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Drunken Walks through Bursting Vines

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13th November 2006

inbody6:51pm: You Need The Cheese: A Tasting Tip For Your Tasting Trip
When you're planning your trip to wine country, leave space at the beginning of your itinerary to stop for some 'palate primers'. A small hunk of cheese and a few slices of mild salame can go a long way toward prepping your mouth to receive wine when consumed just before you leave the car at each stop. I find that a nice, hard parmesan-like cheese leaves my mouth 'hungry' for a sip of wine and helps me to determine what wines are worthy of a place at my table and I can't help but wrap that cheese inside a moist slice of ferociously red salame. Some crusty bread only adds to the effect.

12th November 2006

inbody6:33pm: The Experience (or, A Pragmatic Approach to the Ceremony of Everyday WIne Drinking).
You know that beautiful, perfectly-weighted stemware you've got? It makes you smile just thinking of it (full, of course). Or does it? For me, at some point it became a game where my guests and I use every trick we can to avoid breakage. Well, more to the point, my wife got sick of us needing to drop another serious bill on some replacement glasses. This is why we spent some serious time and energy into finding glasses that approach the elegance of the Riedels, but are either more difficult to shatter or simply less expensive (the holy grail - no pun intended - being the combination of these two virtues).

To keep things short, I will simply share with you the results of our quest:



LSA International's 'Red Wine' glasses. $29.99 for a set of four. These things are massive, holding 775ml if filled to the top (that's more than an entire bottle of wine!) These remarkable glasses tower over the Riedel Bordeaux's and offer a similar satisfaction when held in the hand. Huge success is achieved here in price, but breakability is still a concern. However, realistically, I don't really need (or expect) to find a glass better than this that's less than $7.50.

23rd October 2006

inbody5:07pm: Where Is It From?
When you’ve never tasted or read up on a particular wine before, there are still plenty of hints you can pick up on that will help you make an informed decision about whether or not to buy it or not. If you’re looking at a bottle of wine, it will communicate a lot to you based on what is and what isn’t there on the label. For example, if it says ‘California’ and you’re wondering ‘OK, where in California?’, you’ve hit upon one of the first red flags.

onward...Collapse )

22nd October 2006

inbody4:46pm: Colgin Stories.
Last night, after a trade event during which I poured - and purred over - Cabernets for a couple of hours, we ended up at the truly extraordinary Olivetto in the Rockridge area of Berkeley. Though snubbed by the recent first round of SF Bay Michelin-starring, Olivetto is a world-class restaurant that should be a destination for anyone who enjoys stick-to-your-ribs food of the classic European variety. Lots of rich meats: Duck, Venison, Lamb, pigeon. You won't find simple steak or chicken here, nor will you miss it.

Due to the nature of the event we had just come from, we had plenty of half-full wine bottles in-hand to enjoy with our meal. However, due to the generosity of our host, there was one very special bottle that would add a memorable touch to an already great occasion.

The 2000 vintage was a tough one for Napa Cabernet and you'll not often hear from people looking to seriously invest in library wines from that year. Most in the trade, as well as serious collectors, prefer the brilliant 1997's and everyone knows that 2001 Napa Cabs are almost across-the-board blockbusters. The 2000 Colgin Herb Lamb Vineyard Cabernet is a noteworthy exception to this. 350 cases produced and in the marketplace for $200+/-, this would fall seriously into the 'cult' category. People covet this wine greedily, and I was just thrilled that I had Olivetto's best plates to match it with.

When I hear the word 'cult' associated with wine, like most, I immediately think of jammy, over-ripe wines that usually don't offer much more than that (Granted, I've still never tasted Screaming Eagle or Marcassin, so I'm hardly an expert here). I was surprised and thrilled that this Colgin showed a lot of restraint and ended up a sort of Bordeaux-styled affair. Along with generous, vivid fruit, the wine had a lovely combination of parsley leaf flavors and serious, but enjoyable tannins that made the duck sausage crostini sing (my wife also astutely noted a slight bubble gum flavor, as well).

Wine, time and again, proves itself to be the varnish on what will become great memories, though I know I won't remember this Colgin without also drooling a little while recalling Olivetto's stunning bright-red duck crostini. Mmm.

21st October 2006

inbody11:19am: Taste it - quickly!
Yesterday, out of necessity, I came up with a way to rate wines quickly that really helps to jog the memory and remind one what the experience of a particular wine is like. This is a very informal system that would benefit anyone that scrawls notes into a palm pilot while on a tasting trip or at a party where several wines are poured

The concept is based on a five-star system – with one star representing each of the following qualities:

Aromatics
Fruit/flavor (including oak)
Complexity
Texture/tannin
Finish

The important thing is that the ratings should reflect your personal taste, not some obscure standard that you might measure the wines against. For example, two different people with contrasting taste might award a star for a particular category based on opposite characteristics (IE: If you enjoy tannin and it is present, award the star. If you don't like tannin and there is none, award the star - assuming you enjoy the overall texture).

