[Photo: Andrea Rowe]
The lines were there and the elbowing was in effect, but this year's Family Winemakers of California taste-a-thon was otherwise unique from many a similar event. Though the event packed 225 small-production wineries, 1,000+ wines, 40+ varieties, and 600 glasses into Fort Mason; upper crust, cerebral wine tasting this was not. The wet-behind-the-ears vibe of many a vintner was refreshing, and the notably low intoxication index a nice departure from all the usual rigorous decorum, peppered with swaying drunks. Newbie and established smaller vintners shilled their latest wares—most from lots of 5,000 cases or fewer—as local oenophiles dove into the likes of Chenin from Santa Ynez, Tempranillo from Clarksburg, and vino from Mendo and El Dorado. Here now, my seven favorite gems from the day (images in the gallery above), along with where to buy them and what San Francisco foods to eat them with.
1) 2011 Handley Cellars Anderson Valley Gewurztraminer (Mendocino)
Tasting Notes: Rose water lychee explosion aromas, dash of sweetness and hint of good bitterness on the finish keeps this food-ready white dignified.
Where to Buy: Handley Cellars online
Why It's Awesome: Because it's so perfumed everybody has something to say about it. And one of the vineyard sources is called "Helluva."
Food Pairing: Sushirrito's "The Yakuza" with Kampachi sashimi (Australian white fish), spicy jicama, cucumber, Lola Rosa lettuce, red tobiko, avocado, green onions
2) 2010 Field Recordings Jurassic Park Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley Chenin Blanc (South Central Coast)
Tasting Notes: A white showing honeyed notes of mandarin, cashew, marzipan, sugared lemon rind, honeysuckle, honeydew melon, white peach and ginger. Plus: bacon fat, in a good way, green apple and kiss of mineral and brown spice. Via old vines; unfiltered fleshy fabulosity.
Where to Buy: Winery website & other merchants
Why It's Awesome: You will finish the whole bottle by yourself if no one's looking.
Food Pairing: Starbelly's pan-roasted mussels with chorizo and chile
3) 2010 Tablas Creek Paso Robles Roussanne (Central Coast)
Tasting Notes: Fully figured but clean of finish. Rich aromas of pear, honeysuckle and grapefruit. A leonine white, yet gamely tame. Your grandmother will like this, too.
Where to Buy: Tablas Creek online
Why It's Awesome: Via certified organic vineyards. Oh, and these people are geniuses.
Food Pairing: Super versatile, try it with Zuni Cafe's famous roast chicken
4) 2009 Idle Hour Winery Clarksburg Tempranillo (Sacramento River Delta/Central Valley)
Tasting Notes: Rich, generous of nature but not a harlot, this wine spends 24 months in oak so it's got the dressed-up persona of a bigger red, but ripe cherry fruit and a floral component buoy it up. Bravo, Sac-adj wine area.
Where to Buy:Idle Hour online
Why It's Awesome: This area is underestimated. Don't we all want to be surprised now and then?
Food Pairing: Ribs, like the smoky, sweet rendition with a nice pull from the bone, at Southpaw.
5) 2009 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Napa Valley Cabernet Franc (Napa)
Tasting Notes:Signature Napa cassis-bent dark berry fruits overlay a surprising lightness, fresher notes coexisting alongside toasty oak you'd expect from the area. Briary blueberry and minerality sing backup.
Where to Buy:various merchants
Why It's Awesome: We're looking for something new out of Napa.
Food Pairing: Kokkari's lamb souvlaki with tomato, onion, bay leaf, chickpea salad, tzatziki and pita
6) 2009 Mounts Dry Creek Valley Grenache (Sonoma)
Tasting Notes: A sommelier favorite in the lounge, this red is rockin' with nervy acidity and pert minerality backed by Grenache's signature plummy ripeness. Fine-grained tannins ratchet up the pedigree. Could stand to cellar a bit.
Where to Buy: Mounts Family Winery
Why It's Awesome: If you like Chateauneuf...
Food Pairing: Incanto's handkerchief pasta with rustic pork ragù
7) 2009 Lava Cap Winery El Dorado Estate Bottled Barbera (Sierra Foothills)
Tasting Notes: A bit closed at first, this spicy red opened into a peppery explosion along with a fruit basket of berries expertly woven into its minerality. Long finish and soulful character along with food friendliness make this another favorite.
Where to Buy: Lava Cap Winery online
Why It's Awesome: An above decent place you can taste on the way to Tahoe.
Food Pairing: Paxti's epically hearty pizza pie: Chicago "Stuffed" with all the trimmings