Saturday, August 29, 2009

2007 Sycamore Creek Zinfandel

I first tasted this Zinfandel 6 months ago at the Bella Mia tasting in San Jose. The fruit comes from a small domestic vineyard in Coyote Valley; I don't believe that the vines are particularly old.

The nose is showing lots of espresso coffee, "red vines" and strawberry. The oak is showing more than I remember, as is the heat. On the palate it's rich and concentrated; spicy in a chili pepper way. There's a lot of raspberry and some black pepper too. The tannins are smooth, not overpowering and it has a good long finish.

It's been sold out at the winery for months but I'll certainly be looking out for future vintages. 91

Updated: Another Summit fire

The Santa Cruz Sentinel is reporting that the fire department successfully contained the two wildfires on Summit Road in Corralitos. They were first reported at 12:48PM, a little over a mile from Windy Oaks, to the east of the area that was devastated by last year's Summit Fire.

Summit Road was closed for a while to traffic from its southern end, at the junction with Mount Madonna Road. One of the fires was contained at two acres, the other at five. No information on the cause, but the area has been experiencing record high temperatures this weekend (it was 99F in Santa Clara today).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Two non-vintage wines

Some people think I'm a wine snob. And maybe I am; I just don't see any point in drinking things that don't taste good. By that token I'm a whisky snob, a beer snob - even a pop snob. If the only beer on offer is Coors Light, I'll have a Coke, and if it's Diet Caffeine Free Vanilla Cherry Coke then sod it, I'll just drink water.

That's not to say I won't experiment. I've had cheap wines that surprised me, and expensive wines that were undrinkable. I try not to assume anything from the label; after all you never know until you try it. But there are a few warning signs that can make me approach the bottle with the reticence of a four-year-old faced with an unfamiliar green vegetable.

California AVA I've had several really good wines that carry the California appellation. Stefania Haut Tubbe for example is a blend of Santa Clara valley and Santa Cruz Mountains fruit. Kathryn Kennedy's Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best Californian examples I've tasted - it's sourced from vineyards in three different counties. Fogarty's Skyline and Cinnabar's Mercury Rising are good examples of decent value blends that carry the generic appellation. But overall those are the exceptions rather than the rule, and they come from winemakers that I already know and respect. On the other hand, the supermarket shelves are full of generic California crap, blended from bulk purchases and perked up with residual sugar, oak powder and Mega Purple.

Non-vintage is fine for Champagnes and fortified wines, but is rarely a good sign on table wines. There are of course exceptions; for example ZD Abacus is produced using the Solera system and thus can't carry a vintage date, but overall it's a bad sign.

French AOCs on labels, such as "Californian Champagne", "Mountain Chablis" or "Burgundy Select". It's the wine equivalent of buying a "Rolex" watch from a street trader. The exception to this rule is of course Claret; I can't understand why the EU decided to make this a protected term, especially considering that it's British not French in origin.

Rapazzini Burgundy Select managed to hit all three trigger points at once. A non-vintage blend of un-named grapes - is there any Pinot Noir in there at all I wonder? - it's a light, soft, fruity wine; the sort that comes in litre carafes in Italian restaurants.

Kirigin Estate Red, Santa Clara Valley is honest about what it is and where it comes from. At a guess it's a blend of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon, possibly others, with a fair amount of oak influence and a little more character than the "Burgundy Select".

There's nothing wrong with either of these wines; then again there's nothing particularly right with them either. They are drinkable, but not memorable, and not something I would consider buying again. In the $10-$15 price range there are plenty of better options, particularly from South America or Australia.

2008 Coastview Vineyard Estate Chardonnay, Monterey County

A few local wine enthusiasts got together recently for dinner in Los Altos. One of the guests was Ian Brand; a former assistant winemaker at Big Basin and now consulting for several local wineries including Nicholson in Corralitos and Coastview in Monterey. He brought several of the wines he's been making (my notes were brief due to the dinner and a lack of power in my iPhone), including a 2008 AlbariƱo from Pierce Ranch (Floral and fruity, but unfortunately served a bit too warm), a 2008 Nicholson Arroyo Seco Viognier (Light floral nose, with briny and biscuit/ice-cream wafer notes), a 2007 Coastview Syrah
(Meaty, savoury, smoky bacon on the nose. Good currant fruit, nice acidity and his personal label, a 2005 Le P'tit Paysan Meritage (Nose of roast meat, elderberry, smoke. Tight berry fruit - cranberry and boysenberry. Smooth tannins.)

