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Entries in Ancient Peaks (3)

Friday
Jan242014

Thoughts From ZAP: Surprisingly Fresh!

"The 2011 Zins are much better than I thought they were going to be," reports K&L's Bryan Brick after this week's marathon Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) tasting in Alameda, CA.

By: Bryan Brick | K&L Domestic Wine Buyer

Yesterday marked one of the most physically difficult wine tastings in the business: The ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) tasting. Just think about tasting dozens of Zinfandels, some dry and others not so much, some with superb balance and some with blaring alcohol levels, and I think you’ll sympathize with the way my mouth feels today. The tasting was held at Rock Wall Winery in Alameda, a wonderful location for a tasting of this size and scope. This year the powers that be separated the trade portion of ZAP from the public tasting, which really helped myself and my co-worker Jim Boyce to get a lot done in a short period of time. With many fewer tasters, we were able to taste much more wine this year than in years past and speak more to the principals of the wineries about their respective wines. Plus, there were a lot fewer drunk people falling down and breaking glasses, or themselves--which was nice.

What I very quickly learned is that the 2011 Zins are much better than I thought they were going to be. Most of you know, or maybe have heard rumblings that 2011 is already a bit maligned. It was cold, sugar levels never hit the numbers that California has become accustomed to, yields were small if not downright scary, with people running numbers around 30-60% down from an average vintage. So I was a bit hesitant. That went away quickly when I started tasting the wines. I found the vintage to be energetic, drinkable and full of personality. ABV levels are down; flavor, balance and structure are up. The sad part is that there just isn’t going to be a lot of this wine to go around. But as these wines begin to roll out, I’d highly recommend adding some to your cellar or everyday drinking rotations.

Here are some highlights of our fave 2011s, as well as wines from other vintages, with brief descriptions from the tasting yesterday. I’ve added hyperlinks to the wines we currently have in stock. The others probably won’t be far behind.

2011 Ancient Peaks Zin: Top Value!2011 Ancient Peaks Paso Robles Zinfandel ($13.99) A refresher course, as we've had this wine in stock for a month or so, but it really held up in the context of all these Zins. It's truly one of the best values out there in the world of Zin.

2011 ANDIS “Estate” Amador County An intriguing new winery that is making a bigger style of Zin but with rarely seen balance from the area.

The 2012 Bedrock "Old Vine" Zin is from some of the oldest and most interesting vineyards in the Sonoma Valley.2012 Bedrock Wine Company "Old Vine" Sonoma Valley Zinfandel ($24.99) This wine is from some of the oldest and most interesting vineyards in Sonoma Valley. Tcomplex nature and concentration of that fruit shows through here in spades. Another tremendous value in Zin.

2012 Bedrock "Evangelho Vineyard Heritage Wine" Contra Costa Red Blend ($32.99) These vines are planted in river delta sands on their own roots and were planted in the 1890s. A field blend of Carignane, Mourvedre, Zinfandel, Palomino, Alicante and Mission, this was one of my personal faves of the tasting. Electric, vivacious fruit with zingy acid and great old vine spice this is not to be missed

2012 Bedrock "Lorenzo's Heirloom" Sonoma Valley Red Blend ($41.99) Just the fact that Bedrock has three wines on this list should tell you everything you need to know. This is  Zinfandel, Carignane, Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, Cinsualt, Valdigue and a few “odds and ends.” Powerful, brooding, dark and spicy, this inky beast has all the elements to be a masterpiece in a decade or more.

2011 Bella “Hills and Benches” Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel A lovely interplay between the spicy/peppery side of Zin and the more confectionery/cocoa-driven side of the varietal.

2011 Bella “Lily Hill Estate” Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel The 2010 version of this wine was one of my top wines from last year’s tasting, so I was excited to taste the 2011. There is something about this site that adds a super charming floral lace to the wine. It’s something akin to lavender or lilac. Add a bunch of cocoa powder and dried blueberry and this is delicious.

2011 Dashe “Florence Vineyard” Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel Maybe the biggest surprise of the tasting. Not because I don’t generally like the wines--I usually love them--but this just floored me with its energy, sexiness, bursting aromatics and strawberry fruit. I wanted to drink this by the bottle.

2009 D Cubed Howell Mountain Zinfandel ($32.99) This wine was out for a while but in no way does that diminish its deliciousness. In fact, the extra bottle time may add to it. Super tangy with tons of blueberry and crushed stone, this shows the tannic structure of Howell Mountain.

2012 Easton Amador County Zinfandel ($14.99) Another front runner for the value of the tasting. Pitchy red fruits with a touch more ripeness than usual and the mineral-driven undercurrent I’ve come to expect from this inexpensive stunner.

2010 Easton “E” Fiddletown Zinfandel Certainly the best “E” bottling I’ve seen from them. I loved the unflinching iron/bloody aspect of this Zin. A true old-school Gold Country Zin.

2011 Hendry “Blocks 7&22” Napa Valley Zinfandel This just garnered a huge score by a respected wine mag and I can see why. Like a melted wild berry cobbler with a scoop of chocolate ice cream, but somehow never coming off close to sweet.

