Zinfandel


The Ridge Vineyards Three Valleys red wine blend is a perennial visitor to our Thanksgiving table, this year being no different. Whereas Ridge typically focuses on single-vineyard ridge-three-valleysbottlings, the Three Valleys derives from a variety of vineyards in Sonoma County. seeking to achieve a sort of overall Sonoma character, if such a thing is possible. The wine was first produced in 2001. The Ridge Three Valleys 2014, fermented by native yeast, is a blend of 65 percent zinfandel, 17 percent petite sirah, 14 carignane and 4 grenache. The wine aged 15 months in American oak, a scant six percent new barrels, 43 percent one-to-two-year-old barrels, 51 percent three-to-six-year-old barrels. In other words, the effect of new oak is negligible, while the general wood influence is subtle and supple in its shapeliness. The color is intense dark ruby with a vibrant cherry rim; aromas of sweet, smoky currants, blueberries and plums gradually open to notes of spiced and macerated red cherries, lavender and violets. This is dense and chewy in the mouth, permeated by graphite-infused tannins that provide plenty of grit and resistance on the palate; black fruit flavors are ripe and spicy but reticent, yielding place to bright acidity, briery and brambly forest floor elements, and a strain of granitic minerality that persists through the warm but sculptured finish. In other words, a wine that delivers equal measures of pleasure and structure. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20 with big-hearted, two-fisted cuisine. Excellent. About $26.

A local purchase.

