Browse Tag

paso robles

TN: Sam, I am (California, pt. 10)

[Yosemite Falls](The original version, with more photos – and since it’s Yosemite, they’re quite worthwhile – is here.)

27 April 2006 – San Francisco, California

Taylor’s Automatic Refresher – Loaded up with overpriced but high-quality groceries from the Ferry Building Marketplace, we’re completely ready for our trip to Yosemite. Well, that’s not quite true…we’ve got food for later, but we could use some food for now. And so, it’s one more trip to this upmarket burger joint for a perfect bacon cheeseburger, sinful garlic fries, and a decidedly average “black and white” shake.

27 April 2006 – Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park – Anyone with the slightest bit of awareness has seen innumerable pictures of this place, and yet they still don’t replicate the jaw-dropping experience of one’s first glimpse of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Half Dome, and the various waterfalls that surround the valley. “Breathtaking” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Photos come closer, but even then….

Yosemite West – We’ve rented a self-catering apartment, in a little cluster of houses between the valley and Wawona, and technically outside the park itself (though the only way out, other than on foot, is through the park). It’s dark and in need of updating, but it’s clean, quiet, and comfortable…if a little bit harder to find than it should be. Theresa whips up a dinner of sturgeon with thyme and Meyer lemon, red leaf greens with crumbled Point Reyes blue cheese, and burrata for dessert.

Edmunds St. John 2003 Viognier Rozet (Paso Robles) – Sweaty and full-bodied, showing sultry decayed flower petals and dark stone fruit; the sun beats down on this wine, but it’s a dark, eclipsed sun. It’s rich and a bit heavy, but quite tasty nonetheless.

Dönnhoff 1999 Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Auslese 19 99 (Nahe) – From 375 ml. Long crystalline quartz, pulsing with energy and intensity. There’s candied tangerine rind, needle-sharp acidity, and massive yet well-integrated sweetness, but what’s most unbelievable about this wine is the length. Stunning, awe-inspiring wine.

TN: Back at last

[Muga]Muga 2005 Rioja Rosado (Center-North) – Light, almost seductive pale orange and red fruit with dried earth tones and little hints of baking spice. Very, very pretty. (10/06)

Grape(s): 60% garnacha, 30% viura, 10% tempranillo. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Ordoñez. Web:

Roussel & Barrouillet “Clos Roche Blanche” 2004 Touraine “Cuvée Gamay” (Loire) – A little funky and grating when first opened, though this eventually steps back in favor of rose hip, cranberry and zingy acidity. There’s a stale chalk note that battles a bit with the otherwise sweet-natured aromatics, but this should integrate with time. (10/06)

Grape(s): gamay. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: extruded synthetic. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.

[Marquis Philips]Marquis Philips 2005 “Holly’s Blend” (South Australia) – Sweet JuicyFruit™ cocktail mixer. Acid-deficient and incredibly obvious. (10/06)

Grape(s): verdelho. Alcohol: 14%. Closure: screwcap. Importer: Grateful Palate.

San Alejandro “Las Rocas” 2003 Garnacha (Calatayud) – Thick, dense strawberry jam and toasted creosote. It’s “coming together” in its own HGH-enhanced way, and is now almost drinkable. (10/06)

Grape(s): grenache. Importer: Solomon/European Cellars. Web:

Michel Tête “Domaine du Clos du Fief” 1999 Juliénas “Cuvée Prestige” (Beaujolais) – Spectacular. Darkness and light in the same package. Dusty berries and misty dried flower aromas are bound in a leathery, enveloping structure, firm yet gentle. The wine writhes and expands, filling the available space with beautiful sensation. Not yet fully mature, but it would be hard to argue against current consumption. (10/06)

Grape(s): gamay. Alcohol: 13%. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.

