Zwei, Zwei again

It can be a quandary.

It’s hot outside. You’re standing by the grill, ready to throw a big piece of red meat on the grate, and a nice glass of red wine would go perfectly with the meal. The classic pairing might be Syrah or Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon. Nothing against any of them, but those varietals, though great with steaks and roasts, tend to be tannic and “hot,” meaning higher in alcohol — not always great when the mercury is registering 90-plus degrees.

What to do?

Reach for a bottle of Zweigelt.

Never heard of it? Zweigelt is an Austrian grape variety noted for its light tannin, light body, low alcohol, medium acidity and medium flavor intensity of cherries in varying stages of ripeness. It has enough heft to stand up to red meat with enough restraint to take on a slight chill, which makes it delightful on a hot summer day. If you know someone who doesn’t like reds because they’re “too big,” pour them a glass of Zweigelt. They might be surprised.

What is Zweigelt?

Zweigelt is the most widespread red wine grape planted in Austria and was developed in 1922 by Dr. Fritz Zweigelt, who crossed St. Laurent and Blaufrankisch. That’s the wine geeks’ definition. For the rest of us, the definition of Zweigelt is: it’s delicious.

Where to find Zweigelt?

It’s not an easy variety to find at your neighborhood mega mart, but if a cookout is in your immediate future, ask the manager of your favorite wine store.

Which Zweigelt is worth finding?

Zantho from Burgenland — Austria’s warmest wine growing region. Light ruby core with a rose-colored rim, aromas of cherries, cocoa, dried herbs and raspberries. Clean on the palate with medium acidity, spicy notes, blackberries and black licorice. Low alcohol and low tannin with a medium finish.

Besides it being so easy to drink, Zweigelt generally is not expensive. Zantho Zweigelt, for instance, averages about $15 a bottle, according to Snooth.com.

Don’t let the hard-to-pronounce name intimidate you. Zweigelt (TSVYE-gelt) is immensely approachable. Give it a try this summer.

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Pinot Days a must for pinot lovers

For pinot noir enthusiasts, it doesn’t get much better than Pinot Days San Francisco.

The 11th annual fest took place on June 20 at the Metreon’s City View Room, where 95 wineries, most from California, offered their recently released vintages for members of the trade and everyday pinot lovers to taste.

Winemakers, proprietors, and marketing and sales reps were behind the tables pouring, which made for great opportunities to speak with those intimately familiar with their wine.

Pinot’s wide range of styles, from fruit-forward to earthy, was on full display.

Among the highlights:

2013 Sojourn Cellars Gap’s Crown, Sonoma Coast ($59)

Gap’s Crown Vineyard sits high along a steep hillside on rocky soil where the vines are stressed, making for a dense, concentrated, sturdy pinot with earthy flavors, like forest floor and mushrooms. Rated 96 points by Pinot Report, 95 points by Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate, and 94 points by Wine Enthusiast.

2013 Sojourn Sangiacomo, Sonoma Coast ($54)

Sojourn’s ninth vintage from the Sangiacomo Vineyard on the western base of Sonoma Mountain has sweet, red cherry flavors with medium acidity and a silky mouthfeel with a tart finish. Rated 96 points by Pinot Report, 91 points by Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate, and 91 points by Wine Enthusiast.

2012 Pali Wine Company Riviera, Sonoma Coast ($21)

Raspberry, anise, minerality, medium acidity and a slightly tart finish. The Riviera has nice complexity at an attractive price point. Rated 93 points by Pinot Report.

Pali’s 2013 Huntington ($22.50) was ranked 86th on Wine Spectator’s 2014 top 100 list of best wines.

2010 Panthea Siren, Anderson Valley ($28)

Winemaker Kelly Boss and his wife, Jessa, won a silver medal in the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle’s Wine Competition and the 13th Pinot Noir Shootout. The Siren is a blend of four clones (Pommard, Swan, Dijon and R31) ranging from the warmer Boonville climate to the cooler deep end of the Anderson Valley. Classic cherry on the palate, caramel on the finish.

2012 Ram’s Gate, Carneros ($40)

Garnet color, silky mouthfeel from a pinot noir dominated (95 percent) blend from select sites, including their estate vineyard. Dried roses on the nose, fully ripe on the palate with a peppery finish.

2012 Foley JA Ranch, Santa Rita Hills ($55)

Clones 115 and 113 from Foley’s estate have produced a pinot with ripe cranberry, tart cherry, raspberry, floral notes, such as violets, and a cedar component from 100 percent new French oak. More up-front, rich, yet delicate.

2013 Erin E. Wines, Sonoma Coast ($37)

Erin Busch has three kids and a passion for winemaking. Busch worked for other wineries and has branched out, making cabernet franc, sauvignon blanc and 50 cases of pinot from the Sonoma State Vineyard in newly founded wine territory between Carneros and the Petaluma Gap. “I’m trying to keep the grassroots thing going,” she said.

2012 Comptche Ridge Vineyards, Mendocino County ($47)

John and Mike Weir have four clones, three of them Dijon, growing on eight acres of land 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean near Boonville. The fruit can hang a long time because of the cooling ocean influence, which also shows itself in the form of a whisp of salinity on the palate, along with earthy flavors.

Pinot Days promises to return next year, so keep it in mind if you love pinot. Information: pinotdays.com.

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Oak Yeah!

LODI — Dan Panella sighed and rolled his eyes.

One of the first efforts from his brand-new Oak Farm Vineyards Winery on DeVries Road, the 2014 Albarino, recently earned Double Gold, Best in Show White and Best in Region White at the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition in Sacramento.

Garnering such a payload from the oldest wine competition in the country, where more than 2,800 entries from 743 wineries were evaluated by 72 judges on 18 panels, has elicited feelings of pride, validation and even pressure for Panella, whose family has farmed in Lodi since the early 1900s.

“It’s like a band who has a really good album,” said Panella, who plays guitar. “We don’t want to be one-hit wonders.”

That seems hardly possible with winemaker Chad Joseph at the controls. Joseph has crafted award-winning wines for years at several area wineries. His deft touch with fruit sourced from two young, postage stamp-sized vineyards in the Jahant and Alta Mesa sub-appellations in east Lodi — one a Spanish clone, the other a Portuguese clone — produced a lemon-colored Albarino with true varietal character: Damp sea stone minerality, white nectarine, peach, lime zest and crisp acidity. Cold fermented in stainless steel, the wine rested on its lees (dead yeast cells) for a short time before it was bottled in December.

Tasting along the way, Panella and Joseph believed they had something special, a synergy between the clones, working together like a rhythm and lead guitar.

“The style of winemaking is to capture the essence of the grape and the brightness and the fruitiness without losing it by having it age in oak or having it stay too long in the tank,” Joseph said. “We really try to capture that.”

Panella said the Albarino paired well with a mild blue cheese tart he had recently, and that it’s great on its own or with light dishes, such as mild cheeses, fish, chicken and salads.

Not only did the State Fair recognition help validate the significant investment the Panella family made in building its 7,000 square-foot, rustic-chic tasting room and adjoining state-of-the-art crush pad and barrel and tank rooms, it further proved Lodi’s diversity as a fine grape growing and winemaking region.

“We’re starting to evolve into what a lot of people didn’t believe was possible,” Joseph said. “We can do things like cool-climate whites here and when we spend the money on equipment and we spend the money to take our time and do high-end production of those grapes, which a lot of people don’t do, we actually have some of the best grapes in the state of California and the best wines.”

Count Oak Farm’s 2014 Albarino among them.

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Area wines fared well at State Fair competition

Oak Farm Vineyards in Lodi took home Best of Show White and Best of Show Lodi White for its albarino at the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition, which consisted of 2,881 wine entries from 743 winery brands. Lodi and area wineries fared well in the opinions of 72 judges on 18 panels, who awarded 57 Double Golds and 254 Golds. The winners showed the diversity of California wine, coming from around the state and from wineries of every size.

