Posts Tagged ‘zio tony ranch’

Pinot Dazed & Amazed

June 21, 2012

I’m a fan of American Pinot Noir, whether it strives for a New World vibrancy or tries to emulate the leaner Burgundian model.

I recently got a chance to taste some of the best Pinot Noirs made in this country at the 8th annual Pinot Days event in San Francisco. Click here for an event preview.

Fast and Furious

There were 134 wineries listed in the Pinot Days 2012 tasting guide and festival officials promised at least 500 different wines would be poured.

From that massive list, I tasted 84 wines last Saturday afternoon at Fort Mason. I think it was a pretty good sample.

Quality overall was good, with a high middle ground between my top picks and the least favorite from the tasting.

Most of the wine was from the 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages and most of the wines were Californian. There were a few entries from Oregon plus a handful of French and German wines.

The majority of wines come from small-volume operations.

The Road to Good Pinot Noir

Roadhouse Winery, a small outfit based in Healdsburg, poured two of my favorite wines from the tasting — the 2009 Russian River ($44) and the 2010 Sonoma Mountain ($48).

The Russian River bottling boasted sweet red cherry fruit and a fuller, rounder profile than its sibling, which comes from the hotter Bennett Valley.

The Sonoma Mountain featured strawberry/rhubarb flavors and was made in a leaner style than the Sonoma Mountain.

Look for amiable winery owner Eric Hall if you visit the Roadhouse tasting room, which is open daily just off the Healdsburg Square.

I’ve enjoyed other bottles from Roadhouse, which started up in 2010. Here’s a link to a previous Pinot Days review.

Another Familiar Favorite

I’ve enjoyed Martinelli Pinot Noir since tasting their wines at another pinot event a few years ago. Here’s a link to my blog about a visit to Martinelli in 2010.

The 2010 Zio Tony Ranch “Grace Nicole” Pinot Noir was a great example of well-rounded Russian River wine featuring fine cherry fruit balanced by enough acids to keep the sweetness in check.

It was the fifth vintage in a row for the Zio Tony Ranch wine — one of nine different Martinelli Pinor Noirs currently in distribution — to win a 90+ rating from Wine Spectator.

Good Wines Galore

There were several really good wines that just missed the top three spots on my list and there was one great buy — a $20 wine that comes from the 2011 vintage.

Here are some great suggestions for near-term enjoyment:

Black Kite Cellars “Stony Terrace” 2009 ($52) is  another example of pure red fruit that lingered for quite a while on the tongue. It really worked well with a bite of Dubliner cheese.

No 7 JCB  by Jean Claude Boisset, is a 2010 Sonoma Coast bottling from a French winemaker who showed a deft hand with this very dark red wine. This fruit forward $50 wine tasted of sweet red cherries with a hit of cranberry and some nice spicy notes.

Meomi Winery’s $20 2011 blend — made from grapes grown in Santa Barbara, Sonoma and Monterey counties — is an instant favorite at a great price! Tasty from the first sip, with a touch of mulberry against the nice cherry core, I found it amazingly approachable for such a young wine.

The  2010 Belle Glos Taylor Lane Vineyard bottling — one of the last wines I tasted — proved to be a well-balanced mouthful of moderate red fruit from the Sonoma Coast with a hint of mint that lingered pleasantly in my mouth as I headed for the exit. Full retail is about $40+.

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Pinot-Palooza

June 26, 2010

This is a great time to be a fan of pinot noir in the Bay Area which is ground zero for Pinot Days — the biggest winetasting event in the country featuring a single varietal.

A series of smaller events have been held over the past two weeks leading up to the Pinot Days Grand Tasting on Sunday (June 27) at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Tickets are available online for $60 each. Walk-up tickets will also be for sale at the venue, where more than 200 wineries will be pouring their best bottles from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The list of wineries — starting alphbetically with organic producer Adastra from the Carneros region and running to Santa Rosa-based Zepaltas — is heavy on California entries. There’s also a contingent from Oregon, including Archery Summit and Domaine Serene, both leading pinot noir producers in the Pacific Northwest.

