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A lifestyle blog by Allison Arbuthnot on The Whole 9

Allison was raised on the vine in Sonoma, California, and believes that life is too short to drink bad wine, count calories, or second-guess your destiny. She now lives in Los Angeles where she practices many things, the two most important being contentment and tricks for opening a wine bottle without a wine key.

The Mystery of the Crustaceous Zin

My father Bob is perhaps Rosenblum Cellars’ most loyal customer.  For years, he’s been buying and drinking and extolling the virtues of their various Zinfandels sourced from all over California, Paso Robles to Livermore to Lake County.  During his last visit to San Francisco while I was still living there, we ventured over the Bay Bridge to their winery on the water in Alameda and left with three cases of wine in the trunk of his rental car.  We drank it at my sister’s wedding.  Since I was well below 21 years of age, he’s been educating me on how good their wines are, with one exception: “Don’t buy that Vintner’s Cuvee XXXI or whatever it is,” referring to their bottom line non-vintage California Zin, “but the rest of them are just superior!”

I am at my father’s house now, as a matter of fact, a beautiful home in the desert perched on the edge of isolation with cool tile floors and lounge chairs under an umbrella built into the shallow end of the pool.  A cactus garden with tall twisting cacti from the yard of Groucho Marx curves gracefully around windblown Shoestring Acacias in the backyard.  Two wine coolers are filled with the Rosenblum Annette’s Reserve Zinfandel, Redwood Valley 2006, a killer Zin that he found at a killer discount—around $12 a bottle at Vons supermarket according to Pops, which is a significant mark-down from the $35 list price.  Dad is not one to spend more than $15 or so on a bottle of wine for an everyday dinner, so this sale was the deal of the century for him.

Last night, however, was a special occasion because, well, I am here.  Oh, right, and it’s Father’s Day weekend.  Anyway, Dad made a Costco trip for some barbeque supplies and came home with around eight bottles of wine.  Most of these ranged between $7.99 and $10.99 with the exception of one, the Rosenblum Rockpile Road Vineyard Zinfandel 2006, which he splurged on for a whooping $24.99 (a big deal for him, but a great price considering the bottle’s $35 list price).  We grilled salmon for dinner and with it we drank a light California Pinot Noir, but this blog is about the Rockpile Zin, which my brother Doug opened when the fish was gone, the plates were stacked, and the men had lit cigars.

I thought I was confused.  I thought maybe I was smelling the cigars, or salmon residue on my fingers holding my glass.  I walked away from the smoky table, rinsed my fingers in the pool and tried again.  The wine smelled like oysters.  Not fishy, but definitely oceanic, like saltwater, like a sand dollar you took home from the beach, like shellfish.  It was totally devoid of fruit.  I sipped it.  It tasted fine, as far as a wine without a nose goes, as if I was drinking it with severe nasal congestion, but at any rate the weird sea smell was not reflected in the palate.  I turned to look at the table and watched as the small party all stuck their noses in their wine, too.  I wasn’t the only one who smelled it!

For thirty minutes I left it alone, waiting for the weirdness to blow off.  It didn’t. I know their wines, and this was not the robust, spicy, fruit-driven pleasure bomb I had been looking forward to.  I reached out to my go-to resource for all things wine, my former boss and sommelier Tom Capo: is there a flaw I’m not familiar with that makes a wine smell this way?  Some bacteria?

“Some whites grown in limestone soils can smell like shell.  Chablis as well, since most of the subsoil in Chablis is actually millennia old ground up oyster shell fragments” read his return text message.  “Never had a red where this type of aroma was the primary aromatic…I’d be pretty wary…”

And so, it remains a mystery.  Although we only bought the one, I can say with confidence that it was a freaky bottle, and that this strange sensory experience almost certainly will not be echoed in other Rosenblum Rockpile Zinfandels.  In fact, I urge you to try it and let me know!  I am contemplating shooting the winery an email out of pure curiosity…if I receive any insight into the Mystery of the Crustaceous Zin, I will pass it along.  For now, I’m going to go pop one of those Rosenblum Annette’s Reserves.

Cheers, and Happy Fathers’ Day!

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