Schug Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2015

W Schug 2015Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County, North Coast, California, U.S.

100% pinot noir

13.8% alcohol

Purchased:  7 April 2017  –  $19.99

Opened:  19 April 2018

els:  9.0/10

James Suckling:  93

Wilfred Wong:  92

Tastings:  89

Cellar Tracker:  87

The US, when first discovered by the Vikings, was covered in vines and they named the area Vineland. Unfortunately the early settlers discovered that those vines produced a terrible wine. The effort to find a suitable vine for the US began in earnest in the 1600s with the introduction of the Mission grape to Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico and Vitis vinifera to Virginia.  America’s first commercial winery was not established until 1798, finding its home in Kentucky.  Today the US is the 4th largest producer of wine in the world, behind Spain and ahead of Argentina, accounting for 8% of the world’s wine production. There are 89 regions in the country planting 129 prime varieties of grape. The country has almost 8000 wineries that produced 800 million gallons of wine in 2016.

The California wine industry was initially established by Spanish in the 18th century, planting the Mexican sourced “black grape” around their Catholic missions to be used for religious ceremonies and enjoying Californian sunsets.  The “black grape” or the Mission grape, was originally brought to the new world buy Hernan Cortes in the 16th century. It did nothing of note for the Aztecs but it dominated the state’s industry for almost 200 years.

California is far and away the largest grower and producer of wine in the country accounting for about 85% of US production.  The state still ranks as the 4th largest producer in the world just behind France, Italy, and Spain; without including the rest of country. There are over 600,000 acres of vines, 5900 growers and just shy of 4700 wineries in the state producing 285 million cases of wine in 2016. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are the most common wine varieties, accounting for about 90,000 and 85,000 acres planted, respectively. In 2016 the state had about 44,600 acres planted in Pinot Noir grapes.

The state has 5 main growing regions: Central Coast, Inland Valleys, North Coast, Sierra Foothills, and South Coast.  Within these 5 regions are upwards to 200 AVAs.  The AVAs  are defined by geography only; counties are automatically classified as an AVA without further registration with the federal government.  85% of the grapes used on an AVA that’s smaller than a county, must be grown there but there are no restrictions on what grapes or amounts that can be used. If it is a county labeled AVA only 75% of the grapes need to come from that area.

The North Coast region, just north of San Francisco, includes the counties of Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, and Solano. The area stretches 100 miles, north to south, and about 50 miles east to west. From Clear Lake on the eastern boundary to the Pacific Ocean on the western edge, the area includes the valleys just north of the San Francisco Bay to the North Coast Mountains in the northern part of the region. The North Coast contains almost half of all the state’s wineries spread over 3 million acres with more than 130,000 acres dedicated to vineyards within 50 smaller AVAs. The predominate grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

Sonoma County wine history dates back to the early 1800s when a Catholic priest established a vineyard around the San Francisco Solano Mission which is now in the city of Sonoma. By the early 1920s the county boasted 20,000 acres of vines and 250 plus wineries. Prohibition knocked Sonoma’s wine industry down to a shadow of its former glory and it took almost 60 years for the county to recover from that social experiment.

Sonoma County has a rich, heterogeneous geography of mountains and valleys that present a profusion of soils and climates that make the French landscape look like vanilla pudding.  The area’s soils are heavily influenced by volcanism along the county’s eastern boundary in the Mayacamas Mountains.  The volcanoes include the Plio-Pleistocene aged Mount St. Helena and Hood Mountain which, among others, spiked the surrounding soils with ash and other wine-loving volcanic ejecta. The climate of the area is a product of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean which has endowed the area with foggy mornings, warm days, not too hot, and cool nights.

Sonoma County is the North Coast’s largest AVA, about 50 miles on a side, containing more than third of North Coast region’s grape acreage, along with 1800 growers, and 400 wineries. The county grows 66 varieties of grapes on 60,000 acres but just 7 of these account for about 90% of all the wine produced.  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon are the top 3 grapes grown. The area produces about 6% of California’s total wine production versus 4% for Napa.

The county is further subdivided into 3 large AVAs loosely based on geography: Northern Sonoma, Sonoma Coast, and Sonoma Valley with each of these containing an additional 15 distinct AVAs within their borders. These include:  Alexander Valley, Bennett Valley, Carneros Sonoma, Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Valley, Fort Ross-Seaview, Fountaingrove District, Green Valley, Knights Valley, Moon Mountain District, Petuluma Gap, Pine Mountain – Cloverdale Peak, Rockpile, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Mountain. Petuluma Gap was granted AVA status in 2018.

