Saturday, May 30, 2009

2006 Clos LaChance Estate Grenache

Earlier this week I visited the Clos LaChance tasting room. One of the wines on offer was the 2006 Estate Grenache and it didn't particularly impress. Cheryl from the winery left a comment on the blog to the effect that it must have been an off bottle and kindly sent me another one to sample.

I poured a glass and decanted the rest, which we drank over the evening. The wine has a nice garnet colour. Initially tight, it soon opened up and showed a pleasant nose of currant with a touch of smoke, but without the slight oxidation that marred the previous tasting. On the palate it's lively and fruity, with redcurrant and strawberry flavours, good acidity and significantly more tannin than before. According to the label it spent 16 months in barrel, but the oak influence isn't prominent. This is a wine that would pair well with poultry or paella and, while it didn't exactly rock my world, it was certainly a much better example than the last time. 88 $30

2002 Vidovich Vineyards "Monte Bello Road" Cabernet Sauvignon

Stephen John Vidovich was a prominent local real estate developer and founder of DeAnza Properties. In the late 1990s he planted 5.5 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon in front of his home high on Monte Bello Road and founded Vidovich Vineyards. Early vintages were made at the old Fetzer facility in Redwood Valley until the winery was completed in 2004. The vineyards are managed by Stephen Dorcich. Some of the fruit was sold to the nearby Picchetti Winery until 2005. When Mr Vidovich died in 2007 the family said that the winery would continue.

Vidovich still has no web site; sales of around 500 cases a year are direct to a limited number of trade outlets. I first discovered the wine on the list at a Cuban restaurant in San Jose and subsequently purchased some from Unwined in San Jose.

When I first tried the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon a couple of years ago I remember it had lovely fruit with chocolate notes; there was also plenty of structure that ought to repay cellaring, so I stashed a few bottles away. On Thursday night I opened one and was surprised to find it locked down tight. The nose was oak, oak and more oak; with time some herbs and lavender emerged. The palate was a wall of harsh tannin and acidity; no fruit at all. I recorked the half empty bottle and left it overnight.

On day 2 the nose had softened and hints of black fruits were emerging. The tannin wall had broken down a little, revealing some nice currant and cranberry fruit. I shall let the remaining bottles sleep a while longer. I'm not going to give a rating to this wine as I don't think it's fair. Paid $20 from Unwined, with a 10% discount for 6.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cooper Garrod

In 1893 the Garrod family purchased several acres of apricot and prune orchards on Mount Eden, close to Saratoga. George Cooper married into the family in 1941. A fighter pilot during WWII, he later became chief research test pilot for NASA.

In 1972 some of the orchards were replanted with Cabernet Sauvignon vines. Following his retirement George tended the vines and made his own wine. In 1994 commercial sales began. George and his son Bill Cooper are the winemakers; George's nephew Jan Garrod is the vineyard manager. The 120 acre ranch currently has around 28 acres planted. All the wines are estate grown; some of the fruit is also sold to other local wineries.

The winery and stables are located off Mount Eden Road, not far from the Mountain Winery and Mount Eden Vineyards. The tasting room is open daily and is in an old wooden building. There are two flights of 3 wines available; the first is complimentary, the second costs $5, refundable with purchase.

2006 Chardonnay, Gravel Ridge Vineyard
Good nose of lime, stone fruit and hint of tequila. Rich and creamy with good acidity, flavours of lemon and lime, and a crisp, dry finish. Often available at retail, particularly at Whole Foods, for $17 or less. Value 89 $22

2005 Cabernet Franc, Francville Vineyard
Bright redcurrant nose, slightly Jammy. Good structure with redcurrant fruit and a dry, tannic, earthy finish 88 $25

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Lone Oak Vineyard
Nose shows currents, oak and earth. Rich, balanced and smooth with blackberry and tart cherry flavours. 88 $28

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, George's Vineyard
The original vineyard, planted around 1972; though some replanting has taken place, most of the vines are still original.
Smoky nose with blackcurrant and a hint of mint. Rich and full bodied with good structure; black fruits and loam, and a medium length finish. Good food-friendly wine that's ready to drink or will hold. Recommended 92 $35

2003 RV's Claret
50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Cabernet Franc, 10% Merlot
A strongly musty nose belies good fruit; brambles and currants, and loam. Quick, tart finish 87 $32

2005 Captain's Cuvee
50% Cabernet Franc, 50% Syrah
An unusual, possibly unique blend; I've certainly never heard of it before. Very bright fruity nose; cherry pie and cranberry sauce. Fresh fruity flavours with some spice. Good structure, but I doubt cellaring would improve it, it's fine the way it is. Recommended 91 $32

Clos LaChance

Located off Watsonville Road, Clos LaChance is one of the area's larger wineries. In addition to the 150 acres of estate vineyards the winery installs and manages a number of small Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains through their CK Vines subsidiary, and purchases fruit from Monterey county.

The wines fall into three ranges; the "Hummingbird" series are good value everyday wines, the "Estate" series are more structured and will typically reward cellaring and the "Special Selection" series are small, usually vineyard designated lots. Although the winery is located at the heart of the Santa Clara Valley AVA the wines carry the wider Central Coast appellation.

The winery tasting room is open daily from 11-4:30. There is a $5 tasting fee (not refunded with purchase) which includes at least 5 wines; possibly more depending what happens to be open.

