“The priest has just baptized you a Christian with water; and I baptize you a Frenchman, daring child, with a dewdrop of champagne on your lips.” - Paul Claudel, French author and poet

Ask a friend to name a wine region in France and, if it’s near the New Year, you’re likely to get the response “Champagne.”  If he has a bulge from the money in his wallet on the inside pocket of his jacket, he might refer to a Premiere Crus Chateau in the Medoc, or perhaps Burgundy.  If she spent time in France, perhaps she would say “The Loire.”  Or, with the craze of Rose wines still smoldering from the summer’s heat, she might say “The Provence”.  But if he or she is a fellow “Mizer,” she would  say the Languedoc.  “Mizers” don’t just know value.  They know quality wine at value prices, and the Languedoc has been offering both in the same bottles for years.  Adding to the mystery of this underappreciated region is that the Laqnguedoc does not produce only white wine, or red wine, or only sparkling wine – but produces delicious wines at value across the spectrum. Too bad there are not more “Mizers.”  Then again, maybe that’s good for us because a sudden increase in demand could result in price increases. 

I enjoyed tasting the wines of Jean-Claude Mas, vineyard owner and winemaker in France’s Languedoc region. Despite being a promoter of Languedoc wines for years, tasting some Paul Mas’ wines (those sent me for review and later at a tasting in Chicago) I was reassured that I have been on a good mission over the years promoting these wines. 

Today, we’ll talk about what the French themselves so love: Sparking Wine. 

Cote Mas Cremant de Limoux NV Brut St. Hilaire. A sparkling wine of 60% Chardonnay, 20% Chenin Blanc, 10% Pinot Noir and 10% Mauzac.  Grapes are fermented in stainless steel, keeping fruit fresh. But this is classic sparkling wine so, of course,  

a second fermentation takes place in the bottle.  It cannot be called Champagne because it is not made within the district of Champagne.  But neither is Cremant d’Alsace (another area within France), or anywhere else whether in France or not. So trust your impression to your own taste buds. I found this sparkling wine to be one of the most enjoyable I’ve tasted in years. Pale straw in the glass with just the slightest tinge of rose, I enjoyed an aromatic hint of butterscotch that evolved into notes of fresh baked brioche and wet stone. The mousse (bubbles) were fine and persistent and contributed to the wine’s rich, creamy texture in the mouth. But it all comes to taste eventually and here this wine scores top rankings also:  Almond, fresh picked strawberry, white flowers and a hint of unripe white peach. I continued tasting the next day and was delighted with how the wine continued to evolve: the nose developed candied white peach and notes of fresh peeled orange along with fresh baked sour dough bread with flavors of butterscotched lemon drops as the wine warmed within the glass.

Cote Mas Cremant de Limoux Rose Brut NV St. Hilaire.   A Brut Rose (70% Chardonnay, 20% Chenin Blanc, 10% Pinot Noir).  Perhaps I was won over by Chardonnay being dominant in the blend (I usually don’t get so excited by rose.  It’s just a personal preference thing, not a judgement).   But even going in with the expectation that I wouldn’t like it, I did!  Bright and zesty with a delightful flavor of strawberry in an amazingly long finish.  Aromas of peach and apricot delight the nose before flavors reward taste buds.  This is not a shorter description due to my not liking the wine. As with the non-rose, it is made in the traditional Methode Champenoise and with the second fermentation, in the bottle, also taking three weeks.  Au contrair. Consider it an endorsement knowing how I feel about roses and not doing a literal “blind tasting.”  That I liked this wine so much surprised me. 

Since taking charge in 2000 of the centuries-old Domaines Paul Mas, Jean-Claude Mas has committed himself to producing only superior wines from premium quality grapes.  Judging by this tasting, I’d say he has succeeded on both counts.  That these wines have a suggested retail price of under $20 impresses me even more.  Truth be told, I’ve had fun with these sparkling wines and enjoyed them more than I have with some pricier Champagnes from Reims, France.  With the holidays approaching, why not welcome them with a sparkling wine you’ll actually enjoy tasting when your toast?     

