Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2005 Woodside Estate Zinfandel

Yes, two 2005 Woodside wines in the same week. Sue me. I felt like a Zinfandel and there aren't that many local wineries who make it, which is a shame.
The nose is earthy with brambles and coffee. On the palate there's lots of rich sweet black fruit and an oaky, tannic finish. The oak has softened significantly since I last tasted it , I'm pleased to note, but I think it's still a year away from its prime. 89. Sold out at the winery, but the 2007 is now available on futures at $22.50 a bottle and I think that's a great value.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2005 Sycamore Creek Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Sycamore Creek is a winery with an uneven history. Since 2005 it's been owned by Bill Holt, who also owns the nearby Uvas Creek vineyard. This was their first vintage, with fruit from the old head-pruned Cabernet vines. Those vines were torn out this year and the vineyard is being replanted; the new vines will be properly trained but won't be producing for a few years.

This didn't taste as good as the last time I had it. Decanted and poured immediately. Nose of black fruits, vanilla and smoke. While there's plenty of good black fruit, this time it seemed overpowered by chewy oak and didn't seem to improve over the course of the evening. A big wine if you're an oak lover, but on this showing I couldn't give it more than 86. $28

2005 Woodside Estate Pinot Noir

Woodside Vineyards farm around 20 small domestic vineyards around the Woodside area. The 2005 Estate Pinot Noir was sourced from just two vineyards, one of which was planted by Bob Mullen at his home on Kings Mountain Road.

This is a really earthy Pinot. On the nose there's lots of funk and spice which carries through onto the palate; notes of mushrooms and wet leaves. Good acidity and tannin. Fruit was very much in the background on this occasion. 92 $36 at the winery - there's still some available. Recommended

2007 Windy Oaks "Wild Yeast" Pinot Noir

I was a big fan of the 2006 Windy Oaks "Wild Yeast" Pinot Noir; on the occasions that I tasted them side by side I preferred it over the 2006 "Reserve". The 2007 vintage was released this fall; since I've been very impressed by the 2007 vintage generally but haven't had chance to visit the winery yet I decided to open a bottle from my latest wine club shipment.

Just four barrels were made - all fermented with native wild yeasts - and aged for 17 months in 75% new French oak.

Decanted about 1 hour, in a wide-based decanter. Light coloured, as is typical for Windy Oaks. Nose of strawberries, roses and allspice. On the palate there's baking spice, red fruits - strawberries and cherries - and citrus pith on the finish. It started out fairly lightweight, but showed increasing weight and depth over the 2 hours it was open. 93 now, could easily gain 2-3 points with time. $55 Recommended

Sunday, December 20, 2009

2007 Woodside Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains

Last week I visited Woodside Vineyards for their barrel tasting. If you read my write-up you'll know that this wine was being poured close to a smoky wood fire where chestnuts were being roasted. It seemed unfair to rate it based on a flawed tasting, so I brought one home.

The nose is nice, with lemon, vanilla ice-cream and a minerality, like a fresh mountain stream (that might sound pretentious, but I can't think of a better descriptor). However on the palate it's like chewing oak staves. There's no smoke, but the wood is if anything stronger than it seemed last time, probably because my palate was trying to compensate. The nice lemon and lime component in the background is overpowered by the wood that really bites on the finish. It's not your typical mellow buttery oak that mars so many generic Californian Chardonnays, it's a harsh wood which gives me hope that given time it'll soften and let the fruit show. 82 $25

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Owning Information

Getting basic information about local wineries can be remarkably difficult. While larger companies can afford to employ marketing and PR professionals, most of the small producers are family operations run by people with full time day jobs. When I've contacted wineries for more details I've frequently not had my calls returned, or the questions have been treated with suspicion. Why is this guy asking me questions about how many acres I have planted?

At the same time, a growing number of bloggers are writing about wine. In the absence of verifiable facts people may quote whatever sources they can find. Even the official statistics are far from accurate, as I've pointed out in the past. And with a dearth of usable label and logo artwork available we simply make our own, taking snapshots of bottles.

The team at led by Evan Cover think they have a solution to this. Their system is called OwnIT and aims to provide a common repository for all wineries to publish information about their wines and wineries. Application developers will be able to access the database via an API and bloggers will be able to reference it via hyperlinks. They are also working with other databases such as CellarTracker and Vinfolio.

The system will be free to both wineries and consumers of the data - Cruvee hope that this will raise awareness and increase subscription to their social media monitoring service.

Now all this sounds great, but until it reaches a critical mass it won't be particularly useful. It's clearly attractive to larger wineries who want to protect their brand image, but for smaller wineries who care less about branding and more about getting the wine to their regular customers it's likely to be way down the priority list. Hopefully the various local trade associations will help out here.

