Autumn in the Livermore Valley

Livermore Valley Wine Tasting View

December 15th, 2013

Wine Tasting in Livermore – Wineries Visited:
Cuda Ridge – production 1,600 cases
Thomas Coyne – production 3,000 cases

Some wine regions have lyrical names – Santa Lucia Highlands, Moon Mountain or the Santa Ynez Valley for instance, echo with the promise of adventure and romance. Then there are the ones that are playful. The Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara evokes a whimsical feel. And then – there’s Livermore. Liver – more. It doesn’t really sound any better backwards – more liver. Nope…no romance, no poetic overtones…just organ meat…lots of organ meat. However, as the saying goes, you should never judge a book by its cover and the quality of a wine region shouldn’t be judged by the romance of its name. What Livermore lacks in cachet, it makes up for in quality. This is one of the most underrated wine regions in California and has become one of our favorite areas to visit. Livermore wine tasting offers roughly 50 different wineries that create a myriad of wine types. It’s home to several of the grandfathers of the California wine industry, Wente and Concannon, but it’s the new wave of smaller, boutique wineries that that are infusing new life into this overlooked region. Wine tasting in Livermore “proper” is the most frequent destination but there are also several wineries in the neighboring towns of Pleasanton and San Ramon.

Wine Tasting in Livermore - Cuda Ridge

The New Tasting Room at Cuda Ridge

Our first stop was one of our favorites, Cuda Ridge. Warren, a good friend of ours took us to Cuda Ridge a number of years ago and I don’t think there has been a trip to Livermore to wine taste where we haven’t stopped in. Larry and Margie Dino are the genial hosts and are usually in the tasting room which offers a great chance to pick the winemakers brain. Just don’t expect to see Larry if 49ers are playing. Cuda Ridge is named after Larry’s other passion besides wine making, a 1970 Barracuda who Margie only half jokingly calls “the mistress”. Cuda Ridge wines are big, bold, new world style offerings but even with all of that depth of flavor, balance never seems to be an issue. Their flagship wines are the Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot. In addition to those, they make a Semillon, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and a Zinfandel. It really is tough to pick the star from this lineup because they are all good. Normally I am not a Malbec fan because the majority of the ones I’ve had come from Argentina which has adopted Malbec as their “national” grape. In principal, I don’t have anything against Argentinean wines but the exported Malbecs that I’ve had have been fruit bombs with little acid or tannins to balance them. Cuda Ridge Malbec is a big, wine with plenty of acid and tannin but it’s extremely well balanced. Normally I like it but tend to favor the Petite Verdot, but I thought this 2011 Malbec was the star of the tasting. Karen liked it and the Petite Verdot equally. Their Petite Verdot was the first one that we ever had and with apologies to all the others, it’s a really tough act to follow. If you are curious about pure Petite Verdot, we’ll be doing a blog post on it in a few weeks so check back in. If you are going wine tasting at Cuda Ridge, make sure that you check for the most recent address because they have recently moved to a new and improved facility on Arroyo Rd.

Next stop, Thomas Coyne winery because we heard they had a couple of unusual varietals. However, unusual wines aren’t the only reason to go there. Like Cuda Ridge, we’ve visited Thomas Coyne before and haven’t been disappointed yet. Years ago, Tom was the winemaker for Rosenblum Cellars but left to start his own label. Thomas Coyne and Cuda Ridge represent the yin and the yang of Livermore wineries. Where Cuda Ridge wines are unapologetically bold, Thomas Coyne’s are understated but extremely well balanced. Picking a star from his extensive wine selection is tough because we’ve never had a bad one. Although they weren’t tasting the Graciano which we actually went to try, they did have three other rare varietals, one of which was a virtual mystery. First was the 2012 Pinot Blanc, which is closely related to Pinot Gris. The weather wasn’t ideal for a lighter white wine but the Pinot Blanc was really good. The complexity of the wine was evident from the first sniff. It had layers of aromas that were matched by a subtlety that Pinot Gris just doesn’t have. If it was summer, I’d have bought a bottle for sure, which really says something considering we don’t have enough storage room for the wine we already have. Sadly this is the last year for this wine because the vineyards are no longer being farmed. In addition to making a Petite Verdot which was everything that a Petite Verdot should be -spicy and thick, Coyne makes a Bordeaux style blend called Confluence. This is a lighter, old world style blend that was my favorite of the wines we tried here. They also make an extremely unusual Varietal called Abouriou, or Early Burgundy in the US. Coyne calls it “La Balle d’ Argent” or in English, “The Bullet of Silver”. Apparently they felt it wasn’t a good idea to mess with Coors and call it “The Silver Bullet”. I’m a little ambivalent when I run across a new Varietal that we don’t have in our database that is produced in the US. I love trying new wines, but on the other hand, it means I have another write-up to do on a grape “biography” which means more work for me and finding information on obscure wine grapes can be difficult. Abouriou definitely classifies as obscure.  You find it about as often as an honest politician. The wine is a bit of a paradox. It’s not actually from Burgundy and it has more body than the typical Pinot Noir based Burgundian red wines. There are a lot of wines that you can draw analogies to but this one has me stumped. It’s different enough from any other wine that you’ll just have to try it if you run across one.

If you are interested in reading more about wine tasting in Livermore or the unusual wines that were mentioned, check out the later series of blog posts. Part two of the Livermore blog will cover Eckert Winery. While normally a single winery wouldn’t be enough fodder for a blog post, Eckert is trying something a little unusual that was worth a blog post unto itself. Check back next week to see what they are doing.

We’ll publish part two of our Livermore wine tasting trip next week.

General Location:
If you plan on wine tasting in Livermore, it is located near the intersection of Highways 580 and 680 in the East Bay region of California.  If you are travelling to it from the South Bay, take Highway 84 East. Listings:
1) To view more information for the Wineries in Livermore (the local regional association), click here and type “Livermore” in the “quick search” field to see their listing on

2) To find more Livermore wineries, click here and enter “Alameda” in the “quick search” field for’s Winery database.

3) More information can be found for each Varietal that we’ve listed in our Livermore wine tasting blog.  Click on the link that we’ve created the first time the Varietal is listed in each post.

Karen – Ken
Check out their tastes and bios here

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