A Dozen 'Deadly' Zins

March 27, 2014

Reported by Sean O’Reagan

This sold-out varietal specific tasting event was led by Guild Director Robert White. With a winter that refuses to relinquish its grip to spring, these wines brought welcomed thoughts of BBQ season and summer, if only for a few short hours. The featured wines were collected by Robert over the past year, providing an excellent opportunity to compare Zinfandels from four countries and from regions in California and Oregon.

The evening started with a glass of white Beringer Zin while the room settled and awaited the first flight to be poured. The Dozen ‘Deadly’ Zins write-up promised us no white Zins and Robert assured us that it was ‘left off’ of the tasting notes and therefore didn’t qualify as part of the tasting—remaining true to his promise. A clever technicality which the room embraced cheerfully, while sipping this chilled, off dry wine with notes of strawberry, candy floss on the nose followed by peach and pink grapefruit on the palate and fresh acidity to balance the sweetness.

The evening tasting consisted of four wines in each of three flights. The flights were laid out thoughtfully; first by country, then US regions followed by the three big R’s of Zin. As usual, the wines were tasted blind. Following each flight, Robert provided some interesting notes on each of the wines.

The first flight covered four Zinfandel/Primitivo from four countries; USA, Italy, France and Canada. During the tasting, the country origins were correctly identified along with guesses for an Australian Zin in the flight.

The first wine from the Languedoc area was quite a rarity, coming from the only vineyard in France planted with Zinfandel. The wine is labelled as a Vin de France since there is no classification for it. The wine is deep ruby, with an expressive nose of coffee, toasted oak, smoke, dark fruit and forest floor. The wine has flavours of espresso, black cherry, blackberry with a medium long finish. The wine is medium bodied with juicy acidity and firm grainy tannins. This wine was the second favorite of the flight. Additional comments included the wine being jammy, complex with good spice, notes of anise and cumin, but also somewhat astringent and tannic.

The second wine was 100% Primitivo from Puglia, Italy and aged for ten months in barrel. Deep ruby- purple and showing dark fruit, oak spice, vanilla and cherry. On the palate, a little fat and muddled with sweet, ripe, raisined fruit, dark cherry/berry. Full body, with soft tannins and a medium length finish. This was favorite in the flight. Other comments included notes of cigar, black licorice, baking spice, raisin, sweetness, over extraction and lacking fruit.

The third wine of the flight first released in 2003 was from the Okanagan in British Columbia. Medium garnet in the glass with a shy nose of spice, plum, blackberry, vanilla and dusty notes. Medium body, cherry, raspberry fruit, cola notes, a little lean with fresh acidity and a medium finish. Comments from the room included liking the complexity and long finish, strong cherry notes and lack of intensity on the nose. This was the last placed wine of the flight with only two votes.

The final wine of the first flight came from California and was a blend of 77% Zinfandel and 23% Petite Syrah fermented with wild yeast. Medium ruby garnet with an expressive nose of raspberry, blackberry, cherry, spicy, peppery with vanilla notes. In the mouth, this is well balanced with a full body showing dark berry and plum fruit with very good length to the finish. Well-structured and my favorite of the flight, although voted third place as a whole.

The second flight of Zinfandels hailed from three different regions in California and one from Oregon. All the wines in this flight are priced in the high thirties and within two dollars of each other.

The first wine poured was a field blend of 85% Zinfandel, 14.5% Petite Syrah and Carignan organically grown and aged for twelve months in American oak. Deep purple in the glass with notes of chocolate, berry, spice and earthy, forest floor. Nice complexity with ripe fruit, blackberry, raspberry, cherry and plum. Medium full bodied with good balance and firm tannins and a long finish. Despite being a very nice wine, this one did not take any votes as favorite. Other comments on the wine found that it had some rubbery-plastic notes on the nose.

The second wine of the flight came from the oldest vineyard in Oregon, in the Columbia Valley. Planted in the late 1880’s, this vineyard was forgotten and nearly unrecognizable until rediscovered a hundred years later and nursed back to health by Lonnie Wright. Medium ruby in the glass with a nose showing blackberries, cherry, smoke, dried herb, earth, coffee and spice. On the palate, this has dark cherry, stewed fruit, coffee, oak spice, dill and mocha. Full bodied and decent balance, although the charred oak seems a bit overdone. Other comments include notes of cedar, spice, lacking fruit and too much toasty oak and cedar. That said, this wine tied for first place in the flight.

