Posts Tagged ‘rosenblum cellars’

Petite Sirah Lovefest

February 18, 2012

Most of the wines I tried at a recent Petite Sirah tasting were tannic, tart and true to form for the big and burly flavor profile of the grape that originally hails from France’s Rhone region.

If you can get a bit more up-front fruit into the California version of this varietal, the wine becomes more approachable.

Petite Sirah can be a hard-sell to the general wine-drinking population, but don’t tell that to the P.S. I Love You crowd.

P.S. I Love You is an association of Petite Sirrah producers and their supporters.

The group’s annual public tasting, held Friday night at Rock Wall Wine Co. in Alameda (click here to read my earlier blog about Rock Wall), featured 58 wineries pouring selections mostly from Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Lodi and the Sierra foothills.

Several vintages were represented, with a few 2010 examples scattered amongst the mostly 2007, 2008 and 2009 selections.

My favorite of the tasting was the 2008 Pizzicato Petite Sirah ($28) from R&B Cellars, a boutique producer who makes wine at the Rock Wall facility.

The fruit comes from Bingham Ranch in Napa, where red wine grapes have been grown for more than 50 years.

This is a bold red wine with a strong tannic structure that grabs the limelight, for now. I picked up black (plum) and blue (blueberry) fruit that should move forward a bit as this wine ages.

Paso Petite

The 2009 Petite Sirah from Christian Lazo was a bit easier to swallow.

This Paso Robles wine ($25) showed some really nice and deep red plum fruit up front with blueberry highlights. The taste, which included a nice spicy undertone, lingered on the palate for half a minute.

Rosenblum

I liked two bottles from Rosenblum Cellars.

The 2008 Pato Vineyard ($25), which is in Contra Costa County, is a personal favorite. I’ve enjoyed multiple vintages and this one doesn’t deviate from the expected fruit forward profile that tones down the more aggressive nature of the grape.

Rosenblum’s Rockpile Road Vineyard Petite Sirah ($45) from 2009 is a deeper, darker and more sophisticated bottle of wine. The fruit comes from a Sonoma vineyard that sits 1,200 above Lake Sonoma at the edge of the Dry Creek Valley.

The Rockpile wine is big and sleek, like a thoroughbred racehorse.

Concannon Vineyards

I’ve enjoyed several Petite Sirahs from Livermore’s Concannon Vineyards over the years, especially the entry-level California blend that runs $10-$12/bottle. Concannon is a legendary producer of Petite Sirah, bottling the grape as a varietal starting way back in 1961.

The 2007 Concannon Reserve Captain Joe’s pushes Petite Sirah to a higher level.

There’s a pleasing smokiness to the taste, thanks in part to 17 months aging in French and American oak. There’s good blackberry fruit, a touch of leather and some gamey notes that complete the flavor profile of this $36 wine.

Fieldstone

I thought the just-released 2008 Fieldstone State Family Reserve Petite Sirah was also quite good.

Here’s what I wrote in my notes: “Tight, right and tasty.”

The $35 wine comes from a historic Alexander Valley vineyard, first planted in 1894.

There’s good minerality and rich blueberry-scented fruit in this wine, which has good tannic structure. It spent 20 months in oak before release and includes a dash of Viognier, a white  grape that is sometimes added to red wine to introduce floral elements to the taste and aroma of the finished product.

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Rock-Solid Rosenblum

January 22, 2012

If you tried a different Shauna Rosenblum wine every day this month, you’d still have five left over to uncork in February.

Prolific ain’t the half of it. She makes 36 wines — red, white, sweet and sparkling — at Rock Wall Wine Company in Alameda. The winery is located in a giant hangar on the old naval air station, not far from where her dad, Kent Rosenblum, created world-class zinfandel at Rosenblum Cellars.

Shauna Rosenblum, Rock Wall Winemaker

I dropped by Rock Wall  recently to meet Ms. Rosenblum and try three of her current-release petite sirahs — two from Napa and one from Mendocino and all from the 2009 vintage.

