Tag Archives: Zinfandel

Federalist Dueling Pistols

AG Pick: The Federalist Dueling Pistols 2014

How does a Syrah, Zinfandel, red blend from the West Coast
Taste when you raise it for a toast?

I’ve had the hit musical Hamilton on the brain for months and I couldn’t help but think about the opening number when I was pouring a glass of The Federalist Dueling Pistols.

The name of the wine was inspired by the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. The 2014 vintage is a blend of 50% Syrah and 50% Zinfandel from the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma.

Federalist Dueling PistolsDueling Pistols is the latest wine from The Federalist, a series of wines that honor America’s Founding Fathers and their ideals.

It’s a great concept for a California red wine blend. Zinfandel, a proudly American grape (and definitely the Hamilton in this duel), faces off with Syrah, a grape that can be on its own or in blends, but is typically blended with Rhone varieties including Grenache and Mourvedre.

The Syrah and Zinfandel grapes for Dueling Pistols were separately fermented. After blending, the wine spent 15 months in 20% new American and Hungarian oak barrels. American oak was used to add sweeter notes, Hungarian to add spice.

Fortunately for us, this duel has a happy outcome – a rich and robust wine that’s enjoyable to drink.

Dark purple in color as you would expect with these two grapes, The Federalist Dueling Pistols has spicy berry and smoky aromas. The taste is bold with flavors of black cherry, ripe plum and blackberry rounded out with black pepper, root beer and a touch of smoked meat. Smooth tannins and good acidity give the wine a supple mouthfeel.

Pair the Federalist Dueling Pistols with roasted chicken or turkey, or red meat. Fittingly, it’s perfect at an all-American barbecue.

The only duel you might find yourself in is fighting over the last sip.

A bottle of The Federalist 2014 Dueling Pistols costs $29.

The Federalist wines are produced by Terlato Wines. Dueling Pistols is not associated with Hamilton: An American Musical.

14.5% alcohol

AG Pick: The Federalist Zinfandel 2011

Are you a Scandal fan and looking for a red wine to sip along with Olivia Pope? Or are you interested in something dark and intense to go along with the schemes on House of Cards? Try a bottle of the 2011 Federalist Zinfandel.

Federalist ZinfandelUniquely American from the grape to the image of Alexander Hamilton on the label, this wine from Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley is a toast to our nation’s heritage. It is made entirely from Zinfandel, a grape that took root not too long after Hamilton and the Founding Fathers worked to establish the United States.

There is no need to be a fixer or a manipulator to enjoy the wine. This Zinfandel is a crowd-pleasing mix of dark berry and spice flavors with a velvety texture. Bold yet refined notes of blackberry, black currant, boysenberry and plum are layered with black pepper and cinnamon. It feels smooth and lively in the mouth, with gentle tannins and good acidity.

The Federalist Zinfandel pairs with a variety of foods including grilled or baked chicken, hamburgers, prime rib and lamb. Or just enjoy a glass with your favorite television show.

$24.99, 14.9% alcohol by volume

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Wallet-Friendly Red Wines for Fall

Looking for a new great value wine to try this fall? Try one of these three reds:

Esporao Monte Velho RedHerdade do Esporão Monte Velho Red 2012


Set a place at the dinner table for this medium bodied, food-friendly wine from the Alentejo region of Portugal. The wine is a blend of indigenous grapes Aragonês (40%) and Trincadeira (35%) along with Touriga Nacional (20%) and Syrah (5%). Vibrant berry aromas introduce flavors of cherry, raspberry, and cassis. The fruit is layered with white pepper, clove and subtle toasted oak. If you’re not familiar with the wines of Portugal, Esporão offers an excellent introduction.

$10, 14% alcohol by volume

Rib Shack RedRib Shack Red 2012

South Africa

With its smoky and earthy flavors, this wine from the Western Cape in South Africa is the perfect pairing for barbecues and tailgates. The wine from Douglas Green is 60% Pinotage and 40% Shiraz. Intense tobacco, leather and wood smoke aromas and flavors are supported nicely by black cherry, boysenberry and plum. Silky tannins give the wine a smooth mouthfeel, and the finish is satisfying with lingering dark berry and mocha.

