Wednesday, August 13, 2008

John Christopher Cellars - Fine Wine at the Blacksmith Square in Livermore

If you are adventuring in the Livermore Wine Country in California you may be tempted to limit your exploration to Tesla Road where most of the wineries are located. But there are many others worth visiting in the outlying areas such as in Pleasanton, Sunol and other locations in Livermore.

This past Saturday I took a stroll out to the Livermore Valley and dropped in on a little party called “Livemore Taste of Down Town” that was taking place at the Blacksmith Square located at South Livermore Avenue on August 9 – 10th. The Square has a nice patio area with umbrella covered tables where visitors can leisurely sip their wine. There is also room for a small stage where on occasion live bands can perform like the blues band that performed this past weekend.
There are five wineries that have tasting rooms at the Blacksmith Square: John Christopher Cellars, Battaion Cellars, Cuda Ridge Wines, Hidden Creek Wine/ Red Skye Winery, Retzlaff Estate Winery (also located at the winery at 1356 South Livermore Ave) and Thomas Coyne Winery (also located at the winery at 51 East Vallecitos Road).

I had visited Retzlaff and Thomas Coyne at their main winery some time ago and Hidden Creek Wine/ Red Skye Winery last Christmas Eve with a buddy of mine. Unfortunately Battaion Cellars, which makes sparkling wines, was not open.

So, I tasted at John Christopher Cellars and had the opportunity to talk to the wine maker Tom Doczy. The winery is named after two of his sons who often lend a hand in naming the wines.

For a $5 fee you can try five wines which is waved if you purchase a bottle of wine. My first wine was the 2006 Fraser/Howard Vineyard Chardonnay (Livermore Valley). This wine is a good representation of a California styled Chardonnay which is light on the mid palate with a noticeable but not overly buttery feel stemming from its full malolactic fermentation. It has a lingering finish that is not overly oaky but if you prefer crisper and more acidic whites this may not appeal to you. At only $19 a bottle I thought it was a fair price.

My second wine was the 2004 California Petite Syrah which comes from the wine maker’s two favorite vineyards in Lodi. According to Tom, 70% comes from the Ripken Vineyard and 30% comes from the Cranston Vineyard. This is definitely a full bodied wine, with soft tannins and a mouth full of blueberry jam. For only $22 a bottle it is a good deal as I have tasted similar wines in the region for well over $30.

My third wine was the 2004 Reserve Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel. I purchased a bottle of this wine the last time I visited at John Christopher Cellars on Christmas Eve 2007. I’m not sure if it was the difference in the weather (Summer verses Winter) but it seemed to me like this wine is now exhibiting more dried fruit characteristics than before, particularly dried plums and figs. It is not quite raisony but close to it. It has very soft tannins and I am sure many would enjoy it, but I prefer my Zins to have a little more spice and I know of others that would be $5-$10 cheaper as this one rings in at $26. Having said all that, this wine would pair well with any great barbequed meat with a spiced rub.

My next two tastes were very similar, one being the bigger brother of the other. According to Tom, the 2003 Epic is an equal portion blend of 37% Zinfandel and 37% Petite Syrah with the remaining 26% being Syrah. The wine is well balanced, has a nice tannin structure with a touch of blackberry and a light peppery finish. At only $20 a bottle I thought this was an excellent value and it was my favorite in the line up until….

My final pour was the 2005 Endeavor which is a similar to the 2003 Epic with a noticeably pronounced emphasis on the Zinfandel. After tasting my first sip I asked Tom about it and he informed me that this blend is a 40% Zinfandel, 50% Petite Syrah and 10% Syrah. That slight change in the percentages seemed to my palate to make a huge difference as it quickly became my favorite of the afternoon. The slightly more Zin gives this wine a little more of a fruit forward appeal and yet the other two grapes in this blend bring a more full mouth feel in the mid palate and finish. While I am a big Old Vine Zin fan, I found the addition of the Petite Syrah and Syrah in this blend gave each other what the other lacked. This is a superb wine for $28.


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