As we left he handed me a couple of wines that we didn't get around to. One of them was an as yet unreleased Chardonnay from Coastview Vineyard. Coastview is located in the Gavilan Mountains at an elevation of 2300-2600 feet, possibly the highest vineyard in Monterey County and as high as Muns in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Coastview has similar limestone and granite soils as the Chalone AVA, but with a cooler microclimate.

The wine shows a lot of tropical fruit, both on the nose and the palate; particularly mango, nectarine and pear. Although it's smooth and rounded there's very little oak influence. (The wine sees only 20% new French oak, 80% neutral.) It reminded me of Michaud, which I haven't had in a while. The finish is long and rich. Since it's so young I had planned to save some to try the following day, but before I knew it the bottle was empty.

The release date is unconfirmed, as is the price, but it'll probably be in the same range as Michaud. 91 Recommended

Lockheed Fire: 100% Contained


The CDF is reporting the fire as 100% contained. That doesn't mean it's extinguished; there's still a way to go to extinguish burning stumps and brush, and there is still a lot of smoke as a result. It blew into the south bay again yesterday afternoon.

As often happens, residents have put up home made signs to thank the brave firefighters who risked their lives on long, difficult shifts tackling the fire. Local resident Todd Hoff has a collection of photos on FriendFeed; the photo above is one of his. Once the majority of fire crews leave I plan to head over to take some photos too.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mount Eden

I doubt that there's a winery anywhere in the country with as interesting a history as Mount Eden. Its history goes back to the 1940s, when Martin "Rusty" Ray sold Paul Masson's old Mountain Winery to Seagrams and purchased Table Mountain to the north west. In April 1960, Ray incorporated "Mount Eden Vineyards" and sold a handful of shares at $10,000 each. A few years later there was a legal action led by one shareholder who had purchased a number of shares. This led to a legal battle, which Ray lost. The story - or a version of it at least - is told in the book "Vineyards In The Sky". Martin Ray died a few years later, in 1976.

Mount Eden had a series of winemakers in the 1970s. Dick Graff, founder of Chalone Vineyards was the first. He brought on Meredith "Merry" Edwards, who in turn was succeeded by Fred Peterson.

In 1981 Peterson recruited a young graduate from Davis named Jeffrey Patterson as assistant winemaker. Just two harvests later Peterson left and Jeffrey Patterson took over as head winemaker. He has since become the majority shareholder in Mount Eden Vineyards and lives in the house that Ray built.

The drive up the mountain is ... interesting. The road is unpaved; in fact 'road' is far too grand a word for what is little more than a dirt track. When it rains Jeffrey re-grades the surface but in the dry season it's two and a half miles of rutted, compacted dust.

But once you reach the top the views are spectacular, particularly on a relatively clear day. You are looking down from 2000 feet on an unbroken panorama from Mount Umunhum in the south to Mount Diablo in the north, encompassing the whole south bay - that's what the Pattersons wake up to every morning.

At 45 planted acres, Mount Eden is currently the second largest vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains, slightly larger than Bargetto's Regan Vineyard. It has gradually been replanted over the years, with the last of Rusty Ray's original vines being removed in the late 1990s and replaced with new rootstock grafted with the small berried Mount Eden clones. At the lowest elevation lies the 5 acre Peter Martin Ray vineyard; still owned by Rusty's adopted stepson. The contrast between the viticulture is startling; the old vines are head pruned and basket caned, with leaves trailing across the floor. The fruit is not purchased by Mount Eden; instead it's sold to other local wineries including Downhill and Bargetto.

The estate has recently been expanded further by the purchase of Cinnabar's old vineyards in Saratoga. The 13 planted acres are being renovated, with all the Cabernet Sauvignon vines being grafted over to Pinot Noir.

2005 Estate Chardonnay
Deep yellow colour. (I rarely comment on the colour of wines unless it's unusual)
Nose shows caramel/butterscotch and lemon zest, with creamy, floral notes. A richly concentrated wine; creamy with red apple and lime, good acidity. The oak is reasonably balanced for a young Mount Eden. There's a chalky, mineral note on the finish. 94

2002 Estate Chardonnay
By contrast the 2002 has a lighter nose; cream soda, apple and lime. Not so much of the caramel, it's more creamy, smooth and rich but less concentrated than the 2005. 93

2003 Estate Pinot Noir
Great nose; cherry, oak and earth. Good structure, with nice, spicy fruit; notes of citrus pith on the front of the tongue and a long, lingering finish 92

2004 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Also contains 22% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc
Nose shows vanilla and coffee, with lots of savoury blackcurrant. The tannins are fine, with good blackcurrant fruit, mint and a hint of eucalyptus. Good structure and a nice, medium length, tannic finish. 92

Lockheed Fire: weekend update

It looks like the fire is almost entirely controlled. The latest CDF report estimates 98% containment, with 100% expected later today. The affected area is now over 7800 acres; although no homes were affected, at least 14 'outbuildings' such as seasonal cabins have been either damaged or`destroyed. The cost has exceeded $25 million, and 10 injuries are reported.

