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Daily Glass: Oh, Turley

June 14, 2019 2 comments

I remember discovering Turley Zinfandel many years ago for the first time at the pre-theater dinner in New York with my friend Henry. I wouldn’t tell you now if I heard something about Turley before we picked the bottle of Turley the off the wine list, or if it was just a happy accident. I just remember our reaction of a pure “wow” at how beautiful the wine was. Ever since that discovery, Turley wine almost became our secret handshake – when I show up with a bottle of Turley at my friend’s house, I get an understanding smirk and a nod – “you did good, buddy”.

Once the Turley was discovered, the very next question was – how can I get it. This is where I learned about the concept of the wine mailing list, starting with the waitlist (I talked about all those terms before – if you need a refresher, the link is here). I believe Turley was one of the first if not the first of the wine lists I signed up for (meaning, got on the waiting list for the mailing list). Turley also happened to be the very first mailing lists I got accepted to – to my big surprise and delight, as the wait was not that long (a few years).

Turley Estate Zinfandel Napa Valley

In case you are not familiar with Turley and don’t readily share into the excitement of the subject, here is a brief introduction. Turley Wine Cellars is a winery in Napa Valley in California, which specializes in Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. The winery was started in 1993 by Larry Turley, who was actively working in the wine before and developed a serious passion for Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, especially for the old vine Zinfandel (some of Turley vineyards are continuously producing since the late 1800s). Today, Turley produces 47 different wines from 50 different vineyards throughout Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Lodi, Amador Couty and other regions in California. You can find Turley wines in the stores and the restaurants, but they are scarcely available, as while they are making 47 different wines, most of the wines are produced in the hundreds of cases only, so the best way to get Turley wines is by signing up for the mailing list. One more thing I want to mention, as it is important to me – even with all the [rightly deserved] fame (they are definitely one of the top 5, or maybe even top 3 Zinfandel producers in the USA), Turley wines are still affordable on the mailing list, with some of the wines still priced at $20, and with absolution majority of the wines costing under $50 (Hanes Vineyard Zinfandel is probably the only exception at $75).

Since I got on the mailing list, Turley wines became my favorite present for the wine-loving friends. Every time we meet, my friend Patrick gets a bottle of Turley to take home to Switzerland – it is an equal exchange though, as I always get a bottle of unique and interesting Swiss wine – not something you can casually find here in the US. I also love the reaction such a present causes when people look at the bottle. I brought Turley for my friend Oz when we met in Singapore, and I handed it to him when we were finishing dinner. I perfectly remember huge, ear to ear smile on his face when he saw the bottle, and his exact words sharing the excitement with his friends “look, he got me a Turley!”. Lots of fond memories associated with Turley, in a variety of ways.

What caused this outpour of Turley love? Opening of the bottle of 2014 Turley Estate Zinfandel Napa Valley. How can I describe it? To me, a well made Zinfandel should have a perfect core of raspberries and blackberries with the addition of spices – it should have restrained sweetness and not be jammy. If you drink Zinfandel often, you know that what I just described is difficult to find. This wine had exactly that. A perfect core of ripe, succulent raspberries and blackberries, covered in pepper, sage, sweet tobacco and eucalyptus. Perfectly dry, with a firm structure and layers and layers of flavor. This is the wine you say “ahh” after every sip, and you say “ohh” when the bottle gets empty. And to complete my description, note that 15.6% ABV was not noticeable at all. A perfect balance and pure pleasure is what makes this wine so special.

Here it is, my wine love story of the day. What’s yours? Cheers!

Daily Glass: Enjoy Your Wine and Play With Your Food – Beyond Meat Food, It Is

June 11, 2019 Leave a comment

I appreciate winding down Sunday with a good glass of wine and a family dinner. When it is warm outside, such a Sunday dinner typically means grill – and this past Sunday was not an exception (or maybe it even was a bit of an exception as it was dry and pleasantly warm, and not hot at all, compared to mostly hot and humid weather of the last year).

Kids love steak in this house. While shopping for a steak at our local Fairway Market, something caught my eye. Beyond Meat? Really? Both Beyond Meat The Beyond Burger and Beyond Meat Beyond Sausage Original Brat? Wow and double wow!

Let me explain the excitement.

Beyond Meat Burgers and BratwurstsI have plenty of friends and relatives who are vegans and vegetarians, so with the summertime, the question of a good meat alternative is always becoming hot – when someone visits our house, I really want people to feel included and taken care of, no matter what their dietary restrictions are, so the search for a good vegan burger, etc. was always on. A few years ago, I came across the product called Beyond Burger, made by the company with a catchy name Beyond Meat. The description of Beyond Burger, which offered full resemblance of the regular burger, including the blood, sounded a bit suspicious, so I carefully researched all the ingredients and to my dismay, found that all of the ingredients are natural and there was no red paint added to this product. When I decided to try it, further research proved it to be mission impossible – Beyond Burger was available only at the Whole Foods (which I don’t frequent), and the Internet was full of complaints of the people who desperately tried, but failed to find it in their local stores, as the product was always out of stock. I also learned that in addition to Beyond Burger, the same company is offering a new product called Beyond Sausage, which sounded to me too good to be true. Again, this all was taking place 3-4 years ago.

This year, Beyond Meat went public (and mind you, very successfully – while the initial offering was at $25/share in early May, today it is trading at around $168/share, and it is just about a month later). And it appears that they managed to increase their production and distribution – now I saw the actual product instead of just reading about it. Thus, as you can imagine, I simply had to try it, even though it is quite expensive for what it is – $5.73 for two burger patties and $9.99 for four “bratwurst” sausages – you can buy the pack of 14 real bratwurst sausages at Costo for $8.99. Nevermind all the price talk – the question is simple – is it tasty? Would I be happy to serve it to the guests?

