Wine Review | Quivira Zinfandel 2009, Dry Creek Valley

Quivira Vineyards and Winery Zinfandel, 2009, Dry Creek Valley

Dry creek zinfandel

Quivira 2009 Zinfandel

Appellation: Dry Creek Valley

Blend: 83% Zinfandel, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petite Sirah, 2% Grenache

Aging: 14 months American, French and Hungarian Oak. Less than 20% new

Alcohol: 14.8%

Production: 5363 cases

Suggested Retail: $20   *received as sample*

Quivira Vineyards and winery is located in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California and was founded in 1981 by Holly and Henry Wendt.  In 2006 the vineyard was purchased by Pete and Terri Kight and they quickly brought in some interesting changes.  Their new direction was to focus everyone involved in the vineyard on creating world class wines.  To refocus the vineyard crew from a quantity centric mind set, to a quality centric mind set.  The Kights also added additional high elevation vineyard land and some amazing 100 year old zinfandel vines.

In addition to the quality goals, the Kights made some very big changes in the practices department.  Quivira is a holistic and biodynamic vineyard.  An example of this approach is that instead of using synthetic fertilizers, Quivira uses compost and cover crops to feed the vines.

Quivira’s 2009 Zinfandel is the only wine they produce that is not 100% estate grown.  According to the info on the back of the bottle, this wine is sourced from “12 diverse vineyard lots”

The first thing I noticed in this wine was a nice vibrant and intense nose.  Plums and berries, but also a fairly strong whiff of alcohol.  However, the aroma of alcohol was not out of balance with the fruit on the palate.  The palate was ripe and plummy with a good dose of pepper.  Zinfandel can quickly deteriorate into a wine dimensional raisin liquer but Quivira’s 09 Zin manages to stay out of that fray.  The wine does have jammy components, but remains dry and complex enough to savor, rather than merely tolerate.

Weekly Wine Journal Rating: 90 points

Affordable California Cult Wines | Shulz Cellars

California cult wineThis is the third installment in a five part series featuring some Affordable California Cult wines. Their track record, quality, and small production make these collector’s items, but their price tags are what really differentiate them in a sea of overpriced California wines.

Along the west side border of Napa, just off of the Mayacamas mountain region, is the Mt. Veeder region. Responsible for a small fraction of the Valley’s wines, Mt. Veeder doesn’t receive the love and attention that some better known counterpart regions, like Oakville and St. Helena, but it is quietly turning out world class wines from its high elevations. It should come as no surprise, since people have been growing grapes on Mt. Veeder since the 1860’s. Despite the rich history, it wasn’t until 1993 that Mt. Veeder became a formally recognized AVA (American Viticultural Area).
Located north of Carneros and west of Oak Knoll, Yountville and Oakville, the mountain is rugged, steep, and faces the cool Pacific currents. The berries of Mt. Veeder are relatively small due to the cool fog and high elevations, which results in wines of intense fruit flavor and smoother tannins. Of the 15,000 acres that make up the Mt. Veeder, only 1,000 acres are planted to vineyards.  Some of the vineyards are on slopes as steep as 30 Degrees – you could ski down these bad boys!
Though few people know much about Mt. Veeder, it has quietly produced many well known wines, including Hess and Mayacamas Vineyards. Add to that list Schulz Cellars, which was formed in 2005 by John and Michelle Schluz.  Their path to owning a wine company includes significant sales background rather than just a pure wine making background.  John spent 10 years in sales with Franciscan and Michelle spent 5 years in sales with up-and-coming Cliff Lede.  Currently John does sales consulting for a number of ultra premium Napa wineries and Michelle is the Direct to Consumer marketing manager for Arrowood winery and Matanzas Creek Winery.
This winning combination of sales and wine making experience was a recipe for success. The Schulz’s were lucky enough to befriend John and Ashely Derr who own Lampyridae Vineyard, located at about 2,500 feet, near the summit of Mt Veeder. The highest vineyard in the entire Mayacamas range, Lampyridae is Latin for firefly, which is what the lights of San Fransisco look like at night from the vineyard.  This vineyard doesn’t have a shabby background, as it is also a contributing component for Beringer’s (legendary) Private Reserve Cabernet.  The high elevation vineyard produces smaller even more intense fruit with bolder tannins.
So with those two backgrounds in mind, I present to you:
2007 Shulz Cellars Mt. Veeder Zinfandel
This is 100% Zinfandel, aged in 50% French and 50% American Oak (50% of which was new oak) for a total of 18 months.  The alcohol rings in at a tolerable 14.7%, not nearly as high as many neighboring zinfandels out there.  In my last post I talked about the Venge Scout’s Honor.  This wine is almost the polar opposite.  If you don’t like the ripe Lodi style of Zinfandel then you will probably love this wine.  It has a formidable nose of clove and spices, and an intense palate full of cherry, blackberry, and big, chewy tannins. Available for under $30, this wine tastes that much sweeter. And with only 175 cases produced, it’s justified its title as an affordable California Cult selection.