One thing that has been very different about the Lockheed Fire as compared to the Summit Fire of last year is the potential to affect vines. There aren't that many vineyards in the Bonny Doon area; the sandy soil and cool microclimate are considered less than ideal for grapes (though McHenry does very well there). The smoke and ash from the Summit Fire blew all over the south bay; we could smell the fires almost every day. Most days the smoke from the Lockheed fire seems to have blown to the west, toward the sea and thus away from the majority of vines.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Santa Clara Valley links

There's a nice article on the Santa Clara Valley wineries by Alan Goldfarb over on Appellation America. For those who don't subscribe, John Aver has it reprinted on his website.

Speaking of Aver Family, their Petite Sirah gets praised by Laurie Daniel in her weekly piece for the Mercury News.

Lockheed Fire Latest: Thursday

The fire remains at 80% containment and has spread to 7,364 acres. Almost 2,000 personnel are still involved, and costs have topped $18m, with 8 injuries. The good news is that the threat to homes has been addressed and all evacuations and road closures have been lifted; residents with identification are being allowed to return. The CDF is still on target to have full containment by the weekend.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lockheed Fire: Tuesday Update

CDF reports 80% containment. The affected area has increased by just over 100 acres. Almost all the evacuation restrictions have now been lifted, except for a handful of houses still under threat on Warnella Road. A sixth firefighter has been reported as injured. Costs have been estimated at around $15m. Still no information on the cause of the blaze.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Lockheed Fire: Monday update

CDF now reports 65% containment. The damage has now passed the 7,000 acre mark and the costs have risen to just under $10m. A fifth injury has been reported.

The good news is that the evacuation order for Bonny Doon has been temporarily lifted and residents are being allowed to return, though it remains in place for Swanton.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Lockheed Fire: Sunday update

The CDF is now reporting 50% containment on the Lockheed fire, with almost 7,000 acres destroyed. The weather conditions have improved, but it may be another week before the fire is fully contained. Estimated cost has exceeded $6 million.

Four firefighters have been reported as injured, but thankfully there have been no fatalities and no reports of houses being damaged. Linda McHenry reported that the fire is between 1 and 2 miles away from the vineyard; firefighters are concentrating their efforts to defend inhabited areas, and favourable winds are helping.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Lockheed Fire Update

The fire department is reporting over 5,000 acres destroyed, with 15% containment.
Update: The figures have now been revised to 6800 acres, 30% containment.

There's a map showing the fire's perimeter created by the Santa Cruz Sentinel. It shows the perimeter as less than a mile from the McHenry Vineyard. Firefighters are working to protect the villages of Bonny Doon and Swanton; although evacuation orders are in place, many Bonny Doon residents are staying and trying to defend their properties.

Costs have risen to an estimated $2.6m and there are now over 1500 personnel on the scene. Still no injuries reported, but smoke and ash is reported up to 50 miles away, and the area in the south bay smells of smoke today. The cause of the fire is still unconfirmed.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fire season again: Lockheed Fire

Yes, it's fire season again. The Lockheed Fire is burning close to Bonny Doon, around 3 miles from last year's Martin fire. So far over 4,000 acres have been destroyed and a couple of buildings, but no homes yet. Around 2,000 people have been evacuate. There are news reports on the web sites of local TV stations such as KTVU and there's more information on the CDF web site and on the CalFire blog. It doesn't look like any wineries or vineyards are in the area; the closest appears to be McHenry, which lies to the south.

Update from Ryan Beauregard, in Bonny Doon: The winds have just picked up, and it is all blowing right towards me and Bacchus at the lost weekend, we will be leaving shortly... Helicopters are circling, fire bombers are going by. It is very surreal. At a moments notice, me and Bacchus can be told to leave. Then, we can only hope that the sprinklers on the roof can do something to help. Or, the 20,000 gallons of stored water can come in handy for the firemen. Even though I have put our roughly 10,000 gallons of water through the seven sprinklers, I still know it will do nothing to help. As of now, we will be closed for an estimated four days.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The internet brings everything together

There are two internet resources that every wine lover ought to know about.

