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Tasting Event

A Great Tasting on Balance

IPOBred3-e1390765050425I spent Monday afternoon in Pursuit of Balance. Mission accomplished. I didn’t fall down once! Neither did the wines.

I arrived at the tasting nearly an hour late, but still managed to taste 40+ wines and have a number of interesting conversations. [Trivia: Bluxome is Cockney slang for “zero parking.”] Having dedicated last year’s tasting to Chardonnay, my focus this time was solely Pinot Noir. Despite this, there were so many wines on offer that I missed out on a great many, including about half of those on Jamie Goode’s good list.

The pouring is a little slower at IPOB than at most tastings too. As one winemaker told me, “There are so many people here that I only see twice a year and that I really need to catch up with.” Wine descriptions are also longer than those at most tastings: vineyard designation, precise location, harvest date, fermentation methodology, aging regime and various philosophical discussions are nearly mandatory. Tasters respond with multi-part questions. Wine geeks pouring for wine geeks.

Speaking of which, while I was not able to attend, I heard good things about the seminars (which you can now view online). Ehren Jordan of Failla told me “the side by side tasting of 2013 Calera Mills Vineyard Pinot Noir picked at two different ripeness levels was worth the price of admission by itself.” The resulting differences in alcohol level led to two very different wines.

The wine with higher alcohol was richer, easier to drink now and had the more generous palate. A show of hands indicated it was the favorite of most in attendance. Ehren, however, was captivated by the lighter wine’s exquisite nose, with “laser focus,” and preferred it. He was convinced that, with a couple of years bottle age, it would be just as accessible as the big brother but more interesting.

The Tasting

One of my fellow tasters told me that he found the wine’s this year to be more consistent than last year’s. I agree. I believe the primary reason for this is vintage. There were a lot of 2012s this time and it was a more uniform and less challenging year in the vineyard. That is not to say that the 2011s tasted this year or last were not good. It’s just that vineyard conditions were much more variable.

There was no wine I tasted at In Pursuit of Balance 2014 that I did not rank at least “Highly Recommended.” The wines I list below are those I rated Highly Recommended+ or Very Highly Recommended.

Anthill Farms Winery Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, 2012
Wild flowers, mixed berries and spice on the nose and palate. Medium+ body gently restrained by acidity and fine-grained tannins.

Anthill Farms Winery “Campbell Ranch Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast 2012
Pretty and feminine with a touch of melancholy: tea, drying rose petals, delicate red fruit and subtle vanilla. Fresh.

Calera “Jensen Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Mt. Harlan 1997
If only I could go back in time and buy a couple of cases upon release. Tea, dried flowers, cedar, stewed cherry and a hint of prune. Expressive, sleek and still energetic.

Ceritas “Costalina” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast 2012
Sweet red berries, spice and cream. Fresh and long.

Domaine de la Cote “La Cote” Pinot Noir, Sta Rita Hills 2011
Intense, stemmy perfume and tart purple fruit on the nose. The palate is medium+ in body with chalk and very good length. Designed for development, give it three years.

Drew “Valenti Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Mendocino Ridge 2012
A beautiful, intense nose with dark berries and exotic spice. Built to last.

Drew “Balo Vineyards” Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley 2012
A little restrained on the nose of berries and spice. More power on the palate with great acidity and fine-grained grip. Best in a year or more.

Failla “Savoy Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley 2012
A gentle nose of earthy red cherry, spice and forest floor leads into a palate of intensity and finesse with plenty of very fine tannins and excellent length.

Hirsch “Reserve” Estate Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast 2011
This best barrels selection from their San Andreas Fault Vineyard wine shows excellent concentration and length.

Kutch Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast 2012
Just the right amount of stem led to rich and spicy nose, grippy palate. Give it a couple of years in bottle.

Mount Eden Vineyards “Estate Bottled” Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains 2011
Amazing nose of dark flowers, spice and zesty berries. Captivating.

Mount Eden Vineyards “Estate Bottled” Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains 2008
Super-intense nose of ripe, lightly sappy red cherries and spice. Great balance, all at the plus end of the spectrum. Lengthy.

Native9 “Rancho Ontiveros” Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley 2011
A stunning wine. Super complex and savory aromas and flavors, including forest floor, tea, cedar, incense and more. Very long palate with medium+ body and fine-grained grip.

