Category Archives: Sonoma County

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

Winemaker Interview – David Ramey of Ramey Cellars

Winemaking Aristocracy

Please follow my winemaker interview series! You can find this and other interviews at the following link:

http://winemakerinterviewseries.net/2015/01/05/winemaker-interview-david-ramey-of-ramey-cellars/

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Filed under Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, Sonoma County, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal, Wine Education, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes, Winemaker Interview

2007 Inman Family Pinot Noir Olivet Grange Vineyard

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Inman Family Pinot Noir Olivet Grange Vineyard

California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley

Wine Tasting Note:

The 2006 was a prettier vintage. It was a bit more fruit forward and a little more balanced, but this is still a wonderful effort. The nose has aromas of sour black cherries, dark chocolate, minerality and a minor floral note. The color has picked up a brownish tinge showing some age and the freshness is gone, but the palate is still showing strong acidity – making the wine still very lively in the mouth. The tannins are very subdued and the alcohol is very well integrated. The texture is gorgeous – very soft and pleasant. More old world style, focusing on balance and complexity, but not quite hitting the mark. The fruit is in front but subtle, moving to a mid-palate with vanilla, oak, leather and some mineral aspects with a medium-long finish of bitter chocolate. I enjoyed this California Pinot that didn’t follow the crowd.

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Filed under Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Chappellet Vineyards and Sonoma Loeb Tasting Streamed to 45 Total Wine Stores

Chappellet Live! A Virtual Tasting from Napa Valley’s Pritchard Hill

Saturday, April 19, 2014
Tempe, AZ

Featured Wines:
Sonoma Loeb Chardonnay Reserve – $29.99
Sonoma Loeb Chardonnay Envoy – $39.99
Sonoma Loeb Sonoma Pinot Noir – $24.99
Sonoma Loeb Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Reserve – $39.99
Chappellet Napa Chardonnay – $34.99
Chappellet Cervantes Mountain Cuvee – $34.99
Chappellet Napa Signature Cabernet – $49.99
2008 Chappellet Pritchard Hill Cabernet – $119.99

WINE EVENT INTRODUCTION

Fabulous idea! This is a great way for a medium size winery (under 40K cases?) to reach a broad audience. Technology provides opportunities, if we know how to leverage it. Unfortunately, the technology had its challenges. The audio had a terrible echo, which could have been eliminated by muting all the sites other than the point of origin. The message was a bit scattered, but the mother of the host family was awesome! She was interesting enough to host her own wine talk show… all in all, for a first effort at internet marketing – a gallant one, and they will get better over time. Keep it up guys! Good Luck!

WINE FLIGHT #1 – WHITE WINES (3 NOTES)

I liked the lower cost Sonoma Loeb on its own, but the Chappellet chard would be best accompanying food.

  • 2012 Chappellet Vineyard Chardonnay

USA, California, Napa Valley

This was a VERY traditional Napa style chardonnay specifically made for accompanying food. The color was a very pale straw and extremely clear. The nose was very weak, but bright, with notes of grapefruit, lemon curd and oak. The palate was a touch sweet, light-bodied with very high acidity. The flavors on the palate matched the nose with a short finish. This is not an easy drinking aperitif. It would be much better with a nice seafood, or pork dish.

  • 2012 Sonoma-Loeb Chardonnay Private Reserve Carneros

USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros

This is an attempt at a classic Burgundian oaked chardonnay. Very weak nose, showing nail polish initially, then aromas of lemon curd, vanilla and oak. Medium bodied and very dry with high acidity. Palate was soft, but had a minimum of depth to the flavors. I sort of enjoyed this for an easy drinking chard at a wine bar kind of beverage. It resides somewhere between a food wine and an aperitif. Over-priced at $30/btl, but decent enough.

