California’s Heritage Grape – Zinfandel
“Here’s to the corkscrew – a useful key to unlock the storehouse of wit, the treasury of laughter, the front door of fellowship, and the gate of pleasant folly.” ~ W.E.P. French ~
Calling all wine lovers, calling all wine lovers!! Yes, all of you: neophytes, savvy collectors/ investors, gastronomes, and wine drinkers who simply revel in the joy of tasting and exploring Mother Nature’s copious and diverse wines and the bounty of her earth, whether dining at home or out with family and friends. Lovers of wine, listen up because I am calling you from:
SONOMA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA
Although Napa Valley is generally regarded as the crowning jewel of California’s wine-making nobility, based on scores of deservedly prestigious accolades for their Cabernet Sauvignon, Meritage and Chardonnay wines, I have opted to write about Napa’s next-door neighbor and little cousin, Sonoma County. Why Sonoma and not Napa? you might ask yourself. The word opulent (plush/copious/rich and abundant) comes to mind. To be found in Sonoma are the luscious Zinfandels and richly textured Cabernets of the Dry Creek Valley, the opulent and elegant Cabernet Sauvignons of the Alexander Valley, to the fruit driven, world-class Chardonnays from the Russian River and Sonoma coastal vineyards.
One balmy afternoon I found myself standing at the tasting bar of one of my favorite wine makers, Seghisio Family Vineyards, located in the Sonoma County town of Healdsburg, California, musing over the subject of my newsletter when – whoa and behold – I’m sipping my favorite grape varietal from California, Zinfandel, or (to be exact) Seghesio’s Home Ranch and Old Vine Zinfandels. Voila,
I’m writing about Zinfandel from Sonoma County, specifically the Dry Creek Valley.
A SERIOUS WINE OR NOT?
Zin is a fun wine, yet one to take seriously. Fun, as in ‘drink now for an absolutely hedonistic fruit- driven escapade in wine drinking pleasure.’ Take this seriously, as I did on my birthday last February when I drank my last bottle of 1997 Ridge Geyserville, a wine with ample room to mature further. Offering a fragrant and enticing nose, luscious aromas of dark ripe blackberries/ black raspberries, a wonderful complexity of subtle spiciness, and a hint of licorice with smooth and mellow tannins. This was sophisticated and just lip-smackin’ good. My thoughts as I drank this one a tad too young, were all to the effect that I’d wished I had bought an extra six bottles. What I am saying is that, yes, the best vintages of Zinfandel can be cellared and enjoyed over the years for some serious wine drinking pleasure.
It was once believed that Zinfandel was indigenous to the United States, where early Italian immigrants planted it in the late 1800s. Some of these original Zinfandel vines still produce grapes to this day. However, it has more recently been determined that Zinfandel is genetically identical to Italy’s Primitivo. Further research showed that the variety actually originated in Croatia, where it is called Crljenak Kastelanski. Recently legislation has been proposed in California to designate
Zinfandel as the state’s quintessential official varietal state wine.
THE DRY CREEK VALLEY AVA
The Dry Creek Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) is an American Viticultural Area in Sonoma County, California, located northwest of the town of Healdsburg. The valley is formed by Dry Creek, a tributary of the Russian River, and is approximately sixteen miles (25.7 km) long and two miles (3.2 km) wide.
Instead of using the term ‘appellation’ as used in Europe, the United States uses American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs for short. When an AVA is designated on a wine bottle label, 85% of that wine must come from the cited AVA. AVAs are geographic locations that have a climate, soil, elevation and other properties that give the wine a certain characteristic Terroir (‘tair-wah’r’), if you will. Think of Pauilliac or St. Emilion as equivalent examples of French geographic locations, or the Clare Valley as an example of an Australian geographic location.
At the turn of the Twentieth Century, Dry Creek Valley was one of California’s most prominent producers of Zinfandel. During Prohibition (1920-1933), much of the valley was converted to plum, pear, and prune trees, and much of that fruit was processed in nearby Healdsburg. Following the resurgence of wine grape production in the 1970s, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel became the most planted varieties, and Dry Creek Valley AVA became one of the State’s top Zinfandel producers. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Sauvignon Blanc has emerged quietly as the most important white grape varietal produced in the valley.
Over fifty wineries can be found in the Dry Creek Valley AVA, while more than 160 wineries produce wines that bear a Dry Creek Valley AVA designation. Dry Creek Valley AVA is home to the majority of the Sonoma vineyards of E & J Gallo Winery, which established winery facilities in the valley in the early 1990s. E & J produce delicious Zinfandels and Cabs of great distinction.
There are strong recurring themes in the Zinfandel wines of Dry Creek Valley (DCV). Perhaps the most notable quality they share is the prominence of aromatic spice, berried fruits and dried flowers in the nose, from fresh-ground
black pepper to cinnamon, coriander and cardamom, plus a dusty earth note. The veteran winemakers of the DCV strive to retain elegance and balance in their wines.
There are so many wonderful Zins being bottled, but here are some of my favorite wineries for you to watch out for next time you visit California: Quivera, Rosenblum, Ridge, A. Raffanelli, Dry Creek Vineyards, Ravenswood, Rancho Zabaco, Gallo of Sonoma, Peterson, and Mazzocco are just a few particularly good examples, and of course don’t forget my favorite, Seghesio Family Vineyards.
It’s exciting to consider that some of the best Dry Creek Valley and Sonoma County wines can be found here in Taiwan. Seghesio, along with Ridge are my hands-down favorite producers of Zinfandel. I have been drinking Zinfandel from these wineries for thirty-five years, and they never fail me. Also of note to be found here in Taipei
that you might want to try are the Dry Creek Vineyards wines, their Heritage Clone and Old Vine Zinfandels are always palate pleasers, and although this is a bit off subject, I just have to mention two wines from Dry Creek Vineyards I happened to notice at Jayson Tien Mu while researching this article. The 2003 Endeavor Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2003 Bulloch House Merlot are limited production Icon wines all too rarely seen, even on retail shelves in the USA. Both are from 100% Dry Creek Valley fruit with cellaring potentials of 10-20 years.
So, for those not familiar with the Dry Creek Valley AVA and/or Zinfandel wines, I highly encourage you to sample a bit of American Heritage when you get the chance, your in for some world class drinking.
Bon Degustation and see you all out and about town.
Mark encourages your inquiries and questions on the world of wines and spirits and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org