So, today I offer 10 red wines worthy of your attention and use with the hearty fare we prepare during cooler weather, if this country ever gets cooler weather. We’re running 10 to 15 degrees above normal in this neck o’ the woods. Anyway, these wines represent California; Italy’s Piedmont region; Australia’s McLaren Vale; and three sections of Spain, all featuring the tempranillo grape. The grapes and blends of grapes involved are equally diverse. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew the technical, geographical and historical I tend to dote upon for the sake of quick and incisive reviews designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy, in moderation, of course. These wines were samples for review.
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Angeline Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir 2015, Mendocino County 80%, Sonoma County 20%.13.9% alc. Transparent angelinemedium ruby shading to an ethereal rim; rose petals and sandalwood, pomegranate and cranberry, a hint of loam that expands to form a foundation for the whole enterprise; satiny and supple but nicely sanded and burnished by mild graphite-tinged tannins; a few minutes in the glass being in notes of wood smoke, red cherry and raspberry; grows quite dense and chewy, almost succulent but riven by straight-arrow acidity that cuts a swath on the palate; builds in power and structure. Now through 2018 or ’19. You could sell the hell out of this pinot noir in restaurant and bar wine-by-the-glass programs. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Bonny Doon A Proper Claret 2014, California. 13.2% alc. 36% cabernet sauvignon, 22% petit verdot, 22% tannat, 9% syrah, 7% merlot, 3% cabernet franc, 1% petite sirah. The point of Bonny Doon’s A Proper Claret is that it is not a proper claret at all, not with the inclusion of tannat, syrah and petite sirah. Ho-ho. Medium ruby with a transparent magenta rim; untamed and exotic, with notes of dried berries, baking spices and flowers; opens to black fruit scents and flavors with a tinge of red fruit; firm, moderately dense, supported by plenty of dusty graphite-laden tannins and bright acidity; needs a steak or leg of lamb. Very Good+. About $16.
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Chronic Cellars Purple Paradise 2014, Paso Robles. 14.5% alc. 77% zinfandel, 14% syrah, 8% petite sirah, 1% grenache. Medium ruby hue; a feral and flinty flurry of black currants, mulberries and plums; a hint of blueberry, with cedar and mint; warm and spicy with notes of cloves and sandalwood; a high, wild baked berry tone; very dry, quite dense and chewy, firm sinewy structure packed with dusty tannins and lively acidity. Now through 2018. Very Good+. About $15.
As you can see, the label is appropriate for Halloween parties.
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Viña Eguía Tempranillo 2013, Rioja, Spain. 13.5% alc. 100% tempranillo. Medium ruby hue shading to a delicate mulberry rim; violets and rose petals, blueberries and red currants, leather and smoke; an exotic dusting of cloves, sandalwood and allspice, with a hint of the latter’s woody, slightly astringent quality; though moderate in tannins, this gains weight and heft as the minutes pass, picking up a fleshy, meaty character to the macerated and baked dark fruit flavors; animated by brisk acidity. Terrific character for the price. Now through 2018. Very Good+. About $14, marking Excellent Value.
Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif.
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Bodegas Fariña Dama de Toro Tempranillo 2014, Toro, Spain. 13.5% alc. With 5% garnacha. Medium ruby-mulberry color; loam, dust, graphite, mint, iodine; hints of red and black currants and blueberries, permeated by dried spices and flowers; very dense, dry, smoky, chewy; smacky tannins coat the palate. What it lacks in charm it makes by for in inchoate power and dynamism. Try 2018 to ’20 with pork shoulder roast slathered in salsa verde or grilled pork chops with a cumin-chili powder rub. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif.
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Marchesi di Gresy Barbera d’Asti 2014, Piedmont, Italy. 13% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Medium ruby-violet hue; an attractive bouquet of potpourri, dried baking spices and dried currants; hints of cedar, tobacco and lead pencil; clean and spare with plenty of acid cut for liveliness and lip-smacking tannins; pulls up elements of black cherries, mulberries and plums, all slightly spiced and macerated, and touches of cherry pit and skin; the finish is packed with earthy tannins and graphite minerality. Now through 2019 to ’22 with salumi, red meat pizzas and pasta dishes — especially pappardelle with rabbit — or aged hard cheeses. Excellent. About $18.
