The Antidote To Boring Wines



A look at the wines of the Martinelli Winery.


By Louis Marmon


Gazette Newspapers  November 21, 2007


Martinelli Pinot NoirInside a red barn along Sonoma’s River Road is the Martinelli Winery tasting room. The Martinelli family planted their first vineyard in 1899 on a site known as ‘‘Jackass Hill,” a location reportedly so steep that only a fool would harvest there. During the ensuing century, the family has acquired several other prime vineyards and now their portfolio includes excellent Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Syrah, many of which are available only through their mailing list.


A fourth generation Sonoma native, Julianna Martinelli’s business card says ‘‘farmer’s daughter because ‘president’ sounds too stuffy.” Her mother’s family raised sheep and her father’s grew grapes and apples, which she remembers selling in front of the barn until it was renovated in 1986 to sell the family’s wines. In 1993, they began working with celebrated winemaker Helen Turley and Julianna’s father ‘‘switched from farming grapes to farming for wine. We changed everything, our winemaking techniques, farming practices, labels and marketing. But we kept the barn.”


Turley’s husband John Wetlaufer supervises their vineyards, and their wines are made with wild yeasts without fining or filtration from hand-selected, small yield, single vineyards. The result, Julianna believes, are ‘‘wines that truly represent ourselves and Sonoma County.”


Martinelli ‘‘Tessa Lee” Sauvignon Blanc 2005 ($26) is produced from a vineyard named for Julianna’s daughter, who represents the fifth generation of Martinellis. It is enjoyably well balanced with an initial light grassiness leading into grapefruit and green apple flavors and a touch of minerals at the finish.


Martinelli Zio Tony Chardonnay 2005 ($50) is from a fog-shrouded vineyard comprised of Sonoma’s ‘‘Goldridge” soil. The area is home to many prized Chardonnays and this beauty is no exception. Apple and grapefruit aromas lead to mouth-filling, buttery, pear and citrus flavors along with vanilla at the end.


Martinelli Charles Ranch Chardonnay 2005 ($48) is stylistically more acidic than the Zio Tony, but equally as delightful. Produced from 25-year-old coastal vines it has quince, apple and melon notes with a long full finish.


The red Martinelli wines are not for the timid. Initially compact, they become big and expressive after airing. A good rule is to either decant them or open the bottle an hour or two before serving.


A fine example is the tasty Martinelli Bella Vigna Pinot Noir 2005 ($40) that has deep, jammy strawberry aromas followed by cherry, cinnamon and red berry flavors that become more integrated after aeration. Notably different in style is Martinelli Moonshine Ranch Pinot Noir 2005 ($60), with earthy, almost Burgundian, red and black cherry flavors, along with clove and anise notes and plenty of tannins.


From a vineyard that previously grew hops, walnuts, prunes and apples, Martinelli Terra Felice Syrah 2004 ($45) has bountiful fruit flavors with remarkably complex plum, pepper and raspberry flavors along with tobacco and bacon notes. The Martinelli Zinfandels are legendary and most are only offered from their subscription list. An exception is the flavorful Martinelli Vigneto di Evo Zinfandel 2005 ($30) produced from 100-year-old vines located near their original family ranch and owned by one of the Martinelli cousins. Softer in format than their Jackass Hill and Giuseppe & Luisa Zinfandels, at 16.7 percent alcohol, it still packs a wallop with blackberry, raspberry and spice notes at the end.


A real treat is Martinelli Muscat Alexandria Jackass Hill 2006 ($28?375 ml), their version of a dessert wine. From the steepest vineyard in Sonoma, this perfectly balanced treasure has gorgeous apricot, honey and spicy pear flavors.



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