2011 Mike & Molly Hendry “R.W. Moore Vineyard” Napa Valley Zinfandel We loved the 2010 last year at ZAP and this year may be even better. Deep and earthy with warm, sunny earth and perfectly ripe, briary black fruits. Some may know this as a vineyard that Biale works with but Mike Hendry farms the vineyard for them.

2011 Limerick Lane Russian River Valley Zinfandel ($29.99) We love what the Bilbro brothers have been doing since they purchased this winery a couple of years back. Now that we are in the 2011s, the wines are the first they’ve made from beginning to end. Big, boisterous Zins with more soul than James Brown.

2011 Limerick Lane “1910 Block” Russian River Valley Zinfandel From the oldest block planted at their estate, this Zin may have won the award for the most intense Zin of the day. Long, drawn out and powerful this is still a baby but it floored us. “Amazing” is one of the descriptors I wrote in my notes.

2011 Sobon Estate “Cougar Hill” Amador County Zinfandel ($13.99) Value city! Every year Sobon Estate rocks something that just wildly over-delivers on its asking price. This year it is the Cougar Hill with its unabashed ripeness, cherry cola fruit and a lifting sensation. I don’t remember the Coug being this good.

2011 Troon “Estate” Applegate Valley Zinfandel Maybe the most eye-opening wine of the day. This southern Oregon Zin held its own with classiness and elegance. From vines planted in 1972, this wine is all about balance. Very open and engaging

Thursday
Jul142011

Wine of the Week: 2009 Ancient Peaks Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon ($12.99)

Ancient Peaks is a small family-owned estate winery that produces wine from a single site, the Margarita Vineyard, which was first planted to vines by the Franciscan missionaries in 1774. Situated in the Santa Lucia Mountain Range near the San Luis Obispo border, 14 miles from the ocean, the Margarita Vineyard is the most southerly site within the Paso Robles appellation, where it enjoys a cooler climate and longer growing season than its neighbors to the north. The climate factor, combined with the unique and varying soil types of the Margarita Vineyard, result in the ability of Ancient Peaks to stand out in Paso as producers of terroir-drive wines wines with great balance and finesse...   

Read our recent interview with Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins of the Ancient Peaks Family here, or simply enjoy their incredibly affordable Cab, this week's Wine of the Week.

This Cab from the Margarita Vineyard in Santa Margarita, California belies its modest price, and is perfect for everyday drinking. Cocoa powder, black olives, graphite, cherry and currant aromas define the nose. On the palate, the black currant is spiked with vanilla bean and anise seed, all framed by supple tannins and good acidity.

Wednesday
Jul132011

Behind the Wine: The Ancient Peaks Family

Ancient Peaks is one of the featured wineries in the Paso Robles Wine Alliance Tastings coming up at K&L SF and RWC this week on Thursday 7/14 and Friday 7/15 respectively. 

Go to our event pages on Facebook and KLWines.com for more details!

    Above, Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins is pictured with the rest of the Ancient Peaks "family", which is actually three families: the Filipponis, Rossis, and Wittstroms.

Ancient Peaks is a small family-owned estate winery that produces wine from a single site, the Margarita Vineyard, which was first planted to vines by the Franciscan missionaries in 1774. Situated in the Santa Lucia Mountain Range near the San Luis Obispo border, 14 miles from the ocean, the Margarita Vineyard is the most southerly site within the Paso Robles appellation, where it enjoys a cooler climate and longer growing season than its neighbors to the north. The climate factor, combined with the unique and varying soil types of the Margarita Vineyard, result in the ability of Ancient Peaks to stand out in Paso as producers of terroir-drive wines wines with great balance and finesse.   

In this interview below, Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins of the Ancient Peaks family shares with us a little Ancient Peaks, as well as details regarding the unique terroir of the Margarita Vineyard and wine pairing advice. Read on: 


Q&A with Amada Wittstrom-Higgins of Ancient Peaks

How did Ancient Peaks get started? What is your role?

Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins (above). "We're a fairly small family winery, so we all wear a lot of hats." Image courtesy of Ancient Peaks.The winery is owned by three families-the Filipponis, Rossis, and Wittstroms. We are longtime friends, and we had owned Santa Margarita Ranch and Margarita Vineyard for more than five years prior to launching Ancient Peaks. We initially sold all of the fruit from Margarita Vineyard, and we could taste what other winemakers were accomplishing with it. It was pretty obvious that this was a special vineyard, and that is what inspired us to become vintners as well as winegrowers. We knew that we could cherry-pick our favorite blocks, take the fruit from ground to glass, and make some really distinctive wines with a strong sense of place.

My main role is to manage the national distribution and direct sales of Ancient Peaks wines. I also oversee our marketing initiatives, which include advertising, media relations and special events, as well as the Ancient Peaks tasting room. We're a fairly small family winery, so we all wear a lot of hats. 

Describe the Ancient Peaks winemaking philosophy.

For us, it comes down to three core winemaking values: ensuring that the unique character of the vineyard is vividly expressed in the wine; preserving and honoring true varietal character in each wine; and achieving natural quality without a reliance on heavy-handed winemaking techniques. 

