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Cline Wines Pack a Punch

For the past two days, I have been tasting and chatting wine with Hilary Cline  (young daughter of Fred Cline) and Keith Morris (of Cork Dork fame) at the American Wine School’s Cleveland location. After sipping and pitting Cline up with more than 20+ wines, I think I have a good understanding of the Cline Cellars portfolio, and I also learned a little something about the Oakley, Contra Costa wine region of California. I must say, our tastings flights created an interesting match up, and Cline Cellars faired well against some pretty good sparring partners.

For starters, the Cline’s are known for having some of the oldest vines in California (like 80-120 years old!) with interesting varieties such as Mourvedre, Carignane, Syrah and the like planted in Contra Costa. [2010 Ancient Vine Mourvedre, Contra Costa & 2010 Ancient Vine Zinfandel, California] Hilary was quick to tell me that the vines are dry farmed and enjoy cool nights due to the moderating effect of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers. I later learned that the vines are planted (bush training) on well-drained, sandy soils giving the wines the best chance of finding water in the region’s hot climate; doing so keeps the fruit from taking on a raisin character.

Cline also has vineyards in Carneros, where cooler climates play an important roll in keeping acidity high in the grape. This region is planted to Syrah, Viognier, which we pitted against other California & French examples during a blind tasting. It is not surprising to learn that Hilary Cline found her family’s wines the easiest to sip (she has an excellent palate btw)…even blind! Personally, I adored the 2010 Cline North Coast Viognier. The wine’s crispness balanced the exotic floral, apricot nature of Viognier making it a good sipping wine for any occasion.

The beefiest flight of the two days focused on Cline’s smallest production wines – their Single Vineyards 2009 Big Break Zinfandel & 2009 Live Oak Zinfandel, both from Contra Costa. The wines are crafted from ancient vines that stem from the 1900s. As expected, Big Break Zin is a full-bodied wine with lots of ripe black fruit, spice, and toast…but it’s the hit of eucalyptus (along with noticeable acidity) that enables the wine to pop on your palate and remain refreshing and approachable. Weighing in at 16% alcohol, Live Oak Zinfandel enters the match. Full bodied, concentrated and packing a direct punch of black fruits, baking spices, cola, and meatiness with just the right dose of acidity.  Firm tannins are accompanied by a bit of oak still riding on top of the fruit. Nothing a few years in my cellar or a big fat steak on my dinner plate would not cure. Bottomline, the wines rocked. Cheers.

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About Marianne Frantz

A Certified Wine Educator, Marianne holds a Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) of London, and has also earned the Advanced Sommelier qualification from the Court of Master Sommeliers. After successfully participating in an educational competition sponsored by the Wines of Australia in the spring of 2008, Marianne became an educational Ambassador for Wine Australia USA. She is also a Certified Spanish Wine Educator.