Tag Archives: zinfandel

Robledo Riesling and Chicken Tortilla Soup

On a cold Winter night, what better than soup as the anchor to your meal? We did this recently with some family over for dinner, with chicken tortilla soup plus ham and cheese (Havarti) croissants and a salad. OK, sounds like a nice Winter dinner; wish you could have joined us. But what wine to have, especially with soup?

Flags flying at Robledo Family Winery in Sonoma Valley

About a year ago, coming through Sonoma Valley, we stopped at Robledo Family Winery. Robledo’s is the first tasting room in the U.S. established by a former Mexican vineyard worker. It’s a little bit off the normal beaten path in Sonoma Valley, as it’s in the Southwest corner of the valley, but worth the visit. We really enjoyed tasting there, just the people and the atmosphere, but we also really enjoyed their wines. We bought, and have since consumed, their Tempranillo and Zinfandel.

The comfortable tasting room at Robledo Family Winery

For the soup dinner, though, we opened up the 2012 Robledo Riesling, from Lake County grapes. Rieslings aren’t often found in California, and when found, they’re often not that good. But this one was quite nice, finished dry (no sweetness), with good fruit on the entry, medium weight body and smooth finish. It went quite well with the soup and croissants. Regarding the soup, we made it relatively mild, with garnishments including roasted jalapeños, spicy sour cream, cilantro, and more to spice it up.

A couple more thoughts about pairing with soups. First, Riesling is often cited as being a good wine to pair with spicy foods, including Asian cuisine. I agree with this, in general. Second, when pairing with soups, consider the base of the soup – beef, chicken, etc. – and the weight of the soup. A red wine would go nicely with a beef and barley soup, for example.

Seems about time to head back to Robledo to restock, and also time to make another pot of soup for dinner.

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

Last Wines at the Old House

Yes, we’ve moved, from our old house near the Livermore Valley wine region to our new house a bit further north in Sonoma County. One of the many issues with the move was moving the wine collection. The easiest way to deal with the problem was to reduce the number of bottles we had to move. We still had a couple hundred bottles left to move, but we did have fun drinking those last bottles. Here’s the lineup over the last days at the old house:

Armida Winery, 2012 Il Campo (Zinfandel/Petite Sirah field blend), Dry Creek Valley
Donkey and Goat, 2013 Grenache Noir, El Dorado County
Pessagno, 2011 Zinfandel, Idyll Times Vineyard, San Benito County
Soquel Vineyards, 2012 Trinity (red blend), California
Tobin James, 2010 Ballistic Zinfandel, Paso Robles

Armida Winery 2012 Il Campo (Zinfandel and Petite Sirah field blend), Dry Creek Valley

Armida Winery 2012 Il Campo (Zinfandel and Petite Sirah field blend), Dry Creek Valley

Yes, we drink a lot of Zinfandel. It’s a good value wine, both at the low end (price-wise) and the high end (high end of the Zinfandel range). It’s also a grape that lends itself to different styles, from big bold fruity wines to more complex layered wines, all of which can be very tasty.

The Il Campo is an excellent Zinfandel blend from Winemaker B at Armida. It’s a field blend, so it’s a bit difficult to say how much of what went in, but likely it’s somewhere around 75 – 80% Zinfandel.

Donkey and Goat 2013 Grenache Noir, El Dorado

Donkey and Goat 2013 Grenache Noir, El Dorado

Donkey and Goat is relatively new to us, with our first and only visit there 2 years ago. A Berkeley winery, sourcing grapes from all over Northern California, this Grenache was very good, surprisingly good. Actually, you’ll see Grenache (or Garnacha from Spain) mentioned in a couple of future posts. Grenache, while one of the big three Rhone grapes — Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre — is rarely made as a single varietal, especially in California. Syrah, yes, but not Grenache, nor Mouvedre. When Grenache is grown well and made well, it’s a really nice treat. Not too big a wine, not too big body, really good with food.

Pessagno 2011 Zinfandel, San Benito County, Idyll Times Vineyard

Pessagno 2011 Zinfandel, San Benito County, Idyll Times Vineyard

The Pessagno is a bit more in the understated style for Zinfandel, and this has been outstanding from our first taste at the winery to the two bottles we’ve opened. (I’m kicking myself now for not buying more when we were there. But of course, then we’d have had to move those bottles, so probably just as well.)

