Posts Tagged ‘oakland wine’

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!

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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 Wimp.com for the video.

One If By Land and Two If By Sea

May 13, 2010

After receiving the famous signal that the invaders were coming by boat, Paul Revere began his historic ride in 1775 to warn his countrymen about the approaching British forces who would eventually be defeated in the American Revolution.

The signal, shown from the top of the bell tower at Boston’s Old North Church, was to be two lanterns if the solders were coming by boat and one lantern if the were coming overland.

When Revere, watching from across the river, saw two lights, he raced on horseback through the countryside with the now-famous cry, “The British are coming. The British are coming.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow captured the scene in his riveting poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride“.

That poem popped into my head when I visited a new winery in Oakland called Urban Legend Cellars. It’s most definitely approachable by land and sea. The Jack London Square ferry terminal is just a few blocks away and the BART tracks, running to Oakland’s 12th Street Station, are visible from the winery’s front door.

Steve Shaffer inside a tank at Urban Legend

Owners Steve and Marilee Shaffer opened Urban Legend last month in a warehouse on a commercial block of Fourth Street. The  couple — who emigrated from the East Coast to the Bay Area — caught the winemaking bug by experimenting in their garage before turning professional. Their lineup includes five different wines at prices from $18-$28 a bottle.

There is no formal tasting room. Tastes are poured for free at a table near the entrance to the winery, with tanks, hoses and other winemaking gear in the background. Steve and Marilee said they did most of the work themselves, with lots of help from friends.

You won’t find one drop of cabernet or chardonnay here. Four-fifths of the five-wine lineup is made from Italian varietals in a food-friendly style.

The best of the bunch is the 2008 barbera. This grape can be ponderous in the wrong hands and high acids can also be a problem. Not here. This tasty red wine is round and sensual and delicious. I can imagine drinking it with a thin-crusted pizza scattered with grilled garden vegetables and tomato sauce.

Of course, there are no vineyards anywhere nearby. In fact, the barbera is grown by Heringer Estates in Clarksburg — about 90 miles away in Yolo County.

The winery is open to the public on weekends and the wines are available in a few retail shops including Rainbow Co-Op in San Francisco and the Alameda Wine Co. They’re also available on the list at Encuentro wine bar and Chop Bar — both in Oakland.

There was a tie for my second favorite Urban Legend wine. I really enjoyed the Ironworks blend for its bright cherry-cranberry taste. The wine is 80 percent nebblio and 20 percent sangiovese, both Italian varietals grown in Lake County. I also was intrigued by the uniqueness of the Teroldego, a medium-bodied red wine. also with Italian roots, that’s quite rare in California.

Sonoma Passport Event

The annual Passport to Sonoma Valley weekend will be in full swing Saturday and Sunday when 51 wineries open their doors for a mass tasting of new and old wines punctuated by a wide selection of catered foods from local providers across the valley. Tickets are $50 for a two-day pass, $40 for Saturday-only visitors.

Stuck in Lodi, Again

I’ll be attending the yearly Zinfest celebration in Lodi on Saturday. Fifty regional wineries are pouring new releases. Tickets are $45 in advance and $55 at the door. On Sunday, there will be series of open houses at wineries in and around Lodi (no ticket required).

Jessie’s Grove Winery, one of the Zinfest participants, also sponsors an outdoor summer concert series that’s worth the drive to Lodi on its own merits. Roots/blues musician Shane Dwight will be performing at the next concert on May 29. Come early to check out the wine-tasting and stay late for a concert under the stars. Tickets are $22 apiece.  Here’s the rest of the summer concert schedule.

Sonoma – Smaller Focus

The emphasis is on smaller wine producers on May 23 at Vinify Wine Services/Collective in Santa Rosa.  There are 16 wineries pouring more than 40 wines made from 12 varietals at Vinify, which is located in an non-descript business park off Highway 101. Tickets are $20 for the event, which runs from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call Hilary Lattanzio at 707-495-4959 for more information or contact her via e-mail at hillary.lattanzio@gmail.com.

Just across the complex from Vinify is Carol Shelton Wines, a premium producer best known for her award-winning zinfandels. The winery is open by appointment only, but if you are in the neighborhood, see if you can get a taste of their newest offering — a mystery white wine to be released later this year.

My favorite from Carol’s stable is a rich, rewarding zin from the Cucamonga Valley in Southern Calfiornia. Her Monga zin is made from ancient vines that are nearly a century old. This spicy mouthful of zesty zinfandel retails for $21-$24 a bottle.

Santa Cruz Wine Express

You can leave the driving to the train engineer if you attend the Santa Cruz Mountains Wine Express tasting on May 23. The event is staged from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton where visitors can ride a vintage steam train and taste wines from 70 Santa Cruz wineries. For more information, check with the Santa Cruz Mountains WineGrowers Association.

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.