$10, 13% alcohol by volume

Dead Bolt Winemaker's BlendDead Bolt Winemaker’s Red Blend 2011


Juicy and jammy, this wine can warm you up as the temperature drops. It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Petit Sirah and Shiraz from California by Australian winemaker Philip Laffer. Black plum, baked cherries and sweet tannins make for a bold first impression. This is followed by a silky finish that has a touch of nutmeg. From the flashy label to the full flavor, this wine is anything but shy.

$14, 13% alcohol by volume


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AG Pick: Clos LaChance Wines

Big in flavor but not in price, Clos LaChance wines are easy to drink and can be enjoyed at a variety of occasions.

Clos LaChance winesLocated in San Martin, in the northern part of California’s Central Coast, Clos LaChance is family owned and operated. Bill and Brenda Murphy focus on creating wines of distinction using sustainable winegrowing practices and a mix of modern winemaking technology and old world philosophy.

The grapes come from 150 acres of estate vineyards in San Martin and the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Clos LaChance Sauv BlancThe 2011 Estate Sauvignon Blanc is 87% Sauvignon Blanc and 13% Semillon. Fresh and floral, this white wine has flavors of lemon, lime, white grapefruit and white peach, with a hint of sweet honeysuckle and subtle grassy undertones. Gentle acidity gives the wine a pleasing mouthfeel, and the finish is clean and refreshing. Enjoy the Clos LaChance Sauvignon Blanc as an aperitif or with salads, white fish, shrimp or spicy dishes. ($11, 13.9% alcohol by volume)

Clos LaChance ZinThe 2010 Estate Zinfandel includes 11% Petit Sirah. The wine was aged for 14 months in 20% new American oak barrels.

Ripe berries dominate on the nose and palate. Flavors of blackberry, cherry and boysenberry are complemented by a touch of white pepper and thyme, with lingering spice on the smooth finish. Pair the Clos LaChance Zinfandel with grilled meats, barbecue or pizza. ($15, 15% alcohol by volume)

Clos LaChance CabernetThe 2009 Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon includes 12% Malbec and 2% Merlot. The wine spent 16 months in 30% new French oak barrels and 5% new American oak barrels.

Bright and fruit-forward, this wine has flavors of black plum, blackberry, cherry and raspberry. Layers of cedar and tobacco add depth. Well-integrated tannins give the wine a velvety mouthfeel, and the finish is soft with a lingering hint of vanilla. Pair the Clos LaChance Cabernet Sauvignon with beef, lamb, hamburgers or grilled or roasted red meats. ($15, 13.8% alcohol by volume)

For more information on Clos LaChance visit www.clos.com.

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Surprising Lake County Wines

By Maxine Howard

What is so surprising about Lake County wines? The surprise is that they’re interesting, well-made, and reasonably priced.

Twenty-one wineries from Lake County (just north and east of Napa) showed off their recent vintages at a tasting in San Francisco in September. We only had a chance to sample about a third of the offerings, but came away with a desire to visit Lake County to explore others.

The whites had a light touch. Sauvignon Blancs predominated but there were some lightly oaked Chardonnays. The reds exhibited bold flavors and nuances created by some interesting variety combinations.

Langtry Estate and Vineyards had one of our favorite white wines. The 2011 Guenoc Sauvignon Blanc was made from the Musque clone, from the Loire Valley, so it had some characteristics of a Sancerre. It showed terrific fruit at the start, continued with hints of the minerality you would find in its French cousins, and finished with dry grapefruit notes. At $16 a bottle it seems like a great option.

Among the red wines offered, Rosa D’Oro had two interesting bottles. The 2010 Primitivo (Italian Zinfandel) was a full-bodied wine with ripe berry flavors and the peppery accent you would expect from a Zinfandel. It is priced at $20. The 2010 Aglianico (an Italian variety related to Cabernet) was a substantial mouthful. The fruit was well balanced, there was a bit of earthiness, and the firm tannins should allow it to age well. It costs $24 a bottle.

Steele Wines showed off an interesting blend called Outcast Red ($22), which included Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Barbera, and Petit Verdot. The bold, dark fruits were balanced nicely by earthy tones for a spectacular taste.

Another fascinating blend was a joint production of Shannon Ridge Winery and Vigilance Winery. The 2010 Dalliance ($19.99) is a blend of Zinfandel, Barbera, Syrah, Tempranillo and Grenache. It lures you with a spectacular deep color and aromas of blackberry and cherry. Here again, the blending of grapes with varying characteristics results in a complex, full-bodied wine with balanced fruit, a mellow taste and a dry finish.

Lake County wineries produce small quantities each year that are not as widely distributed as their better-known counterparts from Napa. But if you can find them you will discover they are well made and worth a taste.

For more information visit the Lake County Winery Association at www.lakecountywineries.org.

images from the Lake County Winery Association’s Facebook page

It’s Time for Wine: Sonoma Valley Appellations

By Monty and Sara Preiser

Most oenophiles are aware of the Russian River, Chalk Hill and Carneros districts of Sonoma, but few others. As Sonoma county winemakers continue to refine their decisions as to what varieties grow best in what locations, the designation of the wine’s appellation will become more and more important.

In Sonoma County, as in other wine producing areas of this country, there are grape growing/producing regions that each possess characteristics approved as unique by the government, and, thus, are granted status as an American Viticultural Area (commonly referred to as “AVA” or “Appellation”). While memorizing these AVAs is not necessary, it will enhance your understanding and fun to have at least a general working knowledge of each one, and what you can expect from a wine that bears an Appellation name on its label.

Modern oenology allows the luxury of matching grape varieties with the locations that are best suited to grow them. Individual regions feature distinct meso or microclimates (functions of wind, rain, temperature, and time-in-the-sun) as well as terrain – hill, valley, foothills, type of soil, etc. When all of these factors, which obviously affect the grapes, are put together, they can be said to create a specific “terroir,” or, for lack of a better definition, “sense of place.”

Why is it important to know a wine’s AVA? For many reasons, most of which have to do with predicting how a wine should taste or be paired, before you actually taste or purchase it. Being cognizant of what an AVA brings to the bottle can help you select a wine to go with a particular dish, or decide whether a price is fair. For example, the Russian River AVA is well known for producing cooler climate varietals like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. If you saw a Zinfandel with a Russian River Appellation, you might have some doubts about ordering it before having the opportunity somewhere to taste it.

But the good thing about drinking wine is that once a bottle is opened and you actually taste the wine yourself, all bets are off. You can then make the call as to whether you like it and what foods you want to accompany it. If you are satisfied, that is all that matters. Let’s discuss the various Appellations below.

Sonoma County

Placing this first since all the other thirteen smaller appellations are a part of it, a winery might use this appellation if a bottle of its wine contained grapes from more than two viticultural areas other than those in the Northern Sonoma (see below) region. If it sounds like “Sonoma County” is a catch-all, it is. There is no unifying description of its characteristics.

Alexander Valley

Located in the northern part of the county, Alexander Valley includes both the flatlands and the hills to the east and west (22 miles long and from 2 to 7 miles wide). The diverse micro-climates support the growing of a number of grape types, though Cabernet Sauvignnon is the star.

Best Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, some Chardonnay.

Bennett Valley

This is a small AVA, but rising in stature all the time. It benefits tremendously by being bordered by three mountains which permit the cool early fog and winds to blow from the Pacific down the gap which is Bennett Valley. The extra hang time needed to obtain ripeness allows for very balanced wines.

Best Varietals: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Zinfandel.

Carneros (formally “Los Carneros”)

Don’t be confused as this Appellation is partly in Napa as well (one of only 2 places in the U.S. of which we are aware where an Appellation crosses county lines). As Carneros is just off the San Pablo Bay in the county’s southernmost area, it is quite cool.

Best Varietals: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and recently some excellent Merlot.

Chalk Hill

This name comes from the soil of white, chalky, volcanic ash found in the mountains (actually there is no chalk – it is a mixture of quartzite, sand, and loam). The region, north of Santa Rosa, experiences plenty of sun and heat from a thermal belt that influences the temperatures.

Best Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc.

Dry Creek Valley

Named for Dry Creek, a tributary to the Russian River and irrigated by Lake Sonoma, this region is about 16 miles long and 2 miles wide and experiences warm late mornings and afternoons following morning fog from the Pacific. Wines are grown on the valley floor and hillsides above.

Best Varietals: Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, some Chardonnay.

Fort Ross – Seaview

The county’s newest appellation, approved by the TTB in late 2011, its 27,500 acres were carved out of the 480,000 acre Sonoma Coast, the latter of which actually extends somewhat inland. Truly located on the shoreline, this AVA was granted its distinct status because much of it is mountainous and thus above the fog line that often affects the rest of the older, larger appellation.

Best Varietals: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Green Valley (formally Green Valley of Russian River)

This small, beautiful area near Sebastopol is worth exploring on many levels (redwood forests, llama farms), but from a wine standpoint is is significant that it may be the coolest, foggiest region in Sonoma County – even cooler than the rest of the Russian River Valley.

Best Varietals: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Knights Valley

Located next to Napa Valley and protected from the cool Pacific Ocean influences due to its geography, this region is the warmest in all of Sonoma County. Its warm days and cool nights provide the ideal weather for producing Bordeaux grapes of all kinds.

Best Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Verdot.

Northern Sonoma

This region encompasses a half dozen other appellations (Chalk Hill and the Alexander, Dry Creek, Green, Knights, and Russian River Valleys) and was primarily championed by giant Gallo, which wanted a definitive umbrella appellation so it could make an “estate wine” at its winery in Dry Creek using grapes from the other aforementioned areas. Gallo is the only winery using this AVA designation, which is cooled by the Pacific rather than the San Pablo Bay, and has sedimentary rather than volcanic soils.

Pine Mountain – Cloverdale Peak

This is an interesting new (Fall of 2011) AVA, in that it includes part of northeastern Sonoma County and portions of Mendocino County. Only about 5% of its 4,600 acres are planted with just a bit more under development. The area is relatively fog free, so it has ample sunlight, and is cooler than the Alexander Valley, much of which stretches below.

Best Varietals: Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, some Chardonnay.


This appellation’s name is quite descriptive of the hardscrabble soils and actual rocks in and around which the vines here must struggle to grow (survival of the fittest, as they say). Rockpile is also above the fog line, so, while ocean cooled, the evening mist is not a factor and sun is plentiful.

Best Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel.

Russian River Valley

Not really including the entire Russian River Valley, this region follows the river from Healdsburg south to Santa Rosa and then west to Occidental. It is remarkable for the fog that rolls down the river banks from the ocean and lasts until late morning, creating the perfect cool climate for world class wines.

Best Varietals: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, some Syrah.

Sonoma Coast

A huge geographical area abutting the Pacific coast (San Pablo Bay in the south all the way to the Mendocino border) belies the fact that it is sparsely planted. Cooler and wetter than most of Sonoma, the vineyards benefit from being above the fog line, and ultimately achieve great balance due to a long growing season.

Best Varietals: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Sonoma Mountain

East of the Sonoma Valley near the town of Glen Ellen, this region allows a number of varietals to be successfully grown because of its diverse micro climates created by mountain crevices and some rolling slopes. Primarily eastern facing and above the fog line, sunshine is abundant.

Best Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel.

Sonoma Valley

Running north/south between the town of Sonoma and Santa Rosa, this is also called “The Valley of the Moon.” The mountains on both sides protect the area from Pacific weather and so the southern part is cooled from the San Pablo Bay while the northern areas can become quite hot.

Best Varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Semillon, Merlot.


It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that is featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.

Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for Sallys-Place.com.  Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley, the most comprehensive guide to wineries and restaurants in the Napa Valley, published every March, July, and November. In fall 2011 the Preisers released the first issue of The Preiser Key to Sonoma. Click here to read more columns by the Preisers.

It’s Time for Wine: Wines, Wineries and Dining for the New Year

DeLoach, Moshin, Oakville Ranch, and Brassica

By Monty and Sara Preiser

It is time to start planning your California wine country trip if you intend to travel to California during the 2012 season. Many wineries that you will want to see will start filling their appointment slots a few months in advance of your arrival, so we recommend early reservations to confirm visits to the places you desire. We will try to help you along in your selection process with profiles of a number of wineries over the next month or two.

