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2010 Family Winemakers Tasting San Francisco

August 30, 2010

2010 FAMILY WINEMAKERS TASTING SAN FRANCISCO – Fort Mason Festival Pavillon, San Francisco, California (8/22/2010-8/23/2010)


Family Winemakers of California has been doing annual trade tastings since 1991, and their events now include one-day tastings in Del Mar and Pasadena. Their biggest event, however, is the annual two-day tasting at San Francisco’s Fort Mason Festival Pavillon. A few hours of the first day of that event are open to the public, but the rest of that day and all the second day are limited to the trade and media. I’ve been attending for several years now, from when I originally lived in Southern California and regularly attended the Pasadena event. I’ve been making it a point to participate in the San Francisco tasting since my relocation here, a little before the ’05 tasting. The event this past Sunday and Monday was the 20th Anniversary San Francisco Family Winemakers Tasting, and over 340 producers were represented.

I tasted very strategically at this year’s event, arriving with my plan and must-hit list based on prior tastings and research. I ended up sampling 287 wines in the two days, from 78 producers. Due to time constraints, I had to pass up nearly a dozen of the producers on my priority list, not to mention many that I’d tasted recently enough to leave off my must-do plan. Since I try hard to get to as many producers as possible that are new to me, and there were 49 producers in the program who were pouring for the first time in this tasting, I prioritized visiting as many of them that looked promising as possible.

In the past, when I don’t research and plan as much as I did this year, I often end up tasting a lot of dreck, but that wasn’t the case this year. I ended the annual tasting feeling quite good about the state of California independent producer wines, but I’m sure that was mainly because I pre-selected a lot of producers that I already know to be strong, or about which I’d heard good advance press. Amongst the producers new to me and/or new to Family Winemakers, the ones I was most impressed with are:
Buoncristiani
Cornerstone
Dragonette
Field Recordings
Fog Crest
Ispiri
Lamborn Family
Macauley
Peter Paul
Portfolio Limited
Thomas George
Westerhold
Yorba

Among the producers with which I was already familiar, the standouts were:
Audelssa
Calera
Chateau Montelena
Core
Corison
Diamond Terrace
Fortress
Frostwatch
Hanzell
Jemrose
Jones Family
Kent Rasmussen
Ladd Cellars
Lagier Meredith
Littorai
Navarro
Pahlmeyer
Paloma
Paul Hobbs
Robert Biale
Saxon-Brown
Sequum
Sojourn
Sol Rouge
Titus
Turley
Villa Creek
York Creek.

A little on the disappointing side, this year, based on what I’ve tasted in the past were JC Cellars, Justin, L’Aventure, Outpost and Tablas Creek.


As far as vintage perceptions, the ’07 vintage continues to impress me a lot, while the smoke impact on a lot of ’08s, and the relative weak concentration of many of them, remains a theme for that vintage. I didn’t taste enough ’09s to get a strong impression of the vintage, but most that I did try were good.

Since Cabernet is so strongly identified in my mind with California, and with Family Winemakers in general, here’s my list of the Cabs that made the biggest impact on me at the tasting:
’06 Audelssa Reserve
’06 Chateau Montelena Estate
’07 Corison
’07 Diamond Terrace Howell Mountain
’07 Kent Rasmussen
’05 Lamborn Family
’06 and ’07 Macauley Beckstoffer To-Kalon
’06 Pahlmeyer Red
’07 Paul Hobbs Napa
’06 Portfolio Limited Edition
’07 Sequum Four Soil Melange
’07 Sojourn Howell Mountain
’07 Titus Reserve

Amongst the other big reds, including Syrahs and Petite Sirahs, but also red blends, Cab Francs and a lone Tannat, the ones I found most memorable, meriting 92+ or more points, were:
’07 Audelssa Summit
’07 Core Hard Core
’07 Jemrose Syrah Cardiac Hill
’07 Kent Rasmussen Petite Sirah Esoterica
’08 Lagier Meredith Syrah
’05 Lone Madrone Tannat
’07 Paloma Merlot
’08 Robert Biale Petite Sirah Royal Punishers
’08 Robert Biale Zinfandel Monte Rosso
’07 Sequum Zinfandel Kidd Ranch
’07 Titus Petite Sirah
’08 Turley Zinfandel Rattlesnake Ridge
’07 Turley Petite Sirah Hayne
’07 Westerhold Syrah
’07 Yorba Tempranillo

The list of whites that most impressed me has to start with the stunning ’08 Hanzell Chardonnay, and then continues with:
’07 Fog Crest Chardonnay Estate
’07 and ’08 Frostwatch Chardonnay
’09 Jemrose Viognier Egret Pond
’08 Navarro Gewurztraminer
’08 Peter Paul Chardonnay
’07 Rock Wall Riesling

It seems a little odd and a bit unfair for me to single out Pinot Noirs, as I ended up having to avoid many of my favorite Pinot makers at this tasting for the sake of time, because I’d already reported on most of them from tasting at Pinot Days earlier this year. Nonetheless, the ones that I did get to that weren’t represented at Pinot Days and that I rated 92+ or higher at this tasting were:
’07 Calera de Villiers Vineyard
’08 Fog Crest Estate
’07 Ladd Cellars Moore Ranch
’09 Lagier Meredith Pott Chester’s Anvil
’07 Littorai The Haven

Finally, in the sweet wine category, the strongest wines I tasted, rating 92+ points or more, were:
’08 Fortress Novateur
’07 Fortress Semillon Finale
’07 Macauley Semillon
’06 Navarro Gewurztraminer Cluster Select Late Harvest
’05 York Creek Port

The following is an alphabetical listing of all the producers I visited, with a little background info about them (and usually an indication of why I included them on my hit list this year), along with my tasting notes:

Ackerman


Ackerman has taken advantage of the new tiny bottle format for a tasting kit, pictured above, that they can send to reviewers or buyers. This is a small family project, making only 500 cases a year of Cabernet that retails for about $75. In ’07, they also made a Cab/Sangiovese blend. The flavor profile here is dominated by black fruit. These are decent Cabs, but I wasn’t wild about them.

Adastra

I’ve enjoyed the Adastra Pinots, especially the Proximus, at Pinot Days, so wanted to try more of their wines. They’ve been producing wine since 1995, and make only 1500 cases a year, comprised of Chardonnay (including a non-oaked version), Merlot, Pinot and a Red Blend. Most successful for me were the Proximus Pinot, the Merlot and the Red Blend, the latter of which is named after co-owner Edwin Richards, pictured on the right.

  • 2009 Adastra Chardonnay N’Oak – USA, California, Napa Valley, Carneros (8/22/2010)
    Apple nose; okay, apple palate; medium finish (87 pts.)
  • 2008 Adastra Chardonnay – USA, California, Napa Valley, Carneros (8/22/2010)
    Light apple nose; tasty, apple, pear palate; medium finish (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Adastra Pinot Noir – USA, California, Napa Valley, Carneros (8/22/2010)
    Brett, tart red fruit nose; brett, tart red fruit palate; medium finish (89 pts.)
  • 2006 Adastra Pinot Noir Proximus – USA, California, Napa Valley, Carneros (8/22/2010)
    Rich cherry, black cherry nose; rich cherry, black cherry palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Adastra Merlot – USA, California, Napa Valley, Carneros (8/22/2010)
    Plum, berry, menthol nose; plum, berry, menthol palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Adastra Ed’s Red – USA, California, Napa Valley, Carneros (8/22/2010)
    Black fruit, blue fruit, menthol nose; black fruit, blue fruit, menthol palate; medium finish (43% Syrah, 39% Zinfandel, 13% Petite Sirah, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot) (91 pts.)

Anaba

I’ve been passing the new tasting room for this project, which was started in ’06, when I drive up Arnold in Sonoma on my way to my sister’s in Kenwood for some months now, and meaning to try them. They’re making 4500 cases a year with fruit sourced from Carneros, the Sonoma Coast and Sonoma Valley. The Chardonnay was the best of what they poured at the tasting; the rest of the wines were good but not particularly memorable or complex.

  • 2008 Anaba Coriol White – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley (8/23/2010)
    Nice tart peach, citrus nose; tart peach, citrus, floral palate; medium finish (48% Roussanne, 30% Viognier, 12% Marsanne, and 10% Grenache Blanc) (89 pts.)
  • 2008 Anaba Chardonnay – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (8/23/2010)
    Tart pineapple, apple nose; apple, tart pineapple palate; medium finish (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Anaba Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (8/23/2010)
    Baked cherry, smoke nose; smoke, tart cherry palate; medium finish 88+ pts. (released the day before) (88 pts.)
  • 2007 Anaba Coriol – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley (8/23/2010)
    Smoke, tart red fruit, plum nose; smoke, tart red fruit, plum palate; medium finish (38% Grenache, 27% Mourvedre, 25% Petite Sirah, 10% Counoise) (88 pts.)

Andrew Geoffrey

Andrew Geoffrey has been producing Cabernet from the Diamond Mountain District since ’95, and currently makes 1700 cases a year priced at $75 retail. It’s a solid Cabernet, which includes a small amount of Cab Franc and Petit Verdot.

Audelssa


Erich Bradley, above, is the talented winemaker for Audelssa, as well as his own project, Sojourn. I’ve been enjoying and buying Audelssa wines for some years now. The ’07s, although very young, were showing well, but the most impressive was the ’06 Cab Reserve. This project of the Schaefer Family is now producing 7,000 cases per year, mostly with estate fruit.

  • 2007 Audelssa Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley (8/22/2010)
    Berry, blackberry nose; tasty, berry, blackberry palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Audelssa Estate Winery Summit – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley (8/22/2010)
    Nice black fruit, herbal nose; tasty, nice black fruit, herbal palate; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot) (92 pts.)
  • 2006 Audelssa Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley (8/22/2010)
    Rich berry, blackberry, black fruit nose; berry, blackberry, black fruit palate; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)

Azari

I took a flier on this producer making its FW debut because they make Chardonnay, Pinot and Syrah from Sonoma Coast fruit. I wasn’t that impressed with the results.

  • 2009 Azari Winery Chardonnay Corkscrew – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (8/22/2010)
    Green apple nose; apple, lime palate; short-medium finish (87 pts.)
  • 2008 Azari Winery Pinot Noir Corkscrew – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (8/22/2010)
    Big cherry, red fruit nose; tart, acidified?, red fruit palate; short-medium finish (86 pts.)
  • 2007 Azari Winery Syrah Corkscrew – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (8/22/2010)
    Smoky, tart black fruit nose; tart black fruit palate with good acidity; medium finish (87 pts.)

Barnett

I’ve liked Barnett Cabs in the past, especially the ’93, so decided to check in on current releases. The Cab was a tasty, chocolatey, ripe monster. The other two wines were not as strong.

Buoncristiani

Buoncristiani is definitely a family project, of the Buoncristiani Brothers, who have been making several varietal wines from Napa since ’99. They currently produce 3500 cases a year. I liked the whole line up, especially the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Malbec, which is one of the better Cali Malbecs I’ve tried.

  • 2006 Buoncristiani OPC Proprietary Red – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Baked berry nose; baked berry, Vegemite palate; medium finish (89 pts.)
  • 2006 Buoncristiani Syrah Artistico – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Black fruit, berry, espresso nose; deep black fruit, berry, espresso palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Buoncristiani Malbec – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Pre-release (Winter 2011) – nice black fruit, berry, intriguing nose; deep berry, black fruit palate with poise; medium finish (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Buoncristiani Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Pre-release (Fall 2010) – deep berry, plum nose; tight, tasty, plum, berry palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)

Calera

Calera’s Josh Jensen, who has been making artisanal Pinot from his unique spot since ’74, had to have been wearing the most eyecatching pants at the event. I always try to fit in a tasting of these wines, if Josh is present, as the Pinots are such unique expressions, and he often includes at least a couple of library wines for comparison, as he did here. The Pinot from the new vineyard, de Villiers, really stood out for me, followed by the other ’07s, Ryan and Mills. Benchmark alternative Cali Pinots for sure.

