Monday, November 12, 2007

Locals Only

More than once in this column I've bashed local wines. Well, I wouldn't say "bashed" exactly. Let's just say I've "critically evaluated" local wines. Yeah, I like that.

As a result, I'm probably not the most popular wine critic in town with some of the local wineries (we're going to skip over the fact that, as far as I know, I'm the ONLY wine critic in town).

So it was with some trepidation that I went to Vino 100 a few Fridays ago for their "Locals Night" tasting, featuring wines and wine makers from six local wineries.

In the crowded confines of their tasting area, a shiv to the ribs, wine critic falls to the floor in a pool of blood, who would know who held the knife? Or worse, a glass of "Special Reserve", aged eighteen months in arsenic-laced oak barrels. Monday morning, wine critic doesn't show up for work, no way to tell which winery did the job.

So yeah, I'm no sissy, but I was scared for my life when I went in there. Fortunately, everyone was extremely nice, and my Kevlar vest saved my life more than once.

For all I know, you were there too. I went early to beat the crowds, but by 6:00 the place was literally packed. There were probably 60 people trying to crowd around 6 tiny little tasting tables. In a way, it was actually kind of ridiculous trying to pack all those people into the back of the store when the whole front area was empty. If Vino 100 is going to do these kinds of events - and they're going to be this successful - they really need to expand the tasting area.

The big question, of course, is "how were the wines"?

Quilici Vineyards

Let's start with Quilici. A few months back I “critically evaluated” their 2003 Barbara. It actually was a pretty terrible, borderline undrinkable, wine. I gave it one star, and was being kind. Fortunately, the 2004's are literally night and day. Quality has stunningly improved, to the point where I can actually recommend a couple of their wines.

Quilici 2004 Sangiovese – This was one of the best wines of the evening. Very meaty, with good acidity and balance. This wine hit all the classic characteristics of a good Chianti right on the head. 3.0 stars.

Quilici 2004 Barbara – Very funky, delicious, earthy aroma. Tart, with strawberry notes and just the tiniest hint of residual sugar. 2.75 stars.

Bertagna Son Kissed Vineyards

Next up were Bert and Carol Bertagna. A young and very fun couple, they were probably the newest to wine-making of the wineries at the tasting. But that didn't mean that their wines weren't worth drinking.

Bertagna 2005 Sangiovese – Very light aroma with hints of raspberry. Very smooth flavors, light in body, simple, but extremely pleasant and drinkable. The casual wine drinker will love this, as will just about anyone. 3.0 stars.

Bertagna 2005 Barbera – Wow…amazingly complex and fascinating aroma. Hints of toast and bacon, with a pure creaminess running all the way through it. I know it sounds like creamed chipped beef on toast, but this was wonderful. On the tongue it starts out tart, but evolves rapidly in complexity and depth and finishes smooth. A phenomenal effort, but probably not for everyone. 3.75 stars.

Bertagna 2005 Mestizo – I've already reviewed this wine in a previous column, but it's worth mentioning again. A very smooth, pleasant and mellow wine. Not fantastically complex, but well made. 3.0 stars.

LaRocca Vineyards

The LaRocca's weren't there, but their wines were. Unfortunately, these were easily the most “critically evaluated” wines being poured that night. Though their Chardonnay was actually drinkable, the rest were, sadly, not. Here are my actual tasting notes:

LaRocca 2005 Sutter County Zinfandel – Stinky, sulphur, burnt match. Horrible taste, burnt rubber. Undrinkable. 0.5 stars.

LaRocca 2006 Sutter County Merlot – Spicy, with a hint of rubbing alcohol. Off balanced, burnt/cooked flavor. 1.5 stars.

LaRocca 2005 Sutter County Cabernet Sauvignon – Musty, bad musty, petrol and mold aromas. Bad musty, mold flavors. 1.0 stars.

Grey Fox Vineyards

Grey Fox was the first winery I ever visited (aww...isn't that sweet). Their wines have been kind of up and down in my view. Often the best bets are their varietal ports.

Grey Fox 2003 Merlot – Very light aroma, with some floral notes. Lightish on the tongue as well, with decent body, red fruits, and a smooth finish. 2.5 stars.

New Clairvaux

In a way, New Clairvaux has become the “rock star” local winery, mostly because they came right out of the gate a few years back with some solid wines and haven't looked back.

New Clairvaux 2007 Viognier – That's right - 2007. This wine is still in tanks, so it's not even a finished product, and by the time it's bottled, it will be much more mellow than this bubbly, exuberant youngster. Still, what an incredible fun wine! Seriously tropical flavors, very clean and crisp with hints of green apple and pineapple. And the light fizziness was fun as well. 3.25 stars.

The awards for the night are as follows (like me handing out “awards” has any real meaning):

Best red wine: Bertagna 2005 Barbara
Best white wine: New Clairvaux 2007 Viognier
Best wines overall: Bertagna Son Kissed Vineyards
Most improved winery: Quilici Vineyards

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