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May 2016

Zinfandel – California’s Noble Varietal

Old Hill VineyardIn the ‘serious’ wine world, Zinfandel tends to have a bad rap.  It has a reputation for being a one-dimensional fruit bomb, flaunting itself with zero sophistication. But there are ALWAYS exceptions that will delight even the most sophisticated of palates.

I was reminded of this when I recently tried a bottle of Bliss Family Vineyards Zinfandel leftover from a potluck. At first I had very low expectations of its merits.  But when I popped the cork, I was pleasantly surprised by its vibrant acid, depth of character, subtle earthiness, nuanced oak, and food-friendliness. 

My advice to you is be open to the possibility of having a great Zin. If you’re looking for quality and sophistication, choose one that is under 14% alcohol. They tend to have a balance of tart black cherry fruit, bright acidity, and brambly nose that remind me of August in the Oakland hills — absolutely delicious and layered with complexity. Plus you’ll find a gem for under $20.

Like Pinot Noir to Bourgogne and Sangiovese to Tuscany, Zinfandel is California’s noble varietal — meaning it has sophistication, age worthiness, beautiful fruit, and has a long history of greatness here in CA. It was also one of the first varietals to be planted commercially in California.

It arrived during the California gold rush via Europe in the mid-19th century, and quickly became the most widely planted vine because its adaptability to the California climate. It is still known as a hearty, disease resistant varietal, with existing Zinfandel vineyards in California that date back to the 1850’s.

Although a vineyard of that age is quite rare, there are a significant amount of vineyards that are 30-40+ years old. These “old vines” give depth and character that younger vineyards can’t possibly achieve.  As the vines get older, they produce less fruit naturally and spend all of their energy concentrating the juice of the few grape clusters that remain on the plant. It gives a complexity that’s difficult to achieve by any other means.

The ideal conditions needed to make a great Zinfandel are as follows:  1.) The soil needs to be rich in minerals to help the vines flourish and impart minerality in the wine. 2.) The timing of harvest must take place with exact precision to avoid compromising flavors. If picked too early, the wine will taste like bell peppers;  pick too late (like many producers do) and it becomes a sugary juice that masks potential subtlety, earthiness, and complexity.  3.) Vineyard age adds depth and character. 4.) Use of minimal oak to impart notes of baking spice and tannin adds more depth of character.

Zinfandel is the perfect summer wine because it goes great with BBQ.  Pork ribs, steak, lamb, duck, portobello mushrooms, and skewered veggies will all sing with one of my top picks:


We’ll taste an example of one of these well-balanced, vibrant Zinfandels at my upcoming “Discover the Secrets of Food & Wine Pairing” Workshop June 12 in Oakland.   Space is limited.  Go HERE to make a reservation and save yourself a spot.

It’s impossible to know everything about wine.  Let’s keep learning.



Discover the Secrets to Food & Wine Pairing Workshop

food and wine pairing_smallerIn response to dozens of requests I’ve gotten from close friends and colleagues — I finally put together a special event that will give you hands-on experience in learning the secrets behind food and wine pairing.

Think of it as an intimate social gathering / workshop that combines tastings, storytelling and Q & A. It’s all happening in the comfort of my beautiful home overlooking the S.F. Bay.

I’ll pick 5 of my summer favorites that’ll go PERFECTLY with barbeques, celebrations, potlucks and picnics. They’ll  be paired with a selection of organic, tapas-style bites prepared by Executive Chef, Amy Murray of Revival Bar & Kitchen and Venus Restaurant. YUM!!

Then I’ll open it up to questions.

==> This will be first-come, first-serve as space is limited to 14. You can RSVP HERE.

This gathering / workshop will give you a leg up on your pairing skills in a down-to-earth and interactive setting. It doesn’t matter if you’re advanced or a beginner. Everyone will walk away with a stronger sense of knowing how to better pair wine and food.

