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Tasting Event

Top Picks from the Santa Lucia Highlands Association Tasting

The Santa Lucia Highlands Winegrowers hosted a trade and press tasting of SLH wines on Monday, February 8 in San Francisco. Twenty-seven wineries participated. Most of them are located in the Santa Lucia Highlands but a few, such as Siduri and Testarossa, are located elsewhere and source Santa Lucia Highlands fruit to make AVA-specific wines. Only wines made from Santa Lucia Highlands grapes were allowed at the tasting.
The vast majority of wines offered were Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. There were also several Syrah, two Rieslings, two Pinot Gris and a Roussanne/Viognier. In all, 92 wines were available to taste. I sampled all of them except for a couple of Syrah that had run out.
All in all, it was a good tasting. Different styles of winemaking were evident, even within a single varietal. While there were a few wines that I thought were disappointing, the majority were good and some were excellent. I a couple of wines that I thought to be very good values too.

Get Ready for ZAP! 2012, January 26 - 28

ZAP!, the annual festival that celebrates Zinfandel wine, will be painting the town purple January 26 - 28. Four events will see Zinfandel paired with food, analyzed by experts, feted at a gala dinner and showcased in hundreds of different bottlings. The Friday afternoon “Flights” seminar is already sold out.



The first event is called Epicuria. For three hours beginning at 6pm on Thursday, January 26, attendees will walk the hall, tasting food from fine Bay Area restaurants paired with specific Zinfandel wines. There will be 50 combinations available. Nobody is going to leave hungry! There will also be cooking and pairing demonstrations featuring the chefs and sommeliers from San Francisco restaurants A16 and Wayfare Tavern. Tickets are $125 for the general public, $95 for ZAP members. This event will probably sell out. Act soon if you want to go.

Friday night’s winemaker dinner is premium reception, dinner and auction at the Westin St. Francis Hotel. It is scheduled to run from 5pm to 10pm. The $225 admission gives you access to special wines and the winemakers as well. The event is almost sold out.

Saturday’s ZAP! Grand Tasting is truly a Zinfandel extravaganza. 200 wineries will each pour multiple wines. There will also be a seminar with five sommeliers and a cooking demo. The tasting runs from 2pm to 5pm and tickets are $69 at the door. Buy in advance for a $10 discount. ZAP members pay just $49 and are admitted for tasting at 1PM. They can also enjoy winemaker workshops.


The Grand Tasting is an amazing tasting opportunity, but the number of available wines can be daunting. Here’s a short list of wineries sure to wow at ZAP! (in alphabetical order):

  • Bedrock Wine Company - Morgan Twain-Peterson makes excellent old vine Zinfandel varietal wines, but don’t miss the “heirloom” wines, old vine, mixed-black blends.
  • Black Sears - I’m high on their black peppery estate Zinfandel from the top of Howell Mountain.
  • Cypher Winery - Cypher produces single-vineyard Zins and off-the-hook, off-the-wall blends.
  • Gamba Vineyards and Winery - The Gamba family, in it’s 6th generation of grape growing, makes characterful Russian River Valley Zinfandel.
  • McCay Cellars — McCay proves that old vine Lodi Zinfandel can be both delicious and balanced.
  • Ridge Vineyards - Ridge was one of the first wineries to take Zinfandel seriously. They still do it well.
  • Scott Harvey Wines - Their 1869 is history in a bottle. It comes from the Sierra Foothills vineyard recognized as California’s oldest productive plot of Zinfandel.
  • Storybook Mountain Vineyards - Zinfandel hooks up with Cabernet Sauvignon and they live happily ever after.
  • Tres Sabores - Rutherford’s magic fairy dust works on Zinfandel too. A recent Wine of the Day.
  • Valdez Family Winery - Spinal Tap fans will love these delicious Zinfandels that go to 11 and taste like 90+.


This year, ZAP! will be held at the The Concourse (8th and Brannan in San Francisco). In previous years it was held at Fort Mason. The new venue won’t offer marvelous bay views, but it will be warmer in temperature and ambience. Walking the carpeted hall will also be easier on the feet than was the hard concrete of Fort Mason. More importantly to many, parking will be plentiful and public transport convenient. There are 1,200 public parking spaces in the vicinity. The Concourse is just five long blocks from Caltrain and seven from BART (Civic Center/UN Plaza). Shuttle transport is available.