……………… Jim

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"A bottle of wine begs to be shared; I have never met a miserly wine lover." - Clifton Fadiman
I wrote previously about Left Bend’s Syrah (see: and their Cabernet Sauvignon (see  But I never discussed their Cabernet Franc - not because I didn’t like it.  In my tastings, I’m unable to catch up, most times, with everything a winery does, and too soon I’m off to an event or tasting another wine.  I didn’t write about it because I hadn’t tasted it until recently and that’s too bad for me because Cabernet Franc is one of my favorite varietals. Turns out that Left Bend produces one of my favorite Cabernet Francs too. Interesting that this more delicate, floral, lively and zesty acidic but lower tannin grape is a parent to
the robust Cabernet Sauvignon.

I’ve long enjoyed the simple but joyous Cabernet Franc of the Chinon area in France’s Loire Valley. In Bordeaux and Chile, it is blended, along with Merlot, to soften Cabernet-based wines.  But as a varietal, it hasn’t received the welcome it deserves.  Too bad, because it’s softer, lighter nature makes it a perfect red for summertime enjoyment.  It’s food friendly too - adaptable enough for both red meat and chicken. It can be served slightly chilled – all of which brings me now to Left Bend’s 2012 Cabernet Franc.

Location, location, location:  Left Bend is in the Santa Cruz Mountain, a delimited American Viticultural   Area (AVA) acknowledged as having distinguished grape growing conditions.  Here, on ridgetops and hillsides, the cool coastal climate extends ripening of the grapes until fall which allows complex flavors to develop on the vine.  Regardless of where you stand on the issue-line of terroir (and what that includes), people can’t argue that wine making begins in the vineyard. And the sun at high elevation hilltops against the cooler temperature and coastal breezes makes for delicious Cabernet Franc.  The “soil” and incline of hillsides generally makes for grape farming that can produce outstanding wines. 

Despite my background as a Master Gardener, however, it’s not ALL in the vineyard. And the contribution of the winemaker is that of a chef: it can make or break the finished dish.  At Left Bend, grapes are harvested by hand. Fermentation is 45% whole cluster, 55% whole berry. Aging is a long 17 months in barrel, of which only 10% is new (American) oak.  No overpowering vanilla, dill, butter, smoke or other taste elements are integrated through using too much new oak.  The long aging period in mostly neutral oAk softens tannins and rounds the wine, while allowing the juice to remain true to the grape’s character.  Natural malolactic fermentation is allowed, softening the acidity and providing a richer mouthfeel. My condensed description of the process should include the mention that the bottled wine is aged an additional four to six months before release. The result is a wine reflecting both a sense of place and its varietal character.

The  "Chicago Wino," Tony & The Wine Mizer
I invited two other wine aficionados for the tasting (“The Chicago Wino,” another wine reviewer, and Tony, who had worked in the retail wine business). We enjoyed pairing the wine against several meats.  Tony was first to point out that the wine had no vegetal weediness.  (Unripe grapes of the varietal yield vegetal characters that are unpleasant: more weedy than green peppery).  Left Bend’s growing conditions and vinification produce a well-integrated wine with notes of plum, cedar, dark cherry, violet, mocha and a hint of cassis. Other assessments include raspberry, blackberry, vanilla and tobacco along with floral aromas. Every palate is its own and correct in its own assessment, but the conclusion that this wine was delicious was unanimous.  

……………………. Jim
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Winery (By Appt)
12255 New Ave
San Martin, CA 95046
Telephone: 408.656.2442

90% Cabernet Franc, 10% Syrah
Alc:                  13.9%
Acidity:            6.5 g/l
pH:                   3.85


“The wonder of wine is that two people can taste a wine, disagree and both be correct.” ….. James McMillan 

If you’re fortunate in your wine life, there comes a time when the stars align and bless you with an “ah ha” moment.  It happens when you actually taste and experience what you have read about.  You taste, for example, a Dolcetto d’Alba and a Dolcetto d’Asti from the same producer and from the same vintage.  Just tasting Dolcetto from different producers and different vintages … sure that’s fun. But it won’t produce the “ah ha” understanding that comes with tasting terroir.
Lake Michigan Shore AVA (lower left)
with Fennville top of same area

Recently, I tasted two Rieslings from Fenn Valley’s (Vineyard and Winery) 2012 vintage.  The winery is located within the Lake Michigan Shore AVA (American Viticultural Area – think DOCG, AOC and such). The Lake Michigan Shore AVA is in southeast Michigan and the oldest commercial grape region in the state.  Vineyards in the region date back to 1867.  Fenn Valley is within the smaller, sub-AVA of “Fennville” and a great location to grow Riesling grapes. 

