2007 Ottimino Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel

Mission Codename: The Power of Concentration

Operative: Agent Red

Objective: Infiltrate Ottimino, a winery with a growing reputation for producing California Zinfandels of superior quality. Sample their wines and, if they pass our stringent quality review, procure an allotment for our Zinfandel-loving Operatives.

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Ottimino

Wine Subject: 2007 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel Biglieri Vineyard Zinfandel

Winemaker: William Knuttel

Backgrounder: The Dry Creek Valley, across the Russian River from Alexander Valley, has a generally cooler and wetter climate which makes the growing season longer and more flexible than neighboring appellations. This is an area best known for producing rather remarkable Zinfandel.

Zinfandel is related to the Italian Primitivo grape, tracing its origin to the Croatian grape Crljenak Kastelanski. Zinfandel is one of the most versatile varietals with the ability to make wines, both rich to fruity, dark to light, and dry to sweet. Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, which are characterized by their balanced flavors, is among the most popular wines of our Operatives.

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Deep, dark purple with a deeper, dark core. At the rim of the wine, a fine ring of dark crimson encircles the glass. After swirling, tall, medium-width legs move slowly down the glass.

Smell – Boysenberry and black plum compote, with soft spice are the first to rush up to greet your nose. These are followed by luscious black cherry, red plum, bramble and dusty dried earth. After some swirling, sweet oak and black pepper emerge, rounding out the aromas beautifully.

Feel – Light across the palate on opening, this wine really transforms as it breaths and opens up. Allowed to decant for at least 30 minutes, the wine softens significantly, giving it a sultry feel across the entry and mid-palate. Soft tannins and a slowly encroaching dryness give the wine a round, voluptuous feel.

Taste – Generous and jammy, with gorgeous fruit that leads with blackberry, boysenberry and softly braised black plum. Here, too, the wine benefits from some decanting. Fruits become fuller and earthen flavors of bramble, dried leaves and mild spice emerge.

Finish – Long and flavorful, with ripe fruit gradually yielding to dried leaves, spice and oak. At the very tail end, an earthy mineral dryness and the softest black pepper remind you to take another delicious sip.

Conclusion – The 2007 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel Biglieri Vineyard Zinfandel is a fantastic and delicious wine that showcases potent combination of careful farming, great fruit and a highly skilled winemaker. The wine absolutely brings all three into a deliciously fine focus. Ottimino’s Biglieri Vineyard Zinfandel is fruit-forward, but the fruit is dark and brooding. The oak is soft and softly toasty contributing to the fruit and spice, rather than distracting from it. Enjoy this wine now or cellar for five to seven years. Be sure to decant for at least 30 minutes and you’ll be rewarded with a much finer wine than you found on opening. Pair this food-friendly delight with your favorite summer BBQ – or a enjoy sipping it all on its own.

Mission Report:


SUBJECT: William Knuttel

WINE EDUCATION: UC Davis masters program

CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: Winemaker and Owner for William Knuttel Winery 2001-present, Winemaker and Owner/Partner with Ottimino 2000-present,
Winemaker at Saintsbury 1983-1996, VP/Winemaker at Chalk Hill Estate 1996-2003, Winemaker and Owner/Partner with Tria 1993-2001, Executive Winemaker at Dry Creek Vineyard 2003-present; consultant to numerous wineries and negociants in Sonoma, Napa and the Central Coast

WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: Balance in all respects makes for age-worthy, food-friendly wines

WINEMAKER QUOTE: If you properly build a wine for the long haul, you’ll have a wine that is delicious upon release and after many years of aging!

FIRST COMMERCIAL WINE RELEASE: 1983 (first Ottimino release was 2000)


AGENT RED: Greetings, William. We are thrilled to be showing your 2007 Zinfandel Biglieri Vineyard today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.


RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?

WILLIAM: I’ve been fascinated by wine ever since I watched my grandfather making fruit wines in his cellar at home—and that goes back to as far as I can remember!

RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?

WILLIAM: I came to winemaking via a previous career as a Chemical Engineer. Winemaking, oddly, is a similar profession in that it involves converting raw materials into a finished product—albeit with a bit more input from the artistic side. After some “remedial” training (secret code for adding some biochemistry and food science to my arsenal) at UC Davis, I stepped right into the fray at Saintsbury, helping to build the winery and getting involved immediately with pioneering the first attempts at Burgundian style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. While there were a few other winemakers up to similar things, and we talked amongst ourselves, it really felt like we were figuring it out as we went along. Only later did I begin to identify with a few other winemakers and their styles.

RED: Who do you make wine for?

WILLIAM: Even though I make a lot of different wines for myself and various wineries, as well as for consulting and negociant clients, everyone is made to a style that fits the project. From my early work at Saintsbury and then Chalk Hill Estate, I essentially became addicted to barrel to barrel combat. Every aspect of the production of a wine is important

the devil is really in the details. For Ottimino in particular, we are committed to making Zinfandels in the so-called claret style: fully extracted, often with extended maceration, aged up to 24 months in French oak and racked quarterly, and bottled with as little fining as possible. We also extend bottle aging prior to release, so our Zins are really built like Cabernets! It’s a very different style than many Zins that are fruitier and released early, but it’s the hallmark of Ottimino Zinfandel.

RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.

WILLIAM: In one respect, this release from the Biglieri Vineyard is an outlier for us: it’s in Dry Creek Valley, whereas all of our other single-vineyard releases are from Russian River Valley. We are based in Russian River because we prefer to fully ripen our fruit, but can achieve the ripeness without the high Brix maturity and consequent high alcohol. Biglieri Vineyard, however, is in the very south of Dry Creek Valley, just outside of the Russian River Valley—so it is relatively cool, too! The vines are nearly 50 years old, and the character of the fruit is distinct from any other Zinfandel we harvest.

RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?

WILLIAM: Roasted or barbecued meats—your choice!

RED: In your opinion, what makes the Russian River Valley such special place for Zinfandel?

WILLIAM: As I said above, because it’s a cooler appellation, we can achieve full ripeness at lower alcohols!

RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?

WILLIAM: There’s never a dull moment. We are beginning to look at vineyards to get ready for the 2011 vintage, racking the 2010 Zins, prepping the 2009s for bottle, etc. With a number of vineyards to deal with, there’s plenty to do, and even when things slow down a little there’s always sales and marketing to deal with, in its many facets.

RED: How would you recommend people approach your wines and wine in general?

WILLIAM: Never be afraid! Try any pairing that occurs to you, and see how a wine—red or white—holds up to the dish (or not). Find out what YOU like, find out which winemakers consistently make you happy with wines that are versatile with food and that age well—and stick with them.

RED: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

WILLIAM: Thank you for trying Ottimino’s Zinfandel!

RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!

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