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On "Unexpected Napa Valley Wines"

In 1968, the value of Napa County’s beef production was virtually identical to that of its grapes[1]. There were 1,336 productive acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, but 1,492 acres of Petite Sirah. Chardonnay grew on 364 acres while French Colombard and Chenin Blanc each covered twice as much land. Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay combined accounted for just 14% of Napa’s wine grape plantings.

Today the picture is far different. Total vine acreage is four times greater. In 2013, Chardonnay represented 58% of Napa Valley’s white grape crush and Cabernet Sauvignon 55% of the red[2]. Petite Sirah was a mere 2%. Not a single ton of French Colombard was harvested.

Now, one might naturally assume Napa Valley wines made from obscure varieties, such as Grignolino and Tocai Friuliano, are a new fad. But, while their winemakers may enjoy offering non-standard wines, no Cabernet or Chardonnay vines were grubbed up to do so. Despite the valley’s massive transition, some “heritage” vines still exist in Napa Valley. Jon Bonné and Eric Asimov took wine writers on a largely historical tour with new wines made from old grapes in a seminar called Unexpected Napa Valley Wines at The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers late last month.

Their Unexpected Napa Valley Wines and my thoughts on them

2012 AbrenteAbrente 2012 Albariño, Napa Valley
Some comments on the Mark Squires message board take the position that, since there’s good Albariño in Spain, making it in Napa Valley is stupid. I agree. And since there’s good Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux, we should rip out all the Cabernet in Napa too. But, in the meantime, Michael Havens and Morgan Twain-Peterson are making this full-bodied, Carneros Albariño with long-lasting flavors of tropical fruit, tangy peach and white flowers. The palate weight is balanced by prominent acidity and grippy texture. It’s very nice. Try it with Chicken Koorma. Highly Recommended. About $23.

I should point out here that Albariño is not a blast from Napa's past. It was introduced to Napa Valley by Michael Havens himself in the late 1990's[3]. He also led the effort to get it offically approved by the TTB as a legal varietal in the U.S. His 2000 release was this country's first commercial Albariño wine. Now the grape grows in a variety of California AVAs.

Chappellet Vineyards & Winery 2012 Chenin Blanc, Napa Valley
There are just 22 acres of Chenin Blanc left in Napa Valley, a mere 2% of 1982’s sum. Good riddance, say some, since Chenin in California has mostly been associated with high-volume, nondescript whites from the Central Valley. But that’s got nothing to do with varietal releases from serious wineries in Napa Valley.

There was Chenin in the vineyard when the Chappellets purchased their property back in the 1960’s. The vineyard was replanted a decade ago, but a combination of French oak, stainless barrels and concrete egg add complexity to the wine. It’s off-dry, mouth-filling and minerally with a core of juicy, yet under-ripe stone fruit.It won't make you forget top-quality Vouvray but it’s a good wine. Served chilled with hot, crispy arancini. Recommended. $32

Massican 2012 White Blend, Annia, Napa Valley
If you want to start throwing “hipster” around, I guess this would be the time. Massican’s Dan Petroski went to Columbia, has lived in Brooklyn and worked in publishing before chucking it all to to study winemaking in Italy. Now in Napa Valley, he’s making wines to suit his Friuli-loving palate. On the other hand, “hipster” doesn’t describe wine (or anything) very well. So let’s scrap that and talk about the wine.

The blend is 46% Ribolla Gialla from Oak Knoll and Russian River Valley, 36% Tocai Friuliano from Chiles Valley and 18% Chardonnay from Carneros. The nose and palate are mineral-laden and delicately fruity with taut apple and stone fruit. Medium-bodied with juicy acid and just 12.7%, I’d enjoy this wine with linguine alle vongole, a white pizza or all by itself on a warm day. Highly Recommended. About $28.

Matthiasson 2011 White Wine Blend, Napa Valley Steve Matthiasson’s NapItal white also features Ribolla Gialla and Tocai Friuliano but pairs them with Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon instead of Chardonnay. The nose offers subtle jasmine perfume along with mineral notes and a mix of slightly tart tropical fruits that carry through in the mouth. The palate is fresh, medium+ in body and smooth, yet grippy. This wine would be perfect with the grilled octopus burrito from La Taquiza (next to the Starbucks on Redwood Rd. in Napa). Highly Recommended+. $40.

Heitz Wine Cellars 2012 Grignolino, Napa Valley
This unassuming wine has been a focal point for the scorn of Wine Advocate writers and their supporters this week. Lisa Perotti-Brown complained that the wine looked more like a rosé than a red, but then that’s the varietally correct appearance for Grignolino. One person dismissed the wine with an irrelevance, quoting Oz Clarke’s views on the variety in Italy. Others have totally missed the point that this is not a new grape to Napa.

Grignolino was already resident in “The One and Only Vineyard” when Joe Heitz bought it in 1961. It won’t be confused with Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and that’s just fine in my book. It’s a $19, medium-bodied red wine with light, yet grippy, tannins, generous acidity and just 12.5% alcohol. The nose is fresh and lively, reminiscent of rose petals, purple flowers and huckleberry pie. Tart berry flavors and juiciness are long-lasting in the mouth. Lisa Perotti-Brown likened it to an average Gamay. If “average” equates to 88 points or so, I agree. It’s a versatile lunch wine, right for everything from steak tartare, or a turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce, to a bowl of cioppino. Recommended.

Lagier-Meredith 2011 Syrah, Mount Veeder
Syrah might be considered unexpected in Napa not because it’s still left from the old days but because someone was crazy enough to plant some recently. There was none at all in 1968’s Napa Valley. The other unexpected thing about this wine is that, owing to the Mount Veeder growing location, it’s got a disciplined, cool-climate personality.

