When I first heard about the upcoming Berkeley Wine Festival, which kicks off at the Claremont Hotel on March 12, I thought it presented the perfect opportunity to write my annual "splurge locally" column featuring wines made in the East Bay. But, sadly for both locavores and Wineaux, the Berkeley Wine Festival doesn't seem to be intended for either. Among the eight wineries featured at a series of winemaker dinners and receptions taking place through May, not one hails from anywhere closer than Napa, and the price of admission to the festival's least expensive event is $85.
That's not to say that the dinners, which will feature Napa and Sonoma notables such as Duckhorn and Cakebread, won't make for gastronomically delightful evenings. But if the prospect leaves you pining for a more authentically local and budget-friendly wine event, consider Winestock!, which takes place Saturday, February 27, at JC Cellars Winery in Oakland (55 4th Street, JCCellars.com). The $25 entry fee may seem a bit steep, but that's about the price of JC Cellars' least expensive wine (with its most expensive, the 2003 Pourquoi Pas Syrah, usually fetching $135 a bottle). So with a dozen current and pre-release wines flowing freely, you should get more than your money's worth. Add to that a few Grateful Dead covers courtesy of the Dave Stein Bubhub, hippie-themed appetizers, and a mandate to wear bellbottoms, and you've almost got ... a festival! If you stop in, make sure to try the winery's 2007 Sweetwater Springs Russian River Valley Zinfandel ($35) — a chewy, rustic Zin with strong notes of leather. Definitely groovy.
Speaking of local heroes: In our Token Winemaker's old stomping grounds of the Santa Clara Valley, that's exactly how a lot of folks would describe the Guglielmo brothers and their eponymous winery. Old-timers who have long been respected by other wine growers in the region, the Guglielmos are also noteworthy for their efforts at producing wine from the little-known Grignolino grape. So when we decided to taste Chardonnays this week, Token Winemaker was especially eager to try the 2008 Tré Chardonnay ($9.95), one of four varietals sold under Guglielmo's new Tré Cellars label. No playing favorites allowed, so we tasted it blind against the 2008 Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay ($15) — and still preferred it, although both wines were respectable.
Of the two, the Tré had a more powerful aroma — collectively we sniffed floral perfume, toast, lemon, pear, melon, and banana, with Token Winemaker declaring the bouquet "pretty and rich." The wine was pleasing on the palate, with notes of honey, straw, and vanilla. The Kendall-Jackson offered a somewhat similar but lighter and more muted aroma of toast and butterscotch, which was echoed in its taste. Respectable, yes, but you can find better Chards (like the Tré) for under $10.