Sunday, April 21st Winehike: Goodspeed Trail to Gunsight Rock

7 strenuous miles, 1900′ elevation gain, Spring wildflowers + Sonoma Valley wine tasting

Along the Goodspeed Trail in April, the ephemeral Golden Fairy Lantern may just leave the light on for us.

Along the Goodspeed Trail in April, the ephemeral Golden Fairy Lantern may just leave the light on for us.

Meet: 9:00 a.m.
Hike: 9:15 a.m.
Duration: approximately 4–5 hours
How to confirm your attendance: Simply add a comment at the bottom of this post.*

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park & Hood Mountain Regional Park
2605 Adobe Canyon Road
Kenwood, CA
(707) 833-5712

THE HIKE
It’s been said by the locals that the trail to Gunsight Rock, high on the side of Hood Mountain, is one of Sonoma Valley’s premier hiking routes. Tough though the trail may be, if you’ve ever thought about hiking to the top of Mt. St. Helena in Napa County, the hike to Gunsight Rock outweighs the hike to Mt. St. Helena in almost any context, except one: the view from the summit of 2,730-foot Hood Mountain is a big disappointment. Manzanita and pine trees cover its wide, rounded top and, unless you feel like shinnying up a tall, sap-sticky pine after the impressive climb to the mountain’s summit, you just can’t see a danged thing from up there. (Though I tried, once.)

Fortunately Hood Mountain has Gunsight Rock located three hundred feet below its summit and a quarter mile away by trail. From this lofty vantage point, you can see just about everything in Sonoma Valley, plus the big mountains of Napa and Marin. Not only that, but Gunsight Rock’s bouldered outcrop is perched so dramatically on the slope of Hood Mountain that its steep drop-off makes the wide view even more impressive.

Peering down through the fog and the gunsight onto the wine country town of Kenwood.

Peering down through the fog and the Gunsight
onto the wine country town of Kenwood.

The real bonus, however, is simply in observing the trailside splendor on your way to Gunsight Rock; the floral diversity of the Goodspeed and Nattkemper trails is alone worth the hike. Redwoods, laurels, manzanitas, oaks, grasslands, wildflowers, serpentine rock, wildlife and vistas make this hike an absolute must-do adventure.

Of course, after surveying Sonoma Valley wine country from above, it’ll only be right to explore it from inside a wine glass! So, we’ll return downhill for a potluck picnic lunch and for tasty local wines (winery to be announced).

GETTING TO THE TRAILHEAD
From U.S. 101 in Santa Rosa, take the Fairgrounds/Highway 12 exit. Highway 12 becomes Farmers Lane as it heads through downtown Santa Rosa. Continue on Highway 12 south for 11 miles to Adobe Canyon Road and turn left. (Or, from Highway 12 in Sonoma, drive 11 miles north to Adobe Canyon Road, then turn right.) Drive 2.2 miles to the small parking area on the left at a bridge over Sonoma Creek (it’s 1.3 miles before the entrance kiosk for Sugarloaf Ridge State Park).

CARPOOL
If you’re in the South Bay or on the peninsula, my current plan is to leave my house in Sunnyvale at 6:15 a.m. If there’s sufficient interest in this hike, I may later advise that we concentrate the most bodies into the fewest cars by meeting in Kenwood before heading to the trailhead due to its potentially limited availability (this parking area is a postage stamp!). If you’re attending, please leave a comment below if you wish to carpool from either location along this route. For those of you arriving from the East Bay or elsewhere, please contact others near you to arrange carpooling.

NOTES
Parking at Sugarloaf Ridge is typically $5 per vehicle at the entrance kiosk, but we won’t be going that far up the road. The small parking area by the bridge at Sonoma Creek is known to be fee-free. Drive time from San Jose may take 2-1/2 hours; from SF, perhaps 45-60 minutes less. Please allow adequate time to arrive by 9:00; our hike will begin promptly at 9:15. (Our early meet time is primarily to obtain parking at this tiny trailhead. Believe me, it’ll be very much worth rising early!) Dogs are not allowed on this hike.

The Golden Fairy Lantern, Calochortus amabilis, is also called Diogenes' Lantern.

The Golden Fairy Lantern (Calochortus amabilis)
is also known as Diogenes’ Lantern.

Be sure to bring plenty of snacks/lunch items and water for the trail. I highly recommend bringing an extra pair of shoes – even clothing – to change into after the hike. Please allow plenty of time to arrive, and watch for cyclists during your drive.

