A zin by any other name

As some of you know, I cut my wine teeth on zinfandel.  It is a particular passion of mine, and I love exploring different zinfandels; to that end, I joined ZAP, the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, almost 10 years ago so I could be surrounded by the bold stuff.  I’m excited to announce that I’m now working with the ZAP office as the ZinWorld Community Liaison, where it’s my job to spread the love of Zinfandel to zin lovers, zin producer members, and prospective members via ZAP’s social network -z

On ZinWorld, you can browse member wineries, see what deals ZAP members get, and find out who makes zin from a region near you.  Zin World is a public area on the ZAP website, where you can find out general information on zinfandel, research member wineries, find out what is happening in the zin world, and just have fun.  Members can create a profile, and you can connect with other zin lovers.  I love it as a resource for finding out who is having events, as well as what discounts ZAP members get.  Sometimes you can find that the events and perks going on are worth the ZAP Membership fee.  Check it out!

Additionally, many of you might now that I am a contributing editor for the new online wine zine Palate Press.  We’ve launched!  The first edition is currently online and drawing attention.  Natch, my first piece was about the history of zin, so go check it out over HERE!

As a companion to that, I’ve reviewed a couple of yummy specimens from Sobon Estates here.  It’s interesting to taste a Primitivo and a Zinfandel side by side, considering that they are genetically twins.  I didn’t find them identical at all; similar yes, family members definitely.  But the same?  Nope!  Check it out for your self.

2007 ReZerve Primitivo – 96% Primitivo / 4% Petite Syrah

I really loved this wine.  It comes from one of the oldest plantings from Shenandoah Valley, and is full of dark brooding mystery.  Lots of dark loganberry, cocoa powder, dark plum, earth, cinnamon sticks, dark baking spices.  $24

2007 ReZerve Paul’s Vineyard Zinfandel – 96% Zin / 4% Petite Syrah

At 15.2% ABV, you’d expect this to be a bruiser but it’s nicely balanced while still being bold.  Blackberries, chocolate, plums.  It’s got the earthy quality of Sierra Foothills zin that I really enjoy, but still keeps a lot of the bold fruitiness that makes it a zin.  $24

*While these were sent to me as samples from Sobon, I would gladly go out and buy them for myself.

For fun, go out and try some more Primativo.  Some other producers that I know about are listed here, but there are MANY many more!

Go explore, try some Primativo today!  For help locating producers, try Able Grape, the web’s wine search engine.



Don’t cry for me Argentina!

vineconnectionsThe truth is, your wine is AMAZING!  I have been drinking this or that from Argentina for several years, since it’s a great value, but I must admit, I didn’t love it.  That is, until the good folks at Benson Marketing and VineConnections put together a blogger tasting to introduce us to their selections from the Mendoza and surrounding areas.  yum!

First, a bit about Argentina in general.  Argentina is the world’s 5th largest wine producing country.  When you compare that to France, Italy, Australia, and the U.S., considering the size of the country, that’s a lot of juice!  There are many varieties that are produced, but the most well known is probably Malbec.  The primary growing region of Mendoza has four sub-appellations:  Lujan du Cuyo; Maipu; Uco Valley; and Eastern Mendoza.  While there is very little natural rainfall, most of the vineyards are between 2000 and 4700′ in elevation, and there is natural drainage from the snows off the Andes above.  I was excited to taste some Argentinian wine that I wasn’t guessing blind at, since most of my prior experiences had been mediocre mass market options form Cost Plus and Costco.

The first wine we tasted was the Celestina Rose of Malbec, a sparkler that was a surprising treat.  I have tasting Sparkling Shiraz before, and was happily surprised at the interesting flavors, but the Malbec was amazing.  This was 100% Malbec, and the low 12.8% ABV was a nice reminder that not all wine needs to be over the top and  punchy.  Since Argentinians in general drink a lot of bubbles, something like 35 liters per person per year.  This wine was a blood rose color, with a yeasty nose and flavors of hibiscus, pink grapefruit and wild strawberry.  It is bottle fermented and aged for 14 months in the bottle, and retails for a low low price of $20.  Buy
Next, we moved on to the Crios Torrontes.  I found jasmine, honeysuckle, honey and wildflowers in this white which reminded me of Muscat.  It was interesting as it was the only wine that wasn’t from Mendoza, but I loved it.  It had a ton of tropical fruit, musk melon, and a lovely perfumey nose.  At $15, it’s a great white for any occasion,especially seafood and salads.  I would love to have this with a nice fruit salad, or even a green salad with a citrus dressing.  Strong Buy

From the whites, we moved in to the red wines of Mendoza. Malbec is Argentina’s signature red wine grape and one of the Bordeaux grape varieties.  Malbec was brought to Argentina by the French in the mid 186s, where it found a new home in Mendoza and thrived in the long growing seasons.  Since Mendoza gets over 300 sunshine days a year, the grape took off.  An interesting point about Argentinian Malbec is that there are now 22 distinct clones, which they plant on their own rootstock.  Most wine in Argentina was produced  for domestic consumption but as the 90 liter per capita consumption decreased, exports increased.  Now, it’s trendy to have your second or third houses in Argentina.  The passion for winemaking has continued to grtow with teh native winemakers, and these wines are terriffic examnples.  In Argentina, large hailstones destroy up to 13% of the grape harvest every year.  Because of this, and small plots of land, grower designated wines are newly developed here.  It is a risky adventure with such hailstorms, since 15% of your crop could be wiped out.  That said, high risk, high reward.  There are now more and more grower labeled wines (we would call them vineyard designate) appearing.
The 2007 Cocina Blend is literally “The Kitchen Blend”, almost everything but the kitchen sink in theory.  This was my favorite of the reds, and with 60% malbec, 20$ Bondara, and 20% Syrah, there was a little bit for everyone.  Bonarda what Argentina calls Charbano, and it add a nice dark back bone.  Run out and buy this wine right now!  It was dark and inky, with lots of pepper and spice, with a fig and plum finish touched with smoke.  There were lots of blackberries, vanilla, and a chewy structure.  It had a kiss of oak and vanilla, after being aged in 20% new Oak (70% French, 30% American) for 10 months.  This wine also retails for $15, or less.  Seriously, run out and buy it right now!  This is a steal.
Next up we have the Pizzella Family Malbec.  This is from the same winery as the Cocina Blend, is was also a favorite.  I found smoked meat and pepper, with cherrires and bittersweet chocolate followed by blueberry.  It was a juicy 100% Malbec, aged for 10 months in 100% French Oak (20% new, 80% old).  The Pizzella family Vineyard is located at 3050 feet, and is closer to the mountains where it is generally cooler. This wine retails at $18, and is also a buy.