DeLoach Vineyards

We have been recommending DeLoach as a must visit for a number of years now, and somehow the superb wines continue to improve. There has to be a line beyond which they cannot get any better, but we don’t know where that is or when it might be reached.

At our last tasting, which was not blind, we highly graded each wine and began to wonder whether we were influenced by our previous love of the wines, respect and friendship with the owners and managers, and/or our enjoyment of the property. We well know that all these things affect perception. So even though we do not place much stock in number scores, we took a look at what the major magazines had said, figuring that a few wines would have received fair scores, a few good, and a few very good (thus, we would have actually learned nothing). Amazingly, 11 wines (most of the portfolio) had received scores of between 90 – 95 points from respected publications. So we are certainly not alone in giving high kudos to DeLoach.

We do have our favorites, however, and drink them whenever the opportunity arises. For Chardonnay we are partial to those from the 2009 Durell Vineyard ($50), and the 2009 O.F.S. ($32). For Pinot Noirs we gravitate to the 2008 Green Valley ($45), 2008 Swicegood ($45), and 2008 Maboroshi ($45). And for Zin we think the 2008 Forgotten Vines ($36) rivals California’s best, though with that said, the 2008 Nova ($32) is almost as good.

(707) 526-9111

Moshin Vineyards

Off the beaten path for sure, a visit to Sonoma County’s Moshin is a welcome throwback to the times of simpler tasting rooms and smaller family operated wineries.  The first person we saw was taking out the trash, and he turned out to be the owner, Rick Moshin, who, with his wife Amber, pretty much run the whole shooting match.

We first sampled a superb 2010 Morris Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot Gris ($21), which is mostly sold to the wine club only (a good reason to join). We then talked about varying styles of Sauvignon Blanc as we sipped the outstanding 2009 Dry Creek Valley Larrick Vineyard ($22) with its perfectly rounded finish. From there we moved on to Chardonnays, and will highly recommend the 2008 Russian River Valley ($28) and the 2008 Bacigalupi ($38). If you know what fabulous wines come from the latter vineyard, and what many other wineries charge for Bacigalupi Chard, you will easily recognize the good deal to be found at Moshin.

Then came a number of the winery’s outstanding Pinot Noirs (who could have fathomed they made so many different bottles at this lovely, but small, facility?). Using the fruit from some of the state’s most noted vineyards, the winery’s specialty in producing this varietal shines. We appreciated the opportunity to recognize distinct differences between 6 or 7 different Pinots (most of them vineyard designates). We also appreciated the price points, which ran anywhere from $26 to $65 per bottle – something for everyone for certain. Our favorites were the 2007 Moshin Estate ($65), the 2008 Morris Ranch ($44), and the 2008 Halo’s Hill ($45). Besides the varietals we mentioned above, Moshin offers Merlot, Petite Syrah, a Late Harvest, and Zinfandel. Tastings are daily from 11:00 am to – 4:30 pm, and tours are available by appointment.

(707) 433-5499

Oakville Ranch

You never know what is at the top of any mountain range in wine country, and so if you can arrange a tour (or two or three) at the right place(s), you are in for some gorgeous scenery and an opportunity to learn some viticulture as well. Oakville Ranch is one of those “right” places, not only for the views, but for the wine. Sitting on a sloping plateau that rises to 1400 feet on the east side of Napa, the rocky volcanic soils slowly release nutrients to the vines that already have to struggle to force their roots to water. These factors lead to wines that are highly concentrated in flavor.

We recently toured the estate with affable and interesting vineyard manager Phil Coturri, and then dined with GM Paula Kornell and winemaker Anne Vawter, both women of brains and beauty. We tasted through the entire portfolio, and choosing which wine to recommend is easy – all of them. Each in its own way is a serious example of how good wine can be (and at a reasonable prices, too).

The 2007 Napa Valley Chardonnay ($45) makes you remember how good a balanced big Chardonnay can be, even (perhaps we should say especially) when most of it ages in new oak. Unfortunately the 2008 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is sold out, but year in and year out this wine features concentrated black fruits co-existing with spices from layer to layer. So keep an eye out for 2009. Our favorite varietal might be Cabernet Franc, and so we are in love with the 2007 Robert’s Blend ($92), which has 90% Cab Franc and boasts flavors of black cherries and blueberries supported by bold tannins. And while we are not always lucky enough to prefer the least expensive product of whatever kind, here the 2009 Field Blend ($32), a combination of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, hits our palates in precisely the right manner.

