I dined with friends at The Q Restaurant and Bar in Napa, Califonia, recently. Although I have lived in Napa for over five and a half years, I had never been to the Q. Being a Southern belle, of course I went for one of the signature dishes, the brisket. While my companions and I enjoyed a lovely Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon with dinner, I wished I had brought the 2017 Artezin Zinfandel, Mendocino County (sample; SRP $18) I had tasted the weekend prior.
When I received this wine sample a couple of months ago, I was immediately curious as to why the focus on zinfandel, especially hailing from Mendocino County, not particularly as well known for this grape variety. Winemaker Randle Johnson was kind enough to respond to my question:
When we began Artezin in 2002, we knew Zinfandel was considered unique to the grape/wine world and was essentially the “California Grape.”It was also the most significant heritage/heirloom variety. As such, it needed its own identity, its own “brand” within our organization. After much discussion, we came up with the name “Artezin.” Many varieties, including Zinfandel, were planted throughout Mendocino County. With Artezin, I like to work with family growers to honor the tradition of Zinfandel winemaking that has been established throughout the generations. Most vines I work with are old vine, head pruned and non-irrigated. By 2004, we realized that there were other close (and far flung) heritage varieties like Carignan, Charbono and Petite Sirah. Thus, we expanded our Artezin portfolio to include other varieties, as well as vineyard designated Zinfandels.
I have always been interested in the uniqueness of Mendocino County. On one hand, there is the cool Anderson Valley, where Chardonnay, Pinot and Riesling/Gewurztraminer do exceptionally well. On the other hand, is the warm to hot “central” Mendocino that follows the Highway 101 “corridor,” shielded from the ocean air by the coastal Mayacamas range. Here big red varieties like Cabernet, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel excel.I especially like Zinfandels from Mendo because the climate is perfect: warm days & cool nights.They also exhibit classic “zinny” character: red fruits (boysenberry, raspberry, cherry, pomegranate), black/white pepper, exotic spices, and the ever elusive “brambles!!”As an additional bonus, Mendocino Zinfandels are usually good values.
Another focus of Artezin is its commitment to sourcing fruit from local grape growers who practice sustainable farming. In the case of the 2017 vintage of zinfandel, Johnson and his team acquired fruit from farmers such as Peter Chevalier, Dennis Hunt, Cherrie Laviletta, Darin Colombini, Bree and Kevin Klotter, Larry and Doreen Venturi, Paul Dolan, Ken and Diane Wilson, Eddie Graziano, and Charlie Sawyer, a veritable who’s who of Mendocino County farming. Artezin, the artisan, er, art of zin, collaboration between these notable farmers and Johnson, has rendered Mendocino County zinfandel accessible, approachable, affordable, and most importantly, palatably appealing.
A wine and food writing colleague, Kristy Harris, and I tasted the Artezin together, but without food. It is everything one seeks in a zinfandel: an initial pop on the palate of bold, dark berries, especially blueberry and blackberry; a touch of food-friendly acidity; and a remarkable peppery-cayenne finish. The only thing missing was a hearty meat dish, such as the aforementioned brisket, pulled pork, or sausage. This wine is big on quality, flavor, and value, a trifecta of “yes, please.” Lesson learned. The next time I dine at The Q, I will have Artezin Zinfandel, Mendocino County, in tow as Beth’s Smart Sip.
My passion for zinfandel made the way it ought to be was reignited when I tasted this sample from Oakville’s Highlands Winery. It is not often that I use the word lovely and elegant when describing a zinfandel, but this is just that. Black cherry fruit and mouthwatering acidity lead into a subtle peppery finish. Structured, yet restrained, all of this wine’s components, if you will, are woven together quite nicely, resulting in a zinfandel that will complement food, not overpower it. Sharing it with new friends from California, Illinois, and New York was the icing on the proverbial cake. I was delightfully reminded me why I moved to the Napa Valley to follow my dream of working in the wine industry.
Not long ago, I had lunch with Maggie Pramuk Mazotti, daughter of the co-founder of Robert Biale Vineyards. Being a recent transplant to Napa, I had heard of Biale, but really did not know their story. After our lunch, I returned to work and suggested we schedule a staff tasting there.
By far, Hendry was the most comprehensive tour and tasting I have ever experienced. Those who are new to the Napa Valley, grape growing, winemaking, how to taste wine, and wine and food pairing would benefit greatly from a morning spent with second-generation vintner and winemaker, George O. Hendry.
