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 ­ – Book Reports

Originally published on October 17, 2013 in the Ukiah daily Journal by John Cesano

I love wine. I love books. I don’t always love wine books. Wine books can be so dry as to be boring, or rely so strongly on the reader having a rich knowledge of wine that it can alienate most folks.

Let me share a few wine books that I do love, each for a different reason: The first hasn’t even been released yet. Wine Business Case Studies – Thirteen Cases from the Real World of Wine Business Management, published by the Wine Appreciation Guild is due out in November this year, and will be available at the Sonoma State University book store.

I was bemoaning the public’s love for corks, when screw caps are a superior closure for wine bottles and Elliott Mackey, one of the top wine book publishers in the country, sent me an advance copy of a case study that looked at corks vs. screw caps from a business perspective: The Great Cork Debate 2012: Cork Stages a Comeback, written by Tom Atkin and Duane DoveI knew, from talking to several distributors and retailers, that if all other things are equal then a wine bottle under cork sells faster than a bottle under screw cap. This isn’t the article to address wine closures, but the case study Elliott sent over from the upcoming book was thoughtful, well researched and compelling.

While I was grateful for the advance peek at the great cork debate case study, I was surprised and thrilled to find that Elliott had also sent a case study titled Dark Horse Ranch Vineyard – A Mendocino County, California, Biodynamic Winemaker Explores Future Directions, written by Liz Thach, PhD, MW, Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute.

I am a big fan of Paul Dolan and his Dark Horse Ranch Vineyard. I have contemplated writing a tasting room review of Truett-Hurst in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley, even though I focus on inland Mendocino wineries and vineyards, because Paul Dolan is an owner and has spread his biodynamic farming ethos to Truett Hurst.

This is a text book, a collection of case studies and is meant to explore a variety of subjects that students in a university level wine business program would benefit in exploring. Definitely not for everyone, I loved the advance look and will be picking up a copy upon release.

The second book is a wine book with broader appeal for folks who love Mendocino County wine. Mendocino Roots & Ridges ­ Wine Notes From America’s Greenest Wine Region, written by Heidi Cusick Dickerson with photography by Tom Liden, is a phenomenal wine book, lushly gorgeous in both writing and photographic art.

Heidi Cusick Dickerson wrote a weekly wine column here in The Ukiah Daily Journal before I did and reading her columns, I was always impressed with her ability to paint a picture with words, a picture so well defined that I would want to visit the subject of her piece so I could experience the beauty she shared each week. I have no problem admitting that Heidi is a better writer than I am, and her work set the bar for quality I try to attain.

Tom Liden, similarly, is spectacularly skilled in his ability. As a professional photographer in wine country, many of the images he has captured tell a story that words alone could not do justice to.

Together, Heidi and Tom, in Mendocino Roots & Ridges, combine words and photographic art to give readers a rich sense of what makes scores of Mendocino County’s wineries so special. My copy is autographed by both Heidi and Tom, and if you were looking for a perfect wine book to present as a gift to a friend, there are a number of autographed copies available at the McFadden Farm stand & Tasting Room in Hopland. The price is an incredibly reasonable $29.95.

The final book I wanted to share with you is for wine geeks like me: Been Doon So Long, A Randall Grahm Vinthology. Randall Graham is the genius, iconoclast, mad man owner and winemaker of Bonny Doon – one of my absolute favorite wineries.

In support of his brand, Randall wrote satirical pieces for his winery newsletter. Been Doon So Long is a collection of some of the best satirical pieces written by Randall over the years.

Included are brilliantly executed parodies of notable literary works including Don Quixote, Catcher in the Rye, and A Clockwork Orange. Each parody allows Randall to comment on the wine industry, and often pokes fun and sometimes derision at a host of subjects within the industry.

