Culture / Foodie Events

Worthy Zinfandel: A Wine that Often Disappoints Serious Drinkers Has Made an Impressive Comeback

BY // 08.19.16

Zinfandel can be a tricky thing. It can (still) too often be overly sweet and high in alcohol, and “jammy” is a common adjective for too many wines made from this grape. I write “still,” because a lot of improvement has taken place in the past five or so years with Zinfandel, especially, to my palate, in Lodi and Dry Creek Valley.

More and more producers are respecting the rusticity of the grape (which is genetically identical to Italy’s Primitivo and Crljenak Kastelanski, an ancient Croatian variety), and that’s a great thing for drinkers. It’s a grape that can represent terroir in a remarkable manner. I quit drinking it regularly a long while ago, when it seemed to go from something generally pleasantly fruity and spicy to something generally “hot” and overdone. I no longer enjoyed it.

During the years since, I have opened a number of Zinfandels, of course, and drank it when dining at friends’ homes, but it was not a variety I sought out. There were some good Zinfandels out there — Hartford Family Winery, Joseph Swan, the Edizione Pennino, to name but three I tasted that I liked — to be sure, but my mind and palate were elsewhere.

Drink it now.

I’ve recently decided to move the variety higher on my tasting list, for old times’ sake, and this week opened the 2013 Zinfandel from Quivira Vineyards. It’s an operation located in Healdsburg, in the Dry Creek Valley AVA, and is owned by Pete and Terri Kight, who purchased the winery and vineyards in 2006. Quivira grows a variety of grapes on four vineyards, 93 acres in total, including two acres of Zinfandel vines planted in 1900 (under a long-term lease). The winery practices biodynamic farming, and Hugh Chappelle, formerly of Lynmar Estate, is the head winemaker.

Grilling a rib eye was my plan on the evening I opened the Quivira, and I had some asparagus as well. The bottle was at about 64 degrees Fahrenheit, a good temperature for Zinfandel, and my friend and I tasted immediately after opening the bottle. The nose was full of raspberry, pleasantly so, and something faintly herbal — mild spearmint, damp hay?

It’s dark and rich in the glass  — the winemaker’s notes state that the 2013 harvest produced berries that were smaller than usual, hence the concentration —and the cherry notes made their presence known on my second taste. At first I found them overdone, but a few more minutes in the glass softened the harshness; the wine developed into something I enjoyed. It was full in the mouth, solid tannins, good acid courtesy of the Petite Sirah (5 percent) and Carignan (1 percent).

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The alcohol content here is 14.5 percent, and 5,904 cases were produced. Yes, it paired well with the rib eye, which we finished with butter and seasoned with salt and pepper only. Look for this Zinfandel in the $24 area.

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