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FLORAL ALBARI—O

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More Zinfandels of Interest



GAMBA
The Gamba winery produces big, pushing-the-envelope, fasten-your-seatbelt kinds of Zinfandel.  These are not for the faint of heart or consumers looking for elegant, refined red wine.

They make wine from their own vines as well as purchasing grapes from a Windsor area vineyard called Moratto.  

Production in the vineyards is small, typically less than a ton of grapes per acre.  

The secret of Gamba's wines is in the fruit selection.  They ask the pickers to select fully-ripened bunches and to discard those which are unevenly ripe (raisined or green get discarded).  When the grapes arrive at the winery, they do another selection via a sorting table.  

We currently have the 2011 "Estate" Zinfandel, a big, berryish, "gobs o' fruit" kind of wine.  The vines are on an east-facing site and were originally planted in 1920.  It's potent and deep, so pairing it with flavorful foods is a good idea.  I don't view this as a good cellaring candidate, finding wines like this tend to be at their best when they're young.  But is sure is showy right now...

Fasten your seat belt and open a bottle of this!
 

Currently in stock:  2011 GAMBA ZINFANDEL "Estate" Russian River Valley  SALE $34.99



 
 



GREEN & RED
chiles mill vineyard zin
Pam & Jay Heminway own this magnificent estate in the eastern hills of the Napa Valley.   They have 31 acres of vines split into three parcels.

They first planted the Chiles Mill site in 1972 when the adventure began and it's since been replanted.  The Catacula Vineyard was originally planted in the 1890s, but this got replanted in the early 1980s.   The Tip Top vineyard site took root in 1996 and 1997.

And these sites are planted at fairly high elevation levels.  Chiles Mill is around a thousand feet, with Catacula being 1200-1400 feet.  Tip Top is 1400-1800 feet!

The Green & Red name comes from the soil...it's got a fair bit of iron (red) with veins of serpentine (green), which is the state rock of California by the way.

Jay has been making a distinctive style of Zinfandel for 4+ decades and the wine is a bit of an "old school" style.  We're especially fans of the Chiles Mill vineyard bottling.  

His Zinfandel recipe produces a fairly gentle style of wine.  The wine gets a cold soak before the fermentation and then 9 days, or so, in an open top fermentation tank...then about a year in wood, half French and half American oak.  A small percentage of the American oak is new and we like the woodsy character this seems to impart to their Zinfandel.

We have the 2012 in stock presently.  It's a typical example of Green & Red Zinfandel, showing nice berry fruit and a mildly woodsy, brown spice note.  The wine is smooth enough to be on the dinner table tonight.  Pair it with braised short ribs, grilled lamb, steaks and other 'soul foods'.  

And though we view the wine as being immediately drinkable, we have enjoyed bottles with a serious amount of bottle age...and the wine has held up beautifully and evolved to where people, having it poured 'blind,' guessed it to be a Cabernet!
 
Currently in stock:  2012 GREEN & RED "Chiles Mill" ZINFANDEL $26.99
 






 

DOWNHILL WINERY
This producer is well below the radar, as winemaker Frank Ashton actually works for a Santa Cruz Mountains winery as his "day job" and he moonlights, producing some rather nice wines as his Downhill gig.

We tasted a really nice blend of Zinfandel and Syrah and it's called "Slippery Slope."  There's a really nice berry and spice element here and we can't say for sure whether it's the Zin or the Syrah contributing the brambly spice character.

It's medium-full on the palate and shows a hint of wood.  We sale-price it at fifteen bucks...a nice bargain in these up-hill economic times.

Currently in stock:  DOWNHILL WINERY 2007 "Slippery Slope"  Zin/Syrah Blend SALE $14.99

FRITZ

The Fritz family have been cultivating grapes in northern Sonoma County since the late 1970s, early 1980s.  

