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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Zinfandel, it's Outrageously Delicious!

Welcome to the wild world of Zinfandel folks, and what better way to tame its wooly exuberance than w/ slabs of pulled pork, roast pig rear end and spicy layers of fat infused spare ribs?! Daisy May’s BBQ provided perhaps the least pretentious, ‘everyman’ vista for an offline and seemed to fit the heralded, yet underappreciated line-up of old vine Zinfandels like a glove. The selected bottlings ranged from 3 year infants to ‘old bones’ w/ a decade plus under their belts, and the majority of the wines showed just the complexity and zealous flavors I had hoped for. An interesting topic spawned between me and Asher Rubinstein as to how these wines achieve such depth and nuance…is it the variety or the maturity of the plant material? He clearly thought the latter and if, in fact that is the case and Californians can stay the course, (meaning they don’t uproot their vines for the latest grape fad & keep phylloxera at bay w/ sound rootstock) things may begin to get very interesting for the Rhone Rangers over the next few decades as their vineyards reach adulthood.

As a side note, while I’ve been unsuccessful in noting much Chateauneuf character in Californian Grenache, these old vine Zinfandels are loaded w/ savory elements, heady liqueur-like intensity of fruit and yes, garrigue. While clearly separate entities, if Southern Rhone fans haven’t given Californian Zins a second look yet, I suggest they do as they seem to share a similar spirit that Chateauneuf palates (such as my own) can identify with.

Gentlemen, start your engines!

1997 Turley Old Vines Zinfandel
While it may have had a bit more weight and vibrancy a year or two back, I thought this was quite a formidable showing for Turley’s Old Vines at age 11. A firework display of aromas shoot notions of Indian spices, dried meat, cedar, bright cherries and fig cage through the nostrils w/ great appeal and verve. Crisp and zesty in the palate, with medium weight and a nice mineral undercurrent keeping the wine’s sharp focus at the forefront. While I’d drink it sooner rather than later, I do not consider this effort to be a tired one; still outstanding at 90 points.

1999 Ridge Lytton Springs
A wonderful counterpoint to the Turley as this vintage of Ridge was entirely too young. Not only much darker and deeper ruby in color, the wine was tighter, hotter and much more disjointed in the mouth, hinting at dry rub spice, bing cherry and an assortment of other red berries. An elegant wine that is constructed for the long haul (or massive aeration), I wouldn’t peg this vintage for prime drinking until another 3, solid years are under its belt, 88+ points.

1999 Selby, Sonoma Old Vines
Selby who? The under-card of the first 3 battles was also the showiest. A flirtatious and exotic bouquet of crushed lilacs, fresh thyme and hearty plum sauce catalyzes some big time excitement in the mouth. A luxuriously sweet, symmetrical mouth-feel pumps out jammy blackberries in a juicy and lip-smacking style that tickled the Zinfandel chord in most of our hearts. Should drink beautifully over the next few years, but why wait? 92 points

2001 Easton Shenendoah Valley
Well, I’m not going to butcher Jorge’s wine gratuitously, considering he’s already apologized to us all over email (and made it clear that the wine is, in fact, a Zinfandel). This is a winery and appellation that I’d never heard of, and for good reason, as this was all tease w/o the please. While an esoteric array of marzipan, garrigue, dusty maple wood and sweet tobacco bring my senses alive aromatically, the palate is void of fruit and plagued by a hollow mid-palate. The texture is coarse, angular and unyielding, which is thoroughly disappointing considering the wine’s prowess in the bouquet. Dump bucket parade, 76 points.

2003 Turley Dogtown
Yeehaw cowboy, the wild west’s first in the series of worthy sheriffs began firing away its six shooter of a nose out like Gary Cooper at High Noon. The scents are dazzling, intense and brimming w/ raspberry reduction, sage, mocha, caramel coated blackberries, freshly ground coffee and rich loam notes. In the mouth, this Zinfandel is a hedonistic thrill ride full of high levels of glycerine, succulent fruit and a heady, intense finish. This thoroughbread is just about ready to stretch her legs on a gorgeous evolutionary ride, 94+ points.