I found aromas and flavors of thick-skinned black plums, mountain blackberries, licorice, earth and white pepper. Body is medium+ with firm, lightly chalky tannins and acidity that peeks through. This is a very enjoyable wine now—decant it or braise a lamb shank—but will soften and gain delicious complexity for at least a decade in the cellar. Very Highly Recommended. $48

Turley Wine Cellars 2011 Petite Sirah Library Vineyard, Napa Valley
Despite it’s drop to 2% of red crush, Petite Sirah isn’t exactly unexpected in Napa Valley. Several of the other grapes in this complicated, mixed black (and white) blend are though. They include Mission, Peloursin, Grand Noir (huh?), Cinsault, Muscat of Alexandria, Muscadelle, Burger and Green Hungarian. That’s seriously old school.

I found this wine’s nose almost as opaque as its color during the tasting, but dense purple fruit and a hint of spice showed through. The body is medium+ with fine, very grippy tannins and plenty of acidity offsetting zesty dark berries and spice. This is your grandfather’s Petite Sirah and will reward cellaring. Highly Recommended+. $70

Corison 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
Okay. There’s nothing unexpected about a Corison Cabernet Sauvignon at tasting presented by Jon Bonné. (Welcome, yes. Unexpected, no.) It would, however, have surprised any writers who expect all wines of that variety from Napa Valley to be voluptuous studies in ripe cherry, black currant and mocha. Visitors from Bordeaux might also wonder when Napa started bottling St. Julien juice.

The nose is complex but dignified. Dry black currant is surrounded by an elegant range of spice, mineral and wood aromas which are indivdually distinct but also combine to smell something like the center drawer of an antique wooden desk. The palate is nearly full-bodied with firm tannins of light chalk but balancing acidity. Flavors include chewy blackberry, violets, pencil lead and crushed gravel. Very Highly Recommended. $80

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.


  1. Annual Crop Report Gross Values 1969, Napa County  ↩

  2. Preliminary Grape Crush 2013, NASS-USDA  ↩

  3. Napa Valley Wine Library Report, Summer 2005  ↩

Rutherford Dust in My Mouth: Top Reds from the 2012 Trade Tasting

The room was crowded, the lights dim. Upwards of 100 warm bodies — and 100 Fahrenheits outside — raised the temperature of Raymond Vineyards’ tank room. Proprietors and winemakers from most of Rutherford’s wineries poured luxurious reds while cheerfully answering the same questions over and over. Buyers, somms and writers swirled, sniffed, sipped, spat (or not) and scored scores of wines. They chatted and shared opinions.

dust-tasting

The 2012 Rutherford Dust tasting felt more like a party than in years past. Perhaps it was the ambience, or the knowledge that this year Napa Valley is once again Mother Nature’s favorite child. Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignons only enhanced the mood. Almost without exception, the wines from 2008, 2009 and 2010 expressed the character of their vintage while also proving that top wineries in premier growing regions can produce beautiful juice come rain or come shine. 

Despite the convivial mood, the Rutherford Dust trade tasting is a serious business event. Some members of the trade decide which wineries they want to prioritize for subsequent one-on-one meetings. Some may make on-the-spot decisions about which wines they will buy and in what quantities. I and other writers carefully take notes so that we can pass our impressions along to you — and also to determine which wineries we should feature in future profiles.

I was only able to sample the wares of 25 wineries. Among those I missed entirely was the host winery, Raymond Vineyards. Here are notes on the best 23 wines I did taste.

The Best of the Best Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon

2006 Heitz Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon “Trailside” Rutherford, $70
2006 is the current release for this wine. Coming from an estate vineyard near Conn Creek, the wine spends 36 months in new French oak. Mint, black cherry, spice and chocolate. Medium+ body and medium to medium+ tannins that have softened with the extended aging. Very Highly Recommended

2009 Hewitt Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, not yet released (NR)
Hewitt's estate vineyard is adjacent to that of Inglenook. The 2009 has a restrained but wonderful nose of black currant, sage and cocoa. Creamy palate that echoes the nose. Very Highly Recommended

2004 Hewitt Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $110
This wine has much in common with the 2009, but shows a little development. Black currant, cocoa powder and currant leaf on the nose. Matching flavors plus some dry leaves. Medium to medium+ body and a long, smooth finish. Very Highly Recommended

2009 Sojourn Cellars Beckstoffer Georges III Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $95
Beckstoffer's George III Vineyard is near Caymus Winery between Conn Creek Road and Silverado Trail. A creamy, full-bodied wine with black currant, red cherry chocolate and a trace of vanilla on the nose. Medium+, fine-grained tannins carry flavors of black cherry and cocoa. Very Highly Recommended

2010 Sojourn Cellars Beckstoffer Georges III Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, NR
Hand-bottled just before the tasting and not due for release until January, the nose was only moderately intense but attractive with cocoa, coffee and black cherries. The full-bodied palate features medium+, fine-grained tannins, concentrated black cherry flavor and a long finish. Very Highly Recommended

2008 Peju Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $45
A rich and lovely wine with creamy black currant and chocolate nose and flavors. Medium+ body and powdery tannins. Very Highly Recommended

2009 Piña Cabernet Sauvignon Firehouse Vineyard Rutherford, NR
The Firehouse Vineyard is located on the rocky slopes behind Piña's winery on Silverado Trail, just north of Skellenger Lane. Dusty black cherry and spice on the nose. Medium+ body and tannins (medium-grained) with juicy black cherry and blackberry. Very Highly Recommended

2009 St. Clement Cabernet Sauvignon Star Vineyard Rutherford, NR
Star Vineyard is a primary source for Orropas, St. Clement's flagship wine. The vineyard lies west of Highway 29 on the upper Rutherford Bench. Black currant, toast and gentle spice aromas and flavors with full body, fine powdery tannins and a long finish. Very Highly Recommended

2008 Staglin Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $185
The Staglin Family Vineyard is nestled at the base of Mount St. John, west of Highway 29. Very attractive aromatically with cocoa, vanilla, currant leaf and black currant. Medium+ body and fine-grained tannins are balanced by everlasting juicy black currant on the palate. Very Highly Recommended.

