Archive for October, 2009

A Taste of Halloween in Wine Country

October 29, 2009

The idea of handing out treats on Halloween shouldn’t be wasted on children alone. Adults can get into the act in wine country with pumpkin-centric events at several area wineries.trefethencat

Along with passing out candy, Clos Pegase will host a special tasting event in their haunted wine caves where an abbreviated version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet will be presented by an acting troupe. Tickets are $25 for the 1:30-3:30 p.m. event at the Calistoga winery. Look for special Halloween pricing on the estate’s Graveyard Hill cabernet savuignon.

On any visit to Clos Pegase, which is just down the road from picturesque Sterling Vineyards, be sure and take a stroll through the impressive sculpture garden, that is home to some of the  finest pieces of modern art in the collection of winery owners Jan and Mitsuko Shrem.

Down in the Oak Knoll district of Napa, Trefethen Family Vineyards is hosting a special $15 Halloween tasting that includes a tour of the haunted winery.

When not spooking visitors, the folks at Trefethen turn out some pretty tasty wines, including an award-winning chardonnay that stunned the world in 1979 when it won the “Judgment of Paris” and was declared the best white wine in the world.

Shriek Out in Suisun Valley

The folks at Winerhawk Winery near Fairfield will hold a Halloween costume party from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. with free pizza and live music from the Caravan of All Stars band. Tasting fee is $5. If you like brawny wines, be sure to try the 2007 petite sirah, a big, blackberry/cherry red wine ($18).

Howling Good Time at Dogtoberfest

Topel Calendar Cover Dog

Topel Calendar Cover Dog

It’s not a Halloween event, but dog-loving wine drinkers can bring their pooches to Topel Winery tasting room in Healdsburg Saturday (Oct. 31) for the second annual Dogtoberfest. The event benefits the Healdsburg Animal Shelter, which will receive profits from the sale of a dog-centric calendar. Tasting is free. The calendar ($20) feature photos of  40 dogs submitted by fans of the winery, which is located in Mendocino.

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Robledo Family Winery: Amercan Dream Come True

October 23, 2009

When the Robledo family sits down to dinner, you can bet there will be some good wine on the table.

You can sample for yourself on Saturday when the Robledo Family Winery opens its doors for a harvest festival that includes a blessing of the grapes and a homemade spread of Mexican food and mariachi music that harkens back to the family’s roots south of the border.

Robledo Family

Robledo Family

Reynaldo Robledo, the family patriarch, came to California in 1968 as a field worker who had never before touched a grape vine. Soon, he was working in the vineyards and, over the years, he built up an expertise in vineyard management that blossomed into a successful business.

Today, the family owns 14 vineyards in Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties totaling 200 acres of grapes. Most of the fruit goes to other wineries, but the family winery puts out a lineup of quality wines under its own label.

On a recent visit, Luis Robledo, the seventh of nine children, was pouring wines in the tasting room at the winery, down a bumpy road off Highway 116 in Sonoma. Tastings are by appointment only, but the winery is open daily.

My favorite Robledo red wine is the newly released 2007 petite sirah ($28) from Lake County. The dark red wine tasted of sweet plums with a peppery backbeat and well-integrated tannins. It’d go great with a carne asada taco or any grilled meat.

I also liked the 2005 “El Rey” cabernet sauvignon, another Lake County wine which had a nice spiciness, smooth tannins and a touch of eucalyptus.

And, the 2007 Robledo barbera, an Italian-style wine, turned out to be an unexpected delight, with a rich full nose and lip-smacking fruitiness. I also thought the 2006 merlot from the Carneros region was a nice round wine with plummy fruit and an aftertaste that lingered and almost demanded another sip.

Luis Robledo

Luis Robledo

On the white wine side of the house, I enjoyed the 2007 pinot blanc, another Lake County wine.

The best examples of pinot blanc come from the Alsace region of France, and you don’t see much of this full-flavored white wine made in California. The Robledo version is very good, with a tad more fruit than its European counterparts but still quite dry.

Looking Ahead: Fore!

If you miss the harvest festival at Robledo, the family will be pouring wines along with dozens of other regional wineries at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship Food and Wine Festival at Sonoma Golf Club Oct. 30-Nov. 1.

Zin-Centric Lodi Branches Out

October 15, 2009

Zinfandel reigns supreme in Lodi, but this part of the Central Valley wine country is no one-trick pony. There are other runners — both red and white — moving up on the leader.

It’s about a 90-minute drive from downtown San Francisco to Lodi, home to more than 70 wineries and more than 100,00 acres of vineyards.

Zinfandel is No. 1, but there are also plantings of cabernet sauvignon, syrah, petite sirah, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and a number of more unusual varieites from France and Spain like viognier and tempranillo.

I was pleasantly surprised  at the top-quality of a trio of viogniers sampled at a recent tasting of Lodi wines on Treasure Island.

Berghold Estate Winery makes a classic version of viognier ($18.99), a Rhone-style white wine that exhibits floral and/or honeysuckle on the nose to go with a touch of crisp lemon on the palate and a dry finish. The 2006 Berghold cabernet sauvignon ($21.99) was also very good, tasting of plummy fruit with a backbeat of cedar.

Berghold Estate

Berghold Estate

Owner Joe Berghold, whose son (Miles) is the winemaker, had been a grower/supplier to other wineries for 10 years before introducing the family label in 1999. They’ve made eight vintages of viognier now and Joe is convinced he’s got a winner.

