Zest for Zin?

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If you have a zest for Zin, be sure to circle these dates on your calendar — July 26 (Seattle) and July 29 (Portland). That’s when ZAP — Zinfandel Advocates and Producers — brings its popular summer wine tasting event to the northwest from San Francisco.

Winemakers and owners from more than 40 California wineries will be pouring 100+ Zinfandels at this fun event, including Cakebread Cellars, Steele Wines, Ravenswood, Cline Cellars and others.

In Seattle, 10 future chefs have been chosen from South Seattle College’s Culinary Arts department to compete in a BBQ cookoff. Each chef will grill a unique appetizer that pairs well with Zinfandel — and the lucky winner will receive an autographed bottle from each of the participating wineries. (I wish I could enter!)

We’ve been fans of Zin for years – and recently pampered our palate with this fine wine during our trip to Napa Valley last month. So we hope to see you there – The Gardens at South Seattle College’s Arboretum from 4:00 – 7:00 p.m. on July 26. Tickets are $40 and available at the ZAP website. A limited number of tickets might be available at the door, but why take chances and possibly miss out?

Cheers!

El Gaucho Seattle and Woodhouse – a Perfect Pairing

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Talk about a fabulous Friday — we had one of our best Friday evenings in months, thanks to Cooper Mills, general manager of El Gaucho Seattle, and Bijal Shah, guest sommelier and owner of The Woodhouse Wine Estates. A delicious meal, robust wine, attentive staff and a fun atmosphere – what more could you want for a night on the town?

El Gaucho Seattle was absolutely nothing like we expected. For years, we saw the staff in tuxedos at the door and decided that El Gaucho would be elitist, too grand and too expensive for our Seattle casual tastes. Wrong! 

Warm, friendly and experiential, that was our evening at El Gaucho Seattle. Around us were people of all ages, dressed in an array of fashion from jeans to suits, having a great time. There were romantic couples in dark corners, groups of friends laughing in the bar area, an emotional homecoming for a soldier returning from Iraq, young people celebrating after their prom, and an  elderly pair toasting their anniversary with excellent wine from The Woodhouse Wine Estates (formerly Woodhouse Family Cellars). And there were dozens of people clad head-to-toe in white attire — white suits, white flowing dresses, white hats, even white shorts — heading for a private party downstairs.

We immediately felt comfortable and kicked back with pours from Woodhouse — Hudson Shah Chardonnay, Dussek Cabernet and Kennedy Shah Reserve Syrah. Next came the tastiest burger in town for me and a mouth-watering steak sandwich for Dave. Another myth shattered – our evening at El Gaucho Seattle did not cost a fortune.

And then yet another surprise – Cooper took us upstairs for a tour of the Inn at El Gaucho. Wow! What a difference from when we stayed there ten years ago when we first moved to Seattle and I started a new job at KIRO. At the time, our room had some character but was simply old. Now – it is elegant yet comfortable, and fashionably funky, or as they call it, luxury urban with a “retro-swank fifties decor.” I would definitely recommend the Inn at El Gaucho to friends and family who come to visit (and need a place to stay because of allergies to our four dogs)!

Cheers!

Hall Wines in Napa Valley

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Next time you’re in Napa Valley, stop by the Hall St. Helena winery, which was just completed last fall. It’s now on our list of must-visits, thanks to my San Francisco colleague Erin, who recommended it when we were there a few weeks ago. The Cabs are amazing, the tasting room is beautiful and our host, Scott Herrmann, was friendly, passionate and knowledgeable.

Hall Cabs – there were several labels open when we stopped by – are incredible. But first Scott persuaded us to taste the 2007 T Bar T Sauvignon Blanc. I used the word “persuade” quite deliberately – regular readers of this blog know that we are not big white wine drinkers (except occasionally during the summer). Indeed, it was a hot sunny day in Napa Valley and Scott was absolutely right – it was a perfect start to our tasting. Part of this wine was fermented in French oak, while the majority was in stainless steel. The result is a clean fruit flavor with a light buttery underpinning. It could easily become our white wine of summer 2009!

And the Hall cabs – oh my. We could have spent the entire day there.

Each one we tasted was better than the one before: 2005 T Bar T Ranch Cab Sauv (inky dark with “poetic minerality”); 2006 Jack’s Masterpiece (an awesome wine with a blend of 94% Cab Sauv, 5% Malbec and 1% Merlot); 2005 Kathryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon (the signature Cab Sauv, smooth and robust, winning 92 points from The Wine Advocate and Wine Enthusiast); and last, but definitely not least, Hall 2005 “Bergfeld” St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon — best described a few months ago by Wine Enthusiast, which gave it 95 points: “This is one of those Napa Cabs that tastes glamorous. Even people who know little about wine will taste it and go, Wow. And the longer it sits in the glass and airs, the better it gets.”

Frankly, we can’t wait to go back to Hall Wines!

Cheers!

Frank Family Vineyards in Napa Valley

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If you’re looking for a friendly atmosphere, colorful stories, a rich history, a taste of Hollywood and some beautiful wines, Frank Family Vineyards should be on your list of stops in Napa Valley. First the wines … according to Wine Enthusiast (March 2009), “Frank Family is one of those wineries that Cab lovers should know more about.”

The 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is deep and opulent, the winner of Best of Class 2009 in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and a double gold, plus Best of Class, in the 2009 West Coast Wine Competition. The 2006 Napa Valley Zinfandel is a classic combination of fruits, peppers and spices. We loved it, along with the 2007 Zinfandel Reserve, which was excellent. The 2007 Sangiovese has a touch of Merlot and a touch of Cab to make it unique.

