A Wine That Offers A Little Bit S’mores

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - March 03, 2010
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Edmeades winemaker Van Williamson and friend

The food and wine industry is full of colorful, passionate characters. None is more dedicated to the art of creating memorable wines than Van Williamson. He’s the head winemaker at Edmeades, but he’s much more than the talking head of a huge corporate winery. He defines passion in wine-making, and talking to him is refreshing, inspiring - and best done over a glass or two of beautiful wine.

Williamson will be in town March 25 for a wine dinner at d.k Steak House, but instead of telling you about the gorgeous menu that executive chef Jason Miyasaki has created, or the exquisite Zinfandels that will be poured, I thought you might get a better sense of Williamson - and his Zinfandel - if I shared his answer to a question I asked him.

He has an intense and, at times, joyful demeanor, and when he talks about farming and winemaking he gushes and enthuses, and barely pauses for breath. It’s both charming and engaging, and you hang on to every word for fear of missing something you’ve never heard before.


So, here’s Williamson, one of the world’s great Zinfandel makers, on why he loves the grape and what he hopes you taste when you open his wines:

“I picked it early on as one of my favorites because it’s our (California’s) varietal. Nowhere on earth do they make a wine that compares to our Zinfandels.

When you take it to Italy, it creates such excitement because the Italians don’t really have anything big like Zin.

“I like ‘em to taste like a raspberry chocolate-covered s’mores. The Mendocino Zinfandel is more black cherries, raspberries and strawberries, so I guess now you have black cherry-covered s’mores.

“Our wines are like being around a campfire - if you want to try to taste all the flavors in Zinfandel, you should think about camping first. I know you all camp around the beach here in Hawaii, but you’ve gotta take it to the forest; you need the smell of the pine, the earthiness, the mushrooms, the thick forest floor - I like that to be in there with minerals - and then there’s the campfire and the smokiness, and the marshmallows, too. You know when you roast the marshmallows you get that brown toastiness and that vanilla flavor comes through? That’s the flavor that I want in there - that marshmallow taste comes from the oak barrels that are used in winemaking ... and the Graham cracker taste is in the barrel flavor, too. The barrels all give that Graham cracker sweetness and toastiness. And the black cherries and the chocolate are in there because we sur lie (age) all of our Zinfandels - and the yeast converts the sugar to alcohol, and they sit there, and that’s how you get that kind of creamy white chocolate character in red wine. With white wine you get that buttery oakiness because you stir those lees, like in a Chardonnay, but in red wine you don’t stir the lees, so you get little white chocolate undertones.

“If you can open a bottle and taste all of those things, and have a s’mores, then that should be what a Zinfandel tastes like.”

I think of that description every time I open a bottle of Edmeades Zinfandel and pour a glass. I hope it makes you want to have one, too.

To make reservations for the March 25 dinner and to meet Van Williamson, call 931-6280.

Happy eating!

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