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Napa Cellars Zinfandel 2011
Napa Cellars has been making wine for more than 40 years in the Napa Valley, on its original property of 5 acres along Highway 29 in Oakville. Thankful to have been graced by prominent Napa families in its early days, such as the Franks and the Rombauers, Napa Cellars now paves its own path, building on the rich heritage to craft wines that are a classic, unmistakable interpretation of the Napa Valley. Napa Cellars now owns three vineyards: Vista Montone Vineyard is located in South Napa Valley, and provides the fruit for Napa Cellars Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Main Street Vineyard is located in St. Helena, Napa Valley, and provides the fruit for Napa Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. Salvador Vineyard is located in Oak Knoll AVA, north of Downtown Napa, and provides fruit for the Cabernet Sauvignon.
The founder of Napa Cellars, Charlie Woods, started a tasting room in a geodesic dome that still welcomes guests today. This warm and casual tasting room is the perfect first or last stop for any visitor to Napa. Conveniently located on Highway 29, the friendly tasting staff encourages wine novices and connoisseurs alike to try their well-worth-the price Napa Valley wines. The winemaker for Napa Cellars, Joe Shirley, grew up in Napa Valley but never became interested in wine until he crossed paths with an influential wine buyer in England. Upon returning home, Joe dove into the wine industry head first. Joe realized he was meant to live a life at the intersection of scientific precision and passionate artistry. This life exists now in the vineyard, in the cellar, and ultimately in the glass, where a sense of place-and his expression of that place, comes to life. “I don’t try to put a big winemaker signature on my wines,” Joe says. “The terroir of the vineyards here is so distinct, so extraordinary; I simply guide the wine toward the purest interpretation of the land.”
One of the world's most highly regarded regions for wine production and tourism, the Napa Valley is the AVA that brought worldwide recognition to California winemaking. The area was settled by a few choice wine families in the 1960's who bet that the wines of the area would grow and flourish. They were right. The Napa wine industry really took off in the 1980's, when vineyard lands were scooped up and vines were planted throughout the county. A number of wineries emerged, from large conglomerates to small boutiques to cult classics. Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely the grape of choice here, with many winemakers also focusing on Bordeaux blends. Whites are usually Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Within the Napa Valley lie many smaller sub-AVAs that lend even more character specifics to the wines. Furthest south is Carneros, followed by Yountville, Oakville & Rutherford. Above those two are St.-Helena and the valley's newest AVA, Calistoga. These areas are situated on the valley floor and are known for creating rich, smooth Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. There are a few mountain regions as well, nestled on the slopes overlooking the valley AVAs. Those include Howell Mountain, Stags Leap District, and Mt. Veeder. Wines from the mountain regions are often more structured and firm, benefiting from more time in the bottle to evolve and soften.
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.