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Category Archives: Zinfandel

A Weekend to Remember…OGP ’18

Once in a while, amid the post-holiday, mid-winter blues, an event comes along that sparks the imagination, warms the heart, and…well…quenches the thirst. One such event is the annual Original Grandpère Vineyard Weekend. Held at three wineries in Amador County, California, the OGP Weekend celebrates the oldest documented Zinfandel vineyard in the United States, and the phenomenal wines produced from its grapes. These vines can be traced back to 1869, and were likely planted several years before then! Those are some seriously Old Vines!

This was my second time attending the OGP Weekend, and Robyn’s first. There is some fascinating history around this vineyard, which adds to the allure and mystique of the event. The fact that only a handful of wineries have rights to the grapes creates a buzz and demand for the rare wines. More shocking is the fact that during the (gasp) White Zinfandel craze in the 1970’s and 80’s, these historic grapes were relegated to a fate I just can’t bring myself to write about again. I documented my trip to the 2017 event in a collaborative project with Bri of Bri’s Glass of Wine, so I won’t go into any more historical detail here. Please check out my post on Bri’s blog, here, for more detailed background and history. I think you’ll enjoy it!

This year we attended the celebration on Sunday, by visiting the wineries in order of approach. Coming from the Sacramento area, that meant Scott Harvey Wines first, then Vino Noceto, and ending with Andis Wines. The weather cooperated perfectly! Despite the fog that shrouded the valley below, the foothills were clear and bright, with temperatures in the upper 50’s to low 60’s. Consequently, Scott Harvey Wines and Vino Noceto hosted their festivities outside. It was spectacular!

Scott Harvey Wines

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Held in the open air entryway of their barrel room, the tasting at Scott Harvey Wines featured generous samples of their 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2015 Zinfandel. Scott Harvey refers to his wines, made from this historic vineyard, his Vineyard 1869 series. (Read last year’s post for more on why this is significant.) Our friendly and knowledgeable host, Muffin, poured tastes and explained the pairings. With the 2008, we enjoyed a Caprese salad of sorts…skewered onto a pipette filled with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, we pulled the basil leaf, mozzarella cheese ball, and cherry tomato off with our teeth, while squeezing the EVOO into our mouths. Unique, and delightful! A special way to eat a salad! The 2010 paired exquisitely with lamb and mint meatballs in an Indian curry sauce (hidden inside the black dish in the photo below.) I popped the whole meatball in my mouth, but Robyn was smarter, taking smaller bites so she could re-dip and enjoy all the curry sauce. The final food pairing was the 2011 with a cheddar biscuit slider. The slider contained grilled forest mushrooms, smoked Gouda cheese, and white truffle aioli. You had me at white truffle!

Each of the wines was spectacular. The Old Vines produce age-worthy Zinfandels that are soft and restrained, but still maintain juicy fruit and soft spice notes. In addition to the pairings, we sampled the newest vintage, the 2015. This one was much brighter and livelier, with fresh fruit flavors and more spice, but still restrained compared to other Zin’s of the same vintage. The recommended pairing is Balsamic Quick-Braised Pork Chop.

After these tastes, Muffin directed us into the barrel room where we were met by Dominic. At the time we were the only ones there so we had the opportunity to enjoy some pleasant conversation with him as he thieved samples of their 2016 “1869” Zinfandel. (Volume up!)

Dominic explained that this wine has nearly another year in barrel before they will bottle and release it to club members, then the public. As a special bonus, we also had a taste of their 2012 “1869”. Once again, this was a spectacular wine that is drinking well now, but could age another half-dozen years.

Vino Noceto

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This year, Vino Noceto went with more of a backyard barbecue theme, serving their three samples of Original Grandpère Vineyard wines with a variety of grilled sausages, paired with several tasty sauces. Here, we tasted the 2006, 2011, and 2013 OGP Zinfandel. There were several tasting hosts pouring, and I wasn’t able to get their names so I can’t properly recognize them here. Nevertheless, they were generous with samples, re-tastes, and service. We sat at a picnic table in the sun and enjoyed the wine, the sausages and sauces, and the vineyard views. The 2013 Zin was a surprisingly good match for the Jalapeno sausage and pepper sauce. As we sat, one of the hosts brought over a bottle of their 2005 OGP Zin to try. We were amazed at how well this wine is holding up. Zin, as you may know, is not known for being very age worthy.

