|Old Sac/West Sac, yesterday meeting the future|
Most of the attendees were restaurateurs and wine merchants from the greater Sacramento area. If I were in their shoes, I know which wines I'd be ordering to enhance wine list and store shelf as the holiday season draws near:
- Just about anything from Frog's Leap Winery of Napa Valley. Its reputation for wines of clarity and finesse was reaffirmed by its snappy 2010 Rutherford sauvignon blanc ($18), its wiry yet vibrant 2008 Rutherford merlot ($34), and its remarkably complex yet approachable 2008 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon ($42). Owner/winemaker John Williams has been recognized for decades for crafting wines of understated elegance, their alcohols restrained yet their voice profound. The merlot, for example, contains just 12.9 percent alcohol, yet it's difficult to imagine an interpretation of the varietal with more fresh and lasting juiciness.
- Under the brand Pey Marin, Jonathan Pey has been showing for years that California can yield a riesling of abiding European flavor and structure, but until today I wasn't aware of another label under his command, Textbook. With Textbook, he aims to provide consumers with wines of Napa Valley quality and stature, but at prices more likely to be associated with Sonoma, Mendocino or Lake. He does it by buying fruit from growers he regards highly, locking up longterm contracts, and crushing the fruit in borrowed quarters. In other words, his overhead is low. Thus, he can turn out a 2009 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon chock full of cherries and mocha, yet with pliable tannins and refreshing acidity, and at just $24 or so the bottle. He calls it a "Tuesday night" cabernet, but it has such imperial breeding (Rutherford, Atlas Peak, Yountville) that no one will turn it away from the Saturday table. Pey also makes a wonderfully intense and long pinot noir under a third label, The Forager; his 2010 Sonoma Coast pinot noir under that label sells for only around $25, even though it is packed with the sort of concentrated fruit expected of the varietal at about twice that price.
- Late last week, I visited Preston of Dry Creek in northern Sonoma County, but in the tasting room I somehow passed up the 2009 L. Preston. I was able to correct that oversight at the Astoria tasting. The L. Preston ($38) is a blend of grape varieties traditionally associated with France's Rhone Valley, such as syrah, cinsault, carignane and grenache. This wine is a holiday party all in its own; it has brightness, glamour, drama and complexity. Imagine the most mysterious yet alluring guest you can meet at a crowded soiree; by way of introduction, all you have to say is, "L. Preston, I presume."
- Everybody seemed to congregate at the end of the table where Ridge Vineyards was pouring its Monte Bello, which year after year is perhaps California's most eagerly anticipated and highly acclaimed cabernet-based wine. The 2007 that was being poured lived up to expectation with such monumental yet balanced proportions that it should be put in the cellar for the next decade to experience just how grand it ultimately will be. But Ridge also is recognized for its zinfandels, which provide a lesson in just how varied California's terroir is. The 2008 Geyserville ($35) is a study in ripeness and suppleness, while the 2007 Pagani Ranch ($35) is all brutal sunshine and abiding earth. But the Ridge zinfandel I'd put first on wine list or shelf is the 2009 Ponzo ($28) from Sonoma County's Russian River Valley, where the dicey conditions of the vintage yielded a take on the varietal that slaps you in the face with its prickly raspberry fruit, but doesn't sting you so much that you don't ask for another taste, and another after that; here's a zinfandel to appreciate today for all the freshness and spiciness the varietal can delivier, but it also has the acidity and equilibrium to age well for the next five years, if you can hold on to any of it for that long.
- Boeger Winery in El Dorado County has built its following on a quality-to-value ratio that must be the envy of the trade. In short, you almost always get more than what you thought you were paying for when you picked up a bottle with Boeger on the label. That was reaffirmed at the tasting with both its 2009 barbera ($16), characterized by no less fruit but brighter acidity than earlier vintages, and the 2008 tempranillo ($12), which with its light earthiness and essence of tobacco made it the perfect companion for a plate of tapas heavy on the rich smoky meats.
Let the partying and the gift giving begin.