[Tablas Creek]Tablas Creek 2003 Rosé (Paso Robles) – Red cherry and strawberry with a mildly tinny note, and starting to fade under the onslaught of its alcohol, but still showing enough boisterous, summery fun to be pleasurable. After all, it was never really meant to age this long. (10/06)

Grape(s): 64% mourvèdre, 28% grenache, 8% counoise. Alcohol: 14.5%. Closure: cork. Web:

Ollivier “Domaine de la Pépière” 2005 Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France Marches de Bretagne “Cuvée Granit” (Loire) – Unlike previous vintages of this wine, which have been exotically exciting but rather angular, this one shows up with most of the corners already filled in. There’s strapping, herbal-earthy black fruit and a good deal of acid, and the wine’s incredibly easy to drink…as long as there’s food to go with it. (10/06)

Alcohol: 12%. Closure: cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.

[Harrington]Harrington 2003 Pinot Noir Birkmyer (Wild Horse Valley) – Big, juicy and a little goofy, yet there’s complexity and a New World-defined balance as well. Bright, somewhat overdriven red fruit is supported by sands and silts, with a white pepper texture and a fairly hefty palate impact. I don’t know that it will age, but that’s probably not the point. (10/06)

Grape(s): pinot noir. Alcohol: 14%. Closure: cork. Web:

[Corte Marzago]Aurelia “Corte Marzago” 2005 Bardolino Vigna La Morara (Veneto) – Grapey and very wine-like, with a fresh berry component dominating, and a thirst-enhancing vivacity enhanced by acid and the wine’s overall lightness. Which is not to say that the flavors are reticent – rather, they’re sharp and clear – only that the wine is not overwhelmed with alcohol or weight. Yummy stuff. (11/06)

Grape(s): corvina veronese, rondinella, molinara & sangiovese. Alcohol: 11.5%. Closure: molded synthetic. Importer: Violette. Web:

Château Saint Martin de la Garrigue 2002 Côteaux du Languedoc Bronzinelle (Languedoc) – Thoroughly of the soil, showing the wild southern French underbrush still clinging to rich, dark, sun-baked earth. A few dusky blackberries work their way into the mix, but mostly this wine is a primal expression of the land. And it’s really good, too. (11/06)

Grape(s): syrah, grenache, mourvèdre & carignan. Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Lynch.

TN: Sardinia & the bottom

[Kuentz-Bas]Kuentz-Bas 2004 Alsace (Alsace) – Spice and pear skin, with a slightly disjointed mix of thick, molten-mineral texture and crisp, watery thinness. Not as good as a previous bottle. (8/06)

This underperformance vs. a previous note could be due to bottle variation (which, truth be told, is usually cork variation), but it’s more likely to be due to food variation. The previous bottle was paired with uniform, compatible food, while this one was opened as an apéritif and then forced to accommodate some unusual and variable foods. Remember that every tasting note is a snapshot of a time, place and environment, not an objective and immutable measure of quality. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Lynch. Web:

JP Brun “Terres Dorées” 2004 Beaujolais Blanc (Beaujolais) – Chardonnay in deep, rich tones, full of earth and brooding twilight duskiness. Balanced and very, very enticing. (8/06)

There’s so much indifferent chardonnay in the Mâcon (another appellation that chardonnay grown in Beaujolais is entitled to, and the one it usually adopts) that it’s almost remarkable what’s achieved here. Careful vineyard work is the principal reason. Alcohol: 12%. Closure: extruded synthetic. Importer: Louis/Dressner/LDM.

[Cluver]Cluver 2005 Gewurztraminer (Elgin) – Some of the right varietal notes – peach, rose petal, some vague nods in the direction of spice – but half the orchestra’s missing, as this is thin and watery, with masking sugar and a completely void finish. (8/06)

Perhaps it’s gewurztraminer’s occasionally scary alcohol levels that wreak fear among winemakers, but the grape is one that requires a certain measure of courage. The wild, musky, powerful aromatics that are its signature must be given time to develop, and that requires hang time. And when the grape does not reach these benchmark characteristics, the temptation to mask faults with residual sugar must, at least in part, be resisted. Sweet bad wine is not inherently better than the dry version, no matter how much counter-evidence of popularity the U.S. beverage industry presents to the contrary. Alcohol: 12.5%. Closure: screwcap. Importer: Vinnovative. Web:

[Tablas Creek]Tablas Creek 2002 “Côtes de Tablas” Blanc (Paso Robles) – Grapes grown in the desert, with beautiful mixed nut oils, dry (and dried) stone fruit and an evocative brick-red desert palette of spices. Beautifully long and balanced. Delicious wine. (8/06)

