I was recently lucky enough to be invited to sit in the presence of wine royalty. Joel Peterson, the founder and driving force behind Ravenswood Winery, hosted an intimate wine dinner where he poured and discussed his single vineyard designate wines. What a treat!
Ravenswood is a formidable force in the zin world, and Peterson is one of the few men that can be called the Godfather of Zinfandel. In the early 70s, he challenged the going jug wine mentality and tried to create wines that tasted of the place and rivaled European wines. Single vineyard designates aer Joel’s passion, where you can work with small lots reflective of the European heritage of winemaking. Zinfandel is still somewhat of a mystery in terms of growing and manipulating, and experiments with Native yeast, open top fermentation and oak treatments have yielded some beautiful examples.
Most of these wines have very little manipulation, and are reflective of their terroir. These wines allow the land to speak for them selves.. Zinfnadel is one of the few wines that is very unique to the area it is grown, and might be the most indicative varietal of terroir in the U.S. there aer so many regions that produce zin, and each region is different in terms of sytle and flavor profile. If you further refine that to vineyard blocks, you can start to see how the wine takes on the earth it is grown in. The wide ranges of climate and terroir produces a higher quality over a wider growing region than any other varietal.
Over the course of the evening, we tasted 9 wines, paired with delicious foods from Spruce. I wish I had saved a bit of each wine to taste with the food, but it was all so tasty! Each vineyard has it’s own character, and each is from a different corner of Napa and Sonoma.
2007 Dickerson – 1000 cases of this single vineyard were made of this 100% zin from Napa valley. I found it light and bright, with juicy raspberry and hibiscus flavors. I also found apple jolly rancher, with a tiny touch of evergreen. This vineyard had an issue with leaf roll virus, which caused the grapes to have high acid and low sugar levels, somewhat mimicking the coastal environment of other vineyards. The second taste I took of this showed black cherry and bosenberry. My favorite sneaky little tidbit about this wine, is that the same wine, bottled under a different label, actually received different scores by certain influential critics. How’s THAT for marketing! This vineyard is located in Napa Valley, and was planted in sections between 1930 and 1985. It is a classic example of an old, dry-farmed and head pruned example of Zinfandel in a valley dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. $35 This was the first zin of the flight and I would definitely BUY.
2007 Big River – also 100% zin, this vineyard was planted somewhere around 1880. I tasted cracked pepper, dusty plums and blackberries, with a touch of bark and dark spice. Joel thinks this wine displays the essence of what zin is. It is due east of Healdsburg, and at the time fo the planting 100% zin vineyards were exceedingly rare. Typically, fields were planted with the old Italian varietals in field blends, but this land was special. It’s currently owned by Bella, who also makes a wonderful Big River zin, and it was formerly known as black Mountain. The second taste gave me figs, blackberries, pepper and dark blue fruit, with a slightly hot finish. Big River is in the Alexander Valley, where many old stalwarts of Sonoma County zinfandel thrive. Inland from the cool coastal regions where Pinot is king, Big River thrives with rich ripe flavors that are well balanced and not overpowering. The soil is full of cobblestones and volcanic nutrients, and is influenced by the cool fog and the hot summer sun. This was one of my favorites of the night, and is a STRONG BUY at $35.
2007 Belloni – another old planting, in the true field blend style. Patches of Carignang, alicante, Greanche, Petite Alicate, and zin produce this dark bruiser with blackberry juice, leather, anise, and baking spices. Thsi is a wine to chew on. The second taste revealed figs, more cloves adn spice, as well as some tobacco. The Belloni vineyard is on the edge of Santa Rosa, and was planted around the turn of the century. The 90 year old vines thrive in the cool foggy Russian River climate, adn the classic field blend componants of Carignane, Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouschet were mixed in to create a great blend that is fermented together creating a complex zinfandel based wine, with layers of red fruit flavor from the other players. This was a complex wine that was much better with a food pairing to bring out the earthy leather and chewy characteristics. I would BUY this again if I saw it, but there were others I liked more.
2007 Barricia – was planted in 1888 and became a vineyard designate wine in 1996. This may very well be one of the oldest continuously planted zinfandel vineyards in America and the wine is quite an interesting little number. Dark spcies, plumes, stewed prunes, and a slightly tannic backbone were very well integrated. This wasn’t my favorite of the flight but still a very well balanced wine that went well with the pork loin I was eating. The Bariccia Vineyard is named for partners Barbara and Patriicia, which also means wine barrel in Spanish. The vineyard is planted on alluvial depositsa nd volicanic soil which washes down fromt eh moutains surrounding the vineyards. 100-year old vines were planted in 1892, while later plantings of zin were planted in 1995 accompanied by Petite Sirah in 1998. The complexitiy of this wine did not taste like a classic zin, and really opens your eyes to the possibilities of terroir. It was subtle and interesting, and worth a BUY for $35.
Old Hill (1995) – This older vintage was a fun wine to taste, with a firm structure and dark fruit. There was a tocuh of lavender, bright raspberry and chocolate as well. the most interesting thing about this wine that i found was a dusting of chili pepper in the palate. The Old Hill is technically a zinfandel, but it has at least 13 other vaireies in it, making it a bit of a mutt and very old school in style. The second taste brought more smoke and dirty forward, with a lot of cocoa powerder adn cinnamon followed but a touch of vanilla inflused coffee. The Old Hill Ranch was ressurected in 1981, when the land was abandoned and overrun with brush and blackberries. A determiend farmer ignored conventional wisdom and chemicals, and clearned the land the old fashioned way, stumulating the vines back to life. The Sonoma Valley vineyard was planted in 1880, makingit the oldest vineyard that Ravenswood uses. the clay loam is planted once again, with the classic Italian field belnd of Zinfandel, Carigninae, Mataro (Mouvedre), Grenache, Alicante Bouchet, Petite Sirah and who knows what else, giving the resulting wine a complex flavor. I LOVED this library selection, which proves that you absolutely CAN age a zinfandel if it has the structure and strength to do so.
As a point of comparison, we also tried the 2007 Old Hill. This was big and bold, with a log of spcie. I also tasted the essecne of violets and roses, followed by raspberries. It has the classic blackberry notes, and grows in intensity as you leave it in the glass. I enjoyed this wine, as the others, but it wasn’t my favorite of the night. $60
2007 Teldesci – This vineyard has been farmed continously by the same family since 1910, in the heart of zinfandel country, Dry Creek Valley. There is something to be said for farming continuously for that long, especially in an environment where family farms often change hands or break in to pieces. This zin was dark adn robust, with dusty red pepper (spicy) and black raspberry. The Dry Creek benchland gives it a coffee and molasses flavor that on Decanter Magazines best red wine in America award. 22% Petite Sirah and 2% Carignane are fermented seperately, and then blended to create teh final wine, which varies slightly every year, depending on the fruit. $35 STRONG BUY
The moral this zinfandel story is that you can find everything from A to Z in this wine. Zinfandel CAN be aged well, and develop fascinating characteristics. There is more to zinfandel than jammy overblown examples that are a dime a dozen. Go out and look for some single vineyard designagtes and perform an experiment in taste sensations!
*Wine and food provided by Ravenswood Winery and Folsom & Associates marketing.