wine tasting

  • Zealous for Zinfandel

    April 19, 2018 15:52

    Zealous for Zinfandel

    I know I have a pretty good life here in Dry Creek Valley. Either I’m looking at or walking through our Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard, visiting my markets where I present our wines to accounts (always with Zin in the bag) or attending events featuring more Zin. It is a good to be in the Zin business these days.

    Recently I was a guest at an event called Sonoma Summit sponsored by the Sonoma County Vintners, hosted by Sbragia Winery (thanks Ed and Adam-the view was fabulous) and the guests were 30 sommeliers from across the U.S. I was there, along with 11 other Zinfandel producing wineries, to talk about our own individual Zealous for Zinfandel stories. I was the only one who wasn’t a winemaker by the way-so I didn’t get into the weeds trying to talk about pH or brix. The organizers paired up four wines at a time from different appellations within Sonoma County. Some vintages varied between 2015 and 2016. Each speaker told their stories of farming zinfandel, waxed eloquent about the process, gave inside stories on what Zinfandel means to them. Then we tasted through the flights with the stories fresh in our minds.

    I found the Zins all shared some wonderful DNA characteristics-whether grown in Sonoma Valley or Rockpile, Dry Creek Valley (represented with 4 offerings) or Russian River Valley. The ‘Z’NA I write of was the defining spice-berry dynamic of the Zinfandel grape that wove itself throughout the 12 wines. It was pointed out a couple of times how difficult a grape it is to ripen hence to bring out the dynamic between fruit and spice, soil and hillside. At Pedroncelli we call it personality. Our Mother Clone Zinfandel has quite a personality. It’s spice-forward rather than fruit-forward and showed quite an affinity to pairing up with the Hoisin-braised Pork Belly, the featured dish of the Dry Creek Valley flight.

    All in all it showed we were all fans of this grape with roots in Dry Creek Valley going back to the 1850s when it was first planted. Half of all Zinfandel grown in Sonoma County is right here in our little valley-a mighty showing from the smallest of the four major appellations! And the opportunity to compare with 5 other sub-appellations was priceless. The next time you try a Zinfandel do some detective work: where it came from, what shows up in the aromas and flavors, and realize how different this grape is from other red wines out there.

  • The 4 S's of Wine Tasting

    March 2, 2016 17:21

    Swirl, sniff, sip and spit was the phrase used in the 1980s and 1990s by our Sonoma County Wineries Association to help people in a humorous way to taste wine responsibly. Easy to remember not always easy to do especially the last word.

    When visitors stop by tasting rooms they happily swirl the wine in the glass, take a sniff to enjoy the aromas and then sip a bit of the wine to get the full enjoyment of the tasting experience. Spitting, not so much. They ‘don’t want to waste the wine’ or are uncomfortable spitting something out in front of others. I am here to say it really is the best thing you can do in order to maintain yourself at a good pace at each winery. Getting blotto by the end of the day shouldn’t be your goal. Getting educated about what you like and don’t like, trying new wines, spitting or pouring out what is left in your glass is completely acceptable at any tasting room anywhere in the world. I prefer to bring a plastic cup with me-the popular red cup is great because it isn’t see-through. Many tasting rooms offer cups to use as an important responsible hospitality tool. As we get ready to welcome our visitors to Barrel Tasting over the next two weekends, I’ll be reminding everyone not to be afraid to swirl, sniff, sip AND spit. Cheers with a splash of vino in my Dino-the original plastic cup!

    Swirl, sniff...sip and spit.


  • OTBN Pt. 2

    February 26, 2016 17:25

    Open That Bottle Night is tomorrow night, the 27th of February. This is a fun way to take a look at the wines you have stored or saved over the years-and even if you don’t have a cellar or closet to age wine pick something up you haven’t tried before.

