United States > California > Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon

Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon

Country: United States
Region: California (Mendocino and Lake Counties)
Producer: Bonterra
Grape variety: 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petite Sirah, 7% Syrah, and 3% Carignane
Vintage: 2009
Found at: Costco, Co-op Wines and Spirits, Real Canadian Liquorstore, Willow Park Wines and Spirits  (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $16.49 – $21.09

About the region: We’re back in California. Last time we enjoyed what’s considered California’s “own” grape variety, Zinfandel. However, the grape variety that put California on the map and that forms the basis for some of California’s most famous (and expensive) wines is the Cabernet Sauvignon: it was the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that beat all of the French wines at the Judgment of Paris in 1976, building credibility for California’s red wines.

California is far from a homogeneous wine growing region: climate and soils vary greatly across the state. Close to the coast, the weather can be too cool to grow grapes while inland the weather can be unsuitable for grape growing due to the heat. In between lie many different micro-climates, each different and each better suited for certain grape varieties than for others.

The general rule that applies here, as well as for wine growing regions elsewhere in the world, is that the more specific the indication of the wine’s origin, the higher the presumed quality of the wine. For example, the “Napa Valley” indication on a wine label denotes a much more specific (and prestigious) designation of origin than the more generic “California”. In turn, the “Rutherford” indication denotes an even more specific designation of origin, which indicates that the wine comes from one of Napa Valley’s most famous sub-regions. There are exceptions to this rule (e.g., Penfold’s Grange), but as a general rule of thumb it can prove to be quite helpful.

This particular Cabernet Sauvignon hails mostly from Mendocino County, which is the north-eastern most region in California’s wine country. It can be divided into two parts: the areas East and West of the coastal mountain range, whereby the West is quite cool due to the influence of the Pacific Ocean, while the East is shielded from the ocean’s influence by the mountain range and as such is much warmer. The fruit for this wine is clearly sourced from the Eastern part of Mendocino county, since Cabernet Sauvignon needs warm conditions to ripen.

About the wine: Bonterra is best known for its organic vineyard practices. This entails that they avoid the use of synthetic pesticides in their vineyards, which are under constant attack of many different pests and diseases. Instead, they rely on integrated pest management strategies to stave off these attacks. These strategies include attracting bluebirds and swallows which consume unwanted insects, free-roaming chickens which thrive on cutworms and insect pests, and keeping a colony of honeybees which pollinates flowers in the vineyard and helps attract beneficial insects.

To clarify, organic vineyard practices does not mean that no additives are used in the winery. Sulfites in particular are still used at organic wineries to preserve the wine’s freshness and to prevent it from oxidizing and turning into vinegar prematurely. Most organic producers will try to minimize their use of sulphites, but this can be said for most high-quality wine producers.

Do organically grown grapes produce better wine? Opinions are divided. My two cents is that organic vineyard practices don’t produce better wines per sé, but that organic practices (and biodynamic practices for that matter) require a substantial amount of extra diligence in the vineyard to monitor the condition of the vines and deal with any signs of pests or diseases right away. Vineyard managers simply don’t have the luxury of noticing an issue a few days late and then resolving it by spraying it with synthetic pesticides. This diligence to guard the vineyard’s health often translates into higher quality fruit, which in turn translates into higher quality wine.

So how does this Cabernet Sauvignon stack up? It’s showing the hallmark characteristics of a California Cab: ripe, dark fruit (blackcurrant, plum, and cherry), white pepper, hints of oak, soft tannins, and medium acidity.

Note as well that, as discussed in last week’s article (“To blend or not to blend“), even though the wine is labelled as a Cabernet Sauvignon, it contains  9% Petite Sirah, 7% Syrah, and 3% Carignane, which you won’t find being mentioned on either the front or the back label, but adds some balance and character to the wine.

In Susanne’s words: It was good.

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Italy > Chianti Rufina > Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Nipozzano Riserva

Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Nipozzano Riserva

Country: Italy
Region: Chianti Rufina
Producer: Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi
Grape variety: 90% Sangiovese / 10% Others (Malvasia Nera, Colorino, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon)
Vintage: 2008
Found at: Costco, Co-op Wines and Spirits, Real Canadian Liquorstore, Willow Park Wines and Spirits  (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $17.99 – $21.69

About the region: A few weeks ago, we visited Tuscany and described the rise of the Super Tuscans in response to stringent wine legislation and below-par quality standards in Chianti. Thankfully, practices have improved drastically in Chianti over the past several decades. In the vineyard, grape growers started looking for Sangiovese clones that would provide higher quality as opposed to higher volumes. Legislation also changed to allow any red grape variety to be added to the blend (at up to 20%) and local white varieties are now no longer allowed in the blend. In the winery, modern winemaking equipment was introduced.

