Thursday, February 28, 2008

2005 Cooper Garrod Gravel Ridge Chardonnay

Popped one of these last night. Smells like buttered toast with a hint of lemon curd. On the palate it's creamy with apricots and vanilla. Could perhaps have done with a tad more acidity to match the seafood cioppino that we made to go with it. Nice finish; not hot despite the 14.9% alcohol. (What's going on? The Santa Cruz Mountains are supposed to be cool!) Good value at $13.50

Overall, the 2003 that I found recently had a bit more going on. The trouble is that it's kind of hard to justify cellaring a sub-$15 wine.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Whole Foods - my new favourite wine shop

I've been doing more and more wine shopping at Whole Foods recently. On a recent trip I noticed a few bargains and on closer inspection was surprised to find that for many local wines, the prices at Whole Foods are actually cheaper than most other retailers, particularly if you take advantage of the 10% discount for buying any six bottles.

They also have a very good selection from top quality local wineries such as Burrell School, Mount Eden, Storrs, Martin Ranch and Ridge; in fact the selection of SCM/SCV wines is at least as good if not better than K&L, BevMo or The Wine Club.

Here are a few bargains I've picked up recently - prices are before discount and tax, so the net price will be a few cents lower.

Earlier this year I was fortunate to grab some bin-ends of the Cooper Garrod 2001 Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon at $20 and 2003 Gravel Ridge Chardonnay at $15. These are now sold out, but the 2003 Lone Oak Cabernet Sauvignon and 2005 Gravel Ridge Chardonnay have now arrived, along with 2004 Cabernet Franc at $22.

Trout Gulch is a small father and son company owned by Bernie Turgeon, co-founder the Turgeon & Lohr winery. Never heard of it? Well, back in 1984 he sold his stake to his partner, Jerry Lohr who renamed the company J. Lohr. Trout Gulch produces tiny quantities of estate Pinot Noir ($20) and Chardonnay ($17), both of which I've only ever found at Whole Foods.

Kathryn Kennedy produces what is probably the single most expensive wine in the mountains - their top Estate Cabernet Sauvignon goes for a whacking $145. But at a more realistic level, Kathryn Kennedy also makes a "California" designated bordeaux blend called Lateral ($32) that would give any of the $50 to $100 Napa blends a run for their money. The 2004 is particularly fruit forward and enjoyable today, but would benefit from cellaring. There's also a Syrah ($24) that I'm looking forward to trying and a Sauvignon Blanc ($16), but to be honest I'm of the view that the best Sauvignon Blanc comes from New Zealand (and is cheaper too), with France a respectable second.

Finally there's a couple more wines that also carry the "California" appellation: Thomas Fogarty Skyline ($15) and Roudon Smith Claret ($14). Both are smooth, fruity blend with a decent amount of oak. Easy drinking midweek wines - nothing earth shaking, but reasonable value.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Open That Bottle Night

February 23rd is the Wall Street Journal's Open That Bottle night. I wasn't going to participate; it's not that I don't have any "that" bottles, it's just that I'll open them on my schedule thank you very much, and most of them aren't ready yet.

But there's one wine that I have been putting off trying; being the cheapskate that I am I was hoping to get a taste of someone else's rather than sacrifice one of my own. It's the 2005 Stefania Uvas Creek Cabernet Sauvignon. Uvas Creek Vineyard is in the Santa Clara Valley AVA, in San Martin. Winemaker Paul Romero has been enthusiastic about the potential of this vineyard for a while, and this is his first release. Uvas is Spanish for grapes, and was named by the early explorers who discovered grape vines growing wild in the area.

I've had a number of Santa Clara Valley AVA wines, but up to now few of them have really fired me up. Cronin made some interesting Merlots in the late 90s from San Ysidro and Martin Ranch are making some quality wines from their estate vineyards including a gold medal winning Syrah, but for the most part they've been fairly uninspiring. However as I said in the introduction, I think all that is about to change in the coming years.

