Sunday, November 14, 2010

Wine of the Week...Zinfandels

Note:  I had the bright idea to share this on Sunday Scribblings...I hope they don't mind.

Let me explain...I do not drink really expensive wines because it is not practical nor is it possible.  I am an experiences wine taster but I am not obsessed by all those things that a wine snob would be.  In other words if it is good it is good!  If I don't like it...well enough said.  Actually, I am more interested in the story behind the wine.  All I can hope is that you will like my recommendations enough to share them with company at your next informal dinner party.
Maryhille Castle Image from NW Council Org

ZINFANDEL in the Northwest...
The first Zin I ever tasted was in a small restaurant in Eastern Oregon.  The little community had one restaurant and on a big Saturday night the place only had only two tables with customers.  I doubt it is still in business.  BUT they did have a local Zinfandel on the wine list.  Because this little place is very close to the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, they have access to some very high classes wineries.
At the time I thought the wine was very good and it still may be.  If I could find a bottle of it now, I would serve it at dinner because I think the location of the winery and the story behind the it is so interesting.

The Zinfandel we ordered that night came from the Maryhill Winery on the Washington side of the Columbia River across from Biggs Junction, Oregon.  When you cross over the river at Biggs you will see a castle on the hill and near the castle is a replica of the Stonehenge.  Honestly, it is a very cool place.  A railroad magnate built the place in the early 20th century for love.  The woman spurned the offering but the builder did manage to get the Queen of Romania to visit in 1926.  The castle now boasts an art museum with some world class exhibits.  I am not sure what the Stonehenge was all about and never did really care! The man's name was Sam Hill...a name we used to use in vain as children when we were not allowed to swear!  Down the road a few miles sits the Maryhille Winery.
Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book 2011
Pomegranate Tree
Olive, Rose, Grapes, Wine
Grapes vines are in the background.

CALIFORNIA ZIN...Dry Creek Valley

Several years ago the Napa and Sonoma Valley wineries embraces the old vine Zinfandels with a passion.  They have a lot of "old vines" it seems.  The year we visited it was the very trendy to taste and buy Zin.  We generally only spend one day tasting when we visit.   So on this year we decided to take a drive up Dry Creek Valley...north of Sonoma I think. We were using a current Pocket Wine Book as our guide.   Our plan was to only taste full round of wines from white to red.  We wanted to enjoy the Zin experience without getting drunk!  That is always a good plan.

Believe it or not the reason we stopped at the first winery was because of a Pomegranate tree...the first I had ever seen.  The fruit was ripe and this beautiful  tree just stopped us in our tracks!  As it happened there was a wine tasting room next door.  A few grape vines with a rose at the end of each row decorated the perimeter of the driveway.  For those of you that don't know, back before the science of viticulture was perfected, the rose would show signs of problems before the grape vines experiences the same problems.  So growers watched the roses very carefully. I thought it said a lot about the way the wine was crafted here.

Zuchichi Family Winery was located next door to our beautiful Pomagranate tree.  It seems the family bought this winery in the year 2000 and constructed the beautiful tasting room that overlooks the valley. The day we were there they were offering tasting directly out of the barrel!  As I recall the wine was very near to being ready to be bottled.  On this occasion the owner was selling shares in casks that would be bottled during the next year.  If we had been a little more daring we would have bought that option.  This was very good Zin...very, very good.  The owner/winemaker was a retired physician from New Orleans and evidently knew what he was doing. 

BELLA WINERY...the cave!
Picnic Ready Winery...blanket and all!
The Gift Cave?
Bella Winery Gift Shop
As we progressed up the valley we came to a winery named Bella Winery...beautiful winery in Italian I think.  It was at the end of the road.  I cannot tell you how gorgeous the setting for this winery is.  It is worth the drive on a sunny fall day! We were greeted by a beautiful sprawling lawn.  Adirondack  chairs with shawls thrown over the arms welcomed visitors to sit and visit over a bottle of wine.  It was enchanting.  In the early 2000 they dug a cave they now use as a tasting room, gift shop and dining room.  The Zins we tasted were $50+ a bottle...but with a small fee you were given the opportunity to sample their wonderful wines.  I see they have a bottle of late harvest Zinfandel for $25.  I assume this would be like ice wine in many ways.  It is 11% sugar content.

This is the type of thing we like to do.  It gives us a taste of the finer things in life...we've retired in style...and is affordable.  It is all a learning experience.   While we do not buy really expensive wine, we do know what good wine tastes like.

If you are in the market for a fine wine with a wonderful story behind it, I would suggest any wine that Bella Winery crafts.

So there you have...the story behind the wine.  Hopefully, you are building your own stories and sharing the wine that goes with it. 
Exploring Wine: The Culinary Institute of America's Guide to Wines of the WorldWe have eaten at the 
Culinary Institute of America several times.
It is an experience you should
not miss if you are
in the Napa Valley
The book is
published by the
Culinary Institute of America.
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  1. In all of our travels, I have NEVER had a better Zin than ANY year Zinfandel from Maryhill. I couldn't agree with you more. If we are anywhere NEAR the Maryhill Winery, we pack our own lunch, go wine tasting, buy a bottle or three, and enjoy our lunch and Maryhill Zin out on the deck overlooking the Columbia, Stonehenge, the orchards below, the amphitheater, and the lights of Biggs Junction. Norah

  2. Oh...and just up the road past Maryhill Winery toward Goldendale, WA, you will find...get ready for this one...a Greek Orthodox monastery! Yes, I am not kidding nor could I even make that up! You are welcomed to their bakery and to sample wonderful coffees by the nuns who bake delicious offerings. This is an incredible find where you would least expect it. You may also sign up for a tour of the monastery/church on the very private grounds. Norah


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