2009 Staglin Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, NR
A nose of dusty black currant, spice and dry currant leaf precedes the full-bodied palate. Tannins are medium+ with both medium-grain and chalky sensations. The flavors of black currant, dark spice and milk chocolate go on and on. Very Highly Recommended.

Highly Recommended 2008 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon

2008 Provenance Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Select Rutherford, $50
Provenance takes the fruit for this wine from three different vineyards including their estate, west of Highway 29, and the Beckstoffer George III Vineyard. This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, best-of-the-barrels wine brings black currant and currant leaf with firm, drying tannins. Best from 2014. Highly Recommended

2009 Provenance Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $45
Unlike the 2008 Barrel Select, this wine includes both Malbec and Petit Verdot. The majority of the fruit comes from the Hewitt and Beckstoffer George III Vineyards. It’s dark purple in color with a nose of dark fruit and spice. Medium+ and tannins with a lightly chalky feel. The spicy black fruit and huckleberry flavors go on and on. Highly Recommended

2008 Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon Morisoli Vineyard Rutherford, $100
Black currant, dusty cocoa and a subtle note of dry leaves on the nose. Medium+ body and tannins, medium-grained and drying, with flavors of black currant, cocoa and spice in a long finish. To be released in December, 2012. Highly Recommended

Highly Recommended 2009 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon

2009 Flora Springs Hillside Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $100
This wine comes from Block J of the estate vineyard on the bench in northwestern Rutherford. Ripe black currant and perfumey spice. Full-bodied with substantial tannins, both chalky and light-grained. Highly Recommended+

2009 Frank Family Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, NR
From the terraced Winston Vineyard east of Silverado Trail. Aromas of dusty black currant with a hint of currant leaf. Medium+ body and powdery tannins with ripe black currant and chocolate flavors. Highly Recommended+

2009 Freemark Abbey Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Sycamore Vineyard Rutherford, NR
The Sycamore Vineyard is up against the hills in southwest Rutherford, near Staglin. Medium+ body with medium to medium+ fine-grained tannins. A classic Cabernet Sauvignon showing balance between black currant, dusty mint and oak. Highly Recommended

2009 Tres Sabores Perspective Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, NR
Tres Sabores' estate vineyard is in northwestern Rutherford, against the hills and south of Whitehall Lane. Lovely black currant plus black cherry, cocoa, cola and a whisper of currant leaf. Medium+ body and tannins (medium-grained). Highly Recommended

2009 Trinchero Chicken Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, NR
The Chicken Ranch Vineyard is on the valley floor between Highway 29 and Silverado Trail. Expressive black currant, currant leaf and dusty cocoa on the nose and palate. Medium+ body and substantial fine, chalky tannins. Highly Recommended

2009 William Harrison Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, NR
William Harrison's estate vineyard is near the hills of eastern Rutherford. A pretty wine that smells and tastes of caramel and that semi-liquid cherry filling you find in some chocolate bonbons. The body is medium plus as are the tannins which are drying and have a talc-like texture. Lengthy finish. Highly Recommended+

Highly Recommended 2010 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon

2010 Fleury Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, NR
Medium+ body and powdery tannins with ripe black currant and chocolate flavors. To be released next year. Highly Recommended

Other Noteworthy Rutherford Red Wines

2009 William Harrison Winery Cabernet Franc Rutherford, NR
100% Cabernet Franc yields red cherry, mint and currant leaf aromatics. The palate is nearly full-bodied with matching, fine-grained tannins. Highly Recommended

2009 Rutherford Grove Sangiovese Pestoni Ranch Estate Rutherford, $35
The Pestoni Vineyard is just west of Highway 20 and north of Whitehall Lane. This charming Sangiovese provided a welcome change-up for my taste buds mid-way through the Cabernets. Red cherry, leather, toasted oak and vanilla aromas and flavors, rich palate and smooth tannins. Highly Recommended

1969 Freemark Abbey Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Bosché Vineyard Rutherford
The Bosché Veinyard is in northwest Rutherford midway between the hills and Highway 29. After more than 40 years — and based on just a very quick taste from a borrowed glass — this wine offers just one flavor, but it’s a beautiful one. Deep coffee resonates on the nose and palate like a single, sustained note from Yo-Yo Ma’s cello. Medium body and integrated tannins. This wine was included in the famous Paris Tasting of 1976 and some of the subsequent re-visitings. It wasn’t among the top scorers then and isn’t now. However, I loved smelling and tasting it and wish I had some in my cellar. I’m very appreciative of Freemark Abbey Winery’s generosity in opening a bottle for us. Recommended

Related Articles:

Spotlight on the Rutherford AVA
What is Rutherord Dust?

 

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Highlights from the Family Winemakers Tasting, San Francisco 2010

The Family Winemakers of California held their annual San Francisco tasting this past weekend (August 22-23, 2010) at Fort Mason. I attended both days and spent almost ten hours tasting new releases and talking with winemakers and proprietors. There were literally thousands of wines available to try. My focus was on trying things from wineries I wasn't very familiar with and completely new offerings from some of my favorite producers.

I tasted a ridiculous amount of wines, well over 170, but still only a small portion of what was available. Don't assume the worst for wines I don't mention. Also be aware that the tasting conditions at these mass tastings aren't scientific, so your experience with the wines I recommend may differ from mine. Over time, I will try to bring many of the better ones in for blind tasting in a controlled environment.

