Ballard Canyon – Syrah Incubator

Wrapping up my week in Buellton at the Wine Bloggers Conference, the focal tasting seminar on Ballard Canyon and its Syrah was the highlight of the conference for me.  One of the newest AVAs, Ballard Canyon was established within the Santa Ynez Valley in 2013.  Long known as an excellent source for Grenache and Syrah, the area is a long, thin canyon running north to south in a curving line.  This orientation shelters it from much of the wind and cooling breezes that the rest of Santa Ynez experiences making it an excellent location for the richer, bolder Rhone red grapes.

Ballard Canyon has come in to it’s own, now with a brand identity as “The Syrah AVA”.  The panel discussion that we attended at WBC included a tasting of 6 Syrahs from the area, as well as an in depth look at the AVA and those wines.  We were able to taste along with some rock star winemakers and growers from Beckmen, Harrison-Clarke, Jonata, Kimsey, Larner, Rusack, Saarloos & Sons, and Stolpman.

Syrah is coming of age today, and has been called one of the most electrifying wines in the US.  With an AVA that hsa ideal conditions to grow it, Ballard Canyon has become the Syrah AVA.   Syrah can be vastly different depending on cool vs warmer climate growing regions, and Ballard Canyon creates some of the best cool climate Syrah in California.  With approximately half of the AVAs vines planted to Syrah, vintners are able to focus of the microclimates within the canyon, and create excellence in style.

The wines coming out of this region are cool climate wines, which are moderated by the warmer climates surrounding it;  with the wind, weather, and sandy soils dominating Ballard Canyon, Syrahs from this area are broad and distinctive, with a mix of characteristics that you can only find here.

Some quick notes of the wines we tasted:

Rusack Wines – Lighter and fresh, with wonderful acid and deep red and blue fruit.

Kimsey – Rocking in the glass with chocolate dried fig, and espresso

Harrison-Clarke Wine  – Bursting with ripe bosenberry, blueberry and espresso notes, followed by a black raspberry finish 

Jonata – co-fermented with 5% of Viognier, blackberry, dark chewy beef jerky, tobacco lead, aromatic and dense.


The over whelming these of these wines are that you have deep complexity, richness, as well as acid which balances the wine.  The large diurnal shift in temperatures allows for both ripe bold flavors, as well as maintaining the acidity levels, which produces wines with more structure and interest than a warmer climate Syrah.

Ballard Canyon is the place to be, and I can’t wait to taste more wines from this region!

syrah territory




Rosés of Summer: Casey Flat Ranch, past and present

In land far away, on a hill steeply above the valley, lies a secret place in Capay Valley called  Casey Flat Ranch.  Located at 2000 feet above sea level in the Vaca Mountains, between Napa Valley and the Central Valley, the area was originally settled in the late 1850s during the Gold Rush.  Now, a new rush is on – both for sustainable organic produce, and wine. The Capay Valley AVA was established in 2002, which is somewhat surprising with only two vineyards:  Casey Flat Ranch and Capay Vineyards.  The 150 square miles of Capay Valley has only 100 acres under vine, with it’s primary resource being agriculture.  The produce from Capay is legendary, and many an urban CSA gets it’s offerings from this area.  While Capay Valley has had wineries since the Gold Rush, the pressure from neighboring Napa all but killed the wine industry out until recently.

Casey Flat Ranch

L – 2nd generation managing partner Alison Morey Garrett R – firecracker, cowgirl, and VP of Sales & Marketing Brenda Bullington

With Casey Flat Ranch being established in 1987 as a Texas Longhorn cattle ranch, vineyards were only added in 2004, initially as an experiment.  Why not?  If Napa could have all that success a mere 22 miles away, why not here?  Lucky for us, this experiment yielded beautiful results!

Casey Flat Ranch

Winemaker Laura Barrett

Focusing on Bordeaux and Rhone varietals, Casey Flat Ranch produces Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah Rose, Viognier, and an Estate Red blend.  It’s sister label, Open Range, produces Sav Blanc and a red blend as well.  Winemaker Laura Barrett is an exciting, young women winemaker, who started her career in New Zealand.  Receiving her Masters in Enology from neaby UC Davis, Laura joined Casey Flat Ranch in 2008. _MG_2116   When you arrive at the base of the mountain, it is clear that you are not in traditional wine country any more.  This is cattle country!  Expecting cowboys to come meandering down the hillside, we were greeted by the 2013 Estate Syrah Rosé instead.  This bright and fresh rosé  is a lovely alternative to pinot noir rose, and is bursting with blood orange, red berry, and fresh, juicy peaches.  It’s got a lushness and fullness of body that just makes my heart go pitter patter!  I love a Syrah rose, and this was no exception.  At $18, it’s a great front porch sipper, and perfect for barbeques. Once at the top of the mountain, at the luxe ranch house, we were eagerly waiting for our lunch, _MG_2163prepared specifically to pair with the wines by Thomas McNaughton, executive chef of SF cult hotspots flour + water, Central Kitchen, and Salumeria.  Swoon! _MG_2179Our first course of a Spring Vegetable Salad was perfectly paired with the 2013 Sav Blanc.  The crisp, tropical refresher with strong floral and herbal notes.  Fermentation is started in tanks, and neutral barrels and stainless steel barrels age the wine sur lie. _MG_2185Next up, King Salmon with the 2013 Viognier.  On a warm day, the light and refreshing Viognier has stone fruit up front, Golden Delicious apples, and beautiful minerality under the fruit.  This was Casey Flat Ranch’s second single varietal bottling, and I think they did a wonderful job with the 50% neutral oak, 50% stainless steel aging on this baby.

