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John On Wine – The Perfume of Zinfandel

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on January 30, 2014 by John Cesano

I love women. I love perfume. I love how the same perfume can smell different on different women. I am fond of all things sensual, and scents from flowers, foods, wines, and a woman’s perfume are all wonderful.

Generally speaking, I concur with John Barlow and Bob Weir; “too much of everything is just enough,” is a phrase from their song I Need a Miracle that just makes me smile. Perfume at a wine tasting, however, is the exception, and almost any is too much. Men, and their cologne, can trigger an inner groan, a silent shriek of exasperation, as well.

Wine tasting, whether at a winery tasting room, or a big event like last weekend’s Zinfandel Experience, put on by the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, is about pulling notes from a wine; aroma and bouquet for the nose, taste for the mouth, and deciding if this is the wine for you, if this is a wine worth plunking down your hard earned dollars for.

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It is hard to discern subtle nuance, the difference between green apple and yellow apple, apricot and nectarine, plum and cassis, in a wine when your nose is assaulted by waves of woody, floral, citrus, or other fragrant notes of perfume or cologne, sometimes freshly reapplied in the car moments before entering a wine tasting.

Wine tasting in a spring garden with fresh and fragrant blooms is similarly unkind to the wines, as is tasting in a room that smells of recently applied paint, wood floor polish, or other maintenance or cleaning products.

Last Saturday, coincidentally my birthday, I was at the Presidio in San Francisco to take part in three tasting track sessions, each held in a different building located at the Parade Ground.

The parade grounds at the Presidio in San Francisco

The parade grounds at the Presidio in San Francisco

The Terroir Tasting track, held in the Observation Post offered an incredible view of both the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, and grouped Zinfandels by appellation, so you could visit a table and taste wines from Mendocino and Lake Counties, or the Dry Creek Valley, or Lodi, or Paso Robles, or any of the other main growing regions for Zinfandel, and explore how these different growing regions affect the varietal’s characteristic notes.

I was joined by my friend June Batz, and we tasted Zinfandels from nearly every region. There were good wines from every growing region. It was a treat seeing Anne Alderette pouring wines for Dry Creek Valley and Zinfandel icon Joel Peterson wearing a stylish black cowboy hat.

Mendocino and Lake County wines lined up for tasting at the Terroir Tasting track

Mendocino and Lake County wines lined up for tasting at the Terroir Tasting track

The Sensory Tasting track was held at Herbst and was most similar to the old Grand Tasting, featuring the most producers in one spot, arranged alphabetically, pouring their Zinfandels. I talked with producers and tasted their Zinfandels made from Mendocino County grapes.

Carol Shelton, Carol Shelton Wines

Carol Shelton, Carol Shelton Wines

My good friend Carol Shelton poured me a taste of her 2012 Wild Thing Zinfandel, Mendocino County. We worked together eight years, she made great wine, and I traveled the country selling her wine. We worked a spectacular dinner together in Chicago. Made from organically-grown old-vine grapes, Carol’s Wild Thing showed plum and pepper with a little edge on the finish. $19.

Next up, I tasted a Zinfandel from Artezin, the 2012 Artezin Zinfandel, Mendocino, $18, made from bench fruit grown on the east side of Ukiah. The wine was medium bodied, but had a big nose, rich and deep, leading to a medium mouth of cherry and spice.

Edmeades Winery poured four Mendo Zinfandels; the 2011 Mendocino $20, 2010 Piffero $31, 2011 Shamrock $31, and 2010 Perli Vineyard $31. My favorite, the Perli Vineyard Zinfandel saw a little blending of Primitivo, some suitcase cuttings, and Merlot into the Zinfandel, and was grown above the fog line on the Mendocino Ridge, yielding bright acid to provide structure and balance for loads of spice and fruit notes of raspberry and darker berry.

Rich Parducci of McNab Ridge Winery

Rich Parducci of McNab Ridge Winery

Finally, I tasted three Zinfandels from McNab Ridge Winery, poured by winemaker Rich Parducci. First, I enjoyed the 2010 Cononiah $26, soft and drinkable with delicate white pepper and French oak smoothness, lovely classic Zin fruit from 100% Zinfandel grapes. Next, I tasted Rich’s 2011 Mendocino Zinfandel $18, which has a little Petite Sirah blended in, and is all chocolate and ripe berry cherry fruit. Finally, I tasted the 2011 Zinzilla $13, an unpretentious blend of Mendocino and Lodi grapes that I carried with me and paired with cheeses, an aged Gouda, a Manchego, a soft blue. Completely unfair to all of the other Zinfandels tasted but, when paired with cheeses, the Zinzilla was the best wine of the Sensory Tasting track.

The Reserve and Barrel Tasting track, held at the Film Center, should have been my favorite track, and my two favorite wines of the day came from here, but the words “Reserve and Barrel” acted as a magnet for every overly perfumed woman, and the Film Center had recently received a splash of paint and application of floor wax, and I could not stand to taste wines in the room. I did get a pouring of 2012 Bedrock Wine Company Zinfandel, Monte Rosso, Moon Mountain, $50, which I took back outside to experience, and what another fine wine, in an endless series of them, Morgan Twain-Peterson has produced. Weighty, full, balanced, with big bold flavors of fruit and spice harmoniously blended.

The Film Center at the Presidio, site of the Reserve and Barrel Tasting track

The Film Center at the Presidio, site of the Reserve and Barrel Tasting track

While outside, Christopher Watkins, writer of 4488: A Ridge Blog, and manager of Ridge, stopped to say hello to me. We have enjoyed each other’s writing in the past, he has kindly linked to things I have written, and we both love the wines he pours daily. We shook our heads, together, at the unfortunate smells inside the Film Center that made outside tasting necessary, and he extended an invitation to quarterly tastings at Ridge which I leaped to accept.

Inspired by my meeting with Christopher, I ventured inside for one more taste; winemaker Eric Baugher poured me a barrel sample of the 2012 Ridge Vineyards Jimsomare Zinfandel. This wine will be bottled in March and be released in November but, tasted outside, was drinking beautifully now, with lush plum, cherry and strawberry fruit notes, wedded to a little classic pepper spice.

I am sure no one wears perfume to a wine tasting maliciously; I’m sure no one has had the gumption to ask you not to, explaining that the result is about as welcome as a fart in an elevator, for fear of causing you pain through embarrassment. I loved the Zinfandel Experience, but between building maintenance and perfume smells, I was driven right away from what should have been the most overwhelmingly amazing part of the experience after only two spectacular tastes.

Venues are booked well in advance, and the folks at ZAP had no idea that one of their tasting track locations was going to get some fresh paint and polish applied too shortly before a wine tasting. Nothing that can be done about that. The heavily perfumed women flocking to the Reserve Tasting was also beyond control, and can only be addressed through education.

Class dismissed.

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John On Wine – Location, location, location

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on November 14, 2013 by John Cesano

Tasting wine. It is important to do. Last weekend, I ventured south to taste wines in Sonoma County with a friend from the Sonoma Valley. I tasted more Cabernet Sauvignon wines than I do in a month of tasting in Mendocino County, which, if only for the novelty was a treat. I also reconfirmed that, by and large, the wines grown, made, poured in Mendocino County are just as good as I find anywhere else. It is also entirely possible that by tasting the wines of Mendocino County so frequently, so overwhelmingly, that I am developing a county-wide house palate.

A house palate is what you get when you work for, taste, and drink the wines of one winery. I completely admit to having developed a house palate for the wines made by Carol Shelton when I worked at Windsor Vineyards in the 90s and now I have the same thing going on for the completely different wines grown by Guinness McFadden.

I came to love Carol’s wines for their sexy, feminine, soft, lush, rich fruit forwardness. Now, I look for the food-friendly balance that Guinness’ cool, climate grown, high acid fruit yields in the wines I pour every day. That said, I am just as pleased by wines that are different.

Even though I tend to lean toward the wines I pour daily, I am beyond open, I’m excited to taste new wines. I love finding delicious wines made by wineries I might have dismissed after less than stellar tasting experiences years earlier. The only way to find out what great wines are out is to taste wines.

