I love Zinfandel. Growing up, Zinfandel was used in the kitchen to flavor foods and served at the table to complement those dishes. Hanging just outside my office at the tasting room I manage, there is a framed photograph taken in 1972 of my brother and me crushing Zinfandel grapes by foot for a family wine.

A little too long for my newspaper wine column at over 4,400 words, I wrote an online recap of January’s Zinfandel Experience, produced by Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP), in San Francisco. Last year, I attended the inaugural ZAP’s Simply Summer Celebration and recapped the experience here in the paper.

Living in Mendocino County, I am fortunate as a Zin lover; Zinfandel is the county’s most planted grape and the county’s flagship cooperative wine program, Coro Mendocino, focuses on the many possible expressions of heritage Zinfandel blends.

On Saturday, Aug. 15, from 1 to 3:30 p.m., the second ZAP Simply Summer Celebration (of Zinfandel) will be hosted on Seghesio Family Vineyards’ Home Ranch in Alexander Valley at 24400 Rich Ranch Road, Cloverdale. Sixty-five wineries will pour their Zinfandel wines, including Seebass Family Vineyards and Edmeades from Mendocino County, plus Carol Shelton Wines and Artezin Wines, among others, who make Zinfandel using Mendocino County grapes.


Great wine needs great food to pair with, and Seghesio is one of my favorite Passport to Dry Creek Valley stops because they always bring it with their food offerings. For this Simply Summer Celebration, ZAP shares, “Seghesio’s custom mobile Jedmaster smoker, with the capacity for 320 pounds of pork butt, Blaze, is equipped to smoke for a huge crowd. Seghesio’s resident pit master, Executive Chef Peter Janiak loves to fire Blaze up any chance he gets and has become quite famous for his hand-made salumi, sausages and smoked meats.” On the menu: Pulled Pork Sandwich smoked for 14 hours and topped with a Zinfandel based BBQ sauce, Feta & Watermelon Salad, and even a Vegetarian Option for the pork averse among you. Healdsburg’s Moustache Baked Goods will provide dessert samples, “baked from scratch and by hand without preservatives and only in small batches.”

Tickets are $65 each, or $50 for ZAP members, and include a commemorative tasting glass, tastes of wines from 65 producers, BBQ food dishes made to pair perfectly with the wines you’ll be tasting, and dessert bites.

ZAP Heritage Club members get a bonus tasting in the hour before the main public tasting; “In collaboration with Seghesio Family Vineyards, ZAP has arranged for an exclusive Zinfandel tasting at the historic Seghesio Home Ranch Vineyard in northern Alexander Valley. Hosted by Seghesio, ZAP Heritage Club members will learn about the history and heritage of this continuously operating 120 year old vineyard. The tasting will focus on the Home Ranch Zinfandel, which still uses founder Edoardo Seghesio’s original 7-acre 1895 vines as the foundation of this wine. Seating is very limited and RSVP is required.”

For more information about ZAP’s Simply Summer Celebration, or to purchase your tickets before they sell out, visit http://www.Zinfandel.org.

Thanks to Glenda Cunningham and Rebecca Robinson of Zinfandel Advocates & Producers for inviting me to your summer event, again.

No one should have to take the blame but me when my writing goes off the tracks, but Ron Washam deserves a little credit for making it better. Ron writes satirically about wine, online wine writing, and wine marketing for his popular Hosemaster of Wine blog. Ron also writes some of the best written wine reviews and winery features under his Ephemera banner on the site as well.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to pour for Ron, and things were going great until I described one of our wines as, “authentic,” which earned a sad shake of the head from Ron. It does not matter whether a wine is estate grown, organically, made with minimal intervention, exhibits varietal correctness, and is an expression of both terroir and vintage, or if that wine is mass produced, conventionally farmed with a liberal application of Round Up, and is absolutely vile in all sensory aspects; they are both authentic.

I have tried not to use meaningless descriptors like authentic, natural, or sustainable since that day. Recently, I sent Ron a note, because I sensed he was tired or down, such being the lot of a writer sometimes. I wrote, “I have appreciated your writing for years, have read all your posts, and appreciate the pin you bring to the overinflated pretentiousness that pervades the marketing of wine.

Rather than allow the sense that wine is serious stuff, unknowable to the regular man, only to be appreciated by those who have devoted a lifetime to tasting, and alienating a huge segment of the potential market for wine, I wish that more people would demystify the fermented juice of grapes, point to it as a terrific component in a larger meal, make it approachable.

