Simple Super Bowl wine choices: Lead with confidence

According to Super Bowl XLVII By The Numbers (via @digtriad), “Americans will consume an estimated 50 million cases of beer on Super Bowl Sunday. For those counting at home, that’s 1.2 billion beers.” So with over 325,000,000 gallons of beer washing down tons of junk food, BBQ wings, chili and pizza, are any of you willing to stand up against a sea of hop lovers to pour, swirl and sip from the vine?

Food and Wine editor Ray Isle (@islewine) quipped this morning on Twitter, “…it takes a brave soul to open some wine.”

Be sure to include wine for your informal Super Bowl party. Central California coast wines like Ancient Peaks Zinfandel provide an excellent beverage alternative to bring your own beer.
Be sure to include wine for your informal Super Bowl party. Central California coast wines like Ancient Peaks Zinfandel provide an excellent beverage alternative to bring your own beer.

Cultural traditions create closeness and the NFL’s Super Sunday has become a national holiday, heck an icon, for Americans, galvanizing communities regardless of race, age, political preferences or religion. For one Sunday a year, most can put aside bias and prejudices to gather in a sometimes unlikely consortium to cheer and debate over the pride and bragging rights of two cities.

Then, for the sake of the underdogs amongst you, be strong and courageous. The fruit of the vine has every right to be in that living or family room, den, community center and converted garage. While Anheuser-Busch, Budwieser, and the MillerCoors family of beers and/or a plethora of micro beers are most likely to fill the coolers, a glass of wine most certainly fits well with Super snacks.

On Feb. 1, 2013, Isle posted his Best wines for Super Bowl snacks as part of CNN’s Eatocracy page. And to take this just a bit further, I want to add my suggestions for those looking to serve BBQ wings, chili and nachos. The following choices should be easily purchased even today at your local grocer or may even be buried in your wine closets.

The Adobe Red is a proprietary Zinfandel-based blend with effusive aromas of cherry spice, blackberry and pepper, with hints of brambles and plum.
The Adobe Red is a proprietary Zinfandel-based blend with effusive aromas of cherry spice, blackberry and pepper, with hints of brambles and plum.

The following are easy drinking, inexpensive wines meant to wash down party foods. For goodness sake, save your best occasion vino for $100 meals at destination restaurants. However, even a wine connoisseur can enjoy simple wines. Be sure to open the bottles a couple of hours before serving at room temperature.

Zinfandel blends:

2009 Clayhouse Adobe Red Zinfandel-based blend: The 2009 Clayhouse Adobe Red is a flavor fusion of 32% Zinfandel, 25% Petite Syrah, 13% Malbec, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah and 9% Petit Verdot. The blend has overtones of cherry and blackberry which dominate the palate. Spices and pepper linger with hints of branbles and plum. The finish is balanced with vanilla and oak characteristics.

2009 Phantom by Bogle Vineyards: This California blend of 52% Zinfandel, 46% Petite Sirah and 2% Mourvèdre, has some spice to it along with rich black raspberries and briary boysenberries in a full-bodied wine with hints of cedar and juniper.

Zinfandel

The 2010 Seghesio Sonoma County Zinfandel is a classic bottle from Sonoma County. The spicy, lush black fruit of Alexander Valley offers up briary and raspberry flavors, along with structure, of cooler Dry Creek Valley. Take the time to enjoy the mocha, tobacco, leather and exotic spices in this fabulous 100% Zinfandel wine.

Earning “Steal of the Year” honors in Sunset Magazine, 93 points in Wine Spectator and a San Francisco Chronicle Top 100 Wine of The Year, the 2010 Ancient Peaks Zinfandel is rooted in their estate Margarita Vineyard. This Ancient Peaks offering is 100% Zinfandel offers vibrant aromas of crushed raspberry and blueberry with a dash of sweet oak. Bright, juicy flavors of raspberry, boysenberry and black cherry anticipate notes of cola and spice. A smoky vanilla note joins luscious acidity on a rich, jammy finish.

Cabernet blends

2009 Tres Sabores ‘Por Que No’ Zinfandel blend: This Napa red is from St. Helena and is a bistro and BBQ favorite. If you have yet to try this blend of 53% Zinfandel, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petite Sirah, & 1% Petit Verdot, I say Why Not! enjoy its dark red blend. The juicy, mild raspberry and blueberries flavors and has hints of black pepper give Por Que No its party favorite label. This bottle needs to be on your ‘go to’ list.

