This Week’s Wine Tasting

California Favorites

Celebrating Matt’s 40th Birthday!

Matthiasson– “Winemaking for us is a natural extension of farming, and most of our grapes come from the seven vineyards that we farm in Napa and Sonoma. We love to explore classical expressions of different varieties, some well-known like Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, and some rare like Ribolla Gialla or Refosco Dal Peduncula Rosso. In all cases we try to respect the purity of the variety and the individuality of the site. Our wines are refreshing, complement food, and are moderate in alcohol. By using our site-specific farming methods to grow intense fruit, coupled with careful restraint in the cellar, we strive to produce wine that is full flavored but impeccably balanced.”

Steve Matthiasson– “Steve dreamt of farming his entire life. He became an obsessed gardener and cook while studying philosophy in college. In 1994, while back in grad school for horticulture after three years as a bike messenger/wannabe farmer, he found a job in vineyards and orchards working for a small sustainable agriculture consulting firm. In 1999 he co-authored the California manual on sustainable vineyard practices. In 2002 he started consulting on vineyard practices in Napa. He still loves the challenge of solving vineyard problems for others, but since 2003 the primary focus has been on our own family farming and winemaking.”

Matthiasson Linda Vista Chardonnay 2014– Napa Valley, California. “We whole-cluster pressed the grapes, settled in tank for 24 hours, then fermented and aged the wine in neutral barrels. To preserve the minerality we kept half the barrels unstirred, and for a touch of creaminess we stirred the other half of the barrels just once. Since the acidity was so high in 2014 we allowed two-fifths of the barrels to go through malo-lactic fermentation, something we’ve never done before with the Linda Vista wine. The wine was never racked, fined, or cold-stabilized, but since it is partially ML negative it was filtered before bottling. This wine is 100% Chardonnay from the Linda Vista Vineyard. Showing green and yellow apples, peaches, melon, and honey on the nose and through to the palate, the high acidity is balanced by pleasant fleshiness, finishing very clean with a hint of minerality.” $25.99


Copain– “Wells Guthrie discovered early on that his taste in wine gravitated toward Europe in general and France’s Rhône Valley in particular. So much so, he picked up and moved with his new bride to the region to learn from the best. For two years, Wells apprenticed for esteemed winemaker and living legend Michel Chapoutier in France’s Rhone Valley. During that time, Wells was deeply inspired by the traditions and practices of French winemaking, not to mention the European attitude that wine is an essential part of life. At Copain, he creates wines that are firmly rooted in California, yet with the sensibilities of the European wines that so moved him. He is as committed to crafting these elegant, nuanced wines as he is to building a legacy that will be passed down to his daughters in the great tradition of European winemakers whose estates have been in the same family for generations.”

Copain Tous Ensemble Rose 2014– North Coast, California. Pinot Noir. “The 2014 vintage started dry but abundant February rain came just in time to break the winter drought. Warm spring temperatures encouraged an early budbreak that kept vineyard development ahead of schedule through the entire season. Our harvest was condensed beginning September 3rd and concluding on September 24th. For the first time our Pinot Noir and Syrah harvest overlapped. Abundant sunshine and cool evenings created near ideal conditions for ripe and balanced wines with yields falling in the normal range. With a gorgeous hue of pale pink, our 2014 Rosé jumps out of the glass with crisp red fruit flavors. The supple texture is backed by a vibrant freshness and appealing acidity, making this a wonderfully versatile food wine.” $20.99


LIOCO– “We met in 2001, when Kevin was wine director at Spago-Beverly Hills, and Matt was the national sales director for North Berkeley Imports. The alley behind the restaurant served as a makeshift tasting area and the rain gutter as a spit bucket. Our friendship was immediate and easy, and it didn’t take long for conversations about Burgundy, Piedmont, and Rhone to evolve into ideas about winemaking here at home.

We were critical of the “bigger is better” mantra that had taken hold, and wondered if it were possible to make wines of place that favored nuance over power. In 2005, relying on nothing more than our palates and our rolodexes, we embarked on a journey to become a New World negociant. Europe was the inspiration, as were the more restrained California wines of the 1980’s. We christened our winery “LIOCO” using a combination of our last names.

We are now preparing for our tenth vintage. The idea we dreamed up in the alley behind Spago has become our daily adventure. Sometimes on foot, sometimes in our all-wheel-drives, we search for distinctive California vineyards. All of the fruit we buy comes from real people working their land in real places. The resulting wines harken back to simpler time, or as we say: vintage California.”

LIOCO Laguna Pinot Noir 2012– Sonoma Coast, California. “AROMA: black raspberry, forest floor, cola. FLAVOR: Morello cherry, clove, rhubarb. FOOD PAIRINGS: BBQ pork chops, salmon cakes, Peking duck. AT A GLANCE: A classic example of Pinot Noir grown near a cold ocean. Shows the coveted rhubarb notes of the true coast. With 30% of the fruit coming from the famed Hirsch Vineyard on the extreme edge of the Sonoma Coast AVA, this wine displays a pedigree well beyond its price point.” $37.99


Wind Gap– “Wine lovers will know the name Pax Mahle from his first winery – PAX – which garnered high scores and much notoriety.  Though he has always been influenced by French styles of winemaking, it was the bold, powerful Syrahs that first brought praise and attention to Pax in his new chapter as Sommelier-turned-Winemaker.

Pax was sourcing fruit from a number of different vineyards within northern California.  One year, a particular vineyard had an unusually cool growing season.  Fermenting the fruit in single barrels, Pax found that the wines produced from this cooler site had the alluring freshness he had always loved in French wines.  He believed they were the kind of wines one could drink every night with dinner, regardless of season.  Pax continued experimenting with fruit from cooler growing regions and began picking at lower sugar levels, and in the mid-2000s created the Wind Gap label as an outlet for his new direction. According to Pax: “Wind Gap is all about classically styled wines that represent the new California.””

