The first vintage of Steelhead was released in 2002. The label was founded by Quivira Vineyards to benefit Trout Unlimited and the restoration of Wine Creek, a tributary of Dry Creek, in a partnership with governmental, educational and non-profit organizations. Dan and Katy Leese and their partner Pete Kight, owner of Quivira, launched their company V2 Wine Group in 2010 with the acquisition of Steelhead, making it a stand-alone winery. Proceeds from the sale of Steelhead wines still help to fund the conservation work of Trout Unlimited. The winemaking staff at Quivira, which includes Hugh Chappelle and Greg La Follette, makes the wines. Production of each of this trio was 2,500 cases. These were samples for review.
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The Steelhead Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Sonoma County, is made completely in stainless steel and does not go through malolactic fermentation, the result being immediate freshness and appeal. While there’s some evidence of sassy gooseberry and tarragon in the bouquet, the primary aromas are roasted lemon, baked pear, celery seed, jasmine and an intriguing touch of smoke. The sense of clean, bracing freshness extends to the mouth, aiding by invigorating acidity and limestone-like minerality that bolster tasty lemon, pear and melon flavors permeated by hints of cloves, dried thyme and newly-mown grass; in fact, the wine gets spicier the longer it stays in the glass. It lacks only some intensity that would raise my rating. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink up. Very Good. About $13, representing Good Value.
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A bit more impressive than the (still quite enjoyable) Steelhead Sauvignon Blanc 2009 is the Steelhead Red 2009, Sonoma County, a blend of 55 percent cabernet sauvignon and 45 percent zinfandel that sees no oak. This is a terrific little bistro-style wine, robust without being exactly rustic and nicely balanced between spicy, juicy fruit and carefully delineated acid and tannins. Black currant and blackberry scents and flavors offer a touch of something wild in the range of blueberry and rhubarb, underlain by hints of briers and brambles and nuances of earth and graphite-like minerality. The wine is lively and vibrant, a bit chewy in texture, moderately rich and velvety. It cries out to be in a restaurant’s wine-by-the-glass program at $8 a glass. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012. Very Good+. About $15.
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Here’s the prize and the real bargain. In fact, I don’t see how a wine of this character can sell for what it does. The Steelhead Pinot Noir 2009, Sonoma County, contains 5 percent syrah, a factor not that unusual in California now; the wine aged for 10 months in oak barrels. The color is an entrancing plum-mulberry hue, with a hint of violet at the rim; the darkly spicy and earthy bouquet delivers bushels of red and black cherries, plums and cranberries etched with touches of cloves, cinnamon and sassafras. The texture is lovely, even gorgeous, completely satiny in its drape and flow across the palate, and the wine offers remarkable intensity and structure for the price; all is not kissy-face, however, because under the richness and the plushness lie elements of spareness, of the slightly rigorous influence of wood and underbrush and forest floor, of slate-like minerality. Quite a performance. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013. Excellent. About $15, a Great Value.
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