On a Surprise Gift

I recall that day in December 2013. As my wife and I were returning from errands, I noticed a package on our doorstep … and we both confirmed that we weren’t expecting anything. But as I approached the box, my brain pulled out the file card with the answer, then I smiled and my heart rate increased in anticipation of what was inside the box. After all, I had never done anything like this before.

Jeff, (@The Drunken Cyclist) has a passion for wine … and there’s no doubt, I would love to be his neighbor. Nonetheless, several weeks earlier he tossed out the parameters of an idea to his readers, and some (including me) proclaimed, “Why not!”

I sent my name, address, and wine preference (red, white, or either) to him. After gathering the information from participants, his wife developed the plan … which meant I received a name, address, and wine preference of a person (and they don’t know it will be from me), plus someone received my information. So there it, inside the box on my doorstep … a wine from my Secret Santa.

Envisioning a delight that would be a highlight to a dampened holiday spirit (as my mother-in-law had passed away a few weeks earlier), I was eager to open the box. Would it be a single varietal or a blend? Would it be from vineyards of Spain, Italy, France, California, Australia, or Argentina?

Image from vinfolio.com

Image from vinfolio.com

As I reached for the bottle, my excitement continued to build, then like a ton of bricks … POW … I crashed when I noticed the wine was from a vineyard in Arizona.

Alright … I knew that every US state has at least one winery, so Arizona didn’t surprise me, but my mind raced with questions and thoughts:

  • Huh?
  • Where is the Arizona wine region?
  • Given the location, a blend has to be better than a single varietal.

I examined the bottle, and on the backside … YES … it’s a blend! Then I gave myself the wake-up call … Hey … wine lovers read Jeff’s blog, so they aren’t going to send lousy wine … so relax and trust the sender!

Tom, my Secret Santa, included a wonderful write-up about the wine, the vineyard, and himself. He gave a quick overview of Arizona wineries (over 50) being at the high elevations (thus cooler) in primarily three regions of the state. In this case, the owner and winemaker is Maynard James Keenan, a metal/alternative rocker who has won awards with this wine.

Sometime in January we hosted a friend for dinner. Knowing that he’s willing to try different wines, this would be the perfect time to share a taste of Arizona. After the first taste, all three of us looked at each other with open eyes saying, “Wow … what a pleasant surprise!”

Caduceus (the winery) is also the staff carried by Hermes …. the staff that is the common symbol for medicine Winery’s homepage: Here’s what we discovered about this wine.

  • Easy to drink
  • A Super Tuscan style of blend: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 20% Sangiovese
  • Smooth (not tannic), yet rich with complexity
  • Not overpowering, but cherry with spice are obvious
  • Excellent with our food for the evening (that I can’t recall)

Although this post is very late, I salute Jeff for organizing this fun activity (the rules), Theresa who received my wine, and Tom – my Secret Santa .. and hey Jeff … I hope you do this again.

Here’s  a short video of the winemaker discussing this wine. Cheers!

On Smooth Wine

Glass-of-WineTannin is a wine term that provides an explanation why some people don’t like red wine – yet – it also applies to why others or prefer red wines, or even the preference for a particular red wine. Tannin is also the unknowingly basis of why some buyers ask for “a smooth wine.”

Some associate tannin with leather, which a good thought to describe tannic red wines because tannin is what causes the dry feeling within the mouth – the pucker of dryness – the feeling like someone swabbed the mouth dry.

What are tannins?
Tannin is actually a protein group found through plant parts as stems and leaves – and in grape skins. It’s not something one smells, but its taste can also be found in tea, chocolate, herbs, and more. Yet, it is because of tannins that red wine goes so well with the fats of red meats and cheeses.

Why are some red wines more tannic?
There are numerous factors determining the tannin level in wine. Whether natural or from the winemaker, here are the key factors – and help with the understanding, let’s go through the winemaking process.

(1) Grape Variety: Some kinds of grapes are naturally more tannic. For instance, cabernet sauvignon is more tannic than merlot.

