo, clearly manifesting the beauty and complexity of aging this noble varietal.

3) Odisea, or, more Hellenically, Ὀδύσσεια, doesn’t merely constitute the 24 book tome I labored to translate under the questionable tutelage of William C. Scott, but a rather cerebral winery operating out of Danville (the Jewel of Contra Costa County?). Though each of their featured wines had much to admire, I found myself quite partial this time to the 2009 Unusual Suspects, an atypical blend of Tempranillo, Cariñena (Carignane), and Garnacha. (This same wine venture also produces the Circean-inspired Cochon Wines).

2) From Suspects to Oregon’s Rogue Valley—RoxyAnn typically makes French varietals but managed to comport themselves quite admirably with their 2007 Tempranillo. I will be more than interested to taste through the rest of their library, which includes a non-vintage Pear Wine from their Hillcrest Orchard.
1) Of course, what would an Iberian varietal tasting be without Port, even if it no longer can use this nomenclature? St. Helena’s Tesouro Port Cellars returned with a superb vintage of their 2005 California Dessert Wine, deftly marrying lots of Touriga, Tinta Cão, Tempranillo, Alvarelhão, and Souzão.

0) OK, I admit I’ve exceeded my self-imposed limits for the scope of this seemingly interminable exercise, yet despite its conceits, I am no closer to catching up with my backlog than when I began, 99 bottles of wine ago. But it’s my blog and if I can make the rules, I can just as well violate them! And so I elect to bring this exercise to a murmuring close with Wine #100, the phenomenal NV Tawny Port Amador that Lodi’s St. Amant Winery crafted. The perfect coda to a labor of love (Sostevinobile) that (hopefully) never ends…

22 bottles of wine on the wall, 22 bottles of wine…

Seven down, two to go. And even with this pithy approach to succinct (for me) postings, Your West Coast Oenophile has barely made a dent in the backlog of chronicles to which Sostevinobile has committed. “It’s all about the wine,” I keep telling myself. “The wine has no time frame…”

22) Earlier in this series, I offered a few observations about the diminishing attendance at industry tastings in San Francisco, including Rosé Avengers & Producers’ annual PINK OUT SF!. Though I am finding the continued attrition of both attendees and participating wineries at these industry tastings increasingly disconcerting, I would be remiss in not acknowledging my discovery here of Paradise View, a Sonoma Coast winery producing an international potpourri varietals, including Arneis, Albariño, Malbec, Roussanne, and Lemberger (or Blaüfrankish, if you prefer). Despite its unspecified varietal identity, the 2008 Rosé poured here furnished an impressive introduction to this skilled, eclectic venture.

21) This is the age at which I arrived in California, with a freshly-minted Dartmouth diploma stashed somewhere amid my worldly possessions, which fit snugly in the rear of a 1978 Dodge Omni. At the time, the only California wineries I could name were Gallo, Sebastiani, Paul Masson, Almaden, and Inglenook. Today, my Rolodex is approaching 2,500 distinct labels, with new discoveries almost daily—even in pockets where I thought my knowledge was comprehensive. Case in point—although I have covered individual wineries and at least a dozen tastings for the Santa Cruz Mountains Winery Association, I had not encountered Villa del Monte until the most recent South Bay Trade tasting at The International Culinary Center in Campbell. My reaction to their focused 2009 Reserve Pinot Noir Regan Vineyard? Where have you guys been hiding?

Speaking of hiding, I must commend the Culinary Center for coming out this year from behind their glass-enclosed culinary lab and catering the tasting this year. Recalling how excruciating it had been last year, when we had to shuttle between two tasting rooms and content ourselves to stare longingly at their amazing feats of gastronomy through impermeable glass displays, I had scheduled a luncheon meeting beforehand with Lathrop Engineering to architect my design for a low-cost nitrogen preservation system for Sostevinobile’s wines. Oh well! I never claimed foresight to be my forte!

20) I’ve registered to be deployed as an extranet, once we are ready to start taking orders. The goal is to allow every winery and producing label in California, Washington, and Oregon who can meet Sostevinobile’s criteria for sustainability to access and manage their own information in our database. When that day does come, my first order of business will be to hire a Filemaker programmer to build this platform for us. In the meantime, I am compelled to enter each winery I encounter into a very rudimentary data file, and, like everything else, I frequently fall way behind in this responsibility with all I compelled to handle.

As such, I failed to realize that I had already visited with Paradise View when I retasted them at T.A.P.A.S. a few weeks later. No similar confusion, however, with Acampo’s Riaza Wines, an indisputably new discovery that came close to flooring me with their knockout 2008 Tempranillo Amador County.