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Peachy Canyon Incredible Red Zinfandel 2014, California. 14.5% alc. With 2% petite sirah. Dark ruby shading lighter to an invisible rim; notes of spicy and slightly roasted black currants, cherries and plums, a strain of wild berry and white pepper and hints of wood smoke, ground cardamom and cumin; rich on the palate but tempered by loamy and velvety tannins and clean acidity; an element of dusty graphite minerality dominates the finish. A well-made zinfandel for everyday drinking. Very Good+. About $14.
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Real Compañía de Vinos Tempranillo 2012, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain. 13.5% alc. 100% tempranillo. Vibrant inky purple; a very deep, dark, warm, spicy loamy tempranillo with staggering, mineral and graphite-laced tannins that don’t prevent a hint of floral-inflected black currant and plum fruit and touches of heather, cedar and black olive from emerging from the ebon depths; there is, in fact, surprising elegance and finesse at play in the balance between structure, acid, fruit and oak elements. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About — I’m not kidding — $12, a Remarkable Value.
Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif.
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Robert Oatley GSM 2014, McLaren Vale, Australia. 13.5% alc. 48% grenache, 47% syrah, 5% oatleymourvèdre. Dark ruby with a lighter magenta rim; ripe and spicy notes of roasted plums and currants, with traces of red licorice and leather, briers and brambles; a few moments in the glass bring in alluring touches of allspice and sandalwood, dried sage and rosemary; dry, dusty and slightly austere tannins serve as foundation for lithe, supple black and red fruit flavors boosted by fleet acidity and graphite minerality. For all its structure, the wine is juicy, seductive and tasty. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $20.
Imported by Pacific Highway Wines & Spirits, Greensboro, N.C.
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Vina Robles Vineyards & Winery Red4 2013, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 14.9% alc. 41% petite sirah, 40% syrah, 10% mourvèdre, 9% grenache. Dark ruby-magenta color; redolent of macerated and slightly baked mixed berries, cloves and iodine, espresso, wood smoke and roasted fennel — heady stuff indeed; a lightly resistant dusty, velvety texture bolstered by persistent tannins packed with graphite and loam; a long expressive finish. A lot going on here for the price. Drink now through 2018. Excellent. About $17.
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Here’s a wine that delves into the heart and soul of Sonoma County’s history and essence as a Acorn-2013-Heritage-Vines-Zinfandel-rgb-72dpivineyard and winemaking region. The Acorn Heritage Vines Alegría Vineyards Zinfandel 2013, Russian River Valley, derives from a vineyard planted in 1890. Some of those remaining vines contributed to a wine that, following old tradition, is a field blend of a wide variety of grapes planted side by side and randomly interspersed. The proportions for this wine are 78 percent zinfandel, 12 percent alicante bouschet, eight percent petite sirah and a whopping two percent mix of carignane, trousseau, sangiovese, petit bouschet, negrette, syrah, black muscat, cinsault and grenache. The wine aged 12 months in 54 percent French oak, 41 percent American and five percent Hungarian, with a total of 39 percent new barrels. While this zinfandel blend is robust and wild, it’s never hyperbolic or extravagant, feeling perfectly balanced in all aspects from beginning to end. The color is dark ruby with a lighter magenta rim; aromas of plums, blackberries and currants offer a hint of blueberries, fruitcake and bittersweet chocolate, all wrapped around an intense core lavender, licorice and dusty dried herbs. These elements segue seamlessly to the palate, where the wine delivers beautiful tone and presence, subtle complexity and a texture buoyed by moderately dense, dusty brushy tannins and animated by bright acidity. The ripe black fruit flavors are boldly spicy and a little plush, though always subdued to the wine’s deliberate acid-oak-tannin-and-mineral structure. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 548 cases. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.

