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Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

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Zinfandel, America’s Heritage Grape, Has Many Stories to Tell

Zinfandel, America’s Heritage Grape, Has Many Stories to Tell

Pinot Noir gets a bit more press as a single vineyard and clone specific darling, but taste a few examples of Zinfandel from distinct places side by side and you’ll see that the differences can be even more apparent.

Rodney Strong Vineyards 2015 Upshot Red Blend

Rodney Strong Vineyards 2015 Upshot Red Blend

Sonoma County’s Rodney Strong Vineyards is well known for a strong portfolio of wines that check a lot of important boxes. The wines they offer have a strong sense of their Sonoma County origins; sometimes as wide as the county, others as specific as a small parcel. If your budget is $10 of $75 they have something of quality for you. More often than not these wines deliver more in quality than the price tag would suggest. Every once in a while; seemingly more often in the last few years, they add something new to their lineup. I’m always eager to taste anything they’ve produced because the wines in their lineup tend to be not just good, but also a boon for wine consumers. So when their latest entry, Upshot, showed up on my doorstep I was excited to twist the cap off and get it into my glass. Considering that Symmetry, their Red Bordeaux inspired blend, is one of the best wines (and values) in their portfolio, one vintage after another, I was immediately intrigued to learn that they added another red blend.

Rodney Strong Vineyards 2015 Upshot Sonoma County Red Blend ($28)

This new offering from producer Rodney Strong is an unconventional blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Riesling.  Looking at the blend and the modern packaging it’s clear that Upshot is a completely different wine, with a likely different audience than the venerable Symmetry. Things open up here with a lifted nose showing off dark berries and a hint of white flowers. The flavors are equally dark with blackberry, plum, and raspberry joining oodles of spice, and bits of cocoa. Savory herbs, black olive, chicory and dried black fruits are all evident on the solid finish.

There are so many red blends from California on shelves these days. The vast majority of them though are in the more casual supermarket wine category. They're also often sourced from all over the state, not just Sonoma County. Don’t let the screw-cap, contemporary label and name fool you, Upshot is several classes above those. It’s both a serious and very drinkable wine that combines a bit of curb appeal with substantial structure. Whether you’re pouring it for casual wine drinkers or more discerning winos, they’ll all find something to like here. The suggested retail price is $28 but you’re likely to find it on the shelf for right around $20. At that price you might want to grab a case and up your house wine game. The real Upshot is that Rodney Strong Vineyards have added yet another terrific wine to their portfolio.

10 Outstanding Current Release Wines

10 Outstanding Current Release Wines

The myriad of wines hitting store shelves on a daily basis can be dizzying. Among them are wines at nearly every possible level of quality and intent. Most important of course is whether the wine is any good. Assuming it is good, does it fit your budget and needs.  I just tasted through just more than 4 dozen wines looking for a few good bottles to stand out.

Dry Creek Valley’s Pedroncelli Winery Nears a Milestone

Dry Creek Valley’s Pedroncelli Winery Nears a Milestone

This coming July Pedroncelli Winery, one of Dry Creek Valley’s most storied and dependable producers will turn 90 years old. In honor of reaching that significant marker the Pedroncelli family is celebrating all year

Last Minute Wine Gift Ideas

Last Minute Wine Gift Ideas

The Holidays aren’t almost here, they’re here, NOW! And if you’re like most people there are a handful of loved ones that you still need to buy a gift for. The good news is there’s still time to get them a nice bottle of wine. Just because it’s last minute, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put thought into it.

A Sneak Peek at Sonoma Wine Country Weekend

A Sneak Peek at Sonoma Wine Country Weekend

Labor Day Weekend in Sonoma County has become a go to destination for Wine Lovers. Over this weekend Sonoma Wine Country Weekend takes place. Throughout the three day event several hundred Sonoma County Wineries pour their wines and 60 local chefs prepare foods to pair with them.

Holiday Gift Guide for 2015

Holiday Gift Guide for 2015

It’s the time of year when we’re all shopping for Holiday Gifts. I’m a big believer that for most people Wine makes a great gift. If you have someone on your list that’s really into one category or another get them something slightly outside their normal drinking zone and help them expand their palate. Here are a dozen delicious ideas. If you need spirits, head over to my gift Guide for The Daily Meal to read about my spirits suggestions.