NOTE: I am certainly not claiming to have invented this crude rating system. No doubt, someone has thought of this before. I simply found it useful considering the kind of tasting I was doing. I suspect some will find it a helpful system, as well.

18th October 2006

inbody5:12pm: Wine Words, Vol 1. of 2,347
Due to my constant exposure to the world of small-production, collector-level wine, I hear a lot of blustery hyperbole thrown about to describe what, to most, would be a rather terrestrial liquid - passed over for a Corona or an apple martini in most scenarios.

This is the first installment of a series of entries intended to bring the vocabulary of the nuanced wine-taster (please note the irony) to the neophyte wine enthusiast. This euphemistic language should go some way toward making you a part of the 21st century wine cognoscenti. Here we go:

CONFECTION: (adj.) The sensation of sweetness, or perceived sweetness, on the palate or finish of a wine due to ripeness of fruit flavor or actual residual sugar. EX: This Chardonnay has a tremendous bouquet, followed by a thick, buttery viscosity and subtle confection on the prolonged finish.

16th October 2006

inbody10:31am: Larkmead Estate Cabernet 2003 - Tasting Note
At this year's Family Winemakers event in San Francisco, I was lucky enough to atten both the consumer and trade tastings. The first day, I did my regular rounds tasting old favorites and new things I'd heard about in magazines, etc. The second day, however, I ventured blindly up and down the aisles begging for pours of anonymous juice from anyone that would tilt a bottle my way. Admittedly, this exposed me to a lot of sour grapes (pun, what pun?), but it also opened my eyes to some gems that would have otherwise gone totally undiscovered.

One of the techniques one can use to get satisfying results while on an adventure of this nature is to play the 'six degrees of separation' game. That is, find wines that have some kind of tenuous attachment to something that IS familiar. This gets loads of results due to the incestuous nature of the wine business. This guy buys grapes from that guy or this winemaker used to make wine for that guy, etc...Collapse )

14th October 2006

inbody4:09pm: The Big California Cabernet Face-Off
BACKGROUND

Over the past two or three months, my palate has taken a dramatic turn toward big, tannic California Cabernet. Prior to this, I had been immersed in Pinot Noir, enjoying bottle after bottle of sublimely ethereal Pinot with their strawberry-seed fragrances and pale dusty-red hues. I can't really explain the shift. I used to really find tannin difficult to deal with and I don't really have the wine budget to buy older vintages of perfectly-aged Cabernet. I do know that the middle ground between my Pinot affection and my current Cabernet 'thing' was Zinfandel. What? I know.

There are some serious Zins out there with tannin right alongside the big fruit. I came to get used to these, much to the displeasure of my wallet. Sadly, this is not typical of Zinfandel and to find wines with this particular combination of attributes can cost you. So, what are they? OK, here's three (all 2004 vintage):

Rosenblum Monte Rosso Vineyard Zinfandel
Brown Estate Napa Valley Zinfandel
Gamba Moratto Vineyard Zinfandel

I really have never much cared for Zinfandel, but these had complexity in addition to what I describe as 'lascivious fruit'. Their dusty textures made it hard to call them 'smooth' and that was ok with me. High alcohol, ripe fruit, and no tannin is a big turn off for me. Why not just drink a coctail or some partially fermented corn syrup? I want texture. Mouthfeel. Anyway, I was seriously feeling these Zins for a while. Then, they ran out. All gone.

Next, I once again flirted with Pinot Noir, my first love. Oh, I was confused that they just weren't doing it for me anymore. I had found a brave new world. Don't get me wrong, I still appreciated what these Pinots were about, but they weren't 'hitting the spot'. This is when my eye began to wander the Cabernet racks. Could it be that I was just intimidated before. After all, Cabernet - Napa Cab, in particular - is Alpha Male territory and I really can't be bothered with that nonsense. Clearly, I've been overthinking these wines. All the fuss must be about SOMETHING dammit!
Oh, it is...Collapse )

18th August 2006

funkyplaid11:28pm: A Box of Love.
I went on a rampage the other day, in purchasing – I swear it was coincidence – three fantastic Pinots that turned out to be from the same winemaker. The other day, I bought a box of LaFollette.

GregWine

(That's the DuNah 2003 Sonoma Coast, Londer 2003 Anderson Valley, and Tandem 2004 Silver Pines, all from the prodigal character of Greg LaFollette.)


Family Winemakers this Sunday in San Francisco. Drunken report to follow...
Current Mood: complacent

3rd July 2006

funkyplaid12:45am: Pinot Days, Fort Mason, June 2006
A sincere congratulations to France on the stunning upset over Brazil in this year’s World Cup quarter finals. Lord knows America’s team didn’t stand a chance this year. But it’s only a small shock to know that California is kicking France’s ass in the Pinot Noir department when you’re a true fan of both regions’ products. The Pinot Days Wine Festival this year in San Francisco was a burgundy cavalcade of tongue-curling delight, and I’ve got the purple-stained socks to prove it. In our own backyard, on a beautiful day heralding the triumphant bloom of summer, inbody and I took to the pier, where we met with California’s luminary vintners and proprietors, drinking everything they could possibly throw at us and more.

