Archive for May, 2009

Rochioli’s Riches

May 29, 2009

The wines and vines are the real stars at Rochioli Vineyards and Winery, but the unpretentious tasting room is worth a visit the next time you’re winetasting near Healdsburg. Click here for a video tour.

This immensely popular winery has earned a reputation for outstanding pinor noir.  The 161-acre estate is divided into multiple blocks of vines that produce grapes with differing qualities. Grapes from specific blocks are bottled separately and it’s those bottles (with $100+ pricetags) that are most highly prized by collectors.

For access to these special wines, which are always in short supply, you can sign up for the waiting list for purchases direct from the winery. Don’t expect immediate satisfaction. The list is several years long!

But, there is a family secret. Their estate-grown sauvignon blanc is a killer wine at a reasonable price. And the Rochioli estate chardonnay is great, too. You can taste the current releases of both wines at the winery, along with the Rochioli’s entry-level pinot noir — a blend made from grapes from several different blocks. The sauvignon blanc retails for about $30; the chardonnay sells for $50 and the pinot blend goes for$70-$80.

Rochioli Vineyard Map

Rochioli Vineyard Map

The Rochiolis started as farmers on this property back in the 1930s.  They grew grapes, but didn’t get into the winemaking part of the business until after another  Sonoma County winery, Williams Selyem, gained national acclaim with wines made from Rochioli grapes.

First Sip a Winner

I first tasted a Rochioli pinot noir about 15 years ago at Evan’s, a top-rated South Lake Tahoe restaurant with an excellent wine list.  I was eager to order a bottle of Williams Selyem, but the sommelier suggested I try something from the grower of the grapes, Rochioli, because it was just as good as the Williams Selyem at half the price! He was right and I’ve been a fan ever since.

The Rochiolis still sell some of their crop to other wineries, but it is their own special wines that routinely command a premium price (think three figures). Some of the other top-shelf producers with access to Rochioli pinot noir grapes  include Williams Selyem and Gary Farrell.

Runway Red?

If your summer travel involves airports, look around for a wine-centric oasis where you can relax with a good glass of red or white before continuing the journey.

It’s not hard to find decent beer and booze in most major airports, but fine wine not so much. I normally wouldn’t recommend an airport wine-tasting experience, but Vino Volo proves there an exception to every rule.

Vino Volo Sacramento

Vino Volo Sacramento

Vino Volo operates a string of wine-tasting bars/retail stores at nine U.S. airports. The nearest Vino Volo outpost to the Bay Area is in Sacramento. There are two more airport shops in Seattle and San Antonio plus locations in Detroit, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark and New York’s Kennedy International.

Vino Volo divides its wine list into four categories — bright, rich, brooding and light — and patrons can mix and match categories in special tasting flights. There’s a pretty broad selection of wine, heavy on imports, at decent but not great prices.

If you’ve ever had a really good, or bad, travel-related wine experience, drop me a note and I’ll share it with our readers in a future blog.

Next Weekend Wine Tasting

If you can’t attend the ultra-hot Auction Napa Valley events next weekend, there’s another cool wine tasting opportunity next Saturday (June 6) in Lodi at Ripken Vineyards where they’ll be serving up a Full Moon BBQ and concert by Mitch Woods and his Rocket 88s.  Tickets are $40 for the 6-9 p.m. event. Ripken is a small family-run winery specializing in Rhone-style wines, but their petite sirah is my favorite and their port-style wine is really good, too. A neat place to stay in Lodi after a night of dancing and wine drinking is the Wine and Roses Country Inn.


Cline Cellars: Hidden Jewel of Carneros

May 22, 2009

Charlie Tsegeletos is the kind of guy I’d invite to my next party. Sure, he’s a great winemaker who would probably bring along a nice bottle or two along with him, but that’s not all.

