viognier

welcome to Denner

welcome to Denner


Denner, like Booker, Caliza, Brian Benson and a few others, has been in the spotlight lately. As a result, it was a must-see while we visited Paso Robles last month, though since everyone else had the same idea, they were nearly tapped out of wine to try. Boo-hoo!

The Denner vineyards were planted in 1999. They’ve an excellent map and description of the property, grape varieties, etc. here. According to their site, about 45 of the 108 total planted acres ends up in Denner Estate wines. They sell the rest to other “ultra-premium producers” in the area, like Linne Calodo and JUSTIN. They’ve a whole range of Rhône and Bordeaux whites and reds on the vine.

The Denner winery, completed in 2005, is gorgeous. Apparently it uses gravity flow along the hillside to process grapes, and is one of the few in California that does. Visually stunning, too, it made our visit that much more enjoyable.

scenic view from the Denner winery

scenic view from the Denner winery

some of the Denner Vineyards

some of the Denner Vineyards

Denner tasting room interior

Denner tasting room interior


another view of the Denner tasting room

another view of the Denner tasting room

2008 Denner Mother of Exiles

2008 Denner Mother of Exiles

The tasting room is large and expansive. The staff was quite friendly and almost apologetic, for there were only two wines left to try:

2010 Viognier: This was a very pale clear yellow with lots of tropical fruit aromas, complex and full bodied, it opens up dramatically with lots of mineral, yellow fruit, peach and slight pepper notes. This was excellent.

2008 Mother of Exiles: The 2008 is the first release of this Bordeaux style blend of cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and cabernet franc. An opaque deep purple red, it had a striking nose, rich velvety mouth-feel chock full of red fruit with medium body and a long finish. Good if not extraordinary.

I am a bit vexed about not being able to taste the syrah, so I’m flirting with joining their wine club to lay my hands on some. What do you think?

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kukkula, Paso Robles

by Stevie on April 20, 2011

welcome to kukkula

welcome to kukkula


Well, we’ve finally made it to kukkula! I’ve been looking forward to this day for ages, ever since we tasted their wines at the Paso Robles wine festival in 2009 and 2010. Our good friends, Aime and Whitney, knowing my admiration for all things kukkula, even sent me a couple bottles of their delicious Lothario, a southern Rhône blend.

They’d been building a tasting room for a while, which finally opened last year. It was worth the wait as the building is really beautiful.

“Kukkula” means “high place” in Finnish. It is an apt name, as the winemaker/owner, Kevin Jussila, comes from a Finnish background, and like most of West Paso, the place is really hilly. It was a bit hectic the day that we visited. They’ve only been open a short time, so it could be that they’re still getting the kinks out of the procedures in the tasting room. Plus it was Paso Zinfandel Festival weekend, so it might have been more crowded than normally.

a steep vineyard at kukkula

a steep vineyard at kukkula


I just can't get over these wavy hills

I just can't get over these wavy hills

kukkula owner Kevin Jussila

kukkula owner Kevin Jussila


In any event, it was a bit loud and disorganized: I wrote “frenetic” in my tasting notes. And really it was an almost carnival atmosphere. This didn’t meet my fantasy of a sedate, spare and elegant Scandinavian wine experience, but no matter. And it is naughty to stereotype: bad boy!

There is a tasting fee, which they waive with a purchase. They were super nice about letting us re-try things and allowed us to sample wines not on the official menu.

2009 vaalea: This is a blend of viognier, roussanne and Grenache blanc. This was a very pale transparent yellow with orange blossom, green apple and floral notes with sharp Granny Smith and mineral flavors.

2006 i. p. o.: This amusing wine is named “initial public offering” as it was the first blend that kukkula produced. Made of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and zinfandel, it was purplish red with lots of mineral, dried herbs and earth on the nose, full bodied and luscious with red fruit and pepper at the end.

2006 in the red: another commentary on the wine business, this wine was named before the profits started coming into the winery. A blend of cabernet sauvignon and syrah, it was a purple red color with dried herbs and garrigue, mushrooms and more earth on the nose. Full bodied with red and purple fruit and lots of mineral notes. I liked it a lot.