Wine Searcher is a database of retailers from around the world. Their spiders download the latest price lists from every retailer, allowing you to quickly search for wines by any criteria. The basic service is free, and is supported by participating retailers; a $30 "pro" subscription gives you access to the entire database; depending on your budget and shopping habits it can easily pay for itself the first time you use it.

Cellar Tracker is a database of wines. It allows you to keep track of your wine collection, including purchases and consumption, view tasting notes from other users (the database just passed the 1,000,000 tasting notes mark) and lots more besides. Although there are other alternatives, it has become the dominant player. The service is free; a voluntary donation unlocks some additional features. The main criticism of Cellar Tracker is in its user interface; it's not very "Web 2.0" if you'll forgive the horrible buzzword, but this is due to be addressed in an update planned for later in the year. Another thing that is promised is a web API, which really could be interesting.

One of the first significant players to recognise the value of Cellar Tracker was Stephen Tanzer. He allows Cellar Tracker to publish the scores for the wines he reviews; furthermore his subscribers also see the full reviews.

As yet the two other main wine critics (in the US at least) - Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate - aren't integrated with Cellar Tracker. They each have their reasons; whether I agree with those reasons is irrelevant, but I for one have vowed not to subscribe to their online services until I can access them via Cellar Tracker, so they have lost at least one sale as a result.

Now one of the latest ideas to hit the internet is Vinfolio Marketplace. This is a reverse auction service, whereby users who have wines that they are willing to sell can list them and field offers from interested customers. There have been plenty of sites that allowed users to sell or trade their wines; many such as WineBid or Brentwood act as licenced brokers and charge significant commissions to both buyers and sellers; Wine Commune offers lower commissions but operates in a legal grey area where neither the buyer or seller might have a licence to sell or ship alcohol.

Despite the fact that Vinfolio offers a cellar tracking service, they quickly teamed up with Cellar Tracker to allow users to easily list wines in Cellar Tracker in the Marketplace. They are also negotiating with Wine Searcher on the best way to list wines offered for sale on the site; this is complicated because the wines in the market place are only 'available' - it's up to the buyer to negotiate a satisfactory price. But the point is that they are working together to resolve this.

What I'd like to see is a single portal that combines everything. From one site you could see your cellar contents, reviews from all the critics to which you subscribe, both professional and amateur, current retail prices and recent auction prices, winery details such as that provided by Wine Questers or the ill-fated Appellation America.

As I mentioned earlier, Cellar Tracker is taking about publishing an API. This would allow people to write tools that work with it, in the way that people have written applications that work with Google, Facebook or Twitter. At which point Cellar Tracker may become the definitive online encyclopaedia of wine. It will be interesting to see how long the critics feel they can can ignore that.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tracking Vineyards

I recently became curious as to just how many acres of vineyards there are in the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Clara Valley AVAs; surprisingly it's not an easy question to answer. Mapping county figures to the AVAs is tricky, as the AVAs cross county lines. According to the official figures from the National Agricultural Statistics Service there are just 377 acres of vines in Santa Cruz County, with 358 producing fruit in 2008. Similarly in Santa Clara County there are 1462 acres planted, with 1432 in production.

There are approximately 300 acres of vineyard in the Santa Clara AVA which lie inside the San Benito County border, and there is probably a similar amount of vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA that lie within Santa Clara or San Mateo Counties. So at a rough estimate, there are probably around 700 acres of vines in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA and at least twice that in the Santa Clara Valley AVA.

There are few large vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains; the rugged terrain isn't easily farmed. Anything over 20 acres is considered to be extensive. The largest, and most famous, is Ridge's Monte Bello Vineyard. This is in fact a number of smaller vineyards located at different elevations, giving a total of 108 acres. Other well known vineyards include Mount Eden and the Regan Vineyard owned by Bargetto, both of which are over 40 acres.

In Santa Clara Valley, most of the acreage is concentrated in a few large vineyards, several of which are located along Highway 152 in the San Ysidro District and Pacheco Pass AVAs. San Ysidro District lies to the east of Gilroy on Highway 152. While the AVA may be small at just 2,340 acres, it is home to two of the largest vineyards in the area. Mistral Vineyard and San Ysidro Vineyard sit side by side to the north of Highway 152.

