Beautifully Pure Lodi Zinfandel

Today’s Story: Sandlands Vineyards

Sandlands Vineyards is a small family-owned and operated passion project of Tegan and Olivia Passalacqua established in 2010. Tegan, a winemaker with a proven track record of crafting fantastic old vine Zinfandel at Turley Wine Cellars, branched out into this side project with a focus on ancient and “forgotten” varieties. In the far reaches of California winegrowing in Lodi, Contra Costa County, Santa Lucia Highlands, Amador County, and the more familiar Sonoma Coast, Tegan sources Chenin Blanc, Cinsault, Trousseau, Carignane, Mataro, Syrah, Zinfandel, and other varieties from vines that are at times more than 100 years old. Though these varieties and the vineyards he sources from have been farmed for decades and generations, they oftentimes lay outside of the “norm” for California viticulture and are even mostly planted in decomposed granite (i.e. sand). What’s more, the vineyards Tegan works with are typically head-trained, dry-farmed, and own rooted. Tegan crafts these wines in a traditional and minimally invasive manner, allowing the unique terroir and vine to shine through in each bottling which results in lower alcohol, easy drinking, but complex wines. Production is miniscule and quantities are quoted by the barrel, so these can be hard to find and the mailing list is the easiest way.

It seems Sandlands is becoming somewhat of a staple for me, as I previously reviewed the 2018 Lodi Red Table Wine and 2018 Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah. I also plan to review the 2017 Chenin Blanc soon.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Lodi Zinfandel

100% Zinfandel; 14.4% ABV

The 2018 Lodi Zinfandel is medium ruby in color. This was a late-night Coravin pour, so I simply let it open up in the glass. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, and the nose showcases aromas of blueberry, blackberry compote, plum, muddled strawberry, sweet tobacco, and cinnamon. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity, with the palate displaying notes of blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, black raspberry, sweet tobacco, mild green herbs, and a touch of baking spice. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium tannins, high alcohol, and a medium (+) finish. There is remarkable balance in this wine for how young it is, and in my opinion this is one of the best expressions of Zinfandel that I’ve tasted.

Price: $50 (I paid $40). I think this offers very solid value, particularly for how pure and true to variety and terroir it is. I don’t drink a ton of Zinfandel, but when I do wines like this are exactly what I’m looking for.

Old Vine Magic

Today’s Story: Sandlands Vineyards

Sandlands Vineyards is a small family-owned and operated passion project of Tegan and Olivia Passalacqua established in 2010. Tegan, a winemaker with a proven track record of crafting fantastic old vine Zinfandel at Turley Wine Cellars, branched out into this side project with a focus on ancient and “forgotten” varieties. In the far reaches of California winegrowing in Lodi, Contra Costa County, Santa Lucia Highlands, Amador County, and the more familiar Sonoma Coast, Tegan sources Chenin Blanc, Cinsault, Trousseau, Carignane, Mataro, Syrah, Zinfandel, and other varieties from vines that are at times more than 100 years old. Though these varieties and the vineyards he sources from have been farmed for decades and generations, they oftentimes lay outside of the “norm” for California viticulture and are even mostly planted in decomposed granite (i.e. sand). What’s more, the vineyards Tegan works with are typically head-trained, dry-farmed, and own rooted. Tegan crafts these wines in a traditional and minimally invasive manner, allowing the unique terroir and vine to shine through in each bottling which results in lower alcohol, easy drinking, but complex wines. Production is miniscule and quantities are quoted by the barrel, so these can be hard to find and the mailing list is the easiest way. At the very least, I suggest checking out the Sandlands website here for incredible pictures of their source vineyards.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Lodi Red Table Wine

33.3% Cinsault, 33.3% Carignane, 33.3% Zinfandel; 13.3% ABV

The 2018 Lodi Red Table Wine is pale to medium purple in color. I know this is young but I couldn’t resist trying my first bottle, so I let this open up for a couple hours and sampled it along the way to see it evolve. The nose is somewhat delicate with medium intensity and aromas of tart red cherry, red plum, cranberry, black raspberry, blackberry, violets, licorice, smoke, wet gravel, and stony mineral. Meanwhile the palate is also of medium intensity while showcasing notes of redcurrant, red cherry, ripe strawberry, wild raspberry, blueberry, black tea, sweet tobacco, smoked game, a hint of coffee grounds, and baking spice. This dry red blend is light- to medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium tannins, medium alcohol, and a long, captivating finish. This is very, very good already showcasing great balance and I am excited to see it evolve further in the bottle.

