Tag Archives | Zinfandel

ZIN

No longer a bargain, but damn the best taste great. M. Haggard could drink Zin; still have cred. Serve w/ pork. No utensils; sleeve napkin.

Mama tried to raise me better, but her pleadings I denied…

Wine Background

     Zinfandel prices have risen dramatically since the early 1990’s when the first one costing double figures appeared. Higher prices mean more expense can be lavished on artistic production. That means better barrels, but it also affords the opportunity to harvest by hand with several passes through the vineyard.
     Zinfandel has large clusters, and it is notorious for ripening unevenly. Many people believe the grapes need to get well past 24ºBrix to exhibit the variety’s signature boysenberry aroma. But that much sugar pretty much guarantees alcohol in the mid 15’s, and acid that will require a supplementary adjustment. No problem for us cult-Zin cowboys, but what of those sissies who demand balanced table wines?
     One answer is to pick a quarter of the crop aiming for 22.5º-23ºB. That fraction of the finished wine will supply a crisp core, a solid backbone, for refreshing length and bottle-aging potential. Then make a second pass through the vineyard a week later aiming for half the total crop at 24º-24.5ºB. That fraction will be the foundation wine: good texture; good flavor; complex aromatics. Then get the final quarter of the crop a week to ten days later at 26º-27ºB. This final fraction will have wonderful berry-like intensity. By itself the final fraction would be alcoholic and flabby, whereby in the blend it will be structurally saved by the initial fraction, and still contribute a spectacular burst to the nose.
     No one could profitably sell such a wine for $8.95 a bottle. No matter. I’d happily pay $25 to $35 a bottle for it, and I think most critics would as well (possible exceptions being Messrs. Parker and Laube).

Wine Event Description

     The 19th Annual Z.A.P. festival was held last weekend in San Francisco. I went hoping to find a couple new, or little known, producers making bargain-priced gems. No such luck. Although I do have to plead palate fatigue. [Note proper spelling, all you wine copywriter aspirants. It’s not pallet, as in something moved by a forklift, nor is it palette as in the board on which painters hold their pigments.] I tasted about 60 wines, walked several miles, and eyeballed an unusually large number of tall women in short skirts with boots. That’s a worthwhile three hours, but it’s well below 10% of the wines on offer at ZAP.

Wine Recommendations

     Noteworthy in the value category were Sierra Foothills wineries Cedarville and Miraflores, along with St. Amant which is a Lodi winery closely bordering the Sierra Foothills’ 800-foot contour-line boundary. Cedarville is about 2,500 feet of elevation, and their Zin reflects this more restrained, more elegant pedigree. It has nice fruit, but more in the red than black spectrum, and more of the eating-out-of-hand persuasion than the stewed or jammy flavors often encountered elsewhere. At $17 you couldn’t beat the price of Cedarville Zin with a police baton. St. Amant makes their best Zin from very old vines grown on sandy Hanford Loam soil at Mohr-Fry Ranch. It is riper and more effusive than Cedarville, but doesn’t step over into the realm of short and bimbo-ish, as so many Lodi Zins are wont to do. St. Amant is also attractively priced at right around $20.
     Perhaps the biggest bargain at the ZAP festival was the 2006 Heritage Zin made by Jerry Seps from Storybook Mountain Vyds. This is the wine produced every year by a different ZAP winemaker from the collection of exceptional old vine cuttings taken from around the state, then grown as a research project in Oakville. Dr. Seps (he formerly taught History at Stanford) is a very talented winemaker whose own wines command $40 and $50 a bottle. The Heritage Zin though, sells for $25 a bottle, and was being offered for $18 on the day of the ZAP festival. That opportunity alone was worth the cost of admission ~ consider hem lengths a bonus.

Wine Critique

     Some stars at ZAP shine more brightly than others. And some don’t shine at all. I always find it entertaining to compare the standard-bearing warhorses of the past to new challengers. The comparison is not blind, of course, and I readily admit a fondness for the brands such as Ridge, Rosenblum, and Seghesio who have been around through the tough times. They are not cheap, as they were in the 1980’s when I drank so much of them. But today they make such reliably great wine, that I always look forward to tasting their new releases.
     Many new entrants seem to operate in an imaginary world separate from the sweaty rabble of the marketplace. How else to explain nouveau riche winery owners today asking $40 a bottle for their very first release, which smells like damp hay and feels like sandpaper in your mouth.
     Zinfandel is a grape that rewards experience, particularly with any specific vineyard. It takes more than a couple vintages to learn a Zin vineyard’s tricks. A good example from ZAP were the three 2007 wines offered from Hartford Court in western Sonoma County. In the past these wines from very old vines have seemed pinched, minerality taken to a raspy extreme. Not so the 2007 wines. While different from each other, all three had a family resemblance of deep, well-integrated marionberry roundness. The slight alkaline edge, which says old vines to me, merely served to pull them back from unseemly generosity. All three were wines which simultaneously expressed the enthusiasm of California’s warm summers, and the gravitas of a multi-generational vineyard lineage.

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