2008 Big Break Zinfandel
California: Contra Costa County
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Mission Codename: The Break of the Century
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Infiltrate Cline Cellars (sister winery to Wine Spies’ Operative Favorite, Jacuzzi Family Vineyards) , in Sonoma County’s Carneros region, and return to Wine Spies HQ with one of their superb Zinfandels.
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Cline Cellars
Wine Subject: 2008 Big Break Zinfandel
Winemaker: Charles (Charlie) Tsegeletos
Zinfandel is often aptly named California’s grape. Its history and lore and the wines that result are often the makings of legend. In the case of today’s wine, Cline’s winemaker had his pick of the Cline family’s best century-old vines. Contra Costa is technically considered part of California’s Central Coast region and is located east of Oakland and north of Livermore.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Deep ruby hues, with a clear burgundy core. Color is concentrated, right out the the very edge of the glass. When swirled, the wine exhibits a lilt that gives clues to its medium viscosity. When the wine settles, it leaves behind a steady cascade of chubby, wine-stained tears that move very slowly down the glass.
Smell – Shy at first, but after some hearty swirling, I was rewarded with blackberry, blueberry, plum, ripe strawberry and fresh sage. Beneath these, lie softer aromas of smoked bacon, tarragon, soft earth and brown spice. These are followed by a soft hint of toasty (vanillan) oak.
Feel – Warm and light across the front palate. Then, smooth and velvety across the mid. A lovely crushed velvet feel then encroaches, spreading an easy, mineral-laden dryness around the entire palate. This is driven by the fine-grained and textured tannins of the wine – and supported by the easy acidity of the wine.
Taste – Showing more on the palate than was initially revealed on the nose (on first inhalation), this wine leads with ripe blackberry, black cherry, plum and soft spice. After the wine opens up, and the nose reveals more, the palate seems to come alive, with the initial fruits accentuated – and joined by additional flavors of dark strawberry, raspberry and black pepper. Under these are more subtle flavors of bramble, espresso grounds and dried dark flower petals. The earthiness found on the nose also translates to the palate, delivering a combination that is distinctly old vine.
Finish – Medium-long of length with fruit, spice and other complex flavors that tail off gently, framed by well structured tannins.
Conclusion – We love Old Vine Zinfandel, and what a pleasure it is to bring you this fine example from Cline Cellars. The wine comes from from Contra Costa County, a region that is a somewhat ‘underrepresented’ appellation, here at Wine Spies HQ. A tad shy at first, this wine really comes to life after some time in the decanter. After about 30 minutes in the decanter, or after some hearty swirling, the fruit really begins to emerge, on the nose and palate. Flavors become more ‘authentic’ and aromas, deeper. The wine has a plush feel and, with its bright acidity, it shows an overall balance that makes it at home with a hearty meal. We enjoyed ours with some new Operatives over a home-cooked meal of stewed beef ribs and roasted potato and sweet potato steak fries. Enjoy this wine now, or cellar for up to 5 years.
WINEMAKER INTEL BRIEFING DOSSIER
SUBJECT: Charlie Tsegeletos
WINE EDUCATION: 30 years of working with winemakers and growers that know what they are doing and what it takes to make good wine. BS Ag Sci and Management and Plant Sci from UCD.
CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: Apprentice Winemaker with tiny Pendleton Winery in San Jose; Assistant Winemaker with family owned Hacienda Winery in Sonoma; Winemaker for historic D’Agostini Winery in Amador County; Senior Director of Winemaking for ground breaking Glen Ellen Winery in Glen Ellen; Winemaker for fun-loving Cline Cellars and Jacuzzi Family Vineyards in Sonoma
WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: Balance is everything. Make big flavorful red wines that have sharp edges and make crisp, fresh white wines that tantalize.
WINEMAKER QUOTE: ”Put ten of your favorite wines in a brown paper bags and taste them blind with your friends. I think you’ll like our wines.”
FIRST COMMERCIAL WINE RELEASE: 1981 Pendleton Monterey Chardonnay released in early ’82.
AGENT RED: Greetings, Charlie. We are thrilled to be showing your 2008 Big Break Zinfandel today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.
CHARLIE: Thanks for having me on.
RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?
CHARLIE: A bottle of 1974 Charles Krug Reserve Cab spun my head around and I wanted to have a go at making something like that.
RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?
CHARLIE: I’ve had a chance to work with a lot of winemakers over the years and each has his “special” winemaking secrets and some of them even work. Joel Aiken who had been the Beaulieu Vineyards winemaker for years once asked me what my wine stood for and that really made me think that each wine I make should stand for something – in other words it should have it’s own signature and not just taste like something else in the lineup.
RED: Who do you make wine for?
CHARLIE: I make it according to my sense of balance and that seems to work out okay for the consumers, sales folks and reviewers. I do listen to what folks say about the wine and then try and refine the wine each vintage.
RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.
