Monday, October 28, 2013

Sipping Carol Shelton's Zinfandels in Santa Rosa

It's not the prettiest location, but they make good Zin.
On a recent trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, I woke up at dawn and drove with a friend to Dillon Beach, a sandy enclave in northern Marin County. We pulled on our wetsuits, booties and caps (the water was a chilly 54 degrees) and paddled out into glassy, three-to-four-foot waves. I surfed for three hours as I took in the gorgeous views of the Tomales Bay to the south and the Marin Hills to the west. When we were thoroughly frozen and exhausted, we snagged some food from a Bodega Bay deli and discussed our options for tasting wine in Sonoma. After all, nothing tops off a cold morning surf session like a visit to a winery.

We opted for Carol Shelton, a producer known for making a wide range of Zinfandels. I’d heard good things about Carol’s wines before, but I’d never had the opportunity to taste one. Considering that I was still trying to build up my core body temperature, tasting a bunch of burly Zinfandels sounded perfect. I don’t collect much Zin, and they’re rarely high on my list of must-drink wines. But I do appreciate them. And tasting a lot of different Zins at the same time can be an educational and delicious experience  that’s what Carol Shelton offers. 

Carol graduated from UC Davis and worked with the likes of Andre Tchelistcheff and Robert Mondavi before kicking off her own label in 2000. Carol Shelton Wines, housed in an industrial park in downtown Santa Rosa, now produces some 5,000 cases per year. If you’re staying in town, or just passing through on the 101, it’s an easy stop. The tasting room is filled with knick-knacks, quirky art and all sorts of media praise for Carol and her wines. The staff was very friendly, doling out decent pours and answering all my questions. If you’re a Zinfandel fan on the Sonoma wine route, I’d definitely recommend this spot.

Here are the notes I took on Carol’s wines…
2011 Carol Shelton Wines Coquille Blanc - California, Central Coast, Paso Robles

The only white in Carol’s line-up, this shows an interesting nose of green pears and wildflowers. Like nectar on the palate, with peach and plump citrus fruit, buttressed by crisp acid. A mix of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne. Fun stuff. (86 points)

Carol Shelton enjoys some Zin. (c) Carol Shelton
2012 Carol Shelton Wines Rendezvous Rosé - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
A fun rosé with some significant complexity and weight. Aromas of rose hips, wild cherries, strawberries and some lavender. Crisp acid, medium body, some light tannins. Flavors of watermelon, white cherries and rose hips. Full, but elegant, I think this wine would please most palates. A blend of 90% Carignane, mixed with equal parts Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. (87 points)

2011 Carol Shelton Wines Pinot Noir Larson Vineyard - California, Napa/Sonoma, Carneros
Smells really jammy and bold, with black cherries, red currants, some caramel and toast as well. Full-bodied and jammy on the palate, a bit uncharacteristic of 2011 Sonoma Pinots. I do like the velvety texture and the dense black cherry flavors. Some toast and mocha as well. You know that Old World lover who always makes fun of California Pinots by saying they taste like Petite Sirah? Well, this Pinot actually has 5% Petite Sirah and the producer admits it! Even though it’s only 5%, I think it shows. A pinot noir for Zinfandel lovers. (86 points)

2010 Carol Shelton Wines Zinfandel Wild Thing Old Vine - California, North Coast, Mendocino County
Pure blackberries, boysenberries and red licorice on the nose. Big and bold with dark cherries, caramel and sweet flowers. Jammy, jammy, jammy, but tasty stuff. Sure seems like a crowd-pleaser. (86 points) 
2009 Carol Shelton Wines Zinfandel Karma Zin Bastoni Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
Candied aromas, with berry compote, caramel and sweet flowers. Dense but silky on the palate with black cherry, cherry liqueur, spice and dark chocolate. Impressive stuff, and highly delicious. A blend of 86% Zinfandel, 10% Alicante Bouschet and 4% Petite Sirah. (90 points)

These tasted damn good after a cold surf session.
2009 Carol Shelton Wines Zinfandel Rocky Reserve Florence Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Rockpile

What a gorgeous Rockpile Zin. Aromas of boysenberry, plump blackberries, cola and earth. Full on the palate, with firm tannins and fresh acid. Blackberries, boysenberries, vanilla, mocha, earth and nutty flavors. Very complex and pure, this could use a decant or a year or two to show its full potential. A dangerously delicious Zin. (91 points)

2009 Carol Shelton Wines Zinfandel Treborce - California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
On the nose, smoke, plums and mixed nuts. Silky and plush on the palate, with plums, prunes, smoke and iron. A distinct cocoa powder element, along with some peppery spicy and lavender. Yum. (89 points)

2009 Carol Shelton Wines Petite Sirah Rockpile Reserve Rockpile Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Rockpile

Inky on the nose with magic marker, deep violets and perfume. Dense and plummy on the palate, with flavors of raisins, figs, smoke, cedar and toasty, vanilla notes. Big and bold, but not quite overdone. A delicious teeth-stainer. (88 points)

N.V. Carol Shelton Wines Zinfandel Black Magic Late Harvest - California, Sonoma County

Not a bad way to end the tasting. Aromas of plum cake and caramel sauce. Sweet raisins on the palate, with caramel, chocolate, plums and mocha. This paired very well with dark chocolate truffles. (87 points) 

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