February 2010


A few weeks ago, I met Joe Nagan of Toad Hollow Vineyards at Costeaux French Bakery & Cafe for a morning chat over cups of coffee just a few doors down from the Healdsburg tasting room undergoing renovation.

Toad Hollow World Headquarters on Westside Road, Healdsburg, CA

Joe is the National Sales Manager for Toad Hollow Vineyards and had kindly invited me to meet with him and ask any questions I might have about the winery and wines I might taste for review. Personable, passionate, and knowledgeable, Joe generously fleshed out the history and mission of Toad Hollow.

Cover crop in bloom between the vine rows, lush between rains

Founded by two retirees, Todd Williams and Rodney Strong. Todd Hollow was an opportunity for both to make one more lasting mark in the wine world.

The main office, with porch for serious thinking

Todd Williams, half brother to comedian Robin Williams, worked for Whitehall Lane Winery, as the sales manager for Shafer Vineyards, and honed his wine view at the many bars and restaurants he was involved with.

A view from the office down toward the Russian River

Rodney Strong had sold the winery that bears his name to Tom Klein, but retained the beautiful and bountiful sloping vineyards that ran from his house down to the Russian River.

Mustard in bloom in the vineyards

Together, using Rod’s grapes and winemaking know how and Todd’s national wine sales ability and hospitality industry tested tasting room welcome, the pair created wines of incredible quality and at an unbelievably affordable price that are readily available in 48 states. Toad Hollow Vineyards is just about as Sonoma County as a winery can get.

Green and yellow abounds in the vineyards, but the vines are empty

The idea that great wine can’t be utterly approachable, and even fun, clearly never occurred to Todd and Rod. Wine labels and winery iconography feature Toads (Todd) and Badgers (Rod) from Kenneth Grahame’s children’s book The Wind in the Willows, while wine names include Eye of the Toad and Amplexus, the latter a reference to amphibian “whoopee making.”

The path to the World HQ office door

Sadly, both Todd Williams and Rodney strong have passed away, but Frankie Williams, Todd’s wife, continues to helm the winery.

Frankie Williams has been described to me by more than one person as the “heart” of Toad Hollow. Frankie has had offers and opportunities to sell the winery, she could have sold and retired, but she didn’t. Frankie Williams is the reason that Toad Hollow continues to maintain the feeling of being a family business instead of feeling like just another interchangeable cog in a larger winery conglomerate’s operations.

The sign helps visitors find the tasting room on Healdsburg Avenue

Recently, I stopped by the beautifully renovated tasting room in Healdsburg just one block north of the downtown Plaza at 409A Healdsburg Avenue, and tasted wines with the tasting room team of Jim Costa and Debra Rickards. Two years in a row, the Press Democrat sent reporters undercover to all of the over 150 winery tasting rooms in and around Healdsburg, and for two consecutive years Toad Hollow was named the “friendliest tasting room in Healdsburg.” Together, Jim and Debra (it would be horribly unToadian and stuffy to refer to them as Costa and Rickards) provide the first class, friendly, inclusive and fun wine tasting experience that epitomize Todd Williams’ influence from his days providing customer service in the hospitality industry.

Prices already low, lowered, then end of vintage wines put on further sale.

During my visit, another taster visiting from out of state, remarked that, “the quality high and price low is a unique relief,” before purchasing two cases of mixed bottles.

Todd Williams

As I tasted the wines of Toad Hollow Vineyards, either at home with food, family and friends, or by themselves at the tasting room I kept noting that the wines were soft, drinkable, approachable, fruit forward, delicious; over and over the word “soft” appears in my notes. As a group, the wines of Toad Hollow Vineyards are without pretension, they are just simply delicious.

With the opportunity to choose beautiful wood like this, why would anyone choose stone for a bar?

You don’t have to try to understand these wines, you just need to taste them and marvel at what the Toad and Badger have wrought.

2008 Chardonnay, Mendocino, Francine’s Selection UnOaked – $12.99


Accounting for nearly 40% of all sales, this wine is made from grapes grown near Boonville in Mendocino’s Anderson Valley, an area known for high quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir fruit.

Pale straw in color, with aromas of fruit, apple and grapefruit.

The wine undergoes 100% malolactic fermentation and is held in stainless steel tanks, no wood; the result is a round, soft, deliciously drinkable wine with flavors of apple, pear, and citrus. Crisp and sweet, nice acidity and medium long mineral finish.

A nice alternative to oaken and over-oaked Chardonnays, it has been described as Todd’s response to 1990 Chardonnay.

The crisp fruit expression makes me want to pair this wine with some shellfish more typically paired with a Sauvignon Blanc. Nice weight, body, taste and texture. A really terrific food Chardonnay.

2008 Dry Pinot Noir Rosé, Sonoma, Eye Of The Toad – $8.99


A French Bandol styled dry rosé wine, beautiful rich purpley pink, nose of rose petal and fruitless directly to crushed strawberry over ice flavors with good acidity.

Wonderful blush wine for those who want a rosé that isn’t cloyingly sweet – this wine isn’t sweet at all, it is bone dry which makes the fruit expression all the more notably clear.

This wine and a sesame crusted seared tuna, perfect Summer evening. Oh, and a date, I forgot the date.

2007 Pinot Noir, Russian River, Goldie’s Vineyard – $19.99


Goldie’s Vineyard is named for Rod’s mom Goldie.

Nice acidity making you want another taste.

Great, round, smooth, soft, delicious rose and soft cherry flavors making you want another taste.

Face it, you’re going to want another taste.

2007 Zinfandel, Paso Robles, Cacophony – $13.99

Soft. Unbelievably approachable. I love Zinfandel, but many folks who don’t love Zinfandel will love this one.

Juicy raspberry jam fruit on a soft tannin background. All the fruit with just the right notes of spice, cocoa, and pepper.

Lushly drinkable.

I would love to pair this with some of the wild north coast venison or boar I hunted in my youth. Lamb would also provide the right wildness to pair with this wine.

2005 Merlot, Russian River, Richard McDowell Vineyard – $17.99


I opened up the 2005 Merlot Reserve, Richard McDowell Vineyard, Russian River Valley, 14.5% alc, to pair with a hearty beef stroganoff I was cooking. It was a beautiful rich purpley burgundy color. I used a cup of the Merlot in the recipe in place of water, and I served the stroganoff with the wine.

My first thought, putting nose to glass was “WOW, that’s a nose!”

The nose is just full of big, bold, juicy, ripe fruit. Deeply floral, plum, rose, dark stone fruit, black cherry, black berry and cassis.

The mouth is incredible smooth and drinkable, open, and ready (I forgot it was a 2005) to drink. Black cherry and black berry, anise. Nice balance of acid and tannin.

A really soft wine with a nice lingering tapering finish.

The wine is gorgeously elegant, loaded with lush fruit through and through.

Thoroughly delicious and a QPR (quality to price ratioo) steal at $16, the 2005 Toad Hollow Merlot reserve is made from 100% Merlot grapes grown on a sandy bench three miles south of Healdsburg and Toad Hollow proudly claims a wine that demonstrates a sense of place, or terroir.

I poured myself a second glass about an hour after dinner, for dessert, and as I put my nose to the glass, again my first thought was “WOW!”

Translated, that means I loved this wine and was just completely impressed and delighted with it.

Several weeks after first tasting this wine at home, I was delighted to hear some visitors attempt to pass over this wine at the tasting room, Jim and Debra’s cries of “noooo” were joined by my own. This is another wine where the result is so much better than the boring offerings of so many other wineries. The folks who didn’t want to taste Merlot ended up buying a bottle.

2006 Rod’s Pride, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Reserve – $39.99


Four clone, single vineyard, 100% Pinot Noir.

Darker, richer fruit tones of black cherry, blackberry, and brambly raspberry, elegantly balanced acid and tannin. Soft and smooth. Weightier body.

A special meal for a special wine; I paired this Pinot Noir with grilled teriyaki marinated fresh wild salmon, served on a Thai Som Tom inspired salad of shredded green papaya, orange carrot, purple cabbage, and red grape tomatoes dressed with passionfruit mango salsa that I buy at the Island Deli at Lucas Wharf in Bodega Bay.

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Concinnity – $15.99


Cabernet Sauvignon with a touch of Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc, the grapes coming from Napa, Paso Robles and Lake County.

This wine is a joy, one of those wines you can happily sniff forever before even tasting.

Soft tannings that you can drink right through to flavors of lush blackberry and blueberry fruit.

Juicy and delicious. While it pairs with a glass just fine, I would love to taste this wine with a good steak.

Amplexus Crémant Brut Sparkling Wine, Limoux, France – $15.99


Light yeast, lightly streaming bubbles and crisp apple and cream flavors mark this blended sparkling wine of Chardonnay, Mauzac, and Chenin Blanc grapes.

Completely drinkable, and lovely flavored. Perfect balance of crispness and fruit.

Risqué, Methode Ancestrale, Sparkling Wine, Limoux, France – $13.99

I poured Toad Hollow’s Risqué, a low alcohol, good sweetness, 100% Mauzac bubbly with boneless chicken wings for Superbowl snacking and drinking.

This sparkler has great tart green apple and pear fruit, nice bubbles, and non cloying sweetness. Crispness of fruit cuts through bbq sauces on boneless wings, and is balanced by light sweetness.

Perfect pairing.

A note about prices: many of these wines are less than indicated, on sale, at my local store, one example is the $15.99 Merlot officially being listed at $2 more.

Erik the Red, an 18 varietal proprietary blend Toad Hollow wine, explains the Viking helmet on the back bar.

I write about wine, hoping to influence regular folks to try wine with a meal instead of iced tea or soda, trying to demystify wine, looking for great wines at affordable prices. In the wines of Toad Hollow Vineyards, all of my goals are met.

Debra Rickards pouring Toad Hollow wines for tasting room visitors

A perfect winery would eschew pretension, focusing on drinkably delicious fruit forward wines that taste great by themselves but pair well with foods, treat their customer well, and would remember to inject some fun and joy in what they do – all at prices that folks can afford to be able to make wine enjoyment an integral part of daily life. By that definition, mine, Toad Hollow Vineyards is a perfect winery.

Debra Rickards and Jim Costa of Toad Hollow Vineyards’ tasting room

DISCLOSURE: I received 5 bottles of Toad Hollow wines to sample – the others reviewed above were tasted at the tasting room

Once upon a time, before it was found that the best Pinot Noir in the United States comes from grapes planted in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, all of the wine publications, connoisseurs, and cognoscenti held that the absolute best, perhaps only, place to grow Pinot Noir grapes was Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

The notion that the only Pinot Noir that was good, worthy of buying, was Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, was so pervasive that growers of the grape in California were struck with angst and near despair, and led to the first documented cases of Pinot envy.

