WINE REVIEW: THE SECRET CAKEBREAD. ZIATA IS A LABEL TO LOOK FOR
by Andrew Chalk
Heard of ZIATA Wines? Me neither. But the founder and owner’s identity, Karen Cakebread, contains a household name. She was married to Steve Cakebread, whom she met at Hewlett Packard, for a time but is now single again and striking out on her own.
She founded ZIATA in 2008, deriving the name from a shortening of her mother’s family name Annunziata. The original mission was to make wines that were high quality at an affordable price point. Subsequent Napa grape price inflation has dented the latter aspiration somewhat but not the former one. Tasting the whole lineup recently, I uncovered a little-known gem.
ZIATA is small (only 3,000 cases/year) that you generally won’t find them in retail stores. Rather, they target fine restaurants. To order, go to the winery website. Wineries like ZIATA are the reason that we should devote a personal holiday each year to the Supreme Court's 2005 decision to legalize wine shipping direct to consumers from wineries. Without it, ZIATA and its ilk would likely be unobtainable without a trip to California.
Prominent Napa Valley winemaker Anne Vawter consulted early on. Consulting winemaker since 2015 is Jennifer Williams, a graduate of prominent California wine school Cal Poly with previous experience as enologist at Trefethen, and winemaker at Spottswoode Estate and Zeitgeist Cellars. She is a mentee of legendary California viticulturist David Abreu. She is also the current winemaker at Pahlmeyer.
Karen’s first enological love is Sauvignon Blanc, so it was the first wine she introduced (back with the 2008 vintage). We tasted the 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa ($30) with Eric Freidline’s battered calamari at Sevy’s Grill in Dallas and on its own. What a breath of fresh air it was to taste a New World Sauvignon Blanc that wasn’t designed to be middle-of-the-road! The vibrant citrus flavors, the precise fruit-acid balance, made these wines a joy to quaff. Best of all was the vibrant acid level that was, I was to discover, a hallmark of the brand. It meant that the wine was not lost amid the sweetness of the batter, nor estranged by the al dente texture of the calamari. Both flavors harmonized in the mouth and produced a lengthy finish.
900 cases produced.
The 2016 Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa ($50) delivers the style of Chardonnay that still shows lively fruit, having been harvested from the coolest region of Napa Valley and gone through only a partial malolactic fermentation. Nose of tropical fruit, flavors add butterscotch. A fine match to the corn chowder.
400 cases produced.
On to reds and the 2016 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County ($50) started the flight. The grapes are grown in the clunkily-named “Green Valley of The Russian River Valley”, AVA, close to the border of the Sonoma Coast AVA. They produce a grape in the Russian River mould of huge, gushing fruit but set this above a backbone of tannic structure and delightful spiciness.
450 cases produced.
The 2015 ‘Mia Madre’ Red Wine, Napa ($100) is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (64%), Cabernet Franc (27%), and Petit Verdot (9%). The blend varies each year but this one is a tannic, powerful, full-bodied red that tames the green pepper notes found in Cabernet Franc to create a wine with a long future.
75 cases produced.
Finally, ZIATA’s magnum opus, the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Meteor Vineyard, Coombsville, Napa Valley ($150) is conferred a different style of label to indicate that it is something special. Designed to compete with other boutique California Cabernets with Napa’s signature grape, this wine is distinguished by the silky smoothness of its tannins and the intensity of the fruit. It can stand up to the competition.
140 cases produced.