The last of my favorites of this tasting was the Mendel Unus.  This is a premier belnd of 70% Malbec and 30% Cab Sav.  This blend had dark cherry, plums, blackberry and dark blue fruit with a slightly vegetal note showing through.  I tasted rich earth, chocolate, bright berry, and vanilla in this sikly blend.  at $50 it was not an everyday treat like the others, but it was worth splurging on.

All in all, I will definitely be exploring Argentina more.  There are plenty of affordable and delicious options out there.  If you are seeking out these wines in the Bay Area, look for them at the Jug Shop, K&L, and the Wine Club.  Try to find wines that are not mass produced.  The cost of producing these gems in Argentina is much less than in the States, or even France, so don’t be afraid to experiment.  At $15 average, you can try many different wines.  Find a producer you like and go have fun!  Another tip that the Vine Connections people taught me is know your importers.  If you find an importer you like and trust, the odds are that you can purchase another wine from them and be reasonable happy.

Go forth adn wine-ducate!



Oh these hallowed Halls

It’s the day after the WBC, and my trusty drinking buddy Megan (@sonadora) were wandering around Napa Valley, eager to make some new discoveries.  As luck would have it, we were personally invited to a Bloggers Day at Hall Napa Valley, a fairly large production facility, in St Helena.  Little did I know, I would leave that day with a much kinder view of that “other” valley, as well as a profound respect for an established winery who opened their doors and barrel room to a posse of renegade bloggers.

Hall is most well known for it’s Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons.  They are also the first GOLD LEED Certified winery in California (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).  They take their environmental responsibility seriously, and employ a variety of methods to ensure that they are eco balanced and green in all senses of the world.  Some of the tools they use to achieve this are bio-diesel powered farm equipment, solar power, radiant cooling & heating, and sustainable farming practices.  In fact, the solar power provides approximately 35% of Hall’s total reneger needs, and they are successfully selling back power during the strong sunny moths in the summer.  The LEED certification process is a complex multi-year undertaking, and Hall will be the first winery to achieve this.

We met up with Joe, Amy, Liz, and the team from Hall at the St. Helena tasting room at production center.  Here, we were greeted with a taste of the 2008 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, which retails for a very affordable $20.  I found the Sav Blanc very fruity, and crisp without being sharp.  It is fermented in 100% stainless steel, and has delicious citrus.  The vineyard manager explained to us that thinning the canopy and dropping some of the grape clusters actually helps bring out the citrus characteristics, more so than say a grassy Sav Blanc.  That brought up a good point – is that grassy flavor profile a flaw or a style?  The intimation was the the grassiness can come from over shading the grapes, which doesn’t allow the natural sunlight through.  I personally prefer a more well rounded Sav Blanc, so whatever the technique, this was a strong buy.

After we tasted some of the juice, we headed out to the winery to learn about how Hall practices green wine making and learn more about their winery.  On the catwalk, we learned from winemaker Steve Leveque about their gravity flow winery, which they can expand in the future.  Three sections in the barrel room allow the winemakers to store wines in independent temperature controlled rooms, which allows for better aging and separation.

The St. Helena winery sits on the grounds of one of Napa’s oldest structures, where the historic distillary operated in teh 1940s, making brandy and wine.  The original structure was built in 1885, and that structure transformed in to the Coop winemaking facility in Napa, which was somewhat of a local eyesore.  Fortunately, Hall has plans to restore the original building, and make the historical structure its hospitality center.

Today, Hall has several vineyards, including the St. Helena visitors center, the Rutherford appointment only private winery and Sacrashe Vineyard, Napa River Ranch, Bergfeld which is also in St. Helena, Hardester, and Walt Ranch on Atlas Peak.  each one of these properties is chosen specifically with the intention of creating the best Bordeaux varietals possible, and represent different elevations, micro-climates and soil confabs.

After touring the winery, we headed up to the home ranch in Rutherford, on top of the eastern hills overlooking the valley.  Here, in the Sacrashe Vineyard, Don Munk the Director of Vineyard Operations explained to us about the tufa soil.  This vineyard in particular is planted with a high density 6×4 planting formation.  The smaller vines that are planted to a higher density give a more intense fruit profile, and increase the quality in the bottle.  This vineyard is organically farmed, and will be fully certified in 2010.  Here, it is more important to maintain balance of nature then it is to achieve it.  Practices such as encouraging owls as natural pest control, cover crops, and encouraging beneficial insects to use the vineyard are supported while minimal intervention occurs.  One of the important factors is controlling the vigor of the vines.  In the winter, cover crops can help penetrate the hard soil, and assist in aeration, which gives the vine roots a fighting change.