    In the case you have an older vintage on your hands remember to check a few things out: fill level of bottle or any leaks through the cork. If you have a two-pronged wine opener this is best for older corks but careful use of a regular corkscrew should to the trick. Decant if you like although I think the aromas of an older vintage (15-20-30 years old) tends to dissipate quickly. Needless to say don’t linger over an aged wine-it is delicate in its old age.

    I am at this moment looking at an empty bottle of the 1972 Pinot Noir, one of which we bought at your winery. My husband is now gone and I decided to try it to see if it as still drinkable. Well, it is the most fabulous wine I had ever tasted and I drank it at the rate of about an inch an evening. Thank your family for such a wonderful experience. Geraldine W.

    Re: 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon: Opened tonight with little hope that it would still be drinkable. Amazingly alive and vibrant. Tastes 20 yrs younger You guys are good. Charles J.

    I recently drank a 1978 bottle of your Cabernet Sauvignon & it was terrific! I found it in a wine rack in the garage of an old house near Eugene, Oregon, which hadn't been lived in for over 10 years. It had undergone winter lows of about 20 degrees & summer highs of 90 - 100 degrees. This is approximate, but it would be simple enough to check the weather history. Bill M. (while we don’t recommend our Cabernet be aged this way I am glad it tasted good!)

    And the highly unusual for a 23 year old white wine:

    My wife and i just opened a bottle of 1985 Chenin Blanc that my father was keeping in his celler these past few years (23). We had the pleasure of opening this bottle tonight and it was excellent. We normally drink your cab, but very much enjoyed this bottle. Thank you, your family, and hard working staff for the wonderful wines you bring into this world. Bill & Diana T.

    A toast in my Dino with a bottle of 2004 Mother Clone Zinfandel-that is the plan for tomorrow night!

    1973 Cabernet Sauvignon

  • OTBN Pt. 1

    February 24, 2016 17:29

    Open That Bottle Night (OTBN for short) is scheduled for Saturday February 27. Here is a link to the people and the history behind it, Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher. I am championing this event because I think those of us who love wine have stored away a bottle or two, saving it for a special day. OTBN is that special day when hundreds, maybe thousands, of wine lovers will be opening their special bottle along with us.

    Gather friends or loved ones close and have a few things on hand in case they are needed. First check the bottle you’d like to open and make sure the wine is sound by checking the fill level or if there are any leaks around the capsule/cork. Have a two pronged opener in case the cork is old and delicate-wines over 20 years old would be in this category as the cork ages too! If you have a decanter use it on wines less than 10 vintages old-older than this the decanting might aerate the delicate aromas away. As the OTBN rules suggest, have a ‘plan B’ wine on hand in case the first one has gone over the hill. Have fun with this-I’ll be posting my bottle on Friday and opening it Saturday night. A toast to older vintages and special wines!

    Here is a bottle we opened with friends from Amathus Drinks who were visiting us this week from England-it was truly enjoyed by all. The wine was sound, the fruit and oak notes still alive, yet the tannin had softened up quite a bit making it all the more enjoyable.

    1995 Cabernet Sauvignon

    Say hello to our friends Lucy, to my left, my husband Ed, Leo, Lee and Will. We had a smashing dinner!

    Dinner Group Feb 2016


  • Barrel Tasting Know How

    February 18, 2016 17:37

    Today I’m going to divert a bit and talk about barrel tasting. The reason? Our own Sonoma-grown Barrel Tasting is in a few short weeks so I thought I’d share some advice when it comes to tasting wines straight out of the barrel.

    First of all, at our winery, you’ll be trying wine that is thieved directly out of the barrel it is aging in. The barrel room is 55 degrees or even cooler during the winter months. Once you have the wine in your glass try warming up the bowl of the wineglass with your hands. This will release some aromatics from the cold liquid and help you determine the fruit or subtle oak notes developing in the bouquet. Swirl the wine, appreciate the color and release the aromatics.

