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2009 Black Sears Estate Zinfandel Howell Mountain

Black Sears is a Howell Mountain vineyard and winery. Its owners, Joyce Black and Jerre Sears purchased the property in 1979, were married there in 1981 and it has long been a source of acclaimed Zinfandel grapes. The fruit has been featured in Black Sears’ own wines, but also top-scoring bottles from Turley and others. There are just 17 acres of the Zinfandel, planted in 1975 and dry-farmed.

Black Sears wines are made on site at the top of Howell Mountain by Thomas Rivers Brown. A highly sought-after winemaker of highly sought-after wines, Brown started out at Turley 15 years ago. Now, his projects include Schrader, Outpost, Seaver Family and his own brand, Rivers-Marie.

Black Sears has a history of excellent winemaking. Ted Lemon of Littorai made both the Black Sears and Littorai wines there, up on the hill, for a dozen years until he constructed his own Sebastopol winery in 2007.

The 2009 Black Sears Estate Zinfandel Howell Mountain is a wine with power and personality. It is medium-plus ruby in the glass. Aromatic intensity is just beyond medium, but there is plenty of dark complexity. Black pepper and a melange of other dark spices float above black cherry, blackberry preserves and blueberry. The palate is focused. Dark and briary fruit provide a smooth welcome. The medium-plus body is driven by tannins — at first lightly grainy then, with some air, powdery. They quickly build a structure that organizes the fruit and sends it marching in orderly fashion with just enough time to grab black pepper, a square of chocolate and a tin of moist, dark tobacco.

This is serious, Howell Mountain Zinfandel. It will add complexity with ten years in the cellar. But, you can easily enjoy it now with 30 minutes or so in a decanter and a slab of juicy ribs. Very Highly Recommended.

You can taste a barrel-sample of the 2010 Black Sears Zinfandel and hundreds of Zinfandel wines this week at the ZAP! Festival. Take a look at this article for more information.

2009 Black Sears Estate Zinfandel Howell Mountain
black-searsRating: Highly Recommended

Drink: Now through 2022
Release Date: Fall, 2011

Closure: Natural cork
Retail Price: $45.00

Winemaker: Thomas Rivers Brown

Blend: 100% Zinfandel
Origin: 100% Howell Mountain
Aging: ~ 18 months in French oak barrels

Alcohol: 15.6%

This wine was purchased for review.

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 NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. Black Sears emblem courtesy of the winery and includes a painting by J. Beauchamp. All rights reserved.

2009 Tres Sabores Rutherford Zinfandel

Tres Sabores is a Rutherford producer of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. They also produce a Sonoma Mountain Sauvignon Blanc from the Farina Vineyard and, this year, a Chardonnay from that same vineyard. Tres Sabores estate vineyard was purchased by Frog's Leap Winery in 1987 with established Zinfandel vines. Current Tres Sabores’ owner-winemaker Julie Johnson was a co-founder of Frog’s Leap with her then-husband, John Williams, and Larry Turley. The grapes were used in Zinfandel blends. By 2001 though, Johnson was having Zinfandel wines made under the Tres Sabores label.

Tres Sabores Zinfandel is grown on 45-year old vines. The vineyard is on benchland in northwest Rutherford. Julie lives on the property with her family and watches over the certified organic vineyard closely. The property resembles a biodynamic vineyard in that it’s home not just to vines but a harmonious ecosystem of flowers, vegetables, herbs, pomegranates, olives, sheep, guinea hens, etc. I very highly recommend their tasting/tour (by appointment). When I take people there, it's always their favorite visit of the day.

Tres Sabores wines are made with intent to reflect both uniqueness of the vineyard and varietal typicity. Fermentation is done with ambient yeasts when possible. New oak is used with restraint. Fruit is picked when just ripe, leading to complexity rather than high-viscosity and jammy fruit. The grapes for this Zinfandel were harvested in six different passes over a five-week period.