What is the best way to compare wines? The blind tasting, of course. What is the best way to compare foods? Well, the concept of “blind tasting” in wine can’t really apply to the food, unless you would actually blindfold someone, or taste your food in one of those dark rooms were waitstaff wears special goggles. So I didn’t attempt to do any sort of the fair comparison, especially as the dinner plan included steak and not the burgers. However, I had some of the Costco bratwursts in the fridge, so battle sausage was definitely on.

Before we talk about the battle food, let me share with you two delicious wines we got to enjoy on Sunday. First, a Chardonnay from … Italy. Yes, Italy makes excellent white wines, and excellent Italian Chardonnay can be found more often than not – but I still get surprised every time at how good it can be. 2015 Maculan Chardonnay Veneto IGT (12.5% ABV) was delicious from the getgo. Beautiful golden color in the glass, a touch of honey and vanilla on the nose. The palate was plump and generous, with white apples, white plums, a touch of honey and vanilla, good acidity and nice weight. The wine might be close to its prime and offers an ultimate indulgence at the moment as it is perfectly balanced. My wife, who generally don’t drink white wines, said “wow” and asked for another glass.

Sunday calls for some special wine, so I decided to go with 1999 Hendry Block 28 Zinfandel Napa Valley (15.8% ABV). In case you are curious what makes this wine special, it is its age. I don’t drink routinely 20 years old wines (I wish I could), so every time I open a bottle of such an age, it constitutes a “special bottle”. Besides, Zinfandel is one of the pet peeves. The wine just jumped from the glass with the ripe blackberries and blueberries, supported by mocha and sweet oak. The palate offered layers and layers of goodness – ripe berries, a touch of blackberry jam, velvety smooth but well present mouthfeel, lots and lots of pleasure. I can also tell you that I noticed alcohol level only on the label, but not in the glass. A very well made, delicious wine.

Now let’s get back to food, as we have the battle to discuss.

Here is how both products looked before the cooking – note the real bratwurst at the bottom of the picture with sausages. Burgers look scarily realistic, and while Beyond Meat sausages look slightly different than the real sausage, they still look perfectly real overall (there are plenty of different sausages of exactly the same color):

Both burgers and bratwurst should be cooked for 3 minutes per side according to the package instructions, which is exactly what I did. Here is the result, again including the real bratwurst for comparison:

As you can see, Beyond Meat products have somewhat of a yellow hue (okay, this are the iPhone pictures, so you might have to take my word for it). Otherwise, both burgers and saysages perfectly held up to the cooking process and were very easy to handle – maybe even easier than the real meat products, considering the there was no fat coming out to cause the flare ups.

Just so you know we didn’t really convert into the vegans, here are few more dishes from our dinner (yes, this are real meat and real scallops):

And now, to the taste.

I made a small mistake of not creating the full experience out of the burger, meaning having it with a bun, tomato, ketchup and so on. On its own, it was quite decent, with some tiny hints of not been made out of the real meat (but then remember that it was not a blind tasting, so I was clearly influenced by the appearance). The sausage, however, was mind-boggling. It literally was identical to the real bratwurst in the taste profile and texture – I would never be able to distinguish it if I would close my eyes. Simply a wow.

If you read my typical wine posts you would know that at any possible occasion, I like to taste the wines over the course of a few days to see how they will change. When it comes to the food, it is not that I like to taste the food on the second or a third day (by the way, some of the soups and stews actually benefit from an extra day in the fridge), but I can’t stand wasting the food, so I usually make an effort to work on the leftovers for as long as possible or needed. What it has to do with this story? Simple. We had leftovers of both Beyond Meat burgers and bratwursts. Over the next two days, both perfectly held up to the reheating in the microwave, and both were perfectly on point in taste and texture, resembling its real meat brethren even more than on the first day while freshly made.

There you have it, my friends. The verdict on Beyond Meat burgers and bratwursts? Beyond reproach. I will be happy, very happy to serve them to my guests at any gathering. And yes, I hope you enjoyed your Sunday night wines too. Cheers!

Celebrate Zinfandel – 2017 Edition

November 16, 2017 7 comments

– “Would you like a glass of Zinfandel”?

– “ahh, sorry, I don’t drink sweet wines”

Have you ever witnessed such dialog, at a bar, restaurant or a tasting? For all of us, oenophiles, the word “Zinfandel” has only one meaning – dense, smokey, brooding, concentrated red wine, with a good amount of fruit and spice. However, for many wine drinkers, the descriptor associated with the Zinfandel is “white” – and the white zinfandel, indeed, is a sweet wine, and it still confuses people.

Zinfandel is often called “an American grape”, despite the fact that it came to America from Croatia (or maybe Italy), where it had a few names on its own. From point of view of the science, Crljenak Kaštelanski, Tribidrag, Primitivo and Zinfandel are all different names for the same grape. From point of view of the producers – not so much, but this is not the subject of to0day’s post.

Zinfandel is really an American phenomenon. It shows the best results in California, and there it can be produced pretty much in any AVA. Napa Valley and Dry Creek Valley are considered two of the top AVAs for Zinfandel. However, last year I visited Lodi as part of the wine bloggers conference, and I absolutely fell in love with the Zinfandel wines Lodi produces.

