Thursday, December 29, 2011

Domenico Winery - An Italian Urban Winery in San Carlos, California

Continuing the theme of visiting urban wineries, having visited Alameda and San Francisco, I headed south to San Carlos to visit Domenico Winery.

The winery is founded by Dominick (“Domenico” in Italian) Chirichillo who was introduced to home wine making back in 1955 in New York by his grandfather, who had a wine press in the basement. Dominick then continued the family tradition of home wine making, entering amateur competitions.

 Prior to opening Domenico Wines, Dominick and is wife Gloria’s passion for the wine business was shared with others on both the East and West Coasts through the Bacchus Winemaking Club. This membership club enabled many more people to create their own wines with custom labels. Over 200,000 cases of wine have been created by amateur winemakers on both the East and West Coasts through the years.

Then Dominick began commercial wine making in Northern California at Domenico Winery where he was able to acquire premium wine grapes from the Napa Valley, Sonoma’s Central Coast, the Alexander Valley, the Russian River Valley, Amador County, the Santa Cruz Mountains and Lodi California. His success in crafting wines has not gone unnoticed as he has been awarded over 300 Medals for wines produced from these regions.

While Domenico Winery specializes in Italian varietals (such as Aglianico, Barbera, Dolcetto, Montepulciano, and Primativo) made in an old-world style they also produce several French varietals including Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Bordeaux blends.

While visiting I tasted the following wines:

My first white wine was the 2010 Riesling, California. This is a big, round creamy and fruity style Riesling that displays a lot of tropical and canned fruit aromas (pears and peaches) along with golden delicious apples. So, this is not your typical German super-crisp style wine. It sells for $16.60 a bottle

My first red wine was 2007 Pinot Noir from the Santa Cruz Mountains. They don’t use Pinot stemware so I brought in one of my own. This is an unmistakable Santa Cruz Pinot that is very similar to wines I have tasted at David Bruce Winery. It is a darker-earthier wine with loads of fresh strawberry preserves, cherries, cranberries with under lying notes of cinnamon and spice. A really nice wine for $35 a bottle.

My second red wine was the 2005 Aglianico which is a blend of 91.7% Aglianico and 8.3% Petite Sirah. Pronounced “ah-LYAH-nee-koe,” it is rarely found in California and it originated in Greece and was then Greek settlers brought it to the south of Italy and it is now grown in Basilicata and Campania. This is a very old-world style wine, very earthy, big and meaty with tannins that have a definite grip. On the tail end of the nose I also picked up more black fruits, cinnamon and cola. This is not a sipping wine and needs some hearty beef or barbequed beef to be truly appreciated. It sells for $30 a bottle and I brought one home. I’ll probably open it the next time I have a BBQ with some friends.

The third red wine that was poured was the 2007 Primativo. This is another grape that originated in Greece and was brought to Italy. It is found in the southeastern Puglia region of Italy, above the “boot,” along the coast. It is the grandfather of Zinfandel and was named “Primitivo” by Benedictine monks because of it early maturity in this region. However, both Primitivo and Zinfandel are actually clones of a Croatian grape called Crljenak Kaštelanski (pronounced “sirl-yen-ack kastelanski”). This wine does not have your typical California Zinfandel profile. Think of this as a tomato and pasta wine, it is bold and fruity with loads of raspberries, blackberries, plums, spice and a hint of anise on the back end. It seems sweet on entry but a little spicy on the finish. Again, this is not so much a sipping wine as it is the perfect compliment to a Friday night pizza. It sells for $30 a bottle and I brought one home.
The next two samples were both dessert wines, a white and a red.

The first was the 2010 “Piccolo Dolce” Moscato, California - a blend of 67% Moscato di Alexandria and 33% Orange Moscato. This wine displays a classic nose of honey, melon, orange blossoms as well as pears and canned peaches. It isn’t overly sweet but it is quite viscous as it coats your mouth. It sells for $22 a bottle.

The second dessert wine and final sample of the day was the 2005 “Black Silk” Ruby Red Dessert Wine. This wine is entirely made from the Portuguese grape Souzao (also called Sousão or Vinhão) that originated in the Minho regions of Portugal and it is also found in Douro, and Dão-Lafões area. It is generally used for make Port. Whereas the previous wine was only slightly sweet, this one is S-W-E-E-T ! It also has a bit of alcohol bite on the finish. On the nose and palate it displays blackberry jam, cassis, and dark chocolate and it sells for $22 for a 375 ml bottle.

If you are in the area, I highly recommend visiting. Like many other urban wineries, it is in an industrial part of town where you wouldn’t expect to find a winery.