If this is anything to go by, we are in for some treats. It's a rich, full wine with bags of fruit and tannins. I should have decanted it, but I didn't plan ahead and there wasn't time. The only issue was a slight bitterness on the finish, like the pith of an orange, but that became less pronounced as time went on so I'm confident that with bottle age or decanting that will go away. I don't plan to open any more for quite some time. Kudos to Paul and Stef for an excellent maiden release from what was a tricky vintage.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Mount Eden tasting at K&L

K&L's regular Friday tasting focused on Mount Eden winery. Six wines poured in all - three Chardonnays, two Cabs and a Pinot. Owner/Winemaker Jeffrey Patterson was pouring, though I didn't get much of a chance to talk to him as the place was rather busy and I was on a fairly tight schedule.

2006 Wolff Vineyard Chardonnay comes from Edna Valley and is the only wine that Mount Eden make with fruit from outside the SCM AVA. The wine doesn't see as much oak as the estate fruit; consequently you get more of the tropical fruit character. In the past I thought that it seemed a bit expensive when compared to Varner's "Foxglove" label, but at $18 this is certainly worth the money.

2004 "Saratoga Cuvee" Chardonnay is a true second wine; estate grown Chardonnay that didn't get selected for the main label. Apple and lemon with a healthy dose of oak. If this is what didn't make the cut, the 04 Estate should be something special

2003 Estate Chardonnay definitely needs time to come together. After the in-your-face Saratoga Cuvee this seemed much more restrained. Good acidity.

2004 Estate Pinot Noir shows why the Santa Cruz Mountains is great Pinot country. Great fruit, low alcohol - an elegant contrast to the big "Pinotfandels" being made elsewhere. Another one for the cellar. Nice to see a top quality Pinot under $40 for a change.

2003 "Saratoga Cuvee" Cabernet Sauvignon. Unlike the Chardonnay this isn't made from estate fruit, it's made from a handful of small private vineyards around Saratoga area. First time I've had the 03 but the 02 was a firm favourite. Beautiful aromatics, great blackcurrant fruit and vanilla, good finish. Great for drinking now, and good value at $23.

2004 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Like the other Estate wines, it's made with the cellar in mind; this one should be locked away for a good few years. It's light and balanced with good fruit and structure.

There you go - six wines; three to drink now, all under $25 and three for the cellar, all under $40. Proof (if proof were needed) that the Santa Cruz Mountains offers excellent value for money.

I notice that K&L will be tasting Kathryn Kennedy wines on March 14th - that's another one not to be missed.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


I live on the edge of one - and potentially two - of the finest wine regions in the world.

The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA was established in January 1982, making it one of the oldest AVAs in the USA. It produces some of the greatest wines, not just in the USA, but in the world. It's home to Ridge Monte Bello, one of California's undisputed "first growths" and considered by some to be the finest red wine in America. It was home to Paul Masson, whose name is recognised across the world, though perhaps more for the mass-produced litre carafes of the 1970s than for the top quality wines he made in the years before Prohibition. It's home to Randall Grahm, the iconoclastic "Rhone Ranger" behind Bonny Doon Winery. It's home to established names like Mount Eden and Kathryn Kennedy as well as newcomers Rhys and Windy Oaks, whose wines sell out quickly to mailing list customers.

Next to the mountains lies the Santa Clara Valley AVA. It too has a distinguished history; though the Almaden brand name now conjures up images of 3L boxes of supermarket plonk it wasn't always that way - the Almaden winery was the second oldest in the state (the oldest being Buena Vista in Sonoma). These days Silicon Valley now covers many of the old vineyards and orchards but there are plenty of vineyards to the south. And while some there are content to make garlic wine and almond flavoured "champagne" there are others such as Martin Ranch and Stefania Wine who believe that the AVA has the potential to match the state's better known appelations.

These days there's a change in the wind. Some of the long established winemakers are retiring or passing on and a new generation is about to take over, with new ideas and plans to make wines that will get noticed. New vineyards are being planted, with varietals and rootstock better suited for the soils and microclimates. Consumers are paying more attention to what they eat and drink, demanding quality and value for their money.

January 2007 saw the 25th anniversary of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. At that time I began a project to document the wineries and vineyards - past and present - of the two AVAs; you can find it at This blog is intended as a companion to that project. If you are interested in contributing to either the wiki or the blog please get in touch.