Striking Gold in the Heart of Sonoma

Sonoma and Zinfandel are so intertwined that it almost seems impossible that the grape is grown anywhere else. In fact, Zinfandel has origins in Croatia and goes back several hundred years. It’s real name is Tribidrag.

As I read more about how Zinfandel got to California, the more I saw a parallel with the Gold Rush and those in search of a better life. That may sound strange when describing a grape, but its story is so similar to anyone’s that came to California from “back East.”

Zinfandel arrived in America in the early 1800s and was initially grown in the colder climate of Long Island and other parts of New York. By the 1850s, the grape had made a cross-country trip to Sonoma with settlers and farmers looking for their own pot of gold. That is when the magic started. While Zinfandel is not exactly gold, we can thank those early settlers for bringing a grape that is so well-suited to Sonoma.

Great Wines

Martinelli Winery was founded in the 1880s and is now run by 6th generation farmers. While grapes are now grown in other parts of the Russian River Valley, the winery is known for the old vine Zinfandel plantings on Jackass Hill. This got the name as the hill is so steep that the family of Leno Martinelli told him only a jackass would farm there.

The family team emphasizes a hands off approach to winemaking and they use wild yeast for fermentation. The team also does not filter or fine the wine prior to bottling.

This minimalist approach can really let the wine speak for itself.

Photo By Martinelli Winery

This wine pours a medium purple in the glass. The aromas of dark cherries, blackberry jam, strawberry yogurt, peaches, and hints of barnyard hay are welcoming. On the palate, the flavors of freeze dried strawberries, dark cherries, and blackberry jam are prominent. The alcohol, acidity, and tannins seem to keep each other in check with nothing standing out in a bad way.

This wine has a fuller body that almost coats your mouth in a way approaching a port. This Zinfandel is an enjoyable wine and would complement grilled meats or a hearty winter stew.

Grilled meats, Cold nights, After dinner drinking

Marietta is a great example of what Sonoma has to offer in terms of independent family owned wineries. Founded in 1978 by Chris Bilbro, this organically farmed winery has over 300 acres of vines.

Always known for being a bit progressive in style, the winery was best known for their original wine of OVR (Old Vine Red). This label was started in the early 1980s and is a blend of several varietals, primarily Zinfandel, but is a multi-vintage wine.

Over the last decade Chris has brought in his son, Scot Bilbro to help run the winery. Scot has brought his own style of winemaking with him. The winery has two other labels including the family series and the Estate Series (which we feature here).

This wine is a nice medium ruby in the glass. The distinct and pleasant aromas of burnt sugar, black cherries, cooked strawberries, and blackberry preserves are very present.

Atypical for Sonoma Zinfandel, the palate is nicely restrained (almost like a well-made Burgundy) with flavors of cooked strawberries, leather, and blackberries. The wine is balanced and enjoyable to drink.

Wild game, Smoked gouda

Another winery run by a Bilbro family member, the Limerick Lane estate was planted as far back as the 1900s by the del Fava family.

The winery was started by new owners in 1985 and in 2010, Jake Bilbro (son of Chris at Marietta) acquired the winery and made it what it is today.

The winery is on the smaller side with only 30 acres planted.

Pouring a deep ruby into the glass, the wine had aromas of cooked blackberries, unlit cigars just pulled form the humidor, dark cherries, and stewed raspberries. The taste was equally promising with flavors of strawberries, dark cherries, and raspberries.

This wine has elegant tannins and an elevated acidity that help to round out the medium full body. The alcohol content does not get in the way of the subtleties in this wine.

Kansas City BBQ, Cigar smoking

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