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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 Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

John On Wine ­ Alcohol: enough is enough!

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal on December 26, 2014 by John Cesano

 

Alcohol; it’s why we buy wine instead of soda, right? More alcohol must be better in a wine than less alcohol too, I mean it just stands to reason, don’t you think?

This question came to mind after I read a review of San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonné’s new book The New California Wine. The review was written by Wine Spectator magazine’s senior editor, Napa, James Laube. Where most every review of Bonné’s book was complimentary, Laube seemed to almost have the knives out as he wrote his piece, “(Bonné)’s hardly enamored with much of (California wine),” is how the piece begins and it doesn’t get much nicer.

Why would one professional wine writer be so uncomplimentary, so unkind, so border-line rude? Wine Spectator reviews and rates wines on a 100 point scale, made famous by wine critic Robert Parker, and like Parker seems to award more points to fruit jam bombs made of Napa fruit with high alcohol levels. By contrast, Bonné seems to prefer wines of greater balance, greater drinkability, more food friendly wines, with lower alcohol.

Before I go on, I abhor numbers. Alcohol percentage, residual sugar, volatile acidity, the numbers that describe a wine only tell a small part of a wine’s story. Residual sugar alone, without a lot of other data may be suggestive of sweetness, but actual perception when tasted may be something different altogether. Wines must be tasted to be judged.

Okay, that disclaimer aside, I agree with Bonné. Many wines have alcohol levels that are just too damn high. Please, I would so much rather have a lighter styled wine that balances fruit and acid, and has a lower alcohol, so I can enjoy it with friends over a nice dinner than have to suffer another painfully hot, high alcohol wine that is so dense with flavor, so big and overpowering that it ruins the food it is paired with.

Whether an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir over 15 percent or a Dry Creek Zinfandel over 17 percent alcohol by volume, there just isn’t a good reason for these wines to be so hot, unless the winemaker was pandering for a high score from Spectator or Parker. Big alcohol wines also tend to garner high medals, I suspect, because judges’ palates are quickly blown out by high alcohol fruit bombs and are unable to fairly judge wines of greater subtlety and reserve, but upon tasting another monster wine break out the gold.

I worked for a winemaker who used to make gorgeously flavorful wines, good bodied wines, gold medal winning wines, and rarely did she produce a wine at or above 14 percent alcohol by volume. These were the easiest to sell wines I’ve ever experienced. People ordered, but most importantly they reordered, and in quantity, because the wines were so good.

Sadly, she has turned to the dark side, and is putting out some wild beasts, up and over 15 percent alcohol today. More attention, higher ratings, easier golds; From some quarters, anyway.

Joel Peterson, a few years back suggested the three most common flaws of Zinfandel were too much alcohol, too much oak, and too much sugar. As the big boss man behind Ravenswood, a famous Zin house in Sonoma, Peterson should know. That said, both Peterson and his son Morgan Twain Peterson crank out some pretty huge wines.

The wines of inland Mendocino County are not uniformly low alcohol, but many are. Whether from cool climate Russian River adjacent or mountain shade properties in or near Hopland, or the higher altitude fruit grown at the north end of Potter Valley, there are some absolutely delicious wines grown and produced in our area. Zinfandel, and Coro Mendocino ­ the Zinfandelcentric blend I mention often, under 14 percent alcohol; Pinot Noir without a barnyard funk or filled diaper aroma; Chablis-like bright and unoaked Chardonnay; and Cabernet Sauvignon that you can take your time getting to know instead of a Cabernet that is so forward you feel like pressing charges. This is some of what we do so well here, and what some folks – notably the wine critics who seem to get a little too much wood over wines with a little too much wood and alcohol – don’t seem to get.

Wine Enthusiast magazines’ Virginie Boone visits inland Mendocino more often, and perhaps familiarity breeds understanding, because she rates many of our wines about two to five points higher than the folks who don’t visit as often over at Wine Spectator.

Jon Bonné tastes wines from all over, often, and has placed a light, low alcohol, almost Beaujolaisesque Zinfandel made entirely from inland Mendocino grapes on one of his annual Top 100 Wines lists.

