Visiting Robert Biale Vineyards: A Napa Valley Classic

Robert Biale: Charming place, distinct wines
Wine country

Shutterstock/ N.F. Photography

These guys are the zinfandel masters.

No trip to any wine region is complete for me without checking off some boxes on my list. What list you ask? In this instance, I’m talking about the list of producers I haven’t been to before that I probably should have gotten to a long time ago. Thankfully, with each ensuing trip my list of those is getting ever smaller. On my most recent stay in Napa Valley I checked Robert Biale Vineyards off the list. The only trouble is now that I’ve been there and witnessed first-hand how awesome they are, and how delicious the wine is, I’m going to need to go back, soon.

Robert Biale Vineyards has been a going concern for about 25 years now. But when you visit (and you should) you’re going to feel like they’ve been there longer. Tasting is by appointment and when you get there someone from the winery will be with you throughout the process. They’ll bring you wines, talk about them and the winery, as well as answer any and all questions. This can be done outside on their covered porch or inside.

The feel of the place is lived in and rugged, in the best sense. It would be difficult to not feel immediately welcome and warm in this environment. Despite being there 25 years it has the feel of Napa history to it, of a place that’s been around longer.

They make a host of different wines, but first and foremost they’re a zinfandel house. Specifically, their focus is on site specific zinfandels that tell the story of particular vineyards in given vintage years. If you’re someone who loves great zinfandels made in a classic (not blustery) style, put the wines of Robert Biale on your short list. I had the pleasure of tasting the wines with Bob and he couldn’t have been more accommodating, humble, and charming. He loves what he does and it shows. My friends and I had the opportunity to learn about his Estate Vineyards which go back many years in the family’s history. One is named for his Grandfather Aldo the other is named after his Grandfather’s secret name for zinfandel, Black Chicken. In addition to their estate vineyards they source fruit at other sites in both Napa and Sonoma.

In total Robert Biale Vineyards produce about 15,000 cases of wine per year. They sell a little more than two thirds of it through their tasting room and wine club. A few of their wines get out there on store shelves and restaurant wine lists. In addition to zinfandel they produce some petite sirah as well as a couple of blends and occasional other small lots. Here’s a look at the wines that really stood out when I visited.

Robert Biale Vineyards 2013 Black Chicken Zinfandel, $45

The fruit was sorted by hand both in the vineyard and again at the winery. After fermentation, it spent 14 months in French oak; 20 percent of the barrels were new. The big nose here is loaded with red fruit. Cherry and raspberry flavors are dominant throughout the palate which has depth, grace, and just enough heft. Blackberry, black tea, bits of earth, and wisps of cinnamon are all part of the long, somewhat lusty finish.

Robert Biale Vineyards 2013 Limerick Lane Zinfandel, $62

All of the fruit for this wine came from the namesake Russian River Valley vineyard which was first planted in 1910. The current vines are a combination of those that have survived and new plantings. This selection leads with a big booming nose, typical of many excellent Russian River Valley zins. Wild strawberry and raspberry jam aromas dominate along with a hint of vanilla. The palate is studded with red fruits and spice. Earth, dusty cocoa, and black cherry elements are all part of the mouth-watering finish. If you enjoy sipping zinfandel by itself, this is the one I’d pick. It’ll be a great partner for food too, but it’s awesome alone.

Robert Biale Vineyards 2013 Stage Coach Zinfandel, Biale Block, $50

Their block of this huge mountain vineyard was planted in 1999. They’re the only ones that have zinfandel planted there. 351 cases were produced. Black raspberry and boysenberry aromas leap from the nose here. The palate is stuffed with a who’s who of sour black fruits and spice. Espresso, sweet dark chocolate, and a final wallop of blackberry mark the long finish. Firm tannins and fine acid provide excellent structure. This zinfandel will age well for the next six or so years.

Robert Biale Vineyards 2013 Monte Rosso Zinfandel, $58

Mote Rosso Vineyard sits on Moon Mountain in Sonoma and that’s where all the fruit for this offering was picked. This legendary vineyard was planted in the 1880’s. Raspberry, strawberry, and black cherry aromas dominate the super-appealing nose. All of those characteristics continue through the palate where they’re joined by refined bits of earth and copious spices. Bits of chamomile tea, vanilla, and minerals are all in play on the deeply layered and impressively persistent finish. This is an excellent example of zinfandel from an equally amazing and historic vineyard. It has the stuffing for a shelf life of 10-15 years at minimum.

Robert Biale Vineyards 2013 Aldo’s Vineyard Zinfandel, $78

The vines planted in Aldo’s Vineyard are the oldest in Oak Knoll. The vineyard was planted in the classic field blend tradition and thus has a handful of other vines such as carignan, petite sirah, and a few others throughout. The slightly light red hue of this wine is gorgeous in the glass. Red fruits such as raspberry and plum dot the nose. Lesser but present blackberry aromas are in evidence as well. The generous palate is loaded with black raspberry and kirsch liqueur elements. Minerals, chicory, and hints of sour red plum emerge on the long and tireless finish. Simply put, one of the best examples of zinfandel you’re likely to run across. Drink it now or lay it down, either way it’s spectacular.

The bottom line is that my friends and I spent a couple of wonderful hours at Robert Biale Vineyards tasting a bunch of their current wines, chatting with Bob, and simply having a fantastic time. What they’re doing at Robert Biale is the essence of wine tasting and hospitality. If you want to have a terrific experience and sample some awesome wines, put Robert Biale vineyards on your short list. This is particularly true if you’re a fan of excellent, vineyard-driven zinfandel; a visit there is like taking a master class in all things zinfandel. Great wines, terrific atmosphere, and nice people — what’s not to like?

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