Zinfandel – America’s Heritage Grape

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Zinfandel has suffered something of a bad rap recently, with people thinking immediately either “white zin” or “jammy zin”.  The truth, of course, is that there is much more to America’s Heritage Grape than those two simple interpretations. With zinfandel grown all over California, as well as all over the world, it is one of the most diverse varieties in both grape and style.  From Primativo to Crljenak Kastelanski, the genetic make up is the same – but both terroir and winemaking style yield vastly different results. Here in California, the areas of Sonoma, Paso Robles, Lodi, and the Sierra Foothills are well known for their Zinfandel.  Today, I am reveing 4 different zinfandels that are perfect for your thaknsgivng talbel.   2015 Robert Biale Black Chicken Napa Valley   Bright red and red flowers on the nose.  Black cherry, baking spices leaping out of the glass.  The first sip surprises you with the acidity, and cranberry overwhelms . Rosehips and hibiscus dance around my mouth with juicy ripe strawberries on the mid palate.  It finishes with white pepper and chalk, and mouthwatering rhubarb.  There is nothing jammy about this zinfandel.  $25 2016 Trentadue La Storia Block 303 Another classic, La Storia has been making excellent zinfandel for years.  This block designate has the immediate sense of presence from warm Alexander Valley, with dried cherry, prune, and raisin on the nose.    Boysenberry jam and cherry compare on the palate are rich but not overly jammy.  There is still a hint of red current and a nice cranberry note that keeps the acid in balance . Finishes with a cloud of black pepper. Big and bold but not a bruiser.   $22   2015 Peachy Canyon Paso Robles Westside Softer and earthier on the nose, clear aromas of blackberry and bosenberry.  Jammy at first, but the inky dark color belies the spicybackground.  Coffee, roasted meats, the slightest hint of campfire, the classic blue and black fruit of Paso Robles come out to play.  With over a dozen differnet zinfandels on Peachy Canyon’s roster, this is a classic stewed fruit and raisey Paso example.  $22   Erostasia Reserve Old Vine Lodi Probably one of the most well known zinfandel regions, Lodi has been producing big, bold wines for over 100 years.  This classic example is perfect for a cold winter night, with stewed fruit, prune, and boysenberry jam layered in strong baking spices like nutmeg, the dark notes of smoked meat, and stewed fruit are accented by the 22 months in new oak, and you can taste the classic vanilla laying over the fruit.  This will stand up to hearty fare like chicken wings with blue cheese sauce and ore. These four wines are very different, and all very much zinfandel.  With such diversity, make sure you have a zinfandel on your table for your holiday celebration and enjoy America’s Heritage Grape! And don’t forget about the Zinfandel Experience here in San Francisco, January 18-20.  Celebrate all things zinfandel with 3 unique events, and taste […]

Rhône with me!

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I can’t believe it!  It’s here!  Tomorrow afternoon, I kick off my 2012 Hospiece du Rhône experience with my good friends Amy & Joe Power of Another Wine Blog. This year is a particularly special occassion, in that it is the 20th Anniversary of HdR, and Amy’s bday.  I won’t tell you which one, since I want to live through the weekend but it will be big. This year, Hospice du Rhône, the world’s largest gathering of Rhône variety wines and producers, will celebrate 20 years of all things Rhône.  The events are sold out, which is hardly surprising given the amazing agenda we have lined up, and I’m so excited to be headed down to Paso Robles tomorrow to participate. Fortunately for you latecomers, if you are in Paso Robles on Saturday, there will be 100 Golden Tickets sold at the door to the Grand Tasting.  It is a bit like Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, as yo8u enter the gates to the fairgrounds, and see the throngs of people lined up. For our experience, we are starting with dinner at Artisan, a local restaurant known for it’s wine & food pairings with local ingredients.  Amy, Joe, myself, and our friends from Pithy LIttle Wine Co. will kick off the weekend wiht a dinner fit for Rhône-heads everywhere. Thursday, I will be wandering around Paso with stops at Ranchero Cellars and whereever else the wind blows up.  Thursday evening, a special welcome reception to jump start the event.  A lucky few will be participating in a  Châteauneuf du Pape seminar and pairing dinner, who will have the privilege to taste Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines dating as far back as 1954.  Author of The Châteauneuf-du-Pape Book, Harry Karis along with Vigneron Philippe Cambie will lead the audience through an in-depth look at this historic region of France before delighting in dinner at Paso Robles’ premier French restaurant, Bistro Laurent. Chef Laurent Grangien has carefully prepared a five-course meal for this enchanting evening. Friday will begin with wines from four rock star winemakers hailing from the Priorat region of Spain. Eric Solomon of Eric Solomon Selections will bring to the stage Jose Maria Vicente of Casa Castillo, Daniel Jimenez-Landi of Jimenez-Landi, Bixente Ocafrain of Bodegas Mas Alta and Daphne Glorian-Solomon of Clos I Terrasses. Next, attendees will dive into the stones Walla Walla, Washington with a focused seminar by the ever spirited and knowledgeable Christophe Baron of Cayuse.  Having just hopped a plane home from Barcelona last month, I am especially looking forward to the Priorat seminar. After we are full of Priorat, we head over to the Rosé Lunch, celebrating pink wine.  There will be a huge variety of pinks to choose from, and with the delicious nibbles from the girl & the fig, I might need a nap after!  I seem to recall the Great Pot du Creme caper of a couple of years ago when attendees could not eat enough of the three selections and may or may not have accidentally taken a pot back to their hotel […]

