Vino Locale’s local blend of the Silicon Valley good life

If I was to combine the best of the European sense of community with Silicon Valley sensibilities, I would present healthy, well-prepared foods and fine locally-made wines in an atmosphere that promotes easy relaxation and stimulation of the senses, and have it all be very affordable. And to top that off, I’d want passion and education to be a part of the mix.

Thank goodness I don’t have to do that now, because it’s just what Randy Robinson has done with Vino Locale of Palo Alto, California.

Randy Robinson's Vino Locale, in downtown Palo Alto.On the surface, Vino Locale is what its Italian name implies – a purveyor of local wine. But it’s so much more than just a cozy little nook off a major Palo Alto thoroughfare. What it’s not is a typical wine bar, restaurant, or bottle shop. With artisanal cheeses, breads, and meats, a fine selection of wines lining the shelves – all produced within a 100-mile radius – plus local artists’ crafts on the walls and a Victorian house to show it all off in, Randy’s got something worth waxing passionate about.

A buddy of mine, Mike Grey of Blue Yuki Photography, joined me last evening for what promised to be a fun affair at Vino Locale; we had been intrigued by a posting on for an event that offered a tasting of five wines for $5. But the price of this tasting was not the intriguing part. What was intriguing was that for those five bucks, we’d get to taste three components of a Bordeaux-style blended wine, next taste the blend of those three components, and lastly contrast that blend with an actual wine from Bordeaux.

It turned out to be the next best thing to blending the wine ourselves.

For me, it would be an exercise not only in tasting wines made within mere miles of my front door, but also an opportunity to guess the proportions by which Randy concocted his blend. So, after a nice repast of Westphalian Ham, Buendnerfleisch, Danish Salami, Dijon mustard, sliced baguette, a cheese plate nicely strewn with a fine mix of blue and dried cheeses and fruits, all of it liberally dosed by Vino Locale’s friendly and generous wait staff*, Mike and I visited Randy’s tasting table and held out our glasses.

We first tried a Cabernet Sauvignon from Solis Winery of Morgan Hill, which was laden with blackberry flavors and a toasty oakiness that I found quite favorable. Randy then poured one of my local favorites, a Cabernet Franc from Burrell School Vineyards of Los Gatos (see my recent post about a Burrell School winehike). I love the lush cherry fruit in this wine, which is distinctly different and much less acidic/tannic than any other locally-made Cab Franc that I’ve tried. And though they’re no longer pouring this particular Cab Franc at Burrell School’s tasting bar, I was glad to see plenty of it on Randy’s shelves.

Next came a Merlot pour, also hailing from Burrell School, its sensuous cherry flavors and mouthwatering textures making a fine stand-alone Merlot (I came home with a bottle of this one, my palate – but not my budget – having been won over at Burrell School earlier by their Zins and Syrahs.)

Now it was time to taste Randy’s hand-decanted Bordeaux blend. And right away, I appreciated his touch. While very smooth and round with texture, flavor, and finish, this blend eschewed pretense and instead seemed entirely distinct from each of its components. A well-rounded balance of acid and fruit suggested complexity and an expert integration of berry and slight earth flavors not entirely obscuring the Burrell School cherriness. I savored its finish, and made a mental note: “Do try this at home.”

A follow-up taste of a $10 Bordeaux purchased at a local Trader Joe’s was an anticlimactic contrast lacking in all but earthy aromas and flavors. Obviously the focus was the local blend.

I sensed Randy was about to divulge the formula for his tincturing, and I politely interrupted, wanting instead to hazard my own guess. I estimated 40-45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30-35% Merlot, and the remainder Cab Franc. Apparently my palate guessed pretty close to the actual blend proportionality, which Randy pronounced as being 2 parts Cab. Sauv., 2 parts Merlot, and 1 part Cab Franc.

I instantly was no longer intrigued. Instead, I was hooked on the idea of attending more of Randy’s fun approaches to local wine, art, and produce. And you can bet I’ll be blending a few upcoming winehiking tours with visits to Vino Locale in the year ahead.


*If you should visit Vino Locale, please tell Randy I sent you to try the Fleming-Jenkins Rosé of Syrah.



Trip report: Nisene Marks State Park & Burrell School Vineyards

It just wasn’t our Fault today.
‘Twas a bit early and a bit chilly Sunday morning when I related my intentions to y’all about the day’s planned excursion through the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. It was 45 degrees at 9:30 a.m.; not typical for early November in the San Francisco Bay Area. But even so I thought an uphill walk would warm me sufficiently. Golly, I might have been wrong about that. Already, it was going to be my fault not to don the silk longies.