"Our winemaker, Mike Sinor, takes great care to nurture the vineyard's pure fruit character throughout the winemaking process," says Amanda. "All of these things help us capture that strong sense of place and varietal character in the wines." Image courtesy of Ancient Peaks.Each of these values goes hand in hand. Because we grow our own fruit, we are able to control all facets of the winegrowing process, and that includes being dedicated to sustainable farming practices. Margarita Vineyard is also quite diverse, with five different soil zones and numerous microclimates. This enables us to mix and match different blocks to build natural dimension and complexity into the wine. Also, our winemaker, Mike Sinor, takes great care to nurture the vineyard's pure fruit character throughout the winemaking process. All of these things help us capture that strong sense of place and varietal character in the wines.

Where is the Margarita Vineyard situated and what makes the terroir unique?

Margarita Vineyard is tucked into the Santa Lucia Mountain Range outside the town of Santa Margarita, approximately 22 miles south of the City of Paso Robles and just 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

When you come out to the vineyard, you immediately see why we chose the name Ancient Peaks for our winery. The mountain range towers over the vines along the western flank of the ranch. These mountains were created by the collision of the coastal plates, which also blessed us with a rare diversity of soils. There are five distinct soil zones at Margarita Vineyard-ancient sea bed, sedimentary, shale, volcanic and granitic. Each soil type brings its own nuance to the resulting wines. The most dramatic soil is found in a block that we call Oyster Ridge, where large white oyster fossils are literally spilling out of the ground.

Climate is another major factor that shapes our wines. The vineyard sits atop the Cuesta Grade, which is the natural border between the cooler conditions in San Luis Obispo to the south and the heart of Paso Robles to the north. We're right on the fogline. 

Margarita Vineyard encompasses five distinct geologic zones with varying soil types composed of the following profiles: granitic, volcanic, sedimentary, shale, and ancient sea bed. The most unique soil profile is found along the Oyster Ridge block, where the calcium-rich soil is full of petrified oyster shells (above). Image courtesy of Ancient Peaks. In the summer, it's not uncommon to see thick fog swirling along the top of the peaks, and that cooling effect extends the growing season, bringing added depth and balance to the fruit.

What are some of the challenges of producing wine in Paso Robles? Are there any special practices you employ at Ancient Peaks to overcome them?

If you travel around the entire Paso Robles AVA, you will discover a range of growing conditions. Margarita Vineyard occupies one of the coolest growing environments in the AVA. So our primary challenge is ensuring that our fruit gets sufficiently ripe-which is something you rarely hear in Paso Robles!

With later-ripening varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, we sometimes find ourselves on what we call "the edge of ripeness." That's actually right where we like to be, because it typically yields fruit with fine balance and varietal character.

During later harvests, however, it can be a bit stressful, especially if bad weather is looming. For this reason, in cooler years, we often take proactive measures, such as reducing crop loads and manipulating the vine canopies, all in an effort to make sure that the fruit that's left has the best chance to get sufficiently ripe. We are very meticulous in the vineyard, but sometimes we just have to go with our gut when it comes to deciding when to pick.

What's your position on wine-pairing and what do you like to pair Ancient Peaks wines with?

Amanda suggest The 2009 Ancient Peaks Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon ($12.99) with an herb-rubbed filet mignon. This incredible deal in California Cabernet is in stock now on KLWines.comI think it's more about "guidelines" than "rules." Yes, there are some tried-and-true combinations with certain dishes and specific varietals. But that shouldn't stop you from being adventurous and creative, either. We make a few blends that are non-traditional in composition. They break the rules. So there can't be any rules when it comes to pairing them with food, either.

I'm probably most partial to pairing our wines with a variety of beef dishes, since we are cattle ranchers as well as winemakers. A couple of favorites are Ancient Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon with herb-rubbed filet mignon, and Ancient Peaks Zinfandel with classic Santa Maria-style tri-tip.

What advice do you have to offer people interested in learning more about Ancient Peaks and the wines of Paso Robles?

Come on down! The best way to learn more about Paso Robles is to hit the road and visit the wineries, and taste why our wines are getting so much recognition. You'll also discover that Paso Robles can't be easily generalized or categorized. The terrain is diverse, and the local winemaking community is creative and unafraid to take chances. Most of our wineries are family owned, too. It may sound like a cliché, but it's also true, and it's a big part of the welcoming culture of our wine country.

Our tasting room is in Santa Margarita, a small historic town between Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo, right off Highway 101. Here, you can taste all of our current releases, including our limited-edition White Label bottlings. We also offer vineyard and ranch tours by appointment on the first and third Saturdays of the month-there's no better way to learn about our wines than to experience Margarita Vineyard and see the soils that make it so special.

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TASTE AND SHOP ANCIENT PEAKS WINES THIS WEEK AT K&L!

What: Paso Robles Wine Alliance Tastings at K&L

When: 5pm-6:30pm Thursday 7/14 in San Francisco and Friday 7/15 in Redwood City

Where: K&L SF and K&L RWC

Details:  on facebook  on KLWines.com

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SHOP

Buy Ancient Peaks Wines now on KLWines.com