I’ve been tasting wines for 30 years and can describe the differences that the place a grape is grown can have on flavors, how varietally correct wines from one area differ greatly from varietally correct wines of another area, and how with these differences they can both be varietally correct. I remember when I first fell in love with Pinot Noir, exploring the mineral complexities of a genuine French Burgundy, the candied cherry and rose petal of a Russian River William Selyem, the meatiness of a Monterey Chalone, the Carneros gravel, the way different areas flavored the same grape.

Wine isn’t Kool-Aid or soda, wine is different depending on where it is grown. Of course, vintage and winemaker also play a huge role in how wines taste, but today we’ll stick to place.

Compare Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and the same wine made from grapes grown in the Dry Creek Valley, Napa Valley, Paso Robles, and inland Mendocino County. Heck, compare the wines made by Rosati Family Vineyards using Ridge estate budstock and the same wine made by Ridge using grapes from the same budstock. Paul Draper and Zelma Long are both great winemakers, the wines of both are great, and for all their similarities the Cabernet Sauvignon of Rosati grown in Mendocino County will taste different than the Ridge grown Cabernet Sauvignon grown on the mountain ridges above Santa Clara.

Look, I know that not everyone is wine geeky enough to appreciate subtle differences between wines made from grapes grown in two different northern California wine regions, but try this: imagine tasting Chardonnay made from grapes grown in the dry desolation of baking hot Texas or the wet fetid swampiness of Louisiana. You don’t have to be a Master Sommelier or your crowd’s own Frasier Crane to know that grapes grown in many places outside of California’s wine regions could be horrible.

If you can accept that there are places that grapes shouldn’t be grown, then accepting that we live in a pretty magical area for grape growing should not be too hard a leap of faith. Just look around, there are grapes grown everywhere. Right out in the open, legal, not in hiding, no nasty cartels. Grapes are the real heart of a healthy Mendocino County agricultural scene. We are home to the greatest concentration of green growers. Our grape growers are family farmers, organic, bio diverse, biodynamic, fish friendly, carbon neutral. Seventy-five percent of the county’s grapes end up in the more famous and more expensive wines made in Sonoma and Napa Counties.

We are a farm county and our grapes are highly sought after, offering buyers incredible quality and ridiculously low prices. The wines we make in our county, from the grapes we keep are the bomb. I go on about inland Mendocino County almost every week, heaping deserved praise on wines made by wineries along the Highway 101 upper Russian River corridor, but the Pinot Noir from Toulouse and the Rose of Pinot Noir from Navarro in the Anderson Valley, or Yorkville Cellars’ Late Harvest Semillon grown in the Yorkville Highlands, are wines as good as you are likely to taste anywhere. How do I know? Because I try to taste wines from everywhere.

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A Taste of Redwood Valley, the group who would love you to come taste wines in Redwood Valley, just north of Ukiah, with greater frequency, will be holding their Holiday Wine Sale and Juried Art Faire on Saturday, Nov. 23 and Sunday, Nov. 24 from 11 a.m. ­ 5 p.m., which will provide you a great opportunity to pick up wines for Thanksgiving at savings of up to 40 percent off. Different wineries will have different hours and offers, and some will be open just one of the two days. For more information, visit ATasteOfRedwoodValley.com, and to find me visit Germain-Robin where I will be stocking up on Crispin Cain’s Rose Liqueur and his Absinthe.

Yesterday, I wrote about the three day, four event Zinfandel Festival in San Francisco January 27-29, 2011 put on by ZAP, Zinfandel Advocates & Producers.

 

ZAP has made a pair of tickets available for me to offer to you for two of the events. First, we will be offering one pair of $140 tickets (prize value: $280) to Good Eats & Zinfandel Pairing at Herbst Pavilion at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco Thursday, January 27, 2011 from 6:00 – 9:00 PM.

One winner will receive the pair of tickets. Getting to the event is on you, but for my many readers who live in northern California, that shouldn’t present any difficulty.

I wrote yesterday about tasting Carol Shelton’s acclaimed Karma Zin and Black Magic Zin paired with Smoked Elk Loin with Raspberry Compote on a Manchego Cheese Crisp AND Espresso BBQ pulled Pork with Raspberry Salsa and Point Reyes Blue Cheese on Focaccia Crostini prepared by the chefs from Nectar Wine Lounge and Restaurant; and imagining at least 49 additional delicious wine and food pairings, each intended to showcase how well Zinfandel works in the kitchen, all at ZAP’s Good Eats & Zinfandel Pairing event.

I mention Carol Shelton often. I sold her wines for years and developed a “house palate,” I am predisposed to like what she makes; but liking, or loving, Carol’s wines is easy. Carol was the top award winning winemaker in the nation over a dozen years, and she is recognized as one of the nation’s best Zinfandel winemakers.

Carol Shelton recently wrote about the ZAP Good Eats & Zinfandel Pairing, “This is the BEST ZAP event—less crowds, best wines and yummy foods to try, and music to boot!”

I think each of the four events of the Zinfandel Festival are perfect, each different, but each exactly as it should be. Easily, however, the most enjoyable of the events is Thursday night’s Good Eats & Zinfandel Pairing.

50 wineries will be pouring Zinfandel, and 50 restaurants will be providing food created to pair with Zinfandel; Chocolate, mushroom, cheese, pork shoulder, pork belly, house made bacon, spicy beeftacos, al Pastor tacos, and lamb will be featured in some of this year’s dishes.

ZAP has provided the recipe from one of my favorite dishes from last year, Ruth’s Chris Lamb Lollipops drizzled with a Zinfandel Brown Sauce:

RUTH’S CHRIS LAMB LOLLIPOPS

1 rack Domestic Lamb (yields 7-8 lollipops)

Sea Salt

Fresh Ground Pepper

Generously season lamb rack with salt & pepper. Sear both sides of rack on a hot cast iron griddle or skillet for 2-3 minutes per side. Then place in 350 degree pre- heated oven for approximately 12 minutes for Medium Rare (internal temp of 125). Remove from oven and let rest for about 5 minutes. Then slice between the bones to create individual lollipops. Arrange on serving platter and generously drizzle with Zinfandel Brown Sauce. Garnish with fresh thyme.

RUTH’S CHRIS ZINFANDEL BROWN SAUCE

Yield: 1 cup

1/2 oz. Olive Oil

2 Tablespoons Onion, finely diced

1 Teaspoon Chopped Fresh Garlic

1/2 Teaspoon Whole Black Peppercorns

1 Sprig Fresh Thyme

1/2 Cup of Your Favorite Zinfandel

1 Cup Veal Demi Glaze (available at Whole Foods and other specialty food stores)

Place saucepan on medium/high heat. Add oil to heat, then add chopped onion and garlic. Cook until onions are translucent, about 2 minutes. Be careful not to burn garlic. Then add black peppercorns, fresh thyme, and zinfandel. Cook until wine is reduced by 1/2. Add Demi glace and heat just until it is melted. Remove from heat, strain through cheese cloth. Keep warm until needed.

I hope your appetite has been whetted, and your creative juices are flowing, because here is what you need to do to win the pair of tickets: visit the ZAP page dedicated to the Good Eats & Zinfandel Pairing event, take a look at the list of wineries that will be pouring their Zinfandels, but take your time as you take in the foods being prepared for the event, and follow the link to look at recipes for five of the dishes being served.

Now it is your turn, clicking “Leave a Comment” at the top of this post, leave a recipe for a delicious dish that will pair well with Zinfandel. Recipe entries will be accepted through noon here in California on next Tuesday, January 11, 2011. You have one week to enter the contest. The recipe can be inspired by something you have previously seen or tasted, but the recipe must be original to you – recipes from your grandmother are acceptable, even recommended, JohnOnWine loves grandma’s cooking. I will look at the entries, and privately assign each a score from 1 to 10, based on how well I think it would pair with Zinfandel, and how inspired I am to make it myself. A bonus point will be awarded if you send a picture by email to JohnCesano@aol.com, so the highest score I will give an entry is 11 points.

