Beth’s Smart Sip: 2017 Artezin Zinfandel, Mendocino County

The Q’s brisket. Photo by me. Restaurant website: https://theqrandb.com/

I dined with friends at The Q Restaurant and Bar in Napa, Califonia, recently. Although I have lived in Napa for over five and a half years, I had never been to the Q. Being a Southern belle, of course I went for one of the signature dishes, the brisket. While my companions and I enjoyed a lovely Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon with dinner, I wished I had brought the 2017 Artezin Zinfandel, Mendocino County (sample; SRP $18) I had tasted the weekend prior.

When I received this wine sample a couple of months ago, I was immediately curious as to why the focus on zinfandel, especially hailing from Mendocino County, not particularly as well known for this grape variety. Winemaker Randle Johnson was kind enough to respond to my question:

When we began Artezin in 2002, we knew Zinfandel was considered unique to the grape/wine world and was essentially the “California Grape.” It was also the most significant heritage/heirloom variety. As such, it needed its own identity, its own “brand” within our organization. After much discussion, we came up with the name “Artezin.” Many varieties, including Zinfandel, were planted throughout Mendocino County. With Artezin, I like to work with family growers to honor the tradition of Zinfandel winemaking that has been established throughout the generations. Most vines I work with are old vine, head pruned and non-irrigated. By 2004, we realized that there were other close (and far flung) heritage varieties like Carignan, Charbono and Petite Sirah. Thus, we expanded our Artezin portfolio to include other varieties, as well as vineyard designated Zinfandels.

Artezin Zinfandel – photo by Kristy Harris, https://cavegrrl.com/

I have always been interested in the uniqueness of Mendocino County. On one hand, there is the cool Anderson Valley, where Chardonnay, Pinot and Riesling/Gewurztraminer do exceptionally well. On the other hand, is the warm to hot “central” Mendocino that follows the Highway 101 “corridor,” shielded from the ocean air by the coastal Mayacamas range. Here big red varieties like Cabernet, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel excel. I especially like Zinfandels from Mendo because the climate is perfect: warm days & cool nights. They also exhibit classic “zinny” character: red fruits (boysenberry, raspberry, cherry, pomegranate), black/white pepper, exotic spices, and the ever elusive “brambles!!” As an additional bonus, Mendocino Zinfandels are usually good values.

Artezin Zinfandel – photo by Kristy Harris, https://cavegrrl.com/

Another focus of Artezin is its commitment to sourcing fruit from local grape growers who practice sustainable farming. In the case of the 2017 vintage of zinfandel, Johnson and his team acquired fruit from farmers such as Peter Chevalier, Dennis Hunt, Cherrie Laviletta, Darin Colombini, Bree and Kevin Klotter, Larry and Doreen Venturi, Paul Dolan, Ken and Diane Wilson, Eddie Graziano, and Charlie Sawyer, a veritable who’s who of Mendocino County farming. Artezin, the artisan, er, art of zin, collaboration between these notable farmers and Johnson, has rendered Mendocino County zinfandel accessible, approachable, affordable, and most importantly, palatably appealing.

A wine and food writing colleague, Kristy Harris, and I tasted the Artezin together, but without food. It is everything one seeks in a zinfandel: an initial pop on the palate of bold, dark berries, especially blueberry and blackberry; a touch of food-friendly acidity; and a remarkable peppery-cayenne finish. The only thing missing was a hearty meat dish, such as the aforementioned brisket, pulled pork, or sausage. This wine is big on quality, flavor, and value, a trifecta of “yes, please.” Lesson learned. The next time I dine at The Q, I will have Artezin Zinfandel, Mendocino County, in tow as Beth’s Smart Sip.

Greenwood Ridge Vineyards

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On the drive to the kickoff event at Greenwood Ridge Vineyards for my inaugural Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association Aromatic White Wine Festival, I was nervous. It was billed as a winemakers’ media dinner and was not sure what the dress code was. I finally decided to dress neatly, but also casually and warmly, because it was a cold, February night. Dressed in my comfort zone to mentally combat my first-time attendee jitters, I was ready to experience my first Anderson Valley winery.

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Founded in 1980 by Allan Green, Greenwood Ridge Vineyards is one of the original Anderson Valley wineries. Today, under the ownership of Wilson Artisan Wines, it still produces only around 1500 cases of premium wines, including riesling, late-harvest riesling, sauvignon blanc, merlot, pinot noir, and zinfandel.

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I parked my car and walked confidently to the famed, octagonal-shaped tasting room, designed by Allan’s father and associate of Frank Lloyd Wright, Aaron G. Green, and constructed from one, 400-year-old redwood tree. Someone outside immediately welcomed me and gave me a glass.

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As I opened the door and heard the friendly laughter and chatter, I felt a huge sigh of relief. Allan Green himself was pouring (and sipping) a vertical of aged rieslings from 1985, 1988, and 1996 (prices unknown), which were mind-blowingly delicious. More guests arrived, more wine appeared, and the noise level grew with lively conversation and music. Dinner was a fantastic barbecue buffet, not a fancy, sit-down dinner, and in that moment, I realized that the staff of Greenwood Ridge and the Anderson Valley producers in attendance were my kind of people.

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As the evening progressed, I found myself among friends, new and old. At some point, dinner turned into a party, and the crowd trickled outside into the cold, where we huddled near heaters and fire pits, sipping beautiful Anderson Valley wines and getting to know each other.

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When the cold air won, chilling me to the bone, I made my way back inside. My friend, Sommelier Christopher Sawyer, introduced me to Stacie Lynch, the winery’s manager, who warmed us up with a taste of the Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Jepson Signature Reserve Alambic Brandy ($395), simply exquisite.

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Next, she poured the exceptional 1999 Greenwood Ridge Mendocino Merlot (around $24 at release), another showstopper. I was smitten with both Greenwood Ridge and Stacie. She was a consummate host. And, as I was leaving, she gave me a couple of wines to take home, a 1995 Late Harvest Riesling (price unknown) and the 2016 Mendocino Ridge Riesling ($20). The former is awaiting a special occasion. My thoughts about the latter are below.

Rieslings

The Greenwood Ridge Vineyards 2016 Mendocino Ridge Riesling showcases how the cool, maritime influence of the nearby Pacific Ocean benefits grape growing. With only 1.6% residual sugar, this wine is a lovely, mouthwatering play of zippy acidity and delicate, ever-so-slight sweetness. Fruit flavors run the gamut from tropical to stone to tree to citrus, surprising and delighting the palate in every sip. Pair this riesling with nearly anything, but especially spicy Asian cuisine. I would also put a few bottles in the cellar for later, because if the 1985, 1988, and 1996 are any indication, this will be fantastic to try with age.

I have kept in touch with Stacie and she sent me a few more wines to taste. I am sure they will find their way into my heart, too, and be delectable reminders of my first visit to Greenwood Ridge Vineyards and Anderson Valley, a place that feels like a home away from home.

A Tale of Two Elizabeths and Bee Hunter Wine

Reception
Photo by Sommelier Christpher Sawyer (http://sawyersomm.com/)

As luck would have it, it was a very cold night for the kickoff reception and dinner at the 13th Annual Anderson Valley Aromatic White Wine Festival hosted by the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association. However, it was under the warmth of a heater, accompanied by delicious wine and food, where the two Elizabeths, one from Philo and one from Napa, would first meet and discuss the magic of their name, which comes from the Hebrew word, elīsheba`, meaning God is my oath.

Philo Elizabeth
The next day, Napa Elizabeth entered the festival’s grand tasting, and before her very eyes stood Philo Elizabeth (also known as Alisa or Ali Nemo) and her partner, winemaker André DuVigneaud (Andy), who beckoned her to taste two of the rieslings from Bee Hunter Wine, their winemaking project featuring a range of whites, a rosé, and reds from the hidden gem vineyards of Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. Like a bee is always hunting for the perfect garden, Bee Hunter, a word from Boonville’s own language dialect, Boontling, is always searching for lesser-known, sustainable, organic, and biodynamic vineyards from which to source their grapes.

