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Posts Tagged ‘Sonoma County’

New selections from Day and Ojai

The pair of wines in this post were recently recommended by Andy at MacArthur Beverages.  The 2016 Day, Zinfandel, Sonoma County is a recent project of Ehren Jordan.  It is a pure style of wine which could be called elegant for Zinfandel.  I would drink it as a refresher over the next summer or two.  The 2014 The Ojai Vineyard, Grenache, John Sebastiano Vineyard, Santa Barbara County offers up a bit more complexity.  Given the age, I was a bit surprised that this is a serious wine in need of several more years in the cellar.  While it is of interest now, you will be best served by waiting.

2016 Day, Zinfandel, Sonoma County – $27
This wine is a blend of 95% Zinfandel and 5% Petite Sirah. Pure framboise (jelly!) and other red fruits with an edge of acidity. The flavors sharpen by the finish where it becomes tart, almost tense with a little spice.  A clean, fresh, almost elegant rendition of Zinfandel.  *** Now – 2021.

2014 The Ojai Vineyard, Grenache, John Sebastiano Vineyard, Santa Barbara County – $33
This wine is 100% Grenache.  Alcohol 13.5%. Dense with structure that is intertwined with the fruit. The textured, dry feeling in the mouth morphs into fine, almost bitter tannins by the finish. The wine is a touch savory with dense flavors of red and black fruits, firm acidity, and a pinon note. ***(*) 2021-2026.

“How long will our reds last? I don’t know.”: 1978 Parducci, Merlot Special Bottling plus some table wine

December 11, 2018 1 comment

The label of the 1978 Parducci, Merlot Special Bottling, Mendocino County magnum was only slightly soiled. The fill was excellent and underneath the plastic capsule, the firmly seated cork was pristine. After double-decanting, to remove the sediment, the wine bore deep aromas proper for a good Californian wine from the 1970s.

Grapes have been grown in Mendocino County since the 19th century when there were a few dozen growers. Located north of Sonoma, the slow arrival of rail lines meant this was a region of smaller enterprises rather than ones on a commercial scale. During Prohibition grapes were grown for home winemaking in San Francisco and bootlegging on the East Coast. By 1938, the number of bonded wines hit eight with Parducci the largest of them all. Most of the Parducci wine was sold off to other major wineries but eventually a new generation sought to bottle under their own label during the wine boom. It is in 1973 that Nathan Chroman, writing for the Los Angeles Times, found Parducci was just beginning to establish their identity.

Like Robert Mondavi, John Parducci advocated unfined and unfiltered wine. He did differ from Mondavi in these early years by avoiding any contact with oak. Parducci also felt strongly about growing the best grapes for the site rather than what was in demand. Articles from the 1970s share a common theme of Parducci’s unique style, affordable price, and drinkable red wines. If there was preference for fresh, fruit flavored red wines, there was also an economic side to it. The French and Yugoslavian oak barrels were too expensive for the family. That is not to say no wood was used, the Cabernet was aged in tall, thin redwood vats.

It must be remembered that 1976 and 1977 were drought years in California. The 1978 vintage yielded large numbers of healthy, sugar-filled grapes. Excitement was widespread with John Parducci commenting on the new wines, “Some of the most fantastic wines California has ever seen.” The principal vineyards of Parducci were Talmage, Largo, and Home Ranch. This is not where the fruit came from for the 1978 Merlot Special Bottling. The back label states the “grapes were grown by small growers on the slopes of Mendocino County”.

In 1974, the Special Bottling of Cabernet Sauvignon sold for $7.99 per bottle in Washington, DC. That put this Special Bottling in the range of Chappellet and Clos du Val pricing.  The nose is generous and in Parducci style, the wine offers up berries, freshness, and levity.  The alcohol level is noticeably low.  Together these traits make it a highly drinkable wine.  In fact, the magnum drank very well for several hours at which time it started to fade. To answer the title question, this magnum lasted 40 years with ease.

