Recap Of Passport To Dry Creek Valley 2013 – Day One

My wife and I and a couple of friends attended the 24th Annual Passport To Dry Creek Valley held April 27th and 28th.  Dry Creek Valley is a premium wine region in Sonoma County, California. It’s renown for its Zinfandel, but Dry Creek Valley, which is only  sixteen miles long by two miles wide offers a diverse range of vineyards, and world-class wines. The theme for this year’s event was “A Modern Tradition with Century-Old RootsAccording to the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley..

Passport to Dry Creek Valley was introduced in 1990, by the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley, as a time every year when the winegrowing community could come together to celebrate the generations of farmers, vintners and families that are the roots of the Dry Creek Valley wine region. Over the 24 years since, the event has become a beloved tradition among wine lovers who enjoy a world-class tasting experience with a festive twist, all within the idyllic Dry Creek Valley.  Over one weekend, Passport guests are welcomed into 50+ wineries throughout Dry Creek Valley, each offering a unique pairing of premium wine, gourmet food and entertainment.

I’ve been to beaucoup wine events, but what make this event special for me is the combination of wine, food, and entertainment. Check out the list of 52 participating wineries, and activities. The event was held from 11 am to 4:30 pm daily, so it would be virtually impossible to go to all the wineries over a two-day period (unless you decided to sprint from winery to winery and stayed at each winery for less than 15 minutes)  With an event like this with wine, food pairing, and entertainment, I think it’s best to take one’s time, and enjoy it. It’s about quality rather than quality for me!

As far as which wineries to visit, we have a list of perennial favorites (Bella, Mauritson, Quivira, Ridge, and Seghesio) to which we mix in some wineries that are new to us, and leave some room for “audibles” – on the fly changes to the itinerary based on a whim and/or the feedback we get from other attendees.

We started the day with  a vineyard tour of Gustafson Family Vineyards which boasts a spectacular vineyard located 1800 feet above sea level.  The tour was hosted by owner Dan Gustafson and Winemaker & Vineyard Manager Emmet Reed.  The property which used to a sheep ranch. Today it’s both home to the Gustafson family and a winery.  It’s also home to the “Sonoma County Heritage Tree”, a 300-year-old madrone tree that graces the property. It’s the oldest of its kind in Sonoma, and possibly all of California.

The vineyard was planted in 2004. The vineyard at 20 acres is planted to Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling.  Gustafson wines are all produced from estate fruit.

Dan Gustafson and Emmet Reed

Owner Dan Gustafson and Winemaker & Vineyard Manager Emmet Reed

It was a very informative tour.  The passion and pride that Dan and Emmet have for the property was quite evident, and rightfully so.

DCVPassport Gustafson Picnic View

View from the picnic area at Gustafson Family Winery overlooking Lake Sonoma

After the tour, which lasted about 30 minutes, we received a pleasant surprise when Dan informed us wed have the opportunity to taste their wines. I wasn’t expecting that because the event didn’t start until 11 and Gustafson wasn’t our assigned starting winery.

I tasted 4 of the 5 wine offered (I skipped the dessert wine).  My favorite was the 2009 Estate Cabernet.  It was perfectly paired with Flank Steak sliders.

We had a great experience at Gustafson. Aside from the tour, and the very good to excellent wines, the winery itself is beautiful.  And the winery has, hands down IMO, the best picnic area in Sonoma County with stunning views of Lake Sonoma and Mt. St. Helena.

Dry Creek Valley Cal-Italian Style

Our check-in winery was Seghesio Family Vineyards, a perennial favorite. Picnic table was set up in the tree-shaded Grove. The primary tasting was held the spacious, idyllic, tree-shaded area called “The Grove” in front of the winery. There was some Live music by Frobeck

Gamberi and Fregola

Gamberi and Fregola; You could pair with your choice of 2010 Sangiovese, 2011 Barbera, or 2009 Quindici

The theme as “Spring celebration of wine and food ― Italian style!”  They had plenty of food including Old world dishes like  Risi e Bisi, Gamberi e Fregola, Penne Bolognese, plus their family Sausage!  Each dish was superbly paired with Seghesio’s great line-up of wines that included Zinfandels, Barbera, Sangiovese, and Arneis (a lovely crisp refreshing white), plus a real treat, the 2009 Quindici, the first wine by Seghesio Family Vineyards to be produced and bottled in Italy. It’s a blend of 80% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot, and 10% Alicante Bouschet primarily sourced from Montalcino,

After tasting in The Grove, we headed down to the century-old barrel cellar for more tasting including Seghesio’s Old-Vine Zinfandel (great with brownies!), and a library selection the 2003 Omaggio – their Super Tuscan blend. My favorites (it’s impossible for me to pick one) were the 2009 Quindici, and the 2010 Cortina Zinfandel

Brother to Brother

After pulling ourselves away from Seghesio, we called an audible, and decided to check out Manzanita Creek Winery since it pretty close to Seghesio, and we’ve not been there before.

Manzanita Creek winery was founded by brothers Jack and William Salerno in 2001.  The brothers worked in construction and painting, which is unusual for winemakers.     Unlike so many wineries in Dry Creek Valley which are located among the vineyards, Manzanita Creek is located in a light industrial center, hence their tag line, “Great Wines…No Scenery…Never Boring”.  I recognized the label as a brand being sold at Costco, so they’re definitely enjoying some success. When we arrived they were pouring two Zinfandels and a Chardonnay, and serving up steak (and a tasty chimichurri), sausage and pasta salad.  Alas, the schedule live entertainment wasn’t performing while we were there.  My favorite wine tasted was the 2008 Zinfandel Carreras Old Vine

Oysters and wines galore

Next up was Stephen & Walker Trust Winery, just up the street from Manzanita Creek. It’s another winery we’d never before visited. 

They easily won the prize for most wines poured on Day 1. They were pouring 11 wines…

Stephen and Walker Wine-up

and serving up all you could eat oysters from Hog Island Oyster Co.!


