Saturday, October 16, 2010

Big Basin Tasting Room

At the end of August Big Basin Vineyards opened a new tasting room in Saratoga. Wes and I took a trip out to the winery and called in on the way to see the place and taste the current range.

The tasting room is in a brand new building on Highway 9, next door to Cinnabar - the address is at 14598 Big Basin Way. The room is light and airy, with a large L shaped bar and some comfortable seats. The walls are decorated with photographs of the vineyards taken by the owner and winemaker Bradley Brown and artwork by Matt Jones, whose work is used on several of the wine labels.

Tasting for a flight of 6 wines is $10, refunded with $100 purchase. There is currently a 2 for 1 promotion. You can also purchase wines by the glass; since the tasting room is open until 7PM on Fridays and Saturdays that makes it an ideal place to meet up prior to dinner.

2009 'Aura' Rose of Syrah, Monterey County
Floral nose, with notes of rose hip. While not sweet it doesn't come across as bone dry; it's fruity with a slightly bitter finish and flavours of crisp red apples. Light acidity. $18 89

2007 Alfaro Family Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
I've often found the wines from the Alfaro Family vineyard to be rather tannic and unyielding when young, but Bradley's treatment doesn't show that at all. The nose has sweet candy and dried cherry; in the mouth it's richly textured and spicy with flavours of dried cherry and white pepper, and a tart finish. $42 91

2007 Syrah
This is a 50/50 blend of Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey County fruit.
The nose is soft and plummy, the fruit is smooth and light fruit with some tart berry notes and a light finish. $28 88

2006 Rattlesnake Rock Syrah, Santa Cruz Mountains
The flagship estate wine; when I've tasted previous vintages it's been a really big textured wine. This seems lighter than in other years; the nose is fairly restrained with dried currant notes. However it's still pretty big and rich; there are layers of layers of dried fruit, herb and minerals and a longish finish showing those mineral notes again. $54 92

2007 Mandala, Santa Cruz Mountains
This is predominantly estate Syrah, with around 14% Cabernet Sauvignon from a vineyard in Los Gatos blended in. Surprisingly the Cabernet seems more prominent; the nose shows blueberry and pepper, with a balsamic note. On the palate there's blueberry and blackcurrant with oak and tannin showing on the finish. $39 91

2007 Coastview Syrah, Monterey County - Gabilan Mountains
Interesting nose; more assertive than the Rattlesnake Rock with herbal notes, some green pepper and nice black fruit. In the mouth it's another big, richly textured wine; concentrated black fruit flavours with some candied orange peel and meaty notes, leading up to a long finish. Nice smooth tannins; really a delicious wine. $48 93+

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Wine and doughnuts?

I get a lot of emails from wineries announcing particular tastings or promotions. I don't usually post them here, largely on the grounds that I can't do them all (translation: I'm too lazy). But there's a particularly bizarre event this weekend at Poetic Cellars - pairing doughnuts with wine. And not just sweet wines either; there's a chocolate doughnut paired with a Cabernet Sauvignon. I wonder what Homer would say.
For more details go to

Wild yeast?

At the recent Ridge bloggers' tasting there was a fairly interesting discussion about the relative merits of cultured and 'wild' yeasts. Ridge is one of those wineries that never adds yeast, relying on the fruit to ferment on its own, with yeasts from the environment. The debate mainly centered around whether those yeasts were endemic to the vineyard or the facility.

My personal view on this is that there's a strong correlation between the use of 'wild' (or 'natural') yeasts and quality wine, but that (as 99.7% of statisticians will tell you) correlation doesn't imply causality. Or, in other words, just because vintners who use wild yeasts typically make great wines doesn't mean that using wild yeasts will automatically result in a better product.

I was planning a blog post on the subject, only to come across an interview with the man himself - Paul Draper on Alice Feiring's blog. Clearly he can explain these things way better than I can. It's a good read; I especially like the sign-off quote:
In California for at least the last ten or fifteen years we have heard that the wines are now made in the vineyard. What is not mentioned is that in most cases they are then re-made in the winery.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Delayed Tasting Notes

As you've no doubt noticed, the blog has had to take something of a holiday over the past few months due to family and work pressures. But that doesn't mean I haven't been drinking some great local wines. Here's a roundup of some highlights over the past few weeks in no particular order.

2006 McHenry "Swan Clones" Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
A little known gem from the Bonny Doon area. I believe that technically the vineyards lie within the Ben Lomond Mountain sub-AVA, though it carries the SCM appellation. Interesting nose, with lots of forest floor and earthy funk. On the palate there's great cherry flavours and some savoury "umami" notes, and a medium length finish. Only about 150 cases made, but terrific value at around $26. 91+

2009 Martin Ranch "JD Hurley" Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Clara Valley
My tastes in Sauvignon Blanc typically run to the more acidic New Zealand and Sancerre styles, but this was really good on a hot autumn night. Nose shows apricot and lime; on the palate it's soft and creamy with light acidity and citrus flavours, and some caramel on the finish. Apparently it contains some Semillon. 88

2007 Sarah's Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Clara Valley
Nose is earthy and smoky, with dried herb and dried cranberry notes. Great flavours of cranberry and cherry. 90

2006 Fernwood Cellars "Small Vineyard Selection" Merlot
The fruit for this wine is sourced from a number of private vineyards in Los Altos, Saratoga & Monte Sereno. On the nose it's rather old world; lots of earthiness and underbrush, with some black fruit. But in the mouth it's got plenty of new world sweet fruit. 89

2007 Aver Family Vineyards "Hope"
A Rhone blend, with around 1/3 Petite Sirah (which technically isn't a Rhone grape, but the Rhone Rangers have claimed it as one of theirs). Good nose of blueberry, cranberry, dried herbs and pine. Flavours of blueberry, gooseberry and white pepper. Tannins are marked but not excessive. Benefited from an hour in a decanter. 90+