_MG_2187We finished our day on the ranch with the 2010 Casey Flat Ranch Red Blend paired with Speck Wrapped Pork Tenderloin.  The red blend is a rich and spicy Bordeaux style blend, but also fun and fresh.  Comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Cab Franc, the dusty baking spice, dark purple fruit, blackberries and plums really accented out the beets & cherries served with the pork.
While I thoroughly enjoyed all of the wines, the rosé of Syrah is my favorite, and deserves your attention and is, indeed, a Rosé of Summer!

Thank you to Casey Flat Ranch and Charles Communications for letting me be your guest at this amazing day!  


Live Blogging: Consilience Syrah

I have been exposed to Consilience for over 10 years, and it’s been so wonderful to be able to taste the development of these wines.


This 2011 Santa Barbara County Syrah is under $30, and is a blend of Tierra Alta and Estelle Syrah, as well as a touch of this and that.

This is juicy and fresh, with cinnamon, clove, and cracked black pepper.  I love syrah and this is yum!

Rosés of Summer: 2013 Stepping Stone Corallina

2013 Corallina Napa Valley Syrah RoséToday is the day before Summer officially starts.  Here in the Bay Area, summer has a tenancy to be a bit confused, and we’ve had some amazing weather, then cold weather, then amazing weather, then fog, then…

As confused as it can be, Summer to me is the time to drink Rose and think pink.  There is a lot of pink wine out there, but not every pink is the same.  Rose wines can vary from just barely pink, almost clear, to deep, rich, translucent ruby.  Every grape under the sun has been made in to a rose wine, but the most common are Piont Noir, Grenache, Syrah, and a smattering of other grapes such as Cab Franc and Mourvedre.

Typically, my personal favorites are Grenache and Pinot Noir rose, but there is a very special crop of pink Syrah out there that makes my heart go pitter patter!

Each year, Cornerstone Napa creates the Stepping Stone Corallina is a beautiful women of distinction, created from the Syrah fruit from Napa Valley.  And each year, General Manager Craig Camp, promises me that it is the best year ever.  Last year, I didn’t think that the team at Cornerstone could possible top the 2012.  But, it seems that they have done it with the 2013!

The 2013 Corallina Napa Valley Syrah Rosé is made as Cornerstone processes their white wines, where the Syrah is kept in whole clusters and gently pressed to maintain complexity and the nuances of a purpose made rose.  A bone dry rosé , this beauty bears no relation to the sweet, sticky White Zinfandels that are still (unfortunately) mostly closely associated with rose wine.

The light, fresh, and crisp Corallina has bright watermelon, Tuscan melon, and blood orange notes with an interesting fresh tomato note that was at once, unexpected and delicious.  The refreshing crispness of the Syrah has bright cherry notes, floral aromas, and an edge of herbaciousness that keep you guessing.

At only $25, I can drink this all summer.  Bright and juicy, it is perfect for summer sipping with everything from barbecued chicken to burgers, and can stand up to salted watermelon salad, and rich cheeses as well.

Corallina was given to me by the winery as a press sample, but clearly I love this beautiful women.  For more Rosés of Summer, keep watching every Friday!


Sometimes, smaller is better

Often times, people have the assumption that larger is better; whether it’s in wine, packages of snacks at Costco, or houses with more bedrooms than people in the town where I went to boarding school, the message is bigger is better.  Even in wine, the message can be bigger is better; while not referring to size, it often shows up in large production labels, that assume that releasing 10,000 cases means they are successful.  It also shows up stylistically, when wines become Fraken-fied, with additives and strange concoctions of science much more than art.

My choice, therefore, is to spend as much money as I can on supporting smaller, local producers who not only need to cash more, but have more creativity and stylistic control than – dare I say it – that label with the Kangaroo on it down the street.

Luckily for me, I was invited to the Micro Winery Open House at Inspiration Custom Crush in Santa Rosa recently.  Here, several smaller wineries – including Inspiration, were pouring their wares.  I have a few highlights from the event and a shamless plug for a fellow blogger turned winemaker who is doing some great things with Rhone varitals.

First up, Wesley Ashley Wines‘ Intelligent Design Cuvee Blanc is a Rhône style
blend of  Vioginer, Roussanne, and Grenache Blanc from Santa Barbara.  The Viognier adds a nice aromatic note, while the Roussanne gives a crisp acidity that would be perfect for a summer sipper.  We all know by now, that I love a good Grenache Blanc, and the 20% addition to this blend rounds out the white and gives it a solid body.  This is no wimpy wine!  Classic flavors of nectarine and apricot show up under the floral notes of the viognier.

Also from Wesley Ashely, the 2009 Intellivent Design Cuvee is another classic Rhône blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Petite Sirah.  The Grenache, which is 75% of the blend, shows off its strawberry spice, with the Syrah adding some great backbone.

YOu can find Wesley Ashely Wines at the winery by appointment, The Wine Mine in Oakland, and several restaurants around the bay area.

This is a winery to watch!
Keeping on the Rhône theme, next up we meet the Two Shepherds.  William Allen, a fellow wine blogger over at Simple Hedonisms, and partner Michelle Berger launched Two Shepherds wine to focus on Rhône style wines from California with distinction.

So far so good I’d say!  It takes extreme talent and guts to start a winery, particularly if you’re day job is in sales, as William’s is.  Having known him for a few years now, I have seen first hand the sheer tenacity that it takes to launch a brand, learn about the chemistry of winemaking, the ins and outs of running a business and also trying to pay the bills.  Kudos to a successful launch!

I was one of the lucky few to taste the delicious Grenache Blanc, which is sadly sold out now – but it was a great example of a Rhône white, that balances out acidity with the creamy subtle sweetness.  Some GBs can be either too acidic (I’ve had a few from Spain) or too full bodied which implies sweetness.  The Two Shepherds balances those two, with a nice minerality, white peach, lemon lime flavors, followed by a flinty finish.  I am eagerly waiting for more of this to be bottled so I can nab some for the cellar!