The 2009 Tres Sabores Rutherford Zinfandel is medium-plus intensity ruby in the glass with a nose of mixed black fruit, especially blackberry and black cherry, brambles, peppery oak, spice and herb. The body is medium to medium-plus with moderate, fine-grained tannins that provide welcome texture without impeding flavors. Those include black fruit and a melange of herb and spice, including star anise.

This is an excellent Zinfandel that shows both power and restraint. Accordingly, it can complement a broad range of foods from grilled salmon or roast chicken to venison to grilled ribeye. A juicy burger or slice of pizza would be just fine too. To experience it at its very best, shoot for a serving temperature of 61 - 62 degrees. Highly Recommended.

2009 Tres Sabores Rutherford Zinfandel
2009-Tres-Sabores-ZinRating: Highly Recommended

Drink: Now through 2016
Release Date: Fall, 2008

Closure: Cork
Production: 484 cases
Retail Price: $35.00

Winemaker: Julie Johnson
Blend: Zinfandel
Origin: 100% Rutherford, certified organically grown
Fermentation: Ambient yeast

Aging: 19 months in barrel, 40% new, mostly French but “with a handful of American”

Alcohol: 14.2%

The wine above was purchased for review.

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 NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

4 Wines from Thacher Winery of Paso Robles, including the 2008 Thacher Zinfandel

The Paso Robles AVA is both the largest undivided official viticultural area in California (meaning that it has no smaller AVAs within it) and the fastest growing. Just ten years ago, there were only 35 wineries in the 609,673 acre region. The region was expanded slightly in February 2009, tacking on another 2,635 acres. But, more significantly, the number of bonded wineries has grown to nearly 200.

Consequently, getting to all of the wineries down there is quite a task. Thacher Winery is one that I frequently drove by, but never had time to visit. I was always on the way somewhere else without time to stop. But, on a recent trip to Paso Robles my tasting and routing were so efficient that I was finally able to make a quick detour and belly up to their tasting bar. I came away impressed.

I tried six wines on my visit. In general, their wines are bold, fleshy and packed with ripe fruit. I’m recommending four of them here. I found these to be the most balanced and compelling. They are all yummy if you like the style, but the highlight for me was the 2008 Zinfandel.

The 2008 Thacher Zinfandel is a delicious, hedonistic Zinfandel. It offers beautiful aromas of blackberry jam and spice. The palate is full-bodied for Zinfandel with rich, ripe, sweet fruit and happy alcohol all framed by lovely powdery tannins. The mouth-filling flavors of cocoa, blackberry and oak are long-lasting. Serve a glass with grilled wild boar sausage. Highly Recommended.

Other Thacher wines I enjoyed:
2009 Thacher Viognier: Honeysuckle, pear and under-ripe peach. Generous body and length. Unoaked. Recommended. [14.4% alcohol, $25]

2007 Thacher Syrah Paso Robles: Jammy plum, spice, cherry and oak. An easy drinker, but warming. Recommended. [14.8% alcohol, $25]

2008 Thacher Controlled Chaos: Mourvedre, Zinfandel and Grenache combine for a nose of garrigue, purple fruit and earth but chocolate-covered berry flavors. Chalky tannins and a peppery finish. Highly Recommended. [15.7% alcohol, $35]

Thacher Winery is located at 8355 Vineyard Drive. That’s on the West Side, about midway between Adelaida Rd. and Peachy Canyon Rd. Their dedicated tasting building is just the right size and offers t-shirts and other items in addition to wine without seeming overly commercial. The room is staffed by friendly people and relaxed winery dogs. It is open Thursday - Monday, 11am to 5pm and by appointment.

thacherThe tasting room at Thacher Winery in Paso Robles. (photo: Fred Swan)

2008-Thacher-Zin-tasting-room2008 Thacher Zinfandel
Rating: Highly Recommended

Drink: Now through 2014
Bottling Date: August 2010
Closure: Cork
Production: 190 cases
Retail Price: $29.00

Winemaker: Sherman Thacher
Blend: 100% Zinfandel
Origin: 100% Westside Paso Robles: Bailey Ranch Vineyard, Will’s Hills Vineyard and Je Taime Vineyard
Aging: 23 months in American oak barrels, 25% new

Alcohol: 16.2%

The wine above was tasted at the winery.