Also, wear sturdy shoes for this hike – we will hike over rough, technical terrain in places, and sections of muddy trail may present themselves.

The phone number above is for Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.

Meet 9:00 a.m., hike 9:15 sharp.  See you at the trailhead!

————————— ♦ —————————

Would you like to attend this hike?
If so, let me know you’re coming – simply reply in the Comments below.
Thanks!

————————— ♦ —————————

*Your comment on this post is your RSVP. Consider also checking the box labeled “Notify me of follow-up comments via email” so that I can share my cell phone number with you a few days prior to this hike – just in case you need to contact me on your way to the trailhead.

This event is listed on my 2013 Schedule of Hikes.

~winehiker

Saturday, April 6th: Wildflower Hike & Wine Tasting at Picchetti Ranch

When you enter Picchetti Winery’s rustic tasting room, you take a welcome step back in time.

When you enter Picchetti Winery’s rustic tasting room, you take a welcome step back in time.

4 easy miles with options for additional mileage; early Spring wildflowers

Meet: 9:30 a.m.
Hike: 9:45 a.m.
Duration: approximately 3–4 hours
How to confirm your attendance: Simply add a comment at the bottom of this post.*

Picchetti Ranch & Winery
13100 Montebello Road
Cupertino, CA
(650) 691-1200

After a short drive up a winding mountain road, Picchetti Winery appears as a little slice of heaven. Picchetti wines are produced at one of the oldest wineries in California, and are well-made, with attention devoted to producing consistently good wines every year. Plus, it is one of the rare few California wineries that offers a hiking trail right outside the tasting room! If you haven’t yet tried the 2007 Leslie’s Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Picchetti Winery, this event is your opportunity to try a world-class winner.

The Zinfandel Trail winds through a cool forest of bay laurel.

The Zinfandel Trail winds through
a cool forest of bay laurel.

THE HIKE
The hike is an easy and enjoyable walk. We’ll journey through a classic local mix of cool woodlands and sunny chaparral, with views of Fremont-Older Open Space Preserve and Stevens Creek Reservoir. From the trail, we’ll see an assortment of plant communities ranging from lush chaparral brush and oak woodland to picturesque madrone and bay forests. We’ll even see a stand of nutmeg trees! And if we’re lucky, we’ll see several species of wildflowers blooming along the Zinfandel Trail.

After the hike, let’s enjoy a potluck lunch on the Picchetti picnic grounds, pool a few pesos, and taste those fabulous Picchetti wines.

GETTING TO THE TRAILHEAD
Here’s a Google map showing the route from San Francisco to Picchetti Ranch that includes driving directions. As you get close, the following tips may prove helpful:

  1. Hiking the Zinfandel Trail is always a fun group experience.

    Hiking the Zinfandel Trail is always
    a fun group experience.

    Once you reach Cupertino and are traveling southwest on Foothill Blvd. (with Highway 280 behind you), be aware that when you cross the Stevens Creek Blvd. intersection at the signal light, Foothill Blvd. will change its name to Stevens Canyon Road.

  2. As you continue through a residential section, Stevens Canyon Road will begin to climb and wind and you will pass lower Stevens Creek County Park, then Stevens Creek Dam and Reservoir, all on your left.
  3. Around a bend to the right and immediately after passing the entrance to the quarry (on your right), the road will make a horseshoe turn to the left and the steep entrance to Montebello Road will appear pretty quickly on your right.  A good place to gear down!
  4. Wind your way carefully up Montebello Road about 0.6 mi. and enter Picchetti Ranch on your left. Take the immediate right fork and park in the upper (dirt) parking lot, and look for my black Dodge Dakota pickup and camper shell. It’s likely you’ll see me sitting on the tailgate lacing my boots.

CARPOOL
If you’re coming from the South Bay, I’ll see you when you arrive at Picchetti Winery. For those of you arriving from The City or elsewhere, please contact others near you to arrange carpooling.

Inside the Picchetti tasting room.

Inside the Picchetti tasting room.

NOTES
Parking at Picchetti Ranch is free. Drive time from downtown San Jose may take 20-25 minutes; from SF, perhaps 20-30 minutes longer. Please allow adequate time to arrive by 9:30; our hike will begin promptly at 9:45.

Parking should be adequate at Picchetti; nevertheless, I urge hikers to please carpool if possible (see above). Dogs are not allowed on this hike.