Soquel Vineyards 2012 Trinity Rosso (red blend), California

Soquel Vineyards 2012 Trinity Rosso (red blend), California

The Soquel Trinity is consistently, year after year, one of the best low end red blends, now matter what grapes they’re using. Soquel Vineyards is either number 1 or 2 on our Santa Cruz Mountains wineries hit list. They’ve been building great wines, and providing a great tasting experience, for a couple of decades now, longer than most in that area. We’ve talked about their wines and tasting room a few times in this blog; just search on Soquel to find those posts.

Tobin James 2010 Zinfandel "Ballistic", Paso Robles

Tobin James 2010 Zinfandel “Ballistic”, Paso Robles

The Ballistic Zin is the flagship for Tobin James, a classic big juicy jammy Zinfandel from the East side of Paso Robles. They’re almost the last winery heading east on Hwy 46, but worth the extra couple of miles to visit the tasting room.

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

Santa Cruz Thanksgiving

Lori and I spent the week of Thanksgiving in Aptos, a little town just south of Santa Cruz (actually it’s east of Santa Cruz, but you have to go “south” on Highway 1 to get there), in our vacation house just a 10 minute walk from the beach (Seacliff State Park). It was a great week from a weather point of view, with only one day of rain. There were great sunsets, as you see above, and great ocean views.

We were joined there for the holiday, and a couple of days on either side of it, by Winemaker B and his family. This meant some interesting wines for the meals, from his cellar and ours. Here’s a quick rundown:

Woodenhead 2005 Pinot Noir, Buena Tierra Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Crosshatch (Carr Vineyards & Winery) 2010 white blend, Santa Ynez Valley
Soquel Vineyards 2006 Zinfandel, Old Vines, Lodi

This doesn’t include the wines for the Thanksgiving meal, which won’t be talked about here. (We opened a vertical of Syrah from a single winery, and it didn’t quite live up to our expectations. Nice to have opened the bottles, and they were quite nice with the turkey, but not a highlight to spend time on.)

Woodenhead 2005 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Buena Tierra Vineyard

Woodenhead 2005 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Buena Tierra Vineyard

Woodenhead Pinot Noir: This is a small winery in the Russian River Valley (RRV), specializing in Pinot Noir. We did an interview with Zina Bower, the co-owner, in the early days of the ViciVino.com website. This bottle was what I like to think the RRV does best, Pinot Noir with some restraint, delicacy and subtlety. After 10 years this wine was all we expected, balanced from nose through entry through mid-mouth through finish. Not real heavy bodied, it went great with a shrimp stir fry we cooked on the barbeque. We have consistently liked their Pinot Noir; unfortunately this was our last bottle. Time to go up and buy a few more.

cross_hatch_white_blend

Crosshatch: This is the brand name for some interesting blends from Carr Vineyards & Winery in Santa Barbara. We enjoyed our visit to their tasting room this past summer, and really loved how they handle Rhone varietals. The reds we bought — Syrah and Grenache — will sit for another few years, but this white was ready now. The Crosshatch white blend is 70% Viognier, 30% Marsanne, and was delicious. Definitely ready to drink.

Soquel Vineyards 2006 Zinfandel, Lodi Old Vines, Schmierer Vineyard

Soquel Vineyards 2006 Zinfandel, Lodi Old Vines, Schmierer Vineyard

Soquel Vineyards: We’ve mentioned Soquel Vineyards a few times before in blogs, including writing about the 2004 vintage of this same Zinfandel. Soquel consistently produces excellent wines, and their tasting room is a great experience. The 2006 Zinfandel was lovely, sort of the “Mama Bear” wine: Not too big, not too soft, aged just right for drinking over the holiday.

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

L’Chaim,

Larry

Qupé Is Central Coast Syrah

Family legend has it that my parents used to trade Dodgers tickets for Qupé wine. According to Bob Lindquist, owner/winemaker of Qupé Winery, there was at least one discussion about that, but it never happened. So it’s just legend. We do know that my parents met Bob just after he started Qupé, while he was still working at another winery in the Santa Ynez Valley. Lori and I will take credit for that, since we were living in Santa Barbara at the time, and took my parents to that other winery. Shortly after, my job took us to the East Coast, but my parents kept up the relationship with Bob over the next 30+ years.

30+ years of wines in the Qupé library.

30+ years of wines in the Qupé library.