If you'd like to follow the events via Twitter, the hashtag is #ZinFest. The #Zinfandel and #ZAP hashtags and the @TheZinfandelOrg handle will also be useful searches.

For more information about the ZAP! Festival and to order tickets, go to

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Comments and Analysis on the 2012 Barrel Samples at Passport to Cabernet

The 2013 Passport to Cabernet took place at the Bently Reserve in San Francisco on May 6. The annual event is put on by the California Cabernet Society. It’s goal is to promote California Cabernet Sauvignon and to highlight the most recently harvested vintage through barrel samples.

This year 32 wineries participated, each pouring at least two wines. Wineries came from as far away as Temecula Valley, but the vast majority were Napa Valley producers. I was there and tasted most everything over the four hour period. Consider my passport stamped.

The tasting was particularly interesting to me in three respects. It was an opportunity to taste a lot of 2012 barrel samples. Many wineries also poured 2008, 2009 and/or 2010 which further solidified my opinion about each of those. I got to taste wines from producers that were new to me.

Since barrel samples are a focus for this event, that will be the focus of this article. [I’ll cover the other wines soon.] There was substantial diversity among the samples for a variety of reasons, principally terroir, barrel selection and what I assume to have been viticultural decisions. When I say barrel selection, by the way, I don’t mean whose barrel they bought, though that’s also a factor. I mean which barrel/wine they chose to bring. Some offered samples from the best barrel of their flagship wine’s lot. Others brought Cabernet destined for a wine to be determined later. Still others decided to showcase particular clones or vineyard blocks. All of that was interesting, but it makes A-B comparisons even more pointless than would normally be the case with barrel samples.

So, what did I think of the samples? Most were very promising. Only a couple showed unpleasant green notes suggestive of overcropping or picking way too early. A similar number had Porty noses of raisin and alcohol, indicative of excessive ripeness. Most of the samples were surprisingly drinkable with just 6 months or so in barrel. A few I’d have loved to take home for dinner that night. (But I didn’t.)

My conclusion from this overall, and based on conversations I had with winemakers, is that 2012 will indeed be an excellent vintage in that it allowed wineries to make the wine that they want to make without interference from Mother Nature. She did not trick growers with surprise heat spikes or drown hopes with pre-harvest downpours. Despite the huge crops of 2012, quality does not appear to have suffered. On the other hand, it was not tthe tremendously ripe vintage some people have implied. It was ripe relative to the two preceding years but is middle of the road for California overall.

I’m not going to rate barrels here because, at this early date and given that the destination for many of the barrels is unknown, it’s pointless and possibly misleading. However, I will provide comments on the ones I think mostly likely to be able to be the backbone of wines I’d rate Highly Recommended or better. They’re listed in alphabetical order.

2012 Ackerman Family Vineyards Napa Valley, 100% estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Nearly full-bodied with medium-plus tannins of fine powder. Coffee and dark fruit on the nose.

2012 Bell Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 6. Really good and heading down the same path as the 2010. (That's a positive thing.) Coffee and bright fruit on the nose. Medium-plus body and powdery tannins.

2012 Cain Five Spring Mountain, blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. A very generous nose of earthy spice, mineral and rubber. Full-bodied and silky with dark fruit and spice flavors. Consistent with the 2008, but less complex due to its youth.

2012 Cain Concept Napa Valley. One of those wines I’d be happy to drink tonight. Dark fruit, earthy spice and coffee aromas. Full-bodied and ample tannins of fine powder and chalk.

2012 Charles Krug Peter Mondavi Family Winery Petit Verdot (destined for Generations). Very attractive coffee on the nose. Simultaneously juicy and grippy in the mouth with very substantial chalky tannins. Flavors of coffee and dark fruit.

2012 Cornerstone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. Very promising and smooth with good blackberry fruit and floral notes. Medium-plus tannins of fine powder.

2012 Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Volcanic Hill Diamond Mountain. I’m temporarily suspending my vow of non-hierarchical ratings and my normal rating system too. This sample was fabulous. An uber-generous nose of earth, scrumptious black cherry and chocolate. Full-bodied but fresh in the mouth with loads of chalky and fine-grained tannins. The flavors matched the nose and added spice.