Wine Spectator consistently gives The Prisoner between 90-93 points since 2003 and has been a Top 100 wine fixture since 2007.
Wine Spectator consistently gives The Prisoner between 90-93 points since 2003 and has been a Top 100 wine fixture since 2007.

Orin Swift’s The Prisoner 2010 Napa Valley Red wine is reminiscent of wines first made by Italian immigrants who originally settled the Napa Valley. The wine has a dense red and black hue that is framed in vibrant crimson. Look for black currant, dark blackberry, cherry, and cassis rounded out by subtle hints of seasoned French and American oak. The finish is long, lingering and filled with soft velvety tannins lasting for nearly thirty seconds. The blend is 44% Zinfandel, the 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Syrah, 9% Petite Sirah, 2% Charbono and 1% Grenache; this gives the wine soft, integrated tannins which allow it to be approachable now and with a pleasant finish. Wine Spectator consistently gives The Prisoner between 90-93 points since 2003 and has been a Top 100 wine fixture since 2007.

Now I want to go on record to say a good bottle of beer like a Russian River Brewing Company’s double IPA Pliny The Elder can add so much to tasty eats. And there is nothing wrong with a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Firestone Walker Pivo Pils, Red Stripe Jamaican Lager, Dos Equis Dark Lager or a Waldhaus Spezial Gold lager from Germany.

However, there are so many great wines available today for backyard BBQs and informal parties. Don’t be intimidated by those only tipping the smaller bottles. I know you have a favorite beer too but don’t be afraid to uncork a bottle of wine at a casual event. The party is a food event and that is exactly what wine is meant to enhance.

For those who only watch the game for the commercials, here are the 18 best Super Bowl beer commercials (VIDEO) as reposed by FoxNews.com.

If I haven’t convinced you to add wines to your beverage list, there are other options besides the classic Super Bowl beer list from the top two providers. You might check out BeerAdvocate’s Top 250 list. They list many of the most popular, thirst stopping and taste-bud numbing beers, including web sites and availability. Let me know which is on your list.

Read the Jan. 26, 2013, The Grape Tray reopens in Fresno’s Opus I Center to check out the latest post. For other blog entries, use the top menu bar to scroll through more Talesofthecork.com stories. Or start with one the past articles like Caliza Winery: Bowker turns horticultural focus into viticulture dream.

A time for change: Mike Sinor winemaker of the year, Part II

This blog continues to follow Mike Sinor’s transformation from Assistant winemaker to Byron and Domaine Alfred wineries in California’s Central Coast, to the director of winemaking at Ancient Peaks Winery. Please look for the first post in the series: Get to know 2012 Coast winemaker of the year: Mike Sinor

Sinor LaValle owner directs Ancient Peak Winery

“It was the lowest point in my life,” winemaker Mike Sinor said, after dealing with the deaths of family members in January 2006. “My head was all messed up. Yet even before my loss, I had already begun contemplating a change in work for both me and my family. I knew six months before [family deaths] a new challenge was needed. I believed my time with Terry Speizer [Domaine Alfred] was coming to an end, I just didn’t know it would happen so soon after my parents died. But despite what we were going through, I now knew it was time for me to explore another level of winemaking.”

Bernie Sinor on one of his hunting trips to Wyoming where he hunted big game (bison) in 2004.

Little did Sinor know at the time, but the 2012 Central Coast winemaker of the year, would have a 2006 spring to remember, even while mourning the loss of his father, Bernie Sinor and stepmother, Betty Ann.

“I needed to change positions because I could see Domaine Alfred was growing as we became successful, much the same way Byron Wines grew,” Sinor said. “Even before the 96-point score Wine Spectator gave the 2004 Domaine Alfred Pinot Noir [Califa Chamisal Vineyard], I needed a business opportunity. I was saying ‘no’ to a lot of jobs and wanted to do something right for my family. Yeah, it was crushing when my parents were killed and we endured a high level of personal pain. So Wine Spectator’s honor came at the lowest point in my life but I already had decided to leave. I knew there would never be a perfect time to change. And I know growth often comes through uncomfortableness. Terry understood I needed to leave. He’s a good friend and an entrepreneur himself.”

During the spring of 2006, when local proprietors and long-time wine growing families of Rob Rossi, Doug Filipponi and Karl Wittstrom approached Mike with a opportunity to be the director of winemaking at Ancient Peaks Winery, Sinor jumped at the chance to join them in May.

“I had never met these guys from the Santa Margarita Ranch, but from the start, it was a convergence of energies and focus,” Sinor said. “They had been reorganizing the operation at Santa Margarita starting in 2005 and it seemed a good fit. We became business partners rather than an employer/employee relationship. I wanted to have control over the winemaking process and they were comfortable with that. So, I said, ‘let’s start dating’ and we’ve been together ever since.”