Take a Peek at Cline Cellars

Take a Peek at Cline Cellars

He’s a genuinely nice man with a twinkle in his eye and a ready grin on his face. Charlie leads the winemaking operations at Cline Cellars, a hidden gem in the Carneros region of southern Sonoma County which is known for its zinfandel and Rhone-style wines.

All Bases Covered

This winery has all the basics down pat — a comfortable tasting room, friendly staff and delicious wines.

Cline Cellars Tasting Room

Cline Cellars Tasting Room

The grounds are studded with lovely flowers and a vegetable garden sits near a series of ponds stocked by a previous owner with German carp and a cadre of turtles. There’s an exotic bird collection on the 350-acre property, a pair of miniature Sicilian donkeys, and a Pullman train dining car that’s been converted into a special tasting room. Owner Fred Cline — who started Cline Cellars in 1982 — built a museum behind the winery to showcase scale models of each of California’s 21 historic Spanish missions.

Powered by the Sun, Flavored by Nature

This eco-friendly winery generates its own electricity from a bank of 2,000 solar panels mounted on the winery’s roof. Cline also follows the tenets of Green String farming, which is akin to organic methods that avoid the use of chemical pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers. Instead, the winery uses crushed volcanic rocks, oyster shells and a compost tea — made from natural ingredients like molasses and fish emulsion — to supplement the soil.

Cline Wine Line-up

Cline makes a very popular line of zinfandels. There are seven different bottlings from the 2007  vintage, including the Big Break zin ($30) from Oakley that garnered a score of 89 from the Wine Spectator. They make a couple of tasty syrahs, too, but I’m drawn to the more unusual wine varietals, including mourvedre, a red grape Tsegeletos says originated in Spain, was transplanted to France and later took root in California.

Ancient Mourvedre Vines in Oakley

Ancient Mourvedre Vines in Oakley

Mr. Cline’s grandfather, Valeriano Jacuzzi (yes, it’s the same family that invented the bubbly hot tub) grew a variety of exotic grapes on a ranch near Oakley (Contra Costa County), and that’s where the young winery owner-to-be learned to love those special varietals. Today, that same ranch supplies Cline with some of  those very same grapes — along with other exotics like carignane — that Tsegeletos turns into lovely wines.

The 2007 Ancient Vines Mourvedre ($18) is delicious with a taste Tsegeletos describes as a mixture of chocolate and cherries with an ultra-smooth finish that works well with red meats but can also complement something more exotic like pepper-crusted Ahi tuna.

The winery is open every day for tours and tasting, but if you want a very special treat, drop by on Saturday July 18 for Cline’s annual Dixieland  jazz festival.  Cline is located off Highway 121, about five mileson  from Infineon Raceway.  Across the highway you can visit Cline’s sister winery, Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, which focuses on Italian varietals made with a California twist.

Auction Action Ahead

May 20, 2009

Napa Charity Affair

The Napa Valley Vintners Auction cranks up next month with dozens of auction-related festivities leading up to the main event on June 6. There will be 42 lots of  ultra-exclusive wine, wine-and-food-related trips and winery-hosted events  up for bid.  I’ve got my eye on Lot 42, which includes  not just 40 bottles of top-shelf wine, but also an all-expenses-paid trip to New York on a private jet, a suite at the Plaza Hotel plus luxury box tickets to the US Open tennis tournament.  Before the bidding begins, guests from around the world will be treated to a never-ending parade of gourmet food, wines and entertainment under a tent at the exclusive Meadowood resort.  A limited supply of all-inclusive tickets ($1000-$2500) are available along with single-event tickets ($250).ANV09-logo_lg

Notable among other related events is the annual Barrel Tasting and Futures Auction on June 5 at Robert Mondavi Winery. Attendees can taste barrel samples from more than 100 Napa wineries and then bid on special lots of selected wines for future delivery. Profits from auction events go to local charities, which have received $85 million since the inaugural 1981 auction.  If you want to bid, but can’t attend in person, there is an online auction option. Online bidding begins May 22 and ends June 5.