I’ve attended a few pre-event tastings, including a special media-only preview of some of the top producers.

With more than 1000 different wines to choose from at the main event, there’s no way to taste everything in sight. I look for new faces in the crowd and also hope to find values coming from anywhere, especially some of the smaller wineries currently flying under the radar.

Hanzell Shines

Of course, no big tasting would be complete without a chance to sample the newest offerings from award-winning producers.

Hanzell Vineyards, Sonoma

My top pick from all of the wines poured at Pinot Days is Hanzell Vineyards 2006. Most wineries are pouring 2007s and 2008s, but this four-year-old bottle of $70 juice shines like a beacon with brilliant red fruit and a nose that is intoxicating. It needs decanting, at least a couple of hours, to really hit it’s stride, but it’s well worth the wait!

The fruit comes from a mountainside vineyard about a mile north of Sonoma, first planted to pinot noir in 1953. The estate now contains more than 42 acres of vines, with one-fourth planted to pinot noir and the rest chardonnay.

An old favorite of mine, Scherrer Winery in Sebastapol, is showing well with its 2007 Platt Vineyard pinor noir. The wine is immediately approachable, open and luscious with red cherry fruit and a whiff of sassafras. Winemaker Fred Scherrer sources the grapes for this wine  from a 15-acre parcel that sits at 400-800 feet above sea level, about five miles from the Pacific Ocean near the town of Bodega.

Moving north, to Mendocino, we find the home of Shandel’s Oppenlander Vineyard pinot noir. The 2007 vintage, released just this week, is a marvelous effort. It’s a darker pinot, thanks to some Pommard clone in the mix, with a nice spicy mint element to the nose and on the tongue.

Winemaker John Pepe and Laree Mancour at Pinot Days

John Pepe and Laree Mancour at Pinot Days

Oppenlander winemaker John Pepe points to the wild Mexican sage growing near the vineyard as one reason for the spiciness.There are about 20 acres of vines on the Surprise Valley Ranch property, which also operates as a timber and cattle ranch and is the source of award-winning blackberry jam.

From Z to A

I first heard about winemaker Ryan Zepaltas while tasting wines from Suacci Carciere Winery. He’s the winemaker for this boutique winery and consults with other small wineries.

I liked both versions of this wine from the 2008 vintage. The first, labeled Russian River, is a bit darker and heavier due to addition of about 20 percent whole clusters (stems and all) during fermentation of the juice harvested from the 6.5-acre vineyard. It has great raspberry fruit and a delightful spice-tinted nose.

No whole clusters were used in the 2008 Suacci Vineyard wine, which is lighter in appearance and taste. I sense cherry blossoms on the nose and a nice tartness on the approach to balance the pomengrante and cherry flavors.

Winemaker Ryan Zepaltas

Ryan Zepaltas

Zepaltas makes interesting pinot noir under his own label, too.

His own 2008 pinot noir ($44) from the W.E. Bottoms Vineyard in the Russian River region is outstanding. It’s a dark red wine with strong concentrations of cherry fruit to go with an earthy feel and flavor. It’s ready to go now (please decant this wine and let it sit for an hour to unleash its potential!) but the winemaker also believes it will get better with a few more years of age.

Making Marvelous Wine at Martinelli

I also liked a trio of amazing wines from Martinelli Winery, a six-generation family winemaking operation whose pinot noir and zinfandel programs are world class.

The 2007 Three Sisters pinot noir ($60) exhibits great spiciness with a long, firm finish that shows off great cherry/berry fruit. The 2007 Moonshine Ranch ($70) takes that great taste a step higher and the 2008 Zio Tony Ranch ($60) is just amazingly good with cola/tea flavors against a strong cherry component with a finish that just lingers in the mouth for minutes.

Looking to the Stars

While Martinelli controls hundreds of acres and has been a fixture in wine country for more than a century, Adastra has a much shorter time and space impact on the wine world.

