PedroncelliFamily wrote:Lets talk Zinfandel...
Can someone please explain to me where this craze for very high alcohol, raisiny smelling Zinfandel came from? Having lived here all my life, and having Zinfandel be the National Grape of "Dry Creek" (I grew up here BEFORE it was "the Dry Creek Valley") I don't recall it being something that bordered on a fortified wine.
I have come to the point that ordering wine in a restaurant (that doesn't carry our wine)I am loathe to order an unfamiliar Zinfandel. I find so many of them to be hot and pruney. They overwhelm the food and light my cheeks up like Bourbon Street on Marti Gras.
Any thoughts on that monster style? Pro's? Con's?
I'm like you, but then we're both Sonoma County boys and remember when Zinfandel ranged from refreshing to simply robust, and the alcohols typically from 12 to 13.5 (remember that a 12.5 label gave a lot of leeway in those days). People mostly drank table wines with food, except a few serious wine drinkers who might have another bottle by itself. Zin almost always went with food, was often a major blending component in generics, and was often blended itself even in bottles labeled as varietal zinfandel.
The first one I remember that was consciously made in this huge high alcohol style was the 1973 Montevina, from Amador. Maybe they made one a bit earlier, but that's the first monster zin I remember. Sutter Home's Amador Zins were sometimes huge and hot as well - back before they became essential a bulk quality house. Paul Draper's Dry Creek fruit Zins were usually relatively big, but Paul always kept them under control. The big Montevinas got a lot of write ups and I think it started the style. When Lytton Springs Winery got going, in your neck of the woods, they were making monsters (the 1979 was pretty good, but the 1980 was too hot). Some of the Amador guys were making late harvest zins about that time too -- not quite port, because it wasn't fortified, but well over 15% and with significant residual sugar. Some were pretty good as dessert wines - I had a box of the 1978 Monterey Peninsula LH Zin from Amador, and there were big zins from the Shenandoah Valley up that way. Remember the "no wimpy wines" slogan and movement? And, then there was the lost decade of the 1980s when nobody wanted Zin - people grafting over to Cab and Merlot, replanting, etc., to get the higher prices paid for those more 'noble' grapes than the 'humble' zinfandel.... Parker hurt Zin pushing Merlot, and then Parkerization of style hit the making of Zin.
It was sort of funny. If you went to sleep in 1975 as a mostly zinfandel drinker, and woke up like Rip Van Winkle in 1995, and bought a zinfandel, you might not recognize it. A few people kept doing it the old way -- you guys among them -- but especially folks like Clos du Val and Frogs Leap in Napa. Guys who used to keep it down, like our friends the Seghesios, have been making them in the huge style. It works with their Italian varietals, but I think you'd find it very instructive to get one of Ted's recent vintages and taste it side by side with yours of the same vintage. Very different from similar locations for the fruit - you'll even know exactly where the fruit's from and how they farm it, I'm sure.
I think you're beginning to see a return, but we're still faced with quite a bit of stylistic confusion. The overbig Zins are consistent with the Parker or International Style. They are popular with people who want huge very ripe fruit aromas that hit them in the nose - not too much subtlety there and reminiscent of the prunes that used to grow between Santa Rosa and the wineries below Healdsburg like Foppiano. I have always preferred zins to have much more fresh fruit aromas that required some differentiating. You know, when the wines are great, the aroma gently fills the room and brings a smile to your lips.
Anyway, that's my very quick and dirty take on it....