When I started this blog four and a half years ago, I really did not have any “rules” per se, but over the years I have a few tenets that I try to follow. Fairly early on, I made the decision that I would not use “colorful verbiage” on the site. Why? Well, after years of coaching high school basketball and now having two boys of my own, I have spent the better part of two decades trying to clean up my language that was in desperate need of a severe scouring. There are times that I consider dropping a bomb for effect, but up to this point I have refrained.
Second, I try not to publish bad reviews of wine. I figure that there are so many good wines produced that there is really no reason to pan wines. I know that some out there disagree with that stance, but I would much rather publish what wines I think people should buy instead of those that they shouldn’t. So when I try a wine that I think, well, stinks, I just let it go and move on to the next.
Last, I try to avoid hyperbole: there are plenty of places where you can read about the best winemaker, the greatest wine, or the “most unique” story (by the way “most unique” is redundant–it is either “unique” or it is not), but I try to keep all that to a minimum. Wine appreciation, in my opinion, is exactly that, opinion.
So I understand that I am violating that last tenet when I say that Estate 1856 in Dry Creek Valley is likely the best affordable winery that you have never heard of. Although the vineyard was initially purchased in 1856 (hence the name), fifth-generation grower Brian Schmidt and winemaker Janice Schmidt have only been producing their own wine from the site since 2009. I visited the winery back in 2014 and was impressed with both with the wines and Janice’s passion for making them.
Although visiting the winery is at best difficult as currently there is no tasting room (getting approval to build a new tasting room in Dry Creek Valley is apparently slightly more difficult than sending a manned space trip to Mars), wine can be purchased directly from the Estate 1856 website.
Recently, I was asked to review their current releases, including a couple of exciting varietal wines, which were new to me.
2013 Estate 1856 Duvall’s Prospect Tzabaco Rancho Vineyard: Retail $40. 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Malbec. 12% Petit Verdot. I might be going out on a limb here, but I think Janice, the winemaker at Estate 1856, is at her best with Bordeaux blends, and this is the perfect example. Really impressive fruit–mostly blackberry with a dash of tobacco. This is really gangbusters, even a touch beyond, with luscious fruit, impressive balance, and a lingering finish. Bravo Janice, bravo. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2013 Estate 1856 Malbec Tzabaco Rancho Vineyards Sonoma County: Retail $36. If there were ever a brooding wine, this would be it. Dark. Really dark. Even opaque (I like that word). Fantastic blackberry, cassis, cedar, and clove: sounds like a fantastic combination, and it is. Whoa. The palate is slightly fruitier than the nose, but there is also even more intrigue: earth, depth, fruit intermingle as if they were all cousins at a Jewish wedding, lifting the chair to the sky. I knew before I opened this bottle that this was one of my favorite “secret” wineries in Dry Creek. Now I know it–this is fantastic and underscores my faith in Janice as a winemaker. This might be the best domestic Malbec I have had. Whoa. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2013 Estate 1856 Petit Verdot Tzabaco Rancho Vineyard: Retail $32. 98% PV, 2% Malbec. This is dark, not “it was a dark and stormy night” kinda dark, but more of a Stephen King bring your big-boy pants kinda dark. Big fruit: dark raspberry, blackberry, mocha a go-go. On the palate this is big. Not Tom Hanks kinda big but Cercei Lannister blows up the Great Sept of Baelor kind of big (that was a Game of Thrones reference there for the non-followers–yeah, I am a fan). This is the definition of dark and brooding, at least in color. On the palate, big fruit and plenty of mocha, this might get a holy cow! (Which is just short of a Whoa.) Big and bold, not for the faint of heart. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2013 Estate 1856 Zinfandel Tzabaco Rancho Vineyard: Retail $32. ABV: 14.8%. In the glass, this is one of the darker Zins I have tried in a while, but on the nose? This is a blueberry and blackberry cobbler with a dollop of vanilla ice cream on the side. On the palate, this is gangbusters, far from a “delicate” Zin: rich and unctuous, this is essentially a dessert wine without the sugar. Certainly big and luscious with plenty going on, but if you are a fan of big Zin, this is particularly well done. In fact, this is one of the few dry wines that I would consider serving with dessert, and I did just that at my last wine dinner in Philadelphia—and everyone loved it. I usually shy away from big Zins, but this approaches a Whoa. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.