Happy Earth Day!

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  It’s Earth Day again, that one day when we’re supposed to stop to smell the roses, and celebrate Gaia.  I try to be kind to my planet every day, by taking care of her and recycling, reducing and reusing – since it’s clear to me that she is one pissed off mama. Today, I’m sipping on some green wines, in partnership with Sip Certified.  Sip Certified has spent the last 15 years working with growers and wineries rethink their strategy about sustainability.  Pretty cool stuff! To become Sip Certified, you msut address the entire farm ecosystem, from soil to vine, from bottle to cork. you can learn more HERE. But today, I’m sipping on Riverbench Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley. Riverbench Vineyard began in 1973, when it was planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Now, over 30 years later, they are a leading fruit source for the Santa maria Valley.  In 2004 the property was purchased, and the new owners embarked on their own wine adventure, reserving some of the fruit for their own estate wines. The 2010 Estate Pinot  starts out with some bold red fruit on the nose, with ripe strawberries and raspberries on the palate.  Surprisingly, there is some great acidity in this wine; I am constantly looking for more acid in my pinots, and it’s nice to find a southern Central Coast example that has some bright cranberry and bright red fruit along with the rich ripe berry.  There is also a nice spice box hiding in there that gives the wine a kick on the finish.  I am enjoying the allspice and pepper kick. One of the hallmarks of this wine is the silky mouth feel and smooth palate, due to the 96% neutral oak.  with only 4% new French Oak, the flavor of the fruit shine through wihtout being overpowered. At a budget friendly !~$25, this is a Santa Maria wine I will keep my eye on! Enjoy! This wine was provided by Sip Certified, to celebrate Earth Day.

Something in the way you Rhone

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Attracts me like, no other lady! True story.  I am slightly addicted to Rhone wines, particularly Rhone reds.  I’ve been on a Monastrell/Mouvedre/Mataro kick lately, but my first love really is Grenache.  Of the 22 Rhone varietals, these are my go to babies.  Luckily for me, I’ve been having fantastic luck lately at Whole Foods (not to mention The Spanish Table) at finding some great wine at even better prices. But really, this post is about the mother of all Rhone gatherings:  Hospices du Rhône .  The annual Rhône celebration in Paso Robles will be celebrating her 20th anniversary next year! April 26th through 28th, Rhône lovers and producers from all over the world will converge on the Paso Robles Fairgrounds.  Over the last 20 years, HdR has hosted diverse personalities, from Charles Smith (aka AC/DC with Grower Bubbles) to Australian producers, to heritage growers from Châteauneuf-du-Pape This year, HdR is pleased to announce that there will be an exclusive  Conversations with Châteauneuf-du-Pape event, led by author Harry Karis, vigneron Philippe Cambie and Sommelier Kelly McAuliffe.  After the seminar, which is sure to sell out well in advance, dinner will be served at Bisto Laurentin.  These limited tickets are available a la carte at www.hospicedurhone.org.  Sadly the dinner is sold out at this time. This year, the seminars will focus on highlighting the last 20 years of Hospice-Du-Châteauneuf producers who have been center stage.  I am especially looking forward to Why Spain (continues to) Rock – which will focus on what is happening today in Priorat and beyond. Another fantastic seminar will highlight Walla Walla once again, with The Return of the Bionic Frog (say wha?), where Christophe Baron of Cayuse will make his debut at HdR. On Saturday, France will be showcased with A Collective Quest, highlighting Les Vins de Vienne. Finally, the seminars round out the day with Research, Revelations and the Art of Being Different.  Here, Chester Osbourn of Australia’s d’Arenderg will explore how recent studies in geology and sub regions have changed his winemaking and growing practices since his last HdR appearance in 1999. Phew!  But that’s not all kids.  Like a Ginsu knife commercial, the weekend is jam packed with more tastings. The Rhône Rendezvous is back, where over 100 producers from near and far will share their Rhône wines from large-format bottles. To complement this BIG evening of BIG bottles highly-acclaimed chefs from Blackberry Farm in Tennessee will serve up a taste of the South in a BIG way. But before that you need sustinance, right?   If you’re not entirely dead by this point, don’t forget to participate in the Rosé Lunch, which is always a treat.  This year, our friends from The Girl & Fig will fill us up with deliciousness once again!  Remember the pot de creme from years past? Um yeah.  MORE PLEASE!  I had to taste all three flavors, and I almost left with some in my purse.  The rosés for this delecitble feast will be provided by the attending producers, which is a departure (and a welcome one for variety’s sake). If you are sufficiently recovered from Friday […]

