Barrel Tasting Weekend
Every March I attend the Russian River/ Dry Creek/ Alexander Valleys Barrel Tasting weekend(s). These appellations are connected and make up the northern part of Sonoma County. Together they create one of the very best wine producing regions in California – in my bold opinion. My wine buddies and I, quite a big gaggle, get together and go every year, and make a huge party out of the weekend for any reason we can find.
Every year I have a detailed agenda for this event (…yes even down to the spread sheet of highest priority wineries, open hours, food served, etc.) Most people are interested in the Pinots and Zinfandels, maybe some Chardonnay or a Cabernet (oh yes I do love a Dry Creek Cab) but not me this time. This year my goal was to try as many Cal-Ital wines as I could get my hands on. I knew there were some producers up there making wines from Italian grapes and I felt it was my duty to assess them.
One of my problems is I’m using Italy as a baseline and that’s not really fair. But that’s how I am so I’m throwing that out there now.
I learned of this winery via their Sangiovese eight years ago when I worked at a fine wine shop in Tahoe City. I was excited to finally get over there and see what else they had.
Dolcetto Alegria Vineyard 2007. Russian River Valley. This vineyard is interplanted with Barbera and Friesa (cool) and is 20 years old. The wine spends 17 months in 80% French oak and 20% American oak. (Why, why, why!?!? Has your winemaker never been to Piemonte!?!?) On the nose I got dirty socks and fruit cake, following up with spices, mineral, oak, and perfume. I have a feeling this is a fabulous vineyard which makes lovely fruit but it was killed by the barrel (and the barrel jacked up the price). ($30) (I’d take an 8 Euro Stainless steel Dolcetto over this any day.)
Sangiovese Alegria Vineyard 2007. Russian River Valley. This one spends 17 months in a mix of French, Hungarian, and American oak, of which 38% is new. (This was good news to me because less new oak is good in my opinion, for a majority of wines.) 1993 was their first harves of Sangiovese. A very pretty cranberry color, intense aromas of vanilla, oak, and cherry; hot and spicy with bitter syrup to finish. 14.1% alcohol. Also tasted the 2006 & 2008 vintage but wrote no notes, although I remember preferring the 2006 which tells me this wine benefits/needs/can withstand some age. Maybe I’d like an older vintage better? The Sangio took to the oak much better than the Dolcetto did and so I prefer it. ($28)
There is a place in Alexander Valley called Locals Tasting Room (http://www.tastelocalwines.com/) in Geyserville, and I have to say, it is pretty awesome. They keep about 50 wines open for by the glass tasting, which are from local producers and mostly from locally-sourced fruit, but not entirely. It’s a popular spot for my wine buddies and me during this particular event. On this trip, I tried the following Cal-Ital wines (among many others):
Eric Ross Old Vine Carignane 2006. Lodi. This counts because they grow this grape in Sardinia. Normally this is a favorite but right now this vintage smells like someone filled some stinky socks with ripe strawberries. Nothing I’d seek to put in my mouth. ($18)
Portalupi Barbera 2007. I used to “sell” this wine when I worked for Diamond Wine Merchants but I never could take out a sample seriously. Here’s why. It smelled like a bacony Syrah mixed with coffee grounds and tasted like Port. I say try harvesting a little earlier and …see what happens! ($30)
Ramazzotti Sangiovese 2006. Dry Creek Valley. On the nose, stewed berries, vanilla, cocoa, a hint of rubber, very ruby-port-like in the mid-palate, and finishing very sweet and somewhat bitter. ($25)
Ramazzotti Grenache 2008. Dry Creek Valley. This also counts because they grown this under the name, Cannonau, in Sardinia. My notes: berries and alcohol. (It’s kind of like, if I was at a friend’s barbeque, and this was out and open, I’d drink it, but only because it’s easy, easy like a girly cocktail or a vodka watermelon.) ($35)
Peterson Il Granaio 2006. Sangiovese 60%, Cabernet Sauvignon 40%. The first time I discovered Locals was in July of 2005. It was a rough summer and I took a trip to wine country solo. I came across this place and immediately fell in love, not only with the place, but with the 2002 vintage of this wine (Sangiovese 84%, Merlot 9%, Cabernet Sauvignon 4%, Cabernet Franc 3%). I dropped some cash on it (for my wine budget at the time) but when I finally opened it, a couple years later, it wasn’t good. But the owners are so nice, I didn’t want to send it back and give them a loss, so I just brushed it off. I was looking forward to trying it again. On the nose, raspberries, coffee, and smoke with a full and soft middle, finishing… hot, hot, hot. 15.4% alcohol. ($25) …Next!?
