Wineries to Watch

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By Courtney Cochran

Each year I attend countless wine tasting events where I am inevitably plied with the wines of hundreds if not thousands of producers from our own backyard and the far corners of the globe.  Along the way, I sip, swirl and spit the likes of sparkling wines from Brazil, sweet wines from Sonoma, soulful reds from Lake County and intriguing, sea-scented whites from Galicia.  I also shake hands, take notes, snap pictures and invariably return home with piles upon piles of notes enthusing about the nuances of new wines and their various vintners.

What follows is a list of some of the more memorable wines I've sampled lately.
Vinhos Mioranza - Brazil
Situated in southern Brazil's Rio Grande do Sul uplands not far from the Uraguay border, Vinhos Mioranza is helping to put Brazilian sparkling wine on the map in a big way. The winery's Brut bubbly ($20) - made in the Champagne style from a combination of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes - is a charming stand-in for finer stuff, while the winery's Sparkling Moscatel is a super-aromatic, refreshing romp offering up effusive pear and sugared lime notes fit for the most festive spring picnics ($18).

Municipal Winemakers - Santa Barbara, CA
Dave Potter, assistant winemaker at Fess Parker Winery, has proven to be quite the tour de force when it comes to producing under his own label, Municipal Winemakers . Backed by eye-catching design (his cool label look-and-feel changes with each vintage), a smart web site brimming with tongue-in-cheek promotions and a dedicated Facebook following, his fruity, food-friendly wines such as the 2008 Bright White Dry Riesling ($17) are well positioned to take adventurous drinkers by palate-pleasing surprise.

Lioco Wine - Los Angeles, CA
Lioco's tagline is "pure, honest, principled wine" - and that's exactly what the two LA-based wine pros behind the brand are making (LIOCO is a fusion of founder Matt Licklider and Kevin O'Connors' last names). I first sampled the fruits of their vinous success at an event to celebrate the launch of my book, Hip Tastes, in La Jolla, and have been charmed ever since by the likes of their 2007 Sonoma County Chardonnay ($20), which marries pure Chardonnay fruit flavors with a gorgeous underlying mineral quality.

Bodegas Familia Schroeder - Patagonia, Argentina
Deep in the heart of Argentine Patagonia lies Bodegas Familia Schroeder , a fascinatingly remote winery on the scale of the most ambitious in Napa (the five-story, gravity-flow winery even boasts a cave showcasing the fossilized remains of a dinosaur found on-site during construction). And the wine is equally interesting: The Schroeder "SAURUS" Patagonia Extra Brut Non-vintage ($11) sparkling wine is a sophisticated bubbly offering notes of white flowers, lemon zest, steely minerality and a crisp finish.

Le Macchiole - Tuscany, Italy
Crafted from Cabernet Franc blended with Sangiovese (30%) and Merlot (40%), the 2005 Le Macchiole Bolgheri Rosso ($35) was the most alluring wine I sampled at the 2008 Wine & Spirits Top 100 tasting in San Francisco. Turns out that producer Le Macchiole - based in Bolgheri, long a prestigious micro growing region within Tuscany - is a pioneer in using Cabernet Franc in its reds, and the proof is most certainly in the pudding: Wine & Spirits awarded the soulful Bolgheri Rosso a sweet 95 points.

Six Sigma Ranch & Vineyards - Lake County, CA
Crushing since just 2005, Six Sigma Ranch is fast turning heads (certainly mine among some of the first) for its outstanding Tempranillo ($42) harvested from high-elevation, sustainably-farmed hillside vineyards. And with an impressive vinous lineup that includes standout Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux-style blends and a rosé, the expanding outfit looks poised to carve out quite a name for itself before long. No doubt Lake County's star will continue to rise right along with it.

JAX Vineyards - Napa Valley, CA
Operated by Kimberly and Trent Jackson, a vivacious brother-and-sister team headquartered in San Francisco's industrial-hip SoMa district, JAX Vineyards delivers big-time Napa Cab for atypically affordable prices. To wit, the duo's delicious 2005 JAX Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($42) - made by standout young vintner Kirk Venge - can be had for a song compared to most big reds from the region, and bodes well for the success of future vintages.

Sutton Cellars - Sonoma County, CA

Carl Sutton doesn't look like your average winemaker (indeed, he's far more San Francisco hipster than fleece-sporting farmer), and his Sutton Cellars wines are far from average, as well. So much so, in fact, that when I was offered a sip of his extremely limited and gorgeously packaged NV "La Solera" Sonoma County dessert wine ($30/500mL) at a Slow Food event last fall I was sure I'd died and gone to gastronomic heaven. Happily, this vinous heaven is right here on earth, and accessible with just a sip of this lovely Banyuls-inspired stickie.

Bodegas As Laxas - Galicia, Spain
Without a doubt, crisp, sea-scented Albariño from northwestern Spain's standout Galicia region is one of the most drinkable white wines you'll find on any wine list. Indeed, its affinity for pairing beautifully with spicy cuisine (among so many others!) led me to place a recent vintage of Bodegas As Laxas' excellent version from Rias Baixus ($18) on the list at a popular San Francisco Mexican restaurant - and return as often as possible to partake of it by the glass.

Le Riche - Stellenbosch, South Africa

South Africa's wines possess a singular balance between Old World and New World winemaking that never ceases to amaze and delight me. Such was the case when I stumbled up on the stellar Stellenbosch Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($40) from the man I've now learned is known as the "king of South African Cabernet" - Etienne Le Riche . With its spot-on varietal character, New World-style suppleness and Bordeaux-like acidity, it's a Cab to make even the most avowed Old World fans turn coat.

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4 Comments

We have conducted a survey on wineries to watch - however not just about the wines themselves, but about who are the trend setters in the industry. Check out some of these if you want to know who to watch:

Survey results: What are the trends and who are the trend setters?

We are going to Paso Robles in August with a group of 16 wine loving 50-year-olds from Phoenix.
We have been there 5 years go but no one else has. Can you recommend an updated map or wineries brochure in addition to a place to stay where we may be able to walk to some wine bars, wineries and restaurants? We will be driving so have cars but don't want a Motel 6 or a Westin..something in between.
Thanks,
Cheryl in Phoenix

Cheryl,

How wonderful to hear about your upcoming visit! I recommend checking the Wine Regions/SLO Paso Robles region of the site for info on lodging. And I just heard about a very cool new shuttle service called Hop On the Wine Line serving some 20 wineries in the Paso region. For a fee of $40/person per day you have unlimited access to the shuttles, which stop every 40 minutes at wineries in the region.

hoponthewineline.com

Could be a great solution for your gang! Enjoy and thanks for the comment.

Courtney

just came from that region last month and did a tour
bullerton has nice afforadable areas to stay and some
impressive wineries 5 min. away Tinsley, CLEB wines
melville winery just to name a few....

LD.

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