A couple of weeks ago, my sister Kathy and her friend Anna were in town and I decided to take the girls winetasting. Once again we headed to Livermore as it’s significantly closer to us. It was quite fun, we visited several wineries and had lunch at one of them. Anna became exposed to a few new wines, even found one she liked, and while Kathy didn’t try anything (she’s not a wine drinker) she said she enjoyed herself.
Once again, I was not impressed by the quality of the Livermore wineries. I am not a wine connoseur by any means, and I’m mostly a Cabernet Sauvignon drinker – that’s great if you’re in Napa, not that great if you are in Livermore where Cabs don’t a abound. I prefer complex, smooth, oaky flavors, and these were rare. In all, my impression was that the wines were young and simple, generally easy to drink but not fun or interesting. I didn’t find any wines that attracted me. Most of the wines are only available at the winery and at local grocery stores.
The guide below is mostly for my benefit, so that I can remember the experience and decide where I want to go back in future trips.
We started at Garré Winery with lunch at the Café Garré (good sandwich, OK pastas) before tasting. I found their wines easy drinking but unremarkable, often lacking complexity. Their Nonna’s Reserve, a combination of Merlot, Barbera and Cab Frank was particularly disapointing, it tasted mostly like cab frank but was very shallow. A 2000 Merlot was very melow, but had a sharp finish. The wine tasting room itself is very plain.
I was happier with the wines at Cedar Mountain, perhaps because they were tasting cabs. I wasn’t too excited about the 2002 Cab which was easy to drink, but didn’t have much depth, but loved their ’98 Cab which was very well balanced – but way overpriced at $50 a bottle. A ’99 Duet, a combination of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, was more reasonable at $22, but tasted younger and less refined than the cab. The tasting room here was also plain, but the people were very friendly and very much into wines, which made the wine tasting more fun.
Ríos Lovell charges a $4 tasting fee (you get to keep the glass) which is worth it given the quality of their wines and the friendly attitude of the attendant – who let us taste wines not in the list. In general, I found their wines to be much more finished, more balanced and substantial than those at the other wineries. I really liked their ‘2001 Reserve Estate Chardonnay ($14), it was somewhat tanic and oaky and not too sweet. Anna enjoyed their ‘2003 Viognier ($16) which tasted like an explosion of flowers and had a sharp, yet nice, finish. She also liked their 2001 Barbera ($18), an easy drinking yet nice wine. I wasn’t impressed by their Cab, which was in need of tanins. The tasting room was one of the larger ones, and had a nice store. I’d go back here again.
Tesla Vintners offers wines from 4 local wineries, the tasting room is very small and crowded but cute and it offers some cool novelties for sale that I hadn’t seen elsewhere. The server looked like a grandma and was quite pleasant and there is a grassy area outside and even a little playhouse for children to play in. If I ever came winetasting with the kids along, this would definitely be a spot. Here we tried the flavored champagnes by Little Valley winery. They are a gimmick, of course, but I rather liked the almond one – though I’m not sure if enough to drink a whole glass of it. The other wines we tasted were fine, easy drinking but not sophisticated.
Livermore Valley Cellars is a small, family winery behind a new McMansion housing development. We wanted to like the wines, many of them inventive mixes, but we didn’t. Most of them were shallow, tasted too acidic and lacked finishes. The woman serving them to us also gave us a weird vibe.
Finally, we went back to Concannon, where once again I noticed that their new syrahs are almost undrinkable while their older ones are quite good. This is one of the prettier tasting rooms in the valley and it has a nice grassy area outside, so while I’m not crazy about their wines, it makes a nice stop.