When you hear, “Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society,” what you do hear? Someone trying way too hard to come up with an acronym. ZAP nailed it, but why is it that folks making a sophisticated and culturally important product like wine feel the need to come up with stupid names? Imagine the New York City Ballet fan club calling itself, Bulimics Anorexics Regurgitators and Friends. I remember when the original fan club of Petite Sirah was called the Blue Tooth Society, but then that dork-jewelry earpiece of a phone came along and they had to change the name to P.S. I Love You, or PSILY. The “P” is silent, like in your pants. “Honey, I’m going to the PSILY tasting.” “Yes, dear, aren’t they all?”
The TAPASians invited me to their annual tasting at the Presidio in San Francisco, and I decided I’d go. I think it’s fairly apparent that I’m a wine lover, but, truthfully, how much motivation is there to go to a tasting of Spanish varieties made outside of Spain? Albariño is the Assyrtiko of eight years ago, and the predecessor of Grüner Veltliner and Ribolla Gialla. Before Albariño, there was Viognier. People used to always say that Albariño reminded them of Viognier, which is like saying that a Corgi reminds you of a Dachshund. OK, that really helps. Which is the one humping the other one? And then there are Verdejo and Verdelho. A whole lot of people think Verdelho is Portuguese for Verdejo, which is why neither one will be the next Ribolla, which everyone thinks you get from traveling in West Africa. Of course, everyone knows that “Verdejo” is a Harry Belafonte classic. Daylight come and me wanna go home.
The 2015 TAPAS tasting in San Francisco was held at the Presidio’s Golden Gate Club. And I always thought the Golden Gate Club was for people who’d had sex at a McDonald’s. Had a McOrgasm. It’s a nice venue, if cramped, but it was a glorious day to be in the city. It seemed a shame to be indoors, like soccer. I took my usual relaxed approach to the tasting. There are always too many wines to taste in a reasonable fashion in the time allowed, so I play my hunches. Perhaps it’s unfair, but I attend TAPAS with low expectations. California Tempranillo? What’s the point? It’s like the vegetarian meal at a steakhouse. We just don’t care.
Lately, I’ve written too many stupid reviews. I have this idea that people actually care about wine reviews, which is probably misguided. Especially my wine reviews. Hell, I don’t even assign numbers to the wines, which is like reading a box score in the binary system. Weird and confusing, even if accurate. Anyhow, I’ll try to make this TAPAS summary briefer. I said, “Try.”
Why in the world do California winemakers care about Albariño? How did that happen? I think MIchael Havens was the first guy to make Albariño in California, and his label is gone. Coincidence? I’m not really a fan of Albariño from Spain. Even at their best I’m find them rather trifling. I’m not sure I have a grip on what Albariño is supposed to taste like, aside from innocuous and vaguely fruity, like a member of One Direction. Here’s what I wrote about Albariño five years ago as part of my “Honest Guide to Grapes:”
“Albarino has just recently come to the attention of consumers from its Spanish home of Rias Baixas (pronounced "wrinkled bike ass") where it has been quietly producing plonk since the 12th Century, much like Fred Franzia. Albarino is believed to pair nicely with food, only no one has discovered what food yet. I like it with a traditional Spanish dish like Raquel Welch (who took her stage name from the famous grape juice because she can turn your tongue purple). Aside from Spain and Portugal (where it goes by the name Alvarinho so that consumers know not to buy it in Portuguese), there has been some interest in the variety in California and Australia. However, recently it was discovered that most of the Albarino planted in Australia is actually the Jura grape Savagnin, so they wrote it a Dear Jaune letter and ripped it out.”
I wandered around the TAPAS tasting in search of an Albariño to be excited about, and the best one I tasted was the Verdad 2013 Albariño Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard Edna Valley. “Best one” not being that high a recommendation when it comes to domestic Albariño, yet this is wine worthy of your white wine bucks. It’s all grapefruit and orange blossom, but what I liked about it was its acid snap. A lot of the Albariños I tasted were flabby, or had some residual sugar, which I don’t find appealing. The Verdad had the swagger of good Sauvignon Blanc, but more interesting. It was reminiscent of the best Albariños of Rias Baixas because it did show the grape’s vivid acidity. Maybe it’s soil issues, but too many of the domestic Albariños were fat. The Verdad was lovely.
I don’t think most people think about white wine when they think about Spanish wine. I’m sommelier-weird when it comes to Godello, rare in California, and not common in Spain either. But my Godello fondness might explain my affection for Verdelho, a variety that reminds me of Godello. My favorite white wine at TAPAS 2015 was the Coquerel 2012 Verdelho Napa Valley. Yeah, Napa Valley Verdelho. Grown outside of Calistoga, I asked owner/winemaker Christine Barbe why Verdelho, and her reply was simply, “It was there when we bought the vineyard.” Oh, I guess there’s always room for Verdelho.
I love this wine. Ms. Barbe has a very sure hand with this white variety. It’s gloriously all about papaya and grapefruit in the nose, followed by surprising richness and creaminess on the palate, a byproduct of lees contact I would think, and has a nuttiness to the finish. This is a complete wine, lively and satisfying, which was uncommon among the whites at TAPAS. It’s only $22, and it’s well worth quite a bit more. It has the elegance of good white Bordeaux, yet the exuberance that California brings to the dance. It’s either a revelation about Verdelho, or an anomaly. I just hope Ms. Barbe never tears those vines out and continues to make this wonderfully eccentric Napa Valley white wine.
Of all the Spanish white varieties I’m familiar with, it’s Verdejo I like the best. As it turns out, Verdejo and Godello are siblings. Not the first time I fell for siblings—there were these twins, Ellen and Joyce, but that’s another story. Is it a double date if they’re Siamese? (They were conjoined at their laptop.) Anyhow, all that crap aside, there were three Verdejos I liked at TAPAS. The first one I tasted was the Berryesa Gap 2012 Verdejo Yolo County. I loved the nose on this wine, peach and white flowers and maybe bay laurel. Yeah, I know, kind of exotic. It was richer on the palate than I expected from the aromatics, but it was beauifully centered, and had a lovely, faintly nutty finish. It just begged for some actual seafood tapas. Then there was the Irwin Family Vineyards 2014 Verdejo Sierra Foothills. I worked with winemaker Derek Irwin when I was hustling wines for Lot18, and he is a fanatic for Spanish varieties in California, so I’m not surprised he tackled Verdejo. His ’14 Verdejo is luscious. He ferments it in stainless steel, and it’s a tribute to the quality of the grape that it’s so complex and aromatic (compared to most of the dismal Chardonnays that are done only in stainless). His version is more about pears and apples and something a little more exotic, like mango. He doesn’t make much, 80 cases, but it’s only $16, and is a great example of Verdejo. Lastly, I very much liked the Bokisch 2014 Verdejo Clay Station Vineyard Borden Ranch Lodi. Like the other two wines, it was fermented and aged in stainless steel (Verdejo can certainly stand up to oak, and many of the wines from Rueda do see some oak regimen), and it comes across more like melons and peaches, very bright fruit, good acidity and balance—it made me want ceviche. Nice white wine for $18.
And then there were the red wines... But I know this is about the length of a blog reader's attention span, so...
TO BE CONTINUED