Folks, we love raw oysters (an excellent pairing with their 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Green Valley of Russian River Valley). We parked ourselves in front of the oysters, and slurped ourselves onto the Stephen Walker/Hog Island Oyster Co watch list.  I’m pretty sure there is a picture of my wife and her buddy on a wall somewhere at both places with a warning of some sort;-)

Aside from the oysters, they also served up handmade pizzas from a wood-fired oven, sausage sliders and cinnamon rolls (fantastic with their 2010 Chardonnay, Botrytis).  The Stephen and Walker staff was a friendly and fun bunch.

I can guaran-damn-tee you, if they’re serving oysters next year…we’ll be baaaaack!

I tried 7 of the 11 wines offered including tasting through all their Pinot Noirs, and Howell Mountain Cabs.  My favorite wine was the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain.

Zin Alley

Dry Creek Valley is absolutely beautiful this time of year. The weather was great, the vines are gorgeous.  So after visiting the wineries in town, we were keen to get back out in beautiful vineyards. Our next stop was Talty Vineyards and Winery.


Talty is all about Zinfandel, the grape for which Dry Creek Valley is most well known.   Their estate Zinfandels are sourced from their six-acre vineyard.  They were tasting 4 Zinfandels, which were paired with “Famous TBO Lamb Tacos” (Marinated Rosen lamb with cherry chipotle Zinfandel sauce, Cabot White Cheddar, and Salsa de Cabo). Score!

Lamb Tacos

Live entertainment was provided by “The Aces” band

Great pairing and Zins!  My favorites were the 2010 Dwight Family Vineyard and 2010 William Talty Estate Zinfandel.

The Wine Country Experience

Next up was Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery, which is one of the most beautiful wineries in Dry Creek Valley.  Ferrari-Carano (“F-C”) is best know for its breathtaking Ferrari-Carano Gardens which includes waterfalls, bridges and an amazing array of flowers. 

It’s a great place to visit if you want the “Wine County Experience”.  In addition to the beautiful Italianate-style Vila Fiore, and the Gardens, you’ll find a great gift shop with plenty of wine country gifts, specialty food products, and housewares.

ferrari carano

Ferrari-Carano’s Villa Fiore

F-C was pouring five wines. The wines were poured in their tank room and cellars, so we got a chance to look around the winery a bit  My favorite was the Barrel Room. It was literally and figuratively cool.

FC Barrel Room

The Barrel Room at Ferrari-Carano

Of the five wines tasted, my favorite was the 2010 Siena, a Sangiovese/Malbec blend.  I must also mention the 2010 Baci, a Zinfandel infused with Natural Dark Chocolate.  It was a heavenly pairing with a Cherry Chocolate Biscotti!. Then again all the wines were expertly paired with food at F-C!

Sonoma Love

Our final stop of the day was Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves. Bella is a small winery run by Scott and Lynn Adams who got married in wine country, fell in love with it, and decided their life goal would be pursue their passions for outdoor living and fine wine.  The couple lives with their daughters on a 10-acre vineyard in the Russian River Valley.  Commencing with the 2008 vintage, they established a  independent winery focused on tiny lots of pinot noir and chardonnay from the fabled Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast winegrowing regions. Taking inspiration from their home property, the brand is called “Ten Acre”

I love going to their Wine Caves, which tucked into a steep hillside under their prized Lily Hill vineyard.  The caves were excavated and completed almost 10 year ago, and include 5,200 square feet of barrel storage and working space and an additional 1,500 square feet of entertainment space.

Bella Caves

The theme  brought to mind Alice in Wonderland, and the live entertainment was magical. The food, prepared by Bella’s Michelin Star Chef, Bruce Frieseke was fabulous!

We literally kicked out shoes off, planted ourselves under a shade tree, and sipped their wines (Ten Acre Rosé for me…) while enjoying the entertainers. Perfect end to a great day!  My favorite wine was the 2010 Lily Hill Estate Zinfandel.

Look for my recap of Day 2 soon! 

Related posts you might enjoy:

For more information about the Passport to Dry Creek Valley check out the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff!  Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers! This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Copyright 2013 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

Wine of the Week; 2007 Bradford Mountain Zinfandel

Every Thursday I feature a wine I particularly enjoy, whether it’s something new and different, is a great value, or from a producer worth checking out.  For this week, my Wine Of The Week is the 2007 Bradford Mountain Zinfandel.

The Winery

Bradford Mountain Winery is located in Healdsburg, CA. The label was started by George Hambrecht just out of college, in the late ’90s. The first crush was in October 1998, and produced about 1,800 cases of wine.

According to Bradford…

Over the years, our fruit has been purchased by such luminaries as Turley, Gary Farrell, Quivira, and Alysian, as well as other well-known producers.

I was referred to Bradford Mountain a few years ago by a friend who works in the wine business.  He was kind enough to set up a private tasting for my wife and I.  When we arrived at the address, we noted that it was (at the time) C. Donatiello winery. Today, it is  VML winery. Since Bradford Mountain, and VML share an address, I believe that’s where you can purchase the Bradford Mountain wines (by the way VML is a great spot for tasting – they focus on Pinot, and Chardonnay).

It was a bit of an unusual tasting in that we were ushered to the back of the winery to do the tasting.  I vividly recall the tasting because it was a hot day, and there were fruit flies everywhere!  Setting aside the fruit flies and the heat it was a great tasting. We picked up a few bottles of this wine and their Grist Vineyard Syrah.

The Wine

This wine is a combination of fruit from Grist Vineyard, which located on Bradford Mountain –  the highest point on Dry Creek Valley’s western edge (click here for video profile), and vineyard on the Dry Creek valley floor.  The Grist Vineyard is located on a hilltop plateau 1100 feet above the valley floor, and was planted to Zinfandel nearly 100 years ago.  The fruit for this wine is from vines are between 10 and about 40 years old.

The vineyard soil is rugged red decomposing volcanic rock, and I believe that results in the distinctive mineral component of this wine.