To visit or for more information:

Domenico Winery
1697 Industrial Road
San Carlos, California 94070
Phone: 1-650-593-2335

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Day After Christmas at Wattle Creek Winery – Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco


While technically not an urban winery, since the actual winery is established in Sonoma, on the day after Christmas I decided to visit the Wattle Creek Winery tasting room in San Francisco located at the Fisherman's Wharf in the Ghiradeli Square.

Wattle Creek Winery, founded by Christopher and Kristine Williams, is a family owned winery producing small quantities of premium wine from their estate Alexander Valley and Yorkville Highlands vineyards. 

In 1994 Christopher and Kristine purchased the 51-acre Alexander Valley vineyard that they then replanted. Four years later they acquired another 600 acres in the Yorkville Highlands appellation in 1998. From these vineyards they produce an impressive portfolio of wines including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Muscat Canelli, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Petit Sirah, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Bordeaux and Rhone style blends.

The Wattle Creek tasting room is located in San Francisco’s historic Ghirardelli Square near Fisherman’s Wharf and it is open seven days a week. But, finding a parking space in the area can be a bit challenging - especially if it is the day after Christmas, the 3rd busiest shopping day of the year!

The tasting room has three flights; a White Wine flight ($10 for 5 wines), a Red Wine flight ($10 for 5 wines) and a Reserve Wine flight ($15 for 5 wines). While visiting I sampled (and spit into a cup) the following wines from all three flights:

My first wine was the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc from Mendocino. Usually on a fairly cold winter day I wouldn’t find a wine such as this all that appealing, but this was wine had the balance of fruit, herbs and acidity that I look for in a Sauv Blanc and it is at a  price point that can’t be beat. On the nose I picked up peaches, nectarines, “7-Up” or “Sprite” soda with some tropical undertones followed by a hint of fresh cut grass and a lingering melon finish. It has a full mouth feel, is somewhat silky and yet it maintains its crispness all the way through. A really nice wine for only $15 a bottle. I would have bought one but I was more in the market for buying a unique red wine blend.

My second wine was the 2009 Viognier from the Alexander Valley. Think of this wine as being done in a California Chardonnay style. It is aged sur lies in 15% New French Oak and is very tropical and floral on the nose with mango, bananas, apricots and vanilla. On the palate it has a lot of weight for a white wine with a full-mouth creamy feel and a little hazelnut on the finish and return. A well crafted wine if you like this style. It sells for $24 a bottle.

My first red wine was the 2009 Pinot Noir from Yorkville Highlands. Aged in 35% New French Oak it undergoes a cold-soak maceration which extracts more fruit and color, making this wine a fruit forward, bold style wine yet it maintains the elegance and finesse and complexity that Pinot lovers look for from this varietal. On the nose this wine displays fresh strawberries, dried Cherries and potpourri aromas along with a hint of vanilla, caramel and spice. On the palate the profile of the aromas are repeated along with silky tannins and a full-mouth feel. At $30 a bottle, this wine could easily compete with others in the $40 - $45 price range

My second red wine was the 2007 Merlot from Yorkville Highlands. Aged in 35% new French oak and 15% American Oak this is a bigger Merlot, one that would be appreciated by Cabernet lovers, with a bit of grip in the tannins on the front end and yet supple on the mid palate. This Merlot displays inviting aromas of cherry pie filling, sweet plums and violets. On the palate it has layers of maraschino cherries, fresh baked pie crust and a hint of damp earth. A nice wine for $30 a bottle.

My third sample of red wines was the 2007 Malbec from the Alexander Valley, a blend of 84% Malbec and 16%Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine spent 14 months in the barrel, 100 French Oak of which 30% was new. This is a bigger and earthier style Malbec with a lot of dark fruit - black cherry, dark plums, dark chocolate and freshly poured concrete on the nose as well as some spice and toasted bread on the back end. A bit steep at $38 a bottle but if you’re a Malbec fiend you’ll want to check this one out.

The fourth red wine pour was the 2006 Triple Play from Yorkville Highlands. A Rhone style blend of 94% Syrah, 3% Petite Sirah and 3% Viognier. This wine underwent a cold maceration for 72 hours before undergoing fermentation which extracts great color and fruit concentration. The wine was then transferred directly to barrel for 18 months of maturation. This is a deep, dark and complex wine with layers of fruit, earth and spice that linger for days. On the nose I picked up blackberries, raspberries, molasses, anise, black pepper and mocha. On the palate the oak is noticeable but not overbearing as the fruit shines through and is followed by an earthy spice finish. The tannins are supple and the wine has a full-bodied mouth feel. A really nice wine for $25 and my favorite of the evening, so I brought one home.