I will not be posting scores, so don’t be shy about entering your recipe; but I will post the winner’s recipe next Wednesday, January 12, 2011, and the lucky winner will win the two Good Eats & Zinfandel Pairing tickets.

Tickets need not be won, they are also available for purchase, and this is a very worthwhile event to attend if you are able.

On Saturday, I attended the Sonoma County Harvest Fair Awards Gala with my good friend Susan Johnson.

Lovely Susan Johnson, grower and sharer of delicious vegetables

Susan and I have each attended our share of Awards Galas and remembered them as being dress affairs. I have spent most of the year in shorts and sandal mode, so Susan felt compelled, unnecessarily, to remind me to dress for the event.

John Cesano in coat, tie, and dress shoes – with socks!

When I arrived at Susan’s house in the Russian River Valley, it was nearly 100 degrees, and taking mercy on me, Susan released me from the coat and tie.

We arrived at the Sonoma County fairgrounds about 15 minutes before the event start time, and drove past a long line of people on our way to park the car. Several of the people in line were dressed in shorts and tee shirts. Although I am a huge fan of the casual dress, it was disappointing to see that some people didn’t make an attempt to be dress appropriate for the event. I was a little envious.

We were in the middle of the line when the doors opened, and it took a full 15 minutes to get in the door as tickets were taken and glasses handed out. The crowds raised the heat inside of the building and made for a less than perfectly comfortable event.

Finding wineries was made difficult as they were first grouped by geographical area, or appellation, and then alphabetically. It took a while to catch on that Russian River Valley wineries were at one end and Sonoma Valley wineries were grouped together at the other end of the hall. Aldler Fels and Alderbrook would not be nowhere near each other.

We received our tickets from Heather Irwin of BiteClubEats, and Susan and I both thought that Heather did a great job emceeing that evening. We also thought she should be invited to host solo next year, because her co-emcee was droning, slow, and uninteresting.

The evening was about people for us, more than wine. I was thrilled to see Serena and Mark, Rachel, Linda and Gordon, and Robert and his new gal. It was a little too hot, and a little too crowded to really make wine tasting fully enjoyable. We did a little tasting, but it was just nice to get out together, and I was looking forward to a more select opportunity to taste in earnest.

Yesterday, Monday, I returned to attend the Sonoma County Trade & Media Tasting from 1:30 – 4:30. With 1,084 wines entered into competition, I couldn’t taste everything. 207 wines were awarded at least a Gold Medal by the judges, and I am not able to taste that many wines in a day, suffering palate fatigue long before then, so I looked to limit my tasting further. I decided to taste wines being chosen by the judges as the Best in their Class, and included Double Gold (Unanimous Gold votes by all the judges). After putting together a tasting list by varietal, I found that several of the wineries chose not to pour their wine for the trade or media; I found that was very disappointing. By winery, in alphabetical order, here are my tasting notes from the media tasting event:

Alexander Valley Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Franc Estate Alexander Valley $21.00 – Cabernet Franc Best of Class - Smooth (French oak for 14 months). Tastes nice, herb, spice, but Cab Franc will never be my favorite varietal – the varietal makes me think of sappy green wood bits – but for those that like Cab franc, this is a good one.

Alexander Valley Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Estate Alexander Valley $18.00 – Chardonnay Retail Price up to $19.99 Double Gold - Oak, toast, cream and vanilla. Old California style, heavier in body and mouth without being fat. Clean and bright with depth. Fruit is along for the ride.

Alexander Valley Vineyards 2007 Viognier Estate Alexander Valley $21.00 – Viognier Sweepstakes White - Clean peach and pear. Would pair great with a lighter seafood pasta. A little “zingy” on the back end.

Arbor Bench Vineyards 2007 Reflections Meritage Arbor Bench Vineyard Dry Creek Valley $34.00 – Bordeaux Blends Retail Price $30 and over Silver - What? A silver medal wine gets tasted? The winery owner asked me to taste so I did. Merlot, Cab, and Malbec. Round, drinkable, very food friendly. Wonderful fruit berry medley without in your face forwardness.

Armida Winery 2008 Syrah Flora Ranch Chalk Hill $32.00 – Syrah/Shiraz Retail Price $25 and over Double Gold - NOT POURING

B.R. Cohn Winery 2009 Chardonnay Sangiacomo Vineyard Reserve Carneros $35.00 – Chardonnay Retail Price $30 and over Best of Class - NOT POURING

B.R. Cohn Winery 2008 Syrcab Sonoma Valley $32.00 – Other Red Varietal or Generic Best of Class - NOT POURING

Carol Shelton Wines 2008 Black Magic Zinfandel Sonoma County $20.00 – Late Harvest or Dessert Red Best of Class - This was my #1 favorite wine of the tasting. I had preconceptions prior to tasting it that were blasted to smithereens at first sip. I literally was rocked and exclaimed, “Oh my God.” This 15% alc Zin is simply delicious. Late Harvest wines, dessert wines, and Ports scare me, many are so over the top, and I steel myself for them, but this was disarming, and amazing. Velvet smooth, and honeyed. This Zinfandel had botrytis sweet apricot and honey notes more typical of a Sauterene. Sweet Zinfandel raspberry jam meets Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. It is just freaky good. After already falling in love, Carol gave me a chocolate to pair with the wine, just wow.

Carol Shelton sharing some of her zinsight

Carol Shelton Wines 2006 Bacchus Laureate Reserve Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley $52.00 – Zinfandel Retail Price $35 and over Gold - Carol Shelton earned her Bachelors of Science from UC Davis 30 years ago, and this wine is a tribute to her time there. With over $5,000 from sales of this wine being donated back to Davis, the Bacchus Laureate allows wine enjoyment now to support wine enjoyment tomorrow. This is a monster Zin. Huge, powerful. I’ll be honest, I like them a little tamer.

Chateau St. Jean 2007 Syrah Durell Vineyard Sonoma Valley $40.00 – Syrah/Shiraz Retail Price $25 and over Best of Class - NOT POURING

D & L Carinalli Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Estate Russian River Valley $20.00 – Chardonnay Retail Price $20 to $20.99 Best of Class - Multi layered fruit. Great integration. A blending of subtleties, A little vanilla on the finish. Going to be sold at Harvest Fair Friday through Sunday at $144/case or $136/case for 5 cases. Great buy!

Davis Family Vineyards 2006 Barn d’Or Sonoma County $24.00 – Bordeaux Blends Retail Price up to $29.99 Best of Class - NOT POURING

de Lorimier Winery 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Warm Springs Ranch Dry Creek Valley $32.00 – Cabernet Sauvignon Retail Price $25 to $34.99 Best of Class - Dusty cocoa, herb, fruit. Nicely balanced. Warm blackberry, boysenberry and spice. Smooth.

Eric K James 2007 Pinot Noir Carneros $24.00 – Pinot Noir Retail Price up to $24.99 Best of Class - Smoky, round, lush, integrated herb, spice, cherry, plum. Vinous.

Forchini Vineyards & Winery 2007 Papa Nano Estate Dry Creek Valley $18.00 – Italian Varietals or Blends Best of Class - An American Chianti, Tuscan style red. Soft round strawberry, vanilla, oak, chocolate. Smooth, delish. Jim Forchini is a great winery ambassador.

Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards 2002 Royal Cuvee Carneros $32.00 – Sparkling Wines Best of Class - Creamy, low yeasty, apple, lemon, small beaded bubble, nice mousse, caramel mist, round.

Hauck Cellars 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County $35.00- Cabernet Sauvignon Retail Price $35 to $44.99 Best of Class- I was not allowed to taste before being made to make note that this is Hauck’s third year in a row with a Best of Class Cab. Are you satisfied with the pimping? Send me a bottle. Anyway, bright forward berry fruit, oak. Not a monster Cab, a little elegant, vinous.