Heralding inexpensive wines, as opposed to cheap wines, and suggesting food pairings, driving new consumers to seek out these easily found wines in the market to try, trusting that once the door has been opened many of these new converts from milk, soda, or beer at the dinner table will seek out more expensive bottles, visit tasting rooms, or attend wine events, is what I wish more folks did.

Personally, I do not love [a common supermarket brand, name masked for this piece] wines, I think they are cheap, they just do not taste good to me. I am amazed, under Concha y Toro, just how good the wines at Fetzer are at about the same price point. Inexpensive vs. cheap.”

Ron replied, generously, “Your letter is very kind, and much appreciated. I agree with all of your sentiments, and I’ve spent a lot of energy on HoseMaster trying to express them. Wine is supposed to be enjoyable and life-enhancing, not snooty, not strictly defined (“natural” or “100 point”), not boring. Reading wine blogs makes wine seem dull and lifeless when it’s anything but. And not just wine blogs, most of the press as well make it seem stupid and mundane.”

For my readers, visit Ron’s site, go into the archives and read every piece in order; the comments are often as good as the piece being commented upon. For the local wine folks who read my column, craft a better message, connect with your customers better, make wine approachable and your customers will enjoy it more and share it with their friends and family more often.

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.

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.


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.


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.

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

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.


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.

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.”

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.

To paraphrase the noted philosopher Monty Python, “and now for someone completely different,” instead of “the larch,” I would like to introduce you to John Compisi.

John is a retired Army officer, lives 15 miles from Hopland, tastes and writes about wine. Expect a very different piece, as anything I wrote would have been informed by my experience as an Army non commissioned officer, living 15 miles from Hopland, tasting and writing about wines. Okay, this might be very similar to something I would write, and I have written about Coro Mendocino, Mendocino County’s flagship wine, about a hundred times, but as with all wine, the story of Coro continues to unfold with each new vintage.

John Compisi is the first wine writer invited to join the Coro winemakers for the unique collaborative blind tastings and this, as well as future pieces, by John will chronicle that process.

Coincidentally, I was at this tasting, representing Guinness McFadden, for the day. The experience was wonderful, I knew how it works but being part of it, even once, was illuminating.

Without further rambling, enjoy this guest post by John Compisi, originally published Sunday, January 25, 2015 at Examiner.com:

John Compisi
John Compisi
Sonoma County Food & Wine Examiner

Coro Mendocino (Part I): A Chorus of Wine

Last week, nine Mendocino winemakers rendezvoused at Parducci Cellars in Ukiah for their second consultation in a collaborative process to create the 2013 vintage of Coro Mendocino. This is the first in a series of reports meant to examine the winemakers, the wines as well as the highly defined parameters and meticulous processes they follow to achieve their collaborative and individual objectives. Concurrently, these reports are intended to help you appreciate the unique nature and heritage value that Coro Mendocino represents. Hopefully they will pique your interest and enlighten your understanding of Coro and how it is achieving its goal of producing a variety of small lot signature wines.

The Coro Consortium was created in 2000 to create a strict regional winemaking protocol similar in style and purpose of respected historical European wine regions like Chianti Classico and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The original group of winemakers chose the name Coro, Latin for Chorus, as they intended these wines to sing in harmony, with each unique voice resulting from a blend of heritage Mendocino varieties with Zinfandel as its underlying melody.

In 2001, when the founding Coro Mendocino winemakers produced their first vintage they understood they had embarked on an important and challenging journey. They wanted to showcase Mendocino’s heritage Zinfandel grapes while producing a collection of very high quality, individually unique blends that are priced and labeled to represent the collaborative nature of this endeavor. Thirteen vintages later that journey continues.

Key to establishing an identifiable wine, vintage after vintage, was to create the specific protocol involved in making, blending, aging, bottling, labeling and pricing their historic joint effort. Over the course of this series the various allowable varieties of grapes and other requirements will be discussed. For now, keep in mind that the baseline is that all grapes in the blend must be 100% Mendocino County grown with a minimum of 40% but no more than 70% Zinfandel to assure that the wine would remain a blend. The remaining percentage can be can include lesser percentages of nine other approved varieties with Mediterranean origins.

Keep in mind that this is a two-and-a-half year cycle from harvest to release. The current release is the 2011 Coro Mendocino. The 2012 Coro will be released in June. The 2013 Coro were harvested in the fall of 2013, fermented as individual varieties, individually aged in barrel for 1 year (minimum) and are now being blended in anticipation of bottling later this summer. The final blend will age in bottle for another year before their release in June 2016.

