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  • Jancis Robinson
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  • Jancis Robinson
4 Nov 2011

From $11.99, €14.90, Ca$22.95, £15.95, 29.83 Swiss francs

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It's not often that I recommend a wine that naturally reaches an alcohol level of 15.4% but I love this one, made from California's signature grape variety (albeit with roots far, far away) and vines that are well over 50 years old according to the back label. Mendocino was first planted with vines by Italian immigrants who simply wanted wine to drink and had no truck with fancy irrigation systems. This wine, the most basic from the Edmeades stable, is presumably a blend from the many different old vineyards from which the company produces vineyard-designated Zinfandels.

Donald Edmeades was a southern California physician who was the first to plant vinifera vines in the cool Anderson Valley, in 1963. He was thoroughly mocked for his pains initially and certainly Zinfandel does not seem the most obvious variety for this quiet, foggy, forested backwater. I assume he planted all the usual suspects since it was a Cabernet Sauvignon made by someone else from his fruit that won the first of many medals. He established his own label in 1972, only to die of cancer a year later. His son carried on the wine business, developing contacts with the old, dry-farmed Zinfandel vineyards, and in 1988 sold it to the late Jess Jackson, whose family run it today with great visual and verbal aplomb. See this background PDF on Edmeades Zinfandel 2008 Mendocino, all deliberately homespun, down to the aromas of 'Great Grandma Jancine's homemade cherry pie'. (The awful thing is that a cynic like me reads copy like that and immediately suspects the hand of some sophisticated ad agency.)

Here's the (very winning) company philosophy: 'Mendocino is more than a geographical location; it's a state of mind. Cross the border from Sonoma County and your perspective suddenly changes. Edmeades is pure Mendocino. It is the authentic taste of one of California's final viticultural frontiers - the Anderson Valley. Our approach is traditional and natural; our methods are decidedly low tech. We believe in native yeast fermentations in small open-top bins, hand punchdowns, minimal manipulation and no fining or filtration at bottling. The simplicity of our methods allows the soils and climates of each site to be clearly heard in our wines.'

The wine certainly tastes as though winemaker David Ready wasEdmeades_bottle allowed to make it as described above for the result is delightfully unmanipulated and beautifully balanced. There is none of the coarse berry jam aroma of cheap, stretched, over-watered Zin. This surely is the produce of dry farming, and the French barrels seem to have given it considerable sophistication. My tasting note is below (I gave it a score of 17 out of 20 and suggested it would drink well for the next six years):

Contained, dry nose. Nothing about this wine flaunts its alcohol. Well structured and very Zinfandel. Not exactly an iron hand in a velvet glove; more velvety richness inside an iron corset - and none the worse for it. Serious wine and quite a bargain for a Californian. Impressive! GV (for Good Value)

As you can see, I think any fine California wine retailing at less than £20 a bottle in the UK is a bargain, but of course it is available for much, much less in its native country. At the discounter's price of $11.99 it is a complete steal. It was one of those rare wines that made it from my tasting table to my dining table. I loved it on the first night with Italian spicy sausages and even enjoyed it the next night with some top-quality TCHO chocolate - also from California, funnily enough. This wine as gateway to port, so sip it carefully, but I do thoroughly recommend it - particularly to those in the US who can benefit from its thoroughly silly price.

UK retailers other than those identified via the link below that have been suggested by the importer are Bashall Barn, Lewis & Cooper, Mr Lawrence, Roberts & Speight, Vintage House, Weavers of Nottingham, The Wine Cellar and The Wine Shop.

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