Monday, November 24, 2008

Urban Wineries -- East Bay Trailblazers

The urban winery trend is blowing up. The New York Times mentioned East Bay wineries not once, but twice, in the past week. The main story was a trend article that featured my employer, JC Cellars, and brought a lot of people into the tasting room since it ran on Nov. 14. "I'm embarassed I had to read the Times to find out you guys were here," was the explanation I heard from quite a few people. They invariably mentioned how nice it was not to have to drive up to Napa or Sonoma or down to the Central Coast to get their winery fix. I agree, although I must say I love to be surrounded by acres of vineyards planted on the rolling hills. The view out the door of JC Cellars yesterday: a white truck with graffiti covering its side panel. Urban indeed.

I thought it was high time that the Times featured East Bay urban wineries considering the paper's wine critic Eric Asimov touched on the urban winery movement in a blog post this fall but failed to mention a single one of the East Bay wineries, despite the fact they are among the pioneers of this trend! Now urban winemakers from the shining city across the bay are following the lead of the East Bay Urban Vintners Alliance and have formed the San Francisco Wine Association. With 16 members the association is off to a great start, however none of those member wineries have tasting rooms. So apart from one-off special events, it seems as though City dwellers will still be hopping on BART to come over to the sunny side of the bay to taste in one of the East Bay's seven tasting rooms.

Sadly, we're losing one of those tasting rooms, as Lost Canyon Winery, purveyors of some tasty Pinot Noir and Syrah, is shutting its doors following a sale to Fritz Wineryof Sonoma. Fritz will continue to pour Lost Canyon's wares at their tasting rooms in Sonoma and San Francisco, but it's sayonara to Lost Canyon's very urbane facility just off Oakland's Embarcadero (and within walking distance of my house)after Nov. 30.

But where one door shuts, another opens, and Two Mile Winery reportedly started pouring its wines at their new south Berkeley tasting room on San Pablo at Grayson St. -- another gritty industrial neighborhood that means the new digs fit in nicely with the other asphalt-locked tasting rooms of the East Bay. Two Mile makes some delicious Viognier (sorry, the '07 vintage is sold out) and also offers Sangiovese, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and a Cab Sauv/Merlot blend.

In addition, while it is still a couple of years away, the grapes for RockWall Winery are happily aging in the JC Cellars/Dashe winery. RockWall is the new winery from Kent Rosenblum, his brother, and another partner. As you may know, Kent, the mentor of many East Bay winemakers, is the winemaker and founder of Rosenblum, the granddaddy of East Bay wineries. After huge corporation behemoth Diageo bought Rosenblum in January (much to the dismay and grumblings of local wineaux), Kent was retained as winemaker for five years, however he reportedly had to sign a three-year non-compete clause. Hence the JC/Dashe warehouse serving as the temporary home of for the RockWall grapes. I've heard Rockwall will be located on the old Alameda Naval Air Station base, close to Hangar One -- and not far from Rosenblum itself. Now, will we do the vodka/brandy/absinthe tasting before or after hitting the tasting rooms?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Rosé 'n Techno

I know I've been neglecting the techno aspect of this blog, so since I'm inspired to actually post twice in one day(!), I thought I'd share the first of what will be a series of techno-and-wine pairings.

We've been experiencing a lovely Indian Summer in the Bay Area lately, and as I was sitting outside reading the paper in the warm fall sun today I was listening to a fabulous mellow techno set from Reference, which you can find (and download) here.

If it hadn't have been the middle of the day with more work to do, I would have been sippin' on a lovely, fruit-laden rosé, like one of JC Cellars' 100% Syrah offerings (on sale for $7 -- yes $7! -- and perfect for Thanksgiving dinner) or Incognito's Pink; both of which Brian and I enjoyed this weekend given the record-breaking warm weather. Sun, easy-to-enjoy wine, and well-programmed, rich beats -- what more is there to ask for!

