Thursday, September 30, 2021

Dry Creek Zinfandel

This is more or less a stream-of-consciousness report on California Zinfandel and the Dry Creek Valley.  We intended to write about the new Quivira Vineyards Zinfandel that came in last week.  Our vendor got noticeably animated when he presented it to us so we know it's got to be good.  We just got sidetracked in our research.

Zinfandel made its arrival in California in 1852.  Italian immigrants pursuing their gold rush dreams carried their vines on their backs across the country little knowing that the real treasure going forward would be their gift to the domestic wine industry.  Zinfandel, or Primitivo in Italy, or Tripidrag in Croatia before that, is about as far from wine nobility as it gets.  But as we're learning everyday, if you get the right ordinary grape planted in the optimal environs, good things can happen.

One of those venues for the Italian peasant vines was Dry Creek Valley, a sixteen mile long, two mile wide valley in northern Sonoma County.  Dry Creek was granted its legal definition as an AVA (American Viticultural Area) in 1983.  Its viticultural history actually goes back to 1880 which was a historical pivot point for the domestic wine industry.  Zinfandel had already become the most widely planted grape at that time in California but the Phylloxera aphid had also just arrived in the state at the same time.  Because the bugger was so destructive, all of the vineyards of California would have to be replanted setting back the industry for a decade or so. 

We took our first wine industry job in Berkeley, California back in 1976.  At that time we were charmed by some very flavorful field blends that we now know owed their opulent fruit profile to the Zinfandel grape.  Those blends were, in fact, Zinfandel-based.  And they were charming in their crudeness.  They were rough and brambly and unpretentious and the perfect counterpoint to wine snobbery.  And they were great with burgers!

Our point here is to contrast our perception of things with the industry marketing effort of that time.  They were trying to present Zinfandel as a type somewhat on a par with Cabernet Sauvignon or at least close to that kind of quality.  Concurrently Gallo and others were using the grape in some very successful, economical commercial blends.  The cognitive dissonance is hard to ignore.  How can something be both an economic filler in a blend and a centerpiece varietal at the same time?  But that's Zinfandel.  And that's marketing.

If you flash forward to today we see a mature Zinfandel market that has settled on reasonable pricing for this very utile grape.  The blends are everywhere and they're as good as ever.  Sonoma Dry Creek varietal Zinfandels have assumed the appropriate mantle as some of the best in California.  

What's wrong with this scenario?  Nothing, as far as it goes.  But the mass marketers are too clever by half.  Technology has cleaned up Central Valley grapes to the point where they can be blended into northern California Zin-based blends that are then marketed to an unknowing public as "fine wine."  Extraneous additives are then plugged into these kinds of wines further de-legitimatizing things.  And pricing is high.  And it just ain't right.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

DOCG Prosecco

DOCG stands for Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin.  It is the Italian government's legal name for the highest quality level in a given historical wine type.  After what must have been an exhausting winnowing process, Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene earned its DOCG in 2009.  The Prosecco product, itself, earned its DOC in 1969 and before that it had a two hundred year pre-modern history in its northeast corner of Italy.  

Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene is the hilly region in eastern central Veneto.  Glera is the name of the Prosecco grape.  In order to receive its DOCG, a wine from that region must be tasted by a government representative to ascertain its quality.  While on the face of it that seems like a guarantee of quality, it is not.  The DOCG only mandates that the rules have been followed in the production of the wine.

The Italian government is nothing if not thorough in its wine definitions.  There are four subcategories in Prosecco DOCG.  Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore is the production from fifteen communes in the region.  Most DOCG Prosecco fits into this category.  Each winery in the region produces its own proprietary blend, much like French Champagne, and grape yields are limited to 13.5 tonnes per hectare. 

Terroir is the French term for the unique environmental characteristics in a vineyard.  Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Rive is terroir-driven wine that is sourced from forty-three rives or "steep sloped vineyards" in the delimited DOCG region.  Those grapes must be hand harvested with no more than thirteen tonnes allowed per hectare.

Valdobbiadene Superiore de Carlizze Prosecco is the absolute top quality of the category.  It is sourced from 107 hectares of the steepest hillsides of Valdobbiadene and yields are limited to 12 tonnes per hectare.  The aromatics of this wine include nuances of apples, pears, citrus, peaches and apricots.  The flavors are a minty, elegant and balanced mix of the fruits above.  The finish is almondy. 

