Remains of the day

Your West Coast Oenophile was thrilled to be chosen as one of the judges for this year’s USA Wine Ratings competition. Coupled with being named a Top 100 Food & Beverage Leader by the 2021 Global Summit on All-Things Food, it feels like Sostevinobile is finally receiving major professional recognition.

It’s no revelation that little, if anything, has been normal in 2020, and wine judging has been no exception. Rather than gathering at a central hall or facility and having wines pour for us, judges had to handle all their designated wines individually and remotely. Though enjoyable, these new (and hopefully temporary) parameters proved rather laborious, and the lack of camaraderie did somewhat dampen the process. Nonetheless, I diligently made my way through the entire process, as verified by the volume of my spill bucket after judging 72 wines this past weekend. 

And no, I am not about to try chugging it. Admittedly, there are superficial similarities: balding, bearded, Ivy educated, underappreciated writer, oenophile. But I do NOT look like Paul Giamatti—though many have insisted.

A few years ago, I finally made it to Hitching Post, the renowned Buellton restaurant prominently featured in Sideways. As I walked into the bar, I announced “if anyone calls me Miles, they’re getting punched out!”

Just to be sure, I ordered a Merlot.

 

The Robert Oppenheimer of mixology

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 The Manhattan 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. 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-Fi Sweet 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…

 

 

 

 

GSM or FSG?

Your West Coast Oenophile is still struggling to figure out how Sostevinobile can emerge once this seemingly inexorable pandemic comes to an end and the unbearable restrictions of the New Normal have subsided. Current conditions have made visiting wineries untenable for me—I normally drop by without onerous reservations and engage the owner or winemaker for extended discussions, not formal tastings.

And so I am currently reduced to serendipitous discoveries through diurnal culinary exploits—my lockdown “hobby”—from my haphazard search for undiscovered wines at San Francisco’s sundry liquor purveyors. Know that long before I started Sostevinobile, I have been an impassioned champion of Mourvèdre. My first serious exposure to this varietal came from one of the sporadic offerings of Mataro from Ridge, further cementing my belief that their bottlings of various Rhône varietals and other deviations from their Monte Bello and their renowned Zinfandel program really constitute the hallmarks of this winery.

Whether a wine is labelled Mourvèdre or Monastrell or Mataro, the grape is still relatively rare to find as a single varietal here in California, though there has been a notable recent resurgence, particularly in Paso Robles and with specialists like Hardy Wallace’s Dirty & Rowdy. Most people will probably recognize Mourvèdre as a component in GSM blends here and in Château-Neuf  du  Pape or Côtes du Rhône. But nearly all of these wines are Syrah or Grenache focused, with Mourvèdre relegated to relative obscurity. In other words, the Holy Ghost of the GSM Trinity.

I tend to think of Mourvèdre as a wine meant to be enjoyed on its own, like Lagrein or Charbono, not primarily as a complement to food. But with more time on my hands than I often know what to do with, I find myself tinkering with even my tried & true recipes. An abundance of ripe Heirloom Tomatoes at Golden Gate Farmers Market in the Outer Richmond allowed me to substitute for Roma Tomatoes in my regular marinara sauce, with extraordinary result. This easily proved to be the most sublimely balanced sauce I can recall ever making.

But the true revelation came with the bottle of Mourvèdre I casually selected for my pasta that evening. On its own, Cline’s 2018 Ancient Vines Mourvèdre stands as a perfectly amiable wine, sourced from the Contra Costa AVA that produces a number of distinctive Rhône bottlings (though the region does not feature an abundance of wineries, its grapes are highly prized and sourced throughout the North Coast). I easily could have put up my feet and polished off a bottle while watching Netflix, but the food pairing proved utterly transformative. Not in the way one normally thinks of an astounding food-wine blend, the way many Italian wines are made to produce. Rather than balancing the wine, the pasta seemingly changed its character, from the smooth, slightly fruity uniformity I seek in a Mourvèdre to the rich complexity of a Cabernet Sauvignon. Had I not known what was in my glass, I might even had guessed it was a Meritage.

I made Pizza Napoletana a couple of night later, using the same sauce. True to form, the pizza exceeded all my previous endeavors, but the wine merely held to its varietal character, however. Guess I should have picked up a second bottle of the Cline.

Helter Shelter (in place)

Your West Coast Oenophile realizes Sostevinobile has been absent from the blogosphere for quite a few months now. And to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure it will emerge from the pandemic lockdown intact. My design for our looming brick & mortar operations has always been large-scale; can it be adapted to the “New Normal” successfully? How long will the burdens of social distancing be upon us?

The absence of trade tastings since March has been a major nadir of the pandemic. So, too, has been the onerous restrictions placed on wineries and their tasting rooms. From my standpoint, I cannot conduct my usual business with winemakers with free interaction curtailed, nor can I justify seeking trade accommodations when the availability of paid tastings is so dear.

So while I while my time waiting for the wine world to return, I have been reviving my culinary chops. Over the past three months, I’ve dabbled with an eclectic mix: pasta, pizza, ravioli, risotto, sushi, Wonton soup, stir fry, calamari, scungilli, octopus, sturgeon, oyster, clams, pesto, marinara, Char Siu, teriyaki, mignonette, fennel, green papaya, olive bread, jackfruit bread, cake, ice cream, gelato, spare ribs, sausage, bone marrow, wild boar, tripe, veal cutlets, and, most recently, duck.