Zinfandel Day_AutoCollage

Forty percent of all Zinfandel in California is growing in Lodi, which is rightfully crowned as “Zinfandel Capital”. Lodi is a home to some of the oldest Zinfandel vineyard, dating back to 1888. Lodi also has 750 growers tending to 110,000 acres of the vines. In 2013, winemakers in Lodi started the project called “Lodi Native” – 6 winemakers set the minimalist rules to how the wine can be made, and all 6 winemakers followed the same rules regarding fermentation, use of oak and ageing, so you can taste the difference in the vineyards which bore fruit, unadulterated. Last year I had an opportunity to taste all of the Lodi Native Zinfandel wines, which were pronouncedly different – hopefully, I will still write that post one day…

Good Zinfandel wines might be called the most playful red wines – my favorite descriptor for Zinfandel is “smokey raspberry”, and I’m always very happy to find that in the glass. Even when the label says “Zinfandel”, there are typically few other grapes added to the blend, often in minuscule quantities – Petite Sirah, Cinsault, Alicante Bouschet are all popular blending partners of Zinfandel. There are lots of Zinfandel producers, but I have my own list of personal favorites which I’m happy to share, in no particular order: Carlisle, Rober Biale, St. Francis, Turley, Harney Lane, Bruce Patch, Ridge.

How did you celebrate Zinfandel Day? Who is your favorite producer? Cheers!

WBC16: Day 2 – Speed Tasting, Reds

September 4, 2016 1 comment

A few days ago I told you about the live blogging session at the Wine Bloggers Conference 2016, dedicated to the White and Rosé wines. On the second day, we had a similar session, only now dedicated to the red wines. The same format – 60 minutes, 19 (or so) tables, 25 (or so) wines, 5 minutes to taste, take pictures, ask questions and share impressions in the social media, of course. Also with the higher chance of damage – clothes damage, it is, as we were dealing with red wine and time-pressed pourers. But this is part of fun, isn’t it?

Same as before, I would like to offer to you my twitter notes. Just to make it even more fun, you can compare my notes with Jim Van Bergen’s, a fellow blogger we had a pleasure of sharing the table with (alongside other great people – I think we had the most fun table in the house).

Here we go:

Wine #1: 2014 The Federalist Zinfandel Lodi ($17.76 MSRP) – very nice start for our Reds extravaganza

Wine #2: 2013 Windrun Pinot Noir Sta Rita Hills (100% Pinot Noir, blend of 5 clones from Lafond Vineyard) – nice and classic California Pinot

Wine #3: 2012 Corner 103 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County – clean and varietally correct

Wine #4: 2012 Prie Vineyards Zinfandel Lodi – another excellent Zinfandel

Wine #5: 2012 Trione Vineyards Henry’s Blend Alexander Valley (35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Merlot, 13 % Petite Verdot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec) – a welcome deviation from Zinfandel, a classic Bordeaux blend. I also realized that my tweet didn’t have the picture, so picture is now included:

Trione Vineyards Henry's Blend

Wine #6: 2013 Peirano Estate ‘The Immortal’ Zin Old Vine Zinfandel (120 years old vines!) – if anything, the age of the vines commands utmost respect. Note that my tweet incorrectly puts the vintage as 2012, where it is 2013 (I blame it on the speed).

Wine #7: 2013 Klinker Brick Farrah Syrah Lodi – an excellent rendition of one of my most favorite grapes

Wine #8: 2013 Abundance Vineyards Carignane Lodi (90% Carignane, 10% Petite Sirah)

Wine #9: 2014 Oak Ridge Winery OZV Old Vine Zinfandel (Zinfandel/Petite Sirah blend) – Number one selling Zinfandel in California and a great value at $10.99

Wine #10: 2013 Harney Lane Old Vine Zinfandel Lizzy James Vineyard Lodi  – one of the best Zinfandels in the tasting

Wine #11: 2013 Michael David Winery Inkblot Cabernet Franc Lodi – in the land of Zinfandels, we finished tasting with an absolute standout of 100% Cabernet Franc – you have to taste it for yourself

Here we go, folks. As you can tell, I can’t even count – we had 11 wines and not 10 during these 60 minutes, but yes, it was lots of fun. And I’m far from being done talking about Wine Bloggers Conference 2016 in Lodi.

Until the next time  – cheers!

WBC16: Overwhelmed Even Before The Day One

August 19, 2016 20 comments

Zinfandel grapesYet another ambitious plan goes nowhere. While attending the Wine Bloggers Conference 2016 in Lodi, I had a great idea of posting a recap of the prior day in the morning. No need to start checking for the missing posts from me – none of it happened. Every day was so packed from dawn to dusk that what seemed to be a great idea didn’t survive the test of the reality. Yes, I probably could muscle a few lines in, but it would come at the expense of the great time talking to the fellow bloggers, which was the trade off I didn’t want to make.

So here we are, the conference is over, so now I will do my best to share my perspective of the events as they took place. Here we go.

I took a flight early morning on Thursday to arrive to San Francisco. After getting the rental car, my first stop was in Napa, at Oxbow Public Market, where I met for lunch Danielle Irwin and her husband Derek. Oxbow Public Market is a very interesting place, conceptually somewhat close to the Chelsea Markets in New York, only built in modern, contemporary style, with lots of small artisan shops and restaurants, offering food and wine, fresh produce, coffee and whatever else your heart desires. Great place to stop by if you are looking for a break during your winery visits.

It was a great pleasure to meet Danielle and Derek face to face. I had been virtually talking to Danielle for a while – she is writing her blog Danielle Dishes The Vineyard Dirt at Naggiar Vineyards in Sierra Foothills, where her husband Derek is the winemaker. Derek is a vigneron who is involved in a lot of vineyard and winery projects, and he also produces his own wines under Irwin Family Wines label. I had a pleasure of tasting his Tempranillo, which was the first California Tempranillo I ever tasted. Conversation with Derek was an excellent introduction into the Lodi wines, as he gave me some ideas for what to expect there.

A hour an a half later, after a ride along route 12 which I wouldn’t call pleasant (lots of stop and go traffic, not a fun ride) I arrived to the Hampton Inn in Lodi, which became home outside of home for the next 3 days.

The first event of the night was the conference opening reception at the Mohr Fry Ranch, sponsored by Lodi Wine. With that reception came my first real encounter with Lodi wines.

