self-admitted wine geek, Tom lives in Northern New Mexico
and works as a computational physicist at Los Alamos National
Laboratory doing numerical neutron transport & large scale
code development. He has been tasting wines since 1971, participates
locally with a couple of large tasting groups in his area,
and is practically a fixture at most California wine festivals,
such as the Hospice du Rhône, Rhône Rangers, and
ZAP. Other interests: Tom is heavily into competitive sport
fencing (foil & epee), biking, cooking, basketball, skiing,
backpacking, mountain climbing.
Rhone Rangers - March 20, 2006
attended last Saturday's RhoneRangers tasting at FortMason.
The crowd seemed a bit smaller from the previous yrs. As
in yrs past, the event was very well run. My only wish is
that they'd double the number of stand-up tables on which
to take notes; there's plenty of room to do that. Lots of
friends and winemakers there, not so many marketing types,
which makes for a better event. Got to, finally, meet Mike
Drilling, who personally applied my wristband. I was honored
and flattered. Although we'd never met, he recognized me
from CyberSpace pictures. Not sure that that's really a
good thing, though; that I actually look like those pictures!!
Mostly, I ignored tasting many of my old...errrr...long-time
friends unless they had some new wines I'd not tasted. So
a lot of my favorites are not represented in the notes below.
I did manage to get thru some 70 wines in the 4 hrs I was
there. Not a very admirable pace, I must admit; I shoulda
trained as hard as I did on the fencing strip.As before,
I focused on trying new wineries I'm not familar with or
are new on the scene. There are always a few new discoveries.
This was no exception:
1. SilverPines Vnyds: www.SilverPinesVineyards.com This
was probably my biggest "new find".
Earlier in the week, I'd had the opportunity to taste a
few BennettVlly wines; an up-and-
coming area with which I'd not had a lot of experience heretofore.
This is the vlly located to the south-east of SantaRosa
and up in the mtns, adjacent to SonomaMtn. Quite a cool
growing area, apparently; Pinot country. Yet many of the
Syrahs I tried from there were very impressive (Novy, Carlisle,
Bevan). An area, definitely, to keep your eye on for Rhone
I had the chance to visit w/ owner Norm Silverman. Greg
LaFollette is making his wines. The BennettVlly Syrah '03
was very impressive; showing that cracked black pepper/spicycharacter
w/ loads of roasted/Syrah fruit that shows so well in cold-climate
growing conditions. Very impressive wine, a winery I plan
to follow from the very start.
2. Tallulah Wines: www.TallulahWines.com This was not really
a new discovery. Owner/winemaker
Ben Davis has posted a few times on WCWN w/ his URL after
his name. I took a look-see amonth ago, was attracted, ordered
3 of his wines, and tried them the night afore I left for
Reno. My group was very/very impressed with them. The '03
DelRio/OR Grenache we very much liked, the '03 DryCreek
Syrah was very good (for DryCreekVlly), and the '03 Sonoma
Coast Syrah was dynamite.
Ben was pouring his '04 MtVeeder/BaldMtn Syrah, '04 DelRio/OR
Grenache; both of which very/very good. But both the '04
SonomaCoast and '04 DelRio/OR Syrahs were dynamite; classic
cold-climate Syrahs w/ loads of peppery character. Killer
wines. Interestingly, Ben makes his wines at the Copain/Carlisle
facility in SantaRosa but, alas, was not there the Tues
afore when I visited Mike there. This is a winery also worth
following from the very start.
3. Sawtooth Wnry: www.SawToothWinery.com Also not really
a new discovery, as I had already
discovered them the yr before. But worth repeating this
yr. He was pouring the '03 Viognier
and the '02 Syrah. The Viognier was loaded w/ floral/aromatics
and the Syrah had lots oftoasty/ roasted/mocha character.
BFD (Kansas colloquialism), you say?? Well.... this wnry
is located in Idaho, of all places. Who'd thunk!! Moreover,
price at onlt $16; it's dishonest to be buying wines this
good at such a cheap price. Worth taking for a test drive.
And, so.... on to the rest of the show.
Listing is alphabetic, in no particular order:
4. A Donkey and Goat: www.ADonkeyAndGoat.com I must admit
that I was attracted to this wnry
because of my childhood connections (let's not go THERE!!)
w/ the Utter's goats next door, Billie and Nanny. The label
is rather...ummmmm...unusual. But the wines are not. They
were pouring '04 VidmarVnyd/YorkvilleHighlands/Mendocino
Syrah, '04 CarsonRidge/ElDorado Syrah,'04 VieillesVignes/
McDowellVllyVnyd Syrah and a GrenacheGris. All three Syrahs
were absolutely first rate and characteristic of their origins
(that terroir thingey). I'm impressed w/ the few Syrahs
I've had coming from the YorkvilleHighlands thus far (Copain,
Bink). This is another wnry to follow from the very start.