PinotDays9


It was a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon, and I was surprised at how many people attended the show, filling up a great deal of the cavernous Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason. While a bit overwhelming at first, I floated in my veteran host’s contrail, and we quickly staked our mouth-watering claims on the wine makers with which we were most familiar. I efficiently learned how to navigate throngs of tipsy revelers, radio interviewers, and posh Marina folk, in no time at all doing the meet, greet, pour, and swill in one clean, smooth action. Holding a wine glass, notebook, pen, and jacket was a feat of octopoid-proportions, but I’m pleased to say that the only spilling I did was straight down my gullet.

PinotDays1


With a tip of the glass...Collapse )
Current Mood: energetic

17th June 2006

inbody10:21pm: Offbeat Fun.
Since my days are spent selling high-end and 'collector' wines, it's a rare occasion that I end up leafing the shelves at a place like Cost Plus or BevMo. However - maybe it's the hot weather, who knows - today we did just such a thing. After picking up some summer clothing and plying the kids with adequate doses of Slurpee, we descended on Cost Plus - wine discounter extraordinaire.

Recently, in our circles, Cost Plus is best referred to as the source for the 'Earthquake' label wines. Zinfandel, the grape so often the victim of dodgy marketing and gaudy labels, is the standout of the Earthquake line, but the Rhone varietals produced under this name are also fairly tasty in an immediate, non-ageworthy way.

Honestly, there was little happening at Cost Plus to get me very excited. The same limited selection of Burgundy, New Zealand, Napa Cab, etc. that you see at any fairly decent grocery store. A lot of wine by reputable producers - Fess Parker, Martin Alfaro, Caymus - but never their top-tier or vineyard-designate wines. We left empty-handed.

Somewhat whimsically, we decided to continue our bizarre quest (for what? I have no idea) at BevMo - that dodgy corporate outpost most likely concieved as a DIY Mojito clearinghouse. In the past, I have been somewhat surprised by the selection at BevMo. I'm not sure about the price differences, but for selection I'd hit BevMo before Cost Plus anytime.

On this day, 'close, but no cigar' was the phrase that most came to mind. I was hoping I'd run into that value-priced ($14!!??) 'Abba Vineyard' Syrah from Rosenblum. No dice. Vineyard designate Belle Glos (Caymus) Pinot. Nope (just that incredibly soil-y Sonoma Coast thing they do. Seriously, is this THE same Sonoma Coast? WTF?). So, the mission was tweaked to guarantee the happiness of the intrepid participants: we were now looking for a new ABC (for the acronym-impaired: Anything But Chardonnay - y'know, arcane white varietals). In this category, one could easily score - and here's my recommendation for those reading: the new Huia Sauvignon Blanc (2005, New Zealand) that just received a 91 in the Spectator is on the shelves for just over $15. There's a value for ya. I only bring this up because it's long gone from Porthos.

During a couple of my early Summer barbecues, I have enjoyed the new Luna Merlot. So, seeing the Luna Pinot Grigio intrigued me. At $12.99, I was easily seduced. We'll see how it works out at tomorrow nights dad's day outdoor chicken barbecue. Playing second string at tomorrow's event is the Thomas Fogarty Gewurtztraminer. Same price, $12.99. Not sure what to expect. The write-ups were decent, but in these kinds of outlets, it's hard to know what is true and what is fluff. Also, honestly, I know nothing about Gewurtztraminer and little more about Pinot Grigio. In fact, the bulk of my experience with this grape comes down to drinking the Huia (yep, same winery mentioned above) and Benessere bottlings last summer.

The one purchase I know will turn out well is the 2-pack of Riedel Chardonnay 'O' glasses. Hopefully the wine we're drinking from them is as subtly satisfying. We'll see tomorrow...

16th June 2006

inbody11:16am: Let's Talk About Pinot.
The 2005 Pinot Days tasting in San Francisco is right around the corner. I thought it might be fun to do a sort of pre-show roundup for this dusty, neglected journal.

Over the last year, we've mainly been drinking the new 2004 vintages (and some of the 03 stragglers) with the 05s certain to be front and center at the tasting next weekend. The 2004 vintage, while obviously tasting very young, contained a lot of truly delicious wines. Of course, just how delicious has varied greatly depending on the region in which the grapes were grown.

In particular, the Anderson Valley and Santa Cruz Mountain areas have really demonstrated remarkable quality over the last vintage. These two very different regions are both very pinot-focused and it's evident in conversations with proprietors and winemakers. The passion for this grape is infectious and it's exciting to be in these places where pinot is getting the love and respect it deserves.