In that 30+ year interval, all Bob did was to build Qupé into the leading producer of Syrah on the Central Coast of California, establish the Central Coast as a valid and valuable growing region for Rhône varietals and establish himself as one of the godfathers of those varietals in the state. That’s quite a résumé. We reconnected with Bob at last year’s Wine Bloggers Conference, and he was our first call when we starting planning our trip to the Santa Ynez Valley this year. He didn’t have a lot of spare time, so he invited us to come to the winery and share their daily staff lunch. As befits a godfather, he made us an offer we couldn’t refuse: Come to the winery, located in the middle of the famed Bien Nacido Vineyard, taste Qupe and Au Bon Climat (ABC) wines (Au Bon Climat, headed by Santa Barbara Pinot Noir and Chardonnay pioneer Jim Clendenen, shares the winery with Qupe), and have lunch with Bob and the winery team.

This was one of the most memorable meals we’ve ever had. Kudos to Enrique, Bob’s cellar master, for the meal: flank steak, spare ribs, fava beans and kale, braised cabbage, salad and garlic bread, served buffet style in the winery. Aside from Bob and Enrique, joining us for lunch were Katie, their marketing person, Marc Piro, who while he has no official title is essentially the assistant winemaker, and Louisa Sawyer Lindquist, Bob’s wife. As we sat down at the table we noticed the line up of wines:

The lunch table at Qupé Winery.

The lunch table at Qupé Winery.

Qupé 2012 Syrah Central Coast
Verdad 2012 Tempranillo, Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard
Armida 2013 Parmelee-Hill Zinfandel
Armida 2013 Il Campo, Dry Creek Valley (field blend of about 80% Zinfandel, 20% Petite Sirah, estate grown)
Qupé 2011 Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard, Highland Bench

Since they had to work after lunch, and we had to drive, there were individual spit cups lined up on the table, as well as larger buckets. You’ll notice some white wines in the photo, but since this was really a red wine meal, I quickly skipped and spit through the whites to get to the reds.

The Central Coast Syrah from Qupé is their largest production wine. Grapes from all three vineyards that they source from are included. This is a really nice Syrah, and at $20 per bottle it’s a great value.

Verdad Wines is Louisa’s brand. She’s been in the wine business for decades herself, starting on the sales and marketing side of the business. The Tempranillo grapes come from a vineyard Louisa and Bob planted in the Edna Valley area, closer to San Luis Obispo than to Santa Ynez. The vineyard, the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, is farmed biodynamically. Tempranillo is an underappreciated varietal in California, with our abundance of great reds. But Tempranillo, cared for properly, can have complexity and subtlety and can age well. I’m not sure how the Verdad wines will age, as we were drinking fairly young wines, but this was among the best Tempranillo we’ve had from California. While we drank and enjoyed the 2012 Tempranillo with lunch, we bought a bottle of both the 2012 and 2011, so we could compare vintages at some point in the future.

Armida is the winery our son, Brandon (Winemaker B), works for. We figured that a) bringing wine for lunch would be a good way to pay for lunch, and b) that bringing Zinfandel, the flagship grape for Armida, would be the way to go. Also, while there is Zinfandel grown in the Paso Robles area, there’s really none in Santa Barbara County, so Bob and team don’t get to try to many Zinfandels. The Il Campo was as expected, fruity and big, with the Petite Sirah boosting the body of the Zinfandel as it’s supposed to. The Parmelee-Hill was as we expected, but not what Bob expected. This vineyard is in Sonoma County, not too far from the Carneros region, and therefore is a much colder vineyard for Zinfandel than usual. And it produces a much more nuanced Zinfandel than most in California. Delicious.

One block of Bien Nacido Vineyard, near Santa Maria in Santa Barbara County

One block of Bien Nacido Vineyard, near Santa Maria in Santa Barbara County

The Qupé 2011 Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard, Highland Bench is the flagship wine for Qupé. Bob doesn’t make a huge amount of this wine; he can’t, there aren’t enough grapes in the block. But this wine gets special care, and it shows. This was Syrah with restraint, Syrah that was showing off its style on the catwalk and you wanted to see it from all angles, noticing the little touches and subtle flair in the execution. This was Syrah produced by an experienced hand, comfortable in his own skin, not trying to impress anyone but just making the wine he wants to make.