Pinot Noir is planted in many different areas, and in each it expresses itself differently. In the Russian River Valley, the Pinot Noir tends to bright candied cherry and floral rose notes; the same grape grown in the Carneros yields an increased mineral note; and Pinot Noir from Monterey’s Gavilan Mountain range produces a big meaty wine.

This Saturday, February 27, 2010 I am thrilled to be attending the 8th Pinot Noir Summit. I LOVE Pinot Noir.

http://affairsofthevine.com/pn_summit_8.php

The Pinot Noir Summit will be held at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael, CA from noon until 8:30 pm. There will be a full day of events that help lead to an increased knowledge and appreciation for Pinot Noir.

Barbara Drady and Affairs of the Vine have developed the “must attend” Pinot Noir event of the year.

The Pinot Noir Summit begins with a 3 1/2 hour blind tasting of 40 top rated Pinot Noir. Rating each wine tasted blind can lead to a better understanding of preferences. Do most of your favorite wines come from the same vintage or wine growing area? How do your personal ratings (the only ones that matter) compare with the ratings of the expert tasting panel?

Following the blind tasting, Summit attendees can attend two different 45 minute Pinot Noir workshops; workshop titles include “When Pinot Sparkles,” “Winemaking 101,” “Discovering New Stars,” ” Food and Pinot Pairing,” “A Global Perspective on Pinot Noir,” and “Sustainable? Organic? Does it Matter?” In between the two workshops is a 45 minute intermission – with cheese!

After the workshops attendees will enjoy a Pinot Noir Reception where top winemakers and winery owners pair their Pinot Noir – and a few other jewels they produce – with hors d’oeuvre and at the event culminates with Awards Ceremony when at 8 pm the final tasting results of the Pinot Noir Summit are announced, and the wines you tasted blind to begin the day’s events are revealed.

I grew up drinking Zinfandel and Cabernet, and Zinfandel was my favorite wine growing up. When I was young, Zinfandel was in every kitchen of every Italian friend of my family, it was everywhere. Frankly, when I was young, local Pinot Noir was not going to be tasty, more like paint stripper than a delicious food beverage.

Things have changed. Winemakers have found where Pinot Noir grows well, and are making lush, beautiful wines of unbelievable complexity and integration, with gorgeous fruit notes. I love Pinot Noir above all wines, be it from the Russian River Valley or Burgundy. When it is good, there is no wine more divine, more ethereal. Sadly, when it is bad, it is awful. There isn’t much in-between Pinot Noir; I find it great, or not. I think most other varietals are safer, they are more consistent vintage to vintage, or can be saved by a winemaker in a bad vintage more easily. Pinot Noir offers a greater glimpse into vintage than any other varietal, celebrating a great vintage with a wine so delicious as to defy imagination, or demonstrating a weak vintage with a wine unpalatable and displeasing.

Wine Spectator called the current vintage, 2007, the best in California history for Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. I have found this “wow” quality spreads to Napa and Monterey, to Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo. Right now, there are so many great, mind bogglingly delicious Pinot Noir out there just ready to be tasted.

Pinot Noir is also my favorite food wine, it is a chameleon pairing well with more foods than any other varietal. It is deservedly most chef’s favorite wine.

Tickets are limited, and can be purchased for the full day’s activities (only 14 remain) at $125, or for just the reception and ceremony (only 27 remain) at $75; just click on the link I provided above I will say that with so many great Pinot Noir available right now, this special tasting event with workshops is going to be especially great. I urge you to consider attending, but don’t consider too long – you don’t want to miss this event this year.

DISCLOSURE: I am the lucky recipient of an event ticket won in an online contest.

Last Friday evening, I attended Dark & Delicious, a Petite Sirah and food pairing tasting at Rock Wall Wine Company in Alameda, across the bay from San Francisco.

Fuzzy label, delicious wine, at the 2010 Dark & Delicious Petite Sirah tasting.

Late Friday, after returning to Cotati in Sonoma County from the wine tasting, I began to experience an alternately runny/stuffy nose. It has been warm, following rains in northern California, the hills are green, mustard and other ground cover is blooming between the vine rows, and I had to wonder if I might have developed an allergy to something.

Saturday, I found myself in the grips of the mother of all head colds, and the affliction saw me spend most of yesterday in bed. I am not 100% today, but I had to get up and write this overdue recap of Dark & Delicious.

There were 30 restaurants offering up tasty Petite Sirah bites; I did not taste from all of the restaurants but of those I tasted food from, my favorites were:

  • Harvest Catering – White Corn Polenta Cake with Braised Kobe Beef Short Ribs and California Orange Gremolata.
  • Andalu Restaurant – Rosemary, Thyme and Juniper Wild Boar and Bacon Meatballs

  • 9 Catering – Lamb Tenderloin with Minty Labneh, Hummus, Arugula and Pomegranate.

  • Fume Bistro & Bar – Petite Sirah Braised Short Ribs on Garlic Mashed Potatoes
  • Angela’s Bistro – Chocolate Drizzled Bacon Slices.

My favorite was Fume Bistro’s Short Ribs and Garlic Mashed Potatoes, although Harvest Catering’s Orange Gremolata is something I will be stealing for my own – it was deliciously brilliant and flavor intensive.

There were so many other yummy things, sliders, pate, cheese, and even a paella prepared on premise (that I sadly didn’t taste).

Giant Paella pans

For those unfamiliar with Petite Sirah, it is a smaller grape with a higher skin to juice ration. The skin is very dark, and where most red grapes yield clear juice, even the juice of Petite Sirah is colored when pressed from the skins. Skin contact during fermentation yields a very dark, sometimes midnight blue black, with black plum and blueberry notes, mixed with chocolate and woody spice.

Everyone was enjoying themselves at the event.

I had contacted the 45 wineries scheduled to pour Petite Sirah in advance of the event, and 43/45 furnished me with the information needed to prepare a tasting order by alcohol content percentage, from low to high. When I arrived at the event, I found the wineries were not arranged in alphabetical order. Between the random winery placement and the quickly developing crowds, my efforts and planned tasting order were quickly out the window. Thanks to all of the wineries who helped me, I apologize for not being able to taste all of the wines poured, or even a wine from each of the pouring wineries. My tastings were random and haphazard, but I did maintain rudimentary notes.

Where I tasted a few Zinfandels at the ZAP Zinfandel tasting events that I would never want again, I found that the Petite Sirah poured at Dark & Delicious were more uniformly, well, delicious. An easier grape to work with, it allows a winemaker an easier path to good wine. Toward the end of the event, the tell tale blue staining of teeth marked this event as a rousing success.

The following are wines that I tasted and would recommend. Most would have earned Gold medals from me, some Silver, and a couple Bronze, but all were noteworthy.

  • 2006 Berryessa Gap Estate Grown Reserve Petite Sirah Yolo County $18
  • 2007 Cleavage Creek Napa Valley Reserve Petite Sirah $45
  • 2005 Concannon Reserve Estate Petite Estate
  • 2006 David Fulton Winery Estate Bottled Petite Sirah St Helena Napa Valley $45
  • 2006 Field Stone Winery Staten Family Estate Bottled Reserve Petite Sirah Alexander Valley $35

Field Stone’s yummy AV Petite

  • 2007 Fortress Vineyards Petite Sirah Red Hills Lake County $25
  • 2007 Grizzly Republic Roadrunner Farm Petite Sirah Paso Robles $42

A Grizzly pair

  • 2007 Guenoc Petite Sirah Lake County $20
  • 2006 Heringer Estates Petite Sirah Clarksburg $26
  • 2006 Langtry Estate Petite Sirah Serpentine Meadow $40
  • 2006 Lava Cap Petite Sirah Granite Hill $30
  • 2007 Line 39 Petite Sirah North Coast $15
  • 2006 Miro Cellars Petite Sirah Dry Creek Valley $23
  • 2007 Mounts Family Winery Estate Petite Sirah Dry Creek Valley $32

Mounts and Stanton; or Stanton and Mounts

  • 2006 Parducci True Grit Petite Sirah, Mendocino County $30
  • 2007 Robert Biale Vineyards Like Father Like Son (Syrah/Petite Sirah blend) Napa Valley $46
  • 2007 Robert Biale Vineyards Petite Sirah EBA (Extended Barrel Aging) Napa Valley $75
  • 2007 Robert Biale Vineyards Petite Sirah Party Line Napa Valley
  • 2006 Robert Biale Petite Vineyards Sirah Royal Punishers Napa Valley $46
  • 2007 Rock Wall Petite Sirah Dry Creek Valley $28
  • 2008 R&B Cellars Pizzicato Petite Sirah Bingham Ranch

An R&B Cellars barrel

  • 2007 Spangler Vineyards Petite Sirah, The Terraces, Southern Oregon $35
  • 2007 Stanton Vineyards Petite Sirah St Helena Napa Valley $45
  • 2007 Tres Sabores Petite Sirah Napa Valley $45

Julie Johnson, owner and winemaker, Tres Sabores

  • 2006 Twisted Oak Petite Sirah Calaveras County $24

Twisted Oak’s El Jefe

  • 2007 Vina Robles Petite Sirah Penman Springs Paso Robles
  • 2007 Windmill (Michael~David Winery) Petite Sirah Lodi $12

In addition to tasting many delicious wines and yummy food treats, the event allowed me to meet Jo Diaz, Thea Dwelle, and Eric Hwang. Jo organized this entire Petite Sirah tasting event, Thea is a bay area Twitter wine superstar, and Eric is demonstrating that Marketing can be effectively incorporated into a winery’s Social Media Marketing plan.

Jo Diaz, Petite Sirah’s best friend

Eric and Thea,  my tweeps @bricksofwine and @winebratsf

A band played live music in one corner of the facility, while a DJ played music in the opposite corner of the huge building. There was dancing, tasting, auction prize bidding, and art raffle. Thanks to PSILoveYou.org and all of the wineries, restaurants and volunteers who helped make this a first class wine event.

The band

Art for raffle.

Melanie, PSILoveYou superstar volunteer

I tasted some Petites that screamed Terroir, you noticed where they came from long before you appreciated the varietal. I tasted wines with almost no place identity, but had perfectly captured the varietal’s typicity. Some wines that I scored highly made the list because of where they came from, others because of their “correctness”.

My #1 favorite wine of the tasting wasn’t even a Petite Sirah, strictly speaking, but a blend of Syrah and Petite Sirah, the 2007 Robert Biale Vineyards Like Father Like Son Napa Valley $46.

My favorite wine tasted, the not yet released Robert Biale Syrah/Petite Sirah Blend.

