Zinning in Summer and in Winter too

For lovers of Zinfandel from California, there are two important functions on the “must do” list.  Zinfest, sponsored by the Lodi Wine Commission (www.lodiwine.com) is generally a May event in Lodi.  The Zinfandel Experience, usually held in San Francisco in January, is sponsored by Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (www.zinfandel.org).  Between these two events, you can taste some marvelous wines and learn about the variety of Zinfandel styles from our California vineyards and winemakers.  I’m focusing here on Lodi Zinfandels to encourage you to go to Zinfest.

Some of my favorite Zinfandels are designed “Old Vine.”  Those are wines made from vines planted pre-prohibition, before 1930.  Some old vine roots go as deep as 25 feet so there is consistent access to moisture regardless of whether the year is wet or dry.  Roots which reach through several layers of soil yield special fruit and this is reflected in the wines.

Macchia’s 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel “Michievous” comes from five different old vine vineyards near the winery in Acampo, Lodi AVA.  This wine has the classic fruit-forward characteristic of Lodi Zinfandel, and is a lovely deep-hued wine.  There are rich ripe berry flavors and a hint of soft vanilla. 15.5 percent alcohol.  $20 the bottle.  www.macchiawines.com

McCay Cellars 2009 Truluck’s Jupiter comes from a vineyard on the west side of Lodi with 80 year old vines inter-planted with 40 year old vines.  The resulting wine is beautifully structured with layers of flavors like blackberry, black cherry and cola.  It is both spicy and fruity, and round on the palate. This well balanced Zinfandel has soft tannins, a nice acidity, and a long finish. 14.6 percent alcohol.  $32 the bottle.   www.mccaycellars.com

d'art Winery, located in Lodi, is known for its hand crafted wines.  Dave Dart, an artist who is also the winemaker at d’Art, sourced fruit from vines 85 to 125 years old for his 2011 Zinfandel. It is a peppery, fruity Zinfandel that spent 18 months in American oak barrels.  16 per cent alcohol.  $24 the bottle.   www.dartwines.com

Toasted Toad Cellars fruit for its 2010 Zinfandel came from the Clements Hills area of Lodi, near the Mokelumne River  This yummy Zinfandel is bursting with ripe berry flavor, vanilla and spice, and has a deep red color and lasting finish.   Despite the high alcohol (17.2 per cent), which winemaker Jeff Werter purposely decided to not water back to a lower rate, this wine is perfectly balanced. $24 the bottle. www.toastedtoadcellars.com

Zinfandel can be a blending grape too.  Harney Lane Winery, Lodi, does a nice job with its 2012 Dry Rose, using Zinfandel, Tempranillo and Petite Sirah.  Warm weather is not far away.  Grab some of this.  13.9 percent alcohol. $17 the bottle.  www.harneylane.com
What could be more perfect than tasting these wines in Lodi in the summer?   Note to self: hats and suntan lotion a must!

Placer County Wineries, including a New One, pour in Tahoe

One of the best ways to experience a variety of Sierra Foothill wines is to attend an event which features them. The recent Passport to Dining, which benefits the North Tahoe Business Association and the Community House, focused on wines from nearby Placer County wineries.

Jeff Evans and Mike Waljer
of Bear River Winery
The newest winery, Bear River Winery, is located in Meadow Vista, CA. I went straight for the 2010 Barbera, which uses grapes sourced from Viani Vineyards in the Pilot Hill area of Placer County. Jeff Evans, Proprietor, notes that this Barbera has rich fruit-forward flavors of red cherry and raspberry. The aroma is fruity, and matches taste. It has a nicely balanced acidity. The winemakers suggest pairing it with pasta, pizza or anything Italian. 14.6 percent alcohol. $24/bottle. The winery also sources grapes from the Clavey Vineyards near Chicago Park, for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and Syrah. www.BearRiverWinery.com.