And the Syrahs coming out of ElDorado just seem to keep
getting better and better.
5. Bink Wines: www.BinkWines.com They were pouring their
Syrah. Lots of ripe blackberry/spicy character, slight toasty/peppery;
absolutely first rate. The two ladies behind Bink seem to
really know what they're doing from my conversation with
them and another wnry to follow from the very start.
6. BenjaminSilver Wines: www.SilverWine.com Ben was pouring
his '03 TrentottoFile(?)/WhiteHawk
Vnyd Syrah. Very classic ripe/blackberry Syrah w/ great
structure and very attractively priced
7. BunnellFamily Cllrs: www. RiverAerie.com Another wnry
w/ which I'd had no experience. They
poured the '04 Boushey-McPherson, CliftonHills, and HorseHeavenHills
Syrahs. All were pretty
impressive WashState Syrahs, lots of terroir character.
Reminded me a lot of the WalterDacon
Syrahs. All three very reasonably priced at $29.
8. CopainCllrs: www.CopainWine.com Wells' table was pretty
much mobbed the whole day, so it was a real effort to get
any of his wines (why can't people ever learn the etiquette
events...take your sample and retreat so others can get
a shot??? Rude to the max are most
people). The '04 JamesBerry Roussanne was aromatic/floral
and powerful, one of my best whites
all day. The '04 ThompsonVnyd Syrah was classic Thompson
dusty/peppery/spicy & intense; a
killer Thompson. Wells seems to be ranging further afield
to source grapes from some pretty
top-notch vnyds in recognition of what he's doing w/ Rhone
9. Crushpad: www.CrushPadWine.com Alas, I wanted to try
more of their wines, but never made it
back to them The BrokenLeg/AndersonVlly Viognier '05 was
one of the best Viogniers I tried;
powerfully aromatic but w/ good acidity and structure.
10. DavidGirard Vnyds: Another (sorta) new wnry for me.
I got to the FestivalPavillon about an
hr afore it opened, saw this very attractive lady sitting
on the bench outside, so sat down and
started chatting her up. Small world; we had a lot in common
other than the obvious stunning
good looks. Turns out she was Amanda Mansfield, daughter
of Ron Mansfield, who farms in the
ElDoradoFoothills Goldbug Farms, plus Wylie, Fenaughty,
and Witter vnyds from which Steve
Edmunds sources grapes. And she had recently met Ken Musso,
who grows Dolcetto & Nebbiolo up
there. I recounted how I'd met her father at lunch w/ SteveEdmunds
a few yrs afore. The '04 (?)
Roussanne/Viognier blend was attractive, low-key pear/fruity
w/ good acidity. The '03 Wylie-
Fenaughty Syrah was excellent w/ that dusty/mushroomy character
that ElDorado gives. Quite
attractive wines I thought.
11. EdmundsStJohn: Obviously, the chance to taste three
Wylie-Fenaughty Syrahs in one day was
irrestible. So tried Steve's '03 W-F Syrah and thought it
best of the three; classic dusty/earthy ElDorado Syrah w/
more blackberry Syrah. Also tried his '03 Bassetti Syrah.
A huge/brooding/ powerful/spicy/peppery Syrah which will
outlast Steve and maybe even me. And, of course, a wnry
I've followed from the very start.
12. Holly'sHillVnyd: www.HollyShill.com I've still not had
a chance to taste thru all their wines
yet, but made a valiant attempt this time. The '04 TranquilleBlanc
was a very pretty, earthy/
aromatic/floral white and very reasonable at $14. Both the
'04 Grenache and Mourvedre were
very attractive. The '03 Wylie-Fenaughty Syrah was quite
good, dusty/spicy/blackberry and
very well-priced at $19.
13. HugCellars: www.HugCellars.com I was most interested
in trying Augie's new '04 Central Coast
and Bassetti Syrahs. I liked both of them; quite a lot.
The Bassetti was big/powerful and very spicy/peppery cold-climate
Syrah. Augie's wines seem to continue climbing thru the
ceiling in quality, whilst his bowling skills fall off the
deep end. Such a shame to see a once-great athlete in their
14. KathyrnKennedyWnry: www.KatherineKennedyWinery.com Tried
the '03 SantaCruzMtn Syrah and the'02 MaridonVnyd/SantaCruzMtns
Syrah. The first Maridon was a killer Syrah and the first
of what I was convinced great SCM Syrahs. Alas, they seemed
to have gone downhill. Both of these wines were profoundly
unclean/bretty/funky and grossly overpriced at $36 and $85.
