Nearly a year ago, Ravenswood’s winemaker Gary Sitton appeared in Manhattan with an armful of his 2015 zinfandels. It was his inaugural vintage, after the retirement of Joel Peterson, Ravenswood’s legendary founder and winemaker.
I thought Sitton had a successful debut (see The Maven of Zinfandel leaves Ravenswood in Good Hands), so, I was looking forward to last month’s tasting of his 2016 single-vineyard zins at Oceana, a top tier restaurant in Midtown Manhattan.
Sitton started the presentation with the refined and elegant 2016 Ravenswood Dickenson Vineyard Zinfandel. In 1971, Dr. William Dickenson, a psychiatrist, and his wife Jane purchased a 21-acre plot on Zinfandel Lane in Napa Valley, 10 of which are planted with the namesake variety, including four acres of Prohibition-era vines—the oldest planted on the lane. Ravenswood has used Dickerson grapes since the 1980s, and after their untimely deaths while on vacation during Thailand’s 2004 tsunami, their daughters Anne and Julie, continue the practice of selling a portion of the grapes to Ravenswood.
Sitton said the Dickenson vineyard is the warmest of Ravenswood’s single-vineyards, yielding ripe grapes with soft tannins, and receiving the least amount of new oak barrel aging (20% to 25%).The 2016 zinfandel has a medium body with raspberry, cherry and a touch of cinnamon and eucalyptus-like spiciness in the nose and flavor. It ignited an aromatic and taste memory of some Cote d’Or red burgundies and classic barbarescos. It was delightful on its own and a pleasing partner to Chef Bill Telepan’s tuna tartare. 93 points. Just arriving in the market at about $42.
The 14-acre Big River Vineyard was planted in 1893 and “lets you taste heritage zinfandel,” said Sitton. It’s located above Healdsburg’s fog line in the southern section of Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, and borders the Russian River on three sides. The 2016 Ravenswood Big River Vineyard Alexander Valley has jammy cherry, raspberry and marjoram-like aromas and flavors, and its medium body was lighter than the aroma lead me to anticipate. The vineyard’s volcanic and red clay soils instilled a pleasing minerality in the finish. 92 points. Just arriving in the market at about $42.
In 1978, Barbara Olesen and Patricia Herron purchased a 36-acre property once owned by California General Don Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, who was instrumental in transitioning Alta California from a territory of Mexico to the U. S. state of California in the 19th century. Merging their first names, they christened it Barricia and taught themselves how to rejuvenate the zinfandel vines dating to 1892. They settled with 10 acres of zinfandel and two acres of petite sirah, from which Ravenswood created its Barricia Vineyard zinfandel.
After the death of Olesen, Herron sold the property to Mel and Angela Dagovitz in 2008. The new owners were going to change the name, but kept it upon discovering that “barricia” is Spanish for barrel.
After 10 months of barrel aging, Sitton blended 12% petite sirah with 88% zinfandel for the 2016 Ravenswood Barricia Vineyard Zinfandel. It’s dry, stony texture gives the black-cherry and strawberry flavors a short finish. Since my introduction to Barricia in the late 1990s, I’ve observed the wine requires at least five years of cellaring before it becomes rounder and more approachable. 88 points. Just arrived on the market at about $42.
The 1880 Old Hill vineyard is Ravenswood’s senior citizen, so to speak. It was revitalized by the eccentric, outlandish Otto Teller (read his story on Ravenswood website: https://www.ravenswoodwinery.com/Vineyards.
With about 30 grape varieties growing throughout the vineyard, which are crushed and fermented together, no one really knows what is in any given vintage, but the 2016 Ravenswood Old Hill Vineyard Zinfandel has an attractive mélange of red plum, black-cherry, herbal and floral aromas, it’s fruit-driven with noticeable, but not aggressive tannins. To capture the range of aromas and flavors, I suggest using a burgundy-styled glass in the 20-ounce range. 92 points. Just arriving in the market at about $60.
John Teldeschi is the third-generation owner of a 30-acre vineyard in Dry Creek Valley. It’s planted with zinfandel vines, some now a century old, along with petite sirah, carignan and alicante bouschet. “It’s the most Californian of our zins, “Sitton said about the big, jammy black-fruit profile of the 2016 Ravenswood Teldeschi Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel. And nothing could be truer about the juicy, blackberry pie aroma and flavor that I tasted. It has the heaviest mouth feel of all the zinfandels and was the bookend to the 2016 Dickenson zin. 88 points. Just arriving in the market at about $42.
Ravenswood’s range of single-vineyard zinfandels offers a broad palette of aromas, flavors and textures. It is not a question of which is better—Sitton has made them well—as it is a matter of taste preference. For me, the Dickenson zinfandel is elegant and refined, but I invite you to use these notes for your own exploration of these unique American wines.
Photos by John Foy