Zinfandel Fun Facts

As we are gearing up for BBQ season, I wanted to share some very cool facts about one of my favorite BBQ wines – Zinfandel.


– Though most often associated with California, Zinfandel is genetically equivalent to the Croatian grape, Crljenak Kaštelanski (don't ask me how to pronounce it) as well as Primitivo, a grape grown in Southern Italy.
– White Zinfandel, while made with the Zinfandel grape, is very different that the red wine. It is a blush, semi-sweet wine, made by removing the juice from the skins during fermentation and typically adding sugar.
– "Old vine" Zinfandel is particularly sought after as it intensifies the fruit and spice flavors of the grape.
– During prohibition, Zinfandel was popular among home winemakers and for making sacramental wine. Though it's proclivity to rot made it less popular for sending to the East Coast and it's popularity was local.
– Zinfandel is a sun-loving grape and can become very ripe on the vine, which, in turn, can lead to high alcohol levels.


The mix of sweet fruit and spice makes Zinfandel a perfect bottle for anything on the grill. We think, at least. So enjoy!






Another Great Way to Explore Wine

As a long-term member of the "majority" of
oenophiles, defined as those individuals have have never tried a vertical of any fancy
wine or have 1,000 bottle wine cellars, I have been authorized (by myself) to invite anyone who's curious
about wine to join our group, like a jogger vs. runner, the distinction
is a state a mind. Oh and just to be clear, those of us who know which
years are "good years" and what to avoid or covet in wineshop, don't
actually buy or even try every bottle of wine, instead we cheat by
attending wine tastings.

This weekend, I attended the New Zealand Wine Discovery Tasting in San
Francisco. I seldom write tasting notes but I do make mental notes of
my general impressions and star my favorites. It's not laziness on my
part, but really it's about forcing wines to be memorable for good or
bad and taking away generalities that are much more useful than jotting
down 5 descriptors. I use this info to navigate menus and select from wines I've never tasted. So,
without further ado, I've laid out below my tasting plan of attack and
the mental notes that followed to show you how I add to my wine
knowledge without trying every bottle I see.

Attack Strategy #1: Scan the winery list. You might see wines you've always been curious about.

There has been a lot of buzz lately about pinot noirs from Central Otago, so
I gave them a try. I would have liked to have found a greater breadth
of aromatics and more substance. Nonetheless, I
found that Central Otago wines tended to have more complexity than
other regional wines, consequently, they would be great better with
food and at lower price points than quality pinot noir from California,
in other words, a good value. I liked the 2008 Matua Valley Central Otago Pinot Noir. Mental note to self: Central Otago = food/wallet compatible.

Attack Strategy #2 Taste the most expensive wines. This is often the best way to make sure your aren't disappointed later on.

In this case, the higher priced wines retailed around $36. They all turned out to be pretty good in terms of quality and given the pricing, as compared to top tier pinot, a good deal. Our favorite of the event turned out to be one of the most expensive at $37
a bottle (2008 Alana Estate Pinot Noir from Martinborough). For $37 and
up you get more tannic structure and finesse (in other words, it's not
quite as fresh and fruity). Mental note to self: Martinborough is producing some excellent and nuanced higher end pinots.

Attack Strategy#3 Experiment. Try the strangest wine you see on the list. Maybe it's from an obscure place or perhaps a variety you've never heard of.

We tried a brilliant 2008 Bordeaux blend from the tiny island of Waiheke produced by Man O' War called the Ironclad. Mental note to self: Waiheke Island is on my radar for Bordeaux blends.

Attack Strategy#4 Sample different regions and vintages

We tried side by side vintages of the 2007 and 2008 Tarras Vineyards
Pinot Noir from Central Otago. I enjoyed them both. I learned later
that 2007 is a great vintage for reds in New Zealand. Given a choice, I
would go for the 2007 if only because additional age rounds a wine out. Mental note to self: Don't fret over 2007 vs 2008 vintage for Central Otago pinot.

Attack Strategy#5: Sample different price points. I like knowing what another $5-10 gets me.

