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Robert Biale Vineyards Old Crane Ranch Zinfandel 2008
Since that first commercial vintage in 1991 the winery has created a series of a dozen small-vineyard Zinfandels from other historic family vineyards in Napa and Sonoma and, under the direction of new winemaker Steve Hall, has become regarded by collectors, "Zin geeks", authors, wine writers, and sommeliers as among the very finest and most sought after producers of Zinfandel - being dubbed in 2010 by Wine Spectator as Zinfandel Grand Masters. The experts concur: Biale, along with a few select producers, has elevated California Zinfandel to that of internationally recognized status.
St. Helena is in the heart of the Napa Valley, nestled between Calistoga to its north and Rutherford on its southern border. On its western side, the Mayacamas Mountains guard it from the cooling effects of the Pacific Ocean; to its east stand the Vaca Mountains. In conjunction, these mountain ranges serve to lock in summer daytime heat. But in the evening, cool air from the San Pablo Bay funnels uo through the valley, creating very chilly nights. It isn’t uncommon for temperatures to drop 50 degrees, a shift that promotes the development of ideal ripeness and acidity balance in the grapes.
St. Helena contains a plethora of different soil types in a small area, which have been enhanced over centuries by rain runoff from both mountain ranges. Its vineyards cover a variety of terrain, spreading across the bucolic valley floor and its benchlands.
These ideal topographic and climatic growing conditions easily caught the attention of early winemaking pioneers. In fact, St. Helena is the birthplace of Napa Valley’s commercial wine industry. Dr. Crane founded his cellar in 1859, David Fulton in 1860 and Charles Krug in 1861.
Today there are no less than 400 separate vineyards planted within the 12,000 acres that make up the St. Helena appellation.
Unapologetically bold, spice-driven and jammy, Zinfandel is often thought of as California’s flagship grape. And it 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 importation to New England by George Gibbs, probably in 1829. Eventually, making its way to California around the Gold Rush of 1849, Zinfandel found its new home, parading the true American spirit.
In the Glass
Zinfandel commonly expresses powerful notes of dark plum, blackberry, sweet spice, dark chocolate and licorice. Very ripe examples may express a hint of dried fruit like raisin, fig or prune. But Zinfandel grown in cooler, coastal zones often expresses red fruit, black pepper and fresh herbal characteristics of juniper and menthol.
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.
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.