Red Car “Estate Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Fort Ross-Seaview 2012
Wild flowers, forest spice and burnt caramel on the nose, but the palate is about concentrated, tangy red fruit.

Red Car “Platt Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast 2012
Juicy fruit on the palate but fascinating forest spice and dried wild flowers on the nose.

Red Car “Zephyr Farms Vineyard,” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast 2011
A fruity wine with dark red cherry, raspberry and spice. Very fresh.

Tyler “Bien Nacido Old Vines” Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley 2011
Intensely floral with light, sweet cherry and berry fruit. Very long. Neely “Hidden Block” Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains 2011
Gorgeous with pretty dark flowers and spice. Fine, grippy tannins.

Neely “Picnic Block” Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains 2011
What a difference a few yards makes. Shallower soil means the Picnic Block vines struggle more and develop more slowly. The result is more somber and masculine wine than the Hidden Block. Earth, dark spice and dark red fruit with medium+ body.

Wind Gap “Woodruff Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains 2012
100% whole cluster Pinot, foot-stomped, fermented open-top and then aged in concrete yields an unique, attractive nose of white and black pepper with ripe berry fruit.

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.

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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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 outour 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 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

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

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Favorite Wines from the Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting

The 12th Annual Rhone Rangers San Francisco event ended yesterday with a Grand Tasting held at the Fort Mason Center in the San Francisco Marina. It was an excellent tasting with more than 120 wineries from up and down the west coast pouring their creations based upon Rhone-varietal grapes

Howell Mountain Spring Tasting Wrap Up

Dwarves, an old wizard and a hobbit “thief” battled ogres, orcs and a dragon to recover the Arkenstone of Lonely Mountain. The multi-faceted gem glittered brilliantly and, in the The Desolation of Smaug, shone like a beacon.

I wouldn’t send any of my readers up against a dragon, but the 2011 Arkenstone Sauvignon Blanc I tasted at the Howell Mountain Spring Tasting on March 19 is worthy of a quest. Speaking of desolation, it’s sold out. Fortunately, there were plenty of other excellent wines at the tasting.

Most of them were Cabernet Sauvignon, of course, and many of those from the notably cool 2010 vintage. I found the vast majority of these Cabs to be lighter-bodied and show more grape-derived complexity than those of more typical years. Accordingly, winemakers seem to have dialed back the proportion of new oak, letting vineyards shine through. Not every wine at the tasting was successful, but all of those below are special and many truly exceptional.

There’s been some debate about whether the more elegant style of 2010 will allow for longer aging. That’s going to vary from wine to wine and I don’t think blanket statements on the topic makes sense. However, I can happily say that all of these wines are drinking very well now. So, age them if you like or drink them while you’re waiting for the firm tannins and oak of other vintages to tame.

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Highlights of the Howell Mountain Spring Tasting

(All wines are Howell Mountain AVA and listed in alphabetical order)

2010 Arkenstone “Obsidian” Cabernet Sauvignon, $135
Nose of sweet herb, black currant and black cherry. Long palate with sweet black currant, coffee and dark spice. Medium+ body, tannins of very fine grain and light chalk. Reminiscent of St. Emilion. Very Highly Recommended

2011 Arkenstone Sauvignon Blanc, $60
Powerful nose with bell-like clarity. Flowers, passionfruit and white peach aromas. Intense, nearly full-bodied palate that’s juicy and very long. Flavors match the nose and add grapefruit. Very Highly Recommended

2005 Atlas Peak Wines Cabernet Sauvignon, $65
Rich, developing nose of braised black currant, drying leaves and spice. Nearly full-bodied and long with plenty of light-grained and fine powdery tannins. Highly Recommended+

2006 Black Sears Estate Red Wine, $80
The last wine made for Black Sears by Ted Lemon. Mocha, spice and tart black currant on the nose. Nearly full-bodied with tannins of fine powder and chalk. Long, intense palate that echoes the nose but emphasizes juicy fruit over the mocha. Very Highly Recommended

2010 Black Sears Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, $95
Intense nose and palate with mocha, dry currant leaf, and black currant. Acidity shows through the substantial, chalky tannins. Long. Very Highly Recommended