I get a chance to taste a lot of our wines, and I may have developed a strong preference for what we do, because on a recent visit outside the county, I found wine after wine just too big for me to enjoy. I love Wine Spectator magazine for the articles, but personally I prefer Wine Enthusiast magazine and Jon Bonné’s San Francisco Chronicle reviews of our wines. I find I am more often in agreement.

Want high alcohol? Go to a bar. Want a food-friendly wine you can enjoy with food? Consider a wine from the area, with under 14 percent alcohol for a start. As always, the best way to find out whether you like a particular wine or not is to go wine tasting. Many local winery tasting rooms offer complimentary wine tasting and are open up until New Year’s Eve – although a few that sell bubbly will be open at least a half of that day too.

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EDITED TO ADD ONLINE: I received the following comment tacked on to another recently archived column in response to the newspaper version of this week’s column:

“This is regarding your UDJ article published today (12/26/13). I was going to email you but didn’t see an email listed. In any event, I have to agree with your general assessment of the multitude high alcohol wines out there. Which is why I drink mostly sparkling! I have worked for Roederer Estate for six years and have learned that sparkling is incredibly versatile with food as well as being on the lower end of the scale at 12%. One last thing, in reference to Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 of 2013, did you know Roederer’s 2004 L’Ermitage is rated number one? I believe it’s the first time a California Sparkling has garnered the top spot, so worth mentioning.
Cheers, Julie in Ukiah”

I could not agree more. Fantastic comment, great observation, and well deserved acclaim for the 2004 Roederer L’ Ermitage, and yes, you are right, this is the first time that a sparkling wine has topped Wine Enthusiast magazine’s annual Top 100 Wines list.

I had just written for Destination Hopland that there are bubblies to be tasted at Graziano, Jeriko, McFadden, Nelson, Rack & Riddle, Ray’s Station, and Terra Savia; but county wide Roederer, Scharffenberger, Yorkville Cellars, and Elke over on Hwy 128, and Paul Dolan up in Ukiah, all have to be added to the list. As a county, we may have the nation’s greatest concentration of premium bubblies, and they are indeed both enjoyably lower in alcohol and spectacularly food friendly when paired with the right foods. Taste this week, choose a favorite, and stock up for New Year’s Eve!

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I do love bubbly, and I would love to have them all to taste for a future column, maybe in advance of Valentine’s Day next year.

I hope some of you took the chance to attend the Sonoma County Harvest Fair and taste some of the over 1,000 wines available to taste. I would love to sit down with a judge and find out how back to back days of tastings of around 100 wines can be accomplished while giving a fair taste to all of the wines submitted.

There is a phenomenal wine writer who doesn’t have much use for wine bloggers beyond the fodder they make for some of his best writing. Ron Washam, Hosemaster of Wine, is also a Sonoma County Harvest Fair judge.

There are more mockably horrible wine blogs than useful wine blogs offering value. Washam, in his Hosemaster role, points out the absurdity of many, perhaps most famously the blog that pairs wine and kaftans. No, Kaftan is not a food that pairs nicely with wine, but a piece of women’s clothing. I believe that Washam spearheaded a movement to see Wines and Kaftans awarded a Wine Blogger Award this year.

I empathize with Washam’s pain in dipping into the pool of mediocrity that is most wine blogging. The only good is that, by contrast, my writing is tolerable. My personal moment of horror came when I was but one of only two wine writers attending a press event hosted by a winery that wanted coverage of an announcement. Over lunch, the other writer was asked by a winemaker about his writing, and I died inside when he said he pairs wine and 50’s television shows. Trapped by rules of etiquette, I couldn’t leave in disgust, or ask aloud, “are you kidding me?” Put on the spot, asked for an example, he paired the Chardonnay we were tasting with Dragnet, explaining that you would have to drag a very wide net to find a Chardonnay so memorable. I was nearly ill on the spot. I wanted to ask my hosts if they considered us equals, if his worthlessness was what they saw when they looked at me.

When I got home and looked up his website, I found that he had used the Dragnet pairing only days before and for a completely different wine. He was not only a jack ass, but his little parlor trick uniqueness was purely shamtastic.