THE DUCK DID NOT DIE IN VAIN!

My favorite market on Clement Street features fresh, whole duck at $2.99/lb. After deftly butchering the carcass, I wound up with the constituent parts for two Seared Duck Breasts,  two Char Siu Duck Legs, ½ cup of rendered Duck Fat, and three quarts of Duck Stock. (Frankly, I am disinclined to try my hand at cooking the feet. And as for the head, it wasn’t offal)!

If the duck hadn’t come gutted, I could have made paté from its liver and braised the gizzard, the true delicacy this bird offers. Every year, on the Friday before Thanksgiving every November, Peter Palmer and Farallon puts on PinotFest, a comprehensive but by no means exhaustive tasting from 60 of Oregon and California’s premier Pinot Noir producers. For me, however, the absolute highlight this annual event has long been the Duck Gizzard Meatballs, sourced from Sonoma County Poultry in Petaluma.

I was first introduced to Jennifer Reichardt as the fiancée of Mike Dmytrenko, the assistant winemaker at Radio-Coteau, a standout winery at PinotFest and one which I featured when I produced Brown & Its Winemakers for my grad school’s alumni association. I would have happily cottoned to her simply because her father is the founding farmer behind the Liberty Ducks that Sonoma Poultry exclusively raises, but subsequently she has established her own label, Raft Wines, as one of California’s leading Italian varietal producers. (So now will she tell me where she sources her Molinara, Corvina, and Rondinella)? 😁

I suspect New May Wah Market obtains its ducks, though quite fresh, from a different supplier, but since this was my first time working with water fowl, I coöpted Jim Reichardt’s recipe for the spice rub. Served with Wild Rice I simmered in a crab broth, this turned out to be one of the finest dinners so far in my COVID-19 culinary renaissance.

I frequently raise the hackles of my fellow wine professionals by citing the specter of  Pinot Fatigue in referring to its inundation from 700+ producers on the West Coast. That, and my umbrage at being compared to Miles Raymond—I do NOT look anything like Paul Giamatti—cause me a bit of aversion when it comes to selecting a wine to accompany my dinner. But with Grocery Outlet selling off its allocation of Moshin Vineyards’ 2013 Pinot Noir North Coast for $8.99 (vs. $58!), I could hardly refuse.

The pairing proved splendid enough I  actually shelled out for another bottle to go with the Duck and King Oyster Mushroom Sausage I cranked out from the meat I flayed from the left over bones.

I wanna take you higher?

Contrary to what many may have believed back in the day, marijuana was never the vice of choice for Your West Coast Oenophile. Not that I didn’t occasionally indulge during my boarding school and college days; it’s just that it always made me tired and, frankly, was quite harsh on the lungs. In edible form, the experience was far more pleasant, though it didn’t exactly enhance the flavor of brownies. Or caramel. Recently, however, I inadvertently tried a cannabis gummy with 10 mg. THC. Tasty, yes, but as for the effects…

I don’t know whether my friend mentioned it was infused when she offered me a “candy” or if  I wasn’t paying attention. Shortly thereafter, we took off on a shopping expedition, in search of the shrimp and oysters I needed for my Cajun pasta specialty. We combed the seafood and produce markets throughout the Inner Richmond portion of Clement Street, arguably the best food shopping district in San Francisco (even if their prices for Dungeness crab remain extraordinarily inflated this season). As per usual, New May Wah Supermarket amply met our needs and then some, filling our bags with an assortment of Korean pears, star apples, and other exotic fruits.

From there we ventured to the in-store pharmacy at the nearby Lucky’s, where I get my prescription for “rejuvenating pills” filled. Normally, this would be a two-minute stop, but a glitch with my new insurance turned it into an excruciatingly long excursion. As I waited for the druggist to resolve the computer issues, it seemed like things were getting blurry, while mu head started throbbing the way it typically does when I stand for any prolonged period under fluorescent lighting. Only the lighting here wasn’t fluorescent.

I tried to shrug it off and figured I would feel OK once I left the store—my usual remedy in these situations. But the fogginess only grew stronger. The drive back to my flat seemed interminable. I knew where I was heading and had little issue with operating my vehicle, but the 10-block route back to Lower Pacific Heights seemed to go on for miles. Inside, I struggled to see clearly—why couldn’t the dimmer switch turn up full? Becoming exceedingly irritable, I came close to shouting at my companion for crowding me, or so it seemed, in the kitchen as prepped the sauce and cranked out the angel hair noodles on my Atlas pasta maker.

How I completed this undertaking remains a mystery to me still. I coated the pan with olive oil, instead of butter, compelling me to start the sauce from scratch once again. Next I managed to sauté the garlic and onions far too long, browning the slivers beyond the point of palatability. I overcooked the shrimp and nearly forgot to stir  in the spices I had meticulously blended beforehand. Worst of all, my pasta dough refused to congeal easily; I landed up with mounds of fragmented 3″ strands, instead of elegant, attenuated noodles that I anticipated rolling out.

The meal would never have passed muster in a fine dining establishment, but my guest seemed indifferent to its flaws, perhaps on account of over  2½ bottles of wine that we polished off throughout the dinner. Whatever got us through the meal, we eventually had our fill and toddled off to bed.

In the morning, I felt no worse for the wear and even managed to brew an artful pot of coffee while fixing a couple bowls of instant oatmeal. Over the course of breakfast, I mentioned how weird I had felt that evening and apologized for having been so testy. “It was probably the cannabis gummy I gave you,” she proffered. And thus, it all came into focus—in a manner of speaking.

