Archive for May, 2011

Young Guns, Good Wines

May 27, 2011

If Ryan Moreland’s parents had a wheat field instead of a vineyard, he’d probably be making artisan bread from family grain.

But Ryan lives in St. Helena. His family has a small plot of sauvignon blanc. Naturally, he’s got wine fever.

Ryan Moreland

The 20-something has channeled his energy into winemaking. He has  his own label, Corvalle, with three wines currently for sale and a fourth due for release later this year.

Production is miniscule, but hopes are high.

I found something to like in all of Corvalle’s offerings at a tasting last weekend. The event, held in a warehouse wine making space near the Napa airport, featured “millenial” winemakers (35 and under).

I especially enjoyed the Corvalle 2010 sauvignon blanc, from a 1-acre vineyard in Rutherford, which is also home to iconic wineries like Grgich Hills Estate, Caymus and Cakebread Cellars. The neighborhood is a hotspot for big red wines, but this is a finely crafted sauvignon blanc ($24) that tastes great on its own and would also hold up well with grilled chicken or fish.

Also likeable was the Corvalle 2010 Weka Ranch Vineyard chardonnay ($21/bottle) from the Oak Knoll District and a pleasant rose’ made from an unusual 50/50 mix of Carneros pinot noir and Rutherford cabernet sauvignon.


Two wines made by Sheldon also caught my eye.

The 2007 chardonnay, made from the Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, is a nice example of barrel-fermented chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands near Monterey. The 47-year-old vines produced a deep golden wine. It is unfiltered and unfined, showing a lovely balance between sweet oak and a nice acid tang.

Dylan and Tobe Sheldon

Sheldon is a co-production of Dylan and Tobe Sheldon. The couple, who met in a wine bar, learned the wine trade in New Zealand and France before returning to California to put their knowledge and belief in a minimalist approach into practice.

They currently have eight different wines for sale, including an unusual bottling of 2009 graciano, a Spanish red varietal grown in the easternmost reaches of the Lodi appellation.

Spell Wines

Hosting the tasting was Spelletich Vineyards, which operates in the warehouse space.

Kristen Spelletich, whose mother, Barbara, is the family winery’s chief winemaker, bottles her own, less-expensive wines under the Spell label. I first met Kristen at a tasting in St. Helena earlier this year, when I discovered her mom’s wonderful 2006 reserve merlot.

Kristen’s 2006 Spellonu Red, a blend of Napa cabernet sauvignon and merlot, is a very good wine at a great price ($15). This wine showed a sweet cherry core and nice balance with a whiff of mint in the nose.


Sippable Sauvignon Blanc for Summertime

May 20, 2011

First of all, I don’t think there’s any appreciable difference between wines that come in bottles and wines that come in alternative containers.

The biggest issues in choosing alternatives to glass really boils down to the quality of the juice inside. If it’s good to start with, it’ll be good coming from a keg with a spigot, a cork-finished bottle, cork-like alternatives and bag-in-a-box contraptions.

Indulge Wines released its first wines this year in another, new enclosure called the astrapouch. It’s a squat 1.5-liter bag, complete with a convenient handle, that sits upright on a semi-rigid base. There’s a simple spigot for one-press pouring.

I think they’ve got a winner with the 2009 sauvignon blanc ($20 for the equivalent of two fifths of wine). The grapes are from the North Coast appellation, which covers parts of Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

The wine’s flavor profile is classic California sauvignon blanc. There’s a nice layer of sweet/tart grapefruit over some rounder cantaloupe highlights. It’s a tasty mix, not too sharp, not too sweet. Nuances of flower petal emerge on the nose as the wine warms up a bit in the glass.

It worked well with a plate of cold, grilled chicken, a sweet baguette and a side of white beans. I’d also enjoy a glass on a warm afternoon, anywhere.

According to Indulge, their container has multiple eco-friendly advantages over glass containers, including much lower weight, faster chill time and extended shelf life. Once opened, the wine is supposed to remain fresh for up to a month in the refrigerator.

The astrapouch container  — which is also used with pre-mixed cocktails and other alcoholic beverages — easily fits into a cooler for road trips, picnics and mobile parties. And, it’s waterproof, too, so the container isn’t susceptible to soggy box-syndrome like the bag-in-a-box systems.

Indulge also offers a Central Coast pinot noir and has plans to release additional varietals in astrapouch bags made from purchased fruit.

Rock Wall: Not Hard to Like

May 13, 2011

There’s a lot to like about Rock Wall Wines, but there are also a few downsides.

It’s the closest working winery to my home, but there are no captivating vistas of vine-covered hillsides in sight.

The ownership pedigree is blue-chip, but will the succeeding generation be able to carry on the tradition?

The view is drop-dead spectacular, if you can overlook the huge expanse of cracked and overgrown concrete just off the lovely deck.