The Cinsault comes from the Bechthold Vineyard planted in 1886, the Carignane from the Spenker Ranch planted in 1900, and the Zinfandel from the estate-owned Kirschenmann Vineyard planted in 1915.

Price: $40. This is right in the absolutely worth its price to very solid value camp. I imagine these are slightly less expensive on the mailing list, but I will hands-down buy this again retail in the time being. The balance, complexity, and quality at such a young age are truly impressive and this is well worth a try.

Powerful Zinfandel-Based Blend From Sonoma County

Today’s Story: Bedrock Wine Co.

Bedrock Wine Co. was established in 2007 by Morgan Twain-Peterson in a converted chicken coop in his friend’s backyard. Though Bedrock has grown over the years, Morgan stays true to a mission of working with respected growers throughout the state of California in preserving and breathing new life into old vineyards dating to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Working with vineyards from Contra Costa County, Sonoma Valley, Oakville, Lodi, the Russian River Valley, and beyond, Morgan produces wines with Zinfandel, Mourvèdre, Carignan, Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, Grenache, Semillon, Gewurztraminer, Trousseau Gris, and Riesling. He also works with a handful of other varieties and is always on the hunt for more to explore. Though his blends can seem pretty eclectic, Morgan keeps his winemaking simple by gently handing the fruit, fermenting with whole clusters and only native yeasts, and rarely or never fining the wines.

For more on Bedrock’s history, the vineyards they work with, or the portfolio of wines, check out the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Pagani Ranch Heritage

Zinfandel dominant blend with Alicante Bouschet, Lenoir, Grand Noir, and Petite Sirah (no tech sheet); 14.5% ABV

The 2018 Pagani Ranch Heritage is opaque deep purple in color with dark fuchsia near the rim. I decanted this for about 2 hours, allowing the expressive nose to showcase blackberry, blueberry, plum, anise, leather, chiseled rock, cracked pepper, chocolate, and oak. Once in the mouth, this bold and powerful wine displays notes of black plum, black cherry, cassis, unlit cigar, wet slate, tar, peppery spice, and charred oak. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) chewy tannins, and a long finish. Fantastic now with some air, but will only get better with age.

Price: $50. Without a doubt worth the price, but would be immensely more rewarding if you have the patience to lay this down and check on it in another five years. This is a bold, thought-provoking wine that will pair with barbecue pork ribs, bacon-wrapped ribeye steak, or lasagna.

Classic Sonoma County Zin

Today’s Story: Joseph Swan Vineyards

I very recently wrote about Joseph Swan Vineyards when I reviewed their 2012 Mancini Ranch Zinfandel in Not Your Typical Cali Zin, so I wanted to check in on another bottling today while it is fresh in my mind. Today’s wine will be a very different experience, what I expect largely due to its 15.3% ABV versus the 12.9% of the 2012 Mancini Ranch bottling.

To recap……Joseph Swan Vineyards was founded during the early 1970s by Joe Swan, a man whose passion for wine spawned at an early age through reading. However, Joe’s career did not begin in wine but rather as an artist, a flight instructor for the Army Air Corps during WWII, and ultimately a pilot for Western Airlines. Though Joe retired in 1974, his passion for wine remained strong through those middle years and he even produced Zinfandel when stationed in Salt Lake City and made friends visiting the Enology and Viticulture department at UC Davis following the war. In 1967, Joe purchased a small farm planted with 13 acres of Zinfandel, fruit trees, and a pasture near Forestville in the Russian River Valley with a plan to follow his dream of operating a small vineyard and winery. Though Joe made Zinfandel in 1968, he quickly received encouragement from André Tchelistcheff (a highly influential winemaker I discussed in my BV posts, as well as Joe’s friend and mentor) to replant his vineyards to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. With significant inspiration from French winemakers and the belief that lower production would increase his quality, Joe selected low production clones and both pruned and thinned his vines to significantly reduce yield. In 1987, Joe’s son-in-law Rod Berglund worked the Joseph Swan harvest with him and this would unfortunately be Joe’s last vintage. Joe fell ill during 1988 and passed away January, 1989 but his perfectionism and love of wine carries on with his daughter Lynn and son-in-law Rod today.

