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Villa Mt. Eden Grand Reserve Monte Rosso Zinfandel 1997
This Zinfandel will pair best with foods that can match its spicy and intense personality. Try it with down home barbecue, Cajun blackened salmon and grilled chicken apple sausages.
Under former winemaker, Mike McGrath’s, 25 years of leadership, Villa Mt. Eden earned five placements on Wine Spectator’s annual “Top 100” and many best value accolades. Villa Mt. Eden also moved production facilities up the road on the Silverado Trail. In 2009 McGrath’s longtime assistant winemaker Armando de Santiago took the helm as winemaker at Villa Mt. Eden, placing renewed focus on Villa’s enduring mission to showcase distinguished regions and vineyards of California. With his unique background in philosophy and naturopathy, as well as winemaking, Armando is in many ways a natural fit for Villa Mt. Eden. This modern day Renaissance man’s passion for crafting elegant wines with fruit intensity and a focus on place, is ideally suited to guiding this acclaimed winery into its next chapter.
A lesser-known but elite AVA within the larger Santa Barbara district, the Santa Maria Valley AVA runs precisely east to west starting near the coast, allowing Pacific Ocean air to funnel through and cool the vineyards. This allows grapes to ripen evenly and achieve their full potential by harvest time. Combined with minimal rainfall, consistent warm sunshine, and well-drained soils, this creates an ideal environment for grape growing.
Many of the wineries here are small and highly respected, having established a reputation in the 1970s and 80s for producing excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. More recently, Syrah has proven quite successful in the region as well. Many vineyards here are owned by growers who sell their grapes to wineries, so it is common to see the same vineyard name on bottle from different wineries. Bien Nacido is perhaps the best-known and most prestigious.
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.