When I think of the word “cigar” two things immediately come to mind. First, the world champion American thoroughbred racehorse who dominated the mid-1990s handicap circuit; and second, the sweet, woodsy tobacco smell that comes from smoking a Rocky Patel Vintage Maduro.
Now there is a third – the wine Cigar Old Vine Zinfandel.
It is one of two Lodi appellation Zinfandels that has captured my palate’s attention as I hunker down at home during the COVID-19 crisis. The other is from Oak Farm Valley Vineyards.
First, a bit of background.
While the grape known as Zinfandel (Primitivo in Italy) is believed to be native to Croatia, it has an illustrious history in America dating back to the early 1900s. Historical accounts say Zinfandel was first sold in Boston in 1830 via shipments from Austria. The first Zinfandel vines were planted in California, probably around 1850, and became a popular beverage during the Gold Rush years.
By the end of the 19th century, Zinfandel was California’s most widely planted grape. Today, it makes up about 10 percent of total plantings.
Zinfandel is a thick-skinned, nearly black grape that makes robust, fruity and spicy wines. While black fruit dominates its sensory profile, Zin soars from a multitude of secondary traits – chocolate, coffee, licorice, leather, cedar, and clove. The wine also packs a wallop with high alcohol levels, usually 15% or higher, and good acidity.
The best Zinfandels come from low-yielding “old” vines – aged 30 to 50 years and up – that produce smaller berries of highly concentrated extract and tannins. California’s top growing areas are Mendocino County, Lodi, and Napa Valley.
Cigar Old Vine Zinfandel 2018, Lodi, SRP $19.99 – Cigar the wine has the core of a champion, just like Cigar the racehorse who won 16 consecutive stakes races to dominate the 1996 handicap circuit. But the wine isn’t named for the horse. Instead, Napa-based Cosentino Winery pays tribute to Winston Churchill’s favorite tobacco smoke. It makes no difference: Cigar Zinfandel exhibits power, richness and finesse in every drop.
Cigar opens smartly with blackberry and black raspberry fruit, hits its best stride mid-palate with cassis, tobacco and vanilla notes, and finishes strongly with a long, savory kick. It’s also velvety smooth. According to the winemaker’s notes, Cigar a four-varietal mix – Zinfandel (88%), Petit Sirah (7%), Petit Verdot (4%), Cabernet Sauvignon (1%) – with fruit sourced from Lodi vineyards. With a 15.4% alcohol level and balanced acidity, the darkly purple wine can carry any hearty meal across the finish line, preferably a grilled steak, thick mushroom burger, and spicy BBQ ribs. For a good deal, Cigar Zin is now selling in N.H. Wine & Liquor Outlets for $13.99 a bottle.
Oak Farm Vineyards Zinfandel 2017, Lodi, SRP $24 -Here’s another bold beauty from a family-owned Lodi estate that takes its name from the stately century-old oak trees that grace the property. Dan Panatella, whose family has farmed in the San Joaquin Valley since the 1930s, purchased Oak Farm in 2004. Eight years later he replanted the property’s 60 acres to vineyards. (There’s a new tasting room on site and guests can book a vacation stay at the estate’s nearby Annadan suites.)
Oak Farm Zinfandel (15% alcohol) consists of estate grapes and grower fruit from area vineyards, including Hohenreider planted in 1958. It’s a combination of young and older vines. The 2017 vintage contains a small portion of Petit Sirah for added color (garnet) and structure. My tasting revealed an energetic and balanced wine boasting big, ripe, juicy black currant fruit on a plush frame. It’s good to drink now.
Oak Farm Zin has picked up three gold medals in regional California competitions and earned a double gold at an international tasting in New Orleans. It’s definitely a wine to watch from a developing operation. Only 2,800 cases were made and it can be purchased at www.oakfarmvineyards.com.