Here’s Why To Try Old or Ancient Vine Zinfandel from Mendocino or Lodi

What should you pour on Thanksgiving to pair with turkey, ham, or prime rib?

I say Old Vine ZINFANDEL!

(Although I must admit after tasting these three Beaujolais with coq a vin I was reminded how well that works too!)

Last Wednesday, on Zinfandel Day 2017, Sue, John, and I tasted FOUR old vine or ancient vine zinfandel: three from Lodi as part of a Facebook live event and one from Mendocino; all four were samples sent for our review consideration. Two of them should be easy to find in your nearby supermarket! Plus I tasted a blend that features Lodi and Mendocino old and ancient vines fruit that has been aged in bourbon barrels — and you should be able to find that one as well.

We’re fans of Zinfandel around here: we also did a Pre-Zinfandel Day warm up post featuring two more old and ancient vine Zinfandel from Lodi.  Last summer we did a Lodi-centric tasting with 13 zinfandels.  And after the 2008 and the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conferences, I came home with MANY bottles of Zinfandel which we tasted and I wrote about here (2008) and here (2016).

But if you’re not convinced that zin is the direction you want to go, check out this post all about what wines to bring for Thanksgiving.

And now back to ZINFANDEL.

Old or ancient vine zinfandel? What does that even mean?

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Tie Dye, Zinfandel, Burgers: Summer of Love 50th Anniversary BBQ

What comes to mind when you think Summer of Love? How about long-haired hippies wearing tie dye and drinking wine?

we tie dyed this shirt for Lucy in the Sky

In 1967, 75,000-100,000 young people converged onto San Francisco in what became known as the “Summer of Love.”

That makes this summer the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. And to mark this date, San Francisco and other communities including Ventura are holding events and exhibitions in commemoration. Ventura’s Museum has a special exhibition up through August and events include the Grateful Tribute Band Cubensis.. Read more about how the Summer of Love began in this Vanity Fair article.

the wine that inspired the party… which I thought was a Lodi zin…

And what can you do? Well, how about hosting a tie dye party? That’s what Sue and John did! With plenty of zinfandel and burgers too!

Because anyone can throw a backyard BBQ but why not mix it up by offering a craft or organizing a tasting? And make it easy by offering a burger bar with sides prepared in advance and shared potluck style!

We invited a bunch of people and we gathered a case or so of different bottles of Zinfandel– and one Tie Dye red blend. One person supplied the tasting note sheets, and we opened the bottles around a big table with some appetizers in the center. While the corn and turkey and beef burgers were cooking, we tasted the wines and wrote down our notes and votes. We encouraged folks to taste the white zin first but other than that, people tasted the wine that was closest to them and in general worked their way clockwise around the table. Then we converged on the burger bar, loaded up our plates, and tasted the wines with food. And at one point or another, people did some tie-dying!

Barry and Edie getting their tie dye on!

And this is what we came up with!

Note: We had everyone vote for their favorite #1, #2 and #3 by placing a raffle ticket in a jar with the number on it. We assigned first place votes 3 points, second place votes 2 points, and third place votes 1 point. If a wine received a #1 vote, I wrote the score down. Read on to see which one won!

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#WineStudio Zinfandel March Madness; reviews of 3 from Cantara Cellars

This month, Wine Studio is all in for zin! Zinfandel that is… after all, it is lent!

For the final four Tuesdays in March, Wine Studio, which hosts a weekly virtual tasting on Tuesday nights from 6-7pm, will focus on

The Translational Role of Winemaker through a Single Grape

“Zinfandel has been the archenstone for the California wine scene since the mid 1800s,” writes Wine Studio, but what 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.”

Each week features a small production winery with a unique take on zinfandel. Continue reading

Cheers to Nat’l #ZinDay W Nov 19!

Just in time for Thanksgiving and other holiday feasts, it’s National Zinfandel Day on Wednesday, November 19, 2014. 2015. Continue reading

Holiday Wine Challenge Part 3: Ham & Zin!

I realize now that fixing a two traditional holiday Thanksgiving or Christmas meals –first a ham dinner then a turkey dinner– and tasting a bunch of wines with the food really was quite a challenge. If I was a stay at home wine blogger (and not teaching 75% time, working on a PhD, and being a mom!), I am sure I could have accomplished it before Thanksgiving! As it is, I made due with a steady stream of tweets and facebook posts to share what I was tasting and learning. And I know thanks to search engines, people will be finding these posts for years to come!