Imagery Estate Winery 2007 Petit Verdot Sonoma Valley $39.00 – Bordeaux Varietals Best of Class - NOT POURING

Imagery Estate Winery 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Wow Oui Sonoma Valley $27.00 – Sauvignon Blanc Retail Price $17 and over Best of Class - NOT POURING

Kenwood Vineyards 2007 Merlot Jack London Vineyard Sonoma Valley $20.00 – Merlot Retail Price up to $24.99 Double Gold - Deeper, more herbaceous nose. Plum. Nice integration.

Kenwood Vineyards 2009 Pinot Gris Sonoma County $14.00 – Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio Best of Class - Really delicious. Third vintage. Lime, light garden herb, steely, stone fruit, citrus fruit, mineral.

Leveroni Vineyards 2006 Merlot Moon Valley Vineyard Sonoma Valley $16.00 – Merlot Retail Price up to $24.99 Best of Class - Really bright nose. Fruit and herb. Candied cherry follows from nose to mouth. A little deeper finish with leather and plum.

Little Vineyards 2008 Syrah Sonoma Valley $30.00 – Syrah/Shiraz Retail Price $25 and over Double Gold - NOT POURING

Macrae Family Winery 2007 Pinot Noir Bacigalupi Vineyard Russian River Valley $34.50 – Pinot Noir Retail Price $25 to $34.99 Best of Class - An in your face, or nose, Pinot. Forward everything. Surprisingly sweet note of cherry fruit after a heavier dense nose. Really nice.

Mahoney Vineyards 2009 Albarino Las Brisas Vineyard Carneros $18.00 – Riesling/Other White Best of Class - Spanish varietal. Drier, crisper. Light body. Fruit and floral. Clean.

Mayo Family Winery 2007 Meritage Los Chamizal Vineyards Reserve Sonoma Valley $50.00 – Bordeaux Blends Retail Price $30 and over Best of Class - Different varietals from different blocks of one vineyard, crushed and barreled separately. Aged about 2 years, about 70% new oak. Smooth. Drinkable. Round. Blackberry, oak, currant. Delish.

Mazzocco Sonoma 2005 Merlot Dry Creek Valley $28.00 – Merlot Retail Price $25 and over Best of Class - Herby, darker, deeper. Not loving it, but others will – and clearly did. Parker-esque? More herb, spice, oak focused than fruit in this wine.

Mill Creek Winery 2009 Gewurtztraminer Estate Vineyard Dry Creek Valley $19.00 – Gewurtztraminer Best of Class - Dry Gewurtz nose. Round, sweet honeysuckle, apricot, lychee, orange blossom

Mill Creek Winery 2007 Zinfandel Kreck Family Vineyards Dry Creek Valley $38.00 – Zinfandel Retail Price $35 and over Best of Class - Under 200 cases. Initial alcohol blossom found in many Zins. Classic peppery meaty jammy zin.

Mobius Wines 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County $24.99 – Cabernet Sauvignon Retail Price up to $24.99 Best of Class - NOT POURING

Novy Family Winery 2007 Syrah Russian River Valley $24.00 – Syrah/Shiraz Retail Price up to $24.99 Best of Class - Blackberry and chocolate. Smooth and delicious. Complex.

Paradise Ridge Winery 2008 The Posse Hoenselaars Vineyard Russian River Valley $50.00 – Rhone Red Varietals or Blends Best of Class - Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel. A “Rhonefindel.” Wow, nice blend. Round, chocolate, lush warm fruit, spice and herb. Terrific food wine. 250 cases.

Pedroncelli Winery 2005 Port Four Grapes Dry Creek Valley $18.00 – Port Best of Class - Made with real Portuguese varietal grapes, this 18.5% alc Port has raspberry, coffee, and baking spice notes.

Sebastiani Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley $33.99 – Cabernet Sauvignon Retail Price $25 to $34.99 Double Gold - NOT POURING

The food tables were an absolute treat, with delicious specialty meats, cheeses, breads, oils, fruit, spreads.

Sebastiani Vineyards 2009 Chardonnay Russian River Valley $14.99 – Chardonnay, unoaked Best of Class - NOT POURING

Sebastiani Vineyards 2008 Chardonnay Sonoma County $12.99 – Chardonnay Retail Price up to $19.99 Best of Class - NOT POURING

Simi Winery 2007 Late Harvest Riesling Alexander Valley $30.00 – Late Harvest or Dessert White Sweepstakes Specialty - NOT POURING

Simi Winery 2007 Petite Sirah Dry Creek Valley $35.00 – Petite Sirah Best of Class - NOT POURING

St. Francis 2008 Caro Santo Sonoma Valley $45.00 – Sangiovese Best of Class - NOT POURING

Starkey’s Court 2008 Zinfandel Pedrazzini Family Vineyard Sonoma Valley $24.99 – Zinfandel Retail Price up to $24.99 Best of Class - Nicely integrated, well balanced herb, spice, black raspberry.

Stryker Sonoma 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Alexander Valley $50.00 – Cabernet Sauvignon Retail Price $45 and over Sweepstakes Red - NOT POURING

Suncé Winery & Vineyard 2009 Pinot Noir Zora’s Estate Vineyard Reserve Russian River Valley $44.00 – Pinot Noir Retail Price $35 and over Best of Class - NOT POURING

Taft Street Winery 2008 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley $24.00 – Pinot Noir Retail Price up to $24.99 Double Gold - Dusty cocoa, oak, dark cherry, herb. Lovely integration. Lovely mouth. This and a book. Some cheese. Leave me alone.

Trecini 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley $14.99 – Sauvignon Blanc Retail Price up to $16.99 Best of Class - Nicely appropriate varietal notes. Hay and cat pee in the house.

Wilson Winery 2008 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley $26.00 – Zinfandel Retail Price $25 to $34.99 Best of Class - Nice perfume. Beautiful fruit. Raspberry, blueberry, chocolate syrup, and spice.

Wilson Winery 2008 Wilson Family Red Estate Dry Creek Valley $32.00 – Other Red Varietal or Generic Double Gold - Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Tons of beautifully integrated fruit. Lush juicy blackberry and cassis. Nice oak. What a food wine!

Gordon Harsaghy pouring for Windsor Vineyards and Windsor Sonoma

Windsor Sonoma 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley $30.00 – Cabernet Sauvignon Retail Price $25 to $34.99 Not Entered - Gordon asked me Saturday night to stop back on Monday, he would have something special. This is Gordon’s favorite wine currently available from the entire Vintage Wine Estates portfolio. Perfumed. Really damn nice. Big, but smooth. 100% Cab. Integrated, Round. Lush. Layered and very drinkable. An herbal Cabernet with gorgeous fruit. Winemaker Marco DiGiulio did a solid job by these grapes.

The only note I have for the Harvest Fair organizers: next year, please have large plastic cups available for media tasters who may want to spit without leaning over a table to use the dump buckets.

The Sonoma County Harvest Fair will continue with tastings and sales for the public Friday through Sunday, October 1-3. The wineries who chose not to pour for the trade and media will be pouring their big medal winners for you next weekend.

If you live in, or near Santa Rosa, I heartily recommend going to the Harvest Fair; I hope my tasting list and notes above are helpful to you when planning your tasting order.



I received the following invite by email last week, and just got around to making my reservation today:

You are cordially invited to join us

Saturday, July 31, from 1 to 4

in celebration of our 10th anniversary!


Enjoy current releases, a peek at the new white Rhone,

samplings of our limited release wines,

live music, and brisket barbecue sliders with all the fixings.


We will also feature a very special vertical tasting

of the Rocky Reserve Zin.

This exclusive vertical will showcase eight vintages,

beginning with the 2000 release.


The cost to attend is $10 by reservation,

$15 at the door.

Wine Club members $5 by reservation,

$10 at the door.


Carol Shelton Wines

3354-B Coffey Lane

Santa Rosa, CA

For reservations call (707) 575-3441


I sold Carol’s wines for 8 years, and traveled to San Francisco and Chicago with Carol to help her pour her wines. Carol is a superstar winemaker, and now that I have my reservation paid for, without worry about being impacted by a sold out event, I heartily recommend this event to anyone who happens across my blog. $10 for a library vertical tasting of Zinfandels from the varietal’s best winemaker (I developed a Carol Zin palate and am admittedly biased), with food, and a commemorative glass, music, and tastings of other liquid treats – what are you doing still reading this? Break out your credit card and call for a reservation right now.

