PICK of WINE COUNTRY: Sobon Estate | Amador County | California

SobonSobon Estate is a seasoned champion of Amador County Zinfandel. The winery produces a number of distinct Zinfandel labels, and here we are featuring two that demonstrate the winery’s skillful range: the 2011 Rocky Top, a bold and spicy interpretation of the variety; and the 2012 Fiddletown, which is supple and elegant. These are wines that should be slowly savored and, ideally, enjoyed side-by-side for a full appreciation of their unique attributes and differences.  You will find our full reviews of these wines below, but first here is a little backstory….

Wine production in Amador County and the surrounding Sierra Foothills began when fortune-seeking gold prospectors — the so-called “forty-niners” — flowed into the region during the Gold Rush, bringing with them an unquenchable thirst for alcohol along with vine cuttings from their home countries. One of the earliest vineyards in Amador County — encompassing some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in California — was planted in 1856 by Swiss immigrant Adam Uhlinger with vines he had brought from Europe.  Uhlinger chose to plant on an undulating landscape in an area that came to be known as the Shenandoah Valley, believed to have been named by settlers from Virginia after their home state’s storied Shenandoah Valley. (The area was designated the “California Shenandoah Valley” American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1983.)

Uhlinger’s original vineyards and winery are a remarkable example of persistence, survival, and rebirth in Amador County winemaking. While most of the early wineries in the Foothills did not survive the population declines that accompanied the end of the Gold Rush or the ravages of vine-binging phylloxera in the 1880s, Uhlinger’s operation persisted through the turn of the century. In 1911, Enrico D’Agostini purchased the winery and its 125 acres of vineyards and re-christened it the D’Agostini Winery. Prohibition came just a few years later, shuttering many wineries in California and around the country — but not the D’Agostini Winery.  The winery survived 14 years of Prohibition by producing sacramental wine for the Sacramento Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church.

Sobon Estate MuseumThe property’s third incarnation came in 1989, when Shirley and Leon Sobon, who had founded neighboring Shenandoah Vineyards near the town of Plymouth in 1977, purchased  the  D’Agostini vineyards and winery (the third oldest in California) as a 30th anniversary present for themselves  and named it Sobon Estate. Today Sobon Estate, together with Shenandoah Vineyards, remains family owned and operated with son Paul at the helm of winemaking.      The Sobons produce a range of varietal wines from sustainably-grown grapes, and Zinfandel, befitting the winery’s heritage, is their standard-bearer. The following two bottlings — sourced from separate vineyards on the estate — are distinctive  renditions of Sobon Estate Zinfandel. They are markedly different from one another in character, but are equally well-crafted and both superb values. We highly recommend them.

Sobon Estate NV-RockyTop-labelRocky Top | 2011 | $18 | 92 pts     Sobon’s winemaking team sourced this wine from the Rocky Top vineyard, which was planted in 1926 on  volcanic soils at an elevation of 1,900 feet. The wine is rich and savory, with aromas of dried black cherry, roasted red pepper, and crushed stone followed by flavors of mulberry, dark chocolate-covered almond, and kalamata olive; with hints of sweet cured tobacco and clove rounding out a deep, tangy finish. Its dark and spicy character is enhanced by blending Zinfandel (86%) with Carignane (8%) and Petite Sirah (6%). The wine is full-bodied, with gentle tannins, moderate acids, and subtle oak — it aged 18 months in French and American oak, 30% new. Serve it with hearty fare such as aged cheeses, seared filet mignon, meaty stews, curries, and dark chocolate.                  (3,672 cases produced | 14.1% ABV)

Sobon Estate NV-Fiddletown-labelFiddletown | 2012 | $22 | 92 pts
        Sobon’s Fiddletown offering is so named for the Fiddletown American Viticultural Area (AVA) that sits adjacent to (on the eastern side of) the California Shenandoah Valley AVA. This offering was sourced from the Lubenko vineyard, which was planted around 1910 at an elevation of 1,900 feet.  The wine is elegant and lively, with aromas of raspberry preserve, red plum, and violet that lead to flavors of dried red fruit, Rainier cherry, and cinnamon; with flourishes of red apple and mint on a polished finish. The wine is 81% Zinfandel, with 15% Primitivo (Zinfandel’s genetic sibling) and 4% Syrah blended for depth. It is medium-bodied, with gentle tannins, moderate acids, and subtle oak — it aged 14 months in American and Hungarian oak, 40% new. Serve it with young, creamy cheeses, grilled tuna, or tomato-based pasta dishes. This is one of those wines that comes alive in the glass the longer it sits, revealing complexities that are not immediately evident — so decanting for an hour, or so, is a must to enjoy its full potential.  (2,159 cases produced | 15.1% ABV)

Availability:  Sobon Estate wines are distributed nationally, so ask your wine merchant about availability. We found these bottlings at our local Total Wine location, and Sobon Estate wines are available at most of their locations nationwide (www.totalwine.com).  For more information on Sobon Estate and its wines, visit them virtually at www.sobonestate.com.

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