January 2010

I grew up with Zinfandel. When I was a kid, my dad Charlie and his friends would hunt almost every weekend; duck hunting, pig hunting, deer hunting. Our freezer was always full of meat. I grew up thinking that everyone was Italian, and that everyone hunted. My folks never took me to see Bambi.

My dad was part of a group of about 20 guys who went in together to lease large pieces of property to hunt. Their hunting clubs were scattered all over Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. For a long time, we hunted the 12,500 acre Rockpile Ranch straddling both Mendocino and Sonoma Counties, being the largest piece of property in either county. I remember my dad taking me for weekends to the club. I would ride in a jeep or truck during the day as the men looked for a large pig, or buck. Lunches would invariably be Salumi and Cheddar on hard French bread rolls. Any game taken would be field dressed, then cleaned and hung back in camp at the end of the day. After cleaning up after the day’s hunt, the men would cook a big dinner. Polenta, meats, Italian sauces, pasta, vegetables, salad, Zinfandel.

Growing up, all the Italian men I knew drank Zinfandel. It came in jugs, it wasn’t complex, it was good and it was cheap. It went into the food, and into coffee cups and high ball glasses, styrofoam cups and complimentary collector jelly glasses from the gas station – free with an 8 gallon purchase.

I crushed Zinfandel grapes when I was my son Charlie’s age, just 12 years old, and the juice was made into wine that I was allowed to taste with food.

Zinfandel has been my first wine love, my longest loved wine, my favorite wine for most of my life.

Big, bold, very red, often high in alcohol, with flavors of brambly raspberry and black pepper spice; Zinfandel is as big as Cabernet Sauvignon in body, structure, and flavor profile but more affordable. Although DNA tests have shown Zinfandel is really the grape varietal Crljenak Kaštelanski from Croatia, and also Identical to Italy’s Primitivo grape, it has been thought of as California’s grape by generations of California’s wine drinkers.

Years ago, I attended the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and producers) tasting, a tasting of Zinfandels put on at Fort Mason in San Francisco in January. Hundreds of Zinfandels to taste. Thousands of people tasting. A perfect day spent tasting some iconic Zinfandels, like Carol Shelton’s Rockpile Zin, and discovering new stars.

ZAP is marking the 19th Zinfandel festival this year with the theme Zin in Paradise, and it isn’t just the incredible Saturday Grand Zinfandel Tasting, but three days of events. Tickets are still available for most of the events.


The festival kicks off Thursday evening with the Good Eats & Zinfandel Pairing at Fort Mason’s Herbst Pavillion. Celebrity chef Beverly Gannon will be serving up Hawaiian Regional Cuisine with Zinfandels, along with 49 other chefs and wineries. As I read the list of wineries, restaurants, and dishes being served, my mouth goes into watering overdrive mode, and I am actually excited about attending this event. The list is too long to print here, but go to the event page and look at the amazing bounty of food, and the participating wineries, and get yourself to this event! If you are looking for me, I’ll be the very happy, short, round, bearded man in line in front of you for more yummy food and wine.

On Friday, I am going to sit down with a group of about 150 people at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco for Flights, a showcase of Zinfandel.

The panelists will discuss blending, Zinfandel’s uniqueness, preferred blending varietals, and each panelist will bring a proprietary blended Zinfandel to pour and discuss.

The wineries, panelists and Zinfandels include:

  • Ridge Vineyards, winemaker Eric Baugher, 2007 Zinfandel Paso Robles and the 2007 Geyserville
  • Three Wine Company, winemaker and proprietor Matt Cline, 2007 Old Vine Zinfandel, California and 2007 Old Vines, California (Field Blend)
  • JC Cellars, founder and winemaker Jeff Cohn, 2007 Imposter Blend and 2007 Sweetwater Zinfandel
  • Robert Biale Vineyards, winemaker Steve Hall, 2007 Aldo’s Vineyard Zinfandel and 2007 Stagecoach Zinfandel
  • Bedrock Wine Company, winemaker and proprietor Morgan Twain Peterson, 2007 Heirloom Wine, Sonoma Valley and 2007 Ravenswood, Bedrock Vineyard Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley

Friday Evening, also at the Mark Hopkins, is an Evening with the Winemakers, Benefit Live Auction and Dinner, where Chef Beverly Gannon will prepare:

  • Asian Duck Tostada
  • Blackened Ahi with Sweet Thai Chili Sauce, Wasabi Micro Greens, Tobiko, Mashed Potato in Filo Cup
  • Smoked Salmon Pinwhhels with Chipotle-Chili Fresh Fruit Salsa
  • Kalua Pork and Goat Cheese Won Tons with Mango Chili Sauce
  • Terrine of Foie Gras, BBQ Eel, Potato Pineapple Compote, Vanilla Syrup and Spicy Micro Greens
  • Lamb Shank Canneloni with a Poached Fig Demi-Glaze Double Cut Lamb Chop, Lavendar Honey Glazed Baby Carrots
  • Chocolate Macadamia Nut Tart

I had the opportunity to take part in a high end food and wine dinner like this when I helped winemaker Carol Shelton, who had the Best in Class Zinfandel at the California State Fair – a Zinfandel with four gold medals – pour her Zinfandel and other favorite wines at the best Meet the Winemaker dinner I have ever attended. The dinner was at Susan and Drew Goss’ Zinfandel restaurant in Chicago’s River North area, near the Fonterra Grill and Spago. Without exception, the sold out (it sold out in under 3 hours, a record for the restaurant) 110 seat restaurant’s diners enjoyed one of the best dining experiences of their lives. Many hundreds of bottles were opened and consumed (I helped Carol taste them all earlier that day and found all 5 TCA tainted corked bottles – unlucky me) and Susan Goss prepared a multi course menu around Carol’s wines that amazed, delighted and thrilled everyone who attended the dinner.

This is going to be one of those kind of once in a lifetime dining experiences and Beverly’s menu looks even more fantastic than Susan’s menu. In addition to the incredible sit down mind blowing meal with Zinfandels poured to pair with each course, there will be 25 or so one of a kind Zinfandel themed live auction lots to bid on during the evening.

ZAP’s Zinfandel Festival culminates Saturday with the epically huge Grand Zinfandel Tasting in both the Herbst and Festival pavilions at Fort Mason in San Francisco from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m., ZAP members get an hour start on the general public and can taste from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Over the years, ZAP’s Zinfandel festival has grown, more than doubling in size. The number of Zinfandels poured couldn’t be tasted by any one person, be they veteran wine reviewer or liver compromised bum.

Plastic lined garbage cans are provided throughout the festival and serve as giant wine spittoons. I hate spitting out perfectly good wine, but it is the only way to go as an attempt is made to taste as many Zinfandels as possible before my palate is completely blown out by the plethora of high alcohol hugely bodied monster Zinfandels.

I am thrilled to be attending this years Grand Zinfandel Tasting, and getting an early 10 a.m. start as part of the media tasting. I will have my red wine notebook and pen with me.

It almost goes without saying, but eat before, during and after the event, be safe, and consider public transportation.

DISCLOSURE: ZAP is covering my attendance to events with a press pass. I love this event and would have gushed about the event if I was paying out of pocket to attend. I will be writing a couple of articles after the event. One will focus on the events generally, the other will include tasting notes for Zinfandels tasted over the weekend. Full disclosure requires that I think Julie Ann Kodmur is an angel.

Contest #1: for the first pair of tickets, simply tell me why you should get them. Has life been getting you down and do you need a ray of sunshine? Are you the greatest fan of Zinfandel in history? Are you attracted to short, bald, bearded, round, old wine bloggers? Is January 30 your birthday? In 150 words or less make me laugh, make me cry, make me blush, make me want to give you two tickets. I’ll award the tickets to the person who offers me the best reason to give them to you. To enter contest #1, enter your 150 word, or less, reason as a comment to this blog entry.

Contest #1 Entry A
You should give them to me because I know where the bodies are buried. Christ, I helped you bury a lot of them.

Okay, I liked this entry, it was short, assumptive, and made me laugh. But it didn’t really hit on enough cylinders.