2008 Estate Viognier
Very fragrant; floral with, peaches, apricots, sherbet and wet stone. Crisp yet fruity with peach, mandarin orange and orange pith, and a long, mineral finish. Recommended 91 $22

2007 "Glittering-Throated Emerald" Chardonnay
An unoaked Chardonnay from Scheid Vineyard in Monterey County
Fresh nose of green apple and lemon. On the palate it's crisp and drywith notes of lemon and lime, and some limestone. Dry finish. A little expensive at the $15 RRP, but it was on offer at 30% off in the winery and can often be found at retail under $7. Based on that it's a Value 88 $15

2006 Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains
Attractive nose of vanilla, lemon curd and toast. Made in the buttery style, it's creamy with vanilla and lemon, and a nice mineral finish. Value 90 $20

2007 Charsonnay, Biagini Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains
Lighter on the oak than the 2006 SCM, the nose has lemon, apple and peach. Rich and full bodied with complex, creamy lemon, fig and mineral notes and a long toasty, smoky finish. A knockout. Recommended 93 $35

2007 Pinot Noir Santa Cruz Mountains
2007 seems to be a very good year for Pinot everywhere. This example has a beautiful, fruity nose - cherry, raspberry, clove and nutmeg. Full bodied, with nice cherry and raspberry fruit, a little earthiness and a dry finish. Well balanced. Recommended 91 $30

2005 Estate Cabernet Franc
This will be the last vintage for this wine; in future the small amount of Cabernet Franc grown here will be used for blending.
A perfumed nose, hinting at dark fruits, tobacco, mushrooms and sandalwood. Perhaps a faint touch of volatile acidity. Good structure; flavours of brambles and tobacco, with an earthy finish. 90 $30

2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Tart nose of blackcurrant and fresh baked cookies, with a hint of smoke. Quite tannic with good acidity, blackberry and blackcurrant, and a medium length, earthy finish. 90 now with plenty of potential to improve over the next 3-5 years. $40

2006 Estate Grenache
Nose shows redcurrant and vanilla, with a hint of oxidation (poured from a half-empty bottle, presumably opened the day before). Smooth, with bright acidity, simple currant flavours and a quick finish. 83 $30

2006 Lila's Cuvee
An estate Rhone blend. Shows dark, jammy fruits and some oak on the nose. Rich and peppery, with spicy plum and blackberry flavours; well structured, with a good, long finish. 91 with potential. $40

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Fleming Jenkins

Many wineries have their share of gold medals, but there can't be many that boast an Olympic gold medal. Figure skater Peggy Fleming won the USA's only gold medal at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France. She and her husband - former dermatologist turned winemaker Greg Jenkins run the Fleming Jenkins winery. The wines are made at the old Novitiate Winery, now home of Testarossa, and they have a tasting room in downtown Los Gatos. The fee is $5 and normally includes 5 wines; the port usually isn't available to taste.

Note Further to my recent comments on scoring systems I've decided to give the 100 point scale a shot.

2008 "Victories" Rosé
A blend of 87% Syrah and 13% Pinot Noir, barrel fermented but no malolactic. Part of the proceeds go to support breast cancer research (Peggy was diagnosed and successfully treated in 1998.)
Light nose with ruby grapefruit, wild strawberries and a hint of banana. Though dry it has a light, sweetish, fruity character; sherbet, strawberry and tropical fruit, with good acidity and a mouth watering finish. A nice summer sipper. 87 $20

2007 Jenkins Vineyard Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
From the 1 acre vineyard planted by the owners home. The wine sees about 35% new French oak.
Light nose showing lemon zest; on the palate there's a subtle blend of creamy vanilla, lemon, melon and some minerality, good acidity and a medium length finish. Nice, but not a bargain. 89 $38.

2006 Black Ridge Syrah, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose shows smoky oak, black plummy fruit and a touch of liquorice. Nice complexity; flavours of plum and brambles and some white pepper. Good structure; will repay cellaring. 92 Recommended $40

2006 Madden Ranch Syrah, Livermore
From a 100 acre vineyard owned by John Madden, in Livermore. The warmer climate produces a riper wine than the Black Ridge; the nose is smoother and lighter, the palate shows ripe fruit, less structure, with liquorice and smoke on the finish. An easy drinking Syrah that lacks the complexity of the Black Ridge; drink it now and leave the others in the cellar. 89

2005 Choreography, Napa Valley
A Bordeaux blend with 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 9% Merlot and 1% Malbec
The light nose of blackberry jam and smoke belies a good, balanced, well structured wine; espresso, blackcurrant and smoke with a nice, dry tannic finish. 91 $50

2004 Petite Sirah Port
9% residual sugar. The port-like nose (well, duh!) shows some volatile acidity; on the palate there's chocolate with spicy black cherry and an oaky, toasty, porty, sweet finish. Sorry but with one very notable exception (and this isn't it) I'm not much of a fan of US pseudo-ports. 84 $34 (half bottle).


I read a piece on about irrigation. It points out that California is one of the heaviest users of water in the nation, and water is getting scarcer, so outlines what vineyards can do to reduce water usage.

One thing that it doesn't mention though is something that we can all do to reduce water usage: Rip up your lawn and plant vines instead as Paul & Stef Romero are doing. According to figures from the University of Florida:

  • Watering a half acre of yard “only once per week” equals 40,730 gallons of water a month or 488,760 gallons per year

  • 40% of our drinking water goes to watering the landscape

  • A lifetime supply of drinking water for one human is 16,000 gallons, less than it takes for a month of lawn irrigation

  • Add to that the hassle of mowing the lawn, not to mention the environmental impact - gas powered mowers don't have catalytic converters - to grow a product that we can't even eat?

