Posts Tagged ‘Central Coast wine’

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.

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Festival Season is Upon Us

March 25, 2011

We’re right in the midst of my favorite time in wine country. Festival season.

I’ve got info to share on two wine-tasting events in San Francisco and Oakland/Alameda, but first a quick report on a really nice sauvignon blanc.

A bottle of 2009 sauvignon blanc from Franciscan Estate in Napa found its way into my kitchen (the winery sent me a sample) and I’d actually forgotten about it until a desperate need arose for a white wine to pair with a salmon dinner.

Too lazy to tramp down to the cellar, I frantically searched the kitchen wine cabinet and then sorted through the 12 or so bottles stashed on various tables, counters and shelves.

The Franciscan was the only white in sight, so I slid it into the fridge for a 20-minute cool-down while I pan roasted a delicious filet of coho salmon marinated in olive oil and fresh Meyer lemon juice.

SV Hits the Spot

I like a crisp glass of sauvignon blanc in the summertime, on a hot night or at the beach, and also sometimes with steamed crab. I don’t believe I’d had any memorable SV with salmon before, since chardonnay is generally my “go-to” wine with salmon.

A glass of the tasty Franciscan changed my mind. It paired beautifully with the juicy pink fish, served over a bed of white and red quinoa with a side of sautéed red and dinosaur kale.

This agile wine showed a lime-centric core wrapped in layers of melon and a touch of something pleasingly tropical.

It’s a definite keeper at $17 a bottle.

Damn the Torpedoes, Festival Season Ahead

I’ve already reported on the 2011 versions of ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) and the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and there’s a lot more wine event action ahead.

Rhone Rangers Report

This weekend, the Rhone Rangers hold their yearly grand tasting at Fort Mason in San Francisco.

There are events on both Saturday (March 26) and Sunday (March 27). Here’s a link to details, with the featured tasting scheduled from 2-5 p.m. Sunday. Prices are $45 at the door.

This group is focused on promoting American wines with strong ties to the Rhone Valley of France. Rhone-style wines can be made from 22 different varieties of grapes, including syrah, grenache, mourvedre (all red) and viognier, roussane and marsanne (all white).

If I were picking California’s leading Rhone-style wine producers I’d be sure to include these two Central Coast stars:

Tablas Creek, which is owned by the same family that owns one of the Rhone’s greatest estates — Chateau de Beaucastel.

And, Zaca Mesa, a delightful winery in Los Olivos that started planting vines in 1973.

Both wineries will be pouring at the Rhone Rangers event in San Francisco.

East Bay Action

The East Bay Vintner’s Alliance puts on its annual Passport event next Saturday (April 2). Tastings are grouped at six urban wineries in (naturally) the East Bay.

Tickets are $40 and that includes a free shuttle bus between the wineries, BART and the Oakland Ferry Terminal.

There are 21 wineries pouring samples. Public transit is definitely the way to go, unless you’ve got a designated driver!

Tasting stops include: JC Cellars and Dashe Cellars — which share a building near Jack London Square in Oakland; the brand new Cerruti Cellars tasting room in Jack London Square; Periscope Cellars, an Emeryville producer that has moved its tasting room to a new location at Linden Street Brewery in Oakland which I wrote about in one of my earlier blogs; Rock Wall Wine Company, located in an old airplane hangar in Alameda; Rosenblum Cellars, which still has a tasting room next to the Alameda Ferry Terminal; and Urban Legend, a small winery located in an old commercial building on Oakland’s 4th Street.

For a full list of participating wineries, click here.

What’s Next?

I’ll be reporting on lots of wine tasting events over the coming months, from Monterey to Mendocino. Here are a few of the major attractions on my radar:

April — East Bay Vintners Association Passport

May — Santa Lucia Highlands Gala

June — Auction Napa Valley 2011, TAPAS Festival (Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society),  Taste of Mendocino

If you have a favorite wine festival, tasting or other wine-related event coming up over the next few months, please let me know about it.

Thanks!

South Bay Shortcut to Paso Robles Wine Country

April 15, 2010

There’s a shortcut to the Central Coast wine country that runs right through the South Bay, but it’s only passable next week.

The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance brings its Grand Tasting Tour to Menlo Park next Thursday (April 22) when you can sample hundreds of wines from 30 different wineries and also meet the winemakers from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Quadrus Conference Center. Tickets are $45 in advance and $55 at the door.

For a special treat, some of the South Bay’s top restaurants will be hosting Paso Robles winemaker dinners on Wednesday (April 21). Attendees will have a chance to dine and chat with some of the region’s top winemakers at MacArthur Park and Pampas — both in Palo Alto.

