Saturday, March 31, 2007

2004 Rosenblum Rockpile Petite Sirah

We bought this wine the day before my wife left for Florida and she's been bugging me to drink it since. I wanted to cellar it up for a while; but she won :-) and last night we hickory smoked a tri-tip and opened her up.

This wine has a colour reminiscent of Welch's grape juice; indeed after the swirl you even get the persistent bubbles in the meniscus just like you do with Welch's, and my glass acquired a purplish pink colour from the swirl.
The initial nose was of apricots. After the swirl the nose opened up to cherries.
My first taste was thick and dry. Typical of Rosenblum, it was jammy (how do you get dry jam?).

After a half hour, the cherries joined the apricots on the palate. I suspect this wine is unfiltered because of the little cinnamon-like sparkles of sediment that collected in the bottom of my glass.

This was a fun wine to drink - leaving my wife with a purple clown smile from the rim of her glass.

The presentation was good. It came in a traditional Rhône bottle with an agglomerated synthetic cork. The back label gives some info, and the tasting notes give more.

The Verdict:

It wasn't quite ready. This wine would benefit with more time in the cellar.

Varietals:Petite Sirah
Appellation/Terrior:Rockpile, California
Alcohol:16.0% by Volume

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Old Field Tasting Room

My father and I were in New York for less than happy reasons; my cousin who is also my god-father had died and I was attending his funeral. I had been reading a lot lately about the wine industry on Long Island; and the North Fork in particular, so after the funeral my father and I went out Orient Point and stopped at a couple of places at random on the way back to the pine barrens. The Old Field was the first place we stopped.

The tasting room was in a glorious setting. A gravel parking lot surrounded by vineyards and the rustic old hen-house converted into a tasting room was perfect. The pourer was the winemaker. He is proud of his sparkling wine, claiming it to be "The best in America". He also makes three Bordeaux style wines - a Cab Franc, A Merlot, and a blend. The reds were OK. This winery had it all - history; atmosphere; good wines. Too bad the winemaker was a pompous ass. He spent more time chatting his friends than his customers. This ruined what would otherwise have been a great tasting experience.

There is a $5 tasting fee.

The Verdict:

So-so reds combined with a mostly rude winemaker/pourer don't overcome the wonderful atmosphere and good sparkling wines. I'll give it a pass.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

2003 Firefly Ridge Central Coast Syrah

This was another Safeway deal. I was attracted to the Central Coast appellation, year, and price ($7.99). I initially thought it was slightly young in taste; but my wife liked it. Upon further research it turns out to be Safeway's private label. Congrats to Safeway's buyer.

The nose on this wine was of burnt rubber, followed by figs. Now, burnt rubber? Many people freak about this; but it is a typical characteristic of a Syrah and no; it does not taste of Burnt rubber. I take it a sign of quality; If this aroma is present, then the winemaker really knows how to make a Syrah.

I liked the deep burgundy colour. The taste was tannic, lemony and slightly sour. Where did my figs disappear to? But there was more to it than that - there was something there that I can't quite put my finger onto; but it was a taste that I liked.

The presentation was OK. Traditional Rhône bottle with an agglomerated cork. The label lacked info - even a website; but then again this is a private label wine OEM'd by Safeway - you wouldn't expect much to tie it back to the original vintner.

The Verdict:

My wife liked it enough that I bought more.

Appellation/Terrior:Central Coast, California
Vintner:Firefly Ridge
Alcohol:13.5% by Volume

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

2001 Villa Encantado Sonoma Dolcetto

This was yet another Wine Shop at Home wine. Villa Encantado (Spanish for enchanted villa) is actually a private label produced by Viansa in Sonoma (not to be confused with the vintner in Solvang).

Dolcetto is Italian for sweetling. And this wine is indeed sweet. It had a cherry nose and a light red colour more reminiscent of a rosé than a red; indeed this wine might even taste good <aghast>chilled</aghast>. No; seriously this Dolcetto is so light and fruity that it goes down like Kool-Aide on a hot summer day. It's as smooth as a wine cooler.

The presentation was good. It came with a real cork in a traditional bottle. While the label was weak in the information they give; they get bonus points for the bottle as it's unusual. The cork was literally encrusted with crystals.

The Verdict:

I bought more.

Appellation/Terrior:Sonoma, California
Alcohol:11.2% by Volume

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Lost Canyon Tasting Room

Lost Canyon is one of the 4 winerys that you can visit during a lunch break if you work in Alameda. It is also probably the most obscure of the three, and has very limited tasting hours.

The tasting room is in the lobby of the winery, and because it is such a small winery, the gentleman pouring our wine was no other than Jack States himself; the vintner behind Lost Canyon's wines.

Jack gave us a tour, and led a good discussion on barrel choices and the different types of Oak trees used in their manufacture. I learned more about this subject in the hour and a half we were there than I have anywhere else. This is what visiting a winery is all about.

There is no tasting fee.

The Verdict

It's a good tasting room. I will go again; as a matter of fact I signed up to be a winery volunteer.

Monday, March 26, 2007

2002 Pura Vida Howell Mountain Zin

Like the last wine was an example of the good side of wine clubs; this wine is an example of the downside. It was part of our Wine Shop at Home shipment for March, and turns out to be a custom label second.

Custom labels, or vanity labels make popular gifts; frequently real estate agents or other personal service professionals will have some made up to give as thanks to their clients. Or perhaps you got married at a winery and wanted to give your guest a gift of your own "personal" wine. There's really nothing wrong with custom labels, except that they are rarely better than average.

