Wine Tasting Notes, 2008: Robert Biale Vineyards

bialeDespite their proximity to the City of Napa, the handful of wineries along Big Ranch Road receive very little attention compared to their counterparts along Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail. Of course, most folks who visit the Napa Valley are blissfully unaware of Big Ranch Road, which runs between Highway 29 and Silverado, but dead ends near Oak Knoll Avenue. Although this oversight is hardly criminal (much of the wine along this stretch is indeed lackluster), it should be noted that Robert Biale Vineyards definitely warrants a visit from anyone who has a penchant for Zinfandel.

Biale, without a doubt, is the gem of Big Ranch Road, offering what may just be the strongest Zinfandel portfolio in the Napa Valley. The winery, which produced its first commercial Zin in 1991, has deep roots in wine country. According to legend, anyone looking for a little “taste” during the latter part of Prohibition could request a “black chicken” from Pietro Biale’s farm. Uttering this euphemism would entitle those in the know to a hearty jug of bootleg Zinfandel (not poultry).

Today, Pietro’s grandson Robert embraces this legacy, naming one of his wines Black Chicken Zinfandel. I had the opportunity to taste a slate of Biale’s current Zinfandel releases, including the 2006 Black Chicken, the 2006 Stagecoach and the 2006 Party Line (again, another allusion to a bygone era). While all of these wines were impressive, my favorite Zin of the trio was the Stagecoach, which featured an alluring combination of depth and restraint.

In addition to Zinfandel, Biale also produces Syrah and Petite Sirah, and I sampled two bottlings of the latter varietal during my visit. The 2005 Thomann Station Petite Sirah exhibited a hint of mocha on the nose and sour cherry on the palate, while the 2005 Royal Punisher Petite Sirah was layered and well-structured (Royal Punisher, for the record, is an anagram of the wine’s two blending grapes, Syrah and Peloursin). As for Biale’s Syrah, the 2005 Hill Climber Pilgrimage was also delicious, full-flavored, with integrated tannins.

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