Wine is naturally a vehicle for history, so tied as it is to a place and a soil and a climate. Grapes express so much about how and where they came to be, it seems only natural that they carry with them the histories of the people who craft them into wine. Enter Ballantine Vineyards.
Every winery in Napa has some sort of history, every winemaker has a story, but the story of Van Ballantine, his wife Betty and how they came to own and produce a wine that carries his name is truly epic and vast in its scope. I cannot do it better justice than it has been done on their Web site, so I will merely convey the highlights here.
Van has lived his entire life (minus a stint in the Navy) in Napa Valley. Born in St. Helena, he was involved in the wine business since birth -- his father, an Irish immigrant, purchased 160 acres of vineyard land during prohibition, and began to work it as a winery. Betty was born in Calistoga to 2nd generation Italian winemakers who had been making wine in California since 1910. Their blood practically courses with Napa fruit. Van has worked an astonishing 60 plus vintages in the Napa valley, which must make him one of the most experienced vineyard owners in the state. Most would retire on such credentials, but Van continues to pour his wine at tasting events and festivals.
I'm not sure if it is possible for a wine to express all of this heritage, but this Zinfandel certainly has the poise and the depth you would expect from an elder statesman of Napa. Whether we taste it or imagine it, this wine is telling a story of the lives of two people that are as much a part of California wine as any can claim to be.
This wine shines a deep garnet in color -- a deep red with a tinge of purple -- and throws a powdery fine sediment of tannic acid crystals in the bottom of the bottle. The nose is powerful, wafting aromas of tobacco and cedar, with deep notes of black fruit out of the glass. In the mouth it is extracted, yet balanced, with gorgeous blackberry and black cherry notes that finish long and slow with elements of dark chocolate. Elegant and resonant are words that come to mind. This is a Sean Connery sort of Zinfandel.
I almost want to just drink this wine by itself, or with a little cheese. If I had to pair it with something substantial, I'd suggest something light but strong, like blue cheese and walnut souffles with mesclun and red pepper vinaigrette.
Overall Score: 9.5
How much?: $27 (a steal)
This wine is available from the winery, which is where I got mine. Give them a call.
A wine book like no other. Photographs, essays, and wine recommendations. 2015 Roederer Award Winner.Learn more.
Warm Up: Tannins I'll Drink to That: Winemaker Andy Erickson Vinography Unboxed: Week of April 17, 2016 Vinography Images: Bright Emerald Warm Up: Hermitage I'll Drink to That: Winemaker Jean-Louis Chave World's Greatest Sommelier Success Stories Wine News: What I'm Reading the Week of 4/17/16 I'll Drink to That: Christian Seely of AXA Millésimes A Rescued Vintage: 2013 Burgundy Highlights from La Paulée
Wine Will Never Smell the Same Again: Luca Turin and the Science of Scent Forlorn Hope: The Remarkable Wines of Matthew Rorick Debating Robert Parker At His Invitation Passopisciaro Winery, Etna, Sicily: Current Releases Should We Care What Winemakers Say? The Sweet Taste of Freedom: Austria's Ruster Ausbruch Wines 2009 Burgundy Vintage According to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Charles Banks: The New Man Behind Mayacamas Wine from the Caldera: The Incredible Viticulture of Santorini Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Chateau Rayas and the 2012 Vintage of Chateauneuf-du-Pape A Life Indomitable: The Wines of Casal Santa Maria, Portugal Bay Area Bordeaux: Tasting Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernets Forgotten Jewels: Reviving Chile's Old Vine Carignane The First-Timer's Guide to Les Trois Glorieuses of Hospices de Beaune