Posts Tagged ‘Zinfandel’

A Taste of the Past Thanks to Bedrock and Carlisle

It was an age of innocence, a simpler way of life, a time when a trip to the grocery store would inevitably lead to the purchase of a Cline Zinfandel, Lindeman’s Bin 65 Chardonnay, or something really exotic like a bottle of Duboeuf Beaujolais – it’s French you know! Then came this insatiable interest in wine. Now there were varietals that begged to be sampled. From the dark brooding of Petite Sirah to the grassy freshness of Sauvignon Blanc, this growing fascination, while still being financially manageable, was rapidly becoming a minor obsession.

Then a singular event occurred. One that would so radically alter my purchasing and consumption behavior that what was once a vaguely informed lifestyle choice immediately became a heated pursuit. With one sniff, one taste, my once serene world of wine was suddenly turned upside down. I had, quite by accident, experienced my first taste of wine sourced from one of California’s historic vineyards. Known as a field blend, this magical liquid was comprised primarily of Zinfandel, but also contained Carignane, Cinsault, Alicante Bouschet and even a couple of unidentified varietals. The result of this mixing was a kind of winemaking alchemy that left me wanting to stock my makeshift closet cellar with as many versions of this kind of wine as I could find.

This all sounds well and good, but with this wine epiphany came the realization that I could no longer settle for just any old plonk. No sir, now I must dedicate significant time and energy to the chase of these rare bottlings made from vines planted, in some cases, well over 100-years-ago. Of course, this would not be a problem if there were more producers of such wine, but the reality is that there are a finite number of vineyard sources that have survived to this day.

Who exactly do I have to thank, or blame, for this radical shift in my wine consumption? Two names immediately come to mind: Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Co. and Mike Officer of Carlisle Winery & Vineyards. Between these two I have willingly parted with, in my world, significant sums of money to feed this growing habit. Now a word about the wines from these two amazing sources.

Bedrock Wine Co. – Owner and winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson puts his efforts into perspective by describing one of his primary objectives as a winemaker – “To channel the fruit of ancient vines into powerful, elegant, and distinctly Californian wines.” And this is exactly what Morgan does with his California Heirloom Wines, all of which are derived from vineyards that have (thankfully) stood the test of time. These wines are clearly a labor of love that goes well beyond simply being delicious.

Carlisle Winery & Vineyards – Locating and harvesting some of California’s old-vine Zinfandel has clearly been a passion for Mike Officer. As owner and winemaker at Carlisle, Mike offers much sought after bottlings of Zinfandel (not to mention Petite Sirah, Carignane and Syrah) sourced from some of California’s classic vineyards. Mike’s wines, produced in relatively small quantities, consistently stand out for their structure and complexity.

A final thought on these wines and the winemakers. After my introduction to Bedrock and Carlisle, I immediately came to the conclusion that Morgan and Mike are two of the very few winemakers that are willing and capable of conveying their reverence for the heritage vineyards of California. Their wines effectively offer the consumer a taste of what California’s early winemakers may have enjoyed those many, many years ago. I would like to convey my personal thanks to both men for having the courage of their convictions, and for their continued efforts to preserve some of California’s oldest vineyards. Now if I could just get on the darn Carlisle mailing list!

photos and text © 2011 craig allyn rose


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The Case of the 2008 Mendocino Lightning Complex

Summer in California—a time for backyard barbecues, lounging poolside, spending warm days at the beach or maybe camping in the beautiful Yosemite Valley. Summer is also the time when Californians experience the annual travails of wildfires. Each year hundreds of thousands of acres burn in the Golden State destroying homes, causing injury and death, and costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

The 2008 fire season would prove to be one of the worst in recent memory as an unprecedented outbreak of thunderstorms traversed Northern California from June 20 to June 21 sparking countless fires. One region particularly hard hit by these storms was the Humboldt, Trinity, Del Norte, and Mendocino County area, with some 1,500 lightning strikes registered. All told, at least 600 fires were attributed to lightning strikes across Northern California during the two-day period.

By now many ardent wine consumers have heard about the problematic 2008 vintage in the Anderson Valley. How best to deal with the perception of, or actual presence of smoke taint in certain wines has been a huge challenge for producers in the region.

One novel approach taken by Navarro Vineyards has been to bottle the 2008 Pinot Noir under a second label, Indian Creek, and offer these wines at steeply discounted prices, but only after making it abundantly clear that the wines deviate somewhat from the usual Navarro offerings.