What makes me believe that this is a custom label wine is that:

  1. There is no URL on the bottle
  2. Googling for Pura Vida returns no winery
  3. On the bottle it says "Cellared and Bottled by Terroir Napa Valley Wines"
  4. On the Terroir Napa Valley Wines web site they do not list the Pura Vida Label
  5. And the Wine Shop at Home resells custom labels straight from their web site.

I opened this bottle to accompany some BBQ venison tenderloin steaks. It had a light colour, like a pinot. First sniff gave me charcoal, shortly followed by fruit. very skinny legs only presented themselves at the end of the drain. Then a re-sniff gave me apricots and cherries.
The taste was light with definite oak. It had a boozy finish.
After the first 1/2 glass, I let it sit while I attended to the steaks.

The wine improved slightly with the accompanying meat. It aquired a smokey flavour.
The glass I had after dinner showed the spice and oak I expect from a cab. Why ruin a Zin with Bordeaux flavours???? It also did not open well as it acquired a slightly sour if not bitter taste after breathing in the bottle for a couple of hours.

The presentation was ok. It came with a real cork in a Bordeaux bottle, with no extra data on the label. The tasting notes that accompanied it gave good information about an AVA that I am not familiar with (Howell Mountain), but little about this wine in particular.

The Verdict:

Not so bad I wouldn't cook with it. Should be a $7 bottle of wine.

Appellation/Terrior:Howell Mt., California
Vintner:Terroir Napa Valley Wines
Alcohol:15.2% by Volume

Sunday, March 25, 2007

2004 Trinitas Napa Cab

This is why I like wine clubs. This cab showed up in the mail (with it's twin) and there is no mention of it on Trinitas's web site. Not even when you log in as a member to buy wine. This is a wine I never would have gotten to taste if I was not a member of the "Trinitas Wine Society" And let me tell you, I would have missed a fantastic wine.

This is the third of three bottles that we opened up for the Venison BBQ on Wednesday. Yes it's a little young for a cab; but I had two of them so I could lay one down and taste one now; and boy am I glad I did because even though I am not partial to Bordeaux varietals; this wine knocked my socks off.

It was legless (but then again so was I by the time I finished it) and a deep (but not bright) purple. Inhaling it's aroma got me high on apricots or perhaps even pluots. There was a charcoal taste on top of the fruit; but hey; cabs are not supposed to have this much fruit.

Since there was an oaky bite in the finish, we let the wine open up a bit and poured some more. Now we get legs; and inhaling it's aroma was like a wake up call of goodness.

The presentation was ok. It came with a real cork in a Bordeaux bottle, with no extra data on the label.

The Verdict:

I will buy more if Trinitas ever releases this one. I'm not sure that the other bottle that I have will last long in my cellar, simply because I want to drink it now.

Varietals:Cabernet Sauvingnon
Appellation/Terrior:Napa Valley, California
Alcohol:14.5% by Volume

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Dashe and JC Cellars Tasting Room

Dashe Cellars and JC Cellars are co-located in Oakland's Jack London Square. They used to be co-located in Alameda with Rosenblum; but Rosenblum grew too big and needed the space. At first ear, Jack London Square should be a great place for a tasting room - it's Oakland's only tourist stop after all; but the winery is located off the main path so to speak; so you won't just stumble across it.
We were the only ones there at lunchtime.
Co-located tasting rooms are a mixed bag; on one hand you get more than one winery without having to worry about driving. On the other, they are not usually located at the winery, so the chances of running into someone who actually knows how the wine is made is slim. I figured that since this co-located tasting room is in the co-located winery that we would have the best of both worlds; but alas, we didn't. The girl pouring for JC wasn't bad; but the Kiwi they hired at Dashe, while a nice guy, didn't know anything about the wines he was pouring. They lose points for that one.
The tasting room itself is in their receiving dock, so you do get to see some winery happenings whilst sipping.

They both have a $5.00 tasting fee. That's EACH. That's uncalled for. Other co-located tasting rooms that I have been to shared a tasting fee. The money is credited back to you if you purchase.

The Verdict

I will probably return; if only because my wife has not yet tasted here and it's so close to home; but I certainly won't hurry back.

Friday, March 23, 2007

2002 Kunde Estate Zin

This is the second of three bottles that we opened up for the Venison BBQ on Wednesday. It is a wine that I picked up at Safeway earlier this year. What attracted me to it was again the 2002 year - wines at Safeway don't usually get that old, and 2002 was a bitchin' year for zin.

This is an estate wine, which legally only means that the vintner owns the vineyard and fermented and aged the wine on the premises. Since the perceived value of estate (amongst those that do not know what it means) is high, plonk makers over use it. On the flip side, at a family run vineyard (as the photo of the Kunde family on the label attests to) this usually means wine from their house, so they are more careful with it (which was the original point of the estate designation on American labels).

The presentation was good. It came with a real cork in a Rhône coloured Bordeaux bottle, with no data on the label. The reason this rates better than an OK is the tasting notes are fantastically detailed.

The wine opened to a big fruity jammy nose full of raspberries. Mmm mmm. The first sip gave a fruit taste with a hint of charcoal. Subsequent sips were predominantly blackberries. There were legs all over the place.
Doug called it big but not monster and claimed a smokey finish.

The Verdict:

Oh Yea. Loved it. Bought the last 14 bottles at Safeway. Liked it enough that I would like to visit Kunde and taste some of their block designated wines.

