Domestic Selection: Zinfandel, Vineyard Selection 1978, L. M. Martini

One day in 1906, a nineteen-year-old Enology student from the University of Genoa got a bit of advice from his college professor that would change his Life, “If you want to make wine,” he said, “you’d better go back to California. . .experiment by yourself and study.” His name was Louis M. Martini.

The story of the Louis M. Martini Winery is “the” story of California wine as we think it should be told. It’s the youthful immigrant bringing his skills to America. It is the same immigrant’s attention to detail, experimentation and foresight who made his dream come true. He became one of the patriarchs of our wine industry.

Louis Michael Martini was born on May, 27, 1887 in Petra, Italy, about 35 miles east of Genoa. He came to San Francisco at age 12 and returned seven years later to study enology.

In 1922 he was back, founding the L M. Martini Grape Products Co. in the San Joaquin Valley. Even with the harness of prohibition, Martini did a brisk business selling grape juice, concentrates and sacramental wines. In 1937 he bought a vineyard 1000 feet up in the Mayacamas mountains, near Napa, and built the first “premium” California winery.

Today, the winery controls 700 acres of grapes and is family run. Louis P. (Louis M.’s son) is in charge. His son, Michael, is the winemaker and daughters Carolyn and Patricia handle marketing and finance.  In the industry, they are often charged with pricing their wines too low. To that “charge” they respond that “others are charging too much.” We couldn’t agree more.

The Zinfandel grape, and the red wine made from it, was the darling of the infant California wine industry. It has since fallen on hard times. More than 80% of the zinfandel grapes harvested are made into white zinfandel! Obviously, we’re not opposed to blush wines (note our import selection this month). However, red zinfandel has always been a favorite here and it’s been very difficult to find one because there aren’t many to choose from.

The reasons are many. Too many different styles confused the public so they naturally gravitated to other, “sexier” grapes like cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and now merlot.

Our selection is a re-release from the Martini “Vineyard Selection” series. Because of their strong position, Martini can afford to release this wine at a sensible price.

The grapes come from their own Monte Rosso vineyard in Napa. The wine was made in the “late harvest” style. This means that the grapes are picked late in the season when the sugar is higher. The grapes were allowed to ferment to dryness, so the finished wine will be a big, high-alcohol offering.

The extra alcohol can sometimes give a hot, hard taste. Not with our selection. We were amazed at the balance considering the 15 1/2% alcohol level.

The color is still a deep brick with almost no hint of browning. The nose takes me back to the “good old days” of rich, aromatic zinfandels with strawberry and raspberry bouquets. The taste delivers the same only more aggressively. This is a big mouthfilling wine with lots of extracted fruit flavors which linger on the palate long after the wine is gone. Great at room temperature with a hearty beef stew, pizza with all the toppings or a meatball sandwich

Cellaring Notes. Will hold for another five years or more unless you drink it up sooner.

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