Walnut Creek Wine Walk Recap

Walnut Creek Downtown Wine WalkThe Walnut Creek Downtown Business Association launched a new yearly event this past Wednesday (06/25/08) with their first annual Downtown Wine Walk. For a $20 fee, you (were supposed to) receive a commemorative wine glass and a map to that showed the various downtown stores, restaurants and bars that were participating and pouring wine from 6-9pm that evening. This first event focused on Napa wines. The event fit in well with their long-running annual Art & Wine Festival and various downtown art and farmer’s market events. It also was well-timed to take advantage of the wine renaissance that is continuing to take place downtown where many wine bars and stores have gone in over the last year or so (and is also taking place across the Bay Area).

I met up with my friends Kristin & Ian and we had high hopes for the evening until we realized that we should have bought Presales…the line must have been at least a couple hundred people long and was not moving quickly, a sign of the organizational learning that was to be taking place that night. While they had a gentleman walking up and down the line to distribute Will Call tickets, they really could have had at least two or three other attendants to sell tickets. There was no reason to have a day of ticket distribution table. They also quickly ran out of glasses by roughly 6:30 and before we were able to get a glass. When pressed they said absolutely no discounts for this and suggested we call someone at the Downtown Business Association and request a glass after the event. I didn’t necessarily need another glass (although a lot of people in front of me were very disappointed with the glass shortfall), but I really didn’t want to taste fine wine in a clear Dixie cup, particularly after I just paid a full 20 dollars. Ever resourceful, Kristin, Ian and I ventured over to the South end of the map (which was weirdly reversed and went N, S, W, E) and bought 3 stemless glasses at Cost Plus.

All of this finally settled, we ventured around downtown and tasted some pretty tasty wines, all the while served by very courteous and enthusiastic owners and employees of the various stores, bars and restaurants that we entered, learning a bit about the downtown vendors along the way, as intended. I had no idea how high-end Foot Candy was, nor how many rad clothes for my wife were being offered at Norf London.

The evening ended with a requisite visit to Artisan to say hi to Lena, Jenny and Zoe who had personally picked out the wines that they were pouring that night. Despite the many planning issues that surrounded this first WC Wine Walk, Ian, Kristin and I all had a good time by the end of the night.

I won’t be listing direct links to the wines we tasted last Wednesday, but I will be uploading reviews with the tag “2008WCWW“, if you would like to list those wines in your own WineLog. Did you attend this event as well? Post a comment and tell me about your experience, I’d love to hear it!

Barrel Tasting with Lionheart Wines

Leon GloverEvery time I go to a wine event that includes multiple wineries, I will usually find one winery that is new to me and stands out from the rest. I stumbled across many great wineries at the Wine 2.0 Spring Fling at Crushpad last April. But two wines from a particular new winery have stuck with me over the last two months. Leon C. Glover III’s Lionheart Wines had two very good Syrahs that night…and the scary thing is that they were from his very first and second vintages!

2005 found Leon in an interesting spot in his life. As a former and very successful Programmer/Project Manager, Associate Venture Partner focused on technical due diligence, self-taught chef and a recent recipient of an MBA, he was looking at his options in a tech industry environment that was beginning to look like the late 90’s again with the Web 2.0 movement in full hype. Then, a funny thing happened. His wife, Jen stepped in and offered him a rather nice gift…of the kind that keep giving. She said that he should get his vacillating behind down to Crushpad, San Francisco’s custom wine crush facility and pick out a barrel of wine that he’d like to adopt.

LionThree years later, a whole of lot stained hands, a rather healthy dose of perfectionism and a completely new career has found Leon successfully leading a rapidly rising new winery and quickly making a name for himself in another very challenging and competitive industry. This time, however, success means having something great to go with dinner!

Last Saturday Leon graciously extended me an offer to taste his new wines that are still in barrel. Considering the fact that I was still contemplating his unusually complex Syrahs from WineTwo, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to taste his new babies and then follow their maturation from the barrel to the bottle and then through to cellar aging. I hopped on BART and headed over to Crushpad to arrive perfectly on time at 11 am.

Wine ThiefLeon quickly greeted me and we headed off in search of stemware, spit cup and wine thief. Proving that all successful thieves are elusive, we had a bit of a challenge finding the tool that allows one to easily siphon a small amount of wine from a barrel or steel tank. Search completed we headed into the vast warehouse that houses Crushpad.

Angel's ShareWe first tasted The Angel’s Share 2007 white Rhone blend. A tremendous start to the day, its complexity and interesting flavor dichotomy of both crisp bright fruit and underlying creaminess in its finish was a great prelude to the other wines that we would be tasting.

Indeed, that dichotomy of two seemingly disparate qualities in a fine wine, purity of bright fruit wonderfully balanced with a sensual and savory mouthfeel became the theme in all of Leon’s wines that he pipetted into my glass. The ’07 single vineyard Roussane had its own developing complexities, from its Santa Barbara County terroir. The ’07 Sonoma Coast Pinot started off muted and closed from its young age, but then blossomed with some body heat and swirling into a melánge of varietally correct flavors including bright red cherry, cranberry and finishing with a touch of oak and cola.

I was most excited by the wines I tried that had yet to be blended into their final form. The 2007 Dry Creek Valley Syrah had phenomenal blue fruit, leather and tobacco aromas and flavors that were almost confounding with their ability to have great depth and yet retain that delicate balance that appear to mark all of Leon’s Lionheart wines. I shouldn’t have been surprised…Leon aspires to craft wines that will shine best when paired with food, hence his tagline: “thoughtfully based around palate and plate.” His website includes wine pairings for every wine he has vinted.

