ZAP. For Bay Area wine lovers, especially those with a fondness for Zinfandel, those three letters forming that one little word bring an automatic smile. ZAP is short for Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, a wine industry group dedicated to the promotion of Zinfandel wine and the Zinfandel grape, and although they are attempting to brand their January event as the Zinfandel Experience, or #ZinEx, for many their big January event is also referred to as ZAP, as in, ”I’ve got my tickets to ZAP, I can’t wait to get my Zin on.”

#ZinEx is not a single January event, but a series of events held over four days. This year, on Wednesday, January 29, a trade and media tasting event was held away from the crowds at Rock Wall Wine Company in Alameda. I did not attend this event, but my friend John Compisi did attend and I’ll link his recap here for you to read about it.

For me, #ZinEx started Thursday night, at the Golden Gate Club at the Presidio in San Francisco with Epicuria, an evening of wine and food pairings, where top chefs from restaurants, catering companies, and culinary colleges create delicious bites specifically intended to complement the flavors of Zinfandel wine. 32 wineries and kitchens were represented.

Here are some pairings I enjoyed immensely:

2013 Carol Shelton Wines Wild Thing “Old Vines, Mendocino County with Ruth’s Chris Steak House of San Francisco and Walnut Creek’s Double Chop Lamb Lollipops with Veal Demi Glaze.

Yes, that is a Ruth's Chris double lamb pop and Carol Shelton Wild Thing Zin

1995 Old Hill Vineyard from Ravenswood, poured by Joel Peterson; Zinfandel plus 40 other varieties from a vineyard planted in 1862 and replanted in 1885. Paired with a Lamb Merguez Sausage with Mango Chutney, Paprika Spiced Onions and Italian Giardiniera Peppers from Rosamunde Sausage Grill in San Francisco.

1995 Old Hill Vineyard from Ravenswood, poured by Joel Peterson. Zinfandel plus 40 other varieties from a vineyard planted in 1862 and replanted in 1885.

Pacific Fine Food Catering of Alameda stepped up at the last minute, filling in for a fail restaurant, and had every taster talking about their amazing ribs, which I paired with the 2014 Mendocino County Fair wine Competition’s Best of Show Red, the 2012 Artezin Zinfandel, Mendocino County.

Artisan ribs with Artezin Zin. Retasting the 2014 Mendo Wine Comp Best of Show Red Wine

Seghesio Family Vineyards’ 2012 Rockpile paired perfectly with the Seghesio Zin and cherry glazed St. Louis Ribs prepared by their executive chef, Peter Janiak. Perfect smoke bark, delicious.

2012 Seghesio Rockpile with Seghesio Zin and cherry glazed St. Louis Rib

2012 m2 “Old Vine” Saucie Vineyard, Lodi paired with the San Francisco Cheesecake Company’s Dark Chocolate m2 Zinfandel SF Cheesecake and their Wild Huckleberry m2 Zinfandel SF Cheesecake were wonderfully creamy and lovely bites with sips.

2012 m2 old vine Zin with SF Cheesecake Company's treats

I paired a barrel sample of 2013 Andis Wines Amador Zin with Santa Rosa’s Flavor Bistro Sweet Potato Timbale with a trio of Cheeses garnished with Alba Mushrooms and Redemption Glaze and the Presidio Social Club of San Francisco’s Sea Salt Roasted Devil’s Gulch Pork Leg.

2013 Andis Wines barrel sample with Flavor Bistro sweet potato timbale with a trio of cheeses garnished with alba mushrooms & redemption glaze

The 2012 Dry Creek Vineyard Wallace Ranch Estate Zin with the Bistro Boudin of San Francisco’s Braised Beef Stew was my last bite and sip and, with apologies to all the unsipped and untasted treats remaining, I was delighted with everything that passed my lips.

2012 Dry Creek Vineyard Wallace Ranch Estate Zin with Bistro Boudin Braised Beef Stew.
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Friday morning, I attended Flights! at San Francisco’s Four Seasons hotel, a seated panel tasting with an educational component. This year’s Flights! Tasting would feature three panels of winemakers with wines from three different American Viticultural Areas, AVAs, for an exploration of the area specific characteristics, or Terroir based differences, that result in the Zinfandels produced from these three very different areas.

Readying bottles for Flights!

I was seated at a table with Joel Butler, MW. MW is the designation for a Master of Wine, which means that Joel has a remarkable palate and an amazingly encyclopedic knowledge of the world’s wines.

Flights! was moderated by a personal hero of mine in the wine world, Joel Peterson of Ravenswood. Joel told those assembled that, “we’re going to be talking about Zinfandel, the shape shifter. As we go on, you’ll see what I mean,” and, “the driver of difference is place; it has a wider range of growing locations than almost any other grape, we’re going to watch it change colors.”

The first panel focused on the Zinfandel of Contra Costa County, and Joel told us, “Contra Costa County is really sandy…the sands are really amazing. Phylloxera cannot live on sandy soil; these Zinfandel are planted on their own roots.”

Contra Costa

John Kane poured the 2012 Carla’s Reserve from Rosenblum Cellars, and painted a picture of the vineyard near the Antioch bridge, a K-mart, rail road tracks, in the middle of town. The wine was marked by notes of light tar, caramel, cherry, chocolate and salt, and was made using 3-4 styles of yeast, 15% new oak, micro bin small lot whole cluster fermentation, and had Mourvèdre (also known as Mataró) from the field in the blend.

Nathan Kandler poured Precedent Wines’ 2012 Evangelho Vineyard Zinfandel, running 75-80% Zin, with Mataró, Carignane, as well as two white grapevines, Palomino and Muscat, also in the block. Nathan described the vineyard, planted in 1890, with delta drift sands 30-40 feet deep, and said “sandy soils give bright acidity, fruit driven, suave tannins.” The wine tasted of ripe bright strawberry and raspberry fruit. Nathan used no new oak, but used French Chardonnay barrels.

Charlie Tsegeletos offered up his 2012 Big Break Vineyard Zin from Cline Cellars, and described the, “very, very deep sand,” and, “roots penetrating 30 feet.” Charlie told us the, “old vines [were] planted when Woodrow Wilson was in office, when Henry Ford established the assembly line.” With no fining, this was essentially a vegan wine, and the vineyard relies on “dry farming in these near desert conditions and sandy soil.’ The result was a darker, but balanced, multi-noted, meaty wine, plummy with cassis and a touch of mint,

Matt Cline poured the 2012 Three Wine Company Zinfandel, Live Oak, a vineyard with about nearly equal parts Zinfandel, Carignane, and Mataró originally planted mid 1888, with less than 10% Mataró and Carignane remaining today. There is also some Alicante planted perpendicular to the vineyard block. Matt humorously noted, “I’ve been making wines for about 30 years, and I think I’m the only one doing it right. Listening to these new guys, I think they’re coming along.” Matt added the river influenced winds of Contra Costa’s delta to the list of influences, and noted the “many droughts in the last 125 years, and these dry farmed vines in sand just keep going.” Fermenting in the 60’s, cool temperature wise, using a mix of American and French oak, 30% new, the sandy soils and wind resulting in “dusty berry earth,” notes, I picked up herbal blackberry, sweet tart black cherry, and floral raspberry notes.