It was good to see the park again; I hadn’t spent much time at Nisene Marks since my mountain biking days. I’ve always enjoyed the heavy canopy of the park’s redwoods, regardless of the weather. Combined with the low sun of the Fall season, the forest shade was to keep our group cool for a large part of the day. Though ours was a friendly group, ready to brave the forest chill for a long romp through glorious redwood enchantment, we were a shivering group. But we planned to soon be warm: we faced 10 miles of steady hills.

A good day to be in the woods.

A good day to be in the woods.

We started out at the Porter parking area and walked steadily up the former railroad grade that is Aptos Creek Trail, covering nearly six miles before turning off on Big Slide Trail. That’s when the fun began: the trail wound down along a narrow redwood- and fern-lined canyon, alternating between moments of deep, mossy, forested darkness and fleeting glimpses of sunlight. Curving, twisting, and rolling downstream, the trail showed hardly a sign of human passage. The challenge of keeping to the dim path while reveling in the glow of this elfin paradise bore the seven of us, seemingly, to a sidereal separation from earthbound worry.

The group always wins
Alas, the reverie broke too abruptly. Another hiker, one who’d passed ahead earlier, was now returning, informing us that the trail ahead was signed as being impassable. Darn.

Double darn!

I can be ambivalent about such matters. Because if I’d been alone, I would have attempted to pass through the impassable, defying the faceless functionary who placed the sign, to determine the trail’s supposed impassability for myself. A guy’s gotta try, right? You’ve heard the standard phrase: Always Question Authority, Absolutely.

But the group always wins, of course, and for an obvious good reason: doing the right thing usually means nobody gets hurt.

So, after a moment of wistful wishes to continue mixed with negotiations for good citizenship, safety, and compliance, we turned back uphill instead of continuing into areas grey with unforeseen shadows.

Because we were good citizens, however, we never got to see our intended target for the day: the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. We did, however, get to hike about 4 more miles. But that was probably a good thing, since it kept us a little warmer a little longer.

We didn’t make it, but anyone else can
I figure we hiked about 14 miles Sunday. But the good news is: anyone who wants to can get themselves easily to the epicenter without hiking even one-fourth that long. That’s because there’s a much shorter trail that leads to it from a trail junction we had passed early on. But if you should take the long way and try to find the epicenter from the uphill side like we did, and if you find the trail impassable, not getting there won’t be your Fault, either. Unless you read this first and go anyway.

State park budgets being what they are these days, I don’t expect this trail to be repaired very soon. Like “in the next five years” soon.

The group always wines, too
Nevertheless, undaunted and not to be outdone, the seven of us actually did arrive at Burrell School Vineyards about 4:00 in the afternoon for a well-deserved wine tasting in their enchanting little ridgetop schoolhouse. And while only two of us, my buddy Vindu and myself, were keen to tongue-wag about the wines’ characteristics, all of us were keen to their beneficial effects.

Ah, liquid anesthesia!

Vindu and I even found three out of the five bottles poured to be quite worth taking home. I sprung for a 2002 Zinfandel from Ryan Oaks Vineyard, Amador County ($30), which I found quite jammy and well-finished. Vindu, flush with endorphins and polyphenols, let his MasterCard speak for Burrell’s 2002 Estate Chardonnay from their schoolhouse estate in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a fine combination of butter and spice, on sale for $16. Plus, though they weren’t pouring it,* Vindu also picked up 3 bottles of 2003 Cabernet Franc from the Santa Cruz Mountains, a young (but highly drinkable now) estate-grown pure varietal that is very much worth cellaring; it’s priced at $40 a bottle.

Wait! There’s more.
I’d mentioned in my last post that fellow outdoor blogger Tom Mangan would be along for this hike. You might enjoy Tom’s account of this day, a darn-fine photoessay.

*A side note on the Cab Franc: we had thought we would taste this wine at the winery. However, Burrell School is currently down to less than 20 cases and is therefore no longer pouring it at their tasting bar. You can still buy it, though, if you hurry. Vindu and I enjoyed one of these solid Cab Francs for dinner that evening, the upshot being that we both purred like satisfied cats and finished the bottle. And that was nobody’s fault.

See a related story, Why I love redwood trees.


Wine Review: The Amazing and Affordable 2001 Lindemans Pyrus

17.5 winehiker points*

Last month, my friend Kim passed along a personal wine recommendation to myself and to my friend Vindu. Vindu was the first to respond, saying:

Kim and Russ,

Finally found the 2001 Pyrus in my local Trader Joe’s today. Bought a bottle, cracked it open. OH. MY. GOD. It’s the most awesome $8 red I have ever tasted. Smooth like a Bordeaux blend, yet complex and with a nice warm finish. Low acidity, just pure grape perfection.

I’m going back tomorrow for a case. At least.


Having tasted a fair amount of wine in the company of both friends, I figured I didn’t need to be told a third time. In fact, Vindu’s palate often appears to be similar to mine in that he tends to like many of the same flavor and body profiles that I do, plus he and I tend to vote the same group picks at tastings.

