Sierra Foothills Zinfandel is Ready

I believe that folks might already have gleaned that I am somewhat of a Zinfandel fanatic but some of my previous posts. In truth my job has resulted in my drinking less, not more Zin but left to my own devises that would not be the case. Zinfandel remains for me the greatest American wine, both for the sheer joyousness of the wine and the history that comes with them.


Today’s Zinfandel landscape is the richest in history, filled with old vine lots, amazing field blends, and some of the most talented winemakers in the industry, which is not surprising when you consider what terrifi expressions of terroir fine Zins can be. Yes it is true, Zinfandel is a great terroir wine. Just taste a few examples from Sonoma or Napa and it will become instantly obvious. And of course the many regions beyond the familiar that continue to produce world class Zins all have their own terroir to expres.  Just this summer I’ve reported on the wines of Lodi, Mendocino, and Lake counties. All fabulous regions for Zinfandel, and great value Zins at that. Today I turn the spotlight on what might very well be the black sheep of the Zinfandel family: Amador and the Sierra foothills!

Now these are regions with rich and varied histories. producers of some classic Zins across the decades, and yet they fail to get the notice of some other regions and in fact seem to be falling behind regions like Lodi and Mendocino. That’s not because the wines are in anyway inferior, it’s simply economics. Land and farming costs are cheaper elsewhere, and so the big boys tend to have turned their attention away from the Sierra Foothills. It is possible that the wineries from the Sierra Foothills have also not been making the best case for their wines. 


The reputation for Zins from these regions seem to be built on wines that were produced some time ago, though it also seems that more Zin producing regions has changed as little, or as slowly as these two have. When I think of Amador Zins, the most common and well distributed wines of the Sierra foothills, I tend to think of wines that are rich, chewy, chunky and rustic. Certainly apt descriptions for wines say of the 1970s, but not necessarily apt today. I also think of wines that express a warm climate, though in reality what I, and you might be tasting are late harvest wines instead.


The wine industry in this neck of the woods has tended to be rather small, family owned and local. that explains the reluctance to adopt a more modern, perhaps lower alcohol, but certainly more elegant style. It’s not as if the region is incapable of producing these types of wines. Amador is not, after all, a truly hot climate, these are afterall foothills with their diurnal shifts that can approach 50 degrees in the heat of the summer Vineyard elevations vary roughly from 1000 to 3000 feet of elevation and soils tend to be predominantly the decomposed granite of the mountains to the east. The truth of the matter is that many small wineries have continued to make wines the same way for years if not decades simply because the local economy that had been the support structure for these wineries was built on that style of wine.


You can not fault small wineries for being cautious but at the same time there has been both precedent, a 1968 Amador county Zinfandel made for Darrell Corti by Bob Trinchero at Sutter Home that is legendary, as well as recent events, Teagan Passalaqua and Bill Easton have both been staunch supporters of the region producing wines that are uniquely Sierra Foothills but at the same time in a more elegant and refined style than has been the norm in this neck of the woods. These modern examples of Amador Zinfandel are serving to open doors for both the current and future generations of producers in the region. No longer simply surviving, Sierra Foothills producers are now both thriving and learning that their cool hillsides, benefitting as they do from lots of sun and moderately long seasons, can be farmed to produce wines that are fresh, bright, and easy to drink. The days of power monsters, tannic Zins, and franky sweet wines is receding into the past as Amador and the sierra Foothills strides into the 21st century.


Today the Zins of the Sierra Foothills are increasingly about the terroir of the Sierra Foothills and less about the techniques of the 1970s. red fruit, structured wines, based on those granitic soils and wind swept slopes are creeping into the market. For a lover of Zinfandel it’s a welcome sign. Another aspect of Zinfandel revealed, and usually at a very attractive price. With the sumer slowly creeping towards its inevitable conclusion allow me to implore you to grab one or a few of the se wines to share with simply seasoned ribs right off the grill. Not only will the wine pair magically with your food, but the scenario is one that will no doubt be played out over and over again in the foothills themselves. It remains after all a casual place where folks eat with the hands, share food and wine among friends in the backyard, and learn to be increasingly confident in their unique and distinctive expressions of Zinfandel, and Barbera, but that is a story for another time!





Dark in color and on the nose with old wood, earthy, dried flowers aromas wed to a core of very masculine, oily and dark fruit. Packed and smooth in the mouth with intensely briary, spicy and rich black cherry fruit and boysenberry flavors. This is a rich and complex wine with abundant ripe tannins, bright, juicy acids, and a long intense finish. Powerful and gorgeous. 93pts



Fairly oaky on the nose with lots of coffee accents to the  black and plummy nose. Bright firm and well defined in the mouth, with bright acids supporting tart red berry fruit, framed by lovely peppery and almost gin like accents. Focused in the mouth with gorgeous fruit, fine edgy tannins and floral finish. 91pts



A bit of oak greets the nose along with peachy freshness of fruit and layered aromas of smoky, oily blackberry fruit. Fairly rich and peppery, in the mouth, this is laden with bitter black cherry and blackberry fruit, supported by chewy little tannins and good finishing acids. A  bit grapey and a touch rustic. 87pts



