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Tasting Event

The Rhone Shootout Results Are In

The Rhone Shootout was a multi-tasting, judged competition for Rhone-variety wines. The competition, organized by Affairs of the Vines, took place over the last three months and end with a blind consumer tasting at Romancing the Rhones on July 14. Winning wines were evaluated on four separate occasions.

RomancingTheRhonesBlock1The wine voted best in the final blind tasting by both men and women was the 2007 Derby Wine Estates FIFTEEN10 red blend from Paso Robles. It’s a plush SGM (59% Syrah, 29% Grenache, 12% Mourvedre) from Derby’s estate vineyard in southwest Paso Robles and retails for $28. Congratulations to Derby Wine Estates and general manager/winemaker Tiffinee Vierra.

For the second and third place wines, see the event wrap-up at Affairs of the Vines. Votes for men and women are tabulated separately. So, while Derby took first place with both men and women, the second and third positions were split. There was also a vote for best red, white and rosé among the wines being poured non-blind on the 14th. Those results are available on the same page at Affairs of the Vines.

I was one of the judges in several of the Rhone Shootout preliminary rounds. I was pleased by the range of wines submitted. Quite a few were from outside California and the competition was not dominated by wines the usual high-points suspects that are unobtainable by the average consumer.

I enjoyed each of the wines that placed. However, the final blind tasting split the wines into two groups and several of the top scorers came from the group I didn’t get to try during blind tasting. I’d like to give a shout out to the wines I strongly favored from my group:

2009 Spangler Vineyards Serenade Syrah, Southern Oregon ($25)

2008 Zaca Mesa Roussanne, Santa Ynez Valley ($25)

2011 Bonny Doon Vineyard Vin Gris de Cigare, Central Coast ($16)


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.

The 2010 Cabernet Shootout

This past Saturday, I served as a judge in the California finals of the 2010 Cabernet Shootout. Organized by Affairs of the Vine, this final tasting included sixty-four wines, narrowed down from hundreds of wines by earlier trials. Judges were divided into two groups, each of which evaluated thirty-two wines in four flights of eight. The first flight I tasted was Cabernet Franc or blends predominantly based on that grape. The rest of the wines were predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon but could include other grapes within the blend. The top scoring wines from Saturday's competitions will go on to a consumer tasting this Fall in Chicago.

The tasting was, of course, blind. This was the first of these shootouts in which I've participated. Purposely, I didn't look at what wines had been evaluated in past shootouts, where they were from, etc. I wanted my judging to be as completely blind as possible. This also made my perusal today of the roster of wines I tasted more interesting. All but one of the wines tasted were what I would consider to be from current vintages, 2005 - 2009. The outlier was a 2004 which, tasting blind, I described as tired. I suppose that's a fair description for an 04 in a field of very young wines. I have a bottle of the same wine in my cellar and it will be interesting to taste it again and see if I agree with myself under different circumstances.

The wines were from a wide range of price points and regions too. I'm not going to name many of the wines, because I don't want to steal any thunder from future Affairs of the Vine announcements. But it's interesting to look over my scoring sheet, the wine list and  see what springs to mind. First, I notice that I gave low scores to the two least expensive wines. Selling for $8 and $10, I scored them both at a level which I'd associate with slightly below-average mass production wines. Sorry folks, there were no bargain basement miracles in my flights.

By the same token, price does not necessarily indicate quality. Of the wines priced at $50 or higher, five would get "recommended" status at NorCal Wine and two would be "highly recommended." The final wine in that category and the most expensive of all was the sneaky 2004. Based on the glass I tasted, I wouldn't recommend it at all. That's not a bad showing for the pricey wines, but not stellar either.

There is good news for bargain shoppers. The two wines I rated most highly — they would also get "highly recommended" status at NorCal Wine — were priced at $23 and $32. They also confirm the logic that, for excellent value, one might do well looking away from California's most prominent regions. One of the wines was labelled "Central Coast" and the other was from the Livermore Valley. As it happens, I recently tasted  a Petite Sirah from the same Livermore winery and it was quite good as well. I can see that I need to do a feature on Crooked Vine Winery soon.

There were eight wines that I scored just one or two points below the two mentioned above, they too would be "highly recommended." Among them were three Paso Robles wines, two from Dry Creek Valley, two came from high-altitude appellations within Napa Valley and the final one was from Washington State. The lowest priced wine among these was $22 and the highest, at $75 each, were the Napa wines.

