Zinfandel seems to cry out for puns, many of which wear, dare we say, a little zin after a few viewings. I like Artezin as a name, however, because the “Artisan” component carries such meaning in today’s world of factory-made wine. The name combines the concept of artisanal winemaking (in this case by Randle Johnson) with a grape that most assuredly benefits from such an approach. Mention of Mendocino only adds to the allure. According to the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission, the county is “America’s Greenest Wine Region,” with 4000 acres of organic winegrapes (a quarter of total acreage). Outside the world of wine, the region, from fruit orchards to fisheries, is equally green. That color, in my experience, translates well into both red and white.
The greed/red $18 Artezin 2010 Mendocino County Zinfandel is the product of sustainably farmed family owned vineyards in Mendocino’s Ukiah Valley. A new Ukiah Valley AVA is in the approval process at present. The southward-flowing Russian River defines the valley, carving out benchlands and ridges, ideal for vineyards. Days are warm, nights cool, the growing season long. The usual, hoped for, result of this confluence of factors is solid flavor development and structure with balanced acidity. The blend is 89% Zinfandel, 10% its good friend Petite Sirah, with 1% Carignan, all aged in 100% French oak, but second and third fill as a concession to restraint. The alcohol level of 14.5% is equally restrained, by Zinfandel standards, given that levels surpassing 16 percent no longer seem to shock.
Visually, this wine is a deep ruby, with excellent clarity. Light spicy aromas of mocha, pepper and nutmeg dance with the deeper fruit aromas of fresh raspberry and black cherry. On the nose, also, is a brambly quality I associate with Zinfandel. The palate brings further raspberry with pomegranate, some black pepper, with light touches of oak, expressed as milk chocolate. The wine is medium to full-bodied, and yet at no point is there a sensation of alcoholic heat. Tannins come at you quickly but softly. The acidity has energy, but works throughout the lengthy arc of this wine only in concert with the main event, which is the fruit. With all that honest fruit, the real star of the wine is its length, from first attack, through mid-palate, and then to a noteworthy finish. The final cadence is a slightly sweet amalgam of dried cherries, fresh fruity acidity and a final touch of fragrant black pepper and oak.
This Zin ought to be an excellent food wine. The sample arrived two days after Valentine’s Day, so it missed the herb-encrusted rack of lamb and Portobello mushroom gratin I so painstakingly prepared. Instead, it did yeoman work with a simple skillet-full of Trader Joe’s Hofbrau Brats, a baked Yukon gold potato, and a plate of leftover broccoli: bachelor food.
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Zin never fails to stimulate my interest in the unique.
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman
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