Every once in awhile, you come across a wine and food pairing that surprisingly just makes sense. I wasn’t planning to have wine this evening. I was preparing the traditional Szechuan dish Ma-Po Tofu, which, with its spicy bean sauce and lip and tongue numbing Szechuan peppercorns doesn’t exactly scream “pair me with wine!” However, part of the recipe required a tablespoon of rice wine, which I didn’t have on hand, so I substituted a splash of the Picpoul Blanc I had open in my fridge. Picpoul Blanc, a white variety most commonly found in the Languedoc and southern Rhône regions of France, is known locally as “lipstinger” for its high acidity and citrus characteristics. The wine on hand was actually a domestic version of the obscure old world variety–Bokisch Vineyard’s Tizona Picpoul Blanc, grown in the family’s Terra Alta vineyard in the Clements Hills region of Lodi. Coming from the Central Valley of California, the wine wasn’t quite as lip-stinging as its French counterparts, but was lively and fresh and with its lemon blossom and stone fruit palate, and it actually complemented the lip-numbing effects of the Szechuan peppercorns in the Ma-Po Tofu. While Picpoul and Ma-Po Tofu may not be an obvious choice, it is sure to put a smile on anyone’s lips!
The Perils of Price
By Kareasa Wilkins
It is a well-known fact that there is little freedom in terms of winemaking in most of the historic wine regions of Europe. Appellation laws put out by the government set strict guidelines as to what grape varieties can be planted, what training systems can be used in the vineyards, methods of winemaking, ageing requirements, and final levels of alcohol. While in many cases, this is a result of centuries of study as to what methods will produce the best wines in a particular area, it can seem rather limiting for innovative or rebellious winemakers who want to experiment with something different.
The “new world,” and particularly California, has been a haven for experimental winemakers who want to try something different. Indeed, “flying winemakers” from Europe and around the world often come to California to work a harvest, and some even end up staying and opening up their own wineries or participating in joint ventures with the locals. Yet in spite of its image as an “anything goes” wine area, the most famous region in California is arguably as restricted as Europe. But it’s not the government that inflicting the limitations here; it’s the market. Napa Valley is the most expensive agricultural region in the Americas. They say that in order to make a million dollars in Napa, you have to start with at least a billion. And if you’re going to have any return on investment, you have to produce what brings in the profits.
The Napa Valley was once home to a wide range of grape varieties: Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Gamay and more. Then, in 1976, the Judgment of Paris tasting happened. This was arguably the most important event in California, or indeed United States wine history. This tasting, organized by Steven Spurrier, the renowned British wine critic, took place in France and pitted the famous French wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy against Cabernet based blends and Chardonnays from the Napa Valley. Much to the amazement of the world press, Napa Valley came out on top, with Chateau Montelena’s Chardonnay and Stags Leap Wine Cellars’ Cabernet Sauvignon taking the top spots. After this tasting, Napa Valley came to be recognized as a first-rate wine region, and people have been flocking there ever since to get a taste of its nectar.
Yet the Judgment of Paris had its unintended consequences as well. With the top wines being Chardonnay and Cabernet, these varieties suddenly became the darlings, and the wines that could command high prices. Soon, other grape vines were being grubbed up and replanted with these varieties. Cabernet, in particular, became the cash cow for the region. These days it is nearly impossible to find any winery in the valley that doesn’t specialize in Cabernet Sauvignon, and indeed, for any new venturers to the region, making an expensive Cabernet is almost a requirement because that’s what brings in the return on investment. It is rare to find a Napa Valley Cabernet priced at below $50/bottle, and wines at $100, $200 or more are becoming increasingly common. It seems that the only people who are able to make alternative varieties in any great number are those who have been there since the early days. I recently tasted a stunning Riesling from high up on Spring Mountain at Smith-Madrone winery. The wine was easily on par with grand cru examples from Alsace, and yet these days no one thinks of Riesling and Napa Valley in the same sentence. While it’s true that most regions in Napa are far too warm to produce fine Riesling, Smith-Madrone proved that there are pockets of Napa that can make world class Riesling. Yet the Smith brothers, the proprietors of this winery, are old-timers who purchased the land in the 1960s before it became the king’s ransom that it is today. Another pleasant surprise was the Chenin Blanc from Chappellet. The Chappellet family established their winery up on Pritchard Hill in 1967, and they are one of the few who still produce this once prolific variety. The wine showed such complexity and racy acidity, it was an easy favorite, and according to our host, it is also matriarch Molly Chappellet’s favorite. However, as I mentioned, these two wineries have been around for a number of years and can afford to trifle with varieties that don’t command high prices. But the truth of the matter is that you are unlikely to find much more beyond an extravagant Cabernet from any new wineries looking to establish themselves—there simply is not enough return on investment.
