Category Archives: Paso Robles

The Zinfandel Dilemma

I attended a presentation today at the 2017 Wine Bloggers Conference by a group of four Zin winery owners sponsored by ZAP (Zin Advocates & Producers) and heard this plea: we are serious winemakers producing serious wine, we deserve to be taken seriously! The session was titled “Zinfandel: Old and New.” I was expecting a serious discussion about old and new wine styles, but instead we heard the usual tired Zin topic: comparing old vs. young vine Zin. Not that this isn’t a viable topic, it has just been covered many times in many places and not really what these winemakers were passionate about. The ZAP moderator had to focus the discussion back on promoting the vineyards several times. This brings me to the reason for this commentary. I have seen it many times, when a winery doesn’t understand how best to develop a coordinated marketing plan, the focus is put on expression of place (terroir). There are definitely worse ideas, but Zinfandel in particular is a special case. Zinfandel has an identity problem first and foremost and if that isn’t addressed, all discussion of place is lost in the noise.

Red Zinfandel Wine & Consumer Perception

Zinfandel is the most manipulated wine grape on the planet. It is made in so many styles, you really have no idea what to expect every time you open a bottle from an unfamiliar producer. In contrast, when I pop Bordeaux/Meritage, Burgundy, or Rhône style wines, regardless of where they are made, I have a rough idea of what I will be tasting. That is a serious problem. If ZAP is trying to bring Zin into the premium space, they should be focusing on this issue. Collectors and restarauteurs need to have a point of reference. It must be quite difficult to build a marketing plan around a wine profile that is not generally familiar. Does the marketplace need some sort of generally accepted Zin style indicators?

So, here we go… my attempt to address this challenge:

RICH Zinfandel – Characterized by winemaking technique aimed at broad general appeal and high volume production. Usually driven by ideas like: whole cluster vacuum fermentation to add extraction and big fruit flavors, extended cold soak for more extraction, late harvest to accentuate over-ripe and raisiny fruit flavors and optical sorting to isolate late harvest raisins to make a concentrated must used to fortify larger batch production. Good examples would be Lodi and Paso Robles producers chasing the jammy Zin profile.

WARM CLIMATE Zinfandel – These would be producers in warm climate areas with a fine wine sensibility. Using Guyot trellising and vertical shoot positioning to build a Bordeaux style approach to Zin. This type of winemaking in these locations makes what I would call Zin with finesse. Not overly fruit-forward with low tannins and medium to medium-high acidity, often shooting for soft wines with good mouthfeel. Napa and Dry Creek Zin producers would be the example here.

COOL CLIMATE Zinfandel – These producers are trying to build a leaner style Zin with medium to high tannins and high to very high acidity. Often traditionalists, these estate vineyards are usually head-trained and laid out with more space 8’x8’ or 8’x12’ between the vines building a large cluster approach to fruit production. Zin tends to always drive fruity flavor profiles, so growing in a location with just enough sun and warmth to ripen the fruit seems to work. This is probably a “truer” expression of Zin for you purists and builds a wine much better for pairing with food. Producers from Amador and El Dorado Counties and Russian River are examples in this category.

Zinfandel BLEND – This is the newest idea in the industry and popularized by the very successful release of “The Prisoner” by Orin Swift orginally. Zinfandel as a varietal has broken through the stigma and become a more common blending grape. Several producers in Paso Robles have begun using Zin to add a fruit-forward and aromatic character in lieu of the traditional Grenache found in most Rhone blends. I find the result quite interesting. Try an example of a red blend with Zinfandel in the mix. When done well, these wines can be fruit-forward, acidic, tannic and have great mouthfeel all at once.

 Wine Tasting Session

2015 Terra d’Oro Deaver Vineyard – Mildly fruit-forward and slightly sour. Much like a Chianti without the structure. Some complexity would add interest. Medium acidity and tannins.

2015 Cedarville Vineyard Zinfandel – A fruit-forward nose and palate with black cherry and strawberry. A light mid-palate and finish of bitter dark chocolate. Medium-high acidity and medium-high tannins. This had a nice aromatic nose. Nice effort that maintains the integrity of the Zin profile, while offering a structured food-friendly approach.

2015 Proulx Zinfandel – A strong red fruit profile with a brambly note and a dominating nail polish character on the nose. Medium-high acidity and medium tannins.

2015 Limerick Lane Wines 1910 Block – This is loosely a Zinfandel “field blend”. More blackberry than the other wines tasted here (more black vs. red fruit). The enhanced black fruit is likely due to the other red varietals planted in this vineyard. There was a brambly character that added a pleasant complexity. High acidity and medium tannins.

Cool Climate Zinfandel

These four wines were grown in areas where at least the evenings are quite cool and the fruit is often picked a little earlier than other California Zin producers. These wine profiles were deliberately built to offer a more classic style of red wine with good structure and to pair well with food. Think food pairings like poultry, or pork – in particular, a Thanksgiving meal sort of sensibility.

