You may ask…why does Zinfandel need to be “elevated”?
It wasn’t that long ago that Zinfandel was thought of either as a sweet pink wine made for mass consumption or as a highly alcoholic monster meant to get you where you want to go as quickly as possible.
Neither version was taken very seriously.
But in more recent years, Zinfandel has been produced as a serious wine, producing wines equal to or better than those made from the historically “noble grapes”. With wonderful wines made in a variety of styles, Zinfandel has certainly found its place in the wine world, which makes this “zin fan” very happy.
Still, there is some prejudice, as was evidenced by a seminar I attended several months ago wherein the speaker, discussing the wines coming from a particular region, expressed delight over the reduced reliance on Zinfandel, the clear message, at least to me, was to imply that it was of lesser quality.
The struggle is real.
As I mentioned above, Zinfandel wines can vary quite a bit, due to terroir, winemaker decisions both in the vineyard and the winery, as well as whether the wine is 100% Zinfandel versus including other varieties. My own observation is that Zinfandel vineyards, perhaps more so than those planted with other grapes, tend to be inter-planted with other varietals, especially when looking at the historic vineyards that were planted several decades ago.
This is all a build-up to an annual event that is very near and dear to my heart, WineLA’s annual Elevating Zinfandel tasting, this year held at the Montage in Beverly Hills. Karen and I had the pleasure of attending.
As usual, Ian Blackburn assembled a veritable “who’s who” of many of the great Zinfandel producers, mostly from Northern California:
Bedrock Wine Co.
Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves
Brown Estate Napa Valley
Gamba Vineyards and Winery
Grgich Hills Estate
Lamborn Family Vineyards
Rock Wall Wine Company
Seghesio Family Vineyards
Turley Wine Cellars
Each winery had a winery representative [winemaker or owner in most cases] pouring multiple wines, including special selections for VIP attendees.
[I’ll say it again – spring for VIP tickets for events when you can. Get in early, taste the special stuff, enjoy the food and beat the crowds.]
No duds in this list at all. Some of the standouts for me were…
Bedrock Wine Co. – This winery is on our must-have list for our personal cellar. It was fun to taste the 2012 Bedrock Heritage Wine against the 2016 Bedrock Heritage Wine. This is one of those field blends I was referring to above, with the Bedrock vineyard actually planted to 27 varieties, about 50% being Zinfandel.
Beekeeper Cellars – This is WineLA’s own Ian Blackburn’s winery. But, I don’t have to say I liked it if I didn’t. And I did, especially the 2015 Secret Stones from Rockpile. Rockpile is one of my favorite AVAs for Zinfandel, so no big surprise here.
Kreck Wines – A brand new winery based in Healdsburg. Both the 2016 Teldeschi Vineyard (Dry Creek Valley) and the Del Barba Vineyard (Contra Costa County) were excellent. Tiny production, so don’t snooze on this one.
Lamborn Family Vineyards – Napa Valley Zins are getting rare [the money’s in Cabernet] and Howell Mountain Zinfandel are perhaps even rarer. Lamborn does a great job and the 2010 Middle-Aged Vine bottling showed what a little bottle age on a Zin can do – good stuff!
Mauritson Wines – Speaking of Rockpile [see above], Clay Mauritson’s family has been a big part of pioneering the area. The 2015 Black Sheep from Rockpile was a great example.
Robert Biale Vineyards – another rare Napa Zinfandel specialist. Winemaker Tres Goetting continues to shine; the signature Black Chicken did it for me.
Rock Wall Wine Company – it had been a few years since we last saw Shauna Rosenblum and if anything her wines have just gotten better. Hard to pick a favorite here, but if pressed I’d go with the 2016 Alegria Vineyard from the Russian River Valley.
Turley Wine Cellars – Another winery that will always have a place in our cellar, Turley has possibly done more than any other winery to “elevate” Zinfandel. Christina Turley poured four different wines, but I have to give props to the 2016 Dusi Vineyard. Not only was this the only Zin from Paso Robles being poured, but it is typically our favorite of the Turley lineup.
Williams Selyem – Most people think of Pinot Noir when they think of this winery. But winemaker Mark Malpiede also makes great Zinfandel. Especially liked the 2016 Papera Vineyard [Russian River Valley].
As usual, we didn’t taste everything. If we had, we would have had more favorites, I’m sure.
Check out www.winela.com for other great events from WineLA.
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. Michael is also Vice President of Eve Bushman Consulting (fka Eve’s Wine 101 Consulting) http://evebushmanconsulting.com/ and President of MCP Financial. Michael can be contacted at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.