Sonoma Coast, awarded AVA status in 1987, has about 2000 acres planted in vines and around 10 wineries. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the most planted variety in the AVA with Syrah coming in third. The climate in this area is cooler and wetter than the rest of the county with lots of fog.

Pinot Noir, native to the Burgundy region of France, is a cool climate, thin-skinned, fussy grape. It is a popular drinking wine, ranking as number 10 in the world by acreage. France and the US are the largest growers of the vine, each with about 75,000 acres under cultivation out of 215,000 acres worldwide. The grape produces a garnet to ruby colored wine with low tannins and medium-body.  The low tannins generally mean it does not age well but that property can be quite unpredictable. Young wines have aromas of cherries and raspberry but older wines tend to acquire more earthy smells.

Schug Carneros Estate Winery, a family operation, with strong wine-making roots in Germany has been making North Coast Schug wines since 1980. In 1989 the family purchased 50 acres in the Sonoma part of the Carneros Sonoma AVA from which winery has grown to its present form of old world tradition and new world wine-making techniques.

This Pinot Noir is sourced from several owned and non-owned vineyards in the Sonoma Coast AVA area including: 29% Ricci, 16% O Tirado, 13% Stage Gulch, 5% Schug Estate, 4% Sangiacomo, 15% Russian River, 14% Sonoma-Carneros. The grapes were harvested from 24 August through 19 September 2015.

After harvesting, the wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks with pump over occurring 2-4 times daily, followed by malolactic fermentation in neutral oak casks. Aging was in neutral French oak barrels.  The wine was released for sale on 1 October 2016.

A dark garnet color with aromas nuts, chocolate, cherry and a hint of oak.  A spicy medium-bodied wine with a medium finish.

We enjoy Pinot Noir as a sipping wine, indulging in them in the late afternoon, slightly chilled, with a plate of sliced fruits and chocolates nearby to provide some contrasting tastes to this fruity wine.

An outstanding wine at a fair to good price. It should last until 2019-2021. Decanting this wine did it a world of good.

$16.99-29.00 wine-searcher.co

Martin Ray Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2015

W Martin Ray 2015Pinot Noir from Los Carneros and Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, North Coast, California, US

100% pinot noir

13.8% alcohol

Purchased:  2 July 2017 – $18.99

Open: 15 July 2017

els:  9.1/10

James Suckling:  95

Cellar Tracker: 87

The US, when first discovered by the Vikings, was covered in vines and they named the area Vineland. Unfortunately the early settlers discovered that those vines produced a terrible wine. The effort to find a suitable vine for the US began in earnest in the 1600s with the introduction of the Mission grape to Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico and Vitis vinifera to Virginia.  America’s first commercial winery was not established until 1798, finding its home in Kentucky.  Today the US is the 4th largest producer of wine in the world, behind Spain and ahead of Argentina, accounting for 8% of the world’s wine production. There are 89 regions in the country planting 129 prime varieties of grape. The country has almost 8000 wineries that produced 800 million gallons of wine in 2016.

The California wine industry was initially established by Spanish in the 18th century, planting the Mexican sourced “black grape” around their Catholic missions to be used for religious ceremonies and enjoying Californian sunsets.  The “black grape” or the Mission grape, was originally brought to the new world buy Hernan Cortes in the 16th century. It did nothing of note for the Aztecs but it dominated the state’s industry for almost 200 years.

California is far and away the largest grower and producer of wine in the country accounting for about 85% of US production.  The state still ranks as the 4th largest producer in the world just behind France, Italy, and Spain; without including the rest of country. There are over 600,000 acres of vines, 5900 growers and just shy of 4700 wineries in the state producing 285 million cases of wine in 2016. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are the most common wine varieties, accounting for about 90,000 and 85,000 acres planted, respectively. In 2016 the state had about 44,600 acres planted in Pinot Noir grapes.

The state has 5 main growing regions: Central Coast, Inland Valleys, North Coast, Sierra Foothills, and South Coast.  Within these 5 regions are upwards to 200 AVAs.  The AVAs  are defined by geography only; counties are automatically classified as an AVA without further registration with the federal government.  85% of the grapes used on an AVA that’s smaller than a county, must be grown there but there are no restrictions on what grapes or amounts that can be used. If it is a county labeled AVA only 75% of the grapes need to come from that area.

