2008 Barricia Zinfandel
California: Sonoma County
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Mission Codename: The Low-Yielder
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Send Agent Red back to Ravenswood Winery to procure another flagship Zinfandel, from one of our favorite Zin producers in Sonoma County.
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Ravenswood Winery
Wine Subject: 2008 Barricia Zinfandel
Winemaker: Joel Peterson
Backgrounder: We are very pleased to return to Ravenswood Winery, where Agent Red was able to secure an allocation of the winery’s extraordinary single vineyard Zinfandel Barricia Zinfandel, a fantastic wine that is a rare treat for lover’s of exceptional Zinfandel.
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. Sonoma Valley Old Vine Zinfandels, which are characterized by their refinement and balance, are very popular with our Operatives.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Dark garnet, with a darker and slightly opaque heart. At the edges of the wine, burgundy hues catch the light. After spinning the wine, tight clusters of skinny legs descend slowly, from high up on the glass wall.
Smell – Alluring and dark, with plenty of blackberry, black cherry and spice beckoning you to take your first sip. Inhale more deeply, though, and find additional aromas of bramble, dark chocolate, truffle and soft earthy oak.
Feel – Plush and soft on entry. Then, quite gradually, the wine gains weight and dimension on the mid-palate. As the wine takes shape, a soft dryness spreads very slowly outward, to the edges of the palate, eventually leading to a very soft dryness.
Taste – Ripe blackberry, spiced cherry, warm brown spice and bramble lead the way. As the wine opens, it reveals dark raspberry, dried cranberry, dried leather, espresso bean and soft oak.
Finish – Long, jammy and very flavorful, with long-sustaining fruit that starts sweet and transitions to slightly earthy, dry and mineral-laden.
Conclusion – This is another in a succession of fantastic single vineyard Zinfandels that Joel Peterson is famous for! Big flavors, a lush and mouth-filling feel with big fruit on the nose and on the palate, this wine delivers a very well-rounded sensory experience. The Barricia Vineyard shows of its consistent quality and unique character, improving with each successive vintage. This wine is an easy choice for anyone that loves really excellent Zinfandel. Pair with a grilled steak, rubbed with salt, pepper, garlic and olive oil for the ultimate experience.
Joel Peterson, winemaker for Ravenswood, was too busy to sit down with us today (we think he’s on a covert mission at the moment), but here is a retransmission of our original interview with Joel when we reviewed his Chauvet Zinfandel.
WINEMAKER INTEL BRIEFING DOSSIER
SUBJECT: JOEL PETERSON
DATE OF BIRTH: APRIL 1947
PLACE OF BIRTH: Born in Oakland, California. Fifth generation Californian.
SIGNATURE VARIETAL: ZINFANDEL
WINEMAKER QUOTE: ”Style, history, quality, character – California wine has it all.”
AGENT RED: Greetings, Joel. We are thrilled to be showing your very exclusive Chauvet Zinfandel today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.
JOEL: Happy to answer questions, particularly when they are about my favorite subject, wine. I am also thrilled that you are showing my wine today. Direct experience is one of the best ways that we have of developing fans for Ravenswood wines.
RED: I’m sure that our Operatives will respond well to today’s offer. Your Chauvet Zinfandel is excellent! Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?
JOEL: My father taught me to taste when I was fairly young. Many young men play baseball or hunt with their fathers (we did those things as well), but what was unusual was that I learned to taste wine and as a result got an olfactory training that is fairly rare. The single wine that change my vision of wine was a 1957 Chateau Fortia. I was about 20 years old and had developed incredibly interesting and complex perfume and flavors making is one of the most memorable wines that I had tasted up to that date.
RED: And where did you learn the most about winemaking?
JOEL: I spent the years from 1973 until 1977 with Joseph Swan learning the nuts and bolts of winemaking. Joe was good friends with Andre Tchelistcheff and used him as a consultant, so I was able to learn in a very hands on way from the best in the business.
RED: What is your winemaking style or philosophy?
JOEL: Wines should reflect the flavors of the places that they were grown. Wine should taste like fruit, not oak. Wine should be balanced, rich and complex and interesting. The best wines are the ones that develop well with age. To that end we attempt to let each vineyard express it’s optimal character by using winemaking techniques and careful attention to detail that dwells on each vineyards particular strengths. Our mantra is “no wimpy wines”, meaning that we want each wine we have to exhibit strength of character, not merely power.
RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?
JOEL: There are a whole series of wines that have influenced my winemaking style. Most of them have been European form places like Bordeaux, the Rhone and northern Italy. These memorable wines have a certain balance of fruit, density, acid and tannin that I find desirable in a wine.
RED: How long have you been making wine?
JOEL: 35 years
RED: Who do you make wine for?
JOEL: I make the wine that best expresses the vineyard, the vintage is balanced and tastes good. As a result ,it is fair to say that, Ravenswood makes wine for me, wine reviewers and wine lovers everywhere.
RED: Tell me, what makes the Sonoma Valley so special?
JOEL: The Sonoma Valley is, from a historical perspective, one of the first important grape growing regions in California. It was chosen because it has all the elements that create excellent wines. The soils, for the most part, are volcanic. In the case of Old Hill, they are called Tuscan Red Hill soils. These soils are ideal for dry farming vineyards. The other primary characteristic is that it has a maritime influence which creates a significant diurnal variation; that is warm days and cool nights. This allows for longer maturation resulting in more intense and fresher fruit flavors in the wine.
RED: What is one piece of advice that you would give to someone that is considering a career as a winemaker?
JOEL: Learn your craft well, be patient and love what you do. It is not “just a job”.
RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?
JOEL: The usual things, but I spend a lot of time these day sharing the joy of wine and the special aspects Ravenswood with as many people as I can.
RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today
JOEL: The 2006 Ravenswood Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel is a wonderful wine. It received 95 points from Wine and Spirits Magazine and was their highest rated Zinfandel of the year. The vineyard is one of California’s most historic and interesting vineyard plantings. It is located in Sonoma Valley and was originally planted in 1861 by William McPhearson Hill. The vines that go into the wine that we are featuring were planted in 1889. This is a unique vineyard because it is a mixed field blend planting from the old school of California viticulture. As planted, it includes zinfandel which is about 51% of the field blend, and as many as 14 other grape varieties. Many of these varieties are Rhone varieties like Syrah and Grenache and Mourvedre. This contributes a rather interesting Rhone-like character to the wine, which is rich, complex and age worthy as one might expect of a vineyard with this kind of low production and vine age. The vineyard is certified organic and is farmed with great attention and care. The winemaking is very simple, designed to bring out the best flavors of the grapes. Open top fermenters, punched down by hand, native yeast fermentations and approximately 30% new French oak contribute to the complexity, harmony, and nuance found in this wine.
RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
JOEL: This wine would work well with anything that had its origins in the Mediterranean or Northern Italy. One of my favorite pairings with this wine is osso bucco or, alternately, a lamb daube.
RED: Please share one thing about yourself that few people know
JOEL: I delivered my son, Morgan, at home.
RED: Both of my mini-agents were, as well! Tell me, what is your favorite ‘everyday’ or table wine?
JOEL: Sherman and Hookers Shebang. A one liter jug wine from California. Beyond that, I taste so much, my answer should be whatever wine is in front of me.
RED: How would you recommend that people approach your wines, or wine in general?
JOEL: With a sense of exploration, joy and with food and company.
RED: If you could choose any one wine to drink (regardless of price or availability), what would it be?
JOEL: I would never make such a choice. Wine is about diversity and complexity. One wine would be boring. This is not a monotheistic endeavor.
RED: Excellent answer! What is the one question that I should have asked you, and what is your answer to that question?
JOEL: Do you have the best, most interesting, most diverse, most challenging, most satisfying job in the universe? YES
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!
JOEL: Every winery needs fans. Without them there is only a singular void. So, thank you to you and all those who make wine part of their daily experience.
What the Winery Says
About This Wine:
The Zinfandel from this vineyard has been revered by every winery that has made wine from it. The majority of Barricia is an old, low-production vineyard in a special location in Sonoma Valley. Due to the age of the vines and the dry farming practices, the crop level on these vines is low and the vine vigor minimal. This, of course, leads to very intense wines.
Additionally, the thick-skinned nature of the grapes and the predominant tannins work to maintain the perfect balance between fruit and structure.
