We're with the (wrist) band: Sipping and spitting around the Isle

We're with the (wrist) band: Sipping and spitting around the Isle

Denise Shelton
East Bay Vintners Alliance

The East Bay Vintners Alliance held its annual Passport to Urban Wine Country event on March 15-16. Photo by Denise Shelton.

Event Review: Sixth Annual Passport to Urban Wine Country, March 15-16

A sudden (albeit temporary) lull in the opening of new eating establishments in town prompted me to focus this month on our local wineries, and what better way than by attending the yearly East Bay Vintners Alliance event Passport to Urban Wine Country?

Here's how it works: Participants arrive at any one of the designated sites, check in and receive a color-coded wrist band and a wine glass that they take with them to other sites where either one or more producers are pouring their wines. A variety of hors d'oeuvres is also included in the price of admission. Either a one or two-day pass can be purchased.

As luck would have it, the Alliance's public relations rep provided yours truly with passes for myself and a guest to make the rounds of its members' tastings in various locations last weekend. With my editor's blessing, I enlisted the help of my husband Doug Shelton in writing this month's column as his experience with the study and appreciation of wine is far superior to mine. (Don't worry, I'm not embarrassing him. He'd be the first to agree, plus, I needed to stay sober, drive, and take notes.)

Caveat: Doug prefers mostly New World wines, in particular, those with a lot of fruit showing and very concentrated flavors. The tasting notes that follow are naturally influenced by his personal preference. If you have a marked difference in taste, you may disagree, perhaps strongly. We encourage you to visit these winemakers yourself and see what you think. These notes are intended as simply an "informed opinion."

In approaching the winery representatives during the event, we asked to taste what they considered to be the best white and the best red that they were pouring that day. All of the wineries mentioned offer a number of wines and vintages and all are worth your time to investigate further. Although we did venture further afield into Oakland, we focused on the wines being poured in Alameda for this article.

Please note also that prices are suggested retail. Look for deals on the winery websites.

Rosenblum Cellars, 2900 Main Street

We began our odyssey in Alameda at Rosenblum Cellars. Founded in 1978 by local legend Kent "The King of Zin" Rosenblum, the label was acquired a few years back by Diageo but the new owners retained John Kane as winemaker, one of the keys to the winery's success for the past 12 years.

White: 2012 Kathy's Cuvee viognier, $25 per bottle
Red: 2009 The Cowboy petite sirah, $35 per bottle

For this event, Rosenblum was pouring some of their pricier, higher-end reserve wines. Our white wine sampling was the 2012 Kathy's Cuvee viognier, made with grapes from Ripkin Vineyard in Lodi and Fess Parker in Santa Barbara. Rosenblum's website describes the palate as "fat and silky—oily limestone on a canvas of sensuous flowers and fruit—as flavors slide and elongate into the finish." Oh, my! Purple prose notwithstanding, we found the wine to be pleasant and mid-range in quality. Doug notes that viognier has a "very distinct floral note that some love and others find off-putting."

Our Rosenblum red was 2009 the Cowboy petite sirah from Mendocino County. Doug found it "nicely concentrated, classic 'big flavor' fruit" and noted it still has some substantial tannins for a 2009 - but "Not one of the most intense petite sirahs out there." He also felt the price was a little high for the quality.

Rock Wall Wine Company, 2301 Monarch Street

Rock Wall Wine Company is the next act in the remarkable career of owner Kent Rosenblum. Kent's daughter, Shauna, serves as principal winemaker and continues the family tradition of making award-winning wines. Their tasting room is now open every day from noon to 6 p.m.

White: 2013 Blanc de blancs sparkling wine $20 per bottle
Red: 2011 The Palindrome tannat, $30 per bottle

This is only the fourth vintage for Rock Wall's blanc de blancs and its quality bodes very well for the future. It's a very nice drinking sparkler with the distinct flavor of white peach and other California fruit, with a hibiscus flower finish.

