$20 Below

$20 Below: C.G. Di Arie Break Away Zinfandel 2009

C.G. Di Arie Break Away Zinfandel 2009

Date Tasted: 3/28/13

Price: Suggested Retail is around $18.00

From The Winery: 14.3% alcohol. Sierra Foothills AVA. 3000 cases produced.

Impressions/Notes: On a recent shopping adventure, I was approached by a woman that was obviously pushing this wine (not sure if she worked for the shop, the distributor, maybe even the winery). I usually steer away from purchases in this type of scenario, but there were a couple of buzzwords that caught my attention. “Zinfandel”, “low production”, and “Sierra Foothills.” Despite being utterly annoyed by her unflinching proclamation that America’s best Zinfandels come from the Sierra Foothills (the Russian River and Dry Creek valleys say hello), I purchased a bottle. C.G. Di Arie Vineyard and Winery is owned by Chaim Gur-Arieh, a former inventor and new food product developer. Some of his most notable products include Cap’n Crunch, Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing, and Pudding Cups. C.G. Di Arie’s Break Away Zinfandel owes it’s name to symbolize the wine’s departure from jammy, over-oaked Zinfandels. It presents with a light-medium purple color that is remarkably transparent for a Zin. The aroma profile consists of blackberry, black pepper, tilled earth, and molasses. In the mouth, it’s light-medium bodied with soft tannins and tangy blue fruits.There is a very minimal oak presence on the nose and palate. I’m a big proponent of experimentation (and this is a different breed of Zin) but I couldn’t help but think of this wine as Zinfandel Lite as I was drinking it.

Rating: Recommended (86), 3/5 Value

Posted on by Nick in $20 Below, California, Zinfandel 2 Comments

$20 Above: Ridge Geyserville 2010

Ridge Geyserville 2010

Date Tasted: 3/31/13

Price: Suggested Retail is $37.00

From The Winery: 14.3% alcohol. 64% Zinfandel, 20% Carignane, 12% Petite Sirah, 2% Alicante Bouschet, 2% Mataro (Mourvedre). Ridge has made the Geyserville as a single-site Zinfandel in every year since 1966. Vineyard Location is the western edge of the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County.

Impressions/Notes: This isn’t a typical Ridge Geyserville. While the 2008 and 2009 vintage are loaded with fruit and spice, a whiff of the 2010 reveals a wine that’s heavy with earthy components, particularly morel mushrooms and fresh mulch. Tart cranberry fruit and hazelnut begin to surge after half an hour of air. The acid presence on this wine is super strong, but not in an unpleasant way. To say that this wine is wrapped up pretty tight right now (which is exactly what I scribbled in my notes) is an understatement. I would recommend stashing a bottle away and popping it open in 5-7 years–I have a feeling that age is going to be incredibly kind to this wine.

Rating: Highly Recommended (90+), 3.5/5 Value

Posted on by Nick in $20 Above, California, Zinfandel 1 Comment

$20 Above: Rafanelli Zinfandel 2009

Rafanelli Zinfandel 2009

Date Tasted: 2/17/13

Price: Suggested Retail is $53.00

From The Winery: 14.8% Alcohol. Dry Creek Valley AVA.

Impressions/Notes: A. Rafanelli Winery has been a staple in the Dry Creek Valley wine community since the early 1900s. Rafanelli’s wine lineup includes their famous and coveted Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Hillside Select, a reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Most of their wines are sold via their hard-to-crack mailing list, but they also sell a limited quantity at the winery. My wife and I visited the winery in 2011, which is where I procured the ’09 Zin. The winery is open by appointment only and reservations typically need to be made well in advance. When it comes to the Rafanelli winery experience, visitors’ accounts vary greatly. We read the Yelp reviews (my favorite review is written by David G. on 8/24/09) and this very amusing letter posted on The Ferm prior to our visit, so we weren’t exactly sure what to expect. Our experience was great–we met owner David Rafanelli and his daughter Stacy and were treated with warm hospitality. Rafanelli is now one of my wife’s favorite wineries and I had to get special permission to open the ’09 Zin.