For Navarro’s part, they are to be commended for their effort to educate the consumer, while making their wines available at steeply discounted prices. Calling it their “Wildfire Offering” and asserting that the wines have developed an “uncharacteristic nuance” that is not normally associated with Navarro, customers are invited to make their own determination as to the magnitude of smoke taint, but at prices that go a long way toward eliminating the potential for buyer’s remorse.

As for the wines themselves, I took advantage of Navarro’sWildfire Offering” and purchased a mixed case of Indian Creek Unfiltered Reserve Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel. Thus far, and after consuming several bottles of all three wines, I must say that while the smoke definitely does exist, both aromatically and on the palate, I find it to be something of an enhancement.

It’s important to note that the presence of detectable smoke taint in these, or any other Anderson Valley wines, seems to depend to a great extent on the sensitivity of the individual tasting the wines. There is no question that some may find these wines less than satisfactory, or even undrinkable, while others will find the wines to be quite palatable or even enhanced by the smoky characteristics.

Regardless of how you perceive the smoke influenced 2008 vintage from the Mendocino area, a winery like Navarro should be congratulated for their honesty and innovative marketing that allows all of us to experience these wines with very little financial risk.

Review of the 2008 Indian Creek Pinot Noir – NOTE: Indian Creek is the Navarro Vineyards secondary label. Navarro has chosen to bottle its 2008 Pinot Noir, 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir, and 2008 Zinfandel under the Indian Creek label due to the potential impact of smoke on each of these wines. The Mendocino Lightning Complex, which occurred from June 20 to July 19, 2008, consisted of hundreds of wildland fires that burned 54,817 acres and left the Anderson Valley shrouded in smoke.

Much has been written about the influence of smoke on Anderson Valley fruit, especially Pinot Noir, with some consumers and critics claiming that the existence of smoke taint has made some wines from the region undrinkable. Others assert that these wines either show little or no ill effects from the smoke. However, it is clear that there exists a wide variation in how each person perceives the impact of smoke on these wines. The tasting note below features my original impression of the 2008 Navarro Pinot Noir, now labeled the 2008 Indian Creek Pinot Noir…

Tasted at the source and enjoyed this one for its decent QPR. There is a lot of talk about the impact of smoke on the 2008 Anderson Valley pinots, but after tasting this bottling, I am more convinced than ever that the concern has reached an almost hysterical level. This edition of the Navarro Pinot Noir is clearly a notch below the 2007 bottling when it comes to aromatics. That being said, I found that with some time outside of the bottle this wine not only becomes passable, but quite enjoyable. Yes, pinot noir, perhaps more than any other varietal acts as a mirror of its environment, both earth and air.

With that being said, we found this wine to be only slightly smoky, and what traces of smokiness that were detectable actually contributed to the character of this wine. On a final note, it must be said that we each possess differing sensitivity to the impact of smoke on any wine. In the final analysis this is a simple pinot noir that benefits from some time out of the bottle before enjoying. With flavors of muted cherry and a bit of oak, I’m happy to have acquired this wine for the price.

All things considered I am comfortable giving the Indian Creek Pinot Noir a B on taste alone, but when considering this wine as a value play, there is little doubt that this is an A-. Way to go Navarro, I mean Indian Creek!

photos and text © 2010 craig allyn rose

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Part II – Urban Wineries = Outstanding Quality!

As promised, it’s time to conclude my report on the East Bay Vintner’s Alliance 5th Annual Urban Wine Experience that recently took place in Oakland’s Jack London Square.

To refresh memories, this yearly event features a slew of urban dwelling winemakers that for the most part call the East Bay home. Some of these producers practice their craft in warehouses, while others occupy space on the once bustling property of the Alameda Naval Air Station.

What makes this a truly special event is the simple fact that the majority of the participating wineries are producing exceptional wines that one would never expect to have been created within the confines of the San Francisco Bay Area’s urban sprawl.

While most of these urban wineries source their grapes from growers located in typical regions – Dry Creek Valley, Carneros, Russian River Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, Napa Valley  – only one of the urban wineries in attendance cultivates their own grapes on their own patch of land, Prospect 772. According to the Prospect 772 website, founders Ron Pieretti and Wendy Sanda, discovered their ideal grape growing site in 2001 on a 25-acre parcel of land located in Calaveras County. Today Pieretti and Sanda cultivate various Rhone varietals that are blended into three wines, each with its own distinctive moniker, The Brat, The Brawler, and The Baby Doll.

