2+2+2

Whew! With this entry, Your West Coast Oenophile can finally put September to rest. Not that I’m complaining, but sampling some 600-700 wines, attending nine major tastings—not to mention sustainable business & networking affairs like West Coast Green and SOCAPand then chronicling the entire panoply of events could render a man follicly challenged (if he weren’t already follicly challenged). Ironically, though, two of the most intriguing wines I had the pleasure of sampling this past month I encountered outside these tastings.

First was the 2009 Loureiro John Whitman from Old Creek Ranch sent me. The principal grape in Portugal’s Vinho Verde, it had an unexpected tartness that strained my ability to construe an apt food pairing. Online suggestions include tomato salads with vinaigrette or a roast Cornish game hen, but I suspect Fillet of Sole or grilled Tilapia might fit even better. In any case, a splendid bottling from one of California’s most diverse winemakers.

My other surprise came from Forlorn Hope, a winery upon which Sostevinobile has heaped oodles of praise. Winemaker Matt Rorick excels as few others have with Spanish varietals grown here in California, so it was quite revelatory to discover his 2007 Ost-Intrigen, a wine made from the Austrian varietal, St. Laurent (apparently only 97 vines are planted in the entire state)! Like the Loureiro, this wine defies categorization, though comparisons to Mokelumne Glen’s Zweigelt, which is a cross between St. Laurent and Lemberger, seem inevitable.

I encountered Matt’s wine purely by happenstance, in the midst of my investigation of , a new San Francisco eatery that dares to believe fidelity to locavore principles should extend to the wine list as well. Although it’s primarily a burger house, this relatively small establishment carries over 40 wines by the glass, all from California. Interestingly, rather that focus on a breadth of varietals, they try to offer a full range of offering from a few particular wineries—I think there were seven different wines from Forlorn Hope, for instance. Also following suit is Radius, a nearby fledgling operations in the former Julie’s Supper Club space, a restaurant and cafe that bills itself as “locally sourced, French inspired, California cuisine.” Here the modest local wine list includes wine by the glass, bottle service and vino alla spica—wines on tap from the small but growing number of wineries that provide this option. To both, Sostevinobile says “welcome to the club,” while in the same breath, we bid a sad farewell to Wayfare Tavern, which has capitulated and now feels compelled to carry a growing number of French vintages among its California-predominant wine list.

A final bit of news that readers outside the Bay Area may have missed is that summer finally arrived here—only days after the autumnal equinox! The heat wave of late September almost felt like it was compacting in as many degree-days over a long weekend as a full season usually accounts for, and this has had myriad implications—some good, some very bad—for the 2010 harvest. But at least the warmth allowed me finally to take a hike and swim to Bass Lake in Bolinas, a secluded treasure that has proven my haven in
times of stress dozens of times over the decades. A more pristine spot you could not find, and, fortunately, most people can’t find it!

I had hoped to drop by and visit Thackrey while I was in town, but too many obligations on either side of my Sunday hike limited my escape from diurnal duties. The day before, I drove in 100+ degree weather up to Hess Collection for the 11th Annual Mt. Veeder Appellation Wine Tasting. Twenty-one of Napa’s finest wineries poured their select vintages from grapes grown within the appellation in the sculpture garden that fronts Hess’ Visitors Center. With a moderate crowd on hand, the afternoon proved both manageable and thoroughly enjoyable.

Of course, being greeted by ever-ebullient Mary Yates at the check-in desk set the tone for the event, and so it just seemed appropriate to start off at her family’s table. Yates Family Vineyard produces less than 1000 cases of their own wine, including 100 cases of their 2009 Viognier, which readily soothed me after the hot drive from San Francisco. Their next wine, the 2007 Fleur de Mount Veeder, proved a paramount example that Merlot, made properly, can be a superlative wine, and while I felt this particular bottling stood out among their wines today, the 2007 Cheval, a Cabernet Franc, came not far behind. 2006 has generally proven a weaker vintage than its successor, and, while impressed, I felt the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon was not quite the equal of its Bordeaux brethren at the table. Nonetheless, the 2006 Alden Perry Reserve, a Pomérol-style blend of 50% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 8% Cabernet Franc proved a luscious wine.