Last up for Contra Costa County was Shauna Rosenblum, who of course started at her parents’ winery Rosenblum Cellars before creating wines at Alameda’s Rock Wall Wine Company. Shauna poured her 2012 Jesse’s Vineyard, which is also planted to Carignane and Mataró, “old school field blends,” harvested and co-fermented. About the vintage, Shauna shared the words of a sage industry friend, “2012 is a one in a hundred year vintage.” About 2013, she shared, “2013 is a one in a hundred year vintage.” Using multiple yeasts, including sparkling wine yeasts, 15-20% new oak, Shauna let the fruit show. The wine had a dessert custard nose, and notes of pepper, salt, tobacco, cocoa, blackberry, and a raspberry chocolate brownie flavor.

Joel Butler asked the panel about low pH and TA for Contra Costa wine, and Joel Peterson followed up asking if the sandy soil and deep roots or the climate were responsible. Matt Cline suggested the Contra Costa’s grapes are within ½ mile of water, so much cooler than the 1 ½ mile from water people typically think of when they think of Contra Costa locations, and this water is a cooling influence.

The second panel featured winemakers from Amador County. Amador County is made up of granitic soil, and is sometimes rocky, with Joel describing, “decomposed granite, low humidity, high luminosity, with 65 acres of vines 65 years or older.

Amador

Scott Harvey was up first with his 2012 Vineyard 1869 wine from his eponymous winery. The vineyard is, “the oldest document Zinfandel in the nation,” relying on, “a mining claim identifying one plot corner as being this vineyard planted to Zinfandel,” as the documentation for the claim. Scott described higher altitude planted vines, leading to higher tannins, a warm region, old vines with no irrigation, running out of available moisture at the end of vintage, higher alcohol wines, a touch green, from dehydration of the grapes, the best wines come from grapes picked after the first rain, and a second ripening. The wine showed tea, meat and soil, and raspberry.

Paul Sobon of Sobon Estate poured his 2012 Rocky Top. I visited Sobon perhaps a half dozen times in 2000 and 2001, when matriarch Shirley Sobon would order books and imprinted corkscrews from me, back when I worked for the Wine Appreciation Guild. When Paul described, “pretty intense volcanic mud flow, and solid, solid, solid rock,” I could picture it clearly. Paul also talked about ‘tractor blight’ as some near vertically horse or mule planted vines were taken out by less nimble tractors. 30-35% new oak, 16-18 months, 3-5% Carignane in the mix, the Rock Top showed familiar Amador dry Amador spic, clove, woody, and red fruit notes, almost structural.

Chris Leamy brought the 2012 Terra d’Oro, Deaver Vineyard, Zinfandel. 20 acres, 1881, swailed horseshoe shaped, the vineyard presents many different sun exposures, which makes an already uneven ripening variety an even greater challenge. Chris described Deaver as, “a really high acid vineyard,” that shows Amador clove, allspice, and cinnamon, and tends to tannin. To bring fruit forward, Chris ferments in stainless steel, drains and puts back on top of the skins, presses sooner, so the tannins don’t catch up, seeking balance. The wine showed a nice floral perfume. Chris also spoke to the lack of moisture in Amador vineyards, “because they start running out of water, you just have to make a call and go with it, because then you find – in 2002 – you should have picked 3-4 days ago; you really, really should have picked.”

I knew the next winemaker, Randle Johnson, because his 2012 Artizen Zinfandel, Mendocino County had been judged the Best of Show Red Wine at the 2014 Mendocino County Fair wine competition, and I have tasted it often. Today, he poured the 2012 Artezin, Esola Vineyard Zin. Planted own roots vs. root stock, Randle noted that like Contra Cost’s sandy soil, Amador’s volcanic soil allowed Vitis Vinifera’s own stock to survive Phylloxera. “We have water issues, and Zinfandel loves to set a second crop, but we have the money at esola to cut the second crop which helps with water,” explained Randle, adding,”a little rain, I just love fall rain for any non-irrigated Zinfandel vineyard grapes.” Randle also shared, “we try not to add any Jesus units,” and uses 100% French old Cabernet barrels. The wine through perfume, soft floral, and was surprisingly light in body considering the 15.4$ abv. There was abundant cedary red fruit.

The 2012 Turley Wine Cellars, Sadie Upton Vineyard Zin was shared by Tegan Passalacqua, who said, “Amador does get cool at night,” leading to, “higher natural acidity.” Again, the vineyard is ‘own rooted’ which became a bigger buzzword than ‘old vine’ at the tasting. Planted in 1922 by Sadie Upton, Tegan said, “not once have we had dehydration issue in this vineyard.” 20% new oak. There is Cinsault co-planted, and “we take everything in the vineyard and throw it in the fermenter.” Tegan shared a classic description of Amador Zin, “Tastes like it was poured out of a miner’s bucket,” with natural acidity and tannin from granitic soil. I tasted a bright, ref fruited, rose, tar, spice, cherry, strawberry, raspberry wine. Amador’s “wines are very serious, not for noobies, and demand food,” was a final thought shared by Tegan.

I found all five Amador wines threw minerality.

Chris Sawyer, sommelier and writer, asked about the characteristics shared by Amador Zins, and the panel spoke to a combination of tannins and low pH that allow Amador wines to hold up, reduce oxygen absorption, and retain ‘zinniness.’ They also talked about the advantage that comes with using old vines. “Young wines do not develop the character of old vines. An 85 year old guy knows his neighborhood better than a 12 year old. Young vines do not go as deep and do not pick up [as many] flavors [from the soil].”

The last panel of winemakers represented the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County, the area I visit the most often among the three, largely because I grew up nearby in Santa Rosa, and it remains the closest of the three areas to where I now live in Ukiah. Joel on Dry Creek Valley: first planted in 1869, dominant grape is Zinfandel, cooler than Amador or Conta Costa. Many series of soil, loam, yolo. Warm days, cool nights. Four of this panels wines were on St. George, with only one on own roots.

