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MWG November 22nd tasting (5/5): Three Zins and a Syrah

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Like many North American wine lovers, I cut my teeth on California wines. I used to buy them regularly; these days, hardly ever. Part of the reason is my evolving palate. But it’s also true that the wines have changed. With a few blessed exceptions, they’ve gotten bigger, heavier, fruitier, sweeter, oakier, more alcoholic, less refreshing, less food-friendly and, oddly, less characterful. Early vintages of Ridge’s Geyserville, including some legendary ones, regularly clocked in at 13% ABV or less. Martini used to make a light, supple, relatively pale Zin as quaffable as a Beaujolais. Good luck finding wines like those these days. Anyway, when reading these notes, bear in mind that these wines aren’t really up my alley anymore. And, as the tasting showed, people with palates more receptive to the fruit-driven New World style will probably find them more interesting than I did.

Zinfandel 2009, East Bench, Dry Creek Valley, Ridge Vineyards ($29.75, 11817690)
100% Zinfandel (rare for Ridge) from dry-farmed vines planted in 2000 and 2001. Destemmed, crushed and fermented with native yeasts and twice daily pump-overs. Pressed after ten days’ maceration. Matured 13 months in American oak barrels, 20% new. Lightly sulphured at crush and during maturation. Lightly filtered at bottling. 15.2% ABV. This is Ridge’s fourth vintage of the wine.
Textbook Zin. Bramble berries, fresh fig, oak, spice, dried black tea. Rich, smooth and balanced. Fluid despite the weight. Built around an intense core of pure, unjammy fruit, with just enough acidity and tannins to avoid galumphingness. Dry, the high glycerin levels notwithstanding. Flaring finish. (Buy again? Maybe a bottle to go with grilled lamb next summer.)

Lytton Springs 2009, Dry Creek Valley, Ridge Vineyards ($42.25, 00513929)
71% Zinfandel, 23% Petite Syrah, 6% Carignane from dry-farmed vines some planted recently, others as far back as 1901. Destemmed, crushed and fermented with native yeasts and occasional pump-overs. A small amount of tartaric acid was added to a few very ripe lots. Pressed after eight days’ maceration. Matured 14 months in American oak barrels, 18% new. Lightly sulphured at crush and during maturation. Lightly fined”to moderate tannins.” Lightly filtered at bottling. 14.4% ABV.
Plum, spice and a hint of modelling clay. Similar to but deeper, broader and weightier than the East Bench. Pure, savoury fruit. Oak present but in check. Heady but not hot. Good structure and a long finish. Unfortunately, at this point it’s heavy and unrefreshing, less than the sum of its parts. Maybe time will improve things. (Buy again? Nope.)

Zinfandel 2009, Brandlin Vineyard, Mount Veeder, Peter Franus ($38.75, 00897652)
92% Zinfandel, 8% Charbono, Mourvèdre and Carignane from old, dry-farmed vines. Fermented 12 days at a relatively cool 80ºF (27ºC). Macerated 14 days before pressing. Matured 17 months in French oak barrels, 35% new. 15.5% ABV.
Blackberry and peppermint with sweet and savoury spice in the background. Smooth, satiny texture and not a lot of structure: this is mostly about the fruit, which is pure, sweet-and-sourish and given some depth by dried wood flavours. Dry, especially on the long, alcoholic – though not hot – finish. (Buy again? Only if in the mood for a full-bore Zin.)

Syrah 2009, Estate, Santa Ynez Valley, Beckmen Vineyards ($29.20, 11746941)
100% biodynamically farmed Syrah from eight different clonal selections grown in Beckman’s Purisima Mountain vineyard located in Ballard Canyon. The various lots were gently crushed and cold-soaked for two to five days. Fermented five to ten days with native yeasts and thrice daily punch-downs. Basket-pressed. Matured ten months in French oak barrels, 35% new. 14.6% ABV.
Appealing though un-Syrah-like nose: gingerbread, cassis and plum with some slate in the background. Full-bodied but fluid and fresh, due largely to its bright fruit and brisk acidity. Vanilla oak is noticeable but not cloying. To my palate, the flavours evoke a baked plum tart. Decent structure and length. While not a fan of the all-about-fruit style, I admit this has a certain charm. (Buy again? Probably not, though fans of California wines shouldn’t hesitate.)

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Written by carswell

December 5, 2012 at 21:06

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