Tag Archives: Dry Creek Valley

Armida Zinfandel and the ZAP Grand Tasting 2018

Brandon (right) and Larry Lapides at ZAP 2018

The first major wine tasting event of the year is the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) weekend in January in San Francisco. This year held on the third weekend of the month, it included a Thursday evening dinner with winemakers, Friday seminars and dinner, and the Saturday Grand Tasting. Last year I went with son Brandon, and poured his #Armida wines. I had so much fun that I volunteered to stand for 7 hours again talking and pouring.

View of Treasure Island and the Bay Bridge from Pier 27

The setting for ZAP is tremendous: the Pier 27 conference hall in San Francisco. It has windows on all sides, letting in light, with views of the San Francisco Bay (water, bridges, islands, boats) and the city skyline. Not much time to contemplate the beauty around, though, as we were talking about the beauty in the bottle.

San Francisco skyline from inside Pier 27 at ZAP

The tasting starts with a couple of hours for VIPs and #ZAP patrons only, then opens to the general public. Many years ago, the general public was allowed in for the whole tasting, and the admission price wasn’t much, so there used to be a lot of drunk “Zinfandel fans” by the end of the tasting. ZAP changed their format and price a while back, and moved to this new Pier 27 location, and it’s a great tasting.

The crowd at ZAP 2018.

For the VIPs, we were pouring the 2013 Armida “Tina’s Block” Zinfandel, from the Dry Creek Valley, and the 2013 Armida “Maple Vineyards” Zinfandel. Tina’s Block is the original 2 acre block of Maple Vineyards, planted in 1910. That’s old vine Zinfandel. The rest of Maple Vineyards was planted over the next 20 or so years, so it’s no spring chicken either. And all of Maple Vineyards is dry farmed, because these vines are old enough to have thrown down roots to the center of the earth. While Tina’s Block was originally planted to Zinfandel, over the years as individual vines died some were replaced with blending grapes such as Petit Sirah, Alicante Bouchet and Carignane. And some of the replacements have yet to be identified, even with DNA fingerprinting by U.C. Davis. This unique field blend gives the Tina’s Block Zin a unique taste, a complexity and subtlety and elegance that is rarely found in Zinfandel.

For the general public part of the tasting, we poured the Armida flagship wine, PoiZin, plus the 2015 Maple Vineyards and the 2015 “Il Campo”. PoiZin is a very nice $20+ bottle of Zinfandel, made from grapes from 5 different vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley. Great name, great label, great value. The Maple Vineyards Zin (both the 2013 and the 2015) are very nice single vineyard Zinfandels, the most popular single vineyard Zin in the Armida lineup. The Il Campo (“the field” in Italian) is a field blend of the Zinfandel and Petite Sirah (typically around 20% of the blend, depending on the year) grown at the Armida Winery site. Bigger, badder and bolder than the other Zinfandels, it showed well at the end of the tasting, when everyone’s taste buds are slightly blown out. But it’s really good any time.

About terroir and Zinfandel: While Pinot Noir is commonly talked about as enabling the terroir, the area where the grapes are grown, to shine through, good Zinfandel does that too. Both the Maple Vineyards and Tina’s Block wines bring with them their unique soil, topology and microclimate, and the Armida “Parmalee Hill Vineyards” Zinfandel, grown in an area between the Carneros region and the city of Sonoma, reflects that colder climate in its delicious profile.

By the end of the day, my voice was pretty much gone. Too much talking, because my pouring partner, Winemaker Brandon, had been elected to the ZAP board of directors last year, and was off talking to the press, chatting up special guests, hobnobbing with other winemakers and generally schmoozing. I’m a glutton for punishment though, so I’ll be back next year.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Wine Pairing with Vegetarian Meals

What wine to drink with a vegetarian meal? All those rules about red wine with red meat, white wine with fish, etc. don’t seem to apply if there’s no meat in the dish.

First, rules are meant to be broken. Second, the rules-which-are-not-rules that I use have as much to do with the preparation of the dish, who you’re eating with, and what bottle is sitting there calling your name when you open the wine fridge, as with the nature of the meat itself. From that perspective, those rules would apply to vegetarian dishes as well. Heavier dishes get a red wine, lighter get a white wine, have fun, and open an interesting bottle.

Gustafson Family Vineyard 2009 Zinfandel

Gustafson Family Vineyard 2009 Zinfandel

We tried a new restaurant in the Russian River Valley a few weeks ago: Backyard in Forestville. It was great sitting outside on a warm evening and enjoying a very nice meal. For me, while I am not a vegetarian, occasionally that’s the dish on the menu that appeals to me. We had brought a bottle of Gustafson Family Vineyards 2009 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Heritage Tree Vineyard, not because we knew what people were having for dinner, but because it was about time to drink this bottle, and we had some family joining us that would appreciate this wine.

Vegetarian cassoulet at Backyard in Forestville

Vegetarian cassoulet at Backyard in Forestville

The vegetarian cassoulet (a French meat and bean casserole), with mushrooms providing the flavor and texture instead of meat, had big flavors, and larger pieces/texture from the normal cassoulet ingredients. It turned out that the Zinfandel, which from 2009 was a very good vintage from a very good winery, went perfectly with this dish. The best 2009 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandels (and the Gustafson is one of them) have a softness – well, maybe not softness, but not the big body that is usual in Dry Creek Valley Zins – and complexity that also paired nicely with Lori’s chicken dish that night.

By the way, we picked up this bottle on a visit to Gustafson a few years back. It’s the most distant (Northern) of the Dry Creek Valley wineries, but the drive is worth it, both for the scenery of the drive, and for the people and the wine at Gustafson.