Zinfandel Marketing

How do YOU feel about Zinfandel? It can be made in a very serious wine style, but is not often thought of this way. Marketing is critical for the producers in this style. It was mentioned in the session that these producers were not successfully selling into the Midwest and East Coast markets. The answer has to be an organization like ZAP that could develop a product identity well understood by the wine community.

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Filed under Cool Climate Wine, Lodi, Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Sonoma County, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes, Zinfandel

2009 Tobin James Zinfandel Blue Moon Reserve

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2009 Tobin James Zinfandel Blue Moon Reserve

Paso Robles AVA, California

Tasting Note:

This wine is improving with age. You don’t often find a zinfandel that can hold up to much bottle age, maybe Seghesio, Ridge… This was a surprise. Before we start, this is not an Old World influenced red wine. It is a California bomb! Completely fruit forward nose of dried red and blue fruits with alcohol and mineral notes. The fruit explodes on the palate. After seven years in the bottle, this zinfandel is very uncommon. The palate is all dried fruit: raisin, prune, boysenberry, blueberry… not as much sweet, as intensely fruity. Touch of dark chocolate on the mid-palate and a very long fruity finish. Silky, medium-low tannins still, with a beautiful mouth-filling texture. The high alcohol is evident, but not overpowering. Not a wine for food. Enjoy as an apertif, or digestiv. One of the most well-made California fruit-bomb style wines I have ever tasted!

We purchased this wine during a Tobin James special event at the winery. Their reserve wines are not easy to find, but worth searching out. The general release wine reflects broader market ambitions and is just average for quality and value, so don’t judge the reserve wines by what you may find on the shelf at your wine retailer!

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Filed under Paso Robles, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes, Zinfandel

Stephan Vineyards L’Aventure and Friend

I decided to stand-up a couple of my favorites for my birthday and decided it would be a L’Aventure night!

I am a huge fan of red blends, especially Southern Rhone style. In my opinion, L’Aventure is the quintessential producer in this category in the USA. The winemaker and owner Stephan Asseo is a French ex-pat that moved to the U.S. to make red-blends from the fabulous Terroir on the West Side of Paso Robles. He was looking to escape the French limitations of the AOC laws and he has done it in a big way. L’Aventure wines capture the perfect balance of the big red Paso profile, while still maintaining elegance and balance. The Estate Cuvee in some vintage years, has easily made it into my top 50 list of best bottles of all time. If you like Robert Parker Jr. picks, you will adore these wines. If you enjoy Stephen Tanzer’s picks you will enjoy these wines and marvel at the finesse of wines with such power.

Mr. Asseo often uses Cab Sauv in his red wines and I appreciate this working outside of traditional boundaries. You don’t often see Syrah and Mourvedre blended with Cab Sauv and Petit Verdot in a wine, but in the hands of a master winemaker, the winery is able to encourage just the right contribution from each to make a harmonious whole. Mr. Asseo is also a block blender extraordinaire… with 58 acres separated into 40 blocks, each vinified separately, then blended… he has developed a system to coax the just the right character from each Micro-Terroir and has the palate to blend them properly. Virtually all L’Aventure wines are comparatively high in alcohol, but are well balanced and do not seem hot. L’Aventure wines are definitely priced within the premium space in the marketplace, but they are also one of the very few producers in this category that continually delivers on value.

I enjoyed these wines with friends and was unable to take detailed notes, so I will only be able to provide general impressions. The group had a wonderful time and enjoyed the wine immensely. In my mind, it is always preferable to share a special bottle at a romantic dinner, or with friends!

Plus 16

2009 L’Aventure Plus 16

California, Paso Robles

This wine was more “true” Southern Rhone in profile with 42% Mourvedre in the mix. A touch earthy in character (from the Mourvedre), with all of the beautiful blue and black fruit that they usually coax from their grapes. A slightly heavier mouth-feel, with great balance. A little lighter on the structure, even with 42% Cab Sauv. It is possible, the six years in a bottle have softened the tannins and acidity a bit. This wine is definitely in its prime drinking window, perhaps 2015-2017. If you have this in your cellar, don’t let this sit too much longer!

Estate Cuvee

2010 L’Aventure Estate Cuvee

California, Paso Robles

Another “Wow” moment with an Estate Cuvee. A big, powerful red, with more structure than the Plus 16. Less earthy with no Mourvedre here, instead – a liberal dose of 16% Petit Verdot. An unbelievable 15.7% alcohol and you can barely tell it is an adult beverage. Soft, plush texture and a nice backbone. Just a gorgeous wine, drinking beautifully at five years in the bottle. Drinking window of 2015-2020, depending on your feeling about tannic structure.

Viader

2007 Viader Syrah

California, Napa Valley

The Viader is a 100% Syrah blended from two different clones – Rhone and Barossa. I really enjoyed this wine, the others in the group, not so much. The drawback, the 14.9% alcohol was very evident. This Viader wine had a refined, silky texture that I thoroughly appreciated after the mouth-coating L’Aventure wines. This was right on its drinking window with wonderful black fruit, nice acidity and a good tannic backbone. Drinking window of 2013-2016. If not for the hot profile, this wine would have held its own against the two previously enjoyed. I will make an observation here that I have noticed many times previously. Napa premium wine producers better develop an understanding of the changing palate of the American wine drinker, or they will be left behind by other wine regions in the U.S. Hot tasting wines are losing their appeal. Realistically, the alcohol over-shadows any subtle flavors that might be experienced with the hors d’oeuvres, or an accompanying meal.