This became evident tasting the two Rieslings.  Being an old sort, I matured on Rieslings from the Mosel region in Germany.  Over time, this style became my benchmark against which all Rieslings were judged.  Germany is so serious about Riesling that it regulates its labeling based on, among other things, the grapes’ ripeness.  Once you understand the system, you know if the wine you’re looking at is dry (Kabinett) or lusciously Sauterne-sweet (Trockenbeerenauslese). There are several levels in between. 

Tasting Fenn Valley’s Riesling (blue label), I was struck by its character. 100% Riesling with the characteristics of a classic Mosel and approaching the sweetness of a Spatlese.  Identified by the winery as “semi-dry,” the wine offers a strong and pleasing aroma of citrus. In the mouth, it offers flavor notes of sweet peach balanced against tart apple. The wine is well rounded and finishes crisply while leaving you still appreciating the sweet-tart interplay of sweet peach against tart apple and wanting another sip.

The “Proprietor’s Reserve” (black label) is less sweet; mid-point between dry and semi-dry per the bottle’s back label (see “Tech Specs” below). The nose offers less citrus but is more floral. The flavor was (to me) more complex with hints of lemon grass and vanilla bean.  In the mouth, the wine was weightier and, like the standard Riesling, was well rounded and finished clean.  I had another sip.

In the glass “Proprietor’s Reserve” is a shade deeper gold.  From the color, you would expect the wine to be sweeter than the standard Riesling, though it’s not.  And what accounted for the “Reserve’s” complexity?  Here we get into labeling again. The term “Reserve” has no legal definition in the United States.  It does not mean the wine has been aged longer, or that the grapes were hand selected and only the best used. From my experience, while it has no legally defined meaning, it can be taken to mean “special.”  Without exception, every winemaker I’ve met carries on a love affair with wine, is proud of their craft and honest about the results.  So what makes it special?

I kept pestering the winery. Were different yeasts used? Were the grapes from different vineyards?  Fermentation different … yadda, yadda?  The answer was in the vineyard. Grapes for the “Reserve” came from a particular farm in Fennville (they have several).  I like Fenn Valley’s use of the word “farm”.  Grapes are a crop after all.  Drive through the Midwest and there are many farms on which people raise families that are close to the earth and understand soil and weather.

Brian Lesperance, Marketing Manager, explained that grapes from this one location were kissed by botrytis (full name botrytis cinerea, a beneficial mold that shrivels the grapes, concentrates their sugar and flavors while maintaining their acid).  While you may think that this guarantees a syrupy wine better suited for pancakes, look again at the tech specs for this wine.  Botrytis is risky in that the vineyard takes a risk that botrytis (a natural process) will actually develop. Conditions must be perfect.  If it does not, if conditions are not just right, the grapes will be unusable. Even when it is a “feast” year in this feast or famine game, the amount of useable fruit is greatly reduced.  Conditions at this particular farm were perfect in 2012 and produced a wine of balance, lovely mouthfeel and complexity.  Fenn Valley Vineyards produces a reserve only when those conditions present themselves and indeed those conditions must have been all wrapped and tied in a bow as presented. Unlike other botrytized wines I’ve tasted, the Fenn Valley’s Reserve Riesling reflects grapes picked at the perfect time (for me): complexity without taste-clouding sweetness.    

If you’re waiting for me to tell you which wine I preferred, you’ll be disappointed. I was not disappointed in either of these wines, and – really – that’s the point.  Seldom does an opportunity come along in which one can taste side by side two wines of the same grape and vintage from the same winery and enjoy the “ah ha” moment that comes with tasting terroir. And speaking of opportunity, each of these wines was available at only $12, a price far below how they taste.