2007 Bradford Mountain Zinfandel

2007 Bradford Mountain Zinfandel

My tasting notes follow:

Garnet color with dark fruit, licorice, and spice aromas. On the palate, it’s medium bodied and fresh with a silky texture I don’t recall ever experiencing at this point, good balance, and soft well-integrated tannins. It shows flavors of mixed berry, hints of cassis, spice, dark chocolate and mineral flavors with a medium-long finish – 91pts

Rating: Highly Recommended.  This wine drinks like many a $35-$45 Zins I’ve had. Off the chart QPR! It’s aged well, I last had a bottle about a year ago

Pair with:  Seared Ahi Tuna, Ciopppino, BBQ Spareribs, Burgers or Rack of Lamb!

The Wine Geek Stuff:

  • Alcohol: 14.2
  • Closure: Cork
  • AVA: > CaliforniaSonoma CountyDry Creek Valley
  • Grape Varieties: 100% Zinfandel
  • Cooperage: 14 months in French, Hungarian, and American oak barrels; 40% new oak
  • Retail: $18
  • Cases produced: Unknown
  • Drink: now – 2014

This above wine was purchased for review


2012 ZAP Zinfandel Festival Recap!

Thanks mostly to the 1 Wine Dude 2012 Zinfandel Festival Giveaway, I had the pleasure of attending my first Zinfandel Festival, an unabashed three-day Zinfandel spree, put on by the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (“ZAP”).  I say mostly because, I won (guess I can’t say I NEVER win anything anymore) tickets for two to two of the four events put on by ZAP – Epicuria; Food & Zin pairing, and the Grand Tasting, which I attended with my wife.  Since I attended with my wife, fun was in order, so no tasting notes for those two events (It’s a lot more work, than fun to taste and write up a bunch of tasting notes at such events).  I also attended Flights – a seminar style tasting, which explored the different styles of Zinfandel.

For this, the 21st annual Zinfandel Festival, Flights  and the Grand Tasting were held at a new venue – The Concourse in San Francisco.

You’ll find a few of my favorites wine and food pairings from Epicuria, detailed tasting notes from Flights, and my recommended Zinfandel producers from the Grand Tasting.

Epicuria – Food and Zin Pairings

Zinfandel is a grape with naturally moderate to high acidity, yet it’s not typically considered among the pantheon of food friendly wines.  But my personal experience is that  Zinfandel has very good “foodability” (new phrase picked up at ZinFest;-) It’s so much more than a burger and ribs wine!  The event featured pairings of 50 Zinfandel wines with creations from master chefs.

My favorite Food and Zin pairings were:

  1. Duck prosciutto, pistachio goat cheese mousse and citrus from Taste Restaurant paired with Terra d’Oro 2008 125 Year Old Vines, Deaver Vineyard, Amador
  2. Tortellini Porcini with Black Truffle Cream from Il Davide Cucina paired with Starry Night Winery 2009 ,Alexander Valley, and 2009 Old Vine, Nervo Station Vineyard, Alexander Valley
  3. Mojama (Cold-smoked Ahi Tuna) from Wine & Roses Hotel Restaurant, Spa paired with McCay Cellars 2008 Equity Zinfandel, Lodi

Flights – Forum of Flavors

Flights was an educational tasting to showcase different styles of Zinfandel.  There were three flights of wine, each representing a different style of Zinfandel, and each having a separate panel of winemakers.  The panels were moderated by Joel Peterson, Winemaker Ravenswood Winery, founding BOD and 2-time President of ZAP.

Joel Peterson stated that Zinfandel is the “Rodney Dangerfield” of wines.  In many respects that’s true.  It’s frequently characterized in the press as a high alcohol, ripe and overly jammy “monolithic” beverage. In my mind Zinfandel is no different that other wines in that its produced in a variety of styles.  My other take-aways from the panel discussions were as follows:

  • Zinfandels are great weeknight wines
  • Zinfandel a very tough grape to grow because of uneven ripening
  • The lower alcohol style of Zinfandel are more versatile food partners
  • The higher alcohol style of Zinfandel may not be as food friendly, but again like other wines, sometimes the wine is the treat, and consumed either before or after a meal
  • Finesse style Zinfandels around 14% ABV may be thought of as comparable to Cru Beajolais in style
  • Moderate style Zinfandels between 14-15% ABV comparable to Italian Tuscans in style
  • Big style Zinfandel over 15% may be thought of as comparable to Southern Rhone style.
  • Big Zins love simple foods
  • High alcohol wines not necessarily unbalanced wines.  Dave Phinney mentioned an 18.1% ABV dry Grenache from France that was very balanced.  He submitted that his wife, who is sensitive high alcohol wines, enjoyed it.
  • Zinfandel does so well in California does well because it’s planted in the best spots
  • Old Vine love is more about the intrinsic value of these historic vines than economics

The “Finesse” Flight – Around 14% ABV


Chris Leamy – Winemaker; Terra d’Oro

Doug Nalle – Winemaker/Founder Nalle Winery

Julie Johnson – Owner/Winemaker Tres Sabores Winery

  • 2008 Montevina Zinfandel Terra d’Oro – USA, California, Sierra Foothills, Amador County
    Light garnet color with fruity, spicy red fruit aromas. On the palate light-bodied, with good acidity, and raspberry, strawberry, and baking spice flavors. Medium finish. 13.5% ABV Suggested retail $11.99 (86 pts.)
  • 2009 Nalle Zinfandel – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Light garnet red color with sweet red cherry, pomegranate, dust, and pepper aromas. On the palate, light-medium bodied with cherry pomegranate, and spice flavors, and well integrated fine tannins. Good balance with a medium finish. 87% Zinfandel, 9% Petite Sirah, 3% Carignan, 1% Mourvedre, 1% Alicante Bouschet and Golden Chasselas. 13.6% ABV Suggested retail = $36 (87 pts.)
  • 2009 Frog’s Leap Zinfandel – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Light-medium garnet red color with spicy savory red fruit aromas. On the palate light-medium bodied with raspberry, boysenberry, red currant, and spice flavors. Approaching medium finish. 77% Zinfandel, 22% Petite Sirah, 1% Carignan. 13.6% ABV Suggested Retail = $27. (86 pts.)
  • 2009 Tres Sabores Zinfandel Rutherford Estate – USA, California, Napa Valley, Rutherford
    Medium ruby color with mixed dark fruit, pepper, and spice aromas. On the palate medium-bodied refined, and deftly balanced with boysenberry, raspberry, faint white pepper, and bramble flavors. Medium-plus finish. 14.2% ABV Suggested Retail = $35 (89 pts.)

