Do you ever have a wine varietal which you just can’t seem to find much within the bottle that you enjoy? Tasting with other wine professionals and novices alike I think everyone has at least one. I feel that it is important to see a wine for what it is and what the winery or winemaker is trying to achieve with each individual style, but that doesn’t mean that I will like it. However, for me, the one varietal that I can't seem to pallet has been Zinfandel. The alcohols can seem intrusive up in to the 16% level. The wines have so much juicy extraction with flavors of prunes, and sweet baked fruit. For this reason when I was given my Zinfandel assignment I held off for as long as possible. On the upside I did see that the bottle was from Maroon Winery and I have always appreciated the classic nature of their Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. I thought to myself, would this Reserve Old Vine Zin be one that I can truly enjoy and welcome with open arms? To my pleasant surprise the alcohol was in check at a modest 14.5%, the color was gleaming and translucent, and the nose had a pleasant balance of toasty oak and dark briery fruit.
After all the time I have spent knocking Zinfandel, maybe I have not given this wine enough promise as of late. This wine was impressive in balance that boasts nice acidity and a more refined complex flavors then the other versions I tried in the past. The wine had great finesse and led to an evening of rack of lamb, which I believed would be the perfect pairing. Wow! Not kidding, when you order this wine venture down to the local butcher and grab a rack… of Lamb. I make a relatively simple lamb especially when the butcher French cuts the lamb. Just rub it with salt and pepper, pan sear it browning each side, then rub it with minced garlic and Dijon mustard, put it in the oven for about 12 – 15 minutes at 450 degrees and then eat delicious medium rare lamb. Serve with a little caramelized onion chutney and a glass (or bottle) of Maroon Reserve Old Vine Zinfandel for full enjoyment.
I had given up on Zin and this was my own fault, as I gave up too soon. I probably have tried less than ten Zinfandel over the past 7 years and this mainly coming from my naive youth in the wine industry. I was trying what could be seen as the wrong zins as many were from those main stream brands and not these lesser known, small production, and handcrafted wineries. Not only will I give Zinfandel another chance, but maybe I will try to get over my paranoia of Viogner as well. So thank you Maroon for opening my eyes.
In talking with my co-worker yesterday, we were discussing the memories that wine can create. Which wines you drank during special occasions and the great moments that are associated with such wines. She told stories of her father’s favorite winery, Silver Oak, and the treasured memories the wine created for her family. Growing up my parents were enthusiastic, but amateurish when it came to wine they consumed, it wasn’t till a trip to Napa later in life that changed their outlook on high-end wines. To put it into perspective I had to compare her treasured moments to my family’s love of baseball and all the memories that I shared with my father growing up.
I have been a diehard NY Mets fan far as long as I can remember, and watching the Mets beat the Giants in a 16 inning drag out fight last night was amazing (Sorry Giants fans). The connections we can make between all passions in life are amazing. As I began thinking about Silver Oak and this blog last night while at the game, I thought of some of the great storied franchises in Major League baseball and the storied Silver Oak winery being a staple in Napa Valley for producing epic Cabernet Sauvignon for ages. It brought memories of the NY Yankees in the 1930s, & NY Giants in the 1920s. These dynasties can be considered exactly what Silver Oak has achieved in the wine industry; remarkable consistency for winning over a significant time period. The only thing that is not consistent is that sometimes these baseball franchises go dormant for a few years, ala my NY Mets for the past 10+ years, but with Silver Oak they make outstanding wines year in and year out. With Napa we have consistently seen good to great vintages, with poor vintages happening once in a 20 year span. However, even in these substandard vintages, Silver Oak Winemaker, Daniel Baron, has been able to turn out great wines. There is a phrase for this, “Great Winemakers make great wines in bad vintages.” This phase stands up for all of Silver Oak’s years in the business.
The 2008 Vintage was phenomenal at Silver Oak and that was despite a small crop that was caused by a drought followed by frost, then a heat spike as harvest began. Most winemakers that I have spoken to regarding the vintage mentioned that the additional stress did create wines of exceptional quality and that the only effects of the climatic challenges were the disappointment of low tonnage. As a matter of fact, Wine & Spirits awarded the Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 94 points, and I must agree that the vintage was the best that I have tasted from Silver Oak and one of my top Cabernets from the 2008 vintages.
