Tag 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

2010 Chateau Margene Cielo Rosso

Wine Tasting Note:

2010 Chateau Margene Cielo Rosso

Paso Robles, CA 

Super Tuscan blend of Cabernet & Sangiovese coming from this Paso Robles, CA producer. Very fruity nose of plum and raspberry, with a touch of herbal mint. The palate is very fruit forward and quite plummy with raspberry tones that blend to become boysenberry. Medium high acidity, low tannins and a touch of residual sugar. A bit of texture in the mouth. There is a medium-long finish of dark chocolate. Presents like a very fruity Super Tuscan. We drank most of this bottle with a coffee rubbed prime rib. It was a beautiful pairing. The bitterness of the coffee subdued the fruit and sweetness and produced a solid match. The last glass of the bottle on its own, left the impression of a better quality Apothic (http://www.apothic.com/) style wine, without all the oak and having better acidity. Soft, reasonable structure for a 7 year old wine, but needed to be paired with the right food. Without the coffee rubbed steak, a serious miss. Should have been under $30/btl., for an easy drinking food-friendly wine. Poor value for the $45+ price.

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The Legacy of Fine Wine Culture

Is there a “Right” Atmosphere to Enjoy Wine?

I received my Somm training from a mentor that still firmly believed a profession in wine was a “calling”. I have worked hard to train my palate and learn the wine regions of the world to pass that crazy test. After all the work though, I still can’t agree with the formal atmosphere surrounding much of the fine dining wine service industry. Is the defining U.S. wine experience a stuffy, formal affair? Why is there social stigma, or a nervousness regarding wine selection in restaurants? Wine knowledge in the trade should be a tool that facilitates the comfort and enjoyment of clients… instead of a blunt instrument that adds to the discomfort.

julia-louis-dreyfus-wine

Seen the Mollydooker Shake?

I was having dinner with business associates at an Italian restaurant last month and I was asked to order a bottle for the table with a budget of around $60. Unfortunately, the restaurant had a poor Italian wine selection, so I chose the 2014 Beringer Knight’s Valley Cabernet, usually a pretty solid selection (quality vineyard and a track record for value). This vintage was not as easy drinking as past releases, so I asked everyone to bear with me and I put my thumb over the top of the bottle and proceeded to give it a vigorous shake! Everyone got a kick out of it and we proceeded to drink a moderately softer wine. WARNING I am about to suggest a completely inappropriate wine faux pas… (if this will torture your sensibilities, please skip to the next paragraph) …say you run up against a tightly wound Chianti, or young red Bordeaux, or maybe a 100% Petit Verdot… picture pouring the bottle into a blender. I suggested this approach at the restaurant and everyone immediately started laughing and vowed to do this the next time they had guests over. (Disclaimer here: this is NOT meant for fine wine. It would be better to age these wines for another few years, rather than throw them in the blender). Check out this link: Mollydooker Shake. Young Mollydooker wines can be very high in tannin. A nice stiff shake can do wonders to soften any highly structured wine.

Is Wine Fun?

Several years ago, my wife and I were invited to a wine enthusiast’s home for a wine dinner with four other couples. Very expensive, quality aged wines were being served. Out of the blue, one guest suggests we go around the table and have each person share an impromptu personal tasting note for each wine being served. Really? Afterwards, I overhear comments about a previous wine party my wife and I hosted and the numerous wine-ignorant guests in attendance. That day I made myself a promise, I would always try to help others relax around wine and make the experience comfortable and unpretentious. I have become a reverse wine snob.

I am thoroughly embarrassed by trained professionals in the industry who feel it is necessary to overwhelm a client with their wine knowledge and lecture on the importance of selecting… just the right wine. When an attendant at a winery tasting room, or a Somm at a fine dining restaurant approaches me, I am usually faced with one of two types:

  • An under-trained wine steward who has not tasted their own wine inventory
  • A pretentious jerk, who wants to tell me which wines I should prefer

I am not sure which is worse? I hate to tell people I am formally trained… then, they either get defensive, or are intimidated and clam-up. When I am dining out at an establishment with a large cellar, I always search the lesser known “nooks-and-crannies” for the best value. Most of the time, I get annoyed looks, but all with me have a great time. I was at Cowboy Ciao (Scottsdale, AZ) dining with an associate last year (GREAT wine cellar, by the way). From previous discussions, I knew he preferred big, highly structured Napa Cabs. I asked him if he had ever tried Aglianico? I suggested to him, I could find a really enjoyable bottle of Aglianico there for under $40/btl. I got a serious look of disbelief. We proceeded to run the waitress ragged… I selected three different bottles that had spent time in their cellar – one was a 2006, I believe. It took our server 20 minutes working with the wine steward to track down one of these bottles (she was a good sport)! I had them decant the wine… AND he thoroughly enjoyed it! Fine wine doesn’t have to cost $125/btl and be called Caymus, or Silver Oak. Servers should encourage more discovery. Their clients would enjoy the broader wine experience.

