Zinfandel


All right, after consulting with my board of directors and executive committee and conducting a straw pool among undecided voters in swinging states, I decided to change the name of the “Friday Wine Sips” project to “Weekend Wine Sips,” mainly because I more often post this entry on Saturday or even Sunday than on Friday. At least I don’t have to feel guilty, which for me is a blessing since I would confess to the assassination of the Queen of Romania if pressed to do so; whew, don’t have to worry about that for a while. Anyway, today we have red wines that range from lighthearted to impressive, from drink-right-now to wait-a-few-years. We touch Argentina, Italy, France and California; we have organic wines; we have blends and 100 percent varietal. What we don’t have are reams of technical and historical information, the purpose of these Friday Wine Sips, oops, Weekend Wine Sips being to provide lightning quick appraisals designed to strike to the heart of the wine. These were samples for review or tasted at trade events. Ratings vary from a sad “Good Only” to “Excellent.”
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Cavicchioli Lambrusco Dolce, nv, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. 7.5% alc. Startling bright cherry-mulberry color; mildly effervescent; pure cherry and raspberry, sweet and quite ripe initially but vibrant acidity dries the wine from mid-palate back, without subtracting from its dark juiciness; intriguing contrast and balance between the ripeness of the red fruit and the hints of spice and slightly earthy minerality; avoids the Kool-Aid® aspects of so many lambruscos. Quite charming and you’d be surprised how well it goes with savory food. Very Good. About $9, a Great Price.
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Cecchi Chianti Classico 2009, Tuscany, Italy. 13% alc. 90% sangiovese, 10% colorino Toscano. Rough and rustic, shaggy tannins, leans toward the anonymous, generic side of sangiovese. Should be better. Good only. About $13.
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Bonterra Merlot 2010, Mendocino County. 13.6% alc. Certified organic. “With added touches of petite sirah, syrah and carignane.” Dark purple with a lighter ruby-magenta rim; smoke, black currants and blueberries; quite dense and chewy with dusty tannins; barest hint of black olives and cedar; bright acidity, earthy finish where you feel the oak. Very Good. About $16.
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Bonterra Zinfandel 2010, Mendocino County. 14.5% alc. Certified organic. With “a little petite sirah.” Beautiful ruby-magenta color; nice mouthful of wine but could be cabernet or merlot; what are the distinguishing characteristics, except for a bit of ripe, berryish vitality? Good+. About $16.
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Wild Horse Merlot 2010, Central Coast. 13.5% alc. With 5% malbec, 2% cabernet sauvignon and 4% “other red.” Dark ruby color; black currants and plums, lavender and roasted fennel, cedar, black tea and loam; firm yet supple structure, sustaining acidity, almost succulent but balanced by slightly grainy tannins; no great depth but an attractive individual rendition. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $19.
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Wild Horse Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Central Coast. 13.5% alc. With 1% syrah. Dark purple shading to medium ruby rim; cedar and tobacco, mint and eucalyptus, spicy black currants and plums; smooth, velvety, slightly dense and chewy; backnotes of oak and dusty tannins; clean, lively finish. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $20.
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Chakona Estate Selection Malbec 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby-purple, close to opaque at the center; a strapping wine, deep and broad; formidable structure balances grainy tannins, spicy oak and vibrant acidity for a complete package — purposeful and dynamic — that doesn’t entirely conceal lovely character and breeding. Now (with grilled meat) or from 2014 to 2018. Excellent. About $25.
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Artezin Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County. 14.3% alc. With 3% zinfandel. Deep ruby-purple color; fresh, bright and fruit, spicy and savory; not a blockbuster but immediately drinkable; black currants, plums and blueberries with hints of briers and brambles, tar and graphite; pulls up squinchy, mouth-coating tannins and adds some mineral-fueled power through the finish. Now through 2014. Production was 212 cases. Very Good+. About $25.
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Artezin Zinfandel 2010, Dry Creek Valley. 14.8% alc. With 3% petite sirah and 1% syrah. Dark ruby-purple; deep, rich and spicy; blackberries and plums with a hint of boysenberry and blueberry tart; a few moments in the glass bring up touches of fig paste, tapenade and soy sauce; very dry, with well-knit tannins and integrated, spicy oak; black and blue fruit a little fleshy; a strain of earthy, graphite-laden minerality dominates the vibrant and slightly austere finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Production was 360 cases. Excellent.
About $25, representing Great Value.
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Piocho 2009, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. 14.1% alc. 58% merlot, 22% cabernet sauvignon, 18% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot. From Margerum Wine Company. Consumed at a restaurant, later tasted at a trade event. Dark ruby color; seductive bouquet of black cherries and currants, touch of plums and black mulberries, deeply spicy and savory; lavender, violets, graphite; black olive and thyme; deep foundation of dusty, lithic tannins and smoky oak, coats the mouth and laves the palate with ripe and velvety black and blue fruit flavors that never get blatant or slushy; firm, gripping hand of vital acidity cuts a swath. Frankly delicious. Now through 2014 or ’15. Production was 570 cases. Excellent. About $25.
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Hecht & Bannier Côtes du Roussillon-Villages 2009, Languedoc, France. 14.5% alc. 55% grenache, 25% syrah, 15% mourvèdre, 5% carignan. Dark ruby with a lighter ruby rim; meaty and fleshy red and black currants, wildly spiced and macerated, over hints of roses and violets; vibrant, lively, engaging yet deeply imbued with dense dusty tannins and a powerful earthy, graphite-like mineral character; smoke, brambles, touch of moss through the finish. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $26.
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Marziano Abbona Barbera d’Alba Rinaldi 2010, Piedmont, Italy. 14.5% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Dark ruby color; dried spices and flowers, lavender and potpourri, hint of pomander, red and black fruit scents and flavors; deeply foresty and earthy, brushy and briery tannins, precisely balances succulence with a strict regimen of acidity and granitic minerality. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $30.
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Michael McCay started as many other winemakers in California did; he grew grapes and sold them to other people. Only since 2007 has he produced wine from his Lodi grapes, concentrating on zinfandels that do not carry the big stick of over-ripe jammy fruit and high alcohol, and by high I mean the 15 percent and more that we often see. McCay is not shy with French oak, but his grapes and the wines he makes from them possess the character to soak up and absorb that oak — I mean 26 to 28 months — and come out blossomy fresh and spicy and supple as velvet. These are limited edition wines, so mark them Worth a Search.

