Category Archives: Red Wine

After Thanksgiving Traditions

Fresh air with a walk in the woods is a great way to spend the day after Thanksgiving. We headed west. A couple of uphill hikes and another along the Elwha Dike Trail, watching the river rush to the strait,  built up a powerful thirst. Good thing Washington State has an incredibly good winery in the neighborhood.

Just west of Port Angeles is an artisan winery making award winning wines from eastern Washington State grapes. With engaging staff and dressed for the holidays, Harbinger Winery’s tasting room is warm and welcoming.

For $5 you can stand at the bar or lounge around a table to enjoy the six wines on the tasting menu. For those of a different persuasion, Harbinger has Washington ciders and beers on tap, too. With homemade fudge on the shelf and cheese in the fridge, they have all the essentials covered.

Handcrafted, food-friendly Washington State wines are the mission at Harbinger Winery. They focus on varietals that are rarely seen on a supermarket shelf, as well as traditional favorites. As owner/vintner Sara Gagnon promises, “…we strive to keep your cellar varied, your palate delighted and your state of mind pleasantly surprised.”

From Two Coyote Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, their 2015 Viognier is fermented in stainless steel. It’s crisp and floral perfect for creamed fish or chicken dishes. I remember tasting this at the Kitsap Wine Festival this past summer. It was a hot day, the wine was perfectly balanced. It was heaven with the seafood bite from Anthony’s.

Another perfect shellfish or crustacean wine is Harbinger’s La Petite Fleur Washington White which is a blend of Chardonnay (43%), Pinot Gris (37%) and Riesling (20%). Again, 100% stainless steel fermentation which gives this wine wonderful white fruit flavors balanced with bright acidity. That acidity would also be a good foil to the drawn butter you’re dipping a freshly caught Dungeness crab in. This wine has won quite a few medals in previous years.

Another multiple medal winner is the 2010 El Jefé a Rhone style blend of 62% Syrah, 25% Mourvedre, 13% Grenache. Rich with a touch of licorice, this guy is polished with age with a plummy, earthy way of expressing itself. A leg of lamb or even a warm bowl of lentil soup would have the angels singing.

Barbera is an indigenous grape from the northwest – of Italy that is. This Barbera is from Columbia Valley’s renowned Sagemoor Vineyards, one of the state’s oldest. It’s a medium bodied, high acid wine with lots of concentrated red fruit flavors. It’s a natural with tomatoes, whether fresh dressed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and Parmesan cheese or marinara. This is an award winning Washington State Barbera, a concentrated mouthful of crushed berries, and plums.  

The 2011 Sangiovese is from one of Washington’s highest vineyards in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA – Elephant Mountain.  In Italy, this is the grape of Tuscany and regions such as Chianti and Montalcino.  This wine is amazing not only because exhibits great acidity for a six year old wine but it has bright red fruit flavors and an earthy note with a long finish. It’s showing its maturity, throwing sediment.

Cranberry Bliss is their festive wine made for that turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce. With bright fruit, and the buttery flavors of barrel-fermented Chardonnay and a douse of Syrah, this wine is delightful with picnic fare – cheese, crackers, a little smoked turkey and some dried cranberries.

From Graysmarsh Farms in the Dungeness Valley is their source for the Blackberry Bliss. Because they use over 2½ pounds of blackberries to make one bottle, there is a mountain of blackberry goodness in that bottle. On the dryer side at 13% alcohol, it has the right amount of acidity and sweetness to be a refreshing quaff.

The tasting room is open from 11:00 until 6:00 Monday thru Saturday, Sunday from 11:00 until 5:00p. As a result of limited production, Harbinger wines are exclusive to Northwest Washington but their wines can be shipped. Call 360.452.4262 to place your order or do the virtual visit. But I would highly recommend a walk in the woods or the beach and then their warm and welcoming tasting room.

Guidelines and Suggestions for your Thanksgiving Wines

Thanksgiving is my favorite feast. You don’t have to send cards or give gifts. You’re not expected in church, synagogue or mosque. You get to play chef, then dine, drink and be merry.

Turkeys, sides, pies and wines are the focus of this family and friend feast that marks the start of the high holiday season. You eat a little too much, celebrate a little too much. Afterwards, it’s acceptable to stretch out for a nap, occasionally check the score.  And, if all goes well, your team wins; there are lots of leftovers and much to be thankful for.

This year there are only 39 days in the holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. So be smart, look for wine deals. Buy a case of wine, typically 12 bottles that will save you 10-15 percent off of your case of wine.

Pairing the proper wines is pretty easy. With the traditional table fare of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, roasted root vegetables, sweet potato soufflé, cranberries and stuffed onions, there are myriad of flavors. Go for food-friendly wines. These would be not too oaky, sweet, alcoholic or tannic.

Almost any well balanced wine will complement or contrast with at least most of the meal if you use these simple guidelines:

  1. Generous fruit. Not necessarily sweetness but fruity with balancing acidity with both reds and whites are the key to pairing with most of these dishes.
  2. Modest tannins. Many young red wines have that drying feeling that’s a product of their thick skins and long stays in oak barrels. Some dishes can turn this kind of wine into an unpleasant, astringent tartness.
  3. Welcome guests with something bubbly — sparkling wine, cava or prosecco. It sets the celebratory mood. Bubblies can be crisp, cleansing and slightly sweet for the gathering of guests, a perfect start to the holiday season.
  4. While the turkey is resting, pop the rest of the corks and have the guests take a seat. Let the passing begin. Anyone who prefers fruity sweetness will navigate to a Riesling or Gewurztraminer. For reds, think about the perennial favorite Beaujolais or a fruity, dense Spanish Grenache or California Zinfandel; and others will navigate to the red blends.

