Skip to main content

Whenever one tastes as many wines in as short a time as one does on an event like the Russian River Wine Road Barrel Tasting, I find it impossible to give real reviews of the individual wines. For starters, one is only with each wine for a very short period with minimum opportunity to let the wine open or to build up an impression over a period of time. For me, just trying to jot down a name and a few words of impression was about all I manage and more often than not, I was not very articulate in such a rush. Add to that the fact that I have never been inclined to waste good wine by spitting it out, and .... At any rate, I decided to give it a go anyway, if only to convey a few impressions of the experience. One thing I did not get at all were prices. Often these were seen only in passing or even not at all unless the wine was interesting enough to consider buying. BS designates barrel samples. I didn't always remember to ask where the barrel samples were in their aging cycle. This is unfortunate since the answer varied from "next week" to "its been in barrel for 3 weeks and has two years to go". As you can imagine, the difference is quite profound. In all cases the listings are in tasting order, just 'cause its easier. RRV = Russian River Valley, AV = Alexander Valley, DC = Cry Creek, in case you couldn't guess.

FRIDAY

Swan
One of the big pluses of hitting a place like Swan on Friday is that it is MUCH more relaxed and there is much more opportunity to interact with the people and linger over the wine. I'm sure some of the other crowded places would benefit from the same treatment, enough so that if as many places are open Friday again, a full day on Friday could be a good strategic maneuver.

  • 96 Angelo's Old Vine White -- this is a very clean, bright, tasty white of unknown grapes, but very fresh and enjoyable, reminding me perhaps of a good Italian white.
  • 96 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. This didn't create much of an impression; rather simple and somewhat light.
  • 89 Estate Pinot Noir -- This was the first vintage of the current winemaker and to me had a rather Burgundian character. In fact, we were told a story about a group from Burgundy that had visited the prior day who clearly liked this the best for that very reason. They also liked the 92 Estate, but felt it not ready to drink, but felt this could use time too. I liked it enough to buy some.
  • 92 Estate Pinot -- Brighter fruit than the above and simpler. Some of this is probably age, but some also a style shift toward a more forward fruit Californian style.
  • 96 Cotes de Rosa -- A Rhone-style with lots of Carignane, quite fruity, bit sour at the back end to me, but certainly with more range than some people's Carignane.
  • 96 Stellwagen Zin BS -- a wonderfully rich Zin with red raspberry fruit and lots more depth than most Zins manage. Most of the time I have had Swan I haven't had the vineyard designated Zins and it SURE makes a difference. All the Swan vineyard designated Zins are in a category to me which is only matched by the likes of Rafenelli. Due for bottling next week.
  • 96 Lone Redwood Zin BS -- A lighter, brighter variation. Something to drink while one waits for the other three to come to peak.
  • 96 Ziegler Zin BS -- Balanced, rich, integrated even in the barrel; very nice drinking as it was, but feeling like something which would really come into its prime with age.
  • 96 Frati Ranch Zin BS -- A deep dark hole into which one loves to be swallowed. Not for the faint of heart, but grand for those ready for it. I hope I can hang on to some of this long enough to find out what it is really capable of. It wont be easy.

I think the later two had a few months left to go in the wood.

Davis Bynum
I have generally associated Bynum with relatively uninteresting wines, but I hadn't seen the variety which showed up in the tasting room. Much of this was not particularly interesting, but there were exceptions.

  • 97 Pinot RRV BS -- quite light and I think very early in the wood. I didn't find myself motivated to wait.
  • 92 Zin, special label -- A cheap Zin done on commission for a casino in Las Vegas and tasted like it.
  • 95 Old Vine Zin -- some of the nice complexity that can come with old vines, moderately rich and pretty well balanced. Inexpensive enough to be a good value without being great, but interesting enough that several of us bought some.
  • 94 Hedin Vineyard Cab -- balanced, but not very exciting and certainly not worth the price by comparison with others we tried.
  • 94 Eclipse - a Cab-based meritage type blend which might be described in terms not unlike those for the Hedin.

Porter Creek
This was the odd case where the barrel samples (actually freshly bottled) were better than the released vintage.

    96 Creekside Pinot -- light and a bit lacking in character.

    95 Hillside Pinot -- a bit more range than the Creekside, but didn't really attract my attention much.

  • 97 Creekside Pinot BS -- noticably richer than the 96 and clearly my favorite of the group, though not especially notable.
  • 96 Hillside Pinot BS -- a little richer than the 95, but certainly less full and broad than the 97 Creekside.

I didn't take any notes during the evening's lounging about, but what I remember included:

  • 95 Topolos Old Vineyard Reserve (found under the seat in my car, left behind from a recent shopping trip) -- a rather enjoyable, inexpensive blend with a good bit of the richness Topolos is capable of.
  • 9? Rafenelli -- see Saturday

There was something between these two (Dehlinger Cab?), which is escaping my mind at the moment, and then a Spanish Tempranillo which was rather tasty and a pretty reasonable Rioja, neither of which I got the names for. I might have missed something else too by that point!

