Although Sostevinobile has been exclusively focused on wine, Your West Coast Oenophile began dabbling with other libations long before my embarking on my current pursuit. In fact, even before I attempted to launch Thousand Points of Light Wines and the would-be predecessor to Ca’ del Solo, Château Lompoc, I had crafted the renowned Fook Yu (福于) at the dim sum restaurant where I bartended during my starving artist phase. A variation on the classic Slow Comfortable Screw Against the Wall, this potent concoction never failed to exact peals of laughter from my waitstaff any time someone would order one.
I’ve dabbled with other cocktails over the years, at home or with restaurants, including the Tai Da (太大) I have chronicled here previously. But my Holy Grail remains TheManhattan Project, or, as I fondly describe it, an atomic-strength Manhattan. The recipe is somewhat simple: Sweet Vermouth, bitters, and a Rye (or bourbon) in the 140° range. Commercially, I’ve had a fondness for Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye, which has come in as high as 132.4° or its fellow Buffalo Trace Antique Collection bourbon, George T. Stagg, which topped out at 144.1° in 2016. Since my plan, however, is to release this blend as a pre-mixed cocktail in a fitting countertop dispenser, I am prone, however, to contract a local craft distillery for an unlabeled, proprietary cask-strength whiskey.
Throughout the time I have been nurturing this concept, I have been hung up on finding (or creating) the perfect bitters to go into this cocktail. My choice for Vermouth, however, as never wavered: Quady’s VYA Sweet Vermouth. Andy Quady may have shifted his personal focus to his Oregon facility, Quady North, where he produces still wine, but his Madera (not to be confused with Madeira) facility still produces the finest selection of artisanal apéritifs in California.
During this damned COVID-19 lockdown, I began experimenting with different blends for my eventual release, including alternative vermouths from California. To be honest, Gallo’s Lo-FiSweet Vermouth left me looking somewhat askance, and while their and Steven Grasse’s restrained approach has merit, it would definitely require a strongly-flavored bitters to give this cocktail any semblance of distinction beyond its hotness. To my surprise, however, the complexity of Andy’s blend obviated the need for bitters at all—in fact, when I added bitter in some trials, they marred the flavor of the drink.
So now my path forward is clear. Select a craft distiller and find a 3-D model maker to design a polished version of my Fat Man dispenser. If onluy the pandemic would hurry up and end and let bars reopen…
As readers of these sporadic postings realize, Your West Coast Oenophilecontinues to plug away in discovering off-the-map wineries and nascent wine labels to add to the comprehensive database Sostevinobile is creating for our wine-by-the-glass and reserve lists. I would really prefer to be on the road far more often than I have been, visiting all the various AVAs that dot the three West Coast states—not to mention possible inclusions of such bordering regions as the Guadalupe Valley and Okanagan BC. Fortunately, the various major trade tastings, like next week’s Rhône Rangers, afford me the opportunity to visit with numerous wineries from regions I have only explored peripherally.
Recently, a couple of my affiliated wine undertakings—building wine programs for a handful of local restaurants and producing wine tastings for Ivy league alumni groups—redrew my attention to a slew of wineries producing Italian varietals in Riverside’s Temecula Valley. Many of my fellow members of the Nebbiolo Enthusiasts and Believers (NEB) hold a deep skepticism over the potential of this region, and I concede I am hardly in a position to refute them. Much to my chagrin, I have scant little familiarity with most of the wines produced here, and have only visited a small sliver of the AVA on a drive-through several years before I launched Sostevinobile.
Still, I want to believe Temecula can become an important wine producer. Not surprisingly, the AVA is abundantly planted with varietals generally associated with warmer climates, like Vermentino, Tempranillo, Nero d’Avola, and Sangiovese. But here you also find wineries like Cougar and Ponte that are in the vanguard for a number of decidedly esoteric varietals planted nowhere else on the West Coast: Falanghina, Coda di Volpe, Ciliegiolo, Piedirosso, Lambrusca di Alessandria, Brachetto d’Acqui, and—is it a wine or a cheese?—Pecorino. Sound like high time I hit the road.
To many readers, these varietals may seem adventurous, perhaps even esoteric (some, I’m sure, regard any Italian varietal, other than Pinot Grigio, as esoteric). For many others, the divergent selections poured at the recent rendition of Seven % Solution, constitute eclecticism. Sostevinobile, of course, is on a mission to source as many of these wines as we can find; as such, exotic is not a term that comes to mind with any of the wines I have encountered. Nonetheless, I would categorize a handful of producers as niche specialists, wineries that eschew the mainstream categories of still wines and limit themselves to crafting wine variants. Though technically a distillery, Ukiah’s Germain-Robin is probably the most reputed of this lot, pioneering the production of varietal alembic brandies (actually, a cognac, were it not for the restrictions of the 2006 EU pact). Also in Mendocino, Scharffenberger and Roederer make superb sparkling wines, while Napa’s St. Barthélemy bottles an array ports fortified with specialized distillates from the same varietal. Other North Coast producers include Prager Port Works in St. Helena and Sonoma Portworks in Petaluma. Unique even among this subset, Quady Winery in Madera only produces infused and fortified wines, ports, vermouths, and even a sherry (though, curiously, not a Madeira).
I have known Andy Quady for several years now and have long championed his Vya Vermouth—the sweet version, along with 136° Thomas Handy Sazerac, forms the base of my atomic cocktail recipe, The Manhattan Project. For sheer decadence, however, his dessert wines, based on a range of Moscato varietals are without peer. I have enjoyed earlier vintages of the 2014 Elysium, 2014 Essentia, 2015 Electra, and 2015 Red Electra on numerous occasions, but was only introduced to their seductive apéritif, the NV Deviation, an Orange Muscat infused with Rose Geranium and Damiana, at the recent Wine Warehousetrade tasting a couple of weeks back. Granted, the setting at Fort Mason hardly allowed for experiencing “the aphrodisiac powers of Damiana,” but the effect was perceptible.
Andy’s other revelation this afternoon was his homage to Amontillado, the NV Palomino Fino, a barrel-aged sherry produced from this relatively-obscure varietal. I could wax Poe-etically about this wine interminably, but suffice it to say that it has been progressively produced as a solera since its inception in 2002.
Only a handful of wineries in California vinify a solera-style wine, including Tackitt in Templeton, a Tempranillo from Geyserville’s Mercury, Lodi’s Berghold, Heritage Oak, and OZV, Cabernet soleras from ZD Wines in Napa and Le Cuvíer in Paso Robles, and a Late Harvest Zinfandel Vineyard 29 identifies as a “modified solera.”
Several weeks back, while attending CUESA’s grape-growing panel, How Green is Your Wine?, at the Ferry Plaza Building, I came upon a 400-case boutique venture from Santa Cruz, the whimsically macabre-named Condor’s Hope. There, alongside his biodynamically-farmed Syrah and Zinfandel, vintner Steve Gleissman produces a solera-style sherry from his Pedro Ximénez! This varietal, of course, is in no way related to José Jiménez, but in all my years developing Sostevinobile(plus the previous 25 years I spent with other wine involvements), I had never come across this grape. But, just as I was about to concede that Steve had finally stumped me, I discovered that Bill Nachbaur’s Alegría Vineyard contains Pedro Ximénez vines, as well as Palomino, among the 60 varietals he has planted!
Unfortunately, that leaves me with 25 more varietals yet to be sampled and catalogued for our eventual roster…