Varietals:Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre
Appellation/Terrior:Sonoma, California
Alcohol:14.1% by Volume

Thursday, March 22, 2007

2004 Steele Catfish Zin

The wife and kids left for Florida on Tuesday, which gives me the chance to BBQ up some venison that I've had in the freezer for a while now (The wife won't eat Bambi), so I had my friend Doug bring over some salad and jerk sauce for the deer and popped open a bottle of Catfish to sip on while the coals got hot.

Catfish is Steele's signature Zin. It's a field blend of century old Zinfandel and whatever else was planted to replace dying vines in the last 100 years. This particular Catfish came in my wine club shipment. When I was last in Kelseyville I bought the 2003 Catfish so was eager to try this one.

The 2004 Catfish is superior to the 2003. It had a much better balance. Thick legs with a beet red colour. The nose was weak enough that I actually snorted some before I could smell it. There was no presence of jam. The great balance in this wine overcame all of this, and it was very enjoyable.

The presentation was great. It came in a proper Zin bottle, stoppered with a real cork. The catfish intertwined into Steele's regular stained glass logo is nice. The rear label gives a great overview of the wine, and the tasting notes give you even more.

The Verdict:

I enjoyed it. Doug really liked it. $20 is a very fair price for this wine.

Varietals:Zinfandel, Merlot, Carignane, Alicante Bouschet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, others
Appellation/Terrior:Clear Lake, California
Alcohol:13.5% by Volume

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

2004 Steele Shooting Star Barbera

I first had a Shooting Star Barbera when it came in my Steele wine club shipment; it was a 2003. I enjoyed it as a light pizza accompanying wine, so I ordered more, but alas All they had by the time I got around to ordering it was a 2004; but hey how different could it be?

Well, it turns out quite a bit different. This Barbera, while having the same light and bright colour as the 2003 had more of a Bordeaux flavour to it than the Cal-Ital I was expecting. There was Bordeaux on the nose too; I can only surmise that Jed chose a different vineyard for this vintage, and that vineyard had some Cab Franc or Merlot vines interspersed. I cannot believe that the blending would have been done intentionally, as a Barbera isn't strong enough to be included in a Super-Tuscan.

The wine was legless; but with the low alcohol, that was to be expected. True to form, this Barbera tasted like the house red at a Pizza restaurant (and as Barbera is the wine for the masses in Italy), and since this is what I was expecting it went well with my supper of leftover spaghetti and re-heated panini. There were no fruit flavours.

After 45 minutes, I re-tasted and it was light and airy, with only the lingering reminder of the Bordeaux taste, so I decanted it and waited another 1/2 hour and it opened up quite a bit.

The presentation was OK. It came in a Bordeaux bottle; which is an improvement over the traditional jug (think Carlos Rossi). It had an agglomerated cork, which given that this is Steele's budget label is to be expected. The label was poor, listing only the legal requirements.

The Verdict:

Barbera is a good Pizza wine. This vintage did not stand up to the 2003, so I am unlikely to buy more, but as I liked the 2003 I would have tried the 2005 if Jed had made one, but it does not appear that he did.

Appellation/Terrior:Lake County, California
Alcohol:13.5% by Volume

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Rosenblum Cellars' Alameda Tasting Room

I like tasting rooms. You can drink a little wine, get a feel for the style of the vintner, and learn more about how the wines you are drinking were affected by the methods of the winemaker. You can also usually get vintages not available elsewhere; indeed some winerys only sell their wine at their tasting rooms or to their club members.
There are 4 winerys that are easy to visit during a lunch break if you work in Alameda; with one in Alameda proper (there used to be 4 in Alameda itself; but they were co-located with Rosenblum and eventually had to move due to space restrictions). The one I'm going to write about today is the one in Alameda, Rosenblum Cellars.
Urban winerys like Rosenblum are at a disadvantage to those located amongst the vineyards in that most people don't go looking for a tasting room located in an industrial complex, (and they also can't produce estate wines; but that's a different topic) And Rosenblum is no different; you would never expect it to be where it is.
The tasting room itself is upstairs overlooking the big receiving area, and is open to it. It simultaneously feels cozy and airy - a difficult thing to do. I have been there twice now; once midweek at lunch time and then again on a Saturday. The weekday tasting was definitely the better of the two; we were the only ones in the tasting room and therefore got to monopolize the time of the pourer. It also helped that we came on a day when they were changing the wines available in the tasting room; as we got to taste twice as much wine.
I returned on the Saturday because Rosenblum's website said that they offer tours at 1:00 and 3:00. Upon arrival, the tasting room was filled to overflowing with people spilled into the receiving area (with additional tables set up to service them). And no tours. They should remove the mention of a tour from their website as the lady pouring our wine said that they do not do tours when it's crowded; which is every weekend.
My other negative comment is that their weekday tastings hours are 11:00-6:00; this does not leave much time to drop in after work. You would think given their location at the ferry terminal, that staying open after work would attract a few commuters?

The $5.00 tasting fee is free to club members.

The Verdict

It's a good tasting room. There is a larger number of wines being poured than most; and you can look at thier website to see what is being poured before you even go in.

Monday, March 19, 2007

2002 Voss Napa Syrah

This wine was one of what I call a "Safeway Bargin" I was at Safeway, and noticed it at the checkout. It was cheap, so I took a chance. After all the fruit that I've been having in my wines recently (thank you Rosenblum), I was welcoming the chance to return to a more traditionally flavoured wine.

