Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Urban Legend: Just What You Want from your Boutique Winery...

In August (2011) I stopped by a refresher on the wines of Urban Legend, the small winery in Oakland's Ironworks district near Jack London Square, and one of my favorite of the two dozen urban wineries in the San Francisco East Bay area.

Steven and Marilee Shaffer have built an interesting line of fine wines, every one a tasty example of what you hope for from a boutique winery: Interesting variations on the standards, plus novel wines from grapes you don't see often because they aren't volume sellers. Urban Legend has both.

 Let's get to the wines. Which ones should you pay attention to?

2010 Rosato di Barbera - $19 - A delicious dry rose with a nice middle and good balance -- in fact, "balance" is the characteristic I began to realize, as I tasted across the lineup, that is shared by all the Shaffer's wines. This rose is a great "Porch Wine" -- to drink on the back porch in the summer. New release. (By the way, the grapes here are from Amador county; it has belatedly dawned on me that all the really tasty Barberas I've had lately are made from grapes sourced in Amador County!)

Tocai Friulano, Nichelini Vineyards Rose Block, Chiles Valley, Napa County, 2010, $24 - Nice aroma; stone fruit, then mineral finish; nice acid balance. Marilee said someone referred to the flavor as "a little stone fruit in a bucket of rocks," and that's apt. Nice longer finish. A food wine.

What the heck is it? It's the U.S. version of the wine sold in Italy's Friulani region, and is related to the French Sauvignon Vert (or Muscadelle or Sauvignonasse, just to confuse the issue) and used as a blend component in Sauternes. Interesting.

Sauvignon Blanc, Lake County, 2010, $18 - Made from organic grapes, the acid in this one fills the edges of mouth in a nice way. Nice balanced fruit.

Riesling, Lake Co., 2010, $18 - I like these sweet, and this is dry, but I like it anyway because it's beautiful -- has just enough 'hint' of sweetness (mainly the fruit giving me the illusion of sweetness) to balance the light acid. Like so many Urban Legend wines, it's very nice with a balance middle. They say they made it Alsatian style.

Amador Mouvedre, 2007, $24 - What a wonderful aroma! Brings a smile to your face. Red fruit/raspberry. Again, wonderfully balanced. A dozen fruits! wonderful. 13+%.

Amador Barbera, 2009, $26 - Here it is again, Amador Barbera -- and it is Dee Licious. Cherry, blackberry, cloves, maybe nutmeg--Christmas in a wine. An A++ wine. Grower is Dick Cooper, "the godfather of Barbera" in Amador.

Petit Verdot, Mendocino Co., 2009, $29 - Bright, dark, acidic fruit, round, nice middle, nice tannin, nice aroma - spicy. Deep purple--you can't see anything through it, it's that dark. It's commonly used in Bordeaux, to which is adds (badly needed) juiciness. On its own, it's a juice bomb! But with tannin and more complexity than you'd think.

Teroldego - Holland Landing 2009, Clarksburg, $28. Teroldego isn't a grape you've heard much about -- there is hardly any grown in California, no more than 100 acres, and Urban Legend is one of only two or three wineries here making it. Teroldego is a great-grandparent of Syrah, Steve told me. It's quieter, fruit-wise, than the Petit Verdot I had just had -- and richer, and more tannic. They aged it nine months or so in the bottle before releasing it, to give it extra time to evolve. Good stuff.

Malbec, Mendocino County 2009, $29: Malbec can be harsh, tannic, and crude. It can be good, too, and this is one of those. In addition to a good growing year (Malbec can be tricky), this Malbec benefited by being aged for a year before bottling -- Steve has been adding age to his wines as he builds up supply, and this Malbec, he says, he'd age another two years if he could, because it knits up nicely with aging.  Tasty.

So...which do I recommend? I recommend all of them. There's not a loser in the bunch -- really. My favorites of all are the two Barberas -- the red and the rose -- but I can recommend them all to you. And their other wines, too, which I've tasted in the past: Dolcetto, Sangiovese, and the fun blends Uptown, Ironworks, and the extra-fun Lolapalooza. Check them out online, or stop by for a taste when next you get a chance -- you can get there by BART (the Chinatown Oakland stop on the Fremont line; the winery is right beside the elevated BART tracks) or take the Ferry from San Francisco to Jack London Square, it's only a few-block walk. You can drive, too -- there's always plenty of street parking.

Urban Legend, 621 4th St., Oakland, CA 94607; 510-545-4356. Tasting room open Fri-Sun 1 to 6pm. Founded 2009.

Have you visited Urban Legend yet? Do post your thoughts about your favorites here in the Comments section!

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