Mistral is slightly the larger of the two, with 260 acres planted from a total of 375. It is understood to contain mainly Chardonnay and Merlot which is sold to large producers, though there is a small amount of the port grapes Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cao and Tinta Madeira. Until its sale in 2007 the vineyard was owned by Millbrook Wine of New York, through their Pebble Ridge Vineyards subsidiary. (I have yet to determine who the new owners are.) Millbrook also own the highly regarded Williams Selyem winery in Sonoma, who have produced a port-style wine from the vineyard. The San Ysidro Vineyard has around 250 acres planted. A little over half is Pinot Noir with the remainder being Chardonnay and a small amount of Merlot. It is owned by the San Ysidro Corporation, the parent company of United California Citrus.

Further along, just before the 152 meets the 156 is the Dunne Ranch Vineyard, the largest in the AVA. As the road rises towards Pacheco Pass the vineyards are to the right, in the valley below. This 1000 acre ranch is owned by the Blackburn family, who also own the Pietra Santa winery in nearby Cienega Valley, but if you have $20M to spend it's understood to be for sale. Pietra Santa use only a fraction of the fruit; the majority is sold. The vineyard has around 300 acres of Chardonnay, 66 acres of Gewurztraminer and 10 acres of Pinot Gris; this alone makes Chardonnay the most planted variety in the AVA, and also makes Gewurztraminer the second most planted white variety. The western portion of the vineyard lies within the Pacheco Pass AVA. Further still, and also within the Pacheco Pass AVA, lies the San Felipe Vineyard; it covers some 122 acres and is evenly divided into Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It is also owned by the San Ysidro Corporation.

Between them, these four vineyards account for over 1,000 acres of vines, yet their names rarely appear on any labels. It's understood that much of the Chardonnay goes to large producers such as Kendall Jackson, Au Bon Climat and Beringer; the owners don't like to talk about who their clients are. Some fruit is used by local producers; Storrs, Picchetti and Cronin have all produced Merlot from San Ysidro, and Calera use Chardonnay from the San Ysidro and San Felipe vineyards.

I would be interested in any additional information about any of these vineyards; if you can help please contact me.

Friday, August 7, 2009

First Friday at Ridge, including 2007 Jimsomare Zinfandel

Cast your mind back to last May, and the final assemblage tasting at Ridge. This is one of my favourite events of the year, as it's a great opportunity to try some older vintages of Monte Bello.

This year they poured three vintages; the 1995, 1997 and 1999. The latter vintage in particular did not show at all as expected, as I wrote at the time. Following some discussion with Ridge's Tasting Room Manager Christopher Watkins, Wes Barton and I were invited back to reassess the 1999.

Ridge isn't open on weekdays except by appointment and for certain special events. One of these events, for wine club members, takes place on the first Friday of every month, so we arranged to turn up early and combine the two events. We were joined by Richard Jennings, a fellow local wine enthusiast whose palate Wes and I greatly respect.

We were fortunate that there had been a trade visitor earlier in the day, so we got to start with a couple of wines that had been opened for them.

2006 Monte Bello Chardonnay
This will be released on September 1st. List price is $60, but it will be available for $50 on the first weekend.
Nose of white flowers, lemon zest, vanilla and wet stone. Lovely flavours of creamy vanilla, lemon, white peach and a little chalk. The oak was showing a little harshly on the long finish. Definitely needs some cellar time to truly shine. 93

2006 Monte Bello
A powerful nose of smoke, blackberry, mint and slate jumps out of the glass. There is plenty of sweet brambly fruit, hints of smoke and mint and a very long, dry mineral finish. Wes had brought some of his home-made Elderberry jam because he's been noticing elderberry notes on recent vintages of Monte Bello; he was right, there was definitely some elder notes. As you'd expect it has great structure and will cellar well, though it would be good with steak tonight. With time it opened up further. Should be a classic Monte Bello. $140 94+

1999 Monte Bello
Okay, down to the reason we are here. Right from the start it was clear that this was very different from the wine we tasted last May. The nose shows similar characteristics to the 2006 - lots of brambles, mint and smoke - and more maturity as you would expect, but nothing like last time, no sign of oxidation at all.
Good brambly fruit, smoked meat and coriander seed, with lots of structure. The finish was not as long as the 2006 Monte Bello. Still got plenty of life. 92

We then joined the Jimsomare tasting, and switched back to a white

2005 Home Ranch Chardonnay
Home Ranch is a designation that Ridge uses when it has lots that didn't make the cut for the Monte Bello but they don't want to blend it into the Santa Cruz. As a result, Home Ranch wines aren't made every year.
There was more evident oak influence than on the 2006 Monte Bello. Lots of lemon & vanilla and some walnut. I'd have pegged this for a Varner. Very fruity; nice balance, just a hint of sherry on the finish. A few bottles are still available at $45. 90

Jimsomare Ranch is a 500 acre property lower down on Monte Bello Road. Ridge has been sourcing fruit there for around 40 years and manages the estate. It has 5 acres of Zinfandel vines that are over 100 years old, and an additional block planted in 1996. The climate in the Santa Cruz Mountains is cool for Zinfandel, so you don't get the over-ripe jammy characteristics that (for me at least) mar many Zinfandels.

