There’s gold in that furrow!

Driving up a dusty dirt road, at the edge of a vineyard in Lodi, you could see the history in the vines.  These gnarled old beasts were baking in the late spring heat, and you could just feel the struggle as they worked to survive the turbulent weather.

This was Rauser Vineyard, planted with old vine Carignane and Zinfandel.  Our guide, Mike Mike McCay, was enthusiastically giving us an oral history of the last 20 years, while digging in the dry, crumbling dirt of the vineyard.  Mike is an innovator, something that is more common in Lodi than you would expect.  Not satisfied to go with the status quo, he is always looking for new ways to survive the ever persistent drought, and to produce some amazing wines.

His winemaking style centers around the terroir of Lodi, and specifically this patch of land.  Using Native yeasts while concentrating on Zinfandel and Rhône varietals, he has brought out the true expression of htis small AVA in the region.

Tiptoeing through the high furrows of dusty red soil, Mike poured us his ClIMG_0653ements Hills Viognier.  This mineral driven white enjoyed a long, warm growing season, which resulting in ripe pears and stone fruit, followed by rich floral aromas.  It was just the thing to whet our palates on the hot and dusty day.

After learning a bit of history of this piece of land, we met up with Mike’s family at his house for a down home Lodi style BBQ.  Quite the chef, Mike McCay fired up the vine driven barrel barbeque and quickly got to work making a feast – perfectly designed to showcase his wines.

 

Mike pulled out all the stops, retrieving some beautiful examples of Lodi’s Rhône style wines from his cellar, plus, by special request Cabernet Franc.  One might not expect either Cab Sav or Cab Franc to be successful in what amounts to a high desert climate, however, with the varied terrain and terroir of the larger Lodi growing region, it did beautifully.IMG_0655

 

 

McCay Cellars specializes in Rhône varietals, and also has a beautiful Cabernet Franc and is working with old vine Zin.  Growing slowly and steadily, Mike has witness major changes in Lodi over the last 20 years.  Industrial grape production has made way for artisan, small lot producers, and the wine tourism business has seen growth in Lodi tourism and the affiliated business.
The careful attention McCay pays to his vineyards and his winemaking are evident in the beautiful wines he produces.  But don’t take my word for it!  Stop by and visit when you’re in town.  McCay Cellars has a tasting room in Lodi, open no weekends (Thursday-Sunday) from 11-5.
The next time you’re in Lodi, be sure to experience the Rhône varetals from McCay Cellars!  If Mike’s int he tasting room, you’re sure to get a history lesson along with your Grenache.

Experience America’s Heritage Grape!


It’s that time of year again, time for the annual Zinfandel Experience!  Attracting Zin lovers from around the world, Zinfandel Experience is celebrating its 24th anniversary with three days of wine tasting events with zins from all over California, as well as unique corners of the world!

A classically American wine, Zinfandel is one of the oldest grapes grown in California.  From the old school Italian field blends of the Central Valley to the bold expressions of Dry Creek, there is a zin for everyone!

January 29-31st the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers association presents 4 days of spectacular events showcasing zinfandel.

Epicuria – formerly known as Good Eats and Zin, you get the idea.  Each producers selected wine is paired with a fabulous restaurant for this information walk around wine & food pairing.  VIPs can sip in the special lounge where you can relax and chat about the delicious tidbits.
Some of the pairings you can look forward to:
  • Bella Vineyards and Presideo Social Club
  • Ravenswood with Central Market
  • Saddleback Cellars with Rosamunde Sausage Grill
Flights! Forums of Flavors – Friday, January 30th
Flights features a professional tasting seminar with a focus on highly allocated, limited production Zinfandels. Learn insights from the experts and experience the range, depth and character of the wines. ZAP will once again partner with the Historic Vineyard Society to present wines from exceptional old Zinfandel vineyards.

Presentaion of 3 Historic Regions, moderated by Joel Peterson, featuring Contra Costa County, Amador County, and Dry Creek Valley

 

 

Winemakers Reception, Dinner & Auction – Zin State of Mind – A Benefit with Taste, Friday January 30th

Go glamorous! Mad Men, the popular TV show, is our inspiration for this year’s dinner and auction. The stylish, sleek, and jazzy atmosphere will captivate you as the city lights of San Francisco dazzle. Our reception will feature winemakers ‘pouring it big’ with magnums and reserve offerings. You’ll experience an intimate dinner hosted by celebrities of the wine world and a customized menu that boasts the best in farm-to-table cuisine. The live and silent auctions will feature one-of-a-kind lots, rare bottles, winery experiences and so much more, with proceeds benefiting ZAP’s programming, education and Heritage Projects. It will be an evening full of personality—fashionable, yet slightly provocative—what else—a Zin state of mind!