Wind Gap Sceales Grenache 2013– Sonoma County, California. 100% whole cluster fermentation. Fermented and aged in concrete eggs. “These gnarly head trained Grenache Vines have been dry farmed in these sandy soils for nearly 100 years. Harvested for freshness and fermented using carbonic maceration, this is a brilliantly pure Grenache. Deeply textured with firm tannins ensure that this wine will develop nicely with some time in your cellar, but its effusive fruit and crystalline Grenache fruit makes it irresistible today. Deeply layered red and black fruits are set off by spicy stem aromas and a bright fresh crystalline fruit quality that elevate all of the components together. On the palate the depth of fruit and old-vine concentration are evident as the wine slowly reveals the spicy tannins that this wine is becoming to be known for.” $28.99


Melville Vineyards & Winery– “Ron Melville, a businessman, and the founder of Melville Vineyards and Winery, grew up with a love of gardening, a passion he shared with his father. Ron also developed a love of good wine and began collecting it during college. While he pursued a successful career in finance, he knew his love of gardening and wine would fuel his desire to develop his own vineyard and winery [someday].

Since 1987, Ron has devoted his time studying viticulture and growing high quality grapes, first in Sonoma County’s Knight’s Valley and now in western Santa Ynez Valley. In Knights Valley, Ron successfully grew Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Approximately fifteen years ago, he developed 100 acres in Cat Canyon which he named Verna’s Vineyard, 2 miles north of Los Alamos in Santa Barbara County. The fruit from Cat Canyon, primarily dedicated to the production of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah, has sourced our Verna’s Vineyard wine program ever since.”

Melville Verna’s Vineyard Syrah 2012– Santa Barbara County, California. “This is 100% Melville estate fruit from our ranch in Los Alamos and is named in honor of Ron Melville’s mother.  Verna’s Vineyard Syrah is composed of seven different clones:   (Estrella, Shiraz 1, Tablas 99, 174, 383, 470 and 877).  30% of the grapes were fermented as whole-cluster with 70% de-stemmed in small 1.5 ton open-top fermenters.  Total skin and stem contact averaged 30 days (a 7 day cold soak, 2+ weeks fermentation and 1+ week extended maceration.)  From the press, the wine was transferred directly into neutral (old French oak) where it remained sur lie without sulfur until May, when it was racked for the first time and prepared for bottling in August.  Yields were 3.7 lbs/vine (3.4 tons/acre).” 94 Wine Advocate– “Dark electric purple in color, with aromatics of molasses, blueberry compote, beef carpaccio and hickory bark coming through initially. On the palate, intense and savory notes of hoisin sauce, iodine and squid ink mingle with hints of eucalyptus, mustard flower and lavender. Texturally the wine is velvety and streamlined, finishing with both grace and precision.” $27.99


Bedrock Wine Co.– “Bedrock Wine Co. was founded in 2007 by Morgan Twain-Peterson in a 550 square-foot, former chicken coop with 8 foot ceilings and no fermentation space. After six years of Bedrock being a one-man-show, Morgan was able to talk his best friend, Chris Cottrell, into moving to California from New York to join him. They now happily have a little more space to move around in but share the same objectives that guided the winery at the start.

Zinfandel is indeed a noble grape— and the noble grape that California can call its own. Similar to the other noble grapes of the world— the Pinot Noir of Burgundy, the Cabernet varieties of Bordeaux, the Nebbiolo of Piedmont, and the Riesling of Germany to name but a few— it only reaches an apogee of excellence when a fortuitous combination of great site, old vines, good year, and excellent winemaking intersect. More than any varietal— it is a bitch to make well. As such, the styles vary dramatically, from sweet to pink to red, brooding and alcoholic, green and astringent, to jam. No varietal in California suffers more from bad-oaking.”

Bedrock Wine Co. Zinfandel Old Vines 2013– Sonoma Coast, California. “Let’s just say that Bedrock founder and winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson knows what he’s doing. Having grown up at Ravenswood winery where he began making wine at age 5, Morgan worked harvest at Hardy’s Tintara in McLaren Vale, Australia and worked as a visiting winemaker at Chateau Lynch-Bages in Pauillac before returning to California to focus on revitalizing heirloom California vineyards and making what he defines as “the most unique, distinctly Californian, wine there is.” When it comes to Zinfandel, Morgan is outspoken in his vision: “For me, Zinfandel needs to straddle a spot between opulence and brightness, spice, and perfume. It should be powerful but have a certain elegance. The greatest examples I have had have weight but dance. And this is what I am looking for my Zinfandel’s to do…they should be sultry, sprightly, and sexy. And most importantly, they should ooze soul-satisfying deliciousness.” Well, what more can we say, other than that the 2010 Sonoma Valley Zin, with its exotic, spicy perfume, ample core of fruit and intoxicating finish spiked with notes of crushed rock, Mayan chocolate and rose really does ooze soul-satisfying deliciousness?” 92 Wine Advocate– “The 2013 Zinfandel Old Vine, which includes a dollop of Carignane, comes from vines averaging 80 years of age. This Rhône Ranger-styled effort displays notes of raspberries, black cherries, forest, earth, pepper and spice. Full-bodied, heady, seductive and lush, it can be enjoyed over the next 5-6 years. Morgan Twain Peterson continues to produce a fascinating array of wines from old vine sites throughout California. His 2012s demonstrated what a remarkable young talent he is, and the 2013s detailed below continue his Midas touch with a diversity of grapes as well as historical heritage sites.” $26.99

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