Today’s Wine: 2013 Bastoni Vineyards Zinfandel

100% Zinfandel; 15.3% ABV

The 2013 Bastoni Zinfandel is opaque medium to deep garnet in color with medium ruby variation. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of boysenberry, wild blueberry, cherry, leather, sweet tobacco, rocky soil, cinnamon, a hint of chocolate, and oak. On the palate, I get notes of juicy blackberry, pomegranate, plum, bing cherry, ripe raspberry, pipe tobacco, loamy earth, white pepper, dried green herbs, and a touch of oak. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish with added notes of iron and crushed rock.

Price: $30. This is an incredible value, similar to the 2012 Mancini Ranch I just had and Joseph Swan wines as a whole. This bottling certainly drinks more like your “classic” Californian Zin whereas the Mancini Ranch was more “old-school.” Pair this with barbecue pork sandwiches, pepperoni pizza, or roasted leg of lamb.

Not Your Typical Cali Zin

Today’s Story: Joseph Swan Vineyards

Joseph Swan Vineyards was founded during the early 1970s by Joe Swan, a man whose passion for wine spawned at an early age through reading. However, Joe’s career did not begin in wine but rather as an artist, a flight instructor for the Army Air Corps during WWII, and ultimately a pilot for Western Airlines. Though Joe retired in 1974, his passion for wine remained strong through those middle years and he even produced Zinfandel when stationed in Salt Lake City and made friends visiting the Enology and Viticulture department at UC Davis following the war. In 1967, Joe purchased a small farm planted with 13 acres of Zinfandel, fruit trees, and a pasture near Forestville in the Russian River Valley with a plan to follow his dream of operating a small vineyard and winery. Though Joe made Zinfandel in 1968, he quickly received encouragement from André Tchelistcheff (a highly influential winemaker I discussed in my BV posts, as well as Joe’s friend and mentor) to replant his vineyards to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. With significant inspiration from French winemakers and the belief that lower production would increase his quality, Joe selected low production clones and both pruned and thinned his vines to significantly reduce yield. In 1987, Joe’s son-in-law Rod Berglund worked the Joseph Swan harvest with him and this would unfortunately be Joe’s last vintage. Joe fell ill during 1988 and passed away January, 1989 but his perfectionism and love of wine carries on with his daughter Lynn and son-in-law Rod today.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Mancini Ranch Zinfandel

100% Zinfandel; 12.9% ABV

The 2012 Mancini Ranch Zinfandel is moderately opaque and medium garnet in color with ruby hues. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of tart cherry, strawberry rhubarb, dried raspberry, aged leather, forest floor, truffles, smoked red meat, savory green herbs, baking spice, and cedar. On the palate, I get notes of blackberry, blueberry, cherry pie, dusty strawberry, red licorice, dried tobacco, damp earth, mushroom, cinnamon, pepper, and slight oak. The wine is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. Overall this is very well-balanced and a complex depiction of old-school Zinfandel that upon tasting does not seem like anything from California.

Price: $32. Joseph Swan produces some of my favorite Pinot Noir in the $35-$45 price-point, and I can now add their Zinfandel to this list of great values. This is a gorgeous Zin unlike many I’ve had from California and demonstrates the restraint this grape can display. Pair this with barbecue chicken, leg of lamb, or tomato-based pasta.

Ridge Hits the Mark Again

Today’s Story: Ridge Vineyards

I’m traveling today, so I figured I would make this easy and review a wine whose backstory I shared earlier in History. Quality. Ridge. when I reviewed the 2015 GSM and Consistently Delicious Zin when I reviewed the 2012 Geyserville. If you are unfamiliar with this historic Californian wine estate, I suggest checking out my first blog linked above or their website here. At the very least, between my prior two posts and this one today you can get tasting notes on three different wines in their portfolio!

Today’s Wine: 2012 Lytton Springs

70% Zinfandel, 21% Petite Sirah, 6% Carignane, 3% Mataro; 14.4% ABV

The 2012 Lytton Springs is opaque purple in color and actually almost black at its core. Once this opens up over 30-45 minutes, the nose emits aromas of plum, dusty blueberry, blackberry, sweet tobacco, licorice, loamy earth, wet gravel, cola, and oak. On the palate, I get notes of jammy blackberry, prunes, juicy plum, damp rocky soil, tobacco leaf, black tea, chocolate, baking spice, and charred oak. This wine is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium grippy tannins, and a medium (+) length finish dominated by black fruit compote and mocha.