Wine Review | Quivira Vineyards 2008 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley

Quivira Vineyards 2008 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley2008 Zinfandel

The Blend:  95% Zinfandel, 5% Syrah

Alcohol: 14.8%

Production: 4,200 cases

Suggested Retail Price: $20

Unlike the sweeter jammier versions of Zinfandel from Lodi this wine is quite acidic and a little rough around the edges right now.  Which normally might be considered not such a good thing, but in my books its just enough to set this wine apart.  The addition of the Syrah adds some earthy spiciness to the fruit which is predominantly plum and raspberry.  This wine will age nicely over the next 4 years.

The verdict: Decent, 3 out of 5

*disclaimer, this wine was received as sample

Wine Review: Clif Family Winery | The Climber | 2009

In this review: The Climber 2009 Sauvignon blanc and 2009 Red wine

The climber red white

Clif Family Winery, The Climber 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, California.

The  blend: 80% Sauvignon Blanc, 13% Pinot Gris, 5% Riesling, 1% Pinot Meunier and 1% Muscat.

Alcohol: 13.7%

Production: 3,000 cases

Suggested Retail Price: $12

According to the winery the fruit is sourced from Organic and sustainably farmed vineyards in Lake County, Mendocino County and Lodi.  The juice was fermented in 100% stainless steel and did not undergo malolactic fermentation.

The nose is quite pretty, with sweet floral and tropical fruit notes.  The palate is more complex than the $12 retail price would suggest, yet still within the parameters of a California Style Sauvignon Blanc.  The palate is predominantly melon and citrus.  The Riesling and Muscat add a slight sweet acidity to the Sauvignon blanc.

Clif Family Winery, The Climber, 2009 Red Wine California

The Blend: 63% Zinfandel, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Syrah, 2% Merlot and 2% Petite Sirah

Alcohol: 14.1%

Production: 3,500 cases

Suggested Retail Price: $12

According to Clif Family Winery the fruit comes from sustainably farmed vineyards in Mendocino and Lodi.  Each component was fermented separately and then blended prior to bottling.

This wine taste like an uncomplicated Zinfandel from Lodi.  Fruit forward, jammy with a little black pepper spice. Hidden in the mix is a hint of smokey Syrah as well. This wine was not as interesting or palatable as its white counterpart.  I would suggest pairing this with frozen pizza on a weekday.

Clif Family Winery & Farm Website

*Disclaimer* These wines were received as samples

An Evening with Robert Craig, part 2

This is part 2, to first read part 1 click here
After the initial interview Mr Craig went back to his hotel room to get ready for

BLT reception area

The Champagne reception area

the dinner.  During this time I was introduced to Trudy Thomas, director of beverage for the Camelback Inn.  Trudy introduced me to the other guests and we chatted and mingled while sipping champagne  in the reception area before being seated in the private dining area.  Trudy gave me a quick tour inside the wine cellar.  While not large in terms of quantity, this cellar is impressive for its big Napa and Bordeaux representation.  There is at least $100,000 worth of wine in a long narrow walk in cellar that resembles a library in a mahogany hallway.   Trudy is one of those people is truly passionate about what she does.  What she does is manage all the beverages for the resort, and among other things she  helps create the winemaker dinner experience.   She has a perfect job, but it’s definitely not just luck.  Trudy has 18 years in the wine business and is the only person to have taken both Society of Wine Educators CSW and CWE exams on the same day and passed.  I met the man who administered the test and he said that Trudy actually knows even more about spirits! She is meticulous with the details of every aspect of each wine maker dinner.  She can spot a spot on a glass a mile away.  In fact while we were talking she casually turned a glass upside down and set it back on the dinner table, it was my glass, I wondered what she was doing and seamlessly from out of nowhere a waiter silently appeared and replaced the glass with another. Trudy said that these dinners are not about making money for the resort, in fact at $85 a plate it barely covers the costs.