Preakness Cal Wine Connection

May 15, 2009

If heavy favorite Rachel Alexandra wins the 134th running of the Preakness Stakes, California wine magnate Jess Jackson will add the second jewel of the Triple Crown of horseracing to his hugely successful track record in the U.S. wine industry.kjlabel

Jackson, a billionaire best known for his Kendall-Jackson wine brand, owns a string of other wine properties, including Freemark Abbey, La Crema and Byron. He has been a racehorse owner for years and saddled 2007 Preakness winner Curlin.

Rachel Alexandra did not run in the Kentucky Derby, but she has four victories in 2009. The biggest victory came at the prestigious Kentucky Oaks (the biggest race in the country for fillies and mares only) where she outpaced the field by more than 20 lengths.  That blowout victory convinced Jackson to purchase the Oaks winner and enter her in Saturday’s Preakness.

Preakness Favorite Rachel Alexandra

Preakness Favorite Rachel Alexandra

The filly is the 8-5 favorite in the 13-horse field. Pioneer of the Nile, runner-up in the Derby, is the second favorite followed by third favorite and Derby winner Mine That Bird, a 50-1 longshot who surprised everyone at Churchill Downs and set up the Preakness showdown.

Time for May Wine

May 12, 2009

Summertime Sipping

When the weather heats up like it has for the last few days, it’s time to venture out and try some new wines. There are a several wine-tasting opportunities this week, both near and far, that should provide some very interesting experiences.

Carmenere Grapes

Carmenere Grapes

One of the most reasonably priced regular tastings in the Bay Area is held at the Wine Mine in Oakland’s Temescal District (5427 Telegraph). Wine Mine owner David Sharpe offers tastes of 4-5 different wines every Saturday afternoon and the cost is just $1 to participate.

This week’s tasting lineup features wines from Chile, an up-and-coming wine country that produces some great value-priced offerings from the Carmenere grape.

The atmosphere is friendly, the prices are cut-rate and there’s even a stockpile of toys and books to keep the youngsters occupied while mom or dad shops for wine.  In addition to the $1 winetasting, David will be grilling hot dogs and hamburgers to thank visitors for their patronage over the last two years.

Al Fresco in Oakland

Check out the Franklin Square Wine Bar (2212 Broadway, between Grand and 22nd). They pour more than four dozen wines by the glass and also offer a wine-friendly food menu. Every Thursday, there is a special “al fresco” tasting on the patio for only $1. Red and white wines (mostly chardonnay and pinot noir) from Lioco Winery will be featured this Thursday (May 14). Lioco is a joint venture by Matt Licklider (a wine import specialist) and Kevin O’Connor (who is director of wine at Spago-Beverly Hills).

Made in Mendocino

If you like what you taste from Lioco at Franklin Square, you might also consider a trek to Mendocino County for the 12th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival this weekend (May 15-17). Lioco and more than three dozen other regional wineries will be pouring their wines and hosting winemaker dinners for more personalized interaction with the movers and shakers in the California pinot noir community.

Headstart on the Memorial Day Weekend

The Thomas Coyne Winery hosts an open house on May 23-24-25 in Livermore (51 East Vallecitos Road) where visitors can taste dozens of award-winning wines and even get their hands dirty (just a bit) by bottling some of their wine!

Thomas Coyne Winery Map

Thomas Coyne Winery Map

Thomas Coyne, owner and namesake, makes a batch of terrific red table wine  that he sells for $6 a bottle from the tasting room (actually an ancient barn) at his winery. Inside is something Tom calls “Vino Tinto Barato,” a special blend of  Portuguese varietals that makes a tasty addition to any barbecue or casual dining experience. There’s a six-bottle limit for the Vino Tinto Barato, which is only available on Friday, May 23. Get there early because the wine sells out quickly!