Just recommendin’.

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.

I grew up with Zinfandel. When I was a kid, my dad Charlie and his friends would hunt almost every weekend; duck hunting, pig hunting, deer hunting. Our freezer was always full of meat. I grew up thinking that everyone was Italian, and that everyone hunted. My folks never took me to see Bambi.

My dad was part of a group of about 20 guys who went in together to lease large pieces of property to hunt. Their hunting clubs were scattered all over Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. For a long time, we hunted the 12,500 acre Rockpile Ranch straddling both Mendocino and Sonoma Counties, being the largest piece of property in either county. I remember my dad taking me for weekends to the club. I would ride in a jeep or truck during the day as the men looked for a large pig, or buck. Lunches would invariably be Salumi and Cheddar on hard French bread rolls. Any game taken would be field dressed, then cleaned and hung back in camp at the end of the day. After cleaning up after the day’s hunt, the men would cook a big dinner. Polenta, meats, Italian sauces, pasta, vegetables, salad, Zinfandel.

Growing up, all the Italian men I knew drank Zinfandel. It came in jugs, it wasn’t complex, it was good and it was cheap. It went into the food, and into coffee cups and high ball glasses, styrofoam cups and complimentary collector jelly glasses from the gas station – free with an 8 gallon purchase.

I crushed Zinfandel grapes when I was my son Charlie’s age, just 12 years old, and the juice was made into wine that I was allowed to taste with food.

Zinfandel has been my first wine love, my longest loved wine, my favorite wine for most of my life.

Big, bold, very red, often high in alcohol, with flavors of brambly raspberry and black pepper spice; Zinfandel is as big as Cabernet Sauvignon in body, structure, and flavor profile but more affordable. Although DNA tests have shown Zinfandel is really the grape varietal Crljenak Kaštelanski from Croatia, and also Identical to Italy’s Primitivo grape, it has been thought of as California’s grape by generations of California’s wine drinkers.

Years ago, I attended the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and producers) tasting, a tasting of Zinfandels put on at Fort Mason in San Francisco in January. Hundreds of Zinfandels to taste. Thousands of people tasting. A perfect day spent tasting some iconic Zinfandels, like Carol Shelton’s Rockpile Zin, and discovering new stars.

ZAP is marking the 19th Zinfandel festival this year with the theme Zin in Paradise, and it isn’t just the incredible Saturday Grand Zinfandel Tasting, but three days of events. Tickets are still available for most of the events.

http://www.zinfandel.org/

The festival kicks off Thursday evening with the Good Eats & Zinfandel Pairing at Fort Mason’s Herbst Pavillion. Celebrity chef Beverly Gannon will be serving up Hawaiian Regional Cuisine with Zinfandels, along with 49 other chefs and wineries. As I read the list of wineries, restaurants, and dishes being served, my mouth goes into watering overdrive mode, and I am actually excited about attending this event. The list is too long to print here, but go to the event page and look at the amazing bounty of food, and the participating wineries, and get yourself to this event! If you are looking for me, I’ll be the very happy, short, round, bearded man in line in front of you for more yummy food and wine.

On Friday, I am going to sit down with a group of about 150 people at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco for Flights, a showcase of Zinfandel.

The panelists will discuss blending, Zinfandel’s uniqueness, preferred blending varietals, and each panelist will bring a proprietary blended Zinfandel to pour and discuss.

The wineries, panelists and Zinfandels include:

  • Ridge Vineyards, winemaker Eric Baugher, 2007 Zinfandel Paso Robles and the 2007 Geyserville
  • Three Wine Company, winemaker and proprietor Matt Cline, 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel, California and 2007 Old Vines, California (Field Blend)
  • JC Cellars, founder and winemaker Jeff Cohn, 2007 Imposter Blend and 2007 Sweetwater Zinfandel
  • Robert Biale Vineyards, winemaker Steve Hall, 2007 Aldo’s Vineyard Zinfandel and 2007 Stagecoach Zinfandel
  • Bedrock Wine Company, winemaker and proprietor Morgan Twain Peterson, 2007 Heirloom Wine, Sonoma Valley and 2007 Ravenswood, Bedrock Vineyard Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley

Friday Evening, also at the Mark Hopkins, is an Evening with the Winemakers, Benefit Live Auction and Dinner, where Chef Beverly Gannon will prepare:

  • Asian Duck Tostada
  • Blackened Ahi with Sweet Thai Chili Sauce, Wasabi Micro Greens, Tobiko, Mashed Potato in Filo Cup
  • Smoked Salmon Pinwhhels with Chipotle-Chili Fresh Fruit Salsa
  • Kalua Pork and Goat Cheese Won Tons with Mango Chili Sauce
  • Terrine of Foie Gras, BBQ Eel, Potato Pineapple Compote, Vanilla Syrup and Spicy Micro Greens
  • Lamb Shank Canneloni with a Poached Fig Demi-Glaze Double Cut Lamb Chop, Lavendar Honey Glazed Baby Carrots
  • Chocolate Macadamia Nut Tart

I had the opportunity to take part in a high end food and wine dinner like this when I helped winemaker Carol Shelton, who had the Best in Class Zinfandel at the California State Fair – a Zinfandel with four gold medals – pour her Zinfandel and other favorite wines at the best Meet the Winemaker dinner I have ever attended. The dinner was at Susan and Drew Goss’ Zinfandel restaurant in Chicago’s River North area, near the Fonterra Grill and Spago. Without exception, the sold out (it sold out in under 3 hours, a record for the restaurant) 110 seat restaurant’s diners enjoyed one of the best dining experiences of their lives. Many hundreds of bottles were opened and consumed (I helped Carol taste them all earlier that day and found all 5 TCA tainted corked bottles – unlucky me) and Susan Goss prepared a multi course menu around Carol’s wines that amazed, delighted and thrilled everyone who attended the dinner.

This is going to be one of those kind of once in a lifetime dining experiences and Beverly’s menu looks even more fantastic than Susan’s menu. In addition to the incredible sit down mind blowing meal with Zinfandels poured to pair with each course, there will be 25 or so one of a kind Zinfandel themed live auction lots to bid on during the evening.

ZAP’s Zinfandel Festival culminates Saturday with the epically huge Grand Zinfandel Tasting in both the Herbst and Festival pavilions at Fort Mason in San Francisco from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m., ZAP members get an hour start on the general public and can taste from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Over the years, ZAP’s Zinfandel festival has grown, more than doubling in size. The number of Zinfandels poured couldn’t be tasted by any one person, be they veteran wine reviewer or liver compromised bum.

Plastic lined garbage cans are provided throughout the festival and serve as giant wine spittoons. I hate spitting out perfectly good wine, but it is the only way to go as an attempt is made to taste as many Zinfandels as possible before my palate is completely blown out by the plethora of high alcohol hugely bodied monster Zinfandels.

I am thrilled to be attending this years Grand Zinfandel Tasting, and getting an early 10 a.m. start as part of the media tasting. I will have my red wine notebook and pen with me.

It almost goes without saying, but eat before, during and after the event, be safe, and consider public transportation.

DISCLOSURE: ZAP is covering my attendance to events with a press pass. I love this event and would have gushed about the event if I was paying out of pocket to attend. I will be writing a couple of articles after the event. One will focus on the events generally, the other will include tasting notes for Zinfandels tasted over the weekend. Full disclosure requires that I think Julie Ann Kodmur is an angel.

White Zinfandel is the gateway wine for many wine drinkers, an introduction to wine through the light, pink, and delicious accident of winemaking often leads people to try the harder stuff; Gewurtztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, that other Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

In a future article, I’ll talk about that path to the hard stuff, to Cabernet Sauvignon, but today is all about White Zinfandel.

