Zinfandel has gotten more expensive in recent years, there's no arguing that. Zin vines will crank out buckets of wishy-washy juice if you let them, but it takes effort and time and money to make great Zin.
That's particularly true with the 2010 and 2011 vintages, in which Zin makers faced every plague but locust. Good Zins from those vintages selling for less than $15 or $20 a bottle will be few and far. In my annual report, "Zinfandel Elegance" in the June 30 issue of Wine Spectator, I was so concerned about the challenges and quality of those vintages that I didn't give readers enough good advice on value.
Consider this the makeup test.
Sonoma can't be done in one day. It's a big, rambling county that's twice the size of its neighbor Napa and has a patchwork of winegrowing regions that would put any GPS to the test.
I've lived in Sonoma County for 23 years and have watched it evolve and mature. It has become more upscale but retains much of its unpolished charm. Traveling the local wine roads all these years, I'm a veteran tour guide, which came in handy while we were working on the June 15 cover story for Wine Spectator, "Exploring Sonoma: An Insider's Guide." Here are a few highlights.
Milla Handley was making Pinot Noir in the Anderson Valley before it was cool to be there. She has championed that remote valley in Mendocino County since launching Handley Cellars in 1982, back when winemaking there was just taking baby steps.
"In the old days, we were using old dairy tanks for fermenters," Handley said. "And we weren't sure we could get still wine grapes ripe or not."
Things change in 30 years. Anderson Valley has matured and is now considered one of California's best spots for Pinot Noir. Handley recently marked her three decades in the business by opening a few older wines from her extensive cellar.
The line to taste the Château Margaux 1999 at Saturday's Wine Spectator Grand Tour in Las Vegas seemed to stretch all the way to the Hoover Dam. Even though the 1999 vintage wasn't particularly outstanding for Bordeaux, it was a rare chance for some wine lovers to taste a well-cellared first-growth.
Not everyone is blessed with opportunities to taste great wines. Watching the crowd that night I started thinking about the wines I'd line up to taste. You might say it would be my bucket list, you know, the inventory of things you want to try before you kick the bucket. When it comes to wine (and food, for that matter) what would I put on my list?
At first glance, things in Northern California wine country are sleepy right now, but there's more going on than it seems.
Budbreak—when the first green leaves appear on the vines—started in early April. Temperatures in recent weeks have been generally in the mid-60s to low-70s, which is average or slightly below, and there has been plenty of sun, but the season is running a little behind normal. Bloom—when the tiny flowers open on the vines—should start in about three weeks or so.