Where have all the flowers (wineries) gone?”  …. Peter, Paul & Mary

Hop Kiln,
Merry Edwards,

And now, Ravenswood. 

If writing is an exercise to develop futility muscles, this post is a good example.  Whatever I say here will have no impact on what has happened.  It won’t change anything.  And what happened is not even “new” news.  Fact is, I felt so bad upon learning this, I took some time off from writing about it, or for that matter …  about anything (either here or on my Facebook page). 

The issue so troubling for me was that with most others of those mentioned above, the acquisitions and sales were seamless.  The same people I met and whose company I enjoyed are still at those wineries.  The winemakers and counter servers are still there.  The marketing people are still there. At trade events, the people I’ve known are still representing the company at various cities throughout the United States.  Unless you knew the winery had “changed hands,” you likely hadn’t noticed anything. Allegedly, the new, mega-international-corporate-conglomerate simply infused cash into the business to build the brand.

Then comes Constellation and EJ Gallo and there goes Ravenswood.  Ravenswood was just one of 30 Constellation brands that Gallo purchased April 4th.  A spokesperson (Alexandra Wagner) for Constellation said “Constellation’s top priorities are the long-term interest of our business, our people and the communities where employees live and work.”  In an interim, however (always there is one) employees of the tasting room at Ravenswood said they were being let go as of May 15 this year.  Gallo only bought the brand.  The tasting room on Gehricke Road is being closed after thirty years.

My most recent experience with Ravenswood was opening a 2012 “Old Hill” (single vineyard) Zinfandel that I purchased at the winery and paired with a slow-cooked brisket.  This was another wine I intended to write about as I found the time.  Maybe it’s that reference to “time” that has me so troubled.  Instead of a review, this post becomes a eulogy; a reminder of how fleeting our grasp on our presumptions are; how tentative our hold is on things we assume will remain as they “always have”.                                                 

Ravenswood wasn’t started to be sold a few years later as some “Rockstar” labels have been.  Nor was it “the son of” a famous label spun off to be sold a short time later.  It was founded by Joel Petersen in 1976. The iconic tasting room opened in 1991 and it quickly became a mecca for Zin worshipers.  The winery’s “Old Hill”, “Cooke’ and “Dickerson” Zinfandels became legendary.

I enjoyed playing Blender at the winery, what they called the “Blend Your Own Experience.”  (see: https://www.winemizer.net/2015/03/ravenswood-winery-blend-your-own-wine.html ). It took me a few hours to settle on a blend I could be satisfied with.  It took just the same time for me to assure myself that blending wine was not in my future.  Not when I tasted what they did.
The Wine Mizer, a Master Blender NOT!

Brisket, Dry Rubbed

The “Old Hill” vineyard is in the heart of Sonoma Valley and has the oldest vines in all the county. Predominately planted to Zinfandel, the vineyard has at least 30 different grape varieties also.  The blend for “Old Hill” is 75% Zinfandel from these old vines and 25% “mixed blacks”.  Tasting this wine, one wonders how Zinfandel hadn’t been given the respect it is due.  Produced by Ravenswood, grapes used in the making of this wine deserve the reference of being called “noble” and “international”. 

Ravenswood made other wines, of course:  Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and blends.  I tasted them.  I bought them.  But it was their Zinfandel especially that set my passions aflame.  Pairing this bottle with brisket, I wasn’t then aware the winery would soon survive in memory only.  But I was aware that the wine was so good, it deserved respect and to be paired with a meal to remember.  So the brisket was dry rubbed and slow cooked for 10 hours and 45 minutes, occasionally sauced, served with home-made Cole slaw, fresh corn, and a tangy four-bean salad.  Like the wine, the meal was of humble origin, not “noble” but delicious.

Brisket, 10 Hrs, 45 Mins Later
Ravenswood Zinfandel, whichever label, is classic.  Assertive yet reserved, it is artistry on the palate. For me, “Old Hill” is the pinnacle of their Zins.  Raspberry, dark chocolate, licorice, black plum, black cherry, a hint of blueberry – all these fruits play against minerality and notes of coffee and spices.  The meld of fruit, mineral and spice is joined in a seamless weld. All elements are in exquisite balance, in balance so exquisite it is seldom found in other, more expensive, “noble” and “international” releases.

