Irish Family Vineyard 2007 Viognier

Type: Dry White
Made: In Calaveras County, California, With viognier grapes
Plays well with: seafood, salads, mild cheeses


The 2007 Viognier from Irish Family comes with the expected florals in the nose – honeysuckle in this case. A grape of the Rhone region wines in France, viognier has an instantly recognizable nose of flowers like honeysuckle or citrus like tangerine peel and also honeyed. A little blended into syrah contributes aromatics to a traditional red wine in the Rhone from France. Viognier is a handy grape to have around.


There is a flinty minerality as well that wasn’t covered by oak because there wasn’t any oak added. Steel fermentation and neutral barrels (barrels that have already given up all their oak flavors) allowed the flavors to concentrate. Crisp acidity gives a cleansing of the palate that plays well with seafood, salads and cheeses.

Irish Family Vineyard “Pog Mo Thoin”

Type: Dry Red
Made: In Calaveras County, California, With cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and malvasia grapes
Plays well with: Beef, lamb, winter stews, on its own

The Irish Family red blend called Pog Mo Thoin – Gaelic for “kiss my ass” – was a sample we tasted from the tank in April 2009 at the winery in Vallecito, CA. It’s pronounced Pog (with the long o sound), Mo (another long o) Hoyn (no t or th).  A blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and a bit of malvasia – a OBG grape if there is one – it’s now available for sale.

As noted in our previous post, we tasted this one right from the fermenting tank and this is the kind of special treat that is well worth it. From the romantic tradition of a barrel sample to the more modern steel tank, getting the invitation to try something before anyone else – except the dozens, hundreds or thousands of club members or visitors before YOU walked in – is insanely cool. The only catch is that what we tasted that day might be somewhat different if you buy it, (which you can by going to the winery website).
The wine had a brown sugar sweetness and lots of fruit in the nose. Those same red fruits turned up in the glass along with gentle hints of oak in the background. But the most impressive part of the wine was the balance. All three elements – alcohol, tannin and acid – were in perfect balance so that no one quality stuck out. Which augers well for the recently released bottles.
How to enjoy? Beef, lamb or winter stews come to mind. This is also one of those wines that can be enjoyed by itself as a cocktail. The level of alcohol was not recorded but we remember it being modest. We haven’t tried it since it was bottled last summer and it may be a different vintage than what is available on the website.

Irish Family Vineyards

The first time we went up to Calaveras County’s wine country – part of a visit to Jeff Stai and Twisted Oak Winery – we drove right past Jeff’s neighbor at Irish Family Vineyards. For some reason, we looked at the signs Irish had out and concluded it wasn’t our style of place. We so should have known better.

It was during our next visit to Twisted Oak, Jeff and one of his tasting room staffers both said Irish was really good and we should try them. They were right.

Not only does Russell Irish make some outrageously good wines, we had a blast while we were there. The room looks like a slightly cluttered barn filled with Irish memorabilia – Irish is the family name, not just their heritage. Some of it’s a little dusty and has been there a while, but it feels homey and welcoming and casual. The kind of place where you won’t be embarrassed if your elbow gets jostled and some of the wine spills.

Better yet, Jeff Stai had invited us to join him and some other couples for dinner in Murphys. Not only did Russell help the other couple in the tasting room make reservations at the same restaurant we ended up at, Russ and his wife turned out to be one of the other couples at dinner. Dinner with two professional winemakers – wow.

But back at Irish – we also got a barrel sample of Russell’s latest blend, called Pogue Mo Thoin (no, we can’t translate the Gaelic). A barrel sample is new wine that has generally been fully fermented but not aged or bottled yet. Not only was the Pogue Mo Thoin not your traditional blend, hence the name, it was the sort of wonderful stuff that… Well, the tasting notes cometh.

There are two lessons here – one is that your best source for your next stop on your personal wine tasting tour is the person pouring at the winery you like, even if you’re not sure you agree. You never know. The second lesson is that there is only one answer to the question, “Would you like a barrel sample?” Yes!!! Pretty please? Yes! Yes!!!

Due Vigne 2006 Viognier

We picked this one up at Blackwell’s Wines and Spirits during our recent visit to the Bay Area largely on the recommendation of Sara (and pray forgive us, Sara, if we have spelled your name wrong).
By Due Vigne Di Familia in the Napa region, the wine is a class act with 86 percent Viognier, eleven percent Roussanne and a scant three percent of Marsanne, aka a classic blend of three Rhone white grapes. Sara told us that the panel almost passed on the 2006 vintage because they didn’t think it was dry enough.
It was dry enough. The golden color in the glass had a nose of lychee nuts and banana on the first sniff and some citrus on a second smell. There was also some of the honeysuckle aroma. The rich mouthfeel first tasted of anise – licorice or fennel to some – that led into a hint of peach at the back of the mouth. The finish was decent and you could tell they used the oak sparingly.
The best part was that the wine was only ten dollars. You could certainly enjoy this wine buy itself. But try it with a creamy seafood bisque now or grilled scallops next spring. The wine certainly plays well with others and should have that chance. The catch is that at this price, if it’s still in the store, it won’t last.