Also from Two Shepherds, the MRV is a classic white Rhône blend, comprised of Marsanne, Roussanne, and Viognier.  I enjoyed a bottle of this last night with Butternut squash Lasagna, and the creamy body of the MR balanced the sweetness of the Butternet perfectly.  The Addition of the viogner adds a touch of honeysuckle.

There are two red offerings from Two Shepherds, the GSM, and the SM (Syrah/Mourvedre).  The GSM blend is a bit different than your average southern Rhone, or for that matter, Paso Robles Rhone blend, as the Grenache in this blend adds acidity and flavors to develop that are unique to the area.  The lighter style blends perfectly with the fuller bodied Syrah and Mourvedre, to create a masterpiece of bright red berry, spice box, and a lingering flavor that I personally can only describe as Grenache.

This wine isn’t technically released, but it will be soon and I suggest buying a bottle and letting it sleep for a bit.  If not, give it some air before you sip and swirl.

The Syrah/Mourvedre blend uses the same Syrah from Russian River, and is blended equally with Mourvedre.  The SM is slightly fuller bodied than the GSM, as you don’t have the higher acid in the Grenache to lighten the load.  It is also delicious and would be fantastic with roast chicken, a burger, or cassoulet.

You can find Two Shepherds wines at the winery by appointment, and via mail order, but also at K&L Wine Merchants, Wicked Wines in HBG, and several restaurants in the Bay Area including The Girl & Fig, Spoonbar, and Toast Wine Lounge.  Click here for details.

The moral of this story?  Seek out those small producers.  They work in small lots, and can be more creative than people making large amounts of wine.  Have fun discovering them.  The custom crush / coop tasting room is more and more popular, as it allows smaller brands to showcase their wines while sharing costs for capital expenditures.

Now, I don’t harbor any fantasies of being able to be a chemist and make my own wine, but it sure is fun to live vicariously!  I’ve picked up some of the pieces of the puzzle on the way, and while I don’t think I could go it on my own, I do lust after a barrel or two of Pinot Noir in my future.

Some of my other favorite coop tasting rooms:

  • Winery Collective – San Francisco
  • The Wine Yard – Santa Rosa
  • The urban wineries of Coffey Lane (that’s my own name) – The NPA, Carol Shelton, Vinify Winery Collective & Custom Crush, Inspiration Custom Crush, all located in the same complex as the micro wineries featured in this post.

Explore your town!  There are Urban wineries in San Francisco such as Dogpatch Wineworks and Bluxome Street.  Oakland and Alameda have an urban explosion.

Support your local winemaker!  You won’t be sorry!


High on a Ridge (again)

It’s another day on top of the mountain here, and the sun is shining at last.  It’s clear, and we can see San Jose and even a bit of San Francisco in the distance.  It’s time for a visit to Ridge Vineyards in Cupertino!

We start our tasting with the  2009 Estate Chardonnay, which is aged in a mish mash of barrels from new to 4 year old American and French oak.  I found creamy vanilla custard, spicy oak, and lemon flavors with a healthy dose of tropical fruit.  This blend is harvested and vinified separately, and then finalized after a blind tasting of each component is done to determine the possible blends that could be made.  Most of the contents of this blend come from the Jimson Ranch vineyard which is at about 1500 feet elevation, giving the wine a lot of minerality and acidity.

Next up, the 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 3% Petite Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc.  I loved this cab because it was racy and had some nice acidity.  The wild yeast fermentation shows a ton of mineral flavors with dusty sandlewood finish.  There were big black and blue fruit flavors, with plum and rich figs with juicy cherries on the palate.  It was rich without being overblown, a total winner in my book.

The 2009 Geyserville Zinfandel is the 44th vintage of this wine, which makes it the longest continuously produced Zinfandel in the state, which, quite frankly with the ever changing wine industry – is quite a feat. Given that our state is known for it’s Italian immigrants and the traditions of Italian field belnds (mostly zin) that they brought over, the Ridge style of zin is a dying art.  The grapes come from properties that are interplanted and dry farmed with wild yeast fermentation and I tasted tradiitonally big blackberry jam, with some black pepper and cherries on top.  I also found some hibiscus zing which gives this 74% Zinfandel, 17% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah, 2% Alicante Bouchet, 1% Mataro (Mouvedre, or if you prefer Monastrell) mutt some life and body.

Compared to the 1999 Geyserville, the 09 was tapdancing on American Idol.  The 99 was chewy, dark and earthy witha healthy dose of cigar box to round out the rusticity (this is my new favorite word, and since Christopher loves $20 words….) The 99 is 68% zin, 16% Carignane, 16% Petite Sirah and was chewy and dense.  The fruit is still there after 12 years, but it’s brooding and not bright and zingy – which, is amazing and delicious in an entirely differently way.

The 1985 Monte Belle Cab was a rare treat.  The color is an astounding browning bronze and the nose is rich and caramelized touch of white pepper.  It had quite meaty characteristics, with some floral notes on the palate and a bit of wood on the back end.  THe companion 1995 Monte Bello, a blend of 69% Cab, 18% Merlot, 10% Petite Verdot and 3% Cab Franc was a darkly chewy and big wine with black fruit, murky ink, notes of slightly rotten fruit and blueberries.  Lots of twigs and sticks in this one!  The 2005 Monte Bello was big rich fruit on the nose, with chewy leather and tobacco, dusty plum, and cherries jubilee.  It had a nice subtle acidity and I really enjoyed this blend of 70% Cab Sav, 22% Merlot, 6% Petite Verdot and 2% Cab Franc.  It was very restrained and well balanced and worked quite well with the cheese we were nibbling on.