Sadly, gems like the Smith-Madrone Riesling and the Chappellet Chenin Blanc are few and far between in Napa, and when the next generation takes over from the old-timers, we may see even less of these treasures. Still, there may be hope for change. Over time, tastes can evolve or be swayed. Perhaps we will see a new Judgment of Paris for the 21st century that involves alternative varieties, or maybe people will begin to realize that Napa does not have to be synonymous with Cabernet. When, and if the fashion for new grape varieties shifts, I’ll be waiting with my glass raised.
The Tuscan Renaissance: Not Just for Art
By Kareasa Wilkins
When most people think about the Renaissance in Tuscany, their minds go directly to art: Botticelli, Donatello, Michelangelo. But Tuscany experienced a wine renaissance as well. In fact, perhaps no other wine region in the world has undergone such a significant renaissance of quality as Tuscany has in the last 60 years. Agriculture in central Italy in the early part of the 20th century was long dominated by the mezzadria, or sharecropping system, in which peasant farmers worked land owned by wealthy aristocrats in exchange for 49% of the crops they tended, a supply that helped their poor families survive. When this system died out in the 1960s and landowners received their land back from the sharecroppers working it, they knew little about quality viticulture. In a region where Sangiovese, a finicky grape with hundreds of different clones dominates, the production of wine at this time became one of mass production from high yields and low quality clones that were easy to cultivate. Quantity, rather than quality was the norm. Indeed, by the 1970s, the region of Tuscany was best known for Chiantis that were more valued from the straw fiascobasket they came in than for the poor quality wine inside the bottle. Moreover, laws at the time allowed up to 30% white grapes to be added to Chianti. This often included the neutral tasting Trebbiano Toscana, which, rather than adding character to the red wines, often dulled it down. With the reputation of the region falling apart, Tuscan winemakers began to revolutionize wine production in the region thus paving the way for the high quality wines associated with the region today.
Perhaps the most significant movement to instigate change in the region was the introduction of “Super Tuscans.” By the late 1960s, winemakers began to follow in the steps of Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, who eschewed the traditional wine laws of the region to create “Sassicaia” from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes (reportedly from vines taken from Chateau Lafite Rothschild) made in the Bolgheri region near the Tuscan Coast. Others, such as his cousin Piero Antinori followed suit, creating wines that were often based on international varieties, or Sangiovese blended with international varieties. But beyond simply going against the standard inferior “Chianti blend” that was losing so much favor in the market, what united these wines was their focus on quality. They were often produced from lower yields, higher quality clones, and aged in new French oak barrels. However, even though the quality of these wines far surpassed the typical wines of the region, and often came with price tags to match, they were forced to be labeled simply as Vino da Tavolawhich was the lowest demarcation for Italian wines, because they failed to meet the DOC laws of the region. The rise in popularity of these wines coupled with the visible quality did lead to the creation of IGT, or Indicazione Geografica Tipica, a demarcation that indicated higher quality than a basicVino da Tavola. Later, the DOC Bolgheri was added, and as this is where many Super Tuscans are made, they now fall under the higher quality status. The quality minded producers behind the Super Tuscan movement led other regions to ensue, and in 1980 Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montalcino were granted DOCG status. These wines, like the Super Tuscans are now viewed as some of the most iconic wines of quality from the Tuscan region.
While the Super Tuscans may have been the first wines to inspire a transformation in the Tuscan wine region, Chianti soon upped its game as well. It began with the acknowledgment of its signature grape, Sangiovese, as one that not only has difficulty ripening, but also has hundreds of clones that vary in flavor and quality. This led to an intensive research project that began in 1987 and focused on studying the different types of clones and practices in the vineyard such as rootstock and training methods. Ultimately these studies led to better knowledge and practices in the vineyard and the cellar, such as clonal selection, lowering yields, reducing the amount of white grapes in the blend, and oak ageing in barrique.