After the official tasting, I escorted Robyn into the Vino Noceto tasting room. She had never been, and we need to try some more of their delicious wines, including the Sangiovese for which they are best known. Directory of Hospitality, Bret Burdick, served us. (By coincidence, he was my table host at last year’s event.) As we chatted and tasted, Bret gave us the full rundown of Vino Noceto’s lineup, as well as a geography lesson on Chianti and Brunello, complete with visual aids (maps). Most of the vines on the estate are direct cuttings from some of the most famous Sangiovese vineyards in Italy.

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Andis Wines

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Andis Wines hosted their portion of the OGP Weekend indoors, in their wine education room. Another group was finishing up, so we bellied up to the tasting room bar so we could enjoy some of Andis’ fine wines. There, Assistant Hospitality Director Lindsey Miller guided us through the flight on the tasting menu. Always delicious and balanced, we enjoyed these wines until the room was ready for us.

As we sat around the large, comfortable table, Chef Shannon served our food, while Brand Ambassador/Sales Manager, Lorenzo Muslija poured our tastes of the Andis lineup of 2012, 2014, and 2013 Original Grandpère Vineyards Zinfandel. No, that isn’t a typo. We tasted out of chronological order. Lorenzo, in his suave Italian accent, explained that he wanted to serve the wines in order of depth and complexity, rather than simply by vintage.

The 2012 was paired with Indian Spiced Mushroom Ragou on naan bread. Everything about this screamed comfort food! The yet-to-be-released 2014 (available at the event only, for now) was paired with Albondigas…Spanish meatballs with smoked paprika, garlic, oregano, and tomato sauce. It was very Mediterranean, and reminded me of the curried lamb meatball at Scott Harvey. (Note to self: This Middle-Eastern/Mediterranean/Curry Sauce pairing with Zinfandel is worthy of more exploration!) The final wine, the 2013 was a bit more tannic than the others because of the growing conditions that drought year. The pairing of Seahive Beehive cheese was designed to soften the tannins and create a smooth, rich mouthfeel. It was a masterful success!

After a wonderful afternoon, surrounded by passionate, wine-loving people, gorgeous scenery, and abundant sunshine, it was time to head back down into the fogged-in valley. It was a perfect day. I can’t wait to go back!

Cheers!

  • Text and photos by Kent Reynolds
  • Video by Robyn Raphael
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Christmas Miracle! A Review of InZINerator 2003

The office Holiday Party gift exchange. You know the drill. Everyone who wants to participate brings a wrapped gift to the conference room. Each person draws a number, and the festivities begin. In numerical sequence, gifts are selected. Gifts can be stolen, but a limited number of times before they are “dead,” and the final possessor is the owner.

Recently, the trend has been “white elephant” gift exchanges. No, you can’t go out and buy something. You have to bring something you already own, but is no longer useful to you. So it was at my office Holiday Party this year. With the all-important rule established: two steals and the third person in possession is the owner, we were ready to get the party started.

I never do well at these events, usually coming home with a gawdy picture frame or some “As Seen on TV” gadget that never works as advertised. Compounding the anxiety was the fact that I was the new guy in the office, having just started this job three weeks earlier. Still, these gift exchanges are always fun, and a great way to get to know my new coworkers, and superiors, in a more relaxed setting.

Numbers were drawn. The tension mounted as Number 1 scanned the table for some hidden gem. They say one person’s junk is another’s treasure. Would he score? Would his new prize possession be snatched from his fingers by Number 2, or some other “come-lately?” Selection made, Number 1 tore into the bag. A tacky vase. Delightful. Cue hilarity and excitement!

As so it went. Bags and boxes opened. Gifts stolen, then stolen again and deemed dead; the proud, final owner beaming with joy. Finally it came to me. I had drawn Number 13. Would 13 be lucky for me this time? Alas, this was a “white elephant” exchange. What were the chances that someone would deem wine “no longer useful?” With a sigh in my heart, but eager anticipation on my face, I reached in for the slender, rectangular box. Sure, it was the right size, but what are the odds? Besides, this was an office party and I didn’t yet know if this company had the dreaded “no alcohol on the premises” policy.

Tearing into the wrapping paper, I was stunned! What’s this I see? Johnnie Walker Blue Label? Really?? Had I just scored a nice bottle of Scotch? Naw, who would “white elephant” Scotch? Well, there are always a few who don’t get the memo and actually bring nice, new gifts. Fingers crossed, I lifted the lid.