LoCA wine glasses

Until coming to Lodi, I only knew it as a source of many Zinfandel wines. And then there was a perception of hot, high alcohol wines, based on the tasting of occasional Cabernet Sauvignon with Lodi regional designation. Yep, that’s all I had on Lodi in my head.

The very first taste of the Lodi wine broke that perception. By the end of the tasting, it was shattered completely and didn’t exist anymore.


I stopped at the table of the Fields Family Wines, and the very first white wine I tasted was 2015 Fields Family Wines Clay Station Vineyard Grenache Blanc Lodi. I never tasted Grenache Blanc from California, let alone the fact that it is coming from one of the hottest regions (yep, sense my fear?) – yet the wine had clean acidity, touch of minerality, restrained fruit – a great start.

You know what – now I’m afraid to bore you away with all this “acidity and restrained fruit”, but this was the trait of literally every Lodi wine I had an opportunity to taste – there were no fruit bombs, there were no hot wines, there were delicious, well made world-class wines, made with love and care. I just have to tell you this, as it was really an overarching impression over the three days of tasting, so now I will [try to] avoid repeating myself all the time.

Have to be honest – the next red wine I approached with trepidation (huh, like the previous one I did not, right). Tempranillo from Lodi? I already told you that I had good experience with Irwin Family Tempranillo from Napa, but it was one particular wine, which doesn’t guarantee anything in a long run. And if you are reading this blog for a while, you know my passion for the Spanish Tempranillo wines – and now in my mind I was facing a clear opportunity to be disappointed. First sip of this 2010 Fields Family Wines Tempranillo Lodi put all my doubts to rest – the wine had a nose of black fruit and spices, and it was dark and brooding on the palate, with those espresso notes so characteristic in the wines of Toro in Spain. An outstanding rendition by all means, and I would love to see it in a blind tasting against the actual Toro wines.

2010 Fields Family Wines Estate Grown Syrah Lodi was an excellent example of the cold climate Syrah – touch of roasted meat, dark fruit, spicy with clean acidity – great rendition of another one of my favorite grapes. 2011 Fields Family Wines Estate Grown Syrah Lodi added more complexity and more roasted meat, all with perfect balance. 2010 Fields Family Wines Petitte Sirah Lodi was simply outstanding, offering silky smooth, velvety texture, supple ripe black and blue fruit with enough acidity in the core to make the wine perfectly balanced. As you can tell, Fields Family Wines provided a splendid introduction into the wines of Lodi.

Harney Lane Winery

My [now exciting] Lodi wine deep dive continued at the next table. Successful first experience should’ve really put me at ease – and still, an Albariño on the label triggered a subconscious alarm – Lodi doesn’t leave the impression of the Rias Baixas (not that I visited Spain, unfortunately, but just a mental image of coastal region), so “just in case, prepare for the worst”, the concerned brain said. This happened to be really a needless worry. 2015 Harney Lane Albariño Lodi had a a nose of white fruit and excellent acidity on the palate, which is the typical characteristic of the Spanish Albariño. 2013 Harney Lane Tempranillo Lodi was a bit lighter than the Fields Tempranillo version (it was also 3 years younger), but still preserving the core of dark fruit and good acidity. 2013 Harney Lane Lizzy James Vineyard Old Vines Sinfandel Lodi was as classic as Lodi Zinfandel can be – blueberries, blackberries, spices – very tasty.

I could continue tasting Lodi wines as there were many more winemakers present. However, there is something you need to know about Wine Bloggers Conference. In addition to all of the program events, there are always lots and lots of activities taking place somewhere around the WBC space. Call them private tastings or what, but this is something to pay attention to. Thus we left the reception, and after a short drive arrived at a house where Troon Vineyards tasting was taking place.

Troon Vineyards started in Southern Oregon in 1976 (vines were planted in 1972). I’m sure that when you hear “Oregon wine”, your first thought is Pinot Noir – nevertheless, Troon Vineyard doesn’t produce any Pinot Noir wines, and instead focuses on Mediterranean grape varietals (and Zinfandel). Another interesting fact is that many of the Troon wines (especially the whites) are co-fermented, meaning that different varietals are fermented together at the same time, as opposed to fermenting separately and blending afterwards.

I tried a number of Troon wines, with the two favorites been 2015 Troon Blue Label Longue Carabine, Applegate Valley, Southern Oregon (blend of Vermentino, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne) – touch of perfume on the nose, medium to full body with expressive minerality and good acidity. 2013 Troon Black Label M*T Reserve, Applegate Valley, Souther Oregon (blend of Malbec and Tannat) had nose of black fruit with dark core and good structure, medium to full body and good balance.

The last stop of the long day (remember, I left the house at 5 am in the Eastern time zone) was at the Rodney Strong Vineyards party, which was luckily taking place right at the hotel.

Rodney Strong winery had been producing wines in Sonoma for more than 50 years and would well deserve its own post to talk about their long history (the oldest vineyard at Rodney Strong was planted in 1904) and their achievements. But for the sake of this post, let me just talk about few of their wines I had an opportunity to enjoy.

2015 Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Charlotte’s Home, Northern Sonoma was excellent – grassy nose, fresh, crisp and restrained palate, with just a touch of grass and lemon – delicious and very refreshing. 2009 Ramey Platt Vineyard Chardonnay Sonoma Coast was a stand out (no wonder Ramey Chardonnay was one of Decanter magazine’s 10 best Chardonnay wines in the world outside of Burgundy) – classic intense vanilla nose, vanilla apple and pear on the palate, excellent balance and excellent overall. As an extra bonus, the wine was poured from double-magnum (3L) bottle. In case you are wondering about connection here, David Ramey is a consulting winemaker at Rodney Strong.