The presentation was good. It came in a typical Rhône bottle. It had a real cork, and an outstanding label (even if the tasting notes contradict the label). The front label had the legal requirements, and the rear, in addition to the standard tasting notes gives real info about the decisions made in the making of this wine. The inclusion of viognier in the blend may sound unusual, but it's true to the style of a Côte Rôtie and improves this particular vintage greatly.

It had slight legs. The cork left me a light tattoo, with next to no penetration. The colour and nose were both light for a syrah, but then again I've been drinking lots of Rosenblums' lately so I may just be too used to the over fruitiness of the good doctors wines. It was nice and smooth. I drank it with a BBQ'd pork loin that I had for dinner, and it neither added to nor detracted from the meal. After the bottle had been opened for a couple of hours, I had a sip following a piece of licorice and boom it exploded with a mouth full of richness.

The Verdict:

For $10???!!!! I returned to Safeway and bought every bottle they had on display. This tastes like a $20.00 bottle of wine.

Varietals:Syrah, Viognier
Appellation/Terrior:Napa, California
Vintner:Voss Vineyards
Alcohol:14.9% by Volume

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Since I always mention the type of the bottle, you might be thinking that it's some sort of pet peeve of mine. I mean why should you give a rat's about the bottle the wine comes in? It doesn't affect the way it tastes after all? Or does it?
For the most part, no it doesn't. There are exceptions -

Exceptions to bottle taste

  • Jugs - A draw back about a large bottles in general is that since wine does not do well once opened, you should plan on drinking it right away, but with the quantity of wine in a jug, you will end up getting good and sloshed by the time it's empty (although; maybee that's what the customers of Jug wine have in mind anyway). On the plus side for large format bottles (but not jugs) is that if you plan on cellaring your wine for any significant length of time, a large format bottle will do a better job. The reason for this is in a large format bottle (like a magnum), less wine is exposed to oxidation than in two regular bottles. A jug, on the other hand, is not designed with this in mind. In a jug, more wine is exposed to the oxidizing effects of the air in the bottle. And lastly, There is no serious wine maker currently bottling wine in a jug. Every jug I have seen is rot gut plonk.; so its also a good indicator of poor quality.
  • Boxes - Now, box wine is not really "Wine in a Box" it's wine in a bag; with the bag in a box. The upside of box wine is that you can take several days to consume the wine without worrying about oxidation. The reason for this is that there is no air in the bag to cause oxidation. The downsides are:
    1. Can't age your wine - Wines in a bag don't breath; so they are poor for aging.
    2. Plastic - The plastic bag can impart a plastic or "New Car Smell" taste to your wine
    3. Quality - No serious wine maker that I know of currently distributes their product in a box; so the likelihood of obtaining a quality wine in a box is low
  • Colour - Wine bottles are dark in colour for a reason - Sunlight affects the taste of wine. I don't need to say much here, because only Bum Wines come in clear bottles (and if you are drinking them then you are probably not reading my blog)

And here are the reasons for choosing a traditional bottle:

  • Serving size - a 750ml bottle is the perfect size for two people to drink with a meal
  • Tradition - As I have said before; Wine is a luxury item. Part of the enjoyment of luxury items comes from the tradtions and rituals associated with them.
  • Indicators - If I am finding it difficult to choose between two wines I have not had before, the one in the correct style bottle for the type of wine will always be the one I choose. Why? well, if the vintner paid attention to that level of detail, than chances are he or she paid close attention to all the other levels of detail that it takes to produce a good wine.

The Verdict:

Your likelihood of finding a good quality wine is highest if the wine comes in the proper style bottle for the wine; least likely if the bottle is made of clear glass (but you knew that). The rest fall in the middle in this order:
  1. Proper style of bottle
  2. Improper style of bottle
  3. Much further down the scale: Box
  4. Jug
  5. Clear bottle

Saturday, March 17, 2007

2003 Rosenblum Base Camp Syrah

When I last went to Rosenblum for a tasting; they were not pouring the Base Camp Syrah. I was attracted to it though, as it was an older vintage (for a Rosenblum), and Santa Barbara IMHO produces California's best Syrahs. It didn't hurt that it was discounted either; $14.00 is a great deal for any Santa Barbara Syrah.

The presentation was good. It came in a typical Rhône bottle. It had a real cork, which is a departure for Rosenblum, which usually features agglomerated synthetic corks.

The labeling was fair - all the necessary information is present (Vintage, Vintner, Terrior, Varietal, and Booze content) but not much more.

It was leggy, and the nose was full of jam, which is unusual for a Syrah.
The flavours brought out chocolate cacao. My friend Stephanie said it tastes like a desert wine. This wine begs the question: Why jam in a Syrah? Jam is usually reserved for Zins or Petites; in other words bigger grapes that don't get overwhelmed by the fruit. That said I liked it.

The Verdict:

While the Jam overwhelmed the "Rhoneness" of a Syrah; I went back to the winery today and bought more.

Appellation/Terrior:Santa Barbara, California
Vintner:Rosenblum Cellars
Alcohol:14.9% by Volume

Friday, March 16, 2007

2005 Château Doppee Unlabeled Pinot

As I mentioned in the review of the Truchard Zin, my wife has a friend Meg, who works for Wine Shop At Home. Well, Meg's Husband Vic works for The Winery At LaGrange, and is an avid winemaker in his spare time. Meg brought out a couple of Vic's creations for us to try, so Wednesday night after slurping down the David Bruce Pinot I wanted to compare Vic's vintage to the pro.

