California Wine Served up Family Style

There were a few surprises, a few new faces and some old favorites at the Family Winemakers of California annual tasting, where more than 300 wineries showed off their current releases.

Cain Vineyard and Winery, located atop Spring Mountain, is one of the most reliable premium producers in the Napa Valley and the winery did  not disappoint with a trio of fine red wines poured at the tasting Sunday (Aug. 23) at Fort Mason in San Francisco.

Cain Five

Cain Five

Cain Five (~$100) is a blend of fruit from both mountain and valley vineyards. The mix is similar to the Concept, described below, but this one is made for aging, if you can resist the pull of its luscious fruit and cocoa flavor profile.

Cain Concept ($50-$60) is a blend of grapes grown in the valley’s benchland vineyards. The winery uses the classic Bordeaux varieties — cabernet sauvignon, cabernet Franc, merlot, malbec, and petit verdot — to produce this somewhat tannic wine that needs a few more years to develop completely.

Cain Cuvee is the “entry level” bottling ($30) with 49 percent merlot and 36 percent cabernet sauvignon along with cabernet franc and petit verdot. This is the most accessible wine in the bunch, thanks to the easy-drinking merlot. Cain blends lots from both the 2005 and 2006 vintages to produce this wine.

Prisoner and Papillon and Pahlmeyer

Another personal favorite, Orin Swift, poured two really good wines — 2006 Papillon ($55), a Bordeaux blend made chiefly from cabernet sauvignon and merlot, and 2007 Prisoner ($35), a uncommon blend of 50 percent zinfandel plus 24 percent cabernet sauvignon, 14 percent syrah and lesser amounts of petite sirah, charbono and grenache. orinswiftpapillon500x367

I found the well-made Prisoner to be a tad lass approachable than previous vintages, but would not hesitate to recommend it to any red wine enthusiast who could wait another six months for the tastes to meld.

I also got a chance to sample the Pahlmeyer proprietary red blend, vintage 2006, which was excellent. This serious, deep purple wine — it’s 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent merlot along with dollops of petit verdot, cabernet franc and malbec — displayed a favorable “racy” profile that stimulated my tired tastebuds even after sampling close to 100 wines. The aftertaste lingered for what seemed like forever, a characteristic that noted critic Robert Parker also mentioned when he gave this $125 wine a 95 out of 100 rating.

Some Small Surprises

I’m not normally a fan of viognier, a white grape from France that is gaining traction in California, but the example poured by tiny Skipstone Wines in Santa Rosa really caught me by surprise.

Skipstone Terraced Vineyard

Skipstone Terraced Vineyard

It tasted full , round, and rich, like a good chardonnay, along with a floral nose that was completely enticing. The wine is available at finer restaurants for ~$75 but you can buy it at a discount directly from the winery, provided you are a member of the Skipstone Wine Club.

Respite Wines is another small Sonoma County producer that showed a very good 2006 cabernet sauvigion ($48) from Alexander Valley fruit.  The flavor profile combined ripe raspberry and cassis plus a tinge of smokiness that hung together well on the palate.

Sunset Cellars, which makes its wine at the Suisun Valley Co-Op (click here for a closer look at my recent blog about Suisun Valley wines), poured a killer 2005 syrah blended with regional zinfandel to produce a bargain bottle ($16) of easy-drinking red. This full, round wine tasted of red cherry fruit with a floral aroma (violets?) that was very approachable. Sunset also makse a Green Valley syrah in a bit leaner style that was also very good.

For a good overview of the Family Winemakers of California event, check out this Wine Country Insider video.

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