Samples for review.
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The McCay Cellars Paisley Red Wine 2009, Lodi, is a blend of zinfandel and petite sirah that aged 28 months in French oak, 24 percent new barrels, 37 percent second and third fill (that is, used for the second and third times) and the rest neutral. The wine is deep and dark, rich and spicy and bursting with notes of red and black cherries, red and black currants, cloves and bittersweet chocolate, black olives and caramelized fennel; it’s a terrific bouquet, invigorating and seductive. That promise is not quite fulfilled in the mouth, not that the wine is not attractive and drinkable — it was completely appropriate for last week’s Pizza and Movie Night — but that in terms of the layering of flavors and structure it feels several shades of complexity less exciting than the aromas. Still, it’s a marvel that winemaker Michael McCay can pull off the feat of aging a wine in oak for two years and four months and having it come out with the wood influence almost subliminal. 14.8 percent alcohol. 123 cases. Very Good+. About $28.
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The point of the McCay Truluck’s Zinfandel 2009, Lodi, it seems to me, is to prove that a zinfandel does not need to be highly extracted or crushing with alcohol; the color here is not motor oil opaque but a lovely medium ruby hue, nor does the wine exhibit super-ripe or jammy fruit but fresh, clean and bright subtly spiced and macerated notes of black currants. blueberries and plums with a high tone of wild cherry, this panoply opening to touches of mulberry, lavender and potpourri; a few minutes in the glass bring in elements of fig paste, fruit cake, black olives and thyme. Plenty of dense dusty tannins, yes, but finely milled and velvety over a burgeoning layer of graphite-like minerality and woody spice — sandalwood, allspice — and juicy black and blue fruit flavors that display an intriguing fillip of pomegranate. The oak regimen was 26 months French barrels, 21 percent new, 33 percent second and third year, the rest neutral. Again, 26 months seems like a long time in oak, but the wine came from that process with balance, poise and a sort of dense suppleness. 14.6 percent alcohol. Now through 2014 to ’16. Production was 179 cases. Excellent. About $32.
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The difference between the previous zinfandel and the McCay Jupiter Zinfandel 2009, Lodi, lies in degrees of dryness and some austerity on the finish. The oak treatment is almost identical: French oak, 26 months, 22 percent new barrels, 33 percent second and third fill, the rest neutral. The color is a similar medium ruby, with a tinge of magenta at the rim; red and black cherries feel steeped in black tea, cloves and sandalwood with notes of some roasted element, but, again, the whole effect is of vibrant freshness and clarity. There is no trace of the fruit cake quality mentioned for the Truluck’s Zinfandel. Tannins seem permeated by dusty, granitic minerality, with overlays of smoke and loamy earth, yet fruit flavors remain blithe and juicy. After a few minutes in the glass the finish takes on a powerful strain of dry rigor and asperity that requires hearty, meaty fare to match its dimension. Still, a well-balanced, well-wrought zinfandel that avoids over-ripeness and alcoholic heat. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 449 cases. Now through 2015 or ’17. Excellent. About $28.
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You’re absolutely correct. I did not post a Wine of the Week on Sunday or Monday, so despite the fact that this is Thursday I’m going to write the Wine of the Week because this is a week and Thursday is a day in it. Frankly, friends, sometimes I have to lend myself to writing that pays actual money instead of free wine, which is great but pays no bills. Also, I was in Napa Valley from Sunday night through Tuesday, and then when I returned had to throw myself into more freelance work. To compensate, though, for the relativity of my tardiness, I offer two red wines of different quality and price that both happen to be appropriate for pizzas and pasta dishes, burgers, steaks hot and crusty from the grill and such hearty fare.