Chateau d’Aqueria 2007 Rose Tavel

The good folks at Blackwell’s wines and spririts were featuring Chateau d’Aqueria 2007 Tavel when we wandered in there a couple months ago. The winery is one of the oldest in the Tavel region of France’s southern Rhone region (French wines being labeled after where they’re grown and made rather than by the grapes in them, with each region using basically the same grapes to make the wine, anyway, so a Bordeaux is always going to have cabernet sauvignon and merlot in it, no matter who in Bordeaux made it). Tavel is best known here in the States – when you can find it – for its dry rosés.

We at OBG love well-made rosé. We love drinking it and we love making it. Rosé, when made dry, is a fun wine full of fruit and ready to drink with all kinds of foods, from ham to cheese to more strongly-flavored fish to just about anything too strong for a white, but not heavy enough to compete with a red.

Modern commercial winemakers will sometimes bleed off some of the freshly crushed juice of red wine grapes to concentrate the color, aroma and flavors in the remaining skins and juice. But good winemakers would never dump the stuff they bled off. Good winemakers use it to make rosé – fermenting it until it’s nice and dry and crisp.

The label on the Chateau d’Aqueria Tavel just listed the blend of grapes that went into it: Grenache, Clairette, Cinsault, Mourvedre and Borboulenc, but alas, not what percentage of which. That the grapes are listed on the label at all is in consideration of the U.S. market.

The blackberry nose and other red fruits opened up to some spiciness in the mouth and a light mouthfeel that cleansed the palate with nice, dry tanins.

Three things you need to know about rosés. The first is that they are meant to be drunk young and are not to cellared. The 2007 Tavel seems to be doing well. The second thing is that many roses are small productions and supplies can be limited. The final thing you need to know is that Blackwell’s was selling the Tavel for twelve dollars and we figure it probably didn’t last at that price. That being said, the folks there are so great, we’re sure they’ll find something just as good at just as good a price.

Blackwell’s Wine and Spirits

We wouldn’t normally feature a retailer here, but we had such a great time at San Francisco store Blackwell’s Wines & Spirits, that we couldn’t resist posting about it.

We were up in The City over Thanksgiving to visit Her Ladyship (Anne’s daughter) and while taking a walk on Friday, we stumbled onto this charming little store.  It’s laid out beautifully.  The prices are reasonable and the wine selection is exceptional.  Yes, you’ll find Napa cabs and pinot noirs here, including some that will please the pinot geeks among us.  But most of the stock is made up of unique gems such as Tavel (rosé from Provence, France).

Best of all, is the staff.  When we went in that Friday morning, Sarah was the only person on the floor.  She and Mike got into an extended conversation about making wine and sharing their experiences, plus she pointed us toward some interesting stuff.  She knew what was in just about everything and explained that every wine in the store had been tasted by the owner and by most of the staff.  That’s important, because she and her co-workers will be able to steer you to a wonderful bottle, no matter what your needs are.

Even as more and more of us get comfortable with wine as a part of our daily lives, there is still a lingering fear wrapped up in finding the “right” bottle.  While it is true that some wines are better than others, and some of us like one thing and not others, it is a little frustrating that there is still so much discomfort among wine buyers.  We say if people judge you on what you’re drinking, to hell with them.  Order the white zin – or better yet, order one from an obscure label.  Sip it with ecstasy (the emotion, not the drug) and let them wonder what they’re missing.

And they are the ones that are missing out, trust us.  Yes, a Napa cab or a first growth Bordeaux can be an utterly transcendent thing.  But you don’t need transcendence every day, nor are those the only wines that offer the possibility of transcendence.  Wine is as much about the situation as it is about the flavor.  A Two-Buck Chuck sipped quietly over a dinner of cheesy mac hamburger casserole with someone you love is perfectly wonderful.  Great wine?  No.  But a perfect wine for the right time, place and person.

It’s the experience that counts, which is why finding a place like Blackwell’s is such a joy.

Blackwell’s Wines & Spirits

5620 Geary Boulevard
San Francisco, CA 94121-2215
(415) 386-9463