Not only did all of the research being done in Chianti contribute to better quality wines, but during this time, the Consorzio also recognized the importance of reestablishing the Chianti Classico zone. The Chianti Classico zone was originally delimited in the early 1700s by the Duke of Medici, and included the villages of Radda, Gaiole, Castellina, and Greve. These areas contain a wide variety of soils and mesoclimates, with cooling influences from the Tyrrhenian Sea, and were viewed as producing the top quality wine. Yet in the 1930s, this region was expanded in efforts to capitalize on the name, though many of the wines produced did not match up to the name. Indeed, it was these very wines that were using less and less Sangiovese, and being diluted with the Trebbiano Toscana grape. In 1996, the original Chianti Classico region was granted DOCG status, and no longer considered a subzone of Chianti. The DOCG stipulated lower yields, and higher required amounts of Sangiovese in the wines, thus further showcasing quality. Even more recently, producers in the Chianti Classico region created another quality designation, the category of Gran Selezione, a term for wines made from all estate grown fruit and aged for thirty months before being sold.
The Tuscan region of Italy is now considered to be emblematic of quality wine production. Yet little more than a half century ago, this was not the case. But a handful of quality minded producers who dared to take the initiative to prove what the region was capable of paved the way for improvements in the overall production of wine through new laws, regional designations, education and research, and enhancements in viticulture and enology.
Moving beyond Strawberries and Tobacco
A friend of mine recently signed up for a wine tasting class. She contacted me and said she was having a good time but felt hopeless, as she couldn’t tell her “tobacco and leather notes from her vanilla and blackcurrant notes.” It’s easy to see her frustration as we are often bombarded with wine writers’ tasting notes that wax on with eloquent descriptions that make it seem as if we are eating a fruit salad or smoking a Cuban cigar, rather than tasting wine. I fell into that trap, too, to be honest. I worked in the wine industry for a number of years, and for the longest time, I was trying to pinpoint my strawberries, distinguish my blackberries from my olallieberries, my allspice from my cloves. It took me a long time to realize that tasting wine is about so much more than distinguishing flavor characteristics. In fact, if you look at any standard tasting chart for a reputable sommelier’s certifying board, you will find that flavor components are a very small portion of the overall picture. To begin with, before you even stick your nose in a wine, you can tell a lot about it just by looking at it. Beyond red, white, or rose, is it a deep purplish red, or a brownish brick red? Is it a bright pink rose or a salmon colored rose? Is your white wine pale, lemon yellow, or is it deep golden amber? A wine’s appearance can indicate faults, age, and grape varietal. It may even give you hints as to its production methods. When you smell the wine, yes, you are looking for different types of flavors, but also the intensity of the nose. Does it punch you in the face, or can you barely smell anything going on in the glass? Does it smell like wet dog or nail polish remover? Hopefully not, as this indicates a faulty wine! When we taste the wine, we are looking for more than strawberries and tobacco. We taste for mouthfeel—the weight of the wine. As Karen MacNeil famously described it, mouthfeel can be like the difference in texture between skim milk and half and half. Acid, tannin, alcohol, sweetness—these things are arguably more important than distinguishing blueberries from blackberries, for these are the components that ultimately make up the balance of the wine, and creating an enjoyable balanced wine is really the goal of most winemakers. But if you’re still trying to figure out the difference in flavor between a blackberry and a boysenberry, my advice to you is to go to the farmer’s market. Smell and taste everything. Try something you’ve never tried before…Red currants? Go for it. Gooseberries? They say that they are a dead ringer for some Sauvignon Blancs. The more you expose yourself to different aromas and flavors, the easier it will be to find them in wine.
Something To Sip On In Nevada City
The neo-hippie town of Nevada City about an hour northeast of Sacramento is a place to find dreadlocks, vegetarian friendly menus, and quirky street festivals. It may be most famous for its environmental film festival, but it turns out that it’s also a great place to taste wine. Within the city limits are a handful of charming tasting rooms that showcase the area’s assortment of local wines. Beginning with the homey Clavey on Commercial Street, this is a place where you can sip Sangiovese and Syrah while chatting with the winemaker himself. Another family owned operation is the elegantly adorned Szabo tasting room. Here, wine enthusiasts can sit at the long red gum eucalyptus bar and gaze at antiques and local paintings while sampling award winning Rhone-inspired blends. A trip to the Nevada City wine tasting rooms wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the oldest winery in town. What started out as a simple garage project in 1980 is now, ironically, located in the historic Miner’s Foundry Garage nestled in the center of town. Medals and ribbons from wine competitions embellish the tasting room, and a wide range of wines including Gewürztraminer, Dolcetto, and Petit Verdot are all available for sampling. Whether you’re in town for the weekend for antique store hopping, taking a brief respite from the Nevada City Victorian Christmas festival, or just looking for something delicious to pair with your garden burger, the tasting rooms of Nevada City are a delightful way to enjoy this distinctive Gold Rush town.
