By Chuck Hill
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Wines of the Week Archive
Primitivo and Friends – A Special Report
As I mentioned last week Primitivo and Zinfandel are essentially the same grape. They are both genetically equivalent to the Croatian grape Crljenak Kastelanski. Extensive research during the 1990s revealed that Primitivo and Zinfandel are clones of the same grape and one parent of the modern Croation variety Plavac Mali. The other parent of Plavac Mali is an ancient variety from the Adriatic island of Solta, Dobricic…
“Holy smoke, Chuck! When are we going to pull some corks and get this show on the road?”
The proof is in the glass. Both Zinfandel and Primitivo are juicy, delicious red wines that accompany this week’s selection of Chef Ted’s Chicken Cacciatore. We’ve also thrown in a few mixed blacks (dark red wine varietals) and blends, and more Zins to tempt your palates.
To increase the likelihood of availability, we have included a larger percentage of California wines in these reviews than the less available Northwest Primitivo and Zinfandels.
Jacuzzi Winery was founded by the same Italian family that engineered water pumps and later created pumps and jets for use in spas and hot tubs. The fame of the baths and spas has been more extensive than the winery, but the Italian-style wines from Jacuzzi Family Vineyards are popular and delicious. The Primitivo offers aromas of cherries and dusty herbs with notes of spice and coffee. It is a tasty accompaniment to chicken cacciatore.
Angel Vine winemaker Ed Fus typically sources his Primitivo from the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, Coyote Canyon Vineyard and the Wahluke Slope AVA, Stone Tree Vineyard – both sites are popular with the best Washington winemakers. Angel Vine Primitivo ranked high with the tasters for its dark cherry fruit mingling with notes of pepper and earthy herbs.
Kinderman family produces a broad range of varietal wines from their
estate Agate Ridge Vineyard in the Rogue Valley AVA near Eagle Point,
Oregon. Their Primitivo was a favorite with our tasters for its
bright raspberry fruit, tangy dried herbs and finish of earthy spice and
notes of tobacco and vanilla. It is not heavily oaked and is a
very nice food wine.
Sobon Estate and Shenandoah Vineyards are family-owned wineries in Amador County, California, in the heart of the Sierra foothills gold country. The winery has a 35-year history of producing superb wines using low-yield viticulture and minimal-intervention winemaking techniques. This wine is a blend of 86% Zinfandel with 14% Zinfandel and offers unique cherry spice and spicy/smoky aromas and flavors with toasty notes of American oak – a good pairing with meats from the grill.
This wine is a blend of Primitivo and Petite Sirah sourced from Coyote Canyon and Stone Tree Vineyards in Washington’s Columbia Valley. With aromas of raspberry, vanilla and the scent of Christmas cookies baking, this intriguing wine invites a sip, revealing flavors of red fruits, barrel spice and earthy vanilla. High scoring with the tasting panel, it was a great pairing for the rich chicken cacciatore.
The Carignane grape is thought to have originated in the Aragon region of Spain and was transplanted to many other wine regions throughout the world. It is a prolific producer and was once California’s most planted red variety. Resulting wines can be acidic and overly tannic, requiring great skill to produce a wine of elegance. This wine is a “mouth full of berry” featuring ripe blackberry and cherry, tamed by a frame of elegant oak and dusty mineral with nuances of spice and cocoa.
Charbono originated in the Savoie region of southeastern France and found its way to the New World, most notably Argentina and California. There are few Charbono vineyards left in California and the grapes for this wine come from an historic Napa Valley vineyard that once supplied Inglenook winery where legendary Charbono wines were made. Artezin’s inky Charbono gives the full measure of character in both nose and palate with aromas and flavors of blackberry, earthy mineral, dark cherry, plum and spicy oak.
The 250-acre StoneTree Vineyard on the south slope of Saddle Mountain has plantings of all of the Bordeaux red varieties as well as Zinfandel, Tempranillo and Barbera. The customer list for their fruit is lengthy and impressive, including Ed Fus and his Angel Vine Winery. Ed’s StoneTree Zin offers aromas of blueberry, dried herb and barrel spice with following flavors and a medium to light body – good with lighter meats and appetizers.
Fall has fallen in the Northwest, and along with cool breezes and a little drizzle comes the color of the changing leaves and the first fire in the fireplace since the end of spring. The tasting room at Maryhill offers a cozy retreat with views of Nature’s majesty. For a “taste” of Nature’s majesty, try Maryhill Zinfandel, ripe berry and toasty oak combine to make a pleasant accompaniment to hearty fall fare.