This vineyard is the basis for the flagship Cabernet blend, the Katheryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon.  Katheryn is a passport ambassador for her brand, and in fact was an actual ambassador to Austria for many years.  Raised in a Napa Valley wine family, she knows what it takes to make good wine and came back to the valley after a varied career in public service.  One thing that struck me at this beautiful winery was the inquisitive nature Katheryn has, and how she welcomed us in to her home, and really wanted to know what we, as the new wave of journalism, wanted from a winery and how we could form a symbiotic relationship and mutually advance each other.

Following our vineyard tour, we had a beautiful sit down lunch on the terrace overlooking Napa.

Starter:  Grilled bread, buratta cheese, white anchovies, nicose olives, cherry tomatoes, capers, arugula.  Paired with the 2008 HALL Sauvignon Blanc (see notes above)

Main:  Wood oven roasted long-bailey farms duroc pork tenderloin, summer squash, shelling beans, chanterelle mushrooms, thyme jus.  Paired with the 2005 HALL Napa River Ranch Merlot.

The Napa Valley Merlot is sourced from two different vineyards, the Napa River Ranch, and the Hardester.  The Hardester vineyard is planted on the rugged hillsides, with low yield vines, and is known for big chewy Merlots.  The Napa River Ranch vineyard is on the valley floor, and has rich fruit and plush mouth feel.  I truly loved this merlot.  Considering that I used to be a bit of a merlot snob, in that i didn’t touch the stuff, this is a big accomplishment.  What a treat!  Flavors of olives, cherries, plum, smoke.  Richly and blanaced with a touch of cedar.  Also tasted cranberry juice, chocolate.  This was a soft and supple Merlot   This wine was only $28, and i rate it a strong buy.

Cheese Course: Artisan cheese with fig jam, bouchon bakery herb pallidan, spanish almonds paired with the 2006 HALL “Kathryn Hall” Cabernet Sauvignon.

This is Hall’s flagship wine, and it is 100% Cabernet Savignon, 95% from Sacrashe and 5% Diamond Mountain fruit.  I tasted black cherry, chocolate, lots of tannins, cinnamon and nutmeg.  This was a dense, concentrated Cab, and not a fruit bomb.  It was a glass of dark fresh earth without being dirty.  The black fruit and spices really came through, and I felt like I could taste that famous Rutherford dust.  This could easily age for 15 yrs before it peaks but it is amazing NOW.  This was a special sneak peek for the bloggers, and it will be released on Release date is 9/12/09 at a retail of around $75.  Considering that it is a terrific Napa Cab, even though this is normally outside of my budget, it’s a wonderful example of a Napa Valley Cabernet and I would buy it if I tasted it again.

After lunch, we participated in a bit of blending fun, but that will have to wait for the next post!  All in all, I have found a new favorite Napa Valley winery.  The QPR on the wines is outstanding, and the graciousness of our hostess and the entire team at Hall was lovely.  A winery of this size that is interested in learning about the next generation of wine writers, wine critics, and social media gets a gold star in my book especially when they clearly don’t need to given the success that they enjoy.

Keep up the great work and I look forward to seeing you again soon!

Forgive me, for I have zinned! A WBW Post

For this month’s adventure in the themed blogging topic known as Wine Blogging Wednesday, our hostess @sonadora from Wannabe Wino, is hosting us for the 5th Anniversary.  This time, Megan goes back to her love of Zinfandel, and encourages us to taste our favorite zins paired with some yummy BBQ.

As luck would have it, this post coincided with the annual ZAP Summer Celebration, which is famous for it’s BBQ and plethora of zins.  To start out, we took a little tour of some of the ZAP producer vineyards, starting out with Pete Seghesio at Saini Vineyards.  Saini was planted in 1946, and is now run by the 4th generation of Sainis.  Prior to being farmed for grapes, it was planted with apples, pears, and prunes, as was much of the Dry Creek Valley where this vineyard is located.

    Saini zin undergoing verasion

Saini zin undergoing veraison

You may not have known this, but dry farmed zin can be one of the most difficult grapes to grow because it can rot from the inside out; the cool fog that drifts in to the valley over the western mountains cools down the fruit and can make it damp, and prone to botrytis.  Now, if you’re in to Sauternes, this is a good thing.  In red wine, not so much!  Dry farming also can have a 1pt increase in the over all brix (measurement of sugar) a day, in the summer heat.

From Saini Vineyard, we went over to Lytton Springs, where Ridge has 175 acres planted next to their straw bale winery.  One of the most interesting things we saw was a newly planted field on the drive in, which is a purpose ffield blending of Zinfandel, Charbono, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Mataro, Cinsualt, Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Palomino and pretty much everything else in the kitchen sink.  This is an old school Italian field blend, and should be some interesting stuff.  Ridge will be harvesting this vineyard block by block, and while this will allow them to harvest depending on each varietals individual ripening, it will undoubtedly have some cross over.

The Lytton Springs Vineyard is planted on old river rock, and you can really see the red soil coming through.  This vineyard is on a small bench, that seperates the Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys, and is between 80-100 feet in elevation.  The red river rock holds those 100 year old Zin vines in the cool morning fog, with hot summer afternoons.  This will give it a district flavor profile from the Saini Vieyard, which is on the more fertile flood plain of the Russian River.

Ridge purchased fruit here since 1972, and bought he property in the early 1990s, making it part of their estate portfolio.  There has been zin planted here since the very early 1900s, when the old Captain Litton (spelling changed later) owned the land and had a large variety of grapes growing here.  That history of complementary varitals is show in that new field blend I mentioned above.

But enough about the grapes, what about the wine!  After the vineyard tours, we headed back to Seghesio in Healdsburg where we were treated to a smorgasbord of ZAP Producer zinfandels, including the delicious Rock Wall Sonoma County zin.

