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Terra d'Oro Zinfandel 2011
As the lower part of the greater Sierra Foothills appellation, Amador is roughly a plateau whose vineyards grow at 1,200 to 2,000 feet in elevation. It is 100 miles east of both San Francisco and Napa Valley. Most of its wineries are in the oak-studded rolling hillsides of Shenandoah Valley or east in Fiddletown, where elevations are slightly higher.
The Sierra Foothills growing area was among the largest wine producers in the state during the gold rush of the late 1800s. The local wine industry enjoyed great success until just after the turn of the century when fortune-seekers moved elsewhere and its population diminished. With Prohibition, winemaking was totally abandoned, along with its vineyards. But some of these, especially Zinfandel, still remain and are the treasure chest of the Sierra Foothills as we know them.
Most Amador vines are planted in volcanic soils derived primarily from sandy clay loam and decomposed granite. Summer days are hot but nighttime temperatures typically drop 30 degrees and the humidity is low, making this an ideal environment for grape growing. Because there is adequate rain throughout the year and even snow in the winter, dry farming is possible.
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.