Archive for the ‘Review zinfandel wine’ Category

Too Much Of Everything: California Zin and Chard

raisinsI was reading an article about Zinfandel written by Jon Bonne of the San Francisco Chronicle’s blog, SFGate. The event that prompted the article is the ZAP festival coming soon to SFO. What’s ZAP, you say? The acronym stands for Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, and it’s a group of winemakers and wine drinkers  who love big, juicy, high alcohol, red wine.

And there’s the rub — the “big, juicy, high-alcohol” part. Zinfandel producers have been accused of letting the grape lead them where  no man/woman should go. The criticism is that grapes are  left on the vine until they’re too ripe and too high in sugar, producing a Port-like wine with more raisin than berry flavors and alcohol above 15%. On top of that, many producers overdo the oak barrel aging to add texture, and they end up with waaaaay too much vanilla and toast. As well as everything else.

Some say, “Bring it on!” Others say (yours truly included), “Tone it down!”

It’s important to point out that all Zin producers aren’t on the same side of this fence. Bonne quotes two winemakers: Ehren Jordan, who makes wine for Turley Wine Cellars, said “I actually have a major issue with a lot of Zinfandel that is produced in California.” Mike Dashe, owner/winemaker of Dashe Cellars, a vey respected Zin producer, said, “I think some of the exuberance for that super-ripe, almost overripe, fruit is not there anymore…I really think that people are tired of that.”

I sure am. My palate gets tired of those Port-like Zins after about one sip, and the over-ripe fruit starts to comes across muddy and flabby. There’s no balance in these wines, and balance is what good wine is all about.

At about this point in Bonne’s article, I started going, “Hmmmm: overdone, too heavy, too much oak.  This sounds like the Chardonnay debate!”

The same arguments made about Zin could be made about a lot of California Chardonnay. I happen to be one of those wine drinkers who object to chewing on a 2×4 when I drink a glass of Chardonnay, and there used to be way too many of those on the market. Recently, though, I’ve seen a trend away from the Super Woody Chards towards a more balanced style where fruit, acid and oak all happily co-habitate.

I have an idea. I say we get the High Alcohol Raisin’y Zin people together with the Over-Oaked, Too Buttery Chardonnay folks. We make them try each others wines, and maybe they’ll see the faults that the rest of us have been grousing about. Then the wine industry can set about making nothing but wines that the discerning public (i.e. “me”) can enjoy.

What a concept! Do you think it’ll work? Cheers…

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Power, Finesse and Fun from Napa’s Elyse Winery

rayNow here’s a New Year’s resolution I can get behind: “Resolve to drink more wine in 2011.”

That quote is right upfront and center on Elyse Winery’s homepage, and it tells you something about the spirit of this winery. Owner and winemaker Ray Coursen is a big, fun, talkative guy who’s happy to share theories and stories about wine, food and life. Here’s another quote from their homepage:  “Winemaking is cooking without a flame. Our winemaking philosophy at Elyse in Napa Valley is similar to the approach of a great chef who carefully prepares artisan grown ingredients to bring each layer of flavor to the table.”

Ray learned winemaking from the ground up, working hard in the vineyards and cellars of wineries including Whitehall Lane. He learned to love fruit: “When I make a wine…what’s most important is the fruit. The fruit dictates what the wine will be.” To be able to use the best fruit, Ray doesn’t limit himself to a single estate vineyard. He’s one of the new breed of winemakers who depend almost totally on growers with whom he has long-term contracts and long-time friendships. Most of the vineyards are in the heart of Napa Valley, including the Morisoli Vineyard, which has given him fruit for award-winning Cabernets and Zinfandels.

We recently listened to Ray tell stories while we tasted four of his wines, including the Morisoli Vineyard Zinfandel 2007. This is classic Napa Zin, not that jammy, soft, fleshy stuff you get from California’s warmer regions. There’s structure and acid to this Zin, along with plush raspberry fruit, coffee and spice notes. And did I mention that Ray loves to blend? This Morisoli Zin is actually a blend of 87% Zin and 13% “other.” That 13% is comprised of eight Rhone and Italian grapes that only wine geeks have heard of. It’s called a Field Blend, because those grapes are all picked and fermented together instead of being blended just before bottling. However he manages it, Ray makes a killer Zin that’s powerful but elegant.

“Powerful and elegant” also describes Elyse Tietjen Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. This is classic Rutherford Bench Cab that’s like a fist in a velvet glove. The heavily concentrated fruit and massive structure are clothed in velvety tannins, delivering power along with finesse. The nose offers blueberries, chocolate and something deep and dark, leading to a palate with highly extracted dark berries, vanilla, and spice, and more of that deep, dark whatever. The 2005 was drinking beautifully — too bad you can’t but it anymore!

We switched gears with Elyse’s Rhone varietal wines, which come from a vineyard in the Sierra Foothills. The C’est si Bon 2006 is a food-friendly, crowd-pleasing field blend of seven Rhone varietals. Its name is a nod to the French, and roughly translates to “It’s So Good.”  Indeed it is. This is the jammiest of his wines, with rich raspberry and pomegranate fruit, hints of mocha and leather. There’s still decent structure behind the fruit, and a finish that’s long and creamy.

