Archive for the ‘Review zinfandel wine’ Category

Three Cheers for Four Vines

The guys at Four Vines are not like everyone else — intentionally. When their winery was a start-up, back eight or so years ago, they departed from the herd of heavy, oaked-up whites to make one of California’s first un-oaked Chardonnays. Their Zinfandels, which were their signature wines back then, were regionally specific and showcased regional flavors, instead of being all jammy-pruney-blocky like a lot of California Zin.

I was pleased recently to revisit Four Vines through an online tasting of current vintages. Here’s what I thought.


The 2011 Four Vines Naked Chardonnay is all about pineapple. The nose is tropical and bright, and the first sip zings across the palate with luscious tropical fruit balanced by crisp natural acidity. This stuff never comes near a barrel, so there’s no heavy wood or vanilla flavors.

But wait! There is a nice tapioca creaminess that comes through near the end and rounds out the mouthfeel. I did a little research and yes, the wine did make a passing acquaintance with malolactic fermentation (you know, that secondary fermentation that transforms green-apple-y acids to milky-creamy acids). That little bit of ML apparently toned down that intense acid created by the super-cool weather during the summer of 2011.

I liked this wine, and my husband, who likes those over-the-top New Zealand whites, liked it too. I’d call this a crowd-pleasing, well-balanced, fun summer white.

The 2010 Four Vines Truant Zinfandel seems to be trying really hard to be a bad boy, but I’d have to say:


Truant Zin is not jammy, not prune-y, not block-y, and not hard to drink. In fact, it was really easy to drink a bunch of it with my Seared Ahi Tuna. Who would have thought?

Truant Zin is also not 100% Zin. Actually, it barely beats the 75% needed to be labelled Zinfandel, and includes a healthy dose of Syrah and a splash of Petite Sirah, Barbera and Sangiovese. Really? Who thought of that blend? But it works beautifully.

I really like the dominant blueberry and blackberry flavors that are forward, but balanced by good natural acidity (is that the Italian varietals strutting their stuff?). This red is relatively light on its feet, with a hint of spice to make it just a little bit edgy, and is a great food wine. In fact it may need to make an encore appearance next time I make red sauce (that’s spaghetti sauce to you non-Italians).

Paniza, Spain


A surprising addition to our wine tasting was a Spanish red called Alto-Cinco 2011, which is a collaboration between Purple Wine Company (which owns Four Vines), and Bodega Paniza in Spain. There is so much history and romance to this winery that I don’t know where to start, except to admit my prejudice right up front: I love Spanish reds. I think Spain stands shoulder to shoulder with any wine region on earth when it comes to producing high-quality, value-priced wines. So don’t expect a totally unbiased review…

Now back to ancient, cobble-stoned streets and visions of kings, queens and warriors… The village of Paniza is located in the province of Aragon, which since the 17th century has been a leader in the production of Garnacha (that’s “Grenache” in the rest of the wine world).

Alto-Cinco (“High-Five” to English speakers) is a blend of Garnacha from high-elevation, old-vine vineyards, with a splash of Tempranillo (Spain’s other world-famous grape). French and American oak barrel aging rounds out the mouthfeel. California winemaker Alex Cose worked with the winemaking team at Bodegas Paniza to create this red that I’d call an “Old World food-friendly but New World fruit-forward” wine. I loved the juicy dark berry flavors framed  by that lovely European acidity and supple tannins.
All three of these wines are priced to be good everyday drinkers (under $12 for the Four Vines, $13 or so for the Alto-Cinco), and I’d be happy to add them to my table. Cheers!


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Lodi Revisited

lodiIf you see a wine label that says “Old Vine Zin” or “OVZ,” chances are pretty good that it’ll also say “Lodi.”

Besides being a small town in Northeast Ohio, Lodi is a wine region in Northern California known primarily for its Zinfandel. The appellation hasn’t traditionally had the cachet of “Napa” or “Russian River,” sitting as it does in the warmer central part of California. Wine geeks associate warm-climate regions with flabby, un-structured wines that may sell well at the grocery store but don’t usually rate a place at the Premium Wine table.

