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Wine Report from the Fort
Four-varietal smack down of affordable reds: Which won?
By Fred McMillin

We tasted Syrah, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon from eight wineries … all $16 or less. My picky panel found these bargain bottles:

• 5th: Kendall-Jackson California Merlot 2002
• 4th: Canyon Road Winery California Cabernet Sauvignon 2002
• 3rd: Sterling Vineyards Central Coast Pinot Noir 2002
• 2nd: Chumeia Vineyards Central Coast Pinot Noir 2002
• 1st: Steele Wines Lake County Writer’s Block Syrah 2002

The Winnah: Syrah!
Masterful winemaker Jed Steele made this wine from vines planted in the early ’90s by rather daring growers … Syrah had not yet become the trendy red it is today.
We might say the Lake County grapes are from Napa North because originally the area was the north end of Napa County. It became Lake County in 1861 in recognition of its large Clear Lake, earlier called Laguna Grande (large lake).
The wine is light and fruity, perfect for picnics away or at home.

Get a life, take a wine class!
Saturdays, 1 p.m., 20 wines, at Fort Mason:
• September 6: Basics for Beginners – Learn the five basic types of wines and how they are made.
• September 20: Taste the Terms – Taste wines that illustrate the 100-plus terms used to describe wine.
Many people take Taste the Terms over again because the wines and words are different each time. To enroll or wait-list, phone San Francisco City College at 415-561-1840, or visit Education.

“Fair and balanced”
We’re not talking about fair and balanced Fox News, but rather fair and balanced wines we’ve found at the Fort. A balanced wine has all the expected features with none dominating, for example, not too much woody, oak flavor, not too astringent from excess tannins. Here’s how the classes ranked a number of them.

$10 maximum:
• 1st: Bodega Septima Chardonnay (Argentina) 2006

$20 maximum:
• 2nd: Sobon Estate Amador County Rocky Top Vineyards Zinfandel 2001
• 1st: Te Kairanga Wines Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) 2006

$30 maximum
• 2nd: J. Phelps Vineyards Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2006
• 1st: King Estate Domaine Pinot Gris 2006

$50 plus
• 2nd: Adelaida Cellars Paso Robles Syrah Reserve 2003
• 1st: Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Whence the name Fort Mason?
In 1882, the fort at Point San Jose was given the name Fort Mason by the War Department. It honored the former military governor of California (1847-1849), Richard B. Mason.

Add a tad of Cab
Some vintners choose to increase Merlot’s backbone by adding a tad of Cab. My picky panel liked these four best; the fourth choice is under $15, and the others are over $20. If you try one, fax us your opinion at 415-567-4468 and we’ll publish it.

• 4th: Cycles Gladiator Merlot 2004 – 8 percent Cab
• 3rd: Hawkes Vineyards Merlot 2003 – 8 percent Cab
• 2nd: William Hill Winery Merlot 2001 – 7 percent Cab
• 1st: Mayacamas Merlot 2002 – 6 percent Cab

What’s Diaz doing?
Jo Diaz handles the publicity for many wineries and wine organizations … in a very creative fashion. As an example, she heads a fast-growing advocacy group for Petite Sirah cleverly titled, “PS I Love You.” If you want to try one, here in alphabetical order are the best current releases that we’ve tasted lately in our classes:

• Bogle
• Concannon
• Deaver
• Huntington
• Silkwood
• Sunset Cellars

Say yes to Hess
Our hunk of the month is this purple powerhouse that rated nearly 90:

• Hess Collection Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, $50
However, in addition to their fine Napa wines, Hess also owns Peter Lehmann Wines from Australia, which produces some good values that the class rated as follows:

• 3rd: Peter Lehmann Wines Barossa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2002, $16

Very Good
• 2nd: Peter Lehmann Wines Seven Surveys (43 percent Grenache, 43 percent Shiraz and 14 percent Mourvedre) 2005, $15
• 1st: Peter Lehmann Wines Barossa Valley Shiraz 2005, $15

And a final wine smile
Northside San Francisco reader Dr. L. Kaminsky asks us to repeat an earlier smile about wine and the medical profession …
Only recently did our medical profession come to recognize the health benefits of moderate wine consumption. The Germans knew this long before, as indicated by their early adage: “There are many more old wine drinkers than there are old doctors!”

Credits: Tastings – Edgar Vogt; Statistics – Ophelia Mercado

Fred McMillin was voted one of the best wine writers in the United States by the Academy of Wine
Communications. Phone him with questions at 415-563-5712 or fax him at 415-567-4468.

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