The “Moderation” Flight – Between 14-15% ABV


Tim Bell – Winemaker; Dry Creek Vineyard

Randle Johnson – Winemaker; Artezin

Dr. J Bernard Seps – Tractor Driver/President/G.M./Winemaker Storybook Mountain Winery, and founding ZAP member

These Zins are the predominant style and alcohol levels in the marketplace. This style is sometimes referred to as the “claret” style.

  • 2008 Ravenswood Zinfandel Teldeschi – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Medium ruby color with dark fruit, spice and cedarwood aromas. On the palate medium-bodied, with a nice vein of acidity balancing out the fruit and tannins with black cherries, cassis, and vanilla spice,flavors. Medium + finish 75% Zinfandel, 20% Petite Sirah, 3% Carignan, 2%Alicante Bouschet. 14.5% ABV Suggested Retail =$35 (88 pts.)
  • 2009 Dry Creek Vineyard Zinfandel Spencer’s Hill Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Medium ruby color with fruity cherry, cranberry, and white pepper aromas. On the palate medium-bodied with black cherry, black raspberry flavors supported by firm tannins. Short-Medium finish. 80% Zinfandel, 9% Petite Sirah, 8% Syrah, 3% Grenache. 14.9% ABV. Suggested Retail = $38 (87 pts.)
  • 2010 Artezin Zinfandel Mendocino County – USA, California, North Coast, Mendocino County
    Deep ruby red color with dark red fruit, spice and pepper aromas. On the palate, medium-bodied with supple but firm tannins and raspberry, dark cherry, and spice flavors. Medium+ finish. 89% Zinfandel, 10% Petite Sirah, 1% Carignan. 14.5% ABV. Suggested Retail = $18 (87 pts.)
  • 2009 Storybook Mountain Vineyards Zinfandel Estate Reserve – USA, California, Napa Valley
    Dark ruby-red color with tight red fruit, baking spice and a hint of chocolate aromas. On the palate medium-bodied with tart raspberry, and pomegranate flavors. This on is still young. Short-medium finish. 14.7% ABV. Suggested Retail = $60 (86 pts.)
  • 2007 Dashe Cellars Zinfandel Old Vines Louvau Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
    Deep dark garnet black color with aromatic mixed berries, and sweet oak aromas. On the palate, medium bodied, intense, smooth and structured with well-integrated fine tannins and blackberry, red currant, black raspberry, and clove. Medium-long finish 98% Zinfandel, 2% Petite Sirah. 14.8% ABV Suggested Retail = $32 (91 pts.)

The “Big” Flight – Above 15% ABV


Dave Phinney – Owner/Winemaker; Orin Swift Cellars, and Flying Winemaker

Tegan Passalacqua – Winegrower; Turley Wine Cellars, and founding member of Historic Vineyard Society

Jeff Farthing – Asst. Winemaker; Michael David Winery

These are the “Big Boys” of Zinfandel big, bold, ripe and intense which are often scored 90+ points

  • 2009 Seghesio Family Vineyards Zinfandel Rockpile – USA, California, Sonoma County, Rockpile
    Dark garnet color with dark red fruit, sweet oak, earth, and dust aromas. On the palate medium-full bodied, intense with black cherry, pepper, and a touch of vanilla spice. Medium finish. 15% ABV. Suggested Retail = $38 (88 pts.)
  • 2009 Orin Swift Zinfandel Saldo – USA, California
    Dark garnet color with strawberry black cherry and a touch of funk aromas. On the palate full-bodied, voluptuous supple tannins and dark cherry, blackberry, chocolate flavors. Long finish. 80% Zinfandel, 9% Petite Sirah, 8% Syrah, 3% Grenache. 15.5% ABV. Suggested Retail = $28 (91 pts.)
  • 2009 Robert Biale Zinfandel Aldo’s Vineyard – USA, California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll
    Dark black-red color with aromatic dark red fruit, dust and baking spice aromas. On the palate full-bodied, with velvety mouthfeel, and black cherry, boysenberry, and baking spice flavors. Medium-long finish. 98% Zinfandel, 2% Petite Sirah. 16.1% ABV. Suggested Retail = $75 (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Turley Zinfandel Mead Ranch – USA, California, Napa Valley, Atlas Peak
    Dark garnet color with tight aromas of fresh dark red fruit. On the palate intense, brambly, and hedonistically creamy with blackberry, plum flavors. Medium-long finish. 16.1% ABV. Suggested Retail = $35(88 pts.)
  • 2010 Michael-David Vineyards Zinfandel Earthquake – USA, California, Central Valley, Lodi
    Deep carmine color with dark red fruit, cedarbox, and chocolate aromas. On the palate medium-full bodied with dark cherry, blackberry, pepper and vanilla flavors. Medium-long finish. Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. 16% ABV. Suggested Retail = $26 (89 pts.)
  • 2008 Rosenblum Cellars Zinfandel Reserve Monte Rosso Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
    Dark nearly opaque black red color with dark fruit, clove, and sweet oak aromas. On the palate medium-full bodied with vivid fruit flavors of boysenberries, vanilla and spice with a long, smooth finish. 16.4% ABV. Suggested Retail = $45 (90 pts.)

Grand Tasting – From A to Zin

The Grand Testing featured 197 wineries (probably 400 wines). All were from California, which isn’t surprising given that Zinfandel is California’s heritage wine, except three, one each from Arizona, Italy and South Africa.  I tried 75 wines before tapping out.  I highly recommend the following producers, whose lineup I tasted through and found all to be excellent:

The Usual Suspects – Bedrock Wine Co., Dashe Cellars, JC Cellars, Ridge Vineyards, Robert Biale, and Woodenhead

New to me – Black Sears Estate Wines, Tres Sabores, and Valdez Family

This was a fun and educational event.  It’s been my experience that Zinfandel’s “foodability” is vastly underrated, so it was great to see it paired with a wide range of foods.  Flights gave me a chance to experience the “rainbow” of Zinfandel styles, and learn a few things about making Zin,  and the Grand Tasting was  like a great reunion with my epiphany wine!

