Grapelive Latest: Feb 22

Grapelive Daily Pick

By Kerry Winslow

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baldwin081.gif2008 Baldwin Vineyards Zinfandel “Rattlesnake Ridge” Sonoma Valley. (Follow up notes from a recent visit to the vineyard, and a re-cap of tasting notes from Zap)

I recently visited the vineyard and enjoyed meeting Jerry Baldwin, after singing the praises of this wine at Zap (Zinfandel tasting) when I first tried it. The vineyard is set in a beautiful hillside location and overlooks the Sonoma Valley heading toward Kenwood, in fact I learned that one of the oldest vineyard sites in Sonoma, that was near a Wells Fargo Stagecoach stop, is only a mile and the scene from the winery is dramatic in contrasts. Baldwin is still working on some of the details of when and how this stunning Zin will be released, and I was very happy to hear the $50 price tag was really going to be a much more fair price of about $42, putting in line with other wines in its class, like Lamborn, Turley and Brown Estate. Since there will only be about 3 barrels worth released for this vintage, it is a good deal and a remarkable debut for this young vineyard. This Zin has the feel and focus of a great Bordeaux wine, but with the full and classic Zinfandel flavors and character, with plenty of rich fruit and sweet spices. As reviewed before it shows, blackberry, plum, raspberry and currant fruits with touches of lavender, bramble and subtle wood notes. Jerry tells me that the following release, the 2009 is doing great in barrel all ready and that it will really blow me away, if in case I was not that impressed with the 2008, which of course I was and continue to be marveled by! I can’t wait to try the finished released wine later this year, and also the second wine Baldwin makes from another vineyard from older vines on the valley floor, which is due out as well, later this year. I recommend getting on their mailing list and checking these wines out.
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

*Barrel Sample (ZAP Tasting) Please note the label will different, as this was a quick mock up for the barrel sample and not the finished label.

www.baldwinwines.com

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Grapelive Latest: Feb 20-21

Grapelive Daily Pick

By Kerry Winslow

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rochiolichard08.gif2008 Rochioli Chardonnay Russian River Valley.
Every year I journey up to the Russian River and find my way to Rochioli to pick up a few bottles at winery and enjoy the place, even though I’m on their list and get my little allocation shipped a few times a year. I like the feel of the area and of course love the wines. This year, I found sunshine, the winery cat “Sweetpea” and this new vintage of estate Chardonnay waiting for me, it was nearly heaven. The 2008 Chardonnay has ripe and vibrant flavors with good balance and freshness and looks set to be another winner in a long line of success here. The nose has white flowers, smoke, citrus and a touch of baked apple pie, leading to a rich and tangy palate of pear, peach and apple fruit with hints of fig, hazelnuts and spicy vanilla. The wine feels smooth and buttery in the mouth, but it is not flabby and is lifted by nice acidity that gives a touch of lemon curd on the finish. This full Chard is young and should gain some weight over the next year in bottle, but it is lovely now, so I don’t plan on waiting long to savor my bottles. ($36-50 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

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Grapelive Latest: Feb 18

Grapelive Daily Pick

By Kerry Winslow

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rochiolisb09.gif2009 Rochioli Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley.
This is one of my favorite times of the year to visit the Russian River, and see Rochioli when there is less crowds and best of all the Winter/Spring releases are available. I am a big fan and have more than a little bias when it comes to Rochioli, and I admit it up front and that I am a proud member of their mailing list, that said, they do make some of the best wine I’ve ever had and will continue to sing its praises freely. The Rochioli Sauvignon Blanc is always a hit, and this is the brand new 2009 vintage, which is fresh and bright on the palate with lemon/lime, grapefruit, melons and peach fruits all lively and vibrant in the mouth. There is some light herb and grass tucked away in the background, but is not aggressive and adds a savory element to the wine. This wine should develop a rounder feel and gain some depth with a few more months in bottle, though it is easy to enjoy now, and I’m thinking of drinking mine as fresh as I can with seafood and spring greens. ($26-35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