  • 2009 Calera Viognier – USA, California, Central Coast (8/23/2010)
    Apple, honeysuckle nose; apple, honeysuckle palate; medium finish (89 pts.)
  • 2009 Calera Viognier – USA, California, Central Coast, Mount Harlan (8/23/2010)
    Herbal, bay leaf nose; herbal, bay leaf palate; medium finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Calera Chardonnay Central Coast – USA, California, Central Coast (8/23/2010)
    Apple, lime nose; apple, lime palate; medium finish (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Calera Chardonnay Mount Harlan – USA, California, Central Coast, Mount Harlan (8/23/2010)
    Lime, apple nose; lime, apple palate; medium finish (89 pts.)
  • 2008 Calera Pinot Noir – USA, California, Central Coast (8/23/2010)
    Nice roses, red fruit nose; roses, red fruit palate; medium finish (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Calera Pinot Noir de Villiers Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Mount Harlan (8/23/2010)
    Ric raspberry, cherry nose; rich raspberry, cherry palate; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Calera Pinot Noir Ryan Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Mount Harlan (8/23/2010)
    Rich cherry, baked cherry nose; cherry, baked cherry, herbal palate; medium finish (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Calera Pinot Noir Mills Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Mount Harlan (8/23/2010)
    Mineral, black cherry nose; mineral, black cherry palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2000 Calera Pinot Noir Mills Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Mount Harlan (8/23/2010)
    Brett, red fruit nose; earthy, red fruit, cinnamon palate; medium finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 1997 Calera Pinot Noir Mills Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Mount Harlan (8/23/2010)
    Mature, earthy, herbal, red fruit nose; mature, earthy, herbal, red fruit palate; medium finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)

Carrefour

I was impressed by the Carrefour wines at last year’s FW, so decided to revisit them. The ’06s weren’t quite as strong as the ’05s I’d tasted the year before, but these are still good wines. I particularly liked the Pinot, from a vineyard planted in ’86 and ’87, and the Merlot.

Carter

This was Carter’s FW debut, and their wines were recommended by someone on the WineBerserkers board. The project was started in ’98 and now makes 1200 cases of Cabernet and Merlot. Both the ’07 Merlot and Cabs were showing well.

Cartograph

This was another FW debut, of a winery launched just last year by owner/winemaker Alan Baker with partner Serena Lourie. They are making 500 cases of Gewurz and Pinot. I found the Gewurz dry and tasty, and also enjoyed the Split Rock Pinot. The Two Pisces Pinot had a bit too much brett for me, and Alan was very honest in confirming what I was tasting there.

  • 2009 Cartograph Gewürztraminer – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (8/22/2010)
    Nice floral, roses nose; tasty, dry palate with good acidity; medium finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Cartograph Pinot Noir Split Rock – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (8/22/2010)
    Nice tart cherry, raspberry nose; tart cherry, raspberry palate; medium finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Cartograph Pinot Noir Two Pisces – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (8/22/2010)
    Brett, tart cherry nose; brett, tart red fruit palate; medium finish (88 pts.)

Chateau Montelena

Chateau Montelena hadn’t been listed in the advance materials as a participant this year, so it was a nice surprise to see their table. These are always benchmark Napa Cabs, and the ’06 Estate was very good, as was the ’08 Chard.

Coastview

Coastview wines and the winemaker, Ian Brand, were a recent subject of one of my blog posts. I had already tasted through, and written about, most of what they were pouring at FW, so just tasted these two tank samples of their second label wine, which will both be excellent values when they are released. Ian is pictured below with his lovely bride Heather.

Core

I told Dave Corey I was disappointed in not having been able to get up to Core when I visited Santa Barbara with friends a few weeks back–his facility was very far north from where we were staying, and I just couldn’t get the gang to leave the beach on Sunday to drive all the way up there. It was good to be able taste through some of his many offerings here, as it had been awhile. Dave coaxes a lot of intense flavor out of his fruit, and the Grenache, Hard Core blend, Mourvedre and Crazy Eights, especially, all exhibited that quality. Enjoyable wines, as usual, at a wide price range, starting as low as $12. Dave and Becky now make 5,000 cases a year.

  • 2007 Core Grenache Santa Barbara County – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County (8/23/2010)
    Big spicy cherry, berry nose; intense, spicy berry, cherry palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Core Hard Core – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County (8/23/2010)
    Big berry, boysenberry, black raspberry nose; tasty, berry, boysenberry, black raspberry, black fruit palate; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (37% Mourvedre, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Syrah, 4% Grenache) (92 pts.)
  • 2006 Core Mister Moreved Alta Mesa – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County (8/23/2010)
    Green herb, black fruit, charcoal nose; intense green herb, black fruit, charcoal palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (79% Mourvedre, 21% Grenache) (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Turchi Malbec Santa Barbara Highlands Block 1 – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County (8/23/2010)
    Big black fruit, charcoal nose; tasty, tart plum, herbal palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Kuyam 13 Moons Santa Barbara Highlands – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County (8/23/2010)
    Tart black fruit nose; black fruit, licorice palate; medium finish (retails for $19) (89 pts.)
  • 2006 Core Crazy Eights – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County (8/23/2010)
    Rich black plum, baking spice nose; black plum, baking spice palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)

Corison

Cathy Corison is the owner/winemaker, and is currently making 2,000 cases a year. The ’07 was quite good, but it was also instructive to taste the ’98 and ’02 library selections they were pouring.

  • 1998 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon Kronos Vineyard – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Maturing, herbal, meaty nose; meaty, mature, tart cassis palate; medium finish (91 pts.)
  • 2002 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Black fruit, licorice nose; black fruit, licorice, herbal palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2006 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon Kronos Vineyard – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Pre-release (Oct. 2010) – black fruit, berry nose; tight, tart black fruit, berry palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Pre-release (Sept. 2010) – Nice herbal, black fruit, cassis nose; tight, but tasty, herbal, black fruit, cassis palate; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)

Cornerstone

I tried the Cornerstone line up because Craig Camp, one of the owners, is on WineBerserkers. The ’06 Howell Mountain was quite good. They’re making 5,000 cases a year, and Jeff Keene is the winemaker.

Corté Riva

Corté Riva is a project of winemaker Lawrence Cortez, longtime cellar master for Pride, that began in 2001. Corté Riva is particularly known for their rich and chocolatey Merlot, and the ’06 they were pouring did not disappoint in that respect. The Cab and Petite Sirah are good wines too. Current production is 2500 cases.

  • 2006 Corté Riva Cabernet Franc – USA, California, North Coast, Napa / Sonoma (8/22/2010)
    Deep, plush black fruit, oak nose; ripe black fruit, espresso palate; medium finish (88 pts.)
  • 2006 Corté Riva Merlot – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/22/2010)
    Black fruit, faint herbal, mint nose; rich black fruit, espresso palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2006 Corté Riva Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/22/2010)
    Deep black fruit, menthol nose; deep black fruit, menthol palate; medium finish (91 pts.)
  • 2006 Corté Riva Petite Sirah – USA, California, North Coast (8/22/2010)
    Black fruit, berry, oak nose; tight, tart black fruit, berry palate with grip; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)

Dashe

I was trying to minimize the amount of Zins I tasted at FW (I’m simply not a fan of the grape, although I respect the results from some of the best makers, like Ridge). I was intrigued enough, however, by past tastings of Michael Dashe’s L’Enfant Terrible bottlings, to want to check in just on those, rather than his whole line of Zins. The L’Enfants are aged in large older French oak barrels, and bottled with low SO2 levels. These are lighter bodied, food friendly wines, and the Grenache was quite good.

Demetria

I was intrigued by this producer’s wines at last year’s FW, which is why it ended up on my list again. They are making 5,000 cases a year with fruit from Santa Rita Hills and Santa Ynez Valley. The Chardonnay and red Rhone blend, Pantheon, were both very good.

  • 2008 Demetria Chardonnay – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County (8/22/2010)
    Apple, citrus nose; peach, apple palate; medium finish (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Demetria Cuvée Papou – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley (8/22/2010)
    Tart apple, lemon, lanolin nose; soft, lanolin, citrus, mineral palate; medium finish (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Demetria Pinot Noir – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills – Sta. Rita Hills (8/22/2010)
    Brett nose; a little brett, tart red fruit palate; medium finish 88+ pts. (88 pts.)
  • 2007 Demetria Pantheon – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley (8/22/2010)
    Nice light black fruit, herbal nose; tart black fruit, pepper palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)

Diamond Terrace

I enjoyed these wines at Family Winemakers last year. Thomas Brown is the winemaker for Diamond Terrace, and Maureen and Hal Taylor, pictured below, are the owners. This project started in ’99 and currently makes only 500 cases. The ’07 Howell Mountain Cabernet was one of the best Cabs I tasted during the whole event.

  • 2007 Diamond Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley, Diamond Mountain (8/23/2010)
    Big berry, baked berry, plum nose; berry, baked berry, plum palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Diamond Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain (8/23/2010)
    Deep black fruit, berry nose; tasty, deep berry, black fruit palate; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
  • 2006 Diamond Terrace Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain (8/23/2010)
    Berry, black fruit, plum, vanilla nose; tight, black fruit, plum, vanilla palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)

Donum/Robert Stemmler

Donum Estate bottles both under the Donum label and a second label, Robert Stemmler. The Donum labeled wines were the superior offerings, especially the Carneros estate Pinot. Donum Estate produces 8,000 cases a year, and the winemaker is Kenneth Juhasz.

Dragonette

A few WineBerserkers posters recommended visiting Dragonette, which is how this producer, making its FW debut, ended up on my hit list. The owners and winemakers are the triumvirate of John and Steve Dragonette, and Brandon Sparks-Gillis, pictured below. I particularly liked the Syrah, with its bacon fat and smoky flavor. The Pinot Noir was quite rich and tasty too.

Ehret

Nick Goldschmidt is the winemaker for this project, founded in 2005 and making 1500 cases of wine based on grapes from Knights Valley. The two I tried were good; the last bottle of Syrah, unfortunately, was corked, so I didn’t get to try a good sample of that.

Field Recordings

I mentioned this producer in my blog report on a recent dinner at Luce Wine Restaurant, because that’s where I first tried one of their wines, the Chenin Blanc, and it got my attention. It was great to meet Andrew Jones (pictured left below), the energetic winemaker/owner behind this project, which was founded in ’05. The prices on these wines, ranging from $18 to $30, are very reasonable, and they all reflect a point of view. My favorites are the intense Petite Sirah, the “Chorus Effect” blend, and that unusual, very dry Chenin Blanc. The label graphics and presentation are very interesting too. What a welcome new voice from the Central Coast.

Fog Crest

Fog Crest makes 1500 cases a year. James Manoogian is the owner and Daniel Moore the winemaker. The estate Pinot was particularly good, but the whole line up was solid.

  • 2008 Fog Crest Vineyard Chardonnay LAGUNA WEST – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (8/23/2010)
    Pear nose; pear, apple palate; medium finish (12 mos. in neutral oak) (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Fog Crest Vineyard Chardonnay Estate Bottled – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (8/23/2010)
    Pear, lemon curd nose; very tasty pear, lemon curd palate with balance; medium-plus finish (18 mos. in oak, 50% new French) (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Fog Crest Pinot Noir LAGUNA WEST – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (8/23/2010)
    Cherry, incense nose; tasty, cherry, spice, incense palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Fog Crest Pinot Noir Estate – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (8/23/2010)
    Deep black cherry, black raspberry nose; deep black cherry, black raspberry palate; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)

Fortress

Nils Venge is the winemaker for Fortress. They launched in ’04, and are currently making 8,000 cases a year. The sweet wines, Novateur and Finale, were both very good.

  • 2008 Fortress Petite Sirah Red Hills Lake County – USA, California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County (8/23/2010)
    Nice tart black fruit, smoke nose; tart black fruit, smoke palate; medium-plus finish (20 mos. in oak) (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Fortress Novateur – USA, California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County (8/23/2010)
    Tart apricot nose; apricot, tart peach palate; long finish 92+ pts. (70% Semillon, 30% Sauvignon Blanc; 12 mos. in neutral French oak) (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Fortress Sémillon Finale – USA, California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County (8/23/2010)
    From 375 ml – creme brulee, apricot nose; rich, creme brulee, apricot palate; long finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)

Frostwatch

Brett Raven is owner and winemaker at Frostwatch. These are intriguing wines, and I enjoyed them at last year’s FW. The Chards are particularly strong. They’re making 900 cases a year, with a reasonable price range of $21 to $38.

