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Saturday, 24 October 2015 18:33

October 23, 2015 Wine Pick of the Week

Ridge Lytton Springs Picmonkey

2013 Lytton Springs


Ridge Vineyards

Dry Creek Valley

Alcohol: 14.3%

Suggested Retail: $38


“Legally, the 2013 Lytton Springs isn’t a Zinfandel. In 1973 the law was changed to require any bottle defining itself by a varietal name to contain not just 51%, but 75% or more of the named grape. Since this wine contains just 74% Zinfandel (along with 16% Petite Sirah, 8% Carignane and 2% Mataro, also known as Mouvèdre), it doesn’t qualify as a Zinfandel according to the authorities. However, most knowledgeable consumers would rate is as one of the best Zins out there.

“Perhaps we can call the Lytton Springs Zinfandel-based. It certainly expresses much of the character of this uniquely American variety and is likely all the better for the inclusion of Petite Sirah, Carignane and Mataro. The Lytton Springs vineyard property is actually farmed as 30 separate sub-parcels, each one being harvested separately. The eventual result is a wine combining power and complexity.

“The nose of the 2013 Lytton Springs brings aromas of raspberry and cherry with a little toastiness from the oak ageing. Flavor reprises the black cherry character, along with plums. Subtle notes of dried herbs and a bit of vanilla are here, too. Unlike the very high alcohol and sweetish treatments of Zinfandel, this is a wine for adults.”

Food Affinity: “Would go with any red meat and/or full-flavored dish that you’d ordinarily pair with a red wine. However, this is a special wine and deserves to be enjoyed with something equally special. A prime grade rib eye or New York, grilled to medium-rare would seem to qualify. If you’re cooking indoors, we think something with depth of flavors like osso buco, slowly-simmered in a rich, reddish-brown sauce would be suitable.”

Friday, 11 September 2015 19:49

September 11, 2015 Wine Pick of the Week

Monga Zin label Picmonkey

2013 Monga Zinfandel


Carol Shelton Wines

Cucamonga Valley

Alcohol: 14.8%

Suggested Retail: $21


“Carol Shelton is a great winemaker. Of course, she also does well with other varietals, but most think of her as a Zinfandel specialist. Carol is based in Santa Rosa and sources Zinfandel grapes not just from the surrounding Sonoma County, but also from Mendocino County and from the Lodi area, which is in the San Joaquin Valley about 35 miles south of Sacramento. These are all good grape growing locations, well-known for producing quality Zinfandel, but in the case of this week’s ‘Pick’ the fruit came from Southern California. The Cucamonga Valley is just east of the city of Los Angeles and, before so much agricultural land was gobbled up by a burgeoning population, the area was home to substantial vineyard acreage.

“The normal economic life of a vineyard is not much more than 30 years. After that, production goes down with age. However, the quality of the fruit in a well-tended older vineyard can be spectacular. Some of these properties really are treasures. The phrase Old Vine Zin appears on many labels because it connotes quality in the mind of the consumer. While there is no official standard for how old a vine must be to be considered ‘old,’ fruit for the Monga Zin comes from the Jose Lopez Vineyard, which was planted in 1918. Certainly that qualifies. The land is dry-farmed and is certified organic.

“Just 1471 cases of the 2012 Carol Shelton Monga Zinfandel were bottled. The wine shows some cherry and cedar qualities in the aroma and tastes initially of raspberry, plum and maybe even pomegranate. At 14.8% alcohol, this is a big Zin, but it doesn’t overplay its hand. As the wine opens up, a rich, cocoa-like flavor becomes evident and subsequent sips reveal some spice and herbal notes. There’s power in this wine, but also subtleties. This is a Zinfandel for adults.”

Food Affinity: “Grilled salmon with a whiskey glaze. Slowly-cooked meats in rich sauces, such as osso buco. Chicken or duck sauced with adobo.”

Saturday, 20 June 2015 14:56

June 19, 2015 Wine Pick of the Week

Bogle OV Zin Picmonkey

2013 Old Vine Zinfandel


Bogle Vineyards


Alcohol: 14.5%

Suggested Retail: $12


“What is Old Vine Zinfandel? There’s no official definition—not by the government and not by winemakers, either, so there is some speculation that the ‘old vine’ designation sometimes goes onto bottles containing juice from grapes planted not so long ago. In general, grape vines reach the end of their most productive life after about 30 years, which necessitates replanting the vineyard. In the case of Bogle’s 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel, the grapes came from vineyards in Lodi and Amador County (prime Zinfandel country) planted from 60 to 80 years ago. These would qualify as old by any definition.