Pas de deux: a non-vintage blend of Grenache and syrah, was a purple red with a nose of warm clay and dry herbs. It tasted round with lots of fruit and caramel, with hints of coffee and a long warm finish.

2007 kukkula sisu

2007 kukkula sisu

2007 kukkula in the red

2007 kukkula in the red


2006 sisu: “Sisu” means “tenacity” or “patience and perseverance.” A syrah, Grenache and morvedre blend, it was purplish red. This had a peculiar nose of V8 juice or perhaps over ripe tomato with white pepper. It had a lot of berry flavors, earth and more pepper. Full bodied with a good finish, this was creamy and smooth with supple tannins.

2008 Lothario: This is a blend of Grenache, mourvedre and zinfandel. It was a transparent brownish red with cherry, toast and dried herbs that led to a medium bodied wine with supple tannins, red fruit, and some peppery notes on a good finish.

2007 lagniappe: This is a blend of Grenache, mourvedre, zinfandel and syrah: translucent purple red with dry herbs, thyme, and a hint of raspberry that led to more red fruit, lots of pepper, candied berries and vanilla.

2008 lagniappe: Translucent purplish red with a bright raspberry and tobacco nose, red fruit and berries like cherry and raspberry. It was creamy and finished with coconut flavors. This was more fruit-forward than the 2007.

subtle advertizing

subtle advertizing

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Caliza Winery, Paso Robles

by Stevie on April 13, 2011

Caliza is one of the lucky few Paso Robles wineries to be mentioned with high praise recently in the pages of Wine Spectator. The magazine referred to the winemakers/owners, Pam and Carl Bowker, as the “new kids on the block.” Pam alluded to that on our recent tasting visit. Comfortably past childhood (husband Carl is 53 according to the magazine. Of course I’d never ask a lady her age, but WS is shameless and published hers. You’ll have to look for the article, as I remain a gentleman.) Pam quipped that “old kids” might be more like it.

welcome to Caliza

welcome to Caliza

a hilly Caliza vineyard on an overcast day

a hilly Caliza vineyard on an overcast day


We trooped over to Caliza after our picnic lunch at Booker. They’re quite nearby and we walked comfortably, even with little Jake in tow.

Pam says that, like Booker, the glowing review has significantly increased traffic to their tasting room. Certainly it had an exciting hum that day. (It happened to be Zinfandel weekend, too.)

we really enjoyed the Caliza Azimuth

we really enjoyed the Caliza Azimuth

Caliza, which means “limestone” in Spanish, practices sustainable agriculture. The web site gives a host of interesting details for true wine geeks about the soil types, various clones of syrah, Grenache, roussanne, etc. as well as info on the climate and area of West Paso. I loved the details.

Pam was wonderfully charming and chatty. We were so lucky to meet and taste wine with her.

The wines were really good, just like they said in the article. If you haven’t gone for a visit already, then you definitely should consider one on your next Central Coast excursion.

2008 Kissin’ Cousins: This is a blend of viognier, Grenache blanc and roussanne. It was a super pale transparent yellow with exciting crisp green apple, green grape, musk, white pepper notes with a long finish.

2007 Azimuth: We asked Pam about the name. She gave us three definitions: 1. the most direct route from A to B, 2. to deviate from the horizon (which has personal meaning for the Bowkers as they left their previous careers to pursue winemaking) and 3. ascend to heaven.

Caliza 2007 Azimuth

yummy Caliza 2007 Azimuth

This is a blend of Grenache, syrah and mourvedre.

This opaque purple red wine full of fresh berries, warm baking spices, red fruit, pepper with a balancing acidity lived up to its name. We were transported.

2006 Azimuth: Also a blend, with more syrah than Grenache, mourvedre, tannat and alicante bouchet. This was darker than the 2007, more fruit-forward and easier drinking than the first.

2008 Cohort: The day that we tasted this was its first day of release. This blend that includes Primitivo, a cousin to Zinfandel, seemed very appropriate for the festival theme.

Mostly Syrah, it has Grenache, Primitivo and Petite Sirah: so this is a California blend if there ever was one.

Unsurprisingly this was an opaque purple to black with red fruit, chewy tannins and bitter earthiness that made it quite interesting.