BLT at the Camelback Inn wants to be known for being the valley’s go to place for fine dining, an experience without equal.  The wine maker dinners are all about showcasing their talent, their creativity and their  attention to detail.

At 6:30 all the guests were escorted into the

BLT private dining entrance

The private dining room

private dining area adjoining the wine cellar.  Awaiting us, were glasses of Robert Craig’s only white wine.  The 2008 Robert Craig “Durell Vineyard” Chardonnay from Sonoma Valley. We took our seats and awaited for Mr Craig’s arrival.  He arrived to warm applause and he humbly smiled and lowered his head and sort of shuffled over to his seat.  He spoke for a few minutes before sitting down.  He spoke a little bit of his history, the history of the vineyards and his wine making philosophy, which is once you reach a certain point it’s not about making more wine it’s about making better wine.

The first course arrived and the guests began enjoying the Chardonnay.  The first course consisted of Country Style Duck Pate, brandied Cherries, a little bit of pistachio and some spicy rocket, also known as arugula.  I found the Chardonnay to be a good representation of the terroir of Sonoma in terms of Chardonnay.  Not oaky, not buttery, just well-balanced almost understated.

As guests were finishing up, the waiters and waitresses began bringing in glasses of red wine for everyone.

wine glasses on a table

Pre pouring the wine saves time

One of the details that Trudy employs to help keep the evening moving forward is to have the wines poured outside of the room and brought in.  It is much quicker than moving about the room pouring the wines while the guests wait.  The second course was roasted pork belly with Ricotta Gnudi, root vegetable fricassee, and crispy pork skins.  This was paired with Robert Craig’s 2007 “Affinity”.  Affinity is Robert Craig Winery’s flagship wine.  each year about 5,000 to 6,000 cases of this Bordeaux blend are made.  This wine is made with the restaurant setting in mind.  Which means it is to be consumed sooner rather than later, and without the need of too much decanting.  Mr Craig said that he wanted to make a wine that restaurants didn’t have to hold on to for 10 or 20 years before they are ready to drink.  And just in case you think drink now means lesser quality, the 2007 Affinity received 96 points from Robert Parker.

Robert Craig Winery 2007 Affinity

I found this wine to be incredibly smooth and supple.  Perfectly balanced.  One thing that really stands out is the beautiful aromatics.  The wine is a blend of 79% Cabernet, 10% Petit Verdot, 8% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc and 1% Malbec.  5,700 cases of the wine were but I was informed by wine broker Mattias Stolpe that this wine was virtually already sold out.  It retails for only about $50 so you can see why it’s almost gone.

The third course consisted of hunter style Grouper stew, Lobster mushrooms, Chorizo and Northern beans.  This was paired with the 2006 Mount Veeder Cabernet.  It’s not common to pair fish with red wines, let alone a massively powerful mountain wine like this.  But it worked, fantastically, amazingly.

wine bottle

2006 Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon

The Mt. Veeder Cabernet is actually 81% Cab and 19% Merlot and alcohol clocks in at 14.9% which is amazing to me because the was absolutely no heat present.  This wine is still young, still just a baby.  It has big bold chewy velvety tannins, it makes your mouth pucker up at this point but has a long, long finish.  One of the things that Mr Craig told me about is that he feels that enjoying wine is not so much about enjoying wine at its prime as it is about enjoying wine throughout its life cycle.  Enjoying and experiencing it young and enjoying it right on through to its prime and even past.

