A Tasting for “Young Sommeliers” Part 1 “Rustic Reds”

Here is another tasting we put on for “Young Sommeliers” at VINO today.  In our continuing search for “good” wine, the wines were served BLIND, so everyone could taste & assess the wines more objectively, rather than based upon any label, cost or ratings.  I told everyone, I would be opening 8 to 10 bottles of wine, as starters & serving them blind.  Participants could either bring a blind wine or chip in $20.  We served the wines by grape variety.

The goal was to assess if the wine was good or not.  Why or why not.  How much would you pay for the bottle.  And, finally, what kind of foods would one serve with each.  These facets, after all, are in my opinion, more important than identifying the grape variety, soil, vintage, producer, etc.  I truly believe this is sommelier “homework” & how blind tasting could help.


I purposely chose 2 specific, quality Zins to showcase–the 2013 Edmeades Zinfandel “Shamrock Vineyard” & the 2013 Scherrer Zinfandel “Old & Mature Vines” for different reasons.   The 2013 Edmeades Zinfandel “Shamrock Vineyard” is from a 2.1 acre parcel, planted in 2001, 2800 feet in elevation in the hills of Mendocino.  It really is quite macho, masculine, hearty, wonderfully savory with lots of “mountain grown” character & structure.  I also chose this wine because it features the “Primitivo clone”, “a vine which is different from the more typical Californian Zinfandel vines.  The resulting grape bunches are denser & more tightly packed, often thicker skinned, more evenly ripening & more disease resistant“.  In comparison, the 2013 Scherrer Zinfandel “Old & Mature Vines” is a very unique style of Zinfandel, which I refer to as–“an old vine Zin crafted by a Pinot Noir master–& therefore much more elegant refined, suave & refined.”  The “Old” vines were planted in 1912 on a bench in Alexander Valley just above the Silver Oak planting.  This wine offered lots of vinosity.  Two really good Zins–1 macho, savory, “mountain grown” & quite savory & the other–more red fruit, vinous, elegant, more refined & so well textured.  Hopefully, these 2 will give young tasters benchmarks to work from.

SECOND FLIGHT–Rhone Varietals

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone in the profession mentioned how American grown & made Syrah, Grenache & Rhone varietal based red wines do not sell in their restaurant.  I would be rich.  Well, as someone who buys wines for restaurants & also works the floor at night, if this happens to us, I believe this it really is my fault.  If carrying these kinds of wines is the right call for the restaurant, then I should continuously tinker with ways to market, promote & encourage more sales.  Yes, this would include training the staff, but I also have to work on better ways of marketing & promoting the concept to increase demand at the same time.  Frequent winetastings, food & wine pairings, including in newsletters, provocative & interest generating winelist verbiage, offering a rotating selection of one of two by the glass every week as a special (& the staff also will then get to try the wine as well) are some ideas to help the cause.

We have found that many of the well farmed, superbly crafted renditions, after all, can help fill the big hole which lies between Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon on the winelist, in terms of drama, weight & mojo.  Think about it.  If 2 of the people in a party of 4 want a Pinot & the other 2 want Cabernet, here is your opportunity!

In addition, with the growth in popularity of Mediterranean inspired foods, more rustic styled of these kinds of wines can add to pairing options, especially to those who prefer New World wines to those of the Old World.

With those thoughts in mind, we included several wines from this category.  AND, thankfully some of the participants also contributed some as well.

We first started with the 2014 Neyers Carignane “Evangelho Vineyard”, which Rick had kindly brought to share. At VINO, we have had quite the fascination with this grape variety, because of it potential for deliciousness, high toned aromatics, its vivid, lively acidity & its wonderful pliability, all of which can greatly enhance a meal.  While our attention with this grape has been mainly focused in the Old World–southern France, Italy & Spain–we instantly fell in love with this Californian rendition.  The vines were planted in 1886 thru 1891), own rooted & planted in sandy soils out in Contra Costa.  Yes, sommeliers across the country have a real fascination & appreciation for old, heritage vines & the vinosity it can innate provide.  We also really relish how these kinds of more rustic edged wines work with our kinds of foods.  The next wine, the 2014 Turley Cinsault “Bechthold Vineyard”, also features fruit from own rooted, old vines, (planted in 1886) but in this case, from Lodi, California.  Winemaker Tegan Passlacqua is one of those, thankfully, looking to champion these old souls. This wine is very different than the previous stylistically.  Though very pretty & VERY vinous, it has a richer, lusher, more viscous mouthfeel & seemingly higher alcohol than the label states & therefore probably has more appeal to a wider audience. Thank you Sean for sharing.  In any case, both quite delicious, fascinating red wines well worth seeking out.  (As a side note, Neyers also produces a “Sage Canyon” bottling as well, which blends the Evangelho Carignae with some Syrah, Grenache & Mourvedre & crafted ala Maxime Magnon in winemaking style, which I also GREATLY appreciate & love).