Price: $35 direct from the winery. Though prices have come up a little for these (the average I can find online seems to be about $44 per bottle), Ridge makes some of the most consistent and quality Zinfandel blends. If you find some of their wine, particularly sub-$40, snag it. Pair this with red sauce meat pasta, barbecue chicken, or barbecue pulled pork sandwiches.

Sweet Berry Wine!!

Supposed to spit it out…..but no way Jose am I spittin’ this stuff out, it tastes like fruit!

Dr. Steve Brule

Today’s Story: Las Jaras Wines

Las Jaras Wines was founded in 2014 by winemaker Joel Burt and Hollywood comedian/director Eric Wareheim. Joel Burt, a winemaker at Domaine Chandon, was growing tired of making wines in a cookie-cutter, corporate, and mass-produced manner when he met Eric and the two realized they shared a passion for fine wine. The duo started planning their own wine label where they could produce wines in homage of “the old days” (think 1970s Napa) and Las Jaras was born. Joel describes their Cabernet “like a Dunn from the 80s, but way more approachable” and each wine in the portfolio is made largely using similar traditional techniques.

To achieve this style of wine, Joel remains very hands-off throughout the winemaking process. Las Jaras sources their fruit from various old vine vineyards, though most comes from Mendocino County. All fruit is hand-harvested and each variety goes through separate winemaking processes, all being hand-sorted at the crusher. Though each variety is vinified differently to best express that variety’s unique character, the long story short here is that Joel doesn’t add sulfur, the wines ferment with only natural yeasts, and bottling is accomplished with no fining or filtration. Today will be my first bottle from Las Jaras (and hopefully not my last) as I can appreciate wines made in traditional fashion with lower SO2 and alcohol content to better express the terroir.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Sweet Berry Wine

54% Carignan, 28% Zinfandel, 12% Charbono, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Valdiguie; 13% ABV

The 2018 Sweet Berry Wine is a beautiful medium purple in color and moderately opaque. This takes a little bit of time to open up, but once it does the nose showcases aromas of blueberry, raspberry, strawberry jam, licorice, sweet tobacco, cured meat, cinnamon, and violet. In the mouth, this Carignan-dominated blend shows notes of tart cherry, cranberry sauce, plum, wild underripe raspberry, baking spice, sweet tobacco, and green herbs. Overall both the nose and palate come off quite sweet, actually reminding me somewhat of the Martha Stoumen Zinfandel I reviewed not too long ago. The wine is medium-bodied with high acidity, low tannins (surprisingly), and a long finish.

Price: $35. All gimmicks aside, I think this is a great value particularly for those not familiar with a more “natural” way of making wine. I put “natural” in quotes because Joel Burt takes the word with a grain of salt when it comes up to describe his style, but it does fit. Pair this with honestly any type of food you want, but steer toward chicken, duck, pork, or beef brisket – and you can add barbecue to all of that minus the duck.

For a little comedy behind this wine, check out the video here. For a more serious note on the winemaking process for this bottling (they go into a lot of great detail) check out the fact sheet here.

Preeminent California Zin

Today’s Story: Turley Wine Cellars

Turley was founded in 1993 by Larry Turley, the brother of famed winemaker Helen Turley. During the earlier years, Helen even consulted for her brother’s new winery. Though Larry entered the wine business more than a decade earlier in 1981 by co-founding Frog’s Leap Winery in Rutherford, he learned his love of Zinfandel and the vision for Turley was born. Turley Wine Cellars makes 47 different wines from over 50 different vineyards, all of which are of the Zinfandel or Petite Syrah varieties. With their specialty single-vineyard red Zinfandel bottlings, Turley sources from old vineyards with some dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries and they are considered by many to be the best Zinfandel wines made in California.