I wish I could write more about the 1974 Foppiano Vineyards, Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County.  Founded in the 19th century, very little was written about it save short mention of the periodically medal-winning Cabernet Sauvignon.  William Rice of The Washington Post found the 1972 Foppiano , Zinfandel as “very fruity” and though pleasantly aromatic, it lacked in tannin.  Ours, though, was from a better vintage but my gut-feeling is that the regular 1974s are fading away which did not help this wine.  The flavors are beginning to turn with no supporting structure left.

We tried two other wines that night from California. The magnums of 1984 and 1985 Robert Mondavi, Robert Mondavi Red were found in the dump bin at MacArthur Beverages. Priced at $3 each I had to try them for the historic note. A closer look at the label reveals these were made at the Woodbridge Winery. Created in 1979, the Woodbridge Winery was destined to produce large volumes of affordable, oak aged wines. A basic non-vintage table wine had been made at Mondavi since 1976 but quality had slipped.  The Woodbridge Winery was one of multiple prongs designed to improve the table wine quality.

The new Mondavi Red was primarily a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Gamay, Petite Sirah, and Merlot aged in small oak barrels. Carignan, Thomson Seedless (!!!), and Columbard were largely jettisoned as they were considered in the territory of jug wine.  Mondavi believed in long aging in oak but $300 French oak barres were to expensive for use at Woodbridge. Instead, he “retired” his older French oak barrels used in his premium wines to Woodbridge.  He then employed American coopers to use American oak to form new barrels using the French method of charing rather than steaming. Unlike other inexpensive table wines these were new table wines based at Woodbridge winery were regarded as more complex and capable of some aging.

As for the wines, the 1984 was green, herbaceous and way past prime.  Not really surprising.  I was hoping to pull a rabbit out of a hat and the 1985 almost obliged. The nose was good but the flavors too herbaceous.  I suspect it would have drunk fine a decade ago.

1978 Parducci, Merlot Special Bottling, Mendocino County
Alcohol 12.5%.  Definitely a brick-brown color.  Deep, comforting aromas are evocative of the period.  In the mouth fresh acidity bearing mixed flavors of wood box, deep berries, and maturity.  A lighter bodied wine of moderate length it is fresh and very drinkable.  It fleshes out a bit with air becoming more saline.  It has good staying power.  *** Now but will last

1974 Foppiano Vineyards, Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County
Alcohol 12%.  The cork smelled balsamic but none of that transferred to the wine.  A slight hint of roast indicates its past prime.  In the mouth this is a fully mature wine, aging fruit is a touch sour but it remains supple.  A lighter style of Zinfandel that was likely elegant to begin with the structure entirely integrated.  *(*) Drink Up.

1984 Robert Mondavi, Robert Mondavi Red
Alcohol 12%.  Green veggies and other herbaceous aromas.  An herbaceous edge to the bright and tart red fruit.  Short, simple, and not of interest. Past Prime.

1985 Robert Mondavi, Robert Mondavi Red
Alcohol 12%.  Some depth to the nose, dark fruit, wood box, and spices.  A certain hint of that carries into the mouth but herbaceousness comes out as well.  In much better poise than the 1984. * Now but drink up.

Two old Special Selection wines from California

November 21, 2017 Leave a comment

One evening this summer, Mannie and I sat outside with our families for dinner.  The theme for the meal was old Californian wine, a favorite subject of mine, both historically and gustatory.  Our first bottle, the 1969 Louis M. Martini, Special Selection California Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon was produced by  Louis P. Martini who took over management of his father’s winery the year before.  It was that same year, in 1968, that the Californian wine boom took off and wine production began to accelerate.  In the span of one year, from 1969 to 1970 the volume of table wine produced in California increased by more than 25%.  The new interest in wine extended beyond the staggering increase in consumption, Californian wines made inroads at the White House and Heublein held their first rare wine auction conducted by Michael Broadbent.