With scores in the 90s from critics, it seemed the critics got it.  But not enough of us did.  I don’t know why. In the boom years, Ravenswood was selling a million cases a year.  That dropped to 300,000 now.  Did their motto “No Wimpy Wines” scare some people away?  In fact, their wines were some of the most finessed I ever tasted, but as I read more about the impact of labeling upon sales, I appreciate I know nothing about marketing.      

Finally served

4 Bean Salad

Some Coleslaw

     Great wine is art, but unlike the works of the Renaissance, wine does not so long endure. “Old Hill” Zinfandel, 2012 is drinkable through 2024 and tasting delicious now.  But, like the original works of art, it cannot be remade and no copy will ever duplicate it.  Search out small independent wine stores, careful to avoid those who store bottles upright and next to a  window.  Seek out a single vineyard Zinfandel from Ravenswood and taste a classic.

…………………. Jim

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Varietal:                               75% Zin, 25% Mixed Blacks
Vineyard:                            “Old Hill” (a single vineyard), Sonoma, CA. Planted in the 1880s and among the most desired Zinfandel plots in all of California.  Soil is “Tuscan Red Hill” (slightly acidic, brown to yellowish-red, mixed with clay and gravelly loam).
Aging:                                   19 months 100% French oak, 30% new.
Bottled:                                  May, 2014
ALC:                                      15.2%
Acidity:                                    6.0g/L
Ph:                                            3.63
Limited Production:              1596 Cases
ARP:                                      Previously, between $48-$60, now N/A
Silver:                                    2015 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition
Gold:                                     2014 Orange County Wine Society
Connoisseurs Guide:             93
Wine Spectator:                     93
Wine Enthusiast:                   90

For the story about Ravenswood’s closing as appeared in the Sonoma Index Tribune see https://www.sonomanews.com/business/9535497-181/end-of-an-era-sonomas


“I think you've got to keep it simple, keep it fresh. Stay away from all that processed stuff, read the labels.”…..  Emeril Lagasse

Learning languages – even a few words from different tongues – staves off brain aging. If you’re 21, you probably don’t care. But if you’re 50, you should – so here’s today’s word to learn: APPASSIMENTO. It’s Italian and it appears on some wine labels.

When you see that word on a wine label, expect a full-bodied wine. It means the grapes have been dried (traditionally) on bamboo or straw mats for several weeks or even months. This process (Appassimento) concentrates the sugars and flavors (relax – it doesn’t mean the wine is sweet unless you see the word “Passito” on the label).  With all that loss of water inside the grapes, being dried,  the grapes become raisinated and that concentrates flavor.

The famous Amarone della Valpolicella is always Appassimento. It is delicious, but expensive (labor intensive & costly to produce as it takes many more dried grapes to produce a wine). There is also what people call “Baby Amarone”, correctly known as Valpolicella Ripasso. These wines still use raisinated grapes but the pomace (leftover grape skins) is used for the second fermentation. Given restaurant markups, this is the wine I look for in Italian restaurants. Good and not as expensive as a true Amarone.

Many Italian producers employ the Appassimento method throughout Italy. It is not limited by grape varietal.  It is not restricted to the Valpolicella region within Veneto.  While Amarone (the most famous example) is from Veneto and always uses the Corvina and Rondinella grapes, this Massaro Del Fondo is from Puglia (far to the south of Veneto in Italy; an area better known for its Negroamaro and Primitivo (think Zinfandel) grapes. In fact, this Massaro Del Fondo is made from Primitivo grapes.

But today, we’re talking not so much about wine or even producers as we are about words on the label. The process is the point. And the point is that you want wines (even if you don’t know that you do) made via Appassimento. This bottle, with a ridiculous ARP of $18, will reward with deep, deep layers of plum and ripe red fruit and delicate spicy scents; no heat, easy to enjoy.

Why so much assurance? Appassimento! Learn the word.

For information on another wine from Veneto made via the same method but from different grapes and not an Amarone, see

In fairness to chef Lagasse, his quote relates to food, not wine, though the two work hand-in-hand as your right and your left.  Read these posts and I guarantee you’ll never be confused again by a similar label from Italy and you’ll be able to order these wines as appropriate and with confidence in restaurants.
……………… Jim

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Amici e vini sono meglio vecchi.  (Old wine and friends improve with age)… An Italian proverb.