In the Anderson Valley, whose relative isolation and gentle rolling hills often have me daydreaming about my next visit there, quality has never been higher. In the 2004 vintage, here are the highlights:

Adrian Fog - Savoy Vineyard: Parker liked it, I loved it. This is a bold fruit explosion that will leave your palate forever changed. It's sparkling texture and dazzling abundance of red fruit play together on your tongue in a deliciously sweet harmony that is a singular experience I have not yet found in any other Pinot I've tasted. Somewhat sadly, there's not a tremendous backend on this wine, which is what has turned me off from it in recent days. The pinots I'm enjoying most now have that viscous mouthfeel and the prolonged, spicy finish. Very much the opposite of this wine. That said, this is still a blockbuster that delivers on the $70+ price tag.

Goldeneye: Now this is what I'm talking about. This sucker blew me away when I first tasted a 'sneak preview' at the winery in early '06. Forget those morons who say Pinot is wimpy. This is a big, succulent wine with ample fruit and a subtle complexity that are perfectly in balance with one another. I tasted this wine again a couple weeks ago with Margaret Duckhorn at the Duckhorn facility where I was able to taste it alongside their Merlot and the Paraduxx blend. The Goldeneye was proven to be a sparkling jewel in their (large) portfolio of consistently tasty wines.

Londer - Keefer Ranch: Londer is liquid synergy. Winemaker Greg LaFolette (of Flowers/Tandem/DuNah) fame works together with proprietors Larry and Shirley Londer to turn out some of the most compulsively drinkable Pinot Noir from California - and they do it at the right price! Greg's relationships with some of the most respected and consistent vineyards in the state have yielded Londer quite a sturdy lineup of wines for such a young enterprise. The Londer 2004 Keefer Ranch knocked us over when we tasted it with the Londer's this past February. The wine was matched by the incredible hospitality we were shown. No doubt Londer are one of the prime destinations of any tasting trip to the Anderson Valley.

The Santa Cruz Area, like Anderson Valley was until recently, is not yet viewed as a Pinot powerhouse region. Some of the 2004 pinots I have tasted were very charming and indicate that things are rapidly moving in the right direction in this winemaking community.

Visitors with wine on their mind will be surprised and treated to the dynamic, often breathtaking, landscapes on offer here. The Windy Oaks Estate winery rewards the intrepid with a calm forest drive that ends with a panoramic view of the Monterey Bay from high up on the Estate vineyards. Note that friends of the winery are able to reserve this inspiring location for picnics and other events.

Having lived in the Santa Cruz area for some time, I was well pleased by how the best wineries fit right into a day of enjoying the other highlights of the area. One could easily grab breakfast at Zachary's, take a scenic morning mountain bike ride, hit Corralitos market to nosh on some house-made sausages, visit a few wineries, and then crown everything with a stop at Hector's Bakery for their famouschili verde burritos (with cheese, hold the rice) - which a few words here could never do justice to.

Where to go for wine, then?:

Windy Oaks Estate: As mentioned above, this great winery is producing several of the standout Pinots from this area - all from their estate vineyards on the property. The 2004 Cuvee was a treat for under $30 that had many of our friends snatching up bottles as fast as they could. From the barrel tastings generously offered, the 2005 Estate Pinot looks to be the superstar from what many in the SC wine scene are suspecting to be the 'vintage of the decade' for the region. Looking forward to that!

Alfaro Family: This little facility down the road from Corralitos market took us by surprise for sure. The Alfaro Family wines were pleasant, but their side venture, Martin Alfaro, was over-the-top. Sourcing grapes from both the top-tier 'Garys' vineyard and the Windy Oaks 'Schulze' vineyard, these Pinots are very noteworthy, especially the deliciously complex and drinkable Garys' vineyard. Again, barrel tasting suggested that the 2005 Pinots are necessary tasting for the near future...

Hopefully, the wineries above will be among the participants at the tasting next week. However, there will undoubtedly be many other treasures to be discovered there, which I am eager to uncover...

Stay tuned...

26th March 2006

lady_in_satin8:55pm: Santa Cruz Pinot Festival (2005 is going to be so awesome...)
The Santa Cruz Pinot festival was this weekend, so we went down with David and Mollie and the yunguns.

We first stopped at Windy Oaks - well worth the drive which was nothing short of magical with ferns, babbling brooks, redwood trees and all the stuff. When we arrived, we found that the vineyard is just as beautiful, with a sweeping view over all of Santa Cruz straight out to the ocean. They were pouring three wines and barrel tasting two more.

2004 Wild Yeast Pinot Noir - They were very excited about this wine and emphasized several times how they bottled it sooner than usual (it was only like 16 months in barrel). It was light and fruit-forward with the signature Schultze Family Vineyard nose. It was nice, but the finish left me unimpressed - it seemed to drop off somewhere. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't kick it out of my glass, but for $29, I'd go for the '03 Estate Cuvee.