The Tasting – Saturday, January 31st

The centerpiece of the 2015 Zinfandel Experience is The Tasting, where wine lovers engage in personal conversations with winemakers while exploring the flavors of Zinfandel blends, single vineyards and old vine Zinfandels or discover the distinctive dialects of Zinfandel growing regions. Experience Zinfandel from the perspective of sommeliers, with all due respect to terroir, at the complimentary Sommelier & Winemaker Terroir Workshops located at the Golden Gate Club.

Reserve and Barrel Tasting with VIP and All Day Ticket Purchase

Winemakers and principals will pour samples at their tables during this exclusive tasting for VIPs and all-day ticket holders. From 11am to 1pm, you will enjoy a “sneak peek” tasting of upcoming vintages and special Zinfandels that have earned the title of “Reserve.” This walk-around experience offers an special foray into the wineries most prized Zinfandel treasures.

Tickets are available HERE and be sure to get them early!  Events sell out!

ZAP goes on the road!

As summer winds down, or maybe just gets skipped over, the foggy nights and cool morning remind me of why I love Zinfandel so much.  Zinfandel is a wine that has as many flavors and styles as there are ways to make BBQ sauce.  Zinfandel is also the perfect summer party, and BBQ wine.

With that in mind, ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) is hosting a showcase of Zinfandel at Ridge Lytton Springs, on Saturday, August 16th.  Here, over 40 producers will be pairing their Zinfandels with delicious foods from Pizza Politana!  Included with your ticket, you get all of your tastings and half a pizza.  My only problem is they all sound so good – Wild Mushroom, Smoked Mozzarella, Thyme & Truffle Oil; Black Mission Fig, Zoe’s Bacon, Gorgonzola & Creamy Leeks; Housemade Red Wine Sausage (not spicy), County Line Farm Mustard Greens, Tomato Sauce & Mozzarella.  How do I choose?  I suspect the bacon will have it.

Participating wineries include some personal favorite of D-Cubed, Elyse Winery, Fields Family Winery, Kokomo Winery, and Ridge – as well as many more!

Tickets are $60 per person ($45 for ZAP members) and include tasting and 1/2 a pizza w/salad.  Additional food is available for purchase as well as several other sampling opportunities.

Hope to see you there!

 

Tickets to this event were provided, however all yumtacular (thanks James!) opinions of said pizza, and sips of wine, are my own.

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Roses of Summer: Ousterhout Wines Russian River Valley

Ousterhout Wine & VineyardIt isn’t often that I find a new winery, that I haven’t at least heard of.  Recently, when I received the invitation to the Ousterhout Wine & Vineyard Release party here in San Francisco, I was excited to be able to go and try new wines without having to go very far from home.  Leave it to me and my city dwelling blogging friends to be able to go wine tasting on a Tuesday night in the Marina!

Owners Douglas and Nancy Ousterhout create delicious Pinot Noir Rose and Zinfandel from a small vineyards in Sonoma County, as well as thier estate vineyard in Alexander Valley.  With strong agricultural roots, the Ousterhouts are wine naturals. With a thriving medical practice in San Francisco, the vineyard property is a weekend retreat where they can build their brand in the tranquility of this quiet corner of Sonoma.

Winemaker Michah Wirth cut his baby teeth in Oregon, working with cult producers like Raptor Ridge before moving back to Healdsburg.  Here, he started working with Gary Farrel Winery, where he spent 7 years learning how to create stellar Pinot Noir.  Like most young winemakers, he wanted to create his own wines, which he did in 2007 with Joseph Jewell in 2006.  Today, he makes the wines at Ousterhout in a refreshingly different style.  While the zins are bold, they are not overpowering.  The roses are distinctive and not sweet.

 With three roses and two Zinfandels, along with a Sauvignon Blanc for added measure, Ousterhout is tightly focused on their wines.  In particular, the three roses really caught my attention.

