Monday, June 24, 2013

Summertime Sipping at Virginia's Early Mountain Vineyard

I spent the weekend in the Blue Ridge foothills of central Virginia, trimming back my newly-sprouted Chardonnay vines and further prepping the vineyard. This area of Virginia has seen tons of rain in the past month and the creek on my family’s mill house property has flooded twice in only two weeks. But after the deluges, the sun always manages to come out and shine down on the baby vines. The resulting growth has me feeling good about the future of Bakers Mill Vineyard.

After a weekend of hard work, I was ready to head back to DC, but not before stopping at Early Mountain Vineyard in Madison County. I’d heard good things about this relatively new endeavour, located right off Route 29 in the heart of central Virginia’s wine country. I’m happy to report the experience exceeded my expectations.

Let me start with the obvious: the winery is located in a beautiful spot. Grapevines stretch up and down rolling hills, which surround the winery like the lip of a bowl. The nearby forest is verdant, sporting a hundred shades of green. Fruit trees dot the grass around the driveway.

The winery itself is massive and modern, with a long bar and plenty of comfy seats for tasting. As I arrived with a friend, many people were busy setting up the ground-floor event space for a wedding reception. On the side lawn, white chairs sat in rows, waiting for some couple’s big event. Out back, a band played easygoing rock.

At the bar, Early Mountain takes a bit of a different approach to wine flights. They offer one flight of their own wines and several other flights featuring wines from some of Virginia’s best producers: RdV, Barboursville, King Family, Thibaut-Janisson, Ankida Ridge. I applaud the way Early Mountain promotes other Virginia wines through this “Best of Virginia” program. Having never tasted an Early Mountain wine, however, I paid $12 for some 2-oz. samples of their new releases.

Here are my notes…

2012 Early Mountain Pinot Gris - Virginia, Central Region, Madison County ($22)
Pale straw color. Smells of white peaches, orange blossoms and sugar cane. On the palate, this has an oily texture, medium acid and flavors of white peach and creamy green melon. Pretty decent stuff, just not all that complex. (82 points)

2011 Early Mountain Chardonnay - Virginia, Central Region, Madison County ($18)
Nutty on the nose, like hazelnut and almond, also some lime, yellow apple and white flowers. On the palate, chunky pineapple meets tangerine, backed up by white flowers, hazelnut and an herbal aspect that reminds me a bit of white pepper. Fresh acid keeps this balanced. Overall, I appreciate the nuance and freshness of this Virginia chardonnay. (86 points)

2011 Early Mountain Handshake Red - Virginia, Central Region, Madison County ($27)
Love the nose: sweet cherries, red licorice, smoke and rich earth. On the palate, fine-grained tannins and medium acid provide structure. Silky in texture, this wine displays flavors of fig, sweet berries, cedar and loam. Toasty, but not too much. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot. For a Virginia red, this shows a lot of structure and some complexity that could open up over the next few years. (87 points)

2008 Early Mountain Merlot - Virginia, Central Region, Madison County ($25)
This Merlot smells soft and plush, with black cherries, plums, violets and mocha. Firm and grippy on the palate with rich plum and black cherry fruit. Notes of potting soil, smoke, mocha and toast are well-integrated. Sweet caramel on the finish. A very forward and generous wine, but the quality of the fruit is solid. (85 points)

There are so many wineries to visit in this region, but I’m sure I’ll be back to Early Mountain for another tasting.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Wine Reviews: California Merlot

I’m not going to preface these reviews with some clichéd reference to the movie Sideways or mock Miles’ infamous “I’m not drinking any fucking Merlot!” rant. Oh, wait... Oops.

Let’s just get down to the Merlot. These four wines were received as samples and tasted blind.

