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.

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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Be a Zinner in 2014!

Here were are, in another new year, looking forward to what is to come.  Every new year brings changes, lessons learned, and reminders of years past.  In the case of the annual Zinfandel Festival, 2014 brings a change in format, as well as venue.  Exciting things to come!

The 2014 Zinfandel Experience occurs January 23-25th at the Presidio, instead of the previous venues of The Concourse and Fort Mason, as well as the gala Evening with the Winemakers at the plush Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco.  This year, with the smaller, more intimate setting in the Presidio, guest can look forward to more conversation with the winemakers, more education and more Zin!

The all new Zinfandel Experiences highlights America’s Heritage Grape, with several events including the new Tasting Tracks on Saturday, which replaces the Grand Tasting.  This creative track format allows Zinfandel fans to choose their own adventure:  

  • The Sensory Tasting – stroll through 80 wineries and winemakers and discover what your favorite note is.
  • Reserve & Barrel Tasting  taste the future of Zin in the barrel, and a exclusive tasting of reserve wines from 44 wineries.
  • Terroir Tasting – focus on a particular region as you stroll through wine country locations like Napa, Lodi, Sonoma and Paso Robles, tasting the terroir of each location through wine.

Each of these Experiences runs in a concurrent format, in 2 hour blocks.  Do one, or do them all!

Additional events that are familiar to ZAP alumni will be Flights, a professional tasting seminar featuring limited production wines, Epicuria, where you can eat to your hearts delight delicious morsels paired with Zinfandels, and the swanky soiree Evening with the Winemakers, a benefit auction and dinner with famous Zin creators.

Tickets for Tasting Tracks start at $60 for a single track, with savings for multiple tracks, and individual events are priced differently.  For details, see the ticket page HERE.  My friends at VinVillage are giving away tickets to Epicuria and the Tasting Tracks, but enter soon!  Also, use discount code “VinVillage”!

I’m exciting to see this new format for the event, and I look forward to tasting some delicious wines January 23-25!

 

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Zinning in to 2013 – **WINNERS ANNOUNCED**

Happy New Year!  How the heck is it the second week of 2013 already?  Wowzah.

But here were are, smack dab in the middle of a chilly winter in San Francisco; what better time to celebrate America’s Heritage Grape than a cold winter night?  Celebrating 22 years of Zinfandel, this year’s event will be just as entertaining as last year’s, in the new event space at The Concourse.

One of the most unique American wines, Zinfandel has a long history in California.  From Italian field blends during the gold rush to the new gold rush of wine, zinfandel has a solid palace in history.  There are so many different flavor profiles you can find, from raisiny ripe Paso Robles to spicy & racy Sierra Foothills, to brambly blackberry punch of Dry Creek.  What better way to taste them than at the 2013 Zinfandel Festival!

January 31st, the Festival kicks off with Epicuria, my favorite event of the week.  This informal walk around event allows you the opportunity to nibbly on tasty tidbits, paired with 50 delicious zinfandels hand picked to bring out the zinny flavor.  There will be plenty of pork to go around, as well as some wonderful dessert offerings.  Come early, and come hungry!  The best bites go quickly.  $125

Congratulations to Amy Abascal and Cindy Gooch, who each won a pair of tickets!  Looking forward to seeing you!

 

Friday afternoon, Flights is designed for the enthusiast with a passion for the legendary, this exclusive seminar-style tasting ignites your imagination for the varietal as you delve into the history, culture and science behind the many flavors of Zinfandel. Flights offers unique insight into the Zinfandel varietal and allows you to experience the true character of the wines through the eyes of experts as you revel in a sensory experience like no other.  $75

 

Friday evening, a benefit event whisks you back to the 1940s with a Casablanca theme, benefiting ZAP and the Heritage Vineyard project.  The Winemakers Dinner is always a banner event, where premier winemakers host, and share the intrigue and romance behind their craft at this elegant reception and dinner.  Specially chosen private selections of Zinfandel will be poured as you get in the time machine and learn about the origins of Zinfandel, and modern techniques in wine making.  $250

 

Culminating in Saturday’s Grand Tasting, featuring over 100 zinfandels from all over the US, the week is sure to be zinny, zany, and downright purple.  Create your own Zin-fari, as you weave the isles through each growing region, to explore the diversity of American Zinfandel.  Taste barrel samples, new releases, and more!  $65

Congratulations to Shari Johnston & Amy Holtzman, who each won a pair of tickets!  See you there!

