One of the “worst” mistakes any wine lover can make involves the wine drinking equivalent of getting stuck in a rut. Lots of people know what they like, and choose to stick with it, always opting for the Merlot, or the Pinot Noir, or the buttery Chardonnay because they want something they’ll enjoy and they don’t want to have to think too much about it. There’s nothing wrong with this inherently, but those who always drink the same thing and never explore anything else are robbing themselves of an immense amount of pleasure. Variety being the spice of life, the wine world offers more of that particular seasoning than just about any other arena of enjoyment.
In part, that’s the impetus behind one of the most interesting wine tasting events held each year in San Francisco and Healdsburg. According to the organizers of the 7% Solution Tasting, 93% of the vineyards in the North Coast appellation (which includes all of Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino Counties) are planted to just 8 grapes. The hundreds of other grape varieties grown in California make up the other seven percent.
The tasting was conceived by Kevin Wardell and Sarah Johnson, the co-proprietors of a little wine bar and store named Bergamot Alley in Healdsburg, California. Their immensely popular little bar has the distinction of not stocking or serving any domestic wines. This fact, of course makes it immensely popular with everyone in the wine industry locally, who have a known predilection for spending their off hours drinking things as different as possible from those they spend their working hours making.
However, this focus on all things European means that other than slaking the thirst of locals, Wardell and Johnson weren’t having much impact on their local wine industry. So in an effort to give a little more back, they dreamed up the idea of focusing on the California grapes that no one else focuses on, and the Seven Percent Solution tasting was born.
The tasting has been held for the past three years, and seems perfectly timed to match the explosion in diversity that we see not only on wine lists in this country, but also in the drinking habits of many wine consumers.
In short, the wines on offer at this tasting are some of the most exciting being made in California at the moment, so it was with great anticipation (if somewhat less time than I wanted) that I attended this year’s tasting. I wish I had the opportunity to taste every wine on offer, but sadly I got to only about half of them. What follows are my highlights from what I did taste.
WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2013 Arnot Roberts Trousseau, North Coast $30
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of dried herbs and berries. In the mouth, flavors of green herbs, lush mixed forest berries, and dried herbs swirl in a crystalline rocky haze of minerality and floral notes. Faint tannins brush the edges of the mouth as the fruit bounces merrily along thanks to excellent acidity. Gulpable and utterly delicious. One of my favorite California wines. click to buy.
2013 Arnot Roberts “Vare Vineyard” Ribolla Gialla, Napa Valley $40
Light yellow-gold in color, this wine smells of yellow herbs and a hint of candle wax. In the mouth fantastically bright flavors of lemon and candle wax take on a distinctively salty, savory quality that lingers through a long waxy finish. Electric with acidity and totally outstanding.click to buy.
2013 Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery “Antle Vineyard” Mourvedre, Chalone $45
A bright medium purple in the glass, this wine leaps out of the glass with aromas of wet stones, lilacs, and boisterous forest berries. In the mouth incredibly acidity makes flavors of lilacs, wet earth, crushed stones and mulberries vibrate with electricity across the palate. Phenomenal length and depth. Best single Mourvedre I’ve ever had from California. click to buy.
WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2014 Arnot Roberts “Luchsinger Vineyard” Touriga Nacional Rosé, Lake County $23
Pale pink in the glass, this wine smells of flowers, wet stone, and berries. In the mouth the wine has a floral and saline character that rests on a deep bed of liquid stone. Juicy and long and mouthwatering. click to buy.
2013 RPM (Arnot Roberts) Gamay $30
Medium garnet in color this wine smells of bright berry bramble. In the mouth gorgeously velvet, faint tannins wrap around a core of bright berry and herbal flavors that have excellent zing thanks to great acidity. Long finish. click to buy.
2013 Bedrock Wine Co “Ode to Lucien” Red Blend, Lodi $45
Medium to dark garnet in color this wine smells of bright berries and a bit of bramble. In the mouth, juicy, gorgeous, saline flavors of boysenberry and mulberry bounce across the palate thanks to fantastic acidity. Walks a wonderful line between herbal savory flavors and bright fruit. click to buy.
2014 Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery “Familiar” Mourvedre, California $30
Light garnet in color, this wine smells of flowers and ripe berries. In the mouth, floral and juicy flavors of grapey purple SweetTarts and wet stones have a delightful quality to them. Fantastic acidity. click to buy.
2014 Idlewild Wines “Fox Hill Vineyard” Arneis, Mendocino County $28
Light blonde in the glass, this wine smells beautifully floral and mineral. In the mouth, flavors of Rainier cherries, white flowers, and wet chalkboard are beautifully balanced and positively gulpable. Outstanding. click to buy..