I was thrilled to find both the 2007 Line 39 Petite Sirah North Coast  $15 and 2007 Guenoc Petite Sirah Lake County $20 (You can often find this Guenoc in markets for $12-$16) drinking well. Both are approachable, varietally correct, and affordable.

Last week, I wrote about this Friday’s Petite Sirah tasting and food pairing, Dark & Delicious, in Alameda, CA

I wrote that, inspired by a conversation with Ravenswood’s Joel Peterson, I wanted to taste the wines being poured by the 45 participating Petite Sirah producing wineries in order by alcohol percentage, from low to high.

Many wineries wrote and thanked me for ordering my tastes this way, they appreciated having a chance to have their wines tasted and not overshadowed by a wine of overly high alcohol percentage.

I am thrilled to report that 95.56% of the participating wineries have responded with the requested information. Here is my tasting list, updates continued through Thursday at noon; feel free to copy or print it for your own use if you are attending Dark & Delicious too:

13.0% alc. 2006 Concannon Vineyards Reserve Nina’s Cuvee Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley $30

13.3% alc. 2006 Ursa Vineyards Petite Sirah, Vineyard Blend, California $16

13.5% alc. 2007 Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah, California (Clarksburg & Lodi) $12

13.5% alc. 2005 Cleavage Creek Napa Valley Reserve Petite Sirah, 200 cases, $45

13.5% alc. Concannon Vineyard Conservancy Petite Sirah $15

13.5% alc. 2007 (Langtry) Guenoc Petite Sirah, Lake County $20

13.5% alc.  2007 Windmill (Michael~David Winery), Perite Sirah, Lodi  (Petite Sirah blended with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon) $12

13.8% alc. 2007 Artezin Petite Sirah, Mendocino County (87% Petite Sirah, 7% Zinfandel, 6% Charbono) $20

13.8% alc. 1998 F. Teldeschi Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $32

13.8% alc. 2000 F. Teldeschi Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $36

13.8% alc. 2007 Spangler Vineyards Petite Sirah, Southern oregon, The Terraces $35

13.9% alc. 2007 Artezin Petite Sirah, Garzini Ranch, Mendocino County (100% Petite Sirah) $36

13.9% alc. 2007 Cleavage Creek Napa Valley Reserve Petite Sirah, 320 cases, $45

13.9% alc. 2006 Pedroncelli Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $15

14.0% alc. 2006 Cleavage Creek Napa Valley Reserve Petite Sirah, 250 cases, $45

14.2% alc. 2007 Grizzly Republic Petite Sirah, Roadrunner Farm, Paso Robles, $42

14.2% alc. 2005 Mettler Family Vineyards Petite Sirah, Lodi $22

14.3% alc. 1999 F. Teldeschi Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $36

14.3% alc. 2006 Marr Cellars Cuvee Patrick Petite Sirah

14.3% alc. 2007 Silkwood Wines Petite Sirah (494 cases) $39

14.3% alc. 2006 Twisted Oak Petite Sirah, Calaveras County (any others in a vertical fall in a 14.1-14.3 range) $24

14.4% alc. 2008 R&B Cellars Pizzicato Petite Sirah, Bingham Ranch

14.5% alc 2007 Bogle Vineyards Reserve Petite Sirah, Clarksburg $20

14.5% alc. 2006 Clayhouse Estate Petite Sirah, Paso Robles $25

14.5% alc. 2004 Concannon Vineyard Heritage Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley $30

14.5% alc. 2006 Concannon Vineyard Captain Joe’s Reserve Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley $30

14.5% alc.  2006 Field Stone Winery staten Family reserve Petite sirah, alexander Valley Estate Bottled (112 year old head pruned rocky clay soil vineyard) $35

14.5% alc. 2005 Foppiano Vineyards Estate Petite Sirah, Russian River Valley $20

14.5% alc. 2007 Fortress Vineyards Petite Sirah., Red Hills, Lake County $25

14.5% 2006 Gustafson Family Vineyards Petite Sirah (370 cases, 100% Petite Sirah) $28

14.5% alc. 2005 Heringer Estates Petite Sirah, Clarksburg $21

14.5% alc. 2006 Heringer Estates Petite Sirah, Clarksburg

14.5% alc. 2006 Langtry Estate Petite Sirah, Serpentine Meadow $40

14.5% alc. 2007 Line 39 Petite Sirah, North Coast $15

14.5% alc. 2007 Michael~David Winery Petite Petit, Lodi (85% Petite Sirah, 15% Petit Verdot) $18

14.5% alc. 2007 Miro Cellars Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley (100% Petite Sirah, 369 cases) $23

14.5% alc. 2006 Parducci True Grit Petite Sirah, Mendocino County $30

14.5% alc. 2007 Rosenblum Cellars Picket road Petite Sirah, Napa Valley $35

14.5% alc. 2006 Stags’ Leap Petite Sirah, Napa County $38

14.5% alc 2005 Stinehedge Terror Select Petite Syrah, (Pallini Ranch) Mendocino County $26

14.5% alc. (estimated) 2007 Tres Sabores Petite Sirah, Napa Valley $45

14.5% alc. 2006 Ursa Vineyards Petite Sirah, Paso Robles (250 cases) $22

14.5% alc. 2006 Ursa Vineyards Petite sirah, Old Vines, Paso Robles $30

14.5% alc. 2006 Wilson Vineyards Petite Sirah, Clarksburg $12

14.6% alc. 2007 Clayhouse Estate “Show Pony” Petite Sirah, Paso Robles $40

14.6% alc. 2007 Gustafson Family Vineyards Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Mountain Vineyard

14.7% alc. 2006 Ballentine Vineyards Petite Sirah, Fig tree Vineyard $35

14.7% alc. 2008 Grizzly Republic Gypsy Noir, Barrel Sample (Rhone blend anchored with Petite Sirah, polished with Syrah, Mouvedre, Cinsault & Grenache), Paso Robles

14.7% alc. 2006 Jazz Cellars Petite Sirah, Eaglepoint Ranch, Mendocino County (75 cases) $38

14.8% alc. 2006 Berryessa Gap Estate Grown Reserve Petite Sirah, Yolo County $18

14.8% alc. 2006 Bogle Vineyards Phantom (a little over 50% Petite Sirah, then old vine Zinfandel, then old vine Mouvedre) Blend, California $16

14.8% alc. 2007 Rosenblum Cellars Heritage Clones Petite Sirah, San Francisco Bay Contra Costa County (98% Petite Sirah, 2% Zinfandel) $18

14.8% alc. 2007 Trentadue Petite Sirah, North Coast

14.9% alc 2006 Bogle Vineyards Reserve Petite Sirah, Clarksburg $20

14.9% alc. 2006 David Fulton Winery Estate Bottled Petite Sirah St. Helena Napa Valley (314 cases) $45

14.9% alc. (labeled at 15.1%) Lava Cap Estate Petite Sirah, Granite Hill

14.9% alc. Rock Wall Wine Co Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley (any ’09 barrel samples are in the 14% arena) $28

14.9% alc. 2007 Stanton Vineyards Petite Sirah, St. Helena, Napa Valley (300 cases) $45

14.9% alc. Ursa Vineyards Petite Sirah, Sierra Foothills $22

15.0% alc. 2006 Aver Family Vineyards Blessings, Petite Sirah, Central Coast $55

15.0% alc. 2007 Aver Family Vineyards Blessings, Petite Sirah, Central Coast $55

15.0% alc. 2007 Charter Oak Old Vine Napa Valley Petite Sirah (150 cases) $42

15.0% alc. 2006 Earthquake (Michael~David Winery) Petite Sirah, Lodi (Petite Sirah with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon) $28

15.0% alc. 2006 Robert Biale Vineyards Petite Sirah, royal Punishers, Napa Valley $46

15.1% alc. 2003 Foppiano Vineyards Estate Reserve Petite Sirah, Russian River Valley $45

15.1% alc. 2006 Lava Cap Estate Petite Sirah, Granite Springs

15.1% alc. 2007 Lava Cap Estate Petite Sirah, Granite Springs

15.1% alc. 2005 Trentadue La Storia Petite Sirah

15.1% alc. 2007 Vina Robles Petite Sirah, Penman Springs, Paso Robles

15.2% alc. 2007 Rosenblum Cellars Rockpile Road Reserve Petite Sirah, Rockpile $45

15.4% alc. 2007 Vina Robles Petite Sirah, Jardine, Paso Robles $26

15.5% alc. 2007 Berryessa Gap Durif, Yolo County

15.5% alc. 2007 Mounts Family Winery estate Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $32

15.5% alc. 2007 Robert Biale Vineyards Petite Sirah EBA (Extended Barrel Aged), Napa Valley (225 cases) $70

15.5% alc. 2007 Robert Biale Vineyards “Like Father Like Son” Syrah/Petite Sirah blend, Napa Valley (350 cases)

18.0% alc. 2006 Heringer Estates Petite Sirah Port, Clarksburg $25/500 ml

18.0% alc. 2006 Trentadue Petite Sirah Port

20.0% alc. 2006 Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah Port, Clarksburg $18

20.6% alc. 2006 Langtry Estate Petite Sirah Port, Serpentine Vineyard, Guenoc Valley $25/375 ml

I will be limiting my tasting, and review notes, to the wineries that were able to provide helpful responses. Thank you to the awesome 93% who got back to me, with great professionalism and nearly uniform good cheer.

Today’s writing isn’t about describing a beautiful blue sky day in wine country, or a wonderful wine tasting event. It isn’t about the tasting notes of a particular wine I’ve tasted, or about a recipe for a food dish that pairs perfectly with a wine. There’s no review of a new or important wine book, or the efficacy of a wine accessory. Today I am writing about writing on all of those things, and the samples I receive that make it possible to write what I do.

The ethics of wine blogging. Well, I don’t want to sound too high minded, but I will touch on that too; both my specific ethics, policies, and philosophy as a wine blog writer, and the larger ethics of all wine bloggers in general.

When I write a review of a wine, I am serving my readers who simply want to know what wines to possibly pick up at the supermarket or wine shop.

When I attend an event where I taste and review many wines at once, I recommend several wines at once for my readers – and I describe the event so that my readers might consider attending if the event is held annually.

When I review a wine book, I describe it for my readers and suggest who might find it useful.

When I review a wine accessory, I tell my readers whether it functions well and whether they would benefit from using it.

As a wine writer, wineries send me wine samples, event organizers send me complimentary tickets or put me on the press list, publishers send me wine books, and distributers send me wine accessories. As a wine writer, I receive for free what others pay for.

Are my reviews influenced by the free goods I receive? In that I could not possibly afford to buy all the wine, or purchase tickets to all of the events I would like to attend; yes, my reviews are influenced as without the samples and tickets, my reviews would be much fewer and farther between.