    If your nose becomes overwhelmed it becomes deadened to the nuances in your glass. Much like passing a perfume or cologne counter and smelling too many inhibits your olfactory senses. My recommendation is to turn your head and inhale some fresh air or smell the back of your hand (!) especially if you haven’t slathered on some perfume or cologne. This gives your nose a break and readjusts it so the aromas can be enjoyed.

    Next thing is to take a sip. Now just a sip-you’ll have many wines to enjoy besides ours at Pedroncelli. You decide if you want to spit and remain a responsible taster. Taking one of those plastic red cups along (you know-the ones that typically hold beer) and spitting into them helps or we’ll have convenient spit buckets around the barrel room for you to use.

    Lastly you are at the winery, in the midst of knowledgeable staff, ask questions! We would be happy to answer any and all your inquiring minds have about our wines and vineyards. A toast to barrel tasting with some of our Wisdom Cabernet Sauvignon-our featured barrel sample this year!

    For more on winetasting here are some great tips sponsored by the Wine Road-the handsome guy from Pedroncelli gives some great advice!

    Barrel Tasting sample

  • 2015 vs 2012

    October 2, 2015 13:59

    More harvest know-how continues in my blog this month along with other cellar and vineyard post-season matters. Today I am comparing the difference between Cabernet Sauvignon which has just completed its’ fermentation process and gone through the press with a current release that is three years older. The new wine has just spent 10 days in a temperature controlled stainless steel tank with the cap of skins where all the color and flavor is stored. Pumpovers each day ensure the juice is in frequent contact with the cap. The differences aren’t too far apart when you look at the depth of color in the glasses-it is quite opaque. I see the real difference in the rim of the wine.

    2015 vs 2012

    The brilliant purple color of the new wine contrasts with the browner, reddish tones of the Cabernet that has been aged for one year in oak and bottle aged for another. In a few months the new Cabernet will be put to bed for its’ year in oak around January. The process of aging the wine will soften it, the color will also change from the deep purple to a red or garnet hue through the slow oxidation over the twelve months. When the wine is bottled and continues aging it also begins to change color but this is a slow process, taking several years, and ultimately fades a bit with time.

    1974 Cabernet Sauvignon

    Thanks to Robert F. for sending the photo of our 1974 Cabernet-you can see the color change in this now 40 year old wine. A splash of Cabernet, young or old, in my Dino today!

  • Winespeak: Body

    July 31, 2015 15:11

    Ending the month with a fairly well known wine word, body, seems appropriate as we end the theme about winespeak and move on to harvest know-how in August.

    When I drink water, juice or even vodka there is a mouthfeel (another winespeak word) as the liquid rolls around in your mouth on its way to your tummy. Our mouths, while used for speaking, breathing and a variety of other useful functions, taste and feel the beverage and is a large part of enjoying them. Body in wine is what you experience-is it heavy? Light? How does it interact with your taste buds?

    It is the ‘feel’ of wine. The weight on your tongue is what adds quite a bit to the tasting experience. And wine is not self-conscious, it doesn’t mind being called full-bodied. When stepping into the wine & food arena, you have some choices to make that pertains to the body of a wine. While I don’t make a lot of food & wine suggestions (leaving it up to you and your own taste) I like pairing a Zinfandel with ribs or Chardonnay with prawns because the body has a lot to do with how well the wine goes with food. Too heavy and it overpowers the pairing. Too light and the food overpowers the wine match. The alcohol level is one indicator of body as are the tannins and acidity. Check labels and tasting notes for information about these and become acquainted with the styles of varietals as well as wines. A touch of Sangiovese with my Margherita pizza will fill the bill tonight.

    A splash of vino with Margherita pizza at the famous Frank Pepe's Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven CT, a great pairing.