Faux Winemaker - Exercise in Blending Franciscan Wines

Sadly, my wine class through UC Berkeley extension came to an end last Thursday with the final class covering blind tasting and blending. I've surprised myself and gotten fairly decent at the former, with the instructor not even letting me guess half the time so as to not steal the thunder for the other 10 folks! Hmmmm.... But I hadn't ever tried to blend my own wine, so I was also pleasantly surprised when I ended up liking my Bordeaux blend better than Franciscan's blend, which the winer calls Magnificat.

Franciscan, who conducts blending seminars at the winery and for events, gave my instructor single bottlings of the five Bordeaux grapes as well as a couple bottles of their own Magnificat (73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 2% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc). The winery also gave him plenty of schwag, however they forgot to include the description of Magnificat, so we didn't know the particulars of their blend. However, after having it, I don't think I would have tried to copy it anyway!

Some of Franciscan's single bottlings didn't seem very true to varietal with the Merlot particularly striking me as aggressively tannic instead of the grape's usual smooth and silky nature, while the Cab Franc didn't emit those tell-tale green pepper notes but rather lots of rich clove. My blend was roughly 30% Cabernet Sauvignon (which I used for its unexpected smoothness), 22% Cabernet Franc (loved its spicey & earthy characteristics), 22% Petite Verdot (for its floral and fruit notes), 17% Merlot (added for structure due to its high acid and tannins); and 9% Malbec (for its violet perfume and silky mouthfeel).

I wish we would have had enough wine to make a bottle to take home -- or at least enough for a dozen or so tastes to share with the class, as I was quite happy with my conconction!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

There's gold in those hills -- Wines of the Sierra Foothills

My favorite region to wine taste in of late is the Sierra Foothills. I'm continually impressed with the diverse wines that come out of Amador, El Dorado & Calaveras counties. In Amador County my favorites are Cooper, with its fabulous spicy Sangiovese, fruity Barbera & smooth Merlot and Sobon for its jammy ReZerve Zin. In El Dorado County Boeger is so popular it is often overrun with visitors, but I'm won over by their sense of humor (see the sign on the lawn above) and their peppery Walker Zin and Migliore reserve Italian blend. Luckily they have reserve tasting in a quaint little cellar (check out the heart lock on the door in the pic below) so you can get away from the crowds! Also in the El-Do is David Girard, a recent find that surprised me with its Grenache, made in a lighter style than I'm used to, but lovely with clove and strawberries on the nose and a silky mouthfeel.

I haven't made it to Calaveras County tasting yet -- in fact, I only recently discovered some of the fabulous wines the hardworking folks are making up there. Twisted Oak in Murphys has stolen my heart with its Spanish varietals -- the Torcido Grenache is an amazingly rich blend of mainly Grenache with a bit of Petite Sirah (interesting combo I rarely see) that is loaded with red fruit & baking spices; The Spaniard flagship wine is a delicious blend of Tempranillo, Grenache & Graciano (one of my fave grapes and a varietal rarely produced in CA, although Bokisch has one as well); and of course there's the season-appropriate River of Skulls Mourvedre -- who can resist a winery that prints a spoooooky red skull directly on the bottle?

Aside from Twisted Oak, which is led by the irrepressible Jeff Stai (known as "El Jefe" to the Twisted followers) and his army of rubber chickens, Hatcher (also in Murphys) makes a commendable Mourvedre and a dynamite Viognier. I paired their Viognier, with its orange blossom-and-honeysuckle floral, stone fruit, and honey-laden notes with tacos of shrimp, whole pinto beans, and homegrown grape tomatoes topped with avocado, cilantro, sour cream & a trace of hot sauce. Can you say "yum?" Brian couldn't get enough of it, declaring it "the best meal you've made to date" -- he's saying that a lot lately and I don't get tired of hearing it!

Tonight we're making caprese salad (yes, still holding on to summer despite the torrential rains this weekend) with basil and tomatoes from our waning garden and creamy pesto ravioli. To drink we're stepping away from the hills and across the pond to Italy for either the Querciabella (a biodynamic winery in Tuscany) Chianti or Mongrana, a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that London Daily Telegraph wine writer Jonathan Ray called " of the best Italian wines I’ve had in ages."

Mangia e salute!