Big Reds and Whiskey for Dad

KaikenMai10Father’s Day is around the corner, so it’s time to get Dad a gift. I suppose you could get him a tie, but it’ll probably end up at the back of his closet with so many other unnecessary artifacts. Instead, give him something delicious to drink. Here are 11 well-made wines and whiskeys that will quench his thirst and leave him smiling. Who knows — if you’re lucky, he may share. Harney Lane 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel ($35)

All of the fruit for this truly old vine zinfandel was sourced at a single vineyard site. Lizzy James Vineyard was planted in Lodi, California, back in 1904. It was aged in French oak for 21 months. Black raspberry and plum aromas lead the charge on the deep, dark, and heady nose. Blueberry and blackberry flavors fill the...Head over to The Daily Meal to read The Rest.

Acorn Winery: A Russian River Valley Treasure

Acorn_2011_Medley_300dpi_BtlAcorn Winery is a labor of love for owners Betsy and Bill Nachbaur. They’ve been farming their property, Alegría Vineyards, sustainably since 1990. On their 32 acres in Russian River Valley, they grow 60 grape varieties. From that they bottle approximately 3,000 cases of wine each year; every one of them field blends. Their commitment to environmentally sound practices even includes doing away with foil capsules on the bottle. I’ve been a fan of what they do for years now and try to visit them whenever I can. I was out in Sonoma County recently and I spent some time with them, chatting and of course tasting through their latest releases. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

Eleven Wines You Should Be Drinking Now

Wine shelves all over the country are jammed with countless selections and choices are so varied it can be dizzying. With that in mind, I’m here to help you work your way through the haze of bottles. I tasted through more than three dozen wines across all price ranges and stylistic tiers, and here are my 11 favorites from the bunch. Hugel et Fils 2012 Gentil ($15)

This vintage of “Gentil” blends together pinot gris (23 percent), pinot blanc (21 percent), riesling (20 percent), sylvaner (20 percent), gewurztraminer (14 percent), and muscat (2 percent). Fermentation took place in temperature-controlled vats. It was gently fined and filtered prior to bottling. Lychee fruit aromas dominate the inviting nose of this French blend. “Gentil” has a palate stuffed with white and yellow melon, peach, and apricot flavors. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

Rodney Strong Vineyards Delivers Quality and Value

tasting-room-01-300dpiIf you’re a regular wine drinker and, like most of us, operating on some sort of budget, Rodney Strong Vineyards is a name you should know. They are one of Sonoma County’s most important wineries, if you ask me; perhaps that seems like a bold statement, but the evidence backs it up. Year after year they provide consistent quality and often over-deliver on value for the price in question for a specific bottle of wine. Add the fact that they do this in numerous price tiers from the $10 range all the way up to wines in the $75 range. And as importantly as any of that, they dependably turn out wines that are emblematic of their home in Sonoma County. Here’s a look at a number of their current releases from several tiers in their portfolio. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

As Summer Winds Down, Four Vines Provides Some Tasty Sipping

Four Vines Truant ZinfandelSummer is coming to a close way too fast. The end of summer is a bit like a freight train coming down the tracks; it seems to pick up speed the closer it gets. Instead of decrying the arrival of fall, focus on enjoying the rest of the warm weather we have left. One way to do that is to hang out with good friends, good food, and delicious wine. I tasted through some wines from Four Vines that I found to be quite tasty as well as budget-friendly. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

Visiting Clif Family Winery in the Heart of Napa Valley

Clif Family Winery RifugioMost every moment I spend in wine regions I’m on the hunt. Of course I’m looking for excellent wine, but when I’m on the ground somewhere I’m searching for brilliant tasting experiences too. They come in every shape and size, offering everything from just wine, to light pairings, all the way to full on meals accompanying wines. I just spent 10 days split between Napa Valley and Sonoma County; and on this trip alone had a huge variety of experiences. Many of them were quite good and well worth mentioning. One, however, stood above the pack. To say my tasting at Clif Family Winery was a homerun would be to sell the experience short. The tasting at Clif Family Winery is a Hall-of-Fame-caliber tasting, easily in the top five tasting experiences available in Napa Valley. Head over to The Daily Meal to read the rest.