Conclusion

Balance in a well-made wine still wins the day. If the winemaker goes big… he/she better have a deft hand at counter-balancing the hedonistic character of the wine. The Estate Cuvee was a gem!

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Filed under Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Rhone Blend, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2010 Justin Syrah

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Justin Syrah

California, Central Coast, Paso Robles

Wine Tasting Note:

Nose is complex, if a bit shy. The red fruit comes through – mostly raspberry and a bit of strawberry. There is a wonderful touch of wet earthy funk and a little butterscotch. The texture is very elegant. Not too heavy, more middle of the road… but very silky. Medium acidity and medium tannins. The alcohol is only slightly noticeable. Nice balance overall. The palate is fruit forward with black fruits: currant, blackberry, plum with some black raspberry peaking through. Mid-palate includes a touch of butter and vanilla and then a long finish of dark chocolate. The fruit overwhelms the structure, offering the impression of a more simple profile on the palate. Not a one-dimensional wine, but not particularly complex either. The spiciness I enjoy with most Syrahs is missing.

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Filed under Paso Robles, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2012 Chronic Cellars Sofa King Bueno

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Chronic Cellars Sofa King Bueno

California, Central Coast, Paso Robles

Wine Tasting Note:

Doug Beckett (owner Peachy Canyon Winery) told me 5-6 years ago this will be THE trend in wine – gimicky marketing (hoping an explanation of the name is not required) with an easy drinking, accessible product. So, his son starts Chronic Cellars… I hope this is not where the industry is going. Let this open for an hour – more flavors will develop. The nose is full of strawberry jam and medicinal notes. Hinting at a heavy dose of Grenache, but the Syrah and Mourvedre come through on the palate more, with just a hint of the strawberry from the nose. Medium acidity and medium tannins. A thin texture for 32% Petite Sirah. The Mourvedre adds earthy notes and the Syrah brings out the black fruit… but as you might guess, therein lies the problem. The wine does not come together well. The individual components are easily identified – not really a good thing for a blend. This is very fruit forward and easy drinking, providing an impression of a very simple wine… even with all the different flavor components. Easy to be critical I suppose – for $17, a pretty decent value.

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Filed under Paso Robles, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2010 Herman Story Grenache Late Bloomer

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Herman Story Grenache Late Bloomer

California, Central Coast, Paso Robles

Wine Tasting Note:

After 1 hour decant. Nose is still strong with alcohol… at 15.8%, seems predictable. The nose is full of strawberry preserves and perfumed flowers, with trailing notes of forest floor. The palate is well integrated, making the high alcohol content hardly noticeable. Very high acidity and medium high tannins. This wine has structure… and its 100% Grenache? Much lighter than the Herman Story Syrahs and GSM’s, but by no means a simple wine. The texture is soft, but fills your mouth. The fruit flavors are in front, with the strawberry preserves dominating and some black cherry. The mid-palate is complex with tobacco and mocha flavors. The wine has a long finish with mouth-drying tannins, mocha and red-fruit flavors lasting on the palate. This is an impressive 100% Grenache. Herman Story always manages to get the most from his fruit. Rather than a simple easy-drinking fruity Grenache, this is a big, fruit-forward, complex wine that would be best drunk with some age, 2017-2020… I have always found it difficult to enjoy 100% Grenache – the strawberry flavors are better in a blended wine, but this is exceptional. The best 100% Grenache I have tasted.

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Filed under Grenache, Paso Robles, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2008 L’Aventure Cote-a-Cote Estate

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L’Aventure Cote-a-Cote Estate

California, Central Coast, Paso Robles

Wine Tasting Note:

When you pour, the aromas waft from the decanter, providing a glimpse of the big, fruit-forward wine to come. The nose is full of spicy plum and blackberry, vanilla and oak, with a little funk. The 15.9% alcohol is so well integrated, it is barely noticeable and comes across as a light menthol character. The palate is dominated by the Syrah and Mourvedre – the Grenache is nowhere to be found. The texture is big and chewy, but is still a baby next to the Estate Cuvee. The acidity is medium-high and the tannins have moderated somewhat with bottle-age, but are a solid medium-high – although very refined. There are layers to the aromas/flavors… a hint of sweet blueberry in front, moving to plum, blackberry and spice. The mid-palate picks up the vanilla and oak and the wine has a medium-long finish of dark chocolate that is not overly bitter. This wine attempts the perfect balance of a soft feminine character, with a masculine big, bold style. This wine could age another 5-10 years, easily. L’Aventure is the master of the new world Rhone blend!

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Filed under Paso Robles, Rhone Blend, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes