PICK of the RACK: Saddleback Cellars | Zinfandel | Napa Valley | California | 2008 | $38 | 92 pts

Aromas: black cherry; bittersweet chocolate; black pepper; touch of smokiness
Character: dry; rich & full-bodied; leathery tannins; mild acidity; long finish
Flavors: deep, dark berry fruit; cocoa; cinammon; touch of lavender; spicy oak
Food Pairing: smoked cheeses; grilled & roasted meats & veggies; dark chocolate

By Napa Valley standards, Saddleback Cellars is tiny. The winery, located in Oakville and nestled about halfway between Napa’s iconic Route 29 and Silverado Trail, has only 15 acres planted to vine – most devoted to Cabernet Sauvignon. And while renowned for his classic renditions of Napa Valley Cabernet, winemaker Nils Venge also makes big, robust Zinfandels that fans of big, burly Cabs are bound to enjoy. His Zins are not sweetly ripe or jammy, but firm, brawny, and complex. Made from fruit sourced largely from vineyards near St. Helena, just up the road from Saddleback, the 2008 Zin exemplifies Nils’ style. It’s saturated with aromas and flavors of black cherry and raspberry, bittersweet chocolate, and spice, all framed by toasty oak and hints of dried herbs. This is a “Cab drinker’s Zin,” for sure; and in fact, Nils blends just a smidgeon of Cabernet Sauvignon into his Zinfandel each vintage to add depth and structure.  He also ages the wine only in new American oak barrels, lending backbone and spice.

Availability: Saddleback’s production is small, and you’re likely to find it only through the winery. It’s a worthwhile effort, though – especially for those who enjoy big, rich red wines – so visit them at www.saddlebackcellars.com to learn more about this Zinfandel, Nils’ highly sought after Cabernets, and the winery’s other selections.

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