Ravenswood's Joel Peterson

A commitment to old-vine Zinfandel


Ravenswood – Decades of producing old vine Zinfandel that reflects the vineyard and not the winemaker’s style. Joel Peterson, Ravenswood’s founder and winemaker to this day, was doing the rounds recently here in New York City. I had a chance to sit with him and taste through much of the line-up they are releasing in the coming months.

The commitment to expressing the unique traits of these blocks of old-vine Zinfandel, in many cases actually field blends, comes through not only in the passionate way Joel relates to each wine but in the commitment to a winemaking style that has consistently produced stellar results.

Snooth contributor Gabe Sasso had a chance to sit down with Joel over lunch and recorded his impressions, which can be found here. I enjoyed tasting through the line-up and found quite a few great examples, but all of these wines - the 2007 Vineyard Designate Zins - won’t be on the shelves for another month or two.  While you’re waiting for these wines to hit the retail shelves, I suggest you take a look at ready to drink vintages from Ravenswood. I’ve chosen a pair of wines from the vineyards that always stand out in this great line-up.

What to expect: Zinfandel

Zinfandel is considered America's great indigenous grape, even though its origins lie on the Adriatic coast. Planted throughout California and in to the Pacific Northwest, Zinfandel is at its best in warm regions with cooler temperatures during harvest. The wines can range from off-dry Roses, the ubiquitous White Zinfandel, to light bistro styled wines, big, rich powerful wines and even luscious dessert bottlings. The flavors range from plummy to raspberry, though deep blackberry fruit and brambly spice tones are most common.
In an odd way Joel’s winemaking is so en vogue it can almost be called hipsteresque. The use of open tip fermenters, native yeasts and the vinification of small lots that share common rootstock or some terroir driven trait seem like a recipe ripped from today’s hipster wine cookbook. Little do many people know that this is exactly the way Joel has been making wine since many of those hipsters were taking their first steps in their tiny Converse all-stars.

Make no mistake about it, Ravenswood’s Vineyard Designate wines are fantastic. They certainly have been out of favor for awhile, driven somewhat by a certain resentment over the sale of the label to Constellation Brands, as well as the often spotty quality of the under $10 wines that make up the bulk of the production here.

But the real root of the problem has been the stylistic shift that brought us 16% Zins as a standard. Wines that would not age well, that fell apart in bottle, and that always had just limited appeal, that unfortunately included some of the world’s most influential critics.

Well, as is generally the case, the stylistic pendulum has swung back again and there lies Ravenswood ready to garner their share of the spotlight once again.

Two great Ravensood Single Vineyard Zins that are ready to drink.

2005 Ravenswood Teldeschi Zinfndel
Classic aromatics of peppery, briary spice and smoke that help to add definition to the wild blackberry fruit tones. In the mouth this sneakily gives the impression of being rather modestly scaled though it's bursting with pure, ripe fruit.

2004 Ravenswood Old Hill Zinfandel
Classic Old Hill in a great vintage. This has all the depth of fruit one could ask for. It's got superb, abundant yet ripe, sweet tannins backing everything up. Just about as good as Zinfandel gets, bursting with spicy berry and plum fruit.

Ravenswood Current Releases

2007 Dickerson Vineyard Napa Valley Zinfandel planted in 1930 to 1985. Typically one of the higher acid wines in the portfolio. There is a eucalyptus tree in the vineyard that can contribute mintiness to the wine. 30% new wood.

Perfumed on the nose with jammy blueberry tones, a touch of aromatic wood and hints of mint and crushed rocks. In the mouth this has a cool feel backed by rich, very pure fruit. The tannins give this a silky feel that is well balanced to the blueberry tinged, creamy raspberry fruit. Very nice length with hints of herb and mint on the finale. 92pts

2007 Big River Alexander Valley Zinfandel planted in 1893 on a warm site in red soil that straddles Alexander valley and the Russian River Valley that is usually harvested early. 100% Zinfandel 30% new wood.

Tarry and earthy on the nose with a dark, oily streak to the candied blackberry fruit. Bright and silky in the mouth with superb tannins that are wonderfully embedded in the spicy blackberry fruit that soaks the palate. These are some sneaky tannins that gain strength on the finish and drive the black raspberry fruit tones. 92pt 

2007 Belloni Russian River Valley Zinfandel  confermented with mixed blacks, predominantly Carignane, Petite Sirah and Alicante, from this very cool site with sandy soils. Planted in about 1900. 32% new wood.

Big and bushy on the nose with notes of briar, seashells and big peppery top notes, some herbal tones give this a green peppercorn quality. Big, rich and juicy in the mouth with red apple acids giving real snap to the dark, earthy fruits. This finishes with big structure, those red apple acids as well as slightly drying, aggressive tannins. The boysenberry fruit on the palate is floating a bit beneath the structure with hints of dried leaves and smoky tones adding some complexity, Very youthful feeling with room to improve. 90pts

2007 Barricia Sonoma Valley Zinfandel The vineyard was originally planted in 1862 with mission grapes then planted over to Zinfandel and mixed blacks in about 1888 with additional acreage planted in 1996 and 1998. 33% new wood.

Reticent on the nose with touches of pencil lead, flowers and Ivy adding detail to the bright boysenberry and plum fruit with a distinct woodsy underlay. Assertive acids keep this fresh though the fruit is lush and broad and the tension with the crisp tannins gives this a lovely texture. This is a touch short at this point but it has superb clarity. 91pts

2007 Old Hill Sonoma Valley Zinfandel Planted around 1880 to a typical, albeit Zinfandel heavy, field blend. 34% new wood.

