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A Taste of the 2010 ZAP Grand Zinfandel Tasting

Two massive halls were filled by 211 wineries and roughly 8,000 consumers and wine professionals, all of them focused on the red wine called Zinfandel. A few wineries poured a single wine. Most poured two or three. Others offered as many as eight.

I wasn’t able to taste every, or even most, wines. Nobody could. In the end, I sampled and scored 97 wines. Some were from wineries offering their first ever vintage, others were from producers that led California Zinfandel to prominence decades ago. I tasted from a range of geographies, styles and price points.

Most wines I tasted were richly fruity and full-bodied or very nearly so. More than a few packed a punch. In comparison to last year, I found the overall quality to have improved. However, while there was less disappointing wine, there were also fewer that stood head and shoulders above the pack.

This year’s wines generally showed a much more restrained use of oak. I like many of the flavors that come from oak barrels: chocolate, caramel, vanilla, coffee, cocoa nib, smoke, and the oak itself. However, too much of those things obscures the the flavors coming from the grapes themselves. If I’m going to drink a varietally-designated wine, I want to be able to taste that fruit’s natural flavors and recognize it's characteristics in the wine. I feel even more strongly about for single-vineyard designates. If you  headline a vineyard, provide a clear sense of that place, not of some oak forest in Missouri.

On the other hand, there did not appear to be an overall movement toward picking the grapes at lower levels of ripeness and sugar. In general, alcohol percentages remain high and the fruit super-ripe. One wine had a declared alcohol percentage of 17.8%. That's just ridiculous. in other cases, jammy fruit flavors dominated the wines. This led to a sense of sameness among many wines.

Bottle prices remained flat or even dropped slightly from last year. Turley Wine Cellars still demands $75 for their Haynes Vineyard wine and Giodomella had a couple at $65, but wines over $50 were extremely rare. Several wines exceeded $40, but the vast majority fell between $18 and $38. As usual, price does not always have a direct relationship to quality. There are several wines in my recommended list from the lower end of the price range. That said, the few sub-$10) wines I tasted were unpalatable and high in residual sugar. When there's a very attractive wine such as the 2007 Four Vines Old Vine Cuvee, California for just $12 retail, no wine lover should feel compelled to settle for less.

The wines below are all very good. The difference between the Very Highly and Highly Recommended ratings is, in most cases, complexity. Wines that are Very Highly Recommended are those most likely to hold your interest, rather than just generate yummy noises, over an extended period of time. Wines listed as Recommended are also quite good, but are even less complex or slightly less balanced than those rated more highly. On to the recommendations!

Highest Recommendation
2008 Bedrock Heirloom, Sonoma Valley, $35

Very Highly Recommended
2007 Dono dal Cielo Vineyard, Sierra Foothills, $28
2007 Four Vines Dusi, Amador, $35
2006 Franz Hill Vineyard, Napa Valley, $32
2008 Gamba Estate Old Vine, Russian River Valley, $43
2008 Ravenswood Dickerson Vineyard, Napa, $35
2008 Ridge Geyserville, Sonoma County, $35
2008 Ridge Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley, $35

2007 Valdez Landy, Dry Creek Valley, $38

Highly Recommended
2008 Bedrock Lorenzo’s Heirloom, Dry Creek Valley, $35
2009 Bedrock Stellwagen Vineyard, Sonoma Valley, $NA
2006 Bradford Mountain Grist Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, $34
2007 Calcareous Vineyard, Kate’s Westside Vineyard, Paso Robles, $26
2008 Cedarville Estate Vineyard, El Dorado, $20
2007 Charter Oak Winery Monte Rossa, Sonoma, $42
2005 Chatom Vineyards, Calaveras, $19
2006 Chronicle Wines Bacigalupi Vineyard, Russian River Valley, $36
2006 Chronicle Wines Gaddis Vineyard, Russian River Valley, $36
2006 Dogwood Cellars, Mendocino, $28
2007 Dogwood Cellars, Dry Creek Valley, $30

