Category Archives: Zinfandel

Lunch with Orin Swift a.k.a. David Phinney

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INVITE

My lunch with Orin Swift a.k.a. David Phinney, yes THAT!! Orin Swift. The master wine-maker originally behind such incredible new-world wines such as: The Prisoner, SALDO, Locations, Blindfold, Machete, Thorn, Abstract and many more.

The setting, Cafe Boulud at the Bazilian Court in Palm Beach, just steps from Worth Avenue. Not a bad way to spend my afternoon off if I do say so myself.

 

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The meet and greet afforded us a couple of hours of quality time with David, we’re on first name basis now, where he spoke about growing up and his introduction to the world of wine, his many wine projects and even his family and favorite truck. Happy to report Mr. Phinney is very down to earth and has a fun sense of humor.

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David Phinney entertains Whole Foods & Whine and Cheers For Wine

 

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Palermo

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Abstract

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The group of about twenty five wine loving fans not only got the chance for one on one conversations  with the Master himself  but also enjoyed Cafe Boulud food pairings with a multitude of Orin Swift wines.   Included was 8 Years in the Dessert.  A mostly Zinfandel eight-pack gift set being sampled in public only for the third time ever. Usually available to wine club members which by the way has a six month waiting list. Patience is a virtue some say. David Phinney would know. The name of this set is based on his non-compete clause after selling off The Prisoner Wine Co.

Wines sampled, all pictured here; Blank Stare, Mannequin, Abstract, Machete, 8 Years in the Dessert, Mercury Head, Papillon and Palermo.

 

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Eight Days in the Dessert Gift Box

Again, what a way to spend an afternoon. How lucky am I? Having enjoyed and written about some of these very wines I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to meet the man, the legend, the master behind these incredible game changers in the wine industry.  Can’t wait to share his stories and mine with all our customers.

¡SALUD!

 

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Papillon

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Mercury Head

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Blank Stare

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Mannequin

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Meeting Girard Winery’s Marco DiGiulio

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In-store tasting WFMNMIA

 

They had me at “Girard”.  Recently I was asked by a wine distributor if I’d have an interest in hosting a Meet the Winemaker event for our store, Whole Foods Market North Miami.  Said winemaker would be in town for other events and was interested in doing a tasting/bottle signing event. Since we’d done well with other similar events the offer was put on the table. It was true, we’d had great success in the recent past with winemakers in our store.  Our customers and team members truly enjoyed the one on one interaction and learning experience of these “Rock Star” wine moments.

 

Bottle Signing

 

So far so good, but the question was being put to me during the Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Eve trifecta of shopping and retail event madness.  My head was spinning. I recall I mustered the strength to ask “can you tell me who it is?” and the distributor replied Marco Digiulio of Girard Winery. I am sure the distributor went on with a short history of the winery and their wines. All I heard was “Girard“……

 

 

Artistry poured WhineCheersWine

Girard just happens to be the producer of one of my favorite wines: Artistry. A consistently excellent fruit rich yet earthy Napa red blend that I consider to be one of my special occasion go-to wines.  In fact when I was hired by Whole Foods as a Specialty Beverage Buyer and asked to list my top wines for the department you can bet Girard was on there. At the time I was able to bring in their Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and Artistry. Presently, we also stock their Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. On my in-store wish list is the Petite Sirah, presently out of stock and the Old Vine Zinfandel which knocked my socks off.

 

Girard Tasting 2015

 

Whole Foods NMIA CalendarMeeting Marco, yes we are now on a first name basis although some refer to him as Girard’s “Chief Wine Overlord”, was a wonderful opportunity for me to taste and compare earlier, current and new vintages. It was also my first time trying the white wines of Girard. Wines I can now recommend to our customers as I tell them what style of wine-making went into these productions. Stories I picked up from Girard’s Chief Wine Overlord himself.  ¡SALUD!

Top 10 Wines – 2014

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TOP 10 Wines Picked by You

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As 2014 comes to a speedy end it is time to let the Whine and Cheers readers decide what the TOP wines of the year were for them. With close to 40,000 hits it’s interesting to see which wines are being researched the most.

Even more compelling to me is where these searches are coming from. Listed below at the end of this post you’ll find the TOP 15 countries [out of 96!] where searches were initiated leading them to Whine and Cheers for Wine.  For those wonderingRepublic of Tanzania came in at number 16!

As the drum-roll begins I have to admit that one post in particular wins the gold star for most hits all year-long. No matter the day, the week or the month, wine drinkers are intrigued and their attention peaked. The honor belongs to Australia’s 19 CRIMES Red Blend. Wonderfully marketed, its fan base continues to grow.

