Wed 19 Jan 2011
Wine Guerrilla produces about 5,000 cases of zinfandel-based wines from Sonoma County’s Dry Creek, Russian River and Alexander valleys. The three examples I tried recently reveal a deft hand at the helm, so that while the wines are ripe and sometimes high in alcohol, they’re also nicely balanced and integrated. (All right, two out of three, as you will see.) In fact, the absence of over-ripe boysenberry tart elements and alcoholic heat/sweetness while yet being filled with flavor and spice made me wonder if these zinfandel wines resemble the 19th Century zinfandels for which California was once famous. Another gratifying aspect is that the colors of these wines are surprisingly moderate, if not light, in contrast to the deep, dark purple/black hues favored by producers of thunderous, blockbuster zins. These wines are unfiltered and unfined. The labels are colorful and intriguing. Samples for review.
The Wine Guerrilla Adel’s Vineyard Zinfandel 2009, Dry Creek Valley, is an exemplar of balance and restraint while offering all that is good, beautiful and true about the zinfandel grape. It is, by the way, the winery’s first 100 percent zinfandel wine; all the others have been and are field blends. The color is radiant medium red cherry/ruby; aromas of smoke, cloves, new leather, black currants and black cherries are highlighted with notes of sage and black pepper. One feels on the palate a finely woven fabric of spicy nuance and supple texture that envelopes flavors of black and red fruit — with a touch of wild plum and mulberry — and hints of mocha and earthy briers and brambles, all framed with subtle, slightly chewy tannins. Those who favor zinfandels that run over their taste buds like a motorcycle gang on its way to a beer bash may not appreciate this style, but it’s my notion of what zinfandel ought to be. 170 cases. 14.7 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $30.
There’s no question that the Wine Guerrilla Conte Vineyard Zinfandel 2009, Russian River Valley, is more emphatic than the Adel’s Vineyard model. This is a warm and spicy blend of 83 percent zinfandel, 12 percent petite sirah, 2 percent each carignan and alicante bouschet and 1 percent grenache. The color is medium to dark red ruby with a black cherry hue at the center; a bouquet of ripe raspberries, mulberries, blackberries and plums is permeated with smoke, tobacco leaf, lavender and licorice and a distinctly roasted and fleshy quality. The wine is ripe and juicy but very dry and far more minerally, in the slate-shale range, and earthy-mossy than its cousin, though the texture is weightier, so dense and chewy that it’s almost viscous. Still, there’s nothing overpowering here, nothing heavy or obtrusive, and the wine slides through the mouth like liquid velvet. 238 cases. 15.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $30.
I found the Wine Guerrilla Forchini Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel 2009, Dry Creek Valley, more problematic than its stablemates, solely because, to my palate, the alcohol level throws it a bit out of balance, particularly on the finish. Made from vines that are more than 100 years old, the wine contains about 95 percent zinfandel grapes with dollops of carignan, petite sirah and alicante bouschet. The immediate impression is of lavender and licorice, blueberries, blackberries and blue-bluer-bluest plums, circumscribed by walnut shell and wheatmeal and a broad element of fruit cake and brandied cherries and raisins. The whole enterprise is cast in the mold of powerful spice, black pepper and deeply macerated and roasted fruit flavors ensconced in a dense, thick, chewy structure. The finish is not hot, but it comes through as rather sweet and almost unctuous; yes, I’m sure devoted fans of the style will love it, but I feel a discordant note at the conclusion. 240 cases. 16.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $35.