“California’s 78,000 farms and ranches produce roughly half of all the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the United States, and our grape industry accounts for 90 percent of all wine consumed in America,” said Rick Pickering, CEO of the California State Fair. “As one of the oldest professional wine competitions in the nation, we are extremely pleased that for the second year in a row, the State Fair has seen increased participation in our prestigious wine competition.”

The first State Fair Wine Competition was held in 1855. The competition is the oldest and one of the most prestigious wine events in the country. Top wines including Best of Region and Best of California winners will be featured at the State Fair in the Save Mart Supermarkets Wine Garden for visitors to enjoy July 10-26.

2015 California State Fair

Commercial Wine Competition

Best of Show

Best of Show Red

DOUBLE Gold 98

Lewis Grace

2012 Tempranillo

El Dorado

Best of Show White

DOUBLE Gold 98

Oak Farm Vineyards

2014 Albarino

Lodi

Best of Show Sparkling

DOUBLE Gold 98

Korbel

NV Blanc de Noirs

California

Best of Show Pink

DOUBLE Gold 98

Gold Hill Vineyard

2014 Barbera Rosé

El Dorado

Best of Show Dessert

DOUBLE Gold 98

Sutter Home Family Vineyards

NV Moscato

California

Best Value

DOUBLE Gold 98

Torn Winery

2013 Zinfandel

Lodi

Best Microwinery Red

DOUBLE Gold 98

Bottle Jack Cellars

2012 Zinfandel

Santa Cruz Mountains

Best Microwinery Other

DOUBLE Gold 98

Red Bucket Wine

2012 Barbera Rosé

El Dorado County

Best of Region

BEST OF NORTH COAST RED

Gold 94

Vigilance Winery and Vineyards

2013 Red Hills

Cabernet Sauvignon

BEST OF NORTH COAST WHITE

Gold 95

Shooting Star

2013 Lake County

Riesling

BEST OF SONOMA RED

Gold 94

Hughes Family Vineyards

2011 Sonoma Valley

Syrah

Savannah Vineyard

BEST OF SONOMA WHITE

Gold 94

Larson Family Winery

2013 Carneros

Chardonnay

BEST OF NAPA RED

Gold 94

Bell Wine Cellars

2012 Napa Valley

Cabernet Sauvignon

BEST OF NAPA WHITE

Gold 94

Jamieson Ranch Vineyards

2014 Napa Valley

Sauvignon Blanc

Silver Spur

BEST OF GREATER BAY RED

Gold 94

Mitchell Katz Winery

2012 Alameda County – Livermore Valley

Sangiovese

Crackerbox Vineyard

BEST OF GREATER BAY WHITE

Double Gold 98

Murrieta’s Well Winery

2013 Alameda County – Livermore Valley

The Whip

BEST OF NORTH-CENTRAL COAST RED

Gold 95

Craftwork

2013 Monterey

Pinot Noir

BEST OF NORTH-CENTRAL COAST WHITE

Gold 94

Wente Vineyards

2013 Arroyo Seco

Chardonnay

Riva Ranch

BEST OF SOUTH-CENTRAL COAST RED

Gold 94

Cinquain Cellars

2011 Paso Robles

Malbec

Nagengast Estate Vineyard

BEST OF SOUTH-CENTRAL COAST WHITE

Gold 94

Robert Hall Winery

2014 Paso Robles

Orange Muscat

Margaret’s Vineyard

BEST OF SOUTH COAST RED

Gold 94

Oak Mountain Winery

2011 Temecula Valley

Cabernet Sauvignon

The Cave

BEST OF SOUTH COAST WHITE

Gold 94

South Coast Winery

2014 Temecula Valley

Muscat Canelli

Carter Estate Vineyards

BEST OF SIERRA FOOTHILLS RED

Double Gold 98

Lewis Grace

2012 El Dorado

Tempranillo

BEST OF SIERRA FOOTHILLS WHITE

Gold 95

Helwig Vineyards & Winery

2014 Shenandoah Valley, Amador County

Sauvignon Blanc

BEST OF LODI RED

Gold 95

Michael David Rapture

2012 Lodi

Cabernet Sauvignon

BEST OF LODI WHITE

Double Gold 98

Oak Farm Vineyards

2014 Lodi

Albarino

BEST OF OTHER CALIFORNIA RED

Gold 94

Heringer Estates Family Winery

2012 Clarksburg

Aglianico

BEST OF OTHER CALIFORNIA WHITE

Gold 94

McManis Family Vineyards

2013 River Junction

Viognier

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Last minute gift idea for Father’s Day

If your dad likes Pinot Noir and you need a last-minute gift idea for Father’s Day, treat him to an afternoon of sampling some of the finest Pinots in the world at the 11th annual Pinot Days in San Francisco.