(2) Grape Maturity: Picking the grapes at the right time is important for optimal levels of juice, sugar, and tannin. In general, younger grapes have more tannin.

(3) Vineyard: Although the vineyard itself is not a tannin source, the soil and conditions may yield a certain minerality that could enhance tannins taste.

(4) Exposure Time: While white grapes only yield white wines, dark grapes can deliver red or white wines. After all, the grape’s juice is close to colorless; thus, red wine’s color comes from exposing the juice to the skins. Regarding tannins, the longer the juice is exposure to the skins, the higher the tannin levels.

(5) Fermentation: Fermentation is the process yielding the alcohol. Some winemakers prefer to ferment the juice in the presence of grape stems, skins, and seeds – which will yield more tannic wine.

(6) Barrels: After initial fermentation, winemakers place many red wines into barrels. Because the barrel’s wood is from the stems of a tree, the barrels naturally contain tannin. Now, sub factors as the type of tree, the newness of the barrel, and the time spent in the barrel become important factors.

(7) Additives: The winemaker may choose to add wood chips or tannin powder to the barreling process. Again, type, amount, and time are factors.

(8) Age: Finally, the wine moves from the barrel to the bottle. Although many wines are drinkable, some need more time in the bottle than others – time allowing additional reactions to occur to tone down the tannins.

(9) Blending: In order to achieve the desired outcome, the winemaker has the luxury of blending wines (before bottling). Remember grape varieties and the vineyards are two of the initial factors. A winemaker may blend Cabernet from different vineyards to achieve a desired taste. They may add less tannic wines to soften the tannin levels – or add tannic wine to a softer wine to give the wine more substance

A blending note: Labeling laws are different everywhere, California law gives the winemaker much latitude. That is, for a wine to be labeled Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, or whatever, it must contain at least 75% of that grape variety. In other words, the other undisclosed grapes may in the bottle, but not on the label.

Winemakers experience a lot of pain when determining the result in that bottle. They know consumers have different tastes. So, people asking their retailer for a smooth wine are actually asking for less tannin … so keep this in mind in your purchases.

On Wine and Music

Glass-of-WineWine and Music was the January 2013 theme for our church wine group. The organizer asked me for some ideas (which I provided), but I was hoping she wouldn’t select this particular because it may be difficult.

I did my research before the event just in case. Good news is they came through in flying colors! Below are the results of my research and what attendees brought. (I divided the names into categories).

Let me know if you have others!

Red Guitar

High Note
(Pasquier-Meunier) A Capella Red

BR Cohn (Doobie Brothers manager)
Dreaming Tree (Dave Mathews)
Blenheim (Dave Mathews)
Remick Ridge (Tommy Smothers)
Scaggs (Boz Scaggs)
Maestro Sanguineti

Harmony Hill
Il Cantante
Adegade Cantor
Deep Purple
For a Song
R&B Cellars

Que Sera
Shoo Fly (Don’t Bother Me)
Eroica (Beethoven 3rd Symphony)
Hey Mambo

On Not-So Petite

Petite sirah is a wine. Although some may spell it as petite syrah, it is not syrah. Nor is it the reference when Doris Day sings Queue sera sera.

Petite sirah is the wine for the people loving a big wine – one delivering a full flavor – one capable of handling a sturdy set of characteristics as big, bold, tannin, and earth within its dark color.

The only thing petite about petite sirah wines is the size of the individual grapes. Compared to other varietals, it is smaller, yet it is this high skin to juice ratio that delivers the big taste that some wine lovers desire. Although petite sirah as not the same as its namesake, syrah is one of the parents that growers crossed to develop this varietal.

Although it is found in other regions across the globe, petite sirah is more commonly grown in the US, France, and Australia. The grape, actually called durif, allows winemakers to transform this grape into a dark, firm wine delivering big flavors of black fruits, black pepper, and tannin with a tendency toward earth and game.