Vic's wine proved to taste as good as the pro's, which shouldn't be too surprising given that Vic spends a lot of time around the pros. In addition to the typical grape taste of a Pinot, I also got pomegranates. There was a tingly after taste; probably due to ascorbic acid that is typically added to homemade wines.

The presentation was that of a homemade wine. It came in a Zinfandel bottle rather than a Burgundy bottle, but hey; I bet it's what Meg and Vic had on hand at the time. There was no label. It had an agglomerated natural cork that had started to unglue - not to the point of damaging Vic and Meg's fine product, but I'm glad I listened to Meg and opened it now rather than let it cellar for a couple of years as I might have ruined it had I done that. (Rule#1: If the Vintner tells you personally to drink the wine now; do so with all expedience).

The Verdict:

I enjoyed this wine, and if Meg and Vic are nice enough to give me another bottle you will hear no complaints coming out of this mouth! I am fortunate enough to also have a bottle of Shiraz that they made, and I'm looking forward to opening it soon.

Varietals:Pinot Noir
Vintner:Château Doppee

Thursday, March 15, 2007

2005 David Bruce Central Coast Pinot

The weather in Alameda has been fantastic this last couple of weeks, so much so that we're running out of meat to grill on the barbie. Yesterday when my wife was out buying Kobe beef, pork loins, and other choice smokeables she also picked up a bottle of Pinot on the recommendation of someone at Costco who claimed it to be "chewy" (As in gum; not Wookie).

Now, I'm not normally a Pinot fan, as they tend to lack the fruit and body of my preferred wines (I like my jam) but on a hot day, a light wine is appreciated. and this one was light and airy. I drank it like kool-aid, so it's good that it was also lower in booze content than I'm used to or else I'd of got sploshed.

The presentation was OK; it came in a Burgundy bottle with a painting of David and Goliath. The label lacks any data whatsoever except that required by law. They loose points for that one. The website also has nothing. Obviously Mr. Bruce is trying to market his wine on the quality of the artwork on the label. I don't usually drink wines this young either, but it's a good thing I did as it had an agglomerated natural cork; Which if you read my closure post, is bad news if you want to cellar your wine.

No legs, but I wouldn't expect any either. Now, Pinot usually tastes like grapes, and this wine was no exception, but it also had cranberries. Which is good. Don't take this the wrong way, but this is the wine that Ernest & Julio wanted drinkers of Hearty Burgundy to think they were getting.

The Verdict:

I enjoyed this wine, it's appropriate for a hot day. At $20 it's over priced. It's worth $10

Varietals:Pinot Noir
Appellation/Terrior:Central Coast, California
Vintner:David Bruce
Alcohol:18.8% by Volume

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


No, this post is not about some airy-fairy "You'll feel better after moving on" idea; it's about the thingy at the open end of your wine bottle that keeps the wine in and the air out.

According to Beekman, the Romans used to seal their amphora with "a coating of pitch or gypsum over the opening of a vessel or a film of olive oil floating on the surface of the wine. I for one am glad that this is no longer common practice. Think of the drawbacks of these 3 methods;

  • Pitch - this involves un-processed mineral oil in contact with my beverage??? cannot be good for you, and think what it would do to the nose!
  • Gypsum - better than pitch, but marginally so. Gypsum is porous, flaky, and delicate. I would imagine that if you did not accidentally break it, that you would still be picking pieces of chalk out of your glass.
  • Olive oil - well, at least this is edible. Not the most transport worthy stopper, and an oily film on my wine?? I think not.
Then there's the medieval method of stuffing wax coated cloth into the neck of the bottle. Ingenious, but not exactly up to aging in a damp cellar for 10-20 years.

Thanks to some unnamed Portuguese, and fortunately for us, stopper technology has improved over the years. Enter the Cork.

Corks are great. It's a natural substance that is non-toxic, and grows on trees. It provides a safe and secure seal to your bottle, and a self satisfying pop when properly vacated from the bottle.

Corks come in many styles. If you're interested check out Real Cork for a dissertation. In my reviews, I simplify this to two basic styles; real cork ("Natural Cork Closure" by real cork's definition) and agglomerated (any other cork closure). I differentiate because what I call agglomerated corks contain glue, and according to their own manufactures websites, they are not intended for cellaring (so drink them quick!)

Enter the Synthetic Cork.
Synthetic corks are a relatively recent innovation, and are becoming less rare. They were originally introduced for 2 main reasons:
  • Cost - since you don't have to wait 52 years to grow an oak tree, these closures are cheaper.
  • Corkiness - Corked wine is an expensive problem, and synthetic corks don't cork.
Synthetic corks also come in many styles; and again I have simplified my reviews to mentioning 2 types. Whole stoppers like the ones produced by SupremeCorq; and "agglomerated" which are made of small bits of rubber bound together.

While IMHO there is nothing technically wrong with a synthetic cork, they are (with many an exception) more often found on lower quality wines than high quality ones. This may be due to the cost.

