Posts Tagged ‘urban legend’

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.

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Wine and the World Series

October 22, 2010

Beer may be baseball’s mainstay beverage, but there’s room for wine in any fan’s hands as we edge closer and closer to the World Series.

In fact, the hard-charging San Francisco Giants roster begs for a comparison with a really good wine list.

Here’s how I see the line-up, through wine-tinted glasses:

Tim Lincecum

Tim Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young Award winner, is the ace on the Giants pitching staff, winning twice in post-season play with a l.69 ERA. Affectionately known as “the Freak,” with his long hair and slight build, Lincecum keeps hitters off-balance with sneaky speed and a tempting change-up that has baffled most opponents this year.

Giants Ace Tim Lincecum

Lincecum is like a top-drawer pinot noir, with a racy intrigue and tasty finish that’s hard to replicate. I’d look toward the Santa Lucia Highlands for a wine that matches the ace’s on-field performance. Something like the outrageously good Siduri Wines 2008 pinot noir fits the bill. It’s made from the legendary Garys’ Vineyard, located on the edge of the Salinas Valley. This is a big pinot, with luscious red cherry fruit that will improve over time, just like Lincecum.

Buster Posey

Although he’s originally from Georgia, a state where moonshine might be the drink of choice, clean-up hitter  Buster Posey honed his skills right here in Wine Country. The rookie spent time with both Fresno and San Jose in the Giants minor league system before joining the big league club in late May. The hard-hitting catcher and clean-up hitter has been a star ever since.

He’s an everyday hero who I’d compare to a big Napa Valley cabernet. Something with a track record of success like the Silver Oak Cellars 2005, a ready-to-drink selection with strong red fruit and a smooth finish that delivers great taste vintage-to-vintage.

Cody Ross

A hidden gem in the Giants lineup is the late-season addition of Cody Ross. The outfielder picked up on waivers late in the season from Florida Marlins and he quickly made his presence felt as the team’s unexpected hero. Ross swatted four post-season home runs and collected seven RBIs going into the fifth game of the Giants’ National League Championship Series with Philadelphia. Ross reminds me of a “little” wine that over-delivers on quality at a reasonable price. Like the McConnell Estate’s 2007 cabernet sauvignon ($15) from Lodi. This is a smooth customer, discovered at last weekend’s Lodi Wine Fest on Treasure Island, with just enough backbone to support the lively black fruit and currant flavors.

Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson is the madman of the Giants bullpen. With a bushy beard dyed deep black, he’s responsible for the Giants battle cry “Fear the Beard” that pops up on homemade signs throughout AT&T Park in every game. I didn’t have a second thought when it came to a wine that reminded me of this gritty reliever. It’s the Prisoner, a zinfandel-based blend from Orin Swift that has been great every time I’ve tasted it. The 2007 Prisoner ($35) needs a bit of time to open up, and then it comes on like gangbusters with bowl-you-over blackberry fruit and rich tannins.

Aubrey Huff

First baseman Aubrey Huff is a 10-year veteran who played for Tampa Bay and Baltimore before coming to San Francisco in 2009. He was a solid contributor down the stretch for the Giants, collecting 86 RBIs and 26 homeruns in the regular season. I’d compare him to a high-toned merlot, not too flashy but built on solid fundamentals.

Two merlots I recently tasted from the an up-and-coming district in Napa come closest to matching Huff’s intensity. I enjoyed the Silverado Mount George 2006 merlot ($50) and the Coho 2006 merlot from the Michael Black Vineyard ($55), both tasted earlier this month in a Coombsville District tasting event.

Pat Burrell

Outfielder Pat Burrell played for the Phillies for eight seasons before defecting to Tampa last year and then joining the Giants for the 2010 campaign. He’s another acquisition who has brought power to the SF lineup, slugging 20 homes runs and collecting 56 RBIs this season.

I’d compare Burrell’s performance to a powerful but smooth-sipping syrah, like the excellent 2006 Zio Tony Ranch ($75) from Martinelli Winery in Sonoma.

Freddy Sanchez

Second baseman Freddy Sanchez has been with the Giants for two seasons after stints in Boston and Pittsburgh. He’s a good fielder and reliable singles hitter, who has hit over .290 in an SF uniform.

I’d match up Sanchez with an award-winning chardonnay with a great track record, like the Ridge Monte Bello chardonnay, an award-winning bottling from Ridge Vineyards, which is better known for its legendary Monte Bello cabernet. I got my first taste of the Ridge 2008 chardonnay ($65) a few weeks ago and I’m sold. It’s gold juice with tropical fruit and citrus overtones that counterbalance just the right touch of oak.

The wine will be officially released later this year. Only 250 cases were produced, so get yours quick or wait ’til next year.

Juan Uribe

Infielder Juan Uribe was the star of Game Four of the NLCS with an outstanding fielding play to stave off a Phillies rally and a walk-off fly ball that won Game 4 of the NLCS for the Giants. This was the hardest pick of the bunch, so I went with a personal favorite that’s reliable and inexpensive. I’m talking about the Don’s Lodi Red, an $8 blended red that contains carignane and syrah plus a dash of symphony — a flowery-tasting hybrid grape developed at UC-Davis. I buy this wine  — from Michael-David Vineyards — by the case and sometimes sneak it into blind tastings with higher-priced brands just to see the reaction when the price is revealed.