For more information about visiting Nevada City tasting rooms, go to:
Runquist Tasting Room
I’ve never been much of a Cab and Chardonnay girl. It’s not that I don’t appreciate good ones, it’s just that to me they can seem so ordinary. Maybe it’s because my first wine job was at Bonny Doon Vineyards, a winery that embraced the unusual, and taught me to love Grenache, Syarah, Mourvedre, and even more obscure varietals such as Charbono and Ciliegiolo. Maybe it’s the former punk rocker in me, but I’ve always preferred uniqueness to something adored by the masses. That’s why I was delighted this weekend by a tasting at Jeff Runquist’s winery in Amador County, where my palate was presented an array of distinctive single varietal offerings including Petite Verdot, Tannat, Charbono, and to my surprise the one grape that can truly call itself red, Alicante Bouschet! Runquist makes incredible wines, and what makes the journey to his tasting room in Plymouth really exceptional is the rare opportunity to taste the essence of grapes that are traditionally used in blends. Runquist works with growers throughout California, finding optimal sites to express each grape’s unique personality, and offers numerous bottlings to sample in the tasting room. The tasting room is open Thursday–Monday, and is well worth a trip to try such exclusive wines.
For more information about Jeff Runquist’s wines and the tasting room, go to: http://www.jeffrunquistwines.com
Pizza with Mushrooms, Broccoli Rabe, and Calabrian Chilies with Ridge Kite Hill Zinfandel
Making homemade pizza is a passion of mine. I love the smell of the dough rising and the various topping combinations you can make. My husband keeps trying to get me to me to make an all meat pizza, but for me, that would be a heart attack waiting to happen. Plus after overindulging during the holidays and eating and drinking our way through Europe, I’ve been trying to cook things that are at least mildly healthier than our usual gluttonous feasts. So tonight I went vegetarian and topped the pizza with some quickly blanched broccoli rabe, sautéed cremini mushrooms, and finished it off at the end with some spicy Calabrian chilies. I always like a good Zin with my pizza, so I had the opportunity to open a recent wine club selection from Ridge, the Kite Hill Zin. Kite Hill comes from a section of the York Creek Vineyard in Napa Valley. This is the only vineyard Ridge sources from in Napa, and it’s a good one. They usually bottle a Zin called “York Creek,” but apparently this year the wine deviated from the typical flavor profile of York Creek, so they dubbed it a different nomenclature. Indeed it did taste quite different from any Ridge York Creek I’ve had in the past. Missing was the characteristic black pepper that I find in many Napa Zins. It did still have the depth, structure and dark fruit from the Petite Sirah, but it seemed much riper in style, leaning toward mixed berry fruit compote on the palate. While both the wine and the pizza were enjoyable, they may not have been ideal complements. The pizza had a bit of an earthiness to it with the mushrooms and the bitterness of the broccoli rabe, and therefore might have been better with a more rustic wine from Italy or even a Zin that wasn’t quite as fruit forward. Yet the fruity component did help mellow out the Calabrian chilies—those little bastards were SPICY! Still, not every wine pairing is ideal, but it’s always fun to experiment.
Old Ghosts and Old Vines: An Interview with Steve Felten of Klinker Brick Winery
By Kareasa Wilkins
When Creedence Clearwater Revival bemoaned the fate of being “stuck in Lodi,” they clearly weren’t drinking Klinker Brick Zin. Klinker Brick is making wines, particularly old vine Zins that are making Lodi a destination worthy of visiting.
The Purple Tongue Press recently spoke with Steve Felten, president of Klinker Brick wines.
PTP: Tell me a little bit about the history of Klinker Brick.
SF: Klinker Brick is a family owned estate. We are part of the 6th generation of wine grape growers here in Lodi. The family began growing wine grapes in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t until 1995 that we began making our own wine. We were still selling it to other producers at the time, then in 2000 we began bottling our own. Our total annual production is about 85-90,000 cases with the Klinker Brick Zinfandel being our flagship wine.
PTP: Lodi is becoming more recognized as a quality wine-producing region. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
SF: Lodi has always been a big area in terms of wine grape production, but it has only been in the last 15 years or so that growers started making wine. Before 2000, there were less than 10 wineries in this area, but now there are over 100. Lodi was recently honored as Wine Enthusiast’s Wine Region of the Year. Klinker Brick was the first winery from Lodi to pour at Wine Spectator’s Grand Tasting, and we also won a trophy at the New World International Wine Competition. The atmosphere in this region is a lot like it was in Napa 40 years ago, and a lot of that has to do with the exceptional Zinfandel that’s grown here.