The reds of Rodney Strong provided an amazing finish to the very long but very exciting day. 2013 Davis Bynum 2013 Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir Dijon Clone 115 Russian River Valley was a classic California Pinot Noir – with plums and smoke, soft and round. 2010 Rodney Strong Symmetry Meritage Alexander Valley is one of the very best Bordeaux blends from California – again, classic, classic, classic – cassis, green bell pepper, mint, perfect structure, absolutely delicious wine. The last three reds were flagship single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon wines – 2009 Rodney Strong Alexander’s Crown Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley, 2013 Rodney Strong Rockaway Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley and 2013 Rodney Strong Brothers Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley. Considering the end of a very long day, I’m not going to give you any details on the notes other than that all three were classic Cabernet wines, pure, varietally correct  and delicious – I would love to drink those at any day.

If you are still with me, aren’t you tired reading this post? I’m tired even writing it – but we are done here. My first WBC16 report is over – and more to follow. Cheers!

To be continued…

My #ZinfandelDay experiences – [mostly value] Zinfandels

November 22, 2014 9 comments

I like to celebrate grape holidays in a close proximity of my wine fridge – there is always a good chance that I have a good bottle of the appropriate celebratory wine. So if I would’ve been next to my cellar for the #ZinfandelDay, I would be able to chose between Turley, Carlisle and St. Francis – not too shabby, right? Only I wasn’t. I was traveling, so it was the whole different game.

Once again, I was in California. As it was mentioned many times in this blog, when I’m in a close proxomity of Trader Joe’s which sells wine, then Trader Joe’s it is. So I went to Trader Joe’s and bought 3 different Zinfandel wines – two of the Trader Joe’s own labels, and Ravenswood. Literally next door to my hotel, on my way back, I saw a store called Grocery Outlet, which I never heard of before. So I had to stop by and check it out. Interestingly enough, the store also had a wine section with the number of very interesting bottles, with prices starting from $2.99. When I saw another Zinfandel at $5.99, it was also quick and easy decision. And now, there were four.

Below I will share with you my notes on the wines, which ranged in prices from $4.99 to $9.99. Some of the takeaways were quite interesting, as I tasted the wines over a few days, but I will let you read through my notes as they are. And there was one more Zinfandel to mention. Here we go:

zinfandels2012 Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel Vintners Blend California (13.5% ABV, $7.99) – Crushed red fruit on the nose, touch of earthiness. Palate is a little thin on the finish, first showing a burst of dark fruit and smoke, but again, the finish was disintegrated with sharp acidity. This was the end of my notes on the first day – as you can see, I didn’t really like it. At the end of the second day, however, the wine showed a lot more round, integrated and balanced – dark fruit, spices and touch of herbs (sage). Drinkability: 7+

2013 Trader Joe’s Zinfandel Growers’s Reserve Paso Robles (13.5% ABV, $4.99, made with organically grown grapes) – Touch of fresh berries on the nose. Smoke, clean fruit, blueberries and blackberries on the palate. Clean, simple, easy to drink. Opened up even more at the end of day 3 (!) – smoke, sandalwood, round with nice open complexity. My favorite out of the 4. Drinkability: 7+/8-

2012 Trader Joe’s Reserve Zinfandel Lot #92 Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County (14.5% ABV, $9.99) – dark fruit on the nose with touch of blackberries. Hint of smoke and roasted notes on the palate, blackberries, restrained, somewhat round, but need more substance. This was the end of the day 1 – an okay wine (I’ve been nice here), but not anything interesting. At the end of the day 3 (!), very noticeable tannins came out with smoke and dark fruit, overall much better than before. Needs time? Drinkability: 7-/7+ (on day 3)

2009 Parallax Zinfandel Amador County, Sierra Foothills (15.1% ABV, $5.99 at Grocery Outlet)  – touch of fresh blueberries on the nose, just a touch. Round, clean, blackberries on the palate. Touch of earthiness. Finish somewhat lacking, need more complexity – this was an initial assessment at the end of the day 1. At the end of the  day 2 – nice complexity, spices, lots of blackberries, very noticeable tannins. An excellent steak wine, good balance, more dark fruit. Very impressive. Drinkability: 8-

So what do you think? A very interesting experience, if you ask me. It took these wines a few days to change and open up – the biggest winners were Parallax Zinfandel and Ravenswood, which improved quite a bit, from barely drinkable to pretty much delicious. And the most interesting wine was probably the least expensive Trader Joe’s Grower’s Reserve Zinfandel, which tasted fine from the very beginning and even throughout the three days. Considering its taste profile, it would make it a perfect Thanksgiving wine, as it will match a wide range of flavors.

Well, to top it all off, I need to include one more Zinfandel here. On the exact #ZinfandelDay, we had dinner at the 71 Saint Peter restaurant in San Jose, and as you can imagine, I wanted to start the dinner with the Zinfandel, just to properly acknowledge the holiday. Out of only three Zinfandel wines available on the wine list, 2012 Peachy Canyon Westside Zinfandel Paso Robles (14.5% ABV, $22 winery, $45 at the restaurant) was highly recommended by the staff. You know, when you drink the wine in the restaurant, you don’t have a luxury of playing with it for 3 days to see what will happen… The wine had ripe blackberries on the nose, and was dark, firm and concentrated on the palate, and also had some nice black fruit. I think it would open up more if it was given a chance, but it was gone way too quickly, so in the interest of fairness, I will not rate this wine.

There you have it, my friends – my [mostly value] Zinfandel experiences, with some interesting outcome, when even the inexpensive wines can evolve and surprise you. How was your #ZinfandelDay? Cheers!

 

Wednesday’s Meritage – #MWWC13 Reminder, Zinfandel Day, How To Start A Blog, WS Top 100 and more

November 19, 2014 11 comments

MWWC_logoMeritage Time!