If you don’t know, the Rock Wall Wine Company is Kent Rosenblum of Rosenblum Cellars fame.  Rosenblum is now owned by Diageo, but Kent and his daughter Shauna started the next chapter up down the street and are producing some mighty tasting stuff.

The Sonoma County zin is a punchy one, at 15.6% ABV, but I found it well balanced and subtle, even in the 80 degree heat.  There were only 475 cases produced, so at $25 you better get out and buy some before it’s all gone.  I tasted the classic blackberry, but also some dark raspberry and bittersweet chocolate.  I was lucky enough to meet Shauna, as she was behind the table pouring, so I thank you and look forward to seeing you in September for the ZAP Volunteer Thank You party!

Rock Wall Wine Company tastes their wines by appointment only (hey, it’s a licensing thing kids!) and is located at 2301 Monarch Street, Suite 300, in Alameda.  For you locals, that’s part of the old Naval Air Station, and is spitting distance from Rosenblum.  It is part of the booming urban vintners trend, and is a member of the East Bay Vintners Alliance. I love the fact that I can taste at almost 20 wineries less than 20 minutes from my house!  Keep an eye out here for urban winery events soon.

I also had the chance to taste Duane Dappen’s zins, from D-Cubed Cellars, in Napa.   Duane is the new ZAP Board President, and I have been talking to him on Twitter, so it was fun to meet him in person.  Duane has been working in Napa Valley since the early 80s, and has worked with some of the biggest names in zin, like Grgich Hills, Storybook Mountain, and Rombauer.  Happily, he now has his own label, and was pouring both the Napa Valley and the St. Helena versions at our BBQ.

I loved the 2006 St. Helena Zinfandel, which is now in its second vintage.  It is made from the Korte Ranch Vineyard, which was planted back in 1910. Talk about some old vines!  OK, so they’re not 100+ years old, but they are old at the same.  This fruit creates a wonderfully bold and balanced zin, with raspberries, blackberries, notes of vanilla, and some herbal notes.  It’s also relatively low ABV for a zin, at 14.5%.

You can taste D-Cubed wines, along with a dozen others, at the Vintners Collective in Napa.  They are located at 1245 Main Street, and area a great destination in town!

With both of these wonderful zins, as well as a smattering of tastes of others, the BBQ boys were there serving up pulled pork sliders, ribs, and sausages.  This is classic zin food, where the richness of the BBQ sauce and its tang goes with the bold dark berry flavors of the fruit in the zin.

I have always enjoyed this event, because we not only get to stuff our faces with pork product, but we get to taste a lot of different zins in one place that is more restrained than the Grand Tasting in January.  On a final note, for dessert, I took my raspberry sno-cone, and poured some leftover zin of unknown origin in to it.  Let’s just say it was probably the best zin based dessert I’ve had since the Zinfandel ice cream at Rosenblum’s Open House Last year.

I hope you’ll go out and taste some zin for yourself, and be sure to try some tasty BBQ treats with it!

PS please stay tuned to Palate Press for some more news regarding zin soon!

Chile is HOT!

wines of chileI’ve been talking a lot recently about value wines, and where you can find good value and good wine.  Chile happens to be one such place.  I’ve written about that here, here, here and here.  Oh yeah, and here too.

Recently, RF Binder and the Wines of Chile people put together a premier tasting for bloggers, where we had the winemakers, the wine players, and the wine bloggers participating in an online tasting including a video uplink to Chile.  I have to say, this was one of the most enjoyable live tasting events I’ve done in a while.

We blew threw them extremely quickly, but here are my tasting notes:

Emiliana Natura Sauvignon Blanc 2008 – this wine is from the Casablanca Valley in Chile, which is one of the fastest growing areas for viticulture in Chile, especially for Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.   These varietals thrive in the cool growing region, which is known for high acidity and fresh fruit aromas.  The proximity to the ocean make the climate mild, with no extreme temperature extremes.

I found this wine very enjoyable, and a GREAT deal at $10.99, and even better deal for less.   It was grassy on the nose, reminiscent of New Zealand
sauvignon blancs, but was followed by crisp citrus fruit and green apple.  My Aussie friend who was tasting me is normally a NZ Sav Blanc drinker, but she said “super yummy!” which is high praise indeed!  This bottle did not last the night, because we kept going back to it.  Emiliana has two lines, and the Natura is from the Organically grown line.  They are certified organic grapes, and this is one of the best examples of a successfully made organic wine that I hvae had in a while.  Run, don’t walk to stock up on this summer sipper.


Cono Sur Visión Pinot Noir 2008say what you will about California Pinot Noir, this wine was NOT good.  I don’t find it old world, and I don’t find it good.  I’ve had several Pinot Noirs from Chile to see if I can find ONE that I like but alas, I still have not.

The Colchauga Valley region is the 2nd largest appellation in Chile, and is typically known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Malbec and Syrah.

I did not find much complexity in this wine, and found it flat and dusty.  It had notes of sour cherries, and I found it muddy.  It was decidedly better at the end of the evening in a 2nd taste, but even at $15, I’d have to give this wine an avoid.

AVOID if you like New World Pinot

Los Vascos Reserve 2006 – interestingly, this is one of the wines I tasted a while ago and found to be terrible.  It goes to show you, that anything can happen in transport, and I can clearly say that the previous bottle i tasted was off because I really enjoyed this wine. It is 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Carmenere, 10% Syrah, and 5% Malbec so it’s a bit of a mutt.  However the $20.99 price tag makes it’s an affordable luxury in a Bordeaux Blend not from Bordeaux.  It is also from the Colchuagua Valley, and is a house of Domaines Barons de Rothchild Lafite.