Californian Zinfandel rode the boom during which our second bottle of 1977 Montevina, Special Selection Zinfandel, Amador County was produced.  Zinfandel was to became widely discovered after Bob Trinchero released his 1968 Sutter Home, Zinfandel from old vines in Amador County.  Amador County Zinfandel would eventually be considered “the biggest, richest, spiciest, and most intensely flavored red wines” produced in America.  As a result, the price for Amador County Zinfandel skyrocketed from $68 per ton in 1968 up to $400-$500 per ton in 1980.  During this period there was also a small scene of skyrocketing alcohol levels.

The first post-Prohibition winery in Amador County is Cary Gott’s Montevina Winery.  Founded in 1970, it was a full-fledged professional operation by 1973.  During the late 1970s the wines were being sold and favorably reviewed  both on the west coast and the east coast.  Frank J. Prial’s 1979 suggestions on which wines to select at the Four Seasons restaurant in New York City include “the great Montevina zinfandel” from 1974.  He would later describe the 1976 vintage as “big, intense wine without a lot of elegance but great fun to drink.”

The Montevina fruit came from 120 acres of vines, most over 30 years of age and many over 70 years of age.  They were dry-farmed which stressed the vines in the intense heat yielding “deeply colored, more concentrated juice”.  If the regular bottlings of Zinfandel reached 15%, the more tannic and alcoholic Special Selection were higher.  The 1977 Special Selection Zinfandel reached a reported 16%.  These were the levels achieved naturally.  The 1977 vintage occurred during a second consecutive drought year which when coupled with longer hang time only compounded levels.  Mt. Veeder’s late harvest Zinfandel reached 17.2% and Sutter Home made a late harvest Zinfandel in 1977 which reached 17% alcohol.  Bob Trinchero described it as a “very, very difficult wine to drink.”

By 1980, Bob Trinchero felt the fad “for these, big monster Zinfandels” died off.  The wines were no longer bargains due to gaining respect.  That same year Terry Roberts of The New York Times published a list of “complex and robust zinfandels” made by David Bruce, Mayacamas, Montevina, Ridge Vineyard, Sonoma Vineyard, and Sutter Home.  That is quite a list of names.

As for the wines the 1969 Martini is fully mature.  The flavors are still complex but the wine is gentle and shortening up.  The 1977 Montevina is a mouth full.  It does not have the complexity of the Martini but there is an interesting inky, mineral middle.  It is almost like a dry Port and will last for decades.  Neither wine blew me away but in reflecting the beginning and middle of the California wine boom I find them fascinating.

1969 Louis M. Martini, Special Selection California Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon
This wine is made from Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from Napa and Sonoma Counties. Alcohol 12.5%. The old-school, tangy red fruit is accompanied by leather and vintage perfume. The flavors dry up towards the shorter finish.  *** Now.

1977 Montevina, Special Selection Zinfandel, Amador County
Alcohol 15%. From the mouth filling start to the mouth filling finish this wine is substantial. It is almost thick in the mouth with an interesting mineral middle, inky nature, and baking spiced finish. *** Now but will last.

I like my Sutter Home Zinfandel red and from the 1970s

August 2, 2017 1 comment

Our dinners with Sudip have come to a reasonable arrangement for all.  The kids play for hours, Sudip provides the meal, and I provide the old wine.  Though purely by coincidence it is worth noting that Sudip has won handsomely at poker on days when his games begin or end on our dinner evenings.

One theme we continue to visit at each dinner are the Californian wines from the 1977 vintage.  In picking the wines for our latest dinner I could not but help to bring the 1977 Sutter Home Winery, Zinfandel, Amador County.  As we last had success with Martin Ray I also included the NV Martin Ray, Cabernet Sauvignon, La Montana, Cuvee 5 and to match the lack of vintage date I paired it with the NV Preston Vineyards, Red Table Wine, Sonoma County.

Sutter Home has a history dating back to the late 19th century but for our bottle, produced by the Trinchero family, that history begins in 1946.  It is then that the family purchased the old winery then set about revitalizing it such that they produced over 40 different wines including the one gallon variety.