So wthis zin is great with ham or turkey for holiday meals like Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easterhat did I learn about ham and wine?

The big surprise was how well the ham dinner went with the 2007 Sonoma County St Francis Old Vines Zinfandel (under $20). I knew I would like this wine with turkey but on a whim I decided to open it. As I tasted through the line-up, I didn’t expect much of the zin. However, the chemical reaction between the ham and the zin was wonderfully tasty!

So much so that if I was to recommend one wine to bring, especially f you didn’t know what was going to be served, I’d go with a zinfandel because it works with ham, turkey, appetizers including blue cheese and crackers, as well as red meats like prime rib.

Zinfandel is a wonderful food wine and accessible to many people even if they are not regular wine drinkers. Read my discussion of the St Francis Zin with turkey here.

My second favorite for the ham from this line-up is the 2010 M. Chapoutier Bellaruche Cotes-du-Rhone. Personally, I really enjoy dry roses with ham (here’s a discussion of a dry rose from Bordeaux with ham).  There is something about the combo of the spice and sweetness and salitiness that makes this work so well. I also tried this the next morning with ham and eggs and a cranberry pecan scone and I would definitely recommend this wine for brunch or one of those breakfast for dinner kind of nights.

I also tried the 2010 Oak Mountain Winery Muscat from Temecula Valley CA $18 (winery price) because I had an open bottle. I liked this well enough with the ham. Here’s more about it in my post about the International Food Bloggers Conference dinner which is where I got it. I should have included a Riesling or Gewürztraminer in the tasting as these are typically great wines with ham. But there was already a lot of wine open!

The other two wines I tried were also good wines but not that exciting with ham:

2009 Louis Jadot  Beaujolais-Villages considered one of the best wines under $25!

While this wine wasn’t my favorite with the ham, it’s a great choice for appetizers. I love it with pate, cheese and crackers.

2009 Craggy Ridge Pinot Noir ($35-45) As I wrote when I reviewed it with turkey, this is a lovely, delightful complex pinot noir, full of earth and moss and violets and chocolate and tarragon, truly a wonderful Pinot Noir from New Zealand, lush, sensual. I wouldn’t bring this wine to a big holiday meal with tons of people– save it for when you can focus on it and savor it! I bet it would be better with a pork loin or chop than with salty ham.

What wine do you like to drink with ham?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Which wines to serve for a Happy Thanksgiving?

For weeks now, the wine bloggosphere has been dizzy with recommendations for wines to pair with Thanksgiving meals, especially how to find wines that will work with everything from appetizers to turkey to pecan pie!

The answer is: bring a bunch of different wines!

As you can imagine, I am the wine person in our gatherings. I usually bring Continue reading

Wine Blogging Weds #60: Ridge is Zin-Full! And a dozen more zins too!

wbw-newFor this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday #60, host Sonadora prompts us to Zin with BBQ and reminds us that Lenn of Lenndevours started this off five years ago this month. Happy 5th Birthday, WBW!

At my house, we love both zin and BBQ, and enjoy both often, so the only question around here was which zinfandel and what shall we BBQ?

Both questions were answered simply. For grilling,  I found a beautiful, thick porterhouse steak on sale at Vons which we enjoyed with fire roasted CSA corn and new potatoes cooked with lots of garlic and rosemary. We also had a lively tomato/basil/garlic bruschetta with toasted sourdough.

When I think zin, I think Ridge.IMG_0889 Ridge Tasting Room and picnic tables

Afterall, that’s where I cut my wine teeth when I worked the tasting room up on Monetbello Ridge back in my early 20s. I did consider opening something else–in the cellar up at my mom’s house I have a few zins to choose from including a Glaymond from Australia which I bought on Dan Phillips recommendation at a Grateful Palate warehouse sale that I’ve been looking forward to trying on the right occasion.

But I didn’t get a chance to peruse the wine cellar and so happily I went for the classic 2006 Ridge Lytton Spring Dry Creek Valley because I had a bottle here. I’m also thrilled that it’s organic even though they don’t brag about it.

I believe you should always have a bottle of Ridge zinfandel at home. No home should be without one!