Before and after the tasting, I had a good time chatting with several of my fellow judges, include Eric Hwang, Steve Heimoff, Thea Dwelle, John Drady, Jason Mancebo and Laura Ness. Eva Swan from NorCal Wine was also a judge, tasting the thirty-two wines I did not, but we've not had a chance to compare notes yet. I also enjoyed speaking with Barbara Drady who, as organizer, was not judging. She and her volunteers did a tremendous job with everything: structuring the event, pouring, keeping things on schedule and keeping the judges palates fresh with good bread, etc. She also rewarded us for our efforts with tasty pie afterward!

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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 outour 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 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Impressions from the 2012 Wine Road Barrel Tasting in Northern Sonoma

The 2012 Wine Road Barrel Tasting in Northern Sonoma took place on the first two weekends of March. More than 140 wineries participated, opening both their doors and their barrels to the public. One fee of $40 per person gave wine lovers a glass and a wristband for tasting access to all of the wineries for a given weekend. I tasted on March 10 and 11.

I visited these wineries:

  • Saturday - Freestone Vineyards, Red Car, Siduri
  • Sunday - Stonestreet, Soda Rock, Kendall-Jackson (downtown Healdsburg), Joseph Swan

About the Experience

I enjoyed the weekend thoroughly. On the whole, the wines — in barrel and in bottle — were good. The tasting rooms I visited were well-equipped for the volume of people I saw there. The staff were largely helpful and friendly. I felt welcome and unhurried. Altogether, I sampled 75 wines, 20 of them barrel samples. I’ll only detail the barrel samples within this article.

There has been talk about rowdy behavior and intoxication on the part of some attendees. I have no doubt that it occurred, but I saw none. Attendees at my stops were cheerful but sober and responsible. I know though that the crowds were much bigger at places like Stonestreet and downtown Healdsburg on Saturday than on Sunday when I was there.

The Red Car tasting room has a hip vibe and was the most festive of the tasting rooms I visited.

About the Barrel Samples

Freestone Vineyards poured two barrel samples. Both were components of what will be their 2011 Pinot Noir. They will age another 11 months in barrel before blending. The Pastorale Vineyard component is from 777 and Calera clones with 11% whole cluster. It’s nose was sweet and fetching: baking spice, red cherry and vanilla with a hint of earthiness. The palate is medium-bodied with fresh acidity. The Quarter Moon Vineyard barrel is based on clone 459 with a whopping 100% whole cluster. That leads to a fuschia color with tart raspberry and strawberry flavors complemented by brown spice. The acidity is generous but so are the drying tannins. It will be a useful partner with the fleshier Pastorale, but isn’t endearing on its own.

Red Car offered a “barrel sample” of rosé which was light and fresh with an almost orange hue. There was also a barrel of 2011 Red Car Dreamland Platt Vineyard Pinot Noir. It’s medium-minus in color with flavors of raspberry, sweet tart and some resin from partial whole cluster fermentation (usually about 10% at Red Car). There are additional aromas of vanilla and spice. The acidity is brisk. It’s a promising sample and one can see its developmental arc resulting in something quite similar to the delightful 2010 Dreamland Pinot Noir.

Red Car proprietor and winemaker Carroll Kemp also poured reserving wines, inlcuding his 2010 Dreamland and 2007 Heaven & Earth Pinot Noirs.

Siduri offered up a grand assortment of wines. With their broad selection and revealing representations of terroir, the tasting was like a stroll through a gallery of vineyards. Siduri showed just one wine in barrel to the public though, the 2011 Siduri Sexton Vineyard Pinot Noir. Sexton is a new vineyard for Siduri. It is on Sexton Rd. off of Bodega Highway. The wine is focused with raspberry flavors and a hint of wood framed by very moderate, light-grained tannins and acidity approaching medium-plus. The finish is generous. Very nice.

After the light-footed Pinot Noir and silky Syrah which made up most of my Saturday tasting, Sunday morning at Stonestreet Winery gave my tongue some new sensations. The Bordeaux-varietals and blends from their estate vineyards on Alexander Mountain are excellent but built for lengthy cellaring.