For our post-hike potluck lunch, I recommend preparing picnic items that you will enjoy sharing with your fellow hikers. You won’t have to bring your potluck items on the trail; instead, pack them into a cooler that you’ll keep in your car during the hike.

Picchetti peacocks: a sure sign of Spring!

Picchetti peacocks: a sure sign of Spring!

Nevertheless, be sure to bring plenty of snacks and water for the trail. I highly recommend bringing an extra pair of shoes – even clothing – to change into after the hike. Please allow plenty of time to arrive, and watch for cyclists during your drive.

Also, wear sturdy shoes for this hike – we may be hiking over rough terrain in places, and sections of muddy trail may present themselves.

The phone number above is for the Midpeninsula Open Space District.

Meet 9:30 a.m., hike 9:45 sharp.  See you at the trailhead!

————————— ♦ —————————

Would you like to attend this hike?
If so, let me know you’re coming: simply reply in the Comments box below.
Thanks!

————————— ♦ —————————

*Your comment on this post is your RSVP. Consider also checking the box labeled “Notify me of follow-up comments via email” so that I can share my cell phone number with you a few days prior to this hike – just in case you need to contact me on your way to the trailhead.

This event is listed on my 2013 Schedule of Hikes.

~winehiker

Wine review: 2001 Boundary, Te Awa Farms

7.5 winehiker points*

Every once in a while, we wine lovers find that promise does not deliver what expectation anticipates. You can read all the words that are written to describe a wine; most of us want to believe them enough to reach into our wallets if we are at all tantalized by the copywriter’s scribblings. But then you taste the wine, and you wonder if maybe you’ve had a head cold for a week.

Such was my experience with the 2001 Boundary, a Bordeaux blend from Te Awa Farms in the town of Hastings, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand.

The 2001 Te Awa Boundary from Hawkes Bay New Zealand. The copywriters quite obviously did not taste *this* wine.

The 2001 Te Awa Boundary from Hawkes Bay New Zealand. The copywriters quite obviously did not taste this wine.

A case in point on the copywriting, from The New Zealand House of Wine:

“A delicious wine with melting tannin and complex layers of flavour. Intertwined aromas of fresh leather, dark cherry, bramble and plum on the nose. A supple, round attack opens to show layers of flavour on the palate, which reflect those of the nose. The tannins are now well integrated giving the wine depth and length.”

From Bottlenotes, from whom I purchased the wine:

“A high quality, high value New World Bordeaux blend. Smooth and lush with aromas of cedar, sweet tobacco, blackberry and a bit of spice. On the palate, the wine is quite smooth with moderate tannin, a bit of leather and dark berry fruit flavors.”

My own tasting notes:

“Medium garnet-colored Bordeaux blend, strong earthiness on nose, but with mild elusive fruit aromas and slight fragrance of wood and spice. Moderate balance aspects, with slight tartness, agreeable bitterness. Medium body, good mouthfeel, but heavily lacking in fruit flavor; very short finish.”

Hmmm…. I was not attacked by supple round plums, especially on my nose. Which New World are we talking about here? Were my defenses too solidified? I thought I should clear my throat, blow my nose, and try again. So I did, three more times over the course of the evening. Up until I tried this particular wine from Bottlenotes, I had been pretty pleased with their selections. Fortunately with Bottlenotes you can share your tasting notes with them so they can further tailor their selections to your palate. In fact they actually ask you to do so.

And I’ve been doing that. Perhaps not enough, truth be told. I guess we still have some tailoring to do.

At any rate, I tried this wine again after 45 minutes in the decanter, then again after 2 hours of opening. Still, after four hours, the 2001 Boundary tasted way way way too [insert your own invective here] earthy. You know, being a winehiker and all, I’m a big fan of earth. I like it beneath my feet. A lot, in fact.

I just don’t like it in my mouth. At least not that [invective] much of it. I think I’ll stay on this side of the Boundary for a while.

Often I find that the earthiness aspects of some wines dissipate within a short time of opening or decanting. Perhaps my problem is that I didn’t try this wine with roast lamb, roast beef, game, or grilled duck, as suggested by the well-meaning folks at Bottlenotes. Heck, Te Awa Farms even has its own restaurant, which is considered to be one of New Zealand’s top six dining establishments. Says something about the NZ palate, perchance. They must quite naturally be pairing their foods with (or is that to?) their wines.

So, I suppose I’m remiss for not suckling on a duckling for this one. Nevertheless, good food does not make bad wine better.

So sayeth I.

OK, so that’s my first stellar review of a not-so-stellar wine. There are bound to be more.