First is the Calcu Cabernet Franc 2010, Colchagua Valley, Chile, the sort of inexpensive cabernet franc from Chile that if you tasted it blind would compel you to say, “Son of a gun, this tastes exactly like an inexpensive cabernet franc from Chile!” By which I mean that it does precisely the job it’s supposed to do, neither bursting the bounds of expectation nor sagging before the finish line, to include a faint Olympic metaphor. (And would I be a complete jerk if I said that I just don’t get water polo?) The color is dark ruby with a purple-violet tinge; beguiling aromas of ripe black currants, blueberries and plums feel saturated with notes of cloves, thyme and bay leaf and hints of black olive and bacon fat. The wine is dense without being weighty and tannic enough for a fairly hefty structure but without being grainy or gritty; it’s robust, cut with an acid edge and very tasty with black and blue fruit flavors. Drink through 2013. Very Good+. About $14, representing True Value.

The Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel 2009, Napa Valley, derives from the winery’s gravelly, loamy vineyard in Calistoga, up at the northern end of Napa Valley, where the vintage provided warm, sunny days and cool nights. All of Grgich Hills vineyards are farmed following biodynamic principles. There’s two percent petite sirah in the wine, which spent 15 months in large French oak casks; the wood influence stays resolutely in the background, contributing to the wine’s firmness and suppleness. (Winemaker is Ivo Jeramaz.) The color is brilliant medium ruby; aromas of blackberry, mulberry and plum are sown with seeds of cloves and sandalwood and fruitcake, the effect being ripe, spicy and slightly exotic, especially as hints of lavender and black licorice, white pepper and potpourri unfold after a few minutes in the glass. I already mentioned the wine’s supple nature, to which we may add dense, chewy tannins that are nonetheless smooth and lithe and a burgeoning earthy, mossy character that takes on notes of graphite and slate. The wine is quite dry, despite the juiciness of its smoky black currant, blackberry and sage flavors, and the alcohol, distinctly unshy, turns up the afterburners through the long spice-and-mineral packed finish, which comes off a tad hot. That alcohol measures 15.3 percent, higher than I would like but not so obtrusive with the right sort of food, and the fact is that we enjoyed the wine immensely with a rich, savory pizza that featured cured and smoked hog jowl and oven-dried tomatoes and banana peppers with Thai basil. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $35.

These wines were samples for review.

Food and wine pairing — and was there ever a culture more concerned and nervous about that issue than ours? — doesn’t have to be about temples of cuisine and fine old wines. The perfect wine with a cheeseburger qualifies as a great match. Today’s entry in the “Damn, This Was Good!” series is a sterling example of the “It Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated” principle. The dish was a simple bowl of spaghetti with an intense tomato sauce; the wine was the Steelhead Red Wine 2010, North Coast, an inexpensive blend of 65 percent zinfandel, 15 percent each cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc and five percent syrah, aged for 12 months in a combination of new and used French oak barrels. (And we won’t get into the issue here about “North Coast” being an appellation so ludicrously huge as to be meaningless as a “place.”)

Billed as “$4 Spaghetti That’s Almost as Good as $24 Spaghetti,” the dish is chef Roy Choi’s take on a pasta from Scott Conant’s restaurant Scarpetta in New York. Choi runs the Kogi group of food trucks in Los Angeles; Conant was chef and owner at L’Impero in Manhattan’s Tutor City what now seems an eon ago. I hope they’re friends. I’ll append a link to the recipe online at the end of this post, but a brief description will give My Readers an idea of how the sauce gets its powerful flavor. The recipe calls for simmering sliced white mushrooms in water for an hour, reducing the liquid to make a mushroom broth. Simultaneously, you’re simmering about a truck-load of peeled garlic cloves in olive oil, until the garlic gets toasty golden brown and platonically tender. Then you empty two large cans of tomatoes into a Dutch oven or something of similar size and shape, add the olive oil and garlic, bring to a boil, add the mushroom broth, turn the heat off (v. important), stick an immersion blender down in there and blast that stuff into a smooth puree. (You could use a potato masher, but the sauce won’t be as smooth.) Turn the heat back on and let the sauce simmer for about an hour until it thickens a bit. Yowsir, it’s fine stuff, intensely garlicky and deeply flavorful. Here’s a link to Cho’si recipe: here.

And here’s an F.K. Kitchen Hint, from the School of “Experience Is a Dear Teacher But Fools Will Learn No Other Way” (as my seventh grade teacher Mrs. Simpson told our class every fucking day!): When that immersion blender is running, don’t lift it out of the tomato sauce. Took me about an hour to clean the stove and the counter and the stainless steel backsplash and the tea kettle and the Vent-a-Hood and the floor, though the dogs cheerfully volunteered for the latter duty.