PTP: What is special about Zin grown in this area?
SF: There is more old vine Zin grown here than anywhere else in the state. Klinker Brick works with a number of old vine vineyards, including one that is over 120 years old. The soils and the climate in Lodi contribute to very fruit driven wines. We have a longer growing season than other wine regions in the state, which allows longer hang time for the grapes. There are a lot of myths about Lodi, particularly that it’s too hot for quality wine. But we’re in the north end of the valley, and we get a lot of cool Delta breezes at night. The temperature can fluctuate as much as 40 degrees from day to night, and we get great concentration of flavor in the grapes because of this. We get really ripe fruit, but the wines are still well-balanced. They’re really popular with consumers because they’re easy to drink. You don’t have to lay them down for a long time. Pretty much as soon as they’re released they’re good to go. They’re vibrant and fresh with a ton of fruit that makes them really enjoyable to drink.
PTP: Can you tell us a little bit about the Zins that Klinker Brick produces?
SF: The Klinker Brick Old Vine Zin is our flagship wine. It’s made from a blend of 16 different old vine vineyards, the average age of which is 85 years. This wine has a lot of bold fruit and a nice black pepper character to it as well. Our Marisa Vineyard Zin is produced from an 88-year-old vineyard block. This one has really good structure to it, firmer tannins and a lot of berry fruit. Then we have the Old Ghost. This is our reserve Zin. It comes from the best lots of our old vines, and it’s a rather atypical Zin in that it’s a lot more elegant in style. It’s a wine that really lingers on the palate from front to back. We also do a Zin blend called Tranzind. This is a blend of old vine Zin, Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Cabernet. It’s a great house wine and is currently being marketed through chain sales.
PTP: Do you have any favorite foods to pair with Klinker Brick Zins?
SF: Anything with spice or pepper is great with them. Mexican, Thai, barbecue, pizza, you name it.
PTP: Is there anything else you would like the public to know about Klinker Brick?
SF: Just that we are a family owned winery making premium wines in Lodi. Our wines are incredibly consumer friendly, and in addition to the old vine Zins, we have a number of excellent wines in our portfolio, including some special limited edition wine club wines.
Klinker Brick’s tasting room is open 7 days/week. For more information go to http://www.klinkerbrickwinery.com/
Steve Felten, along with winemaker Joseph Smith will be pouring Klinker Brick wines at ZAP’s Zinfandel Experience. For more information go to http://www.zinfandelexperience.com/
A Taste of Alsace in Anderson Valley
By Kareasa Wilkins
The bucolic, yet tortuous Highway 128 snakes through the sleepy towns of Boonville, Philo, and Navarro—towns known for their slow-paced way of life, and for the cool northerly climate that supports California viticulture at its extremes. Anderson Valley is perhaps the only California AVA that specializes in the aromatic white wines most commonly associated with Alsace, and the annual Alsace Varietals Festival is a grand affair for showing off the amazing depths these wines can reach in this region and beyond. Low on the radar for most wine connoisseurs, the Alsace Varietals Festival in Anderson Valley is probably one of the most neglected, yet enjoyable tasting events in California. Held every February at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville, the event brings together producers of Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Muscat from around the world.
The event always kicks off with a morning educational seminar that often includes technical information on growing and producing Alsace varietals led by fermentation science professors from UC Davis, tasting flights, and sessions on food and wine pairings put together by renowned chefs, wine writers, sommeliers and cookbook authors. This year’s event will feature John Winthrop Haeger, author of the upcoming book Riesling Rediscovered: Bold, Bright, and Dry. Following the morning seminars is a cooking demonstration featuring culinary whiz and former Anderson Valley resident, Chef Francois de Melogue. De Melogue, who has worked in celebrated restaurants from Paris to New York has an affinity for the food friendly Alsatian varietals, and shares delicious recipes to pair with the wines.
After the cooking demonstration, the grand tasting begins. Wineries from Anderson Valley are prominently featured, yet while local wineries represent a significant portion of the producers who showcase their wines at the festival, it is an international event, and exceptional examples of the classic Alsatian varietals can often be found from Oregon, New York, New Zealand, and, of course, Alsace itself. The grand tasting is accompanied by a profusion of classic food pairings for the wines, such as oysters, glazed pork belly, tarte flambeé, and choucroute alsacienne.
