Tasting Zinfandel Across Sonoma's Legendary Vineyards


RW Moore VineyardRobert Biale

This late in the COVID SIP game, the entire wine industry pretty much has the ZOOM tasting thing down pat. The flurry of tasting invites has been getting intense, so much so that I’ve been having to decline several competing tastings, while also totally losing track of what sample deliveries are designated for which tasting, seriously reconsidering never buying long pants again, and having to become extremely selective in the tastings invites that I do accept.

But I’m a sucker for the spiritual connection that a wine lover feels when communing with special vineyard sites, and that doesn’t go away simply because we temporarily cannot put our boots in the ground in those places. Even I couldn’t turn down Zinfandel Advocates & Producers’ invitation to taste through some of what they designated their legendary Zinfandel vineyard locations.

And so, here are the four special Zins that we tasted, for your consideration, from four rather special little corners of the globe!

Robert Biale Vineyards 2018 Zinfandel, RW Moore Vineyard (Coombsville)

Bob Viale described his company’s job as “part preservationists'' with respect to maintaining the older vines in Napa’s R.W. More Vineyard. “It’s even more important in a place like Napa, that has such a long, deep history with other varieties [beyond Bordeaux varieties],” he mentioned. “People just loved this grape, and they still do. Good farming really allows it to shine. Zinfandel shows CA terroir better than any other grape. We’re so, so lucky. In Napa, let me tell you, ten acres is coveted!” First planted in 1905 by a Pony Express rider, the RW Moore vineyard was “resurrected” in the 1980s. Its soils have built up organic matter over time, which Biale now describes as “beautiful and fluffy” with a layer of ash that “adds to the mouthfeel; it’s really kind of silky.”

Plummy, dark, with cured meat, and blue & black berry action and a hefty helping of sweet cherry compote, this has great balance and juicy depth for a Zin, with vivacity pushing through the power and plump fleshiness. The finish is nice & long, and the entire palate proceeding is rich and mouth-coating, but also refreshingly mouth-watering.

Lytton Springs VineyardRidge

Ridge Vineyards 2018 Zinfandel, Lytton Springs Vineyard (Dry Creek Valley)

According to Ridge’s John Olney, they’ve been utilizing the Lytton Springs vineyard in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley for about five decades, since 1962. These head-trained vines are among the area’s most legendary old souls.

“What we found, over time, was that the majority of the sites that gave us the best results were mostly in Sonoma,” Olney recalled. “It is a field blend [in how it’s planted]. It’s a big contributor to the overall quality [of the finished wine]. I see Zinfandel sort of like a lens; you can really see what is the identity of the site. I think it’s the best varietal [sic] if you want to get to know CA regions. It’s important to appreciate what we have with Zinfandel. We’ve had 150 years to really dial it in.”

Savory and very spicy, with a ton of dried herbs and gorgeous bramble action, this is a balanced and precise Lytton Springs release. Deep, compote-like red fruits, tangy cranberry, plums, and dark cherries sit atop an almost gritty, grippy and quite powerfully structured mouthfeel.

Monte Rosso VineyardLouis M. Martini

Louis Martini Gnarly Vines 2017 Zinfandel, Monte Rosso Vineyard (Sonoma Valley)

Planted in the late 1800s, Sonoma’s Monte Rosso Vineyard sits towards the southern end of the Mayacamas mountains, above the fog line, giving it “great sun exposure” according to Michael Eddy, Director of Winemaking for Martini. “You get a lot of intense sunlight, but it retains its amazing acidity. There are blocks on the ranch that literally look like baseball diamonds” due to the vineyard’s telltale red soils. Some of the vines are upwards of 130 years old now. “Being able to farm as close as possible to the individual vine level is crucial.” Luckily, Martini’s crew has been working that vineyard for 30+ years, so they know the site intimately.

In a word, this Zin is explosive. Dried cranberry, plum, blackberry, earth, raisin, prune, raspberry tart, pepper and spice notes, kirsch… it’s all just jumping out at you here. Plush and huge, with some nice brightness, this is a great example of big California Zinfandel.

Twin Rivers VineyardRombauer

Rombauer 2018 Zinfandel, Twin Rivers Vineyard (El Dorado County, $45)

The owner of Twin Rivers was a commercial airline pilot. I added that factoid simply because, let’s face it, it sounds very cool. Anyway, Rombauer started the label in 1980, and finally added a varietal Zin from this vineyard in 1990. The site sits 1650 ft. above sea level in the Sierra Foothills, with sandy soils, cool nights, and warm days. Alan Cannon, Director of Education for Rombauer, feels that Twin Rivers passes the Legendary Vineyard test, which he described as “when the winemaker goes up there and does the Michael Myers thing: ‘we are not worthy!'”

Another one-word review for you: dense. In this case, it’s dense black raspberry fruit. Silky, rich, and full, and quite long on the fruitiness, with vanilla, chocolate, dried roses and violets, and deceptively (dangerously!) smooth palate. There’s just sooooo much fruit here, it’s a difficult Sonoma red for anyone to put down.


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a.k.a. Joe Roberts. Dad, wine-writer-guy, wine critic, wine competition judge, author, bassist, free-thinker, & occasional hiney-shaker. Opening up highly-pressurized cans of whoop-a** on the wine industry since 2007. Joe is a Certified Specialist of Wine, and the author of Wine Taster’s Guide: Drink and Learn with 30 Wine Tastings.

Downingtown, PA

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