Zinfandel is America’s wine grape. Sure, there is primitivo, a distant cousin from Italy, but zinfandel is the only grape that truly has roots here. When friends from San Francisco had to make a “zinfandel run” to northern Sonoma County and suggested we accompany them for some tastings and lunch, we freed our calendars and made it happen. It had been some time since we did this and our companion’s quarterly allocations were
building up at two separate wineries, each producing very diverse styles of zinfandel. Anticipating that the tastings would be very distinctive, I was also interested in releases of other varietals.
The Dry Creek Valley, located fifteen miles north of Santa Rosa, has the warmest climate in the area, sandwiched between the Russian River and Alexander Valleys. The terroir in this region is more conducive to zinfandel than pinot noir or chardonnay, typical in most of the county. Today’s stops, Mazzocco Sonoma, part of the Wilson Family Wines empire, and historical Seghesio Family Vineyards in Healdsburg, both construct highly acclaimed zinfandel with completely divergent views on how the varietal should be expressed.
Worth mentioning, Wilson Family Wines own eight different wineries in Sonoma County, as far south as St. Anne’s Crossing in Kenwood to Jaxon Keys Winery in Hopland, CA to the north. Four
wineries focus on zinfandel, two on cabernet sauvignon in the Alexander Valley, one daring soul pursues pinot noir and the matriarch Wilson Winery produces a variety including petite sirah and syrah. Many of their wines were awarded gold medals in Sonoma Harvest Fest and the San Francisco Chronicle Wjine Competition.
Edoardo Seghesio first planted his Home Ranch Vineyard, north of Geyserville, in 1895, following his instincts that it was the right terroir for zinfandel, petite sirah and many Italian varietals. “Today, Seghesio owns over 300 acres of estate vineyards and farms nearly one hundred acres of outside vineyards making them one of the largest producers in the region. History and a commitment to the land has been rewarded with an ideal platform for producing consistent quality wines. We didn’t know what Spring releases they were pouring, but foresaw that some special single vineyard and reserves would be included.
In the land of zinfandel, the first three wines we tasted were Italian varietals, including the dry, herbal 2015 Seghesio Vermentino ($22), a rare white varietal, dry with nice expressions of fruit and a minerality that defined its character. Excepting those from Burgundy, European white varietals are unfairly overlooked and many consumers are missing opportunities to add diversity to their taste buds. Also dry, but fruity, the 2013 Seghesio Sangiovese ($30) is soft, with a nice creamy structure carried through the finish. There are many very fine releases of sangiovese, used to produce chianti from Tuscany. This is another good one.
With roots in the Barolo wines from Italy’s Piedmont region, barbera typically shows deep colors and earthy flavors. When I unexpectedly encounter a good California barbera, I often take a bottle home including the 2013 Seghesio Barbera ($30). Deep, ruby hues and soft,
accessible flavors are enhanced by a balanced structure and deep color that seemed to glow when held up to the light. This one will pair perfectly with pasta or mushroom risotto. Seghesio also produces other Italian varietals, arneis, pinot grigio and fiano, in estate-owned vineyards, both in the Russian River and Alexander valleys.
“The Cortina Vineyard, named after the loamy soil that exists on the site, has been farmed by Seghesio since 1957. Known for its subtle, elegant flavors, the 2013 Seghesio Zinfandel Cortina Vineyard ($40) was awarded 94-points by Wine Spectator magazine. In addition to the soft flavors, I found great bouquet and texture to this exceptional wine.
Using old zinfandel vines and a small amount of petite sirah grapes from their flagship Alexander Valley Home Ranch Vineyard and gnarly vines from the Saini Beach Vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley, the 2013 Seghesio “Old Vine” Zinfandel ($40) is a dry, austerely luscious wine with balanced structure and a nice spice character to the flavor. Enjoy the wine by itself or try BBQ meats that would enhance the spice.
Using a blend of old and young zinfandel vines and a small touch of petite sirah for color and softer flavors, the 2013 Seghesio Zinfandel Home Ranch Vineyard (58) expresses an earthy bouquet that transcends into the flavors. The “Home Ranch” had the softest creamy texture of all the wines tasted, leaving me no choice but to take a bottle home to my cellar.
Sonoma Valley’s Pagani Vineyard has been literally deeply rooted in the soil and the fabric of the regional zinfandel community since 1887. It is dry-farmed, creating deep-rooted vines and fruit that produce rich, potent flavors, yet express a lighter structure than the other zinfandels we tasted. This defines the 2012 Seghesio Zinfandel Pagani Vineyard ($48). It is fascinating when the special, unchanged characteristics of an old vineyard can produce uniquely identifiable wines, vintage to vintage.
Seghesio produces many wines at different levels, many are available at local outlets. The single vineyard releases, at a higher price, are available online, from the winery and wine shops, offering the truest picture of their finest efforts. After lunch, we would drive north a few miles to the heart of the Dry Creek Valley where Mazzocco Sonoma specializes in a different style of zinfandel.
Mozzacco is a very welcoming place, located on Lytton Springs Road, north of Healdsburg. It does produce cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and other varietals but its focus is on high alcohol, lively and fruity zinfandel, mostly from designated vineyards. To prepare our palates, the tasting opened with a 100% sauvignon blanc, a white wine sourced from the Alexander Valley.
The crisp and fragrant 2015 Mazzocco Sauvignon Blanc ($28) created in a New Zealand style, was a very nice beginning that expressed stone fruit aromas with vibrant grapefruit flavors and mineral elements on the finish. As one who usually prefers a softer, creamy style, I liked the grapefruit accents and would recommend this refreshing wine for hot, summer afternoons. This was a good beginning, but it was time to enjoy four single vineyard zinfandel releases, all highly acclaimed.
Awarded gold medals over the past three years by the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the 2013 Mazzocco Zinfandel Briar Vineyard ($29), estate-owned with seven percent petite sirah, was intense from bouquet to palate with wild berry flavors and a hint of spice on the finish. Another highly acclaimed zinfandel in both the San Francisco Chronicle and Sonoma Wine Competitions, the 2013 Mazzocco
Zinfandel Reserve, Warms Springs Ranch ($52) conveys a myriad of aromas and flavors ranging from floral hints to roasted nuts and spice from mid-palate through finish, jammy, but at the same time, elegant. The “Warm Springs” was the best illustration of their signature fruit-forward Mazzocco wines.
From the heart of the Dry Creek appellation, with deep volcanic soils, the 2013 Mazzocco Zinfandel Reserve West Dry Creek Vineyard ($52) delivers concentrated, balanced fruit and berry flavors with accents of cocoa and pepper throughout the finish. This wine is meant to be enjoyed outdoors with some nice gorgonzola cheese.
They saved one of their best reserve zinfandels for our last wine. From their highest elevation vineyard at 2,400-foot, with iron-rich soils that allow the fruit to mature slowly, the 2013 Mazzocco Zinfandel Reserve Smith Orchard Vineyard ($52) expressed rich, diverse flavors ranging from currant jam and anise to chocolate and creme brûlée. This is truly a luscious zinfandel that caught the attention of Robert Parker/Wine Advocate who awarded it 91-points, citing a combination of intensity and balance.
Wine Spectator, National Geographic Traveler and Sunset magazines have recently published articles recommending travel to Sonoma County for its rich food, wine, culture and open space. While the world-famous pinot noir and cool-climate chardonnay are the stars of this region, travelers should not miss an opportunity to experience the zinfandel and other varietals in the north end. Along with Paso Robles, Lodi and Calaveras County, the Dry Creek Valley is at the table with California’s best and these two wineries afford a fine opportunity to enjoy different styles, each excellent in their own way.