C.G. Di Arie was a new “discovery” for me, though they are likely well-known to those of you who spend time at wineries in the Sierra Foothills. They are based near the town of Mt. Aukum in the Shenandoah Valley, about 90 minutes east of Sacramento. The proprietors, Chaim and Elisheva Gur-Arieh have a 209 acre estate there, 47 of which are under vine. They’ve got at least 11 varieties planted and produce up to 15,000 cases per year.

As do many wineries with a wine club focus, C. G. Di Arie produces a lot of different wines (thirty-one in this case). Often that can lead to mediocrity. It’s really hard to produce many different wines and keep quality high. However, I tasted eight of the C. G. Di Arie wines on Sunday and can give seven of them solid recommendations. (The lone outlier was good, but not exceptional.) That’s an impressive showing. I was also pleased by the overall winemaking style: elegant, varietally correct and very moderate in alcohol and application of oak. I’m looking forward to visiting their winery, which includes two art galleries and a great view from their 1,700 foot elevation, soon so I can try more of the wines. Here are the ones I recommend for now:
2009 C. G. Di Arie Rosé Di Arie, Sierra Foothills - $18

2009 C. G. Di Arie Sauvignon Blanc, Shenandoah Valley - $18 (intentionally and successfully modeled after the New Zealand style, fresh and clean)
2007 C. G. Di Arie Barbera, Sierra Foothills - $24 (more restrained than most California Barberas)
2008 C. G. Di Arie Primitivo Block #4, Shenandoah Valley - $25
2006 C. G. Di Arie Zinfandel Southern Exposure - $35 (fruit sourced from Terry Harvey’s vineyard which is the old Zinfandel Vineyard in North America)
2007 C. G. Di Arie Petite Sirah, Estate Grown - $30 (would have been among the top 10 had it been poured at the P.S. I Love You event)
2006 C. G. Di Arie Syrah, Amador County - $20 (fruit-centric, but gently so)

There were a number of other wineries whose wines I don't recall having tasted previously but am now happy to recommend:
2006 Bella Luna Winery Estate Riserva Bellicaia, Paso Robles (70% Cabernet, 30% Sangiovese) - $45, Recommended
2007 Bixler Vineyards Red Blend (Syrah, Merlot and Petite Sirah from the California delta) - $12, Recommended
2006 Branham Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley - $40. Recommended
2009 Clouds Rest Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc - Recommended

2008 Clouds Rest Vineyards Chardonnay Mendocino - Recommended

2008 Clouds Rest Vineyards Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - Highly Recommended

2005 Clouds Rest Vineyards Pinot Noir - Very Highly Recommended

2008 Field Recordings Wines Petite Sirah Red Cedar Vineyard, Paso Robles - $30, Recommended
2008 Field Recordings Wines Chardonnay Sarmento Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands - $18, Recommended
2008 Field Recordings Wines “Fiction” (Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Tannat) - $17, Highly Recommended

2008 Field Recordings Wines “Chorus Effect” Koligian Vineyard, Paso Robles (red Bordeaux varietals plus Tannat) - $27, Recommended

2005 Korbin Kameron Cabernet Sauvignon - $40, Highly Recommended

2006 Korbin Kameron Merlot Sonoma Mountain - $NA, Recommended

2006 Korbin Kameron Kristin Cuvee - $55, Recommended

2006 Olin Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County - $20, Recommended
2006 Owl Ridge Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County - $24, Recommended

2005 Owl Ridge Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard Select - $24, Highly Recommended

2005 Owl Ridge Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Passalacqua Vineyard Dry Creek Valley - $48, Highly Recommended

2008 PB Hein Chardonnay Napa Valley (Carneros) - $NA, Highly Recommended

2005 PB Hein Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley - $40, Recommended

2007 PB Hein "Trailblazer" Red Blend (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel) - $NA, Highly Recommended

2006 PB Hein Syrah Suisun Vineyard - $17, Recommended
2008 Peter Paul Wines Pinot Noir Russian River Valley - $32, Recommended

2008 Peter Paul Wines Chardonnay Bacigalupi Vineyard Russian River - $38, Highly Recommended

2008 Peter Paul Wines Pinot Noir Mill Station Rd. Russian River Valley - $42, Highly Recommended
2007 Pierce Ranch Vineyards Petite Sirah - $NA, Recommended

2006 Portfolio Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon - $125, Highly Recommended
2007 Respite Wines Cabernet Sauvignon - $48, Highly Recommended2007 Sequum Zinfandel - $30, Highly Recommended

2006 Sequum Cabernet Sauvignon Kidd Ranch Napa Valley - $60, Highly Recommended
2007 Sequum Cabernet Sauvignon - $40, Recommended
2007 Sequum Zinfandel - $TBD, Highly Recommended
2007 TR Elliott Pinot Noir "Questa" Russian River Valley- $40, Highly Recommended

2006 TR Elliott Pinot Noir "Burgonet" Russian River Valley - $38, Recommended

2006 Violet-Green Winery Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard Mendocino - $NA, Highly Recommended

2006 Violet-Green Winery Cabernet Franc Alder Springs Vineyard Mendocino - $29, Recommended 

2007 Violet-Green Winery Cabernet Franc Alder Springs Vineyard Mendocino - $29, Highly Recommended

2008 Voss Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc - $20, Recommended

2006 Wallis Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon - $85, Highly Recommended
2007 Wallis Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon - $85, Highly Recommended

Two of the best wines at the tasting were not new releases. In fact, one of them isn’t even from this decade. Calera was pouring two wines from their library along with recent releases. Calera’s Pinot Noir is widely considered to be among the most age-worthy in California. The 1997 and 2000 vintages of Calera Mills Vineyard Mt. Harlan Pinot Noir strongly supported that view — both were excellent. Fortunately for you, these library wines weren’t just being poured for as references for aging potential. The winery has released a number of bottles from their library for sale now and the 2000 appears to be available. [Great palates think alike. You can also read about the 1997 Calera Mills Vineyard Mt. Harlan Pinot at Vinography.]