Trying new wines can be “the best of times” or “the worst of times.”  For a dedicated aficionado of indigenous grapes and the wine that results from their vinification, each bottle is fun and layers on another experience. But for casual enjoyers - those comfortable within their known taste zone – tasting a purchased bottle of wine made from a never-heard-of grape is entered into more cautiously. In real world speak, that means the bottle most often goes untried.  Pity.  A door remains closed that may have opened delights. 

From my outlook, tasting wines made from grapes unknown is always a thrilling and mind opening experience but I respect that everyone’s palate is both personal and correct for the person possessing it.  Perhaps I can add value to this blog by describing some of these grapes and lead you down the road that as Robert Frost said was the less travelled because, indeed, it may make all the difference.

Sagrantino is the grape.  It is indigenous to Montefalco. Montefalco is in Umbria in Italy and the best place for growing this grape. No matter who produces wine made from Sagrantino, if you enjoy sweet or exclusively fruit-forward wine, these wines will prove unpleasant.  If, however, you enjoy wines of different character and you enjoy matching such wine with different foods, or even the seasons, you should consider adding some Sagrantino to your racks.

But add it considerably in advance of when you plan to enjoy it.  Referring to the quote above, Sagrantino improves with age.  In its youth, tannins are concentrated. It’s not uncommon for Sagrantino to open beautifully at eight years of age and improve even further during the next five years. As Cabernet Sauvignon can be bold, powerful, concentrated, masculine and age- worthy so can Sagrantino be.   Fortunately, for us, Colpetrone (the producer) makes Sagrantino in a more international style, meaning you can enjoy it earlier; not meaning the wine made from Sagrantino by Colpetrone has sacrificed its typicity.  

Even so, Colpetrone’s Sagrantino will reward you for patience. With time in the bottle, polymerization binds pigmented tannins into larger particles that will collect as sediment and the juice softens.  In the U.S., winemakers are sensitive to consumers thinking anything but the clearest wine must be a fault. Much of what is produced here has been filtered and fined to such clarity and, being drunk young, has become what many people take as a standard.  Problem is, it is the tartrates and phenolics in wines that develop the aromatic compounds that form bouquet, build taste and develop the varietal’s character.  

This 2009, ten years from vintage, still benefited from air.  Decant for an hour or enjoy the next day after opening.  Full bodied, like a Cabernet Sauvignon, but not fruit forward, it exemplifies “old world” style in fruit being present but subdued as part of a seamless composition. Tertiary notes of chocolate and smoke add complexity.   Its nose offers earth but lifted by lavender. Brambled berries reintroduce the forest element.  Sour cherry and dried cranberry on the palate, some balsamic and dried strawberry linger into a long finish accompanied by a hint of leather and nutmeg. Fruit becomes more pronounced the second day with lots of blackberry, black raspberry and black cherry joined by strawberry (jam) on the nose.  The wine is less edgy and its tannins softened.  Strawberry (jam) also becomes more evident on the palate. But either day, the wine’s acidity provides a somewhat tangy finish making it also food friendly. 

Keep a few bottles aside.  Taste them along the way and enjoy the changes within each bottle.  Fire up the grill on a cool, summer night and pair this wine with grilled meats and game.  Braised meats can warm up the kitchen in the cooler months and Sagrantino from Montefalco will pair nicely then also.  Aged cheeses do well as will red-sauced pasta and pizza.  If you’re lucky enough to have a black truffle on hand, enjoy this wine’s earthiness against some crumbled truffle on the pasta.  Thin sliced Italian beef with green peppers on an Italian roll may look less worthy than a magazine photo but will go together nicely regardless.  

……………… Jim

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The Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG requires 100% Sagrantino grapes be used, with 37 months aging before release, of which at least 12 months are in oak barrels and 4 months in bottle.  Colpetrone ages its Sagrantino 12 months in oak barrique and another 26 months (minimum) in bottle before release. The grape is noted for its thick skin which naturally develops tannin.
ALC: 14.5%
Imported by: Vias Imports, Ltd., NY, NY.
ARP: $23.


“He who never made a mistake, never made a discovery”… . Samuel Smiles

So many sherries, so little time, it’s important that I get to one of my favorite styles: Palo Cortado. I was never a fan of White Zin, but there’s no denying it was hugely popular and still has fans.  Did you know that it was an accidental discovery”?  Same with Molten Lava Chocolate Cake.  Same with Palo Cortado Sherry!