Jay Fritz was in the shipping business and he bought a country getaway place in Cloverdale where he planted vineyards and constructed a multi-level, gravity-flow winery.

Their early track record was a bit uneven...some wines being really good and others missing the mark.

The past decade has seen a consistent track record of good quality wines and we've been pleased to recommend a number of Fritz wines.  

The Dry Creek Valley is, of course, well-suited to Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel.  

The latest bottling of Zinfandel is magnificent!  It's from the 2012 vintage and the aromas are fantastic, showing bright berry, pomegranate, cherry and a touch of blackberry.  There's a mildly spicy note and some sweet, woodsy tones as well.  It's medium-bodied and despite its brawny 14+% alcohol, this is reasonably gentle and balanced.  

We suggest serving it cooled to cellar temperature.  You can pair it with Mediterranean fare, grilled meats, roasted chicken, ribs, sausages, etc.  And it's one of the best values in the shop!

Currently in stock  FRITZ 2012 Dry Creek ZINFANDEL  Sale $14.99

 

 

 

TRENTADUE WINERY
We've known the Trentadue family for decades!  We were one of their first customers, buying wine from them in the early 1970s.

Leo Trentadue used to own a jewelry store here on Broadway in Burlingame!  He used to live in the Santa Clara Valley and was sharp enough (or crazy) to buy some old abandoned winery atop a hill in Cupertino...this later became "Ridge Vineyards" and I think he sold it in the 1970s.   He's long been selling Zinfandel grapes to Ridge Vineyards in Cupertino for its "Geyserville" bottling of Zinfandel.  Today the fruit doesn't have to travel so far, since Ridge has a large Sonoma facility for vinifying its Sonoma fruit.

Trentadue routinely made rustic wines back in the 1970s and 1980s.  Finally they hired someone to actually make wine and the quality level increased substantially.

They make a good Zinfandel, but of particular interest to savvy wine buyers is their everyday blend, a wine called Old Patch Red.  The 2011 is in stock...Lot 36.  

The wine is predominantly Zinfandel.  You'll find a nice percentage of Petite Sirah here as well. It's one of California's best red wine values.
 
Currently in stock:  2011 Old Patch Red  (List $14)  SALE $9.99




 

STEELE WINES
Jed Steele started out as the winemaker for a little Anderson Valley enterprise called Edmeades back in the 1970s.  From there he had a stint at Kendall Jackson, helping refine the style of wine which made Jess Jackson and family the big-time wine barons they are today.  He started his own label in the early 1990s and makes a number of interesting wines.  

The winery is located in Lake County and Jed buys fruit all over California and beyond (he makes a Washington State "Blaufršnkisch").  Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are his main varieties, along with Syrah.  Zinfandel has long been a mainstay and we've periodically found good bottles worthy of our recommendation.

We have enjoyed many vintages of the Pacini Vineyard Zinfandel...it's routinely been good, though we skipped the 2008, a vintage plagued by numerous wildfires in the Mendocino area.  The smoke actually 'tainted' the grapes and was noticeable in many wines!

The 2010 is back to normal.  Dark fruits...nice berry notes and there's a lovely wood spice, too.  It's a medium-full Zinfandel with softer tannins.   

The vineyard is in Mendocino and was planted by the Pacini family in the 1940s.  Jed bought the fruit for a number of years before simply purchasing the whole dang vineyard in 1996.  The vineyard ripens in stages so it's picked, typically, over a couple of weeks to maximize ripeness and fruit character.  They declassify various lots which don't measure up and bottle a wonderfully exuberant, berryish, nicely oaked Zinfandel. Minty, too.  
 
Currently in stock:  2010 STEELE Mendocino "Pacini Vineyard" ZINFANDEL  $18.99
 




SAUCELITO CANYON
One of our favorite Central Coast Zinfandels, this is the work of Bill and Nancy Greenough (and now their son). They bought the Rancho Saucelito in 1974 from the grand-daughters of the English bloke who first planted vines on the property in the late 1870s.

