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Top Wines from the Multi-Winery Open House at Rock Wall Wine Company

Written by Fred Swan
Monday, 10 January 2011 23:09

Just before the holidays, I attended an open house at Rock Wall Wine Company in Alameda. A few times a year, they open up their huge airplane hangar of a facility at what used to be the Naval Air Station. In addition to pouring their own Rock Wall wines, they invite some of the wineries that make use of the Rock Wall facilities or have other friendly affiliations with the owners. This time, there were 9 wineries in all and 68 wines available for tasting. I managed to try all of them.

As you’d expect out of such a large group of wines, a wide range of varieties and winemaking styles were represented. Overall, I was pleased with the quality. Some of the wines were great. I even discovered a small winery I had never heard of that’s making some really tasty stuff. I’m not going to score every single wine that was on offer. Rather, I’ll use this article to highlight the wines that made particularly positive impressions on me.

From Rock Wall itself, there were two wines that I thought to be exceptional. The 2008 Rock Wall Zinfandel Reserve ($30) is made from Monte Rosso Vineyard (Sonoma County) grapes. That’s a historic vineyard well-known for the quality of its old vine fruit. The wine comes in at 15.8% alcohol, but is smooth and balanced with very attractive blackberry, blueberry and vanilla flavors. Highly Recommended. The other Rock Wall wine I loved was the 2008 Rock Wall Petite Sirah, Mendocino County ($22). It was interesting and delicious with flavors of dark fruit, chocolate and black pepper. It will be perfect with a rib eye steak. Highly Recommended.

My favorite wine from Blacksmith Cellars was their 2007 Blacksmith Grenache/Syrah ($20). From the Furlong Vineyard in Alexander Valley, it was almost Chateauneuf du Papal with deep cherry fruit plus notes of black pepper and leather. Recommended.

Carica Wines, which takes most of their fruit from the owner’s Kick Ranch Vineyard in Sonoma County (just east of Santa Rosa and low on the northern slope of Spring Mountain), was pouring three wines and all of them are Recommended. The 2008 Carica Sauvignon Blanc ($21) was pretty and focused with vibrant pineapple. The 2007 Carica Syrah Sonoma County ($30) had a nose of subtly jammy black fruit with fresh black fruit and chocolate flavors. My favorite Carica wine of the day, however, was the 2008 Carica Rhone Style Red “The Siren” ($32). It’s a Chateauneuf du Pape blend and does honor to that region, one of my favorites.

Ehrenberg Cellars poured a 2009 Ehrenberg Zinfandel from Lodi, available only as part of their futures program at $269 a case. It was rich and thick and but not at all overdone or over-ripe. It’s a luxurious Zinfandel at an everyday wine price. Recommended.

Eno of Berkeley had both my favorite Pinot Noir and favorite Syrah of the tasting. The 2007 Eno Pinot Noir “The One” ($35) is from the Fairview Road Ranch in the Santa Lucia Highlands. It’s just over medium-bodied, very well-balanced across the board and offers classic red berries and spice flavors. The 2007 Eno Syrah “Mr. Fix-It” Las Madres Vineyards, Carneros ($25) is immediately satisfying with black fruit and white pepper leading the array of flavors. It’s a rich yet restrained wine that finishes well and will evolve in interesting ways over the course of an evening. Both wines are Highly Recommended.

At John Robert Eppler, I liked both the 2008 JRE Petite Sirah Napa Valley ($28) with its blackberry, black cherry and chocolate notes. The 2009 JRE Sauvignon Blanc Tradition Napa Valley ($12) reminded me quite a bit of white Bordeaux. It offers focused white peach, soft oak-derived notes and texture. It’s a steal at this price. I recommend both wines.

Mercy Vineyards specializes in making wine from vineyards in the Arroyo Seco AVA of Monterey County. I enjoyed and recommend both the 2008 Mercy Pinot Noir Cedar Lane Vineyard ($30) and the 2009 Mercy Pinot Noir Grive Vineyard ($38). However, my favorite among their wines was definitely the 2008 Mercy Syrah Zabala Vineyard ($38). It was full-bodied with a silky mouthfeel and flavors of black fruit, leather and black pepper. Highly Recommended.

R&B Cellars poured their 2008 R&B Pizzicato Petite Sirah Napa Valley ($28) which I liked quite a bit. However, they also had the best of the dessert wines I tried that day. The R&B Fortissimo “Port” Dessert Wine, Madera County (non-vintage, $20) is made from genuinely Portuguese varieties (Tinta Madeira and Touriga) grown in California. It’s lovely and balanced, without the alcoholic heat for which genuine Ruby Port is known. Even at 18.9% alcohol — standard for a Port-style fortified wine — the Ficklin Ranch fruit in this wine provides enough sugar to counteract the burn. The Fortissimo has a creamy texture and is loaded with Christmas spices, chocolate, concentrated black fruit and raisin flavors.

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