  • 2009 Frostwatch Kismet – USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley (8/23/2010)
    Lovely pear, apricot nose; tasty, apricot, pear palate with good acidity; medium finish (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Frostwatch Chardonnay – USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley (8/23/2010)
    Lovely floral, honeysuckle, apple nose; floral, honeysuckle, apple palate; medium-plus finish (indigenous yeast; 6 mos. malo; 43% new French oak) (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Frostwatch Chardonnay – USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley (8/23/2010)
    Pre-release (releasing in 2 mos.) – nice apple, citrus nose; apple, citrus palate; medium finish (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Frostwatch Merlot – USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley (8/23/2010)
    Nice plum, berry nose; tasty, tart plum, berry, black fruit palate; medium finish 91+ pts. (2 years in barrel) (91 pts.)

Hanzell

Hanzell is a benchmark California Chardonnay, also one of the most potentially long aging domestic Chards, and the ’08 they poured was the best Chardonnay at this event. Wonderful juice. The new second label offering, Sebella, was also good. Weakest was the ’07 Pinot, which did not show any better than it did at Pinot Days.

  • 2008 Hanzell Chardonnay Sebella – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley (8/22/2010)
    Citrus, tart apple nose; tasty, citrus, tart apple palate; medium finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Hanzell Chardonnay – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley (8/22/2010)
    Nice mineral, tart apple, citrus nose; tasty, tight, tart apple, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
  • 2007 Hanzell Pinot Noir – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley (8/22/2010)
    Herbal, forest floor, pine nose; tight, tart red fruit, pine palate; medium-plus finish 90+ pts. (about 15% whole cluster) (90 pts.)

Hearthstone

This was Hearthstone’s debut at FW. They make 1400 cases a year, and the winemaker is Paul Ayers. This was a good line up, and the Pinot and Grenache were particularly good.

Hestan

Hestan makes 6000 cases a year. The wines were okay–best was the ’06 Cabernet.

Ispiri

This was a FW deput, and Alan Baker of Cartograph recommended trying them. The ’07 Cab was particularly good.

  • 2007 Ispiri Wines Maylena – USA, California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley (8/23/2010)
    Cassis, plum, menthol nose; tasty, poised, cassis, plum palate with integrated oak; medium finish (88% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon; 50% new French oak) (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Ispiri Wines Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley (8/23/2010)
    Nice berry, plum, menthol nose; tasty, berry, plum, menthol palate; medium-plus finish (w/10% Merlot) (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Ispiri Wines Cabernet Franc – USA, California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley (8/23/2010)
    Pre-release (bottled 6 days earlier) – tart red fruit nose; tasty, tart red fruit, oak palate; medium-plus finish 90+ pts. (50% new French oak) (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Ispiri Wines Pinot Noir Corona Creek – USA, California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley (8/23/2010)
    Pre-release (bottled 6 days prior) – major menthol, cherry nose; menthol, cherry palate; medium-plus finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)

JC Cellars

JC Cellars’s line up was good, but not as strong as prior years. Jeff Cohn is the winemaker/owner.

Jemrose

Michael Browne, of Kosta Browne, is the winemaker for Jemrose, and this was a strong line up, as it was at last year’s FW. They are currently making 1400 cases a year. Best of all was the ’07 Syrah Cardiac Hill.

  • 2009 Jemrose Viognier Egret Pond – USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley (8/22/2010)
    Nice apple, peach nose; very tasty, apple, peach palate; medium finish (stainless steel and neutral French oak) (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Jemrose Grenache Foggy Knoll – USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley (8/22/2010)
    Tart black fruit, berry nose; tart black fruit, berry palate; medium finish (w/5% Viognier) (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Jemrose Syrah Cardiac Hill Bennett Valley – USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley (8/22/2010)
    Deep black fruit nose; tasty, tart black fruit, bacon fat palate; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (30% whole cluster, 20% new French oak) (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Jemrose Gloria’s Gem – USA, California, Sonoma County, Bennett Valley (8/22/2010)
    Deep black fruit, black plum nose; poised, tasty, black fruit, berry palate; medium-plus finish (55% Syrah, 45% Merlot) (92 pts.)

Jones Family

Thomas Rivers Brown is the winemaker for Jones Family, and the ’07 Cab was particularly strong. They make 1,000 cases a year.

  • 2007 Jones Family The Sisters – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Black raspberry, berry nose; tight, black fruit, tar palate; medium-plus finish (Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc) (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Jones Family Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Reticent black fruit nose; tight, tart black fruit, berry palate with grip, needs 7 years; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)

Justin

Justin makes very good reds from Paso Robles, but I found this line up weaker than usual for them. They produce 50,000 cases a year.

  • 2007 Justin Vineyard Justification – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/22/2010)
    Black fruit, plum, oak nose; black fruit, plum, oak palate; medium finish (65% Cabernet Franc, 35% Merlot) (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Justin Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/22/2010)
    Black fruit, black plum nose; deep black plum, black fruit palate; medium finish (89 pts.)
  • 2007 Justin Vineyard Savant – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/22/2010)
    Oak, black fruit nose; oak, black fruit palate; medium-plus finish (62% Syrah, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec) (89 pts.)
  • 2007 Justin Vineyard Isosceles – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/22/2010)
    Deep black fruit, berry nose; deep black fruit, berry palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Justin Vineyard Obtuse (Traditional) – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/22/2010)
    Eucalyptus, menthol nos;e berry, menthol, black fruit palate; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)

Kent Rasmussen

I enjoyed Kent Rasmussen’s wines at last year’s FW, and wanted to try them again this year. The ’07 Cab and ’07 Petite Sirah were among the best wines of the weekend, and the whole line up was strong. Kent Rasmussen is the owner, along with Celia Ramsay, and winemaker, and they’re making 20,000 cases annually.

Krupp Brothers

I enjoyed this line up at last year’s FW, and these continue to be wines with a point of view and memorable packaging. My favorite was the ’07 Syrah.

L’Aventure

L’Aventure is a benchmark Paso Robles producer for me, but I found these ’08 bottlings to be significantly weaker than prior vintages.

  • 2008 L’Aventure Côte-à-Côte Estate – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/22/2010)
    Baked berry, oak, herbal nose; deep berry, oak, charcoal palate; medium-plus finish 90+ pts. (40% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 20% Mourvedre) (90 pts.)
  • 2008 L’Aventure Estate Cuvée – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/22/2010)
    Nice plum black fruit, French oak nose; berry, vanilla, oak, ripe plum palate; medium-plus finish (50% Syrah, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petit Verdot) (91 pts.)

Ladd Cellars

Eric Lundblad, owner/winemaker of Ladd Cellars, is a buddy, and I tasted through his Pinots at Pinot Days, with the exception of this Moore Ranch Pinot. I was quite impressed. Eric is making 650 cases a year, from grapes sourced from Russian River and the Sonoma Coast.

Lagier Meredith

Stephen Lagier is the winemaker, and his partner Carole Meredith is the emeritus Davis professor responsible for identifying the parentage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah and Zinfandel, among other accomplishments. I always look forward to trying their Syrahs, which are among the best in California. The Chester’s Anvil project is in conjunction with Aaron and Claire Pott of Pott Wine. The Chester’s Anvil Pinot is quite good, as is the blend Hattorai Hanzo. The ’08 Lagier Meredith Syrah is also quite good, if tight, as usual, at this stage.

  • 2009 Lagier Meredith Pott Chardonnay Chester’s Anvil – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (8/22/2010)
    Nice apple, lemon nose; apple, peach palate; medium finish (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Lagier Meredith Syrah Rosé – USA, California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder (8/22/2010)
    Tasty tart plum, herbal palate; medium finish (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Lagier Meredith Pott Pinot Noir Chester’s Anvil – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (8/22/2010)
    Nice black cherry, black raspberry nose; rich, tasty, black raspberry, black cherry, cinnamon palate; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Lagier Meredith Syrah – USA, California, Napa Valley, Mt. Veeder (8/22/2010)
    Pre-release (10/1/10 release) – deep tart black fruit, espresso, herbal nose; tight, tasty, tart black fruit espresso palate; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Lagier Meredith Pott Chester’s Anvil Hattori Hanzo – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/22/2010)
    Lovely, deep plum, berry, menthol nose; deep plum, berry, menthol palate; medium-plus finish (Merlot 32%, Syrah 24%, Cabernet Sauvignon 24%, Cabernet Franc 16%, Malbec 4%) (92 pts.)

Lamborn Family

Heidi Barret is the celebrity winemaker for Lamborn, founded in ’82, and the ’05 Cab is particularly impressive. They make 1600 cases a year.

Littorai

Ted Lemon founded Littorai in ’93, and his Chards and Pinots are benchmarks for more Burgundian (for lack of a better term) Chards and Pinots in California. The ’08 Charles Heintz is a lovely Chard, and the ’07 Savoy and Haven Pinots were very strong.

  • 2008 Littorai Chardonnay Sonoma Coast – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (8/23/2010)
    Light citrus, apple nose; citrus, apple palate with good acidity; medium finish (89 pts.)
  • 2008 Littorai Chardonnay Charles Heintz Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (8/23/2010)
    Nice citrus, pineapple nose; balanced, tart pineapple palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Littorai Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (8/23/2010)
    Nice cherry, rhubarb nose; tart cherry, raspberry, oak palate; medium finish (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Littorai Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley (8/23/2010)
    Tart cherry nose; tasty tart red fruit, tart cherry palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Littorai Pinot Noir The Haven – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (8/23/2010)
    Rich cherry, incense, baked cherry nose; tart cherry, red fruit palate, needs 2-plus years; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)

Lone Madrone

Tablas Creek’s Neil Collins is the winemaker/owner of Lone Madrone, which makes very affordable and approachable wines, produces an impressive range of whites, reds and blends. The best was the ’05 Tannat, probably the best Tannat made in California.

  • 2008 Lone Madrone La Mezcla Paso Robles – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/23/2010)
    Peach, nectarine nose; peach, herbal, mineral palate; medium finish (blend of Grenache Blanc and Albarino) (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Lone Madrone Roussanne Points West Paso Robles – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/23/2010)
    Apple, oats nose; tasty, creamy textured, apple, citrus palate; medium finish (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Lone Madrone La Mezcla Roja – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/23/2010)
    Carbonic maceration, herbal, nose; carbonic maceration, herbal, tart berry palate; short-medium finish (88 pts.)
  • 2007 Lone Madrone Zinfandel Bailey Ranch Paso Robles – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/23/2010)
    Berry, green herb nose; berry, green herb, charcoal palate; medium finish (90 pts.)
  • 2006 Lone Madrone “Old Hat” Osgood Family Vineyard Paso Robles – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/23/2010)
    Deep berry, plum nose; berry, plum, black fruit palate; medium-plus finish 90+ pts. (78% Zinfandel, 22% Petite Sirah) (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Lone Madrone Points West Red – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/23/2010)
    Mineral, stone, black fruit nose; tight, tart berry black fruit palate with depth; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (2/3s Syrah, 1/3 Mourvedre; some Hungarian oak) (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Lone Madrone The Will Will’s Hills – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/23/2010)
    Berry, black fruit, herb, bay leaf nose; berry, black fruit herb, bay leaf palate; medium-plus finish (41% Grenache, 40% Petite Sirah, 19% Zinfandel) (92 pts.)
  • 2005 Lone Madrone Tannat Paso Robles – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/23/2010)
    Deep black fruit, tar nose; black fruit, tar, cherry, licorice palate; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)

Macauley

Kirk Venge is the winemaker for Macauley which produces only 700 cases from Napa and Alexander Valley. The owner, Mac Watson, is pictured below. I particularly enjoyed the ’07 Zin, the ’07 Cab, the ’07 Beckstoffer To-Kalon Cab, and the ’07 late harvest Semillon.

  • 2009 Macauley Sauvignon Vert – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Lime, citrus nose; tangy, tart citrus, lime palate; medium finish (stainless steel and neutral oak; old vine Sauvignon Vert) (89 pts.)
  • 2007 Macauley Zinfandel – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Berry, chocolate nose; berry, chocolate, caramel palate; medium-plus finish (83.4% Zinfandel, 16.6% Petite Sirah) (92 pts.)
  • 2006 Macauley Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Brett, cedar nose; plum, cedar palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Macauley Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Nice black fruit, plum, vanilla nose; tasty, black fruit, plum, vanilla palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2006 Macauley Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To-Kalon Vineyard – USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville (8/23/2010)
    Deep black fruit, berry nose; deep black fruit, berry palate with grip; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Macauley Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To-Kalon Vineyard – USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville (8/23/2010)
    Deep black fruit, berry, tar nose; deep black fruit, berry, tar palate; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
  • 2007 Macauley Sémillon – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Very nice coconut, confectioner’s sugar nose; coconut, creme brulee, apricot, spice palate; long finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)

Mantra

Mantra was founded in 2000, and Michael Kuimelis, Jr., is the winemaker/owner. This was a good showing, especially the two ’07 Cabs.