Sonoma in the City Recap…

Last week, I attended an amazing event called Sonoma in the City (“SITC”) hosted by the Sonoma County Vintners Association (“SCV”), and Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, for the benefit Share Our Strength.   I’m a huge fan of Sonoma County, and SITC is the largest tasting of Sonoma County wines outside of the county.  It was a superbly organized event with comprehensive representation of the 12 appellations within Sonoma.

The event was held at the Westin St. Francis Hotel.  Inside the Grand Ballroom of the hotel, the wineries were grouped by major appellations (Dry Creek, Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley,etc.) which was nice because the appellations tend to dominated by certain varieties of grapes which are better suited for particular locations.  Looking for Pinot and Chard? Head over to the Russian River Valley area of the ballroom.  If you’re a fan of Cabs and Zin, then stroll on over to the Dry Creek area.  But, before you even entered the Grand Ballroom, in the foyer, there was a themed tasting area where you could explore the influence the diverse terroir of Sonoma on different styles of wine.  For example, there was a table for “Powerful Pinot” that showcased the difference between Pinot from a warm weather site, compared to a cool weather site. My favorite “theme” though was one that featured one vineyard, the Dutton-Ranch Manzana Vineyard.  It was interesting for me to see how the same grapes, from the same vineyard, and same vintage taste so different when made into wine by  different wine makers.   It was a chance to experience, at some level, how a winemaker’s choices manifest themselves in the taste and texture of a wine.

I had mixed feelings about the event.  On one hand, I was excited about attending the event because it was a chance to taste wines I’ve always wanted to taste, and to try some wines from producers unfamiliar to me.  On the other hand,  SITC is an enormous event, by my count 123 wineries, and probably 400 wines to available for tasting. In 3 hours!  So the sheer scale of the event created some anxiety for me because I was trying to figure out how I was going to maximize the opportunity.  I decided to spend an hour sampling whites, and the rest of the time with reds.  I also decided to minimize sampling wine from producers I’ve previously enjoyed (Dashe Cellars, Everett Ridge/Esterlina, Freestone, Hanna, Quivira, Sausal, and Seghesio).  Still, I ended up sampling about 100 wines from 47 different producers!

Favorites I heartily recommend follow (which includes links to the wines on Cellar Tracker where you may get details about  the wines such as ratings, tasting notes, and cost, etc.):

A sample of great food served...unfortunately I was too busy tasting to try!



2008  Fort Ross Fort Ross Vineyard

2009 Landmark Chardonnay Damaris Reserve

2008 Robert Young Alexander Valley Chardonnay

2009 Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay

2009 Roessler Big Bend Chardonnay

Sauvignon Blanc

2010 Kunde Family Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Magnolia Lane 

2010 Roth Sauvignon Blanc

Other Whites

2010 Joseph Swan Gewürztraminer Saralee’s Vineyard

A packed Grand Ballroom at the Westin St. Francis


Pinot Noir

2007 Ceja Vineyards Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast

2009 Dutton-Goldfield Pinot Noir Fox Den

2007 Fort Ross Pinot Noir, Fort Ross Vineyard

2007 Fort Ross Symposium Pinot Noir

2008 Kosta Browne Winery Pinot Noir, Gap’s Crown

2009 Siduri Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast

2009 Siduri Pinot Noir Ewald Vineyard

2009 Siduri Pinot Noir Van der Kamp Vineyard

Cabernet Sauvignon

2008 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander’s Crown Vineyard

1992 Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley (from magnum)

2007 Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley

2007 Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon, Christopher’s Alexander Mountain Estate


2008 Dashe Old Vine Zinfandel Todd Brothers Ranch 


NV. J Brut Rose

My wine-stained tasting journal...


SITC, though a bit overwhelming for me, was the best wine event I’ve been to so far, especially when I consider the breadth, depth, and quality of wines offered!  I always enjoy discovering new (at least to me) producers – in this case, Fort Ross, Kunde, Landmark, and Stonestreet are now on my radar screen.  Likewise, when it comes to Kosta Browne, and Siduri Pinots, it exciting to know I can “believe the hype” !

Still, I know I missed other amazing wines…Oh well there’s always next year!!

Drink Pink…Top 10 Rosés!

They say the first step is to admit you cannot control your compulsion…here it is then…I am a Rosé fiend!  Not only are Rosés my hands down favorite during the warmer months of the year, I enjoy Rosé pretty much all year-round because it’s such a versatile food friendly wine.  For example last week, on the hottest day of Summer 2011, so far, I made Chipotle-Rubbed Flank Steak w/Gorgonzola Sauce.  I wanted a chilled wine because it was hot, but also a wine that would stand up to the meatiness of the steak, the spiciness of the spice rub, and the brininess of the Gorgonzola cheese sauce.  A Rosé from Spain was just the ticket and paired wonderfully with the dish.

I’ve been on a serious “Rosé Run” between the beginning of May and now; having tasted at least 25 Rosés from California, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain.  With that brief, but salient background, here are my Top 10 Rosés of 2011…at least so far…I’m sure I’ll be trying more throughout the summer!

First, the method to my madness:

  • The wines are ranked in inverse order.
  • If I scored wines the same, price is the tiebreaker, with the lower priced wine being ranked higher.
  • For more detailed information including the region from which the wine comes, grape varietal(s), more detailed tasting notes/comments,  and a link to find the wine, click on linked name of the wine.

