Zinfandel

A Return To My Roots at ZAP

by Tim Elliott on January 14, 2011

ZAP 2011 FestivalIt’s been four years since I’ve attended the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) Grand Tasting in San Francisco. But this year I will be making the pilgrimage once again due to the fortuitous timing of a speaking engagement and business trip. ZAP is not only a place to taste an amazing cross section of wines made from the grape but also somewhat of an endurance test of the palate. But since Zinfandel was the first variety that truly spoke to me, I’ve developed somewhat of a tolerance for it’s harshness even if I taste 70 or 80 over the course of the day.

I was reminded of how close to the ZAP tasting we are from Jay McInerney’s column in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal. He highlights the tasting but also does a short history of Zinfandel in California that took me back to my early days learning about wine. McInerney tells the stories of Paul Draper from Ridge and Joel Peterson of Ravenswood before mentioning more recent notable producers of Zinfandel such as Carlisle and Turley Cellars. At the end he even reviews some wines with one of the best descriptions of Zin I have yet seen in print, “Smells like a blackberry fight.”

So if you will be attending ZAP, hit me up on Twitter and we might be able to compare notes. I’ll also be recording some interviews and scribbling tasting notes into my journal so you can expect some coverage here. For more information on ZAP 2011, check out their website.

via Wall Street Journal

WBW 48: Roots Wines

by Tim Elliott on August 13, 2008

Tonight is the 4th anniversary of Wine Blogging Wednesday, our monthly virtual tasting. And for the 48th edition, founder Lenn Thompson has asked we go back to our wine roots and taste wines we drank when we first got into wine.

Like many wine lovers, my journey started with California jug wines. Since I came of age in California during the early 1980’s, many of these jugs accompanied meals through my last couple years of college. Brands such as Almaden,  Italian Swiss Colony, Paul Mason and Inglenook were regulars but the first jug to become a “house wine” were from Gallo.

The first wine book I picked up, for a whopping $1.95, was the Signet Book of Inexpensive Wine by Susan Lee. My original copy was thrown away many years ago but I picked up another copy at a used book store earlier this year as part of my research for my book, And browsing the “United States” section of this book tonight, I see Gallo’s Hearty Burgundy in the “Best Buy” category (3 stars). This was my go-to red and the first wine I picked up for our roots tasting tonight.

Today Hearty Burgundy is part of Gallo’s “Twin Valley” brand while it’s white cousin Chablis Blanc is now in the ultra-budget “Livingston Cellars” brand. Since the latter was only available in 1.5L and 3L bottles, I passed on trying this wine tonight but did get a bottle of Hearty Burgundy; my first in over 20 years.

Gallo Family Vineyards
, “Twin Valley”, Hearty Burgundy NV ($5) – Deep garnet in color with aromas of red raspberry, geranium and fennel. Bright red fruit flavors with cherry pie filling in the mid-palate finishing with moderate tannins. Clean and state of the art for industrial wine blends but seems unnatural (what Gary would term as “fakey-fake”).

13% ABV
Synthetic cork closure
Score: 77
Rating: ★★½☆☆

Since my former house white of Chablis Blanc was only available in industrial quantities, I decided to pick up my first house Zinfandel. Back in 1981, this was from Sebastiani which I bought on sale for $2.50 a bottle.  Since Sebastiani has since rebooted their brand as a limited production, premium product, I settled for my second place Zin from the 1980’s: Sutter Home.

Yes, from the house that was built from white Zinfandel but back in the early 1980’s, they made some pretty interesting red Zins. My favorite being their reserves tasted on my frequent visits to Napa Valley during my college years. But their regular release was also pretty good from memory so I thought it would be interesting to revisit this wine.

Sutter Home, Zinfandel, California 2005 ($5) – Medium ruby in color with aromas of black cherry, strawberry and sage. Fresh red cherry and strawberry fruit flavors, some black pepper, finishing with supple tannins. A very light style of Zinfandel but a decent red for pizza and pasta dishes.

13.5% ABV
Composite cork closure
Score: 81
Rating: ★★★☆☆

An interesting tasting that shows how my tastes have evolved since the days of the first Reagan administration. But it’s also good to see both wines being clean, fresh and drinkable… although I would not drink these wines daily as I used to.

Thanks to Lenn for his leadership over these last 4 years and I’m hoping to blog WBW 96 with him and other friends in 2012.

WBW 43 – Comfort Wine

by Tim Elliott on March 5, 2008

If there is a single wine that I could name that pointed me onto the path of becoming a wine lover, it’s the Zinfandel made from the Lytton Springs vineyard. I’m not exactly sure why this wine made me sit up and take notice, but it did, and remains today one of my sentimental favorites. So when Joel from Wine Life Today announced the theme of Comfort Wines for this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday, I knew there was only one wine to fill the bill: Ridge Lytton Springs.

