Monday, June 25, 2012

Dead Or Alive? Old Zinfandel

One of the great arguments in wine centers around zinfandel.  Most view the grape as a boisterous, flash-in-the-pan, meant to be consumed immediately, if not sooner.  Certainly these styles of zinfandel exist but some producers made versions that could stand the test of time.  Ridge Vineyards, with Paul Draper at the helm, perhaps served as official poster-child for the age-worthiness of zinfandel.  They also produce some of my favorite zinfandels...and there are many of them.
I prefer a zin about five years after vintage, as long as it's a more serious bottle.  The extra time allows some of the baby fat to fade but with no significant loss of the exuberant style that makes zin fun.  It also provides more depth and character, things we all should achieve with time.  Confidence abounds at five years but what about doubling that?  Would the wine survive?  Would I regret what it became?
Enter Ridge Zinfandel Paso Robles 2002.  I must admit to a bit of skepticism, but fortunately, the wine seemed not to notice.  Dark berry fruit slowly escaped the glass, reminiscent of blackberry, but not so sweet or intense.  My favorite zinfandel note permeated the wine.  The slightly wild, slightly sauvage note many call brambly.  The easiest way to describe the term is to consider the raspberries of blackberries available at your grocery store.  Now, imagine the same fruit but plucking it off a vine growing wild in a field or on the edge of the woods.  The latter version is brambly.  It means to me, unkempt, untamed and altogether alluring at the same time.  An almost animalistic edge can be there too, as it was with this wine, gently repelling but more strongly beckoning and drawing you in.
The alcohol kept making a stronger statement than I desired but the bottle was a bit too warm which encouraged the hotness on the nose.  The barest edge of orange existed at the edge of the wine and no brown entered the picture at all - amazing for a ten year old wine.  The palate was tactile, almost sappy - not syrupy with implied sweetness - but thick and persistent with great acidity.  A brief, hollow moment occurred in the mid-palate but then everything came together again.  It was more of a comfortable lull in conversation than the premature end of a party.
This wine reminds me of fun friends.  The time you get with them is never enough.  I wish I had access to another bottle.  Salty, aged Reggiano beckons.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Identity Crisis(?)

The United States uses AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) to define wine regions and while the effort to designate and delineate lagged for many years the process seems to have reached a breakneck speed.  Like hurtling down a mountain on skis or running down a steep hill, one might not fall down but keen observation and absorption of the surroundings is not possible.
Lobbying has always played a part in awarding AVA status.  Those with influence and a loud enough voice eventually get what they want.  The system appears to be out of control.
The attempt to categorize and specify regions should be applauded but the system leads to more confusion than enlightenment as expansion outpaces learning.  Napa County now has over 15 AVAs within it, including Napa Valley.  Sonoma County only lags slightly and includes Sonoma Valley, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma Mountain and Northern Sonoma.  Most wine drinkers would not be able to tell the difference between them, even after tasting examples.
One wonders how a new AVA can possibly be approved with only 37 acres of vineyards planted but I become absolutely stunned when the region includes more than 13,000 acres total.  That's over 350 times as much acreage than is producing grapes.  Someday it might make sense to more than a handful of people but that day may be decades from now.
I do not advocate ceasing the practice by any means.  We need meaningful ways for consumers to quickly know what to expect from wines they are considering purchasing.  However, I find too many of the regions lack defining character.  This means wine drinkers have no incentive to learn about the AVA and will actually ignore them, the opposite of the desired effect.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day

My family did not have a strong wine tradition when I was growing up, unless the four liter jugs of Almaden Mountain Chablis stockpiled in my grandfather's storeroom counts.  It seemed fancier than a beer can to me even at a young age though.  My father kept a wine cellar in the basement of his house but many of the bottles stored there had simply been forgotten.  The bottle of Blue Nun 1973 still makes me grin, they don't bother vintage dating that wine any longer.  Corks dropped out of the neck of some bottles, swimming in the ever-dwindling wine within, as evaporation took its toll.
Fortunately for me, a few bottles of first-growth Bordeaux from my birth year fared better.  I was lucky enough to partake of a Lafite Rothschild and two bottles of Mouton Rothschild born in the same year I was.  The vintage (1967) was not a good one and the wines were far from impressive but sharing the experience with my Dad proved memorable.  I appreciated his effort and have now extended the concept to my daughter, in hopes of enjoying similar moments with her more than a decade from now.
Her wines may or may not be at their peak when we open them, but I learned from the bottles shared with family and close family friends that simply opening a treasured bottle was cause for celebration.  Memories sprung from the experience of getting together more than the bottle itself, much like baking cookies with your children will mean more than buying the treats, even if the store bought taste much better.
Thanks again Dad, I look forward to sharing some bottles with you and my daughter sometime around 2024.  Happy Father's Day

Monday, June 11, 2012

More Indiana Wine

My fascination with Indiana wines continues, albeit with this exploration involving a mere two wines from one winery.  A friend and I headed to French Lick and got distracted along the way by an important stop at a casino to retrieve a free bottle of champagne and further delayed by milkshakes along the way.  Since we arrived later than planned, we only caught the French Lick Winery http://www.frenchlickwinery.com/ on the way out of town.  They serve a decent array of food there and that took priority.  Two glasses of wine served as the only exploration that day since we were late heading to Churchill Downs to bet on the races.  I hope for another trip based on the resort http://www.frenchlick.com/ , the wine and the companionship.
Chambourcin 2009 - The wine sprung from the glass with spice and pretty red fruits, displaying its obvious charms for anyone interested.  Lively and bright, this little gem reminded me of playful, sunny afternoons.  With a little cajoling my friend, tongue-in-cheek, said it reminded her of "lollipops and hula hoops" but that worked for me.  It would make a perfect picnic wine and could easily be served in warmer weather with a slight chill.  My chicken salad made a lovely match.
Norton 2007 - This grape deserves much more attention than it receives.  Examples such as this one could help put it into the spotlight.  No rough edges marred the seamless flow of this surprisingly weighty wine from my lips to the lingering finish.  Oak is noticeable here but only as a flavoring accent.  Perhaps the age helped, but I applaud the deft touch.  Roasted meats, red sauces and mushroom dishes happily await the arrival of this wine to make a great match.
I regret not tasting through more of the wines but horse racing beckoned.  I know for next time...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cork vs. Screwcap Wrap Up

It was clear to me which closure provided the superior wine and the votes from my family echoed that sentiment, although with less decisiveness.  Admittedly, I knew the wines and which was which so my judgement could not be entirely unbiased.
My biggest concern about screwcaps has always been that they might preserve a wine rather than allow it to mature "properly."  For most wine drinkers that is an irrelevant consideration but I am an unrepentant wine geek and love to experiment.  As the wines continue to age I will revisit them periodically and see how they evolve and develop.
For immediate and short-term consumption, there can be no debate - the screwcap is superior. Environmental issues of recycling screwcaps versus the sustainable cork tree aside, I want my wines sealed with screwcaps because the wine stays fresh and vibrant, the bottle is easy to open (and close) and you know it will be okay to serve.
The next round of this fun tasting will likely take place in the late summer or early fall and I hope to involve wine professionals this time around.  I have enough wine to do this two or three more times depending on the number of people involved, so let me know if you want in...