“A bottle of wine begs to be shared. I have never met a miserly wine lover.”Clinton Fadiman

Everyone knows that Zinfandel (or “Zin”) is an American grape. But people in the know, know it’s related to “Primitivo” from Italy. And people that really know, know that the grape’s origins go back to Croatia. But I’m telling you to forget all that one upmanship.  Zinfandel has become an American grape. And it’s not just for barbecue anymore.   It’s wily and charming and nuanced and can be complex in the skilled hands of a competent winemaker.  A visit to two different vineyards in Sonoma County, California convinced me of just how balanced, sophisticated and complex Zinfandel can be.

Mazzocco grapes (C) James McMillan
Today, we’ll talk about Mazzocco where they make 22 (not a typo) Zins.  Mazzocco is a family owned winery located in Healdsburg between Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys (both A.V.A).  The pride the Wilson family takes in their wines is evident in the facility and the product. And winemaker Antoine Favero is a maestro, combining tradition with an open mind toward considering techniques that affect the finished product.    The result of this environment is wines of distinct character.  Mazzocco’s Dry Creek Valley vineyard is dry farmed, vines are head-trained, and grapes handpicked. Wines are aged 18 months in French oak. Winemaker Favero uses native yeasts which contribute to each wine’s unique personality. 

I should mention Mazzocco produces more than Zin. Their wines include Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, Rose and Red Blends. They make Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah and Petite Sirah. But it was the Zinfandels that captured and elevated me.  I wanted to know, “How could one grape produce so many wines of truly varying character?”
Taking Notes In the Vineyard

Meeting with owners and hosts at two and three vineyards a day while in Sonoma County precluded me from tasting all 22 Mazzocco Zins. That alone is a good excuse for a return visit. In the meantime, I’ll share some notes on a few I did taste.

2010 Briar (Dry Creek Valley) 15.4% (600 cases) $29.
 Light color for a Zin, but color is a fooler with this wine that tastes of dark cherry and hazelnut with soft tannins and jammy fruit notes. Long finish.

2010 Maria (Dry Creek Valley) 15.5% (600 cases) $36.
Darker & more complex. Ripe cherry, lush fruit, vanilla, cola, oak sheaths and cinnamon stick.

2010 Sonoma County Reserve (Dry Creek Valley) 15.2% $29
This one is sensual. The nose is pure romance; the texture silky. 18 months aging smoothes and balances the cherry vs. black pepper finish.  Love this wine and it proves out to be a value.

2010 Smith Orchard Reserve 16.4% (550 cases) $52.
18 months in oak balances the pepper. The nose is pure Zin, but the taste is Bordeaux-like.  It’s hard to believe this balanced nectar is actually a Zin.

2009 Juan Rodriguez Reserve (Dry Creek Valley) 16.1% (75 cases) $100.
OK, my favorite. The nose is complex and subtle.  The wine looks like a Merlot in the glass.  Ripe plum & jam without the black pepper of Zin. This ethereal, balanced wine glides easily into you with a silky yet textured mouth feel, and seduces all your senses. When it’s done, it evaporates off the tongue with a whisper that haunts you.  It’s very hard to believe that this is a Zinfandel.

2010 Maple (Dry Creek Valley) 16.2% $42.
Faint cherry that builds in the mouth then develops blueberry, juicy blackberry and cooked fruit.  Slight pepper finish.  Lush mouth feel.

Under the demands of a schedule, I didn’t have time to ask all the questions that later I wished I would have. I know several of these wines are unfined and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that all the Zins are unfined. I suspect that the Reserve and Special Selection Zins will continue to improve in the bottle though all are enjoyably drinkable now. Unless you buy several of each, you may find it difficult to be able to put off drinking them.

(L to R) Dave Press, Wine Educator & Host Extraordinaire, Antoine Favero, Genius Winemaker, The "WineMizer"
It‘s time to give Zinfandel more respect.  Yes, it can be bold and powerful and a compliment to barbecue  That’s fun, and certainly has its place. But in the hands of winemakers with vision and craft, it can also become more like a well balanced American blend; more mysterious and harder to define because of its subtlety, and more entertaining because of the surprise Zinfandel can offer us in our wine education -- and Mazzacco Sonoma Winery can be a good educator.

……………..  Jim
* Visit for mini-tips on wine & food
Mazzocco Sonoma Winery
1400 Lytton Springs Rd.
Healdsburg CA 95448
(707) 433-3399

Club Member prices are 15% less than shown. Discounts are available for case orders.

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