(707) 944-9665

Brassica Mediterranean Kitchen and Winebar

There is nothing that famed chef Cindy Pawlcyn cannot do when it comes to culinary ventures. Her newest restaurant, Brassica (which is Latin for a family of plants known as mustards that grow in both Napa and the Mediterranean), is already a hit among locals and will no doubt be one of the “go to places” once the season begins in May.

The cuisine at Brassica, inspired by the flavors of Southern Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East, is like nothing else in wine country. Traditional dishes (though each with an additional unknown oomph that great chefs all seem able to add) such as humus, baba ghanoush, fried stuffed olives, and stuffed grape leaves, are joined on the menu by what will soon be signature dishes such as coriander & thyme braised rabbit; Tunisian halibut; crispy whole sardines; and leek & pancetta risotto with fried egg. All delicious. But a true destination dish is the succulent Moroccan lamb shank, which easily qualifies as the best we have ever had.

What about wine? Well, Brassica offers the most extensive by-the-glass wine list in the Valley with a focus on small producers as well as an eclectic assortment of local wines on tap that have been produced just for Cindy. Look for the “Brassica 12” on the wine list or menu, as this section showcases a dozen small production Napa winemakers that do not have their own tasting rooms. The opportunity to order small tasting pours allows for wonderful experimentation. Brassica has it all.

(707) 963-0700


It’s Time for Wine is a column published by wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser that is featured on the Amateur Gastronomer.

Monty and Sara Preiser reside full time in Palm Beach County, Florida, and spend their summers visiting wineries and studying wines on the west coast where they have a home in Napa. For many years they were the wine columnists for The Boca Raton News, have served as contributors to the South Florida Business Journal, and are now the principal wine writers for Sallys-Place.com.  Monty and Sara also publish The Preiser Key to Napa Valley, the most comprehensive guide to wineries and restaurants in the Napa Valley, published every March, July, and November. In fall 2011 the Preisers released the first issue of The Preiser Key to Sonoma. Click here to read more columns by the Preisers.

A Trio of Ravenswood Zinfandel — Great Pairing for Your Holiday Meal

Zinfandel makes a great pairing with holiday meals. Flavors that range from bright and fruity to dark and spicy make Zinfandel an extremely food-friendly red wine, whether you’re serving turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables or beyond.

If your holiday get together also includes a variety of tastes when it comes to wine, Ravenswood has you covered. The Sonoma, California winery produces a variety of Zinfandels that are worthy of a spot at your table.

If you or your guests prefer red wine on the lighter to medium side, try the 2009 Ravenswood Vintners Blend Old Vine Zinfandel. This wine spent 14 months in 25% new French oak barrels.

Fun, fruity and approachable, this Zinfandel is bursting with ripe berries. The Vintners Blend has mouthwatering flavors of raspberry, plum and boysenberry, with a touch of black pepper at the end.

For those who like a little more oomph to their Zin there is the 2008 Ravenswood Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel. This wine is 84% Zinfandel rounded out with 8% Petite Sirah, 6% Carignan and 2% mixed black grapes. The grapes come from vineyards in the Dry Creek, Sonoma, Alexander and Russian River Valleys.

Compared to the first Zinfandel, the Sonoma Zin has darker fruit notes. Black cherry, plum, blueberry and blackberry mingle with black pepper, cedar, tobacco and baking spices. The tannins, while more pronounced than with the Vintners Blend, are still soft and give a fuller structure to the wine. Well-balanced acidity and a nice lingering finish are sure to make this wine a crowd-pleaser.

For those who like their Zinfandel dark and intense there is the 2008 Ravenswood Teldeschi Zinfandel. The grapes for this wine come entirely from the Teldeschi vineyard in Dry Creek Valley. The Zinfandel is blended with 20% Petite Sirah, 3% Carignan and 2% Alicante Bouschet. The wine spent 20 months in French oak, of which 31% was new.