“The perception held by many is that older vines produce more flavorful grapes. Generally, these older vines are grown in goblet or head-trained style that produces the gnarled appearance like that illustrated on the front label of this Bogle Zinfandel. Most find this traditional appearance more aesthetically pleasing than the efficiency of vines trained on long rows of wire.

“Bogle has been producing an Old Vine Zinfandel for many years. Their 2013 vintage is a delight. There’s plenty of flavor here, but the winemaker hasn't strayed into that ultra-jammy and overly-alcoholic style. This wine exhibits the traditional virtues of Zinfandel in a bright, sprightly presentation and is a bargain, to boot. Aromas and subsequent flavors of raspberries are supported by the nicely-integrated ground pepper quality in the background. Years ago, during a serious and silent analysis of a series of wines, this reviewer noticed a winewriting colleague seated across the table smiling as he took notes on one of the glasses in front of him. At the next break I asked Rod what had caught his fancy in that particular wine. He replied, ‘I don’t know. Some wines just make you smile.’ This wasn’t the more specific response I had expected, but I understood what he meant. It was a better accolade than any of the typical winewriter jargon. The 2013 Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel is such a wine—it makes me smile.”

Food Affinity: “Were this fall or winter, we might make cold-weather suggestions. Now in early summer we’re only thinking of cooking over charcoal. We say try with a London Broil, grilled to medium-rare, accompanied by a baked potato and corn on the cob (Two starches, but that’s ok. Live large).”

Saturday, 16 May 2015 16:28

May 15, 2015 Wine Pick of the Week

Sbragia Ginos Zin Picmonkey

2012 Gino’s Zinfandel


Sbragia Family Vineyards

Dry Creek Valley

Alcohol: 15.1%

Suggested Retail: $34


“Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley produces other wine varieties, but few would deny that this growing region is best-known for its Zinfandel. Both the variety and the land are in the blood of Ed and Adam Sbragia, father and son winemakers for Sbragia Family Vineyards. Ed’s grandfather, a Tuscan immigrant, came to Sonoma County just after the turn-of-the-century (not the last one, but the one before that—around 1900). He worked for Italian Swiss Colony, among other wineries. Ed’s Dad, Gino, grew grapes for sale and for home winemaking.

“For years Ed was associated with Beringer in St. Helena. There he oversaw a high volume operation, but also made some wonderful smaller production wines, particularly those based on Cabernet and Merlot. These justified the winery calling him their Winemaster, rather than just the winemaker. A quote included in background information provided by his current family winery reads, ‘For 32 years I drove to Napa and made Cabernet and Chardonnay, but when I came home to Sonoma we drank Zinfandel.’

“The grapes for this week’s ‘Pick’ come from three Sbragia vineyards; La Promessa, Italo’s and Gino’s. The latter two, though primarily Zinfandel, were planted in what was known as a field blend (In earlier times, California growers would often plant a vineyard with a field blend of multiple grape varieties in the percentages that they thought would make the best tasting wine, rather than assembling separate varietal lots after crushing). The 2012 Gino’s Zinfandel, an homage to Eds’s Dad/Adam’s Grandfather, is made up of 94% Zinfandel, 4% Carignane and 2% Petite Sirah.  It was aged in French oak barrels for 18 months.

“On opening this wine we found it big, but not overwhelming. We returned to the bottle several times in the next 24-hours and enjoyed it more as time went on. With some aeration it definitely opened up to show complexity not evident when the cork was first pulled. There’s a peppery quality found in many--but not all--Zinfandels that can manifest itself in different guises. Sometimes it’s powerful, like freshly-cracked black pepper. At other times, it can be much lighter and seem like the dustiness of finely-ground white pepper, such as in the aroma of the 2012 Gino's Zinfandel. We noticed other herbal influences, too, but they were subtler and hard to identify. The winery says there are fruit aspects red in character (raspberries, cherries, etc.). We don’t disagree with this observation, but our palate also tasted black fruit qualities like blackberries and dark plums. At 15.1% alcohol, this is a substantial wine, but—unlike some Zins at 15 or above—it doesn’t seem 'hot' or too-big-to-be-balanced. Long finish and very satisfying overall.”

Food Affinity: “Red sauced dishes—but full-flavored ones. Bistecca Fiorentina or maybe just a backyard-grilled London Broil, accompanied by some mushrooms sautéed in olive oil, fresh rosemary and shallots.

