Tag Archives: zinfandel

Mini-reviews 36: Ribera, La Vieille Ferme, Rodney Strong, Sledgehammer

Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month:

? Bodegas Pe alba L pez Monte Castrillo 2009 ($13, sample): Spanish tempranillo from Ribera del Duero with lots of thickish red fruit that needs beefy dishes. Decent value, but you have to like wine made this way.

? La Vieille Ferme Blanc 2011 ($8, purchased): Hugely disappointing vintage from the French white that is a long-time blog favorite. Big-time banana fruit, which not only isn't pleasant, but shows a change in winemaking to softer and more sweetish approach.

? Rodney Strong Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($13.50, sample): Always dependable and value-driven California white. Look for melon and California grassiness, thought not quite as citrusy as other west coast sauvignon blancs.

? Sledgehammer Zinfandel 2009 ($15, sample): Yes, it is. A massive, oaky, and alcoholic zinfandel with extracted jammy fruit if that's what you're in the mood for.

Wine of the week: Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel 2009

image from www.boglewinery.comThis is the Wine Curmudgeon's Thanksgiving gift to the California wine industry. Taste this, and you'll see what great cheap wine should be.

This is not surprising, of course, to anyone who has been paying attention. Bogle has long been one of my favorite producers, and it has been in the $10 Hall of Fame for as long as there has been a $10 Hall. But given how California wants to make cheap red wine so that it tastes like slightly sweet grape juice with too much alcohol, I figured I'd better make the point again.

First, what doesn't the Bogle ($10, purchased) have? It doesn't have that cough syrupy sweet fruit that is all the rage. The alcohol isn't so overwhelming that that you feel it coming out of your nose. What does it have? Enough blueberry fruit  to be noticeable, but not so much as to overpower the wine. A beginning and an end, including some very zippy tannins and a little earthiness — again, something not only rare in $10 wine, but especially these days, as winemakers try to make red wine taste as fruity as possible at the expense of everying else.

Highly recommended, and one of the best California red wines I've had in years. Embarrassingly better. This will earn Bogle a special citation when the 2012 Hall comes out in six weeks, and you could do much worse than to serve it at Thanksgiving. Much, much worse — as, sadly, too many will do, seduced by scores and descriptors that make them think the wine tastes better than it does.

More about Thanksgiving wine:
Thanksgiving wine 2011
Thanksgiving wine 2010
? Wine of the week: Chateau de Riviere Chinon 2009
? Wine of the week: Tortoise Creek Pinot Noir Les Oliviers 2010
? Wine of the week: Dry Creek Fume Blanc 2010

Wine of the week: Cline Cellars Zinfandel 2009

cline zinfandelThe Wine Curmudgeon, as regular visitors here know, is quite skeptical about what he likes to call post-modern zinfandel. Those are the ones with higher alcohol, that feature way over the top fruit, and bear little resemblance to what passed for zinfandel in the old days (in this case, five or six years ago).

What’s worse is that these wines often move middle-aged men to wear baseball caps backward, call each other dude, and offer high-fives to everyone they see when they drink them. And then they say things, when asked about the wine, like “sweee-eet.”

That will not happen with the Cline ($11, sample), which is about as traditional a zinfandel as you’re going to find these days — and especially at this price. The alcohol is just 14 percent, which is not much at all in these days of 15 and 16 percent wines. There is cherry fruit, but it’s not sweet or gloppy like it is in so many other entry level zinfandels. Plus, the Cline actually has black pepper, which used to be a tell-tale zinfandel character but has mostly disappeared in the rush to add alcohol, sweet fruit and tannins.

Best yet, the Cline is food friendly, something else that many of the high alcohol zinfandels don’t bother with anymore. Drink with this with barbecue or burgers, spaghetti and meatballs, or even chili (which I did) and be glad someone making zinfandel still respects the varietal.

Wine review: Dancing Bull Zinfandel 2009

Want to see how wine changes over time, taking into account things like vintage difference and consumer preferences, and especially how the big wine companies see consumer preference?

Then taste the Dancing Bull ($9, purchased), which is one of the most popular wines among visitors to the blog. In my review of the 2007 vintage, I wrote that it wasn’t “quite as spicy or brambly” as it was when the wine debuted a decade ago, but that it was still more or less a traditional zinfandel. The current vintage has changed even more. It still has some zinfandel character, with pepper on the nose and spice at the back, but there is a huge dollop of sweet red fruit in the middle that wasn’t there in the 2007 or when I first tasted it.

Which is where consumer preference — or what companies like E&J Gallo, which makes Dancing Bull, see as consumer preference — comes in. One of the big changes in U.S. grocery store wine over the past several years is, for lack of a better term, the addition of sweet fruit. It’s not that the wines are sweet, and the Dancing Bull is bone dry. Rather, it’s what Eric Asimov of the New York Times describes as not the “actual sugar in the wine, but also (more often) of the impression of sweetness. This impression can be provided by dominant fruit flavors and high concentrations of glycerol, a product of fermentation that is heavy, oily and slightly sweet.” And, he writes, California zinfandel exactly fits that description.

Gallo’s market research, apparently, has determined that consumers want that sweet fruit in their wine. So the company makes the wine that way, and the Dancing Bull is the result. Is this good or bad? Neither. As the Wine Curmudgeon has said many times, good and bad doesn’t apply to wine. It’s what each person wants to drink.

Wine of the week: Homestead Winery Don Gabriel Zinfandel 2007

Texas winemakers and grape growers are slowly moving away from the traditional European varietals, like cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, in favor of lesser known grapes that are better suited to the state's hot, dry climate.

The favorites of the moment are viognier, a white grape from the south of France, which several wineries have turned into an attractive alternative to chardonnay, and the Spanish tempranillo, which has produced some fine wines in limited use. I'm not as sold on tempranillo as many others in Texas are, for it can be a difficult grape to work with in the winery and it may have ripening problems in the state.

All of which is a roundabout way to get to the Don Gabriel. Zinfandel is a grape that has been overlooked in Texas, which is kind of surprising. It's a warm climate varietal that has enjoyed great success in California, and we know much more about growing it in this country than we do tempranillo.

Because, based on the Don Gabriel ($13, sample), we should be growing more of it in Texas. Winemaker Gabe Parker makes some very interesting wines, and I've even had a pinot noir blend (unheard of in Texas) that was quite pleasant. The Don Gabriel is a fruity — yes, the traditional blueberry — with low alcohol and black pepper. It's not as jammy as California zinfandel, but that's not necessarily a problem. Unfortunately, the Don Gabriel doesn't have retail distribution, but it is available through the winery. Pair this with fall barbecue and tomato sauces.