Contest #1 Entry B
I want to go to ZAP 2010 to see how this heritage grape is doing in it’s latest releases. I like to write about the wines I taste and am judicious in making even and consistent notes and highlights. This is a grape event to point out, talk with grape growers and winemakers and truly understand their science and art.

I love ZAP, Zinfandel and this yearly event is something that beckons that wine is still alive in keeping in these challenging times. Wine reminds us there is something that brings us together; it is the social glue that binds.

Well this entry was more worthwhile, I’m getting a strong sense that the entrant would benefit from the experience.

Contest #1 Entry: C
Ok, I am a poor little wine blogger. I’m new, and frankly, wine cognoscenti scare me. My wife was just last year diagnosed with a horrifying genetic disorder, and while we deal with that (it’s called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome) i am putting her through graduate school for a PsyD in Clinical Psychology. And oh. my. god. I love Zinfandel. LOVE IT.

Wow, hitting on a bunch of cylinders. A desire to learn, a genetically disordered wife, sacrifice working to put her through school, avowed Zinfandel love. When I wrote “life been getting you down” I was thinking of a temporary unemployment, but I got an American Idol audition, complete with an immediate family medical issue.

Contest #1 Entry D
I should get the tickets because even though I am in the biz I have never been to ZAP and my birthday is also 1/25; I have the ID to prove it

Sharing a birthday does count for a lot, but unfortunately not a strong enough plea. Sign up for Trade passes!

Contest #1 Entry E
You should give the tickets to me but I can’t make it next weekend so the next best thing is to give them to Hans Dippel, the King of the Limerick. He made me laugh and I know him from Facebook…

An interesting plea, but this entry will not win this contest, and this isn’t the contest for Limericks.

Contest #1 Entry F
I’m a virgin and I really need to get cherry popped. A big, bold Zin with a eye-brow, raising long finish was THE varietal responsible for my love affair with wine. Pair it with a bit of melt-in-your mouth, eye fluttering Belgian dark chocolate and heaven is found. It’d be a shame to miss out on swinging with other Zins.

Wow! I did write “make me blush” as a possible pathway to the tickets, and I believe you made my heart beat a few beats a minute faster with your entry.


So for me it came down to a contest between entries C and F, and entry C just had a ton going on in just a little paragraph.

The winner of contest #1’s pair of tickets is Steve Paulo from notesfromthecellar.com

Honorable mention goes to Sarita Moreno of saritathewinegal.blogspot.com

EDITED TO ADD: Steve can not attend the event because his wife accepted a wedding invitation, Steve asked that the tickets go to the next best entry, so the NEW winner of contest #1 is Sarita. Congratulations!


Contest #2: for the second pair of tickets, write a poem about Zinfandel, with as few as 5 lines (limerick) up to a maximum of 14 lines (sonnet). I’ll award the tickets to the person who submits my favorite original poem. The madly talented Randall Grahm, who does not need tickets anyway, is not eligible for this contest. Poetry skill points will be given for weaving “Julie Ann” and/or “Zinfandel” into your poem. To enter contest # 2, leave your poem as a comment to this blog entry.

Contest #2 Entry A
There once was a man from Nantucket,
Who daily drank Zin by the bucket.
Wiping Zin off his chin,
He said with chagrin,
“If I can’t go to ZAP, well then…bummer!

plus 3 bonus poems from the same entrant:

JC is a guy who loves Zin,
To most, we don’t think it a sin.
It does make you think,
How much Zin he can drink,
But explains why he wears such a grin.

There once was a guy named JC,
Who had Zin coming out of his pee.
Although meloncholic,
Not yet an alcoholic.
His pee was the source of much glee.

There once was a guy named JC,
For years he sold Zin next to me.
We pitched and we pitched,
But not as much as we bitched.
So I married his boss, Melanie

Contest #2 Entry B
There once was a great Julie Ann
Who of Zinfandel was a huge fan
She offered tickets to ZAP
Which I tried to snap
I hope it’s a super good plan.

Well this came down to someone who doesn’t read the rules or instructions, sends 4 or 5 poems insteead of one vs. someone who read the instructions and included “Julie Ann” and “Zinfandel” in their poem for higher style points; and the winner is…The rule breaker by a mile.