2004 Henry's Block Pinot Noir - Nice! Had that famous (at least to me) Schultze nose. Was less fruity and acidic than the Wild Yeast but more complex and intriguing. We picked up a bottle for $29.

2004 Proprietor's Reserve - Really nice. Had the nose and complexity, but the finish was what set this one apart and sold us two bottles ($39). Focused fruit which ends in puddles of tobacco, vanilla, and rum raisins.

Barrel Tasting - 2005 Henry's Block - I was too busy chasing my kids to savor this. I hear it was good. Sadly, I'll have to wait until the '05s are released.

Barrel Tasting - 2005 Proprietor's Reserve - Phenomenal. Windy Oaks' Pinots tend to be lighter in color. This one was as dark as a Cabernet with intensely concentrated fruit and layers of spice. This was my first inkling that '05 was something to write in the blog about... I can't wait!

We also stopped at:
- Alfaro Winery (look out for their 2005 Schultze Vineyard Pinot when it's released - transcendent)
- Nicholson (not acceptable)
- Bargertto (Reminiscent of Navarro. Worth the stop for good, inexpensive wine, specifically Pinot and Chardonnay. Another amazing '05 barrel tasting from here as well)

I'm just too tired to write about the rest. You'll have to take the trip!

8th March 2006

inbody12:55pm: Premiere Napa Valley Recap.
A sunny, temperate break in the otherwise dreary late February Northern Californian weather set just the right tone for a serious Napa Cabernet tasting session. I'm not quite sure why, but there was a lot of controlled burn happening in the valley so the drive up was a fragrant one with scents reminiscent of beach bonfires on cool Summer nights. On the drive up, I thanked profusely the good friend who extended the invitation to me as I imagined a revelatory experience.

The Premiere event takes place in the gorgeous 'Greystone' building which houses the St. Helena campus of the Culinary Institute of America. I've passed the building countless times, always noting how picturesque and stately it is, never actually having been inside. The opportunity to explore its innards was as much a draw as the wine itself. Ok, no, that's not true.

In short, Premiere is a wine auction where wineries bring small lots of upcoming vintages of their Cabernet to be sold to retailers. The wine, it is suggested, should be a blend that will not be bottled and sold, thus elevating its appeal. As you can imagine, when you're talking about Shafer, Pride, etc., a chance to own a one-of-a-kind lot of wine from one of these highly-collectible producers means that prices quickly escalate into the high five-figures. The auction itself is hugely entertaining to witness, but I'm getting ahead of myself.



As we entered the beautiful Greystone building, we really wasted no time entering the cavernous gallery which hosted representatives from many of the most esteemed Napa Valley wineries. Because of the high-profile of the event, many of the proprietors and winemakers themselves are in attendance. This makes the whole experience a little richer since the generic tasting-room speeches are thrown out in favor of blunt talk about the growing season, harvest, and hopes for the future vintages that the day's wines represent.

To say that this event is a big opportunity for networking and establishing new business partnerships wouldn't be wholly accurate. The fact is, these opportunities are forced upon you as you taste the very livelihoods of many of these people right in front of them and are often expected to provide a crisp analysis on the spot. Not my strength, though some of the wines I tasted this day inspired stream-of-consciousness babbling and songs of worship at the very least!

Highlights? OK:
(in no particular order)

Shafer Cabernet - Duh. The wine went on to fetch something like $65,000 in the auction. It was good.
Pride Cabernet - From right up there on Spring Mtn. near Paloma, Barnett. etc. Coveted stuff and quite delicious.
Spencer Roloson 'La Herradura' Syrah - Maybe too much of a good thing. Perhaps the most concentrated Syrah I've tasted. (2004 Vintage)
Ladera Cabernet - Always fantastic, 2004 promised to be another great vintage for Ladera.
Twomey Merlot - Silver Oak's Merlot enterprise produced my favorite Merlot of the 2002 vintage. The 2003 and 2004 tasted here were harbingers of great things to come!
Brown Cabernet/Zin Blend - Strange combo here, but it's vivid flavor demonstrates just how potent Brown's grapes are.

After the Cabernet tasting downstairs, we head over to the test kitchens for the full-on lunch catered by students of the CIA. I'm not sure what the official plan is, but lunch is paired with Chardonnay from many of the same producers found downstairs. This makes for tough choices when deciding what to couple with the crab and grapefruit salad. I went with the DR Stephens Chardonnay (ok, and the Barnett Chardonnay) though the quality of the choices was overwhelming.

Directly following lunch is the auction, which many of the winemakers and owners actually watch! There's just no way I could subject myself to that kind of display. Though, in most cases, prices paid for wines on auction often have more to do with marketing than taste or quality, it still must give some heartache to some of these producers. The previously mentioned Shafer was the biggest lot I witnessed, though I heard things got a bit nutty later on with a few other 'cult' wines. To be honest, the tone of the auction left me feeling a bit weird so I was more than content to leave early on.