    Monday, May 25, 2009

    Woodside Vineyards

    Woodside Vineyards doesn't open for tasting very often; one of the few events is over Memorial Day weekend. I went up on Monday to check out the current releases.

    The 2006 Kings Mountain wasn't being poured; only 250 cases were produced and as a result it's only being sold to restaurants and wine club members. I managed to persuade them to let me buy a bottle, so that will get reviewed in the near future.

    2003 Estate Brut Sparkling Wine
    Woodside markets two sparkling wines; their non vintage "California Champagne" is manufactured for them by Weibel, but the vintage Sparkling Wine is made here from roughly 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay. It has a toasty, yeasty, mineral nose. On the palate it's creamy with lemon and apple flavours, mineral notes and a crisp, nutty finish.

    2007 Woodside Chardonnay
    Rich, full nose of vanilla, lemon and caramel. It's rather oaky with some lemon and tropical fruit, and a quite bitter, tannic finish. Just released; needs time to settle down.

    2005 Pinot Noir
    The fact that the major wine critics don't pay much attention to the Santa Cruz Mountains is the only reason this wine is still available to buy. Great nose of earth and underbrush, with cherry and strawberry underneath. On the palate it's balanced, rich and spicy; layered flavours of black cherry, Asian spice and earth, and a long finish. Very good, and highly Recommended.

    2006 Zinfandel
    Initially earthy, with raspberry and toast notes. Has good, pure raspberry fruit, though there's some unresolved oaky bitterness on the medium length finish. As with the 2005 I tried recently, I think a bit of cellar time is in order, but it certainly has potential.

    2004 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
    Musty at first, but that soon blew off to reveal nice blackcurrant fruit with hints of toast and earth. On the palate there's good blackcurrant fruit; more so than the 2002 I opened on Saturday and the tannins are less evident. However the acidity still shows rather prominently despite having a higher pH than the Zinfandel tasted just before. Definitely needs time.

    Saturday, May 23, 2009

    2002 Woodside Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

    Woodside was built on Cabernet Sauvignon. The first vintages were made by Bob Mullen and his friend Bob Groetzinger from some forgotten Cabernet vines originally planted by Emmet Rixford.

    Nowadays Woodside farms over 20 small vineyards dotted around the Woodside area in San Mateo County. Each year two Cabernets are produced, labelled Estate and Kings Mountain. The Kings Mountain tends to be fruit forward and more approachable on release; the Estate is more structured and should benefit from being cellared.

    As is common for the Santa Cruz Mountains, the wines are held in bottle for some time prior to release. I recently took delivery of the as yet unreleased 2005 Estate Cabernet and was curious as to how the older vintage was progressing.

    A dark wine with aromas of coffee and bright acidity. On the palate there's a LOT of structure; the acidity is prominent at first, with the tannins - both from the grapes and the oak - dominating the midpalate and finish. There is decent blackberry and cassis fruit, though whether there's enough to hold until the tannins are resolved remains to be seen. 185 cases made; paid $30 on release.

    The winery will be open for their Spring tasting event the last two weekends in May, including Memorial Day, from 1AM to 5PM. The winery is located half a mile from Highway 84, outside the township of Woodside.

    Friday, May 22, 2009

    Rhys/Alesia tasting

    Rhys may be the closest that the Santa Cruz Mountains has to a cult winery. Their small production wines quickly sell out to an eager mailing list and often command significant mark-ups at auction. The winery was founded by venture capitalist Kevin Harvey and currently operates out of an industrial unit in San Mateo. A new facility complete with extensive caves is under construction off Skyline Boulevard, high in the mountains; completion is projected for next year and should have a maximum capacity of 10,000 cases. The first commercial vintage was in 2004.

    There are two distinct brands. The Rhys wines are all made from vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains that the winery farms; the Alesia wines are made mainly from fruit sourced from outside the AVA. Although the primary focus is on Pinot Noir the winery also produces Chardonnay and Syrah, and has some Nebbiolo planted.

    These wines were tasted blind in the company of a local tasting group. The notes are in the order they were poured.

    2004 Alesia Kanzler Vineyard
    Initially some "Pinot funk" that blew off to reveal a rich perfumed nose with good cherry notes. Good mouthfeel; rich, with bright acidity - the most acidity of all the wines tasted. Good cherry fruit and a medium length finish. My #3

    2004 Alesia Sonoma Coast
    Another rich, perfumed nose. A little brighter than the first, with some raspberry notes, that got deeper with air. On the palate it was sweet and creamy with good, rich cherry flavours. Tannins were more pronounced, with a slight bitterness on the finish. Seemed like it would benefit from some additional cellar time. My #2, group #3

    2006 Rhys Alpine Vineyard
    Sweeter nose, with dark berries/black cherry. Oak showed more prominently. A smooth, lightweight wine with some cola notes and a light finish. Some tasters called it tight, but I found it to be one of the lightest wines in the lineup. Group #2

    2006 Alesia Sonoma Coast
    Initially a more austere nose than the others, with a distinctly meaty, savoury hint. Medium bodied with good cherry fruit, plenty of structure and a touch of bitterness on the finish. Group #1, my #4

    2005 Alesia Falstaff Road
    Slightly darker in colour than most of the wines. The initial sniff showed a distinctive note that reminded me of tinned sweetcorn; that mellowed into earthy, herbal aromas with cola notes. More full bodied with concentrated cherry and earthy flavours and a very mineral finish. My #1

    2005 Alesia Chileno Valley
    Similar in colour to the other 2005. Initially showed a bell pepper/jalapeño nose; rustic with a touch of cranberry. Seemed to become more musty with time. A fairly rich cherry flavour with some herbal notes; the finish was earthy and quick.

