I woke up one morning to a message from friend and fellow Eve’s Wine 101 contributor Gregory Alonzo:
“Hi Michael … Recently I have had several emails from European acquaintances who want to know more about our Zinfandel, especially those of higher alcohol content. As you probably know, California Zin is tough to find in Europe and we usually go with a Primitivo. Anyway, perhaps another article down the road about why you prefer high alcohol Zin should be interesting and fun.”
This gave me some food for thought. Truthfully, and this may surprise some people who I drink wine with regularly, I am not particularly partial to high alcohol. In fact, I often wish alcohol content on certain wines could be lower so I could drink more of them. All I really care about is that the wine is balanced and tastes good. It is just my layperson’s understanding that in order to get the proper flavors from Zinfandel, extended hang time on the vine is needed and this later harvesting ultimately results in higher alcohol.
But I knew there had to be more to it than just that, so I turned to some of my favorite Zinfandel producers.
Paso Robles is known for its great Zinfandel, among other varietals, and one of the pioneers of the full fruit-forward style of Zin that would become known as the “Paso style” is Tobin James Cellars (www.tobinjames.com). With all of the new up and coming wineries in Paso, I think the Tobin James Zinfandels hold their own with the best of them, especially wines like Fat Boy, French Camp and Blue Moon Reserve. I asked Claire Silver, co-owner of Tobin James, for her thoughts on this subject, and she replied:
“In Paso Robles it is common that the alcohol levels in zins exceed 15%, since the fruit hangs longer to fully develop. Our wines are balanced so that you don’t experience the heat on your palate, just layers of lush fruit and a fat, juicy mouthfeel.
We agree with you that it does not matter what the alcohol is as long as it is harmonious.”
Well, that provided validation of my thinking, but I wanted more.
The Dante Dusi vineyard in Paso Robles is pretty much synonymous with Zinfandel. For decades, the Dusi family has grown and sold these prized grapes to other wineries looking for that Dusi quality and distinctive taste. Fairly recently, Dante’s granddaughter Janell started producing excellent wine under her own J Dusi label (www.jdusiwines.com). Here’s what she had to say:
“The trend of Zinfandel is headed to more lean, lower alcohol and less jam. By harvesting at a lower sugar, you still can get the fruit and spice that is notable in Zin, but it’s rather a brighter fruit and not jammy. Zinfandel is the most uneven ripening varietal, which makes it the most difficult to deal with. So, I think it’s all about picking early and the grapes will still “soak up” in their sugar level as they sit together before fermentation begins. This does happen better with a long steadily warm Summer!”
We couldn’t really talk about Paso Robles Zinfandel without getting some input from Turley Wine Cellars (www.turleywinecellars.com). While they are headquartered in Napa Valley, they are certainly making a lot of noise in Paso Robles, producing world class wines at their facility in Templeton. Next week, I’ll let you know what Karl Wicka, winemaker at the Turley winery in Templeton, had to say.
Michael Perlis has been pursuing his passion for wine for more than 25 years. He has had the good fortune of having numerous mentors to show him the way, as well as a wonderful wife who encourages him and shares his interest. After a couple of decades of learning about wine, attending events, visiting wineries and vineyards, and tasting as much wine as he possibly could, he had the amazing luck to meet Eve Bushman. Now, as Contributing Editor for Eve’s Wine 101, he does his best to bring as much information as possible about wine to Eve’s Wine 101 faithful readers. (2013 Update: Eve and Michael announced Eve Wine 101 Consulting. Info is here: http://evewine101.com/press-releases/) Michael can be contacted at email@example.com.