Because of the Mt. Veeder-grown restriction, several of the wineries could only represent themselves with a single wine. Nonetheless, I found ample incentive for further exploration of Mount Veeder Winery, based on their 2005 Reserve (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec) and Renteria, with their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Tambor Vineyard, softened with 3% Syrah by winemaker Karen Culler. Brian & Lori Nuss’ Vinoce featured their self-referential 2006 Vinoce Mount Veeder Estate. O’Shaughnessy Estate  showcased their pure 2007 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon, a stark contrast from their 2007 Howell Mountian Cabernet Sauvignon I have previously reviewed. And, if they produced more than one wine besides 100 cases of their superb 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, I would keenly pursue the other bottlings of Paratus.

For the most part, Mount Veeder focuses on Cabernet and other Bordelaise varietals, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, a bit of Sauvignon Blanc, and a smattering of Rhône Grapes. Today’s one exception to this orthodoxy was Random Ridge, with its 2007 Fortunata, a Super Tuscan that is 90% Sangiovese; I also found the separate components of this bottling, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2004 Cabernet Franc, highly appealing. Otherwise, even the iconoclasts at Y. Rousseau, which continues to excel with their 2009 Colombard Old Vines from the Russian River Valley, stayed within bounds with their very fine 2008 Chardonnay and the 2008 Le Roi, a Cabernet Sauvignon.

It was good to see several familiar faces here from a number of different tastings I had attended in the past year. I’d met Dominique Scaggs at last year’s CCOF Organic Beer, Wine & Spirit Tasting and had raved about her 2008 Vineyard Rosé. Call it the heat—this time, the blush Grenache seemed quite good but not as stratospheric as I had recalled. Nonetheless, her 2007 Mount Veeder Montage, a Mourvèdre-dominated GMS blend gradually opened up to reveal a superlative wine. Marketta Formeaux was a familiar face from the discontinued Napa Valley with Altitude tasting and continued to impress with her Hand Made label; an undeclared “natural wine” producer, she poured a hig
hly approachable 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, an admirable 2006 Mt. Veeder Blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot), and her standout, the 2005 Mt. Veeder Chardonnay. And for the third time this month, I sampled Lagier Meredith, this time pouring a 2009 Rosé of Syrah, a likable 2006 Syrah, and the preferable 2007 Syrah.

I hadn’t previously heard of Jake-Ryan Cellars, but was please to try their 2006 Syrah Napa Valley, as well as a standout 2007 Zinfandel Bald Mountain Vineyard. It turns out to be my first encounter, too, with Lokoya Winery, an enterprise that has received enormous accolades for its vineyard-designate Cabernets from each of Napa’s mountain AVAs (Spring Mountain, Diamond Mountain, Howell Mountain, and, of course Mt. Veeder). While none of their Cabs were on hand for this tasting, I found their 2007 Cardinale Merlot and the 2007 Malbec both excellent.

Another multi-mountain specialist, Robert Craig, needs no introduction, yet I found the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder an intense, complex wine. Presaging how this wine portends to develop, he also pour his 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine close to its peak of excellence. Godspeed Vineyards dug back even further, showcasing their striking 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon, from a vintage that had originally been deemed inferior, as well as a noteworthy 2001 and 2003 bottling. Lest they seem mired in the past, they also pour the 2008 Chardonnay.

1997 was thought to be the vintage of the decade, yet the 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon Mayacamas Vineyards poured paled in comparison to their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Likewise, I greatly preferred the 2007 Chardonnay to the 2000 Chardonnay, though I admired how well it had held up for 10 years. Meanwhile, both the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2006 Merlot proved more than pleasant. Rubissow poured a substantial selection of their current wines, all of even consistency: the 2006 Merlot, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2005 Trompette, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Their standout, however, was the 2005 Sargent Reserve, an exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon.

I count on LaTour for consistent performance, and found nothing to dissuade me in either the 2007 Chardonnay or the 2006 Syrah they poured. Syrah specialists Spotted Owl proved their mettle as well, with the 2006 Lev’s Cuvée and the 2007 Alexandria’s Cuvée, as well as with their 2007 Mountain Cuvée, a Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon blend.