But wait! Lodi has more to offer than the wine geeks allow, as I can testify after tasting through several wines at an online interactive tasting event sponsored by an association of Lodi wine producers. There was surprising variety and a few really excellent bottles that made me rethink my definition of “Lodi wine.”

First, let’s get this climate thing straight. Lodi may sit inland, directly east of San Francisco, but it’s right on the edge of the Sacramento Delta where nightly “Delta breezes” funnel cool ocean air over the vines. The soil is sandy and summers are dry, so growers can control vine vigor and ripening with careful irrigation practices. Read the rest of this entry »

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Teeth-Staining Intensity from Purple Wine Company

fourYour wine can be purple in your glass.

Your hands can be purple after pouring bottle after bottle.

Your teeth can be purple after sipping too much Petite Sirah.

Or your Wine Company can be Purple.

Derek Benham founded Purple Wine Company in 2001, after selling a value-oriented brand called Blackstone that he had co-founded. I’m sure you remember Blackstone: it produces a wine that has been, at times, America’s best-selling Merlot.

So the guy knows how to make wine, and how to make money with wine.

Enter Four Vines. This wine company was founded in 1994 by three folks who wanted to focus on making Zinfandel: big, bold, kick-ass Zins from the best Zin regions in California. Christian Tietje built the Four Vines brand with two under-$15 labels and three region-specific Zins. All were highly-rated and regarded as good values.purple

And now Four Vines is part of Purple Wine Company, purchased by Derek Benham about two years ago. I recently had the opportunity to taste those three appellation Zins, as well as a new PWC wine called Cryptic.

I started with Four Vines “Biker” Zinfandel Paso Robles 2009, because Paso Zins have always gotten my vote for the Best in Varietal. This one is made with fruit from two vineyards in West Side Paso Robles, including one of my all-time faves, Dante Dusi vineyard. West Side Paso is heaven for warm-climate grapes, with hot, sunny days and very cool nights that produce intense flavors and good structure. Calcareous soils (that means chalky/limestone-y) also keep yields low and flavors concentrated. Read the rest of this entry »

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“America, I’d like you to meet Acid…” Double Decker Wines

OK, so I tasted several wines recently that seemed to depart pretty significantly from what I’ve come to expect from American wines in the $10 price range.

Were these wines jammy? No

Were they tooty-fruity (that’s a technical term…)? No

Were they big, fat cocktail wines? Again, no.

Both whites and reds showed great balance, with plenty of acid on the back to balance the fruit on the front end.

This shouldn’t be a big deal, right? But it is. It seems like the $10-and-under domestic market has been taken over by slightly-sweet Pinot Grigios; fleshy, raisin-y Zins; and red blends with enough residual sugar to make my teeth ache.

So, YES, I was thrilled when I tasted through the portfolio of Double Decker Wines, a “new” brand made by the folks at Wente Vineyards. The brand is aimed squarely at the Generation Whatever crowd — younger drinkers coming into the wine market, who want wines that are fun and unpretentious. (But trust me, they’ll also sell well to those of us over-40′s who drink wine with dinner every night and don’t want to plunk down a twenty for each bottle).

The Double Decker winemaking team is young enough to connect well with its audience. Thirty-something winemaker Karl Wente is the fifth generation of his family to be riding the vineyards on their Livermore, California property. The flagship winery dates back to 1883, and has been a leader in California winemaking all along (ever heard of  Wente Clone Chardonnay?)

For the Double Decker project, they source fruit other vineyards, with some pretty impressive results. Let’s get to it.

Double Decker Pinot Grigio 2010 makes me think  of Europe, not California. Made with fruit sourced from cool-climate Arroyo Seco, it shows its stuff right off the bat with a nose of delicate pear and pretty florals. The palate led with some tropical notes, but quickly showed some spice and snap. What lingered on my palate was tangy acidity — a clean, refreshing finish.