Its California roots date back to the late 1800s and a history centered on making bulk wines. In the United States, petite sirah is most commonly found in California, primarily Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Monterrey wine regions. Keep in mind that in terms of acreage, petite sirah occupies only 1.6% of California vineyards, thus a reason why one may not notice many bottles on the store shelves.

On the other hand, winemakers have successfully blended petite sirah with other grapes to add color, zest, and complexity. Ridge winery creates glee across my palate with the addition of petite sirah to some of their zinfandel-based blends.

I appreciate petite sirah, but I have to know my audience before offering them a glass. A good friend of mine loves big wines and feels that winemakers have transformed too many red wines into juicy, fresh fruit flavors. Needless to say, he loves petite sirah.

Here are some of my petite sirah recommendations.
Starters ($9-12): Foppiano, Bogle, Castle Rock, Concannon, Lot 205

A Step Up ($16-20): Foppiano, Lava Cap, Marietta, David Bruce, McNab Ridge

If you are ever in Paso Robles, CA and wanting to taste version with more fruit, less tannin, yet keeping the distinct petite sirah flavor, stop by the Pianetta tasting room and tell Caitlin that Frank from Cincinnati sent you to try the petite sirah. (She may remember us) Then ask to sample Tuscan Nights. Yum! Did you get that Debra?

A short overview about petite sirah by a winemaker

On Zin Zazee Doo Dah

By the mid 1900s, zinfandel was undoubtedly my favorite wine type. At the time, my palate was good at identifying flavors so, I know that the combination of full body, fruit, and spice is what I enjoyed the most about zin. Sometime in the last 90s, winemakers began favoring zins with higher alcohol, which actually caused by to venture into other varietals and regions – yet, while keeping zins close to my heart.

Zinfandel is a dark grape with its heritage in Croatia. Yes, in 2001 scientists discovered zin is genetically the same a Croatian grape. The first documented sighting of zin in the US was in the early 1800s (Boston), but the Gold Rush served as the mechanism to move the vines westward.

For a long time, California winemakers commonly used zin for general table/bulk wines, thus not much on its own. Although zin lovers generally dislike white zin with a passion, we recognize that white zinfandel’s popularity may have saved this grape in California.

I think of zinfandel as America’s wine. Cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay may be more popular; one can commonly find these two are commonly in other wine regions throughout the world – but not zinfandel.

Although zin grows in most of California’s major wine regions as Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles (Central Coast), Mendocino, Amador, and Lodi, each region delivers its own unique flavors. For fresh black cherry fruit and pepper, I love the zins from one of my favorite places to visit – the Dry Creek region of Sonoma. Then again, Amador County zins give me a rich flavor or jam and raisins that I adore – which happens to correlate to make affection for port. For value, old vines zins from Lodi are very respectful, thus worth a try.

Zinfandel is a hearty, flavorful red wine that is great with grilled meats and red-sauced pastas. Some of my favorite $10-13 bottles include Ravenswood, Cline, Rosenblum Cuvee (followed by a Roman numeral as XXXIII), and Dancing Bull Winemaker’s Reserve. Marietta makes a delightful zin-based blend that they designate by a Lot number on the label. I even like Plungerhead; and yes, the Kirkland Old Vine Zin (Costco) is a great value!

Take the price up a notch, you can find very good zins from not from those previously list, but also Seghesio, Ridge, Opolo, Sausal, Redwood, Four Vines, Peachy Canyon, Storybook Mountain, Turley, A. Rafanelli, and many others from the previously-mentioned regions. Here’s a list from ZAP.

I am a more daring wine buyer than most – meaning I am not scared to buy something to try. I recommend this because this will help any wine drinker to discover the taste they most enjoy at the price they are willing to pay. A wine distributor recently said the following to me:

Although it is important to like the wine you drink and to drink the wine you like, it is also important to keep an open mind to other fruits from the vine.

Well, that is how I discovered Primitivo from southern Italy, which also happens to be a clone from the same Croatian grape as zinfandel.

Cheers – Zin is wonderful – but also enjoy this short video from the Paso Robles (CA) wine region