Bob Trinchero became winemaker in 1960.  When he made his first zinfandel in 1968 he knew that was the direction he wanted the winery to go.  The wine was released with great success in 1971.  By 1973 only red Zinfandel, white Zinfandel, and Muscat were being produced.

Throughout the 1970s Sutter Home Zinfandels were amongst the highest rated Zinfandels at the Los Angeles County Fair and as such frequently appear in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Washington Post.  The earliest vintages saw up to three years of age in wood.  The aging period was reduced, in an effort to gain complexity, with the 1978 vintage achieving the desired results.

When Bob Trinchero first began to make Zinfandel, it was viewed as a lesser grape and the fruit did not command the same prices as Cabernet Sauvignon.  Amador County Zinfandel sold for $68 per ton in 1968 climbing up to $400-$500 per ton in 1980.  By this point Amador County Zinfandel was considered “the biggest, richest, spiciest, and most intensely flavored red wines” produced in America.[2]

There is little in print about the specific bottling of 1977 Sutter Home Zinfandel we tried.    Bob Trinchero notes that winemakers were producing big, alcoholic wines almost to the point of “absurdity” at the time.  It is the intense heat of Amador County which regularly produced wines of alcohol content starting at 14%.  Trinchero does state that Sutter Home made one Zinfandel in 1977 with an alcohol content of 17%.[3]  This wine “stained enamel”.  Sadly the 1977 was not included in the 11 vintage lineup of Sutter Home Zinfandel tasted by William Rice in 1980.

The need for age is a common description found for young Sutter Home Zinfandels from the 1970s.  Our bottle of 1977 Sutter Home Winery, Zinfandel, Amador County still contains obvious structure and cherry flavors delivered in a firm manner.  It is not the most complex wine but all of those years of oak aging will enable it to readily live on for a long time.

Not of the same staying power is the NV Martin Ray, Cabernet Sauvignon, La Montana, Cuvee 5.  This bottle was originally offered during the early 1980s.  It is a generous and interesting blend of old-school funk with modern clean fruit.  I found the combination appealing.  Most likely from the same period the NV Preston Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon Red Table Wine, Sonoma County is a fun drink for the first hour.  During this period the tangy and weighty red fruit is thoroughly enjoyable.  While not as complex as the Martin Ray it is quenching and deserves marks for that.

1977 Sutter Home Winery, Zinfandel, Amador County
Alcohol 13%.  This is structured and firm with predominant cherry flavors which are accompanied by black fruit in the end.  There is a bit of zip and certainly a structure of fine, drying textured tannins.  With air a decent nose develops.  The wine remains solid but has some grip and certainly tart, cherry candy notes.  ** Now but will easily last.

NV Martin Ray, Cabernet Sauvignon, La Montana, Cuvee 5
This wine is a blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Merlot.  Alcohol 13%.  The nose combines enjoyable old-school funk with modern dark fruit aromas.  In the mouth this is very lively with rounded, old school flavors that come across as juicy and weighty.  There is even some earth.  The blue-fruited finish shortens up a bit but it is balanced overall.  *** Now.

NV Preston Vineyards, Red Table Wine, Sonoma County
This wine is perhaps mostly Cabernet Sauvignon.  Alcohol 12.5%.  The nose offers tart cherry and incense.  This is a very strong offering right out of the bottle with tangy red fruit that is delivered with some authoritative weight.  The fresh tang leaves an impression a good impression.  The wine is quite good for the first hour then it fades and falls apart a bit.  *** Now for the first hour.


[1] Rice, William. WINE: Zinfandels Find A Home at Sutter WINE. The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Washington, D.C. [Washington, D.C]27 Apr 1980: K1.

[2] THE NEW AMERICAN WINES: Intense Zinfandels Of the Sierra Nevada Wine Talk
By TERRY ROBARDS. New York Times (1923-Current file); Jun 11, 1980; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times. pg. C1

[3] Hicke, Carol.  Interview with Louis “Bob” Trinchero in 1991. “California Zinfandels, A Success Story”.  The Wine Spectator Californian Winemen Oral History Series.