I (and several other bloggers) talked to Karl about the wine through a streaming online event (which is also very cool, by the way). He shared some of his winemaking secrets: one of those is that he blends a few percentage points of Riesling and Viognier into his Pinot Grigio. Karl says that these floral, aromatic grapes don’t really announce their presence, but just accentuate the fruit character of the Pinot Grigio.

He goes even further in his pursuit of balance: like the European winemakers, he picks his grapes at a lower brix (that means, when the sugar levels are lower) so that the wine will retain that bright natural acidity.

Yup, it all worked very well for me.

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Gold Rush Wine: Sobon Zinfandel


Meet winemaker Paul Sobon

If I asked, “What do you know about California’s Amador County?”, a history buff would say, “It’s Gold Rush Country.” The average wine drinker would say, “Huh?”

That’s a pity. Amador County was not only home to folks like John Sutter, who launched the Gold Rush when he found gold in Sutter’s Creek, but to some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in America. And those vines make some mighty good wine…

Those vines were probably planted by European immigrants who came to California to strike it rich. A few did, and many more didn’t. But they left a legacy — Amador’s old Zinfandel vines — that we’re still enjoying today.

Amador County, lying east of Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, turned out to be a wonderful place to plant grape vines. The soil, the warm days and cool nights of this micro-climate, and the positive effects of elevation produce intensely flavored, well-structured wines.

I rediscovered Amador recently when I met Paul Sobon, second-generation winemaker and owner of Sobon Estate and Shenandoah Vineyards. His parents, Leon and Shirley, bought land in the Shenandoah Valley appellation 35 years ago. They purchased the historic D’Agostini Winery a dozen years later, and continued to produce killer Zins, as well as Rhone varietals.

I recently tasted the Sobon Estates 2008 Fiddletown Zinfandel. I expected a big, port-like fruit bomb. What I got instead was great fruit with great balance. This, to me, is as good as Zin gets…

The fruit for Sobon’s Fiddletown Zin comes from the Lubenko Vineyard, which sits at 1900 feet elevation. The vines were planted in 1910, which makes them mighty old vines.  I figured they’d bring some great flavors to this wine.

The good stuff started with the nose: it jumped at me out of the glass, with blueberry compote and raspberry liqueur. Doesn’t sound very restrained, does it? But remember that I said this wine was balanced, not tame.

The wine in my mouth exploded with essence of blueberry, followed by round mocha notes. A few minutes later some black raspberry joined the party. Just when I was thinking that this was way too much fun, the acid kicked in, knocking the heat off the back end and allowing the well-integrated oak and tannins to carry the finish.

Not bad! I never thought Sobon Fiddletown was too jammy or port-like. It was big, for sure, but didn’t overwhelm my senses. I’m glad, though, that I tasted a 2008 — I think the three or four years of age gave it time to grow up and settle down.

Paul Sobon makes well over a dozen wines, so make it a point to find some. The price points are good (the Fiddletown goes for around $20 and many are closer to $10). And don’t forget his Cal-Ital varietals: they’ll knock your socks off, too, and you can read what I wrote about them here. Cheers!



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More Candor: Zinfandel Lot 2

candorI’ve written recently about the wines coming from the Hope Family Winery in Paso Robles, California: Or more specifically, from second-generation winemaker Austin Hope. I tasted and enjoyed his Troublemaker Lot 2 and Candor Merlot Lot 2, so my last tasting project was his Candor Zinfandel Lot 2.

I’ve probably written in previous posts about my taste in Zinfandel: I gotta admit I’m fussy. I don’t enjoy the over-ripe, overly-raisiny, and overly-alcoholic Zins. That style typically comes out of warm-climate appellations such as Lodi, which is why I’ve always gravitated to Paso Robles Zinfandels. This wonderful wine region has warm to hot daytime temperatures, but the mercury plummets in the late afternoon as cool ocean breezes come rushing through the Templeton Gap. That creates ideal conditions for Rhone varietals like Syrah, and for my kind of Zin.