Riesling or Gewurztraminer

Both are highly aromatic whites. Riesling greets the big flavors on the table with gobs of fruit and crisp acidity. Gewurz also has loads of juicy fruit with a touch of spice. And both varieties can be fermented to be sweet or dry with the ability to pair up with the turkey, sweet potatoes to the sausage dressing.

Spokane’s Latah Creek Riesling has a medium-sweet appley flavor with a crisp finish, or the best bang for the buck — Riesling from Chateau Ste. Michelle, the superbly crafted Columbia Crest Two Vines — is more on the stone fruit end of the spectrum with balancing acidity, all under $11. Gewürztraminer is becoming a rare commodity. As a result, many are more than modestly priced.

Beaujolais

The third Thursday of November is the official release day for Beaujolais Nouveau. This red wine is the ultimate refreshing Turkey Day wine. It can be served slightly chilled and actually does go well because it’s fruity with low tannins. It’s made from the Gamay grape, harvested in September, and graces your holiday table two months later. Because of the carbonic maceration method of fermentation, this wine is without tannins, full of fruity flavors and red, a perfect beginner red.

Wine aficionados may prefer a Cru Beaujolais with a little more stuffing to it. And you’d get that from a Beaujolais Village, whether Morgon, Fleurie or Brouilly. Classic producers like Lapierre and Duboeuf are lighter-bodied but have brambly red and black fruit character with baking spices and a smooth silkiness.

Grenache

Cherries and spice are often found in Grenache with an acidity level that balances the weight of most Thanksgiving dinners. GSM blends — Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre — have dark plummy, blueberry layers that links with the earthy root vegetables and savory stuffing.

The Spanish and Australians have a wonderful selection to choose from, most in the $10 range – before your six bottle discount. For Spanish, anything imported by Jorge Ordonez is worth every penny. Tres Picos Borsao Garnacha is an award-winning wine and a particular favorite of mine. Garnacha de Fuego Old Vine, Torres Sangre de Toro, Vina Borgia Campo de Borja are all under $10 and delicious.

Zinfandel

Jammy black fruits laced with spices make Zin a juicy red for Thanksgiving as long as the alcohol level is moderate. Some Zinfandel could be as high as 16 percent, which accentuates the hot effect. Bogle, Ravenswood, Cline and Fetzer have been around for the longest time and are modestly priced because they own their vineyards. Old vine Zins that aren’t aged in oak are great wines at great prices.

Red blends

On the other side of the planet, the Australians are the fourth largest exporter of wines with quite a number of fruit forward Shiraz blends that would please the party palates. Look for reasonably priced Lindemans, Jacob’s Creek or Penfolds.

Other reds that would make a terrific holiday wine are a blend from the Delicato family, Hand Craft. Reminiscent of the Italian immigrant practice of field blending, this Zinfandel Merlot is juicy, packed with ripe black fruits and delicioso.

Woodbridge Red Blend is composed of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Syrah that’s rich with jammy blackberry and baking spices. Totally affordable and quaffable.

My annual advice remains the same: buy wines you like at prices you can afford, open a wide assortment of wines and raise a glass with your family and friends with each and every wine.

Cheers and a very Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Wandering Walla Walla continued ….

For 25 years, Woodward Canyon’s Old Vines Cabernet sported a portrait on the front label and a local history lesson on the back. The portraits were of early Walla Walla developers who were influential in Walla Walla’s agricultural, banking, or governing. I was especially impressed with the three ladies, Lettice Reynolds, Mabel Anderson and Annie McC. Mix, who were prominent in high society, philanthropists and benefactors of Whitman College. For an interesting look at 1900s Walla Walla, check out the labels here.

Woodward Canyon Estate Vineyard was first planted to Chardonnay in 1976 on the Small family’s wheat farm. The canyon was named for A. P. Woodward an early Walla Walla Valley soldier, stockman and farmer. Mr. Woodward came to Walla Walla County in 1852, did some soldiering and bought a 400 acre farm in the canyon that now bears his name. This introduction was made on the inaugural 1981 Old Vine Cabernet Dedication Series.

The Woodward Canyon Artist Series began in 1992. This is a fuller bodied Cabernet from some of the oldest and renowned vineyards in the Columbia Valley. Each year features a different artist with the original artwork hanging in the tasting room in Lowden. The 2014 label was the work of Linda Lowe of Gig Harbor.

The grapes for the Old Vines and Artist Series Cabernet are sources Columbia Valley’s Sagemoor Vineyards from a section planted in 1972. Woodward Canyon is a partner in Champoux Vineyard, also planted in the 1970s, in the Horse Heaven Hills appellation also part of the Old Vines and Artist Series Cabernet.