The North Coast region, just north of San Francisco, includes the counties of Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, and Solano. The area stretches 100 miles, north to south, and about 50 miles east to west. From Clear Lake on the eastern boundary to the Pacific Ocean on the western edge, the area includes the valleys just north of the San Francisco Bay to the North Coast Mountains in the northern part of the region. The North Coast contains almost half of all the state’s wineries spread over 3 million acres with more than 130,000 acres dedicated to vineyards within 50 smaller AVAs. The predominate grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

Sonoma County wine history dates back to the early 1800s when a Catholic priest established a vineyard around the San Francisco Solano Mission which is now in the city of Sonoma. By the early 1920s the county boasted 20,000 acres of vines and 250 plus wineries. Prohibition knocked Sonoma’s wine industry down to a shadow of its former glory and it took almost 60 years for the county to recover from that social experiment.

Sonoma County has a rich, heterogeneous geography of mountains and valleys that present a profusion of soils and climates that make the French landscape look like vanilla pudding.  The area’s soils are heavily influenced by volcanism along the county’s eastern boundary in the Mayacamas Mountains.  The volcanoes include the Plio-Pleistocene aged Mount St. Helena and Hood Mountain which, among others, spiked the surrounding soils with ash and other wine-loving volcanic ejecta. The climate of the area is a product of its proximity to the Pacific Ocean which has endowed the area with foggy mornings, warm days, not too hot, and cool nights.

Sonoma County is the North Coast’s largest AVA, about 50 miles on a side, containing more than third of North Coast region’s grape acreage, along with 1800 growers, and 400 wineries. The county grows 66 varieties of grapes on 60,000 acres but just 7 of these account for about 90% of all the wine produced.  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon are the top 3 grapes grown. The area produces about 6% of California’s total wine production versus 4% for Napa.

The county is further subdivided into 3 large AVAs loosely based on geography: Northern Sonoma, Sonoma Coast, and Sonoma Valley with each of these containing an additional 15 distinct AVAs within their borders. These include:  Alexander Valley, Bennett Valley, Carneros Sonoma, Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Valley, Fort Ross-Seaview, Fountaingrove District, Green Valley, Knights Valley, Moon Mountain District, Petuluma Gap, Pine Mountain – Cloverdale Peak, Rockpile, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Mountain. Petuluma Gap was granted AVA status in 2018.

The Los Carneros AVA straddles Sonoma and Napa Counties along the north coast of San Pablo Bay, 25-30 miles north of San Francisco.  Vineyards date back to the 1830s and the first winery opened in the 1870s. There are approximately 9000 acres planted in vine and 45 wineries in the AVA.  Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the most common varieties planted. The soils are primarily clay with poor drainage and low to moderate fertility.  The growing season temperatures range from the low 50s to the low 80s with rainfall ranging from 0.0-2.0″ per month. The area is the windiest and coolest of all Napa and Sonoma Country AVAs.

The Russian River Valley AVA is located in Sonoma County along the southern bank of the Russian River as it turns west towards the Pacific Ocean. The city of Santa Rosa defines AVAs southern boundary and the city is about 50 miles northwest of San Francisco. There are 10,000 acres of vines planted in the valley with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir comprising 42% and 29% of all grapes harvested, respectively.  The climate is cool, known for its early morning fogs coming up the river.  Temperatures can change significantly in 24 hours with a 35-40°F drop at night being common. Rainfall averages 2-4″ per month except July and August when rains are very rare.  The soils are typically sand-rich or clay-rich loams.

Pinot Noir, native to the Burgundy region of France, is a cool climate, thin-skinned, fussy grape. It is a popular drinking wine, ranking as number 10 in the world by acreage. France and the US are the largest growers of the vine, each with about 75,000 acres under cultivation out of 215,000 acres worldwide. The grape produces a garnet to ruby colored wine with low tannins and medium-body.  The low tannins generally mean it does not age well but that property can be quite unpredictable. Young wines have aromas of cherries and raspberry but older wines tend to acquire more earthy smells.

Martin Ray produced iconic wines in the Santa Cruz Mountain area from 1943 to 1972.  Courtney Benham, recognizing the dedication and art that Ray brought to his wines and their intrinsic value, purchased the Martini and Prati winery and the Martin Ray brand in 1990 and has been producing artisanal wines ever since. In 2003 he moved the winery to the cool marine climate of the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, California, 50 miles northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge. Notable, for no earthly reason, the winery is about 6 miles west of the Charles M. Schulz Museum. The winery has roughly 12 acres of rather newly planted, 2011 Pinot Noir vines.

The grapes for this Martin Ray Pinot Noir are predominately sourced from Martin Ray’s neighbor’s vineyards; with their permission of course, the Ricioli and Foppian Vineyards being the main suppliers. These vineyards are along the Russian River and experience a growing season temperature range of 47-85°F with rains bringing 2-4″ per month. July and August are very dry though.  The soils are sand-rich loams. 2015 was a warm, dry (drought) year with almost no rain.  The grapes ripened early with low yields but excellent quality.

