Three Standouts from the 2013 Family Winemakers of California Tasting

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve only been to a few trade tastings before, and I’m definitely still not used to it. Walking into a giant hall literally filled with table after table, row after row, of wine after wine, is intimidating and overwhelming. Tala and I did research before this year’s Family Winemakers of California tasting, which was held at Fort Mason. We reviewed the list (220 participating wineries!), and removed the places we knew we didn’t want to check out. In developing our offering for Winelandia, we specifically focused on small producers – say 2500 cases or less, as natural production as possible, and really good value in the $15-$30 price range. We’re looking for wines that no one is afraid to open on a Tuesday night, wines that aren’t intimidating or overbearing, and that pair well with food. This was a great opportunity to for us to meet a lot of winemakers, hone our preferences, and review a wide range of styles and varietals.

But still! Even though we got our list down to, say, 100 wineries, we knew we’d never make it through. I think, at the end of the 3 hours we spent there, we probably tried around 100 wines from 15 or so wineries. And yes, we spit almost all of it out – which is something I’m still getting used to, for sure. In the expanse of wines that we saw, smelled, tasted, and noted, here are three standouts that really made us happy.

Frog’s Tooth 2012 Torrontes

This wine, from the Sierra Foothills, was floral, light, and energetic. The nose was so aromatic and pleasant, and the taste had the right balance of acid and freshness. Coming in around 12% alcohol makes it a great sipping wine. This Torrontes has everything I know Tala loves about the nose on a Viognier, but it’s also got great taste and acidity that Viognier often lacks. Perfect to drink with spicy food or light appetizers. We definitely plan to check this place out as soon as we can get out to Murphys, CA.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKaena 2011 Via Caprice Grenache

Kaena makes A LOT of Grenache, which was a pleasant surprise to me. I love the lighter bodied, livelier red grapes like Grenache, and it was a treat to taste so many side-by-side. They also had a couple of GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blends to try as well. Our pick was the Via Caprice Grenache, from the Central Coast. Aged in neutral oak, this was the lightest Grenache they had on offer, with loads of acid and great tart cherry flavor. Surprisingly it was over 14% in alcohol, but didn’t drink that way at all. It’s a super food-friendly wine, but would be great by itself too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWait Cellars 2011 Green Valley Pinot Noir

It’s no secret that Tala and I love Russian River Pinot Noir. We’ve had enough that we’re picky about it, though. We’ve been to a lot of wineries, tasted a lot of RR Pinots, and don’t like a lot of what happens there. This wine, though, we loved. It’s everything I want from a Pinot – a bit of cola, some nice earthy and mushroomy flavors, and medium body. A Pinot should be versatile and flexible – ready to pair with food or drink alone, and this Pinot is it. All the Wait Cellars wines were great, but this was a standout.

There were a few others that we loved, and still more that we liked. All in all, it was a great opportunity to check out a TON of California wine – a lot that we haven’t previously had access to. Who are your favorite small California winemakers? Let us know!