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Since Zinfandel's heyday in the mid-to-late 90s, the rich, bold, and hedonistic flavors have been dialed back; elegance, restraint, and balance have come to the forefront as a result of producers' focus on old-vine sites and better farming practices. This e-mail focuses on several Zinfandels we recommend for the upcoming winter months.
Morgan Twain-Peterson literally grew up around old-vine Zinfandel. His father was Joel Peterson, the founder of Ravenswood Winery, which specialized in Zinfandel produced from some of the oldest vineyards in California. After studying American history at Vassar for undergrad and then at Columbia for grad school, he returned to his roots in Sonoma and started Bedrock Wine Co. in 2007. Partnering with friend Chris Cottrell (who also moved from New York to California), the company's mission has been to seek out and make wine from low-yielding, historic vineyards (planted in the late 1800s or early 1900s) throughout California, including Sonoma Valley but also in Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, Lodi, and Contra Costa.
Although Ridge Vineyards became internationally famous for their iconic Monte Bello Cabernet, their range of Zinfandels are some of the most consistently excellent and elegant examples of this variety. Ridge Geyserville (whose vines are located on the western edge of Alexander Valley in Sonoma County) is not only a traditional field blend of Zinfandel and complementary varieties (Carignane, Petite Sirah, and Mataro), but also home to the oldest vines Ridge farms (some are more than 130 years old!).
Day is Ehren Jordan's new Zinfandel project. One could say this a return to form, as he had previously worked at Turley Wine Cellars (also well noted for their Zins). Ehren is pursuing a terroir and vineyard driven expression of Zinfandel inspired by the unique climate and geology of Sonoma County in addition to the grape's importance in the region's winemaking history.
Michael and Anne Dashe at Dashe Cellars focus on producing exceptional, single-vineyard wines using small-lot and native yeast fermentation; over the past 20 years, they've partnered with their growers in Sonoma and Mendocino counties to lower yields and reduce or eliminate the use of chemicals in the vineyards.
Last but not least, Lore Olds' inaugural vintage at Sky Vineyards was in 1981, but he has been working in Napa Valley since the early 1970's. While working at Beaulieu Vineyards and Mayacamas, he recognized the potential of Mt. Veeder's volcanic soil, warm days, and fog-chilled nights. Lore found a piece of property on the mountain, cleared the land, and planted Zinfandel and Syrah grapes. Later he incorporated cover crops, dry farming, and organic fertilizers in the estate's viticultural practices.
Winter puts me in the mood for full-bodied red wines like Zinfandel. Like toasty fireplaces, their robust flavors warm up the body and are perfect to meditate over while enjoying the company of friends and family. We're excited to offer these wines today: enjoy a glass with beef stew, aged cheddar or gouda, or on its own while wrapped up in warm sweater! Jonas Mendoza
Sky Vineyards has been producing estate-grown and estate-bottled Zinfandel since the late 1970s, but hasn't yet achieved the reputation of other Zinfandel producers like Ridge and Turley. This is a mistake in my not-so-humble opinion. The vineyard's volcanic soil and high altitude along with its warm days and fog-chilled nights produce Zinfandels with great finesse, elegance, poise, and length. There's a panoply of flavors that radiate on the palate: black cherry skin, brambly fruit, pomegrante, steeped tea, dried herbs, garrigue, and black pepper. This wine won't clobber you over the head, but it's quite lithe and sapid with generous dark fruit balanced by earthiness and savoriness. Jonas Mendoza
The lift and energy of Bedrock's 2014 bottlings is contagious, with the "basic" Old Vines Zinfandel leading the pack. We're happy to offer the last of this fresh and delicious vintage at an excellent price today. The Old Vines bottling is a blend of primarily Zinfandel, with assorted heirloom varieties present in Bedrock's all-star heritage vineyard sources from all around northern California. Aromas of sweet red berries and black raspberry bramble with blue flowers, pink pepercorn, and a touch of new French oak (12%), with a bright bolt of acidity and starchy young tannins racing through the palate of smashed black and purple berries and sweet purple plums, laced with black tea, cherry cola, graphite, lavender, and mineral soil. This is a steal! Ariana Rolich
Amador County's Esola Vineyard (formally know as Sherman's Gold) was the source for Ridge Vineyard's Shenendoah Zinfandel in the 70's and 80's. This is powerful and robust Zinfandel with ripe black cherry, blueberry, dark chocolate, and black pepper and nutmeg flavors. Suitable for a rich Porterhouse steak or pair with a medium-sized cigar. Jonas Mendoza
Bedrock Vineyard is one of the most important historical plots of land in Sonoma Valley. Founded in 1854 by General William “Tecumseh” Sherman and General “Fightin’ Joe” Hooker, Bedrock Vineyard has grown grapes for over 150 years. Following the first epidemic of phylloxera in the mid-1880’s, the vineyard was replanted in 1888 by Senator George Hearst — a mining magnate — and father of publisher William Randolph Hearst. The fruit density of these very old vines shows through with bright acidity and finely structured tannins on the finish. Jonas Mendoza
Geyserville is Ridge's oldest vineyard, originally planted in 1892 on river rock, shale, and gravel to Zinfandel a supporting cast of usual heirloom suspects, including Carignan, Petite Sirah and Mataro (Mourvedre). Ridge has bottled a Geyserville vineyard designate wine every year since 1966 - this is a historic site and wine. The 2014 is effusively aromatic, with rich black fruits and wild berry bramble, deep and dark earth, notes of spicy oak, and a trademark crunchy mineral core that lasts through the long, elegant finish. A stately, serious, and impressive Zin. Ariana Rolich
After leaving Turley Wine Cellars in 2013, Ehren Jordan focused full-time on Failla, his winery centered around producing pure expressions of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah (not to mention an incubator for many talented young winemakers). Jordan has returned to his deep Zinfandel roots with Day. 2015 is the first vintage, from choice Zinfandel vineyards around Sonoma County, full and generous, with effusive, exotic aromas of incense and peppercorns, which infuse the gracious palate of floral wild berry fruit supported by layers of bramble, spice, and bright acidity. Ariana Rolich
Dark, complex, mouthfilling, and rich, this Zinfandel is a classic example of why the Dry Creek Valley is so famous for intense Zinfandels. The price point is very compelling for a wine that delivers all of the spice and fruit that we associate with the region. We are always impressed with the balance that Michael Dashe achieves in his wines and suspect that he coaxes added complexity out of native yeast ferments and months in used barrels. Buy now and be the hero at your next barbecue.
The Zinfandel comes from a 2-acre parcel named Dot’s Garden in Russian Valley, which contains some the original vines from the late 1800s. Aged in neutral oak for 14 months, the wine has notes of dried black cherry, candied orange peel, licorice root, and red flowers; on the palate, the Zinfandel considerably opens up with flavors of blue fruits (blueberry, boysenberry), blackberry, freshly tilled earth, and dried herbs. A supple and mouthfilling wine that's perfect for a wintry December evening by the fire. Jonas Mendoza