2012 Sobon Estate Zinfandel “Old Vines” Amador County

Sobon Estate property, which had been a winery site since 1856 when it was established first as Uhlinger Winery.  In 1911, Enrico D’Agostini purchased it. The property is a California historical landmark.
Sobon Estate property, which had been a winery site since 1856 when it was first established as Uhlinger Winery. In 1911, Enrico D’Agostini purchased it and operated it until . The property is a California registered historical landmark.

The Uber-Green Sobon Estate Winery

Sobon Estate is one of the most reliable Zin producers in the state, and they don’t charge an arm and a leg for their good work. The mothership is Shenandoah Vineyards which Leon and Shirley Sobon founded in 1977. In 1989 the Sobon’s purchased the d’Agostini winery, and this time self-titled it Sobon Estate. The d’Agostini property came with 113 acres of vines, many of them very old. The best lots come from three sites: Cougar Hill, Rocky Top and Lubenko vineyard blocks. The Sobon’s converted to organic farming in 2002. And unlike others who claim to bring their wines up to “only a minimal” 35 ppm of SO2, can learn something from Sobon Estate winemaker Paul Sobon who only allows 15 to 20 ppm of free sulfur at bottling. Paul learned his craft at the Chablis leading producer William Fevre, and the legendary Australian Balgownie in the Yarra Valley – in addition to his time at UC Davis earning his enology degree.

“…the finish is really fascinating and pulls this wine a long way back in my estimation. “

Tasting Notes: 2012 Sobon Estate Zinfandel “Old Vines” Amador County

Sobon Estate's basic-level Amador Zinfandel that sells for a bargain $10.99 at Beltramos
Sobon Estate’s basic-level Amador Zinfandel that sells for a bargain $10.99 at Beltramos

Day One: The wine’s muted nose of cooked-fruit, anise and a disjointed element that came off as slightly metallic didn’t show off the good-stuff that came later. I guess I should say right off : this is not a great wine. But that isn’t to say it is not worthy. Other than the nose, the wines greatest flaw is that it has an enormous hole right in the middle. While the wine has fruit, it really doesn’t have that core concentration of fruit it needs to cover the gap between the wines front end and the backend with its potent 14.5% alcohol. I know that’s a lot of negatives, but the finish is really fascinating and pulls this wine a long way back in my estimation. It suddenly surprises, with chalky minerality, briar-like stemminess that is wonderfully peppery. Add to that, it has slightly drying and spicy tannins give it a serious pause, making the back-end of this wine the star here.  It’s lingering strawberry, black cherry fruit rounds out the finish.  Great wine or not, at 10.99, this is a terrific value packed with unexpected nuance. Wines with this much ying and yang of rough and sublime are only mis-served by scoring them, so I will not.

Day Two: The mid-palate has filled out substantially, and I have found this wine responds well to a cool cellar temperature which makes the fruit pop. The downside is this buries the spicy finish which had shown so brilliantly yesterday. But at least now, with a bit of a chill, the alcohol doesn’t feel so warm and the palate is more complete with no hole in the middle.

Definitely, check our the Cougar Hill and Rock Top bottlings from this winery which are a big step up in quality from this basic bottling, yet can still be found under $15. The Rocky Top tends to be a bit dryer in fruit, while the Cougar Hill tends to be a bit more sweetly fruited, depending on the vintage. These are always two of the most solid, (and frugal) buys you are going to find in Zinfandel.

The Shenandoah Valley property is so green that it has a negative carbon footprint, meaning it actually eliminates more CO2 gasses than it produces.

Sobon Estate on Citysearch


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Diary of a Winebuyer

About Me: Thirty years ago, I graduated with a degree in political science from the College of Letters and Science at the University of California at Berkeley. Having grown up at the height of the Cold War, I still have vivid remembrances of being instructed to hide under our elementary school desk, covering our heads. The young, white, female teacher, training us without explanation, to face away from the windows. I suppose it is not all that surprising that I had a particular interest in the realpolitik of international relations. My fascination grew with the discovery that certain conditions almost uniformly exist where all revolutions ferment. Did this mean that the revolutions which had occurred in the first half century were revolutions which had been usurped by Marxists who were in the right place at the right time? Probably. A favorite professor was A. J. Gregor. This was a man who, while rakishly wearing a Gestapo-styled black leather motorcycle jacket, exuded expertise on fascism (which he looked the part) and Marxism. Improbably, he did it with a significant swagger. Then in my last semester, I had the blind luck to take a class on Asian Marxist revolution, and the professor, who just happened to be visiting that year while he worked on some unnamed project, was Chalmers Johnson. In retrospect, I should have known his name, as he was a luminary in the political science community but at that time, I did not. It was a remarkable opportunity to experience the ivory tower, but I seem to remember being anxious to get on with life. After college, I drifted through a few of jobs that were of interest to me. One of my former high school teachers said to me. "If I were in your shoes, I'd get a job as a flight attendant." So in order to be young while I could still afford to, I accepted a job serving chicken or beef at Pan American. With that airline losing money faster than it could sell its routes, I got a job doing cellar work at David Bruce Winery. This was the beginning of my wine career. All during this period, I wrote a still unpublished novel about homegrown terrorists the U.C. Berkeley campus, attempting to use some of what I learned in school, weaving in the Vietnamese political and military strategies of Dau Tranh as professor Johnson had lectured years before. Since the early 1990's, I have been involved in the wine industry, selling fine wine in both the retail and wholesale arenas. I have approached learning about wine, by always challenging myself to question how I know what I think I know? And in an effort to try to find answers I've turned, with varying degrees of success to wine books. Overall, I've not been happy with the quality of most wine writing, finding the authors either to lack any deep knowledge, or unable to move much past what I consider to be superficial information. I recognize that wine writers have to monetize their work, but I believe this has dramatically held back our knowledge and understanding of wine. I have set out to add to our industry's base of knowledge where I can. My first series, 'The Terroir of Burgundy' (which I should probably re-edit and complete some kind of conclusion, but I got involved in this project), can be viewed here. I currently work as a sales and marketing manager for a Burgundy and Bordeaux importer based in Atherton, California.

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