Santa Margarita Ranch July 2012

Mike Sinor and I spent the day together at the historic Santa Margarita Ranch, just minutes north of San Luis Obispo, July 26. I wanted to find out why he had left promising positions at Domaine Alfred and Byron Wineries. The man who thrived on creating lasting relationships through his infectious attitude and positive, passionate energy, left sure-fire success for a restart winery. I wanted to find out why he had stayed on at Ancient Peaks Winery in Santa Margarita.

Mike Sinor left Domaine Alfred Winery after receiving an offer to be the director of winemaking at Ancient Peaks Winery in Santa Margarita. The Oyster Ridge Vineyard is in the foreground with the Santa Lucia Mountains providing the backdrop.

While we met briefly at the Ancient Peaks’ tasting room, Mike pulled out a large coffee table book, offering a pictorial and historical background of the ranch and Santa Margarita. I was moved by his attention to names, places, land formations and background of the region. His perspective was so impassioned, it was as if he had been born there. Mike then offered to take me up to the working winery and vineyards. I agreed and looked forward to the 17-mile drive up into the heart of the Santa Margarita Ranch, through pastures of Slender Wheatgrass, Purple Needlegrass and Danthonia Oatgrass.

Mike’s 20-minute version of Ancient Peaks Winery and its history included how Napa Valley’s Robert Mondavi Winery leased a section of the ranch in 1999 for six years. They developed and planted what has become known as Margarita Vineyard. Remarkably, it was the Mondavi family who saw immense potential in the land, and accurately predicted that its diverse soils and marine-influenced climate would deliver remarkable wines.

While the vineyards and winery are 17 miles away near the Margarita Vineyard, the Ancient Peaks tasting room is in Santa Margarita, one mile east of Highway 101.

Our conversation digressed to include how the Franciscan missionaries planted grapes on the ranch as early as 1780. In fact the ranch became part of Father Junipero Serra’s famed Mission Trail, culminating with the establishment of Santa Margarita de Cortona, a sub-mission of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, in 1787. This historic structure, known as the Asistencia, was converted to a barn but remains a centerpiece of the ranch.

Santa Margarita Ranch has survived since the 1840s; however, in 1889, then owner Patrick Murphy sold much of the town’s land to Southern Pacific Railroad in hopes of getting a rail stop. He hoped to move cattle from this sprawling ranch that surrounded Santa Margarita.

Mike Sinor: Super charged, relational winemaker

Mike started humming the tune to Smokey and the Bandit as we neared the winery, located near Creston. When I asked why, he smiled and said this project is just like the song indicated. “We are just old-time entrepreneurs working on a project by the seat of our pants.” I didn’t ask him if he fit the Burt Reynolds persona or Jerry Reed’s truck driver character. But I did get the gist of the metaphor: Sinor delivers–no, Sinor over delivers wine quality for the price point. I can still see the gleam in his eyes as he gripped the steering wheel and sang, “We gonna do what they say can’t be done.”

However, while we walked around the Ancient Peaks Winery, I remembered what Ken “Byron” Brown told me about Sinor: Mike was a good-humored, energetic, young winemaker while he worked at Byron Winery years earlier.

“Mike Sinor stands out as a super-charged, friend of all; every one likes him,” Brown said. “He takes time for relationships but not at the expense of his work. Mike is extra double energy. He brought excitement to the team and ignited everyone at Byron each day.”

During his winemaking career, Mike Sinor, right, worked with Tim Mondavi, left, and Ken “Byron” Brown while creating wines with Byron Winery.

As we walked by the 2011-filled barrels safely tucked away in the aging room, we got to talking about wine, Mike’s preferences and who he enjoys working with besides his partners at Ancients Peaks.

“Actually, I don’t drink a lot of Ancient Peaks wine at home,” Sinor said. “It’s a little like only eating your mom’s spaghetti. If I drink the wines I help create everyday, I won’t get better. Like Burgundy’s winemakers, I want to make wines as good as their grandparents. We don’t have a rich, long history and culture of winemaking like they do in France. So if I’m not improving my pallet, I’m losing.”

Sinor went on to say he chooses to enjoy friend’s wines and finds it refreshing to try different wines from around the world.

Since 2007, Mike Sinor has been the director of winemaking at Ancient Peaks Winery in Santa Margarita.

