Mendocino and Lake counties

These northern Californian counties represent the northern edge of grape-growing in the state. Here, vines share the land with towering redwoods. The cooler climates here produce wines with lovely cherry-berry fruit and bright acidity. These tend to be fragrant wines that can highlight the spicy nature of Zinfandel.

2007 Claudia Springs Redwood Valley Zinfandel Vassar Vineyard, 14.7%
Very interesting on the nose, with layers of chocolate, eucalyptus and licorice giving the core of slightly jammy grippy and boysenberry fruit a slight medicinal edge. Lovely freshness and sapid acidity in the mouth gives this a seductive feel and, while the fruit is rich, it takes a bit of a second seat to the structural elements of the wine. The finish is all about sour red fruits and has great length to the cranberry and raspberry fruit tones ending on a very firm mineral tone. A bit unusual but still has a lot of appeal. I bet this would be even better with food and seems like it would be a great match for duck. Subtle, complex and firm, this absolutely grows on me. 92pts

2007 Claudia Springs Redwood Valley Zinfandel John Ricetti Vineyard, 15.5%
Fairly intense aromas balance notes of forest floor, sweet black raspberry and black cherry fruit and gentle tones of wood spice. Really excellent balance on entry. This is a big wine, no doubt about it, but the balance really makes this deceivingly smooth and easy to drink. The mid-palate is dominated by classic brambly blackberry fruit with hints of pie tobacco, vanilla and nutmeg, and maybe even a hint of white pepper. The finish is clear and crisp with a long, fresh, black raspberry tone. Very refreshing and delicious. 91pts

2007 Claudia Springs Mendocino County Zinfandel, 14.4%
A bit reticent on the nose, though this does show a candied edge to the emerging red raspberry and cherry fruit with a nice framing note of wood spice. Nicely bright and light up front with wonderfully fresh and pure vanilla-tinged cherry and grippy fruit. It’s a bit simple, though there are some emerging notes of mint, flowers and herbs as the wine sits in the glass. With time, the tannins, soft and fuzzy that they are, emerge, adding some detail in the mouth. Definitely a slight outlier of a style with bright acids and a lightened feel, though nice purity and intensity to the fruit. 87pts

2008 Cakebread Cellars Red Hills Lake County Zinfandel, 15.3%
Smoky and noticeably endowed with toasty oak notes on the nose, this nonetheless shows a nice core of herb-inflected cherry fruit as well. A bit thick in the mouth, with very fine-grained tannins that sort of closely knit the wine over your tongue. This is showing a slightly aggressive structure at this point, with good density but somewhat subdued flavors today. The balance is there, and the oak, while noticeable, is not totally in your face. This may improve, but today shows a rather restrained style that finishes with the spice and sweetness of toasty new wood. Some nice red fruit does sneak up on the finale, giving me more confidence that this will come into its own. 87pts

2008 Beaver Creek Vineyards Lake County Zinfandel, 14.9%
Pure chocolate on the nose, with air this shows some weedy herb and spice tones, but it has an overwhelmingly chocolatey nose that recalls port. Fresh on entry with a hint of residual sugar that gives this an initial softness, though on the mid-palate it shows the porty character it displays on the nose. There’s plenty of spice here and the wine does feel pretty good considering its size, but the flavors lack freshness and definition. The finish is a bit hot and a bit lean with porty flavors. Obviously if you like this porty style, you’re gonna love this. 84pts