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1999 Martella Vineyards "Fiddletown" Zinfandel, Amador County, California

I have already sung Michael Martella's praises in conjunction with his Hammer Syrah but in case you didn't notice, let me say it again for the record: this man knows how to make fantastic wine. Interestingly enough I really only like his efforts that are done in small lots outside of his day job (as winemaker for Thomas Fogarty). While Michael has a few winners there (their Chards and Pinots) most of Fogarty's wines don't seem reach beyond the level of "very good." Yet when he steps outside to make wines under his own label or like this in a small lot for Martella Vineyards he is clearly capable of working magic.

I'm not sure yet whether the coincidence of last name is just that or whether Michael has a brother named Richard who happens to own a vineyard called Fiddletown in Amador County. In either case, it's clear that he's gotten his hands on a small lot of incredibly ripe Zinfandel for this wine, and he has wrung from it a very unique wine indeed.

In an unusual, but in this case brilliant winemaking decision, this wine is actually 86% Zinfandel, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Syrah. While many winemakers will add a little Petite Verdot or even Petite Syrah to their Zinfandels at times to balance the pepper and spice of the Zin fruit, this is definitely a unique blend. The result is one of the most universally likeable wines I have ever had the pleasure of drinking. What does that mean? Well, I'm willing to put money that any everyday consumer of wine who had a chance to sample this would love it. Some wine freaks who find everything besides Pinot Noir detestable (names withheld to protect the innocent) will turn up their noses at this one, but everyone else and their parents will love it.

300 cases made.

Tasting Notes:
This wine is deep garnet headed towards brick red with age. Even despite some clear age in the color, the nose remains a fantastic perfume of gardenias, blackberries and mocha while in the mouth it is an unique mixture of cola and raspberry/blackberry preserves. The finish also incorporates flavors of sandalwood and tea as it lingers long in the back of the throat.

Food Pairing:
This wine has got the vitality of a young bullrider, so give it something spicy. How about lamb and chorizo chili?

Overall Score: 9/9.5

How Much?: $24-28

I got this bottle through Porthos but they sold out of it a while back. Unfortunately this may be a tough one to track down. If you get really desperate you might try contacting Michael himself.

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud