Category Archives: Wine by Varietal

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

Hidden in Plain Sight

My wife and I spent years visiting Napa Valley thinking that Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars was THE Napa Stags Leap… Not that I put research, or thought into it, but I had no idea there were TWO. Many years ago, my wife and I arranged a tasting appointment at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and were hit over the head with their rustic approach to red wine. It is always a difficult decision to buy wines that require 10 years in the cellar to enjoy. We made that calculation in those early years and never visited that Stag’s Leap again. Surprise, discovering there is another similarly named winery with a completely different approach to making wine!

Trade Tasting at Stags’ Leap Winery

This was a beautiful property. Everything you could want in a destination winery property: picturesque, historical buildings with architectural interest and a colorful history all tucked back in a forested valley, off the Silverado Trail on the East Side of Napa Valley. Although, what was truly special was the wine.

Christophe Paubert – Winemaker

This was an opportunity to tour the facility, taste the product, hear the winemaker discuss his wines, ask questions and immerse yourself in this winery’s experience. The best kind of wine country adventure! Christophe is a passionate, down-to-earth guy with a vision for his wine. An Old World artist with a New World sensibility. Here is one of those special winemakers who succeeds in leaving his signature behind with every wine produced. Each red wine had a special character to the tannins… all very structured, with age-ability. Even young, the tannins were so fine, as to make the wine approachable on release. After 20+ years of collecting and tasting premium wine, you learn to recognize a deft hand. Grainy, rustic tannins in red wine become a bludgeon, beating you over the head. This heavy-handed, unpleasant approach to red wine magnifies a seeming lack of experience (interest?) in a refined approach to collectible wine production. On the other hand, this winemaker understands the importance of nuance in his approach. Think muscular, with a gentle side and a focus on aromas that draw you in. I have always had a soft spot for winemakers that pay attention to the nose when building their wine profile.

The Wines

2016 Viognier – Alsatian white wine feel with citrus and tropical fruits, minerality and a touch of spice. Huge acid backbone for a Viognier. Interesting and complex with a profile that could pair well with foods, or be drunk on its own.

2016 Napa Valley Chardonnay – Mix of new/neutral oak and stainless. No malolactic ferment. Tropical fruit and citrus on the nose. This is an Old World style Chardonnay that does not use a malo ferment to tame the acidity and add butter flavors (yay!) Contact with the lees has been used to add texture. This is a crisp, aromatic, high acid Chardonnay. Perfect pairing for seafood and white cream sauces, but fruity and interesting enough to drink on its own.

2014 Block 20 Estate Merlot – A lighter, more structured style than your typical Napa Merlot. A Right Bank Bordeaux feel, but with such fine, approachable tannins, it takes you down the path to Margaux. Plummy fruit forward nose and palate, with a rich brown butter flavor adding interest. The brown butter often comes from a combination of aging on the lees and just the right toast on the barrels. Christophe asserted this was just the character of this vintage’s fruit. Either way, a special Merlot that highlights the best of both Old and New World wines.

2014 Twelve Falls Estate Red – I just wanted to bathe in this stuff! Unusual blend of Cab Sauv, Petite Sirah and Merlot. The PS was handled in such a way that it complimented the other varietals, instead of overwhelming them. Plum, blackberry, blueberry, spice and everything nice! High acidity and high tannins. Superb red blend!

2014 The Leap Estate Cabernet Sauvignon –  Needed time to open and unwind. Steadily blooming flavors and complexity over time. This is a highly structured Cab Sauv with very high acidity and high tannins. Fruit forward blackberry and currant out front, with earth and leather to the mid-palate. I found myself wishing for a bit longer finish, but the silky mouth-feel filled the gap. Beautiful approachable young Napa Cab Sauv.

2014 Ne Cede Malis Estate Field Blend Red – Odd field blend of Bordeaux and Rhone varietals both red and white. Areas of this block in the estate vineyards were planted back to 1920. High acidity and high tannins, busy flavors and silky mouthfeel. Quite nice on the nose and on the palate. I think I am a touch too traditional… the wine had me thinking too much about identifying varietals and associated flavors. I know complex red blends are becoming more popular, taking us back to a hundred years ago when field blends were much more common, but recognizing wine styles brings a certain amount of comfort. This wine could easily grow on me, but would take time.

Stags’ Leap Wine Style

Consistently fine tannins and an aromatic nose were indicative of these wines. All highly structured, age-able and food friendly, these wines were also soft, pretty and approachable when young. Characteristic of a talented winemaker working with high quality fruit. Tasting appointments are required. Call ahead and take the time to find this hidden gem. It will be well worth your while.