2007 Companion: This is a 50-50 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Opaque purple, supple and smooth with medium to full body, we enjoyed the dried herbs, red fruit and spicy finish. This screamed “Paso Robles” to us.

We did try a few more wines from other vintages but I can’t interpret my notes. I think that I was having too much fun that day. You will too, so get to Caliza ASAP.

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Booker Vineyard, Paso Robles

by Stevie on April 6, 2011

The weirdcombos were super excited about Booker Vineyard after that incredibly flattering piece in Wine Spectator came out in March. Apparently we weren’t alone, for when we arrived at their chic tasting room over Paso Robles Zinfandel Fest weekend, almost all the wines had been poured and sold. Good for Eric Jensen but not so good for us. Boo-hoo!

welcome to Booker

welcome to Booker

this place is stunningly beautiful in its elegant simplicity

this place is stunningly beautiful in its elegant simplicity

Actually, we might have been lucky, as I’m looking at the Booker website a week later to write this story and I see at the bottom of the home page that the tasting room is closed. It appears that they’ve sold out of wine. No further explanation of possible re-opening date gets indicated. Huh.

Booker, apparently named after two brothers, Claude and Dick, who owned and farmed a lot of acreage in the West Paso area in the early Twentieth Century, is one of the new darlings of the Paso Robles wine universe. They’re a by-subscription winery, though right now, you can sign up immediately, instead of waiting forever, like you might for Saxum, Carlisle, or Kosta Brown. I did right after reading the piece in Wine Spectator (I’m such a wine-sheep), so I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to acquire and enjoy some Booker wines later this year. If you haven’t already, then click on over to their site and register.

Booker Vineyard tasting room

Booker Vineyard tasting room


the Jensen bullie

the Jensen bullie

Booker Tempranillo

Booker Tempranillo

Like much of Paso, Booker is celebrated for its Rhône style wines. While we visited, we had some exciting white Rhônes, which really is saying something since we’re rarely that thrilled by pale drink.

The tasting room (if it is open) is located quite near Caliza, Brian Benson and Darkstar. You could probably walk between them in good weather (which is what we did, going to Caliza directly after our picnic lunch.) The contemporary and soothing building is nestled at the foot of a fairly steep hill covered in vines. They were playing fabulous alternative rock through their speaker system the day that we visited. Groups like Linkin Park, Muse, Franz Ferdinand, etc. It really put me in an excellent mood.

The tasting room only had three wines to try, but the staff pouring them was so cute and charming that we weren’t upset about it in the least. Eric Jensen and his cute bulldog made a brief appearance. What a great afternoon! After our tasting, we had a picnic lunch, and watched Whit’s son, Jake, play with the Jensen dog in the sun. Perfect.

2009 Pink: This rosé from unfiltered Grenache and syrah was a cloudy salmon pink. Exuding ripe cherry, pepper, hot rocks and hints of raisin with a creamy almost oily mouthfeel. Yum.

2009 White: A blend of roussanne and viognier, exhibited a hazy golden yellow color full of floral notes, tropical fruit, peaches, mineral and earth with a long, stimulating finish.

2008 Tempranillo: This is the first Booker tempranillo. An opaque purple with dried herbs, plum, red fruit; this is round, juicy and opulent.

gorgeous rock gardens at Booker

gorgeous rock gardens at Booker


Jake at Booker

Jake at Booker


vines at Booker

vines at Booker

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Hegui and I decided to go to Chouinard as part of our recent Livermore Valley wine tasting meet-up. They got an excellent review on ChowHound and they produce Rhône varieties, which we adore.

charming Chouinard Vineyards

charming Chouinard Vineyards


welcome to Chouinard Vineyards

welcome to Chouinard Vineyards

Even though we’ve been, I still don’t quite know how to situate them on the map. Many of their grapes are grown in other locations, like Paso Robles, Lodi or Monterey. Is Chouinard part of Livermore Valley, the San Francisco Bay or what?

Well, whatever it is, they’re worth a look.