*This post is my entry for Wine Writing Challenge #31, Faith, as described at this link.Voting begins March 7, 2017 and goes through Monday, March 13 at this link.*
Elizabeth (Beth) Smith: She Said
The definition of faith is primarily religious in nature. However these synonyms struck a chord with me – affection, allegiance, commitment, constancy, dedication, devotion – and convey precisely what I feel when I attend Zinfandel Advocates and Producers’ (ZAP) annual Zinfandel Experience Grand Tasting.
As I entered San Francisco’s Pier 27 gorgeous, bright event space and caught my first glimpse of what seemed like endless tables of zinfandel, I immediately felt the sense of faithful community that brings together zinfandel producers and lovers every year. The room buzzed with excitement as winemakers shared the labors of their love with hundreds of people. The enthusiasm for all things zinfandel was contagious. Soon, Tony Maass, my partner in wine, and I joined the comradery, moving from table to table. We originally had a plan to see certain producers, but soon we were roaming without a care, caught up in the gloriousness that is Zinfandel Experience.
With around 130 wineries in attendance, there is no way to taste everything, but we gave it our best effort. We enjoyed wines made by old friends and made some new friends along the way. Some of my favorites this year included Bedrock Wine Company, Beekeeper Cellars, Bella Grace Vineyards, Robert Biale Vineyards, Day Zinfandel, D-cubed Cellars, Elyse Winery, Fields Family Wines, Limerick Lane Wines, Miro Cellars, Ridge Vineyards, Rosenblum Cellars, Scribble Scribble Wine, Talty Winery, and Turley Wine Cellars.
Bedrock Wine Company won me over with their sparkling zinfandel, my first, which was the perfect way to kick off the event. It was a reunion of sorts for me reconnecting with Bella Grace Vineyards and Fields Family Wines after spending time with them during the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi. Another reunion in the making was with D-cubed Cellars, whom I met and featured on my blog during the 2015 Zinfandel Experience, as well as Miro Cellars, whose winemaker, Miro Tcholakov, is also the winemaker at Trentadue Winery.
Tony and I enjoyed getting up close and personal with Tres Goetting, winemaker at Robert Biale Vineyards, and Michael Talty, winemaker and founder of Talty Winery, who for me represented what makes zinfandel a world-class varietal wine.
Both D-cubed Cellars and Elyse Winery brought wines from Korte Ranch in Saint Helena, which is adjacent to where I work at Ehlers Estate, so it was fun to taste wines made from our neighbor’s grapes to see how zinfandel does in the loamy benchland soils of the narrowest point between the Vaca and Mayacamas Mountains.
I was especially enamored with new-to-me Limerick Lane Wines, who only produces wines from their estate, 30 acres, around 4500 cases. All are zinfandel-dominant field blends with grape varieties like alicante bouchet, carignane, mourvèdre, negrette, peloursin, petite sirah, and syrah. I love a winery that stays true to the land and the bounty provided to them.
Another up-and-coming producer that landed on my radar was Scribble Scribble Wine, the brainchild of winemaker and founder Dean Wilson. We tasted the evolution of his Lucille Zinfandel, named after his daughter, his inspiration: the 2014 current release vintage, as well as 2015 and 2016 barrel samples, and we knew we had tasted the work of a dreamer, a genius in the making.
This year we had the chance to participate in two Meet the Maker roundtables, where attendees had the opportunity to spend 15-20 minutes with a participating winemaker. The first was Green and Red Vineyards’ winemaker Jay Heminway, who purchased 31 acres of land in the Chiles Valley AVA of the Napa Valley in 1970 and planted it in 1972, replanting again in 1993-1998. We tasted his 2014 Chiles Mill Vineyard Zinfandel. It was dark and dense, with pervasive blueberry and a warm, peppery finish.
The second roundtable was with winemaker Kevin Riley of Proulx Wines in Paso Robles. With Riley, we tasted two wines. His 2015 Zinfandel was unfiltered and unfined, cloudy in the glass, with loads of juicy, red fruit flavors. The 2014 Dimples, a 11-grape blend that included enough zinfandel to be ‘ZAP approved’, was what he called the ‘Châteauneuf’ of blends. In contrast to his zinfandel, this wine exhibited a much darker fruit and spice profile.
As the day grew longer and our palates grew fatigued, we concluded our Zinfandel Experience with Proulx Wines. However, we departed knowing in our hearts that the ‘zinfandel faith’ is alive and well, thanks to ZAP and its devoted members, who will ensure the constancy, vibrancy, and diversity that is California Zinfandel.
