By Allen Balik
Napa Valley Register

My last column generated a broad reader response with most of the questions and comments directed to the history of Zinfandel and the true definition of “Old Vine” as is seen on countless wine labels.  The question on Old Vine is an easy one to address because in the U.S. it has no official meaning or definition by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) that regulates the labeling and sale of all alcoholic products. It is a popular term and often seen on Zinfandel labels to differentiate them from other bottlings. But, like other popular terms such as “Reserve,” there is no legal definition and it is used primarily for marketing purposes.

The questions I received about Zinfandel’s history stemmed primarily from my reference to its European origin. Some people continue thinking of Zinfandel as a California grape, although genetic research and DNA identification established in the mid-1990s through 2001 by UC Davis Professor Emerita Carole Meredith proved otherwise. She traced Zinfandel’s true beginning to Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast and a grape known since the 15th century as Tribidrag, also known by several other names including, Primitivo and Crljenak Kastelanski.

In his book “Zinfandel—A History of a Grape and its Wine,” Charles Sullivan does a masterful and entertaining job of tracing Zinfandel’s history while dismissing several myths that had become popular over time. Perhaps the greatest myth around the grape began in the 1880s and was not disproved (and is still believed by some) until the 1970s.

Bottling at Buena Vista

Arped Haraszthy was the son of the colorful European nobleman Agoston Haraszthy, who founded California’s first bonded winery, Buena Vista in Sonoma, and was considered a major figure in California’s winemaking history. To glamorize his father’s legacy after a tragic death in Nicaragua, Arped fabricated the story of his father being the first to introduce Zinfandel in the U.S. by bringing a native vine from his Hungarian homeland to California as early as 1852.

Agoston falsely became known as the “father” of Zinfandel even though he never mentioned the grape in his prolific writings on California wine. However, Sullivan’s research clearly illustrates that Zinfandel (under a variety of spellings) was found on the East Coast in the 1820s and grown in Massachusetts hot houses as a table grape before it migrated by an undetermined route to California and was eventually used for making wine.

Zinfandel found a welcome home in Northern California in the late 19th century. Today, quite a few of those vineyards remain productive in Sonoma and Contra Costa counties as well as Lodi. In 1976, Joel Peterson founded Ravenswood in Sonoma with a clear focus on Zinfandel from Heritage vineyards. He has also recently launched his own Once & Future brand dedicated to those same vineyards.

Peterson began his Zinfandel adventure by making wine from 100-year-old vines in Dry Creek Valley. Throughout his illustrious career, he expanded his search for other vineyard sources where the weathered vines and shallow soils continue to produce wines of an idyllic nature speaking of their history. Zinfandel has in many ways become linked to old vine viticulture, due in part to its robust planting in the late 19th century after phylloxera and the vine’s inherent resistance to disease. Peterson says, “Old vines are not just about longevity, they are totally in synch with their terroir and more consistently expressive of the flavor of place.”

Napa Valley’s celebrated vintner Mike Grgich arrived from Croatia through Canada in 1958 and immediately saw a resemblance of Zinfandel vines to his treasured Plavac Mali, widely planted in his homeland. But at that time, technology and scientific protocols could not relate the two and the Haraszthy myth remained widely accepted as fact. In the 1970s, others recognized a similarity to Primitivo (from Southern Italy’s Puglia region) so cuttings were brought to UC Davis for propagation and investigation.

While studies began on the connection of Primitivo and Zinfandel nothing could be accurately confirmed until Meredith began to apply her genealogical expertise. In 1992, the Zinfandel/Primitivo connection established that they were in fact identical. In 1995, Meredith began her work to find the source of both.

Italian scientists did not believe Primitivo was a native grape, and with the narrow Adriatic Sea so close to Puglia, Croatia (just across the water) became a target of the research. And let’s not forget Grgich’s observation of Zinfandel’s similarity to Plavac Mali that lent a further connection to Croatia. Meredith ventured to Croatia and gathered samples for her DNA research. An early finding was that Zinfandel and Plavac Mali were not the same but probable siblings. The search was intensified to find the ultimate match and the “Original Zin.”

Hearing of Meredith’s research, scientists from the University of Zagreb who were examining old Croatian varietals that were on the verge of extinction, contacted her for assistance. Together, they collected a wide range of samples that underwent DNA testing at Davis, finding many siblings but no direct match.

In 2001, after three years of work and with only a few vines remaining in the ground, the match was found in a remote Croatian vineyard.

