Frank Family Zinfandel 2019, Napa Valley

Cost: $44-46

What: I admire vineyard owners in the Napa Valley who resist the temptation to rip out their Zinfandel vines and plant Cabernet Sauvignon.

Napa is a great place for Zin, but growers can get so much more money for Cabernet that the pressure is enormous to forget about everything else except the Cab.

One of the few who have resisted the pressure is Frank Family, known for producing a variety of great wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and sparkling wines. Those wines are so good, we often forget about the great Zinfandel they produce.

The wine is a true Napa Valley blend from the finest vineyards across the region. Some of the vines date back to the 1950s. The backbone for this wine comes from Frank Family’s sustainably-farmed S&J Vineyard in Napa’s Capell Valley and the Benjamin Vineyard located on the Rutherford valley floor. Both estate vineyards are named for Rich and Leslie Frank’s grandchildren, Stella, Jeremy and Benjamin, and are as important for their namesakes as they are for their ability to produce high quality fruit.

Winemaker Todd Graff also has developed close personal relationships with legendary Zinfandel growers over the past two decades, giving Frank Family access to rare, historic Zinfandel vines that continue to produce beautiful, mature-vine fruit to this day. Grapes from neighboring vineyards and Calistoga were added to the mix.

The blend is 90 percent Cab and 10 percent Petite Sirah. It was aged 16 months in 33 percent new French oak barrels and 67 percent one- and twice-used French oak barrels
Each vintage, Graff’s goal is to craft a Zinfandel that displays freshness, energy, and balance— a challenge when dealing with this grape that is notorious for uneven ripening. By picking at optimal acidity levels and blending in a splash of Petite Sirah for depth, color and structure, he has achieved a refined and approachable wine that not only is perfect for backyard barbecues but is something to be enjoyed year-round.

The balanced and concentrated wine has elegant, complex aromas of blackberry and clove followed by ripe dark fruit flavors of plum, with some spiciness such as thyme and black pepper. It is has a long finish with a creamy mouthfeel and integrated tannins.

It’s a versatile wine you can enjoy sipping by itself or as part of a meal.

Winery: Frank Family Vineyards is one of those wineries where I could drink their wine every day, because the wine is so good and because they make such a great variety of wine.

The story of Frank Family Vineyards is almost like a Hollywood movie, which is appropriate because founder Rich Frank was a Disney executive in Los Angeles when he got interested in wine.

He started visiting the Napa Valley on weekends in the 1980s before buying the historic Larkmead Winery, which opened in 1884. He bought the winery with Koerner Rombauer in 1992 and bought out Rombauer in 2007. The stone building from the original winery is on the Registry of National Historic Places, and is now used for parties and receptions.

All the winemaking facilities are state of the art. The winery also has one of the best tasting rooms in the state. The staff keeps it loose and fun, but they also teach you about wine. The tasting room moved from a ramshackle old metal building to a beautiful 1930 Craftsman home in 2008. Frank Family tastings are reservation only, and visitors need to book specific tastings.

The winery also is a fun place to have a picnic. I have been there many times, and have always had fun. When people ask for a recommendation of where to go for a wine country visit, this is my first recommendation.

Superb winemaker Todd Graff makes a range of varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese and some incredible sparkling wines. The wines are made from 450 acres the family owns on parcels scattered throughout Napa Valley.

Frank Family has continued to grow, gaining fans all over the world. Their latest expansion is in the Far East: China, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Rich Frank is no longer involved in the entertainment industry and is fully retired. He and his wife Leslie live in Rutherford and are fully immersed in the Napa Valley community.

Frank Family has received Napa Green certifications for both its vineyards and its winery in the Napa Green Certified Winery and Napa Green Certified Land programs. The program is designed to conserve and improve the quality of the environment through vineyard-specific programs. Certification also means the winery has minimized energy and water use, waste and pollution.

During the worst of the pandemic, when winery tasting rooms were shut down, Frank Family offered some innovative virtual tastings that drew big crowds.

Goes with: We had this wonderful wine with homemade pizza, one of my favorite dishes to make ever since Teri bought me an outdoor brick oven. I know I can make other things on it, but pizza comes out perfectly.

We each have our own small pizza, so we pick out the toppings we like. Mine was Italian sausage, bell peppers, onions and tomatoes. The hardest part for me is making the dough, so I often pick up dough from the bakery department at Publix.

I never quite get the shape right, and this last time my pizza ended up in a heart shape. I could say that’s how I meant it to be, but it just turned out that way. And it was delicious.

The Zin was a perfect match, with the velvety mouthfeel smoothing out the sausage and tomatoes and the touch of spice at the end really taking things up a notch.

This Zinfandel would be great with all kinds of meat on the grill, pasta with tomato sauce, heavy soups and stews. I also like it sitting on the back porch, with some cheese to nibble on.

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