Our tasting was limited to 2007’s The Brawler (score A), a big, masculine Syrah that we thought was one of the best wines poured at the event.  This is a wine that lives up to its name with layers of dark fruits and a complexity that demands it be paired with grilled sausage or even braised lamb shanks.

Next up on the tasting parade was an offering from Eno Wines, the 2007 Pinot Noir “The One” produced from vines grown at the Fairview Road Ranch in the Santa Lucia Highlands (score A). This is an outstanding effort that shows off lovely plum and cherry aromatics with plum and spice coming through on the palate leading to a beautifully smooth finish.

Our final stop on a day that featured so many outstanding wines was Dashe Cellars. In the interest of transparency, I will admit that I am a huge fan of the wines produced by the husband and wife team of Michael and Anne Dashe. Combining their substantial experience and skills in winemaking, Michael and Anne have succeeded in producing consistently outstanding wines of great character and quality.

Today Dashe Cellars produces a range of topnotch Zinfandels as well as a Dry Creek Valley Grenache, an Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and a lovely Mendocino dry Reisling made in the Alsatian style.

In a perfect finish to our day’s tasting, the fine folks at Dashe served up a taste of their 2009 Les Enfants Terribles Dry Creek Valley Grenache that left us all smiling and racing for the door to make it to the Dashe Cellars Tasting Room just a few blocks away before closing time! In fact, this Grenache, features aromas of fresh picked cherries bolstered by gentle hints of strawberry and mild spice – mainly a bit of pepper. The flavor profile is well defined with brighter red fruits, ranging from raspberries to strawberry that are supported by a touch of earthiness and minerality. The finish is a real feature to this wine in that is surprisingly long and rewarding (score A).

So if you find yourself in the San Francisco Bay Area do yourself a favor and check out the member wineries of the East Bay Vintner’s Alliance. You won’t be disappointed!

photos and text © 2010 craig allyn rose

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McManis Gets It Right!

While wandering the aisles of a local retailer in search of the Holy Grail – an affordable, yet tasty red wine – I gradually became frustrated with all of the shelf talkers and claims made by wine critics. This Syrah at 88 points is “surprisingly refined,” while this Sangiovese at 89 points offers flavors of “licorice and vivid black fruits.” In each case we‘re talking about wines that retail for $12.99 and that’s a darn good price under almost any circumstances.

Of course, with all of the flowery language, and lofty scores, making a decision on what to buy can be downright overwhelming. Since this particular retailer tends to place wines in rows, with the cheapest occupying the area closest to the floor, I was able to whittle down my selections over time, but not without straining my back bending over repeatedly.

There was one label that caught my eye, not so much for reasons of good design, but because I had seen the same label on the opposite aisle while crouching to take stock of the cheap stuff. Then it happened, here was a bottle of Petite Sirah and another, a Zinfandel, the two varietals I was looking for, and the price was right on target. With the decision finally made I grabbed two bottles each of the 2008 McManis Family Vineyards Zin and Petite Sirah.

McManis Family VIneyards Zinfandel & Petite Sirah

Having never had any of the McManis wines I was prepared for the bare minimum in both quality and value. Just for fun, I decided to present the Petite Sirah to my test subject, Julie, my fairly critical (when it comes to wine) wife. She was in the midst of a Dr. Who marathon on BBC America, which means she was already in a good mood, but when she took a moment to go through the motions of taking that initial taste of this unknown juice, she wasted very little time proclaiming this wine a hit!

That was good enough for me, so we threw a couple of Trader Joe’s pizzas in the oven and proceeded to enjoy a $10 Petite Sirah from a producer that we have both come to respect for their ability to offer wines of substance and quality at prices that are seldom seen in today’s market. Just for the record, this is Petite Sirah that is a deep inky purple with a nose of blackberry and boysenberry. Those same berry scents populate the flavor profile and lead to a lingering finish that is quite satisfying (grade B+).

We have since spent some time enjoying the McManis Zinfandel with similar results – excellent blend of cherry and raspberry backed up by smooth tannins that leave you looking forward to the next sip (grade B+).

I am pleased to report that genuine bargains do exist in today’s retail market. McManis Family Vineyards has done an outstanding job to bring these all-around delicious wines to the consumer.

photos and text © 2010 craig allyn rose

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