In 1885, winetasting by motorcar was unheard of. An 1885 bird's-eye-view map of Santa Rosa depicts a prosperous rural township hardly extending west of the railroad tracks. In the 122 years to come, much would change, the wine business would bust, boom again, then emerge from the dark night of Prohibition. Now here we are. Winetasting by motorcar.
Judging by the tourism posters on the walls at Battaglini, Lucca, Italy, probably hasn't changed much since 1885. And Battaglini's Zinfandel, planted that year, still produces some mighty fine wine. Joe Battaglini didn't plant it; he's only about half as old, coming to Twin Pines Ranch by way of San Francisco from Lucca. His ramshackle ranch contains a farmhouse, an ancient barn precipitously bowed and warped like a shipwreck, a wine barn and a tasting shack where Battaglini welcomes visitors with quiet hospitality. The shack is cluttered with mementos, and dozens of harvest fair and state fair ribbons tacked on the plywood walls. It's the best little tasting room you can find among the vineyards on Piner Road. Even if it seems to be the only one.
It took a U-turn to get to the place, after belatedly spotting the little sign. It had been an afternoon of U-turns and closed wineries, late on a Sunday in the Russian River Valley. This one was the charm. The point of this circuitous excursion was revealed with the glow of rich, unabashedly overripe old vine Zin.
Planted more like the end of our last century, Battaglini's estate 2002 Chardonnay Reserve ($22) is enticingly unusual, neither oaky nor buttery. We found scents of fermenting apples, white raisins, tastes of a vanilla crème filling, wild hints of Muscat. An Italian twist? Ideal for summer sipping under the shade of an arbor, snacking on table grapes, almonds and Asiago. Both the 1998 and 2000 Zinfandels ($25) are heavy with end-of-summer fruit. Big raisin and fig jam flavors go down hearty but not hot despite the 15 percent alcohol. Even stronger on paper is the 2003 Zinfandel Select ($40), a big Zin without the raisins, a bit more like its Dry Creek neighbors--peppery, spicy with fine tannins.
Now that's old vine Zin. Not that the unsanctioned, overhyped descriptor is a guarantee of quality, or even of age. These days, whippersnapper winemakers might tag "old vine" anything older than themselves. Carter administration--not old vine. Battaglini, whose Zin was planted as Chester Arthur left office: the opposite of hype.
Battaglini Estate Winery, 2948 Piner Road, Santa Rosa. Tasting room open Friday-Sunday, 10am to 4:30pm. No fee. 707.578.4091.