36% Viognier, 30% marsanne, 26% grenache blanc, 8% roussanne. I’m not often one who is impressed by tales of long post-opening maintenance (e.g. “this bottle was even better four days later,”) because oxidation is not the same as aging, and it says nothing about the wine other than how resistant to oxidation it is. However, for those who find comfort in such assessments, this was just as good two days later, recorked and unrefrigerated. Alcohol: 14.2%. Closure: cork. Web:

Margan 2006 Shiraz Rosé “Saignée” (Hunter Valley) – Watermelon Jolly Ranchers. Sticky, synthetic and absolutely vile. (8/06)

“Saignée” means that the vats were “bled”…juice from red grapes was removed from its skins, leaving it not with the deep red it will acquire from long soaking with the pigmented skins, but rather with (in this case; grapes and wines differ) a lurid pink. Alcohol: 14%. Closure: screwcap. Importer: Southern Starz. Web:

[Sella & Mosca]Sella & Mosca 2002 Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva (Sardinia) – Pure island fun, showing walnuts, roasted pecans, bright strawberry bubblegum fruit (though not in a candied way), judicious oak spice, and a nice, crisp acidity supporting everything. (8/06)

This is grenache, showing a lot of the grape’s varietal characteristics (strawberry bubblegum), with some interesting Sardinian elements (the particular balance of the wine) and a little modernistic winemaking (oak, which is rarely my favorite companion to grenache, but which seems to do well here). Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Palm Bay. Web:

[Cabasse]Domaine de Cabasse 1998 Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages Séguret “Cuvée Garnacho” (Rhône) – Not quite dead, but knocking on the door. That was a very fast decline for this wine, and I wonder if there might not have been some sort of cork failure. In any case, this is all tannin and oxidized fruit on the nose. It’s heavy and still thick, and the palate has some slightly more pleasant grenache characteristics, but overall there’s just no pleasure here. (8/06)

Most (though not all) Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages wines are grenache-dominated blends, but occasionally wineries do all-grenache blends, and label them so. It would be logical to assume that the “Cuvée Garnacho” (a local dialect word for the grape) is one such wine, but it’s not; it’s simply a differentiator between this wine and the less traditional grenache/syrah blend from the same appellation, “Casa Bassa.” Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: World Shippers. Web:

TN: Bugey Bay

Bottex Bugey-Cerdon “La Cueille” (Ain) – The usual slightly off-dry raspberry froth, with a slightly bitter and hollow edge that’s definitely not usual for this wine. (8/06)

Gamay and poulsard, allowed (rather than induced) to sparkle. Alcohol: 8%. Closure: cork. Importer: Lynch.

Westport Rivers 1999 Brut “Cuvée RJR” (Southeastern New England) – Tastes strongly of tonic water and mineral salts, with grapefruit and some aged, yeasty creaminess lurking in the background. This has always been a bit odd and slightly disjointed, and age doesn’t seem to be helping. Look for other vintages. (8/06)

Don’t let my tepid reaction to this wine turn you off Westport River’s sparklers in general, which are usually quite good…and incredibly good considering their Massachusetts origin. It’s definitely cool-climate viticulture, but that’s a boon for sparkling wine production. As for other vintages: if you run across any ’98, snap it up. It’s drinking beautifully right now. Closure: cork. Web:

JJ Prüm 1999 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett 3 02 (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) – Soft and fully creamed, perhaps overly so, with spicy dust starting to fade away on a dry Sahara wind. (8/06)

This isn’t overly old for a kabinett, so a less-satisfying performance is a little surprising. It’s probably an artifact of the vintage, but it could also be something in the wine’s storage history (it was recently purchased, rather than bought at release and cellared). Still, it does point out why even ageable kabinett usually gets consumed in the first flush of youth: the rewards of aging are not always as clear as they are for spätlese and riper styles. Alcohol: 8.5%. Closure: cork. Importer: Classic. Web:

[Tablas Creek]Tablas Creek 2002 “Côtes de Tablas” Blanc (Paso Robles) – Mixed nut oils and dried apricots with a roasted earth and mushroom character. The wine doesn’t initially seem all that assertive, but there’s a surprising amount of power and concentration, which must eventually express itself as force. This is a very complete and impressive wine. (8/06)