2011 Black Sears Estate Zinfandel, $57 Red, black and blue berries with sweet herb on the nose. Medium+ body with moderate, fine powdery tannins and flavors that match the nose but add the estates signature black pepper. Highly Recommended

2010 CADE Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, $80
Very spicy on the nose with an herbal accent. Nearly full-bodied with corresponding texture of fine grain and chalk. Slightly tart black currant and dark spice flavors. Highly Recommended

2010 Cakebread Cellars Dancing Bear Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, $115
Bursting with coffee, tangy herb and zesty black currant on the nose and palate. Nearly full-bodied with a creamy, slightly sweet attack then fine, powdery tannins. Interesting and mouth-filling. Very Highly Recommended

2010 Cimarossa “Rive di Cimarossa” Cabernet Sauvignon, $65
An earthy nose with dry herb, moist soil and restrained black currant which show on the palate too. Medium+ body and tannins (fine powder and chalk). Medium+ length. Highly Recommended

2010 Cimarossa “Riva di Ponente” Cabernet Sauvignon, $85
Disciplined ripe black currant, blackberry, spice and licorice nose. Much more intense on the palate with the same notes. Medium+ body, tannins and length. Highly Recommended+

2008 Cornerstone Cabernet Sauvignon, $200/magnum
Nose of black and red cherry with cocoa. Medium+ body with slippery tannins of fine powder and flavors of mocha, cherries and spice. Highly Recommended+

2010 Cornerstone Cabernet Sauvignon, $80
Intense but disciplined black currant, oak and cocoa. Elegant, fine-grained tannins. Highly Recommended+

2010 Hindsight Bella Vetta Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, $60
Aromas of dusty mineral and brambly black fruit with underlying ripeness. Elegant, acidity-driven palate of sweet oak, spice and slightly syrupy tasting fruit. Highly Recommended

2010 Howell Mountain Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel, $45
Intense blue and black berry fruit, spice, dusty earth and dry herb aromatics. Creamy, medium+ palate with moderate, fine-powder tannins. Highly Recommended

2010 La Jota Cabernet Franc, $75
Pretty black cherry and vanilla scents lead to a nearly full-bodied palate with fine-grained tannins. Rich black cherry, red currant, milk chocolate and spice. Highly Recommended

2010 La Jota W.S. Keyes Merlot, $450/3-bottle gift box, Aromas of cocoa, red cherry and dry forest floor. All about texture (fine grain/powder) and balance on the medium-plus palate. Slightly creamy with mouth-coating flavors of tangy herb, red cherry and cocoa. Highly Recommended

2010 La Jota Cabernet Sauvignon, $75
Tangy black currant and sweet spice nose and palate. Nearly full-bodied and creamy with gentle, fine powdery tannins and lingering juiciness. Very Highly Recommended

2009 Notre Vin Cabernet Sauvignon, $150
A complex and lovely wine with lean currant fruit, spice and faintly herbal overtones. Medium+ body, acidity and tannins of fine grain. Very Highly Recommended

2010 O’Shaughnessy Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, $80
Perfectly ripe yet dusty black currant and dry forest floor aromatics. Nearly full-bodied with tannins of fine powder and chalk. Sweet, zesty currant, spice and very attractive dry herb. Very Highly Recommended

2011 Outpost Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, $75
Intense aromas of tangy dark berries, sarsaparilla, dusty earth and sweet herb. Medium-plus body and tannins of fine grain and powder. Long, unique and compelling. Very Highly Recommended

2011 Outpost Estate Zinfandel, $57
Dusty chocolate, sweet dried black fruit and savory herb. Intense, sweet berry fruit and spice on the palate. Creamy attack gives way to fine-grained tannins leading into the long finish. Very Highly Recommended

2010 Piña Buckeye Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, not yet released
Tangy black fruit, dusty mineral and a hint of herb. Medium-plus body tannins (fine powder, chalk). Richly flavored and long with balancing acidity. Very Highly Recommended

2011 Roberts & Rogers Cabernet Sauvignon, $71.50
Interesting aromas of horehound candy, black cherry, spice and herb. Fine, chalky texture with medium+ body and flavors of tangy black cherry, spice and coffee. Rich and toothsome. Highly Recommended

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