Posts Tagged ‘east bay vintner’s alliance’

East Bay Urban Winery Spotlight

May 17, 2012

The lure of the  East Bay urban winery scene is as simple as five P’s — Proximity + Promise + Price = Plenty of Pleasure.

There are 23 members of the East Bay Vintners Alliance which has been active since 2005.

The largest, Rock Wall Wine Co., is probably the biggest winery with the longest history, having its origins in Rosenblum Cellars — the first urban winery in the East Bay.

I recently enjoyed a lovely Pinot Noir from the group’s newest and smallest member, Stomping Girl Wines. The husband-and-wife team of Uzi and Kathryn Cohen are owner-operators

I discovered the wine — a blend  of fruit from Petaluma Gap, Carneros and the Sonoma Coast — at the annual Passport to the East Bay Wine Trail tasting last weekend. The event featured tastings at 10 different member wineries.

The Stomping Girl 2010 Unhinged Pinot Noir is a cherry bomb, with vivid red fruit to spare. There’s enough acidity to keep the fruit from overwhelming the palate. I’d pair this with something simple, especially smoked meats and mild cheese.

White Wine Standouts

Two white wines stood out from the pack.

Stage Left Cellars 2006 Viognier presented a pleasantly floral and fruity take on this shy varietal.

I like the citrus highlights and wildflower nose from this Viognier, which is made from grapes grown at Kiler Canyon Vineyard in Paso Robles. Only 73 cases were produced.

The winery is only open to the public on the first Saturday of each month. The tab is $5 and the next chance you have to visit is June 2.

The 2007 R& B Cellars Sauvignon Blanc is another great white wine and a great value, too!

Winemaker Kevin Brown , whose primary focus is vibrant red wines, was direct in his intent with this paler varietal.

“When I think of Sauvignon Blanc, I want to drink French,” he said. “I want that crisp French style.”

The wine is crisp with a nice citrus core — perfect for a late Spring picnic or as an aperitif

Supplies are low, so check with the winery to see if there’s any left at the $10 a bottle/$60 a case price.


Goodness, Gracious, Grenache

April 8, 2011

I recently discovered a trio of very tasty red wines — each made at urban wineries in the East Bay — that deliver a one-two punch of flavor and quality.

The first wine of the day turned up at Urban Legend in Oakland, my first stop on the East Bay Vintner’s Alliance Passport event last weekend. From my first whiff of sweet strawberry jam in the nose, I knew this 2009 wine called Lollapalooza ($26) was something special.

It’s a lovely medium garnet color with juice that’s primarily grenache with small amounts of syrah and mourvedre — all from Amador County. The fruit is a real grabber, with the fruit forward demeanor of the grenache carrying over into the taste

“We didn’t want to step on it (grenache) when we put the blend together,” explained Marilee Shafer, who owns Urban Legend with husband, Steve. “We wanted to capture all of that bright strawberry fruit.”

Two Winners from JC Cellars

Staying with the fruit forward theme, but taking sophistication a few notches higher, is the 2008 grenache  ($35) from JC Cellars, another stop on the East Bay Vintners Alliance passport event. This is the most “Rhone-style” wine of the bunch. It’s not over-the-top or hot, despite it’s 15.5% alcohol level.

The grapes come from Ventana Vineyard in Monterey County, where cooler temperatures allow longer hang time, which can allow more complex flavors to develop.

I also enjoyed JC Cellars 2007 petite sirah from Eaglepoint Ranch vineyard in Mendocino County.

I’ve tasted several other delicious wines made from Eaglepoint Ranch fruit, which winemaker Jeff Cohn handled masterfully for this effort. It shows distinctive blueberry aromas and flavors of red raspberries with an effective tannic bite.

I’d decant this wine for 30 minutes or an hour to let its flavor flag unfurl.

Seeking Sushi Solution with Sattui

I find Japanese food, especially raw fish dishes, a tough match for wine.