—————-
$30.00 at bottlenotes.com; priced at $22 elsewhere online. That is, if you really want to buy it after reading this post.

Disclosure: I am a member of bottlenotes.com’s Limited Addictions club; this wine arrived in their summer shipment and was purchased by me.

*Rated on the 20-point Davis scale using my Wine Scoring Sheet.

~winehiker

Sunny Saturday Links

Blind Wine Tasting Notes: 2006 Beaujolais Nouveau

Editor’s Note, November 15th, 2008: If you’re searching for a review of Beaujolais Nouveau wines from the 2008 vintage and wound up here, I must admit that I haven’t yet reviewed the new vintage. But what I’d like to know is, Should I? Feel free to direct me one way or the other by leaving a comment.

Many wine buffs the world over participated last week in a yearly ritual — tasting newly-arrived 2006 Beaujolais Nouveau wines. Since the long-ago origins of this tradition in France’s Beaujolais region, a sudden fever tends to mark the third Thursday in November. That fever struck here in the navel of the California wine country, too, as six local tasters, each with varying degrees of wine tasting experience, brought their selected wares — one bottle each — to my home to be swirled, sniffed, sipped, and scored.

Most experienced wine tasters will tell you that there’s more to the fanfare about Beaujolais Nouveau than there is to the wine. I’ve described it before as being not much more than Kool-Aid with an acid infusion — a once-a-year ritual and a prelude to drinking finer wine.

Nevertheless, there was quite a disparity last Friday evening in our results for six of this year’s labels; as you’ll see below, two clear favorites emerged. In the course of my shopping research, I had played a hunch, thinking that my selection of a Nouveau from the distinguished Beaujolais-Villages subappellation might stack the deck against the selections of the other five tasters in my party. As you’ll see from the results, where a wine is made doesn’t necessarily guarantee its quality. But I wouldn’t know until the final unveiling of our cloth-shrouded bottles.

Paired with our Beaujolais Nouveaux were whole wheat breads, crudites, and three cow’s milk cheeses: a soft, almost butterlike Explorateur from France with an easy spreadability; a Jean Grogne, an earthy and slightly bitter French triple-creme cheese; and a moderately sharp, medium-bodied Wisconsin Gruyere.

Among our assembled company was Valerie S., whom you see wearing a beret in the accompanying photo, and donning the proud colors of her native France. It was Valerie who brought the crudites, fancifully adorning them with two well-recognized French symbols: L’Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. And thanks to Ginny G. (that’s her seated in front), who served a delicious piping-hot post-tasting quiche.

A Beaujolais Nouveau tasting at Chez Winehiker, November 17, 2006.

A Beaujolais Nouveau tasting at Chez Winehiker, November 17, 2006.

About the wines

The wines listed in the Group Ranking table below are ranked top-down, most favorite to least favorite. In the left column is the actual group score for each wine using my Wine Scoring Sheet, which is based on the 20-point Davis scale. Each 2006 vintage wine is listed by label and is followed by the wine’s appellation, its heat (alcohol content) and the price (US$) per 750ml bottle. All wines were purchased where linked but not necessarily available currently nor purchasable online; if no direct link to the wine itself is present in the Group Ranking table, purchase information is not available.

Below the group ranking, I’ve employed the scoring sheet to tabulate my own scores for each individual wine.

Group Ranking

+5

Dominique Piron, Beaujolais-Villages

12.0%

$13

+5

Georges du Boeuf, Beaujolais

12.0%

$9

+4

Bouchard Ain et Fils, Beaujolais

12.0%

$9

-1

Louis Tete, Beaujolais

12.5%

$10

-4

Henry Fessy, Beaujolais-Villages

12.5%

$12

-5

Mommesin, Beaujolais

12.0%

$12

Winehiker’s Scoring

12.5

Georges du Boeuf, Beaujolais

11.5

Bouchard Ain et Fils, Beaujolais

11

Dominique Piron, Beaujolais-Villages

10.5

Louis Tete, Beaujolais

10.5

Henry Fessy, Beaujolais-Villages

7.5

Mommesin, Beaujolais

Analysis
As I host my tastings, I often suggest to my panel of tasters that they should consider the merits of each wine as it compares to the other wines on the table, and not against previous tasting experience. This caveat is especially true when tasting Beaujolais Nouveaux, since these wines can hardly compare, quality-wise, to nearly any other wine. One could conceivably rate all BN wines very low compared to a powerhouse Cabernet or even a young, fruity table wine. As it is, you’ll note that I generally tend to qualify my remarks somewhat when describing BNs — they’re just not great wines. But they’re not really meant to be.