San Francisco Skyline from Rock Wall

If you  don’t like wine, there’s a handy, high-octane alternative — a neighbor (Hangar One distillery) who makes booze in another abandoned Navy building nearby.

The best reason to visit Rock Wall, however, is to taste the wines. The winery’s tasting room is open to the public Thursday-Sunday, Noon-6 p.m.

New Tasting Room

I dropped by earlier this week to get a sneak peek at the new Rock Wall tasting room and sample some of the newest releases.

The public christening of the tasting room and the adjacent special events center is happening this weekend.

Ahoy, Alameda

The working end of the winery is housed inside an old airplane hangar at the former Alameda Naval Air Station, which began operation in 1940 and closed for good in 1997.

The tasting room is in a new building that sits between the hangar and the activity center, a brilliant white geodesic dome that faces the striking San Francisco skyline.

Rock Wall Wines

One of two 8,000-yard runways on the base is a short walk from the winery’s rear deck.

The aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise is berthed nearby, at one end of the 2,300-acre base on the West End of Alameda, where the big warship attracts thousands of visitors every year.

Rock Solid Reds

The lineup of Rock Wall red wines is solid.

At the top sits an excellent 2009 reserve zinfandel, made from the prestigious Monte Rosso vineyard in Sonoma.

There’s a rich core of blackberry/raspberry fruit wrapped in a creamy smoothness that belies its young age.

The tannic structure is finely integrated, apparent but not overbearing. The berry fruits yielded to cherry overtones as I rolled the wine around my tongue.

I can’t wait to taste it in six months to a year to see how much complexity it can develop.

Shauna Rosenblum

I also liked the 2009 Obsidian, a 50-50 blend of zinfandel and petite sirah that provides a juicy mouthful of good taste.

The fruit for this $20 wine comes from Lake County.

The combination of fresh raspberry and blackberry tastes from the zin with the petite sirah heft makes for a winning wine in my book.

It probably doesn’t hurt a bit that the winemaker added a splash of extra zin from the Rockpile area of Sonoma to push the flavor profile a bit higher.


Kent Rosenblum, who sold his namesake Alameda winery to beverage conglomerate Diageo for $105 million in 2008, is the consulting winemaker at Rock Wall, which started operations that same year and is run by his daughter, Shauna Rosenblum.

The Rosenblums’ current venture is located about a mile from the old Rosenblum Cellars winery, where all that’s left is a tasting room and storage facility. The winemaking is now done at other Diaego facilities in California.

The 40,000-square-foot hangar where Rock Wall wines are made is a production facility shared with a lineup of boutique wineries (including Blacksmith, Carica, R & B Cellars, JRE Wines, and Ehrenberg Cellars) that make wine in a collegial atmosphere.

It’s a fun place that combines an easy-going, low-key attitude with  high-quality wines.

Summer Wine Warm-Up

May 6, 2011

You can never have too many wine bars with a sense of humor.

That’s what popped to mind as I was reading about Casa Vino, a newer wine-centric outpost in South Berkeley. There’ s a serious wine list (80 wines by the glass) at this bistro and wine bar.

I’ll drop by someday soon, probably at happy hour for the $2/glass discount, and check out the selections. I think I’m going to like a place that refers to itself as being in the real gourmet ghetto of Berkeley, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the foodie-focused Shattuck Avenue neighborhood near the cult restaurant Chez Panisse.

North to Napa

Here’s a spur of the moment suggestion that involves a quick trip to Napa before the onslaught of summertime visitors.

Check out the Rutherford Passport Weekend on Saturday and Sunday (May 7-8).

There are 11 wineries — including Alpha Omega, Beaulieu Vineyards, and Conn Creek  — offering special food and wine selections. Tickets are $75.

Odd Whites in Back Room

I really wanted to attend a tasting of rose wines at Back Room Wines in downtown Napa Friday (May 6), but just couldn’t make the schedule work.

I am planning ahead to check out another event there next Friday (May 13) when the focus is on unusual white wines

One of my personal goals this year is to taste as many different white wine varietals as possible. The Back Room tasting (5-8 p.m.) features six picks from global sources for $10.

Serious Pink

While not a white wine, I did enjoy a full-bodied rose the other night.

I was looking for something to drink with a dish of lemongrass chicken and tried an Italian-style rosato from Benessere Vineyards, a winery I wrote about in an earlier blog. It wasn’t a good fit with the food, but I liked the style and it tasted great.

This was not a delicate flower of a wine. It’s color reminded me of a simple beaujolais, but it tasted fuller, more substantial. While a beaujolais is made from gamay grapes, this rosato is made from sangiovese and merlot.

To get the lighter style, the winemaker needs juice with a lighter color. He gets it by draining off some of the juice fairly early in the fermentation process — before it can pick up much color from the red grape skins — and then completing the production of the finished wine in steel or wooden barrels.