Palo Cortado begins as a Fino but during the aging process, the flor doesn’t develop as expected so the wine (after biological aging) continues to age oxidatively. Today, circumstances providing for this can be encouraged, but the result will be the same: a sherry that is somewhat lighter in color than Oloroso, but much darker than a Fino, yet with the full body of an Oloroso and bone dry.

Expect notes of burnt/bitter orange and dried fruits (apricots), caramel and almonds/walnuts. Most recently, I enjoyed this Bodegas Valdespino Palo Cortado Viejo C.P. and found it gave me all that and more with smoky notes of vanilla extract, baked apple and brandied raisins. There’s a hint of caramalized banana as in “Bananas Foster” but emphasizing the bubbling mixture of butter, rum and dark brown sugar minus the sweetness.  “Viejo” (meaning old) is fitting giving that the Palomino vines used by Valdespino are 25 years plus in age and the average age of the wine in bottle is 25 years also. The vineyard (Macharnudo Alto) is a single vineyard at high elevation and on prized soil (albariza) that is light and high in chalk content lending intense minerality and is the best for growing Palomino grapes. During aging, the wine is refreshed with Fino “Inocente” and Amontillado “Tio Diego” (flagship wines of the estate).

You’ll find Valdespino Palo Cortado an excellent pairing with Jamon Iberico, aged Manchego cheese, almonds and hazelnuts (put these together for a charcuterie board). Consider also aged Comte and Cheddar. Good too with roasted chestnuts, pates and smoked meats and some roasted root vegetables. Also good against Jerusalem artichokes with dip (though I’m not a fan of that veggie) and (God forgive me) “Bridge Mix” chocolate candy).  Most Somms may disagree, but I find it wonderful with grilled shrimp spiced and prepared with diced sweet onion and fresh garlic. (Each time I served this wine with grilled, spiced shrimp, everyone loved it). Serve the wine just slightly chilled. 93 points Robert Parker Wine Advocate,  96 from Wine & Spirits Magazine. ALC: 20%.  My bottle imported by Cream Wine Company. (Chicago, IL). For more information on this and other sherry styles, see:  https://www.winemizer.net/2018/11/sherry-simplified.html

…………….. Jim

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“Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.” …. William A. Foster

Soft, watery, flat, without character, thin.

Zingy, zippy, mouthwatering, with typicity.

That is the obverse and the reverse of the wine coin.  Winemakers, we know, make wine.  And like coins, countless denominations are made across the globe.  But whereas governments can just continue minting non-precious metal coins (what choice do you have?), wineries are often pressured into responding to demands.  Varietals that have captivated the palate of the international marketplace are nudged into quenching the world’s thirst. But varietals are precious. There are no shortcuts to climate, soil composition, yields per acre/hectare.  Wineries not profitable in such a competitive marketplace don’t long remain in business. And the lure of profit is strong.  Sometimes, compromises in quality get made. And winemakers are given suggestions regarding the “facts of life.”  And those “facts” sometimes translate into overproduction.

If you’re of the age to remember the Merlot of California in the 80s and 90’s you’re of age also to remember Sideways (the movie released in October 2004) and what happened to the sale of Merlot afterwards.  It hasn’t happened yet with Pinot Grigio, but it looks to be in the beginning stage.  Too much Pinot Grigio I’ve tasted recently has been of the first type: soft, watery, flat, without character, thin.

I first wrote about Jermann (on my Facebook page) in July of 2018 when I paired it with a luncheon menu of Haddock steaks prepared with a lemon-caper sauce.  Tasting it again a month later, I was still impressed.  Hired to pour this (and other wines) at an event last week, I tasted it again.  Three times at bat. Three home runs. And my opinion was not unshared. The retailer’s stock of this wine was sold out an hour before the 4-hour event ended. That’s a considerable endorsement given the wine’s ARP of $23, higher than most PGs, but also an endorsement of the American consumer’s palate when many PGs are available and priced at under $15.  Let’s consider why that may be:

The winery’s estate vineyards are in Friuli Venezia Giulia in Italy’s north-easternmost region. This is the fifth smallest region in Italy, but despite its size, the region spans a wide variety of climates and landscapes.  From the mild-oceanic in the south to the Alpine-continental in the north.  The hilly area, just south of the mountains and along the central section enjoys a more temperate climate. However, even within this smaller area, there is considerable diversity of terrain.  Walled by the Alps on the north, the region is exposed to air masses from the east and west and from the southerly “Sirocco” blowing in from the Adriatic Sea and capable of bringing heavy rains.  The Jermann winery is tucked into the hills of Friuli Venezia Giulia below the Dolomites with two vineyards: (1) The Rutters Estate in the hilly Collio sub-region where vines are cooled by the Bora wind off the Adriatic Sea promoting grapes with perfume and zesty acidity due to diurnal temperature drops. Soil here is predominantly marlstone and sandstone belonging to the Flysch formation from the Eocene era that gave rise to a rocky substrate and later formed the characteristic “ponca” (marine fossils from the sea bottom brought to the surface by the same tectonic movement that created the Alps).  It is chalky and mineral rich.   (2) the Villanova Estate in the Isonzo sub-region where vines are grown in a permeable gravel, clay and sand soil and where the temperature is moderated by proximity to the sea and the lower Alps.  Clay in the soil here promotes body.

Too much body and the wine becomes too fleshy and flat – no zest!   Not enough body and the wine cracks from its own astringency; is thin and bony.       

Grapes are picked at dawn to preserve freshness and are partially vinified on the skins, then aged in stainless to maintain freshness and aromatics.  In the glass, it shows deep lemon-green.  Most people enjoy aromas of white peach, but (for me) it was lemon first, then fresh cut apple before the peach.  All of this carried onto the palate.  As the wine is allowed to warm, you’ll enjoy a faint suggestion of pineapple.  A curious vegetative note announces too, which I likened to lemongrass and enjoyed.

Of course, all impressions are personal and correct for those experiencing them.  I have to mention, a common one is pear. Others get green apple and a note of tangerine. One mentioned hazelnut; another banana.  But the most common is pear. Any impression is valid for the person experiencing it and if enough people experience the same impression, it’s sufficiently valid for me to mention it too.  But, personally, it’s the finish of this wine that is the “closer”.   Whatever impressions you’ll experience, this wine has concentration and a depth of flavor that is missing in many of the varietal’s companions today.  It offers a racy acidity balanced by fruit that carries throughout the tasting and into a finish I think long for a white wine.

I wrote previously about another Pinot Grigio that I found to offer excellent value in comparison to others within its price category and being priced lower than Jermann.  But if you’re willing to step up some in complexity, I think you’ll find the step up in price worth it.  Sometimes you get even more that what you pay for.

Maybe it’s because this area in Italy (like Alsace in France and other areas worldwide) is multi-cultural; the Friuli Venezia Giulia region being influenced by its history of Austrian, German and Slovenian winemakers.  How people impact the vines (tending & managing) is part of terroir also, as much as where the vines are grown (that part of terroir most people have come to accept).  In a pour into your glass of Jermann’s Pinot Grigio what you will recognize is its uniqueness – a character harder to describe than to appreciate.  One sip and you’ll recognize quality.

………….. Jim

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Jermann:                                             https://www.jermann.it/
Distributed by:                                    Lux
Varietal:                                               Pinot Grigio, 100%
TA:                                                      5.6 g/L
Ph:                                                       3.20
RS:                                                       4.0g/L
ALC:                                                    12.5%
James Suckling:                                   91
Robert Parker’s W.A.                           90
Wine Spectator:                                    90


“Too much of anything is bad. But too much Champagne is just right.” … F. Scott Fitzgerald

I enjoy Champagne. You might say I LOVE it.  But Champagne, by definition, is only made from the grapes of that region within France.  It excludes Crémant (also French).  It excludes Metodo Classico. It does not allow Cava.  Nor is Sparkling Wine allowed membership.  It is - that of Champagne which I crave - expensive and, so for me, not presently allowed as an everyday enjoyment. But to do without “tasting the stars” is inconceivable. 

Then again, some of the best French food is of the bistro sort.  And some of the most enjoyable French wines are those of the Loire.  “Relaxability”.  Casual but elevated.  And so comes Gerard Bertrand of the Languedoc-Roussillon in the south of France.  Blending Chardonnay (70%), Chenin Blanc (15%) and Pinot Noir (15%), with the first and last grapes mentioned being those used in Champagne and with the wine being twice fermented in the bottle (as in Champagne) but with an ARP of only $20, there are differences and differences both to be appreciated.

I’ve enjoyed other of Gerard Bertrand’s still wines before.  So did Thomas Jefferson who stocked his cellar with sparkling wines (Crémant) from the area (Limoux) in Southwest France.  In fact, Limoux was the first area in France to work with sparkling wine.  And it was Don Perignon who learned from the monks there at St Hilaire Abbey about making such wine.  It is that area in Southwest France, where the technique of making sparkling wines was first perfected.   

