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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Irrational Exuberance

What I like about Zinfandel happens to be the title of this stream of consciousness, its irrational exuberance (perhaps because it reflects my personal traits). It makes complete sense to me that it has been adopted and embraced by Americans, irrespective of its actual origins. It all begins w/ the white zin butcher-job & all its rampant commercial success and stretches out to California’s oldest vines that produce some of the most ‘embarrassingly high quality’ wines. The range of Zinfandels we tasted through showed how dazzlingly complex they can be in their brash, make no apologies approach. They don’t care if they get all up in your grill, stain your shirt and get you free-falling, inverted drunk. To me, the last thing a Zinfandel wants to be is subtle, subdued or elegant and if that’s what you are or what you are looking for, it will steam-roll you out of its way like an angry New Yorker trying to cram into the 7 train at rush hour. The interesting element to the hostile New Yorker image, as us locals know, is the flipside to their aggressive and frank façade. There is honesty and integrity underneath the foreboding picture of hypertension and 5 o’clock shadow that gives the New Yorker its third dimension, and I’ve always seen Zinfandel along those similar lines.

I expected a snide remark or two by my referring to a 17 percent alcohol beast as balanced, but to me, the best of these wines are far more than heft and force & arguably have more depth and dimension than the majority of Californian wines (perhaps due to the age & maturity of the plant material…perhaps because I’m comparing them to the banality of Californian Merlot ;)?). When these wines hit it right, they not only concealed their alcohol, they packed all their layers into a thrilling focus that brought their expressions to a new level. I thought there were a few classic examples of their type, as well as a couple big time disappointments, hence the scores. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that I liked them more than Michel or Asher so my scores should have reflected that. While the ’05 Turley was a very good wine (and I figured Asher’s Nebbiolo acidity loving palate would find a home w/ it), I don’t think that is the character that Californian Zinfandel does best. Personally, I look for citrus toned, bright fruits in different places because I believe other varietals ‘shine brighter’ in that regard.

One thing that does ring true is that all wines have a particular time and place. While Zin’s versatility doesn’t exactly rival that of a Riesling, I personally don’t pigeon-hole this wine as ‘the barbeque floozy,’ seeing that I consider the top examples to be world class and, in their own right, very serious wines. Not for everyone, yet compelling expressions nonetheless. Zinfandel doesn’t care if it’s perceived as a noble variety anyway!

I am very glad that this thread seems to have re-energized this dark horse variety a bit & I have no shame in appreciating all its shameless beauties! Line-ups such as these show me there is enough range in style (the structured, backward Chase, a polished Carlisle & outrageously flamboyant Martinelli) for me to incorporate this grape into my wine-drinking life at a greater degree & that the producers who champion this grape merit perhaps more credit than they already receive.

I suppose a bit of American pride makes me selfishly happy that our adopted grape variety can impress me to this degree….and my thanks go out to all the fine Californian vintners that have helped Zinfandel realize its heights & continue to push the envelope of quality in all its varied, compelling expressions.


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