Those attending the main event can choose from dozens of varietals like zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay, syrah, petite sirah and pinot noir along with grenache, mourvedre, and viognier plus a batch of blended wines, too.

“What we are trying to hone in on is the fact that Paso Robles is really an undiscovered region for folks in the Bay Area,” said Stacie Jacob, executive director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.

Paso Robles Vineyard

Paso Robles Vineyard

“We we want to give people a taste of what the region is all about. And, at this event, they’ll get an opportunity to meet with the winemakers and with the principals/owners themselves,” she said. “As you learn more about Paso Robles wines, you will see we are not a one-trick pony by any measure. We grow more than 40 different varietals in this AVA (American Viticultural Area).”

Closer Than You Think

Paso Robles sits about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, bisected by Highway 101. With traffic, it’s about the same distance (time-wise) as driving to Napa from Silicon Valley.

Most Paso Robles wineries are identified as West Side (which has a cooler, maritime influence) or East Side (inland, warmer weather), depending on where they’re located from the 101 freeway. In summer, temperature swings can go from 100+ degrees to 50-60 degrees at night.

The Paso Robles appellation (generally it’s the northern half of San Luis Obispo County) is part of the Central Coast wine region, which is the fourth biggest wine producer in the state — behind Napa and Sonoma and Monterey.  Paso Robles has 26,000 acres of vines and more than 180 wineries large and small — all within about a three-hour drive from the Bay Area.

The vibe is definitely friendly here and more laid back than Napa. Prices across the board — for wine, food and lodging — are reasonable and quality is high. I’ve made dozens of trips to this area over the past 30 years, tasting hundreds of wines and visiting scores of wineries.

Here are some of the top producers included in the tour:

Tablas Creek is run by the Perrin family that operates world-renowned Chateau de Beaucastel in France. The Central California operation produces a list of award-winning reds and whites, mostly from Rhone-style varietals.

Their 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel, a blend of mourvedre, grenache, syrah and counoise, got a 95-97 rating from Robert Parker and the 2006 vintage was No. 50 on the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list last year. Tablas Creek’s top-rated white wine, called Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, is a terrific blend of rousanne, grenache blanc and picpoul. The 2008 vintage got a 92 rating from respected critic Stephen Tanzer.

Christian Tietje, Four Vines Winemaker

For a zinfandel lover, this region is loaded with great wines coming from myriad producers, including Opolo Vineyards (check out my blog from the annual ZAP Grand Tasting for more about Opolo), Peachy Canyon (great value and quality), and Four Vines (old vine zinfandel, Rhone and some interesting Spanish-style wines).

I especially liked the Rhone-style wines from a small Paso producer, Caliza Winery, which poured samples at the Rhone Rangers Tasting in San Francisco last month and will be on the tour in Menlo Park along with Alta Colina, another small property that makes some pretty cool syrah and petite sirah wines that have scored high with Robert Parker.

Ancient Peaks, named for the nearby mountains, sits at the southern end of the AVA. The family-owned winery specializes in merlot, cabernet and zinfandel grown in five different soil types — ancient sea bed, sedimentary, shale, volcanic and granitic — that give the wines a backbone of terroir, depth and complexity.

Young vines at kukkula Winery

Young vines at kukkula Winery

Another interesting winery on the tour, kukkula (the name means hill of high place in Finnish), specializes in blended wines, including some “Paso-only” mixes of grenache, mourvedre, zinfandel, as well as cabernet sauvignon.

Second Chances

If you can’t make the Paso Robles Grand Tour Tasting, you can get a mini-tasting experience on Friday (April 23) at one of the region’s top retail wine shops. K & L Wine Merchants in Redwood City will pour five selections from Paso Robles wineries for free between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

And, if you live in the North Bay, the Paso Robles traveling wine tour also makes a stop in Sacramento next Tuesday (April 20).

Here’s a list of wineries participating in the tour:

Alta Colina Vineyard & Winery, Ancient Peaks Winery, Anglim Winery, Caliza Winery, Clavo Cellars, Clayhouse Wines, Derby Wine Estates, Four Vines Winery, Halter Ranch Vineyard, Hope Family Wines / Treana, J. Lohr Vineyard and Wines, Kenneth Volk Vineyards, kukkula, L’Aventure Winery, Maloy O’Neill Vineyards, Opolo Vineyards, Peachy Canyon Winery, Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery, RN Estate Vineyard & Winery, Robert Hall Winery, Rotta Winery, Silver Horse Winery, STANGER Vineyards, Tablas Creek Vineyard,Terry Hoage Vineyards, Vina Robles and Wild Horse Winery & Vineyards.