The 2010 Stonestreet Legacy is a multi-vineyard blend consisting of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 5% Petite Verdot, 4% Malbec and 2% Cabernet Franc. Focused aromas of black currant and currant leaf announce the Cabernet Sauvignon while a background of dark chocolate and smoke make reference to the French oak barrels. The body is medium-plus with notable acidity and prominent, chalky tannins that coat the mouth but aren’t drying. Pure flavors of black currant, blackberry and currant leaf persist for nearly a minute. This is a very good wine and will be accessible upon release but will improve for at least a decade in the cellar. It will be released in September, 2013.

The 2010 Stonestreet Christopher’s Cabernet Sauvignon will be released in December, 2013. It’s the company’s flagship wine and 300 cases will be bottled. It is a single-vineyard wine coming from the highest of all the Stonestreet estate blocks at 2,400 feet. In the glass, the wine is dark ruby with deep aromas of black currant, currant leaf, black cherry, mocha and redwood. The wine is medium-plus in body with flavors that echo the bouquet until silenced by strongly drying, chalky tannins. This wine will want cellaring for several years after release, but will reward the wait.

From Stonestreet I headed down Hwy 128 a short distance to Soda Rock Winery, having never been there before. Re-opened in January 2011 by it’s new owners, Ken and Diane Wilson, it is still under-going restoration and renovation. However, it’s already an airy and attractive place with an old-timey feel. It appears to be geared for events and was a popular stop for carloads of attractive 20-somethings.

Soda Rock offered four barrels of it’s own wine and two from Pezzi King. [Pezzi King had just been purchased by Ken Wilson.I found the 2010 Soda Rock Primitivo the most attractive of the Soda Rock sips with purple berry and vanilla flavors carried by moderate tannins with very fine texture. The 2010 Pezzi King Harris Kratka Vineyard Zinfandel was also fun with bright blueberry and blackberry fruit.

After Soda Rock, I made a stop at the Jimtown Store for lunch. I had a good time looking through the mix of food items, knickknacks and antiques in the general store while waiting for my Flying Goat Coffee espresso and a reuben sandwich. Once fortified, I drove into Healdsburg and quickly found a parking spot on the square. A short walk took me to Kendall-Jackson.

Kendall-Jackson had one barrel to taste, the 2010 Highland Estates Hawkeye Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard, on Alexander Mountain, provides Cabernet Sauvignon purity reminiscent of the Stonestreet wines, proud flavors of black currant, black cherry, redwood, spice and cocoa. However, the Highland Estate tannins, while still chalky, are gentler and promise earlier accessibility. The wine is also more fruit driven, lacking the currant leaf aspect. It’s a very good wine that also has crowd-pleasing potential.

On the way home, I stopped in at Joseph Swan Vineyards (no relation). Their setup was the most fun. They had six barrels open, each providing samples via a shiny glass wine thief. Spitting and dumping was accommodated by large wood, sawdust-filled boxes on the floor. There was no place for me to sit my glass down, so I couldn’t take notes.

I do remember my favorite from among their wines though. It was the 2010 Joseph Swan Trenton Estate Syrah. It is dark and medium-plus in body, supple with deliciously earthy and leathery dark fruit flavors. Another standout was the 2010 Tannat Matthew’s Station Vineyard. Tannat is best-known as an inky, astringent and often rustic wine from southern France. I sipped the darkly-tinted barrel sample suspiciously. The flavors were also dark but they and the texture were polite, even urbane. “Hey, that’s pretty good,” I said to myself. If you’d like to aopdt a fully-housebroken Tannat, give this one a try.

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 Photos by Fred Swan. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

7 Wine Events for this Weekend, April 26 - 28

Passport to Dry Creek Valley - Saturday and Sunday

The biggest event this weekend is Passport to Dry Creek Valley. However, if you don't have tickets already you will need to hope for cancellations. You can get on the waiting list at 707-433-3031.

Soirée “An Evening of Luxury Unveiled” in SF - Friday, April 26 6 - 10pm

Wine Luxury invites you to taste wine from 40 excellent wineries, see designer fashions, dance and more at The City Club to benefit Share Our Strength and ACCESS. There will also be food, live music, special guest appearances, etc. Visit Wine Luxury for more information and for tickets (starting at $95).