The different vineyard’s grapes were fermented separately in open top vessels. They were aged in new and used French oak barrels for 11 months.

The wine has a brilliant ruby-red color with aromas of raspberry, plum and earthy mushroom. A smooth medium to full-bodied, delicious tongue treatment leading to a satisfying balanced finish.  An outstanding wine which I would grade just a few notches below James Suckling’s rating but I may quibble.

Snoopy may have wanted a root beer but Linus would have preferred sipping this Pinot along with some dried salmon, Jarlsberg cheese and salty crackers.

An outstanding wine at a reasonable price. Drink this year but likely good until 2020-2022. Decant and aerate for one hour, or more, before drinking.

24.99 Total Wine

Concrete Old Vine Zinfandel 2012

W Concrete 2012Zinfandel from Lodi AVA, San Joaquin County, Inland Valleys, California

85% zinfandel

10% cabernet franc

5% cabernet sauvignon

15.5% alcohol

Purchased: 6 March 2017  –  $19.99

Opened: 24 April 2017

els:  9.0/10

Tasting Panel: 93

Wine Enthusiast: 89

Cellar Tracker: 84

The US, when first discovered by the Vikings, was covered in vines and they named the area Vineland. Unfortunately the early settlers discovered that those vines produced a terrible wine. The effort to find a suitable vine for the US began in earnest in the 1600s with the introduction of the Mission grape to Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico and Vitis vinifera to Virginia.  America’s first commercial winery was not established until 1798, finding its home in Kentucky.  Today the US is the 4th largest producer of wine in the world, behind Spain and ahead of Argentina, accounting for 8% of the world’s wine production. There are 89 regions in the country planting 129 prime varieties of grape. The country has almost 8000 wineries producing 800 million gallons of wine in 2016.

California is far and away the largest grower and producer of wine in the country.  There are almost 600,000 acres of vines, 5900 growers and 4700 wineries in the state producing 238 million cases of wine. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are the most common wine varieties accounting for about 90,000 and 85,000 acres planted, respectively. The state has 5 main growing regions: Central Coast, Inland Valleys, North Coast, Sierra Foothills, and South Coast.  Within these 5 regions are 200 AVAs.  The AVAs  are defined by geography only.  85% of the grapes used on an AVA labelled bottle must be grown there but there are no restrictions on what grapes or amounts that can be used.

The central valley of California, collectively known as the Inland Valleys, is an extended 450 miles of fertile farmland stretching from Redding in the north to Bakersfield to the south, best known for its vegetables and nuts. The central valley wine growing regions though, are compressed into a smaller 200 mile segment in the middle portion of this area beginning a little north of Sacramento near Esparto and finishing just north of Fresno with the San Joaquin River defining the southern edge. There are 5 separate appellations or AVAs in the Inland Valleys, including the northern most AVAs of Capay Valley and Dunnigan Hills; the central area AVAs of Clarksburg and Lodi; and the southern most AVA, Madera. These Inland Valley AVAs account for almost 50% of all vineyard acreage planted in California. Lodi and Madera AVAs produce 75% of the wine from these 5 Inland Valley areas. Predominate grapes grown in this region are Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Brandy grapes, and Muscat of Alexandria. Brandy grapes, generally a white variety, but not exclusively, include Flame Tokay from the Lodi AVA and Thompson Seedless from the Madera AVA. Other Brandy grapes include Burger, Green Hungarian, French Colombard, Malaga and Muscat of Alexandria. Muscat of Alexandria, a white grape, is considered one of the oldest genetically unmodified vines in the world today.  It is used many as a table grape or for raisin production. The grape is also used in making port, sherry, and as already mentioned, brandy.