Tom Lee of Zinfandel Chronicles indicated that he had read notes of brettanomyces being detected in recent vintages of Rafanelli’s Zinfandels. Wine Spectator’s Tim Fish said as much to him on Twitter. Wines affected with “brett” can exhibit aromas that range from bacon fat, smoke, and spice (sounds ok to me) to band-aid, barnyard, and even horseshit (not so ok)–the aromas depend on the specific type of molecule that presents.  Fish gave Rafanelli’s ’09 Zin a lowly score of 83. After perusing Fish’s ratings for 2012 Zinfandels, I noted that we were in agreement on some Zins (Easton Amador County and Seghesio Sonoma County ’10) and in different area codes on others (he rated the ’09 Ridge Geyserville at an 85, I had it at around a 94). I hoped and expected Rafanelli’s ’09 Zin to be brett-free, if for no other reason than that I had paid over $50 for it. I sampled this wine at the winery and I didn’t remember any off aromas or flavors at the time, though I did not take notes on the visit.

Fish was right, according to my humble palate. There is a bit of a mulch/compost/barnyard aroma present in the wine. It did not overshadow the powerful black cherry and black currant fruit, which really came alive about four hours after opening, nor the dark chocolate or spice box notes in the background. The wine is smooth, with a great mouthfeel and a really strong acid backbone for a Zinfandel (Rafanelli’s Zins are built to age). I did shave a few points off of my rating for the slight presence of brett, as it did have an influence on my enjoyment of the wine.

Inevitably, as with any aroma, there are going to be some consumers that have an extra sensitivity to the barnyard aroma associated with brett (I suspect Tim Fish falls into this category, and would be curious to know exactly how many points he deducted solely due to the presence of brett). Take a look at the reviews of Rafanelli’s ’09 Zin posted on CellarTracker. There are some rave reviews of the wine and then there are reviews like the one from BEARCAVE, who states “I can’t believe that no one is talking about the fact that this wine is ridden with brettanomyces.” So who’s review is right? It depends on your palate. My palate appears to have a sensitivity to the barnyard aroma, but not to the level of being hypersensitive. For those who are brett-hypersensitive, this may not be the wine for you.

Rating: Recommended (88), 1.5/5 Value 

Posted on by Nick in $20 Above, California, Zinfandel 4 Comments

$20 Above: Ridge Paso Robles Zinfandel 2009

Ridge Paso Robles Zinfandel 2009

Date Tasted: 1/1/13

Price: Suggested Retail is $30.00 (Purchased for $25.00)

From The Winery: 14.8% Alcohol. 95% Zinfandel, 5% Petite Sirah. Fruit is sourced from the Benito Dusi Ranch Vineyard, Paso Robles AVA.

Impressions/Notes: This is the first vintage of Ridge’s Paso Robles Zinfandel that I’ve tasted and it’s quite a contrast from the Geyserville and Lytton Springs Zinfandels that I’m more familiar with. Rich blackberry fruit is the predominant aroma/flavor in this wine, while black tea and light leather in the background. Moderate plus oak compliments the fruit well. It’s loaded with sweet, jammy fruit, but there’s plenty of balance to keep this wine well away from fruit bomb status. Fine tannins fill the back palate. Although the 2009 Paso Robles is not as complex as many of the other Ridge Zins that I’ve tasted, it’s a delicious wine and I certainly recommend it.

Rating: Recommended/Highly Recommended (88-92), 3/5 Value 

Posted on by Nick in $20 Above, California, Zinfandel 2 Comments

WineSpeak USA Fab 50 of 2012

From the kick off of this blog on January 17, 2012 through tonight, I have reviewed approximately 250 wines. I would like to give special recognition to 50 of those wines, along with one winery that has really stood out this year.

WINE OF THE YEAR/RED WINE OF THE YEAR: Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Napa Valley’s Groth Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is an unforgettable, regal wine that electrifies the senses and does the highly lauded Oakville AVA proud.

WHITE WINE OF THE YEAR: aMaurice Cellars Columbia Valley Viognier 2010
aMaurice Cellars features a flat-out impressive lineup of both white and red wines. Their Columbia Valley Viognier is a delicate, beautiful, and exciting wine that is quite obviously made with care.

$20 BELOW RED WINE OF THE YEAR: Gifford-Hirlinger Stateline Red 2009
With their 2009 Stateline Red, a Cabernet Sauvignon dominated blend, Gifford-Hirlinger proves that there are age and cellar-worthy Cabs available for under $20.00. Retailing at a mind-boggling $16.00, I have purchased more individual bottles of this wine than any other this year.

$20 BELOW WHITE WINE OF THE YEAR: Tempus Cellars Evergreen Vineyard Riesling 2011
Of all of the high quality, low-priced Rieslings that I tasted this year, the Evergreen Vineyard Riesling from Walla Walla up-and-comer Tempus Cellars led the pack. Wine consumers everywhere should rejoice that wines like this one are available for $16.00!