    2006 Alesia Green Valley
    Nose of roses, smoke and cola with a hint of tobacco. Medium mouthfeel, crisp acidity with decent cherry/cranberry fruit and a mineral finish.

    2006 Alesia San Mateo
    Initial nose of candy and caramel, with some cherry notes. Medium bodied with rich cherry fruit and a nice mouthwatering finish. Made from declassified fruit from the Rhys vineyards, in particular the "Family Farm" vineyard, located above Sky Londa.

    Overall each of the wines showed great finesse; ranking them was very difficult. With hindsight it's clear that they need time; I didn't rate any of the 2006 vintages in the top 3, though it's possible that says something about the conditions in 2006; it'll be much more interesting to try this with the 2007s.

    Another interesting fact is the good showing for the two Sonoma Coast blends. I've always found it curious the way that Pinot aficionados stress the attributes of particular vineyards and the perceived superiority of vineyard designated wines; while I wouldn't argue for one moment that location wasn't important, in my experience there can be as much difference if not more between different clones grown in the same vineyard than between wines from different vineyards. Clearly not only do blends offer good value, they can be at least as good quality as their pedigree stablemates.

    The only real disappointment was the lone Rhys in the lineup. To be honest I wasn't expecting a great showing; it's perhaps the 'entry level' wine of the range from a vintage that's generally acknowledged to be weaker than average; Wine Spectator rated it an 82 (which I'd say is a little low, but not far from the mark). I think that it has the potential for improvement with age - I'll certainly be letting my lone magnum sleep a while longer. It would be nice to have tried others for comparison, but as I said at the start, these are sought after and collectible wines. Hopefully the opportunity will arise with the 2007s, which by all accounts are stunning.

    There's another set of tasting notes on Wes Barton's blog.

    Sunday, May 17, 2009

    Ahlgren Vineyards

    The disparity between life in Silicon Valley and the Santa Cruz Mountains never ceases to amaze me. As a high-tech flatlander I find it difficult to imagine life without broadband internet, cellphone service and TiVo. Simple things like electricity and fresh running water are just taken as read.

    But up in the mountains things are different. Take Dexter and Val Ahlgren for example. They built their wooden cabin on a secluded hillside on Highway 9, outside Boulder Creek. There is no water supply, not even a well; instead they catch rainwater in huge tanks and occasionally have it brought in by tanker. So it's somewhat surprising to realise that this is also the home of Ahlgren Vineyards.

    Val Ahlgren was a teacher who began making wine in the garage of their Sunnyvale home in the 1960s out of whatever fruits were available. In the early 1970s Dexter sold his engineering business and the couple purchased their idyllic property. The winery is in the cellar below the house; it was bonded in 1976.

    Grapes are sourced primarily from a couple of well known and highly regarded sources; Bates Ranch in the Santa Cruz Mountains and Ventana Vineyard in Monterey County. They also source Zinfandel and Semillon from Livermore and Pinot Noir from the Santa Cruz Mountains. There is a small 1 acre vineyard (with the potential for maybe 5 more acres) which is planted to Pinot Noir; the first successful crop was in 2007, when one barrel was made.

    The winery is open to the public on Saturdays from 12-4PM. There is no tasting fee.

    2007 Chardonnay, Ventana Vineyard, Monterey County
    Nice nose of tropical fruit and caramel. Sweet, creamy flavours of asian pear and pineapple; rich and full bodied with balanced acidity and a long finish. Recommended $27

    2004 Merlot, Bates Ranch, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Super-ripe, plummy nose leading into sweet, rich, heavy plum fruit and a big finish. Surprising acidity and lack of heat given the 16.2% alcohol. $30

    2004 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Sourced from a vineyard near Aptos. Lovely cherry nose, nice fresh cherry flavour and bright acidity. $30

    2007 Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Unreleased; only 25 cases made. (Will be available to wine club members only.)
    Nose of rose petals and ruby grapefruit. Light, fresh flavours of red cherry; good balance, nice tannins. $NA

    2002 Syrah, Ventana Vineyard, Monterey County
    Black fruit and tobacco on the nose. Dry, tart black cherry and plum with a little white pepper; lots of acidity and good mouthfeel. $15

    NV Zinfandel Livermore Valley
    2% residual sugar, 16.9% ABV
    Spicy raspberry notes with some heat on the nose, but not so evident on the palate. Sweet candied fruit; raspberry and loganberry with a slightly port-like finish. $35

    2008 Monte Bello 'final assemblage' tasting

    This weekend was the final - or more accurately latest - assemblage of the 2008 Monte Bello. Right now the individual components are still in barrel; the staff have been evaluating each lot to see whether it should be included in the blend, if it adds or detracts from the whole. It's a difficult job, involving lots of blind tastings and group decisions. Having tasted some of the components in March we now get to see how things are progressing. But before we get to that...

