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Optima Winery 2008 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel

What We Say 2008 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel


Today’s wine is well-deserving of special recognition as a Superior Wine. The Wine Spies always put quality first when selecting wines, but when one really stands out, we issue these special alerts.


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Mission Codename: Return to Eternity

Operative: Agent Red

Objective: Return to Optima Winery, a winery that we first placed under surveillance in 2009, when we featured a previous vintage of today’s fantastic Zinfandel. If Optima’s 2008 vintage lives up to our expectations, acquire an ample quantity for our Dry Creek Zinfandel-loving Operatives.

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Optima Winery

Wine Subject: 2008 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel

Winemaker: Mike Duffy


Zinfandel is related to the Italian Primitivo grape, tracing its origin to the Croatian grape Crljenak Kastelanski. Zinfandel is one of the most versatile varietals with the ability to make wines, both rich to fruity, dark to light, and dry to sweet. Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, which are characterized by their balanced flavors, are gaining in popularity with our Operatives.

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Dark fuchsia hues with a deeper core of inky garnet. At the edge of the glass, a pretty ring of pure ruby traces a fine circle. Swirl the wine and feel the weight (viscosity) of the liquid as it settles quickly in the glass. When the wine settles, wine-stained tears are quick to emerge before they run slowly down the glass.

Smell – Aromatic blackberry, bramble, brown spice and black cherry take the lead. These are closely followed by cedar, vanilla and toasty oak, with a hint of dark chocolate.

Feel – A softly round entry quickly turns gently dry with a hint of grip at the mid-palate as plush tannins contribute to the full feeling of the wine. Spice, dark fruit and a softly dark minerality sustain through the long finish.

Taste – Dark mixed berries and dark raspberry jam mingle with juicy flavors of tart cherry, dark cherry, Bing cherry and red plum. These yield to more subtle flavors of toasty oak, dark cocoa and cranberry.

Finish – Long and supple, leading with elegant dark fruit and slowly yielding to more earthen flavors and soft oak, with black pepper and tart cranberry at the very end.

Conclusion – Once again, Optima delivers a delicious, bold, classic Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel. Their 2008 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel shows off the power of the fruit, and the prowess of winemaker, Mike Duffy. This wine shows great balance, with enough acidity and restraint to make it a dandy food companion, without overpowering. An obvious choice for a bold grilled steak or a hearty pasta dish with red sauce, this wine would pair equally well with lighter fare, as well. Don’t be afraid to enjoy this wine with a broiled trout or a veggie-laden pasta Primavera. Mike takes his winemaking very seriously, shepherding them through their natural evolution – as Mother Nature drives the entire process. Today’s delicious wine gets our heartiest Wine Spies recommendation!

Special Note: I revisited this wine after our sample bottle had sat, overnight, without any gas to preserve it. The wine was even better, leading me to encourage you to decant for an extended period. Or, to swirl the wine, heartily, before you enjoy it. The rich fruit really leaps out after extended decanting!

Mission Report:


SUBJECT: Mike Duffy



WINE EDUCATION: Graduate of UC Davis in Enology

CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: When I finished my Enology degree from UCD in 1981, I was already employed as the Assistant Winemaker at Trefethen Vineyards in Napa Valley. "I was very motivated to earn my degree and start working after being a broke college student for so long. I moved to Field Stone as winemaker in 1988, studying under the legendary Andre Tchelistcheff. For nine years, I worked full-time at Field Stone, saving weekends to tend to my own fledgling winery, Optima.

SIGNATURE VARIETAL: Cabernet Sauvignon

_ Below is Agent Red’s recent interview with winemaker Mike Duffy._


AGENT RED: Greetings, Mike. I know how busy you are with harvest right now, so I really appreciate the opportunity to talk with you – if even for a few scant minutes, today.

MIKE: Yeah, we have been plenty busy. We crushed thirty tons of grapes today!

RED: Wow. Again, thanks. Tell me, was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?

MIKE: Yes, I was raised around wine. My first job in High School was helping my parents, Bill and Della, at their wine shop, that is what sparked my interest. Later I played with making wine out of anything I could get out of my parents garden. I would take flats of strawberries, peaches and blackberries and craft them into wine. One time I even raided the rose bushes in the neighborhood so I could make a rose petal champagne

RED: And where did you learn the most about winemaking?

MIKE: UC Davis gave me an excellent technical background. It was the basis for my ability to solve problems when they arise. The experience of making wine came from getting in and getting dirty at my internship at Trefethen in 1980. That’s where it all came together for me. I have a unique work ethic and a strong mechanical background, both of which I have my father to thank for. Both those qualities served me well when I left the academic world and helped distinguish me from other classmates and co-workers.

RED: Great places to get your footing! What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?

MIKE: Andre Tchelistcheff was the biggest influence on how I make Cabernet, and the greatest source of perspective, history and wine knowledge that I have been fortunate enough to have enjoyed. He approached the entire winemaking endeavor, from the vineyard in the spring, to harvest, and through barrel aging, as one integrated whole. I learned to take Alexander Valley Cabernet and to use its brilliant fruit as the basis for my wines. “Don’t bother making one of those huge Cabernets like many do in Napa, Mike. Anyone can make wines like those.” Andre would say. He inspired me to make a Cabernet that spoke to the virtues of Alexander Valley. A wine with an intense core of fruit and coco, balanced with vanilla and oak. Complex and powerful, yet subtle and soft. He also impressed on me the critical concept of not manipulating the wine, rather helping it become its best.