Here we go…

10.  2010 Ameztoi Getariako Txakolina Rubentis –  Spain.  Pink with silver hue color of watermelon flesh.  Strawberry,  and wet stone aromas. On the palate, bone dry, light-bodied, and fizzy with mouth-watering acidity, with strawberry, mineral, and citrus flavors. Medium finish. (88 pts) – $21

9. Frick Winery Cinsault Rosé  –  California.  Dark pink with a reddish hue. Strawberry, and tart cherry aromas.  On the palate, between dry and off-dry, medium bodied, with a trace of tannins, and strawberry, cherry, spice, and a touch of pomegranate flavors.  Medium finish (88 pts) – $19

8.  2010 Quivira Rosé North Coast –  California.  Faded pink color. Strawberry and spice aromas.  On the palate, closer to off-dry than dry, and approaching medium bodied with strawberry, melon and spice flavors aroma.  Short finish.  (88 pts) – $17

7.  2010 Château d’Esclans Cotes de Provence Whispering Angel – France. Very light salmon pink with a copper hue.  Offers melon, and mineral aromas.  On the palate light bodied, and dry with not quite ripe melon, citrus, and little bit of earthy flavor.  Medium finish.   (89 pts) – $17

6.  2010 Bonny Doon Vineyard Vin Gris de Cigare –  California. Salmon color with raspberry, and mineral aromas.  On the palate light bodied, balanced with strawberry, melon, apricot flavors.  Medium finish. (89 pts) – $15

5. 2010 Dashe Cellars Vin Gris  – California.  Deep strawberry red color.  Strawberry, dried cherry, and spice aromas.  On the palate, balanced with lush mouth feel with lively strawberry, cherry, spice and mineral flavors.  Medium-long finish.  (89 pts) – $14

4.  2010 Bodegas Muga Rioja Rosado –  Spain.  Light pink color with pale orange hue.  Strawberry, apricot and melon aromas.  On the palate, dry with medium acidity, moderately complex.  Tangy with strawberry, orange/tangerine, and mineral flavors.  Medium finish. (89 pts) –  $13

3.  2009 Bonny Doon Vineyards A Supposedly Clever Winemaking Protocol I’ll…Ca’ del Solo – California.  Bright strawberry red color with pale orange hue with strawberry, and melon aromas. On the palate,  medium bodied with a hint of tannins, good acidity, and juicy strawberry, melon, and just a bit of kiwi flavors.  Barrel-fermented. Brought to mind a chilled light bodied red wine.  Medium finish.  (90 pts) – $16

2.  2010 François Chidaine Touraine Val de Loire – France. Lovely light salmon pink color with wild strawberry, floral, and faint dusty aromas.  On the palate, complex and tart with lively acidity, and strawberry, tart berry, and orange flavors.  Medium long finish.  (90 pts) – $13

1.  2010 Bedrock Wine Co. Mourvèdre Ode to Lulu Rosé – California.  Gorgeous eye of the partridge color with fragrant raspberry, white peach, wet stone, and floral aromas.  On the palate, approaching medium bodied, dry with wonderful acidity, and mouth feel, with spicy white peach, citrus and mineral flavors.  Medium-long finish (91 pts) – $20

Although, my Top 10 is dominated by Cali Rosés, that’s because I prefer to taste before I buy, and my proximity to Northern California’s wine regions affords me the opportunity to do that.  Of course, I’m also up for trying wine recommended by other “Winos” I trust, and that’s how I was introduced to a few of the wines.

Not only is the my list dominated by Cali wines, I noted that all but one of the wines is made from various Rhone varietals (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, or  Cinsault among a few others), and that’s not happenstance.  I think Rhone varietals add a layer of spiciness to the wines that I really enjoy.

Do you have a favorite Rosé?  If so, leave me a comment! I’m always looking to try something new, and the Summer is young!!

Highlights from my first Passport to Dry Creek Valley

It was a beautiful wine, food, and fun-filled weekend for the 22nd Annual Passport to Dry Creek Valley (“Passport”) with fabulous weather (in fact we were told by Jack Florence of Florence Ranch, who has been growing Dry Creek Valley for 35 years, that it has never rained Passport weekend)! 

As expected, our original plan to go to ten wineries over Saturday and Sunday ( Amista,  Mauritson, Mazzocco, Michel-Schlumberger, Ridge, Alderbrook Frick, Mounts, Seghesio, Unti) morphed into visiting 15 of the 46 wineries ( we also went to Dutcher Crossing, Bella Vineyard and Wine Caves, Armida, Dry Creek Vineyards, and Quivira).  I tasted 75 wines over the two days, the vast majority of which were very good to excellent, had some great food, and enjoyed the entertainment offered.  My Top 10 most memorable of the wines were:

Ginormous corkscrew at Bella


2005 Ridge Grenache (88% Grenache, 6% Petite Sirah, 6% Zinfandel) – Aromas: Dusty cherries; Palate: cherries, spice.  Balanced with a medium finish – 88pts

2007 Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel (71% Zinfandel, 22% Petite Sirah, and 7% Carignane) – Aromas: Wonderful aromatics of dark fruit, spice, vanilla and a bit of pepper;  Palate: Blackberries and raspberries with good balance, and long finish – 91 pts

2008 Quivira MourvèdreAromas: Plums, blackberries cloves, and touch bacon Palate: Plums, blackberries, vanilla and cloves w/medium finish – 88 pts

2008 Quivira Elusive (34% Syrah, 32% Grenache, 28% Mourvedre, 6% Petite Sirah) – Aromas: Dark fruit and black cherries  Palate:  Dark fruit and strawberries, with good balance and finish- 89 pts

2007 Seghesio Home Ranch Petite Sirah;  Aromas: Spicy blueberries, and a bit of oak Palate: black raspberries, vanilla, and mineral. Fine-grained tannins provide that little bit of “grip” I like. Fruity, but not overly so. Young, but tasty! – 88 pts

2oo8 Seghesio San Lorenzo Zinfandel (84% Zinfandel, 12% Petite Sirah, 2% Carignane, 1% Alicante and 1% Grand Noir); Aromas: Dark fruit, spice Palate: blackberries, cocoa, and spice. Good balance with a lengthy finish. Paired with Seafood Gumbo – Off the Chain!  90 pts

2008 Mauritson Rockpile “Buck Pasture” Red Wine (45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc, 18% Merlot, 13% Malbec, and 1% Petit Verdot); Aromas: Cherries, black currant and vanilla;  Palate: Cherries, black currant, mocha;  surprisingly excellent paired with Chocolate Caramel Tartlets with dark chocolate shell, maldon sea salt caramel – 89 pts