  • 2007 Mantra Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Sonoma County (8/23/2010)
    Cassis, berry nose; tasty cassis, cedar palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Mantra Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley (8/23/2010)
    Deep berry, black fruit nose; tight, tasty, berry, black fruit palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Mantra Syrah – USA, California, Sonoma County, Alexander Valley (8/23/2010)
    Smoke, roasted black fruit nose; smoke, black fruit, charcoal palate; medium finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)

Mauritson

Mauritson makes 9,000 cases a year from Dry Creek Valley, Rockpile and Sonoma County. Clay Mauritson is the owner/winemaker. This was a good line up, especially the ’07 Buck Pasture blend.

Mercy

Alan Philips is the winemaker for Mercy, which was launched in ’08, and is now making 3,000 cases a year. The lineup is good, especially the ’08 Chard Zabala Vineyard.

Navarro

Navarro is a benchmark producer from Anderson Valley, and regularly makes one of the best Gewürzes in the state. The ’08 is terrific, and the ’07 l’Ancienne Pinot is quite good too. It was a treat to try the ’06 Late Harvest Gewürz as well.

Outpost

Thomas Brown is the winemaker for Outpost, and these are usually very good Grenaches, Cabs and Petite Sirahs. I was less excited by the results this year, but the Zin was quite good.

  • 2008 Outpost Grenache – USA, California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain (8/22/2010)
    Tart black fruit, berry nose; good, baked berry palate; medium finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Outpost Zinfandel – USA, California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain (8/22/2010)
    Rich berry, black fruit nose; berry black fruit palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)

Pahlmeyer

Jason Pahlmeyer is the owner of this company, and the winemaker is Erin Green. They make 20,000 cases a year and the wines, especially the Proprietary Red, are quite good.

  • 2008 Pahlmeyer Chardonnay Napa Valley – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Nice apple nose; apple, oak palate; medium finish (89 pts.)
  • 2006 Pahlmeyer Proprietary Red – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Pencil lead, black fruit nose; tasty, black fruit, pencil lead palate; medium-plus finish (81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec) (93 pts.)
  • 2007 Pahlmeyer Merlot – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Black fruit, charcoal nose; black fruit, charcoal palate with depth; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)

Paloma

Barbara Richards soldiers on at Paloma since the passing of her husband. and her 1850 cases of Merlot from the project they started in ’94 continue to be one of the best Merlots made in California. The ’07 was very good.

  • 2007 Paloma Merlot – USA, California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District (8/22/2010)
    Berry, black fruit nose; tasty, black fruit, berry, eucalyptus palate; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)

Parallel

Internationally famous consultant/flying winemaker Philippe Melka is the winemaker at Parallel. I’d enjoyed the wines at last year’s FW, and they showed well again this year.

Paul Hobbs

Paul Hobbs is a legendary California winemaker. Crossbarn is a label he founded in ’91. They’re good, and well priced wines, but the Paul Hobbs label is stronger, and the ’07 Paul Hobbs Cab is particularly good.

Peju Province

Peju goes back to ’82, and makes 35,000 cases a year. These were good wines, especially the ’06 Cabernet.

Peter Paul

My buddy Michael Carpenter suggested I’d be surprised by these wines, and I was. The Chard was very strong, but the Pinots were good too. This project was launched in ’08 by owner Jessica Paul, with Daniel Moore and Jeff Morgan as winemakers. They’re making 2500 cases of Chardonnay and Pinot.

  • 2008 Peter Paul Wines Chardonnay – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (8/23/2010)
    Nice, leesy, apple nose; tasty, apple, peach palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Peter Paul Wines Pinot Noir – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (8/23/2010)
    Smoke, cherry nose; smoke, cherry palate; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Peter Paul Wines Pinot Noir Hill Station Road – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (8/23/2010)
    Cherry, black cherry nose; tasty cherry, black cherry palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)

Portfolio Limited Edition

This project was founded in 2000 by owners/winemakers Genevieve and Luc Janssens. They’re making only 250 cases a year of Cab, priced at $125.

  • 2006 Portfolio Limited Edition – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Big black fruit, baked black fruit, espresso nose; black fruit, baked black fruit, espresso palate; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc; 100% new French oak) (92 pts.)

Robert Biale

Robert Biale is known for its Zins and Syrahs. This was a particularly strong line up.The ’08 Monte Rosso Zin was over the top. Great wines.

Robert Keenan

Keenan has a long tradition, since 1974, and currently produces 11,000 cases. The ’07 Cab Franc is particularly good.

Rock Wall

This is the Rosenblum Family project, since they sold Rosenblum, with Shauna Rosenblum as winemaker. They are making 5,000 cases. The Riesling was the best of their line up at FW.

Roessler

Wells Guthrie, winemaker/owner of Copain, is the winemaker here, along with Scott Shapley. Richard and Roger Roessler are the owners. They are making 7500 cases per year. The results are good but not spectacular.

  • 2008 Roessler Pinot Noir Griffin’s Lair – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast (8/23/2010)
    Spicy cherry, red fruit nose; spicy cherry, oak palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
  • 2008 Roessler Pinot Noir La Encantada Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills – Sta. Rita Hills (8/23/2010)
    Spicy cherry, berry nose; spicy cherry, berry palate; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Roessler Pinot Noir Peregrine – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills – Sta. Rita Hills (8/23/2010)
    Big cherry, spice, oak nose; cherry, spice, oak palate; medium finish 88+ pts. (88 pts.)
  • 2008 Roessler Pinot Noir Bluejay – USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley (8/23/2010)
    Oak, cherry nose; oak, cherry palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)

Rosati

Zelma Long is the consulting winemaker to this project, founded in ’87, making 900 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon a year from southern Mendocino County.

Saxon-Brown

Jeff Gaffner is the owner/winemaker of Saxon Brown, which was launched in ’97. The Syrah was particularly good.

Sensorium

Jeff Ritchey is the winemaker/owner of this project that has been making wines since ’02, amounting to 900 cases this year. They’re good wines across the board.

Sequum

Paul Skinner is winemaker/owner at Sequum, which is producing 550 cases, since 2002. This was a very strong line up. The ’07 Cabernet Four Soil Melange was particularly impressive.

Sojourn

Erich Bradley, winemaker, and Craig Haserot are partners in Sojourn. I taste these wines regularly, as Craig and Erich are buddies. I sampled the Cabs again, and the ’07s continue to be impressive.

Sol Rouge

Bryan Kane is the winemaker/owner of Sol Rouge, which was launched in ’05, and produces 1200 cases a year. It’s a high vine density, hillside project in the Mayacamas Mountains. The ’06 Cabernet Reserve was particularly good, but the wines are quite good across the board.

  • 2007 Sol Rouge Viognier – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (8/22/2010)
    Floral, honeysuckle nose; peach, honeysuckle palate; medium finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Sol Rouge The Gypsy Blanc – USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley (8/22/2010)
    Lime, floral nose; lime, chalk palate; medium finish (blend of Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier) (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Sol Rouge Rosé – USA, California, North Coast, Lake County (8/22/2010)
    Berry nose; dullish berry palate; medium finish (87 pts.)
  • 2006 Sol Rouge The Gypsy – USA, California, North Coast, Lake County (8/22/2010)
    Deep berry, raspberry nose; tart berry, raspberry palate; medium finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Sol Rouge Mourvedre – USA, California, North Coast, Lake County (8/22/2010)
    Big berry, plum, black fruit nose; tasty black fruit, berry palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Sol Rouge Syrah Lake County – USA, California, North Coast, Lake County (8/22/2010)
    Tart black fruit, nose; tart black fruit, herbal, pepper palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2006 Sol Rouge Cabernet Sauvignon Lake County – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/22/2010)
    Nice berry, eucalyptus nose; tight, tasty, berry, eucalyptus palate; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
  • 2006 Sol Rouge Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville (8/22/2010)
    Deep black fruit, herbal nose; black fruit, black raspberry, herbal palate; medium-plus finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)
  • 2006 Sol Rouge Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Mayacamas Mountain – USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville (8/22/2010)
    Nice, rich, black fruit, berry, herbal nose; very good, black fruit, berry, herbal palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)

Stage Left

Stage Left started in ’04, and currently produces 1200 cases a year. The line up was generally good, with the Petite Sirah being the best of all.

  • 2008 Stage Left Cellars The Go Getter – USA, California, Central Coast (8/22/2010)
    Apple, floral nose; tasty, peach, cream floral palate; medium finish 90+ pts. (63% Viognier, 32% Grenache Blanc, 5% Roussanne) (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Stage Left Cellars Syrah The Scenic Route – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/22/2010)
    Tart black fruit, herbal nose; herbal, black fruit palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2006 Stage Left Cellars Grenache – USA, California, Central Coast (8/22/2010)
    Big berry, chocolate nose; cherry, berry, chocolate, baking spice palate; medium-plus finish 90+ pts. (92% Grenache, 8% Mourvedre) (90 pts.)
  • 2005 Stage Left Cellars Grenache – USA, California, Central Coast (8/22/2010)
    Rich berry, chocolate, baking spice nose; tasty, berry, chocolate, baking spice palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2006 Stage Left Cellars Petite Sirah – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/22/2010)
    Deep berry, blackberry, vanilla nose; tasty, black fruit, berry palate with depth; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)

Tablas Creek

Tablas Creek is a benchmark Paso Robles producer. The ’08s are not as strong as prior vintages, but these are always very well made wines. The ’06 Syrah and ’08 Esprit were particularly good.

  • 2009 Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas Blanc – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/22/2010)
    Apple, green fruit nose; green apple, mineral palate; medium finish (42% Viognier, 26% Roussanne, 21% Marsanne, 11% Grenache Blanc) (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/22/2010)
    Lime, chalk nose; tasty, tart apple, tart peach, green fruit palate; medium finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/22/2010)
    Berry, black fruit nose; tasty, tart berry, black fruit palate; medium finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)
  • 2006 Tablas Creek Syrah – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/22/2010)
    Deep black fruit, berry nose; black fruit palate with green notes; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/22/2010)
    Nice black fruit, plum, berry nose; tasty, tart berry, plum palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (38% Mourvedre, 32% Grenache, 26% Syrah, 6% Counoise) (91 pts.)

Thomas George

Thomas George was making their FW debut. They were founded in ’08, by owner Jeremy Baker with winemaker Chris Russi, making 9,000 cases. The Pinot Lancel Creek is particularly good.

Titus

These were very nice wines. Philip Titus is the winemaker, and partners with brother Eric as owner. They are producing 10,000 cases, and started back in 1990. The Petite Sirah is particularly impressive and tasty.

  • 2007 Titus Cabernet Franc – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Olive, herbaceous nose; solid, tasty, herbaceous, olive palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Titus Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Herbal, tart black fruit nose; tart black fruit, herbal palate with depth; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Titus Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Lovely, deep, tart black fruit, espresso, herbal nose; deep tart black fruit, espresso, herbal palate; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Titus Petite Sirah – USA, California, Napa Valley (8/23/2010)
    Bright, herbal, black fruit nose; tasty, deep black fruit, herbs palate; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)

Turley

Turley is usually represented at Family Winemakers, but normally they only pour one wine. This year it was two, and both were very good, but the Petite Sirah Hayne was terrific. I enjoyed tasting through a complete vertical of the Petite Hayne a few years back, and this is a worthy successor to the line of great Petites from this vineyard.

  • 2008 Turley Zinfandel Rattlesnake Ridge – USA, California, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain (8/22/2010)
    Nice, poised, tart berry, black fruit nose; tasty, tart berry, espresso palate with depth; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Turley Petite Sirah Hayne Vineyard – USA, California, Napa Valley, St. Helena (8/22/2010)
    Opaque purple red violet color; lovely, rich, boysenberry, dark chocolate nose; tasty, tight, tart berry, blackberry, chocolate palate with balance; long finish 93+ pts. (93 pts.)