2007 Jimsomare Zinfandel, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose was fruity but seemed atypical for a Zinfandel. Layers of deep, heavy fruit; blackberry, smoke and "Red Vines", with a longish finish. It triggered a memory of whinberry pie (a small English bilberry). $32 93

1997 Jimsomare Zinfandel, Santa Cruz Mountains
Showing a more traditional Zin profile; a tart raspberry/cranberry nose, lots of smooth raspberry fruit and a good, long and balanced finish. Hard to believe that it's 12 years old, it seems so lively. Delicious. 94

1988 Jimsomare Zinfandel, Late Picked, Santa Cruz Mountains
Ridge uses the 'late picked' designation to indicate that the sugar levels were higher than usual at harvest. There may be a little residual sugar, but it's not a 'dessert' wine.
This had a really strange nose; very hard to describe, there's PlayDoh, grass and cigarettes. It's surprisingly tart, dry and tannic despite the touch (0.11%) of residual sugar, but there's not much fruit remaining. An interesting experience nonetheless.

Update: Richard has posted his notes on CellarTracker.

2004 "La Fenice" Cabernet Sauvignon, California

Morgan Hill Cellars was founded in 1913, with 80 acres of vines. The property was purchased by John and Eda Pedrizzetti in 1945 and with the help of of Mike Bo of the San Martin Winery, Pedrizzetti Winery began to grow. When John and Eda retired their son Ed and his new wife Phyllis took over and in 1968 they opened a tasting room off Burnett Avenue. A particularly heavy frost in the winter of 1979 damaged the vineyards so badly that the winery decided to stop farming, sell off the vineyards and purchase grapes from other growers.

At its peak the winery produced 50,000 cases. However a catastrophic fire in 1996 put an end to that. The family rebuilt the winery at a cost in excess of $2 million and focused primarily on weddings and other events. Wine production was slashed to around 2,000 cases, much of which is fruit wines. The La Fenice range of wines represents the "phoenix that rose from the ashes". In 2006 the family sold the winery and retired. The new owner is re-branding the winery as Morgan Hill Cellars.

The 2004 La Fenice Cabernet Sauvignon was made by the previous owners. It opens with a nose of barnyard (brett?) and green pepper. On the palate it's thin, green and sour, with very little fruit evident. I had one glass; the sink drank the rest. Whatever the new proprietors do going forward it has to be an improvement on this. No score.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

2005 Guglielmo Petite Sirah, Santa Clara Valley

Guglielmo is a third generation family winery located in Morgan Hill. Emilio Guglielmo planted this Petite Sirah immediately after prohibition. The winery began by making private label wines for restaurants and finally launched their own label in the late 1960s.

This opens up with a nose of fragrant oak and a little violets. On the palate there's plenty of tannin and acidity, with notes of black coffee, toast and pepper, but not much in the way of fruit. The alcohol is kept nicely in check at 12.8% and at $18 it's not all that expensive. 86

Saturday, August 1, 2009

2002 Rapazzini Winery Symphony

Rapazzini winery sits alongside the 101 in Gilroy. You can't miss signs featuring a cartoon grape stomper and proclaiming "Home of the world famous garlic wine". The winery was founded by the Rapazzini brothers in 1962; they later opened the Garlic Shoppe next door. In 2000 Jon retired and sold the businesses to Alex and Charles Larson.

The name Symphony rung a bell, but at first I couldn't recall why. A little research showed that it's a cross between Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris, created at UC Davis in the 1940s but not launched commercially until the early 1980s. It's supposed to resemble Muscat, with a more perfumed nose and vibrant citrus flavours.

This may be true, but in my experience floral nose and vibrant fruit tend to be casualties of extended ageing, and this is what has happened here. The wine reminds me of an older Sauvignon Blanc; while it has citrus and butterscotch notes, the nose is muted and any vibrancy has long gone. 80