Boont Berry
Napa Elizabeth’s mission: to find the festival’s perfect pairing for their 2015 Wiley Vineyard Riesling ($24), whose slight effervescence gave it a unique Pét-Nat or cider quality. She buzzed around the room (pun intended), stumbling up on the small plates prepared and served by Boont Berry Farm Store, which featured locally sourced foods like smoked salmon, turkey, avocado, mushroom, sweet onion, and cranberry. The winner: the plate that Andy fondly called “deconstructed Thanksgiving”, featuring the turkey, onions, mushroom, and cranberry cream cheese spread. Better grab this wine for your Thanksgiving table before it is gone.

Yorkville Highlands
The two Elizabeths would reunite that evening at Bee Hunter’s pop-up tasting at Aquarelle Catering & Events in Boonville. Napa Elizabeth tasted through their available portfolio and could not get enough, so returned once again the next day to discover that not only is Andy a winemaker, but he is a chef, making his own brisket sliders and BBQ tacos, surprising those who ventured in to taste. He made a special-order plate for Napa Elizabeth that fit her wellness lifestyle. The wine pairing: Bee Hunter’s take on Bordeaux, the Yorkville Highlands blend of 50% cabernet sauvignon and 50% merlot ($48), which showed off its higher-terrain terroir in unison with the rich, fatty brisket.

Pinot Noirs Together
Napa Elizabeth was sad to depart Boonville, but Philo Elizabeth said that she and Andy would be in Napa soon, the following Thursday, in fact, and the two reunited for a wine club pickup at Mumm Napa. As they said goodbye, Philo Elizabeth handed Napa Elizabeth two open samples, the 2014 Bee Hunter Mendocino Pinot Noir ($48) and the 2014 Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir ($60). She returned home to taste with her cat, Einstein, by her side, and spoke to Philo Elizabeth and Andy via telephone the next day to get the rest of the story.

As always, your palate may vary.

Mendocino
2014 Bee Hunter Mendocino Pinot Noir
With grapes sourced from three vineyards in Mendocino County – Wiley, Docker, and Oppenlander – this wine is aged 20 months in a mix of 20-25% new, tighter grain, French oak barrels, and the remainder used one to four vintages. This oak regime, longer extraction time, and a blend of vineyard sources renders this wine very fruit forward and aromatic, a delight for even the most sensitive wine drinkers. A light garnet color in the glass, this wine shows juicy, sweet berry fruit like black cherry on the front of the palate, finishing with a tart berry mélange of redcurrant and cranberry with a backdrop of black tea.

Oppenlander

2014 Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir
Made the same as the previous wine, but sourced from one vineyard, Oppenlander Vineyard, located just north of Anderson Valley and east of the coast, but close enough to enjoy the cool, foggy coastal influence, this pinot noir is the dark and brooding sibling to the Mendocino. A medium garnet in the glass, this wine is creamier, more weighty on the palate, and reveals an intense, brambly fruit profile of blackberry, blackcurrant, and black raspberry. The zingy acidity and spice are notable, the latter of which reminded me of my favorite cinnamon tea. If you spend any time with Philo Elizabeth and Andy, you may hear this wine referred to as “Guns & Kittens”, a throwback to their first vintage meeting with the growers in their 1860-era farmhouse and its plethora of vineyard kittens and 30 long guns, which precariously found themselves together in a closet during this fateful visit. The following year, one of the vineyard kittens, Baxter, found a home with Philo Elizabeth and Andy, joining family members Cleo and Puff.

Thankfully for us, this is only the beautiful beginning of the tale of two Elizabeths and Bee Hunter Wine. Visit their website, where you can purchase wine, learn about their Bee Hunter Brand Ambassadorship program, book a tasting event, or become a Bee Hunter club member yourself. Stay tuned and always bee huntin’.