In the book’s center, at its core, is the book’s masterwork, a parody of Dante’s Divine Comedy. In Da Vino Commedia: The Vinferno, there are nearly 60 pages with beautiful illustrations by Alex Gross, Randall tells the tale of being taken “doon” through the nine circles of wine hell. After pointing out the sins of the industry in fullness, Randall writes of being made to face his own sins and a desire to save himself from mortal zin, um sin.

Filled with zingy references to pompous personages and elite estates, this book is a little insider-ish; but even a wine non-geek will appreciate the skill behind the turns of phrase, even if not fully appreciating the target of Randall’s barb. That’s it, three great books. This weekend, attend Hopland Passport; next weekend, pick up a book.

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

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

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

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

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

Needless to say, I have new business cards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Age Gets Better With Wine, New Science For A Better & Longer Life, 2nd Edition by Richard A. Baxter M.D.

Age Gets Better With Wine starts with an interesting look at consumption of wine through history.

Richard A. Baxter, M.D. searching for keys to longevity with quality, and wanting to separate the scientifically sound wheat from the quackery inspired chaff, surveyed medical literature and eliminated everything that wasn’t rooted in legitimate research to see what remained. Baxter found wine was one of the answers to longevity and healthy living.

Baxter outline the science of aging and the perils of disease and degeneration, and the countering effects of antioxidants. Wine possesses powerful antioxidant qualities.

Vitamin supplements, herbal supplements and natural cures show scant, if any, evidence that they will help you live longer, prevent cancer or Alzheimer’s disease, or measurable improve life quality in any measurable way.

Age Gets Better With Wine holds that wine is a food, and as part of a healthy diet has healthful benefits.

Baxter diplomatically demonstrates a prejudice against information concerning healthful consumption of alcohol. In 1974, presented with evidence of decreased cardiovascular disease among moderate alcohol consumers, the National Institutes of Health demanded censorship of the 25 year Framingham Heart Study.

In the 30 intervening years, numerous studies have consistently confirmed and clarified the Framingham Heart Study results, and expanded the health benefits to conditions beyond originally reported – “the overall risk of death from all causes is significantly lower in moderate drinkers as compared to abstainers and to heavy drinkers.”

When plotted on a graph, the benefits of moderate consumption fit what is known as a “J-shaped curve.” The graph starts with an odds ratio of 1.0 for abstainers, whether looking at cardiovascular disease, or overall mortality, then dips to below 1.0 for moderate consumption before climbing above 1.0 for abusive consumption. Typically, the best health benefit is achieved by the consumption of between 1-3 glasses of wine.

Countries with higher rates of wine consumption had lower mortality rates than countries with lower levels of wine consumption.

While alcohol consumption, generally, created a J-shaped curve when lotting the relative risk of all cause mortality against alcohol consumed, not all alcohol was the same. Wine consumption produced the lowest dips, the greatest measured health benefit, of all alcohol; greater than beer or spirits.

Wine has polyphenols, other alcohols do not. Polyphenols are the aromatic molecules that give wine the nose of bouquet and aroma. Polyphenols are also powerful antioxidants. Most polyphenols are concentrated in the grape skin; since red wines are made red by allowing the crushed skins to ferment with the juice, coloring the juice red, red wines also have higher concentrations of polyphenols.

The antioxidant properties of wine polyphenols lead to enhanced wound healing, anti cancer effects, kidney protection, lowered cataract risk, decreases cardiac risk, and improves cardiac event survival.

The most well known polyphenol is resveratrol. Resveratrol holds great promise in aiding the body fight the effects of age, and it has been isolated and made available, separate from wine, in pill form.

With thousands of prestigious institutions publishing the results of research on the health benefits of wine, there does not exist the same evidence that isolated beneficial compounds can be captured and delivered in pill form with any efficacy.

About resveratrol, Baxter writes, “The benefits of wine aren’t attributable to a single molecule out of the thousands, and out of the context of a meal. An analogous account is the surprising finding that taking vitamin supplements may actually do more harm than good, a consensus view among experts now. It just isn’t the same thing as eating whole foods and drinking real wine.”

