We like to explore the world through wine, eagerly trying wines from various countries, at various price points. Some wines we wouldn’t drink again, others go on the rotation list, and some are really impressive. Here is our favorite wine of this past week.
With the post-holiday COVID-19 curve finally tapering off and the regional stay-at-home orders lifted, we ventured out for the first time in months. On a beautiful, warm January afternoon, we took the short walk from home to our favorite local wine bar, Platinum Wine Lounge, for some al fresco wine and nibbles.
As we sat on the patio, basking in the late afternoon sunshine, we perused the wine list. Platinum features many local wines, from the Sierra Foothills and Lodi. We decided on the m2 Old Vine Zinfandel 2017, and we were not disappointed.
If you’ve ever been wine tasting in Lodi and driven down Peltier Road between I-5 and Highway 99, you’ve seen m2 Wine’s distinctive steel winery and tasting room. We have always enjoyed m2’s wines, and their Old Vines Zinfandel is among our favorites in their portfolio. The Old Vines Zinfandel 2017 is a single-vineyard wine, from the Soucie Vineyard in the Mokelumne River AVA. The vines were planted in 1916. While there’s no legal definition for “Old Vines”, I’d say 101 years meets the generally accepted definition.
m2 Wines Old Vine Zinfandel 2017, Soucie Vineyard, Mokelumne River AVA
Clear dark ruby color. On the nose, aromas of bing cherry, cranberry, blackberry, and smoke. These notes continue on the palate, with flavors of cherry, plum, blackberry, and cranberry, with white pepper and vanilla. Medium-plus body, with soft, supple tannins and medium acidity. Very nicely balanced, with a long finish of red fruit and baking spice.
When I first heard about Vivino, way back on Thanksgiving Day, 2014, I thought it was a pretty good idea. The concept is simple: users upload pictures of wine labels, give the wine a rating from 1 – 5 stars, and write up a brief review. The label recognition technology is pretty good, so if a wine is already in the database, the user doesn’t have to manually enter it. With a global crowd-sourcing base, the database is extensive and I rarely have to manually enter a new wine. With this database of wine ratings, users can look up a wine and check scores and ratings and reviews before they buy it. If a wine has a low rating, and the reviews don’t sound promising, you might want to pass on it.
Within Vivino, users themselves are ranked. Using a complex algorithm I’ve yet to fully comprehend, but generally based on number of wines rated, quality of reviews, and participation in the social platform (liking other users’ reviews), users are assigned a ranking within their country; Number 3,421 in the U.S, for example. Also, users can earn distinctions based on how many of a given wine style they have rated. These ranks start with Explorer after your first rating, to Enthusiast after rating six wines, to Expert after 26, to the pinnacle, after rating 100 wines of a regional style: Ambassador.
After using the app for awhile, I noticed my ranking was getting higher and higher. Suddenly my normally docile competitive spirit kicked in. I wanted to see how high I could get in numerical and regional ranking. I started trying more and different wines from around the world. I was obnoxiously diligent in taking pictures of every label of every wine I tasted, be it at the wine shop, a restaurant, a friend’s house, or anywhere else. Eventually, I made it as high as 124 in the U.S.! As of today, I’ve slipped down to 143, largely because I’ve been a little busy getting married. According to data from October 2018, there are 32.8 million Vivino users worldwide. The U.S. has the highest number of users, followed by Brazil. It’s hard to find information on number of users per country, but by my estimation, there are more than 5 million in the U.S. So 143 is still respectable, and I’m working my way back up!
Due to the wide variety of wines I was rating, however, my regional-wine ranking was slower to evolve. California Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel were always my top two, but I was enjoying other varietals and regions as well. Then one day, earlier this month, I rated a California Zinfandel, and saw that it was my 99th review. I was about to become an Ambassador!
As I was getting ready to write this post, I went back to the beginning to recall which wine was my first rating. To my amusement, it was a Zinfandel! Back then I was a member of NakedWines.com, and a big fan of winemaker Leigh Meyering. Her “ElegantLeigh” Zinfandel 2013 was my very first Vivino entry.