My fifth red wine was the 2009 Petit Sirah from Yorkville Highlands. To say this wine is intense and concentrated would be an understatement. An inky wine, dark purple to purple to almost black in color. The nose seemed a bit closed (perhaps due to the cold temperature) but I was able to coax out of it wild blackberries, tar, anise, black pepper, sweet pipe tobacco with a touch of oak. The nose is confirmed on the palate along with tannins that made my teeth stick to the front of my mouth and I could feel them being stained purple. If this is what you’re looking for, this wine sells for $30 a bottle.

The sixth red wine was the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Alexander Valley. A blend of 93% Cabernet sauvignon and 7% Malbec, this is not your humongous over the top Napa style wine. It displays a lot of finesse and elegance but is quite tame in comparison to the previously sampled Petit Sirah suggesting that perhaps this one ought to be served earlier in the line up. On the nose I picked up red currants, raspberry, cocoa, a hint of tobacco, cedar and a hint of mint and eucalyptus. On the palate this wine is extremely supple and silky with definite “ready to drink now” approachableness. A nice wine but a bit steep at $42 a bottle.

My final red wine pour was the bigger brother of the previous wine, the 2006 Vintage Select Cabernet Sauvignon also from the Alexander Valley. Whereas the previous wine was a blend, this one is 100% Cabernet. The nose on this wine is very distinct from the previous Cab, as it exudes a classic Cab profile of black currants, graphite and a shade of oak followed by cigar box and dark chocolate. This wine is also very supple with velvety tannins yet it also has just a slight grip on entry. A really fine wine but at $65 a bottle there is a lot of competition out there at that price range.

Overall, Wattle Creek Winery has a profile of wine to suit every palate - big California styled whites, voluptuous Bordeaux varietals as well as big, tight and aggressive Rhone varietals. If you are ever in the city, I highly recommend stopping in!

For more information or to visit:

Wattle Creek Winery (Ghirardelli Square)

900 North Point St,

San Francisco, CA 94109

Phone for San Francisco Tasting Room: 1-415-359-1206

Wattle Creek Winery (Sonoma)

25510 River Road

Cloverdale CA, 95425

Phone for winery tasting appointment: 1-707-894-5166

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Rockwall Wines – A Unique Urban Winery Consortium in Alameda, California

After visiting Rosenblum Cellars, I drove just around the corner to Rock Wall Wine Company, located on the former Alameda Naval Air Base which was decommissioned in 1997 and is slowly being converted for civilian use. The name Rock Wall refers to the defensive perimeter wall built during WWII in the San Francisco Bay to protect the base from Japanese air to sea torpedoes. The wine making facility is housed in a converted 40,000 square-foot airplane hangar known as Building 24, and it has been retrofitted with state-of-the-art winemaking equipment.

The Rock Wall Wine Company is founded and operated by a small group of wine industry veterans, including consulting winemaker Kent Rosenblum and his daughter Shauna Rosenblum, which offers wine lovers one of the most unique experiences in the wine world.

As an Urban winery that sources its fruit from multiple vineyards from around the state, it is ideally operated from a central regional location that enables the wine making team the ability to handle the fruit as soon as it is harvested, whether it is Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley, Zinfandel from Sonoma County, Petite Sirah from Contra Costa County or Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands.

In addition to the Rock Wall Wine Company the vast winery building is also home to other local winemakers and boutique wine brands (Carica Wines, Ehrenberg Cellars, JRE Wines, Joseph Gary Cellars, R&B Cellars, and Rock Wall Wine Company). A unique concept, Rock Wall Wine Company is, in essence, a wine center that services the East Bay. Through the wine center, the Rock Wall owners look forward to continuing the legacy of urban winemaking as well as providing an environment whereby making, tasting and learning about wine is fun!

You can sample the wines from either inside the tasting room or on the back patio that has spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline. 

During my visit it was a bit hazy outside so I sampled the following wines at the tasting bar:

My first wine sampled was JRE (John Robert Eppler) Wine’s 2010 Fume Blanc, Napa (Rutherford). This Sauvignon exudes tropical notes of mango as well as fresh pears followed by a very pronounced grassy-herbal character that seems almost New Zealand-like. Crisp and clean with a strong mineral finish, this wine sells for $18 a bottle.

My second wine was the Rock Wall Wine Co. 2009 Zinfandel from Sonoma, which has 3% Petite Sirah. A lighter styled Zin, this wine has bright notes of strawberries, sour cherries, and a hint of herbs on the nose. On the palate the tannins have a firm grip on the gums and a lot more pepper on the finish than on the nose. This wine sells for $25 a bottle.