And now, for something completely different!  Ridges Rhones require a resounding sense of preposterousicity, or so said our host with the most (wine that is) Christopher Watkins.

The 2004 Lytton Estate Syrah is totally sold out, and totally delicious.  It’s 82% Syrah and is a very small batch wine that is cofermented with 10% Viognier and 8% Grenache blended in for good measure.  It has a flavor or a rich baked fruit pie, and is teeth coatingly purple.  Lots of acid on this one.  The 2006 Lytton Estate was funky cigar box with its 92% syrah and 8% Viognier.  The viognier balanced out the syrah nicely and lit up the dark and brooding beast.  The additional aromatics of the viognier gave some juicy white floral notes to the syrah as well.

As you can see, it was another marathon Ridge tasting, which we all enjoyed very much.

Thanks Chris for the great table settings and words of ponderment!

I look forward to our next quarterly tasting soon.

I'm drawing a blanc

Blanc did you say?  Yes Blanc.  As in white.  Wine.  White wine!  I am not the biggest wine wine drinker in general, instead preferring the heartier meat of a red wine, but there are a few white that really rope me in.  Specifically, Greanache Blanc.  I particularly enjoy GB because it is NOT your average white, it’s nothing like the overblown California chardonnay that I run screaming from, and it’s just plain good.

Grenache Blanc the counterpart to Grenache, or Garnacha, which is classically found in Chateau Neuf de Pape wines from the Rhone.  It is unusual to find Grenache Blanc on it’s own outsidede of the US, but particularly in Paso Robles, this single varietal flourishes.

During my recent trip to Paso Robles, when were were visiting some Zinfandel vineyards, we were treated to dinner at Artisan, a local hot spot for dining.  Since we were exploring the area’s wines, we thought we’d explore the area’s foods as well!  Michael Kobayashi, the owner and general manager, welcomed us like old friends.  We sat down to a well varied menu and wine list, which included a particularly good wines by the glass program.

First up, the Paso Robles Wine Commission selected our appetizers – Cayucos Red Abalone – The green apple and tropical fruits in the Halter Ranch, Roussanne/Picpoul/Gren Blanc/Marsanne “Côtes de Paso Blanc” really brought out the flavors of the abalone, and we enjoyed that along with the Ranchero Cellars Grenache Blanc.  The Halter Ranch white (and red for that matter) were my faves of the evening, and the white
with the honeysuckle, stone fruit and richness topped by a light but noticeable wet river rock flavor were my winning combo.  In the Halter Ranch, I tasted white and had tons of nectarine and grapefruit flavors, with a touch of cotton candy and a hint of light caramel, or brown sugar as well as some lovely floral and honeysuckle notes.  I probably could have had this wine all night and it was a gorgeous match with the abalone, but didn’t work quite as well with the Pork Belly we also had for an appetzer.

We also ordered the Halter Ranch Cotes de Paso red, which is a blend of  Grenache, Syrah, Mouvdre, Couioise, and Cinsault = basically a Rhone mutt.  This went beautifully with the pork belly.  Before we moved on to mains, I just HAD to order the KILLER gouda and porter fondue. This dish was so amazing that I really wanted to lick the scalding hot cauldron clean.  For mains, I had organic chicken, peas and carrots, aligot potatoes, hen of the woods gravy  which was simply luscious.  With that we continued sipping on several by the glass selections, including another glass of Halter Ranch Cotes de Paso because I loved it so much.

I also tried the Jacob Toft Sarah’s Cuvee, which si a GSM as well.  This was a lovely wine but there was just something missing for me.  For kicks, and because we were in experimentation mode, we tried the Calcareous, Grenache/Mourvedre as well to see what happens when you leave the syrah out.  I think that was it, but I stopped taking notes since iphyoning at the dinner table makes my partner a little testy, so I just enjoyed the lovely food and wine.

Hats off to the people at Artisan.  They made our meal an extremely enjoyable experience.  So much so, that, the next night after being given the shaft at a local brewery, we went back!  There we were, on a Saturday night, with no reservation in a very small town.  There was a festival, and we weren’t sure we’d get in.  But Mike worked his magic, and the hostess who greeted us remembered us and took care of us immediately.  There is something to be said for excellent customer service, on top of excellent food.   The second night, I had an off the menu burger (to DIE for) which the waitress from the night before stopped by to suggest to us.  I split this with my other half, after enjoying the butter leaf salad, beets, walnuts, Point Reyes Bluer cheesem  which was delicate and flavorful.  I started with beer, but quickly moved to wine so we could try those that we didn’t have the first night.  Of courses, by then we were a bit beat and weary of wine tasting, but it was still a blast.

I can’t wait to go back and see Artisan while down in Paso at Hospices du Rhone!  Please do stop by and see Mike and the gang!

The first meal was sponsored by the Paso Robles Wine Commission,  The second was on us, but both were worth 10 times as much as we paid!




Kevin Hamel

Sorry, I just had to get that one in there.  you remember, when Mom FINALLY realizes that she left the kid at home halfway through Home Alone?  Yeah.

So that’s exactly how I feel about this wine.  My friend Kevin Hamel, who makes Hamel Wines and has had a rather illustrious career as a winemaker, make some spectacular syrah.  And pinot noir.  Recently, I was able to attend a private tasting where Kevin poured some damn fine wines.  A few months later, I headed up to Winemaker Wednesday at Scopa, hands down the BEST restaurant in Healdsburg.  Ok I’m biased, but…no wait, it’s true!