Don’t overlook the new wines from Calera though. The eight I tasted were all very good:
2009 Calera Viognier, Central Coast - $16, Recommended

2009 Calera Viognier, Mt. Harlan - $30, Highly Recommended
2009 Calera Chardonnay Central Coast - $16, Recommended
2009 Calera Chardonnay Mt. Harlan - $28, Highly Recommended
2008 Calera Pinot Noir Central Coast - $24, Highly Recommended

2007 Calera Pinot Noir de Villiers Vineyard Mt Harlan - $35, Highly Recommended
2007 Calera Pinot Noir Ryan Vineyard Mt Harlan - $40, Highly Recommended
2007 Calera Pinot Noir Mills Vineyard Mt Harlan - $45, Highly Recommended

Without respect to vintage or winery history, here are the best of the wines, by varietal, that I tried at the 2010 Family Winemakers Tasting:
White Wines

Chardonnay
2008 Clouds Rest Vineyards Chardonnay Mendocino - $NA, Recommended

2008 Dunstan Chardonnay - $40, Highly Recommended

2008 Field Recordings Wines Chardonnay Sarmento Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands - $18, Recommended

2009 Grey Stack Chardonnay - $NA, Highly Recommended

2008 PB Hein Chardonnay Napa Valley (Carneros) - $NA, Highly Recommended
2008 Peter Paul Wines Chardonnay Bacigalupi Vineyard Russian River - $38, Highly Recommended

Sauvignon Blanc
2009 Grey Stack Sauvignon Blanc - $NA, Highly Recommended

2009 Orin Swift Cellars Sauvignon Blanc - $25, Highly Recommended
2008 Petroni Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc - $22, Highly Recommended

Red Wines
Cabernet Sauvignon/Bordeaux Blends

2007 Carter Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Coliseum Block - $75, Very Highly Recommended
2006 Cavus Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - $NA, Highly Recommended

2005 Korbin Kameron Cabernet Sauvignon - $40, Highly Recommended
2007 Mauritson “Bordeaux Blend” Buck Pasture - $50, Highly Recommended

2007 Orin Swift Cellars Papillon - $55, Very Highly Recommended
2005 Owl Ridge Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard Select - $24, Highly Recommended

2005 Owl Ridge Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Passalacqua Vineyard Dry Creek Valley - $48, Highly Recommended
2006 Pahlmeyer Cabernet Sauvignon - $105, Highly Recommended

2006 Petroni Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - $70, Highly Recommended
2006 Portfolio Limited Edition Cabernet Sauvignon - $125, Highly Recommended
2007 Respite Wines Cabernet Sauvignon - $48, Highly Recommended

2006 Sequum Cabernet Sauvignon Kidd Ranch Napa Valley - $60, Highly Recommended
2007 Vellum Cabernet Sauvignon - $56, Highly Recommended

2007 Violet-Green Winery Cabernet Franc Alder Springs Vineyard Mendocino - $29, Highly Recommended

2006 Wallis Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon - $85, Highly Recommended
2007 Wallis Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon - $85, Highly Recommended

Grenache
2007 Grey Stack Grenache - $35, Highly Recommended

Merlot
2008 Bevan Cellars Merlot - ~$70, Highly Recommended

2005 Carrefour Vineyards Merlot - $28, Highly Recommended

Petite Sirah
2007 C. G. Di Arie Petite Sirah, Estate Grown - $30, Recommended
2008 Field Recordings Wines Petite Sirah Red Cedar Vineyard, Paso Robles - $30, Recommended

Pinot Noir
2007 Black Kite Cellars Pinot Noir Stony Terrace, Anderson Valley - ~$70, Very Highly Recommended
2009 Black Kite Cellars Pinot Noir Stony Terrace, Anderson Valley (just bottled on August 6) - $TBD, Highly Recommended
2006 Carrefour Vineyards Pinot Noir (Truchard Vineyard, Carneros) - $33, Highly Recommended
2008 Clouds Rest Vineyards Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - Highly Recommended

2005 Clouds Rest Vineyards Pinot Noir - Very Highly Recommended
2007 Sand Hill at Durell Vineyard Pinot Noir - $50, Very Highly Recommended
2008 Dunstan Pinot Noir - $50, Highly Recommended

2009 Grey Stack Pinot Noir Bennett Valley - $28, Highly Recommended

2007 Hanzell Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate - $95, Highly Recommended
2006 Pahlmyer Jayson Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - $45, Highly Recommended

2008 Peter Paul Wines Pinot Noir Mill Station Rd. Russian River Valley - $42, Highly Recommended
2007 TR Elliott Pinot Noir Questa - $40, Highly Recommended

Syrah
2007 Canihan Family Cellars Syrah Exuberance Reserved - $49, Highly Recommended
2007 Grey Stack Syrah - Highly Recommended
2008 Grey Stack Syrah - Highly Recommended
2007 Grey Stack Syrah “The Narcissist” - Very Highly Recommended
2007 PB Hein "Trailblazer" Red Blend (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel) - $NA, Highly Recommended
2007 Red Car Trolley Syrah "Tomorrowland" - $NA, Highly Recommended
2006 Violet-Green Winery Syrah Alder Springs Vineyard - $NA, Highly Recommended
2007 Westerhold Family Vineyards Syrah - $42, Very Highly Recommended

2008 Westerhold Family Vineyards Syrah (barrel sample) - $TBD, Highly Recommended

Zinfandel
2008 Field Recordings Wines “Fiction” (Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Tannat) - $17, Highly Recommended
2007 Sequum Zinfandel - $TBD, Highly Recommended

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This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

In Vino Unitas Tasting

In Vino Unitas is a small group of California wineries united by the fact that they sell their wine direct to the trade. Periodically, In Vino Unitas holds group tastings so that restaurants, retailers and the press can conveniently sample many of the wines. I attended their March 3, 2010 tasting at One Market Plaza in San Francisco. If you are in the trade in Southern California, check the In Vino Unitas website for the tastings they'll be having in your area next week.