The Greenoughs found some abandoned vineyards on the estate and nurtured some three acres into production. They have since added another five acres of Zin, plus two of Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard is in the Arroyo Grande appellation, south of the town of San Luis Obispo. 


On the nose there's a hint of plum, prune, herbs and a touch of oak. Brown spices, to a degree, show up on the nose and palate.  The wine is medium-full bodied and not especially tannic. This is one of the few "Central Coast" Zinfandels we like well enough to actually stock in the shop.


Currently in stock: 2011 SAUCELITO CANYON Zinfandel  SALE $29.99














TURLEY WINE CELLARS

turley.gif (7967 bytes)Larry Turley was a partner with John & Julie Williams in establishing a funny little venture called Frog's Leap Wine Cellars.  Larry had a small property just off the St. Helena Highway which was a former frog farm.  Given that stags were leaping prominently elsewhere in the Napa Valley, it stands to reason that frogs should also be leaping.  After a few years the Frog's Leap project was so successful John Williams left his winemaking job at Mike Robbins' Spring Mountain Winery and was full-time at Frog's Leap. 

One day, out of the blue (so I'm told) Dr. Larry (a medical doc) tells Mr. & Mrs. Williams he wants a divorce and he's going to start his own winery making Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. 
The sun shines brightly in St. Helena and many people were commenting that Dr. Larry had been the victim of some sort of brain-frying.  Who, after all, in their right mind, would consider starting a winery to specialize in Zinfandel and Petite Sirah? 


The Williams' duo purchased Frog's Leap and Turley Wine Cellars took over the former frog farm. 
The original winemaker was Dr. Turley's famed sister, Helen Turley.  The keyword here is "was."  The assistant winemaker, Ehren Jordan, became The Winemaker.  Now Ehren has his own gig and Tegan Passalacqua is the winemaker in Napa, while Karl Wicka takes care of the Paso Robles wines.

The Turley wines have achieved "cult" status and are offered on secondary markets for amazingly steep prices. 
We receive a few bottles of Turley wines and always include them in our blind-tastings, allowing a greater number of people to, at least, have a chance to experience these.  

Turley is a believer in achieving the maximum from the various grapes and vineyards.   Yields in the vineyards, for example, are suppressed in hopes of producing a more flavorful grape.  I recall tasting a Robert Mondavi Zinfandel and being impressed.   The following vintage, Mondavi's wine was not so hot.  An enologist at Mondavi explained why:  "Helen Turley." 
She enticed the grower to sell his old vines' fruit to Turley Wine Cellars, instead.   

Old vines don't guarantee good quality.  We're seeing a number of "Old Vines" Zins from Lodi.  Turley makes a Lodi Zinfandel.  But they go there, pay the grower for the obscene quantity of fruit they normally harvest and then tell them they want the vineyard cultivated for a crop level of about two tons per acre.  The growers look at the Turley people as though they're idiots (the same way some thought they must have been out of their minds to focus on Petite Sirah and Zinfandel).  However, the results have been spectacular and, in my view, there oughta be legislation mandating that only Le Methode Turley may be employed in Lodi.  This would eliminate much of the appallingly weak wine coming from those vines!

Larry read a book about the effects of various soils on the vines and purchased the old Pesenti winery in the Central Coast.  I later told him about Pesenti's old bottles which resembled the flasks that cough medicine comes in.  

He was intrigued with the prospects of making Zinfandel from the warm Paso Robles region which is grown on limestone.  The first vintages have been typical of Turley Zins...deep berry fruit, ripe, pedal-to-the-metal...

Turley's are huge, big, ripe, nicely-oaked wines.  They almost always show well in blind-tasting comparisons.  People who are accustomed to high acidity, lower alcohols (12%-13%) and virtually no wood in their wine will likely be bowled over by Turley wines.   The wines tend to be bright in fruit, 14-15% in alcohol and having a fair bit of cedary wood.