Lots of things to share – let’s  get to it! First of all – the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #13. The theme is Serendipity, and I really hope the theme is intriguing enough to see a lot of entries in the contest! For all the rules and regulations, please take a look at this post.

Last week we celebrated Tempranillo, and yet another grape holiday is upon us. On Wednesday, November 19th, we are celebrating an iconic American grape – Zinfandel! The Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Syrah wines are made pretty much everywhere in the world – but Zinfandel, in its pure form, is a real representative of an American winemaking culture. It is very easy to celebrate Zinfandel – just find a bottle of your favorite Zin, open it up and say “wow”. That’s all what is required.

When it rains, it pours. Wednesday is a Zinfandel holiday, but on Thursday, November 20th, we are going to celebrate the new grape harvest! November 20th is a third Thursday of the month of November, which means … yes, Beaujolais Nouveau time! I know, Beaujolais Nouveau often gets bad rap from the wine aficionados, but to me, the wine considerably improved over the last 5-6 years, and now it is a real wine which gives you real pleasure. I’m very much looking forward to tasting the 2014 Beaujolais Nouveau. And don’t forget that this new wine is celebrated all over the world – from Paris to New York to Washington to Chicago, you can find many events celebrating new harvest and life – just use the faithful Google, it will help you find the live event if you care to attend one.

On Monday, November 17th, Wine Spectator released its annual Top 100 Wines List for 2014. 2011 Dow Vintage Point was declared the wine of the year. What is amazing to me is that my friend Zak (wine store owner), predicted this exact wine to be the wine of the year in 2013 – and now it is, only one year later – that is very impressive in my opinion. The list looks quite diverse, with entries from all over the world. One of the interesting facts is that 3 out of the Top 10 wines are from Portugal. The least expensive wine on the list is priced at $10 (Bodegas Montecillo Rioja), and the most expensive one is Ornellaia at $240. You can analyze the list in many more ways – here is the link for you. Note that you can also go through the past 25 years of the Top 100 lists using the same link.

Recently I came across a blog post which provides excellent tips for the beginner bloggers about the content, dealing with social media, promoting the blog and all other related issues. I’m sure many of my readers already know most of this, but it never hurts to go through a refresher course – there is a good chance of finding something new. And for the people who are contemplating to start their own blog, having that good of an advice might be a tipping point. Here is the link to the post. I will also make it available on my Resources page.

Do you want to know in advance when the wine holidays are taking place? Me too – and this is why I’m glad I found this calendar, which lists most of the wine holidays in a very easy to understand format – here is the link so you can see it for yourself.

Last for today is a note of the new service called CorkSharing. If you plan to visit a winery, you can use the service to book your tasting in advance – when you arrive at the winery, you can just proceed to the tasting without waiting for it in line. The list right now includes 11 countries and 166 participating locations. I think this is an interesting service, especially if you plan your winery visit in advance.

And we are done! The glass is empty – but the refill is on its way. Cheers!

Another “How Do They Do It?” Set of Trader Joe’s Wines

May 23, 2014 21 comments

Trader Joe wines San DiegoOn the multiple occasions, I wrote about Trader Joe’s wines in this blog. I generally only can taste them when I travel, as Trader Joe’s stores in Connecticut can’t sell wine. Thus if I’m in the close proximity of the Trader Joe’s store, and schedule allows, I always make an effort to taste something new.

While Trader Joe’s wine selection generally includes wines at the different price levels, my focus is always on the most inexpensive wines. The rationale is simple – at $9.99 and above, there is a great selection of wines in my neighborhood wine store. At the same time, there is practically nothing in the $4.99  – $6.99 price range, thus it is very interesting how good (or how bad) such wines can be.

In general, I can’t complain about Trader Joe’s wines. My typical “success rate” is somewhat of the 3 out of 4 ratio – if I would taste 4 wines, at least 3 of them would be at “I want to drink it again” level. But this time, while in San Diego, California, I was simply blown away – 6 out of 6, 3 wines at $4.99 and 3 at $5.99, where perfectly drinkable wines which I would gladly drink again on any day! This was definitely a “how do they do it???” moment, as I would never expect, for instance, Rosé or Zinfandel from California to have such a QPR, to taste as good as they did considering the amount of money I had to pay for them.

Without further ado, let me present to you my 6 out of 6 set of “how do they do it?” wines from Trader Joe’s.

2012 Pancake Cellars Big Day White Paso Robles, California (13.5% ABV, $4.99, 37% Chardonnay, 23% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Viognier, 15% Pinot Blanc, 10% Muscat Canelli) – I can only guess this is modeled after the Conundrum, only this wine I actually enjoyed (and it costs 1/4 of the Conundrum)! Very nice and refreshing nose of white fruit with herbal undertones. On the palate, nice, round, good acidity, white fruit, white apples, very good balance. While not the most complex, definitely very enjoyable! Drinkability: 7+/8-

2013 Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles Rosé Paso Robles, California (13.5% ABV, $4.99, Mourvedre 49%, Grenache 26%, Syrah 25%) – you can safely assume that I had zero expectations opening a bottle of Rhone-style Rosé from California which cost $4.99. Boy, was I wrong. The wine was simply outstanding – bright, cheerful, full of strawberries and cranberries, perfect acidity – get it by the case to make your summer days super enjoyable. Drinkability: 8-

2013 J.L. Quinson Cotes de Provence AOP (12.5% ABV, $5.99) – same as the one above, zero expectations for Provence Rosé for $5.99 – sorry, the internal snob is speaking. First sniff and sip – wow, I’m convinced. Perfectly restrained, mineral, light, refreshing acidity – as classic as Provençal Rosé gets, only at half price or even less, depending on the bottle. Another case buy for the summer, in case you need my recommendation. Drinkability: 7+