Superb complexity on the nose with layers of leather, herbs, smoke, spice, earth, flowers, red berries, red plums, Christmas candies and wet animal fur.  This is very fleshy in the mouth with lovely red fruits, soft caressing tannins, and integrated acids. The flavors in the mouth mimic the aromatics giving the vanilla and spice tinged red fruits a feathery, layered quality to the silky bright feel. A great bottle in the making. 94pts

2007 Teldeschi Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel  Planted between 1913 and 1919 predominantly to Zinfandel with almost a quarter Petite Sirah and a smattering of Carignane vines.  31% new wood.

Powerful on the nose and while more marked by cherry wood the big, plummy and dark cherry fruit seems able to handle the spice. There is a touch of butterscotch that is a bit disconcerting but nice earthy tones balance it nicely. This is remarkably elegant considering the weight and depth of the dark fruit on the palate.  The fruit is fresh and crisp, bright ollaliberries framed with cigar box and spice tones. A rather refined Zin. 93pts

2007 Icon Sonoma County A modern field blend of cofermented Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Alicante, and mixed Blacks. 40% new wood.

Big and leafy at first on the nose then turning dark and spicy with notes of carob, sweet dates, red plum pudding, cigarette ash, a touch of wood spice, flowers, boysenberries and just a touch of oystershell. Big yet silky in the mouth with a rush of dark fruits and big tannins over the mid-palate that leads to a spicy finish with notes of pumpkin pie spices, caramel and buttery cookie tones. This is a bit short on the finish and lacks the level of integration found on the Single Vineyards Zins at this point and should improve over the short term. 89pts

2006 Pickberry Sonoma Mountain This vintage is 74% Merlot with the remainder being Cabernet Sauvignon all aged 24 months in 40% new Allier barrels.

Cigar tobacco, green peppercorns, pencil lead and candied black cherries on the nose. In the mouth this is quite rigid and focused with a decidedly oak profile and assertive wood tannins on the palate. There are deep cocoa and cigar box tones in the mouth balanced by sweet dark fruit that recalls chocolate covered cherries. The finish is quite spicy and vanilla tinged with significant drying tannins. This may just need time but seems to be a bit too aggressively styled for me. 87pts

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: atonalprime
    Hand of Snooth
    157790 1,416

    This is great! I've always been curious to see a side-by-side comparison of all the various Zins that Ravenswood has to offer.

    Oct 06, 2009 at 4:37 PM

  • Snooth User: mayorkl
    178761 2

    I absolutely adore the Teldeschi Zin, but still think the Lodi is my all time favorite...

    Oct 06, 2009 at 4:56 PM

  • Snooth User: Diderot
    104965 104

    I agree the Teldeschi rocks.
    To me Ravenswood Zins have usually had more evident glycerine than most Zins from other producers. This is not bad, since their wines are so balanced. It has been a problem in some of the Merlots I have drunk from time to time. I mention it merely as a feature that struck me.

    Oct 06, 2009 at 6:21 PM

  • Snooth User: kdafamily
    238670 10

    Agree that their higher end wines are excellent. These are the wines that Joel still helps to steer, and are his babies.

    They lost their way with some insipid stuff on the mid and lower tiers, as well as line-extending without thinking about the erosion of brand equity.

    But the vineyard designate wines are soulful, and extremely well-balanced to boot. And Joel's passion cannot be beat!!!

    Oct 06, 2009 at 6:39 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    Yet it was great to try them all at once. Missing the Cooke, which along with the Old Hill has always been my favorite. I still have some bottlings from 1990-94 banging around, I think. Maybe it's worth taking a look and putting together an event around them!

    Oct 06, 2009 at 6:40 PM

  • Look forward to trying these. Just finished a wonderful Zin from Derby Wine Estates in Paso Robles, CA - very smooth at 15.9% and well-integrated with a super creamy mouth feel. Guess this is off the Ravenswood subject, but just thought I would mention it to see if anyone has had any experience with Derby wines.

    Oct 06, 2009 at 7:13 PM

  • Snooth User: D9sus4
    163476 316

    I was at the winery in August 2009, and the 2006 Teldeschi definitely had the most elegant taste that day. Still like their lower tier Napa and Lodi Zins though.

    Oct 06, 2009 at 8:11 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    No experience with Derby but since this is as much about great Zinfandel vineyards as it is Ravenswood I can't say it's not appropriate.

    Oct 07, 2009 at 6:10 PM

  • Snooth User: StockBoy
    188562 78

    These Zins are O.K. only. Stick with Cline Old Vine or any of the Seghesio Zins.

    Oct 10, 2009 at 3:33 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    If you're talking about the bulk wines Ravenswood produces I can agree with you Stockboy. If you're talking about these single vineyards I would have to say that Ravenswood has a distinct advantage over those two.

    Oct 12, 2009 at 9:58 AM

  • Spot on Dal Piaz...the fruit source alone should stand apart not to mention Joel's magic touch

    Mar 16, 2010 at 8:07 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    Thanks Running.

    I love the fact that these wines each really speak as much about their origins as they do Joel's winemaking. Too many heavyhanded winemakers have taken Zin and made it into what they want it to be, not what the fruit dictates. It's great to see that joel continues to do such fine and distinguished work with these single vineyard bottlings.

    Mar 17, 2010 at 10:21 AM

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