…………………. Jim
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6130 122nd Ave
Fennville, MI. 49408
(269) 561-2396

Varietal:                      100% Lake Michigan Shore Riesling
Alc:                              10.5%
Residual Sugar:           1.94%
Titratable Acidity:       .731
pH:                               3.03

Riesling Reserve
Varietal:                      100% Riesling
Alc:                              11% (11.28%)
RS:                               1.06
TA:                               0.64

pH:                               3.13


“Wine ... changing even as we taste it, delivers a message with meaning only in our response. If we are in the right key when we receive it, our eyes will shine and we shall radiate pleasure.”  GERALD ASHER, The Pleasures of Wine

So many wines, so many wineries, yet I can’t think of a winery (at least none immediately come to mind) that doesn't make at least one label that I've enjoyed. On the other hand, it’s a challenge to think of a domestic winery whose entire portfolio of wine is pleasing to both the wallet and the lips. But Alexander Valley Vineyards comes to mind immediately in meeting that challenge.  And that’s particularly impressive given the size of their portfolio. I poured several of their wines at a Waterleaf event some years ago in Glen Ellyn (IL., not Sonoma) and visited the winery last October.  Tasting their wines again and since – not just a few or several, all but two of them  – reinforced my initial impression that this winery vinified a formula for standards of quality fortified with value.

Entrance to AVV's Labyrinth Like Caves
A good example is their 2013 estate Chardonnay.  70% of the grapes are harvested at night when grapes are cool.  They’re cold fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel without any barrel aging or allowed to undergo malolactic fermentation. Resulting juice is fresh, clean and fruity with citrus and green apple flavors. But to balance the wine, 30% of their best grapes are whole cluster pressed instead of being sent through a de-stemmer. It’s slower, more costly and juice yields are a little lower. And this method develops fewer tannins by limiting exposure to oxygen. This juice is aged in French oak between 6-8 months and aged on the spent yeast cells (lees).  The result is a richer mouth feel, with rounder flavors of apple, pear, peach and apricot.  Finally, blending the two is its own art. In 2012, the wine was 100% Chardonnay, in 2013 it was blended with 1.4% Viognier.

Hank Wetzel (r) and I (the Wine Mizer)
with a glass of my beloved "Cyrus."
I brought you through this travelogue to help you appreciate the expense involved in such detail.  Is such attention to detail and expense common with every Chardonnay made?  Well, in some vineyards, yes and in others – no. Have I ever had a better Chardonnay? Of course, or so I think. I've enjoyed a few white Burgundies, for example, that just seem to be where my preference resides.  Since tasting is impacted by one’s cultural history, experiences and prejudices, “better” is always partly subjective. But that preference is also expensive and not one I regularly indulge.  What impresses and makes me happy is the quality of AlexanderValley Vineyard’s Chardonnay at its price levelWine Advocate put it bluntly: “This well made Chardonnay is a steal at $18 a bottle.”  So the better framed question would be, “Have I had a better Chardonnay at that price?” and that question becomes more difficult to answer.

Bringing in the last grapes for
the crush.
Pricing is its own art and influenced by too many factors to explore in detail here. But Hank Wetzel (owner) mentioned that the land had been paid off years ago and certainly that helps.  Whatever the reasons, what is important for us as consumers is being able to enjoy that ratio of quality to price. And that price to value ratio is evident throughout Alexander Valley Vineyard’s portfolio.

Hank, me and Kevin Hall (winemaker) enjoying a
moment while watching the crush
At the upper end is Alexander Valley Vineyard’s “Cyrus,” a Bordeaux like red blend which retails for about $60.  I enjoyed tasting the 2010 which earned 92 points from Wine Enthusiast. Bordered by the Russian River and the Mayacamas Mountains, estate grown grapes used in this blend enjoy warm days and cool evenings.  Selected, barrel aged lots of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petite Verdot and 2% Malbec were used in the blend. All enjoyed 100% French Oak with the exception of the Merlot, which was aged in equal amounts of both French and American oak. The blended wine was then barrel aged an additional 12 months in French Oak and bottle aged another 8 months.

