Our July wine of the month is the 2019 Turley “Pesenti Vineyard” Zinfandel. This wine is the perfect match for your next barbeque this summer because it’s fresh, generous, extremely flavorful and eye-catching.
Pesenti zinfandels are grown merely a few miles away from the ocean, resulting in a delectable wine that resembles a sweet tart. It gives you a bright red fruit flavor and a dark fig and overripe blackberry jaminess at the same time. It’s a beautifully complex zinfandel with lots of layers right out the gate.
Our sommelier goes over why Turley is often considered one of the best, if not the best, producer of zinfandel in all of California, and why this particular zinfandel should be at the top of your wine list this summer season.
Q: Can you tell us about Pesenti Vineyard’s origin?
The owner of this Pesenti Vineyard is Larry Turley. He started out as an emergency room physician in the ‘70s and he’s from the deep South, so he grew up around farms. He moved to Napa in the early ‘70s, and he purchased a small frogs’ farm, just as a place to live. However, he came home from work one day, and he found a man illegally camping on his property. Funny enough, a glass of wine later, they became friends, and a couple of bottles later, they became business partners.
This illegal camper turned business partner was John Williams, and John Williams turned out to be an aspiring winemaker there in Napa Valley. He was actually the first employee of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and worked for them when they submitted their wine for the Judgement of Paris Tasting in 1976 - a wine that won first place and put California on the map for wine making.
Turley and Williams wanted to start their own business, as they had planned on since their first meeting at the frogs’ farm. Therefore, in 1981 they built Frog’s Leap - a winery on the frogs’ farm. They became one of California’s first certified organic wineries, and they always focused on organic viticulture for their entire time.
In 1993, Larry decided that he wanted to create his own winery centered around the zinfandel grape, which he was in love with and fascinated by. Although Frog’s Leap did a whole variety of different grapes, including zinfandel, he wanted to focus on the zinfandel only for this next winery. He even often joked that when he worked in the emergency room he would often have to resuscitate people, and likewise, he went on a mission to find old vine zinfandel vineyards across all of California and resuscitate them back to life. So he did just that, and he launched another winery that very quickly became known for having rich, powerful, and beautifully concentrated styles of zinfandel.
In 2000, he branched out and purchased the Pesenti Vineyard and Winery down in Paso Robles - one of the oldest wineries in Paso Robles that was first planted in 1922. This became the second vineyard that Turley owned, and he’s been making this wine for two decades there now.
Currently, Pesenti makes over 50 wines from over 50 different vineyards all throughout California, and they are all farmed organically. Incredibly, 27 of them are over 50 years old, and 18 of them are 100 years old, or older. They have some of the oldest vines in all of California.
Q: What makes this wine so extraordinary?
This wine is made purely from old zinfandel wines. Old vines are superior in winemaking because when the vines are young, they have to be irrigated so that they don’t die from heat stress, because a young vine doesn’t have very deep roots yet. When you have to irrigate the vines, often the fruit will be a little bit watered down and not as concentrated and as pure. Therefore, when you have old vines, the roots of these vines have already dug down about 30-40 feet down to find the water table. This means that when they are scorching hot climates they still have access to water and can still grow beautifully, slow, and delicate, and they develop fruit that is super concentrated.
One of the things about zinfandel that is truly unique from other grape varieties is that it has what’s called “chicks and hens”. This means that in one bunch of the grapes there are both small berries and big berries. The small berries are very sour and are jam-packed full of acidity. As grapes ripen and get larger, they trade in some of that acidity for sugar. Therefore, in the same bunch you can have both high sugar and low sugar high acid grapes, so you get lots of ripeness and also some under ripeness to balance it out. Usually when young vines grow in really hot places, the grapes they produce can be bland, flabby, and sugary - a little bit sweet and not really balanced. However, because of Pesenti’s old vines and their strong commitment to organic viticulture, their grapes have a beautiful balance between those under ripe and over ripe grapes in the same bunch.
Another reason that the wine from the Pesenti Vineyard is so spectacular is that the vines are so old that they produce small, concentrated fruit. Because they are old they don’t make a lot of bunches, but the bunches that they do make are made really well. Some other wineries have to “cheat” to do that sometimes. During a tough year when there is not enough energy for their vines to ripen all the bunches, they might have to cut half the bunches off in order to lower the yield and concentrate the rest of the grapes that are on the vine. However, old zinfandel vines do that naturally. They have been dry farmed (no irrigation) for a long time, and they take care of themselves. Pesenti treats them organically and thinks of them as an ecosystem, rather than just an agricultural product.