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Filed under Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes, Wine Travel, Winemaker Interview

2012 Saviah Cellars Girl & the Goat

2012 Saviah Cellars Girl & the Goat

Walla Walla AVA, WA

Wine Tasting Note:

Rich, fruity blackberry, plum and spice on the nose. Fruit forward blackberry, plum and black currant on the palate, moving to a mid-palate and finish of copious amounts of dark chocolate. Spicy white pepper and cinnamon undertones. Medium-high acidity and medium tannin structure. Nice silky mouth-feel with an extra long finish. Super well-balanced wine. Drinking great right now… best window: 2016-2019. I wish this was more widely available than just in the restaurant in Chicago. I was gifted this bottle by Richard Funk the winemaker/owner at Saviah Cellars who took on the challenge of making this wine for Stephanie Izard – owner of Girl & the Goat. This wine is produced from his near perfect estate Petit Verdot vintage in Walla Walla during 2012. This is a superlative wine for drinking by itself and with food. I drank this with a coffee rubbed NY strip and it was a great match. 50% Petit Verdot, 25% Cab Sauv, 25% Cab Franc.

I don’t know whether the vision for this wine was the chef’s, or the winemaker’s, but this turned out to be a wonderful wine. Richard Funk is a great guy. I really enjoyed spending time with him during our last trip to  Walla Walla. He really hit a home run with this wine and I hope that Petit Verdot vineyard of his produces more great vintages in the future!

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Filed under Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, U.S. Wines by Region, Walla Walla Valley, Wine by Varietal, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2008 Acacia Chardonnay Winery Lake Vineyard

2008 Acacia Chardonnay Winery Lake Vineyard

California Carneros AVA

Wine Tasting Note:

I have to wonder, am I drinking a different wine than the others leaving notes on CellarTracker? Take note: you definitely have to be more of a White Burgundy fan, than a Cali Chard fan to enjoy this wine. Conflicting thoughts on this one… This wine is wound very tight, like a Crus Chablis might, without enough cellaring. On the pop, the nose is all bitter key lime, grapefruit and brine. Let the wine rest for 15 minutes and the nose begins to blossom a bit. Definite honeysuckle and green apple comes to play, in addition to the other aromas. Now, the alcohol comes forward – another Cali producer over-doing a white with 14% alcohol. The palate is complex. After 30 minutes, the sweet honeysuckle moves to the front and lime, grapefruit and brine moves to a well-defined mid-palate. The oak is not subtle here, but it adds interest by exaggerating the mouth-feel coming from stirring the lees. The wine almost feels like heavy cream in the mouth. The acid level is high. This could easily age another five years. How would you feel about a 15 year aged Cali Chardonnay? The finish is very, very long with a lightly sweet-sour flavor that persists. This is like a better White Burgundy, missing the finesse. This should be drunk with specific foods to tame its wildness. The acidity would hold up well to the most buttery of white cream sauces I can think of, in fact, linguine in a rich white clam sauce is coming to mind! Drinking window easily until 2022.

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Filed under Carneros, Chardonnay, Napa Valley, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

Two Rhys Chardonnays

Rhys Alpine Vineyard

My wife and I pulled out a couple of stellar California Chardonnays from the cellar last night. Rhys really does stand out as a quality Chardonnay producer. I normally go to French White Burgundy for quality and value in this category, but Rhys has compared well and I do try to support the better quality USA wineries. I must admit, typically I do not enjoy New World white wines under $40/btl. In general, they are produced to accompany food, or as an easy drinking aperitif and have little nuance. The challenge is, moving from Old World Chardonnay to California, you have to be willing to spend $60-100/btl. for similar quality. I usually prefer to stick with comparable French whites and pay 1/2 to 3/4 the price. Unfortunately, even Rhys has been raising their bottle price lately and is approaching a poor value proposition with White Burgundies…

Here are my tasting notes on the two Rhys wines we drank last night:

2013 Rhys Alpine Vineyard Chardonnay

California Central Coast AVA

Tasting Note:

The nose is complex with citrus and tropical fruits… candied lemon, bright fresh lemon, banana and pineapple. There is a tinge of alcohol and a kiss of minerality too. The palate is more straight-forward. Fresh lemon, bitter lemon rind leading to a lemon curd finish that has a touch of sweetness. The main impression here is of an understated wine, the nuances of which will not be experienced with food. I think the mouth-feel is still developing, so with very high acidity, I would let this rest a few more years to achieve the best tasting experience (drinking window 2015-2020). This drinks very well now as a quality Cali Chard, but if you are willing to wait, I think this will mature to add another point or two to the rating.

2012 Rhys Alesia Alder Springs Vineyard Chardonnay

California Central Coast AVA

Tasting Note:

At first pop, nice fruity candied meyer lemon on the nose that blows off after a few minutes. Nose settles down to a typical Cali Chard – lots of citrus, with some alcohol and a touch of concrete minerality. Very high acidity and well integrated alcohol. The palate is all citrus up front, with a mid-palate of bitter lemon rind and medium-long finish with a hint of vanilla. This wine is elevated by the mouth-feel. It has a delicate, silky texture that significantly enhances the drinking experience without food. With food, could be an excellent pairing with a citrus marinated pork loin. This is big enough to handle a few more years in the cellar, but is definitely in its drinking window now (drinking window 2014-2018).

