January 8th, 2013
Sense of Restraint About Zinfandels
Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
By ERIC ASIMOV
Published: December 20, 2012
THE wine panel generally explores a particular region, genre or vintage in all its manifestations. We might examine the 2007 Barolos, for example, or survey recent Mosel kabinett rieslings or Mendocino pinot noirs. Our tasting coordinator, Bernard Kirsch, always shops retail and puts together a representative sampling.
But this tasting was different. The subject was zinfandel, and our goal was not merely to focus on a year or an appellation. Instead, we set out to see whether we could isolate a particular style that we had in mind. First, let me offer some background.
For years I’ve had a problem with zinfandel. I want to like the wines. In fact, back in the 1980s and early ’90s, I did, very much. But since then I’ve pretty much stopped drinking them. Many people’s tastes change over time, and no doubt mine has, too. But I think the wines changed more than my taste.
To put it simply, zinfandel got big, often huge, and occasionally monstrous. Fans of thunderously powerful wines rejoice in these bottles, but not me. I find the blast of rich, sometimes pruney fruit to be overbearing, and the hammer blow of alcohol to be unpleasant. Zinfandels now commonly reach past 15 percent alcohol. They often convey an impression of sweetness that, combined with a thick texture, tends to blot out food. Sometimes they actually are sweet.
Of all the big zinfandel producers, I don’t think any is better than Turley Wine Cellars. For years, Turley epitomized this genre of wines, and yet the wines have gotten better and better. The winemaking and vineyard teams, led by Ehren Jordan and Tegan Passalacqua, have so successfully zeroed in on this style that even their densest, most concentrated zinfandels, like the Hayne Vineyard in Napa Valley, regularly in the vicinity of 16 percent, are uncannily precise, focused and never seem sweet or viscous. Even so, a swallow still seems to leave behind a plume of alcoholic vapor that toasts the insides. I can’t really envision a time when I’d seek out such a wine, unless I was stranded in an avalanche and the wine was ferried by St. Bernard.....
Look, we know that zinfandel is not Beaujolais. It naturally tends to brawny, and that’s fine. But it’s certainly possible to make a zinfandel in which each sip leaves you thirsting for more. Consider our top wines.
Our No. 1 wine was no surprise. For decades, Ridge has been making great zinfandels from its old-vine vineyards in Sonoma County, and the 2010 from Lytton Springs in Dry Creek Valley was yet another. It was hefty enough at 14.4 percent but beautifully structured, nuanced and refreshing. The wine is a field blend including 67 percent zinfandel, which, since it doesn’t meet the 75 percent threshold required by California law, means it can’t technically be called a zinfandel. Whatever. By the way, the Ridge Web site laudably offers full disclosure: tartaric acid was added in the winemaking, and a small number of lots were “rehydrated,” that is, water was added, presumably to lower the alcohol. Not uncommon in California.
It was interesting to compare the Lytton Springs to our No. 7 bottle, its Ridge sibling from the Geyserville vineyard. By contrast, Ridge added calcium carbonate to this wine to diminish the acidity. In many ways, the Geyserville showed similar characteristics to the Lytton Springs, but the disparate parts were not nearly as well integrated. It needs more time to evolve.
Our other favorite bottle was the superb 2010 Nalle from Dry Creek Valley, fresh and lively yet with intense, focused spicy flavors and a nimble 13.6 alcohol. Lovely!
is another zinfandel producer that I tend to like, and its 2009 Todd Brothers Ranch
from the Alexander Valley was our No. 3 bottle. We all very much liked its freshness and well-integrated flavors of dark fruit and herbs. Dashe produces another zinfandel, Les Enfants Terribles
, in almost a Beaujolais-like fashion. I’ve liked this wine before, but the 2011 seemed a little sweet to us and did not make the cut........