The Teldeschi Zinfandel lures you in with aromas of black fruits, spice and chocolate. The taste is rich and exciting. Blackberry, dark plum and black cherry are layered with coffee, dark chocolate, nutmeg, cigar box and a hint of vanilla. Silky tannins give the wine a lush and velvety mouthfeel. The flavors in the wine continue to expand as it mixes with air so you may want to decant the bottle before serving.

Have your guests taste each wine and pick their favorite to enjoy during the meal, or start with the lightest Zinfandel and move to the heaviest as your feast progresses.

If you would rather pick one Zinfandel to serve at your meal, match the intensity of the wine with the intensity of the flavors in the food. If the dishes you’ll be serving are lighter, go for a fruit-forward, juicy Zinfandel. If your dishes are rich and hearty, serve a full-bodied Zinfandel that has spicy and earthy notes.

Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel 2009, $10. 13.5% abv.
Ravenswood Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel 2008, $16. 14.5% abv.
Ravenswood Teldeschi Zinfandel 2008, $35. 14.5% abv.

More Red Wines | White Wines | Under $20

AG Pick: Quivira Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2009

It may seem odd that a winery would use its foe as label art, but Quivira has done just that. The animal pictured is one of the Dry Creek Valley’s wild pigs, a cross of the Russian boars and Italian pigs that were brought to the United States in the 1800s.

Though seemingly cute and innocent in the illustration, these wild pigs can be a nightmare for growers. Ripe Zinfandel grapes are irresistible to the pigs that are also prone to destroying deer fencing during their snacking.

Like the wild pigs, the weather too can be a struggle. Fortunately that wasn’t the case for Quivira in 2009, when consistent temperatures towards the end of the summer allowed the Zinfandel to ripen to a rare level of even maturity.

It’s not just the optimal growing season that makes the 2009 Quivira Dry Creek Zinfandel worthy of a spot at your dinner table. It is the addition of a supporting blend of grapes that enhance the Zinfandel base, elevating the wine to another level.

As described by winemaker Hugh Chappelle, “this wine exemplified our pursuit of the sum being greater than the parts.”

The wine is 83% Zinfandel, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Sirah, 3% Syrah and 2% Grenache. The grapes were hand harvested primarily from Quivira’s three certified Biodynamic and organic estate ranches.

The wine was aged for 14 months in a combination of French, American and Hungarian oak barrels, less than 20% of which were new.

In the glass the 2009 Quivira Zinfandel has a lot going on. Deep violet in color, the wine has aromas of ripe blackberry and boysenberry. These flavors continue to develop in the mouth, layered with intense notes of dark plum, leather, tobacco, cedar and a touch of black pepper. Chewy tannins give the wine a round and pleasant mouthfeel. The finish is extremely satisfying with lingering spicy dark fruit.

Full bodied and well balanced, this is a wine you’ll want to drink now – and often.

Pair this wine with steak, grilled lamb or chicken, pizza or spicy tomato-based dishes. Quivira’s favorite local pairing is wild pig sausage – a nod to their love/hate relationship.

A bottle of the 2009 Quivira Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel costs $20.

alcohol 14.8% by volume

More Red Wines | White Wines | Under $20

Drink These: Standout Wines from the High Museum Wine Auction

This year’s High Museum Atlanta Wine Auction was a huge success, raising more money for the museum than ever before. Guests who attended the events had the chance to meet winemakers and winery owners as well as taste a large selection of wines available in the Atlanta area.

At the trade tasting more than 100 wineries poured one or several of their wines. The event featured a majority of California wines and included big names like Stag’s Leap and Shafer, plus a good selection of lesser known and boutique wineries.

With so many wines it was impossible to taste them all, though I certainly gave it my best effort.  Among the whites and reds I sipped, a number stood out. All are available in Georgia so look for them at wine shops and on restaurant wine lists.

Arkenstone Vineyards

My favorite white wine of the tasting was Arkenstone’s 2007 Sauvignon Blanc. It’s the kind of wine that makes a believer out of someone who says he or she doesn’t like Sauvignon Blanc. Full of flavor and elegant, it was a wine I really enjoyed sipping.

