MS, MW, friend of 1WD, and exceptionally cool wine geek Doug Frost is not a man to mince words. As a media guest recently for the 2019 incarnation of Zinfandel Experience in San Francisco, I managed to catch up briefly with Doug, who had this to say regarding Zinfandel continuously being cited as the quintessential American grape variety:
“That’s utter bullshit.”
This is, of course, because Zinfandel is actually of Croatian origin, where it sometimes goes by the name of Tribidrag (which might also be the name of a character from The Silmarillion… I’m not sure). In the shorter-term history of American fine wine, however, Zinfandel does have deeper roots than most other grapes, Croatian or otherwise. As Frost put it, “back in 1961, Sonoma’s principal grape was Zin.”
ZinEx, for me, consisted of several tastings, both media-only and open to the public, though I find the former a lot easier to digest than the latter (I’m not exactly a large guy, so it’s not easy to signal my way to a spit bucket with a mouthful of high-octane red wine in a crowded room). The minor suffering was worth it, of course, as ZinEx was chock full of excellent examples of the surprising versatility of California’s adopted Croat wonder-boy grape.
Following are highlights from my ZinEx encounters (skipping badges, because there are just too many recommendations, 90% of which would just be tagged “Kick-Ass” anyway)…
It was at that Sonoma event that Peterson poured me some of his 1997 Ravenswood Belloni Vineyard Zinfandel blend, a gorgeously spicy introduction to a side of the Ravenswood juggernaut that many don’t get to see, primarily because so little of their single-vineyard designate Zins are made (usually under 1500 cases for each release).
During my jaunt north to attend New Hampshire Wine Week (about which there will be more written on these virtual pages, assuming something resembling free time appears within the next couple of weeks and it isn’t booked solid with appointments to shovel more goddamned snow out of my goddamned driveway), I spent a good deal of time with Peterson, during which we gabbed, drank (particularly the deliciously overachieving 2009 Ravenswood Pickberry Vineyards Red blend), ate (a lot), and generally laughed at the beauty and absurdity of the modern wine world. Ok, mostly the absurdity.
Luckily for me, I got to tag along with Peterson as he poured for patrons of NH’s flagship wine outlet (“Store #69”), which afforded an opportunity to get reacquainted with Belloni, along with some of its other single-vineyard brethren…
The similarities between the all three of those wine operations is striking. Each has some aspect of generational family ownership with some personally very nice people behind the scenes, each employ fairly distinctive, recognizable winemaking styles, and all are (mostly) successfully navigating their brand waters to appeal to younger consumers (and not just their parents).
And while I’ve enjoyed wine from all three, given the choice on the QPR front I’d have to give the edge to Dry Creek Vineyard. It’s tough to argue with their pedigree (they claim to be the first to use the terms “Old vine Zinfandel” and “Meritage,” and they’re certainly the first to plant Sauvignon Blanc in the Dry Creek area), their commitment to the Dry Creek Valley in general, and the consistent improvement in their wines, some of which are ridiculously low cost when you consider the quality of what you’re getting.
So it seems a bit stupid that I was surprised that DCV’s relatively pedestrian-priced Zinfandel could age well and still be tasty after 20 or so years. And yet, unlike DCV’s die-hard fans, I was surprised that I was enjoying one of their Zins that was bottled when I was about seven. But I can now tell you that while the current Heritage Zin price point (about $17) doesn’t suggest a long shelf-life, the crate of samples of DCV Heritage Zinfandel that they recently sent me as samples – with selections extending back through each decade of DCV’s existence – certainly did…
BUT… I like to help people when it comes to wine, and I kept getting twitter DMs and Facebook messages asking me the equivalent of “any good wine recommendations for a picnic this weekend?” in a run-up to the Memorial Day weekend. And so now that it’s officially too late to do anything about Memorial Day because lots of wine shops might be closed anyway for the holiday, I’ll be a stinker and share what I’ve been Facebook-ing and DM-tweet-ing with a number of people already.
For those sick of hearing about these types of recommendations: sorry, you’ve been outvoted by Inbox (for those sick of Seals & Croft: sorry, I’ve no real advice to help out with that, except maybe drinking a glass of wine and smoking one of those… funny cigarettes….). But before you send me angry emails (most especially in relation to my slightly-irreverent take on the dulcet, laidback tones of Seals & Croft), please note that Memorial Day wine recommendations aren’t any different from any other Summer holiday recommendations – we’re basically talking hot-weather, picnic-&-BBQ wines here, and so what I’m gonna tell you will hold true for any Summertime holiday party wine action that you’ll be facing as the mercury is rising…
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