UC Davis has a one-acre vineyard - the Heritage Vineyard - where 90 selections of Zinfandel cuttings - 60 years and older - from 14 different California counties are planted. They hope the study there will serve as the key that unlocks some of Zinfandel’s mystery. They hope to find "whether the grapes' uniqueness is due to the particular clone of Zinfandel or the site, climate, soil and cultural practices."
I have had the good fortune lately to sample some Zinfandel wines of Dry Creek Valley. The good folks at Dry Creek Vineyard provided me with a sample of their 2011 Heritage Vines Zinfandel.
This wine was first released in 1997 as Heritage Clone Zinfandel. The vines are old, but were bud grafted into a new vineyard. The average vine age for the grapes used here is 30 years. The winery claims that the grapes show a youthful vibrancy, along with the complexity of a true old-vine wine. The vineyard offers gravelly loam and clay-based soils on rolling hills and steep hillsides.
The 2011 vintage was marked by winter rain that lasted into late spring and early summer. An unusually cool growing season helped restrain the alcohol, even though it still rocks 14.5% abv. The winery also credits the wine’s silky structure to the cool vintage.
The Heritage Vines Zin was fermented in stainless steel, then aged in French, American and Hungarian oak barrels for 19 months. Flying under the Sonoma County appellation, 10,310 cases of the wine were made, and it retails for $19.
The wine is made from 84% Zinfandel grapes and 16% Petite Sirah. The 2011 Dry Creek Vineyard Heritage Vines Zinfandel carries a medium garnet color and looks a little lighter than many wines of this variety. The nose carries plenty that I like about Zinfandel - clove, vanilla, sage, brambly currant, raspberry - and the aromas are not shy at all. The palate offers spicy peppery eucalyptus and strawberry, raspberry and cherry fruit that is juicy and somewhat tart. The fruit shows very well, but the spicy character really steals the show. This wine will dress up even the plainest piece of meat you can put on the table.
By the way, if you wonder why a winery in a place named after a dry creek would sport a sailboat on their labels, it's because they simply happen to love sailing. They began featuring sailboats on their labels in the 1980s, and it proved to be an aye-catching and memorable design. Sonoma County artist Michael Surles has provided all the beautiful paintings for the Dry Creek Vineyard labels. The winery also supports the sailing community in many other ways.
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