The next duo started with the 2105 Sucette Grenache from superstar Master Sommelier & brilliant wine mind Richard Betts.  This undoubtedly was one of the true shining stars of the day & I must add, one of the best Grenache based red wines from the New World I have encountered to date.  The fruit comes from 90 plus year old, own rooted vines in Vine Vale, located in the Barossa Valley, of Australia & its sandy soils.  The wine exuded wonderful vinosity (old vine-ness), savoriness & character, was VERY seamless, well textured & still quite a remarkably good drink.  It really does show what this grape variety is innately capable of.  Thank you to Warren for sharing this special bottle.   In comparison, one of tasters, Keith, kindly brought a 2014 a tribute to Grace Grenache “Besson Vineyard”.  This is a wine project dedicated to Grenache, spearheaded by New Zealand born winemaker Angela Osborne.  It is more typical of what one would expect from California in style–loads of ripe, more forward fruit with spice, & some earthiness.  Furthermore this particular bottling, which hails from the Besson Vineyard down in Monterey & its 100 year old vines, did have some vinosity & character as well.  These kinds of Grenache based reds, although somewhat pricey, can be quite the “cross over” opportunity to get more New World drinkers to try something “out of their box” & therefore opening new wine horizons.


We started the next duo with the 2013 Evening Land Gamay Noir “Celebration”.  Sommeliers across the U.S. are going gaga over true artisan, passionately farmed & produced French (Gamay Noir) Beaujolais.  They’ve genetically proven this grape variety is a descendent of Pinot Noir & in the mostly granitic soils of Beaujolais, it can produce some superbly delicious, incredibly food friendly, gulpable red wines WHICH greatly over deliver for the price tag.  Well, with that theme in mind, here is one from the much heralded Seven Springs Vineyard up in Oregon.  This small parcel was planted in 1983 & is fermented in concrete (via wild yeast & carbonic maceration) & then aged in OLD oak for 8 months.  The surprisingly gamey/rustic nose was bordering off-putting for some, but the wine’s wonderful deliciousness, refreshing edge soon dispelled any apprehensions.  One could have a lot of fun on the restaurant floor pairing a wine like this to food, that’s for sure.  Though slightly out of place, we then served the 2011 Selene Merlot “Frediani Vineyard”, which Jamm & Erica brought to share.  This wine certainly wow-ed a lot of tasters because its savory, deeply scented, earthy character, its core of solid, well structured core & mojo & how well balanced it really was.  This wine was really good!  Who says 2011 red wines from the Napa Valley are not worth cellaring?  Kudos to Mia Klein for such a truly superb wine!


The final trio of this flight started with the 2010 Ojai Syrah “Bien Nacido Vineyard”.   I have been a very avid fan of this winemaker, winery & their wines for quite some time, especially their Bien Nacido vineyard wines–Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & this bottling of Syrah.  Knowing this tasting was coming up, I had contacted the winery & they were kind enough to sell me this winery from their library & send it to us in time.  Thank you Fabien Castel.  For me, this is undoubtedly one of the VERY finest Syrah bottlings out of California, year in & year out….& as Fabien noted the 2010 was not only one of their best ever, but it was also really singing right now.  And, so it was!  The 2010 was profound, masculine, majestic with mega intensity, structure & mojo, yet very masterly crafted with great balance, texture & class.  It was initially quite closed, but certainly opened up to strut its stuff with time.  This is definitely a real thoroughbred stud.  In comparison, Heather was kind enough to share the 2011 K Syrah “The Hidden” from Washington state.  It was really an idea contrast to the Ojai for young tasters, as it clearly showed much riper, lavish, much more forward fruit, a healthy dollop of new oak–& was loud & up front.  This is typically a style of wine which would garner highly scores & many accolades (95 points in this case by Robert Parker–we just looked it up).  Still, the Ojai was a significantly better wine for my palate, by far, AND at a much lower cost.  The final wine of the flight was the 2001 Girasole Syrah “Eaglepoint Ranch”.  In this vintage my best friend, Nunzio Alioto & Jeff Figone & I brought some Syrah grapes from Eaglepoint Ranch, a mountain top vineyard above the town of Ukiah in Mendocino.  We asked dear friend & Pinot maestro, Fred Scherrer to make the wine.  Well, here it is 16 years later, a bottle Fred recently sent to me from a stash he found in his cellar.  The intent of sharing it on this day was to remind tasters of how transparent, elegant, refined & majestic Syrah can be.  Even one that is “mountain grown”.  Thank you Fred.  Mission accomplished!


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