After a spring visit to Calistoga Estates in the Napa Valley, and then to my cousin’s in Healdsburg next door, I came home craving sun-filled skies, balmy evenings — and more California wine. I’d been treated to excellent examples at wineries, at restaurants and from my cousin’s cellar. At Pezzi King Winery in Dry Creek Valley, I sampled Zinfandel that would be bottled the following day, then toured the estate with my glass. Walking through fresh, sprouting vineyards, I could smell and taste ripe fruit, gravelly earth and sunshine in the wine. At one point, I saw a silver fox send a wild turkey riotously aflutter. The trip had the same effect on my heart. And my palate.
Wilson Winery Molly’s Zinfandel 2009, Dry Creek Valley ($34)
Everyone in the Wilson family has a wine/vineyard named for them. Molly is the winery dog. She insists that the best Zinfandel is made from Dry Creek Valley grapes, which is understandable as the winery she guards overlooks a stunning stretch of valley vines. Her wine entices with jammy berry notes then dives into rich, spicy raspberry and blackberry flavours with violets and a balancing acidity. Another signature wine and Double Gold award winner from winemaker Diane Wilson.
Rock Wall Monte Rosso Reserve Zinfandel 2009, Sonoma County ($40)
After Kent Rosenblum sold his namesake winery, he and his winemaker daughter Shauna opened Rock Wall winery in the East Bay overlooking San Francisco. The grapes for their Monte Rosso are a field blend from the Alameda vineyard in the Bay Area. Starting with big aromas of black fruits, this round, soft wine is velvet in the mouth. Bright raspberries and blackcurrants with a touch of honey and chocolate make this an easy sipper.
Ravenswood Old Hill Vineyard Zinfandel 2008, Sonoma Valley ($60)
Joel Peterson has been the winemaker at Ravenswood for over 30 years, so their wines are consistently excellent, and this one is no exception. From very old rootstock (likely Sonoma’s oldest), the field blend of Zinfandel plus “13 Sonoma Mixed Blacks” is as alluring as a bespoke perfume. Orange blossoms and mint play with cherries and black raspberries before presenting rich, powerful fruit and spice enrobed in a light cloak of oak thanks to French barrels. Delicious.
A. Rafanelli Zinfandel 2009, Dry Creek Valley ($30)
Rafanelli wine is only sold from the winery, and the excellent 2009 was snapped up long ago. Lucky for me, my cousin was able to pick up a goodly supply of that vintage when it was released. I love Rafanelli wine because it tastes real. Like grapes and time. Like the wine makes itself (and does a good job at it). Big, juicy blackcurrant and cherry fruit with briar nuances, a welcome vein of acidity to make it food friendly, some easy oak and tannins, and a long finish are what this wine is all about. A not-to-be-missed classic for Zin lovers.
Folie à Deux Ménage à Trois Red 2010 ($18)
Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot make a dark purple/burgundy wine with fresh and jammy cassis elements and an easygoing personality. A sipper with gourmet burgers.