Since so many different grape varieties are allowed to make up 20% of the blend, Chianti comes in a wide variety of styles. Winemaking practices contribute to the variety of styles as well: some producers still use the large, old wooden casks (known as botti), which are usually made of Slavonian oak, while other producers that are looking for a more modern, concentrated style are using smaller (225 litre) barrels made from French oak (known as barriques).

Most Super Tuscans display an international style of wine: that is, many aren’t necessarily an expression of Chianti’s unique qualities, but instead show characteristics that we find across the globe. Chianti, carried by 80-100% Sangiovese, will typically show blueberry, cherry, and savoury flavours with high acidity and tannins.

About the wine: The Frescobaldi family initially made their fortune in banking, after having moved to Florence at the end of the 11th century. Around 1300, the Frescobaldi’s inherited some vineyards and started producing wine, which soon got picked up by England’s royal family and others belonging to Europe’s upper echelon. Over the course of the next several centuries, the family continued to combine their winemaking business with other commercial activities, which ensured a distribution network that included the pope, Henry the VIII, King of England, and Donatello (the artist; not the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtle).

The Castello di Nipozzano was built in 1000 as a defensive fortress, but at the start of the 16th century the Frescobaldi family converted it into a residence and winery, where it produces and cask-ages its red Chianti Rufina wines even until the present day.

The Chianti Rufina Riserva is one of those wines. It’s made in a modern style, spending 24 months in barriques and another 3 months in bottle before being released. There is blueberry, red cherry, black pepper, and cedar notes. Well-balanced, with some solid acidity holding it up and smooth tannins. It receives rave reviews year after year and regularly appears in Wine Spectator’s Top 100.

In Susanne’s words: I have loved this wine for years.

United States > Oregon > Rosé of Pinot Noir

Sokol Blosser Rosé of Pinot Noir

Country: United States
Region: Oregon
Producer: Sokol Blosser
Grape variety: Pinot Noir
Vintage: 2011
Found at: Co-op Wines and Spirits, Willow Park Wines and Spirits  (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $16.99 – 18.39

About the region: The first time we visited the United States, we had some Zinfandel from California: a wine marked by dark fruit flavours. Most California Zinfandel is actually made into inexpensive, simple, generally off-dry rosé, known as White Zinfandel though. For a rosé with somewhat more character than the average White Zinfandel, we make our way North, up the Pacific coast, to Oregon, specifically the Willamette Valley, and even more specifically, the Dundee Hills AVA (American Viticultural Area, similar to the Canadian VQA designation).

Summers here are warm and dry, but because the Valley lies rather close to the Pacific, this then provides a cooling effect. Due to the moderating effect of the ocean, the Willamette Valley, and Dundee Hills specifically, are ideally suited for the world’s best known cool-climate black grape variety: the Pinot Noir. In fact, the valley has developed such a reputation for growing high quality Pinot Noir that several wine producers from Burgundy (Pinot Noir’s homeland) have now setup shop in the Valley. Most prominently among them: Domaine Drouhin.

About the wine: Most rosés are made by limiting the amount of contact that the red grape juice has with the red grape skins. So whereas for red wine, the skins stay in contact with the juice for the entirety of the fermentation process, for rosé the juice is separated from the skins anywhere from immediately after pressing up to 48 hours after fermentation getting underway. The less contact with the skins, the paler the rosé will be. Note that for some inexpensive rosé (I refer to the aforementioned White Zinfandel as a frequent example), a small quantity of red wine is added to a white wine to create the wine.

As of 2008, Sokol Blosser is run by brother and sister Alex and Alison Sokol Blosser. Their parents were at the forefront of Oregon’s wine industry, planting their first vines in 1971, following pioneers David Lett (Eyrie Vineyards) and Dick Erath (Erath Winery). One of the hallmarks of their winery is their dedication to sustainable farming: they adhere to certified organic farming, sustainable business practices, and low impact packaging.

Their rosé shows classic strawberry and melon aromas and flavours, as well as green apple, lemon peel, and a hint of white pepper, which gives this quite a bit more complexity and character than you would expect from a rosé. It’s showing above-average acidity, which makes it a perfect wine to sip on the wam summer days we’re currently experiencing. At below $20, this is great value and Susanne and I reached the bottom of the bottle rather quickly last night.