Tickets for this year’s festival are available HERE .

That said, you lucky readers, I have something special for you!  Two lucky readers can win a pair of tickets to Epicuria.  Two other lucky readers can win a pair of tickets to the Grand Tasting!  You must be in San Francisco for the event.  Tickets are non transferable once claimed.  Good luck and the deadline for entry is Jan 18th.  Enter below!

See you zinners there!

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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!

 

The spark within – WBW 73

Ahh, Wine Blogging Wednesday.  Once upon a time, WBW was a monthly spark for wine bloggers to collective think about a particular topic, and form the gestalt of the blog.

The sum of the many is the one.

Sadly, WBW all but disappeared over the past few years.  Formed in 2004, WBW is having a resurgence thanks to a new committee and new life behind it. I for one, am grateful to have a guided post every month, as I struggle to be inspired and write posts that are both thoughtful, but also interesting to my readers.  This month, as we kick off a new year, January’s theme reminds us to think about what make us start blogging int he first place.  The Corkdork asks us what sparked our interest in wine, but more why we decided we needed to write about it.

For me, I actually have to thank my wine loving friend, and fellow blogger Liza Swift of the Brix Chicks for challenging me to put my money where my mouth was.  There was never one wine, or a specific experience that made me put pen to paper.  I had always been involved int he wine community one way or another.  But Liza, whom I encouraged to blog before I even started my own, asked me why I wasn’t writing when she was.

Good point!  Wine fascinates me.  the fact that it is alive, and forever changing, inspires me.  I have been drinking wine since before I was 21, and I have been entrenched in wine, while maintaining a techie career, for the better part of (*gasp*) 17 years.  I felt compelled to share my favorite wine discoveries with friends via word of mouth, but then in a newsletter.  That newsletter, which was filled with wines that I had consumed and fallen in love with, as well as tips on events that were up and coming in the Bay Area, and stories of my adventures in wine, are what sparked this blog.

Why do I write?  To write puts thoughts on paper – or on the internet – and shares them with your audience, however selective that might be.  To share the joy that I have experienced drives me.  My tastes have changed from zinfandel to pinot, and further more to the complex wines of the Rhone.  Starting out with my so called newsletter, I had the overwhelming feeling that to keep such knowledge to myself would be indulgent and selfish.  Beyond that, writing is cathartic, regardless of whether it’s in a personal journal or in a public format.  This blog, Facebook, and Twitter act as a life coach, therapist and best friend.

Wine is alive.  Wine changes.  Both time and place can turn the same wine in to very different beasts.  What happens when you taste a wine 5 years after the initial release?  Is it better?  Is ti worse?  Is my taste just different?  All of these are true, all of these are not.  Wine also changes in the glass.  What other tangible and consumable object has this much life to it.  It sound like I am quoting Maya from Sideways, but it’s true.  Wine lives, and wine is alive.

What sparked me?   My gateway wine was definitely zin.  Having worked for and with ZAP for over 10 years, I was exposed to over 200 wineries that had a wide variety of zinfandel to offer.  Is it the brambly jammy blackberry from Dry Creek?  Or perhpas the spicy mincemeat raisin from Sierra Foothills?  Dig a little deeper and try the rose petals and somewhat lighter style from Russian River.  I still love zin, and while my everyday tastes have changed somewhat, there is nothing better on a cold rainy night.

Today, my passion is for learning about and discovering pinot.  Why are pinots so fickle?  What are they so different?  How can I possibly love a pinot from Willamette Valley but also love one from the vast and strange Sonoma Coast?  While keeping my love affair with pinot alive, I am ever the explorer.  My latest quest.  Grenache!  Where fort art thou!  One of the essentially Rhone grapes, you can get Grenache for days in the Rhone Valley and also in somewhat rougher, inexpensive Spanish Garnacha.  But what about in the New World?  Where can I find that meaty, spicy, unique in a way that only Grenache can produce, flavor here int he new world?  Apart from a few favorites that I can’t seem to keep in my cellar, I am always on a quest to meet the winemaker who has taken on the bold new world of the Rhone, Spanish, interesting varietal.  Beyond the Grenache, what of the misunderstood, misplaced, lost and lonely Mouvedre/Monastrell/Mataro?