Praxis Lagrein 2007. What a pleasant surprise, someone in California growing Lagrein! This vineyard sits at 1,500 feet in the Santa Ynez Valley (Santa Barbara County). There are 20 acres of 20 year old vines. It’s 15.3% alcohol but let’s give it a whirl anyway! The aromas of green grass come out along with sweet ripe fruit. It’s so rich in color like a Petite Sirah, full in the middle with a cocoa powder finish. A little hot but shows true to its variety for the most part. Finally, something worth drinking. ($21) ★
And, oh, another vintage to try, …
Praxis Lagrein 2008. It smelled like grape jam and coffee with a lush ripe berry character filling in the middle, finishing hot with lots of ethanol. I preferred the ’07. ($21)
Siduri & Novy Family Wineries
Siduri/Novy is a place we always hit on BT weekend. It used to be a favorite of all of us but now, one could argue the quality. They probably do make too many wines but as a non-Pinot-phile, I gotta say, I always find a Pinot noir (or four) that I like. What’s even better is they started making Nebbiolo with the 2005 vintage from the Stolpman Vineyard (one of the, if not the, most famous Nebbiolo vineyard in California).
Stolpman Vineyard Nebbiolo 2006. Santa Barbara County. While they don’t go the traditional route, they do a cold soak for about two weeks (middle of the road for Piemonte producers), use mostly used French oak barrels for aging (22 months), and rack only twice. The best thing about this wine is it’s not ready yet. That is a good sign. There’s nothing off about this wine but my only complaint is a lack of floral layers. As far as aromas, I did get sundried tomato and a hint of autumn spice. The wine has a full red fruit layer and lots of tannins. I have a few bottles stashed away (along with the 2005 vintage) so we’ll see how it ages. ★ (http://www.novyfamilywines.com/wines/06_stolpman_Nebbiolo.html )
Kudos to the Nebbiolo growers, however, regardless of my review. ($20-$33 depending on economic climate)
El Dorado County Tasting, San Francisco, March 20, 2010
When I figured out nearly everyone was making a Barbera, I made that my focus.
Boeger Barbera 2008. A mix of 45 year old vines and 4-7 year old vines. Aged 16 months in neutral (thank God) oak. Chocolaty, sweet cherry, full and fruity with a glycerin texture, some green herbs in the end, all while retaining a reputable acidity. 15.4% alc. ($16.50) ★
Latcham Cooper Vineyard Barbera 2007. Amador County. 16-18 months in 1-2-3 year old barrels. Vanilla, sweet oak, and ripe cherries in the nose with lots of fruit and very hot. 14.6% alc. ($20)
Miraflores Pinot grigio 2009. So fresh, so surprising. Banana aromas. First vintage was 2002. ($16) ★
Miraflores Barbera 2007. Chocolate cherry nose with freshly ground coffee, full and round, with lots of acid. 14.5% alc. ($18) ★
Lava Cap Barbera 2007. Lit & lifted. Dried cherries and cocoa powder with bright cherry flavors. Orange peel and clove notes to finish. Nice acid. A remarkable find. 14.7% alc. ($18) ★ ★
Random Cal-Ital from the stash
I used to work for Bonny Doon Vineyard (BDV), along with most of my friends, and probably 500 other people. It was a terrific introduction to many great Italian varieties and Rhone-style wines. Randall Grahm, the founder, can be coined as one of the original Rhone Rangers of California. I’m not a huge fan of most of their wines anymore but somehow, some way, my wine buddies and I are finding older BDV “Italian” wines are tasting great now! There has been Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Carignane, Barbera, Charbono (not really Italian), and even Aglianico! Their Aglianico was from the Central Valley of California, which, because of how hot it is, is not a top-line region by anyone’s standards. But somehow this Aglianico must have loved the sun… (Thanks Will for finding it in your stash and sharing!)
Bonny Doon Vineyard Aglianico (DEWN/Wine Club) 2004. California.
Aromas of blackberry, blueberry, and graphite with rich red fruit jam (raspberry anyone?) and smoke, finishing with tart blackberries, chalky tannins, and a hint of smoke. For the record, I opened a 2001 magnum of Cigare Volant on the same night and I preferred the Aglianico way more than the Cigare. (Probably not a huge surprise to anyone.) – May 2010
I also have my notes from when I drank my last bottle of this wine. I took it as a ringer to our tasting group when the theme was Southern Italian wines.
Aromas of cherry, leather, tuna, and burned raisins with a concentrated fruit mid-palate and a bitter finish. – October 2008 (It must have aged well unless there was a lot of bottle-variation.)
Martin & Weyrich
I promise you their Nebbiolo used to be $12 four years ago, which is unheard of for drinkable Nebbi. But despite the fantastic price, it was awesome the first time I tried it (vintage ?) and has been ever since. Recently I had the 2004. This is consistently my favorite California Nebbiolo. I hope I don’t jinx it with this rave review!
Martin & Weyrich Nebbiolo 2004. Paso Robles. This wine does not give any hint of the Paso terroir (bubble gum, sunscreen, and cherry pie). The color is a foggy cranberry with a touch of brick on the edges. The bouquet is that of fresh cherries, wet stones, vanilla, cologne, and a pinch of herbs. In the middle it is full with some limey-acidity. A lovely finish of chalky tannins, developed fruit, cocoa powder, and refreshing red berries. ★ ★
My conclusion: so the best place to grow Nebbiolo in California is Santa Barbara County or nearby, and the best place for Barbera is actually the Sierra Foothills. (Actually there is some decent Barbera coming out of Sonoma County (from Seghesio and Preston). I’ll review the Preston soon but I haven’t had Seghesio’s in a while.)