Is that it? Do the free goods merely mean that I am able to evaluate the samples, where if they weren’t sent I might not be able to consider them for review? Do the samples have a more insidious effect – are my reviews, their actual content, influenced by the receipt of the free goods?

Some of the reasons I write about wine are because I love wine, because I want “regular” otherwise non-wine drinking friends and readers to give wine a chance instead of iced tea or beer at dinner, because I think the industry as a whole does a terrible job marketing its product to consumers, and because too many wine writers write about the rare and expensive wines that I will likely never taste.

I want to write about wine in the most positive terms. My writing, by my own choice, is supportive of the industry that supports itself poorly. I don’t want to write negatively about wines. That has nothing to do with whether I taste a wine for free or small fee at a tasting room, or I buy it from a store, or taste it among many wines at an event, or receive it as a sample.

At the recent ZAP three days of  Zinfandel tasting events, I recommended only about 60% of the wines I tasted. I didn’t put the wines I didn’t love into a “not recommended” list. While I may not have loved all the Zinfandels I tasted, some were certainly going to be loved by others – I love fruit, but am not a fan of too much pepper – my friend Serena Alexi who accompanied me did like some of the wines I did not, she has an experienced and talented palate and I respect her shared tasting notes. There were a small handful of wines that were unredeemingly horrible, flawed, and unpleasant, and no one except their producers could find anything kind to say about them; but rather than write something unkind, though true, I chose to concentrate on the wines I did love and remain constantly upbeat and positive.

I attended the ZAP events on a press pass, and while I was grateful for the courtesy, I can say with absolute conviction that my review would have been exactly the same if I had paid to attend each of the events.

Similarly, when I receive a sample wine at my door, I taste it and write the same review that I would if I had paid for it. If I taste a wine I do not like, I likely won’t write about it. We all heard, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” as children; I think it describes my wine writing and reviewing philosophy well.

So yes, receiving samples, tickets, books, accessories does have an influence in that it increases the likelihood I will write about what is made available to me, but that is mostly a matter of courtesy and economics. I think it simply polite to evaluate every sample I can that someone sends me, and I couldn’t afford to purchase everything I sample. I am grateful for everything I receive, and the samples make for a better experience for the readers of my wine blog.

This week I will be attending Dark & Delicious, a Petite Sirah and food pairing tasting, and at the end of the month I will be attending the Pinot Noir Summit, an all day Pinot Noir event. I won tickets to both of these events in online contests. I wanted to attend them, taste many wines, write reviews of both the wines and the events themselves. For me, winning tasting event ticket contests is an important part of my writing. I recognize that as I continue to I write about events on my blog, my efforts to win wine event tasting tickets will decrease as regular offers of press passes to attend and cover these wine tasting events increase. I will be writing about Dark & Delicious and the Pinot Noir Summit, but I would have written about them whether I attended as a result of press passes, free tickets, or paid admission, and the content of what I write would not be different whether I received complimentary or paid admission.

There is an online contest to try to win a trip to Chile to taste wines. I will enter the contest, and would love to travel to Chile to write about an experience that I could not afford to write about without the costs being covered by the contest provider. Much the same as a sample bottle; I would write about a trip I won or was offered, partly out of gratitude, partly out of politeness, and most largely because the gift made it possible. If I didn’t love everything I experienced on the trip, I would focus my writing on the things I did love. That is really no different than my philosophy, my policy, about any other sample or gift I receive. At some point, I expect to be offered a paid wine tasting junket, and I will take it; I look forward to disclosing receipt of the trip when I describe the wine country I travel to and the wines I taste for readers of my wine blog.

It’s as simple as this; I’m a writer, I have to write. If you give me a reason to write about you, I likely will.

Every review that I write that exists because I received a sample or ticket is indicated as such with a DISCLOSURE notice. I love that wine bloggers are made to include such disclosure notices when reviewing something where there was a sample, or other item of value, received.

Once upon a time, there was a near God-like wine reviewer who stood above the rest by having a policy of never accepting samples, gifts or trips. Some would describe Him as a 100 on a 100 point scale reviewer of wines.He sold subscriptions to His wine review newsletter based on His unimpeachable independence. He continually criticized wine publications for accepting samples and advertising from the wine producers they review. When it recently came to light that His employees were in fact accepting grand paid first class trips, He at first defended them, then called them contractors, and now He has gone mum. His hypocrisy and deceit is possible in the print media, there exists no requirement that there be notice or disclosure of sample, book, event ticket, or trip with a wine review when that review is published in print media, be it newspaper, magazine, book, or newsletter.

The FTC requires that, under threat of an $11,000 fine, wine bloggers disclose receipt of a wine sample, or other good, in the published review of that wine.

Only when a wine review appears online, in a wine blog, is there a legal requirement that there be such disclosure; no such requirement exists for reviews of wine in print media. I am proud to be a wine blogger, I am proud to be more transparently honest and worthy of trust than my print brethren.

I’m not saying that every wine newsletter or magazine either has employee/contract reviewers accepting wines, tickets, trips, first class private jet trips without disclosure, or that the acceptance of advertising revenue from the producers of wines you review influences those reviews, or that taking money from producers for guaranteed coverage in magazines and radio shows makes the recipient a whore. I do find it telling that in none of the instances described are disclosures made – similar to the ones I make when I merely taste a sample wine.

I don’t pretend that all wine bloggers share my ethics, sample policy, or philosophy on how to deal with the samples they receive. Some would not take a sample if at all possible, and there might be some who effectively shape their reviews in an effort to receive more samples or possibly financially benefit from their reviews. Differences aside, we are all required by FTC rules to disclose any gifts, influences, or conflicts of interest. Each of our readers, based on the totality of our writing, can decide for themselves just what influence such samples have. I would like to believe that my readers can tell that the content of my reviews and writing are not influenced by such samples.

I am part of a community of wine bloggers and I have found that we are a cooperative bunch, not competitive. Together, our writings, free from the hidden conflict of interest concerns that plague the print media, can inform, educate, and influence our readers to try the wines we taste, love, and recommend. I know it is an immodest thought, but I think wine bloggers are the best thing that ever happened to wine marketing.

DISCLOSURE: I would love to be the one person, randomly chosen (or not so randomly), to “win a trip to Chile”…”to witness the Xplorador harvest in the heart of Chile’s beautiful wine country, meet the talented winemakers, and if [I'm] lucky, even get a chance to particpate in the process!”

Here’s the address for anyone else interested in a chance to win a trip to Chile: http://xploradorharvest.tumblr.com/

Every once in a while, I do an entry that covers more than one subject. These “potpourri” entries serve a couple of purposes; they allow me to tell you about things that don’t merit an entry of their own, they allow me to let you get a glimpse of what you might expect to see in the future, and they provide an entry where I can drop the mantle of wine blogger and just be John for a minute – perhaps getting off topic. In case you haven’t guessed yet, this is one of those entries.

__________

If you look up at the name of the blog in the vineyards scene header, you may notice the name of the blog has changed. So has the web address, or url, although the old one will continue to bring you here.

“John on wine, food, and living in the wine country” and http://johncesano.wordpress.com have become the much simpler “John On Wine” and JohnOnWine.com so let me welcome you to the newly christened wine, food, and wine country blog John On Wine.

When I attended ZAP on a press credential, I was asked for my business card many times over the three days I attended the ZAP Zinfandel tasting events. Knowing that business cards for the upcoming Dark & Delicious Petite Sirah tasting, and future events and visits, would be a good idea, I had to decide what information to put on the cards.

In the end my old site name was too long and cumbersome; I had to decide between JohnCesano.com  and JohnOnWine.com, and as no one has spelled my name correctly when hearing it for the first time, or pronounced it correctly when reading it for the first time, I decided to let go of ego and go with the simple site name.

Needless to say, I have new business cards.

The advantages to the new name are huge, if someone asks me about my blog, I can give them an address they can remember until they get home and log on. Readers can direct their friends to my site with much greater ease, I can hear it now, “It is John on wine dot com, John with an h, and John on wine all run together.”

I had to go to twitter and change from @JohnCesano to @JohnOnWine, and then update other social networks in a similar fashion, changing the name of my facebook group page and networked blogs account.

As on of my winery friends from twitter @PushbackWines said, “Nice, as they say, K.I.S.S.”

A downside is that I may have lost my Google PageRank, and several ranking lists will have the old url, or worse may lose track of my site altogether.

In the past, I used to point to the ranking pages when justifying requests for wines to sample, however my site is well established, the articles are solid, and I don’t feel the need to justify anymore. The site speaks for itself now.

__________

Speaking of wine samples, the mailman and UPS guy were at my house yesterday. I have four books to review, and about a dozen more wines to taste and review.

Thanks to the wineries and wine book publishers who see value in what I do.

__________

I can actually give a review of one of the books that arrived yesterday, because I didn’t have to read every word:

:WineSpeak:, A vinous thesaurus of (gasp) 36,975 bizarre, erotic, funny, outrageous, poetic, silly and ugly wine tasting descriptors. Who knew? by Bernard Klem

In :WineSpeak:, Klem has lifted and collated every descriptor for wine from hundreds of wine writers, from the well known and respected to the more niche and lesser known. Books, periodicals, web and blog sites from the pompously staid to the excitingly edgy were scoured by Klem to produce “WineSpeak:, a master wine tasting descriptor thesaurus.

Klem’s :WineSpeak:  has separated the wine descriptors into 3 major categories Appearance, Smell & Taste, and Distinctiveness, and then further broken down into 27 sub-categories, from Clarity (“so dense you need x-ray vision to see through it”) and Color (“dark red with purple-blue tinge”) through Acid (“enamel ripping”) and Tannin (“undrinkable tough”) , from Fruit (“piercing scents of black currants and raspberries”) and Wood (“overburdened by oak”) to Balance (” like a Michelangelo…everything in perfect proportion”) and Finish (“long, pure and drawn out”) – plus 19 more.

Aditionally, Klem has 20 special categories of wine descriptors, such as Terroir or Terror (“when you drink this wine you drink the place”) and An Ecstasy of Erotica (“like performing a sexual act that involves silk sheets, melted dark chocolate and black cherries while the mingles scents of cinnamon, coffee and cola waft through the air”).

Randomly opening the book, I found 138 descriptors for tannin on one page – and there seven pages of descriptors for just for tannin.

:WineSpeak: is an entertaining resource work for the general drinker of wine, and has earned a permanent place of importance on my wine reference shelf.

Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0980064805/ref=cm_cr_mts_prod_img

__________

For next Friday’s big Petite Sirah and food tasting, Dark & Delicious, I contacted all of the participating wineries by email and asked that they provide me a little information: I asked which wines they would be pouring, and I asked the alcohol percentage of those wines. I wanted to create a list of the wines to be tasted, ordered by alcohol percentage, so I could fairly taste and report on the wines tasted. Any other order of tasting puts lower alcohol wines at risk of not showing well as their flavors might be overwhelmed by previously tasted high alcohol wines.