To tie this all together, the 2008 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is my version of the 1986 NY Mets; a gritty, over performing team that showed promise through adversity, and won the World Series despite the challenges that were laid before them. I highly suggest getting your hands on this vintage while supplies last as it is the end of the vintage and it will not be around long. With its additional bottle aging this wine is drinkable now, but could be cellared for around 15 additional years to really enjoy the intricacies of this spectacular wine.
Chit-Chatin' about Kaz Just Bekaz!
On a misty December morning I drove through beautiful Sonoma to a quiet little two lane road in Kenwood. You have to drive slowly or you could possibly miss the gravel driveway that will lead you to the adventures that await at Kaz Vineyard and Winery. The Vineyards are mostly dormant now, but the mood inside the barn where Kaz pours his wine is anything but latent. Kaz met me at the sliding barnwood door of his tasting room with a friendly smile and a very warm hello.
Richard Kasmier a.k.a “Kaz”and his wife Sandi purchased the 2 acre property in Kenwood about 19 years ago and they opened their tasting room in 2003. Kaz has a BIG personality but he was and is still one of the smallest producers in Sonoma that has a tasting room.
Beyond his winemaking talents, Kaz is also a very accomplished photographer and he is making his labels out of vintage family photographs. Every bottle tells a story and Kaz is one of the best story tellers I have ever met. This winery is full of charm and darn good wine.
We tasted through all of his current releases and even the Ports that Kaz makes. He is an Old- School kind of guy and I was taken aback at how fun and non-serious he is. He steers away from all things commercial which makes Kaz Vineyard and Winery so unique. You can taste out of barrel and try austere varietals and blends like Lenoir, Malbec and Barbera. My highlights from our tasting was the 2007 Huzzah Rhone blend and the 2007 SangioFranc (Sangio / Cab Fran Blend) I also loved his Chardonnay port and thought it would be an excellent wine to have around the house for all of the family holiday gatherings we will need to get through!
This winery is a must see in the heart of Sonoma Valley. Kaz Vineyard and Winery also has a beautiful picnic area in the back so pack a light lunch and come enjoy a pleasant afternoon with our favorite Sonoma wine country Character KAAAAAZ!
With a title like that you would think I would be writing about Pinot Noir. Well… You are right, but not in the traditional sense. I want to give a quick toast to Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe Vineyards, not only does he make wonderful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with tremendous Acidity and Character, but he also makes a Pinot Noir Rosé that will knock your socks off. So instead of discussing any of the traditional Pinot Noir at the tasting I would like to delve into the intricacies of the most intriguing wine at the tasting, 2009 Clos Pepe Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir.
Clos Pepe, a 29-acre family owned winery and vineyard, is divided between 25 acres of Pinot Noir and 4 acres of Chardonnay. The yields from the vineyard range from 1 – 2 tons per acre which is a tiny amount, so small that it is less than half of yields allowed in Burgundy’s Grande Cru AOC system. The farming is outstanding, producing low yields of extremely high quality. The soil is driven by minerality with large deposits of Calcium and Calcareous Shale.
Out of the many Pinot and Chardonnay that I have tried, there are few vineyards that I can say, “I have never had a bad wine from this site”. Well, Clos Pepe is one of those vineyards. If you have never experienced this vineyard, quickly run to your wine shop and find any bottle that carries the Clos Pepe name. Then sit back, savor the wine, enjoy some food, and maybe share a little with friends.
Now back to that Rosé… This pink wine has backbone with plenty of acidity and bone-dry. This is not your grandma’s Rosé. This is a food pairing wine, with enough acid to pair with crab, sea bass, halibut, and an array of poultry (Pheasant would be my personal preference). Could be a nice apéritif as well, pairing this wine with a triple cream brie would be heavenly. The alcohol is nice and refreshing at only 12%, it is a wine that you can chill down and drink all summer long! The most amazing aspect, it’s available via the Clos Pepe Estate website (www.clospepe.com) at only $23. Trust me, a great value that will not disappoint!
This was a night that we honored a great friend and a farewell to his long-standing tenure at one of our favorite Napa Valley Restaurants. Sure, Restaurant Cuvee (www.cuveenapa.com) will still be one of our favorite places, but it is hard to believe that Chef, Octavio Berrera will not be preparing the food. “Tavo”, as we call him, has become a great friend over the years, and his food is heaven. With the menu containing contemporary California cuisine, Tavo added his own Spanish flair to the dishes. His additions of traditional textures, spices, and overall flavors make him a stand out as one of the up and coming stars in the Napa culinary scene.
