The first time I tasted Turley Zinfandel was at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Yountville. The year was 1996 and we were there for Sunday brunch and ordered a bottle of Turley’s 1994 Moore Earthquake Vineyard. I still remember the velvety plumy notes of that Zin.
It wasn’t until 2004 on my first visit to Paso Robles that I had the privilege of visiting this modest winery. The original 1930’s rustic barn is now updated with an expansive tasting room and a state-of-the art winery.
Larry Turley now retired from daily operations established his winery in Napa Valley in 1993. He branched out to Paso Robles in 2000 purchasing the historic Pesenti Vineyards that date back to 1923.
Turley Wine Cellars (TWC) specializes in Zinfandel. Sixty five percent of its 18,000 annual production comes from Napa Valley – a wine that is muscular, velvety and sophisticated and the balance from Paso Robles, a typical fruit forward ripe Zin. However, TWC is now venturing into a limited production of white wine, with its first bottling of the 2000 White Coat, a blend of Rousanne and Grenache Blanc.
We tasted this refreshing white when Malani Anderson (tasting room manager) invited us for lunch at the winery recently and served it with a delicious salad of mozarrella and heirloom tomatoes. The approachable 2009 Juvenile Zinfandel (from young vines) was savored with grilled salmon.
What’s so special about Turley Zins is that they are vineyard-specific. Some 20 Zins are produced annually from 18 different vineyards ranging from Sonoma’s Russian River and Napa Valley’s Howell Mountain and Atlas Peak appellations to specific vineyards in Contra Costa County and Paso Robles.
Our tasting started with Paso Robles Zins from Turley’s flagship vineyards: the 2005 Pesenti made from 90 year-old vines was aromatic with raspberry and spice; the plumy 2009 Dusi, rich with baking spice and chocolate and the 2005 Ueberroth lush with cherry fruit.
From the Library Selection we sipped the 2005 the rich and delicious Russian River Zin and the 2006 Mead Ranch from Atlas Peak, that was so restrained, it could pass for a Pinot Noir.
If you are a Zin lover, head for Turley because you can purchase these wines only through the tasting room unless you are fortunate to be on their mailing list. A limited selection finds its way to high end wine shops and restaurants.
In between Zin tastings we got a taste of the 2006 Pesenti Petite Sirah, a chewy wine with meaty tannins. Although this planting is only 10 years old, Anderson tells us that there was always some planting of Petite Sirah and Grenache as a field blend and that odl plantings were never 100% Zinfandel. “I think it gives the vineyard a personality,” she said.
To enjoy the Zins and Rhône varietals of Paso Robles’ check out the Harvest Wine Weekend, October 21-23.