DCV

The first Dry Creek Valley winemaker was Tim Bell of Dry Creek Vineyard, coiners of the term “old vine” and Tim brought the4 2012 Beeson Ranch Zin. Tim first described the dry Creek Valley, a “long and narrow valley, almost two different regions north and sounth, sixty miles long by two miles wide, warmer in the north, cooler in the south, with a marine influence, fog, and red and brown soils.” About Beeson Ranch, Tim said it is a “field blend vineyard, to me it feel like a lot of soul,” with Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Grenache, Trousseau Gris, Alicante Bouchet, and St. George. In general, Tom said Dry Creek Valley fruit shows, “cherry, raspberry leather, rose petal, with spice laid over the top of it.” About this Dry Creek Vineyard wine, I picked up floral perfume, cherry, raspberry, rose petal, and earth. Tom found, “the wine has distinctive fruit, white pepper, coriander.”

Jamie Peterson, the next winemaker, is no relation to Joel Peterson, but was likely not alone in wishing Joel was his uncle. Jamie poured his 2012 Peterson Winery “Tradizionale” West Vineyard Zinfandel, planted 6’ x 6’ (pre-tractor, which sees 8’ x 8’ spacing) in 1902, and made using, “native yeast when applicable, letting the site express itself,” showing, “lots of complexity and balance,” and, “always ripens a little on the later side, looking at acidity, sugar, flavor,” remarked Jamie about his wine. The vineyard has 5% ‘other’ including Alicante and even Concord. Jammy fruit, spice, herbal, dark cherry, a touch of funk, almost Pinot-esque but on steroids and covered with muscles.

The 2012 Quivera Vineyards Zinfandel, Katz Vineyard was presented by Hugh Chappelle, who described temperature swings in the vineyard of up to 50 degrees, and the soil of the Dry creek Valley as clay loam. “Old vines are truly special…it is just wonderful to capture that in the glass,” enthused Hugh, adding, “deciding when to pick Zin, the lack of uniformity, finding that perfect mix, is quite hard.” According the the Sonoma County assessor’s office, these grapes were planted in 1900, and are a field blend vineyard, including 2$ white varieties. Hugh uses a light touch of oak, “typically French, 20-25% new,” and the wine showed flora rose perfume, and deep rich layered raspberry and chocolate notes.

Glenn Proctor brought the 2012 Puccioni Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel. Of the 40 acres planted by 1911, today just 3 ½ acres are old vine. Relatively warm, by late afternoon that temperature is lost. 7’ x 7’ mule and plow farmed until 1968, “old vine is history; wine is more than the wine; it is the experience, the history,” said Glenn, a fourth generation winemaker, who will see his son become the fifth generation winemaker on the land. The wine had a nice edge, rhubarb, deep reduced strawberry and cherry jam, and herb notes.

Kerry Damskey rounded out the final panel with his presentation of his 2012 Dutcher Crossing Winery Maple Vineyard “Bill’s Block” Zin. The vineyard was planted in 1940 on the Dry Creek bench, by Lytton Springs, in gravely loam; dry farmed, head trained, a field blend with 82% Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah, Carignane, Alicante, and a single Ruby Cabernet vine making up the balance, and co-fermented. Kerry explained, “when you co-ferment, it helps the fermentation to finish. It always gives a nice integration. Maple Vineyard makes itself.” About the temperature, Kerry said, “Dry Creek does get quite warm and really gets cold at night.” 3.7-3.75 pH, not that low, pushes cherry – black cherry flavors, and Kerry uses 30% new tight grain oak, with 10 months in barrel. I picked up notes of black cherry, strawberry pie, basil herb, and cedar.

Cheese and DCV Wines

I love Flights!, because I love learning, and being able to taste how each area produced wines that were distinctively expressing terroir, while winemaking allowing differences, was a terrifically worthwhile way to spend a morning.
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There was a fancy dinner Friday night, featuring large format bottles, and while I found the bottle room, I was not able to attend the event. One day.

Large Format Bottle storage
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For most folks ZAP brings to mind the insane crowds that used to pack first one, then two enormous halls at Ft. Mason in San Francisco. I used to attend these events, and loved them, but started attending in the early trade and media hours and then abandoning the event when the doors were opened to the hoards.

For the last two years, I have attended a much nicer event at the Presidio in San Francisco. Not as crowded, the folks at Zinfandel Advocates & Producers clearly are selling fewer tickets, and the quality of the event has skyrocketed.

The Tasting on Saturday features 116 wineries pouring Zinfandel. I intended to taste all of the wines made from Mendocino County’s grapes, but I pretty much already had, and reviews of those wines have been featured in previous articles in the Ukiah Daily Journal. This Saturday, I simply let myself taste in a more delightedly haphazard fashion, with little concern for where the grapes came from.

First up, I visited the Bedrock Wine Company table. Pouring were Chris Cottrell and Morgan Twin-Peterson (Joel Peterson’s son). I first met Morgan at a previous Flights! tasting panel tasting, and consider him a young superstar winemaker. Great place to start, I figured.

Morgan

2013 Bedrock Old Vine, California – 75.6% Zin with Carignane , Mourvedre, and Alicante. Bright strawberry, lovely cherry, herb, and mint.

2013 Bedrock Evangelho, Contra Costa County – This wine is from the same vineyard that Nathan Kandler presented the day before at Flights! A little closed, a wine to lay down. Deeper sniffs pulled spice, wood, clove, cranberry. Nice acid.

2013 Bedrock Heritage, Sonoma Valley – 1888 vineyard, 24 interplanted and co-fermented varieties. Native yeast and fermentation. No racking until bottling. Loved this wine. Just so multi-noted. Fruit basket roll up. Depth, layers, plenty of tannins, but soft. Ageable.

2012 Ballantine Old Vine, Napa Valley – Frank Ballentine poured his three vineyard blend. Ripe, ripe, ripe fruit. Raspberry and chocolate.

2012 Beltane Ranch, Estate, Sonoma Valley – I first tasted Joy Wesley’s wines when I visited Beltane Ranch last summer, with my friend Serena Alexi. This wine was a little tight then, but has opened up and now shows deep warm pie baking spices, dark blackberry, currant, jam, and herb.

Joy Wesley

2013 Beltane Ranch, Estate, Sonoma Valley – Clearly a year younger, a touch lighter, less deep notes now, redder fruit, cedar, spice, herb, raspberry.

2011 Dashe Cellars Dry rose of Zinfandel, Todd Brothers Ranch, Alexander Valley – Mike Dashe poured me his “very dry” blush Zin, made from 50 year old vines, barrel fermented, and native. Lovely, light, but flavorful, balanced, citrusy, dried mandarin orange, persimmon, spice, herb.