Adastra (which means “to the stars” in Latin) has just 20 acres of vineyards in the Carneros region, where the operation is strictly organic. Owners Chris and Naomi Thorpe bought the property in 1984, thinking it would be a good site for cattle ranching. By 1989, they dropped the cows and began planting vines.

Today, Adastra grows chardonnay, merlot and six acres of pinot noir. The 2007 pinot noir is a very good wine ($40) but a bottle of the 2006 reserve pinot noir (Proximus, $56) is outstanding. Made from a mix of Pommard and Dijon clones, this big wine features a hint of spice against a long, dark elegant flavor that is hard to resist.

Rhone Rangers on a Roll

March 31, 2010

The annual Rhone Rangers tasting in San Francisco showcased some great syrah and petite sirah wines, but it was the grenache that really caught my eye and tickled my tastebuds the most.

The 13th annual grand tasting at Fort Mason last weekend featured Rhone-style wines from 102 producers from California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

When handled properly, good grenache fills the glass with a nose of spiciness  and a taste of berries and other red fruits. Many producers will combine grenache with syrah (more acid and tannin) and mourvedre (darker colors) to produce a blend that showcases the best characteristics of each varietal.

Carina Cellars Vineyards

I happen to like all three, on their own or in blends, but a few of the grenache wines really stood out, including a bottle from Carina Cellars in Paso Robles.

Carina’s grenache, from the 2007 Tierra Alta Vineyard in Santa Barbara, showed intense red fruit in the glass with a pleasurable edge of plums on the tongue. It’s available ($28) only from the winery.

Frick Winery of Geyserville poured tasty cinsault and carignane — two grapes that you don’t normally see bottled outside a blend — but it was the 2006 grenache that really captured by interest. Made from Dry Creek Valley grapes, the fresh fruit in this wine seemed to leap from the glass to my lips.

Another nice grenache (The Crossroad, $25) was poured by Curtis Winery from Los Olivos. Made in a lighter style from Santa Ynez Valley fruit, this 2006 wine includes 20 percent syrah.

Leslie Preston

I also liked the fresh, uncomplicated 2008 syrah ($29) from Coiled Wines, which are made from fruit grown in Idaho. Winemaker Leslie Preston splits her time between her Napa home and an Idaho co-op where she makes wine from Snake River Valley fruit.

“I think there is a lot of potential in Idaho,” said Preston, who has worked at Clos du Bois, Saintsbury and Stags’ Leap in California. “There’s a fresh intensity of fruit that I really like.”

I was able to re-taste the exciting 2006 Estate petite sirah ($28) from D. H. Gustafson Family Vineyards. This is the first wine made from Gustafson’s stunning hilltop winery near Lake Sonoma (see my earlier blog on Gustafson) and the 2007 version is nearly as good, too.

For a celebrity experience, try the 2007 syrah made by Fleming Jenkins Vineyards & Winery from a Livermore Valley vineyard owned by former Raiders coach and football analyst John Madden. The flavor profile is a delicious mix of cherry, black pepper and a hint of chocolate .

The top syrah on my scorecard were the 2006 Zio Tony Ranch ($75) from Martinelli Winery in Windsor. This one hit all the pleasure points that a syrah lover wants to find — finely integrated tannins, a pleasant spiciness balanced by broad, expanded red fruit.

My second favorite wine overall was the glorious 2007 Espirit de Beaucastel ($50) from Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles. This red blend had all the elements of a genuine Rhone champion. It should. The winery is run by the same family that owns the esteemed Chateau de Beaucastel in France.

The biggest bargain wine of the tasting was the Cotes du Crows blend of grenache and syrah produced by Morgan Winery in Carmel. I’d order a second (or third) glass of this $16 quaffer anytime.

One of the most interesting 2007 grenache-syrah blends I tasted came from a little winery in Oakland called Prospect 772 Wine Company. The $36 wine is called The Brat, a name chosen due to the difficult-to-cultivate grenache grape’s character.

You can taste Prospect 772 wines  — and other wines from more than a dozen urban Bay Area wineries — at the annual East Bay Vintners Alliance passport event on April 10.