Grapelive Latest: Summer Dreaming & Driving

s5002800a1.jpgA lovely tour of the Corralitos wine route, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, another visit to my home base Carmel Valley, and a fun Pinot quest in Carneros and Sonoma, all in a week! Richard Alfaro gave me a tour of his amazing estate and showed off his vineyards and his new releases. His Alfaro Family Vineyards label is in Corralitos and is a beautiful spot, especially for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but I found his estate Syrah and even his estate Merlot well worth the trip. This area is on the rise with some remarkable wines and vineyards getting huge acclaim and rewards. I have spotlighted Richard many times, but he is just blowing me away with his talents with every new release and vintage, and I think this area is the place to watch in the next couple of years. With the vines and wineries getting some age and time under their belts has proven this, and I can recommend all of the Alfaro Family Vineyards wines, in fact every wine I tried from his latest line up scored 90 Points or better! The 2006 Alfaro Family Vineyards Chardonnay, Lindsay-Page, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains is a beautiful and awesome wine with huge flavors and lush textures with lots of depth and elegance. Definitely my favorite Chardonnay of the year from California, and his Pinot Noir, the 2006 Alfaro Family Vineyards Pinot Noir, Lindsay-Page, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains is not far behind and is a great effort with layers of pretty dark fruits and sublime balance and complexity. Then there is the estate Syrah, 2006 Alfaro Family Vineyards Syrah, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains, which has black fruits, smoke, spice and mocha on the full palate. This is a wine to enjoy now, but should develop even more complexity and depth over the next few years.
www.alfarowine.com

parsonagewiney.jpgSpending time in Carmel Valley, where I grew up, is really easy and I try to make regular visits to my hometown friends, like Galante Vineyards and Parsonage Village Vineyards to keep up with their wines in barrel and bottle. Last week it was back to Parsonage, and wow just a few months have gone by and great things are going on. Especially the remarkable 2007 vintage “Grand Kids” reserve wines in the barrels, I was amazed at how good these wines have got, I mean they are filling out and bursting with amazing fruit. Bill Parsons showed me the wines named for his grandchildren, “Dario” a Merlot based red, “Bixby” a Petit Verdot based red, “Tanner” a barrel selection reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, and “Rocco” a barrel selection Syrah, all of which are great all ready and could yet again surpass the previous vintages. Sadly the 2007 vintage was a tiny crop, so about 70 cases of each are all that is going to be available. which is really a shame as these are so good, even as young as they are. I recommend you get on Bill’s wine list and hope those all ready on it don’t take it all! Also, check out his tasting room in the Carmel Valley Village, they have two new Snosrap, their second label, a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir, both of which I rated over 90 Points in barrel. I just tried both in bottle, both from the 2007 vintage, and they are even better now. The Chardonnay is rich, pure and textured, and the Pinot Noir all ready is showing dark sweet fruits and nice smoky oak notes. Both of these wines will get even better too, so for about $25 each, they are steals!
www.parsonagewine.com

s5002856.jpgI checked out Sonoma and Carneros on a quick trip through the south end of the Sonoma Valley. My friend Brad Gray, who runs his own public relations firm and writes for various wine and lifestyle magazines, (including grapelive.com) showed me around and let me in a couple secret finds and made a great host for my adventure. He brought me to the Sonoma Farmers Market and turned me on to some of the nicest produce I’ve ever seen, including some intensely colorful heirloom tomatoes. This is a fun event, every Tuesday, where the locals come and picnic in the park on the Sonoma Plaza, near to where California’s bear flag was first raised. I didn’t have much luck finding interesting wines at first; in fact I was very underwhelmed with my days haul until I found a great new co-op tasting room Sonoma Grange. This is a place if you get up to Sonoma you must visit, I can tell you this place has small producers and a incredible selection of fantastic wines. John Matthew Green is the very well versed General Manager, from an old Napa family, but is world of knowledge about wines from everywhere. He puts on a great show and has picked out some passionate and talented winemakers to display. I picked up some super Pinot Noirs, one from Harrington Vineyards and one from Hientz, both of which showed real depth and class. I’ll definitely go back to try some more of his selections, you should too. Grange Sonoma is an easy find, as it is right across the street from Gloria Ferrer on Hwy 121.
www.grangesonoma.com