Santa Barbara SyrahAs a nice wine exercise, I actually tasted three forms of the Dry Creek Syrah, one each from neutral oak, new Hermitage oak and stainless steel. It was an interesting experience that showed how a winemaker can really pull the best qualities from the fruit that makes up the final blended wine. I was also also fortunate to taste his still slumbering 2007 Cab and Sangiovese, both also showing great promise and are slated for release in early Fall.

Reluctantly, after two hours it was time to head back home and to a friend’s BBQ. I thanked Leon for his generosity, his forthrightness in conversation and wine-related discussion and his great wine and headed back to BART.

If you too would like a chance to taste these great new wines, don’t fret…WineLog.net and Artisan Wine Lounge & Café in Walnut Creek, CA will be hosting an upcoming tasting event in July with Lionheart Wines in the starring role. Look for future announcements with further details on WineLog.net and the Events pages on Artisan’s and Lionheart’s websites! But, if you just can’t wait until then, we have links in each of the reviews below to buy these wines directly from Lionheart, such as Leon’s ’06 Santa Barbara Syrah.

All of the wines that I have reviewed from this up-and-coming winery are below. I have tagged any wines that I tasted from barrel as such, all others are tasted from the bottle. If you would like to list all of the wines from Lionheart in your own WineLog, follow this link.

Lionheart Wines Santa Barbara County Syrah 2006

Lionheart Wines Russian River Valley Saralee’s Vineyard The Angel’s Share 2007

Lionheart Wines Santa Barbara County McGinley Vineyard Roussane 2007

Lionheart Wines Eaglepoint Ranch Vineyard Mendocino Syrah 2005

Lionheart Wines Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2007

More Wineries Change Hands

More major wineries have been sold in the US. This time, unlike some of the more recent major deals in the wine biz, two conglomerates are shuffling their portfolios. Constellation brands, one of the top two largest international wine conglomerates, has announced (AP commentary) that they are selling eight wineries to a new player in the field, the reformed Ascentia Wine Estates (Eight Estates Fine Wines) of Healdsburg, CA.

Gary Farrell Vineyards & WineryGary Farrell, Geyser Peak, XYZin, Buena Vista Carneros, and Atlas Peak will be sold from Constellation’s California stable. They will also transfer Pacific Northwest properties Columbia Winery, Covey Run, and Sunnyside Winery to Ascentia. Ste. Chapelle from Idaho will also see its ownership change. The deal has been valued at up to US$234 million, and will also include 600+ acres of vineyard properties around Napa and Sonoma.

It will be interesting if the sales will actually affect any of these wineries, unlike some of the private wineries that have been sold recently to major conglomerates.

Syrah or Zinfandel?

One of the things that I’ve really tried to step up in my personal wine education is my ability to guess a blinded wine’s provenance or origin. What is the grape, what is the region and if I’m super-lucky, what is the actual wine?

Professional Friends of WineIn this case, led by Lisa and Joe, the gOenophiles’ intrepid vinous adventurers decided to try and tackle one of the most difficult cases of guessing a blinded wine’s varietal…New World Syrah/Shiraz vs. Zinfandel.

On their faces, Syrah (or Shiraz as it’s known to the Aussies) and Zinfandel should be quite easy to pick out. Syrah tends to have blue and black fruit, huge tannin and, in colder climates or with a more Old World (read France) style, a distinct gaminess that matches flavors found in well, game, like venison or pheasant. Zinfandel has a lot of red fruit, a certain flavor of bramble (not to be confused with a wine that is green or made with fruit that wasn’t quite ripe) and almost always, a lack of significant tannin.

On the other hand, both can have a huge amount of black pepper in the nose and in the finish (especially “old vine” Zin). Current Zin styles and the New World style of Syrah (wines from the US, Australia, Latin America and New Zealand) will have incredibly ripe fruit combined with big alcohol (+15%). They can also have residual sugar, leaving a slight sweetness to the wine, when combined with the alcohol and über-ripe or jammy fruit, can work together to mask a wine’s place of origin and varietal characteristics, its terroir. Sometimes the combination of that ripe fruit and residual sugar can make the wine smell like a ruby port, with dried and candied fruit aromas.

Hocus PocusSo…with all that in mind, how did my developing palate do? Unfortunately, no better than chance. I chose 4/8 varietals correctly and I chose only one wine correctly, the rather good Hocus Pocus, although I’ve tried 4 of them over the last year. Regardless, I had a fantastic time yet again. Indeed, despite the lack of bawdy and wonderfully unacceptable humor due to the absence of Gruver, the bigger than life persona of our group. My favorite wine for the night was the d’Arenberg, of whom I’m beginning to believe the hype. It was quite the restrained monster.

Feel free to check out the reviews of all of the wines that we tasted on Friday, listed below. If you’d like to list all of the wines in your own WL, they are tagged with “gOenoZinSyr“. For a listing of all of the wines that I’ve tasted during gOenophiles tastings, click on the tag “gOenophiles“. Enjoy!

Orin Swift The Prisoner 2005

d’Arenberg McLaren Vale d’Arry’s Original Shiraz Grenache 2005

Torbreck Barossa Valley Woodcutter’s Shiraz 2006

Black Sheep Finds Hocus Pocus Syrah 2006

Turley California Old Vine Zinfandel 2005

Ridge Sullivan Vineyard Zinfandel 2005

Flinders Run Southern Flinders Ranges Shiraz 2005

Artezin Mendocino-Amador-Sonoma Zinfandel 2005