36% Viognier, 30% marsanne, 26% grenache blanc, 8% roussanne. I’ve noted before how I find this winery’s Rhône-style whites an even more impressive achievement than their reds, and this is another reason why. Rhône whites are notoriously cranky agers, and yet bottle after bottle of this wine shows clear development and increased complexity. Alcohol: 14.2%. Closure: cork. Web:

[Tempier]Peyraud “Domaine Tempier” 2003 Bandol Rosé (Provence) – Orange blossoms and lavender. Serious and structured for a rosé, but in a very light-bodied way. In other words, just about everything one wants from a rosé. Yet the finish is nearly absent, which is probably an artifact of the vintage. (8/06)

This is a very expensive rosé (around $30 at one local store, though I bought it for much less), and one expects a lot at that price. In many years, Tempier delivers. This, at least, is a healthy attempt. Alcohol: 11-14%. Closure: cork. Importer: Lynch. Web:

[Van Duzer]Van Duzer 1998 Pinot Noir “Barrel Select” (Willamette Valley) – Brown earth, loam, wet autumn leaves and dried cherries. Just a little tiny bit past it, with the tannin biting the remaining aromatics into rough chunks, chewing them up, and spitting them out in an increasingly angry way. Drink up soon. (8/06)

Van Duzer has taken a turn for the commercial and increasingly dismal, but this is a reminder of a time when they made better wine. Even then, the last time I tasted this wine (maybe 2004 or so), it was drinking beautifully. Well, that was a quick demise… Alcohol: 13.5%. Closure: cork. Web:

[Pegasus Bay]Donaldson Family “Pegasus Bay” 2000 Pinot Noir (Waipara) – Massive black fig, dark plum, orange rind and intense, ripe red beet. It seems like it should be packed with structure, but it’s really not. A bit of a hammer blow pinot, yet one with amazing complexity and persistence. Still, it is big. (8/06)

Outstanding pinot in the forceful modern style. In fact, it does veer into syrah territory, and many will dislike it for that reason – I myself would be disheartened if most pinot tasted like this – but as an occasional alternative, its qualities are impossible to deny. Alcohol: 13.9%. Closure: cork. Importer: Empson. Web:

TN: Gardens & grigios (San Francisco, pt. 2)

[Lichee Garden]23 April 2006 – San Francisco & Berkeley, California

Lichee Garden (1416 Powell) – A person could spend years touring the dim sum options in San Francisco (not to mention elsewhere in the Bay Area). It’s not generally thought that the best are in or near Chinatown, but for various logistical reasons we need to find one in that area, and thus after some research we find ourselves meeting out-of-town friends here. It’s quite good, with vivid flavors in the best dishes and inexplicably absent flavors in the worst (fish- and starch-based items seem to be the best, meat the most inconsistent), and seems to be primarily populated by locals. And, of course, it’s stupidly cheap…$12.50 per person, 17 “courses” later.

Wine tasting in Berkeley – Steve Edmunds is having a little inventory blowout, and with a few other wineries hawking their wares and my wife busy at a conference, it seems silly to not go. The room is small and dark, but there’s light (and food) in a sort of courtyard, and the operation – which involves both tasting and selling – is relatively efficient. What I really notice, however, is that despite our being in a relatively unassuming location, far from anything else commercial, there’s a steady inflow of consumers – even passersby – on an otherwise restful Sunday. Only in California…

Edmunds St. John 2002 Pinot Grigio Witters (El Dorado County) – Juicy pear skins and dried leaves. Just barely rises to the level of “eh.”

Edmunds St. John 2003 Pinot Grigio Witters (El Dorado County) – An improvement, especially as the flavors drift over to the red side of things (for dark-skinned pinot gris, I think this is a highly positive quality), showing strawberry and rhubarb. It’s fuller-bodied than the ’02, but it also has an odd, out-of-place feel to it.

