Can a Jackass Improve with Age? A Vertical Tasting of Martinelli's Jackass Hill Zinfandel

Jackass Hill is one of the legendary vineyards of California.  Planted in the 1890s by Giuseppe Martinelli, this is a legacy vineyard of Zinfandel.  One of the oldest in Sonoma, the vineyard is farmed without irrigation or pesticides. 

Called Jackass Hill because "it is so steep that only a jackass would farm it," the wines produced from the vineyard are some of the most sought-after Zinfandels in California.  They are extracted, high-alcohol, expensive, beasts that are in very limited supply. The wines routinely sell for over $160.  If you can find them.

This is normally not a style of wine headed for the cellar and it isn't readily apparent if they will last, improve, or decline with age.  People are buying this wine for the delicious blast of powerful fruit and pleasure of owning a scare luxury item.

So, when I was invited into a back room of the Martinelli winery to taste a vertical of Jackass Hill Zinfandel with the Martinelli family, I knew it would a special moment and a chance to taste some Sonoma Valley history.

Here my notes on the 2014, 2007, 2003, 2002, 2000, 1997, and 1996 vintages.

Here are my tasting notes of a few memorable bottles.  All the wines were of the finest provenance possible, pulled directly from the winery's cellar, and were tasted first by the winemaker to confirm that they were tasting correctly. 

Martinelli 2014 Jackass Hill Zinfandel.  "Tight and intense. Yet perceptibly soft with extreme black fruit. Flavors of charred meat and hickory smoke. Very smooth. Right now this wine is a strange mixture of alcohol burn and smooth mouthfeel.  The genre here reminded me of bourbon, even if the taste did not."  90 points.

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Martinelli 2007 Jackass Hill Zinfandel.  "Luscious with an apricot and jalapeño compote. That is an incredible thing to write in a tasting note, 'tis true, but it is also an incredible thing to taste in a red wine.  It was truly there and obviously so.  The texture is very smooth with red berry jelly with the least perceptive heat from the alcohol of any vintage of JHZ that I've ever tasted."  92 points.

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Martinelli 2003 Jackass Hill Zinfandel.  "Peaches, plums, and apricots in a slow-cooker with dashes of herbs. A crusty char from smoke and heat. Creates a dark delicious goo."  93 points.

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Martinelli 2002 Jackass Hill Zinfandel.  "The Jackass Hill terroir shows through the alcohol with strong apricot aromas and flavors. Also some stone fruit. Sexy and extreme! Incredibly big and incredibly lush. Massive but not ungraceful. Sweet stewed peppers. A finish that recalls apricots on the grill."  95 points.

Martinelli 2000 Jackass Hill Zinfandel.  "Two bottles were both off-putting and funky. Winery representatives considered them flawed. Not enough experience for me to know if this is the end of this vintage's life or if we just got unlucky."  No Rating.

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Martinelli 1997 Jackass Hill Zinfandel.  "Exotic and lush with those aromas that are created when you pour red wine into cooking tomato sauce. Sweet potato cream. Apple pie with cinnamon. Spicy tomatillos and salsa on the finish."  91 points.

Martinelli 1996 Jackass Hill Zinfandel.  "Over the hill at this point, into the funky tomato-paste thing."  83 points.

Some final thoughts on Martinelli Jackass Hill Zinfandel.

These wines are not subtle shrinking violets and if you want to age them, you need to be prepared for some wildly usual flavors.  I absolutely adored the grilled apricot flavors that hit this wine in the 8-14 year age bracket, but at the 20 year mark, I was not a fan of the stewed tomato character. 

It is unlikely that you are going to find old bottles of this on the market.  Most have likely already been consumed.  But if you spot one, and if you want a wild adventure, consider picking up one of my recommendations here.


Keep reading.  More great wine articles here...

Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape: A Vertical Tasting of 2008, 2009, 2010, & 2011

The wonderful Chateauneuf-du-Papes of Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe have always been some of my favorite.  The release of the glorious 1998 vintage corresponded to my first few months in the wine business.  Tasting that wine, I was immersed into the wines of the Southern Rhone for the first time. I have been fans of Vieux Telegraphe ever since, so when the opportunity arose to host a vertical tasting of recent vintages at Walt Churchill's Market, I couldn't resist.  The results were surprising and my tasting notes are after the picture.

If you aren't familiar with Vieux Telegraphe, visit  Kermit Lynch Imports Website.

If you aren't familiar with Vieux Telegraphe, visit Kermit Lynch Imports Website.

Three bottles of each wine were opened for the tasting.  They were given 2 hours of time to open.  I tasted across all three bottles throughout the night, with consistent tasting notes.  All wines sell for $89.99 each in Ohio.