2008 Grgich Hills Merlot Estate Grown - California, Napa Valley ($42)
Aromas of red currants, rose petals, red licorice and cinnamon. The palate shows a mix of creamy red and black plum fruit, along with notes of fig and rhubarb. Tangy acid keeps this refreshing, but the vanilla and toasted oak add richness. Very pleasant and round. (88 points)

2009 Fields Family Wines Merlot - USA, California, Napa Valley, Oak Knoll ($28)
Aromas of tart red and black plums, smoke and toasty oak. The palate is fresh and bright with cherries and plums. The toast and mocha aspects are well-integrated. Nice notes of soil and a hint of olive on the finish. Not the most profound wine, but very pleasurable. (86 points)

Not cheap, but this is a gorgeous Merlot.
2010 St. Supery Rutherford Estate Vineyard Merlot - California, Napa Valley, Rutherford ($50)
Purple-black color. Dark and brooding aromas of fig, boysenberry, vanilla extract, dark chocolate and smoke. Velvety on the palate, the fine tannins lining up nicely with the acid. The roasted plum, fig and boysenberry flavors are rich and saucy. Quite a bit of smoky-toasty oak. The finish is toasty and inky, but the acid comes through. Serious stuff. This merlot is perhaps a little rough around the edges and I’m guessing it will increase incrementally over the next few years. Aged 20 months in 64% new French oak. (91 points)

2010 Gainey Merlot - California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley ($24)
Pretty nose of currants, blackberries, raspberries, and the fruit is highlighted by notes of oregano and pepper. Juicy red fruit starts off the palate, currants and raspberries. The medium-grain tannins and consistent acid add structure and freshness. Notes of bay leaf and pepper are mixed in with subtle chocolate and sweet vanilla. I like the way this wine shows richness but remains juicy. Includes 10% Cabernet Franc, this wine is aged 20 months in 38% new French oak. (87 points)

This post originally appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Nevermind the White Zinfandel, Here's Real Lodi Rosé

I think of Lodi as the journeyman of California wine regions. It gets beat up a lot and frequently overlooked in conversations about premium California wine. I’m guilty of this as much as anyone, as I tend to focus much more on Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa and some of the Central Coast regions.

I still tend to think of Lodi as workhorse wine region, a sprawling inland area that turns out lots of Zinfandel and Rhone-style blends. And there’s some truth to that. According to the California Department of Agriculture’s 2011 Grape Crush Report, Lodi produced 32% of California’s Zinfandel crop and 42% of its Petite Sirah. The region is home to mass producers like Robert Mondavi Woodbridge and Sutter Home, and giants like E&J Gallo and Beringer have long bought Lodi fruit for their wines. If you’ve ever tasted a sticky-sweet “white Zinfandel,” odds are some of the fruit came from Lodi.

But Lodi’s wine history is extensive, its soils varied, and its climate conducive to a wide array of varieties. And as more and more “botique” wineries are making unique, hand-crafted wines, the more I feel Lodi deserves attention.

So I was happy when I heard the Lodi Winegrape Commission was hosting an online tasting of some pink wines from Lodi. Cameron King, Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, joined up with Lodi winemaker Chad Joseph to sip and discuss a few 2012 rosés from the region. During the on-line chat, Joseph said of Lodi: “There’s something for everyone.” Indeed. There is great diversity of grapes and styles found in Lodi, as these four rosés demonstrate.

Forget the white Zinfandel of yore. If you’re looking for some summer sippers, Lodi offers much better and tastier rosés. My notes…

(All wines were received as samples and tasted sighted.)

Salmon and white cherry color. Smells of cracked pepper, wild strawberries and hints of tobacco. Spicy strawberries and watermelon on the palate. I’m surprised by how ripe and rich it feels, but there’s also a really nice tangy aspect to the wine, with brisk acid and a saline quality. Hints of freshly cracked pepper and herbs are thrown in as well. 75% Grenache with the rest made of equal parts Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. (86 points)
A bright melon-strawberry color. Smells of green melon, strawberries and white flowers. Quite steely on the palate, with ruby red grapefruit and lemon zest flavors. There’s a slightly bitter green pepper aspect to this wine, but, overall, the wine is still pulled together well. More earthy and herbal tones that the other rosés in the tasting. The juice is fermented in a combination of stainless steel and 20% neutral oak and aged six months on the lees. (85 points)