A Shakespearean styled 14 line sonnet would have won this over just about any limerick, but I had to go with what I had and Hans’ rule breaking, instruction ignoring purposely non rhyming poetry entry was a winner. It reminded me of some of my favorite wines that also break rules,  surprise and delight.

Hans Dippel of cigarBQ.com has won contest #2 and the second pair of Zap Grand Zinfandel Tasting tickets.


Thanks to everyone who entered, and congratulations to the two winners.

There IS a Santa Claus, and her name is Julie Ann.

Julie Ann is a publicist in St. Helena, CA, and has offered me two pairs of tickets to give to my readers for the 19th Annual Grand Zinfandel Tasting on Saturday, January 30 from 2:00 until 5:00 p.m. at the Festival and Herbst Pavillions at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Over 200 top wineries will be pouring their Zinfandels. Tickets are regularly $59 each, $69 at the door.


I have been to this event several times in the past, and I have said it before: this is my favorite tasting event. If you like red wine, better still if you love Zinfandel like I do, everybody pours their Zinfandels at this event. It is just incredible. Now you have an opportunity to find out for yourself just how great the ZAP Grand Zinfandel Tasting is…Free! That is a savings of $118-$138 per pair of tickets.

How do you get your hands on the tickets? You have to win them in a contest.

The terrific news is there are two contests.

Contest #1: for the first pair of tickets, simply tell me why you should get them. Has life been getting you down and do you need a ray of sunshine? Are you the greatest fan of Zinfandel in history? Are you attracted to short, bald, bearded, round, old wine bloggers? Is January 30 your birthday? In 150 words or less make me laugh, make me cry, make me blush, make me want to give you two tickets. I’ll award the tickets to the person who offers me the best reason to give them to you. To enter contest #1, enter your 150 word, or less, reason as a comment to this blog entry. Preface your comment with “Contest #1 Entry” and include your email address or other contact info for if you win.

Contest #2: for the second pair of tickets, write a poem about Zinfandel, with as few as 5 lines (limerick) up to a maximum of 14 lines (sonnet). I’ll award the tickets to the person who submits my favorite original poem. The madly talented Randall Grahm, who does not need tickets anyway, is not eligible for this contest. Poetry skill points will be given for weaving “Julie Ann” and/or “Zinfandel” into your poem. To enter contest # 2, leave your poem as a comment to this blog entry. Preface your poem submission with “Contest #2 Entry” and include your e-mail address or other contact info for if you win.

My birthday is Monday, January 25, and birthdays are for gifts, so that is the day I will be awarding these tickets. Only 1 entry per person per contest, entries accepted up until 2:00 p.m. on January 25. I will announce the winners of the two contests by 5:00 p.m. on January 25, and arrange for your your tickets to the Grand Zinfandel Tasting to be available under your name at the event.

White Zinfandel is the gateway wine for many wine drinkers, an introduction to wine through the light, pink, and delicious accident of winemaking often leads people to try the harder stuff; Gewurtztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, that other Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

In a future article, I’ll talk about that path to the hard stuff, to Cabernet Sauvignon, but today is all about White Zinfandel.

Zinfandel is a red grape and is used to make the red wine Zinfandel. Squeezing almost any red grape, including the Zinfandel grape produces a clear juice. It is by putting the skins back in contact with the juice during fermentation, sometimes aided by punching the skins down into the juice or pumping the juice over the skins, that the color from the skins is imparted to the juice. This is, in short, how red wine becomes red.

Although there is some evidence that Zinfandel may have been made into a White Zinfandel as early as 1869 in Lodi, CA; Sutter Home Winery in the  Napa Valley is generally credited with making the White Zinfandel you are familiar with in the 1970’s, quite by accident.

Sutter Home had already been making a clear juice white wine from Zinfandel grapes, fermented to dryness in the early 1970’s, which tasted nothing like what you are familiar with today, but was called white Zinfandel.

Alcohol occurs during the fermentation of grape juice into wine when yeasts consume and convert sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol.