O.K., not a totally A to Z line, but the roster for today’s Weekend Wine Notes runs from albariño to zinfandel, with several alphabetical stops between those points, nine of them including a couple of real bargains, though all represent good value. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew the plethora of technical, historical, geographical and personnel data that we dote upon so dearly for the sake of quick and incisive reviews intended to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy!

With one exception, these wines were samples for review.
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Arios Albariño 2014, Rias Baixas, Spain. 12.5% alc. Pale pale straw-gold hue; roasted lemons and ariospears, dried thyme and heather, white flowers and a touch of flint; very dry, scintillating with pert acidity and a brisk limestone element; lovely lemon and peach flavors, lightly glossed with cloves and honey. Super attractive and eminently drinkable. Very Good+. About $15.
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FEL Wines Chardonnay 2014, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. 14.2% alc. Pale gold color; FEL-Logo_850x500roasted lemon, lemon drop, pineapple and grapefruit; beguiling notes of jasmine and gardenia, quince and ginger, with flint in the background; marked purity and intensity, vibrant and resonant with keen acidity and limestone and chalk minerality, yet seductive in its supple, talc-like texture that laves the palate; ripe citrus flavors with a touch of baked stone-fruit; a beautifully shaped, high-minded and crystalline chardonnay, for drinking through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $28.
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Vento di Mare Nerello Mascalese 2013, Terre Siciliane. 13% alc. Deep ruby-purple; robust and CMYK basehearty, featuring intense aromas of violets and lavender, dark spicy cherries, with something of cherry skin and pit pungency and bitterness; plums and currants; leafy, woodsy notes of cedar and dried rosemary, with the latter’s characteristic resinous nature; shaggy tannins, dense and chewy; penetrating acidity and granitic minerality. Perfect for full-flavored pizzas and pasta dishes, burgers with bacon and cheddar cheese, grilled pork chops with a Southwestern rub; you get the idea. Very Good+. About $12, so Buy It by the Case.
Imported by Middleton Family Wines, Shandon, Calif.
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Giesen The Brothers Pinot Noir 2013, Marlborough, New Zealand. 14.5% alc. 500 cases imported. Medium transparent ruby color; ferrous and sanguinary, with notes of iodine and mint, pomegranate and cranberry, baked cherries and raspberries; deep and warm, spicy and savory; a definite foresty element animated by fleet acidity; fairly tannic for a pinot noir, dusty and almost velvety, but reigned in by sleek elegance; polished oak stays in the background, giving the wine shape and suppleness. Drink through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $30.
Imported by Constellation Brands, Gonzales, Calif.
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Two Shepherds Pastoral Rouge 2012, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. 12.5% alc. 45% grenache, 30% mourvedre, 25% syrah. Production was 200 cases. Medium ruby hue shading to garnet; smoked plums, bruised raspberries and a touch of blueberry, hints of red licorice, leather and loam; slightly spicy and tea-like, meaning black tea; lithe and expressive on the palate, very clean, a bit chiseled in its graphite-tinged minerality and lightly dusted tannins that take on more heft through the finish; a southern Rhône-style blend that’s elevating and balletic rather than dense and earth-bound; “pastoral,” indeed, in its irresistible, meadowy appeal to life and eating and drinking al fresco. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $36.
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La Domitienne Rosé 2015, Vin de Pays d’Oc, France. 12.5% alc. 50% each cinsault and grenache. Pale la_domitienne_rose_GWP_2015_label-no-guidescopper-onion skin color; delicate and slightly leafy strawberry and raspberry scents and flavors, though it’s a wild and bosky rosé, suave and fairly robust, savory and saline, dry and flinty, and lively in its bright acidity. A real thirst-quencher, with surprising complexity for the price. Very Good+. About $10, a Raving Bargain.
Imported by Guarachi Wine Partners, Woodland, Calif.
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Star Lane Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County. NA% alc. Pale straw-gold hue; star-like clarity of grapefruit, lime peel and papaya, with spiced pear and hints of lemongrass and lilac; bright acidity paired with clean limestone-flint minerality, yet a fairly earthy sauvignon blanc, with seeming connections to the loamy soil from which it sprang. Now through 2017 or ’18. Very Good+. About $22.
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Illahe Viognier 2015, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 12.5% alc. Very pale gold hue; jasmine and gardenia, pears and green apples, hints of lanolin and bee’s-wax; very dry, spare, but with a ravishing silken texture and flavors of lightly spiced and macerated pear and peach; crystalline acidity and a hint of a limestone edge, leading to a touch of grapefruit on the finish. Really lovely. Excellent. About $17. (A local purchase at $20.)
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Dry Creek Vineyards Heritage Vines Zinfandel 2014, Sonoma County. 14.5% alc. 78% zinfandel, 20 2014_Heritage_label_rgbpercent petite sirah, 1% each primitivo and carignan. Dark ruby; blackberries, currents and plums, notes of cloves and black pepper, orange rind and oolong tea; quite dry, an evocative woodsy zinfandel, seething with briers and brambles, a hint of damp leaves, supported by dusty, graphite-tinged tannins and lip-smacking acidity; a supple, spice-laden finish. gratifyingly balanced and layered for drinking through 2019 or 2020. Excellent. About $22.
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The sort of zinfandel I dote upon is one that expresses, either forthrightly or eloquently, the character of the grape without the hyperbole of over-ripeness, strident spicy qualities, tough tannins and the fatal sweet heatedness of high alcohol. We often find those kinds of zinfandels in Lodi, where the wines typically soar above 15 percent alcohol, but a model much more balanced is the Oak Farm Vineyards “Indigenous” Cemetery Vineyard Zinfandel 2014, Lodi, which clocks in at a mild and sensible 13.5 percent alcohol. The color is deep ruby with a glowing magenta rim; aromas of ripe blackberries and black currants are highlighted by notes of blueberries, cloves, briers and brambles and touches of fruitcake and iodine. Dusty tannins display a honed graphite edge, and indeed this zinfandel, while being warm and spicy and tasty with its black and blue fruit flavors, exudes the coolness of chiseled limestone, wrapped around an animated core of vibrant acidity and hints of lavender, leather and loam. Drink now through 2019 to ’21 with steaks or burgers, grilled pork chops, chili, hearty pastas and pizzas. Production was 361 cases. Excellent. About $32.

A sample for review.

From the winery’s warmest vineyard (above Calistoga) and from a warm year, the Grgich Hills ZN12-FRONT_750Estate Zinfandel 2012, Napa Valley, tips the scale at 15.5 percent alcohol, a factor that accounts for the wine’s sizeable presence on the palate without sending it into the over-ripe, cloying camp. The zinfandel grapes were fermented with two percent petite sirah, all certified organic; the wine aged 15 months in large French oak casks, so there’s very little wood influence (and no new oak vanilla), more a sense of shaping the wine’s suppleness and depth. The color is a pleasing medium ruby hue, not dark or extracted; aromas of plums, black currants and cherries are permeated by notes of black pepper, tar and oolong tea, with deeper hints of cloves, boysenberry and blackberry jam. It’s a very dry zinfandel, framed by dusty tannins and buoyant acidity over fathoms of briery-brambly elements and chiseled graphite minerality; the spicy black fruit flavors, tinged with blue, make a delicious melange with the wine’s suave structure. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 with grilled steaks and pork chops or similar hearty meaty fare. Excellent. About $36.

A sample for review.

