Posts Tagged ‘lodi zinfandel’

Three Faces of Zinfandel

November 18, 2010

Zinfandel grows all over California where it adapts to all kinds of weather conditions, soil types and cultivation practices. There are regional differences, of course, and some parts of the state are more closely identified with good zinfandel than others.

Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley is zinfandel heaven for a lot of wine lovers. Others are convinced Lodi or Napa or maybe even the Sierra Foothills are the motherlode of this uniquely American wine.

The grape’s history can be traced back to Europe, but it is only in America that zin has emerged as an important standalone varietal

Taste the Difference

I lined up three bottles of zinfandel, one each from Sonoma, Napa and Lodi, for a blind tasting. The great thing about all three wines I tried was the price. I saw them on sale at Lucky’s for $9.98, that’s about 25% off the suggested retail price for one of the wines and 40% off the other two!

Each wine comes from “old vine” sources of fruit. In this case “old vine” means vineyards that range in age from 50 to more than 100 years old. Regional differences were apparent in each sip, as detailed below.

Zinfandel No. 1

This wine revealed the least perfume, and the deepst color (dark purple), of all the wines. It’s bashful nose of dark cherries developed after a few minutes in the glass. This wine came up a bit short on approach with noticeable tannins.  When I added dab of sharp cheddar cheese and a hunk of sourdough baguette, the wine came alive in my mouth.

This was the 2007 Sonoma County bottling ($16) from Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma. It’s 76 percent zin with equal portions of petite sirah, carignane and “assorted” black grapes in the blend.

Zinfandel No. 2

On initial approach, there was a strong, sweet blueberry nose. The color rivaled the purple darkness of No. 1. The blueberries followed through in the taste, but the finish landed a bit roughly and abruptly in the mouth. I got a bit more pleasure out of the next sip when I took a bite of tonight’s dinner — grilled lamb kebabs and zucchini over rice. A bit of hot sauce pushed the combination of the wine and lamb up a notch in taste.

This was the 2008 Napa Valley from Ravenswood. The blend is 75 percent zin and 25 percent petite sirah. Retail price is $16.

Zinfandel No. 3

A bit less dark than 1 and 2 with some red highlights. Nose of blackberry compote. Mouth-watering and lick-smacking before the first sip. The flavor practically leaped from the glass. To say this wine is fruit forward is an understatement, but there’s enough structure underneath to balance things out. This was the Lodi bottling ($13), also from Ravenswood. It includes 23 percent petite sirah.

Zinfandel No. 4

Out of curiosity, I decided to try my own blend of the three wines, mixing equal parts of each one to produce a hybrid glass that, hopefully, would highlight the top features of each separate wine.

I liked the result, which toned down the fruitiness of No. 3 with the tannins of No. 2 and No. 1 while retaining the blueberry highlights of the nose that I personally enjoy. Given more time, I’d probably fine-tune the blend and experiment with percetages to see the impact on taste.

Thanksgiving Surprise

What wine do you serve with traditional Thanksgiving fare like roast turkey?

My best advice is to drink anything you like — from sparkling wine and chardonnay to middleweight reds like syrah and heavyweight reds like cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel. There is no one “perfect” choice, but I do have something different to suggest for 2010’s most thankful of holidays.

I recently received a sample bottle of Darcie Kent Vineyard’s 2009 gruner veltliner ($18, 2500 cases) from the Rava Jack vineyard in Monterey County. Gruner veltliner is a white European grape that grows well in cooler climates and it’s especially popular in Austria. Not much gruner is planted in California. I’ve tried a few unimpressive Austrian bottles, and didn’t expect much from the one domestic bottling I’d encountered.

It was terrific. The gruner offered a nice citrus nose and a great touch of lime and light peach fruit in the mouth. This was a refreshing glass of wine that I would be happy to offer on my Thanksgiving table. Right next to the zinfandel.

Operating in the same price range, and always a great deal for zinfandel fans, is the “Vintner’s Cuvee XXXII” from Rosenblum Cellars. The current release ($12) is another winner in a long string of successful bottlings for this zinfandel and Rhone-style specialist. It’s “berry” good with a mix of blackberry, raspberry and cherry flavors. My own blended “hybrid” reminded me of the Rosenblum offering, which is made from vineyard sources all across the state.

Ghostly Wines for Spooky Times

October 28, 2010

You can perk up just about any holiday with the right wine, so why not drink something different and delicious to celebrate Halloween?

There are a couple of direct connections with the scariest holiday of the year in Wine Country — both spooky events and spook-tacular wines.

First, the wines.

Old Ghost Zinfandel

One of the most on-the-topic-of-Halloween  wines you can get is the Old Ghost zinfandel produced by Klinker Brick Winery in Lodi. I recently sampled the 2008 vintage ($37) and it was great. The grapes come from two low-yielding vineyards planted 89 and 98 years ago. The wine is rich with red cherry and blackberry fruit tinged with an exotic spice note (cinnamon?).

