This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Wednesday, Jul. 23, 2008 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20080723.php.
It's just another chapter in the overall trend that I've discussed (and decried) many times before, a complex collection of events that range from warmer world temperatures that yield riper fruit with more sugars to be converted to alcohol, to a marketplace driven at least in part by critics who seem to prefer a beverage with a boozy whack to a subtle and elegant accompaniment to food.
The growing power and monolithic intensity of many modern wines is often critized as a New World phenomenon, and certainly such treats as Napa Cabernets with 16 percent alcohol, Central Coast Pinot Noirs that taste like overripe Syrah, and Australian Shiraz that resembles blueberry milkshakes have a lot to answer for. But we're seeing similar trends in the Old World too, not only from such warm climates as Southern Italy and parts of Spain but even the French Rhone, Alsace and even, for heaven's sake, Burgundy.
But I've ranted this rant before, and that's enough of a reprise for today. Let's circle back to the subject du jour, Zinfandel, a wine that I loved in the 1980s but that has generally become so turbo-charged that I rarely enjoy it any more.
With a few glorious exceptions. Here and there across the map of California, a few old-style producers hold the stylistic line, making classically styled, "old-fashioned" Zins that take me back to the days when I bought the variety with pleasure.
Sure, alcohols have crept upward - a pattern of record warm seasons will do that. But when you're stuck with lemons, you make lemonade; and when you're stuck with ripe, sugar-laden grapes, you can still bring the wine-maker's art to bear and produce a wine that's both ripe and exuberant and elegant and graceful, that marry well with appropriate food and that don't prompt you to summon the bartender for a glass of water back.
Today's featured wine is from Pedroncelli in Sonoma, one of the many Italian families that broke the ground for California wine and that sticks to the old traditions.
Its 2005 Dry Creek Valley "Mother Clone" Zinfandel is a beauty. Yes, at a lusty 14.9 percent alcohol, it's a big boy. But its clean, fresh and exuberant expression of "bramble" berry fruit takes me back to Zin the way it used to be. You'll find my notes below
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Pedroncelli 2005 Dry Creek Valley Sonoma County "Mother Clone" Zinfandel ($17)
Clear, very dark garnet, with reddish-violet glints against the light. Excellent Zinfandel aromas, blackberry and black raspberry, luscious and ripe but stops short of overly "jammy." Flavors follow the nose, juicy bramble fruit nicely shaped by crisp acidity and the body and warmth that attend 14.9% alcohol, on the potent side but well handled and balanced, carries all that alcohol well.
FOOD MATCH: Grilled meat will handle just about any good Zin, but we went in a Mediterranean direction, pairing it with a flavorful summer garden saute of ground lamb and fresh Italian eggplant, onions and green peppers and fresh Roma tomatoes over cavatappi pasta with a good sprinkle of Pecorino Romano cheese.
VALUE: Zin this good in the middle teens is a rare treat, and it's widely available for a few bucks under the $17 winery price. At its current $10.99 price in California Wine Club's online store, you might want to buy it by the case.
WHEN TO DRINK: Wine lovers engage in neverending debate as to the merits of cellaring Zin. I love it while it's still full of youthful, exuberant fruit, so I think this one is drinking perfectly. But it would likely gain style and grace - at the possible cost of more subtle fruit - after a few years of careful cellaring.
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