“For instance, I really like Broadside Wines Cabernet. It is made by winemakers Chris Brockway [Broc Cellars] and Brian Terrizzi [Giornata wines] who are very passionate about wine that is done well; their wines transmit place. In other words, their wines exhibit my mantra: ‘The message is the place; the messenger is the wine.'”

As we continued to walk the grounds of the winery, Mike showed me how Ancient Peaks has added buildings and updated the old Creston Manor and Vineyards that Jeopardy! game show host Alex Trebek used to farm. The latest addition was in spring of this year when extensions were added to the Margarita Vineyards.

Story is unfolding, evolving in vineyards

Our trip across the ranch ended when we stood on a rise overlooking the Oyster Ridge Vineyards. I marveled at Mike’s zeal as he spoke of the land, rich in fossils from an ancient sea bed, adjacent to vineyards planted in shale, sedimentary, volcanic and granite. Mike was spirited and had a fanaticism or fixation on soil that many in this country have for baseball or football. And when we stopped to walk the Oyster Ridge Vineyard, he held a football-sized, petrified crustacean like it was a trophy.

“These (oysters) are high in calcium and, when they are crushed or broken down, create a soil profile similar to those found in the world’s most prestigious grape growing regions.” Sinor beamed as he spoke and the pace of his voice quickened, rising in intensity while we moved from row to row.

The Ancient Peaks Oyster Ridge Vineyard soils include crushed and larger pieces of ancient, petrified crustaceans. The vineyard was a part of a large seabed millions of years ago.

He spoke about the legacy of environmental stewardship at Margarita Vineyard as if it was his own child. The vineyard advanced to “Sustainability in Practice (SIP),” and was certified by the Central Coast Vineyard Team in 2010.

“There still are places that are compelling to plant but I am still trying to figure out who we are and how to stay on target,” Sinor said. “We have five wines at Ancient Peaks and three White Label wines. And with the longest running ranching operations in California and new zip line business always demanding attention, I am determined to stay in constant watch to focus the winery’s goals to offer high wine quality for the price point.”

Wine Spectator agreed with Mike’s assertion and promoted Ancient Peaks as “Best of the West for $25 or less… 2009 Zinfandel, 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Merlot” in their April 2012 issue.

The 300-400 cases of Sinor-LaVallee [Mike Sinor’s personal label] wines are created from about 14 rows of fruit from the Talley-Rincon Vineyard in the Edna Valley.
I asked Mike how he ensured there was not a conflict of interest between his Sinor-LaVallee label and the Ancient Peaks wines he consulted on.

“I am working with about an acre of fruit from the Talley-Rincon Vineyard and the Sinor-LaVallee wines I make are not meant to compete with Ancient Peaks,” Sinor said. “I am working with 2-4 barrels of wine from 14 rows. Actually, the diversity of exposure is what makes my consulting for Ancient Peaks exciting. The time spent with both brands requires and puts into practice a balance of reading/studying, keeping me fresh. This is fun! I’m honored to do this. Do the math: I get to live at the beach.”

Mike Sinor is married to Cheri and they live in the Edna Valley with their two children: Tomas (12) and Esmee (10). All four of their thumb prints appear on every bottle of the family wine label. “By definition, I am an alcoholic,’ Sinor said, “but I mimic a healthy lifestyle to my children, showing them how to live responsibly.

“I look to enjoy and share my life wife my family and community in good and bad,” Sinor said. “We are born to suffer, grow to overcome suffering. I have my dad’s and previous winemaker’s work ethic. They inspired me and now I work with many of my heroes.”

Mike currently is the President of the San Luis Obispo Vintners Association and says he likes to volunteer his time in community events and organizations because “The wine business has given me everything I own. I owe it to wine.”

The Sinor-LaVallee wine label is named after Mike’s Spanish heritage and Cheri’s French last name. The Sinors appear here during their 2004 Burgundy trip and winery visits.

For more information on Ancient Peaks Winery and wines, visit Ancient Peaks Winery or Mike’s personal web site: Sinor-LaVallee Wines.

Dunbar Brewing: Santa Margarita’s neighborhood microbrewery

With a town of only 1,200 people, one would not expect a local brew pub to generate any kind of excitement. Dunbar Brewing has not only done that, but the college, and 20-something crowds from San Luis Obispo, have been making the 15-minute drive to Santa Margarita, Calif., for one-of-a-kind micro brewed beers for years.

Self-taught brewmaster, Chris Chambers, set up Dunbar Brewing in Santa Margarita in 2009. Despite the small town locale, the micro brewery successfully attracts patrons from all over the Central Coast.