BEERCAMP@WCW2014For this TOP 10 wine list it will be exactly that, wines not themes. But it is intriguing to note that Beer with;  My 12 Days of Beer Camp, along with Winemaker Visits  B.R. Cohn Visits Whole Foods and Wine Clubs;  Hit or Miss the Wall Street Journal Wine Club would have made the TOP 10 otherwise.   So here we go….

 The Whine and Cheers For Wine Top 10 of 2014 picked by the general wine researching public!

 

Guilty! 19 Crimes

The Luck of the Blends – The Dreaming Tree Crush by Steve Reeder & Dave Matthews

HANDS Cabernet Sauvignon – Robertson, South Africa 

THE SHOW Pinot Noir on the road – from Chile to California

Joel Gott Zinfandel – 2011 vs. 2009

APOTHIC RED – 2010 Winemakers Blend

Wine Discovery of the Week – DiamAndes 2012 Perlita Malbec-Syrah

SALDO –The Prisoner Wine Company

Chateau de Macard Bordeaux Superieur 2009

Tablao Red Wine Navarra 2012

with 2 others close behind:

Honig Napa 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon – My First Wine of 2014

Revisiting Trivento’s Amado Sur Red Blend

 

Just as with the different countries visiting our site I am glad to see a nice variety of wines and varietals represented on this TOP list: Argentina, Napa, California, Spain, Bordeaux, Chile, South Africa and Australia.

No real common denominator other than the fact they were all found here by you along with others from around the globe.  Our world being brought together one wine at a time….. ¡SALUD! 

THE SHOW 2012  Diamandes Perlita @WCW2014EWM_SaldoZinfChateau de Macard Bordeaux Superieur 2009

 

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SALDO – The Prisoner Wine Company

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This wine has been a house favorite for quite a few years. I do not remember exactly how I came to discover it but most likely the introduction was made by a certain Zinfandel loving pair we call neighbors and great friends. Gotta love it when friends and wine come together.

Originally from Dave Phinney the winemaker/founder for The Prisoner / Orin Swift wines. SALDO is now produced by The Prisoner Wine Company since the sale of the company in 2009. From TPWC:

When we took ownership of The Prisoner and Saldo in 2009 from Orin Swift, we knew assembling the right team would be essential. With more than a decade of winemaking experience at Ravenswood crafting Zinfandel, Jen Beloz was the ideal person to take the lead. In order to remain true to the wine’s original style and vision, Jen worked alongside Dave Phinney, founder of The Prisoner, for the first two vintages.

Interestingly many wine lovers and fans of these wines think that Orin Swift is a real person. In fact the name was created by Dave Phinney himself. Orin is his father’s middle name and Swift his mother’s maiden name.

saldoBefore SALDO the wine gets you hooked, the bottle label or lack thereof grabs your attention. I love the minimalism of the old-fashioned, retro for most, hand embossed label. Customers enjoy not only looking at it but touching and reliving their memories of making their own labels.

From TPWC: The word “saldo” has various meanings throughout the romance languages of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. In Spanish, it mainly refers to “balance on hand,” and sometimes it can also be interpreted “from here and there.”

Most recently vino and friendship crossed paths again and I got to enjoy the 2011 vintage SALDO at a local Miami Beach restaurant with an out-of-town friend. Once I saw it on the wine menu, and well priced at that, the decision was made. This rich, velvety, medium bodied, fruit forward blend of 83% Zinfandel, 11% Petite Sirah, 6% Syrah paired beautifully with dishes such as; Ropa Vieja [Cuban shredded beef], Oxtail, Beef Tenderloin, grilled brussels sprouts, cheese grits, macaroni and cheese and even tostones [fried plantains]. Heck, it drank deliciously by itself.

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Winemaker Notes:

The 2011 Saldo has an intense ruby color and bold aromas of dark berry fruit, blueberry pie, cardamom and baking spice. The entry is rich and full, and leads into a broad mid palate with concentration and density, backed by lively acidity. The texture is soft and velvety, with polished tannins. The finish is long with persistent notes of chocolate, roasted coffee bean and vanilla spice.

I like the consistency SALDO has shown along the way since first produced in 2007. I recommend it regularly at our store and it has become a customer favorite.  This wine is perfect for not only the Zin lovers and grill-masters out there but also for fans of big bold medium bodied, full flavored red blends. ¡SALUD!

