Zinfandel Galore from Sierra’s Mountain and Foothills Wineries

Some of the earliest documented Zinfandel vineyards were planted between 1852 and 1869 in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. To clarify, this includes Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Mariposa, Nevada, Placer, Tuolumne and Yuba Counties. Many of these vineyards survive today, protected by the remoteness of their location. The unique decomposed granite soils, found nowhere else in the world, produce robust vines at high elevations that are above the fog and with good access to sunshine. Grapes are picked later than in coastal regions, so look forward to deeply colored Zins with fruit-forward taste, intensity, and lots of character.

Grapes for the 2007 Estate Zinfandel from Cedarville Vineyard located in Fair Play, El Dorado County, CA, were grown on their 20 acre estate vineyard by Susan Marks & Jonathan Lachs, owners (pictured above). The vines were planted in the mid 1990’s, the winery established in 2000, and these graduates of the famous wine program at U.C. Davis both tend to favor Rhone Style wines. Only 744 cases were produced of the 2007 Zinfandel, their 10th vintage. It has a lovely aroma of ripe raspberry, a dense espresso overlay, and bright red fruits. There’s a touch of spice there too, and a creaminess that leads to a long finish. If you follow the rating system on Wine Spectator, the preliminary buzz on this wine is a rating of 89-91 points. There is 10% Petite Sirah and 90% Zinfandel in this wine. $22 per bottle. You can get it locally at Plumpjack, Ristorante Montagna, and the Pour House in Truckee.

Winemaker Phil Starr of Sierra Starr Vineyards poured his 2006 “Phil's Selection” Zinfandel , a really harmonious zin made from grapes in Nevada County’s oldest Zinfandel Vineyard. Planted in 1979, this Grass Valley terroir yields grapes from vines that are low yield with small berries and small clusters. The result is a Zin with an aroma that’s redolent of jammy black raspberry fruit. Add a bit of oakiness, a touch of black pepperiness, and you have a classic fruit-forward Zin. It is youthful yet balanced, smooth and rich, medium tannins and great acidity. This is a food-friendly wine; try it with pasta, grilled meats, pizza…great and versatile! $25 per bottle.

Renwood Winery, located in Plymouth, Amador County, featured its 2007 Grandpere Zinfandel, their flagship wine. Fruit comes from vines planted behind the winery on rootstock of the oldest clone of Zinfandel vines in America, dating back to the 1860’s. The vines yield tight berry clusters with deeply concentrated flavors. The 2007 Grandpere Zinfandel is a big, spicy Zinfandel. $40 per bottle. I was happy to hear that Costco’s Kirkland brand is now offering its sister Zin, the 2007 Old Vine Grandmere Zinfandel, Amador County. This is a blend from the finest Zinfandel vineyards in the hillsides of Amador County’s gold country: Jack Rabbit Flat, and Crain-Sleeper Ranch.

The 2006 Calaveras Old Vine Zinfandel from Milliaire Winery, Murphys, Calaveras County, CA uses fruit from four different vineyards in Calaveras; the vineyards range in age from 40 to 80 years old. Steve Millier, winemaker and Fresno State winemaking program grad, believes in small lots of finely crafted wines. This Zin is spicy, fruit-forward, and versatile with food. $20 per bottle.

Boeger Winery’s 2006 Walker Vineyard Zinfandel is a classic Foothill/El Dorado County zinfandel. Boeger, the oldest winery in El Dorado County, was also its first post-prohibition winery. Winemaker Justin Boeger interned in Germany so there is a Rhone feeling to this wine. Nice aromas of cedar, plum, vanilla. Maybe a spiciness that’s vaguely licorice. Yummy blackberry, with gentle tannins. $18.50 per bottle.

Stay tuned for more details on Mountain Wineries of the Sierras and its Foothills. Lots of wonderful places to visit, and wonderful wines to taste! The Zinfandels are just a sampling of what’s being produced near you!

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© 2010 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of
The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in March 2010.

Watch for my forthcoming book, scheduled for publication in 2011, "Mountain Wineries of the Sierras and Its Foothills."

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