An off-dry riesling or gewurztraminer gets mentioned most often by the experts, but neither varietal hits the right notes in my mouth when I’m eating Japanese fare.

I much prefer a good Japanese beer (like Sapporo) or sake (try Takara Sake’s Sho Chiku Bai made in Berkeley), but my new favorite choice is a delicious Italian-style, slightly sparkling moscato from Napa Valley.

With sashimi made from tako (octopus) and fresh yellowtail (procured from Tokyo Fish Market in Albany), I paired a glass of 2010 moscato from V. Sattui.

Sattui is an interesting success story. The winery produces about 45 different wines and sells them all only at the winery/tasting room/deli in St. Helena and online through the website.

The moscato has plenty of nice fruit flavors, but is not overly sweet. Each sip revealed a bit more flavor (tangerine) and I loved the luscious texture of this slightly fizzy white moscato, the Italian version of muscat.

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.


Urban Wines by the Bay

July 28, 2010

The Alameda/Oakland  Ferry becomes a wine-drinker shuttle this weekend when city dwellers can sail from San Francisco to the Urban Wine Experience on the East Bay shoreline.

There will be 19 wineries from the East Bay Vintner’s Alliance pouring about 60 wines from 2-5 p.m. on Saturday (July 31) in Oakland at the old Barnes and Noble building, now called the Jack London Pavilion.

It’s easily reachable from all of the Bay Area by car, BART and several bus lines. Advance tickets are $45 online and $60 at the door.

Starting Small

Although there is one big fish in the group, Rosenblum Cellars, most of the wineries are much tinier operations that produce small lots of wines with limited distribution. Here’s a chance to taste wines you won’t likely see on any grocery store shelf.

Bob Rawson is president of the  vintner group and a partner in Urbano Cellars, which operates in Emeryville at facilities operated by Periscope Cellars, another small producer that set up shop in an old submarine repair shop in an industrial block of 62nd Street off Hollis Avenue.

Bob Rawson, Urbano Cellars

Rawson started making wine several years ago in his San Francisco garage with a neighbor, Fred Dick. It was a hobby that grew into a business with plans to expand into new space in Oakland later this year.

Several alliance members share facilities with Rock Wall Wines in Alameda, where a huge aircraft hangar at the old naval air station provides room to work and grow their businesses.

Other alliance winemakers, like Jeff Cohn at JC Cellars, who started working at bigger wineries, like Rosenblum, have grown their businesses and now operate their own wineries. JC Cellars shares winery and tasting room space with Dashe Cellars at 55 4th Street in Oakland.

Award Winners

Some of these wines are “turn your head around” good and have been recognized for excellence at various competitions around the state.

One of the newest alliance members, Urban Legend in Oakland, won Best of Show at the California State Fair for their 2009 Clarksburg rosato di barbera ($16). I wrote about this dry, flavorful summer wine in an earlier blog about the new winery near Jack London Square (621 4th Street, Oakland). Only 65 cases were made.

Urbano will be pouring its own 2008 rose’, a bone dry wine made from the valdiguie grape. Known in some circles as Napa Gamay, valdigue is actually a French grape that is sparsely planted in California.

Rawson gets grapes for his “vin rose'” from a two-acre plot in Solano County. (Click here for my take on an interesting Solano County winery to visit.)

“We are trying to make something different and unusual,” Rawson said, explaining why there is no cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay in his lineup.

Instead, he sources fruit from small growers of sangiovese, barbera, and petit verdot grapes.

The 2006 petit verdot from Urbano (made from grapes grown in Lodi) is a steal at $16. It’s not a grape you see bottled on its own very much. Usually petit verdot is a small part of a Bordeaux-style blend, but in Rawson’s hands this petit verdot becomes a smooth and complex red wine.

One alliance member, Adams Point Winery, goes in another direction, making mostly fruit-based wines from mango, papaya and persimmon. There’s room for all kinds of wines in this alliance, so you’ll find a wide range of styles from big, bold reds to rose’ wines and whites, too.

Urban Concept Pays Off

The idea that wines can be made outside of the major wine-growing regions, like Napa and Sonoma, isn’t new. Home and hobby winemakers  all over the country make wine from imported grapes. Rawson thinks the commercial urban winemaking movement is sustainable and practical.

“This is a model that can work,” he said, over a glass of his delightful 2008 sangiovese. “There are no land costs and no planting costs. We’re leasing warehouse space, for the most part.”

And, Rawson says, “Most of the wine consumers are here, where we are, not in Napa or Sonoma.”

Plus, there are plenty of high-quality grapes for sale from all the major growing regions, which are only a few hours away from the urban wineries.

“There are plenty of grapes. And, as beautiful as it is to look at vineyards from your porch, you don’t need that view to make great wine,” he said.

Here’s a link to a listing of all the members of the East Bay Vintner’s Alliance.

East Bay Vintner's Alliance Membership

Summertime is Wine Time

July 10, 2010

There are lots of choices this month when it comes to places to go and things to do in Wine Country. It’s high season in Napa and Sonoma and just about everywhere else wine is made, and that includes lots of Greater Bay Area festivities

First, I want to talk about a new wine that I enjoyed over the 4th of July holiday. I feel almost un-American for saying it, but the best rose’ I’ve ever had is French. It was a 2009 Reuilly pinot gris rose’ poured by my friend Bob before, during and after a delicious beef cookout to celebrate Independence Day.


This light pink wine, made by Denis Jamain in the Loire Valley, would complement any special occasion, including the July 14th Bastille Day that celebrates the start of the French Revolution.

French Bubbles in SF

If Bastille Day is your day to party, check out the action July 14 at the Bubble Lounge in San Francisco. Special prices on Champagne wines (300!) and Champagne cocktails. This is definitely a fun place, no matter what you’re celebrating. The Bastille Day party kicks off at 5 p.m. Admission is free but the bubbles definitely have a price tag. Look for great deals on Laurent-Perrier Champagne.

Suburban Blending

You’d never know it driving down I-80 toward Sacramento, but there’s an interesting little winery in Dixon that’s worth a visit. Purple Pearl Vineyards is having a summer blending party on July 17 from 2-6 p.m. Winemaker Rory Horton will pick 4-5 barrels of red wine (winemaker’s choice) for visitors to blend on their own. Admission is $10 plus $10 per bottle. Live music and food, too.

Urban Experience

The East Bay Vintner’s Alliance is having its fifth annual Urban Wine Experience on July 31 at Jack London Pavilion. This event has evolved into a really neat opportunity to taste the best that the inner Bay Area has to offer, with 19 wineries pouring more than 60 wines for the public.  Tickets are $45 in advance and $60 at the door. Live music and appetizers are included in the tab. Look for new wines from a new member of the alliance, Urban Legend Cellars, which I covered in an earlier blog.

Hit the Beach in Oakland

One of the wineries pouring at the Urban Wine Experience is holding its own beach-oriented tasting tomorrow (1-4 p.m., Saturday, July 10). Flip flops and Hawaiian shirts are the uniform of the day at JC Cellars in Oakland, where about 15 wines will be poured for attendees ($25 in advance, $30 at the door). In addition to ice cream for the kids, there will be appetizers from gourmet rotisserie specialist Roil Roti.

Rock On in Alameda

Rock Wall Wine Company hosts a summer open house on July 24 from Noon to 5 p.m. The Alameda winery, which is also home to several other wine-makers who don’t have their own facilities yet, is housed in an old airplane hangar at the Alameda Naval Air Station.

If it’s a clear day, visitors can take advantage of one of the most drop-dead gorgeous views of the San Francisco skyline in the entire Bay Area. They make some pretty good wines there, too, and about 50 will be open for sampling. I’m looking forward to tasting the 2008 Sonoma County Reserve zinfandel, which comes from the historic Monte Rosso vineyard.