Valdez Family

Ulises and Adelina Valdez started this project in 2004, with Jeff Cohn of JC Cellars acting as consultant winemaker. They make 3500 cases a year. The ’07 Landy Vineyard Zin was the best of what they were pouring, but it was a good line up overall.

Villa Creek

Villa Creek wasn’t even listed in the program, but it was listed in the advance materials as a debuting producer this year at FW, and I’d enjoyed some of their wines in the past. The Grenache was one of the best Cali Grenaches I’ve had in awhile. The Willow Creek and Avenger blends were also strong.

  • 2008 Villa Creek Garnacha Denner Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/22/2010)
    Big berry, plum nose; tasty, berry, plum palate with depth; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Villa Creek La Boda – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/22/2010)
    Black fruit, oak nose; black fruit, oak palate; medium-plus finish (50/50 Grenache/Mourvedre) (89 pts.)
  • 2008 Villa Creek Willow Creek Cuvée – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/22/2010)
    Deep black fruit, berry, herbal nose; deep black fruit, berry, herbal palate; medium-plus finish (50% Denner Vyd Grenache, 25% James Berry Syrah, 25% Denner Mourvedre) (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Villa Creek Avenger – USA, California, Central Coast, Paso Robles (8/22/2010)
    Deep black fruit, berry, licorice nose; tasty, black fruit, berry, licorice palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (75% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre, 10% Grenache) (91 pts.)

VITUS

VITUS was another debuting producer at FW, founded by Fred Hearn and winemaker John Gilpin in ’05. They make 900 cases a year. The ’07 Cabernet was the best of their offerings, a major step up from the ’06 edition.

  • 2007 VITUS Merlot – USA, California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll (8/23/2010)
    Nice tart plum nose; plum palate with poise; medium finish (90 pts.)
  • 2007 VITUS Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville (8/23/2010)
    Plum, berry nose; plush plum, berry palate; medium-plus finish (with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot) (91 pts.)
  • 2006 VITUS Cabernet Sauvignon – USA, California, Napa Valley, Oakville (8/23/2010)
    Black fruit, plum nose; black fruit, plum palate; medium finish 88+ pts. (with Merlot and Cab Franc) (88 pts.)

Westerhold

Russell Bevan, pictured below on the right, is the winemaker for this new project, started by John Westerhold and Sharon Bauman in ’07. Russell is known for fashioning rich and intensely flavored wines, and this ’07 Syrah was another delicious addition to his growing portfolio. I was especially delighted by the pepper note on this rich and deep Syrah.

Yorba

This was my first time tasting these wines from a project started by the Kraemer Family in 2003. Ann Kraemer is the viticulturalist for Ken Bernards, of Ancien, so Ken makes the wines for Ann, who was a delight to meet. The line up was strong, especially the Syrah and Tempranillo (one of the best Cali Tempranillos I’ve tried). They’re currently making 1600 cases, and the price range is $26 to $38.

  • 2007 Yorba Barbera – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, Amador County (8/23/2010)
    Herbal, plum nose; tart plum, herbal palate; medium finish (90 pts.)
  • 2006 Yorba Zinfandel – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, Amador County (8/23/2010)
    Deep black fruit, berry nose; tasty, tart black fruit, berry palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (82% Zinfandel, 18% Petite Sirah) (91 pts.)
  • 2006 Yorba Syrah – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, Amador County (8/22/2010)
    Deep black fruit, chocolate nose; tasty, tart black fruit, tart chocolate palate; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Yorba Tempranillo – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, Amador County (8/22/2010)
    Spicy berry nose; tasty, spicy berry palate with depth; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (95% Tempranillo, 5% Graciano) (92 pts.)

York Creek

I’ve enjoyed York Creek’s wines, made by owner Fritz Maytag, in the past. These were again quite good, especially the ’04 Petit Verdot bottling and the ’05 “Port.”

  • 2006 York Creek Vineyards Cabernet Franc – USA, California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District (8/22/2010)
    Black fruit, espresso nose; black fruit, espresso, dark chocolate palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2006 York Creek Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate – USA, California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District (8/22/2010)
    Black fruit, coffee nose; tasty, black fruit, coffee palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2007 York Creek Vineyards MXB – USA, California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District (8/22/2010)
    Berry, black fruit, coffee nose; berry, black fruit, coffee palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2004 York Creek Vineyards Petit Verdot – USA, California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District (8/22/2010)
    Tart black fruit, graphite nose; tart black fruit, graphite palate with depth; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)
  • 2005 York Creek Vineyards Port – USA, California, North Coast, Napa / Sonoma (8/22/2010)
    Port, berry, caramel nose; big, rich, berry, chocolate palate with depth and complexity; long finish (93 pts.)

2007 Meursault Tasting: Matrot, Girardin, Ente, Lafon

August 27, 2010

2007 MEURSAULT TASTING: MATROT, GIRARDIN, ENTE, LAFON – Vin Vino Wine, Palo Alto, California (8/20/2010)


Rebecca, Dan and Brenda at VVW

I should have one of my major reports of the year, on the two-day Family Winemakers tasting this past Sunday and Monday in San Francisco, completed and posted sometime this weekend. In the meantime, I enjoyed this recent tasting of ’07 vintage Meursaults at VVW.

From this tasting of seven wines from four different producers, I got a sense that this is a very good vintage for Meursault, even if the results from one producer–Thierry et Pascale Matrot–confirmed problems with premature oxidation at that house that I’ve experienced with their Meursaults from other recent vintages–’05 and ’06. The ’06 Matrot Les Chevalières I tasted last year was already severely oxidized, and this ’07 was somewhat prematurely oxidized, and the Charmes was not much better. I question whether the Matrots are practicing too much batonage, which they refer to on their website without giving details as to how much with each wine.

The Girardin Meursaults we tasted covered three of his seven Meursault bottlings, including his one Domaine vineyard, Les Narvaux. All three were quite good, especially Les Charmes-Dessus. My other favorite wine of the tasting was the highly structured Comtes Lafon Clos de la Barre, although this is a power-packed Meursault that needs some serious aging, at least 5 to 7 years. The Girardins are fairly approachable already, and should be quite lovely with two to three years of aging. The Ente Meursault also showed well for a village bottling, albeit a little tight yet.


  • 2007 Thierry et Pascale Matrot Meursault Les Chevalières – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault
    Light golden yellow color; a little oxidized, butter, mineral, applesauce nose; tart lemon, citrus, mineral palate with near medium acidity; medium finish (86 pts.)
  • 2007 Vincent Girardin Meursault Les Tillets – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault
    Bright lemon yellow color; fresh lemon, citrus, vanilla nose; tight, citrus, mineral, gunpowder palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Domaine Vincent Girardin Meursault Les Narvaux – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault
    Light lemon yellow color; deep ripe lemon, citrus, orange nose; tasty, poised, focused, lemon, citrus palate; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Arnaud Ente Meursault – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault
    Light yellow color; oak, vanilla, almond nose; tight, ripe lemon, citrus, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Thierry et Pascale Matrot Meursault 1er Cru Charmes – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault 1er Cru
    Butter yellow color; reduction, apple cider, apple butter nose; hazelnut, apple, apple cider palate; medium finish 88+ pts. (88 pts.)
  • 2007 Vincent Girardin Meursault 1er Cru Les Charmes-Dessus – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault 1er Cru
    Light yellow color; poised, vanilla, cream nose; tasty, tight, tart citrus, lemon, vanilla palate, which should integrate with time; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
  • 2007 Domaine des Comtes Lafon Meursault Clos de la Barre – France, Burgundy, Côte de Beaune, Meursault
    Light yellow color; reticent, vaguely floral, mineral, white pepper nose; tight, tart white fruit, white peach, mineral palate, needs 5-plus years; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)

Adventures in Wine Pairing Part III: Tale of Two Tasting Menus

August 23, 2010

Richard, Sharon, Tim and Traci at Quince

I like to do tasting menus with wine pairings at some of our better restaurants, as I typically learn something from an inspired pairing. One of the things I learned from these two recent restaurant visits–to San Francisco’s Quince and Luce Restaurants–is that the City has a hot sweet wine for the summer and its name is Brachetto. Yes, the aromatic light red grape from the Piedmont, which produces sweet, raspberry and berry flavored wines, sometimes with fizz, as in Brachetto d’Acqui, seems to be the “it” wine of summer this year. It paired well with our delicious blackberry souffle at Quince as well as with our cumin peach yogurt mousse at Luce Wine Restaurant. In neither case did our Brachettos, a NV Malvira Birbet at Luce and ’09 Marenco Brachetto d’Acqui at Quince, have more than a short-medium finish, and the alcohol was a sobering 4.5% to 5.5%. Both brought light, refreshing berry flavor and balance to the end of the meal.

Here’s an account of both tasting menus, and how well our wines paired, starting with Christianne’s pre-birthday dinner, where we all had the Summer Tasting Menu, at Quince.

QUINCE SUMMER TASTING MENU W/WINE PAIRINGS FOR CHRISTIANNE’S BIRTHDAY – Quince Restaurant, San Francisco, California (8/13/2010)

pre-dinner Champagnes at Sharon and Tim’s

We started the evening by gathering at Sharon and Tim’s place for some pre-dinner bubbly: three very nice grower Champagnes. Our dinner reservations weren’t until 8:45 pm, so we had a chance to get together and visit in a very relaxed setting first. My favorite of the Champagnes was the very complex and elegant Pierre Peters Les Chétillons, that producer’s tete de cuvee, but all three of them showed very well.

Our three elegant human bubblies: Sharon, Traci and Christianne

1st course

When we got to Quince, Christianne had a choice of two tasting menus–the Summer or Chef’s–because the rule there is that everyone at the same table has to have the same menu. Christianne went with the Summer Menu, drawn in part, I think, by the suckling pig dish. With this decision down, we then quizzed the sommelier about the wine pairings. They generally sounded good, but we didn’t like the idea of a young Barolo with our suckling pig course, so found an older red Burg on the menu that we thought would fill this role better. We also ended up substituting the Pibarnon Rose for the original rose planned.

After an amuse of persimmon tomato gazpacho with cucumber and diced melon came this attractive first course, steamed scallop in squash blossom with three sauces, including nasturtium sauce. It paired decently with the Muscadet, which was good and minerally on its own, but a rounder white Burg, especially Meursault, probably would have been a more suitable pairing.

2nd course

Our second course was a squid ink spaghetti “alla chitarra” pasta with Santa Barbara sea urchin. It paired very well with the Pibarnon Rosé, which had the right amount of acidity to cut through the pasta, and soft red and orange fruit flavors that echoed the sea urchin.

  • 2009 Château de Pibarnon Bandol Rosé – France, Provence, Bandol
    Light orange pink color; tart cantaloupe, chalk nose; tart, dry cantaloupe, pink grapefruit, mineral, tart green tangerine palate; medium finish 91+ pts. (good pairing with squid ink pasta w/Santa Barbara sea urchin) (91 pts.)

3rd course

The third course was tortelloni with black prince tomato, eggplant and burrata cheese. The Occhipinti Frappato was a flavorful and inspired pairing with this. Traci liked the wine so much, she tracked down and bought some bottles the next day.

  • 2007 Arianna Occhipinti Vittoria Il Frappato Sicilia IGT – Italy, Sicily, Sicilia IGT
    Medium cherry red color with pale meniscus; ripe cranberry, tart berry, mineral, hibiscus, floral, herbal nose; tasty, tart red berry, ripe cranberry, mineral, blood orange, hibiscus palate with grip; medium-plus finish (92 pts.)

4th course

The main course was a complex construction that included suckling pig, a filling of chanterelle and artichoke, crispy trotter and onion flan. We substituted this ’00 Arnoux for the ’03 Barolo called for on the wine pairing menu on the theory that this Burgundy would be much more drinkable, and would pair fine with the dish, which it did. The Arnoux Les Chaumes itself was quite tasty, from a vintage–’00–which has been drinking well for at least a couple of years already.

dessert course

We ended the meal, following a palate cleanser peach sorbet with red wine granita, with this lovely blackberry souffle with blackberry sorbet. The Brachetto d’Acqui’s bubbles also helped clear the palate, and its berry flavor went just fine with the light, berry flavored souffle.

  • 2009 Marenco Brachetto d’Acqui Pineto – Italy, Piedmont, Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG
    Bright cranberry red color; red berry, Italian soda nose; cherry, herbal, red berry, almond, Italian soda palate; short-medium finish (89 pts.)