In Susanne’s words: pretty but sour.

Italy > Tuscany > Villa Antinori

Villa Antinori

Country: Italy
Region: Tuscany
Producer: Marchesi Antinori
Grape variety: Sangiovese (55%), Cabernet Sauvignon (25%), Merlot (15%), Syrah (5%)
Vintage: 2008
Found at: Costco, Co-op Wines and Spirits, Real Canadian Liquor Store, Willow Park Wines and Spirits  (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $17.99 – $22.99

About the region: Wine is grown all over Italy: from the top of the boot to the tip of its toe. Annual production sits at nearly 5 billion litres, so it’s no surprise that local wine stores usually carry a generous selection of Italian wines. The Italian wine landscape can be difficult to navigate though: instead of the more common international grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Shiraz, we are served with hundreds of native grape varieties like nebbiolo, corvina, sangiovese, and primitivo (if they are even mentioned on the label). This is also what makes Italian wines so exciting though: they’re often unique and will taste different from wines you find anywhere else. Their uniqueness can be further explained by winemaking methods varying widely across different regions, often based on centuries of winemaking traditions.

Those traditions have not always benefited the quality of Italian wines though. A classic example is Chianti, in Tuscany’s heartland: in 1872 Barone di Ricasoli noted that Sangiovese (Chianti’s principal black grape variety) would be more drinkable when blended with local white grape varieties. As an influential winemaker, this then became common practice, which meant that when wine regulations were put in place in 1967, these honoured the local winemaking tradition by stipulating that in order for a wine to be considered Chianti, it had to be a Sangiovese-based blend plus 10-30% white grape varieties. In reality, the large amount of white grape varieties further diluted an already less-than-stellar wine, since many winemakers were simply trying to produce as much Chianti as they could to meet demand, without paying much attention to quality, resulting in some pretty horrible plonk.

In the 1970’s, a group of winemakers came onto the scene, who were more quality-focussed than their predecessors. They were faced with a rather large dilemma though: make sub-par wines within the current regulations and be allowed to call the wine Chianti (which despite its declining quality still had some remnant of a brand name), or ignore the regulations and no longer be allowed to refer to the wine as Chianti: ignoring the rules meant that the wine would have to be marketed as a simple “table wine” without any reference to the region it came from. That dilemma brings us to the producer of today’s wine.

About the wine: In the late 1960’s, Piero Antinori started tinkering with the traditional Chianti recipe, which in 1971 led to his Tignanello being blended with Cabernet Sauvignon instead of the required white grape varieties. This in turn led to a visit from the local wine regulators, who made sure that there were no references to “Chianti” anywhere on the wine label, so Antinori had to market his wine as a simple “table wine”. His wine became an instant hit with wine critics though, who soon started to coin the term “Super Tuscans” to describe this category of wines that Antinori (and others who soon followed suit) produced. As a result of its popularity, Tignanello steadily increased in price over the following decades and now usually retails for just over $100.

Thankfully, Antinori also produces an entry-level Super Tuscan, which is the Villa Antinori. Similar to the Tignanello, the Villa Antinori was originally produced using the classic Chianti recipe (starting in 1928), but in 2001, Piero Antinori increased the percentage of international grape varieties, thereby moving it from the Chianti to the Super Tuscan category. It’s a beautiful wine, the 2008 being somewhat fuller bodied than previous vintages, with lots of dark fruit, well-integrated oak, some spice notes, and medium acidity. Very well balanced, making you want to come back for more.

Note that the wine regulators came around eventually and created a new category for these wines, now known as “Toscana IGT”, which explains why Villa Antinori’s label is able to reference this designation.

In Susanne’s words: goes really well with dinner.

France > Vouvray > Barton & Guestier Vouvray

Barton & Guestier Vouvray

Country: France
Region: Vouvray
Producer: Barton & Guestier
Grape variety: Chenin Blanc
Vintage: 2010
Found at: Willow Park Wines and Spirits  (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $16.99

About the region: Time to visit a lesser-known wine region! As a kid, I associated the Loire valley with castles like Chambord and Chenonceau, which we used to visit while camping there. Today, it makes me think of the wide variety of wines that are grown all along the river valley: from Sancerre in the East to Muscadet in the West and in between several others, including today’s region: Vouvray.

The grape variety grown here is Chenin Blanc in a wide variety of styles ranging from dry to sweet and from still to bubbly. Its flavours vary accordingly as well, ranging from green apple to exotic, but usually with above-average acidity and mineral notes.