RED: You don’t know how many winemakers mention Andre as an influence! How long have you been making wine?

MIKE: Well one could say since I was a child, but 2009 was my 30th harvest in Napa and Sonoma. I still enjoy the “seasonality” of winemaking.

RED: Who do you make wine for?

MIKE: I began making wine for my own creative satisfaction. I worked for several top wineries that produced Cabernet, and there was always some step in the process when I said to myself, “If this were my wine I would do this differently”. That need to satisfy my own creativity from beginning to end is why I started my own winery when I was 25. My approach to winemaking combines art and practicality. "I always liked the honesty and hard work of agriculture and to me, winemaking is the ultimate fusion of agriculture and art.

RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?

MIKE: Bottling and more bottling!

RED: Please share one thing about yourself that few people know

MIKE: I enjoy cooking; to me this is another form of taking an ingredient and using your creativity to make something incredible. My wife thinks I cook so well that she refuses to cook anymore. I love watching all of the cooking shows on TV, especially Iron Chef. I just can’t get enough, they are very inspiring.

RED:What is your favorite ‘everyday’ or table wine?

MIKE: I enjoy drinking a dry Gewurztraminer from Sonoma County, Anderson Valley, or from the Alsace region of France. It’s a wonderful wine that you can drink alone or with Thai, Asian or Mexican food all of which I enjoy cooking and eating. The best examples have a depth and a perfume that is unbelievable.

RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and about your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans. Your Alexander Valley Cab is stupendous!

MIKE: Thanks, very much, Red. Now, back to the grapes!

Wine Spies Vineyard Check:

The location of Optima Winery in Healdsburg can be seen in this satellite photo.

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What the Winery Says Optima Winery

Optima Winery
Optima Winery

About This Wine:

The 2008 Zinfandel is a ripe full-flavored, exceptionally easy going Zinfandel. The wine delivers the regions classic robust wild berry fruit, balanced by creamy vanilla. The tannins are smooth and round and the expansive mid-palate leads to a firm and persistent finish. The balance of this quintessential Zinfandel allows great versatility with food.

The 2008 vintage was produced from fruit grown on the western bench of Dry Creek Valley, 200 feet above the valley floor. The vineyard experiences cool, foggy mornings and warm days. Because there is a substantial difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures, the growing season lasts longer, so the grapes mature more slowly. Harvested on September 6, 2008, at 25.9 degrees brix , the fruit was gently crushed and destemmed, and fermented 10 days to dryness. Following pressing, the wine was clarified naturally by settling, and them moved to small oak cooperage where it aged for 12 months. We used a blend of sixty gallon French and American oak barrels to both enhance and complement the wonderful berry aromas.

About The Winery:

Optima began as a dream producing just 400 cases in 1984, now, the winery is continuing their tradition of producing premium, world class wines. Optima specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel Port, and Chardonnay. Join us in our Tuscan style tasting room and don’t miss our monthly specials.

Mike Duffy born in Salem, Oregon and raised in Redding, CA, Mike seemed destined early in to pursue a career in the wine business. As a youth his dad was an avid home-winemaker, Mike was fascinated by the process and would often times help his dad. When Mike was a sophomore in High school, he had already declared his intention to major in enology at UC Davis.

In 1980, during his last year at Davis, he landed an opportunity to intern at Trefethen Winery, where he had worked briefly during a crush one year. He was soon offered a job as Assistant Winemaker, so he decided to accelerate his schooling by jamming his entire last year into just 2 quarters.

In 1983 Mike moved over to Sonoma County to pursue is own dream of one day owning a winery. He took a job at Field Stone as the winemaker working along side with the Anfre’ Tchelistcheff, a world renowned winemaker, for nine years while crafting his Cabernet for his Optima label. In 1984, Mike purchased grapes of his own, leading to his first production of 400 cases of Cabernet.

Today, Mike along with his wife Nicol and four boys celebrate Optima Winery’s twentieth year, while continuing the tradition of producing premium world class wines.

Nicol was born and raised in Santa Rosa, CA had also always dreamed of being in the wine business. After attending college with an accounting degree she tried to break into the wine business. She soon came to realize that most wineries were family run. So she focused on Public Accounting for eight years until 2000.

Nicol and her son Tyler moved to Healdsburg where her son tried out for a traveling soccer team. Mike was the coach. Mike picked Tyler and so the three of them traveled quite a bit. One night she invited Mike to dinner and pulled out a bottle of Optima Russian River Chardonnay.

Mike explained to her that, that was his winery and he made that wine. Well she knew she had to marry him so in 2001 Mike and Nicol and the four boys married at a winery in Healdsburg.

Technical Analysis:

Composition: 100% 96% Zinfandel, 4% Petite Sirah

Appellation: 100% Dry Creek Valley

Alcohol: 14.9%

pH: 3.77

Total Acid: 5.75 g/L

Offer Expired Feb 28, 2011 at 11:59 pm
Price Redacted
Offer Expired Feb 28, 2011 at 11:59 pm
Price Redacted