Uncorked Ventures Blog
Yesterday I was invited to a wine tasting and general introduction to Mendocino County and it’s restaurants, hotels and other tourist attractions.
Held in the Presidio of San Francisco at the Golden Gate Club, Mendocino County clearly spared no expense in the location that they chose and that attention held up throughout the day, as the event was the best organized trade tasting that I’ve attended in some time.
One request which I always make about these events, let’s find venue’s better accessible by public transportation outside of Muni-the fact is most of the people I meet at these events are forced to drive because venue choices aren’t accessible by either BART or Caltrain, which frankly seems silly. That isn’t an issue with Mendocino County’s event specifically, but a general complaint about how events are planned in San Francisco for the wine industry.
Ok, so the even itself was split up into three main areas. Two of the three were the standard set up with wineries having their own tables and the ability to pour their wines. One thing I noted was that for the consumer part of the event (5-7pm) they had clearly marked signs stating how you could purchase the wines-that’s a big improvement over many trade and consumer tastings, where you’re often left to guess.
The highlight and really the reason I decided to attend was an hour long tasting led by winemakers about their Coro Mendocino program. In essence winemakers and wineries in Mendocino have created a European style collective to try and increase sales as well as recognition of the wines being grown in their region.
In their case, they are focusing on blends based largely on Zinfandel (45-70%) but not so much that the wines can be labeled as varietal specific Zin. They allow a list of 9 secondary grapes, all Mediterrean in origin, although it seems like most winemakers seem to be happy to focus largely on Syrah, Petite Sirah, Primitivo and Sangiovese for their secondary set of grapes. Lastly, they are allowed 10% free run at the end of the vintage, putting in whatever the winemaker in question feels would benefit the wine the most.
I found two aspects especially interesting to the program. First, the wineries have agreed to use some common art work and design on the bottles. It’s the type of thing which I can’t even imagine happening elsewhere in the state. Secondly, there is a rather intense process of peer review before a wine can be accepted into the program. Every winemaker who wants to take part sits on a tasting panel four times before the wines are released, in an effort to make sure the quality is high enough, not to make the taste or profile more generic. One of the reasons the winemakers seem to like that set up is that they are in essence, able to expand their palate’s without hiring a range of consulting winemakers.
Our tasting featured wines from 6 of the previous 12 vintages of Coro Mendocino, with two wines being poured from each vintage. While I think many of the attendees would have enjoyed a wine from each vintage, it was interesting to see a rather stark contrast between two wines made in close proximity to each other, seeing how even with an extensive peer review process that winemaker choices are still shining through the wines rather brightly.
In any case, it was a really fun afternoon for me and an interesting and rather unusual way to learn about what might be the most innovative program in California wine.
Coro Mendocino, check it out if you can find the wines (it isn’t easy, they are all around 200 cases or so in production) and while ABC wouldn’t be happy about it, somehow they all seemed to be independently priced at $37.
Paso Robles is certainly a wine region gaining acceptance among casual wine drinkers, it’s also a region that many within the wine industry have looked at as an up and coming star and perhaps a future Worldwide Wine Capital for some time. It’s been called everything from “The Next Napa” to being equated with visiting Napa in the 70’s. That’s high praise that is well deserved.
One of the issues with visiting Paso when compared with Napa, Sonoma or even Santa Barbara is that there is a significantly smaller pool of information about the wineries available both in print and online, although that’s slowly changing.
Over the next few days, we’ll be featuring everything Paso Robles. First the wine, then food, places to stay and where to get more information online.
Since we know the wine is the star here, let’s start with the obvious first question that most people ask: Where should I go Wine Tasting in Paso Robles? A quick primer, Paso is home to Rhone varietals in large part, while you will see the ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon made in Paso, the focus is largely on Syrah, Grenache, Mouvedre and other Rhone varietals.
Alta Colina: We’ve talked about Alta Colina in this space before, but we truly do love their wines. Their small tasting room is located at Villicana Winery (it sits about 4) which is the experience that most people are really looking for when visiting wine country. The wines are dense and rich even by Rhone and Paso standards, but we enjoy a tasting trip here for two main reasons. First, the tasting room is often staffed by Maggie whose family owns the winery and she is willing to take consumers up to their vineyard for a quick look around. You’ll quickly see how passionate she is about her families winery and their vineyard, which is only a short drive from the tasting room. Secondly, Alta Colina offers an interesting mix of wines largely centered on Syrah. We find that being able to taste Syrah’s from the same vineyard, often just a few yards away from each other shows the grape off better than trying Syrah’s from different regions or wineries within the same region. You get to experience the affects of soil construction, wind and sunlight on wines grown in close proximity to each other. Many people are surprised at the differences in flavor profiles achieved by their 0900 Syrah (our favorite wine here) and the newly minted Block 2 Syrah.