Of course, the climate is different in Southwest France than that of Champagne in Northeast France.  But Bertrand’s vineyards are maintained in the highest elevations of the area with cool nights assuring the cleansing acidity in the grapes that is so necessary for making quality bubbly.

All the tech aside however, always it comes to what is inside the bottle and I can tell you this.  My son and his significant other joined me for dinner.  I put together a simple meal plan, casual – but elevated. It began with an appetizer of slices of organic tomato, buffalo mozzarella, fresh leaves of basil and a reduction of balsamic di Modena.  Altogether, there were to be five courses and five wines.  I expected to put aside several bottles for enjoyment later. I was wrong.  The Gerard Bertrand “Thomas Jefferson” Crémant De Limoux Brut Rose remained on the table in a chiller and was quickly emptied.  That’s a strong endorsement – not just my opinion.

Casual, but elevated. And so quickly emptied.

Apparently, by unanimous agreement.

Salmon-pink in the glass, it produces fine bubbles and a delicate mousse. Its texture is rich and surprisingly creamy.  Aromas of red fruit (strawberry and raspberry) seduce. On the palate raspberry carries over from the nose. The strawberry is elevated with notes of cream.  Toasted bread from lees aging adds complexity.  But for people put off by Champagne with pronounced notes of yeast (brioche etc.), this is not that. Casual, but elevated, the wine’s components work in synergy and balance; each element contributing unobtrusively toward a whole that is pleasing.  Citrus is joined with floral notes.  Fruit is evident and creamy, but the wine has spot-on acidity rendering a crisp finish that lasts. 

Against the creamy soft Buffalo Mozzarella, the wine matched in texture while also serving to cleanse the palate of that richness.  Dinner aside, it’s great to enjoy by itself.  Chocolate dipped raspberries would be fun. Brie cheese a natural. Ham croquettes, prosciutto, smoked salmon, sushi, mushrooms stuffed with crab, devilled eggs finished off with caviar, pates, tapenade, salad Nicoise. The acidity of a Rose Crémant makes it naturally food friendly. Gerard Bertrand makes it affordable.    

................. Jim

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NOTE: The monks of St. Hilaire discovered the first “wine with bubbles” in 1531. The vineyards used in making Gerard Bertrand’s Thomas Jefferson Rose are on the foothills of the Pyrenees where the grapes benefit from cool conditions.  Wine is blended together and then transferred to barrel for 8 months.  Imported by Wine West, LLC (Sausalito, CA).  ALC:12.5%


Wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy!” … Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin: A Founding Father of the U.S., inventor of the lightening rod, swim fins, bifocals, the glass harmonica and many other things was also a prolific writer. He co-owned a newspaper and had been a member of the “Committee of Five” that drafted the Declaration of Independence.  He authored, under a pseudonym, “Poor Richard’s Almanack” in 1739 and the book sold 10,000 copies yearly through 1758.  Napoleon thought so well of it that he translated it into Italian.  Later, it was translated into French and then Slovene, making it truly an international best seller. Mostly, the book consisted of sage advice, jokes, puzzles, household hints and even hoaxes.  It was entertainment mixed with common sense.    

I like to think wise Ben had common sense in mind when he wrote that statement regarding wine being constant proof of God’s love.  Was it not so, how then to explain why so many varietals were created?  My latest experience in this regard was with POSIP, a grape indigenous to Croatia and used in making white wine.  In body, it reminds me of a Marsanne-Roussanne blend, but its aromas and tastes are different.   

Medium lemon-green in the glass, its aromas are mild with an impression of undiscerned acidity – lemon?  This is softened with additional, but faint notes of lychee and tropical fruit. Together, these work to peak your curiosity unless you’re committed to drinking only international varietals and being content with eating the same thing for dinner every night.  The palate offers lemon, but more as lemon-cream.   There’s a note of hay and a hint of almond.  Allow a sip to warm in the mouth and grapefruit develops.  Others get green apple.  A see-saw of contrasts keep the experience entertaining.