At Winemaker Wednesday, a monthly event that Scopa has in the Spring and Fall, Kevin poured some library wines which really blew my mind.  But alas, I didn’t have any in my cellar (not yet anyway.  Kevin, we need to talk about this little problem I have!) so I opted to enjoy the 2002 Sonoma County Syrah, Westside Hills that I did have in my cellar, in honor of Wine Blogging Wednesday #71.

Wine Blogging Wednesday, our monthly blog around a theme, was created by Lenn Thompson of the New York Cork Report (formerly LENNDEVOURS), and has a new theme every month.  This month, we were asked by Tim Elliot of to talk about wines that are in the style of, but not from, the Rhône.  Well, since I happen to adore Syrah and most other things Rhone, I hopped on this theme of  “Rhones Not From The Rhône.”

Tim asked us to choose a wine from a Rhône variety that we all know and love – but not made in France.  Since Syrah is one of the biggest (in production not style I hope) wines made in California, and since I really enjoyed Kevin’s wines, ba-da-bing, ba-de-boom.

At the private tasting, we enjoyed the 2001 and 2002 Sonoma County Syrah, Westside Hills.  These two wines were absolutely stellar, and yet so different.  The 2001 showed much older, and it was difficult to fathom that it was juts one year before the ssecond wine.  At the tasting event, we went back and forth over which one we liked the most.  Of course, I couldn’t decide because – they were both awesome.  The 2001 could certainly count counter any Rhône out there.  It was austere adn acidic (in a good way) and would be AMAZING with food.

The 2002, while bigger, was certainly no fruit bomb in my estimation.  It was elegant and silky, and had a lot of plum and red fruit.  This was the crowd favorite, but it took several tastes to confirm which one I liked the most.  I refuse to make a distinction because they were THAT good.

Moving on to the Winemaker Dinner at Scopa, Kevin pulled out all the stops with the 1998 Sonoma County “Vitis Allobrogica?” Syrah.  1998?  Yeah 1998.  This Syrah was off the hook with my pork pasta, and as much as I tried not to order a bottle, I pretty much did.  For myself.  It was THAT good.

The moral of this story?  There is some really really good wine out there; Syrah doesn’t have to be over extracted and syrupy.  It can be juicy, acidic, balanced, restrained, and blow your mid.  You just need to explore some new regions and new wineries.  There is a ton of Syrah on the market out there, from Australia, California, Washington, and of course France.  California Syrah can be big. bold and jammy.  However, if you hunt around, you can find these juicy gems.

Another personal fave?  2007 Olson Ogdon Stagecoach.

Want to try the wines?  YOu can go eat at Scopa, and I highly recommend it.  But you can also ask Kevin where the wines are, and if he’ll share.  Please reach out to kevin on TWITTER!

Are you a Rhonely heart?

And the winner is:

Congratulations to Valerie, the WineDog and Helene!

If for any reason you cannot go, the runner up is Beau and Brandye.

These results were randomly generated by

ps if you didn’t win here, please check out:






It’s that time of year again!  Time for one of my favorite of the big tastings here in San Francisco, Rhone Rangers.  Rhone wines are diverse which is one of the reasons I love them.  At this tasting, you can taste over 500 wines from more than 100 producers all in one place.

The Rhone region of France is one of the oldest cultivated areas of wine.  Here in California, a similar climate has spawned a plethora of producers that specialize in the Rhone wine varitals.  Did you know that they were 22 distinct grapes that are Rhone?  There are both red and white Rhone grapes, and they create some delicious wines.  The region of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, is in the Rhone region, which is a classic blend of up to 13 variteis.

Since you are reading this, you probably know a little bit about the area.  If that’s true, I have a challenge for you.  If you can correctly name TWO of the lesser known Rhone Grapes (there are 22 in all), you will be entered in a drawing for a free ticket to the public tasting on Sunday March 27th here in San Francisco.  I’ll give you a hint: Syrah is classically co-fermented (and sometimes blended) with Viognier.  Grenache is also known as Garnacha in Spain.  Mouvedre can be called Monastrell but not if you call it Mataro.  Marsanne and Roussane are best friends.    Those are six of the 22 grapes – can you name two of the other 16?

Give it a shot!  If you name 2 of the rest of the 22 grapes correctly, and they can be Red or White, then you will be entered in a **random** drawing to win a pass to the Rhone Rangers Public Tasting here in San Francisco on Sunday March 27th.


Tickets are $40 each, so you can always buy one for your bestie to come with you!  Out of all of the correct answers, I will randomly pick TWO WINNERS.

While you’re in town, check out some of the Rhone Rangers seminars!  You could learn about the Green Rangers, growing things sustainably, or maybe Mouvedre on the move (one of my favorites).

Next up in Rhone News, is the world class and world famous Hospices du Rhone in Paso Robles April 28-30th.  This 3 day extravaganza of all things Rhone has been going strong for 19 years with tastings, seminars, and parties galore.  But more on that later, I just wanted to tease you a little bit – because I can.

Good luck and I hope to see your comments here, and I’ll see YOU at Rhone Rangers!

If you’re a Tweetie, please follow them at @RhoneRangers.  During the event we will be blogging and tweeting under the hashtag #rrsf to keep it short and simple.  While Ft. Mason isn’t known for it’s stellar cellular reception, you can usually find a corner to take your glass of yum to and tweet for a minute.


Editor’s Note:  I will select the two random winners on Friday, March 4th.  Please make sure I have your email / twitter / smoke signal address if not included in comments!


**obvious hint:  if you read about the event, there are many more of the 22 grape varietals mentioned!

You shook me all morning long

Hospices du Rhône.  Day 2.  What happens when you take several hundred (probably hungover, definitely tired) wine writers, bloggers, lovers, and somms, and throw them in a conference room at 9am with eight glasses of wine in front of them ?  Lots and lots of champagne.  that’s what happens.  wait…strike that.  Reverse it.  But you can’t!  I was pretty well baked by my Cold from Hell, but to be up bright and early so as not to miss the Walla Walla sneak peak, I was given a delicious treat of several glasses of some damn tasty grower champers that Chaz brought in at his own expense to wake us all up.  YUM!

