Chateau Montelena Calistoga Zinfandel 2014

Deep ruby color; cherry, tobacco, chocolate on the nose; cranberry, blackberry, cinnamon, plum, walnut, pinch of pepper on the palate.

Chateau Montelena Calistoga Zinfandel 2014

Dry; interesting oak—16 months in French, Irish, and American oak, only 20% new. The Irish oak is an outlier, perhaps the first used in California in more than a century. The winemaker thinks it adds a pinch of rusticity. Maybe, but this is smooth, relaxed tannin, easy drinking Napa zin. The rustic elements present on the finish where the chocolate, cigar box, garrigue (juniper, thyme, rosemary, lavender, mint mixed together) join the flavors parade.

Medium-light body, good acidity, well-behaved tannin. Elegant, balanced, and smooth. Does not drink like you expect a California zinfandel to drink; it is reflective more of a European primitivo—same grape, different name. This stands out as a food-friendly zin rather than a stand-alone, let’s get hammered pour. Nice. I don’t typically use the adjective “elegant” with zin, but it is the adjective to use here. The pop-and-pour drank so nicely I did not decant for subsequent sips, a rarity for me as long-time readers will note.

Chateau Montelena winery

Chateau Montelena Winery is a Napa icon. Its history began in 1882 when California tycoon Alfred L. Tubbs acquired 254 acres north of Calistoga and set out to bring forth a winery to rival Europe. He dug tunnel-caves into Mount Saint Helena, creating great aging facilities still used today. He built his winery in front of the tunnels out of stone—that is the iconic image on bottles today. A.L. Tubbs Winery made great wines in the 1880s and 1890s.

As it did so egregiously to many national treasurers, Prohibition stopped wine production (although not grape growing) until Tubbs’ grandson, Chapin Tubbs, resumed wine making after repeal. Chapin also renamed the enterprise Chateau Montelena, but after his death in 1947, winemaking ceased and the vineyards fell into neglect.

Yort and Jeanie Frank purchased and began restoration of the facilities in 1958. They sold to Jim Barrett in the early 1970s, and Barrett hired a young winemaking team that included Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, who went on to make the chardonnay that won the historic “Judgment of Paris” in 1973. Chateau Montelena now was a player on the world stage—fulfilling Tubbs’ vision—a position it retains today.

Chateau Montelena Calistoga Zinfandel 2014 is elegant, balanced, made to play well with food, easy drinker, more refined and sleek than you typically expect from a California zin. Pair with spaghetti and meatballs, baked meatballs with cheese, rich vegetables including eggplant, milk-soaked venison, spicy sausage, lasagne; it will work with more flavorful, richer meats like barbecue and thick steaks, but slightly lighter fare is its métier. $37-39

Chateau Montelena website

Chateau Montelena cellar
Chateau Montelena vineyard
Chateau Montelena tasting room
Montelena Estate vineyard map