- More Zinfandels of Interest
- The Gamba winery
produces big, pushing-the-envelope, fasten-your-seatbelt kinds of
Zinfandel. These are not for the faint of heart or consumers looking
for elegant, refined red wine.
They make wine from their own vines as well as purchasing grapes from a
Windsor area vineyard called Moratto.
Production in the vineyards is small, typically less than a ton of grapes
The secret of Gamba's wines is in the fruit selection. They ask the
pickers to select fully-ripened bunches and to discard those which are
unevenly ripe (raisined or green get discarded). When the grapes
arrive at the winery, they do another selection via a sorting
We currently have the 2011 "Estate" Zinfandel, a big, berryish, "gobs o' fruit" kind of wine.
The vines are on an east-facing site and were originally planted in
1920. It's potent and deep,
so pairing it with flavorful foods is a good idea. I don't view this
as a good cellaring candidate, finding wines like this tend to be at their
best when they're young. But is sure is showy right now...
Fasten your seat belt and open a bottle of this!
Currently in stock: 2011 GAMBA ZINFANDEL "Estate"
Russian River Valley SALE $34.99
GREEN & RED
Pam & Jay Heminway own this magnificent estate in the eastern hills of
the Napa Valley. They have 31 acres of vines split into three
They first planted the Chiles Mill site in 1972 when the adventure began and
it's since been replanted. The Catacula Vineyard was originally
planted in the 1890s, but this got replanted in the early 1980s.
The Tip Top vineyard site took root in 1996 and 1997.
And these sites are planted at fairly high elevation levels. Chiles
Mill is around a thousand feet, with Catacula being 1200-1400 feet.
Tip Top is 1400-1800 feet!
The Green & Red name comes from the soil...it's got a fair bit of iron
(red) with veins of serpentine (green), which is the state rock of
California by the way.
Jay has been making a distinctive style of Zinfandel for 4+ decades and the
wine is a bit of an "old school" style. We're especially
fans of the Chiles Mill vineyard bottling.
His Zinfandel recipe produces a fairly gentle style of wine. The wine
gets a cold soak before the fermentation and then 9 days, or so, in an open
top fermentation tank...then about a year in wood, half French and half
American oak. A small percentage of the American oak is new and we
like the woodsy character this seems to impart to their Zinfandel.
We have the 2011 in stock presently. It's a typical example of Green
& Red Zinfandel, showing nice berry fruit and a mildly woodsy, brown
spice note. The wine is smooth enough to be on the dinner table
tonight. Pair it with braised short ribs, grilled lamb, steaks and
other 'soul foods'.
And though we view the wine as being immediately drinkable, we have enjoyed
bottles with a serious amount of bottle age...and the wine has held up
beautifully and evolved to where people, having it poured 'blind,' guessed
it to be a Cabernet!
- Currently in stock: 2011 GREEN & RED "Chiles Mill"
producer is well below the radar, as winemaker Frank Ashton actually works
for a Santa Cruz Mountains winery as his "day job" and he
moonlights, producing some rather nice wines as his Downhill gig.
We tasted a really nice blend of Zinfandel and Syrah and it's called
"Slippery Slope." There's a really nice berry and spice
element here and we can't say for sure whether it's the Zin or the Syrah
contributing the brambly spice character.
It's medium-full on the palate and shows a hint of wood. We sale-price
it at fifteen bucks...a nice bargain in these up-hill economic times.
Currently in stock: DOWNHILL WINERY 2007 "Slippery
Slope" Zin/Syrah Blend SALE $14.99
known the Trentadue family for decades! We were one of their first
customers, buying wine from them in the early 1970s.
Leo Trentadue used to own a jewelry store here on Broadway in
Burlingame! He used to live in the Santa Clara Valley and was sharp
enough (or crazy) to buy some old abandoned winery atop a hill in
Cupertino...this later became "Ridge Vineyards" and I think he
sold it in the 1970s. He's long been selling Zinfandel grapes to
Ridge Vineyards in Cupertino for its "Geyserville" bottling of
Zinfandel. Today the fruit doesn't have to travel so far, since Ridge
has a large Sonoma facility for vinifying its Sonoma fruit.
Trentadue routinely made rustic wines back in the 1970s and 1980s.