Now before I get to talking about that bottle of Ridge wine and the grilling, I want to say something about zinfandel. And about Ridge:

Though born in the early sixties to the post-Prohibition world of modern California winemaking, Ridge relies on nature and tradition rather than technology. Our approach is straightforward: find intense, flavorful grapes; intrude upon the process only when necessary; draw the fruit’s distinctive character and richness into the wine.

Most people by now know the story of how some California wines showed strongly against the French thanks to the recent movie Bottleshock (and if you haven’t seen it yet, you should! It’s a really good which you can enjoy whether you’re into wine or not. If you are into wine, you might just want to buy a copy–it’s only $15. It’s cast really well with strong acting and the vineyard shots are gorgeous, too).

And that’s an impressive story–how Ridge’s Montebello Cab Sauv raised eyebrows and changed the wine world that day.

But the story about Ridge that moves me most is how a bunch of wine enthusiasts banded together to make wine and buy a winery. They figured since they were scientists and into experimenting, they’d buy a bunch of this grape juice that no one was interested in– a grape juice called “zinfandel.” And instead of blending it all together, why not make a bunch of small lots and see what they tasted like and how they might be different?

At least this is the version of the story I heard from the owners of Ridge when they enticed me to leave Peet’s coffee in Menlo Park and come work for them in their tasting room on Saturdays. And this is the version I remember because I love the romance of it, the story of passion and curiousity, of turning something that had little value and showing the world what it’s worth. It’s a great story and would make a wonderful movie (are you listening, Marc Lhormer of Zin Haze, producer of Bottleshock?)

It seems to me that if Ridge hadn’t gone out on a limb there and made wonderful, wild, wacky zin and exposed this fabulous grape to the wine drinkers of the west and the world, that much of the old growth zin would have been yanked out and replanted when all anybody want to drink was cab cab and more cab (and maybe merlot and chardonnay).

I loved trying and tasting all the various vineyards of Ridge zinfandel back then,  and I still do. In fact, last year after the Wine Bloggers Conference, I came home with quite a selection of Dry Creek Valley zins and proceeded to host a tasting. We tried the wines with crackers then with a dinner of spaghetti and red meat sauce from Ferraros. Here’s a rundown of our tasting notes from that night:

Bella Vineyard and Wine Caves: 2006 100% DCV zin, 15% alcohol $35.
Smoke right away (tar?), dark cherry, blackberry, smooth and silky yet “jazzy.” Hangs around.

Copain 2003 Arrowhead Mountain Zin 14.8
Smoother, a little smoke like smoked salmon, barn, leather, hay, thick.

Dutcher Crossing 2006 Maple Vineyard DCV 91% Zin, 9% Petit Sirah; old vines 14.8%
I was reminded right away of the light rose raspberry currant spice of carnation vanilla natural perfumed scent of an old beautiful elegant refined woman smiling, and I couldn’t shake her. Maybe it was the time of year, here on the heels of Halloween, but I couldn’t help but like her and want to know her better. (Jock’s favorite–he worked as a sommelier at the Ranch House in Ojai 30 years ago…)

Mauritson 2005 Growers Reserve DCV Zin 15.5
Very fruity, muddy, hard to taste after the Dutcher

Mauritson 2006 DCV Zin Rockpile Ridge 15.5
Clear sense of cherry, bramble

Fritz 2006 14.6% DCV Zin
Butterscotch, black fruit, hay, leather. Lots going on.

Pedroncelli 2006 14.6%
This wine went really really well with dinner! Very satisfying and pleasurable! Easy going yet meaty and smooth.

Talty 2005 Zin Estate 15.0%
I remember really liking this one: peppery, complex, intriguing, a conversation starter of a wine

And given a choice for which wine I wanted “tattooed” –I chose zin! Some of the Sonoma County zins I tasted and enjoyed this year at the Wine Bloggers Conference include:

Teresina 2007 McLeod Family Vineyard (14.9) Surprised me with strong notes of rich chocolate, and chocolate covered dried fruits, and with how much I enjoyed it!

Joseph Swann Mancini Ranch 2005 Russian River Valley (13.9) Pleasure in a bottle–I felt like I could drink this day and night and never get tired of it. This is a zin drinkers classic zin and it was a very popular zin at the WBC tasting Friday night.