2012 Sorelle Winery Bella e Rosa Rosado (SRP $16)
A coppery salmon color. Full of tangerine, blood orange and white peach on the nose. There’s also this sea salt aspect on the nose, and it’s kicking. The juicy strawberry and blood orange flavors coat the palate. This rose has a full, creamy mouthfeel, but the acid reins it in. Hints of mineral and tobacco linger on the finish. Delicious stuff. I’d love to drink this with everything from salads to chicken or pulled pork. A blend of 50% Sangiovese and 50% Barbera. (88 points)
A bright, light cherry color in the glass. Such a fresh and floral nose. I live in Washington, DC, and I know cherry blossoms… this smells like cherry blossoms. Some watermelon and wild strawberry notes on the nose and a hint of peppery spice as well. On the palate, this acid is ripping, and I love it. So crisp and fresh, with wild strawberry and white cherry fruit that tastes crunchy and pure. The pepper and herbal aspects add complexity to this blend of Carignane, Syrah and Grenache. The finish is long, crisp and full of spice. After tasting this wine and being very impressed, I found it comes from 102-year-old Carignan vines, and the depth and concentration of the fruit shows. If you’re looking to stock up on some really good rosé for summer, give this a shot. (89 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Tasting Report: California Pinot Noir

California Pinot Noir is a beautiful thing. As I was blind-tasting my way through a bunch of them recently, I was struck yet again by the range of styles, aromas and flavors. Yes, many California Pinots are expensive, but if you know what you’re looking for, you can find some really good wines at relatively affordable prices.

All bottles were received as trade samples and tasted blind.

2010 Pence Ranch Winery Pinot Noir Estate - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $30
The aromas are full and savory, with blackberry, rhubarb, roasted plum, some tobacco. Juicy and berry-driven on the palate, with velvety tannins and bright acid. The notes of earth and black pepper and bay leaf are delicious, adding a savory touch to all the bright strawberry fruit. Long finish. A bright and juicy pinot, but it pays homage to the Old World as well. (90 points)

2009 Storm Wines Pinot Noir - California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
SRP: $40
Love the bright cherry color, and how you can see your fingers through the wine. Intensely floral on the nose, equally matched with cherry and red plum aromas. There’s also this earthy, olive-like aroma that, tasting blind, makes me think of Burgundy, but the juicy and deep fruit screams California. The tannins are grippy, the acid rushes, the fruit explodes. The strawberry, wild cherry and red plum is both rich and tangy at the same time. The fruit mixes in with notes of dill and tobacco, along with a touch of toast. The finish is like some sort of beautiful fruit and herb cocktail. This is a really interesting and thought-provoking wine that deserves a good decant and a home-cooked meal. Only 13.5% alcohol. (92 points)

2010 Artesa Pinot Noir Carneros - California, Napa, Carneros
SRP: $40
A mixture of sweet and sour cherries on the nose, along with some violets, vanilla and oak. On the palate, this is a medium-bodied wine with fine tannins and noticeable acid. The cherry and strawberry fruit tastes cool and juicy. I also enjoy the rose hip tea, coffee and cedar notes that last onto the finish. Overall, this is a lighter, fresher styled pinot that is easy to enjoy. (87 points)

2010 Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noir Estate - California, Napa, Carneros
SRP: $27
The cherry and cranberry fruit on the nose is ripe but snappy, and the notes of rhubarb, white pepper and milk chocolate make this a pleasure to sniff. Bright raspberry and cherry fruit, backed up with a good dose of acid and some fine, easy-sipping tannins. The juicy fruit combines with subtle pickle and earth notes, and a solid finish. This wine seems destined for drinking over the near term, but that’s not to say it’s a simple wine. (88 points)

2011 Breggo Cellars Pinot Noir - California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $38
The aromas of cranberry and wild raspberry have a cool and crisp aura, and the notes of cracked pepper and bay leaf blend together very nicely. The tannins are easy-going but provide enough structure, and the acid is fresh and consistent. The raspberry and sour cherry fruit is ripe but snappy, like berries fresh from the forest. There’s also a meaty-brothy aspect that is quite prominent, along with cracked pepper and herbs. Throughout, the wine maintains a light presence on the palate. An elegant pinot, very delicious, but it strikes me as best for drinking sooner rather than later. (89 points)

2008 Azari Winery Pinot Noir Corkscrew - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $29
Juicy on the nose, with fresh blackberry and raspberries mixed with a bit of dust and pepper. Really tangy on the palate, with medium tannins. All kinds of juicy cherry flavors, rounded out with hints of leather and earth. Goes down easily. (87 points)

