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Zinfandel Tasting

Being a member of the Society of Wine Educators definitely has its benefits.  One of the perks is getting invited to some very fun wine events.

This past week I was fortunate enough to attend a Zinfandel Master Class as well as a Zinfandel tasting in Orlando at the Renaissance Sea World Hotel.  The Association of Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) sponsored the event.  ZAP was founded over 20 years ago when a small group of passionate wine pioneers and some Zinfandel loving consumers came together because they believed that Zinfandel deserved recognition as a highly respected varietal that could compete with the finest wines around the world.  Today hundreds of producers and thousands of advocates are proud members of ZAP.

The Master Class was wonderful.  Three wine professionals from well-respected Zinfandel producers led us through the history of the varietal, as well as through their represented region and a blind tasting of various Zins from those regions.

First up was Doug Becket, owner of Peachy Canyon Winery in the Paso Robles AVA.  Doug’s easygoing personality and wealth of knowledge led us through the fascinating history of his winery and the interesting geography of the Paso Robles AVA.

Next up was Carol Shelton, Owner and Winemaker of Carol Shelton Wines.  This highly awarded winemaker expounded on some of the AVAs in Sonoma County, explaining differences in their terriors, which results in the different tastes of Zinfandel. 

The final speaker of the day was John Kane, the Winemaker for Rosenblum Cellars, one of the “big daddy wineries” in the Zin world.  Kane manages all of the aspects of wine production for Rosenblum, from the vineyard to operations, and is the winemaker for 62 wines each year!  His presentation focused largely on the Contra Costa County AVA, which lies within the larger Central Coast AVA.

Following the Master Class we were invited to dine with the speakers.  What great fun it was to drink their wines with lunch while hearing stories about that particular vintage and their struggles and triumphs in making the perfect wine!

Following lunch was a tasting of Zinfandel from 16 different producers.  My favorites truly did include the above wineries, along with Wine Guerrilla from the Sonoma Valley (Owner/WInemaker Bruce Patch is not only a fine winemaker, but also a very fun and personable guy) and Proulx Wines from Paso Robles.

Talty Vineyards & Winery

The Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma Valley is a lovely AVA with a lot of great wines.  Their red varietal specialty is often considered to be Zinfandel.  Some experts believe that there is nowhere else in the world that this variety thrives as well and produces as voluptuous grapes as in the Dry Creek Valley.

One winery in this appellation is Talty Vineyards & Winery, which sits on six acres of forty-eight year old Zinfandel vines.  Michael Talty, the winemaker and owner, is doing some really wonderful things with Zinfandel.   His are truly some of the best Zins I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking.

His father William Talty was responsible for Michael’s love of food and wine.  Together they made wine from Cabernet Sauvignon in their garage and dreamed of one day having a winery of their own.   William also was who introduced Michael to the land of Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley.  Sadly, their dream of opening their own winery together didn’t come to fruition because of the unexpected passing of his father in 1993.  Michael purchased the six acres of vineyards in 1997 and named them after his father.  His Estate Zinfandel is made with grapes from the William Talty Vineyard.

I had been to Talty a few years ago, tasting with Michael’s delightful wife Katie.  On my most recent visit to Sonoma County I wanted to make sure to pay them another visit.   After driving up the long beautiful driveway lined with vineyards on the left and peach trees on the right, we were greeted by their wine dog Bella, and Michael himself!

Talty’s winery is very cozy, with a photo of William looking down over the tasting room, which also serves as the barrel room.  I loved how the impression of Michael’s father’s presence is obvious in their whole operation.

We tasted at individual barrel tables instead of the typical tasting bar, with Michael paying close attention to each table.

The wines we tasted were:

2008 Talty Estate Zinfandel, William Talty Vineyard – This is the wine made from the vineyard on which the winery sits.  The nose has some pepper, blackberry and nice floral aromas.  The palate was juicy and lush, with raspberry, cherry and blackberry, along with some peppery vanilla.  The 2008 is comprised of 90% Zinfandel, 7% Petite Syrah and 3% Carignane.

2009 Talty Zinfandel, Filice Connolly Vineyard – The nose is lovely, with some spice and oak, along with a very fresh black raspberry.  The black raspberry explodes on the palate, with some chocolate and spicy oak leading to a nice long finish.  100% Zinfandel aged in 100% American oak.