Cabs of Distinction Grand Tasting in Paso Robles - Saturday, April 27 2 - 5pm

Explore premium award winning Cabernet and red Bordeaux wines from Paso Robles’ top producers. The prestigious Windfall Farms Stallion Barn, with its rustic elegance of copper spires, iron and copper framed stalls, green sprawling lawns and panoramic views of majestic rolling hills will provide a seductive backdrop for this exclusive gala. The ornately designed structure and majestic landscape are the perfect pairing for a day of live music, delectable bites from local restaurants and artisanal food purveyors paired with tastings of the best bottles these winemakers have to offer.

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Participating wineries:
ADELAIDA Cellars, B & E Vineyard, Chateau Margene, DAOU Vineyards & Winery, Eberle Winery, HammerSky Vineyards, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, Jada Vineyard, JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery, L’Aventure, Niner Wine Estates, Parrish Family Vineyards, Rangeland Wines, Record Family Wines, Robert Hall Winery, Sextant Wines, Still Waters Vineyards, Venteux Vineyards, Vina Robles, Wild Horse Winery
For tickets and more information

2nd Annual Spring of the Vine at Wine & Roses in Lodi - Sunday, April 28 2:00 - 9:00pm

The is a Lodi New Releases wine event at the lovely Wine & Roses Hotel and Spa. There is a walk around tasting ($35 in advance, $45 at the door) which include tasting, tasty bites, live music and an artist showcase. That’s followed by a Family Style Wine Dinner ($85). Combined tickets are $105.
For reservations and information call Wine & Roses at 209-371-6117 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Steiner Road Spring Fling in Plymouth - Saturday, April 27 11am - 4pm

start on steinerEveryone is invited to enjoy spring with the wineries of Steiner Road, in Amador County. This FREE food and wine event will delight the senses. Guests can stroll through the beautiful grounds of nine wineries, taste a variety of wines, listen to live music, experience all the blooming flowers and enjoy special treats. Taste some small bites of spring lamb sausage, turkey & vegetable wraps, asparagus bruschetta, apricot pastry wrapped baked brie, wood fired pizza, Italian fare appetizers, tapenade cheese spread & crostini, tri-tip sliders, and artisan cheese & wine parings!! Steiner Road-is home to many award-winning wineries. Just 45 minutes from Sacramento and 2 hours from Reno, Tahoe & the Bay Areas, it is an easy day trip to the friendly Amador County Wine Country. Visitors also can enter to win two tickets to the sold out Barbera Festival June 8th, 2013 by visiting at least 9 of the participating Steiner Road wineries.
For more information

Meet the Winemaker: Patland and Fama Wineries in San Francisco - Saturday, April 27 1:30 - 6pm

Golden Gate Wine Cellars invite you to taste the wines of Patland Vineyards and Fama Wines at the shop on Saturday. The winemaker will be on hand to tell you about these high-quality Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc wines. $10 tasting fee.
For more information and to buy tickets, call Golden Gate Wine Cellars at 415-337-4083.

4th Annual Hall Winery Cabernet Cookoff in St. Helena - Saturday, April 27 11am - 2pm

Chefs from The Grill at Meadowood, Oenotri, Cuvée and Bounty Hunter square off in a contest to see who can produce the best “bites” to accompany the 2010 Hall Cabernet. Attendees will join chefs from Terra, Solbar and La Toque in deciding the winners. Proceeds from tickets go to the winning team’s specified charity. Tickets are $65.
For information and tickets

California Wine Appellation Specialist Program begins at San Francisco Wine School - Monday, April 29

Register now for the full course and certification or for individual classes. There are eight 3-hour classes on successive Monday nights, each focusing on a different region. Every class includes lecture and tasting of 8 or more wines. I'll be teaching Sonoma County on May 20 and San Luis Obispo County/Paso Robles on June 17.
Click for more information and to register.

sanfranciscowineschool logo

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.

18 Delicious Zinfandels You Need to Try at ZAP

The 2014 ZAP Zinfandel Experience this year has a new format and a new location. The majority of events will be held at the scenic Presidio. And, rather than offering one massive, open hall of producers, this year’s main event is divided into three “tasting tracks,” each in a dedicated building. There will be Sensory Tasting, Reserve & Barrel Tasting, and Terroir Tasting. Each session lasts two hours so, if you wish, you can buy tickets for each session or spend six hours at one, etc.