    Pizza and Wine


  • Winespeak: Fruit

    July 29, 2015 15:16

    All kinds of images come to mind when I think of fruity wines, but what does it really mean? Are red and white wines really ‘fruity’ like a tropical drink or Juicy Fruit gum? Wine grapes, after all, are fruit. I write fact sheets for our wines and they always include tasting notes. I rely on our winemaker Montse and cellarmaster Polo to help flesh them out-and each of us comes up with fruit descriptors that come close to what we taste and smell in a particular wine. Sometimes there is grapefruit in our Sauvignon Blanc or ripe black plum in our Cabernet Sauvignon. But these are descriptors and you might taste or smell something completely different. When tasting wine we need to rely on our own aroma history to come up with ways to describe what is in the glass.

    When I was first learning about wine one of my favorite classes was at UC Davis where John Buechsenstein taught a wine sensory evaluation course. With several rows of samples in front of me, each glass held a neutral wine with something extra: a cherry lifesaver, fresh herb, black peppercorns, bell pepper. I swirled and sniffed my way through the samples thereby learning through an intense aroma experience. The lifesaver, as intense as it was, helped establish the fruit character in my aroma library. With this in mind when you try a new wine or open an old favorite, keep the fruit in mind—and try to discern just how a wine grape can be so complex. A splash of Chardonnay with notes of pineapple and lemon in my Dino please.

  • Winespeak: Tannins

    July 24, 2015 15:22

    Posts this month focus on what I call ‘winespeak’ which are terms that sometimes are obvious in meaning and others are not. Today’s word is tannin.

    Recently I was talking to someone who was learning about wine and all the facets found in the taste of wine. He owns a restaurant and was looking for wines to pair with the style of food (Indonesian). I began talking about how acidity and tannins are the links between a great food and wine pairing because each plays an important role in the interplay between the two. I described tannins to him by saying, “remember when you were a kid and you licked a piece of chalk?” I then compared this feeling on the tongue to how tannins in red wine feel. Dusty, drying, almost gritty. And this is also why wines with tannins pair so well with food, especially rich in fat like cheese, steak, or ribs. It is the astringent quality in them which pairs so well with these types of food.

    Where do they come from? The reason red wines are the tannin conveyors instead of white wines is because the reds are fermented with the grape skins-and they are the source of tannins. (White wines still have some tannin but a very low amount.) Tannins add body (a term for another day) framing the fruit and acidity. They also soften with age and become better in balance after a year in oak and more time in the bottle. A little Cabernet Sauvignon in my Dino will go nicely with this grilled steak.

    Since you can’t photograph tannins I’ll leave you with a shot of our Cabernet Sauvignon ready for harvest in a previous vintage.

    Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Winespeak: Acidity

    July 22, 2015 15:39

    Posts this month focus on what I call winespeak which are terms that sometimes are obvious in meaning and others are not. Today’s word is acidity.

    Acidity is what you would call a building block toward balance in wine. Less of it and the wine becomes flabby, too much and your lips will pucker. Levels of acidity start with grapes and depend on the type of climate where they are grown. Dry Creek Valley, for instance, has warm days bracketed by marine fog. The cooling fog layer rolls in at the end of the day and stays sometimes until mid-morning. The combination both ripens and evens the development in the grapes by using a little refrigerator action in the evenings. Wines from warmer regions develop as well but in a different way. It is the reason we as farmers are concerned if the weather is too hot or too cool and the development isn’t all we hope for during the growing season.

    Basically wine has two types of acid: malic acid and lactic acid. Well you start with malic and in order to soften this sharp acidity the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation. The malic acid (think tart green apple) converts to lactic acid (dairy or butter essence) and makes the wine easier to swallow. The process is called malolactic fermentation by the way. All red wines undergo this conversion and some white wines do as well, like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. It all depends on the style the winemaker would like to achieve. And sometimes the decision to add more acid comes into play, depending on the inclination to higher or lower acidity. This year I am hanging my wine tasting hat on high acid white wines-so refreshing and crisp! A splash of Sauvignon Blanc in my Dino please.

    Sauvignon Blanc and a close-to-harvest shot from a previous vintage. We're not there yet but getting very close to picking the 2015 vintage!

    Sauvignon Blanc grape bunch