More Adventuresome Wines
Not many California wine aficionados will know the location of the San
Antonio Valley. Probably some will think it's in Texas, but that's
wrong by close to 1600 miles.
In fact, if you want to visit the top producer in the San Antonio Valley,
you'd head in the direction of King City and and meander south another 24
miles to the town of Lockwood. ((This is a few miles west of San Ardo.))
The Pierce family has about 30 acres of vineyards amongst three sites near
Lake San Antonio at about a thousand feet above sea level. They're
maybe 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean and on lime and chalk
- We've found this estate to have some interesting wines made of Iberian
- Their 2014 Albari˝o really hits that nail on the head. The aromas
offer notes of lime and apple, with a hint of a spicy tone. It's crisp
and dry, too. No oak, so you won't mistake this for a California
Chardonnay. You might, however, mistake it for an Iberian version of
this lovely grape...
- Best with seafood or as a cocktail/aperitif wine.
- Currently in stock: 2014 PIERCE San Antonio Valley ALBARIĐO
- Sure, Heitz
is world famous for its phenomenal single-vineyard Napa Cabernets costing
$50-$120 a bottle. But they still make their delightfully exotic,
enchanting Napa Valley red wine called Grignolino.
In Italy's Piemonte the Grignolino grape has fallen out of favor in the
Langhe region. Many producers used to make wine from that grape, but
they make a lot more money producing darker colored wines from Dolcetto and
Barbera, so those are more prominent these days.
Grignolino still is easily found close to Asti, especially in the Monferrato
The wine is typically light in color, fairly acidic and tart, so it's a
great partner early in a multi-course meal where it's paired with
salumi. It's acidity cuts the fat in Prosciutto and salami.
But there are some other red grapes in the region and Brachetto is often
found being made by some of the wineries who dabble in Barbera and
Grignolino. You might find dry wine made from Brachetto, but more
readily available are sweet, fruity, fizzy Brachetto wines.
The floral and brown spice notes in Heitz Grignolino would suggest that
theirs is probably not precisely Grignolino, but Brachetto.
I've shared this wine with a number of Piemontese winemakers and they agree
this is probably Brachetto.
Now, dial back the calendar to the 1960s. Joe Heitz bought a little
wine cellar in St. Helena from a guy named Leon Brendel who produced but one
wine. And, in fact, it was known as Brendel's "Only
Brendel's vineyard surrounded the little winery he had, just south of Louis
Heitz became famous for his magnificent wines, Cabernet Sauvignon being the specialty
of the house. But Joe Heitz' kids still make Grignolino...or wine
that's called Grignolino.
It's a delightful dry red, much smoother than Cabernet and lighter bodied,
- We can relay a mildly amusing story about a fellow who was searching for
He ambled in to the shop and said "I'm from Benicia, California.
I once had a curious red wine from Napa. It's not Gewurztraminer, but
it's sort of like Gewurztraminer. I had it a decade ago and ever
since, I've been looking for it. I go into every liquor store I see
and ask about this and nobody knows what I'm talking about and they don't
have this wine. They've never heard of it. Do you have any idea
what I'm looking for?"
We said "Probably the wine you've been looking for is this one right
over here." And we showed him a stack of cases of Heitz
The poor fellow nearly wet his pants.
"Oh my gawd! That's the wine! That's exactly the
wine! I can't believe it!! You have it. I've been looking for
this for ten years!"
We asked how many bottles he wanted, thinking maybe he'd buy a
"I'll take one bottle." the guy responded.
We were shocked by this. "One bottle! Let me gets this
straight...you live 50 miles from here. You've been looking for this
wine for 10 years and haven't found it. You've been torturing liquor
store clerks who have no clue about the product you're requesting. You
finally find it and you're going to buy ALL OF ONE BOTTLE?"
"Okay...you're right," he responded. "I'll take
Now his associate, another rocket scientist apparently, decided he should
buy some wine, too.
"What might you have that would be good for a hot tub?"
We suggested a terrific Riesling with a price-tag of $7.99 on it.
The fellow shrieked when he saw the price. "$7.99!!! No,
that's too much!"
Without missing a beat and in our best deadpan we replied, "Oh sorry
sir. I thought you wanted a nice wine to drink while you were soaking
in a hot tub. I didn't realize you wanted something to fill the hot
Currently in stock: Heitz Napa Grignolino (list $22) SALE
PAPA'S ALL BLACKS SALE
Peterson, founding winemaker at Ravenswood and his son Morgan have great
reverence for old vineyards. Morgan's step-mom, Mady, is also part
of the project.
They're involved in the California Historical
Vineyard Society and they collaborate in making this
exceptional old vines' blended red.