For those of you who like your zinfandel elegant, supple and delicious, here’s the Fields Family fieldsWines Old Vine Zinfandel 2013, from the Lodi appellation (Mokelumne River sub-AVA), where zinfandel wines are often totally the opposite, being over-ripe, sweet, hot and awkward. I guess someone likes ’em, but it’s difficult to imagine who. So, the wine, kept to under 25 percent new French oak, offers a lovely transparent medium ruby hue; nothing of the inky monster here! Aromas of spiced and lightly roasted black currants, blueberries and plums are highlighted by notes of black pepper, oolong tea and violets; give this a few minutes in the glass and hints of graphite and slightly fleshy, meaty elements emerge. This zinfandel is quite dry but juicy with black and blue fruit flavors given depth by undertones of lavender and bitter chocolate, dusty tannins and buoyant acidity. 14.4 percent alcohol. We happily drank this bottle on Pizza and Movie Night a few weeks ago. Now through 2018. You might call this selection a symbolic Wine of the Day, since winemaker Ryan Sherman produced only 250 cases. It’s certainly Worth a Search. Excellent. About $28.

A sample for review.

The current release of the Lytton Springs red wine blend from Ridge Vineyards is the 2013, but Iridge lytton purchased the 2012 rendition this weekend at a local store to drink with Saturday night’s pizza. The result was not merely a terrific food and wine match but one of the best red wines we have tasted so far this year. (Yes, I know, the year is still in its infancy.) Ridge Vineyards, founded in 1962 on an abandoned estate established in 1885 in Santa Clara County, is a notable producer of single-vineyard zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon wines, the latter including the Monte Bello label, one of California’s most highly regarded iconic, long-lived cabernets, and tiny quantities of chardonnay. Winemaker Paul Draper began making a zinfandel from the Lytton Springs vineyard, in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley, in 1972. The winery bought Lytton Springs in 1991. The label no longer carries a varietal designation as a zinfandel, because the amount of zinfandel grapes in this field blend is usually under 75 percent. For the Ridge Lytton Springs 2012, Dry Creek Valley, the blend is 70 percent zinfandel, 21 percent petite sirah, 6 percent carignane and 3 percent mourvèdre. Information on the oak regimen is not available. The color is dark ruby shading to a medium transparent violet at the rim; aromas of black and red currants and raspberries are permeated by notes of briers and brambles, underbrush and some root-like tea; only gradually does an ethereal floral element begin to waft from the glass. A spine of bright acidity provides foundation for dusty, puckery tannins allied to an increasingly evident strain of graphite minerality. The whole package is lithe and supple, fruit flavors tending more to ebon cherry and plum, and the overall impression is of tremendous resonance, personality and presence. 14.4 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2022 to ’28. Excellent. About $40, a local purchase; that figure reflects a median of prices nationally.

Here’s a zinfandel from Lodi that’s balanced, delicious and close to elegant, though it doesn’t neglect the 2012 Sherm Zinnecessary structure. The Fields Family Wines Sherman Family Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel 2012 offers a dark ruby-purple hue that shades toward violet at the rim. Blackberry, blueberry and plum scents and flavors feel rooted in dark graphite minerality and loaminess at the same time being delicately etched with filigrees of cloves and sandalwood, smoke and pomegranate. The wine is fairly dense and chewy on the palate, but vibrant, beautifully poised and polished by gently burnished oak and slightly dusty tannins; ripe and spicy black fruit flavors stay on the sane side of succulent, held in check by bright acidity and a chiseled frame-work. 14.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2017 or ’18 with burgers or steaks, braised meat dishes and seared porkchops. Russ Fields purchased the property where the vineyards and the recently constructed winery stand in 2005. Winemaker is Ryan Sherman. Excellent. About $26.

A sample for review.

… and, yes, friends, it looks like it’s climbing clear up to the sky.
jayson
What is this trope about table wines that bear the cloying impress of alcohol levels over 15 percent, even 16 percent and higher? Some winemakers in California seem to fall into the same camp as many producers of craft beer, who believe that the hoppier a brew is the better it is, intrinsically, so, by parallel reasoning, since wine is an alcoholic beverage, let’s pump up the alcohol for a wild ride.