Raspberry, cherry pie, cracked black pepper, and spice driven scents with hints of coffee and new leather add complexity to the aromas classically associated with Barricia vineyards. Delicious sweet red fruit favors at the heart of the wine give way to an intense finish with silky tannins and lingering flavors of blackberries and candied cherries. This is a wine with lovely structure and focus.
About The Winery:
For as long as anybody cares to remember, this has been the credo (calling card? Battle cry? Team yell? Coat of arms?) of Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma, California. Expressing our commitment to full-flavored varietal wine — notably Zinfandel — it sums up our mission to capture everything a vineyard has to offer, and to promote it in a way that won’t put people to sleep. Wine is, after all, one of the most fascinating and fun things in life, which is why Ravenswood winemaker Joel Peterson believes that it belongs on the table — not on a pedestal or in an ivory tower.
How did the name of Ravenswood become interchangeable with irresistibility? In the early 1970s, when California’s claim to fame was the “best jug wine in the world,” Joel’s dream was to create wines that would rival the greatest of Europe. Turned out he wasn’t dreaming: In his first vintage, 1976, he produced 327 cases of Dry Creek Zin that took first place in a prestigious San Francisco tasting. But despite the cult following and critical acclaim that began to swirl around its hypnotic logo, Ravenswood remained a roving boutique until the late 1980s, when its Vintners Blend program was launched. Conceived on Joel’s conviction that, besides great wine, the world needs good, affordable wine (“a lake of wine an inch deep”), it redefined the concept of Best Jug Wine in the World.
Thanks to this and a few other things (not least, its tireless campaign against priggish elitism), Ravenswood acquired an informal reputation as the people’s premium winery. In 1999 the company went public with a “Dutch auction” of shares offered over the Internet, and two years later Ravenswood was purchased by Constellation Brands, becoming part of its fine-wine division, Franciscan Estates — a productive partnership that kept the winery under Joel’s control while providing greater resources for efficient operation and growth.
The picture has changed a bit since 1976. Following the original inspiration of wineries like Ravenswood, California has now shirked its once-wimpy status to a fault. But the more things change around our Sonoma headquarters, the more they stay the same. In this brave new enologically altered world, Ravenswood continues to set a stubborn standard for complex, balanced, uncompromising wine that captures everything a vineyard has to offer (and, we might add, nothing more).
About The Winemaker:
Joel Peterson grew up on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay during the Dark Ages when California wine was judged by the type of jug it was bottled in. However, Joel’s farsighted father Walter bucked the status quo by starting the San Francisco Wine Sampling Club, which studied fine wines from all over the world. Walter allowed his son to join the group’s twice-weekly tastings when Joel was nine years old, carefully measuring the wine in the boy’s glass — then his spittoon — to make sure everything was expectorated.
By the time he was a teenager, Joel thus had a working knowledge of European vineyards and vintages, along with a collection of headstrong opinions about what made good wine. After graduating from Oregon State University, he followed in the professional footsteps of his parents (both of whom were chemists), going to work as a laboratory scientist. On the side, he made money through wine writing and consulting, gaining a local reputation as a gifted taster (and tasteless punster).
Eventually it dawned on Joel that he had the background (not to mention the prejudices) to be an actual winemaker. Hence, he apprenticed with Joseph Swan — one of California’s outstanding craftsmen of fine Zinfandel — to learn the art of traditional winemaking as practiced in Bordeaux and Burgundy. In 1976 Joel founded Ravenswood in partnership with fellow wine lover Reed Foster (a Harvard MBA gone astray) and over the next half-dozen years, their fledgling operation moved from the rear corner of one willing winery to another. When Ravenswood finally turned a profit after a dozen years of operation, they settled on the northern edge of Sonoma, where the winery’s tasting room is located.
Joel is now acknowledged as a leader in California wine — an articulate spokesman and stylistic trendsetter who helped make Zinfandel the runaway phenomenon that it is today. If there were a California Winemaking Hall of Fame, he’d be a shoo-in for early induction — not just as a home-run hitter but as one of the most popular players in the majors. (It’s said that even as a Little Leaguer he could handle the spitter with aplomb.)
Varietal: 76% Zinfandel, 24% Petite Sirah
Appellation: Sonoma County
Aging: 20 Months, 100% French Oak; 33% New, 32% 1 Year Old
Ageability: 7-10 years