Here's a full list of the wineries that poured at this event:
Alpha Omega
Astrale e Terra
Buonchristiani
Diamond Creek
Duckhorn
Ehlers Estate
Etude Wines
Gargiulo Vineyards
Gemstone Wines
Goldeneye
Grgich Hills Estate
Heitz Wine Cellars
Krupp Brothers Estate
Larkmead Vineyards
La Sirena
Mayacamas Vineyards
Merry Edwards Winery
Meyer Family Cellars
Nickel & Nickel
Paraduxx
Silver Oak Cellars
Testarossa Vineyards
Twomey Cellars
Vellum

All but one of the wineries were pouring more than one wine. Most were pouring several. As a result, I wasn't able to get through all of the wines offered. I didn't get to the Gemstone wines at all. Here are my comments and recommendations from among the wines that I did taste:

Very Highly Recommended
2008 La Sirena Moscato Azul - This is admittedly a high rating but it's hard to imagine Muscat Canelli being much better at this level of dryness. if you don't generally like this style of wine, adjust your expectations accordingly. On the border between dry and off-dry, this wine is beautifully floral with complementary aromas and flavors of stone fruit. Good acidity and that hint of sweetness. Refreshing on it's own, this wine would be great with top quality toro sushi.
2007 Vellum Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley - The fruit is from Coombsville. The winery's goal is to produce Cabernet Sauvignon inspired by the style of Bordeaux's St. Julien. While St. Julien has several different styles itself, this wine does succeed in being leaner and less dominated by oak than many expressions of California Cabernet Sauvignon yet more structured and complex than others.

Highly Recommended
2007 Alpha Omega Chardonnay Napa Valley - 100% malolactic fermentation softens this wine and adds richness. Very nice.
2006 Alpha Omega Proprietary Red - Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petite Verdot
2007 Alpha Omega Cabernet Sauvignon - No micro-ox for this vintage of the AO Cabernet 
2004 Astrale e Terra Arcturus Cabernet Sauvignon
2007 Buonchristiani Dolcetto - 100% Dolcetto, mostly from Dry Creek Valley's Unti Vineyard but supplemented with fruit from the estate vineyard in Yountville.
2006 Buonchristiani O.P.C. - Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot and Malbec
2006 Buonchristiani Artistico Syrah - from the Stagecoach and HdV vineyards
2006 Buonchristiani Cabernet Sauvignon
2006 Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Red Rock Vineyard
2006 Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Gravelly Meadow Vineyard
2006 Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Volcanic Hill Vineyard
2007 Goldeneye Pinot Noir Anderson Valley
2008 Grgich Hills Fumé Blanc - A study in grapefruit and gooseberry. Very nice.
2007 Grgich Hills Chardonnay - Stone fruit focused with a round texture yet sufficient acidity 
2004 Heitz Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Trailside Vineyard Rutherford - The vineyard is certified organic.
2005 Heitz Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Martha's Vineyard 
Krupp Brothers Black Bart's Bride (Marsanne/Viognier/Chardonnay) - This was a surprising wine. It has a very delicate nose of white flowers with fruited accents. The body is very full and, based on that, my brain was expecting a somewhat clumsy palate, either cloyingly sweet or full of butter. Happily, the flavors were as delicate and pretty as the nose. Lovely. Drink it while it's fresh.
2007 Larkmead Firebelle (Merlot blend)
2007 Larkmead Cabernet Sauvignon 
2006 La Sirena Cabernet Sauvignon,  Napa Valley
2005 La Sirena Syrah Napa Valley
2005 La Sirena Syrah Santa Ynez 
2007 Mayacama Sauvignon Blanc - Citrus, gooseberry and mineral
2007 Mayacamas Chardonnay - Pear, apple and juicy acidity
2001 Mayacamas Merlot 
2005 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 
2007 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Klopp Ranch
2007 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Meredith Estate
2008 Far Niente Chardonnay
2005 Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 
2008 Testarossa Pinot Noir Garys' Vineyard

Recommended
Alpha Omega 2009 Sauvignon Blanc - A barrel sample, this is an attractive wine with light oak treatment smoothing out the flavors.
Alpha Omega 2009 Unoaked Chardonnay - A tank sample, this wine goes through no malolactic fermentation. As a result it's lighter in body and flavor than your typical Napa Valley Chardonnays.
2008 Astrale e Terra Sauvignon Blanc - Round and restrained with attractive Sauvignon Blanc flavors and satisfactory acidity, Astrale e Terra's first ever Sauvignon Blanc could convert some Chardonnay drinkers.
2004 Astrale e Terra Estate Syrah
2009 Buonchristiani Rosato Napa Valley - Based on Syrah and Malbec, this was the best of the rosés I tried. It had bold flavors but retained good acidity and wasn't high in alcohol.
2008 Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc - Good, but i'd have preferred more acidity.
2008 Duckhorn Decoy Merlot
2008 Duckhorn Decoy Cabernet Sauvignon
2007 Paraduxx Napa Valley Red 
2006 Grgich Hills Chardonnay Reserve Carneros Selection - Stone fruit focused like the 07 non-reserve above, but even rounder with less acidity and more oak.
2007 Heitz Wine Cellars Chardonnay - No malolactic. A real bargain at the $20 price.
2005 Heitz Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley - Subtle and elegant
2005 Heitz Wine Cellars Bella Oaks Vineyard 
2007 Larkmead Sauvignon Blanc - Very nice with grapefruit, gooseberry and a touch of oak. Sold on-premise only. Look for it at your favorite restaurants. 
2004 Mayacamas Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon
2005 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 
2007 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast
2007 Merry Edwards Pinot NoirRussian River
2004 Meyer Family Cabernet Sauvignon Bonnie's Vineyard Oakville
2008 Nickel & Nickel Chardonnay Searby Vineyard - buttery fruit 
2005 Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 
2007 Testarossa Castello Chardonnay Central Coast
2008 Testarossa Chardonnay Sleepy Hollow Vineyard
2008 Testarossa Palazzio Pinot Noir
2008 Testarossa Pinot Noir Sleep Hollow Vineyard

The Best of 2011 Rhone Rangers SF Wine Tasting

Sunday, I attended the Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting at Fort Mason in San Francisco. I got there just a few minutes after noon for the trade tasting and stayed through consumer tasting until 5PM. Overall, I thought it to be a very good event.