Prior to the December blending meeting, each winemaker had established their individual first best effort. They followed the prescribed protocol to create their Coro candidate using their knowledge and experience and blending their best Zinfandel with the other accepted varieties. As Mark Beaman, associate Parducci winemaker commented last week, “each vintage is like a Stan Lee comic book with at least one varietal possessing super powers!” Because the grapes in each blend come from different Mendocino vineyards expressing the unique terroir of each, the winemakers challenge is to identify and exploit the grapes with the superpowers and then creating the perfect balance for these special wines.

Last week’s meeting at Parducci Cellars repeated the sequence that had been followed at the first meeting, only this time, the percentages and varieties may have been tweaked in response to the comments from the previous collaboration. The eight (8) candidate blends were brown-bagged into 2 flights of four (4). The blind tasting is an effort to keep the collaboration unbiased as each winemaker does not know which wine is theirs. After tasting each wine, comments were made and recorded by each winemaker. Acidity, fruit, tannin, color and other characteristics were noted with a professional and collegial air for each wine. After all the wines had been evaluated there was an atmosphere of anticipation as each winemaker was anxious to see how their wine had fared. As the wines were ‘revealed’, self deprecating comments were heard, like “I knew that fruit bomb was mine”. The air of camaraderie and fun continued as another round of comments ensued once the wines and winemakers were matched. Serious, passionate, professional and fun perfectly describe last week’s blending event.


The third blending event will take place in February. Curious to see how the winemakers adjust the varieties and percentage to make the 2013 Coro Mendocino the best reflection of the 2013 harvest possible. All with the help of their winemaking collaborators. Stay tuned for the next in the report series.


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.

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.

One of the biggest differences between winemaking in Europe and the United States is that wine made in Europe is made following a protocol established by and for the geographically identifiable area the wine is made in, while wine made in the United States is made with near complete freedom.

A Mendocino County wine might be Chardonnay or Malbec. Napa Valley is likely to contain Cabernet Sauvignon, but could instead contain Sangiovese. Russian River Valley wine bottles could be Pinot Noir or Semillion. In the United States, we have to label our wines with the grape varietal, because there is no rule, rhyme, or reason about what each area can put into the bottle.

When you buy a bottle of Bordeaux at the wine shop, you know which grapes the wine can be made from based on long established historical protocol, and you can have a solid expectation of style, based on every other Bordeaux wine you have ever purchased. Same for Burgundy, Tuscany, and Chianti.

Identified DOCG in Italy Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (controlled designation of origin guaranteed), AOC in France, – appellation d’origine contrôlée (controlled designation of origin), or other assurance of area protocol control, when you pick up a European wine, your expectations are based on where the wine came from.

In the United States, there is no similar geographically identifiable area making wine following a protocol – almost.

Unique in the entire United States is the Coro Mendocino program, established by a collaborative group of winemakers known as the Consortium Mendocino.

Every time you hold a Coro Mendocino wine, from any vintage, from any winery, you are holding something with connections to every other Coro Mendocino wine ever made.

Every Coro Mendocino wine is made from 100 percent Mendocino County grapes, by a Mendocino County winery, in the county, and contains Zinfandel first and foremost, between 40 percent and 70 percent, with no single blending grape varietal exceeding the percentage of Zinfandel used. Blending grapes come from a list of varietals historically grown in Mendocino County alongside Zinfandel, and are typically either Italian varietals – Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Charbono, Barbera, and Primitivo, or Rhone varietals – Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignane, and Grenache.

Each winery is also allowed up to 10 percent free play, where a single unlisted varietal may be added to the blend. In the last 10 years, I can think of two wines that took advantage of the “free play” to add some Cabernet Sauvignon.

Chemistry limits (sugar, acid and pH), use of oak barrels, and both barrel and bottle aging are also addressed by the protocol to assure a somewhat uniform expectation of style within the Coro Mendocino program.

Each Coro Mendocino wine undergoes rigorous quality tasting trials. Initially, the wines are tasted up to four times by the participating winemakers who make and share notes of constructive criticism in an effort to see each wine reflect the high quality standards embodied by Consortium expectations.