It’s a bold new world out there, and wine is waiting.

A long winter's night…**ZAP WINNERS ANNONCED**

It’s that time of year again, where you curl up in front of your fake Amish fire (no wood burning here please, it’s Spare the Air!), open a big juicy zin, a good book, and your new furry slippers.  It’s cold here these days, and the damp chill of the morning fog makes it feel more like London than San Francisco.  That’s not all bad however, as it’s days  like this that make me cook up a big pot of bean soup and open some of my deliciously California Zinfandel.

One of the most unique American wines, Zinfandel has a long history in California.  From Italian field blends during the gold rush to the new gold rush of wine, zinfandel has a solid palace in history.  There are so many different flavor profiles you can find, from raisiny ripe Paso Robles to spicy & racy Sierra Foothills, to brambly blackberry punch of Dry Creek.  What better way to taste them than at the 2012 Zinfandel Festival!

January 26-28, 2012 join thousands of Zinfandel aficionados in San Francisco for the 21st Annual Zinfandel Festival.  This year marks a departure from the past festivals, with both a venue change and event revamping.  I am excited to see how these changes impact the festival.  In 2012, the festival will be help for the first time in the Concourse Exhibition Center, an urban venue south of Market Street in San Francisco.  While this can present a logistical nightmare, my hope is that it will encourage more taxis and bus travel than auto travel – which has resulted in some less than stellar behavior in years past.

But back tot he event!  Thursday ZAP kicks off with Epicuria, formerly known as Good Eats & Zin.  This has long been my favorite event, with it’s smaller crowd and delicious food pairings.  At this gourmet extravaganza, you can discover the diversity of zinfandel, as it is paried with a huge variety of sweet & savory food sfrom some of the best restaurants in California.

Friday afternoon, Flights continues it’s journey with Forums of Flavor.   At this exclusive seminar-style tasting you will discover themed flights of Zinfandels and interact with Zinfandel experts. Aimed at the true wine aficionado with an aptitude toward learning more, Flights offers in-depth insight into the Zinfandel varietal and provides the opportunity to experience the true character of the legend.

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Happy Zinsgiving!

What’s more American than apple pie you ask?  Well, Zinfandel of course!  Long rumored to be the oldest vitus vinifera varietal cultivated in the US, zin has become America’s Heritage Grape.  More than that, zin really is…California!

Ravenswood Winery is one of the oldest zin houses in the area, starting in 1976 when legendary vintner Joel Peterson began his adventure in Sonoma Valley.  Now, Joel has handed over the day to day operation of the winery to a larger interest, and while he isn’t making all of the wine anymore, he is able to focus on some very special wines at Ravenswood – the single vineyard series.  I’m so happy that these wines exist because they are everything that the mass produced zinfandel is not.  While the lower end Vintners Blend series is a passable BBQ wine, and great for any occasion, I would say that my tastes have graduated to the complex and distinct Single Vineyard Designates.  I have had occasion to taste these with Joel, and it’s always a treat.

This time, I am preparing for Thanksgiving with two of these wines:  2008 Dickerson and 2008 Teldeschi Single Vineyards Designates.
The Dickerson is 100% zin from Napa Valley, and this big baby is aged for 20 months in 30% new French Oak.  This wine has none of the Dry Creek brambly-ness, and is restrained and full of smokey meat, allspice, and pepper.  This wine really is still a baby, with strong tannins.  There is a lot of minerality in the backbone ,and it’s a great wine with a lot of complexity.  There is a ton of licorice in there.  This one needs to open up for a bit.  It falls a bit flat for me, but I am waiting for it to open up.

