Sunday night Kathy and I took our dad wine tasting in Livermore. He loves to wine taste and Livermore is the closest wine growing region to San Leandro. We hit quite a few wineries (Kathy, a non-wine drinker, was driving) and I took a lot of notes. It’s interesting that many wineries are now charging for tastings – and not necessarily the better ones.
Our first stop was Bodega Aguirre, where tastings are $5. It has a very small, simple tasting room. It was already crowded when we arrived there at noon, opening time. There were cheese and crackers offered, but not much wine talk. Indeed, we barely heard any descriptions of the wines we tasted, their growing conditions or even information about the wineries during our whole trip. On the other hand, it we rarely found any pressure to buy anything.
Bodega Aguirre seems specialize in blends. I found most of them to be very light and watery, with very little complexity. I like hearty wines, however, and oaky ones in particular. Some of their wines, like the Estate Merlot Reserva ($32) were earthy, which I liked. My father, on the other hand, liked them in general and got a bottle of the 2003 Merlot ($18). Given the tasting fee and the fact that the wines didn’t impress me, I don’t think I’d stop there again.
We followed up with Boaventura de Caires winery, where tasting were free but they had only 2 wines to taste – a Cab (Boaventura de Caires 05/06 Platinum Label Cabernet Sauvignon) selling at $39 and a white table wine (BoaVentura de Caires 2006 White Table Wine) selling at $22 (they also offer splits and magnums). I liked the cab, it was smooth with a hint of oak. The white table wine was dry (I tend to prefer sweeter wines), but I also liked it. However, I didn’t think either wine justified their price.
The winery was very cute and quirky, with an open and informal tasting room. Several types of cheese were available.
Next stop was Little Valley winery, a cute relatively new winery that offers both wines and flavored sparkling wines. Their California champagne was fruity, with hints of melon. I liked it. I also liked both their Chardonnay ($15) and their White Zinfandel ($9.50). They were easy drinking, non-challenging wines, perfect for summer afternoons. Their Tempranillo ($18) was also smooth, easy and flavorful, I’d definitely drink it. Finally, their 2002 Clark Vineyard Cabernet was very unusual, it tasted almost like brandy – though I was assured it had not been fortified. Not my cup of tea. I didn’t like the flavored sparkling wines ($14), they usually taste fake to me, but I did find the whole tasting experience very enjoyable. I’d go back here again.
The White Crane has a small tasting room which was very, very busy. It’s no surprise because not only there was no tasting fee, but the wines were very good. The 2006 Pinot Noir ($45) has a medium body but was full flavored, my father liked it too. The 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon was full bodied, oaky and smooth. I wasn’t as happy with the 2006 Zinfandel ($44), but I didn’t note why 🙂
I’d probably stop at this winery again, though I’d pray that it wasn’t as busy.
McGrail Vineyards could not have been more different. It features a large, brand-new tasting room in the style of those of Napa and Sonoma. Very elegant and slick. However, there was nobody there – they think because they are relatively new, but I wonder. Tasting are free and the wines are also good and more affordable than at other places. I found the 2005 Chardonnay ($28) to be very buttery and full bodied, I’d drink it. My dad would too. The 2004 Cabernet ($36) was smooth but full bodied, very nice to drink. I don’t have notes on other wines, so that’s probably all we tasted. Their wines are available at PW supermarkets in addition as at the winery.
After this tasting we took a break and went into town for some coffee (yes, we hit Starbucks, we couldn’t find anything else). We probably hang out there for an hour or so. But we weren’t yet done for the day, though we only hit a couple of other wineries.
I’d been to Tesla Vintners before. This is a pretty nice tasting room, also small, where you get to taste wines from a couple of other wineries in the region. They also have flavored champagnes, and we tasted the peach one ($14). It smelled nice, but the taste was a bit off-putting. I did like the Singing Winemaker Serzando ($16), made with malvasa bianca. It was very sweet and grapy (yes, grapy, it tasted like white grapes). I also liked the 2005 Mattern Ranch Zinfandel ($23). It was good, full bodied, meaty. Dad thought it was nice. The Ryhan Estate Vineyard Rouge Sang ($20), a red wine blend, was well balanced as was the 2005 Malbec ($25). I do wonder, however, if I liked the wines here more because by now I was quite tipsy. I think that Tesla has a $5 tasting fee as well, but I didn’t put it in my notes.
Here, again, I enjoyed the wines. I was the 2006 Crooked Vine Pinot Grigio ($16) nice, well balanced and summerly. The 2005 Harriet’s Merlot ($22) had similar attributes, but lacked a finish. Daddy wasn’t thrilled with it. He did like the 2004 Crooked Vine del Arroyo Cabernet Sauvignon ($38) which I found chocolaty. He was less impressed by the 2004 Crooked Vine Petit Syrah ($38) which he found unremarkable. Their 2004 Crooked Vine Cabernet Sauvignon ($32) had a medium body but lacked oak. In all, and given the tasting fee, I’m not sure that I’ll come back.
Finally, we went to Murrieta’s Well, where I’d also been before. I’d enjoyed their Chilean inspired wines before, but this time I found them weak and lacking. Their 2006 Semillon/Chardonnay ($20) was nice, with a medium body. My father says that (at least back home) semillon is a cheap grape used in cheap wines (a favorite of drunkards). The 2006 white meritage ($24) was somewhat bitter but mostly fine while the 2006 Zinfandel had a medium body and was quite tasty. I found neither the 2004 Touriga Francesca ($24) nor the 2004 Zarzuela ($30) to be fully-developed and was equally disappointed by the 2005 Red Meritage ($35). They may be wines you want to keep, however.
In all, I will probably give Murrieta’s Well a try again. Their tasting room is quite pretty, though they had some of the coldest attendants.
So in all we visited 8 wineries – quite a bit for just an afternoon – and had a very good time. I think that Livermore wines are improving, and I look forward to going again.