Boots Brounstein, proprietor of Diamond Creek at 2013 Passport to Cabernet. Photo: Fred Swan

2012 Linked Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Esate Knights Valley Sonoma County. This is the winery’s fifth vintage, all wines made by Luc Morlet. I actually preferred the barrel sample to the 2008 because I found the cooler year 2012 allowed more nuanced fruit. Black cherry, cocoa and oatmeal on the nose. Nearly full-bodied with a creamy attack followed by powerful, fine-grained and chalky tannins. Chocolate and black fruit flavors that give way to the tannins on the finish. This is one of those wines that definitely needs the barrel time it will receive but is well worth waiting for.

2012 Rocca Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Grigsby Vineyard Yountville. The nose is a walk through the forest with vanilla beans in your pocket. The palate is full-bodied and creamy with plenty of chalky tannins from mid-palate on. Very nice.

2011 Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon Happy Canyon. Star Lane was running a vintage behind everyone else (and proud of it) on the barrel sample and the bottled wines as well. This sample had lovely cherry and chocolate flavors with nearly full body and tannins of fine powder and chalk.

2012 The Steven Kent Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 30 Harry See’s Vineyard Livermore Valley. Sweet cherry and chocolate, amusingly reminiscent of a See’s chocolate-covered cherry. Nearly full-bodied with matching tannins of chalk and fine powder. Super and as long as the name.

2012 Stone Edge Farm Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Sonoma Valley. Engaging on the nose with cassis, coffee, chocolate and loads of spice. Perhaps the most interesting of the barrel sample palates with fruit and tannins staging a territorial battle in my mouth. The “free love” fruit partied in the front of my mouth while tannins built a wall of disapproval at the midpoint and began erecting statues to fallen disciplinarians behind it. I’m confident that by the time barrel aging is complete intermarriage will have occurred and the wine will be full of big smiling faces in tailored clothing.

2012 Viader Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain, 100% Cab from a single block at the bottom of the estate vineyard. Earthy spice, leather, mocha and dark fruit. Full-bodied with a wealth of chalky tannins. Savory and savor-worthy.

2012 Volker Eisele Cabernet Sauvignon (100%) from 25-year old vines. This wine’s destined for the Alexander Reserve. Cherry, vanilla, mocha on the nose and palate. Full-bodied, intense and long with tannins of chalk and light grain. A star in the making.


Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

1st Annual Rib-o-Rama to feature Zinfandel and Ribs

I can’t think of a food and wine pairing more American than Zinfandel and BBQ ribs. And what better time to indulge in both than the weekend after the 4th of July?

Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) are bringing some juicy wine and spicy ribs, or vice versa, Saturday July 9. Thirteen Zinfandel wineries will be there, along with local chefs showing off their rib chops. There’ll be Southern-style baby back ribs, Memphis-style ribs (Mmmmm.... dry rub!), Asian-style pork ribs and even Afghani lamb ribs with dry rub. And there will be plenty of seriously good Zinfandel to wash it down.


The event takes place this Saturday, from 2PM to 5PM at Rock Wall Wine Company in Alameda. They’re over in what used to be the Alameda Naval Air Station. It’s worth the drive just to check out the old base. It’s pretty cool and offers great views of San Francisco. Here’s the address: 2301 Monarch Street, Suite 300, Building 24, Alameda, 94501, 510/522-5700.

Tickets are $45 in advance and $55 at the door. (ZAP and Rock Wall club member tickets are $35 in advance here.) Get your tickets now, because the 1st 100 people to buy tickets will get a free event t-shirt or apron! With all those ribs happening, you might want to wear that apron during the event...

Here is the lineup of Zinfandel producers ready to pour you the purple:
Bota Box Wines
Dashe Cellars
Gnarly Head Cellars
Harney Lane Wines
M2 Winery
Macchia Wines
Michael-David Winery
R & B Cellars
Rock Wall Wine Company
Rosenblum Cellars
Spenker Winery
St. Amant Winery
Three Wine Company

Wines from these companies will also be available for purchase by the bottle during the event.

If you’re mouth isn’t already watering, maybe this will help. It’s a recipe for Backyard Baby Back Ribs, courtesy of Alton Brown. Drool.

Backyard Baby Back Ribs

2 full racks/slabs (about 4 1/2 pounds) baby back pork ribs
Kosher salt 6 tablespoons
Rub Number Nine, recipe follows
1/2 cup orange juice (not fresh squeezed)
1/2 cup margarita mix
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon espresso powder or instant coffee powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Place each rib rack on a sheet of extra-wide, heavy-duty aluminum foil. (The foil should be 4 inches longer than the ribs on either end.)
Season racks liberally with kosher salt and sprinkle each rack with 3 tablespoons of the rub.
Turn the ribs, meat side down, and tightly seal each foil pouch.
Place on a half sheet pan and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, heat the oven to 250 degrees F.
Combine the orange juice and margarita mix in a liquid measuring cup.
Open 1 end of each pouch and evenly divide the liquid between the 2 pouches.
Reseal the pouches and place the sheet pan in the oven for 2 hours.