Resveratrol seems to be the super polyphenol, fighting aging, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, and even decreases “hot flashes” in menopausal women.

Stressing again the differences between moderate consumption and abuse, and general alcohol consumption and wine consumption, Baxter lists 13 anti cancer properties of wine polyphenols.

A fun fact, for wine drinkers anyway, is that researchers found wine drinkers had a 30 pint higher IQ than beer or spirits drinkers.

Baxter reports there is an emerging consensus that the risk of Alzheimer’s disease may be reduced by up to 80% by regular consumption of a glass or two of red wine with dinner.

Age Gets Better With Wine is an important book, researched and referenced, on the general benefits of healthy drinking;Richard A. Baxter, M.D. has written the definitive book on the specific anti aging properties contained in wine.

Links to buy Age Gets Better With Wine:

http://winehardware.com/agegetsbetterwithwine.aspx

http://www.amazon.com/Age-Gets-Better-Wine-2nd/dp/1934259241

DISCLOSURE: I received a sample copy of Age Gets Better With Wine for review from The Wine Appreciation Guild.

In the past, stainless steel wine tanks for fermentation and storage of wines required Nitrogen gas be pumped into the headspace between the surface of the wine and the interior top of the tank to blanket the wine from oxygen, and special gas outflow venting.

David Coleman, eccentric genius winemaker and founder, with his wife Ayn, of Adler Fels Winery, is credited with inventing the adjustable top fermentation tank while at Chateau St. Jean in the 70’s.

Coleman’s tank lid design allowed for variable volume of wine to be fermented or stored without harmful oxygen in the headspace. Coleman felt that pumping Nitrogen into the tank was rougher on the wine than necessary.

David Coleman’s tank design featured a lid that was lowered down the inside of an open top wine tank and held in place on top of the wine surface by means of a chain and pulley system.

The next major innovation in stainless steel tanks was the floating lid. Amity Vineyards claims the first wine tanks with a floating lid in 1981.

Like Coleman’s original adjustable top fermentation tank, the floating top tanks allow variable capacity without exposing the wine contained inside to air and oxygen via a tank lid that can be lowered by means of a chain and pulley system onto the surface of the wine, then sealed against the tank sides my inflating a tube contained within the lid’s side. The main improvement comes from a lid that floats and does not require a chain from the lid to a structure above the tank to hold the lid in place on the surface of the wine.

Recently, I unfavorably reviewed the Vacu-vin wine saver wine preservation pump and stopper system. The Vacu-vin was shown not to work over and over again in laboratories, did not maintain wine flavors any better than the old cork in blind tastings, led to wines suffering an aroma stripped nose, and didn’t maintain the marginal partial vacuum created. The product was a complete and total failure.

In response to my Vacu-vin evaluation and review, Shannon Essa, who I worked with at the Wine Appreciation Guild, asked me if I was familiar with Wine Preserva, and offered to send a couple of samples for me to test. Elliott Mackey of the Wine Appreciation Guild did the sending, but my thanks go to both Elliott and Shannon.

Made in Melbourne, Australia by inventor Barry Rees, the Wine Preserva is a flexible disc that floats on the surface of wine in a bottle. The makers claim of Wine Preserva claim its use protects wine from air and oxygen in between glasses, lengthening the time that a wine may be enjoyed, up to five days.

Available in packs of 6 or 50, each Wine Preserva comes in its own protective packaging. The protective individual Wine Preserva wrapper can be opened in the center of the top and bottom, and a fork provided in the 6 or 50 pack can be used to move the Wine Preserva from its wrapper into the wine bottle to be protected.

It took me three bottles to develop a proficiency, I was not initially deft getting the Wine Preserva into the bottle from the wrapper without touching the disc with my fingers. I am not the most graceful or patient person, but I have mastered the action required.