Ironstone Vineyards - A Wine for Every Taste Bud

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The Kautz family has been farming grapes in California for more than 65 years. With more than 5,000 acres under vine, they’re one of the largest growers in the state. In addition to selling fruit, for more than 25 of those years they have also been making their own wine. Ironstone Vineyards is located in the Sierra Foothills. They farm their property sustainably as shepherds of the land they inhabit. Their portfolio features a wide range of wines, many available nationally, as well as a few limited releases found in their tasting room. Here’s a look at four of my favorites among their current offerings.

Ironstone Vineyards 2012 Ironstone Reserve Chardonnay – The fruit for this wine came from Sierra Foothills vineyards that have been in the family for four generations. This offering is 100 percent Chardonnay. The fruit was hand-selected and gently pressed. Barrel aging occurred entirely in French oak; bottle aging followed prior to release. About 1,000 cases of this wine were produced, and it has a suggested retail price of  of $19.99. Bright apple, white fig and gentle crème brulee aromas are all part of the nose of this Chardonnay. The palate is studded with Asian pear and... read the rest over at

Gabe’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide

Christmas is just around the corner and if you’re like most Americans you still have plenty of shopping to do. Most of us have Wine & Spirits lovers on our list. So here are some killer Wine & Spirits selections in a variety of price points to make those on your list happy and keep them warm. And if by some chance all your shopping is done pick some of these up for your Holiday table, your taste buds will thank you!


Agricole Vallone – 2007 Vigna Flaminio Brindisi Riserva. This Italian wine was made from Negroamaro (80%) and Montepulciano (20%). The fruit for this wine was sourced on the winery’s own estate. Aging started in stainless steel tanks followed by large Slavonian oak casks for about 7 months. 12 months in concrete tanks followed and finally 6 months in bottle prior to release. 1,500 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $19.99. Red plum and strawberry aromas fill the nose of this wine along with pepper spice. The palate has warming red fruit flavors such as cherry and red raspberry as well as continued plum. A hint of cinnamon, cardamom and pepper are all part of the above average finish along with a bit of espresso. Firm acidity and gentle tannins provide nice structure. This wine screams out to be paired with a nice meal. Thankfully it’ll work with a wide array of foods such as classic roast chicken, pot roast, pasta with red sauce, a cheese and charcuterie plate or more. At under $20 this wine is an outstanding value. It’s priced for everyday drinking but tastes like a special occasion wine.

Dry Creek Vineyard – 2011 Old Vine Zinfandel. This wine was made using fruit sourced in Dry Creek Valley. In addition to Zinfandel (83%), there is some Petite Sirah (17%) blended in. The fruit comes from vines that are between 90 and 110 years old. Fermentation took place over 22 days in a temperature controlled environment. Barrel aging followed over the next 20 months in a combination of French, Hungarian and American oak. 28% of the barrels utilized were new. Just more than 3,200 cases were produced and this Zin has a suggested retail price of $30. The Petite Sirah in this wine makes its presence known from the first whiff where black plum and violet aromas are in evidence along with raspberry and a bit of vanilla. The palate is a horn-o-plenty of fresh berry fruit flavors. They’re abundant, succulent and incredibly varied. A core of spices is present as well and it dances merrily alongside all the fruit. Bits of blackberry and pepper emerge on the finish as well as a touch of rhubarb. This is a proportionate Zinfandel that is loaded with fruit without ever straying over the top, or even close to it. Fleshy fruits, medium tannins and a fine backbone of acidity all come together to make a fresh and desirable wine that will pair well with food. Year after year this wine is one of the best values in Zinfandel. It also happens to be continually made in the style that encourages pairing it with food. It will also drink well longer than the average Zin. It’s outstanding now but don’t hesitate to hold on to it over the next 7 or 8 years. Under proper storage conditions it’ll flourish. If you want to buy someone the most American of wines you aren’t going to do much better than this benchmark example of Zinfandel which comes from Dry Creek Valley, the effective home office of the varietal.