Enter the Screw Cap.
Both natural and synthetic corks have the disadvantage of requiring a tool to open the bottle. Screw caps do not. They are also extremely cheap. They also crush easily, so if you open a bottle on the beach and want to bring the remainder home you need to be careful that it does not leak in your picnic basket.
IMHO there are 3 things wrong with screw caps and one of those is purely perception.
  • Ritual - Wine is a luxury item surrounded by rituals, and I would argue that part of our enjoyment of wine comes from these rituals. Without a cork, you loose the bottle opening ritual
  • Evaluation - Without a cork, you lose some of the techniques to judge the quality of the environment that the wine was stored in. A screw cap gathers no sediment, and likewise will not tell you if the wine was stored too hot or too cold for too long.
  • Perception - There is only one serious wine maker that I know of (Bonny Doon) that is using screw cap closures. The vast majority of screw capped wine is rot gut plonk.

The verdict

While you cannot tell for sure the quality of of a wine by it's closure; wines with real corks are more likely to come from good vintners than ones with agglomerated, synthetic or screw cap closures. Agglomerated corks are worse than any kind of synthetic as a few months in your cellar will ruin the wine. Screw caps are no fun, and hardly anybody of note uses them (unless you like Night Train?)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

2004 Rosenblum San Francisco Bay Zin

I bought this bottle when I went to the lunchtime tasting with some friends from work. Rosenblum only had splits left at the winery, so that's what I ended up with. I figured that being splits, that they would be perfect for my wife to take with her to Florida next week.

Alas, last Friday I was possessed by Bacchus and he needed an extra glass of wine, so I drank this bottle immediately after the three Trinitas wines (of the past three posts), and my wife fell asleep while watching Star Wars, (causing me to finish the split) so I was a little lit when I made my notes :-)

A typical Rosenblum, meaning it's a little on the young side, but it was good never the less. The presentation was good; the split bottle was Bordeaux style, but hey it's a split. It had an agglomerated synthetic cork that left a tattoo on the webbing between my thumb and forefinger, showing great sedimentation.

The labeling was good - all the necessary information is present (Vintage, Vintner, Terrior, Varietal, and Booze content) and in the right places. The tasting notes on Rosenblum's web site give much more information, with datum down to the vineyards and personal history of the growers. That's the type of information that I like to see; too bad there's no room on the label for it.

I don't remember any legs (I was buzzing remember?) but, given the high alcohol content of this wine I assume that there must have been. It tasted of blueberry jam.

The Verdict:

I enjoyed this wine, and will certainly try the other split when I'm sober enough to give it a proper evaluation. Bacchus sure liked it, and at about $17.00 a (split adjusted) bottle this is a good buy, and should prove excellent in a few more months.

Varietals:Zinfandel, Petite Sirah
Appellation/Terrior:San Francisco Bay, California
Vintner:Rosenblum Cellars
Alcohol:15.6% by Volume
Price:$8.16 (split)

Monday, March 12, 2007

A Trinity of Trinitas: Trinitas 2003 Mataro

Last Friday; My mother, her girlfriend and another of her friends all showed up tonight for dinner. We BBQ-d a couple of tri-tips and needed some wine to accompany. Since my mother and her friends all live in Concord; I figured a selection of Contra Costa wines would be in order; so over the course of the evening we opened 3 different bottles from Trinitas. This is the third bottle of those three.

Trinitas is Matt Cline's Hobby vineyard. Matt is the wine maker for the largish vintner Cline (which owns a lot of vineyards in Oakley). He married a scion of the Jaccuzi family; Erin. The Trinitas label is a partnership between Matt and Erin and Busch and Rodeno families of Oakley. Their goal is to show off the terrior of heritage vineyards in Contra Costa County.

I bought this particular wine based upon my good experiences with their 2002 Bigelow Zin. I opened it without any idea what I was getting into.

The presentation was OK. It came in a Bordeaux bottle; but then this wine is a blend of Rhône; and Burgandy varietals so the bottle cannot be traditional. It came with a real cork.

The labeling was good - all the necessary information is present (Vintage, Vintner, Terrior, Varietal, and Booze content) and in the right places. Oddly, Trinitas has chosen less-used names for two of their grapes; Mataro for Mourvèdre and Black Malvoise for Pinot Noir. The rear label gives tasting notes and history of the region as well as the goal of the vintner; but does not hint at fermentation techniques oak? brix? punch down? etc.)

There were some legs, and a rich nose. The colour was brilliant. It tasted of strawberry jam followed by booze. The boozy taste makes me say that this wine is unbalanced, but it is good.

The Verdict:

I enjoyed this wine, but with the alcohol after taste am not sure I would choose another 2003 - When they release the 2004 though I will likely try it to see if 2003 was an exceptionally sugar rich harvest (accounting for the extra booze)

Varietals:Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir
Appellation/Terrior:Contra Costa County, California
Alcohol:14.5% by Volume

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Trinity of Trinitas: Trinitas 2004 Old Vine Cuvée

My mother, her girlfriend and another friend all showed up on Friday night for dinner. We BBQ-d a couple of tri-tips and needed some wine to accompany. Since my mother and her friends all live in Concord; I figured a selection of Contra Costa wines would be in order; so over the course of the evening we opened 3 different bottles from Trinitas. This is the second bottle of those three. Read yesterday's post for the first.

I bought this particular wine based upon my good experiences with their 2002 Bigelow Zin. I opened it without any idea what I was getting into. This wine is a piece of California history - reading the blend of grapes in this puppy is like pulling layers of history off of California's plantings. I would love to believe that this is a field blend of grapes from vineyards that have evolved over the centuries (19th, 20th and 21st).

I am very glad that I had cow on the BBQ as one sip and swirl was enough to see that this wine was meant for beef. The tri-tip was on indirect heat with dried lavender thrown onto the coals to generate smoke (sort of an "Herbs de Provence" smoker) and the lavender really complemented the wine. By accident I ended up with a superior pairing.