Old timers cultivating vineyards in the late 1800s and early 1900s would
often plant a mixed vineyard of different varieties. Some might be
for their abundant yields, while others would be included for color or
spice. Essentially, the "blend" was made in the vineyard
and the grapes would be harvested in one pass and simply co-fermented
Many of these old mixed plantings are being grubbed up in favor of new,
more economically viable vineyards. You see, the seriously old
vines, which have their roots plunged deep into the ground (so they don't
have much trouble in drought years), tend to produce smaller crop levels,
but often rewarding the winemaker with grapes of greater
- The sad thing is some growers don't care much about wine quality...they
only are concerned with tonnage and sugar levels (and being paid).
The Petersons are thrilled to be able to purchase fruit grown in seriously
old vineyards. They view "heritage vineyards" as being 50+
years of age.
The fruit used to make this mystery red is thought to be about 60%
Zinfandel with the balance being some odd mix of perhaps 17 other
varieties, including Petite Sirah & Alicante Bouschet for
Old timers would refer to their grapes as either "whites" or
"blacks," hence the name "Papa's All Blacks" for this
It's a fairly full-bodied wine, displaying notes reminiscent of blackberry
and plum with a faintly woodsy undertone. There's a modest level of
tannin in the 2011 (we had one customer who's a big fan of Orin Swift's
"Prisoner", a wine that may have a hint of sweetness, return a
bottle of this saying it's "vinegar." We asked if she
could distinguish between vinegar and tannin and she said she could.
We taste the wine she brought back and determined she cannot differentiate
between the bitterness of tannin and the sourness of vinegar).
Pairing the wine with a well-marbled steak or lamb on the grill makes for
a nice match. Braised or stewed meats also shine with this.
Coteaux des Travers
COTEAUX DES TRAVERS
Charavin owns this magnificent estate in the village of Rasteau in the
Southern Rh˘ne. We visited the place in April of 2010 and tasted
the usual dazzling line-up of wines, both white and red.
The 2011 Rasteau is a delicious little red wine. It's
predominantly Grenache, with a modest amount of Syrah and about 10%
of MourvŔdre. The vines are somewhere in the neighborhood of 50
Currently in stock: 2011 COTEAUX DES TRAVERS
Rasteau Rouge $16.99
is a famous Australian winery, dating back to the 1860s.
They're in Central Victoria, about 70 miles north of Melbourne and the
vineyards are planted largely with grape varieties more commonly found in
France's Rhone Valley.
Most people wouldn't build their brand around the Marsanne grape, but at
Tahbilk it's a bit of a specialty, along with Shiraz. In fact,
they've been growing Marsanne since the 1860s and Tahbilk has, we're told,
the world's largest vineyard plantings of that grape.
We had the opportunity to taste some older vintages of Tahbilk Marsanne
and these were extraordinarily good and remarkably complex. Still
family owned and operated, they used to be called "Chateau
Tahbilk." The word "tabilk" is that of some
indigenous people and refers to many waterholes. That's not
watering holes as we have in San Francisco, by the way.
They changed the spelling of "tabilk" to "Tahbilk" so
European customers would be able to pronounce it correctly.
The entry level Marsanne bottling is a winner and puts to shame most of
the local vintner's work with white Rhone varieties, never mind the
price. This is a very famous wine...every Aussie connoisseur knows
Tahbilk's Marsanne and yet it remains a reasonably-priced bottle.
Winemaker Neil Larson told us he likes to ferment the juice at relatively
low temperatures and bottle the wine in its youth to capture the bright
fruit characters of the Marsanne grape. No oak, no malolactic and no
lees stirring of this wine...and yet we found a faintly toasty or smoky
aspect to it.
In the meantime, the 2011 has just arrived and it's most attractively
priced. It reminds us a bit of orange/honey and a touch of pineapple
They offer, periodically, a "Museum" bottling...we have their
2007 and this ages handsomely! It's a bit smoky and deeper thanks to
its extended maturation (in bottle) period. And the price is quite
reasonable, so pairing this side-by-side at dinner is quite interesting.
Currently in stock: 2011 TAHBILK Central Victoria
2007 TAHBILK "Museum" MARSANNE $20.99
MATIAS 2013 VERDELHO $18.99
been delighted by this new producer's work with the Portuguese grape
Verdelho from California's Central Coast appellation.
It's a prominent variety in Madeira, but it's also grown to a very
small extent in Australia.
And now in California.
I think they said the grapes are from Contra Costa County, but
wherever they're from, they make for a nice wine.
No oak...very finely citrusy with lemon and lime
notes...dry...fresh...crisp...great with seafood...
MORE ADVENTURESOME WINES