Anyway, the Steelhead Red Wine 2010, North Coast, embraces the lighter, brighter, immediately attractive side of the zinfandel grape, while allowing the other varieties in the final cut to add some darkness and oomph to a very tasty, blithely vibrant package. The color is deep ruby purple; this is clean and fresh, with black and red currants and blueberries galore — “Your Galleria of Berriness”! — hints of smoky graphite, lavender and potpourri and high notes of spiced cherry. Deftly balanced tannins, well-honed and slightly grainy, support black and blue fruit flavors that take on an edge of briers and brambles and touches of macerated plums, with a nimble pass-off to a dry, slightly sanded finish. Beside the fact that the wine was delicious, what cemented its sacred kinship with this assertive spaghetti sauce and made LL and I look at each other and say, “Yep, this is it,” was acidity of authoritative dimension and lively degree, a quality that clasped the acidity of the sauce with the fervor of a soul-mate and cut through the richness like a flame-thrower through a stack of telephone books. It made you want to laugh with happiness. 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2014. Consulting winemaker was Hugh Chappelle. Very Good+. About $15, a Notable Value.

A sample for review. A portion of the proceeds from sales of Steelhead wines funds Trout Unlimited and other conservation projects.

Devotees of adding grape varieties to their Century Club roster may find a few candidates among the wines reviewed in this edition of Friday Wine Sips, posted for you actually on Friday! The theme today — not that we always have a theme — is blended red wines, and not the usual cab/merlot/cab franc/petit verdot or syrah/mourvèdre/grenache agenda but some blends that draw perhaps on those grapes but even more on eclectic notions of what grapes are right, fit and proper together. The inclusion of a couple of wines from Portugal that feature indigenous varieties guarantees a couple of grapes that some of my readers may be unfamiliar with, while for the first time in the epic history of this Higgs boson-haunted cosmos I feature a wine from Turkey and a pair of grapes that will tip the mercury in your thermometer of exoticism. Once a producer blends four or five or six red grapes from a broad area or from several regions, the point obviously is not to pay homage to the purity of a grape variety or the integrity of a vineyard but to assemble a wine that’s appealing and tasty or, perhaps more important, that structurally and philosophically makes sense on its own terms. Several of the wines considered today accomplish this task handily, a few range from decent and acceptable to a little iffy, and one employs five grape varieties from three counties in California and succeeds only in manufacturing something generic. As usual in these Friday Wine Sips, I avoid most technical, historical, specifically geographical and personal information for the sake of quick, incisive notices designed to make you say “Hot damn, gimme some o’ that!” (Or not.)

These wines were samples for review.
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Esporão Alandra Red Table Wine nv, Portugal. 13% alc. A blend of moreto, castelão and trincadeira grapes. Dark mulberry-plum color; very smoky and spicy, ripe black and blue fruit scents and flavors; deep, dense, chewy, sapid and savory, heaps of robust grainy tannins; finish packed with slate, forest, thyme and dried porcini; sort of amazing presence and personality for the price. Begs for grilled sausages (though it’s not a wine to beg, really, more like demand). Very Good. About $7, an Outrageous Bargain.
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Bonny Doon Vineyards Contra Old Vine Field Blend 2010, California. 13.7% alcohol. 69% carignane, 31% syrah. Dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; pungent, ripe, fleshy, black cherry and black currant with hints of plums, blueberries, smoke, graphite; intense core of potpourri and bittersweet chocolate; very spicy, quite dense and chewy with grainy tannins, vibrant acidity, lots of structure; an old-fashioned, rather rustic, juicy, briery California quaffer for burgers, steaks, pizzas. Very Good+. About $16, representing Good Value.
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Peter Lehmann Layers 2010, Barossa Valley, Australia. 14.5% alc. 55% shiraz, 18% tempranillo, 17% mourvèdre, 10% grenache. Dark ruby-purple color; intriguing aromas of black currants, blackberries and plums with touches of black pepper, iodine, cloves and foresty elements; dense and chewy yet smooth and mellow, drinks like a charm; deep, spicy black and blue fruit flavors, delicious and unfettered; a satisfying, moderately long finish packed with spice and earthy notes. We drank this wine with a hearty pizza. Very Good+. About $17.
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Ghost Pines Red Blend “Winemaker’s Blend” 2009, Napa County 46%, Sonoma County 36%, San Joaquin County 18%. (A Gallo label.) Cabernet sauvignon 33%, petite sirah 29%, zinfandel 22%, merlot 10%, syrah 6%. Solid, well-made, symmetrical and unexciting; good acidity and smooth tannins, tasty black fruit flavors, but lacks personality and delineation. Maybe it would be O.K. at five dollars less. Very Good. About $20.
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Highflyer Centerline 2008, California. 14.8% alc. 81% syrah, 12% petite sirah, 4% tempranillo, 3% zinfandel. Deep purple-black with a motor oil-like sheen; very intense, very concentrated; black currants, black raspberries and plums with some plum-skin bitterness and underbrush on the finish; iron and iodine, exotic, wild, coats the mouth with brooding tannins and yet elevating touches of sandalwood, cloves and fruitcake; still, needs a year or two or a huge medium-rare steak hot and crusty from the grill. Try 2013 through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $20.
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Gundlach Bundschu Mountain Cuvée 2009, Sonoma County. 13.9% alc. 42% cabernet sauvignon, 28% merlot, 17% cabernet franc, 6% zinfandel, 3% syrah, 3% petit verdot, 1% malbec. Dark ruby color; packed with spice, earth, shale-and-slate-like minerality; very intense and concentrated, pretty damned densely tannic and oaky; robust, almost exuberant, but needs a couple of years to ease the reins of its furled nature (furl its reins? rain on its fur?). Try 2013 or ’14 through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About $24.
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Kayra Imperial 2008, Elazig, Denizli, Turkey. 14% alc. Okuzgozü 80%, bogazkere 6%, syrah, 7%, petit verdot 7%. Very dark ruby-purple; bright, vivid, very spicy; blueberries and mulberries, smoke and graphite-like minerality; very appealing, furry tannins and a velvety texture, but oak and tannin also give it some structural rigor, all being nicely composed and well-knit; a bit of austerity on the finish. A fascinating wine. Very Good+. About $25.
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Esporão Reserva 2009, Alentejo, Portugal. 14.5% alcohol. A blend of aragonez (that is, tempranillo), trincadeira, alicante bouschet and cabernet sauvignon. Color is inky-purple; first impression: oak and tannins pretty blatant; smoky, fleshy and meaty, lots of spice, touch of mint, slightly herbal, dark and succulent black fruit flavors; there’s a personality here waiting to unfold but give it a year or two or three. Very Good+. About $25.
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Spelletich 3 Spells Blend GHK Red Wine 2007, Napa Valley. 14.2% alc. 57% merlot, 28% sangiovese, 15% cabernet sauvignon. Dark ruby-purple; rates an initial “wow”; ink, iodine and iron, graphite, lavender and licorice, violets and bittersweet chocolate; black and red cherries, raspberries and plums; smooth and mellow but something born free about it, almost feral; plush and voluptuous but held in check by resonant acidity, substantial tannins and granite-like minerality; definitely Californian and all the better for it. 300 cases. Now through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $26 and Worth a Search.
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Pizza and barbecue ribs don’t have much in common; the first is a form of savory flatbread, while the second is pure meat and bones; the first cooks quickly, the second luxuriates in long, slow heat. Of course pizza often has some form of meat as a topping (certainly the case at my house; I asked LL once if she would like a vegetarian pizza and she replied, “What’s the point?”) and frequently incorporates tomatoes, while ribs are, you know, meat and the basting sauce sometimes has a tomato base, so while we may not be talking about blood-brothers, there may be more going on here than I thought initially.

