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 – 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.”

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