American Trousseau, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc

Lou and I managed to work in some wine drinking right before the 4th of July.  For our evening together, I pulled out a brace of Trousseau Noir and Lou offered a pair of wines he brought down from the Finger Lakes.  I find Californian Trousseau interesting.  The 2015 Forlorn Hope, Trousseau Noir, Rorick Vineyard is the more forward, currently complex of the two wine with a nice complement of minerals and orange peel.  It is also very pale like apple juice.  The 2015 Sandlands, Trousseau, Sonoma County is darker in color and more primary.  Despite the light colors and flavors both bottles manage to contain decent structure for the near term.

It was the 2015 Eminence Road Farm Winery, Cabernet Franc, Elizabeth’s Vineyard, Finger Lakes which completely surprised me.  My first thought was that you could serve this blind in a tasting of Leon Barral’s wines from Faugeres.  It would not be out of place save less flavor intensity.  The aromas of earth and soil are ones which make me happily think of France.  I should note there is a yeast note which develops but then fades away as the wine takes on more body.  Almost as interesting and certainly confusing is the 2010 Red Newt Cellars, Merlot, Finger Lakes.  From a ripe vintage, this wine has taken on age such that it smells just like old Vallana from Alto Piedmont.  No joke! It is true that it is mature in the mouth and a bit different but a fitting end to a tasting of unusual wines.

2015 Forlorn Hope, Trousseau Noir, Rorick Vineyard
Alcohol 12.23%.  Rather pale in color, similar to oxidized apple juice.  The nose offers forward, floral aromas.  In the mouth the wine is taut in body with a mixture of minerals and prominent orange peel in the finish.  It becomes more mineral with air with ripe apple notes, flower petals, and a maintained sense of freshness.  Despite being forward, it could age for a year or two for it packs in some structure.  *** Now – 2019.

2015 Sandlands, Trousseau, Sonoma County
Alcohol 12.4%.  It is the color pale, dried roses.  The nose is robust.  It is finely controlled with an ethereal smooth flavor, watering acidity, and light floral fruit flavor.  It becomes puckering towards the finish.  That said, this wine comes across as packing more in and requiring air to open up.  *** 2018-2022.

2015 Eminence Road Farm Winery, Cabernet Franc, Elizabeth’s Vineyard, Finger Lakes
Alcohol 11.9%.  Wow, the earthy nose of bright berries transports you to France.  With air there are wet soil aromas.  In the mouth are tart cherry flavors which have good weight, a slight yeast hint, spot on acidity, and a fine textured finish.  This lively wine is of strong interest.  It does pick up a touch more yeast as it breaths but this eventually disappears as the wine puts on more weight. ***(*) 2017-2022.

2010 Red Newt Cellars, Merlot, Finger Lakes
Alcohol 13.6%.  The nose offers old, sweet, concentrated weighty aromas evocative of old Vallana.  In the mouth the sweet concentration continues with a dried fruit texture, soft but moderate body, watering acidity, and black fruited finish.  This tastes more mature than the vintage implies yet there is still acidity and structure for the near term.  ** Now – 2020.

Grenache Blanc from California

This past week we tried three bottles of California Grenache Blanc from three different regions.  The 2015 Priest Ranch, Grenache Blanc, Napa Valley  is a good value.  You first notice salinity and stone dust which is soon followed by fruit and  a mouth-coating aftertaste.  This wine responds well to air and some warmth which will make you pleased with the wine and $20 price.

