Tuesday, July 28, 2009

An Open Plea to Paul Draper

Dear Paul:

I’m a Zinaddict, and I need your help. As a regular consumer of America’s finest grape, I’ve enjoyed different wine styles, barrel influences and the impact of terrior through your Z-list program and with a number of other producers. As result of your long history of zin excellence, I believe that Ridge properly sits within the three R’s of Zinfandel (Ridge, Ravenswood and Rosenblum). In fact, just last night I enjoyed that massive whallup of Zin that only your York Creek delivers (2006 Ridge York Creek Zinfandel with spicy pepperoni pizza). But, what Ridge is desperately missing that the other Rs have discovered is Amador Valley. Yes, Lytton, York, Pagani, and Three Valleys and others are great, but there is nothing as wonderfully unique as Zinfandel from Amador Valley. Properly concocted, Amador Valley zins exude jammy raspberry, pepper and spice – everything a Zinaddict like myself yearns for daily. Renwood’s (yet another R) Grandmere and Grandpere bottlings, and Young’s Vineyard and Easton Wines all make wonderful examples.

Okay, I confess to have dropped out of the Z-list program due to my current financial considerations, but a Ridge Amador Valley just might bring me back into the fold.

Best, Joe Plonk

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Castillo’s Hillside Shire Winery

It is a rare occasion that I am shocked by a glass of wine, but that was indeed the case when drinking the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from a new boutique winery called Castillo’s Hillside Shire Winery. It has a wonderful fruit forward raspberry and blackberry flavor with a hint of chocolate, earth and spice. The structure is medium and not overly tannic, somewhat similar to cabernet sauvignon from the Alexander Valley. Perhaps my expectations were low, but I was happily surprised.

Castillo’s Hillside Shire Winery is a family affair, with their three children actively involved in all aspects of the winery. Current offerings include:

2007 Syrah $30
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon $40
2007 Merlot $32
2007 Red Table Wine $22 (also very enjoyable)
2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon $72
2007 Estate Petite Sirah $42

Not typical Joe Plonk pricing, but not unforgivable either on the $40 cabernet or the $22 malbec based red table wine. There is also 2008 Chardonnay and 2008 Sangiovese in the barrel. The wines are currently available only through the winery and at local restaurants. Fuzia Restaurant in Morgan Hill is where I tried their wine. Opened to the public in March 2009, this winery is one of several promising wineries in the South County region (Morgan Hill, Gilroy, San Martin). Other notables include Clos LaChance, Mann Cellars, Solis Winery, and newcomer Jason Stephens.

Dave Tong has already done a nice review of the winery, and how they came into being. In short, Jess and Roni Joe Castillo wanted to build their dream house outside Morgan Hill, but their building plans were constantly denied due to the California Williamson Act which prevents construction of anything over 2,500 square feet since the land wasn’t used for agriculture. The Castillo’s planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah grapes on 70% of the land, thereby allowing them to build their dream house and start the winery.

Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised.

Best, Joe Plonk

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Monday, July 20, 2009

That's Mr. Shaw!

Charles F. Shaw is a real person, who lives in the Chicago, Illinois area. He is a former winery owner whose name is used for Charles Shaw wine, a brand of inexpensive table wines. Shaw learned to enjoy Beaujolais wine while living in Europe as an investment banker, and moved to Napa Valley in 1974 where he purchased 50 acres to start a winery where he made Gamay and Sauvignon Blanc. In 1991, Shaw’s wine label and brand name was purchased by Fred Franzia's Bronco Wine Company, which is based in Ceres, California. Since the label already had a good reputation, Bronco used the name to market an inexpensive table wine. In addition to the Charles Shaw brand, Bronco has ForestVille, Estrella, Montpellier, Grand Cru, Silver Ridge, Rutherford Vintners, Hacienda, Fox Hollow and Napa Ridge among its brands. With the possible exception of Hacienda (and Charles Shaw, of course), while indeed inexpensive most of these other labels rate fairly low on the Plonk list of value performers.

Bronco revived the wine brand in 2002 to take advantage of overplanting in California for the current market demand. During the 1990s, growers planted more grapes than needed to meet demand causing a huge opportunity for low end sellers such as Bronco. All from California vineyards, Charles Shaw’s current wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, White Zinfandel, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Shiraz, and Valdiguie in the Beaujolais nouveau style. The Plonk’s prefer the Merlot and Valdiguie from this list, and greatly favor the reds over the whites.

It is not clear how the real Charles F. Shaw feels about being famous as “Two Buck Chuck” -- for a winery he doesn’t own. However, it comes with the added benefit of a lifetime invitation-to-dinner at the Plonk household.

Best, Joe Plonk

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

More Information from the Cucamonga Valley AVA

GINO (Gino Filippi of J. Filippi Winery, I believe) was kind enough to add a comment to my posting about Carol Shelton's fantastic Monga Zin from Cucamonga Valley. I've copied his interesting post below, and will report back in the coming weeks after having tasted a few wines from this American Vinticultural Area which lies south-east of Los Angeles.

"Cucamonga-Guasti viticulture history is as complex as the old head-trained Mission, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Zinfandel grapevines that dominated the landscape for more than 150 years.

Much of the area’s vintage prosperity is owed to Secondo Guasti (1859-1927), who founded the Italian Vineyard Co. (IVC) in 1883, and built it into a gigantic wine enterprise. By 1917, Guasti was advertising IVC's holdings - 5,000 contiguous “vine to vine” acres – as the “Largest in the World.”

“Ontario wine historian Reno J. Morra recalls when the scenery in the valley was nothing short of majestic - reminiscent of Italy’s Piedmont region that his parents and other countrymen and women left behind. They immigrated to towns named Cucamonga, Etiwanda, Fontana, Guasti, Ontario and Mira Loma, filled with hope and desire for a better life in a new wine country, and a desire for their children to become Americans,” said Gino.

In 1919, Cucamonga-Guasti vines spanned over 20,000 acres, more than in Sonoma and twice as many as Napa County as wartime Prohibition was enacted. Reno’s summertime flight in the ‘40s over the vast vineyards in an authentic U.S. Air Force training plane is noteworthy. “As we flew above, thousands of acres of lush green vines filled the valley floor. It was the most beautiful sight my eyes had ever seen in my life. We followed the foothills from east to west and circled around south of the airport. My only wish was for others to have seen the view. If only I had a camera,” said Reno.

“Cucamonga Valley” was officially approved as an American Viticulture Area (AVA) in 1995 by the U.S. Department of Treasury as a result of a petition written and filed by myself (Gino L. Filippi) on behalf of area growers and vintners. This law enables producers to utilize “Cucamonga Valley” on wine labels containing not less than 75% of the volume of the wine derived from grapes grown here.

“Over the past 15 years, longtime vintners have made vineyard revitalization, namely Biane-Tibbetts/Rancho de Philo Winery, J. Filippi Winery, Galleano Winery, and Hofer Ranch Ontario. Newcomers include the Brandt Family Winery and The Wine Tailor, plus a cluster of home winemakers,” said Gino.

Today, local vintners are growing and producing award-winning vintages. “The advent of technology and science-backed winemaking practices eroded away the old-school approaches that were so prevalent from the ‘40s to the ‘60s,” says Jon McPherson, Winemaster South Coast Winery in nearby Temecula Valley.

Thomas Pinney, professor emeritus of English at Pomona College, who authored “A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings to Prohibition” (1989) and “From Prohibition to the Present” (2005), references "Cucamonga" and its important role. “Curiously enough, Cucamonga old vines Zinfandel now enjoy a prestige value such as it never had before; but one wonders how secure a tenure on life those old vines can have. The belated discovery of the outstanding quality of Cucamonga Zinfandel, just as it hovered on the verge of extinction, is one of those bitter ironies of which all history is full,” wrote Pinney in 2005."

Thanks Gino!

Best, Joe Plonk

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Happiest Place

Joe Plonk, TheWife and Squeak are visitng Mickey and friends this week. Tune in next week for more wine notes and news.
Best, Joe Plonk

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Monga baby, Monga!

Around my house, where food and wine are regularly paired with Italian expressions and laughter, you’ll regularly hear TheWife say during mealtime to our daughter Squeak “Mangia bella, mangia.” After having tried the 2006 Monga Zin, Old Vine Zinfandel, Lopez Vineyard, Cucamonga Valley, California, from Carol Shelton Wines, we now have a new saying around the house: Monga baby, Monga!

Purchased on somewhat of a lark, I was fascinated by the thought of wine from the eastern portion of Los Angeles (and anything from Carol Shelton wasn’t going to be too bad). This $20 bottle is a blockbuster, and a wonderful departure from your typical stale zinfandel. It has pomegranate and cherry fruit, with Asian spice and brown sugar note. Okay, I got that from their website, but it was a little difficult to describe, and this description hits it right on the money.

In 2000 Carol, a longtime winemaker, and her husband Mitch Mackenzie, a former software engineer, launched their own brand – Carol Shelton Wines. Carol uses Zin from various appellations throughout California, and seeks to deliver wines stylistically correct for the appellation. As for the Cucamonga Valley, who knew what that might be? Not I, but I can tell you the results are great. During a recent night of revelry, many in the party thought this wine was the standout winner amongst a group of heavy hitting name-brand Cabs and Zins.

Monga, Carol! Monga!

Best, Joe Plonk

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Monday, July 6, 2009

The Box is Mightier Than the Sword...

My crusade for wine producers to put quality wine in a re-sealable container (box, bag, or bottle) has been joined by Scholle Packaging, which makes packaging for the wine industry. I’ll borrow liberally from their web site www.AboutBoxedWine.com, which proclaims “Boxed Wine is Good”. The site rightfully extols the benefits of alternate wine packaging, and even has a section for consumer feedback and information about boxed wines. Joe Plonk says BRILLIANT! Let consumers have their say! This is a must-visit site if only for the cool pink graphics and the “Have a Say” section (http://www.aboutboxedwine.com/boxed-wine-is-good/discover-rate-review/) where you can comment and rate different boxed wines.

The site continues:
“Boxed wines, Bag-In-Box, and fine wine casks - by any name - offer one of the best and environmentally smart ways to carry and serve wine.
• Wine stays fresh for weeks after opening. Pour a fresh glass of wine anytime every time.
• Fine wine casks are typically a better value than bottles at a comparable quality and price, as there is less cost in packaging, shipping, and storage.
• Easy to open and serve - no corks, no corkscrew! Enjoy a glass of wine anytime!
• No glass allows fine wine casks to be safe to carry anywhere - to the beach, boat, tailgate party, picnic, or on the trail!
Wine in a box? You bet! Bota Box holds the equivalent of four bottles of wine and has revolutionized the way consumers now drink wine. Its name is derived from the bota bag that was popular in the 1960’s, especially with outdoor enthusiasts because of its portability and convenience. Bota Box allows consumers to drink premium California wine by the glass without worrying about waste or spoilage. Available in five popular varietals, Bota Box uses state of the art bag and tap technology that allows our award-winning wine to stay fresh for up to 45 days after opening.” Copied from http://www.aboutboxedwine.com/boxed-wine-is-good/ (See also my prior review of the Bota Box wine from June 29, 2009)
Perhaps Joe Plonk has a long, lost twin who is working at Scholle Packaging? Also, a cool video can be seen at:

Now, one more time, if you’re listening Mr. Coppola, put your $30 wine in a box, and I will have a glass every day. Keep it in a bottle, and I will only open it on special occasions. A box means more glorious consumption for me, and more sales for you.

Best, Joe Plonk

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Bota Bummer

A “bota bag” is a traditional Spanish container for liquids, typically made of leather it is often used to carry wine. If you can visualize a Basque herder drinking from a leather pouch, or Joe Plonk and his high school buddies sneaking whiskey into the late showing of Rocky Horror, then you’ll get the idea. Given these positive associations, and my own personal crusade to convince wine producers to sell higher quality wines in re-sealable containers, I jumped at the chance to try the 2006 Bota Box Old Vine Zinfandel from Delicato Family Vineyards.

Bota Box offers consumers six California varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Old Vine Zinfandel. Although the Bota Box Old Zinfandel wine didn’t quite meet my quality expectations (lightly perfumed and flowery, instead of big jammy zin flavor), it does take steps in the right direction for consumers. Its box is 95% post consumer fiber, is recyclable, and delivers 3 liters in a re-sealable pouch that boasts 30 day drinkability. And, at $20 for 3 liters, it has served as a good back-up for when I’ve wanted an additional glass after my daily plonker is gone. I’ve read reviews that suggest the Cabernet Sauvignon is a better wine.

Hey, DFV Wines! You're heading the right direction, but put the Gnarley Head a box… please…

Best, Joe Plonk

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