My wife and I like to try to have “date night” once a week, as a time to enjoy each others company in our otherwise hectic lives. Last night was everything that we have become accustomed, the service, food, and of course the wine was great. It being, our good friend Tavo’s last night we ordered all of our favorites. Which made it even better is that it was Wednesday, “3 for $30 night”. On this night Cuvee offers 3 courses for $30, and no corkage fees. Naturally, we brought an interesting bottle from our cellar, a 2003 Nickel & Nickel Rock Cairn Vineyard Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Menu: Well it was the Chianti braised short-ribs for both of us (they are to die for). I started with the duck cups, and wifey started with the wedge salad. For those of you that do not know, duck cups are lettuce wraps with a filling of duck confit with Asian spices, mushrooms, cashews, cilantro, and bunch of other goodness. We also decided to get the same desert, the world-famous churros. These are not like any churros that you have had before. Actually, once you have these you will never eat another churro… Nothing compares. This ordering is different then we regularly order, as we both like to try a variety of food, but tonight was about the Tavo specials!
The Wine: WOW! This wine was rocking… I called Nickel & Nickel today to try and get more, but well, no more 2003. I will be buying the current release, 2006. The Rock Cairn vineyard was planted in 1984 is at the southern edge of Oakville. It is a 30 acre vineyard named for the “cairns” or piles of rocks that were formed long ago when Indians traversed the hills and would place a rock on the pile as an offering for safe passage. The site is composed of deep gravelly loam with a western exposure, and the vines produce very concentrated fruit late in the season. The wine was in its stride, deep, rich, with velvety tannins. Cassis on the nose yielded to accents of vanillin and sweet pipe tobacco. On the palate the wine was full-bodied, with espresso blending with cherry, and Kirsch. A perfect pairing with the short-ribs and the duck cups.
At the end of the night we wished Tavo our best luck. After he takes some time off, we will be waiting to see where he lands. I have a feeling we will see him very soon opening his own establishment. I know I will be a big supporter of any establishment where he is in the kitchen. So, this is toast to a great friend, great cook, and a wonderful gentleman. Tavo, best to you, we can’t wait to see what the future holds!
Yesterday the Napa Valley Vintners hosted an alternative reds tasting at Viader Vineyards for a Canadian Sommelier Group. Our winery along with 6 others poured the alternative reds that we produce in Napa Valley. After the Canadian group left we were free to taste each other’s wines and compare them. It’s a rough life I know!! We work hard in this industry and we sure do like to play hard too!
I was excited about the walk around yesterday because Hendry Winery brought their primitvo and Zinfandel. We ended up discussing the history of the two varietals and their differences. According to the ATF (Alcohol, Tax and Trade Bureau) they are similar enough to be considered the same grape. The differences between the two grapes are really not that cut and dry and it depends who you ask if you want to know whether or not they are the same grape. The last winery I worked for grew Primitivo but called it Zinfandel once it was in bottle. The representative at Hendry told me that the Primitivo they bring in from their vineyards is a much smaller grape, it comes in a bigger less dense cluster and even the color of the grape is more intense. It also ripens earlier then Zinfandel.
After tasting the Hendry Zinfandel and Primitivo it becomes quite evident that no two wines are truly created equal even if they are almost an exact clone of each other. The Hendry primitivo has beautiful aromatics that are much like that of Zin. However, much to my surprise the flavor profiles of the two are very distinct.
The 2006 Hendry Zinfandel Block 7 & 22 is a classy little thing as far as Zinfandel goes. It has vibrant aromatics of chocolate and dried cherries. It has a juicy mid palate and luscious mouth feel. It has the red raspberries laced with chocolate and white pepper that are so classic for Zin. It is also nicely balanced and doesn’t slap you in the face with tannin and alcohol (like many California Zin’s do)
The 2006 Hendry Primitivo is a more masculine wine. I think the main differences are the tannins and acidity. Even though they are a bit harsher there seems to be less tannins and more acidity then the Zinfandel. The Primitivo has more floral notes and I like that it has a very distinct violet aromatic. The Primitivo showcases cinnamon, white pepper, black pepper and bright red fruit. The Primotivo seems to be a little more in your face then then its long lost twin.
