Somewhere along the course of the evolution of our country’s wine culture, the notion that zinfandel does not age took root in the collective thinking. Every myth and legend has a seed of truth. So I suppose the direction a majority of zinfandel producers took in styling their wines contributed to the origins of this notion. But like wine made from any other variety, a zinfandel wine has to have the right stuff to allow it to last through the years and evolve into something complex and pleasing.
I must admit that much of what has typified many zinfandels available in retail had not only reinforced the notion that these wines won’t age but it also kept me from being a fan. Things began to change for me over the years as I pushed myself to not cling to assumptions.
Following the wrap-up of the first North American Wine Bloggers’ Conference, last Sunday, we ventured into the area around Santa Rosa to visit familiar wineries and possibly see a few we had never visited before. I wanted to re-visit zinfandels of Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys. The wines being poured at Battaglini Winery were an affirmation of the age worthiness of zinfandel.
Born in Lucca, Giuseppe Battaglini has makes zinfandel, petite sirah and chardonnay at his Russian River Valley estate winery. The dry-farmed, head-pruned zinfandel and petite sirah vines on his Twin Pines Vineyard date back to 1985. The whole operation is relatively small, with all members of the family having some role in the business. Their first vintage was in the early 1990s.
Giuseppe picks by taste, looks at and tastes the seeds and watches stem lignification but does not adhere to sugar levels for harvesting decisions. This is a common approach. However, two different winemakers sourcing grapes from the same vineyard can make two very different wines. Whatever Giuseppe Battaglini looks for when he tastes is undeniably different from what many others go by when deciding to pick their fruit. He prefers spontaneous fermentation and does not use cutured yeasts.
These zinfandels display very good varietal typicity, balance, elegance and complexity. They are vibrant, with good acidity and freshness. At eight and nine years old, the 1999 and 2000 zinfandels are expressive and nicely integrated but clearly identifiable as zinfandels. They are not smothered with new oak. These wines spend about 24 months in barrel before bottling, but only a small portion of the cooperage is new. Giuseppe call his wines “Italian-styled” and intended to accompany food.
Giuseppe is a no-nonsense guy. Jocular and hospitable, he may pour a home-made grappa or his limocello at the end of a flight of wine. But while his warmth and hospitality make visiting a pleasure, his wines that make the sale on their own. A delight to discover and drink, they illustrate the ageworthiness of well-made zinfandel.
Tasting is usually by appointment and takes place in a small shed by the main house.
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