A Snuggle Up with a Big, Smooth Old Vine Zin

The Wine of the Week: Big Smooth Old Vine Zinfandel

by Annette Tomei

2015 Don Sebastiani & Sons, Big Smooth Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, CaliforniaBig Smooth Old Vine Zinfandel

Big Smooth. OK, I admit – wine was not the first thing that came to mind when I first read the PR email. But, since I challenged myself last year to be more open-minded about what I was tasting for this column, I read on. Seeing the Sebastiani name, and having grown up with the original family of wines, I took a chance on this Big Smooth Old Vine Zin.

This wine is made to be a crowd-pleaser. The name conveys the intention clearly, and is the most truthful advertising I’ve ever seen. However, all the details that earmark this wine for success are precisely why I would normally avoid it if it weren’t for the sake of expanding my horizons. For starters, the deep purple velvet label reminds me of black velvet paintings that were popular in my youth (and of Prince, of course). Then there’s the name Big Smooth, so many images come to mind. And lastly, the fact that the wine is made to be big and smooth – two words that don’t normally come up in describing my favorite wines.

Now that I have established that I am becoming the wine snob I would hate to drink wine with, I will move beyond the velvet label and reveal that I truly enjoyed this wine.

About this Wine

Old vine Zinfandel makes up 81% of the grapes in this wine. It is blended with 13% Petite Sarah and 6% Merlot. Lodi is pretty warm and dry, so the fruit ripens fully and early. Hence, the “big” part of the name… 15.5% ABV, physically full bodied. It is also big in the sense of rich, ripe, jammy fruit and spiciness.

Aromatically, it is redolent with blackberries, black cherry, pomegranate, and black peppercorns. On the palate, the fruit is lush and smooth, velvety, with low acidity but enough of a backbone to provide structure. Flavors of dark brambly fruit, cinnamon candy apple, and a touch of Dr. Pepper (in a good way). There’s a hint of meatiness as well that brings to mind wonderfully sticky barbecue.

Barbecue would make a great pairing for this old vine zin. I’d also recommend blue cheese, or a blue cheese burger (even better). Though it is not a sweet wine, it is fruity enough, and full bodied enough, to pair with dark chocolates or bittersweet chocolate desserts (not too sweet though). Also consider other slightly sweet, earthy foods like roasted beets, winter squashes, and roast carrots, or hearty chewy grains.

The Verdict

In over 10 years of teaching about wine, I have always encouraged exploration. I’m happy I opened my mind to this wine. The style may not be for me, but I know most people will be happy to find a big smooth wine to snuggle up with. At $15-$18/bottle it’s a good choice.

Full disclosure: I received tasting samples of the Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. I never promise to write about a wine, or what I will write if I do. I only agree to consider the product with as much objectivity as possible. 


A Silky Rosé from Provence–slip into something delicious

The Wine of the Week: Domaine Camaïssette Rosé

by Annette Tomei

2016 Domaine Camaïssette “L’Aurélienne” Rosé, Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence DOP, France

2016 Domaine Camaïssette "L'Aurélienne"--a lovely rosé from Provence

The southeastern reaches of France are almost synonymous with rosé. The Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence appellation may include reds and whites, but it is best known for eclectic blended rosés. The grapes of the nearby Rhone region are well represented here – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignan, and Counoise, as well as a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon for good measure.

Domaine Camaïssette has been producing wines near Aix-en-Provence for four generations. The grapes for their rosé, L’Aurélienne, are certified organic. This particular blend is made up of 50% Syrah, 25% CS, 25% Grenache, and contains 13% ABV.

About this Wine

The color of a wine is always an important indicator, but maybe more so with rosés.  Often the particular shade of pink belies certain flavor characteristics… more blue-pink, higher acidity more orange-pink, less acidity. This particular shade – a sexy salmony-pink seems to say “just right.” The aromatics of this wine are gracious but not shy – guava and ripe strawberries, white pepper and fresh herbs. It is medium body, super juicy, and the flavors convey a nice balance between floral, peach, lychee, fresh berries, and clean minerality.

The soft silkiness of this wine make it easy to enjoy alone, and just as easy to enjoy with simple snacks and small bites. I’d recommend fresh cheeses with delicate flavors, sushi and sashimi, simply prepared vegetable dishes, poached or pan roasted seafood preparations… avoid vinegary dressings, stick with citrus and olive oil, fresh herbs.

The Verdict

For all you rosé lovers out there, this rosé from Provence is an easy wine to love. It’s also an easy one to share with fussier rosé drinkers because of its softness and approachability. The 2016 vintage is nearing its end, but the 2017 should be out by spring and I’m looking forward to stocking up!