Here’s a link to a “how to” video:

http://www.winepreserva.com/howitworks.html

The disc is a circular clear plastic disc. the center utilizes bubble wrap type bubbles to ensure floatation, and the outer edge is radial cut to provide a flanged adjustable surface allowing one Wine Preserva to fit a variety of different bottles.

I bought some inexpensive wine from the grocery store to use to test the Wine Preserva. I opened twin bottles of a 2008 FoxBrook Cabernet Sauvignon, California, made by Bronco in Ceres, CA. Although the same price as Charles Shaw, $1.99, I can not say it was as good.

The wine at opening was a bright burgundy red in color, and showed youth. The nose had notes of dusty cocoa and dark blackberry fruit. The wine was light, thin, with a little tannin and was a little green with not quite ripe blackberry and cherry flavors in the mouth, with a plummy finish. with 12.5 alc, it was wine, it was unremarkable, it was not bad, it just was not particularly good either, it had no wow. After getting baseline tasting notes upon opening, I poured 1 cup from each of the two bottles (which i used to marinate a pair of tri tip roasts). I inserted a Wine preserva disc into one of the bottles, and put the original cork back in each bottle. I stored both wines in the back corner of a dark closet for 96 hours.

I opened a bottle of 2008 Rodney Strong state Vineyards Russian River Valley pinot Noir, Sonoma County, $13.48. Having tasted the FoxBrook made me want to taste a wine I liked. A deep garnet in color, this wine had quite a bit more body and complexity. 14.4 % alc, it had a nice round rich mouthfeel, medium bodied, spice, cherry and rose petal and pefume nose, floral rose, herb and spice, leading to oooh candy cherry in the mouth, and a long lingering tapering finish. I did pick up some green notes of youth, and will happily go back to the 2007 vintage and let the 2008 age a bit more.

I had one glass of the Rodney strong Pinot, and put a Wine Preserva into this bottle as well – for a full 5 days.

Okay here’s the results:

After 4 days, the FoxBrook Cabernet protected by the Wine Preserva disc had maintained the dusty cocoa and fruit nose, and there was still fruit evident in the mouth. The Foxbrook Cab sealed with the cork alone was nothing, the nose was lighter and the mouth was spent and off putting, making me want to wipe my tongue off.

After 5 days, the Rodney Strong Pinot was still drinkable, the aroma and flavors maintained and still present and lively.

Available at the Wine Hardware stores in Sonoma, Walnut Creek, St. Helena, and South San Francisco, or online at http://winehardware.com/ for $5.99 for a 6 pack or $29.99 for a 50 pack; I can report they work as advertised and add only $0.60 – $1.00 to the price of a bottle of wine while allowing the wine to be enjoyed at a maintained drinkable quality for days. While many people laughingly say, “I always finnish the bottle,” this is a great and inexpensive tool for those who drink more for flavor than effect. Wine doesn’t come with a funnel to aid in immediate consumption for a reason; and Wine Preserva allows the 6th glass in a bottle to taste like the first glass in a bottle, days after the wine is opened, at an additional cost of just $0.10 – $0.17 per glass for home use.

The Wine Preserva is a simple, elegant, logical wine preservation device. It works in a wine bottle exactly like a floating lid works on a stainless steel wine fermentation and storage tank.

“Greenies” will appreciate that Wine Preserva is both recyclable and biodegradable, and can be left in the bottle, and does not alter a bottle’s recyclability. Packaging materials are made from recyclable paper and plastic as well.

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Yesterday, the mailman brought a sample copy of Randall Grahm’s book “Been Doon So Long.” Thanks to Amy Cleary at UC Press; as I revere Randall Grahm, I will be getting into this beautiful book very soon.

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Disclosure: the Wine Preserva discs evaluated in this review were provided by the Wine Appreciation Guild.

