The University of California at Davis, thanks to Professor Carole Meredith’s work with DNA research, figured out where Zinfandel comes from a few years ago. Given that Zinfandel is very much our national grape, there’s been quite a lot of work done here to better understand the plant material that we have in the state. Given that the grape itself is so incredibly obscure (there are a few dozen vines in Croatia that presumably gave birth to all that we have here), vintners ganged up a decade or two ago to gather all of the different sorts of Zinfandel that were planted around the state in hopes of better understanding if certain sports or clones have better characteristics than other. That’s where this wine comes into play: this wine was made from the selection of different Zinfandel vines from all over California that are planted at a UC research station in the Napa Valley (more information is available over at ZAP).
Every year, a different winemaker takes the harvested grapes and makes wine from them. It’s an interesting conceit, and I don’t know of anything else like this in the state. 2003 was Paul Draper’s year, so this is in essence a Ridge wine made from Heritage Vineyard grapes.
Five years on from harvest, it’s still deep purple and strictly jammy in appearance. The nose is striking, with a very typically Californian Zinfandel outrageously fruity nose, surprisingly undershot with a sort of dusty, musty note. Together, what you get is – to me, at least – what a Californian red table wine should smell like: a distinctly odd mix of the Californian sun mixed with the restraint of traditional French winemaking. You could not possibly mistake this for a Bordeaux: this is Zin.
Strangely, the first thing you notice when you take a sip are the tannins: they’re surprisingly strong, anchoring the sense of the wine with fair seriousness. There’s a nearly green sourness that sneaks in towards the finish, which is fairly lengthy and peters out in a brambly black cherry orchard somewhere on the coast, with a faint hint of iodine and salt air. It’s peculiar, definitely not a Ridge wine proper, but there’s still that same familiar sense of restraint in letting the fruit speak for itself here. There’s also very much a dark chocolate, bittered oaky note which I’m assuming isn’t actually (American?) oak, but who knows?
This one acre of vines were gathered from fifteen California counties; this is the Grand Unification Zinfandel of my homeland.
Heritage Vineyard Project with Paul Draper
Price: about $25
Date tasted: November 2008