I admit that I’ve never been much of a fan of Steve’s pinot grigios (I’ve decided that my long-time affection for the Alsatian expression of this grape must have something to do with it), and these wines do nothing to change my mind. He claims his 2004 is better, but I’ve tasted it and can’t share his enthusiasm. Well, tastes differ…

Edmunds St. John 2001 “Los Robles Viejos” (White) Rozet (Paso Robles) – Fat and fruity, like thick peach soda. There’s also pear, grapefruit rind, and a long, sticky finish. This is just a bit on the goopy side at the moment, and I think it was better a few years ago.

Edmunds St. John 2002 “blonk!” (Paso Robles) – Balanced and pretty, with richly-spiced nuts (mostly cashews) and a lovely finish. This is one of the wines I take home with me…

[hanging birds]Edmunds St. John 2003 “Los Robles Viejos” (White) Rozet (Paso Robles) – …and if I didn’t already own a whole bunch of this, here would be another. Peach flowers in a thick brew, with a slight bitterness that adds to the complexity and helps prevent it from being as sticky as its older brethren. The finish is long and broad, and there’s clear potential for development.

Edmunds St. John 2003 Viognier (Paso Robles) – Everything you want in a viognier: flowers, apricots, peaches, and a silky texture. Heavier vs. most quality Condrieu, but then that’s to be expected from Paso. This, too, hits the shopping cart.

Edmunds St. John 1999 Sangiovese Matagrano (El Dorado County) – I’ve always felt about this wine the way I feel about ESJ’s pinot grigio: indifferent at best. But today, I’m forced to drink my words. Spicy, black pepper-encrusted strawberry and bitter walnut skin with some tannin and biting (but not overdone) acid. In other words, the ultra-rare California sangiovese that tastes like a sangiovese. It’s still a little on the extreme side, but this has finally come around, and I can’t resist a few bottles.

Edmunds St. John 2001 Zinfandel Peay (Sonoma Coast) – 15.2% alcohol, though there’s reason to believe it’s a bit higher than that. In any case, it doesn’t really taste more than a little bit hot. What we’ve got here is actually zin done in an older, almost bygone style, with concentrated wild berries, tannin and acid to spare, and a peppery finish. The heat expresses itself with a little herbality, a bit like juniper (or, I guess, gin). Steve hears our discussion, notes that this bottle was opened yesterday, and uncorks another.

Edmunds St. John 2001 Zinfandel Peay (Sonoma Coast) – Bigger, juicier and fruitier than the aerated version, with spicy berries dominating and the structure retreating a bit in the face of the “zinberry” assault. Yet another wine to purchase.

(For updated and more detailed takes on a few of these wines, take a look here.)

TN: Three from ESJ

[ESJ]Edmunds St. John 2003 Viognier Rozet (Paso Robles) – This has taken on deeper, earthier, more coppered (or perhaps bronzed) characteristics with a little extra age; almost, but not quite, a sort of fetid fruit “funk” to go with the well-oiled flowerbed that is viognier. I think it’s drinking marvelously well, but it’s probably a little bit controversial at this stage, and the timid might want to approach gingerly. (Speaking of which: there’s just a hint of ginger in there. Coincidence?) (6/06)

I’m occasionally asked, “what do you think is the most overrated grape out there?” (Actually, people usually say “overrated varietal,” but we’ll forgive them the grammatical error for the time being.) A semi-professional cynic, I’m frequently moved to be snarky and answer “chardonnay” (or “merlot”, or perhaps “cabernet sauvignon”). A bit of actual thought sometimes leads to sangiovese, based on the devolving mess that is Tuscany. But truth be told, I think the answer has to be viognier. In its “qualitative home” of Condrieu, a relatively small number of wineries made decidedly overpriced wine that is almost inevitably both too alcoholic and lacking in acidity. Elsewhere, things get even heavier and less interesting, and the ugly specter of new wood too often raises its vanilla-infused head (in Condrieu too, these days). It would be easy to completely dismiss the grape, except that when it is good, it’s so deliciously individualistic – fragrant, summery, silky and seductive – that hope is, at least in part, restored. In the U.S., however, I have to say that pretty much all of it sucks. A producer here, a producer there…really no different than in Condrieu, to be honest…but most of it is just not worth drinking, unless motor oil blanc is your thing. Based on recent efforts, however, I think Steve Edmunds is getting a handle on this grape, which he more typically uses in Rhône-style blends. The results, from a winery who most definitely does not overprice its wines, should be interesting if they continue. Alcohol: 13.9%. Closure: cork. Web:

