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Thursday, January 28, 2010

The "Sideways" and "Bottle Shock" effect

I was just watching the movie "Bottle Shock" for the umpteenth time on HBO and got to thinking about what the heck people think of the wine country life style after seeing these movies.



A 2004 buddy movie about a couple guys with some personal issues who take a few days to get buzzed north of Santa Barbara in the Santa Ynez wine country.

They get drunk, call their ex's, smash up the car on purpose, and pick up girls at the wineries.

Shortly after the "Sideways" phenomenon started a guy at a winery hospitality seminar complained to me that he wished they'd made that movie in Oregon where he was from. The Central Coast area of CA got a lot of free publicity and get many people coming through on a "Sideways tour."

How many of the guys try to pick up the ladies working behind the bars in the tasting rooms--well, you can just imagine. I actually heard of that happening to someone I know locally as two guys made their way around the bar in a Sonoma Valley winery trying to pick up the women working there. I'm assuming they tried this in several of their stops. Come on guys, you have to buy a couple cases of wine for that to work. :)

After years of riding the "French paradox" to increased sales Merlot got blasted in the movie and you know what? People bought into it and decided Merlot was "out." Wine is a trendy business.
OK, there is some truth to their slam on Merlot. It got very popular and became a commodity wine--something you'd order and drink without thinking about it. Which is good because a lot of Merlot became nondescript.

Pinot Noir
Pinot got praised and while it was already on its way to becoming a more popular varietal the boost from "Sideways" was amazing. In case you weren't yet aware, Pinot is the wine people in the know are seeking out. Wine is a trendy business.

"Bottle Shock"


This is a pleasant movie that not many people have seen. It's about Napa Valley in the mid-70's when Chateau Montelena won the famous Paris Tasting that put Napa on the map.

Montelena won the white wine tasting in Paris for their Chardonnay; Stag's Leap for their Cabernet. The movie's focus was Napa Valley and Montelena, but didn't mention the Chardonnay was actually from Alexander Valley in Sonoma. I'm sure they are enjoying the free publicity regardless.

It's really a decent movie. I've seen it several times and enjoy it every time. It helps that it's local to me, I guess.

So, the lifestyle is ...

You get up, commute to work in traffic (if you're not one of the 10-12% unemployed), go home and fix dinner. OK, there are dozens of excellent restaurants that we have to ourselves in the winter, but you can't afford many of them too often.

For a weekend diversion you can always go wine tasting, but never go to Napa on a summer or holiday weekend!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Old Zins

While we're on the subject of Zinfandel ...
(see the previous post below).

Does Zinfandel age?

Is the Pope Catholic?

Actually, the best way to safely answer this is "it depends." In the old days (15+ years ago) most California reds had more aging potential, including Zinfandel. Nowadays it depends on the style the wine was made in. Some Zins have the structure (acid, tannins, alcohol) to hold up well. Some are just simple fruit and alcohol and don't.

Here's a few I dug out of the cellar. Most are from Kenwood Vineyards. All are 13-point-something percent alcohol. I have no idea why I still had these.

Kenwood '90 Jack London Vyds. This one was a goner unfortunately. Asking for 18+ years in the bottle was too much. This was Kenwood Vyds' premier single-vineyard Zin from Sonoma Valley. These were big wines that required some aging, but not this much. Nothing to this bottle, just a little dusty tasting.

Kenwood '91 Barricia Vyds. Baricia is an old vineyards in Sonoma Valley owned by two ladies, Barbara and Patricia, or so the story was told to me. Kenwood lost the contract to this vineyard long ago, probably when Gary Heck of Korbel bought them (but that's another story). Anyway, this wine was as gone as a wine gets. No, not vinegar. I've really never had an old wine that tastes of vinegar even though that's a popular story. There was no fruit flavors, as to be expected, and not anything else. I took about two sips, let it set for awhile, tried again, then dumped.

Kenwood '92 Barricia Vyds. Initially a bit of a sweet nose and definitely a sweetness on the taste. Very smooth and soft with a slight peppery finish. A little pruney at the end plus a touch of acid on the finish. Very drinkable.

Kenwood '93 Barricia Vyds. Really nice rose petal sort of nose. A bit of sweetness in the taste. Similar to the '92, but without the peppery finish. Instead it finished a bit dry.

Kenwood '95 Mazzoni Vyds. This vineyard is in the Alexander Valley side of the town of Geyserville (east of Geyserville is Alexander Vly, west is Dry Creek). In fact, the label lists it as a "Geyserville" wine. Eventually the BATF noticed and made them take that off the label as Geyserville is not a real appellation. This was a really nice wine. Could have served this with a milder pasta sauce or a hunk of beef.

Gundlach-Bundschu '93 Rhinefarm Estate. This is GB's vineyard near the town of Sonoma. Most of their wines were in a style that required some aging. This one was over-the-hill however. A bitter taste and nothing else. Yuck.

So out of six bottles I got two quite drinkable, one so-so, and three goners. Previously the best I'd done with old Zinfandels is about 12 to 14 years on a few, not many. Generally, Zins seem to drink best around seven years, plus-or-minus, from the vintage date.

I have a few recent releases from a couple wineries known for making long aging Zinfandels, Lytton Springs and Storybook Mtn., that are going to sit in the cellar for a few years, but not until 2025 I don't believe.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


The King of Sonoma County

First, a confession, I love Zinfandel. I mean I REALLY love Zinfandel. If I were stranded on a desert island and could have only one kind of wine it would be Zinfandel. This, of course, means I'd have to be stranded with a lot of pasta and pizza delivery service ....

Zinfandel IS the king of Sonoma County. OK, there's more Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay grown, but Sonoma is about the Zinfandel grape. Even more exacting the Dry Creek Valley appellation is all about Zinfandel. DCV is Zinfandel Central -- and Zinfandel heaven.

