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Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Zinfandel 2009
Back in 1974, Jess Jackson saw in the fine vineyards of California's cool coastal regions fruit with a variety of outstanding flavors. What if there was a way to produce from this abundance, a single outstanding "cuvée" that offered both quality and value? The result, first released in 1983, was Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay, a rich, round and flavorful wine, made with hand-crafted methods. That same year, Grand Reserve was introduced, a line of ultra-premium wines that represented the full potential of California's finest vineyards and winemaking.
Today, over 5,000 acres of vineyard in California's coastal regions are farmed by Kendall-Jackson. Four separate wineries house what is possibly the single largest barrel-fermentation project in the world. But perhaps most important, is that Kendall-Jackson remains a family-owned winery.
Encompassing the grape-growing regions located north of San Francisco, the North Coast AVA includes six counties: Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, and Solano. Napa and Sonoma get all of the attention, but there are a few other counties producing great wine in Northern California. Two notable examples are Mendocino and Lake County, the northernmost winegrowing regions in the state. These AVAs are very different, both from their neighbors to the south and from one another.
Mendocino benefits from the cooling fog of the Pacific Ocean and is able to successfully grow cool-climate varieties like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling. There is a significant focus here on organic viticulture. Inland Lake County, on the other hand, is considerably warmer, and Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Sauvignon Blanc are the dominant varieties. Both regions are excellent sources of high-quality but affordable California wines in a wide range of styles.
Unapologetically powerful, heady, and fruit-forward, Zinfandel is often thought of as a truly Californian grape, though in fact it is anything but. This variety has followed an intriguing trajectory to reach its adoptive home, beginning, surprisingly, in Croatia. Originally known as Tribidrag, it first made its way to southern Italy where it became known as Primitivo. From there it eventually migrated to what is now unarguably its most successful outpost, in California, and has thrived throughout the state. Of course, this is also the grape of White Zinfandel, a sweet pink wine that enjoyed great popularity in the 1980s and 90s. Though White Zin still has a significant following, today the variety is increasingly associated with the red version.
In the Glass
Zinfandel commonly features a bold, plush texture and notes of dark plum, blackberry, sweet spice, black pepper, dark chocolate, leather, and licorice, and can often be described as “jammy” and a little bit sweet. Very ripe examples may express a hint of dried fruit like raisin, fig, or prune. Despite its significant alcohol and weight, Zinfandel has very smooth, gentle tannins.
Zinfandel is a powerfully flavored wine, mingling happily with bold food like brisket, lamb shanks, pork ribs, or anything barbecued. If care is taken with regards to alcohol levels, Zinfandel’s hint of sweetness can work well with milder Indian-spiced dishes like lamb curry.
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 vines tend to produce wine that is concentrated, complex, and elegant.