The system will be opened to the public early next year. At that time we'll see whether it's achieved sufficient traction to be a useful tool or whether it's just another good idea in theory.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

2006 Spring Ridge Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains

The Spring Ridge Vineyard in Portola Valley was planted in 1980 by Jim & Bob Varner. Over the years the Varners have established a reputation for consistent top quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. At Pinot Days they were pouring the 2005 "Neely" and 2007 "Hidden Block" Pinots; when I asked about the 2006 I was told that they still hadn't decided what was going to happen to it, as it hadn't lived up to their standards. Well now we know; they've released it under the "Spring Ridge" label. So far I've only seen this at K&L Wines.

The label itself is simple and while it's similar in style to the Varner and Neely labels, nowhere does it actually say Varner; the foil is plain black and the cork is stamped with "Neely Spring Ridge".

The wine is light in colour by California's standards, as Varner Pinots typically are. There's a nice nose of cherry, raspberry and allspice, which became more strawberry with time. At first it seemed lightweight, with cherry and cranberry fruit, and pepper on the finish, but it put on weight with air time and became more spicy. It would have benefited from being decanted for an hour; I'll know next time. This is the best under $20 Pinot Noir I've had in a while. 90

Sunday, December 13, 2009

2009 Barrel tasting at Woodside

Woodside Vineyards is a small 2000 case winery located on Kings Mountain Road in Woodside. Bonded in 1963, it's one of the wineries that helped define the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. Each year Woodside vineyards offers futures on their estate Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, and opens the winery for barrel samples. It was expected that this year's tasting would be in the new facility, but progress has been slow on that front, so we got one more chance to taste at the old facility. Forgive the image quality; I left my camera at home, so took these with my phone.

First, a white to try. I was standing very close to a smoky wood fire while tasting this, which affected my perception, hence the lack of a point score.

2007 Estate Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose of lemon and wet stone. Oak seemed very pronounced, good lemon & lime flavours, Crisp finish. No rating, but I bought some to try again later.

Winemaker Brian Caselden poured three barrel samples in the barrel room. The 2008 Pinot Noir will remain in barrel for a few months more; the 2007 Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon have already been bottled - these barrels were held back for the tasting.

The futures offering gives a 25% discount over the list price, with half payable now and the remainder (including the sales tax) payable on delivery, a year from now. Minimum purchase is 12 bottles.

2008 Pinot Noir barrel sample
Sourced from four different vineyards, with new, 1 year and 2 year old French oak barrels. 8 out of 12 barrels made the blend.
Quite dark colour (though it was fairly dark in the room).
Oak and chocolate on the nose, a little smoke, not much fruit on nose at this stage.
Earthy, with liquorice root, red berry and black cherry. Oak prominent on the finish. 88-90 $36 list, $27 futures.

2007 Zinfandel barrel sample
Smoky, with raspberry and blackberry.
Rich, spicy raspberry fruit with a hint of cinnamon; peppery on the finish. Great value. 90-92 $30 list, $22.50 futures.

2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon barrel sample
The Estate Cabernet is the bigger brother to the softer King's Mountain Cab (which isn't offered on futures) and typically requires some cellar time.
Nose shows blackcurrant and blackberry, with espresso notes. Plenty of acidity and fine tannins. At this stage the fruit is restrained and the finish soft. 88-90 $40 list, $30 futures.

Finally Brian offered their newly released port:

2005 Port
Made from Zinfandel. As I've said before, I'm not much of a fan of port-style wines unless they are made from the traditional port grapes; I'd sooner have the genuine article.
Lightly oxidised, bright raspberry nose and sweet, spicy raspberry flavours. Well made, but not my thing. 84, but that's just me. $30 for 500ml

Update: See Wes Barton's take on the tastings too.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

2005 Clos LaChance "Honduran Emerald" Meritage

I'm a big fan of the Clos LaChance 'Hummingbird' series - they are great day-to-day value wines, and are readily available in many local supermarkets, often at very attractive prices.

Each year since 2004 the winery has paired with the Hummingbird Society and released a special release Meritage, with a portion of the profits going to help preserve endangered species. As with most of the wineries offerings the label carries the generic Central Coast AVA, though the fruit is all estate Santa Clara Valley.

2005 Clos LaChance "Honduran Emerald" Meritage, Centra Coast
Gamey/meaty/smoky nose with blackcurrant fruit. On the palate there's brambles and oak, with some grapefruit on the finish. Over time the oak and tannins became more pronounced. 87. Not a bad wine, but for $25 you could buy a bottle of the "Black Chinned" Syrah, send $5 to the Hummingbird Society and still have change left over.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Big Dog Vineyards

To the west of the Santa Clara Valley lies the Diablo Range. In contrast to the verdant farmland and urban sprawl of Silicon Valley the mountain range is sparsely inhabited, and covered with dry brown grass and a few trees for most of the year. It doesn't look much like farmland, let alone vineyards. Yet just 3 miles west of Milpitas, hidden away at the top of a hill is Big Dog Vineyards.