There was a time when wines produced in California came in at alcohol levels between about 11.5 and 12.5 percent, maybe up to 13.5. The norm now is 14.5 percent, with the result that red wines — cabernets, pinot noirs, syrahs, merlots and, especially, zinfandel wines — are riper and juicier but also convey an impression of sweetness and sometimes, on the finish, of heat. These exaggerated qualities increase as the alcohol content creeps past 15 percent and inches toward or past 16. The problems intensify because many of these wines are also exceedingly tannic, so any sense of balance is lost in an entity that turns out to be powerful and dynamic but awkward, clunky and incoherent. I read the deliriously approving descriptions of some of these wines and reviews from other writers, and I have to think, surely we’re not talking about the same product, as I’m sure they will think about me and my fairly harsh evaluations.

So, today, I offer brief notices of beyond-the-pale, high-alcohol, lurching, unbalanced red wines, along with a few that manage to pull off the feat and achieve a measure of poise. Notice that most of these examples are zinfandels from Lodi, Amador County and Dry Creek Valley; the great and surprising exception is a beautifully-made Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon that registers 15.2 percent alcohol. The order is by increasing amounts of alcohol, starting at 15 percent. Proceed at your own risk.
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Renwood Clarion Red Wine 2012, Amador County. 15% alc. Dark ruby color; pungent with ripe raspberry and blueberry infused with briery-brambly notes, graphite and lavender; very dry, quite spicy, juicy with red and black fruit flavors; you feel a touch of raisiny heat on the finish. Very Good+. About $20.
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Renwood Grandpere Zinfandel 2012, Amador County. 15% alc. Medium ruby hue with a light garnet rim; sweet spices, mint, ripe cherries and cranberries with touches of blueberry and boysenberry; quite dry, plush, velvety tannins, large-framed but palatable; a bit of alcoholic heat mars the dense, lithic finish. Very Good+. About $40.
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Priest Ranch Coach Gun 2011, Napa Valley. 15.1% alc. A cabernet sauvignon-based blend. Dark ruby color; smoke, loam, graphite, lavender; black currants and cherries and blueberries, all deeply spiced and macerated; cedar and mint; energized by pert acidity; very dry dusty out-of-scale tannins, austere finish that falters out of balance. Not a success. About $75.
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Bradford Mountain Grist Vineyard Syrah 2012, Dry Creek Valley. 15.2% alc. 75% syrah, 25% zinfandel. Opaque black-ruby with an intense violet rim; big, bold and very spicy; ripe and fleshy blackberry and blueberry fruit with an infusion of ligonberry, blackberry jam and blueberry tart; deep, plush, dusty tannins that coat the palate; every element that I look for in a syrah wine is absent, muted into anonymity by ripeness, alcohol and tannin. Awkward and unbalanced. About $32.
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Jayson Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley. (The second label of Pahlmeyer.) 15.2% alc. A complete, harmonious and complex red wine. Dark ruby-purple hue; a very ripe, fruit-infused wine, high-toned and surprisingly elegant in its balance; intense and concentrated, with notes of cassis and red and black cherries permeated by iron and iodine, graphite, ancho chili and meat blood; powerfully dynamic, ferrous and savory, deep, rich and spicy with a resonant mineral core and a concluding touch of blueberry tart; a sleek, polished and chiseled cabernet. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $65 to $75.
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Truett-Hurst Old Vine Burning Man Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley. 15.3% alc. Opaque black-ruby with a magenta rim; a strapping, palate-stomping tannic wine, pungent with spiced and macerated black currants, plums and blueberries, pomegranate and boysenberry; lots of leather and loam; formidable structure, dusty, gravelly and austere. Not a success. About $38.
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Renwood Premium Old Vine Zinfandel 2012, Amador County. 15.5% alc. Medium ruby hue with a garnet rim; a lovely blooming, floral and spicy bouquet, evolves to fruitcake, loam and brambles, bitter chocolate; blueberries, mint and pomegranate; a bit of an after-burn but not heavy, over-ripe or obvious; still, the finish is tight and austere. Very Good+. About $20.