For my 100th California ZInfandel, I selected the Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel 2016. I’ve only had Seghesio a few times, but have always enjoyed it, and it’s widely known and recognized for its quality.
Seghesio Family Vineyards has been in operation for more than 120 years, across five generations. In 1895, Edoardo Seghesio planted a Zinfandel vineyard in Alexander Valley. In 1902, Edoardo and his wife, Angela, built a winery and began making wine. Seghesio Winery was born. The winery flourished and gained a reputation for quality, and even managed to survive during Prohibition. Once Prohibition ended, Edoardo re-opened the doors for commercial winemaking. Fourth generation brothers, Ted and Pete Seghesio now run the operation, and are committed to quality over quantity. Ted’s nephew, Ned Neumiller, is now working in the family business; the fifth generation to do so.
With over 300 estate vineyards planted to Zinfandel and Italian varieties, Seghesio continues to produce high-quality wines and expand their reputation in the wine world. I know I was impressed when I opened my 100th Zinfandel!
Deep purple color, with ruby rim. Aromas of blackberry, blueberry, and baking spice. On the palate, ripe blackberry, cassis, blueberry, cherry, baking spice, black pepper, and vanilla. There’s a lot going on here. Definitely one of the more complex Zinfandels I’ve had in awhile. Big, bold, and full bodied with bright acidity and medium tannins. The finish is spicy with black fruit notes, and goes on for days. Perfect with baby back ribs!
If you haven’t tried Seghesio Zinfandel yet, you really ought to. Pop a bottle, download the Vivino app, and rate and review it! Your California Zinfandel Ambassador recommends it. 🙂
This is a repost of a project I published in 2017, in collaboration with Bri’s Glass of Wine. Sadly, I recently discovered that Bri has taken her site down. So I am posting this now on our site, because, frankly, I refer to it in a couple of subsequent blog posts, here and here. Plus, I happen to think it’s a pretty good post! Please enjoy!
Nestled in the heart of Sierra Foothills wine country lie what are reportedly America’s oldest producing Zinfandel vines. The Original Grandpère Vineyard (OGP for short) can trace its roots to the California Gold Rush era, with documentation dating back to 1869, and vines predating even that year. In keeping with Wild West tradition, the story of these vines is mixed with history, intrigue, and conflict.
Located in the beautiful, rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley in Amador County, historical records identify the original owners of the vineyard as the Upton family. Over the years, ownership changed hands, Prohibition came and went, and White Zinfandel happened. In the 1970’s and early ’80s, the grapes produced in the vineyard were largely sold to make White Zin. In 1984, Scott and Terri Harvey purchased the land. At the time, Scott worked for Renwood winery. He named the vineyard Grandpere in honor of its age – Grand-père is French for Grandfather.
While working at Renwood, Scott Harvey produced wine from his Grandpère Vineyard for the Renwood label. Meanwhile, Renwood Winery trademarked the name “Grandpère”, and using cuttings from the original vineyard, started producing Grandpère Vineyard Zinfandel from their own vines in a different vineyard. Through a series of events, including disputes, lawsuits, settlements, and divorce, Scott Harvey and Renwood parted ways; the use of the name “Grandpère” is legally protected and limited; and Terri Harvey owns the 1869 vineyard on her own. That Gold Rush era vineyard, with its 1869 heritage, is now known as the Original Grandpère Vineyard. The terms of a settlement agreement require that vintners using these grapes must use that entire name, or nothing at all.
Fast forward to 2017, and the few producers who are fortunate enough to source fruit from the Original Grandpère Vineyard are making some outstanding, elegantly restrained, nearly 150-year-old, Old Vine Zinfandel wines. I recently attended a Small Plates & Vertical Tastings event, accompanied by my daughter and her friend, that was hosted by three of those wineries making Original Grandpère Vineyard Zinfandel: Vino Noceto, Andis Wines, and Scott Harvey Wines. By no small coincidence…OK, no coincidence at all…Zinfandel is one of my favorite grape varieties. According to my Vivino stats, Zin is second only to Cabernet Sauvignon as my favorite varietal wine.
