Rancho Zabaco Toreador Zinfandel 2005
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Rancho Zabaco Toreador Zinfandel 2005 Tasting Notes

Ideally wines should speak for themselves; the best, of course, make strong statements without requiring a great deal of background, beyond the label, a knowledge of the grapes involved, an indication of the growing area, and a few basic signs that care has been taken in the production of the wine. The Rancho Zabaco Toreador would be one of those allowed to sing a capella, if it weren't for the depth of its provenance: northern Sonoma's Monte Rosso Vineyard.

The $60 zinfandel (with 2% petite syrah) is 15.3% alcohol, with pronounced intensity on the nose and notes of brambly blackberry, raspberry, vanilla and nutmeg; no litany here, as these notes are both powerful and basic. The best type of tasting, I believe, is slow tasting, a possibility here. My cousin and I shared this wine. I made him stop and take stock of the aromas before tilting the glass back, no mean feat. We were planning on having this wine at dinner, but it did not survive that long. For that matter, we were planning on cooking that dinner, but as I have a good restaurant within walking distance, one thing led to another. The wine has alcohol, to be sure, but it is extremely well integrated on both nose and palate.

Despite superb ripe fruit, the wine is decidedly dry, with a mid-level of acidity, a lighter than medium level of tannins, and plenty of body. The palate reveals concentrated strawberry, black plum, brambly wild blackberry, red licorice and some fairly toothsome chocolate. The fruit is at times so concentrated it almost feels candied. The mouthfeel is soft, and so smooth that I was almost reaching for more bite, until I realized that would be another wine entirely. The finish is long, ripe and fruity.

In a wine as well balanced and well conceived as this, thanks to winemaker Eric Cinnamon, the vineyard cannot be the entire story, yet this vineyard is important. Cinnamon takes many of these grapes from 120 year old vines. Monte Rosso allows just that. Its 250 acres are planted in dozens of grape varieties. The vineyard was first planted in the 1880s and came into the hands of the Louis P. Martini family in 1938. The Martinis created a careful block numbering system to keep the vineyard's grape varieties and various micro-climates straight. The flesh-and-blood workers who deal daily with these fields give them more colorful names: among the Zinfandel blocks Los Chivos (the goats) is also known as block E55; La Falda (the skirt) is E20; La Vibora (the rattlesnake) is E45.

Despite the colorful Spanish of its sections, the name Monte Rosso is itself Italian, meaning Red Mountain, a reference to its unique volcanic soils. Quality and reputation aside, the vineyard is noteworthy in an important commercial sense; its grapes are made available to a number of quality California winemakers. Fortunately affiliate Rancho Zabaco gets the cream of the crop for its several Zinfandel lines, producing only 230 cases of this Toreador. This wine is drinkable right away, but if you do find a few bottles you might opt to cellar them several years.


Verdict: Magic
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Zinfandel, good, bad or indifferent, never fails to expand my consciousness.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award

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