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Grapelive Latest: Feb 17

Grapelive Daily Pick

By Kerry Winslow

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aw08pn.gif2008 August West Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands.
This winery is on a hot streak and they just keep rolling out great wine at awesome prices, especially this Pinot Noir from selected lots of fruit and made by Ed Kurtzman, Freeman, Sandler and of course Roar, as he is partners in this winery with Gary Franscioni, Roar winery and the Garys’ and Rosella’s Vineyards, and Harold Graham, Graham Vineyard in the Russian River. This wine tastes of the place, the Santa Lucia Highlands, with blackberry, plum, dark cherry and blueberry fruits, with some smoke, cassis, vanilla in the background, but really subtle, this wine is all about pleasure and the pure fruit and flavors. This is a quality Pinot Noir that is just getting better each time I try it, in fact in the last tasting of this wine it out scored some big name Pinots in my tasting notes on the same day, this includes a 2007 William Selyem Pinot too, plus a few others that sell for twice the price. ($30-35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

*Available at Rancho Cellars $29.95

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Grapelive Latest: Feb16

Grapelive Daily Pick

By Kerry Winslow

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brown081.gif2008 Brown Estate Zinfandel Napa Valley.
Dave Brown and his family all put in the greatest possible effort and passion to produce high quality wine from their Chiles Valley, Napa estate and it shows in the bottle and the glass, as they made one of the best Zinfandels in the state. The newest release, the 2008 vintage shows ripe, sweet fruit and lush texture with smooth tannins and bramble spices, with a fresh nose and a super pretty dark color. Everything is coming together nicely and while intense and thick, it has a certain balance and life that sets it apart, lifting it up and demanding attention. This is a fine Zinfandel that can be enjoyed now, but also for the next 3-5 years, so find some quick, as there is never enough to go around. ($36 Est.) 93-94 Points, grapelive

*Tasted at ZAP

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Grapelive Latest: Feb 15

Grapelive Daily Pick

By Kerry Winslow

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bcmc08.gif2008 Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir “Mount Carmel” Santa Rita Hills.
Steve Clifton and Greg Brewer, two super talents of the modern era in Pinot Noir (and Chardonnay) are fearless in their desire to make the best wines they can, and this vintage is another new step forward for this dynamic duo! Their passion shows and it really comes out in their wines, which are heady and hedonistic gems that merit worldwide note. This vintage is a slightly new direction, as they have expored the limited of high alcohol in the past, while still making wonderfully balanced wines somehow, this wine is way dialed back with a listed alcohol of only 14%, without loosing any of the charms of their past efforts, which is very impressive, even stunning! I will tell you, while this wine is still fairly young, it is rich and beautiful in a more Burgundy like manner, in fact most Burgundies wish they could be this pretty and silky on the palate! This intriguing Pinot has a nose full of flowers, spice and grenadine, I would guess this is from the whole cluster fermentation, and it has layers of velvety fruit, cherry, strawberry, plum and wild raspberry while the structure is balanced and the tannins ripe and spicy. The background holds smoke, mineral, lavender and subtle French oak vanilla. This is a Pinot that is not trying to be Syrah or anything else, just giving lovely classic flavors that are both stylish and elegant.
($57 Est.) 94-95 Points, grapelive

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Limited but it can be ordered at

Rancho Cellars by special order 831-625-5646

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Grapelive ZAP Zinfandel Tasting

“ZAP leaves a Purple Haze Over the City”

Grapelive Special Report on ZAP Zinfandel Tasting, Fort  Mason, San Francisco, CA. Jan. 30, 2010

zapsf.jpg

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Zap Zinfandel Fest 2010 “Purple Haze” Recap
By Kerry Winslow