For this experiment I tried three lines of Brancott wines. First, I tasted the 2009 Brancott Sauvignon Blanc Malborough ($11). I got a lot of grassiness, grapefruit and perceptible sweetness. I like my wines a bit drier, however, it paired very well with oysters. Next we sampled the 2009 Brancott Reserve Sauvignon Blanc ($15). This wine was more weighty and less obvious in the nose, making room for more complex aromas. I think this one would pair much better with an entrée than the less expensive Brancott which is better suited to more casual occasions or a hot summer picnic. Finally, I tried the Brancott Letter Series 'B' Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough ($24). This is very good wine with an interesting minerality on the nose and good texture in the mouth, by far the best and pairs well with seafood and lighter pasta dishes. For these wines, I think it's important to decide what you personally enjoy. Some tasters love grapefruit aromas (one taster kept raving that "the
grapefruit just punches you in the nose"), whereas, I like less
violence and more minerality. Mental note to self: These start fruity and crisp and increase in weight, minerality and complexity for just a few dollars more.

Now get out there and start exploring!

Going Green for Earth Day

Everybody wants to go green these days. From cars to food to bags, we're all making the effort to make this world a little better for the next generation.

How can we do that with wine? Well, you can go green in wine, too. Plenty of wineries and winemakers are going green in their wines, not only in farming practices but also in winemaking practices and packaging. Here are some green wine terms to know.

Sustainable: Sustainable is about leaving the Earth better than you found it. It's about being responsible, not only with the land, but with the people that work the land, with the community around you and with your business. Practicing sustainable viticulture and winemaking, you're using responsible practices that will leave this place a little better for future generations.
Sustainable certification bodies include: LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) in Oregon, OCSW – Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine and the California Sustainable Wine Growing Alliance.

Organic: Most organic wine that you see is actually wine made from organic grapes, so in a way it's similar to buying organic produce at the supermarket – organic grapes in wine are grown in the same fashion, with no herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, using natural composts and sprays to keep the vineyard organic. Organic wines certified by the USDA must contain no added sulfites and must have sulfites under a minimal threshold. Since sulfites are a naturally occurring by-product of fermentation, even wines with no added sulfites contain sulfites. Read more about sulfites.
Some organic certification bodies in the US, other than the USDA include California Certified Organic Farmers and Oregon Tilth. While many producers who make wine from organically grown grapes also try to be as organic as possible in the winery, that is not always the case. Research the wineries and wines you see to find out what they are doing to be more green in all aspects of wine.

Biodynamic: Biodynamic farming is in a way like holistic medicine for people, but for the vineyard instead. Biodynamic looks at the vineyard as a self-sustaining ecosystem, so they utilize the animals, plants and soil around them to sustain the vineyard. The vineyard follow's the earth's schedule, so the pruning and harvesting of the vine goes by moon cycles and the astrological calendar. It's organic farming following the earth's rhythms. And there is much to be said about it when you taste the wines! Demeter is the certifying organization for biodynamics and has been around since the the start of this particular type of farming. Some excellent examples of biodynamic wines in California include Benziger, Bonny Doon, DeLoach Vineyards, Grgich Hills and Robert Sinsky.

Natural: Natural is a more recent term used for making wines with pretty much no additives. The grapes from the vineyards are typically organically farmed, with no in-organic chemicals used. The winemaking process is one that uses as little intervention as possible from grape to glass, so native, natural yeasts, neutral oak, no chips, chemicals or additives as the wine ferments. Minimal (if any) filtration and fining, and minimal addition of sulfites (which act as a preservative). Since there is no governing body for natural wines, the definition for such wines can differ. A good blog to read about organic and natural wines is MyDailyWine.com by Amy Atwood. And Alice Feiring has strong opinions about natural wine that are always fun to read.

If you want to find these sorts of wine at Wine.com, we have a handy little "green" icon next to the wines that fit one of these practices.

What about green packaging? Well, while it may still make you think of cheap wines, plastic and boxes are making a comeback. PET bottles, made with BPA free plastic are lighter than glass, which saves energy on shipping, and take less energy to produce and recycle. And boxes are no longer for Franzia! More good quality wine is coming in boxes these days, particularly in the Octavin line, which gives you 3 liters (about 4 bottles) of wine in a keg style package, giving you 6 weeks of freshness after you open it and producing much less waste.

Country Music & Wine

Last night, in case you missed it, the 45th Annual ACM Awards put on quite a show. From the hillbilly twang of Trace Adkins and Blake Shelton to the crossover stars like Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift, there was a little bit for everyone. I admit it, I am a country music fan. I grew up on it and I have yet to grow out of it.

It may seem like an odd combination – wine & country music, since this genre typically conjures up images of beer drinking rather than wine tasting. Yet I've started to notice more wine references popping up in country music songs.

