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- 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 some
nearby Russian River Valley vineyards.
Production in their own 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
They do a pre-fermentation maceration, leaving the juice with the
skins. The wine is fermented in wood, we're told. The wine then
spends about a year to 16 months in barrel before bottling...they say they
want to capture the character of the vineyards and vintage in bottle and
we'd say they have been doing a pretty good job of it.
The 2017 Starr Road vineyard is on a foothill elevation above the Russian
River Valley. It was originally planted in the 1920s. The vines
are old and production tends to be around one ton per acre to maybe a ton
and a half, yielding intense
fruit. It's a ripe, brambly Zinfandel.
The 2017 was aged in 40% new American oak cooperage and the other 60% split
between seasoned barrels of both French and American origins.
Fasten your seat belt and open a bottle of this!
Currently in stock: 2017 GAMBA ZINFANDEL "Starr
Russian River Valley SALE $39.99
GREEN & RED
The Heminway family owns 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.
The late Jay Heminway had 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. He had some heart
surgery in June of 2019 and things seemingly went well, but there were some
unexpected complications and Jay passed away suddenly. His daughter
Tobin has suddenly been thrust into managing the family business, but she
told us she's up to the task. "It's all just happening a little
sooner than we planned."
The Green & Red 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.
The late Jay Heminway and one of his Team Green & Red members in the cellar.
We have the 2016 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'.
We brought a bottle on a little Napa tour with some overseas visitors.
We planned to stop for lunch in St. Helena at the old "Taylor's
Refresher." These days it's called Gott's Roadside. We visited
a number of wineries that day and after a handful of visits and tasting a bunch
of seriously expensive bottles, our friends said "You know, the best wine
of the day was that Green & Red Zinfandel with the amazing burger!"
We view the wine as being immediately drinkable, but 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! I think we opened a 1991 and poured it
blind...might have been 15 or 20 years old.
- Currently in stock: 2016 GREEN & RED "Chiles Mill"
- The late Dr. Bassett Brown and his wife Marcela found an old property in
the wilds of Napa, looking for a place to get out of the wilds of Los
Angeles. He was a medical doctor who launched the Central
Neighborhood Health Foundation in L.A. They bought a run-down
place some 10 miles east of the town of St. Helena and a few miles west of
They have about 450 acres of property and planted 10 acres of grapes in
the mid-1980s. Today they farm about 50 acres of vineyards.
After selling grapes to various wineries, they launched their own brand
with the 1996 vintage. The early vintages were made at Rombauer, so
we should not be surprised that Brown's Zinfandel, much like Rombauer's,
has a bit of unfermented sugar.
They've retained that "recipe," though we find the Rombauer
Zinfandel to be sweeter than Brown's. The Brown Zin is a good bottle
for those looking for something more "friendly" than a typical
red wine that's bone dry. When we hear customers ask for
"smooth" or "velvety" wines, we guide them to Brown
There had been an old wooden barn on the property and today that's been
restored and remodeled. Additionally they blasted into the hill and
now have a tunnel or cave for a wine cellar.
The Napa Zinfandel has typically been made from estate-grown grapes, but
their 2018 vintage has grapes from Howell Mountain and Calistoga, as
well. Thirty-percent new oak barrels were employed to mature this
wine, with half the barrels being French and the other half being
There's nice dark fruit to this red. Some black cherry, sweet
fruit. This is amplified a bit because the wine is not bone
dry...there's a bit of residual sugar here, though it's not as overtly
sweet as the Zinfandel from Rombauer. But many people will notice
that sweetness and for some palates, unaccustomed to dry wines, this is a
really good bottle of wine.
Currently in stock: 2018 BROWN ESTATE Napa Valley
Fritz family have been cultivating grapes in northern Sonoma County since
the late 1970s, early 1980s.
Jay Fritz was in the shipping business and he bought a country getaway
place in Cloverdale where he planted vineyards and constructed a
multi-level, gravity-flow winery.
What a way to get rich!
They made some good wines in their early days, but had some instability in
terms of winemakers.
The past decade+ has seen a consistent track record of good quality wines and
we've been pleased to recommend a number of Fritz wines. The
wines are routinely good quality and they carry sensible price-tags.
- The Dry Creek Valley is, of course, well-suited to Sauvignon Blanc and
We're fans of Fritz Zinfandel...
The latest bottling of Zinfandel is magnificent! They typically
source fruit from their 8 acres of Zin in the Dry Creek appellation.
They employ a pre-fermentation cold soak for several days and then warm
the juice to encourage the fermentation to proceed. The wine spends
about 9 months in American oak and they've done a good job to produce a
rather elegant red.