There was certainly no shortage of wine. I sampled well over 100 wines during my five hours of focused tasting and conversing with winemakers. Yet, I doubt that I tried even 20% of all the wines available.

Overall Impressions

Rhone-variety wines made on the west coast are continuing to improve. I only tasted a couple of wines yesterday that were merely acceptable in quality, and none that were poor. I have noticed a steady progression in this regard over the past five years or so. Part of this may be that, since Syrah and Viognier are no longer “the next Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay,” there are fewer wineries taking half-hearted stabs at Rhone wines for sake of fashion.

Of course, plenty of wineries have been making very good wines all along. Many of them, especially those who went into the making of Rhone variety wines with a somewhat European sensibility, have not even changed their style. Others have made changes and though their wines were good in the past, they are better now and more drinkable. Whereas some had used the jammy and high-alcohol stereotypes of Australian Shiraz as a model, now the reds tend to be leaner, more complex and food-friendly wines. There is also a clear trend now toward sourcing Syrah grapes from cool climate vineyards.

Another varietal undergoing transformation in California is Viognier. Just three or four years ago, there were a lot of Viognier-varietal wines poured at events such as Rhone Rangers and Family Winemakers. Frankly, many of them weren’t very good. It seemed that Viognier was treated like some California Chardonnay had been: pick it ripe, let it go through complete malolactic fermentation and then stuff it into French oak barrels, 100% new. The wines were often thick, flabby and on the sweet side with flavors dominated by jammy fruit, oak and vanilla.

While there is still plenty of Viognier out there, a majority of winemakers are now making it in a more elegant style. They’ve cut way back on oak, sometimes eschewing it entirely. Some also arrest malolactic fermentation to retain acidity. I didn’t find a single Viognier yesterday that reminded me of Anna Nicole Smith.

The 2009 Adelaida Cellars Viognier (Paso Robles, $30) is an excellent example of the new approach. Winemaker Terry Culton wants to showcase their vineyard’s calcareous soils. “The calcareous influence would be covered up by new oak,” he told me. So he does his fermentation in neutral French oak. They also use small stainless steel barrels on 20% of the wine so that it can sit sur lie for a while and take some flavors and texture from that without any loss of freshness. Stainless steel tanks preserve fruit and crispness, but there wouldn’t be enough lees contact to be noticeable. Culton does not allow full malolactic fermentation either. He says the theme of his process is “control.”

This control shows in the final product. It is a Viognier of balance. Crisp peach is coupled with delicate floral notes. The minerality shows through and the lees influence provides subtle background flavors and interesting texture. Highly Recommended.

As was the case last year, the “it” grapes now are Grenache and Grenache Blanc. Generally, that’s a good thing, especially since they both excel in blends which have the theoretical potential to be more interesting and better balanced than single-varietal wines. On the other hand, as single-varietal wines they can be a little boring, And both grapes can result in very high alcohol wines, so vineyard managers and winemakers do need to be careful.

My favorite among the red wines including some Grenache was the 2008 Terry Hoage Vineyards “The Pick Cuvee,” (Paso Robles, $48). The wine now includes only estate fruit — organically farmed — and Terry does all of the winemaking. That’s quite a job as he creates more than 100 different wines for eventual blending. The Pick, a melange of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Counoise, is simultaneously pretty and very complex with great fruit flavors but a whole lot more. I wish I had a glass right now. Very Highly Recommended.

Terry-Hoage
Terry Hoage at the Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting in San Francisco, March 27, 2001.
Photo credit: Fred Swan

About My Top Picks

I chose to taste Northern California wines almost exclusively. Excellent producers were also on hand from the southern Central Coast, Oregon and Washington. But, there just wasn’t enough time in a single day to examine wines from Northern California fully, let alone those of our neighbors. That said, I did stop by Tercero Wines. I highly recommend the 2008 Tercero Cuvee Christie ($28) and the 2008 Tercero Cuvee Loco ($30). If you have a jones for Mourvedre, I can also recommend the 2008 Tercero Mourvedre Camp 4 Vineyard ($30).

My recommendations from big wine tasting events such as Rhone Rangers always come with a few disclaimers. I didn’t taste every wine. If I don’t recommend your favorite, I may not have tasted it. The tasting isn’t blind or in a controlled environment. My opinions may be colored by a winemaker’s charm or the overwhelming smell of BBQ sauce from a nearby table. [I did not give in to the temptation to taste it though.] Nonetheless, I thought the following wines were aces. I’ve listed them by category/recommendation level and then alphabetically by winery.

White Wines: Highly Recommended

2009 Adelaida Cellars Viognier, $30

2008 Anglim Grenache Blanc, $28 — 100% varietal, single vineyard

2007 Derby White Blend “Fifteen 10,” $24
2008 Derby White Blend “Fifteen 10,” $24
2008 JC Cellars Marsanne Stagecoach Vineyard, $38 — White flowers, marzipan and mineral. Serve cooler than normal to tame the 15.2% alcohol.