Mother’s Day Bubbly

May 6, 2009

Bubble Up

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, it’s not too late to pick up a bottle of something nice as a gift. You can’t go wrong with sparkling wine and some of the best bubbly in the land is produced in Napa and Sonoma. Go with one of my reasonably priced favorites, a non-vintage blanc de noir made by Domaine Chandon, which sells for about the price of a 12-pack of imported beer. Or, for a few dollars more, try the current bottling of Mirabelle Brut (made by Schramsberg).

For an up-close-and-personal bubbly experience, I’d consider taking Mom to taste the wines firsthand at a Mother’s Day Brunch inside Domaine Chandon at the elegant Etoile restaurant. It’s a tough ticket, but who knows, they might be able to squeeze you in, so why not give them a call!

For a “budget-be-damned” escapade, upgrade to a serious sparkling import. Buy something sinfully French and decadently expensive like champagne. The really good stuff. The wine you’d drink if you won the lottery.You can pay a lot more for something with a label flounted by a movie star or singer, but for anyone else I’d recommend enjoying the sensational 1997 Salon blancs de blanc ($375-$440, various online retailers) sip by glorious sip.

Burp Me!

For beer lovers, a trip to Sacramento is in order. The West Coast Brew Fest, held on Saturday (May 9) in Miller Park on the banks of the Sacramento River, is one of the granddaddies of micro-brew festivals in the United States. I’ve got a ticket and will report back soon about the tasting.

Closer to home… There are two wineries you can walk to from the studios of KTVU-TV in Oakland, where this website is hosted. The first is Dashe Cellars, located about six blocks from KTVU! Dashe shares its space with another winery, JC Cellars, so it’s a two-for-one tasting opportunity. The other “walk-able” winery location is Rosenblum Cellars, but there’s a hitch. You’d first have to walk down to the edge of Jack London Square (about a 15-minute walk) and catch the Alameda-Oakland Ferry that drops you off minutes later within two blocks of Rosenblum’s tasting room door. On a pretty day, water travel can’t be beat.

For more information about urban wineries in this area, check out the East Bay Vintner’s Alliance.

Looking Ahead: It’s a Zin Fling Thing

If you like zinfandel, head for Lodi next weekend and dive into Zinfest 2009 — a three-day celebration of all things Zinfandel. The action starts Friday (May 15) with a winemaker dinner followed by a general tasting on Saturday and a series of winery open houses on Sunday. This is Northern California’s hidden Wine Country– the Lodi area has more than 60 wineries.

Do Talk Back

What’s your favorite “local” winery or wine spot? I’ll keep tabs of your responses and we’ll tabulate the results for future use.

Wine Country Insider Welcome

May 6, 2009

Welcome to the KTVU Wine Country Insider Blog

Hi! My name is Frank Thorsberg and I’ll be a regular contributor to this blog over the coming months. I’ve been a wine collector and wine writer for a good part of the last 30 years. This blog will keep you up to date on what’s happening in the California wine country — where more than 2,700 wineries made more than 240 million cases of wine last year.

New wines and wine trends can pop up anytime, so we hope you visit our Wine Country Weekend pages often to find insider tips on new releases to taste, interesting wineries to visit and unusual places to enjoy the fruit of the vine — many within an easy drive from the Bay Area. There are a lot of good choices to make and we can help you find them by learning “what’s new” and “who’s who” in the world of wine.

Did you know that California is home to about half of all bonded U.S. wineries? We’ll take you to the Bay Area’s backyard — Napa and Sonoma — for an insider’s look at some of the world’s most famous wine properties. We’ll also point out those cool, out-of-the-way places you might miss on your own. From scenic vineyards in Mendocino County, the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Livermore Valley to eclectic urban wineries across the greater Bay Area, we’ll go anywhere to discover fun things to do with wine.

If you have Wine Country favorites to suggest, post your comments here and I’ll respond to as many as possible. I look forward to an enriching dialogue. Cheers!