Compared to Concannon, the place we visited after this, Chouinard is tiny and sort of mom-and-pop style. Only about five or six miles off Interstate 580 in Castro Valley, nevertheless, it seems like light-years from the Bay Area. They’re nestled in a charming little valley between several mountains. There’s even a little creek running through the property. The drive itself from the freeway to the winery is full of stunning mountain views, corkscrew turns and adventure. That may be a liability after the tasting on your drive out, so use caution.

We tried the sparkling, the whites, the apple wine, and reds but couldn’t drink more when it came to the sweet wines and their versions of port. The tasting room was small, informal and friendly. The wines are all quite affordable and many were very good.

tiny creek running through Chouinard Vineyards

tiny creek running through Chouinard Vineyards

Unfortunately, the Chouinard wine price list didn’t always indicate the vintage, if any, or the region from which the grapes were harvested. I asked but my notes are inconsistent.

California Champagne: This is from chardonnay grown on the estate. It was pale yellow with the aroma of green apple. It tasted apple-y and refreshing.

2009 Chardonnay, Livermore: Pale yellow with mineral on the nose, not that much fruit. Not too oaky, it was more creamy than buttery with mineral notes and tropical fruit.

Viognier (is this 2009?), from Lodi: This was quite pale with lovely floral and pear on the nose. It had a subtle flavor with some mineral hints and an earthy finish. We both liked. It would be especially welcome on a hot day.

2009 Chenin Blanc, Monterey: Very pale yellow with hints of rose, papaya, butterscotch, and apricot with some sour cherry. It seemed mildly sweet. Pleasant.

NV Granny Smith Apple wine, from Hog Canyon Orchard: This is a novelty! It was a transparent pale yellow that smelled of apple pie and rust. It tasted very apple-y but didn’t shock like cider might. It had 10% alcohol.

Chouinard red: This is a blend of petite sirah, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and malbec. Translucent pale purple with hints of tar, cedar, hot embers and clay. We detected red fruit with tar and mineral. It had crisp acidity and a long finish.

2006 Alicante Bouchet, Lodi: This was an inky dark red with a nose of wood chips, freshly cut trees, garrigue, cedar, vanilla and V-8 juice. It opened slowly but became exuberant with lots of earthy flavors, black coffee, bitter notes, nail polish and fresh blood.

2009 Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi: This was brownish red with a nose of cigarettes and tobacco, red fruit and honey. Surprisingly it tasted of plum. Medium body.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, San Francisco Bay, Palomares Canyon Vineyard: This was a dark purple red with a nose of freshly turned dirt, forest floor and wet moss. A medium body supported by supple tannins revealed mineral and some fruit.

2005 Petite Sirah, Livermore: This was an opaque black with scents reminiscent of stewed tomatoes and metal. It had noticeable chewy tannins that made it thick. This one needs a bit more time. We felt it was the most French in style.

2007 Malbec, Paso Robles: Purple to black in color, we detected spice box, Mexican cinnamon, green pepper. It started out powerfully then tapered off to a smooth vanilla and oaky finish. This was less forceful than an Argentine malbec. Good.

Chouinard Vineyards has won lots of medals and ribbons for their wines

Chouinard Vineyards has won lots of medals and ribbons for their wines

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Concannon may be familiar to you from supermarket shelves. I know that I was beguiled by them for years whenever I browsed my local Safeway. Strangely, I’d never considered trying to visit until our good friend, Kristen B, suggested a day-trip to Livermore Valley. She was pulling together a group and had a friend, Jennifer, who works in the tasting room, but who is also a successful realtor in Oakdale, CA. Land and wine do fit hand-in-glove, don’t you think?

Concannon Vineyard with a snow-capped peak in the background

Concannon Vineyard with a snow-capped peak in the background


chillin' with friends at Concannon

chillin' with friends at Concannon

The Concannon story is pretty awesome. Apparently great-grandfather James Concannon immigrated to California from Ireland, where he founded the winery in 1883. That’s old, especially for a California winery. Today Concannon is well known for Petite Sirah, of which they claim to be the first producers in the U.S. At more than fifty years, it is worth tasting on any visit. Here’s a link to a great video of James Concannon (not the Irish guy, but a descendent) talking about the first petite sirah vintage and the Livermore terroir.