In 1975, Sutter Home has some Zinfandel juice experience a stuck fermentation, where the yeast just stopped consuming sugar. The result was considered to be defective, sweeter and lower in alcohol than desired. The odd wine was put aside for possible blending into other wines later. Before blending, a winemaker tasted the sweet, lower alcohol, pink wine and liked the taste. Thus was born the White Zinfandel everyone is familiar with today.

Sutter Home Winery is the creator of White Zinfandel…by accident.

Now wineries can stop the fermentation cold, literally; freezing the outside of the tank can stop the fermentation process inside the tank. White Zinfandels can be made with very high sugar and low alcohol or very low sugar and high alcohol, or any point in between.

I drink Zinfandel, the original red wine. I do not drink White Zinfandel with much frequency. The reason I drink Zinfandel instead of White Zinfandel is a matter of preference. I prefer all dry red wines to all sweet white and rosé wines. But I do drink sweet white, rosé and White Zinfandel on occasion – often because they are the perfect wine for a pairing.

I found a video with a wine knowledgeable gal spouting some of the most foolishly snobby declarations; she actually spent time to create a video dedicated to putting down White Zinfandel and people who enjoy White Zinfandel. I am saddened to say that she is not alone in her superior attitude. I have written before of my disappointment with the job the wine industry does marketing its product and with the wine writers writing for each other, out snobbing each other, instead of writing for regular folks – there are in fact some very good, unpretentious wine writers out there, but too few make it to print in my opinion.

Snobby wine gal video: http://www.ehow.com/video_2290320_why-avoid-drinking-white-zinfandel.html

Sutter Home claims that 1 in every 10 wine bottles opened in America, a full 10%, is White Zinfandel. Many of the most expensive Champagnes in France are a rosé bubbly. I find the wine snob attitude, a tendency to look down on “lDanesser” wines and the people who enjoy them, is usually from people who think they know wine – but don’t.

People new to wine appreciate the accessibility of White Zinfandel, it is easily enjoyed. People who have been around the industry a long time appreciate that many people would not come to wine at all if it weren’t for White Zinfandel; and take away 1 in 10 wine bottles being opened in America, and you’ll see layoffs in the industry.

It is only the pseudo connoisseur that rushes to judge an entire segment of wine “inferior”. Typical of those who do not have true knowledge or ability, they put something down thinking it builds them up. Neither new to wine, or genuinely wine knowledgeable, these people are asses, plain and simple. Let them sit at home alone fondling their Dana Estates’ 2007 Lotus Vineyard Cab in the dark.

Show me a party with White Zinfandel and I’ll show you a party with some fun people, a party likely to be more animated than a serious consideration of flights from top producers of Pinot Noir. I’m not knocking Pinot Noir, I dearly love it; I’m just saying White Zinfandel is fun. and fun is often too lacking in wine.

White Zinfandel, like any other wine, changes winery to winery, appellation to appellation, and vintage to vintage. Winemaking choices play an even greater role in creating variation between labels. The color varies from a pale golden blush to an orange sunset, from a salmon color, to pink and even a darker purpley pink. White Zinfandel is most often sweet, but again there is variety, with bottles ranging from rather dry to very sweet.

When I worked for Windsor Vineyards, our winemaker Carol Shelton made a White Zinfandel out of 100% Zinfandel grapes, even though she could used just 75% Zinfandel and blended in a much less expensive grape, and still, by law, called it a White Zinfandel. DeLoach Vineyards also made a 100% Zinfandel White Zinfandel at the time. For some wineries, making a quality wine is more important than making an inexpensive wine. Carol Shelton is America’s most awarded winemaker and has been named Winemaker ofthe year on more than one occasion. Carol, who made great white Zinfandel, and an exciting Provence styled rosé, is the epitome of class.

I always enjoyed a crushed strawberries over ice quality when tasting Carol Shelton made Windsor Vineyards White Zinfandel. Other notes you may find when sipping a White Zinfandel include raspberry, cherry, blackberry, and citrus. Lighter in style, this wine pairs well with many of the lighter dishes of summer.

White Zinfandel is the name of one rose or blush wine made from Zinfandel grapes, but the same process of creating a white or rosé wine from red wine grapes can be used to create White Merlot, White Cabernet, White Pinot Noir, or any other white red wine varietal wine.

