Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Wines I'm Drinking: Portalupi Wine, Healdsburg, CA

I stopped into Willi's Seafood & Raw Bar at the corner of Healdsburg Ave. and W. North St. in Healdsburg yesterday, tired after a long day of landscaping work, to treat myself to a glass of wine with my lobster roll--a late lunch. I noticed a Vermentino on the wine list from Portalupi Wines, a winery I'd never encountered before. At its best, Vermentino is both crisp and flavorful. It seemed a perfect choice, as I wanted something refreshing--although I was wary; so many California versions of the more obscure European grapes turn out heavy, monolithic, and too alcoholic to be either refreshing or very interesting. I ordered a glass, reassured by my waitress, who appeared to know what she was talking about, and I was impressed from the first sip. I very much enjoyed the 2013 Vermentino from Portalupi (from the Las Brisas vineyard, in the Carneros region). It was exactly what I wanted. The wine has fruity presence and good length with just the right amount of crisp, balancing acidity (suggestive of key limes) to make it seem delicate. An excellent example of wine made from this grape--as good as any I've had in the variety's heartland, in Sardinia.

Vermentino seems to be gaining a foothold in California. Mahoney Vineyards, also in the Carneros region, has a good reputation (although I've not tried their wines yet). I've tasted the Vermentino Tablas Creek Winery (affiliated with France's Ch√Ęteau de Beaucastel) is making in Paso Robles and I've talked Vermentino with one of its champions in the state, Ken Volk, who makes Vermentino wines (and many others) in Paso Robles. There has been activity in the Lodi area and the Sierra foothills as well. I look forward to tasting more Vermentino wines from local producers (and it would be nice to see them on retail shelves at the kind of affordable prices they go for in Italy--often less than $10 for even the best examples--where they are everyday wines).

While eating, I happened to look across the street and was surprised to see a sign for the Portalupi tasting room, literally a stone's throw from the raw bar--something of an odd coincidence. I resolved immediately to stop there after my lunch. I ended up having a very enjoyable conversation and tasting, the wines poured by the winemaker himself, Tim Borges (Portalupi is his wife's family name). Borges has been making wine for others for decades, but the Portalupi label appears to have emerged around 2002. The Healdsburg tasting room has been in operation since 2010. Portalupi makes small lots (10 wines totaling about 5,000 cases annually) and the love shows. I tasted all the wines available in the tasting room. I was particularly impressed by the Vermentino (as noted above); a somewhat unusual, but quite successful white blend that Portalupi packages in what look like liter milk bottles; and a wonderfully perfumed old vine Zinfandel redolent of raspberries that put me in mind of Paul Draper's Geyserville. That said, the entire line-up is marked by a refreshing lightness and restraint that gives the wines more elegance and nuance than is often the case in California. Delicious. Recommended. The Portalupi Wine tasting room is at 107 North St., Healdsburg, 95488 (707 395-0960)

I have no financial connections of any kind with the companies mentioned in this post.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Plants I'm Growing: In the Garden Now (May 18, 2014)

This is perhaps the prettiest time of year in the garden. Everything that blooms in the spring sees to be blooming at once. The late Rhododendrons, several different Phlomis varieties, roses, rock roses, and various other flowers. The first blossom on the potted beavertail cactus in the driveway opened yesterday, May 17.

The garden is neglected at the moment, the result of too much time spent working, but the flowers are still pretty. The photo above is the Cistus (or rock rose) called "Sunset." Below pictured are Phlomis fruiticosa (Jerusalem Sage) and one of my favorite roses, a single-petaled variety called "Nearly Wild."

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