2015 Ch. Montelena Calistoga Zinfandel


Founded in the 1880s, Chateau Montelena was named for Mt. Saint Helena, the imposing peak that looks over the upper Napa Valley where the winery is located. For decades one of the valley’s top quality wine producers, the estate struggled in the years after prohibition and even ceased making wine from its grapes. That all changed in the late 1960s, when a group of partners led by Jim Barret revived the estate, restoring the iconic chateau-like winery building, the Chinese-themed gardens, and, most of all, the vineyards. In no time, Chateau Montelena was making wine that, along with other pioneers of that era, vaulted the Napa Valley into the major leagues of premium wine production. Indeed, by 1976 Chateau Montelena not only emerged as one of Napa Valley’s premier wineries, but awakened the entire world to the quality of California wine, when its 1973 Alexander Valley Chardonnay won first place in the infamous Paris Tasting, in which some of France’s greatest wine critics rated the Chateau Montelena above some of the most illustrious of white burgundies. Since 1981, Bo Barret, son of the founder, has overseen the winemaking at Chateau Montelena, pursuing the goal of making flavorful but elegant, complex and age-worthy wines in the French style. Unlike many of its peers, Chateau Montelena’s wines do not undergo barrel fermentation, malolactic fermentation or even aging in exclusively new oak barrels in order to emphasize the nuances of the terroir and the natural flavors of the grapes. The 98-acre Montelena Estate vineyards, spanning flatlands and hillsides north of the winery alongside the Napa River, features a rich mix of alluvial, sedimentary and volcanic soils as well as an intriguing variety of microclimates. Primarily planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, the estate also includes several blocs of Zinfandel. Vines planted in these rocky soils are naturally low-yielding, and such techniques as organic pest control, dry farming, and crop thinning bring yields down even further. The results of such low yields are evidenced in the consistent quality of the “Estate” wines: full-bodied, intense and flavorful - though somewhat tannic in their youth - elegant, complex and age-worthy. In addition to the “Estate” wines, Chateau Montelena also produces Cabernet Sauvignon from vineyards elsewhere in the Napa Valley, Chardonnay from both the Napa and Alexander valleys and a small amount of Riesling from the Potter Valley in Mendicino County.


To make its Zinfandel, Chateau Montelena combines Primitivo from their estate vineyard with old vine Zin from the Tofanelli Ranch in Calistoga. Each of these Zinfandel clones exhibits a unique profile, with Primitivo providing more red fruit and spicy flavors and the Zin adding the darker briar fruit, cassis and lavender notes. Even though Northern California experienced severe drought in 2015, Zinfandel has a long track record of surviving extreme weather. Indeed, winemaker Matt Crafton said, “…the 2015 vintage showcases [the survivor] quality beautifully. There’s something hallowed in the old, war-torn vines that have endured many challenging growing seasons coupled with the vitality and exuberance of younger plantings that allow us to create this truly compelling wine.” The structure and aromatics of this wine might suggest an old world provenance as it delights with with its complex melange of tangy black and red currants and cherries, along with clove, violets, cinnamon, eucalyptus, and some deep earthy, rocky elements. 


Stainless steel fermentation followed by 16 month's aging in French, Irish and American oak barrels (15% new).

Tasting notes

Aromas of cocoa, tobacco and dried cherry intermingle with hints of lavender, cassis and fresh mint. On the palate, cranberry red fruit is balanced against dense blueberry and earthy minerality. A little aeration in the glass or decanter is recommended. 


Calistoga (Napa)