Pinot Days is the largest gathering of Pinot Noir producers in the world. Pinot Noir is exceptionally diverse stylistically and there is no better way to learn about this varietal’s character and the role terroir can play in its flavor profile than by having more than 100 wineries from the Russian River Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, Carneros, Sonoma, Oregon and the Santa Cruz mountains at your disposal at this one-day event from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 20 at City View at the Metreon in San Francisco. Tickets are $75 and available at pinotdays.com. If you hurry, tickets are $50 each at rush49.com/deals/pinot-days-sanfrancisco.

 

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Great year is taking shape

LODI — The vineyards in the San Joaquin Valley are teeming right now, creating in some spots an ocean-like, green expanse as far as the eye can see.

Just months ago, Kyle Lerner’s zinfandel vines at his Harney Lane Winery in Lodi were dormant just after winter pruning. Now, leafy shoots have burst from the cordons and developed towering, sheltering canopies protecting the tight clusters of tiny, green berries that soon will plump up and begin to take on their varietal color.

Superb growing conditions this year, with relatively mild temperatures and even a little rain last week and in May, have accelerated the growing process. Lerner’s chardonnay buds burst the third week of February. His zinfandel buds began to break the last week of February and into the first week of March. Zinfandel normally breaks in mid-March.

“It put us at least two weeks ahead starting and then we had all this wonderful, beautiful, warm weather and it just absolutely accelerated these vines,” said Lerner, who grows several varietals for outside concerns and his Harney Lane label. “We were wearing shorts in the winter and the vines felt it, too. So, they never really had that slow growth stage. They kind of had bud break and all of a sudden it was, boom, here we go. We’re ready.”

Last May, the temperature eclipsed 90 degrees on 15 days and reached triple-digits once. Last month, the mercury exceeded 90 only one day.

“Those vines love that upper-80s, low-90s and it’s been great for them,” Lerner said. “I’ve had a lot of our wineries come out with the fruit that we sell to them and look at the vines and their eyes are just popping out of their heads. They’re loving what they’re seeing and I’m loving what I’m seeing.”

In early July, some of the grapes that now are tiny and bright green, will take on their color during veraison. The acidity and sugars will continue to develop leading to harvest, which Lerner expects to occur a few weeks earlier than usual for early varietals, such as pinot grigio and chardonnay.

“I think we’re going to see some harvest in July,” Lerner said. “It’s pretty crazy.”

Aside from the challenges of preparing for an early harvest, the primary concern with early bud break is fending off mildew. Lerner believes this year’s crop will be average in yield but potentially one of the best in quality in recent memory.

“If the season goes the way it has started, it’s really going to be a magical year,” he said.

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Sherry baby

Sherry has long been a staple in Europe. But in this country, the fortified wine always seems to be the next big trend only never to establish a foothold. Sherry is not for everyone. The alcohol tends to be higher than table wine, and the aromas and flavors can be intense and off-putting to some, yet exhilarating to others.

Some regard sherry as nothing more than a cooking wine most have buried in the back of the cupboard or something so sweet, it could peel the enamel off your teeth. But it might surprise you to know sherry is made in a variety of styles — from bone dry to sticky sweet — and can be ideal before, during or after a meal, or as a star cocktail ingredient, depending on the style.

Sherry is made predominantly from white Palomino grapes and fortified with neutral grape spirits to boost the alcohol and stop the fermentation process. Sherries are aged in barrels using the solera system, where older wine is blended with newer wine. This method grew out of necessity when sailors needed a way to prevent their wine from spoiling during long oceanic voyages, thus sherry’s enduring popularity in European seafaring countries, such as Portgual, Spain, France and England.