Put simply, White Zinfandel (and other rosé or blush wine made from red wine grapes) is often the perfect summer sipper, whether at a picnic, a party, or at the table.

Last year, a friend wanted to come out to Sonoma County and spend a week tasting wines together. She does not drink dry red wines and would not have enjoyed a vacation built around tasting Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. She does not drink white wines, so Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc was out. She does enjoy the occasional glass of Beringer White Zinfandel, so I built a vacation throughout the north coast around tasting award winning blush and rosé wines.

White Zinfandel presents many different flavors because there are so many different ways to make a White Zinfandel; blending choices, sweetness levels, and more make for an infinite number of different White Zinfandels. I could suggest pairings, White Zinfandel with Hawaiian pizza, White Zinfandel with pork salad; but the best thing to pair White Zinfandel with is some unpretentious friends.

I would rather drink White Zinfandel from a jelly jar with fun friends with class, than the Lotus Vineyard Cabernet from Riedel stemware with an ass. Just sayin’.

I have not tasted a White Zinfandel, or other blush wine, in too long. In place of personal recommendations, here is a list, by no means complete, of award winning north coast White Zinfandel and other blush or rosé wines:

Adobe Road Winery – www.adoberoadwines.com -2008 Rose, Sonoma Valley $18

Alexander Valley Vineyards – www.avvwine.com – 2008 Rosé of Sangiovese, Wetzel Family Series, Alexander Valley $12.

Balletto Vineyards – www.ballettovineyards.com – 2008 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley $16.

Barefoot Cellars – www.barefootwines.com – NV White Zinfandel, California $7

Beringer – www.beringer.com –  2008 White Zinfandel,California Collection, California $6

Black Stallion Winery – www.blackstallionwinery.com – 2008 Rose, Napa Valley $22

Bonny Doon Vineyard – www.bonnydoonvineyard.com – 2008 Vin Gris de Cigare, California $15.

Bonterra Vineyards – www.bonterra.com – 2008 Rosé, Organic Grapes, Mendocino County $14.

Buena Vista Carneros – www.buenavistacarneros.com – 2008 Rosé of Syrah, Carneros $25.

Charles Creek Vineyard – www.charlescreek.com – 2008 Rose, Napa Valley $16

Dacalier Wine Co. – www.dacalier.com – 2008 Grenache/Carignan, Premier Rose, Lake County $16

Fichtenberg Vineyards – www.fichtenbergvineyards.com – 2008 Pinot Noir Saignee, Carneros $18

Fleur de California – www.fleurdecalifornia.com – 2008 Pinot Noir Rosé, Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, North Coast $13

Folie a Deux – www.folieadeux.com– 2008 Menage a Trois Rose California $12

Forest Glen Winery – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronco_Wine_Company -2007 Shiraz Rose, Magenta Rose, California $9; 2008 White Merlot, Forest Fire, California $9

Gregory Graham – www.ggwines.com – 2008 Estate Rose, Crimson Hill, Red Hills, Lake County $12

D.H. Gustafson Family Vineyards – www.gfvineyard.com – 2008 Rosé of Syrah, Dry Creek Mountain Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley $20

Heitz Wine Cellars – www.heitzcellar.com – 2008 Rosé, Grignolino, Napa Valley $19

Kelley & Young Wines – www.kelleyyoungwines.com – 2008 Kathleen Rose, Alexander Valley, Robert Young Vineyard $24

Kendall-Jackson Winery – www.kj.com – 2008 Malbec Rose, Grand Reserve, Napa Valley $18

Kenwood Vineyards –  www.kenwoodvineyards.com – 2008 Pinot Noir Rose, Russian River Valley $14

McDowell Valley Vineyards – www.mcdowellsyrah.com – 2008 Grenache Rose, McDowell Valley $15

Navarro Vineyards – www.navarrovineyards.com – 2008 Rose, Mendocino County $15

Pedoncelli Winery – www.pedroncelli.com – 2008 Dry Rose of Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley $10