Lovers of Gewurztraminer Will Adore This Trip To Alsace in a Glass

The Wine of the Week: Willm Gewurztraminer

by Annette Tomei

2012 Willm “Clos Gaensbrœnnel” Gewurztraminer, Grand Cru Kirchberg de Barr, Alsace, FranceWillm "Clos Gaensbrœnnel"--a wine for lovers of Gewurztraminer

A “clos” in Alsace is a walled vineyard – I imagine them as secret gardens of happy vines. Clos Gaensbrœnnel – the name means Goose Fountain – is named for the fountain at the entrance, and on the label of this wine. Clos Gaensbrœnnel is a not-so-secret garden, its soil heavy with limestone and mostly older vines, that is home to some of the happiest Gewurtztraminer available. The rarified site is located within the Grand Cru vineyards of Kirchberg de Barr – also known for its exceptional Rieslings. Maison Willm is one of only two who make wine from Clos Gaensbrœnnel.

Gewurtztraminer is a pink skinned grape closely related to Savagnin (aka Traminer). The word Gewurtztraminer means “spiced Traminer”. It is an extremely aromatic grape and low in acidity. It is at its best in the Grand Cru vineyards of Alsace, but it grows happily in Germany, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, and the colder regions of the US. It is often produced in a sweet style (late harvest or botyrized).

About this Wine

This sweet wine (33.7 g/l residual sugar) has a golden yellow hue and aromatics that leap from the glass. Bursts of honeysuckle, jasmine, apricot, roses, and spiced tea aromas. On the palate, it is all florals and spice, roasted pineapple and tree fruit, with a hint of petrol. It is full bodied with a rich, creaminess carries on forever. New layers of aroma continue to blossom as this wine is savored.

Though I could easily recommend this wine with any number of traditional roast pork dishes, spicy foods, and bright Southeast Asian flavors, I tasted it with a perfectly ripe, stinky Epoise and can’t imagine a better pairing after that!

The Verdict

Even with the fine pedigree of being from an exclusive clos in a Grand Cru vineyard in the most heavenly place for Gewurtztraminer, this is still a very reasonably priced wine at around $25-28/bottle. A steal. Definitely try this one if you can. It will also age well for at least 5-10 years (though not as long as a good Riesling because of its lower acidity).



The Wineries of Santa Barbara County–discover the pleasures of Santa Barbara Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

amy reiley

Woman on Wine

with Amy Reiley

This month’s column is a sentimental choice for me. The wineries of Santa Barbara County were profoundly affected by the recent wildfires and mudslides. Although, unlike the Northern California fires, the wineries themselves were, for the most part, far from the fire lines. But the impact to the community and the economy was devastating for those in and around this gem of a wine region. Read more


Super Affordable Super Tuscan

The Wine of the Week: Tolaini Valdisanti Toscana Rosso

by Annette Tomei

2010 Tolaini “Valdisanti” Tenuta S. Giovanni, Toscana IGT, Tuscany, ItalyTolaini Valdisanti Toscana Rosso--an affordable Super Tuscan

The term super-Tuscan may be more than a little past its prime, but the blending of Sangiovese, the life blood of Chianti, with the traditional grapes of France is anything but. Ever since the Antinori family took the bold step away from tradition, and the DOC laws, in the early-1970s, the red wines of Tuscany have never been the same. International wine reviewers, and the consumers that follow them, rewarded innovators with higher prices and higher demand. Today, general “super-Tuscans” have their own category in Italian wine – Toscana IGT – and may be anything but super (buyer beware).

Tolaini Estate is a newcomer to the Tuscan wine world. But, what it lacks in roots, it makes up for in capital and business sense. Taking the French connection a step further, Tolaini works with world-renowned wine consultant Michel Rolland, whose influential palate can be credited with the distinct international style of big, bold, red wines.

About this Wine

For this column, I tasted the 2010 vintage of Valdisanti, which is not easy to find anymore – 2014 is the current vintage. The blend may be slightly different, but I’m confident that the quality is comparable… consider this a prediction of what the current product might have in store for those patient enough to hold it for a few years!

The 2010 vintage is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Franc, aged 16 months in French oak.

At first, the aromas were predominantly fruit-driven – lots of blackberry, and still quite tight. I returned to the glass about 30 minutes later to find a more complex wine. Earthier aromas of graphite, cassis, and fresh cigar came out from behind the black fruit. Despite the age, the fruit tannins are still quite tight and forward. I’d bet that this wine will improve greatly over the next 5 years. There’s a great backbone of acidity as well. Flavors of tart cherry, plum, and pomegranate go on and on with a hint of cola on the finish. This wine’s Bordeaux roots are definitely showing, but there’s no question that the heart is pure Italian.

As for pairing, I recommend sticking to the classics. A juicy steak – maybe bistecca Fiorentina? Simple seasonings, earthy flavors, fatty enough to stand up to the still-lively tannins. Hearty mushroom risotto is my recommendation for vegetarians or meatless Mondays.

The Verdict

You can still find the 2010 online (as of the time of writing) for around $40/bottle. The current vintage is a bit less. It’s made to be enjoyed right away, if you are into big bracing wines. I recommend having patience and waiting a few years, at least – and storing it properly!