I wouldn’t hesitate to serve this wine alongside something exotic like this recipe from Food Network for pumpkin risotto or the yummy pumpkin curry cooked up by King Thai Noodle at 1635 Park Street in Alameda.

Many experts link today’s trick-or-trick festivities to a Celtic celebration called Shamain, a word that means summer’s end. Have you noticed those long summer days are gone and nightfall is inching earlier and earlier every day?

Those Celts got the last part right when they decided the passing season deserved a unique celebration.

Ghosts in the Pines

There are four wines marketed under the Ghost Pines label from Louis Martini. The name comes from a specific vineyard in Napa (Chiles Valley, actually) that is bordered by whispy pine trees. Today, some of the grapes for the Ghost Pines wines come from that same vineyard, but the finished wines are actually blends made with grapes from other parts of Wine Country.

There are three reds — merlot, cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel — plus a chardonnay. Suggested retail is $18-$25 per bottle.

I picked up a bottle of 2007 Old Ghost Pines Winemaker’s Blend cabernet sauvignon at Lucky’s at a bargain price of $12.95. This wine could easily compete with California merlots selling for $20-$30.

There’s bit of mocha in the nose that follows through in the mouth along with some restrained tannins that provide the proper edge to the fruit. The broader mid-palate flavors — think juicy ripe cherries — tasted great with a bowl of leftover beef stew.This wine is a mix of 51% Napa and 49% Sonoma fruit.

Tricks, Treats and Tastings

Harvest season open houses are rampant in Wine Country now with some wineries promoting Halloween-oriented special events and tastings. Here are a couple of suggestions for the holiday weekend.

Francenstein Fest at Flora Springs

How do you announce a new wine with an odd name? Throw an event called “Francenstein” to unveil Flora Springs 100% cabernet franc wine called “Ghost Winery.” The party runs from 9 p.m. to midnight on Saturday (Oct. 30) at the winery’s tasting room in St. Helena. Advance tickets are $20.


They will be pouring award-winning wines from the 2008 vintage to celebrate the harvest at Dutton-Goldfield in Sebastopol on Saturday (Oct. 30). The first corks will be pulled at 11 a.m. and the event runs through 4 p.m. Admission is $15. Costumed attendees receive an extra discount on any purchase.

You can score brownie points by congratulating winemaker Dan Goldfield on winning the Winemaker of the Year award from Sunset magazine. Then, ask him for an extra pour of his estate pinot noir. The Dutton Ranch 2008 ($38) is delicious, if you like to walk on the rich cherry side of pinot.

Treasure Island Wine Adventure

October 15, 2010

While the Blue Angels streaked overhead on a sunny Indian Summer afternoon, Treasure Island sparkled with the reflection of hundreds of bottles of wine.

It was the 2010 Lodi Wine on the Water event featuring a cavalcade of tastes.

Blue Angels in Formation


Star of the wine show was zinfandel, the rambunctious red wine grape that Lodi is famous for. Supporting roles were played by  cabernet and two grapes that don’t normally get a lot of respect in California — carignane and alicante bouschet.

Forty-two wineries participated in the event, which coincided with the Fleet Week aerial manuevers by the famed Blue Angels. Quality was good across the board, but three zinfandels stood out from the pack.


My favorite wine was the 2007 Lucas ($35). This sleek red beauty is produced from a single organic 3.5-acre vineyard tended by Lodi veteran winemaker David Lucas. The zinfandel featured dark fruits and a sliver of tannins that showed a sophistication and balance achieved by few of its peers. The 70-year-old Zinstar vineyard is hand-harvested and nearly half the crop is thinned to give the gnarly, head pruned vines a better chance to produce exemplary berries. The wine rests in French oak barrels for more than year before bottling.

Klinker Brick

I liked the hint of strawberry fruit in the Klinker Brick 2008 old vine zinfandel, which is made from vineyards that are at least a half century old. You can taste a bit of sweet American oak in this wine and the rich red fruit coats the mouth with flavor. Yields were down in 2008, giving this wine a more concentrated feel than past vintages. The taste lingered for what seemed like minutes and left me craving another sip.

M2 Wines

The 2008 old vine zinfandel from M2 Wines is sourced from the 94-year-old Soucie vineyard, originally planted in 1916. It’s a deep, dark wine with intense black fruit and aromas of black cherries and blackberries mingled together. There is gobs of fruit in this wine but it’s not overpowering.


Lodi Wine on the Water Commemorative Bottle


What’s in a Name?

I don’t believe carignane, a grape generally used in blending in the Rhone Valley of France, gets a fair shake from many wine drinkers. Two examples from Lodi really show off the grape’s potential in the 2008 vintage.

From Jessie’s Grove Winery comes a majestic old vine carignane, sourced from two estate vineyards that are more than 100 years old. Blueberry highlights over a cedar edge come together in the glass with a flash of oak to form a delightful triumvirate of taste in this $32 bottle.