Paul, Christianne, Al and Anu

LUCE IRON CHEF YOGURT-THEMED DINNER W/WINE PAIRINGS – Luce Wine Restaurant (8/18/2010)

Chef Dominique Crenn beat Michael Symon on Iron Chef America in a contest aired August 12, 2010, in which yogurt was the secret ingredient. Her five-course tasting menu inspired by the show is featured at her restaurant, Luce, this month, and we did the wine pairings. My buddy, Luce’s wine steward John Wight, did our pairings, with some consultation from us on the red wine with the squab course (we were concerned that his original pick, a young Barolo, would overpower the squab, but we needn’t have been so concerned, as it was a very flavorful squab that stood up well to the Lagrein we picked, and would probably have handled the Barolo as well).

One of John’s most interesting picks was the ’08 Field Recordings Chenin Blanc from their Jurassic Vineyard. I hadn’t tried any of this producer’s wines before, but was quite struck by this high acid, food friendly wine, and made a point to check out the producer at Family Winemakers in San Francisco this past weekend. I’ll have more to say about them in my upcoming post on the big event. John’s other picks were all good too, and all had the additional virtue of not being very expensive either. Bravo!


Chef Dominique Crenn and Christianne

arctic char with char mousse amuse

yogurt verjus sorbet with cucumber consomme and shaved honey

Our first wine, with the amuse and consomme was a very aromatic and minerally Vermentino di Sardegna, which had terrific acidity and enough interest to carry me through the consomme dish, which was the least successful and complex of the dishes in this tasting menu.

yogurt in a summer vegetable garden

This was a very well composed dish with a variety of interesting textures, owing in part to the dehydrated vegetable flakes at the base of the dish, and to the yogurt croquette. The minerally Australian Riesling, with its camphor nose and good acidity, brought further interest and green notes to the dish.

  • 2007 Lengs & Cooter Riesling Watervale – Australia, South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges, Watervale
    Light green tinged yellow color; camphor, petrol, mineral nose; very dry, minerally, tangy green fruit, green tomato palate; medium finish (92 pts.)

divers scallops with quinoa, yogurt cubes, melon and micro greens

This was another dish with good textures, although the scallops were not as flavorful as I would have hoped. The Chenin Blanc definitely added another level of interest to the dish, and its high acidity cut through the creaminess of the yogurt cubes.

  • 2008 Field Recordings Wine Chenin Blanc Jurassic Park Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Slightly cloudy light yellow color; rounded, yellow apple, ripe lemon, mineral nose; dry, creamy textured, tart lemon, citrus, mineral palate, very intriguing; medium finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)

yogurt crepe, squab and eggplant caponata

This was a very flavorful squab, probably the best dish of an interesting menu. The Lagrein went fine with it, but some of the flavorful southern Italians John was suggesting would probably have been very nice pairings as well.

cumin peach yogurt mousse with rose hibiscus broth

Now we get to the second Brachetto d’Acqui in less than a week. This one didn’t have quite the same level of fizz as our BdA at Quince, but it was equally flavorful and a refreshing pairing with our yogurt crisp, peach yogurt and rose hibiscus foam.

After the meal, John brought us a couple of glasses of grappa from the grappa-themed 888 Bar next door to Luce (both are housed in the InterContinetal Hotel on Howard Street). This was one of the more complex and interesting grappas I’ve tried.

  • N.V. Malvira’ Brachetto d’Acqui Birbét – Italy, Piedmont, Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG
    Dark cranberry red color; black currant, blackberry nose; frizzante, tasty, blackberry, currant, raspberry, herb palate; short-medium finish (89 pts.)
  • N.V. B. Nardini Grappa Tagliatella – Italy, Veneto
    Light cranberry red color; anise, almond, cherry liqueur, Italian wedding cookie nose; complex, anise, cherry liqueur, raspberry palate; long finish (92 pts.)


Richard, Tom, Christianne and Paul

Summer Treat: Chilled 10-Year-Old Tawny Ports

August 20, 2010

IMG_4536
When I was in Portugal this past May, I learned that the Portuguese enjoy tawny ports served chilled in the summer months.

We’re still waiting for our summer months this year in Northern California—this has been the coolest July and August in memory. One expects, of course, to experience the chill in San Francisco these months, and the City has not disappointed in this respect, with some very foggy and bitterly cold days as usual this summer. Down the Peninsula, however, where I live, and up in the Sonoma and Napa wine country where I regularly visit, it’s usually in the 80s and 90s, at least, this time of year. Not so in 2010, however, with the morning “June gloom” having persisted through July and August. I’m not complaining about the lack of summer heat here; I actually really like it cool, although it’s keeping my tomatoes from ripening and could have some very unfortunate consequences for local wine grapes if they don’t start seeing more sun and heat before harvest time. So while we haven’t yet had ideal weather this summer for enjoying tawny ports as chilled aperitifs or nightcaps, I did purchase several tawny ports in July, when there was a brief suggestion of warming, to experiment with and compare. I wanted to figure out which ones I liked better chilled, and how much difference it made to the taste to chill them. Maybe you’re actually experiencing summer where you live, and, if so, you might benefit from a few more suggestions as to cool and tasty things to drink this time of year.

Tawny ports are wines made from red grapes that are aged in wooden barrels, exposing them to gradual oxidation and evaporation, which concentrates the flavors but also mellows the wine. As a result of this aging, they gradually change to a golden-brown or “tawny” color. The exposure to wood tends to impart nutty flavors, and different casks are ultimately blended to match the house style (e.g., very sweet for Graham’s, comparatively dry for Niepoort). When a port is described as tawny without an indication of age, it is a basic blend of wood aged port that has spent at least seven years in barrels. Above this level are tawnies with an indication of age that represent a blend of several vintages, with the average number of years “in wood” stated on the label. The official categories are 10, 20, 30 and over 40 years. These categories indicate a target age profile for the port, not the actual ages of all their constituent parts. The generic and 10-year-old tawnies can be relatively inexpensive—running from about $15 to $30, as compared to $35 to $50 for 20-year-old tawnies, and significantly more expensive for vintage ports.

I particularly love 20-year-old tawnies and all their complexity. Since some of that complexity, both on the nose and palate, would be lost if they were served much cooler than room temperature, I do not recommend chilling that level of tawny. My sampling and experimenting has so far been limited to the 10-year-old category, which can be quite good at room temperature, but also still interesting when chilled.

Here’s a list of ten 10-year-old tawnies I’ve tried so far this year, some of them multiple times, ranked in order of my point scores. My very favorite both chilled and unchilled is the Niepoort, with its complexity and relative dryness, closely followed by the Fonseca. The Fonseca, in particular, takes on a different, slightly darker character when it’s chilled, with maple syrup, walnut and honey predominating. I also very much like the Graham and Noval tawnies for a nightcap. As far as price, the Fonseca, Noval and Graham can all be found for $27 or less at a number of places; the Niepoort runs more, as much as $35 or so.

IMG_4534

  • N.V. Niepoort Porto 10 Year Old Tawny – Portugal, Douro, Porto (8/2/2010)
    Medium reddish amber color with ruby lights; pecan, vanilla fudge, tart blood orange nose; poised, tangy, vanilla fudge, pecan, baked orange palate; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (when chilled, has more of a pecan palate with good acidity) (92 pts.)
  • N.V. Fonseca Porto 10 Year Old Tawny – Portugal, Douro, Porto (8/2/2010)
    Very dark brown red color; VA, walnut skin, roasted walnut, date, fruit cake nose; soft, rounded, silky textured, fruit cake, dates, walnut palate; medium-plus finish (when chilled, maple syrup, walnut and honey flavors predominate) (92 pts.)
  • N.V. Graham Porto 10-year Tawny – Portugal, Douro, Porto (7/21/2010)
    Tawny medium brown color with ruby lights; VA, walnut, light coffee, ginger cake nose with warmth and depth; poised, creamy, light coffee, nutty, ginger cake, walnut, smooth palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • N.V. Quinta do Noval Porto 10 Year Old Tawny – Portugal, Douro, Porto (7/16/2010)
    Medium orange red color with ruby lights and clear meniscus; dried cherry, baked cherry, raspberry nose; baked cherry, dried cherry, dry, red berry, walnut, walnut skin palate; long finish (when chilled, very nice and walnutty) (91 pts.)
  • N.V. J.W. Burmester Porto 10 Year Old Tawny – Portugal, Douro, Porto (4/5/2010)
    Refined, hazelnut, coffee nose; hazelnut, coffee, caramel palate; long finish (91 pts.)
  • N.V. Ferreira Porto Tawny 10 Year Quinta do Porto – Portugal, Douro, Porto (4/5/2010)
    Praline, sweet coffee nose; coffee, hazelnut palate; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
  • N.V. Dow Porto 10 Year Tawny – Portugal, Douro, Porto (3/27/2010)
    Light medium red orange color; baked orange, dried berry nose; coffee, orange liqueur, fig, espresso palate; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
  • N.V. Kopke Porto 10 Year Old Tawny – Portugal, Douro, Porto (4/5/2010)
    Coffee, caramel nose; coffee, caramel palate; medium-plus finish 88+ pts. (88 pts.)
  • N.V. Sandeman Porto 10 Year Old Tawny – Portugal, Douro, Porto (5/19/2010)
    Light medium cherry orange red color with orange lights; caramel, slightly spirity nose; tight, caramel, tart raspberry, creme brulee palate, a little hot; medium-plus finish 88+ pts. (88 pts.)
  • N.V. Warre Porto Otima 10 Year Old Tawny – Portugal, Douro, Porto (4/5/2010)
    Apricot, nutty nose; nutty, caramel palate; long finish 88+ pts. (88 pts.)

Spanish-Themed Sunday Euro Lunch

August 19, 2010

SPANISH-THEMED SUNDAY EURO LUNCH – Donato Enoteca, Redwood City, California (8/15/2010)


L to R: Paul, Fred, Richard, Al and Tom

Next stop for our monthly Euro lunch was a visit to Spain, in honor of that country’s victory in the World Cup last month. Due to one couple’s wedding that weekend, another couple’s imminent birth, vacations and other exigencies, we were a small but mighty crowd of five for this lunch. Donato did a great job, as usual, with our food. We planned on a sparkler, whites, lighter reds, heavier reds and sweet wine, all from Spain (or, in the case of our vintage Madeira, “Iberia adjacent”), and with only one lightly corked bottle and the rest showing fairly well, the lunch was another victory for Spain.

Cava starter

We started with a Cava from one of my favorite producers, formed in 1986 by Josep Maria Raventos i Blanc and his son Manuel Raventos i Negra, who are part of the family that owns and runs the biggest and oldest producer of Cava, Cordoniu. This is one of their most expensive bottlings, and it was good, but I didn’t find it as interesting or complex as less expensive bottlings I’ve had. Perhaps it was because this bottle had five years on it already, and I’ve had better luck with very young Cavas.

Our light appetizer that went well with the Cava was a Farinata (thin chickpea flower cake) with speck and Crescenza cheese.

White and dry Sherry flight


With our next course, an heirloom tomato salad with fava beans and burrata, we tried a variety of whites. The best pairing was our Martinsancho Verdejo. Verdejo is the principal variety of Rueda, and Rueda Superior (at least 85% Verdejo) is arguably one of Europe’s great white wines. I really liked the aromatics on this one, which is from 40-year-old vines. Our second white was from Ribeiro, one of Spain’s oldest wine regions, and the wine, by Emilio Rojo, who switched to winemaking from being a telephone engineer in the mid-80s, was very good, but not the best pairing with tomato. Emilio Rojo brought back the obscure Lado variety from near extinction, and it makes up 10% of the single wine he makes, a blend of white grapes dominated by Treixadura. I also wanted to fit a dry sherry into the lunch somewhere, so we tried this one that had been recommended to me by one of the sherry experts at K&L. It was a very good, lighter bodied dry sherry, with refinement, but it would have done better with a light savory dish than our tomato salad.