December 5th, 2012
TOP WINE GIFTS FROM $25 TO $50
Impress your friends with these fantastic wines
Last week I wrote about gifts for your high-end wine lovers
. I realize that $100 a bottle sounds like a heck of a lot of money, so today I’m taking a look at wines that, while still relatively pricey at $25 to $50 a bottle, deliver serious bang for their buck.
These are wines you can feel comfortable gifting to just about anyone. Your boss, your wine-loving friends, and your loved ones. The truth is, there are plenty of mighty fine wines out there under $50 a bottle, it just takes more effort to sift through all of them to find the real gems.
I did some sifting for you, and here are my gems for 2012!....
Zinfandel is one of the top values from California, and when it’s done well, one of the most satisfying wines as well. Dashe is among the finest producers in the state with wines that express the rich intensity of fruit that Zinfandel is capable of, without ever going over the top. This is something Zinfandel, and Zinfandel producers in particular are prone to....
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November 28th, 2012
There’s One Thing You Left Out
Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times
Stock up the cart, it's time for a little last-minute shopping.
Published: November 19, 2012
IT’S the absolute last minute. All your Thanksgiving preparations are in order. Almost. “Oh no! I knew I forgot something ... the wine!”
No, you are not alone. You may have ignored or overlooked the dutifully creative suggestions for Thanksgiving bottles dispensed by wine writers countrywide last week, but I will not wag an admonishing finger. Now is the time for action, not recriminations. So here are quick, easy solutions to last-minute beverage problems....
...WHAT ABOUT ZINFANDEL? EVERYBODY ALWAYS RECOMMENDS ZINFANDEL FOR THANKSGIVING.
Not everybody. Thanksgiving is an endurance contest. You have to pace your eating and drinking. That’s hard to do with zinfandels that frequently blow past the 15 percent alcohol level. But just so you know, the Marietta blend is largely zinfandel. Here’s another really good blend that’s mostly zinfandel: Ridge Three Valleys. This wine, too, is widely available, but it’ll cost you $22 or so rather than $10.
You want something that actually says zinfandel on the label? In the realm of easily accessible, inexpensive wines, I’m sorry to say, finding a good one is not easy. Names that I look for, like Dashe and Nalle, are going to cost $20 to $30 at least, and are not everywhere. You could try Ravenswood Old Vine Sonoma County zinfandel for around $15. The 2009 is dense yet exuberant....
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November 18th, 2012
outside the bottle with talia baiocchi
A Case Study in Balance: Zinfandel
The model for Pinot Noir cannot apply to every grape
Posted: Nov 12, 2012 12:00pm ET
The word balance in California, for example, has come to symbolize a movement toward restraint and lower alcohol levels, particularly in Pinot Noir. Rajat Parr, one of the wine world's most respected sommeliers and the beverage director at the Michael Mina Group, has earned threeWine Spectator Grand Awards for his wine lists. He has also become infamous for refusing to sell Pinot Noir that clocks in over 14 percent alcohol at RN74 in San Francisco and has started an organization called In Pursuit of Balance, along with Jasmine Hirsch, of Hirsch Winery in Sonoma. It's composed of producers making Pinot Noir and Chardonnay who are advocates for balance, which they believe is achieved at lower alcohol levels (though the percentage is not precisely defined).
Parr's taken heat (lame pun intended), but he has a very good point when it comes to Pinot Noir. In my experience, when Pinot starts creeping over 14.5 percent alcohol, more often than not it turns into a tall glass of Lawrence Taylor; it struggles for the complexity and elegance that make the grape great. Though I don't consider it an absolute, I do think it's much easier to use degrees alcohol as a guide to seeking balance in Pinot. But Pinot's model cannot, and should not, be applied as a set of parameters for all grapes seeking restraint.