With these notions in mind, and as you can see from my Winehiker’s Scoring table, none of these wines scored very highly, but none scored too low, either, with the exception of the group’s extreme non-favorite, the Mommesin, which had not much more going for it than its cranberry color.

The fairly narrow spread in my scoring of the top five wines reflected the groups’. That being said, our aggregate scoring easily helped to identify two distinct group favorites. It was clear that we collectively agreed about the qualities of these six labels.

But let’s break it down. Five of these wines were rather restrained upon judging aroma; only the Henry Fessy seemed to offer any real sense of fruitiness right out of the bottle. There was a slight barnyard aspect to the Piron that foretold its prominence, and a minute fragment of leather in the nose of the Louis Tete. None of these wines, however, appeared to open into stronger fragrances as the evening wore on.

If you’ve experimented with BNs previously, you can imagine how their tartness can affect the overall balance of the wines. With the exception of the Mommesin, which was entirely flabby, all were highly acidic. No small surprise there; strong acidity is an expectation with Beaujolais Nouveau.

However, I felt that at least one of these six should offer some smidgen of sweetness, however slight, to go along with the other characteristic of a BN — its fruitiness. We didn’t really find these wines to be appropriately sweet; I subsequently gave moderate to low scores across the board on this attribute. All wines scored reasonably well on the final balance aspect, astringency. Of the six wines, the wine that I felt had the best overall balance was the du Boeuf.

If nothing else can be said about Beaujolais Nouveau, it is a food wine and not a wine you drink for the sake of drinking it. That much was evident early on in our judging. By the time we had worked our way down to scoring our wines on body and taste, we were already reaching for the bread and cheese — anything to clear the acids from our palates. But if any could be considered to have an appropriate texture for drinking, it would be the Piron and the Bouchard Ain which, with their nearly-on-target balance aspects and delightfully fruity flavors, are two good bets. The highest scorer on body and taste, to my mind, was the ubiquitous du Boeuf.

Unlike its tongue-snapping tartness, finish is not typically a characteristic associated with Beaujolais Nouveau, and our scoring reflected it. The two noteworthy wines in this aspect, for me, were the Bouchard Ain and the du Boeuf. The Piron edges out the du Boeuf in the final group score, however, because of its consistency on all aspects relative to the five others.

Conclusions and Recommendations
One cannot lay claim to fine winemaking skills for this quickly made and rather pedestrian wine; its overall character implies its drinkability now as a celebrated ritual (if one can indeed call it drinkable) rather than a wine one boasts about after cellaring. But then, nobody should choose to cellar this type of wine. In fact, as I selected the Dominique Piron at Beltramo’s in Menlo Park, I was amused upon spying a basket of 2005 Nouveaus, many of them “giveaway” priced at $1.99. For that price, I might consider bathing in it as the Japanese do.

If you would shop for just any wine, don’t buy a Beaujolais Nouveau when you can buy something better. But if you want to find out what all the hoopla is about — and I recommend you do at some point in your tasting experience, if for no other reason than to establish a somewhat crude baseline — then take your pick from the top three BNs listed in the Group Ranking table above, and you’ll get a sense of what a truly young wine can be like. These wines were, after all, just grapes on a vine only a few short weeks ago.

~winehiker

Getting Naked with 2006 Beaujolais Nouveau, and more

Referencing a post about the tradition of Beaujolais Nouveau plus a review of two of this year’s labels, Georges DuBeouf and Joseph Drouhin.

Coming soon: Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2006

****** UPDATE: The Wine Spectator has now published their 2006 Top 100 Wines list. See my follow-on post.

——————
Each year, the editors at Wine Spectator magazine survey the wines they’ve reviewed over the past year and select what they feel are the “most exciting” for their list of the Top 100 wines of the year.

The Wine Spectator magazine's Top 100 Wines of 2006: coming very soon.From the Wine Spectator:

In 2006, we reviewed nearly 13,500 wines from around the world in blind tastings. Nearly 3,000 of them earned outstanding ratings (90 points or higher on our 100-point scale). We then narrowed the list down based on four criteria: quality (represented by score); value (reflected by release price); availability (measured by case production or cases imported); and an X-factor we call excitement. But no equation determines the final selections: These choices reflect our editors’ judgment and enthusiasm about the wines we tasted.