Elyse Nero Misto 2007 is another field blend (its name translates to “Mixed Black”), but this time the predominant grapes are Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Carignane and Primitivo. There’s more structure and acid to this blend, but plenty of strawberry, plum and cherry fruit with a hint of spice. Toasty oak comes through on the finish, along with that acid that makes this a great wine with red sauces, spicy foods, and just about anything else you can dream up.

From the Elyse website again: “Ray makes wines that he wants to sit down and enjoy – juicy, rich, voluptuous wines. “I love wines that pair well with food. A meal without wine is eating; a meal with wine is dining – it’s a conversation, an event. It’s what wine is about.”"  Sit down and enjoy his wines, and you’ll think so too.

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Beast and the Beauty: Cline Cellars Old Vine Wines

old vinesYou’ve never seen an uglier excuse for plants. They’re stunted, and twisted, and gnarled, and – dead looking! And they’re “growing” out of something that should be on a beach somewhere, or in a desert…

These unlikely-looking plants are in fact Old Vine Zinfandel vines, and they’ve been gnarling and twisting for anywhere from 80 to 100 years in Contra Costa, California.

Back when these vines were young, Contra Costa was a booming farming community about 50 miles east of the San Francisco Bay area. Now there are strip malls and subdivisions threatening the vineyards, but they still somehow push out green leaves every spring and purple fruit every Fall. And Cline Cellars turns the purple fruit into some amazing wines.

If you wonder how really old plants can make great wines, let me explain that Old Vine grapes are particularly prized for the intensity and complexity of their fruit. Because they’re grown in this really lousy, sandy soil, the roots have to dig very deep – like 10 to 30 feet – in search of nutrition and water. They pick up lots of flavor components along the way, and in turn produce fruit with bolder and more complex flavors. They are “stressed”, as they say in the industry, and for grape vines that’s a good thing…

Mind you, they don’t produce a lot of fruit. But the winemaker doesn’t want a lot of fruit: vines with fewer grape bunches can concentrate more flavor in each bunch. And these Old Vines certainly pack in the flavor.

We tasted several Old Vine wines, starting with Cline Ancient Vines Mourvedre 2009. Almost inky black in color, it starts with a mouthful of blackberry fruit and a hint of something mushroom-y, with notes of spice and pepper. The body is very rich, but it’s saved from being “flabby” by some pretty good acid and tart cranberry fruit coming in at the end.

Then there are three single-vineyard Old Vine Zins, each named for the road that abuts the vineyard. Cline Bridgehead Zinfandel 2008 was my favorite. It had the deep, dark blueberry nose and palate that I look for in good Zin, with lovely hints of spice and vanilla. And did I mention that it’s 15% alcohol? This is typical of Old Vines, and can make them way too “hot” on the palate, but Bridgehead manages to stay in balance to produce a big, but not overpowering taste experience.

Cline Big Break Zinfandel 2008 shows much the same base flavors, but with more spice. And jumping right out at the end is a hit of eucalyptus. If you wonder how this herbal component gets into Zin, just look at the tall stands of eucalyptus trees lining Northern California’s vineyards. These monstrous trees with their peeling red bark and long, narrow, gray-green leaves literally drop their flavor (in the form of pollen and oils) onto the vineyards.

Cline Live Oak Zinfandel 2008 showed more of a fleshy nose, with blackcherry elements to the fruit and a soft fleshiness on the palate. It had more weight and less balance – I wanted something to lighten it up at the end. But of course, after tasting four of these big boys my palate could have been just a bit fatigued…

Unless you’re one of those purists who believe high alcohol is a sin against the Wine Gods, you’ll find this to be a really fun flight of wines. It’s like tasting Big, Bigger and Biggest! Just make sure you do it in the privacy of your own home, or in the company of a Designated Driver. Enjoy!

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Wine “Coolers”: Definitely Not Cool

sangriaHere I go, ranting again about another one of my pet peeves. If you don’t want to hear it, just hit the “close” button now

So if you’re still with me, you may want to know what’s so bad about Wine Coolers. After all, we’re probably all guilty of quaffing one or ten back in the bad old days of the 1980s, before we knew what good wine was all about. (OK, I admit it, and I drank White Zin, too…)

So what’s wrong with Wine Coolers? Let’s start with the fact that they contain ABSOLUTELY NO WINE! They are officially classified as a Malt Beverage, which means they’re made just like beer. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: some of my favorite beverages are beer. But they don’t CLAIM to be wine. Read the rest of this entry »

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Seghesio Zinfandel Review

vineyard sunsetSeghesio Vineyards is one of our favorite all-time wineries. We’ll tell you that right off the bat and admit possible prejudice in our wine review. One of the reasons we love Seghesio is that it’s one of the few family-owned wineries left in a sea of corporate-owned wine conglomerates. When you visit the Seghesio tasting room, you feel like everyone there actually CARES what you think and WANTS you to have a good experience. And we always do.

Just about every wine lover who hasn’t been in a cave for the last 18 months knows that Seghesio’s 2007 Sonoma County Zinfandel was launched into the stratosphere when it received a 93 rating and earned the #10 place on Wine Spectator’s “Top 100 Wines of 2008.” Not bad for a $25 wine. Read the rest of this entry »

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