Lytton Springs WInery ZinfandelIt must have been late 1981 or early 1982 when I stumbled across a small winery named Lytton Springs in my search for the best Zinfandel. This variety had already become my favorite most likely due to the forward fruit in most bottlings that was noticeably different from the Bordeaux and Napa Cabs I was mostly drinking at the time. Since I didn’t yet read any wine publications, I must have chosen Lytton Springs Zinfandel from the recommendation of a wine merchant or, more likely, just at random. From my first experience with the aromas of dark fruit offset by spices and cedar, I was hooked. The layers of flavor and impeccable balance also didn’t hurt either and this became my “benchmark” Zinfandel that all others were judged against.

The Lytton Springs Winery was founded in 1970 after Richard Sherwin purchased the old vine vineyard near downtown Healdsburg, California. The vineyard had been planted around the turn of the 20th Century on lands owned by a Captain Litton who many years before built a hotel catering to Bay Area visitors to the local hot springs. By the time of the vineyard planting, the spelling of his family name had evolved to Lytton.

The vineyard is a classic “field blend” of inter-planted varieties with about 70% Zinfandel, 20% Petite Sirah and the remainder split between Grenache and Carignane. As early as 1972, Ridge Vineyards winemaker Paul Draper made wines from this vineyard but it wasn’t until Ridge purchased Lytton Springs Winery in 1991 that the entire 35-acre property was devoted to Ridge wines. There is a great interview with Richard Sherwin over at Gang of Pour if you are interested in more background on Lytton Springs Winery.

I can’t recall when I made the switch to Ridge Lytton Springs but it was most likely in the early 1990’s. The grace and even elegance of this wine made it stand out to me over another favorite Sonoma vineyard, the famous Ridge Geyserville most recently tasted on my birthday last year. So I was looking forward to getting back to Lytton Springs 2004, a wine I last tasted about 14 months ago but failed to blog here for some unknown reason.

Ridgeytton Springs 2004Ridge Vineyards, Zinfandel, Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley 2004 ($34) – This wine still displays a youthful purple-ruby color. The aroma profile is classic Lytton Springs: black raspberries & blackberry with fennel and cedar. The flavors are also a mixture of dark fruits with the addition of some blueberry, black pepper and minerality that finishes long with great balance and moderate tannins. Although this wine weighs in at 14.5% ABV, there is no hint of heat on the palate or in the aromas. This is clearly still one of the best Zinfandel’s produced today and is in wide distribution due to production of over 10,000 cases each vintage.

14.5% ABV
Natural cork closure
Score: 92
Rating: ★★★★☆

Buy this wine online

When I taste this wine today, it takes me back to my earliest memories of noteable wines. In fact, Lytton Springs Winery Zinfandel was the best wine I had ever tasted until it was upstaged by a glass of 1974 Heitz Cellars “Martha’s Vineyard” Cab that I had in 1986. But I still have a warm place in my heart for Lytton Springs Zin that will never be changed.

Kudos go to Joel from Wine Life Today for a great theme and congratulations on the birth of his second child just a few days ago. I’m hoping he can find some time to recount all the stories this month in between his fatherly duties.

Next month some guy from New Jersey named Gary is hosting. Should be fun to see what he’s got in mind.

Foppiano Vineyards, Zinfandel 2004

by Tim Elliott on December 13, 2007

Longtime readers and listeners know about my love of Zinfandel. In fact, the most reviewed varietal here is this California transplant from the Old World. My love for Zinfandel started right when I got into wine in 1982. Most of the first wines I tried were either from Napa Valley (Cabs and Merlot) or Bordeaux (indifferent bottlings of third rate wine). While I liked some of what I was drinking, I gravitated toward wines with more fruit. Then I had a Zinfandel from Lytton Springs Vineyard. This was before Ridge bought them and I was hooked. Sebastiani Zinfandel became my house wine for all of $2.50 a bottle; ah, the good old days…

Aside from Ridge and Sebastiani another name stood out for Zin in my formative wine years: Foppiano. A family winery for more than 100 years, this Sonoma winery produces some of the best Petite Sirah and Cabernet in Sonoma. I’ve also enjoyed their Zinfandel over the years but have not had the opportunity to taste a recent vintage until they sent me some samples recently. And I’m glad they did as this is one of the better Zins under $20 now in wide release.

Foppiano Vineyards, Zinfandel 2004Foppiano Vineyards, Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley 2004 ($15/sample) – Medium purple in color with aromas of blackberry, black raspberry, fennel and vanilla. Nice dark cherry and blackberry fruit flavors with cracked black pepper and moderate tannins. Textbook, old-school Sonoma Zin.

14.5% ABV

Natural cork closure

Score: 87

Rating: ★★★½☆

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