Protocol Wine Studio took to the virtual wine tasting world in March to explore one powerful grape: Zinfandel. I am a huge lover of red Zinfandel but apparently all do not share my love of the versatile grape. Furthermore, Zinfandel can be mysterious to some so let’s take some time to explore the world of Zinfandel as brought to us by Protocol Wine Studio.
“What is #WineStudio? PROTOCOL Wine Studio presents an online twitter-based educational program where we engage our brains and palates! It’s part instruction and tasting, with discussions on producers, varieties, tourism, terroir, regional culture, food matching and what all this means to us as imbibers.”
Why did Protocol Wine Studio decide to take a deep dive into Zinfandel? Protocol explains:
Inspired by Le Metro Wine‘s all Zinfandel February collection, we decided to go all red, single variety. Zinfandel is either loved or despised – never a middle ground for this red grape. Zinfandel has been the archenstone for the California wine scene since the mid 1800s and has had its fair share of ups and downs. But what is the true essence of Zinfandel and which has remained constant throughout its turbulent history is its adaptability. The grape is planted all over California and represents the full gamut of wine descriptions depending on where it’s planted. But is this the way it should be? Does it matter? For the month of March we’ll be taking a closer look at our adaptable Zinfandel, introducing a few winemakers and wines that you may as yet not have heard of and rolling out #sommkit.
Week 1: Getting to know Zinfandel
Aaron Epstein, wine curator of Le Metro Wine shared how before he moved to California he did not care for Zinfandel; however, Aaron sought to better understand the grape and the wine by intentionally crafting his own Zinfandel collection to change his own mind. It worked! Aaron said, “Zinfandel may be overblown for some folks’ taste. But there is no clearer window into Cali terroir.” Others disagree on the use of “overblown;” rather finding its bold flavors the perfect food wine. As with all wines the grape adds its value but the end product includes the fullness of the terroir and the winemakers crafting skills and techniques. The Zinfandel explored in week one was Hobo Wine Company’s Rockpile Zinfandel. Aaron chose that wine because “it expressed Rockpile and the richness of Zinfandel, but also balance and restraint.”
From the Hobo Wine Company web site: The Hobo Wine Company is the brainchild, side job, menace to the wine industry, hedged bet, cash strain, mental anguish, late night musing, bruised hands, dirty t-shirts, and constant companion of Kenny Likitprakong. Despite knowing better, he started his own label in 2002 with the simple idea to have some good fun.
Hobo is one of five wine labels managed by Kenny. His philosophy is simple: “it isn’t easy but it’s always fun.” Kenny has kept it simple with no vines, no trucks and no equipment; he has built a solid reputation on handshakes and integrity; feeling like “most of the time it doesn’t feel like we chose [the vineyards], they just come along. Hobo Wine Company is a real family operation. Take a minute to visit the Hobo Wine Company web site to learn more about them, view their entire portfolio of wines and order your own Rockpile Zinfandel.
Week 2: “…foster the voice of the soil into your wine glass.”
Nathan Kandler, winemaker for Precedent, joined us for our week two discussion on his Evangelho Vineyard Zinfandel.
From the Precedent web site: Nathan Kandler is a true believer in the translational role of a winemaker. His ultimate goal is to foster the voice of the soil into your glass of wine. Adherence to traditional and natural techniques in the vineyard and cellar are of the utmost importance. The Evangelho Vineyard is one of the great old vine Zinfandel vineyards left in California. Wines from vineyards like this are unique in the world and cannot be replicated anywhere; they are truly California’s greatest gift to the vinous world. Planted in 1890, on its own roots, on over 30 vertical feet of alluvial sand these vines somehow eek out an existence despite being farmed without irrigation and produce fantastic and soulful wines.