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Michael David Winery Earthquake Zinfandel 2012, Lodi. 15.5% alc. Moderately dark ruby hue; very ripe, spiced and macerated plums, currants and cherries with a slightly raisiny fruitcake inflection; large-framed and quite lively; dense, dusty, chewy, infused with graphite and lithic tannins that coat the palate; still, surprisingly well-balanced, really luscious for those who want luscious wines (not me). Now through 2017. Very Good+. About $26.
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Tin Barn Vineyards Coryelle Fields Vineyard Syrah 2012, Sonoma Coast. 15.5% alc. Opaque ruby hue with a magenta rim; both intense and concentrated while being very ripe, smoky and spicy; heaps of leather and loam and a tide of black fruit flavors, but distinctly more zin-like than syrah, with a high-alcohol zin’s off-balance element of cloying fruit and austere tannins. Doesn’t work. About $27.
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Tin Barn Los Chamizal Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Sonoma Valley. 15.6% alc. Dark ruby with a much paler rim; a lovely bouquet of smoke, lavender and cloves, mint, sandalwood, fruitcake and blackberries; a big, firm, tannic wine that just manages to hold the line against over-ripeness and austerity; it takes a risk and the risk feels worth it; still, you feel some slightly sweet/parching alcoholic heat on the finish. Very Good+. About $29.
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Tin Barn Gilsson Vineyard Zinfandel 2013, Russian River Valley. 15.6% alc. Solid dark ruby hue; a refreshing bouquet of mint, lavender and black cherries until the alcohol wafts up and sort of stops everything in its tracks; very dry, spicy, dense, tannic and austere. Not recommended. About $29.
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Watts Winery Upstream Zinfandel 2012, Mokelumne, Lodi. 15.6% alc. Dark ruby hue with a mulberry rim; an immense presence, fairly well-balanced, considering, but takes on overwhelming ferrous and sanguinary elements and huge dusty tannins; the saving grace is that it’s not sweet, hot or cloying, but not quite coherent or reconciled either. Very Good. About $25.
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Truett-Hurst Old Vine Red Rooster Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley. 15.7% alc. Medium ruby-cherry color, not super-dark or extracted; very ripe, very spicy and fruity; black and red currants and plums with touches of lavender, licorice and saturated boysenberry; an alcohol after-burn of heat, spice and sweetness, so the finish clashes with the wine’s dryness and austerity on the palate, fundamentally unbalanced. Doesn’t work. About $35.
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Bradford Mountain Grist Vineyard Zinfandel 2012, Dry creek Valley. 15.8% alcohol. 88.2% zinfandel, 10.6% syrah, 1.2% petite sirah. Medium ruby color with a lighter rim; cloves, red and black berries, interesting notes of caraway and sandalwood, but tromps across the palate with boots of dry, austere and astringent tannins coupled with the sweetness of high alcohol in the finish. Nope. About $32.
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Truett-Hurst Old Vine Rattler Rock Zinfandel 2012, Dry Creek Valley. 15.8% alc. Radiant medium ruby hue; a broad, deep, very dry, quite austere wine, awkward, unbalanced, hot and sharp on the finish. Nuff said. About $35.
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Harney Lane Zinfandel 2011, Lodi. 15.9% alc. Dark ruby-purple; ripe, spiced and macerated blackberries and blueberries infused with cloves and graphite, a sort of mineral-laced cocktail of sweet and roasted black and blue fruit, touched with pomegranate and brandy-soaked raisins; acidity plows a row on the palate, preceding formidably dusty, lithic tannins leading to an austere finish. Maybe with a steak, or maybe not. Very Good+. About $22.
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Priest Ranch Somerston Estate Zinfandel 2012, Napa Valley. 16.2% alc. Medium ruby with a garnet rim; cloves, allspice and sandalwood make an exotic festoon; black and red currants and plums, with notes of blueberries, lavender and red licorice; outlandishly plush, dusty yet rigorous tannins dominate the palate, yet the finish is over-ripe and sweet. Awkward and ungainly. Forget it. About $40.
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Martinelli Lolita Ranch Zinfandel 2013, Russian River Valley. 16.3% alc. 253 cases. When I see that a table wine tops the charts at 16.3 percent alcohol, my reaction tends to run along the lines of “You have to be fucking kidding me,” but no, they’re not kidding. Moderate ruby color, almost transparent; roasted blackberries, currants and plums; fruitcake; very spicy and peppery; cloying alcoholic sweetness and heat; very dry, formidably austere tannins; clunky and chunky. Doesn’t work. About $52.
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