My third wine was the 2009 Zinfandel from Jesse’s Vineyard in Contra Costa County and has a similar profile to the Zin I had tasted at Rosenblum that was also from CC County. This wine sells for $28 a bottle.

The fourth pour was the Rock Wall’s version of a Super Tuscan call “Super Alameda” which is 50% Sangiovese, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Montepulciano and 8% Zinfandel. It is a simple bright red, medium bodied wine with tart cherries on the nose and perceptible acidity on the palate. It would pair well with pasta, pizza and similar food. Not bad for $20 a bottle.

My fifth wine sample (remember folks… I’m spitting into a cup!) was the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Hallbrook Vineyard in the Napa Valley. On the nose, black currant, dark chocolate, some earthy tones and tobacco. On the palate it is well rounded, medium bodied and intensity with refined tannins. It sells for $38 a bottle but there are many like it on the market in the $20 - $25 range.

The sixth wine was the first that I really thought was outstanding, the Carica Kick Ranch Petite Sirah. This is a deep, dark, powerful intense wine of concentrated fruit – cassis, blackberry pie, and beef jerky with some pipe tobacco in the background. If you like P.S., you’ll love this one if you’ve got $36 to shell out – I did, so I bought one.

Finally, I sampled the 2009 Palindrome Tannat. This wine has a classic Tannat profile -dark plums, tobacco, a hint of smoke and a truck load of TANNIN with a capital “T.” This is no sipping wine, it needs a steak to be truly appreciated as it will make your teeth stick to the front of your lips. This wine sells for $22 a bottle, if you aren’t familiar with Tannat this is a “must taste” wine!

For more information or to visit:

Rockwall Wines
2301 Monarch Street, Suite 300
Alameda, CA 94501
Phone: 1-510-522-5700  


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

Monday, December 5, 2011

Fall Colors in the Vineyard - 2011

This is a collection of my favorite pictures of the fall colors in the vineyards during my wine country travels in the Napa Valley, in Sonoma, Santa Rosa and the Santa Cruz Mountains. 

The following Wineries are featured in this video:

Duckhorn Vineyards
Gargiulo Vineyards
James Cole Estate Winery
Ledson Winery and Vineyards
Paraduxx Wines
Ridge Vineyards
Silverado Vineyards
Sunce Winery

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Eric Ross Winery – An Urban Winery in the Town of Glen Ellen, California

After a week of unusually strong wind storms in the San Francisco Bay Area, just about every leaf on every vine has been blow away leaving the vineyard with barren canes. For a wine country photographer, such as myself, it means an end to capturing the splendor of Fall colors. Consequently, this transition in the season is a good time to explore wineries that don’t own a vineyard and make their wines from grapes that are resourced from grape growers.

Have you ever been to a winery without a vineyard?

There are a lot of grape growers and that own vineyards but don’t make wine as they are solely in the business of selling grapes to wineries. There are also wineries that don’t own vineyards and are solely in the business of making wine. Some wineries that don’t own vineyards establish long-term contracts with grape growers in order to establish a close relationship with the source of their grapes and have a consistent control over the selection and quality of the grapes. I have also met a number of vineyard owners who are currently selling all their grapes to other wineries but as soon as their vines have matured and they have established enough financial capital they plan to invest in building a winery with a barrel room, a tasting room and so forth.

The venue of wineries that don’t own a vineyard and solely rely on resourced fruit can be in unusual places due the modern ability to transport grapes over long stances. They may reside in small towns, inner cities, business parks, or even shopping malls and generally they are categorized as “urban wineries.”

So, for the next month or so I plan to visit a number of urban wineries beginning with Eric Ross Winery in the small town of Glen Ellen which is in the middle of one of the most well known wine producing regions in California - Sonoma County.

Eric Ross began his career as a photographer with the San Francisco Chronicle (which once had an excellent Wine section in their paper!) and while shooting the vineyards and wineries he had the opportunity to meet growers and vintners and get an inside look into the winery country lifestyle, and an understanding of the special qualities of specific vineyards and their geo-graphic location.

(THAT is the exact same reason why I love traveling to wine countries in California – it is only by seeing the land and meeting the people that you can truly come to understand the artist behind the art of winemaking!)