They will be poured along with wines from 55 producers at the petite sirah extravaganza called Dark and Delicious held at Rock Wall on Feb. 17. Click here to purchase tickets for one of the best wine tasting productions in the Bay Area.

Carver Sutro

This $40 bottle has a Napa lineage. The Carver Sutro grown near Calistoga is from a vineyard that dates back to the early 1900s when the land was farmed by Italian immigrants.

This deep, dark wine is silky smooth, no mean feat with this often-tannic grape, and there are flavors of rich blackberries along with a bit of mint.

Gamble Ranch

The Gamble Ranch, to Rosenblum’s taste, is like a “chocolate brownie with cream.”

It’s also from Napa. The vineyard, near Rutherford, dates from the 1960s.

I liked the cocoa highlights and house texture of richness that stops short of “over-the-top.”  Flavors of black cherry and plums work well alongside manageable tannins that provide enough stimulating bite to sustain interest in this $35 wine.

Rucker’s

The Rucker’s was the least expensive ($22) member of this trio and my favorite.

This fruit-forward Mendocino wine was easy to approach and paired well with a bowl of chicken cacciatore. Rosenblum described it as having chocolate overtones and I can definitely agree that it’s on the cocoa side of the flavor wheel.

Variety Matters

Rosenblum is bringing out new wines all the time, including a new “Super Alameda” blend called Romancer that debuts right before Valentine’s Day.

Romancer is a blend of equal parts malbec, mourvedre and petit verdot that debuts on Feb. 10 with a party at the winery.

A big star already is the Rock Wall Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands ($25). This tropical-scented wine rolls Asian pear flavors around the tongue in a style that won Best in Class honors at the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Ahoy, Norton

Another debutante waiting to be unveiled is a tiny batch of wine made from Norton, a red grape that was hot back in the 1840s when the Midwest was the nation’s wine-growing sweet spot.

Norton is being re-discovered on a relatively small commercial scale outside California with some vineyards in places like Virginia and Texas yielding interesting table wines.

The Rock Wall Norton is sourced from a three-acre California vineyard that yielded less than one ton of juice. I’ll keep you posted on the release date.

Labor Day Weekend Wines

September 3, 2011

The days of the drive-in movie are nearly over, but you can still enjoy an outdoor film with a glass of cool wine in hand at one East Bay winery.

Movies in the Vineyard

You won’t have to drive to Napa or Sonoma for a wine country movie experience  at Chouinard Winery in the hills above Castro Valley.

Chouinard Winery

They kick off kick off a Labor Day weekend celebration with a Saturday (Sept. 3) showing of the 1954 horror classic The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Gates open at 6 p.m. and the movie starts at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $20/car. Bring a picnic dinner and try the lineup of Chouinard wines including their award-winning 2007 malbec from Paso Robles ($19).

Movies are shown every Saturday night this month, including a Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon double feature Sept. 10.

Music & Meritage

Every Sunday in September, you can enjoy live music and wine tasting at Hannah Nicole Vineyardsin Brentwood. This Sunday (Sept. 4)  features an acoustic performance by Toree McGee from 1-4 p.m.

Owners Neil and Glenda Cohn originally wanted to grow apples, but followed the wine muse instead. They began making wine as amateurs in 2002 and opened their winery in 2009. The estate covers 80 acres and there are 10 current releases of red and white wines.

Saturday Happy Hour at Berkeley’s Casa Vino

Prices drop by $2 per glass at Casa Vino during the 5-6:30 p.m. happy hour on Saturdays. This wine-centric spot has one of the largest “by the glass” menus in the Bay Area featuring selections from all parts of wine country, foreign and domestic.

Wine Mine Find: $1 Tasting

Every Saturday afternoon, in the Temescal district of Oakland, David Sharp sets out 4-5 interesting wines for a $1 tasting at the Wine Mine, a delightful discount wine shop. That’s right, it’s only a buck to taste the whole flight. This Saturday (Sept. 3), the lineup features an all-rose selection.