This year was the 19th annual ZAP festival, a Zinfandel celebration like no other and an event for fanatics and professionals alike. Long lines and over indulging seems to be one of the main features, both cherished and loathed, for better or worse, but no one can it is not a fun tradition to gather at Fort Mason, in San Francisco, in January and stain your teeth purple. This year was harder than most to get up for with the economy what it is and the thought of fighting the crowds less appealing with each passing year, though in the end Zap won me over, and I found some new and interesting Zinfandels that wowed me and that gave me that loving feeling again. I arrived at Zap early, when only trade and media types are allowed in, about 3 hours before the massive crowds descend on the unprepared winery owners and winemakers pouring their latest Zinfandel creations, still even at that private time and being it was closer to 10am the place was rocking and buzzing with excitement. I even found it hard to fight my way to certain tables to chat with the winemakers, but then I remembered there was a quiet media only room where we could go to taste and write notes in relative peace and feel like we were being productive, and this proved to be the best way to find some new wines.

brown08.gifBecause the event is packed with hundreds and hundreds of new release Zin and because, lets be honest here, the are many that are not so interesting, you really have to be ultra picky to get much done in terms of real reviewing, so I must admit I always miss a couple great wines each year. That said, I did find some awesome Zinfandel this year, and I’m going to focus on those here, and let others go into greater detail overall. I will also note that the “old guard” Zin producers have staged a comeback, I found that both Ravenswood and Ridge Vineyards to have found that magic again and both showed fantastic wines that deserve high praise and critical acclaim, though I tend to search out new small producers these days. Regardless it was nice to see and I must give them kudos for their efforts, especially the Ridge Lytton Springs and the Ravenswood Old Hill, as they were both inspiring and dynamic wines that showed off their terroir and the zinfandel grape to good effect.

baldwin08.gifWhile tucked away in the media sanctuary, with other wine writer types, no be left nameless, I was introduced to some unheard of wineries and new producers, some by word of mouth, a little eavesdropping never hurt anyone, or by just shear luck and adventurism. By pure chance I picked up a bottle without a real label that had a photocopy stuck to it that send it was a barrel sample of 2008 Zinfandel, and wow, it was an amazing wine that had it all class, texture and pure Zinfandel charm and flavors. What was this nectar? Who makes it and where are the vines, I had to know, I needed to know, I wasn’t going to be denied. Well, at first, I was, but after plugging in and doing the Google, I slowly learned more, but it took a few days to get all the details. The wine, the 2008 Baldwin Vineyards Zinfandel “Rattlesnake Ridge Vineyard” (Glen Ellen) Sonoma Valley, a barrel sample, not a finished bottle. What I found out later made it all the more impressive; in fact this was the premier release of this wine and from the very first crop of the vineyard! Okay, yeah, are most great Zinfandels from old vines, I mean older than your Grandfather’s father old, well, yes there are, but this wine seems to be the exception from any common wisdom, and it was from a new winery and an equally young winemaker! Beginners luck, maybe, but I think it is the start of a long and bright future for this vineyard and winery, that comes from tasting the wine first and foremost, though I will tell you the owner has a long career of success, so I won’t have any doubt that he’ll make great things happen here too. Gerald Baldwin is the owner and it is his vineyard where he resides, in case the name doesn’t ring any bells, he was one of the original founders of Starbucks and the owner of Peete’s Coffee, as well as many other highly successful projects! I won’t bore you with the list, as it would take up the whole page! Back to the wine, it is coming out later this year and there was only enough juice to make some 60 cases, so even though it might seem pricy at $50 a bottle, it is worth it and I think it would be good to get on his list as soon as possible. He even emailed me to fill in the details on this wine himself, and that was before I know who he was, and I can tell you, he was humble and enthusiastic when talking about this wine and the second Zinfandel his is doing and I was left with a very good impression and excited to taste this wine when it is released. (www.baldwinwines.com)