I found it to have a lot of red fruit, followed by a strong backbone of tobacco and earth, with a touch of green pepper.  I normally don’t like green pepper in my wine, bu tthis was balanced.  There was a lot of dusty cocoa and deep dark brooding personality under there.  The second day, i had a glass of this with dinner.  It was even smoother, and had mellowed out nicely



Santa Carolina Reserva de Familia Carmenere 2007– let me start out by saying that Carmere is not a personal favorite of mine.  I find them too smokey and vegetal for my liking, but I actually did enjoy the Santa carolina.  With 5% Petite Verdot thrown in, I think that the overwhelmingness of the Carmenere was subdued.  This wine comes from the Rapel Valley, which is the largest of the fine wine areas in Chile.  The climate and soil types vary widely, so we really have several micro-appelations in one larger one, much like the greater Napa Valey.  Merlot is the classic varietal grown here, and the Colchagua valley sub-appelation is within the Rapel appelation.  The fruit for this Carmemere is grown in two vineyards, from different sub-appellations of the Rapel, and is aged in French oak for 12-14 months.

This is a HUGE wine!  I wish I had decanted it for a while, instead of just opening it 30 minutes prior to tasting.  There was a lot of dark fruit, and spicy pepper and black licorice.  It was quite smooth, and I actually liked it – surprising for a carmenere!  It lacked the overwhelming smokiness that I don’t like, and at $14.99, I would try this wine again after decanting for a while.


Errázuriz Single Vineyard Carmenere 2007 –
for the 2nd carmenere of the evening, we move to the Aconcagua Valley.  This is a new regoin, planted in the early 1990s, and is known for it’s extended dry season and moderate summers.  This is primarily Carmenere country, and winemakers here strive to keep the fruit ripening well in to the fall, to minimize the herbaceous tendencies of Carmenere and expand the fruit flavors.

The Single Vineyard Carmenere is 3% Shiraz, and was aged in 100% Oak which was split between American and French for about 12 months.  I found it less enjoyable than the Santa Carolina, and much more smoky.  It was very peppery and had tons of green pepper.  At this price point – $26, I would prefer a differetn selection from Chile.  I like my green veggies on my plate not my glass!


Undurraga T.H. Syrah 2007 – ok yeah. YUM!  I loved this wine, even if it was a bold fruity syrah and not terribly complex.  It was the 2nd bottle that completely gone on the tasting night.  It comes from the Limari Valley, and even with it’s $24 priceta
g, I think it’s worth it.  The Limari Valley is 250 miles north of Santiago, and just south the driest place on earth.  Because of the dryness, drip irrigation is the rule.  The limestone bed under the valley’s clay soil is ideal for white wines.  the cool climate helps grapes to ripen slowly, producing classically crisp and acidic wines.

I really loved this wine.  It had huge red berry flavors, followed by chocolate and cocoa.  It was soft and lush, with a vibrant undertone.


Haras Character Cabernet Sauvignon – Carmenere 2006 – This is an interesting blend, of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Carmenere, 9% Cabernet Franc, and 7% Syrah.  It comes from the Maipo Valley region, with is located between two mountain ranges:  the Andes and the Coastal Mountains.  Most vineyards are located above 2000 feet, where the temperature variants develop rich and complex wines.

It had a ton of smoke, tobacco and leather.  It was very vegetal, and not bad but not really my style.  For $21, there were other Chilean Cab blends that I would buy over this.  This was ok, but nothing to write home about


Veramonte Primus 2006 – this lvoely Cab-Syrah blend was 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Syrah, 17% Merlot, and 16% Carmenère.  It alos comes from the Colchagua valley, and I really enjoyed this blend.  The 2006 season produced intensely concentrated fruits, and this wine really shows that off.

It was rich and bold, with tons of spice.  I also tasted lots of dark fruit and full raspberry flavors, with a big body that was beautiful the next day.  It was well worth the $20 price tag.


All in all, Chile has some GREAT finds!  I encourage you to get out and try several to see what your style is.  In the Bay Area, some great resources are Cost Plus (World Market) and Costco, but also try your local retailers.  Chile is HOT!

Spotlight on: Chile

With the economy in the state of panic that is is, and my wine budget being usurped by silly things like groceries, I have been spending a lot of  time recently seeing out budget friendly wines that are tasty alternatives to their North American counterparts.  Chile is one such place.  With a plethora of not so good wines on the market, you have to seek out the good stuff, but there is plenty of good stuff to be had!

Before I became a wine blogger, I used to by Chilean wine at Cost Plus or Costo when I was feeling the penny pinch.  One of my favorite brands was Montes, and in particular the Montes Alpha Cabernet.  At $15 for a very rich and smooth cab, I thought this was a steal.  Now that i am blogging, I am lucky enough to have made friends with Rob Bralow, who works for the Wines of Chile PR folks and has given me different samples to try as well as a ton of information.  Armed with this knowledge, I can now go forth and shop for Sauvignon Blancs and Cabernet Sauvignon blends and feel confident that I can find a tasty treat under budget!

First, a little geography lesson.

Chile is a long, narrow country that hugs the west coast of South America.  It is widely known for its stunning Andes mountains, but is increasingly known for it’s wines.  Wine grapes in Chile are primary grown between the latitudes of 32 and 38 degrees south, which is similar to southern Spain and parts of North Africa.  The differnece between these European regions and Chile is the climate.  Chile is a more temperate zone, with mild summers and winters.  It has a Meddi9terrain climate, and is similar to Calfornia in that way.