Two of the wines have an interesting connection in that the vineyard which sources the Three Clicks fruit is planted with cuttings that came from Tablas Creek.  The 2015 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Grenache Blanc, Paso Robles is locked down.  I kept an open bottle in my refrigerator for a week and the wine barely changed.  Right now it is evocative of lemons but it needs to shake off its firmness before it should be drunk.  On the other hand the 2015 Three Clicks, Grenache Blanc, Branham Vineyard, Sonoma County is expressive.  I have enjoyed tasting the last several vintages of this wine at the annual MacArthur Beverages California Barrel Tasting and the current released vintages is just as good.  You taste the white fruit and the stones but it is crispness that captures my attention.  If you can only afford one bottle then grab the Three Clicks.  Add in the Priest Ranch if you want to compare wines.

 

2015 Priest Ranch, Grenache Blanc, Napa Valley – $20
Alcohol 14.8%.  This saline and stone dust infused wine has a dense start followed by ripe, white fruit flavors in the middle, and a pervasive, mouth-coating aftertaste.  It is well structured and balanced for further life.  *** Now – 2020.

2015 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Grenache Blanc, Paso Robles – $30
Alcohol 14.4%. Tasted over several nights this wine remained largely unevolved.  The flavors of white fruit, lemon, and baking spices are supported by lemon-like acidity, fine texture, and some density.  It adds a lifted, floral note in the finish.  This will last! **(*) Now – 2032.

2015 Three Clicks, Grenache Blanc, Branham Vineyard, Sonoma County – $28
Alcohol 14.3%.  There is a slightly weighty yet crisp start with good white fruit that overlays chalk.  The liveliness makes you return for another glass. *** Now – 2020.

A pair of Ridge and a blind Caronne Ste Gemme

January 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Lou and I managed to squeeze in several quick glasses of wine between our kids’ basketball games and dinner.  We kicked off with a bottle of NV (bottled in Dec 2000) Ridge, Cabernet Sauvignon, Coast Range, Sonoma County.  Both the capsule and label are darker, perhaps indicating this is a non-vintage winemaker’s blend.  It is clearly a Bordeaux blend on the nose with the greenhouse aromas indicating some cooler vintage(s) in the blend.  It is actually well made with an interesting finish and aftertaste, I just wish there was more depth to the fruit flavor.  The 2001 Ridge, Carignane, Buchignani Ranch, Sonoma County is a completely different beast.  The back label indicates that the sugar levels rose on the grapes and what we found in the glass were sweet, over ripe flavors.  I enjoyed it more on the initial pour but then found it too sweet.

Finally, Lou served a bottle blind.  I guessed it was either early 1980s California Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend or 1990s Bordeaux from a cooler vintage.  I was close as it turned out to be 1996 Chateau Caronne Ste Gemme, Haut-Medoc.  Caronne Ste Gemme was a daily drinker for Lou so he thought it fun to try a one.  This particular bottle bears its age very well.  With better balance than the NV Ridge, it is a lively drink at 21 years of age.

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NV (bottled in Dec 2000) Ridge, Cabernet Sauvignon, Coast Range, Sonoma County
This wine is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, and 2% Petit Verdot.  Alcohol 13.3%.  The nose is finely scented with greenhouse aromas and red/black fruit.  In the mouth this wine has fine grip and focus, showing tart red fruit and leather.  It builds flavor with air as well as a hard wood note, more leather, and delicate cranberry red fruit.  The aftertaste is surprisingly good.  ** Now but will last

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2001 Ridge, Carignane, Buchignani Ranch, Sonoma County
This wine is a blend of 99% Carignane and 1% Zinfandel.  Alcohol 14.3%.  There is a sweet, ripe dusty nose of fruit.  In the mouth the flavor is of very ripe berries, tea flavors, chocolate, and sweet fruit.  On re-tasting it tastes of over-ripe fruit.  Though there is still some grip. * Now.

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1996 Chateau Caronne Ste Gemme, Haut-Medoc
Imported by Adventures in Wine.  Alcohol 12.5%.  The color shows some age and the nose reveals greenhouse accented fruit.  In the mouth is a focused cloud of fruit with some purple flavors and ink.  It taste of a cool vintage but the attractive structure is in balance, there is some wood box, and an inky hint.  **(*) Now but will last.

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