Tag Archives: zinfandel

Exploring Sonoma: One Winery at a Time

Last month, we took a weekend to escape from cloudy Walla Walla for a trip to 65-degrees-and-sunny Sonoma! I’m going to be honest- I’ve never actually been tasting in California before, and the astonishing amount of wineries and AVAs in the state kind of boggle my mind.  I like to keep my eye on what’s going on in California wineries through blogs and Wine Spectator, but the idea of narrowing our options down to just three wineries to visit made me realize how much I don’t know about California wineries! Luckily, I had a few tasters come into the winery in the weeks leading up to the trip, and I managed to wrangle some recommendations out of them. And by “some”, I mean a whole page full of winery names, so I had to do some digging to figure out which wineries would be the most exciting for us.

MacLaren Winery was the first winery we went to, and I think it ended up being our favorite of the trip. Cool-climate Syrahs, several single-vineyard offerings, and really elegant food wines. Steve Law, the owner and winemaker, is from Scotland, but spent 10 years in France learning to love wine before moving to Sonoma to make it himself. He doesn’t make much, 1000 cases at most, and it’s almost all Syrah. I love how different these Syrahs are from hot weather Walla Walla; it’s amazing how much climate impacts the taste of wine.

Next, we went to Loxton Winesrecommended to us by some Sonoma wine folks who we ran into in Walla Walla. Also a small winery, Chris Loxton focuses on Syrahs and Zinfandels; we liked the Zin the best (partly because we almost never see it here in Walla Walla). After MacLaren’s wines, these seemed really fruity and almost unbalanced compared to the high acidity of his Syrahs.

Our last stop of the day was Kunde Family Estate, a much larger winery than the first two we stopped at. The tasting room was crowded, and it was harder to get the attention of the tasting room staff, but eventually we got settled at the bar. Kunde owns a lot of vineyard, and their wine was very pleasant- maybe not special occasion wines, but very drinkable.

We also had lunch at The Girl and the Figwhich was super busy (a good sign, right?). I had their Moules-Frites (delicious!), and everyone else’s food looked great, too.

We’re headed back to Sonoma in two weeks; what is the one winery we should definitely not skip? 

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What is a tannin?

What is a tannin and why are people obsessed with the tannins in wine? Before I knew anything about wine, tannins confused me more than everything else about wine combined. Is it a flavor? Do they add it to the wine? Is it good or bad?

Tannin is a compound naturally found in plants (like, you know, red grapes). Tannins are bitter, often described as astringent or dry. If a wine leaves you puckering, it’s a sure bet that it’s tannic. You know that puckery feeling you get when you drink oversteeped tea? That’s tannin.

You get tannin in wine from the grape skins. Some grapes are naturally more tannic than others; Cabernet Sauvignon has a very thick skin, which means it grows well in most climates, but also that it has a lot of tannin. Pinot Noir, on the other hand, has very thin skin, which means it’s delicate to grow and has very little tannin. Aging wine in oak barrels also imparts tannins; the longer you have wine in oak, the more tannic the wine.

It can be both good and bad. Overly tannic wine is not a pleasant taste or sensation, but it mellows out over time. Puckery tannins become soft and smooth as the wine ages in bottle, leaving it with fully body, structure, and a long finish. Wines with little tannin can be weak and flavorless. In short, you want a wine with enough tannin to give the wine structure or allow it to age, but not so much that it makes you look like you just bit into a lemon.

A handy infographic for you! This is a very rough guide of wines with the most to least tannins; it will vary because of climate, regions, aging, etc, but this is a little shortcut for those of you new to wine.

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Photo by David Wilbanks via fotopedia.