    2007 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    A decidedly mineral quality to the nose, with candied lemon and vanilla. First sample was too warm and just showed alcohol, the problem with pouring outdoors on a hot day. It's got a nice, rounded mouthfeel and flavours of lemon, melon, guava and wet stone. Quite an oaky finish. Recommended

    2008 Monte Bello Barrel Sample
    The current blend is 71%Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot. Neither the Cabernet Franc nor the Petite Verdot have made the cut, though in the case of the latter there has been much debate. The winemakers will continue to monitor its evolution and it may yet come around; if it doesn't then this will be the first Monte Bello since 1985 that the blend has only contained two grapes. Not a lot of change since the first assemblage; some additional parcels of Cabernet and Merlot have been added, but the decision was tough.

    Nose of violets, plums and blackberries. Flavours of blackberry, plum and tart blackcurrant backed by smoke, meat and pencil shavings, with a hint of mint, eucalyptus and liquorice/anise on the long finish. Good acidity; tannin is evident but not overpowering or puckering. Surprisingly drinkable even now, but has the backbone to be a particularly long-lived vintage. Recommended

    Now onto some older vintages. These wines were all decanted and then returned to their bottles prior to pouring.

    1999 Monte Bello
    72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petite Verdot. 13% ABV
    The nose on this seems much older than you might expect; it shows a distinct note of Dijon mustard and a hint of what seemed like oxidation. On the palate it's rounded and quite concentrated, showing brambles, mint, eucalyptus and meat. Though it has good structure it seemed to be significantly more advanced in development of the three; if you hold any of these it would be a good idea to open one to make sure that you're happy with the direction that it's heading.

    Note: See my notes on the retasting at Ridge

    1997 Monte Bello
    85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petite Verdot. 12.9% ABV
    The low percentage of Merlot is explained by the fact that in 1997 Ridge bottled a Santa Cruz Mountains Merlot.
    Nose of smoked meats and cassis. Rich, smooth and balanced with good acidity. Flavours of blackberry, blackcurrant and cedar leading into a long finish. A lovely wine that's yet to peak. Recommended

    1995 Monte Bello
    69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petite Verdot.
    Lovely rich nose of roast meat, brambles, graphite and notes of blackcurrant and violets. A second sample from a different bottle showed more cedar. Great balance; smooth with a long finish. Far more youthful than the 1999. Recommended

    2005 Monte Bello
    Rich, spicy berry and slighly floral nose. Great blackberry and blackcurrant flavours backed by smoky, meaty notes and a good long finish. Unsurprisingly it's still very primary, showing the most tannins of all, but still very tasty. Recommended

    Then onto some of the other Ridge wines:

    2007 East Bench Zinfandel, Dry Creek
    8% Petite Sirah. 15.4% ABV.
    Nose of raspberries and fresh white mushrooms. On the palate there's lots of raspberry, white pepper and toast. Good, medium length finish. $30

    2005 Nervo Zinfandel
    4% Petite Sirah, 3% Carignane
    A lighter berry nose than the East Bench. Concentrated and meaty with sweet black fruits. A really good Zinfandel. Recommended $33

    2005 Lytton Estate Syrah/Grenache
    Nose shows earth, bell pepper and black olive. Smooth on the palate, with black fruit, cardamom and orange peel and a savoury finish. $33

    Tuesday, May 12, 2009

    New bloggers: Ridge and Martin Ranch

    Tw more wineries have taken their first steps in blogging. Certainly Ridge should need no introduction; Martin Ranch may be known to you as Harvest Moon Vineyard - the winery is on Redwood Retreat Road in Gilroy and makes some great wines including Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

    Saturday, May 9, 2009

    Vine Hill

    When Ken Burnap retired he sold the Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard company to his assistant, Jeff Emery. Unfortunately Jeff didn't have the resources to also purchase the historic Jarvis vineyard, so that was sold to Nick Guerrero who founded Vine Hill Winery. The vineyard has been replanted and is currently not producing.

    The first releases were labelled as "Gatos Locos" (Crazy Cats), which was the label Nick had used for his home winemaking. The premium brand is Cumbre (which means Summit) and will be exclusively Santa Cruz Mountains fruit. I first tasted the wines at Pinot Paradise last year and wasn't that impressed, but the current release is a significant improvement.

    2006 Cumbre Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains.
    Sourced from the Lester Family (formerly known as Deer Park) and Saveria vineyards in Corralitos, it shows very bright, focused cherry fruit, both on the nose and the palate, backed by chewy tannins. One to cellar. $49

    2006 Gatos Locos Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Sourced from the Nelson Family vineyard near Zayante and the Devery vineyard near Mount Madonna. Cherry fruit backed by chocolate and caramel notes, with a nice finish. $29

    2006 Gatos Locos Syrah, Santa Cruz Mountains.
    Sourced from the Manildi Vineyard near Soquel and Nelson Family vineyard. It's got a good, smoky nose with black fruits. Sweet, spicy blackberry flavours with a hint of clove and a good tannic finish. $20 Value

    Sones Cellars 2009 releases

    Sones Cellars is the private label for Michael and Lois Sones; Michael is the winemaker for Bargetto. I visited them a year ago during the vintners festival and caught up with them at a recent trade tasting in Los Gatos.