It's from the 2016
vintage and the aromas are fantastic, showing bright berry, pomegranate,
cherry and a touch of blackberry. There's a mildly spicy note and
some sweet, woodsy tones as well. It's medium-bodied and despite its
brawny 14+% alcohol, this is reasonably gentle and balanced. In the
company of most California Zins, this is a bit restrained. It's not
inky black in color and the wine shows nice fruit and that little bit of
We suggest serving it cooled to cellar temperature. You can pair it
with Mediterranean fare, grilled meats, roasted chicken, ribs, sausages,
etc. And it's one of the best values in the shop!
Currently in stock FRITZ 2016 Dry Creek
ZINFANDEL Sale $18.99
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 2019 is in
The wine is predominantly Zinfandel. You'll find a nice percentage of
Petite Sirah here along with some Carignane and a bit of Sangiovese.
They even devote a bit of new oak to the wine.
Quite soft and supple..
It's one of California's best red wine
- Currently in stock: 2019 Old Patch Red (List $15) SALE
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 "Blaufrńnkisch").
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are his main varieties, along with Syrah.
Zinfandel has long been a mainstay and we've often found good vintages worthy of our recommendation.
We have enjoyed many vintages of the Pacini Vineyard Zinfandel.
The vineyard is located in Mendocino County and most of the vines are quite
old. The vineyard was originally planted in the 1940s and in those
days they cultivated head-pruned, "bush vines." It's a dry
site and being that there's no water available, it's dry-farmed. They
can't protect the vines from frost, so that can further reduce the crop
level. In fact, while many Zin vineyards produce 4 to 6+ tons per acre,
Pacini typically yields between two and three tons to the acre.
Back in the mid-1990s, Steele's Pacini Zinfandel was highly-regarded
and spoken of in the same context as top Ridge Vineyard Zins such as Lytton
Springs and Geyserville. In those days Ravenswood and Rosenblum were
also thought of as upper echelon Zinfandels.
Ravenswood and Rosenblum ain't what they used to be, but Ridge still makes
top Zinfandel and Steele has maintained its quality.
With wildfires having become an issue in California's North Coast wine
country, the 2008 was heavily impacted by the smoke from such a blaze.
You could smell the smokiness in the wine from that harvest season.
The 2017 is from a warm growing season and then there were late-season,
harvest time wildfires.
Dark fruits...nice mildly jammy, berry notes and there's
a lovely wood spice, too. It's a medium-full Zinfandel with softer
tannins, so it's immediately drinkable and not terribly cellar-worthy
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 1998, as he was afraid someone might
buy it since the wine has been so good and it was a highly-regarded Zin in
those days. People often mentioned it being in the same league as
those from Ridge, Ravenswood and Rosenblum. We can say they've lost a
bit of "traction" as today there are so many Zinfandels in the
market. But the wine remains of good quality and its price is quite
attractive since so many have escalated to the $30-$50 level.
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 and woodsy...
UPDATE: Jed sold his winery and various brands to a neighboring
vintner in Lake County. He's retiring.
Best wishes Jed!!!
- Currently in stock: 2017 STEELE Mendocino "Pacini
Vineyard" ZINFANDEL $18.99 (last bottles)
- 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: 2012 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 (opening a winery in Rutherford) 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 had been offered on secondary
markets for amazingly steep prices. As production levels have increased
thanks to new vineyards coming on board, this has not been as much of an
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, ages ago, 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: Please inquire when you next visit our
little wine shop. We often have a few bottles available for regular
- The Napa
Wine Company owns this brand and the wines are made in a winery at the
Oakville Crossroad and Highway 29, just a hop, skip and a jump south of the
Robert Mondavi Winery (and across the highway).
This facility has been in Oakville for decades. We first knew it when
it was a winery called "Oakville Vineyards" and they also had a
brand called "Van Loben Sels," since Mr. & Mrs. Van Loben Sels
launched the brand in 1968, or so.
The winery was affiliated with Inglenook at one point. In 1993 the
Pelissa Family purchased this facility and today they make several of their
own brands of wine (Oakville Winery, Ghost Block and Elizabeth Rose), as
well as providing a home for a couple of dozen of other wine companies.
From the one Zinfandel vineyard in Oakville, we have a really charming 2019
vintage Zin. It's a rather soft red wine, being a bit low in acidity
and having but mild tannins. It's been matured in 50% new oak and we
like the sweet, woodsy notes on the nose. You'll want to enjoy this
over the next couple of years, but don't leave it in the rack for too much
more than that...it's not a wine for aging.
It got a "thumbs up" from all four Weimax staffers, too.
Currently in stock: 2019 OAKVILLE WINERY "Oakville"
- 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.
one of his first customers.
The next generation of Rafanellis 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"
It seems to be a strategy that works from a marketing perspective.
We included a Rafanelli Zinfandel in a blind tasting a few years ago and it was not amongst
the top wines, yet some consumers are convinced this is one of the best
wines in the market, principally because it's not easy to buy a bottle
without a trek to Dry Creek.
Hopefully they continue to make good 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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