Some of the more popular styles are Fino sherry, which is light in color and dry on the palate; Amontillado, which starts as a Fino but is darker due to exposure to oxygen; Oloroso, which has complex characteristics and is darker than Amontillado; and Pedro Ximenez, a sweet, dessert wine made from dried grapes.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I shared three samples of sherry from the esteemed Gonzalez Byass Familia de Vino in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, founded in 1835, with Paul Marsh’s Sommelier Bootcamp class at his wine bar and restaurant, Mile Wine Company in Stockton. Seven of us took part in the tasting, and those who hadn’t tried sherry seemed to gain an appreciation for one of the world’s classic styles of wine.

Here is what we tried:

• Tio Pepe Palomino Fino Sherry ($25): Pale gold color with pronounced aromas of green apple, caramel and felt-tip marker. The palate is dry with flavors of green apple peel, salted caramel, almonds and a hint of asparagus. The wine spends a minimum of four years in American oak barrels following traditional solera system. The acid (pH 3) is high and the alcohol (15 percent) is medium-high with pronounced flavor intensity, light body and medium finish. Finos are aged under a protective, yeast-like layer of flor, which inhibits exposure to oxygen, making for a lighter, drier style. Serve chilled (40-50 degrees) with olives, Spanish tapas, sushi or salty cheeses, such as manchego or parmigiano-reggiano. Finos also are great in cocktails. Try mixing orange juice, vodka and Fino for a refreshing, spring-summer or brunch time refresher.

• Gonzalez Byass “Leonor” Palo Cortado Sherry ($25): Beautiful amber color at the core with an orange rim. Spectacular, pronounced, complex nose of roasted pecans, toffee, hazelnuts, French toast, brown sugar, vanilla and butter. One taster said it smelled like “the inside of Tootsie Pop.” A lot going on with this wine, which is similar in its flavor profile to Oloroso. High acid (pH 3.1) and high alcohol (20 percent), medium body, long finish. Spent 12 years in oak barrels following traditional solera system. Serve lightly chilled (50 degrees) with game, red meats or pecan pie.

• Gonzales Byass Nectar Pedro Ximenez Sherry ($25): Made from 100 percent Pedro Ximenez grapes that are dried to evaporate the water and intensify the sugar. Deep-mahogany color with aromas of raisins, stewed prunes, Fig Newtons, hazelnuts, toffee, smoke and wood. The flavors match the aromas in intensity and complexity. The acid is medium (pH 4.6) and the alcohol is medium-high (15 percent). Aged nine years following the traditional solera system. Best served chilled as an after-dinner drink, or with dark chocolate or ice cream.

Sherry is one of the world’s most enduring styles of wine. It’s different than Port. It’s different than most table wines. And different can be good.

 

 

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Oodles to do at Tudal

Tudal Winery's fruit, vegetable and herb garden.

Get out of the traffic and step back in time at Tudal Winery.

Set off Big Tree Road in north St. Helena along the Napa River, Tudal Winery is what Napa used to be when the industry was in its infancy and rustic wineries dotted the valley.

Sit and relax on the patio and gaze at the surrounding trees and vineyards, play a game of bocce and pick vegetables and herbs from the garden while sipping Tudal’s variety of wines.

Tudal Winery owner John Tudal, right, taking a break from working on his property.

Owner John Tudal (pronounced Two-Doll) and his friendly, attentive staff, including Alyse and Amanda in the tasting room, encourage visitors to explore the property, which opened in 1974 and is an homage to the Cerrutti family and its agricultural heritage dating to the early 1900s. George “Baci” Cerrutti started it all when he emigrated from Genoa, Italy, and set up a produce business in Alameda. Arnold Tudal married into the family and his son, John, carries on a tradition of hospitality and wine so fine, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio was a regular visitor.

Tudal produces about 1,000 cases per year, offering several varietials and blends, including a dynamite Carneros Pinot Noir. But Cabernet Sauvignon is king with grapes from its estate and sources in Napa and Sonoma.