    2008 Siren Song, California
    A white blend previously known as La Sirena, until the Napa winery of the same name asked them to change it. A blend of Viognier, Torrentes, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc, mostly from the Lodi area. It's a lovely fragrant, floral wine; light and crisp yet spicy. Alison really liked this. $21 Recommended

    2006 Zinfandel, Santa Clara Valley
    Sones source their Zinfandel from the Wiedeman vineyard in Santa Clara; for the 2006 vintage they blended some Carignane. It has an earthy, raspberry nose. On the palate there's tart raspberry fruit with some chili pepper spicyness and a good finish. $25 Recommended

    2006 Petite Sirah, Lodi
    Sones is one of the few wineries I know (Storrs is another)that aim to make a Petite Sirah with soft, controlled tannins by pressing the fruit off the skins early. The grape makes good wines when it's not furring your mouth up. There's a light berry nose - raspberry and loganberry, which leads in to smooth, sweet fruit and a medium finish. $23 Value

    2006 Petite Sirah, French Camp Vineyard, Paso Robles
    Nice aromas of redcurrant. Similar in style to the Lodi, though slightly lighter in weight. $29

    2007 Downhill Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains

    It seems that value Pinot Noirs are like buses; you wait ages for one then a bunch come along together. The 2007 Downhill Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains is a well made Pinot with nice fresh cherry fruit, balanced with light tannins and a clean, fairly short finish. Like the Sarah's Central Coast that I tried recently it's intended for the trade market; it isn't listed on the winery's web site. The only known retail outlet is Johnny's Liquors in downtown Boulder Creek, where it sells for $16. If you spot it on a restaurant wine list it's definitely worth a shot. Value.

    Update on June 21st: According to the comments it's sold out at Johnny's, but is in stock nearby at Boulder Creek Liquors for $14.99

    Friday, May 8, 2009

    What's the point in scores?

    I've had a few discussions with people recently regarding scores. One local winemaker commented that I just describe the wines, I don't make recommendations as to whether they are good or bad. So I've decided to change that. But how?

    The most popular rating metric is of course the 100 point system. My personal view is that it was an interesting idea, but it's failed miserably. We can talk details some other time, but when you read tasting notes that say "Unpleasant, borderline undrinkable. 87 points" you can see that there's a problem. Wes Barton summed it up best; it's no longer a 100 point scale, it's a 5 point scale. Just subtract 89 from everyone's score.

    Another option is the system that competitions use, of Bronze, Silver and Gold. In that system, Bronze equates a score of 80-84 ("Good") on the 100 point scale. Silver is 85-90 ("Very Good to Excellent") and 90+ is Gold ("Outstanding to Extraordinary"). What I find interesting about that system is that a winery who would scarcely admit they got an 81 score from any major publication will announce their Bronze medal with pride. I think the reason for that is because people equate a Bronze medal with third pace.

    I was toying with the idea of adopting a 3 or 5 point scale, but then I realised that ratings come down to two simple questions: Would I buy it, and do I think it represents good value for money? This is a system that is used by Rusty Gaffney in the Pinot File, among others. So from now on I plan to note special wines as Recommended or Value - or both. No fancy icons, for now at least, and we'll see how it goes. Would this be helpful to you as a reader and wine buyer?

    As ever, your comments are appreciated.

    Monday, May 4, 2009

    Poetic Cellars

    Winemaker Katy Lovell founded the Rios-Lovell winery in Livermore in 1994. In 2004 she sold her stake and founded Poetic Cellars in the hills above Soquel. Katy retained control of around 38 acres of vineyards in Livermore, which are planted with several different varieties. In addition the new estate has roughly 10 acres of growing land. Initial plantings of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are not yet mature. The winery is open to the public at weekends from 12-5PM.

    Notes from the SCMWA trade tasting in Los Gatos, May 4th

    2007 Chardonnay, Chestnut Hill Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
    Very perfumed nose, more reminiscent of a Roussanne than a Chardonnay. Flavours of apple and stone fruit; slight touch of residual sugar. Good finish $24

    2006 Mourvèdre, San Francisco Bay AVA
    Another fragrant nose; gamey with notes of black fruit. Rich, earthy and fruity with notes of Red Vines and a long finish. Recommended $28

    2005 Syrah, San Francisco Bay AVA
    Yet another wine with powerful spicy, black fruit aromatics (I'm sensing a theme here). On the palate it's rustic and peppery with tart cranberry flavours and a medium finish. $28

    2005 Petite Sirah
    Initially this had a strange nose that made me think of soft cheese, a tart berry character with soft tannins and a quick finish. However after a little swirling in the glass it developed a musty, hedgerow character and the berry notes became richer. Alison really liked this. $26

    Sycamore Creek

    I've written about Sycamore Creek before, in particular their stellar 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon but this was my first visit to the winery. It's located off Watsonville Road, at the junction with Uvas Road. There's a narrow bridge over the eponymous creek leading into the vineyard; 10 acres of dry farmed head pruned old vines.

    The current owners of Sycamore Creek, Bill and Carolyn Holt, also own the highly regarded Uvas Creek Vineyard, which is located a further mile down Uvas Road. Fruit for the wines is sourced from both vineyards and some is purchased locally. The Holts are gradually refurbishing the old vineyard and introducing new VSP trellising. All the wines with the exception of the Sauvignon Blanc carry the Santa Clara Valley appellation.

    There are two tasting options; a flight of 5 current releases that is free and a flight of 5 reserve wines that costs $5. The fee is not refunded with purchase.