I recognize that everyone who opens himself up by writing, also opens himself up for judgment and ridicule. I am okay with that, I don’t put on airs, or take myself too seriously. I know what I know, and I try to share it. I write about what interests me, what grabs my attention. But I know my words will never elevate me into the ranks of the world’s most read and respected wine writers and reviewers. I write because I enjoy it, and I am gratefully amazed that people find their way to my site to read my meandering prose.

Back to Ron Washam, in his role as a wine judge; I would love to ask Washam if, when tasting 100 Sonoma County Chardonnays, a number in the California over sweet, barrel fermented, malolactic style, a more subtle French styled Chardonnay, like those submitted by Sonoma-Cutrer just get overlooked, either through palate fatigue or because they are different. Is a wine of French styling punished for not being typically Sonoma County?

Seriously, I am entertained with his writing so much that I would just like to meet him for a beer and let him hold forth on just about any topic.

Besides the head scratchingly poor performance of Sonoma-Cutrer’s Chardonnays (which I love) with the judges at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, another disappointment was the absence of some of my other favorite winery’s wines. I would love to taste the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays of Keller Estates against those of Sonoma-Cutrer, and against the wines of each varietal awarded Best of Class honors.

Often as I tasted the wines that won Double Gold Medals or Best of Varietal honors, I was reminded of other wines I have tasted, and I wished I could taste wines from outside the county side by side with the best of Sonoma County. Roederer Estate from the Anderson Valley against Gloria Ferrer for sparkling, Handley from the Anderson Valley against Eric K James for Pinot Noir, Swanson from Rutherford against Mazzocco for Merlot, and Parducci from Ukiah against Simi for Petite Sirah as examples.

I love tasting wine. I love pairing wine and food and friends, not with kaftans or television shows or movies.

Recently, I wrote about tasting wines from Virginia with a group of fellow wine bloggers (not one of whom compared the wines to an article of clothing or media art). The best part of the tasting was learning that Virginia wineries are capable of producing palatable wines. There was a concern that the wines would be judges good, for a Virginia wine. Which is a dismissive way of saying it doesn’t stand up to a California wine. I have to say that I would love to have tasted the Virginia Viogniers I tasted against the Sweepstakes White winner from the Sonoma County Harvesty Fair from Alexander Valley Vineyard.

It is only by stretching, tasting every chance you can, that you find yourself pleased and surprised on occasion. Just as the quality of the Virginia Viogniers was a welcome treat, earlier this year I blind tasted a Sierra Foothills Pinot Noir from Deaver that was delicious, yet if I could have seen the label first, I probably would have passed.

I don’t mention it in my reviews because I don’t think it matters, but I have noticed that many more wineries than in the past feel comfortable abandoning the natural porous cork as a closure for their wines, and I am seeing more synthetic corks, and screwcap Stelvin closures. Screwcaps are big, and getting bigger. Boxes are also being tried with greater acceptance. Sebastiani is moving from glass bottles to three liter boxes for their Pepperwood Grove wines, following on the heels of the market success of Bandit and other tastier than customary box wines.

I am going to be taking part in a tweet-up, tasting the Sebastiani made Pepperwood Grove box wines, and tweeting my tasting notes at the same time that tasters at a Sonoma live tasting are tweeting their notes.

I hope that I will find deliciously drinkable, affordable wines, in greener recyclable packaging that protects the wine inside from oxidation throughout. My goal in writing is to find solid food wines that I can recommend to my friends who aren’t big wine drinkers and are unlikely to pop for a $30+ wine on a regular basis. Living in Mendocino County, the greenest wine county in America, green practices are increasingly important to me. I would love to point at affordable wines that make meals taste better than any other beverage that might be paired at the table with family and friends.

It is ironic that I am going to be tasting box wines, in that I only just found that Ukiah, my hometown, is home to two manufacturers of capsules and foil for wine and sparkling wine bottles.

In defense of my Ukiah business neighbors, at least one features Made In America capsules, their products are recyclable, as is glass, and the tide isn’t turning so fast that either company is threatened in the near term.

In an increasingly competitive and green business environment, it will require the best people to sell natural cork, glass bottles, and capsules; there are likely to be fewer advocates for tradition like Joel Peterson of Ravenswood in a world moving in the direction of more democratic and common sense packaging led by Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon.

