By: Bryan Brick | K&L Domestic Wine Buyer
Last week a chosen few K&L staffers met at the San Francisco store to head down to the annual ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) Zinfandel Festival taking place nearby. The journey to brave the wave of Zinfandel in all its bold glory consisted of a four city block walk, some bear traps, and a few unmentionables...We knew what we were getting into: an ocean of Zin, the good and the bad, but our mission to find the greats to share with you--our customers--kept us on track.
My philosophy at these sort of events is to not stray too far off the path of the known. You can get into deep water quickly with a bunch of 15+% ABV Zins that offer few redeeming qualities, so I generally choose to keep my cards close and my opinions closer with the exception of this little ditty about what I tasted there. A disclaimer: by no means did I taste even 25% of what was available for sampling (if anybody even got close to that they’d be wheeled out in the paddy wagon), but I did seek out and taste wines from a variety of producers and made sure to visit those in attendance that I believe to be leaders in the category.
The good news is that due to recent back-to-back difficult vintages (2010 and 2011), the wines from these vintages overall were surprisingly fresh. The longer, cooler growing seasons required lengthier hang-times for fruit to ripen and cooler average temperatures preserved acidity, lending them bright treble-y flavors along with great verve and life. Balance and restraint was a prevailing theme among many of the offerings; I didn’t nearly as many Zins higher than 15% ABV or that had excess residual sugar. Since heat wasn’t a disposable commodity in these vintages, you couldn’t get grapes to 25-28 degrees brix! The talk instead among producers was of their ridiculously low PH levels (3.3 anyone?) and dramatically reduced yields. Many producers reported being down 30% or more in case production.
It may be true that 2010 and 2011 were challenging vintages, but producers across the board did the most with what they had, and with great success. I tasted many delicious, crowd-pleasing Zins that didn't skip a beat in delivering the bold flavors and spicy intensity that has won Zinfandel its throngs of admirers. Many producers made some of the best wines I had tasted from them in years. Meanwhile, if you prefer higher acidity and restraint in their wines, be on the lookout: there are some truly outstanding, balanced, and terroir-driven Zins being released that I know you will love.
So, here is my personal list of the top Zinfandels I tasted at the event. As you will see, some of these are currently available while many have a while yet before being released. Prices range, but there are a handful on this list that in my opinion over-deliver for the price; these are the ones that excited me the most. I hope they excite you, too.
Oh, yeah - in no way is this list in any sort of order. Enjoy!
2011 Ridge Vineyards “Pagani Ranch”
2011 Carlisle Dry Creek Valley
2011 Bucklin “Old Hill Ranch-Bambino”
2009 Bucklin “Old Hill Ranch-Ancient Vines”
2011 Bedrock “Saitone Ranch” (in stock $36.99)
2010 Dashe Dry Creek Valley (in stock $22.99)
2011 Mauritson “Westphall Ridge”
2009 D Cubed Howell Mountain
2010 Easton “Estate”
2008 Noceto “Grandpere Vineyard”
2010 Bella “Lily Hill Vineyard”
2010 Kokomo Dry Creek Valley
NV Gamba Centurian