Next up, the Teldschi is from Dry Creek Valley, but is blended with 20% Petite Sirah, 3% Carignange, and 2% Alicante Bouchet.  It is a classic Italian field blend, and brings back images of the old wines of Asti and the home brewed red blends of Gallo in the old days.  There are a lot of blackberry notes in here, with bittersweet chocolate.  What I appreciate with this wine is that it has black and blue fruit without it being brambly and overdone.  All three components are fermented separately and then blended to produce the final result.  I am getting a strong espresso note in here, and the 31% new French oak comes out in toasty notes.    The smokey finish lends itself to fig cake as well.  There is a great lingering tasted of cracked pepper as well.  Teldeschi is opening up slowly, very slowly, to espresso and blackberry notes, very dense and chewy

After a day, the Teldeschi has become a bit bitter.  The Dickerson, however, has opened up very nicely, and I am getting more fruit, with smoke, meat and anise on the finish

The ruling?  The Teldeschi is a fun wine that adds a littl extra to the traditional Dry Creek experience.  You probably want to decant this for about an hour.  The Dickerson on the other hand, is tight and closed off when first opening.  For this Napa Valley zin, more time in a decanter will server you well.  I would leave this open for at least 3 horus to get the full benefit o fhte wine.  At first taste last night, I didn’t care for the Dickerson and was a bit dissapointed; however, this proves the point of my post on aeration – time in an open bottle or decanter can vastly change a wine.

Enjoy!

 

Loosey goosey Dusi!

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 up, they stopped making wine and started selling grapes again.

One of the unique properties of this area is the large diurnal temperature swing during the course of day.  This vineyard in particular can go from 99+ degrees on a hot summer day, to below  at night on that same day.  This gives the fruit some unique character.  That, combined with dry farming, give the vines some vigor as they are forced to struggle a bit – classically, this makes a lovely wine.  First up, the 2008 Dante Dusi Ranch Zinfandel.  This was bright raspberry with white pepper, bold blackberry juice and hints of other spice box flavors.  I found it to be viscous and lingering (in a good way).  Only 850 cases were made, and since 90% of the home ranch fruit is sold to other wineries, this is a rare gem.  Janelle really wants to showcase the whole ranch in one bottle and not segment the wine out.  These wines are Representative of the terroir of the property as a whole, and this zin in particular showed a lot of juicy red fruit, with just a hint of oak, followed by a lot of cherry cola.

The 900 cases of the 2009 Zinfandel was just released.  This was a totally different wine – and rather unexpected in the zone of big, jammy, raisiny Paso zins.  The herbaceousness really struck me, and while it might have been a bit closed, it was herbal with bay leaf , dusty black pepper, a hint of red raspberry coming out under tobacco and leather.  There were chewy bark lots of spice.  

Finally, the 2009 Fiorento which was recently bottled.  This blend of 50% Zin, 25% Carignane, and 25% Syrah showed dusty blue fruit, and was lean and racy but refined, with dusty blue fruit, and strong chewy notes from the Syrah.  With only 50-60 Carignane vines on the property, they are hand picked to ripeness to make sure that the perfect fruit is selected.

 

We could have stayed and talked to the Dusi family for hours – about dry farming, about old vine zin, about restrained California Zinfandels, about Paso Robles’ best changes at Rhone.  But alas, another appointment was calling.  I did however not leave empty handed!  I brought home some Zinfandel to share with my friends, and am looking forward to trying the 09 again after it settles down a bit.

Thanks for such a great visit Janell!

On top of the world, looking down on…

Silicon Valley?  Yes Virginia, there is wine in the South Bay, high above the muck of Cupertino, on Monte Bello ridge.  Long before the computer chip was invented, the Monte Bello winery was started on this ridge.  At 2600 feet, the winery is located at the apex of the hill, where the upper most vineyards are.  Winding our way past the gravel trucks and up the mountain, there were precarious hairpin turns and road closures, but nothing was goign to stop me from getting to the good stuff at the top of that hill.

On one particularly gorgeous day recently, I was invited to attend a private tasting at Ridge’s Monte Bello property.  Although I adore Ridge wines, I often find myself avoiding the mayhem on holiday and special event weekends as it can get to be quite crowded.  It’s a long drive up the mountain, but the reward at the top is a sweeping view of the Bay Area, including a hazy glimpse of San Francisco in the distance.  Upon arriving at the tasting room, we were greeted by our host Christopher Watkins, the tasting room manager.  Here, we started with a glass of the Santa Cruz Mountains chardonnay as we wandering the garden, waiting for the rest of our crew to arrive.

