Friday, December 19, 2014

Wineaux: Two weeks behind the bar


March 8, 2011 |

During my two weeks pouring wine at Monticello, I met a number of “Wineaux” readers — our lively conversations made the project more fun than work. The wine tasters seemed to enjoy talking to one another, too. I kept hearing snatches of fascinating stories while I tried to remember who was drinking what. More than one person told me the whole scene felt like something out of “Cheers.”

Monticello is still working on the wine list, but I thought I’d share some of my own tasting thoughts along with a few customer comments, which appear in parentheses. My overall conclusion is that there’s a lot of good wine out there, some of it coming from our very own little community. Bob Marr, Craig Senders and Bob Traverso, for example, are all making terrific wines.

My favorite Marr is the ’05 Petite Sirah (“rich, full, fruity”; “less sweet than what I’m used to with Petite Sirah and much more smoky/earthy/meaty”), though some folks preferred the Petit Sirah Cuvée Patrick, named after Bob’s son (“Wonderful with food — becomes better as you eat”).

A big Senders hit was the ’08 Napa Rosé. Several non-fans of Rosé (including me) thought it was delightful (“not anything like I imagined”). This Rosé, made from Cabernet grapes, will make a good companion to the Fiddlehead Rosé of Pinot Noir already on the Monticello wine list.

Bob Traverso’s elegant ’05 Syrah impressed me (“very fragrant — very satisfying to the palate”), too, not at all the fruit bomb that so many California Syrahs have become, but a flavorful, restrained and food-friendly wine. In general, I’d even say that you can’t go too far wrong with any Marr, Senders or Traverso offering.

Our better-known local wines impressed tasters, too. You already know that I really like the ’05 Rominger West Syrah, but the ’07 Chardonnay made a couple of converts (“Do not like Chardonnay — really liked this.”) I had a good time with the Berryessa Gap releases — especially comparing the two Tempranillos.

The ’07 Rocky Ridge Reserve made the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine Top 100 Wines of 2010 and got consistently good reviews from my tasters (“excellent, somewhat fruity wine, very good aroma, I would buy it”). I agreed, but I ended up preferring the slightly lighter, livelier ’07 non-reserve Tempranillo.

The Putah Creek Barbera continues to be my favorite from that local winery. Monticello already has the surprising and delightful Capay Valley Sparkling Viognier on its list — as well as many other local offerings.

Not all the tasted wines, of course, came from our immediate back yard. Two Mendocino wineries, Foursight and Navarro, garnered a lot of praise. Foursight’s intensely fragrant (dry) Gewürtztraminer was a revelation to folks used to sweet Gewürtz. Navarro also makes a delicious dry Gewürtz, as well as a wonderful dry Riesling and, perhaps my favorite wine of the whole tasting, in part because it’s so unusual, a beautifully floral, tasty, dry Muscat.

All these wines are lovely examples of their respective varietals. You won’t, by the way, find bottles of Navarro at your local wine source — you have to visit the winery (a beautiful drive through the Anderson Valley with numerous wonderful tasting rooms along the way, including Foursight), join the wine club or eat at a restaurant that carries it.

(Seasons has several Navarro wines on its excellent list, as well as Traverso, Senders, Bokisch and Fiddlehead.)

Most exciting to me was the strong showing of three organic and/or biodynamic wineries. The Bokisch (Lodi) Albarino Terra Alta Vineyard created fans of this fruity Spanish varietal (“yummy,” “remarkable,” “champagne-esque. Unique”).

Paul Dolan’s ’09 Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc was one of my own highlights of the two weeks’ tasting, but it was hard to choose between that and the Ceago ’09 Kathleen’s Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (“one sip and I loved it”;  “with cheese ‘omg’ ”). All Ceago wines are made with biodynamic grapes.

Paul Dolan’s Pinot Noir (“I’m not a big Pinot person but must admit that I like this wine a lot”) and ’09 Chard came in for a lot of praise as well (“loved it — and I’m not a big Chardonnay drinker!”)

The sweet wine prize went to Ceago’s ’09 Muscat Canelli (“It takes me back to memories of being in the branches of the apricot tree, the sweet-smelling blossoms”) from Clear Lake.

So many wines, so little time.  I had such fun tasting and talking wine during those two weeks (and thanks to my son, Jakob, who helped out the final two days) that I signed on to continue the project. So, every Tuesday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., you can find me pouring at the (finally finished) Monticello bar, 630 G St.

I open four different wines each week, some from the current Monticello wine list, some that are being considered for the list. Five dollars gets you a taste of each. Also available: wines by the glass and chef Tony’s bar menu of small seasonal dishes. Come on by.

This afternoon, Rominger West Winery hosts the Mike Justis band at 4 p.m. and then tomorrow, for ArtAbout, a new exhibit and live jazz, all to the accompaniment of Mark West’s wines. Be sure to ask for a taste of the new Chapman Vineyards red.

— Reach Susan Leonardi at Comment on this column at



Susan Leonardi

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