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Another Pandemic Tasting of Old Californian Wines


Petite Sirah can often seem immune from age but the first pair of wines tasted did not subscribe to that notion. I expected the bottle of 1974 Sonoma Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander’s Crown, Sonoma County to deliver and it certainly did. It is a favorite of mine. The 1978 Fetzer Vineyards, Zinfandel, Scharffenberger, Mendocino was a new and pleasing experience for me.

The Fetzer family purchase their ranch in 1958, from which they sold grapes to amateur wine makers. A decade later, in 1968, they began to release their own wines. Robert Parker wrote in The Washington Post that since 1978, the Fetzer wines represented some of the best values in the market. The highest qualify and most expensive wines included Zinfandel from the three Mendocino vineyards: Ricetti, Lolonis, and Scharffenberger. Priced at near $9, these were full-throttle wines with the Scharffenberger bringing in 15.4% alcohol by volume. This fact was noted by Terry Robards of The New York Times. Out of 23 Zinfandels tasted, only two others are listed as having levels higher at 15.5% and 15.9%. The fruit was sourced from John Scharffenberger, whose family purchased the old Hildreth Ranch in 1973. The vineyard was planted with Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Cabernet Sauvignon on the advice of Barney Fetzer and John Parducci. Much of the fruit was sold to Fetzer.

Some mature, full-bodied Zins can be monolithic, if not well-preserved. I found the 1978 Fetzer has enough balance that it is neither monolithic nor overly hot. It would be fun to taste examples of all three vineyards from this vintage side by side.

1975 Burgess, Petite Sirah, Napa Valley

Bottled May 1977. Alcohol 13.4%. Volatile on the nose with aromas of furniture polish. Firm red fruit in the mouth, short in flavor with fine textured tannins. Not Rated.

NV Tiburon Vintners, Windsor Vineyards, Petite Sirah

Bottled November 1973 for Eric and Arleen Peterson. Alcohol 12%. Clean with slightly sweet fruit on the nose. Drinkable but simple. * Now.

1974 Sonoma Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander’s Crown, Sonoma County

Alcohol 13.7%. Old-school aromas on the nose (sweaty with concentrated sweet fruit) with a life from eucalyptus. In the mouth the flavors build forming a deep note in the middle with a pervasive, vintage perfumed finish. Sappy acidity and freshly articulated tannins speak to top condition of this wine. With air, soft edges develop along with sweet cocoa and a hint of cola. ***** Now but will last.

1978 Fetzer Vineyards, Zinfandel, Scharffenberger, Mendocino

Alcohol 15.4%. A well preserved example of a bigger Zinfandel, very ripe but still in balance without exposing any alcohol. It is mouthfilling through the end where it picks up brown sugar notes. ***(*) Now but will last.

  1. December 8, 2021 at 5:47 pm

    Always fascinating to drink originally inexpensive, old California wines. Long ago, I had the good fortune to “inherit” 4 mixed cases of similar vintage reds that were abandoned by a storage client. Still a few left. Fun!

    • December 9, 2021 at 5:24 pm

      I find it such an interesting period to drink from. Yes, always a fun surprise with the less expensive bottles. Nice that you have more left, any particular interesting bottles?

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