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Filed under Chardonnay, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal

2010 Carpineto Chianti Classico Riserva

Wine Tasting Notes:

2017 Carpineto Chianti Classico Riserva

Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy

I really enjoyed this wine! Great mix of old & new world styles. Blackberry, raspberry and a touch of mint on the nose. The palate is of blackberry, raspberry and black currant in a rich, fruity style more reminiscent of Brunello, than Chianti Classico. This is my kind of fruit forward, mouth-filling and structured Sangiovese. No finesse here. If you like some tannin in your reds, drink now. If a softer wine is your speed, give it another 3-5 years in the bottle. With medium-high acidity and medium-high tannins, this will easily mature well. Pair this wine with red meats and red sauces. The value in Italian wines is undeniable!

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Filed under Chianti Classico, International Wines by Region, Italian Wine, Sangiovese, Toscana, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2008 Antinori Guado al Tasso Bolgheri Superiore

Guado Pic

2008 Antinori Guado al Tasso Bolgheri Superiore

Bolgheri Superiore DOC, Tuscany, Italy

Wine Tasting Note:

Deep, dense purple color with brownish hue around the rim. Would have guessed older than 8 years in the bottle. Closed and limited nose on open. Not much coming through yet except alcohol, bitter chocolate and watery texture. Sampling until ready… about 45 mins. hitting its stride. Still ample freshness and has become fruit forward as opening. Plum, boysenberry, blackberry in front. Minimum mid-palate, with a medium length finish of subtle dark chocolate. Tannins are grippy and high, with high acidity. The texture has improved, adding a bit of mouth-feel and volume. Great structure, but the fruit has become subtler than an earlier bottle. Fruity enough to be drunk on its own still, but perfect for a pairing with red sauce and meat dishes. Antinori has delivered another quality Tuscan blend with versatility and some aging potential. I enjoyed a few glasses prior to dinner, but this would be even better with food. If you enjoy aged wine flavor profiles, this should be best drunk 2017-2018. If you aren’t concerned whether your wine is fruit-forward, the tannins should resolve somewhat in another 3-4 yrs. If you’re like me and you prefer some noticeable drying tannins, this wine is perfect now. A nice middle-ground between old and new world flavor profiles.

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Filed under Bolgheri, Bordeaux/Meritage Blend, International Wines by Region, Italian Wine, Toscana, Wine by Varietal, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

2009 Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Clos

2009 Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Napa Valley AVA, CA

Tasting Note:

Still fresh on the nose with plum, blackberry, graphite and a touch of alcohol. First pour, closed with a minimum of fruit. You can tell this wine needs time to open. After 30 mins, fruit-forward with subdued plum, black currant and blackberry and a mid-palate of subtle dark chocolate with a very short finish. The acidity is medium-high, but it is the tannin that is interesting. Softer than when young, although chewy and strangely mouth-filling without being very drying. Not unpleasant, but past its prime drinking window. Great value Napa Cab Blend when young. Losing a couple of rating points with age. Drink-up!

As I continue to drink more aged Napa Cab/Cab Blends at all price points, I am able to fine-tune a feel for drinkability and age-worthiness. Hind-sight is always 20/20, but this was a wine meant to drink in a 2012 – 2015 window (3-6 years of age). Looking back, there was not enough balance in the structure to go 10… I am finding the lower cost Napa Cab blends tapping out at around 5 years. The more recent higher quality releases have been hitting a wall at around 10-12 years of age. I have only tasted early 90’s wines that have lasted well, in a 15-20 year window.

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Filed under Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine by Varietal, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes

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

Baldacci Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap

Baldacci

Baldacci Family Vineyards

Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon

Stags Leap District, Napa Valley

Tasting Note:

Beautiful Napa Cab in the middle of its drinking window! Drinking Baldacci Stags Leap Cabs over the last 20 years, I am struck by how they always over-deliver at their price. This bottle cost $46 in 2010 and is drinking like a $70+ Napa Cab! Blackberry and black currant on the nose with tar and leather. Still fruit-forward after 8 years of aging, with blackberry and black currant in front, transitioning to a mid-palate of dark chocolate, leather, underbrush and tar. The wine has a lengthy, slightly hot finish. Gorgeous rich mouth-feel, full and sensuous. The tannins have resolved well and are just under the surface. The acidity is high, but this paired perfectly with a rib-eye steak. Without food, the acidity would have been a bit much. The signature Cab character of graphite and tobacco are missing, but regardless, my wife and I really enjoyed this bottle with steaks for dinner!

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Filed under Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District, Wine by Varietal, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes