Posts Tagged ‘jc cellars’

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.

Rock ‘n Wine in Alameda

January 8, 2010

The old Navy base on the west end of Alameda may not seem like a suitable launching pad for a winery, but don’t let the folks at Rock Wall Wine Company hear you say that.

They think the 40,000-square-foot hangar, once used as a paint shop for Navy aircraft, is a perfect place to continue the tradition of urban wine making that has become a vibrant part of the Bay Area’s culture, which includes the East Bay Vintners Alliance and the San Francisco Wine Association.

Click here to read my blog about the SF Wine Association.

Rock Wall is not the first winery in Alameda but it has very strong ties to the first, and most successful, urban winery in the state — Rosenblum Cellars.

Shauna & Kent Rosenblum

Shauna & Kent Rosenblum

Kent Rosenblum, a veterinarian turned wine making pioneer, started his namesake winery (Rosenblum Cellars) in 1978 and turned it into one of the world’s most respected zinfandel producers. After selling the company  in 2008 to Diaego, the big wine and spirits conglomerate, Rosenblum helped his daughter, Shauna, get Rock Wall launched later that same year.

Rosenblum has also helped several other winemakers get their start. Former Rosenblum winemaker Jeff Cohn  now runs his award-winning JC Cellars winery in Oakland, and Thomas Coyne, former Rosenblum cellarmaster, makes wine in Livermore at the Thomas Coyne Winery.

Back in Alameda, the Rock Wall facilities serve as an incubator for a handful of boutique wineries that share the workspace and tasting room.

Rock Wall is open to the public from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Don’t expect an exquisite wine estate with an elaborate manor house and picturesque vineyards.This is a working, commercial winery. The tasting room consists of a crude bar at the back of the giant hangar. The nearest vineyards are hours away, but there’s something spectacular just outside.

San Francisco Skyline

View from Rock Wall Wine Co.

It’s an awesome view of the majestic San Francisco skyline, which comes into focus the minute you step out the door.

Back in the winery,  tasting room manager Erin Barrett poured me a sample of the Rock Wall 2007 Sonoma Valley zinfandel reserve and it was delicious. This polished red wine scored a well-deserved 90-point rating from the Wine Spectator and earned a gold medal at the 2009 Orange County Wine Fair. This $35 wine delivered a noseful of fresh blackberry fruit backed by a solid core of cherry and sweet chocolate flavors.

I also enjoyed Rock Wall’s 2007 Rock Star Rouge, an unusual blend of syrah (42%), tempranillo (37%) and cinsault (21%) that makes for a great everyday drinking wine. I liked the violet edge to this wine’s flavor and a bit of peppery bite that would make it a good match for burgers, pizza or grilled chicken. At $14 a bottle, it’s a steal.

There are six other wineries at the Rock Wall Wine facility, including Blacksmith Cellars, Carica Wines, Ehrenberg Cellars, JRE Wines, R&B Cellars and Virgo Cellars.

Of the 10 wines available for tasting during my visit, I really liked the Carica 2007 Kick Ranch syrah ($30), a bright-tasting glass of cherry/blackberry fruit with a slightly smoky nose.

I also enjoyed an unusual white wine from Blacksmith Cellars made from the torrontes grape, a white wine grape popular in Argentina. The 2008 vintage ($15) tasted of lychee fruit with a hint of citrus on the nose. The grapes are from the Silver Spoons vineyard, near Galt, which is also the source of several other unusual varietals used by a number of other wineries.

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.