Denner: So we’d admit that we love the Denner wines on their own, but part of the reason we include them here is because their winemaker Anthony Yount also has a small personal label called Kinero that you won’t be able to taste elsewhere. Yes, try for an appointment with the winemaker himself. In any case, a visit to Denner offers an interesting paradox in the wine industry. Robert Parker once called the James Berry Vineyard among the 5 Grand Cru vineyards in the state. That’s great for Paso and well deserved to be sure, but most people don’t realize that Denner’s estate vineyard is located literally on the other side of a gold cart path from the famed James Berry Vineyard. It’s a great way to be able to literally taste some of the best fruit in Paso, without paying the whole price for the experience. Yount’s personal label is also a joy for many consumers. A white label specifically, these are complex Rhone white’s crafted for people who don’t usually drink white wine. For most men that we know, that hits the spot fairly well and it’s also interesting to meet an up and coming winemaker who is still among the youngest in Paso.
Barrel 27: In Sonoma, warehouse wineries are all the rage. In Paso, we haven’t seen the same type of acceptance of that model, Barrel 27 being an exception. A dual project by winemakers Russell From and McPrice Myers, Barrel 27 offers some of the best value wines in Paso. The Rock and a Hard Place Grenache and the Head Honcho Syrah are among the best values at their respective price points ($18 and $28) found anywhere not only in Paso, but California wine. One of the joys of visiting Barrel 27 is seeing a tasting room which is far from the uptight stale experiences that we have so often in the wine industry. The last time we were there, we were greeted by a staff actually having a good time and Eric Clapton playing blaring on the stereo. Given that they have a dual winemakers working on site, who both produce a range of wines under their own labels (both at higher, but reasonable price points) there is an opportunity to taste close to 50 wines in a given trip, which does remind us that palate fatigue can kick in.
Pithy Wine Company: We originally visited Pithy at their previous location in downtown San Luis Obispo, their new downtown Paso spot is a better fit on a number of levels. We make a stop at Pithy for not only the wine, but their assortment of other high end food products as well. From olive oil and balsamic vinegar to their own root beer that is made a couple of times per year, there is truly something to keep you interested here for quite some time.
Terry Hoague Vineyards: If the Hoague name sounds familiar, it’s because he is the ex University of Georgia and NFL star who now headlines a winery of his own name. We always send clients to Terry Hoague Vineyards during a Paso trip because the wines are lighter and perhaps even more European in construction than many others in the area. Hoague’s football background comes through as well, from the names of the wine (the 46 is a favorite of ours, based on the defensive alignment all the rage during the 80’s) to some of the decorations around the tasting room. If you have a NFL fan in your party, this is a perfect stop on a number of levels.
There are, of course plenty of other great places to taste among Paso's 150+ wineries but these are some of our personal favorites.
We recently featured Dragonette Cellars again in our Special Selections Wine Club. With a tasting room in Los Olivos, we originally found Dragonette at Family Winemakers in San Diego and initially knew of them as a Pinot house. As we've found over time, their location in the middle of the Santa Ynez Valley affords them access to some interesting Syrah as well and this is an interesting blend, largely Syrah that shows off their ability to craft denser and deeper wines.
About Dragonette: We’ve previously shipped a Dragonette Pinot Noir, which we continue to be impressed with, but any time a winery is willing to name a wine after their three significant others, we’re interested. The MJM represent the three first initials of their wives/girlfriend. This wine is considered their proprietory red wine blend, but in essence it’s Syrah for this vintage. Given their location in Santa Ynez Valley, that makes sense, especially with many of the grapes for this wine coming from Ballard Canyon, California’s most recently created AVA-and one of the few largely specializing in Syrah. More than anything else, though the critics LOVE Dragonette-so we wanted to share another of their wines. From the Wine Advocate itself to the California tasting panel at Wine Spectator, scores have been consistently coming in at 90 points and above for Dragonette-meaning these wines are becoming quickly in short supply.