On the table top…

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It’s Thursday, and I”m back in Paso Robles for Hospice du Rhone, the annual extravaganza showcasing the 22 Rhone Varietals from around the world.  Since the first event didn’t kick off until that evening, we had some free time to visit a few favorite wineries – starting with Tablas Creek. Tablas Creek Vineyard was founded in 1989, as a partnership between the Perrin family of Chatau de Beaucastel and Rover Hass, who founded Vineyard Brands.  Having a shared vision of creating Rhone wines in California,they set about creating a New World Rhone house. Today, Robert’s son Jason showed us around he property which boasts a spanking new tasting room, complete with cork floors (can I have some in MY house?  Seriously noise cancelling comfort at its best) and several tasting areas that are easiy divdied up for differnet groups, or opened up for a community feeling. The first wines of Tablas Creek were created in 1997 when the Estate Winery was completed.  On this day, we toured the property, examined the new tasting room, and…well, drank some wine.  With a wet wet wet 2010-11 growing season under way, Tablas – and most of Paso Robles- has seen a lot of rain.  In a place where a typical year sees 28 inches of rain, so far (and this was in April) they have seen 36 inches.  Tablas Creek is dry farmed, and with this kind of rain and whacky snow, sleet and frost, there has been some damage to the vines recently.  Fortunately, most of the crop was saved, and there will be wine to show for it.  What will this year’s weather do?  Who knows.  Stay tuned, I’ll take up the cause and go taste the wines every season.  I’m a giver that way. Each parcel on the property is hand picked to ripeness, meanng that there might be several passes on a row before all the bunches are harvested.  Another highlight of Tablas is that they use 100% Native Yeast, and do not innocolate with commerical yeastes.  It’s my personal belief that this gives much more character to a wine, and lets the fruit develop the beauty of the juice without overmanipulating it and turning it in to a Frankenwine. Our first taste on the warm spring day was the 2010 Verminto.  It was bright and crisp, with lot fo honey and stone fruit.  The minerals clung to the glass with a burst of tangerine that I just love. A new line for Tablas Creek is the Patelin de Tables.  Launcehd in 2010, the white is based on Grenache Blanc, (see my passion ofr this wine HERE), and the red is based on Syrah.  This is a ncie counterpart to the Esprit de Beaucastel line, which are based on Roussanne and Mouvedre.  The Patelin de Tables Blanc had crisp pears, and green apple and was fresh and bright.  I loved this wine, and could easily sip this on the patio for days. Next up the 2010 Côtes de Tablas Blanc, […]

