When it becomes time to select the next wine theme in my lunch group and when one knows they are going to miss that lunch, the standing joke is for them to request Zinfandel so in their mind they don`t miss all that much. It seems that varietal is considered by some as the Sideways version of Merlot.
Well, my monthly blind tasting group has no such stigma. In fact, it used to be our every August theme when a now deceased member would slaughter a goat and we`d drink Zinfandel as the wine of choice. Zinfandel was the theme for this month`s tasting hosted by one of our gracious members and a co-founder of this group back in 1988. He put out quite a spread of food and appetizers when all that is required is more palate cleansing small bites, not a full on dinner. Plus, he added some fine Ports at the end.
Our theme wines as always were served in brown bags and tasted in flights, in this case, 2 flights of 6. Here`s the results with the wine revealed after tasting and individually scoring and then some discussion:
1st blind flight of 6 organized by one member who divulged an order of young to old:
2014 CARLISLE SONOMA COUNTY ZINFANDEL- rich, dark, youthful purple color, aromatics of mild dark fruit dominated by a vegetal character; taste profile of spicy cranberry with a hit of talc coming end late along with bell pepper; the finish had some noticeable heat; I scored this #5 in the flight, the group got it as #3.
2013 CARLISLE RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY OLD VINES SONOMA ZINFANDEL- dark, vibrant youthful purple color; nose of sweet, spicy dark fruit; taste of sweet black raspberry, berry and cranberry along with a creamy soft texture; very fresh fruity notes finished it up; more one dimensional; this was my #4 and the group had this as tied for #4.
2013 QUIVERA VINEYARDS DRY CREEK VALLEY SONOMA ZINFANDEL- another youthful dark rich purple, this had a nose redolent of toasted black fruit and cranberry cherry and the taste had upfront spice and pepper to compliment the red and black fruit notes; it was soft and smooth and had good length; I`m thinking Northern Rhone syrah once tasted although I recognize this is probably from a warmer climate; I had it as #2 as did the group.
2013 QUIVERA VINEYARDS DRY CREEK VALLEY SONOMA ZINFANDEL- it`s not unusual to have a duplication, but with this broad theme, it was unexpected; my notes were pretty consistent and if I had been challenged to say so, I would have called it a dup; I got the same impression from the color and aromatics with maybe a bit more spice and pepper in the taste and finish; the latter attributes moved it into my #1 in the flight, same as the group.
2013 STEPHEN ROSS DANTE DUSI VINEYARD PASO ROBLES ZINFANDEL- the color on this one was just a bit less dark, but nonetheless suggested a youngster; the nose had some spicy cranberry cherry as did the taste along with blackberry flavors; it improved markedly in the glass in a short time; the fruit dominance continued well into the finish as did some heat that showed up late; my #3, the group`s #4 tied.
2012 DUSI VINEYARDS DANTE DUSI VINEYARD PASO ROBLES ZINFANDEL- same vineyard source as the one above although different vintage and producer; the nose was huge consisting of major spiced cranberry, blackberry, violets and a touch of mint; the taste had some weird character mindful of raw rhubarb and I had issues pursuing it recalling childhood memories of being not so fond of rhubarb; consensus #6.
2nd blind flight of 6:
2010 AMPHORA DRY CREEK VALLEY SONOMA ZINFANDEL- medium dark red youthful color; spicy red and dark fruit are evident in the nose; cranberry shows up more distinctly once tasted with some talc joining in; it had decent mouthfeel and finished with some heat showing up although not frying my palate and distorting the nice fresh fruitiness; my tied #3 and the group`s tied #2.
2009 SAUSAL CENTURY VINEYARD ALEXANDER VALLEY SONOMA ZINFANDEL- from over 100 year old vines; medium dark red purple color; easily recognized coffee notes are first nosed followed by dark chocolate, dark fruit notes; the taste was a treat full of red and dark fruit which continued on for a long finish; there was a sense of heat at the end; the texture was pleasing and eased the intensity of the concentrated fruit; my #2 or #3 depending upon the time of tasting [see next wine] and the group`s #1.
2005 LATCHAM VINEYARDS ESTATE SPECIAL RESERVE FAIR PLAY [appellation] SOMERSET CA ZINFANDEL- I`ve never heard of this appellation nor the producer, but what was in the glass proved worthwhile; still young dark purple color, the nose was of blueberry, cranberry and blackberry with a nice dose of spice; all continued on throughout the taste to the back end; it seemed so varietal correct and was pleasing from nose to tail; I scored it a tied #3 with an easy upgrade to #2 after a taste off with the Sausal; the group had it #4.
2002 ROSENBLUM ROCK PILE VINEYARD DRY CREEK VALLEY SONOMA ZINFANDEL- dark inky purple color; oak dominated everything; the nose had roasted toasty oak notes with sweet cherry peeking through; more of the same in the taste with red and black cherry coming in; it was full bodied, had decent texture and a long finish; my #4, the group`s tied #2.
1998 NORMAN VINEYARDS “THE MONSTER” PASO ROBLES ZINFANDEL- appropriately named, this big bad boy was serious on layers of seriousness; was this a SQN mislabeled?; the nose and taste had mucho mint flavored cranberry cherry notes with tertiary dried fruit with dried black currant also showing up past mid palate; all held on for a grand climatic finish; palate fatigue set in almost immediately; my score was #5, the group had it #5 or 6.
1994 WILLIAMS SELYEM MENDOCINO ZINFANDEL- 13.7% alc.; since I brought this and have had a few, it was pretty easy to pick it out especially after the first flight had been already been revealed; after a lot of water and a slice of bread to prepare my palate after the last one, I eased into this beauty, the antithesis of the Norman; medium dark purple red color; still fresh blueberry dominated fruit profile throughout; the first impression was that this was the most balanced and elegant wine of the 11 before it; in fact, this was the best bottle I`ve had from my cellar with all others being very good; I should mention that Burt made 2 Zinfandels in this vintage, the other being from Leno Martinelli`s Jackass Hill Vineyard, but only noted as Russian River Valley on the label; elegance and balance prevailed here and my palate was placated to call it my fav on the night; the group had it #4 and then reconsidered after the bag was removed.
Two Tawny Port wines capped off the evening:
1979 DUTSHKE LANGHORNE CREEK SOUTH AUSTRALIA 22 YEAR OLD TAWNY- 375 ml; from a solera comprised of old fortified wines with Verdeho, Grenache, Shiraz, Touriga, White Muscat and Palomino; this was sweet and delicious toasted butterscotch and nutty almond; served up in a creamy, rich texture, a little sip will suffice as my palate was coated with the nectar for what seemed like would last forever.
QUINTA VALE D. MARIA 10 YEAR OLD TAWNY PORTO- 750 ml; made from Tinta Baroque, Tinta Cao, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca; golden amber color; this thick and lush sweetie had a taste profile that was primarily of burnt honeyed black cherry and apricot.
In conclusion, I have to admit that Zinfandel wines are still a treat for me to taste from time to time and offer some nuances that serve to distinguish this variety from most other reds. Missing in action in this tasting were some of the more popular producers including Ridge, Pedroncelli, Seghesio, Turley and Ravenswood among others, but save those for another occasion.