As we left, I realize I'd had the Cabernet awakening I had been looking for for some time. As a Pinot-lover, it's easy to be dismissive of Cabernet as overpriced or 'too alpha-male' or whatever, but I realize now that it's reputation as THE serious California wine is well-deserved (though certainly exploited in the marketplace and wine media). Tasting the full spectrum of flavor and prestige has shown where my tastes in this varietal lie in relation to both the market and other wine consumers. A huge takeaway that will help me with my selections for years to come.

4th March 2006

inbody10:40pm: ZAP recap
Just a few weeks ago, the ZAP tasting took place at the Fort Mason center in San Francisco. Sipping Zinfandel at 10:30 in the morning, if you can believe it, is usually not my first choice of activity on Saturday, but I was more than eager to act on this particular invitation.

Two cavernous, airport-hangar-like buildings full of Zinfandel producers from up and down California - where to begin? Thankfully, my day job can be a bit of a compass when it comes to wine quality. We knew that failing any new discoveries, we could fall back on the reliable Zin producers in attendance - Downing, Brown Estate, Rosenblum. However, the day held a couple surprises and helped me come to terms with my usual disinterest in this particular varietal.

First - and pardon me if this comes off as snobbish nonsense - it is important to keep in mind what the varietal *is*. You often hear people talk about a wine being "a perfect expression of the varietal" or something similar. At an event like ZAP, you can really appreciate the possibilities contained in such a silly phrase. Zinfandel is a playful grape, both by taste and reputation. Though it has been argued from every angle, as it stands ZInfandel is a New World grape. No Burgundy or bordeaux comparisons befall this seductive fruit. From image to aroma to flavor, Zinfandel is a voluptuously sexy wine when done well. Fruit is forward but complexity is only just behind. The best Zinfandels instantly grab you with a friendly showing of fruit and then have you coming back for the sometimes cabernet-serious backend. Failures in this varietal can be startingly horrible tasting cheap and one-dimensional. The sheer range of possibilities makes it somewhat daunting to attempt to discover some new treasures.

Right off, I'd like to come out and say that the best wine I tasted at this event was the Brown Estate 2004 Napa Valley Zinfandel. I have yet to visit Brown, but I have met the winemaker and his family on several occasions now and their wine parallels their charm. The 2004 - when released later this year - promises to be a big success with its over-the-top fruit and viscuous body satisfying with every sip. I have yet to make it up to the winery up the eastern side of Napa, but this wine, like a siren's sweet song, is beckoning me to do so very soon.

Other notables?

Rosenblum - Fresh off their remarkable showing in the WS 'Top 100', Rosenblum's 2004 were smashing. The highlights were the new 'Richard Sauret', with its tobacco and spice flavors, and the famous 'Monte Rosso' which just knocks you down it's so delicious.

Gamba - Again, a lot of fruit at first and then enough junk in the trunk to make it crunk.

Earthquake Zin - Showing a little of that gaminess that some Zins have, this wine uses that as a strength and wins as, perhaps, the most compulsively drinkable wine of the day.

If you've never been to ZAP, it's certainly worth checking out. Though Zin is not my grape (Pinot Days, here I come!), there are plenty of amazing wines here to taste and be excited about. However, as always, it's the people - the winemakers and proprietors - who make the events such a treat. Meeting these people and discussing the trade is a thrill I hope never goes away. Like money in the bank for me, all these conversations I stuff away for recollection at a later date when I, myself, am harvesting my own grapes.

Next up - Premiere Napa recap.

14th February 2006

inbody7:13pm: Peloton
I just wanted to briefly call out a fantastic, somewhat strage wine here.

The Tandem 'Peloton' red wine blend is an inexpensive wine made up of a rather unique blend of grapes. Though predominantly Pinot Noir, Peloton also includes Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Syrah, Carignane, Chardonnay, Gewurtztraminer, and Viognier!

The real joy here is not being able to pick out varietal-specific characteristics while sipping, but rather to enjoy the way the flavor of the Sangiovese enhances the Pinot and how the floral notes of the Chardonnay elevate the whole mixture. To me this wine has a warm, glassy texture that is uniquely its own and it is a joy to feel it slide down the throat.

When looking for 'table wines', this might not seem the obvious choice, but Peloton is truly an achievement.
Current Mood: tired

13th February 2006

funkyplaid1:55am: Paso Robles Pilgrimage.


January 2006

With half of our numbers culled due to the intractable plague that's currently incapacitating much of our fair, bevined country, the still-healthy portion of this intrepid band of devout turned four wheels southward, this time, for a drive down the 101 toward the City of Angels. Since no grapes grow in the smoggy doom below – ironically – The Grapevine, we settled on the dustier earth of the Paso Robles environs to slake our unyielding thirst. Just south of Monterey and north of San Luis Obispo sits Paso Robles, where a nexus of fine vineyards rests on the rolling land, parted by lines of old oaks bursting with mistletoe clusters galore.