    2007 Sauvignon Blanc, Monterey County
    A lovely crisp, fruity Sauvignon Blanc. Nice herbal nose with notes of lime. Dry with mouth-watering grapefruit and lychee flavours. $17

    2006 Chardonnay
    Sourced from the nearby Vanumanutagi vineyard it clearly shares many characteristics with the offering from Fernwood Cellars. Rich aromas of creamy vanilla and butterscotch lead into sweet caramel and mango flavours and a long finish. $22

    NV Uvas
    A legacy of the previous owners, the Uvas is a blend of Cabernet and Chardonnay, with 3% Syrah added. It's an unusual combination, but it proved popular so has been continued. The nose shows blueberries and oak; on the palate there's the caramel notes from the Vanumanutagi Chardonnay combined with the berry flavours from the Cabernet. $18

    2005 Syrah
    The nose suggests fresh berries, smoke and English tea. Sweet flavours of blueberries and black olives, with a tannic finish. $18

    2006 Mosaico
    A Bordeaux blend, featuring all 5 grapes. Smoky, rustic nose with violets and brambles; flavours of brambles, blackcurrant and graphite witha good, structured finish. $25

    2006 Carignane
    Sourced from 100 year, old dry farmed Blake Family Vineyard on nearby Redwood Retreat Road
    A smoky, dusty, earthy nose like a library or old wardrobe. Layered fruit; raspberry, sour cherry, allspice and new mown grass, with a tart finish. Nice structure; a good food wine. $21

    2006 Cabernet Franc
    New release. Aromas of black cherry and tobacco; Rich, sweet, silky black fruit, coffee and tobacco with racy acidity. $?

    2004 Cabernet Sauvignon
    Nose of leather, Cedar and spice. A big, tannic wine that needs time; great flavours of, blackcurrant and spicy oak. $20

    2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
    A vibrant, smoky nose with berries and a hint of mint. Seemed smoother than 2004; nice cassis fruit, long finish and good structure. $28

    2006 Petite Sirah
    A typically inky, glass staining colour with a funky, barnyard nose. There's some good fruit backed by huge, chewy tannins. A wine to lay down and forget for a while. $20

    2008 "Cabernet Blanc"
    I confess I didn't get this. A rose of Cabernet Sauvignon, the label says "Late harvest"; it has 15% alcohol and 1% residual sugar. The wine was pressed after just 24 hours, giving a pale rose colour. It's got ripe, sweet flavours of wild strawberry and guava. To me a summer rose should be light with lithe acidity and relatively low in alcohol. This seems to be more of a get-your-date-tipsy kind of wine. $?

    Kirigin Cellars

    Bonesio Winery was founded in 1916 in the Uvas Valley, though vines are believed to have been in place for at least 40 years prior. It was home to the Bonesio family until 1976; the main home is one of the oldest wooden structures in the county. The winery was noted for vintage dated Grignolino as early as the 1940s.

    Nikola Kirigin-Chargin comes from a long line of Croatian winemakers. He studied oenology in Zagreb before emigrating to America in 1959. Following a career at San Martin, Almaden, Pirelli-Minetti, and Canadagua Wineries he retired and purchased the Bonesio Winery, renaming it Kirigin Cellars. In 2000, aged 84 he decided to retire properly, and sold the winery to Dhruv Khanna, one of the founders of Covad. Khanna's primary appears to be sports; he has used part of the land to establish the area's first regulation cricket pitch and has since added football (soccer) pitches.

    The 30 acre vineyard is planted with several different varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon and 50 year old Malvasia Bianca. The vines are trellised in the single wire "California Sprawl" system, where the canes are allowed to hang down the sides, shading the fruit. Proponents of the system say this prevents overheating, particularly in areas where the summers can get very hot, but nowadays most premium wineries employ a multi wire "VSP" system.

    The winery has a historic plaque, ECV1850, placed by the esoteric Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus.

    With the exception of the Estate Reserve all the wines carry the California appellation, even though the fruit is all either estate or sourced locally. Tasting is free; all the wines are generally available to taste with the possible exception of the Reserve. There's also a non vintage "Champagne" that I didn't taste.

    2008 Sauvignon Blanc
    A light, grapefruit nose and sweet flavours of grapefruit and kiwi. Seems to have some residual sugar. $15

    2008 Chardonnay
    Lemon nose, pear flavours and a slightly bitter finish. Dry $15

    2008 Malvasia Bianca
    Made from 50 year old vines, this could easily pass for Gewurztraminer. It has a similar spicy, flowery nose and crisp floral flavours, good acidity and a nice dry finish. My favourite of the wines tasted. $18

    NV Estate Red
    A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Pinot Noir and 20% Zinfandel. Has a light raspberry, fruit punch nose with some coffee. On the palate there's a medley of fruit; raspberry, loganberry and cherry. There's a dry, tannic, almost cardboard-like finish. $15

    2006 Pinot Noir
    A light cherry nose and rich flavours of bitter cherries. There's a slight hint of oxidation on the finish. $20

    2005 Syrah
    Plummy and slightly porty with dark fruits and hints of black pepper. Lots of tannin. $20

    2005 Cabernet Sauvignon
    The nose shows smoke, mint and menthol; on the palate it's chewy and tannic, with more mint and some eucalyptus. $20

    2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Clara Valley
    A smoky slightly oxidized nose. A big, structured wine with good blackberry flavours, but the oxidised note was offputting. $40

    2007 Zinfandel
    Raspberry on both the nose and the palate. Dry, tannic finish. $20

    Vino di Mocca
    Imagine one of those 'Ritter Sport' cocoa wafers in liquid form. Sweet, with nutty coffee, cocoa and tobacco notes. $20

    Sunday, May 3, 2009


    Corralitos is a village on the west side of the Santa Cruz Mountains at the southern end of the appellation. The valley landscape creates a microclimate that's ideal for Pinot Noir, and is home to four wineries and several more vineyards.

