Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES – Jun 11, 2016
Zinfandel, Straight Up Please
by David Lawrason with notes from Michael Godel and Sara d’Amato
California’s “heritage” grape has fallen on ignoble times. Zinfandel, which is featured in the June 11th release, certainly has its proponents; indeed there is an entire fan club in California called ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers), and I am sure there are zin purists on the executive. But zinfandel has become a clown prince, with copywriters and marketers squeezing out every possible pun and alliteration around its name, and winemakers throwing every possible confection into America’s vinous milkshake. The problem is that zin’s natural ripeness, warmth and richness is just so easy to exploit and caricaturize. It has become the Donald Trump of American wines – the coiffed buffoon.
Zinfandel – also known as primitivo in southern Italy – was brought to America during the gold rush era of the 19th Century by Italian emigres. They have left a strong legacy in California winemaking – Gallo, Mondavi, Sebastiani and Trinchero of Sutter Home. (Sutter’s Creek was where gold was first discovered in the Sierrra Nevada in 1849). Many zin vineyards were planted around the state, concentrated in the foothills of Amador County, Paso Robles and Sonoma County. Some of those sites are still producing wonderful wines with uniquely perfumed, pure black fruit and fruit aromas. And many are safely in the hands of earnest wineries like Ridge, Seghesio and Paul Dolan, three of the producers represented on VINTAGES release. Plus Larry Turley, the high priest of California zin.
The Turley Zins
I attended a tasting of Turley zins in Toronto in early May, hosted by importer Rob Groh of The Vine, who was showing the tightly allocated range to downtown somms at Momofuku. The wines were presented by Larry Turley’s daughter Christina, who could single-handedly reverse the fortunes of the grape California like to call its own. She has already made the Forbes magazine’s list of Top 30 Under 30, and with good reason. She is erudite, intelligent and comes across in a very engaging way. She knows every inch of detail about the soils and climates of the single vineyard zins she presented.
And it was here in the glasses that zinfandel’s pedigree and potential really showed – with its wonderful brambly fruit. I urge you to link to the reviews presented below for the full descriptions. You may be shocked to see some of them at $70 or $80 per bottle, but these are great wines, offering far more quality and value than most California cabs at the same price. Turley zins are available from The Vine Agency through Consignment, but they sell out quickly, so ask about their mailing list.
You may not be able to buy the Turley zins this weekend, but you do have a shot at those we recommend below from the June 11 release. Seghesio leads the pack, from yet another Italian family that has staked its reputation on the heritage grape. Ridge too built its early fortunes largely on isolating old vine zin sites across the state. And Paul Dolan – a pioneer of organic winemaking in Caliornia – has long favoured zinfandel as well, sourcing this wine from sites in Mendocino County.
And then there are several other wines worthy of your attention on this release.
Buyers’ Guide to June 11th: Zinfandels
Seghesio 2014 Zinfandel, Sonoma County, California ($29.95)
David Lawrason – This is a handsome zin, not a word I have ever used before, but it fits. So often zins are outgoing and brash, but this has solid, tucked-in elegance while still being broad shouldered. The fruit is nicely ripened – classic blackberry, plum – with well etched floral notes, and supporting oak vanillin.
Michael Godel – Here is a prime example of taking big bones and aligning them for structure. Maximum ripeness, optimum acidity and fine-grained tannins all on the same page.
Paul Dolan 2013 Zinfandel, Mendocino County, California ($29.95)
David Lawrason – This is an organically grown zinfandel from Paul Dolan, one of the pioneers of “green” winemaking in California back in his Fetzer days. This sports a lovely floral (peony) nose with classic zin brambleberry fruit, a hint of evergreen, fine oak spice and cedar.
Sara d’Amato – In a release feature of bold, high alcohol wines, this zinfandel from Paul Dolan stands out. Sleek with moderate alcohol, great varietal typicity and authentic fruit flavours. It is hard not appreciate the purity of this unadulterated zinfandel.
Ridge 2013 Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County ($57.95)
David Lawrason – This is a very elegant, concentrated and refined zin with impressive length and depth. But cooked fruit aromas in two bottles drop my rating.
Michael Godel – From the vineyard planted in 1902, with petite sirah as the number two support to Zinfandel (as opposed to Geyserville). Tremendous balance in a characterful field blend red.
