Lot 394 | 2020 Rutherford Zinfandel 750ml

Lot 394 | 2020 Rutherford Zinfandel 750ml

$60/bottle under the original label

After the initial LNU complex fires of 2020, I recall being offered Rutherford and Oakville Cabernet grapes (To Kalon, believe it or not) that, while the growers were convinced were free of any smoke taint, were being rejected by wineries who simply didn't want the risk.

I was skeptical at the time and, just having launched de Négoce, too busy to consider the proposition. Having said that, prior to the October 17th Glass fire, it certainly seemed possible that the middle and southern parts of Napa Valley were largely escaping the smoke that plagued Northern Sonoma and Lake counties, as well as the upper elevations of Napa Valley (Howell Mt, Pritchard Hill, Atlas Peak, Mt Veeder, Diamond Mountain).

In fact, I read Antonio Galloni's recent comments regarding the "rare bright spots" of the 2020 vintage for Napa Valley being the westside benches of Rutherford, St. Helena, and Yountville. Last week, in "Spinning Gold from a blighted vintage", Jancis Robinson notes "I asked the vintners’ organization to put out a call for samples of 2020 Cabernets for me to taste as I found it hard to believe they were all disastrous. Many producers are not releasing any at all, and no one will be boasting of a bumper crop, but among the 48 wines submitted, I found many perfectly respectable wines and list below those that are fine wines by any measure – albeit at Napa Valley’s elevated prices. I detected no signs of smoke taint on any of them (it would surely be a foolish producer who submitted a flawed wine for my tasting)."

Of course, all the wines she listed were from the lower-elevation, eastern and western benches of Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena and Yountville - basically central to southern Napa Valley. Same for Mr Galloni. And it looks like Harlan will bottling their 2020's as well.

Another "Bright Spot" for Mr. Galloni was Zinfandel, he notes: "Zinfandel is shaping up to be the success story of 2020...Obviously, Zinfandel ripens earlier than most other varieties, and that was a huge plus in 2020. I have also heard that, genetically, Zinfandel does not contain one of the compounds that binds with volatile phenols, which could explain why at least some 2020s turned out well. Other winemakers and experts believe that older Zinfandel vines ‘breathe’ more than younger vines, which allows them to expel toxins more easily, and that this might explain why some wines are less affected by smoke."

Having now found the honey-hole for non-smoke-tainted 2020 reds, folks please allow me to introduce you to the fantastic Lot 394 Old Vine Zinfandel.

This is smoking-good stuff (not literally, mind you), from a historic Rutherford estate that recently changed hands. I love these deals because ownership just wants to clean up the portfolio/balance sheet and I can get access to world-class wine at quite reasonable prices (think Lot 250).

And I think $15/bottle is a hell of a reasonable price for a $60/bottle of historic, old vine Rutherford Zinfandel. Don't you? 

Lot 394 hails from two two historic Zinfandel clones (sorry, can't name them) planted in the mid-70s that complement each other beautifully; one bringing sweet fruit and spice that lifts the inherent richness and dark fruit tones of the other. The wine sees somewhere in the realm of 30% new oak, mostly American and a little French for lift.

This wine has zero smoke. Ripe, luscious bouquet of chocolate-covered cherries and raisins with a brambly boysenberry underpinning. The upper register resonates with sweet tobacco and caramel haloing spicy notes of cinnamon and clove. The entry on the palate is opulent, warm, supple and juicy but always fresh. The mid-palate has good density but plenty of juicy energy yielding to dusty, well-textured tannins that carry the wine into a long, softly-rounded finish of ripe cherry, tootsie roll chocolate and plenty of sweet vanilla, blueberry and caramel oak notes. Powerful yet vibrant, this is textbook Rutherford Zinfandel!

15.8% alc.

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