I have cooked chicken in a liquid of alfredo tomato sauce with roasted peppers, sautéed mushrooms, and carmelized onions. I’m going to grab a glass, fill it with wine, enjoy good food, and watch the Giants in game one of the playoffs with Atlanta.

Maybe next time we meet here, I’ll have something more focused to say.

I’ve missed you. Thanks to everyone who visited John On Wine, looking to see if my favored iMac was repaired and if I was back to writing new posts; thank you for your loyalty, kindness, and patience.

I took my computer to Simon Kerbel, an Apple certified Mac specialist who runs his Mac Angel business out of his Sebastopol home. My computer was repaired in less time and at much less cost than I had initially feared, and I highly recommend Simon to any North Coast wine country Mac owners who find themselves in need of repair or upgrade. Simon, Mac Angel, macangel.biz, (707) 861-0606.

My writing station; a PC, and my iMac with a second display monitor to work with.

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ZAP, Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, is an organization that celebrates Zinfandel, the red wine varietal grape, and works to bring attention to Zinfandel, publicizing the varietal’s primacy as the wine that is California’s own.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the Zinfandel tasting events surrounding ZAP’s 19TH Annual Zinfandel Festival; the Zinfandel Festival is held late in January each year at San Francisco’s Ft. Mason.

All varietal wines bottled in California, from Alicante Bouschet to Zinfandel, must have at least 75% of the varietal named on the bottle to be varietally named or the wine must be called table wine. Zinfandel often has a little Carignane blended in, just as Cabernet Sauvignon often has a little Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc often has a little Semillon. These blends are traditional because over time these wine blends have often improved the unblended wines they came from. The sum is greater than the parts, winemaking as alchemy – gold (medals) from the crucible of the wine lab or cellar. There are wines that take the blending farther, and end up with no single varietal reaching the necessary 75% required for varietal naming on the bottle, 40% Zinfandel, 35% Carignane, 25% Grenache as an example; sometimes these wines, often tasting incredibly delicious, carry the name “Red Table Wine.”

Wine lists and market shelves are not set up for “Red Table Wines” or “White Table Wines,” and many wonderful expressions of a winemaker’s art become unwieldy, difficult to market or sell, wines.

ZAP is dedicated to Zinfandel and has required that the wines poured at their major tasting, the Grand Zinfandel Tasting, be Zinfandel, containing at least 75% Zinfandel.

Last year, at the Flights Zinfandel panel presentation tasting, an exploration of Zinfandel blends, many of the wines were “Red Table Wines,” with no varietal reaching 75% content. Some of the blends were the winemaker’s art, cellar or barrel blends, but some of the blends came from what are known as field blends.

Zinfandel has been planted in California a very long time, many old vines are from century blocks, plantings at least 100 years old. Many of these old vineyards have other grape varietals intermixed with the Zinfandel, some Carignane vines planted among the Zinfandel vines. At harvest, the winemaker could pick everything at once, crush it all at once, age it all together, and, in time, bottle a blended wine, a field blend.

ZAP has announced that with a unanimous vote of their Board of Directors, traditional Zinfandel blends, based on historical field blends, where Zinfandel is the dominant grape variety and Zinfandel accounts for at least 34% of the blend, may be poured at the 2011 Grand Zinfandel Tasting at next year’s 20th Zinfandel Festival.

“ZAP’s role in telling the complete, historically accurate story of Zinfandel will be enhanced by the inclusion of classic California field blends as part of the annual Festival and as part of the organization’s educational repertoire,” explains Joel Peterson, winemaker at Ravenswood, and ZAP Board member, “the Zinfandel field blend is the type of wine that would have made California famous 80 years ago, if it hadn’t been for Prohibition, this wine would have been California’s Bordeaux, Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Chianti—a blended wine made from grapes chosen by the people of the region, through mostly trial and error, to produce the best wine they thought the region could produce.  In other words, a fine regional wine only associated with California made no where else in the world.”

Zinfandel blends that come from winemaker choices in the cellar or lab, but use the same grapes traditionally found in classic field blends, and meet the Zinfandel dominant and 34% Zinfandel minimum content, are eligible to be poured as well.