Saturday, 29 November 2014 19:53

November 28, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week

Bonterra  Zinfandel Bottle Picmonkey

2012 Zinfandel



Mendocino County

Alcohol: 14.5%

Suggested Retail: $16


“Some may be drawn to Bonterra's Zinfandel because it's made from organic grapes. Nothing wrong with that, but we've encountered some products—wine and otherwise—that taste lousy, however pure, green and organic they might be. Happily, that isn't the case with this wine. We think it's a fine example of the variety and a good value, to boot. While the 2012 Bonterra Zinfandel is packed with plenty of power, it hasn't lost its sense of what this varietal should be all about. We find aromas and flavors of blueberry, plum and blackberry with a little of that intriguing black pepper quality in the background. The wine shows nice balance and a long finish. A very solid effort from Bonterra.”

Food Affinity: “While it worked pretty well with Thanksgiving roast turkey and the accompanying cranberry sauce, first choice here might be beef. Pairing with tri-tip grilled Santa Maria style would be a near-perfect experience.

ZINFANDEL vines by Ray Anderson PicmonkeyAmador Zinfandel at harvest by Ray Anderson

TASTE News Service November 13, 2014 – The Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) pushed to establish National Zinfandel Day in 2010 to recognize Zinfandel's versatility, range of flavors, and many California producers. Renwood Winemaker Joe Shebl couldn't agree more.  "There are so many great vineyards in the Sierra Foothills, especially old vine Zinfandel," he says. "I love being able to work with so many of them." This year's National Zinfandel Day falls on Wednesday, November 19.

Zinfandel is California's "heritage" grape variety.  There were more than 48,000 acres of Zinfandel planted in the State in 2013 and if winemaker Shebl had his way, there would be even more.  He says Zinfandel is a finicky beast that can be graceful and delicate, as well as dense and powerful: "It responds to calculated farming and is superbly enhanced by the judicious use of new French oak."

Renwood Grandpere Zin label PicmonkeyRenwood Winery creates a dozen distinctive Zinfandels every year, among other varieties. Shebl just released many of his 2012 Zinfandels in time for the holidays, where, he says, he'll be pouring Zinfandel at home because "it's one of the few wines that will satisfy everyone at the table." If he's not in the winery, Shebl is often in the kitchen. The winery promoted Shebl's personal barbecue sauce recipe throughout the summer, and he says, "It's a great recipe to use for barbecuing and tailgating throughout the football season, too." (The recipe can be downloaded from the Renwood website here.)

Renwood will be hosting food and Zinfandel pairings at the winery the week of National Zinfandel Day, and they'll be pouring Shebl's new Zinfandels at ZAP's Zinfandel Experience in San Francisco, January 29-31, 2015.  More information at Zap.com.

Renwood is part of the privately held Blends portfolio.  Blends is an international family of wine estates that produces fine wines from some of the most renowned wine regions of the world. The portfolio includes:  Renwood and Santino wineries from California's Amador County, California's The Cleaver, Bodega Vistalba, Tomero, and Bodega Argento wineries from Argentina's Mendoza region, Arido from the Maipu District of Argentina, Bodega Garzon of Uruguay, and Montalcino's Podere Brizio and Dievole from the heart of Tuscany's Chianti Classico region.

Editor's note: Information in this report supplied to TASTE News Service by PRNewswire. If you're planning a visit to Renwood or any of the Zinfandel producers in Amador's colorful wine country, first check out the Gold Country listings in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of all the wineries, as well as links to many Lodging and Dining options.

Friday, 15 August 2014 11:13

August 15, 2014 Wine Pick of the Wine

Dry Creek Vnyd Heritage Vines Zin 2012 Picmonkey

2012 Heritage Vines Zinfandel


Dry Creek Vineyard

Sonoma County

Alcohol: 14.5%

Suggested Retail: $20


“This 2012 Heritage Vines really does exhibit characteristics of Zinfandels from an earlier era. Fruit was sourced from vines that are the product of cuttings from a pre-Prohibition Zinfandel vineyard grafted to modern rootstocks. Petite Sirah provides 15% of the blend.

“There's a bit of that quality the reviewer has called 'brambly,' a descriptor that has no real definition, but sometimes resonates with other Zin fans. The Dry Creek Heritage Vines Zinfandel has lots of berry fruit personality—blueberries and blackberries say the winery's tasting notes, but we find some raspberry in its profile, too. In the background is a dusty white pepper quality that's found too infrequently these days. Lovely, long finish.”

Food Affinity: “Rich and slowly-cooked meat dishes. Short ribs. Beef stew perhaps incorporating cloves and/or orange peel. Eggplant with Moroccan spices.”

Sunday, 08 June 2014 10:55

June 6, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week


Red Hat bottle Picmonkey

Red Hat (N/V)


Mellowood Vineyard

El Dorado County

Alcohol: 14.2%

Suggested Retail: $28


“We tasted this wine at a visit to the winery a couple of weekends ago, liked it and purchased a bottle to take home. Without having tasted it, we'd never have spent more than 10 bucks for a non-vintage product without varietal components identified on its somewhat hokey label. However, quality tells, regardless of how it's presented.

“The fruit is bright and shows cherry and raspberry aspects. A bit of spice and white pepper in the background reminds us of Zinfandel the way Sierra Foothill winemakers used to do it. Underlying these first impressions is a deeper, almost plum-like quality. After tasting the opened bottle today, we spoke to Linda Neal, the winery proprietor, who told us that her Red Hat is a blend of 2009 Syrah and Syrah and Zinfandel from vintage 2010. Asked about any residual sugar that might have left a finishing impression of softness, Linda said the wine was fermented completely dry and such softness/sweet impression on the finish was likely due to the oak cooperage. This wine is easy to drink and has way more significance than you might think—another reminder not to judge a wine by its bottle.”

Food Affinity: “Would play well with most meats you want to have with red wine. We think that the white pepper from the Zin and the subtle smokiness of the Syrah would make this a great choice for some slowly-cooked pork ribs or beef cuts finished with a tomato and vinegar-based sauce. 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014 00:07

Winemakers Discover Lodi Natives


Lodi Native six wines and brochure PicmonkeyOur first tastes came at Wine & Rosesby Dan Clarke

Lodi is both an old region and a new one. Though some of its century-old vineyards are still productive, much new planting has been done in recent years Lodi is now home to between 110,000 and 120,000 planted acres of winegrapes. It produces about 40% of all the Zinfandel grown in the state.

Though maps will show Lodi just about in the middle of California's very warm Central Valley, its growing conditions belie that fact. Lodi benefits from a marine influence that travels eastward from San Francisco Bay, making its climate considerably cooler than the interior growing regions south of it.

As wine consumption in America has grown in the last couple of decades, Lodi has become a valuable resource for California's wineries, producing good quality varietal grapes at reasonable prices. However, much of each harvest has gone to large wineries outside the area, often to be blended into wines carrying the identities of more prestigious coastal regions.

Todd Maley in Wegat Vnyd PicmonkeyTodd Maley explains the nature of head-trained vines to his visitors

The Lodi region is diverse and grows more than 60 different grape varieties commercially with more planted experimentally. Two thirds of the production is reds, but the signature grape here is Zinfandel and some of those old Zin vineyards are absolute gems.

As the quality of Lodi fruit has become better known, the area has attracted artisan winemakers. At the moment there are more than 70 wineries in the area, most of them small and family operated. Many of the winemaking newcomers have sought out those old Zinfandel vineyards that are the heritage of the region.

What are the best of Lodi's Zinfandel vineyards capable of producing? At the instigation of wine writer Randy Caparoso, some of the area's best winemakers and growers put their heads together to explore that idea. After a considerable number of meetings, the group devised the “Lodi Native protocols,” which defined what the winemakers could do—or perhaps not do—in making that fruit from these vineyards into wine. The vineyards were already known to the six participating winemakers and had supplied grapes for some of their best wines. But this was about the vineyards, not the wineries. It was decided that the vinification would involve minimal intervention from the winemakers. Only the ambient (native) yeasts on the grapes would be used, no new oak would be employed, no alcohol reduction techniques, no fining, no filtering. As Caparoso put it, “the objective was to make the most vineyard-expressive wines possible.” Each winemaker agreed to make a quantity of wine in this manner from the 2012 harvest. Ultimately, 120 six-bottle cases would be made available for sale—every case containing a bottle from each of the half-dozen winemaker/grower collaborations.

St Amant Marians Vnyd bottle PicmonkeySt. Amant label shows vineyard sourceAs part of The Lodi Zinfandel Experience, a few journalists joined a larger group of Zinfandel fans to hear from the growers and the men making wine from their heritage vineyards. Visitors who gathered in the ballroom of Lodi's Wine & Roses Hotel recently had half a dozen glasses in front them, allowing tastes from the products of each of these six vineyards as it was being discussed. Later in the day attendees boarded buses to visit three of these Lodi Native vineyards, where they could again sample the wines expressing their essence while hearing about the viticultural practices from the growers themselves.

Locals speak of “West Side” and “East Side” vineyards, with the division being Highway 99, which bisects the area in a north-south line. Asked about this East-West difference, Maley Brothers winemaker Chad Joseph replied as a winemaker at first, saying vineyards to the east tend to produce fruit that is more spicy, giving clove and cinnamon qualities. In those to the west, he believes fruit tends to produce wine with more baked cherry aspects and pronounced herbal notes.

Todd Maley's family has been farming in the area since the 1850's. Our group got first hand experience at his Wegat Vineyard, which is located on the West Side. It was field-budded onto St. George rootstock by the Maley family in 1958 and was one of the three vineyards our group visited in the afternoon. There we again tasted the wine that the Wegat Vineyard has produced and got a chance to hear Todd Maley tell us more about how he farms the property while we walked among his vines.

Stuart Spencer, winemaker at St. Amant, related that he and his father started using the Mohr-Fry Ranch's Marian's Vineyard in 1999. The relationship with Bruce and Jerry Fry has been felicitous. “We had no written contract, we just worked it out,” remembered Spencer, who added, “which I think is what Lodi is all about.” The 113 year-old, eight-acre vineyard is about in the middle of the West-to-East divide, but shows more of the sandy soils typical of Lodi's East Side vineyards. Marian's Vineyard yields the more classic big Lodi cluster with big berries, he said.

Tim Holdener at Noma Vnyd PicmonkeyTim Holdener gestures toward encroaching properties

Macchia is known for producing an array of vineyard-designated bottlings and its proprietor-winemaker Tim Holdener chose the Noma Ranch to source grapes for his contribution to the Lodi Native project. The vineyard, planted in the early 1900s, is half-a-mile east of Highway 99 and is described as one of the East Side's sandiest sites. It is dry-farmed and yields only about one ton per acre on scraggly, low-lying vines, but its small Zinfandel berries provide powerful flavors. The 15-acre vineyard is becoming surrounded by commercial neighbors and, at such tiny production, doesn't return much on the ever-increasing value of the land. Its future agricultural viability may be in doubt, but for the moment the Noma vineyard remains the source of Macchia's most intensely concentrated fruit.

The six vineyards providing grapes for the 2012 Lodi Native wines are part of the heritage of this winegrowing region. It's expected that others will join these pioneering growers and winemakers and that The Lodi Native project will continue in each subsequent vintage. Stuart Spencer called the development, “very encouraging,” adding “I think we'll keep looking at it to raise the profile of the Lodi region and help tell its story.”

Editor's note: More detailed information about the Lodi Native project can be accessed at www.lodinative.com. If you're planning a visit to this growing region check out the Lodi listings in the Central Valley section of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of area wineries, as well as links to Wine & Roses and other Lodging and Dining options. 

Sunday, 10 November 2013 13:56

November 8, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week

 Bonterra  Zinfandel Bottle Picmonkey


2011 Zinfandel


Producer: Bonterra Vineyards

Appellation: Mendocino County

Alcohol: 13.5%

Suggested Retail: $15.99


“Today's Pick of the Week is produced from certified organically-grown grapes. Bonterra has been a pioneer in producing wines from organically-grown fruit and believes it produces better quality wine.

“We've tasted some excellent wines made from organic grapes. We've also tasted some lousy ones. The 2011 Bonterra Zinfandel belongs in the former category. However, we chose it for its taste rather than its green pedigree. There's a whiff of raspberry and finely ground pepper in the nose, which is followed by flavors evoking blueberries and Santa Rosa plums. Again in the taste, there's the presence of ground pepper (the seeming presence, we should explain, not the actual presence of added pepper). This Zin is rich, but not overpowering and has a moderately long finish. Rather restrained when compared to the bloated, more-is-better, style of Zinfandel, the Bonterra Zin is subtle and sophisticated .”

Food Affinity: “Zinfandel has been grown for a very long time by Californians of Italian ancestry. This Zin could be a good part of a Saturday afternoon if served with aperitivi (snacks) of prosciutto, Calabrese salami, crostini and cheeses. To accompany a main course, we'd suggest serving it with lamb chops which have been rubbed with garlic, rosemary and a little olive oil and grilled to medium-rare.”

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