Round Hill – www.roundhillwines.com – 2008 White Zinfandel, California $5

Rutherford Hill – www.rutherfordhill.com – 2008 Rose, Napa Valley $20

V. Sattui Winery – www.vsattui.com – 2008 Rosato, North Coast $16; 2008 Gamay Rouge, California $18

Shannon Ridge Winery – www.shannonridge.com – 2008 Wrangler Rose, Ranch Collection, Lake County $16

Sol Rouge – www.solrouge.com – 2008 Rose, Lake County $18

Sutter Home Winery – www.sutterhome.com – 2007 White Zinfandel, The Original, California $4; 2008 White Zinfandel, The Original, California $4; 2008 White Merlot, California $5

Titus Lombardi – www.titusvineyrds.com – 2008 Rose of Syrah, Mendocino $13

Toad Hollow Vineyards – www.toadhollow.com – 2008 Pinot Rose, Eye of the Toad, Sonoma Coast $9

Valley of the Moon Winery – www.valleyofthemoonwinery.com – 2007 Rosato di Sangiovese, Sonoma County $14; 2008 Rosato di Sangiovese, Sonoma County $14

Waterstone Winery – www.waterstonewines.com – 2008 Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley $12

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:



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

I tried to recreate a meal I used to cook often about 25 years ago; steamed chicken thighs, stuffed with ham, swiss cheese, and green onions – a healthy version of Chicken Cordon blue. I wasn’t able to extricate the thigh bone from the center of the thighs, so I rolled the deboned thighs and used cooking twine to tie them around the other ingredients completely.

Instead of steaming in water, I used an entire bottle of $1.99 2007 FoxBrook Sauvignon Blanc California. I tried to drink a glass of this wine, but poured it out, choosing to cook with it instead. Where another Sauvignon Blanc might have a note of cat pee in the nose, this wine tasted of piss. Not a wine I will ever buy again.

I served the Cordon Blue-esque Chicken up with a creamy chicken rice, to which I added a ton of butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

I paired dinner with a 2008 Fetzer Vineyards Valley Oaks Chardonney California. Clear pale gold  in color, this 13% alc wine has a ton of notes and flavors for an under $9 wine at Lucky supermarket. Crisp apple and citrus nose gives way to tropical fruit, grapefruit, and apple, balanced by oak and sweet cream, in the mouth. A nice medium bodied Chardonnay with a long light finish characterized by apple and acidity. I liked it lots, and saved the rest of the bottle with a Wine Preserva flavor saver disc.

Overall, a pretty tasty and moderately showy meal.


Speaking of showy meals, I’ll be auditioning for Gordon Ramsey’s Masterchef on FOX in 11 days. If you live in Atlanta, Denver, Kansas City, Miami, New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco, or Los Angeles, open casting calls are coming up; for more information, here’s a link: http://www.3ballproductions.com/masterchef.html

Jennifer Pitchke, a reader of my blog left this comment about the audition process:

Just wanted to let you know I went to the New York auditions and it was nothing like I expected so I wanted to give you heads up. I thought it would be like a one on one. Nope–you will be asked to stand with up to 8 others at one time to plate and they go down the line and you have maybe two minutes with them so back those two minutes good because I sure didn’t. My food rocked but felt I could have handled the Q&A better. Good Luck.

If you have read about the real audition process for American Idol auditioners, not the select few put through to see Simon Cowell and the gang, then Jennifer’s description is familiar. I don’t have cancer, a dead wife, or a very ill or disabled family member to exploit through the audition process, FOX loves the sob backstory in casting their reality shows, but I can cook and have personality; hopefully that will be enough. I will happily keep my healthy family and miss out on being cast if it really comes to that.

I had planned to serve involtini, polenta, and red sauce with a solid red wine. I’m adding a pesto sauce to the mix, so I can “paint” my white presentation plate with the red (homemade Italian red sauce), white (polenta), and green (pesto) of the Italian flag, and lay my sliced pinwheels of involtini across the flag in a line.

The presentation is better, the flavors still work great, and the food allows me to tell my story of growing up watching my Italian American father Charlie Cesano cooking, and how it has inspired my brother Thomas , myself, and my 12 year old son Charlie to be the primary cooks in our kitchens.

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:


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.


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.


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.

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