Raquel Mostajo of Dono dal Cielo
Dono dal Cielo Vineyard, Newcastle, CA, presented its 2009 Daven Port 6100. This port-like wine is a late harvest Zinfandel, and has a ruby-jewel appearance and strong ripe black-cherry aroma. It is a nicely soft wine, with a hint of warmed currant, and is rich on the palate. I think a port should be in everyone’s wine rack, and this is a good one at a reasonable price! 16.5 percent alcohol. $25 for the 375 ml bottle. www.donodalcielo.com

Denise Bellacera, wine educator
of Wise Villa Winery
I’ve tasted wines before from Wise Villa Winery, located in Lincoln, CA. Dr. Grover Lee, winemaker, has a philosophy that I appreciate: “We believe that great wines come from ultra-premium grapes, hand picked and crafted one barrel at a time. Our premium wines are aged in French oak barrels and enriched by the mineral, loam, soil of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Foothills in Lincoln, California.”At the benefit, they poured a Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. I liked the 2011 Wisdom of Wise best of all. This wine is a blend of Merlot (54 percent), Cabernet Sauvignon (26 percent), and Cabernet Franc (18 percent). It’s made in the Bordeaux style (think claret, etc). Taste is of bright fruit, a fair amount of spiciness, and it has a lovely medium body. 13.5 percent alcohol. $30/bottle. www.wisevillawinery.com

Lori and Mark Bonitata
of Bonitata Boutique Wines
Bonitata Boutique Wines is located in Auburn in the original Bernhard Winery founded in 1874. This is part of the Bernhard Museum on Folsom Road in Auburn. Bonitata poured its 2009 Barbera, made from fruit sourced from the Boa Vista vineyards in El Dorado County. This Barbera is a classic one, made from those great El Dorado grapes. Rich, fruit, medium body. 14.5 percent alcohol, $24/bottle. www.bonitataboutiquewine.com

The North Tahoe Business Association was founded in 1979 and is a non-profit organization that strives to improve and enhance the economic vitality and quality of life in the communities of North lake Tahoe. www.NorthTahoeBusiness.org

Petra Wine Bar at Northstar Village, Lake Tahoe, features Unique Wines

Kali talks about Pride Mountain Wines
at luncheon at Petra
Kali Kopley has enlivened the Tahoe wine scene for several years now, with her Uncorked wine bars in Truckee, Squaw Valley and Tahoe City.  Petra, in the Village at Northstar, is a wonderful part of the group, with its selection of great food to match an equally great selection of wines.  The wine-dine events there are excellent, featuring small production wineries with interesting stories to tell.

Pride Mountain Vineyards, recently featured, produces award-winning wines famous for their concentration and richness. All Pride Mountain wines are sourced from 86 vineyard acres at 2100 feet elevation straddling the Napa/Sonoma county line.  This small family vineyard was originally planted in 1989. 

2012 Viognier introduced
by Stuart Bryan,
National Sales Director
The 2012 Pride Mountain Viognier features Sonoma grapes.  It is an expressive Viognier, with intense fruit and a bright acidity.  There is an enticing aroma of apricot, orange blossom and a waft of acacia that leads to a zing on the palate.  The stone-fruit flavor is enhanced by floral and mineral notes.  It was paired with a pea shoot, melon and basic salad.  14.3 percent alcohol.  $42 the bottle.

2011 Vintner's Select
Chardonnay, paired with
The 2011 Pride Mountain Vintner’s Select Chardonnay, Sonoma, features a complex range of flavors including melon, green apple, pear and jasmine.  The winemaker notes that “The cool 2011 vintage provided the perfect growing conditions for ripening our estate chardonnay to a beautiful richness while maintaining a crisp, distinct acidity.” This wine is bright and expressive on the palate.  14.8 percent alcohol.  $48 the bottle.  It was perfectly paired with a moussaka of potato, eggplant and chevre. 