Walla Walla is a small town of 25,000 and connections in the wine industry are inescapable. For instance, Gilles Nicault made his Washington winemaking debut at Woodward Canyon. Nicault is now Long Shadows’ Director of Winemaking, the second winery on the Rick Small and Jordan Dunn Small WWander itinerary.

Long Shadows Vintners is just a short jaunt from Woodward Canyon on Frenchtown Road, a fitting road name for this winery. Long Shadows is named for the people who have cast long shadows across the wine industry. It’s a Who’s Who of winemakers from all corners of the wine world. Founder Allen Shoup, met many of winemakers, viticulturalists and vineyard owners during his 18+ years at the helm of Chateau Ste. Michelle.

Long Shadows Vintners is a collection of exceptional wines showcasing Washington fruit fermented and blended by several internationally acclaimed winemakers. As director of wine making, Nicault has overseen the crafting of Chester-Kidder, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend, Poet’s Leap Riesling and Saggi, a super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Cab.

Atlas Peak’s esteemed Randy Dunn fashions Feather, a mountain grown Cabernet; John Duval, best known for his years at the helm of Australia’s Penfolds Grange, crafts Sequel; rising star Philippe Melka produces Pirouette, a red blend; and Pomeral’s Michel Rolland, a right bank Bordeaux wizard, conjures up Pedestal from 100% Merlot.

Another connection – South of town is Tertulia Cellars. Jordan Dunn Small managed Tertulia Cellars tasting room and sales before joining the family at Woodward Canyon. The tasting room and winery overlooks the Péntaque field. We were treated to the Viognier, Syrah, and the award winning Great Schism, a Rhone blend of 50 Grenache, 40 Syrah, 7 Cinsault and 3 Mourvedre.

And we learned the rules to play Pétanque. The number 1 rule is you must play with a wine glass in hand. Easy! Pétanque is a game where the goal is to toss or roll hollow steel balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet, while standing inside a circle. It’s played in facilities called boulodromes which have gravel surfaces. Very fun. Prior practice pitching softballs, putting and pool served me well.

Our next stop was a local taco joint Mi Pueblito where we picked up some chips, three very good salsas, pombazo and tacos to go. I chose the pombazo because I had never even heard of it. it turns out to be Mexican bread. This particular dish was a bun about 8″ in diameter and filled with potatoes with chorizo. We enjoyed the food at Burwood Brewing Company’s new taproom at the airport.

Another connection – Burwood Brewery owner David Marshall taught Jordan’s husband how to brew beer. And Marshall spent a few years in the wine industry as assistant winemaker at Long Shadows before switching over to brewing instead of fermenting. A Master Brewer, he worked for a few years at Pyramid before opening his own brewery. He uses local malts and Yakima hops and also makes a tasty root beer.

WWander Walla Walla Wine Country is truly a wonderful wine experience. Curated by 10 very cool Walla Walla winemakers, each itinerary is a same-day, pay-as-you-go experience with suggestions to local favorite places to eat, taste and explore.  Exclusive tastings, helping out with harvest, winemaker talks, property tours, wine club member benefits for the day or complimentary tastings are perks that await!

All you have to do is register for the Saturday of your choice at WallaWallaWine.com/WWander   Registration is free. So pack your bags, register to wander and explore these excellent Walla Walla Valley itineraries. Cheers!

How to Wander Walla Walla Wine Country

The Walla Walla AVA was established in 1984 with only four wineries, Leonetti, Woodward Canyon, L’Ecole No. 41 and Waterbrook. It was unique at the time not only because there were only four wineries but because approximately 57 percent of the vineyards were in Washington, the other 43 percent were in Oregon.

With few vineyards planted, those wineries sourced grapes from Columbia Valley. While many of today’s wineries continue this practice, the increased vineyard size allows some wineries to put the Walla Walla AVA designation on their wine labels. Wineries must source at least 85 percent of the grapes from a specified area if that area is on the label.

A mere 23 years later, thanks to a combination of climate and charm, Walla Walla boasts almost 130 wineries and more than 2,960 acres of vineyards. Walla Walla wineries and tasting rooms are spread around six designated areas: airport, downtown, westside, eastside, southside and Oregon.

So now imagine, it’s fall, the leaves are turning and crush is just about over. You’re in Walla Walla wine country, map in hand. You’ve picked a favorite winery to visit but need to break for lunch. Or you’re in a downtown tasting bar and you want to figure out what other tasting bars or wineries are within walking distance. Or maybe a place to rent a bicycle and take a leisurely ride or go for a run.

Well, cool news! The Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance has cooked up  wonderful wine experiences called “WWander Walla Walla Valley Wine.”  These Saturday itineraries are curated by 10 pretty cool Walla Walla winemakers.

Each itinerary is a same-day, pay-as-you-go experience with  suggestions by the winemakers to their favorite places to eat, taste and explore. They offer perks such as exclusive tastings, helping out with the harvest, winemaker talks, property tours, wine club member benefits for the day or complimentary tastings.

All you have to do is register for the Saturday of your choice at WallaWallaWine.com/WWander  Registration is free and you get an official badge to wander like a winemaker.

We recently did a trial run and I can tell you, this is a real treat. This partial itinerary was compiled by Woodward Canyon’s Rick Small and Jordan Dunn Small, first- and second-generation owners.