Zinfandel is a red grape and is used to make the red wine Zinfandel. Squeezing almost any red grape, including the Zinfandel grape produces a clear juice. It is by putting the skins back in contact with the juice during fermentation, sometimes aided by punching the skins down into the juice or pumping the juice over the skins, that the color from the skins is imparted to the juice. This is, in short, how red wine becomes red.

Although there is some evidence that Zinfandel may have been made into a White Zinfandel as early as 1869 in Lodi, CA; Sutter Home Winery in the  Napa Valley is generally credited with making the White Zinfandel you are familiar with in the 1970′s, quite by accident.

Sutter Home had already been making a clear juice white wine from Zinfandel grapes, fermented to dryness in the early 1970′s, which tasted nothing like what you are familiar with today, but was called white Zinfandel.

Alcohol occurs during the fermentation of grape juice into wine when yeasts consume and convert sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol.

In 1975, Sutter Home has some Zinfandel juice experience a stuck fermentation, where the yeast just stopped consuming sugar. The result was considered to be defective, sweeter and lower in alcohol than desired. The odd wine was put aside for possible blending into other wines later. Before blending, a winemaker tasted the sweet, lower alcohol, pink wine and liked the taste. Thus was born the White Zinfandel everyone is familiar with today.

Sutter Home Winery is the creator of White Zinfandel…by accident.

Now wineries can stop the fermentation cold, literally; freezing the outside of the tank can stop the fermentation process inside the tank. White Zinfandels can be made with very high sugar and low alcohol or very low sugar and high alcohol, or any point in between.

I drink Zinfandel, the original red wine. I do not drink White Zinfandel with much frequency. The reason I drink Zinfandel instead of White Zinfandel is a matter of preference. I prefer all dry red wines to all sweet white and rosé wines. But I do drink sweet white, rosé and White Zinfandel on occasion – often because they are the perfect wine for a pairing.

I found a video with a wine knowledgeable gal spouting some of the most foolishly snobby declarations; she actually spent time to create a video dedicated to putting down White Zinfandel and people who enjoy White Zinfandel. I am saddened to say that she is not alone in her superior attitude. I have written before of my disappointment with the job the wine industry does marketing its product and with the wine writers writing for each other, out snobbing each other, instead of writing for regular folks – there are in fact some very good, unpretentious wine writers out there, but too few make it to print in my opinion.

Snobby wine gal video: http://www.ehow.com/video_2290320_why-avoid-drinking-white-zinfandel.html

Sutter Home claims that 1 in every 10 wine bottles opened in America, a full 10%, is White Zinfandel. Many of the most expensive Champagnes in France are a rosé bubbly. I find the wine snob attitude, a tendency to look down on “lDanesser” wines and the people who enjoy them, is usually from people who think they know wine – but don’t.

People new to wine appreciate the accessibility of White Zinfandel, it is easily enjoyed. People who have been around the industry a long time appreciate that many people would not come to wine at all if it weren’t for White Zinfandel; and take away 1 in 10 wine bottles being opened in America, and you’ll see layoffs in the industry.

It is only the pseudo connoisseur that rushes to judge an entire segment of wine “inferior”. Typical of those who do not have true knowledge or ability, they put something down thinking it builds them up. Neither new to wine, or genuinely wine knowledgeable, these people are asses, plain and simple. Let them sit at home alone fondling their Dana Estates’ 2007 Lotus Vineyard Cab in the dark.

Show me a party with White Zinfandel and I’ll show you a party with some fun people, a party likely to be more animated than a serious consideration of flights from top producers of Pinot Noir. I’m not knocking Pinot Noir, I dearly love it; I’m just saying White Zinfandel is fun. and fun is often too lacking in wine.

White Zinfandel, like any other wine, changes winery to winery, appellation to appellation, and vintage to vintage. Winemaking choices play an even greater role in creating variation between labels. The color varies from a pale golden blush to an orange sunset, from a salmon color, to pink and even a darker purpley pink. White Zinfandel is most often sweet, but again there is variety, with bottles ranging from rather dry to very sweet.

When I worked for Windsor Vineyards, our winemaker Carol Shelton made a White Zinfandel out of 100% Zinfandel grapes, even though she could used just 75% Zinfandel and blended in a much less expensive grape, and still, by law, called it a White Zinfandel. DeLoach Vineyards also made a 100% Zinfandel White Zinfandel at the time. For some wineries, making a quality wine is more important than making an inexpensive wine. Carol Shelton is America’s most awarded winemaker and has been named Winemaker ofthe year on more than one occasion. Carol, who made great white Zinfandel, and an exciting Provence styled rosé, is the epitome of class.

I always enjoyed a crushed strawberries over ice quality when tasting Carol Shelton made Windsor Vineyards White Zinfandel. Other notes you may find when sipping a White Zinfandel include raspberry, cherry, blackberry, and citrus. Lighter in style, this wine pairs well with many of the lighter dishes of summer.

White Zinfandel is the name of one rose or blush wine made from Zinfandel grapes, but the same process of creating a white or rosé wine from red wine grapes can be used to create White Merlot, White Cabernet, White Pinot Noir, or any other white red wine varietal wine.

Put simply, White Zinfandel (and other rosé or blush wine made from red wine grapes) is often the perfect summer sipper, whether at a picnic, a party, or at the table.

Last year, a friend wanted to come out to Sonoma County and spend a week tasting wines together. She does not drink dry red wines and would not have enjoyed a vacation built around tasting Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. She does not drink white wines, so Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc was out. She does enjoy the occasional glass of Beringer White Zinfandel, so I built a vacation throughout the north coast around tasting award winning blush and rosé wines.

White Zinfandel presents many different flavors because there are so many different ways to make a White Zinfandel; blending choices, sweetness levels, and more make for an infinite number of different White Zinfandels. I could suggest pairings, White Zinfandel with Hawaiian pizza, White Zinfandel with pork salad; but the best thing to pair White Zinfandel with is some unpretentious friends.

I would rather drink White Zinfandel from a jelly jar with fun friends with class, than the Lotus Vineyard Cabernet from Riedel stemware with an ass. Just sayin’.

I have not tasted a White Zinfandel, or other blush wine, in too long. In place of personal recommendations, here is a list, by no means complete, of award winning north coast White Zinfandel and other blush or rosé wines:

Adobe Road Winery – www.adoberoadwines.com -2008 Rose, Sonoma Valley $18

Alexander Valley Vineyards – www.avvwine.com - 2008 Rosé of Sangiovese, Wetzel Family Series, Alexander Valley $12.

Balletto Vineyards – www.ballettovineyards.com - 2008 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley $16.

Barefoot Cellars – www.barefootwines.com - NV White Zinfandel, California $7

Beringer – www.beringer.com -  2008 White Zinfandel,California Collection, California $6

Black Stallion Winery – www.blackstallionwinery.com - 2008 Rose, Napa Valley $22

Bonny Doon Vineyard – www.bonnydoonvineyard.com - 2008 Vin Gris de Cigare, California $15.

Bonterra Vineyards – www.bonterra.com - 2008 Rosé, Organic Grapes, Mendocino County $14.

Buena Vista Carneros – www.buenavistacarneros.com - 2008 Rosé of Syrah, Carneros $25.

