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Cameron Hughes, Lot 467, Lodi Field Blend 2012 ($9)

by Tim Elliott on October 1, 2014

I have written and podcasted many times over the years about by love of California Zinfandel and Zin-lead field blends. The tradition of the field blend was brought to California by Italian immigrants over 100 years ago and some of the most individual expressions of this tradition are still bearing fruit in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley. The technique is simple, interplant a vineyard with Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Alicante Bouschet and other varieties, then harvest them at the same time and co-ferment. This tradition reaches its peak with Ridge’s Lytton Springs and Geyserville vineyards which has been chronicled here many times over the years.

Cameron Hughes, Lot 467, Lodi Field Blend 2012Finding distinctive Zinfandel for under $20 is difficult these days and almost everything under $10 does not display much of what makes this variety so special. Occasionally you will find something on close-out that falls within this price band but these are very few and far between. But négociants such as Cameron Hughes regularly bring us wines of distinction that overperform their price point, as is the case with this wine.

Podcast listeners will remember Cameron Hughes from my interview on Winecast 73 seven years ago. Much has changed with his operation over the years but his brands are still as meaningful for wine lovers looking for a bargain. So when I found this wine — a Lodi Field blend of 56% Zinfandel, 17% Syrah, 16% Petite Sirah, and 10% Tempranillo — for $8.99 at my local Costco, I grabbed a bottle.

Lodi has had a long history with Zinfandel dating back to the Gold Rush of the mid 19th Century. I’m sure field blending was also part of this tradition in the region but I’ve never tried any until now. And I don’t think the term “field blend” is regulated so it’s possible some back blending went on to create this wine, but it makes little difference to me since the traditional expression remains in the glass.

Cameron Hughes, Lot 467, Lodi Field Blend 2012 ($9) — Black/purple color with aromas of blackberry jam, fennel, chaparral and sage. Rich blackberry, blueberry and kirsch flavors with white pepper finishing with supple tannins. A bit boozy at the end but balanced currently by exuberant fruit. If you see this at your local Costco, buy it, as this one will not last long. My new go-to BBQ and pizza wine.

Score: 90
13.9% ABV
Composite cork closure

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WBW80: Dry Rosé

by Tim Elliott on August 14, 2013

Back when I first started podcasting about wine, in late 2004, there were maybe 40 podcasts in the world. But there were even fewer wine blogs and soon I discovered the monthly tasting event called Wine Blogging Wednesday joining on its eighth outing back in early 2005.

Over the years I have participated in WBW now 49 times and have hosted 6 times and I am pleased to have it return after a hiatus. The theme I chose for this outing is consistent with the wines I drink this time of year. While I do continue to drink reds, most of the time white or rosé wines are what I choose due to the temperatures outside and the food of the season. And while rosé wines such as white Zinfandel have carved out a significant presence in the market their residual sugar makes them more difficult to pair with food. So I drink exclusively dry rosé in the summer.

WBW 80 Rose WinesFor the selections made for this month’s WBW I decided to sample what is available under $10 a bottle. After looking at some local stores and big box retailers I settled on a couple of bottles from Trader Joe’s both under $6 a bottle. At this price I wasn’t looking for the best rosé but something that would complement a hamburger or taco. And I wasn’t disappointed.

The first bottle is Trader Joe’s Napa Valley Rosé 2012 ($5.99, 13.7% ABV) – It is a light ruby color in the glass with aromas typical of rosé, strawberry, cherry and citrus. There are bright grapefruit and strawberry flavors finishing dry with a touch of bitterness. I found it refreshing but a bit subdued in character but still a decent value. The varieties used were not disclosed but I assume Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon were most of the blend.

My second selection is from Spain, the Albero Bobal rosé 2012 ($5.99, 12.5% ABV) – Also a nice light ruby color the aromas here are all strawberry and grapefruit. In the glass the wine shows strawberry and lemon flavors finishing dry with nice acidity. A very pleasing rosé made from a grape I have never tried before. A win-win!

Both of these wines show how far we have come delivering value even in niches like dry rosé. I’m looking forward to reading what everyone has tried to fill out my cellar for the remaining weeks of summer. You can follow along on my Delicious feed.

Thanks also go to Lenn for asking me to host yet again who I will soon pass the baton to for hosting WBW81 next month. Look for a roundup post for WBW80 Friday or Saturday for all the rosé goodness.


WBW 76: Barossa Boomerang

by Tim Elliott on April 25, 2012

Schild Estate Barossa ShirazNot too long ago I drank quite a bit of Australian wine, particularly Shiraz. Given that this grape, also known as Syrah, expresses greatness in the Barossa Valley I could not pass an opportunity to revisit this region for this months’ Wine Blogging Wednesday. Our host, Adam from Wine Zag, proposed we look for any wine from Australia’s Barossa Valley but for me only Shiraz would do, much the same way only Cabernet would do for Napa Valley. One other limitation was to choose a wine for $30 USD or less. I’m well aquatinted with great values from Barossa but have not tasted any lately so I was a little concerned as I entered my local wine store to explore the options available this week.

