By: Bryan Brick | K&L Domestic Wine Buyer
Yesterday marked one of the most physically difficult wine tastings in the business: The ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) tasting. Just think about tasting dozens of Zinfandels, some dry and others not so much, some with superb balance and some with blaring alcohol levels, and I think you’ll sympathize with the way my mouth feels today. The tasting was held at Rock Wall Winery in Alameda, a wonderful location for a tasting of this size and scope. This year the powers that be separated the trade portion of ZAP from the public tasting, which really helped myself and my co-worker Jim Boyce to get a lot done in a short period of time. With many fewer tasters, we were able to taste much more wine this year than in years past and speak more to the principals of the wineries about their respective wines. Plus, there were a lot fewer drunk people falling down and breaking glasses, or themselves--which was nice.
What I very quickly learned is that the 2011 Zins are much better than I thought they were going to be. Most of you know, or maybe have heard rumblings that 2011 is already a bit maligned. It was cold, sugar levels never hit the numbers that California has become accustomed to, yields were small if not downright scary, with people running numbers around 30-60% down from an average vintage. So I was a bit hesitant. That went away quickly when I started tasting the wines. I found the vintage to be energetic, drinkable and full of personality. ABV levels are down; flavor, balance and structure are up. The sad part is that there just isn’t going to be a lot of this wine to go around. But as these wines begin to roll out, I’d highly recommend adding some to your cellar or everyday drinking rotations.
Here are some highlights of our fave 2011s, as well as wines from other vintages, with brief descriptions from the tasting yesterday. I’ve added hyperlinks to the wines we currently have in stock. The others probably won’t be far behind.
2011 Ancient Peaks Paso Robles Zinfandel ($13.99) A refresher course, as we've had this wine in stock for a month or so, but it really held up in the context of all these Zins. It's truly one of the best values out there in the world of Zin.
2011 ANDIS “Estate” Amador County An intriguing new winery that is making a bigger style of Zin but with rarely seen balance from the area.
2012 Bedrock Wine Company "Old Vine" Sonoma Valley Zinfandel ($24.99) This wine is from some of the oldest and most interesting vineyards in Sonoma Valley. Tcomplex nature and concentration of that fruit shows through here in spades. Another tremendous value in Zin.
2012 Bedrock "Evangelho Vineyard Heritage Wine" Contra Costa Red Blend ($32.99) These vines are planted in river delta sands on their own roots and were planted in the 1890s. A field blend of Carignane, Mourvedre, Zinfandel, Palomino, Alicante and Mission, this was one of my personal faves of the tasting. Electric, vivacious fruit with zingy acid and great old vine spice this is not to be missed
2012 Bedrock "Lorenzo's Heirloom" Sonoma Valley Red Blend ($41.99) Just the fact that Bedrock has three wines on this list should tell you everything you need to know. This is Zinfandel, Carignane, Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, Cinsualt, Valdigue and a few “odds and ends.” Powerful, brooding, dark and spicy, this inky beast has all the elements to be a masterpiece in a decade or more.
2011 Bella “Hills and Benches” Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel A lovely interplay between the spicy/peppery side of Zin and the more confectionery/cocoa-driven side of the varietal.
2011 Bella “Lily Hill Estate” Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel The 2010 version of this wine was one of my top wines from last year’s tasting, so I was excited to taste the 2011. There is something about this site that adds a super charming floral lace to the wine. It’s something akin to lavender or lilac. Add a bunch of cocoa powder and dried blueberry and this is delicious.
2011 Dashe “Florence Vineyard” Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel Maybe the biggest surprise of the tasting. Not because I don’t generally like the wines--I usually love them--but this just floored me with its energy, sexiness, bursting aromatics and strawberry fruit. I wanted to drink this by the bottle.
2009 D Cubed Howell Mountain Zinfandel ($32.99) This wine was out for a while but in no way does that diminish its deliciousness. In fact, the extra bottle time may add to it. Super tangy with tons of blueberry and crushed stone, this shows the tannic structure of Howell Mountain.
2012 Easton Amador County Zinfandel ($14.99) Another front runner for the value of the tasting. Pitchy red fruits with a touch more ripeness than usual and the mineral-driven undercurrent I’ve come to expect from this inexpensive stunner.
2010 Easton “E” Fiddletown Zinfandel Certainly the best “E” bottling I’ve seen from them. I loved the unflinching iron/bloody aspect of this Zin. A true old-school Gold Country Zin.
2011 Hendry “Blocks 7&22” Napa Valley Zinfandel This just garnered a huge score by a respected wine mag and I can see why. Like a melted wild berry cobbler with a scoop of chocolate ice cream, but somehow never coming off close to sweet.
2011 Mike & Molly Hendry “R.W. Moore Vineyard” Napa Valley Zinfandel We loved the 2010 last year at ZAP and this year may be even better. Deep and earthy with warm, sunny earth and perfectly ripe, briary black fruits. Some may know this as a vineyard that Biale works with but Mike Hendry farms the vineyard for them.
2011 Limerick Lane Russian River Valley Zinfandel ($29.99) We love what the Bilbro brothers have been doing since they purchased this winery a couple of years back. Now that we are in the 2011s, the wines are the first they’ve made from beginning to end. Big, boisterous Zins with more soul than James Brown.
2011 Limerick Lane “1910 Block” Russian River Valley Zinfandel From the oldest block planted at their estate, this Zin may have won the award for the most intense Zin of the day. Long, drawn out and powerful this is still a baby but it floored us. “Amazing” is one of the descriptors I wrote in my notes.
2011 Sobon Estate “Cougar Hill” Amador County Zinfandel ($13.99) Value city! Every year Sobon Estate rocks something that just wildly over-delivers on its asking price. This year it is the Cougar Hill with its unabashed ripeness, cherry cola fruit and a lifting sensation. I don’t remember the Coug being this good.
2011 Troon “Estate” Applegate Valley Zinfandel Maybe the most eye-opening wine of the day. This southern Oregon Zin held its own with classiness and elegance. From vines planted in 1972, this wine is all about balance. Very open and engaging