Keep on rolling with Rickshaw Cabernet

Typically, Cabernet is not on my mind during the stale humidity of a Southern drought. But sometimes you have to turn the AC down low and dream of a cooler autumn day. That happened last night when I opened up a bottle of the 2010 Rickshaw Cabernet. Rickshaw’s first impression as an opulent and gratifying Cabernet is supported by the pedigree of its fruit sourcing, including the likes of Napa, Alexander Valley and Paso Robles. It may be hard to imagine something so rich going for around $15 but once the dense and dark fruit flavors start rolling around, you may have discovered just the right rickshaw to pull you through the dream-state and into a cooler frame of mind.

Zinfandel and Primitivo, two clones of one great grape

It has been said that the Greeks brought wine to Italy, and in turn the Italians gave wine to the world. The old ruins and wine presses of the ancient Roman Empire in Germany and France as well as much of Western Europe are the initial proof of this global manifestation. But it wasn’t until Italians immigrated in-masse to the United States, and more specifically California, that this old saying began to take root (in the form of new vineyards) and to establish a sense of street cred in the wine world.

One indication of that new world wine influence can be found in the bulk plantings of America’s beloved Zinfandel grape. Originally traced back as a virtual clone of the Italian varietal known as Primitivo, the Zinfandel grape is believed to have been brought to the United States sometime in the 19th century.

After surviving both the phylloxera epidemic of the late 1800’s and American prohibition in the 20th century, Zinfandel was replanted extensively and thrived throughout much of California’s wine country. And the families of Italian immigrants like Sonoma County’s Seghesio family carried on that tradition of giving wine to the world.

Seghesio makes over half a dozen Zins including their flagship Sonoma County Zinfandel that comes capped in a bright blue foil. Melodically fluid with loads of red fruit flavors like cherries, strawberries and raspberries, the 2010 Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel is the gateway to Zinfandel heaven. If you’re a huge fan of Zinfandel then be sure to save up for one of their specialty Zins like the Rockpile, Old Vines, Pagani, Home Ranch or Monte Rosso. You won’t be disappointed!

Interestingly enough, the history of the Italian version – the Primitivo clone, led researchers to track both it and the Zinfandel clone even further back. Although most Primitivo can be found grown and vinified on the “heel” of the Italian boot, its indigenous roots (like that of Zinfandels) have been studied and ultimately linked back to plantings of a Croatian clone just across the Adriatic Sea.

In contrast, Italian Primitivo tends to have a noticeably different flavor profile than its American Zinfandel counterpart. Since it is less fruity, with more of a rustic note, Primitivo is very food friendly especially when it comes to traditional Italian recipes. Producers like Monaci, Cantele and Apollonio are affordable and accurate representations of Italian Primitivo. But, of the Primitivos that I’ve sampled, it is the 2010 Layer Cake that seems to have the closet resemblance to California Zinfandel. The proof is in its fruit-forward style and approachable demeanor.

Finally, if you classify yourself as a Zin-fanatic of Zin-head, then it’s a must for you to check out California’s ZAP Festival. ZAP or Zinfandel Advocates & Producers holds an annual festival in San Francisco at the first of every year that is considered to be one of the best wine events in all of California.

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Great Grüner! 2011 Hofer Grüner Veltliner

Austria’s top drop continues to be Grüner Veltliner. And although there may be a lot of groovy Grüners grabbing up shelf space in the old Austrian section, few have had as a successful run as Hofer has over the past five years.

The mineral-strewn and white pepper aromas of the 2011 Hofer Grüner meld into an agreeable flavor of crisp green apples. This beautiful blonde wine comes decked out in a big green over-sized bottle that may affectionately become your liter of love.

Keep in mind that it’s 33% more in volume than a standard-size 750ml bottle and will run you about $13.

What to drink: 2011 Dry Creek Chenin Blanc

Recently, I was reading about a feud between Eric Asimov (wine critic for the New York Times) and James Molesworth (wine critic for the Wine Spectator). These two gentlemen were doing a little snarky debating about the merits of South African Chenin Blanc via the twittersphere. You can see a highly recommended and succinct play-by-play here:

Asimov vs. Molesworth: the Thrilla in Vanilla

The story written on the wine blog, Dr. Vino, had me laughing out loud, but it also got me thinking about Chenin Blanc. So, I decided to revisit one of California’s best and well-established. The Dry Creek Vineyard, located in Healdsburg, has been producing quality Chenin Blanc for forty years.

Its 2011 vintage displays the palest of gold colors with a tropical bouquet that might remind you of those banana notes from a stick of Juicy Fruit. It has a remarkable creamy texture for being all stainless steel fermented and some easy-drinking flavors of pineapple and honeydew melon. With mass appeal and a wallet-friendly nature for around $8-$9, hopefully your favorite wine critic won’t be so touchy.

Must try: 2009 Klinker Brick Old Vines Zinfandel

The BEST Zinfandel I’ve had this year for under $20 is hands down the ’09 Klinker Brick. Laden with rich dark fruits of chewy black cherries and overly ripe Southern blackberries, this old vines bottling is stacked with layer upon layer of luscious and indulgent Zinfandel nectar. An alcohol level that tops out at a whopping 15.8% best demonstrates Klinker Brick’s intensity. It’s not “just another brick in the wall.”

What to drink: Justin Monmousseau Sancerre

Remarkably fragrant, with aromas of lemon, lime, pink grapefruit and a hint of tangerine, Justin Monmousseau’s Sancerre is 100% Sauvignon Blanc and equally vibrant. I recommend it with some grilled artichoke (lime butter on the side) and a fresh catch of red snapper softly seasoned with tandoori powder, olive oil and lemon. The savory, peppiness of the Indian spices brings out a unique zesty characteristic in the Sancerre.

Drink this: Fâmega Vinho Verde

The owner of Woodland Wine Merchants in Nashville, Tennessee first introduced me to one of my two favorite Vinho Verdes, the Fâmega. Made from a mélange of Portuguese white wines, Fâmega is slightly fizzy with aromas of lemon aioli and green pear. Keep in mind that Vinho Verdes shouldn’t cost anymore than $7-$9. Serve this one extra cold and enjoy its spirited citrus character throughout this insanely torrid summer.

Sassy Sauvignon Blanc is all about the grapefruit

Napa Valley’s most notorious cult winery, Screaming Eagle, just released its whopping 600-bottle production of Sauvignon Blanc through its preferred customer list. Normally this wouldn’t be news, except for the fact that the release price was a staggering $250 per bottle. What makes this story more ridiculous is that some of those customers were able to re-sell the same bottle for upwards of ten times the original asking price.

And if that weren’t enough to get a circus magnate screaming “sucker,” then the fact that the wine is a Sauvignon Blanc (an abundant white grape that’s easy to vinify and not the most noble of keepsakes) should be. Regardless of the inclination of some consumers to overpay for certain wines, Sauvignon Blanc shouldn’t be one of those.

Sauvignon Blanc-based wines have universally become associated with the essence and flavor of grapefruit. Although it is planted and made into crisp, refreshing wines from California to France to New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc holds true to this expressive citrus character despite its globetrotting presence.

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What to drink: 2011 Acrobat Rosé of Pinot Noir

In this wide, wonderful world of wine overproduction, conglomerates are continually creating new brands and labels and blends with the emphasis more on eye catching artwork or clever catch phrases rather than what’s actually in the bottle. So, when established brands (like King Estate’s Acrobat) peel off another new wine label, I’m quick to raise the red flag. This year the king of Oregon wineries rolled out a new rosé comprised of Pinot Noir. And after trying it, I promptly lowered the old flag.

The 2011 Acrobat Rosé mirrors the brilliant color of sashimi grade salmon. Not excessively dry, it delivers refreshing summer-inspired flavors of raspberry and ripe strawberries. If they can keep the price and quality in line with the rest of the Acrobat wines, over time King Estate may go three for three with their entry-level brand.