Plus you won’t get this type of hands-on, super focused attention anywhere else.

You’ll get both mine and Amy’s 25+ years of expertise on how the world of food and wine works in the restaurant business.

You’ll get our personalized attention and:

  • Discover why specific ingredients pair well with specific wines.
  • Learn how to ask better questions so that you find the wines that match your taste
  • Explore how to identify components from nose, palate, and finish to refine your tasting skills.
  • Build a strong sense of community and connection with like-minded peeps.
  • Gain more insight on how to taste wine while refining your palate in the process


Bring your curiosity and a hearty appetite. Get ready to practice and learn. This is going to be blast.

== > Make sure you RSVP immediately so you don’t miss out as this event will fill up.

All The Greatest,

Patrick Cress, Sommelier and Wine Consultant



3 Wines Your Mom Will Love This Mother’s Day

FlowersThis week’s post if for all of the Moms out there. They brought us into this world and gave us comfort and nourishment when we needed it.  They gave us a place to cry when we needed someone to simply understand, and protected us when we were scared.  Mom’s lift us up and give us confidence in who we are.  

Let’s all give a little back this Mother’s day.  Take your mom out to brunch or on a picnic.  I’m making my mom a special Dungeness crab brunch, and to go with our meal there are so many possibilities for wine.  

Here are some suggestions for great wines you’re mom is going to love.

Premier Cru (or 1er Cru) Chablis is my favorite expression of Chardonnay these days.  I love the combination minerality, ripe stone fruit, silky texture, and subtle toast finish.  1er Cru Chablis is grown at a higher elevation than regular Chablis, so the fruit tends to be a little more generous.  It’s no “fruit bomb” but the apricot nectar and vibrant acid are a match made in heaven.  Try the 2013 Domaine de La Meuliere from the Fourneaux vineyard in Chablis, 1er Cru with crab, pork chops or La Tur cheese, and your mom’s gonna feel super special.  

I love Rhone-style (from or modeled after the French Rhone River Valley) whites when they’re made well. The blend of viognier, roussanne and marsanne combines great texture with notes of summer peach and a vibrant structure to please so many different palates.  Perhaps the greatest California producer of Rhone-style wines resides in Paso Robles.  Tablas Creek is like royalty to me, coming over from the Beaucastel estate in Chateauneuf du Pape, France in 1985.  The Perrin family saw that the climate and soil type (terrior) was perfect for growing Rhone varietals.  Try their 2014 Côtes de Tablas Blanc from their estate in the Adelaida district of Paso Robles.  The honeysuckle notes will draw you into the glass, while the nose of tropical and stone fruit will remind you of how great life is.  The creamy, silky palate and gorgeous fruit will pair well with crab, mussels cooked in a pernod cream sauce, pan seared halibut, pork loin, or roasted chicken.  

If you’re thinking your mom will prefer red this Mother’s day, I’d head straight for the Pinot noir aisle.  The supple red fruits and vibrant acidity will make mom ask for a second glass.  Look for the 2013 Brooks Note Pinot noir from Marin County.  The wine is still singing after I first tried it back in March of 2015.  The supple raspberry, tart cherry and cranberry fruits, mixed with earthy sage and bay leaf are totally seductive.  I love the root beer spice note and vibrant acid on the palate.  At $36 retail, this wine will make you wonder how to get a case come Monday.  Pair it with duck confit, grilled salmon, or duck liver paté.

I recommend one of these for Mother’s Day:

  • 2013 Domaine de La Meuliere, Les Fourneaux, Chablis, 1er Cru
  • 2014 Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas Blanc, Adelaida district, Paso Robles
  • 2013 Brooks Note Pinot Noir, Marin County


I’d love to know what wine pairing you came up with this Mother’s day.  Try one of these suggestions and drop me a line.  Let me know what you did to celebrate mom this Mother’s day.

It’s impossible to know everything about wine.  Let’s keep learning.