I confess I found both the 2009 Chardonnay and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Fontanella somewhat lackluster. So, too, were the basic 2008 Chardonnay and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from host Hess Collection. From their Small Block series, however, the 2007 Block 19 Cuvée proved an extraordinary wine, a deft blend of 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Malbec, 4% Syrah, 4% Merlot, and 1% Petit Verdot every bit as profound as the art collection for which this winery is famed.

I did linger a bit, once the event had wrapped up, to explore the collection a bit and sample a few of Hess’ other wines, but, by now, time was truly of the essence, as I had fallen behind in chronicling my seven previous September tastings and still had another to cover. And, besides, I had a long-overdue date with Ba
ss Lake the next morning.


September culminated in the Première Coombsville Trade & Media Tasting at the posh Napa Valley Country Club. This soon-to-be certified sub-AVA encompasses 11,000 acres from the eastern bank of the Napa River to the western edge of the Vaca Range. Some had preferred this region be called Tulocay, but the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau denied their petition. With this controversy laid to rest, 21 Coombsville wineries eagerly participated in this afternoon’s gathering.

Now if only every other tasting provided such a thorough event program detailing not only the participating wineries but also each of the wines they were featuring—with ample space for taking notes—it’s possible (though not highly probable) that I might wind my way through this blog in a quasi-timely fashion! Of course, in the not-so-distant future, an electronic guide one could navigate and annotate on an iPad would serve just as well—if not better, considering I can barely read my own handwriting these days!

Flipping through this booklet, I randomly selected Inherit the Sheep for my first stop. It’s a quirky name, with an equally quirky label, and while I truly wonder whether I could order a bottle of this wine in a restaurant while managing to keep a straight face, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon proved itself a serious wine, albeit a bit tight (no sheep pun intended). Owner Tersilla Gregory also previewed her 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, another 200 case production that displayed incredible promise while, at the same time, being eminently drinkable now.

Many of the wineries here this day fell within the sub-1000 case level, if not significantly smaller. Black Cat, with just over 500 cases, typified this category, handcrafting their three stellar wines, the 2007 Estate Syrah, a notable 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2006 Cuvée, a deft blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Syrah. Another such boutique, organic winemaker Tournesol featured their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2006 Proprietor’s Blend, a mix of predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot and minor portions of Petit Verdot and Malbec. Weighing in at 600 cases, Sciandri poured their sole effort, the 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and its burgeoning successor, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Other Cab only ventures include the 250 case production of Le Chanceux; their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Belles Filles Vineyard has developed into an exceptional wine, while the 2007 vintage portends even further greatness. Marita’s Vineyard showcased their twin small-production wines, the 2005 Marita’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and the equally-appealing 2005 Soma Cabernet Sauvignon.

In 2005, with his wife Lisa, Jarvis winemaker Ted Henry launched Prime Cellars, believing Coombsville to offer a prime location for their winery. Certainly, their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Midoriya Hills Vineyard has validated this assumption, while their 2007 District 4 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2008 District 4 Chardonnay did much to underscore it. Another Coombsville pioneer, Daviana, showed a strong 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Red Wine, a (roughly) 3:2 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc; their standout, however, was the 2007 Cabernache,
which is not Neapolitan slang but a fusion of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache
.

Among Coombsville’s better-known wineries lies Palmaz Vineyards, in the foothills of Mt. George. This gravity-flow facility (no mechanical pumps) boasts the world’s largest underground reinforced structure in its fermentation dome. But such interesting factoids need be subordinate to the actual appreciation for the wine, which proved quite remarkable in both the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Cedar Knoll Vineyards and the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Palmaz Vineyards. Coombsville’s Ancien Wines seemed almost Carneros-like on this afternoon, dazzling with its 2008 Pinot Noir Mink Vineyard, backed by their 2007 Pinot Noir Haynes Vineyard and the 2007 Napa Chardonnay.And while Silverado Vineyards is actually a Stags Leap District winery, its properties in Coombsville bore the fruit that comprised the 2006 Mount George Merlot and its successive vintage.