The first stop on the tour was breakfast at the Colville Street Patisserie. Owners David Christensen and Tiffany Cain’s case displays mouthwatering classic French pastries. We had to make the hard choice of which to have with the locally roasted freshly brewed coffee. So I picked two, one with coffee and one for later.

We  took a stroll through the 115-year-old Pioneer Park, designed by the celebrated Olmsted Brothers of Central Park fame. There’s a lot to take in — the beautiful old sycamores, the aviary, and an incredibly whimsical sculpture by Tom Otterness to name a few.

On to Woodward Canyon’s tasting room, located in a beautifully restored farmhouse next door to the old tasting room, a converted machine shop. The complimentary estate vineyard tasting will give you a sense of the vineyard’s maturity and the winemaking that is more French in style with balance, complexity and the ability to age gracefully.

We tasted the Estate Sauvignon Blanc sourced from 15 year old vines, fermented in stainless and briefly aged in neutral oak. It was wonderfully crisp, full bodied and well balanced, a perfect food wine.

Next, the 2014 Barbera was juicy with plenty of dark fruits and acidity, the kind that makes you wish for a plate full of sliced tomatoes sprinkled with balsamic, olive oil and shaved parm.

The family has been working with clones and root stock to prepare for the coming climatic changes. We tasted the Estate Cab where a blend of three clones produce a wine with dark fruits, bright acidity and a long finish.

The 2013 Reserve was a blend of 33% Merlot, 33% Petite Verdot, 22% Cab Franc and 12% Cab. It’s also a blend, this time with 13 clones that give it depth and richness not found in wines this young. With some age, this wine will be stunning.

We finished up with the 2013 Erratic, a southern Rhone blend of Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache. This gorgeous wine is big with rich raspberry and spice flavors. It would accompany a leg of lamb perfectly.

Woodward Canyon Estate Vineyard was first planted to Chardonnay in 1976 on the family’s ranch.  In addition to the Chardonnay, it’s now planted with Cab, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc with a few rows of Barbera, Dolcetto, Mourvedre and Grenache.

The winery continues to purchase grapes from Columbia Valley’s Sagemoor Vineyards where a section planted in 1972 is part of the Old Vines and Artist Series Cabernet. Woodward Canyon is a partner in Champoux Vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills appellation also part of the Old Vines and Artist Series Cabernet.

Next on the itinerary was lunch at Brasserie Four. It’s a local favorite, with amazing moules-frites and Coquille St Jacques. We took Rick and Jordan’s advice to indulge in a glass of something imported with lunch. The J J Prum Kabinett was a standout. Mouthwatering French cuisine and an amazing collection of wines by the glass and by the bottle. What more could you ask for?

A trip focusing on wine, food and the obligatory after-indulging exercise in the Walla Walla Valley is a slice of heaven. It can also be a bargain when you keep in mind that this is the shoulder season and many area hotels and airlines offer lower rates. So pack your bags, register to wander and explore these excellent Walla Walla Valley itineraries. And remember, your first case of wine flies free.

Travels in Oregon Wine Country

It was the French who were the first to require Oregon Territory wine back in the 1840s. After a tough day’s work for the Hudson Bay Company, a rustic red to pair with their venison stew was just the ticket. The first recorded local winery was established in the late 1850s. The ensuing Pacific Northwest wine industry was at budbreak when the hailstorm of Prohibition put the kybosh on the burgeoning trade.

110 years later, a few groundbreaking Californians packed up their station wagons and moved up north to a land that was damp and chilly by comparison. Pioneers “Papa Pinot” Lett, Dick Ponzi, David Adelsheim, Cal Knudsen, and Dick Erath kick started the second attempt at a viable wine industry with none other than the persnicketiest grape of all – Pinot Noir.

They persevered even though many believed the attempt in the valleys and rolling hillsides made fertile by all that rain, futile.

Pinot Noir is capriciousness embodied. And yet, that’s part of its allure. Pinot Noir is a demanding mistress of the vigneron.  To increase fruit quality, long, cool growing seasons are essential.  It can’t take the heat so it performs better in wine regions like foggy Burgundy, cool Champagne, New Zealand, California’s foggy Carneros, Russian River, Santa Barbara or mountainous Santa Lucia Highlands and drizzly Oregon.

But cooler regions have problems that warmer vineyards don’t. Early budbreak is risky  because spring frost can take out a good portion of the crop overnight.  Cool, damp vineyard sites are also more susceptible to mildew. In rainy climates, showers at harvest can be disastrous. Do we pick or do we wait? It’s a nail biter.

With its thin skin, Pinot Noir is like the princess and the pea, picky about where it’s planted and high maintenance, too. Each site has different exposures to sun, wind, rain and fog. As a result, Pinot Noirs are diverse because this grape is more susceptible to quirks of weather.

Some Pinot Noir clones are more prolific and others do better resisting mildew which is important considering the climate Pinot Noir prefers. It just depends on where and what you’re planting that determines what end result will be. Many Oregon viticulturists are now planting many clones in the same vineyard blocks for even greater complexity and insurance.

Did I mention that Pinot Noir is genetically unstable?  Pinot is the mutant ninja grape with more clones than any other wine grape variety. Around 100 clones, French (Pommard, Dijon) and heritage California selections, have been submitted to UC Davis for inclusion in their registration program. This type of information is helpful to figure out what to plant and where.

