Wine for One ~ Rafanelli Zin, please!

Every April, one of us here at The Thirsty Kitten takes a hiatus from wine for the month. It’s a spring cleaning for the body, of sorts. Being impeccably honest, I must inform you that the noble one of us in this endeavor is not me. Perhaps someday I will join my better half in his spring cleanse– I do admire him for it– but for now, I prefer to not forgo (even for a little while) the ritual of sipping and savoring a glass wine.

So this week, I’ll be having wine for one. Yet, it will not be a lonely affair! Kip will be in charge of wine color analysis and aroma sniffing, while I will shoulder the full sipping duties (poor me). Accordingly, we decided it would be fun to tell you about a wine that we know inside out, one that we can taste even when we simply think of it. The mere mention of this wine conjures deep, dark intense flavors, jammy with brawny muscles. We sigh when we say its name: A. Rafanelli Winery‘s Zinfandel.

Rafanelli is a family-owned winery in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley started in the 1900’s by Alberto Rafanelli, an Italian immigrant. After Prohibition, Alberto’s son Americo took over the winery. From Americo, the winery passed to son David and his wife, Patty. Continuing the tradition, Dave and Patty’s daughters are now running the winery, with Shelly as winemaker, Shelly’s husband Craig managing the vineyards, and sister Stacy in charge of daily operations.

We first learned of Rafanelli when it was profiled in the travel section of our local paper. Minneapolis Star Tribune writer Bill Ward tantalized us, saying of his first visit: “As we pulled into the A. Rafanelli winery, my mouth was agape until I was able to muster the words: ‘This could be Tuscany.'” (In addition to his Star Tribune column, Ward writes a wine blog, Decant This!) Rafanelli produces delicious Cabernet and Merlot, along with Zinfandel, but is most well known for its Zin– legendary, actually. Fans include Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli, so we’ve heard. At the time, Kip and I were in a huge Zin phase. We have been in love with just about every grape varietal at some point. Since we were in the process of planning a trip to Sonoma, we immediately put Rafanelli on our list.

We called the winery a month before our trip, but were told that since our visit was during harvest, they couldn’t guarantee they could welcome us. They asked that we call back on the day we wanted to visit and check again. We took this as a sign of a family run operation where all hands are busy in the process of making the wines. To us, this was lovely evidence of a truly a hands-on operation producing a truly hand-crafted wine. As luck would have it, the day we called, their harvest was finished and they said they would be glad to have us.

When we arrived, Shelly Rafanelli handed us a glass of Merlot and then excused herself to tend to her duties as winemaker. Dave Rafanelli appeared a few moments later, greeted us warmly and proceeded to tell us about the winery, the wines, and the family history. He charmed us as he mentioned his grandfather fondly and gestured numerous times toward the old photograph of Alberto hanging above the entryway. (Kip and I both have huge appreciation for grandparents. For more on that topic, see my Studio-Lu blog post, In Search of My Grandfather’s Laugh.) Plain and simple, we were won over by Dave’s refreshingly down to earth manner and the amazing wines we were sipping.

We highly recommend visiting Rafanelli. The winery is beautiful and rustic and feels like a slice of Italian countryside. They do not have a large, posh tasting room or a fleet of staff, which can sometimes make it hard to get an appointment, we’ve heard. But if you do go, you’ll most likely meet a family member who’ll be taking a break from their daily business of making wine to host you. This authenticity, rooted in generations of wine making, is one of the reasons we adore them and the wines they make.

The only way to buy Rafanelli wines is directly from the winery. They don’t use email, preferring to talk to customers directly on the phone. How delightfully old-fashioned! We appreciate, too, that the Rafanelli’s have kept their wines priced in the $30 to upper $40 range ever since we started buying them in 2004 (with the exception of their Terrace Select Cabernet, of which they make very little). Given their reputation, their quality and their small production, they could easily command higher prices if they chose to. But they don’t.

So this week we send our cheers to the Rafanelli family, to a robust glass of Zin and to good health!


Tasting Notes for the 2005 A. Rafanelli Zinfandel: Deep garnet color, tinged with a touch of brown that gives a hint of age. Spicy aroma of pepper mixed with blackberry jam. A little cedar and coffee on the nose, as well. Smooth on the tongue, plush like velvet. Tastes of pepper and blackberry jam with notes of carmel and earth. 5 out of 5 paws.

4 replies »

  1. Lovely write-up Kitten! And way to take one for the team! I only wish you had published this a few days earlier as we just returned from Sonoma last night and we would have certainly tried to get an appointment at Rafanelli based on your endorsement. Oh well, yet another reason to return to the Valley.

  2. Thanks, TDC, I am nothing if not self-sacrificing! Oh, how I wish we’d been faster on this, too. Would love to hear how Rafanelli sips on your palate. Next time. I’m off to read about your CA adventures right this minute.

  3. Hi Lucy,

    We visited Rafanelli last summer and I definitely agree with your endorsement–it’s a must-visit Dry Creek winery. It looks like your visit had a lot of parallels with ours, as Stacy poured for us and Dave came in about halfway through the appointment and we had a great conversation ranging from Stacy’s upcoming wedding to entertaining stories of the challenge of working in the vineyards while Dave’s wife was pregnant and cell phones were not an option.

    Rafanelli’s Zin was outstanding. Compared to other Zins in the Dry Creek Valley, I would describe it as elegant (I’m not sure that I’ve used this descriptor for a Zin before!). We have the 2009 vintage laying down in the cellar and it will be a great day when we pop the cork.


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