My drinking career has gone through a number of distinct phases, and I like to think my appreciation of alcoholic beverages has been a cumulative process. Microbrewery beer was my first love before I moved to single malt whisky and then cocktails, and while of late wine is largely my tipple of choice, I’m now happy drinking any of the above. This bottle though takes me back to my earliest memories of wine, before I knew the first thing about it, but I did know I liked this one. Today it’s the Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel Vintners Blend 2010.
I went to university in the San Francisco Bay Area and while I started drinking relatively late, it was a good place for it. It was home to many good beers, and there was even a local sake brewery with a tasting room open daily 12-6. Wine was a mystery to me, but the one producer I did enjoy was Ravenswood. I must admit it was a combination of the label and their slogan “No wimpy wines” that drew me in. The three ravens in a circle looked to me like a Japanese mon, another fascination of mine at the time, and my young palate found their wines not at all disagreeable. Fast forward many years later and Ravenswood was one of the producers my wife and I picked to pour at our wedding.
Unfortunately, it’s a bit tricky finding Ravenswood in Australia, which is odd as they’re owned by Constellation Brands, based down here. There’s a fine producer in the Adelaide Hills that used to be known as Ravenswood Lane, though I believe they are now just known as The Lane. There’s also been wines of Australia bottled under the California Ravenswood brand (for the US market?), though with three kangaroos instead of ravens. I remember coming across that label many years ago in the USA, but then had a difficult time finding any corroboration of my recollection until just recently. (I would love to know the story if anyone cares to tell me about it in the comments.) However, I couldn’t resist buying a bottle when I was in Canada a couple of weeks ago, instead of sticking exclusively with wines of British Columbia.
Ravenswood was founded by 1976 Joel Peterson, a microbiologist and wine writer, and Reed Foster, a Harvard MBA. Peterson’s parents were both chemists who had expertise in wine and gourmet food, and he was well versed in European fine wine at an early age. In 1977 he shifted from San Francisco to Sonoma and lived a double life, working in a hospital lab by day and producing wine the rest of the time, a routine he continued until 1992 after Ravenswood had reached profitability. The company was subsequently bought by Constellation in 2001, but since the buyout, Peterson has remained with the company, both overseeing production and as a Senior Vice President of Constellation.
The company initially drew attention at a San Francisco tasting in 1979 with a pair of their single vineyard Zinfandels taking the top two prizes. It’s their signature grape and they have been a champion of it in California, though they also produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Sirah, Merlot, Shiraz, red blends, and Chardonnay. Their ranges of wines run from single vineyard and icon level offerings, to county specific wines and then wines (such as this one) made of grapes drawn from throughout northern California from over a hundred growers.
Just quickly, in terms of grape and region, this is a varietal Zinfandel and for my write-up of that grape please have a look at when it first appeared here with Rusticana of Langhorne Creek. As to the region, the company’s address is in Sonoma but this wine is actually just of California generally, which is far too large of a subject for today. I look forward to writing up Sonoma when I have a wine exclusively from there.
So is there more to this post than a walk down Memory Lane? I think what I like most about Ravenswood is its unapologetic approach to wine, and that hasn’t changed in the 25 years since I was a student. They deliver big wines across a wide range of varieties and price points. While they do make some expensive wines, their prices don’t push the upper limits. Meanwhile, their entry level wines deliver gusto with the same character, albeit without a more specific sense of place. It’s not a producer for every palate, and if robust, New World reds aren’t your thing, don’t waste your time. But if you do want a big wine and you see the three ravens on a bottle, you know you won’t be disappointed.
Speaking of wine in the glass, this wine is clear and bright, with a medium blood red colour and quick legs. It’s clean and developing on the nose, with medium plus intensity and notes of ripe cherries, sweet spice, pencil lead, some charred steak, and a bit of blood. On the palate it’s dry with medium body, medium acidity, medium plus fine tannins, medium plus alcohol, medium intensity, and medium plus length. The palate matches the nose with a combination of rich red fruit and meat.
This is a very good wine. The flavour profile does it for me, and it went perfectly with the bison and steak that I had grilled to go along with it. (Yes, these notes are from when I was in Canada – bison is a bit thin on the ground in Australia.) For giving the impression of a big wine, it wasn’t overly intense in colour, intensity or body, which I found somewhat surprising. I must admit, some of my nostalgia is giving this wine a boost in terms of my perception of it, so if it wasn’t the first wine you enjoyed as a student, good might be the more appropriate measure of quality. However, I’m savouring the wine and the memories, and will have to look a bit harder in terms of sourcing more within Australia.