Just a few of the many wines offered
It’s no surprise that the wine offers cassis, plum, toasty oak and vanilla with berry notes and hints of dark fruit, spice and cocoa. The surprise is the manner in which it is presented:  Like a symphony in which many instruments blend together, the whole of this wine is so much better than its parts.  Notes are balanced and harmonious. The wine is complex, structured and tastes higher – considerably higher – than priced (but don’t tell them).  Delicious now, it will only get better with age.
Medium toast French Oak

En route toward “Cyrus,” stop and visit the suburb of Zinfandel: “Temptation” ($12) “Sin Zin” ($20) and “Redemption” ($22).  If your sins have been grievous, you may need the “Alexander School Reserve.” From a single hillside with old vines (50 years), wine for this limited production Zin is aged in oak barrels for twenty-four months.  At $40 for the standard 750ml bottle, that’s some kind of rent control.

You’ll find all the standards of course:  Cab Franc ($28), Syrah ($20), Pinot Noir ($28), Cab Sauv ($23, or $28 for organic). At the Waterleaf event, I was very impressed with the quality of the Cabernet Sauvignon but most of the people attending requested the Merlot ($20) and then came back with friends.  An exciting addition is AVV’s “Aluvia,” a GSM blend (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) with a touch of Viognier.  The grapes and blending are classic Rhone style. Another “Alexander School Reserve,” this limited production (226 cases) wine is also aged 24 months in French oak and sells at $40.  Back on the lighter side,
Estate grapes of Alexander Valley Vineyards
there is a $10 Gew├╝rztraminer, a dry rose of Sangiovese ($14) and a richer, creamier more vanilla style Chardonnay (2013 “Reserve Chardonnay”) at $35 and available at the winery only (a good reason to include AVV in any wine vacation).

Pricing is its own art and no question – it influences consumer choices.  But pricing alone is not reason enough to select a wine; certainly not a wine you don’t enjoy.  Visiting Alexander Valley Vineyards and tasting their wine was a great experience.  I remember AVV’s first vintages from the mid 1970’s. And like me, they grew up and got better with the years.  If it’s been a while since you remember tasting Alexander Valley Wines, I suggest a reunion is in order. You’ll not only be impressed with the quality of their wines but also deserving of self-congratulations for recognizing value.

……………….. Jim
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“Here's to the corkscrew - a useful key to unlock the storehouse of wit, the treasury of laughter, the front door of fellowship, and the gate of pleasant folly.” …. W.E.P. French
(From the wine list of Commander's Palace in New Orleans, LA 

I just enjoyed tasting Rutini’s “Encuentro” 2011 Malbec when a friend announced herself and I subsequently opened Rutini’s 2012 Trumpeter Malbec. (For more on Rutini’s history and their “Encuentro” wine, see previous post:

In the glass, Trumpetor is dark purple and offers a nose of sour cherry jam with allspice. With air and a little time, this evolved to blackberry and cherry salsa without the heat.  Taste was certainly not peppery or presented with any alcohol burn on the back palate.  In fact, the wine was fruit forward with blackberry, plum and hints of pencil shavings and bacon fat. As its higher priced (but still bargain respecting cousin “Encuentro”), Trumpetor is silky and lush in the mouth due to 100% malolactic fermentation.  Grapes are 100% estate grown and hand-harvested from Rutini’s Tupungato vineyard in the Uco Valley in Mendoza (Argentina).  The wine is 100% Malbec.

With each wine I taste and write about, I’m reminded of Pliny the Elder’s quote: “The best wine is that which tastes good to thine own palate.”  If “chewy” Cabernet Sauvignons or moisture-sucking Petite Sirahs are your style, you might not be enamored by this style of Malbec.  Rutini’s “Encuentro” Malbec might be more to your liking, though that too is “new world” in style albeit less fruity.

And with each wine I taste and write about, I better appreciate that the
world is bigger than me.  I was reminded of that again when my friend said she preferred the “Trumpeter.”  She enjoyed its softer, fruit-forward profile and simply that it was easy drinking and enjoyable.  Apparently, she has lots of company. Rutini’s Trumpeter has been Argentina’s “Best Buy” for over 15 years. With a suggested retail price of under $11, even I can appreciate that.

My instincts tell me that this is a crowd pleaser in a mixed group getting together for good times.   