2003 Chase Hayne Vineyard
Apparently the Chase family owns this storied, grand cru parcel of old vine Zinfandel land and it boggles my mind that they don’t receive the press that they appear to deserve (if this wine is any indication on their quality as producers). Perhaps the most backward and broodingly fashioned Zin that we tasted this evening, this ’03 has the structure of a Pauillac and the aromas of a young Barolo. Sweet hints of crushed rose petals, tar, strawberry preserve and nutmeg spices morph like a chameleon on each scent, revealing further complexity. While the wine is extremely tannic in the mouth, the big bones are shrouded in blockbuster depth, scintillating length and drop dead gorgeous acidity. If there were ever a textbook Zin for the cellar, this would be it, 95+ points.

2004 Turley Hayne Vineyard
While admittedly from a younger vintage, we thought it would be interesting to compare different interpretations of the Hayne Vineyard in side by side fashion. The Turley touch is more immediately attractive and loaded w/ a more savory, spicy mouth feel of dry aged beef, sandalwood, crème de cassis, spicecake and brandy soaked figs. Wonderfully dense, plump and authoritatively powerful to the finish, this Turley is a touch too youthful to reveal its entire spectrum of flavor but is already pleasurable. It’s tough to argue w/ this type of reference point for the varietal, 96 points.

2004 Carlisle Rossi
The prettiest wine of the bunch was the Carlisle, but perhaps pretty to a varietal fault (as I’d be hard pressed to peg this blindly as a Zinfandel). Reminiscent of a higher end Malbec from Argentina, w/ gorgeous notes of violet, boysenberry confiture and graphite scents that soar from the glass. Tantalizingly plush and as polished as a glass sculpture, allowing its purple fruits to glide along to the kiss of sweet tannin on the fish. Likely to perform a bit better in the near term, I’d drink this over the next 3-4 years, 92 points.

Outpost Howell Mountain 2004
This producer is certainly not short on fans, and deservedly so, as this wine showcased one of the most compelling marriages of flamboyance and rusticity that I’ve experienced in this varietal. Loaded w/ crème de cassis, pepper, blue fruits and brick dust notes that are firmly grounded in a rock solid, tannic structure that will need a bit of time to resolve & kick this Zin into hyper-drive. A compelling confluence of Old World austerity w/ New World hyperbole, 93 points.

2005 Elyse Korte Ranch Vineyard
A wine that could be the victim of its own eccentricity is certainly the Elyse Korte, while striking in its nose of cherry cola syrup, raspberry reduction and sweet ganache, the palate looses some steam w/ an odd, bitter persimmon note that most of us found off-putting. Rambunctious and a touch superficial in the ’05 vintage, I don’t imagine this wine ever really commanding its persona in a compelling way, 82 points.

2005 Wooden Head, Guido Venturi Vineyard
Another producer and vineyard site that I had zero familiarity w/, except this expression produced much more solid results than the last experiment from Easton. Classic Zin aromas of black tea, wildberry, huckleberry sauce, smoky brioche and graphite are sweet on the entry, w/ lovely poise and a rounded structure. While t finshes a touch short, it is exceptionally solid in just about every other respect and is a tough customer to criticize, 90+ points.

2005 Turley Rattlesnake
Acid fans, welcome to your dojo, you’ve certainly hit gold w/ the ’05 Turleys! This could perhaps be the most high-toned, exceptionally bright Zin I’ve ever tasted. The nose is crammed w/ citrus blossom, pomegranate, dried cranberry sauce, briar and damp earth. It hits the palate w/ brisk minerality in follows through to the finish w/ linear direction and fresh cut. To my palate, this needs a bit more weight, density and more primal character to speak Turley, but its style is sure to find fans (as is its balance and restraint), 88+ points.

2005 Martinelli, Giuseppe and Luisa
Whoever devised the serving order was absolutely genius in juxtaposing the ’05 Rattlesnake and ’05 Martinelli as they are exact opposites in just about every stylistic fashion! An absolutely outrageous effort from Martinelli, resembling the essence of dry Port, w/ kirsch liqueur, dark chocolate cake, blackberry sauce and brandy soaked figs leading the way in this wine’s mammoth constitution. Terrific concentration and gorgeously silky in its texture, this is as massive and delicious wine can get. This is such an extreme expression that absolutely challenges the senses to maintain a sense of clarity before complete overload. If there were ever a New World wine that could challenge Alban for the ability to hold one’s titanic alcohol content, Martinelli is it, 95 points!
Now, in spite of its balance, this is a completely sinful and perhaps impractical product, but so is chocolate cake! Wowza what a way to end an evening!


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