So with a vineyard as classic as Evangelho and several top named winemakers producing Zinfandel from these vineyards the next question explored was where is the Zinfandel? Have you noticed in restaurants this exceptional food grape is often nowhere to be seen? I certainly have noticed this, especially on menus that serve cuisine ideal for Zinfandel such as steak, lamb and wild game. Due to this unfortunately situation most Zinfandels are consumed in people’s homes rather than restaurants. If you enjoy a good Zin with your dinner request your local restaurants add Zin to the wine list. Tina with Protocol Wine Studio summed up Nathan’s thoughts on the lack of Zins at restaurants, “It’s ‘a shame – great natural acidity and when balanced – as good a ‘food” wine as exists.’ He continues, ‘acid is often lost at expense of ‘phenolic ripeness’ and ‘waiting for flavor’. So what’s the disconnect? Perhaps it’s finding the right site combined with a winemaker willing to ‘… foster the voice of the soil into your glass of wine.”
Week 3: The Zinfandel Heritage Vineyard Project
What is the Zinfandel Heritage Vineyard Project? The Zinfandel Advocates and Producers explains: The Zinfandel Heritage Vineyard Project is an unprecedented collection of rare and famous Zinfandel vine cuttings grown throughout California. It was originally established at the University of California at Davis (UC Davis) Oakville Research Station in Napa Valley beginning in 1995. While Zinfandel wines had achieved a place among the world’s finest varietals, growers and vintners were unhappy with the selections of vines available commercially. The UC Davis Foundation Plant Services (FPS), which evaluates and virus-tests rootstock for commercial distribution, had only certified four selections of Zinfandel in 1990. The Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) recognized the importance of the ongoing research at UC Davis in creating greater diversity for growers, and partnered with the University to support the Zinfandel Heritage Vineyard Project. The Zinfandel Heritage Vineyard Project has been a fruitful collaboration with a primary goal to provide superior Zinfandel selections to growers as the basis for future plantings; and in 2009 UC Davis FPS released 19 Zinfandel selections to nurseries. Together UC Davis and ZAP continue to work toward preserving Zinfandel’s heritage while expanding the range of rootstock available to growers.
This year Chris Leamy, winemaker at Terra d’Oro Winery, was selected by ZAP to produce the 2012 Heritage Zinfandel. This wine poured a vibrant scarlet with violet highlights into the glass. It opened with elegant aromas of red fruit, spice and a touch of dust and vanilla; on the palate it delivered raspberries, blueberries and a hint of cola, along with spice box, white dusty pepper and a hint of milk chocolate and dry earth. It has an even structure with well-balanced, lingering acidity and integrated tannins that leave a soft, pleasing finish. I found it to be a lighter Zin with delicate fruit and softer spice essences than I am typically accustomed to in a Zinfandel. The 2012 Heritage Zinfandel demonstrated the versatility in Zinfandel. SRP $19. I paired this Zinfandel with a pepper coated and grilled Tri-tip steak, topped with homemade pistachio pesto, roasted potatoes and sautéed Bok Choy. The steak was light and the wine was an elegant accompaniment to the dish, the spices and fruit of the wine blended beautifully with the pesto and cut some of the zest of the bok choy. A delicious spring meal!
A few words on Zinfandel from winemaker Chris Leamy: “I don’t think we give zinfandel enough credit.” However, “…California is spoiled. We get the whole variety of Zins. Other spots just a glimpse of the joy.” In regards to his 2012 Heritage Zinfandel he “just wanted to keep it super fresh and bright [with] the juicy, zesty character [being] Napa flavor.” The Heritage Zinfandel is special because “it is a great repository of Zin grown in a great location. It’s focused awesome!” It is a great project and a great wine definitely worth seeking out!
Week 4: Beekeeper Cellars
From Protocol Wine Studio: “Ian Blackburn teamed up with old friend Clay Mauritson of Mauritson Cellars fame several years ago to produce superb Zinfandel. Ian calls Rockpile his ‘secret weapon.’ The Pomo tribe called the region ‘kabe-chana,’ meaning place with many rocks. Although the AVA was only established in 2002, wineries vie for access to vines in the AVA where no wineries reside. Ian is the quintessential renaissance man: In 1995 he instituted the first of its class in wine events / education in the Los Angeles area called LearnAboutWine and now he’s onto Phase II with wineLA – ‘Doing what is best for the wine industry and the communities we serve. Edicts: innovate, evolve and excite.’”
