Chateau Montelena Estate Zinfandel 2015
Chateau Montelena’s history is one of the deepest and most storied in the Napa Valley and California. Founded just north of Calistoga by a senator and San Francisco entrepreneur in 1882 at the turn of the century, it was one of the largest wineries in the state. Prohibition put an end to Montelena’s winemaking, and the next major era began in 1968, when Jim Barrett purchased the estate. Jim fell in love with this exceptional property, blessed with a complex mix of soils, slopes and biodiversity of wildlife and fauna. He had a dream of creating wine at the level of the great First Growths of Bordeaux, and set about replanting the vineyard, outfitting the winery with modern equipment, and studying the processes necessary for farming and winemaking at the highest quality level.
In 1976 Chateau Montelena put California at the forefront of the wine world. That year a who’s-who of the French wine and food establishment gathered for a grand tasting at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Paris. Four white Burgundies were tasted against six California Chardonnays. When the scores were tallied, the French Judges were convinced that the top-ranking white wine was one of their own. In fact, it was Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay, rated above all other wines. This seminal event has been memorialized in the book "The Judgment of Paris," by George Taber, as well as in the 2008 feature film Bottle Shock.
Today Chateau Montelena’s distinct 19th century stone structure stands as a quality icon in Napa Valley, consistently producing some of the finest wines in California. Master Winemaker Bo Barrett, Jim’s son, now runs the estate with the help of Winemaker Matt Crafton and Vineyard Manager Dave Vella.
One of Napa Valley’s oldest wine growing subregions but last to gain appellation status, Calistoga occupies the northernmost section of the valley. Beginning at the foot of Mount St. Helena, its vineyards stretch over steep canyons and roll out onto the valley floor. The soils in Calistoga are volcanic, which means they are heavy in minerals, low in organic matter and allow good drainage for vine roots, creating less green growth and more concentration of flavor within the grape berries.
Summer days are very hot but most nights cool down with moist ocean breezes sneaking in over the Mayacamas Mountains or from Knights Valley to its northwest.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the area’s star variety with Zinfandel coming in a strong second, though the latter commands far less price per tonnage so continues to be outshined by Cabernet in vineyard acreage, save for some important exceptions.
Unapologetically bold, spice-driven and jammy, Zinfandel is often thought of as California’s flagship grape. In fact it owns this title by having the ability to adapt to the states’ many microclimates and landscapes, producing unique expressions of the grape throughout. Zinfandel thrives in California’s Central Coast, as well throughout Sonoma County, parts of Napa Valley, the Sierra Foothills, Lodi and Paso Robles.
Zinfandel was born in Croatia and later made its way to southern Italy where it became known as Primitivo. The astute imperial nursery of Vienna collected specimens of the vine and acted as the source of its journey to New England, carried by George Gibbs circa 1829. Eventually, making its way to California around the Gold Rush of 1849, Zinfandel found its new home, parading the true American spirit.
Tasting Notes for Zinfandel
Zinfandel is a dry red wine, though typically forward in fruit. Notes of dark plum, blackberry, sweet spice, dark chocolate and licorice are common. Very ripe examples may express a dried fruit quakity like fig or prune. But Zinfandel grown in cooler, coastal zones often shows red fruit, black pepper and fresh herbal characteristics like juniper and menthol.
Perfect Food Pairings for Zinfandel
Zinfandel is a powerfully flavored wine, mingling happily with bold food like brisket, lamb shanks, pork ribs or anything barbecued. More delicate Zins work with pork, lamb curry and even Ceasar Salad or Salad Nicoise.
Sommelier Secrets for Zinfandel
Thanks to its popularity both for home winemaking and as communion wine, many Zinfandel vines were able to survive prohibition, leading to the abundance of "old vine" Zinfandels. These low-yielding, ancient vines tend to produce wine that is deeply concentrated, delicately perfumed and decidedly complex.