Recommendations

Chono, Syrah Reserva 2008

by Tim Elliott on February 12, 2011

There are a ton of great wine values out in the market today but I’m always pleased to find wines that considerably outperform their price. And tonight I have such an example. As I’ve blogged recently, Syrah has been a tough sale here in the U.S. I think it’s due to a few factors that’s out of the control of domestic producers looking to find a market for their wines here in the $30+ a bottle market. When you get there, and slightly above, you can get Rhône wines that deliver the goods so why go domestic?

Chono, Syrah Reserva labelBut in the under $10 a bottle market things are different. Here you find the tanker ship Shiraz from down-under and any number of other domestic choices. Usually they are serviceable but not very notable, with the folks at Columbia Crest probably being the standard bearer. A few others make some decent wines such as Don Sebastiani and Sons but nothing really gets close to wines costing over $25.

Or so I thought before picking up this wine at Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa recently. Not only does it deliver the Syrah goods at a steal, it does so with the unforgiving acidity it should.

Tasting Notes:

Chono, Syrah Reserva, Elqui Valley, Chile 2008 ($9) – Inky dark purple-black in color with aromas of blackcurrant, blueberry, bacon, eucalyptus and green olive. Ripe black raspberry fruit flavors with kirsch and white pepper finishing with moderate tannins, good acidity and a nice mineral streak. Delicious and completely unexpected at less than $10 a bottle. My new “Tuesday-Thursday” wine if I can find it in Minnesota.

13.5% ABV
Natural cork closure
Rating: ★★★★☆
Score: 91

Buy this wine online

Smith-Madrone Riesling 2009

by Tim Elliott on February 10, 2011

Smith-Madrone Riesling 2009 labelI have to admit that I don’t drink a lot of white wine in the dead of a Minnesota winter. But when I saw a sample of the almost mythical Smith-Madrone Riesling, I had to see what was in the bottle. The last time I tasted Smith-Madrone Riesling was a tank sample with winemaker Charles Smith. I think this was from the 2007 vintage since my impromptu tasting visit was a few years back. Over the years, this wine has been my personal benchmark of how good Riesling can be in my home state and rarely is eclipsed by any other California Riesling.

Smith-Madrone was founded in 1971 by brothers Stu and Charles Smith. The Madrone part of the winery name is a tribute to the most prominent tree on the 200 acre ranch. For 40 years the Smith brothers have made uncompromising wines from Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon that are among the finest in Napa Valley (a Pinot Noir was also produced for a time but grafted to Chardonnay in 1989).

Grown at between 1,300 and 2,000 feet on Spring Mountain, the 6.25 acre Smith-Madrone Riesling vineyard is now 38 years old. When I visited in 2008, the vineyard was challenged with phylloxera which slowly diminishes the quantity of fruit. As vines bare too little fruit they are being replaced with resistant rootstock. The 2009 vintage was the coolest since the Smiths planted the vineyard harvesting 10 days later than normal. Even if this is the lowest production they have ever seen from this vineyard, the quality is still top-notch.

Tasting Notes:

Smith-Madrone, Riesling, Spring Mountain 2009 ($27/sample) – Light straw-green in color with aromas of green apple, citrus, honeydew and a hint of petrol. Tart green apple fruit with citrus finishing dry with refreshing acidity and a nice mineral note. A benchmark California Riesling that could take on the best of Alsace and give them a run for their money. Will continue to improve in the cellar for at least the next 25 years. Just over 300 cases produced so pick up some soon.

12.9% ABV
Natural cork closure
Rating: ★★★★☆
Score: 90

Buy this wine online

Kirkland Signature, Merlot, Alexander Valley 2008

by Tim Elliott on February 9, 2011

Kirkland Signature, Merlot, Alexander Valley 2008

Photo from the Costco Wine Blog

We all need mid-week wines that deliver interesting flavor without spending a lot of money. The problem is that many widely available wines under $10 are just not that exciting. So I often look for less popular varieties from countries like Spain and Portugal for my “Tuesday-Thursday” wines.

But there is a lot of good wine on the California bulk market these days so sometimes the big-box retailers like Costco and Sam’s Club have some values. And depending on where you live, you don’t even need a club membership to buy these wines; at least, that’s the law here in Minnesota. I usually shop at Costco so I picked up this store brand Merlot a few weeks back for $8.99. Alexander Valley produces a number of nice Merlot and Cabernet-based wines so I thought this was worth a flyer. Worst case, I have some wine to cook with.