The drive from San Francisco is about four hours, so while a day trip is possible from the Greater Bay Area, it certainly must be a lightning one. Being fond of electrical current, we settled upon the proud banner of Turley as our beacon and hoped to find other gems beneath the fertile fields there. We were not wholly disappointed.

Turley1


As promised after our return from Napa last fall, Turley was the glimmering lure with which we cast our alcohol-soaked nets to start the new year right. The facility sits in the southern Paso Robles area, off the beaten path but still highly renowned enough to have a two-year waiting list even for membership offers. Rather than allowing tours of the vineyards and processing areas as does Ladera and Girard, the Turley tasting was holed up in a single room that doubled as a register and a bar, finely furnished with rustic knick-knacks and crunchy snacks.

Turley2


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Current Mood: satisfied

2nd January 2006

lady_in_satin9:10pm: How to solve any problem with self-delusion and faulty math.
So, I'm supposed to start my diet now, to get to my touring weight, but I love wine so much that I'm trying to work a glass or two into my diet.

For those of you like me, here is a little formula I found that should help out:

Example - 150ml glass of white wine with 12.5% alcohol by volume:
First work out the volume of alcohol: 12.5% of 150mL = 18.75mL of alcohol
Then use this to calculate the alcohol's weight in grams: 18.75mL x 0.789 (the specific gravity of alcohol) = 14.8 grams of alcohol
Now multiply the grams of alcohol by the calories per gram: 14.8 grams x 7 calories per gram = 104 calories

Or, you can just estimate about 117 calories for a nice glass or red wine.

Or you can just drink wine and have a fat ass and that is that.

Now for the wine tasting part of my post. Ryan and I have been drinking Windy Oaks 2003 Pinot Noir a lot recently. It's delicious and an impressive bargain! It's loaded with ripe, drippy, red plums and cherries and finishes in puddles of musky, oaky, vanilla goodness. The stuff is infinitely quaffable and I can't wait to have a glass tonight!

13th January 2006

inbody7:59pm: What We're Drinking...
This week's highlights:

Newton "Unfiltered" Chardonnay 2003 - Excellent new vintage of what seems to be a consistent classic.

Benessere Sangiovese 2002 - A nice 'everyday' wine for those night when we're in the mood for a little something different.

Surh Luchtel "Gary's Vineyard" Pinot Noir 2003 - Dry, spicy Pinot from the esteemed "Gary's Vineyard" also sourced by Capiaux and Miner Family among others. Not my favorite of the bunch, but a satisfying experience after it opened up a while.

Siduri "Cargassachi Vineyard" Pinot Noir 2003 - Siduri gets consistently high ratings fof their Pinots and I see why. Though this one doesn't rate a personal classic, it is a serious wine with nice balance and some complex allspice flavors right at the finish.

8th January 2006

funkyplaid10:46pm: The Labor Day of Love.


Our first deep-strike infiltration of Napa Valley in the guise of this particular wry cadre of degenerates happened just last September. Ryan’s a good chap as is, but his occupation as a cunning wine monger and the connections that position conveys really made this trip a special one. I’m new to this here travel-for-decadence thing, and though my tastebuds are ever-opinionated and self-righteous, I got a good schooling on a beautiful day in the midst of this particular California fall.

StHelena


Five of us piled into the van far earlier in the morning than I had hoped, taking Highway 37 northward to Oakville and St. Helena and then onto the golden strip of Highway 29 and its environs. It was Labor Day Weekend, and we thought it would be pretty packed along the Silverado Trail, but Ryan managed to finagle some really good audiences at a handful of exquisite wineries there and up on Howell Mountain.

OnTheWay

If you can believe it, we hadn’t even started drinking yet. This is how we always look in the morning.


We wanted to start off a bit light, and after a brimming feast of delectable foodstuffs from Oakville Grocery, we meandered back-and-forth past Boswell more than a few times to finally find the snugly-nestled Benessere villa between the great, grape gauntlet of the Trail and 29. It was a lazy, warm Saturday at the lovely plot of succulent vineyards, and it was a pleasure to take in the surroundings and stroll the rows of lovely grape varietals before popping inside for our medicine.

Benessere1

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Current Mood: groggy

29th December 2005

inbody1:45pm: Wine from the skies and rain in my glass.
Rebecca and I have spent a lot of rainy days up in Napa tasting wine and ‘living the life’. Our honeymoon, a particularly soggy day about 9 years ago was the first and this past Tuesday was the most recent.

The vineyards in their tidy rows bursting with ripe fruit are quite a site in the sunny pre-harvest months, but a convincing argument can be made for the moist, fertile look of the land during late Autumn into Winter. The picturesque vineyards become vibrantly green as the rain awakens the color of the valley floor.

