Monday, August 27, 2012

August 30th Cabernet Day !!

August 30th is Cabernet Day !  This is an opportunity to join with wine friends and explore the world of Cabernet.  There are many roads you can travel to enjoy this day.  I would recommend that you set a few rules and then see what your results give you in the way of new wines to experience and recommend. Here are a few ways of making the most of Cabernet Day.

* choose  a price point for the wines to be tasted.  $20 or less or whatever your group is confortable with.

* Growing region.  This is huge because in California alone you have  excellent vineyard sites up and down the state.  Napa- Rutherford, Calistoga, Mt. Veeder and Spring Mountain.  Sonoma- Dry Creek, Alexander Valley and Geyserville to name a few. 

* Foreign Cabernets. Chile, Argentina, France, Spain, Italy and the list goes on..

* Blind taste and rate the wines. This takes away the bias some people may have toward a label or place of origin.

Our group has focused on South American Cabernets as they offer a very high ratio of quality to dollar.  With increased capital from American and European growers and vintners the quality of wine has gained many fold in the past 15 years.  Our group will taste and rate 6/8 wines and I will publish our results.  This event is a great learning tool and also fun to take part in.  

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tasting Some Old Vine Zinfandels

 Over the past few weeks I have had the opportunity to taste a number of Old Vine Zinfandels.  The results of the tasting reveals a dramatic range in quality and the perception that Old Vine is misused. Ultimately the consumer is the one who misses out on the opportunty to consume one of the iconic wines of California.  As posted before there is no uniform mandate for producers to conform to a norm for the production of Old Vine Zinfandel.  This problem also exits for late harvest wines like riesling and semillon.

A week ago I attended a tasting of Old Vine Zinfandel produced by Ravenswood Vineyard.  These wines originate in Napa, Sonoma and Lodi.  Given the sheer volume of wine produced, there are more cases produced than there are acres of producing Old Vine Zinfandel.  Old Vine in  my opinion is not 30 years of age as the vine can produce significant tonnage for many more years.  The results of the Ravenswood tasting was that all the wines if priced at $10 or less are good red wines with little to no Zinfandel character. Color was dark and the aromas were not of Zinfandel. The vintages tasted were 2009 and 2010 so time in bottle would not be a consideration.  I would like to see what they use as criteria for Old Vine on their label.

Recently I had the opportunity to taste a number of wines which  are in my opinion true Old Vine Zinfandel.  Dry Creek Vineyard in Sonoma has a 2008 Old Vine Zin  (15%) which they acquire through a number of growers who are under long term contract. Dry Creek also provides their own vineyard crew who manage the vineyard during the vintage. This wine which can retail for as low as $24 or less is an excellent deep dark and rich Old Vine Zin and is highly recommended because of price quality ratio.

Bogel makes a good inexpensive Old Vine Cuvee which has more fruit and flavor than all three Ravenswood bottles and sell for $10 or less.

Del Carlo Old Vine Zin is the real deal and is sourced from the Teldeschi vineyard. The 2 acre plot of Zin is right at the century mark in age and produces a bright clean wine with berries and loam aromas. It is a healthy 15.5% in alcohol but with acidity which holds everything together. Priced at $32 this is a fair price for true  Old Vine Zinfandel fruit.

Sausal Old Vine and Martini Monte Rosso, Rancho Zabaco and Rosenblum all produce Old Vine fruit that expresses what consumers are looking for, they represent quality in the vineyard and winemaking.  The Monte Rosso is exceptional and so is the price.  If you have a special occasion take the step with the Monte Rosso it is a most exceptional wine.

Overall I would suggest that a tasting with friends could do you more of a service than buying individual bottles.  Make no mistake there is a wide range of quality. Be prepared to spend $30 to $40+ for the real thing. Anything less than $30 I would consider a very good deal.

What should you find in a true Old Vine Zinfandel?  Color should be rich and dark. Aroma and taste should  be full of berries and have blackberry etc brimming from the glass. Alcohol is generally 15% plus because of the need to ripen full clusters, many growers look for 25 degrees brix or more for healthy maturity of fruit and not just a number to pick.

Summer   time is perfect for the consumption of Zin.  BBQ meats and vegies and cheese are a perfect match for the fruit of a good Zinfandel.  Enjoy!!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Are There Wine Merchants Anymore?

How many times have you needed a quality recommendation and found that the people working at the liquor/wine store are not savy about their product line?  Sadly the side effect of large scale wine dealers who floor stack wines is that they hire people not totally aware of their full inventory.  Costco is a great example. At Costco you get excellent prices but you have no one on the floor to explain their inventory. Costco works well for people who know what they want or have a set line of wines they drink and do not venture out. Although Costco does at times have winery reps there to sell you their product.

How can you increase your odds of getting a different bottle of quality wine and get an explanation of what  it is like?  Your first objective is to let the retailer know what type of wine you drink and enjoy. Give the name of the producer, vineyard, style of wine and price. With this information you stand a good chance of getting a positive new experience.  Remeber one vineyard can produce a single varietal but in the hands of different winemakers the end product is different and unique.

A good rule of thumb is to look for smaller shops which attempt to either import or be the sole retailer of a specific winery.  Also look for a location which is not in a high rent area as they are under the gun to make enough to pay the rent (unless they own the building). That being said these retailers most often do not carry the standard line of wines you see in Safeway, Costco, World Market, Bev Mo etc. They stake their claim to finding quality small producers who produce less than 1,000 cases.  This allows them to personally sell either the line or individual varietal bottlings.

Wine columns often review varietals from lesser known producers and often give the name of either the retailer or importer. This is a great chance to explore the styles and terrior of a grape grown in different  areas or countries.  As a savy shopper you will find some great deals in wines from countries which grow unique varietals.  Always read about and get as much information as possible before you purchase a bottle, this will increase your odds of getting something worthwhile.  Jon Bonne of the Chronicle offers up quality suggestions and gives detailed descriptions.  Good Cheap Vino is an excellent local site for weekly suggestions of wines and where to obtain them.

Wine is a journey and it is so rewarding when you discover a wine which opens up your palate to a new range of flavors and complexity.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

ZAP Tasting & BBQ A Hit

Just returned from the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers tasting and BBQ at Rock Wall Winery in Alameda.  This annual event brings together a number of Zinfandel producers from varied areas of California.  The goal of this event is to serve food that compliments the various styles of Zinfandel made in these regions.  One of the benefits of this type of gathering is that food makes these wines shine and show their different flavors when matched with dishes such as Chicken Mole, Carnitas with salsa and queso, beef spare ribs with Argentine salsa and pulled pork sliders.

In my opinion this was a better consumer value than the huge tasting in January of each year. The January event has the vast majority of quality producers pouring their wines, but the crowd is so large that it becomes extemely difficult to taste as the day grows longer.  For that event I would choose a set number of wineries and go to them first.  After that let your mind wander and look for someone new or a winery you have not tried in many moons.

Why was this Alameda tasting more user friendly?  The first is that the crowd was not overwhelming and you could actually talk to people pouring and get information. In many instances you were able to speak to the owner/winemaker:  Jeff Cohn and Carol Shelton to name a few.  This event was held inside the Rock Wall winery and it was open air with tables both indoors and out.  The cost of this event was $50 per person, but that is a deal when you consider tasting so many superior producers. Add to that the high quality food that was part of your ticket and $50 was more than reasonable. Think of what it would cost you to have plates of the above mentioned food along with the outstanding wines that were poured and you are getting a deal for the price of admission.

If you love Zinfandel, join ZAP and attend the various events they present to the public. These events will inspire you to try different styles of Zinfandel and expand your horizons.