Anyway, here’s a roster of full-flavored, full-bodied wines that we have tried recently on Pizza-and-Movie Night, as well as a syrah and grenache blend that we drank with barbecue ribs. Not that these labels and recommendations are fused in iron; most of these wines, with their rich ripe fruit and stalwart tannins, could match with a variety of hearty grilled or roasted fare.

These wines were samples for review.
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Las Rocas Garnacha 2009, Calatayud, Spain. Gallo bought Las Rocas, which was launched in 2003, from its American importer and his Spanish partner in 2009; a smart move, since Las Rocas Garnacha is an incredibly popular, inexpensive red wine. Made completely from garnacha or grenache grapes, the version for 2009 is as we would expect: very ripe, floral and spicy, with teeming amounts of black currant, plum and mulberry scents and flavors bolstered by earthy and dusty graphite elements, moderately grainy tannins and bright acidity. The fruit qualities taste a little fleshy and roasted, and there’s a bit of heat on the finish, testimony to the exceptionally dry, hot weather in 2009 along that plateau in northeastern Spain. Quite enjoyable, though, for its frank flavors and rustic directness; try with pizza (of course), burgers and grilled sausages. 15.2 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $14.

With this wine came Las Rocas Red Blend 2009 ($14) and Las Rocas Viñas Viejas 2009 ($20) which I did not find appreciably better or much different.

Imported by Las Rocas USA, Hayward, Ca.
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Feudi di San Gregorio Rubrato 2008, Irpinia Aglianico, Campania, Italy. Campania is the province that surrounds the city of Naples and extends east from it. This area is almost the exclusive arena of the unique, rangy and rustic aglianico grape, though it also makes the DOC Aglianico del Vulture in Basilicata, to the southeast. The grape originated in Greece and was brought to central Italy by the Phoenicians, so it is of ancient provenance, as so much in Italy is. Feudi di San Gregorio’s Rubrato ’08 displays all the character of the grape in full. The color is deep, dark ruby; the heady bouquet is spicy and meaty, an amalgam of black and blue fruit, cloves, fruitcake, black olives, oolong tea, tar and blackberry jam. In the mouth, the wine, which aged eight months in French oak barriques, is rich and savory but firm, dense and chewy, fathomlessly imbued with grainy tannins, brooding mineral elements and teeming acidity. On the other hand, the alcohol content is a relatively winsome 13.5 percent. We drank this blood-and-guts (yet pleasing and user-friendly) red with pizza, but it’s really suited to barbecue ribs or brisket or a grilled rib-eye steak. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $18, representing Good Value.

Imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla.
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Sausal Family Zinfandel 2009, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. Sporting a dark ruby slightly unto purple color, this zinfandel, made from vines averaging 50 years old, is robust and full-bodied, offering spiced and macerated red currants and blueberry with a bare hint of boysenberry; the wine is dense and chewy, permeated by elements of graphite and lavender, fruitcake and potpourri, with a bit of bittersweet chocolate. The wine aged 20 months in a combination of French and American oak, a process that lends firmness to the structure, suppleness to the texture and touches of cloves and mocha. Tannins are fine-grained and generously proportioned, while taut acidity provides vim and zip (sounding like characters in a play by Samuel Beckett). The long finish is packed with black and red fruit and earthy graphite-like minerality. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2014 to ’15. Excellent. About $19, another Good Value.
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Benessere Black Glass Vineyard Zinfandel 2008, Napa Valley. Not a zinfandel that attempts the extracted uber-darkness/super-ripe effect, here the color is medium ruby with a dark cherry center and the bouquet focuses on red and black cherries with hints of sour cherry, plum skin, cloves, fruitcake and hints of earthy leather and brambles. Not that the wine isn’t ripe and rich or packed with juicy wild berry flavors; in fact, this is a remarkably sleek and stylish zinfandel that only shows its more rigorous side when the closely-knit tannins and dense oak — 18 months in new and used French and American barrels — make themselves known through the finish. The spice elements, a backnote of cocoa powder and more brambles and briers also build from mid-palate back, adding verve and depth, aided by lively acidity. 14.7 percent alcohol. A great match for pizzas with hearty topping like sausage, guanciale or spicy salami. Production was 390 cases. Excellent. About $28.
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Amapola Creek Cuvée Alis 2009, Sonoma Valley. Here’s a blend of syrah (55 percent) and grenache (45 percent) fully worthy of its Rhone Valley heritage, but I have to apologize for its lack of wide distribution. In any case, this wine went head to head and toe to toe with a rack of barbecue ribs and did them both proud. The grapes were grown organically at about 900 feet above Sonoma Valley, in a vineyard that lies next to the legendary Monte Rosso vineyard, once the mainstay of the Louis M Martini cabernet sauvignon wines and now owned by Gallo. Cuvée Alis 09, named for Richard Arrowood’s wife and co-proprietor of Amapola Creek, aged 18 months in new and used French oak. The color is an almost opaque ruby-purple with a magenta rim; the bouquet is first earth, leather, smoke, ash, black pepper; then intoxicating aromas of pure blackberry, black raspberry and plum, permeated, after a few moments in the glass, with beguiling notes of sandalwood, cumin and cardamom, ancho chili and bittersweet chocolate. The wine is characterized by huge presence and tone; it’s dense and chewy and powerfully imbued with smooth packed-in tannins and an iron and iodine-like mineral nature, yet it remains vital and vibrant, even a bit poised, while black fruit flavors are spicy, fleshy and meaty. The finish, though, is daunting and rather austere, a quality that deepens as the minutes pass. 14.9 percent alcohol. Production was 95 cases, so mark this Worth a Search. Try from 2014 to 2018 to ’22. I wrote about Richard Arrowood’s Amapola Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 and his history as a winemaker in Sonoma County here, and I rated that wine Exceptional; this Cuvée Alis 09 is no exception, it’s also Exceptional. About $48.
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Surely it’s not too late to post a Wine of the Week, even though today is Thursday and I typically do this on Monday or even Sunday. Call it the Wine of Down-Trending Mid-Week, if you please, of the Wine of the Up-Coming Weekend. Anyway, here ’tis.

The word ‘classic” tends to come up when writers or reviewers mention the Artezin zinfandels, and yet it feels natural to use that term because this brand’s zinfandel offers classic, if you will, balance and proportion and spicy black fruit scents and flavors. It also tends to be downright delicious.

The Artezin Zinfandel 2010, Mendocino County, is fresh, bright and clean, delivering a snootful and palate-swathing of black currant and raspberry scents and flavors with hints of mulberries, blueberries and just a mite of boysenberry, none of this fruit character being jammy or over-ripe. There’s an infusion of cloves and slightly exotic sandalwood, a pointed touch of graphite. The wine sees no new oak but ages in second and third-use French oak barrels, a device that bolsters the spicy aspect and lends suppleness to the texture, all of this supported by fairly dense but mildly grainy tannins and vibrant acidity. The finish brings in a bit of black pepper, a lick of dried thyme and more of that mineral element. To 89 percent zinfandel, the blend adds 10 percent petite sirah and 1 percent carignan. No extremes here, no hard edges, just a tasty, authentic and reasonably-priced zinfandel appropriate with burgers, steaks, pizzas and hearty pasta dishes. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $18.

A sample for review.