2009 Jemrose Vineyards Viognier, Egret Pond, $32 — Lovely peach aromatics, fresh and textured on the palate

2009 Katin Grenache Blanc, $32 — Unusually sensuous nose for Grenache Blanc.

2009 Terry Hoage “The Gap Cuvee Blanc,” $38 — Full-bodied

2009 Treana White Blend, $25 — Unctuous stone fruit and marmalade. A very full-bodied, decadent winter white.

White Wines: Recommended

2009 Alta Colina Viognier Blend “12 O’Clock,” $28 — 70% Viognier with Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc

2009 Ambyth Estate White Blend “Priscus,” $45 — Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier 

2008 Bonny Doon White Blend “Le Cigare Blanc,” $22

2009 Calcareous Vineyard Viognier, $28 — Floral aromas with stone fruit and marzipan. 50% stainless, 50% oak (Just 5% of the total cuvee saw new oak.)
2008 Calcareous Vineyard White Blend, $28 — 75% Viognier, 25% Marsanne. Rich but in balance. Fruit-centric with minerality.

2008 Caliza White Blend “Kissin’ Cousins,” $25

2008 Frick Grenache Blanc, Estate Owl Hill Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, $27
2009 Katin Viognier, $32 — Soft and pretty
2008 Kaleidos White Blend, $27 — An all-stainless production of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc from the Alta Colina Vineyard
2008 Lone Madrone Roussanne, $28

2009 Novy Family Viognier, $20 — The fruit is ripe, but the wine is still fresh. They used no oak and the wine didn’t undergo malolactic fermentation.

2009 Pride Viognier, $42
2009 Vina Robles “WHITE4,” $16 — Fruit-forward, yet gentle and complex.

Red Wines: Very Highly Recommended

2008 Terry Hoage “The Pick Cuvee,” $48 — see paragraph 11 above for details

2008 Villa Creek “Bete Noire” Red Blend, $45

Red Wines: Highly Recommended

2008 Adelaida Cellars Syrah Viking Vineyard, $65 — This wine can handle some aging
2008 Alta Colina Red Blend, $38 — Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre
2008 Alta Colina Petite Sirah “Old 900,” $48

2008 Alta Colina Petite Sirah “Ann’s Block,” $48
2009 Arnot-Roberts Syrah, Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, $56

2010 Arnot-Roberts Syrah, Clary Ranch, ~$40 — 100% Syrah, black pepper, green olives and evergreen forest

2008 Cosa Obra Red Blend “Proprietor’s Blend,” $38 — Syrah and Grenache
2009 Cosa Obra “Other” Proprietor’s Blend — barrel sample

2008 Cypher Winery Red Blend “Peasant,” $40 — formerly “Four Vines Winery
2007 JC Cellars Syrah, Rockpile Vineyard, $60
2008 Kukkula “Sisu” Red Blend, $30
2007 Martinelli Syrah, Lolita Ranch, $75

2007 Syrah, Zio Tony Ranch, $75

2009 Outpost Grenache, Howell Mountain, $45 — An exceptionally dark and rich Grenache

2008 Wind Gap Syrah, Sonoma Coast, $48 — Black and white pepper, herb and brambly fruit
2009 Wind Gap Syrah, Griffins Lair Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, $48 — Juicy with very dark, moody flavors.
2007 Pride Syrah, $60 — Black pepper, leather and gamey black fruit 

2008 Skylark Syrah, Rodgers Creek Vineyard, $36

2007 Stage Left Cellars “The Breadwinner” Red Blend, Central Coast, $42
2009 Austin Hope Grenache, Hope Family Vineyard, $42 — Chocolate truffle rolled in cherry powder.

2008 Wrath Syrah, Doctor’s Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, $39

Red Wines: Recommended

2008 Adelaida Cellars Grenache, $32

2008 Adelaida Cellars Syrah, Anna’s Vineyard, $28
2008 Alta Colina Syrah “Toasted Slope,” $38
2006 Anglim Grenache — 7% Counoise

2009 Arnot-Roberts Syrah, North Block Hudson Vineyard, Carneros, Napa Valley, $56

2008 Caliza Syrah, $45

2008 Cypher Winery Red Blend “Anarchy,” $40 — formerly “Four Vines Winery”
2008 Jemrose Vineyards Grenache, Foggy Knoll, $38
2008 Jemrose Vineyards Syrah, Cardiac Hill, $38

2008 Jemrose Vineyards “Gloria’s Gem Proprietary Red,” $65

2008 Justin “Savant” Red Blend, $45

2009 Kukkula “Sisu” Red Blend, $40 — All estate fruit as of this vintage

2009 Kukkula “Pas de Deux” Red Blend, $40

2007 Montemaggiore Syrah Reserve, $45

2009 Wind Gap “Orra,” $28 — Grenache, Mourvedre & Counoise; spicy fruit and leather

2008 Quivira Mourvedre, $32 — A very nice effort
2008 Skylark “Red Belly” Blend, $20 — Soft fruit with an earth edge. Excellent value!

2007 Skylark Syrah, Stagecoach Vineyard, $40
2008 Stage Left Cellars “The ExPat” Red Blend, Central Coast, $24

2008 Stage Left Cellars “Day Job,” $40 — Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Mourvedre
2008 Terry Hoage Syrah “5 Blocks Cuvee," $NA
2008 Travieso Syrah “Amaranta,” KW Ranch, Santa Lucia Highlands, $36
2008 Travieso “Traviesito,” $16
2009 Austin Hope Syrah, Hope Family Vineyard, $42
2008 Villa Creek “Avenger” Red Blend, $35
2008 Villa Creek “Garnache,” $35 — Cherry, oak and spice
2008 Villa Creek Grenache “La Boda,” $40

2008 Vina Robles “RED4,” $16

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.