Zinfandel: One Grape’s Journey | Part II

A 125-year-old Bedrock vineyard. | Lou Phillips

In my last column, we followed our grape protagonist from humble beginnings in Croatia to its excellent California adventure as the darling of immigrant winemakers (Read Part I at TheTahoeWeekly.com). We now reveal that until vine disease ravaged the state’s vineyards in the 1980s, Zinfandel was treated as a premium grape raised in the best vineyards and allowed to express its sophisticated side.

A variety of Zinfandel styles are now available that can dress for any occasion from a barbecue hootenanny hoedown to a formal dinner.

Lou Phillips

The last 20 years have seen a turn to huge crop loads and extreme ripeness in bargain versions. At highest quality levels, the past few years have seen a return to balanced but still bold versions featuring more dry wines with substantial profiles of spice and earthiness to complement the always outstanding fruit components. This means a variety of Zinfandel styles are now available that can dress for any occasion from a barbecue hootenanny hoedown to a formal dinner.

Read Part I.

Even the world’s Grand-Cru-level Zinfandels can be had for less than a $100 and many for much less. Comparing that to the stratospheric cost of top Cabernet Sauvignon indicates an opportunity for wine lovers to sample an exceptional wine experience at a relative bargain price. So if you can afford it, try one of the following or another top-tier bottle at least once.

Truly old vines. | Lou Phillips

As I wrote about in the last issue, Mauritson Wines’ bottling is not only an excellent Zinfandel with real complexity, structure and age ability, it is a taste of history coming from one of the oldest vineyards in California, crafted by the family that started the vineyard in the 1860s.

Larry Turley of Turley Wine Cellars is a true Zinfanatic. He sources grapes from 51 vineyards and counting. You will find many expressions represented here because Turley and director of winemaking Tegan Passalacqua believe in letting each site have its own voice with each and every vintage.

Robert Biale Vineyards from Napa Valley specializes in Zinfandel and one of its best is not only a gem, but a great story. The Black Chicken Zinfandel name originated during Prohibition when some wineries may have been making wines other than the allowed sacramental version. Biale could not discuss such alleged wines openly so whenever details need to be discussed he used the fowl code name. Trust me, the wine is as good as the backstory.

Joel Peterson of Once & Future and Morgan-Twain Peterson of Bedrock Wine Company source from multiple heritage vineyards statewide, but their home-site of the Bedrock Vineyard in Sonoma is a standout yearly.

Carol Shelton Wines based in Mendocino is another producer that sources from old-vine vineyards statewide. She has a magic touch with this grape and even her top-tier Zinfandels can be had for a song.

Stay tuned for Part III where I will dispense more Zinformation in the next edition or at TheTahoeWeekly.com.