Winemaker/owner Sean Boyd is doing some amazing things with Rhone varietals at Rotie Cellars in Walla Walla. I had the opportunity to sample six of Rotie’s current releases, highlighted by the 2010 Southern Blend, and I simply can’t recommend their wines enough (if you can find them).

FAB 50 OF 2012

  1. Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($125.00)
  2. Woodward Canyon “Artist Series” Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($54.00)
  3. Long Shadows Wineries Pirouette 2007 ($50.00)
  4. Rotie Cellars Southern Blend 2010 ($40.00)
  5. Rasa Principia Reserve Syrah 2008 ($85.00)
  6. Ridge Geyserville 2009 ($35.00)
  7. Carlisle Montafi Ranch Zinfandel 2009 ($45.00)
  8. Rotie Cellars “Little G” 2010 ($45.00)
  9. Long Shadows Wineries Sequel Syrah 2007 ($50.00)
  10. Buty Columbia Rediviva Phinny Hill Vineyard 2008 ($48.00)
  11. aMaurice Cellars Columbia Valley Viognier 2010 ($25.00)
  12. Maison Bleue Graviere Upland Vineyard 2010 ($45.00)
  13. Gramercy Cellars Third Man GSM 2009 ($45.00)
  14. Rasa Doctrina Perpetua Syrah Block 5 Bacchus Vineyard 2009 ($60.00)
  15. Betz La Cote Rousse Syrah 2007 ($55.00)
  16. Kistler Sonoma Mountain Chardonnay 2010 ($65.00)
  17. aMaurice Cellars Columbia Valley Chardonnay 2009 ($28.00)
  18. Buty Connor Lee Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 ($32.00)
  19. Proper Syrah 2010 ($36.00)
  20. Ravenswood Teldeschi Vineyard Zinfandel 2008 ($35.00)
  21. J “Barrel 16″ Pinot Noir 2010 ($75.00)
  22. Wild Horse Cheval Sauvage Pinot Noir 2008 ($60.00)
  23. L’Ecole 41 Estate Merlot 2008 ($36.00)
  24. L’Ecole 41 Apogee Pepper Bridge Vineyard 2008 ($49.00)
  25. Saviah Cellars Une Valee Walla Walla Valley 2009 ($32.00)
  26. Ravenswood Barricia Vineyard Zinfandel 2008 ($35.00)
  27. Ridge Lytton Springs 2009 ($35.00)
  28. Girard Artistry 2008 ($40.00)
  29. MacPhail Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2010 ($39.00)
  30. Trio Vintners Plaisir 2009 ($26.00)
  31. Stolpman Estate Syrah 2009 ($34.00)
  32. Gifford-Hirlinger Stateline Red 2009 ($16.00)
  33. Erath Pinot Noir Estate Collection 2009 ($34.00)
  34. Trefethen Dry Riesling 2010 ($22.00)
  35. Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel 2009 ($36.75)
  36. Walla Walla Vintners Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley 2010 ($28.00)
  37. Aberrant Cellars Confero Pinot Noir 2009 ($35.00)
  38. Reininger Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2008 ($42.00)
  39. Seghesio Rockpile Zinfandel 2010 ($38.00)
  40. Mackey Vineyards Concordia 2009 ($38.00)
  41. Tempus Cellars Evergreen Vineyard Riesling 2011 ($16.00)
  42. Syncline Mourvedre 2010 ($30.00)
  43. Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2009 ($38.00)
  44. K Syrah “Pheasant Vineyard” Wahluke Slope 2010 ($35.00)
  45. Mackey Vineyards Merlot 2009 ($36.00)
  46. Tamarack Cellars Merlot Columbia Valley 2008 ($28.00)
  47. Kontos Cellars Merlot 2009 ($32.00)
  48. Sequoia Grove Carneros Chardonnay 2009 ($28.00)
  49. Amavi Cellars Syrah Walla Walla Valley 2010 ($29.00)
  50. Kung Fu Girl Riesling 2011 ($12.00)
**Please note that detailed reviews and tasting notes for these wines can be located via the “Search” feature in the right column.
Posted on by Nick in $20 Above, $20 Below, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Chardonnay, Grenache, Merlot, Mourvedre, Oregon, Pinot Noir, Red Blends, Riesling, Syrah, Viognier, Washington, Wine Column, Zinfandel 4 Comments