Once we were assembled, we started our journey with the 2008 Jimsomore Chardonnay.   Not being a huge chard drinker, I really didn’t have that many expectation of the starter, but  this vineyard is dry farmed and head trained, and the wine undergoes full malolactic fermentation with native years.  I found it quite floral, with note of honey tangerine and cream caramel.  It was rich and viscous, with a hint of lemon curd.  this limited release only has 200 cases, and the vineyard lies below the fog line with hot summer days and cool nights, making for some great chard.

Next up the 2008 Santa Cruz Mountain Chardonnay.  this is a parcel selection, and is intended for longevity and complexity.  It is more vibrant than the Jimsomore, and has a bright acidity and is refreshingly ful of stone fruit and Meyer lemons, with some tropical influences.

Now we delve in to the zin, which is how I fell in love with Ridge.  First the 2008 East Bench Zinfandel, which is the youngest area designated benchland between Dry Creek and Alexander valleys.  The cuttings here are 120 years old, and this pre-release wine was spicy cherries with black pepper, soft berry jam, figs, beef jerky and a mellow soft medium bodied zin that is perfect with food.  We also tried the 2006 East Bench, which I found to have more fruit forward flavors of strawberry, cherry, smoke and tobacco.  This was a very cool year in Sonoma County, which made for a leaner wine.  It was a bright zin, and was the first vintage from the then 8 year old vines.  This was a terrific example of a complex zin that would pair well with food without being overpowering and jam packed with berries.

The 2008 Geyserville is a blend of 72% zinfandel, 20% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah, and 2% Mataro (Mouvedre).  it had a sweeter edge of big blackberries with a smoky backbone that I attribute to the Mataro, with flavors of raspberries and figs blended in a brambly pie with a faint hint of cedear.  The 2007 vintage, which is the current release, is 58% Zinfandel, 22% Carignane, 18% Petite Sirah and 2% Mataro, which made for a chocolate blackberry pie with brandied blackberries and coffee, followed by molasses and bittersweet cocoa over stewed fruit.  Each one of these blends is hand selected from a field blend, parcel by parcel, and depending on the best of the crop for a given vintage, the blend can change significantly.  Wine after all is half science, half dream, and half magic.

Lytton Springs, which is next door to Geyserville, showed less fruit and more structure in the 2008 blend of 74% Zinfandel, 21% Petite Sirah, 5% Carignane.  It was quite spicy with raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries.  The 2007 was much jammier, with black fruit, dried figs, and earth.  I found it a touch hot, but that soon blew off.  The 2007 blend was 71% Zin, 22% Petite Sirah, and 7% Carignane.

After meandering through the zinfandel country, it was time to get to the big boys of cab, which started it all for Monte Bello.  First, the 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Cab, which is a blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon and 42% Merlot.  It is not yet released, and was quite chewy and dense with scents of lavender and leather.  The 2006 is 56% Cabernet, 42% Merlot, and 2% Petite Verdot, and had coffee notes adn an herbaceousness that the 2007 did not.

Finally we worked through several of the Monte Bello Cabs.  Two of my favorites were the 2006, wtih 68% Cabernet Sauvigon, 20% Merlot, 10% Petite Verdot, and 2% Cab Franc.  I found chocolate coverted cherreis, bright fruit, and dusty cocoa and really enjoyed it.  The 2005 was also a favorite, with 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 6% Petite Verdot, and 2% Cab Franc.  It had a dusty earth cover, with blueberreis and blackberries, covered with instant coffee.  It was a very low yield in 2005, and this wine was muscular and lean.

As you can see, we did some serious damage to the Monte Bello libarry and I would like to thank Christopher for his hospitality and humor as we tasted some of these amazing wines!  Next up…who knows?

A wine-full month!

It’s January, and for me, that means a busy wine month.  First, Winter Wineland is next weekend – January 16-17.  At Winter Wineland, over 100 wineries in Russian River, Dry Creek, and Alexander Valley throw open their doors and show their best wines and nibbles. There are some wonderful themes at wineries, including my personal favorite, The Winter Wineland Olympics at Michel-Schlumberger.  I heard tell that there will be an Elvis sighting at Hanna as well!  Now, I normally avoid the wine country on event weekends, but with the list this year including some 5-10 new additions, this is a great opportunity to taste the wares of many wineries on a single weekend, where they show their best bottles.  Thickets are $40 online until 9pm TONIGHT January 11th, and are good for both days.  You can buy 1 or 2 day tickets at the door, but the price increases.

