Archive for February, 2010

Taking Petite Sirah Seriously

February 24, 2010

There’s a lot to like about petite sirah, a bold and sometimes brawny grape with roots in the south of France where it goes by the name durif, so maybe it’s time you tried a bottle the next time a red wine decision is needed.

I attended the annual petite sirah love fest sponsored by the advocacy group P.S. I Love You a few days ago at Rock Wall Wines in Alameda. There were 44 wineries pouring samples of their petite sirahs alongside plates of food prepped by 31 regional restaurants and caterers.

There was superb regional diversity, with greats wines coming from Napa along with Lodi and Mendocino and Lake counties.

Biale is Best

I was blown away by the across-the-board quality of the petite sirah poured by Robert Biale Winery. This small premium winery sits on the edge of Napa subdivision where it makes some of the finest petite sirahs in California, along with some world-class zinfandel, too.

Biale's Dave Pramuk and Al Perry at P.S. I Love You

Biale Vineyards' Dave Pramuk (left) and Al Perry

Two of the Biale wines really stood out. The 2007 Like Father, Like Son (a syrah/petite sirah blend from Napa with a splash of zin, $46) and The Royal Punisher ($36), a brooding all petite-sirah giant of a wine from Napa that epitomizes what this rough and tumble grape can become in the hands of talented Biale winemaker Al Perry.

Most of these wines are in short supply, so fans might want to check into the Biale wine club to insure access to limited bottlings. Call the winery at 707-257-755 for info.

Get in Line

Cecchetti Wine Company in Lake County has a bargain-priced winner with its Line 39 2007 petite sirah from the North Coast appellation. I would have never guessed this is a $10 wine. I’d have paid twice that and felt like I got a bargain in this deep red wine that tastes of chocolate and red cherries. A sample of the unreleased 2008 was even better!

A few notches higher on the flavor meter is the 2007 Pickett Road petite sirah ($35) from Rosenblum Cellars.  The taste of this jammy, concentrated red fruit bomb from Napa was addictive as was the nose of plums and chocolate that tumbled out of the glass.

Tune in to Jazz

Jazz Cellars poured its exquisite 2006 petite sirah from Eaglepoint Ranch ($38) in Mendocino and the double-gold winner from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition did not disappoint.

This is a big wine that would match up well with a slab of prime beef still sizzling from the grill. Despite 14.7 percent alcohol, the wine is balanced, with sufficient acid to keep the sweet fruit in check. Just a touch of vanilla from the oak barrel aging complements the red and black fruit flavors and the tight tannins of this wine.

Jazz wines are made at Crushpad, the San Francisco wine collective.

Honorable Mention

Two wines from Lodi showed what the fertile Delta region can produce when it comes to petite sirah.

Mettler Family Vineyards petite sirah ($22) is made from organic vineyards and the wine is a deep purple pleasure giver. The Michael David Petite Petit (a blend of 85 percent petite sirah and 15 percent petit verdot, a French varietal) is a $22 bottle of violet-scented blackberry fruit with a fine dusty edge.

In Pursuit of Perfect Pinot

The 8th annual Pinot Noir Summit is slated for Saturday (Feb. 27) at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael from noon to 8:30 p.m. More than 40 different wineries — mostly from California and Oregon — will be pouring. There will be blind tastings and workshops plus an awards ceremony where the top-rated wine will be revealed. Tickets run $75-$125.

Pig Out With Wine

Pigs are the main attraction, but there will also definitely be a wine component at  Cochon 555 in Napa this Saturday. Five chefs, five pigs and five winemakers will be featured at this event — the first of 10 cooking competitions in different cities across the country this year.

The challenge — create as many interesting dishes as possible from an entire 125-pound hog. Chefs from some of the region’s finest restaurants — Meadowood, French Laundry, Silverado Resort, Namu of San Francisco and Zazu Restaurant — will be pairing dishes with wines from Gamble Family Vineyards, Zacherle Wines, Hill Family Estate, Wind Gap Wines and Hirsch Vineyards.

Tickets run $100-$160. If you can’t make it to Silverado Resort for this event, the Cochon 555 tour will be in San Francisco June 6 with a different set of chefs, wineries and heritage hogs.


Wine Country Weekend

February 19, 2010

While grape vines lie dormant and rest up for the growth spurt ahead, it’s a great time to visit, taste and explore wine country before the large summer crowds are upon us.

The winter pace is slower. The roads are less crowded with tour buses and winery personnel have more time to spend with visitors. It’s also a time of great expectation, with the 2009 vintage resting in barrel and the 2010 vintage waiting to be born.