Costco used to be the domain of Cameron Hughes but over the past couple of years I’ve noticed his wines mostly available at Sam’s Club. As his selections sold through at Costco, the store brand Kirkland seemed to replace those wines along with the normal selection of well chosen wines at very good prices. In fact, Costco might just be the best place to find wine values in the $25-60 range. And based on this selection, they might have the under $10 market covered, too.

Tasting Notes:

Kirkland Signature, Merlot, Alexander Valley 2008 ($9) – Garnet color with aromas of blackcurrant, black cherry, black licorice and cedar. Rich black cherry fruit flavors with blackcurrant, black pepper and mint finishing with moderate tannins. Drink over the next year or two.

14.5% ABV
Natural cork closure
Rating: ★★★½☆
Score: 87

My Top 20 Wines of ZAP 2011

by Tim Elliott on February 6, 2011

The floor of ZAP 2011Another ZAP has come and gone and now is the time to sit back and take a look at the notes made during both the Grand Tasting held Saturday, January 29 and the Flights seminar on Friday, January 28.

These are the best wines I had the opportunity to taste but is just a snapshot of 85 wines I happened to select. Many of these are wineries I had never tasted but some are old standbys. And I didn’t make it to the main Ridge or Turley stands so who knows what great wines they were pouring. To keep things diverse, I have selected the best wine of the producer but when I encountered more I will mention them in my commentary. Some wines don’t yet have pricing information but I will call and see if I can fill this in next week.

The following 20 wines capture the best of California Zinfandel or Mixed Black blends that I rated 4 out of 5 stars:

Tasting Notes:

Steele Zinfandel, DuPratt Vineyard 2006 ($24) – This was my first taste of the well regarded DuPratt Vineyard, a small 80 year old patch of Zinfandel in Anderson Valleys’ Mendocino Ridge AVA. Plush blackberry and black raspberry finishing with nice acidity and supple tannins. An outstanding value in a more elegant style of Zin.

Four Vines, Zinfandel, Dusi Vineyard 2008 ($34) – The folks at Four Vines certainly have some attitude but they make some of the best Zinfandels from the bottom to the top of their line. Near the top sits the distinctive Dusi Vineyard from Paso Robles. Bright black raspberry fruit with a nice earthiness on the long finish. I also thought their 2008 Biker and Martinelli bottlings were delicious.

Ridge Zinfandel, Lytton Springs 2001 ($35-ish) – This is the vineyard that single-handedly got me deep into wine and it still speaks to me today. Tasted during the ‘Flights’ seminar along with their 2008 bottling, this wine exhibited the Claret character of an older Zin while still maintaining the blackberry, dark cherry and mineral notes the vineyard is known for. The 2008 Lytton Springs is also a delicious wine that I hope will taste as well as the 2001 is now showing in 2018.

Bucklin Zinfandel, Old Hill Ranch 2007 ($34) – At 159 years old, Old Hill Ranch is the oldest vineyard in Sonoma and probably in California. A classic field blend of Zinfandel, Grenache, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah and more than 30 other varieties, the vineyard produces just 1.5 tons per acre. As a result, the wine is rich and complex with blackberries and cassis finishing with cracked black pepper and  firm tannins. The Ravenswood Old Hill Ranch 2007 tasted with this wine was nearly as good with perhaps a bit more boldness.

Benessere Zinfandel, Black Glass Vineyard 2008 ($35) – Bright black cherry and raspberry fruit finishing with plush tannins. A delicious Napa Zin. Also tasted the 2007 vintage with similar notes.

Robert Biale Zinfandel, Founding Farmers 2009 ($-) – The Biale table had barrel samples, and this wine from bottle, all from the 2009 vintage. From the wines tasted, this producers’ reputation for fine Zin is assured. Rich blackberry and white pepper finish long with silky tannins. No, I have not heard of this designation before and didn’t ask the price.

Carlisle Zinfandel, Marinelli Road Vineyard 2009 ($-) – This winery is known for their single vineyard Zins but I haven’t seen one from the 125 year old Marinelli Road Vineyard before ZAP. Very aromatic and striking with blackberry, white pepper and cocoa.