Next up was the highlight of the night.  Course number four was a thick, pepper crusted New York Strip, hidden under the steak were huckleberry Braised beef cheeks.  I never would have thought to buy beef cheeks at the grocery store and wouldn’t have known how to prepare them, until now.  I asked the chef how they made them and he said they boiled them and then seared and marinated them in wine and huckleberry.  The result was stunning, delicious.  The two styles of beef were paired with the 2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet.

wine bottle

2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet

This wine was quite different from the Mt Veeder.  It is much Riper and the tannins are more in check but with a seemingly never-ending finish.  This wine is a blend of 84% Cabernet, 12% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc.  Only 1,240 cases were produced. The wine saw 20 months in French oak, 75% new and 25% 2nd year.

In between wines and courses Mr Craig would visit the guests at their tables, and while sitting at the table he would ask questions of me, as I was trying to ask questions of him!  In his very quiet and humble way he shows an interest in people equal to the interest people have in him.  We talked about his safari to Africa which is a topic close to me, as I was born in Africa and lived there until I was almost 9.  I also asked him about what sorts of things, besides wine, is he interested in and he said Native American heritage and culture. In particular preserving the languages.  He also enjoys sailing and given his Coast Guard background I can see why.

Trudy Thomas and Robert Craig

The fifth and final course consisted of Caramelized French butter pears with Cambozola ice cream inside of a walnut crisp pastry.  This was paired with the 2007 Howell Mountain Zinfandel.  This pairing really pushed the envelope.  The pears were delicious.  The Cambozola ice cream was like ice cream made from Brie and Blue cheese.  Your mind is ready for some vanilla and suddenly you are struck by the aftertaste of blue cheese.  The pears really are the sweet part of the desert, and are a perfect match with the ice cream.  The Zinfandel was really amazing.  If you like jammy zins this is not a wine for you.  This is a seriously big peppery zin but with powerful mountain tannins and a good concentration of black raspberries.  Only 800 cases were produced and it retails for about $50 a bottle.

While the final course was being served Chef Marc Hennessy came out and spoke briefly with the guests.  He explained a little bit of the theory behind the pairings.  He wanted this and the other wine maker dinners to really be a showcase for what can be done, not just for its own sake, but to make something that amazes people.  He jokingly referenced the pastry chef’s insistence that the ice cream be made entirely of blue cheese by saying “There is no way there is going to be blue cheese ice cream”  Instead he struck a compromise, and I would say luckily!

This night turned out to be one of the highlights of the year for me.  It was great to meet one of the people who has been instrumental in getting Napa Valley on the map and especially Mt Veeder, Spring Mountain and Howell Mountain.  I am looking forward to future vintages as the focus on producing higher and higher quality wine continues.

Trudy Thomas on Twitter  @INNtoxic8ting

Robert Craig Winery Website

Camelback Inn Website

Bistro Laurent Trouondel (BLT) website

Wine Review: Carlisle Zinfandel, 2007 Russian River Valley Sonoma, Papera Ranch

Where from? Russian River Valley – Sonoma, CA
How much? $40
Alcohol: 15.2%
Production: 650 Cases

This next wine I’m reviewing is rather special. Wine Spectator recently put out a segment reviewing a few of these Carlisle wines – rating this particular Zinfandel 96 points, and a Syrah of theirs 98 points. Yeah…wow. Put it this way, this is the highest rating Wine Spectator has ever given a Zinfandel. Back in early February on numerous online forums, people were already speculating this bottle’s potential to be the next wine of the year on the annual top 100 list. Now I consider that more than jumping the gun a bit being just over a month into 2010 at that point – though I can certainly see how one could make the argument considering this wine’s rating, price, and desirability. It has absolutely everything going for it, except for one factor…its production (only 650 cases made).

Now I never expected to find this bottle at any retailer. I figured I’d have to track it down through an online distributor, or pick it up through an auction site. I hear Carlisle distributes very little, and with a rating like that, and only 650 cases made – I was convinced that what little bit could have been shipped out to any retailer in Arizona would be long gone by now. Fortunately, I was wrong. I made a trip into AZ Wine Company in Scottsdale for my very first time this week. I have to say, I was impressed. I saw several wines that I couldn’t find anywhere else. After walking through several aisles, and eyeing numerous bottles, I spotted the Carlisle Zin. At first I thought there was no way, this had to be another one of their Zinfandels, and not the recent 96 pointer. But after a moment on my iPhone, I quickly realized this was in fact it. Some how there were 3 bottles sitting right in front of me…and of course I purchased every last one of them.