2012 Andis Wines, Amador County – Really delicious, balanced, earthy, dry cherry, raspberry, clove spice, great integration.

2012 V. Sattui Winery Quaglia Vineyard Ancient Vine, St. Helena – First, I should note, the folks at V. Sattui have been very kind to me over the years. I attended their 125th anniversary lunch at the North Beach Restaurant in San Francisco and sat directly across from Dario and Yana Sattui, Dario has been generous with quotes, and V. Sattui Winery regularly sends review samples of new release to me. All that said, these are uninfluenced notes: Firm, dark, deep, rich, cocoa spice, raspberry reduction, soft but abundant tannin, well balanced.

2012 V. Sattui Winery Crow Ridge Vineyard Ancient Vine, Russian River Valley – orange, eucalyptus mint, black pepper spice, cassis, persimmon, integrated, lively.

2012 V. Sattui Winery Black-Sears, Howell Mountain – Lovely nose. Got into a conversation with Jim Goodman, a Zinfandel Enthusiast, then came back and smelled again, “ahhhh.” Cola, cherry, berry, cassis, great drink!

2013 Jeff Cohn Cellars The Imposter, California – A cellar blend…blends work! Chocolate, smooth spice, layered smooth balanced fruit, raspberry and cranberry, really terrifically integrated wine.

2013 The Prisoner Wine Company Saldo, California – I LOVED Jenifer Beloz’s two wines. Saldo is latin and refers to “from here to there” and this wine takes grapes from Sonoma Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Mendocino County, Lake County, Sierra Foothills, Contra Costa County, and Lodi. Three Mendocino County vineyards are Mattern Vineyard, Dark Horse Vineyard, and Tindall Ranch…see, I was able to get some Mendocino County love into this piece. 85% Zin with Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Mourvedre. More Zin than a Coro, but similar. So good. Chocolate wrapped raspberry, cherry, and berry.

Jennifer Beloz

2013 The Prisoner Wine Company The Prisoner, Napa Valley – First, this wine knocked my sock off. 44% Zinfandel, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Petite Sirah, 16% Syrah, 2% Charbono. This Napa blend, based on Zinfandel was just incredibly balanced and so nuanced. What a great wine! Blackberry, cranberry, persimmon, floral, rose, spice. Love, love, love. Jennifer Beloz, the winemaker, is incredibly personable, which was wonderful as well.

1997 Ridge Vineyards, Jimsomare – I walked up to the Ridge table and all I saw was the word Jimsomare and my heart started beating a little faster. I didn’t even see the 1997 vintage date when I asked for a taste. A great vintage, and my son’s birth year, the fruit might be a little in decline, but there was still plenty of bright raspberry and cranberry fruit, and spice. A real treat tasting this blast from the past.

97 Jimsomare

2013 Ridge Vineyards, Barrel Sample, Pagani Ranch, Sonoma Valley – 83% Zinfandel, 16% Alicante. I think the remaining 1% might be love. A terrifically lush and drinkable wine, great berry cherry fruit. Young, will benefit from age.
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To finish my The Tasting experience, I attended an exploration of what Randy Caparoso described as “under-appreciated Zinfandel areas” sponsored by the SOMM Journal.

Rich and Chris

SOMM Chris Sawyer led a quick look at Lake County’s Jelly Jar Wines and Mendocino County’s McNab Ridge Winery, using them to talk about the larger areas.

Chris shared that the Lake County AVA is above the fog line, high elevation, with intense sun exposure mitigated by the largest lake in California pulling in cool temperatures at night. Mendocino County is closer to the ocean, hotter, with a maritime channel bringing a diurnal swing draft, and influences are the Russian River and gravelly alluvial and volcanic soils.

2012 Jelly Jar Wines Old Vine, Lake County – Growing up, the jars that jelly came in were called jelly glasses at our house, because they so often served as glasses for red wine at the table. In a nod to the same experience, the folks at Jelly Jar Wines knock the pretension of stemmed glasses, that all too often get knocked over and break, right out of what they do, embracing the wine glass of choice in our past, the humble but virtually unbreakable jelly jar. 50+ year old grapes from the Nova Vineyard on the Kelseyville Bench, up at 1,500-1,600 feet in elevation. Andy shared that the vineyard location and elevation brings frost worries and a late October pick, and the wine is imbued with late growing season attributes. Winemaker Andy Pestoni shared his Goldilocks wine, not too jammy, not too lean, but just right. Dusty cocoa powder, pretty elegant strawberry, raspberry, and dark cherry notes. Soft, smooth, with nice tannin.

2012 McNab Ridge Winery, Cononiah Vineyard, Mendocino – I tasted through all of Rich Parducci’s wines recently, and ran a feature piece on McNab Ridge Winery. I wrote then that I like Rich and his wines, and nothing has changed in the week since that was published in the Ukiah Daily Journal. Rich, and his wines, are a terrific representation of Mendocino County. 35 year old vines, Ed Berry is the grower, rocky volcanic soil, vineyard gone through multiple times for uniform fruit, Chocolate, strawberry jam, and white pepper spice.

2012 McNab Ridge Winery, Old Vine, Mendocino – A little more rocky soil, 75 year old vineyard, about 1½ tons per acre. Minerally, perfumed, rich fruit.

Rich shared a great compliment from Paul Draper, the God of Zin from Ridge, who upon tasting Rich’s Zin shared, “great job, you’ve done justice to these grapes.”
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To say that I had a great time, and am grateful to Zinfandel Advocates & Producers for their media invite, would be an understatement. Thank you!

I love single vineyard Zinfandel, and 100% Zinfandel, but I came to reinforce my greater love for blends, whether field blends or cellar blends, and in much the same way came to really appreciate some of the California blends that took advantage of the very different and distinct notes each different growing area pushed into the vines that grow there, so that the resulting blend was so much better than any individual wine might have been. What the House of walker does incredibly well with blended scotch, often sourcing from 40 individual single malts, winemaker Jennifer Beloz did with her wines at The Prisoner Wine Company. Not alone, there are other winemakers picking and choosing the best grapes for their California blend Zinfandels. Where once California on the label was a way to hide a bad source of grapes, now often it presents an invitation to something wonderful.

I fell in love with wines from Contra Costa County and Amador County, reconfirmed my love for wines from Dry Creek Valley and Mendocino County, and found new appreciation for wines that just said California.

Bottom line, if it says Zinfandel on the label, buy it and enjoy it. You are supporting family farming and passionate winemakers with each bottle you consume.

