Thursday, May 7, 2015

TAPAS Before We Kill Again--Part Uno

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...



Ed C said...

Ron, I thought Verdejo was a Hitchcock movie.

Brian Miller said...

I love the wine reviews, keep them coming.

BTW, if you haven't, you should try Matthew Rorick's Forlorn Hope "Que Saudade" Verdelho. Based on your description of the Coquerel, they sound like a similar styles. Spends some time on the skins.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Ed C.,
Nice. Better than my joke. Though that's nothing to brag about.

Oh, you're the one.

I haven't had the Forlorn Hope Verdelho, but I suspect the styles are quite different. Coquerel has no skin contact, just lees contact in the stainless steel. I'm not a fan of orange wines, in general, too phenolicky for my tastes, but if I run into Rorick's Verdelho, I'll give it a try.

Orange wines are rather Hitchcockian, when you think about it.

Carl LaFong said...

Amigos is cool in Spain. I joined the Amigos club to get free breakfast at a Parador when we were on vacation.
Used in the U.S. is sounds sort of dorky, like Charlton Heston calling someone his compardre.

I like the pronunciation of Rias Baixas. The number of X's and Z's on the road signs in Basque country make reading them impossible at over 20mph.

Pam Strayer said...

Thanks for highlighting Verdad's Albarino which always seems to be a hit when I bring it to dinner parties. Looking forward to the reds...

Jo Diaz said...

In 2002, Dan Berger gave us the idea for a group that would be called P.S. I Love You, with the PS standing for Petite Sirah. We began the group, we then incorporated Petite Sirah I Love You, Inc. Next we sought and achieved our 501 (c)(6) status as a recognized business-2-business non profit. We then created an event we called the Blue Tooth Tour, with a $300,000 budget, thanks to Concannon Vineyard and toured the US in a motor home, in 2004. We did it again in 2005, with an additional $300,000 budget. It appears that you caught up with us in either 2004 or 2005, after the basic history had been put into place. The Blue Tooth Tour was an event, not the name of a society. NOPE. I went through conception, carrying the concept, and here we are now with an 13 year old adolescent.

That's our story and we're sticking to it.

P.S. I Love You

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I love the bird life in that sleepy, sheepy part of Spain. Especially the Basquen robins. Tasty.

You're the only one looking forward to the reds, but, hell, these wine reviews are, like most bloggers, an exercise in masturbation. And a lousy exercise, at that.

Thank you for the correction! Now I remember. Didn't they do a Blue Tooth tasting in a private railroad car at Union Station in LA? Speaking of PSILY. I remember the motor home, too! I'd forgotten that. Like a Bookmobile, only for drunks.

I pride myself on writing these without any research. Research just slows you down, and facts are never appropriate to wine blogs.

Jo Diaz said...

We did the book mobile in 2004 from SF to LA, to Phoenix, to Santa Fe, to Dallas, to Houston. Then, a few weeks later we did Boston, to NYC, to Baltimore, to Charlotte, to Atlanta, to Miami. We had venues for each location. The next year (2005), we hired two luxury train cars ($35,000 for each leg of the two part series). We went from Seattle to Portland, to LA. Then, We stayed at Union Station in their movie rail cars for the night, before heading home. (There's a lot in LA,w here old railroad cars are stored, and we booked in like it was a hotel.) The next journey went from Fort Worth to St. Louis (while a Cardinals game was going on, but we were still jammed with the curious), then to Chicago. When it was all over, I had to write the Historical and the Hysterical. The hysterical parts were - and still are - my fondest memories of each journey.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

That's a lot of cash to throw at Durif. Can it have been worth it? Sounds like at least you had fun living the hobo life, riding the rails. Pretty cool.

Marcia Macomber said...

"Verdejo, Verdelho" Isn't that one of the verses in the Gershwin boys' "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off"? ...part of the "Tomayto, Tomahto" thing?

I am a fan of Albarino (domestic or otherwise). So I'm sorry I missed out on this. But now I've got a few to keep my eye out for... So glad they opted NOT to rip out the Verdelho in Calistoga. Everything can't be Cabernet Sauvignons there!