Each of the wineries poured a number of their OGP Zinfandel wines, paired with small bites to complement each vintage. We started at Vino Noceto…
Our host, Bret, set us up at a cozy high-top bistro table, and got us started with the yet-to-be-released 2013 vintage, followed by the 2012 and 2008. The small bites for pairing included Genoa Salami with Sundried Tomato-Rosemary Fromage on Crostini (with the 2013), a Black Forest Ham and Cranberry Cream Cheese Spirals with Thyme Zinfandel Glazed Sweet Onions (with the 2012), and Dates Stuffed with Whipped Chevre & Cocoa Nibs (with the 2008).
The bites were perfect pairings for each wine; drawing out the nuances of the tannins, acids, and flavors in the wines.
Vino Noceto OGP Zinfandel 2013 ($32 retail)
Violet color in the glass. Aromas of blackberry and soft oak on the nose. Flavors of blackberry, boysenberry, cherry, and blueberry, with notes of spice and black pepper. Bright acidity with full, firm tannins. Long finish with dark berry, black pepper, and cherry notes.
Vino Noceto OGP Zinfandel 2012 ($32 retail)
Ruby color with brick colored rim. Aromas and flavors of raspberry, cherry, and ripe strawberry. Very soft tannins with light acidity. Medium finish with red berry and spice notes. (It was very interesting to notice the contrast one year makes; from 2013 black fruit and firm tannins, to 2012 red fruit and soft tannins.)
Vino Noceto OGP Zinfandel 2008 ($49 retail)
Brick red color. Nose of cherry and raspberry, with a hint of oak. Flavors of bing cherry, ripe raspberry, and spice. Tannins are soft and silky, balanced with bright acidity. Long, zesty finish with red fruit and spice.
Next we traveled all the way across the road to Andis Wines. Here, we were seated at a large table in a private room with other guests, and treated to a detailed history lesson by our host, Art. He confirmed my earlier research, outlined above, and then poured us two samples and distributed the matching small bites to complement the wines. At Andis, we enjoyed the 2012 and 2013 vintages. Art explained that the 2012 vintage was made entirely by the original Andis winemaker, Mark McKenna; however, the 2013 was started by McKenna, but completed by Napa winemaker Doug Hackett. McKenna used non-traditional methods; fermenting in stainless steel, then adding oak chips and dust to introduce the oak influences. Hackett is more traditional, aging in oak barrels. The contrast in winemaking styles was definitely apparent. With the 2012, we enjoyed a Crostini with Whipped Chevre and Rose-Raspberry Jelly. With the 2013, the pairing was Artisan Bread with Aged Gouda and Dried Cherry Tapenade. Again, the pairings were excellent.
Andis Wines Original Grandpère Vineyard Zinfandel 2012 ($37.99 retail)
Ruby color. Nose of fresh raspberry and cherry, with a hint of soft oak. Flavors of sour cherry, raspberry, and ripe strawberry. Bright acidity with smooth tannins and a medium finish of red fruit flavors. My overall impression of this wine was “soft.”
Andis Wines Original Grandpère Vineyard Zinfandel 2013 ($37.99 retail)
Deep purple color. Nose of blackberry and spice. Flavors of blackberry, ripe raspberry, black cherry, and toasty oak. Medium acidity with firm tannins and a long, spicy finish. My overall impression of this one was “bright.”
To finish out the day, we traveled the few hundred yards down the road to Scott Harvey Wines. Here, host Kelsey greeted us at the tasting bar as set up our tasting and small plates. Scott Harvey presented their vertical in the reverse of the traditional order, starting with 2011 and moving forward through 2014. Scott Harvey wines are aged in neutral French oak. The tastes included Potato Chips with Point Reyes Blue Cheese-Zin Glazed Onion Dip (2011), Sopressata & Gouda Palmier (2012), Chicken & Chimichurri Empanadas (2013, and Chard Pesto with Whipped Cream Cheese and Crostini (2014.)