The operation is headed by Shauna Rosenblum, daughter of zinfandel champion Kent Rosenblum, who’s also involved in the new winery. If you take the ferry from San Francisco or Oakland, there’s free shuttle service from the Alameda Ferry Terminal to Rock Wall!

Click here for a partial list of participating wineries. Tickets are $25 through July 18 at the winery and $35 through the winery website.

Paws and Causes in Napa

Bring your canine companions to HALL winery in St. Helena on Sunday (July 11) for a dog day afternoon tasting current releases alongside a side order of doggie treats for the four-footed types. The event at this award-winning cabernet producer’s property runs 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and it’s free. 

Later this month, on July 25, the Napa Humane Society hosts a big fund-raiser and tasting event at Silverado Resort in Napa. The Cause for the Paws festivities will feature Napa-area wines, a charity auction and a selection of food from regional restaurants. There will be a portable adoption unit set up on the grounds to give party-goers a chance to take home a shelter pet. Advance tickets are available at the Napa Humane web site in advance for $55 or $65 at the door. 

Shoe Corkscrew?

You can open a bottle of wine with your shoe. Weird, but true. You can actually open a bottle of wine using your shoe. I’d never have thought of it myself, but it works. Brilliant solution if you’re corkscrew-less and not barefoot.  Kudos to for the video.

End of an Era at Rosenblum

June 4, 2010

One winery opens its doors while another is closing the door on an era in Bay Area winemaking.

I wrote a recent blog about the new Urban Legend Cellars winery that opened in Oakland this spring. I didn’t know at the time that another urban legend, Alameda’s Rosenblum Cellars, will be closing its doors.

According to news reports, Rosenblum will move to Napa. No timetable has been disclosed.

I anticipated something like this happening after Diageo, a wine/beer/spirits conglomerate, purchased Rosenblum for $105 million in 2008. Once the new owners looked over the physical property — the winery is housed in a leased ship repair facility just across the estuary from Jack London Square and the port of Oakland — they probably figured consolidation with winemaking facilities in Napa made economic sense.

It’s part of an overall cost-cutting move by Diageo, which announced last month that it will trim close to 100 jobs — mostly in hospitality and tasting room operations. Rosenblum’s satellite tasting room in Healdsburg will be shuttered, but the main tasting room in Alameda will survive — for now.

Napa’s gain, maybe, but it’s definitely a big downer for Alameda. The Island City lost the Navy base in 1997 when the admirals relocated the facility’s nuclear aircraft carrier to another port in Washington state, but Alameda was still home to one of the leading zinfandel producers in the world.

Kent Rosenblum, Alameda winemaker and zinfandel specialist

Kent Rosenblum

Kent Rosenblum, a veterinarian by training, gets a lot of credit for the whole urban winery concept. Today, there is an association of 21 urban wineries, the East Bay Vintner’s Alliance, that traces its lineage directly through Rosenblum. Several of the urban winemakers worked with and for Rosenblum. Another family member, Kent’s daughter Shauna, is an urban winemaker herself. With some help from her famous father, she heads Rockwall Wines, which opened in 2008 in an old airplane painting hangar at the Alameda Navy base.

The elder Rosenblum started making wine with friends in Berkeley in the 1970s. In the next decade, he moved the operation to Alameda, where the list of wines grew by leaps and bounds with special emphasis on zinfandel and Rhone-style red wines.

The plan was to bring in good grapes from selected growers in different areas to Alameda where the transformation into wine was completed. The result was a truckload of gold medals and high ratings from the critics over the decades.

Now, the production is likely to shift to Diaego’s facilities at Beaulieu Vineyards (BV) in Rutherford, where the emphasis is on cabernet sauvignon like the 2005 Georges de Latour Private Reserve, a $90 bottle that earned a 95 rating from Wine Enthusiast.

Racetrack Wine

The East Bay Vintners Alliance is helping celebrate the Belmont Stakes at Golden Gate Fields on Saturday (June 5) with a winetasting event next to the winner’s circle. Tickets are $20 for five tastes of wine that’s made by the 21 member wineries. Fine food sampling plus live music and an art exhibit round out the infield celebration.

Bayside Wineries Shine this Weekend

April 8, 2010

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.

Rhone Rangers on a Roll

March 31, 2010

The annual Rhone Rangers tasting in San Francisco showcased some great syrah and petite sirah wines, but it was the grenache that really caught my eye and tickled my tastebuds the most.

The 13th annual grand tasting at Fort Mason last weekend featured Rhone-style wines from 102 producers from California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

When handled properly, good grenache fills the glass with a nose of spiciness  and a taste of berries and other red fruits. Many producers will combine grenache with syrah (more acid and tannin) and mourvedre (darker colors) to produce a blend that showcases the best characteristics of each varietal.

Carina Cellars Vineyards

I happen to like all three, on their own or in blends, but a few of the grenache wines really stood out, including a bottle from Carina Cellars in Paso Robles.

Carina’s grenache, from the 2007 Tierra Alta Vineyard in Santa Barbara, showed intense red fruit in the glass with a pleasurable edge of plums on the tongue. It’s available ($28) only from the winery.

Frick Winery of Geyserville poured tasty cinsault and carignane — two grapes that you don’t normally see bottled outside a blend — but it was the 2006 grenache that really captured by interest. Made from Dry Creek Valley grapes, the fresh fruit in this wine seemed to leap from the glass to my lips.

Another nice grenache (The Crossroad, $25) was poured by Curtis Winery from Los Olivos. Made in a lighter style from Santa Ynez Valley fruit, this 2006 wine includes 20 percent syrah.

Leslie Preston

I also liked the fresh, uncomplicated 2008 syrah ($29) from Coiled Wines, which are made from fruit grown in Idaho. Winemaker Leslie Preston splits her time between her Napa home and an Idaho co-op where she makes wine from Snake River Valley fruit.

“I think there is a lot of potential in Idaho,” said Preston, who has worked at Clos du Bois, Saintsbury and Stags’ Leap in California. “There’s a fresh intensity of fruit that I really like.”

I was able to re-taste the exciting 2006 Estate petite sirah ($28) from D. H. Gustafson Family Vineyards. This is the first wine made from Gustafson’s stunning hilltop winery near Lake Sonoma (see my earlier blog on Gustafson) and the 2007 version is nearly as good, too.

For a celebrity experience, try the 2007 syrah made by Fleming Jenkins Vineyards & Winery from a Livermore Valley vineyard owned by former Raiders coach and football analyst John Madden. The flavor profile is a delicious mix of cherry, black pepper and a hint of chocolate .

The top syrah on my scorecard were the 2006 Zio Tony Ranch ($75) from Martinelli Winery in Windsor. This one hit all the pleasure points that a syrah lover wants to find — finely integrated tannins, a pleasant spiciness balanced by broad, expanded red fruit.

My second favorite wine overall was the glorious 2007 Espirit de Beaucastel ($50) from Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles. This red blend had all the elements of a genuine Rhone champion. It should. The winery is run by the same family that owns the esteemed Chateau de Beaucastel in France.

The biggest bargain wine of the tasting was the Cotes du Crows blend of grenache and syrah produced by Morgan Winery in Carmel. I’d order a second (or third) glass of this $16 quaffer anytime.

One of the most interesting 2007 grenache-syrah blends I tasted came from a little winery in Oakland called Prospect 772 Wine Company. The $36 wine is called The Brat, a name chosen due to the difficult-to-cultivate grenache grape’s character.

You can taste Prospect 772 wines  — and other wines from more than a dozen urban Bay Area wineries — at the annual East Bay Vintners Alliance passport event on April 10.

Pretty in Pink

July 10, 2009

Summer weather is heating up in the Bay Area, so it’s time to slide a bottle of rose’ into an ice bucket, find a shady spot and discover the pleasures of California wines that live in limbo between red and white.

My interest in pink wine percolated a few weeks ago when I tasted a delicious rose’ from Scherrer Winery at the Pinot Days event in San Francisco. It was a pure shot of pleasure, and a great change of pace from all of the serious pinot noir wines featured at this event, which I wrote about in my last blog, Pursuing Perfect Pinot.

When my friend Bob uncorked a couple bottles of the same Scherrer rose’  at a Fourth of July barbecue, I was hooked on this uncommon wine. It’s a blend of zinfandel and pinot noir — varieties that don’t usually come together in a bottle — but this combination works great in the hands of Fred Scherrer. It’s available from the Sonoma County winery at $15/bottle.

I’ve mostly avoided pink wines in the past, but what we are talking here is good wine, at a good price, that goes down smooth and isn’t too sweet and cloying. This is definitely not your mother’s white zinfandel!

Blushing in Oakland

I started looking close by for some similar wines to taste and locked into two winners at J.C. Cellars and Dashe Cellars in Oakland. The two wineries, which share space near Jack London Square, have earned reputations for mostly red wines like zinfandel and syrah, but both also make a small amount of blush wines for summertime sipping.

Dashe & JC Cellars

Dashe & JC Cellars

I enjoyed the Dashe vin gris and the JC Cellars rose’ of syrah. Both sell for $14/bottle.

The vin gris is a bit lighter on the palate. It’s a three-way blend of syrah, petite sirah and zinfandel grapes. Dark rose colored in the glass, the nose wasn’t anything special, but the taste was smooth and it went down easily with a chunk of cheddar cheese and a bit of country ham perched on a slice of pita bread.

The JC Cellars rose’ was darker than the vin gris and it tasted great, edging closer to the flavors of a full-blooded red wine. This rose’ is made using the saignee method, in which some of the juice is removed from the tank before it picks up any deeper color from the red grape skins. The result is a blush colored wine that drinks like syrah “light.”

The Dashe and JC Cellars tasting room is open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. There’ s a $5 tasting fee, but it’s waived if you buy a bottle.

Cal-Ital Twist

I wanted to try something different in a rose’, so I stopped at my local wine bar — Alameda Wine Co. — to see what was available.  Owner Karen Ulrich turned me on to another pink wine, Uvaggio’s barbera rose’ ($8.50), a dark pink color with tangerine highlights. It makes for a decent quaffing wine — served really cold — and has enough backbone to stand up to dishes like grilled seafood or cioppino.

Barbera is the third most popular wine grape in Italy, but it is not widely planted in California. Grapes for the Uvaggio rose’ came from Lodi, where the vines thrive in the Central Valley climate.

Coming Up

Alameda Wine Co. celebrates its first anniversary with an open house next Tuesday (July 14) featuring barbecue, music, magic and $3 wines-by-the-glass. The address is 2315 Central Ave., right next door to the Alameda movie theater. The event runs from 4-8 p.m.

Rosenblum Cellars, also in Alameda, hosts its annual summer open house from 1-5 p.m. July 25-26 at the winery near the Alameda Ferry Terminal. Tickets are $35 in advance, $45 at the door.

Looking Farther Ahead

The annual East Bay Vintner’s Alliance is holding its fourth annual tasting event on the grass in Jack London Square next to the Oakland Ferry Terminal on August 8. Each of the 16 participating wineries — including Rosenblum, JC Cellars and Dashe — will be paired with a local restaurant serving food to complement the wines. Advance tickets are $45 and $60 at the door.

The Family Winemakers of California 19th annual tasting is scheduled for August 23 at Ft. Mason in San Francisco. This non-profit advocacy group puts on a great tasting featuring hundreds of wineries, including a few big family-owned companies you know by name alongside a lot of mostly smaller wineries that don’t usually share the public spotlight. Tickets are $50 in advance, $60 at the door.