The grape varieties for these Zinfandel field blend inspired wines can be Alicante Bouschet, Barbera, Black Malvoisie, Burger Carignane, Grand Noir de la Calmette, Grenache, Lenoir, Mataro (Mourvedre), Black Muscat, Negrette, Peloursin, Petite Bouschet, Petite Sirah, Semillon, Syrah, Tempranillo, and/or Teradalgo – and, of course, Zinfandel.

Closer to home, Coro Mendocino is a cooperative venture where 11 Mendocino County wineries make individual Zinfandel dominant blends; the idea is to produce wines featuring the best grapes of Mendocino County, thematically similar in style, yet unique to the individual winery’s vision, the blend containing 40-70% Zinfandel, with blending grapes being Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Sangiovese, Grenache, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, and/or Primitivo. Winemakers may also blend in up to 10% free choice in creating their wine. Wines must have at least 1 year in barrel and at least 6 months in bottle before release. The alcohol level must fall between 12.5% and 16%, pH, total acidity, glucose/fructose enzymatic, volatile acidity, and malic acid also have agreed upon ranges. Oak barrels may be 25%-75% new oak.

The 11 wineries of Coro Mendocino are Brutocao, Mendocino Vineyards, Fetzer, Golden, Graziano, McDowell, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Pacific Star, Parducci, and Philo Ridge Vineyards. The 2007 vintage release party will be 6:00 pm on Saturday, June 26, 2010 at the Little River Inn on the Mendocino Coast. Dinner for two, with a tasting of all the wines, and a complete set of all 11 2007 Coro Mendocino wines to take home is just $480. For reservations, call toll free (888) 466-5683.

Some Coro Mendocino wines could be poured at ZAP’s Grand Zinfandel Tasting, but others would be excluded because of varietal choices in conflict with ZAP’s traditional field blend varietal list.

Yesterday, I asked Julie Ann Kodmur, ZAP’s publicist extraordinaire, about an odd anomaly I noticed in the list of ZAP approved field blend grapes. From my e-mail to Julie:

Semillon is a white wine grape. I know that there are numerous instances of white wine grapes being planted in “Zinfandel fields” or barrel blended, but I wondered at the inclusion of Semillon on the list in your press release, but the exclusion of other Bordeaux whites like Sauvignon Blanc. I also wonder at the inclusion of Rhone reds, but the exclusion of Rhone whites like Marsanne.

Are the heritage wines limited to those blended from the list below, or are other varietals allowed? I imagine some Mendocino Coro wines would be excluded if this list is set, while other Mendocino Coro wines, perhaps showing better Zinfandel blend characteristics might be excluded, if the list of varietals above is complete, finite, closed.

It almost seems as if a small handful of winemakers got together and made a list of grapes grown in their wine property blocks and called it a day.

Julie kindly forwarded my note to Zinfandel superstar winemaker Joel Peterson of Ravenswood, who responded today:

Hi John,

Thanks for your comments on the list of grapes included in the Zinfandel field blends.  The inclusion of Semillon in that particular list was the result of an accident.  While we recognize that there were many white grapes that appeared in some of these plantings, (Palomino, Sauvignon Vert, Berger, and French Colombard, to name a few others), the number of vines was usually so small as to be insignificant and they did not warrant inclusion.  While these grapes were on our original list, it was decided by the ZAP board that they be stricken from that list.

The list of Heritage Blend grapes is derived from a number of sources; experience of people in the field with their own old vineyards and various historical records from the era that these blends were being formulated. Understand that the key word here is “Heritage” Field Blends.  While I realize there are a number of other blends being made today that include Cabernet and other varieties not on the list, they would not be included as Zinfandel heritage field blends.  This was meant to be a historical reference point and an augmentation to our understanding of Zinfandel and its kin.

I suspect the list as it exists is not complete and will undergo some modification.  The key to additions is that they exist in significant proportion in existing Heritage Field Blends or in pertinent reference literature concerning these blends.

I hope this is helpful.

