Mother Nature apparently put the kabosh on screeching, high-alcohol zinfandels during the 2011 growing season. It was a genteel vintage that rolled onto the market.
Nearly 8,000 people gathered in San Francisco for the 22nd annual ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) Tasting Saturday to taste through hundreds of zinfandel bottlings and barrel samples.
"The 2011 vintage was interesting," said Joel Peterson, founding winemaker of Sonoma's Ravenswood Winery. "It forced zinfandel makers to make wine that they wouldn't have otherwise made... We made very pretty wines as opposed to powerful, overwhelming wines."
Peterson said the cool 2011 vintage suffered from two early rainstorms in late August and early September.
"The first rain loaded the gun and the second one a week later pulled the trigger," Peterson said. "The wines are more focused and tend to be lower in alcohol."
The Turley, 2011 Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel is a good example of this restraint in alcohol level. The bottling's alcohol level is 15.6 percent, down from its typical 15.9 or 16 percent.
"This is indicative of the cool vintage," said Brennan Stover, vineyard manager of St. Helena's Turley Wine Cellars. "The acidity levels are higher."
Here's a look at some impressive zins of the 2011 vintage, and a few earlier vintages, from the ZAP tasting:
Ridge, 2011 Pagani Vineyard Zinfandel, 14.7 percent, $35. An elegant zin with layered flavors. Aromas and flavors of black raspberry, herbs, spice and a hint of caramel. Seamless texture.
Bedrock Wine Co., 2011 Old Vine Sonoma County Zinfandel, 14.8 percent, $24. A rock star zin. Notes of deep, rich blackberry and black raspberry, herbs and spice. Zesty finish.
Carlisle, 2011 Monte Rosso, 15.8 percent, $45, April release. A zin with depth. Peppery aromas with flavors of black and red fruit, herbs and spice. A knockout.
Hartford, 2011 Russian River Valley, 15 percent, $38. A very tasty zin with notes of black cherry, cherry, herbs and cracked black pepper. Good acid. Nice length.
Turley, 2011 Hayne Vineyard, 15.6 percent, $75, fall release. A more refined version of zin than Turley has offered in the past. Notes of blackberry, black cherry, herbs and spice. Seamless texture. Sassy.
Outpost, 2011 Howell Mountain Zinfandel, 16.3 percent, $48, July release. A plush zin with a seamless texture with a good concentration of fruit. Deep flavors. Good focus.
Ravenswood, 2011 Barricia Zinfandel, 14.6 percent, $35, August release. An elegant zin with aromas and flavors of cherry, dried cherry, herbs and spice. You can taste the zesty petite sirah in the mix.
Seghesio Vineyards & Winery, 2011 Home Ranch, Alexander Valley Zinfandel, 14.8 percent, May release. A lovely zin with concentrated flavors. Seamless texture. Spot-on.
Wilson, 2011 Bramble Creek, Alexander Valley, 16.2 percent, $36. A ripe zin but not over the top. Aromas and flavors of blackberry, plum and cracked black pepper. Lingering finish.
Collier Falls, 2007 Dry Creek Valley, 15.7 percent, $34. Aromas and flavors of blackberry, black cherry, plum, spice, and a hint of caramel on the finish. Tasty.
Carol Shelton Wines, 2009 Wild Thing Zinfandel, Mendocino County, 14.5 percent, $19. A tasty zin with bright, fresh fruit. Great undercurrent of spice. Nice length.
Miraflores, 2010 El Dorado Zinfandel, 14.9 percent, $25. A lush zin with generous fruit. Aromas and flavors of black fruit, herbs and spice. Lingering finish.