Oregon Pinot Noir made its first splash on the world wine map in 1979 when David Lett’s 1975 Eyrie Reserve Pinot Noir placed second in a competition in Burgundy. That was a milestone for Oregon wine.

At the inaugural 1987 International Pinot Noir Celebration, winemaker Robert Drouhin, owner of a large, prestigious French domaine with amazing vineyards in Burgundy was completely seduced. Domaine Drouhin Oregon was established shortly thereafter.

The Oregon wine industry has grown tremendously since those early days. Many winemakers and owners are transplants from California, France, Portugal, Iran and the Midwest. Today, the vast majority of wineries (702) are still small, family-owned operations, with a dozen or so large (60,000+ cases) wineries.

Oregon’s winemakers have worked hard and collaboratively to figure out where to plant their vineyards, what clones and rootstocks work best, and how to use new oak judiciously. They’ve gained quite a lot of experience and as a result, confidence.

Pinot Noir at its best is a grape capable of grace, finesse and elegance with an ability to express the nuances of a particular terroir. Here are some recently enjoyed Oregon Pinots:

In Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains, Anan Cara Cellars’ vineyards were first planted in 2001. Nick and Sheila Nicholas made the 2012 Reserve Estate Pinot Noir from ten-row sections in each block of the beautiful Nicholas Estate vineyard. The 2012 vintage was a fabulous vintage with warm summer days and cool evenings that ensured full ripeness at harvest. The wine is beautifully aromatic, silky with dark cherry fruit, spice and herbs. Mouthwatering acidity adds to the structure and preserves the ruby hue. The wine saw only 15% new oak barrels.

In 1989, with a Masters Degree in Viticulture and Oenology, Tony Rynders began a 20 year career making wine around the world before he opened his own Tendril Wine Cellars. He has contract vineyards sites in Eola Hills, Dundee and Yamhill-Carlton to make is wines. The 2013 Extrovert Pinot Noir is beautifully aromatic with Asian spices, hints of black fruits, cranberries and a great big long finish.

Domaine Serene’s winery is a 4-storied gravity-flow facility that takes care of the 227 acres of dry farmed, LIVE certified vineyards. This award winning winery is located on the top on Dundee’s Red Hills. Their 2014 Triple S Vineyard is planted to the Dijon clone 777. This wine had a noble Pinot nose, lovely balance and a fantastic lingering finish.

Founded in 1970, Ponzi Vineyards has accumulated many awards and accolades over the years. They have continually set the standards for award winning Pinot Noir.  Their state of the art four-level gravity flow winery is another standard set. Second generation winemaker Luisa was the first American woman to earn the Certificate Brevet Professionnel d’Oenologie et Viticulture in Beaune.

The pinnacle Pinot for me is the 2014 Classico, a blend of old and new vineyards, cold soaked to bring out the blackberry and spice in this beautifully balanced wine aged for 11 months in French oak with 35% new.

Another award winning winery, Stoller Family Estate is a 370 acre farm in the Dundee Hills AVA that has been in the family since 1943. First planted to vine in 1995, the 200 acres of vineyards are LIVE and Salmon Safe and planted to clones Pommard, Wadenswil, 115, 667 and 777. The sustainable winery and tasting room are LEED Gold Certified. Their 2015 Dundee Hill Mosaic is a delightful overview of elevations, vineyard ages and all clones of the estate. The aromatics are bright red fruits with hints of spice and the palate is silky with warm, sun ripened raspberries.

Oregon Wine Country is a wonderful wine-cation whether you make the drive or host a stay-cation tasting. Ultimately, it’s a great grape to research with family and friends.

Zinfandel – California’s Claret

Yes, it’s true, all Zinfandel grapes have red skins. The white Zinfandel grape does not exist – yet.

Zinfandel has been a part of California’s history for around 150 years. It was rumored to have been brought into California in 1862 by Agoston Haraszthy, then owner of Buena Vista Winery. He was a member of the state commission on viticulture who brought back thousands of vine cuttings from a trip to Europe. His account of this trip and his work in the early California wine industry can be read in his book Grape Culture, Wines and Winemaking, published in 1862.

However, Zinfandel was never mentioned in Haraszthy’s literature of the time. Instead, there is mention of “Zenfendel” in 1829, by a Mr. George Gibbs of Long Island. Zenfendel resurfaced in Boston a few years later where it was known as “Zinfindal” and grown in greenhouses as a table grape.

After the California Gold Rush, many a forty-niner decided to forsake the gold pan for a plow, sending for plants from the east coast. It’s likely that Zinfindal was included in a shipment around 1852 and by 1859 was documented to be grown in both Napa and Sonoma. In 1862, the same year that Haraszthy’s book was published, the Sonoma Horticultural Society gave a bottle of Zinfindal to a French winemaker at a California winery who proclaimed it “a good French claret.”

Still, Zinfandel was used to make jug wines in the early years and favored by the California winemakers of Italian decent. It reminded them of the wines from Sardinia, Sicily or Puglia. With good reason.

In the early 1990’s, the mysterious Zinfandel was finally DNA fingerprinted. It was found to be the Primitivo grape of southern Italy. But even that was disputed when an ancient Croatian variety, Crljenak Kastelanski, was confirmed to be – through DNA fingerprinting – genetically identical to Zinfandel.