I’m not sure if that helps with the discussion about wine pairing in general, and pairing with vegetarian dishes specifically, but at least it’s a data point for future reference.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Armida Harvest 2016

Maple Vineyards, Maggie's Block, Zinfandel grapes

Maple Vineyards, Maggie’s Block, Zinfandel grapes

Now that I’m living up in the wine country, it seems appropriate that I spend some time helping our older son – Brandon, aka Winemaker B – with harvest. So last week found me spending a few hours sorting grapes at Armida Winery. They received that day about 8 tons of grapes from the “Maggie’s Block” of Maple Vineyards. Maple is one of the oldest Zinfandel vineyards in Dry Creek Valley, with the original blocks, such as Tina’s Block, going back 85 years or so. Armida typically makes both a Tina’s Block Zinfandel and a generic Maple Vineyards Zinfandel, provided the yield from Tina’s Block gives enough juice and the quality is high.

When we’re sorting the grapes, we’re removing bunches with any mold on them, but otherwise letting most grapes through, even some that have gone a bit raisiny. From the sorting table, the grapes are moved mechanically into the de-stemmer, and from there are pumped into a tank. The grape skins will break during this process, and yield most of their juice. Initial fermentation then takes place in the tank, with juice and skins together, for around 10-14 days. At that time the skins are pressed to get out the rest of the juice/wine, and the liquid is moved from the tank into barrels to complete the fermentation and initial aging process.

I’ve helped with sorting once or twice before, but it had been a few years, and I’d forgotten that this is real work. Fun though, to be part of the process this year.

Armida Winery tasting room.

Armida Winery tasting room.

Some quick harvest notes:

Winemaker B says that the quantity and quality of grapes that they’ve gotten in so far is pretty normal; looks like a good year. Although he did comment that the Maggie’s Block grapes that we sorted looked the best he’s ever seen. Also, sugar levels have been more consistent than usual in the Zinfandel, which should lead to some really nice wines.

I smelled the tanks for the Tina’s Block Zinfandel, and the Armida Il Campo (their estate grown field blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah). The Il Campo, as always, smelled big and bold, like a classic Dry Creek Valley Zin blend. The Tina’s Block smelled completely different. It already has some complexity in the nose, some subtleties, that bode well for a beautiful Zinfandel with many layers, needing some years to age and get to its full potential. We’ll see how these turn out in 12 months or so.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Malm Cellars: Pinot Noir and Zinfandel

I often get asked what my favorite wine is, meaning what is my favorite varietal. I usually take that opportunity to talk for as long as that person is willing to listen, about how it depends on white or red, or food or no food with the wine, or price, or any one of a dozen other factors. It’s really the wrong question to ask a wine person. The interesting question is, Which wine(s) do I buy the most? Then the short answer is “Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.”

The medium length answer is that I buy more reds than whites (probably about a 4:1 ratio), and among the reds Pinot Noir and Zinfandel are usually a good value, go very well with food and don’t need a lot of aging. Also, these two wines are the best wines of the Russian River Valley wineries and Dry Creek Valley wineries, which are the two wine growing regions I visit the most.

(There is a longer answer too, but I’m not sure I have your attention for enough time.)

Brendan Malm getting ready to open another bottle of his Malm Cellars wine

Brendan Malm getting ready to open another bottle of his Malm Cellars wine

Nearly 3 years ago, when Lori and I visited Malm Cellars in Healdsburg during a barrel tasting event and saw the lineup of only Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, I got my hopes up just a bit, that maybe here was a winemaker aligned with my tastes. Then we tasted from the barrels, and I allowed my hopes to rise just a bit more, enough so that we bought some “futures”. Futures are wines in the barrel that have yet to be bottled. This is the purpose of the barrel tasting events, with the winery then shipping you the wine when it’s bottled and released.

Or you go to pick up the wine. Which was our option, since we get to Healdsburg on a regular basis. The only problem was coordinating our schedule with Brendan Malm’s schedule, since Malm Cellars is essentially a one man shop, and only open to the public on special event weekends. (That’s changing soon, but not quite ready yet.) So from buying futures of 2012 vintage wines at a 2013 event, with the wines released in 2014, it took until 2015 for us to pick up our case.

Malm Cellars 2012 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley

Malm Cellars 2012 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley

It may have taken us a long time to pick up the wine, but it didn’t take long to open the first bottle. About 6 hours later we were having a birthday dinner for one of our daughters-in-law, and wouldn’t you know, a bottle of Malm 2012 Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley was opened. 2012 was a pretty good year in the Dry Creek area, after two years in a row where harvests were below par for quality and/or quantity. Also, typical Dry Creek Zinfandels tend towards the big, jammy, drink-now end of the spectrum, especially in a good harvest year, which is not my favorite style. The Malm Zinfandel had the fruit flavors on entry, but was actually well balanced and went well with our dinner that evening. This is what I remembered from the initial barrel tasting, and I’m starting to feel pretty good about the purchase of the futures.

Then a couple of weeks later we opened a bottle of Malm 2012 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley (RRV). (I’m feeling pretty good about waiting even that long to open the first bottle of Pinot and see what we’ve got!) Well, this was worth the 2+ year wait, and it will be worth waiting even longer for the other bottles. Very nice RRV Pinot Noir, with some delicacy and subtlety, that should get better for the next few years. With half a case each of the Zinfandel and Pinot Noir, we’re pretty well set for opening one Malm per year for the next 10 years, if we can hold ourselves back.

L’Chaim,

Larry