This place was buzzing when we arrived the Sunday of Presidents Day weekend. Fortunately the weather was excellent after about a week of cold rain. We met Kristen, her friends, including Jennifer and Susan behind the counter, and the lovely Joann and Roger P. (Good luck on your upcoming operation, Joann! We’re rooting for you.)

The tasting room is housed in a large complex of buildings, all surrounded by vineyards. Amazingly, there was snow on some of the distant peaks, a rare sight indeed for this part of the State. The sky was full of sun and gorgeous clouds, there was a gentle cool breeze and everything felt right in the universe.

We didn’t take a tour (I didn’t even find out if that was a possibility.) Instead we went right to work with wine tasting. After that, our large group all gathered in the back for a late lunch and more wine in Concannon’s modern restaurant/lounge, Underdog Wine Bar. It was so much fun catching up, meeting new people and enjoying a bottle of the 2000 Heritage Petite Sirah. Ah…

2000 Concannon Heritage Petite Sirah

2000 Concannon Heritage Petite Sirah

The sky was full of sun and gorgeous clouds the day we went to Concannon

The sky was full of sun and gorgeous clouds the day we went to Concannon

Afterward, Whit and I went browsing through their wine library. They had some older vintages and an exciting array of large format bottles. I always go for the “big bottle” when I can, so you’ll understand that I was dismayed to learn that the one guy that had the key to the cellar was off buying cheese for the party the next day. They wouldn’t sell without him. Too bad! Though it is probably just as well. How often is a Nebuchadnezzar really called for?

Jennifer and Susan at Concannon

Jennifer and Susan at Concannon

2009 Viognier Reserve, Livermore Valley: This wine was so pale that it appeared colorless. It had a lovely floral nose with notes of pear, apricot and mineral. We liked it.

2009 Chardonnay Reserve, Livermore Valley: This was an extremely pale yellow. It had notes of coffee, tobacco and salami. This one spent about six months in oak though it wasn’t buttery at all. Rather it was creamy and rich full of tropical fruit and some toasted oak notes with medium heft.

2008 Pinot Noir Reserve, San Luis Obispo County, Haimes Valley: This was a transparent cherry red with red fruit and hints of horse pooh. Light to medium bodied with pepper, cranberry and blueberry flavors.

2007 Syrah Reserve, Livermore Valley: This has 8% petite sirah added. It was an opaque purple with enticing aromas of tobacco and coffee with red and purple fruit and a minerally finish.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Livermore Valley: This has 6% petite sirah and 2% petite verdot. It was a translucent red to purple color with a nose of cedar and forest floor. It had supple tannin with pleasing hints of blueberry, blackberry, and vanilla. This had a good finish.

2006 Captain Joe’s Petite Sirah, Reserve, Livermore Valley: This was dark, opaque purple. We detected mouthwatering spice box, forest floor, camphor with lots of black pepper, red fruit, blueberry and ample tannin.

2006 Petite Sirah, Reserve, Livermore Valley: This, too, was opaque purple. It had an unusual aroma: rotten veggies and “fart.” This was tannin-rich, more round and full than the Captain Joe’s. We detected loads of blue- and blackberries. It was really good.

Petite Sirah Port: This was dark black. It smelled like dark molasses and caramel. The taste was sweet without being overbearing, loaded with red fruit and pepper.

2000 Petite Sirah Heritage: This is the Concannon flagship wine. It was an opaque black with full body and rich brooding dark fruit with a long finish. It was very good.

welcome to Concannon

welcome to Concannon

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a vineyard at Pride with Pride Rock in the background

Some of the crew went to Pride Mountain Vineyards for a tasting appointment last weekend. If you’ve never been, we highly recommend it. Situated on the border of Napa and Sonoma Counties, this stunningly beautiful winery at the top of Spring Mountain in the Mayacamas range produces marvelously complex and succulent wines in a magnificent setting.

welcome to Pride Mountain Vineyards

It is true that since the winery’s at the top of the mountain, the ride there can seem a little treacherous. Hegui got motion sickness from the several miles of switchback roads and almost bombed out on the tasting. Fortunately the clear mountain air and the sheer loveliness of the place helped him to regain his equilibrium. Perhaps we erred in coming from the Sonoma side rather than the Napa one? The Western approach did seem a bit longer and somewhat wilder. If you’re planning a visit, besides making a reservation (Pride’s reservation only) consider how your party handles rugged terrain.