SATURDAY

Mazocco

  • 95 Matrix - a rich, but clear blend, well integrated, but a bit austere. I suspect it is a wine that will really only come into its own with age.
  • 94 Matrix - similar in style to the above, but a touch more balanced and thus sophisticated, showing that even a little age helps this type.
  • 96 Chardonnay (designation?) -- a very rich and smooth without the "artificial flavoring" characteristic of so many CA Chards.
  • 93 Matrix -- this seemed a bit muddied and had alight sourness so either I got a bad glass, it was a less good year, or it was going through an awkward phase.
  • 93 Zin Magnums -- A very rich, sophisticated production with the balance to age well (I think and hope since I bought some, even at $40).

Pezzi King
This winery has a really nice physical facility, puts out a good spread, has been popular in the press, but has never impressed me personally that much in the glass.

  • 96 Cabernet BS -- 6 months away from bottling this had good fruit and was moderately rich, but still in a bit of a rough stage. Will probably be finished with a bit of merlot that should help.
  • 95 Cabernet -- more integrated and finished than the above, but seemed a bit muddy and just didn't stand out.

Teldeschi
This was certainly one of the surprises of the trip since I would probably have given it a miss myself, but it was right at the end of the road from Pezzi King so we gave it a stab and were pleasantly pleased, voting with our pocketbooks. I don't think any of this was great wine, but it was good value.

  • 96 Zin BS - Quite rich and pleasant.
  • 90 Zin - moderately full flavored and developing some nice complexity with age.
  • 92 Zin -- Richer than the 90, but less subtle
  • 94 Zin -- Similar to the 92, but noticably younger and less developed
  • 91 Zin -- fuller than the 90, less than the 92, but not as nice as either.
  • 94 Petite Sirah -- a nice example with a lot going on
  • 97 Zin "Port" BS -- not being fortified, this was really just a high alcohol late harvest wine left a bit sweet. It was really young for his type, but absolutely screamed chocolate, not unlike the Belvedere did last year. This hadn't even made it into wood yet, but three of us left with samples drawn right from the stainless steel. Somehow I have the feeling it may all get drunk before it ever gets to the bottle.

Lake Sonoma
One of the interesting things they did last year and this year was to put identical grapes in identical wood, but with different yeasts -- an unbelievably dramatic contrast.

  • 96 AV Zin BS - lots of old vine complexity and richness. I preferred this to the DC, but was in the minority.
  • 96 DC Zin BS - a somewhat lighter, fruitier example, but still fairly rich.
  • 94 Cab - somehow I wasn't left with much of an impression except that maybe it wasn't ready yet.
  • 96 Zin Port -- very rich without be heavy in the way many ports are, bright, fruity, young... sort of an early release LBV flavor, if you can imagine that.

Coffaro
Some wineries one visits and has a nice wine; some one visits and has several nice wines; this is one where everything is very good and the best is superb. Cofaro does a lot of blending, even in wines labeled as varietals, but with such wonderful results, it is hard to see this as a flaw.

  • 97 Neighbors Cuvee BS -- the first wine from bought grapes mixing Cab, Zin, and Petite Sirah, rich, full, balanced, yummy and I would have really, really liked it except....
  • 97 Estate Cuvee BS - was even better. A very mixed blend of Zin, Cab, Carignane, and P Sirah. Seriously yummy.
  • 97 Zin BS (with a little PS and Carignane and Cab) -- one of those Zins that belongs up there in that top tier I was referring to where Zin really becomes magnificent.
  • 97 Petite Sirah (some blending ,but I didn't write it down) - very rich and with better balance and range than most PS.
  • 97 Carignane -- a lot better than most Carignane dominated wines, but this has never been a standout grape for me.

Meeker
I might have thought that my taste buds were beginning to fail me by now, except that two wineries later proved this wrong so I guess I just wasn't very impressed.

  • 97 Zin French Oak BS - moderate body, a bit austere, didn't hold my attention.
  • 97 Zin American Oak BS - brighter and more forward than French, but no more effective in the end.
  • 95 Golden Leaf Cuvee Zin - struck me as a bit thin and austere, a failing to me in a grape from which I expect lushness.
  • 92 Artist Series Cab - it is clear that the austerity is a Meeker style.
  • 90 Cab - better with some age to it, but still not particularly memorable.

Quivara
I don't know that I have had any great Quivara wines, but they have been known to deliver reasonable value.