A Selection Panel of five members of Consortium Mendocino – at least three being participating winemakers – conducts a pass/fail qualifying selection tasting. Pass, and you get to label your wine Coro Mendocino and sell it proudly beside every other Coro Mendocino made at $37. Fail and you’ve got nothing. You don’t have Coro and, without the minimum 75 percent needed, you don’t have Zinfandel. John Cesano’s “Random Red” wouldn’t likely sell for $37 or have the cachet a wine labeled Coro Mendocino has.

On Saturday, June 22, Consortium Mendocino will release the 2010 vintage Coro Mendocino wines at a 10th Anniversary Release Party at the Little River Inn. The 2010 vintage was produced by 10 wineries: Brutocao, Claudia Springs, Fetzer, Golden, McFadden, McNab Ridge, Mendocino, Parducci, Philo Ridge, and Ray’s Station.


A five course meal prepared by chef Marc Dym begins with a passed appetizer course, paired with a white or sparkling wines from each Coro winery, the remaining courses are seated; the three middle courses each feature three or four of the Coro Mendocino wines, grouped by weight, lighter, medium, and heavier, and paired with gourmet dishes. The final course is dessert and paired with your favorite of the 10 tasted Coro Mendocino wines.

Tickets are for couples, include the five course meal and the first tastes of each of the 2010 vintage wines, and a full set of all ten Coro Mendocino wines. The cost is $500 for a couple ticket and, with the 10 bottles of wine plus a five course dinner with wine for two, is a bargain. I attended last year, and wrote quite favorably about the experience.

This year, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Coro Mendocino, there will also be an exclusive V.I.P. tasting of Coro 1.5L magnums, on the night before the release party. Limited to the first 30 release party guests that reserve a spot at $75 per person, Coro wines from the last 10 years, and by producers current and past, will be opened and enjoyed from 4:30 ­ 6:30 p.m. on Friday, June 21.

To secure your seats at the release party dinner, and possibly the magnum tasting too, call the Little River Inn at (707) 937-5942.

John Cesano works for McFadden, one of the ten 2010 vintage Coro producers. John, in his role as a local wine writer, has written about the Coro Mendocino program frequently, not because he works for a producer but because he he feels the program can be a critically important introduction to what, at their best, Mendocino County’s wines are about. 

I tasted the 2009 McFadden Old Vine Zinfandel in my own tasting room, made with organically-grown 40-year-old old-vine grapes, for the first time on Thursday, October 20, 2011.

No medals, no ratings, not yet released; Guinness brought me 6 cases, I tasted this unknown wine, and instantly fell in love.

2009 McFadden Old Vine Zinfandel $24

In a world of overblown Zins, where winemakers purposely make painfully undrinkable over-oaked, over-tannic, over sweet, too high alcohol Zinfandels in a blatant attempt to win gold medals and 90+ ratings from judges who have palates blown from a series of monster-dense, enormously thick wine bombs and who can only taste a wine if it is as horribly over-made while rendered unable to taste a subtle, well crafted, drinkable wine of restraint and balance, here was a throwback wine to love.

Once upon a time, long ago, Zinfandel wines were made simply, inexpensively, and while flavorful, they paired well with many foods – most notably Italian cuisine.

Over the years, someone noticed that a wine with a little higher alcohol gets the attention of a judge suffering palate fatigue and scores a little higher rating or medal in competition. A little more oak worked similarly, and so did heavier tannin, and high sugar Zins also fared well.

Where once Zinfandel was an enjoyable food wine, today there are Zinfandels that are 16.5-17% alcohol, thick as a brick with dry briar and raspberry, hits you like a fencepost in the forehead with monster tannins, and has black pepper spice so massive that foods quail in fear of being paired with these freakishly overblown wines. Today’s Zins make a great steak their bitch, forcing the meat into perverse submission, making steak taste like overblown Zinfandel and not at all like steak.

There I was in October last year with my first taste of a perfectly beautiful Zinfandel, all the right flavors, briar, brambly raspberry, and black pepper spice, but without being overblown. Under 15% alcohol, smooth soft tannin, and lightly kissed by oak, this was a Zinfandel that didn’t hurt to drink. A Zinfandel like Italian-American winemakers in the Dry Creek Valley used to make 35-40 years ago. A Zinfandel that when paired with a steak lets the steak taste like steak while the Zin tastes like Zin, but together they each taste better.

I was holding in my hand an incredibly rare wine, the perfect throwback Zinfandel.

On October 20 last year, there were 160 cases of this 2009 McFadden Old Vine Zinfandel. Four days later, with the two day Fall Hopland Passport ended, there were fewer than 90 cases left. I do not know of any other wine from any other Hopland winery that moved as fast as this wine.

