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Lava Cap Zinfandel

Geologic Wine Labels


Lava Cap Winery, in the Sierra Nevada foothills near Placerville, California, was founded by geologist David Jones, who sited the vineyards with particular care to their subsoils. (more below)
A geologist's idea of zin
Photo (c) 2013 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com
It's debatable whether geologists make superior winemakers, but certainly both specialists are closely attuned to topography, climate and soil. Wherever geologists turn their hand to capturing terroir, I'll be there to assess their efforts. Many California geologists, particularly those who knew Jones, think of a visit to Lava Cap as something of a pilgrimage. (Jones and I were both at the USGS during the same years, but we never socialized.)

The Joneses grow eight different grape varieties on their land, but only Zinfandel is vinted and bottled from three different settings on their estate. Zin is California's signature grape, responding to its strong light, marine influence and long growing season with reliable harvests and a distinctive sensory profile. The southern Italian variety Primitivo is genetically equivalent.

Sierra foothill zins tend toward high alcohol levels, occasional pruniness and almost lurid flavors. This intense garnet-colored version is an elegant example of the region. It presents blackberry and pepper notes with lesser accents of fennel and smoke, bolstered by a succession of tannins and a long, warm finish. Its restrained mouthfeel helps it play well with food. It offers a fine duet with the darkest of dark chocolate.

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