It turns out that Crljenak Kastelanski and Primitivo are related, sort of like twins. Triplets if you count Zinfandel. But differences in vine vigor and cluster size separate Zinfandel from its genetic twins. Other differences such as soil, rainfall and winemaking combine to give Zinfandel its own truly American style.

U.S. regulations stipulate that on wine labels, Zinfandel and Primitivo be identified separately. Thankfully, there is no danger of having to learn how to pronounce Crljenak Kastelanski on an American wine label.

Today, Zinfandel is California’s third most widely planted grape in 45 of the 58 counties. In 2014, total acreage planted to Zinfandel was 47,827 with San Joaquin topping the charts at 18,718. Sonoma had 5,260 acres; Amador brought up third place with 2,055, Mendocino had 1,930 and Napa, a mere 1,497 acres.

Over 100 years later, California Zinfandel has more than 4,800 labels. A majority of the grapes, though, are used to make White Zinfandel. White Zinfandel at 35 million cases continues to outsell red Zinfandel.

Over the past thirty years, it has developed into one of California’s best reds. However, depending on climate and producer, there are so many different styles ranging from big, rich, ripe, high-alcohol, spicy, smoky, concentrated, and intensely flavored to a light, fruity rose.

The best Zinfandel, for my palate, are not the pink ones.  However, a very long time ago, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, with no other wine on the boat, I drank some Sutter Home White Zinfandel. It tasted delicious out there in the middle of the ocean with no store within miles.

But I’ve had many more bottles of the big, full-bodied, robust, rich, intensely flavored Zins that have stained my teeth to look like a geisha’s.

Some of my favorites that come to mind are Cline in southern Sonoma. They have acres of old, Old Vines. Their Oakley vineyards are dry-farmed and head-pruned, as they were a century ago. Hot sun, sandy soil, and cool evening air from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers produce a stunning, concentrated wines.

Also in Sonoma, Dry Creek  Vineyards owns Beeson Ranch, old vineyard dating back to 1896. This head-pruned, dry farmed property produces a very delicious claret style Zinfandel.

Martinelli Winery has been farming the valley since 1880. They specialize in small single lots of great wine. The wines are fermented with naturally occurring yeasts, and kept in barrel for 10 months. They are unfiltered and unfined, and only racked before bottling. This is an intense Zin.

I’ve followed the footsteps of Ridge, who bottle read-ridgevineyard designated Zinfandels. Ridge began in 1886 with 180 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains. That was done in by prohibition but they reappeared with new ownership and wine in 1962. Winemaker Paul Draper has an unbroken record of hits with his Zinfandels. Look for Geyserville, Lytton Springs, Dusi Ranch, Pagani and Three Valleys. The wine labels are an oenological education for sommelier wannabes.

Rafanelli holds a special placed in my heart. While visiting Sonoma, we popped in on Rafanelli because it was so hard to get in Washington State. It was mid-afternoon and the tasting room was not open yet. We went out front and took pictures of the head pruned vines out front. They had to have been at least 100 years old.

Meanwhile, a school bus stopped in front of the winery and out stepped Shelly Rafanelli. She opened the tasting room door, dropped her books on the table and the tasting commenced. We were treated to some sublime wines.

Other Zin makers to seek out are Ravenswood with a No Wimpy Wine attitude. they have a stable full of intense, rich red Zinfandels. Ravenswood is celebrating 40 years under the leadership of Joel Petersen, who works with over 100 growers.

Another really longtime Sonoma County family is Seghesio Family Vineyards. In 1895, Italian immigrant and winemaker Edoardo Seghesio planted his first Zinfandel vineyard. Seghesio was a key supplier of grapes and bulk wine to California wineries. Around 1983, the fourth generation Seghesios began selling Zin and other varietals under the Seghesio label.

Zinfandel, whether white or red, is a great party wine. Perfect for backyard picnics and family get-togethers. Enjoy these Zins with barbecued meats with sweet barbecue sauces, stewed or roasted beef, strong, rich cheeses like blue or Stilton, duck, hamburgers especially with cheese, lamb, pizza, pork chops, sausage, and it’s also the perfect match with that mother of all family get-togethers – Thanksgiving. Cheers!

Tasting Wines Blind

The focus of a blind wine tasting is on the aromas, flavors and colors. Rather than blindfolding everyone, which gets very messy, all the bottles are brown bagged, numbered and corks removed before presenting to the tasting party.brown bags