2009 Talty Zinfandel, Dwight Family Vineyard – This is the youngest of the three vineyards with whom Talty works, and he is very excited about it’s progress.  The 2009 vintage produces currant, spice and floral notes on the nose.  The palate is well balanced, with the beautiful fruit shining through some lovely spice and vanilla.  This wine is 95% Zinfandel and 5% Petite Sirah.  It was aged in 75% American oak and 25% French oak.

Michael Talty is doing a bang-up job in Dry Creek Valley.  If you’re a fan of Zinfandel, you will love this experience.  If you’re not so sure about this varietal because you’ve experienced the huge over done Zins of some producers, give Talty a try.  I can’t help but think that you’ll enjoy these delicious and food friendly Zinfandels.

 

My April Wine of the Month

Caymus Vineyards
Sauvignon Blanc
2005

Caymus Vineyards is pretty much synonymous with Napa Valley Cabernet.  Their opulent, lavishly oaked Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon are some of the most famous Napa Valley wines made.

Many wine lovers don’t even know that Caymus makes a Sauvignon Blanc.  I’m not talking about Conundrum, their very popular white blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Viognier and Semillon.  I’m talking about a wine made of 100% Sauvignon Blanc, which isn’t made by them yearly and is only available at the winery.

The Wine – Three years ago while tasting at Caymus I tried their 2002 vintage of Sauvignon Blanc and enjoyed it enough to buy a few bottles.  While there in February we tasted the 2005 vintage.  This vintage reminded me a lot of the ’02.  Like their Cabernet Sauvignon, they use a lot of oak on this wine, which makes it different that the Sancerre I love so much, as well as the Pouilly-Fume and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc I know.  And yet I still really like this wine.

The color is a pale gold. The nose is nice and aromatic, with grapefruit and lemon.  Through the creaminess and vanilla from the oak, a lot of nice fruit comes through on the palate, including the grapefruit, lemon and some peach.  I also tasted some slate and mushroom.

Visiting the Winery – I’ve tasted at Caymus three different times.  All three experiences have been great, but the most recent time was especially enjoyable.   An appointment is needed for their sit-down tasting.  A wine educator, who walks you through the wines and explains the history of Caymus and explains a lot about wine and winemaking, hosts the forty-five minute experience.  We were fortunate to have Katelin, who made the tasting fun and also very informative.

The Journey – The Caymus Vineyards tasting room is located in a gorgeous stone building on Conn Creek Road, not far from the main drag of Highway 29.  We visited in mid-February, and the surrounding vineyards were full of flowered mustard plants.  The vines may be dormant at this time, but the vineyards are still gorgeous!

Alpha Omega Winery

I first heard of Alpha Omega Winery from a fellow taster at Caymus Vineyards.  She suggested I try them, and I’m sure glad that I did!

Robin Baggett and Eric Sklar, both of whom have been in the grape growing and winery business for years, started Alpha Omega Winery.  Their goal was to bring the Old World of winemaking and the New World of winemaking together.  Alpha and Omega – The Beginning and The End.  Alpha Omega is utilizing the best techniques of each, from start to finish, to hand craft elegant, world-class wines!

Alpha Omega wines are unfiltered and un-fined and are fermented naturally in barrels.  They are balanced in part by using grapes from around Napa to represent different appellations’ specific terriors.

The winemaker is Jean Hoefliger, who has made wine at Chateau Lynch-Bages and Newton Vineyard.  Working with him is Michel Rolland, the world-renowned wine consultant from Bordeaux.

The winery itself is gorgeous, with beautiful outdoor seating for tastings and picnics as well.

I’ve visited Alpha Omega a few times now, and last month I was blown away at the tasting my party and I had.  Steve walked us through their wines.  He has helped us out a couple of times before, and it’s always nice to see a familiar face, especially his!

Here are the wines we tasted:

2010 Sauvignon Blanc – This is a nice Napa Valley Sauv Blanc, with a lot of melon and tropical fruit, along with some nice mineralogy to balance it off.  This isn’t a New Zealand style Sauvignon Blanc, nor is it a Bordeaux style.  I would say it’s a combination of them both.

2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay – This is not a wine for the fan of un-oaked chards (although Alpha Omega also makes an Un-Oaked Chardonnay that has already sold out for the year)!  I enjoy both styles, and this was a beautiful oaked Chardonnay.  The nose produces hints of vanilla and lots of tropical fruit.  On the palate is pineapple for days, along with some nice acidity to keep it quaffable.  The long finish produces crème brulee and caramel popcorn.  This is my husband’s favorite Chardonnay in Napa, so we of course had to get a case.

2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – The Cab Sauv has big bold fruit along with some licorice both on the nose and palate.  This wine is approachable now, but can also be cellared for quite a few years.  It is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc and 8% Petit Verdot.

