With the economy on the way back up this year, the wine business is awash in unsold bottles and discounts are making great wines more accessible to more people.
We are blessed in the Bay Area with access to world-class wines grown within an easy drive from where we live. Napa and Sonoma are home to hundreds of small, medium and large winemaking operations, but they are not the only sources of award-winning wines.
We also find great wines coming from Mendocino as well as the Livermore Valley, Lodi and the Santa Cruz mountains plus Suisun Valley, the Claksburg region and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The choices sometimes seem endless.
I’ve been fortunate to taste hundreds of California wines over the past year from all of these wine-growing regions. Most have been good. A few have been awful. And, a few have been wonderful. Here are some of my personal favorites:
With New Year’s coming up fast, I’d better start this list with something festive. The creamy Royal Cuvee from Gloria Ferrer fits the bill perfectly. The 2002 vintage, a blend of 65 percent pinot noir and 35 percent chardonnay, is a $35 bargain. This wine tastes of apple and baking spice, caressed by a fine stream of tiny bubbles.
Make no bones about it. I’m a big fan of zinfandel.
Each year, I look forward to the annual ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) tasting in San Francisco. Fort Mason is transformed into a zinfandel lovers paradise with hundreds of wineries putting out their best bottles for sampling. Mark January 30, 2010 on your calendar if you love zinfandel or want to find a reason to fall in love with this versatile red wine grape at the 19th ZAP Grand Zinfandel Tasting.
It was too hard to pick the best zin from everything I tasted in 2009, so I’m going to mention two.
First, the 2007 Robert Biale Vineyards Napa zinfandel ($35) was spicy, vibrant and vivacious – a winning combo.
Biale may be the only family owned winery operating within the city limits of Napa, but what makes it special is access to great zinfandel grapes and an ability to get the most interesting flavors out of the vines. I found this bottle earlier this month on the list at Teatro Zinzanni, the circus-themed dinner show/restaurant in San Francisco.
The second top zinfandel was the 2003 Rockpile Road from Rosenblum Cellars. This wine, long since sold out at the winery, earned a 94 rating from Wine Spectator and was the No. 3 entry on the WS Top 100 Wines of 2005. Poured from magnum, the wine was all about jammy blackberry fruit with a long finish and a briary note in the bouquet that made it hard to resist a second glass.
Mauritson Winery in Dry Creek Valley also makes several good wines from Rockpile vineyards fruit. Check out the 2006 Cemetery Vineyard ($39) or just click on my blog about Mauritson.
Cabernet — California’s King
There are lots of good cabernets in the marketplace today, making it hard to choose a clear winner.
I really enjoyed visiting three iconic cabernet-producing wineries in Napa Valley — Beaulieu Vineyards (BV), Silver Oak and Far Niente. Each winery provides an impressive backdrop for tasting some exceptional red wines.
The Georges de Latour cabernet is the top of the line offering from BV. The 2005 ($115) is a delightful wine featuring mocha overtones with rich black cherry fruit. Click here for more bout BV.
Silver Oak makes just one wine at its Napa winery– all cabernet and almost always great. The current release, 2005 ($100), is no exception. I liked the brambly berry taste with some mocha highlights. The tannins are smooth and it’s ready to drink now.
Far Niente’s cabernet is another perennial favorite. Expensive, yes, but a real value based on the quality of fruit and the commitment to quality. The current vintage (2006, $100) is the 24th in the winery’s history and it’s another winner, tasting of black fruits and chocolate with a long, sweet finish.
Little Wines, Big Tastes
I stumbled by accident on Jocelyn Lonen’s wines at my local wine store, where the wines were featured at a tasting. Lonen produced a terrific 2006 cabernet sauvignon, ($35) with a large portion of the grapes coming from the prestigious Stagecoach vineyard on Atlas Peak. Click here to read more about Lonen.
Last week, I mentioned a nice little cabernet that I’d tasted but couldn’t recall details of who made it. I found my notes and reconfirmed the wine in question was a 2004 Napa cab from Clos Valmi.
This wine, from a small hillside vineyard owned by the Astorian family in Yountville, is on the less expensive end of the price spectrum ($24) but it had all the characteristics of a much pricier bottle — smooth cherry fruit, integrated tannins and a long, delicious finish.
Only 59 cases of Clos Valmi was produced and it’s in limited distribution. I bought my bottle at V Wine Cellar in Yountville, which offers a treasure trove of desirable Napa cabs along with a wide selection of other wines.
Here’s hoping the holiday season and the new year provide you with lots of opportunities to explore new wines and wineries in Wine Country. Drop me a line with suggestions about your favorite wines and wineries and I’ll do my best to check them out in the weeks and months ahead.