About Seghesio Family Vineyards
The Seghesio family are true veterans in the world of California wine. After all, they first planted vineyards in Sonoma County in 1895. Only in the last three decades, however, have they started estate bottling their own wines. Since then, they've established a reputation for classic, pliant Zinfandels, with intense dark berry fruit, hints of black pepper and spices, and oak in the background. The Seghesio's also produce several other bottlings, including Venom, harvested from California's oldest Sangiovese vineyard atop Rattlesnake Hill in the Alexander Valley. The pater familias, Edoardo Seghesio, saw the potential of this land, way back in 1910. Still, the best bottlings are unquestionably Zinfandels. At the top of the list are its three single-vineyard wines: Home Ranch, San Lorenzo and Cortina, plus the Sonoma County Old Vine, and Sonoma County bottlings. In 2011, the Seghesio's parted ways with over 100 years of family history, selling their brand, along with 300 vineyard acres, and the Healdsburg winery to the Crimson Wine Group. Despite the change in ownership, Pete and Ted Seghesio, CEO and winemaker, respectively, carry on in their roles, maintaining the legacy of their great-grandfather.
The Alexander Valley is located at the northern end of Sonoma County and has roughly 15,000 acres under vine. The "Alexander Valley" designation was historically used to label wines produced exclusively within the Russian River's floodplain, but it's now found on Alexander Valley wines that are produced farther afield. Thanks in part to the broader definition of its territory, the Alexander Valley is now home to numerous microclimates and a wide range of varieties, of which Cabernet Sauvignon remains the most widely planted.
During the growing season, cool morning fog rolls up the Russian River Valley and typically burns off by the hot, sunny afternoon. On the warm valley floor, Cabernet Sauvignon has yielded the best Alexander Valley wines. Other Alexander Valley red wines, such as Zinfandel and Merlot, are also planted widely, as are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and even Gewurztraminer and Riesling. The latter two cool-climate varieties fare best on the hills near Mendocino.
Sonoma Valley is nestled between the Sonoma Mountain Range on the west and the Mayacamas Mountains on the East. North Coast winemaking began here back in 1825 when the missionary fathers established Mission Sonoma. By the 1850s, Sonoma had evolved into California's wine making center, a distinction it gradually ceded to Napa over the next fifty years. In the 1970s, however, Sonoma wines had begun to reclaim the international renown they enjoy today.
With more than 7,000 acres planted to Sonoma Valley wine grapes, the Valley stretches for 40 miles north from the San Pablo Bay to just below Santa Rosa. Although summertime fog enters the valley from both the north and south, Sonoma's cooler regions by far are located in the southern part of the valley, primarily in the Carneros district. In contrast, the climate along the valley floor in the middle of the region can be quite warm.
Though compact, Sonoma Valley hosts a very wide array of vineyard soil types, topographies, and elevations. That said, there are a few rules of thumb: In the southern Valley (between Carneros and the town of Sonoma), the best Sonoma wines come from early-maturing varieties like Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir, and, from some producers, Merlot. On the hillsides and along the hilltops, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel fare the best so long as the elevation is above the frost line. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the two most widely cultivated varieties in Sonoma, perform best along the benchlands between Sonoma and Kenwood.
It is remarkable that an industry essentially less than a half-century old could capture the attention of the American wine-buying public to the degree that California has. Powerful consumer interest in California wine is driven by two major factors. The more obvious reason is that California's best wines, which come from grapes grown in a benign climate featuring endless sunshine, very warm summer days, and generally dry harvests, and wonderfully fruity, full, and satisfying, and rarely too austere or tannic to be enjoyed from day one.
California is blessed with an extraordinary range of soils and microclimates, allowing for the successful cultivation of many varieties. In at least three out of four years, the best sites produce healthy, ripe fruits that are the envy of European producers in more marginal climates. The other reason Americans buy so much California wine is that California is the home team. Clearly, a high percentage of domestic wine drinkers are more comfortable buying American wines (and not just wines of California) than imports. Then, too, foreign bottles are generally identified by place name, rather than by the more familiar varieties that American wine drinkers have come to know and enjoy.
Moreover, in much of North America, outside the top 15 or 20 largest metropolitan markets, consumers have limited access to imported wines even if they wanted to buy them.
For many, Napa Valley is California wine, and Cabernet is king in Napa Valley. Meanwhile, the Burgundy varieties Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have gravitated to cooler areas, generally closer to the Pacific, such as the western stretches of Sonoma County, the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, and the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez valleys within Santa Barbara County. Syrah vines have yielded interesting wines in a range of styles all over the state, in regions as disparate as Mendocino County, the Sonoma coast, Carneros, Paso Robles, and Santa Maria Valley. Very good Zinfandel similarly comes from multiple growing areas, although to date the age-of-vines variable has been almost as important as geography. Zinfandel, though its roots are in Europe, is a true California original and the only California wine imitated abroad. It's also a variety of which there are still significant plantings of very old vines, in some cases dating back to the end of the 19th century.
Low in tannins, high in acidity, with rounded fruitiness
Piedmont may be famous for its Nebbiolo-based wines, Barolo and Barbaresco, but the inhabitants of this region in Northwest Italy don't drink these big, tannic wines on an everyday basis. When it comes to a weekday dinner's accompaniment, they usually turn to Barbera (when not drinking the other everyday wine of the region, Dolcetto.) With this in mind, it's no surprise that this fruity and acidic wine has a reputation for food friendliness that extends beyond Italy. Just like the Italians, we can't drink big wines every night either.
Barbera is certainly planted in greater volume in Piedmont than Nebbiolo. While the best hillside vineyards may be reserved for Nebbiolo, the adaptability of the Barbera grape encourages widespread cultivation. Even in a marginal harvest, Barbera vines can be relied upon for consistent quality and yields. Indeed, highly acclaimed Barolo and Barbaresco estates produce some of the most desired Barbera wines as well. Even if the grape doesn't have the same stellar reputation, it will still benefit from careful production techniques. Accordingly, we've been pleased by recent trends, which have producers cutting yields to increase concentration and making greater use of small French oak barrels. These two steps work in concert with each other; the wood, on its own, helps balance the acidity of the wine and contributes some tannic structure, but without increased concentration, the oak would overwhelm and dry out the fruit in the wine.
There are two primary DOCs in Piedmont, Barbera d'Alba and Barbera d'Asti. The wine of Asti tends to be fruitier, but less structured than the wine of Alba, and tends to see little oak treatment during vinification. Alba derives its fame from the Nebbiolo producers along the hillsides that surround the town. Barbera D'Alba reflects this proximity. Compared to Barbera d'Asti, Barbera D'Alba can be a more highly concentrated and structured wine. Thus it draws greater benefits from barrel treatment. We like the wines from Elio Altare, La Spinetta, and Vietti.
There is also a small amount of Barbera planted in California, but the demand remains somewhat limited. Here, look to wines from the Sierra Foothills, where the higher elevation and granitic soils seems to provide an appropriate growing location.
Again, the low tannins and high acidity of Barbera make it a flexible wine that goes well with multiple types of food. We especially like it paired with tomato dishes, like pizzas and pastas, as the acidity of the wine matches that of the tomatoes. Even richer meat dishes and hard cheeses will work well too.