Turley Wine Cellars started with one location in St. Helena in the Napa Valley, though during expansion opened a second winery in Templeton in San Luis Obispo county. Today, they have a third location in Amador County. As of 2011, Turley was producing 16,000 cases of wine and becoming a member of their private wine club can still take up to two years. All of the vineyards sourced for Turley are either certified organic or in the process of bering certified, and during the winemaking process all wines are fermented with natural yeasts.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Dogtown Vineyard Zinfandel

100% Zinfandel; 15.3% ABV

The 2016 Dogtown Vineyard Zinfandel is medium ruby in color with rose variation toward the rim of the glass. Once this wine opens up, the nose showcases aromas of black cherry, raspberry, pine, earth, black shoe polish, leather, smoke, and dried green herbs. On the palate, I get notes of cherry, cranberry, raspberry, ripe black plum, tobacco, baking spice, green herbs, and oak. Like many Zinfandels, the sweet fruit dominates here. This is full-bodied with high acidity, medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $65. Certainly not an inexpensive Zinfandel, though the Dogtown Vineyard is consistently the lowest-yielding vineyard of the over 50 vineyards Turley makes wine from. If this is a little steep, Turley’s portfolio consists of 47 different wines of varying price-point. Pair this with barbecue, especially chicken or pork.

Consistently Delicious Zin

Today’s Story: Ridge Vineyards

This is an easy one again today, as I previously wrote about Ridge Vineyards in my post History. Quality. Ridge. back on October 19. Long story short, this is another historic Californian winery and they produce some of my favorite Zinfandel-based wines and Cabernet Sauvignon. I highly suggest you read about their history if you haven’t already.

Without further ado…

Today’s Wine: 2012 Geyserville Vineyard

71% Zinfandel, 19% Carignane, 7% Petite Syrah, 2% Mataro, 1% Alicante Bouschet; 14.4% ABV

I’ve had this wine several times and across multiple different vintages, each time being a delightful experience. The wine is medium ruby in color while being moderately opaque. I simply let this breathe in the glass which helped bring out aromas of blackberry, plum, blueberry pie, black licorice, violet, and sweet tobacco. There is not a lick of tertiary aromas yet, which does not surprise me. Once in the mouth, I get notes of very dark plum, black raspberry, blueberry, dates, a hint of charred earth, and a touch of vanilla. This Zinfandel blend is medium-bodied showing medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a long finish with notes of black cherry.

Price: $45. As much as it pains me (as a consumer) to see Ridge prices rising from ~$30 a few years ago to where they are now, I still love these wines on a quality perspective. These are consistently well-made wines I suggest everyone try. Pair this with bbq pork or chicken, lamb, or duck breast.

Stunningly Natural Zin

Today’s Story: Martha Stoumen Wines

Martha Stoumen Wines is a project dedicated to making natural wines in a patient, environmentally considerate manner. Following her study of traditional agricultural systems and Italian as an undergraduate, Martha worked the vineyards, olive orchard, and winery of a small farm and learning center in Tuscany. These experiences built her foundation as a grape grower due to her time spent mostly in the vineyards, something that would prove instrumental in how she would view winemaking back in the US.

Today, Martha herself leases and farms about half of the vineyards yielding fruit for her wines, while the other half are farmed by multi-generation farmers who share her philosophies. One of the most important words for Martha’s growing philosophy is “patience.” This includes composting rather than using fertilizers, not using insecticides but rather allowing nature to take its course, and working largely by hand. Martha also prunes her vines for a long life ahead rather than focusing on yields like many other producers nowadays.

During her winemaking process, Martha is as hands-off as possible. For example, fermentation is accomplished with only natural yeasts and bacteria present on the skins. She also allows for longer maceration and aging in pursuit of stability of her wines, rather than adding tannin, acid, or stabilization agents. For all of this above and more, I encourage you to visit her website here.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Zinfandel Venturi Vineyard

100% Zinfandel; 12.7% ABV

The wine is medium purple in appearance while being opaque and slightly hazy. Once this opened up a bit, the nose showcases aromas of plum, wild blueberry, perfumed lavender, charcuterie (especially an earthy prosciutto), wet slate, and slight baking spice. On the palate I get notes of jammy plum, black raspberry compote, allspice, black tea, and sweet tobacco. This wine is medium-bodied with high, lip-smacking acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a very long grippy finish. 462 cases produced.

Price: $38. This is most definitely worth a try. The wine is very true (an honest representation of California Zinfandel) and this is quite different from all of the Zins I have tried so far. Really cool wine to pair with bbq pork, bbq chicken, lamb, or even pizza and pasta.