The main reason for my exile from Barossa and most of the wines of Australia of late has been value. There are many great wines made in Australia but far fewer under $30 than in the past (at least it seems to me). Some of this is due to shipping costs; some of this is due to exchange rates. Today the best bang for the (American) buck comes from the Iberian peninsula or lesser known parts of Italy and France. Even California, Washington State and Oregon are bringing the value in these recessionary times. But there still are some producers who are managing to bring the value from Barossa even today.

One of those is Schild Estate, a family run winery in Barossa that over delivers value if judged by the wine I tasted this evening. Established in 1952, this winery produces a range of wines but with an emphasis on Shiraz. And after tasting their entry level Shiraz today, I can see why they lavish so much attention on the variety. It is because it’s delicious.

Tasting Notes:

Schild Estate Wines, Shiraz, Barossa 2009 ($18) – Dark purple in color with aromas of cherry, plum, bacon, and black licorice. Round in the mouth with concentrated blackberry, plum and black pepper flavors finishing with savory tannins. A very nice expression of Aussie Shiraz at a stunning price.

14.5% ABV
Screw cap closure
Rating: ★★★★☆
Score: 90

Thanks go to Adam for hosting this month and for provoking me to taste a Barossa wine and blog about it. Stay tuned for next months edition of our global virtual tasting to be announced soon.

WBW 71: Rhones Not From The Rhône

by Tim Elliott on March 16, 2011

When Wine Blogging Wednesday founder Lenn Thompson asked me to host this months’ tasting I was both honored and nervous. What theme would spark new participants to join the monthly virtual tasting? How could I come up with something original after 70 tastings? But after sharing three ideas on Twitter direct messages, we were set on, “Rhones Not From The Rhône.” When I announced the theme 3 weeks ago, I even put a bit of a spin on challenging tasters to look beyond the widely available Syrah/Shiraz and Grenache to try something new. How hard could it be to find a wine that matched this theme?

Well, as it turned out, somewhat more difficult than I had imagined when I came up with the idea; at least here in suburban Minnesota. After visiting a few stores in my area it was clear the selection was limited for Rhone varieties outside of Syrah/Shiraz. Sure I could have picked up any number of Viognier from California or Australia. Or some Mourvèdre. There was plenty of Grenache also on offer, most of which coming from Spain. But I was in the mood for something a bit more obscure so I could hold my head high as this months’ host. That’s when I spied a bottle of Cline “Ancient Vines” Carignane. “Perfect” I thought as the California producer makes a number of Rhone-style wines that are widely available and usually reliable choices. And Carignane is one of my “underdog grapes” that I don’t drink enough of. To top it off, I’ve never had Cline’s Carignane before.

So last night I opened the bottle and was immediately put off but the nose which was lean and, frankly, stinky. And not in a good way. Something was definitely wrong with the wine but I couldn’t put my finger on it. In the mouth the wine still had plenty of fruit but lacked the varietal character of the grape. And the finish was off. Since the wine was from the 2007 vintage and was purchased at a wine warehouse-style store, I chalked this up to bad storage. So I decided not to review that wine tonight and find another selection.

Writer's Block Roussanne labelA visit to yet another wine store yielded several options; all white. After considering a couple Viognier/Marsanne blends, I settled on a Roussanne under the “Writer’s Block” brand. I know every winery has to find an angle to sell their wines at retail but I almost didn’t pick this wine due to the label featuring William Shakespeare. The nonsense on the back label which didn’t really relate to the wine directly also didn’t help. But the attractive $7.99 close out price was the difference here as I’ve never tasted a sub-$10 California Roussanne before.

A bit of Googling turned up that Writer’s Block is a brand from Steele Wines and is almost exclusively focused on Rhone varieties (had the store stocked their Counoise, I would have been all over that wine). Steele is a moderate sized winery in Lake County started by Jed Steele after a nine year tenure at Kendall-Jackson. Steele makes a wide assortment of red and white varieties from vineyards in Sonoma, Santa Barbara, Mendocino and Lake Counties under the Steele, Shooting Star and Writer’s Block brands.

Tasting Notes:

Steele Wines “Writer’s Block” Roussanne, Lake County 2007 ($14) – Golden yellow in color with aromas of pear, honey, green tea and oak toast. Rich and oily in the mouth with green apple, orange and butterscotch flavors finishing with a nutty note and good acidity. A well made Roussanne that will continue to be interesting for some time to come. A great value at their standard $14, but a steal (pun intended) at the $7.99 closeout price I paid.

13.5% ABV
Composite cork closure
Rating: ★★★½☆
Score: 88

adegga listing
CellarTracker note
Snooth listing

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Thanks once again to Lenn Thompson from the New York Cork Report for coming up with the idea for Wine Blogging Wednesday and for allowing me host a 4th time. Be on the lookout for the announcement of WBW72 from Richard at The Passionate Foodie which will include a fund raiser for Japan relief efforts.