2009 Azari Winery Pinot Noir - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $75
Aromas of raspberry, black cherries, cola, hints of earth. Velvety tannins set the stage for gushing black cherry and plum fruit, backed up by notes of sweet roses, mocha, vanilla coke and toasty oak. Moderate acid helps keep the wine together. The finish is full of vanilla and toast. Overall, a solid, silky and fruit-forward wine. (87 points)

2010 MacPhail Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $39
Cherry jam, mixed berries and rhubarb on the nose. The palate shows medium acid, light tannins and bright cherry and raspberry fruit. Notes of sweet basil and rosemary add some complexity. Hints of earth and olive came out with time. (87 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Psyched for the Summer of Riesling

Some Riesling grapes soak up the sun near the Mosel town of Bernkastel, Germany. ©IJB 
Rock on and drink Riesling! That’s the motto for the Summer of Riesling, a collaborative, season-long celebration of the world’s greatest grape. It’s a motto I fully support.

Bars and restaurants from all around the country are joining the party with Riesling-themed dinners and tasting events from June 21 through September 21. (For a list of Riesling-soaked spots in your area, click here.) These participating venues will pour three or four Rieslings by the glass all summer long, and in July at least two of those Rieslings will hail from Germany.

Why celebrate Riesling all summer long? My response is: Why the hell not? The Summer of Riesling’s web site has another explanation: “Because we must overcome this hackneyed belief that the glorious diversity of Riesling is also a fault... simply put, no grape can do what the Riesling grape can do.”

These Riesling fans are right. I love trying all different kinds of wines, but nothing tops Riesling. So, if you’re trying to beat the heat this summer, or you just want an excuse to drink great wine, why not Riesling? Of course, the Summer of Riesling is promoting the festivities using the Facebook and Twitter machines (@SummerRiesling), so it’s easy to find an event near you.

I’ll be visiting some Riesling-pouring establishments in DC this summer for sure, but I kicked off the summer a bit early with a recent Riesling tasting. Some wine nerd friends and I got together for a whole bunch of mostly German Rieslings. Demonstrating Rieslings’s diversity and aging potential, some of the wines were old, some new, some sweet, some dry. All were tasted sighted.

Here are some reasons to celebrate the Summer of Riesling (organized from oldest to youngest bottles)…

1966 Wachstum H. Schweiszthal Uerziger Würzgarten Riesling - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
A bit musty on the nose, but also some nice notes of apricot, dried mango, orange rind and crushed rocks. Still going on the palate, with flavors of apple sauce, sweet tea and dried mango. Soft and reserved, but some minerals still show through. Considering this wine is almost a half-century old, I’m impressed. (86 points)

1976 Schloss Vollrads Riesling Matuschka-Greiffenclau Spätlese rosa - Germany, Rheingau
Orange-golden color. Smells like oil, apricot marmalade and wax. On the palate, chunky mango and dried pineapple meets medium acid. Caramel, wax and nougat notes add complexity. Not subtle, but yummy. Well-aged but still alive. (88 points)

1990 Kerpen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese * - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
Rich golden color. Smells of canteloupe, apricots and honey. Full of creamy apricot and white peach fruit. Zippy acid makes this easy to drink. Nutty, apricot jam flavors last long onto the finish. I’m generally a big fan of 1990 rieslings, and even though I liked this, I was expecting a bit more. (88 points)

2001 Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese - Germany, Mosel Saar RuwerThis Riesling is in a superb place right now. Complex, deep aromas of white peach, lime, white flowers. The palate is rich and honeyed, with apricot and caramel, but the acid never quits. Lovely mineral, lemon peel and smashed rock flavors. Long finish with the perfect amount of sweetness. Nowhere near the end of its life. (92 points)

2002 Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Spätlese - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
Smells amazing: lime, dried flowers, minerals, pineapple, lamp oil. The palate is rich and full of honey and apricot, but the acid keeps it balanced. The mineral, crushed rock aspects are great, and matched with flavors of sweet caramel apple and lemon peel. Long finish. Delicious stuff. I think it’s fair to say every other person at the tasting loved this wine. (93 points)