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No Scotch, but…wine!! Score!! As to the donor? Who knows, maybe someone who gave up the drink. Or didn’t know what they had. Kind of like an Antiques Roadshow for wine. Regardless, I was now the proud owner of a bottle of 2003 InZINerator Zinfandel.
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For now.

With nearly 30 people participating, the chances of a steal were real and serious. Lots of my new coworkers were eyeballing my prize. They clearly didn’t know that they were staring down Kent-the-wine-blogger. We don’t call this “Appetite for Wine” for nothing!

Remember Number 1, the guy with the tacky vase? Well, Number 14 apparently has a thing for tacky vases, and right after my turn, stole it from Number 1. So immediately after the thrill of my victory, I suffered the agony of defeat as Number 1 deftly lifted my beloved InZINerator from my clutches. Curses! Foiled again.

Now faced with stealing or drawing, I selected another wrapped box. Nothing left remotely resembling the shape of a wine bottle, so I went for an unassuming square box. Ah, there it is…the “As Seen on TV” Chop Magic!

img_0625Now I love to cook, but I prefer slicing and dicing with my kitchen knives. I actually find it relaxing and cathartic. So this is how it’s going to be. Stuck with yet another gadget that I’ll never use. Seriously, who would steal this from me?

Around the room it went. With each new number, the dissatisfied masses held their gifts high, hoping to entice a steal. Nobody even took a second look at my Chop Magic. Until…wait…what? Number 23 took a liking and stole my chopper!

It was a Christmas miracle! The fates smiled on me that glorious day! Yes, the HR rep moderating the event confirmed that it is permissible to steal back a gift. Number 1, my wine if you please. And so it was over. I was the third and final owner of this cherished bottle.

Part of the Super Hero Wines line, InZINerator is produced by Scott Harvey Wines. Zinfandel is not known for age-worthiness, so honestly I was a little apprehensive about a 14 year old bottle. Fear not!

img_0626Ruby color with brick rim. Aromas of raspberry and plum with smoky notes. Flavors of ripe blackberry, stewed plum, raspberry, and baking spice, with notes of milk chocolate, white pepper, and vanilla. Tannins, as expected, are velvety soft and smooth, and the acidity is surprisingly bright. The finish lingers with blackberry, plum, and spice. Excellent!!

May the Spirit of Christmas shine bright on each of you.

Cheers!

  • Text and photos by Kent Reynolds
  • Holiday wishes by both Kent and Robyn

Celebrating National Zinfandel Day in Lodi Style

Though Zinfandel is not the most popular varietal wine, it is certainly one of my favorites! I may have waded into my wine journey pool with Pinot Noir, but when I first tasted a quality, red Zinfandel wine, it was like diving head first from the high dive!

Today is the third Wednesday in November, which means it’s National Zinfandel Day! In celebration, I encourage all of you to drink some Zinfandel today. You’ll be glad you did! Done right, Zinfandel is a balance of bold, fruity, and spicy. It is a great wine to pair with food, especially casual fare, making it the perfect bottle to crack open on a Wednesday evening. Pizza, burgers, barbecue, steak, and even rich chicken dishes all pair with Zinfandel.

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Photo Credit: VinePair

The Zinfandel Events website, powered by ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers), has this to say:

“Bold and celebratory, independent and unpretentious, versatile and individual, Zinfandel has charted a course all its own, and National Zinfandel Day offers many ways for our members to chart their own course to help celebrate and draw positive attention for America’s Heritage grape.”

“Zinfandel Day is a worldwide celebration of the Zinfandel grape variety, intended to give Zinfandel lovers around the globe a platform to express their passion for grape and the wines made from it.”

Throughout California, Zinfandel grows well in a number of regions. It was introduced in the Sierra Foothills during the California Gold Rush by resourceful entrepreneurs who realized the hoards of miners were getting mighty thirsty in their backbreaking quest for riches.  They were right. Zinfandel gained a strong foothold, and is now knows as “America’s Heritage grape.

One of the most famous Zinfandel regions in California is Lodi. In fact, Lodi has declared itself the Zinfandel Capital of the World. Roughly 40% of the Zinfandel grapes grown in California come from the Lodi AVA. That’s about 110,000 acres under vine, tended by 750 grape growers!