CHARLIE: We make seven different Zins at Cline – and this is often my favorite. Big Break Zin is make from vines planted around 1904, head- trained, grown in sandy soil near a Eucalyptus grove and it is a spicy, berry, minty wonder. We only make a bit over 1,000 cases but I think you’ll like it.
RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
CHARLIE: Homemade Pizza – the more flavorful the better.
RED: In your opinion, what makes the Contra Costa region so special?
CHARLIE: Hot in the day, cool in the night with DEEP SANDY soil – I have never seen anything like the dirt our grapes are planted in in Oakley. It is sand deposited over thousands of years from the two big rivers. Sand limits the water and nutrients so the vine struggles and doesn’t produce a lot of vegetation – the grapes develop great flavor intensity.
RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?
CHARLIE: We have just finished getting the ’10 vintage on oak and we are getting ready to bottle the Rose. I’m heading for Chicago today for a week to talk about wine.
RED: How would you recommend people approach your wines and wine in general?
CHARLIE: Pour it, ponder it and drink it. You’ll know if you like it and if my sense of balance works for you too.
RED: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
CHARLIE: Don’t take it too seriously – remember it started out as a grape.
RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
The location of Cline Cellars can be seen in this satellite photo.
What the Winery Says
Awards & Accolades:
88 Points – Wine Spectator – “Loaded with smoky aromas and flavors, plus lively black cherry and freshly cracked pepper. The flavors are juicy and zesty, with just enough complexity and tannins…”
About This Wine:
Grapes from the century old, head-trained, dry-farmed vines growing in our Big Break block produce our most intense Zinfandel. This vineyard exemplifies the distinctive regional character present in wines produced from grapes grown in the unique, sandy soil of Oakley, California. Crisp flavors of strawberries with a hint of exotic spice are supported by vanilla from 11 months aging in French oak barrels. With a full, ripe tannin structure, our Big Break Zinfandel can be enjoyed now or cellared for up to seven years.
Vineyard Notes: Big Break Vineyard was named after a levee that collapsed over 80 years ago, flooding the local farmland. This area typically produces pervasive and distinctive Zinfandel. The combination of the extremely sandy, well-drained soils, dry-farmed century old, head-trained vines and the unique band of cooling air from the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers flavor Oakley’s best vineyard sites. In fact, this block of land is situated between the San Joaquin River and a Eucalyptus grove. Both of these elements contribute to the wine, enhancing its taste by adding a minty characteristic.
Production Notes: Grapes from the Big Break Vineyard were harvested at high sugar levels and treated gently in the cellar. The fruit was almost entirely de-stemmed and lightly crushed, with a large proportion of whole berries remaining in the must. Fermentation occurred at moderate temperatures in stainless steel tanks, using a selection of cultured yeasts. After 10 days of gentle “pump-overs” and near dryness, we drained and pressed the wine from its skins. Big Break Zinfandel was minimally handled and aged for 14 months in approximately 30% new, medium-dark toasted French oak before bottling.
Winemaker Notes: Eucalyptus mint, firm structure and exotic spice are key elements in our 2008 Big Break Zinfandel. This Zinfandel is always a robust wine and with power, revealing crisp strawberries, exotic spice, as well as, a toasted oak characteristic. It holds a distinct dusty berry characteristic (reminiscent of picking wild black berries in the hot summer sun), what we affectionately describe as our “Oakley terroir”. Big Break Zinfandel can be enjoyed young but it should also benefit from 5 to 7 years of cellaring.
Food Pairing: Enjoy this wine with big, spicy foods with plenty of zip, such as, Blackened Ahi.
About The Winery:
our roots run deep – In the latter part of the 1800s, Oakley, Contra Costa County was a booming farming community with thousands of acres of orchards and healthy vineyards. Fred Cline’s maternal grandfather, Valeriano Jacuzzi of pump and spa fame, called this place home. On summer visits to his grandparents, Fred learned both the love of agricultural life and the mysteries of vinifying grapes into wine. These lessons led Fred to obtain a degree in Agriculture Management from U.C. Davis. In 1982, with an inheritance from his grandfather, Fred founded Cline Cellars near Oakley, California. Here, he preserved and restored many ancient vine sites to their rightful reign as premier California wine lands.
In 1991, Fred and his wife Nancy relocated the winery from Oakley to the Carneros region of Sonoma County on a historic 350-acre estate with new vineyards and facilities. While much of the cool Carneros region is planted to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot, Fred pioneered the planting of Rhône varietals including Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne.
Fred’s innovation and experimentation led to producing rich, distinctive Rhône-style wines and intense, flavorful Zinfandels for which he has garnered enormous acclaim. In 2007, our 2004 Sonoma Zinfandel was rated 91 pts by the Wine Spectator, the 2004 Bridgehead Zinfandel was rated 90 pts, and the 2004 Ancient Vines Mourvèdre was named, “One of the top 100 values of the Year” by Wine & Spirits, June 2007 issue.
Wine Type: Red Wine
Appellation: Contra Costa County
Harvest Date: August 26
Aging: 14 months
Residual Sugar: .50%