The most recognized area for growing this grape in Croatia is in the Dalmatian region, on the Southern island of Korcula. Croatia is east and just across the Adriatic Sea from Italy and its history of viniculture goes back more than 2,500 years.  But suffering the destruction of war, many vineyards were destroyed. And under communism, wine making became state run and yield (not quality) was the yardstick. Then too, almost all the wine was consumed locally.  Today, tourists are amazed at the quality of wine being made in their family’s home land.  Adapting European Union standards, modernizing equipment, free to run and profit from family ownership, Croatia is making world class wine though still not recognized as it should.  Consider that in the 4th edition of The Oxford Companion to Wine, Posip is given all the attention of one sentence.

There are currently over 300 geographically defined wine regions, and a strict classification system to ensure quality and origin in Croatia.  But Croatia ranks 30th in wine production by country and much of Croatia’s product is still consumed locally.  And like other Eastern European countries, its language can be challenging for people unaccustomed to seeing a row of consonants strung together along with the use of umlauts and other special characters.

Still, you may be more familiar with some wine from Croatia than what you realize.  Zinfandel, that grape so enjoyed from California that we assumed came from Italy as Primitivo because the Italian Immigrants brought it to that coast in the 1880s – guess what?  Later testing (1994-1998) conducted by Dr. Carol Meredith (a professor in the Department of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California, Davis) identified it as Crljenak Kastelanski (I left off a special character above the “a” in the second word). The grape is also known in Croatia as Tribidrag, I’ll assume because it’s easier to for rubes like me pronounce.

Back in 1959, Mike (Miljenko) Grgich now of Grgich Hills Estates in Rutherford California (who produced the award-winning wine Chateau Montelena Chardonnay) for the Judgement of Paris in 1976 thought that Zinfandel and Plavac Mali of Croatia were identical.  He was from Croatia and remembered working with those vines. In 1990, he returned to Croatia, looked again at the vines and reassured himself that “Zinfandel” was not the American grape of barbecue fame, but a treasure from Croatia.  Of course, no one believed him.  In 1994 he returned, bringing whole clusters, leaves and canes to compare.  In 1998, he and Dr. Meredith got together; Dr. Meredith went to Croatia herself and returned with cuttings of 150 plants.  It was discovered that Zinfandel and Plavac Mali were not the same plant.  But Mike was close.  Plavac Mali was an offspring of Tribidrag and “Dobricic”).  A connection was established, but until 1998 when near the port town of Split on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, nine Tribidrag vines were found which DNA testing determined to be a 100% genetic match to Zinfandel. 

As it turns out, Zinfandel was not Plavac Mali but it was indigenous to Croatia and itself a child of Tribidrag.  Subsequent historical research has shown that Croatian Zinfandel, a.k.a. Tribidrag was planted as far back as the 15th century.  What the Italians call Primitivo is also Zinfandel, having originated from the Croatian Tribidrag and imported to Italy some 200-300 years ago. 

We began with Posip and that developed into Plavac Mali.  Croatia produces some international varietals, but the most fun can be had with indigenous grapes of which they have many.  For Posip, consider PZ  Posip Cara. Mike Grgich has opened his own winery in Croatia (making both Posip and Plavac Mali). Consider his offerings.  Korta Katarina winery, Intrada Krajancic Winery, Sain-Marelic Winery (lots of special characters missing in my spelling) and Kunjas Winery all make delicious Posip.

Plavac Mali (like Zinfandel) is a red wine as is Dobricic (a parent of Plavac Mali).  None of these wines will be alien in character.  In fact, as with Tribidrag (a.k.a. Zinfandel), you’re likely already familiar with the variety. And as with any wine, you may favor one producer over another. No, your largest challenge may be in tracking down an outlet for these wines.  Ethnic stores or on-line are likely the best route.   But for me, the route less travelled has made all the difference.

Wise man, that Ben who seemed to appreciate the gift of different grapes.  Be like Ben!

……………… Jim

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“There is truth in wine, but you never see it listed in the ingredients on the label” — Josh Stern

I’ll get to that quote later. For now, let’s talk about the wine. More specifically, let’s talk about the winery, Kendal Jackson / Jackson Estates and the wine: their Alisos Hills Syrah.  The estate is grand: near the vineyards are rows of walnut trees and areas in which organic produce is grown and used in preparing dishes made in their kitchen.  