Cheers!
Napa Elizabeth

 

 

Josh Cellars Partners with Operation Homefront

Joseph Carr of Joseph Carr Wine and Josh Cellars (http://www.eatdrinkri.com/)
Joseph Carr of Joseph Carr Wine and Josh Cellars (http://www.eatdrinkri.com/)

In his former life, Joseph Carr was a 10-year sommelier and 10-year wine industry executive who decided to strike out on his own and create his own brand. In 2005, Joseph Carr Wine was born, producing wines from Napa Valley, Carneros, and the Sonoma Coast at Larson Family Vineyards. In 2009, Eric Asimov of the New York Times named Carr as a “producer to watch” and described his offerings as “wines of balance and restraint.” Carr has since partnered with Tom Larson to bring us his self-proclaimed “vin de garage,” his second label wines named Josh Cellars after his father. As states Carr, “A wine I made for Josh, my dad and my hero.” Grapes for the wines are sourced from sustainable and organic vineyards throughout California, including Sonoma and Mendocino counties. The wines are produced using traditional French winemaking techniques and are both approachable and affordable, with prices ranging from around $9.00-$15.00 per bottle (wine.com and snooth.com).

Operation Homefront Logo (http://www.operationhomefront.net/)
Operation Homefront Logo (http://www.operationhomefront.net/)

This holiday season, Josh Cellars has partnered with Operation Homefront. For every bottle sold between November 1 and December 31, 2013, Josh Cellars will donate $1.00 per bottle up to $50,000 in support of the members of our military and their families. According to the Operation Homefront website, “To get RELIEF during a crisis, a place to RECOVER if you need it and a little bit of RECOGNITION for a life of sacrifice. That’s what we do at Operation Homefront… and it’s making a difference.”

I had the opportunity to sample a couple of Josh Cellars’ offerings due to the generosity of Josh Cellars and their communications company, Cone Communications. Below are my thoughts.

Josh Cellars Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc
Josh Cellars Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc

2012 Sauvignon Blanc (SRP $13.99, screw-cap closure): This is a very nice, affordable option for those who prefer a light, citrusy, and fruit-forward Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a pale straw color with citrus and floral aromas, flavors of lemon and lime followed by a kiss of melon, stone fruits, and tropical fruits, and mouthwatering acidity. If you want more of the sweeter fruit flavors to come through, allow the wine to warm a bit before serving. I’ve had quite a few Sauvignon Blancs at higher price points, but this Sauvignon Blanc is right up there with those in terms of quality and varietal characteristics.

2011 Merlot (SRP $14.99, cork closure): This Merlot is a great price-to-quality wine. I could not believe the price when I researched it. It’s garnet-colored with medium body, luscious, juicy flavors of bing cherries, black cherries, and raspberries, chocolate/cocoa/mocha undertones, and nice acidity on the medium finish. Put the bottle in your refrigerator for about 20 minutes and more of that chocolate quality is revealed.

As someone on a budget, I appreciate quality wines that I can afford to bring to my table and share with family and friends. Josh Cellars is that kind of producer, one who creates handcrafted wines for all of us to enjoy. The experience is multiplied greatly when I know I am contributing to a worthy cause. So why not enjoy some Josh Cellars wines and pay it forward to our military heroes this holiday season?

#TGTaste with Bonterra Organic Vineyards

Tonight I am trying something new, blogging immediately after ThirstyGirl #TGTaste with Bonterra Organic Vineyards, while the aromas and flavors are immediate to my memory.

2011 Bonterra Chardonnay

2011 Bonterra Chardonnay
I tasted this wine stone cold out of my refrigerator. Very cold, this wine smelled and tasted like lots of citrus. This wine is 70% malolactic fermentation, but very balanced. As it warmed up, I began to taste more complexity, including butter and vanilla coupled with pineapple, tropical fruits, and citrus. It was creamy in texture, yet also had nice acidity and fruit. I could not believe this wine was only $13-$14 retail.

2010 Bonterra Merlot

2010 Bonterra Merlot
I was dying to taste this Merlot with my leftover Mellow Mushroom Holy Shiitake Pie and I was not disappointed. The earthiness of the mushrooms worked wonderfully with the Merlot, which was very fruit forward with black cherry, plum, and soft tannins. I only wished I had more pizza. This wine was also another amazing value at around $16/bottle.