19) It was extremely hard for me to assess the success of the T.A.P.A.S. Grand Wine Tasting. Last year, the somewhat thin crowd coul
d be attributed to the unforeseen change of venue when Crushpad, which had committed to host the event, suddenly pulled up stakes and relocated to Napa; that same day, SF Vintners Market held its event in Fort Mason, as well, while the nearby Union Street Festival commandeered nearly every available parking slots in the Marina. This year again, the street fair wreaked havoc with the local traffic, while the crowd inside Herbst Pavilion seemed just as sparse.

T.A.P.A.S., of course, is still very much a nascent undertaking, and, to be honest, 44 participating wineries does not warrant so cavernous a space. Nonetheless, I can’t gauge whether this event is gaining traction, declining, or simply maintaining its status quo. Over the past couple of years, I have become increasingly concerned over the attrition of attendance at nearly all the major tastings, hoping it is not a harbinger for the state of the wine industry itself nor, circumspectly, for Sostevinobile. Now I have even greater reasons for wanting to see groups like T.A.P.A.S. and Rhône Rangers thrive, as I am heading an effort to resurrect a similar organization for West Coast producers of Italian varietals. Look for an announcement about Risorgimento in an upcoming entry.

Of course, part of the pleasure of T.A.P.A.S. is simply the effort I must put in to make sure I have the correct orthography for the sundry Spanish and Portuguese varietals I taste my way through. And just when I think I’ve got a handle on every Tinta and Touriga out there, along comes Ron Silva, adding yet another indecipherable grape to the list! Still, the barrel sample of the 2010 Trincadeira his Alta Mesa Cellars provided proved a most delectable discovery.

18) Marie Antoinette Nichelini-Irwin had introduced me to Sauvignon Vert, a varietal I thought I had never tried until I learned it was the same grape as Tocai Friulano (as I am all too fond of saying, sempre i francese imitano gl’italiani). After Toni died last year, I thought that Irwin Family Vineyards might have been her legacy, but there is no correlation. This first generation endeavor made an impressive introduction with their 2008 Tempranillo Piedra Rioja Block 22, their sole production.
17A first-time entry from Lodi was Jeremy Wine Company, a relatively new hand-selected boutique venture from industry veteran Jeremy Trettevik, focused on both Italian and Iberian varietals. Here, the 2010 Albariño Lodi proved an exceptional introduction to this notable endeavor.
16) My friend John Monnich of Silkwood Wines would take affront, but I am all-too-fond of denigrating wines from Modesto as being a front for Ernest & Julio. Another exception to this blanket generalization is Duarte Georgetown, whose exceptional 2008 Divide Tempranillo El Dorado proved every bit as alluring as its highly commendable 2007 vintage.
15) The next time I decide to get lost in Winters, the Yolo County hamlet juxtaposed between the Napa Valley and UC-Davis, I will make every effort to track down Turkovich Family Wines (provided I can finally get GPS service or AT&T cellular reception anywhere in these environs). Meanwhile, I can only content myself with their stellar array of wines, led by the exceptional 2009 Tempranillo Yolo County.

14) Readers here know how much I gushed over the Reserve Chardonnay from Jarvis this past spring. Here, their virtuoso winemaking continued, the results very nearly as impressive with their exceptional 2009 Tempranillo Napa Valley.

13) No surprise that I would offer glowing reviews for the wines Markus Bokisch produces. This time round, their game never been as on as with their 2008 Graciano Mokelumne River, easily the best vintage produced of their signature red varietal.
12) Introducing Markus and his wife Liz to Matthew Rorick felt like an inkling of what the late Tom Dowd must have felt pairing Eric Clapton and Duane Allman. Hyperbolic praise? Not if you had sampled Forlorn Hope’s 2006 Mil Amores, yet another truly astounding blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cão, Tinta Amarella, and Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo).

Más a venir, even with less than a dozen bottles left…

33 bottles of wine on the wall, 33 bottles of wine…

Here’s an interesting statistic I recently uncovered: back when Your West Coast Oenophile started in the wine industry, Gallo commanded a 27.7% share of the domestic wine market. In those days, the other dominant players in the wine world were divisions of some of the world’s largest food & beverage producers: Heublein, which owned Inglenook, Italian Swiss Colony, and BV; Nestlé, which had Beringer; Seagram’s owned Paul Masson; Coca-Cola of New York controlled Franzia, Mogen David, and Tribuno, which later became the foundation of The Wine Group; Coca-Cola of Atlanta held Monterey Vineyards and Sterling, which they subsequently sold to Seagram’s.

Most of the wine then came in 3L jugs and magnums. What was most interesting, though, was the degree of conformity among these mega-producers. Everyone, of course, produced a White (labelled as Chablis), a Red (usually called some variation on Burgundy), and a Pink (either Rosé or Pink Chablis). Across the board, varietal bottlings consisted of the Big Eight, no matter where the winery was situated or what the soil and climate might warrant: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chenin Blanc for whites; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, and Napa Gamay (Valdiguié) for reds. And please—don’t even think to ask what passed for Sparkling Wine back then!