That said everything else on our recent visit to Pride was perfect.

The location has a long history. According to the winery web site, the place was first developed in the Nineteenth Century as Summit Ranch. There’s even evidence of some wine production from that period. Nowadays this is a family run vineyard and winery that apparently recently passed to the second generation of winemakers. Pride is an unusual name, suggesting perhaps gay liberation or maybe that Walt Disney movie, The Lion King. The vineyard and the movie both boast a “Pride Rock.” In fact, it’s the family name of the winemakers. That is cool! I wish my family name sounded nearly so interesting.

We didn’t realize that we were to be offered a tour. We’d gone to Pride about three or four years ago and it was sort of a standard tasting at a bar. Things have changed for the better. “Jay” was our very kind and well-informed guide. We started at the tasting room where we sampled the 2009 viognier. Then Jay guided us through parts of the facility including the grounds immediately adjacent to the tasting room and into the wine caves. That’s always a real treat and you won’t be disappointed here.

some grapevines at Pride

at Pride they collect winter rain to irrigate vines in the dry months

more views from Pride

Pride tasting room and offices

some Pride merlot on display

we're ready to be wow-ed by Pride...and we were

with my left foot in Napa and my right in Sonoma, I'm ready for anything

Pride is unique in that it’s a winery physically on the border to both Napa and Sonoma. If this was the Carneros region that might not seem that remarkable, but we’re talking Spring Mountain. There’s a line in front of the cave entrance that demarks the two counties. They consider it an asset though it creates some confusing bottling issues according to Jay. Since the counties are two different AVAs, if the grapes grown in different lots were mixed together before fermentation, they’d have to be named in some generic California way. It’s something like that. To manage this, the Pride folks separately ferment the wines then in the final blends; indicate percentages by county of origin from which the grapes originated. It sounded a bit complex, though they clearly have everything under control.

We were offered three wines plus a barrel sample from a single block of merlot, but we thoroughly enjoyed them all.

2009 Pride Viognier: This wine was a pale yellow color with a flowery aroma and a distinct creamy mouth-feel. We detected peach and nectarine. I really liked this. Hegui, always a skeptic of white, wasn’t that sure.

2007 Pride Merlot: This was a dark red color. It had an earthy scent and was a full-bodied almost thick tasting wine with supple tannins and a long finish. We detected red and purple fruits with some distinct mineral notes. We all adored this wine. I ended up purchasing a magnum to have as a treat later.

2007 Pride Cabernet Sauvignon: This was a deep, dark red color. I thought there was some cedar on the nose. It was silken with a long, long finish. We really liked it.

tasting some Pride in the caves

posing with friends after the tour and tasting at Pride

some grapes on the vine at Pride


We were surprised with a sample of something that was not, strictly speaking, a wine at all. The 2009 Mistelle de Viognier is a blend of the unfermented juice of viognier grapes and brandy. This mildly sweet dessert drink had notes of green tea and honey. It was very pleasant. Callie, one of our group that day, got a 375ml bottle to have this very week!

Afterward, Jay recommended that we enjoy our picnic lunch in the vineyard under some shade trees overlooking one of the many breath-taking views. How could we say no?

the view from Pride atop Spring Mountain is stunning

Pride Mountain Vineyards isn’t just a pretty face, though that’s always welcome. The Prides make quality wine that’s full of pleasure. Taste it for yourselves sometime soon.

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Cline Cellars, Sonoma County

by Stevie on December 8, 2009

beautiful Cline Cellars

beautiful Cline Cellars

Our good friend, John, is a huge fan of Cline. He’s a member of their wine club too. Located just down the road from Gloria Ferrer, some of the WC crew who hadn’t already been, got a chance to experience the place recently. Actually, we’d had their Ancient Vines Zinfandel and Mourvèdre with John, so we had an idea of what to expect. Those wines were luscious, fruity with earthy depth that lingered in the mouth.