Who decided that wine was not supposed to be fun?

Next Wine Vacation

I hope at least some of you have tried a wine vacation. If you haven’t, you should. Very few experiences provide better food and drink, more inviting scenery, or more romantic atmosphere… but they can be fun too! Napa is always the ultimate U.S. wine experience, but it is expensive and can be a bit stuffy. For something on the more fun side, try the Central California Coast, Oregon, or East Washington state. Ask around once you arrive and seek out the less pretentious, relaxed tasting venues. If you want an interesting experience, try Tobin James Cellars in Paso Robles, CA. Hit them during one of their events in particular and be prepared to have a rockin’ good time!

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Filed under Restaurant, Sommelier, Wine Cellar, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel

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

Best Value Wine Destination in the U.S.A.?

value pic

I was recently involved in a discussion regarding preferred wine tourism destinations among serious wine drinkers / collectors. Napa Valley is consistently drubbed for its utter lack of value. Average tasting room fees are $25 – $40/pp… to access top quality, it is not uncommon to pay $75/pp. Now granted, these wineries are so gorgeous – Napa Valley itself creates its own ambiance, but let’s move past honeymoons and anniversaries and talk year-in and year-out wine tourism destinations. My wife and I have vacationed in Napa at least 10 times in the last 20 years and while it was previously my favorite location, it is now third on my list behind the California Central Coast and Sonoma County. To make things worse, Napa tasting rooms have steadily become more impersonal, making me feel like one of the massive herd, or a bother, rather than a valued guest.

Yes, my favorite wine destination is the Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties area in California!

Destination Comparison

Cuisine / Restaurant SceneWinner Napa Valley

The Central Coast is improving, but still has catching up to do.

Tasting Rm FeesWinner Central Coast

1/3 to 1/2 the cost of Napa.

Tasting Rm AtmosphereWinner Central Coast

The Central Coast is a big winner here. I have been getting tired of the attitude in Napa. The tasting rooms are so much friendlier almost anywhere else. I miss 10+ years ago when wine tasting was casual and inviting!

Lodging ValueWinner Central Coast

1/2 the cost of Napa with several resort quality properties to choose from.

Quality of WineWinner Central Coast

Slight edge, not because any single wine is superior, but because overall – the wines approach Napa in quality and the selection is amazingly diverse. There are top quality producers of Syrah, Cabernet Sauv, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay here… in Southern Rhone, Bordeaux and Burgundy styles. All of this diversity is driven by an area with crazy climate variability.

SceneryWinner Napa Valley

Maybe not as cozy as Napa Valley, but the hill and mountain regions west of Hwy 101 are very picturesque.

BeachWinner Central Coast

No Beaches near Napa. This region has Pismo Beach.

Winery ArchitectureWinner Napa Valley

Napa has a big edge here, but some wineries are starting to spend big money in the Central Coast area.

l'aventure winery

l’aventure winery

A Paso Robles Vineyard & Winery

Morro bay pic

Morro Bay, CA

Central Coast Winery Suggestions

(arranged from South to North)

Santa Barbara County

Carr Vineyards – All wines are good, but their 100% Cab Franc is special and reasonably priced.

Jaffurs Wine Cellars Quality Southern Rhone style wines that offer great value.

Brewer- Clifton Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Their Chardonnay is Burgundy style and fantastic!

Qupe – Beautiful, refined Syrah by a master winemaker.

Andrew Murray Vineyards The best value quality Syrah in the U.S. hands down.

Melville Winery Great values in Burgundy style Pinot Noir.

San Luis Obispo County

Laetitia Vineyard & Winery – Fine quality sparkling wines in a broad selection of styles.

L’Aventure Winery – Balanced Hedonism Incarnate (is that possible?). These wines are massive, powerful… and perfection.

Peachy Canyon Winery No winery makes more different single vineyard Zinfandels. If you are a Zin Master, you must visit Peachy.

Tobin James Cellars Their tasting room is definitely the most fun in the area!

Justin Cellars This is your bastion for Bordeaux style wine in the area. Their Cab Sauv and Merlot blends are very good! These wines are approaching the quality of the best in Napa.

Herman Story Wines THE BEST Southern Rhone Style Wines in the United States at prices that will cause you to do a double-take.

Other Wineries of Note Some of best wineries in the world are making amazing wine here, but are expensive and difficult to arrange access:  Alban Vineyards, Saxum Vineyards and Sea Smoke Estate Vineyards.

New Destinations My wife and I will be traveling to Walla Walla, WA this fall, six years after our last trip. I am hoping this location has much to show! I am looking for my next wine destination to add to our list! I will update our findings on this site after our trip!

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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

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