That same weekend, Santa Cruz Mountain Wine Assocaition’s Password Weekend allows you the unusual opportunity to visit some of their terrific wineries, many of which are only open on special occasions.  I have enjoyed this event every tiem I’ve gone, and your $40 passport is good until you have every winery stamped.  The passport event is every January, April, July and November, so it’s actually a great way to see all of the Santa Cruz area wineries over the course of a year!

Finally, at the end of the month, ZAP!  The Zinfandel Advocates and Producers week long tasting extravaganza hits the town in San Francisco.  nter is January 15th, and this year’s theme is Zinfandel in Paradise, and it promises to be a great event as always.

  • The event weekend kicks off with Thursday, January 28th’s Good Eats & Zin, where noteworthy restaurants and award-winning wineries turn the art of food and wine pairing into an entertaining and approachable affair. Talented chefs present the ultimate combination of distinctive tastes, while winery proprietors offer delectable Zinfandels to match.
  • Friday has two events, starting with Flights! A showcase of Zinfandel, where you can immerse yourself in the hitory and diversity of Zinfandel.
  • Friday evening is Evening with the Winemakers which is your chance to hobnob with famous winemakers and wineaux alike at the intercontinental.
  • The weekend culminates in Grand Tasting on Saturday, where you can taste over 200 zinfandels from around the state, as well as a few from lesser known regions.

As luck would have it, my friends at Vintuba are giving away 2 pairs of tickets to the Grand Tasting for some lucky viewers.  You’ll hav eto meander over to their site to find out how to win, but let’s just say , some great words, and facebook are involved.  Deadline to enter is January 15th, so don’t miss out on this great contest!

Just Grapes is also giving away 2 tickets to ZAP.  You have until January 23rd to tweet the following to be entered to win:

I want to win 2 tickets to the ZAP Zinfandel Festival in San Francisco from @justgrapeswine Go to http://tinyurl.com/yg4ynst for details

Each tweet will give you one “ticket” in the drawing, which will happen on January 24th.    Good Luck!

3 and Twenty Blackbirds

I was recently lucky enough to be invited to sit in the presence of wine royalty.  Joel Peterson, the founder and driving force behind Ravenswood Winery, hosted an intimate wine dinner where he poured and discussed his single vineyard designate wines.  What a treat!

Ravenswood is a formidable force in the zin world, and Peterson is one of the few men that can be called the Godfather of Zinfandel.  In the early 70s, he challenged the going jug wine mentality and tried to create wines that tasted of the place and rivaled European wines. Single vineyard designates aer Joel’s passion, where you can work with small lots reflective of the European heritage of winemaking.  Zinfandel is still somewhat of a mystery in terms of growing and manipulating, and experiments with Native yeast, open top fermentation and oak treatments have yielded some beautiful examples.

Most of these wines have very little manipulation, and are reflective of their terroir.  These wines allow the land to speak for them selves..  Zinfnadel is one of the few wines that is very unique to the area it is grown, and might be the most indicative varietal of terroir in the U.S.  there aer so many regions that produce zin, and each region is different in terms of sytle and flavor profile.  If you further refine that to vineyard blocks, you can start to see how the wine takes on the earth it is grown in.  The wide ranges of climate and terroir produces a higher quality over a wider growing region than any other varietal.

Over the course of the evening, we tasted 9 wines, paired with delicious foods from Spruce.  I wish I had saved a bit of each wine to taste with the food, but it was all so tasty!  Each vineyard has it’s own character, and each is from a different corner of Napa and Sonoma. 

2007 Dickerson – 1000 cases of this single vineyard were made of this 100% zin from Napa valley.  I found it light and bright, with juicy raspberry and hibiscus flavors.  I also found apple jolly rancher, with a tiny touch of evergreen.  This vineyard had an issue with leaf roll virus, which caused the grapes to have high acid and low sugar levels, somewhat mimicking the coastal environment of other vineyards.  The second taste I took of this showed black cherry and bosenberry.  My favorite sneaky little tidbit about this wine, is that the same wine, bottled under a different label, actually received different scores by certain influential critics.  How’s THAT for marketing!  This vineyard is located in Napa Valley, and was planted in sections between 1930 and 1985.  It is a classic example of an old, dry-farmed and head pruned example of Zinfandel in a valley dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. $35 This was the first zin of the flight and I would definitely BUY.

2007 Big River – also 100% zin, this vineyard was planted somewhere around 1880.  I tasted cracked pepper, dusty plums and blackberries, with a touch of bark and dark spice.  Joel thinks this wine displays the essence of what zin is.  It is due east of Healdsburg, and at the time fo the planting 100% zin vineyards were exceedingly rare.  Typically, fields were planted with the old Italian varietals in field blends, but this land was special.  It’s currently owned by Bella, who also makes a wonderful Big River zin, and it was formerly known as black Mountain.  The second taste gave me figs, blackberries, pepper and dark blue fruit, with a slightly hot finish. Big River is in the Alexander Valley, where many old stalwarts of Sonoma County zinfandel thrive.  Inland from the cool coastal regions where Pinot is king, Big River thrives with rich ripe flavors that are well balanced and not overpowering.  The soil is full of cobblestones and volcanic nutrients, and is influenced by the cool fog and the hot summer sun.  This was one of my favorites of the night, and is a STRONG BUY at $35.

2007 Belloni – another old planting, in the true field blend style.  Patches of Carignang, alicante, Greanche, Petite Alicate, and zin produce this dark bruiser with blackberry juice, leather, anise, and baking spices.  Thsi is a wine to chew on.  The second taste revealed figs, more cloves adn spice, as well as some tobacco. The Belloni vineyard is on the edge of Santa Rosa, and was planted around the turn of the century.  The 90 year old vines thrive in the cool foggy Russian River climate, adn the classic field blend componants of Carignane, Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouschet were mixed in to create a great blend that is fermented together creating a complex zinfandel based wine, with layers of red fruit flavor from the other players.  This was a complex wine that was much better with a food pairing to bring out the earthy leather and chewy characteristics.  I would BUY this again if I saw it, but there were others I liked more.

2007 Barricia – was planted in 1888 and became a vineyard designate wine in 1996.  This may very well be one of the oldest continuously planted zinfandel vineyards in America and the wine is quite an interesting little number.  Dark spcies, plumes, stewed prunes, and a slightly tannic backbone were very well integrated.  This wasn’t my favorite of the flight but still a very well balanced wine that went well with the pork loin I was eating.  The Bariccia Vineyard is named for partners Barbara and Patriicia, which also means wine barrel in Spanish.  The vineyard is planted on alluvial depositsa nd volicanic soil which washes down fromt eh moutains surrounding the vineyards.  100-year old vines were planted in 1892, while later plantings of zin were planted in 1995 accompanied by Petite Sirah in 1998.  The complexitiy of this wine did not taste like a classic zin, and really opens your eyes to the possibilities of terroir.  It was subtle and interesting, and worth a BUY for $35.

Old Hill (1995) – This older vintage was a fun wine to taste, with a firm structure and dark fruit.  There was a tocuh of lavender, bright raspberry and chocolate as well.  the most interesting thing about this wine that i found was a dusting of chili pepper in the palate.  The Old Hill is technically a zinfandel, but it has at least 13 other vaireies in it, making it a bit of a mutt and very old school in style.  The second taste brought more smoke and dirty forward, with a lot of cocoa powerder adn cinnamon followed but a touch of vanilla inflused coffee.  The Old Hill Ranch was ressurected in 1981, when the land was abandoned and overrun with brush and blackberries.  A determiend farmer ignored conventional wisdom and chemicals, and clearned the land the old fashioned way, stumulating the vines back to life.  The Sonoma Valley vineyard was planted in 1880, makingit the oldest vineyard that Ravenswood uses.  the clay loam is planted once again, with the classic Italian field belnd of Zinfandel, Carigninae, Mataro (Mouvedre), Grenache, Alicante Bouchet, Petite Sirah and who knows what else, giving the resulting wine a complex flavor.  I LOVED this library selection, which proves that you absolutely CAN age a zinfandel if it has the structure and strength to do so.

As a point of comparison, we also tried the 2007 Old Hill. This was big and bold, with a log of spcie.  I also tasted the essecne of violets and roses, followed by raspberries.  It has the classic blackberry notes, and grows in intensity as you leave it in the glass.  I enjoyed this wine, as the others, but it wasn’t my favorite of the night.  $60

2007 Teldesci – This vineyard has been farmed continously by the same family since 1910, in the heart of zinfandel country, Dry Creek Valley.  There is something to be said for farming continuously for that long, especially in an environment where family farms often change hands or break in to pieces.  This zin was dark adn robust, with dusty red pepper (spicy) and black raspberry.  The Dry Creek benchland gives it a coffee and molasses flavor that on Decanter Magazines best red wine in America award.  22% Petite Sirah and 2% Carignane are fermented seperately, and then blended to create teh final wine, which varies slightly every year, depending on the fruit.  $35 STRONG BUY

The moral this zinfandel story is that you can find  everything from A to Z in this wine.  Zinfandel CAN be aged well, and develop fascinating characteristics.  There is more to zinfandel than jammy overblown examples that are a dime a dozen.  Go out and look for some single vineyard designagtes and perform an experiment in taste sensations!

Happy Drinking

*Wine and food provided by Ravenswood Winery and Folsom & Associates marketing.

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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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Wine Blogging Wednesday #48, Back to our ROOTS!

It being the Olympics, when I think of Roots, I think of those silly berets they made us wear the last time around. That said, I was looking forward to this WBW because Lenn asked us to “get back to our roots”.

When first reading the theme, one might think I was going to go to the grocery store and stock up on Sutter Home White Zinfandel (and no Lenn, that is NOT really wine it is Cool Aid for mommies) or Almaden Chablis, but no! I strongly protest! For me, my roots are in Sonoma County.

Growing up in the Bay Area, my family would often take weekend drives up the coast, or in to Petaluma to look at the chickens. Yes, we city girls know what chickens look like. When I got older, I decided to go to college in Sonoma, since it was just far enough away from home for me to not kill my parents, but close enough to the city to have some fun.

That being said, I was first exposed to wine when working for Windsor Vineyards one summer. Granted, it was only in the office and was not terribly exciting since I was the receptionist in their corporate sales office, buy hey – we had weekly wine tastings! Since I wasn’t a huge drinker in college, this was eye opening for me. What better way to prompt the sales team to sell custom labels for corporate gifts than by getting them liquored up! Poor fools didn’t know what they were in for. Once I started drinking wine, I never stopped; as my parting gift at the end of the summer, they gave me a case of wine to go. Not bad!

When I moved back to the city, I was broke and making $10 an hour. Needless to say my habit for Long Island Ice Teas was not supported on such a meager income. I ask you, what can you do that is free, but allows you to enjoy the fruits of nature? Wine tasting of course! Thus began my weekly forays in to Sonoma Valley and Dry Creek Valley to imbibe in the good juice. In the 90s, Sonoma was still up and coming and no one, I mean NO ONE charged for tasting. Since my friends and I were all broke, there was nothing finer than a free glass of wine-a!

One of the first wineries that stole my heart was Peterson, nestled between Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley. Before it moved in to it’s current digs on Dry Creek Road, Peterson would occasionally open it’s barn doors and share it’s wine right out of the barn door. I instantly fell in love with it’s “I’m going to make wine my way and I don’t care” attitude, as well as the rich, jammy zinfandels Peterson produces. As a newly minted wine drinker, the full bodies and slightly sweet style of red wine is easy to love. Many of these wines lack some complexity, but are thoroughly enjoyable as sipping wines. Fortunately, as my palate matured, so did many of these wines. You can now find a vast array of complex, spicy, fruity wines all over the valley at every price point.

For this Wine Blogging Wednesday, I cracked open the 2004 Bernier Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel. I had picked up this bottle a couple of weeks ago on a whim, since I hadn’t tasted Peterson’s zins in a while. Classic in it’s Dry Creek characteristics, there were tons of blackberry brambles kissed by Oak, with lush jammy flavors wafting up from my glass. This wine was purchased at the winery for $26 but can be found elsewhere for as little as $20.

While my current infatuation has been with Pinot Noir, my budget has been impacted by gas prices and I have had to curtail my wine spending a tad. It’s great to knwo that you can still pick up a decent bottle of zin for under $50!