Charles Creek Vineyard – www.charlescreek.com - 2008 Rose, Napa Valley $16

Dacalier Wine Co. – www.dacalier.com - 2008 Grenache/Carignan, Premier Rose, Lake County $16

Fichtenberg Vineyards – www.fichtenbergvineyards.com - 2008 Pinot Noir Saignee, Carneros $18

Fleur de California – www.fleurdecalifornia.com - 2008 Pinot Noir Rosé, Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, North Coast $13

Folie a Deux – www.folieadeux.com- 2008 Menage a Trois Rose California $12

Forest Glen Winery – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronco_Wine_Company -2007 Shiraz Rose, Magenta Rose, California $9; 2008 White Merlot, Forest Fire, California $9

Gregory Graham – www.ggwines.com - 2008 Estate Rose, Crimson Hill, Red Hills, Lake County $12

D.H. Gustafson Family Vineyards – www.gfvineyard.com - 2008 Rosé of Syrah, Dry Creek Mountain Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley $20

Heitz Wine Cellars – www.heitzcellar.com - 2008 Rosé, Grignolino, Napa Valley $19

Kelley & Young Wines – www.kelleyyoungwines.com - 2008 Kathleen Rose, Alexander Valley, Robert Young Vineyard $24

Kendall-Jackson Winery – www.kj.com - 2008 Malbec Rose, Grand Reserve, Napa Valley $18

Kenwood Vineyards -  www.kenwoodvineyards.com - 2008 Pinot Noir Rose, Russian River Valley $14

McDowell Valley Vineyards – www.mcdowellsyrah.com - 2008 Grenache Rose, McDowell Valley $15

Navarro Vineyards – www.navarrovineyards.com - 2008 Rose, Mendocino County $15

Pedoncelli Winery – www.pedroncelli.com - 2008 Dry Rose of Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley $10

Round Hill – www.roundhillwines.com - 2008 White Zinfandel, California $5

Rutherford Hill – www.rutherfordhill.com - 2008 Rose, Napa Valley $20

V. Sattui Winery – www.vsattui.com - 2008 Rosato, North Coast $16; 2008 Gamay Rouge, California $18

Shannon Ridge Winery – www.shannonridge.com - 2008 Wrangler Rose, Ranch Collection, Lake County $16

Sol Rouge – www.solrouge.com - 2008 Rose, Lake County $18

Sutter Home Winery – www.sutterhome.com - 2007 White Zinfandel, The Original, California $4; 2008 White Zinfandel, The Original, California $4; 2008 White Merlot, California $5

Titus Lombardi – www.titusvineyrds.com - 2008 Rose of Syrah, Mendocino $13

Toad Hollow Vineyards – www.toadhollow.com - 2008 Pinot Rose, Eye of the Toad, Sonoma Coast $9

Valley of the Moon Winery – www.valleyofthemoonwinery.com - 2007 Rosato di Sangiovese, Sonoma County $14; 2008 Rosato di Sangiovese, Sonoma County $14

Waterstone Winery – www.waterstonewines.com - 2008 Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley $12

Wine. Just four little letters, wine; but thousands of books have been published on the subject, with hundreds more written every year, countless magazines, periodicals, and trade publications are printed monthly, and writers opine in columns appearing in the newspapers of nearly every city in the world each week.

Wine. What insightful and new bits of information and wisdom do I have to share, that hasn’t been imparted, shared, by numerous others before?

I will likely add nothing new, and yet my experiences, uniquely my own, may trigger memories of similar experiences you hold; and a particular bottle, and the place you tasted it, and the people you tasted it with, may come back to you as clearly as yesterday. Maybe it was yesterday.

I am wine geekier than most. Experienced, a professional’s palate, around wine all of my life, with developed preferences, I am a Frasier Crane without the pretentiousness, without the snobbiness.  Raised on Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, I love big rich red wines; ideally with a ton of structure supporting accessible forward fruit. If an old friend showed up with a box of chilled white Zinfandel, something I personally have never bought for myself, I would work up a menu to feature the crushed-strawberry-over-ice notes it might have, pour myself a glass, and enjoy time shared with a friend.

The blackberry currant of a Cabernet, or the brambly raspberry and black pepper spice of a Zinfandel, breathed in through my nose buried in a large glass; the wine swirled, aroma molecules breaking free, traveling up my nose, aromas, bouquet, analyzed, information passed on to the brain for comparison with similar previous smelled items. Judgement, memories triggered, new memories being formed.

I love smelling wines. I can happily swirl 4 ounces of wine in the bottom of a 16 or 20 ounce glass, and inhale the wine, breathe in the smells, experience the changes as a newly opened wine’s tannins and alcohol heat flush dissipate and the fruit comes forward. I love to let a wine breathe in my glass, “nosing” it over and over.

I often open a wine to be used at dinner, either in the food as a part of the recipe, or as an accompanying meal beverage – or more often as both. I love wine, I love food, and I love to pour myself a glass of wine to smell and inspire me as I prep a meal’s ingredients. I often spend an hour just breathing in a wine before tasting it.

I have a picture that hangs over my desk, and has hung on the wall of each of the wine industry related offices I worked in over the years; in the picture are an 11 year old me, and my then 7 year old brother, crushing grapes by foot. Any fan of Lucy Ricardo’s I Love Lucy trip to Italy can recognize instantly what my brother and I are doing. I love the picture, because it demonstrates how far back wine reaches into my life.

While I grew up with, and always loved, wine, one of the first wines that made me sit up and take notice was the 1976 Simi Cabernet Sauvignon. As I didn’t turn 21 until 1982, I found it too late and had to purchase the wine as a library release directly from the winery. I think I was spending $50 a bottle 25 years ago. I couldn’t afford much back then, but somehow I managed to always have a couple of bottles on hand for years until the winery ran out.

Fifteen years later, my dad asked me to watch his house when he went on vacation to Italy; and tucked away, I found a bottle of 1976 Charles Krug. I invited a wine loving friend up to the house for dinner, planning to showcase the Krug. Robert Mondavi is one of my wine industry heroes, he is a God, having changed California winemaking for all wineries, not just the winery he created in his own name. Mondavi left his family’s winery, the Charles Krug winery, to make his own wines his own way, and in doing so paved the way for everyone else, including Krug, to make better wines. I looked forward to tasting the ’76 Krug Cab, a winery from a historied family, from an area known for growing great Cabernet grapes, from an incredibly good vintage. Would it have held up? Would it be faded? Would it be vinegar?

Typically, I opened the wine while prepping dinner, and was not thrilled with the nose, it seemed muted, very closed, possibly dead. As time went on, the alcohol flush disappeared, but all that was left was a tannic edge without much fruit. The wine had gone, sadly faded. I sniffed and sipped at 30 minutes, an hour, two hours, three hours. Nothing.

My friend came for dinner, we ate and glanced wistfully at the bottle that never opened up. As I plated dessert, I tried the 76 Krug Cab one more time. Oh My God. a wine aged under dubious conditions for twenty five years, left open to breathe for over 4 hours, finally opened to show off the most amazing array of fruit and leather and herb and spice. Rich, deep and full, our dinner wine became the sweetest non-sweet dessert wine ever.

I remember during barrel tasting weekend in Sonoma County tasting a Zinfandel at Preston Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley. I was stunned by the flavors, still in the barrel, with lots of growing up yet to do, I was tasting what I thought of as the best Zinfandel I had ever tasted. I was so excited to taste the Zinfandel that would be made from this barrel. When at last the finished wine was blended and bottled, I tasted the newly released Zinfandel and was shocked.

Traditionally, Zinfandel may be blended with some Carignane, just as Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended with some Merlot. There are certain blendings, classic, that are accepted as appropriate and often result in a wine superior to the unblended wines otherwise made. Lou Preston chose to blend the best barrels of Zinfandel I had ever tasted with Cabernet, producing a wine that tasted like no other Zinfandel I had ever tasted. I was horrified, crushed, mourning the loss of what I had imagined.

Ignoring the label, putting aside expectations of what a Zinfandel should taste like, and what this Zinfandel could have tasted like, but tasting this wine as simply a red wine, and asking myself if I liked it or not, I found that I did indeed like it. I liked it quite a bit. I often took visiting friends by the Dry Creek Store for sandwiches, then to Preston Vineyards to buy a bottle of this Zinfandel, and over a few games of Bocce on the grounds of Preston Vineyards I would recount the tale of this wine from barrel to bottle, as I experienced it.

Another powerfully memorable wine is the 1995 Kistler Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast, near where the Russian River empties into the Pacific Ocean. The Chardonnay seemed to hold every note in the nose and mouth that I had ever experienced in all other Chardonnays combined. It was all there: oak, toast, cream, vanilla, apple, pear, tropical and citrus, clove, caramel, butterscotch, and so much more. It was like tasting 1.5 Liters of flavor crammed into a 750 milliliter bottle. It was like magic, I have never experienced anything quite like it before or since.