Eric Ross then went on to running a home wine making group and completing Enology courses through UC Davis and studying Viticulture at Santa Rosa City College and started his own winery in the heart of quaint little town of Glen Ellen California. Although Eric’s winery is adjacent to two of the most well known wine region in California he doesn’t restrict himself to just local grapes or the most common varietals – Cab, Merlot or Chardonnay. Rather he sources grapes from the Mendocino, the Russian River, the Dry Creek Valley and even as far away as Lodi from which he produces a number of Rhone varietals, Rhone blends, Old Vine Zin, Tempranillo and the seldom seen white wine – Albariño.

THAT is why I chose to begin my tour of urban wineries at Eric Ross Winery, to try something different… and I didn’t leave disappointed!

While visiting the little tasting room I sampled the following wines:

The first wine I sampled was the 2010 Marsanne-Roussanne – Russian River Valley. Rhone white wine blends usually have some Viognier in them or sometimes you can find these varietals as a “stand alone” wine. But rarely do you find these two blended without Viognier. So this was a great opportunity to taste a unique blend. The grapes are sourced from Saralee’s Vineyard from which Eric also sources his Pinot Noir. On the nose I picked up apricots, cantaloupe, and just a touch of marzipan. Crips and clean with bright acidity a really nice wine for $28 a bottle. My only complaint is that (like SO many wineries) it was served WAY too cold and so I had to warm in in my hands before it could be truly appreciated.
My second white wine sample is an extremely rare varietal in California, the 2010 Albariño. The grapes are sourced from the Bokisch Vineyards in Lodi. It is widely grown in Spain (especially in Rias Baixas) and in Portugal this grape is known as Alvarinho. This is a very aromatic wine so if you like Viognier, Gewürztraminer or Riesling you love this wine. On the nose I picked up white flowers, apples, lime, peaches, and marzipan. A really nice wine that needed to be added to my collection, so for $25 I brought a bottle home.

My first red wine was the 2010 Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley, where I spent the fourth of July Weekend in search of great Pinots. Like the Marsanne-Roussanne blend this wine is also from Saralee’s Vineyard. This wine is the perfect expression of what the Russian River can provide with layers of black cherries, raspberries, plums, cinnamon and just a hint of cedar or cigar box on the end. If my cellar wasn’t already full of Pinot from last Summer’s travels I would have brought one home as the price tag of $45 a bottle is just about right for this quality of wine.

My second red wine was Eric’s “winemaker’s blend” the 2010 “Struttin’ Red!” a unique blend of 65% Tempranillo, 29% Old Vine Zinfandel, 6% Petit Sirah. An earthy and jammy wine with a very expressive nose of black berries, pipe tobacco, cigar box, and black olives. A nice wine for $32 a bottle.

My third red wine was my favorite, the 2010 Tempranillo. The grapes are sourced Bokisch Vineyard in Lodi. On the nose I picked up fresh blackberries, mocha, crispy bacon, and blueberries on the back end which made me think this wine was somewhat Malbec-like. Great Tempranillos are hard to find in California so e I brought one home for $38.

My fourth red wine was the 2009 Gout de la Vigne (Taste The Vineyard”), a Syrah co-fermented with 10% Viognier. (check out the video of Eric making this wine at: ) The grapes are sourced from Alder Springs Vineyard in Mendocino. This is my style of Syrah, which reflects a profile cool climate which provides more fresh fruit, floral components and herbs than many versions I have tasted in hotter regions such as the central valley. This wine exudes blueberries, violets, anise and just a touch of pepper and bacon on the back end. A really nice wine for $45 a bottle.

My fifth red wine was the 2009 Old Vine Zinfandel - Dry Creek Valley. The grapes are sourced from three different blocks of 90 year-old vines. Although the alcohol is at 14.8% this wine is really well balanced and it is actually under many others on the market which I’ve seen at 16%+. On the nose I picked up dates, dusty wild blackberries, a touch of molasses and just a hint of a campfire on the back end. Well structured with good backbone, the tannins are noticeable but kept in check. This wine demands a piece of meat to be truly appreciated. A nice wine but there are many like it in the $20-25 range so the $38 price tag is a bit steep.

My final wine was the 2009 Old Vine Zin Port. Honestly, I prefer traditional port made from Portuguese grapes (Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Toriga Francesa and Torga Nacional) as they tend to have more complexity and development from the initial sip through the mid palate transition and finish. Zin "ports" tend to be delicious but also simple and sweet and this one is no different. On the nose I picked up blackberry jam and dried plums and on the palate it reminds me of boysenberry syrup without the syrupy texture. It is rich, silky smooth and hedonistic and would go well with a slice of cheese cake, but it is a bit pricy at $48 a bottle.

For more information or to visit:

Eric Ross Winery
14300 Arnold Drive
Glen Ellen, CA, 95442
Phone: 1-707-939-8525