  • 2011 Sonoma-Loeb Chardonnay Envoy

USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Russian River Valley

The winemaker tried so hard here, but missed the mark. I guess if you were looking for a Rombauer chard you might find this appealing, but they do over-the-top chards much better. Big nose of lemon curd, butterscotch and pineapple with a strong presence of oak. There is some minerality, but it does not come through to the palate. The wine coats the mouth with rich textures. The palate simply brings the nose through with no mid-palate and there is a medium finish of pineapple. Only medium acidity… so food pairing options would be limited. There is too much oak and the freshness is lost because of it. I didn’t care for this wine.

WINE FLIGHT #2 – RED WINES (5 NOTES)

Regarding the Pinot Noir, the lower priced Sonoma Loeb again was superior to the higher-priced wine. Of Cab Sauv and blends, the Pritchard Hill Cab stood out by far as superior, but at $120/btl… my goodness!

  • 2011 Sonoma-Loeb Pinot Noir

USA, California, Sonoma County

The nose is full of cherry cough syrup, browned butter, oak and medicinal overtones. High acidity and medium tannins provide a fair amount of structure. The texture is very light. The palate is full of red cherry and oak. It also has a smokey flavor with a light spice character. This is too fruity and the oak is not integrated. There is enough structure and complexity present to elevate it a bit.

  • 2012 Sonoma-Loeb Pinot Noir

USA, California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley

A strong oak character. The nose is full of sweet red cherry, butter and oak. The acidity is very high with low tannins. Not very well balanced. The texture is very light. This could have been very good with more freshness to the fruit. On its own, the acidity bites… but paired with the right foods, this wine would be awesome. The flavor profile is a bit simple.

  • 2011 Chappellet Vineyard Cervantes Mountain Cuvee

USA, California, Napa Valley

Powerful nose of alcohol that did not blow off dominates. This is a light bodied wine, with high acidity and high tannins. Good structure with reasonable balance. The palate is fruit forward with sweet cherry and black raspberry moving to a mid-palate of bitter dark chocolate and a long slightly bitter finish with earthy undertones. This would be a very good table wine, pairing well with richer food dishes, but I would expect it to cost under $30/btl.

  • 2011 Chappellet Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Signature Reserve

USA, California, Napa Valley

Very dark extracted looking wine with an intense nose of alcohol, plum and blackberry. High acidity and high tannins – very young. This has a light mouth-feel, offering more of a food wine approach. The palate is fruit forward with sweet plum, blackberry and white pepper. The fruit is very concentrated. The mid-palate brings in oak and toffee and then finishes with vanilla. A middle of the road Napa cab.

  • 2008 Chappellet Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Pritchard Hill Estate Vineyard

USA, California, Napa Valley

A beautiful wine. The nose is full of rich black plum with a pretty floral character, moving to menthol and alcohol. High acidity and high tannins with a nice mouth-feel. The palate is fruit forward with extracted plum and blackberry with a mid-palate of tobacco, tar, oak and vanilla. The finish is long with a mildly bitter dark chocolate flavor. This wine is balanced and has good structure, but it is still young and would benefit from another 3-5 years in the bottle.

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Filed under Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, Pinot Noir, Sonoma County, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2007 Geyser Peak Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Walking Tree Vineyard

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Geyser Peak Winery

California, Alexander Valley

Wine Tasting Note:

Powerful aromatic nose of black fruit, spice and vanilla. Fruit forward palate of blackberry, red plum and black currant. High acidity with medium tannins. Tasted this last year. Still the same big fruit, but the tannins are beginning to soften and it is developing some texture. Needed a little time for the alcohol to blow off. The complexity is improving with the addition of more bitter chocolate in the mid-palate and a short finish with some graphite coming through. The tannins are starting to moderate and I like a red wine with some backbone, so I am going to say this wine is in its optimum drinking window. Drink now and the next couple of years, at most. At $18/btl, this wine has my vote for the best value cab sauv in California. I would expect a wine of this caliber to be in the $30-35 range in Sonoma County. I prefer not to put a number to wines if I can, but in this case I will put that aside and give it an 89. It needs more minerality, the mid-palate and finish could be stronger and the texture wasn’t there to be rated higher, but for that kind of price… this is impressive!

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Filed under Alexander Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes