Chris Wanner, who owns West Coast Wine and Cheese with his wife Lindsey, understands that the wine experience begins with the story that each bottle tells.
He knows that only after discovering a wine’s region of origin, the soils surrounding the vines and the pedigree of the winemaker, can tasters fully appreciate the unleashed aromas and tastes.
In a conversation with Chris at the recent opening of his second location, just off the square in Mill Valley, I learned more about his philosophy and his shop’s less conventional approach to wine tasting. The perception that wines from many California and Pacific Northwest appellations were underexposed and lacked appreciation inspired him to open, years earlier, the first West Coast Wine and Cheese location on Union Street in San Francisco’s Cow Hollow. He had already developed close relationships with small producers from California, Oregon and Washington after working 15 years in wine sales.
The shops feature a rotating list of 24 wines exclusively from those three states. Last week, the selections represented 15 different regions and at least as many varietals plus two sparklers and an unusual chenin blanc ice wine from Washington State.
The menu lists the region of origin and the winemaker of each wine, and they are offered as a half or full glass, each poured into appropriate Riedel stemware. Chris does not serve flights that
offer comparative tastes of similar wines. He sees that style as limiting and counterintuitive to the holistic process of discovering the true expression of wine. This evening’s wine list included two bubbly sparklers from Argyle in the Willamette Valley and Roederer Estate in the Anderson Valley, both fine producers who are worthy of more in-depth exploration.
The list of white wines exemplifies the West Coast Wine and Cheese philosophy with varied releases including the St. Rey Chenin Blanc 2017 from Clarksburg in the Sacramento Delta to the Tognetti Chardonnay “Aloise Francisco Vineyard” 2014 from the cool Carneros region. I was pleased to see the Carlisle Gruner Veltliner “Steiner Vineyard” 2016, a personal favorite, on the list. Carlisle winemaker Mike Officer has also received acclaim for production of small-lot zinfandel and Rhone varietals and will soon will be hosting a winemaker’s tasting at West Coast Wine and Cheese.
The rose’ selections included a pinot noir rose’ from the Russian River Valley and the Idlewild “The Flower” Rose’ 2017, an intriguing blend of Italian varietals from Mendocino County. I enjoyed a special glass of Lieu Dit Rose’ of Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County 2017 and found a high- spirited crispness to the wine with citrus and floral qualities on the palate. I would recommend this rose’.
The same producer was also pouring their Lieu Dit Cabernet Franc 2017 from the well-known and warmer Happy Canyon Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley. Although it will improve with age, this wine is drinkable now, delivering complex, yet accessible flavors.
The other 11 red wine selections included a Failla Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2016, representing the esteemed Napa Valley winery’s first Oregon vineyard release, the Favia Syrah “Quarzo” Shake Ridge Ranch 2014, from rugged Amador County vineyards and the Lewis Cellars “Mason’s” Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, from the Napa Valley winemaker that produced the Lewis Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2013, Wine Spectator magazine’s 2016 Wine of the Year.
Kiona Estate has been producing wines in Washington’s Red Mountain region for 40 years. Their four acres of chenin blanc, planted during the Depression, consistently freezes each winter. The frozen grapes are then harvested to produce the 2017 Kiona Chenin Blanc Ice Wine, served here as dessert.
Chris admits that his cheese and charcuterie selections are there only to augment the wine. However, Mt. Tam, a cow’s milk release from Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station, and the San Francisco Ferry Building, and Humboldt County’s Cypress Grove Truffle Tremor, a chèvre with black truffles are both stars in their supporting roles.
The wine lists at West Coast Wine and Cheese have been recognized, three years running, by Wine Spectator magazine.
For those who prefer visiting wineries to sample small tastes of a variety of current releases should be aware that West Coast Wine and Cheese is different. Here, you will enjoy a half or full glass of fewer wines and engage in an enlightened discussion that may open your mind and palate to new releases from California and the Pacific Northwest.
Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is a guest columnist. Food and Wine