Rosenblum Cellars

There will be live music on the deck at Rosenblum Cellars in Alameda this Saturday (Sept. 3) and 20 percent discounts on case sales through Labor Day. Admission is free.

They don’t make wine anymore at Rosenblum’s Alameda facility, but the tasting room is still open and  on a sunny day it’s a fun place to kick back and enjoy a glass of world-famous zinfandel.

Rock Wall: Not Hard to Like

May 13, 2011

There’s a lot to like about Rock Wall Wines, but there are also a few downsides.

It’s the closest working winery to my home, but there are no captivating vistas of vine-covered hillsides in sight.

The ownership pedigree is blue-chip, but will the succeeding generation be able to carry on the tradition?

The view is drop-dead spectacular, if you can overlook the huge expanse of cracked and overgrown concrete just off the lovely deck.

San Francisco Skyline from Rock Wall

If you  don’t like wine, there’s a handy, high-octane alternative — a neighbor (Hangar One distillery) who makes booze in another abandoned Navy building nearby.

The best reason to visit Rock Wall, however, is to taste the wines. The winery’s tasting room is open to the public Thursday-Sunday, Noon-6 p.m.

New Tasting Room

I dropped by earlier this week to get a sneak peek at the new Rock Wall tasting room and sample some of the newest releases.

The public christening of the tasting room and the adjacent special events center is happening this weekend.

Ahoy, Alameda

The working end of the winery is housed inside an old airplane hangar at the former Alameda Naval Air Station, which began operation in 1940 and closed for good in 1997.

The tasting room is in a new building that sits between the hangar and the activity center, a brilliant white geodesic dome that faces the striking San Francisco skyline.

Rock Wall Wines

One of two 8,000-yard runways on the base is a short walk from the winery’s rear deck.

The aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise is berthed nearby, at one end of the 2,300-acre base on the West End of Alameda, where the big warship attracts thousands of visitors every year.

Rock Solid Reds

The lineup of Rock Wall red wines is solid.

At the top sits an excellent 2009 reserve zinfandel, made from the prestigious Monte Rosso vineyard in Sonoma.

There’s a rich core of blackberry/raspberry fruit wrapped in a creamy smoothness that belies its young age.

The tannic structure is finely integrated, apparent but not overbearing. The berry fruits yielded to cherry overtones as I rolled the wine around my tongue.

I can’t wait to taste it in six months to a year to see how much complexity it can develop.

Shauna Rosenblum

I also liked the 2009 Obsidian, a 50-50 blend of zinfandel and petite sirah that provides a juicy mouthful of good taste.

The fruit for this $20 wine comes from Lake County.

The combination of fresh raspberry and blackberry tastes from the zin with the petite sirah heft makes for a winning wine in my book.

It probably doesn’t hurt a bit that the winemaker added a splash of extra zin from the Rockpile area of Sonoma to push the flavor profile a bit higher.

Overview

Kent Rosenblum, who sold his namesake Alameda winery to beverage conglomerate Diageo for $105 million in 2008, is the consulting winemaker at Rock Wall, which started operations that same year and is run by his daughter, Shauna Rosenblum.

The Rosenblums’ current venture is located about a mile from the old Rosenblum Cellars winery, where all that’s left is a tasting room and storage facility. The winemaking is now done at other Diaego facilities in California.

The 40,000-square-foot hangar where Rock Wall wines are made is a production facility shared with a lineup of boutique wineries (including Blacksmith, Carica, R & B Cellars, JRE Wines, and Ehrenberg Cellars) that make wine in a collegial atmosphere.

It’s a fun place that combines an easy-going, low-key attitude with  high-quality wines.

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!

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

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.

Taking Petite Sirah Seriously

February 24, 2010

There’s a lot to like about petite sirah, a bold and sometimes brawny grape with roots in the south of France where it goes by the name durif, so maybe it’s time you tried a bottle the next time a red wine decision is needed.