Please drink your Turley Zins young.  Don't rely on the reviews of various critics who advise holding on to them for 5 or 10 years.  Yes, the wines may have enough tannin to go that long, but it's doubtful the fruit will maintain for an extended period.  Our experience with Turley Zins is they're best within a few years of release.
Currently available:  "Hayne Vineyard" bottles are in stock...stop by...no mail orders...Also have some Old Vine Zin and some bottles of a recent Pesenti Vineyard Zinfandel

 






MACAULEY

The Macauley label has been around since the early 1980s, but it only recently came to our attention.

Ann Macauley Watson had bottled some late harvest Sauvignon Blanc way back when she was entrusting the winemaking to famed graybeard, Ric Forman.

These days her son and our old pal Nils Venge's son, famous winemaker Captain Kirk Venge are making the wines.

We tasted a really snazzy 2009 Napa Zinfandel and the 2010 is stellar!

"Old Vines" and it apparently comes from two vineyard sites in Napa.

We liked its exuberant blackberry and brambleberry fruit.  Nice spice, too and there's a mildly woodsy element here.  It's a big, powerful wine yet it remains reasonably balanced for such a blockbuster-styled Zinfandel.

Impressive.


Currently in stock:  MACAULEY 2010 Napa "Old Vines" ZINFANDEL  Sold Out













RAFANELLI
One of the sales techniques used by some wineries is to restrict sales of their products in shops so customers have trouble locating their wines.  This bit of psychology can work on a limited basis, making some people want the wine more because it's hard to find.  We've seen, though, sometimes customers simply give up and are no longer loyal to such brands when there are so many roadblocks to making a purchase.


Rafanelli was started by an old winemaker, Americo Rafanelli.  We were one of his first customers.  The next generation of Rafanelli's runs the place today and they prefer to sell the wine exclusively in restaurants.  It is remarkable that this Zin can be found in relatively modest-quality dining establishments (to be charitable) but not a "fine wine" shop.  This is short-sighted and greedy marketing.  Seems to work for them, though.

We no longer have access to these wines.





 

 

DON SEBASTIANI & SONS (Plungerhead Zin)
The Sebastiani name is well-known in California wine history.  The Sebastiani winery started out as a bulk wine producer before old August Sebastiani began bottling wine in magnums decades ago.  

August's son Don Sebastiani spent a few years in the California legislature and later ran the family business.  After leaving the Sebastiani winery, Don and his sons, Donny and August set up a new company.  Calling themselves "The Other Guys," they seem to revel in offering various wines at below-normal market prices.

They came out with this marvelously silly, but certainly memorable, label.  Plungerhead.  It's got quite a fan club, apparently.
      



The first incarnation of Plungerhead Zinfandel came from Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley.  Lovely wine and it sold like crazy at its modest price tag.

Then The Other Guys got too smart and offered three bottlings of Plungerhead Zinfandel.  There was a Lodi bottling at the price of the first Dry Creek bottling, a mid-priced Sierra Foothills wine and then the near Twenty-Buck Dry Creek Zin.  

We stopped selling the wine altogether...no room for all three...not enough time in the day to explain the differences and $20 is simply too much for a wine our customers viewed as "everyday priced."  


The 2007 was included in a blind-tasting of Zinfandels and what a curious wine this was!  It had virtually no character of Zinfandel, but was loaded with oak and then even more oak.  Plungerhead Zin was more reminiscent of a cocktail than wine...

The bottles are sealed with an interesting closure called a "Zork."  It's an alternative to cork and is easy to open.

We hope they will soon have a wine which better represents the Zinfandel grape from its roots rather than using wine as a vehicle for wood flavorings.

Currently in stock:  PLUNGERHEAD Dry Creek Valley ZINFANDEL  (Was $19)  Waiting for a More Zinfandel-like Bottling to Taste



 

 

 

 

 
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