Tasting Notes: 93pts Stehpen Tanzer
Opaque ruby. Black and blue fruits, incense and a touch of candied plum on the highly perfumed nose. Lush and powerful, offering sweet blackberry and boysenberry flavors and suave floral pastille andspicecake nuances. Bright acidity gives this fleshy wine lift, spine and focus. Closes with substantial but harmonious tannins and a jolt of exotic candied violet.
We’ve talked about the cumbersome and frankly annoying rules and regulations in relation to shipping wine from one state to another plenty of this blog already, but the topic came up again for us when we ran into another wine blog that we like quite a bit, Jason Cohen’s Convicted for Grape. Normally, we’d think about shipping Jason some of our favorite wines from the past few months to review-but given that isn’t a possibility, we decided to mention him in this space instead.
Based in Pennsylvania, we don’t run in the same wine ciricles. After all, we’re shipping smaller producers from the west coast and since he is in Pennsylvania, those are exactly the type of wineries which would destroy the fabric of society, according to the state at least.
In any case, we’ve found Jason’s blog to be an interesting and often eclectic mix of reviews, viewpoints and thoughts about the world of wine. We’ve enjoyed his thoughts on the state of Pennsylvania’s state owned liquor stores and his idea about what constitutes the golden age of wine writing. We do agree that the continued widening of writing about the world of wine is a good thing, more well known and respected blogs and bloggers is a good thing for the little guy, after all our PR department consists of well, me for about an hour or two per week.
Anyway, for our regular readers you’ll find a dramatically different set of wines reviewed on his blog than some of the others that we’ve mentioned already. When it comes to international wines, I’m sure you’ll find the blog to be a valuable and efficient resource (love the way the review search function is set up).
Sans Liege is the most recent project by winemaker Curt Schalchlin and we were so impressed with the winery and the price to quality ratio of the project that we decided to feature these wines in two of our wine clubs during May-more on the Grenache offering later, but for now, let’s focus on the Grenache Blanc.
Let’s start with why we were interested in featuring these wines in the first place. One of our favorite tasting trips since starting Uncorked Ventures was a trip to Paso Robles which included an early evening with Russel Fromm and McPrice Myers who make the wine together at Barrel 27 and each have their own personal label (McPrice Myers named it directly after himself, while Russell tried to confuse everyone by naming his Herman Story). We came away from those few hours with not only a good understanding of their wines, some greater understanding of palate fatigue having tasting close to 40 wines and of course with an appreciation for their winemaking styles as well as some of the tope vineyards on the Central Coast.
For some time we’ve been searching for another winemaker who fits squarely into their winemaking style and frankly their pricing, where I strongly believe they leave at least a few dollars on the table with each and every bottle they create.
Enter Curt and Sans Liege.
One of the things we’ve come to like quite a bit about the Central Coast, specifically Paso Robles and much of the Santa Ynez Valley is that the vineyards are relatively easy to keep straight. San Liege boasts a virtual who’s who of vineyard sources that we enjoy. Alta Colina, Bien Nacido, Alta Mesa, Larner and a few others (where’s the Tierra Alta inclusion though?). To us, as outside observes, it’s clear that there’s a serious effort at the highest quality wine here.
Ok, so enough about the background-what about the Grenache Blanc in your glass?
The wineries tasting notes read: Vibrant and cool, the 2012 Groundwork Grenache Blanc is like a English garden impossibly fully bloomed in winter. A fresh nose of tangerine, lemon grass, Bosch pear, white cherry and passion fruit leads to a brightly spiced, mineral laden palate of fresh thyme, star anise, orange blossom, wet flagstone and lemon oil, it finishes with pleasantly trill acidity much like nibbling a meyer lemon.
At our initial taste, we were impressed by the roundness of this Grenache Blanc. When we’ve tried to find other Grenache Blanc’s to ship, we’re often confronted with wines that have a level of acidity that many of our customers would find offputting. That acidity isn’t evident here, although you’re not going to confuse this wine with a class round Napa Valley Chardonnay either.
There is plenty of the traditional slightly spicy finish here as well, which makes Grenache Blanc one of the best pairings with roasted pork chops, or in my house-pork tenderloin
Overall we walked away thinking that this was simply a great summer wine and honestly, one our favorite Grenache Blanc’s that we’ve had in quite some time. We’ve seen quite a few quotes from Schalchlin talking about how he feels inspired by the Northern Rhone (who in Paso isn’t right?) but he goes the next step and creates a wine which the French would find familiar, it’s enjoyable with plenty of fruit but imminently in balance. We’d challenge anyone to find a comparable wine at this $16 price point.
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