Every Sip is a Revelation
Dr. Zin assembled bright fresh young Zinfandels that grow and change before your eyes!
This month’s Rude Tasters was hosted by Rik and Kitty Vydareny. Rik takes Zinfandel tasting to a new level. He searches California and Chicago wine shops all year for his annual wine tasting with wines exhibiting what are the best examples of the current crop. We started with a couple of inexpensive Zins from Cline and Cosentino and then moved up a notch to more expensive bottles.
As always, the wines are tasted double blind. We know nothing about the wines other than what we can see, smell and taste. However, it is a foregone conclusion that Rik aka Dr. Zin almost always serves Zinfandel so, maybe single blind would be more accurate. We had just enjoyed a Zinfandel blend with dinner which tasted nearly identical to the Cline which immediately got me thinking that maybe he had changed up his typical pattern and maybe we might be tasting blends instead of straight Zinfandel. Not surprisingly, most of the wines approached 15% alcohol by volume, yet only one of them felt like a high octane bottling. We concluded the evening with a couple of older wines too.
WARM UP WINES (not scored by the group)
2017 Cline Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, CA (14% AVB) $9 This is a remarkably bright fresh lively Zin. It has that Cal-Ital rusticity and vigor. It almost seems too smooth and plump to be straight Zinfandel. I could drink this wine every day and never get tired of it. My score 90 points.
2017 Cosentino The Zin, Lodi, CA ( 14.5% ABV) $12 Though very complex and earthy, it was still very overshadowed by the Cline. The Cosentino does have good firm texture with a hint of bitter red Campari-like fruit in the finish. My score 86 points.
2015 Pound for Pound Zinfandel Paso Robles, CA (15.6% ABV) $18 Really nice bright cherry-like fruit and dry herb-like spiciness greet the nose. As it crosses one’s tongue, the heft is felt with a huge long spicy finish. My score 90 points, group score 78 points, last place.
2017 Cosentino Cigar Zin, Lodi, CA (15.5% ABV) $14 Very spicy in the nose, not unlike a bitter digestif; yet, the palate impression is fat, soft and lush finishing with an unexpected reprise of spice and bitter almond. My score 86 points, group score 82 points, fifth place tie.
2016 J Dusi Zinfandel, Paso Robles, CA (14.9% ABV) $28 This wine is stunning with its basil spice, soft plum-like fruit and explosive clove-like spice going into the finish. My friend Tony Senna suggested that the wine is changing in the glass and growing bigger and bigger. I would differ slightly on that opinion. I think that the wine is just so compelling and beguilingly complex that it is not possible to comprehend it in a single taste. One needs to just keep tasting and sipping with every encounter unpeeling another layer. This is truly a wine that shows additional complexity and more surprises with every sip. My Score 94 points, group score 86 points, third place tie.
2017 The Prisoner Red Blend (74% Zin with Cab Sauv, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Charbono) , Napa Valley, CA (15.2% ABV) $39 This might be the only wine with a detectable alcohol scented bouquet that we encountered. It starts with a deep saturated color with a nose that is slightly smoky and a palate of rich fruit and a long supple finish. My score 85 points, group score, 91 points, second place.
2016 Fiddletown Zinfandel, Amador County, CA (14.5% ABV) $18 This is one of the more delicate noses that Alice found slightly red Kool-Aid like though I would describe it as slightly medicinal; a bit simple, though solid and pleasant. My score 84 points, group score 82 points, fifth place tie.
2017 Fableist Zinfandel, Central Coast, CA (14.4% ABV) $18 This phenomenal wine is just like the J Dusi (above) but even bigger and even more compelling. Every sip is a whole new chapter starting with a massive spicy nose of black fruit quickly sweeping the palate with dry spice, herbs and sensuously lush mouth feel. The clean finish just says “taste me ….. again”. My score 96 points, group score 86 points, third place tie.
2017 Bed Rock Zinfandel, Sonoma, CA (14.4% ABV) $24 A well made solid Zin with fresh red fruit, clean finish and correct varietal flavors. A bit one dimensional by comparison to the rest of the night’s wines, however. My score 85 points, group score 80 points, seventh place.
2015 Klinker Brick Old Ghost Old Vine Zinfandel, Mokelumne River, Lodi, CA (15.9% ABV) $40+ Very exotic spice with a huge toast and incense smokiness; this wine stood out for the definite oak flavors and bouquet of chocolate and very ripe fruit. Most of the tasters felt the heavy oak was essential in balancing the fruit and abundant fine tannins. My score 88 points, group score 96 points, first place.
CONCLUDING WINES (not ranked or rated)
1996 Rabbit Ridge Zinfandel, Hedin Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sonoma, CA Rik mentioned that the winery was involved in a scandal in the late 90’s regarding the origins of its wines. Considering the perfect dark basement storage this wine received, it is very disappointing. It has crossed into the other world. My score DEAD.
1999 Montevina Terra d’Oro Zinfandel, Amador County, CA The dense color shows signs of maturity, but still very pigmented and nearly opaque. There is a meaty smoked bacon-like bouquet with fat ripe slightly prune-like aromas and a juicy mouth feel. It finishes very softly. My score ALIVE.
The last two older wines excluded, the general theme of these wines is bright vivid fresh red fruit and very distinct peppery, spicy scents with soft velvety mouth feel. As you can see by the scores, I absolutely loved the J Dusi and the Fableist. To me, these define California at its very best. Zinfandel is a grape that seems very tolerant to warm dry weather though, it does tend to develop pretty high alcohol if allowed to ripen fully. The grape seems to develop sugar (alcohol) more quickly than it develops smell and flavor. The challenge is getting at those wonderful ripe spicy flavors without having a wine that is just too big and hot. I really didn’t hear any complaints from most of the tasters regarding the over 15% alcohol levels of many of these wines. Actually, only one wine (The Pound for Pound) received a score below “good to very good” from one panelist. By and large, the wines were very well received. I would say, I liked most of these better than the wines we judged at OZ (see October 1, 2018 and October 13, 2017).
Enjoy in Good Health,
A Brian Cain, the Michigan Vintner