Finally they hired someone to actually make wine and the quality level
They make a good Zinfandel, but of particular interest to savvy wine buyers
is their everyday blend, a wine called Old Patch Red. The 2011 is in
The wine is predominantly Zinfandel. You'll find a nice percentage of
Petite Sirah here as well. It's one of California's best red wine
- Currently in stock: 2011 Old Patch Red (List $14) SALE $9.99
Steele started out as the winemaker for a little Anderson Valley enterprise
called Edmeades back in the 1970s. From there he had a stint at
Kendall Jackson, helping refine the style of wine which made Jess Jackson
and family the big-time wine barons they are today. He started his own
label in the early 1990s and makes a number of interesting
The winery is located in Lake County and Jed buys fruit all over California
and beyond (he makes a Washington State "Blaufršnkisch").
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are his main varieties, along with Syrah.
Zinfandel has long been a mainstay and we've periodically found good bottles
worthy of our recommendation.
We have enjoyed many vintages of the Pacini Vineyard Zinfandel...it's
routinely been good, though we skipped the 2008, a vintage plagued by
numerous wildfires in the Mendocino area. The smoke actually 'tainted'
the grapes and was noticeable in many wines!
The 2010 is back to normal. Dark fruits...nice berry notes and there's
a lovely wood spice, too. It's a medium-full Zinfandel with softer
The vineyard is in Mendocino and was planted by the Pacini family in the
1940s. Jed bought the fruit for a number of years before simply
purchasing the whole dang vineyard in 1996. The vineyard ripens in
stages so it's picked, typically, over a couple of weeks to maximize
ripeness and fruit character. They declassify various lots which don't
measure up and bottle a wonderfully exuberant, berryish, nicely oaked
Zinfandel. Minty, too.
- Currently in stock: 2010 STEELE Mendocino "Pacini
Vineyard" ZINFANDEL $18.99
- One of our favorite Central Coast Zinfandels, this is the work of
Bill and Nancy Greenough (and now their son). They bought the Rancho Saucelito in 1974 from the
grand-daughters of the English bloke who first planted vines on the property in the late
The Greenoughs found some abandoned vineyards on the estate and nurtured some three
acres into production. They have since added another five acres of Zin, plus two of
Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard is in the Arroyo Grande appellation, south of the town of
San Luis Obispo.
On the nose there's a hint of plum, prune, herbs and a touch of oak.
Brown spices, to a degree, show up on the nose and palate. The
wine is medium-full bodied and not especially tannic. This is one of the few "Central
Coast" Zinfandels we like well enough to actually stock in the shop.
Currently in stock: 2011 SAUCELITO CANYON Zinfandel SALE $29.99
TURLEY WINE CELLARS
- Larry Turley was a partner with John & Julie Williams in establishing a
funny little venture called Frog's Leap Wine Cellars. Larry had a small property
just off the St. Helena Highway which was a former frog farm. Given that stags were
leaping prominently elsewhere in the Napa Valley, it stands to reason that frogs should
also be leaping. After a few years the Frog's Leap project was so successful John
Williams left his winemaking job at Mike Robbins' Spring Mountain Winery and was full-time
at Frog's Leap.
One day, out of the blue (so I'm told) Dr. Larry (a medical doc) tells Mr. & Mrs.
Williams he wants a divorce and he's going to start his own winery making Zinfandel and
The sun shines brightly in St. Helena and many people were commenting that Dr. Larry had
been the victim of some sort of brain-frying. Who, after all, in their right mind,
would consider starting a winery to specialize in Zinfandel and Petite Sirah?
The Williams' duo purchased Frog's Leap and Turley Wine Cellars took over the former frog
The original winemaker was Dr. Turley's famed sister, Helen Turley. The keyword here
is "was." The assistant winemaker, Ehren Jordan, became The Winemaker.
Now Ehren has his own gig and Tegan Passalacqua is the winemaker in
Napa, while Karl Wicka takes care of the Paso Robles wines.
The Turley wines have achieved "cult" status and are offered on secondary
markets for amazingly steep prices.
We receive a few bottles of Turley wines and always include them in our blind-tastings,
allowing a greater number of people to, at least, have a chance to experience these.
Turley is a believer in achieving the maximum from the various grapes and vineyards.
Yields in the vineyards, for example, are suppressed in hopes of producing a more
flavorful grape. I recall tasting a Robert Mondavi Zinfandel and being impressed.
The following vintage, Mondavi's wine was not so hot. An enologist at Mondavi
explained why: "Helen Turley."
She enticed the grower to sell his old vines' fruit to Turley Wine Cellars, instead.
Old vines don't guarantee good quality. We're seeing a number of "Old
Vines" Zins from Lodi. Turley makes a Lodi Zinfandel. But they go there,
pay the grower for the obscene quantity of fruit they normally harvest and then tell them
they want the vineyard cultivated for a crop level of about two tons per acre. The
growers look at the Turley people as though they're idiots (the same way some thought they
must have been out of their minds to focus on Petite Sirah and Zinfandel). However,
the results have been spectacular and, in my view, there oughta be legislation mandating
that only Le Methode Turley may be employed in Lodi. This
would eliminate much of the appallingly weak wine coming from those vines!