About the wine: In 1725, Irishman Thomas Barton founded a wine shipping company in Bordeaux to distribute its wines, mainly across the channel. Eventually he bought several estates in Bordeaux as well and start producing his own wines. In 1802, his grandson and successor, Hugh Barton, joined forces with Daniel Guestier, a French trader, to create Barton & Guestier. Today, it develops a wide range of mostly entry-level wines among which the Vouvray stands out.

The Vouvray is off-dry, balanced by the characteristic acidity. It’s showing peach and pear flavours, as well as some floral notes. This will be another great wine for a nice summer day, which will hopefully come along soon!

In Susanne’s words: Nice, happy, special.

Argentina > Mendoza > Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec Mendoza

Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec Mendoza

Country: Argentina
Region: Mendoza
Producer: Bodega Catena Zapata
Grape variety: Malbec
Vintage: 2010
Found at: Costco, Co-op Wines & Spirits, Willow Park Wines and Spirits, Real Canadian Liquor Store (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $12.99 – $19.99

About the region: We’re staying in Argentina this week, but now make our way from last week’s visit to Salta in the far north of Argentina to Mendoza, which is situated more centrally in the Eastern foothills of the Andes mountains. Mendoza produces ~75% of all Argentinean wine and with about 400,000 acres of area under vine, it’s one of (if not) the largest winemaking region in the world. Conditions here are arid and hot, so two conditions are required to produce quality wine: melt-water from the mountains and (similar to Salta) altitude. In general, the higher the vineyard is situated, the higher the quality of the wine it produces.

About the wine: Over the course of the last few years, Malbec has slowly but surely started to push Shiraz aside as the red grape variety of choice for many. And what’s not to like? It’s generally full-bodied, loaded with dark fruit, spicy notes, and often more balanced than Shiraz. Along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and several others, Malbec was brought to Argentina from the Bordeaux region in France, where it is now hardly grown anymore, since it doesn’t always fully ripen in Bordeaux’s cooler climate.

Nicola Catena planted his first Malbec vines in Mendoza in 1902, after having moved there from Italy 4 years earlier at age 18. He, and his son after him, expanded from there and mostly produced high volumes of Malbec for the domestic market, same as every other winemaker in Argentina. In the 1960s, Nicola’s grandson, Nicolás was pursuing an academic career when Nicola and his wife were killed in a car crash. Nicolás decided to abandon his academic ambitions and returned home to help his father in the family business. It was his academic approach that put Argentina on the map: he tirelessly experimented with different Malbec clones, at different altitudes, and in different micro-climates to figure out which combination would produce the best quality grapes and as such, the highest quality wine. His impact on Argentina’s wines cannot be exaggerated. As recent as 2003, Wine Spectator wrote:

“Catena’s portfolio, from the value-priced Álamos line up through the Catena, Catena Alta and Catena Zapata wines, provides the country’s broadest and best-scoring range of quality, with many of the wines made in ample quantity. The question facing Argentina now is, can Catena’s colleagues follow suit, or will the wine industry there be a one-man show?”

Over the past decade, others have followed suit, but Catena’s pursuit of affordable quality still stands out, which explains why this wine makes it into Wine Spectator’s annual top 100 wines year after year (the 2009 sat at number 58). It is sourced from several of Catena’s high-altitude vineyards and aged for 12 to 14 months in a combination of French and American oak. The 2010 lives up to the reputation of its predecessors, showing a beautiful dark purple color, blackcurrant and blueberry fruit, licorice, and subtle cedar notes. Smooth tannins and solid acidity, medium bodied, and very well balanced.

In Susanne’s words: Smells yech, tastes like things I don’t like, but not horrible. (can you tell she hasn’t gotten on the Malbec bandwagon yet?!)

Argentina > Salta > Terrazas de los Andes Torrontés Reserva

Terrazas de los Andes Torrontés Reserva

Country: Argentina
Region: Salta
Producer: Terrazas de los Andes
Grape variety: Torrontés
Vintage: 2010
Found at: Co-op Wines & Spirits, Willow Park Wines and Spirits  (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $14.49 – $15.49

About the region: Despite being the fifth largest wine-producing country in the world and a history in winemaking that stretches back approximately 450 years, Argentina is one of the most recent additions to the international world of wine. Until the mid 1990’s, virtually all its wine was consumed domestically. Before then, we were missing out on Argentina’s fabulous Malbec, Bonarda, and the grape variety covered here, Torrontés. Much of this was due to Argentina’s political instability, so since that has improved considerably over the past couple of decades, Argentina’s export market and foreign investment has exploded.