It was Crljenak Kastelanski, now referred to by its oldest recorded name Tribidrag, originally planted along Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast by Venetian nobility in the 15th to 17th centuries. Plavac Mali, that many associated as Zinfandel, is believed to have evolved as a genetic sibling with an inbred resistance to the conditions that swept the country almost wiping out Tribidrag.

Another interesting note connecting Tribidrag to Primitivo is the translation of their names. Both refer to “early ripening” in their native languages, but Zinfandel in California only became the recognized spelling of the table grape from Massachusetts.

As a lover of Zinfandel, I certainly appreciate Sullivan’s statement in the preface of his book, “Many wine grape varieties are of mysterious origin, but none as important as Zinfandel.”

Be sure to heck out these great Zins offered by Golden Gate Wine Cellars:
ALDEN ALLI 2015 ZINFANDEL “LIMERICK LANE” by the Kosta Browne winemaker!


FOXTROT, not just a dance – Its a wonderful Pinot

The Foxtrot winery was created by Torsten and Kicki Allander who believe that the key to producing world class wine is total control over the grape growing and winemaking process from start to finish. To this day, both remain an integral part of the family business, with Kicki spending her days in the estate vineyard meticulously cultivating the vines, and Torsten overseeing quality control.

The Story behind the Label: Every year, just in time for harvest, Foxtrot has had a resident Black Bear around the vineyard. Sometimes he has been known to make an appearance at picking time and pickers would comment that it looked like he was dancing when standing up on his hind legs. At the winery they have come to affectionately call him Fred and he has graced the label ever since.

Foxtrot 2016 Pinot Noir “Estate”
GGWC 62.99
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Winemaker Notes: “The 2016 Pinot Noir has beautiful balance and intensity carrying the classic Foxtrot Vineyard aromas of bright and dark red fruits along with spice and earthy tones. These notes carry through to the palate and are wonderfully framed by the balanced acidity, rich dark fruit flavours, and bold silky smooth tannins producing a long lingering finish. Our 2016 Foxtrot Vineyard Pinot Noir can easily be aged for up to 10+ years but can also be consumed in the near term with decanting.”

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This is the 10th release for O’Dwyer and I am proud to be ONLY US establishment to offer this limited produced (Australian) Cabernet – Also the only non-California Cabernet in our inventory.

The 2016 O’Dwyer Cabernet might be the very best Cabernet the winery has produced to date!  Very limited and sensational in quality. One would think Napa and Bordeaux visited the Clare Valley!

O’Dwyer 2016 “Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon, Clare Valley
GGWC 74.99
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This youngster offers up a gorgeous nose of amazing black currant and dark chocolate.  The lush palate is complex and loaded with bright black stone fruit, chocolate and espresso notes.  Full in body, yet extremely refined, this wine is intense with a long finish of silky grained tannins.  I highly recommend decanting this wine an hour or two before imbibing.  As always the production is very limited and only 50 cases are coming to the US!

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An UNDER $45 Napa Cabernet

Boris Guillome is a 20+ year wine industry veteran, having worked in some of California’s best wine establisments.  In 2013, he decided that his next challenge would be to create his own label, so he hired Helen Keplinger as his winemaker and set out to find exceptional sites and the best fruit possible. These wines are pure, focused and spectacular.

Waterfall 2015 Proprietary Cabernet Blend, Napa Valley
GGWC 44.99
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The 2015 Waterfall Proprietary Red is a tremendous blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Cabernet Franc.  On the nose you are greeted by purple flowers, dark chocolate, tobacco and espresso. The wine is mouthcoating dense and chewy, with flavors of black plums, black cherries, dark chocolate and cocoa. The wine is medium to full in bodied with great grip and texture, and fine grained silky tannins.. The wine was aged 21 months in 30% new French oak and bottled unfined and unfiltered. Then aged in bottle for a few more years before its release. Only 140 cases were produced.

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This 125 case Hidden Napa Cab Gem will not break the bank!

This ONE acre vineyard located next to Grace Family in St. Helena has been putting out some amazing wine over the past couple of years.  All courtesy of a 100 Point winemaker who turned this little piece of dirt in a pile of gold flakes!  The winery is owned by four friends, neighbors, the Martin and Croshaw families, thus MC4! The 2016 vintage marks the eight release from this great venture and I am proud to serve it up!