tofanelli071.gifThe best of show was a tough pick between five great wines that for me spoke of what real Zinfandel can be and is, the classic California drinking wine, not for collectors or people that buy luxury label, but an honest wine that you just love to drink with out pretense or fanfare. While many Zinfandels age well and are super editions to any home or restaurant cellar, most of us love the grape and wine because we can drink it now and love it for its fruity and spicy sexy goodness when it is young. So, for me these were the best of show and my top picks of the 2010 ZAP tasting, and I’m sure I am leaving out plenty of Zins that merit attention, please forgive me if I didn’t get around to mentioning your favorite, but these were mine. First up, was the stunning and complex 2007 Tofanelli Zinfandel Napa Valley, which showed richness and elegance that put it at another level than 95% of all the other Zins I tried, it was easily number one in my notes, though a few others were not far behind, like the 2008 Baldwin described above. So at number two, I have the 2008 Brown Estate Zinfandel Napa Valley, always one of my guilty pleasures and a wine that has always stood out for me with intense fruit and a long zesty finish with a thick texture to savor, another fine vintage from this quality winery. At number three I had another barrel sample to go on, but again I trust myself that the finished wine will blow you away, it is the 2008 Biale Vineyards Zinfandel “Black Chicken” Napa Valley, another winery that always impresses me and Bob Biale is a talented guy, no question this is world class wine and a hedonistic Zinfandel with gobs of black fruit and vibrant flavors and superb depth. So then the 2008 Baldwin Zinfandel “Rattlesnake Ridge” Sonoma Valley, number four. Now it is down to my final selection from this years Zap Zin Fest, and this was a tough call, because there were two other wines that were very close to breaking into the top five, the two Sandler 2008 Zins, made by Ed Kurtzman, the talent that also crafts Roar and August West Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay, all of which are great wines, including his two new Zinfandels and the other runner up to number five was the 2006 Talty Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley, another wine I had not heard of before and one of the wines I was turned on to by those selfless other wine writers in the media area, that instead of quietly getting their own scoop, happily pushed me in the right direction, thanks guys, that was classy of them. The Talty 2006 was the best of that vintage I found at the show, and a very lovely wine, it would be good to check in on these guys if you get to Dry Creek, I know I will. Also, I must add one more to highlight before getting to final pick, and that would be the J. Dusi Zinfandel Dusi Ranch, Paso Robles, I was lucky enough to get a chance last summer to tour and taste their wine at the Dusi Vineyard and I loved their 2007 at the time, and I gave the 2008 at Zap my top Paso Zin nod. Okay here it is, the last wine and word from the 2010 Zap, at number five, I have to go with the near perfect California Zinfandel and one of my all time weaknesses, the Ridge Vineyards 2008 Lytton Springs Estate, Dry Creek, Sonoma County. There you have it, my top five wines, with out a doubt, all wonderful picks no matter the order and all wines that I will buy this year no question. The Ridge Lytton Springs especially with come home with me many a night or BBQ when it is released this summer, with loads of red and black fruit and peppery spices it really speaks to me and I like the briar and fresh berry tanginess.

Sometimes we in the industry get jaded or burnt out on crowded events and sometimes high volume, rock concert like groupies can put you off, but somehow Zap can overcome theses petty pains and put huge smiles on everyone’s face and give us all lots of fun and pleasure. While Zap makes for a long day and leaves a ringing in your ears, it also leaves you with sense of pride in our grape, the Zinfandel, and it is always a very, very happy place with the most enthusiastic wine fanatics in the world.

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Top Five Zins from this years ZAP:

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tofanelli07.gif2007 Tofanelli Zinfandel Napa Valley
Most Zin lovers will know that some of the best Turley wines in the past have used fruit from the famed Tofanelli Vineyard and that this small production Zinfandel is one of the most interesting wines made from this grape. This vintage of Tofanelli is near perfect and this Zin shows off all its talents with rich and flavorful layers of dark fruit and polished balance and class, not always found in modern Zinfandels. This wine is everything that Zin can be without crossing that line and being over the top or bloated, it has lush sweet fruit and smooth texture, but still is lively and fresh. The nose is crushed berries and spicy leading to a blackberry, plum, raspberry and currant filled palate that flows in waves in the mouth. There is some tangy boysenberry, briar and wild spices that pop into the mix that adds to the whole and the finish is long and savory. ($36 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive

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2008 Baldwin Zinfandel Rattlesnake Ridge (Barrel Sample)