B.R. Cohn Winery visits Whole Foods Market

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B.R. Cohn Winery

 

I recently had the pleasure of working side by side with Dan Cohn: CEO of B.R. Cohn Winery based out of Sonoma Valley California.  Dan spent a few hours sharing the wines of B.R. Cohn with the Whole Foods Market North Miami Specialty team and all guests lucky or smart enough to stop in and visit. Our department became quite the happening spot [admittedly more than usual] thanks to his great outgoing personality. Entertaining groups or one on one Dan made sure you found “your new favorite wine” and he had the product to back it up.

 

B.R. Cohn Winery, one of only three still family owned Sonoma wineries, was founded in 1984 by Bruce Cohn [father of Dan] after having bought the land ten years earlier and during that time selling the grapes to other wineries. Per their web-site:

After selling wine grapes for many years to August Sebastiani and Gundlach Bundschu and seeing the numerous awards the wines with fruit sourced from the Olive Hill Estate were receiving, Bruce took the advice of good friend and mentor Charlie Wagner from Caymus Winery and began producing his own wines from the Olive Hill Estate in 1984. Charlie bestowed the greatest honor upon the winery, permitting the use of Caymus’ trademarked “Special Selection” on the best lots from B.R. Cohn Olive Hill Estate.

As if that were not enough Bruce Cohn has managed the Rock group The Dobbie Brothers since 1970 and is still enjoying life in the music business;

Always looking for ways to give back to his community, Bruce brought his two life passions together in 1987 by inaugurating the B.R. Cohn Charity Fall Music Festival. Every year, wine lovers and music fans alike flock to the Olive Hill Estate to revel in the beautiful wine country while enjoying top music acts. The proceeds from the concert benefit many local children and veteran charities as well larger national charity organizations.

I must admit that prior to our in-store event I had not had the pleasure of tasting these wines. Luckily for me and many who partook what better way to get introduced.  We featured five wines and each one charmed.

B.R. Cohn Sangiacomo Chardonnay

  • Best of Class & Double Gold ~ Sonoma County Harvest Fair (2013)
  • 93 Points ~ WineReviewOnline.com (2013)

This Chardonnay is made from grapes grown at the Sangiacomo Vineyard in the Carneros Region of the southern Sonoma Valley. This wine is rich and concentrated with aromas of tropical fruit, pear, apricot, and lemon meringue surrounded by a bouquet of toasty oak, vanilla, caramel, and hazelnut.

B.R. Cohn 2012 Silver Label Cabernet Sauvignon 

  • 94 Points, Gold 2014 California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition
  • 90 Points – Beverage Dynamics

A blend of select hillside vineyards in Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake Counties and our own Olive Hill Estate Vineyard. Individual vineyard lots are fermented and aged separately. Complex and full, rich aromas of plum, cassis and black cherry are accompanied by a bouquet of the finest French oak, cedar, cola, anise, vanilla, and nutmeg. On the palate,  a big rich Cabernet with luscious flavors of dried berry and cherry, ample tannin, and a long finish.

B.R. Cohn Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon

  • 4 Stars – Restaurant Wine “The Gold Label bottling is intensely flavored, full bodies, and lightly tannic, with firm acidity, and pronounced eucalyptus mint character (with overtones of black cherry, cassis, red licorice, spicy oak, and cooked meat). Very long finish. Can be aged further. Aged in French oak barrels.

A unique blend of only our best lots from Napa and Sonoma, coupled with select vineyard blocks from the B.R. Cohn Olive Hill Estate Vineyard. Full-bodied rich Cabernet Sauvignon with aromas and flavors of currant, plum, black cherry wrapped in oaky spice and cedar. This is a big, luscious Cabernet, balanced with firm tannin, ample acidity, and a long warm finish.

B.R. Cohn Olive Hill Estate 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

  • 98 Points, Best of California, Best of Class, Double Gold 2014 California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition

Single vineyard. This wine has pronounced aromas and flavors of plum, black currant, and cherry. Luscious berry and cherry flavors fill the palate, and silky tannins follow through to a warm, lasting finish. As always, this exceptional vintage was fermented in small lots to
ensure the character of each part of the Olive Hill Estate Vineyard. 

B.R. Cohn 2010 Sonoma Valley Zinfandel

  • 90 Points, Silver – California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition
  • Gold  – Orange County Wine Society Commercial Wine Competition
  • Best of Class San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition

Produced from grapes selected from the finest quality vineyards in the Sonoma Valley. This combination yields a blend of berry and cherry aromas mingled with the bouquet of creamy vanilla custard and a hint of peppercorn and clove. The Zinfandel is full-bodied and
warm with a long smooth berry flavored finish.