In addition to contacting each winery by email, I tagged each winery in my blog entry about the ordered tasting list I was creating for myself and any of my readers who wanted to use it as well.

The event organizer also contacted participating wineries to let them know I was compiling a list of wines to taste and review.

In some cases, I sent second and third emails, and finally I made a phone call to each winery that didn’t respond to electronic communication. I have been able to collect the requested information from fully 95.56% of the participating wineries.

I love wine, wineries, vineyards, and the wine country in general, and  I would like to see them look as capable at business as they are at winemaking. I do my best. I wholly appreciate that the handful of non responding wineries are likely small wineries, running on skeleton crews, short on staff, and lacking in communication infrastructure.

To that end, when I taste the Petite Sirah wines poured at Dark & Delicious, any that are flawed or not to my taste will not be written about by me. That’s how I recapped my recent experiences at the ZAP Zinfandel tasting. I prefer to write about the positive things I experience.

In that vein, I want to express my appreciation to the 95.56%, the wineries who helped me when asked, who provided a little information upon request. Thank you for your near uniform professionalism and good cheer.

__________

I have been around wine forever, when Jeopardy has “wine” as a category I always sweep the category at home, but this week I found out something I never knew – but should have.

The US Government allows a 1.5% leeway in the accuracy of the alcohol percentage indicated on a wine’s label. In other words, a wine label with “12% by volume” might actually be as low as 10.5% or as high as 13.5% alcohol – this 1.5% leeway is allowed on wines as long as the wine does not exceed 13.9% (the Federal government collects more tax on wines 14% alcohol by volume and above). The permissible leeway is reduced to 1.0 % on wines over 14% in alcohol (however, the wine may not be less than 14%).

To me, this is just weird. Why bother to state an alcohol percentage to a tenth of a percentage point if it can be off by 1-1.5%?

How about honesty on the label, either “12 percent, give or take” or “ACTUAL 12.0 percent”?

I am sure that there is a reason that a winemaker can give me, probably owing to wine’s ever changing, living, nature, for the allowed leeway for stated alcohol percentage by volume on a wine label.

__________

I just found out that Susan Johnson, who was going to accompany me to Dark and Delicious next Friday, has had a surprise family affair pop up in conflict for the same day.

I will be looking for someone else to join me next Friday evening for a terrific tasting of Petite Sirah and food.

__________

Recently, I traveled from Cotati to Lucas Wharf in Bodega Bay on the Pacific ocean in Sonoma County to buy a quart of the most amazingly versatile and delicious passionfruit and chili sauce from the Island Deli..

The day was one of the sunny, blue sky days, sandwiched in between our rainy days. I had my son Charlie with me.

Sadly, the fish stall at the Wharf was not open (it was a weekend), but the smell of the ocean, fishy, briny, rich with sea life and the lingering smell of past catches was intoxicatingly wonderful.

Driving back to Ukiah from Bodega Bay, Charlie and I traveled the gorgeous west county of Sonoma County, Coleman Valley Road, Joy Road, Graton Road, 116, Occidental. Green, green, green. Cows, Llamas, Horses. Oak trees, Redwood trees, grape vines. It was so lush and beautiful. We had a really nice time driving home.

__________

DISCLOSURE: I received :WineSpeak: by Bernard Klem as a sample book from the Wine Appreciation Guild.

I am attending Dark & Delicious, a Petite Sirah and food pairing event on February 19, 2010 from 6pm – 9pm at the Rock Wall Wine Company in Alameda California. Susan Johnson, one of my favorite wine and food gals, will be accompanying me to the tasting.

Tickets are available at just $60 each, and include free parking, wines from 45 top Petite Sirah producers and 31 great restaurants. This is a GREAT event, tickets can be purchased online at Dark & Delicious Event

In the wake of getting my palate assaulted by some frighteningly high alcohol Zinfandels at the recent ZAP tasting, I want to approach the upcoming Petite Sirah tasting a little differently. It is unfair to the producers of lower alcohol wines to taste their wines directly after tasting a wine of high alcohol.

Among the many pearls of wisdom Joel Peterson of Ravenswood shared after his son Morgan’s presentation at ZAP was the belief that wines to be tasted should be ordered by alcohol percentage, from low to high, and where two or more wines are being poured with the same alcohol percentage, by residual sugar from low to high.

Peterson said that the three sins of Zinfandel winemaking are too much alcohol, too much sugar, and too much oak. I think that winemakers make less palatable wines, committing all three sins, to try to have their wines noticed by Parker and Spectator tasters who have to taste large numbers of wines at the same time.

I tasted fewer than 80 wines over 3 days for review consideration at ZAP this year, I can be honest with myself about palate fatigue and assault. I marvel at those who claim the ability to taste over 200 wines and fairly assign point scores to the wines they taste. I’ll be honest, I think most are full of hooey; I agree with Joel Peterson sentiment, the only way to taste over 200 wines fairly for assigning point scores is to order the wines by alcohol, not just alphabetically, and I am sure those who tasted such prodigious quantities of wine made no such effort.

At Dark & Delicious, a PS I Love You event, at least 45 top producers of Petite Sirah will pour their wines. I estimate there will be 75 or so different wines to taste. In an effort to fairly taste the wines at the event, yesterday I sent the following email message to each of the 45 participating wineries:

“I will be attending Dark & Delicious.

Sadly, I will be spitting as I will be trying to taste all of the Petite Sirah being poured. I will be posting my notes on my wine blog, much as I did for the recent Zap tasting 19TH Annual Zinfandel Festival

One thing I wished at ZAP was that all of the wines werre arranged in order of alcohol percentage low to high. I found that after tasting a monster alcohol zin, the notes of the next zin tasted seemed muted. I would like to know what Petite Sirah(s) you will be pouring at Dark & Delicious, please include alc %, so I can order my tastings in advance.

Thank you very much.

John Cesano”

It may have taken mutiple emails, and phone calls in some cases, but I am thrilled to report that responses are coming in big. Here is what I have (95.56% of the participating wineries have already responded with the information requested):

13.0% alc. 2006 Concannon Vineyards Reserve Nina’s Cuvee Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley $30

13.3% alc. 2006 Ursa Vineyards Petite Sirah, Vineyard Blend, California $16

13.5% alc 2007 Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah, California (Clarksburg & Lodi) $12

13.5% alc. 2005 Cleavage Creek Napa Valley Reserve Petite Sirah, 200 cases, $45

13.5% alc. Concannon Vineyard Conservancy Petite Sirah $15

 

13.5% alc. 2007 (Langtry) Guenoc Petite Sirah, Lake County $20

 

13.5% alc.  2007 Windmill (Michael~David Winery), Perite Sirah, Lodi  (Petite Sirah blended with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon) $12

 

13.8% alc. 2007 Artezin Petite Sirah, Mendocino County (87% Petite Sirah, 7% Zinfandel, 6% Charbono) $20

 

13.8% alc. 1998 F. Teldeschi Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $32

13.8% alc. 2000 F. Teldeschi Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $36

 

13.8% alc. 2007 Spangler Vineyards Petite Sirah, Southern oregon, The Terraces $35

 

13.9% alc. 2007 Artezin Petite Sirah, Garzini Ranch, Mendocino County (100% Petite Sirah) $36

 

13.9% alc. 2007 Cleavage Creek Napa Valley Reserve Petite Sirah, 320 cases, $45

13.9% alc. 2006 Pedroncelli Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $15

14.0% alc. 2006 Cleavage Creek Napa Valley Reserve Petite Sirah, 250 cases, $45

14.2% alc. 2007 Grizzly Republic Petite Sirah, Roadrunner Farm, Paso Robles, $42

14.2% alc. 2005 Mettler Family Vineyards Petite Sirah, Lodi $22

 

14.3% alc. 1999 F. Teldeschi Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $36

14.3% alc. 2006 Marr Cellars Cuvee Patrick Petite Sirah

14.3% alc. 2007 Silkwood Wines Petite Sirah (494 cases) $39

 

14.3% alc. 2006 Twisted Oak Petite Sirah, Calaveras County (any others in a vertical fall in a 14.1-14.3 range) $24

14.4% alc. 2008 R&B Cellars Pizzicato Petite Sirah, Bingham Ranch

14.5% alc. 2007 Bogle Vineyards Reserve Petite Sirah, Clarksburg $20

 

14.5% alc. 2006 Clayhouse Estate Petite Sirah, Paso Robles $25

14.5% alc. 2004 Concannon Vineyard Heritage Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley $30

14.5% alc. 2006 Concannon Vineyard Captain Joe’s Reserve Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley $30

14.5% alc.  2006 Field Stone Winery staten Family reserve Petite sirah, alexander Valley Estate Bottled (112 year old head pruned rocky clay soil vineyard) $35

14.5% alc. 2005 Foppiano Vineyards Estate Petite Sirah, Russian River Valley $20

 

14.5% alc. 2007 Fortress Vineyards Petite Sirah., Red Hills, Lake County $25

14.5% alc. 2006 Gustafson Family Vineyards Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Mountain Vineyard $28

14.5% alc. 2005 Heringer Estates Petite Sirah, Clarksburg $21

14.5% alc. 2006 Heringer Estates Petite Sirah, Clarksburg

 

14.5% alc. 2006 Langtry Estate Petite Sirah, Serpentine Meadow $40

14.5% alc. 2007 Line 39 Petite Sirah, North Coast $15

14.5% alc. 2007 Michael~David Winery Petite Petit, Lodi (85% Petite Sirah, 15% Petit Verdot) $18

14.5% alc. 2006 Miro Cellars Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley (100% Petite Sirah, 369 cases) $23

 

14.5% alc. 2006 Parducci True Grit Petite Sirah, Mendocino County $30

14.5% alc. 2007 Rosenblum Cellars Picket Road Petite Sirah, Napa Valley $35

14.5% alc. 2006 Stags’ Leap Petite Sirah, Napa County $38

14.5% alc. 2005 Stonehedge Terroir Select Petite syrah, (Pallini Ranch) Mendocino County $26

14.5% alc. (estimated) 2007 Tres sabores Petite Sirah, Napa Valley $45

14.5% alc. 2006 Ursa Vineyards Petite Sirah, Paso Robles (250 cases) $22

14.5% alc. 2006 Ursa Vineyards Petite sirah, Old Vines, Paso Robles $30

14.5% alc. 2006 Wilson Vineyards Petite Sirah, Clarksburg $12

14.6% alc. 2007 Gustafson Family Vineyards Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Mountain Vineyard $28