Vieux Telegraphe 2008 Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  "Sadly, this 2008 was one of the weakest tasting versions of VT that I've yet come across. It was prematurely old with very minimal tannins or acid. The fruit came off kind of stewed and it was very far into secondary flavors of leather, tobacco, vanilla, caramel, and dark smooth red fruits. Decent length to the finish, but this is wine that is peaking.  It is unlikely that this wine will improve with time.  It wasn't bad, but I always expect better from Vieux Telegraphe - and have never been disappointed until today."  88 points.

Vieux Telegraphe 2009 Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  "This is a sexy beast!  Very luscious sexy Grenache fruit. Scrumptous pure hedonism, but kept in check by very well integrated acidity. One of the best young VTs that I've ever tasted. After 2 hours open, firm powerful tannins emerge from the fruit and give me great hopes for the longevity of this wine.  If you are looking for a Chateauneuf-du-Pape to drink tonight and also in a decade, this is your choice."  96 points.

Vieux Telegraphe 2010 Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  "One of the best Young Chateaneufs I've ever tasted!  This has all of the amazingly sexy fruit of the 2009, but elevates to another level with strong serious framing tannins. Red fruits dominate with serious purity and black fruits slide in to add complexity. This is a beautiful long-lasting wine.  This is a wine that received serious accolades from the wine press ... and deserved them all.  It reminds me of the 1998."  98 points.

Vieux Telegraphe 2011 Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  "Young and aggressive. Probably a lot of Syrah and Mourvedre because I tasted smoked meat, white pepper, hard black plum, some garrigue. All that was spices in a pure hard Grenache red-fruit. Not very sophisticated for VT, but solid wine.  This something that I would have to revisit in a few years.  This could bloom into a wonder, or it could collapse.  Not sure."  91 points.

There is a saying in wine circles that great wineries can make great wine even in the off-vintages. I've said that myself and believed it to be true.  However, this tasting challenged that idea because there was such significant separation between the great vintages of 2009-2010 and the mediocre vintages of 2008-2011.  Even for a great producer like Vieux Telegraphe.


If you are in Ohio, buy your Vieux Telegraphe from Walt Churchill's Market.  But if not, shopping Amazon Links below will help support this website.


St. Innocent 'Momtazi' Pinot Noir - Vertical Tasting - 2007, 2008, 2009, & 2010

When St. Innocent Winemaker Mark Vlossak traveled to France, he noticed that many of his favorite wineries had one thing in common.  They all used Biodynamic farming.  So he began to search Oregon for some good Biodynamically farmed Pinot Noir.

This radical extension of the organic movement looks at the whole health of the vineyard, using organic practices, and also incorporated much pseudo-scientific thought.  Many have compared it to holistic medicine.  I don't agree with much of biodynamics, but do agree with Vlossak in the quality that this ideology often produced.

Vlossak purchases fruit from the biodynamically farmed Momtazi vineyard for St. Innocent and I knew that I had to try these wines.  Luckily for me, my Ohio distributor had four vintages in stock and I was able to throw a vertical tasting of St. Innocent Pinot Noir 'Momtazi' 2007-2010. 

It was no surprise that the wines were of excellent quality, but what surprised me was how the biodynamic farming seemed to moderate the effects of some extreme vintages. 2010 was one of Oregon's coldest ever and 2009 was one of the hottest ever.  Yet the heathy Momtazi vines seemed to not let the wines vary significantly.

Similar things happend with the phenomenal 2008 vintage and the 'Meh' 2007 vintage.  The wines were brought together stylistically.  Was this the health of the biodynamics?  I don't know the answer to that. 

For great discussions of Biodynamic winemaking check out my video interview with Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard or my video interview with Rebecca Work of Ampelos.
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So let's get to the wines themselves.

St. Innocent 2010 'Momtazi' Pinot Noir.   92/100 Points.  $39.99 OH retail

A light pink-red color.  Bright red fruit nose with red apple skins.  Delicate red berry cream on the palate with a gentle texture.  Pleasant and undemanding, but still a super achievement.  Graceful, if even a little whispy at times.

St. Innocent 2009 'Momtazi' Pinot Noir.  89/100 Points.  $39.99 OH retail

Color is noticeably darker than the 2010.  More intensity to the aromas, but less depth of flavor.  Red plums, cherries, red dust on the palate with some oak and a strange citrus.  Can feel some awkward alcohol. 

St. Innocent 2008 'Momtazi' Pinot Noir.  91/100 points.  $39.99 OH retail.

Dark purple-red.  Aromas of intense red and black plums with brightness to the character.  Soft and silky with dark black fruits and (for the first time) some tannins.  This is young and tight with pronounced tannins, but just wait a few years. 

St. Innocent 2007 'Momtazi' Pinot Noir.  90/100 points.  $39.99 OH retail.

Brick red color.  Floral aromas with light herbal notes.  Palate is red and meaty with some warmth and hints of emerging herbs. 

In conclusion, there are some delicious wines here at pretty reasonable prices.  I'll definitely be looking for the 2010 'Momtazi' again.  The Biodynamic Winemaking thing is still up in the air, but all if you want is excellent Oregon Pinot Noir, you might find this something that works well for you.