Amador Foothill Winery's '07 Clockspring Zin - Mike Dunn's Wine of the Week
2007 Clockspring Zinfandel

Mike Dunne's Wine of the Week pick - 02-17-10

By Mike DunneSpecial to The Bee

Published: February17th, 2010 12:00 AM

Amador Foothill Winery 2006 and 2007 Shenandoah Valley ClockspringVineyard Zinfandels ($15/$16)

Amador County's Shenandoah Valley is home to some of the denser, huskier andmore belligerent zinfandels to come stomping out of the Sierra foothills. Theyweigh down the table with their heft, shove aside any dish lighter than leg oflamb seasoned liberally with garlic and mustard, and threaten to burstspontaneously into flame for their concentration of alcohol.

Once in awhile, however, you come across a Shenandoah Valley zinfandel ofuncommon restraint, even finesse, and amazingly enough, elegance.

That's the sort of zinfandel that isn't uncommon to find at all after youwind your way up the valley knoll occupied by Amador Foothill Winery. We didthat the day after Thanksgiving, when the winery's owners, the husband-and-wifeteam of Ben Zeitman and Katie Quinn, were recognizing their 30th harvest byopening several of their older bottles of zinfandel.

The lineup on the counter read like a Who's Who of the valley's moreesteemed antique vineyards - Eschen, Esola, Ferrero, Grandpere. The wines werefrom the 1980s and 1990s, and as we tasted through them we were struck by howwell they had aged. Each spoke individually of the vineyard where theyoriginated - jammy fruit in this one, notes of green herbs in that - but acrossthe board they shared aromatics still fresh and pronounced, colors bright,tannins smooth, builds balanced, flavors alluring.

That, not surprisingly, is how Zeitman and Quinn make their wines. They seekout carefully cultivated vineyards, monitor the maturing fruit closely, thensqueeze the berries and handle the fruit gingerly, intent on bottling wines ofquiet command.

On that day, they also were pouring current releases, including a relativenewcomer to their stable, the Amador Foothill Winery 2006 Shenandoah ValleyClockspring Vineyard Zinfandel. By Amador County standards, Clockspring is averitable youngster, having been planted in 1973 and 1974 by the Frank Alvisoand John Hahn families.

They're up to 353 acres, about 85 percent of which is zinfandel, which theysell to wineries both in Amador County and beyond. "Here comes the spicetruck," Alviso is fond of hearing when he pulls up to a winery with a loadof zinfandel grapes.

That's because zinfandel coming off Clockspring Vineyard punctuates thevalley's traditionally intense blackberry fruit with a noticeable dash of blackpepper. Actually, in the Amador Foothill Winery Clockspring Vineyard zinfandelsthe black pepper is more than merely noticeable. In its assertive spiciness,it's fragrant, ticklish and lasting, but not domineering. This is an AmadorFoothill Winery wine, after all, where the guideposts consistently point toequilibrium.

What accounts for that spiciness? Who knows. It could be a particular strainof the variety. It could be the northwest exposure of that portion of thevineyard where Zeitman and Quinn are particular about getting their grapes. Itcould be Alviso's precise tending of the vineyard, which involves pruning toallow just so much dappled sunlight and movement of air on the grapes, as wellas his monitoring of the plot's drip irrigation to avoid the sort of summerstress on the vines that results in wines pruney and alcoholic. It's romanticand comforting to think that vines that look so benign in their orderly rows goabout their business naturally, but in reality an astute stewardship is right besidethem, tinkering with this leaf and that root to help move the whole process toa rewarding conclusion.

Since we tasted the 2006 in November, Zeitman and Quinn have released the2007 version of their Clockspring zinfandel. Early on, it's a bit tighter thanthe 2006, showing maybe just two twists of the pepper grinder instead of fiveor six, but it's packed with the sort of berry fruit that just sings ShenandoahValley.

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