April 2011 Blind Wine Tasting: If A Tree Falls In A Forest…

If a wine tasting happens in Ruby Hill, and I wasn’t there, did it really happen?  That would appear to be the case for the March installment of our little wine group in Ruby Hill, since I didn’t write anything about it. True that I wasn’t there due to some unfortunate issues with my back, but that tasting did happen.  I have trouble writing about things that I don’t have first hand knowledge of, and it’s hard for me to get the vibe of the evening without actually being there.  Also, since the wine my wife brought apparently came in last, I’m deciding to erase the March tasting from my memory. I did hear that the Buhalis family were incredible hosts, and that they really know how to throw a party.  Bummer I missed it.

For April, it was Zinfandel night, and we were treated to a great night of wine, food and fun at the Custer house.  Incredibly gracious hosts that they are, they even let some of us sports fans watch the Sharks/Red Wings game (Sharks won in dramatic fashion).  For those of us who made it (8 couples total), we were quickly educated about the complexity of the zinfandel grape and the accompanying wine it creates.  One guest explained Zinfandel wines as that sassy girl in college that was sort of intriguing, but too moody to really spend too much time with.  Some people really enjoy the drama and inconsistency that a bottle of zin can provide though, and we found both spicy, nutty, and mellow flavors out of our entries this month.

To the results!  Well, it wasn’t much of a contest this month, as the 2006 Tobin James Cellars 2006 Fat Boy Zin stole the night.  Thanks to the Erickson family for sharing this wine with us (well it was really Juvy who shared it with us, as her husband Brett decided the Sharks game was more important, and took fellow wine Warren Dumanski with him).  With 5 first place votes and 2 seconds, it easily dusted the field.  And, it was only 1 of 2 wines that didn’t get a last place vote for the night.  It was my personal favorite of the night (surprisingly after the labels we uncovered) with a nice fruit portrayal and the most drinkable wine of the night for me.  Likely that it was the mellowest of the zin’s of the night which made it so receptive to most of the drinkers that night.  You can currently buy their 2008 Fat Boy Zin for $55 on their website, and the 2006 shows up on Cellar Tracker at $48 on avg, with a community average rating of 90 pts.

For all the diversity that zinfandel’s provide, it was amazing that we had ties for both 2nd and 4th places.  In 2nd place was a tie between Robert Biale Vineyards Black Chicken Zinfandel and the Orin Swift Cellars Saldo Zinfandel.  Orin Swift is the maker fo the popular Prisoner label of wines, and this was an impressive entry as the winemaker looked to create a high quality zin from various California terriors, as compared to The Prisoner’s single terrior product.  The Saldo received 3 first place votes (second only to our winner for first place votes), 1 second place vote, and a lone last place vote.  As for the Biale Black Chicken, well it’s become somewhat of a cult classic, with it’s distinctive rasberry chocolate fudge cake qualities that make it standout in a crowd of other California wines.  It received 2 first place votes and 2 second place votes.

ied for 4th came Nickel & Nickel’s Zinfandel from their Sonoma Valley vineyards, and the E&J Gallo entry (thanks to our gracious hosts, and great to see that this conglomerate can produce good  wines that stack up with the best single-vineyard wines of Napa and Sonoma). Both wines received 1 first place, 2 second place, and one last place vote each.

In 6th place was the Elyse Winery zin from this Napa Valley producer, which received 1 first place vote, 1 second, and a lone last place vote.  I found the wine a little warm, which created an almost jammy feel in my mouth.

7th place was a very disappointing result for the Frank Family Vineyards zinfandel, a winery that many people in the group really enjoy.  Unfortunately this wine doesn’t live up to the great setting where their wines are produced in the Larkmead District of Napa Valley.  With 3 second place votes coupled with 2 last place votes, it just didn’t stack up against the others in the group.  I will say that it was my personal #2, as I thought it was a nice light wine compared to the others, and had the best bouquet on the lot.

Last place this month went to Mt. Brow Winery of Sonora, California.  This is a great little winery in the Sierra Foothills that produces a number of different varietels.  Owned and operated by the Costello family of Tuolomne County, with Jim and Pam Costello producing wines since 2003.  A true family operation, their tasting room is a treasure if you happen to be traveling through the Sierra Foothills on the way to Yosemite or other locales.  Their 2005 zinfandel didn’t hold up great against the other Sonoma and Napa zins, but is still a price appropriate entry that I’m guessing would show much better against other sub-$20 California zins.

For those who think all we do is drink wine and wax poetic about what we think of the wines, there is a bit of a wilder side for this group.  Our hosts this month organized a massive table tennis (aka ping pong) tournament after the wine tasting and voting portion of our evening was completed.  We read the results after the first round of games.  There was a lot of crazy action as the night wore on, and a lot of partner swapping as people (me) had to sit out because of injury, late entrants like Warren and Brett arriving back from the completed Sharks game, and Juvy needing to get home to relieve the baby-sitter.  Ultimately, the combination of Janet and Juvy, along with Brett pinch-hitting for Juvy in the championship round that took the championship trophy.  There hasn’t been such an effective threesome of pong maneuvering in some time at the Custer house, and I hope is never repeated again given the gloating from Brett in winning the Sharks game, the wine tasting, and the ping pong tournament.

Thanks for reading, and until next time…Cheers!!!!

About svbmark

I'm a father of four boys; live in the Tri-Valley of the SF Bay Area; technology enthusiast; work with entrepreneurs and venture investors; SF Giants fan; budding wine lover
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