Don’s September Collector Series Top Picks

Joel Gott is a California legend and Gott’s Dillian Ranch Zinfandel is his most iconic offering.  This month’s feature and first Top Pick is Joel Gott’s 2009 Dillian Ranch Zinfandel.  Why?  It has everything great Zinfandel needs to possess: plenty of deep down berry fruit, bramble, spice, and a beautiful patina of oak.  It’s rich and satisfying, without being sweet or over the top.  Gott deserves kudos for another outstanding offering from Amador County’s most renowned Zinfandel vineyard.  The dry farmed Dillian Ranch Vineyard was planted between 1920 and 1948 and it offers considerably less than one ton of fruit per acre of superb fruit.  So, come taste a bit of yesteryear and the best of today!  This month’s second Top Pick belongs to Artesa’s stunning 2009 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir. Artesa has fashioned superb Pinot Noirs for nearly a decade, but winemaker Mark Beringer has hit a homerun with the 2009 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir.  The 2009 Estate Reserve is big, balanced, and beautiful and most importantly richly endowed with savory scents and flavors.  How could I resist?  A votre santé!

Don’s September Premier Series Top Picks

Malbec is typically tough to drink young, at least to my taste, but I was delighted to find a young Malbec with a soul as well as a backbone.  Tremonte’s 2010 Single Vineyard Reserva Malbec is an exciting Chilean rendition of Argentina’s prime red grape, so this month’s first Top Pick belongs to the folks at Tremonte for their big, but polished Single Vineyard Reserva Malbec.  Tremonte’s Malbec is definitely powerful and structured, but also sophisticated.   It drinks well now with a juicy red steak, hearty pastas, and spicy vegetable dishes, but it will continue to improve in bottle for years to come.  For optimum enjoyment, lay this big-boned beauty down for awhile to develop further complexity: I doubt you will be disappointed.  My second Top Pick this month goes to another Chilean wine, Surazo’s 2006 Carmenere Reserva Especial.  Rarely do we see Carmenere or any wine for that matter at the very peak of performance, but Don Emilio de Solminihac’s Surazo Carmenere offers a rare glimpse of mature Carmenere.  Besides, I really like Carmenere, so this wine’s wild berry, coffee, and dark chocolate tones were just too much for me to resist.  I feel a bit guilty about not choosing Casa Silva’s beautiful Reserva Chardonnay and  Biltmore’s elegant, estate bottled Riesling, but choose I must, so A votre santé!

Simple recipe for a hot evening: Fresh & Easy Sciue Scuie

1 lb. small pasta (such as Ditalini) salt & pepper
3 lb. fresh Roma tomatoes – chopped 4 cloves garlic – whole
1 bunch fresh basil leaves – chopped 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella 1/2 cup olive oil

In a large bowl, gently blend the tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, oil, salt, pepper and garlic. Set out to marinate (do not refrigerate) for a couple of hours. Cook pasta to al dente. Drain and add to tomato mixture while still very hot. Blend well and top with Parmesan cheese.

Try this simple dish even the kids will like. The adults can pair this with Tremonte Single Vineyard Reserva Malbec 2010.

A Special 83 Year Old Winemaker Named Angel

On a recent visit to Spain I had the opportunity to spend time with Angel Rodriquez, one of Spain’s most revered winemakers.  Anyone who has met Angel Rodriguez stands in awe of his tremendous accomplishment.  Visiting this spry, witty 83 year old winemaker and his beloved Martinsancho Vineyard is a rare treat and valuable lesson in the value of dedication, history, and wine.  Angel’s story is the story of a unique grape called Verdejo.  Although Verdejo is one of only a handful of truly noble Spanish white grape varietals, it was in serious danger of extinction by the early 1970s due to the pervasive planting of more prolific native varietals such as Viura and Palomino and the introduction of international favorites such as Chardonnay.  Through his loving refusal to uproot his ancient 17th century vineyard called Martinsancho, Angel Rodriguez saved the delicious, but shy bearing Verdejo from extinction

The original majuelo or 17th century vineyard of Martinsancho comprises less than two acres of ancient vines, all of which are in excess of 250 years of age.  These gnarled, ungrafted vines grow out of a bed of stones over thirty feet deep, preserved in isolation as a museum of pre-phylloxera viticulture and a continuing source of undisputed varietal authenticity.  Once considered an anachronism and an economic liability, nurseries throughout Europe now treasure the Martinsancho Vineyard and its beloved Verdejo for the vine cuttings it provided and the viticultural legacy it has preserved.  Yet, more than forty years ago no one seemed to care about this old vineyard with its unprofitable, extremely low yielding vines; in fact, few had even heard of Martinsancho’s existence.  Verdejo was on the verge of extinction as it was deemed not profitable enough then by most experts to preserve, let alone grow, despite the vine’s noble pedigree and the undisputed quality of the wine it produced.  Yet, in spite of the prevailing pressure and “expert advice” to uproot the old vineyard, Angel Rodriguez preserved it, and then undertook the near impossible and what many have called sheer lunacy: he re-grafted Martinsancho’s Verdejo by hand into 25 acres of a nearby vineyard with nearly identical soil – a monolithic undertaking.

Subsequently, other Rueda growers have planted Verdejo with the help of Angel Rodriguez, to the point that today Verdejo is once again the leading white grape varietal in Rueda.  For his great sacrifice and untiring efforts in favor of re-establishing Verdejo’s prominence in its region of origin, Angel Rodriguez has been officially honored by King Juan Carlos of Spain. Yet, in spite of his great accomplishment and the recognition that has followed, Angel Rodriquez remains a humble man who believes in tradition.  He steadfastly maintains a very low-tech approach to the natural production of his wine, which is totally organic and includes little or no added sulfites – a rarity, especially among white wines.  Look for Angel’s Rodriguez’s outstanding 2011 Martinsancho Verdejo in an upcoming feature.



It’s hard to imagine a more inhospitable climate and a more remote, godforsaken locale than Spain’s Priorat.  Nothing but grapes could possibly thrive in such a rugged terrain scoured by gales and mistral like winds, a land set apart from life as most of us know it.  Tiny towns, which cleave to  Priorat’s precipitous mountains and are inhabited by fewer than a hundred hardy souls, pay testimony to the area’s isolation and add to the region’s desolate feel.  In Priorat, unlike Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and most other Spanish wine regions, there are no golden fields of waving grain or long undulating rows of vines stretching as far as the eye can see.  So, what makes Priorat so appealing?  It’s the region’s high mountain vineyards and dramatic scenery that make this inaccessible part of Catalonia hallowed ground.  Nowhere else in Spain does old vine Garnacha and Cariñena produce such dramatic wines – full-bodied beauties – that are often blended with hedonistic dollops of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  What I find so appealing about Priorat are the many variations on the same theme, all with pure natural flavors, simple elegance, rusticity, and warmth.  These are high alcohol wines with heart and soul and plenty of sensual appeal.  Stay tuned!