Remove the ribs from the oven, carefully open 1 end of each pouch and pour the braising liquid into a heatproof measuring cup.
Reseal the pouches and place them and the measuring cup of liquid into the refrigerator for up to 8 hours.

The fat in the braising liquid will have solidified on the top and can be removed at this time.
Transfer the liquid to a small saucepan and add the honey, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, espresso powder and cayenne pepper.
Whisk to combine.

Set over medium high heat and reduce to a glaze, approximately 10 minutes.
Set a gas grill to medium-high and allow to heat for 10 minutes.
Cut each slab in half and place them on the grill, flesh side down, close the lid and decrease the heat to medium.
Leave alone for 3 minutes.
Flip and cook for another 3 minutes.
Flip and cook for 3 minutes on each side 1 more time or until each rib has a nice char.

Remove the ribs from the grill to a cutting board and cut into 2 rib portions, using kitchen shears.
Add the ribs and half the glaze to a large serving bowl and toss to thoroughly coat.
Serve the remaining glaze on the side.

Rub Number Nine:
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
3/4 cup chili powder
1/4 cup garlic powder
2 tablespoons ground thyme
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon allspice

Place all of the ingredients in an airtight container and shake to combine.
Store for up to 3 months.

Yield: about 2 1/2 cups

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on Facebook. Also check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. Photo by Foodista. All rights reserved.

Looking Forward to Hospice du Rhone 2012

Hospice du Rhone 2012 will take place in Paso Robles, CA on April 28 & 29. You shouldn’t miss it. I certainly won’t.

Hospice du Rhone (HdR) is the largest event in the world focused on Rhone-variety wines. It draws producers and enthusiasts from around the world, not just the West Coast. “It’s my favorite event of the year,” Dave Powell, founder of Barossa Valley’s Torbreck winery once told me.

What is Hospice du Rhone?

hdr_20_year_sealHospice du Rhone is an event for wine producers, trade, media and consumers who are passionate about Rhone variety wines. The event includes four seminars, each structured around a tasting of six to twelve wines. There are two (extremely) grand tastings and festive lunches. One lunch is focused on the rosés of Tavel. The other is a live(ly) auction. Attendees can buy tickets for events individually, or a weekend pass for the whole shebang. If you’d like to go, I highly recommend you purchase tickets in advance.

In anticipation of this year’s event, I interviewed John Alban of Alban Vineyards. His was the first winery in the United States to focus solely on Rhone varietal wines. John Alban has also been part of Hospice du Rhone from it’s inception 20 years ago and led the event for much of that time. [The interview will be posted in segments here at over the course of this week.]

HdR “is really a coming together of a fraternity... a trade-based celebration to which the public is invited,” John Alban told me.

Hospice du Rhone seminars often go into depth, but are not overly technical. “We urge presenters to keep things fun focused and not get bogged down in chemistry and various things,” says Alban. The audience at seminars often asks detailed questions, but those are as likely to come from consumers as trade attendees. “We have intentionally tried to structure the event so that there’s something for everybody, but not diluted so there’s not enough of anything for anyone,” he explained. “It’s a big lavish buffet {of events].” Here’s what’s on the menu this year:

Hospice du Rhone Events for Friday, April 27

Seminar One: Why Spain (continues to) Rock! 

 9:00 a.m. - 10:15 a.m.
Presenters: European Cellars | Eric Solomon Selection Portfolio Producers
Exciting viticultural and winemaking practices have been taking place in the Priorat and beyond. European Cellars | Eric Solomon Selection will bring some returning and new producers from their portfolio to feature in this seminar. The panel will star Rhône variety practitioners from Spain.

