Wine of the Week: Cline, 2016 Contra Costa County, Ancient Vines Zinfandel

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Few people look at a bottle of wine and realize it contains more than fermented grapes; it embodies hundreds of decisions.

This can be especially heady when pampering concentrated zinfandel grapes growing on old vines. These grapes are pressed only after carefully considering the balance between fruit and tannin. The period of barrel aging is decided only after tempering the amount of oak to make sure it doesn’t overpower the boisterous zin.

Winemaker Charlie Tsegeletos, who makes countless decisions like these for a living, is behind our wine-of-the-week winner –– the Cline, 2016 Contra Costa County, Ancient Vines Zinfandel at $20. This is a feisty zin with a tasty undercurrent of spice. It has bright notes of cherry and raspberry, with black pepper, licorice and a hint of mocha in the mix. The old vine Cline has bright acid and a zesty finish.

“Our Ancient Vine Zinfandel style is big and flavorful but well balanced,” Tsegeletos said. “The magic in our ancient vines is that they are not irrigated, and they are planted in deep sand that allows the roots to penetrate but doesn’t supply a lot of nutrients to the vines. As a result the vigor of the vines are naturally controlled, and we get very flavorful and ripe fruit without a lot of shading or excess growth.”

Zinfandel first made its debut in Northern California in the 1850s, Tsegeletos explained. It was brought from a Massachusetts nursery and planted in northern Napa. Two wagon loads of vines were later sold to William Boggs, a Sonoma farmer, in 1859.

“We’ve made zinfandel at Cline since the early 80s,” Tsegeletos said, “so we have a lot of experience with the grape.”

Tsegeletos, 61, has been a winemaker for 37 years. He first came to Sonoma in 1981 to visit his aunt and uncle, walked up the road and got a job at Hacienda Wine Cellars. Before long he studied at UC Davis, earning a degree in Agricultural Science and Management.

“I love making wine and in particular, zinfandel,” Tsegeletos said. “The Cline family has helped preserve the old vines in and around Oakley in Contra Costa County. Working at Cline gives me access to a wonderful quality of grapes so I always start with great fruit.”

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

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