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

2009 Quivira Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley

I like Zinfandel. As a 5th generation Northern Californian, I suppose fondness for that grape may be in my blood. I don’t like all wines made with Zinfandel though. While Zinfandel wines tend to be high in alcohol, some are allowed — perhaps encouraged — to become more powerful than they ought.

The most common defense for this is that “the wine is balanced.” But Zinfandel is not a very tannic grape, nor is it high in acid. So, that balance is sometimes achieved through substantial artificial acidification and extended aging in a high percentage of brand new oak barrels. Yes, the drink is balanced. But the charms of the Zinfandel itself have been lost in a raisiny haze of alcohol, sugar, coconut and chocolate.

The 2009 Quivira Vineyards and Winery Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley is balanced. But it reached balance through moderation rather than unsubtle additions. In the words of a fellow taster, Quivira’s 2009 Zinfandel “is actually quite beautiful.” And the alcohol is below 15%. You could have a glass with lunch.

flowers-at-quiviraThe majority of the fruit in this wine came from Quivira’s own vineyards. They are certified biodynamic and organic. Quivira also maintains biodynamic gardens (photo at left, taken in August). There are flowers, a wide variety of produce, a lily pond, chicken coop, greenhouse and more. Visitors to Quivira can wander through the gardens on a self-guided tour.

Apart from whatever environmental benefits biodynamic growing brings, it necessitates that the vines be carefully watched and tended. It discourages pushing for excess ripeness. And I suspect that wineries which foster a balance of nature in the vineyard are more likely to seek natural balance in their wines.

This wine isn’t just a case of good vineyard practices being allowed to shine though. The 2009 Quivira Zinfandel is also the result of excellent winemaking. That includes a complex but restrained barrel regime and somewhat unusual blending. A mixture of French, American and Hungarian oak was used, but the amount of new oak was small. More than 50 different component wines were evaluated when assembling the final blend. There’s some Petite Sirah in the mix, not unusual for a Zinfandel “varietal” wine. There is also Syrah and Grenache. But, the largest non-Zinfandel component is Cabernet Sauvignon. It works.

Medium-plus ruby in color, the 2009 Quivira Dry Creek Zinfandel has a pretty nose of blueberry, blackberry and huckleberry accented by cocoa and oak notes. The wine is medium-plus in body with integrated tannins of similar weight and pretty flavors of blueberry, blackberry, chocolate, vanilla and sweet spice. The finish is smooth and lengthy. Drink now through 2015. Highly Recommended.

2009 Quivira Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley
zinfandel_dcv_thRating: Highly Recommended
Drink: Now through 2015
Release Date: August, 2011

Closure: Cork
Production: 5363 cases
Retail Price: $20.00

Winemaker: Hugh Chappelle

Blend: 83% Zinfandel, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petite Sirah, 3% Syrah, 2% Grenache
Origin: Dry Creek Valley
Fermentation: Open top fermenters, punch down by hand

Aging: 14 months in French, American and Hungarian oak barrels, <20% new

Alcohol: 14.8%

The wine was provided for review by the winery.

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 NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. Photo by Fred Swan. Label art courtesy of Quivira Vineyards and Winery. All rights reserved.

2008 m2 Zinfandel Old Vine Soucie Vineyard Lodi

Old Vine Zinfandel

Grapes from old vines are generally cherished for their complexity and depth of character. Smaller in size with less juice but thicker skins, grapes from gnarly vines planted 30+ years ago pack more flavor and color per berry than do their younger counterparts. Yields decrease as vines become venerable, potentially decreasing grower revenue despite increasing quality. And the vines themselves become fragile as they age, more likely to be damaged by a gentle nudge from a tractor. This makes the viticulture and harvest slower and more labor intensive (read expensive).

