The San Francisco East Bay areas of Alameda, Oakland, and Berkeley--where the urban wineries movement began, and thrives with more than 20 wineries, some tiny, some large like Rosenblum--produces delicious fine wines and, even better, surprising wines from winemakers trying to step beyond the ordinary, and succeeding at it.
So though I visit many of these wineries at various times during the year, I love the annual Passport event where I get to round out my experiences and see what they've come up with lately.
I wrote last month about the two most dramatic winetasting experiences I enjoyed; now let's quickly review some of the others at this event. (All wineries can be found at the EastBayVintners.com site.
Verve makes its white French Columbard from juice imported from France, an unusual approach that makes it the only winemaker here not using straight California grapes. French Columbard makes a tart, green wine that's refreshing, though it's not my personal favorite so I only gave it a B. Nice to see they're trying something different. They also produce a Syrah which is quite delicious -- A- -- and only $17 a bottle.
JC Cellars, another urban-winery pioneer, has a widening range of wines, having started with Jeff Cohn's favorite, Zinfandel, and now producing Rhone-like blends and more. I liked the 2007 Arroyo Seca-sourced Grenache, with 15% Syrah to round it out, though the fruit wasn't as dramatic as I expected from a Grenache. Still it was tasty - A-. The 2007 Petite Syrah from Eagle Point Ranch in Mendocino is big and rich and tannic, and reached into every corner of my mouth; it's an A- but is priced at $45. This year's Imposter, a Rhone-style blend, is terrific - a solid A - much tastier than in past years: a round, broad, deep flavor and wonderful nose.
Sharing the same near-Jack-London-Square space as JC Cellars is Dashe Cellars, notable for their Zinfandels, like this 2009 Dry Creek Valley number at $24 and delicious. Their 2009 Grenache, $24, tastes amazingly like a really great Grenache -- Dashe's wife, it turns out, is from that area of France. Welcome, may I have another taste please? That great strawberry-based fruit flavor! The Dashe 2009 Reisling from McFadden Farms, $20, is a tasty winner -- A -- a touch off dry, just as it's supposed to be.
Urban Legend Cellars had a few more wines besides the wonderful Rose I mentioned earlier -- they poured a prerelease Tocai Friulano from Chiles Valley, $24, a typically odd-but-interesting Italian white, somewhat like a Sauvignon Blanc. They are also one of the few in this area to produce a Reisling, the 2010 Lake County, $18, and a delicious one at that -- a prerelease of their 2010 from The 80 Vineyard. It's rich, round and full, and slightly off dry, and completely delicious. I also liked the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, made from organic grapes from Lake County, $18.
The 2009 Tempranillo, from Clarksburg and priced at $24, has a peppery aroma, and is rich, with a big middle palate. Like most of the Urban Legend wines, it has a wonderful aroma.
Eno Wines was showing an 07 Pinot from the Santa Lucia Highlands -- a nice aroma, slightly tart, reasonably rich; $35. I liked it.
They also had an 07 Grenache from near Ukiah, also a bit tart, $25 -- this would work best as a beverage wine, one to have with food. Their 08 Syrah, from a cool area of Sonoma, is also tart, but with rich fruit. They seem to like a tang to their wines. B+. I was thinking these two wines would make a good blend.
Irish Monkey has a big Merlot; B++. Good, though not my style.
From Cerruti Cellars I tasted a delicious Zin -- 2008 Flat Bed Red, a California blend, $15 only -- A- but, sadly, only 81 cases made. See? You really have to live in Northern California, or have wineries like this on your email list so you can grab them as soon as they are released! Their 2006 Clift Vineyard/Oak Knoll Cab, at $40, OTOH, was just OK to my taste: B.
I missed many fine wineries this year--Tayerle, Prospect, Stage Left, Periscope, Urbano. If you ever have a chance to tour East Bay wineries, you should not miss them. You'll find a complete list at http://www.EastBayVintners.com, along with a map, when they are open, and whether they have tasting rooms (not all do, but that's rapidly changing -- bring a crowd and they'll probably open doors just for you!).
God, isn't wine the most wonderful thing?