Consider Zinfandel. To be fair, Zin's body image issues began before it was placed in contrast to California's balance movement as told by Pinot. In fact, no other grape in California has suffered a rap worse than Zin's when it comes to questions of balance. In the mid-1990s, Zinfandel built its image on massive, opulent wines that would flirt with 17 percent alcohol and, to add insult to injury, residual sugar. These were wines to grease your door hinges with, or turn a friendly dinner party into an all-night rager, hangover included. But Zin, like Pinot and Chardonnay, can also claim a growing crop of producers like Turley, Bedrock Wine Co. and Carlisle, to name a few, that are moving Zin away from the noise of the '90s and back toward the "claret style" of Zinfandel—characterized by lower alcohol and higher acid, sans residual sugar—popularized in the 1970s.
By virtue of the way the grape grows, even the more classic expressions of Zinfandel clock in around 14.5 percent or higher. Unlike Pinot, Zin's movement toward restraint cannot be packaged neatly under 14 percent alcohol, and that's why Zinfandel—despite the number of restrained wines being made today—has found itself ostracized, to a certain degree, from California's balance movement; its alcohol levels have become its stigmata. The same could be said, though to a less visible degree, about Grenache. Some of the best versions of the grape being made in California, like Angela Osborne's elegant and balanced A Tribute to Grace Grenache Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, often flirt with 15 percent alcohol.
Although the balance movement seems to be exacerbating some of Zin's image issues, Morgan Twain-Peterson, the son of Ravenswood founder Joel Peterson and the owner and winemaker of Bedrock Wine Co., sees the movement as still having a potentially positive impact on Zin, at least from a winemaking standpoint.
"Zin by nature accrues higher alcohol," said Twain-Peterson. "But the current movement toward fresher, brighter wines still does benefit Zinfandel; it's a very different thing when you get a Zin from picking at 29 Brix and watering back and adding acid as opposed to picking at 23.5 to get to 25 Brix [because of Zin's uneven clustering, alcohol levels tend to increase after crush] without adding water or acid."
But many producers—including those who have always made more restrained Zinfandel, like Mike Dashe of Dashe Cellars, Jay Heminway of Green and Red and Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards, as well as Turley, which led Zin on its mid-1990s crusade for girth but has since become a clear voice in the quest to bring it back to the claret days—are still left clinging to the footboard of the balance bandwagon, hoping someone will offer a hand. That's a shame, because their work in rebirthing the claret style of Zinfandel is as important to the future of California wine as the work of winemakers like Ted Lemon, Jamie Kutch or Ross Cobb when it comes to more elegant California Pinot Noir.
Part of allowing for a more rounded and complete balance movement in California will require that we do not apply Pinot's model to every grape. If we do, we may all miss out on a whole lot of progress.
November 6th, 2012
12 Delicious Zinfandels to Drink This November
Maggie HoffmanNOV 6, 2012
[Red wine bottle photo: Shutterstock]
I have trouble keeping track if zinfandel is terribly uncool or totally hip again, and honestly, it doesn't really matter that much either way. It's a wine that many folks reach for when Thanksgiving comes around, and a good juicy zin can be delicious alongside turkey with the works. We tasted through a wide range of zinfandels to choose a dozen winners for your holiday table.
Before we get to those, though, a few recommendations from taste-tests past. A few zinfandels won spaces in the Serious Eats Budget Red Wine Hall of Fame (which is a list worth looking at again if you're hosting a big group this year.) For $13, it's hard to beat Sobon Estate 2010 Old Vines Zinfandel Amador County. Our wine columnist Seema Gunda also rounded up a few affordable favorites over here.
But if you're a guest this Thanksgiving and you're looking for a really nice bottle to bring to your Zinfandel-loving host, read on below....
...Dashe Cellars makes a few different Zinfandels so you can explore the possible range of styles. 2010 Dashe Cellars Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($24) bursts with fresh black cherries, brightened with nice tart acidity. It's mushroom, herb, and dark-meat friendly. We also always enjoy Dashe's earthier 'Les Enfants Terribles' bottling, which we wrote about a few years back.
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