Sitting outside under a patio umbrella and enjoying a glass while also enjoying the view is a joy anyone experiencing will want to experience again. Problem is most of us don’t visit vineyards. We don’t tour wineries. Problem is, Kendall Jackson, as a brand, is so available it’s become commonplace in our minds and, in the process, devalued.  We want something different, something exotic or assumed to be expensive - especially when entertaining - perhaps to impress?  And perhaps it’s true that “success breeds contempt.”  Yet the brand being as successful as it is speaks to the fact that lots of people are buying it.  So is it an issue of image regarding how we project ourselves when discussing the wines we admit to drinking?  Gee, you’d think 1976 would have erased all that nonsense.  Quality has always been about what’s inside the bottle; not the front label on it.

I’m proposing that we remove that veil of snobbery that we wear in public and let the truth of the marketplace’s private reality be admitted.  This is some delicious wine.  And that it’s commonly available and at budget friendly prices should be celebrated, not secreted.  

One of the Walnut Trees
The "Mizer" with Chef Matthew on the
patio in Oct. 2014

Syrah is noted for being high in tannins and low in acidity.  But with site selection, blending and meticulous vinification by Kendall-Jackson (and six years from vintage), I found the tannins silky and with sufficient acidity to make the wine food friendly and its pairing versatile.  In cool months, it begs for beef stew or braised beef.  Great with lamb and Osso Bucco, it can also be casually enjoyed with sausage and barbecue or grilled steaks.  Enjoy it with smoky blue cheese melted on a hamburger, or alone against an English styled Cheddar.

Inky purple in the glass, the wine gifts aromas that (for me) are strong with blueberry and black plum, then blackberry and cola with spicy hints. Complexity, I find, starts in vineyard selection.  And while the wine is 100% Syrah, grapes are selected from special blocks
Alisos in the Glass
within two of their many estate vineyards: (1) In the upper Southeast corner and a separate Southwest facing bench of the Barham vineyard having mixed soil of clay, sandy loam and gravel.  Clay brings density and structure to the grapes.  The lightness balancing this is from the very sandy soil of (2) the upper Northeast beach corner of the Neely Vineyard. These cool coastal vineyards of Santa Barbara are dotted with warmer blocks that hold heat better than others – ideal for Syrah.  Alisos Hills is a blend of those special blocks.  Grapes from these two vineyards grow at elevations of 700 to 1100 feet from “mountain” tops, ridges, hillsides and raised bench land.

Syrah is noted for being high in tannins and low in acidity.  But with site selection, blending and meticulous vinification by Kendall-Jackson (and six years from vintage), I found the tannins silky and with sufficient acidity to make the wine food friendly and its pairing versatile.  In cool months, it begs for beef stew or braised beef.  Great with lamb and Osso Bucco, it can also be casually enjoyed with sausage and barbeque or grilled steaks.  Enjoy it with smoky blue cheese melted on a hamburger, or alone against an English styled Cheddar.
Loin Lamb Chops, Baby Broccoli,
Fresh Herbs and Alisos

Just as good with Split Peas soup with
diced bits of smoked Ham Shanks
On the palate, the wine is smooth and luscious and super “malo-mellow”. Medium plus bodied but rich and palate coating enough to be considered full. Black cherry, vanilla, dark chocolate; hints of blackberry and currant and baking spice and herb notes.  Dry, but fruit rich, yet restrained and in balance, its only threat is its roundness and easy drinking quality which makes it too easy to enjoy.    

And finally, to that quote:  As only one among a very few wineries, Kendall-Jackson makes a practice of providing information about each wine on its back label. Imagine!  No stories about why a wine is named after a neighbor’s pet bird or other similar nonsense.  Useful information. Respectful of the process, as we should be of this wine.
The Back Label of their Los Robles
Pinot Noir

…………….. Jim

Back Label of 2013 Alisos

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Kendall-Jackson Vineyard Estates                 https://www.kj.com/
Varietal:                                                          Syrah, 100%
Vintage:                                                          2013
Source:                                                            Los Alamos, Santa Barbara County
Appellation:                                                    Santa Barbara County
Vineyards:                                                       Barham and Neely
Elevation:                                                        700-1100 Feet
Aging:                                                             13 Months, 88% French Oak (34%) New 1
ALC:                                                               14.5%
TA:                                                                   0.57 g/100ml
pH:                                                                   3.75
ARP:                                                                $37.00 U.S.
Current Vintage:                                              2019
   1  Changes are made as needed for vintage. 2016, for example, was 11 Months, 100% French and 28% new.

Note:   This wine was previously labeled as “Highland Estates.”  Names are changed to confuse the                innocent,