The presentation was good. It came in a Rhône bottle; but then this wine is a rather odd blend of Provençal; Rhône; and Zinfandel varietals so the bottle cannot be traditional. It came with a real cork.

The labeling was good - all the necessary information is present (Vintage, Vintner, Terrior, Varietal, and Booze content) and in the right places. The rear label gives tasting notes and history of the region as well as the goal of the vintner; but does not hint at fermentation techniques oak? brix? punch down? etc.) Oddly, Trinitas has chosen less-used names for two of their grapes; Mataro for Mourvèdre and Black Malvoise for Pinot Noir.

There were some good legs, and a nose full of jelly. The colour was a brilliant burgundy. This is truly a heritage wine; the richness of the old vines really shines through.

The Verdict:

Awesome for accompanying smoked meat a BBQ. Well drinkable at other occasions as well. at less than $20 if you are having meat - buy it. I am planning my next BBQ now just so I have an excuse to drink my next bottle of this superior vintage.

Varietals:Zinfandel, Mourvèdre, Carignane, Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, Pinot Noir
Appellation/Terrior:Contra Costa County, California
Alcohol:14.0% by Volume

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Trinity of Trinitas: Trinitas 2002 Bigalow Zin

My mother, her girlfriend and another friend all showed up last night for dinner. We BBQ-d a couple of tri-tips and needed some wine to accompany. Since my mother and her friends all live in Concord, I figured that a selection of Contra Costa wines would be in order; so over the course of the evening we opened 3 different bottles from Trinitas.

Trinitas is Matt Cline's Hobby vineyard. Matt is the wine maker for the large vintner Cline (which owns a lot of vineyards in Oakley). He married a scion of the Jaccuzi family; Erin. The Trinitas label is a partnership between Matt and Erin and Busch and Rodeno families of Oakley. Their goal is to show off the terrior of heritage vineyards in Contra Costa County.

I first became interested in this particular wine when I started to drive past the vineyard on my way to our ski cabin in Kirkwood. You will see it on your right hand side as you are about to cross the Antioch bridge across the Sacramento river on your way out of the Bay Area. It contains what may likely be the oldest Zinfandel vines in existence. When most of CA was ripping out wine grapes during the "Great Experiment" of prohibition; the vines of Oakley remained in the ground. The Bigelow vineyard contains mostly 120 year old zinfandel vines. Not even Dalmatia can claim an entire vineyard of this grape that old.

This is one of my all time favorite Zins. 2002 was a great year, and this vineyard produces the richest fruit one could imagine. Kudos to Matt and Erin for preserving this vineyard from the city of Oakley's machinations to turn it into a Wal-mart.

The presentation was ok. It came in a Bordeaux bottle rather than a Zinfandel one. It had a real cork. There was a fair amount of sediment around the neck; enough to leave a faint tattoo on the web of my thumb indicating that this wine was stored up-side down (This is good).

The labeling was good - all the necessary information is present (Vintage, Vintner, Terrior, Varietal, and Booze content) and in the right places. The rear label gives tasting notes and history of the region as well as the goal of the vintner; but does not hint at fermentation techniques oak? brix? punch down? etc.)

There were some good legs, the nose was prominent of loganberries. With a brilliant colour, this is a wine full of fruit. The term "Jammy" in this case refers to a spread that you would put on toast. If only there as a jam that tasted like this, PB&J would never be the same (skip the PB!) You can really taste the old vines in this wine. Imagine if you bought a single Jelly Belly jelly bean that somehow ended up with all the flavour of the whole bag - and that's the type of grape that this wine is made of.

The Verdict:

The only Zin that comes close to this one is Trinitas's 2003 CCC Old Vine Zinfandel. Buy it at any price. I would pay upwards of $50-$75 for a bottle of this, so at the $25 I paid for it it's a steal (but don't tell Matt or Erin I said so)

Appellation/Terrior:Oakley (Contra Costa County), California
Alcohol:15.0% by Volume

Friday, March 9, 2007

2005 Rosenblum Heritage Clone Petite Sirah

Wednesday at lunch some co-workers asked me if I wanted to join them for lunch at Rosenblum. It sounded like fun, so off we went. Little did I know that that lunch would be liquid only, but lots of fun was had.
Previous to this, my only exposure to Rosenblum's products had been at restaurants, and my company's informal monthly wine tasting events. My impressions there had been that every Rosenblum was young. What I found at the winery did not change that impression (indeed even the guy behind the counter agreed with me) - Rosenblum's releases all would benefit from another 8-18 months in the cellar. What did impress me is the gigantic selection of individual wines - Rosenblum makes an awfully large number of single vineyard vintages. They currently list 34 different 2004 wines for sale on their site. Wow. I am a big fan of single vineyard vintages - you get a much better feel for the terrior that way IMHO. The other thing that I like about Rosenblum is that they source a good number of their grapes from Oakley - and the flavours that the ancient vines in this region, combined with the earth and the sun and the river air of Oakley impart to a wine make it amongst the yummiest terriors I know of.

I would normally not drink a wine this young, but the tasting room left me craving more.