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John On Wine – A New Zin Tradition

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on Thursday, August 28, 2014

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

On a sunny Saturday in August, I spent some time in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley at the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) Simply Summer Celebration, an inaugural event billed as “a new Zin tradition.”

A large white tent was set up in the center of Ridge Vineyards’ Lytton West Vineyard and over 125 Zinfandels were poured by the 50 wineries set up underneath the canopy, with Petaluma’s Pizza Politana set up just outside the tent and serving wood-fired artisan pizzas and a mixed green salad for the over 400 assembled wine lovers that day.

I love Zinfandel, but it can be a pretty big varietal, often tending toward high alcohol and massive dense fruit jam bomb flavors. On a hot day, outside, with plenty of sun, surrounded by other tasters, I was pleased to be writing for the Ukiah Daily Journal, as I could focus on the few wines made from Mendocino grapes and sensibly limit my tastes.

First up, I tasted the wine that won the John Parducci Best of Show Red Wine award at the recent 2014 Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition, the 2012 Artezin Wines Zinfandel, Mendocino, $17. Pouring it was winemaker Randle Johnson.

Artezin is a Napa winery, part of The Hess Collection, and the grapes for this top medal winning Zinfandel come from all over inland Mendo, including from Laviletta Vineyard on Mill Creek Road in Talmage, Seebass Family Vineyard and Paul Dolan’s Dark Horse Ranch on Old River Road near Talmage, Brown Vineyard in Redwood Valley, and Eddie Graziano’s Rovera Ranch near Calpella, among several others.

The wine was lush, showing clear berry, cherry, spice and herb notes up front, leading to red and purple fruit, including pluots. There is a lot happening in this wine, well integrated, marked by balance and finesse. 14.5% alcohol but doesn’t drink hot, feels like 13.9%.

Randle asked about the Mendocino Wine Competition, and if his award meant that the judges chose it above the best Cabernet Sauvignon, best Syrah, best Petite Sirah, best Carignane, over the best of all of Mendocino County’s red wine varieties, and not just above all of Mendocino County’s Zinfandels – which would be an impressive feat by itself. I told Randle that, yes, his Zinfandel was chosen best of all red wines entered into competition. Randle responded, “this award means more to me than a 95 in Wine Spectator.”

Josh Wagner, an employee at one of Kendall Jackson’s other wine concerns, poured three wines for Edmeades of Philo, between Boonville and Navarro, in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley. I tasted a 2012 Edmeades Zinfandel, Mendocino, $21, a blend of Zin, Petite Sirah, and Syrah, a decent weight wine at 14.7% alc but a little soft in the mouth, without discernable oomph. Next, Josh poured the 2012 Edmeades Zinfandel, Perli Vineyard, $31, a Zin, Merlot & Syrah blend, that tasted like a walk through the black pepper forest, with oak, anise, and plummy meaty raspberry. Finally, I tasted the 100% Zinfandel offering from Edmeades, a 2011 Shamrock Vineyard, with fruit taken at 2,800 feet in elevation. Lighter mouth feel than the Perli, but not dismissible at all. Plenty of flavors, and a wine that begs to be paired with food, where herbs and fruit would pop.

Carol Shelton poured her eponymous wines, and I tasted her 2012 Carol Shelton Wines Wild Thing Old Vines Zinfandel, Mendocino, $19. Carol’s Zinfandel showed brambly bright raspberry and darker blackberry, with herb and black pepper. I worked with Carol from 1993 to 2001, and have an affinity for her wines. Not too big at 14.5%, but certainly not too light. This would be a Goldilocks’ choice wine. 83% Zinfandel , 15% Carignane , and 2% Petite Sirah; the 92% of grapes coming from Mendocino County are from the Cox Vineyard, just north of Ukiah.

Not Mendocino County, but close, I tasted a wine from Chacewater Wine from over in neighboring Lake County’s Kelseyville. The 2012 Chacewater Zin, Sierra Foothills, $20, ran 14.5% alc and had dusty rhubarb, cherry, and oak notes throughout.

Bonus non-Mendo Zinfandel tastes: I tasted the 2012 Barefoot Cellars Zinfandel, Lodi, $7, because winemaker Jennifer Wall had done such a good job with social media marketing, inviting those who ZAP indicated would be attending to come and taste her wines. The Barefoot Zinfandel had smoky, woody, darker color and flavors without being heavy, with a dominant dark strawberry jam note.

Beltane Ranch winemaker Kevin Holt poured their inaugural 2012 Beltane Ranch Estate Zin, $44. I visited Beltane Ranch in the Sonoma Valley’s Glen Ellen with my friend Serena Alexi earlier this year. A blend of Zin, Alicante Bouschet, Carignane and Petite Sirah, the wine drank young, with intense flavors of black raspberry jam, herb, and oak supporting the fruit in this 15.5% Alc wine.

I tasted the 2012 Ridge Lytton Springs, as a good guest should always taste the host’s wine. At just 70% Zinfandel with 21% Petite Sirah, 6% Carignane, and 3% Mourvedre, this wine is technically not a Zinfandel, although it is sufficiently Zinny to me and, if grown and made one county north, could be called a Coro. 14.4% in alc and loaded with flavor, plenty of brambly ripe berry and a little firm. This is a wine that can lie down and improve with cellaring.

I recognized plenty of other wine writers, and saw that some of my favorite other Zinfandel producers were pouring, but as the attendance grew to over 400, counting winemakers, I decided to call it a day, and headed home to relax in an air conditioned room. That night, I baked spicy chicken wings and paired them with the 2012 Artezin Zinfandel, the Mendo Best of Show red, and that pairing may have best defined a simply summer celebration and new Zin tradition, as it was perfect.

Here’s a link to the Zin friendly baked chicken wing recipe.

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John On Wine ­ – A tale of two Passports

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, May 1, 2014
Written by John Cesano
John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

It was the best of Passports…

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I attended the 25th anniversary Passport to Dry Creek Valley last week, with my girlfriend and trusted second taster, June, as guests of the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley (WDCV). We were greeted at check-in by the new Executive Director of WDCV, Ann Peterson, who may have one of the best jobs in the wine industry, working with great farmers and winemakers in a gorgeous environment, every day.

Dry Creek Valley lies mostly to the west of Hwy. 101, and stretches 17 miles south to north from Healdsburg to Geyserville, two miles wide, in Sonoma County. Continuing a string of sold-out passport events, 6,000 tickets were sold, at a two day weekend price of $120, and allowed visitors the opportunity to visit and taste at 50 winery tasting rooms throughout Dry Creek Valley.