It is silly, but the FTC requires these ridiculous disclosures by online wine writers at the risk of an $11,000 fine. I am not required to make the same disclosure if this article appears in traditional print media. This week, it was suggested that Gwyneth Paltrow does not have to disclose gifts she writes about in her online blog, because celebrities can’t be bothered to keep track of all their gifts. It appears the rules only apply to online writers who do not make money or have fame.

I am not paid to evaluate or review anything sent to me, I do not benefit from sales of anything I recommend. If I received a sample, and didn’t like it, I probably wouldn’t write about it. If I receive a sample and I do like it, you’ll probably read about it.

No promises, no guarantees, full disclosure. Greater transparency, and I think honesty, than most wine publications that take money from the people they review. I’ll try never to violate the trust I ask you to place in me when you read a review or evaluation from me.

CBS has CSI; NBC has Law and Order. Both have spun off myriad incarnations.

FOX has Gordon Ramsey. Hells, Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, Cookalong, and coming later this year Masterchef.

Masterchef is another BBC import, and turns amateur but passionate cooks into cheftestants, competing against each other, until only one is left.

I am going to be attending a casting call in San Francisco later this month, bringing the elements to plate a prepared dish with five minutes preparation – a different thermos for each part of the dish, presentation plate, spoon, tongs, cutting board, knife, steel, towels, napkin.

I’m bringing my involtini on polenta with homemade Italian red sauce, and a bottle of red wine. I think wine is part of a meal, and ingredient of the dish. So I’ll also be bringing wine, corkscrew, and wineglass as well as all of the food pack. I think I may look for a cooler with wheels and handle.

I’m hoping my brother auditions in either New Orleans or Los Angeles, we could be the Masterchef version of Top Chef’s Voltaggio brothers.

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I applied for a fellowship award to attend this year’s Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley, February 16-19, 2010.

On the Symposium  website’s page for Fellowship Opportunities, it says, “awardees will be notified by telephone and or e-mail by January 8, 2010, and their names will be posted on the Fellowship page at the Symposium website…those who are not awardees will be notified by e-mail.”

Last night, looking at the site’s page for registration, I found the statement, “Fellowship recipients will be notified by January 15, 2010.”

I thought I would know whether the writing samples I provided scored well enough with five judges to earn a Fellowship award by tomorrow, and I was already antsy, anxious, at waiting. Now I think I may have to wait another week before finding out my fate.

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I did win two tickets to a terrific food and wine tasting Friday evening, February 19, 2010 (and yes, I can attend the Symposium and tasting on February 19, 2010), Dark & Delicious 2010 in Alameda, CA. Dark & Delicious pairs Petite Sirah from great producers with foods prepared by some of the top chefs in the Bay Area.

I am hugely excited to taste great wines and foods, I love Petite Sirah, so this is right up my alley. I am also going to get to meet some other wine bloggers, including Eric Hwang. Eric handles social media marketing for Windsor Vineyards, I used to handle tradeshow marketing for Windsor Vineyards.

I think there might be a few tickets left, here’s the link to info: http://psiloveyou.org/dd10/

Thank you Jo Diaz for running a ticket contest.

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The mailman has been busy. I received the winter issue of Washington Tasting Room, an attractive, colorful new wine magazine, featuring beautiful photography and solid written content. Recipes, feature articles on selected wineries, a tasting room calendar of special events, and wine columns make this a worthy stand out magazine. I love that the writing puts me right in some of Washington’s tasting rooms, tasting wines; my wine knowledge is limited to California wines, mostly north coast wines, so any magazine that can educate me while entertaining is a must read.

I loved reading about Yakima’s downtown restaurants waiving corkage fees for folks who bring a wine bought that day from a neighboring downtown Yakima tasting room. The news piece quotes a restaurant owner “We’ll wash two glasses any day to sell more dinners…the program is working. The wineries love it and they’re sending customers our way.”

Thanks to John Vitale for sending me this complimentary copy.