Similar to how Alberta lies in the “rain shadow” of the Rocky Mountains, Argentina lies in the “rain shadow” of the Andes. Much of Argentina is therefore extremely hot and dry. The key to successful grape growing in Argentina is therefore altitude: most vineyards lie between 2,000 and 4,600 feet in altitude, which ensures that the grapes experience sufficiently cool nights to develop the desired color and taste. In the Salta region in Northern Argentina, vineyards are planted at over 6,500 feet above sea level, which allows for sufficiently cool sites to exist in a location not too far from the equator and which makes it the world’s highest vineyard area. Due its extreme altitude (and consequently, extreme climate), this region has the potential to produce wines of great purity and concentration.

The combination of dry, sunny conditions and low labour costs allow for wineries to grow large quantities of ripe, healthy fruit at a low cost, which translates into great value for us as the consumer.

About the wine: French producer Moët & Chandon was one of the first foreign firms to spot Argentina’s potential, so they set up shop in Mendoza in the 1950s to produce a sparkling wine. Due its success and as the political climate improved, they launched the Terrazas brand in 1999 to start producing still wines. Vineyard selection and strict quality control in the vineyard as well as the winery ensured that those became an instant hit.

Their Torrontés Reserva is grown at an elevation of 5,900 feet. That’s 1,400 feet above Banff’s elevation (at 4,500 feet)! It is unoaked, which implies that fruit flavours dominate, making this an ideal wine for a (yet-to-come) summer day. It’s showing floral notes, which is characteristic for Torrontés. There’s also some melon and canned asparagus, supported by solid acidity. The finish lingers quite nicely.

France > Burgundy > Joseph Faiveley Bourgogne Pinot Noir

Joseph Faiveley Bourgogne


Country: France
Region: Burgundy
Producer: Joseph Faiveley
Grape variety: Pinot Noir
Vintage: 2007
Found at: Willow Park Wines and Spirits and Co-Op Wines and Spirits (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $15.99 – $17.99

About the region
: This week we’re staying in Burgundy, but are now turning toward its black grape variety: Pinot Noir. Virtually all red wine from Burgundy is made from the Pinot Noir grape, so even if you don’t see the grape variety being mentioned on the label of a bottle of red Burgundy, it contains 100% Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is known as the “heartbreak grape” since it has a thin skin and grows in tight bunches of small berries, which makes it prone to rot and therefore difficult to grow. Similar to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir was originally planted in Burgundy and (in my humble opinion) succeeds better in Burgundy than anywhere else in the world. The halmark characteristics of Pinot Noir are low tannins (the astringent stuff in red wines that makes your mouth feel dry) and high acidity. Burgundian Pinot Noir will display red fruit favours (e.g., cherry, raspberry, strawberry) as well as vegetal and savoury notes, especially as the wine matures. The complexity of red Burgundy and the high acidity make this one of my favourites.

If you think of Southern Alberta as vast stretches of land with farmers owning thousands of acres of land, as far as the eye can see, Burgundy is the exact opposite. As an example, one of the largest and most famous vineyards in Burgundy is the Clos de Vougeot, which is a mere 125 acres, which in turn is shared by over 80 producers. So every producer owns a few rows of vines at most, with the rows to their right being owned by a different producer and the rows to their left being owned by yet another one. This is the case in most of Burgundy’s best vineyards: most producers own a limited number of rows of vines in vineyards spread out across Burgundy.

Since Pinot Noir is difficult to grow and because of limited supply and large demand, Burgundy Pinot Noir is expensive. Several high-end Burgundies will run you 5 figures per bottle. We’ll stick to the entry-level wines though…

About the wine: Domaine Faiveley has been around for the past 186 years and its vineyard holdings are among the largest in Burgundy. In December 2004 (at age 25), Erwan Faiveley took over the controls from his father, François. Since taking over, Erwan expanded the domaine’s vineyard holdings and started making changes to the style of wines. Under François, the wines had been more reserved and austere. Erwan’s main objective was to make the wines more accessible. The changes he instigated included lowering yields in the vineyards, installing a grape-sorting table in the winery, and holding back the release of selected wines until they are ready to drink. The 2007 vintage is the first where the reds fully reflect the changes that Erwan put in place.