I think the first time it caught my attention was in Sugarland's "Something More," where after she quits her job (in the song of course), she needs some down time with some red wine to celebrate. The duo mentions it again in "Settlin' – "with some good red wine and brand new shoes…" Again, two of my favorite things. I guarantee these two are wine drinkers.

Darius Rucker, once the Hootie and the Blowfish lead singer who has now crossed over to a solo country career, sings about a cheap bottle of wine in his song, "Alright." He then goes on to say he doesn't "need no Dom Perignon" but I bet Darius would enjoy a good bottle of Champagne every now and then.

A recent favorite is by LeAnn Rimes, who says "Every girl needs a good friend and and a glass of wine." Totally.

Deanna Carter sang about "Strawberry Wine," the Zac Brown Band ideal girl has "lips that taste like sweet red wine," in my absolute favorite song by them, "Whatever it is." Chicken Fried, also mentions homemade wine, though cold beer on a Friday night overshadows it.

More amusing references include Brad Paisley's reference to all alcohol in a song called, appropriately, "Alcohol." Sung in first person from alcohol's point of view, Bordeaux, France is referenced in the chorus.

Yet not all country wine references are positive. When Gretchen Wilson's "Redneck Woman," says she "can't swig that sweet Champagne," I sigh and think how misunderstood the sparkling wine category is. Perhaps that goes a little too far.

Can't wait for Lady Antebellum to come out with a wine drinking song.

I know there are more wine songs. Any other country music loving wine people out there who have some country wine lyrics to share?

What to drink on your 2 year anniversary

Today I've been married for two years. Though it often seems like much longer (mostly in a good way), I still think it's an accomplishment. 2 years down, 50-something to go?

We went out last night for dinner at a fantastic restaurant in Portland – Bluehour. To be honest, we don't get out all that much. With a 1 year old who has an abnormally early bedtime, we have the evening to ourselves, but it's usually at home. So it's a nice treat to get out, even though sometimes our conversations revolve around work, what we want to do around the house or analyzing the comments made by people at a table nearby. Last night night was a mixture of the three: we talked about new wines coming in to our "green" line up, talked about the garden in the yard and the dining room shades and then I had to ask, do people still jazzercise? One of our neighbors, who had to be in her early to mid 30s, said she jazzercised. (The tables are close together at this restaurant so it's easy to eavesdrop.) This was such a curious comment to me. Whenever I think of jazzercise, I think of Jane Fonda, that Jamie Lee Curtis movie and older women doing aqua aerobics. Am I wrong? Is it back like tight jeans and over-sized shirts? Perhaps. I will be looking into this and find out what kind of jazzercise options there are up here in the northwest.

I digress… what I really wanted to share was the wine we had! Started with a cocktail that was all too good. Luckily I spilled half of it – on the table and on me – which I blame on the glass. The lip of a martini glass is much wider than that of a wine glass, and as I brought it too my lips, I moved to fast and too far, aiming for my normal tulip rim, and voila, vodka and elderflower juice all over. Total martini faux-pas, particularly on your first glass of the evening.

Next course, the wine. Bluehour has a fantastic local wine menu and we were having meat and fish, so we chose an Oregon Pinot Noir. We chose the Evesham Wood "Le Puits Sec" 2007 Pinot Noir. Looked up Le Puits Sec this morning and it means "The Dry Well," so named for the first well the owners dug on the property, which delivered no water. Le Puits Sec vineyard has been certified organic since 2000 and the Pinot produced from it is stunning.

I loved the label, and the color of the wine was pure Pinot. I've had Pinot Noir where you would never tell that it was a Pinot Noir due to its dark, opaque hue. This was bright and lovely. On the nose, vibrant red fruit, black cherry, peppery spice and a very subtle earth note. Very inviting. Palate was bright, with red and black cherry, raspberry, a more savory note coming through, particularly when paired with my halibut and sunchoke puree. Absolutely delicious finish. It was truly Oregon. Burgundian in style, but you'd never mistake it for a Burgundy. Definitely not as dense as California – it was uniquely Oregon. A true expression of its terroir. Runs about $30 and totally worth it in my opinion – a perfect summer Pinot Noir to match your grilled salmon in warm weather. We loved it.

Now, tonight is the actual anniversary and we're eating in, but planning to raid the cellar. Thinking bubbles, but will know more when I assess the inventory.

Any special wines you've opened on your wedding anniversary?

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