As an added bonus, Scott Harvey Wines compiled a “This Year in History” handout to highlight some other historical events that occurred in 1869. Did you know the Suez Canal opened the same year that the Original Grandpère Vineyard was recorded? Neither did I!
Given that Scott Harvey was in the middle of the multiple lawsuits surrounding the Grandpère name, he has abandoned the name entirely, and has dubbed his wines “Vineyard 1869.”
Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel 2011 ($55 retail)
Bright ruby color. Aromas and flavors of raspberry, bing cherry, blackberry, and spice. Soft tannins with smooth acid, and a long finish with red fruit, spice, and black pepper.
Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel 2012 ($55 retail)
Bended with 6% Barbera. Ruby color. Bing cherry, raspberry, and stewed strawberry. Medium acidity and light, soft tannins. Long finish with red fruit flavors.
Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel 2013 ($50 retail)
Bright ruby color. Flavors of raspberry, cherry, and white pepper. Bright, lively acidity with medium tannins. Long finish with red fruit and black pepper.
Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869 Zinfandel 2014 ($48 retail)
Brick red color. Blackberry and black pepper on the nose. Flavors of raspberry, blackberry, and baking spice. Lively acidity with medium tannins. Long finish of red fruit and spice.
This was a fun, educational event, exploring the history and evolution of winemaking in the Sierra Foothills. The event weekend starts on Friday and includes a Prix-Fixe dinner with wine pairings, and a walking tour of the Original Grandpère Vineyard on Saturday afternoon. I was only able to attend the Small Plates and Vertical Tasting on Sunday, but I hope to go again next year to participate more fully. This is an annual event, so if you are in Northern California in January, look into getting tickets and enjoy a taste of California winemaking history.
When a wine region captures the imagination, and worldwide attention, wineries seem to pop up from nowhere. Don’t get us wrong, We’re fully in favor of more wine! Still, there’s something special and intriguing about a multi-generational, family owned winery that has been growing wine grapes for more than 100 years. And so it is at Harney Lane Winery in Lodi, California.
Recently, we had the opportunity accompany our friends and fellow bloggers, John and Irene Ingersoll, for a tour and tasting at Harney Lane Winery. On our arrival, we were greeted by Kyle Lerner. Kyle is an engaging and friendly man, with a wealth of knowledge, wit, and humor. A business major in college, with no farming background, he married into the family, and was mentored by Patriarch George Mettler. Now, Kyle calls the vineyard his office, and with more than 25 years of farming, couldn’t be happier.
Harney Lane Winery is a 5th generation farm. The family originally purchased the farmhouse on the property in 1900, and started growing grapes in 1907. For 99 years, the family sold all the grapes they produced. In 2006, they decided to put their produce into their own line of wine. That year, they produced 1,000 cases of wine. Today, they produce between 8,000 and 9,000 cases. Their wines are produced from 100% estate grown fruit, and despite the increase in production in the past 13 years, they use only about 10% of the grapes they farm. The other 90% are sold to other wineries. The entire estate is 100% certified sustainable under the Lodi Rules.
After pouring us each a sample of their now sold-out Chardonnay, Kyle escorted us on a tour of the park-like grounds, into one of the vineyards, and then to the barrel room for more tasting. The Chardonnay was delightful; crisp and light, just the way we like it, with only a hint of oak influence. The front grounds of the property are amazing! It’s like wandering through a fairy tale, with centuries-old trees, manicured flower beds, and meandering paths. Fountains, benches, and tables with chairs punctuate the walk, giving visitors the opportunity to sit and really relax while enjoying the beauty.
Wandering from the garden to the vineyard, Kyle explained the family commitment to sustainability. As we were there in early spring, we got to see early bud break in the Primitivo vineyard. From the vineyard, Kyle led us to the barrel room and more tasting. We were met along the way by Jorja Lerner, Kyle’s wife and daughter of George and Kathy Mettler.