2008 Brown Estate Zinfandel Napa Valley

2008 Ridge Lytton Springs Dry Creek Valley

2008 Biale Zinfandel Black Chicken Napa Valley (Barrel Sample)

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Others to watch:

Ed Kurtzman, Sandler Zinfandel, and “The Industrial” Zinfandel tasted very good in 2008 barrel samples and should get even better closer to release later this summer. I also enjoyed the 2006 Talty Zinfandel Dry Creek, and will look forward to trying more of their wines in the future. Old favorites from Ridge and even the old vine Ravenswood showed very well in barrel samples from the 2008 vintage, and Four Vines had their very rich and focused 2007 Biker Zin in the press room and it was a go to wine with snacks. I want to mention J. Dusi as well as this was a chance to try their third release, the 2008 and it was very good and looks to develop further, so be sure to check it out when it is on the shelf, which should be soon.

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Grapelive Latest: Feb 12-14

Grapelive Daily Pick

By Kerry Winslow

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castalia08.gif2008 Castalia Pinot Noir “Rochioli Vineyard” Russian River Valley.
Terry Bering’s career at Rochioli continues and he does a bit under his own label from select blocks of the famous Russian River vineyard. Having had almost every vintage since he started Castalia, there is no question about quality and the wines heritage. The 2008 vintage is proving to be as good if not better in certain cases than the 2007, and the wines will develop and age nicely as the balance and structure looks great. With old blocks of Rochioli Vineyard wines going for near a hundred bucks in the other big names, the Castalia seems to be a major steal, and it always has. This insider secret wine always delivers full Rochioli goodness and style, making for a classic Pinot. This wine opens with lots of fresh fruits and cola, with a perfume of floral notes sneaking through. The mouth is full and ripe with lots of plum and black cherry, touches of licorice, lavender, tea spice and mocha are mixed well on the background. The finish is long with hints of smoke and vanilla, without question you can taste the terroir and the house style of Rochioli, very pretty wine. ($50 Est.) 93-94 Points, grapelive

Just released and at:

Rancho Cellars

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Grapelive Latest: Feb 11

Grapelive Daily Pick

By Kerry Winslow

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copainjamesberry.gif2007 Copain “Les Copains” James Berry, Paso Robles Vin Rouge. (Rhone Blend)
From the famed James Berry Vineyard, famous for the wines of Saxum and others, the Les Copains is one of the great Rhone style reds in California, and it is made up of about 42% Mourvedre, 42% Grenache and the rest from Syrah. This wine is on the same level as Alban and Tablas Creek, while still reminding of the great wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Bandol with a huge and vibrant palate of baked cherry, blueberry, boysenberry and plum fruits with hints of chalky earth, strawberry, game, cassis and peppery spices. This wine should develop further and gain in all areas over the next 3-5 years. The alcohol is just right too, at 14.4%, making for a very polished and full-bodied wine. This is a wonderful and textured wine that drinks great all ready, I must say it really is pure pleasure in a glass. ($40-45 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive

Order Copain at:

Copain Wines @ Rancho Cellars

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Grapelive Latest: Feb 10

Grapelive Daily Pick

By Kerry Winslow

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sheldon06grenache.gif2006 Sheldon Wines Grenache Santa Ynez. (Vogelzang Hillside Selection)
Dylan Sheldon’s Sheldon Wines Grenache is a lovely and pretty wine that gives much pleasure and shows off the vineyard site, which is also used by Sine Qua Non, Margerum and other top wineries. Dylan decided the Grenache was so good on its own he bottled it solo, as he usually uses it in his flagship Vinolocity, Chateauneuf-du-Pape style red (with Syrah) that has got many 90 Point scores and has been a cult favorite at the Hospice du Rhone tasting event over the last few vintages.  Back to this wine, the 2006 Grenache shows classic Rhone flavors, grenadine, cherry liqueur, plum, strawberry and peppery spices, along with some earth and subtle lavender and wood notes. Drink now and enjoy this fun wine! ($25 Est.) 90-91 Points, grapelive

www.sheldonwines.com

or buy at: Rancho Cellars $22.50

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