Larry read a book about the effects of various soils on the vines and
purchased the old Pesenti winery in the Central Coast. I later told him
about Pesenti's old bottles which resembled the flasks that cough medicine comes
He was intrigued with the prospects of making Zinfandel from the
warm Paso Robles region which is grown on limestone. The first
vintages have been typical of Turley Zins...deep berry fruit, ripe,
Turley's are huge, big, ripe, nicely-oaked wines. They almost always show well in
blind-tasting comparisons. People who are accustomed to high acidity, lower alcohols
(12%-13%) and virtually no wood in their wine will likely be bowled over by Turley wines.
The wines tend to be bright in fruit, 14-15% in alcohol and having a fair bit of
Please drink your Turley Zins young. Don't rely on the reviews of
various critics who advise holding on to them for 5 or 10 years. Yes,
the wines may have enough tannin to go that long, but it's doubtful the
fruit will maintain for an extended period. Our experience with Turley
Zins is they're best within a few years of release.
- Currently available: "Hayne
Vineyard" bottles are in stock...stop by...no mail orders...Also have
some Old Vine Zin and some bottles of a recent Pesenti Vineyard Zinfandel
Macauley label has been around since the early 1980s, but it only recently
came to our attention.
Ann Macauley Watson had bottled some late harvest Sauvignon Blanc way back
when she was entrusting the winemaking to famed graybeard, Ric Forman.
These days her son and our old pal Nils Venge's son, famous winemaker
Captain Kirk Venge are making the wines.
We tasted a really snazzy 2009 Napa Zinfandel and the 2010 is stellar!
"Old Vines" and it apparently comes from two vineyard sites in
We liked its exuberant blackberry and brambleberry fruit. Nice spice,
too and there's a mildly woodsy element here. It's a big, powerful
wine yet it remains reasonably balanced for such a blockbuster-styled
Currently in stock: MACAULEY 2010 Napa "Old Vines"
- One of the sales techniques used by some wineries is to restrict sales of
their products in shops so customers have trouble locating their wines.
This bit of psychology can work on a limited basis, making some people want
the wine more because it's hard to find. We've seen, though, sometimes
customers simply give up and are no longer loyal to such brands when there
are so many roadblocks to making a purchase.
Rafanelli was started by an old winemaker, Americo Rafanelli. We were
one of his first customers. The next generation of Rafanelli's runs
the place today and they prefer to sell the wine exclusively in
restaurants. It is remarkable that this Zin can be found in relatively
modest-quality dining establishments (to be charitable) but not a "fine wine"
shop. This is short-sighted and greedy marketing. Seems to
work for them, though.
We no longer have access to these wines.
- DON SEBASTIANI
& SONS (Plungerhead Zin)
Sebastiani name is well-known in California wine history. The
Sebastiani winery started out as a bulk wine producer before old August
Sebastiani began bottling wine in magnums decades ago.
August's son Don Sebastiani spent a few years in the California legislature
and later ran the family business. After leaving the Sebastiani
winery, Don and his sons, Donny and August set up a new company.
Calling themselves "The Other Guys," they seem to revel in
offering various wines at below-normal market prices.
They came out with this marvelously silly, but certainly memorable,
label. Plungerhead. It's got quite a fan club, apparently.
The first incarnation of Plungerhead Zinfandel came from
Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley. Lovely wine and it sold like crazy at its
modest price tag.
Then The Other Guys got too smart and offered three bottlings of Plungerhead
Zinfandel. There was a Lodi bottling at the price of the first Dry Creek
bottling, a mid-priced Sierra Foothills wine and then the near Twenty-Buck Dry
We stopped selling the wine altogether...no room for all three...not enough time
in the day to explain the differences and $20 is simply too much for a wine our
customers viewed as "everyday priced."
The 2007 was included in a blind-tasting of Zinfandels and what a curious wine
this was! It had virtually no character of Zinfandel, but was loaded with
oak and then even more oak. Plungerhead Zin was more reminiscent of a cocktail than wine...
The bottles are sealed with an interesting closure called a
"Zork." It's an alternative to cork and is easy to open.
We hope they will soon have a wine which better represents the Zinfandel grape
from its roots rather than using wine as a vehicle for wood flavorings.
Currently in stock: PLUNGERHEAD Dry Creek Valley
ZINFANDEL (Was $19) Waiting for a More
Zinfandel-like Bottling to Taste
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