Today’s “Friday Wine Sips” offers four whites and four reds and that adds up to eight wines if what my high school math teacher Miss Bridger said still holds true. The geographical range includes California, Washington state, New Zealand, Sicily and Austria; the price range is $14 to $20, with a couple of products representing real value. No technical or historical data or philosophical ruminations; just snappy comments taken directly from my notes to give you the essence. These were all samples for review.
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Murphy-Goode Sauvignon Blanc “The Fume” 2010, North Coast, California. 13.5% alc. Clean, fresh, buoyant; roasted lemon, tangerine, lime peel; bright and leafy; dried thyme and tarragon; a crisp arrow of grapefruit through the limestone bullseye. Quite tasty. Very Good. About $14, a Bargain.
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Airfield Riesling 2010, Yakima Valley, Washington. 13.6% alc. Apple blossom and grapefruit skin; burgeoning and penetrating limestone and flint-like minerality; pungent, resonant, scintillating with crystalline acidity and high-toned touches of quince and ginger, ripe stone-fruit permeated by smoke and cloves; deftly balances a soft, almost talc-like effect with crisp bone and sinew and river rocks. Lovely and delicious. Excellent. About $16, Great Value.
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Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Martinborough, New Zealand. 13.5% alc. Suave and savory, with an air of blitheness and frank appeal; lemon, lime peel and gooseberry with notes of cloves and ginger, fresh-mown hay and lemongrass; crisp, very dry, a long, sprightly limestone-flint-and-grapefruit laden finish. Excellent. About $20.
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Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Sonoma County. 14.1% alc. (Owned by Jackson Family Wines) Pale straw color; very fresh, clean, exhilarating; grapefruit, lime peel, lemongrass, touches of caraway, tarragon and thyme, hint of honeysuckle; the old hay-foot, straw-foot motif in its deft earthiness; sleek and polished; pear, melon and citrus flavors, slightly herbal, crisp acidity and a touch of flint in the background. Excellent. About $20.
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Zantho St. Laurent 2008, Burgenland, Austria. 13% alc. Inky ruby-purple color; smoke, cigar box and tobacco leaf; the slightly resinous quality of cedar and rosemary; spiced, macerated and roasted black and red currants and plums with touches of black olive and tar; but for all this “darkness,” a clean, fresh and lively red, suited to barbecue ribs and braised short ribs. Highly individual wine from an unusual grape. Very Good+. About $14, representing Great Value.
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Buena Vista Zinfandel 2010, Sonoma County. 13.5% alc. A fresh, tasty, agreeable zinfandel, quite spicy, bursting with bright black and red cherry flavors infused with hints of blueberry and boysenberry; mannerly elements of tannin and oak, clean brisk acidity. Sports the new “old-timey” Buena Vista Viticultural Society label. For burgers and pizzas. Very Good. About $15.
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Tasca d’Almerita Lamùri Nero d’Avola 2009, Sicily. 14% alc. Refreshing and vibrant, this wine avoids the rusticity displayed by many nero d’Avolas; delicious red and black currant flavors, very spicy, a little briery and brambly; grows darker, more intense as the moments pass, conjuring notes of bittersweet chocolate and lavender, tar and graphite. Direct and satisfying. Very Good+. About $20.
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Craggy Range Te Kahu Gimblett Gravels Vineyard 2010, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. 13.5% alc. 80% merlot, 8% each cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon, 4% malbec. Very harmonious initially but with an edge of briers and brambles, forest floor and graphite and an undercurrent of bittersweet chocolate; black cherry and red and black currants with a touch of blueberry; gets quite dry, packs some tannic, minerally austerity into the finish. Try with a steak or barbecue brisket. Very Good+. About $20.
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Yes, I know that it’s Saturday, but I was severely under the weather yesterday — but aren’t we always under some kind of weather? — suffering from the insult of a sinus infection added to the injury of bronchitis; my chest is wheezing like a broken concertina. Duty calls, however, so, for this entry of Friday Wine Sips, eight varied red wines from various places (because it’s cold today), arranged in order of ascending price (as good as any other order) and eschewing the details of history, geography, personality and winemaking techniques for the sake of brevity and immediacy. These were all samples for review.
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Santa Carolina Reserva Pinot Noir 2010, Maule Valley, Chile. 14.5% alc. Weedy, briery, sinewy, tannic. Upon what evidence does this astringent wine claim to be pinot noir or anything drinkable? Not recommended. About $10.
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Roth Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.4% alc. 83% cabernet sauvignon, 16% cabernet franc, 1% merlot. Dense, intense, concentrated; grainy tannins and sleek oak; cedar, sandalwood, bay leaf and vanilla, black currants and cherries; briery, foresty finish; nothing offensive, but feels as if it were designed by a committee from a check-list. Very Good. About $28.
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Pombal do Vesuvio 2008, Douro, Portugal. 13% alc. A table wine made from the Port grapes. Dust, graphite, stewed blueberries and plums, cloves; roasted and fleshy but with a distinct mineral edge; bright, clean acidity; real backbone and structure; earthy, robust, a little wild and rustic. Quite a mouthful for hearty braised meat dishes. Very Good+. About $28.
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V. Sattui Henry Ranch Pinot Noir 2009, Los Carneros, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Lovely pinot but with grip and grit; black cherry, woody spice, rose petal and lavender, cloves and sassafras; mulberry, graphite; acidity that cuts a swath on the palate through black and blue fruit; beetroot, moss, briers, deep satiny texture. Lavish yet elegant. Excellent. About $39.
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V, Sattui Black Sears Vineyard Zinfandel 2009, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Deep and rich but fleet and light on its feet initially; black currants, mulberries, plums; macerated and slightly stewed black and blue fruit hedged by burgeoning tannins; earth, leather, brambles, Platonic dark cherries; dense and succulent but not plush or opulent; plenty of stuffing and grit. Excellent. About $42.
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V. Sattui Quaglia Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel 2009, Napa Valley. 15% alc. Deep, spicy, very rich; plummy and jammy blackberry and black currant; radiantly floral; but very dry, very austere, ultimately unbalanced, tons of tannin; too dense, too thick, too cloying. Not recommended. About $39.
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Tenuta Sant’Antonio “Selezione Antonio Castagnedi” Amarone della Valpolicella 2007, Veneto, Italy. 15.5% alc. 70% corvina, 20% rondinella, 5% each croatina and oseleta. Generous, expansive, rich, warm and spicy; deeply imbued with roasted and slightly macerated black currant, blackberry and plum aromas and flavors permeated by cloves and sandalwood; deep-down earthy and tinged with graphite-like minerality; brooding yet manageable tannins; exotic, savory. A modern Amarone perfect for venison and game birds, for the trappings of black truffles and blood sausages. Excellent. About $42-$45.
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Antiyal 2009, Maipo Valley, Chile. 14.5% alc. 41% carmenère, 35% cabernet sauvignon, 24% syrah. Ambitious, a bit showy; smoky, syrah-carmenère wildness and funkiness; black olive, cedar, thyme, black currants and blueberries; lip-smacking acidity, dry gritty tannins; lots of power and sheen. Bring on the dry-aged ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Very Good+. About $65.
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There was a time when consumers who loved the zinfandel grape could follow the “R” rule, that is, they could buy zinfandel wines produced by Ravenswood, Renwood, Ridge or Rosenblum and have no qualms about quality or integrity. The truth, of course, is that many wineries in California make fine examples of zinfandel, and the labels are not confined to one letter of the alphabet, but Joel Peterson, the founder (with partner Reed Foster) of and still the winemaker for Ravenswood, was a leader in using French oak barrels to age zinfandel wines and in making zinfandels from single-designated vineyards.