Even when Robert Mondavi founded Woodbridge to produce quality, affordable wines—again, mostly in 1.5L bottles—followed by the twin labels, Glen Ellen and M. J. Vallejo, that Benziger created, this same lineup remained compulsory (I still hold a particular fondness for Woodbridge’s “Bob White” and “Bob Red”). It wasn’t until the late 1980s, when a new strain of phylloxera forced nearly every winery to replant their vines, that current system of growing wines to reflect the character of the AVA and the particular terroir of a site became predominant.

Ironically, even with this more sophisticated focus, Napa retains the greatest degree of conformity, not to the old orthodoxy but to an extremely narrow concentration of varietals, predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, along with Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel, for the most part. Cabernets and Meritages are almost exclusively blended in accord with Bordeaux strictures, and the majority of varietal bottlings tend to derive from the other components of these assemblages: Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.The upside to this phenomenon, however, is that the wines tend to be damn, damn good!

33) Returning to my exploration of Oakville’s finest that I began in my previous installment, I was pleased to find the eclectic Flora Springs pouring here. Though both the winery and avant-garde tasting room are based in St. Helena, they source their quintet of Single Vineyard bottlings from various AVAs throughout the Napa Valley, with the exemplary 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Holy Smoke Vineyard representing the apex of their Oakville efforts.

32) I’d be remiss in not extolling the incredible wines Harlan’s other label, Bond poured. Like Flora Springs, this winery offers five single vineyard bottlings of Bordeaux blends they somewhat immodestly call their “Grand Crus,” though perhaps the 100 points Robert Parker awarded their 2007 Vecina gives warrant to this classification. Hyperbole or not, this Médoc-style vintage still presented a vastly impressive mastery of œnology.

31) It may rhyme with dud, but any comparison stops way before here. The extraordinary 2006 Oakville Estate Red from Rudd proved a multilayer
ed, nuanced wine, ripe and ready, yet easily ageworthy for a decade or longer.

30) Adding to the increasing obfuscation of yet another geographically-labeled wine operations within this sub-AVA, Oakville Cross nevertheless comprises an exceptional labor of love, a micro-estate planting of 2100 vines that yield their single offering, the highly prized 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. Truly a rare pleasure to enjoy.

29) DeSante has built a relatively young virtual winery that sources much of its fruit from Tierra Rioja and Raugh Family Vineyards in Oakville. Here, they proudly poured the pinnacle of their viticultural endeavors, the 2007 Oakville Terraces Cabernet Sauvignon, a scant 85 case bottling.

28) JP Harbison has offered boutique production of Cabernet Sauvignon for the past 10 years, sourcing fruit from a variety of Oakville sources to produce upwards of six barrels. Having planted enough vines on a Silverado Trail tract to yield 11 tons (~22 barrels), they debuted their 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon here, a delectable albeit early bottling.

27Volatility has been a phenomenon in the wine industry long before I founded Sostevinobile. The trials and tribulations of Cosentino Winery have been well documented elsewhere, and while their Lodi facilities have been shuttered, it was good to see that new owner Larry Soldinger decided to bring back founder Mitch Cosentino. Validating this decision was the quality of the wines poured here that still bore Mitch’s imprimatur, especially the 2008 Estate Merlot, a wine that nullifies any denigration of this Bordelaise varietal.

26) A few years back, I met Ronald Nicholson by chance at Jack Falstaff, the former PlumpJack enterprise where my friend Annette Yang (Nettie’s Crab Shack) held sway. Ron was hawking his fledgling wine operation, Kelham Vineyards,
door-to-door, and during the course of our conversation, he poured me a
glass of his inaugural Cabernet Sauvignon, which he was showcasing for the
sommelier. This day, however, I found myself particularly
cottoning to the 2003 Merlot, a wine that had reached a splendid peak eight years after its harvest.

25) Textbook Vineyards only sounds pedantic. OK, maybe their single effort, the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Mise en Place has a slightly abstruse tone to its nomenclature, but the wine easily rivals the more familiar Pinot Noirs this operation bottles under its Pey-Marin and Pey-Lucia labels.

24Teaderman, on the other hand, conveys more of a “come sit and put your feet up” aura. Its amiable wines emulate Bordelaise conventions, with the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc clearly standing out.

23) Speaking of Sauvignon Blanc, the progenitor of its alter ego, host winery Robert Mondavi, demonstrated no diminution of its prodigious viticultural artistry since its absorption by Constellation, showcasing a remarkable 2009 Fumé Blanc Reserve, a perfect wine to counterbalance the profusion of Cabernets that give Oakville it well-warranted cachet.

Now if only I could find a way to counterbalance the profusion of wines I inexorably sample for Sostevinobile and the endless flow of words with which I chronicle each…