I was in a restaurant in the foodie Buckhead section of Atlanta and saw the ’95 Kistler Chardonnay on the wine menu at $60 which is about the same as it cost on release in a store; remembering the magic, with great happiness, I ordered a bottle. The wine came to the table at perhaps a single degree above freezing, all of the amazing notes locked in by cold. This was a truly sad wine experience, to me it seemed criminal. I would much rather have enjoyed the wine at room temperature with the notes flying out of the glass than frozen and unable to escape.

From the 1973 vintage, Mike Grgich made Chateau Montelena a Chardonnay that won first place among the Chardonnays and white Burgundies at the famed 1976 Paris tasting using fruit that was purchased from the Bacigalupi vineyards in Sonoma County. I had a chance to taste wines made by California winemaker of the year Carol Shelton, using these same grapes, but from the superior 1995 vintage, for Windsor Vineyards. I had a stocked cellar of 360 bottles of wines at the time, I did not need more wine, but I found myself buying cases of this incredible Chardonnay.

Carol Shelton made wines that featured the flavors of the fruit, allowing the grapes and what they had experienced while on the vine to express itself in the bottle. One of the most consistent, approachable wines Shelton made year between the years of 1995 and 2000 was her Murphy Ranch Chardonnay for Windsor Vineyards. Legend, true or not I don’t know, is that Carol was able by contract to pick fruit from the Murphy Ranch in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma County before the vineyard owners could harvest the remaining grapes for use in their own Murphy Goode Chardonnay. All I know is that the Carol’s Murphy Ranch Chardonnay made up the largest portion of my collected Chardonnays during this time. I bought bottles from Murphy Goode each vintage as well to do a sort of horizontal tasting, same wine, same grapes, different winemaker.

I could write about the differences of the Chardonnays; the Kistler, the Montelena, the Windsor Bacigalupi Vineyard, the Windsor Murphy Ranch, The Murphy Goode; or about the different areas the grapes come from: Napa or the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Coast appellations of Sonoma County; or about the different vintages the grapes were grown: the late frosts and early rains or the perfect long and warm growing seasons. It is all of this and more that makes wine endlessly fascinating to the wine geek in me; but suffice it to say that wine is alive, it changes, even twin bottles, cellared well, can taste different months apart.

I could write endlessly about wines, and the wineries and vineyards of my family home in Sonoma County, California. I could tell you about learning that wines change by vintage as my first wife and I had a favored wine become a least favored wine when the last bottle of one vintage was consumed and the first bottle of the new vintage was tasted. I could share that Sonoma County with half the wineries of Napa County wins twice as many Gold Medals in National and International wine competitions – and the wines cost less.

I could write about the lesser known wines of the county I now live in, Mendocino. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown in the Anderson Valley; the similarities and differences of these grapes when compared with the grapes from the better known Russian River Valley of Sonoma County, the sparkling wine of Roederer Estate in the Anderson Valley compared to the California Champagne of the Russian River Valley’s Korbel. The lusciousness of Handley’s Anderson Valley Pinot, or the commitment to organic and sustainable farming practices of Mendocino County wineries – even wine giant Fetzer, located just off the 101 in Hopland. One of the most exciting one man wineries I know of is in Ukiah, where John Chiarito’s head pruned vines produce artisanal Italian varietals, Negroamaro and Nero D’Avloa, as well as gorgeously dense Petite Sirah and Zinfandel.

Mostly, when I write about wine, I want to share with you a memory; the taste of the wine, where I was, what I was doing, and who I was doing it with.

There are books dedicated to recommended pairings; red wine with meat, white wine with fish. I have found that any wine is best paired with friends.

A few years back, Susan Johnson and I ate at Kuletos off Union Square in San Francisco. We were enjoying a special meal on the Windsor Vineyards corporate credit card as a reward for doing a special two day tasting in San Francisco for a corporate client.

We brought a bottle of our 1994 Windsor Vineyards Carol Shelton Signature Series Merlot. Both Susan and I are big red fans, generally preferring the power and strength of a Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel to a the softness of a Merlot, but this wine had taken four gold medals, including a double gold/best Merlot award at the California State Fair, and we knew from several previous tastings that this was a monster of a Merlot.

As the Windsor wine was not on the wine list, we asked our waiter about a corkage fee, agreed to it, asked the waiter to bring a glass for himself, and let him do the honors of opening our bottle to breathe.

We noticed that there was a Matanzas Creek Merlot from the same big 1994 vintage that had earned some of the highest ratings for a ’94 Merlot from Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast, 97/100 or above, on the wine list and available at $60, a very fair restaurant price, and as we were staying in San Francisco overnight, we ordered a bottle to taste against the Windsor Merlot.

For our meals, we chose a roast duck breast in a grappa soaked cherry reduction special that seemed made to be paired with our wines.

If you have never eaten at Kuletos, the restaurant is warm and inviting, an upscale yet comfortable Northern Italian restaurant, rich with wood and marble, professional yet friendly service staff, and consistently well turned out food that can be paired with wines by the glass, half bottle or full bottle from their more than adequate wine list.

Having snacked earlier in the day, we chose a selection of cured meats and salumi to start us off, and a deconstructed Caesar hearts of romaine salad dressed in an anchovy and garlic dressing with croutons to share before our duck dinner.

Carol Shelton’s Windsor Merlot opened with a rich ruby red color, and the nose of warm cherry was echoed in the mouth and joined by notes of plum and berry against spicy French oak. There was even a hint of bacon fat, and everyone loves bacon fat. Not overpowering, but perfectly balanced, the iron fist in a velvet glove, this Merlot had loads of gorgeous fruit hanging on a well structured backbone of firm tannins and good acidity, and the finish kept each note in balance with the others as it disappeared over time.

Our waiter was pleased to be invited to taste our wine, and surprised that a wine he had never run across before was so good.

The 1994 Matanzas Creek, reserve something or other, Merlot, Sonoma Valley was simply gorgeous. It is heaven to have two beautiful and delicious wines, at once similar and very different, to experience and enjoy with a good friend, also wine knowledgeable, over foods perfectly matched to the wines.

The Matanzas Creek Merlot showed a garnet color, the nose more like Cabernet with Blackberry and Cassis notes against oak in the front with perfumed floral notes behind. Again, this was a power Merlot, more iron, less velvet, and the tannins were big for a Merlot. Flavors of candied cherry, toast, oak, and creamy vanilla. A Merlot you can eat, thick and chewy, with a long and powerful finish.

The salumi and cured meat plate was a treat, popping bits of tasty meats into our mouth to be joined by a small sip of wine and swallowed.

I don’t know if inviting your waiter to taste two remarkably wonderful wines will have the same effect it seemed to have on our waiter, but that night he made a slew of errors, or helped the kitchen out of their slew of errors, because long before our duck hit the table, we had a soup and two more appetizers, all unordered, find their way to our table. All mistakes, we were told, could we possibly help the restaurant by consuming them?

Susan and I are great friends, we have worked together twice, almost thrice, and have helped each other on our separate employments. We enjoy each other’s company, conversation is never difficult for us, we both love wine and have remained in the industry for many years, and we both love food and have cooked for the other on a number of occasions.

While all of the food was good, and it was nice to taste each course with first one wine and then the other; the highlight of the evening was tasting the wines against and with the grappa soaked cherry reduction sauced duck breasts, crispy skin, and delicious fat, juicy meat and two great wines, either of which would have been perfect. Wine and food flavors marrying delightfully, the union richer, more delicious, than the individual flavors alone.

Susan and I communicated through this course largely by shared moans of pleasure.

We shared a chocolate and cherry cake torte for dessert, and I risked ruining a perfect meal by ordering coffee. Don’t you hate a bad cup of old, unattended, burnt coffee at a meal’s end?

Have no fear, oh blog reader, the dessert and coffee were both perfect. I don’t really recall the salad, or the numerous unordered appetizers, except to say that they were uniformly good. This was one of those perfect meals.

We even saved a glass of the Windsor Merlot and had the waiter prepare a plate from our leftovers for a homeless man who had asked us for change on our way to the restaurant. On that night everyone ate and drank well.

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