  • 97 Zin BS - a nice front and good fruit, but a sour finish which may have been due to its youth.
  • 87 Zin - mature, integrated, mellow, lingering, but somehow not 100% successful.
  • 97 Dry Creek Cuvee -- a round, soft wine that is one I generally put in their success column, although I liked this less than prior years.
  • 94 Merlot - medium full, soft, drinkable, but not notable.

A. Rafenelli
What can one say, but Dave's the Man. Seems like he gets twice as much flavor in the bottle than most folks and if he ever made a bad or even a mediocre wine, I've never had it. We tasted BS of both Zin and Cab and my only note was WOW.

Ridge/Lytton Springs
I really like some of the main Ridge wines, even when quite young, and I have had Lytton Springs that I liked, but I don't seem to have a very positive reaction to the R/LS barrel samples and recent vintages -- not bad, just not impressed the way I am with some other Ridge wines.

  • 95 Sonoma Station Zin - drinkable, but not noteworthy
  • 96 Sonoma Station Zin - a bit rougher than I would have expected for being released
  • 97 Sonoma Station Zin - rougher yet
  • 97 Lytton Estates Zin BS - rich, purple, grapey, very young feeling, but the best of the lot by a good bit.

I also had a taste of some $60 Cab whose name I forgot to record. Drinkable enough, but only worth considering at 1/5 the price.

Rabbit Ridge
Unlike Rafenelli or Coffaro, where the name on the bottle is a pretty strong indication that the contents will be very good, Rabbit Ridge seems to be all over the map from the quaffable, but very simple Allure to things like the Hedin Zin I wrote about recently that was really quite nice. Some of the middle range products are rather plain, but seem to improve with a few years of bottle age.

  • 96 Amador Zin BS -- drinkable, but not distinquished and still a little rough. The sample of 6 year old from the same grapes, but not Rabbit Ridge was definitely an improvement, but still not notable among the other Zins of the day.
  • 96 Sonoma Zin BS -- I found this a bit richer and more will rounded than the above with hints of the Hedin, but far from being as good.
  • 96 Merlot BS -- Relatively rich, but still with a bit of a sour finish which I found offputing, especially in a Merlot
  • 95 Sangiovese -- pleasant, but not memorable.
  • 95 Pinot Noir -- less interesting

Pre-dinner
I know this doesn't help the store shopper much, but I thought I would try to capture the whole experience. Pre-dinner we went through several brought wines while nibbling a bit of cheese. These included:

  • 95? Dehlinger Cab - very nice, but probably cradle robbing.
  • 95 Stonestreet Merlot - very rich and full, but still a bit stiff
  • 85 William Sellym Zin - nicely aged to balance and integration, but not as full flavored as the really rich Zins we had had during the day to which I confess to being partial.
  • 93 Rafenelli Cab -- Like I said, Dave's the Man and a bit of age only makes it better.
  • 94 Rafenelli Cab -- like the above. Quite consistent year over year.

Dinner

  • 90 Iron Horse B de B Late Disgorged Champagne -- richer than many domestic champagnes with some of that creaminess that I like. Really quite a nice bottle. While we didn't taste the LD the next day, they had it on the winery price list for double what I bought this for retail two days earlier. Worked nicely with the shrimp in puff pastry, cheese and mushroom crostini, and creole shimp.
  • 88 Lyeth "Ultra White" - A bordeaux style blend from before the word "Meritage" which had aged quite a bit for 10 years, acquiring a nice patina while still remaining fresh. This fit nicely with the baby lettuce wrapped in prosciutto.
  • 87 Rochioli Chard - A rich, luscious wine which had also aged quite a bit and developed a lot of complexities that one never gets in a young Chard. These two fit very nicely with the special scallop preparation and with the mussels and pasta which followed.
  • 89 Lambert Bridge Merlot Private Reserve -- a rich, but gentle, balanced, integrated wine which worked well with the end of the mussels.
  • 88 Swan Zin in Magnum -- I don't think this was one of the vineyard designated Zins, but had that characteristic Swan rich complexity of flavor, nicely tempered by some bottle age, although I'm sure it could have lasted for years yet. This fit nicely with the beef tenderloin in cabernet reduction with garlic mashed potatoes and vegetables.

It is possible another red, a Pinot?, was opened in here somewhere, but it all begins to blur a bit. Dessert was cheeses, fruits, and chocolate accompanied by

  • 95 Stonestreet Sauvignon Blanc Late Harvest -- not the equal of a good Sauterne, but a very nice, rich, complex sweet wine.
  • ?? Trendadue Port -- I think this was Zin-based and was quite enjoyable.

Some people didn't stop here, but I did.

SUNDAY

Martinelli
Having not been here before and having seen strong reviews, I was hoping for a discovery, but I think I will have to wait since I couldn't tell much from the barrel samples.

  • 97 Pinot BS -- still early in the barrel I found the flavors muddied and a bit odd.
  • 97 Jackass Zin BS -- still in malolactic, this had a odd twist in the flavor from the yeast and spritz. Very purple, intense fruit, but very, very young. It might grow up to be nice, but I sure didn't find it enjoyable in its current state.
  • 95 Charles Ranch Chard -- a subtle, complex and very interesting Chard
  • 96 Gold Ridge Chard -- richer than the Charles Ranch, but without some of the subtlety. Quite pleasant. I think either could come out best depending on the dish it was paired with.

De Loach
I haven't been very impressed by the De Loach I have had elsewhere, but have enjoyed the barrel samples so I think my problem is not getting "the good stuff".

  • 96 Estate Cab BS -- rich, a bit astringent, but a long finish. Good promise. Has another year in wood to come and may become a Private Reserve if it behaves itself.
  • 97 Barbieri Ranch Zin BS -- my favorite of the three vineyard designate Zins with a rich old vines complexity and plumy intensity. Quite drinkable as it sat.
  • 97 Pellini Zin BS -- also rich and complex, but a bit brighter than the Barbieri.
  • 97 Gambogi ZIN BS -- the spiciest of the three, but all showing that you can't hurry your way to really good Zin. I think this was the youngest of the three vineyards and was at least 60 years old.
  • 96 Estate Petite Sirah BS - fruity and bright compared to a lot of PS.
  • 96 Zin Estate Bottled -- good, but nowhere close to the vineyard designate wines in complexity and range.
  • 96 Cab - OK, but not memorable.

Iron Horse

  • 92 Brut Sonoma -- good, but no match for the prior night's fair. Far less complex and lacking the creaminess.
  • 92 Russian Cuvee -- same grapes as the above, but with a bit sweeter finish. No substitute for cream and complexity though.
  • 96 Chard -- a bit on the citrus side, but still round and well developed.
  • 97 Chard BS -- similar to the 96, but not as come together.
  • 97 Pinot BS -- a clean fresh Pinot which might acquire subtlety with age, but unlikely to be especially interesting consumed young.
  • 89 Cab in Magnum -- a bit light and austere from my tastes, sophistication without substance.
  • 91 Cab in Magnum -- more fruit and flavor than the 89, but still not something I got excited about, though some of us liked it enough to buy some.

Topolos
It's the Cheese!

  • 97 Piner Heights Zin BS -- a fruity, bright Zin which was quite pleasant, but I found myself looking for that Topolos intensity.
  • 97 Alicante Bouschet BS -- Found it! Yummy, rich, gobs of flavor.
  • 96 Alicante Bouschet -- Pretty good too, though not as full as the 97. Of course, both have a long way to go to catch up the the massive 89.
  • 97 Bella Lisa Zin BS -- a much more interesting wine than the Piner Heights with moderate richness and good complexity even as young as it was. Probably will be quite nice when it grows up.
  • 97 Rossi Zin BS -- a bit fuller than the Bella Lisa, but not as balanced or complex.
  • 92 Pinot -- a very nice, well rounded Pinot with balance, flavor, integration, and a nice finish.
  • 94 Pinot -- might have thought it was OK if I hadn't had the 92 first.

Mietz
Another surprise. Not somewhere we would ever have gone without an inside tip, but a good find. First time they were ever open this weekend.

  • 96 Merlot BS -- very rich and complex, but a bit austere in the finish. May well settle down to a very nice wine when it is done.
  • 95 Merlot -- The apparent proof of the above speculation - rich, open, brigh, balanced, but probably will get quite a bit better with age.
  • 96 Zin -- Not quite in the upper circle to which I was referring, but definitely an aspirant. This is a somewhat more open, brighter wine that the super-rich examples, but will probably grow into real sophistication.

Limerick Lane
They really ought to get the finish plasters in one of these days.

  • 96 Zin - red fruit with moderate acid, fairly nice with some refinement, but no great achievement in the end.
  • 97 Zin BS - like the above, but less together and rougher.

Sausal
Sausal makes some nice wine, but they tend to let people taste the ordinary stuff.

  • 95 Sangiovese - pleasant, but not exiting.
  • 95 Zin - nice, moderately full flavor, but not very sophisticated
  • 96 Private Reserve BS - smooth and much more defined, a clear cut above.

Fieldstone
Another new stop and a real find.

  • 97 Staten Family Reserve Cab BS -- only 4 months of 2 years into the barrel - still rather harsh, but deep, rich, intense; lots of promise.
  • 97 Staten Family Reserve Petite Sirah BS -- only 3 weeks in the barrel, still rough, but wonderfully intense with tons of flavor.
  • 94 Reserve Cab -- so this is what it is like when it grows up, yum! Complicated, intense, loads of flavor, and miles to go before it's done.
  • 93 Reserve Petite Sirah -- as above, a really masterful wine.

And, that's all because we took a wrong turn and missed Stonestreet.