As I mentioned to Dan that night I was truly impressed with all five wines we tasted. Across the board I would recommend each one of them to our customers.  My favorites? If I had to narrow it down the Silver Label Cabernet produced with grapes from three vineyards and the single vineyard Olive Hill Estate Cabernet Sauvignon were my highlights and somehow ended up in my shopping basket!

We had a great response to this event. Dan Cohn, who by the way has a Rock’n signature for bottle signings, kept us all entertained with his wine stories. More importantly customers continue to come back for more of his wine.  ¡SALUD! 

 

 

$5.00 Wine – Trader Joe’s

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The Miami area of Pinecrest recently added a Trader Joe’s to the discount grocery mix.  As a long time fan of Aldi markets [in Europe and USA] I was excited about this addition. Aldi and Trader Joe’s share a relation. Owned by 2 brothers the company was split into Aldi North and Aldi South in the 1960s. The Aldi store is more bargain style and Trader Joe’s goes more for the trendy audience.  Both specialize in private label items.

Unfortunately our Miami/Pinecrest store got off to a rough start due to its shortage of parking spaces for patrons. Many cars were towed during the first few weeks and quite honestly I do not know how the city permitted construction of this site with so little parking. That said, this small store [drug store size] was nicely decorated inside with aisles roomy enough to get around.  Since this is a “wine” review I will not bore you with the specifics of my comparison shopping.  But, a somewhat obvious disclaimer here is the fact that I work for Whole Foods Market. Many compare the two but the truth is they are very different.  I’d also like to add that I was an Aldi fan long before I ever dreamed of joining the WFM team.

Wine! I was very impressed with the size of their vino area, about eight times bigger than the wine areas of the Aldi’s I have frequented. The majority of the wines being exclusive or private labels for Trader Joe’s. All inexpensively priced.  Surprisingly the well-known wines they carry are priced the same or even higher than at Whole Foods and other local merchants.

The majority of my time in the store was of course spent in this area reviewing all they had to offer.  Should I buy an under $20 Chateauneuf du Pape or even a Barolo under $15.00?  In the spirit of this shopping excursion I decided to budget myself at a whopping $5.  Per bottle of course and somehow limited myself to only two.

First up is Puglia’s 2012 GRIFONE Primitivo labelled “From old vine Zinfandel”.  As regular readers probably know I am a big fan of Zinfandel a.k.a. Primitivo which would explain my grabbing this $4.99 bottle without thinking twice.

Later that night with company over and cork  popped, everyone truly enjoyed this wine.  Only one flaw; among Zinfandel fans no one could name the varietal including myself if I had not been the purchaser.  Is it an easy drinker? Heck yeah. Would I serve it again? Ditto! But this fruit forward, medium bodied, low tannin wine was very un-Zinfandel like. Spice? Earthiness? Peppery? All nowhere to be found.  I’ve read that the 2010 was a tad more rustic so my notes could be due to the 2012 vintage. Below are some other opinions I found:

From Cheap Wine Finder

The color is cherry red with black highlights. The nose is dark berries with a little chocolate powder and spearmint chewing gum, This is a soft, smooth, medium bodied wine with a slight rough edge on the mid palate. It tastes of black cherry, a little tart cranberry and a touch of cola. The mid plate offers are a dusty slap form the tannins and a final dash of sweet strawberry.  The acidity is balanced and the finish is a little watery and fades a bit too soon.

From the Savy Lush

The taste of this Primitivo is fairly mild with notes of cherry and jammy spice. The nose isn’t anything special, and finish is rather fleeting but really, who cares?!? Easy drinking, smooth and pleasing, this is classic “Skank”. But, if you’re truly worried, make sure you have some dark chocolate on hand-never a bad idea.

So my final verdict would be: very drinkable, an easy drinker, great for large crowds [parties], excellent way to spend $5.00, just do not call it Zinfandel/Primitivo.

Next up we have a Sangiovese, one of Italy’s most planted grape varietals, from Tuscany. D’Aquino Gaetano Sangiovese di Toscana 2012.  D’Aquino, in this case is also the wine importers name.

The Sangiovese flavor profile usually includes; cherry, plum, cinnamon, vanilla and some herbaceousness.  Unfortunately I noted very few of these qualities.

My Notes: Light in color and body. Red fruit on nose, more so on palate but not much else. Fruity with a cherry finish.  Not much development as it opened, status-quo as time passed.