Andres Torres

Andres Torres always seems to be smiling and hustling, two characteristics that helped earn him the 2010 Willie Mac Award given to the most popular player on the Giants roster each year. He’s backed up that popularity with some key hitting (16 homers and 56 RBIS) that helped deliver the Giants to the doorstep of the World Series. He reminds me of a California sparkling wine, something that goes with any celebration, like the Gloria Ferrer VA de VI ($22), a non-vintage cuvee that’s pinot noir and chardonnay blended with a dollop of fruity muscat. Definitely a pick-me-up wine!

Pablo Sandoval

Pablo Sandoval, nicknamed “The Panda,” had an up-and-down season on offense and defense, but broke out of his batting slump in the playoffs with a key hit as a starter in Game 5 of the NLCS. He’s like a good bottle of everyday wine that you forget you had, like the Robert Mondavi  bottle of wine that you lost track of and, upon re-discovering it, found \that it was still enjoyable. Like the 2007 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon ($28), an easy-to-enjoy dinner wine with a core of red fruits and complementary sweet oak.

Matt Cain

Matt Cain has been a solid performer on the mound all season and his success continues in the play-offs with just one run allowed in two games. He just keeps getting better and better with every outing, like one of my favorite daily-drinking chardonnays from Edna Valley. The 2008 Edna Valley chardonnay from Paragon Vineyards on  the Central Coast continues a long string of reliable vintages that feature tropical fruit tastes and a nice touch of oak.

Jonathan Sanchez

Jonathan Sanchez has pitched well enough to win in the post-season, but without enough offensive support to seal the deal. Still, he owns a 2.03 ERA and collected 18 strikeouts in two play-off appearances in which opposing batters managed just .149 against the lefthander.

I’d compare Sanchez to a zingy sauvignon blanc, like the wine made by Rochioli near Healdsburg. While Rochioli’s claim to fame is delicious pinot noir, it’s worst kept secret is the estate sauvignon blanc. With a $40 pricetag, this is high-class juice, but it’s so smooth with just the right touch of oak that it’s hard to resist. Join the winery’s waiting list (aveage wait to join is five years) to assure yourself of access to the future Rochioli offerings.

Madison Bumgarner

Madison Bumgarner is the Giants fourth starter. He won against Atlanta in the division series and then pitched well in game 4 of the NLCS against the Phillies, but left without earning a decision. He’s a 21-year-old, hard-throwing left-hander who’s got a long career ahead of him. I’d liken to one of the smaller, newer producers with a big future in Wine Country, like Urban Legend near Jack London Square which is making its reputation on out-of-the-ordinary varietals like its 2008 barbera ($25), a Cal-Ital wine made from grapes grown in Clarksburg. This round, red and delicious selection would complement pasta, pizza or grilled red meats.

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 Sippers on Tap

June 18, 2010

I don’t need a calendar to tell me when it’s time to switch to lighter reds and sprightly whites.

Summertime sippers are the order of the day as temperatures rise across wine country.

My new favorite summer wine comes from a brand new winery — Urban Legend — in Oakland’s Jack London Square. The 2009 rosato di barbera ($16, 65 cases) is made from a rustic Italian grape that presents a lovely strawberry-centric palate. Click here to read more about Urban Legend

I really enjoyed a pair of low-cost bottles over the past week from different producers who aren’t exactly household names. Well, one of the labels does have some cachet — it’s a second-cousin of the much-publicized “Two Buck Chuck” from Charles Shaw.

I picked up a bottle of Crane Lake petite sirah (2008, $3.99) on a shopping trip to the Berkeley Bowl. I was standing in line at the cash register when I spied a nearby display of bargain wines. Nothing looked particularly exciting, but the Crane Lake label caught my eye.

At that price, I was just hoping for a red wine that wasn’t horrible. In fact, the wine was delicious.

It wasn’t complex, but it was smooth. There was a fruit forward character that belies the sometimes harsh tendencies of this varietal. The petite sirah would work well with barbecue ribs, burgers and other smoky, grilled foods.

I got interested in learning more about the wine, but a quick search of the internet didn’t turn up much background on Crane Lake or its lineage. I dug deeper.

Finally, I located the winery in Ceres. Where’s that, you ask? A quick dash to Google told me it was near Modesto at the same address as Bronco Wine Co. — the bargain-wine conglomerate that owns the Charles Shaw brand that sold for $48/case at Trader Joe’s.

Don’t bother looking for a Bronco Wine website. There isn’t one. The company, which controls more than 35,000 acres of vineyards, makes oceans of wine under Crane Lake and more than four dozen other labels.

Southern Hemisphere Surprise

The second bargain wine of the week comes from Chile. It’s a 2009 chardonnay from Viu Manent ($5.99) that I picked up on the bottom shelf of the wine aisle at Lucky’s. I wanted something different from the usual lineup of grocery store chardonnay, and I got a winner.

Pure luck. I didn’t know the label and am not an expert on Chilean whites, but the wine tasted great. Most California chardonnay at this price point is flabby, but not this wine. It was crisp, clean and flavorful — unoaked — and it was a great foil for a dish of tuna poke and white rice. It would work just as well with lemon chicken or white bean salad.

One More Bargain Red

I’d happily bring a case of Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend zinfandel to a summer cookout and I bet I’d be invited back again!

I received a sample of the 2008 zinfandel ($10) from the winery and it’s another fruit forward bottle made from a mix of grapes from all over wine country. The blend — 77 percent zinfandel, 18 percent petite sirah and 5 percent carignane — tastes of summer strawberries with just enough oak to give it some zip in the mouth. A glass of this wine was even better after a night in the refrigerator. The slight chill accentuates the fruitiness of the juice in a really good way.

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.