…………….. Jim

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Varietal:                      100% Malbec
Vineyard:                     Tupungato, Mendoza
Malo:                           100%
Oak:                             30% new American
                                    30% new French
                                    40% 2nd and 3rd yr American
Aging                           7 months as per above
Alc:                              13.5%
Wine Maker:               Mariano Di Paola
Imported By:               Rutini Wines, Bridgeport PA

·         Sample provided by publicist for review.


“Grapes are the most noble and challenging of fruits.”  ……. Malcolm Dunn, Head Gardener to the 7th Viscount Powercourt, c 1867.

The old saw, “The only constant is change” is probably the only thing that hasn’t changed over the decades.  Malbec, originally from France, immediately triggers thoughts today, for example, of Argentina. Whether that’s because of a style preference or because this thin-skinned grape that demands even more heat and sun than Cabernet Sauvignon was devastated (75%) in 1956 by a frost in France, I don’t know.  It was planted in Argentina and has since become the country’s claim to wine fame, Mendoza being that country’s Napa.

Rutini wines predate all this however. The winery was started by Italian emigrant Filipe Rutini in 1885 (then called La Rural Winery) in the Uco Valley, Mendoza.  1994 saw change continuing as the winery (Rutini) underwent technological renovation under Nicolas Catena and Jose Benegas-Lynch (two major forces in the Argentine wine industry and from one of Mendoza’s oldest and most celebrated wine families) and Mariano DiPaola was appointed winemaker.

Today, Rutini has vineyards in five different areas of Mendoza: Maipu, Rivadavia, La Consulta, Altamira and Tupungato (where the grapes for Encuentro are grown).  By blending grapes from different vineyards within Tupungato, Rutini is able to take advantage of different vineyard elevations/terroirs in order to create the best expression of the varietal within the bottle.

In the glass, Encuentro shows as inky purple. The nose is complex with vanilla-caramel and cocoa powder with clove and violet.  I enjoyed hints of cooked fruit, especially plum that carried into the wine’s flavor along with violet, cassis and blackberry. Despite all this going on, I most appreciated the wine’s balance. While plum, blackberry and violet were distinct, they were not overpowering. The fruit was balanced against the wine’s tannic structure and the result was harmony in the glass. Encuentro is creamy on the palette (thanks to its 100% malolactic fermentation) and enjoys a moderate finish that is clean thanks to its fruit/acid balance.

Malbecs from Argentina have been and are, because of terroir, more fruit forward than those of France.  And I’ve made no secret over the years that I lean toward old world style wine.  But I genuinely appreciated the deft handling of fruit in the graceful manner that Encuentro offered. Another old saw goes like this: “If it grows together, it goes together.” Argentinians are well known for meals rich with grilled meat and sausages. And I can’t imagine a better pairing than Encuentro and grilled spicy sausages and beef, blue cheese and mushrooms.

“Encuentro” means “encounter.”  With a suggested retail price under $20, this is a wine that’s worth encountering, especially if you’re a fan of Argentinian Malbecs – or would like to encounter what it is about them that make them so popular.

…………. Jim

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Varietal:                                  Malbec, 100%
Vineyard:                                 Tupungato, Mendoza, Aregntina
Malolactic Fermentation:       100%
Aging:                                      50% new & 2nd use French oak
                                                50% new American oak         
                                                12 Months

·         Bottle provided as sample by publicist.

RAVENSWOOD WINERY “Blend Your Own” Wine Experience

“I always have a problem liking things I'm told I should like.”
― Karl Pilkington, An Idiot Abroad: The Travel Diaries of Karl Pilkington

It’s hard to understand what you like about a wine until you know what particular characteristics about that wine are pleasing to your palate.  Learning this is easier than you may think. And by learning this, you’ll be better able to communicate with retailers when asking for help selecting a wine.  You’ll be more relaxed ordering wine in restaurants and happier with the wines you bring home.  And no, it’s not necessary for you to become a wine “geek”, or study enology.

Of course, there are courses available, both formal and self-study. And then there are the “experiences.”  You can combine a fun experience with a vacation and come back with both wine and an appreciation of why it is that you like what you do. I enjoyed just such an experience at Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma last October.

Your host at the winery will start you with three wines. Ravenswood 
being famous for Zinfandel, that will be one. You’ll also have Carignan and a Petite Sirah.  Of course, you have the opportunity to taste these individually, but more important is learning what these varietals contribute to red blends (the fastest growing segment in America today).