As Kyle led us through a flight of reds, he talked about the family history and commitment to crafting exceptional, estate wines, balancing winemaker vision with consumer demand. If you think of Lodi wines, specifically Zinfandel, as being big, jammy, fruit-bombs, think again. While definitely exhibiting the local terroir, Harney Lane wines are elegant, restrained, and delicious. These are wines that are at home at both a fine-dining restaurant, and a backyard barbecue.
We started with a taste of the 2016 Tempranillo. Here’s a grape that most people don’t associate with Lodi, but Harney Lane does it right. The grapes for this wine come from 20-year-old vines, and it is excellent. Next, we tasted the 2016 Zinfandel, a well-balanced example of what Lodi can do with this iconic grape. Moving on, we tasted the Primitivo, Lot 18. Kyle explained that the Primitvio is a Non-Vintage wine, blended from a number of recent vintages. Lot 18 is a rustic and tasty blend of the ‘14, ‘15, and ‘16 vintages. Next up was Harney Lane’s Old Vines Zinfandel offering, and their flagship wine. The name, Lizzie James Old Vines Zinfandel, conjures up images of the Wild West, and such heroines as Calamity Jane and the Unsinkable Molly Brown. In reality, though no less inspiring, Lizzie James comes from the middle names of Kyle and Jorja’s children, Kirsten Elizabeth and Ian James. They opted for Lizzie instead of Elizabeth, since the former sounded more rustic and adventurous than “Elizabeth James.” Don’t you agree?
Finally, Kyle shared with us the Patriarch’s Promise Red Blend. First released in 2012, this proprietary red wine is made to honor George Mettler. George was only able to enjoy the first vintage of this wine, before losing his battle with cancer in 2013. Today, 10% of sales from this wine are donated to the American Cancer Society. The recipe for this wine is a closely guarded family secret. Always up for a challenge, we each sipped, evaluated, and tried to determine the blend. My first guess was a right-bank Bordeaux-style blend; Merlot dominated, based on the cherry and pencil shaving notes. However, Kyle confided to us that the current vintage is, in fact, a single varietal wine, from a rather obscure grape. Despite our best efforts to guess, cajole, and entice Kyle to spill the beans, none of us could identify the source of this deep, rich, delicious wine. Or did we? Kyle would never tell.
We returned to the tasting room for one final treat: a taste of the Lizzie James Old Vine Zinfandel dessert wine. For those of you in the know, you are aware that there are strict rules around the naming of wines, and that U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) must approve any wine names in the U.S. So, for example, with few exceptions, any wine called “Champagne” must come from Champagne, France, and any wine with “Port” in the name, can only come from Porto, Portugal. Wanting to stay compliant, while still letting consumers know what they were getting, Harney Lane designed their label in a unique way, that the TTB approved, thus ensuring that Port fans everywhere would know they were in for a treat! Bravo, Harney Lane!
After the tasting and tour, the four of us returned to the garden where we found a comfortable table in the sun, and enjoyed a final glass of Harney Lane wine, while relaxing and enjoying the new tradition that is Harney Lane Winery.
Next time you’re in Lodi, be sure to stop by for some outstanding wine, the tradition of five generations, and the relaxing surroundings that invite you to relax and enjoy.
It was the hot ticket in town! Well, at least in our part of town. OK, maybe just on our block. Regardless, it was a hot ticket! We’ve been wanting to host a wine tasting party for several months now, and at long last we were able to put it on the calendar.
Once the event was scheduled, the preparations began. First of all, what was the format? Simple get together over some wine? Educational experience featuring a particular varietal or region? A taste of the obscure and exotic? We decided that for our first tasting party, we’d keep it basic: a blind tasting of common varietals.
To spice it up and add some fun, we would also have a “Guess the Grape” competition after each wine. Anyone who could guess the varietal got a cork. A bonus cork was awarded if anyone could guess the region. At the end of the tasting, the guest with the most corks was deemed the winner, and got to go home with a bottle of Champagne!