  • N.V. Valdespino Jerez-Xérès-Sherry Fino “Inocente” – Spain, Andalucía, Jerez-Xérès-Sherry
    Light medium butter yellow color; light nutty, oily, nut oil nose; tasty, oily textured, refined, nutty, mineral palate; medium finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)
  • 2006 Emilio Rojo Ribeiro – Spain, Galicia, Ribeiro
    Light yellow color; oily, green pea, almond nose; delicate, green almond, mineral, tart citrus palate with tang; medium finish 90+ pts. (55% Treixadura, 15% Loureiro, 10% Lado, 10% Albarino, 10% Torrontes) (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Bodegas Angel Rodriguez Verdejo Rueda Martínsancho – Spain, Castilla y León, Rueda
    Light yellow color; very aromatic, white flower, nectarine, herbal nose; tasty, tart nectarine, mineral, herbal palate with grip; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)

Rioja

Our next course was a scallop tortellini in broth with squash blossom and zucchini. We decided to go with the lighter of our three reds, a mature Rioja. La Rioja Alta is a family owned producer that was originally established in 1890, and has maintained Rioja’s winemaking traditions while also keeping up with modern developments and improvements. They own 300 hectares of vineyards. The Gran Reserva 890 was made from 95% Tempranillo, together with small amounts of Mazuelo and Graciano. After malolactic fermentations the wine was put into American oak “barricas” in June 1995. It remained six years in cask, being racked by hand every six months before being bottled in June 2001. When opened, the nose had some suspicious mustiness, along with nice leather and roasted plum aromas. It took the full 3 hours of the lunch for the TCA to bloom to the point we were all sure there was cork taint, which probably sapped the palate of some flavor.

  • 1994 La Rioja Alta Rioja Gran Reserva 890 – Spain, La Rioja, Rioja
    Bricking dark red violet color; maturing, American oak, dill, tart plum, leather, roasted plum nose; mature, tangy plum, roasted plum, dill, red fruit palate, with slight TCA that bloomed over the course of our 3-plus hour lunch to the point we were certain; medium finish (92 pts.)

’01 Tempranillo flight

Our main course was a tasty lamb top sirloin wrapped in pancetta, with cabbage braised in Chianti vinegar and olive oil. It was time for our big reds. Both showed well, and both are near the beginning of their mature period, but the Alión, owned by Vega Sicilia and sharing its parent company’s winemaker, had the most balance and finesse. The first vintage of Alión, based in Ribera del Duero like Vega Sicilia, was 1991, and their aim is to produce great wines from 100% Tempranillo of reserva quality. The ’01 was fermented in stainless steel vats until January ’02, then raised in new Nevers oak barrels for 13 months. It was subsequently aged in bottle until its release in 2005.

The Numanthia is made by the Eguren borthers, owners of Sierra Cantabria and Senorio de San Vicente, who bought 41 hectares of 70-year-old Tempranillo vines (known in Toro as “Tinto de Toro”) and made their first vintage of Numanthia from it in 1998. The ’01 was made in the new bodega that was completed in 2000, specially designed with small oak fermentation vats. The other wine from this project, made from 100 year old pre-phylloxera vines, is the Termanthia.

  • 2001 Bodega Numanthia Termes Toro Numanthia – Spain, Castilla y León, Toro
    Opaque purple red violet color; berry, blackberry, black plum nose; berry, plum, black plum, blackberry palate with firm, sweet tannins; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
  • 2001 Bodegas y Viñedos Alión Ribera del Duero – Spain, Castilla y León, Ribera del Duero
    Opaque black red violet color; black plum, dill, American oak nose; tasty, plum, blackberry, black fruit palate with depth; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)

Sweet flight

Our final course, lemon, berry and passion fruit sorbet, and our final two wines–an Oloroso Sherry and a terrific vintage Madeira–were all excellent individually, but they didn’t play well together. Sorbet has much too much acid to compliment these already high acid wines. Lustau is an excellent producer of Sherry, one of the leading names in the business. The “Almacenista” wines they offer are rare wines made by small independent producers, “almacenistas,” in very limited quantities. The one we tried, the Pata del Gallina, was aged in a solera of 38 barrels, in the small bodega of Juan García Jarana. It was very complex, toasty, and oily textured, with notions of coffee, toffee, almond and seawater on the palate.

Our 1914 Madeira was a special treat, for which we have Tom to thank. I’ve tried many vintage Madeiras from Vinhos Barbeito over the years, and visited the company when I was on Madeira in May, but had never before tried this vintage Bual (which Barbeito no longer has in stock, having lost many of their older vintages in the terrible flood in Madeira this past February). This was a remarkably youthful wine for its 96 years, with the high acidity Barbeito wines are known for. It was a great treat to taste wine from a vintage that coincided with the forces that initiated the First World War, which upended civilization as it had been known to that point. I wouldn’t have been surprised to taste a little gunpowder in this wine, but I mainly got coffee, dates and walnut, with that wonderful acidity.


to the right, Donato Enoteca wine director Eric Lecours

Santa Barbara Winetasting Trip Day 2: Carr, Tensley, Carina, Qupé

August 16, 2010

SANTA BARBARA WINETASTING TRIP DAY 2: CARR, TENSLEY, CARINA, QUPÉ – Santa Barbara and Los Olivos, California (8/8/2010)


For my last day of tasting in Santa Barbara County, I started in Santa Barbara itself, at the Carr tasting room (after shopping at Santa Barbara’s Sunday farmers market for what we were going to cook for dinner later that day). I then headed up to Los Olivos’s tasting room row, to try the wines at Tensley, taste through the wines Joey Tensley makes for Carina Cellars, and then to finish at Santa Barbara region mainstay Qupé. The Qupé wines–which included wines made by Bob Lindquist’s wife and son–were the best overall, but I also liked the Pinot and Syrahs at Carr, and the Syrahs at Tensley. The Carina wines, however, were not very good.

Carr Tasting Room


Carr’s first vintage was 1999. All their wines are sourced from Santa Barbara County vineyards, and the focus is on their Pinots, but the Syrahs are quite good too. Ryan Carr is the winemaker/owner. Carr Vineyards is a vineyard management and development company that now manages 100 acres in Santa Barbara County, so the grapes are sourced from the vineyards Ryan develops and manages. As it happens, the next two wineries I tasted at–Tensley and Carina–both buy grapes from vineyards Carr manages. Carr has turned a 1940s quonset hut into rather attractive winemaking and tasting facilities.


  • 2009 Carr Pinot Gris Turner Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills – Sta. Rita Hills
    Pale yellow color; focused, green apple, white peach nose; good, tart apple, white peach palate with medium acidity; medium finish 90+ pts. (cold fermented in stainless steel and aged 5 mos.) (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Paredon Syrah – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Medium orange pink color with clear meniscus; dry red fruit, orange peel nose; tart cherry, ripe blood orange palate; short-medium finish 87+ pts. (87 pts.)
  • 2007 Carr Pinot Noir Turner Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills – Sta. Rita Hills
    Dark cherry red color; red fruit, caramel, black raspberry, blackberry nose; rich but poised, black cherry, blackberry palate, juicy, with firm sweet tannins, needs 4-plus years; medium-plus finish (12 mos. in French oak) (92 pts.)
  • 2006 Carr Syrah – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Dark red violet color; black fruit, blackberry, blue plum, pepper nose; black fruit, tart blackberry, pepper palate with a savory note and good acidity; medium finish 91+ pts. (blend of 3 vineyards; 18 mos. in French oak) (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Carr Syrah Morehouse – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Deep purple red violet color; roasted meat, asphalt, dry black fruit, tar nose; tasty, tart black fruit, tar, asphalt palate with structure and balance, needs 3-plus years; medium-plus finish (18 mos. in French oak) (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Carr Cabernet Franc – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Very dark red violet color; menthol, olive, herbaceous nose; solid, ripe Cabernet Franc, cassis, menthol, olive palate with grip; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (blend of 2 vineyards in Happy Canyon: Happy Canyon Vineyard and Three Creek Vineyard) (91 pts.)

Tensley

Tensley was started in 1998, and by 2006, they were producing 7 vineyard designate Syrahs. Joey Tensley got his start in the wine business in 1993, first as cellar rat then as bottling line supervisor at Fess Parker Winery in Santa Barbara County. After only three years he became the assistant winemaker at Babcock Vineyards. In 1998 Joey moved on to become the assistant winemaker at Beckmen Vineyards. There he was offered space to launch his own label. He decided to produce only vineyard designated Syrahs. He used 30% whole cluster fermentation, three times daily hand punch-downs, and very little or no new oak. In 2001, Matt Kramer in Wine Spectator named two of Tensley’s 2001 Syrahs to his list of Top Ten Wines in the World and described them as, “elegant, characterful wines with the grace of a ballroom dancer.” Joey’s wife Jennifer Beck makes Pinots and a rosé under the Lea name. The Camp 4 Blanc they make together. In prior years, Tensley has had some high scores from Parker in the Wine Advocate, ranging from 90 to 95 points, but I won’t hold that against him.

The Syrahs were good, and most impressive of all was the expensive and unusual blend of California and Gigondas grapes Tensley makes with Cécile Dusserre of Domaine de Montvac, the Détente.

  • 2009 Tensley Blanc Camp 4 Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Light green-tinged yellow color; green apple, green melon nose; green apple, tart green melon palate; medium finish (65% Grenache Blanc, 35% Roussanne) (89 pts.)
  • 2009 Lea (Tensley) Syrah Rosé Tierra Alta – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Light red color with pale meniscus; herbaceous, tart red currant nose; full flavored, red currant, herbaceous palate with refreshing acidity; medium finish 88+ pts. (88 pts.)
  • 2008 Tensley Syrah Tierra Alta Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Very dark red violet color; tart red plum, menthol, green herb nose; light-medium bodied, herbal, red currant, red plum palate with near medium acidity; medium finish (89 pts.)
  • 2008 Tensley Syrah Thompson Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Very dark red violet color; nice tart red plum, herbal nose with a sense of white pepper; tasty, tart red plum, white pepper palate with good balance and acidity; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2006 Tensley Syrah Three Creek Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Very dark red violet color; herbal, asphalt, tar, tart black fruit nose; tart black fruit, tar palate with depth and firm tannins, needs 2-plus years; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Tensley Détente – Mixed, USA/France, California/Rhone
    Dark red violet color; subtle, herbal, tart black fruit nose; tight, tart black fruit, pepper, green herb palate with balance; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (50% from Domaine de Montvac (Gigondas), 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 5% Mourvedre; 50% Syrah from Colson Canyon, all neutral French oak except 20% of Colson Syrah in new oak) (92 pts.)

Carina Cellars

So Joey Tensley is also the winemaker for Carina Cellars. I’m not sure why. These are pretty mediocre wines, at best, with the exception of the “7 Percent” Syrah, which includes 7 percent Viognier. The label art is pretty bad too. Seems like a vanity project gone wrong to me.

  • 2009 Carina Cellars Viognier Central Coast – USA, California, Central Coast
    Light medium canary yellow color; big honeysuckle, honeydew melon nose; ripe honeydew, pear palate with an oak edge; short-medium finish (84 pts.)
  • 2009 Carina Cellars Rosé – USA, California, Central Coast
    Medium dark orange pink color with pale meniscus; herbaceous, olive nose; ripe, sweet cherry, currant palate; short-medium finish (81 pts.)
  • 2007 Carina Cellars Grenache – USA, California, Central Coast
    Medium red color with pale meniscus; tangy currant, spicy red fruit, oak nose; soft, ripe cherry, red berry palate; short-medium finish (83 pts.)
  • 2007 Carina Cellars Sibylline – USA, California, Central Coast
    Dark red color; deep red currant, red berry nose; tart red currant, herbal, cranberry, pomegranate palate; medium finish (55% Mourvedre, 33% Grenache, 12% Syrah) (86 pts.)
  • 2007 Carina Cellars Clairvoyant – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Medium dark red color; pepper, tar, sweet sage nose; tight, tart black fruit, herbal, red currant palate; medium finish (55% Syrah, 33% Grenache, 12% Mourvedre) (87 pts.)
  • 2007 Carina Cellars Syrah “7 Percent” – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Very dark red color; nice pepper, lifted, tart black fruit, tar nose; tight, tart black fruit, tar palate with grip; medium-plus finish (93% Syrah from Colson Canyon Vineyard, 7% Viognier from Stolpman Vineyard) (90 pts.)