There is no reason to try to visit all 50 wineries even in two days, as there would be less than 15 minutes per winery, with travel between wineries having to fit into the allocated time, and rushing is no way to enjoy a passport event.

June and I visited 17 wineries in two days, a perfect number, giving about 45 minutes per winery. Some visits were shorter, some were longer, all were enjoyable. The great thing is that we could attend next year, visit 17 new wineries and have a completely different experience, equally great; and the same again for a third consecutive year with only one winery repeated in three years with 50 wineries to visit. There is no way I can fit a description of food, wine, music, and scene at 17 wineries here, but here are some impression highlights:

DaVero Farms and Winery stood out because I have a thing for farms and wine, farm stands & tasting rooms, and Ridgely Evers, the owner of DaVero greeted us both warmly. I had met Evers on previous visits, and was surprised at how much growth had occurred. This was June’s first visit and, an animal lover, June was in Heaven at Evers’ biodynamic farm, scratching a pig into a contented lie down. I enjoyed a taste of the DaVero Malvasia Bianca, bright with citrus and white pear flavors, in an outdoor canopy room being made from one tree . Evers has planted cuttings from a single Italian willow in a large circle and is training their growth to create the unique spot to enjoy wine.

Charlie Palmer has been honored by the James Beard Foundation twice, once as “Best Chef” in New York for his restaurant Aureole, and earned a multi year string of Michelin stars for restaurants in both New York and Las Vegas. He also cooked for June and I – ­ okay, and everyone else with a passport who visited Mauritson Wines. We loved the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc paired with brown sugar and bourbon cured salmon with arugula salad, pickled red onions, goat cheese & toasted hazelnuts; and the 2012 DCV Zinfandel with a Zinfandel braised wild board slider and Charlie’s bread and butter pickle.

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Truett Hurst: A glass of Zin Rose in hand, June and I walked down to the Adirondack chairs beside the burbling water, the wind in the trees, insects chirping, birds calling, a kiss shared; ­ truly a magical place. We also had the opportunity to talk with Paul Dolan, Mendocino biodynamic grape grower and partner at Truett Hurst.

Hog Island Oysters at Stephen & Walker with possibly my favorite wine of the weekend, a 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir; Amphora’s ABCs, Aglianico, Barberra, and Chardonnay, and June’s favorite food of the weekend, a chocolate truffle; the lobster roll at Bella; and the weekend’s best music: Rovetti & Meatballs, a fiddle, drums, and guitar ­ blending bluegrass, zydeco, and country – American music; Seghesio’s Zin; Ridge’s Zin; Talty’s Zin; there is just too much that was great to mention.

The views, wide open valley, green on the hills, blue skies, baby grapes on young vines, trees and flowers; slowing down, taking it all in, the scents and sounds too, Passport to Dry Creek Valley is a time to recharge your batteries, get right after working and living in a box, and is a bargain at $120. This is my favorite wine event, any price, anywhere; attending and not working is great!

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…It was also the best of Passports.

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If you missed Passport to Dry Creek Valley, or if you attended but want another weekend to experience more soul cleansing magic, the great news is that the 23rd annual Spring Hopland Passport is this weekend. Seventeen Hopland area winery tasting rooms – a perfect number – will put their best foot forward, pouring all of their wines and offering food pairings for two days, Saturday, May 3 and Sunday, May 4, from 11 a.m. -5 p.m. each day.

If you order online today, Thursday, May 1 by noon, you can pick up a two day ticket to Hopland Passport for just $45 each. Visit http://www.DestinationHopland.com/store, and if the store closes then you can buy your passport at any participating winery tasting room during the event for $55.

I believe that Hopland Passport is the best wine weekend event value – well underpriced – in the industry. Participating wineries include Brutocao, Campovida, Cesar Toxqui, Frey, Graziano, Jaxon Keys, Jeriko, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Milano, Naughty Boy, Nelson, Ray’s Station, Rivino, Saracina, Seebass, and Terra Savia.

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The weather looks like it will be perfect, I hope to see you in Hopland this weekend. I’ll be at the place with the farm stand & tasting room, stop by and say “hi.”

 

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John On Wine ­ – Spirits, dinners, passports, festivals, and a movie

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on Thursday, April 24, 2014, written by John Cesano

John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Jack Crispin Cain is the man behind Greenway Distillers, Inc. and American Craft Whiskey Distillery, co-located with Germain-Robin in Redwood Valley. Cain invited me to taste two new Low Gap whiskeys. Crispin also creates Crispin’s Rose Liqueur, Absinthe Superiure, Fluid Dynamics Barrel Aged Cocktails, Russell Henry Gins, and DSP CA 162 Straight Vodka.

Very much a family affair, Cain’s two sons Devin and Crispin Dylan were working on the next lime vodka when I arrived for a private tasting, and wife Tamar is involved in growing the roses for the Rose Liqueur and the herbs for the Absinthe. Tamar will also be the editor of a book due this fall, “Rural Cocktails of Mendocino County” that will be collaboratively written by Brian and Kate Riehl, as well as Jack Crispin Cain, and feature cocktails built around Cain’s spirits.

First up for tasting was a new Low Cap 2 Year Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey made from malted wheat and aged in used Port, Cognac, and Minnesota barrels. The color was natural, from the barrels, and not the darker color you find from whiskeys produced with caramel flavor and color additives. The new Whiskey has a natural perfume of butterscotch and cereal grain, candied wheat, and is incredibly smooth.

Cain’s 2010 Low Gap Whiskey earned a 5 star review and a 100 point rating. Reviewers will need to add another star and a few more points to their rating systems. The flavors of all of Cain’s spirits are pure, clean, with delicate identifiable notes. Cain explained that by using no artificial flavorings, only real fruit and other pure ingredients, and careful distilling techniques with direct fire and a copper onion shaped still, fermentation enzymes and yeasts leaving no sugars, and a host of other refined decisions, the quality of his spirits, already high, will continue to improve and then be maintained indefinitely.

I also tasted a 2011 blended Corn and Barley Whiskey, running 43 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). The flavors are not as direct as the Bavarian Hard Wheat Whiskey, but more layered at a very subtle level with a little bite on the end; the classic corn whiskey flavor definitely comes through.

I tasted four vodkas from Cain’s DSP CA 162 label. The unflavored vodka has a super clean taste with light wheat notes. The lime vodka, made from an infusion of Malaysian lime and leaf was delightful for the pure candied lime note. The tangerine was a touch lighter in the mouth, delicate, and again showed candied fruit ­ this time tangerine. The citron vodka was bright and round with intensely concentrated sweet fruit.