Our amiable host, Ron Keith, shared stories about the wines while pouring them, and then he took us to the back office to meet Dennis Zablosky, the delightful, colorful tasting room manager, whom we later discovered is very well known in Napa Valley (and in Washington state too by the De Lilles and the Dunhams).  Indeed, the Frank Family website notes that Dennis is a Napa native, “who was touted a ‘wine legend’ by Robert Mondavi and considered one of Napa’s best-known personalities.”

We totally enjoyed our chat with Dennis,who also poured us the 2005 Winston Hill – a “velvet bomb” that is bold, rich, elegant and silky all in one glorious sip. That is one special wine!And what an experience — Dennis regaled us with stories of the Frank Family, starting with owner Rich Frank, who was president of Walt Disney Studios, the Paramount Television Group and one of the founders of the USA Network, along with being president of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for six years. 

In 1992, Rich bought a co-ownership of Kornell Champagne Cellars on the site of historic Larkmead Winery (established in 1892), and by 2007 became the sole owner. Other members of the Frank Family are Daryl Frank, who is co-owner of DreamWorks Television and Paul Frank, Head of Televison for The Firm, Hollywood’s successful talent management company, whose clients include Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Martin Scorsese, Vin Diesel and Snoop Dogg.

In addition to the stories and the pours, our winery experience included the century-old building itself, with thick, stone walls and high-stacked barrels, surrounded by giant oak trees and spectacular vineyard views.

The only downside – you can’t buy the marvellous wines anywhere but from the winery and at a handful of select restaurants!

Cheers!

Titus Vineyards in Napa Valley

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Thanks to Christophe Smith, we had a truly engaging afternoon at Titus Vineyards in St. Helena. Titus is a wee bit hard to find, but well worth the effort. The turn-of-the century vineyard is on 40+ acres along the Silverado Trail. The charming farm house, where you can taste Titus wines (by appointment only), is off the main drag.

Christophe, whom I first “met” on Twitter, casually put a few bottles in a pack and led us outside to a picnic table under the shade of the trees, on the edge of the vineyards. His passion for Titus wines were understood after just a few sips.  

We loved the lush 2006 Zinfandel, which received 93 points and an Editors’ Choice award from Wine Enthusiast.  Petite Syrah (14%) was blended with the Zinfandel, adding a perfect touch in addition to balance. The tasting notes say it all: “Optimum cellaring for those with will power is 8-10 years.” We can also attest that it’s very drinkable right now. But I can’t attest to our will power!

Titus also shows why Cabernet is King in Napa Valley. Titus 2006 Cab Franc is fruit-forward while maintaining the smokiness that is a classic Franc characteristic. Christophe also offered us pours from two Cabernet Sauvignons – I adored the 2006 Cab Sauv, which is a traditional Bordeaux-style blend of 80% Cab Sauv, 9% Petit Verdot, 6% Malbec and 5% Merlot. But our favorite, and ultimately what we took home, was Titus 2006 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. We savored this rich, smooth and full-bodied Cab, which was excellent on its own but, when the time is right, we will likely pair it with thick juicy steaks.

Give Christophe a call before your next visit to the Valley, or find him on Twitter like I did – @cork_dork. But right now, you can see Titus up close and personal through his monthly videos of the vineyards and the Titus brothers – winemaker Eric and vineyard/business manager Phillip.

Cheers!

Luna and PlumpJack in Napa Valley

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Two wineries in Napa Valley — Luna Vineyards and PlumpJack Winery – were recommended by Paul Mabray and Joel Vincent of Vintank, whom I chat with on Twitter. Not surprisingly, both wineries provided noteworthy experiences. Thanks Paul and Joel!

Our first stop was Luna, which has a beautiful tasting room that combines Persian rugs, handcrafted tile floors and mullioned panes of glass. Three wines topped my list for very different reasons.

  • 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is, quite simply, a taste of Heaven — rich, intense, excellent,  and one of the best cabs ever.
  • 2007 Sangiovese Napa Valley is a heavier-than-usual Sangiovese with a smooth mouthfeel; I liked it even better than the 2006 Sangiovese Reserve Napa Valley, to the surprise of our friendly hostess in the tasting room.
  • Freakout – Luna’s fun secondary label – blends varying amounts of Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and a little-known Italian varietal, Ribolla Gialla, from Vare Vineyards in Napa Valley, the only United States vineyard producing this grape. It was a refreshing start to our visit on a hot sunny Napa Valley day.

Next, we stopped at PlumpJack Winery, which was established in 1881 and now owned by Gordon Getty. The main building, completed in 1883, is still used today. The tasting room is light and airy, with a deck just made for drinking wine! Again, three wines stood out (with special thanks to Joshua Zanow who stayed late to pour them):

  • 2007 CADE Sauvignon Blanc is fleshed out by 14% semillon and makes me think of lazy summer days on the deck with a bowl of juicy prawns or good cheese. I continue to marvel at how much I enjoyed Sauv Blanc on this trip to Napa, and PlumpJack offers one of the best.
  • 2006 PlumpJack Syrah is a cult favorite that won 92 points from Robert Parker and is a complex full-bodied wine that would be paired well with barbequed ribs. This was one of our favorite Syrahs in Napa Valley (although I’d like a side-by-side tasting with a few of our favorite Washington state Syrahs).
  • 2006 PlumpJack Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is dense and pure Napa Valley.

Judging by the content of this post, it must be time for dinner! Dave, start up the barbeque. I’ll go open a bottle of Cab. Or Syrah? Decisions, decisions!

Cheers!

Seattle-area Wine Bars

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What are your favorite wine bars in the greater Seattle area? I’m compiling a list and would love to hear your thoughts. Here are the ones we’ve visited (in alphabetical order) or have heard good things about. Please send me your favorites that are missing from this list.

Cheers!