2009 Quivira Fig Tree Sauvignon Blanc (88% Sauvignon Blanc, 12% Sauvignon Musque – S/S fermented); Aromas: Melon and citrus Palate: Melon, citrus and subtle fig. Good balance and a decent finishThis one wasn’t citrus-ey and grassy as were most we tasted. Very nice effort! – 87 pts

2008 Frick Grenache Blanc, Owl Hill Vineyard; Aromas: Peach and stone fruit, Palate: Peaches with subtle vanilla flavor, great mouth feel! Superbly paired with “Green Goddess Seafood Nachos” from (Click here for photos of food pairings at Frick) made with Dungeness crab, shrimp & lobster cream cheese, Green Goddess dressing on a green avocado chip! –  88 pts

2008 Dutcher Crossing Stuhlmuller Vineyard Chardonnay;  Aromas: Buttery with a touch of tropical aromas  Palate: Buttery apple and vanilla; Nice job of integrating buttery flavor and texture without oak being overwhelming – 88 pts

And that was just the wine!  As I mentioned in my previous post, Passport is about wine, food, and entertainment. Other categories of highlights for me include:

  • “Winery I could have stayed all day”;  Seghesio – hands down!  Wonderful wines, food, and best entertainment of the event for me.  It was a taste of ‘Nawlins in Cali with ample servings of Tasso Shrimp Fettuccini, Seafood Gumbo with Andouille Sausage, Cajan BBQ Ribs, and Beignets, and serving hot music laid down by Andre Thierry & Zydeco Magic!  Seghesio is the reason we went to fewer wineries on Sunday, than Saturday!

Andre Thierry & Zydeco Magic performing at Seghesio

  • “Put your money where you mouth is”;  We purchased wines from Quivira, Frick and Bella
  • “See you again next year”;  Seghesio, Quivira, Frick, Mauritson, and Ridge
  • “Best Wine and Food Pairings”; Frick, Mauritson, Seghesio, and Quivira
  • “Most unusual wine”; Was a good 20 year old Cab  from Michel-Schlumberger – still a bit tannic after all these years!

We had a great time and will be back next year, as they say in the South, “Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise”  😉

In Vino Veritas!

My First Passport to Dry Creek Valley

Vineyards in the California wine region of the...

Image via Wikipedia

Our first big wine event of 2011 is Passport to Dry Creek Valley (“Passport”) the forthcoming weekend – April 30th, and May 1st.  This is our first Passport. According to the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley (“WDCV”) the association putting on the event…

Passport to Dry Creek Valley™ is an annual event showcasing the wineries, vineyards and exceptional beauty of Dry Creek Valley. There are 60+ wineries and 150 growers in the Dry Creek Valley, producing a variety of wines to please any palate. Wineries up and down Dry Creek Valley celebrate the magic of their valley with wine, food, entertainment and the hospitality for which Dry Creek Valley is famous. Many wineries offer either live music or entertainment…

I think what makes this event special is the combination of wine, food, and entertainment.  This year there are 46 participating wineries, each with various activities.  The event is from 11 am to 4:30 pm daily, so it would be virtually impossible to go to all 46 wineries over a two day period (unless you decided to sprint from winery to winery and stayed at each winery for less than 15 minutes) Besides, with an event like this with wine, food pairing, and entertainment, I think it’s best to take one’s time, and enjoy it, and running from place to place  wouldn’t be that enjoyable for us.  We’re talking quality here, not quantity!

The initial plan is to hit 5 wineries a day, and I was looking for diversity in varietals being poured, favorite foods, entertainment, and also mostly wanted to visit wineries we haven’t been too before (with a few favorites we’ve enjoyed before)  Of course, no plan survives battle. I expect as the day unfolds, we’ll roll with the punches and see what happens! So which wineries did I pick? Without further ado, here’s the hit list:

Amista – All American Diner theme; Chef John Franchetti of Rosso serving up Truffled Sausage Sliders and Mac & Cheese with arugula and prosciutto.

Mauritson – Acclaimed Chef Charlie Palmer is enough for me, but on top of that barrel tasting and single-vineyard Rockpile wines!

Mazzocco – Our starting point; Cuban theme with big band salsa beat of Orquesta Borinquen, and Cuban foods paired with their wines.

Michel-Schlumberger – Great property with “Take Me Out To the Benchlands” theme.  Live music with Carlos Herrera Band.

Ridge – World-class Zins, and single vineyard Rhone blends paired with Slow Braised Beef Short Ribs Sliders!

Alderbrook – Caribbean theme; Pigs and Pinot, and Zins in the Tiki Lounge. And how can you go wrong with a tropical music and a Conga line?!

Frick – Pouring unique Rhone varietals such as Grenache Blanc, Cinsault, Counoise, along with Grenache.

Mounts – Middle Easter theme; Persian food paired with Petite Sirah, Zin, and Malbec. Oh and belly dancing!

Seghesio – Cajun theme, including Zydeco music; Cajun BBQ Ribs, Seafood Gumbo, Tasso Shrimp Fettuccini paired with great Zins and Italian varietals.

Unti – Live music with a Saskatoon guitarist; wines include highly regarded Rosé, Rhone, and Italian varietals.

In addition to these wineries, I’ve also got my eye on Quivira, Talty (may have to swing by here just for the Zinfandel Cherry Chipotle Lamb tacos!). I’ll let you know how it goes!

In Vino Veritas!

Tis The Seasons…

Vineyard in Livermore, California

Image via Wikipedia

I received my brochure detailing the events for Passport to Dry Creek Valley (“Passport”) a few days ago.  I’ve been looking forward to Passport since last year, when I missed it because I put off purchasing tickets for a few days.  At that time, I wasn’t aware that Passport is one of the premier wine events in California, nor was I aware how quickly it sells out.