2002 F.X. Pichler Riesling Smaragd Loibner Berg - Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
Golden apple colored. Aromas of oil, marmalade, minerals and peanut brittle. Dry with bracing minerals on the palate. The acid is a little lower than other bottles I’ve had, but it’s still there. Lots of apricot, mango and peach, backed up by earthy, spicy, tobacco notes. Seriously, I get flavors of chewing tobacco and mushroom, especially on the finish. Very unique and funky, but perhaps time to drink up. (90 points)

2004 Karthäuserhof Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg Riesling Spätlese - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
Love the aromas: intense flowers, peaches, pears and a hint of salt. The sweet peach, marmalade and green pear fruit is matched with live-wire acid. Delicious bruised apple and honeysuckle lingers with lots of minerals on the finish. A pleasure to drink, and I imagine this will continue to improve for years. (91 points)

2007 Schäfer-Fröhlich Bockenauer Felseneck Riesling Spätlese - Germany, Nahe
Another awesome Riesling from Schäfer-Fröhlich. Very light gold color. Aromas of lime, papaya, mango and honeysuckle. Juicy and full on the palate, with pineapple, guava and lemon meringue flavors. Medium acid and crystal clean minerals and slate balance out the sweet fruit. A riesling built for the long-haul, as this has a ton of complexity to unpack. (91 points)

2011 A.J. Adam Hofberg Riesling Kabinett - Germany, Mosel Saar Ruwer
Intensely floral and fruity on the nose. Deep and complex, with pineapple, melon, slate and orange peel. Steely acid on the palate, but lots of rich fruit, especially for a kabinett. Apple cider, cinnamon and mango mix with slate and a rush of minerals. Long, focused finish. Delicious now, but this has the stuffing to age wonderfully for five to ten years without a problem. (92 points)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tasting Report: California Syrah & Blends

Disclaimer: I love California syrah. Unlike many of my wine nerd friends, my palate never outgrew the stuff. I drink it all year round, with grilled summer steaks and by itself on cold winter nights. Recently, I tasted my way through a bunch of California syrahs and found, yet again, why I keep coming back for more.

All wines were received as trade samples and tasted blind.

2010 Epiphany Révélation - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $40
Love the aromatic display of sweet plums, raspberries, violets and cinnamon. Plush mouthfeel with medium-grain tannins and enough acid. The plum and raspberry fruit flavors are pure and delicious, and they’re matched with notes of clove and tobacco. I also picked up a flavor that reminded me of sweet BBQ sauce and charcoal, which I love. A hint of toast and pepper on the finish. A juicy wine with lots of personality and deliciousness. A blend of 60% Syrah and 40% Grenache. (90 points)

This tasty syrah blend pays homage to New Orleans.
2010 Fess Parker The Big Easy - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $35
The dark plum and blackberry aromas smell roasted and sweet, and there are also aromas of tar and rich potting soil. Rich and extracted on the palate, the blackberry and blueberry fruit comes in waves. Supported by medium acid and fine tannins, this fruit-bomb also shows notes of fig paste, mocha and toasted oak. After ten minutes, just a hint of black olive comes out. Hedonistic, not much subtlety here, but up there on the delicious scale. Could use a year or two. I chuckled when I unveiled this wine and saw it was named “The Big Easy” because that name perfectly sums up this wine’s worldview. A solid blend of 66% Syrah, 19% Petite Sirah and 15% Grenache. (88 points)

2010 Fess Parker Syrah Rodney's Vineyard - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $49
Lush aromas of blackberries and blueberries, caramel and charcoal. Palate is full and rich with mixed berries, but there’s just enough acid and some fine tannins, so it all works together. Dark and smoky as well, with mocha, coffee, charcoal and carmelized sugar notes. A bold, bombastic wine, but the purity of flavors and the seamlessness of the wine make it irresistible. Could benefit from a long decant or a few years in the cellar. (89 points)

From Fields Family Wines.
2010 Fields Family Wines Syrah Estate - California, Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $22
Dark and sweet on the nose, like raspberry jam and plum cake mixed in with an earthy-smoky note. Bright plum and raspberry fruit on the palate with velvety tannins. A ripe, soft and easy-drinking approach. The toasted coconut and creamy oak is actually integrated quite well. An unashamedly fun wine that I cannot help buy enjoy. (88 points)

