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Tasting notes from California

© 2013 Tom Cannavan

These notes accompany our in-depth feature on California.


Ted Right in a suburb of Healdsburg lies the vineyards and cellars of one of the county's originals, Seghesio. Though this 120-year-old family firm was sold to a corporate owner in 2011, Ted Seghesio (right) continues as winemaker and other members of the Seghesio dynasty are involved in winegrowing and other aspects of the business.

Farming 300 hectares of their own vines, this is a large company who also lease other properties where they run the vineyards. "The Seghesios have been here for 100 years and have great contacts," says marketing boss Brandye Alexander, "especially within the Italian community." The new owners, The Crimson Wine group, also owns Archery Summit in Oregon and Pine Ridge in Napa amongst others, and Brandye tells me "Many family winemakers stayed on including Ted, and we've just had some great press on the latest vintage, so nothing has changed."

Here in the Alexander Valley Zinfandel is a key variety, and Seghesio are renowned Zin specialists. "Zinfandel take a lot of work in the vineyard," says Brandye, "the fruit ripens unevenly, you'll find some raisined berries whilst others in the same vineyard are not yet ripe. It takes a lot of work on canopy management to control it."

Though the Seghesios had lined up a series of Zinfandels for me to taste, I couldn't help but notice as I passed through the tasting room that they bottle a wild and wonderful variety of Italianate things, including Aglianico, Barbera and Sangiovese. I asked for a quick taste of the excellent Aglianico, clearly these varieties being part of the Seghesio Italian family heritage. I do hope those survive under the new ownership too.

the wines

UK importer of Seghesio is Liberty Wines. See all stockists on wine-searcher.

Seghesio, Sonoma County Zinfandel 2011, California
This usually has 8% - 10% Petit Sirah in the blend. Lovely bright fruited nose, with a nice touch of smokiness, the bright cherry and red fruit clarity is lovely and inviting in a young, fresh, style. The palate has more of that strawberry charm and cherry -ripe fruit. Plenty of Zinfandel spice and touches of tobacco coming through. Very nice freshness on the palate, a juiciness and a brightness here that is easy to drink and relatively light. 14.8% 88-89/100. Around 90,000 cases made.

Seghesio, Cortina Zinfandel 2010, California
Some old gobolet vines in this wine from Dry Creek Valley. Cortina is the name of a soil type. Fine, peppery, bright fruit here again, a little more black fruited, but still brightly focused, with great focus a crispness and sharpness, the sense of intensity and of blue/black concentration is very good. It has real juiciness, a dry tannin really powerful, a smokiness, and a richness too; just suggestions of dried fruit intensity and almost Amarone quality, but it has freshness. 92/100. Around 25,000 cases made.

Seghesio, Home Ranch Zinfandel 2011, California
From the home ranch here in the Alexander Valley, the Seghesios are the only people to have farmed here for five generations, the vineyard planted with Zinfandel, Petit Sirah and Carignan originally on clay and gravel soils that cause the vines to struggle. These are also head-pruned (gobolet, free standing vines). Pleasingly smoky, ashy, touched with minerality even, the cool blue/black fruit is liquoricy and has huge focus on the palate. There is terrific fruit but that ashy dryness to the tannins is lovely, coating the mouth but always with the precise acidity too. 92-93/100. Around 25,000 cases made.

Seghesio, Old Vine Zinfandel 2009, California
A lot of estate fruit, but also from leased vineyards, the benchmark is an average of 50-year-old vines, some from the 1920s, and some of them dry farmed bush vines. Mostly Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys. There's an extra creaminess on the nose of this wine, with an extra degree of lift too, a floral touch and pepper and spice too, as well as the suave black fruit. The palate has supple textural richness, with plenty of rich fruit intensity and creamy sweetness, the fresh black cherry skin juiciness and tart nip of acidity adding delicious bite, a nice natural energy about this. 93/100.

Seghesio, Aglianico 2007, California
Beautiful bright cherry fruit on the nose, and old polished wood suppleness and has tang and genuine Aglianico freshness and direct, dry grip with a bit of raisin and chocolate-coated cherry. 88/100.

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