Calistoga, Chateau Montelena, Napa Valley, Survivor, Wine, Zinfandel

Review: Chateau Montelena Calistoga Zinfandel 2015

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.

SRP $39.00


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
Cellar,, Wine, Wine Storage

What’s in Your Cellar?


Some day my wine cellar will look like this. We all have dreams, right?

I am a condo dweller. I have no basement. I do not have sufficient space for a large wine refrigerator or upright cellar. Instead, I have a 34 bottle chiller. (Why 34, Vinotemp? Why not an even 3-case 36?) With the bin at the bottom, I can squeeze in a few extra bottles, expanding my capacity to 38 when needed. I have some shipping packaging in an interior closet to stack my occasional overflow, but for the most part, I’m limited to about 3 cases of inventory at any given time. The truth is, since I’m not a collector, this is ample storage.

Condo Cellar

But I can still dream, can’t I? When our son left the nest a couple of years ago, we converted his room to a home office. While the room is occupied, I have my eye on his walk-in closet. Currently it is full of storage, but in my mind’s eye, I can see it lined with wood racks, sealed, and a compressor installed. Can’t you just imaging that mirror replaced with a glass viewing panel? Dreams can come true, can’t they?

Closet Door

While pondering what I’d do with a 200+ bottle cellar, I thought about what wines I currently have in storage. As I say, I’m not a collector. Silver Oak AV 07My oldest bottle is a 2007 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I’m holding it for another couple of years, with the intention of opening it in 2017, when it is 10 years old, for our 33rd anniversary. I know for some enthusiasts, 10 years is not a long time, but when you’ve limited space, it’s pretty darn long!

As a member of, I have a lot of their wines. In fact, 18 of 33 wines in my current inventory are from BaroloOf these, some are “special” wines, including a 2010 Gianfranco & Serena Cordero Barolo DOCG, that I’m planning to hold for at least five more years.

I also have a three year vertical flight of Intertwine Napa Valley Merlot, by Bridget Raymond. (I recently reviewed the new 2014 vintage, here.) The 2012 was actually the first wine I opened in my sample pack. It was so good, I immediately joined, and I haven’t looked back! In the spring of 2016, I’m planning to host a vertical tasting of the 2012, 2013, and 2014. (I’ll post the experience here afterward.)

Intertwine 12Intertwine 13image

Other, wines in my chiller include several Sauvignon Blancs, left-over from the dog days of summer and my 2015 Sauv Blanc obsession, and a Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, my new favorite Italian red. I also have a couple of Cabernet Sauvignons; St. Supery and Castillo di Amorosa, from our Napa mini-vacation this summer. For that obligatory bottle of bubbles, I have a Zonin Prosecco.

Frankly, I think I have a bunch of great wines on hand! Compared to a lot of my wine friends, it’s a small quantity, but it works for me. Some day, perhaps, I’ll be able to convert that closet, but until then, my 34 bottle chiller works just fine.

Which brings me to my original question: What’s in your cellar?


I’m interested in what other wine lovers have in storage. Whether you have a six-bottle rack on your kitchen counter, or the cellar of my dreams, full of auction-worthy classics, please leave a comment and share some of your special bottles. I may not be able to taste them, but we can all enjoy each others wines vicariously.