Planning was underway, and as the date approached, the intensity increased. Our format would require five glasses per guest. We had nine guests coming. We don’t have 55 wine glasses! Party store to the rescue with the glass rentals. Placemats? We found these fun, customized placemats on Etsy and ordered them forthwith. Then, the best part…picking out the wine!
We decided to showcase Northern California, single varietal wines, all well known grapes (well, maybe one outlier), and all in the sub-$20 range. We wanted to challenge our guests, some of whom are “red wine only”, or “Chardonnay only” wine drinkers. While we totally respect that, we also feel it is important to step outside the comfort zone once in a while, because, who knows, maybe you’re missing something you really love and don’t know it!
Within the parameters or Northern California, we made the conscious decision to exclude Napa Valley. Aside from the fact that it is hard to find quality Napa wines under $20, we also wanted to highlight the fact that there are spectacular wines from surrounding regions, at a fraction of the prices of the big Napa producers. So it was off to our local Total Wine & More store to stock up. We figured on one bottle for the tasting (11 two-ounce pours is just shy of one bottle) and then two more bottles to enjoy during the after-party. 11 pours? Yes…nine guests plus us. You didn’t think we wouldn’t be enjoying the wines, too, did you?
We went with two whites and three reds. In keeping with tradition, we went lighter to heavier. Here are the wines we selected:
Wine No. 1 – The Outlier:
Husch Vineyards Chenin Blanc La Ribera Mendocino County 2017. Total Wine & More (TWM) Retail: $10.99.
Only one guest was able to identify this varietal…and that was on his third guess!
Wine No. 2 – The Surprise White:
River Road Chardonnay Russian River Valley Reserve 2016. TWM Retail: $17.99.
Not the butter bomb many of our guests have come to expect from a California Chardonnay.
One guest called out Russian River Valley for the region. While Truett-Hurst is a Sonoma County producer, this wine is made with Lodi fruit. Would you have awarded a cork?
Wine No. 5 – The Bargain Cabernet:
Wente Cabernet Sauvignon Southern Hills, Livermore Valley, 2016. TWM Retail: $13.29.
Did you know that Livermore Valley was instrumental in keeping California winemaking alive during prohibition? What’s more, many of the Cabernet Sauvignon vines found in Napa Valley came from Livermore Valley rootstock. Our guest know these things, now!
The Major Award:
Montaudon Brut, NV, Champagne, France.
This is one delicious Champagne! Available from Total Wine & More.
The Lovely Parting Gifts:
MauiWine Mele Red Blend, NV. Available only from MauiWine.
There are wineries in all 50 states. After our amazing trip to MauiWine, how could we not share the Aloha with our friends?
The tables were set. The glasses were poured. The bottles concealed in paper sleeves (thanks to Total Wine & More for rescuing us from out faux pas of not remembering to buy proper blind-tasting bags.) The guests arrived, and after a few minutes of mingling over appetizers, the festivities were underway!
The Christmas Jazz in the background lent a holiday feel to the party. Everybody enjoyed themselves. All our guests expressed surprise at how difficult is was to identify what were some of their favorite varietals. The evening’s big winner was Glen, who went home with the Champagne.
But who are we kidding? Everyone was a big winner that evening. We had a lot of fun. We got to taste some great wine. We learned a thing or two. Here are a few of the major take-aways from the evening:
It’s really, really hard to identify a grape variety when tasting blind. We didn’t even use the black-out glasses, so we at least knew whether we were evaluating a white or a red!
There are some very good wines out there from lesser known regions, at amazing values!
Sometimes to top scoring wine at an event turns out not to be the most popular.
Allow us to elaborate on #3. The evening’s overall winner, in terms of rating points, was the Angeline Pinot Noir. Despite its youth, it is fresh, juicy, and delicious. Nevertheless, during the after party, when the extra bottles were opened, it was the two bottles of Inconspicuous Zinfandel that were drained first. Inconspicuous, indeed.
