Fruitful Family Affair

At big tasting events, like the Family Winemakers of California, I have an irrational fear that I won’t find anything worth writing about from the thousands of bottles being poured.

I’ve attended many FW events, including the first one back in 1999, when there were just a few dozen participants.

Last weekend, at the 21st annual tasting, there were 303 wineries on the list.

It’s not a competition, like the SF Chronicle tasting, where the wines are pre-judged by a panel of experts.

It’s not a themed tasting, like the ZAP festival which focused on zinfandel only.e

The Family Winemakers event is more like a church supper, where everybody brings something they like to share.

FW members poured 23 different white wines, 24 different red wines, plus various white and red blends, rose and dessert wines.

There was literally something for everybody’s tastes but I found some very special wines to recommend, mostly from Napa.

Andesite Vineyard

Andesite Vineyard’s 2007 Mervignon is a proprietary blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc from Spring Mountain in Napa.

It’s the only wine produced by owners Charles and Jo Ann Howard with help from winemaker Kenn Vigoda.

Production is small (150 cases , $48/bottle) and quality is very high. The Mervignon showed an incredibly rich, red color with stunning mocha highlights surrounding black cherry and blackberry fruit.

Andesite, by the way, is a type of volcanic rock found on the estate’s property which sits 2,000 feet above sea level.

Bacio Divino Cellars

I like the fact that Bacio Divino literally means divine kiss in Italian. I like even better the taste of this Napa Valley winery’s namesake blend of cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese plus petite sirah from 2007.

This marvelous $80 wine features cassis and berry flavors and it’s ready to drink today.

It’s a smooth, luscious and complex wine made by winemaker Kirk Venge for owners Claus and Diane Janzen.

Some of that complexity comes from the marriage of three different varietals, but also lending depth is the use of cabernet fruit from 18 different vineyards — including the hallowed To Kalon Vineyard, originally planted by Robert Mondavi.

Guarachi Family Wines

Alex Guarachi spent a quarter century in the wine importing business — focusing on introducing Americans to wines from around the world, including his family’s native Chile — before he became a producer. With noted winemaker Paul Hobbs at the helm, the Guarachi Family Wines label includes chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon from Napa and Sonoma.

I liked the cabernet the best. The 2008 Napa cab ($75) was very, very nice and approachable with a medium dark red color that led to irresistible black cherry fruit.

It’s sourced from three Napa vineyards — Elkington-Setty, Lincoln, and Winfield Vineyard. The wine spent 1.5 years in French oak, yielding 1,700 cases and a 92 rating from Wine Enthusiast.

McManis Family Vineyards

I like three things about this Ripon-based grower and wine producer.

McManis Family Vineyards wines are in wide distribution. Prices are reasonable. Quality is predictably good.

At the FW tasting, I liked both current releases of California cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah ($12/bottle).

I appreciated even more the red blend called Jack Tone Vineyards poured from a 3-liter box. It’s the equivalent of four bottles for $19.99. A good, affordable party wine, this syrah/petit sirah blend is a mouthful of fresh, soft red fruit (creamy blackberry) that doesn’t see any oak.

Orin Swift Cellars

I got a double-barrel shot of goodness when I stopped by the Orin Swift Cellars table.

First, I found something new called D66 — a delightful blend that’s heavy on the grenache. The 2009  is the inaugural vintage from Orin Swift’s new winery and vineyards in France’s Roussillon region.

I actually licked my lips after the first taste of this $38  juicy red which includes a bit of carignane and syrah. Flavors are dominated by ripe cherry fruit tempered by mild tannins.

Second, I re-tasted the 2008 Papillon ($55), a red wine that’s mostly Napa cabernet with some petit verdot, merlot and cabernet franc blended in for complexity.This is the fourth vintage, and it succeeds with high-toned cassis and cherry flavors plus some sweet cedar notes.

Robert Biale Vineyards

I got another one-two punch of great red wines from Robert Biale Vineyards, a red wine specialist from Napa.

I loved the sweet cherry attack of the 2009 Southern Trail, a blend of zinfandels from the south end of Napa. Biale has earned a high reputation for its zinfandel lineup and this $46 bottle is another winner.

Equally good is the Basic Black ($38), another blend based on petite sirah and zinfandel from the North Coast. This is a smooth-tasting, seamless red wine ready to open and enjoy tonight.

Staglin Family Vineyard

Staglin Family Vineyard has long been known as a top-quality producer of Napa Valley estate cabernet. I found something else to like when I tasted the 2007 Salus, Staglin’s second label cabernet.

A bottle of the 2007 Stalus is a relative bargain at $90 compared to the estate cab that retails for $250.

The Stalus showed some nice mulberry/cranberry flavors, finely integrated tannins, a touch of the famed Rutherford dust and a lingering finish that just wouldn’t quit.

The Salus (named after the Roman goddess of health) is the wine to drink while waiting for the 2006 Staglin estate — a majestic wine in its own right — to tame its tannic core.

Plus, all proceeds from Salus sales are donated to mental health research.


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