Here are some suggestions for the days ahead:

Napa Valley vineyard interspersed with wild mustard

Vineyard and Mustard, courtesy Napa Valley Mustard Festival

The Napa Valley Mustard Festival is a natural choice. The festival actually began in late January and runs through March 27 with a wide range of activities across the valley involving food, wine and art, including a Grand Dinner tonight (Feb. 19) at Brix in Yountville.

Sip and Stretch

Beringer Vineyards in St. Helena is taking a more body-centric approach to enticing visitors by sponsoring a “sip and stretch” event that combines wine, yoga and chocolate.

From 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Sunday (Feb. 21), instructor Suzi Potts will lead enthusiasts through a tasting session that explores five different wines, Hatha yoga poses and gourmet chocolates. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at Beringer, the oldest continuously operating winery in Napa Valley.

Yoga, Take Two

For a different take on yoga and wine, check out Ubuntu, a vegetarian restaurant and wine bar in downtown Napa. Downstairs, you’ve got top-rate food and wine. Upstairs, it’s a yoga studio with a series of daily classes.

It’s quite an unusual concept, but it works! The combination of great regional wines and exquisitely prepared and locally-sourced food  has earned Ubuntu one Michelin star.

Crab Season at Seghesio

Seghesio Family Winery will be serving up crab cioppino for guests in Healdsburg on Saturday (Feb. 20). The dinner tab is $60 and includes generous servings of the winery’s newest releases (pinot noir and zinfandel) plus some of Seghesio’s port-style wine with dessert and cigars. The 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. dinner slots are sold out, but there may still be some seats left for the 4 p.m. seating. Salud!

Napa vs. Sonoma, Again

They’re holding a “sibling rivalry” tasting at the Rutherford Grange in Napa on Sunday (Feb. 21). The theme of the tasting is Napa vs. Sonoma cabernet sauvignon and there will be 10 wines from each area in the competition. Everyone gets a vote for their favorite bottle. Tickets are only $10 for what should be a interesting event sponsored by Small Lots Big Wines.

Sipping Away by SF Bay

If you can’t get out of the city for a wine country adventure, don’t worry. Check out the second annual “Around the World in 80 Sips” event at Crushpad, the urban winemaking commune in San Francisco.

Walking past the commercial and industrial buildings that line Third Street, you’d never know that inside the warehouse at 2573 Third Street was a wine wonderland waiting to be explored.

On a normal day, the property is humming with activity from amateur and semi-professional winemakers who share the space and equipment in their bid to build a brand or just make a personal creative statement. To learn more, check out my recent blog about Crushpad, which has plans to move its SF operations to another custom-crush facility in Napa.

On Feb. 25, there were be 80 wines  from around the world open for tasting at Crushpad from 6-9 p.m., courtesy of Bottlenotes, an online wine retailer. Tickets are $60 in advance and $75 at the door.

Santa Lucia Provides Pinot Pleasures

February 11, 2010

In Monterey County, along the southeastern edge of the Santa Lucia Mountains, they grow some of the finest pinot noir in California.

The high quality was evident in a tasting sponsored by the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans, a group of dozens of growers and winemakers who were at Fort Mason on Monday to conduct a trade and media tasting.

Garys’ is Great

My favorite red wines came from Garys’ Vineyard, where premium pinot noir is grown by Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni, two of the regions finest winemakers who planted their own vineyards together in 1997.

There are 18 wineries that buy fruit from the 34 acre patch of pinot vines. Garys’ Vineyard sits at 200-400 feet above sea level, smack dab in the middle of the appellation, where about 6,000 acres are under cultivation.

Tim Siduri, Siduri Wines

Tim Siduri, Siduri Wines

The Siduri 2008 Garys’ Vineyard ($54) was the biggest wine of the group, with bold tastes that need a bit of time to come together.When they do, look out. This is a blockbuster wine that’s likely to roll up some big scores.

Roar Wines is where Gary Franscioni makes his wine and his 2008 pinot from Garys’ ($50) will give Siduri a run for the money. This young wine is a classic  California pinot noir — rich with dark red fruit flavor and a lovely nose that fills the glass.

For a slightly racier profile, try the 2008 Garys’ Vineyard ($50) from Pisoni, who brings out the high spice notes in this fruit forward wine that matched up well with a bite of baguette spread with Epoisses, a silky but strong-smelling French cheese from Burgundy.

Testarossa’s 2008 Garys’ Vineyard pinot noir ($59) was equally approachable, with a similar lovely nose that hinted of violets and a perfectly balanced structure that made each sip a little masterpiece.

Impressive Organic

I was also impressed by one organic wine from the area. The garnet-colored Morgan 2007 pinot noir from the Double L Vineyard ($48) tasted of dark cherries with a bit of cola on the nose. A cherry coke never tasted this delightful!

Charismatic Chardonnay

On the white wine side of the tasting, the two 2007 chardonnays from Mer Soleil were both winners. I liked the Silver “unoaked” version just fine for its smooth, crisp citrusy vibe, but the toasty oak and luxurious fruit in the 2007 San Lucia Highlands version ($36) made it a real head turner.

I first tasted the Pelerin white wine called “Les Tournesols” ($28) about a month ago. Upon re-tasting this 2008 blend of roussanne and viognier (the name in French means sunflowers), I remembered how much I enjoyed the taste and smell of this asian pear/vanilla elixir.

The bargain of the tasting was the Santa Lucia Highlands chardonnay ($19) from Kali-Hart, a wine from Robert Talbott named after the founder’s daughter. I liked the streak of raciness in this golden glass of chardonnay that is centered by just the right touch of oak.

Highlands Fling Public Tasting

To get a taste of the new crop of wines from the Santa Lucia Highlands wineries, check out the Highlands Fling Gala Tasting May 15 at Hahn Estates in Soledad. There will be 30 wineries pouring their best wines alongside plates of local cuisine from some of the region’s best restaurants. Tickets are $85 in advance.

Hunt for Bargain Wines Bears Fruit

February 5, 2010

I spent the last week looking closely at good wine values under $20 and discovered some great-tasting candidates that won’t put a big dent in your bankroll.

At first sip, the Vinos Bartolo red wine didn’t reveal much. It felt tight and shy, so I set it aside and opened another bottle, a red blend from Lorca in Napa.

I left the first wine alone for about 20 minutes. When I returned and picked up the glass of Bartolo’s 2007 Minerva ($16) again, the flower had bloomed.

The nose was sweet strawberry, foreshadowing a luscious cherry finish that definitely hit the mark. The blend is 47 percent grenache, syrah 33 percent and mourvedre 20 percent — all from Santa Clara Valley.

A little bit of patience proved a virtue with this one.

Tasty $10 Chardonnay Ahead

One of my perennial favorite value chardonnays is the Edna Valley Vineyard’s bottling from Paragon Vineyards. I don’t recall a bad vintage of this San Luis Obispo standard (which is often sale priced at less than $15), and that goes back for more than a few years.

I just tasted the Tre 2008 chardonnay ($9.95) that showed the same flavor characteristics — tropical fruit, pineapple, citrus — as the Edna Valley, but in a lighter style. This  nice little wine — a new, bargain-priced entry from Guglielmo Winery — is made in Morgan Hill from grapes grown in Monterey County.

Valentine’s Value

There’s definitely an under $20 vibe going on here, so I’ll go with the flow and uncork a bargain bubbly suggestion for Valentine’s Day celebratory sipping.

Year-in, year-out, the Gruet blanc de noir from New Mexico is an outstanding value, more in the French style — quite dry — but delicious in any language. The current release at full retail goes for $13.75. I’d recommend pouring it for someone you love, or want to love.

Back to Lorca

The Lorca 2004 red wine ($15) looks like another supermarket wine. The label is nondescript, but looks can be deceiving. I bought this wine on recommendation of a local wine shop, Farmstead Cheese and Wines in Alameda.

I like this wine. It’s straightforward and strong.

The Lorca starts with a deep, sweet oaky nose that fills the glass. It gets better with each sip of the deep red juice. The wine worked well with a pasta dish that featured pork sausage/tomato sauce spiked with crimini mushrooms simmered in the same wine and a little olive oil.

Farmstead, which has a sister location in Montclair, showcases a fantastic cheese selection to go with its moderate sized but very fine wine collection. Owner Jeff Diamond knows his stuff and is definitely plugged into the fine wine and cheese network.

The label says the wine is California, but it has no other details except the vintage.

The scuttlebutt is that the Lorca, which was made as a side project by a Caymus winemaker, includes a hefty percentage of cabernet sauvignon that didn’t make the final cut at Caymus Vineyards. This second string selection shadows some of the greatness of its bigger, better brother at a fraction of the $100+ price the Caymus Special Selection commands

Putting the “Fun” in Fund-Raiser

Quintessa Winery is the setting on Saturday (Feb. 6) for a special fund-raising event that features a live auction with a wide range of collectible wines. Tickets are $100 for this charity event in Rutherford that benefits the Young School. Check out the details at the Young School website.