This week, my rose of the week is the porch pounder summer loving Russian River Valley Rose of Pinot Noir.  Along with two vineyard designate roses, the Russian River is a delightfully crisp refreshing Rose.  With bright red fruit, Tuscan melon, strawberries and mineral note, this is a great rose for grilled chicken, salads, and turkey burgers.  At only $22, it’s an afforable summer wine, that is brest served well chilled on the deck with friends.

Check out Ousterhout’s other wines here!  Enjoy a great dry rose of Zinfandel, or a classic Zinfandel from Dry Creek!

Jack Steffan, Director of Sales & Marketing graciously provided me with a bottle of wine for further inspection, but all options and expression of joy are my own. 

 

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Bubble, bubble, toil and Trouble-maker!

What’s better on a dark and storm haunted Halloween than a bold red wine with a name like The Troublemaker?  With all of the goofy holiday wines out there, the Troublemaker brings you a solid wine at a great price.  And it’s fun!

The Troublemaker, a zesty little blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel from Hope Family Wines should do just the trick.  Or is that a treat?

The non vintage blend is mostly from 2011, with the bulk of the blend being the workhorse syrah.  The fun of this budget friendly $20 bottle is that the rest of the blend is from multiple varietals from the 2010 vintage.

I love the easy drinking style of this wine, with bold spicy notes, and dark blackberry powering through the dark chocolate.  I can imagine this being a fantastic base for those witches brews you might be concocting for your Halloween hauntings!

 Thank you to the kind PR folk for providing me the yummy – I am going to go make some bubble bubble toil and trouble now!  Happy haunting!

 

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A little history lesson

The mountaintop of Monte Belle, in the Cupertino area of the Santa Cruz Mountains, has a long history with winemakers and vineyards.  As far back as the late 1800s, city dwellers wandered south to retreat and make wine.  Today, Ridge is redrawing these historical vineyard lines and producing wines from these sub plots, to see the original vineyard lines in liquid form.  These wines were made from select parcels from Ridge’s vineyards, retracing the original boundaries of the historical properties.  Harvested in small sub-parcels, Ridge is trying to recreate the original vineyard properties and make wine with fruit harvested in small micro climates.

Since these properties had unique boundaries in the original property, the resulting wines are quite different than the current releases.  The tiniest move to a row or tow over creates a micro climate different that can have subtle and amazing impact on the wine.

The first historical property was Torre.  The Torre property was the first winery on the site of Ridge Monte Bello.  Now, it’s the middle vineyard, at about 2300 feet elevation.  In 1903, hte first winery was built here, but Prohibition shut them down.  In the 1940s, more vineyards were planted by William Short, and Ridge bought the land in 1959.  That purchase was the inspiration to start Ridge Vineyards, built from a restored Torre winery.  The Torre Merlot is dark and dusty, with blue fruit, and dense cherries.  There were some meaty notes and it was a bolder muscular wine.

The next wine comes from what is now the Jimsomare vineyard.  This property was origianlly purchased in 1888 by Pierre Klein, a bay area restaurateur with a fondness for wine.  The Klein family founded Mirra Valle winery, another victim of Prohibition.  In 1936, San Francisco’s Schwabacher family purchased the property, naming it Jimsomare.    Today, it’s part of the lower Monte Bello Vineyard, at about 1400-2000 feet.  The Klein Cab Sav had great acid, with notes of blackberries and spicy white pepper.  This one is a baby but is still enjoyable.

Finally we  look at the Perrone property.  The Perrone winery was the second winery on the property, above the existing winery.  The original 180 acres were at about 2600 feet, and gave birth to the Monte Bello Winery way back in 1892.  In the 40s, with the winery abandoned, William Short bought the property and vineyards below it.  Now, this is the “middle” vineyard.  The Perrone Cab Franc was one of my favorite wines of the day.  With smoked blueberries, cinnamon, allspice and blackberry, there were black pepper and candied ginger flavors.

The best part of these historical wines is that using the old vineyard maps, Ridge is able to recreate the lots and go back in time to see what the terroir of the original property lines is.  It’s a fascinating look at the micro terroir of the Monte Bello area, and great fun.

I hope you can enjoy some Ridge wines soon!

 

Ridge Vineyards gets Jazzed!

Sitting on top of a mountain, over looking the Silicon Valley, I was standing watching the planes fly by in the warm spring weather.  I always enjoy climbing Monte Bello in Cupertino, ending up at Ridge Vineyards, over looking everything below.  You are only an hour from San Francisco, but you feel like you are a world away.  This was an unusually warm spring day, and the crowds were out picnicking on the hill top and enjoying the views.

On this trip, our illustrious leader Christopher Watkins, brought together a group of wine and food bloggers at one of his quarterly media tastings – which are always eventful.  On this visit, Christopher, a musician at his core, had something up his sleeve.  There would be no traditionally tasting, as we had come to know it.  This time, when we walked in the barn, we found bottles that were brown bagged, hiding the gold within.  On the screen in front of us, the history of jazz.  In our ears, we had Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk.What was this madness?

Description: http://juliasmexicocity.typepad.com/.a/6a00e54ecdaa8a883301347ff14274970c-500wiOur task was to take each of four wines and pair them with the song that we found most provocatively paired with it.  Given that I know zilch about jazz, the only word that came to my mind was skat!  Yes, I said skat.  That’s what I think of when I think of jazz; I was feeling much like the beatnik in Peggy Sue Got Married – you know the line, “Change your destiny Peggy Sue!  Marry me and change your destiny!”.  In my head, I’m thinking, listen to the jazz Thea!  Listen to this, and change your destiny!

First up, the 2001 Monte Bello.  The smoky rich berry notes were mirrored by bright acid, black pepper and allspice.  There was delicious chewy leather, and blackberry spice but it was subdued and not jammy.  My pairing was Paul’s Pal by Sonny Rollins.

Wine number two, the 2000 Monte Bello, was dark and smoky, and a bit bold.  I found fig notes and heavy sediment.  There was more fruit coming out as it opened up in the glass, with some excellent earthy background.  It was a mysterious wine and So What by Miles Davis was on my mind.

Next, we tasted the 1999 Lytton Springs zinfandel.  This older wine hid sticks and stones in the smoky prune background, with cigar box and spice rack.  I found a hint of strawberries in balsamic vinegar and cranberry on the end, with lingering thoughts offruit roll up..  The Bemsha Swing from Thelonious Monk seemed the natural pairing.

The final wine in the first flight was the 1997 Geyserville.  This was an in your face wine for being so old, and was quite candied with brambly notes.  There was quite a bit of dirt and white pepper as well as cedar and sweet cherry.  I could see a sarsaparilla at an old west bar in this wine, and even though I was supposed to pick the 4th song, I still chose Paul’s Paul (again) as the match.

Are you lost yet?  Yeah so was I.  I am no student of jazz, and I can’t really say i like or don’t like it because I just don’t have enough exposure.  I know I hate Kenny G if that helps?  These pairings are strictly on my gut reaction to the music and the wine.

Luckily for us, we were released from the duty of matching music and words, and we were treated to a tasting of the historical vineyard selection series.

Stay tuned for the details on my next post!

 

It’s Zinful…

For this week’s Bacon Fridays post, I am honoring the Zinfandel Festival but pairing Jalapeno Bacon Cheddar Popovers with a California Zin.  Zinfandel has been named America’s Heritage Grape, and for 4 days every January, the Zin world comes together in celebration.

The Bacon Freak graciously provided me of samples of the Jalepeno bacon, and i incorporated this into one of my favorite side dishes, the Popover.  Ok fine.  So i usually eat the whole pan.  Shush!

To make this tasty treats, preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  Spray a muffin tin with nonstick spray LIBERALLY!  Try to use a light pan if you can, because dark ones burn easily.

While the oven is preheating, cook the Bacon Freak Coastal Caliente Jalepeno Bacon until crisp.   I do this in the microwave, between 2 paper towels, on full power for 1 minute for each full slice.  You want to be able to crumble it easily.

In a bowl, whisk together:

  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 ground pepper

Whisk in 2 eggs, which you have beaten in a bowl.

Spoon 1 Tablespoon of the batter in to each muffin cup.  Sprinkle each with 1 tsp sharp cheddar cheese, 1/2 tsp grated parmesean cheese, and 1/4 slice crumbled bacon.

When you have done all 12 muffin cups, spoon the rest of the batter on top of ecah cup to cover.

bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees.  Continue to cook until golden brown, about another 15 minutes.

Remove from the baking tin and cool on a rack.  These popovers are best slightly warm!

To pair, I suggest a spicy zinfandel.  I tasted this with a lovely specimen from Paso Robles, which is known for black pepper and sweet spices.  I also tried this with a Sierra Foothills Zinfandel, which also has some lovely baking spice flavor characteristics that match well off of the kick of the popovers.

Happy tasting and please follow @baconcandy on twitter!

 

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