Chilean wine has a long winemaking history, which began in the 16th cnetury wwhen the conquistaor brought their European Vitis Vinifera grapes with them.  Later on, i nthe 1700s, the fighting varitals of Cabernet Sauvignona nd Merlot were planted. Carménère is relatively new to Chile, but was often mistaken for Merlot in the younger days of their wine industry.  In the 1990s it was finally recognized as it’s own varietal, which was broght over from Europe before it was wiped out there frm teh phylloxera epidemic. Carménère is hard to produce in cooler climates becuse it is a late ripening grape, but it was well suited to Chile’s temperate cilmate.



Chile has many different wine regions and they can produce vasty different wines.  This is mostly owing to the fact that Chiles geography is NOrth to South, so you have roughtly the distance of Seattle to Los Angeles to deal with.  As we all know, Los Angeles ain’t no Seattle!  Some regions that you may have heard of are:

  • Aconcagua, which includes two smaller regions.  This is one of the newest regions, and is one of the cooler micro climates in Chile.  It has had  success growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and has often been compared to the Carneros region of California, which is one of my personal favorites.
  • Valle Central, has four separate smaller regions.  Some of the most well known are the Maipo Valley and the Rapel Valley.  These smaller sub regions are Chile’s most prolific wine regions, and have a large export program, primarily becuase it is very close to the city of Santiago.  The Maipo Valley and Rapel regions are known for Cabernet Sauvignon.

Recently, several major wine houses in the US and Europe have planted roots in Chile to globalize their efforts.  Some of the efforts are more successful than others, but it’s a good indicator of an up and coming region!  I hope you have learned something and are going to go out and buy some Chilean wines.  With most price points being under $20, and may hovering around $10, you can afford to experiement!  If you’re interested in my Chilean reviews, you can find them here:

Secrets revealed! Lose weight with wine!

It’s a well kept secrret!

The North, vs. The South – a WBW Adventure

Red Hot Chilean Wine!

Is it Chile in here, or is it just me?

All in the family!

France!  Varietal labels!  Two levels!  Oh boy oh boy!  I can’t tell you how excited I was when I got the invitation to taste two labels, Robert Skalli and Fortant, in a wine bar that I have been dying to check out, CAV. Since I have not had a lot of exposure to old world wine, and Old World wine that I enjoy, I was excited to learn about these two labels with the winemaker, Laurent Sauvage.

Robert Skalli began his career in southern France in the 1970s, where he earned his stripes before setting the French wine world on it’s ear in the 80s by throwing the establishment to the wind by producing France’s first single varietal wines.  Until he came along, France was dominated by centuries of classic blending techniques.  The upstart Skalli wanted to showcase the quality of the fruit while simplifying the wines for the new wine drinker.  The second label, Fortant, was created to showcase premier wines at a price that anybody could afford.  This was a foreign concept in the mid 1980s.  The introduction of varital specific wines to the South of France was an interesting prospect, since there was a lot of unexplored territory in wine growing regions.  This was a revolutionary idea that was quickly adopted by many wine growers.  It’s interesting to note that the Skalli family also owns St. Supery, located in the Napa Valley – which I recently wrote about HERE. I have a greater appreciation for producers that have multiple houses, because I think it gives them a full understanding of the different styles of wine that are produced in the wide variety of physical locations.

Here in the States, we are used to having varitally specific wines.  I think this is one of the reasons why old world wine can be intimidating to the average American consumer, because we don’t’ know what goes in to the detailed AOC labeling process.  Producing single varietal wines makes it easy to showcase the stars of a region, while simplifying the buying process for the consumer.

Skalli and Fortant wines are creations of the Languedoc.  This is the largest of the growing regions in the south of France, which is rich in micro climates and terroir.

The Languedoc wine region is included in the much larger Vin de Pays d’Oc.  This region overs the southeastern coastal Gulf of Lion, from the border of Spain to the famous South of France region of Provence.  The total production is approximately 700,000 hectares (1 729 737 acres).  It is the largest wine producing region in the world, and produces more than a third of France’s total wine production.

While historically, the Languedoc has been known for producing many of France’s bulk wines or Vins Ordinaries” there are increasingly, new stars being discovered in this region.

All of the wines we tasted were value priced, ranging in price from the steal of $6.99 to the moderate $18.99.  While I enjoyed all of the tastes, I particularly recommend the Fortant Merlot and the Robert Skalli Côteaux du Languedoc for their outstanding flavors and value.

2006 Fortant Chardonnay – $6.99

Pineapple, stone fruit, guava.  Creamy spice.  No oak is used in the Fortant wines, which strive to focus on the fruit.  The true expression of the grapes is the ultimate goal.  Honey & Tangerine, with a nutty finish.

2006 Robert Skalli Chardonnay- $15.99

This wine sees 6-8 months in oak, and smells like creamy sandlewood.  There is a lot of oak spice from the 1/3 new oak, 1/3 1 year old oak and 1/3 2 year old oak barrel aging.  I found this very spicy and yet a light chardonnay.  Grapefruit and lemon citrus, with crisp fruit.  Slight fig undertones.  IT was almost Sav Blanc like to me.

2007 Fortant Merlot Rose – $6.99

Strawberry lemonade, hibiscus flowers.  Cranberry juice cocktail with rose petals and lavender.

2006 Robert Skalli Piot NOir – $15.99

Earthly wet leaves & mushrooms.  It is unusual to have Pinot Noir crowing in Corsica, an island off the west coast of France, where this wine is from, but this particular parcel has very cool influences that allow for this wine to blossom.  I tasted tobacco and earth, with prunes and smoked meats.  Slight gamey aftertaste with plums and dried cherries.