This comparison would be a really fun tasting for you and your friends to try. Zinfandel and Primitivo are the only two separate varietals that I can think of that are this much of a genetic match. I was somewhat surprised that the two wines were so different & I think you will be too!
To learn more about the Hendry Wines and the differences between Zinfandel and Primitivo please visit www.hendrywines.com
The main purpose of a winery’s tasting room is to educate the public, sell wine, build brand loyalty and have some FUN. Visitors to the wine country want to find tasting rooms that are small, unique, and that produce wines that are not plastered on the grocery store shelves. Many of the more boutique wineries are found through word-of-mouth, suggestions from a friend, a server at one of the local restaurants, or referral from another tasting room.
Over the years I have profiled the customers that stop through tasting rooms (some good & some bad), and through these observations have categorized some of the stereotypes:
1.) The Learner – These people typically do not know much about wine. They are eager to learn. They might not buy a lot, but, normally, these are the folks that leave the tasting room knowing more about the wine process. While, this person may not ask challenging questions, this customer leaves feeling like they have accomplished building upon their education.
2.) The Know it all – We all know these people! This person normally has enough knowledge to make them dangerous, but figures all winemaking processes are the same. They like to argue and challenge the tasting room staff.
3.) The Party – You will normally see them leave the limo or party bus with a rum & coke or a beer. They walk in the door with the cocktail, and when told they can’t bring their cocktails into the tasting room, they will “chug and dispose” then want to start the tasting. Typically, they will talk among themselves while drinking the wines as if it were in a shot glass. This includes a sub-grouping of Bachelorette parties. If you have ever heard the sound of 20 young ladies, then you know there is no chance of getting a word in.
4.)The Anti-Social – You will recognize this person right off the bat, as they will avoid eye contact. They will not ask questions and they will give one word answers. I am not one of those people who talks just to hear myself speak, but every once in a while the conversation with the “anti-social” will in actuality just be with yourself!
Feeling out the customer is a very important part of hospitality service. You do not want to react the wrong way with the many stereotypes you will encounter. Remember that the learner may become your largest customer in the future. This is the most rewarding customer. Once they leave the tasting room you feel like you are sending them back out into the world with a new knowledge. I have been told that there are no stupid questions, just stupid people. This is true and if people want to learn they may need to start from the beginning. The “know it all” will often enjoy talking about themselves, the easiest way to sidetrack them is with the, where are you from, where are you going for lunch, what wines are you favorites, etc… Do not let them get under your skin, and remember that, while you are right, the customer is always right. Grin, nod, and say, “Wow, I did not know that, I learned something new today!” Then laugh at the pompous comments with your fellow coworkers after they leave. The Party, well just go with it. I am sure that we have all been there. This group is all about fun, make sure that they are not too drunk, they have a designated driver, and maybe offer some water. Other then that, crack some jokes, pour some wine, and hope that they do not get too rowdy. Unfortunately, for you and the rest of the world there is nothing you can do about the anti-social, you can not teach personality.
For fun, I have made a top 10 list of funny things people have said in the tasting room, you can guess on the groupings for these comments:
10). Great reserve Cab, we’ll take four cases; this will be awesome for pizza Thursdays.
9). He said, bung hole, hahaha
8). So, this is a wine library, I thought there would be books
7). I’m buying this to mix with Fresca during the summer.
6). Wine & Women are so similar… They both like to lay down in the dark.
5). It says strawberries on the tasting notes, at what part of the process are these added?
4). I’m a winemaker, would you like to see my jugs and box?
3). Son, I am a wine connoisseur, and there is no such thing as a white Burgundy.
2). Wow, your Zinfandel is Red!
1). Yes, I was in Napa… I’m refusing the charges because I do not remember buying three cases of Cab.
Finally, the reenactment from Sideways where Miles chugs the dump bucket is up there in the comical ratings. People always like to use that one! Tasting rooms should always be a great place for fun & education.
After many years working, managing, and overseeing hospitality, now running day-to-day operations, I do not get to spend as much time as I would like in the tasting room. This is the most rewarding part of the industry. Educating the consumer only helps in the overall sales effort. While brand loyalty in the industry is tough to gain, I believe that it is not impossible and the best place to build this, is in the tasting room.
