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Beekeeper Cellars: Two Zinfandels



I never reviewed Beekeeper Cellars’s Zinfandels when I was at Wine Enthusiast because they didn’t send me samples! But last year, they sent me a mini-vertical of their Madrone Spring Vineyard Zinfandel (2010-2013) and what a treat that was! Two 94s and two 95s. And now they’ve sent me a pair of 2014s.

95 Beekeeper 2014 Secret Stones Zinfandel (Rockpile): $65. This is a big Zin, but of course, it’s Rockpile, a warm-to-hot, rocky mountain AVA in the aridly inland northwest of Dry Creek Valley, where the grapes get super-ripe and concentrated under the sere summer sun. That concentration seems to have been even greater in this drought year. “Secret Stones” is the old Madrone Spring Vineyard; the owners changed the name to avoid confusion with other wineries and vineyards that have the word “Madrone.” Whatever, this wonderful Zin is easily on a par with the 2013 Madrone Spring. It is dark, aromatic and immensely complex, with a Hulkian mouthfeel. The aroma is explosive in blackcurrants, blackberries, ripe purple plums, blueberry preserves, and black licorice, sprinkled with dark chocolate shavings, freshly-crushed black pepper and a squeeze of anisette. There’s a welcome, tart bite of green at the end to remind you of the plant kingdom. Does that sound good? It is. The flavors sink into the mouth and last for a long time into a spicy, dry finish. Rockpile’s famous tannins are powerful, but smooth and silky. I would drink this wine now; on the second night after opening, the alcohol was showing through, not a good sign for aging. The details: about 30% new French oak, alcohol 14.9%, and very good acidity for balance. A fun, heady, elegant Zin that surely is at the top of its class. What would I drink it with? Braised short ribs, but any beef or bird with the smoke of barbecue will be fine.

95 Beekeeper 2014 Montecillo Vineyard Zinfandel (Sonoma County): $??. The Sonoma County appellation apparently is because the vineyard is just outside both Moon Mountain and Sonoma Valley AVAs. But it’s in that neighborhood, so you get the idea, and is moreover a mountain vineyard, at 1,500 feet. My first thought, on tasting the wine, was, “It’s claret-like!” So it was nice that the tech notes say the vineyard was planted in the 1980s by Kenwood for Cabernet Sauvignon. It has the weight and texture of a fine high-elevation Cab, yet with Zin’s flavors: briary, brambly wild blackberries, dried thyme, black pepper, black licorice, sweet cured tobacco, a bitter hit of espresso. The details: 15 months in French oak, alcohol 14.4%, and only 242 cases produced. They didn’t give the price, unfortunately. My friend Charlie Olken, at Connoisseur’s Guide, and his team gave it 96 points. I wouldn’t go quite that high, but it is a gorgeously rich, succulent Sonoma Zinfandel. It’s quite different in style from the Secret Stones, but is no less beautiful, and deserves the same score.

  1. Steve,

    When you were writing for Wine Enthusiast, did you ever award a Zinfandel a “perfect” 100-point score?

    Did such a score theoretically exist in your ratings system — or were 100-point scores reserved for other, more “noble” grape varietals?

    ~~ Bob

  2. Steve—You always did know Zin—still do. Eager to wrap my Zin-loving lips around some Bookkeeper … if I can find it here in Colorado. Keep up the great wine reviews.

  3. Re: 2014 Beekeeper Montecillo Vineyard Zinfandel (Sonoma County) and “It’s claret-like!”:

    As Michael Martini declared over 30 years ago: “Once in the bottle, the Zin character of the fruit begins to fade. At the 10-year level in a blind tasting, people have a hard time telling Zinfandel and Cabernet apart.”


    As Steve has commented before, there are a number of Zinfandel producers who make a “claret-style” wine. Ones you don’t have to wait decades for the transformation to take place.

  4. I am unaware of any wine review magazine awarding a “perfect” 100 point score to any California Zinfandel.

    Dating back to the 1970s, we had the 20 point scale.

    I believe Los Angeles Times wine critic Robert Lawrence Balzer awarded a 20 point score to the 1968 Mayacamas Late Harvest Zinfandel.

    From Wines & Vines magazine
    (January 2009):

    Handling extra ripeness 1968 Mayacamas Late-Harvest Zinfandel”

  5. doug wilder says:

    The first Bella release from Scott Adams, 1999 vintage was Zinfandel I described as ‘claret-like.’ At the time I was writing my own notes for a retailer since these wines had not been reviewed professionally at that point and I am pretty sure I gave one of them 20 points. Over the last 5 years, there hasn’t been a 100 point Zinfandel for me.

  6. Doug:

    Nice to know you are philosophically capable of awarding a “perfect” score (20 points or 100 points) to this grape varietal.

    But other wine critics aren’t — ostensibly condemning Zinfandel to the ranks of a less-than-“noble” grape.

    We live in the “Golden Age” of Zinfandel.

    It is inconceivable that a “perfect” rendition has not been turned out over the past quarter century by specialists such as Paul Draper and Joel Peterson (among others).

    It de-legitimizes the validity of any 100 point scale if the best version of a grape varietal historically ever made cannot be called “perfect.”

    That wines are not compared within their type (Zins against Zins — “apples to apples”), but rather across types (Zins against Cabs — “apples to oranges”).

    ~~ Bob

    (Personal aside. The “best” Zinfandel I ever tasted was the 1992 Ravenswood Cooke Vineyard bottling. The “second best” was the 1990 Ridge Lytton Springs Vineyard bottling.)

  7. “Fact check”:

    Correcting for a typo. The vintage of the Ravenswood Cooke was 1990, not 1992.

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