14.6% alc. 2007 Clayhouse Estate “Show Pony” Petite Sirah, Paso Robles $40

14.7% alc. 2006 Ballentine Vineyards Petite Sirah, Fig tree Vineyard $35

14.7% alc. 2008 Grizzly Republic Gypsy Noir, Barrel Sample (Rhone blend anchored with Petite Sirah, polished with Syrah, Mouvedre, Cinsault & Grenache), Paso Robles

 

14.7% 2006 Jazz Cellars Petite Sirah, Eaglepoint Ranch, Mendocino County (75 cases) $38

14.8% alc. 2006 Berryessa Gap Estate Grown Reserve Petite Sirah, Yolo County $18

14.8% alc 2006 Bogle Vineyards Phantom (a little over 50% Petite Sirah, then old vine Zinfandel, then old vine Mouvedre) Blend, California $16

14.8% alc. 2007 Rosenblum Cellars Heritage Clones Petite Sirah, San Francisco Bay $18

14.8% alc. 2007 Trentadue Petite Sirah, North Coast

14.9% alc. 2006 Bogle Vineyards Reserve Petite Sirah, Clarksburg $20

 

14.9% alc. 2006 David Fulton Winery Estate Bottled Petite Sirah St. Helena Napa Valley (314 cases) $45

14.9% alc. (labeled at 15.1%) Lava Cap Estate Petite Sirah, Granite Hill

14.9% alc. Rock Wall Wine Co Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley (any ’09 barrel samples are in the 14% arena) $28

14.9% alc. 2007 Stanton Vineyards Petite Sirah, St. Helena, Napa Valley (300 cases) $45

14.9% alc. Ursa Vineyards Petite Sirah, Sierra Foothills $22

15.0% alc. 2006 Aver Family Vineyards Blessings, Petite Sirah, Central Coast $55

 

15.0% alc. 2007 Aver Family Vineyards Blessings, Petite Sirah, Central Coast $55

 

15.0% alc. 2007 Charter Oak Old Vine Napa Valley Petite Sirah (150 cases) $42

 

15.0% alc. 2006 Earthquake (Michael~David Winery) Petite Sirah, Lodi (Petite Sirah with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon) $28

15.0% alc. 2006 Robert Biale Vineyards Petite Sirah, royal Punishers, Napa Valley $46

15.1% alc. 2003 Foppiano Vineyards Estate Reserve Petite Sirah, Russian River Valley $45

15.1% alc. 2006 Lava Cap Estate Petite Sirah, Granite Springs

15.1% alc. 2007 Lava Cap Estate Petite Sirah, Granite Springs

15.1% alc. 2005 Trentadue La Storia Petite Sirah

15.1% alc. 2007 Vina Robles Petite Sirah, Penman Springs, Paso Robles

15.2% alc. 2007 Rosenblum Cellars Rockpile Road Reserve Petite Sirah, Rockpile $45

 

15.4% alc. 2007 Vina Robles Petite Sirah, Jardine, Paso Robles $26

15.5% alc. 2007 Berryessa Gap Durif, Yolo County

15.5% alc. 2007 Mounts Family Winery estate Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $32

15.5% alc. 2007 Robert Biale Vineyards Petite Sirah EBA (Extended Barrel Aged), Napa Valley (225 cases) $70

15.5% alc. 2007 Robert Biale Vineyards “Like Father Like Son” Syrah/Petite Sirah blend, Napa Valley (350 cases)

18.0% alc. 2006 Heringer Estates Petite Sirah Port, Clarksburg $25/500 ml

18.0% alc. 2006 Trentadue Petite Sirah Port

20.0% 2006 Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah Port, Clarksburg $18

 

20.6% alc. 2006 Langtry Estate Petite Sirah Port, Serpentine Vineyard, Guenoc Valley $25/375 ml

Thanks again to the wineries that responded to my request(s) for information. I will be limiting my tasting, and review notes, to your wines.

I know that I have quite a few readers in the bay area, and a number who will also be attending the Dark & Delicious tasting. Feel free to use this list when planning your tasting order.

Look for me at the tasting, I’ll be the taster zig zagging through the event in an effort to give each winery’s Petite Sirah pourings a fair taste.

Cheers.

While I wanted to save my reviews of Toad Hollow’s wines for a featured winery piece to come soon, I have to take advantage of a recent picture I took of the Raven Theater Marquee in Healdsburg, CA.

I opened up the 2005 Merlot Reserve, Richard McDowell Vineyard, Russian River Valley, 14.5% alc,  last week to pair with a hearty beef stroganoff. It was a beautiful rich purpley burgundy color. I used a cup of the Merlot in the recipe in place of water, and I served the stroganoff with the wine.

My first thought, putting nose to glass was “f***, that’s a nose!” I’m not great at self editing my interior monologue, and clearly I am prone to the occasional curse in my private thoughts.

The nose is just full of big, bold, juicy, ripe fruit. Deeply floral, plum, rose, dark stone fruit, black cherry, black berry and cassis.

The mouth is incredible smooth and drinkable, open, and ready (I forgot it was a 2005) to drink. Black cherry and black berry, anise. Nice balance of acid and tannin.

A really soft wine with a nice lingering tapering finish.

The wine is gorgeously elegant, loaded with lush fruit through and through.

Thoroughly delicious and a QPR (quality to price ratioo) steal at $16, the 2005 Toad Hollow Merlot reserve is made from 100% Merlot grapes grown on a sandy bench three miles south of Healdsburg and Toad Hollow proudly claims a wine that demonstrates a sense of place, or terroir.

I poured myself a second glass about an hour after dinner, for dessert, and as I put my nose to the glass, again my first thought was “f***!” Translated, that means I loved this wine and was just completely impressed and delighted with it.

Disclosure: I received the 2005 Toad Hollow Merlot Reserve reviewed as a sample.

_____

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Following the ZAP Flight’s seated tasting and discussion of Zinfandel blends last Friday, Joel Peterson and his son Morgan Twain-Peterson sat at our table for a buffet lunch and shared their thoughts, a bottle of Morgan’s 2008 Bedrock Vineyard wine, and answered the questions of the people lucky enough to have been sitting at the table. Joel and Morgan kindly stayed long after the buffet lunch room had emptied, speaking for about an hour.

Joel Peterson is the founder and winemaker of Ravenswood, one of the Zinfandel’s most famous producers. Morgan is Joel’s 29 year old son, and is both the winemaker for Bedrock Wine Company and a vineyard manager of Bedrock Vineyards.

Ravenswood Logo

Bedrock Wine Company Logo

Two of the wines we tasted at the Flights panel were presented by Morgan:

  • 2007 Bedrock Heirloom Wine Sonoma Valley, 50% Zinfandel, 25 Carignane, 25% many other things, 15.5 alc, $35, a field blend from his family’s Bedrock Vineyards originally planted 120 years ago. – ”spicy, smoky, woody raspberry nose, raspberry, cherry, rose, floral spice. This wine would pop right and left at a multi course meal.”
  • 2007 Ravenswood Zinfandel Bedrock Vineyard Sonoma Valley, 15.5 alc, (Ravenswood website says 14.8% alc) $50 – ”beautiful red. smoke oak dark raspberry nose. cherry and raspberry fruit hang on tannin background. acid. long finish. beautiful wine.”

The following interview includes notes and quotes from the afternoon following the Flights panel, and has been augmented by Joel’s kind comments left in response to my ZAP recap, it does not necessarily respect chronology. While much of it appears in my ZAP recap, it was buried in the middle of a long entry; I am pleased to present it again, in an expanded form, as a stand alone piece.

Joel Peterson

J.C.: “Joel, I write on wine, have a blog, would it be alright if I pull out my notebook and pen?”

J.P.: “If I had known that I was talking to a member of the Fourth Estate (or are blogers a new estate?) I would have been more careful! Just kidding. It is always great to talk to people who are engaged, interested and enthusiastic about the same kinds of things that I am. God knows, there are few things I like doing better than talking about wine, unless the option is tasting it.”

J.C.: “We just tasted wines that ranged from 100% Zin to 31% Zin. When does a wine stop being a Zin, when does it lose its ‘Zinniness’?”

J.P.: I could taste Eric’s (Eric Baugher, Ridge Vineyards, 2007 California Zinfandel Paso Robles, 100% Zinfandel) and the first thing I taste is Paso Robles. Tasting the JC Imposter (Jeff Cohn, JC Cellars 2007 The Imposter Red Blend California, 31% Zinfandel, 33% Petite Sirah, 31% Syrah, 5% Mouvedre, 1% Viognier) I taste the Zin fruit and pepper spice, and I know I am drinking something from California, not Europe. This is a California wine and you know it because of the Zinfandel . It is an interesting subject, and the wines that are being made from these mixed black blends have the potential to be some of the best, most singular wines California can produce. It is good to get the conversation about them started again. We lost the thread with the advent of Prohibition and in the process lost what might have been the wine that was our equivalent of Bordeaux, Chateauneuf du Pape, or Chianti. Blended wine made from grapes chosen by the people of that region to represent the best most representative wine that region could produce. Zinfandel is California’s own. There is nothing that even comes close. These talks of blending [Zinfandel] instead of Cabernet or Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Heritage, whatever it will be called, will be how we establish ourselves against European wines.”

On a roll, there was no need to further prompt Joel or Morgan with questions.

J.P.: “Three Zin sins: too much oak, too much alc, too much sugar. Wood and sugar? They take away any subtlety. Typically, wine should be named for the forest [the barrels came from] not the varietal.” Morgan offered, “Missouri or Ozark.”

Morgan Twain-Peterson

Morgan spoke to prices, the economy, markets. Morgan also talked at length about the actual cost of making a bottle of wine.

M.T-P.: “There’s a necessary realignment, QPR, that’s quality price ratio, there’s a lot of $80 Cabernet that needs to go away.”

Morgan and Joel talked about unnecessary replanting in wine country.

M. T-P.: “Vineyard owners haven’t learned from history as they tear out existing grapes to plant the next big thing, Chardonnay, Merlot, now Pinot without thinking about what fruit would grow best in their vineyards.”

J.P.: “I lost my best Petite Sirah Vineyard to Pinot in the Russian River Valley and they can’t sell their Pinot. What a waste.”

J.C.: “It was amazing just getting to listen to the two of you. The grape didn’t fall far from the vine. You are both excited, passionate, and knowledgeable. You want to share what you know. It is nice when an industry superstar is so generous.”

J.P.: “This is really the first time that Morgan and I have had a chance to share the same venue. It was a lot of fun.”

J.C.: “If people were stock, I would invest every cent I had in Morgan. Morgan is going to be around a long time, making great wines, growing great grapes, and will be an industry leader.”