Godello? A sibling of Mr. Godot? Or does he live in a Godello?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Marcia Love,
"Verdejo, Verdelho
Mourvedre, Mataro
Let's call the whole cluster off."

I like it.

That Napa Verdelho was really compelling, almost white Bordeauxesque. I hope they leave it in, too. Not many $22 white wines in Napa, let alone really good white wine for $22.

Godello--a varietal name just made for comedy. Maybe that's why I like it.

Bob Henry said...

Jo's hobo life -- a modern day version of "Sullivan's Travels."

Without the aid (aide) of Robert Greig or Eric Blore.

Durif: “There’s a lot to be said for making people laugh [drink]. Did you know that’s all some people have? It isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing in this cockeyed caravan.”

Jo Diaz said...

Definitely worth throwing that money around. In 2002, when we began, there were only 67 growers and producers combined. Today?

Tracking 164 GROWERS

From 67 to 1,077

(That I know about, which means there's more.)

Most of it never leaves a tasting room, with producers only making about 300 cases. It's a winemaker's wine... period. They love it, those who craft it. You don't have to sit around and talk about the oooo-la-la of it, you just taste it and get on with your party.

It doesn't have to have any critics tasting and evaluating it, either. They SELL it all... They RUN OUT of it early, even. So, they don't care what anyone else thinks. I'd say that 90 - 95 percent of the producers are only making small amounts, like 300 cases.

This is also a reason they cite for not helping the promotional effort, by joining the group. Why? they ask. I'm very limited, I think to myself. Imagine what I could do if we had more than 80 members, now that we've created this growth of from 67 to 1,077.

I started the group, because at the first symposium, all anyone said with great consistence, "We need publicity for this variety." In the evaluation I asked, if there was a group, would you join?" Those who said "yes," I sent a registration form to them, and had Jose build a site for us. The rest is the history I listed above. The variety is growing ever so slowing, but don't knock the turtle... We're still moving toward the finish line of respect.

Anonymous said...

Ron, keep the reviews coming. It's nice to read about events that I wasn't able to attend, and I always appreciate the fun anecdotes and your general silliness. Plus, you wisely don't wade into the waters of trying to rate wines at a mass tasting. (Please, please god, don't let this start another discussion of the value of 100-point system.)

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I'll say this, the people who love Petite Sirah REALLY love Petite Sirah. It's like fans of World Wrestling Federation. It ain't for everybody, and they like it that way. Good for you for doing such a great job promoting it. And it's good that it sells in tasting rooms, because, in my experience, it's dead in the water in restaurants. But wine needs diversity. The world is too much Pinot Noir and Cabernet and Merlot for my taste.

Thanks, Cris. I don't care about numbers on wines, and it seems the height of hubris to give them to wines tasted in that kind of setting. But wine writers are full of two things, one of which is hubris.

I'll get bored with reviewing wines at events at some point. Right now, it's fun to explore my thoughts about varieties, tastings and events. Thanks for reading, and thanks for being a common tater.

Bob Henry said...


Comments to come from attending the New Zealand Winegrowers-underwritten/David Strada-organized trade tasting on April 27th at Fort Mason?


Ron Washam, HMW said...

Nope. Circumstances beyond my control (my inherent laziness) kept me from attending. I really wanted to go, but I had some pressing issues to attend to. I had to press my pants.

I'm sure David is relieved.

tercero wines said...


Bummed I missed you at TAPAS. Yep, I was there pouring the varieties that 'cross over' from the Rhone to Iberia - or vice versa - along with my first ever Albarino from the Santa Ynez Valley. Since 'Garnacha Blanca' was 'discovered' in Spain, it made sense to pour mine, along with my Mourvedre Rose - opps, I mean my Monastrell Rose - and my Garnachas!

Your comments about the whites could be made at almost all tastings I've been a part of over the last few years - not enough 'zing' and just too flabby. Of course, I have not poured at IPOB, where the opposite may be true :-)

Keep up the fun posts, my friend.