I know I know, I keep going on and on about being fortunate enough to actually find a few bottles of this wine. Let’s get on to the review already right? Well here we go. In the glass this wine is a very deep magenta color with a ruby rim. The nose displays a beautiful floral bouquet with black raspberries, cherries, and a complex mineral element. Simply sensational nose, it really draws you into the glass. I took my first taste after just 30 minutes in the decanter and was shocked. For how apparently young this wine is right now, it was extremely accessible in such a short period of time. This wine will benefit from another 2 to 5 years in the bottle minimum.

This wine is a stunner. It’s powerful, but completely well-balanced. Like a well made, finely-tuned sports car – it’s running at 150 mph, yet incredibly smooth and controlled. Amazing concentrated dark semi-jammy fruit with ample acidity. White pepper sings across your palate in perfect balance with the ripe cherries and raspberries. The finish is long with beautiful fleshy tannins. It leaves your mouth coated with flavor.

After an hour or two, the soft jammy berries are in perfect harmony. Simply put, this Zinfandel may very well be amongst the pinnacle of its varietal. Certainly the best that I have ever tasted, and it’s only going to get better with time. 97-98 points is where I score this wine. This is what a Zin is all about, you’d be hard pressed to improve on this.

Ryan O’Connor


Wine Review: Grgich Hills Estate, 2006 Zinfandel, Napa Valley

Grgich Hills 2006 Zinfandel


Alcohol: 14.9%

Blend: 95% Zinfandel, 5% Petite Sirah

Aging: 15 months large French Oak Casks

Production: 5,784 Cases plus 558 cases of 375ml bottles

Price: $30.99 at AZ Wine Company

The Nose: Raspberry and spice

The Palate: Tart, chewy, Black Tea

Finish: Juicy and mouth-watering

I tasted this wine at a wine tasting, so the sample that I made this review from was rather limited.  My reviews usually consist of consuming the whole bottle…half one night, and then the other half 24 hours later…Tim.

Christmas Dinner Wine Pairings

For those of you searching for something other than the traditional Christmas Dinner Wine Pairings, see my post Not the Same Old Wine Pairings.

So you’re having turkey dinner…

For those of you who want to show your guests that you have absolutely zero imagination or tolerance of risk, and that you have an almost maniacal disregard for their well-being,  I suggest you serve pink Zinfandel all day and all night.

If you want to go with a little more risk and pizzaz, try serving a fruit forward Red Zinfandel or Primitivo.  Layer Cake makes a decent $13 Primitivo.  It has a fairly light alcohol content at 13.5% and gentle tannins.  It’s a little bit sweet and generally happy to play second fiddle to the rest of your holiday meal.  For white you could serve a fruity Riesling.  I suggest Sofia (Coppola) Riesling at about $13.

If you want to step it up a little more and show some creativity, while still conforming to the wine pairing rule book you could serve a dry Pinot Noir.  I suggest Luigi Bosca Reserva 2007 Pinot Noir from Argentina.  90 points from Jay Miller for Robert Parker.  Retails for about $15-$20.  For white go with 2007 Chateau St. Michelle Riesling Eroica  (NOT their regular Riesling) 91 points and about $20-$25.

there you have it, short and sweet.  Merry Christmas everyone!

Titus Vineyards Zinfandel, 2007

From their tasting notes:  “Ripe aromas of briary red fruit are wrapped in exotic spices of the nose and translate through to the palate with the addition of candied raspberries and cherries.  The mouth-feel is full bodied and lush showing hints of sweetness on the palate.  This Zin’s long spicy finish is enhanced by vanilla, licorice and toast notes imparted by the American Oak used to age this wine.”

It’s actually 85% Zinfandel, 15%  Petite  Sirah.  I tasted the wine without pre-reading their tasting notes.

Referring to my trusty little black note book I see some poorly written scribbling:  “First taste–medium bodied,  very slight earthiness.  2nd taste, spicy, dry”

I would have to say that this wine needs a little more time to evolve, but thats not necessarily a bad thing if you like to collect and store wine.  If you like a dense jammy Zin that is ready to drink now,  I don’t think this will be the wine for you.  If you like your zin on the drier and spicier side, then I think you’ll find this wine more agreeable.  1,838 cases produced, $27 a bottle retail.