From the Wine Appreciation Guild, I received Dr. Richard Baxter’s “Age Gets Better With Wine.” You’ll read my review when I read it – I’m in the middle of a novel so embarrassingly trashy I won’t share the title. I’ve skimmed Age Gets Better With Wine, and I look forward to getting into it soon; with 20 pages of references listed, it appears to be a solid work, and yet my skim suggested a user friendliness. More later.

Also from the Wine Appreciation Guild, I received a new wine preservation system. I am half way through my evaluation of the product and will post a review over the weekend.

Thanks to the Wine Appreciation Guild.

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Completely not related to wine or food, the mailman also delivered a package from a good friend Mike Jasper. The outside of the package was torn, trampled, dirty, cut, a letter of apology from the post office was included. The contents appear perfect however. Jasper sent me a boxed set of 4 discs covering the complete season one of A&E’s Rollergirls. I think Jasper actually knows some of the girls, and when visiting him a while back, we watched an episode and I was stunned by the “there is room on television for anything” aspect of the show’s existence. I am delighted to receive this fine gift, although it will likely wait some time before I view it.

Jasper also sent the October 2009 issue of Playboy so I could read the feature on the 1970s Oakland Raiders.

While I might read this issue of Playboy for the articles, I’m pretty sure my 12 year old son wouldn’t even glance at the Raider article, so I have to put this away.

Thanks Jasper.

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I was just going to put a pair of tri tips on the grill, when I got a call from my local grocery…my order of pork belly is available for me to pick up. Hurray, this is going to be a great week of eating in the Cesano house.

I’m thinking of trying Top Chef cheftestant Kevin Gillespie’s pork belly recipe.

As always, I’ll let you know how it goes.

One of my wine industry jobs was with the Wine Appreciation Guild, one of the industry’s largest publishers of wine books and a one stop distributor of both wine books and accessories. My job was to sell wine books and wine accessories to wineries for their tasting rooms, to wine shops, and to other specialty merchants in 42 California counties.

http://www.wineappreciation.com

There are many people here on the interwebs that know about wine, and I’ll carve my own niche by writing from the heart about wine as a means to an end, a beverage to be enjoyed with family and friends, as opposed to the end itself. I am not the guy to read if you are looking for a review of the nearly unattainable, released in three bottle maximum allotment to people on THE LIST only, cult Napa Cab or Russian River Valley Pinot. I love wine, know wine, can share my knowledge; but I am a regular guy.

In addition to telling you about a wine in context, who I shared it with, the food we ate with it, I can also tell you about a good wine book or wine gadget. Go with what you know, I wrote recently, and I will. Out of the thousands of wine writers inhabiting the web, I have unique knowledge. Hopefully, my writing will find an audience thirsty for what I am pouring.

Vacu-Vin. There is no wine preservation system more ubiquitous. Gwyneth Paltrow told Oprah that it is a “must-have” in her kitchen. Every frau and pretentious wine poser in the country has one. Sales of the devices number in the tens of millions.

For the one or two of you who are unfamiliar with Vacu-Vin, here’s what the manufacturers say

http://www.vacuvin.com/Vacuum_Wine_Saver_286_270_267.html

“The Wine Saver is a vacuum pump, which extracts the air from the opened bottle and re-seals it with a re-usable rubber stopper. Place the re-usable stopper in the bottle and extract the air from the bottle using the Wine Saver pump. A “click” sound tells you when you have reached the optimum vacuum level. The vacuum slows down the oxidation process which makes it possible to enjoy your wine again at a later date. The question “how often do I have to pump?” is a thing of the past. The unique and patented vacuum indicator will emit a “click” sound when the correct vacuum is reached.”


The Wine Appreciation Guild carried them, and everyone I worked with wanted them to sell in their stores.