Arkenstone is located on the western shoulder of Howell Mountain in the Napa Valley. The Sauvignon Blanc is made entirely of grapes grown on the estate. The wine was aged for 11 months on the lees in a combination of French oak (some new), and stainless steel barrels. Rich and complex, the wine has flavors of green apple, lemongrass and ripe melon with lovely floral notes and flinty minerality. The finish is clean and satisfying with lingering citrus. Arkenstone also produces a delicious Cabernet blend and a Syrah.

Arkenstone Vineyards, Angwin, California

Big Table Farm

I was first drawn to Big Table Farm’s wines because of their labels and was sold after my first taste. Clare Carver, who manages the 70 acres and markets the wine along with winemaker Brian Marcy, draws the label art. Each image is inspired by life on their northwest Oregon farm. The labels are made by hand using a letterpress, then hand cut and hand glued to each bottle. The same loving care is put into their wine.

The wine with the cow label is the 2009 Pinot Noir from Resonance Vineyard in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Some of the grapes were stomped by foot, though Brian and Clare are sure to mention they wash their feet first.  The wine was aged on the lees in French oak. Oregon Pinot at its finest, this wine is a must-taste for Pinot Noir fans. Pictured is Haley the cow with the first calf born on the farm in spring 2010.

The wine with the ham is the 2007 Syrah from White Hawk Vineyard in Santa Barbara County. Opulent with dark fruit flavors and silky tannins, the wine is a real treat to sip. The ham pictured was raised, cured and smoked on the farm by Brian.

Big Table Farm, Gaston, Oregon

Hidden Ridge Vineyard

Compared to the neighboring tables that were lined with different bottles of white and red wine, the one bottle on Hidden Ridge’s table looked lonely. But after tasting the Cabernet Sauvignon it was clear to see that this wine was worthy of the entire space. Proprietor Casidy Ward poured the 2006 55% Slope Cabernet Sauvignon, which has chewy and intense notes of red plum, cherry and strawberry jam along with fennel seed and black tea.

Hidden Ridge Vineyard is located between Mount Hood and Diamond Mountain in the Mayacamas mountain range, on the western side of the Napa Valley. Casidy and her husband Lynn Hofacket are Oklahoma natives who purchased the property in 1991. Their wines are made entirely from Cabernet Sauvignon grown at Hidden Ridge.

Hidden Ridge Vineyard, Napa, California

Pali Wine Company

Pinot Noir can be very hit or miss. But when you want a Pinot that is a hit every time, pick out a bottle from Pali Wine Company.

Out of all the wineries in this article, Pali is the one I know best. I went over to their table at the Wine Auction tasting when my tongue was getting tired from too many big reds, knowing Pali’s great Pinot Noir would refresh my palate.

Pali produces a variety of Pinots from different regions and vineyards in California. The flavors differ but the high quality is consistent throughout each wine.

Pali Wine Company, Lompoc, California

Tres Sabores

Perhaps the only thing better than tasting the wines of Tres Sabores is chatting with winemaker and owner Julie Johnson. Incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about winemaking, Julie makes you a fan of Tres Sabores even before your first sip.

Tres Sabores, meaning three flavors in Spanish, is a small family-owned ranch on the western Rutherford Benchland of California’s Napa Valley. The three flavors refer to the three components that contribute to the wine’s unique taste and characteristics: the terroir, the grapes and the winemaker.

I especially liked the 2008 Rutherford Zinfandel with its spicy notes of blackberries and pepper, as well as the 2008 ¿Por Qué No?, a robust blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet, and Petit Verdot.

Tres Sabores, Rutherford, California

Vineyard Seven and Eight

I couldn’t decide which of the two Cabernet Sauvignons I liked better; both reds poured by winery manager and assistant winemaker Wesley Steffens were delicious.

This 40 acre vineyard and winery is located at the top of Spring Mountain in the Napa Valley. The 10 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and four acres of Chardonnay were established in the early 1980s and benefit from the volcanic soil and location above the fog.

The 2007 “7” Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of younger estate fruit and Spring Mountain fruit from select growers that was aged for 18 months in new French oak. It has big flavors of blackberries and cassis with mineral notes and sweet tannins. The 2007 “Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon is made entirely from estate fruit. Concentrated and intense with black fruit, licorice and floral notes with a long finish.

Vineyard Seven and Eight, St. Helena, California

Click here for more photos from the High Museum Wine Auction Trade Tasting