Zinfandel, for example, contributes bright fruit with peppery spice and aromas of red fruit and clove. It’s often higher in alcohol than other varietals, which some people describe as creating a “hot” finish.  Carignan has saturated tannins and provides the acid that is necessary for a clean finish. Petite Sirah contributes body and structure, enhancing the mouthfeel. Since I’ve already said you needn’t become a wine “geek”, I’ve kept these descriptors simple.  Your host will provide you more information   

Starting out with a 20 milliter (ml) measuring tube, you’ll make your own blend.  A reference I was given as a starting point was 10 ml Zin, 5 ml Carignan and 5 ml Petite Sirah.  That works out to 50% Zin, and 25% each of Carignan and Petite Sirah: below the required 75% of any grape required to be sold as a varietal.  You can make several blends and taste each before arriving at your preferred red
Testing different blends before arriving
at my preferred combination
blend.  I increased and decreased percentages several times along the experience before I settled in at 13 parts Zin, 3 Carignan and 4 Petite Sirah.  My friend concocted even more potions before arriving at 3 ml of Zinfandel and 17 ml of Petite Sirah. She eliminated Carignan completely. We learned that she liked a wine I would consider “flabby” due to its “lack” of acid. Hers could legally be labeled Petite Sirah (and I have had several that I did enjoy). Mine would not be labeled as a varietal, but simply a red blend consisting of 65% Zinfandel, 15% Carignan and 20% Petite Sirah.

Remembering the words of Pliny the Elder spoken more than 2000 years ago (“The best wine is that which taste good to thine own palate”), there is no wrong blend. And whether you are a novice or advanced wine consumer, Ravenswood’s “Blend Your Own” experience will give you a memory and an understanding of wine and your likes that you will long enjoy.  To reinforce the experience, you’ll also leave with a corked and sealed 375ml bottle of your own blend.  And on a separate level, the whole experience is just good fun.

Your own bottle to
take home
The winery offers beautiful views and an opportunity to enjoy these views while tasting their acclaimed and awarded wines.  Although famous for Zinfandel, Ravenswood also produces Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, a red blend and Chardonnay in addition to those already mentioned.  Varietals are offered both as single vineyard and cuvees and along several price points. In fact, the winery’s first vintage of two single vineyard lots from 1976 were ranked #1 and #2 in 1979 at a San Francisco Tasting.  That’s a good history and things have only gotten better.

I haven’t read Pilkington’s book, and can’t claim to even heard of him. But I agree with the sentiment of his quote that it’s better liking what you like than being told what to like.  Ravenswood’s “Blend Your Own” experience gives you just that opportunity.

…………….. Jim
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18701 Gehricke Rd.
Sonoma, CA 95476


"His lips drink water, but his heart drinks wine."... E.E. Cummings

The Domaine came into existence through the merging of the Zind and Humbrecht families in 1959. But the Humbrecht family had been making wine since 1947 and growing grapes since 1620.  Domaine Zind Humbrecht is currently run by Oliver Humbrecht, a Master of Wine and proponent of biodynamic viticulture. The Domaine, in Alsace, is one of the most respected and maintains numerous vineyards sites of various soil composition and climate – from granite hills to limestone based soil and other types, and produces various labels of Gewurz, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Muscat. 

Gewurztraminer has early bud break so it is susceptible to frost damage. But it grows best in cooler climates.  It needs dry and warm summers but not too hot or the grapes won’t develop enough acidity to balance their naturally high sugar content and any resulting wine will be flabby. It does best in soil with mineral content and good drainage. I mention this not because I suspect you want to start planting these vines, but to help you appreciate the challenges of growing and making a good Gewurz.  Domaine Zind Humbrecht’s vineyard for this 2011 vintage was on the coolest part of the Heimbourg vineyard. Vines averaged thirty years. The plot faces west so as to get a little less sunshine and where the marl-limestone soils are deepest and offer excellent drainage and steep slope.

In the glass, this attention produces a wine of pale yellow, belaying the rich sweetness of the wine. Its nose offers floral notes and hints of kiwi, tropical fruit, rose water, lychee and passion fruit.  Although more delicate than other vintages, allow the aromatics to warm up slightly and you’ll be treated as the wine opens in the glass. Spicy-sweet flavors dominate in a blend of these scents along with pear, citrus and ripe apple. The mouthfeel tends toward lush.  