    The four wineries: Windy Oaks (see previous entry), Pleasant Valley Vineyards, Alfaro Family and Nicholson Vineyards are close to each other and have got together to promote the area via the Corralitos Wine Trail. They hold periodic promotional events; the next one is on Saturday May 9th, with the opportunity to try barrel samples and local artisanal foods.

    As well as the four residents, several other wineries use fruit sourced in the area. One of the main vineyards is the Lester Family Vineyard (previously known as Deer Park) which is managed by VASCM president Prudy Foxx. Fruit is used by Martin Alfaro, Picchetti, La Rochelle and Pelican Ranch, among others. Most of the Deer Park wines I've tasted have been young and showed a great deal of structure and aging potential, though I've yet to try one with any significant bottle age.

    Loma Prieta and Soquel vineyards each make Saveria Vineyard Pinot Noirs; both won Gold medals in the recent Chronicle tasting.

    One Corralitos vineyard has gone by several names. Currently owned by the Woodruff family, it was the source for Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard's "Matteson" and "Ciardella" Pinots, as well as Hallcrest's "Terra Belle". It's also been used by Salamandre and Stefania.

    Storrs own a 50 acre estate in the area. It was planted in 2007, so has yet to produce its first vintage.

    Several other small family vineyards exist in the area; the fruit generally makes it into appellation designated blends from larger wineries such as Clos LaChance or Sarah's vineyard.

    Overall the area is producing some excellent, distinctive wines. The Corralitos Wine Trail event is a good opportunity to sample some of them, but if you can't make it then the wineries are open for tasting most weekends and also participate in the SCMWA passport program. Check them out.

    Windy Oaks

    Windy Oaks was founded by Jim and Judy Schultze in 1996; they began planting Pinot Noir on their 14 acre property, later adding some Chardonnay. The wines have established a strong following, with the flagship "Proprieter's Reserve" bottling being restricted to wine club members only. The winery produces around 2,000 cases annually. Until recently the winery was only open on events such as passport weekends; however this summer they are opening on Friday and Saturday from 1-4PM (except 4th July).

    2007 "One Acre Block" Chardonnay
    Nose of creamy lemon and vanilla. Crisp lemon flavours with fresh baked bread and a chalky, mineral finish. Good acidity. Currently seems more austere than the plush 2006, but this is newly released and was only bottled 3 weeks ago. $38

    2006 "Diane's Block" Pinot Noir (Klein Family Mountain Vineyard)
    The fruit is sourced from a 4 acre vineyard in nearby Aptos; it's the only wine that isn't made with fruit from the Corralitos estate vineyard, though the wine qualifies as an "estate" wine.
    It has a huge nose; pot-pourri, spice and rose petals just jump out of the glass. On the palate it's like liquid cherry pie; rich ripe cherry fruit backed with toasty, pastry notes. Soft tannins and nice acidity; this wine just begs to be drunk now. $45

    2007 "Terra Narro" Pinot Noir
    In 2007 the winery stopped selling fruit (previous purchases had included Testarossa and Martin Alfaro) and instead decided to introduce an entry level label. This wine sees only 40% new French oak and is aged for 16 months.
    A faint, floral nose and fresh cherry flavours with a savoury background and good, fresh acidity. Not showing a great deal in comparison to the flamboyant Diane's Block; will give it some cellar time and try it again in a few months. $29 - 290 cases

    2007 "Estate Cuvee" Pinot Noir
    The nose is similar to the Terra Narro, but is much more pronounced and spicy. It has
    sweet, cherry fruit flavours and a meaty, savoury component with a good, rich finish. A step up from the Terra Narro. $38 - 360 cases

    2007 "Wood Tank" Pinot Noir
    This is fermented in a 1 ton French oak tank, holding 150 gallons or about 2.5 barrels. It's a rich, concentrated wine with dark, earthy cherry flavours and a long finish; the progression from Terra Narro via Cuvee is clear. $55

    Saturday, May 2, 2009

    2005 Woodside Zinfandel

    I've been enjoying some local 2005 Zinfandels recently; so far all my experiences confirm that it's a very good vintage. The latest example is from Woodside Vineyards; I'd really enjoyed the 2004 release with its rich, bold fruit and expected this to be more of the same.

    The first thing I noticed was the ring of tartrate crystals round the cork; presumably the wine wasn't cold stabilized before bottling. No problem; the crystals are easily removed and indicate that the winery doesn't believe in unnecessarily prcessing.

    The wines is showing a LOT of oak influence right now. It's the dominant aroma on the nose, and the oak tannins are very evident on the tongue. There is good raspberry/loganberry fruit, but it's very much secondary at this stage. We agreed that the oak was too much and decided to open a Syrah instead.

    After a few hours we came back to it. The oak was still very evident but the wine was more approachable; perhaps the air had smoothed it out or more likely our palates were dulled by the Syrah. Either way, I don't plan to open another of these for a while; we'll see what some time in the cellar does to those oak tannins.