Despite this past weekend's gray, cold and damp weather, wines of spring prevailed in two vastly different venues.
Saturday, as rain swamped the Amador County Fair grounds in Plymouth, judges for the fair's commercial wine competition whittled away at the entries until they came to one final decision, the selection of Best of Show. Four wines were in the last round. Curiously, not one of the four was a zinfandel, the varietal most extensively planted in the Sierra foothills, from which entries were gathered. The only red in the quartet was the Dillian Wines 2009 Amador County Shenandoah Valley Barbera, which just moments before had been elected the competition's best red wine, fitting for a varietal that is challenging zinfandel's standing as the most celebrated red wine in the Mother Lode.
Sunday dawned drier, warmer and brighter, especially as the day progressed, in particular at Herbst Pavilion on the grounds of Fort Mason in San Francisco. This was the setting for the fourth annual tasting sponsored by the Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society (TAPAS), a trade group promoting the cultivation of grapes and the consumption of wines traditionally associated with the Iberian peninsula. In addition to tempranillo, a black grape celebrated most enthusiastically in Spain's Rioja, Penedes and Valdepenas regions, where it yields generous and lusty wines, varieties associated with the peninsula and with TAPAS include verdelho, albarino, graciano, torrontes, carignane and garnacha (also known as grenache).
I took two swings through the pavilion, one to concentrate on white wines, the other to focus on reds. I left feeling that the whites just might have more potential in the United States market than the reds, even though virtually every member of TAPAS - and some 40 were on hand - has at least one tempranillo in his or her portfolio. Granted, some fine tempranillos were on hand, but as a group they were heavily extracted and highly tannic, wines meant to be laid down rather than consumed young. Maybe after five years they might round out into something lush and approachable, but I have my qualms about that after tasting a couple of older releases that were on hand.
The whites, on the other hand, almost invariably were clean, refreshing and well balanced, splendid for accompanying lighter dishes during the warm and sunny days that finally may be arriving. When cooler weather returns, I'll return to tempranillo and other Iberian reds, but for right now here are my favorite whites from the San Francisco tasting:
- St. Amant Winery 2010 Amador County "Miss Independent" Verdelho: Lodi's Spencer family has been growing and making verdelho for about a decade, and that experience in the vineyard and in the cellar is well represented by a take on the varietal that is unusually substantial in body and feel. Despite that heft, the wine retains the varietal's signature liveliness, freshness and spice in generous proportions.
- Urbanite Cellars 2010 Lodi Caliberico White: Luis Moya, president of Urbanite Cellars in San Francisco, believes that if Californians are going to grow traditional Iberian grapes they should follow traditional Iberian cellar practices, and that means blending wines rather than releasing them as varietals. His Caliberico White is a blend of 47 percent verdelho, 35 percent albarino and 18 percent torrontes, producing a wine whose lilting melon and peach flavors are accented with telltale floral notes from the torrontes. Its acidity is crisp, its overall flavor and feel balanced and smooth.
- Forlorn Hope 2010 Lodi Alta Mesa "La Gitana" Torrontes: While in Argentina not long ago, I tasted a fair amount of torrontes, and this interpretation took me right back to the base of the Andes. In fact, though the family resemblance is there, Forlorn Hope's take on the varietal seemed to possess more backbone and sharper acidity while faithfully holding on to the grape's floral and spicy characteristics.
- Dancing Coyote Wines 2010 Clarksburg Verdelho: Looks like verdelho has as much potential in the Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta as it does in Amador County's Shenandoah Valley. The Dancing Coyote is another bright interpretation of this underappreciated varietal. The aroma is pronounced and inviting, promising tastes of peach and pear, which it delivers not only upfront but throughout a lingering finish.
- Odisea Wine Company 2010 Clements Hills "Dream" Albarino: Albarino can be as much about intrigue as refreshment, and this one speaks to both sides of its personality. It's dry and fruity, with a cleansing tanginess, but it also has a bit more color and a bit more depth than most albarinos of my experience. Its tropical fruit rests on a seam of alluring minerality, making it an unusually complex example of the varietal.
- Harney Lane Winery 2010 Lodi Albarino: Another fairly rich and layered albarino, packed with summer peaches and melons, and finishing with a zesty snap that makes it ideal for pairing with seafood, including oysters just off the grill, light on the sauce.