Best. Lunch. Ever.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Superbowl Zin Party

Superbowl, that annual American holiday. We had a few friends over; we finally got rid of the old (15 years old!) big box low-def TV and got a nice high-def one. At least the embarrassment of the old TV is gone. Lori decided to go with a casual buffet:

Hummus and carrots
Salsa and chips
7-layer dip and chips
Spinach dip (chips, carrots, …)
Chili (crock pot chili with turkey, chicken, black beans, zucchini, and more)
BBQ chicken sliders (brought by friends)
Make your own banana split, including homemade strawberry sauce

Superbowl spread, including Ridge Geyserville Zin blend and A. Rafanelli Zinfandel

Superbowl spread, including Ridge Geyserville Zin blend and A. Rafanelli Zinfandel

I think we had enough food to feed our block, instead of the few friends we had over. I had pulled out a couple of Zinfandels, and our friends, without being told, also brought a bottle of Zin; we opened two of the three:

Ridge 2006 “Geyserville” (70% Zinfandel, 18% Carignane, 10% Petite Sirah, 2% Mataro)
A. Rafanelli 2012 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley

The Ridge Geyserville is an blend produced each year by Ridge, which is usually between 65 and 75% Zinfandel. Most of the grapes come from the Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys, right around the town of Geyserville; thus the name of the wine. (There I go talking about blends again. This one from Ridge is anything but a low end wine.)

The wines were all excellent. Perfect with chili and bbq chicken sliders and all the rest. The game, and the commercials were good this year. On the commercial side, at least there weren’t many cringe-inducing commercials, and a few good ones. The Fiat commercial with the little blue pill sticks in my mind as one of the good ones. Fortunately I can’t remember any of the bad ones.

L’Chaim,

Larry

An Eggplant By Any Other Name …

No offense, Mom, but your eggplant parmesan when I was growing up was not your strongest dish. As with a number of other foods, I have come to like eggplant as an adult. For eggplant, I think it started with baba ghanoush, then chili with eggplant, then having eggplant in various Asian dishes (Chinese and Thai especially), and finally Greek Melitzana. Unfortunately Lori hasn’t come to enjoy eggplant as much as I have, but the one dish she enjoys is the roast eggplant dip that I make. The recipe is posted on the ViciVino.com recipe page.

Roast Eggplant Dip

Roast Eggplant Dip

This recipe is as much Eastern European as Mediterranean in origin and style. Eggplant, red bell peppers, onion and garlic are roasted with spices, then puréed to make the dip. The dip has strong flavors, and a creamy consistency, but does not taste like eggplant, and does not have the texture of cooked eggplant that some people don’t like.

With those strong flavors, a good red wine is called for. Last night, serving this with friends over, we opened a bottle of Dry Creek Vineyard 2012 Heritage Vines Zinfandel, Sonoma County, which is actually a blend of 85% Zinfandel and 15% Petite Sirah. This was a nice bottle of wine, working well with the dip, and a very good value at less than $15.

Quoting Tennyson in the last post, and paraphrasing Shakespeare in this one. Somewhere an English teacher is happy.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Zinfandel Can Improve With Age

July 4th yesterday, and instead of heading to Santa Cruz Lori and I were home with a sick cat.  Not what we had planned, but we had to make the best of it.  So we watched some World Cup games, some baseball, just generally relaxed, and planned our own little barbeque.  A rack of ribs, corn on the cob, homemade cole slaw.  Lori’s got a great recipe for the slaw, which involves garlic powder in the sauce.  (If you’re interested, you should ask her.)  For the ribs we used some plum BBQ sauce that we made a year ago.  The recipe for that is on the Food and Wine Pairing page of the main website, and it was great with the ribs.

2004_old_schoolhouse_zin

For wine, we pulled out a bottle of 2004 Peachy Canyon Winery Zinfandel, Old Schoolhouse Vineyard (Paso Robles).  Obviously, we decanted the bottle.  It took about 30 minutes to open up, then had everything:  great nose, fruit on entry, nice and chewy texture, good tannins on the finish.  Bite of ribs, sip of wine.  Rinse and repeat, to borrow from other instructions.

Good Zinfandel can age, and age well.  Maybe not the 20+ years for the high end reds, but this had everything I want in a wine, including the complexity and balance.  Better now than it was in the first few years after bottling.  Of course, you have to start with good zinfandel, and Peachy Canyon is a great winery to keep in mind for Zinfandel.  Always an enjoyable tasting experience too, if you get to Paso Robles.

I hope you all had a great holiday yourselves.

L’Chaim,

Larry