Explore the rich history and taste of Martinelli’s Zinfandel


Grapes: 100% Zinfandel

Location: Russian River Valley, California

Winery Owner: The Martinelli Family

Winemaker: Courtney Wagoner

Approximate retail price: $36

Website: martinelliwinery.com


Color: Slightly hazy with prominent ruby hues

Aroma: Ripe plum and stewed strawberries followed by layers of leather and black tea with slight hints of anise and raisin

Taste: Firm dark fruits grip the palate with lingering fruit flavors of cherry licorice and peach. The finish shows the slightest hint of earth and smooth tannins.

It’s always a joy to write about wine with a rich history. Whether it’s the land, the family or the trials and tribulations that come with creating a winery, telling the history and story behind a bottle of wine can make it more enjoyable. Martinelli Winery and the Martinelli family offer such stories, though their wines need no grand history to stand on their own.

It began in the early 1880s when 19-year-old Giuseppe Martinelli and his fiancée Luisa Vellutini moved to California. After a few years of work, the couple saved enough money to purchase their own plot of land with fertile ground for farming, grape growing and winemaking. Although the land they purchased stood on a 60 to 65-degree slope, the Martinelli’s successfully began their business and planted Zinfandel and Muscat Alexandria. The vineyard eventually earned the name Jackass Hill and is known as the steepest non-terraced vineyard in all of Sonoma County.

After his death in 1918, Giuseppe passed his vineyard down to his youngest son, Leno, who was 12 at the time. Leno farmed Jackass Hill by horse and plow and managed the land until he turned 89 and passed the vineyard over to his son, Lee Martinelli Sr. Like all of the Martinellis, Lee Sr. started working in the vineyards before the age of 10 and is still the vineyard’s current “Jack Ass” at 81 years old.

Now in their fifth generation of farmers and winemakers, the Martinellis have obtained several other vineyards (and apple orchards), throughout Sonoma. Along with Zinfandels and Muscat, they also produce Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and Syrahs, all sourced from their various sustainably farmed vineyards.

The “Vigneto di Evo” Zinfandel is sourced from four of their vineyards in the Russian River Valley and then blended in barrels. The cooler climate of the Russian River allows the expression of this Zinfandel to show off its deep, rich, darker fruits rather than the characteristic black pepper that warmer climates can produce in Zinfandel.

Food pairings: In addition to grilled or roasted beef or pork, zinfandel goes fantastically will gamier meats like lamb and venison. Buttery or creamy sauces for these meats will not reject the characteristics of this wine. Finally, if you need something sweet to go with a chocolatey dessert, reach for a good bottle of Zinfandel.