Don't say we never did you nothing: we braved the 3-day weekend/valentine's day traffic to bring you the promised report from Cline Cellars.
As members of the wine industry, we rarely visit the "front of the house" tasting rooms. We usually skip the front entrance and head to the back, where we get royal treatment tasting with our fellow winemakers. We cry for you, but only so much. You are always welcome to come taste with us, after all. So, bellying up to the tasting bar..., well, actually, it was so crowded that it was more like we were circling vultures until a thin slice of bar opened up. Any way you look at it, it was jarring to our delicate systems. Remember, we did it for you.
Cline has a nice enough tasting room. We ignored the usual tchotchkes and were greeted by the very helpful Connie. She explained that we could choose any 5 wines among the 3 whites and 8 reds listed on the front side of the tasting sheet, and that the 4 wines on the back could be tasted at $1/per. Pretty reasonable, by tasting room standards, we think. Of course, we pulled rank and got to taste anything we wanted with no charge. Eat your hearts out.
Overall, we liked the wines. Nothing blew us away, even though we were tasting wines that were supposed to be much better than the California Syrah referenced a couple of posts back that inspired us to visit the tasting room in the first place. Why? This is a tough one. We have often experienced what we call the Tasting Room Effect, where wines that we know and love just don't taste as good at the winery as they do at home. Perhaps this is because the wines have been opened too long, the glasses are subpar (as much as we hate to admit it, glasses do make a difference), or we are just put off by the thcotchkes and crowds.
Anyway, we bought a case of wine, following our own advice (see earlier posts) to buy two of everything. So we'll see if the wines show better chez nous than they did at Cline. Yes, you will get reports.
Here's the list: what we did not taste, what we tasted, and what we bought.
2007 Pinot Gris Sonoma Coast, $12
2007 Oakley four Whites (Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Palomino, Malvasia Bianca. Hm, wondering now why we did not taste this. Palomino is the main grape in Sherry. $11
2007 Los Carneros Viognier, $16. We tasted this one, and liked it very much. Classic viognier (floral, pretty, with enough weight to keep drinking it). At this point we have a backlog of whites, so we are only buying whites that blow us away. This was good, but did not make the cut.
2006 Oakley five reds (Merlot, Barbera, Cab Franc, Syrah, Mourvedre), $11.
2007 Cashmere, California, $21. We tasted this blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre (GSM, or as Cline says, "Gimme Some More!"). The G and M come from Oakley, and the S from Sonoma. It was plenty tasty, but not enough to justify the price. Mind you, this is a bargain compared to many similar blends from Napa and Sonoma, but we think most of those pale compared to the typical $10-15 Cotes-du-Rhone, as did this.
2007 Ancient Vines Carignane, Contra Costa County, $16. We tasted this. Carignane is a notoriously tough grape. Tough flavors, tough to make interesting, tough from just about any perspective. This wine was quaffable enough, but not special.
2007 Ancient Vines Mourvedre, Contra Costa County, $18. This was much more generous than the Carignane, but still did not deliver enough to get us excited. Cline makes a reserve Mourvedre, but they were sold out so we could not taste it.
2007 Syrah Sonoma County, $12. This is the current release of the Syrah we tasted earlier, then called California. We did not taste it, but bought two bottles on faith.
2006 Cool Climate Syrah, Sonoma Coast, $16, and
2005 Los Carneros Syrah, $28. We tasted these two side-by-side, and neither had the spark that so enticed us in the California Syrah we tasted a few weeks ago. The Los Carneros was more interesting, and quite good nonetheless, so we decided to chalk it up to the aforementioned Tasting Room Effect and bought two bottles.
We then tasted 4 Zinfandels side-by-side (Cline makes single vineyard designate Zinfandels from Contra Costa County, but these were sold out at the time of our visit):
2007 Zinfandel, California, $12
2007 Ancient Vines Zinfandel, California, $18
2006 Sonoma Zinfandel, $26
2007 Heritage Zinfandel, Contra Costa County, $34
The entry-level Zin is Cline's best-selling wine. It had a pleasant, classic Zinfandel nose. Nice but unremarkable. The Ancient Vines was a decided step up, and we bought two bottles. The Sonoma Zin, made from fruit purchased from Sonoma Valley, really highlighted the difference between Sonoma and Contra Costa Zinfandel. Our favorite of the four (we bought two bottles), this wine was richer and more complex than the others. The Heritage Zin, essentially a blend of the 4 Contra Costa single vineyard Zins, had real potential, and may be too young to be showing it now. We bought two bottles to find out.
On our way out Connie insisted we try their late-harvest Mourvedre, and advised that we visit Cline's sister winery, Jacuzzi, across the street. Partly good advice. The late harvest Mourvedre would please any lover of ruby port, and would go wonderfully with any rich, chocolatey dessert. Jacuzzi was a major disappointment. The wines are mostly made from relatively obscure Italian varieties, such as Arneis, Lagrein, Nero D'Avola, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto..., but all were disappointing, and about 50% more expensive than their supposed counterparts at Cline.
Cline is very close to San Francisco, and not so much farther from the East Bay. If you can brave a tasting room scene there are worse places to go, and other good visits nearby, such as Gloria Ferrer. But Cline wines are widely available so there is no reason to go out of your way to visit. We enjoyed everything we tasted at Cline and the prices are hard to beat in California. We were hoping for a bit more out of the wines, and once we open at home what we bought today, we'll let you know whether we find it.