Peterson, a clinical microbiologist, grew up in a household devoted to food and wine, though both of his parents were scientists. He made his first zinfandel wines — from single vineyards in Sonoma County — in 1976, and in the next five years the wandering winery moved five times. While making wine and trying to build a winery, Peterson worked nights and weekends in the laboratory at Sonoma Valley Hospital, a job he kept until 1992, when the success of the Ravenswood Vintners Reserve brand finally enabled him to become a full-time winemaker and winery owner. Industry giant Constellation Wines acquired Ravenswood for $148 million in 2001; Peterson remains as the winemaker and is a senior vice president at Constellation Wines US.

There are six single-vineyard zinfandels in the Ravenswood line-up. I recently tasted two of them from 2008, the Dickerson, from Napa Valley, and the Belloni, from Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. One is high-toned, elegant, distinctly fueled by tannin and minerals; the other is more approachable, definitely more spicy and fruit-driven, though not decadent or over-done. You’ll see which is which. Ravenswood also makes a “County” line of zinfandels from Lodi, Sonoma and Napa, the expanded Vintners Reserve label, and several limited edition wines.

These wines were samples for review.

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The Ravenswood Dickerson Zinfandel 2008, Napa Valley, feels balanced and harmonious from start to finish, though after 30 or 40 minutes, you feel the well-knit oak and tannin begin to assert their spicy, slightly woody and grainy influence. The wine, 100 percent varietal, aged 20 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels, 28 percent one-year-old, the rest older. This is a zinfandel that feels warm with ripe fruit and spice and cool with graphite-like minerality. Notes of lavender, licorice and cloves highlight black currant, black cherry and plum jam scents and flavors in a package that’s sleek, polished and elegant, though tugged by the persistent gravity of those earthy, briery-brambly tannins; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of bittersweet chocolate and black tea. 14.8 percent alcohol. Production was 755 cases. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.
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The oak regimen for the Ravenswood Belloni Vineyard Zinfandel 2008, Russian River Valley, is close to the process for its cousin mentioned above; 20 months but with 32 percent new barrels and 32 percent one-year-old. The more important difference is in the make-up of the wine. While the Dickerson 08 is completely zinfandel, the Belloni 08 is a blend of 78 percent zinfandel with the balance of petite sirah, carignane and alicante bouschet grapes. For whatever reason — geography, climate, composition — the Ravenswood Belloni 08 make an immediate impression of size, ripeness and succulence, though it avoids anything sweet, jammy or over-ripe. Still, the tannins here, though certainly an influence on the wine’s dimension and structure, are softer, leaning a bit more toward the sanded graphite-in-velveteen camp. The wine is rich and warm and generously endowed with black currant, black plum and blueberry flavors dredged in cloves and allspice (with a touch of the latter’s faint astringency to lend complexity) and a strain of fruitcake that lingers provocatively through the finish. 15 percent alcohol. Production was 535 cases. Now through 2015 to ’16. Excellent. About $35.
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