Cain poured a barrel aged gin, 47 percent ABV, not yet released but gorgeous with a taste between gin and whiskey. The gin was aged in two new Bourbon barrels and one used Cognac barrel. There is a natural sweetness from both the cereal and the oak. Look for this to be bottled and sold as “Russell Henry Dark Gin” toward the end of the year, hopefully before Christmas. Spirits are often blended to make a tasty cocktail. I find that every spirit Cain makes is already cocktail delicious, sipping sweetly straight.

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I attended a Chef’s Wine Dinner at Crush featuring the wines of Yorkville Cellars last night. For a recap of the meal, visit my online wine blog http://www.JohnOnWine.com where I will post a stand-alone story with every bite and sip getting its due.

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This weekend, I am attending Passport to Dry Creek Valley, the sold-out event in Sonoma County. Together with my girlfriend, June, I will be an appreciative guest of the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley. The event is sold out. This event always sells out. Next week, my wine column will be a recap of the travels by June and myself through the Dry Creek Valley.

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For those who want a Passport experience, Hopland Passport in Mendocino County is two weekends away, on May 3 and 4, and a $45 ticket online in advance (tickets are $55 if you procrastinate) will allow Passport holders to visit 17 winery tasting rooms — tasting fees waived — to taste wines paired with scrumptious food offerings at each stop. For $2.65 per winery attendees will enjoy wine and food tastes with many tasting rooms hosting live music or fun tours, and with some wineries offering their best sale prices of the year, as well as 30 prizes given away in drawings. Hopland Passport is a must attend wine event. For tickets, go to http://www.DestinationHopland.com/store.

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Individual events at this year’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival are selling out. If you love Pinot Noir, then this is a series of events, a festival, for you. Dinners, tastings and more on May 16 and 17. Tickets available at http://www.avwines.com/anderson-valley-pinot-noir-festival.

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If you have Netflix, I highly recommend the movie SOMM, a documentary following candidates attempting to become Master Sommeliers. The single-minded devotion to a subject, to a goal is impressive, as is the sheer narcissism of most of the candidates. Not always attractive, this glimpse into the highest levels of wine geekdom is nonetheless educational and entertaining.

 

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John On Wine – Wine Tasting in March

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on March 6, 2014 by John Cesano

This Saturday, Hopland celebrates St. Patrick’s Day a little early with participating winery tasting rooms serving up a little Irish cheer, and homemade Irish dishes, to pair with terrific wines and big savings from 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. St.Patrick’s Day is the day that Rich Parducci and Greg Graziano are as Irish as Guinness McFadden; everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

McNab Ridge will serve up Irish Stew, Irish soda bread, and Bailey’s Irish whipped cream.

McFadden will have corned beef and cabbage, cooked in McFadden Gewurztraminer and McFadden organic herbs. Ray’s Station is going with Reuben meatballs, Irish cheese, and Irish short bread. Cesar Toxqui Cellars will have Italian food. Naughty Boy and Graziano will also take part in Second Saturday fun.

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Saturday, March 8 from 1 -4 p.m. ­ Little River Whale Festival benefiting MAPA ­ the Mendocino Area Parks Association, and the Van Damme State Park. This is a passport style event over three hours with eight locations. Tickets are $25 in advance and can be purchased by calling Little River Inn at 937-5942 or $30 at the event. Specialties from eight local gourmet chefs and local wines! Participating wineries include Alder Vineyards, Edmeades Winery, Graziano Family of Wines, Handley Cellars, Lichen, Lula Cellars, and Stevenswood Wines. Dessert & locally roasted coffee by Thanksgiving Coffee at the Little River Market & Deli.

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The Wine Road is a Sonoma County winery tourism group run by Beth Costa and includes the Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley, and Alexander Valley, all of which surround the town of Healdsburg. Wine Road puts on the Barrel Tasting Weekends with more than 100 participating wineries in and around Healdsburg.

From the Wine Road website page dedicated to the Barrel Tasting Weekends: “Barrel Tasting is not a food pairing or themed event. It’s all about the wine … many wineries offer “futures” on their barrel samples. This is a chance to purchase wine now, often at a discount, then come back to the winery when the wine is bottled, typically 12-18 months from now. Many wines are so limited, buying futures is your only chance to purchase them. Attendees are encouraged to pack a picnic, as most wineries will not have food for this event. The ticket price includes the opportunity to sample wine from the barrel and in most cases also trying a limited number of current release wines.”

Did you notice that they mention that there is no food at the event and encourage folks to bring an entire picnic of food? That is to counter the only negative attached to the event: it has picked up a bit of a reputation as a drunk fest ­ but a very successful drunk fest. I remember attending more than 25 years ago. Barrel Tasting used to be just one weekend and it was free. Alexander Valley opened up Friday night and I would visit there first, with Dry Creek Valley and the Russian River Valley for Saturday and Sunday. The event was largely attended by folks in the wine industry and wine enthusiasts. The event has grown, and gone from free to $5, then $20, and now $30; and from one weekend to two. With 8,000 folks on the road, racing from winery to winery, trying to taste at over 100 and get value for their ticket price, there are horror stories of inebriation. Imagine it, and the reality is 10 times worse. That said, it really is just a few horribly bad apples gaining all of the notoriety, and the event really is otherwise spectacular. The final weekend of the 36th annual Barrel Tasting are this weekend, March 7-9, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Advance ticket sales have ended, but wineries will sell tickets at the door. For a map of participating wineries, visit http://bit.ly/1cA956P.

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Saturday, March 22 from 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. – Saracina’s Old Soul Red Blending Party. I’ve written before about how much fun a wine blending party can be, I’ve attended the Testa Barn Blend Party two of the three years it has been held, and was able to be one of three judges to help Maria and rusty choose a winner last year. Nelson, McNab Ridge, and now Saracina also have wine blending events, and all are worth attending. Saracina winemaker Alex MacGragor will lead folks through the art and science of wine blending, and then set you loose to help fashion or inspire the next vintage of the Saracina Coro Mendocino. Oops, a rose by any other name. I should have said that you have the chance to blend your own version of the Saracina Atrea Old Soul Red.

Everyone who attends and participates is a winner, as events at Saracina are known for being memorably top notch. After the hard work (it isn’t really, it is big fun) of wine blending winds down, you get to relax and enjoy Saracina wines and a family-style lunch of wood-fired pizzas and gourmet sides prepared by farm-to-table chef Olan Cox.

Given the hands-on nature of this experience, space is very limited. Please call (707) 670-0199 to grab your ticket now. Saracina is located 1.5 miles north of Hopland at 11684 South Hwy 101.