Mark and Sandy Capalongan own a 40 acre ranch and home with lovely views of the bay. Long time friends of Woodside Vineyards' Brian Caselden, he was convinced the area was suitable for Cabernet grapes and encouraged them to plant a vineyard. "He said that it could all be done for the cost of a car. I didn't realize he was talking about a Maserati" jokes Mark. In 1997 they planted two blocks, totalling 6 acres, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

While most wineries worry about birds and frost, Big Dog's pests include deer, wild boars, gophers, wild turkeys and ground squirrels. A deer fence protects against the larger predators and an electric fence at the base of the vines deters the rodents.

The winery was built later as a multi-purpose building that also includes a 3 car garage and a combined barrel and tasting room. The first commercial vintage was made in 2005 and the winery opened its doors for tasting earlier this year.

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa
A rather deep purple colour. Nose shows blueberry syrup and vanilla. Initially dry and tannic, the fruit emerges on the mid-palate. Nice finish. 90 $28

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, San Francisco Bay AVA
A much more red-brick colour. The nose is very different too; animal notes (big dog perhaps?) On the palate it's got lots of tannin and oak, but not showing much in the way of fruit. Maybe it just needs time, but for now it's an 85. $28.50

2005 Syrah, Napa
The nose is floral, with violet and lavender. It's got brambly fruit and green pepper, with a slightly spicy, peppery finish. 87 $28

2006 Cabernet Franc, Estate, San Francisco Bay AVA
A gamey, blackberry nose. Very good brambly fruit, meaty and oaky, with a medium finish. 89 $29.50

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinq Chevaux Vineyard, San Francisco Bay AVA
Cinq Chevaux is the name given to the block further from the house; it's still classified as estate fruit.
Smoky oak nose. Nice blackcurrant fruit with a hint of mint. Tannins show on the finish. 88 $26

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, San Francisco Bay AVA
There's a little more fruit on the nose than the Cinq Chevaux, and the oak is less evident. On the palate it seems a touch richer and more concentrated. 89 $28

Big Dog also makes a range of dessert wines, in the ruby port style with limited oak aging. The winery is open weekends in December until Christmas. Tasting is free, and for this month only there's an $8 per bottle discount if you buy 3 or more.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

2008 Dahlia Reserve Pinot Noir, Monterey County

For those who don't recognise the label, Dahlia is Beverages & More's own brand. The wines are made by local producers - the last one I saw was by Bargetto and this one is by Testarossa. Apologies for the poor quality image.

This bottle was brought to a social function that I attended. Now I'm not a big stemware snob, but it has to be said that conical plastic tumblers are hopeless when it comes to assessing a wine's potential. The nose seemed interesting but on the faint side. On the palate it had pleasant ripe cherry and a touch of chocolate with a good finish. Smooth, and light on the oak, acidity and tannins. I guessed that it would be priced in the $15-$20 range and tentatively scored it an 88.

When I got home I checked the BevMo web site and was surprised to find that its retail price is actually $30 (which is crazy; you can get Testarossa's Palazzio for less than that) but with a ClubBev card the price currently comes down to a more reasonable $20. If you like Testarossa's style and have a ClubBev card it's worth trying.

The range also includes a similarly priced Reserve Chardonnay as well as a non-Reserve Pinot Noir for $20 ($15 with ClubBev card), though I don't yet know whether those are produced by Testarossa or not - check the rear label if you're interested.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Upcoming events: Barrel tasting at Woodside and Open House at Big Dog Winery

There are a lot of events on at the weekends; it would be a full time job trying to keeping up with them. However one that I look forward to is the annual barrel tasting at Woodside.

As you probably know, the property at 340 Kings Mountain Road has been sold and the winery is moving to an industrial unit off Willow Road. However that move isn't complete yet so this year's tasting will be held at the old winery one last time.

Unlike previous years the tastings will be hourly, starting at 5PM, 6PM and 7PM on Fridays (4th and 11th) and 1PM, 2PM, 3PM and 4PM on Saturdays (5th and 12th) and Sundays (6th and 13th). Barrel samples of 2007 Estate Cabernet and Zinfandel, and 2008 Pinot Noir will be poured with the opportunity to buy on futures. Traditionally I believe the futures discount has been 20%, plus you only have to pay half the cost up front, with the balance due on delivery.

Over in Milpitas, Big Dog Winery is open from 12-5PM on Saturday and Sunday in December until Christmas. I have yet to taste their wines so I'll try to head over and report back. If you're interested they are at 4545 Felter Road in Milpitas.