Located about 11 miles north of San Luis Obispo’s California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) and 30 minutes south of Paso Robles, the tiny craft brewery is small in size, but big on taste.

Self-taught, Chris Chambers began his brewing career in Los Osos, the original Dunbar location founded in 1997, for three years. However, a six-year stint in the military probed him to think about settling down, and a dry town made the perfect landing spot.

Dunbar Brewing, only a mile off Hwy 101, is on Santa Margarita’s main street, El Camino Real, and also conveniently located across the street from the town’s newest attraction: Margarita Adventures: Zipline Canopy Tours.

“We came to Santa Margarita to become involved in a small community,” Chambers said, “and Dunbar is a neighborhood pub: a place for folks to meet and build community together.”

Chambers has done more than that. He bought a house with his wife, Lauren, and three girls, near the Irish-themed brewhouse, which reopened in 2009, and cycles to work every day.

Dunbar Brewing, while small, is set up for conversation. No loud music, plenty of table and bar space and Chris is eager to talk with patrons as if they were from the neighborhood.

“From the beginning, I wanted to become involved with community projects–to pour back money into the community who has given me so much,” Chambers said. “We became involved with the 4th of July Parade and helped build a basketball court in town. I love being involved as one of the ten local businesses in Santa Margarita.”

Chambers creates five different beers, plus seasonal creations, always having at least two varieties on tap each day: English Style Ale, Brown Porter, IPA, Scottish Heavy or Oatmeal Stout. In fact, a couple of years ago, he served the special Guinness T-250 anniversary stout in an Imperial Pint glass to celebrate the great Irish brewery. The news of Dunbar carrying the special stout at $5 per pint glass brought Guinness lovers to the brewery from as far south as San Diego and north from the Bay area.

Chambers creates five different beers, plus seasonal creations, always having at least two varieties on tap each day: English Style Ale, Brown Porter, IPA, Scottish Heavy or Oatmeal Stout.

On this occasion, I taste-tested his two beer on tap: Scottish Heavy and Oatmeal Stout. The Scottish Heavy was fantastic. The malt was earthy, peat-smoked flavor with a dry, crisp finish. And the Oatmeal Stout? Well, let me say, I love my oatmeal in the morning and I was blessed to drink oatmeal in the late afternoon. Chambers said he uses eight grains to provide texture but I definitely enjoyed its chocolate and coffee overtones. Plus his beers are on nitrogen taps. Like he told me on a previous visit, his beers are “smooth and silky,” much like the classic Irish brews.

While Chambers said he does not go out and try a lot of other craft brews on the U.S. market, he did say his last trip to Portland did result in a positive Oregon experience, giving a shout out to Burnside Brewery. Yet he remains strongly convinced and vocal about his microbrewery.

“No disrespect to anyone else out there, but I have the best beer… period.”

While creating craft beer from scratch is his passion, Chambers also made sure I made note that while his pub is small, it is a place people come to visit, talk and hang out without loud music.

Look for the Dunbar Brewing sandwich board on the left as you arrive in Santa Margarita, traveling east along El Camino Real from Hwy 101.

Of course, the music has also made its impact on the brewery. Johnny Cash is the only music playing over the speakers, but it’s a cash-only pub as well.

Dunbar Brewing has a Facebook page and is located in the same building as Ancient Peaks Winery. Dunbar Brewing is located at 22720 El Camino Real, Ste. A, Santa Margarita, CA. Call 805.704.9050 or dunbarbrewing@gmail.com for more information.

Chris Chambers can be found behind the counter at Dunbar Brewing 3-10 p.m. Wednesday through Thursdays; 1-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 1 to 9 p.m on Sundays. All 20-ounce pours are still only $5 and served in Imperial pint glasses. Growlers can be purchased for $45 and $20 for refills.

Dunbar Brewing is set up for locals and those traveling to take the local micro beer home in Growlers for $45 filled or $20 refill.

While a tavern at the other end of town now makes two Santa Margarita, CA beverage establishments, Chambers said a different kind of patron visits his local competition. Each has established a niche and there is plenty of room for both.

Please return for the next installment of TalesoftheCork: Part II of “Get to know 2012 Coast winemaker of the year: Mike Sinor,” August 9. (Note date change) Read as Mike overcame his great loss and accepted a new challenge at Ancient Peaks Winery in Santa Margarita, Calif. His wife, Cheri, and Mike still produce Sinor-LeVallee wines and continue to be leaders in the Edna Valley winemaking community.

For a past article, read Part I: Get to know 2012 Coast winemaker of the year: Mike Sinor.