The Blind Wine Group hosted a tasting recently of French red wines. Participants each bring a bottle of wine and appetizers for 12. Or in this case, hor d’ouvres for 12. The wines are brown bagged by the host who also buys two of the same wine and puts them into the line up.  The object is to find the duplicate wine in the line up. We have a vote at the end to determine that and our personal favorite.
French red is a broad category. There were 5 regions represented but Bordeaux was the most popular with 4 out of the 9 wines presented.  Bordeaux is a very prolific wine region in south-west France. Anyone with an interest in wine knows this is an influential (think Meritage) and famous (Margaux, Rothschild) wine region.
I love Bordeaux, from the $10 price range to the glad-I-bought-it-when-it-was-affordable variety.  It’s a dry, medium-bodied red that can be a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot and Malbec. Each chateau’s vineyard is planted with the permitted varietals they’ll use.
Depending on which side of the Gironde your wine is from, it could be either left bank or right bank. Left bank (Paulliac, Ste Estephe, St. Julien, Margaux, Medoc) is Cabernet dominate and right bank (Saint-Emilion, Pomerol, Cote de Castillion) is a Merlot dominated blend. This fact never makes it on the label, that’s one of those facts you have to memorize.
Cabernet and Merlot vines grow at different times and rates, which spreads the risk posed by poor weather conditions at flowering or harvest. In years when the autumn is wet, the Cabernet Sauvignon harvest suffers from rot and water-logging, but the earlier-ripening Merlot provides a back-up. When the spring is wet, the Merlot flowers poorly, leaving the Cabernet Sauvignon to take up the responsibility of providing a good harvest.
Thousands of producers ferment a vast quantity of wine each year.  Every producer is classified as a First Growth, Second Growth, and so on down to Fifth Growth. If it’s not a classified growth then it would be a Bordeaux AC which produces about 40% of the red wines of Bordeaux.  
Bordeaux prices range from truly affordable to first growth chateaux that produce some of the world’s most expensive wine. Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2010 will set you back about $800 – per bottle. And that is fairly reasonable compared to Chateau Petrus 2010 which sells for around $3,500 per bottle.
The Blind Wine Group’s Bordeaux offering were all Bordeaux AC, the affordable side of the region. Save one, a 1989 Chateau Clerc Milon from Paulliac, a Fifth Growth and property of Mouton Rothschild. Clerc Milon comprises 100 acres of vineyards around the village of  Milon in northeastern Paulliac planted to 60% Cab, 30% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and  2% Petite Verdot.
It was tasted first as is done with all older wines. The nose was gorgeous with the classic cigar box aroma opening up to leather, dried herbs, and coffee. A mineral quality added more complexity. The flavors were tight at first and then opened to wonderful concentration and balance. The vintage was an excellent one and the reason why this 24 year old wine aged so gracefully. One famous wine writer said “the difference between the Clerc Milon and the Mouton Rothschild is negligible.” Considering the price, that says a lot.
Other wines tasted were 2010 Haut-Sorillon Bordeaux Supérieur, a rich, full bodied wine with dark ruby color. I loved it. It has a wonderful nose, plummy and woodsy, with a bit of the cigar box. Although a Bordeaux AC, the vineyards are only 5 km from Saint-Emilion. This wine received a silver medal from the Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition. $10
The 2009 Chateau Moulin de Mallet also received a medal, a gold one from the 2010 Concourse de Boudreaux.  Also a Bordeaux AC, it probably comes from the right bank with its telltale blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cab. It had really nice upfront fruit which was surprising for a wine of this age, beautiful weight to the mouthfeel and a long silky finish. $11.
2010 Chateau Haut-Mouleyre Bordeaux AC was another silver medal winner this time from Concourse des Grands Vins de France. With its signature Bordeaux nose, ruby color and aromas of Provence herbs and blackberries, this wine is another everyday wine at $7.
The winner with 6 out of ten votes was the Domaine les Grands Bois 2010 Cote du Rhone Villages with a dense purple robe, grapey, cassis aromas and grapey flavors that were rich and powerful. It’s a good thing it turned up last in the line up or it would have overpowered the other wines. Expect to spend about $14.
Of the eleven tasters, only two found the match, a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre from the Cotes du Rousillon. The Tessellae Old Vines 2010 sells for around $14.
For the appetizers, the grilled lamb with garlic and basil, the strong cheeses and, of course the homemade bread were the best match.

Easter Ham with Pinot Noir

There was always a big ham on the Easter dinner table.  And for the longest time, I thought all hams came smoked, on the bone with cloves stuck into the scored top and sprinkled with brown sugar.

Until many years later, after reading a recipe somewhere, I ordered a fresh ham from the butcher without knowing what I was getting myself into. When I unwrapped it, I had serious misgivings. It had the bone, it was the right shape but it just didn’t look like ham to me.

I faithfully followed the recipe and served it with a creamed horseradish sauce and a big jug of Navalle Burgundy. Forks were flying and before long there was just a soup bone left.

Fresh ham, it turns out, is a pork roast with a big bone in it. Never brined, cured, or smoked. It’s fresh.

Today, this baked fresh ham will be served3girls with a dried cherry and leek sauce and a Pinot Noir. And I have just the wine for the match! Having recently tried a couple of wines from a winery I was not familiar with – Oak Ridge Winery  –  I can highly recommend this Lodi winery.

Lodi lies between the Sierra Nevada foothills and the San Francisco Bay where the days are quite warm and the nights are cool. The Lodi AVA was established in 1986 but grape growing in this prolific farming region has been going on since the 1850s. Many German farming families formed cooperatives and sold their grapes to outfits like Sebastiani and Bronco.

The winery, opened in 1934, was originally a cooperative for the local growers. In 2001, winegrower Rudy Maggio and his partners, Don and Rocky Reynolds, bought the winery. They produce small lots of hand-crafted wines, and like many Lodi wineries, they’re known for Zinfandel, Old Vine Zinfandel.