All this being the case, old vine grapes are typically used judiciously. Sometimes they are added in small amounts to blends with other components that are already pretty good, making the final concoction even more interesting. These days, we often see old vine wine bottled by itself in high-end, single vineyard releases. Through their aromas and flavors they give a strong sense of the vineyard. And their exclusivity allows for high prices too.

Old vine Zinfandel hasn’t always gotten such special treatment though. California had so many old Zinfandel vines that growers didn’t value them highly. Consumers haven’t always valued Zinfandel highly either. In fact, many old vineyards were grubbed up and replanted with young vines of more fashionable varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay.

A lot of California’s ancient Zinfandel was actually saved by producers of inexpensive Zinfandel wines, such as white Zinfandel and jug reds. They needed the color and intensity to keep their otherwise simple, high-volume wines from being completely devoid of flavor. These producers kept the growers in the Zinfandel business — and some growers out of bankruptcy. Old Zinfandel was taken from all over for such purposes. As a result, we still have a good quantity of 50+ year old Zinfandel in many different areas: Sonoma County, Lodi, Amador County, Napa Valley, etc. Now, more and more ancient vine Zinfandel is being reserved for special, vineyard specific bottlings that give the grapes their due.

The Lodi AVA has some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in California — and thus the country. And it has a lot of them. If you want to try a range of old vine Zinfandel wines, you should definitely consider visiting Lodi, either in person or online, to pick some up.

The Wine

One wine you won’t want to miss is the 2008 m2 Old Vine Zinfandel from the Soucie Vineyard. Not only do the grapes come from a single old vine vineyard, every single one of them comes from that vineyard’s oldest block. It was planted in 1916 by the current grower’s grandfather. The vineyard’s sandy soil (DeVries Sandy Loam) is naturally phylloxera resistant so the vines have been able to survive not just Prohibition and the ravages of time but also the little louse most responsible for killing vines around the world.

The vineyard is on West Turner Road, just a bit to the east of Interstate 5. Cooling breezes from Suisun Bay and the Sacramento/San Joachin River Delta help keep the grapes from developing over-ripe flavors. The vineyard has underground irrigation but it is only turned on in extreme circumstances. The Soucie's goal is to maintain flavor density by dry farming as much as possible.

The 2008 m2 Soucie Vineyard Zinfandel is deep, yet not opaque, ruby in the glass with pigmented legs and a thin pale rim. The nose offers blackberry, black cherry, dark spice, wood and coconut. The palate is just right for Zinfandel with the body and tannins just north of medium. Alcohol content is listed at 15.1% and the wine doesn’t feel hot or flabby. Attractive flavors of briary blackberry, black cherry, coconut, cocoa and vanilla subside slowly and in unison.

This old vine Zinfandel from m2 is a very good effort. It is a fruit-forward wine, but is fresh and doesn’t have any baked or raisiny flavors. The alcohol is well integrated and use of oak restrained. It’s a boldly flavored wine with structure and I would prefer to drink it, as I eventually did, with a nice steak. It would be just fine with grilled chicken breast though, and serious Zin lovers can easily sip the wine without any food at all. Drink now through 2014. Highly Recommended.

2008-m2-soucie-vineyard-zinfandel

2008 m2 Zinfandel Old Vine Soucie Vineyard Lodi
Rating: Highly Recommended

Drink: Now through 2014
Release Date: May, 2010

Retail Price: $28

Blend: 100% Zinfandel
Origin: Soucie Vineyard, Lodi

Aging: 19 months in American oak: 20% new, 80% “neutral”

Alcohol: 15.1%

Closure: Cork

The wine above was tasted at the winery, then again the next day. The wine was provided for review.

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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 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 NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.