Gold Rush Wine: Sobon Zinfandel


Meet winemaker Paul Sobon

If I asked, “What do you know about California’s Amador County?”, a history buff would say, “It’s Gold Rush Country.” The average wine drinker would say, “Huh?”

That’s a pity. Amador County was not only home to folks like John Sutter, who launched the Gold Rush when he found gold in Sutter’s Creek, but to some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in America. And those vines make some mighty good wine…

Those vines were probably planted by European immigrants who came to California to strike it rich. A few did, and many more didn’t. But they left a legacy — Amador’s old Zinfandel vines — that we’re still enjoying today.

Amador County, lying east of Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, turned out to be a wonderful place to plant grape vines. The soil, the warm days and cool nights of this micro-climate, and the positive effects of elevation produce intensely flavored, well-structured wines.

I rediscovered Amador recently when I met Paul Sobon, second-generation winemaker and owner of Sobon Estate and Shenandoah Vineyards. His parents, Leon and Shirley, bought land in the Shenandoah Valley appellation 35 years ago. They purchased the historic D’Agostini Winery a dozen years later, and continued to produce killer Zins, as well as Rhone varietals.

I recently tasted the Sobon Estates 2008 Fiddletown Zinfandel. I expected a big, port-like fruit bomb. What I got instead was great fruit with great balance. This, to me, is as good as Zin gets…

The fruit for Sobon’s Fiddletown Zin comes from the Lubenko Vineyard, which sits at 1900 feet elevation. The vines were planted in 1910, which makes them mighty old vines.  I figured they’d bring some great flavors to this wine.

The good stuff started with the nose: it jumped at me out of the glass, with blueberry compote and raspberry liqueur. Doesn’t sound very restrained, does it? But remember that I said this wine was balanced, not tame.

The wine in my mouth exploded with essence of blueberry, followed by round mocha notes. A few minutes later some black raspberry joined the party. Just when I was thinking that this was way too much fun, the acid kicked in, knocking the heat off the back end and allowing the well-integrated oak and tannins to carry the finish.

Not bad! I never thought Sobon Fiddletown was too jammy or port-like. It was big, for sure, but didn’t overwhelm my senses. I’m glad, though, that I tasted a 2008 — I think the three or four years of age gave it time to grow up and settle down.

Paul Sobon makes well over a dozen wines, so make it a point to find some. The price points are good (the Fiddletown goes for around $20 and many are closer to $10). And don’t forget his Cal-Ital varietals: they’ll knock your socks off, too, and you can read what I wrote about them here. Cheers!



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