Last night we went downtown for a little glass of wine at my favorite local wine bar, The Bounty Hunter. The owner, Mark Pope and his crew really do it right. I travel all over the nation selling our wine to restaurants and wine bars and without a doubt Bounty Hunter is one of the best. Bounty Hunter captures the one thing that most wine bars don’t and that is FUN. This is not your average wine bar. They play rock n’ roll, serve great BBQ and have a wine list that represents wines from all over the world. If you’re feeling a little wild you can even sit in one of their saddle bar stools. They have over 400 bottles of wine in their retail shop, at least 40 wines by the glass and a long list of wine flights. They even have several beers on tap and a beer list that represents much of the globe as well.
I started my night off with a glass of 2008 Hollywood & Vine Chardonnay from Napa Valley. This is a really fantastic winery here in the valley. They are known for their Atlas Peak 2480 Cabernet and Chardonnay. I have had their wines before and have never been let down. The 2008 Chard is 70% barrel fermented and 30% tank fermented. It has nice acidity and flavors of crisp apple, pineapple, strawberries and pears. The mid-pallet is full and rich and has a ton of butterscotch, baking spice and vanilla. The finish was a little short at first but once it opened up a bit it lingered and lingered.
After the butterscotch bomb, I was warmed up and ready to move into an interesting red wine. We decided on a bottle of 2006 Gaja Sito Morresco (Lange, Italy). The Sito Morresco was awesome. It was very tight when we first opened it so we decanted it for a while and then dug in. I don’t have a lot of experience with Nebbiolo’s and blends so this was a rare and fun treat for me. This wine is 35% Nebbiolo, 35% Merlot, 30% Cabernet it is stylistically contemporary in pallet, has great fruit and is much more reasonably priced then Angelo Gaja’s main label. The wine had nice floral notes, deeply concentrated cherry flavors and little hints of orange peel.
For more information about the Bounty Hunter please visit www.bountyhunterwine.com
Last night was a great night! I sold 45 cases of wine to the Bounty Hunter Wine Bar, It hailed in Napa (California’s version of a snowstorm!) and we had our famous girl’s night. This week it was my friend Katie’s turn to host. Janice Isley also joined us last night and brought a 2006 Cabernet from her winery. The 2006 Cabernet had not yet been released so it was fun to get a sneak peak. The Isley’s have been making great wine in Napa Valley for over 50 years in the Stags Leap district- so it is pretty safe to say that they know a thing or two about makin’ some real fine wines! We decanted the wine for about an hour while we munched on Risotto, Cheese, and our daily gossip.
After the hailstorm, a ridiculous game of apples to apples, and several bottles of champagne the ladies were rearing to take the red wine for a spin. The 2006 Isley was UNBELEIVABLE! 2006 is quite young for a Napa Cabernet – she was a little shy at first but once that sassy thang opened up she was like a new animal. It had a beautiful, floral and perfumed nose, flirty on the pallet, and surprisingly quite polished for such a newbie. Janice blends Malbec into her Cabernet program which gives the wine a little more structure, color and tannin.
Malbec originated in France and was one of the six grapes that were allowed to be blended into Bordeaux wine. Malbec is known for its inky color and its tannic structure. The Isley Family planted their first Malbec Vineyards in Napa in 1996. The Malbec is a dead giveaway in the Isley Cabernet because of the deeply concentrated blackberry flavor profile and structure. This wine has so many layers that I don’t really know where to begin. You get the floral first followed by cedar and spice…the mid pallet explodes like a fruit bomb and coats your mouth with cherries, blueberries, and tons of rich black fruit. The finish is long and leaves coc0a lingering on your pallet, long after you have finished sipping it (or chugging as we girls sometimes like to do)
This is by far one of the best Napa Valley Cabernets I have tried in quite some time. Its predecessor, The 2005 Cabernet (which is the current vintage) received 94 points by Wine Enthusiast and was very highly reviewed and rated by some other big boys, Laube, Parker etc. There is a wonderful elegance about this wine but what I love most is that there is not a whole lot to think about….it is simply, interesting, fun and dang good. (Kind of like our girls night!)
Thanks so much ladies…..it was yet again… another very wild night with ya’ll…. .And snow in Napa?? Who Knew??
I highly recommend you check these wines out for yourself. Please visit www.isleyvineyards.com
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