The 2010 Pride Mountain Merlot contains two-thirds fruit from Napa and one-third from Sonoma.  This is a Cabernet-lover’s merlot, with chocolate and raspberry/strawberry flavors that coat the top of the mouth with a lush and intense taste that is not tannic.   Personally, I am not a great fan of overly tannic wines, so I loved this Merlot!  Aroma of bright plum, cherry, mulberry and walnut are a wonderful introduction to this nice tasting Merlot. 14.5 percent alcohol.  $60 the bottle.   It was well paired with short ribs and heirloom tomatoes.

The 2011 Pride Mountain Syrah, Sonoma, will please the tannin lovers among you.  “Plum, blueberry, rhubarb, bacon, sweet black raspberry, white pepper, Alsatian spices, wild thyme and smoky embers are some of the intriguing flavors that lurk within this blue-black wine,” notes the winemaker.  14.2 percent alcohol.  $60 the bottle.  The pairing was a cheese-pear-honey 
dessert trio. 

Petra is located in the village at Northstar, 3001 North Village Drive, Suite 3112.  Winter hours are noon to 10 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday. 530.562.0600.  http://teloswine.com.   For more information on Pride Mountain wines, go to http://www.pridewines.com

Great Sommeliers in the Tahoe Area: Christian O'Kuinghttons, Bistro Napa, Atlantis Casino Resort, Reno

Looking for a special gift?  How about a dinner with wine at the Bistro Napa fine dining restaurant in the Atlantis Casino Resort Hotel in Reno.    I’ve had the pleasure of dining in Bistro Napa a few times, and the experience of service is like a well-choreographed ballet.  

Christian O'Kuinghttons,
Bistro Napa, Atlantis
Resort Casino, Reno NV
Christian O'Kuinghttons is the brilliant sommelier there.  Following is some insight to his wine philosophy.

“In the evolution of the American palate for wine styles, we are moving from simplicity to complexity,” he said, and what’s going on in the American wine scene now is being guided by this generation of millennials.  “They are looking for a depth of characteristics.  They like a fruity wine with a long finish, and have a “more the merrier” attitude about flavor and aroma in a wine.”

Since 1996, Christian has been developing the impressive wine list.  “That work has been like a ladder reaching up and up, and that is consistent with my temperament as I reach toward a joyful wine experience,” he said.  “Our wine program receives awards all the time.   We believe in 8 ounce pours, so that two glasses of different wines are generally sufficient to take a diner through a great wine experience with his meal. “

The four wines
Christian searches for wines that come from small producers of beautiful grapes.  “I meet winemakers and walk their vineyards.  The winery that produces between 150 and 300 cases is of most interest to me,” he said.  We tasted four such wines.

Evolution White, from Oregon, vintage 2011-2012. This is a blend of 9 different grapes: Pinot Grigio, White Riesling, Muscat, Gewurtztraminer, Muller-Thurgau, Semillon, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner and Chardonnay.  It has a lush tropical yet crisp finish, and some flintiness.  Taste is of dried fruits, like apricot.  12 percent alcohol.  $15/glass.

Four Graces, Willamette Valley, 2011 Pinot Blanc    “This is a misunderstood wine,” Christian said. “ It is a bridge between Sauvignon Blanc and an oaked Chardonnay.”  13.3 percent alcohol.    $14/glass

Christian pours CMS
CMS 2009 from Hedges, Columbia Valley, Washington.   This 2009 red blend is 39% Cabernet, 45% Merlot and 15% Syrah.  “So much fun!” he said. 13.5 percent alcohol.   $12/glass, $34/bottle.

Stratton Lummis, The Riddler Lot 3, a Napa Valley Red Wine.  It has a Tempranillo base (Sierra Foothills fruit), some Zinfandel, some Petite Syrah.   The blend changes every year.  The flavor and aroma is of dark fruit.  15.2 percent alcohol .  $15/glass.   “This is an excellent wine to demonstrate the 21st Century palate,” says Christian.
Stratton Lummis

The Atlantis Casino Resort Hotel is located at 3800 S. Virginia Street, Reno, NV 89502.  Telephone (775) 824-4430.