A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be included in a tasting (virtual, of course) of several California Zinfandels from legendary vineyards. What makes a vineyard “legendary”? Well, that is not necessarily all that easy, but like another less refined category, “it is not easy to define, but you know it when you see it.”
Back in February, I wrote an article for ZAP, the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers, and I interviewed several people about what exactly makes a vineyard “legendary.”
Based on these conversations and a bit for research, first and foremost, the vineyard needs to have a bit of a history of producing great fruit that leads to fantastic wines. Second, legendary Zinfandel vineyards tend to be old (another adjective that needs a bit of unpacking since it can refer to vineyards planted any time during the last century).
Last, there needs to be some demand for the fruit that is produced by the vineyard, but that is also a bit fraught with complexity since some legendary vineyards are either wholly-owned or sourced by a single winery.
Yeah, it’s complicated.
Nonetheless, here are the four wines from legendary vineyards I tasted, all of which were phenomenal wines.
2018 Robert Biale Zinfandel R.W. Moore Vineyard, Coombsville, CA: Retail $62. Perusing the Robert Biale website, they produce no fewer than 17 Zinfandels from all over Northern California with the average price right around $50. They source fruit from some of the more legendary vineyards in the state including this wine from the R.W. Moore Vineyard, planted in 1905, making it the oldest vineyard (and only Zinfandel) in the Coombsville AVA in Napa Valley. Dark fruit abounds on the nose, with plum and blackberry at the fore. The palate is shy, particularly upon opening, but eventually opens to a big, but also restrained wine with velvety fruit, depth on the mid-palate, and a touch of tannin on the finish. Quite good now, but should improve in the short-term. Excellent to Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2017 Peachy Canyon Zinfandel D Block Paso Robles, CA: Retail $85. 100% Zinfandel. No discussion of Paso Zinfandel can exist without the words “Peachy” and “Canyon” the godfather of Paso Zin. And no discussion of Peachy Canyon is complete without a healthy discussion of the Mustang Springs Ranch. While not the oldest Zin vineyard in Paso, Mustang Springs has almost become synonymous with the genre. This “D Block” bottling is a field blend of 18 clones of the variety and is rich. All kinds of spice here: Clove, nutmeg, allspice, even sage. The nose on its own is close to a whoa. The palate is big. Even Really Big. Tons of fruit, intense herbal notes, complexity. The problem is all that fruit gets in the way. This needs time. 4-8 years? Sounds about right. Whoa. Excellent to Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2017 Rombauer Vineyards Zinfandel El Dorado, Sierra Foothills, CA: Retail $40. 85% Zinfandel, 15% Petite Sirah. The Gold Rush in California started in the 1860s and lasted for a few decades, and this El Dorado Vineyard in the Sierra Foothills was planted at some point during the mayhem. Rombauer acquired the largely Zinfandel vineyard in 2010 and this is the fourth vintage from the vineyard for the Rombauer brand. Uber-dark in the glass with a ruby rim, the nose is all dark fruit: blackberry, cassis, anise, with black pepper and clove. Close to a whoa right there. On Day One, this wine was all over the place: fruity, and fruity, and fruity. Day Two? It has certainly calmed down considerably. Sure, it is still fruity as all get-out, but the acidity is fighting for attention, as are the depth and the tannins. This is an in-your-face kinda Zin, but give it some time and you will be rewarded. Excellent to Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2016 Mount Peak Winery Zinfandel Rattlesnake Hill, Monte Rosso Vineyard, Sonoma Valley, CA: Retail $50. 90% Zinfandel & 10% Petite Sirah. From the highest point of the Monte Rosso Vineyard (originally planted in the 1880s) where rattlesnakes love to sun themselves in the vineyard which sits well above the fog line in the Mayacamus Mountains. I really wanted to hate this wine and throw it onto the trash-heap of climate killers since the bottle probably weighs close to five pounds. But. It’s good. Really Good. Excellent, Outstanding even. Fairly dark in the glass with dark red fruit (boysenberry, cassis, herbal notes (thyme, sage), and a hint of white pepper. The palate is certainly fruity but short of over-the-top. This is certainly not subtle, but it is not in your face, whack you over the head, either. Far from it. As “big” Zins go? This is right in my wheelhouse. But that bottle. Ugh. Excellent to Outstanding. 92-94 Points.