I high-tailed it over to Trader Joe’s after a recent local hike. You never know how fast word can spread, and I wanted to make sure I got at least one bottle before this $8 gem was all gone. I arrived at the Los Altos store, scanned the wine aisle, and though I did find some Lindeman’s wines, I didn’t find any Pyrus. The help staff made a call on my behalf to the Sunnyvale store where, sure enough, they had about 18 bottles on hand. A few minutes later, I walked out of that Sunnyvale store with 4 bottles of promise in my hands.

The 2001 Lindeman's Pyrus -- no decanting necessary, just drink it if you can still find it.

The 2001 Lindeman’s Pyrus — no decanting necessary, just drink it if you can still find it.


The 2001 vintage of Lindeman’s Pyrus, from the Coonawarra region of Australia, is a blend of 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, and 7% Cabernet Franc, and wholly drinkable right out of the bottle. It’s violet color in the glass is pleasing, and so are its immediate berry, cherry, and slight tobacco aromas. There’s even a slight hint of gold in the wine’s color, suggesting that the wine has aged nicely.

On balance, this wine is solid, with a mildly spicy sweetness and an acid/tannin structure that rocks steady. While smooth in body, presumably from the presence of the Merlot, it’s texture on the tongue is not entirely stellar, though it’s mighty close. With the Pyrus’ moderate fruit complexity, rounded balance aspects, medium-full body, and crowd-pleasing finish, I’d say that this wine is an excellent one to tell your friends about.

Thanks, Kim!

But you might just want to keep the Pyrus to yourself as a very well-made and affordable bottle of Bordeaux-style wine for everyday drinking. You better hurry, though — the way my buddy Vindu is buying this stuff, it’s flying off the shelves at Trader Joe’s.

Yep, Vindu has four cases already. And incidentally, Vindu’s got a friend in Australia who laments the current price of the 2001 Pyrus in the Land Down Under to be over $40 a bottle. Good enough reason to stock up now.

$7.99 at Trader Joe’s
Disclosure: I soon after purchased a case of this wine myself from Trader Joe’s. At this price, how could I not?

Also see guest author Vindu Goel’s follow-up post, Pyrus vs. Pyrus: Is the Lindemans Pyrus 2000 better than the 2001?

*Rated on the 20-point Davis scale.


Blind Wine Tasting Notes: Cabernet Franc

There are a handful of us who get together monthly to worship our wine via a mechanism commonly called a “blind tasting.” We call our events the “South Bay Wine Education Series.” Each month, we choose a different varietal and endeavor to educate our palates about the distinctive properties of each wine we taste. We each research, shop for, and bring our own selections. There’s usually about seven to nine of us around the table, which, as you can imagine, is completely filled with glassware. If we didn’t have large dining room tables to support our worship practices, we’d have logistical issues. Or we’d repeatedly spill wine from our TV trays!

Last week at the home of my dear friends Alexis and Bob, we tasted seven Cabernet Franc wines. The amazing aspect of this tasting was that there’s not a lot of pure-varietal Cab Franc available in the local marketplace. I know — I called around. The fact that we managed to not duplicate any labels (always an interesting sidelight to a blind tasting) was something I find rather astounding.

In this and future posts, I plan to list the results of the group tastings I attend and host so that you, gentle reader, can make informed purchase decisions about varietals you are considering. You’ll see how the group ranked the wines collectively, and underneath that you’ll see how I scored them on a 20-point scale. To aid our scoring, both individual and group, we use this wine scoring sheet. So that you can typically get the straight scoop quickly, I’ll try not to clutter these “results” posts with too much verbiage. (Except for this first one, of course.) You’ll find these tasting results in the Tasting Results category that appears in the navigation links to your right.

If you’d like to see the results of our previous tastings, I encourage you to post a comment.

Group Ranking
+3 Robert Sinskey ‘01 Los Carneros, 13.7%
+2 Burrell School “Le Grand Rouge” ‘02 Santa Cruz Mtns., 14%
+2 Hahn Estates ‘04 Santa Lucia Highlds, Monterey Cty., 13.5%
+2 Hawthorne Mtn. ‘02 Okanagan Valley, Brit. Columbia, 13%
-1 St. Supery ‘01 Dollarhill Vineyard, Napa Valley, 14.5%
-3 Cooper-Garrod ‘02 Francville Vyd., Santa Cruz Mtns., 14.5%
-4 Stonefly ‘01 Napa Valley, 13.2%

Winehiker’s Ranking
Hahn Estates 17.5
Cooper-Garrod 15.5
Stonefly 14
St. Supery 12
Hawthorne Mountain 12
Robert Sinskey 11.5
Burrell School “Le Grand Rouge” 11

Next month, our chosen grape is Barbera. I think I’ll go exotic and whirl up some kind of olive-and-feta concoction to go with it.