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Wine of the Week: Martinelli 2016 Zinfandel

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This week’s blind tasting: Sassy Zinfandels

TOP PICK: Martinelli

Martinelli, 2016 Giuseppe & Luisa, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Zinfandel, 16.4% alcohol, $58. ★★★★⁄2

This zinfandel is loaded with lush fruit and plenty of spice. It’s layered with aromas and flavors of blackberry, blueberry, black cherry, espresso and cracked black pepper. It’s a balanced zin with a long finish. Impressive.

Tasty ALTERNATIVES

Ravenswood, 2016 Single Vineyard Alexander Valley, Big River Zinfandel, 15.9%, $42. ★★★★: A well-crafted zin with a range –– black cherry, anise and espresso. Generous fruit. Sassy spice. A powerhouse and yet this zin manages to be balanced. Smart.

Mazzocco Sonoma, 2016 Smith Orchard Reserve, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County Zinfandel, 15.5%, $52. ★★★½: A brambly zin with generous fruit and an undercurrent of spice. Notes of black raspberry, currant, bittersweet chocolate and cracked black pepper. Nice length.

Mount Peak Winery’s Rattlesnake, 2015 Sonoma County Zinfandel, 15.5%, $48. ★★★★: A lush zin with ripe fruit –– black cherry and plum –– coupled with anise, cocoa and cracked black pepper. Finishes with a kiss of vanilla. Powerful, yet pretty.

Hartford, 2017 Old Vine Zinfandel, Russian River Valley Zinfandel, 15.6%, $40. ★★★★½: This is a gorgeous, no-nonsense zin with layered flavors of black cherry, raspberry, white pepper and mocha. Concentrated. Lingering finish. Top rate.

The Great Wall in China — the longest barricade in the world, the one that snakes over steep mountains and rugged terrain — was once serenaded by a saxophone player.

Courtney Wagoner was a teen-ager when she played at the Great Wall, but she ultimately decided to bottle her music. She become a winemaker, expressing that sassy saxophone in every bottle of edgy zin she makes.

“In the same way I try to convey emotions to listeners though my music,” Wagoner explained, “I try to get a hedonistic response from the wine drinker by capturing the essence of the vineyard.”

The winemaker crafted our wine of the week winner –– the Martinelli 2016 Russian River Valley Giuseppe & Luisa Zinfandel at $58. This zinfandel is loaded with lush fruit and plenty of spice. It’s layered with aromas and flavors of blackberry, blueberries, black cherry, espresso and cracked black pepper. It’s an impressive balanced zin with a long finish.

“Giuseppe and Luisa, or G&L as we call it at the winery, contains a blend of the 14 different areas or ‘blocks’ of zinfandel grown around Martinelli Winery on River Road,” Wagoner said. “These vines produce fruit that is lush, bright and full of flavor.”

The winemaker’s passion for transforming grapes into artisan wine began when she was in college. The class that piqued her interest the most was Wines and Fermented Foods at California Polytechnic State University.

“I loved the class, particularly the section on winemaking,” she said. “The professor encouraged me to work as a harvest intern before graduating. I lived with my grandparents in Napa and worked the harvest at Artesa. That first vintage changed the direction of my life forever and helped me find my current passion.”

Wagoner, 38, graduated from Cal Poly in 2003 with a degree in food science. In addition to Artesa, her credits include these California wineries: Wild Horse Winery in Templeton, Gundlach Bundschu in Sonoma and Alderbrook in Healdsburg.

“Besides getting to work with some of the best fruit in Sonoma County, the most gratifying part is watching someone enjoy zinfandel who has never had it before because they thought it was too boozy and not well balanced,” Wagoner said.

“Zinfandel can produce wines that can rival any other noble, high-quality wine.”

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

This week’s blind tasting: Sassy Zinfandels

TOP PICK: Martinelli

Martinelli, 2016 Giuseppe & Luisa, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Zinfandel, 16.4% alcohol, $58. ★★★★⁄2

This zinfandel is loaded with lush fruit and plenty of spice. It’s layered with aromas and flavors of blackberry, blueberry, black cherry, espresso and cracked black pepper. It’s a balanced zin with a long finish. Impressive.

Tasty ALTERNATIVES

Ravenswood, 2016 Single Vineyard Alexander Valley, Big River Zinfandel, 15.9%, $42. ★★★★: A well-crafted zin with a range –– black cherry, anise and espresso. Generous fruit. Sassy spice. A powerhouse and yet this zin manages to be balanced. Smart.

Mazzocco Sonoma, 2016 Smith Orchard Reserve, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County Zinfandel, 15.5%, $52. ★★★½: A brambly zin with generous fruit and an undercurrent of spice. Notes of black raspberry, currant, bittersweet chocolate and cracked black pepper. Nice length.

Mount Peak Winery’s Rattlesnake, 2015 Sonoma County Zinfandel, 15.5%, $48. ★★★★: A lush zin with ripe fruit –– black cherry and plum –– coupled with anise, cocoa and cracked black pepper. Finishes with a kiss of vanilla. Powerful, yet pretty.

Hartford, 2017 Old Vine Zinfandel, Russian River Valley Zinfandel, 15.6%, $40. ★★★★½: This is a gorgeous, no-nonsense zin with layered flavors of black cherry, raspberry, white pepper and mocha. Concentrated. Lingering finish. Top rate.

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