Crafted from grapes grown in both the Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys, Liar’s Dice Zinfandel offers the juicy, jammy side of Zin with a full-bodied palate and ripe aromas of blackberry, currants and black cherry. The winery suggests pairing Liar’s Dice with sweet and spicy meats like baby-back ribs or pulled-pork sandwiches. Liar’s Dice is a bluffing game made famous by Capt. Jack Sparrow in the Pirate’s of the Caribbean movies, arrrrgh!
One of Sonoma County’s most historic wine estates, Gundlach-Bundschu traces its roots back to the 1850s German immigrant Jacob Gundlach who planted his 400-acre Rhinefarm ranch with 60,000 vines he had brought from Europe. The winery grew and prospered but was devastated in 1906 when their San Francisco winery and one million gallons of wines were destroyed in the great earthquake. See the details at GunBun.com while you pull a cork… GunBun’s 2010 Zinfandel takes the grape to new heights with depth, intensity and complexity. Powerful blueberry and black raspberry fruit is complemented by floral and peppery notes with an oak accompaniment of spicy cedar, tobacco leaf and leather.
The Barricia Vineyard rests on a plot of land that – in the 1840s - General Mariano Vallejo had traded to his children’s music teacher in exchange for piano lessons. Zinfandel vines were planted in 1892 and are still producing today. The wine is quintessential Sonoma Zin showing brambly herbs, ripe plum, cherry, cracked black pepper, dark chocolate, smoky cedar and leather.
Big House Winery
Big House Winery is located in Soledad, California, just “an ankle iron’s toss” from the Soledad State Correctional Facility, a.k.a. “the Big House,” “The Clink,” “The Slammer,” which explains the recurring prison theme on the winery labels. Crafted from grapes grown on “beastly old vines,” Cardinal Zin offers juicy cherry and berry flavors with light notes of field herb and toasty oak. A great quaff for your end of summer barbecue and also available in a 3-liter box.
In 1843, the son of a Spanish soldier was give a land grant in the area between the Russian River and what is now the Dry Creek Valley. He farmed the land, raised cattle and brought his family to live there. He called the land his Tzabaco Rancho – the origin of the name is unknown. Today Rancho Zabaco is dedicated to crafting Zinfandel wines that express the character of some of the area’s most famed vineyards. This Reserve blend offers the intensity of blackberry jam, dried cherries and plums, and cracked black pepper. The finish reveals caramel and vanilla mingling with spicy oak.
Sicilian-born John Giarrusso came to California in 1910 and brought with
him his family’s heritage of winemaking from the Old Country.
Finding Zinfandel to most closely resemble the Primitivo vines of his
native Italy, he crafted his wines from this grape to accompany the
meats he sold from his butcher shop. From the Giarrusso
Vineyard in the southern Dry Creek Valley comes this complex Zin, ripe
with tangy blueberry and bramble fruit, and showing dried herbs, vanilla
and toasty oak. It is great with Italian dishes or steaks from the
The Guglielmo Winery traces its history of winegrowing in the Santa Clara Valley to 1925 when Emilio Guglielmo founded his winery near Morgan Hill. Today, the winery celebrates its Italian heritage in the tasting room with Italian foods and specialties complementing the tasting of Guglielmo wines. The 2008 Zinfandel offers aromas of ripe berry and toasty oak with notes of citrus and vanilla. The palate is medium bodied with flavors of strawberry, plum and toasty cedar.
Clos La Chance
Clos La Chance is also located near Morgan Hill in the Santa Clara Valley. The modern winery and 150-acre vineyard produce a wide variety of wines, and the winery is a popular attraction for visitors from the nearby Silicon Valley communities. This Zinfandel offers aromas of blackberry pie, cracked black pepper and toasty vanilla. The palate offers flavors of berry and herb and is a fine complement to lighter grilled meats and savory pastas and appetizers.
Don Sebastiani’s Project Paso takes advantage of the historic wine family’s long relationship with Sam Balakian, a local Paso Robles winemaker who crafted high-quality varietal wines for the California appellation blends. Today, under the Project Paso label, five exceptional varietals are offered including the old vine Zinfandel. Look for aromas of black cherry, blackberry and white pepper with a tangy palate of cran-cherry, field herbs and notes of baking spice.
It’s on the shelf of nearly every grocery store with a wine department, and the footprint label is a guarantee that it is a best buy for everyday wine enjoyment. Aromas and flavors of ripe cherries and blackberries mingle with notes of spice and cocoa – medium--bodied and easy drinking with light meals or just sipping with friends.
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