MC4 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate  St. Helena
GGWC 79.99
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I was happily surprised how well this youngster showed from the get-go.  Bold and bright flavors on the nose of palate – black stone fruit, chocolate and espresso beans jump out of the glass and tease the palate.  Great density, yet well-balanced and elegant showcasing the intensity of a linebacker and the elegance of a ballerina – translated bold flavors, great body and a elegant long-fine-grained finished that finishes with silky tannins.  Another great achievement from one of Napa’s smallest vineyards.

94 Points Parker:  The 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon sports a medium to deep garnet-purple color and nose of crushed wild blueberries, black cherries and mulberries with touches of cigar box, baking spices and dark chocolate plus a waft of sage. Medium to full-bodied, the palate features appealing restraint, with taut, muscular fruit and fantastic tension, finishing long and softly textured.”

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Former Spottswoode Winemaker’s Expressive Grenache that will wow you!

Winemaker/owner Rosemary Cakebread has earned her stripes after 30 years in the Napa Valley (Spottswoode, etc.).  She created the Gallica label in 2007 and has been producing amazing Cabernets, Rhone Blends and Albarino.  The 2017 Grenache might be here best offer yet to date.  STUNNING I’d say!

Gallica 2017 Grenache “Rossi Ranch” Sonoma Valley
GGWC 54.99
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Vinous says: “The 2017 Grenache Rossi Ranch is fleshy and supple, with plenty of racy fruit and floral notes that offer a good bit of freshness from the decision to bottle on the early side. The inclusion of 30% stems helps to further bring out perfume in this super-expressive Grenache.”

Winery Notes: “Our one hundred percent Grenache is sourced from Rossi Ranch in the heart of Sonoma Valley. Owned by Sandy Otellini and farmed by Phil Coturri, the fine clay loam soils are perfect for growing this wondrously aromatic red grape. Laced with wild strawberry but also nuanced with wooly thyme and wet stone. Burgundian in character and winemaking, fermentation occurs in open top tanks with just enough stems to perfect elegant tannins. The soft ruby color is deceptive, there is grip and amplitude to these wines that grabs our attention.”

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The Biggest Boldest Petite Sirah Ever Seen!

It all started with 7 barrels stashed in his employer’s cellar. What started as a modest homage to his rancher grandfather has become a beacon to those seeking opulent, structured Syrah and Grenache. To maintain balance while giving flavor full stage, Russell works with 30 top-tier vineyards in over 7 distinct growing regions between Santa Barbara and Paso Robles. Vineyards of particular note include: Bien Nacido, Slide Hill, Larner, Shadow Canyon, Chelle Mountain, Luna Matta and White Hawk. ­ese are no nonsense, balls to the walls wines that are not for the faint of heart or the pinky raising set.
Herman Story 2017 Petite Sirah “First Time Caller” Santa Barbara
GGWC 54.99
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This isn’t just any rinky-dink poker night, it’s the hottest game in town. Th­e blinds are as big as the balls being broke, and if you aren’t going big, you should probably go home. You take your seat and your chips and brace yourself. ­ The flop is huge with brambles and black pepper. Violet and orange muscat on the turn has you feeling strong. You catch a blend of nectar and honey on the river, which sweetens the pot. You can spot the tell across the table, so you make the call. And you go home a legend.

Winemaker Notes:  Ultra extracted by California sunshine and a bit of that classic Russell P. From “don’t pick it till you’ve finished your Christmas shopping” magic, this is the most dangerous wine I’ve made yet. For anyone who drinks French roast and likes their bacon extra crispy.

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An “Explosive” Sauvignon Blanc

Lieu-dit is a French term for a small geographical area bearing a traditional name. The name usually refers to some characteristic of the place, its former use, a past event, etc. In winemaking circles, a lieu-dit has come to mean the smallest piece of land which has a traditional vineyard name assigned to it and in typical usage translates as “vineyard name”.

In this case, Lieu Dit is a partnership of longtime friends Eric Railsback and Justin Willett. The two met in Santa Barbara while Eric was finishing college and Justin was just beginning his career in winemaking. The two were among a small group of young winemakers and restaurateurs in Santa Barbara unified by a common interest in wine and all its mysteries. Both are sommeliers, one of them a star of the new documentary Somm, teach the basics of Santa Barbara’s wine by focusing on three components: grape variety, alcohol level and age.

