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Wine of the Week: Acorn 2015 Alegria Vineyards, Russian River Valley Zinfandel

Our Wine of the Week has a sassy streak of black raspberry and features notes of anise, cracked black pepper and toasty oak.|

This week's blind tasting

Zinfandel

TOP PICK

Acorn

2015 Alegria Vineyards, Russian River Valley, Heritage Vines Zinfandel, 14.5% alcohol, $50. ????½

What makes this zin a standout is its bright yet concentrated fruit and layered flavors. It has a sassy streak of black raspberry, and it's complex, with notes of anise, toasty oak and cracked black pepper in the mix. This old vine zin is striking.

TASTY ALTERNATIVES

Dutton Goldfield, 2017 Morelli Lane Vineyard, Russian River Valley Zinfandel, 14.5%, $50. ????: This is a lively zin with high-toned fruit coupled with savory notes and spice. Aromas and flavors of raspberry, pomegranate, tarragon and a hint of sandalwood. Crisp acid. Lovely.

Fiddletown 2017 Sierra Foothills, Amador Old Vine Zinfandel, 14.4%, $24. ???½: A juicy zin with black and red fruit - blackberry and cherry - and a kiss of vanilla. Bright acid. Bold flavors. Supple texture. Spot on.

Artezin, 2016 Mendocino County, 14.5%, $18. ???½: This is a medium-bodied zin that's fruit forward. It has ample black fruit with an undercurrent of ample spice. Round texture. A steal for the price.

Mettler, 2017 Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, 15.5%, $25. ???½: A smoky zin that's jammy with favors of blackberry and plum. This earthy zin also has notes of tobacco and anise. Snappy finish.

A historic vineyard with dozens of field blends growing side by side is a spice rack of flavors, a stirring range of options for a winemaker.

One such vineyard is Alegria in the Russian River Valley, and it dates back to 1890.

“When we bought the vineyard in 1990, it needed a lot of tender loving care to restore it,” explained vintner Bill Nachbaur of Healdsburg’s Acorn Winery. “I’ve spent a lot of time, personally, over the past 30 years, hand-tending the vines.”

Nachbaur and the spice rack of Alegria are behind our wine-of-the-week winner - the Acorn 2015 Alegria Vineyards, Russian River Valley, Heritage Vines Zinfandel at $50. What makes this zin a standout is its bright yet concentrated fruit and layered flavors. It has a sassy streak of black raspberry, and it’s complex, with notes of anise, toasty oak and cracked black pepper in the mix. This old vine zin is striking.

“The wine is a field blend of ?18 varieties that have evolved over 130 years,” Nachbaur said. “The wine is 11% alicante bouschet and 9% petite sirah - grapes that add color and structure. Fifteen other varieties are sprinkled around the vineyard, like salt and pepper and spices, to add complexity. Early on, I added some tannat and plavac mali, a descendant of zinfandel.”

The vintner, who doubles as the winemaker, said he was “insatiably curious” with his field blends, and based on leaf shapes, he soon discovered how many different varieties inhabited the vineyard.

“We’re obsessed with carrying on the field blend tradition passed down from generations of winegrowers,” he said. “Because the vines are not all the same age or variety, they require a lot of individual attention.”

Nachbaur, 75, grew up in Vallejo and made wine with his father, who was a home winemaker. He went to college and law school at UC Berkeley, and later worked as a lawyer in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco.

“When I decided I wanted to grow grapes, I enrolled in the viticulture program at the Santa Rosa Junior College while I was looking for vineyard land,” Nachbaur said. “During one of Rich Thomas’ class field trips, he pointed out the land we bought. We named it Alegria, which means ‘happiness’ in Spanish, because it makes me happy to work with the vines, and it honors California’s Spanish/Mexican heritage.”

The vintner said he loves making zinfandel but realizes many are unaware that zinfandel is California’s heritage grape.

“It has a great American immigrant story,” he said. “It’s a grape that got no respect in the Old Country, came to New York in the 1820s, where it was grown as a table grape. Then it came to California right after the Gold Rush, where it was a big success and thrived in California’s climate.”

Zinfandel’s origins were a mystery until recently, when DNA analysis showed that it came from Croatia, Nachbaur said.

“I like its Horatio Alger story,” he said. “We’d rather drink zin than a ‘noble’ grape. We also like the diversity of the field blend, which to some extent reflects the melting pot of California’s culture.”

You can reach Wine Writer Peg Melnik at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

Peg Melnik

Wine, The Press Democrat

Northern California is cradled in vines; it’s Wine County at its best in America. My job is to help you make the most of this intriguing, agrarian patch of civilization by inviting you to partake in the wine culture – the events, the bottlings and the fun. This is a space to explore wine, what you care about or don’t know about yet.

This week's blind tasting

Zinfandel

TOP PICK

Acorn

2015 Alegria Vineyards, Russian River Valley, Heritage Vines Zinfandel, 14.5% alcohol, $50. ????½

What makes this zin a standout is its bright yet concentrated fruit and layered flavors. It has a sassy streak of black raspberry, and it's complex, with notes of anise, toasty oak and cracked black pepper in the mix. This old vine zin is striking.

TASTY ALTERNATIVES

Dutton Goldfield, 2017 Morelli Lane Vineyard, Russian River Valley Zinfandel, 14.5%, $50. ????: This is a lively zin with high-toned fruit coupled with savory notes and spice. Aromas and flavors of raspberry, pomegranate, tarragon and a hint of sandalwood. Crisp acid. Lovely.

Fiddletown 2017 Sierra Foothills, Amador Old Vine Zinfandel, 14.4%, $24. ???½: A juicy zin with black and red fruit - blackberry and cherry - and a kiss of vanilla. Bright acid. Bold flavors. Supple texture. Spot on.

Artezin, 2016 Mendocino County, 14.5%, $18. ???½: This is a medium-bodied zin that's fruit forward. It has ample black fruit with an undercurrent of ample spice. Round texture. A steal for the price.

Mettler, 2017 Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, 15.5%, $25. ???½: A smoky zin that's jammy with favors of blackberry and plum. This earthy zin also has notes of tobacco and anise. Snappy finish.

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