Swanson Vineyards – 2010 Oakville Merlot. This wine blends together Merlot (83%), Cabernet Sauvignon (15%), and Petit Verdot (2%). After Fermentation this wine was aged in an even split of French and American oak for 18 months. 33% of the barrels utilized were new. The Swanson Merlot is widely available nationwide and has a suggested retail price of $38. Black fruit aromas are joined by interspersing bits of red fruit on the nose of this Merlot. Cherry flavors dominate the palate with raspberry and plum playing a role here as well. The finish is substantial and memorable with loads of spice, chicory, and a hint of bittersweet chocolate. It shows off firm tannins and rock solid acidity. This wine is delicious now, particularly after being decanted for about an hour but will benefit from a couple of years of bottle age under proper conditions. I’ve been drinking the Swanson Merlots for over a decade now and I believe they really improve over the first 5 or 6 years in the bottle and drink well for another 6 or so after that. It’s always been a Cabernet lover’s Merlot with depth structure and the ability to age. This is as far away from stereotypical insipid Merlot as you’re going to get. Year after year the Swanson Merlot represents one of the best wines values in Napa Valley. If you want to drink killer Napa Merlot, or gift it to your friends, this is the one.

Rodney Strong - 2010 Brothers Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon. The fruit for this wine comes exclusively from the Brothers Ridge Vineyard which sits in the northern half of Alexander Valley near Cloverdale. This single vineyard wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from 4 select blocks. After fermentation this wine spent 21 months in French oak; 43% of the barrels were new. This small production wine has a suggested retail price of $75. Blueberry, black raspberry and green peppercorn aromas emerge from the nose of this Cabernet. The palate is loaded with ripe and ready fruit flavors such as blackberry and raspberry. Bits of vanilla bean are present as well. Espresso, earth, chocolate and wisps of minerals are present on the substantial finish. Firm, gripping tannins and solid acidity mark this Cabernet’s structure. It’s been about had a dozen years that Rodney Strong has been making a trio of super premium single vineyard Cabernets. These wines upped their game into a space that they didn’t previously inhibit with the rest of their portfolio. At $75 this wine is a very good value. Alexander Valley is a region with excellent Cabernet potential, which the folks at Rodney Strong fulfill with this wine. Since not as many consumers realize how awesome Alexander Valley Cab can be you can be the beneficiary. A Cabernet of the same quality from Napa would likely cost closer to $125. So if your gift giving list includes a Napa Cab lover, buy them this wine and you’ll be giving them two gifts, the wine itself and the eye opener into Alexander Valley Cabs. They will thank you profusely.


Auchentoshan – Classic Single Malt Scotch. This Scotch was triple distilled, which is their house methodology and aged entirely in Bourbon Casks. This offering is the entry level selection in the Auchentoshan portfolio and it has a suggested retail price of $30. There are hints of charred wood on the nose. Peach, apricot, Granny Smith Apple and spice are prevalent on the palate which is mid-range in terms of overall weight in the mouth. Continued spices are in evidence on the finish along with lemon zest and a gentle salinity. At less than $30 if you shop around this is an excellent value in Scotch. It’s an easy going Whisky which calls you back to the glass for sip after sip. Perfectly suited, style and price wise for everyday drinking. That said it has more than enough complexity to keep you interested.

Laphroaig - Triple Wood Scotch. This Scotch was created using a triple maturation process. It was aged in ex-bourbon barrels, quarter casks and Oloroso Sherry Casks. This is a seasonal expression available in limited quantities that won’t be on the shelf too long. It’s available in select shops around the United States and has a suggested retail price of $59.99. This Scotch has a beautiful light copper hue that stands out when poured. Aromas of toasted macadamia nut, Lychee fruit and apricot are all present in the effusive nose. The palate here is loaded with fruitcake spices, dried yellow peach and interspersed bits of char. Oatmeal characteristics lead the finish which also shows off a lovely bit of brine that interlocks with caramel and molasses. This is a gorgeous Scotch that shows off the trademark peat that Laphroaig is known for in a gentle and even handed manner. Other expressions in their portfolio lean heavier on the peat. So if you like a dollop of it but don’t want to go all in on Smoky and Peaty Scotch yet, this could be the Laphroaig for you. It’s a distinct expression in their range that is well worth exploring or gifting.

The Irishman - 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky. The Irishman was founded in 1999 by the Walsh family. Their family has been involved in Whisky production for well over 100 years. This Whisky was aged over 12 years in entirely first time used Bourbon barrels. This Whisky is non chill filtered and limited to only 6,000 numbered bottles per year. It has suggested retail price of $65. The toasty char from the Bourbon casks is prominent on the nose along with some spices such as cardamom and cinnamon, as well as a gentle wisp of allspice. Apple, rye , and oat characteristics are in strong evidence throughout the robust and full flavored palate which has bracing depth and complexity. The toasty notes circle back in on the finish along with a bit of dusty dark chocolate and continuing reverberations of spice. This is a beautiful Irish Whisky with  lovely and notable complexity.

Gosling’s Family Reserve - Old Rum. This rum is aged for an extended period in barrels. Every bottle is hand numbered and wax sealed. Unlike several of their other releases which are made in large quantities, the Old Rum is made in limited amounts. It sells at select shops for around $80. The hue of this rum is dark and it is opaque. Bits of cinnamon and anise emerge from the deep, dark nose of this rum. From the very first sip a cornucopia of flavors emerge. Plum pudding spices, molasses and hints of mesquite honey are all in evidence. As you sip it, layer after layer of gorgeous flavors emerge and envelop your senses. Bits of burnt sugar and chocolate sauce are part of the finish which has tremendous depth, length and persistence. It’s thick, dense and meant to be contemplated. Gosling’s Old Rum is a gorgeous offering that should be savored. If you want to make a rum cocktail, pull something else off the shelf, this one is meant to be enjoyed straight. If you have a Rum lover on your gift list this one will knock them out. The Rum itself is certainly enough, but it’s also beautifully packaged and comes in a wooden box with a sliding cover, making it a lovely presentation as well.

Visiting Black Stallion Winery on Napa Valley's Silverado Trail

Black Stallion Winery is a Napa Valley producer located at the Southern end of the Silverado Trail. Relatively speaking they’re a pretty new operation, having opened their doors on site in 2007. I was just out in Napa Valley and since I had liked a couple of their widely distributed wines which I’d had recently I thought I should visit and see what they were up to. One of the first things you’ll learn if you visit Black Stallion is that their portfolio is far wider than the wines they have in distribution. In terms of releases, most of their offerings are aimed at their wine club and people who take the time to stop by their tasting room for a sample. There are a couple of different options when you do visit; these range in price from $15 to $30. The choices include things like a tour and tasting, Reds only tasting, private tasting, Wine & Pizza pairing and more. Basically they have something that will fit most people’s mood, desire, and budget.

The property Black Stallion sits on as well as some of the structures was previously an Equestrian center, the longest lasting one in California actually. I toured the facility while I was there and it’s an interesting an appealing property to check out. Right outside the building are rows of different grapes that are used as a learning vineyard. Many different varieties of grapes are featured, each with their own row. showing them side by side makes it easy for staff to teach interested visitors how to spot the differences between say a Chardonnay leaf and a Cabernet leaf. Walking through the production area it’s easy and fascinating to see where the doors to horse stalls once were. I enjoyed a nice, crisp and refreshing Rosé while I was walking around and then eventually sat down in a welcoming and comfortable room for a private tasting. Here are my thoughts on a handful of my favorite wines from the visit.

Black Stallion Estate Winery 2012 Chardonnay – This wine which is 100% Chardonnay is one of the two releases they currently have in nationwide distribution. It was aged over 10 months in entirely French oak; 30% of the barrels utilized were new. This wine has a suggested retail price of $22. Granny Smith apple aromas fill the nose of this Chardonnay. Taking the first sip the apple characteristics continue along joined by Anjou pear, baker’s spices and a bit of citrus zest. The finish is long and spicy with a hint of pie crust bringing things to a close. This wine is a solid value in readily available Napa Chardonnays.

Black Stallion 2011 Monte Rosso Zinfandel – 100% of the fruit for this wine comes from the esteemed vineyard of the same name. This offering is entirely Zinfandel. It was aged in French oak over 15 months. 46% of the barrels were new and the rest a combination of once and twice used. This wine sells for $45 through the winery. Right from the brambly nose it’s apparent that this is a classic example of Monte Rosso Zin. A potpourri of berry fruits fills the engaging palate with mouth pleasing flavors. Blackberry and raspberry flavors continue through the finish and are joined by black pepper and the essence of vanilla bean. This is a proportionate and even keeled Zin. Stylistically it owes much more to the classic old school Zin of past generations than it does the flashier, rocket fuel style Zins that are in fashion these days. This is simply an awesome Zinfandel and with less than 400 cases made it probably won’t last long, so grab it.

Black Stallion 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – This wine is composed of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Merlot. All of the fruit is from Napa Valley. Barrel aging took place over 22 months in entirely French oak. It sells through the winery for $75. This Cabernet has a huge and boisterous nose loaded with dark fruit character. Black Cherry flavors dominate the palate. Blackberry and boysenberry flavors emerge on the finish along with a fine helping of chicory and dusty cocoa. This Cabernet has excellent length, chewy tannins and firm acid. It’s delicious today but will improve over the next 5-7 years and age gracefully for a handful after that. If you like classic Napa Cabernet that’s fruity but not over ripe, not to mention proportionate and food friendly, this is a wine for you.

Black Stallion 2009 Bucephalus Red – This proprietary blend varies in varietal composition from vintage to vintage. The 2009 was made from Cabernet Sauvignon (92%), Merlot (7%), and Syrah (1%). Barrel aging took place over 24 months in entirely French oak. It sells for $175 through the winery. Plum and black cherry aromas leap from the nose of this blend. The palate is rich and lush with depth, complexity and flavor to spare. Big, ripe, red and black cherry flavors are joined by a copious amount of spice. The finish is long and lusty with hints of kirsch liqueur and sweet chocolate sauce making an appearance. This wine has medium tannins that recede with some air. It’s a big, bold wine but it’s also quite approachable. I had a chance to sample the 2007 vintage as well and it had aged nicely. While the varietal composition varied the general intent of style was similar and speaks to the wine’s ability to age well in the mid term. There is even a dedicated Bucephalus tasting option available on weekends (or by prior reservation). One of their lounges off the main tasting room is used for this and for $30 you get the chance to taste four vintages of Bucephalus, which even has its own dedicated club you can join to guarantee an allocation.

This is a small sampling of the wines Black Stallion is making; they have quite a few others in their portfolio. One upcoming addition is a Pinot Noir which is going to be distributed alongside the Chardonnay & Cabernet Sauvignon. Next time you’re in Napa Valley I highly encourage you to visit Black Stallion Winery and pick the tasting option that suits you best. It’ll give you the opportunity to taste some authentic Napa Valley wines that you won’t be able to get elsewhere in a beautiful and welcoming facility.

Gnarly Head 2012 - Chardonnay / Old Vine Zinfandel

With a boat load of holidays approaching everyone is thinking about their wine and spirits needs. The first thing on peoples minds is likely to be the wines they'll serve if they're hosting a holiday or what to bring over as a guest at someone’s home. Those are important, but I think it’s as important to consider wines to have around for the multitude of more casual get-togethers that happen during the long holiday season that happens from Thanksgiving through the New Year. With that in mind here’s a look at two budget friendly wines from Gnarly Head that fit the bill for casual entertaining, late night snack pairing and just any old time you want to open a bottle without breaking the budget. First up is the Gnarly Head 2012 Chardonnay. The fruit for this wine came from vineyards in Lodi and Monterey California. Grapes were fermented in a combination of oak and stainless steel; 40% underwent malolactic fermentation. In addition to Chardonnay (84%), this wine has some Chenin Blanc (10%), Malvasia Bianca (4%) and Viognier (2%) blended in. 50,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $9.99. Golden Delicious apple aromas are joined by toast and spice on the welcoming nose of this Chardonnay. Vibrant orchard fruit flavors define the palate. A copious amount of bakers spices are present as well. The crisp and fruity finish which has solid length shows off green apple and white pepper. This is a clean and refreshing Chardonnay that drinks well on it’s own, as well as paired well with classic Chardonnay loving dishes. Pastas with creamy sauces, roasted white meets and rich cheeses all come to mind.

The Gnarly Head 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel was produced from fruit sourced in the Lodi region. In addition to Zinfandel (84%), this wine has some Petite Sirah (16%) blended in. The fruit came from vines that have between 35 and 80 years of age on them. Fermentation took place over a bit more than a week. Aging in a combination of French and American oak followed. 180,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $11.99. Dark plum aromas fill the nose of this Zin along with bits of violet and vanilla. The palate is medium bodied and loaded with dark and juicy fruit flavors. Sour black cherries and black pepper spice are part of the finish which has nice length. This Zin is easy to drink on its own and will also pair well with hearty foods. While many Zinfandels in this price category are over the top, Gnarly Head continues to be proportionate and well balanced. It’s a solid everyday value in Zinfandel and has been so for some time.

While these wines both retail for less than $12 you can often find them for a couple of bucks less if you shop around. At those prices these are very affordable wines to keep on hand for everyday drinking and spontaneous entertaining. When I think of wines in the around $10 price range like this I want offerings that are tasty, easy to drink, and true to the varietal in question. Both of these wines fulfill those criteria and they have loads of curb appeal. That’s to say they will be drinkable to a wide array of people.

Murphy-Goode - 2011 Homefront Red

In general people love Red Blends. Well when they’re tasty of course. There are all sorts of styles out there but the ones I’m specifically talking about today are the kind that are well priced, made for a wide audience and generally available. These have a found a big following with different kinds of wine lovers. To the novice Red wine drinker they can be easy to drink and appealing. To the seasoned wine drinker they offer something tasty and easy on the budget that will satisfy a lot of different taste buds. Murphy-Goode has a new blend called Homefront Red. For every bottle of this wine sold Murphy-Goode will doncate 50 cents to Operation Homefront, a national nonprofit that provides emergency and financial assiustance to the families of service members and wounded warriors. With that in mind here’s a look at the wine. The Murphy-Goode 2011 Homefront Red was produced from fruit sourced throughout California. This offering blends together Syrah, Merlot, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. This wine was aged in a combination of French and American oak. It was recently released and is available nationally. 50,000 Cases were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $15. Blackberry and raspberry aromas light up the nose of this wine along with a little hint of anise. The palate is loaded with berry fruit flavors such as black raspberry and spices galore. Red Cherry is present as well and leads to the finish which has wisps of sweet chocolate and black pepper. Homefront Red will pair well with a pretty wide array of foods. It will be particularly good with casual grilled foods.

Good cause, good wine, good price, a win all around. Pick up a bottle or two for your next BBQ or casual get together with friends. Homefront Red is sure to please a broad array of palates. And by doing so you’ll also be helping a good cause.

Dry Creek Vineyard - 2010 Heritage Zinfandel

California’s Dry Creek Valley is the home office of Zinfandel. Certainly there are fine examples made elsewhere, but Dry Creek Valley has a stunning away of great ones emanating from its confines. Dry Creek Vineyard, the namesake winery of the appellation makes several consistently terrific Zins themselves. Today I’ll look at the current release of their Heritage Zinfandel. The Dry Creek Vineyard 2010 Heritage Zinfandel was produced from fruit sourced in Sonoma County. This vintage blends together Zinfandel (88%) and Petite Sirah (12%). Fermentation took place over 18 days in stainless steel followed by 14 months of barrel aging in a combination of French, American and Hungarian oak; 15% of the barrels utilized were new. Just more than 13,000 cases of this Zinfandel were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $19.

The nose of this 2010 Zinfandel is inundated with brambly dark berry aromas and a supporting undercurrent of crème fraiche. Black cherry flavors lead the palate along with bits of blueberry, blackberry and lots of spice character. Minerals, sour fruit, black pepper and dusty chocolate notes all emerge on the finish which has good length. This is a classically styled Zinfandel that has some jam components but it leads with excellent structure.

What I love most about this wine is its consistent quality. Vintages vary to be sure but year after year this is a well proportioned, even keeled Zinfandel. For those who prefer their Zins balanced and food friendly this is absolutely one of the go to choices in the under $20 price tier. It’s delicious today, particularly after 45 minutes of aeration, but this Zin will drink well for the next 5 years at minimum.

Visiting Williams Selyem Winery in Sonoma County

Visiting Williams Selyem Winery in Sonoma County

Williams Selyem Winery has been making wine in Sonoma County since 1981. It was that year that they produced their first vintage of Pinot Noir. Since then their portfolio has been expanded a bit and there are a handful of other varietals in the mix; however they are first and foremost a Pinot Noir House. A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit them and taste through some current and older releases, as well as tour the facility. Williams Selyem graciously welcomes visitors by advance appointment. Check their website for specific details. Pulling up to the winery, the facility is impressive in a number of ways. On the one hand it’s a beautiful structure that would look good anywhere. Secondly and somewhat more importantly it fits perfectly into its surroundings. When they built this new winery property a few years back they surely kept the idea of being shepherds of the land in mind. From every angle I walked the facility, inside and out, it literally seemed as if it had been gently dropped into the vineyard land so as not to disturb anything. And in fact numerous trees of significant age are about as close to the building as one could possibly imagine. It’s also an eye-catching edifice inside and out without ever being ostentatious in any way.

William-Selyem is best known for Pinot Noir and their portfolio is dotted with single vineyard designate wines and cuvee offerings. In addition to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and a port produced from traditional Portuguese varietals are part of the mix. One of the interesting production methods that sets them apart is the use of Dairy Bins for fermentation. These large, rectangular bins offer a larger surface area than traditional fermentation vessels. They’re so ingrained in the production process that William-Selyem has a company routinely looking out for additional bins for them to acquire. Once they are purchased, the bins are retrofitted to comply with their needs. While a small amount of wines go out in distribution, 96% of their production is sold direct to consumers. They have had a robust mailing list of admirer’s for years that’s the envy of many others in the industry. Allocations are largely based on time on the list and buying history.

Quite a number of well made and delicious wines passed my lips while I visited; here are my impressions of a handful of selections that particularly stood out that day.

Williams Selyem 2011 Unoaked Chardonnay. The fruit for this entirely stainless steel fermented wine was sourced at three vineyards; Drake Estate Vineyard, Olivet Lane Vineyard, and Lazy W Ranch located on Westside   Road. This was a preview of a wine being released this spring. It’s going to have a price of $37. Orchard fruit aromas fill the fresh and vibrant nose of this wine. Tart green apple flavors are prominent on the palate along with bits of lime and pear. Minerals and an undercurrent of spice emerge on the finish which is clean and crisp. If I were to sum up this wine in one word it would be lovely. Those who aren’t fond of overdone, over-oaked Chardonnay should do whatever they can to acquire their own stash of this wine. It’s beautiful, refreshing and simply a pleasure to drink.

Williams Selyem 2010 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. The fruit for this cuvee style offering was sourcec at a combination of five vineyards; Bucher Vineyard,  Drake Estate Vineyard, the Foss Vineyard, the Lone Oak Vineyard, and Williams Selyem Estate Vineyard. Oak aging took place over 11 months in a combination of new (25%), once used (50%), and twice used (25%) barrels. This wine which was released last spring sells for $37. Both red and black fruit aromas fill the nose of this Pinot Noir. This theme continues through the palate where black cherry characteristics take a starring role. Raspberry, earth, black tea and a gentle wisp of anise all emerge on the finish which has excellent length. Fine acidity provides a firm backbone. This is a really terrific Pinot Noir in the under $40 category.

Williams Selyem 2005 Vista Verde Pinot Noir. This wine was made entirely from fruit sourced at the Vista Verde Vineyard. The location of this vineyard is just south of Holister, near where Calera, another highly regarded California Pinot Noir house is located. Barrel aging took place over 15 months in a combination of new (65%) and once used (35%) oak. At release this wine sold for $49. From the first whiff to the last sip this wine showed itself to be in its sweet spot. At just over seven years old it’s showing subtle cherry aromas on the nose. The palate leads with gingerbread spice notes that are accompanied by red fruits. Earth, sour cherry and a bit of tea are present in the finish which has terrific length. This is a stunning wine at its peak.

Williams Selyem 1998 Central Coast Pinot Noir. This wine was produced from Estate Vineyards located south of Hollister. Their Central Coast release typically spends 10 months in a combination of new (33%), once used (33%) and twice used (33%) oak. The current release sells for $39. At first blush this wine was a bit closed off and honestly I thought it might be gone. However a few minutes in the glass did wonders. Ultimately I was knocked out by how very much alive this 15 year old Pinot Noir is. Good lively fruit marked the nose and palate, with zippy acidity and a core of spices playing along as well. Impressive for its age and well worth drinking if you can get your hands on a bottle. This underscores the importance of balance and its role in the age-ability of wines.

If you’re a Pinot Noir lover traveling to Sonoma County Williams Selyem should be on your short list of producers to visit. This is a relatively small outfit, doing things in a unique manner with consistently noteworthy results. And if for some strange reason Pinot Noir isn’t your thing, the Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Port are quite tasty as well.