Tony Maass: He Said
On Saturday, February, 25, 2017, I was able to experience my first large comprehensive tasting of a single varietal. I was able to attend this amazing tasting thanks to Elizabeth Smith, aka Travel Wine Chick, who also works in Saint Helena at Ehlers Estate.
My first impression of the event was that it was massive. There were 130 different zinfandel producers and each of them brought several wines, so you can imagine the sheer size and depth of this event. It was at Pier 27 in San Francisco and it covered the entire second floor.
Some of the standout producers and wines were:
Bedrock Wine Companies 2013 Under the Wire: Bedrock Vineyard Old Vine Sparkling Sonoma Valley and 2015 Heritage Vineyard Sonoma Valley
Beekeeper Cellars 2014 Monticello Vineyard Sonoma Valley and 2014 “Secret Stones” Rockpile
Bella Grace Vineyards 2014 Reserve Amador County
Robert Biale Vineyards 2011 Old Crane Ranch Saint Helena and 2015 Black Chicken
Day 2015 El Diablo Vineyard Russian River Valley and 2014 Grist Vineyard Dry Creek Valley
D-cubed Cellars 2000 Napa Valley, 2008 Brown Vineyard Chiles Valley, 2012 Napa Valley, 2012 Korte Ranch Saint Helena
Elyse Winery 2012 Korte Ranch, 2013 Morisoli Vineyard Rutherford, 2013 Korte Ranch Saint Helena
Fields Family Wines 2013 “Family” Old Vine Lodi, 2014 Lodi Native Old Vine
Green and Red Vineyards 2014 Chiles Mill Vineyard
Limerick Lane 2014 “1910 Block” Russian River Valley, 2014 Rocky Knoll Russian River Valley, and 2014 Russian River Valley
Miro Cellars 2011 Grist Vineyard Old Vines Dry Creek Valley, 2011 Pizetti Vineyard Dry Creek Valley, 2014 Reserve Algeria Vineyard Russian River Valley, and 2015 Gadis Old Vines Russian River Valley
Ridge Vineyards 2015 Barrel Sample Pagani Ranch Sonoma Valley
Rosenblum Cellars 2016 Barrel Sample Carla’s Vineyard Sonoma Valley, 2016 Barrel Sample Maggie’s Vineyard Sonoma Valley, and 2013 Planchon Vineyard, Contra Costa County
I participated in a couple of the Meet the Maker roundtable tastings with the owner and winemaker of Green and Red Vineyards where he talked about how he got started in the wine business, his philosophy about winemaking, as well as his thoughts on zinfandel and its importance to California. I also spoke with Kevin Riley, winemaker of Proulx Wines in Paso Robles, who gave me great insight into his philosophy of winemaking and his thoughts on blending and style of winemaking in Paso Robles.
Not only was this event jam-packed with amazing California zinfandels, but there were many delicious appetizers and small bites. Some of the standouts for me were Bob’s Steak and Chop House San Francisco, which made a fantastic prime tenderloin slider with toy box tomato jam, shaved midnight moon cheese, and micro greens served on a mini-brioche bun. It was fantastic and paired well with zinfandel, of course.
Another great appetizer was Canetti Roadhouse Italiana, which made a crostini of whole milk ricotta soufflé bread with smoked McFarland spring trout mousse and candied red onions. This also went great with Zinfandel, which I did not expect.
This world-class experience offered me the chance to try so many different zinfandels from all over California, from well-known producers such as Ridge, Biale, and Turley, as well as producers that were completely new to me – Green and Red Vineyards, Talty Winery, and Scribble Scribble Wines – all who brought something different, fun, and exciting to the world of zinfandel. I would recommend this tasting experience to anyone that loves zinfandel or is a wine geek like myself. It is must-do event and one that will make a lasting impression on you.
Zinfandel Experience is a multi-day extravaganza, February 23-25, 2017, celebrating California zinfandel. This annual event connects consumers, media, trade, and winemakers alike. The schedule at a glance can be found at this link and tickets can be purchased here. ZAP membership has its privileges, so join before you go.
As ZAP president Chris Leamy explains, “This is a one-of-a-kind celebration of all things Zinfandel. For one weekend each year, wine enthusiasts are able to taste hundreds of Zinfandel styles from all of California’s growing regions. There’s simply nothing else like it.”
Once you visit Dutton-Goldfield Winery in the Russian River Valley, you understand the significance of the phrase ‘cool climate’ with regard to winegrowing and winemaking. It is indeed quite chilly in the mornings, with moderating breezes throughout the day. I must confess that if I were not living in the Napa Valley, I would love to call Sebastapol and the Russian River Valley home. *CLICK HERE TO READ*