2012 Oreana Wines Project Happiness Syrah California (13.5% ABV, $5.99) – see the happy face on the label? This is what this wine is – happy. No, this is not the most thought provoking Syrah you can drink, but it is simple, easy to drink, round and balanced, good fruit on the palate, a tiny bit of pepper. Throw in a little barbequed meat – and your face might look exactly as the one on the label. Drinkability: 7

2011 Symington Family Estate Tuella Douro DOC, Portugal (13.5% ABV, $5.99) – Douro wines are slowly but surely gaining their international reputation, so this is definitely a good deal of a very solid wine which you can also age. It was showing a little tight, with reserved fruit expression, but good overall balance and acidity. At this price, if you got some space in the cellar, forget a few bottles there – you might thank me in a 3-4 years. Drinkability: 7

2012 Trader Joe’s Grower’s Reserve Zinfandel Paso Robles (13.5% ABV, %4.99) – the first smell exhorts the “wow”. Good Zinfandel at $4.99 didn’t sound to me even as a remote possibility. And then this Grower’s reserve comes in – perfectly open, with clean smokey raspberries and blackberries, very round fruit expression on the palate, with the same smokey berries being very present and well matching the nose – the QPR on this wine simply goes through the roof. No, this wine doesn’t have the richness of Turley or Carlisle, but then you don’t need to cellar it for 10 years before you can really enjoy it. If you like Zinfandel – this is definitely the wine you have to experience. Drinkability: 7+/8-

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I tip my hat to whomever is responsible for sourcing the wines for Trader Joe’s stores – to say “well done” is almost to say nothing – great job, and please keep doing it over and over again, to the delight of all the wine lovers out there. Cheers!

Zin Versus Zin Versus Zin

June 18, 2013 11 comments

Wine Guerrilla Monte Rosso Zinfandel DSC_0328I was in “zin’s mind” this past Father’s day. I don’t know how did that happened, but when I was thinking what bottle to open for dinner, “how about Zinfandel” thought came over. I had no reason to resist, so Zinfandel was it. And by the way – the title of this post sounds a bit antagonistic – but this is not the idea. I just happened to enjoy recently 3 different Zinfandel wines, hence the wording in the title.

Zinfandel is one of the pretty unique grapes – even if we will count Primitivo as Zinfandel (which technically is incorrect – it is only a very close relative), there are only a handful of places where Zinfandel wines are produced. But – the good news is that California, the primary Zinfandel’s habitat, has no shortage of excellent Zinfandel producers.

If you will take a look at my “Happy Father’s Day” picture, you can see two Zinfandels there – and these are the wines I want to talk about. First, a couple of words about producers. Turley Wine Cellars needs no introduction for any Zinfandel aficionado. Turley produces 28 wines, most of the them are Zinfandel with addition of few Petite Sirah and some others, coming from Napa, Sonoma, Lodi, Paso Robles and other primary areas in California. Turley is a “cult” winery, and while their wines can be found in some of the very select wine stores and restaurants, one really have to be on their mailing list to have more universal access to their wines (Turley was the first mailing list I was accepted onto – give me a second and slice of lemon to extinguish smile on my face).

The second producer is called The Wine Guerrilla. While not as well known as Turley, they also produce a full range of Zinfandel wines from the different areas in California. It is interesting to point out that The Wine Guerrilla is the only producer (to the best of my knowledge), which doesn’t make any other wines but Zinfandel. When your slogan is “The Art And Soul of Zinfandel”, I guess this is rather appropriate.

DSC_0640 Turley 2009 PesentiI decanted both Turley and Wine Guerrilla Zinfandel for about 2 hours. Yes, I know this is not typical to use a decanter around Zinfandel, but both wineries make wines rather in restrained style, so I really wanted them to open up. First up – 2009 Turley Pesenti Vineyard Zinfandel Paso Robles (16% ABV). Even after two hours of decanting, the most I got on the nose was a hint of blackberries and some dark chocolate notes. The very first sip of the wine said “I’m big”. The first words which come to mind to describe this wine are “dense”, “firm”, “structured”. On the very firm structure the perfect fruit is weaved (hmm, interesting composition of the sentence – not a typical one for me, but I like it : ) ). More blackberries and dark chocolate on the palate, but also an “old world style” minerality was coming through, and then acidity was all in check. The wine is perfectly balanced, with tannins, alcohol, fruit and acidity being all together, in harmony. Drinkability: 8-

DSC_0638 wine guerillaNow, let’s talk about 2010 Wine Guerrilla Mounts Vineyard Cypress Block Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma (15% ABV, 95% Zinfandel, 5% Petite Sirah, 300 cases produced). The wine showed a lot of dark fruit on the nose, mostly blackberries and cherries. On the palate, the wine was not as structurally dense as Turley, but instead it had layers of fruit with very nice luscious texture – ripe blackberries, cherries and dark chocolate, and a hint of eucalyptus. Very good acidity and overall nice and round wine, excellent balance. Drinkability: 8-

Did you notice a label of another Wine Guerrilla Zinfandel at the beginning of this post? It is there not for the purposes of decoration – it is actually another Wine Guerrilla Zinfandel which I had a week ago. 2010 Wine Guerrilla Monte Rosso Vineyard Block E44 Zinfandel Sonoma Valley (15% ABV, 200 cases produced) was totally unique in its style. To give you an idea, I would call it a Brunello of Zinfandels. After 2+ hours in decanter, the first thing which came to mind after the first sip was “dry”. This wine was soooo dry – uniquely  dry for Zinfandel. It was also very herbaceous for the Zinfandel, with lots of dried herbs aromas, such as sage and oregano. It did show some fruit, but in very restrained, dialed back fashion. Definitely the most food friendly Zinfandel I ever tried, very balanced overall. Drinkability: 8