[ESJ]Edmunds St. John 2001 Zinfandel Peay (Sonoma Coast) – Aggressive, with delicious blueberry and olallieberry marmalade fruit zested by crisp acidity and that very slightly spirituous midtone that is so often present in high-octane zin. But there’s chunky, graphite-infused earth as well, and a nice, balanced finish that shows less heat than the initial palate impression promises. A very good wine, made in a more classic style, and rounding into some tertiary characteristics that really improve it. (6/06)

The story of the making of this wine is rather entertaining, and illustrates some of the problems that non-industrial winemakers (those who don’t work via recipe) face on a yearly basis. I have no idea if the 9% syrah (added not for its syrah character, but to re-energize the fermentation) or the two years it took to finish said fermentation made this wine into something it might not otherwise have been…though it seems likely…but the end result is so definitively zinnish that it hardly matters. I’ve often read that many historic zins were actually field blends of semi-mysterious composition, so maybe as a mutt rather than a purebred this represents something more authentically, historically Californian than all the carefully-managed single-site zinfandels of today. And then again, maybe I’m overanalyzing this, and should just shut up and drink the wine. Alcohol: 15.2%. Closure: cork. Web:

[ESJ]Edmunds St. John 2001 Syrah (California) – Leathery, smoky and a little sweaty, with old blueberry and decidedly carnivorous characteristics thickly coated by layers of tannin and dried fruit residue. The finish is a little brighter – raspberries, mostly – but then heavies up again…and lingers, and lingers, and lingers. For the sub-$20 price, this has always been, is, and probably will be for some time a spectacular value, showing more character than scores of California syrahs at three times the price. (6/06)

A multi-site blend, usually from lots and sub-lots that don’t make the single-site bottlings, but while it doesn’t speak of place that much (it seems a little confused if it’s from California or the sun-drenched hills of southern France), it most certainly speaks of a recognizably Old World expression of varietal character, but with the elevated fruit of a New World wine. Alcohol: 14.1%. Closure: cork. Web:

Hot pink

Tablas Creek 2003 Rosé (Paso Robles) – Neon lavender squeezings, concentrated strawberry preserve, wood spice, and tongue-numbing alcohol.

As much amazing flavor as they’ve packed into this wine, 14.8% is just way too much alcohol for a rosé. I don’t know if they’d consider it (probably not), but a spinning cone might indeed be the answer. Nonetheless, I’m sure this is a hit among the bigger = better herds. 64% mourvèdre, 28% grenache, 8% counoise. Alcohol: 14.8%. Web:

White roussanne (hold the vodka)

Tablas Creek 2002 Roussanne (Paso Robles) – Varietally restrained and hiding under its (fairly moderate) oak aromatics at the moment, with a weighty, thick texture (though there’s pleasant enough acidity) and a long, heavy finish that shows faint hints of crystallization. This wine has a better future than a present.

Of the well-known trio of white Rhône Valley grapes (I say “well-known” because others – grenache blanc, bourboulenc, etc. tend to get lost in the shuffle), roussanne is by far the least appreciated. It lacks the honeyed floral charm of viognier and the boisterous fruit of marsanne, instead showing an austere, fabric-like texture that’s rather forbidding. It does age, but even then it’s not exactly an easygoing, beginners’ wine. Here, Tablas Creek (the California venture of Beaucastel’s Perrin family and their American importer, Robert Haas) separates some roussanne from their white blends for a varietal wine; a useful and educational comparison can currently be done with the 2004 version of this wine (from the same site) that’s vinified by Steve Edmunds at Edmunds St. John. The ESJ, unsurprisingly, is crisper and uninfluenced by oak, while the Tablas shows less skin bitterness and more generosity (a relative term, in this case). Both, however, show raw materials worth aging and further examination, and both show that while Tablas Creek is doing admirable work in the cellar, it is perhaps in the vineyard that they are making their greatest strides. (Alcohol: 14.3%. Web: