“A Last Hurrah.” Review: Chateau Montelena Zinfandel 2014

Autumn is here. I can feel it on the cool of the breeze and hear it in the rattle of cottonwoods, their leaves transitioning from waxy and green to brittle and a subtle take on other, soon to be brighter hues. Of course, the autumnal herald of football announcers doesn’t hurt; the invitation to participate in my fantasy football league draft was but one more reminder that summer is winding to a close. And if all that wasn’t enough, I return to school tomorrow, ready if admittedly also anxious to greet another group of young people for a fourteenth consecutive year of teaching. My summer has officially ended.

The fall for me means many things. It’s the start of the grind. It’s the excitement of meeting 180 new students in two short days and getting to know them over weeks that turn to months that turn to lifetimes, when I’m lucky. It means football (I’m a die hard Husker fan) and it means cross country (I’m a coach). And between teaching and cross country, it also means that my days of grilling steak for dinner casually out behind my house are over… at least for a while. I love cooking dinner; you knew that, you read my blog. That, and picking my son up from daycare will be the things I mourn most when tomorrow comes, and my afternoons and evenings are no longer my own.

So tonight, one last hurrah. One last dinner cooked at home between now and the spotting of snow upon the ground. I went to the grocery store on the way to get Titus from daycare and grabbed everything that looked good: stewed tomatoes, rare okra, crisp bell peppers, bulbous mushrooms, potent onions, and a healthy pile of blood red stew meat. I got home, and pulled the cork on a bottle of wine, knowing this was my last chance to cook, sip, and savor. I poured a glass, put on an Ed Sheeran playlist, sharpened a few knives and went about the business of being in flow, of relaxing while being intently focused on the task at hand, and of enjoying the smells and feel of my kitchen one last time before summer officially drew to a close.

The wine stole the show. While I put “Shape of You” on repeat and danced around the kitchen, I sipped and savored and marveled at a wine I didn’t expect to be such a stunner. If you read this blog, you know I’m a fan of Chateau Montelena. I love their Chardonnay, I love their Cab. I especially love older vintages of each. But I admit that, though I couldn’t say why, I didn’t expect this Zinfandel to knock my socks off quite the way it did. Maybe I just haven’t had a lot of great Zinfandel lately, though I’ve certainly had a few I liked. Maybe I just figured that as legendary as their Cabernet and Chardonnay are — and their Riesling is pretty stellar, too, they couldn’t possibly master another varietal. For whatever reason, I took my first sip expecting this to be a good quality wine, but nothing I’d fawn over. Wine keeps me humble; I was wrong again.

The 2014 Chateau Montelena Zinfandel is something I’ll be telling people about for some time to come. A bit bigger in body than I might have expected from the varietal and producer, yet still nimble upon the palate, it boasts some of the oak-imparted qualities of their famous old world-style Cabernet. Aromatic yet unimposing, the balance is precise, favoring fruit, yet fortified with tannins that more jammy Zinfandels do not enjoy. Baking spices, dry red fruits, a hint of vanilla, it feels almost velvety on the palate at times, and continued to open up nicely over the course of dinner and beyond. As I write this now, I’m sipping at the last of it, having shared it with Sonja over dinner of course, and wishing I had more.  At 14.5% ABV, this is the opposite of the hot spicy, jammy Zinfandels that have become popular lately, and it is better for it.  This is, without question, one of the best expressions of the varietal I have had all year.

Outside my office, the locusts hum and buzz, another sign that autumn is upon us. Tomorrow, I will rise, as I always do, at 4:45AM, and I will begin my fourteenth year in teaching, the “noble profession,” as I refer to it, the job that makes all other jobs possible, the occupation that prevents the world from falling off of its axis and shattering into a billion tiny pieces. I’m honored to do what I do, and humbled by the amazing people with whom I work. I’m excited to meet new students, to be reunited with past ones, and to get to know them all better over time. At times, it can be hard to appreciate the transition from summer, and the return to a job that allows me to urinate only on a bell schedule, a dog of Pavlov, the eternal servant. But I love it.

As I sit in my office chair, finishing this wonderful surprise in my glass, listening to the locusts and watching the sun dip below the peak of a distant rooftop, I can’t help but feel thankful. Thankful for the opportunities that lie ahead, and for the ones that are already here. To that, tonight, I’ll gladly raise my glass of wine.




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