Ravenswood has a unique story within the Californian wine industry. Firstly, its credo is 'no wimpy wines'; secondly it is produced by anecdotally, one of the greatest winemakers in the world; thirdly it is an icon amongst ‘Zins’, and has a loyal and cult following for its rich, distinctive wines, and for its equally distinctive and bold logo and label.
Winemaker Joel Peterson, is revered by winemakers and critics around the world, and has been hailed the undisputed ‘King of Zin’ – uncompromising, focussed and passionate about California’s native grape variety, he has built Ravenswood totally on this one grape variety, and has achieved an adoring and loyal fan base for both the brand and himself! The following for Ravenswood is so intense, that stories abound of fans having Ravenswood logo tattoos!
Californian wine is currently riding the crest of a wave in the UK, having taken the number 2 slot in terms of wine sales, from France. The majority of the volume comes from the big brands, and includes a vast amount of White Zinfandel, and easy drinking, commercial wines. Ravenswood is positioned at the opposite end of the spectrum, making wines of personality and individuality, and a strong statement about the uniqueness and quality of good Zinfandel. It is undoubtedly the leading Zinfandel brand in the UK.
What's The Background To Ravenswood?
The history and background to the Ravenswood brand is all about Joel Peterson, who almost single-handedly has brought Zinfandel into the public eye, internationally, and made it the huge success that it is today. Peterson is also responsible for putting the wine producing region of Lodi, in northern California, on the map, as the undisputed 'capital of Zinfandel'.
Joel Peterson grew up near San Francisco, and learnt about wine early, from his chemist father, who had a passion for good wine, and started up the 'San Francisco premium wine tasting club'. Joe learnt about good wine, largely European at his father’s side, and by his teenage years, had a great deal of knowledge and was an accomplished taster.
However he followed a more traditional educational route, with a scientific degree, and went on to work in science, whilst, all the time, honing his wine tasting and now also wine writing skills. He became known in San Francisco as a very gifted taster, with a true love of quality Zinfandel; he was also known for his uncompromising views!
Eventually his passion for the grape took over and in 1976, with a Harvard graduate friend, who was equally mad about Zin, they founded Ravenswood, producing wine from the corner of rented winery space. In their first vintage, 1976, they made only 327 cases of a wine called Dry Creek Zin, but it was this first attempt that catapulted them straight into the spotlight, when they won 1st prize in a prestigious San Francisco tasting competition. The die was cast, and the word about Ravenswood and Peterson soon spread, aided by the memorable and iconic ravens logo on the bottle.
Awards and accolades abounded, but having spent a decade purchasing grapes and making wine in other people’s wineries, it was not until the late 80s, that Peterson opened his own winery, to great acclaim, and throngs of visitors.
Today Peterson stays focussed on Zinfandel and its natural home, Lodi and Sonoma. With awards and accolades galore, he continues on his mission to produce Zin at the highest end of the quality scale.
What Styles Of Wine Does Ravenswood Make?
'No wimpy wines' is Joel Peterson’s motto, and that sums up the style of the Ravenswood Zinfandel range. Big, bold, uncompromising, with fleshy, ripe, bold fruit, and an underlying complexity, and incredible structure.
It’s all about Zinfandel, but the range comprises different styles and quality levels of Zin.
Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel – Peterson’s introduction level to Zinfandel, and one of the best value Zins available. It’s one of the styles that’s most approachable, with a forward, fruit driven style, derived from the blend of oak aged and also stainless steel aged wine – bold spicy, and velvety it has supple tannins, and an enticing black fruit and spice style.
Ravenswood Lodi Zinfandel – this is a wine produced in Lodi, the so called 'capital of Zinfandel', and a perennial favourite. Made from Old vines, on Lodi’s well drained soils, it’s a heady mix of rich, intense spicy, deep flavours, and complexity, which clearly demonstrates regionality, and local character.
Ravenswood Sonoma County Zinfandel – another big bold wine, this time, made from grapes grown only in Sonoma County. It’s a gloriously elegant wine, rich, and structured with fleshy, bright fruit and sweet spice character, long and lingering.
Ravenswood Vineyard designates range – this includes Ravenswood Hollick and Ravenswood Teldeschi, both wines produced from single vineyards, and the absolute pinnacle and top level of the Ravenswood range, produced in small quantities, using traditional French winemaking techniques to create superbly crafted, long lasting, intense wines of complexity, structure and silky power.
What Do These Wines Go With?
In keeping with their 'no wimpy wines' style, Ravenswood Zinfandel wines cry out for full flavoured, rich food, which will match up well.
Vintners Blend is perfect with casual suppers, pasta, meatballs, a platter of cheese, and hearty lamb stew. Also works well with spicy Asian and Mexican food.
The Counties range (Lodi, Sonoma) would be perfect with roast beef or lamb, mature cheese and will also handle anything with a bit of heat and spice perfectly.
The Teldeschi and Hollick should be reserved for special occasions, with the finest of beef, venison, or lamb!
Cabernet Sauvignon – smooth, ripe and full of blackcurrant flavours, great to go with roast beef, roast lamb, and spicy Mexican food.
Shiraz – smooth and velvety, this blackberry and spice scented wine will be great with barbecues, sausage and mash, and hearty stews.
Merlot – soft, plummy, juicy fruit, great with stews, pies, sausages and barbecues.