The winery itself consists of a series of less grand buildings than you might see at other Sonoma wineries. Here though the smaller scale was elegant. Nestled around a series of pools and artificial lakes, surrounded by weeping willows, the place was very charming. Aside from wine, Cline boasts a small zoo of various dramatically plumed pheasants and we even saw a sign warning us to stay out of the water because of the alligators! We didn’t see them, thank heavens!

The Cline founder, Fred Cline, is a descendent of the Jacuzzi family along his mother’s side. In fact, Jacuzzi and Cline are across the street from one another. Originally located in Oakley in Contra Costa County, where most of the “ancient vines” still stand, Cline moved his eponymous winery to Sonoma County in the early 1990’s. In Sonoma they grow some of the more traditional grapes for the Carneros region, things like chardonnay and pinot noir. They’ve also been developing several Rhône varietals like Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussane.

happy holidays from Cline

happy holidays from Cline

The tasting room was the right size to feel welcoming and comfortable. Our tasting room guide, “Russ,” was delightful. They offer any five tastings of their regular bottlings for free and will pour from their reserve, single vineyard bottles at a dollar a taste. We tried several of both kinds and found most of the wines quite good.

2008 Sonoma Coast Viognier, Sonoma Coast: This was a transparent pale yellow, fragrant with lots of floral scents. It was light and refreshing with notes of peach and apricot.

2008 Cashmere, California: This is a blend of Mouvèdre, Grenache and Syrah, apparently named because it tastes so smooth that it’s like cashmere. The wine was a purple red. We found notes of tar and tobacco with a good structure and long finish. We loved this wine and ended up getting a couple bottles.

2007 Ancient Vines Carignane, Contra Costa County: This was a dense purple with chocolate on the nose. It tasted of leather and chocolate. We liked it a lot.

some tasty Cline bottlings

some tasty Cline bottlings

2007 Ancient Vines Mourvèdre, Contra Costa County: This was purple, too. It tasted of blue stone fruit with a long earthy finish. Compared to the last two, Hegui thought it was “sweet.” Perhaps he meant that it was more fruit-forward.

2007 Syrah, Sonoma County: This was purple colored with an earthy tart finish.

2007 Cool Climate Syrah, Sonoma Coast: This dark purple wine had blue fruit with an almost bitter lengthy finish and a slight tartness.

2008 Zinfandel, California: This was a dark red fruity wine. Pleasant.

2008 Ancient Vines Zinfandel, California: The vines are between 75 and 100 years old! Russ showed us a pic. They’re very gnarled, growing in quite sandy soil. This wine was dark red. We tasted caramel, red fruit and a bitter earthy finish. Yum!

2006 Sonoma Zinfandel, Sonoma County: This red charmer from purchased grapes grown in Alexander Valley, smelled of vanilla. It was fruity with a long vanilla finish.

2007 Big Break Zinfandel, Contra Costa County: This wine was quite fruity and juicy with a long finish.

2007 Heritage Zinfandel, Contra Costa County: This is a blend of three single vineyard zinfandels; 50% Live Oak, 28% Big Break and 22% Bridgehead. It was dark red and smelled grassy. We detected mineral and some metal. It was very smooth with a long finish. I really liked this one.

modest and elegant Cline Cellars tasting room

modest and elegant Cline Cellars tasting room

2007 Small Berry Mourvèdre, Contra Costa County: Russ recommended aging this wine for a few years. As is, it was dark red with a long tar earthy finish.

2006 Los Carneros Syrah, Carneros: This was purple to black in color. It smelled of leather and wax. The finish was long with black pepper notes.

2006 Late Harvest Mourvèdre, Contra Costa County: This is a sweet wine for dessert. It was brownish red with strawberry and cherry notes and a long finish. Not too sweet. We’re not that into dessert wines but this was very tasty.

Overall Cline Cellars is worth a visit. The standard wines are all a bargain at less than $20 a bottle. The single vineyard reserves range between $26 and $40. There are a lot of wines to try and most are very good. The staff is friendly and the property itself is quite nice. We walked away with about a half case between us and we’d have gotten more if we didn’t have to renew the car insurance next week.

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