Last week presented an opportunity to spend time with a producer of iconic California zinfandels and a really nice guy, Bob Biale of Robert Biale Vineyards.
Robert Biale Vineyards was founded 21 years ago, but the Biale family has been a presence in Napa since the 1930s, when Bob’s grandfather first began planting zinfandel. The family grew fruits, vegetables and, foremost, thousands of white leghorn chickens. They also grew grapes, selling them to other wineries.
Bob’s father, Aldo, lost his father when he was only 14. Assuming responsibility for running the family farm, enterprising Aldo soon figured out it was more profitable to vent some of his grapes into wine rather than selling them in bulk to other producers. The only problem with this scheme was the absence of a license to produce wine.
Aldo, not daunted by lack of legal authority, sold customers chickens, produce and his somewhat illegal jugs of zinfandel known by its code name, “Black Chicken.” The Baile family was on a four-person telephone party line at the time. Nosy party-line eavesdroppers were none the wiser about Aldo’s clandestine wine business. Aldo also hid this venture from his wife, Clementina, whom he met and married in Italy.
Bob relates an amusing anecdote about his late mother, who became very perplexed by all the customer requests for black chickens. She even told one customer, “Aldo does not have any black chickens.” When the customer persisted, she said in exasperation, “Don’t you know the white ones taste better?”
The Biale Family went legit in 1991 when Aldo and Bob formed a partnership with sales and marketer Dave Prumuk and winemaker Al Perry to release their first critically acclaimed zins made from the fruit of Aldo’s old vineyard. The wine was appropriately named “Aldo’s Vineyard.”
Bob did not pour any Black Chicken last week, but if you want to try the famous Black Chicken, Tyson’s in Golden Springs has the 2007 vintage for $43 a bottle.
Bob did, however, pour four wines distributed by Pinnacle Imports from Birmingham. I found none of these on local wine shelves, but they are available by special order from your favorite wine dealer. They are a bit pricey, ranging from approximately $36 to $50 per bottle attributable to the fact these wines are made in relatively small quantities from specific premier vineyard sites. Consider the following:
Basic Black GSM 2010. Chateauneuf-du-Pope style from a blend of varietals traditionally used in the Southern Rhone with a bit of zinfandel and barbera thrown into the mix. Great summer red for wood-grilled steaks and poultry. Lots of dark berry fruit in the taste profile. Luscious and balanced.
Monte Rosso Zinfandel 2010. Favorite of all tasted and, of course, the most expensive, though I did not know this at the time. Made from fruit sourced from the famous Monte Rosso Vineyard farmed by three generations of the Louis Martini family and now owned by Gallo. A big zin, 15.8 percent alcohol by volume. Like jam in a bottle. Bold fruit flavors, nicely integrated tannins. A big quaff to accompany a big piece of red meat.
Founding Farmers Zinfandel 2011. So named because fruit is sourced from sites where founding farmers of Napa Valley first planted vineyards in the late 1800s. Excellent zin, but lacking some of the intensity of Monte Rosso. Royal Punisher’s Petite Sirah 2011. Though better known for their zinfandels, the Biales make stunning wines from another California heritage grape, petite syrah. The name Royal Punisher is an anagram (I hate anagrams) of two grapes thought to be the parents of petite sirah, syrah and peloursin. Lovely dark fruit aromas with subtle apple pie spices in the taste profile. Approachable. An elegant wine that rivals pricier cabernets of the region.
Contact Pat Kettles at firstname.lastname@example.org
Manju Purohit of Marriot Courtyard Inn in Oxford invites everyone to check out the Inn’s wine tasting Wednesday, May 1, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Purohit plans to host this event monthly on the last Wednesday of each month. Sips are free. Glasses are $5.