As the south flowing Sacramento and north flowing San Joaquin Rivers complete their Inland Valley journey to the sea, they merge, turn west, and discharge their combined waters into the San Francisco Bay. The rivers are forced to turn west here as they have to wrap around the deflecting, elevated plateau that eventually throws off its cloak of easy nonchalance and transforms into the youthful, snow-capped Sierra Nevadas to the east. Lodi AVA claims its place in California viniculture as the east bank occupant of this plateau and the pre-Sierra Nevada foothills. Lodi is spread over 550,000 acres with 90,000 of those precious acres dedicated to growing grapes; more than the rest of the north and central coast regions combined. Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel are all grown in abundance here. These 5 varietals out pace the rest of California in terms of grapes grown and produced. Zinfandel is the 800 pound gorilla in Lodi, producing more of these grapes than anywhere else in the world. Zinfandel has been around for a long time in Lodi, boasting many old vine plantings, some exceeding 120-years in age. The area was able to escape the 1930 prohibition era by the wink and nod claim that the vineyards were all for home wine making use. The AVA is home to roughly 60 wineries with some very large producers located here, such as Robert Mondavi and Sutter Home. Another 90 or so non-resident wineries source their grapes from Lodi. The soils of Lodi are predominately composed of thick, well drained loams with large stones exposing themselves here and there.  The breezes coming across the San Francisco Bay provide the basis for a Mediterranean climate of cool nights, warm days and very dry summers.

The Lodi AVA takes its name from the city of Lodi, a community of 65,000 sitting at the lofty heights of 45′ above sea level, 80 miles east of the Pacific coast and 50 miles west of the Sierras.  The city traces it origins back to the 1840s but it wasn’t until the turn of the century that they decided to become a legitimate settlement by incorporating in 1909.  The area’s Flame Tokay grape inspired the 1907 Tokay Carnival that drew 30,000 visitors and crowned Miss Bertha de Alamada as the first and last, Queen Zinfandel. In addition to wine the area was once known for prodigious production of wheat and watermelons. Wine, wheat and watermelons, oh my.

Zinfandel grapes are identical to the Italian Primitivo and the Croatian Tribidrag grapes. It is believed that this grape originated in Croatia, just east, across the Adriatic Sea from Italy. The grape, today, is grown predominately in the US and Italy with these 2 countries accounting for about 80% of the worldwide planted acreage. In Italy it is the 12th most common grape planted, mainly in the boot region of Puglia. In California it is the 3rd most common grape grown, behind Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon (possibly it is the 3rd most common grape in the US also). World-wide it is the 29th most common grape planted. The grape was introduced into the US in the early 19th century along the eastern seaboard and didn’t reach the west coast until about 1850. Zinfandel grapes are dark, thin-skinned, high in sugar, producing a bold, full-bodied wine with aromas of strawberries, blackberries and cinnamon. The wine is known to have an alcohol content reaching or exceeding 15% but low tannins and acidity result in a generally short shelf life especially as a white Zinfandel.  Due to its thin skin it easily turns to raisins in hot weather or excessive time on the vine.

The Concrete Wine Company, established in 2014, is named for its mid-1900s concrete fermenting tanks.  Three partners started the company; Tyson Rippey, who is the director of operations at Lodi Vintners, and wine makers Joseph Smith and Barry Gnekow. The company produces their wines through a layered system of fermentation and aging, ostensibly achieving great wines at an economical price. The wines are fermented separately in three different portions; concrete, Flash Détente in stainless steel, and French and American oak barrels, mixed back together, and followed by ageing in the same oak barrels. This process creates what the company calls the Vertical Profile Palate, producing flavors that travel vertically in the mouth instead of horizontally.  Ok.

The company’s Lodi, head trained, old vine Zinfandel vineyards were planted in the early 1900’s and are considered to be some of the oldest in the AVA. The vines are planted in well drained, loamy soils  encouraging deep root penetrations into the cool subsoil.  The vines are chilled and shaken by the nightly western breezes coming off the San Francisco Bay. The Lodi climate has a growing season, diurnal temperature range of  50-90ºF and a rain-fall range of 0-2.0″ per month. July and August rains are rare.

The 2012 the Zinfandel grapes were picked with a Brix range of 25-27. The grapes were crushed, de-stemmed, and separated. The wine then went through the Flash Détente process in addition to fermentation in a combination of 75-year-old concrete tanks and small 60-gallon, new and used French and American oak barrels. The wine is aged in these same oak barrels for at least a year.

This is an outstanding Zinfandel exhibiting a wonderful ruby chocolate color, a cinnamony plum aroma and a full-bodied, but smooth, berry taste. It has a nice medium finish.

Enjoy this wine with a grilled, chopped onion stuffed, high-fat burger, topped with avocado slices or guacamole, bacon, Swiss cheese, and a fried egg, all served on a light wheat flour bun.  Add a side dish of fruit slices of apple and orange mixed with almond slivers and big spinach leaves to complete this California repast.

An outstanding wine at a fair price. Drink now. Decant and aerate for one hour, or more, before drinking.  I tend to shy away from California wines, not due to quality, but rather their price tends to be higher than comparable wines from other regions of the world, but this wine is not only delicious but very economical.

$19.99 at wine.com

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