2014 Jolie-Laide “Rorick Heritage Vineyard” Pinot Gris, Calaveras County $28
Palest pink in the glass, this wine smells of fresh forest berries and dried flowers. In the mouth, bright citrus and wet stone flavors are juicy and long. Delicious. click to buy..
2014 Jolie-Laide “Fanucchi-Wood Road Vineyard” Trousseau Gris, Russian River Valley $28
Palest pink in the glass, this wine smells of crushed stones, dried flowers, and a sappy resinous aroma. In the mouth, the wine has wonderfully floral berry flavors, with an incredibly bright salinity that lingers with a bit of marijuana smoke through the finish. Positively gulpable.click to buy.
2011 Leo Steen “Jurassic” Chenin Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley $28
Light gold in color, this wine smells of baked apples, wet chalkboard and a hint of citrus. In the mouth beautiful quince flavors mix with yeasty baked apple and wet stones. Excellent acidity and length.click to buy.
2013 Leo Steen “Provisor Vineyard” Grenache, Dry Creek Valley $30
Medium to dark garnet in color, this wine smells of berries and herbs. In the mouth it is wonderfully savory, with flavors of lavender, strawberry, wet stone, and earth. Long finish, great acidity.
2013 Nico Wines “Il Greco” Greco di Tufo, Russian River Valley $25
Palest gold in color, this wine has a wonderfully crisp and fresh aroma of white flowers and crushed stones. In the mouth fantastically bright pear and lemonade flavors have a wonderful, juicy saline quality to them. Excellent acidity.
2013 Rein “Schrader Ranch” Pinot Blanc, Mendocino County $25
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard and citrus pith. In the mouth, gorgeously chalky lemon and pear flavors are bright and juicy thanks to excellent acidity. Yum!
2014 The Scholium Project “FTP” Pinot Grigio $50
Faint blonde pink in the glass, this wine smells of bright fresh berries with a hint of stone fruit underneath. In the mouth the wine has fantastically bright, stony, and juicy flavors of pear and citrus kissed with the scent of berries. Remarkably good.
WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2014 Bedrock Wine Co Rosé $20 click to buy.
2014 Bedrock Wine Co Abrente Albariño $24
2013 Bedrock Wine Co Gibson Heritage Wine Red Blend, Lodi $45 click to buy.
2014 Edmunds St. John Heart of Gold White Blend $22 click to buy.
2014 Edmunds St. John Bone Jolly Gamay Rosé $22 click to buy.
2013 Edmunds St. John Rocks & Gravel Rhone Blend $29 click to buy.
2014 Idlewild Wines The Bee, Flora & Fauna White White Blend $22 click to buy.
2014 Idlewild Wines The Flower, Flora & Fauna Rose’ Rosé $22 click to buy.
2013 Idlewild Wines Fox Hill Vineyard Barbera, Mendocino County $40 click to buy.
2012 Idlewild Wines Nebbiolo $40. click to buy.
2013 Jolie-Laide “Rossi Ranch Vineyard” Red Blend, Sonoma County $38. click to buy.
2013 Jolie-Laide “LOVE – Provisor Vineyard” Grenache, Dry Creek Valley $42 click to buy.
2012 Leo Steen “Jurassic” Chenin Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley $28 click to buy.
2013 Leo Steen Chenin Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley $18 click to buy.
2013 Nico Wines Fiano de Avellino, Russian River Valley $25
2013 Ryme Cellars “‘His’ – Las Brisas Vineyard” Vermentino, Carneros $32 click to buy.
2014 The Scholium Project “Naucratis” Verdelho $30 click to buy.
2014 The Scholium Project “Riquewihr” Gewurztraminer $36 click to buy.
WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
2014 Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery “Skin and Concrete Egg Fermented” Semillon, Napa Valley $30
2014 Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery “The Familiar” Blanc White Blend $25
2014 Edmunds St. John “Bone Jolly” Gamay $22
2013 Idlewild Wines “Fox Hill Vineyard” Dolcetto, Mendocino County $32
2012 Matthiasson Ribolla Gialla, Napa Valley
NV Matthiasson Schioppetino , Napa Valley
2014 Rein “Greenwood Ridge Vineyard” Riesling, Anderson Valley $25
2014 Ryme Cellars “‘Hers’ – Las Brisas Vineyard” Vermentino, Carneros $24
WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
2014 Idlewild Wines “The Bird, Flora & Fauna Red” Red Blend $30
2014 Rein “Schrader Ranch” Pinot Blanc, Mendocino County $25
2013 Ryme Cellars Cabernet Franc $44
2013 Ryme Cellars “Luna Matta Vineyard” Aglianico, Paso Robles $44
Photo credit: Sarah Johnson.