Seminar Two: The Return of the Bionic Frog

10:30 a.m. - 11:45 a.m.
Christophe Baron of Cayuse, Walla Walla, Washington
Christophe Baron from Cayuse Vineyards
in Walla Walla, Washington will update you on his efforts since his first appearance on the Hospice du Rhône scene in 2000. Since 1997, Cayuse Vineyards has been farmed organically. In 2002, Cayuse became the first domaine in the Walla Walla Valley to implement biodynamic farming—a chemical-free approach designed to produce healthier soil and produce. Cayuse focuses its efforts in the vineyards with the goal to create food-friendly wines that express unique individuality, personality and character. Cayuse wines are created with minimal intervention, to protect the minerality, other aromas and flavors the vineyards give to the wines. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Rosé Lunch

12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Friday’s lunch has always celebrated pink wines and for the 20th year we will continue to toast these beauties. Don your best pink attire as we raise our glasses to the vast variety of Rosé wines that have traveled far and wide to be with us for the 2012 revelry. To highlight these lovely pink quaffers, Chef John Toulze of the girl & the fig from Sonoma, California will return to delight guests with Rhône inspired cuisine.

NEW -- BIG Rhône Rendezvous Tasting

4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Twenty years calls for a BIG Rhône Rendezvous don’t you think. Producers from far and wide will be pouring BIG bottles at this BIG, lively affair. Many have dusted off wines from their cellar and others have created something unique to celebrate this momentous occasion. To complement this BIG evening of BIG bottles highly-acclaimed chefs hailing from esteemed Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee will be serving up a taste of the South in a BIG way. Tables flowing with charcuterie and cheese will span the Tasting Pavilion throughout the entire evening. An hour into the tasting, Blackberry Farm will unveil food stations billowing with robust and scrumptious bites. This will be the only event throughout the weekend that the "Number 1 Resort in the Continental U.S. and Canada" as voted by Travel + Leisure for their 2011 World's Best Awards, will showcase their culinary talents.

Hospice du Rhone Events for Saturday, April 28

Seminar Three: A Collective Quest

9:00 a.m. - 10:15 a.m.
Presenters: Yves Cuilleron, François Villard and Pierre Gaillard of Les Vins de Vienne, Chavanay, France
Three vintners, three approaches to winemaking and growing. Les Vins de Vienne have succeeded in producing an alchemy that combines three sensibilities into a high-performance team spirit. This collective commitment to the production of quality wines is brought about by each individual experience. The wines and philosophies of these three long time amigos of Hospice du Rhône will be explored.

Seminar Four: Research, Revelations and the Art of Being Differen

10:30 a.m. - 11:45 a.m.
Presenter: Chester Osborn of d’Arenberg, McLaren Vale, South Australia
Numerous studies, both geologic and sub-regional have taken place since Chester’s last presentation in 1999. The ever dynamic Chester Osborn of d'Arenberg will be detailing these studies and will explain and show you how this information has impacted his viticulture and winemaking practices.

Lunch and Live Auction

12:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Raise your fork and your paddle while dining on a meal carefully paired with Rhône wines in mind. Long-time friend, Chef Rick Manson of the Far Western Tavern from Guadalupe, California will treat the crowd to delectable dishes. Enjoy this unique opportunity to bid on rare and one-of-a-kind auction lots generously donated by Hospice du Rhône friends and Rhône producers. Wines for this lunch will be provided by the attending producers at the 2012 event.

Grand Tasting

3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. – Private Hour for Media and Trade (tickets must be purchased in advance)
4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. – Consumers

One of the most comprehensive tastings of Rhône variety wines, this event boasts producers from throughout the world. It has been noted that to duplicate this tasting one would require a passport, numerous flights and a few weeks of travel. To complement the wines poured, Specialty food purveyors will be stationed throughout the venue to share their wares. In addition to food and wine tables, nationally acclaimed chefs will show-off their talents in the demonstration kitchen.

Farewell BBQ

7:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Gather at the Farewell BBQ with all of your friends for one last hoorah as we close out 20 years! A BBQ with a fiesta twist will be prepared and served by Chef Maegen Loring of The Neon Carrot of San Luis Obispo, California. Beyond the food and conversation, try your hand at the Blackjack table or give the craps table a whirl. Cash in your “chips” for Rhône prizes that are oh-so-ever Hospice du Rhône inspired! Dance the night away to local favorite and legend Monte Mills and the Lucky Horseshoe Band! Wines will be provided by the many attending producers and importers in attendance.

Jeff Cohn got into the spirit at last year's Hospice du Rhone Farewell BBQ.

Learn more about Hospice du Rhone.

Buy tickets for Hospice du Rhone.

Watch #HdR2012 on Twitter for updates before the event and live coverage during.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Event descriptions courtesy of Hospice du Rhone. Photos by Fred Swan. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.