I remember when the trend with German Rieslings was sweet.  Now it’s Trocken (dry) and you can’t even find a Trockenbeerenauslese (which, despite inclusion of “trocken” in the word is very sweet).   In Alsace, things moved differently.  It used to be assumed that Alsace Rieslings and Gew├╝rztraminers were dry, but since the 1990s, they have been trending sweet.  I’ve had dry Rieslings that were sweet and Gewurztraminers that were dry, others sweet and some in-between.  


 There is yet no government restrictions or requirements for this, but some wineries are promoting a system of understanding. Not all wineries, however participate.  Domaine Zind Humbrecht, for example, uses a scale called an “indice” and it runs from 1 (driest) to 5 (PERCEIVED sweetest).  I say “perceived” because sweetness is subjective and it is determined by the interaction of several factors such as, of course, the amount of sugar in the wine but also its percentage relationship to 

alcohol levels, acidity and tannins. 
Acids promote sourness and working with tannins, counters sweetness. It matters too whether a wine is sparkling or not.


Without going on and losing your interest, suffice to say a 5 on the Indice is a sweet wine. With Domaine Zind Humbrecht, you will see the code (Indice) listed in small print next to the alcohol level. Depending on the label, that may be on the right side or the left side.  And with some producers, it may be nowhere. Trimbach, another excellent producer, does not use the Indice code.  Personally, I find it helpful and wish it were universally adopted.

For one thing, although both dry and sweet Gewurztraminers have shared floral characteristics and flavors, some styles do better with particular foods. I prefer the dry style with spicy Asian or Indian foods. A slightly sweeter style might be better with an apple-cider infused cheese fondue or dim sum. A grilled cheese and slice apple sandwich on rye bread – what’s your preferred style?

This wine (Heimbourg) has 57 grams of residual sugar per liter.  Before you panic, remember that Chateau d’ Yquem may have between 100 and 150 g/L of residual sugar.  A yummy Tokaji may come in at 450 g/L and occasionally go as high as 900 g/L. What matters is balance; balance with acidity keeping the wine from becoming cloying and therefore better served atop pancakes.  Grapes like Chenin blanc and Riesling generally keep their acidity even at high ripeness levels which is why a Vouvray (Chenin blanc) might have a higher residual sugar content than your palette would believe.

Delicious with brined pork and cabbage spiced
with apple cider vinegar
Nonetheless, this single vineyard Gewurz from Domaine Zind-Humbrecht is sweet. It’s also delicious with all the flavors in harmonious balance. It’s also the last year that the domaine will use this vineyard because wood disease is decimating the vines. I’ve enjoyed numerous Gewurztraminers over many decades and from different producers and made in different styles. Generally, I prefer a drier style. But a sweeter style, harmonious and in balance, is a treat and should be experienced.  This wine, at $46 ARP, is higher priced than others of the same Domaine’s (dryer style for example. Not single vineyard).  But then again, look at the price of many late harvest varietals; look at Sauternes, Tokaji, or a Beerenauslese. (see  for my blog on these wines).  “Ice Wines” (which for me offer nowhere near the complexity) often cost more.  Wine Spectator awarded this Gewurz 93 points.  It also has terrific aging potential.

Indice 1: Dry. Tasting as the “Classical Alsace style.”
Indice 2: Sweetness in not apparent on the palate.
Indice 3: Semi-sweet
Indice 4: Sweet. Corresponds to the term VT or Vendange Tardive used by other producers
Indice 5: High Sweetness but without botytis (noble rot).

Domaine Zind Humbrecht produces several styles of Gewurztraminer (see for my review of a dry style).

……………. Jim
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Alcohol:           13.8% (14% on label)
R/S:                  57 g/L
Total Acidity:   3.6 g/L H2S04
pH:                   3.6
Bottled:           Sept. 2012
Avg Age Vines 30 Yrs
Terroir:            Oligocene calcareous, facing west, steep slope
Optimum Drink Through:  2014-2029
Indice:             5 (sweet)