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I fly to Phoenix for the weekend. Perhaps, I’ll review coach class airline wine and airport hotel lounge wine for next week’s column. In the meantime, why don’t you get out this weekend and taste some wine? There certainly are ample opportunities for a great wine weekend close to home. Cheers!

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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.

No matter how much you love your job, a day off is often a welcome thing.

I arranged to take four days off, Thursday through today, Sunday, and I had an absolute blast.

Thursday morning I awoke realizing I had to pop into work because I failed to enter my last order of the day before with the correct discount for a Wine Club Member ordering the Wine of the Month, 35%, so a quick trip into the office to void one order while reentering a new correct order started my day off.

My next stop was the Windsor Golf Course in Sonoma County where I would join my friends Fred, Gary, and Fred’s brother Richie to play as a team in the 15th Annual Wine Country Golf Classic, a charity tournament run by Cornerstone Media with the proceeds going to fund efforts to make meaningful communication possible with young people, to effect positive changes.

I had not golfed in over a year, and I am a terrible golfer anyway, but I have golfed with Fred and Gary many times in this tournament, and have golfed with Fred and Richie on off days while working in Florida, they know I am terrible, but we have a great time together, it is a best ball format tournament and I can contribute a little while being carried, and it is a fun day and for the kids.

Great lunch, champagne toast, winery teams, kegs of Bear republic on the course along with oysters and bloody Marys and mojitos (I didn’t find them but I really didn’t need them) and Bahama mama jello shots and wine and champagne and water and cookies and a painter and a River Rock Casino hand of 21 and more fun scattered about the course, plus an incredible dinner and live and silent auction to go with your golf would be enough for most people, but I got a terrific bonus: I shot well! I had booming drives, solid approach shots, birdie putts; maybe my best day of gold, certainly my best at this tournament, and together with my teammates, we took a second place award.

Friday, I had a morning meeting with a friend going back to elementary school, Mike. Mike is either the hardest working, or smartest working, or luckiest working person I know – I suspect it is a lot of the first two and a little of the last. I could list the series of business successes he has had, but it just comes off sounding unreal. The super cool news is that we might have the opportunity to work together on a future project, possibly with yet another friend from elementary school, Arne. Mike also is the man behind the authentic Pablo Sandoval panda hats you see at baseball games. Mike, the exclusive supplier, gifted me one of the incredible hats, and if there is any question as to how cool a panda hat is, my 14 year old son stole it immediately upon seeing it and has worn it without break the last three days.

Next, I went to visit another school friend, Karen, at the Dry Creek Valley winery she works at, Amphora Wines. It was funny, but it was kind of like seeing myself. Karen enjoys working for her winery, is competent, and a solid representative for her wine brand. I tasted her wines, loved the 2006 Amphora Zinfandel, Rivet Vineyard the most, perhaps because it reminded me most of the wines I grew up on. Many Zins are a little too much or too little of this or that, but the Amphora Rivet Zin has full fruit with a dose of pepper in the proportion I am fond of.

To get to Amphora, I passed by Dashe, another Dry Creek Valley winery, but one I know to use grapes from my employer’s vineyard. At Dashe, I tasted a 2009 Riesling. At work I taste a 2009 Riesling daily, made with grapes from the same vineyard and vintage. It was wild how grapes identifiably McFadden could yield two completely different wines. I bought a bottle, and now have to track down a Montelena Riesling made from McFadden Farm grapes so I can pour the trio for my staff at work.

Speaking of work and staff, I got a phone call from work when the mouse for the computer stopped working. I would rather get a call than not if there is a problem when I am away from my tasting room, and together we got things working, but the wireless mouse from my office isn’t in my office anymore.

After returning home to Ukiah, after my panda hat was stolen by my son, I went to the sports bar at Branches to visit with my longtime friend Serena. I shared time with Serena and Serena’s childhood friends. Serena works for Sonoma Valley wineries; on her last visit Serena brought me a Wellington Zin, on Friday she brought me a 2010 Muscardini Cellars Rosato di Sangiovese, Monte Rosso Vineyards Sonoma Valley. I imagine it will be similar to the Petroni Vineyards Rosato di Sonoma I tasted last year, as that wine’s grapes came from the neighboring vineyard. I am grateful for the treat, but more grateful for the good company.

Saturday, I headed back to work for the third straight day off, this time to bring in food pairing treats for Second Saturday, a special day each month for Hopland area tasting rooms.

Next, I visited Denise at the McNab Ridge tasting room. Denise and McNab Ridge started Second Saturday, and it was fun seeing Diane Davis and her crew taking professional pictures for Denise’s website. Denise also cooked an incredibly delicious dish, Thai green curry shrimp couscous; it definitely made my Second Saturday dish pale by comparison. I tasted a French Colombard. You don’t see many folks making a straight Colombard anymore, but it was a tasty throwback treat. I actually like French Colombard and Chenin Blanc bottlings, while not noble they can be great performers. I also tasted the McNan Ridge Coro Mendocino vertical from 2003 through 2007, liking the ’04 and ’07 best, and a seriously great barrel sample of the Cononiah Zinfandel.

After McNab Ridge, I popped back into my tasting room to buy a jar of McFadden Farm organic onion powder. My timing was great because I got to help Ann ring up a 70 herb jar sale for a customer who was using our herbs as wedding favors for her son’s Hopland wedding.

On the way home, I visited and tasted at Nelson Family Vineyards at the north end of the Hopland Valley. I ran through the reds and whites, all just solid. I am enjoying tasting Mendocino County wines, noticing similarities and differences. I loved the 2007 Nelson Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. Lush, round, soft tannins, delicious. I bought a bottle, a really nice find as my winery doesn’t make a Cab and I had a hole in my wine rack just screaming for a Cab.

Today, I took my son Charlie, in his panda hat, to a baby shower for my niece, Charlie’s cousin, Jenny Jen Jen and her procreator Jeremy, then I went to visit friends old and new at a mini class reunion. My friend Rob and his wife came to Santa Rosa from Kingman, AZ and his friend Tony hosted a barbeque for Rob. I got to see Karen again, plus Shannon and Ken, all longtime friends from school. The day was more about Budweiser than wine, but I brought a bottle of red and white for my hosts. Time flew too fast, as it often seems to when you wish there was more to spend with friends.

I returned to the baby shower just in time for the unwrapping of presents, visited with family, answered a question or five about Social Media Marketing for my sister in law, and gathered my son up to return home.

Work clothes for the upcoming week have been washed, and are now in the dryer. My four days off were great, but it is time to get back to work.

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