Bayside Wineries Shine this Weekend

The first urban winemaker I met was a college professor  in Memphis in the 1980s. He made zinfandel in his basement from grapes grown in California and I thought he was crazy.

Today, the image of an eccentric educator following his grape muse has been blown away by the reality of urban winemakers turning out really good wines on the eastern edge of the San Francisco Bay.

East Bay Vintners

About 20 urban wineries will showcase their wines Saturday (April 10) when the East Bay Vintner’s Alliance holds its annual Passport  to the East Bay Wine Trail event at seven locations in Alameda, Emeryville and Oakland.

Wendy Sandy and Ron Pieretti

There will be a wide range of whites and reds from producers like Rosenblum Cellars, a large and nationally known zinfandel producer, and Prospect 772, a small winery started by Rosenblum alumni Ron Pieretti and Wendy Sanda.

Prospect 772’s winemaker, Jeff Cohn, is another Rosenblum veteran. His award-winning winery, JC Cellars in Jack London Square, is also one of the tasting stations in the East Bay Vintners event.

Check out Prospect 772’s wine called The Brat, a grenache-based blend that I covered in last week’s blog.

Tickets to the EBVA event are $30 in advance, $45 at the door.

Dueling for Bay Area wine-lovers’ attention on Saturday (April 10) will be the SF Vintner’s Market.

The two-day event features more than 100 wineries offering samples at Fort Mason on the San Francisco waterfront from noon to 5 p.m. and on Sunday there’s another session from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. General admission tickets for either day are $30 apiece.

If you miss the SF Bay-area events, there’s another passport event next month a bit further north. The Passport to Sonoma Valley is a spread out affair, with more than 50 wineries up and down Sonoma County pouring samples May 15-16.  Two-day tickets are available in advance for $90 . A Sunday-only pass is $75.

Next Stop, Portugal

Portugal has a long history of making table wines, which are often overshadowed by its better-known fortified wines like Port and Maderia. At the annual Grand Tasting of the Wines of Portugal on Monday, 30 Portuguese wineries poured a wide selection of wines..

I focused on red table wines, tasting 60 examples made from mostly indigenous grapes, including the same varietals often used to make fortified wines. Overall, the wines were well made, and prices were quite reasonable, but few stood out from the crowd.

I did enjoy the  2007 Esporao Touriga Nacional ($30). It’s a big tannic wine that opens up to show some very nice red fruit after a few minutes in the glass. The wine is from the Alentejano region in southern Portugal, where one of the world’s largest cork forests is also cultivated.

Monte da Ravasqueira

For a bargain wine ($5), I found the Prova Red, an entry-level wine from Monte Da Ravasqueira, to be delicious. It’s a mongrel made from aragonez (tempranillo), and three native grapes — alfrocheiro, trincadeira, touriga franca — plus a splash of cabernet sauvignon packed into an easy-drinking red wine. It’s light and fruity with just enough backbone to complement simple foods.

Alicante Almighty

Several of the Portuguese wines included alicante bouschet in their mix. It’s a tough grape with strong tannins, but in good years it can add a lot of character and color to the blend. I liked the Caves Bonifacio alicante bouschet 2008 from Lisboa for it’s rich mouthfeel, integrated tannins and dark color plus a bit more red fruit than I expected. It goes for about $10 a bottle retail.

The only other good experience I’ve had with a varietally bottled alicante bouschet was on a visit to Lodi’s Harmony Wynelands winery about two years ago. I was surprised at the smoothness in contrast to the grape’s normally harsh nature. I’ve got a bottle or two in my cellar, and when I open them, I’ll report back on whether the wine measures up to that first good impression.

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