Qupé Tasting Room (Verdad, Qupé and Ethan)

I wanted to finish with something stalwart and reliable from Santa Barbara, and Qupé turned out to be just the right choice. Qupé produces Rhone varietals and Chardonnay. A majority of Qupé’s wines (about 50%) are made from grapes grown on the Bien Nacido Vineyard, where the Syrah and Chardonnay are planted and grown to Bob’s specifications. In addition to Bien Nacido, Qupé also farms (using organic practices) a 14-acre vineyard in Los Olivos, Ibarra-Young. The balance of the Qupé wines are made from grapes grown at various vineyards in the Central Coast appellation. Bob and his wife Louisa have recently purchased an 80-acre vineyard site in the Edna Valley which they began planting in the spring of 2005. This vineyard, Sawyer Lindquist, is being developed and farmed under the rigorous principles of biodynamics. Louisa is also producing Spanish varietals under the Verdad name, a couple of which were being poured at the Qupé tasting room, as was a wine from Bob’s first son, Ethan, which was a very concentrated Grenache raised in oak for 30 months.

All of these were good wines. My favorite of the whites were the ’09 Verdad Albariño, the very good ’07 Roussanne, and the ’08 Y Block Bien Nacido Chardonnay. The best of the reds were the Ethan Grenache and the ’08 Syrah Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard.

  • 2009 Verdad Rosé Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Arroyo Grande Valley
    Light pink orange color; tart cantaloupe, tart orange nose; tasty, refreshing, tart orange, cantaloupe palate; medium finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Verdad Albariño Sawyer Lindquist Edna Valley – USA, California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
    Very light yellow color; lightly oily, tart white fruit, herbal nose; tasty, light bodied, tart white fruit, white peach, mineral palate, refreshing; medium finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Qupé Bien Nacido Cuvée – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
    Very light yellow color; lightly floral, jasmine, white flower, nectarine nose; tasty, poised, refreshing, nectarine, white fruit palate; medium finish 90+ pts. (50% Chardonnay, picked early; 50% Viognier, picked late) (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Qupé Roussanne Bien Nacido Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
    Light lemon yellow color; almond, vanilla, rich lemon custard nose; creamy textured, almond, lemon custard palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (1 year in neutral oak) (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Qupé Chardonnay Y Block Bien Nacido Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
    From 375 ml – light lemon yellow color; nice light lemon, mineral nose; tasty, poised, ripe lemon, tart lemon, mineral palate with balance; medium finish (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Qupé Marsanne – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Light lemon yellow color; light lemon, mineral nose; creamy textured, lemon, mineral, oily palate; medium finish 90+ pts. (81% Marsanne, 19% Roussanne) (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Qupé Los Olivos Cuvée – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Medium cherry red color with clear meniscus; tart red fruit, subtle white pepper nose; tart red fruit, tart red currant, mineral palate; medium finish 88+ pts. (53% Syrah, 25% Grenache, 22% Mourvedre; aged 9 mos. separately in neutral oak) (88 pts.)
  • 2007 Ethan Grenache Nielson Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
    Medium cranberry red color; ripe berry, cherry, cranberry, black cherry nose with depth; concentrated, rich berry, cherry, red fruit, boysenberry, cherry pie palate with depth; medium-plus finish (aged 30 mos. in neutral barrels) (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Qupé Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
    Dark purple red violet color; big, herbaceous, green peppercorn nose; tasty, balanced, tart black fruit, herbaceous, green peppercorn palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Qupé Syrah Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Edna Valley
    Very dark red violet color; olive, herbaceous, green peppercorn nose; tart currant, herbaceous, green peppercorn palate, balanced, with depth; long finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)

Tasting Cargasacchi with Peter Cargasacchi

August 13, 2010

TASTING CARGASACCHI WITH PETER CARGASACCHI – Cargasacchi Cellars, Lompoc, California (8/7/2010)

Peter, Traci and Richard

Peter is a great character and wit, and also extremely knowledgeable and articulate about winegrowing, so it’s always a treat to spend time with him. For our tasting, we sampled not only the current releases, and a couple of past vintages, of the Point Concepción wines he and his wife Julia make from purchased fruit, but also Cargasacchi Pinots from both of the estate vineyards, Cargasacchi and Cargasacchi-Jalama, and an older Siduri Cargasacchi Pinot that our buddy Gregory brought along for Peter to taste with us.

We met up with Peter in the Lompoc warehouse he used to share with Brian Loring and Andrew Vingiello before they built their own facilities nearby for Loring Wines and A.P. Vin. Peter refers to it as the “Pinot Prison” area, between the dog pound and the Lompoc Penitentiary, near the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. Peter was just in from the vineyard, where he said he’d been mowing (the ground cover, that helps insulate the ground in the vineyard when it’s hot) and spraying, in an effort to get the vines moving toward veraison, which is pretty late this year due to unusually cool and overcast weather throughout July and August, so far. A video clip of Peter explaining what the grapes at Cargasacchi Vineyard were doing as of that moment appears below in the section on Cargasacchi Vineyard Pinot.

For more details on the individual wines, and vineyards they come from, see below.

Chardonnays

These were both very tasty wines, and remarkably reasonably priced (the ’08 sells for $20), but I was most impressed with the just-bottled-and-not-yet-released ’09. Peter uses no new oak on these Chards, based on fruit that comes from the Sierra Madre Vineyard planted to a Wente clone of Chardonnay. The 2008 Caponera did not finish malolactic, which helped to give it freshness and refreshing acidity. For ’09, Peter used a Burgundian yeast, CY3079, that tends to heighten the aromatics, to ferment half the batch, in neutral oak, and employed a South African yeast, that tends to give a more fruity result, in the other half in chilled stainless steel. The result, I think, is quite awesome for a reasonably priced Cali Chard, with complexity and good acidity.

  • 2008 Point Concepción Chardonnay Caponera – USA, California
    Light golden yellow color; nice tart peach, tart apple nose; tasty, tart apple, green apple palate with a hint of vanilla; medium finish (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Point Concepción Caponera – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Pre-release – bright light yellow color; complex, tart lemon, leesy, crystallized lemon peel nose; youthful, tart lemon, yellow apple palate; medium-plus finish (scheduled for Fall 2010 release; 1/2 fermented with Burgundian CY3079 yeast in neutral oak and 1/2 fermented in chilled stainless steel with South African yeast) (92 pts.)

Pinot Grigio

This wine is also based on grapes solely from the Sierra Madre Vineyard in Santa Barbara County. They de-stem and let the juice sit for a few days on the grape’s russet red skins, using dry ice to extend the cold soak. Italian winemakers call wines produced this way Ramato – the word for “copper.” According to the Point Concepción website, “The skins impart the salmon rosé color, soft tannins, and a complex minerality to the wine, and give it flavor and body that is rarely found in Pinot Grigio.” I tend to agree. Peter also told us that his aim with this wine was for something to pair with bitter greens, like arugula, and there is a green herb quality in this wine that, along with its relative sweetness and acidity, should play off well against bitter greens, including green vegetables like asparagus and artichoke.

  • 2009 Point Concepción Pinot Grigio Celestina – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Light medium yellow orange pink color; nice dried cherry, herbal, mint nose; rich, refreshing, ripe peach, cantaloupe palate with good acidity and sense of green herbs; medium-plus finish (3 days of skin contact with dry ice to extend cold soak and extract color) (91 pts.)

Cargasacchi Pinot Cargasacchi

The Cargasacchi Vineyard was planted in 1998 and now comprises 12 acres of Pinot Noir in the Santa Rita Hills appellation, all planted to Dijon clone 115, on two different rootstocks, 3309C and 420A. The 3309C rootstock tends to produce a deeper and well-branched root system. As a result of the deeper roots, it tends to take longer to warm up and induce bud break, usually running several days behind the 420A at bud break. According to Peter, it tends to emphasize the darker, blue-purple fruit and earthy character of the 115 clone. 420A is a shallow rooting, limestone tolerant rootstock, that begins the growing season relatively early due to its shallower roots. Peter feels it emphasizes the red fruit and brighter tones of the 115 clone.

I really like the silky texture of the ’06, which emphasizes the red fruit characteristics of fruit from this vineyard. The ’07 was showing much better than the bottle I sampled quickly at Pinot Days a few months earlier, and its structure suggests a lot of room for development yet.

Peter explaining what’s happening at the moment in the Cargasacchi and Cargasacchi-Jalama vineyards:

  • 2006 Cargasacchi Pinot Noir Estate – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills – Sta. Rita Hills
    Medium dark cranberry red color with pale meniscus; nice tart strawberry, currant, cranberry nose; silky textured, tart cranberry, currant, mineral palate with elegance; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Cargasacchi Pinot Noir Estate – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills – Sta. Rita Hills
    Dark cherry red color; nice cranberry, tart cherry, French oak nose with a touch of bacon fat; tight cranberry, tart cherry, raspberry palate with structure; medium-plus finish 90+ pts. (showed much better than when I tried it in seminar at Pinot Days in June) (90 pts.)

Cargasacchi Pinot Cargasacchi-Jalama

The Cargasacchi-Jalama Vineyard is nearly five miles southwest of the Cargasacchi Vineyard, outside of the Santa Rita Hills appellation (i.e., in the larger Santa Barbara County appellation). Its 16 acres were planted beginning in 1999, with a single acre of Dijon 115 Pinot, and additional plantings in 2000 and 2002 that included Dijon 114, the Mt. Eden clone, more 115, a suitcase clone, and a small amount of an Alsatian Pinot Grigio selection.

Peter needed to leave to catch up with Adam Lee to show him what was happening at the vineyard, and we needed to get a bite of lunch before continuing over to the Palmina open house, so Peter gave us these two half bottles to sample later in the day. The ’08 is good, but the ’09, just bottled two weeks ago, is very impressive and shows wonderful structure.

Peter gave me the following interesting background information on the process and effect of bottling his Cargasacchi-Jalama Pinots in half bottles with a screw cap: “I switched Jalama to half bottle format because it was so confusing to have both vineyards under the same front label, even though the information was on the back label, (technically back label is front label.) Plus I wanted to offer a 375 format pinot. [T]he screw cap has less O2 permeability, you can’t pull a vacuum when applying the screw cap like with the cork. So the screwcap gets a full headspace of air rather than vacuum and what I notice happening is that it has an accelerated drinkability, but then the lower O2 permeability kicks in and it has a stable drinking trajectory and less O2 over time. Which was why I went with the screwcap on the 375 initially because the 375 with cork closure oxidizes/ages more quickly. I had not anticipated the earlier drinking because of the head space issue when I first made that wine. It was an ‘Oh, that’s surprising’ moment but makes perfect sense.”

  • 2009 Cargasacchi Pinot Noir Cargasacchi-Jalama Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    From 375 ml – dark red violet color; cranberry, tart cherry, pine nose; tight but layered, deep, cherry, cranberry, raspberry palate with great structure, needs 3-plus years; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
  • 2008 Cargasacchi Pinot Noir Cargasacchi-Jalama Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    From 375 ml – dark cherry red color; nice cherry, spicy red fruit, vanilla nose; big, spicy, French oak, cherry, baked cherry, black raspberry palate, tight yet, and the oak needs to integrate; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)

Siduri Cargasacchi

This was the first vintage of Siduri’s Cargasacchi, and it was holding up beautifully. Complex on the palate, starting to show tertiary characteristics, this was a really lovely mature Cali Pinot, which is pretty amazing for fruit from such a then very young vineyard. My thanks to Gregory for sharing it with us. (Note: We did not sample the Babcock Cargisacchi pictured below with the Siduri. Gregory left that for Peter’s wine “library,” and Peter gave him a younger version of the Siduri in return.)

  • 2001 Siduri Pinot Noir Cargasacchi Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills – Sta. Rita Hills
    Cloudy, opaque cranberry red color; forest floor, cedar, iodine, mushroom nose; rich, creamy textured, mature, cherry, black raspberry palate with a sense of mint and peacock tail finish; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)

Point Concepción Syrah

The Cuvée Jalama is a blend of fruit from selected vineyards in the Central Coast. The name derives from the Purisemeno Chumash village once located in the area near Point Concepción, called “Xalam,” meaning bundle. These are also very well priced wines, at only $20 a bottle. The ’03 was showing a little reduction, due to the lack of oxygen under screwcap. The ’05 could use another year or two in bottle, or at least some decanting time, but is showing very well now, with a lot of depth for the price point.

  • 2003 Point Concepción Syrah Cuvée Jalama – USA, California, Central Coast
    From screwcap – showing a little reduction on nose of burnt rubber, black fruit and anise; black fruit, anise, black raspberry palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2005 Point Concepción Syrah Cuvée Jalama – USA, California, Central Coast
    Dark red violet color; nice black fruit, blackberry, berry nose; rich, poised, black fruit, blackberry palate with depth, needs another 1 to 2 years; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)

later in the day at Palmina’s open house, Peter and Siduri’s Adam Lee