As I look forward to Passport this year, I’m reminded of how much I enjoy the April through October time frame in California. The weather is usually magnificent.  I feel a simple, but profound joy as I witness the fruit go through its various stages , from dormancy, to  bud burst, to seeing tiny green berries before veraison, and finally the harvest.  It’s a delight to enjoy a glass or two of wine outside, be that in a park, dining al fresco, or in my back yard.  And last, but not least, there are so many opportunities to attend great wine events locally, and all around the Golden State.  Interested in checking out an event or two?  There are too many to mention, but check out some of the links that follow!  We’ve attended a few of these, and they’ve been great.

Livermore Valley Wine Country Events

Wine Road – Sonoma County (what a great tag line – “Heaven Condensed”!)

6th Annual All American Zin Day

California Wine Festival

Paso Robles Annual Wine Events

Lodi Wine Events

Santa Cruz Mountain Events

Napa Valley Events

Amador County Wine Events

Remember to check out local wineries near you for various events too!  Leave a comment if you’ve attended an event you recommend, or want a recommendation.

In Vino Veritas!

Cali Zinfandel Flavor Characteristics

According to Wikipidia:

California regions

In California, 20% of the Zinfandel-growing counties hold 80% of the Zinfandel growing area; however, major producing areas such as San Joaquin County, Stanislaus County, and Madera County produce Zinfandel primarily for blends or jug wine.

Certain California regions are regarded as “exceptional” for Zinfandel, each with identifiable flavor characteristics.

  • Amador has a reputation for big, full-bodied Zinfandel. These extra-ripe wines have been called jammy, briary, and brambly, having aromas of sweet berries.
  • Although the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA in Santa Clara Valley produces Zinfandel from just 9 acres (3.64 hectares), the Zinfandel from that region is known for its complexity and depth.
  • Sonoma county has a Zinfandel-producing land area second only to that of San Joaquin County. The county contains the warm Dry Creek Valley AVA, known for its juicy Zinfandel with bright fruit, balanced acidity and notes of blackberry, anise and pepper. Dry Creek Valley produces Zinfandel in a variety of styles ranging from the high-alcohol Amador style to balanced, spicy wines.
  • San Luis Obispo, particularly the Paso Robles AVA with its hot days and cool maritime evenings, produces Zinfandel known for being soft and round.
  • While the Napa Valley AVA is known primarily for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, Napa also produces Zinfandel wines described as plummy and intense, tasting of red berry fruits with cedar and vanilla. Zinfandel in Napa tends to be made in a claret style like red Bordeaux.
  • The Russian River Valley generally produces well during warm vintages. Otherwise, the grapes do not fully ripen, leaving the wines with excessive acidity. The area has mostly “old vine” Zinfandel, characterized as spicy and somewhat lower in alcohol than Zinfandel from other regions.
  • Mendocino County Zinfandel wines have been considered high quality, but they are less known because they are not heavily marketed.
  • Lodi has some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in California. While often used for White Zinfandel production, in the red style, Lodi Zinfandels have a reputation for being juicy and approachable.

Mine Eyes Have Been Opened Wide…

Seghesio Family Vineyards

Image of Seghesio Family Vineyards via Snooth

I love Zin.  It’s one of my favorite varietals.  In fact, my epiphany wine was a Lolonis Zinfandel I had about 10 years ago.  Before that, I liked wine and would consume it occasionally.  But after that, I came to love wine.  I can still remember the juicy berry flavor of that wine!

But when it comes to pairing it with food, I don’t perceive it to be as versatile as other wines, such as Pinot Noir, or Syrah, in terms of reds.  I must confess that I mostly consider zinfandel to be a B&B (Burger & BBQ) wine.  That all changed this past weekend when we attended the 2010 Seghesio Chef’s Harvest dubbed a “Cuisines of the World with America’s Wine”

Zinfandel is widely considered to be America’s grape, and thus America’s wine because the world’s oldest zinfandel wines reside in California, and because other popular grapes such as Cab, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling have hundreds of years of history in Old World Europe, while Zinfandel transformed from a little known grape to one planted to 50,000 acres here in America.  There is more Zinfandel planted in California than anywhere else in the world.

The Seghesio event featured 5 renowned Chefs from around the country preparing World Cuisine paired with their Zinfandels to showcase the food pairing versatility of Zinfandel.  All the Zins were produced using Sonoma County fruit from Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley.

Each Chef prepared small plates with three dishes.  Each cuisine was paired a different Zinfandel.  The featured cuisines and dishes are detailed below:

Wine Cuisine
2008 Home Ranch Zinfandel Asian Jumbo Tiger Shrimp Sate with Spicy Peanut Sauce/Grilled Beef in Grape Leaves with Nuoc Cham/Edamame & Corn Salad with Walnut Miso Dressing
2008 Old Vine Zinfandel Persian – Eggplant Crostini with Sun-dried Yogurt and walnuts/Pistachio Meatballs with Harissa-Pomegranate Glaze/Yogurt Marinated Flat Iron Steak with Cucumber Raita
2008 Rockpile Zinfandel Cajun – Duck and Andouille Gumbo/Smoked Cajun Sausage with Pickled Peppers/Louisiana Blackeyed Pea and Rice Salad
2007 Cortina Zinfandel Spanish – Tomato and Watermelon Gazpacho/Cordero Al Carbon – Spit roasted young lamb/Seafood Paella of Lobster, Prawns, Clams, and Mussels
2007 San Lorenzo Zinfandel Italian – Northern Halibut, Sweet White Corn & Bulls Horn Peppers/Lamb Polpette with Sheep’s Milk Yogurt & Salsa Rustica/Trio of Sonoma Tomatoes – Crudo, Concentrato, Gelatina

Mission accomplished!  The Zins were paired wonderfully with all the cuisines.  My favorite pairing was the 2008 Seghesio Rockpile Zinfandel with Duck and Andouille Gumbo, but I enjoyed all the pairings!  The experience definitely opened my mind to Zin’s possibilities beyond the All-American B&B realm. Learning is always best when it’s fun, since there was a band and plenty of wine, and wine lovers we had a blast!

We currently have more Zinfandel than any other varietal in our modest “cellar”. Now that mine eyes have been opened wide..I don’t know how long that’s going to last!