Here are just some of their offerings:

2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($115): The flagship wine is an estate blend from the nine-year-old Napa River block and 35-year-old Old Vine block. Complex, rich, full-bodied.

2012 Baci’s Bin 32 Napa Valley ($24): This Super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is a nod to a family four generations strong in the agriculture and wine-making businesses. Rich blackberry and cherry jam flavors, medium tannin and medium acid. Pairs with red sauces and braised meats.

2011 Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($65): Sourced from a 1.8-acre vineyard in the Oak Knoll District in Napa, this opulent wine delivers spices and rich, blackberry flavors. Aged in 80-percent French and 20-percent American oak, there is substantial backbone here, making it suitable to age eight to 10 years.

2011 Gibson Vineyard Pinot Noir ($42): Burgundian in style, meaning it’s soft and nunanced with earthy characteristics. The nose offers a hint of licorice and tell-tale ripe red cherries with a wet forest floor component in the background. Would pair well with duck or pork chops.

Tudal Winery's estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

2012 Tractor Shed Red ($15): Named for the 1947 Massey-Harris red tractor Arnold Cerrutti used to work the fields. The tractor sits on display in front of Tudal’s tasting room. Fun to drink by itself or with hamburgers and pizza.

2014 MerBlanc Rose ($15): A woman with a mischievous grin wearing sunglasses and looking ready for the beach stares from the label of this pale-salmon colored wine brimming with aromas of grapefruit zest and white peach juice. Would really refresh on a hot day.

In 2011, Cerrutti Cellars and Tasting Room opened in Oakland’s Jack London Square a stone’s throw from the century-old Produce Market, where George, Arnold and John sold their produce. Inside what was a cold-storage building for the Armour Food Company, Cerrutti Cellars and Tasting Room is one of, at last check, 22 urban wineries in the East Bay, an area experiencing an explosing of such establishments.

If you go:

Tudal Winery

1015 Big Tree Road

St. Helena, CA 94574

(707) 963-3947

tudalwinery.com

Hours: Wed.-Sun., 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Closed Mondays and Tuesdays

Cerrutti Cellars and Tasting Room

100 Webster Street, Suite 100

Oakland, CA 94607

(510) 550-2900

cerrutticellars.com

Hours: Sat.-Sun., 12:30-5:30 p.m.

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Area wines shine at CWA

Area wineries fared well at the recent Consumer Wine Awards in Sacramento.

D’Art’s 2012 Zinfandel ($24) was awarded Best of Class and Best of Show Red with 94 points, and was one of 10 platinum-award winners among 490 wines from nine states that were submitted.

The 2012 3 Girls Cabernet Sauvignon from Lodi ($13.99) received Best of Class. Macchia of Lodi received 94 points and a platinum award for its 2013 “Ambitious” Zinfandel ($18), and its 2013 “Dubious” Petite Sirah ($24) received a gold medal with 93 points.

Lewis Grace’s 2012 Barbera from Amador County ($27) received Best of Class, and Ripken’s 2008 Souzao/Touriga National from Lodi ($20) was a platinum-award winner with 96 points in the vintage dated fortified wine category.

For the second year in a row, I was fortunate to be one of 144 evaluators who spent a couple hours on April 11 at the McClellan Conference Center tasting wine for this event that strives to be unpretentious. The whole point of the competition is to remove the snobbery in wine evaluation. Tasters are not industry professionals, just ordinary people who enjoy wine and know what they like. The instructions were clear: Taste the wine and determine whether you’d buy it at your local market.

Each evaluator blind tasted up to 27 samples from a specific varietal or category, and assigned each a point value on a scale from 0 (don’t like it at all) to 7 (best wine ever). No one sat next to someone tasting the same wines. The only information provided on our scoring sheets was the number assigned to the sample, its price category ($12 under, $12-$35, $35 and over) and the amount of residual sugar. Evaluators were allowed to see what they tasted at the after party at the nearby Lion’s Gate Hotel.

For the second year in a row, I tasted Pinot Noir, my favorite varietal. The styles ranged from fruit driven to earthy. These were my favorites.

