What's happening at Martinelli deserves special attention. The Martinelli family has long been prominent among the growers in the Russian River Valley. They have over 350 acres of vineyards planted, and have been the source for many top wines from other producers. Several years ago Steve Martinelli began to estate bottle 4,000 cases, a relatively small percentage of the Martinelli Vineyards' total production. However, he had the luxury of choosing the best parcels. Beginning in 1993, with the help of consultant/winemaker Helen Turley, he is bottling all the Martinelli wines without filtration, and much of the production without fining. The results are some of the most concentrated, complex, and exciting wines being made in California. Prices for Martinelli's wines have remained modest. But given the fact that they sell out quickly, that may not last much longer.

Martinelli is turning out a Gewurztraminer that must be tasted to be believed. The 1995 was not yet bottled, but it appears to be even more flavorful and authentic than the delicious 1994. The latter wine, which is made from Martinelli's own vineyard (which supplies the grapes for the neighboring Z. Moore Winery, which has produced the finest Gewurztrarniner from California), is a dry (.8% residual sugar) Gewurztraminer with the telltale rose petal, lychee nut fragrance. The wine possesses excellent fruit, purity, and ripeness, and a full-bodied, lusty finish with a well- displayed Gewurztrarniner character. Six-hundred cases of this wine were made utilizing the whole cluster pressing technique. The result is an extremely convincing Gewurztraminer that can be bought for a song.

Readers should get their reservations in now for some of the 350 cases of Martinelli's 1994 Chardonnay Gold Ridge Vineyard and 1994 Chardonnay Charles Ranch. The 1994 Gold Ridge Chardonnay must be the richest, most complex, intense Chardonnay for $16 a bottle that has ever been produced. It exhibits gobs of gorgeous tangerine and buttery fruit, full body, a mouthfilling, unctuous texture, and a knock-out finish, Steve Martinelli has embraced the wine making philosophy of consultant Helen Turley, so don't be surprised to experience a Marcassin-like texture to these wines. The 1994 Chardonnay Charles Ranch is from a cooler Sonoma Coast vineyard. For that reason it displays more complexity, with copious quantities of honeyed pineapple, and apple-like fruit intertwined with scents of minerals. Powerful, with spectacular concentration, this viscous, rich, thick Chardonnay should be drunk over the next 1-2 years.

Martinelli's 1994 Pinot Noir Estate, also bottled without fining or filtration, is an outstanding example of this varietal. Unfortunately, only 200 cases are produced of this sumptuously-styled, meaty, blackcherry and smoke-scented wine. It exhibits a dark garnet color, sweet, chewy, fleshy, burgundian-like fruit, high alcohol (14.3%), and a soft, gorgeously proportioned, lusty finish. This is what Burgundy should be - pure, expansive, succulent, and loaded with gobs of fruit. Zinfandel fanatics should do everything possible to latch onto a bottle of Martinelli Zinfandel from their Jackass Vineyard. There are two offerings, one with the Jackass Vineyard designation, and the other from the Jackass Hill Vineyard. Both are extraordinary Zinfandels, with the Jackass Hill revealing more complexity. Both wines are at the pinnacle of the Zinfandel qualitative pyramid. The 1994 Jackass Vineyard Zinfandel flaunts an astonishing 15.6% alcohol, but readers would never know it because of the wine's incredible amount of fruit and richness. Only 550 cases were made of this modestly-priced wine. The opaque plummy color is followed by aromas of pepper, Asian spices, fruitcake, and exhilarating levels of jammy black fruit. If readers want to try a truly viscous wine, check this one out. It is juicy, succulent, and loaded with flavor. There is not a hard edge to be found in this unfiltered wine, which is a brilliant reflection of old vine Zinfandel. It will be released in spring, 1996. The 1994 Zinfandel Jackass Hill Vineyard (from an incredibly steep vineyard planted in 1887) will be released in fall, 1996. Possessing slightly less alcohol (14.8%) than its sibling, it is an awesome Zinfandel that rivals the extraordinary 1994 Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel produced by Turley Cellars. Martinelli's Zinfandel is amazingly rich and unctuous, with huge flavor concentration, and a blockbuster finish that must be tasted to be believed. If Chateau Rayas could make an even more concentrated wine than they did in 1990, it might resemble what Martinelli has accomplished in 1994 with these two exquisite Zinfandels. Kudos to the young Steve Martinelli for having the courage to produce wines that will become world-class benchmarks! Fans of Martinelli will be delighted to learn that the 1995's look equally spectacular.

- Robert Parker / The Wine Advocate -

Martinelli Winery & Vineyards / 3360 River Road / Windsor, CA 95492 / 707-525-0570

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