I’m guessing that Austin Hope has the same kind of palate. Their website says that, “This wine benefits from a combination of hardy, gnarly old vines, some of them over 50 years old, and exuberant new at Austin Hope Wines, all meticulously farmed. Blended together across vineyards and vintages, Candor Zinfandel has real panache—bright berry fruit, spice, and that undefinable zing that says it’s really Zinfandel.”

Here’s my experience with Candor Zin: I had a bottle handy when we had some big steaks ready for the grill. I wouldn’t usually pick a Zin to accompany a steak, but hey, what the hell! We served up the rare steaks (marinated in Jack Daniels, no less) and poured Austin Hope’s Zin.

And it was fabulous. This Zin has nice blueberry and blackberry fruit, with enough structure to handle red meat. The wine was bold enough to match the beef, and never got too “jammy.”

I admit that I was pleasantly surprised. “If this is Paso Zin, bring it on!”

Both the Candor Zin and Candor Merlot show great quality and value. I’d suggest you try them, and keep and eye on winemaker Austin Hope. Cheers!



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Benziger Zinfandel and Oonapais

benzMike Benziger has been called a pioneer. He’s probably also been called crazy by the folks who didn’t believe in his experiments in organic farming. But whatever you call him, he’s been instrumental in introducing and developing methods for growing grapes while nurturing and improving the land through his Sustainable, Organic and Biodynamic farming practices.

He and many other Benzigers (a couple dozen, I think) also make wine at their winery in Sonoma County. Snugged up in the hills above the tiny town of Glen Ellen, and just a short hike from Jack London’s historic home and State Park, they’ve planted 85 acres of red and white grapes on the slopes of Sonoma Mountain.mike

This is a relatively warm-climate growing area, which was immediately obvious in the wines we tasted recently during a Twitter Tasting. In case you don’t know what that is…

A Twitter tasting is a very cool way to marry something very traditional with the latest in social media marketing. Here’s how it’s done: a group of wine bloggers (otherwise known as the “online wine community”) were invited to sit around with winemaker Mike Benziger as we tasted and talked about six of his wines. Only he sat in front of a camera in California and we sat in front of our computers in…wherever. He was on-screen and as we tasted, we tweeted questions and comments and he answered back. Very cool and very effective.

So let’s get to Benziger and their wines. I posted a story giving you background on the whole Sustainable/Organic/Biodynamic approach that Benziger Winery uses in all their estate vineyards and with all their contract growers. I think it’s a tremendous goal to grow better fruit and nurture the land for future generations. The question is — does it make better wine?

Mike Benziger thinks so. The wines he chose for us to taste included a Zinfandel, two vintages of their Bordeaux blend “Oonapais,” two vintages of the Bordeaux blend “Obsidian Point,” and their premium blend, “Tribute.” I’ll review three today and pick up the rest tomorrow. Read the rest of this entry »

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Seghesio Family Vineyards: It’s All About Trust

seghesioWhen I’m not blogging, I’m selling wine. And one of the wines we’ve sold for years is Seghesio. Their labels have been on our shelves since the price tag on the Sonoma Zin was about $9, and we’ve never hesitated to recommend them, or to drink them (that’s been the best part!).

We’ve also visited the winery countless times, and every time, they welcome us like long-lost family (and not just because we also have an Italian surname). We’ve toured (happily), we’ve tasted (even happier), and we’ve been absolutely orgasmic over Seghesio’s Family Table, a lovely event where guests taste several wines along with amazing family recipes prepared by the winery’s on-site chef.

Everything we’ve experienced with Seghesio has been classy and elegant, and also warm and friendly. That’s one reason why I always send wine country visitors to Seghesio’s door, bypassing the big “corporate winery” tasting rooms.

So I was taken aback when I read in the Wine Spectator that Seghesio has been acquired by an outfit called The Crimson Wine Group. Yee gads! — the dreaded corporate owner!