Over the years, Zinfandel’s reputation has ebbed and flowed. We all know about the White Zin craze that started in the 1970s. In fact, I’d bet that White Zin was the first wine many of you tried. I know I drank my fair share of it before my first Pinot Noir encounter! As more wine drinkers started embracing red Zinfandel, and production increased in the Central Valley, many Zinfandels produced were in the jammy, high-alcohol, fruit-bomb style. You know the ones; open with corkscrew, consume with tablespoon! Jammy! While the masses loved this style, more discerning wine lovers abandoned Zinfandel. (Is my snobby showing?)

It is true that during this time, more subtle and restrained versions of Zinfandel were available in other California regions, and even some from the Central Valley, they were somewhat difficult to find, and often outside the price range of the average consumer. In recent years, however, a group of Lodi producers have started to revisit the more nuanced, minimalist approach to Zinfandel. The Lodi Native Project started as a collaborative project by six Lodi wine growers who are committed showcasing the merits of the heritage plantings. Their goal is to highlight the terroir of the vineyards themselves, and to produce small, artisan wines that reflect the character of the grape.

Just in time National Zinfandel Day, I received two samples of Lodi Zinfandel for review. Both were subtle, restrained, and delicious. I can heartily recommend either, or both.

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Fields Family Wines 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel – Family Vineyard

Mokelumne River AVA

Retail: $28.00

Brick color with pale ruby rim. Earthy nose with restrained raspberry and cherry aromas. On the palate, bright, juicy flavors of raspberry, bing cherry, and plum, with spice, black pepper, and a hint of licorice. Medium body and tannins with a bite of zesty acidity. The finish lingers with red fruit and spice. We paired this with Margarita pizza and it was delightful. A very nice example of what Lodi can do with a lighter, more restrained version of Zinfandel.

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Tizona by Bokisch 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel – Kirschenmann Vineyard

Mokelumne River AVA

Retail $32.00

Deep ruby color with brick rim. On the nose, soft aromas of blackberry bramble, black cherry, and a hint of anise. This is going to be something special! On the palate, the magic continues with a soft, round mouthfeel and flavors of blackberry jam, black cherry, white pepper, and baking spice. The tannins are silky smooth, and there is light acidity. The finish goes on for days, with raspberry and spice notes. This one went down way too easily with a combo pizza. Noticing a trend? We really don’t eat that much pizza! But…Zinfandel! This easily falls into the category of best Zinfandels I’ve ever had! Spectacular!

Head on over to the Zinfandel Events page for five suggestions on ways you can participate in the celebration today. On the top of the list, of course, is “Share a Bottle with Your Friends!” I can’t think of any better advice!

Please share in the comments what bottle (or bottles) you opened for National Zinfandel Day!

Cheers!

(Both of the wines in this article were submitted for review. I received no other compensation, and all reviews, opinions, and observations are my own.)

  • By Kent Reynolds

Review: Franc Dusak Zinfandel Sonoma Valley 2013

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I love Zinfandel. This may be in part because my red wine journey started in earnest with Zinfandel. Also, living minutes from the Sierra Foothills, famous for its Old Vine Zinfandel, I have access to some of the best Zin on the planet. I admit a Sierra Foothill bias, but I enjoy exploring other regions and have found a few that continue to impress me with outstanding Zinfandel. Among these are Dry Creek Valley, in Sonoma County, and the greater Sonoma County region in general. This is where today’s wine is from.

Zinfandel is a versatile grape that can present in a variety of different ways, from jammy fruit bombs; to big, bold, and spicy; to light and floral. I think a lot of people who say they don’t like Zinfandel have only been exposed to the former – those jammy, “please pass the peanut butter” fruit bombs. These tend to fall in the lower end of the price spectrum, which is where I have found most people start when exploring new varietals. Generally speaking, fruit bomb Zin comes from warmer climates, like Lodi in California’s Central Valley. Fruit bombs have their place, and many people prefer them. However, my personal preference is big, bold, and spicy Zinfandel. These are most common from slightly cooler regions like the Sierra Foothills and Sonoma County.

Having such a fondness for Zinfandel, imagine my excitement when Franc Dusak’s Zinfandel Sonoma Valley 2013 appeared for sale on the NakedWines.com website! I’ve had other Franc Dusak wines before, and been blown away by all of them, but this is his first Zinfandel for NakedWines.com. This wine spent 23 months in the barrel, which will give it a soft, smooth texture along with the delicious flavors. I ordered some the first day it was available.