I attended the annual petite sirah love fest sponsored by the advocacy group P.S. I Love You a few days ago at Rock Wall Wines in Alameda. There were 44 wineries pouring samples of their petite sirahs alongside plates of food prepped by 31 regional restaurants and caterers.

There was superb regional diversity, with greats wines coming from Napa along with Lodi and Mendocino and Lake counties.

Biale is Best

I was blown away by the across-the-board quality of the petite sirah poured by Robert Biale Winery. This small premium winery sits on the edge of Napa subdivision where it makes some of the finest petite sirahs in California, along with some world-class zinfandel, too.

Biale's Dave Pramuk and Al Perry at P.S. I Love You

Biale Vineyards' Dave Pramuk (left) and Al Perry

Two of the Biale wines really stood out. The 2007 Like Father, Like Son (a syrah/petite sirah blend from Napa with a splash of zin, $46) and The Royal Punisher ($36), a brooding all petite-sirah giant of a wine from Napa that epitomizes what this rough and tumble grape can become in the hands of talented Biale winemaker Al Perry.

Most of these wines are in short supply, so fans might want to check into the Biale wine club to insure access to limited bottlings. Call the winery at 707-257-755 for info.

Get in Line

Cecchetti Wine Company in Lake County has a bargain-priced winner with its Line 39 2007 petite sirah from the North Coast appellation. I would have never guessed this is a $10 wine. I’d have paid twice that and felt like I got a bargain in this deep red wine that tastes of chocolate and red cherries. A sample of the unreleased 2008 was even better!

A few notches higher on the flavor meter is the 2007 Pickett Road petite sirah ($35) from Rosenblum Cellars.  The taste of this jammy, concentrated red fruit bomb from Napa was addictive as was the nose of plums and chocolate that tumbled out of the glass.

Tune in to Jazz

Jazz Cellars poured its exquisite 2006 petite sirah from Eaglepoint Ranch ($38) in Mendocino and the double-gold winner from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition did not disappoint.

This is a big wine that would match up well with a slab of prime beef still sizzling from the grill. Despite 14.7 percent alcohol, the wine is balanced, with sufficient acid to keep the sweet fruit in check. Just a touch of vanilla from the oak barrel aging complements the red and black fruit flavors and the tight tannins of this wine.

Jazz wines are made at Crushpad, the San Francisco wine collective.

Honorable Mention

Two wines from Lodi showed what the fertile Delta region can produce when it comes to petite sirah.

Mettler Family Vineyards petite sirah ($22) is made from organic vineyards and the wine is a deep purple pleasure giver. The Michael David Petite Petit (a blend of 85 percent petite sirah and 15 percent petit verdot, a French varietal) is a $22 bottle of violet-scented blackberry fruit with a fine dusty edge.

In Pursuit of Perfect Pinot

The 8th annual Pinot Noir Summit is slated for Saturday (Feb. 27) at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael from noon to 8:30 p.m. More than 40 different wineries — mostly from California and Oregon — will be pouring. There will be blind tastings and workshops plus an awards ceremony where the top-rated wine will be revealed. Tickets run $75-$125.

Pig Out With Wine

Pigs are the main attraction, but there will also definitely be a wine component at  Cochon 555 in Napa this Saturday. Five chefs, five pigs and five winemakers will be featured at this event — the first of 10 cooking competitions in different cities across the country this year.

The challenge — create as many interesting dishes as possible from an entire 125-pound hog. Chefs from some of the region’s finest restaurants — Meadowood, French Laundry, Silverado Resort, Namu of San Francisco and Zazu Restaurant — will be pairing dishes with wines from Gamble Family Vineyards, Zacherle Wines, Hill Family Estate, Wind Gap Wines and Hirsch Vineyards.

Tickets run $100-$160. If you can’t make it to Silverado Resort for this event, the Cochon 555 tour will be in San Francisco June 6 with a different set of chefs, wineries and heritage hogs.

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.