This trip was meant to include a handful of our favorite little wineries in the hills and mountains of Napa but many of these family-owned properties were still closed in observance of the holidays. What at first seemed like a big setback turned into a singular experience where we focused on the quality of the wine as opposed to the perceived ‘size’ of the wineries or how little-known they might be. This approach yielded some very pleasant results and two VERY welcome surprises.

Our first stop was Duckhorn. This winery has had a great year. I have tasted nearly every wine they’ve released this year and each one has been delicious. On this day they poured:

Sauvignon Blanc
Napa Valley Merlot
Napa Cabernet
Howell Mtn. Merlot
Estate Cabernet

The Napa Valley Merlot has been one of my favorite go-to wines of the past year. Both easy-to-drink and exquisitely elegant, this is the wine that made them famous and they are clearly not resting on past achievements here.

Next, we hopped from Silverado Trail over to Hwy 29 and stopped at Twomey Cellars, the Merlot brand of collector Cabernet-producer, Silver Oak. The Twomey facility is simple but tasteful and the young bright-red Japanese Maples just outside the tasting room gleamed in the heavy rain.

Tasting the Twomey Merlot again was just as decadent as the first time. This wine is lascivious with a lot of fruit, spice and a thick, full body. I love this thing. The first big surprise was that Twomey had just a little bit of their very low-production Pinot Noir available for sale. Sourced from vineyards right between Kistler and Williams-Selyem, I was eager to get my hands on some of this juice. I have yet to taste the wine since they had too little left to pour, but I plan on doing so sometime late next year or 2007…

Leaving Twomey, we made an impulsive decision and headed up to northern Calistoga to taste at Chateau Montelena. The huge stone building and surrounding landscape were gorgeous as ever but the wine just failed to impress, overall. Glad we stopped, though. I’d been meaning to do so for quite some time.

Heading back south, we stopped in at Frank Family, producers of one of my very favorite Chardonnay. Eclectic décor and a unique, two-room tasting setup make an immediate impression. The list of wines poured:

Chardonnay (yum!)
Zinfandel
Cabernet
Reserve Cabernet
Blanc de Blancs (sparkling)
Blanc de Noir (sparkling)
Rouge (sparkling red)

Nothing above made a huge impression apart from the Chardonnay. The Rouge was interesting, but I’m not sure I wasn’t just snared by the strange color.

The big score (and the second fantastic surprise of the day) was the brand new Reserve Chardonnay (released one week from now) that was generously poured for me. This is a big winner. Over the top well-balanced buttery citrus with enough angles and edges to keep things interesting. At $55, I won’t be buying much, but it’s nice to know that it’s there if I need a fix.

Right in the same neck is Benessere. Also on one of the small connecting roads between Silverado Trail and 29, Benessere is a regular favorite for both consistent quality and a hospitable and friendly tasting experience. Everything was tasting good though the Syrah didn’t do much for me. We left with a bottle of the old vine Zin.

We hopped back on the Trail and bolted south to Miner Family, which has been recommended to me by several friends. I had never tasted the wine before so I was eager to be seduced by some new juice.

Miner has a beautiful location with a grand view from their hillside deck. The tasting room has a ski lodge vibe to it that feels a little funny but I’m sure makes tourists feel like they’re getting their money’s worth (not to single Miner out – Duckhorn and Twomey have a similar interior style). The big mystery at Miner is that their ‘standard’ tasting consists of wines of little distinction. However, when asked, the hospitable guys behind the counter generously poured some of their nicer wines. Miner makes a Pinot from the often great Gary’s vineyard. This wine was delicious but I felt the price was a little high so I didn’t take any with me. The highlight here is the wild yeast Chardonnay. Big and buttery and smooth. Makes quite an impression. I’m guessing that most who taste this wine buy at least a bottle. I don’t think it’s quite as good as the Newton ‘Unfiltered’ Chardonnay, but it’s in a similar style…

As 5pm approached, we were hit with our first ‘closed’ signs of the day. We were able to get a walk-in table at Bistro Jeanty for 5 (!) and jumped in. Jeanty, as ever, felt cozy and familiar. It’s quickly becoming the regular dinner pit-stop for our Napa jaunts (in the same way that Oakville Grocery is the lunch/snack destination). Rebecca and I were pleased to find that our waiter was the same subtly caustic server we had last time we dined at Jeanty. This time we brought no wine in with us so, I suspect, his thirst went unquenched this night.

We ordered a bottle of Rafanelli Zin that just hit the spot. Everyone seemed content with their food and we discussed our chosen course through the valley during the last six hours.

It was not a trip I would have planned, but our flexibility was rewarded. I’m content now to leave Napa alone for a while and start thinking south. Paso Robles awaits.
funkyplaid12:08am: Circulus Vitiosus


Grapes

Avanti!
Current Mood: drunk
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