WS’ Top 100 list, which was first published back in 1988, represents the wine wares of 13 different countries, claiming this to be “the most diverse group in the history of the Top 100.” Gee, only 13 countries making quality wine? What’s wrong with this wine glass?

The Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2006 will be available to the public on November 20th, 2006 (now available — see my follow-up post).

In the meantime, I’ve begun a list of the Top 100 countries from which I’ve gained readers — I’m sure there’s much more diversity there.

~winehiker

French Friday Links

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.

Brrrr!

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.

~winehiker

Are “Five Star” Wine Rating Systems Too Simple?

Before Robert Parker Jr. introduced the 100-point wine-rating system to the world back in 1978, wine tasters, if they used any scoring method at all, would generally use a simple “five star” scale to rate their wines.

You can apply stars to wine, or you can actually learn something about wine.

You can apply stars to wine, or you can actually learn something about wine.

This five star (or five point) system is best understood as:

1  Poor
Fair
3  Good
4  Excellent
5  Outstanding

Naturally, it is simplicity that differentiates a five-star system from Parker’s system. After all, what budding connoisseur intrigued by wine would not choose to begin their lifetime of passion de vin with something elemental, readily grasped? And who among us can really tell the difference between an 83-point wine and an 84-point wine?

While there is much that is ludicrous about the Parker scale (e.g., a 76-point wine can be just as undrinkable as a 38-point wine), it’s much easier to understand the five-point system because we can readily identify with it – it corresponds with the letter-grade system many of us grew up with in grammar school. A simple system, yes. But very, very dull! Fortunately, other ardent wine rating personae have tackled the notion of dressing up this simple little system with rating thresholds of their own.

Jon Bonné, lifestyle editor for MSNBC.com (and Amuse-Bouche wine blogger) expands the aforementioned scale to the following:

1.0, Undrinkable: Major flaws that make the wine too bad to drink.
2.0, Marginally drinkable: You’d drink it if stranded on a desert island, but not otherwise.
3.0, Acceptable: Wine free of any major flaws, but not otherwise worth mentioning.
3.5, Good: Decent and drinkable wine, competently made and enjoyable to the average drinker.
4.0, Very good: Highly pleasurable wine with excellent qualities, the product of top-notch winemaking.
4.5: Excellent: Wine that excels in every aspect, true to its terroir and origin and of exceptional quality.
5.0, Extraordinary: Classic wine of rare and unparalleled quality.

Bonné suggests that:

“Wines below 3.0 aren’t worthy of consideration at all, and 3.5 is a decent starting point for wine worth buying. Beyond that? It’s really a matter of personal taste and preference.”

Deceptively simple. Yet notice how the five-point scale is already stretching out to something beyond five points. In his defense, Bonné only bases his ratings on a five-point system. But whoa – he’s willing to rate incrementally by half-points. Perceptively tedious!

Erin over at Grape Juice quips that she has her parents to thank for her growing alcoholism. Her wine rating methodology goes beyond the five-star rating system, too, though I’d have to say it’s more of a five-bar raving system. Or raging system – take your pick:

Not Even On Pain of Death: I’d pretty much run screaming from this wine if I ever saw it again.
I Wouldn’t Make Faces: Not my choice, but if someone were to serve it to me at a gathering of some sort, I wouldn’t turn up my nose.
I’d Hit It: A good wine, but not necessarily mindblowing. I’d consider buying it again.
Repeat Offender: I’ll be buying this one again. A wine with a certain “je ne sais quoi”.
Bet Your Bottom Dollar: A sure-fire hit. Even your mother-in-law would like this one.

Hmmm, I wonder how Erin can taste wine with her tongue in her cheek like that. Come to think of it, if I had a mother-in-law, she’d probably only drink white zinfandel. At the other end of the wine-scoring spectrum, Rod Phillips at Worlds of Wine suggests a 1,000-point wine-scoring scale.

Methinks Rod jesteth overtly. But yikes!! Talk about tedious. Well then, could there be a wine tasting methodology that isn’t boorishly elemental, deceptively simple, flagrantly tedious, or mincingly ambiguous? Something that goes beyond “trite” yet doesn’t have you mired in point-shaving schemes?

You bet. It’s a moderately sane 20-point system, and it’s freely available to all. If you like wine but want to know why you like it, or if you would choose to educate yourself further about wine, then here’s a little guidance, some developmental history, and a place to download the winehiker’s scoring sheet for nearly everyone.

~winehiker