2013 Bedrock Wine Co. Old Vine Zinfandel

A Unique (Wine) Art Piece

Morgan Twain-Peterson learning his craft from his dad, Joel

Bedrock is one of the hot names in the Northern California market, and has particular pull with their Zinfandels, despite winemaker Morgan Peterson’s love of  Syrah and field blends. But despite this passion, and presumed strength, the public continues to refuse to embrace the Syrah varietal, so the Zinfandel is what is constantly in demand, and Bedrock Zin can be difficult to find.

Bedrock labelBedrock is a brand that is philosophically driven, built upon seeking out and helping preserve what they like to refer to as “heritage” vineyards. This is a new take on the “old vine” mantra, which may have not been enough to save some of these low-producing vines, many of which are Zinfandel, from being replanted. Perhaps considering them part of our state’s heritage and an integral part of the wealth of winemaking riches in California will. This California Zin represents a blend of these old vineyards from across Northern California averaging 80 years. Founder and winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson is the son of Ravenwood founder, and Zin legend, Joel Peterson. At this point, the wine press has embraced him as continuing his father’s progress in evolving and defining Zinfandel, and perhaps of red wine in California.

Philosophy doesn’t end at these old vineyards at Bedrock, it is a driving force behind the winemaking here too. Peterson does an earlier pick than what we have come to expect from Zinfandel after the now 15+ year trend of high alcohol Zins. Bedrock’s offerings carry a more modest 14.5 percent, and this lower-ripening level does two things: it increases the acidity, and it decreases the weight of the fruit and the dry extract that is developed. This virtually re-engineers the mouthfeel of the wine, giving it longer, sleeker lines, emphasizes the red fruit component that has virtually disappeared from California winemaking (save Pinot) and increases the aromatic profile his wines.

Best friends and business partners Chris Cottrell (left) and Morgan Peterson
Best friends and business partners Chris Cottrell (left) and Morgan Peterson

The nose reminds me of what I had once associated with “natural winemaking” but now I’m beginning to think is trapped CO2; so fine, and so well-integrated, it is undetectable in the mouth. Shaking the wine flattens the nose, and dulls the brightness of the fruit, which suggests this is true. I find that shaking spritzy wines, with their larger, less well-integrated CO2,  flattens the acidity and decreases aromatics, but usually heightens and brightens the fruit in the mouth. Without a doubt, the oxygen trapped in the wine gives it its extra sheen. Many producers in France are now intentionally leaving a low-level of CO2 in their wines to protect them rather than adding as much SO2 as they think is necessary. The Bedrock website does not indicate SO2 levels is an issue that they hang their hat on, but I would not be surprised if it were the modus operandi there.

Like most Zinfandels, it is only mostly Zinfandel. It is, in fact, in addition to the usual field blending partners of Petit, Mourvedre, and Grenache, there is a whole slew of varieties which are unusual to be found in Zinfandel, including Carignane,  Abouriou, Aubun, and an “assorted mixed white varieties” says the website. Some of this accounts for its unique personality, and my inability to directly compare this wine to other Zins.  However adding white wine, even in small quantities, can dramatically change the texture and mouthfeel of a wine. Try this at home. Pour just a touch of white into a red you are drinking. My experience with this (in other than the most massive Syrah) is the white tends to sit right in the middle of the wine, and puts a bit of a whole there. and depowers the wine. I’ll come back to this in my tasting notes.

Tasting day one

The nose, undisturbed, is fabulous: an explosion of raspberries and cherries, that is more than fruity, it is enveloping and textural. There are anise fronds/tarragon aromas and fruity notes of whole black pepper berries. I don’t get the typical Zinfandel strawberry, or even the briary aromas of the whole berry fermentation, which I was surprised to read that stems were generally included.

Like modern art, wine can be successful even if it challenges the taster.

In the mouth, this Zin is a whole different creature than the nose suggests. This is not a light wine, nor is it a heavy wine. Rather it has elements of both. Overwhelmingly, I would liken it to a club. No, not for the blow it delivers, but the fact that it is not balanced, with its disproportionate weight and firmness that its tannins give to the wines back-end, compared to it’s, slim, almost sparse mid-palate. note:(here, the white wine, which I just read about the day after tasting the wine, shows itself, giving it a hollowness in the mid-palate.)

The entry is lean and sleek, through the mid-palate, where we hit some brairy and somewhat hairy, but finely details tannins on its comparatively bulbous, out of proportion finish. A more traditionally balanced wine would carry more fruit and anthocyanins to seamlessly cover thse tannins, but here we see the bones of its construction, stripped of much of its flesh and fat.

I know that in wine terms, I have just damned this wine in saying this wine is balanced like a club, for as we all know, a wine that is not balanced – is flawed. Isn’t it? Traditionally, yes. But a club or a hammer is not flawed for being the shape and balance it is, and I don’t absolutely think we should always judge wines in such a rigid way. Just as modern art was, and still challenges the viewer a hundred years later, Peterson is breaking the rules and the results are intriguing. The wine is thought-provoking. Did I enjoy it? Yes, but it was challenging too. It had some really remarkable elements to it and the lack of fruit exposed tremendous detail to the tannins which we normally don’t taste beneath the fruit which covers it.

Tasting day two: 2/3 bottle remained, ungassed, unrefrigerated.

The wine has toned down it vibrant aromatics, and the wine is much now symmetrical from front to back, although my impression is it’s still a bit grippy with its tannins, which remain quite detailed.  The overall package is softer with air, with raspberries and cherries fruit that morph into some saliva-inducing cranberry juice like acidity on the finish. In fact there is a keen similarity between the finish of this wine and that tannic fullness of drinking cranberry juice, except here on day two, there is a more obvious bracketing of barrel influence – however backgroundy. This is a nice wine that elicits a thoughtful moment, at least in me. It is clearly a well-made wine that has been made with an intentional sense of style. But this is a bit of a chameleon wine, for after an hour, my perception of this wine has changed, or my palate had adjusted. The wine was now its detailed tannins had completely been enveloped into the fruit, with nary a rough edge. It is light to medium in weight, with beautiful, silky, red fruits, and on the long, soft finish, the alcohol volatilized with a distinct lavender aroma that softly lifts and lightens the finish. Just lovely. If it took two days for the wine to open up to this point, it was worth it.  92 points, $24

But that is the nature of wine, isn’t it. Finding the right conditions for it to show its best, and sometimes the timing is always wrong. Maybe it was a leaf day, and now it is a fruit day.



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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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