2006 Fortant Merlot – $6.99

This was the first stand out wine for me at this tasting.  I tasted plums & cocoa, with blackberry juice flavors.  With no oak aging, the beauty oft he fruit really came through.  At this price point, this really is a winner for an everyday but extraordinary wine.

2006 Fortant Cabernet Sauvignoin – $6.99

Vanilla, currents, blackberries.  A lot of black pepper on the tongue, but smooth & rich without being overdone.  Fresh blue and black fruits that did not have oak aging made this a delicious fruit froward cab.

2006 Robert Skalli Cabernet Sauvignon – $15.99

This cab had 30% of the finished wine aged in oak for 6-9 months, which was then blended with the rest of the wine.  I tasted cassis, beef jerky and hickory smoke a well as plums.

2007 Robert Skalli Côteaux du Languedoc – $18.99

This was my other standout winner of the evening.  Even at almost $20, this Grenache – Syrah blend really knocked my socks off.  I tasted Coffee, chocolate, espresso, pepper, deep blue fruit and plums with allspice and anise.  I would drink this wine all the time if i could!

IN closing, it pays to do your research about French wine.  I have long held a bias that I don’t like Old World wine because they aren’t made int he style that I prefer.  That said, I now know that I can seek out wines from the Languedoc and get great QPR as well as great wine!

Special thanks to Benson Marketing Group (especially Tia Butts) for the blogger tasting, and to Laurent for taking the time out of his schedule to hang out with us!


Just say no to OAK!

WOW!  What a day.  The mercury has reached 90 degrees, in SAN FRANCISCO.  IN APRIL!  Mother Nature is sure ticked off.  The saving grace to this terrible heat wave is that I have been enjoying some very nice white wines of late.  Now, you probably know that I am a red girl through and through, and have been known to drink Pinot with my fish, but there is something so relaxing about a cold white on a red hot day.

When I got home from work, my house was an oven, and the last thing I could think of doing was opening a red.  So I made
myself some cold chicken salad, and cracked open a bottle of Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay that I have had stashed in my fridge for a while.  The unoaked version of the classic white is my cup of tea.  I have long held the belief that we have destroyed a perfectly lovely white wine varietal by turning it the color of pee and adding oak essence to it.  I personally prefer the minerally citrus inspired dry and crisp light whites from France.  While this was by no means a light white, it was a refreshing change of pace.

While it goes through 100% malolactic fermentation, which gives it a rich and creamy mouthfeel.  Then, this wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and never sees oak barrels, hence the unoaked label.   I tasted butterscotch, vanilla pudding, and tropical fruits as well as crisper citrus notes.  This was like eating a juicy green apple, and it was very refreshing on a hot hot day.

I know i’ll be buying it again if i can find it!  The Kim Cracford Unoaked Chardonnay retails for around $15-18, and can be found at BevMo and Wine.com among other places.  Examples of Chardonnay of this quality and style are why i have permanently cancelled my membership int eh ABC Club (Anything But Chardonnay).  I hope too will give some of these a try!


A Folio of wines!

There is something so alluring about a tasting room that offers several different wineries tasting in one convenient location.  Folio Winemakers Studio is one such place, and I popped int here one afternoon to do some tasting, since I happened to be stopping by.

First, a little history on Folio.  Folio Winemakers Studio pours many brands, and is home to I’M (Isabel Mondavi), Oberon, Hangtime, Medusa, Spellbound and Mayro-Murdick wines.  It was founded by the Michael Mondavi family in 2004.  If you’re not sure which branch of the family tree Michael is on, it is the Robert Mondavi tree that sprouts these roots.  Michael is Robert’s oldest son, and it was together that they founded the Napa Valley dynasty known as Robert Mondavi Winery.  Now, five years after the sale of that winery, Michael has this new venture.  Folio houses the Michael Mondavi home brands, but they are

I have been to Folio on a couple of occasions, but none of them compare to this trip.  My Twitter friend, Lessley VanHoutan (@foliowinemakers) kept asking me when I would get up there to visit, so I finally took advantage of her offer and was treated like royalty!  I arrived with Russ the Winehiker and The Brix Chicks in tow, and proceed to spend the better part of an afternoon relaxing and chatting away as we tasting through most of the reds.

I started with a flight of pinots, being my passion, but then couldn’t stop and kept moving down the list.  It just got better and better, so without further ado, here are my highlights:

2005 Mayro Murdick Santa Lucia Highlands – Rich, cloves & spice.  Bright cherries and cola.

2004 Trinitas Mataro – blending with Petite Sirah, and a touch of Black Malbesie (I’m sure I spelled that wrong since I can’t find it on Able Grape!)  This was one of my faves.  Blueberries, blackberries, dark bark.  Dark chocolate.  I had to take one home.

2005 Hangtime Mounts Vineyard Syrah – Because it came from one of my favorite small vineyards in Sonoma, I just HAD to try this syrah.  Of course, I was not disappointed.  Inky rich, cocoa deliciousness.  Also came home with me.

2005 Oberon Oso Vineyard Pope Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – aged in 100% new French Oak, this was not my favorite cab, but it was a good value and tasty.

2006 Embelem Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon – Rutherford cabs are my weakness!  This is a new label, and was generously poured pre-release.  WOW!  Chocolate, deep rich sipping wine.  Classic Napa Cab but not overpowering.  Very appellation specific and clearly showed the Rutherford dust.  I will be back to buy this baby.

2005 Medusa Old Vine Zinfandel – easy drinking, smokey, food friendly zin.  This was not a fruit bomb but was simply lovely.

With over 30 wines to pour, I highly recommend you stop by and try a few for yourself!  I am headed back up there this weekend, and plan to try some of the whites, which I just skipped over since I couldn’t taste them all.

Thanks again to Lessley for a great time and see you soon!

Folio Winemakers Studio is located in Carneros, at 1285 Dealy Lane.  This is just past Domaine Carneros, and a short drive from both Sonoma Valley and Napa.




It’s a well kept secret!

Recently, the good PR folks from The Wines of Chile (@RobBralow) sent me a surprise box of wine samples. In this box, held a treat for the sense, and an 89 pointer. Ok fine, really it was 88 points by the Spectator but it was voted a Best Buy.

The 2006 Viu Secreto Malbec hails from the Colchagua Valley region of Chile. The Colchagua Valley lies about 80 miles southwest of Santiago, and has a moderate climate. It has often been compared to Napa in many ways, but I bet you won’t find a Napa Malbec at this price point!

This Malbec is priced at a fighting $10-15, and is worth every penny in my opinion. I immediately smell a smokey richness, with fennel and herbs. It is a rich and chewy wine, which one would expect in the over $20 category, but is a treat at this price point. On the palate, there is heavy plum and herb, with an earthy richness. I also taste lavendar and a nice pepper overtone.

Chile has become my go to region for budget minded wines. I have personally tasted several Cabernet blends that are priced around $10 and are a STEAL. Particular varietals that do well in Chile are Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Sauvingnon Blanc. I’m still exploring other varietals, so please stay tuned!

Walk, don’t run to your local shop for this gem!

Cross posted to the 89 Project




I’m going to hell in a handbasket!


[thur-stee] –adjective, thirst⋅i⋅er, thirst⋅i⋅est.

1. feeling or having thirst; craving liquid.
2. needing moisture, as land; parched; dry or arid: the thirsty soil.
3. eagerly desirous; eager: thirsty for news.
4. causing thirst: Digging is thirsty work


[pey-guhn] –noun

1. one of a people or community observing a polytheistic religion, as the ancient Romans and Greeks.
2. a person who is not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim.
3. an irreligious or hedonistic person.

4. pertaining to the worship or worshipers of any religion that is neither Christian, Jewish, nor Muslim.
5. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of pagans.
6. irreligious or hedonistic.

Thirsty Pagan Communion Red:

This little gem of a red blend was sent to me as a sample to the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman’s Smooch Club, which, if this is any example, promises to WOW you. Upon first glance, you might think this is an average wine, with it’s stevlin closure.  Thirsty Pagans pride themselves on the fact that they only produce a minuscule 250 cases a year, so they didn’t want to risk cork taint.  I’m all for it, as screw caps provide easy access for this Lush.

Then, you notice the label.  See?  Over there to the left?  Yes, that is the label.  Three monks drinking with a wench.  It got you to look right?  Of course, they have had their share of controversy, and if you ask a certain Catholic from Idaho, we are all going to hell for supporting them.  Clearly, if I can have this wine in hell, i’m happy to go there for admiring the religious iconography on the lable.

Now, about the wine.  This 2005 red blend comes from Horse Heaven Hills.  Where the HELL is HOrse heaven Hills you ask?  HHH is a part of the much larger Columbia Valley AVA in southeastern Washington state, and is one of Washingtons newest AVAs.  This appelation is known for it’s award winning cabernet sauvignon, and this blend is 75% cab, the shining star.

Additionally, the Communion Red has 15% Merlot, 5% Malbec, and 5% Petite Verdot.  I taste delicious dark fruit, particularly cherries, and blackberries, with a back end of  smoke, tobacco and mincemeat spices.  I also taste a hint of plum in there.  Even though i don’t taste bacon, I can taste smoked meats, and I bet this would be a treat with bacon & caramelized onion pizza as well as a BLT.  This is a big boy, and shouldn’t be taken lightly.  It’s big, bold and spicy, but with a smooth finish.  Kind of like an Isaac Hayes song.

I absolutely LOVE this wine!  Thank you Catie for turning me on!  To the wine.  Now, I know you all want your own Thirsty Pagan so head on over to Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman and pick yourselves up a few!  $26 is a small price to pay for this much sinning.

If you haven’t checked out her Smooch Society, you really should.  Why?  Because you’ll get hte best in Walla Walla Wine is why!  4 shipments of 2 wines per year, for the measly price of $45.  Such a deal!  I have only recently discovered the joy of Washington State red wine, and I plan to continue my adventures as much as possible.  This wine is GOOD!   5 smooches.




Free the Grapes! The New Zealand grapes!

Sunday, February 8th, is Waitangi Day Tasting at South Food & Wine Bar in San Francisco.

nz-wine-map1Since February 6th is the anniversary of the treaty of Waitangi, where the Maoris and the Brits agreed to British rule and create “New” Zealand.  Why it’s a British colony is slightly amusing, since “Zeeland” is Dutch for lands by the sea.  Oh well! While there is clearly controversy over occupied lands, much like our Native American history, we can celebrate this day for giving us the lovly wines of New Zealand. As such, The Jug Shop, my favorite Down Under importer here in SF has teamed up with South Food & Wine Bar, to present an afternoon of New Zealand New Releases, paired with delectable treats like the cheeses of New Zealand.

The soiree is from 2pm to 4pm, Sunday, February 8th at South, which is south of Market, and costs  the mere sum of $30.  I know what you’re thinking.  It’s a recession!  That’s too much!  Trust me on this – if you have never been to a tasting at South, it is well worth the cost of admission.  The quality of the food pairings and the amount and quality of the wines poured are worth more than the cost of admission, and the fun you will have with me, The Jug Shop, and the Kiwi producers is unmatched.

Hope to see you there!

Oh yes, if you are going, it’s Cash Only at the door so please RSVP to South Food & Wine Bar by phone or email

phone at 415.974.5599
email to info AT southfwb.com



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