In the 19th century the first Italian immigrants thought Dry Creek Valley looked like Tuscany so they settled in and planted things like Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Carignane.

Dry Creek Valley

Where Zinfandel Came From

Zinfandel is called California's grape. That's because there wasn't anything like it in the Old World and, I guess, it was a sort of immaculate conception grape vine-wise. Once UC Davis did DNA testing they found it was the same as a rare Croatian grape then they found it linked to Italian Primitivo as was long suspected. Current thinking is it's not exactly Primitivo, but maybe a distant clone.

None of that really matters for consumers. What's important is understanding the different styles.

Century old head-pruned Zinfandel near Lodi, CA

One bit of confusion is with a lot of people thinking White Zin is Zinfandel. White Zinfandel is made from Zin grapes, but that's all it has in common with real (red) Zin.

You'll never go thirsty in Dry Creek Valley!
Where Zinfandel is Grown

It seems that amongst wine varietals Zinfandel is the most tied to where it's grown. That is, it takes on very unique qualities based on the growing region.

The main American Viticultural Areas in California for Zin are:

Amador County (and Shenandoah Valley within Amador)
Napa County (Howell Mountain is the best known sub-appellation)
Paso Robles
Sonoma County You'll find it almost anywhere except the cooler growing regions like the Sonoma Coast and Carneros appellations. The best known areas are Dry Creek, Russian River and Sonoma Valleys plus Rockpile and Alexander Valley.

Styles of Zinfandel

There are three main styles to break Zinfandel into though all wines won't fit neatly into one of these.

Old, traditional style - This is the somewhat dry, structured style that requires some aging to fully enjoy. Some wineries that fall into this category are Dry Creek Vineyards, Pedroncelli, Ridge/Lytton Springs, and Storybook Mountain.

Lighter, softer, kind of a Claret style - These are fruity and easy drinking and make good choices for a wine to pick off a restaurant menu to have with your dinner. Some wineries are Cline, David Coffaro, Nalle, and Rafanelli.

Big, blockbuster, fruit-bombs - In-your-face high alcohol Zinfandel popularized by Helen Turley. Some wineries that make this style are Carol Shelton and Biale besides Turley.
The downside to the popularity of this style is there are a number of high-alcohol Zins that come across as really hot-tasting. To me it's like putting a shot of tequila in a Dr. Pepper.

But is there one style that's best? No, it's a personal choice and there are excellent Zinfandels in all styles.

Another issue with Zinfandel is with some tasting pruney. You don't see as much of this as you used to because of better practices in the vineyards.

Zinfandel is also made into a late-harvest or port-style wine. These are usually very nice dessert wines.

Zinfandel Suggestions

For a "Taste of Sonoma County Zinfandels" here are some ideas of fairly easy to find wines you might want to try. These cover all styles. This isn't meant to be a complete list. So besides the wines I've already mentioned here's a few more to look for:

Bella, Deloach, Hartford, Preston, Rosenblum, Ridge, Seghesio, Stryker, Trentadue, and Wilson.

One warning: If you do try a few of these you will become hooked on Zinfandel and you will probably never be the same. Expect your snooty French wine fans to shun you. ;)

Food Pairings
Mmm, the perfect food match
What kinds of food are best matched with Zinfandel? It depends on the style of Zin, but generally any red-sauced pasta dish, anything a bit spicy, ribs, and most beef dishes.
Under the "anything a bit spicy" area I'd include things like rigatoni with sausage, chili, grilled meat with a tomato-based BBQ sauce (including chicken and pork), burgers, and pizza. In other words, pretty much everything I eat!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Looking forward to the new year!

There's lots of things to look forward to in 2010 in Sonoma County.

Music on the Russian River

There are scheduled events: ZAP- Zinfandel!

  • The ZAP tasting in San Francisco. Imagine about 400 Zinfandels and only one afternoon to try them all!
  • The Sonoma County Harvest Fair. About 600 wines and luckily three days to try them all!
  • Miscellaneous open houses by smaller wineries not usually open to the public, such as Siduri.
  • Great open house weekends like April in Carneros and Winter Wineland. I leave out the Russian River Barrel Tasting because it's only "great" if you likes hordes of intoxicated 30-somethings. (And if you're 30 you probably do).
  • Art celebrations like the Sonoma Film Festival, the Russian River Jazz and Blues Festivals.
  • Tons of other festivals from Gay Pride to Classic Cars.

Extrapolating for 2009 (and earlier) trends here's some things to look forward to:

  • Chardonnay isn't all oaky and buttery any more. Some are, but many go for a lighter touch and even, my God, some minerality.
  • More blending going on and not just with Cabernet, but with Rhone grapes and others.
  • Now that Sonoma County has pretty much figured out how to make Pinot (if wasn't always so) they're getting Syrah figured out.
  • New grapes like Tempranillo and Rhone varieties are getting planted and they are good!
  • They've discovered rosé doesn't have to be sweet so there should be more good ones.

The economy:

The good side of the economic downturn is good value in wines if you look.

Also, fewer people visiting the wine country means better deals on rooms and smaller crowds. OK, Napa will still be crowded in the summer.

In fact things may be slowly returning to normal (whatever "normal" is anymore) by the summer and people will be touring and tasting again.

Changes in the Past Decade

Since we've hit a new decade too, it's nice to look back at the recent trends for California wine:
  • Organic and Biodynamic wines
  • Bad corks and Screwcaps
  • Competition from South American wine especially Argentine Malbec
  • Realizing Chardonnay didn't have to be oaky and buttery
  • Syrah
  • $35 Zinfandel with 16% alcohol

Wednesday, January 6, 2010