Last week Jenn hosted Imbibe NY Wine Club, and Caitlin and I came ready to spit. The juice of the night–Zinfandel, with a couple of Primitivo wines thrown in for measure. What’s up with all the hate? one might ask. On my end, it’s fear of big, fat fruit blended with a lack of exposure–the perfect breeding grounds for misguided contempt, and though this night did not make me a lover…I did enjoy the first and last of our five selected wines.
Arriving in California with the advent of the Gold Rush, Zinfandel is native to Croatia, and was first brought to New England via Austria, perhaps as early as 1829. And though it lacks blood ties to the Old World regions of wine, Zinfandel’s early arrival on the west coast enabled it to lay down roots, giving California some sweet old vines. In the early 1990’s, Zinfandel’s DNA profile was confirmed to be the same as Italy’s Primitivo.
Our first Zin of the night is not the one depicted above, but rather in the decanter below. Carol Shelton Monga Zinfandel, 2004 from the Lopez Vineyard in Cucamonga Valley, California–it’s got nutmeg/allspice, carob, anise and raspberry on the nose; and is medium bodied, with fruit that doesn’t break from its cage and spiral out of control (best to leave that to the members of Club Imbibe). Along with its disciplined fruit, the Monga comes in at a whopping 15% abv, and though it’s hot, it won’t burn your palate to the ground.
While the Monga Zin is 100% Zin-fruit, the Ridge 2006 Lytton Spring is not. Ridge adds 16% Petit Syrah and 4% Carignane, and from this wine, we expected a lot. Instead, Ridge exemplified exactly what I expect from a California Zin–an explosion of fruit on the nose. To this, add unsweetened cocoa powder and structural problems enough to bring the whole house down. The acidity and tannins stand perpendicular to each other, not integrated, not in harmony; and on the finish, only the tannins linger, leaving one with a coated mouth.
Crossing the Atlantic, we uncorked Menhir Quota 31 Primitivo Salentino 2007, which unfortunately is so two-dimensional that it goes from flavor (blueberry) to texture (chalky tannins) in the mouth, and then it’s done.
Next in the glass, Koiné Primitivo de Manduria 2007. At 14.5% this wine packs heat. Not incredibly complex, it shows black fruit and light green herbs (sage) on the nose. Here too, the finish is all about its chalky tannins.
The best wine of the night had been decanted the longest, but I imagine that it would have been coined a pleaser regardless. Starlite Vineyards Alexander Valley 2005–this baby comes in at 15.1%!!! It’s complex and dirty, showing figs and black plums. It’s vegetal (asparagus), smoky, earthy, and muddy (think dirty mushroom caps). Suzanne thought it smelled like Christmas…must have been the nutmeg spice. In the mouth, it’s the cherry that carries the acidity, rising up through a cloud of dark fruit. The transitions are seamless, the tannins are velvety, and the overall effect is sultry.
Stay tuned for next month’s Imbibe Wine Club–we’ll be tasting Malbec.