A few weeks ago, I was asked to write an article about the legendary vineyards in Paso Robles for the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP), an organization whose mission is to promote Zinfandel and educate consumers about America’s “Heritage Grape.”
As I set up interviews with various growers and winemakers, I received a few bottles of Zin from various producers in Paso Robles. These were not your run-of-the-winery Zinfandels that occupy the lower and middle shelves of your local grocery store. No, these were all small production, wine club only type of wines, that I tasted with unbridled glee while writing the article.
If you have not yet ventured over to the ZAP website (zinfandel.org), I encourage you to do so since, well, it might make me look good (and I need all the help I can get in that department).
2018 J. Dusi Zinfandel Dante Dusi Vineyard, Paso Robles, CA: I first visited the Dusi Ranch several years ago but at the time, I really did not “get it.” Sure, the vineyard was chockful of really old gnarly vines, but my exposure to upper-end Zinfandel was limited at best. In my defense, it was early (before 9:00 a.m.) when I arrived at the Dante Dusi Ranch, planted in the mid-1940s, and it was already hot–not ideal circumstances to taste Zinfandel. I did meet owner/winemaker, Janell Dusi, the granddaughter of Dante and I got the chance to speak to her again for the ZAP article. This wine is a beautiful contrast: Rich fruit, spice, and a bit of heat (15.9%) on the nose with plenty of fruit, intrigue, and verve on the palate. This is not a boisterous Zin, but it is not shy either. This wine seems to celebrate both aspects of California’s Heritage Variety: fruity, big, bold, but also fragrant, balanced, and even bashful. Fantastic. Excellent to Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2017 Peachy Canyon Zinfandel Mustard Creek, Paso Robles, CA: Retail $35. While I am not sure that the Mustard Creek Vineyard is “legendary” any tale of Paso Zinfandel has to include Peachy Canyon, which is a family-owned operation, founded in the late 1980s. Dark and brooding in the glass with oodles of fruit, clove, and black pepper. The palate is high-octane fruit, really robust, all about the juice. There is a bit of intrigue on the mid-palate, but make no mistake: this is a fruit-driven wine. Very Good to Excellent. 88-90 Points.
2018 Ridge Zinfandel Benito Dusi Ranch Paso Robles, CA: Retail $40. There are certainly older vineyards in Paso Robles (see below), but perhaps the most iconic in the AVA is the Benito Dusi Ranch, planted in the mid-1920s. When Dave Bennion, the founder of Ridge Vineyards, started buying fruit from the vineyard in the late 1960s for their Paso Robles Zinfandel, the vineyard was recognized as one of the premier spots in the state for the variety. Today, Ridge purchases practically all the fruit from the vineyard (Janell Dusi, of J Dusi wines, gets some fruit though, I am pretty sure she has an in) and “Benito Dusi Ranch” figures prominently on the label. I guess I have had a fair amount of Zinfandel, but most of it is rather pedestrian, particularly when compared with this. Red and dark fruit, pepper, Christmas spice. Whoa. This is a wine that I could just sniff for hours. The palate is even more compelling: fruity (yet reserved), tart, rich, luscious. Holy cow, this is fantastic. One of the best Zins I have had in recent memory. And Whoa… Excellent to Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
2017 Turley Zinfandel Ueberroth Vineyard, Paso Robles, CA: Retail $80 (wine club only). There are times in your life that you realize that you are truly blessed. For me, witnessing the birth of both of my children, being able to ride the great roads of France, surviving a health scare a decade ago that has claimed many. While tasting this wine might not reach that lofty plateau, it is certainly among the best Zinfandels I have tasted in recent memory. Fruity, concentrated, rich, deep, whoa. Redberry fruit, spice, tartness, balance. Whoa. While this is incredibly fruity, it is also considerably complex. Whoa. That makes three whoas. Yeah, you get the picture. Outstanding. 94-96 Points.