After tasting this Cab, Steve poured us each two more wines.  He asked us to guess what they were.  The first wine was huge.  Big and bold with lots of tannins, I guessed it was a Cabernet Sauvignon.  The second wine was soft and smooth.  I guessed that this was a Right Bank Bordeaux blend that, of course, is Merlot dominant.  Steve then proceeded to tell us that they are BOTH the 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  What?????  The first wine he poured was a bottle that he had just opened.  The second bottle had been opened the day before!  What a difference some time makes.  They both had lovely black currant and black cherry on the palate.  I look forward to enjoying my bottle, but will definitely give it at least a couple of hours in the decanter before drinking.

2009 Proprietary Red Napa Valley – The blend of this wine is 37% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Cabernet Franc and 13% Petit Verdot.  On the nose was some white pepper and tobacco, along with plum and cherry.  On the palate was the cherry, along with some chocolate and a little bit of saltiness!  This is another wine that will evolve well in the upcoming years.

Steve then offered us a very special treat; to visit the barrel room.  There we had the amazing opportunity to taste some of their most prized wines from barrel.  We tasted the 2010 vintage of the Stagecoach Vineyard, George III, To Kalon North and the To Kalon South.  What a way to end the tasting.  All of them were absolutely lovely.  I sure do look forward to tasting them out of the bottle in about 10 years!

The next time you’re in Napa, be sure to check out Alpha Omega.  They are located right on Highway 21 in Rutherford!

Frog’s Leap Winery

I’ve visited Napa and Sonoma many, many times.  Frog’s Leap has been on my list since my first visit, but I STILL hadn’t gotten there.  This time I was determined!

As we arrived for our tasting, we drove along beautiful vineyards of dormant vines surrounded by the beautiful mustard known in this region.  There aren’t many better welcomes than seeing the historic Red Barn, which was originally built as the Adamson winery back in 1884.  Today, this “ghost winery” not only inspires their wine tasting guests, but also Frog’s Leap’s winemakers John Williams and Paula Moschetti.

John Williams (a former dairy farmer from upstate New York) moved to Northern California in 1975 to study Enology and Viticulture at UC Davis.  After working at Glenora Wine Cellars in the Finger Lakes and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Spring Mountain Vineyards in Napa, he began Frog’s Leap Winery in 1981.  It is located along Mill Creek in a spot known as the Frog Farm.  Frogs were raised here around the turn of the century, providing the very appropriate name Frog’s Leap!

Upon entering The Vineyard House, we were escorted outside to a beautiful wrap-around porch nestled among 40 acres of organically farmed vineyard.  What a lovely area in which to taste.  We were brought a carafe of water, along with a wonderful cheese plate to accompany the wine tasting.

Here are some of the wines we tasted:

2010 Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford – This had some nice, ripe, tropical fruit flavors, and a little grapefruit acidity, which balanced out the wine nicely.  For a mere $18 per bottle, I grabbed a couple of these to take home for the golf course!

2009 Napa Valley Zinfandel – Nice, easy drinking Zin with some cherry and boysenberry and not overdone with the oak.

2009 Rutherford Merlot – The majority of the fruit for this wine comes from the vineyard in which we were sitting.  Merlot loves the rich, clay loam soils here.  The wine has some nice rich cherry flavors along with thyme and other herbs.  We bought a bottle of this as well.

2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – Lots of dark red fruit and some nice acidity made this a nice pick-up for the price of $42.

2008 “Rutherford” Cabernet Sauvignon – This was a very nice wine with cassis and current and a lot of nice terroir showing through.  This will be a beauty in years to come.

The thing that probably impresses me the most about Frog’s Leap Winery is that they truly care about our planet. Frog’s Leap produces some wonderful wines, while keeping the planet healthy through the production of solar and geothermal power.  In 2005 they built their Vineyard House according to the goals of the U.S. Green Building Council.  They even insulated it using old blue jeans.

Health of the vineyard is achieved through organic farming and the use of biodynamic methods. Along the rows of vines are borders of specially selected plants, which attract butterflies and beneficial insects. They are even wisely conscious of the winery and vineyard staff, numbering 45.  All of their employees are full time with full benefits.

I can tell that this must be a fun place to work too!  Their website is absolutely adorable, with a fun fly catching game to start things off.  Once inside their site, they very cleverly take you through any aspect of their winery in which one might be curious.  And what is their motto????  “Time’s fun when you’re having flies”!

Bird watching while we were tasting!

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