Monday, December 19, 2011

‘Twas A Week Before Christmas at Rosenblum Cellars – Alameda, California

With vineyards now being bare with neither fruit or leaf, a few weeks ago I decided to focus my California travels to tasting rooms at urban wineries, the first being Eric Ross Winery in Glen Ellen.

While many others were running around shopping malls, working their way through crowded parking lots and standing in long lines in stores, I decided to visit two more urban wineries where one would never expect to find one – adjacent to the former Naval Air Station (N.A.S.) in Alameda California. 

My grandfather, the late Chester Wait, was a career naval officer and his last duty station was at Alameda N.A.S. which is how my father came to California and then met my mother in Oakland. Alameda (founded two days after Christmas in 1884) is sort of like an island, just west of Oakland, and in order to get there you must either go through a tunnel that goes under the water-way or over a bridge. It is a quaint town with historic buildings and Victorian houses surrounded by water and loading docks.

The Alameda N.A.S closed on 25 April 1997. But before then in 1978, Kent Rosenblum “The King of Zin,” opened Rosenblum Cellars and became one of its neighbors. So, whereas most established wineries in California planted themselves out in the country along with their vineyards in order to make estate-grown wines, Kent chose to create the first urban winery and utilize some of the unrecognized and under appreciated grape-growing areas of Northern California and specialize in what many consider to be California’s official grape – Zinfandel. 

Rosenblum Cellars is a founding member of the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers group (ZAP!), and they are known for their huge portfolio of Zinfandels (over 20) sourced from various vineyards in multiple regions (Alexander Valley, Almador, Contra Costa County Lodi, Napa, Paso Robles and Sonoma) working in cooperation with the grape growers in order to create Old Vine Zin, High Altitude Zin, Single Vineyard Zin, BIG Attitude Zin.

But Rosenblum Cellars also produces many other varietal of wines, including Rhône-style red wines like Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, as well as Rhône-style white wines such as Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne. 

Visiting Rosenblum Cellars is a unique experience and this was my third visit. I first visited them at one of their open house events with live music and again in August 2008 after which I gave a brief review. 

Either my ability to appreciate wine has dramatically improved or Rosenblum’s wines have greatly improved, or a little of both. Because this time I was much more impressed with their wines as they didn’t seem as “over the top” and “in your face” as they did before. While visiting, I tasted and thoroughly enjoyed the following wines:

My first wine was the 2009 Preston Vineyard Marsanne from the Dry Creek Valley. I have tasted a number of Marsannes before and I had yet to ever find one that wasn’t blended with Viognier or Marsanne. But this was the first! It has really nice floral nose without being overly perfumy followed by orange peel and marzipan. On the palate it has a full mouth feel, a silky texture in the mid-palate transition followed by a crisp acidity and a prolonged tangy finish.  Since this was the best Marsanne I have had to date, for $30 a bottle I had to bring one home.

My second wine was the 2009 Contra Costa County Zinfandel. This wine is made from a blend of grapes from several vineyards throughout Contra Costa County some of which are the oldest vineyards in the state. The sandy loam soils of the region staved off pests and diseases for over 100 years, leaving gnarly, ancient vines stooped low to the ground. A cooling influence comes from breezes off the delta but unlike the marine layer and fog that affect other coastal areas, the morning and evening delta mist is thinner, allowing sun to filter through. The age of the vines, the daytime heat and the sandy loam soils give wines from this region a distinct profile. On the nose I picked up dried fruits, plums, cherry pie, raspberries and brown sugar. On the palate this wine has a full mouth feel with additional notes of espresso and a hint of spice on the finish. Overall, this wine is well balanced and is a great representative of the region for $25 a bottle.

My third wine was the 2009 Old Vine Carignane made from ancient, gnarled, head-pruned vine in the Redwood Valley in Mendocino County. I have yet to find a bottle of this varietal that I really liked and this one is no exception. So while I am sure this wine is a good representative of this grape… so far (from my experience) it seems to be better utilized as a blending wine. On the nose it has aromas of dried cherries, red plums and a hint of spice. On the palate it is slightly tart, but with good acidity. It sells for $25 a bottle.

My fourth wine Annette’s Reserve Zinfandel, Mendocino County. A blend of 78% Zinfandel, 11% Carignane and 11% Petite Sirah. The profile of this wine reminds me a lot of Ridge Vineyard’s Lynton Zinfandel (which is 74% Zin, 23% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah) that I tasted back in late October and they both sell for the exact same price, $35 a bottle. It would be very interesting to do a blind side-by-side taste test to see which one would win in a competition! I loved this wine so I bought a bottle… I may open this one with Ridge’s some time in 2012 with some friends and see who wins!

My next wine was the 2007 Kick Ranch Syrah from a vineyard located just outside Santa Rosa on the western side of Spring Mountain. From this wine I picked up fresh blackberries, dark chocolate, blueberry pie and cherry cream on the nose and plate and the palate this wine has a BIG blueberry finish. This wine is listed at $45 but it was on sale for $36 a bottle.

My next wine was the steal of the day, the 2008 Heritage Clones Petit Sirah from Contra Costa County. The 80 to 100 years old vineyards are located on the foot of Mt. Diablo at the edge of the San Francisco Bay. On the nose this wine begins very earthy with some sweaty leather notes. So, I then stepped back from the wine, waited a few minutes and then reintroduced myself to it and (as anticipated) the earthiness gave way to beautiful fruit – blackberries and dark plums followed by chocolate and a hint of pepper with a BIG jammy finish. For only $20 I had to bring one home!

My final wine of the day was really interesting, the 2006 Late Harvest Viognier (a Sauternes-style wine), from the Ripken Vineyard in Lodi. The color of this wine is dark gold and on the nose I picked up white flowers, honey, apricot jam, and caramel. On the palate this wine is quite viscous with a rather thick syrupy texture that coats your mouth. A hedonistic wine that has an extremely long finish. If you like this style of dessert wine, this one is fairly price at only $20 a bottle (375 ml).

Overall, I was impressed with the wines and the service as I interacted with several of the servers and personnel who are extremely friendly and helpful. And… if you are a big zin fan and live in the area, you may want to consider joining their club as they host a number of club-only events.

For more information or to visit:

Rosenblum Cellars
2900 Main Street Suite 1100
Alameda, CA 94501
Phone: 1-800-559-8069; 1-510-995-4100

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