The third wine of the flight came from the Sierra Nevada foothills of Amador County in California. Third favorite of the flight missing the first place tie by just a couple votes was a very nice easy drinking wine that continued to improve with a bit of air. Medium ruby-garnet with a fairly straightforward nose showing red fruits and spice. The palate brimming with ripe red fruit, spice and vanilla accents is lush and very well rounded finishing with a good length of black cherry and spice. Additional comments from attendees included great balance, sherry aftertaste, blackberry and pepper notes.

The final wine of the flight was from the Russian River Valley in California. The vineyards rise 1000 feet above the fog and are one of the highest elevations in the valley. Deep garnet with a complex nose of stewed and raisined fruit, chocolate, earth, smoke, spice and floral/herb notes. In the mouth, there is a repeat of stewed fruit, along with black tea, cola, spice and smoky dried herbs. There is a lot of structure to this wine with big tannins and balancing acidity which seems to keep the alcohol at 15.8% in check on the long finish. Others also liked how the wine was layered, the spice, structure and finish.

The final flight of the evening, all from California, was assembled around the three big Rs of Zinfandel; Ravenswood, Ridge and Rosenblum. Although there were no wine from Rosenblum Cellars, we were treated to one made by the former winemaker.

The first wine of the flight was from J.C. Cellars, where Jeff Cohn began his own label in 1996 after leaving Rosenblum. An old world style where 60% was fermented and aged in a cement tank resulting in better extraction of color and flavors and a touch softer in style. The wine is deep ruby-purple with a nose of stewed fruit, spice, prune and dusty mineral. The entry is sweet, ripe plum and berry fruit showing good balance and a long finish. Others commented on the wine being well integrated, having dried fruit and stewed notes. This wine took the least amount of votes as favorite of the flight.

The second wine of the flight was a single vineyard offering from the Alexander Valley. The wine spent twenty months in French oak, with 35% of that new. Deep garnet with a muted nose of dark fruit, chocolate, spice, pepper and cedar. The palate is more savory with spice, mocha and deep dark fruit. Nicely balanced and good wood integration on a long finish. This wine was tied for second favorite.

The third wine of the flight was from a field blend of 82% Zinfandel, 16% Petite Sirah and 2% Carignan. The wine spent fourteen months in American oak barrels, with 25% new. Deep ruby-purple in the glass gave a clue to the wine being a blend compared to the other three in the flight. The nose showed some candied red fruit, spice and vanilla. The palate is fruity and presents berry, cherry with a tartness to it. Balanced with a medium long finish. Additional comments from the room included that the wine was layered and complex and others that it was simple. The wine avoided a three

way tie by claiming first place by a single vote.

The final wine of the evening was another entry from Ravenswood, found in Glen Ellen a little north of Sonoma. Although not an official single vineyard designate, the fruit does come from one small plot of land. The wine spent twenty-four months in French oak, 30% new. Deep ruby-garnet, initially with a shy nose of stewed fruit, spice and mocha. The wine had good structure and balance, but seemed a little closed with the fruit lacking definition behind firm tannins. Quality is evident, but this needs a longer decant or several more years in bottle. This wine was tied for second place.

Flight 1

  • Domaine de L’Arjolle Zinfandel, 2011, Languedoc, France, $19.75
  • Papale Primivito di Manduria, 2010, Puglia, Italy, $19.75
  • Iniskillin Discovery Series Zinfandel, 2009, Okanagan Valley, Canada, $25.99
  • Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel, 2010, Lodi, California, $19.75

Flight 2

  • Frog’s Leap Zinfandel, 2010, Napa Valley, California, $37.75
  • Sineann Old Vine Zinfandel, 2011, Columbia Valley, Oregon, $36.99
  • Scott Harvey Old Vine Reserve Zinfandel, 2009, Amador County, California, $36.80
  • Valdez Landy Vineyard Zinfandel, 2007, Russian River Valley, California, $39.00

Flight 3

  • J.C. Cellars Landy Sweetwater Springs Vineyard Zinfandel, 2009, Russian River Valley, California, $34.99
  • Ravenswood Big River Vineyard Zinfandel, 2008 , Alexander Valley, California, $44.75
  • Ridge Lytton Springs, 2011, Dry CreekValley, California, $50.95
  • Ravenswood Chauvet Single Vineyard Zinfandel, 2008, Glen Ellen, Sonoma, California, $64.80