So I have to confess that I have one regret in regards to three wines I presented to you today. One, but big regret – I really want to taste these wines 10 years down the road! No, decanting didn’t do them any justice. These wines have to mature first, and then they will give you an ultimate pleasure. They were great and very enjoyable wines now, but they would become something much much bigger – if I would only have some spares…

Before we part, I want to share a few pictures from the Father’s day. Few weeks ago, my cousin got for me a new charcoal grill which is called “mangal” and it is mostly intended for making a kabob, but of course can be used as generic charcoal grill. Here are few pictures for you – with the warning – it might make you hungry…

Ribs and chicken

Ribs and chicken

just chicken

just chicken

just ribs

just ribs

That’s all I have for you for now. Ahh, before I will forget – don’t miss the WTSO Cheapskate Wednesday tomorrow, June 19th. Expected to appear are Benziger Pinot Noir, Rioja DOC Crianza, Provenance Merlot, Pomo Nation Cabernet, Expo Cabernet and Edenhall Shiraz, of course in addition to many many other wines. Cheers!

Disclaimer: The Wine Guerrilla wines were provided courtesy of Wine Guerrilla. But of course all opinions are my own.

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, Le Féret, En Premeur Tales, 1WD Giveaway and more

June 5, 2013 11 comments

Meritage time!

Let’s start from the answer to the wine quiz #59, Grape Trivia – Zinfandel. In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about California’s star grape, Zinfandel. DSC_0370 Wine Guerrilla Zinfandel

I know many people prefer to answer quizzes in the Google-free form – however, this Zinfandel quiz was somewhat of an exception. Let’s move on to the answers.

Q1: It was established recently that Zinfandel existed in Croatia under a different name, at least from the 15th century. Do you know what was that name?

A1. This was actually a tricky question. People, I mentioned Crljenak Kaštelanski right in the text of the quiz – I was hoping that this would be enough of a hint that this will not be a right answer. If someone will look into Wikipedia, you will be able to find that “After years of research and DNA testing of vines from vineyards across the globe, a single 90 year old grape vine from the garden of an elderly lady in Split, Croatia, provided the evidence to show that Zinfandel was a Croatian grape that has been known as Tribidrag since at least the 15th century.” So the correct answer for the question #1 is Tribidrag.

Q2: While Zinfandel typically listed on the label, very often some other grapes are added to the blend. Name one grape which can be considered a traditional blending partner of Zinfandel

A2: Petite Sirah. Look at the information on many Zinfandel wines, and you will often see at least some percentage of Petit Sirah to be a part of the blend.

Q3: Pink Zinfandel was discovered by accident. Can you explain how that happen, and possibly use the proper winemaking term for the “accident”

A3: Oops, sorry, I should’ve being checking my writing. It is actually White Zinfandel, not Pink, of course – pink is just a color… Anyway, I see that many of you figured out what I meant ( I will still correct the question) – yes, White Zinfandel was discovered as a result of the accident, which is called “stuck fermentation” – all the yeast dies and fermentation stopped before sugar was fully converted into the alcohol.

Q4: Two California winemakers are largely credited with putting red Zinfandel wines on the wine map. Can you name them?

A4: Most of you mentioned only the wineries – and the question was actually about the winemakers. But thedrunkencyclist was correct mentioning Ridge and Ravenswood – Paul Draper of Ridge and Joel Peterson of Ravenswood are largely considered the pioneers of California Zinfandel.

Q5: Most of the well known Zinfandel producers still make other wines from the different grapes. But there is one winery in California ( at least that I know of), which make nothing but Zinfandel wines. Can you name that winery?

A5: Yes, this was a tough question too. Most of the famous Zinfandel producers – Turley, Ravenswood, Rosenbloom, Seghesio, Robert Biale, and so on – are all producing other wines in addition to their great Zinfandels. The only winery I know of which produces Zinfandel and nothing but Zinfandel is Wine Guerilla – it is not for nothing they are calling themselves “An Art and Soul of Zinfandel”. Take a look at their line up – they are currently offering 13 different kinds of Zinfandel – and nothing but Zinfandel.

Summing it up, we don’t have winners this week, and Jeff, a.k.a. thedrunkencyclist gets an honorable mention with 3 correct answers out of 5.

Now, to the interesting stuff around vine and the web!

Have you heard of Editions Féret? I have to admit that I didn’t, not until I read a Wine Spectator article called “The Book that Defined Bordeaux“. It appears that the book, now called Editions Féret, or simply Le Féret, which started exactly 200 years ago as 84 pages travel guide, and had grown to become a 2,296  pages bible, largely defined Bordeaux wines, starting from famous 1855 classification – it was that book which rated the wines simply based on their prices in 1850, which was taken as a foundation of 1855 classification. Read the article, I think it is quite interesting.

According the post on Dr.Vino’s blog, it appears that during En Premeur, a primary Bordeaux event where new vintages are presented, one and the same wine can be “processed ” differently for the different groups of tasters – Americans will get the wine exposed to more of the new oak, and the same wine for the French audience will be finished to have more subtle showing of the fruit. Is it true? I have no idea. But it gets a final product into an interesting perspective – does it mean that one and the same Bordeaux wine can taste differently depending on where you will buy it ( in US or in Europe)? Hmmm…

Do you like giveaways? Of course you do, who doesn’t? So assuming that you do, please go and check this post at 1WineDude web site – if you leave a comment there, you will get a chance to wine one of the 5 memberships in the French Wine Society. I think it is not a bad deal, huh?

Last but not least – mark your calendars for June 19th – and make room in your wine cellars and their equivalents. Yep – WTSO is doing it again! Famous Cheapskate Wednesday is coming into town on June 19th – for more information please visit WTSO web site (you can find link in the “Buying Wine section to your right) or click this link.

That’s all I have for you for today, folks – the glass is empty. But refill is on on its way. Until the next time – cheers!

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