Done in a “smaller” style is the 2008 carignane from Heritage Oak Winery. In my tasting notes I wrote, “very nice little red wine.” It shows a bit of sharpness and acidity that endears this grape to winemakers looking to add more dimension to a blend. I wanted a slice of pizza in the worst way with this wine!

McConnell Estates

I’m always on the lookout for a great cabernet sauvignon at a good price and the McConnell Estate’s 2007 vintage from the Wackman Ranch vineyard hits both marks. This wine ($15.50) was aged for two years in French and American oak,. The wood doesn’t take center stage. It’s a comfortable backstop to the black fruit and currant flavors that roll over the tongue.

Touche’ for Alicante Bouschet

The alicante bouschet grape gets little respect outside of its traditional role as a blending grape used in small amounts to pump up color and power. Occasionally, someone makes an all-alicante wine that stands on its own merits. The 2006 vintage ($30) from Harmony Wynelands repeats the success of the winery’s sold-out 2005 vintage of this wine. This is a thick-skinned, hearty grape from which Harmony winemaker Chad Joseph coaxed some extraordinary smooth flavors.

Zinfest Surprises

May 20, 2010

A funny thing happened to me at a Zinfandel festival. I found a couple of unusual white wines that were great and a good red that wasn’t even a zinfandel.

Of course, there were lots of decent zins on tap last weekend at the Zinfest in Lodi where 50 regional wineries poured for several thousand attendees. I’d sampled many of the wines before, so I was looking for anything out of the ordinary and/or extraordinary.

With temps in the 80s, and sundresses and shorts the uniforms of the day, I tramped through the crowd in search of refreshing white wines.

There was a very nice sauvignon blanc ($13/2008) from Langetwins Wienry and Vineyards, a good viognier ($11/2008) from Loredona, and a slightly sweet and delicious verdelho from St. Jorge Winery, but I fell hard for two Rhone style wines — roussane and grenache blanc — from Hux Vineyards.

I’d actually tasted a lovely petite verdot from another producer, Periscope Cellars in Emeryville, made from Hux Vineyards grapes. I just didn’t know at the time the connection with Hux — a small Lodi winery making its first commercial releases after a long history of home winemaking and grape-growing.

The two whites were delicious and unique.

The Rhone Edge

The grenache blanc had a sharper feel in the mouth, like a crisp sauvignon blanc with rounded corners. The roussane showed more fruit — tinged with honey.  Often they’re used together in blends, but these two varietals (both vintage 2008 and $20/bottle) were great on their own in winemaker David Huckstead’s hands.

Huecksteadt’s magic in the bottle won gold medals in the home winemaking competition at the San Joaquin County Fair for several years. No Hux reds were available for tasting at Zinfest, but I’ll track them down and report back on availability.

D’art is D’elicious

My favorite red wine of the tasting was the 2007 petite sirah ($24) from one of my favorite Lodi-area producers, D’Art Wines. This a big  wine, aged in Hungarian oak. It’s ready for consumption now, but I’d decant it and maybe let it open up for 30-60 minutes before pouring it alongside any hearty plate of grilled pork or beef.

Owner/winemaker Dave Dart focuses on reds at a small winery next to his home on North Curry Avenue in Lodi. Dart’s 2008 zinfandel ($24) is a delightful mix of blackberry fruit with a vein of barely perceptible mint on the palate. D’Art is releasing a new blend ($12.50/bottle) later this month and visitors can actually bottle their own wine at the winery on May 29-31.

Zins to Remember

Some of the top zins on my Zinfest scoresheet included:

Mettler Family Vineyards 2007 Epicenter “old vine” ($18), m2′s 2008 old vine zinfandel from Soucie Vineyards ($28) and two zins from Oak Ridge Winery — the 2007 OZV (a big, bold “old vine” style wine/$15) and the 2005 Moss Roxx (a more refined $20 wine showing smooth brambly red fruit).

Oak Ridge is the oldest commercial winery in Lodi, where it began operations as a cooperative in 1934.

Upcoming Wine County Events

Mark your calendars for two big tasting events next month at Fort Mason in San Francisco.


The third annual TAPAS Grand Wine Tasting is on tap for June 5. The group, Tempranillo Advocates, Producers and Amigos Society, promotes mostly Spanish- and Portuguese-styled wines produced in the United States. About 40 wineries from California, Oregon and Arizona are scheduled to pour a wide range of wines, including Tempranillo, Albariño, Garnacha, Graciano, Mourvedre, Touriga, Verdelho, Bastardo. Advance tickets are available online.

Pinot Days

The annual Pinot Days event is set to unroll at Fort Mason on the last weekend in June. There will be 220 wineries from top pinot-producing regions in California and Oregon pouring more than 500 wines at the grand tasting from 1-5 p.m. on Sunday, June 2 7. Smaller, focused tastings, dinners and seminars will also be on tap. Here’s a link for ticket and schedule information.