2007 Four Vines The Biker, Paso Robles, $25
2007 Four Vines Martinelli, Paso Robles, $25
2007 Four Vines The Sophisticate, Sonoma, $25
2008 Gamba Moratto Vineyard, Russian River Valley, $43
2008 Gamba Russian River Valley, $35
2008 Baldwin Wines Rattlesnake Ridge, Sonoma Valley, $50
2008 Ravenswood Old Hill Vineyard, Sonoma Valley, $60
2006 Starlite Vineyards Alexander Valley, $42
2008 Turley Old Vines, $50 est.
2007 Valdez Botticelli Rockpile, Dry Creek Valley, $41
2007 Valdez Quinn, Dry Creek Valley, $38

Recommended
2007 Bella Vetta Estate Vineyards, Jack’s Cabin, Rockpile, $352007 Bella Vineyards Lily Hill, Dry Creek Valley, $38
2007 Bella Vineyards Lily Hill, Dry Creek, $38
2006 Bradford Mountain, Dry Creek Valley, $28
2005 Calcareous Twisted Sisters Kate’s Vineyard, Paso Robles, $26
2006 Calcareous Vineyard, Kate’s Westside Vineyard, Paso Robles, $26
2007 Cedarville Estate Vineyard, El Dorado, $20
2006 Chateau Montelena Estate, Napa Valley, $30
2007 Chateau Montelena Estate, Napa Valley, $30

2007 Charter Oak Winery, Napa, $29
2008 Chatom Vineyards, Calaveras (barrel sample), $19
2006 Chronicle Wines Old Vines: Bacigalupi, Gaddis, Gambogi, Russian River Valley, $28
2006 Claudia Springs, Rhodes Vineyard, $24
2006 D-Cubed Cellars Howell Mountain, $37
2006 D-Cubed Cellars Napa Valley, $27
2006 D-Cubed Cellars St. Helena, $32

2006 Dono dal Cielo Vineyard, Sierra Foothills, $25
2005 Easton Wines Fiddletown Rinaldi Vineyard, $28
2006 Easton Wines Fiddletown Rinaldi Vineyard, $28

2007 Four Vines Anarchy, $40
2007 Four Vines The Maverick, Amador County, $25
2007 Four Vines Old Vine Cuvee, California, $12
2007 Frank Family Vineyards, Napa Valley, $37
2007 J. Keverson Buck Hill, Sonoma County, $27
2006 Mariah Vineyards Estate, Mendocino, $28
2007 Rubicon Estate Edizione Pennino, $45
2008 Turley Hayne Vineyard, Napa Valley (barrel sample), $75
2007 Woodenhead Martinelli Road Vineyard Old Vine, Russian River, $45

Exceptional Values
2007 Four Vines Old Vine Cuvee, California, $12
2008 Bedrock Heirloom, Sonoma Valley, $35

I thought the 2008 Bedrock Heirloom wine made by Morgan Twain-Peterson to be significantly more complex than any of the others I tasted. This wine’s exceptional complexity is due to several factors. First, the wine is created from a field blend of 18 different black grape varieties that grow intermingled in Sonoma Valley's Bedrock Vineyard, one of California's oldest. (It was established in 1854 by two men who would later become famous as generals in the Civil War, William "Tecumseh" Sherman and Joseph Hooker.) A substantial number of the vines that contribute to this wine are at least 120 years old. The wine draws complexity, from the small, concentrated old vine berries, the depth of the root system, the vineyard itself and from the sheer variety of grapes used.

In addition, Mr. Twain-Peterson was especially careful to ensure that the flavors of wood didn’t overwhelm those of the vineyard. The Zinfandel, which makes up 40% of the blend, aged in a used 500-liter puncheon. The wine matured but maintained intensity and clarity of fruit flavors because through-barrel oxidation and oak-derived flavors were minimized. The other components were aged in high-quality French oak barrels only one-third of which were new. The barrel flavors are subtle accents to the natural complexity of the juice, not a focal point. Only 228 cases of this wine were made. If you want some, act quickly.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved. The Bedrock Vineyard video is the property of Bedrock Wine Co. and we have used it with their permission.

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