Ok enough of the 9am drinkfest.  On to the syrah.

K Vintners was started by Charles Smith, who used to manage rock bands and lived in Copenhagen for 11 years before moving to Walla Walla.  Always having passion for wine, he’s an innovator, a marketing genius, and loud.  Roll all that together with walla Walla wine, and you get a larger than life character who defies the rules.  The winery is located at the base of the Blue Mountains, and opened to the public in 2001, producing wines from Wahluke Slope and Walla Walla Valley, primarily syrah as well as field blends.

Smith believes K is about KOMMUNICATION and, bad puns aside, he says that people should use language that people can communicate with internationally; that language is wine.  Smith feels that too much of wine is making beauty where there is natural wonder; he focuses on showing off the unique fruit of Washington, and uses subtle oak influences as to not overpower the natural beauty of the wine.  He is, in some ways, the ultimate terrorist.  wine should be about a feeling, and here in Walla Walla, Rhone producers are small.  Wine is what they live for and they are passionate enthusiasts.

K focuses on syrah for several reasons; first, it has a distinctive quality that no other wine has.  Additionally, the high steep slopes in the Walla Walla area are difficult to work, which makes for more interesting wine and a challenge.  Syrah is global, with France representing the old world and ancient vines.  Australia shows us the AC/DC of the varietal, with a new world fruit bomb style (think Angus with the flaming red hair) that is indicitive of the passion and terroir of the Barossa.  Finally, when you get to Walla Walla, you have the geology of tumbled river rock, salty soils, and a long growing season o the high desert plains of Walla Walla.  There is a pioneer and rogue belief system in Walla walla, which allows them to do anything the want to with little thought about if anyone did it before them or was previously successful.

Charles Smith

2006 Syrah Pheasant Vineyard Wahluke Slope – was a chewy caramel dusted in mocha bramble berry, with  baked plums and bittersweet chocolate.  I tasted black cherry, dried orange rind as well with just a slight hint of herbal flavors.  This is a very dense wine, but it was smooth and mellow with a plush finish.  It was quite refined and let’s just say I struggled to spit this out at 9am.  This vineyard was planted in 2000 along the Columbia River, on sandy loam and peaty gravel in the Wahluke Slope AVA.  This sandy soil makes for a more floral and herbaceous wine.

2006 Syrah The Deal – Sundance Vineyard Wahluke Slope – shows a meaty smoky wine with blackberries and tar.  The refined tannis show notes of tangerine, and while it was a bit gamey at first int he glass, that soon blew off to a smooth long finish and nice mouth feel.  The Deal is all about respect, integrity and doing what you want to do in the vineyard.  The Sundance Vineyard has a slight northerly slope which creates a cooler site, in a very warm region.  This wine tastes of cool climate syrah, and is grown in sadny loam over coarse sand which provides excellent drainage.  Only two miles from Pheasant Vineyard, it was planted in 1997 and creates a very different wine profile.

2006 Syrah Cougar Hills, Walla Walla – has more minerality than the first two wines, with lots of lavendr and orange marmalade, followed by graphite.  the Couger Hills Vineyard is located in the southern region of the Walla Walla valley, and has loamy soil with river rock and gravel, as well as a layer of volcanic ash.  This ash adds complexity to the vines which were planted in 2000 and are sustainably farmed.

2006 Syrah Wells, Walla Walla With only 1.5 barrels made of this wine, we were in fro a rare treat.  that’s about 35 cases in the world, and it was made as an experiment in 100% whole cluster fermentation.  the Wells vineyard is half an acre that sits 1500 feet up on the south fork of the Walla Walla river, and has rocky cobblestone soil.  I tasted fresh cherries, strawberries, and vibrant red and black fruit.  This was brighter and fresher than the earlier syrahs and just lovely.

2006 Syrah Phil Lane, Walla Walla – is the estate vineyard.  Three barrels of this wine were made from 1.5 acres of grapes planted in 2001, which produces a highly aromatic wine with bright raspberries, rose petals, and flavors of mole sauce.

Chief Mutineer Alan Kropf "moderates" the champagne bottle

2006 Syrah Motor City Kitty – Stoneridge Vineyard, Royal Slope Columbia Valley is created from a resurrected vineyard which lay fallow on the ground for years before Charles Smith rescued it.  The Stoneridge Vineyard has very rocky soils, and with six different rocky types, produces very different wines.  It is windy up there on the hill, and the the thick skinned fruit creates inky black juice with robust and smooth wines.  I found a very dense, sweet cherry wine with flavors of cough syrup.  The wine sits for 23 months in neutral barrels and is then hand bottled, to produce 50 cases of a powerful and rich wine with whole berry fermentation.

2006 Syrah Royal City – Stoneridge Vineyard, Royal Slope Columbia Valley – includes some of the Stoneridge Vineyard fruit and had flavors of coffee, milk chocolate, and black cherries.  It was chewy and dense but well balanced and had some lovely spice notes on the back end.

In closing, ALL of these wines that were poured were rare and small production.  They were all amazing and each one shows a slightly different slant ont he Walla Walla terroir and what is going on in Washington wine.  I am very much looking forward to tasting more Walla Walla wines in a few weeks at the Wine Bloggers Conference!

Special thanks to the Hospices du Rhone team!

Jumping off a Clif

See that little logo to the right?  Notice the CLIF name and image?  That’s right, those crazy people that essentially created the energy bar are back and they are in bottle!  I was so excited when I recieved these wines, because several blogger friends had already had the opportunity to sample them and were raving.