Pouring All Zins, All the Time

January 31, 2010

There was an ocean of wine flowing beside San Francisco Bay at the world’s largest celebration of all things zinfandel, the 19th annual ZAP festival.

The funnel was Fort Mason, where about 300 wineries uncorked their best bottles for Saturday’s Zinfandel Advocates and Producers grand tasting — the culmination of a long weekend of zin-focused wine and food events. Hawaiian chef Beverly Gannon was the headliner and I especially enjoyed her island-themed meatloaf with sweet barbecue sauce served at Thursday’s “Good Eats and Zin” event, also at Fort Mason.

Alcatraz through the wine glass from Fort Mason

ZAP at Fort Mason

Good zins from Napa, Sonoma, the Central Coast, the Sierra Foothills and Lodi popped up alongside one red herring — an impressive European import with a link to California zinfandel.

The Accademia dei Racemi’s 2007 Sinfarosa from Puglia ($26)  tasted great and showed a true zinfandel fruitiness and blackberry backbone. The grape is known in Europe as primitivo, but it’s genetics are the same as our homegrown zinfandel.

Vintners mostly poured wines from the 2006 and 2007 vintages, but they also showed some 2008s, including many wines that won’t be released until later in the year.

I’m looking forward to Robert Biale‘s 2008 Monte Rosso Vineyard zin, a wonderfully fresh, approachable wine from one of Sonoma’s premier vineyards that will be bottled and released in a few months. A barrel sample was ripe, round and ready to drink.

The Monte Rosso Vineyard, first planted in 1938 by the venerable Martini wine family, is now owned by Gallo, which sells fruit from this site to more than dozen winemakers.

Let’s Dance and Drink Zin

One of my favorite wines at the tasting was from Dancing Lady Wines in Healdsburg, a winery I’d never run across before.

Winemaker Gia Passalacqua squeezes a ton of cherry fruit flavors topped by a twist of spice out of grapes for the 2007Della Costa Family Vineyard zinfandel ($27),which may even be surpassed by the unreleased 2008 version from the same Alexander Valley vineyard. Look for the 2008 to take the taste meter up another notch!

From Amador County fruit, Folie a Deux Winery in Oakville fashioned a great 2007 zin at a great price of $18. There’s a fine balance between just enough fruit and just enough tannic tartness to bode well at table with tomato-based sauces and lighter grilled meats.

Wine for Tonight

If I had to pick a wine to take home frdinner, it would be any of the following three wines poured by Hendry Wines. George Hendry grows wine on 117 acres divided into50 blocks of vines on his property in southwestern Napa. He nurtures several different red and white varietals, including some really great zinfandel.

The 2007 Hendry Block 7 & 22 zinfandel ($30) hasn’t been releasedyet, but it’s ready to go in my book with classic Napa zin credentials — cherry/berry fruit, a touch of smoke and enough tannins to hold everything together.

The 2006 Block 28 zinfandel ($30) showed some cabernet-type character, basically muting the fruit a bit and upping the tannins, still in balance and perfect for a roast beef dinner with all the trimmings.

Even the HRW ($15), a second-label blend of several Hendry zinfandel lots that don’t make the top-line assemblage, is a great everyday wine.

Jam Time

From the jammier side of the fruit spectrum comes Opolo Vineyards in Paso Robles. I’ve been drinking their wines for years and am a big fan of two 2007 offerings that were poured at ZAP.

The 2007 Opolo Mountain Vineyard ($28) has a big grape jam taste and structure that cries out for a sizzing steak or pork chop with a  sour cherry glaze. The 2007 Summit Creek ($20) was almost as fine with a streak of blue/red fruit spread across an equally enjoyable framework of integrated tannins.

The Bargain Corner

One of the best bargain wines of the tasting was the 2008 Immortal, a $13 quaffer from Peirano Estate Winery in Lodi.

In the $10 and under the category, I really liked the 2007 Wily Jack, another new brand from Napa launched last summer by Diageo Chateau and Estate Wines. This $8.99 bottle had great fruit and fine structure for a California blend.

Up Next:  New Napa Cabernet Releases

A slew of Napa wineries will be unveiling their newest cabernet offerings with special events next weekend.

On Saturday (Feb. 6), check out the festivities at Silver Oak in Oakville where they will debut the 2007 estate cabernet. That same day, similar events are planned at Flora Springs Winery in St. Helena (where the 2007 Trilogy will be on center stage), Bennett Lane in Calistoga (where the 2007cabernet will be previewed), Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena (where the 2006 cab will be celebrated) and Raymond Vineyards in Oakville  (where the 2006 Generations cab will make its debut).