I'm drawing a blanc

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Blanc did you say?  Yes Blanc.  As in white.  Wine.  White wine!  I am not the biggest wine wine drinker in general, instead preferring the heartier meat of a red wine, but there are a few white that really rope me in.  Specifically, Greanache Blanc.  I particularly enjoy GB because it is NOT your average white, it’s nothing like the overblown California chardonnay that I run screaming from, and it’s just plain good. Grenache Blanc the counterpart to Grenache, or Garnacha, which is classically found in Chateau Neuf de Pape wines from the Rhone.  It is unusual to find Grenache Blanc on it’s own outsidede of the US, but particularly in Paso Robles, this single varietal flourishes. During my recent trip to Paso Robles, when were were visiting some Zinfandel vineyards, we were treated to dinner at Artisan, a local hot spot for dining.  Since we were exploring the area’s wines, we thought we’d explore the area’s foods as well!  Michael Kobayashi, the owner and general manager, welcomed us like old friends.  We sat down to a well varied menu and wine list, which included a particularly good wines by the glass program. First up, the Paso Robles Wine Commission selected our appetizers – Cayucos Red Abalone – The green apple and tropical fruits in the Halter Ranch, Roussanne/Picpoul/Gren Blanc/Marsanne “Côtes de Paso Blanc” really brought out the flavors of the abalone, and we enjoyed that along with the Ranchero Cellars Grenache Blanc.  The Halter Ranch white (and red for that matter) were my faves of the evening, and the white with the honeysuckle, stone fruit and richness topped by a light but noticeable wet river rock flavor were my winning combo.  In the Halter Ranch, I tasted white and had tons of nectarine and grapefruit flavors, with a touch of cotton candy and a hint of light caramel, or brown sugar as well as some lovely floral and honeysuckle notes.  I probably could have had this wine all night and it was a gorgeous match with the abalone, but didn’t work quite as well with the Pork Belly we also had for an appetzer. We also ordered the Halter Ranch Cotes de Paso red, which is a blend of  Grenache, Syrah, Mouvdre, Couioise, and Cinsault = basically a Rhone mutt.  This went beautifully with the pork belly.  Before we moved on to mains, I just HAD to order the KILLER gouda and porter fondue. This dish was so amazing that I really wanted to lick the scalding hot cauldron clean.  For mains, I had organic chicken, peas and carrots, aligot potatoes, hen of the woods gravy  which was simply luscious.  With that we continued sipping on several by the glass selections, including another glass of Halter Ranch Cotes de Paso because I loved it so much. I also tried the Jacob Toft Sarah’s Cuvee, which si a GSM as well.  This was a lovely wine but there was just something missing for me.  For kicks, and because we were in experimentation mode, we tried the Calcareous, Grenache/Mourvedre as well to […]

Loosey goosey Dusi!

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It’s raining cats and dogs, and we’re driving around in the mud, trying to find Dusi Vineyards.  As it happens, J Dusi Wines is tucked away in the family home in the middle of a vineyard just outside of Paso Robles, and is hidden in the 80 year vines of the vineyard.  This is like stepping back in time, to an era when there were more cows in Paso Robles than wine; to an era of farming, of family, and of community. As we enter the house, Janell and her mom greet us with coffee, which was welcome at 9:30 on a chilly wet day.  Mom was in the kitchen cooking up a storm for the wine club party that night, and Janell sat down with us at the table to tell us the story of her wine, and the family tradition.  Janell Dusi is turning her family business on its head, becoming the first Dusi to make wine and not just grow it.  Her great grandparents, Sylvester and Caterina Dusi began farming this land in the early 1920s, and started  business after business, including vineyards, farms, restaurants, and the now defunct Dusi Winery.  She was born on this vineyard, and raised among the vines that her grandfather Dante planted with his two brothers, the sons of Sylvester.  In 1945, vineyards were few and far between in Paso, since it was a large rural farming community.  With the farm, came the Italians, and the rich tradition of Zinfandel and field blends.  Th brothers planted a classic field blend, and head trained the vines, with no irrigation.  65 years later, the traditions remain the same. This fourth generation winemaker hand picks during harvest, and enlists the entire family to help – including her nieces and nephews, who are young sprouts in the field.  This family tradition is dying in California, and it’s refreshing to see a tried and true farm family, albeit farmign wine. Growing up int he vines, Janell learned all she could about grape farming, but she always wanted her Grandfather Dante to teach her how to make wine.  When she was 16, she made her first wine, and continued making an Italian style zinfandel every year after that.  Each vintage asked and answered a different question in winemaking, and Janell learned by doing, under the careful gaze of Grandpa.. Now, she’s in her 3rd vintage of J Dusi wines. The two original vineyards are about 1/4 mile away from the family house; the first is 40 acres, that was planted in 1943 with an Italian field blend of Carignane, Alicante Bouchet, Petite Sirah, and who knows what else.  in 1945 a second parcel was purchased nearby.  In the beginning, the family sold their grapes to surrounding wineries, but as the grape market fell in the 1950s, the Dusis ventured in to winemaking to make their way through the grape glut.  Their first foray in to finished wine was about 8-9 years under the label Dusi Winery, and when the grape prices came back […]