Franc Dusak has been making wine for more than a decade, but his name has always been behind the scenes. About a year ago, NakedWines.com got ahold of him, and propelled him to instant stardom! (In my book, at least!) But enough with the lead-in…on to the review!

I’m a Zin freak. Over the years, I’ve had more Zin than any other varietal. Franc, your 2013 Sonoma Valley Zinfandel is dee-licious!

Deep purple with brick rim. Aromas of blueberries and blackberries, along with the promise of oak and spice. On the palate, blackberry, black pepper, black cherry, and promise kept: smooth oak and a spicy finish. Exceptionally balanced fruit and spice ratio; medium body. The tannins are velvety smooth and balanced with soft acidity. Those 23 months in oak really paid off! I’m glad I bought more than one!!

4.5 out of 5 hearts (92-94 points)

Available only from NakedWines.com. Angel Price: $13.99

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If this sounds like your kind of Zinfandel, and you aren’t yet a NakedWines.com Angel, click the Naked Wines logo above, or here for a voucher worth $100 off a first-time order of $160 or more. You won’t be sorry you did!

Lesser Known AVAs: Sierra Foothills

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I know what you’re thinking: “I’ve heard of the Sierra Foothills AVA. I wouldn’t call it ‘lesser known.'” Yes, I know. Nevertheless, too often the big, East Coast wine and food magazines, websites, and blogs overlook this region when reviewing wines, making their “Top 100” lists, and generally writing about wine and wine country. Tourists often overlook the Sierra Foothills when planning Northern California wine country travel, favoring the more famous Napa and Sonoma regions, and recently, Lodi. *

The wineries of the Sierra Foothills AVA and it’s five sub-appellations produce some outstanding wines. Most of these are small, independent producers. As an under-recognized wine region, it is not as commercialized as Napa/Sonoma, and therefore is generally less expensive to visit. Many wineries still offer free tasting, and few charge more than $5, which is refunded with a wine purchase.

AVA County Map

From pastoral, rolling hills; to hilltop vistas; to lush, forested hideaways, the Sierra Foothills AVA spans eight counties and more than 2,600,000 acres. [1] With hot, dry summers, grapes of nearly all varieties thrive here, but for my palate, and in my humble opinion, Italian and Spanish varietals are the best. Albariño to Zinfandel, Sierra Foothills wineries produce exciting, delicious wines.

Rolling Hills  VCW_D_GC_T8_HelwigWinery_Flippen-1280x642Fitzpatrick View

Wine history somewhat parallels gold rush history here. In 1848, Gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill, in GoldPanning1889-locEl Dorado County, in the heart of what is now the Sierra Foothills AVA. This created the famed Gold Rush that brought prospectors westward in droves. In addition to the miners, many entrepreneurs came west, sensing the opportunity to prosper by selling supplies to the “forty-niners” (a reference to 1849, when the Gold Rush really got going.) Among these entrepreneurs were many European immigrants, who brought grape vines with them. [2] Zinfandel thrived in the region, and is still the largest planted varietal, [3] with many vines more than 100 years old. Modern day winemakers produce some stunning Zinfandel wines, ranging from dry and spicy, to big and jammy.

historic vineyard old vinesWhile the wines produced in the Sierra Foothills have Old World heritage, these are definitely New World wines. More fruit-driven and less acidic than their European ancestors, these wines are easily drinkable on their own, yet pair famously with food.

Stay tuned. Over the next weeks and months, I’ll be profiling each of the sub-appellations and other notable areas within the Sierra Foothills AVA. For a sample of what else is going on in the Sierra Foothills, check out my post “Destination: Calaveras Grape Stomp“.

* In the interest of full disclosure, I admit I am biased toward the Sierra Foothills AVA. I live 30-60 minutes from most of the wineries, and it was wines from this region that really got me started on my wine journey. Nevertheless, I really think the Sierra Foothills are underrated and oft overlooked by the big publishing houses, and therefore relatively unknown to many wine lovers. It is a wine region worthy of notice, and a visit if you’re out this way.

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[1] http://sierrafoothillswine.com/avas.html

[2] http://www.legendsofamerica.com/ca-napawineries.html

[3] http://www.everyvine.com/wine-regions/region/Sierra_Foothills/