2005 Martinelli "Jackass Vineyard" zinfandel

As a zin with some age and carrying 17.1% ABV (!!!), I approached this bottle with a high degree of skepticism over burgers at Wakonda DSM last night. Honestly, this is kind of antithetical to my typical preferred style. But, as a legacy of my formerly RP-friendly palate and more carefree spending (mailing lists galore) youth, we try to maintain an open mind.

In fact, the bottle has matured quite nicely. If it weren’t prominently printed on the label, I never would have guessed it was so alcoholic. Tannins in check but greatly softened. The wine has a very soft mouthfeel. Dark fruits and spice – black pepper mostly. There is a faint “roasted” quality, but I say that in the most complimentary way. If served blind I probably would have guessed amarone with some age. For my palate the bottle flirts with being over the top, but doesn’t quite cross the line. A very pleasant surprise, and perfectly matched with the simple cuisine.

With the bottle almost empty, it hits me: This ain’t riesling. Uber, anyone? 92

I admit it; I like Martinelli (chards and zins). I was all in about fifteen years ago, dropped off the list and came back after I visited the winery a couple years ago. I’m picking up a Martinelli shipment at FedX Office on the way home. Most of my friends hate them, but that’s more for me.

I had a very similar experience with. 1997 Jackass Vineyard that somehow got lost in the cellar. I expected that it had crashed and burned sometime over the last 20 years, but was surprised how tame it was. Even some claret character. We had it with pizza, which I’m sure didn’t hurt it’s presentation.

I had a '98 a few weeks ago that was all alcohol and caramel. The caramel was like an old Rioja – essence of American oak. The '98 also burned with alcohol, though, unfortunately (marked at 16%).

The few other old Jackass zins have been similar, out of whack with alcohol.

The same person who provided the '98 served an '02 Martinelli Reserve Pinot blindly last week. Several of us guessed Amarone, it was so hot and raisiny. That wine was marked at 14.5% but I can’t imagine it was below 15.5%, which it could legally be with the margin of error. It was hard to understand how it could get that raisiny, though, even at 15.5%. Perhaps it was picked very late and watered back to 15.5%.

Everyone’s preferences are different, but I’m not sold on old Martinelli wines.

I love this tasting note. I’m not a fan of Martinelli, but I really admire the way you approached this on its own terms and allowing yourself to find a way to enjoy it in some way. Life and wine have so many different things to offer us if we have an open mind.

Frankly, and I mean this as high praise, this reminds me of a Blake Brown tasting note.

High praise indeed! Thanks, Chris. We all should drink like Blake.

It really is important to try to maintain an open mind. Nor am I a Martinelli fan, which inspired me to post this. If it were simply a hot pruny mess – an expectation I suppressed as best I could when I opened it – then it probably wouldn’t have been worth posting. I love the capacity of wine to surprise us – especially when the surprise is to the upside!


The Martinelli wines for which I have experience (97-02) can be so different every time one is opened that it’s impossible to make any general statements about them or their ability to age over the medium term. I recall two Jackass Zins, not sure if Hill or vineyard, that were sequential vintages and roughly the same abv, one was a wonderful wine and the other an alcoholic disjointed mess. And lIke others have noted I also kept one or two longer than I planned and ended up pleasantly surprised by the result as well.

But I have stories with other of their wines that tasted good on release and became horrible within a few years but then there were wines like the 2001 Blue Slide Ridge PN that was a horrible hot mess when released and somehow managed to age into something enjoyable. Some wines were bad and stayed bad, never showing any signs improvement. And some of the SVD pinots held fairly well over the medium term if you liked that style.

By the time I got around to drinking my last few bottles I had accepted that each bottle was its own experience and to have a backup ready. The last few were enjoyable but seemed on the way down hill and that’s been a few years now. I wouldn’t expect and of the Martinelli wines from that time to be doing very well now and not at all surprised by how your 98 and 02 showed.

Very nice note Kelly! Actually, I am a Martinelli fan and a big one at that. While I tend to drink the Zins young, I’ve found the Zins to age surprisingly well at 8-10 years.

Tasted really great 10 year old Zio Tony Syrah and nine-year old Blue Slide Ridge Pinot last fall.

Martinelli is not Arnot-Roberts or Rhys (which I also love), but they can be great on their own terms.

nice note and nice surprise
makes me remember how much i would have killed for a bottle of jackass hill back in the day

Thanks, guys. I would love to try that syrah.

I love zin with burgers and pizza.

Agreed. It’s been awhile since I’ve had one. Dropped off the list years ago. Maybe I need to buy one the next time I’m in Binny’s.

That’s interesting. Thanks for the perspective.

In the FWIW column once a wine crosses/hits the 14% line the margin drops to +/-0.5% and the tax rate doubles. Watering back is most likely with these wines is my guess. It is funny how so many “supermarket” wines manage to come in at 13.9%. When I see 15% plus on a label I am cautious unless it is a Carlisle or Ridge as they seem to be able to consistently make great wines with high alc. Note that Ridge does state on the label when they water back.

No, the margin of error over 14% is +/-1.0%. And the tax rises only 50%, from $1.07/gallon to $1.57/gallon (TTB website link). That works out to about 10 cents extra tax on a 750ml if you go past 14% – not much of a disincentive to stay under 14%.

As I recall, the margin of error is determined by the actual ABV, not the marked level, so that if a wine marked 13.9% is in fact over 14%, it would have to be within the 1% margin of error. I.e., it couldn’t be more than 14.9%. So I doubt they are watering supermarket wines to stay under 14%. Moreover, because the grapes dry out as they get riper, yields drop, so for cheap wines, it’s probably not economical to harvest at really high brix.

I’d definitely try one of these again, but my last memory was a friend ordering a 2001 Pinot and 2002 “G&L” Zin at a restaurant and I decided to move on to a wine by the glass they were offering. They were just too much of everything for me.


Awesome note, my friend. Kind of reminds me of the Pax notes that started popping up a few years back from some of his ‘hi octane’ earlier stuff.

Keeping an open mind the challenging thing in life in general and especially when it comes to wine these days.

We all have preconceived notions about most bottles of wine before we open them based on variety, producer, style, etc. And we are often quick to jump to immediate conclusions not based on what’s actually in the glass - but instead on how we think it will be.

Keep em coming, my friend. Cheers!

Best Zin I ever had was a 96 Jackass Hill

Consumed when?

On the surface these would seem to be a drink young or store cool wine.

In the early 2000’s