Their entry level wine provides good value and is a good reflection of what Burgundy has to offer. There’s redcurrant, black pepper, mushroom, and forest floor on the nose. On the palate, there’s above-average acidity, low tannins, red cherry, and cranberry. It’s light-bodied, elegant, and quite pretty.

In Susanne’s words: Easy but not slutty. I like it.

France > Burgundy > Joseph Drouhin Macon-Villages

Joseph Drouhin Macon-Villages


Country: France
Region: Burgundy
Producer: Joseph Drouhin
Grape variety: Chardonnay
Vintage: 2010
Found at: Willow Park Wines and Spirits  (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $17.99

About the region
: Although Chardonnay is grown all over the world today, its roots lie in Burgundy. And since the grape variety is named after a village in the Maconnais (one of Burgundy’s sub-regions), let’s visit that region this week. Added benefit: white Burgundy from the Maconnais is considerably cheaper than those from the more famous subregions to its North (such as Meursault). 43 villages in the Maconnais qualify to label their wines as “Macon-Villages”, which generally provide somewhat more complexity, ripeness, and character compared to those labeled as the more generic “Macon”. Chardonnay is a non-aromatic grape variety, which implies that it doesn’t have a very pronounced fruit character: to explore this for yourself, stick your nose in a glass of Chardonnay and then in a glass of Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling and you’ll find that the latter have a much more pronounced, fruity smell. Because it’s non-aromatic, the wine’s character is determined to a large the degree by where the vineyard is situated and choices made by the winemaker (e.g., the use of oak vs. no oak).

About the wine: Maison Joseph Drouhin is one of the largest producers in Burgundy. They own vineyards all over Burgundy (including parcels in several famous vineyards), as well as source grapes from other growers. They’ve been around for 130 years and are currently run by the fourth generation of the Drouhin family. Their Macon-Villages is made from grapes bought from other growers. After fermentation, the wine is aged in stainless steel for 6 to 8 months. thereby retaining its riper fruit characteristics.

Apple and melon notes dominate on the nose, combined with some subtle straw notes. On the palate there is above-average acidity, the apple and melon notes make a recurrence, as well as some lemon peel and minerality.

In Susanne’s words: Apple-y; tastes gooood.

United States > California > Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel

Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel


Country: United States
Region: California
Producer: Bogle
Grape variety: Zinfandel
Vintage: 2009
Found at: Superstore, Co-op Wines and Spirits, Willow Park Wines and Spirits
Price: $16.69 – $19.99

About the region
: For those of us (like myself) who have only been drinking wine for the past 15 to 20 years, it is difficult to imagine the extend to which the production of quality wine has increased in California over the past several decades. Up until the mid 1960’s, California mostly produced high-volume, low-quality jug wines. Much has changed since then and today California produces some of the most sought-after wines in the world. Once several pioneers started producing higher quality wine, it took some time for California to overcome its less-than-stellar reputation though. The turning point came in 1976, when California’s red and white wines beat France’s top wines in a blind tasting conducted by 10 French judges, now known as the “Judgement of Paris”.

Today, high-quality wines are produced all along the Californian coast from a wide range of grape varieties. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find good value, as producers are prone to increase prices once their wines catch on. As an example, Screaming Eagle was first released in 1992 for $50 per bottle. After years of rave reviews from Robert Parker and Wine Spectator, the wine has steadily increased in cost and now sells for $1,500 per bottle.

About the wine: The Bogle family started out as corn and sugar beet farmers in 1850’s. In the 1970’s they started planting grape vines, initially selling their grapes to other winemakers before launching the Bogle brand in 1979. The brand has grown tremendously since then under the leadership of husband-and-wife-team Chris and Patty Bogle. Since their passing, the winery has been run and continues to grow under their children’s leadership. Although Bogle produces wines at high volumes, quality is consistently high.

Zinfandel has long been regarded as California’s “own” grape variety. DNA research has shown it to be identical to Primitivo though, which is traditionally grown in Southern Italy. The challenge with Zinfandel is that it ripens unevenly, so as a bunch of Zinfandel grapes approaches ripeness, some grapes will be ready for picking while others will still be green. This is mitigated as the vines get older, which explains the prevalence of “old vine” zinfandel. There is no legal definition of what constitutes an “old vine” though, so buyer beware.

Bogle’s Zinfandel shows ripe berry flavors: savory blackberry, plum, and raisin, combined with black pepper and smoky cedar. There’s a hint of black tea as well. It’s medium-bodied with smooth tannins and medium acidity to balance it out.

In Susanne’s words: Fruity and not upsetting.