Most wine geeks know the name Chateau Montelena. For those who don’t, allow me to inform you. Chateau Montelena is the Calistoga, California, winery that produced the Chardonnay that beat out Burgundy, France, in the famous Judgement of Paris in 1976. The Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay put Napa on the wine map, and forever changed the landscape of California wine, both literally and figuratively. (Been to Napa lately?)
Would it surprise you to learn that Chateau Montelena is more than world class Chardonnay? Of course being in the Napa Valley, they produce a stunning Cabernet Sauvignon. But did you know they also make a spectacular Zinfandel?
Zinfandel is often thought of as “America’s grape” although genetic testing has determined that the grape originated in Croatia. Nevertheless, Zinfandel is associated with California due to its historical roots to the Gold Rush. Most people associate Zinfandel with Lodi, Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, or perhaps the Sierra Foothills (some of my favorites), but many forget that Napa Valley produces some impressive Zinfandel.
Zinfandel is a hearty grape; a survivor. The vines can live much longer than many other vines, and still produce stunning fruit. Some would say Old Vine Zinfandel is better, softer, and smoother than wine from younger vines. From my tasting experience, I’d have to agree. Zinfandel is also drought tolerant, and thrives in warmer climates, where some other grapes would suffer.
I had never really thought of Napa Valley or Calistoga for Zinfandel, much less Chateau Montelena, known for its Chardonnay and Cabernet. So I was intrigued when I received a sample bottle of Chateau Montelena Calistoga Zinfandel 2015. Winemaker Matt Crafton says of this wine: “…the 2015 vintage showcases [the survivor] quality beautifully. There’s something hallowed in the old, war-torn vines that have endured many challenging growing seasons coupled with the vitality and exuberance of younger plantings that allow us to create this truly compelling wine.”
The 2015 is crafted from fruit harvested from Estate vines that were among the first planted the year Jim Barrett founded Chateau Montelena, 1972, blended with grapes from younger vines. This blend provides the best of both worlds; the soft, smooth qualities of Old Vine Zin, with the youthful fruit and zip of newer vines. 2015 was a very dry year, as California suffered through one of the worst droughts on record. Trees and other vegetation suffered, but the sturdy Zinfandel vines took it in stride, producing rich, intense fruit resulting in an exquisite wine.
This wine was submitted to me as a media sample for review. I received no other compensation. All thoughts, opinions, and tasting notes are my own.
Chateau Montelena Calistoga Zinfandel 2015
Medium purple color with ruby rim. On the nose, more earthy than other Zinfandels I’ve had, but all the fresh blackberry bramble and fruit aromas I expected. On the palate, fresh blackberry, blueberry, cherry, and spice, with dusty chocolate notes, and secondary flavors of vanilla and leather, with smoky notes on the finish. Tannins are bold and chewy; balanced with light acidity. Served with grilled pork chops, the food tames the tannins and really brings out the character. The finish lingers, enticing yet another sip. Perhaps another bottle.
This Zinfandel is truly one of a kind. I’ve tasted dozens of Zinfandels over the years; it is one of my favorite varietals; and this one is definitely unique. It’s bigger, earthier, and with more structure and tannin than many other Zinfandels. If you get the opportunity to try this spectacular wine, take it!
- By Kent Reynolds
- Photo staging by Robyn Raphael