Adelaida Cellars Zinfandel, Michael’s Vineyard 2008 ($35) – Classic California Zin with brambles and black cherry finishing with silky tannins.

Bedrock Zinfandel, Dolinsek Ranch 2009 ($-) – Super rich and concentrated brambles, blueberry and spices. The 2010 Monte Rosso barrel sample was similarly off the charts. Made by Morgan Twain-Peterson, son of Joel Peterson but he’s got his own thing going on with the field blends.

Mazzocco Zinfandel, Pony Vineyard, Reserve 2008 ($50) – Holy crap; how could I have missed this producer until now? Perhaps it’s the small lots of single vineyard Zins that are not available to many outside of California for good reason. I tasted several vineyards and Pony was my favorite both in the regular (and sold out) release and this new-barrel lavished version. Black raspberry and blueberry fruit with cocoa and vanilla. I was also partial to 2008 Maple Vineyard. Good thing they have a boatload of other Zins on their website.

Hendry Zinfandel, Block 28 2007 ($30) – This producer makes three bottlings from different parts of their property. But each time I’ve tasted them, the Block 28 Zin shines through with rich blackberry, blackcurrant and spice. This only slightly overshadowed the fine Blocks 7 & 22 2007 which is also delicious.

Seghesio San Lorenzo 2008 ($60) – Made in very small quantities from a heritage vineyard, this wine was the highlight of the Mixed Blacks stand for me. Rich boysenberry and black raspberry fruit layered with spices finishing long with good acidity. Sadly this wine is already sold out to their wine club members.

Ravenswood Icon 2008 ($70) – Another standout from the Mixed Blacks stand, this wine is only a quarter Zinfandel with Carignon and Petite Sirah comprising most of the blend along with about 20 other unnamed black grapes. The result is a bold and spicy mix of blackberry, black raspberry, blueberry and cracked black pepper.

Proulx Dimples 2008 ($38) – The final Zinfandel blend in the roundup, this wine is made from Paso Robles fruit. The nearly 40% Zin is joined by equal parts Petite Sirah and Syrah making for an interesting mix. Jammy red and blue fruit with vanilla and black pepper finishing with plush tannins.

Storrs Zinfandel, Rusty Ridge 2006 ($30) – Complex aromatics of black raspberry, smoke and tar announce this wine as something special. And the blackberry, black raspberry and plum flavors complete the delicious package with spice and pepper.

Acorn Zinfandel, Alegria Vineyard 2008 ($35) – Big, rich and concentrated blackberry, raspberry and mineral flavors just balances the alcohol. Not sure if this will age well but it’s drinking very nicely at the moment.

Brown Estate Zinfandel, Mickey’s Block 2009 ($55) – An old favorite delivers again with black raspberry, black cherry, white pepper and spices resolving with supple tannins. Yum.

Chiarello Family Zinfandel, Felicia 2009 ($50) – Celebrity chef Michael Chiarello also knows a thing or two about wine. And while I usually favor the rich and expressive Giana bottling, I only had the chance to taste the bottle of Felicia in the Zin Zone. And this might be the best I’ve tasted from this vineyard with jammy boysenberry and blackberry fruit finishing with a nice touch of earthiness.

D-Cubed Zinfandel, Howell Mt. 2007 ($37) – Another old Zin standby, the Howell Mt. from D-Cubed is one of my personal benchmarks for the variety and the AVA. Black cherry, raspberry and chaparral finish with moderate tannins and a satisfying mixture of spices.

J. Rickards Zinfandel, Old Vine, 1908 Brignoli Vineyard  2008 ($28) – My final selection here was a recommendation from Alder Yarrow of Vinography who I ran into at the “Zin Zone” media room. This was among his producers, “flying below the radar,” and might be the best value of my roundup. Bold and earthy with classic blackberry fruit flavors finishing with black pepper and smooth tannins.

Many of these wines are yet to be released while others may be available from the winery website. Since there are so many here, I have not included my customary WineZap links but you can search from the form below:

For expanded coverage of wines tasted at ZAP 2011, be sure to sign up for my newsletter on the right sidebar. The inaugural issue will be published next week. And watch the podcast feed, too.

Disclosure: I received a media pass to all the ZAP events.