While the grand tasting ends at 4:00 p.m., the festivities continue well into the next day. In the evening, some restaurants and wineries offer winemaker dinners or special menus to pair with Alsatian varietals. This year, the Anderson Valley luminaries at The Apple Farm will offer a locally sourced organic feast to pair with Alsatian varietals, while Scharffenberger Cellars is presenting a private dining experience with the winemakers. On Sunday, many of the local wineries open their doors to the public and provide food, music, special offers on wine, and an all around good time. For anyone looking for a memorable wine experience, The Alsace Varietals Festival in Anderson Valley is not to be missed.
For more information on the Anderson Valley Alsace Festival, go to http://www.avwines.com/alsace-festival/
Zin at 2500 Feet
By Kareasa Wilkins
These days Napa Valley is hardly synonymous with anything but Cabernet. Indeed, California’s most famous wine region has come to rest its laurels on its lush, powerful rendition of the Bordeaux varietal that has dazzled and delighted the critics and the masses. While a multiplicity of grape varieties once graced the slopes of Napa Valley, grapes considered “less noble” are constantly being uprooted for new plantings of the big money-maker. With the average Napa Valley Cabernet bottling being well-over $50/bottle, and ultra premium “cult” wines commanding astronomical prices, it’s no wonder that many producers hardly dabble with alternatives beyond perhaps a Bordeaux-style blend or a white offering.
Needless to say, I was surprised at ZAP 2015, the annual Zinfandel Advocates and Producer’s grand tasting, when the Zinfandels that stood out most to me, came not from the usual suspects in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley (though there were a number of stars from those regions), but from a small vineyard within Napa’s Howell Mountain AVA, the Black Sears Vineyard.
Howell Mountain is no exception to the Napa Cab craze. With names like Dunn, CADE, O’Shaughnessy, and Robert Craig, this AVA is clearly prime Cab country. Yet at the very tip top of Howell Mountain is a vineyard where Zinfandel shines just as bright as any of the brilliant Cabernets. The Black Sears vineyard, owned by Joyce Black and Jerre Sears is situated 2500 feet above the valley floor, and its unique geography and well-tended vines are generating some of the most distinctive Zins in the world.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Chris Jambois, Joyce and Jerre’s son-in-law, who, along with his wife Ashley, oversees much of Black Sears’ vineyard maintenance. Chris shared some of the reasons he believes Zinfandels from Black Sears Vineyard are so special. “This vineyard has so many unique soil types that professors from UC Davis and other top research universities are always coming to study it,” says Jambois. “We’re above the fog line, which produces warmer nights than are seen on the valley floor, though the growing season usually starts a good 2-3 weeks later than the rest of Napa, and our Zins tend to be among the last to come in during harvest. Our Zins are dry farmed, and the wines that come from this vineyard are always incredibly complex and spicy. You get a lot of black and white pepper notes that you don’t find in Zins from other regions.” Jambois poured us a sample of the 2012 vintage, which was deep and brooding, and highlighted these qualities. The Estate Zinfandel is crafted by winemaker Thomas Brown, who took over the reigns after Ted Lemon left in 2006. Yet as exceptional as the Black Sears Estate Zin is, the quantity is limited. Of the 24 acres of grapes planted at Black Sears, only 17 are planted to Zin, and Jambois notes that they sell 75% of their fruit. Top producers such as Turley, Robert Craig, and T-Vine all have Black Sears Vineyard bottling of Zin. The vines at the Black Sears Estate are tended using biodynamic methods, and Jambois remarks that since they began farming this way in the early 2000s, buyers have really noticed improvements in the health of the vineyard and the quality of the fruit produced. This is important, particularly with Zinfandel, which can be difficult in the vineyard. “Zinfandel is a true artist’s grape,” says Jambois. “A lot of people talk about Pinot Noir being so challenging in the vineyard. But the same could be said about Zin. It’s a notoriously uneven ripener, and it’s prone to botrytis. It’s really difficult to make a complex Zin, and only the true artists are successful at it.” He also seeks to dispel common myths about the grape. “There are a lot of myths about Zin—that it can’t be complex or elegant, that critics won’t give it more than 95 points.” Yet as the Black Sears Estate is demonstrating, when grown in optimal conditions and crafted in the hands of caring individuals, Zinfandel can be nothing less than extraordinary.
For more information about the Black Sears Estate, go www.blacksears.com
Black Sears Estate, along with many wineries that produce a Black Sears Vineyard Zin will be pouring at ZAP 2016. Find out more at www.zinfandelexperience.com