Thursday, December 16, 2010

Kissed by a sweet Zinfandel from Bella Vineyards

It’s not easy to find great sweet wines produced in California. Botrytis of the good sort is not common in the dry and sunny climate (although there are a few delicious noble rotted wines made in the Golden State), the passito method is rarely used, and fortified wines seems to be part of the history rather than the modern wine list. However, there is a tradition of making late harvest or even fortified wines of Zinfandel. While most of them are heavy, overly sweet and high in alcohol, you can find well made elegant examples, if you search.
One of the finest examples of sweet, late harvest zinfandels comes from Bella Vineyards in the northwestern corner of Dry Creek Valley. This charming, medium sized winery was founded in 1999 by Scott and Lynn Adams. They didn’t start from scratch – they bought the very old Lily Hill Estate, which at the time of purchase was home of 28.30 hectares of gnarly Zinfandel wines planted in 1911 on a beautyful slope, under which the barrel cellars is. They also own the 40.10 hectares Big River Ranch in Alexander Valley, planted to Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Carignan in 1905.
The dry wines of Bella Vineyards are well worth looking for, at least if you don’t look for big, super ripe and fruit driven wines with high alcohol – you’ll not find that kind of wines here. Since 2009 they make a delicious and delightful Ten Acre Chardonnay (hardly any oak), but they are more well known for their zinfandels, of which the Lili Hill Zinfandel (97 year old vines in the current release, 2008) is the finest.

2009 Late Harvest Zinfandel / 92 p
This dark beauty is almost entirely made of Zinfandel, but there is a splash of Black Muscat in the blend to make it a bit more floral and charming. Grapes are harvested at full ripeness at 32 Brix, so the wine is rich, intense and sweet (residual sugar is 110 grams per liter, and alcohol is 14.2 percent). Since grapes are sourced from various appellations, the wine carries the generic origin “California”. However, there’s nothing everyday and average about this wine – on the contrary it’s exquisite, silky and lush with a seductive texture and flavor that lingers for quite a while. Notes of sweet blackberries, dark cherries, figs, plums and chocolate will be found in the flavor profile, as well as a touch of the finest chipotle. Tannins are moderate, so there will be no resistance in this wine. I’d love to have it at 15 degrees Celsius, served to a dessert made of dark chocolate and cherries or raspberries. And if you, for some reason, don’t finish the bottle at once, it could be kept in the bottle (store in cold) for at least 3-4 days.
Drink it 2010-2015.

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