Tag Archives: zinfandel

Tasting in North Dry Creek Valley; Harvest is Coming

Grapes are getting ripe! Harvest 2019 is coming.

Lori and I and son Jacob and cousin Diego went wine tasting in the northern part of Dry Creek Valley last weekend. Here’s a quick recap.

View from the tasting room deck at Zichichi Family Vineyard.

Our first stop was Zichichi Family Vineyard. We had last visited Zichichi probably about 8-10 years ago, and my recollection was that they were a nice small winery with a great view from the tasting room, making a classic Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel. Well, the part of my memory that collects wine tasting notes seems to be in pretty good shape, because that’s exactly what we found. I would also add that the people behind the bar in their tasting room were quite enthusiastic and helpful (kudos to Rose). They were doing barrel tastings that day in the cellar, in addition to the normal tastings, and we left having ordered futures of the 2016 Zichichi Old Vine Zinfandel. Delicious.

Next was Sbragia Family Vineyards. We first went there 7 years ago for the Winter Wineland event, and go back regularly for the wines and the view. They sit up the hill toward Lake Sonoma at the very northern tip of Dry Creek Valley, and the view down the valley is great. Another enjoyable tasting experience there.

View of vineyard and Lake Sonoma from the picnic area at Gustafson Family Vineyards.

From Sbragia we drove past Lake Sonoma, heading west towards the coast through the hills to Gustafson Family Vineyards. (If you’re sensing a trend here with the “Family” vineyards, you’re correct, but it was completely coincidental for the day’s agenda.) We first tasted Gustafson wines at a Petite Sirah industry event in 2012, but it took us a couple of years after that to make the effort to drive to the winery. It’s worth it, for the views, for the nice people helping in the tasting room, and especially for the wines. The Heritage Tree Zinfandel is always a favorite of ours, as is the Petite Sirah, and their Syrah was also quite good. By the way, Gustafson also has a tasting room in Healdsburg, making it easy to taste their wines, but then you wouldn’t get the great view from the winery.

Last on the list was Martorana Family Winery, out of the hills and back in Dry Creek Valley. We first visited Martorana about 7 or 8 years ago, and liked their wines and their story. They’ve been growing grapes for decades, but only recently have they begun making their own wine. Very nice wine, made from their organically farmed vineyards. Ask for Donna in the tasting room.

Trellised grape vines getting ready for the harvest.

Harvest is coming! The first grapes have already been picked (for sparkling wines), and the first grapes for the still wines could be picked as early as this week, depending on how the weather goes. Good luck to all the vineyard crews and winemaking teams; may you have a great harvest!

L’Chaim,

Larry

Quick Harvest Update from Armida

I’ve been on the sorting table three days now at Armida, helping with Tina’s Block (Maple Vineyards) “Zinfandel”, Maple Vineyards Zinfandel and Petite Sirah and Pamelee Hill Vineyards Zinfandel. Tina’s Block Zinfandel is in quotes, because the 110 year old vines in Tina’s Block (in contrast to the 90+ year old vines in the rest of Maple Vineyards) are an interesting field blend of mostly Zinfandel, Carignane, Alicante Bouchet, Petit Sirah and some vines that remain unknown even after DNA testing at UC Davis. Harvest looks great at this point, with Armida having brought in about 95% of their grapes. I can’t remember ever seeing such a high percentage of great grapes: minimal rot, and most everything ripened optimally.

It was all hands on deck for harvest at Armida.

Brandon had one stretch of 13 straight days of getting grapes in. It was all hands on deck for that stretch, and Brandon even asked Dr. Doolittle for help, and the egret answered the call. The grandkids even came up, and while they didn’t “help”, spraying each other with water on the crush pad could be seen as helping to clean up. At least it kept them busy, until it was time for them to reflect on the harvest.

Contemplating the harvest.

I’m looking forward to tasting these wines in the barrel in a few months, then in bottle in a couple of years.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Lamb and Zinfandel, A Classic Pairing Updated

I bought a new cookbook a few months ago, but haven’t had the chance to do anything with it (aside from reading and drooling) because of the kitchen remodel. My favorite cuisine: Middle Eastern. Thanks here to my brother and his family, because while waiting to meet Lori in downtown Santa Rosa, we all went into the Barnes & Noble bookstore. I wouldn’t have found the cookbook (Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi) without the old-school wander through the aisles.

Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, showing the Braised Eggs and Lamb on the cover.

But the kitchen is done now, so no more excuses. And friends were going to come over for dinner, and cousin Diego was in town. We cooked up the recipe shown on the cover of the cookbook, Braised Eggs with Lamb. At least we got it looking pretty close to the cookbook picture! Actually it tasted pretty darn good. This is the sort of recipe that I really like making. Essentially a one pot meal, nothing especially fancy about it, just good ingredients and flavorful spices. Cumin, sumac, pine nuts and pistachios are the flavor anchors for this dish.