We had a blast hosting our First (but not last) Wine Tasting Party. We’ll definitely do it again. In fact, we’ve already had an offer from one of our guests to take our party on the road! The next Kent & Robyn’s Wine Tasting Party will be at a guest venue! We’ll also experiment with different formats, like a BYOW, or a food pairing party. The sky’s the limit!
Most wine geeks know the name Chateau Montelena. For those who don’t, allow me to inform you. Chateau Montelena is the Calistoga, California, winery that produced the Chardonnay that beat out Burgundy, France, in the famous Judgement of Paris in 1976. The Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay put Napa on the wine map, and forever changed the landscape of California wine, both literally and figuratively. (Been to Napa lately?)
Would it surprise you to learn that Chateau Montelena is more than world class Chardonnay? Of course being in the Napa Valley, they produce a stunning Cabernet Sauvignon. But did you know they also make a spectacular Zinfandel?
Zinfandel is often thought of as “America’s grape” although genetic testing has determined that the grape originated in Croatia. Nevertheless, Zinfandel is associated with California due to its historical roots to the Gold Rush. Most people associate Zinfandel with Lodi, Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, or perhaps the Sierra Foothills (some of my favorites), but many forget that Napa Valley produces some impressive Zinfandel.
Zinfandel is a hearty grape; a survivor. The vines can live much longer than many other vines, and still produce stunning fruit. Some would say Old Vine Zinfandel is better, softer, and smoother than wine from younger vines. From my tasting experience, I’d have to agree. Zinfandel is also drought tolerant, and thrives in warmer climates, where some other grapes would suffer.
I had never really thought of Napa Valley or Calistoga for Zinfandel, much less Chateau Montelena, known for its Chardonnay and Cabernet. So I was intrigued when I received a sample bottle of Chateau Montelena Calistoga Zinfandel 2015. Winemaker Matt Crafton says of this wine: “…the 2015 vintage showcases [the survivor] quality beautifully. There’s something hallowed in the old, war-torn vines that have endured many challenging growing seasons coupled with the vitality and exuberance of younger plantings that allow us to create this truly compelling wine.”
The 2015 is crafted from fruit harvested from Estate vines that were among the first planted the year Jim Barrett founded Chateau Montelena, 1972, blended with grapes from younger vines. This blend provides the best of both worlds; the soft, smooth qualities of Old Vine Zin, with the youthful fruit and zip of newer vines. 2015 was a very dry year, as California suffered through one of the worst droughts on record. Trees and other vegetation suffered, but the sturdy Zinfandel vines took it in stride, producing rich, intense fruit resulting in an exquisite wine.
This wine was submitted to me as a media sample for review. I received no other compensation. All thoughts, opinions, and tasting notes are my own.
Chateau Montelena Calistoga Zinfandel 2015
Medium purple color with ruby rim. On the nose, more earthy than other Zinfandels I’ve had, but all the fresh blackberry bramble and fruit aromas I expected. On the palate, fresh blackberry, blueberry, cherry, and spice, with dusty chocolate notes, and secondary flavors of vanilla and leather, with smoky notes on the finish. Tannins are bold and chewy; balanced with light acidity. Served with grilled pork chops, the food tames the tannins and really brings out the character. The finish lingers, enticing yet another sip. Perhaps another bottle.
This Zinfandel is truly one of a kind. I’ve tasted dozens of Zinfandels over the years; it is one of my favorite varietals; and this one is definitely unique. It’s bigger, earthier, and with more structure and tannin than many other Zinfandels. If you get the opportunity to try this spectacular wine, take it!
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!
(Update May 2, 2019: I just discovered that Bri’s site is gone. I’ve reposted the article, and you can find it here.)
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
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.
The 2008 Vintage
The 2010 Vintage
The 2011 Vintage
The 2015 Vintage
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.
2016 Barrel Taste
The gorgeous 2012 Vintage
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.
The 2006 Vintage
The 2011 Vintage
The 2013 Vintage
Old, Old Vines Zin: 2005
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.
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!
The 2012 Vintage
The 2014 Vintage
The 2013 Vintage
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!
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.
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.
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!
Now 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!
Ruby 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.
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.
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.
Fields Family Wines 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel – Family Vineyard
Mokelumne River AVA
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.
Tizona by Bokisch 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel – Kirschenmann Vineyard
Mokelumne River AVA
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!
(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.)
Always on the prowl for hidden gems in the wine world, a few days ago we headed out to explore our own backyard on the nearby Placer County Wine Trail. Located east of Sacramento, along the Interstate 80 corridor on the way to Lake Tahoe, the Placer County Wine Trail features 19 wineries, and counting.
Placer County is part of the larger Sierra Foothills AVA. Wine grapes were first planted in here in 1848. If that year seems familiar, it could be because it is the same year gold was discovered in nearby Coloma, sparking the historic California Gold Rush. The miners who traveled to seek their fortunes also came with a mighty thirst. Enterprising European immigrants recognized that planting vineyards and making wine could be a lucrative way to quench the miners’ thirst. In the 1860’s, there were more vineyards and wineries in Placer County than in Napa and Sonoma counties combined! With warm days and cool nights, many Mediterranean varietals thrive in this area.
With limited time available that day, we were only able to visit a couple of wineries. Consulting the Wine Trail map in the pamphlet we picked up, we set our coordinates for PaZa Estate Winery. Winding our way through the hilly, two-lane roads between Lincoln and Auburn, California, we were glad to have GPS on our phones! Over hill and dale, we carefully made our way. As instructed by Siri, we made a hard right in the middle of a 90-degree left turn, and continued on a paved, single lane road. The pavement soon gave way to gravel, and we started to think that Siri had gotten us lost. Cresting a hill, we saw the sign informing us we were approaching our destination. Rounding another curve, a paved parking lot welcomed us next to a residential home. Walking a short distance from the parking lot on a wide gravel path, we soon entered the shaded tasting…shed. Yes, you read that right…PaZa Estate Winery has an open-concept tasting shed, rather than a room. And for good reason! Why would they want to obscure the amazing vineyard and valley views with walls?
Our host that day was Operations Manager, Cindy. She gave us some of the history of the PaZa story. The name, PaZa, is an amalgamation of the first letters of the owners’ names: Pamela and Zane Dobson. Sharing a love for wines, and having enjoyed fulfilling careers and hobbies, they decided to embark on a winemaking journey. They bought the property where the winery is now located in 2005. The first vines were planted in 2007. In 2009, they produced their first vintage, using grapes sourced from other vineyards. Finally, in 2011, the first vintage of estate wines was produced. Estate varietals include Barbera, Primitivo, Petite Sirah, Albariño, and Zinfandel. No fining materials are used, making PaZa wines suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
The day of our visit was warm, but in the shade of the shed and with a cooling breeze through the trees and vines, we enjoyed our tastings of one white and three reds. The 2016 Chardarino, a blend of 60% Albariño and 40% Chardonnay, we delightfully refreshing, with a full mouthfeel and crisp tropical and citrus flavors. The reds included a 2102 Primitivo, a 2013 Barbera, and their LTD – Living the Dream red blend. Aged three years in French oak, the Primitivo burst with dark berry and cherry flavors, and plenty of vanilla and spice. The Barbera was also aged in French oak for three years, and was soft and smooth, with dark cherry and blackberry flavors. The LTD – Living the Dream is a 50/50 blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, and was rich and delicious with ripe blackberry, cherry, and black pepper notes. Big and bold, with firm tannins, the LTD would make an excellent wine to pair with a steak or any other grilled meats.
If you are in the area, and would like to experience some true hidden gems while taking in some breathtaking views from the tasting shed, come visit PaZa Estate Winery. Set your GPS to 3357 Ayers Holmes Rd., Auburn, CA 95602, and enjoy the ride.