Then I read farther. Crimson is not exactly Bronco Wine Company. They own just a few other blue chip winieries, such as Pine Ridge in Napa and Archery Summit in Oregon.. And the terms of the agreement state that the Seghesio family will continue to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the winery.

At least for now.

The Spectator article says “the purchase includes the Healdsburg winery, 300 acres of vineyards, the Seghesio brand and current wine inventory. Most of the family members involved with the winery will stay on board.” But read on — “Pete retains ownership of San Lorenzo Vineyard, while Ed and Ray Seghesio keep Cortina Vineyard.”

That little sentence opens a world of possibility. Like, what will Pete, Ed and Ray do after the expiration of their non-compete clause (which we all assume is included in the contract)? Will we see a new winery producing the great single-vineyard Zins that put Seghesio on the map?

I hope so. And I wish the family all the best in their new future.

But here’s what I know for sure: I’ve always trusted the Seghesio family — to make great wine, to treat people right, to be great people. And I’ll continue to trust them to do the right thing, whatever that is for them, their customers and their wines.

Here’s to you, Seghesio. Best of luck, and congratulations on creating a new future. Cheers!



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Like Bacon in a Glass: Predator Old Vine Zinfandel 2009

pigDon’t get me wrong — I like bacon as much as the next guy. I’ll lay a few strips beside my French Toast, hit it with a little bit of maple syrup, and go to town.

But I don’t like pork in my wine.

I come across it occasionally, usually when I’m tasting California Pinot Noir or Syrah. Some people try to downplay it — “Oh, that’s not bacon; it’s just a touch of smoky oak.” But you can’t bullshit me — I know smoked ham when I taste it.

Just like in Predator Old Vine Zinfandel 2009. I was looking forward to tasting this wine, because until recently it had been allocated, sold only to an upscale grocery chain near us. Of course, there’s nothing like  “You can’t have it” to make us want it. It’s one of those tried and true principles of the capitalist economy: “The less you supply, the more we demand.”pred

So let’s skip to the moment of truth. I’d popped the cork and poured the Predator around. The bacon hit me before my nose was in the glass, and I glanced across the table. My husband was recoiling, but the other taster hadn’t reacted. I sniffed again, with the same result. But there was nothing for it but to take the plunge and sip.

What I got was — bacon. Granted, there was some soft berry underneath, but it couldn’t compete with the pig. There was no discernible acid or structure, so it finished soft, but not long. Read the rest of this entry »

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Frank Family Zinfandel: Great Zin With A Difference

Rich Frank and one of his classic cars

Rich Frank is one of those guys who hit the wine business in full stride. He didn’t start as some young cellar rat, or arrive with a freshly printed UC Davis degree in hand.

When he became a Napa Valley winery owner, he was already a wildly successful Hollywood executive who probably could have bought and sold all the struggling winemakers in the Valley. By the time he acquired the historic Larkmead Winery in 1992, he’d been President of darn near everything in the television biz, including Disney and Paramount. He joined his friend, Koerner Rombauer (ever heard of Rombauer??) in purchasing the Calistoga facility that had been the home of a sparkling wine producer, Kornell Champagne Cellars.

The current winemaker, Todd Graff, joined up in 2003. He hadn’t been marking time, either: he’d worked in several of the world’s top wine regions, including Germany, Bordeaux, and Australia’s Hunter Valley.

But Frank Family Vineyards is located in Rutherford, and Rutherford is Cabernet country. Apparently it’s very good Cab country, because all three 2007 Frank Family Cabernet Sauvignons earned stupendous ratings from our pre-eminent wine God.

But it’s the Zinfandel I want to talk about now. I came across Frank Family Zinfandel 2007 in a great little wine bar in Fountain Hills, Arizona. Owner Dave Link had managed to get his hands on some (it’s small production and in limited supply) and was pouring it by the glass.

One glass wasn’t enough. Read the rest of this entry »

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