I had a problem. The Vacu-Vin doesn’t work:

http://www.winelife.com/pdf/lab-report-26292-vacu-vin-test.pdf

“The “Vacu-Vin” device as submitted was evaluated to determine efficacy in reduction of oxidative spoilage in opened wines. Using the protocol described above, the “Vacu-Vin” device was found to have no measurable effect in reduction of oxidative spoilage.”

-Gordon Burns, ETS Laboratories, 1204 Church Street, St. Helena, CA 94574


http://www.winespectator.com/magazine/show/id/6257

Vacu-vin doesn’t work, It never has.

Sensorily, to me anyway, the Vacu-vin was a shuck. You could track the deterioration in each sample. Indeed, just recorking the wine worked equally as well – or as badly.

The [Wall Street] Journal asked Professor David Roe of the Portland State University chemistry department to test the gizmo…At best he achieved a vacuum of somewhat less than 70 percent…In just 90 minutes, he reported, the vacuum pressure diminished by 15 percent.

I asked Professor Roe to repeat his test with a newly purchased (newer, ‘improved’, model) Vacu-Vin. The results? “The pump is more efficient, but no more effective,” he reports. “The vacuum is the same, around 70 to 75 percent. And the leak rate is the same: After two hours you lose 25 percent of the vacuum. Overnight – 12 hours – the vacuum is totally gone.”

-Matt Kramer, “A Giant Sucking Sound…And That’s All”


http://www.consumerreports.org December 2006

What to do with leftover wine? Just put a cork in it

UNNECESSARY EQUIPMENT There’s no clear need for Vacu-Vin Vacuum Wine Saver and other wine-preservation systems, our tests suggest.

A lot of people turn to wine-preservation systems that seek to retard or stop oxidation, the chemical process that degrades wine. If you’re among those who swear by such systems, we have surprising news, based on our tests of four widely known brands: No system beat simply recorking the bottle and sticking it in the fridge.

Getting the air out…The Vacu-Vin Vacuum Wine Saver, $10, uses rubber stoppers (two are provided) with a pump that sucks out air.

We tested three varietals with the systems on three different occasions for three different periods of time. For comparison, we also stoppered one bottle with its own cork. After all the bottles spent time in our wine cellar, expert wine consultants compared their contents in blind taste tests with freshly opened bottles.

If our trained experts, with nearly 60 years in the business, couldn’t discern among wine storage systems, most consumers probably can’t, either. So just go ahead and cork it (you can turn the cork over if it’s easier to get in). But try not to wait more than a week or so to drink the wine, and sooner is better.


I would tell the buyers for the winery tasting rooms, the wine shops, and the kitchen stores that the Vacu-Vin doesn’t work – but it didn’t stop most of them, because you, the home customer, wanted to buy and use these things.

You don’t see good restaurants using Vacu-Vins to preserve their wines poured by the glass. You don’t see good wineries using Vacu-Vins in between the wine tastes they poor in their tasting rooms. NY Times wine guru Eric Asimov doesn’t pump air out of wine bottles, he doesn’t believe it does much of anything.

http://thepour.blogs.nytimes.com/2006/05/25/when-age-is-measured-in-days/

When I see a wine bar using a Vacu-Vin, I won’t drink any but the first glass from a bottle.

Here’s the deal: when you open a wine and let it breathe, you are letting tannins dissipate, alcohol flush burn off, and fruit come forward. You’ll find that the hot, harsh, and closed Cabernet at opening becomes a smooth delicious beverage with blackberry and currant notes with a little time. Oxygen is wine’s friend initially.

While I am prepping food for dinner, I usually open a bottle, or more than one bottle if cooking for friends, pour a little of each in a separate wine glass, so I can repeatedly swirl and sniff each. I am looking for the wine to open and become perfect. At that point, I recork the bottle so I can just open, pour, and seal all the way through the meal. I know the last glass will be as good as the first. Every glass perfect.

