Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Zin of a Lifetime

A winemaker once told me that the greatest regret of his lifetime was that he only had 40 chances to make the perfect wine.  If that’s true, then Joe Healy, the winemaker at Bella Vineyards in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley, can die a happy man.  I recently tasted a Zinfandel there that changed forever my ideas of what that grape – and silky tannins – can be when done to perfection.
Just getting to Bella is a treat in itself.  It’s located at the end of a tiny winding road that meanders along Dry Creek and is picturesque even by Northern Sonoma County standards.  Upon arriving, you walk past the winery located in a quaint barn-like building surrounded by century-old olive trees through mysterious arched doors leading into a cave in the hillside.  Inside is one of the coolest tasting rooms on the planet, complete with cozy tables and eclectic hanging lamps that shine like a sky full of stars on a dark night.
But it’s the wine that makes the trip memorable.  While Bella has a well-deserved reputation for producing some excellent big red Rhones, it’s their Zinfandel that rises above all others.  In particular, the 2007 Lily Hill Estate Zin, which Wine & Spirits Magazine named this Year’s Best, is breathtaking.  The wine starts with 85 year old vines that concentrate all those flavors in only ½ tons of grapes per acre.  It’s then co-fermented with just enough (5%) Syrah to give it a wild edge.  After 12 days in a submerged-cap tank to fully extract the colors, flavors, and tannins, it’s all smoothed to harmonious perfection by 15 months in French oak.
The result is one of the biggest, baddest reds I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting.  Once you get past the mouth-filling texture and flavors of ripe, jammy blackberry and raspberry, hold on to your seat for one of the longest, smoothest finishes you’ll ever enjoy.  “Wet silk” is the only phrase that begins to capture those tannins, unlike any I’ve encountered.  No one was able to hide the cherry Kool Aid colored stains on their teeth through their big smiles after drinking this wine.
More posts on charming Northern Sonoma County to come, but in the meantime you can find out more about Bella at

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Take A Gander At This

A lovely new winery has sprouted amid the blackjack oaks on the rolling Osage prairie north of Tulsa.  Gander Way Vineyards & Winery finally opened to the public this month after five years of hard work by Mike Trower and family.   I would say this winery was worth the wait.
Surrounded by vineyards, the winery already qualifies as one of the nicest in the state.  The focus of the spacious interior is the beautiful, dark, handcrafted woodwork of the tasting room.  A large, marble-topped tasting bar frames a stunning tile mosaic on the wall behind it featuring the flying goose logo of the winery.  The large, open interior with 30’ ceilings has several comfortable seating areas for a few or many, including a cozy loft area with couches and a back room overlooking the vineyards with tables and chairs for 50.  An outdoor patio features a large stage where I look forward to seeing entertainment in the warmer months.

In the vineyard, Mike has wisely chosen to bypass the usual vinifera suspects (Chardonnay, Cabernet, etc.) to plant grape varietals God meant to grow in Oklahoma terroir (a term to which I hope to devote an entire future blog).  Behind the winery are several acres of Cynthiana (also known as Norton, the official state grape of Missouri, where some wineries produce big reds from it that in my humble opinion rival many California Cabernets); Chardonel (a variety that done right can make a wine rivaling that of one of its parents, Chardonnay); and, Chambourcin.  The front of the winery features rows of Villard Blanc and the hearty labrusca varietals Concord, Catawba, and Niagara.  Time will tell if the notorious “foxy” flavors of these grapes can be tamed by blending or other winery magic.
The bad news is that Gander’s first harvest and crush occurred just this past August, so no estate wines are yet available for tasting.  The good news is that in the meantime, our wine brethren to the East, Post Familie Vineyards in Altus, Arkansas, are supplying wines to sell under the Gander label.  A review of Post wines will wait for another blog another day, but one now being sold at Gander merits mention – the non-vintage generic “Red”.  Its ripe, dark berry notes from the Cynthiana grape are perfectly blended with the softer edge of Merlot to produce a very drinkable medium body wine – and at $10, it’s a real bargain.
For more information on Gander visit their website at