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Tasting Note

Posted June 16, 2017 Dense and rustic, with no shortage of personality. Aromas of dried cherry and smoky herb lead to dense flavors of briary plum, licorice and spiced sage. The tannins show roughness around the edges

And the answer is...


Varietal

There are some telltale traits that are hard to ignore in our note; this should prove an easy decoding for our mystery wine.

It's dense and rustic with some rough tannins around the edge. That certainly doesn't sound like the often-supple Pinot Noir. When it comes to Merlot, similar qualities apply, as the grape is typically rounder, with more precise fruit flavors, rather than dried and briary. We can move on from these two options.

Cabernet Sauvignon checks a few boxes. Often dense with an aggressive tannic structure, Cabernet shows richer fruit and is often complemented by prominent oak. While plum and licorice match the Cabernet profile, the dried cherry, smoky herb, spiced sage and briary qualities do not.

That leaves us with Barbera and Zinfandel. Both varietals can be dense and rustic, and feature ripe flavors that are further enhanced by oak. Herbal notes are fairly atypical for Barbera, but licorice is in its makeup. However, Barbera's fruit profile tends to display more currant and dark berry, while its oak profile shows off more smoky tar notes.

All the tasting descriptors in our note hit the mark for Zinfandel: dried cherry, smoky herb, briary, licorice and sage. The tannins are a bit of a curveball, as Zinfandel doesn't often flash a lot of tannic muscle. The grape is also typically jammier in style, however, vintage variation can affect the polish of a wine.

This wine is a Zinfandel.

Country

Although Zinfandel's DNA is European (from Croatia), the grape is not found in many winegrowing regions, and its heritage is rooted in the California wine industry. Zinfandel was introduced to California during the Gold Rush of the 1800s and was widely planted throughout state. Today, Zinfandel is the third-leading variety in California, with more than 47,000 acres planted. You don't have to look to any other regions.

This wine is from California.

Age

Zinfandel has a perhaps unfair reputation for short drinking windows, but Zins that have a bit more tannic muscle-like our mystery wine-can age beautifully for 10 or more years. That being said, most Zinfandel is best enjoyed in its youth.

Our wine's tannic grip and personality doesn't make one think of an older wine, so we can safely rule out the two age ranges that exceed six years.

The smoky and spicy notes suggest a good amount of barrel aging. It's not uncommon for Zinfandel to age for a year or more in barrel. Following racking, blending and bottling, and ample time in bottle before release, it's likely that this wine is not in the 1- to 2-year-old category.

This wine is from the 2014 vintage, making it three years old.

Appellation

We know we're in California, so there's no chance of this wine being from France's Pauillac, Italy's Monferrato, New Zealand's Marlborough or Oregon's Ribbon Ridge.

Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara is a relatively new AVA, established in 2009. It is one of the warmer climates within Santa Barbara County, but still gets plenty of coastal breezes from the Pacific Ocean. There are currently just under 500 acres planted, and the region has become notable for Bordeaux and Rhône varieties. If there is Zinfandel planted here, there isn't much of it.

Sonoma County is a relatively broad appellation. Much like Napa Valley or Santa Barbara County, there are many subregions within the AVA. Sonoma County has more than 5,000 acres of Zinfandel planted.

Sonoma's old-vine Zinfandel yields more intense fruit, amplifying the grape's briary and spice character, like we see in our note. Also, old vineyards tend to have Zinfandel co-planted with other varieties like Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah and Carignane, each of which can enhance the structure of some Zinfandels. This matches our rough, tannin-edged wine.

This Zinfandel is from Sonoma County.

Wine

This is the Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County Old Vine 2014, which scored 91 points in the May 31, 2017, issue of Wine Spectator. The wine retails for $40, and 10,720 cases were made. To learn more about California Zinfandel, read senior editor Tim Fish's tasting report, "Winning Streak," in the July 31, 2017, issue.

-Aaron Romano, associate tasting coordinator

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