The last category in DOCG Prosecco is different from the other three in that it pertains to a wine style as opposed to the terroir-reliant definitions above.  Sui Lievitre is a slightly cloudy Brut Nature that has a toasted bread character.  The name means sur lie and in winemaking the lees refer to the crud that lies in the bottom of the fermentation tank when the fermenting process is finished.  After the grape remains are skimmed off, the spent yeasts that are left in the bottom are called fine lees.  If the wine is left in contact with these for a while the wine takes on a yeasty character.  This wine style is believed to reflect the centuries-old process of the region.

Why this post?  Simply because of consumer demand.  Prosecco is hot.  Stop in and try what should be the best!

Monday, September 13, 2021

Chateau Saint-Sulpice Red Bordeaux

Last week we got in a case of the 2018 Saint-Sulpice Red Bordeaux.  We had tasted it the previous week and were so impressed we jumped on it.  Sulpice is classy in the way only Bordeaux can be.  Its birthright endows it with a credibility the new world can only dream of.

Saint-Sulpice is located near the village of the same name, more or less equidistant between the town of Bordeaux and the hallowed Saint Emilion district.  The area Sulpice calls home is Entre-Deux-Mer which means "between two oceans" and refers in this case to the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers.  It's a sizable wine growing region that is sadly undistinguished for its reds.  The Entre-Deux-Mer name actually only applies legally to the white wines of the region.  

Reds from this region are either considered to be generic Bordeaux or, if the quality merits it, Bordeaux Superior.  Yields must be lower and sugars higher to get the Superior label.  Our Chateau Sulpice is simply labeled "Bordeaux."

Saint Emilion is home to the finest (and most expensive) Merlot on the planet.  A typical blend of the region would include 60%+ Merlot with Cabernet Franc as a secondary grape.  Saint-Sulpice, located just south of Saint Emilion, is 75% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec.

Chateau Saint-Sulpice is owned and operated by the Duberge family who have invested in modern temperature controlled stainless steel tanks while maintaining hand harvesting and other traditional winemaking efforts.  They believe their efforts reflect the style of the classified growths.  

Duberge's Sulpice contrasts with the great Cabernet-based wines of the Medoc.  The local Entre-Deux-Mer microclimate offers an extended growing season resulting in a softer fruitier style wine.  In fact, the wine displays typical right bank fruit/spice complexity and balance wrapped in a ruby red color.  One commentator called it "ripe black fruit, plums, toast, spices and a rich, smooth and soft finish."

Friday, September 3, 2021

Tail Gate Red

 Dateline: Gainesville, Georgia; September 1, 2021; 12:15pm

Text of phone call:

Georgia Winery: Hello, Georgia Winery, this is ______ speaking.

Me: Hi, I'm Don Waara.  I'm a retailer in Gainesville and I'm also a blogger.  I just bought a case of Tail Gate Red and I'd like to write about it.  Can I speak to someone about the wine?

GW: I can help you.  There isn't much to say about it really.  It's sweet red wine.

Me: What else can you tell me?

GW: It's very popular.  We sell a lot of it.

Me: What else?

GW: Just a minute I'll get the bottle.

Me: (Thinking - Didn't I just say I bought a case of the stuff?)

GW: (Proceeds to read the label to me as I look at it myself.)

Me: Please don't take this the wrong way.  Is there anyone else there I could talk to?

GW: Just a minute. (talking in the background)  It's mostly Concord grape with some De Chaunac.

Me: I'm not familiar with De Chaunac.  

GW: There's just a splash of it in there.

Me: Is the winemaker available?

GW: He's too busy.

Me: What about your website.  More information there?

GW: You can look.

Me: My problem is I try to string together four or five paragraphs in my posts.

GW: You won't get that.  It's sweet red wine. 

Me: What about residual sugar?  We all judge sweetness differently.  Do you have the percentage of sugar in the wine?

GW: Wait a minute.  (more background talking)  The wine goes with milk chocolate.  And you serve it cold.  And it tastes like Welch's grape juice.

Me: Thanks for your time.