Saturday, February 9, 2013

California Zinfandel Throwdown

Conventional wisdom says zinfandel is the wine for the grilled foods of summer. As America’s adopted grape, there’s perhaps nothing better to drink for Fourth of July parties. While these ideas ring true, I find that the rich, fruity flavors of California zin add a pleasant shot of hedonism into the cold winter months.

I tasted my way through a group of California zinfandels this week, and was struck by the overall quality of wines from three different vintages (2008-2010). All wines were received as press samples and tasted blind. 

Napa Valley
SRP: $35. Deep and alluring aromas of blackberry and raspberry jam, along with some rose petals and sweet chocolate. Firm tannins and medium acid provide solid structure to support the gobs of red plum, raspberry and blackberry fruit. Secondary flavors of toast, graphite and tobacco leaf add complexity. Big and viscous, but not at all overbearing. From the attack to the long, creamy finish, this is a pure pleasure to drink. A zin that could last easily for two or three years. Co-fermented with 2% petite sirah. (89 points)

Sonoma County, Russian River Valley
SRP: $35. Aromas of bright raspberry, candied plums, green leaves and some cracked pepper. The palate shows cherry jam, raspberry sauce, some dark, molasses and caramel notes. Sweet and rich but still tangy. (86 points)

Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $40. Brandied plums and wild raspberries on the nose, accented with a note of cinnamon-sugar. It picks up speed on the palate, with snappy red fruit and a surprising bit of fresh acid. Tangy and sleek, but black pepper and cinnamon-spice notes add complexity. A nice sour cherry and menthol kick comes out on the finish. (88 points)
Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
SRP: $35. The fresh raspberry and blackberry aromas are mixed with these smoky, dusty notes, and the combination is quite nice. Hints of cedar on the nose as well. Dry tannins, medium acid and lots of rich red and black fruit. The cedar, pine resin and forest floor flavors are complex and really tasty. Very intense concentration in this zinfandel, but it’s not alcoholic or goopy at all. Wow, this has a lot going for it, and could stand a few years in the cellar. 5% petite sirah in here. (90 points)

Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $38. This wine is by no means bashful on the nose: an explosion of blackberries, juicy plums and a coconut and sweet alcohol aroma that reminds me of bourbon. Full-bodied, almost like glycerin in its palate-coating approach, with chewy tannins, but enough acid to somehow make it fresh. This zin focuses much more on the darker end of the fruit spectrum, showing mostly blueberry and blackberry fruit. The concentration is impressive, but so is the balance. Charcoal and spicy paprika and pepper notes carry the finish. This is a serious zinfandel that could benefit from a few years of aging. (90 points)

Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $18. The nose is strong and full of red licorice, wild cherry and potpourri. The palate shows very fine tannins and medium acid. The juicy raspberry and strawberry flavors are beefed up by a solid dose of oak and hints of peppery spice. Dried floral flavors linger onto the finish along with a very distinct flavor of incense sticks. Even though this wine is really toasty, as a whole it never tastes overbearing. Solid value at $18. (87 points)

Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $28. Aromas of red plums, black cherry, some caramel and red licorice candies. The palate shows bright cherries and raspberries along with soft and creamy tannins. Rich and full of fruit, but displaying surprising freshness. Notes of root beer and red pepper jam come out with time. A caramel note carries the finish. Very yummy stuff. (88 points)

Central Valley, Lodi
SRP: $32. Red licorice, bright cherry and vanilla aromas leap out of the glass, and there’s also this interesting note of worn leather that adds another level of complexity. Firm, grippy tannins and fresh acid for structure. A medley of strawberry, raspberry and blackberry fruit glides over the palate. It’s all rounded out by (not dominated by) hazelnut and toasted oak. The sweet red fruit mixes really well with this earthy and leathery aspect. The finish is really long and pure. Impressive stuff, and I can’t stop thinking that this wine just tastes hand-made, in the best sense of the word. This single-vineyard zinfandel was aged 26 months in French oak, 21% new. (91 points)

North Coast, Mendocino County
SRP $13. Interesting mix of aromas: raspberry jam, Maraschino cherries, roses, all fresh and bright. Really juicy and light on the palate, showing lots of strawberry and blood orange fruit. Medium-to-low acid, and the tannins have a bit of astringency to them. Some sugar cane and caramel flavors last onto the finish with just a hint of earth. A juicy, easy-drinking style. (85 points)

This post first appeared on the daily wine blog Terroirist.

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