15. McCreaCllrs: www.McCreaCellars.com Tried both the '04
Ceil du Cheval Roussanne and Viognier.
As usual, liked them quite a bit w/ that earthiness/mineral
character WashState whites usually
show. Alas, didn't make it back around to try the reds.
A favorite wnry of mine.
16. Montemaggiore: www.Montemaggiore.com Another new wnry
to me. Grapes are organically grown and soon to be BioDynamic
certified. Alas, didn't get a chance to visit w/ him 1-on-1
BioDynamics, though he seemed not to be on the lunatic fringe
on outward appearances. Tried the
'03 Paola'sVnyd DryCreekVlly Syrah and found it quite spicy/peppery/raspberry/blackberry;
it quite a lot in fact.
17. PeayVnyds: www.PeayVineyards.com Another table that
was attracting quite a lot of attention. Since I'd done
a visit to Nick Peay on Wed, I was already sold on the wines
and didn't get in the way. Tried the '04 Viognierr and really
liked it a lot; very spicy/pear/floral and very
minerally. Also tried two different barrel samples of the
'04 Syrah. Vety spicy/aromatic w/ loads of mineral/roasted/cracked
black pepper character. Stunning wines they are. But, boy,
that vnyd is located out in the middle of nowhere!!
18. RocinanteWines: www.RocinanteWines.com I think it was
Nick Peay who suggested I check out
their wines (John&Susan Vowell) from DryCreekVlly. Tried
the '04 PalindromeVnyd/DCV Syrah and
liked it quite a bit. In the JCCllrs mould; big/dense/powerful
perfumed/blackberry/Syrah. One of the better DCV Syrahs
19. SierraVistaWnry: www.SierraVistaWinery.com Another wnry
I've followed from the very start
with the '85 Syrah (a spectacular wine when I had my last
btl a few months ago). The '04
Roussanne was a beautiful/floral/honeysuckle/pear aromatic
slightly earthy white. The RedRock
Ridge Syrah '04 was intense blackberry/boysenberry/Syrah
w/ a slight earthy/terroir character. I baited John a bit;
noting that I thought his wines have taken an order of magnitude
leap in quality since Michelle and Vince have taken more
responsibility for winemaking; but he just smiled sweetly
and refused the proffered bait. A wnry whose wines keep
getting better and better, yet reasonably priced.
20. SteeleWines: www.SteeleWines.com I've been pretty underwhelmed
w/ Jed's wines ever since he departed from Edmeades. I tried
his '02 LakeCnty Stymie Syrah. Surprise/surprise. It was
a pretty terrific Syrah w/ loads of blackberry fruit and
good tannins/structure. One of the best
LakeCnty Syrahs I've had the occasion to try. There's hope
yet for LakeCnty.
21. TablasCreekVnyd: www.TablasCreek.com Jason Haas was
there pouring his new wines and I
couldn't resist, even though they're old friends. The '04
Roussanne and GrenacheBlanc were highly perfumed whites
w/ the mineral/chalky character they seem to get in their
wines. Very lovely whites. Alas, didn't make it back to
try the reds. TablasCreek has been hitting on all cylinders
for the last few yrs.
22. TinBarnVnyds: www.TinBarnVineyards.com I had one of
their Syrahs a few yrs ago and was pretty impressed (especially
at the mis-marked price of $21 at BottleBarn). Tried the
FieldsVnyd SonomaCoast Syrah and liked it quite a lot; loads
of very spicy/blackberry/peppery
slight olive Syrah character. Reasonably priced at $32.
you have it. Had I not been such a slaggard, I'd have had
a better performance. But,
be assured, it has nothing to do w/ old age...just didn't
train hard enough. There were a few I
wanted to try but ran outta time: Atelier, BrassfieldEstate,
BurchHall, Calcereous, Ca'Na/Tamayo,
ClosSaron, CraneBrothers, Io (Io..it's off to work we go),
JCCellars, JusSoli, Kuleto, Longboard,
MartinFamily, MartinRanch, Palmeri, SanSakana, Topel, Travieso,
TwistedOak. Oy...so many wines,
so little time.
The RhoneRangers event is one I would highly recommend.
It is not nearly the zoo that the ZAP
tasting is. Plenty of room to taste in a relaxed manner.
I'll definitely be back again next year.
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