But here’s the takeaway from this episode. Even if I had knowingly ingested this dose of THC, I would not have enjoyed the experience. The effects were not relaxing. I was disoriented at a level I experience when greatly overindulging with wine or with cocktails, not the pleasant yet coherent mood alteration a glass or two may bring. And the effect was not gradual or immediate; rather, it crept up on me unexpectedly after considerable delay (the packaging, which I subsequently read, advises that the THC may not take effect until two hours after it is consumed), then hit me full-force

In other words, cannabis does not portend to displace the consumption of wine. The conviviality of imbibing, the relaxation of one’s mood, and the sheer magic of wine’s interaction with food is not replicated with this alternative intoxicant. Neo-Prohibitionists, vegan chauvinists, health pseudoscientists, and Juul-puffing Millennial poseurs foreshadowing the demise of alcohol be damned—the grape is here to stay! And Sostevinobile vows to remain resolute in our original vision of the most comprehensive venue for sustainable wines from the West Coast.

Entering a new decade. Reflecting on an old millennium.

Happily, Your West Coast Oenophile is still in business, having surmounted the series of setbacks that nearly sent Sostevinobile to the dustbin of history last fall. I am starting off 2020 with renewed optimism, having (potentially) revived not only the NOPA site for our long-delayed brick & mortar operations but the overseas financial deal on which our funding depends. Also, I am looking forward to reinvigorating Risorgimento, the Italian varietal trade organization we launched last year. And I have put in motion two new wine projects I hope to discuss here later.

But first let me start off this new decade with a reflection on my top wine from 2019. If only Valley of the Moon’s 1999 Sangiovese were still available, I’d be tempted buy out the entire stock. But when the current ownership, which operates Quails’ Gate Winery in Kelowna, British Columbia took possession of the Madrone Estate facility in Glen Ellen, they relinquished rights to any of the wines formerly produced under the original Valley of the Moon Label that predated Madrone. As such, my sampling was a one-time-only treat.

Still, my one-ounce pour easily rated a Too Good to Sip & Spit—and a slow, deliberate sip at that. The wine proved remarkable for a number of reasons. Normally, I wouldn’t consider Sangiovese a wine that would be ageable beyond a decade, especially if it hasn’t been blended as a SuperTuscan, but, here, 20 years later, this bottling was still hitting its stride, with nary of a hint of having peaked. Moreover, Sangiovese in California was still struggling to find its expression in the 1990s; I can’t recall a memorable vintage before Piero Antinori’s 2000 Reserve Sangiovese  from his original plantings at Atlas Peak.

Back in the 1990s I would have looked to Imagery or Viansa for Italian varietals in this corner of Sonoma County. To have found a Sangiovese this complex then from Valley of the Moon would have been serendipitous; twenty years later, this wine proved a revelation.

Noted

Mon dieu! Could it be that Your West Coast Oenophile is going to switch his allegiance to Bordelaise wines? Will Sostevinobile become a paean to the vignerons of France?

There are numerous reasons I attend trade tastings for imported wines, despite my unyielding commitment to serve only sustainably-grown wines from the West Coast (meaning British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Baja Norte, and perhaps a little pocket across the border in Arizona), including sourcing accounts for my trade tasting venue, familiarizing myself with varietals that have only a small presence here, like Canaiolo, Saperavi, Assyrtiko, Dreirebe, Chasselas Doré, Mencia, to name a few, or simply to socialize with other wine trade comrades. Rarely, however, do I leave one of these events feeling that I am perhaps missing out on something with my attenuated focus. But, in the interest of objectivity, I have to concede that last month’s showcase of the 2016 vintage from the Association de Grands Crus Classés de Saint-Emilion was truly spectacular.

The homage California pays to French viticulture is, of course, centered on Bordeaux, but within this spectrum, the focus falls predominantly on the Left Bank and the prestige of the Premier Cru houses, which skew towards Cabernet Sauvignon. But among the AOCs of the Right Bank, Merlot predominates, as exemplified by what, until the recent Pinotphile craze, was annually the world’s most expensive wine, Pomerol’s Château Pétrus.

Saint-Emilion lies to the south of Pomerol and is distinguished by wines that blend Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Principal protagonists here include Château Ausone and the legendary Château Cheval Blanc, whose namesake bottling is generally acclaimed as the greatest wine ever by wine cognoscenti worldwide, the only debate being a preference for the 1947 or 1961 vintages. Malheureusement, neither of these houses nor their fellow Premiers Grands Crus Classés A wineries, Château Angélus and Château Pavie participated in the San Francisco tasting. And though none of Saint-Emilion’s Premier Grand Cru Classé B chateaux were on hand either, 18 of the 64 Grand Cru Classé houses poured their 2016s, along with a library wine of their own choosing.

Across the board these wines were uniformly excellent, a testament to their third-tier status that only could make one wonder what the various Premier Cru Classé wines might offer. My preference leaned heavily toward those wines that married a higher percentage of Cabernet Franc or even featured Merlot as the secondary varietal. And given the leanings of my California-honed palate, the relatively high (14-15.5%) alcohol content of most, compared to the restrained (12-14%) level of Médoc’s Premier Grand Cru, certainly factored into the appeal.

Unfortunately, I cannot provide further details or observations on the individual wines. The promoters of this event did not correlate the printing of their program guide with the number of RSVPs; as such, attendees like myself, who strive to take meticulous notes at tastings were left to our own devices, something that can be extremely onerous when having to deal with a foreign language (mon français est un peu faible ces jours). And so I took none, leaving these wines to the recesses of my memory.


At least Team Balzac designed a guide for their event, which they subsequently emailed to attendees. Two other major tastings I attend last month eschewed printing programs altogether. Given that these events both commanded steep ticket prices, I could take the promoters to task for not allocating a portion of their gross revenue for such a relatively inexpensive production (I am well aware of this expense, have personally designed the brochures for every wine tasting I have curated). But the issue here isn’t cost, but the difficulty such an omission creates in trying to enjoy the wines, notate them, and navigate the entire event with the degree of alacrity it demands.

Many readers here know that, after my first career in winery Mergers & Acquisitions, I spent nearly 25 years wallowing in the recesses of the advertising & marketing industry. Though nominally a copywriter, I was compelled to learn graphic design, and with that, acquire a concomitant fluidity in numerous word processing, page layout, and desktop design programs. Yet even with a high degree of expertise in these softwares, navigating the mobile versions, particularly on an iPhone, is cumbersome, if not outright challenging. There are no easy shortcuts to this process—being confronted with having to record an event on Notes requires typing out every single word, all while trying to balance a glass, maintain a dialogue with the winemaker, and keep from hogging space at the table from other attendees. Plus, this is just as much an imposition on the wineries, who are paying fees and donating bottles with the expectation of having the rapt attention of trade individuals, either for purchasing their wines or promoting them.

This is not to say that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy Carlo Niboli’s second staging of CabFest at the Westfield. Given my struggles with producing wine events like CalAsia these past two years, I can only defer to the success of his efforts, which included the first public tasting (as far as I know) of Napa’s mythic Ghost Horse, the wine that has eclipsed Screaming Eagle’s claim to California’s top pricing. Here, the 2015 Fantome, merely the fourth tier of Todd Anderson’s Cabernets (priced at a meager $1500/bottle), proved an extraordinary wine well worth its rarefied claim. Even so, a lofty price does not ensure exclusivity, as the 2004 Harry’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Hesperian proved a worthy counter. Also as impressive: the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Alison Green Doran’s Hoot Owl Creek and the 2015 Red Wine Blend, an equal marriage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, produced by Laurie Maurer Shelton’s CAMi.

I found the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Emily Kestrel from Summit Lake exceptional, as was the 2017 Stagecoach Cabernet Sauvignon from newcomer Stringer Cellars. On a more bittersweet note, Cabfest marked what will likely be the last public tasting for Battle Estate Vineyards, which has decided to cease operations after the devastation of the Kincade Fire. Wines like their 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley will be sorely missed.

And while I did not miss tasting the wide range of other Cabernets, Cab Francs, and Bordeaux blends at this event, awkwardness of trying to record my impressions with a virtual keyboard on a 5.5″ display, while striving to balance my glass and continue conversing with the winemaker left most of my notes in shambles, despite generally favorable impressions of Chiron, Obvious, Zialena, V, Howell at the Moon, Ballentine, Stonestreet, Angwin Estate, Ron Rubin, Guarachi, Robert Young, Medlock Ames, Sutro, Lancaster, and Patel.


I had hoped not to confront the same dilemma the following weekend at the debut of Wine Call SF at the Old Mint. The two-day tasting featured over 50 wineries, predominantly from the West Coast, and selected from the leading proponents of the natural wine movement. It seemed incomprehensible that an event of this scale would not feature a guide—and a professionally designed program at that. But alas, I once again was compelled to wing my way through with my iPhone, this time starting by pasting the winery roster featured on the Website into a Pages document.

An utter catastrophe! Though I am highly skilled in this app on my MacBook Pro and can navigate the differences in the mobile version on my iPadcusing a keyboard, here there is no way to paste text into the text field without copyng its formatting, which, in this case, included the hyperlinks that launched a Web page nearly every time I tried to navigate the cursor. Which, in turn, meant it took three times as long to type, once I finally got things placed where I needed them.

But then entire sections of my document were somehow deleted, which compelled me to return to the various wine stations and re-record ratings on what they had poured. Not impossible, of course, but enormously frustrating to the point that, were it not for my reluctance to shell out another $1,000 to replace it, I came close to flinging my iPhone across the room.

More importantly, the struggles with my note-taking consumed an inordinate amount of time, so much so that even with three separate trips to The Old Mint over Saturday and Sunday, I still missed sampling half a dozen of the wineries. Insurmountable impositions like this hurt not only attendees like Sostevinobile, but penalize all the winemakers who put in the time and effort to make an event succeed.

Nonetheless, I did manage to salvage a good portion of my observations. The absolute standouts had to be the 2018 Flaws, an impeccable Abouriou from Absentee, who ironically was away from his table while I was sampling, and and a luxuriant 2015 Carignane from Faith Armstong-Foster’s Onward, which, along with sister label Farmstrong, specializes in this wondrous Rhône varietal.

Close behind, four other wines astounded, as well, starting with another of Onward’s remarkable bottlings, the 2017 Pétillant Naturel Rosé of Pinot Noir. Even though he has now already sold out, Hank Beckmeyer produced a near-flawless 2018 Viognier at his La Clarine Farm in Somerset. Having partied on Friday with Anna & David Delaski at the Pretty in Pinot Prom—following a full day at the annual Pinotfest, I was struck by the contrast of Solminer’s 2018 Dry Riesling Coquelicot Vineyard, one of the several Germanic varietals they are producing. Trekking from Oregon, Division Wine Making Company also proved a formidable presence here, making a statement its 2017 Granit Cabernet Franc.

If my notes had stayed intact, I could go into finer detail on the remaining wines, but, as it were, numerous others made significant impressions, including Sacramento’s Haarmeyer Wine Cellars, with their 2017 Riesling Wirz Vineyard and the ever-reliable Old World Winery with yet another standout vintage, their 2015 Luminous, a luscious Abouriou from Sherry Martinelli vineyard in Windsor.

Shaunt Oungoulian’s Les Lunes featured a pair of intriguing bottlings, the 2017 Carignane Arnold’s Block and a deftly blended 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot Coplan Vineyard. His former winemaking partner, Martha Stoumen, now well into her connubial bliss, tributed her recent marriage with the 2018 Honeymoon, a Colombard blend with 15% Chardonnay. Likewise, Breaking Bread, an offshoot of Kokomo, debuted their 2018 Zinfandel Redwood Valley with considerable aplomb.

The splendidly-named Caleb Leisure specializes in fermenting their wines in qvevri, the traditional Georgian buried clay pots (and killer Scrabble word!), exemplified here with the 2018 Other Hand, a Chalk Hill Cabernet Sauvignon. A bit of an anomaly, Ruth Lewandowski, a winery based in Salt Lake City but sourcing its grapes from Mendocino, featured its eclectic blends, highlighted by the 2018 Boaz, a mélange of Carignane, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Grenache. And hailing from Los Alamos—California, not New Mexico, Lo-Fi Wines showcased their 2018 Sparkling Rosé, a Pét-Nat rendition of Cabernet Franc.

The much-lauded Carboniste only produces sparkling wines, exemplified best by the 2018 Mackerel, a Pét-Nat Pinot Grigio. Further to the south, in Escondido, J. Brix featured this varietal as a ramato, the 2018 Nomine Amoris Skin-Contact Pinot Gris. Returning north, Keegan Mayo’s Assiduous Wines offered a less avant-garde yet equally appealing rendition, their 2018 Pinot Gris Regan Vineyard.

Wine Call SF featured keynotes both days by Tegan Passalacqua, whose Sandlands Vineyards underscored his authority on natural winemaking, evidenced here with two superb  offerings: the 2018 Grenache and the 2018 Cinsault. Tegan is one of the leading proponents of the next wave of vineyardists in Lodi; Abe Schoener’s Scholium Project, recently relocated to Los Angeles, sourced their Zinfandel from Passalacqua’s plantings there for their 2017 FTP-Z Kirschenmann Ranch. Meanwhile, their excellent 2012 Delta Blend identifies neither the Sacramento vineyards from which it is sourced, nor its varietals (though I beleive Verdelho was a major component). Also sourcing from the Delta, Maître de Chai selected its grapes from Wilson Vineyards for its 2018 Sparkling Chenin Blanc. Its 2017 Kiekegaard Chenin Blanc, however, comes from the same Sonoma vineyard Leo Steen utilizes.

Last but not least, Craft Wine Company trekked from Oregon to feature its 2018 Origin Chenin Blanc. And even further north, Washington’s Swick Wines produced a panoply of Italian varietal wines, notably the Barolo-worthy 2018 Nebbiolo.

Washington tends to be the preferred West Coast domain for Riesling, with notable exceptions like Santa Cruz’s Stirm Wine Company, which produces a number of different bottlings. But here Ryan flourished with a relatively obscure, though formerly prolific grape, with his 2018 Mission. Another Santa Cruz winery, Florèz, may not tend toward exotic varietals or blends, but comported itself memorably with their elegant 2017 Chardonnay.

Some may prefer to call it Mourvèdre or Monastrell, but the 2016 Mataro Del Barbra Vineyard from Erggelet Brothers was still a masterful wine. And it seems fitting that my final entry comes from Amador’s End of Nowhere, with a stellar 2018 #1 Crush Rosé, a Zinfandel rendering and their 2017 Nemesis, a Yolo County Barbera.


I suppose if I had been able to take notes easily, this column might have run on until 2020, so perhaps there is a silver lining here. But as long as trade tastings resort to the expediency of not printing programs, I will keep harping on this issue.

See You Next Tuesday

What goes with plaid? Your West Coast Oenophile would be inclined to suggest Scotch Whisky, haggis, and that manliest of sports, caber tossing. But fine wine would not have made this list, until Sostevinobile attended the recent Pinots and Plaid tasting at the newly-remodeled Hibernia Bank lobby in San Francisco’s up & coming Tenderloin district.

Admittedly, this pairing did not start off auspiciously. My trade pass clearly denoted a start time of 2pm, which included entry to the VIP lounge and a more intimate early hour with the wineries on hand. When I did arrive at the check-in table, however, I was informed that I was only included in for General Admission, and would have to wait until 3pm. I twice attempted to introduce myself and address this matter with event promoter Emily Martin, but she was focused on the extreme demands of posing for an interminable string of Pinterest photos.

But capitulating to solipsism was hardly in order for the afternoon, nor would the lack of a basic tasting program deter my appreciation of the many excellent wines on hand. I hadn’t tried using the newest version Pages with the latest update of my iPhone; the new iOS 13 makes for a clumsy interfaces when using this application for creating text files. I fumbled my way through tasting the wide array of Pinots from Anne Moller-Racke’s Blue Farm, highlighted by the 2016 Pinot Noir Anne Katherina, her eponymous estate vineyard, before switching to Notes, an .rtf application that enabled me to catalog each of the wines I sampled.

Another ludicrous aspect of this event was Martin’s insistence that the wineries hold back their Chardonnays until 45 minutes from closing (having produced numerous events myself, I recognize the advantage of enabling attendees to keep their palates balanced throughout the afternoon, lest they fatigue from a single varietal). Fortunately, many saw fit not to follow this guideline. The 2017 Peugh Vineyard Chardonnay from David Low’s Anthill Farms proved a fortuitous deviation from this edict, a rich, splendid expression of the grape.

Due to the Sonoma fires and evacuation orders, a number of wineries understandably could not participate. I had been greatly looking forward to Noah Dorrance’s selections from Reeve and was eager to try Adam Lee’s Clarice, his personal successor to Siduri. And, of course, if I had been granted access to the VIP Lounge, Roederer Estate has long been a personal favorite sparkling producer. Still, stalwarts like Peay and Three Sticks proved as consistently excellent as I have come to expect, the former with both the 2017 Scallop Shelf Estate Pinot Noir and the 2017 Pomarium Estate Pinot Noir, while Ryan Prichard, successor to acclaimed winemaker Don Van Staaveren, continued his legacy with two standout bottlings, the 2017 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and its contrasting 2017 Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir.

I go to great lengths to ensure that winemakers at Sostevinobile events allocate enough inventory so all attendees can have the opportunity to experience what they are pouring. How frustrating to find a winery has depleted its stock on hand and already departed before reaching their table (though invariably the shortfall does not reflect the producer’s calculus). As such, it had been quite a while since I last sampled Michael Browne’s Cirq and was looking forward to revisiting their wines, but I ponied  up to their table just as they finished packing. And as a former wine club member at Williams Selyem, I was eager to rediscover on what I had been missing out lately; when I moseyed over to their table, however, all that remained was their 2017 Pinot Noir Lewis MacGregor Estate.

I fared better with the remaining vintners, starting with Works & Days, the Burgundian sister of Coursey Graves; these wines proved an interesting discovery, with the 2016 Pinot Noir Hill Justice Vineyard the standout among the trio poured here. After decades of furnishing the preponderance of Carneros’ premium Pinot and Chardonnay grapes, Sangiacomo showcased its own label here, admirably comporting themselves with their 2017 Roberts Road Pinot Noir and the equally-splendid 2017 Green Acres Chardonnay.

I would be equally hard-pressed to choose a favorite from the 2018 Sonoma Mountain Chardonnay, the 2017 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, or the 2016 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Yountville’s Stewart Cellars featured. Of course, had they been a bit bolder, they might have brought along their 2017 Tartan, a Bordeaux-style Meritage that nonetheless offered thematic consistency. But it does betray my varietal prejudice when I note that my favorite wine of this event was the 2016 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon that Sojourn surreptitiously poured alongside its vineyard-designate Pinots. In close contention, however, were a pair of Carneros wines from Hyde Estate: the 2016 Chardonnay and their wondrous library selection, 2012 Carneros Pinot Noir. Jackson Family Wines highlighted their focused ultrapremium label program with the 2016 Jolie Pinot Noir from Maggy Hawk, their Anderson Valley operations.

Also blending from Mendocino vineyards, Erich Bradley’s Texture excelled with their 2014 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. Given the proliferation of Pinot regions throughout Northern California, it seemed a more perspicacious event producer would have featured a wide variety of AVAs outside of the Sonoma appellations, like the Santa Cruz Mountains or Santa Lucia Highlands (how Pinots & Plaid did not include Talbott is beyond me). Beyond the latter two aforementioned wines, the sole exception to this myopic focus was the 2016 Pinot Noir Star Mooring, a Willamette Valley selection Ellie Phipps Price’s Dunstan added to her line of acclaimed Durrell Vineyard vintages.

Still, the paltry gaggle of plaided patrons in attendance this afternoon probably paid little heed to this oversight and reveled in the opportunity to experience such iconic producers as Gary Farrell, with his members-only bottling of the 2016 Pinot Noir Rochioli Vineyard. For many, I am sure Sebastopol’s Red Car also proved a rare treat, showcasing both their 2016 Estate Pinot Noir Fort Ross-Seaview and a superbly matured library selection, the 2012 Pinot Noir Zephyr Farms. Kosta Browne alum Sam Lando featured a duo of  his limited-production wines, the 2017 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and a compelling 2017 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Another highly acclaimed vigneron, John Bucher, also brought a pair of his current releases, the 2017 Pommard Clone Pinot Noir and  the 2017 Russian River Valley Estate Pinot Noir.

Lacking a tasting room, my San Francisco neighbor, Kutch is a rare treat for the public; here,  they did not disappoint, with three routinely excellent Sonoma Coast vineyard designates: their 2017 Bohan Chardonnay, the 2017 Falstaff Pinot Noir, and the 2017 McDougall Pinot Noir. The rest of the tasting featured widely familiar labels, including peripatetic winemaker Ross Cobb’s own brand, highlighted by the 2016 Pinot Noir Diane Cobb from his family’s vineyard. Wells  Guthrie’s Copain may now be part of the Jackson Family portfolio, but remains distinctively subtle, as evidenced by both their 2017 Chardonnay and the 2016 Les Voisins Pinot Noir.

It is always a pleasure to visit with Ken & Akiko Freeman and to taste through their sundry wines. As it is named, the 2017 Ryo-Fu Chardonnay was indeed a “cool breeze” with which to wind down, while the 2016 Yu-Ki Pinot Noir sparkled. I concluded my tastings with my friend Valerie Wathen, ambassador extraordinaire for Dutton-Goldfield, with both the 2016 Rued Vineyard Chardonnay and their new 2017 Azaya Ranch Pinot Noir serving as an excellent coda to the afternoon.

There are numerous Pinot Noir events throughout the year, of course, including dueling versions of Pinot on the River in Sonoma, this month’s upcoming PinotFest, West of West, and World of Pinot Noir. Granted, the largest of these, Pinot Days, has fallen by the wayside, but is there really a need to add yet another? Certainly, a different angle on such an event is necessary to keep it from being redundant, but pairing it to a dilettantish vision for an unrelated fashion display  hardly meets this criterion.

I say this as not only an accomplished œnophile but someone known for his sartorial splendor. If somehow there is a Pinots & Plaid II, they may wish to take my picture so you can see for yourself.

Makes me want to holler

This is the closest Your West Coast Oenophile has come to considering abandoning his plans for Sostevinobile. Since late 2017, I have been operating with the assurance that this magnificent facility at 1213 Fell Street had been secured for me by my backer, purportedly the lead investor for a consortium of family offices operating in the Bay Area. Admittedly, our negotiations for taking possession of this building and subscribing members to Club SVN the private wine lounge and club designated for the already built-out second floor, had been going excruciatingly slow, due mostly to meetings he repeatedly postponed with little notice and scant apology. This dilatory behavior did little to reassure me, but given our long-standing business relationship, the belief I had a secure premise for our brick & mortar operations allowed me to focus my efforts on raising capital overseas, while bolstering Sostevinobile’s burgeoning influence in the West Coast wine realm.

But patience has its limits, and I finally decided to phone Rockwell Properties, whose For Rent sign idly been posted in front of the building for well over a year. My backer had told had been told posting was merely a placeholder,  but the brothers who ran this fly-by-night agency  scheduled an appointment for me revisit the space a couple of days later. And so it was much to my chagrin that I was told, moments before I head over to the NOPA location that the building’s owner had canceled the viewing. A minor inconvenience compared to my also discovering that this building had never changed hands two years ago!

This “oversight,” however, may only be temporary, as a forced bankruptcy sale of the premises may be imminent. So where does this leave Sostevinobile? Will I be able to scrape enough cash to qualify for the auction? Will I find myself in a bidding war against more well-financed competition? It makes me want to holler…


So I broke down the other evening and purchased a 16 oz. can of White Claw, the sparkling seltzer phenomenon that apparently is all the rage with the Millennials. Should the wine world feel threatened by this soda pop-flavored beverage that masks its (albeit moderate) alcohol content? Let me use this rare opportunity to draw upon my twelve years of Latin instruction: nihil novi sub sole!

Both sides now

Your West Coast Oenophile hit the road this past weekend for Sostevinobile. Actually, I was doing double-duty, as we launched Risorgimento, the new trade association for producers of Italian varietal wines in California at Barbera Festival in Amador on Saturday. Having attended this event numerous times, at both Cooper Ranch and at its current site, Terra d’Oro, this marked the first time I actually poured instead of tasted.
Even when I have a particular fondness for a certain grape, it becomes quite difficult for my palate to distinguish the nuances of the various renditions of this varietal after 20 or 25 different samples. As I would have been, even this afternoon’s diehard Barbera aficionados took a liking to the selections of Arneis, Vermentino, Rosato di Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Sangiovese, and Charbono we served at our table—in no small part since we were one of the few participants serving chilled wines amid the 95°F weather! Regardless, the message was inarguable: wine lovers are clearly looking beyond the orthodoxy of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and Petite Sirah that constitute some 93% of California’s wine production.

The following day, I wound my way down to the Sacramento area, where Friends of the Clarksburg Library held their 31st Annual Wines of Clarksburg fundraiser at the storied Heringer Estates. As does Gallo in Modesto, Heringer has long dominated the Clarksburg landscape, to the point it seems, to outsiders, to be the only producing vineyard or winery in the town. But, in fact, there are well over 35 labels in the region, most of which were on hand this afternoon or had donated to the silent auction. And while Clarksburg seemed, for long, the last vestige of California’s once-ubiquitous Chenin Blanc, numerous other varietals are produced quite successfully in this AVA.

Last year, I had toured the riverside estate of Miner’s Leap on an impromptu tour of Clarksburg, so was happy to revisit with them here. To be candid, the 2016 Rosé of Pinot Noir left something to be desired, but I did cotton to their 2016 Tempranillo, along with their NV Harmony, a proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, and Syrah. Another past discovery, Scribner Bend, situated on the opposite bank of the Sacramento, selected their 2018 Pinot Gris and a suitably-aged 2014 Syrah.

During my visit last year, I had sought, in vain, to locate Wilson Vineyards, so it was fortuitous to find them here. Sadly, though, this winery is winding down its operations, but still generously poured its 2016 Petite Sirah, along with a less-than-memorable NV Almond Sparkling. I had wrapped up that day most memorably at Julietta, an intimate operation which here poured their 2016 Beverly’s Inspiration was an austere combination of Zinfandel, Syrah, and Grenache. Their chilled offerings included a 2018 Rosé of Tempranillo and a far-from-obligatory 2018 Chenin Blanc.

Speaking of obligatory, I would have expected Ken Musso’s Due Vigne to be pouring a selection of their Italian varietals, and so was not disappointed to discover NV Romanza, an unspecified “blend of mostly Italian varietals.” Ironically, the 2018 Rosato Rosé, a redundancy whose name begs a mixed pedigree, wedded Syrah with 20% Cinsault. One Clarksburg winery from which I always expect great things is III (Three), an independent venture from Matt Cline of the third generation of Sonoma’s Jacuzzi family. Though Matt was not on hand this afternoon, his staff comported themselves admirably with his 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, an exceptionally approachable wine, along with the wondrous 2013 established 1885, an eclectic blend of 30.3% Carignane, 32.5% Zinfandel, 29.8% Mataro, 4.1% Petite Sirah, 2.9% Cinsault, and 0.4% Alicante Bouschet.

Due Vigne and III are both part of the winery collective at Clarksburg’s Old Sugar Mill. The original tenants of this facility, Carvalho, now operate on the north side of the Freeport Bridge, alongside their Freeport Wine Country Inn and Bistro. Produced in their former location, the 2016 Syrah seemed a perfunctory wine, while their Boot Shed Red Lot 7, a proprietary blend of Tempranillo, Syrah, and Teroldego, proved compelling. One of Clarksburg’s oldest wineries, Bogle, has been ensconced in its own facility since 1979. Here they ably demonstrated why they have managed their longevity, starting with their 2017 Chardonnay and 2017 Petite Sirah. Their standout, however, came from the 2015 Phantom, a truly deft blend of 44% Petite Sirah, 44% Zinfandel, 10% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Twisted Rivers, a nearby operation from Duke Heringer, poured their 2017 White Raven, a contrasting Viognier/Chenin Blanc blend, alongside a nicely-aged 2011 Petite Sirah and a splendid 2016 Primitivo. Also geographically themed Grand Island showcased their premium line, with both their 2017 Salman Family Reserve Chenini Blanc and the noteworthy 2017 Salman Family Reserve Premier, a Bordeaux-style Meritage.

If it were coastal, Elevation 10 would likely be threatened by climate change in the none-too-distant future, but here in the Sacramento Valley, it remains a thriving enterprise with noteworthy wines. I usually associate their winemaker, Marco Cappelli, with the El Dorado AVA (alongside the Amador region I had just visited), and, indeed,  many of their wines do herald from the Foothills. But their Clarksburg selections proved quite deft, starting with the 2016 Chardonnay and finishing with a superb 2016 Cabernet Franc. Dancing Coyote heralds from the Lodi AVA, but sources much of its fruit from Clarksburg. Examples here included their rather sweet 2017 Chardonnay, an adequate 2017 Rosé of Pinot Noir, alongside a more developed 2016 Pinot Noir.

Admittedly, Clarksburg will be on few people’s radar as a major wine region, but the newly-restored barn at Heringer easily qualifies as one of the most inviting tasting rooms I have ever visited. And in keeping with it reputation as the pinnacle of this AVA, our host winery shared with this event a 2018 Moscato (subsequently revealed to be Muscat Canelli) and a delightful 2018 Pinot Gris. But their forte at Wines of Clarksburg proved to be the spectacular 2015 Tempranillo, a wine ideally suited to the evening’s Andalusian breeze.

Keeping pace with Heringer’s vineyard operations in Clarksburg is the variegated operations of Ogilvie Merwin Ventures (not to be confused with advertising tita Ogilvy & Mather). here they debuted a new label, Fellow, which brought six of their wines to sample, including the 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2018 Chardonnay, a dry 2018 Gewürztraminer, and a striking 2018 Chenin Blanc.On the red side, I found the 2017 Petite Sirah equally compelling, while the 2018 Pinot Noir served amiably for such a young wine. The 2016 Pinot Noir from sister operations Silt rivaled this bottling, but their 2016 Merlot clearly stood out. I have never been able to appreciate a Valdiguié, but here a 2018 Rosé finally brought me around to this unassuming varietal.

Silt, of course, produced its own 2017 Chenin Blanc, but partner Phil Ogilvie was intent on showcasing multiple expressions of this grape from an array of wineries that source his fruit. Local winemaker Jason Lee’s Zah opened with an excellent 2018 Chenin Blanc, as did Sonoma’s Dry Creek Vineyard. Another familiar label, Vinum Cellars. was represented with the 20th Anniversary Edition of their Chenin, the 2017 CNW. Again from Sonoma, West of West stalwart Gros Ventre juxtaposed their 2017 Chenin Blanc with a noteworthy 2018 Chenin Blanc Merritt Island. Like Risorgimento, Seven% Solution is a wine movement dedicated to non-mainstream wines; at its past tastings, La Pitchoune has been featured for its Chenin Blanc, exemplified here with its 2017 La Bombe. Lastly, Ogilvie displayed both of maverick Santa Cruz winemaker Megan Bell’s contrasting Margins bottlings: the 2018 Clarksburg Chenin Blanc with her utterly compelling 2018 Skin Fermented Chenin Blanc.

After Wines of Clarksburg, I detoured to Davis for a truncated dalliance, then reluctantly headed back to the Bay Area. An exhausting weekend, to be sure, but a weekend nonetheless well spent.