Lieu Dit 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Ynez
GGWC 29.99

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Winemaker Notes: “Fruit for this bottling is sourced from three different vineyards from the eastern edge of the Santa Ynez Valley in the AVA Happy Canyon: Grassini, McGinley, and Star Lane. The soils across the three vary with sand, shale and gravel at Star Lane and heavier clays with larger yellow and red chert, and serpentine rocks at both McGinley and Grassini. The fruit is always picked on the early side, whole cluster pressed into tank and then fermented in both stainless steel and in neutral barrels. After fermentation, all lots are put into neutral barrels through the winter before being racked a few months prior to bottling. The finished wine is mineral-driven, focused, and racy style that speaks more to Sancerre than to the riper, richer styles typical of California and other warmer climates.”

Vinous: The 2017 Sauvignon Blanc is explosive, rich and full of flavor, with all of the energy and layers of nuance that make Sauvignons from Happy Canyon so distinctive. The 2017 was fermented in steel and aged in neutral oak. Vineyard sources are Happy Canyon Vineyard and McGinley.

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A Kosta Browne Pinot source at ½ the price!

Cuvée Marcy is the latest release from Sandler.  Cuvée Marcy was previously known as KEEFER RANCH.  Kosta Browne purchased the vineyard and have the exclusive name rights to this source.  Sandler is still purchasing the fruit and uses Keefer’s original owner (Marcy) as its moniker instead.  Keefer Ranch Vineyard was planted in 1988 by Marcy Keefer and her husband Robert, a retired doctor who took night classes on grape farming before diving into the deep end and establishing the site.  Many great wineries have purchased fruit from them, until they sold to K.B – now only a handful of them will still have access to this coveted source.   Marcy Keefer passed away in the fall of 2017, so this wine is dedicated to her memory.

Sandler 2016 Pinot Noir “Cuvée Marcy” Russian River Valley
GGWC 44.99

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The wine known formerly as “Keefer Ranch” has a deep, dark ruby color with a purple rim. The nose is among the prettiest of all the (former) Keefers (now Cuvee Marcy) Sandler has produced. The wine offers up aromas of rose petals, ripe berry fruit and a whiff toasty vanilla. The palate is youthful and drinks more like a young Pommard than a Russian River Valley Pinot, with well-balanced acidity, moderate tannin, and a slightly earthy component. An elegant finish unfolds with time, revealing a wine that should last well into the 2020’s.

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Spain was just ranked the healthiest country in the world,
and the Mediterranean diet could have played a role

By Susana Vera
Bloomberg Insider

Spain was ranked the healthiest country in the world for 2019 on the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index.

To create the ranking, Bloomberg looked at several factors, including life expectancy, tobacco use, clean water access, and obesity.

The popular Mediterranean diet could have helped Spain take its top spot. The diet has been shown to promote heart health and weight loss and lessen diabetes risk.

The Mediterranean diet sets itself apart from the ketogenic dietand paleo diet with its less restrictive approach to eating.

Bloomberg released its annual ranking, looking at a variety of factors across 169 countries, including life expectancy, tobacco use, clean water access, and obesity rates to determine which are the healthiest. Five other European countries made the top 10, including Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, and Norway, while the United States ranked 35.

Spain had the highest life expectancy at birth out of all of the countries Bloomberg ranked.

In the previous edition of the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index, published in 2017, Spain was ranked sixth, while Italy was ranked first.

The Mediterranean diet could have played a role in Spain’s ranking

The Mediterranean diet has been shown to help with weight loss, promote heart health, and lower diabetes risk.

People from Spain and Italy, the top two healthiest countries for 2019, often eat Mediterranean-style diets, which could have played a role in their high rankings.

That’s because the diet, which is low in added sugar and high in healthy fats, has been shown to help with weight loss, promote heart health, and lower diabetes risk. The Mediterranean diet was even named the top overall diet of 2019 by US News & World Report for these reasons.

A 2018 study in The New England Journal of Medicine also found that diets featuring extra-virgin olive oil and nuts, two staples of the Mediterranean diet, could help prevent heart disease.

Other popular items on the diet include fresh fruits and vegetables, and even red wine in moderation. The eating style sets itself apart from other diets like the ketogenic diet and paleo diet, both of which suggest dieters eat mainly protein and fat and stay away from carbohydrates, with its less restrictive approach.

Diet alone probably isn’t responsible for Spain reaching the top spot on Bloomberg’s index since so many factors played a role in the methodology, but it certainly contributed to the country’s ranking.