Interestingly, two of the wineries here produce wine as a philanthropic venture. My friend Lauren Ackerman’s winery has produced a single annual Cabernet since 2003 and donated the net proceeds to the Napa Valley Community Foundation. Here they poured a vertical of their past three vintages, with a decided nod toward the middle selection, the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon; the recently added 2007 Alavigna Tosca is a superb blend Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon I was eager to resample, as well. Dickhaus Valley Vineyards is primarily a grapegrower but bottles an annual Meritage that they donate to charitable events; while I felt the need to be charitable toward their 2007 vintage, the 2006 Coombsville Hillside Bordeaux Estate Blend was a delightful wine. Dickhaus also poured a couple of wines other vintners had produced from their grapes, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Coombsville from Hesperian and the very approachable 2007 Right Bank Blend, a Cheval Blanc homage of 75% Cabernet Franc & 25% Merlot, from Sullivan Vineyards.

Speaking of Merlot, I found Blue Oak Vineyards lone pour, the 2007 Estate Merlot, downright excellent. And I suppose I would have liked the delightful 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from Burly simply based on its name (despite this afternoon’s decidedly ectomorphic server). And based on the delights of his 2007 Rocket Science, a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, and Carménère, I am eager to sample the varietal bottlings of the six principal Bordeaux reds and Tannat that owner John Caldwell described so floridly.

Normally, I would not associate Merlot with salmon, but Coho Wines is a different case. Of course, it seems almost obligatory that they produce a Russian River Pinot Noir, which I have yet to try, but I delighted in their Coombsville offerings, including both the 2006 Merlot Michael Black Vineyard and its softer successor, the 2007 Merlot Michael Black Vineyard. While not officially being released until November, their 2008 Headwaters, a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and around 30% Merlot, with Petit Verdot added for roundness, proved a wine of tremendous promise. Also with a pre-release of a fauna-inspired label, Porter Family Vineyards masterfully blended Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to make their 2007 Sandpiper Red. Their 2009 Sandpiper Rosé (of Syrah) hedged a bit on the fruity side, but I found both their 2007 Syrah and the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon (blended with 12% Syrah and 3% Merlot) compelling, handsome wines.

Winemaker Dawnine Dyer’s skilled touch evidenced itself in both wines Sodaro Estate produces: the 2006 Felicity Cabernet Sauvignon, which contains 8% Merlot, 7% Malbec and 7%
Petit Verdot, and the striking 2006 Estate Blend, a wine that more evenly marries the same four varietals. Kirk Venge crafts wines for Frazier Winery also focused on the principal Bordelaise varietals, and while I found both the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Cabernet Franc rather insubstantial, I did relish the 2007 Merlot and particularly liked the 2007 Memento Cabernet Sauvignon.

My last sampling of the afternoon featured another seasoned industry veteran, Tom Farella, with his esteemed Farella-Park label. His wines ranged from the very good—the 2009 La Luce Sauvignon Blanc—to the flat-out excellent 2006 Coombsville Divide Merlot. In between, both the 2006 Road Lock Syrah and the 2006 West Face Cabernet Sauvignon presented superb œnology. Bottled separately under the Farella label, the 2006 Alta, a proprietary blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot, stood equal to these other reds.

As with the Mt. Veeder tasting, the Coombsville Première immensely pleased me for orchestrating a well-planned event that posed little difficulty in navigating, while restricting itself to few enough wineries to allow me to sample each and spend quality time interfacing with their principals. Plus, it proved highly productive to discover so many wineries that had yet to be included in Sostevinobile’s ever-expanding roster. And with that, my arduous slate of nine full-scale September tastings came to a close.

I hadn’t brought my golf clubs along (but probably would have been daunted by the 108°F temperature if I had); I did have a bathing suit on hand, and seriously contemplated hopping in the pool before leaving. Instead, I thought better and decided to wait until I reached Bay Club Marin, where I could swim legitimately. Later that evening, I needed to confront a pair of interlopers intent on turning Sostevinobile’s preferred location into a pool hall, but that is a drama that will likely unfold in a future instillation here.

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