In this final session we learned about a very special wine growing region in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley called Rockpile. This rugged Sonoma County AVA contains about 160 acres high above Lake Sonoma. There are no wineries in Rockpile, only vineyards. This highly sought out AVA contains rocky well drained soils that are stained red from oxidized iron; shale and sandstone runs throughout with a clay base, truly a great location for producing stressed grapes. This is the home of Beekeeper’s Rockpile Zinfandel, where the yields may be low but the concentration is high creating a Zinfandel with “refined elegance in a huge frame!” To learn more about Rockpile AVA visit their website.
Beekeeper 2012 Rockpile Appellation Sonoma County Zinfandel: This wine poured a beautiful deep violet into the glass and opened with restrained aromas of berries wrapped in dusty earth. This wine opened and developed over time, dazzling throughout its awakening. On the palate it offered elegantly balanced flavors of soft red and black berries with rustic earth flavors of dusty earth, pepper, spice box and a touch of toasted cedar with damp tobacco leaves. The flavors blend together beautifully, wrapped in round acidity and integrated tannins that leave dusty earth finish lingering on the palate, begging for another sip. This Zinfandel exemplified an iron fist in a velvet glove; powerful yet silky and elegant. This is a Zinfandel you want to be drinking! Ian explained that Rockpile offers “thinner soil with more stone which means smaller yields that are more complex and unique, creating Zinfandel Magic!” Zin magic is exactly what is incased in the Beekeeper Rockpile bottle! Beginning in 2010 Beekeeper began dry farming their Rockpile vineyards which created lower alcohol Zinfandels, “incense intensity/spice notes resulted.” This wine was aged in French and American oak for 15 months, but as Ian prefers “balance and pure expression,” this oak created a balance with the fruit resulting in a well crafted Zinfandel. Additionally, in the spirit of a patient winemaker, Ian aged the Beekeeper 2012 Zin in the bottle for a year in a half before releasing it for sale. I love that! Patience is always important to get the most out of a bottle of wine. I paired this wine with a delicious dinner from April’s issue of Cooking Light Magazine: Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Orange-Sesame Asparagus and Rice. The Asian spices in the recipe with the ginger and orange juice along with the dark sesame oil and peanuts paired perfectly with the flavors and spice of the Beekeeper 2012 Zin. You never really know how a wine you have never had will pair with a dish you have never prepared; this one was truly an out of the ballpark home run! Even Ian approved of my pairing.
In closing, Ian shared his winemaking philosophy with me: “I want my wine to pair well with life…great moments pair well with my wine…great meals, a whole in one, a great date…” Now who wouldn’t want to drink his wine?! Visit the Beekeeper Cellars web site to learn more about Ian and the winery, view their entire portfolio of wines and order your own bottle of Beekeeper 2012 Rockpile Zinfandel.
As you can see March’s winestudio was packed with great knowledge and wine! I hope you learned more about Zinfandel and will try these lovely Zins. See you in April where we move to Spain and Garnacha!
My Song Selection: March’s Winestudio was so much fun and the Zinfandels were so delicious. They were not big jammy zins; rather, they were flavorful but well balanced and elegant. These wines were carefully crafted with intention and integrity to be different, to stand out. They were Zinfandels no doubt, but silky, smooth and flavorful with a hint of funk. Therefore, I chose to pair March’s Zinfandel Rising with quintessential Motown: Papa Was a Rolling Stone by The Temptations. This song is repeated voted one of the top Motown songs of all time; it’s smooth and funky with the classic Motown sound of the 1970’s, a perfect pairing with classically smooth yet funky Zins!
Ghttps://youtu.be/pJV2pWFyfn4et your own bottle of Zinfandel and let me know what song you would pair with it. Cheers!