Wine of the week: Carlisle, 2014 Russian River Valley Old Vine Zinfandel

This tasty zin is weighted to red fruit - cherry with a hint of cranberry - that finishes with sassy spice. It’s a pretty, well-balanced wine packed with fruit.|

Gnarled vines pushing 100 years old reveal the upside of aging.

These vines, tended by winemaker Jay Maddox, are behind our wine-of-the-week winner - the Carlisle, 2014 Russian River Valley Old Vine Zinfandel at $30.

This tasty zin is weighted to red fruit - cherry with a hint of cranberry - that finishes with sassy spice. It’s a pretty, well-balanced wine that is packed with fruit. But what makes it a standout is that this old vine zin is generous and over-delivers.

“You can be a good winemaker, but if you’re not dealing with quality fruit any competencies you might have are not going to be well displayed,” Maddox said.

“I’m fortunate to be working with some really treasured 100-plus-year-old vineyard sources that Mike (vintner Mike Officer) has secured. The raw materials we had to deal with were pretty spectacular and make my work pretty easy.”

Some people don’t consider zinfandel a serious varietal, and they should, he said.

“Due to some past abuses, I think it can be easy for many wine drinkers to dismiss zinfandel as being a variety incapable of delivering subtle nuances and a sense of place.

“We now have a multiplicity of zin producers who are committed to demonstrating the capabilities of the variety in expressing itself in unique sites and situations Consumers can really geek out on zinfandel now if they choose to, and that’s a good thing.”

Maddox, 55, earned a Bachelor of Science at UC Davis in Viticulture and Enology in the late 1990s.

“I’ve always been really interested in agriculture, soil science, botany and plant pathology,” he said.

“I think all of these interests have helped me, from a holistic standpoint, understand what goes into winemaking.”

Of course sometimes, Maddox said, winemakers have to trust their instincts.

“I always refer to making zin as ‘black box winemaking.’ Due to the inherent variability in ripening, you really never know what you’re dealing with in tank.

“A lot of harvest and winemaking decisions are made on intuition rather than on any factual information. That can be a bit scary.”

The most gratifying part about making zin is the opportunity to change up people’s opinion of the varietal, Maddox said.

“It’s when you hear from someone who has had one of your wines at a restaurant or at a tasting and they want to tell you how that wine changed how they think.”

Staff writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 707-521-5310 or

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.

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