Granite soil, no late heat, last vineyard picked, more severe


Bright, floral, aromas and lots of crushed berry fruit emerge on the nose. In the mouth this is very pure and gently spicy with simple, fresh and juicy grapey fruit that ends with a nice long finish that  shows some gentle tannin. 86pts


Lava Cap



Earth, white pepper, and deep aromas of sour plum greet the nose. On entry this is big, bold, with rich, with mineral laden red cherry fruit, earthy base notes, and a soil driven, spicy, long, little raspberry cough syrup finish. Chewy and lovely. 90pts



Tight and earthy on the nose, musky even with aromas of capers, smoke, bouquet garni, and rich red fruit all coming together beautifully. Bright, faceted, and vaguely mineral in the mouth this displays cherryish fruit and a bit of herb on the palate. Really gorgeously  balanced, this is refined, if a bit old school with its dry edge of austerity that powers the long, peppery finish. Great purity in an alluringly firm style. 90pts



Gently creamy oak frames dark balsam scented berry fruit on the nose. In the mouth this is rich and very focused with clear rusty red fruit and red cherry fruit supported by ripe tannins and good acids. The fruit pops on the finish, along with some gentle tannins and a finishing note of wood spice. 88pts



Gingery, spicy, polleny and floral on the nose with very pretty, raspberry and cherry fruit. Cool, crisp, and approachable on the palate, this shows off herb streaked wild cherry fruit, leading to a mineral tinged finish. Smaller scaled than the 2010, this is also a bit rough and  edgy still on the palate,. though fruity through the rustic yet attractive finish. 88pts


Sobon Estate


A little tarry on the nose and spicy with cigar wrapper nuances and a fine oak overlay. In the mouth one finds nice blackberry fruit, bit of herb all nice and bright and zesty with good richness, good length, and impressive depth. Air brings out the tobacco on the palate along with that gentle spice note all layered under rather rich and juicy red berry fruit.  89pts



Spicy, earthy, and balsamic on the nose with layers of  sour plum, beef, mineral and black fruit aromas. the black fruit takes center stage in the mouth as well, along with lovely floral and spice accent notes. This is juicy with some plum skin/ black cherry fruitiness that leads to a rich of modest and slight tannic finish. 88pts



Gently smoky on the nose with a bit flint-like minerality and dark fruit, giving this a muscular feel on the nose,A bit of American oak pops on entry then this feels a bit matte on the palate, round and with good acids and dusty tannins but lacking definition. Showing a bit of medicinal extract on the tart finish, this also turns a bit sticky in the mouth. 85pts



Dusty and a bit candied on the nose with a hint of spicy and red fruit notes. In the mouth there is more of the same, gentle spice, and candied red fruits that are reinforced by the noticeable RS on the palate.  The fruit shows a raspberry jamminess and picks up a dusty note on the modest finish. 84pts



Dark, oaky, and with aromas of dark oily seeds, floral wood, and plenty of slightly inky extracted fruit to cover it, This shows lots of dark coffee bean and vanilla flavors, along with dusty wood tannins, all leading to a short finish. Where’s the fruit? 78pts



Dark, briary fruit gains a nuance of pencil lead on the very complex and aromatic nose which shows rich medicinal and macerated herb top notes. In the mouth this shows off green herb an ivy notes on entry, followed by black currant fruit, a little wood, and a subtle bitter edge. Quite clear and precise on the palate, this turns a bit chewy on the rich, long finish with its hints of briar layered over red fruits. lovely and long. 91pts



Dark and a bit spicy on the nose with a very gentle oak framing note. This shows a lovely balance of power, transparency, and spicy fresh tart cherry fruit in the mouth. There is a slightly astringent follow through here as a bit of wood tannin pokes through on the finish, and then there is a lovely red fruit bang on the finale. Really very attractive and fun to drink. 91pts



Spicy, dark and very aromatic on the nose with nuanced oak, bramble, red berry and camphor aromas. This is a lovely, fun Zin that is a bit loosely knit bit shows gorgeous green herb tinged and subtly minty red fruit that recalls raspberry and strawberry on the palate. It’s fruit driven, yet clean with a precise finish that refreshes the palate with  fine grained ripe tannins. 90pts



Big and jammy on the nose with lots of dark fruit, damp tobacco and earth aromas along with a touch of oak spice. Smooth, rich and focused in the mouth with mulberry and black plummy fruit underpinned by some wood tannin. Oak shows up a bit on the backend with creamy milk chocolate and cinnamon flavors finishing with black cherry, leather, and creamy oak flavors. 88pts



Nutty oak and almond aromas greet the nose over a base of plum and black cherry fruit. Rich, chewy and dark in the mouth with too much wood and vanilla for my palate though it is fairly well integrated with the black cherry fruit on the palate. The finish turns a bit candied again and shows both plenty of vanilla cream and increasingly aggressive wood tannins. 85pts

Credit: Snooth – Articles


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