While over 50 grape varietals thrive in Lodi, Zinfandel shines. Old gnarly vines, some over 100 years old, sculpted by time, yield small amounts of fruit to create a fabulous wine.

While Zinfandel would be great with this dinner, the wine that I had in mind was their Pinot Noir. Pretty unusual climate for Pinot Noir but there it is. The 3 Girls Vineyard California Pinot Noir is not produced from 80% Lodi grapes to get Lodi on the label.  And it actually has 13% Zinfandel in it!

I’m happy I didn’t know that while I was enjoying this delicious bottle of wine. The latent wine snob in me might have emerged.

Oak Ridge is one of the fastest growing wineries in the U.S. and easily the one with most extraordinary tasting room. It’s made from a 75 year old redwood holding tank. The tank had a capacity of 49,429 gallons of wine or 20,610 cases of wine.

Their very affordable wines can be found at these local markets:

CostPlus World Market – Silverdale

Fred Meyer – Port Orchard

Central Market – Poulsbo

Savage Vine – Kingston

What to Drink – La Carraia Sangiovese

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La Carraia Sangiovese Umbria 2010

Umbria is fairly unique in that it is one of two landlocked regions in Italy. The other 18 regions all border on the sea.

But in landlocked Umbria just southeast of  Tuscany, La Carraia was founded in 1976 by two families. One of the founders was an Italian marketing and production entrepreneur. Before long, La Carraia began producing bulk wines for a couple of top estates, Ruffino and Rocca delle Macie.

Today the winery owns almost 200 hundred acres near the heart of the Orvieto Classico region which is planted to the allowed grapes of Grechetto, Trebbiano, Verdelllo, Drupeggio and Malvasia.

This Sangiovese is a brilliant ruby red color fermented in stainless steel with a lot of punch downs, then aged in oak for 3 months. It has loads of  juicy plum and berry fruits on the nose. The plush fruit carries through on the palate with blackberry, plum and hints of herbs and spicy oak. Full bodied with crisp acidity and smooth tannins.

This wine is a bargain at just under $9.

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie,

that’s Amore!  from Dean Martin’s song, That’s Amore!

The grand Amore day is just around the corner, and here are a few wine  meat balls    ideas to help you get organized. It’s an Italian theme for a romantic dinner either homemade or an evening out.

One of the loveliest of Italian grapes is Sangiovese. This darkly colored grape gets its name from the Latin, sanguis Jovis or blood of Jove. Jove being the king of gods until Christianity came along.

Italy’s love affair with Sangiovese is proven by the fact that it is the most widely planted red grape variety in Italy. In the romantic Tuscan region, Sangiovese is the grape or the base of some great wines from Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Chianti to Morellino di Scansano.

Ever wondered about the makeup of a Super Tuscan?  Generally, these upscale wines from Tuscany allow blending Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah. These tend to be expensive ($$$) and long lived.

Other Italian wine regions planted to Sangiovese and very affordable are Lazio, Umbria, Marche and the Island of Corsica. Outside of Italy, Sangiovese has put down roots in California, Washington and Australia where its naturally high acidity is an asset in those  hot climates.

Sangiovese is a thin-skinned, slow ripener. So slow in fact, some vineyards aren’t ready for harvesting until well into October. This extended growing season makes for richer, more concentrated aromas and flavors.

The characteristic Sangiovese flavors are dark cherry and black stone fruit framed with savory notes of tomato leaf and dried herbs. There are many clones, the most prevalent Sangisovese Grosso, is known for its high acidity, sweet and savory flavors and mild tannins.

Brunello di Montalcino is Tuscany’s most famous wine. Brunello from the Sangiovese Grosso clone, is from around the hilltop town of Montalcino where the vineyards radiate down the hillsides from the town.

Although it is not release until it is five years old, Brunello is, with more age, fantastically aromatic, smooth with dark fruits and hints of savory herbs. It’s the perfect marriage with Osso Buco, a traditional Italian dish.  This slow and delicious dish of braised veal shanks would surely melt anyone’s heart.

The absolute best Brunello is from Vasco Sassetti. Others to look for would be Biondi Santi, Frescobaldi or Banfi. Brunello di Montalcino averages around $50 to 75.

That would be my dream dinner for Valentine’s Day so here’s another ideal scenario: Spaghetti and Meatballs. Picture two Dalmatians at a Chianti Classicocheckered tablecloth out the backdoor of an Italian restaurant sucking down the same noodle. It’s a classic scene and an entrée best served with a bottle of Chianti Classico.

The traditional Chianti blend was 75 to 90% Sangiovese with a bit of Canaiolo (10 to 30%) and 10 to 30% Trebbiano and/ or Malvasia.  Today, a new law has reduced Canaiolo to 10% and permits up to 10 % non-traditional grapes such as Cabernet and Merlot.

Chianti Classico is situated between Florence and Siena, the inner zone within Tuscany’s Chianti district. Isole y Olena, Gabbiano, and Ruffino are all likely candidates for the seductively simple spaghetti and meatballs with a lovely price point right around $15.

And for that sweet ending to a luscious meal, Ann Vogel’s recipe for Tiramisu must be accompanied by Vin Santo. It’s a style of Tuscan dessert wine made from dried Malvasia or Trebbiano grapes. The best way to describe it – it’s like the kiss of an angel.

Happy Valentine’s Day!