In the $12-$35 category: 2010 Ripken Vineyards from Lodi ($25). For the second year in a row, I rated Ripken high, giving it seven points. It received 84 points for a bronze, but what do the other evaluators know.

In the $35 and over category: 2012 Silver Mountain Vineyards Santa Lucia Highlands ($40). It was awarded Best of Class and received a gold medal with 92 points. I gave it a seven, and the other evaluators seemed to agree with me on this one.

Check out consumerwineawards.com for more information and consider signing up to be a volunteer or evaluator next year. If you like evaluating wine, you’re exactly the kind of person they are looking for.

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Mark the Maverick

Lincoln High graduate Mark Matheson could be making wine in California.

But that would be too easy.

Former Stockton resident and 1981 Lincoln High graduate Mark Matheson owns a winery in Rio Rancho, N.M.

The former Stockton resident enjoys a challenge, so more than 20 years ago he took his considerable talents, honed at Delta College and UC Davis, to the high desert of New Mexico, where he has crafted beer for several companies over the years and made wine under his Matheson Winery label since 2006.

“Who goes to Davis and then goes to New Mexico?” the 52-year-old husband and father of two grown children said. “Nobody does that. All of my classmates are in Napa or San Luis Obispo.”

Which is precisely why Matheson craved to carve his own path.

“California has been so established,” Matheson said. “I wanted a new kind of pioneering territory.”

Just call him Mark the Maverick.

It might surprise you to know New Mexico is the oldest grape growing region in the country, dating to 1629. But its once thriving winemaking industry dropped under prohibition and repeated flooding of the Rio Grande River. Today, there are only about 42 wineries in New Mexico, according to the New Mexico Wine Growers Association, compared to close to 4,000 in California, according to the California Wine Institute.

New Mexico receives almost zero recognition as a winery destination. But Matheson would like to change wine lovers’ perceptions about his adopted state one bottle at a time. His award-winning wines are sold online and from his tasting room located in a strip mall along Highway 528 in Rio Ranch, N.M.

Matheson sources 100 percent New Mexico fruit and crafts Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, red blends and sweet wines. His annual production fluctuates, but usually reaches about 500 cases.

New Mexico’s soil generally is sandy, creating wine grapes high in acid and high in pH. The vines begin to shut down in mid-September, when the fruit for reds generally reaches its sweet spot of 24 brix (sugar level) and pH 4. The higher pH means the wines tend to be lighter in color, and the high acidity keeps the alcohol in check.  

Matheson’s 2013 Cabernet Franc ($20) has a red-brown color with medium aroma intensity of red fruit, dark plums and spices, such as black pepper and cloves, with a hint of tobacco. The palate is dry with medium acid, medium tannin and medium-minus alcohol (12.5 percent) with medium flavor intensity of blackberries, dark plums and a slight smokiness. It’s developing and is suitable to drink now or put away for 3 to 5 years.

Matheson’s 2014 Chardonnay ($16) is pale lemon in color with medium-minus aroma intensity of citrus fruit, like lemons, lemon peel and grapefruit peel. The palate is dry with high acid, medium-minus alcohol (12.5 percent), and medium-minus flavor intensity of citrus with a pleasing toasty bread flavor. The wine sits on its lees (dead yeast cells) for four months to add body and ages solely in stainless steel to preserve the crisp acidity. This wine is developing and suitable to drink now.

Matheson also is a partner at Kaktus Brewing Company in Rio Ranch and a winemaking and brewing consultant.

Matheson is committed to making wines true to New Mexico.

“I like the New Mexico style,” Matheson said. “The climate really kind of dictates what the wines taste like.”

Matheson Winery

103 Rio Ranch Drive

Rio Ranch, N.M. 87124

(505) 350-6557

Mathesonwines.com

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      Bob Highfill

      Record Sports Editor Bob Highfill is a wine enthusiast and has earned Level 3 certification with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust of London through the Napa Valley Wine Academy. Bob will share some of his experiences from his travels to Lodi and other prime wine locales in his blog and welcomes your suggestions, reviews and wine speak.
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