Braised Eggs and Lamb on our stove.

With the lamb and the unique flavors, we needed a special wine to go with this. We pulled out a 2010 Armida Winery Zinfandel, Sonoma Coast, Parmelee-Hill Vineyard. This vineyard is nearer to the cool Carneros region than to the warm Dry Creek Valley, where Armida and so many other wineries get so much Zinfandel. As a cool climate Zinfandel, it’s got different characteristics than a typical Zin; less fruit forward, a bit more body, more layers to the flavors. This sort of Zinfandel ages well, and at 8 years this wine is just hitting peak. The subtleties of the wine matched well the complexities of the flavors in the lamb dish. An excellent pairing.

2010 Armida Zinfandel, Sonoma Coast, Parmelee-Hill Vineyard.

We decided ahead of time to decant the wine. Also, I had stood the wine up for about 24 hours ahead of decanting, to allow sediment to go to the bottom of the bottle. We did this based on experience with older Zinfandels, and for show (always nice to serve from a decanter). As we saw when we finished decanting, the bottle did have some sediment left in it.

If you look carefully behind the Armida label you can see the sediment left behind in the bottle.

Lamb and Zinfandel: always a good combination.

L’Chaim,

Larry

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

Dutton-Goldfield: Lulu’s First Winery

Lulu taking a break from wine tasting at Dutton-Goldfield

We got a puppy last week. Not just any puppy, but “Lulu”, at that time an 8-week old Labrador-Golden Retriever mix, and we got her from the Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). CCI works to provide service dogs to those in need, for whatever reasons. They function by having volunteers (suckers like us) do the basic rearing and training of the dogs, which takes 18-20 months, at which point the dogs are returned to the CCI for final training for their end-owner. So we’ve got probably around 20 months with Lulu, then we hand her back to the CCI. The training is actually pretty demanding, much more so than what we’ve done in the past for our pets.

Dutton-Goldfield Winery tasting room entrance

One of the key parts of training is fully socializing the dog by taking them everywhere with you. So on Lulu’s first weekend, we were off wine tasting. Dutton-Goldfield Winery was Lulu’s first tasting room. We sat in the patio, next to the fountain, which seemed pretty comfortable for Lulu. Actually, after one plus weeks with her, she rarely seems uncomfortable in public.

Lulu napping with her toy

Tasting at Dutton-Goldfield is a great experience, first because of the great staff, and second because of the great wines. Dan Goldfield is an acknowledged expert winemaker for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and those wines did not disappoint. What is not so well known is that Dutton-Goldfield makes a great Zinfandel. The Dutton Ranch Morelli Lane Vineyard, a cold climate Zinfandel vineyard in the Russian River Valley, has consistently turned out grapes that Dan has made into outstanding Zins.

Sitting outside in the patio, relaxing with the puppy, drinking excellent wines: what a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Zinfandel Experience with Winemaker B and Armida

If you’re a lover of Zinfandel, the ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers organization) Zinfandel Experience Grand Tasting this Saturday February 25th is for you. Over 75 Zinfandel producers pouring their wines in one place, Pier 27, San Francisco.

It’s been about 7 years since I last went to the ZAP Grand Tasting. It was amazing then, but for various reasons I haven’t made it back. This time I’m not going so that I can taste. Instead, I’m going to be behind the Armida Winery table with Winemaker B (Brandon Lapides, winemaker at Armida), pouring and schmoozing and selling Armida’s world class Zinfandels.

I’ve poured Armida’s wines before

Larry pouring Antidote and PoiZin at an electronics industry event.

and I’ve worked with Brandon before at harvest at Armida

Winemaker B and Father working the Armida sorting table.

but we’ve never worked a large event together. Could be a lot of fun. Listen for the table with the consistent laughter, and you’ll find us at the event.

Armida Poizin, the wine to die for

Brandon’s going to be bringing their flagship PoiZin, as well as an assortment of Armida’s single vineyard Zinfandels. There’s actually quite a taste range in Armida’s Zins, since they’re sourcing grapes from traditional warmer climates in Dry Creek Valley down to cooler Sonoma County vineyards right next to the Carneros region. Brandon might also bring a limited amount of their estate grown Il Campo, a field blend of mostly Zinfandel (around 70% in typical years) plus Petite Sirah.

Zinfandel grapes in the foreground, and Petite Sirah grapes in the back, waiting to be crushed into the Armida estate wine Il Campo, a field blend of the two grapes.

Stop by to taste and talk, about wines, grapes, Zinfandel aging, and anything else that comes to mind. I’m looking forward to seeing you at ZAP!

L’Chaim,

Larry

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