First, a little back story.  The Clif Bar Company began in 1992 for the passion of Gary Erickson & Kit Crawford, who were striving to create nutritious, organic foods & drinks.  I personally love Luna Bars, and spent many a breakfast in my car with a very large coffee and a bar as I battled traffic down to Silly Cone Valley in years past.  From this passion for food, a natural progression was made to a passion for wine in 1997 when Gary & Kit bought a farmstead in Napa where they could raise animals, and maybe plant a few vines.  Fast forward to 2010 (or 2009 if I were more effective at timely drinking) and we have Clif Family Winery & Farm.

I love the message that the Clif Familyprojects, one of balance and joie de vivre, as we are reminded to slow it down and enjoy life.  Their goal, and one very close to my heart, is to create unique, regionally specific wine and foods that use careful management of the land, including organic growing techniques.  on the farm, locally gorwn foods and the support of family farms raises turkey and chickens as well as fruits and vegetables.  There are some historic 85 year old olive trees on the farm, and recently more were planted.  Soon, we will have delicious extra virgin olive oil to pair with theh wines!  The farm runs 100% on bio-diesel, and all of the produce is 100% organic, with a CCOF certification.

While the wine is currently not made from estate fruit, the future plan is to be 100% organically sourced fruit from the Farm.  Meanwhile, the wine is made from sourced fruit by Sarah Gott, who rose to fame at Joseph Phelps and Quintessa, before starting her own label with her husband, Joel Gott.  Being  a rockstar winemaker has its perks, and she is now a consulting winemaker at several NapaValley wineries.

The first wine i am trying from Clif Family is the 2006 Gary’s Improv Syrah.  On the nose I found black pepper, blue and black berries.  In the mouth, the rich aromas are followed by a juicy mouthful of ripe plums, dark red fruit, and currants followed by bittersweet chocolate and espresso.  It’s medium body is a refreshing style of syrah, in the French tradition, as it is not a big meat grinder, but rather a juicy, nicely balanced, food friendly wine.  On the finish, there is a touch of black licorice, and just a hint of smoked meat.  This is a great syrah for dinner and at $35 I suggest you go find some.  that is a BUY in my book.  Like now.

These wines were graciously provided by Clif Family Winery.  Clif Bars were not included, but how does one pair energy bars with wine anyway?  Although there’s a thought.

B is for Bottle

In this case, a bottle of Broll Mountain Vineyards 2004 Syrah from Calaveras County.  I first discovered Broll Mountain through a chance meeting at a ZAP volunteer event, where @brixchick_liza and i met Roger & Ginger, who are retirees who work part time at Broll Mountain.  As chance would have it, the winery is in Murphys, which is one of my favorite wine getaways.  you might know about my addiction to all things twisted and rubber.  Rubber CHICKENS that is.

This wine is deep and dark, with an earthy blackberry nose, with a touch of cherry syrup.  It drinks quite dry, and evokes flavors of vermouth, with smoked meats.  After a few sips, I’m finding it has quite a floral note to it, and I am almost drinking liquid violets and rose petals, with some great dark fruit behind it.  It’s quite tannic but i think it would be awesome with food, and it has a lingering dark chocolate was only $19, so I definitely buy this again if i came across it.

“Nose is earthy, brambly attack with plums and black cherry.  A classic Syrah, meaty black fruit with olives and raspberries, cherries and rhubarb.  Tannins and dark chocolate finish.  Excellent paired with meats, cheeses and hearty food.”


On the Verge (again)

If you read my last post on VERGE Wines, you know that I already love them.  This time, they are releasing their 2007 VERGE Syrah, from Dry creek Valley.  It is only the winery’s second vintage, and it is impressive.

VERGE Wines specializes in what they call “Fringe Vineyards”, those that are outside the norm.  In this case, on the edges of Dry Creek Valley.  Additionally, VERGE focuses on vineyards that are farmed organically, bio-dynamically, and sustainable – while still producing yummy wines.   Mike Brunson, the head cheese…oh winemaker…for VERGE and another favorite, Michel-Schlumberger, has been making syrah for over 15 years.

Last year, I was hot on the heels of the VERGE Viognier.  Now, I’m loving the Syrah.  The 2007 Syrah is primarily Grist Vineyard fruit, where the grapes are shrouded in fog up on Bradford Mountain.  I have a soft spot for this vineyard, as I made Zinpatico Zinfandel at Crushpad in 2008 from their fruit, and it is yummy.   Only 50 cases of this beauty were produced, and it shows flavors of blueberries, blackberries, baking spice, and black cherries.  It was a juicy syrah, and i smelled blackberries (I can never tell which KIND of blackberries though!) and cassis.  ON the palate the first thing I noticed was YUM!  I really enjoyed this wine.  I tasted black raspberries, chocolate covered cherries and blackberries with a hint of salami (no i was NOT eating it at the time), bacon, and toasted marshmallow.  At the end I also tasted prunes and a touch of tar with a zing of hibiscus.

Lucky for me, Jay Kell gave me two bottles to sample because that first one dissaprered in a hurry!  At $40, it might be pricy for your average wine, but for a handcrafted syrah, it’s worth it if you’re a Syrah freak like I am.   STRONG BUY

Wine was provided by VERGE Wines, though I plan to add some to my cellar.

Que Syrah Syrah!

This is a tale of two syrahs.  No, not a sirah and a syrah but two syrahs!  When I first heart about David Cole’s wine, he was working on another project called Redline, which I bought through my friends at WineQ.  I knew then they this guy had talent, and I was very excited when I found out that he had started another project, James David Cellars.