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Alfaro Family Vineyards New Releases

s5002799.jpg2006 Alfaro Family Vineyards Pinot Noir “Lindsay-Page Vineyard” Santa Cruz Mountains
This richly colored and flavorful Pinot Noir has good depth and grip in its youth, but really opens up nicely in the glass with lovely fruit and bright flavors. Wild flowers, spices, and pretty berry fruit up front, leads to a ripe cherry core on the palate. This wine is layered and has very good focus with smoky sweet wood notes that gives hints of vanilla and smoothes it out. I should think a year in bottle will do wonders, but can I wait that long, not likely. Even though it will be better with some age, I like it now and will just have to buy a few bottles more! ($40 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive

ALFARO FAMILY VINEYARDS 

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s5002797.jpg2006 Alfaro Family Vineyards Syrah, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains
This wine is ripe and direct on the nose with violets and cassis, but is all class on the palate with delicate layers and beautiful pepper spices at first, then bang it gets up and goes with rich and full black fruits and thick textures. It reminds me of Hermitage or a really good Crozes-Hermitage with hints of game, mineral and blueberry adding to the complexities. There are subtle wood notes that are matched up perfectly with the fruit and acidity. Syrah seems to like the Alfaro estate, and I can tell you that this wine deserves attention. I plan to follow this one closely and hope you get a chance to try it too. ($35 Est.) 92+ Points,

ALFARO FAMILY VINEYARDS

Grapelive Latest: War and Politics in the Birthplace of the Managed Vineyard, and Wine.

kw0808gl.jpg Today, I was planning on writing about recent wine trips and the ups and downs, but I was confronted with the news this morning and became sad and worried, with all the terrible things going on. Train, bus and car crashes, idiotic lying Politians, and media that needs a moral compass and the worst of all things war. Trying to clear my head and escape the images of tanks and selling became totally impossible. The war, between rebels in South Ossetia, a want away republic sandwiched by Georgia and Russia, and the forces of the Republic of Georgia has intensified to the points where Russian army forces now are faced up against the Georgian army and the whole of the region could explode.

The Caucasus have been quiet for a few years following Putin’s crushing of the Chechens, but remains a simmering hot spot with many ethnic tensions. Let us hope that things will cool off and may peace win, instead of violence.
If you were wondering why I would mention this little known area and passionately want things there to stabilize, well, there are many reasons, but the region is also the most likely birth place for modern winegrowing, dating back 5,000 years! Wine relics, vineyard cultivation remains and trade records all point to an advanced wine trade here and may even be older than mentioned. This was part of the Silk Road, the trade route between Asia and Europe.
While winemaking from wild grapes and fruits seems to date back to about 7,000 years ago, these finds in the Caucasus Mountains seem to be the true home of trained vineyards. These areas stretched from the sea in what is modern day Iran to these very Mountain Valleys that we have this war going on.
I was in Russia last year and was told because of politics they were not importing Georgian wines, and I had to settle on some pretty scary stuff from the other break away republic in Georgia, Abkhazia. In Hugh Johnson’s “The Story of Wine”, he puts forward that the Caspian Sea and Black Sea are the birthplace of winegrowing, and goes with modern day Iran as the likely _44904633_-2.jpgstarting place along with areas of Georgia. While I was in Russia, I had heard tales that it was for sure parts of Georgia and other hidden mountain valleys in the Caucasus range that may have been first, but it was hard to get in there to prove it, and now it seems even more unlikely that we are going to be able to explore this beautiful and mysterious wine region.
In an ironic twist, it is the Russians that have promoted Georgian wine and were their biggest market, as even though the west enjoys open trade with Georgia, we are not into their wines and have very little available to us. I tried to find hidden stashes in Moscow, in small markets and restaurants, but was denied. Too much fear and nationalism in Russia allowed me to get my hands on any. So I was forced to drink European and wines from the Ukraine mostly, while in Russia. Though I am very interested to explore Caucasus wine and maybe discover some of wines’ history. I will say I did get to try some lovely Georgian red wine in Riga, Latvia back in 2005, and it was that taste that set my mind to finding more.
So let us hope for true and lasting peace in the Caucasus regions and bring all of these people to a place of security and stability. Maybe it will be wine that does it, but the UN needs to move in first. Keep your fingers crossed, send your good thoughts and don’t let this area be put on the back burner, especially now that people are being killed.

By Kerry Winslow

*Map from BBC News Online.