Joel

If you read my companion pieces from this year’s ZAP Zinfandel Festival, you know I hold Joel in the highest esteem. In those pieces, I wrote, “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. I asked Joel, “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?” when we met over lunch at a ZAP event back in January. Joel said, “It is an interesting subject, and the wines that are being made from these mixed black blends have the potential to be some of the best, most singular wines California can produce. It is good to get the conversation about them started again. We lost the thread with the advent of Prohibition and in the process lost what might have been the wine that was our equivalent of Bordeaux, Chateauneuf du Pape, or Chianti. Blended wine made from grapes chosen by the people of that region to represent the best most representative wine that region could produce. Zinfandel is California’s own. There is nothing that even comes close. These talks of blending [Zinfandel] instead of Cabernet or Chardonnay; Zinfandel, Heritage, whatever it will be called, will be how we establish ourselves against European wines.”

Joel’s words then led me to suggest that ZAP might do just what they did, open the Zinfandel Festival up to more wines to be poured. Joel’s words today provide a foundation for a better understanding of ZAP’s announcement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I will be attending Dark & Delicious.

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

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

Thank you very much.

John Cesano”

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

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

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

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

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

13.5% alc. Concannon Vineyard Conservancy Petite Sirah $15

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

14.3% alc. 2006 Marr Cellars Cuvee Patrick Petite Sirah

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

14.5% alc. 2006 Heringer Estates Petite Sirah, Clarksburg

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

14.8% alc. 2007 Trentadue Petite Sirah, North Coast

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

15.1% alc. 2005 Trentadue La Storia Petite Sirah

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

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

 

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

15.5% alc. 2007 Berryessa Gap Durif, Yolo County

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

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

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

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

18.0% alc. 2006 Trentadue Petite Sirah Port

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

 

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

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

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

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

Cheers.

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

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

Ravenswood Logo

Bedrock Wine Company Logo

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

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

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

Joel Peterson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morgan Twain-Peterson

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

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

Morgan and Joel talked about unnecessary replanting in wine country.

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

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

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

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

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

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

J.C.: 19TH Annual Zinfandel Festival

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

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

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

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

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

GOOD EATS & ZINFANDEL PAIRING

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

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

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

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

FAVORITE WINES OF THURSDAY

Acorn Winery

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

Carol Shelton Wines

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

Four Vines Winery

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

Grgich Hills Estate

  • 2006 Napa Valley – “Liked it”

Manzanita Creek

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

Mazzocco Sonoma

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

Murphy-Goode

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

Outpost Estate Wines

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

Peachy Canyon Winery

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

Ravenswood

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

Rosenblum Cellars

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

Selby Winery

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

Storybook Mountain Vineyards

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

Z-52

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

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

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

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

FAVORITE FOODS OF THURSDAY

Bistro at Villa Tosacano

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

Celadon

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

City College of san Francisco Culinary Arts & Hospitality

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

Lark Creek Cafe

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

Miss Pearl’s Jam House

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

Murphy-Goode Estate Chefs

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

Pazzo Petaluma

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

Ruth’s Chris Steak House

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

Surfing Goat Dairy

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

Zin Restaurant

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

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

_____

FLIGHTS! A SHOWCASE OF ZINFANDELS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric Baugher, Ridge Vineyards

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

Matt Cline, Three Wine Company

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

Morgan Twain-Peterson, Bedrock Wine Company

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

Steve Hall, Robert Biale Vineyards

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

Jeff Cohn, JC Cellars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_____

UNSCHEDULED BEST ZAP EVENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GRAND ZINFANDEL TASTING

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

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

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

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

Amphora Winery

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

Bedrock Wine Company

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

Chiarello Family Vineyards

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

DeLoach Vineyards

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

Haywood Estates

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

Hook & Ladder Winery

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

Manzanita Creek

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

Martorana Family Winery

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

Matrix Winery

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

Mauritson Family Winery

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

Mazzocco

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

Murphy-Goode

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

Pezzi King

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

Ravenswood

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

Saddleback Cellars

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

Carol Shelton Wines

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

T-Vine Cellars

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

Tin Barn Vineyards

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

Tres Sabores

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

Turley Wine Cellars

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

V. Sattui Winery

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

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

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

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