J.P.: “Yes, I am his father, and am a little biased, but I would take that stock pick also.”

J.C.: 19TH Annual Zinfandel Festival

J.P.: “Thank you for reviewing the Flights panel in such depth.”

J.C.: “It is heart lifting to find that one of your heroes is such a good guy. Thank you Joel. Thank you Morgan.”

ZAP. To most red wine lovers in the bay area, it conjures up visions of Zinfandel being poured at the biggest tasting of Zinfandel anywhere.

ZAP stands for Zinfandel Advocates & Producers and, according to its mission statement, is dedicated to advancing public knowledge of and appreciation for American Zinfandel and its unique place in our culture and history. Winegrowers, winemakers and wine enthusiasts combine to form the membership. The common focus is the preservation and recognition of Zinfandel as America’s Heritage Wine.

Each year, ZAP has a tasting, really it is three days of tastings – a Zinfandel Festival, but most people only know about the last day’s tasting, the Grand Zinfandel Tasting, an opportunity to taste Zinfandels from more than 200 Zinfandel producers. Most people refer to the last day’s tasting as the ZAP tasting, or ZAP fest. I certainly attended ZAP’s Grand Zinfandel Tasting, and I also attended two more tastings in the two days preceding the Grand Zinfandel Tasting.

GOOD EATS & ZINFANDEL PAIRING

On Thursday, January 28 the 19th Annual Zinfandel Festival kicked off with their 16th Annual Good Eats & Zinfandel Pairing at the Herbst Pavillian at Fort Mason in San Francisco from 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm.

I was accompanied to the event by a long time friend with a wealth of wine experience and a different palate than mine. She is more fond of giant pepper in Zins, while I generally prefer big fruit balanced, not overwhelmed, by spice.

Roughly 50 wineries poured their Zins and an equal number of restaurants provided food samples created to pair well with Zinfandel.

Most wineries were pouring three Zinfandels, and there is no way I could taste every wine, or even one wine from every producer. Here are the wines I did taste, that I enjoyed:

FAVORITE WINES OF THURSDAY

Acorn Winery

  • 2007 Heritage Vines, Alegria Vineyards, Russian River Valley – “lighter, cocoa spice, fruit forward”

Carol Shelton Wines

  • 2005 Karma – “my favorite wine of all three days
  • 2006 Wild Thing – “Liked it.”

Four Vines Winery

  • 2007 Dusi Vineyard, Paso Robles – “nice red raspberry and pepper nose, raspberry and PEPPER mouth”

Grgich Hills Estate

  • 2006 Napa Valley – “Liked it”

Manzanita Creek

  • 2007 Carreras Ranch – “105 year old vine, chocolate, high alc.”

Mazzocco Sonoma

  • 2007 Warm Springs Ranch, Dry Creek Valley – “yummy with lamb.”
  • 2007 Smith Orchard Reserve, Dry Creek Valley – “Delish on own, WOW with lamb.”

Murphy-Goode

  • 2007 Liar’s Dice, Alexander Valley – “Liked it.”

Outpost Estate Wines

  • 2007 Estate, Howell Mountain – “Serena liked it for huge PEPPER, I liked it less but was glad for some nice fruit in back.”

Peachy Canyon Winery

  • 2007 Especial – “dark purple color, vanilla oak clove spice nose, pepper mouth. dark fruit throughout.”

Ravenswood

  • 2007 Dickerson Vineyard – “LOVED it. lots of nice fruit, very approachable.”

Rosenblum Cellars

  • 2007 Annettes’s Reserve, Redwood Valley Vineyard, Mendocino County – “liked it lots, better with food too.”

Selby Winery

  • 2007 Old Vine – “lighter wine of nice balance. Good sipper.”

Storybook Mountain Vineyards

  • 2007 Eastern Exposures, Napa Estate – “nice balance fruit spice pepper. nose leads to the mouth to the finish seamlessly. balance.”

Z-52

  • 2007 Brsada Vineyard, Sonoma Valley – “round integrated, banked, liked it lots.”

In transcribing my wine notes, I realized that virtually everything I tasted had fruit and spice, raspberry, pepper, etc. I cut that out as repetitive and passed on the remaining impressions. I also chose not to identify or list any wines I did not like. My favorite note for a wine I didn’t like, “a wine worthy of uncooked meat.”

It was nice to finally meet Hardy Wallace. Hardy is Murphy-Goode’s Lifestyle Correspondent, and a genuinely nice guy.

It was also great to see Carol Shelton. I used to work with Carol, she made great wines, I sold the great wines she made. I am fortunate to have had so much contact with Carol in the past. Listening to Carol talk about wines is like listening to Virginia Madsen’s character in the movie Sideways.

FAVORITE FOODS OF THURSDAY

Bistro at Villa Tosacano

  • zinfandel infused local wild mushrooms with italian gorgonzola on belgium endive v.fr. – “flavorful and yummy.”

Celadon

  • zinfandel & hoisin braised beef short rib with parmesan & shaved fennel – “this was so delicious, I shuddered.”

City College of san Francisco Culinary Arts & Hospitality

  • venison sausage on rye with dried cherry marmalade – “yummy, just delish.”

Lark Creek Cafe

  • beef barley soup with herb pesto and chanterelle mushroom – “a tasty soup”

Miss Pearl’s Jam House

  • curried goat withmango chutney and root bread – “loved it.”

Murphy-Goode Estate Chefs

  • pork belly sliders with liar’s dice zin bbq sauce – “loved the pork belly. yum.”

Pazzo Petaluma

  • Agnotti Forestal v.fr. – “OMG My favorite food here. pasta suffed with mushroom in a mushroom sauce.”

Ruth’s Chris Steak House

  • lamb lollipops – “Oh can they cook meet!  LOVED, but I love lamb.”

Surfing Goat Dairy

  • local artisan goat cheeses – “the brine and rosemary goat cheese was made of yum, and I loved the pesto chevre.”

Zin Restaurant

  • Zin’s smoked, house made, fennel sausage with crispy winter hash and eastside farm pepper glaze – “loved.”

Just about everything was delicious. There was one item that tasted of the can, another that might have been good but was soggy when we tasted it late, but the worst idea of the night was a chocolate vinaigrette dressing. It may be the worst idea ever culinarily.

_____

FLIGHTS! A SHOWCASE OF ZINFANDELS

Friday, January 28, at 10:30 in the morning, 150 or so gathered in the Peacock Court Ballroom at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco for the 9th Annual Flights!: A Showcase of Zinfandels  seated wine tasting.

Five winemakers of Zinfandel would talk about Zinfandel blends, field blends and in-winery blends, the history and future of Zinfandel blends, and the place of Zinfandel blends in the market.

When we walked into the Peacock Court Ballroom to find a seat there were rows of long tables set up one behind the other leading from the front of the stage to the back of the room. Set up on each table were placemats and six glasses already with wine.

As I tried to squeeze down a row, finding a chair slightly pulled out, I bumped the table behind me – spilling all six glasses at a place where someone was seated. The someone was Karen Clarke, sales manager and wine club coordinator for Mazzocco Sonoma, and she was wearing, for the first time ever, a brand new white blouse that she purchased in London while visiting her mother. The blouse cost Karen the equivalent of $100, and it now carried a generous addition of the color pink to the once white fabric. I immediately ascertained that Karen was staying at the hotel, and offered to pick up the tab for laundering/dry cleaning. Karen told me that the stain would not come out (oh, where was that bottle of wine away?), so I visited an ATM and gave Karen $100 to cover the cost of the garment. If cleaning really can’t remove the wine stain, then I recommend staining the entire garment evenly in wine; it can still be worn, and a white twin can be purchased.

I was horrified by my oafish and unfortunately costly clumsiness, but I am pleased to say that Karen was really very understanding and sweet about the incident.

I sat next to Lynnell Morgan from Washington on Friday, both at the tasting and at the lunch that followed. Lynnell, it was very nice to meet you.

Anyway, three winemakers spoke, we tasted two wines from each. we took a break while the next four wines were poured, we came back in, two winemakers spoke, we tasted two wines from each, we had a question and answer session, then we had a buffet lunch.

Eric Baugher, Ridge Vineyards

  • 2007 California Zinfandel Paso Robles, 100% Zinfandel, 14.5 alc, $30, ranch of Benito Dusi planted in 1922. – “bright garnet. dried cranberry nose with cherry oak and cedar. wonderful candy cherry raspberry mouth. med body. med  long finish. elegant.”
  • 2007 California Geyserville, 58% Zinfandel, 22% Carignane, 18% Petite Sirah, 2% Mataro (Mouvedre), 14.4 alc, $35, single site field blend from vineyards originally planted 1881, with vines from 10 – 120 years old, 60% 40 years or older. – “dark garnet. darker fruits, plum, smooth pepper, berry and cherry nose. more complexity. nice integration. strawberry, cherry, plum, raspberry mouth. light medium mouth. good acidity. long finish. young. lay this wine down. nice stone fruit from the carignane and tannin and color from the petite.”

Matt Cline, Three Wine Company

  • 2007 “Old Vines Zinfandel” California, 76% Zinfandel, 10% Petite Sirah, 7% Carignane, 5% Alicante Bouschet, and 2% Mataro, 14.9% alc, $18, the grapes come from the oakley, brentwood, antioch area of contra costa county (53%) and from lodi (47%) – “darker purple burgundy. nice dark chocolate cocoa blackberry nose. lush mouth feel. rich fruit, spice, tannin and acid.”
  • 2007 “Old Vines” Zinfandel California, 40% Zinfandel, 33% Carignane, 12% Mataro, 11% Petite Sirah, 2% Alicante Bouschet, 2% Black Malvoisie, 14.8 alc, $18 – “purple burgundy. dusty raspberry nose. soft round mouth blend of raspberry, cherry, spice and pepper.”

Morgan Twain-Peterson, Bedrock Wine Company

  • 2007 Bedrock Heirloom Wine Sonoma Valley, 50% Zinfandel, 25 Carignane, 25% many other things, 15.5 alc, $35, a field blend from his family’s Bedrock Vineyards originally planted 120 years ago. – “spicy, smoky, woody raspberry nose, raspberry, cherry, rose, floral spice. This wine would pop right and left at a multi course meal.”
  • 2007 Ravenswood Zinfandel Bedrock Vineyard Sonoma Valley, 15.5 alc, $50 – “beautiful red. smoke oak dark raspberry nose. cherry and raspberry fruit hang on tannin background. acid. long finish. beautiful wine.”

