The two most interesting wines at the April 2011 Passport to the East Bay Wine Trail tasting event, which took place in several winery locations in the San Francisco East Bay -- specifically Oakland and Alameda -- were a Pinot from a new winery called Stomping Girl Wines, and an unexpected reworking of Urban Legend's awesome and award-winning Barbera Rose.
There were many other great-tasting wines, too, and I'll get to them later. For now, let's reflect on the wild ride that small wineries can take you on. It's their bold vision, after all, their ability to make a wine any way they want because they aren't beholden to volume store chains (they can't actually sell into giant chains, so they might as well do what they please) that makes them so very interesting to us wine adventurers. This is the special joy of boutique wineries: You never know what they'll come up with. It's an adventure.
And sometimes the adventure bites you on the ass, when a winemaker decides to completely change your favorite wine from last year.
Which is what Marilee and Steve Shaffer did to me this year at their Urban Legend Cellars on 4th St. in Oakland, our first stop on the tasting trail: They changed how they make their Barbera Rose, which last year was my favorite rose at the RAP rose event. It had huge fruit and was bursting with flavor. They sold out, it was so tasty -- not bad performance for a rose!
Whadja Do To My Wine!!
This year Steve said he wanted to make it in a more spare style -- and sure enough, all that fruit was gone, baby! It was still a good rose, but -- it was very much like a fine Loire rose, reserved, thoughtful, pleasant. Why would you do that to your fabulous, unique Barbera rose, Steve? I can get Loire roses anywhere -- I can't get Urban Legend rose anywhere else! Steve simply shrugged: He has a different vision for where he wanted his wine to go.
I was crushed.
Temporarily, as it turned out.
The following month I saw Steve and Marilee at the RAP (Rose Avengers and Producers) event at the Butterfly Restaurant in San Francisco, and from a sense of duty went over to taste the new-wave rose again. And got a big surprise! It was wonderful!
It was not the rose of last year -- it was a new rose, different in style, but entirely delicious on its own terms: flavorful, aromatic, delicious -- wait, I said delicious already: It was -- well it is delicious! And the aroma!
What happened? Say, Steve -- when I tasted your rose last month -- had you just bottled it? "Yes; that week."
Oh, well! It was still in bottle shock! And it only took a month to completely change its character in the bottle -- from fine, yes, ok, fine -- to Wow, I love it!
What a world!
It's the 2010 Rosato di Barbera, it's $18 and worth it, they only made 180 cases because they like to torture people, and I will be buying some for myself when I go by there in a few days, so you'd better hurry and go there or order from the Web site, where you'll find a bunch of other good reds and a Sauv Blanc that ain't bad at all, either.
Stomping Girl Wines - Now THAT'S a Pinot!
Because many of the tiny wineries in the urban areas have no tasting rooms of their own, they share with others, and during the East Bay Urban Wine Trail event this spring the East Bay VIntner's association arranged to have each tasting-room-owning member host two or three or more other wineries too.
This also made it more convenient for the visitors, as it reduced the number of stops -- there are two dozen wineries in the Oakland-Berkeley-Alameda area! They crammed them all into six venues. That was great. (But there was a bright idea gone astray -- they offered a bus to take you from place to place, but miscalculated with only one bus, which took forever to show up and was so overcrowded I expected people hanging off the roof.)
Urban Legend, my first stop, hosted three other wineries: Adams Point and Urbano Cellars, whom I know, and a brand-new winery I had never heard of and still know little about: Stomping Girl.
They showed three Pinots. Most wonderful of the three was the 2009 Corona Creek Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. The aroma was Burgundian. The taste was gentle, flavorful, with a looong finish. All I could think was, "Now that's a Pinot!" It's what you want to get in a Burgundy Pinot at its best, often pay big bucks for, and often get disappointed by. But this one is no disappointment, and it's $34. This knocked me off my feet. I have got to buy me some of this stuff. Maybe I'll sell my car....
They showed two other Pinots that were also good, only overshadowed by the Corona. A 2009 Lauterbach Hill, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, $38, was rich, complex, with a really, really long finish -- I call it 'A Thinking Man's Wine': You take a sip and then you have to stand there thinking about it for a while! This is a Wow A++ wine, only outdone by its Corona sister.
In this company, their 2009 Beresini Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir ($34) was good, but not as impressive.
You can buy the wines online at http://www.stompinggirlwines.com/ or get them at various places in the Berkeley area, or pick some up at their offices in Berkeley. And read on the site about how they got the name.
I'll cover more of Urban Legend's wines and those of the other Wine Trail wineries in my next post!