Sometimes you can taste a signature of the winemaker in a great wine. When that happens it’s fabulous. It’s a different experience. I liken it to the difference between a typewritten note and a handwritten one. They are both nice to receive but the handwritten one is like a virtual physical touch. There’s something so wonderful about receiving a piece of paper that you know was written in the hand of the sender (nasty-grams aside…story for a different blog : ).
Upon thinking about why it is that I love ACORN wines so much, I think this analogy captures it: in each bottle, I feel like I can taste the intention of Bill and Betsy Nachbaur, the owners of this fine property in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma in Northern California.
I’ve been busy popping out children, renovating a house, writing a book, and speaking around the country about all things wine, so I have been off my writing game and I’m a vintage behind at this writing, but after trying through the line of ACORN for my third year in a row I felt absolutely compelled to share my experiences with this fabulous line of wines once again (disclosure: they sent me the wines to taste for the purpose of review, but I’m always honest and the free wine makes no difference in the review). You may not be able to secure the vintages of the wines that I review, but I can promise that every year I’ve tried ACORN, there has been incredible consistency. You can’t go wrong, in my experience (which is why I nominated them for one of the best wineries in the US!).
I’ve discussed the background of ACORN in other posts, so this time I think I’ll focus more on the wine and let you read about the great people that make it here:
1. Founded in 1990, ACORN is both a grower and producer of wine. They sell about 50% of their grapes to others and make around 3,000 cases of wine a year, which sell out quickly!
2. Unlike everyone else in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma, ACORN doesn’t specialize in Pinot Noir or Chardonnay (a welcome reprieve!). Instead they make co-fermented field blends. That means they grow a bunch of grape types together and then ferment them all so they are blended from the picking stage rather than isolated as separate varieties and then blended. This is the old school style of winemaking, before we decided to parse out every clone and separate each row of grapes to engineer the perfect wine. I’d say this methodology of winemaking is far closer to what Mother Nature had in mind when she gave us vineyards with which to make wine, but that’s just me.
3. ACORN is small but mighty, as their name (and web site) suggests! I love that Bill and Betsy do their own thing and they don’t care what everyone else in wine country is doing. ACORN is one of the only places you can get varietal Dolcetto and Sangiovese in Sonoma and they make wines that are for people who want to see what else Sonoma could do with its land if it moved beyond the run of the mill varieties (Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, blah blah blah). The folks at ACORN love what they do and you can taste that in the wine.
As I already stated in my mea culpa (sorry to Betsy and Bill!), I’m behind a vintage. But these wines may be available through retailers around you, and if not you can get the current vintage and you’ll be a-ok.
2011 ACORN Heritage Vines Zinfandel, Alegría Vineyards, Russian River Valley, Sonoma
Grapes: 78% Zinfandel, 13% Alicante Bouschet, 7% Petit Sirah and a bunch of other stuff.
I think this may be the best version of ACORN’s Zin I’ve had yet. A dark plum color in the center with a ruby rim and thick legs from the 14.5 % alcohol, the wine smelled delicious! Black plums, strawberry, dark flowers and a little bit of peppercorn aroma were just the tip of the iceberg and didn’t prepare me for the giant flavor that was coming! Dark flowers, dried strawberry, leather, ripe plum, vanilla, smoke, and a burnt leaf quality flooded my mouth. There was medium tannin and medium acid and the wine was so even and balanced. I loved this. I think it has a lot to do with ACORN’s outstanding Alicante Bouschet (one of my favorite wines of 2013, but which is no longer being made as a varietal wine because it’s so integral to this blend. Oh well, I’ll just drink more Zin to get my smokey fix!). Amazing wine!
2010 ACORN Cabernet Franc, Alegría Vineyards, Russian River Valley, Sonoma
Grapes: Cab Franc with 2% Petit Verdot and 2% Merlot
A pretty ruby color with giant aromas of licorice, coffee, clove, violets, dark fruit and earth, this wine was complex and fragrant. Its taste was more measured and delicate — dried lavender, pepper, nutmeg, with dark cherry flavors. The wine had medium mouth drying tannins and lower acid. It had a certain power to it, but also a calm softness. The finish was awesome — very long with tons of clove flavor. This is Sonoma’s version of Cabernet Franc: Fruity, floral, spicy but delicate. Nothing like Bordeaux and all the better for not trying to be.
2010 ACORN Axiom Syrah, Alegría Vineyards, Russian River Valley, Sonoma
This wine is a baby and wasn’t ready for its debut, I fear. It has a need for some time to come together in the bottle — it needs more age to be delicious. It was good now, but it will be great later. 5 more years and this thing will be remarkable.
For now, it was a dark, opaque purple with thick legs. Aromas of blackberry, saddle leather (a little horsey, as Syrah often is — this is a good thing!), and vanilla dominated. The wine smelled a little hot, which was odd because it’s not that high in alcohol. It tasted like blackberry, black currant, and a lot of oak. I got a hint of coconut (they used 30% American oak barrels and that often has a coconut note) on the long finish.
I’d like to try this in a few years. I didn’t love it, but again, it’s a function of drinking too early, not a flaw of the wine itself.
2010 ACORN Medley, Alegría Vineyards, Russian River Valley, Sonoma
20 co-fermented varieties are used in this wine, so it’s kind of a hodgepodge and varies from year to year. The 2010 was dark purple with a ruby red rim and thick legs. It smelled like coffee, dark chocolate, wet walnuts (like the kind you put on ice cream), and dark berries. Lots of complex flavors — dark fruit, licorice, coffee grounds, cola, black cherry, and oak made the wine rich. It was acidic, heavy, and had chewy tannins with a slight bitterness on the finish.
This was a good wine, but the previous versions of the Medley blew me away and this was just solid, not breathtaking. I think aromatic varieties like Viognier and a bigger percentage of Muscat were eliminated this time around for more acidic and tannic varieties. I felt it was a touch less harmonious than in previous vintages that I’ve loved. The 2011 vintage looks like a winning combo, with Syrah, Zin, Alicante Bouschet and a return of more of the floral Muscats included, so if you see the ’10 I’d forgo it for the ’11.
I did receive another bottle from ACORN but I’m hesitant to review it because you can’t get it anymore. It’s the Alicante Bouschet I reviewed last year. Bill and Betsy need the grape for the Zin so it’s bye-bye single bottling for now. I’ll let you know if it comes back though…and maybe I’ll post separately about it after I have it in all it’s splendor (I saved it to savor it!).
All in all, a great tasting of these wines and more proof that ACORN is, in fact, one of the most consistently delicious producers of wine in the US!
Have you had ACORN’s wines before? Have you ever tasted field blends? What do you think about this concept versus straight varietal wines? Please leave a comment below!