The Sommelier Update is an educational blog on wine, beer, spirits and food. It started in conjunction with the Arrowhead Wine Enthusiast club, but has rapidly gained an international following from those interested in learning, enjoying and having fun with food and wine. Weekly articles on advice, service, pairing ideas, recipes, education and consultation, from a Certified Sommelier and wine educator.
The Family Winemakers of California were once again back in
Del Mar. This is the signature winemaker event for trade and consumers in the
San Diego area. It is an opportunity for family-owned wine operations to
present their wines, and for me, and opportunity to discover a new outstanding
winery. My reviews, and pick of the day follow.
This year, the number of wineries seemed less than in the
past, but there were still 88 wineries in attendance. Twenty wineries were
pouring for the first time. The doors opened at 1:00pm on a sunny Sunday
afternoon. Trade and media were let in an hour before the consumers.
Prior to arriving, I had downloaded the program, which
contained details on each winery: who their owners are; where they are located;
what they were pouring; and how many cases they produced. While you cannot take
wine out of the event, the winemakers were taking orders from the trade.
All the wineries were set up on long tables, and arranged in
alphabetical order. Large signs were located above each tasting location,
identifying the winery. Many wineries just had their bottles on the table, and
were pouring, while others had decorated their spots with all types of wine
related paraphernalia and informational brochures.
As I do every year, my focus was to find one or two standout
wineries that I had never heard of. Additionally, I wanted to concentrate on
central coast wineries along with the Sierra Foothills, and Lodi. That doesn’t
mean I didn’t try some wines from Napa and Sonoma…of course I did.
In four hours, I met with 18 winemakers, and probably tasted
around 60 to 70 different wines. I can assure you that I actually tasted, not
drank, that number of wines. It is terrible to see so much wine being poured
into a spit bucket, but when you have to drive away from the event, it is the
only safe thing to do. Luckily there was fresh baked bread from La Brea Bakery,
and cheese plates from Kerrygold set up throughout the venue. Palate cleansing
was a fairly easy task.
Some highlights in the tasting:
With Greg Barr of Barr Estates
Barr Estates continues to make one of the best valued Petite
Verdots’ on the market. Greg Barr, and his winemaker, Signa Zoller continue to
create tasting wines that are all under the $30 mark. This Paso Robles winery
is doing it right. My wife enjoyed their Rose of Malbec, and they also
presented a couple blends: Dane Head and Jubilado, which were interesting.
I tried numerous Chardonnays and Viogniers, and one that
stood out was from Admirable Family Vineyards. This winery is located in
Malibu, and is run by a French family. The Viognier was a blend of Viognier and
Chardonnay. No oak and about $45 retail. Brophy Clark Cellars, out of Santa
Maria had a very nice Chardonnay, at about half the price. Both are worth
In the past, I have shied away from Temecula wines. I
decided to stop by the Falkner Winery, and talked with Ray Falkner about what
they are doing down there. I think the wineries are seeing that success will
come with the “right” grapes being planted. Falkner had a very nice Sangiovese,
and their version of a “super Tuscan” will probably last 10 to 15 years in the
cellar. This is the second Sangiovese I have tried from Temecula, and both have
been impressive. The other was from Baily.
From the Sierra Foothills, Frog’s Tooth Vineyards had a
zesty Barbera (would be great with any tomato based dish) and an interesting
Tempranillo. All their wines were reasonably priced between $15 and $40.
Ken Brown Wines had a very familiar nose and palate to them.
I tried their Sauvignon Blanc and three of their Pinot Noirs. The Sauvignon
Blanc came from the Vogelzang vineyard in Happy Canyon AVA. Personally, this is
the way I think Sauvignon Blanc should taste. It has a unmistakable nose to it.
One of my favorites is made by Dragonette Cellars, who sources their grapes
from the same vineyard. The three Pinot Noirs were from different vineyards in
the Santa Rita Hills. One being the Radian Vineyard (again, the same as
One of the few Pinot Gris’ we tried was from Manzoni EstateVineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands. This Pinot Gris had nice acidity, due
to its’ cooler climate location. The nose was green apple, stone fruit and
pear. The wine had more body than if you were drinking something from Italy.
Much more Alsatian in style.
Benjamin Silver of Silver Wines
There were a lot of other wineries that I tasted. Some good,
some very good, but there could only be one “find” of the event. That winery
was Silver Wines. Benjamin Silver is basically a one man show. He is the
winemaker and owner, since 1996, when he left Zaca Mesa. Silver Wines produces
small bottlings of: Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Nebbiolo, and two extraordinary
blends: Saviezza & I Tre Figli. The
I Tre Figli was the best wine of the day. He had both a vintage and non-vintage
verson of the wine. I actually preferred the non-vintage. It was a proprietary
blend of Cabernet Sauvingon, Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc. It was silky,
smooth, complex and had the ability to age. Find this wine, and buy it now, as
the production is only about 350 cases.
I don’t know where the Family Winemakers of California event
will be next year, but you can always go to their website to learn about
upcoming events. Try to attend, and maybe you will also make sme new