Get More Info and Buy Tickets Here

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I like the idea of dividing things up into more manageable and organized sections. The Presidio is a lovely venue too. Parking there can be an issue though. Arrive early or use whatever public/event transit is available. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these changes and especially your reactions if you attend. I won’t be able to go to the main event so I’m relying on you for feedback.

Another change this year was moving the trade & media tasting to a separate day. It took place Wednesday at Rockwall Winery in Alameda. I think this was a good move overall as it made for a saner, more focused tasting. There weren’t as many producers available but there were still many more than anyone could get to within the three hours allotted. Letting media taste in advance also gives me the chance to mention some highlights for you to seek out on Saturday.

Here are my favorites from among the nearly 60 wines I tasted during the walk-around.

(In alphabetical order by producer)
2011 Beekeeper Zinfandel Madrone Vineyard, Rockpile - $65
Very focused with rich black fruit and spice. Fine, grippy tannins and a long finish. Highly Recommended

2012 Bedrock Wine Company Evangelho Heritage, Contra Costa - $35
Concentrated and pretty with dark cherries and spice. Highly Recommended

2012 Robert Biale Vineyards Zinfandel RW Moore Vineyard, Coombsville - $50
Fine, chalky tannins lend structure to this richly fruited wine with toasty wood and chocolate. Highly Recommended

2011 Dashe Cellars Zinfandel Florence Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley - $35
Intense but balanced and showing a captivating melange of spice on top of ripe, dark berries. Very Highly Recommended

2011 Fields Family Zinfandel Old Vine Sherman Family Vineyard, Lodi - $24
Full-bodied and richly flavored with dark fruit, chocolate and a hint of dry herb. Highly Recommended

2012 Gamba Vineyards Zinfandel Estate Old Vine, Russian River Valley - $45
Luscious berries, chocolate and spice. Concentrated and smooth. Highly Recommended

2010 Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel, Napa Valley - $35
A delicious, complete wine with lovely texture and 3% Petite Sirah lending Chinese 5-spice aromatics. Highly Recommended

2010 Harney Lane Winery Zinfandel Old Vine Lizzy James Vineyard, Lodi - $35
The vines are a century old but don’t lack power. Fine tannins and a blend of spice, ripe dark fruit and chocolate. Highly Recommended

2011 Hendry Zinfandel Blocks 7 & 12, Napa Valley - $35
A study in texture with liquer-like fruit and “walk through the forest” aromatics. Highly Recommended

2011 Jeff Cohn Cellars Zinfandel Landy Sweetwater Springs, Russian River Valley - $38
A complex and romantic blend of spices plus rich, chocolatey fruit. Very Highly Recommended

2012 Jeff Cohn Cellars Impostor, California - $35
Chinese 5-spice, garrigue and assorted fruit with a cashmere mouthfeel. Highly Recommended

2010 McCay Cellars Zinfandel “Jupiter,” Lodi - $28
A creamy attack precedes fine, powdery tannins and harmonious flavors of black and red fruit, exotic spice and toasted hazelnut. Highly Recommended

2010 McCay Cellars Zinfandel “Equity,” Lodi - $32
Scrumptious, earthy fruit and sophisticated texture. Highly Recommended+

2010 McCay Cellars Zinfandel “Contention,” Lodi - $64
Gorgeous texture and a symphony of harmoniously integrated flavors. A Zinfandel to savor and think about over the course of an evening. Very Highly Recommended

2012 The Prisoner, Napa Valley - $40
A full-bodied and potent blend with earthy, dark red fruit, Chinese five-spice, licorice and more. Highly Recommended

2011 Ridge Zinfandel Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley - $38
The coolness of 2011 brings notes of dark flowers and pretty spice to the fore. Highly Recommended

2011 Tres Sabores Zinfandel Rutherford Estate, Napa Valley - $38
Lovely, elegant and even lower in alcohol than usual for Tres Sabores. Ripe, dark fruit, attractive spice and a chiffonnade of savory herb. Highly Recommended

2012 Turley Wine Cellars Zinfandel Kirschenmann Vineyard, Lodi - $32
Full-bodied and creamy with fine, powdery tannins and a rich, tightly integrated blend of fruit flavors. Highly Recommended

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to Copyright 2014. The ZAP Zinfandel Experience banner is the property of ZAP. All rights reserved.