Zinfandel — in its robust, red-blooded, take-no-prisoners version — is America’s grape. If we ignore primitivo, zin’s presumed progenitor, it’s planted in very few other locations than California, which once might have been considered America’s showcase state. Now, we aren’t claiming that increasing your zinfandel consumption will keep the wolf from California’s door, but every little bit helps. And if the reception we gave the 10 zinfandels at Omniboire’s February tasting is any indication, we confidently predict that the grape is due for a renaissance: In an unusual show of uniform quality, nine out of 10 wines made the 13/20 scoring cut.
Our host for the tasting was Auden’s Kitchen, the newly opened casual spinoff of Biga on the Banks. Manager Keith Ludwick and Kim Wood, both involved in the restaurant’s uniquely structured wine program, joined us. From the wine distribution end of the equation came Felicia Gonzales, wine consultant with Serendipity Wine Imports, and Joel McKee, District Sales Manager for the Domaines & Estates arm of Glazer’s.
Purely by accident, we swear (we taste blind, so nobody knows what wine is in the glasses until most of the scoring is done), the top-ranked wine was a perennial personal favorite, the 2007 Dry Creek Vineyard Sonoma County Heritage Zinfandel, which is made from old vines grafted onto new rootstock. At the other end of the spectrum, the 2007 Starry Night Lodi didn’t make the cutoff because one taster really disliked it. Omniboire would have loved to report a 10/10 success rate, but we’ve got to admit that it didn’t improve with age — yet it showed very well at the recent ZinDin at Grey Moss Inn. Could have been the bottle, the setting, the time of day … wine is like that. The more we drink, statistics suggest, the more things even out. Need we say more?
Bright and brambly with dark berry and an elegant complexity
“Ahhhh, Zin!” enthused Ludwick. “It tastes like Felicia’s blouse looks” (an exuberant floral pattern featuring violets). Gonzales also detected violet along with “bramble, crushed rock, dark chocolate.” Wood was more circumspect, calling the wine “closed at first” but with mineral and dark fruit. And McKee pegged it as “a crowd-pleaser … right down the middle … there’s kind of a grit to it.”
2007 Marietta Sonoma County Zinfandel, $19
Candied fruit aromas, plush texture, spicy fruit with licorice
“It’s lush and viscous with syrupy molasses … boysenberry, blackberry … not my favorite style,” admitted McKee. “A complete fruit bomb,” said Ludwick more approvingly. “Tastes like a ripasso; it has an Amarone texture and feel,” suggested Wood, whose stint at Manhattan’s highly praised Per Se surely helped hone her palate. Omniboire found it bigger on the nose than on the palate and thought it wore its 15.2-percent alcohol well.
2008 Joel Gott California Zinfandel, $19
Red cherry fruit with spicy, candied fruit on palate
Think clove, Oriental spice, even dried orange peel. Ludwick prized out “lots of raspberry and Bing cherry,” and thought of barbecue and chicken wings. “Pork chops and duck,” imagined Wood, who said, “it’s not transporting me to heaven `yet` it’s a good food wine — not over-the-top jammy.” McKee sussed out an anchovy-like salinity, which is not to say fishy. “A good representative of zin,” he added.
2006 Adobe Road Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, $26
White pepper, cocoa, and vanilla with blackberry and warm spice
The 2006 Adobe Road Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel struck Wood as “the kind of zin I think of when I don’t really want zin; it’s really hot on the finish.” “It transports you to another time with its warm molasses,” countered Gonzales. “Concentrated dark berries — delicious with food,” thought Ludwick, but McKee found it “awkward … not a lot of freshness, yet it might appeal to a lot of zin drinkers.” For what it’s worth, this wine had lost much of its awkwardness after two days in the refrigerator. Decant, decant, decant.
2006 Ridge Lytton Springs California, $35
Elegant and restrained with some berry and black cherry
Ridge is known — some would say revered — for zinfandel, but almost always in blends, and their 2006 Lytton Springs California followed in form, with 16-percent petite syrah and 4-percent carignane. Omniboire found this wine almost too restrained — in part, perhaps, because it followed in tasting order a truly big (and also uncharacteristic) contender. “It didn’t show well,” said McKee, who did get white chocolate and raspberry. “Dusky and silky … the texture’s not big,” thought Wood.
2005 Brogan Cellars Sonoma County Zinfandel, $75
Port qualities with stewed, jammy fruit and spice on finish
Even among its big and briary cohort, the 2005 Brogan Cellars Sonoma County Zinfandel stands out as lusty. Port- or sherry-like to some tasters, “it has a body like my high-school girlfriend,” proffered Ludwick — adding quickly “and like my wife, it leaves me wanting more.” “Might be good with chocolate, cheese … ” mused Gonzales. “Great with dessert, not with food,” added Wood. Note that it’s also 16.7-percent alcohol.
2006 Hullabaloo Napa Valley Zinfandel, $23
Intense, spicy nose, still tannic and a little hot
Meanwhile, the 2006 Hullabaloo Napa Valley Zinfandel, made from some vineyards planted before 1892, came across as “very pleasing medium body with a ‘plush’ mouth and raspberry, fig and vanilla,” said McKee. Ludwick tasted the alcoholic heat, but liked the “beautiful anise.” “Oriental spices and cedar box,” agreed Gonzales.
2006 Trinitas Old Vine California Zinfandel, $18
Raspberry/cherry and anise with black currant and white chocolate
“If zin can be fresh, this is it,” claimed Gonzales. “It’s a winner in my book,” enthused Ludwick. And McKee summed it up: “It’s an honest, good, everyday zin with a little vanilla, some white chocolate.” Drink quickly, though, as this one turned caramel-like in the glass over time.
2007 Vina Robles Paso Robles Zinfandel, $28
Woody, eucalyptus nose, ripe, dark fruits on palate
Finally (almost), the 2007 Vina Robles Paso Robles struck many as brambly, woody, almost funky, with touches of eucalyptus. “It’s hard to get past the greenness,” said Wood — yet it did squeak by in scoring (and was much less “green” on retasting after two days).