Sara d’Amato – Using sustainable farming and pre-industrial techniques, Ridge relies on expressive vineyard sites to produce impressively concentrated wines with distinct aromatic profiles. This zinfandel, bolstered by petit sirah, is produced from vines planted in 1902 and exudes the befitting sensuality and impact of such a historic vineyard.
Buyers’ Guide to June 11th: Worthy Whites & Reds
Fielding 2014 Estate Riesling, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Fielding continues to burn brightly. This is a squeaky clean riesling with a hint of sweetness, then bracing lemon-lime acidity. Crisp, tart-edged and mouth-watering. The 2015 Unoaked Chardonnay is great value too.
Flat Rock 2015 Nadja’s Vineyard Riesling, Twenty Mile Bench, Niagara Peninsula ($24.95)
Michael Godel – Nadja’s vineyard contiguously brings great riesling terroir from off of the Twenty Mile Bench. In 2015 this is a great Nadja to be sure but of a deferential sort of character.
Whitehaven 2014 Pinot Gris, Marlborough, New Zealand ($19.95)
David Lawrason – Pinot Gris is ascending in NZ! This has a lovely, ripe, rich but not overbearing nose of peach, grapefruit, fennel and mint. Very good fruit depth and concentration. Very impressive and great value.
St. Paul’s 2014 Pinot Grigio, Alto Adige, Italy ($19.95)
Sara d’Amato – Exuberantly floral with body from fine lees ageing, this surprisingly complex pinot grigio is worth some serious attention. Compelling and widely appealing, enjoy as an aperitif or with grilled shrimp.
Quails’ Gate 2014 Pinot Noir, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada ($27.95)
Sara d’Amato – One of the best incarnations of Quails’ Gate pinot noir to date. Supremely elegant showing purity of fruit and careful winemaking guidance. Not to be missed.
Tabalí 2013 Talinay Pinot Noir, Coastal Limestone Vineyard, Limarí Valley ($27.95)
Michael Godel – Limestone and maritime influences converge in this highly perfumed pinot noir. At $28 it is a terrific, unexpected find.
Creekside Estate 2012 Laura’s Red Niagara Peninsula ($19.95)
David Lawrason – The excellent 2012 vintage was kind to Laura’s Red, one of the better value “Bordeaux” blends in the market. It is youthfully purple-ruby in colour and has very good flavour depth, ripeness, intensity and structure. Best 2018 to 2023.
Brigaldara 2014 Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy ($15.95)
Sara d’Amato – With finesse and complexity that you rarely find in a Valpolicella level wine, this stunner from Brigaldara will have you captivated. This is a steal at under $16 so don’t miss out before this flies off the shelves.
Château Grand Moulin 2012 Vieilles Vignes, Corbières, France ($15.95)
David Lawrason – This is a quite intense, somewhat taut and brittle, quite savoury red with good acid backbone. A great buy that should hold in the cellar for five years, but you may just want to drink it now to capture its exuberance.
Byron & Harold 2013 Rose & Thorns Shiraz, Great Southern, Western Australia ($19.95)
Michael Godel – Just as every rose has its thorn, Western Australia has its knight is shining armour in Great Southern. A cool, long drink of shiraz with relative cool climate acidity. Special value here.
Domaine La Fourmone 2013 Le Poète, Vacqueyras, Rhône Valley, France ($29.95)
Michael Godel – Le Poète indeed. Poetic and stunning, fluid, natural and effortless. This is exactly what restrained Rhône and vacuous Vacqueyras need to be.
Olivier & Lafont 2013 Gigondas, Rhone, France ($29.95)
Sara d’Amato – The fruit in this wine is so opulent and spicy that it may distract from the absence of oak. This concrete aged Gigondas offers splendid garrigue and southern charm. The Olivier & Lafont range focuses on producing wines of sensual pleasure and this example certainly delivers.
And that’s it for this edition. John and team will back the end of next week to preview the south of France feature on the June 25th release. There will also be a Canada Day feature for the following week, perhaps with some insights from the National Wine Awards of Canada that we all will be judging in Penticton, B.C. from June 22 to 26th. Stay tuned, and drink good wine.
VP of Wine
From VINTAGES June 11, 2016
Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!