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Barrel tasting spotlight: Alexander Valley

In Sonoma County's Alexander Valley, J. Rickards Winery and Pech Merle Winery presented several barrel tastings of different varietals. J. Rickards Winery poured four Old Vine Zinfandel vintages alongside each other: 2013 and 2012 from the barrel, and 2011 and 2010 from the bottle. Tasting the vintages in progression like this, half from the barrel and half from the bottle, was an exploration that showcased just how gracefully this Old Vine Zinfandel ages.

Winemaker, John Pepe, at Pech Merle Winery
Melissa Vogt
Alexander Valley
Melissa Vogt

The 2013 vintage from the barrel hints at plum, raisin, and a tiny bit of pepper, while the 2012 vintage—already aged 18 months—has great body, a smooth texture, nice minerality, and mild flavors of bright fruit, bell pepper and spice. The bottled 2011 has more body and texture with flavors of plum, raspberry and currant, while the bottled 2010 has all of those textures and flavors in addition to a nice hint of pepper on the backbone. Clearly, winemaker Blaine Brazil is excelling in producing delicious Old Vine Zinfandel vintages.

Pech Merle Winery chose to barrel taste three 2013 varietals: Pinor Noir, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Franc. The 2013 Oehlman Pinot Noir promises bright red cherry flavors, a hint of vanilla, and good pepper on the back of the palate. The 2013 Alioto Zinfandel also promises good things with signs of complexity and balance between herbaceous flavors and textures. Hints of bell pepper, cocoa, and pepper linger behind the dominant fruit flavors; this bodes well for the aging potential. The Cabernet Franc also shows excellent potential with its dark blackberry fruit and well rounded mouth feel. These 2013 vintages, juxtaposed against their current bottled vintages, promise great intricacy and elegance as they age.

While the 2009 and 2010 bottled Pinot Noirs from Pech Merle Winery were not from the same vineyards as the 2013 barrel tasting vintage, the complexity and level of depth across vintages and vineyards really showcase the winemaker's talents. The winemaker, John Pepe, also shows consistency across the Cabernet Franc vintages, as the bottled 2011 has the same blackberry notes that the 2013 barrel tasting promises, as well as flavors of earth and cocoa; this is a good sign for where the 2013 vintage is headed. Pech Merle's other bottled vintages, such as the 2010 Merlot and 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, were excellently balanced in terms of fruit, spice, tannin, and texture—making all of John Pepe's varietals across vintages enjoyable.