The Palindrome was a Best of Class award winner in this year's San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. But as Doug is quick to point out, not a lot of people are making tannat so there may not have been much (if any) competition. This lesser known varietal produces a very pungent, tannic, deep red wine that Doug qualifies as "not for everyone."

Three wineries that have been sharing the Rock Wall facility but have either moved or are in the process of moving to new digs as Rock Wall expands were pouring in the Main Hangar for the event.

Ehrenberg Cellars, 5143 Telsa Road, Livermore

This was likely Ehrenberg Cellars' final appearance at the Passport to Urban Wine Country as they have recently set up their own shop in rural Livermore.

White: 2010 Swirl California pinot grigio, $14 per bottle
Red: 2010 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, $38 per bottle

Ehrenberg's Swirl California pinot is a blend of the beloved Italian varietal pinot grigio with gewurtzraminer and riesling grapes. Doug dubs this "a good bargain. Not very complex, but a light refreshing summer drink."

The 2010 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon is made with grapes sourced from the famous Dickson Ranch vineyard. Doug says "this is not one of the big, fruity cabs" and notes that the $38 price tag is indicative of the quality for a Napa Valley wine, where for the most part, you get what you pay for (usually considerably more for cabernet sauvignon).

Carica Wines, 2301 Monarch Street

One of the most pleasant surprises of the event was Carica Wines. Winemaker and owner Charlie Dollbaum was on hand to answer questions and pour two of his excellent offerings, among the best we tasted all day. (Arrange your own tasting by appointment as Carica is in the process of moving to a new home. Check the website for developments.)

White: 2010 Sonoma County, Kick Ranch, sauvignon blanc, $19 per bottle
Red: 2010 Siren, Rhone blend, $32 per bottle

We both loved the sauvignon blanc with its nice, complex mixture of tropical fruit including guava and citrus flavors. Doug dubs it "Very good to excellent." He notes that it may be a little pricier than some New Zealand sauvignon blancs but its quality makes it "well worth the money."

Wine Spectator rates Carica's 2010 Siren Rhone blend a 90, and we had to agree. Doug says, "A very nice bouquet of sweet, mid-red fruits. Well-balanced, classic American fruity-style Rhone blend."

R&B Cellars, 1835 San Jose Avenue

R&B Cellars will be set up for tastings at the new Wine and Waffles Family Wine Bar set to open on Park Street in the new few weeks. (Yes, I know I've been saying that for months but it's really true this time. I've had a peek inside, spoken to owner Ken Monize, and everything looks fantastic. Can NOT wait!)

White: 2012 Sarabande chardonnay, $30 per bottle
Red: 2009 Zydeco zinfandel, $30 per bottle

The 2012 Sarabande chardonnay has more of a French rather than American flavor profile (not as much emphasis on fruit or buttery quality), which, as I pointed out earlier, just isn't Doug's thing. He says, "I tend not to prefer this style as much," and further stated that as French style (but American-made) chardonnays go, he feels the price is a little high.

"Typical big, sweet zin fruit, not too complex and a bit less sweet on the finish" is how Doug characterizes the 2009 Zydeco zinfandel.

Coming up

Next month, I'll return to the regular format with review, update on the kitchen garden, and happenings around town. In the meantime, please feel free to e-mail me any hot tips or suggestions at alamedans@gmail.com.


Submitted by Shauna (not verified) on Fri, Mar 21, 2014

Hey guys! Thanks for the lovely article! Just to add a piece of information, the Tannat won the 2014 Best of Class in the category of 'Other red Varietals' which includes 10 'oddball' varieties. there were about 60 wines in all in said category. As far as Tannat goes, Doug is right, there are not too many being made! Cheers!!

Submitted by Denise and Doug... (not verified) on Fri, Mar 21, 2014

Thanks for clearing that up, Shauna. (Doug claims full responsibility for that gaffe, as well he should!)