 Wine Bloggers Conference 2009 Sunday tasting at Dry Creek VineyardDry Creek Vineyard Beeson Ranch 2006 (15%) Love those old vine zins–there’s a richness, a depth there, and a complexity in the spice I adore.

Rued 2005 Dry Creek (15.8) Don’t let the monster alcohol scare you on this one–there’s more going on than just heat, but you’re not going to get it if the wine isn’t “cellar” temperature (not room temperature!) At the WBC tasting, the day and the wine was just too hot for this one to shine. As I was able to take an almost full open bottle home, I cooled it off enough to enjoy it.

So back to Ridge–and Wine Blogging Wednesday #60: BBQ & zin.

Now to be honest, while we’re big on BBQ, I’m not hip to the sauce, which I think is part of Sonadora’s original concept for this prompt. We’ve found we like to drink zin with tri-tip, without sauce in my case but often intensely marinated.

What we like best with a porterhouse steak–which is what we grilled for this prompt– is a cab or a cab-syrah blend. For filet mignon, I’m going syrah where the Big Monkey really likes the cab-syrahs. So in addition to the Ridge Lytton Springs 2006, we tried a cab-syrah-sirah blend, Tytanium Ty Caton which I brought home from WBC and had stored in the fridge.

At first, the Tytanium didn’t show well at all: it had been opened at the WBC, then a few days later gassed, then kept cold. Other wines I tasted the day it was gassed were more interesting,  which didn’t mean that it wasn’t great, just that the others overwhelmed it. I was surprised at how long it took to warm up–in fact, we were just about done with dinner before it offered much in the way of character.

On the other hand, the Ridge Lytton Springs (14.7%) was lively and delightful right from the start, with a bright garnet or even ruby sapphire color, and some rich caramel notes; we fought over the glass. It’s a classic zin with some bramble, some earth, some tobacco, some spice–like the cinnamon and cardamom of a carnation, and some cecil bruner rose. I also got cranberrry going on. I’d tasted a split of this a few weeks ago at the winery; it was smoother, richer, and creamier than this bottle of the same blend of 80% zin, 16% petit sirah, and 4% carignane, so that tells me the direction this will likely go over time in the cellar. Right now, it’s a bit puckery; the wine maker John Olney suggests that it be cellared for up to 10 years. All Ridge wines–while great immediately–can stand to use some time in the cellar. This one stood up well to the garlicky rosemary potatoes, and certainly complemented my filet mignon portion of the porterhouse steak. you can generally find this wine between $22 and $35, and it shows up on wine lists for a reasonable price as well.

Over the evening, the Tytanium opened up and became more complex, engaging, and a downright pleasure that I felt selfish to be enjoying by myself.  Super inky in the glass, I’m sure it would have been lovely with the meal also. Would it be a go to wine for me at $75 a bottle? Some time in the cellar would replicate the aging I gave it by opening it and drinking it over time, so it would be good to put down for awhile and see what happens.

Truthfully, I’d be more likely to invest the $75 in a Ridge Montebello cab. But then, as you can tell, I’m a Ridge kinda gal.

Some closing details from the Ridge website:

Lytton Springs

Lytton Springs map


First RIDGE Lytton Springs: 1972
Location: The bench and hills separating Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys, just north of Healdsburg in Sonoma County.
Elevation: 80′ – 160′
Soils: Varied, with a predominance of gravelly clay; gravelly clay loam on hillsides.
Age of vines: Lytton East: 111-year-old zinfandel, petite sirah, grenache, carignane (42 acres).
Lytton West: 48-year-old zinfandel, grenache, carignane (33 acres), 5 to 12-year-old zinfandel, petite sirah, grenache, mataro (27 acres).
Training: Head trained (no trellis), spur pruned.
Yields: 1.5 – 3.0 tons/acre
Climate: Fog in a.m., warm sunny afternoons, breezes in late p.m.
Exposure: Southeasterly
Owner: Ridge Vineyards


Ridge made its first Lytton Springs from the 80- year- old vines here in 1972, and purchased both the eastern and western portions of the vineyard in the early 1990s. (In the 1870s, under “Captain” William Litton’s ownership, the two were part of one property; spelling evolved into “Lytton” by 1903.) The vineyard is planted to zinfandel and its principal complementary varietals: petite sirah, carignane, a small amount of mataro (mourvèdre), and grenache.