Posts Tagged ‘Amador County’

A bad cold kept me from attending last Saturday’s 20th annual Zinfandel Festival Grand Tasting, presented by ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) in San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center. Luckily my overqualified envoy was happy to taste some 50 California Zins, and he’s provided this list of six that stood out:

2007 Carol Shelton Rocky Reserve Rockpile Zinfandel, $33

2007 Guglielmo Private Reserve Estate Santa Clara Valley Zinfandel, $22

2008 Gundlach Bundschu Sonoma Valley Zinfandel, $38

2008 MoniClaire Estate Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, $23.99

2008 Ravenswood Barricia Vineyard Sonoma Valley Zinfandel, $35 

2007 Scott Harvey Vineyard 1869 Amador County Zinfandel, $45 

If you’d like to try one of these wines but aren’t sure which to choose, here’s a cheat sheet—borrowed from my 2009 article on California Zinfandel—on Zins in three of the regions represented above:

Amador County
Old vines are especially abundant in the Fiddletown AVA of Amador County—an area hotter than its surrounding regions [in the Sierra Foothills], where Zinfandel accounts for three-quarters of all grapes grown. … Sierra Foothills Zinfandels may occasionally get a bad rap for a lack of finesse—blame the high alcohol that results from the region’s blazing heat. But the best examples can actually boast deep, intoxicating aromas, clean flavors, and plenty of fruit on the palate.

Dry Creek Valley
It’s generally thought that the wines made from Zinfandel grown above the fog line in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley are the best examples of the varietal you can find—in California if not in the world. In an irony that speaks to Zinfandel’s status as a truly “populist” grape, much of that Dry Creek Zinfandel acreage was originally planted with the intent to cultivate it as bulk wine. Hot days, cool nights, and fine craftsmanship have all allowed the wine those grapes produced to escape that humble fate. … Spicy, berry-filled Zin…

The Rockpile AVA adjacent to Dry Creek is also making a name for itself with interesting Zins that are lush and intense.

My article didn’t mention Zinfandels from the Sonoma or Santa Clara Valleys specifically, but you can read more about the Gundlachs, Bundschus, and Guglielmos—and their families’ long histories with California winemaking—here and here.

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Yesterday when Peter mentioned our plans to have a barbecue this afternoon, I had to correct him: not a barbecue, a cookout. It’s a Southern distinction—and one about which I, despite being the daughter of a Southerner, remained unaware until our friend Steele recently explained it. Turns out that, common usage notwithstanding, the word barbecue doesn’t mean grilling, or have anything to do with hotdogs and hamburgers—it means smoking meat slowly at a low temperature, in a closed chamber, over wood coals.

True barbecue: photo and ribs by Steele Douglas

Steele had a true barbecue the other week—St. Louis-style spice-rubbed pork ribs smoked over hickory for four-and-a-half hours; beans baked with bacon, dark beer, and molasses; cornbread cooked in a cast-iron skillet; and for dessert berry tarts served with grappa. Perhaps that’s not a food-and-wine pairing that would have occurred to you, but the grappa’s high-alcohol, clean, and subtly fruity taste actually made it the perfect digestif to complement the meal’s hearty flavors.

The grappa we enjoyed that night had a story to go with it. Grappa is a byproduct of winemaking, and Peter made this particular bottle in a still years ago while living in Fiddletown, a vineyard-speckled hamlet in the Sierra Foothills. He took the lees, or tank sediment, from Amador County Zinfandel grapes and extracted the alcohol so that the spirit came out of the still clear and 89 percent alcohol. (He then added water, to bring it down to a more-manageable 90 proof.) Not entirely legal, but as Peter likes to say, nothing’s illegal in Fiddletown until you get caught…

Homemade grappa from Fiddletown

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Writing about Zinfandel for the October issue (see “Original Zin”) got me thinking about my personal connection to the varietal, and how that’s changed over the years. Zinfandel didn’t really enter my consciousness until 1999, when I first moved to the Bay Area and a friend gave me a bottle of Ravenswood Zin as a welcome gift. Now along with Ridge and more recently, Rosenblum, Ravenswood is one of *the* names in Zinfandel, with winemaker Joel Peterson offering up numerous examples of the varietal. These offerings range from the high-end Vineyard Designates to the more-moderate County Series and the budget-friedly Vintner’s Blend.

You can be sure that the bottle my friend gave me back in ’99 was the latter, given that we were all starving twenty-somethings at the time, and Ravenswood Zin quickly became a favorite for both its price tag, rich flavors, and almost-cocktail-like alcoholic punch (which is, let’s face it, another favorite characteristic among beverages of starving twenty-somethings…).

It’s that alcoholic punch that can occasionally get the varietal into trouble: witness Darrell Corti’s decision to no longer sell his once-beloved Amador County Zinfandels at Corti Brothers gourmet grocery and wine store in Sacramento. Now, if you read my article, you’ll recall that Corti was largely responsible for putting Amador wines on the map in the ’60s and ’70s, thanks to his successful lobbying campaign on behalf of the county’s Zinfandel grapes. That campaign was aimed at Napa winemakers, and given Corti’s reputation as something of an industry sage, those winemakers listened and began to source their grapes from the region — with impressive results.

But in recent years, the alcohol content in Zinfandels has been sneaking ever higher (16 percent isn’t unheard of), perhaps in an effort to suit the tastes of critics who bestow their highest scores upon wines that are big and bold. Corti has said that his objection is not with Amador Zins in particular, but with all unfortified wines whose alcohol content exceeds 14 percent.

Fair enough — even this Zinfandel lover can now only handle the occasional glass of Amador’s old-vine finest. Guess I’ve mellowed with age.

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