Now, I’ve already reviewed the Muscat Blanc here,  and you probably already know that I adore syrah.  But let me tell you WHY I adore syrah.  The vast differences in growing regions here in California, produce some unique and interesting syrahs that differ as much as Hetch Hetchy tap water differs from sulfuric spring water from the spa at Bath.

Syrah, which is certain southern hemisphere countries, or maybe even in Canada is referred to as Shiraz is a dark-skinned beauty which produces powerful red wines and luscious rose wines.  It has a long and illustrious history as one of the primary Rhone varietals of southern France, but it’s origins are dubious at best.  As near as we can tell, Syrah is the child of some grapes that I’ve never heard of, which are native to a small area in southeastern France, making Syrah one of the original Rhône grapes.

Syrah here in the US is typically one of two types, warm climate, or cool climate.  Now these are very different types of wine, and it’s fun to compare the two side by side to see the difference.  In warmer regions, like Paso Robles, it can often be blended with other Rhône varieties.  One example, and a personal favorite, is a GSM or Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre blend.  The cooler coast and mountain growing regions tend to produce more single varietal syrah.


Here, we start with the 2005 Eaglepoint Ranch Syarh from Mendocino.  Eaglepoint Ranch is a vineyard that is a partnership between John Scharffenberger, of both chocolate and sparkling wine fame, and viticulturist Casey Hartlip.  Eaglepoint produces Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Grenache.  James David’s syrah from this vineyard gave me aromas of coffee, chocolate, and cedar.  It was dark and brooding, just what I love on a cold fall night.  On the palate I tasted espresso, bright red fruit, smoke, juniper and burnt toast, and the hint of prunes followed by caramel.  With a layer of black pepper, the black fruit of this wine was perfect in front of the fireplace on the rainy night I pened it.  This is a classic cool climate syrah, with firm and chewy textures followed by smoked meat flavors.  The wine that drinks like a meal!  Priced at $24, this wine tastes a lot more expensive and is worth it.  STRONG BUY

Next, I tried the 2005 James David Cellars Central Coast Syrah.  This wine is a blend of two vineyards from the Central Coast region, one in Paso Robles, and one in Monterey. It’s what I imagine when I think of warm climate syrah, with tons of fruit and juicy flavors.  On the nose, I smelled a lot of plum and red fruit, which was followed by blue fruit, and juicy dark raspberries on the palate.  This is a great pizza wine, and is easy drinking and more simple than the Eaglepoint Ranch above.  At $21, it’s also worth trying to see a classic Paso syrah in action.  BUY


I’m excited that David is coming out with a Pinot and Cab in the near future, so please go out, try the syrahs and stay tuned for more!  Tell em The Wine Brat sent you 🙂

Bring on the BACON! Yes I said bacon.

When the box first arrived in my mail room at the office, I was slightly scared that someone was playing a bad joke on me.  Or just didn’t like me very much.  Or I had really made it big in the wine blogging world.

Why you ask?  Well, the box that I received was stamped, in large size letters, “Trinchero Family Estates”.  Now, for me, when I hear Trinchero, I either think of my friends parents and their dinner parties with Vera, or I think with shock and horror of the Sutter Home domination of the white zinfandel market.  To say I’m not a fan of the pink stuff is being too kind.  I hate it!  I abhor it!  It’s worse than Sunny Delight, a product that though is made of juice, tastes nothing like it.  So goes my thoughts of the wines of the Home.

That said, the history of Sutter Home and therefore White Zinfandel, is a good one.  At a time when most vineyards were ripping out Zinfandel, which has now become American’s Hertiage Grape, Sutter Home and a handful of other wineries, kept hte vineyards by making sweet pink wine for the masses.  For that I give them kudos, as I really like a good RED (yes there really is only one) Zinfandel.

Now, back to the story.  When I got the dreaded box back to my desk, I knew I couldn’t wait until I got home, and ripped it open right away.  WOW!  Was I happily surprised!  Inside, came a 4-pack of samples from the new Napa Valley winery, Napa Cellars.  Now, when I was asked if I wanted to try these wines, having never heard of them, I said of course.  I’d love to try a new winery.  This goes to show you, even this jaded fool can be swayed by good marketing efforts.

So the first wine I opened from this lot was the 2006 Napa Cellars Napa Valley Syrah.  This is a winery exclusive, but you can find the tasting room int he same building as Foie a Deux, in Oakville.  The fruit was sourced from Carneros, which is a cooler climate for syrah and the first thing I noticed when I sipped the dark deep brooding wine was that it was classically cool climate.  This was not a hot Dry Creek fruit forward syrah.  A cool climate syrah takes longer to ripe, which gives it a longer hangtime, which producers a more intense wine.

I found this a very rich and dark syrah, and was a bit difficult to drink at first.  I definitely suggest decanting this beast.  At first it had bittersweet chocolate notes, with currents and dried plums.  I also tasted smoked meats, which is why this is being posted on my Bacon Friday post!  There was a tasty bit of anise, and soy sauce – which normally your wouldn’t like in a wine, but here it fit in well.  There was a nice finish of black pepper and blackberries.

After enjoying a glass on the first night, I decided that I would let it air out over night.  Normally, i would decant such a wine, but sometimes being a single girl has it’s downfalls.  It’s easier for me to leave a bottle open sans VacUVin than it is to decant, since I can store it more readily for further consumption.  On night 2, even having enjoyed the meaty wine on night 1, I enjoyed it more.  I tasted more espresso and molasses, along with minerally black pepper and cedar.  I also tasted a lovely black cheery note, with hints of leather and campfire smoke.

I really enjoyed this wine, and it’s a great big giant meaty syrah.  I would pair this with steak if I ate steak, but I enjoyed it with a BAPT (Bacon Alvacado Provolone Turkey) sandwich.  This wine retails for $34, and is available at the winery.  Why not go by and check it out?


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