Steve Hall, Robert Biale Vineyards

  • 2007 Aldo’s Vineyard, Napa Valley, Predominately Zinfandel but field blend including Abouriou, Tempranillo, Petite Sirah, Carignan, Valdiguie, Peloursin, Mondeuse, and Trousseau Gris, 15.3 alc, $52 – “f*** me, that’s good. acid and tannin pepper, smoke, anise, coffee, leather, ripe berry, cherry, raspberry. fit, fruit, fruit. balance, structure. firm. long finish.”
  • 2007 Stagecoach Napa Valley, 15.5% alc, $44, 5 acre Biale Block vines are stressed by steep rocky terrain. – “more vinous, med-full body, round soft lighter raspberry  blackberry cherry pepper.”

Jeff Cohn, JC Cellars

  • 2007 Sweetwater Springs Zinfandel Russian River Valley, 95.5% Zinfandel, 4.5% Petite Sirah, 16.5% alc, $32, not old vine and not head pruned. – “bigger, bolder. black fruit, anise, spice nose, alcohol is evident in mouth. flavors of raspberry blackberry black cherry pepper spice.”
  • 2007 The Imposter Red Blend California, 31% Zinfandel, 33 % Petite Sirah, 31% Syrah, 5% Mouvedre, 1% Carignane, 16% alc, $32, a manufactured field blend – “rich dark purpley color. surprisingly soft round integrated cherry raspberry fruit vanilla mouth. nice lingering finish.”

Best line of the day came from Jeff Cohn: “Why are my wines higher alcohol wines? So you don’t have to drink as much.”

The wines during the seated tasting were all delicious, and averaged 15.3 alc.

The panel were unanimous in the assertion that Zinfandel starts in the vineyard, that growing Zinfandel is far harder than growing Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir will ripen, but the same cluster of Zinfandel that has raisins will also have green unrip grapes. Trying to pick a vineyard of Zinfandel is difficult because of the unevenness in ripeness of the grapes. Further complicating harvesting vineyards intended for field blends are the different ripening rates of the different varietals planted in the vineyard field. Zinfandel must be picked for the average ripeness of the grapes, and the same is true of field blends.

Most, if not all agreed, that stressed vines yield better flavors, and so the ideal where possible seems to be head pruned dry farmed vines.

Turley’s scores from reviewers may be the cause of the invariably jammy, high alcohol sweet round Zins found in the market.

I tasted wines that ranged from 100% Zin to a wine where Zinfandel was not the predominant grape. I wondered when a Zin stops being a Zin. How much Zinniness (yes, it is a real word, I invented it) is required in a wine to be considered appropriate for inclusion at ZAP?

Not really talked about directly, but I think the purpose of the tasting may have been to start a conversation among lovers of Zinfandel about the future.

Winemakers of Bordeaux varietals who don’t make a wine capable of varietal designation, a blended wine, are able to label their wine Meritage, and consumers will have a rough idea of what to expect if buying it from a store or ordering it off a wine list.

What about our Zin based mutt blends? Are there enough of them to come up with an umbrella name for marketing? Would there be more Zin blends made if there was such an umbrella name? What name? Heritage (Rhymes with Meritage), Heirloom (referring to Zinfandel’s long history as a California cultivar), or some other name?

All in all, a really good event…even though it cost $100 for a white shirt I’ll never wear.

_____

UNSCHEDULED BEST ZAP EVENT

At the buffet lunch, I had a special treat. Joel Peterson and his son Morgan Twain-Peterson sat at our table and shared their thoughts, a 2008 Bedrock Vineyard wine, and answered our questions. They kindly stayed long after the buffet lunch room had emptied, speaking for about an hour.

Joel Peterson is the owner and winemaker of Ravenswood, one of the Zinfandel’s most famous producers. Morgan is Joel’s 29 year old son, and is both the winemaker for Bedrock Wine Company and a vineyard manager of Bedrock Vineyards.

Joel told us, “Zinfandel is California’s own. There is nothing that even comes close. These talks of blending [Zinfandel] instead of Cabernet or Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Heritage, whatever it will be called, will be how we establish ourselves against European wines.”

Joel listed the “three Zin sins: too much oak, too much alc, too much sugar.”

On over-oaking of Zinfandel, Joel said, “typically, wine should be named for the forest [the barrels came from] not the varietal” Morgan offered, “Missouri or Ozark.”

Joel continued, “Wood and sugar? They take away any subtlety.”

Morgan spoke to prices, the economy, markets, “There’s a necessary realignment, QPR, that’s quality price ratio, there’s a lot of $80 Cabernet that needs to go away.”

Joel and Morgan both spoke about the vineyard owner tearing out producing vines to plant to a different “hot” varietal, chasing the boom. On replanting to Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley, Joel shared, “I lost my best Petite Sirah Vineyard or Pinot in the Russian River Valley and they can’t sell their Pinot. What a waste.”

It was amazing just getting to listen to Joel and Morgan. The grape didn’t fall far from the vine. They are both excited, passionate, and knowledgeable. They want to share what they know. Joel is a celebrity, or superstar, winemaker; he has earned his reputation.

If people were stock, I would invest every cent I had in Morgan Twain-Peterson. Morgan is going to be around a long time, making great wines, growing great grapes, and will be an industry leader.

_____

GRAND ZINFANDEL TASTING

The last Zinfandel Festival event ZAP holds is by far the biggest and most famous, on Saturday, January 30 at both the Herbst and Festival Pavillians at Ft Mason in San Francisco over 200 Zinfandel producing wineries pour their wines for a Zin loving general public at the Grand Zinfandel Tasting.

I have attended three previous times in the past. I remember when the event was smaller and could be held in just one pavilion. I remember when Randall Grahm dressed in the vestments of the Catholic church to pour Bonny Doon’s Cardinal Zin. My brother just reminded me he got a Grgich print signed by Mike Grgich at ZAP years ago.

The general public can come and taste wines between 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm; ZAP members may start an hour earlier at 1:00 pm. I can say from experience that the number of people who attend ZAP’s big tasting is huge, the crowds immense. Trade and Media are allowed an earlier start, with a tasting from 10:00 am until 1:00 pm.

I was able to taste as a member of the media. Again, my friend Serena Alexi accompanied me to the Grand Zinfandel Tasting. Here’s the things that I tasted that I liked:

Amphora Winery

  • 2007 Dry Creek $26 – “cherry, raspberry, lovely, drinkable”

Bedrock Wine Company

  • 2008 Lorenzo’s Heirloom Dry Creek Valley – “about 50% Zin, 25% Petite, 25% Carignane, with all the rest too. LOVE! Nice firm dark fruit.”
  • 2009 Stellwagon Vineyard sonoma Valley Barrel Sample – “50% Zin, 25% Carignane, 25 % 18 other varietals in field. dark, black cheery, coffee.”

Chiarello Family Vineyards

  • 2007 Giana Napa – “if I was trying to make a Zin taste like a Napa Zin, it would taste like this. 15.3 alc”

DeLoach Vineyards

  • 2007 Forgotten Vines, Sonoma County $32 – “soft zin. rose nose. light-med body. spice, coffee, cranberry raspberry mouth. nice. lingering finish.”

Haywood Estates

  • 2006 Los Chamizal, Los Chamizal Vineyards, Sonoma Valley $28 – “like it. well balanced. nice acidity. good fruit.”
  • 2007 Rocky Terrace, Sonoma Valley $38 – “afternoon sun and more exposure. quiet nose leads to LOVE. mouth fruit forward, lush, a surprise explosion.”

Hook & Ladder Winery

  • 2006 Station 10, Sonoma County $17 – ” Would be a REALLY good food zin, taste different when paired different.”

Manzanita Creek

  • 2007 Alfonso (select bottling), Shiloh Ranch, Russian River Valley $38 – “bright cherry raspberry fruit with chocolate. acid. really good. ager.”

Martorana Family Winery

  • 2007 Alexander Valley Family – “light med body. nice balance. dark fruit in nose to raspberry and spice mouth. lingering finish.”

Matrix Winery

  • 2007 Dry Creek Valley $45 – “16.1 alc. nose wow fruit. less fruit in mouth. lingering finish.”

Mauritson Family Winery

  • 2007 Rockpile Ridge Vineyard, Rockpile Ridge, Rockpile $35 – “nice fruit. LOVED. must find their tasting room and taste entire rockpile flight.”

Mazzocco

-seriously, didn’t they get the memo from Karen not to wear white to a ZAP event?

Murphy-Goode

  • 2006 Snake Eyes, alexander Valley $35 -“Hardy injured his wrist, or maybe pourer’s fatigue set in, but pours could be heavy, making M-G a popular spot. I like snake eyes. drinkable. very drinkable. *Serena said “that’s what M-G is.””

Pezzi King

  • 2007 Dry Creek Valley Reserve Zinfandel – “black fruit and earthy vanilla”

Ravenswood

  • 2008 Big River Vineyard, Alexander Valley $35 – “100% old vine zin. brighter fruit.”
  • 2008 Dickerson Vineyard, Napa $35 – “100% old vine zin. OMG! mouth.”

Saddleback Cellars

  • 2007 Old Vine, Napa Valley $36 – “85% calistoga, 15% sonoma, 100% zin. fruit and spice.”

Carol Shelton Wines

-I couldn’t get near her wines, the media and trade were 10 deep in front of her offerings.

T-Vine Cellars

  • 2007 Brown Vineyard, Napa Valley $36 – “100% zin from 15 year old vines, which surprised me – there’s a ton going on. perfume rose dark candy cherry fruit. good acid.”

Tin Barn Vineyards

  • 2007 Tin Barn, Gilsson Vineyard, Russian River Valley $27 – ” LOVED. lovely spice and fruit cherry raspberry soft supple, thoroughly drinkable.”

Tres Sabores

  • 2007 Estate, CCOF, Napa Valley $35 – “california certified organic farmer, candied cherry berry. delish. owner Julie Johnson was incredibly sweet and welcoming.”

Turley Wine Cellars

  • 2008 Hayne Vineyard, Hayne, Napa Valley  Barrel Sample $75 – “bottle march, release november. elegant, acid young wood fruit tannin.”
  • 2008 Old Vines, California – “release march. spice pepper cedar wood vegetal undertone, cranberry, smooth raspberry cherry anise. light soft finish.”

V. Sattui Winery

  • 2007 Gilsson Vineyard, Russian River Valley – “spice anise dusty cocoa leather veg spice and fruit. shorter finish.”

I am grateful to Serena Alexi for accompanying me to the ZAP events at Fort Mason on Thursday and Saturday. Thank you for the incredibly thoughtful book, and for introducing me to a great restaurant – next time I am getting the #19. Thanks also to Julie Ann Kodmur.

DISCLOSURE: I received press passes to the events I attended. Additional passes were made available for my guest, and 4 more tickets to the Grand Zinfandel Tasting were made available to me to use in contest giveaways for my readers.

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