If I opened the wine, let it breathe, and then ignored it, the fruit would follow the tannins, and perfect would become sad. Oxygen, so important to a wine at opening, becomes wine’s enemy afterward. Leaving a wine open ruins wine over time.

Pumping the air out of a bottle of wine with a Vacu-Vin strips the wine of aroma and bouquet. Each time it is used it ruins the wine. To me, a couple of seconds is like hours of damage.

The Vacu-Vin doesn’t even create a complete vacuum. As tested, fully 25-30% of the air, and oxygen, remains inside the bottle – before the Vacu-Vin fails and all of the air, and oxygen, returns. To me, the worst think about the Vacu-Vin is that consumers are fooled into a false sense of preservation security and don’t seek another, effective, method to save the aroma, bouquet, and flavors of a bottle of wine in between glasses.

Matt Kramer and the Wall Street Journal engaged a University science department professor who measured the Vacu-Vin’s fail using drills and tubes and meters, all very high tech. Similar high tech methods were used by Gordon Burns of ETS Laboratories and the testers at Consumer Reports.

Look, I know that if you are into wine, you have one of these gadgets at home. Want to see it fail before your own eyes? Fill an empty wine bottle half way with mini marshmallows, use the Vacu-Vin as directed, sucking some of the air out of the bottle, creating a partial vacuum at best. As you pump, the marshmallows will swell until they fill the available space inside the bottle. You will see that, as the Vacu-Vin seal leaks and fresh air goes back into the bottle, the marshmallows shrink. You can watch the level of the marshmallows fall from bottle fill to half bottle as the Vacu-Vin fail is total.

While at the Wine Appreciation Guild, the owner Elliot Mackey, knowing my feelings about the Vacu-Vin, put me in a surprise direct face-to-face meeting with one of the company’s representatives. I felt a bit awkward, but presented him with much of the evidence I have laid out here for you. The representative assured me that he had heard these charges before and had a “wealth of anecdotal evidence” to counter it.

Just because a non critical taster, perhaps an actress appearing on Oprah, thinks that her Vacu-Vin is doing something beneficial, and allows that incorrect assumption to color expectations at tasting her old wine, self deluding herself that the wine is well preserved – just because there are tens of millions of people who got suckered, don’t know it, and think this junk works – well, so what? A wealth of anecdotal evidence does not counter evidence of Vacu-Vin’s complete lack of efficacy, nor does it counter Vacu-Vin’s fail in blind tastings performed by sommeliers and other wine professionals.

I am a believer in never presenting a problem without a possible solution. I’ve created a problem by telling the truth as I see it. There are tens of millions of people ruining their wine, thinking they are saving their wine’s quality. I know I won’t reach quite that number of readers, but for the few who do find their way to my blog, I’ll tell you how I keep wines delicious in between glasses.


I recork the bottles. Believing it matters, I use a decoratively topped, denser than normal, non-porous Corker instead of the old porous cork. If I am going to keep the wine for more than a couple of days, I pair a blast of Private Preserve (nitrogen/argon/inert gasses in a can) and the Corker and have experienced solid longer term storage.


http://thecorker.com

http://www.privatepreserve.com

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Oil and Vinegar preservation:

For the foodies out there who have made it this far through a wine entry, I use the Private Preserve/Corker combo on my specialty oils and vinegars for the kitchen and have eliminated the oil goes rancid and vinegar goes musty equivalent of wine goes yucky.


Oh, and if you have pour spouts in your oil and vinegar, or wine, you are just letting it breathe and go bad. So unless you are Gordon Ramsey and go through multiple bottles of oil/vinegar/wine in the kitchen each night, throw away the spouts, they are as ridiculously bad as a Vacu-Vin.

Just saying’.

DISCLOSURE: I have sold Corkers in art and craft shows, I do not now. I am very experienced with their efficacy. I worked for the Wine Appreciation Guild over seven years ago, I do not now. I have not worked with Gordon Ramsey, but am willing to accept a free meal from him.

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