Over the holidays, I continued to pour the Zinfandel for visitors to our tasting room, and everyone loved it. We sold it by the bottle to more tasters than any of our other wines.

At the end of December, I found out that Wine Enthusiast magazine had rated this amazingly delicious Zinfandel a mere 84 points. Seriously, I was like “WTF?!”. I know that our wines, more drinkable than other wines. sell more easily than overblown wines when tasted one on one, and bronze medal more often than gold, but seriously…I knew the wine was great, real people tasting wines and making the ultimate judgement – buying the wine – backed my palate up and pointed out the questionable impact of a low score – especially when the score is for a well-made, instead of fashionably overblown, Zinfandel.

Two days ago, I saw the results of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and found our 2009 McFadden Old Vine Zinfandel had been awarded a [insert drumroll] bronze medal.

Again, I was prepared to question the rhyme or reason behind competition results when I received my first inventory update since October 24 last year. We get busy in the Fall and I went two and a half months without a real count on my wines.

Anyway, this 84 point wine, worthy of only a bronze medal, is down to fewer than 30 cases. Makes you wonder about the worth of these professional’s palates.

I think I will blow through this wine by the end of next month, and I’ve already been told that there are only 150 cases of 2010 Old Vine Zinfandel coming later this year, then just 70 cases of 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel the year after.

This piece isn’t meant to tell you what a great and rare wine I have. It isn’t really about slamming judges because I welcome their Gold medals and 90+ scores. I think I just wanted to say that a lot of highly rated, big medal winning Zins suck, they hurt to drink; and maybe someone should pay attention to what consumers really like in a Zinfandel: drinkability, approachability, balance, flavor, a little restraint, ease of food pairability.

Reporting from the trenches,


Coro Mendocino, I’ve written about it before, but with a rare tasting coming this weekend, it bears writing about again.

A group of Mendocino County winemakers create a Zinfandel based wine blend where Zinfandel accounts for between 40 and 70% of the finished wine. The remainder is limited to classic Mendocino County varietals, but a winemaker can use any varietal, traditional or not, up to 10% to create the best wine possible. The idea is to capture the heart (Coro is Italian for heart) of Mendocino County, the heart of the vintage, in a bottle.

There are 13 winemakers who take part in the Coro Mendocino cooperative association, and all the winemakers must approve a Coro in a blind group tasting prior to the blend being allowed to be called a Coro Mendocino.

Each Coro Mendocino is different. In a single vintage there could be 13 different Coro Mendocino wines, each with a different blend of grapes, each grown in a different part of the county, each blended by a different winemaker. All delicious, none closely resembling the next. Each Coro Mendocino is sold for $37, is bottled uniformly, carries matching labels, with the winery name noted but subordinate to the Coro Mendocino identification.

This Saturday, April 16, 2011 Sip! Mendocino in Hopland will be hosting a tasting of 10 different 2007 Coro Mendocino producers from 6-9 pm. Graziano, McDowell, McFadden, Fetzer, Golden, Dunnewood, Brutocao, Philo Ridge, Parducci, and McNab Ridge will be poured. The cost is only $20 for the general public, and Sip! Mendocino wine club members may take part at no charge.

Be sure to taste the McFadden Vineyard Coro, it is 60% Zinfandel, 27% Syrah, and 13% Petite Sirah; add it up and you get 100% delicious. Rich warm cherry and berry fruit, chocolate, herb, rich and full, big yet easily drinkable, with a long, lingering, tapering finish. I may be biased, I am the Tasting Room Manager and Wine Club Coordinator at McFadden Vineyard, but I think it may be the most delicious of the 2007 Coro Mendocino wines. The great news is that on Saturday you can taste them all side by side and decide for yourself which is your favorite.

Until ZAP has the sense to invite all the Coro Mendocino wines to be poured at January’s annual Grand Zinfandel Tasting in San Francisco at Ft. Mason, this is your best, least expensive opportunity to taste the line up. Call Sip! Mendocino to secure your spot at Saturday night’s tasting, (707) 744-8375.

EDITED TO ADD: Amusingly, because it demonstrates my fallibility, it turn out Coro does NOT translate as Heart going from Italian to English. Coro is Chorus. Cuore is Heart. I am not as fond of the imagery of tasting the Chorus of Mendocino County. Romantic that I am, Coro SHOULD be Heart. Thanks to Eugene Gonsalves for catching my error, allowing me to note if not correct it.


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