Loredona Wine Cellars showed a very nice viognier that was a bit juicier in the mouth and fruitier in the nose than the Berghold. Price: $11.99

One step behind those two wines was the viognier from Christine Andrews, the second label of Ironstone Vineyards. I liked the fresh lemon taste and tropical nose of this wine ($15.99).

The 2007 tempranillo from D’Art Wines was a stand out. I’m not a huge fan of this grape, which sometimes turns out too dry and leathery to my taste. This dust-tinged Lodi red from winemaker Dave Dart, however, presented a pleasantly racy streak alongside tart cherry flavors.

I also enjoyed the excellent D’Art estate cabernet sauvignon from the 2005 vintage ($24). Dart and his wife, Helen, welcome visitors to their small winery from noon to 5 p.m. Friday-Sunday. The winery’s name, D’Art, is a play on the French phrase meaning “of art.”

The best bargain of the tasting was an easy-drinking blend of carignane (40%) and zinfandel  (60%) called Abundantly Rich Red ($14)  from Abundance Vineyards.

Mettler Old Vine Zin

Mettler Old Vine Zin

I can’t mention Lodi without saying something good about zinfandel. The Mettler Family Vineyards 2006 “Epicenter” old vine zin  ($19) provided a smooth mouthful of pleasure. It was classic zinfandel, brambly with enough jammy fruit to be finely balanced.

My all-time favorite Lodi zinfandel is from The Lucas Winery. Winemaker David Lucas poured his 2005 estate zin, which showed a terrific aroma of black raspberries with a hint of oak.

The wine needs time to develop, but it is still enjoyable for the exotic spiciness typical of the  Zin Star vineyard, a 3.5-acre plot that Lucas has been nurturing for more than 30 years.

Silver Oak Cellars — A Movement in Four Parts

October 8, 2009

The philosophy behind Silver Oak Cellars — to focus unbridled enthusiasm on one thing at a time — has made its celebrated cabernet sauvignon program one of the best in the Napa Valley. But wait… there’s more.

Silver Oak also makes a pretty darn good cabernet from grapes grown in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley. Two sister estates, operating in Calistoga and Healdsburg as Twomey Cellars, produce a quartet of top-quality pinot noir wines plus one of the best merlots in the state.

Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet

Silver Oak Napa Cab

The Duncan family, which owns Silver Oak, got its feet wet in the wine business back in the late 1960s, when winery co-founder Ray Duncan began buying prime grape-growing real estate at the cusp of the movement to  produce world-class wines in Calfornia. Duncan’s offspring manage the business today, keeping each facility on a separate and special successful track.

Out of the Ashes

Silver Oak had to rebuild is Oakville winery, which reopened last September, after a disastrous fire. The facility emerged in great shape with a lovely tasting room and expanded and upgraded production facilities that are open for daily tours and tasting.

Although the label is silver and it features an oak tree, the name Silver Oak actually denotes the winery’s location, about halfway between the Silverado Trail and the Oakville Highway (Highway 29).

Mark your calendars for the next big public event, formal release of the 2005 Napa vintage on Feb. 6, 2010, when the entire Duncan family turns out to  pour the new wine for visitors to Oakville and the second Silver Oake winery in Geyserville.

Silver Oak's Ray Duncan

Silver Oak's Ray Duncan

I recently tasted both current vintages, the 2005 Alexander Valley ($70) and the 2004 Napa Valley ($100), and both are really good. Silver Oak’s Alexander Valley tasted of mulberry with a  dash of cinnamon spice plus a touch of healthy tannins from aging in white oak barrels from a Missouri forest. The Napa was a bit smoother, with plum fruit and some mocha overlays, and ready to drink.

Pleasing Pinot

The pinot noir side of the business is headquartered in Healdsburg, where grapes from all over the state are used in Twomey’s four  different bottlings. My favorite from the 2007 vintage was the Santa Barbara, which was sourced primarily from the famed Bien Nacido vineyard. The smoothness was impeccable with an overlay of cherry/strawberry fruit that was hard to resist. I also liked the 2007 Anderson Valley, which was a bit earthier with mineral components that gave it a racy flair.

Merlot Makes the Grade

Twomey merlot is made in Calistoga in a French style — elegant and true to the form perfected in Bourdeaux — with some techniques that are a throwback to older times.

Soda Canyon Ranch Merlot Vineyard

Soda Canyon Ranch Merlot Vineyard

Winemaker Daniel Baron imports special French oak barrels and uses a method — called soutirage traditional — to move (by gravity, not by mechanical pumping)  the aging wine from barrel to barrel to rid the juice of sediment and also to give the wine a natural smoothness and silkiness that has to be tasted to be appreciated. Grapes for this wine come from the Soda Canyon Ranch vineyard in southeastern Napa Valley.

In a recent tasting at the Calistoga winery, I sampled the last five vintages of merlot  — 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, and 2001. There was a strong continuity of quality between vintages, which were all smooth and approachable. I especially enjoyed the 2005 ($60),  a deeply red wine that had a definite mocha taste on top of dark cherries with a peppery backbeat.

Weekend Wine Wanderings

If you can’t get away to the wine country this weekend, you can take a shortcut to taste a wide variety of wines from the Lodi area in a special event on Treasure Island this Sunday (Oct. 11). The Treasure Island Winefest runs from 1-5 p.m. Tickets are $55 in advance  and $65 at the door. In addition to samples provided by more than 40 Lodi area wineries, the Blue Angels aerial acrobatic team will perform overhead as part of the annual Fleet Week festivities.