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May 9-15, 2007

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Wine Tasting

Sapphire Hills

By James Knight


You just don't know what to expect from an outfit that releases a wine called VineAgra. Initially, I noticed Sapphire Hill for the trippy triangles on its labels. Could they be an ad for shamanistic voyaging? But what do you know from a label anyway? Zip. You might as well go and try the wine. You might find yourself rolling into H-town in a rented SUV, with tattooed ladies from Maine and nothing to lose, and do just that.

The Sapphire Hill gang established their vineyard west of Windsor, but the winery is located in Healdsburg, half mile or so from the gourmet ghetto. They share a refurbished 1933 winery complex with several other tasting rooms. As we drove up, the folks were outside, enjoying the sun, but retreated into their respective storefronts as we approached. We surveyed our choices. We chose Sapphire Hill, and we chose well. Winemaker Tim Meinken was manning the bar, has a sense of humor and knows the wine. Made the darn stuff.

Not driven by typical market expectation, Sapphire's lineup includes no Cab and no Merlot. Production is mainly reds, with the exception of the 2003 Estate Chardonnay ($23). This Chard's lumber and dairy product notes are subtle; it achieves more of a hint of cream soda. "Burgundian," is how they describe the 2003 Sapphire Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir ($38). It's tart and plummy, with a firm vegetal character. Green? I'm not saying that. More like roasted red pepper. It's good. They produce some lots as limited as one barrel, such as the 2004 Bastoni Vineyard Alicante Bouschet ($25). Not available for tasting, the 2005 "Harlot," a sassy Zinfandel/Syrah blend, could well be worth gambling $18 on a bottle. Also from the Bastoni Vineyard, the 2003 Old Vine Zinfandel ($28) is a toothsome brew of raisins and figs, with thorny tannins. Your bright and brambly Zin would be the 2005 Winberrie Vineyard Zinfandel ($32), juicy and savory, sure to brighten up the gloaming of any dimming day.

Now back to that 2005 VineAgra Zinfandel ($85). Only released in magnums, and containing 17 percent alcohol by volume, the wine got a lot of attention at this year's ZAP Festival. Cognitive dissonance? Save it. Many a wit has already had a go at that. The real feat of pluck and verve: They got the label approved by the notoriously persnickety BATF. Dude.


Sapphire Hill Vineyards, 51 Front St., Healdsburg. Open Thursday-Monday, 11am to 4:30pm. 707.431.1888.


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