Winemaker notes:  This is a fruity, red wine made from the best-known grape varieties. It is brilliantly red with good intensity and has lively, fresh, and full-bodied taste. It is ideal for everyday drinking with most foods and in particular pasta dishes.

The D’Aquino was in no way poor but at the same time it did not have any personality. Not a wine you would look forward to having again but a vino that may actually fall into the $5 wine category. OUCH: Now that the developing wine snob in me let that slip out I must admit to having had wines much more expensive with the same issue. Drinkable? Sure. Would I buy it again? I have to admit I would most likely not.

I have plenty of friends that swear by the TJ private label product line.  As I was mentally planning my reviews a fellow blogger also posted about Trader Joe wines. Luckily wines that he had recently discovered and enjoyed. Check out Talk-A-Vino’s; Trader Joe’s Wines – Again Exceeding Expectations.

All said and done not bad for my investment of $4.99 times two. Would I try more TJ wines? Definitely.  Their reduced pricing structure is hard to refuse. Luckily for me this new store is not nearby.  Luckily for my bank account if it were I could do some damage $5 at a time.  ¡SALUD!

Now and Zin at Whole Foods Market North Miami

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This past weekend in addition to our T.G.I.F. / Thank God It’s Fermented Fridays wine tastings and our casual Saturday afternoon wine tastings it was time for Now and Zin: a Guide to California’s Old-Vine Zinfandels class!

The event was held outdoors under our covered patio [thank you to the weather Gods!] and attended by about a dozen people who pre-registered for the class.

As the photo’s will show the Zinfandel’s paired beautifully with dark chocolate, sausage pizza and various cheeses including: Nancy’s Camembert, an American Artisan cheese from Hudson River Valley NY. A blend of cow and sheep’s milk topped with spicy plum chutney. All of course from Whole Foods Market North Miami.

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We got to enjoy about seven different Zinfandel’s and I must stress the word “enjoy”.  Luckily we didn’t have a bad one among the bunch. Although I must admit favorites were discussed throughout the class and even afterwards as we just had to go back for more and make sure.

I’ll list all the wines below. If we had one clear winner I would have to say it was the SALDO from Orin Swift. A close second would have been the Seghesio with Earthquake and Predator all close too. But as I said all our Zin’s had their fans,  and the fans had their ZIN’s!  ¡SALUD!

WineClass3   Four Vines Truant:  It is blended from vineyards around the state, but it is 77% Zinfandel, 13% Syrah, 5% Petite Sirah, 3% Barbera and 2% Sangiovese. On the nose there are dark berry notes and spicy notes from oak aging. The wine drinks of juicy blackberry, ripe plums and a touch of blueberry. Generous in fruit flavors, plenty of structure and a velvety finish. 


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The Lodi appellation PREDATOR Zinfandel is sourced from 50+ year old vines. Aromas of chocolate espresso bean, smoked bacon [yes it’s true!], and baked berries. Medium to full body.

JOEL GOTT100% ZIN The largest component of our blend for this vintage is old vine Zinfandel from Lodi.  With fruit from Sonoma, Mendocino and the Shenandoah Valley in Amador. 

Decoy Zinfandel – This Sonoma County wine offers raspberry jam aromas, as well as hints of vanilla, clove and white pepper. Like a fresh-baked berry tart, the raspberry notes continue on the palate where they are supported by sweet oak and spice flavors that carry through to the finish. This is a lovely Zinfandel expressing both richness and balance.

SALDO – The 2011 Saldo has an intense ruby color and bold aromas of dark berry fruit, blueberry pie, cardamom and baking spice. The entry is rich and full, and leads into a broad mid palate with concentration and density, backed by lively acidity. The texture is soft and velvety, with polished tannins. The finish is long with persistent notes of chocolate, roasted coffee bean and vanilla spice.

Seghesio Vineyards Winemaker Notes:
Spicy, lush black fruit of Alexander Valley
Briary and raspberry flavors, along with structure, of cooler Dry Creek Valley
Characteristic synergy of components – balanced and elegantly structured
Earthquake –  Over the top and shattering to the veins, all varietals under the Earthquake label are Michael David’s reserve level wines.  These wines possess major concentration and daring flavor with only a limited production offered each year.  The original is the Earthquake Zin that comes from an old Lodi vineyard planted around the time of San Francisco’s great Earthquake in 1906.  While mulling over a label name in the vineyard, Michael Phillips thought it only seemed fitting to relate this intense wine with the historical quake.  With over 15% alcohol and bold tannins, these dark and voluminous will definitely leave your senses quivering.