Whither Bambi Francisco?

Somehow, Your West Coast Oenophile managed to lose track of Bambi Francisco at the 2009 Wine 2.0 Expo last Thursday. Because this gathering showcased the convergence of wine and technology, I could have thought up a highly inventive way to signal her, like Tweeting “tell Bambi I’m standing by the Cameron Hughes table” from my iPhone or by logging onto the Web app Nirvino had set up for the event and wryly posting “2007 Inman Family Russian River Valley Pinot Gris would sure taste great if Bambi were tasting it here with me” on their overhead screen. But like esprit de l’escalier, the notion didn’t occur to me until well after I had left.

Of course, I hadn’t been invited to this tasting to renew my acquaintance with this intrepid reporter, so while she filmed her podcast, I moseyed about the various nooks and crannies at Crushpad, searching for memorable wines to add to our growing roster at Sostevinobile and to include in this blog (a fairly formidable task, given the somewhat chaotic layout of the vent and program guide). Naturally, I first found myself at the table for Classic Malts of Scotland, where the temptation of Lagavulin 16 Year Old proved…too tempting.
Admittedly, it takes a few moments to cleanse one’s palate from the taste of Single Islay Malt Scotch, so let me take this time to explain what the intersection of wine and technology is not. At the bottom of the list, one would have to cite the automatonic wonder known as The Winepod™. This impersonal contraption has been billed as “George Jetson, Meet Winemaker” and could only come from the aesthetic void known as San Jose—throw in the grapes, flip on the switch and await your technologically perfect wine. Suitable, of course, to be dispensed in discrete 1 oz. shots at the nadir of the wine tasting experience, the late and not especially lamented VinoVenue. Technology, however, does offer the possibility of enveloping more people into the richness of the wine experience, and, as it has become the lingua franca of the under-35 set, there is much to be said for the virtues of marrying social networking and web-based communities to the sheer joy of œnophilia.
So onward to the wines I discovered (given the utter randomness of listings in the program guide, the order of my selections will likely seem splenetic). First up, though not because he invited me to the upcoming Pinot Days Grand Festival Steve Rigisch poured a pair of truly excellent 2007 Russian River Pinot Noirs, from Olson Ogden and his own Ketcham Estate. If this was a prelude to the June gathering, I am bound to be euphoric. 
Post-prandial fare came early Thursday evening, with a 2004 Port of Pinot Noir, which 122° West Winery calls Sonoma County Dessert Wine. Their 2006 Napa Valley Sangiovese was equally impressive. Strains of The Deuces’ WPLJ (not the Long Island radio station) echoed through my head with my taste of Rick Kasmier’s White Port of Chardonnay, a wine that may well become timely in the midst of this economic neo-depression. In a similar vein, I admit I cringed before tasting his Kaz Vineyards 2008 Stimulus (seems every advertiser these days feels compelled to use this term in their promotions), but with a lineup that includes Lenoir, Malbec, Barbera and DeChaunac, I suspect a trip to his Kenwood tasting room will soon be in order.
In stark contrast to Kaz’ 27 varietal offerings, Bedarra Vineyards from Dry Creek Valley produces a mere 250 cases of a single wine. Their second vintage, a 2007 Chardonnay, showed tremendous promise. Meanwhile, making their first California foray, Y Rousseau Wines presented their understated yet refreshing 2008 Russian River Valley Colombard Old Vines.
Similar modesty was not to be found in Walla Walla’s lone representative, Wines of Substance. While their labels cheekily borrows from Breaking Bad’s twist on the Periodic Table, their wines are anything but chemical in composition or taste, with both 2007 Riesling and their 2007 Merlot ably displaying why Washington excels in these particular varietals.
Loyal readers of this blog well know my partiality for the Italian interpretation of most cultural expressions or phenomena. Naturally, I gravitated to Dono dal Cielo’s table, where I was delighted with both the 2006 and 2007 versions of their Newcastle (the California hamlet, not Newcastle-on-Tyne, the more renowned British brewery enclave) Zinfandel. Of greater fidelity, Due Vigne di Famiglia offer a quartet of wines, punctuated by their salubrious 2006 Nebbiolo and my predilection a 2005 Dolcetto.
It would have been wonderful if Michael Giarraputo had been able to speak with me in Italian, but his Think Tank Wine Company is quiet conversant in the sustainable values Sostevinobile espouses. His 2007 La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir is an excellent organic expression of Santa Rita Hills’ signature varietal. Another winery aiming at a different kind of appeal, Courtesan Wines, echoed the highly romanticized version of this Venetian archetype, so sensually portrayed in Dangerous Beauty. Hints of sensuality were abundant in both the 2006 Courtesan (Cabernet Sauvignon) and 2006 Brigitte (Merlot), both hailing from Oakville. The big O of the evening, however, was O’Brien Estate, whose 2006 Seduction is a Bordeaux-style blend that lived up to the promise of its name. Their 2007 Chardonnay was also a worthy counterpart.
A Palo Alto venture, Cannonball Wine Company, inspired me to whip out my iPhone 3G and play the immortal saxophonist’s Mercy, Mercy, Mercy. Their 2006 Cannonball Cabernet was a deft blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah from a decidedly unkosher mélange of four vineyards in Dry Creek, Mendocino and Paso Robles. A more traditional blend was the 2005 Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon from Lancaster Estate, a stellar Bordeaux-style assemblage of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec, 2% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot.
It’s a rare treat when a wine looks as good as it tastes. The labels Eric Kent Cellars commissions for their wines are vibrant, evocative and well-suited to their portfolio of Chardonnay, Syrah, and Pinot Noir from Sonoma. Most memorable of the evening was their 2006 Dry Stack Vineyard Syrah, a stellar Bennett Valley vintage with and equally memorable label from artist Colin Day.
Some people are drawn to wines by their rating points from Robert Parker or Wine Spectator. I tend to succumb to those wineries that can offer something contrarian in nature, as demonstrated by Delgadillo Cellars, which was just now releasing its 2001 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon! A splendid Old Vine Cabernet, this wine came closest to warranting the highly coveted .
I topped off the evening with a return to the Classic Malts of Scotland table and, later, an unanticipated (and soon to be contested) rendezvous with the traffic constabulary from the SFPD. Though highly improbable, I can categorically state that a late-night encounter with the elusive Ms. Francisco would have been far preferable. Then again, she never did show up that time for the showdown on the squash court she had always promised…

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