2009 Azari Winery Syrah Corkscrew - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $19
Smells of wild blueberry jam, plum skins, also some chocolate shavings and spiced coffee. Full and plush feeling on the palate, with fine-grain tannins. The acid is present to balance the rich plum and blueberry fruit. These white pepper and spiced coffee notes are woven throughout, and I’m really liking it. Big, yet elegant and deep, and capable of at least a few years in the cellar. It seems like it could unwind and develop some more nuance. (90 points)

2008 Azari Winery Shiraz - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast
SRP: $60
Aromas of plum sauce, the juiciest blackberries, along with notes of kalamata olives. The palate shows fine tannins, medium acid and loads of juicy blackberry fruit and plum fruit. Bold but still restrained, and I love the secondary flavors of potting soil, sweet cola and peppered steak laced throughout. A note of coffee on the long finish. A very nice example of Sonoma Coast syrah. I know it’s three times the price of the 2009 Corkscrew Syrah, but, in my opinion, this wine didn’t have the same levels of depth and complexity. (88 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist, which just won Best Overall Wine Blog at the 2013 Wine Blog Awards!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Welcoming Summer with California Zinfandel & Blends

The weather has been beautiful on the East Coast these last few weeks. Almost every evening, as I’m strolling through my Northwest, DC, neighborhood, I pick up the rich, sweet smells of grilled meat. Instantly, I crave zinfandel. Here are six zinfandels and zinfandel-based blends from California that would brighten up any BBQ or patio party. 

All wines were received as trade samples and tasted blind.

2009 McCay Cellars “Paisley” - California, Central Valley, Lodi ($28)
Juicy on the nose, with cherry and raspberries, but there’s also this complex dusty aroma that makes me think of an old library shelf. Notes of sweet incense and roses came out with time. Jammy and juicy on the palate, with medium tannins and acid. Generous cherry and wild berry fruit mixes with potting soil. Notes of fruit gum and caramel linger on the finish. Crowd-pleasing for sure, but more than just fruity. 55% Zinfandel, 45% Petite Sirah. (88 points) 
2010 Mettler Family Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel “Epicenter” - California, Central Valley, Lodi­ ($20)
Dark and saucy on the nose, with lots of plums and blackberries, along with mocha, chocolate shavings and some earthy-peppery notes. Bright berry fruit leads the way on the palate (raspberry and blackberries), the acid is medium-to-low, and the tannins show some grip. The chocolate, toasty aspects are bold but integrated. Notes of cinnamon and baker’s chocolate linger on the rich, plummy finish. (86 points) 
2010 Artezin Zinfandel Mendocino County - California, North Coast, Mendocino County ($18)
Smells of prunes, candied plums, milk chocolate and toasty oak. Juicy and full of ripe plum and raspberry fruit. Smooth tannins and medium acid help this go down easy. Notes of pepper, clove, green olive and smoke round out the fruit. Long finish. A fun, fruit-forward wine, but nice secondary characteristics. (87 points) 
Really nice mix of aromas: loam and pepper along with tart blackberries and currants. Solid depth on the palate, with velvety tannins. The fruit is tangy and tart, but not light, like fresh blackberries and currants; this is all highlighted by notes of graphite, pepper and cedar. Almost Bordeaux-like in its approach, but steeped in the tart black fruit that screams Mendocino. The producer doesn’t list what grapes are in this blend, but it’s at least partly made from Zinfandel. For a wine with an exclamation point, this is serious juice. (88 points)

2008 Chatom Vineyards Zinfandel - California, Sierra Foothills, Calaveras County ($20)
Clear medium ruby colored in the glass. Aromas of cranberry, red plum, smoke and vanilla. Medium-to-low acid, medium-grain tannins, this zinfandel focuses on sour cherry and red plum fruit, and there's a flavor that reminds me a lot of Thanksgiving cranberry sauce. Notes of pepper, tobacco and toast highlight the ripe fruit. (87 points) 

2010 Artezin Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley - California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley ($25)
The nose is dark and smoky, with charcoal, baked blackberry, sweet plums and brown sugar. This zinfandel is jammy and super-fruity, with gobs of blackberry and plum. The tannins, however, are quite mild. It finishes a little weak, but otherwise a pleasant, ripe, fruit-driven wine. (85 points) 

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.