It was tough to tell whether there was more sloshing around inside or outside. Under clouds of sopping, pouring rain, winemakers poured glasses of wine at the SF Vintner’s Market this last weekend. The event, which allows people to buy wine at the actual event, was held at the cavernous Fort Mason exhibition hall and was chock full of Napa and Sonoma wineries. Cabs and Zinfandels dominated the event — rich, dark, ripe wines dripping with sunshine and caramel-chocolate notes. The crowd was snappy and very young — it was hard to find a soul over 40 in the large hall, which made for a loud and boozy crowd.
But let’s talk about what really matters, the wine:
Fogline Vineyards, which is sourcing from Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley and the Sonoma Coast (near the Petaluma Gap) was pouring their 2009 Fogline Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, which at $35/bottle, is a great deal. The wine effuses delicate florals, particularly violet notes, has a bright, zingy acidity and a long balanced finish. Really great deal, particularly since the fruit seems to be of high-quality. The winery is still in its infancy — the total production for the Pinot is only 145 cases — but there’s lots of promise. Their 2009 Fogline Vineyards Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel also showed the kind of restraint I like — there was more delicate fruit and less chocolate/cocoa. Again, at $24, it’s a steal.
Boisset Family Wines had a lavish display and was pouring from their various wineries (from France and Napa). The winner of the table was a 2003 Savigny-les-Beaune Pinot Noir ($47). The wine had aged very well — it didn’t have the shiny, new fruit flavors of a younger wine, but there was still some nice gentle fruit, along with nice juicy tannins and some leathery notes on the finish. It was the kind of wine you really want to pour on a rainy winter night — it doesn’t shock your system with ripeness and fruit, but rather soothes you into the evening. Also from the Boisset family was a nice 2009 Raymond Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley($28). They blended in10% semillon grapes, giving it a more lush, rich texture and honeyed character, and aged it in oak. The result is a wine with creamy strawberry and tropical fruits on the nose, but sweet, rich, caramel and honeysuckle notes on the palate. Deliciously long finish.
A nice little gem I found from the Sierra foothills of Yuba County was a 2005 “Heart of Stone” Syrah-Viognier blend from Clos Saron ($35). Slightly richer than its Northern Rhone cousins, this blend still exhibited those lovely dark brooding blackberry, tobacco, blueberry and leather notes, but had some light floral notes for balance.
Heidi Barrett and her daughter Remi were pouring the La Sirena wines over in the “Reserve Corner.” For those not-in-the-know, Heidi Barrett is the acclaimed winemaker of Screaming Eagle wines and now has her own label. The 2006 Barrett Vineyard Syrah ($80) was my favorite of the table. Dark and earthy, with ripe, juicy blackberry notes and a long sensual finish, this is a wine I’d like at my Thanksgiving table. Also pretty damn amazing was the 2007 La Sirena Cabernet Sauvignon ($150) — velvety, balanced, brimming with dried cherries and cranberries — this is the wine that Heidi Barrett is famous for.
In their inaugural year of production, Beltrane Ranch, which supplies fruit to Cakebread, poured their 2009 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. With a honey-lemon nose, the wine displayed a rich but crisp texture and was dominated by citrus on the palate — it is definitely what I would call a Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.
The stars of the Cabernet Sauvignon show, however, were a couple of winemakers tucked in a corner of Demuth Kemos. Up in the “True Sonoma Coast,” their vineyards sit above the fogline (1700 ft. of elevation), making for windy, windy days and warmer nights. These guys are still young: their first vintage was in 2004, but they are making some stellar wines. Their 2008 Demuth Kemos Bei Ranch Syrah was definitely less inky and intense than those I’d tried earlier, but exhibited a true sense of terroir. This wine was no tannic monster; instead red berries balanced out the typical Syrah notes of blackberry and blueberry in a lighter-style wine. My favorite Cab of the night was their 2007 Demuth Kemos Chalk Hill Cabernet Sauvignon ($60). Unlike many overripe Napa-style Cabs popular today, this wine had nice bright notes sparkling with acidity; bright, clean fruit; and light but noticeable tannins. This is the kind of wine that can really withstand some aging without getting flabby. Also stellar was their 2007 Demuth Kemos Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon ($75), a blend of two blocks. It’s a little bit on the riper style, but the acidity was still high, there were some lovely plum and raspberry notes on the palate and some noticeable florals. These guys aren’t messing around with their terroir: their fermentation is 100% native.
On a final note, I also found a nice 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley coming out of Delgadillo Cellars up in the Calistoga area. The wine had crisp, bright notes and lots of juicy fruit — impressive for a wine that had aged nearly 10 years. Lots of cherry, dark plum and tobacco on the palate.
So that’s what you missed! For those attending next year — get there early. The crowds were a bit thick and the pours were generous, making for some raucousness at this event, which is a bit of a turnoff if you’re there to actually taste the wine and not just drink. As we were leaving, several guys threw their wine glasses on the floor to make a scene. Sigh… seems like not everyone comes to savor the wines — some come to gulp ’em down. But the wines represented were definitely of very high quality, so certainly a worthwhile weekend event.