The presentation was good. It came in a typical Rhône bottle. It had an agglomerated synthetic cork.
The labeling was fair - all the necessary information is present (Vintage, Vintner, Terrior, Varietal, and Booze content) but in odd places and sometimes inconsistent; for instance the booze and appellation are both listed on the rear label - and the appellation is listed as San Francisco Bay, but the verbiage states "...from Napa and Sonoma to the base of Mt. Diablo." I'll give you that Oakley is at the base of Mt. Diablo, and within the San Francisco Bay AVA; but Napa and Sonoma are not - and given the listing of the San Francisco Bay appellation, grapes from Napa and Sonoma combined can only make up less than 15% of the fruit used in making the wine, so why list it? The only reason I can think of to do so is to market this wine to consumers who have no clue about wine regions outside of Napa; but then again with this wine only available at the winery - are they likely to get any consumers like that?

There were some legs, the nose was medium, and oh what a body! It had the body of a desert wine, and was extremely yummy. With a colour like purple lipstick, this is a wine full of fruit. Plums and Mangoes. Pomegranate and Blackberry. If this wine was a jam, it would be awesome spread upon a scone with or without clotted cream.

The Verdict:

With the discount that I got at purchase time (I joined their wine club) it is highly worth it. This wine is wonderful now, will be superb at Thanksgiving and truly great next year.

Varietals:Petite Sirah
Appellation/Terrior:Oakley (San Francisco Bay), California
Vintner:Rosenblum Cellars
Alcohol:14.4% by Volume

Thursday, March 8, 2007

2002 Truchard Carneros Zin

Over a year ago my wife signed us up for The Wine Shop At Home, mainly because her good friend Meg was a consultant there, but also to get exposure to wines we wouldn't otherwise find. The Wine Shop At Home is an MLM company (if you want to learn more about MLM companies check out the great information at, so this also gave Meg an excuse to come out and visit us for a wine tasting party. Good fun.

The upside of The Wine Shop At Home is that we get 2 wines delivered to us each month (and 4 in December). Now, these wines are pretty hit and miss - as often as you get an excellent wine, you will get one that rates just fair. My biggest complaint though, is that most times the wines are on the young side, meaning that I cellar them and by the time they are ready, The Wine Shop At Home no longer carries it. Bummer. This is why any time we get one that does not suffer from excessive youth, we try it right away.

Since the Truchard was a 2002 it was definitely the right age for a Zin, so we popped it open.

The presentation was non-traditional. It came in a Bordeaux shaped bottle that was the brownish green typical for a Burgundy style wine. It did have a real cork. The labeling was fair - all the necessary information is present (Vintage, Vintner, Terrior, Varietal, and Booze content) but the information on the rear label was more about the colours they chose for the label than the techniques they used to create it.

The nose was not big, but the body was full of fruit. Pomegranate and plums. very nice, but lacked balance with the alcohol - you were left with a strong booze after taste. Colour was average, and unfortunately I did not note the legs because I was using a striated glass (my regular tasting glasses being all in the dishwasher at the time)

The Verdict:

Slightly overpriced. This is a $15 bottle of wine, and if you can find it for $12 It would classify as a good deal.

Appellation/Terrior:Carneros, Napa, California
Alcohol:14.2% by Volume

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

2002 Dingač

So, as my wife was ordering coffee, I was left wandering the Alameda marketplace with my 1½ year old daughter on my hip, and decided to pop into Farmstead Cheeses & Wines and browse.
I noticed an unfamiliar label amongst their Zins - it appeared to be a Croatian wine. It was in a traditional Zin shaped bottle; so I quickly got excited thinking it may be something special. A few words with the proprietor confirmed my suspicion. I could hardly wait to get it home and try it.

Having been a self confessed Zin fan; I am always on the lookout for a good Zin; the older the vine the better. And what better place to find old vines than the ancestral homeland of the vines smuggled into New York by Gibbs in 1832.

For those unfamiliar with the origins of Zinfandel; in 1832, Herr Gibbs absconded with some vines belonging to the Hapsburgs and kept in their royal collection in Vienna. Herr Gibbs relocated to Long Island where one of those vines ended up being called Zinfandel. (Oddly enough; no Zinfandel is commercially grown on Long Island today). Up until UC Davis researchers stepped in, no one knew where the Hapsburgs got the vines from originally. It turns out that a little known Dalmatian grape called Crljenak Kaštelanski was the source of the clones.

This bottle is labeled "Premium red wine" from Pelješac Peninsula. Given the lack of appellation laws in Croatia, and knowing a bit about how vineyards are managed there; this wine is probably a field blend of Crljenak Kaštelanski (non-cloned Zinfandel), and Zin ancestors Plavac Mali and Dobričić. Un-oaked.

The wine was very un-zin-like. Perhaps given the nature of the field blend and likelihood of non-clones in the vineyard this should not have been surprising; never the less I was disappointed. Too much black pepper. More reminiscent of a mid range Cab than a California Zin. That said, it had a great colour, and was as leggy as all get out. Weak nose.
The presentation was good. I appreciate the traditional bottle. It's getting rare to see Zins packaged in proper Zinfandel bottles (Green, strong shoulder, narrower at the base than the shoulder) it seems that the generic Bordeaux bottle has gained favour. The cork was also real.
As far as the label goes; I like the donkey, but dislike the typical European lack of varietals on the label. For a region lacking formal appellation laws, the omission of a varietal listing is most disturbing.

The Verdict:

While I was disappointed because I was expecting something different; I shouldn't have been. It was a wine worth the price (but not much more).

Varietals:Crljenak Kaštelanski, Plavac Mali, Dobričić and others
Appellation/Terrior:Pelješac Peninsula, Dalmatia
Alcohol:13.5% by Volume