Last but not least when it comes to the uniqueness of this wine, is that the Pesenti Vineyard is about 8 miles from the ocean. This means it has a lot of cooling influences at nighttime. In fact, this area has one of the largest diurnal shifts in the entire world, which means that it has really hot days, and then really cold nights, and the temperature difference is the diur
enal shift. At nighttime, it cools down the berries and maintains that freshness, but in the daytime there’s plenty of sunshine and heat which results in really ripe berries.
Q: What’s the wine’s flavor profile?
This is an extremely fresh and yet generous and flavorful wine - absolutely perfect to pair with barbeques this summer. Grilling meat is a very robust way of cooking it, and you’re introducing a plethora of strong flavors, so you need a wine with a lot of strong flavor to contrast the flavors of the grill.
Also, the under ripe zinfandel grapes that are in the same bunches are on the sour side, and they go beautifully with the barbeque sauce. It’s the same concept as pairing barbeque sauce with grilled meat - there’s something juicy and sour paired with something deep and robust and grilled. You have the two flavors in the dish and the two flavors in the grape that pair and contrast with both of those flavors at the same time.
You can decant this wine for 30 minutes, or you can lay it down for 5-10 years and it would improve, but it is also just super ready to drink right now - pop and pour. It’s delicious stuff.
Q: If this wine was a personality, who would it be?
This wine, hands down, is Marilyn Monroe. She was bombastic and had a lot going on. She was extremely layered and grabbed your attention, and yet she was forever elegant and continuously possessed great finesse. She was an iron fist in a velvet glove.
She held her ground in a man’s world, all while wearing those beautiful gloves and gowns.
Q: What is the wine’s vintage?
The wine’s vintage is 2019, which is a little bit younger than most wines that are normally chosen for wine of the month. That’s because this is merely what’s available. Turley wines are highly allocated. We only get a couple cases for the whole year, and that’s it. When we sell out of this one, it will go onto the next vintage. They are hard to keep in stock. They are kind of like a cult wine that started in the ‘90s. When people started seeing Pesenti on a wine list, it instantly became a must-have, and the same thing exists today.
Fun Fact About Zinfandel Grapes:
Zinfandel grapes don't have super thick skins, and, therefore, they don’t tend to be tannic. Because of that, they don’t typically age very gracefully compared to other grape varieties that have thicker skins. However, there are some techniques that winemakers can use to help it age.
One technique that winemakers sometimes implement is called whole cluster fermentation. This when that, instead of destemming all the grapes from the bunches themselves, they leave some on the bunch. Then, as they press and crush all these grapes and put them in the vat together, they actually gain some of the tannic structure from the stems. It’s a way to impart some tannic structure and wine ageability without getting it from the grape skins, where they would normally get it from in other wines.
For Turley, the Pesenti Vineyard is a beautiful way to showcase this winery’s style, and to show the history of the important California vineyards that are being lost today.
In fact, with some of the long-term contracts that Pesenti has, some grape growers have considered pulling up some of the old vine zinfandels and planting some cabernet sauvignon instead. This is because cabernet sauvignon is more highly regarded in the community, and grape growers could earn more money by selling cabernet sauvignon grapes. Turley has gone the extra mile and has agreed to pay cabernet sauvignon prices in order to keep the old zinfandel vines in because they cherish them as part of California’s history and culture. They are making sure that they have the highest quality of zinfandel grapes in the entire state.
Turley does the best zinfandel. Hands down.
The Golden Steer Steakhouse has become an exclusive provider of the Turley zinfandels, and we are allocated a larger number of three different ones - a higher number than any other restaurant in Vegas. If you’re wanting some Turley zinfandel, The Steer is the place to get it.
Critic Reviews & Scores:
The 2019 Zinfandel Pesenti Vineyard is rich, exuberant and so expressive, with tons of Zinfandel character that just races out of the glass. Inky red fruit, rose petal, spice, mint, and dried herbs all run through the Pesenti, a wine of unreal depth and textural intensity. At the same time, the Pesenti remains silky and so polished. The slightly lower acid profile works especially well here.
Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (94):
The 2019 Zinfandel Pesenti Vineyard opens slowly to tar, red cherries, dried flowers and earth on the nose. Medium-bodied, the palate offers loads of fresh berry character with a soft, approachable, fresh structure and uplifted, perfumed finish. This has more to show with another year or two in the bottle.
K & L Notes (92-95):
The Pesenti vineyard is estate owned, dry-farmed and head-trained. It was planted in the 1920s and is certified organic upon limestone soils, a distinguishable factor of vineyards that grow in the western side of Paso Robles. The 100% Zinfandel is harvested and pressed, fermented with all-natural yeasts. The wine is then aged for 15 months in 80% used oak barrels, of which 80% is French with the remaining American. Aromatically the wine jumps out of the glass with ripe, almost jammy, red fruits, and white chalk. On the palate, this Zinfandel is bold and powerful red fruits as well as a pleasant acidity that makes the wine delicious upon release.