Monday, July 4, 2011

2009 Paul Dolan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel

Way back in March I tasted the Paul Dolan Vineyards 2009 chardonnay and 2009 sauvignon blanc, both were outstanding wines for the money, and honestly, outstanding wines overall. Last year I got to sample previous vintages of Paul's wines during a TasteLive event featuring Paul Dolan Vineyards. That tasting was a blast and I learned a lot while getting to taste some splendid examples of wines made with organic grapes. This blog highlights the two new red releases I was sent, Paul Dolan Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Zinfandel.

Both the cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel wines are made with organically grown grapes. That is not the same as an organic wine. Important distinction that many people might not know about, so here's the deal: organic grapes are farmed in accordance with USDA (or other appropriate agency) regulations specifying the types of pesticides and chemicals that can and cannot be added. Organic wine is made much like conventional wine, but must contain no added sulfites. What are sulfites? A naturally occurring chemical (sulfur dioxide) that stabilizes wine so that it will last for long periods of time. That's the quick and dirty definition. Winemakers may use organic grapes to make non-organic wine, and can still label the wine as "Made With Organically Grown Grapes".

First up, the 2009 Mendocino County Cabernet Sauvignon. 2,800 cases were made and the blend is 97.5% cabernet sauvignon, 2.5% petite verdot. The primary grape sources are Parducci's Upper Home vineyard and Paul's own Dark Horse Ranch. The '09 cabernet spent 15 months in 50% new American oak barrels.

It pours a beautiful dark purple in the glass, and has a nice shimmer effect too. The color is bright, vibrant and tells me right away that this is indeed young. As much as I love the brick-red hues of aged cabernet, looking at a glass of fresh, young cab definitely gets my wine-geek side going.

After my usual wait time of one hour, I poured a glass and immediately noticed the wide spectrum of aromas. Lots of blackberry, cassis and bramble were first, then a beautifully expressive red earth and herb melange. As those aromas faded, a woodsy, campfire-esque smell wafted up out of my wine glass. At various points during my tasting of this wine, I could also detect a green, grape-stem aroma that had me fascinated. Rather than detract from the wine, it added an extra dimension.

That complexity I smelled carried over to the taste and texture. The Paul Dolan cabernet makes no bones about being a young wine, it's bright and full of acid and tannin. Luckily they're balanced by some dark berry and plum notes, dark chocolate, earth and a bit of oak. I like how the tannin created a bookend to the ripe fruits, keeping them from getting out of control while allowing the earth and dark chocolate to shine through. To me, this is a wine that's very expressive of terroir and not at all overly manipulated. If I had to find one flaw, it's that the finish is too quick. This cab wraps things up too fast, leaving the drinker wondering "what the hell just happened?".

Beyond that little gripe, this is some delicious cabernet sauvignon. At a suggested retail price of $25, it's a no-brainer. I think that with a few months to a few years of bottle age, that finish might develop. Even a few hours in a decanter will allow more flavors to come out and play. Easy B++ (89 points) and STRONG BUY recommendation. You can find the Paul Dolan 2009 Mendocino Cabernet Sauvignon in good wine shops all over the country.

Next I tasted and took notes on the 2009 Mendocino County Zinfandel. This is almost all zin, 99%, with 1% syrah added. Only 2,727 cases were produced, so it's clearly a very small production wine, just like the Paul Dolan Cabernet. Most of the grapes were sourced from the Parducci Upper Home vineyard, right outside Ukiah, California. After fermentation was complete, the 2009 zinfandel spent 15 months in neutral oak barrels, redwood tanks, and 10% new American oak.

I had high hopes for this wine, having loved the 2007 Mendocino County zinfandel I tasted last year. In my glass, it had a surprisingly light color, like a garnet in the sunlight. It was clear all the way through and reminded me of some California pinot noirs, the ones that are bastardized with syrah.

After waiting an hour for the wine to open up, I swirled and sniffed the 2009 zinfandel, finding ripe black cherry and blackberry aromas, spices, crushed pepper and even a hint of something delicate, like dried flowers. Needless to say this is somewhat atypical of most zinfandels out there but speaks to another of Paul Dolan's wines expressing it's sense of place, or where the grapes are grown.  I loved the bouquet, loved the complexity and the fact that it wasn't the same old, stewed blueberry/blackberry oak monster that is so often made here in California.

Tasting the wine was another great experience, with a lot of grippy tannin framing blackberry and baking chocolate, white pepper, red currants and that same green, stemmy note from the cabernet. There was a good layering of acid throughout, maintaining balance between dark, ripe fruit and the wood/bittersweet chocolate. Very, very impressive to me. The complexity shows what is capable with zinfandel, and this is one I would happily age for a few more years to see what other flavors came out to play. I love how mouth-filling it was, with the acidity hitting the roof of my mouth, the tannin and pepper the sides of my tongue, and the core of fruit plopping down smack in the middle of my tongue. That's not to say it was overripe though, again I go back to how balanced and interesting this wine is.

After pondering the 2009 Paul Dolan zinfandel, I looked at the price, $25 suggested retail. You can probably find it a lot cheaper and if you do, buy a bottle. This is an easy A- (90 points) and another STRONG BUY recommendation. You can find it in good wine shops around the country at retail prices closer to $20. It's a great wine to pair with barbecue during the summer, and something that'll accompany a rib roast during the winter. Paul Dolan did it again, another outstanding wine.

These wines were media samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel


  1. Intriguing notes, and they're at a good price point. I definitely need to try some more Zinfandel here and there. I've really been neglecting that lately, and stuff like this reminds me that I should get back to it.

  2. I would highly recommend trying some California zinfandels from all over the state, the stylistic differences make you think you're drinking completely differing varietals.