January 4, 2008
Priming the Palate

Wine merchants have all sorts of ways to find the wines they stock. They tour wine regions, they attend industry tastings, they meet with distributors and winery representatives to taste samples.

Every month or so, Sacramento wine merchant Darrell Corti gathers up all the samples he's been sent, lines them up on a table in the back of his Folsom Boulevard store, and invites his staff and a few fellow wine enthusiasts to taste through the assortment. Big buckets for spitting are scattered on the floor about the table, a forklift is apt to be parked nearby, and every once in awhile a staff member not involved in the tasting will crank up the machine that flattens cardboard boxes. It's a cold space in winter, hot in summer, but the lighting is adequate and the range of wines almost invariably is provocative.

All participants are given a typed list of the night's wines. They pour themselves a taste, spit, maybe doublecheck the bottle for more information, and then jot down some notes. Ultimately, however, it's Corti's decision alone on what he will order.

Last night's tasting included slightly more than 100 wines. I didn't taste all of them, but I did many. I liked several, but especially hope that Corti decides to stock the glorious Terralsole 2001 Brunello di Montalcino, one mouth-filling and persistent sangiovese (if he does, expect to pay between $60 and $70, its price elsewhere); the rich and powerful Patz & Hall 2006 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($42 at the winery); the expressive and multi-layered Hamel Wines 2005 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (price uncertain); the floral and fleshy Boeger Winery 2005 Reserve Petite Sirah, about as pure a statement of the varietal as you likely are to find ($30 at the winery); and the first California wine from the 2007 vintage I've tasted, the sunny and refreshing Vino Noceto 2007 Rosato di Sangiovese (not yet listed on the winery Web site, but usually around $13).

After that, I feel primed to join the first major wine competition of the year, the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition at Cloverdale, which gets under way Wednesday.

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